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The CallingAll Good ThingsEl Mar de NubesThe ProcessRachel Head Trio/Michael Blanchfield Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/19.Different Coloured DaysRob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019.ApopheniaIl Cielo Sopra BerlinoJourney to ShambhalaRISE EPThe Ray Davies Songbook Vol IIOrphy Robinson Quintet, ‘The Bobby Hutcherson Project’, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berks. 17/05/2019KnifeAngelBecki Biggins Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 18/05/2019.ValueBen Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/05/2019.Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019.Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.Long Story ShortMake Your StandSeptuor de Grand MatinHaftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EPHenry Lowther’s Still Waters, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/04/2019.Valley of AngelsThe Moon and IDave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/04/2019.ScopesAsaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.BoscoChube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 28/03/2019.Get The Blessing, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/03/2019.Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)CircuitsFragmentsThe Ballad of Future JoeMarshian Time SlipBarba LungaDuncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.Fyah10 Reasons To…The Adventures of Mr PottercakesHead FirstTony Kofi Sextet “A Portrait of Cannonball” at Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/02/2019.Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.Reflections & OdysseysHuw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.Ex NihiloBryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.To Be Here NowMinusgrader | Review | The Jazz Mann

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REVIEW

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.

 

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.

 

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 Cookley, a village just outside Kidderminster. 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

2nd 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 Cookley, a village just outside Kidderminster. 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

2nd 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.

"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.
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.

Victoria Klewin - Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Pure class. Klewin’s singing was superb throughout, embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, playful and vivacious on the livelier numbers and genuinely moving on ballads.

Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019.


Victoria Klewin – vocals, Denny Ilett – guitar, Dan Moore –keyboard, Pasquale Votino – double bass, Matt Brown - drums

Bristol based Victoria Klewin is a highly versatile vocalist capable of singing in a variety of musical styles including jazz, pop, soul, blues, folk and their various sub genres, and even classical and opera.

Her regular engagements include touring as a backing vocalist with the internationally known soul act Hannah Williams and The Affirmations. An accomplished session vocalist she has also worked in musical theatre and advertising. She is also an acclaimed musical educator and vocal coach.

However her first love is jazz and she works regularly with leading figures on the Bristol jazz scene as well as performing solo shows as a pianist and vocalist. In 2016 she released the solo album “Dance Me To Heaven”, a recording that featured her own songs alongside rarely heard items from the ‘Great American Songbook’.

She has also performed standards sets with Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle and his trio and it was good reports about a set by this combination at nearby Brecon Jazz Club that had whetted my appetite for tonight’s performance.

Klewin was born in Buckinghamshire but brought up in Corsham, Wiltshire. She studied music at Dartington College in Devon before re-locating to Bristol, the city she now calls home.

As a jazz vocalist Klewin’s singing has invited comparisons with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee with other influences including Betty Carter, Nancy Wilson, Melody Gardot, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

However her ultimate jazz heroine is the New York born singer and pianist Blossom Dearie (1924-2009). Klewin has toured widely with her “Sings Blossom Dearie” show, which features Dearie’s own compositions alongside material associated with her written by the likes of Cole Porter, Cy Coleman and Johnny Mercer. Klewin’s homage to Dearie follows in the wake of similarly successful projects paying tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Hoagy Carmichael.

Klewin’s Dearie show has been realised with the help of a group of Bristol’s finest musicians featuring Denny Ilett (guitar), Dan Moore (piano), Riaan Vosloo (double bass) and Matt Brown (drums). Vosloo was replaced for tonight’s performance by Naples born, Bristol based Pasquale Votino, who slotted in seamlessly alongside Brown and the others. The arrangements for the “Sings Blossom Dearie” show are written by Ilett, a musician already popular with Abergavenny audiences thanks to his involvement with regular BMJ visitors Moscow Drug Club.

Ilett was part of a sharp dressed ensemble with Klewin choosing to perform seated. By her own admission a reluctant dancer this helped to put the focus very much on the singing and the songs, but with vocalist still representing a charismatic stage presence.

The quintet commenced with the song “Let Me Love You”, written by Bart Howard and recorded by Dearie. Ilett’s arrangement introduced Klewin’s assured, well enunciated vocals and his own crisp, clean, classic jazz guitar sound. Also featuring as a soloist was Moore,  who deployed an acoustic piano setting on his keyboard throughout the evening. We also heard from bassist Votino, who immediately impressed with his first solo of the evening. Brown, using brushes, provided lightly swinging support throughout.

The Bob Haymes song “You For Me” was sourced from Dearie’s eponymous album from 1957 and featured a playful vocal from Klewin alongside instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore. Both soloists have previously worked in bands led by saxophonists Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s most famous jazz export, and James Morton. In these groups Moore has revealed himself to be an exceptional organ soloist, but tonight it was a pleasure to hear him demonstrate his considerable abilities as a pianist.

Following a relatively lively start Klewin and the quintet varied the pace with a beautiful reading of the ballad “Try Your Wings”, with Klewin’s emotive but elegant vocals complemented by the cool eloquence of Ilett’s guitar solo as Brown provided delicately brushed, highly sympathetic support.

Brown’s drums introduced a joyous romp through Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance” as he and Votino set up a gently propulsive groove that fuelled Klewin’s breezy vocals and instrumental solos from the bassist and from Ilett. According to her press release Klewin can sing in several different languages, but by her own admission she still shied away from the French lyrics at the end of the song.

Klewin presented tonight’s performance with wit and warmth, giving the audience just enough information on the story behind each song and its relationship to Dearie. The self penned “Blossom’s Blues” featured risqué lyrics and was also authentically bluesy, despite incorporating a scat vocal episode. Instrumental solos came from Ilett and Moore, the latter at one point soloing with double bass accompaniment only.

Another change of mood and pace on the ballad “How Will He Know?”, the first Dearie song that Klewin ever heard, despite it being relatively little known. A real ‘torch song’ this tale of unrequited love was performed in duo format by Klewin and Moore, the pianist providing sensitive and understated support to Klewin’s haunting vocal. The now outmoded lyrical reference to pipe smoking evoked a sense of nostalgia, and only added to the song’s appeal. This item was sourced from Dearie’s 1959 album “Sings Comden and Green”, a collection of songs featuring the lyrics of wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by a variety of well known composers, in this instance Jule Styne.

There were more references to the past on Cy Coleman’s “The Riviera” from Dearie’s 1958 album “Give Him the Ooh-La-La”. The introduction to the song saw Klewin and Moore continuing in duo mode before the rest of the band kicked in, their jaunty rhythms complementing Klewin’s breezy vocal performance of the clever and satirical lyrics.

The first set closed in the same vein with the quintet’s take on “I’m Hip”, written for Dearie by Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg,  the song a satirical take on a 1950s New York Bohemian. Klewin’s flawless reading of the complex, vicious but witty lyrics was a vocal tour de force and she received excellent support from a band featuring the cream of Bristol’s music scene.

The second half saw the quintet hit the ground running with a swinging, bluesy version of “The Party’s Over”, introduced by Ilett on guitar as he shared the instrumental solos with Moore on piano. These two also featured on a lively “Deed I Do”,  a song also recorded by Ray Charles.

Following a brisk start the set’s first ballad was “Some Other Time”, “a song about love at the wrong time” explained Klewin, “it gets me every time I sing it”. Her moving rendition of the song was complemented by a tasteful arrangement featuring piano, bass and brushed drums.

The Cole Porter composed title track of Dearie’s 1958 album “Give Him the Ooh-La-La” found Klewin back in playful mood in a bossa style arrangement on one of Porter’s now less well known songs.

From the pen of another famous songwriter came “Down With Love”, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. A bluesy, swinging arrangement framed the cynical but witty lyrics with Klewin’s singing augmented by instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore.

Another song from Dearie’s “Ooh La-La” album revealed a gentler side of Cy Coleman’s writing on a compelling arrangement of the ballad “I Walk A Little Faster”, which featured an affecting vocal performance from Klewin and Moore at his most lyrical on the keyboard.

More Coleman with a vivacious performance of “When In Rome” with the lyrical reference to ‘Napoli’ (rhymed with ‘snappily’) triggering a bass solo from Naples born Votino alongside further instrumental features from Ilett and Moore.

There was more vocal and lyrical dexterity on Klewin’s performance of the song “My New Celebrity Is You”, written specifically for Dearie by Johnny Mercer and featuring references to then famous people ranging from band-leader Woody Herman to golfer Lee Trevino. Klewin’s brilliantly executed vocal performance was augmented by instrumental features for all the members of the band, including drummer Matt Brown, who clearly relished the opportunity to cut loose.

This represented the end of the scheduled set but a performance of this quality in front of a near capacity audience was never going to finish without an encore. After a brief discussion Ilett called an arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight” which incorporated an authentically sultry vocal performance from Klewin alongside final instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore. The audience loved it.

The quintet’s performance of this Dearie related material was pure class, a reflection of the quality of their chosen material and of the abilities of Dearie, a performer who seems to have been
‘re-discovered’ in the years following her death.

Klewin’s singing was superb throughout, like Dearie embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, playful and vivacious on the livelier numbers and genuinely moving on ballads. Technically flawless her enunciation was perfect as she navigated the twists and turns of the often complex lyrics, investing the words with just the right type of emotion at any given time.

Led by Ilett the instrumentalists were also at the top of their game, the solos concise and cogent, the accompaniment always tasteful and supportive, but bluesy and swinging too, as required. As the main soloists Ilett and Moore inevitably stood out, but the contributions of Brown and Votino shouldn’t be overlooked, with the latter slotting in well with an already very tight and well drilled ensemble.

‘Classy’ was the phrase used by many to sum up a hugely successful event that saw one of the best club night attendances of the year with band, organisers, and audience all genuinely happy with the way the evening had gone.

My thanks to Victoria and Denny for speaking with me afterwards. One suspects that these are musicians who will be invited back to BMJ in the future, something for Abergavenny audiences to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019.

Victoria Klewin

Monday, September 30, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Haddon Sullivan

Pure class. Klewin’s singing was superb throughout, embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, playful and vivacious on the livelier numbers and genuinely moving on ballads.

Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019.


Victoria Klewin – vocals, Denny Ilett – guitar, Dan Moore –keyboard, Pasquale Votino – double bass, Matt Brown - drums

Bristol based Victoria Klewin is a highly versatile vocalist capable of singing in a variety of musical styles including jazz, pop, soul, blues, folk and their various sub genres, and even classical and opera.

Her regular engagements include touring as a backing vocalist with the internationally known soul act Hannah Williams and The Affirmations. An accomplished session vocalist she has also worked in musical theatre and advertising. She is also an acclaimed musical educator and vocal coach.

However her first love is jazz and she works regularly with leading figures on the Bristol jazz scene as well as performing solo shows as a pianist and vocalist. In 2016 she released the solo album “Dance Me To Heaven”, a recording that featured her own songs alongside rarely heard items from the ‘Great American Songbook’.

She has also performed standards sets with Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle and his trio and it was good reports about a set by this combination at nearby Brecon Jazz Club that had whetted my appetite for tonight’s performance.

Klewin was born in Buckinghamshire but brought up in Corsham, Wiltshire. She studied music at Dartington College in Devon before re-locating to Bristol, the city she now calls home.

As a jazz vocalist Klewin’s singing has invited comparisons with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee with other influences including Betty Carter, Nancy Wilson, Melody Gardot, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

However her ultimate jazz heroine is the New York born singer and pianist Blossom Dearie (1924-2009). Klewin has toured widely with her “Sings Blossom Dearie” show, which features Dearie’s own compositions alongside material associated with her written by the likes of Cole Porter, Cy Coleman and Johnny Mercer. Klewin’s homage to Dearie follows in the wake of similarly successful projects paying tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Hoagy Carmichael.

Klewin’s Dearie show has been realised with the help of a group of Bristol’s finest musicians featuring Denny Ilett (guitar), Dan Moore (piano), Riaan Vosloo (double bass) and Matt Brown (drums). Vosloo was replaced for tonight’s performance by Naples born, Bristol based Pasquale Votino, who slotted in seamlessly alongside Brown and the others. The arrangements for the “Sings Blossom Dearie” show are written by Ilett, a musician already popular with Abergavenny audiences thanks to his involvement with regular BMJ visitors Moscow Drug Club.

Ilett was part of a sharp dressed ensemble with Klewin choosing to perform seated. By her own admission a reluctant dancer this helped to put the focus very much on the singing and the songs, but with vocalist still representing a charismatic stage presence.

The quintet commenced with the song “Let Me Love You”, written by Bart Howard and recorded by Dearie. Ilett’s arrangement introduced Klewin’s assured, well enunciated vocals and his own crisp, clean, classic jazz guitar sound. Also featuring as a soloist was Moore,  who deployed an acoustic piano setting on his keyboard throughout the evening. We also heard from bassist Votino, who immediately impressed with his first solo of the evening. Brown, using brushes, provided lightly swinging support throughout.

The Bob Haymes song “You For Me” was sourced from Dearie’s eponymous album from 1957 and featured a playful vocal from Klewin alongside instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore. Both soloists have previously worked in bands led by saxophonists Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s most famous jazz export, and James Morton. In these groups Moore has revealed himself to be an exceptional organ soloist, but tonight it was a pleasure to hear him demonstrate his considerable abilities as a pianist.

Following a relatively lively start Klewin and the quintet varied the pace with a beautiful reading of the ballad “Try Your Wings”, with Klewin’s emotive but elegant vocals complemented by the cool eloquence of Ilett’s guitar solo as Brown provided delicately brushed, highly sympathetic support.

Brown’s drums introduced a joyous romp through Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance” as he and Votino set up a gently propulsive groove that fuelled Klewin’s breezy vocals and instrumental solos from the bassist and from Ilett. According to her press release Klewin can sing in several different languages, but by her own admission she still shied away from the French lyrics at the end of the song.

Klewin presented tonight’s performance with wit and warmth, giving the audience just enough information on the story behind each song and its relationship to Dearie. The self penned “Blossom’s Blues” featured risqué lyrics and was also authentically bluesy, despite incorporating a scat vocal episode. Instrumental solos came from Ilett and Moore, the latter at one point soloing with double bass accompaniment only.

Another change of mood and pace on the ballad “How Will He Know?”, the first Dearie song that Klewin ever heard, despite it being relatively little known. A real ‘torch song’ this tale of unrequited love was performed in duo format by Klewin and Moore, the pianist providing sensitive and understated support to Klewin’s haunting vocal. The now outmoded lyrical reference to pipe smoking evoked a sense of nostalgia, and only added to the song’s appeal. This item was sourced from Dearie’s 1959 album “Sings Comden and Green”, a collection of songs featuring the lyrics of wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by a variety of well known composers, in this instance Jule Styne.

There were more references to the past on Cy Coleman’s “The Riviera” from Dearie’s 1958 album “Give Him the Ooh-La-La”. The introduction to the song saw Klewin and Moore continuing in duo mode before the rest of the band kicked in, their jaunty rhythms complementing Klewin’s breezy vocal performance of the clever and satirical lyrics.

The first set closed in the same vein with the quintet’s take on “I’m Hip”, written for Dearie by Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg,  the song a satirical take on a 1950s New York Bohemian. Klewin’s flawless reading of the complex, vicious but witty lyrics was a vocal tour de force and she received excellent support from a band featuring the cream of Bristol’s music scene.

The second half saw the quintet hit the ground running with a swinging, bluesy version of “The Party’s Over”, introduced by Ilett on guitar as he shared the instrumental solos with Moore on piano. These two also featured on a lively “Deed I Do”,  a song also recorded by Ray Charles.

Following a brisk start the set’s first ballad was “Some Other Time”, “a song about love at the wrong time” explained Klewin, “it gets me every time I sing it”. Her moving rendition of the song was complemented by a tasteful arrangement featuring piano, bass and brushed drums.

The Cole Porter composed title track of Dearie’s 1958 album “Give Him the Ooh-La-La” found Klewin back in playful mood in a bossa style arrangement on one of Porter’s now less well known songs.

From the pen of another famous songwriter came “Down With Love”, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. A bluesy, swinging arrangement framed the cynical but witty lyrics with Klewin’s singing augmented by instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore.

Another song from Dearie’s “Ooh La-La” album revealed a gentler side of Cy Coleman’s writing on a compelling arrangement of the ballad “I Walk A Little Faster”, which featured an affecting vocal performance from Klewin and Moore at his most lyrical on the keyboard.

More Coleman with a vivacious performance of “When In Rome” with the lyrical reference to ‘Napoli’ (rhymed with ‘snappily’) triggering a bass solo from Naples born Votino alongside further instrumental features from Ilett and Moore.

There was more vocal and lyrical dexterity on Klewin’s performance of the song “My New Celebrity Is You”, written specifically for Dearie by Johnny Mercer and featuring references to then famous people ranging from band-leader Woody Herman to golfer Lee Trevino. Klewin’s brilliantly executed vocal performance was augmented by instrumental features for all the members of the band, including drummer Matt Brown, who clearly relished the opportunity to cut loose.

This represented the end of the scheduled set but a performance of this quality in front of a near capacity audience was never going to finish without an encore. After a brief discussion Ilett called an arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight” which incorporated an authentically sultry vocal performance from Klewin alongside final instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore. The audience loved it.

The quintet’s performance of this Dearie related material was pure class, a reflection of the quality of their chosen material and of the abilities of Dearie, a performer who seems to have been
‘re-discovered’ in the years following her death.

Klewin’s singing was superb throughout, like Dearie embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, playful and vivacious on the livelier numbers and genuinely moving on ballads. Technically flawless her enunciation was perfect as she navigated the twists and turns of the often complex lyrics, investing the words with just the right type of emotion at any given time.

Led by Ilett the instrumentalists were also at the top of their game, the solos concise and cogent, the accompaniment always tasteful and supportive, but bluesy and swinging too, as required. As the main soloists Ilett and Moore inevitably stood out, but the contributions of Brown and Votino shouldn’t be overlooked, with the latter slotting in well with an already very tight and well drilled ensemble.

‘Classy’ was the phrase used by many to sum up a hugely successful event that saw one of the best club night attendances of the year with band, organisers, and audience all genuinely happy with the way the evening had gone.

My thanks to Victoria and Denny for speaking with me afterwards. One suspects that these are musicians who will be invited back to BMJ in the future, something for Abergavenny audiences to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

Paul Booth - Travel Sketches Rating: 0 out of 5 An impressive offering from Booth and his colleagues. The recorded sound is excellent throughout and the playing assured and imaginative.

Paul Booth

“Travel Sketches”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0034)

Paul Booth – tenor sax, Steve Hamilton – piano, Dave Whitford – double bass, Andrew Bain - drums

Paul Booth, the North East born saxophonist, is a hugely versatile musician who is probably best known for his long term association with Steve Winwood’s band. Indeed Booth’s formidable abilities have made him a first call sideman for an impressive roster of leading rock and pop artists, his credits including such A-listers as Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers Band,  Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, Marti Pellow, Brand New Heavies, Incognito, Jamiroquai and the Eagles.

However Booth’s first love has always been jazz and his credentials in this field are no less impressive. Among those with whom Booth has worked are bassists Davide Mantovani, Arnie Somogyi and Michael Janisch,  trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Ryan Quigley and Ingrid Jensen, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, saxophonist Alan Barnes, vocalist Anita Wardell, flautist Gareth Lockrane and drummers Clark Tracey and Clarence Penn. Booth has also recorded with the Cuban born player of the Galician bagpipes Wilber Calver. In addition his playing has graced the ranks of the BBC Big Band.

In addition to his exhaustive sideman credits across a variety of genres Booth is also a composer and band leader in his own right and also runs his own Pathways record label. His output as a leader includes the albums “It’s Happening” (2003),  “No Looking Back” (Basho Records, 2007), “Pathways” (2009) and “Trilateral” (Pathway, 2012), the last named featuring Booth’s playing with three different trios.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/paul-booth-trilateral/

In recent years Booth’s growing interest in world music styles has led to him forming two different ensembles, the Patchwork Project and the Bansangu Orchestra. The début releases from both bands are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/paul-booth-patchwork-project-vol.-1/
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/bansangu-orchestra-bansangu-orchestra/

Currently he also leads on organ trio featuring Ross Stanley on Hammond and Andrew Bain at the drums.

Bain’s playing also features on this new quartet release, a recording that sees Booth going back to his jazz roots. The sound may be rooted in the jazz tradition but as the album title suggests the saxophonist’s seven new original compositions draw inspiration from his global wanderings while on tour with some of the many artists listed above. Booth’s succinct liner notes offer brief, but cogent, insights into the inspirations behind each tune. The programme is completed by an instrumental interpretation of the Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up”.

Of the overall concept behind the album Booth explains;
“The bulk of this album’s content was written while touring. It is my intention that each composition transcends the listener into an experience inspired by my travels. For this album I made a conscious decision to go back to my roots as a tenor player. Luckily, recording with my friends, who happen to be my first choice and best, proved wise. The album was recorded in one afternoon in a live playing situation, leaving zero chance for ‘fixes’. Most of the tracks on this album were first takes.”

Of his quartet Booth says;
“We are friends who make music together. There’s an empathy when we play, unspoken directions that lead us to constantly re-interpret the music we are playing. I really wanted my compositions to feel as if they were written by the whole band, and somehow I think we achieved this.”

The mood of the album is relaxed and generally mellow and as Booth has indicated there is clearly a highly developed rapport between the players. It’s a genuine team effort with the saxophonist receiving skilled and empathic support from his colleagues throughout. In a well balanced quartet there is a clear sense of the common goal and no grandstanding, despite the presence of many outstanding solos.

The album commences with the jazz waltz “Seattle Fall”, of which Booth informs us;
“I wrote this first piece one rainy Autumn day, whilst on tour with Steve Winwood. Looking for solitude in a Seattle theatre I found a beautiful old piano and the inspiration was set. Half an hour later it was complete”.
There’s an agreeably pastoral feel about the music, one that sums up the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ that inspired it. Booth’s tenor sax soloing is fluent and elegant, unhurried and with no sense of bluster. Hamilton offers suitably sympathetic support at the piano and displays an admirable lyricism throughout. Whitford supplies melodic bass counterpoint and adds an understated but wonderfully dexterous solo. Bain also impresses with his contribution, particularly his delicate brush work in the earlier stages of the piece.

Of the next piece, “Seminole Serenade”, Booth states;
“As a lover of Native American culture, this tune is delicately inspired by their journey. I credit my fiancée with opening my eyes to the walk of her ancestors”.
Booth introduces the piece with a pure toned, but highly evocative, passage of unaccompanied tenor.  Overall the mood is similar to the opener, restrained, wistful, lyrical with the gentle, but exotic, patter of Bain’s drums granting just sufficient impetus for the mellifluous but intelligent soloing of Booth and Hamilton.

There’s a change of mood and pace on “Medina Scuffle”. Of this piece Booth says;
“If you have ever spent any time in Morocco you’ll have witnessed the embedded chaos in various parts of the country. This piece was written after navigating the intensity of the medina and also being inspired by the serenity of Gnawa music”.
A more forceful performance, introduced by Whitford at the bass, also displays the influence of bebop with Hamilton contributing a feverish piano solo as Bain’s drums chatter busily around him. Hitherto Booth’s playing has evoked comparisons with that of Stan Getz,  but his turbo-charged solo here is more reminiscent of John Coltrane. There’s also an extended drum feature from Bain, who gets the opportunity to release his inner Elvin Jones.

Booth now lives in Ramsgate – when he’s not on the road. Of the tune “No Place Like Home” he comments;
“Sometimes music, or a particular song, just has a way of saying it all. After so much time away, there really is no place like home”.
Hamilton’s solo piano ruminations introduce a piece that evokes an appropriate sense of wistfulness via Booth’s warm toned tenor soloing and Whitford’s delightfully melodic bass feature.

“Tuscan Charm” was written towards the close of a lengthy international tour that ended in Italy. Booth says of the experience;
“I discovered the delights of Tuscany. The majestic beauty of the countryside and kindness of its people easily brought pen to paper. The wine was pretty good too!”.
The music sounds appropriately balmy and relaxed with Booth constructing his tenor solo in unhurried fashion, yet all the while displaying great fluency and imagination. His colleagues respond to his every move with grace and acumen, particularly as the leader’s playing gradually becomes more loquacious. Bain’s inventive drumming plays a particularly prominent part in the arrangement.

It’s Bain who introduces “Red Rocks”, a ballad inspired by Booth’s adventures hiking in Colorado. Clearly moved by his experiences the composer writes;
“It would be an understatement to say Red Rocks is Mother Nature at her best. My mind was almost transfixed at the mountain’s peaks and I saw them as resembling notes on a stave. Feeling inspired I determined a key and basic scale, sketched out the melody I saw in the peaks and then interpreted the rhythms from various movements scattered around me. From that point on this tune grew into a piece that I am quite proud of”.
From the brushed drum intro Bain establishes a marching rhythm around which sax, piano and bass congregate, with Booth sketching the melody on tenor. The piece develops elegantly and naturally through the flowing lyricism of Hamilton’s piano solo and Booth’s subsequent tenor sax meditations. Rather than attempting to replicate the grandeur of nature Booth’s piece instead seems to encapsulate the humility he felt in the presence of almost overwhelming natural beauty.

One suspects that similar circumstances informed the writing of “Byron Bay”, written back in England following a tour of New Zealand and Australia. Hamilton’s piano ushers in the piece and is heard in mutual dialogue with Booth’s tenor. With the addition of bass and drums the piece evokes a sense of warmth and nostalgia for a place that Booth describes as having been “a ‘bucket list destination for as long as I can remember”. This is expressed in the gentle melodicism of the solos of Hamilton and Booth, although the way in which the latter subsequently stretches out is also a reminder of Byron Bay’s reputation as a surfing destination.

The album concludes with the quartet’s interpretation of Peter Gabriel’s hit “Don’t Give Up”, which featured a second vocal from guest Kate Bush. Booth’s group have played the piece many times in concert, usually at the end of the evening.
“It is my hope that the listener leaves with a sense of self and hope” explains Booth, “the positive message, woven in with my own interpretation, will hopefully trigger, or dare I say it, INSPIRE the ideals and ethics of future generations.”. He adds an autobiographical note; “Don’t give up on the hard work it takes. The life you can live through music is the most fulfilling and rewarding life. Trust me, I’m living it now.”
Musically the quartet play things pretty straight, keeping Gabriel’s melody intact. Whitford instigates things from the bass, soon joined by piano and brushed drums before Booth states the familiar theme. The mood is relaxed, lyrical and imbued with a now trademark sense of yearning.
Hamilton solos succinctly on piano before helping Booth to inject a vaguely gospel feel into the music as the saxophonist stretches out. The only real hint of jazz subversion comes via the extended outro.

Recorded at Birmingham’s new Eastside Jazz Club by engineer Alex Bonney “Travel Sketches” represents an impressive offering from Booth and his colleagues. The recorded sound is excellent throughout and the playing assured and imaginative. Although it’s very much Booth’s album the contribution from all four musicians is excellent, with Bain in particular, displaying great sensitivity.

It’s an album that has attracted considerable critical acclaim with several writers reaching for the Getz comparisons. If there’s a criticism it could be that a sense of wistful lyricism pervades almost throughout with only “Medina Scuffle” really breaking out of the mould, but any allegations of bloodlessness are rather undermined by the quality of the playing on what is ultimately a rather lovely album.

Paul Booth has taken time out from his travels to deliver a beautiful set of musical postcards – does anybody remember those?

Booth and the quartet are currently touring the “Travel Sketches” material with forthcoming performances at;

Oct 16 - Flute & Tankard, Cardiff (Cardiff Jazz)
Oct 24 - Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham
Oct 25 - Cork Jazz Festival, Ireland
Dec 2 - NQ Jazz @ The Whiskey Jar, Manchester

2020
March 27 - International Study Centre, Cathedral Precincts, Canterbury (featuring the Festival Chamber Orchestra)
May 14 – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
May 27 – Fougou Jazz, Torbay, Devon

Paul will also be performing music from the album with the La Havana house band:
October 11 2019 - La Havana Jazz Club, Chichester

More information at;
 https://www.paulboothmusic.com

 

Travel Sketches

Paul Booth

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

Travel Sketches

An impressive offering from Booth and his colleagues. The recorded sound is excellent throughout and the playing assured and imaginative.

Paul Booth

“Travel Sketches”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0034)

Paul Booth – tenor sax, Steve Hamilton – piano, Dave Whitford – double bass, Andrew Bain - drums

Paul Booth, the North East born saxophonist, is a hugely versatile musician who is probably best known for his long term association with Steve Winwood’s band. Indeed Booth’s formidable abilities have made him a first call sideman for an impressive roster of leading rock and pop artists, his credits including such A-listers as Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers Band,  Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, Marti Pellow, Brand New Heavies, Incognito, Jamiroquai and the Eagles.

However Booth’s first love has always been jazz and his credentials in this field are no less impressive. Among those with whom Booth has worked are bassists Davide Mantovani, Arnie Somogyi and Michael Janisch,  trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Ryan Quigley and Ingrid Jensen, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, saxophonist Alan Barnes, vocalist Anita Wardell, flautist Gareth Lockrane and drummers Clark Tracey and Clarence Penn. Booth has also recorded with the Cuban born player of the Galician bagpipes Wilber Calver. In addition his playing has graced the ranks of the BBC Big Band.

In addition to his exhaustive sideman credits across a variety of genres Booth is also a composer and band leader in his own right and also runs his own Pathways record label. His output as a leader includes the albums “It’s Happening” (2003),  “No Looking Back” (Basho Records, 2007), “Pathways” (2009) and “Trilateral” (Pathway, 2012), the last named featuring Booth’s playing with three different trios.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/paul-booth-trilateral/

In recent years Booth’s growing interest in world music styles has led to him forming two different ensembles, the Patchwork Project and the Bansangu Orchestra. The début releases from both bands are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/paul-booth-patchwork-project-vol.-1/
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/bansangu-orchestra-bansangu-orchestra/

Currently he also leads on organ trio featuring Ross Stanley on Hammond and Andrew Bain at the drums.

Bain’s playing also features on this new quartet release, a recording that sees Booth going back to his jazz roots. The sound may be rooted in the jazz tradition but as the album title suggests the saxophonist’s seven new original compositions draw inspiration from his global wanderings while on tour with some of the many artists listed above. Booth’s succinct liner notes offer brief, but cogent, insights into the inspirations behind each tune. The programme is completed by an instrumental interpretation of the Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up”.

Of the overall concept behind the album Booth explains;
“The bulk of this album’s content was written while touring. It is my intention that each composition transcends the listener into an experience inspired by my travels. For this album I made a conscious decision to go back to my roots as a tenor player. Luckily, recording with my friends, who happen to be my first choice and best, proved wise. The album was recorded in one afternoon in a live playing situation, leaving zero chance for ‘fixes’. Most of the tracks on this album were first takes.”

Of his quartet Booth says;
“We are friends who make music together. There’s an empathy when we play, unspoken directions that lead us to constantly re-interpret the music we are playing. I really wanted my compositions to feel as if they were written by the whole band, and somehow I think we achieved this.”

The mood of the album is relaxed and generally mellow and as Booth has indicated there is clearly a highly developed rapport between the players. It’s a genuine team effort with the saxophonist receiving skilled and empathic support from his colleagues throughout. In a well balanced quartet there is a clear sense of the common goal and no grandstanding, despite the presence of many outstanding solos.

The album commences with the jazz waltz “Seattle Fall”, of which Booth informs us;
“I wrote this first piece one rainy Autumn day, whilst on tour with Steve Winwood. Looking for solitude in a Seattle theatre I found a beautiful old piano and the inspiration was set. Half an hour later it was complete”.
There’s an agreeably pastoral feel about the music, one that sums up the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ that inspired it. Booth’s tenor sax soloing is fluent and elegant, unhurried and with no sense of bluster. Hamilton offers suitably sympathetic support at the piano and displays an admirable lyricism throughout. Whitford supplies melodic bass counterpoint and adds an understated but wonderfully dexterous solo. Bain also impresses with his contribution, particularly his delicate brush work in the earlier stages of the piece.

Of the next piece, “Seminole Serenade”, Booth states;
“As a lover of Native American culture, this tune is delicately inspired by their journey. I credit my fiancée with opening my eyes to the walk of her ancestors”.
Booth introduces the piece with a pure toned, but highly evocative, passage of unaccompanied tenor.  Overall the mood is similar to the opener, restrained, wistful, lyrical with the gentle, but exotic, patter of Bain’s drums granting just sufficient impetus for the mellifluous but intelligent soloing of Booth and Hamilton.

There’s a change of mood and pace on “Medina Scuffle”. Of this piece Booth says;
“If you have ever spent any time in Morocco you’ll have witnessed the embedded chaos in various parts of the country. This piece was written after navigating the intensity of the medina and also being inspired by the serenity of Gnawa music”.
A more forceful performance, introduced by Whitford at the bass, also displays the influence of bebop with Hamilton contributing a feverish piano solo as Bain’s drums chatter busily around him. Hitherto Booth’s playing has evoked comparisons with that of Stan Getz,  but his turbo-charged solo here is more reminiscent of John Coltrane. There’s also an extended drum feature from Bain, who gets the opportunity to release his inner Elvin Jones.

Booth now lives in Ramsgate – when he’s not on the road. Of the tune “No Place Like Home” he comments;
“Sometimes music, or a particular song, just has a way of saying it all. After so much time away, there really is no place like home”.
Hamilton’s solo piano ruminations introduce a piece that evokes an appropriate sense of wistfulness via Booth’s warm toned tenor soloing and Whitford’s delightfully melodic bass feature.

“Tuscan Charm” was written towards the close of a lengthy international tour that ended in Italy. Booth says of the experience;
“I discovered the delights of Tuscany. The majestic beauty of the countryside and kindness of its people easily brought pen to paper. The wine was pretty good too!”.
The music sounds appropriately balmy and relaxed with Booth constructing his tenor solo in unhurried fashion, yet all the while displaying great fluency and imagination. His colleagues respond to his every move with grace and acumen, particularly as the leader’s playing gradually becomes more loquacious. Bain’s inventive drumming plays a particularly prominent part in the arrangement.

It’s Bain who introduces “Red Rocks”, a ballad inspired by Booth’s adventures hiking in Colorado. Clearly moved by his experiences the composer writes;
“It would be an understatement to say Red Rocks is Mother Nature at her best. My mind was almost transfixed at the mountain’s peaks and I saw them as resembling notes on a stave. Feeling inspired I determined a key and basic scale, sketched out the melody I saw in the peaks and then interpreted the rhythms from various movements scattered around me. From that point on this tune grew into a piece that I am quite proud of”.
From the brushed drum intro Bain establishes a marching rhythm around which sax, piano and bass congregate, with Booth sketching the melody on tenor. The piece develops elegantly and naturally through the flowing lyricism of Hamilton’s piano solo and Booth’s subsequent tenor sax meditations. Rather than attempting to replicate the grandeur of nature Booth’s piece instead seems to encapsulate the humility he felt in the presence of almost overwhelming natural beauty.

One suspects that similar circumstances informed the writing of “Byron Bay”, written back in England following a tour of New Zealand and Australia. Hamilton’s piano ushers in the piece and is heard in mutual dialogue with Booth’s tenor. With the addition of bass and drums the piece evokes a sense of warmth and nostalgia for a place that Booth describes as having been “a ‘bucket list destination for as long as I can remember”. This is expressed in the gentle melodicism of the solos of Hamilton and Booth, although the way in which the latter subsequently stretches out is also a reminder of Byron Bay’s reputation as a surfing destination.

The album concludes with the quartet’s interpretation of Peter Gabriel’s hit “Don’t Give Up”, which featured a second vocal from guest Kate Bush. Booth’s group have played the piece many times in concert, usually at the end of the evening.
“It is my hope that the listener leaves with a sense of self and hope” explains Booth, “the positive message, woven in with my own interpretation, will hopefully trigger, or dare I say it, INSPIRE the ideals and ethics of future generations.”. He adds an autobiographical note; “Don’t give up on the hard work it takes. The life you can live through music is the most fulfilling and rewarding life. Trust me, I’m living it now.”
Musically the quartet play things pretty straight, keeping Gabriel’s melody intact. Whitford instigates things from the bass, soon joined by piano and brushed drums before Booth states the familiar theme. The mood is relaxed, lyrical and imbued with a now trademark sense of yearning.
Hamilton solos succinctly on piano before helping Booth to inject a vaguely gospel feel into the music as the saxophonist stretches out. The only real hint of jazz subversion comes via the extended outro.

Recorded at Birmingham’s new Eastside Jazz Club by engineer Alex Bonney “Travel Sketches” represents an impressive offering from Booth and his colleagues. The recorded sound is excellent throughout and the playing assured and imaginative. Although it’s very much Booth’s album the contribution from all four musicians is excellent, with Bain in particular, displaying great sensitivity.

It’s an album that has attracted considerable critical acclaim with several writers reaching for the Getz comparisons. If there’s a criticism it could be that a sense of wistful lyricism pervades almost throughout with only “Medina Scuffle” really breaking out of the mould, but any allegations of bloodlessness are rather undermined by the quality of the playing on what is ultimately a rather lovely album.

Paul Booth has taken time out from his travels to deliver a beautiful set of musical postcards – does anybody remember those?

Booth and the quartet are currently touring the “Travel Sketches” material with forthcoming performances at;

Oct 16 - Flute & Tankard, Cardiff (Cardiff Jazz)
Oct 24 - Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham
Oct 25 - Cork Jazz Festival, Ireland
Dec 2 - NQ Jazz @ The Whiskey Jar, Manchester

2020
March 27 - International Study Centre, Cathedral Precincts, Canterbury (featuring the Festival Chamber Orchestra)
May 14 – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
May 27 – Fougou Jazz, Torbay, Devon

Paul will also be performing music from the album with the La Havana house band:
October 11 2019 - La Havana Jazz Club, Chichester

More information at;
 https://www.paulboothmusic.com

 

Pigfoot - Pigfoot Shuffle Rating: 4 out of 5 This is music that is simultaneously sophisticated and earthy, musically complex but terrific fun.

Pigfoot

“Pigfoot Shuffle”

(Pokey Records PR001)

Chris Batchelor – trumpet, cornet, Liam Noble – piano/keyboards, James Allsopp – baritone sax, bass clarinet, Paul Clarvis – drums, percussion


“Pigfoot Shuffle” is the second album from the band Pigfoot, a welcome follow up to their 2014 début “21st Century Acid Trad”.

Named after the Bessie Smith song “Gimme a Pigfoot” the band was formed in 2013 by Batchelor, Noble, Clarvis and tuba player Oren Marshall, and it was a performance by this quartet that I enjoyed at that year’s London Jazz Festival.

In 2014 the same foursome released “21st Century Acid Trad” on Clarvis’ Village Life record label, the album receiving considerable acclaim for its radical adaptations of classic early jazz material  associated with Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and others.

The début saw Pigfoot giving their chosen material a fiercely contemporary twist, casting the old chestnuts in a new light by updating harmonies, rhythms and textures, but still leaving enough of the original melodies intact for the pieces to be instantly recognisable.

Pigfoot’s approach was a welcome reminder that early jazz was both subversive and wildly joyous. Their music is both rowdy and intelligent, sophisticated in its knowing adventurousness but most importantly great fun, albeit in a post modern sort of a way. Nonetheless Pigfoot’s obvious love of their source material shines through, despite the sometimes outrageous musical liberties that they take with it. The title of that first album encapsulated their sound at that time perfectly, and it’s arguable that the recording helped to spark the current ‘Vintage Revival’ that has become such a feature of the current London jazz scene.

In the intervening years Pigfoot have moved on, with reeds player James Allsopp replacing Marshall. The group have also expanded their stylistic palette to bring the Pigfoot sound to other genres of music. A regular series of ‘Pigfoot Play’ gigs at London’s Vortex Jazz Club has seen them dedicate entire performances to their interpretations of Opera, Motown, Elvis Presley, Burt Bacharach and The Hits of 1972. Highlights from this repertoire are included on the band’s new studio album, in this instance released on Batchelor’s own Pokey Records imprint.

It’s fitting that the album should appear on Batchelor’s label as the trumpeter is the unofficial leader of the band, selecting, transcribing and re-arranging the material and transforming, re-constructing and revitalising it as part of the process.

Of course it takes four exceptional musicians to deliver all of this convincingly, and that’s exactly what Pigfoot are. Musical skill combines with sly humour and a general irreverence, qualities that in Batchelor’s case date back to his Loose Tubes days.

Pigfoot’s approach is broadly similar to that of the younger and more wilfully iconoclastic New York based group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, but generally less arch. Much as I love them I’ve always harboured the nagging doubt that MOPDTK are sometimes a little too clever for their own good. It’s not a feeling I get from Pigfoot’s music, which sounds more organic, less forced and less affected. They genuinely do sound as if they’re having fun and enjoying every minute of it.

The broad range of music being given the Pigfoot treatment helps to give the new album its title, the genre hopping track listing looking something like a particularly eclectic i-pod shuffle.

We start with Elvis and a particularly rumbustious version of “Heartbreak Hotel” that takes the song back to New Orleans via Batchelor’s growling, vocalised trumpet (or maybe cornet) and Allsopp’s equally raucous baritone sax. Clarvis slams out marching band rhythms, aided and abetted by Noble whose slippery piano lines slide in and around the piece. A rousing start.

However it’s not all swagger and bluster. Noble’s solo piano introduction to Richard Strauss’ “Dance Of The Seven Veils” displays a genuine tenderness and lyricism. The arrival of Clarvis steers the music in a more playful direction with the Middle Eastern inflections of Batchelor on cornet and Allsopp on bass clarinet, the pair combining very effectively above the quirky, and sometimes jerky, rhythmic accompaniment from drums and piano. Adrian Pallant’s liner notes compare the second half of the tune with Ellington, whilst also informing us that on this piece Batchelor plays his cornet through a bassoon reed to help create a singularly distinctive sound.

From the “Hits of 1972” repertoire comes the band’s arrangement of the Curtis Mayfield song “Pusherman” from the “Superfly” movie soundtrack. Noble plays electric keyboards, thus capturing something of that 70s vibe,  while skilfully combining with the inventive Clarvis as well as trading ideas with Allsopp on bass clarinet. Batchelor frequently ‘sings’ the vocal melody lines of song based material on trumpet, as he does here. The second part of the tune introduces a kind of sinister funk as Pigfoot pay homage to the brilliant but tragic Mayfield (1942-99).

It’s back to the Presley related material for a segue of “Jail House Rock” and “Hound Dog”, with Batchelor describing his arrangement of the latter as “the blues in all keys at once”. The segue commences with a live New Orleans styled dialogue between Noble on piano and Clarvis at the drums, a reminder of their fruitful partnership as a stand alone duo. Rasping baritone and bluesy, vocalised trumpet then strike up the familiar tune, carousing above a powerful rhythm. At the close they shade off into an even more raucous rendition of “Hound Dog” with Batchelor’s horn again ‘singing’ the melody line in exaggerated fashion. It’s a timely reminder of rock’s roots in jazz and blues in an arrangement inspired by the ideas Ornette Coleman!

Pigfoot display their gentler side on their first Bacharach song, “The Look of Love”. A spacious arrangement features the breathy, intertwining lines of Batchelor and Allsopp, a dash of lyrical but gently subversive piano from Noble, and the sound of Clarvis deploying brushes throughout. 

Perhaps the most dramatic musical transformation here is of the Mozart pieces “Isis & Osiris” and “Dove Sono” which are melded together and treated to a joyous Township Jazz arrangement that makes them sound as if they might have been written by Abdullah Ibrahim. Batchelor’s trumpet takes flight against a backdrop of piano, drums and Allsopp’s circling baritone motif. Subsequently Noble also gets the opportunity to spread his wings.

Next we come to the track that has probably garnered the most attention, a powerhouse romp through the Led Zeppelin rock classic “Black Dog”, featuring Batchelor on biting wah wah trumpet, Allsopp on growling baritone and Noble on filthy sounding vintage synth. Meanwhile Clarvis unleashes his inner John Bonham. The power of the performance matches that of Zeppelin themselves and it has also been favorably compared to the punk jazz chutzpah of Acoustic Ladyland at their peak. Incidentally Pallant’s liner notes inform us that Batchelor is playing “vintage buzz wah trumpet mute, a quirky item complete with kazoos, one of several in his armoury”. Batchelor appears to be holding one such on the inside cover photograph, as does Allsopp incidentally. Brian Homer’s pic, taken after a gig in Birmingham, features all four members cradling various types of trumpet/cornet.

A lively, but less menacing, arrangement of the Stevie Wonder hit “For Once In My Life” features Batchelor ‘singing’ the vocal melody line and also replicating the famous harmonica solo on soprano cornet. Allsopp also gets the opportunity to dig in on gruff baritone and Clarvis drums with great panache throughout, a precursor to the tongue in cheek ‘bring on the dancing girls’ style finale.

Next up is an unusual gospel style arrangement that splices the song “Love Letters” with Richard Wagner’s “Song to the Evening Star” and makes it all sound perfectly logical. At times the piece resembles a New Orleans funeral march, the ideal backdrop for soulful and powerful solos from Allsopp on baritone and Batchelor on trumpet, with Noble acting as the wild card on piano.

Finally we hear the second of the Bacharach pieces, “Wives & Lovers”, which transcends the now rather dated lyrics by way of a McCoy Tyner inspired jazz arrangement that incorporates fluent solos from Allsopp on baritone,  Batchelor on trumpet and, of course Noble on piano.

Once again the critical response to “Pigfoot Shuffle” has been overwhelmingly positive and rightly so. This is music that is simultaneously sophisticated and earthy, musically complex but terrific fun.
Batchelor’s ingenious arrangements make something new from his chosen material, transforming his sources but without belittling them. It’s a neat trick, and one that is made even more impressive by the skill and vivacity of the performances, with all four musicians acquitting themselves superbly.

It’s been nearly six years since I last saw Pigfoot play live. Let’s hope that the favourable reaction accorded to “Pigfoot Shuffle” will enable the band to venture out on the road again sometime soon.

Pigfoot Shuffle

Pigfoot

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Pigfoot Shuffle

This is music that is simultaneously sophisticated and earthy, musically complex but terrific fun.

Pigfoot

“Pigfoot Shuffle”

(Pokey Records PR001)

Chris Batchelor – trumpet, cornet, Liam Noble – piano/keyboards, James Allsopp – baritone sax, bass clarinet, Paul Clarvis – drums, percussion


“Pigfoot Shuffle” is the second album from the band Pigfoot, a welcome follow up to their 2014 début “21st Century Acid Trad”.

Named after the Bessie Smith song “Gimme a Pigfoot” the band was formed in 2013 by Batchelor, Noble, Clarvis and tuba player Oren Marshall, and it was a performance by this quartet that I enjoyed at that year’s London Jazz Festival.

In 2014 the same foursome released “21st Century Acid Trad” on Clarvis’ Village Life record label, the album receiving considerable acclaim for its radical adaptations of classic early jazz material  associated with Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and others.

The début saw Pigfoot giving their chosen material a fiercely contemporary twist, casting the old chestnuts in a new light by updating harmonies, rhythms and textures, but still leaving enough of the original melodies intact for the pieces to be instantly recognisable.

Pigfoot’s approach was a welcome reminder that early jazz was both subversive and wildly joyous. Their music is both rowdy and intelligent, sophisticated in its knowing adventurousness but most importantly great fun, albeit in a post modern sort of a way. Nonetheless Pigfoot’s obvious love of their source material shines through, despite the sometimes outrageous musical liberties that they take with it. The title of that first album encapsulated their sound at that time perfectly, and it’s arguable that the recording helped to spark the current ‘Vintage Revival’ that has become such a feature of the current London jazz scene.

In the intervening years Pigfoot have moved on, with reeds player James Allsopp replacing Marshall. The group have also expanded their stylistic palette to bring the Pigfoot sound to other genres of music. A regular series of ‘Pigfoot Play’ gigs at London’s Vortex Jazz Club has seen them dedicate entire performances to their interpretations of Opera, Motown, Elvis Presley, Burt Bacharach and The Hits of 1972. Highlights from this repertoire are included on the band’s new studio album, in this instance released on Batchelor’s own Pokey Records imprint.

It’s fitting that the album should appear on Batchelor’s label as the trumpeter is the unofficial leader of the band, selecting, transcribing and re-arranging the material and transforming, re-constructing and revitalising it as part of the process.

Of course it takes four exceptional musicians to deliver all of this convincingly, and that’s exactly what Pigfoot are. Musical skill combines with sly humour and a general irreverence, qualities that in Batchelor’s case date back to his Loose Tubes days.

Pigfoot’s approach is broadly similar to that of the younger and more wilfully iconoclastic New York based group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, but generally less arch. Much as I love them I’ve always harboured the nagging doubt that MOPDTK are sometimes a little too clever for their own good. It’s not a feeling I get from Pigfoot’s music, which sounds more organic, less forced and less affected. They genuinely do sound as if they’re having fun and enjoying every minute of it.

The broad range of music being given the Pigfoot treatment helps to give the new album its title, the genre hopping track listing looking something like a particularly eclectic i-pod shuffle.

We start with Elvis and a particularly rumbustious version of “Heartbreak Hotel” that takes the song back to New Orleans via Batchelor’s growling, vocalised trumpet (or maybe cornet) and Allsopp’s equally raucous baritone sax. Clarvis slams out marching band rhythms, aided and abetted by Noble whose slippery piano lines slide in and around the piece. A rousing start.

However it’s not all swagger and bluster. Noble’s solo piano introduction to Richard Strauss’ “Dance Of The Seven Veils” displays a genuine tenderness and lyricism. The arrival of Clarvis steers the music in a more playful direction with the Middle Eastern inflections of Batchelor on cornet and Allsopp on bass clarinet, the pair combining very effectively above the quirky, and sometimes jerky, rhythmic accompaniment from drums and piano. Adrian Pallant’s liner notes compare the second half of the tune with Ellington, whilst also informing us that on this piece Batchelor plays his cornet through a bassoon reed to help create a singularly distinctive sound.

From the “Hits of 1972” repertoire comes the band’s arrangement of the Curtis Mayfield song “Pusherman” from the “Superfly” movie soundtrack. Noble plays electric keyboards, thus capturing something of that 70s vibe,  while skilfully combining with the inventive Clarvis as well as trading ideas with Allsopp on bass clarinet. Batchelor frequently ‘sings’ the vocal melody lines of song based material on trumpet, as he does here. The second part of the tune introduces a kind of sinister funk as Pigfoot pay homage to the brilliant but tragic Mayfield (1942-99).

It’s back to the Presley related material for a segue of “Jail House Rock” and “Hound Dog”, with Batchelor describing his arrangement of the latter as “the blues in all keys at once”. The segue commences with a live New Orleans styled dialogue between Noble on piano and Clarvis at the drums, a reminder of their fruitful partnership as a stand alone duo. Rasping baritone and bluesy, vocalised trumpet then strike up the familiar tune, carousing above a powerful rhythm. At the close they shade off into an even more raucous rendition of “Hound Dog” with Batchelor’s horn again ‘singing’ the melody line in exaggerated fashion. It’s a timely reminder of rock’s roots in jazz and blues in an arrangement inspired by the ideas Ornette Coleman!

Pigfoot display their gentler side on their first Bacharach song, “The Look of Love”. A spacious arrangement features the breathy, intertwining lines of Batchelor and Allsopp, a dash of lyrical but gently subversive piano from Noble, and the sound of Clarvis deploying brushes throughout. 

Perhaps the most dramatic musical transformation here is of the Mozart pieces “Isis & Osiris” and “Dove Sono” which are melded together and treated to a joyous Township Jazz arrangement that makes them sound as if they might have been written by Abdullah Ibrahim. Batchelor’s trumpet takes flight against a backdrop of piano, drums and Allsopp’s circling baritone motif. Subsequently Noble also gets the opportunity to spread his wings.

Next we come to the track that has probably garnered the most attention, a powerhouse romp through the Led Zeppelin rock classic “Black Dog”, featuring Batchelor on biting wah wah trumpet, Allsopp on growling baritone and Noble on filthy sounding vintage synth. Meanwhile Clarvis unleashes his inner John Bonham. The power of the performance matches that of Zeppelin themselves and it has also been favorably compared to the punk jazz chutzpah of Acoustic Ladyland at their peak. Incidentally Pallant’s liner notes inform us that Batchelor is playing “vintage buzz wah trumpet mute, a quirky item complete with kazoos, one of several in his armoury”. Batchelor appears to be holding one such on the inside cover photograph, as does Allsopp incidentally. Brian Homer’s pic, taken after a gig in Birmingham, features all four members cradling various types of trumpet/cornet.

A lively, but less menacing, arrangement of the Stevie Wonder hit “For Once In My Life” features Batchelor ‘singing’ the vocal melody line and also replicating the famous harmonica solo on soprano cornet. Allsopp also gets the opportunity to dig in on gruff baritone and Clarvis drums with great panache throughout, a precursor to the tongue in cheek ‘bring on the dancing girls’ style finale.

Next up is an unusual gospel style arrangement that splices the song “Love Letters” with Richard Wagner’s “Song to the Evening Star” and makes it all sound perfectly logical. At times the piece resembles a New Orleans funeral march, the ideal backdrop for soulful and powerful solos from Allsopp on baritone and Batchelor on trumpet, with Noble acting as the wild card on piano.

Finally we hear the second of the Bacharach pieces, “Wives & Lovers”, which transcends the now rather dated lyrics by way of a McCoy Tyner inspired jazz arrangement that incorporates fluent solos from Allsopp on baritone,  Batchelor on trumpet and, of course Noble on piano.

Once again the critical response to “Pigfoot Shuffle” has been overwhelmingly positive and rightly so. This is music that is simultaneously sophisticated and earthy, musically complex but terrific fun.
Batchelor’s ingenious arrangements make something new from his chosen material, transforming his sources but without belittling them. It’s a neat trick, and one that is made even more impressive by the skill and vivacity of the performances, with all four musicians acquitting themselves superbly.

It’s been nearly six years since I last saw Pigfoot play live. Let’s hope that the favourable reaction accorded to “Pigfoot Shuffle” will enable the band to venture out on the road again sometime soon.

Michael Janisch - Worlds Collide Rating: 0 out of 5 A worthy edition to the Janisch solo canon, a recording that demonstrates his increasing skill and maturity as a musician and composer. The playing, by an all star cast, is excellent throughout.

Michael Janisch

“Worlds Collide”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4742)

Michael Janisch – Acoustic & Electric Bass, Post Production, Percussion,
Jason Palmer – Trumpet,
John O’Gallagher – Alto Sax,
Rez Abbasi – Guitar,
Clarence Penn – Drums

Guests;
Jon Escreet – Keyboards,
George Crowley – Tenor Sax,
Andrew Bain – Drums & Percussion


I’ve long considered “Purpose Built”, the 2009 leadership début by bassist and composer Michael Janisch to be one of the most significant jazz albums to be released in the UK in the 21st century. As well as being a fine artistic statement in its own right it is also the album that launched Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings record label, now one of the country’s leading jazz independents with a catalogue of over one hundred titles and an increasingly identifiable label sound. It’s probably fair to say that any album released on Whirlwind is going to have something interesting to say to the discerning jazz listener.

The perpetually busy Janisch’s role as an entrepreneur has forced him to put his own musical career on hold to a degree, although of course he has never stopped performing and his bass playing has graced many ensembles in recent years, particularly those led by musicians associated with the Whirlwind label.

Janisch, an American who has lived in London since 2005, has always encouraged collaborations between British, American and European musicians and is also the guy with the ambition, drive and energy to make these things happen, hence the ‘Whirlwind’ nickname that gives his label its moniker. “Purpose Built”, with its Anglo-American line up, was a perfect illustration of this and this spirit of international co-operation is something that has manifested itself on numerous other Whirlwind releases.

I first heard Janisch’s music in 2009 around the time of the release of “Purpose Built”. In August of that year, encouraged by the presence behind the drum kit of the great Clarence Penn,  I covered Janisch’s show at that year’s Aber Jazz and Blues Festival in Fishguard. For me it was a seminal moment,  I became an instant fan and I’ve been covering the music of Janisch and of the Whirlwind label ever since, incredibly for more than a decade now.
Live review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/michael-janisch-live-theatr-gwaun-fishguard-31-08-2009/
“Purpose Built” album review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/michael-janisch-purpose-built/

Janisch’s releases under his own name include the live recordings “Banned In London” (2012), featuring a quintet co-led by Janisch and Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz, and “First Meeting” (2014) documented by an all star quartet featuring the veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. Janisch was also part of the Trans-Atlantic Collective, a gathering of American, British and European musicians that featured the original compositions of its five members on the 2008 release “Traveling Song”.

As impressive as the two live recordings were there was still something of an ‘extended jam session’ feel about them. Janisch’s next album to fully concentrate on his own compositions was 2015’s “Paradigm Shift”, an ambitious double set that combined elements of jazz, rock and electronics with Janisch involving himself in a series of post production processes. Janisch toured the project extensively and my review of a live performance at Leamington Spa Jazz Club, combined with a look at the album itself, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/michael-janischs-paradigm-shift-leam-jazz-leamington-spa-rugby-club-leaming/

“Worlds Collide” is very much the ‘follow up’ to this and features a cast of musicians associated with the ‘Whirlwind family’ and drawn from both sides of the Atlantic. The bulk of the album was recorded in London at the famous Abbey Road Studios by the core band of Janisch, Abbasi, O’Gallagher, Palmer and Penn with Tyler MacDiarmid engineering. Escreet’s parts were subsequently recorded in New York and those of Crowley and Bain at a second session in the UK.

The programme consists of seven previously unrecorded Janisch originals. The album title is a reflection of the turbulent times we live in. Like every other American jazz musician that I’ve ever spoken to Janisch has no time for the divisive politics of Donald Trump, but the words “Worlds Collide” also reference the toxic online discourses that have helped to poison the internet. Indeed Janisch and Whirlwind, with their spirit of inter-connectivity and international co-operation stand for the very opposite of these things. “That’s the whole philosophy of Whirlwind”,  Janisch has said, “all these different cultures and communities coming together to make music”.

A further subtext to the evocative title is the apparent clash between the acoustic and electric elements in Janisch’s music, particularly the post production and electro improvising techniques that were introduced to him by trumpeter and sound artist Alex Bonney on the “Paradigm Shift” tour.  Janisch sees no division between the two, preferring to refer to his band as an “electro-acoustic” ensemble. Similarly he’s receptive to musical influences from all quarters, from the intellectual to the populist,  moving between acoustic and electric bass and being able to groove in a propulsive manner in a variety of musical styles and time signatures.

It’s the leader’s double bass that introduces album opener “Another London”, a tune whose energy and urgency seems to encapsulate modern life in the English capital. The piece features the whole cast with the twin drum attack of Penn and Bain combining with Janisch’s bass to really drive the music. Escreet’s retro style keyboard washes add colour and texture, particularly during the gentler, more reflective episodes that punctuate the track. Janisch has said that the piece represents his positive view of walking through London, away from social media platforms, and witnessing “people from different cultures and backgrounds actually getting on in their lives, generally living in harmony with each other”. The buoyant rhythms help to fuel an incisive alto solo from the fluent and inventive O’Gallagher, who really surfs the groove. He also combines effectively with Palmer and Crowley during the ensemble passages as Abbasi’s nimble guitar snakes in and out of the music.

The guitarist comes into his own on “Ode To A Norwegian Strobe”, a piece that pays homage to Janisch’s love of contemporary electronic music acts such as Aphex Twin and the UK’s own Strobes, the latter the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and sound artist Dan Nicholls. Janisch’s piece combines elements of jazz, rock, minimalism and electronica to excellent effect, creating a vibrant, rhythmic music that is rich in terms of energy, colour and inventiveness. Abbasi’s hypnotic introductory guitar motif helps to shape the direction of a track that again features all eight musicians. The leader concentrates on electric bass here, while also adding effects and percussion. The bright, dynamic ensemble playing is complemented by some fiery soloing as O’Gallagher and Palmer exchange ideas in thrilling fashion and Escreet periodically comes to the fore on keyboards. The overall effect is splendidly uplifting.

“The JJ I Knew” revisits a piece that was originally recorded for the “Paradigm Shift” album. The work is Janisch’s dedication to his late elder brother, Joseph, and attempts to express something of his personality. The original version featured electric bass and electronics only but its composer has since re-arranged the piece for performance by a full band and the tune was to feature in this form at Leamington. Here it features the core quintet, plus some additional percussion from Bain. Janisch specialises on electric bass and the piece is a fitting elegy, interspersing moments of melancholic introspection with more lively, upbeat passages. Palmer’s pure toned trumpet ruminations combine beauty with an exploratory zeal, with similar qualities informing Abbasi’s eloquent guitar solo. Penn’s drums come to the fore during the closing stages as he trades ideas with the staccato stabs of the horns.

The same sextet appears on the curiously titled “Frocklebot”, the name apparently coming from “an imaginary toy looking like a giraffe with mechanical wings”, a creature dreamt up by Janisch’s young daughter. It’s a suitably playful piece that combines darting unison horn phrases with heavy, rock influenced guitar in a spirited opening salvo before breaking down into more freely structured two way conversations, firstly between Abbasi and Palmer and later Janisch and O’Gallagher. Eventually the full ensemble coalesces once more around a joyous theme that seems to celebrate the innocence and imagination of childhood. The piece has evoked favourable comparisons with the works of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.

“Intro To Pop” is a minute long solo alto sax excursion from the consistently impressive O’Gallagher, although the composition credit still goes to Janisch. It’s a cogent presage to “Pop” itself, the lengthiest and most ambitious track on the album. The piece is dedicated to Janisch’s English wife, Sarah, the title “Pop” being an abbreviation of the word ‘poppet’, rather than a musical identifier. Although performed as a single entity the piece is essentially a four part suite, but despite its complexities it is tackled by the core quintet. It’s a surprisingly reflective and atmospheric piece, written in a minor key but without being melancholic. The aim, says Janisch, was to reflect his wife’s “peaceful powerfulness”. Indeed there’s an almost Zen like sense of calm about the opening section with its measured ensemble playing, paced by the leader’s double bass. Instruments swim in and out of focus, briefly assuming the lead, although there’s no conventional soloing as such. The next section features a further dialogue between O’Gallagher’s alto sax, here soft and conversational, and the leader’s double bass. With the addition of Abbasi and Penn the saxophonist stretches out in more exploratory fashion, eventually handing over to the coolly elegant Abassi. The overall mood of the piece remains reflective, the tempo unhurried. There’s a gentle increase of pace in the next section as Palmer returns to the fold, temporarily assuming the lead before combining with O’Gallagher as the energy levels continue to rise, before eventually subsiding once more. This is a richly textured work that owes something to minimalism with the use of recurring motifs helping to shape the ebb and flow of the piece.

Janisch moves back to electric bass for the closing “Freak Out”. As its title suggests this is an altogether more energetic and dynamic piece of work that is kick started by Penn’s drums.
Janisch describes the piece as “a good old fashioned shred for Rez” and the guitarist is the main soloist here, his fiery playing inviting comparisons with John McLaughlin and the late Allan Holdsworth. That said Abassi is a distinctive stylist in his own right with a musical identity that is very much his own. This final piece also boasts some inspired soloing from Palmer with a fiery but fluent outing on trumpet, plus some crunching ensemble playing.

“Worlds Collide” is a worthy edition to the Janisch solo canon, a recording that demonstrates his increasing skill and maturity as a musician and composer. The playing, by an all star cast, is excellent throughout with the leader’s contribution at the heart of the ensemble.

Janisch has put a UK touring band together to perform the music which will feature George Crowley on tenor sax, Nathaniel Facey on alto, Rick Simpson on keyboards and Shaney Forbes at the drums. This quintet is currently on the road with forthcoming dates at;

2019;
Blue Arrow, Glasgow (24 Sep)
The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (25 Sep)
East Side Jazz Club, Birmingham (26 Sep)
Kings Place, London (album launch, 27 Sep)

Catch them if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Worlds Collide

Michael Janisch

Monday, September 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

Worlds Collide

A worthy edition to the Janisch solo canon, a recording that demonstrates his increasing skill and maturity as a musician and composer. The playing, by an all star cast, is excellent throughout.

Michael Janisch

“Worlds Collide”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4742)

Michael Janisch – Acoustic & Electric Bass, Post Production, Percussion,
Jason Palmer – Trumpet,
John O’Gallagher – Alto Sax,
Rez Abbasi – Guitar,
Clarence Penn – Drums

Guests;
Jon Escreet – Keyboards,
George Crowley – Tenor Sax,
Andrew Bain – Drums & Percussion


I’ve long considered “Purpose Built”, the 2009 leadership début by bassist and composer Michael Janisch to be one of the most significant jazz albums to be released in the UK in the 21st century. As well as being a fine artistic statement in its own right it is also the album that launched Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings record label, now one of the country’s leading jazz independents with a catalogue of over one hundred titles and an increasingly identifiable label sound. It’s probably fair to say that any album released on Whirlwind is going to have something interesting to say to the discerning jazz listener.

The perpetually busy Janisch’s role as an entrepreneur has forced him to put his own musical career on hold to a degree, although of course he has never stopped performing and his bass playing has graced many ensembles in recent years, particularly those led by musicians associated with the Whirlwind label.

Janisch, an American who has lived in London since 2005, has always encouraged collaborations between British, American and European musicians and is also the guy with the ambition, drive and energy to make these things happen, hence the ‘Whirlwind’ nickname that gives his label its moniker. “Purpose Built”, with its Anglo-American line up, was a perfect illustration of this and this spirit of international co-operation is something that has manifested itself on numerous other Whirlwind releases.

I first heard Janisch’s music in 2009 around the time of the release of “Purpose Built”. In August of that year, encouraged by the presence behind the drum kit of the great Clarence Penn,  I covered Janisch’s show at that year’s Aber Jazz and Blues Festival in Fishguard. For me it was a seminal moment,  I became an instant fan and I’ve been covering the music of Janisch and of the Whirlwind label ever since, incredibly for more than a decade now.
Live review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/michael-janisch-live-theatr-gwaun-fishguard-31-08-2009/
“Purpose Built” album review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/michael-janisch-purpose-built/

Janisch’s releases under his own name include the live recordings “Banned In London” (2012), featuring a quintet co-led by Janisch and Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz, and “First Meeting” (2014) documented by an all star quartet featuring the veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. Janisch was also part of the Trans-Atlantic Collective, a gathering of American, British and European musicians that featured the original compositions of its five members on the 2008 release “Traveling Song”.

As impressive as the two live recordings were there was still something of an ‘extended jam session’ feel about them. Janisch’s next album to fully concentrate on his own compositions was 2015’s “Paradigm Shift”, an ambitious double set that combined elements of jazz, rock and electronics with Janisch involving himself in a series of post production processes. Janisch toured the project extensively and my review of a live performance at Leamington Spa Jazz Club, combined with a look at the album itself, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/michael-janischs-paradigm-shift-leam-jazz-leamington-spa-rugby-club-leaming/

“Worlds Collide” is very much the ‘follow up’ to this and features a cast of musicians associated with the ‘Whirlwind family’ and drawn from both sides of the Atlantic. The bulk of the album was recorded in London at the famous Abbey Road Studios by the core band of Janisch, Abbasi, O’Gallagher, Palmer and Penn with Tyler MacDiarmid engineering. Escreet’s parts were subsequently recorded in New York and those of Crowley and Bain at a second session in the UK.

The programme consists of seven previously unrecorded Janisch originals. The album title is a reflection of the turbulent times we live in. Like every other American jazz musician that I’ve ever spoken to Janisch has no time for the divisive politics of Donald Trump, but the words “Worlds Collide” also reference the toxic online discourses that have helped to poison the internet. Indeed Janisch and Whirlwind, with their spirit of inter-connectivity and international co-operation stand for the very opposite of these things. “That’s the whole philosophy of Whirlwind”,  Janisch has said, “all these different cultures and communities coming together to make music”.

A further subtext to the evocative title is the apparent clash between the acoustic and electric elements in Janisch’s music, particularly the post production and electro improvising techniques that were introduced to him by trumpeter and sound artist Alex Bonney on the “Paradigm Shift” tour.  Janisch sees no division between the two, preferring to refer to his band as an “electro-acoustic” ensemble. Similarly he’s receptive to musical influences from all quarters, from the intellectual to the populist,  moving between acoustic and electric bass and being able to groove in a propulsive manner in a variety of musical styles and time signatures.

It’s the leader’s double bass that introduces album opener “Another London”, a tune whose energy and urgency seems to encapsulate modern life in the English capital. The piece features the whole cast with the twin drum attack of Penn and Bain combining with Janisch’s bass to really drive the music. Escreet’s retro style keyboard washes add colour and texture, particularly during the gentler, more reflective episodes that punctuate the track. Janisch has said that the piece represents his positive view of walking through London, away from social media platforms, and witnessing “people from different cultures and backgrounds actually getting on in their lives, generally living in harmony with each other”. The buoyant rhythms help to fuel an incisive alto solo from the fluent and inventive O’Gallagher, who really surfs the groove. He also combines effectively with Palmer and Crowley during the ensemble passages as Abbasi’s nimble guitar snakes in and out of the music.

The guitarist comes into his own on “Ode To A Norwegian Strobe”, a piece that pays homage to Janisch’s love of contemporary electronic music acts such as Aphex Twin and the UK’s own Strobes, the latter the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and sound artist Dan Nicholls. Janisch’s piece combines elements of jazz, rock, minimalism and electronica to excellent effect, creating a vibrant, rhythmic music that is rich in terms of energy, colour and inventiveness. Abbasi’s hypnotic introductory guitar motif helps to shape the direction of a track that again features all eight musicians. The leader concentrates on electric bass here, while also adding effects and percussion. The bright, dynamic ensemble playing is complemented by some fiery soloing as O’Gallagher and Palmer exchange ideas in thrilling fashion and Escreet periodically comes to the fore on keyboards. The overall effect is splendidly uplifting.

“The JJ I Knew” revisits a piece that was originally recorded for the “Paradigm Shift” album. The work is Janisch’s dedication to his late elder brother, Joseph, and attempts to express something of his personality. The original version featured electric bass and electronics only but its composer has since re-arranged the piece for performance by a full band and the tune was to feature in this form at Leamington. Here it features the core quintet, plus some additional percussion from Bain. Janisch specialises on electric bass and the piece is a fitting elegy, interspersing moments of melancholic introspection with more lively, upbeat passages. Palmer’s pure toned trumpet ruminations combine beauty with an exploratory zeal, with similar qualities informing Abbasi’s eloquent guitar solo. Penn’s drums come to the fore during the closing stages as he trades ideas with the staccato stabs of the horns.

The same sextet appears on the curiously titled “Frocklebot”, the name apparently coming from “an imaginary toy looking like a giraffe with mechanical wings”, a creature dreamt up by Janisch’s young daughter. It’s a suitably playful piece that combines darting unison horn phrases with heavy, rock influenced guitar in a spirited opening salvo before breaking down into more freely structured two way conversations, firstly between Abbasi and Palmer and later Janisch and O’Gallagher. Eventually the full ensemble coalesces once more around a joyous theme that seems to celebrate the innocence and imagination of childhood. The piece has evoked favourable comparisons with the works of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.

“Intro To Pop” is a minute long solo alto sax excursion from the consistently impressive O’Gallagher, although the composition credit still goes to Janisch. It’s a cogent presage to “Pop” itself, the lengthiest and most ambitious track on the album. The piece is dedicated to Janisch’s English wife, Sarah, the title “Pop” being an abbreviation of the word ‘poppet’, rather than a musical identifier. Although performed as a single entity the piece is essentially a four part suite, but despite its complexities it is tackled by the core quintet. It’s a surprisingly reflective and atmospheric piece, written in a minor key but without being melancholic. The aim, says Janisch, was to reflect his wife’s “peaceful powerfulness”. Indeed there’s an almost Zen like sense of calm about the opening section with its measured ensemble playing, paced by the leader’s double bass. Instruments swim in and out of focus, briefly assuming the lead, although there’s no conventional soloing as such. The next section features a further dialogue between O’Gallagher’s alto sax, here soft and conversational, and the leader’s double bass. With the addition of Abbasi and Penn the saxophonist stretches out in more exploratory fashion, eventually handing over to the coolly elegant Abassi. The overall mood of the piece remains reflective, the tempo unhurried. There’s a gentle increase of pace in the next section as Palmer returns to the fold, temporarily assuming the lead before combining with O’Gallagher as the energy levels continue to rise, before eventually subsiding once more. This is a richly textured work that owes something to minimalism with the use of recurring motifs helping to shape the ebb and flow of the piece.

Janisch moves back to electric bass for the closing “Freak Out”. As its title suggests this is an altogether more energetic and dynamic piece of work that is kick started by Penn’s drums.
Janisch describes the piece as “a good old fashioned shred for Rez” and the guitarist is the main soloist here, his fiery playing inviting comparisons with John McLaughlin and the late Allan Holdsworth. That said Abassi is a distinctive stylist in his own right with a musical identity that is very much his own. This final piece also boasts some inspired soloing from Palmer with a fiery but fluent outing on trumpet, plus some crunching ensemble playing.

“Worlds Collide” is a worthy edition to the Janisch solo canon, a recording that demonstrates his increasing skill and maturity as a musician and composer. The playing, by an all star cast, is excellent throughout with the leader’s contribution at the heart of the ensemble.

Janisch has put a UK touring band together to perform the music which will feature George Crowley on tenor sax, Nathaniel Facey on alto, Rick Simpson on keyboards and Shaney Forbes at the drums. This quintet is currently on the road with forthcoming dates at;

2019;
Blue Arrow, Glasgow (24 Sep)
The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (25 Sep)
East Side Jazz Club, Birmingham (26 Sep)
Kings Place, London (album launch, 27 Sep)

Catch them if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Quentin Collins Sextet - Road Warrior Rating: 4 out of 5 It’s the imaginative writing, allied to some superb playing from all involved, that makes this album far more than just a hard bop blowing session.

Quentin Collins Sextet

“Road Warrior”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0027)

Quentin Collins – trumpet & flugelhorn, Meilana Gillard – alto sax, Leo Richardson – tenor sax, Dan Nimmer – piano & Rhodes, Joe Sanders – double bass, Willie Jones III – drums
Guest – Jean Toussaint – tenor sax (tracks 5 & 7)


“Road Warrior” is the long awaited new solo album from the British trumpeter and composer Quentin Collins. It follows his 2007 début “If Not Now, Then When?” which featured the talents of vibraphonist Jim Hart, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Alan Cosker, plus saxophonist Tony Kofi guesting on alto on a couple of tracks.
Review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/if-not-now-then-when/


Collins has also recorded as the co-leader of a quartet featuring saxophonist Brandon Allen. Once known as Drugstore Cowboy the QC/BA Quartet has released two albums, What’s It Gonna Be?” (2011) and “Beauty In Quiet Places” (2016). These are hard grooving, fiercely swinging releases made in the company of organist Ross Stanley and drummer Enzo Zirilli. Both are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Born into a music loving family Collins was introduced to the sounds of jazz at an early age by his father and as a child got to see some of true greats of the music performing live, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Dave Brubeck. It was seminal experiences such as these that inspired the young Collins to become a professional musician, a path that he has followed most successfully for the past twenty years as both a jazz and commercial trumpeter.

These days Collins is perhaps best known as a member of American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood’s Band, a group with which he has toured the world, tasting international success. Other high profile artists with whom he has worked include Fred Wesley, Gregory Porter,  Roy Ayers, Mark Ronson, Omar Kamal, Basement Jaxx, Alicia Keys and Mulatu Astatke. In a more obviously jazz context he has performed with saxophonists Camilla George and Leo Richardson,  with Michael Janisch’s Transatlantic Collective and with the organ trio Wild Card.

Together with impresario Martin Hummell Collins is the co-founder of the increasingly influential Ubuntu Music record label, serving as its creative director and also working as a producer, as well as guesting on trumpet on a number of the label’s releases, notably on albums by George and Richardson.

On “Road Warrior” tenor specialist Richardson is part of a core sextet that features three British horn players alongside a stellar American rhythm section featuring pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Willie Jones III. In keeping with the theme of the album Collins met Nimmer on the road when the American’s trio were opening for the Eastwood band. Nimmer is perhaps best known for his association with Wynton Marsalis while Sanders has worked with pianist Gerald Clayton. Jones performed with the late, great Cedar Walton but has also worked with British musicians such as saxophonist Alex Garnett. Earlier in 2019 he was part of a stellar international sextet led by pianist Trevor Watkis that paid homage to the music of the late Jamaican born trumpeter Dizzy Reece.

Collins says of his American colleagues “New York pianist Dan Nimmer is soaked in the history of jazz piano, in one moment evoking Errol Garner, in the next McCoy Tyner. Bassist Joe Sanders’ sound is a major driving force, while Willie Jones III pumps relentless energy into the music”.

“Road Warrior” is described in the accompanying press release as “a musical depiction of life as a touring musician” and in Scott Yanow’s liner notes as “a musical adventure inspired by those very events musicians encounter while on an unending and often unforgiving tour. It captures the raw emotion, frustration and ultimately joy in one musical ear and mind trip”.

The new album was conceived by Collins and alto saxophonist Tom Harrison, a band leader in his own right. Each musician contributes four original compositions to the recording and the programme is completed by a single standard, “Oh! Look At Me Now”, written by Joe Bushkin and John DeVries.

Harrison was due to appear on the recording but was unable to appear due to what Collins has described as a “personal injury”. The album was recorded almost a year ago so hopefully he will be fit to take up his place in the touring line up. The album features the alto playing of Meilana Gillard,  Belfast born but New York based,  who was drafted in at short notice and who does a terrific job, slotting in seamlessly with the all star line up.

Collins’ music has always been rooted in the sounds of hard bop with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers representing a particularly significant influence. The presence of Toussaint, who also acts as a producer, represents a living link between this recording and hard bop’s illustrious past. Meanwhile Collins’ own playing has been compared to such trumpet giants of the hard bop era as Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell and Lee Morgan. In this respect the music on “Road Warrior” doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, but it’s no less enjoyable for all that. As one would expect the playing is excellent throughout and the writing, from both Collins and Harrison, is succinct, insightful and intelligent and frequently expands the hard bop parameters.

The album commences with Collins’ title track, a piece that he dedicates to all those struggling to balance a career with family life. With its allusions to jazz classics of the past (specifically Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”)  the sound of the piece is reminiscent of Blakey and of Horace Silver with the skilfully performed ensemble passages leading to fluent solos from Collins on trumpet and Richardson on tenor sax. The latter is a musician who has made a big impact on the UK jazz scene in recent years with his own hard bop flavoured outings on the Ubuntu label, “The Chase” (2017) and “Move” (2019), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. Nimmer weighs in with a dazzling solo that fully underlines Collins’ remarks about the breadth of the pianist’s talent. Meanwhile Sanders and Jones keep things moving along swingingly and seamlessly, with the latter’s colourful drumming coming to the fore towards the close.

Sanders’ bass introduces Harrison’s “Float Flitter Flutter”, dedicated to the memory of saxophonist Sonny Fortune and inspired by performing at a French jazz festival staged in an old quarry. This mid tempo swinger includes more exceptional ensemble playing,  a dash of rhythmic trickery and hugely inventive solos from Collins, Gillard and Nimmer.

Collins’ “Do You Know The Way” features some of the most energetic playing of the set, a classic slice of contemporary bebop / hard bop with a tricky theme paving the way for barnstorming solos from Collins, Richardson and the ever impressive Nimmer. There’s also an effervescent drum feature from the irrepressible Jones.

Collins’ composition “Look Ahead (What Do You See?) is a further reflection on the work / life balance theme. The piece was inspired by a conversation between the composer and his ten year old son and represents a welcome change in style and pace. With Nimmer switching to Rhodes the feel of the piece is more contemporary with the writing exhibiting a Metheny like sense of melody. It’s not a ballad per se, but the mood is more mellow and relaxed, with gently exploratory solos coming from Nimmer and Collins, here (I think) on flugel.

Harrison’s “Jasmine Breeze” retains the more contemporary feel and is an atmospheric piece introduced by the sound of Sanders’ bass and Jones’ mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Collins’ own playing is sparse, thoughtful and evocative. Sanders also features as a soloist, singing along to his own melody on a succinct bass feature. Toussaint makes the first of his two guest appearance with a suitably ruminative tenor solo. He also combines effectively with the leader.

Also by Harrison “The Hill” features something of a return to the hard bop template and is dedicated to the memory of Blakey. The title comes from Harrison’s memory of “a life changing performance that I did at the site of Blakey’s childhood home in Pittsburgh”. Musically the piece is a showcase for the brilliant Nimmer whose solo embraces a variety of jazz styles and has evoked comparisons with both Errol Garner and one time Messengers pianist Bobby Timmons. In any event it’s all wonderfully fluent and inventive, with the pianist complemented by some superb playing from the rest of the group, with Collins also impressing as a soloist. Sanders weighs in with a few more bars of bass soloing and wordless vocalising.

Harrison’s final contribution with the pen is “El Farolito” - “tense moments over a burrito in San Francisco” he notes enigmatically. This is a lively, Latin-esque hard bop delight with Toussaint making his second guest appearance, this time soloing in a more garrulous and forthright manner as he shares the spotlight with Collins and Gillard.  Meanwhile the busy and creative Jones drums up a storm behind them.

Collins’ final compositional offering is the ballad “Wider Horizons”, written in Los Angeles after a period of “heavy life turbulence”. The theme is one of optimism and of being open to new possibilities. The piece features the leader on flugel while Nimmer is heard at his most lyrical.
The excellent Jones is an important figure throughout with his inventive but supportive playing and Richardson’s tenor is also heard to telling effect. This is an impressive composition with a strong sense of narrative.

The album concludes with the intentionally retro sounds of “Oh! Look At Me Now”, a song probably best known as a vehicle for Frank Sinatra. This straight-ahead jazz instrumental version sounds as if it could have come directly from jazz’s golden age with Sanders and Jones providing the swinging propulsion for a series of excellent solos with Collins, Gillard and Richardson all featuring strongly.

It’s been a long time since Collins’ last album release under his own name. On the evidence of “Road Warrior” the wait has been well worth it. Collins has established an excellent Trans-Atlantic band, much in the spirit of his old mate Janisch, and the British contingent more than hold their own alongside the Americans. Collins is fine form throughout as are Richardson and late signing Gillard. Sanders and Jones form a Rolls Royce of a rhythm section but Nimmer almost steals the show with his inspired soloing and intelligent accompaniment. Toussaint makes a couple of memorable cameos and also acquits himself well in the producer’s chair, assisted by Collins and Harrison. The latter’s contribution to the success of this album shouldn’t be overlooked, he was due to play on it but still plays an important role as a composer and co-producer.

Indeed it’s the imaginative writing of Collins and Harrison that makes this album far more than just a hard bop blowing session. Sure, both composers pay homage to the genre and the era, but they also bring a contemporary sensibility to bear, especially on pieces like “Look Ahead”  “Wider Horizons” and Jasmine Breeze”, all of which which break out of the hard bop mould. The composing, allied to some superb playing from all involved, ensures that “Road Warrior” is a notch above the norm and the album has received unanimous critical acclaim.

Apparently Collins also has another recording in the can due for release in 2020, this featuring a similarly stellar quintet under his leadership that includes pianist Jason Rebello and drummer Gary Husband. This is something well worth looking forward to but in the meantime Collins will be touring the “Road Warrior” material extensively with an all British band in tow. Remaining dates below;

2019
23rd September - Ashburton Arts Centre
24th September - Western Hotel, St Ives
25th September - Dorchester Arts Centre
28th September - Herts Jazz Festival
30th September - TrinityLaban Conservatoire, London
4th October - Leeds College of Music
8th October - Theatr Clwyd, Mold, North Wales
10th October - Bonington Theatre, Nottingham
11th October - Crookes Social Club, Sheffield
18th October - Progress Theatre, Reading
27th October - Wigan Jazz
28th October - NCEM, York
29th October - Flute & Tankard, Cardiff

More information at
https://www.quentincollinsmusic.com


Road Warrior

Quentin Collins Sextet

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Road Warrior

It’s the imaginative writing, allied to some superb playing from all involved, that makes this album far more than just a hard bop blowing session.

Quentin Collins Sextet

“Road Warrior”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0027)

Quentin Collins – trumpet & flugelhorn, Meilana Gillard – alto sax, Leo Richardson – tenor sax, Dan Nimmer – piano & Rhodes, Joe Sanders – double bass, Willie Jones III – drums
Guest – Jean Toussaint – tenor sax (tracks 5 & 7)


“Road Warrior” is the long awaited new solo album from the British trumpeter and composer Quentin Collins. It follows his 2007 début “If Not Now, Then When?” which featured the talents of vibraphonist Jim Hart, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Alan Cosker, plus saxophonist Tony Kofi guesting on alto on a couple of tracks.
Review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/if-not-now-then-when/


Collins has also recorded as the co-leader of a quartet featuring saxophonist Brandon Allen. Once known as Drugstore Cowboy the QC/BA Quartet has released two albums, What’s It Gonna Be?” (2011) and “Beauty In Quiet Places” (2016). These are hard grooving, fiercely swinging releases made in the company of organist Ross Stanley and drummer Enzo Zirilli. Both are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Born into a music loving family Collins was introduced to the sounds of jazz at an early age by his father and as a child got to see some of true greats of the music performing live, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Dave Brubeck. It was seminal experiences such as these that inspired the young Collins to become a professional musician, a path that he has followed most successfully for the past twenty years as both a jazz and commercial trumpeter.

These days Collins is perhaps best known as a member of American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood’s Band, a group with which he has toured the world, tasting international success. Other high profile artists with whom he has worked include Fred Wesley, Gregory Porter,  Roy Ayers, Mark Ronson, Omar Kamal, Basement Jaxx, Alicia Keys and Mulatu Astatke. In a more obviously jazz context he has performed with saxophonists Camilla George and Leo Richardson,  with Michael Janisch’s Transatlantic Collective and with the organ trio Wild Card.

Together with impresario Martin Hummell Collins is the co-founder of the increasingly influential Ubuntu Music record label, serving as its creative director and also working as a producer, as well as guesting on trumpet on a number of the label’s releases, notably on albums by George and Richardson.

On “Road Warrior” tenor specialist Richardson is part of a core sextet that features three British horn players alongside a stellar American rhythm section featuring pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Willie Jones III. In keeping with the theme of the album Collins met Nimmer on the road when the American’s trio were opening for the Eastwood band. Nimmer is perhaps best known for his association with Wynton Marsalis while Sanders has worked with pianist Gerald Clayton. Jones performed with the late, great Cedar Walton but has also worked with British musicians such as saxophonist Alex Garnett. Earlier in 2019 he was part of a stellar international sextet led by pianist Trevor Watkis that paid homage to the music of the late Jamaican born trumpeter Dizzy Reece.

Collins says of his American colleagues “New York pianist Dan Nimmer is soaked in the history of jazz piano, in one moment evoking Errol Garner, in the next McCoy Tyner. Bassist Joe Sanders’ sound is a major driving force, while Willie Jones III pumps relentless energy into the music”.

“Road Warrior” is described in the accompanying press release as “a musical depiction of life as a touring musician” and in Scott Yanow’s liner notes as “a musical adventure inspired by those very events musicians encounter while on an unending and often unforgiving tour. It captures the raw emotion, frustration and ultimately joy in one musical ear and mind trip”.

The new album was conceived by Collins and alto saxophonist Tom Harrison, a band leader in his own right. Each musician contributes four original compositions to the recording and the programme is completed by a single standard, “Oh! Look At Me Now”, written by Joe Bushkin and John DeVries.

Harrison was due to appear on the recording but was unable to appear due to what Collins has described as a “personal injury”. The album was recorded almost a year ago so hopefully he will be fit to take up his place in the touring line up. The album features the alto playing of Meilana Gillard,  Belfast born but New York based,  who was drafted in at short notice and who does a terrific job, slotting in seamlessly with the all star line up.

Collins’ music has always been rooted in the sounds of hard bop with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers representing a particularly significant influence. The presence of Toussaint, who also acts as a producer, represents a living link between this recording and hard bop’s illustrious past. Meanwhile Collins’ own playing has been compared to such trumpet giants of the hard bop era as Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell and Lee Morgan. In this respect the music on “Road Warrior” doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, but it’s no less enjoyable for all that. As one would expect the playing is excellent throughout and the writing, from both Collins and Harrison, is succinct, insightful and intelligent and frequently expands the hard bop parameters.

The album commences with Collins’ title track, a piece that he dedicates to all those struggling to balance a career with family life. With its allusions to jazz classics of the past (specifically Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”)  the sound of the piece is reminiscent of Blakey and of Horace Silver with the skilfully performed ensemble passages leading to fluent solos from Collins on trumpet and Richardson on tenor sax. The latter is a musician who has made a big impact on the UK jazz scene in recent years with his own hard bop flavoured outings on the Ubuntu label, “The Chase” (2017) and “Move” (2019), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. Nimmer weighs in with a dazzling solo that fully underlines Collins’ remarks about the breadth of the pianist’s talent. Meanwhile Sanders and Jones keep things moving along swingingly and seamlessly, with the latter’s colourful drumming coming to the fore towards the close.

Sanders’ bass introduces Harrison’s “Float Flitter Flutter”, dedicated to the memory of saxophonist Sonny Fortune and inspired by performing at a French jazz festival staged in an old quarry. This mid tempo swinger includes more exceptional ensemble playing,  a dash of rhythmic trickery and hugely inventive solos from Collins, Gillard and Nimmer.

Collins’ “Do You Know The Way” features some of the most energetic playing of the set, a classic slice of contemporary bebop / hard bop with a tricky theme paving the way for barnstorming solos from Collins, Richardson and the ever impressive Nimmer. There’s also an effervescent drum feature from the irrepressible Jones.

Collins’ composition “Look Ahead (What Do You See?) is a further reflection on the work / life balance theme. The piece was inspired by a conversation between the composer and his ten year old son and represents a welcome change in style and pace. With Nimmer switching to Rhodes the feel of the piece is more contemporary with the writing exhibiting a Metheny like sense of melody. It’s not a ballad per se, but the mood is more mellow and relaxed, with gently exploratory solos coming from Nimmer and Collins, here (I think) on flugel.

Harrison’s “Jasmine Breeze” retains the more contemporary feel and is an atmospheric piece introduced by the sound of Sanders’ bass and Jones’ mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Collins’ own playing is sparse, thoughtful and evocative. Sanders also features as a soloist, singing along to his own melody on a succinct bass feature. Toussaint makes the first of his two guest appearance with a suitably ruminative tenor solo. He also combines effectively with the leader.

Also by Harrison “The Hill” features something of a return to the hard bop template and is dedicated to the memory of Blakey. The title comes from Harrison’s memory of “a life changing performance that I did at the site of Blakey’s childhood home in Pittsburgh”. Musically the piece is a showcase for the brilliant Nimmer whose solo embraces a variety of jazz styles and has evoked comparisons with both Errol Garner and one time Messengers pianist Bobby Timmons. In any event it’s all wonderfully fluent and inventive, with the pianist complemented by some superb playing from the rest of the group, with Collins also impressing as a soloist. Sanders weighs in with a few more bars of bass soloing and wordless vocalising.

Harrison’s final contribution with the pen is “El Farolito” - “tense moments over a burrito in San Francisco” he notes enigmatically. This is a lively, Latin-esque hard bop delight with Toussaint making his second guest appearance, this time soloing in a more garrulous and forthright manner as he shares the spotlight with Collins and Gillard.  Meanwhile the busy and creative Jones drums up a storm behind them.

Collins’ final compositional offering is the ballad “Wider Horizons”, written in Los Angeles after a period of “heavy life turbulence”. The theme is one of optimism and of being open to new possibilities. The piece features the leader on flugel while Nimmer is heard at his most lyrical.
The excellent Jones is an important figure throughout with his inventive but supportive playing and Richardson’s tenor is also heard to telling effect. This is an impressive composition with a strong sense of narrative.

The album concludes with the intentionally retro sounds of “Oh! Look At Me Now”, a song probably best known as a vehicle for Frank Sinatra. This straight-ahead jazz instrumental version sounds as if it could have come directly from jazz’s golden age with Sanders and Jones providing the swinging propulsion for a series of excellent solos with Collins, Gillard and Richardson all featuring strongly.

It’s been a long time since Collins’ last album release under his own name. On the evidence of “Road Warrior” the wait has been well worth it. Collins has established an excellent Trans-Atlantic band, much in the spirit of his old mate Janisch, and the British contingent more than hold their own alongside the Americans. Collins is fine form throughout as are Richardson and late signing Gillard. Sanders and Jones form a Rolls Royce of a rhythm section but Nimmer almost steals the show with his inspired soloing and intelligent accompaniment. Toussaint makes a couple of memorable cameos and also acquits himself well in the producer’s chair, assisted by Collins and Harrison. The latter’s contribution to the success of this album shouldn’t be overlooked, he was due to play on it but still plays an important role as a composer and co-producer.

Indeed it’s the imaginative writing of Collins and Harrison that makes this album far more than just a hard bop blowing session. Sure, both composers pay homage to the genre and the era, but they also bring a contemporary sensibility to bear, especially on pieces like “Look Ahead”  “Wider Horizons” and Jasmine Breeze”, all of which which break out of the hard bop mould. The composing, allied to some superb playing from all involved, ensures that “Road Warrior” is a notch above the norm and the album has received unanimous critical acclaim.

Apparently Collins also has another recording in the can due for release in 2020, this featuring a similarly stellar quintet under his leadership that includes pianist Jason Rebello and drummer Gary Husband. This is something well worth looking forward to but in the meantime Collins will be touring the “Road Warrior” material extensively with an all British band in tow. Remaining dates below;

2019
23rd September - Ashburton Arts Centre
24th September - Western Hotel, St Ives
25th September - Dorchester Arts Centre
28th September - Herts Jazz Festival
30th September - TrinityLaban Conservatoire, London
4th October - Leeds College of Music
8th October - Theatr Clwyd, Mold, North Wales
10th October - Bonington Theatre, Nottingham
11th October - Crookes Social Club, Sheffield
18th October - Progress Theatre, Reading
27th October - Wigan Jazz
28th October - NCEM, York
29th October - Flute & Tankard, Cardiff

More information at
https://www.quentincollinsmusic.com


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

Sloth Racket

“Dismantle Yourself”

Luminous Records LU011)

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


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

The personnel of Sloth Racket also form the core of Favourite Animals, a scaled up version of the original band with the following musicians added to the line up;
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
The resultant ten piece toured the UK as part of a double bill with Anton Hunter’s own large ensemble Article XI in December 2017.

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

Sloth Racket operate at the interface where composed and improvised music meet, playing Roberts’ compositions exclusively. These are intentionally sparse and rudimentary, often presented as graphic scores, and essentially represent ideas or basic frameworks around which the band can structure their improvisations. Roberts’ pieces habitually change shape in the course of the group’s live performances, a quality that makes the title of their second album particularly apposite. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I continue to find the balance that Sloth Racket strike between the composed and the improvised a constant source of fascination. Their music is constantly evolving, rarely settling in one place for long, and the transitions between the free and the structured are skilfully and seamlessly handled. There’s also a punk like edginess and vitality about their music that makes for challenging but highly rewarding listening. 

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

19/09/2019 – Norwich, Camouflage

20/09/2019 – Cambridge, Listen!

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

Dismantle Yourself

Sloth Racket

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Dismantle Yourself

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

Sloth Racket

“Dismantle Yourself”

Luminous Records LU011)

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


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

The personnel of Sloth Racket also form the core of Favourite Animals, a scaled up version of the original band with the following musicians added to the line up;
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
The resultant ten piece toured the UK as part of a double bill with Anton Hunter’s own large ensemble Article XI in December 2017.

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

Sloth Racket operate at the interface where composed and improvised music meet, playing Roberts’ compositions exclusively. These are intentionally sparse and rudimentary, often presented as graphic scores, and essentially represent ideas or basic frameworks around which the band can structure their improvisations. Roberts’ pieces habitually change shape in the course of the group’s live performances, a quality that makes the title of their second album particularly apposite. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I continue to find the balance that Sloth Racket strike between the composed and the improvised a constant source of fascination. Their music is constantly evolving, rarely settling in one place for long, and the transitions between the free and the structured are skilfully and seamlessly handled. There’s also a punk like edginess and vitality about their music that makes for challenging but highly rewarding listening. 

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

19/09/2019 – Norwich, Camouflage

20/09/2019 – Cambridge, Listen!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonsai

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Nash / Atlas

“Peaceful King”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4748)

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

Guests;
Sara Colman – vocals
Nick Walters - electronics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 October 2019 - The Canteen, Bristol

31 October 2019 - The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham

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

More information at;

http://www.rebeccanashmusic.com

http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com

Peaceful King

Rebecca Nash / Atlas

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Peaceful King

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

Rebecca Nash / Atlas

“Peaceful King”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4748)

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

Guests;
Sara Colman – vocals
Nick Walters - electronics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 October 2019 - The Canteen, Bristol

31 October 2019 - The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham

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

More information at;

http://www.rebeccanashmusic.com

http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com

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

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

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

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

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leo Richardson Quartet

“Move”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0026)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move

Leo Richardson Quartet

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Move

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

Leo Richardson Quartet

“Move”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0026)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lady Nade Duo

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

3-5 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Laura Jurd

“Stepping Back, Jumping In”

(Edition Records EDN1131)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ensemble lined up as follows;

Laura Jurd – trumpet

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

Martin Lee Thomson – euphonium

Soosan Lolovar – santoor

Rob Luft – banjo, guitars

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

Elliot Galvin – piano

Anja Lauvdal – synth, electronics

Conor Chaplin – double bass

Liz Exell – drum kit

Corrie Dick – drum kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stepping Back, Jumping In

Laura Jurd

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Stepping Back, Jumping In

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

Laura Jurd

“Stepping Back, Jumping In”

(Edition Records EDN1131)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ensemble lined up as follows;

Laura Jurd – trumpet

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

Martin Lee Thomson – euphonium

Soosan Lolovar – santoor

Rob Luft – banjo, guitars

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

Elliot Galvin – piano

Anja Lauvdal – synth, electronics

Conor Chaplin – double bass

Liz Exell – drum kit

Corrie Dick – drum kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The track listing for “Cabin Tales” is;

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


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

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

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

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

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

Nuadha Quartet

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The track listing for “Cabin Tales” is;

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tom Cawley

“Catenaccio”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0024)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Catenaccio

Tom Cawley

Friday, August 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Catenaccio

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

Tom Cawley

“Catenaccio”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0024)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Kate Williams Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

“Finding Home”

(kwjazz002)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Home

Kate Williams’  Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Finding Home

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

Kate Williams Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

“Finding Home”

(kwjazz002)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Williams

“Bloom”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4737)


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


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series of 1970s albums by groups led variously by saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa.

Williams has also worked with an impressive roster of other major jazz artists during his long career including lengthy stints with saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He has also performed with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer, Michel Petrucciani, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Tony Malaby, Dave Holland, Tom Harrell, Bill McHenry, Joe Lovano. Ted Curson, Jerry Bergonzi and many more. It’s an impressive list.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano). Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include Nikki Iles, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Hans Koller and others.

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.

The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands, and latterly incorporating a degree of cross-fertilisation between the two.

2011 saw the release of “Another Time”, his début for bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. This excellent album featured the American musicians John O’Gallagher (alto sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hebert (double bass). The quartet subsequently toured Britain to considerable critical acclaim in 2012 with the fruits of their labours being documented on a second Whirlwind release, the live album “The Listener”, recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in London. I was lucky enough to witness and review a performance by this stellar line up on the final night of that tour at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham.

Besides his ‘American Quartet’ Williams has also run his own British quintet, the first edition of which included the twin saxophone front line of Josh Arcoleo (tenor) and Finn Peters (alto) alongside Phil Robson on guitar and Sam Lasserson on double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a hugely exciting performance by this incarnation of the group at a crowded Green Note in Camden Town as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The music of this particular line up was documented on the live album “Concert In The Amazon”, recorded in Brazil at the Manaus Jazz Festival and released as a limited edition CD on Williams’ own Willful Music imprint  http://www.wilfulmusic.com

In early 2015 I witnessed and reviewed the current incarnation of the Williams Quintet at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. By this time pianist Kit Downes had replaced the unavailable Finn Peters to complete the line up that appeared on his third Whirlwind release, “Outlier”. That performance, a double bill with saxophonist Mike Fletcher’s trio with whom Williams also plays, included some of the “Outlier” material alongside items from the back catalogue of Williams’ ‘American’ group. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom

Jeff Williams

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bloom

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

Jeff Williams

“Bloom”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4737)


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


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series of 1970s albums by groups led variously by saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa.

Williams has also worked with an impressive roster of other major jazz artists during his long career including lengthy stints with saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He has also performed with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer, Michel Petrucciani, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Tony Malaby, Dave Holland, Tom Harrell, Bill McHenry, Joe Lovano. Ted Curson, Jerry Bergonzi and many more. It’s an impressive list.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano). Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include Nikki Iles, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Hans Koller and others.

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.

The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands, and latterly incorporating a degree of cross-fertilisation between the two.

2011 saw the release of “Another Time”, his début for bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. This excellent album featured the American musicians John O’Gallagher (alto sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hebert (double bass). The quartet subsequently toured Britain to considerable critical acclaim in 2012 with the fruits of their labours being documented on a second Whirlwind release, the live album “The Listener”, recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in London. I was lucky enough to witness and review a performance by this stellar line up on the final night of that tour at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham.

Besides his ‘American Quartet’ Williams has also run his own British quintet, the first edition of which included the twin saxophone front line of Josh Arcoleo (tenor) and Finn Peters (alto) alongside Phil Robson on guitar and Sam Lasserson on double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a hugely exciting performance by this incarnation of the group at a crowded Green Note in Camden Town as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The music of this particular line up was documented on the live album “Concert In The Amazon”, recorded in Brazil at the Manaus Jazz Festival and released as a limited edition CD on Williams’ own Willful Music imprint  http://www.wilfulmusic.com

In early 2015 I witnessed and reviewed the current incarnation of the Williams Quintet at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. By this time pianist Kit Downes had replaced the unavailable Finn Peters to complete the line up that appeared on his third Whirlwind release, “Outlier”. That performance, a double bill with saxophonist Mike Fletcher’s trio with whom Williams also plays, included some of the “Outlier” material alongside items from the back catalogue of Williams’ ‘American’ group. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxyd

“The Lost Animals”

(Onze Heures Onze – ONZ029

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Animals

Oxyd

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Lost Animals

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

Oxyd

“The Lost Animals”

(Onze Heures Onze – ONZ029

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikael Mani Trio

“Bobby”

(Smekkleysa Records MM001CD)


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby

Mikael Mani Trio

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Bobby

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

Mikael Mani Trio

“Bobby”

(Smekkleysa Records MM001CD)


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


NATASHA FRANKS

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

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT

Friday, August 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


NATASHA FRANKS

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

Bonsai

“Bonsai Club”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0031)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tin” blends jazz with chilly eighties synth pop, conjuring up an atmosphere similar to Ultravox’s “Vienna”. Mansfield’s succinct, atmospheric lyric, which again possesses the skeletal elegance of a haiku, is delivered by Dominic with a Thom Yorke (Radiohead) like plaintiveness.

Dominic Ingham’s unaccompanied violin introduces “BMJC”, which combines hard driving passages with more atmospheric interludes. Dominic’s mercurial violin playing is the stand out feature here, his sound sometimes reminiscent of Christian Garrick when the latter is in contemporary jazz mode. Meanwhile Mansfield’s powerful drumming borrows from both rock and hip hop.

The languid, drifting “Quay” is a gentler proposition with a rich instrumental palette incorporating violin, trombone, electric keyboards and vibes. There’s a one line lyric, written by Dominic Ingham but sung by bassist Lee, the latter also adding piano and synths to this track. The singing and words are all but absorbed into the musical fabric, yet the piece retains a distinctly song like structure, a kind of jazz infused power ballad.

“Hop – The Hip Replacement” is the only track not to contain any vocals at all, even wordless ones. It does however boast a series of scintillating trombone / violin exchanges between the Ingham brothers, with the siblings skilfully supported by Comeau, Lee and Mansfield.

“Itchy Knee” features fruity trombone and soaring violin plus Comeau releasing his inner Rick Wakeman as he delivers dazzling solos on both Fender Rhodes and synth, with acoustic piano featuring in the mix too. Dominic Ingham’s violin solo is a similarly show stopping affair as he moves through the gears, and there’s a closing vibraphone flourish from Mansfield. Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

The album closes with a brief reprise of the opening “Bonsai Club”.

I have to admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of this album when I first heard it. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensures that Bonsai sound very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to.

However with subsequent listens “Bonsai Club” has very much grown on me. In my review of the Jam Experiment show at Shrewsbury I commented “ it’s refreshing to hear a young band playing a music that they obviously love rather than recycling the kind of neo-bop and post bop licks that they learnt at college”.

This observation seems even more appropriate when applied to Bonsai. This first recording under their new band name sees the group expanding on their jazz and funk base to incorporate rock, hip hop, classical and folk influences. With the addition of vocals it’s inevitably more song orientated than before with the music of Mansfield’s similarly inclined Elftet, in which the Ingham brothers both play, becoming a more significant influence.

Instrumentally (and vocally) the playing of the Ingham brothers is the first thing to catch the attention of the listener, but deeper examination suggests that it’s Comeau who is probably the glue that holds it all together with Mansfield becoming an increasingly significant composing presence.

In its Bonsai incarnation the music of the quintet is increasingly difficult to categorise, and although they may lose a few hardcore jazz listeners along the way the group’s new approach has the capacity to appeal to a much wider audience, particularly adventurous rock and pop listeners. Bonsai’s combination of youthful enthusiasm allied to superb musicianship has the potential of appealing to a similarly young demographic.

“Bonsai Club” reveals an increasingly distinctive group sound and skilfully combines acoustic and electronic elements, with the group making particularly effective use of what the press release describes as a ‘plethora of synthesisers’, expertly stitching these into the overall fabric of the music.  They are helped in this regard by the crack engineering team of Alex Killpartrick, Matt Williams and Peter Beckmann.

If there’s a criticism of “Bonsai Club” as an album it’s that at thirty seven minutes in length it’s rather short, CD running times are normally far more generous these days. But it’s an interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

However I have to admit that I’m still not entirely convinced by the band name. Jam Experiment was bad, but, for me, Bonsai offers little improvement. Still having a naff name has never been much of an obstacle in the rock world. Some of the biggest acts have had absolutely terrible names, take The Beatles and Oasis just for starters. Didn’t do either of those two much harm did it?

Bonsai are currently touring the album with forthcoming dates as follows;

13/09 Fleece Jazz, Colchester
15/09 Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
16/09 The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
17/09 PARRJAZZ, Liverpool
18/09 The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
19/09 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
20/09 The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22/09 Scarborough Jazz Festival, Yorkshire
06/10 Seven Jazz, Leeds
08/10 The Stables, Milton Keynes
31/10 Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London

More information at;
 http://bonsaibanduk.com

Bonsai Club

Bonsai

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bonsai Club

An interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

Bonsai

“Bonsai Club”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0031)

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

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

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

Bone, the 2014 winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award , has since left to concentrate on a solo career. Dominic Ingham comes to the group thanks to his familial relationship with Rory and through his work with Mansfield’s innovative eleven piece ensemble Elftet.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed the new line up, at that time still using the Jam Experiment name, at the Progress Theatre in Reading in August 2018. Trevor’s account can be read here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/

As Jam Experiment the group always liked to emphasise their collective spirit, with all members of the quintet contributing compositions to the band’s repertoire. As Bonsai they have taken this a stage further and have begun to write collectively as Rory Ingham explains;
“Bonsai is a group where everyone is the leader, and the music is written to be played by each other,  with each other. The long standing relationships mean that Bonsai are able to work cohesively and freely as a collective, resulting in total synergy. With this shared leadership we find the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts”.

The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern roots, despite since making the move to London.


The change of both name and personnel has seen a change in musical direction with the group deploying lyrics and vocals for the first time. There’s also a greater reliance on electric instrumentation, a process that began in the Jam Experiment days with Comeau’s electric keyboards and Bone’s use of the electronic wind instrument, or EWI. On “Bonsai Club” Comeau, Lee and Mansfield are all credited with synths and these instruments represent an important component of the music.

Funk and fusion still remains a key part of Bonsai’s music while the introduction of Dominic Ingham’s voice sometimes steers the music into more of a neo soul direction. Meanwhile his violin gives the renamed group a more unusual instrumental configuration and introduces folk and classical elements. The result is an increasingly distinctive and personal music that embraces a variety of styles and genres.

“We wanted to explore how five musicians with extremely deep and long-standing connections can communicate with a shared artistic vision, while having a variety of musical backgrounds, influences and experiences” says Ingham.

He continues “’Bonsai Club’  is about the joy of returning to a place where you feel content and accepted, no matter how much it transforms, it always feels like home. We translate this into accessible, inviting music that welcomes the listener”.

The arrival of Dominic Ingham has led to the group’s music becoming more obviously song like, a characteristic that also has its roots in Mansfield’s Elftet band.

Opening track “Bonsai Club” is one such example, a song with a buoyant funky groove, uplifting melody and a simple, haiku like lyric, written and warmly delivered by Dominic Ingham. The main instrumental solo comes from Lee on melodic electric bass, his Jaco like explorations underpinned by swirling synths and Comeau’s insistent piano vamp. The music as a whole is richly layered with those synths a vital presence alongside the violin, piano, drums and trombone.

“The Crescent” is essentially an instrumental offering but still features the use of Dominic’s wordless vocals, influenced perhaps by the work of the Pat Metheny Group. The synths and other electric keyboards are right in the busy mix too, but the centrepiece of the tune is a rousing trombone solo by Rory Ingham that is straight of the jazz tradition as ancient rubs shoulders with modern. Meanwhile Mansfield doubles on both drums and vibes and a dazzling, overdubbed vibraphone solo takes the piece storming out.

“Tin” blends jazz with chilly eighties synth pop, conjuring up an atmosphere similar to Ultravox’s “Vienna”. Mansfield’s succinct, atmospheric lyric, which again possesses the skeletal elegance of a haiku, is delivered by Dominic with a Thom Yorke (Radiohead) like plaintiveness.

Dominic Ingham’s unaccompanied violin introduces “BMJC”, which combines hard driving passages with more atmospheric interludes. Dominic’s mercurial violin playing is the stand out feature here, his sound sometimes reminiscent of Christian Garrick when the latter is in contemporary jazz mode. Meanwhile Mansfield’s powerful drumming borrows from both rock and hip hop.

The languid, drifting “Quay” is a gentler proposition with a rich instrumental palette incorporating violin, trombone, electric keyboards and vibes. There’s a one line lyric, written by Dominic Ingham but sung by bassist Lee, the latter also adding piano and synths to this track. The singing and words are all but absorbed into the musical fabric, yet the piece retains a distinctly song like structure, a kind of jazz infused power ballad.

“Hop – The Hip Replacement” is the only track not to contain any vocals at all, even wordless ones. It does however boast a series of scintillating trombone / violin exchanges between the Ingham brothers, with the siblings skilfully supported by Comeau, Lee and Mansfield.

“Itchy Knee” features fruity trombone and soaring violin plus Comeau releasing his inner Rick Wakeman as he delivers dazzling solos on both Fender Rhodes and synth, with acoustic piano featuring in the mix too. Dominic Ingham’s violin solo is a similarly show stopping affair as he moves through the gears, and there’s a closing vibraphone flourish from Mansfield. Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

The album closes with a brief reprise of the opening “Bonsai Club”.

I have to admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of this album when I first heard it. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensures that Bonsai sound very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to.

However with subsequent listens “Bonsai Club” has very much grown on me. In my review of the Jam Experiment show at Shrewsbury I commented “ it’s refreshing to hear a young band playing a music that they obviously love rather than recycling the kind of neo-bop and post bop licks that they learnt at college”.

This observation seems even more appropriate when applied to Bonsai. This first recording under their new band name sees the group expanding on their jazz and funk base to incorporate rock, hip hop, classical and folk influences. With the addition of vocals it’s inevitably more song orientated than before with the music of Mansfield’s similarly inclined Elftet, in which the Ingham brothers both play, becoming a more significant influence.

Instrumentally (and vocally) the playing of the Ingham brothers is the first thing to catch the attention of the listener, but deeper examination suggests that it’s Comeau who is probably the glue that holds it all together with Mansfield becoming an increasingly significant composing presence.

In its Bonsai incarnation the music of the quintet is increasingly difficult to categorise, and although they may lose a few hardcore jazz listeners along the way the group’s new approach has the capacity to appeal to a much wider audience, particularly adventurous rock and pop listeners. Bonsai’s combination of youthful enthusiasm allied to superb musicianship has the potential of appealing to a similarly young demographic.

“Bonsai Club” reveals an increasingly distinctive group sound and skilfully combines acoustic and electronic elements, with the group making particularly effective use of what the press release describes as a ‘plethora of synthesisers’, expertly stitching these into the overall fabric of the music.  They are helped in this regard by the crack engineering team of Alex Killpartrick, Matt Williams and Peter Beckmann.

If there’s a criticism of “Bonsai Club” as an album it’s that at thirty seven minutes in length it’s rather short, CD running times are normally far more generous these days. But it’s an interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

However I have to admit that I’m still not entirely convinced by the band name. Jam Experiment was bad, but, for me, Bonsai offers little improvement. Still having a naff name has never been much of an obstacle in the rock world. Some of the biggest acts have had absolutely terrible names, take The Beatles and Oasis just for starters. Didn’t do either of those two much harm did it?

Bonsai are currently touring the album with forthcoming dates as follows;

13/09 Fleece Jazz, Colchester
15/09 Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
16/09 The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
17/09 PARRJAZZ, Liverpool
18/09 The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
19/09 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
20/09 The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22/09 Scarborough Jazz Festival, Yorkshire
06/10 Seven Jazz, Leeds
08/10 The Stables, Milton Keynes
31/10 Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London

More information at;
 http://bonsaibanduk.com

The Shirt Tail Stompers - The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking, with the band attracting the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year.

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.

Steven Coombe – trumpet, vocals, piano, swanee whistle, Michael McQuaid – clarinet, tenor sax, backing vocals, Dave O’Brien – double bass, vocals Simon Picton – guitar, banjo, vocals
Nicholas Ball – drums, percussion


Who said trad was dead? This evening’s concert by the young London based quintet The Shirt Tail Stompers attracted the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year with event organiser Mike Skilton declaring himself delighted with the near capacity turnout.

The Stompers are part of a London based trad revival that has seen young music college educated musicians playing to similarly youthful audiences, with both the players and their listeners approaching the music of the New Orleans and swing eras without prejudice, but instead with energy and a genuine enthusiasm. The Stompers prefer to describe their music as ‘vintage’ rather then ‘trad’ and are part of a scene that also includes The Dixie Ticklers, The Back Street Brawlers and the Kansas Smitty’s crew fronted by clarinettist Giacomo Smith.

A glance at the Stompers website reveals that they are never short of work with the band touring widely both in the UK and internationally. They have clearly developed something of a cult following, even outside London, if the size of tonight’s turnout is anything to go by.

The band have released three albums and their core line up is frequently augmented by guest musicians and vocalists. Indeed there seems to be something of a ‘pool’ of musicians with Coombe and O’Brien the only two constants.

Coombe studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff before moving back to London, and it may have been that connection that brought him back to Wales tonight. He fronted the performance with ready charm and a quick wit, and although this was obviously very much a ‘show’ the band members genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, a quality that quickly communicated itself to the audience. This was probably an older crowd than the Stompers are used to playing to in London, where bright young things probably get to their feet to dance old dances such as the Lindy Hop, but it was attentive and genuinely appreciative.

The Stompers kicked off with an instrumental rendition of the song “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, first published in 1917 and delivered in classic New Orleans style with solos from McQuaid on clarinet, Coombe on trumpet, Picton on guitar and O’Brien on double bass. It was immediately obvious that these college educated young gentlemen could play, their solos combining fluency and dexterity with the necessary heat and swing.

“Has Anybody Seen My Girl” (‘five foot two’ and all that) featured Coombe on both trumpet and vocals. It’s probably fair to say that in common with many other bands of this ilk the singing wasn’t quite up to the quality of the playing, but it was perfectly decent and serviceable. The instrumental highlights here were the vivacious exchanges between trumpet and clarinet, and later double bass and guitar. Ball also enjoyed something of a drum feature on a vintage style kit in the style of Baby Dodds, complete with cowbell, woodblock and an enormous bass, or parade, drum.

“Come Love” took us into the swing / Hot Club era and was immediately recognisable as being part of the repertoire of those other BMJ favourites, the Bristol based gypsy jazz /  Berlin cabaret combo Moscow Drug Club. O’ Brien’s melodic double bass feature kicked off the solos here with Coombe later exchanging ideas with the Australian born McQuaid, the latter now on tenor sax.

Bassist Dave O’Brien was featured as lead vocalist on the song “Out of Nowhere” as Coombe moved to the Melville’s upright piano, revealing himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist as he undertook a convincing solo. Even more impressive was a strikingly fluent solo from McQuaid on tenor sax.

Incidentally O’Brien himself is also a versatile multi-instrumentalist and tonight was the first time I’d seen him playing bass. Previously I’d witnessed him playing keyboards in saxophonist Cath Roberts’ decidedly more contemporary septet Quadraceratops. I also remember with great affection O’Brien’s own ‘fusion’ (for want of a better word) sextet Porpoise Corpus, a terrific band that released its excellent eponymous début album in 2007 but, sadly, never got the opportunity to follow it up. O’Brien played piano and electric keyboards in that particular line up and the music was a long, long way from that of The Shirt Tail Stompers. One suspects that the other members of the Stompers also play other styles of music elsewhere, assuming they get the time given the Stompers busy gig schedule. Such genre hopping versatility seems to be something of a hallmark of today’s generation of super-talented young jazz musicians.

Picton switched to banjo for a particularly vigorous reading of “That’s A Plenty”, the move triggering all the usual banjo jokes from Coombe. The piece was primarily a feature for the brilliant clarinet playing of McQuaid but there were also solos from Picton and O’Brien. On a hot, humid July night one could close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in Preservation Hall, New Orleans rather than the Melville Centre, Abergavenny. This was exhilarating, uplifting stuff.

Another dip into the gypsy jazz / Moscow Drug Club repertoire for ““Bei Mir Bist du Schon” with Coombe soloing on piano alongside McQuaid on clarinet, O’ Brien on double bass and Picton, safely back on guitar.

Announced as “an ironic song about divorce” the jazz standard “All of Me” found the quintet taking a more subversive approach to their chosen material with Coombe delivering a crowd pleasing solo on swanee whistle alongside further excursions from McQuaid on tenor sax and
O’ Brien at the bass.

The first set concluded with a vigorous romp through “Chicken” with lead vocalist Coombe handling the tongue twisting lyrics with considerable aplomb. Instrumental solos came from McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on guitar and Ball with a closing drum feature.

It was also Ball who kicked off the second half, his drums introducing fellow tub thumper Gene Krupa’s “Capital Idea”, which included some excellent trumpet / tenor interplay between Coombe and McQuaid, plus individual solos for each. Picton also featured on guitar before Ball returned for a more extended feature at the kit.

The drummer also kick started “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” which included a vocal from Coombe and instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’Brien on double bass.

Alongside the banter, such as the mock bickering between Coombe and McQuaid, there were also interesting nuggets of information given about the band’s chosen material. Introducing “Stompin’ At The Savoy” Coombe informed us that the famous New York City dance hall was one of the first mixed race entertainment venues in the US and that it was there that the Lindy Hop and various other well known dances were first invented.  The Stompers’ performance of what is a kind of theme tune for them included solos for clarinet, muted trumpet, guitar and double bass.

Dundee born Picton was featured on banjo and contributed a powerful and impressive lead vocal on “The Sheikh of Araby”, with further features for trumpet and clarinet.

The band dipped into the repertoire of John Kirby, the 1930s/1940s bandleader sometimes said to represent the link between the swing and bebop eras. Coombe and McQuaid got so involved joshing about the names of Kirby’s sextet that the tune itself was unannounced. However the arrangement was chock full of the kind of fine playing and musical humour that has made the Shirt Tail Stompers such a popular act on the jazz circuit, with features here for muted trumpet, tenor sax and guitar.

“Dark Eyes” saw McQuaid moving back to clarinet for an arrangement that acted as a feature for
O’ Briens double bass and scat vocals, and which included an extract from “The Funeral March” as a coda.

The last two items saw the band exploring very familiar territory as they closed with two songs indelibly associated with New Orleans’ most famous musical export, trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong.

“When You’re Smiling” featured Coombe on trumpet, piano AND vocals and also included solos from McQuaid on tenor sax, Picton on guitar and O’ Brien at the bass.

“When The Saints Go Marching In” directed us back to Preservation Hall with Coombe bantering with drummer Ball and encouraging the audience to sing along. With Coombe leading the singing there were instrumental features for McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on banjo and Ball at the drums.

The inevitable encore, “Funny Beer”, featured more audience participation and fine instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’ Brien at the bass.

The Shirt Tail Stompers have declared that their mission is to make this “early form of pop music popular again”. They certainly succeeded brilliantly this evening, their entertaining presentation and highly skilled playing earning them an excellent reception from a large and appreciative audience, with several members of the audience declaring them to be the best band that they’d ever seen at BMJ.

I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that, but there was no doubt that the evening was a huge success with a near capacity crowd – and probably record bar takings too I should imagine!

But just to prove that the jazz life isn’t all glamour the band members had to help shift the piano back to the bar afterwards before making their way home to London. Thanks to Dave O’Brien for taking the time to talk with me afterwards as we recalled the Porpoise Corpus and Qudraceratops days and talked about his current projects.

A hugely successful evening then – although I did have my reservations. As regular readers of these web pages will know I tend to favour a more contemporary brand of jazz and this was all a little too ‘traddy’ for me.

Also the band’s approach to their chosen material was pretty ‘straight ahead’ and very much geared towards ‘entertainment’. I don’t doubt their love for their chosen material but, for me, they almost treated it with a bit too much respect. In view of this being such a young band and given the involvement of at least one of its members in other areas of jazz music I was maybe expecting something a bit more irreverent, ironic or subversive. A bit like Pigfoot perhaps, a quartet with an approach to early jazz and blues material that is more obviously contemporary and which is very much their own, but without in any way losing the humour or essential essence of the music.

However there’s no doubting the Stompers’ playing abilities and there was much to enjoy here, as evidenced by the audience turnout tonight with many fans attending BMJ for the first time. In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking – and probably dancing too. I’ll admit to it not being my favourite genre, but jazz is a broad church and the programming at BMJ and at the associated Wall2Wall Jazz Festival (coming soon folks!) reflects that variety. I’ve always felt that the sheer diversity of the programming is one of BMJ’s great strengths, and long may that continue. There will always be room for trad at the table, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it every month, or any other single genre for that matter.

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.

The Shirt Tail Stompers

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking, with the band attracting the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year.

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.

Steven Coombe – trumpet, vocals, piano, swanee whistle, Michael McQuaid – clarinet, tenor sax, backing vocals, Dave O’Brien – double bass, vocals Simon Picton – guitar, banjo, vocals
Nicholas Ball – drums, percussion


Who said trad was dead? This evening’s concert by the young London based quintet The Shirt Tail Stompers attracted the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year with event organiser Mike Skilton declaring himself delighted with the near capacity turnout.

The Stompers are part of a London based trad revival that has seen young music college educated musicians playing to similarly youthful audiences, with both the players and their listeners approaching the music of the New Orleans and swing eras without prejudice, but instead with energy and a genuine enthusiasm. The Stompers prefer to describe their music as ‘vintage’ rather then ‘trad’ and are part of a scene that also includes The Dixie Ticklers, The Back Street Brawlers and the Kansas Smitty’s crew fronted by clarinettist Giacomo Smith.

A glance at the Stompers website reveals that they are never short of work with the band touring widely both in the UK and internationally. They have clearly developed something of a cult following, even outside London, if the size of tonight’s turnout is anything to go by.

The band have released three albums and their core line up is frequently augmented by guest musicians and vocalists. Indeed there seems to be something of a ‘pool’ of musicians with Coombe and O’Brien the only two constants.

Coombe studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff before moving back to London, and it may have been that connection that brought him back to Wales tonight. He fronted the performance with ready charm and a quick wit, and although this was obviously very much a ‘show’ the band members genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, a quality that quickly communicated itself to the audience. This was probably an older crowd than the Stompers are used to playing to in London, where bright young things probably get to their feet to dance old dances such as the Lindy Hop, but it was attentive and genuinely appreciative.

The Stompers kicked off with an instrumental rendition of the song “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, first published in 1917 and delivered in classic New Orleans style with solos from McQuaid on clarinet, Coombe on trumpet, Picton on guitar and O’Brien on double bass. It was immediately obvious that these college educated young gentlemen could play, their solos combining fluency and dexterity with the necessary heat and swing.

“Has Anybody Seen My Girl” (‘five foot two’ and all that) featured Coombe on both trumpet and vocals. It’s probably fair to say that in common with many other bands of this ilk the singing wasn’t quite up to the quality of the playing, but it was perfectly decent and serviceable. The instrumental highlights here were the vivacious exchanges between trumpet and clarinet, and later double bass and guitar. Ball also enjoyed something of a drum feature on a vintage style kit in the style of Baby Dodds, complete with cowbell, woodblock and an enormous bass, or parade, drum.

“Come Love” took us into the swing / Hot Club era and was immediately recognisable as being part of the repertoire of those other BMJ favourites, the Bristol based gypsy jazz /  Berlin cabaret combo Moscow Drug Club. O’ Brien’s melodic double bass feature kicked off the solos here with Coombe later exchanging ideas with the Australian born McQuaid, the latter now on tenor sax.

Bassist Dave O’Brien was featured as lead vocalist on the song “Out of Nowhere” as Coombe moved to the Melville’s upright piano, revealing himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist as he undertook a convincing solo. Even more impressive was a strikingly fluent solo from McQuaid on tenor sax.

Incidentally O’Brien himself is also a versatile multi-instrumentalist and tonight was the first time I’d seen him playing bass. Previously I’d witnessed him playing keyboards in saxophonist Cath Roberts’ decidedly more contemporary septet Quadraceratops. I also remember with great affection O’Brien’s own ‘fusion’ (for want of a better word) sextet Porpoise Corpus, a terrific band that released its excellent eponymous début album in 2007 but, sadly, never got the opportunity to follow it up. O’Brien played piano and electric keyboards in that particular line up and the music was a long, long way from that of The Shirt Tail Stompers. One suspects that the other members of the Stompers also play other styles of music elsewhere, assuming they get the time given the Stompers busy gig schedule. Such genre hopping versatility seems to be something of a hallmark of today’s generation of super-talented young jazz musicians.

Picton switched to banjo for a particularly vigorous reading of “That’s A Plenty”, the move triggering all the usual banjo jokes from Coombe. The piece was primarily a feature for the brilliant clarinet playing of McQuaid but there were also solos from Picton and O’Brien. On a hot, humid July night one could close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in Preservation Hall, New Orleans rather than the Melville Centre, Abergavenny. This was exhilarating, uplifting stuff.

Another dip into the gypsy jazz / Moscow Drug Club repertoire for ““Bei Mir Bist du Schon” with Coombe soloing on piano alongside McQuaid on clarinet, O’ Brien on double bass and Picton, safely back on guitar.

Announced as “an ironic song about divorce” the jazz standard “All of Me” found the quintet taking a more subversive approach to their chosen material with Coombe delivering a crowd pleasing solo on swanee whistle alongside further excursions from McQuaid on tenor sax and
O’ Brien at the bass.

The first set concluded with a vigorous romp through “Chicken” with lead vocalist Coombe handling the tongue twisting lyrics with considerable aplomb. Instrumental solos came from McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on guitar and Ball with a closing drum feature.

It was also Ball who kicked off the second half, his drums introducing fellow tub thumper Gene Krupa’s “Capital Idea”, which included some excellent trumpet / tenor interplay between Coombe and McQuaid, plus individual solos for each. Picton also featured on guitar before Ball returned for a more extended feature at the kit.

The drummer also kick started “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” which included a vocal from Coombe and instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’Brien on double bass.

Alongside the banter, such as the mock bickering between Coombe and McQuaid, there were also interesting nuggets of information given about the band’s chosen material. Introducing “Stompin’ At The Savoy” Coombe informed us that the famous New York City dance hall was one of the first mixed race entertainment venues in the US and that it was there that the Lindy Hop and various other well known dances were first invented.  The Stompers’ performance of what is a kind of theme tune for them included solos for clarinet, muted trumpet, guitar and double bass.

Dundee born Picton was featured on banjo and contributed a powerful and impressive lead vocal on “The Sheikh of Araby”, with further features for trumpet and clarinet.

The band dipped into the repertoire of John Kirby, the 1930s/1940s bandleader sometimes said to represent the link between the swing and bebop eras. Coombe and McQuaid got so involved joshing about the names of Kirby’s sextet that the tune itself was unannounced. However the arrangement was chock full of the kind of fine playing and musical humour that has made the Shirt Tail Stompers such a popular act on the jazz circuit, with features here for muted trumpet, tenor sax and guitar.

“Dark Eyes” saw McQuaid moving back to clarinet for an arrangement that acted as a feature for
O’ Briens double bass and scat vocals, and which included an extract from “The Funeral March” as a coda.

The last two items saw the band exploring very familiar territory as they closed with two songs indelibly associated with New Orleans’ most famous musical export, trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong.

“When You’re Smiling” featured Coombe on trumpet, piano AND vocals and also included solos from McQuaid on tenor sax, Picton on guitar and O’ Brien at the bass.

“When The Saints Go Marching In” directed us back to Preservation Hall with Coombe bantering with drummer Ball and encouraging the audience to sing along. With Coombe leading the singing there were instrumental features for McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on banjo and Ball at the drums.

The inevitable encore, “Funny Beer”, featured more audience participation and fine instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’ Brien at the bass.

The Shirt Tail Stompers have declared that their mission is to make this “early form of pop music popular again”. They certainly succeeded brilliantly this evening, their entertaining presentation and highly skilled playing earning them an excellent reception from a large and appreciative audience, with several members of the audience declaring them to be the best band that they’d ever seen at BMJ.

I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that, but there was no doubt that the evening was a huge success with a near capacity crowd – and probably record bar takings too I should imagine!

But just to prove that the jazz life isn’t all glamour the band members had to help shift the piano back to the bar afterwards before making their way home to London. Thanks to Dave O’Brien for taking the time to talk with me afterwards as we recalled the Porpoise Corpus and Qudraceratops days and talked about his current projects.

A hugely successful evening then – although I did have my reservations. As regular readers of these web pages will know I tend to favour a more contemporary brand of jazz and this was all a little too ‘traddy’ for me.

Also the band’s approach to their chosen material was pretty ‘straight ahead’ and very much geared towards ‘entertainment’. I don’t doubt their love for their chosen material but, for me, they almost treated it with a bit too much respect. In view of this being such a young band and given the involvement of at least one of its members in other areas of jazz music I was maybe expecting something a bit more irreverent, ironic or subversive. A bit like Pigfoot perhaps, a quartet with an approach to early jazz and blues material that is more obviously contemporary and which is very much their own, but without in any way losing the humour or essential essence of the music.

However there’s no doubting the Stompers’ playing abilities and there was much to enjoy here, as evidenced by the audience turnout tonight with many fans attending BMJ for the first time. In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking – and probably dancing too. I’ll admit to it not being my favourite genre, but jazz is a broad church and the programming at BMJ and at the associated Wall2Wall Jazz Festival (coming soon folks!) reflects that variety. I’ve always felt that the sheer diversity of the programming is one of BMJ’s great strengths, and long may that continue. There will always be room for trad at the table, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it every month, or any other single genre for that matter.

The Remix Jazz Orchestra - The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019. Rating: 5 out of 5 "SUPERB". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys a concert portraying ‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’, held in the beautiful surroundings of Reading Minster.

Jazz in Reading with Reading Fringe Festival

‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’

Tuesday 23 July 2019, Reading Minster, St Mary’s Butts, Reading, Berkshire.


The Remix Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Stuart Henderson and with special guests Simon Allen tenor saxophone and Fleur Stephenson vocals: 

David Cunningham, James Lowe, Chris Preddy, Stuart Henderson trumpets;

Peter Phillips, Cliff Luke, Brian Haddock trombones;

Steve Waters bass trombone;

Brian Marrett clarinet and alto saxophone; Rod Kirton alto saxophone; Mike Booker tenor saxophone; Jim Philip baritone saxophone & bass clarinet;

Adrian Sharon piano;

Adrian Thoms guitar;

John Deemer bass guitar & tuba;

Dave Lambert drums.


The opening bars of Count Basie’s ‘All Of Me’ simply enveloped the two-hundred plus audience who gathered in Reading Minster on Tuesday 23 July, with the warm glow of its immaculate presentation and relaxed, effortless swing. The perfect opening shot in an evening dedicated to ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’ as told in music by the 17-piece Remix Jazz Orchestra and the illuminating narrative of its Musical Director, Stuart Henderson -  for big band jazz is a story not just of the music itself, but of colourful locations, intriguing plot-lines and larger than life characters.

None more so than the self-styled ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman. ‘Whispering’ a loving recreation of a massive hit for Whiteman in 1920, featuring the ‘oom-pah’ tuba of John Deemer (playing in the lofty heights of the pulpit) and the swanee whistle of Stuart Henderson, evoked Whiteman’s determination to rub the rough edges off the then new-fangled craze of ‘jass’ and transform the music into a ‘respectable lady’.

Whiteman remained popular throughout the next two decades, but anyone searching for the ‘real thing’ needed to  travel no further than New York’s Roseland Ballroom where African-American pianist Fletcher Henderson had assembled a ‘powerhouse rhythm machine’ band whose instrumentation wouldn’t have looked too different to that of the Remix Orchestra. Fletcher set the mould for all future big bands; top flight musicianship, written arrangements and scorching hot improvised solos! ‘King Porter Stomp’ was one of his most successful arrangements and with the brilliant Brian Marrett on clarinet, the Remix interpretation captured all the excitement of those pioneering days.

The muted trumpets and flawless saxophones of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ celebrated the diminutive drummer Chick Webb whose band held court to the Lindy-Hopping dancers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. He regularly ‘cut’ visiting bands, like those of Fletcher Henderson, in thrilling battles of the bands. Chick also introduced a shy teenage singer to the bandstand in 1934 … a certain Miss Ella Fitzgerald!

In the same year, clarinet virtuoso Benny Goodman, modelled his new band on that of Fletcher Henderson and employed Fletcher as an arranger. Over the next four years he scored a string of hit records, set the nation dancing to his radio broadcasts and national tours, and earned the accolade ‘King of Swing’. The band was driven along by the drums of Gene Krupa, most famously at the historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, a mantle now taken up by Dave Lambert as he snapped the flag-waving ‘Don’t’ Be That Way’ into life, a feature for the full brassy tones of Peter Phillips on trombone.

Billie Holiday – ‘Lady Day’ - possessed the alchemist’s gift of being able to transform lyrical dross into solid gold, by turns, expressing the joy of the human spirit and its vulnerability in equal measure. Guest vocalist, Fleur Stevenson captured those qualities perfectly with a beautiful interpretation of ‘That Old Devil Called Love’, supported by the lush, string-like background of the Remix Orchestra.

‘Hawaiian War Chant’, on the other hand, a hit for Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and a feature in the movie ‘Ship Ahoy’, showcased the razzle-dazzle-showmanship beloved of swing fans -  thundering tom-toms, a hand-clapping, head-swaying band, the trumpet section waving their derby mutes in swinging unison, a fiery tenor solo and to top it all, a mock dual between Dave Lambert and Stuart Henderson. Great fun!

Arguments raged throughout the ‘swing era’ as to whether Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw was the greatest clarinettist. Brian Marrett made his own claim to the title with an expressive and beautifully polished interpretation of ‘Begin the Beguine’.

Artie Shaw’s classic hit of 1938 led us neatly into the instantly recognisable introduction to Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’, an anthem for the wartime years that never fails to set toes tapping, raise a smile, or even prompt a wistful tear to the eye. This fine version featured special guest Simon Allen and his fellow protagonist Mike Booker on tenor saxophones.

Chris Preddy, the youngest member of the Remix Orchestra, took the spotlight to evoke the sound and spirit of trumpet legend Harry James with a magnificent performance of the tear-jerking ‘You Made Me Love You’.

While Harry James made a name for himself with his Hollywood movie star good looks and the extravagance of his playing, William ‘Count ‘Basie could sit almost unnoticed at his piano, and with one note teased from the keyboard, set his band alight. Taste and economy were his signature words, as Adrian Sharon demonstrated to perfect effect in his introduction to ‘Satin Doll’, more than ably supported by the superb rhythm section of Adrian Thoms, John Deemer and Dave Lambert.

Charlie Barnet’s swinging ‘Skyliner’ brought a huge smile of delight to a nonagenarian gentleman in the audience. Not only did he buy the record when it was first released in 1944, but he saw the Barnet orchestra live in New York as a young trainee RAF pilot on a brief stop-over en route to a training base in the mid-west of America.

And to bring the first set to a close? What else but Stan Kenton’s atmospheric ‘Intermission Riff’.

The insistent call of Dave Lambert’s drums summoned the ‘congregation’ for the second half of the concert. Excitement mounted as his solo grew in volume and momentum. When he reached a crescendo of sound, he released the tension, hit a familiar groove and launched the band into spectacular flight with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, the thrilling climax to Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, and no less exciting in this performance!
 
The next number brought a change in temperature and the distinctly ‘cool’ unison sound of four saxophonists - Brian Marrett, Simon Allen, Mike Booker and Jim Philip - playing ‘as one’, in a marvellous arrangement of ‘Four Brothers’, Jimmy Giuffre’s tightly swinging composition for Woody Herman’s band of 1947; known inevitably for ever after as the ‘Four Brothers’ Band.
 
The reappearance of Fleur Stevenson  prompted a huge round of applause as she took centre-stage to sing ‘When the Angels Sing’. Once a feature for Martha Tilton with the Benny Goodman band she delivered the song to perfection, with a lovely sense of swing, crystal-clear diction and a vocal quality that filled the vast space of the Minster. However, ‘When the Angels Sing’ was never just a vocal feature. It’s composer, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, added a flamboyant ‘Fraulich’ chorus, emulated on this occasion by trumpet maestro Stuart Henderson over the rolling snare drumming of Dave Lambert. Sensational!
 
The enduring spirit of Duke Ellington  looms large in the story of big band jazz. He led an orchestra for more than fifty years and composed over one-thousand  pieces, many of which have become  standard items in the big band repertoire. ‘Mood Indigo’, featuring the resonant low tones of Brian Marrett’s clarinet, presented Ellington at his most reflective; the imaginative lighting effects adding greatly to the atmosphere.

In contrast, the Remix Orchestra transformed ‘Caravan’ (forever associated with Ellington, but actually written by his band member Juan Tizol), originally conceived as an exotic camel ride across the gently undulating sand dunes of the desert, into a headlong flight into a desert storm, with Simon Allen’s ferocious tenor setting the pace.
 
Ted Heath was Britain’s foremost post-war bandleader, who also flew the flag with great success on his numerous tours of the States. He appeared in Reading on many occasions. On one such, at Reading Town Hall ,a wild mob of female fans tried to pull star vocalist Denis Lotis off the stage. They took his bow tie, his handkerchief, socks and his shoes. They eventually threw back the shoes … but not the socks!
 
‘Hot Toddy’ was one of Ted’s biggest hits, played here with the smooth precision of the Heath band, anchored by the gloriously fruity baritone saxophone of Jim Philip.
 
Johnny Dankworth was also a frequent visitor to Reading in his pre-TV/film writing days. The theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ instantly conjured images of its enthusiastic presenters Raymond Baxter and James Burke introducing the next techno-wizardry that would ‘undoubtedly’ change the course of world history … and some of them probably did! Better still the Remix Orchestra played the entire tune, not just the 30 seconds worth that used to accompany the  titles. 
 
A sparkling version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, with a witty scat chorus a la Ella Fitzgerald, rounded off Fleur Stevenson’s contribution to the evening and added her name to the illustrious list of vocalists who have performed the Rodgers and Hart classic.
 
Changing tastes in popular music, the advent of rock n’ roll and the arrival of the Beatles, almost sounded the death knell  for big bands in the 1960s. But band leaders like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson were not to be outdone. How could one resist the gospel-soaked funk of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ or James Lowe’s  tour de force performance of spectacular trumpet pyrotechnics on ‘MacArthur Park’.

A high-voltage performance of Gordon Goodwin’s ‘Jazz Police’ brought the story bang up-to-date and declared emphatically that there is bags of life and plenty of new territory yet to be explored in the ever-evolving story of big band jazz.
 
Musical Director, Stuart Henderson,  is to be congratulated on devising such an original and wide-ranging programme that mixed familiar warhorses with all manner of surprises – old and new, and for his informative and good-humoured commentary. Oh, that school music lessons could have been as much fun as this!
 
As for the Remix Orchestra? What can one say? Will ‘SUPERB’ suffice?
 
Thanks also to Reading Fringe Festival and Jazz in Reading for promoting the event; the Reading Fringe Festival ‘House’ Team for the excellent quality of the sound and lighting and for manning the bar; Reading Minster for allowing the event to take place in such beautiful surroundings; Sansome & George: Residential Sales & Lettings for their generous sponsorship and finally, but by no means least, all those wonderful people who supported the event and demonstrated that there is a healthy appetite for ‘LIVE’ big band jazz in Reading. 
 
Promoters please note: Anyone seeking to present a Big Band concert with a broad appeal and a guarantee of success, should look no further than the Remix Jazz Orchestra.
 

The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019.

The Remix Jazz Orchestra

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"SUPERB". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys a concert portraying ‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’, held in the beautiful surroundings of Reading Minster.

Jazz in Reading with Reading Fringe Festival

‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’

Tuesday 23 July 2019, Reading Minster, St Mary’s Butts, Reading, Berkshire.


The Remix Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Stuart Henderson and with special guests Simon Allen tenor saxophone and Fleur Stephenson vocals: 

David Cunningham, James Lowe, Chris Preddy, Stuart Henderson trumpets;

Peter Phillips, Cliff Luke, Brian Haddock trombones;

Steve Waters bass trombone;

Brian Marrett clarinet and alto saxophone; Rod Kirton alto saxophone; Mike Booker tenor saxophone; Jim Philip baritone saxophone & bass clarinet;

Adrian Sharon piano;

Adrian Thoms guitar;

John Deemer bass guitar & tuba;

Dave Lambert drums.


The opening bars of Count Basie’s ‘All Of Me’ simply enveloped the two-hundred plus audience who gathered in Reading Minster on Tuesday 23 July, with the warm glow of its immaculate presentation and relaxed, effortless swing. The perfect opening shot in an evening dedicated to ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’ as told in music by the 17-piece Remix Jazz Orchestra and the illuminating narrative of its Musical Director, Stuart Henderson -  for big band jazz is a story not just of the music itself, but of colourful locations, intriguing plot-lines and larger than life characters.

None more so than the self-styled ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman. ‘Whispering’ a loving recreation of a massive hit for Whiteman in 1920, featuring the ‘oom-pah’ tuba of John Deemer (playing in the lofty heights of the pulpit) and the swanee whistle of Stuart Henderson, evoked Whiteman’s determination to rub the rough edges off the then new-fangled craze of ‘jass’ and transform the music into a ‘respectable lady’.

Whiteman remained popular throughout the next two decades, but anyone searching for the ‘real thing’ needed to  travel no further than New York’s Roseland Ballroom where African-American pianist Fletcher Henderson had assembled a ‘powerhouse rhythm machine’ band whose instrumentation wouldn’t have looked too different to that of the Remix Orchestra. Fletcher set the mould for all future big bands; top flight musicianship, written arrangements and scorching hot improvised solos! ‘King Porter Stomp’ was one of his most successful arrangements and with the brilliant Brian Marrett on clarinet, the Remix interpretation captured all the excitement of those pioneering days.

The muted trumpets and flawless saxophones of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ celebrated the diminutive drummer Chick Webb whose band held court to the Lindy-Hopping dancers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. He regularly ‘cut’ visiting bands, like those of Fletcher Henderson, in thrilling battles of the bands. Chick also introduced a shy teenage singer to the bandstand in 1934 … a certain Miss Ella Fitzgerald!

In the same year, clarinet virtuoso Benny Goodman, modelled his new band on that of Fletcher Henderson and employed Fletcher as an arranger. Over the next four years he scored a string of hit records, set the nation dancing to his radio broadcasts and national tours, and earned the accolade ‘King of Swing’. The band was driven along by the drums of Gene Krupa, most famously at the historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, a mantle now taken up by Dave Lambert as he snapped the flag-waving ‘Don’t’ Be That Way’ into life, a feature for the full brassy tones of Peter Phillips on trombone.

Billie Holiday – ‘Lady Day’ - possessed the alchemist’s gift of being able to transform lyrical dross into solid gold, by turns, expressing the joy of the human spirit and its vulnerability in equal measure. Guest vocalist, Fleur Stevenson captured those qualities perfectly with a beautiful interpretation of ‘That Old Devil Called Love’, supported by the lush, string-like background of the Remix Orchestra.

‘Hawaiian War Chant’, on the other hand, a hit for Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and a feature in the movie ‘Ship Ahoy’, showcased the razzle-dazzle-showmanship beloved of swing fans -  thundering tom-toms, a hand-clapping, head-swaying band, the trumpet section waving their derby mutes in swinging unison, a fiery tenor solo and to top it all, a mock dual between Dave Lambert and Stuart Henderson. Great fun!

Arguments raged throughout the ‘swing era’ as to whether Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw was the greatest clarinettist. Brian Marrett made his own claim to the title with an expressive and beautifully polished interpretation of ‘Begin the Beguine’.

Artie Shaw’s classic hit of 1938 led us neatly into the instantly recognisable introduction to Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’, an anthem for the wartime years that never fails to set toes tapping, raise a smile, or even prompt a wistful tear to the eye. This fine version featured special guest Simon Allen and his fellow protagonist Mike Booker on tenor saxophones.

Chris Preddy, the youngest member of the Remix Orchestra, took the spotlight to evoke the sound and spirit of trumpet legend Harry James with a magnificent performance of the tear-jerking ‘You Made Me Love You’.

While Harry James made a name for himself with his Hollywood movie star good looks and the extravagance of his playing, William ‘Count ‘Basie could sit almost unnoticed at his piano, and with one note teased from the keyboard, set his band alight. Taste and economy were his signature words, as Adrian Sharon demonstrated to perfect effect in his introduction to ‘Satin Doll’, more than ably supported by the superb rhythm section of Adrian Thoms, John Deemer and Dave Lambert.

Charlie Barnet’s swinging ‘Skyliner’ brought a huge smile of delight to a nonagenarian gentleman in the audience. Not only did he buy the record when it was first released in 1944, but he saw the Barnet orchestra live in New York as a young trainee RAF pilot on a brief stop-over en route to a training base in the mid-west of America.

And to bring the first set to a close? What else but Stan Kenton’s atmospheric ‘Intermission Riff’.

The insistent call of Dave Lambert’s drums summoned the ‘congregation’ for the second half of the concert. Excitement mounted as his solo grew in volume and momentum. When he reached a crescendo of sound, he released the tension, hit a familiar groove and launched the band into spectacular flight with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, the thrilling climax to Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, and no less exciting in this performance!
 
The next number brought a change in temperature and the distinctly ‘cool’ unison sound of four saxophonists - Brian Marrett, Simon Allen, Mike Booker and Jim Philip - playing ‘as one’, in a marvellous arrangement of ‘Four Brothers’, Jimmy Giuffre’s tightly swinging composition for Woody Herman’s band of 1947; known inevitably for ever after as the ‘Four Brothers’ Band.
 
The reappearance of Fleur Stevenson  prompted a huge round of applause as she took centre-stage to sing ‘When the Angels Sing’. Once a feature for Martha Tilton with the Benny Goodman band she delivered the song to perfection, with a lovely sense of swing, crystal-clear diction and a vocal quality that filled the vast space of the Minster. However, ‘When the Angels Sing’ was never just a vocal feature. It’s composer, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, added a flamboyant ‘Fraulich’ chorus, emulated on this occasion by trumpet maestro Stuart Henderson over the rolling snare drumming of Dave Lambert. Sensational!
 
The enduring spirit of Duke Ellington  looms large in the story of big band jazz. He led an orchestra for more than fifty years and composed over one-thousand  pieces, many of which have become  standard items in the big band repertoire. ‘Mood Indigo’, featuring the resonant low tones of Brian Marrett’s clarinet, presented Ellington at his most reflective; the imaginative lighting effects adding greatly to the atmosphere.

In contrast, the Remix Orchestra transformed ‘Caravan’ (forever associated with Ellington, but actually written by his band member Juan Tizol), originally conceived as an exotic camel ride across the gently undulating sand dunes of the desert, into a headlong flight into a desert storm, with Simon Allen’s ferocious tenor setting the pace.
 
Ted Heath was Britain’s foremost post-war bandleader, who also flew the flag with great success on his numerous tours of the States. He appeared in Reading on many occasions. On one such, at Reading Town Hall ,a wild mob of female fans tried to pull star vocalist Denis Lotis off the stage. They took his bow tie, his handkerchief, socks and his shoes. They eventually threw back the shoes … but not the socks!
 
‘Hot Toddy’ was one of Ted’s biggest hits, played here with the smooth precision of the Heath band, anchored by the gloriously fruity baritone saxophone of Jim Philip.
 
Johnny Dankworth was also a frequent visitor to Reading in his pre-TV/film writing days. The theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ instantly conjured images of its enthusiastic presenters Raymond Baxter and James Burke introducing the next techno-wizardry that would ‘undoubtedly’ change the course of world history … and some of them probably did! Better still the Remix Orchestra played the entire tune, not just the 30 seconds worth that used to accompany the  titles. 
 
A sparkling version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, with a witty scat chorus a la Ella Fitzgerald, rounded off Fleur Stevenson’s contribution to the evening and added her name to the illustrious list of vocalists who have performed the Rodgers and Hart classic.
 
Changing tastes in popular music, the advent of rock n’ roll and the arrival of the Beatles, almost sounded the death knell  for big bands in the 1960s. But band leaders like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson were not to be outdone. How could one resist the gospel-soaked funk of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ or James Lowe’s  tour de force performance of spectacular trumpet pyrotechnics on ‘MacArthur Park’.

A high-voltage performance of Gordon Goodwin’s ‘Jazz Police’ brought the story bang up-to-date and declared emphatically that there is bags of life and plenty of new territory yet to be explored in the ever-evolving story of big band jazz.
 
Musical Director, Stuart Henderson,  is to be congratulated on devising such an original and wide-ranging programme that mixed familiar warhorses with all manner of surprises – old and new, and for his informative and good-humoured commentary. Oh, that school music lessons could have been as much fun as this!
 
As for the Remix Orchestra? What can one say? Will ‘SUPERB’ suffice?
 
Thanks also to Reading Fringe Festival and Jazz in Reading for promoting the event; the Reading Fringe Festival ‘House’ Team for the excellent quality of the sound and lighting and for manning the bar; Reading Minster for allowing the event to take place in such beautiful surroundings; Sansome & George: Residential Sales & Lettings for their generous sponsorship and finally, but by no means least, all those wonderful people who supported the event and demonstrated that there is a healthy appetite for ‘LIVE’ big band jazz in Reading. 
 
Promoters please note: Anyone seeking to present a Big Band concert with a broad appeal and a guarantee of success, should look no further than the Remix Jazz Orchestra.
 

Mark Kavuma - The Banger Factory Rating: 4 out of 5 The playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional, with all of the musicians making telling contributions.

Mark Kavuma

“The Banger Factory”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0028)

“The Banger Factory” is the second album for Ubuntu Music from the London based trumpeter, composer and bandleader Mark Kavuma.

His 2018 début, simply entitled “Kavuma”, drew heavily on the classic hard bop or ‘Blue Note’ sound, and indeed this latest release includes a quote from the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan on the sleeve, a clear indication of where Kavuma is coming from.

However this latest album expands on the promise exhibited on the début with an extended instrumental line up and an accomplished set of original tunes, all composed by Kavuma.

Born in Uganda Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetica Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, the Alan Weekes Quintet,  Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita. He has also played with the visiting American jazz musicians Barry Harris (piano) and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums).

Kavuma has worked with the rock group Scritti Polliti, grime artist Kano, and has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.

In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall. The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes. I was very impressed by what I heard

“The Banger Factory” is the name of a band as well as an album title. For three years Kavuma has led a residency at the Prince of Wales in Brixton, a weekly blowing session that has seen numerous musicians pass through the doors, with some staying around to cohere into a regular band as the evenings have become more formalised. “In my head I wanted it to be an organisation, a force to be reckoned with”, explains Kavuma.

With the exception of Kavuma himself none of the 2013 quintet have made it to the Banger Factory, which is centred around a core sextet of Kavuma, Mussinghi Brian Edwards (tenor sax), Artie Zaitz (guitar), David Mrakpor (vibraphone), Michael Shrimpling (double bass) and Will Cleasby (drums).
Keyboard duties are shared between Reuben James and Deschanel Gordon with tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi also appearing on four of the album’s seven tracks.

This aggregation recorded eighteen tunes with engineer Ben Lamdin at London’s Fish Factory studio over the course of three sessions during September and December 2018, with the very best of these being selected for inclusion on the “Banger Factory” album.

Opener “Dear K.D.” is dedicated to the memory of another of Kavuma’s trumpet heroes, the late, great Kenny Dorham. It was written during a trip to New York with Kavuma explaining;
“I was listening to a lot of Kenny Dorham music at the time, practising and soaking up the Big Apple vibes. These are my reflections on the subject”.
The tune is introduced by the sound of unaccompanied piano as Gordon makes his recording début, his spacious intro leading into a kind of fanfare with Cleasby’s drums particularly prominent. The main body of the composition adopts more of a hard bop / gospel feel with James featuring on organ in a twin keyboard octet line up. But Gordon isn’t finished yet as he delivers a flowingly expansive piano solo, sharing the limelight with the leader’s trumpet and Zaitz’s guitar, these two exhibiting a similarly relaxed fluency.

The title track features a slightly different octet as Gordon drops out, to be replaced by Akinnibi on tenor, as James moves to piano. This is a more hard driving piece that is intended to be an encapsulation of exactly what the Banger Factory is all about. “Good times and dance music, celebration of good spirit and joy” explains Kavuma. It’s also designed to show just how tight the band has become during its three year existence. James delivers a tumultuous McCoy Tyner style piano solo, while the young saxophonist Akinnibi also impresses with a swashbuckling outing on tenor. Akinnibi was discovered by Kavuma among the ranks of Kinetica Bloco and looks to be a young musician with a great future ahead of him. Mrakpor also impresses on vibes as he takes his first solo of the set, combining very effectively with bassist Shrimpling and drummer Cleasby. Guitarist Zaitz then takes over for a concise but fleet fingered solo, full of darting melody lines and sophisticated chording.

An aside; I recall seeing a then very young Akinnibi guesting with the band Triforce at the Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo as part of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. We even spoke briefly afterwards, too. I was highly impressed with his talent even then, and on this evidence he’s continued to make great strides (or should that be ‘giant steps’?) in the interim.

From a rising star to a comparative veteran. “Mussinghi” is Kavuma’s dedication to his bandmate Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Kavuma comments; “Mussinghi is my musical papa, he’s been there when I could hardly play, always encouraging. I had to pay tribute to his spirit”.
Appropriately there’s something of a ‘spiritual jazz’ feel to the intro as Edwards improvises above a rolling backdrop featuring the sound of James on Hammond. The mood subsequently becomes more languid and relaxed with Edwards and Kavuma soloing above a walking bass line and the swell of the Hammond, while Zaitz supplies discrete guitar embellishment. The piece then resolves itself with a gospel tinged coda.

“Lullaby to a Fading Star” is the first ballad to be written by Kavuma. A lament for a lost love it is ushered in by the sound of Mrakpor’s unaccompanied vibes but is subsequently treated to a lush octet arrangement featuring Hammond and two tenors. Kavuma and Edwards solo in suitably emotive fashion, the latter giving a masterclass in tenor ballad playing. Mrakpor then takes over with a stately, shimmering vibes solo.

Kavuma likes to dedicate compositions to his bandmates, emphasising Banger Factory’s sense of togetherness and brotherhood. “Big Willie”, his dedication to drummer Cleasby boasts an unfortunate title, but one suspects that this probably intentional! Impressed by the young Cleasby’s playing at Trinity College Kavuma promptly booked him for a gig - “that was how this whole thing started” explains the trumpeter.
Kavuma actually sits out as the band is pared down to to a quartet of Cleasby, Shrimpton, Mrakpor and Zaitz – the same instrumental configuration as vibraphonist Gary Burton’s classic quartets. Mrakpor and Zaitz trade thrilling solos in a manner that recalls Burton’s exchanges with the string of talented guitarists that passed through his band’s ranks – Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny etc. Meanwhile Shrimpton pumps out agile, propulsive bass lines and solos briefly, while Cleasby is a suitably busy and colourful presence behind the kit and also gets to enjoy his moment in the sun. There’s a real joie de vivre about the playing here.

The brief “The Songbird” is a brief but elegiac and uplifting piece, a kind of time poem in a chamber jazz style arrangement for septet, with the composer again sitting out. Edwards’ tenor, the sole horn, cast in the role of ‘ the Songbird’, is the lead instrument while James’ Hammond references Kavuma’s love of church music.

The album closes with the bebop flavourings of “Mrakpor”, Kavuma’s dedication to his group’s vibraphonist. Racing unison horn lines provide the springboard for a dazzling vibes solo from Mrakpor. Following the brief return of the horns Mrakpor plays us out with a final unaccompanied
vibes cadenza.

Ultimately “The Banger Factory” is an improvement over its very admirable predecessor, being possessed of greater depth and with a greater emphasis being placed on ‘serious’ composition. Having said that the group’s sense of fun is never far away. There’s also a less overt reliance on the classic hard bop sound and the new album sounds more contemporary as a result.

As its leader has commented this is genuinely an ego-less band and Kavuma himself actually sits out two tracks entirely. He’s a highly accomplished soloist but this time round his role is primarily that of composer and facilitator. That said the playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional with all of the musicians making telling contributions.  One would love to hear some of the other pieces recorded at those Fish Factory sessions.

As a band The Banger Factory is a very welcome presence on a burgeoning London Jazz scene populated by exciting young jazz musicians such as this. The album’s official launch gig at the Jazz Café in Camden on September 18th 2019 should be a highly entertaining and enjoyable event.

The Banger Factory

Mark Kavuma

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Banger Factory

The playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional, with all of the musicians making telling contributions.

Mark Kavuma

“The Banger Factory”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0028)

“The Banger Factory” is the second album for Ubuntu Music from the London based trumpeter, composer and bandleader Mark Kavuma.

His 2018 début, simply entitled “Kavuma”, drew heavily on the classic hard bop or ‘Blue Note’ sound, and indeed this latest release includes a quote from the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan on the sleeve, a clear indication of where Kavuma is coming from.

However this latest album expands on the promise exhibited on the début with an extended instrumental line up and an accomplished set of original tunes, all composed by Kavuma.

Born in Uganda Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetica Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, the Alan Weekes Quintet,  Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita. He has also played with the visiting American jazz musicians Barry Harris (piano) and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums).

Kavuma has worked with the rock group Scritti Polliti, grime artist Kano, and has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.

In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall. The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes. I was very impressed by what I heard

“The Banger Factory” is the name of a band as well as an album title. For three years Kavuma has led a residency at the Prince of Wales in Brixton, a weekly blowing session that has seen numerous musicians pass through the doors, with some staying around to cohere into a regular band as the evenings have become more formalised. “In my head I wanted it to be an organisation, a force to be reckoned with”, explains Kavuma.

With the exception of Kavuma himself none of the 2013 quintet have made it to the Banger Factory, which is centred around a core sextet of Kavuma, Mussinghi Brian Edwards (tenor sax), Artie Zaitz (guitar), David Mrakpor (vibraphone), Michael Shrimpling (double bass) and Will Cleasby (drums).
Keyboard duties are shared between Reuben James and Deschanel Gordon with tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi also appearing on four of the album’s seven tracks.

This aggregation recorded eighteen tunes with engineer Ben Lamdin at London’s Fish Factory studio over the course of three sessions during September and December 2018, with the very best of these being selected for inclusion on the “Banger Factory” album.

Opener “Dear K.D.” is dedicated to the memory of another of Kavuma’s trumpet heroes, the late, great Kenny Dorham. It was written during a trip to New York with Kavuma explaining;
“I was listening to a lot of Kenny Dorham music at the time, practising and soaking up the Big Apple vibes. These are my reflections on the subject”.
The tune is introduced by the sound of unaccompanied piano as Gordon makes his recording début, his spacious intro leading into a kind of fanfare with Cleasby’s drums particularly prominent. The main body of the composition adopts more of a hard bop / gospel feel with James featuring on organ in a twin keyboard octet line up. But Gordon isn’t finished yet as he delivers a flowingly expansive piano solo, sharing the limelight with the leader’s trumpet and Zaitz’s guitar, these two exhibiting a similarly relaxed fluency.

The title track features a slightly different octet as Gordon drops out, to be replaced by Akinnibi on tenor, as James moves to piano. This is a more hard driving piece that is intended to be an encapsulation of exactly what the Banger Factory is all about. “Good times and dance music, celebration of good spirit and joy” explains Kavuma. It’s also designed to show just how tight the band has become during its three year existence. James delivers a tumultuous McCoy Tyner style piano solo, while the young saxophonist Akinnibi also impresses with a swashbuckling outing on tenor. Akinnibi was discovered by Kavuma among the ranks of Kinetica Bloco and looks to be a young musician with a great future ahead of him. Mrakpor also impresses on vibes as he takes his first solo of the set, combining very effectively with bassist Shrimpling and drummer Cleasby. Guitarist Zaitz then takes over for a concise but fleet fingered solo, full of darting melody lines and sophisticated chording.

An aside; I recall seeing a then very young Akinnibi guesting with the band Triforce at the Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo as part of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. We even spoke briefly afterwards, too. I was highly impressed with his talent even then, and on this evidence he’s continued to make great strides (or should that be ‘giant steps’?) in the interim.

From a rising star to a comparative veteran. “Mussinghi” is Kavuma’s dedication to his bandmate Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Kavuma comments; “Mussinghi is my musical papa, he’s been there when I could hardly play, always encouraging. I had to pay tribute to his spirit”.
Appropriately there’s something of a ‘spiritual jazz’ feel to the intro as Edwards improvises above a rolling backdrop featuring the sound of James on Hammond. The mood subsequently becomes more languid and relaxed with Edwards and Kavuma soloing above a walking bass line and the swell of the Hammond, while Zaitz supplies discrete guitar embellishment. The piece then resolves itself with a gospel tinged coda.

“Lullaby to a Fading Star” is the first ballad to be written by Kavuma. A lament for a lost love it is ushered in by the sound of Mrakpor’s unaccompanied vibes but is subsequently treated to a lush octet arrangement featuring Hammond and two tenors. Kavuma and Edwards solo in suitably emotive fashion, the latter giving a masterclass in tenor ballad playing. Mrakpor then takes over with a stately, shimmering vibes solo.

Kavuma likes to dedicate compositions to his bandmates, emphasising Banger Factory’s sense of togetherness and brotherhood. “Big Willie”, his dedication to drummer Cleasby boasts an unfortunate title, but one suspects that this probably intentional! Impressed by the young Cleasby’s playing at Trinity College Kavuma promptly booked him for a gig - “that was how this whole thing started” explains the trumpeter.
Kavuma actually sits out as the band is pared down to to a quartet of Cleasby, Shrimpton, Mrakpor and Zaitz – the same instrumental configuration as vibraphonist Gary Burton’s classic quartets. Mrakpor and Zaitz trade thrilling solos in a manner that recalls Burton’s exchanges with the string of talented guitarists that passed through his band’s ranks – Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny etc. Meanwhile Shrimpton pumps out agile, propulsive bass lines and solos briefly, while Cleasby is a suitably busy and colourful presence behind the kit and also gets to enjoy his moment in the sun. There’s a real joie de vivre about the playing here.

The brief “The Songbird” is a brief but elegiac and uplifting piece, a kind of time poem in a chamber jazz style arrangement for septet, with the composer again sitting out. Edwards’ tenor, the sole horn, cast in the role of ‘ the Songbird’, is the lead instrument while James’ Hammond references Kavuma’s love of church music.

The album closes with the bebop flavourings of “Mrakpor”, Kavuma’s dedication to his group’s vibraphonist. Racing unison horn lines provide the springboard for a dazzling vibes solo from Mrakpor. Following the brief return of the horns Mrakpor plays us out with a final unaccompanied
vibes cadenza.

Ultimately “The Banger Factory” is an improvement over its very admirable predecessor, being possessed of greater depth and with a greater emphasis being placed on ‘serious’ composition. Having said that the group’s sense of fun is never far away. There’s also a less overt reliance on the classic hard bop sound and the new album sounds more contemporary as a result.

As its leader has commented this is genuinely an ego-less band and Kavuma himself actually sits out two tracks entirely. He’s a highly accomplished soloist but this time round his role is primarily that of composer and facilitator. That said the playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional with all of the musicians making telling contributions.  One would love to hear some of the other pieces recorded at those Fish Factory sessions.

As a band The Banger Factory is a very welcome presence on a burgeoning London Jazz scene populated by exciting young jazz musicians such as this. The album’s official launch gig at the Jazz Café in Camden on September 18th 2019 should be a highly entertaining and enjoyable event.

Babelfish - Once Upon a Tide Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour.

Babelfish

“Once Upon a Tide”

(Moletone Records MOLETONE 007)

Brigitte Beraha – voice, Barry Green – piano, Chris Laurence – double bass, Paul Clarvis – drums, percussion, singing bowl

Released at the end of June 2019 “Once Upon a Tide” is the latest album release from the London based quartet Babelfish, co-led by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green.

It follows the group’s acclaimed début “Babelfish” (2012) and the follow up “Chasing Rainbows” (2015), both also released on Green’s Moletone imprint.

The band developed out of the Beraha / Green duo and it represented something of a coup for the pair to bring the vastly experienced Laurence and Clarvis on board, two bona fide greats of British jazz.

Beraha is one of the most adventurous vocalists on the UK jazz scene, an excellent interpreter of songs as well as being a skilled improviser capable of using her voice as an additional instrument.
She has recorded two albums under her own name, 2005’s “Prelude to A Kiss” and 2008’s “Flying Dreams”, which placed a greater emphasis on original material and highlighted Beraha’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist.

Beraha is particularly adept at working with pianists and has recorded duo albums with both John Turville and Frank Harrison. She is also a member of bassist/composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and of the collaborative sextet Solstice. A prominent member of the E17 Jazz Collective she sings with the E17 Large Ensemble. In 2018 she made a substantial contribution to the success of the album “Criss Cross” as she guested with the duo of pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone.

Others with whom Beraha has worked include saxophonists Ed Jones, Josephine Davies, George Crowley and Bobby Wellins, trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Andre Canniere, Reuben Fowler, Andy Hague and Yazz Ahmed, pianists Geoff Eales, Ivo Neame and Rick Simpson and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Thomas Baines.

Green is one of the most versatile pianists around and has a particular affinity for working with singers. He also has a fruitful musical partnership with Swedish born, London based vocalist Emilia Martensson and has also worked extensively with Ian Shaw.  He has been an important component of alto saxophonist Martin Speake’s excellent Generations quartet. Others with whom he has worked include saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Charles McPherson and bassists Larry Bartley and Mick Hutton. Green has also performed as part of a duo with his bassist namesake Dave.

Green has also recorded a number of albums under his own name including “Introducing Barry Green” (2008). He has also worked fruitfully with American musicians, his 2008 trio album “The Music of Chance” featuring the rhythm pairing of bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Williams.
In January 2014 Green visited New York where he recorded the albums “Great News”, with saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver,  and “Almost There” with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey at the drums.

The music of Babelfish is informed by both jazz and classical music and also reflects Beraha’s love of literature and poetry. This latest album places a greater emphasis on the original writing of Beraha and Green, who compose separately rather than together. However both have drawn inspiration from some of their favourite books to explore lyrical themes such as life and death, the beauty of impermanence and the cyclical nature of existence. The only ‘outside’ material comes from classical composer Henry Purcell and from the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn partnership.

The album commences with the almost subliminal sound of Clarvis playing the singing bowl on the richly atmospheric introduction to Beraha’s “The Book of Joy”.  The piece reveals Beraha to be a fluent vocal improviser, willing to use extended vocal techniques, as well as being a superb interpreter of her own intelligent and perceptive lyrics,  here apparently inspired jointly by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Green, Laurence and Clarvis offer selfless, sympathetic support and really come into their own as the piece gathers momentum with a sparkling piano solo from Green underpinned by Clarvis’ sprightly, consistently inventive drumming. It’s a piece that moves through a variety of moods and tempos from the reflective to the joyous, with Beraha actually breaking into laughter at one point.

Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” is introduced by the sound of Beraha’s unaccompanied vocal as she explores its themes of death and remembrance. With Clarvis deploying brushes the trio offer characteristically sensitive support with Green’s crystalline piano deftly shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines.

Green’s tune “The Inspector and the Collector” demonstrates Beraha’s abilities as a wordless vocal improviser, her ready acknowledgement of the influence of Norma Winstone inviting comparisons as Beraha’s voice swoops and soars. Meanwhile Green solos lyrically but expansively above a buoyant bass and drum groove.

Beraha’s “Hobie” opens with the sound of vocal percussion and other extended techniques before she unravels a tongue twisting lyric interspersed with further wordless vocal improvisations. The piece is also distinguished by its unorthodox time signatures with Green the featured instrumental soloist, while Clarvis is a particularly colourful presence behind the kit.

Also written by the singer “Haven’t Met You Yet” is more conventional, a wistful love song featuring a gently yearning vocal and a delightfully melodic double bass solo from Laurence.

Green’s “City of Glass” features words extracted from Paul Auster’s novel of the same name. The opening words of the book also form the opening lines of the song. There’s also a suitably ‘narrative’ quality about the music as it moves through a variety of moods, styles and tempi, the musical plot skilfully steered by three master instrumentalists.

More literary quotations on “The Sea, the Sea” which is inspired by the Iris Murdoch novel of the same name and features lyrics that reference all the themes of the album. Like its immediate predecessor the piece is another seamless fusion of music and literature, although this time with rather more room for instrumental self expression as Green delivers a thoughtful but expansive piano solo, expertly shadowed by bass and drums.

Green’s “Casual Incompetence” is a second wordless composition, a brief but bustling piece that combines soaring vocal lines with busy rhythms, almost shading into free jazz at times with Laurence’s bass playing a particularly prominent role.

The Ellington / Strayhorn composition “Pretty Girl”, also known as “The Star-Crossed Lovers” has Shakespeare’s “Romeo Juliet” as its literary reference. Delivered relatively straight as an orthodox jazz ballad the song features Beraha’s elegant reading of the lyric alongside some beautifully relaxed ‘scat’ vocal improvising. Green’s piano solo finds him at his most flowingly lyrical while Clarvis’ neatly detailed brushwork is a particular delight, so too Laurence’s counter-melodies on double bass.

The album concludes with Beraha’s setting of Max Jacob’s poem “Vie et Maree” (translation “Life and Tide”, hence, perhaps, the album title). Beraha sings the lyric in French and also includes some extreme Julie Tippetts style vocalising. She is able to sing convincingly in several different languages, an ability that I like to think helped to provide this group with its name - that and an obvious love for the wonderful writings of the late Douglas Adams.
“Vie et Maree” is also notable for the richly melancholic bowed bass which provides the bridge into the song’s second, more upbeat section which mixes Beraha’s French lyrics with some bravura wordless vocal improvising.

“Once Upon a Tide” represents a worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour. For all its apparent prettiness there’s a fierce intelligence about Babelfish’s music.

The lack of conventional jazz swing and the rarefied quality of some of the music may not appeal to some dyed in the wool jazz listeners, but anybody prepared to approach this music with an open mind and ear should find much to enjoy here.

 

Once Upon a Tide

Babelfish

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Once Upon a Tide

A worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour.

Babelfish

“Once Upon a Tide”

(Moletone Records MOLETONE 007)

Brigitte Beraha – voice, Barry Green – piano, Chris Laurence – double bass, Paul Clarvis – drums, percussion, singing bowl

Released at the end of June 2019 “Once Upon a Tide” is the latest album release from the London based quartet Babelfish, co-led by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green.

It follows the group’s acclaimed début “Babelfish” (2012) and the follow up “Chasing Rainbows” (2015), both also released on Green’s Moletone imprint.

The band developed out of the Beraha / Green duo and it represented something of a coup for the pair to bring the vastly experienced Laurence and Clarvis on board, two bona fide greats of British jazz.

Beraha is one of the most adventurous vocalists on the UK jazz scene, an excellent interpreter of songs as well as being a skilled improviser capable of using her voice as an additional instrument.
She has recorded two albums under her own name, 2005’s “Prelude to A Kiss” and 2008’s “Flying Dreams”, which placed a greater emphasis on original material and highlighted Beraha’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist.

Beraha is particularly adept at working with pianists and has recorded duo albums with both John Turville and Frank Harrison. She is also a member of bassist/composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and of the collaborative sextet Solstice. A prominent member of the E17 Jazz Collective she sings with the E17 Large Ensemble. In 2018 she made a substantial contribution to the success of the album “Criss Cross” as she guested with the duo of pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone.

Others with whom Beraha has worked include saxophonists Ed Jones, Josephine Davies, George Crowley and Bobby Wellins, trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Andre Canniere, Reuben Fowler, Andy Hague and Yazz Ahmed, pianists Geoff Eales, Ivo Neame and Rick Simpson and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Thomas Baines.

Green is one of the most versatile pianists around and has a particular affinity for working with singers. He also has a fruitful musical partnership with Swedish born, London based vocalist Emilia Martensson and has also worked extensively with Ian Shaw.  He has been an important component of alto saxophonist Martin Speake’s excellent Generations quartet. Others with whom he has worked include saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Charles McPherson and bassists Larry Bartley and Mick Hutton. Green has also performed as part of a duo with his bassist namesake Dave.

Green has also recorded a number of albums under his own name including “Introducing Barry Green” (2008). He has also worked fruitfully with American musicians, his 2008 trio album “The Music of Chance” featuring the rhythm pairing of bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Williams.
In January 2014 Green visited New York where he recorded the albums “Great News”, with saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver,  and “Almost There” with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey at the drums.

The music of Babelfish is informed by both jazz and classical music and also reflects Beraha’s love of literature and poetry. This latest album places a greater emphasis on the original writing of Beraha and Green, who compose separately rather than together. However both have drawn inspiration from some of their favourite books to explore lyrical themes such as life and death, the beauty of impermanence and the cyclical nature of existence. The only ‘outside’ material comes from classical composer Henry Purcell and from the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn partnership.

The album commences with the almost subliminal sound of Clarvis playing the singing bowl on the richly atmospheric introduction to Beraha’s “The Book of Joy”.  The piece reveals Beraha to be a fluent vocal improviser, willing to use extended vocal techniques, as well as being a superb interpreter of her own intelligent and perceptive lyrics,  here apparently inspired jointly by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Green, Laurence and Clarvis offer selfless, sympathetic support and really come into their own as the piece gathers momentum with a sparkling piano solo from Green underpinned by Clarvis’ sprightly, consistently inventive drumming. It’s a piece that moves through a variety of moods and tempos from the reflective to the joyous, with Beraha actually breaking into laughter at one point.

Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” is introduced by the sound of Beraha’s unaccompanied vocal as she explores its themes of death and remembrance. With Clarvis deploying brushes the trio offer characteristically sensitive support with Green’s crystalline piano deftly shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines.

Green’s tune “The Inspector and the Collector” demonstrates Beraha’s abilities as a wordless vocal improviser, her ready acknowledgement of the influence of Norma Winstone inviting comparisons as Beraha’s voice swoops and soars. Meanwhile Green solos lyrically but expansively above a buoyant bass and drum groove.

Beraha’s “Hobie” opens with the sound of vocal percussion and other extended techniques before she unravels a tongue twisting lyric interspersed with further wordless vocal improvisations. The piece is also distinguished by its unorthodox time signatures with Green the featured instrumental soloist, while Clarvis is a particularly colourful presence behind the kit.

Also written by the singer “Haven’t Met You Yet” is more conventional, a wistful love song featuring a gently yearning vocal and a delightfully melodic double bass solo from Laurence.

Green’s “City of Glass” features words extracted from Paul Auster’s novel of the same name. The opening words of the book also form the opening lines of the song. There’s also a suitably ‘narrative’ quality about the music as it moves through a variety of moods, styles and tempi, the musical plot skilfully steered by three master instrumentalists.

More literary quotations on “The Sea, the Sea” which is inspired by the Iris Murdoch novel of the same name and features lyrics that reference all the themes of the album. Like its immediate predecessor the piece is another seamless fusion of music and literature, although this time with rather more room for instrumental self expression as Green delivers a thoughtful but expansive piano solo, expertly shadowed by bass and drums.

Green’s “Casual Incompetence” is a second wordless composition, a brief but bustling piece that combines soaring vocal lines with busy rhythms, almost shading into free jazz at times with Laurence’s bass playing a particularly prominent role.

The Ellington / Strayhorn composition “Pretty Girl”, also known as “The Star-Crossed Lovers” has Shakespeare’s “Romeo Juliet” as its literary reference. Delivered relatively straight as an orthodox jazz ballad the song features Beraha’s elegant reading of the lyric alongside some beautifully relaxed ‘scat’ vocal improvising. Green’s piano solo finds him at his most flowingly lyrical while Clarvis’ neatly detailed brushwork is a particular delight, so too Laurence’s counter-melodies on double bass.

The album concludes with Beraha’s setting of Max Jacob’s poem “Vie et Maree” (translation “Life and Tide”, hence, perhaps, the album title). Beraha sings the lyric in French and also includes some extreme Julie Tippetts style vocalising. She is able to sing convincingly in several different languages, an ability that I like to think helped to provide this group with its name - that and an obvious love for the wonderful writings of the late Douglas Adams.
“Vie et Maree” is also notable for the richly melancholic bowed bass which provides the bridge into the song’s second, more upbeat section which mixes Beraha’s French lyrics with some bravura wordless vocal improvising.

“Once Upon a Tide” represents a worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour. For all its apparent prettiness there’s a fierce intelligence about Babelfish’s music.

The lack of conventional jazz swing and the rarefied quality of some of the music may not appeal to some dyed in the wool jazz listeners, but anybody prepared to approach this music with an open mind and ear should find much to enjoy here.

 

Dominic Howles Quintet - Along Came Benny Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive.

Dominic Howles Quintet

“Along Came Benny”

(Bopcentric Music BCCD06)

Dominic Howles – double bass, Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn, Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Matt Fishwick – drums, Ross Stanley or Nick Tomalin – piano

Bassist and composer Dominic Howles started his musical career in Bristol playing electric bass in a variety of different bands across a variety of genres including jazz, rock and reggae. His interest in jazz was piqued by seeing Weather Report live at the 1984 Glastonbury Festival with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clark and Marcus Miller all becoming increasingly influential on a young musician who had previously drawn inspiration from bass players such as Bruce Foxton, Jean Jacques Burnel, Mark King, Larry Graham and Robbie Shakespeare.

Howles’  musical colleagues in Bristol persuaded him to purchase a double bass that had allegedly once belonged to Stanley Clark and Howles subsequently became something of a fixture on the jazz scene around Bristol and Bath. Out of this came the call for him and saxophonist Ben Waghorn to join the then high profile Tommy Chase Quartet and Howles made the move to London in 1990, remaining in the capital ever since. Along the way he obtained a degree from the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music under the tutelage of Pete Churchill and Simon Purcell, graduating in 1992.

The purchase of that double bass obviously acted as a musical turning point and Howles now names Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Wilbur Ware, Sam Jones, Scott La Faro, Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier as his bass heroes.

As a freelance double bassist Howles has played with a wide variety of London based musicians over the course of the last twenty plus years. Among these is Tim Richards, with whom Howles appeared on the pianist’s 2010 trio album “Shapeshifting”, a recording reviewed elsewhere on this site. Howles also played on an earlier Richards trio offering, 2003’s “Twelve By Three”.  In 2015 Howles appeared on “Telegraph Hill”, an album recorded by Richards’ new six piece band Hextet.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tim-richards-sextet-telegraph-hill/

Others with whom Howles has collaborated include singers Norma Winstone, Stacey Kent,  Cindy Douglas, Gill Cook, Anita Wardell,  Christine Tobin and Kevin Fitzsimmons,  saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Wellins,  Alan Skidmore, Art Themen, Don Weller, Gary Smulyan, Julian Siegel, Pete Lukas and Tim Whitehead, guitarists Nigel Price and Phil Robson pianists John Taylor and Leon Greening, trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith and drummers Clark Tracey.  and Pete Cater. He has been part of large ensembles led by saxophonist Frank Griffith and pianist Michael Garrick and has also worked on TV and theatre soundtracks.

The busy and versatile Howles also finds time to lead his own groups and this latest release represents his third album as a leader.  2014’s “Bristolian Thoroughfare” featured a sextet that included Tomalin and both Fishwick brothers plus contributions from saxophonists Josephine Davies and Jamie O’Donnell, flautist Allison Neale and trumpeter Simon Da Silva. Combining his love of the Blue Note sound with a nod to his West Country roots the album is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dominic-howles-septet-bristolian-thoroughfare/

An earlier quartet album, “Radio Cannonball”, was recorded with a group featuring Tomalin at the piano, Matt Fishwick on drums and Gareth Lockrane on flute, with O’Higgins guesting on tenor on one track.

Howles’ love of the classic hard bop, or Blue Note, sound was doubtless nurtured during his tenure with the Chase quartet and his solo records all feature playing that is very much in this vein. However the bassist has never totally abandoned his rock and pop roots and like its predecessors this latest recording features Howles’ intriguing hard bop style arrangements of pop and rock tunes, in this instance “Message In A Bottle” by The Police and “Slow Love” by Prince.

The quintet line up features tried and trusted associates in the shapes of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and flugel, Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax and Matt Fishwick at the drums with piano duties being split pretty much equally between Ross Stanley and Nick Tomalin.

The album title is a reference to the veteran saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, a particularly significant influence on this recording. Howles’ pithy liner notes offer succinct and pertinent insights into the inspiration behind each individual track.

Things kick off with the title track, Howles’ first homage to Golson with the composer remarking “I’m just a big fan of Benny Golson’s writing and playing. I still think ‘Stablemates’ is one of the best tunes ever written”.
Howles’ own tune races along at a smart clip powered by the leader’s propulsive bass and Matt Fishwick’s crisp, whip smart, Blakeyesque drumming. Steve Fishwick takes the first solo on trumpet, his playing lithe and remarkably fluent and he’s followed by O’Higgins on tenor sax, who displays similar qualities. Tomalin occupies the piano chair for this track and he convincingly follows the two horn men. There is also a feature for the leader, who steps out of the shadows to demonstrate his dexterity as a double bass soloist.

“Meet Me At The Deli” draws inspiration from saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist Cedar Walton, both prolific jazz composers who have written pieces that have become modern day standards. Tomalin remains in the piano chair for this lively hard bop and latin flavoured item featuring concise but incisive solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, O’Higgins on tenor sax and Tomalin at the piano. Howles himself features with another agile bass solo and there’s an engaging series of exchanges between Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins as the track fades out, tantalisingly leaving the listener wanting more.

The first pop cover is an intriguing 5/4 arrangement of the Sting written “Message In A Bottle” with Howles commenting “my aims here were that one should still be able to sing the melody while getting away from Andy Summers’ great guitar riff”. It’s a song that has already been tackled very successfully in a jazz context by the Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio but Howles’ version ultimately sounds very different thanks to the involvement of Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins who share the solos, the saxophonist going first.

Howles’ own “Different Destinations” relaxes the pace a little and is a richly melodic piece that features Steve Fishwick and Dave O’Higgins dovetailing effectively in the early stages before the leader takes the first real solo at the bass. Some composing bassists like to keep themselves modestly hidden away in the ensemble but Howles has the confidence to highlight his own playing, and rightly so. Tomalin combines expansiveness with lyricism at the piano, as does Steve Fishwick on elegant flugel,  his solo contrasting neatly with O’Higgins’ more robust approach on tenor. The album was also mixed and mastered by O’Higgins, who plays a key role in the success of the recording as a whole.

“We Need To Talk About Benny” is Howles’ second Golson homage, with the composer this time commenting “I like the way that the middle eight of ‘Stablemates’ starts with the chords ascending, so I used that idea as a starting point”. Matt Fishwick’s drums play an important role in an arrangement that includes a sparkling solo from Ross Stanley at the piano. This is followed by the agile eloquence of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and the rougher edged fluency of O’Higgins on tenor before Matt Fishwick comes fully into his own with an extended drum feature.

“Song For Ann” is dedicated to Howles’ late mother, who passed away in 2015. A suitably tender tribute its the album’s first true ballad and features a lush blend of flugel and tenor with gently probing solos from O’Higgins and Steve Fishwick. Howles himself adds a melodic bass solo as Matt Fishwick gravitates between brushes and sticks and Stanley adds a dash of piano lyricism.

The next item is essentially a companion piece. “Ed’s Calypso” is a dedication to Howles’ young daughter Eden, who insists that her father should only write her upbeat tunes. The sunny Caribbean rhythms and flavourings of this piece help to spark relaxed but uplifting solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Tomalin at the piano. Matt Fishwick enjoys a series of lively and colourful drum breaks utilising all parts of the kit.

“Slow Love” is a Howles arrangement of a lesser known Prince song - it’s certainly not one that I was previously familiar with. But like the earlier Police offering this is indubitably a jazz performance with typically inventive solos coming from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

“Like John” is Howles’ tribute to another great saxophonist and composer, in this case John Coltrane. The sound generated by the Howles quintet is more akin to the bop inspired music of the classic “Blue Train” album (Coltrane’s only release for Blue Note”) than the ‘spiritual jazz’ that Coltrane pioneered later. The quintet deliver the piece at a fast clip with Matt Fishwick’s crisp drumming fuelling powerful but eloquent solos from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

The album ends on an energetic note with “Last Blues Home”, a Howles original inspired by the veteran alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and particularly his “Fried Buzzard” live recording from 1965. There’s no prizes for guessing what this sounds like as Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins deliver the head in tandem – their excellent ensemble playing is a characteristic of the album as a whole – before embarking on impressive individual statements. Tomalin and Howles follow and there is also a series of sparky drum breaks from Matt Fishwick as he trades choruses with the horns.

Howles’ music could never be described as ‘ground-breaking’ but there’s a refreshing honesty and unpretentiousness about the approach taken by him, the Fishwick brothers and others. Howles and the Fishwicks are among the foremost keepers of the hard bop flame in the UK, subtly updating the music for a modern day audience whilst simultaneously sticking to the virtues that made this genre of jazz such an exciting proposition in the first place. Their love for this style of music shines through, as does their mastery as players of it. One would imagine that this quintet would be a highly exciting prospect in a live, jazz club environment.

The blend of the two horns impresses throughout with both Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins also proving to be fluent and eloquent soloists, combining grace and fire in equal measure. Stanley and Tomalin each impress in the piano chair while Howles himself steps out of the shadows, soloing far more than he did on the previous septet release and seizing the opportunity with both hands. He and Matt Fishwick represent a formidable rhythm section, supportive, propulsive and swinging but also tasteful and sympathetic as the situation demands.

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive. “Along Came Benny” represents a highly enjoyable listen that should bring great pleasure to the many fans of this particular style of jazz.

 

Along Came Benny

Dominic Howles Quintet

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Along Came Benny

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive.

Dominic Howles Quintet

“Along Came Benny”

(Bopcentric Music BCCD06)

Dominic Howles – double bass, Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn, Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Matt Fishwick – drums, Ross Stanley or Nick Tomalin – piano

Bassist and composer Dominic Howles started his musical career in Bristol playing electric bass in a variety of different bands across a variety of genres including jazz, rock and reggae. His interest in jazz was piqued by seeing Weather Report live at the 1984 Glastonbury Festival with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clark and Marcus Miller all becoming increasingly influential on a young musician who had previously drawn inspiration from bass players such as Bruce Foxton, Jean Jacques Burnel, Mark King, Larry Graham and Robbie Shakespeare.

Howles’  musical colleagues in Bristol persuaded him to purchase a double bass that had allegedly once belonged to Stanley Clark and Howles subsequently became something of a fixture on the jazz scene around Bristol and Bath. Out of this came the call for him and saxophonist Ben Waghorn to join the then high profile Tommy Chase Quartet and Howles made the move to London in 1990, remaining in the capital ever since. Along the way he obtained a degree from the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music under the tutelage of Pete Churchill and Simon Purcell, graduating in 1992.

The purchase of that double bass obviously acted as a musical turning point and Howles now names Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Wilbur Ware, Sam Jones, Scott La Faro, Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier as his bass heroes.

As a freelance double bassist Howles has played with a wide variety of London based musicians over the course of the last twenty plus years. Among these is Tim Richards, with whom Howles appeared on the pianist’s 2010 trio album “Shapeshifting”, a recording reviewed elsewhere on this site. Howles also played on an earlier Richards trio offering, 2003’s “Twelve By Three”.  In 2015 Howles appeared on “Telegraph Hill”, an album recorded by Richards’ new six piece band Hextet.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tim-richards-sextet-telegraph-hill/

Others with whom Howles has collaborated include singers Norma Winstone, Stacey Kent,  Cindy Douglas, Gill Cook, Anita Wardell,  Christine Tobin and Kevin Fitzsimmons,  saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Wellins,  Alan Skidmore, Art Themen, Don Weller, Gary Smulyan, Julian Siegel, Pete Lukas and Tim Whitehead, guitarists Nigel Price and Phil Robson pianists John Taylor and Leon Greening, trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith and drummers Clark Tracey.  and Pete Cater. He has been part of large ensembles led by saxophonist Frank Griffith and pianist Michael Garrick and has also worked on TV and theatre soundtracks.

The busy and versatile Howles also finds time to lead his own groups and this latest release represents his third album as a leader.  2014’s “Bristolian Thoroughfare” featured a sextet that included Tomalin and both Fishwick brothers plus contributions from saxophonists Josephine Davies and Jamie O’Donnell, flautist Allison Neale and trumpeter Simon Da Silva. Combining his love of the Blue Note sound with a nod to his West Country roots the album is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dominic-howles-septet-bristolian-thoroughfare/

An earlier quartet album, “Radio Cannonball”, was recorded with a group featuring Tomalin at the piano, Matt Fishwick on drums and Gareth Lockrane on flute, with O’Higgins guesting on tenor on one track.

Howles’ love of the classic hard bop, or Blue Note, sound was doubtless nurtured during his tenure with the Chase quartet and his solo records all feature playing that is very much in this vein. However the bassist has never totally abandoned his rock and pop roots and like its predecessors this latest recording features Howles’ intriguing hard bop style arrangements of pop and rock tunes, in this instance “Message In A Bottle” by The Police and “Slow Love” by Prince.

The quintet line up features tried and trusted associates in the shapes of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and flugel, Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax and Matt Fishwick at the drums with piano duties being split pretty much equally between Ross Stanley and Nick Tomalin.

The album title is a reference to the veteran saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, a particularly significant influence on this recording. Howles’ pithy liner notes offer succinct and pertinent insights into the inspiration behind each individual track.

Things kick off with the title track, Howles’ first homage to Golson with the composer remarking “I’m just a big fan of Benny Golson’s writing and playing. I still think ‘Stablemates’ is one of the best tunes ever written”.
Howles’ own tune races along at a smart clip powered by the leader’s propulsive bass and Matt Fishwick’s crisp, whip smart, Blakeyesque drumming. Steve Fishwick takes the first solo on trumpet, his playing lithe and remarkably fluent and he’s followed by O’Higgins on tenor sax, who displays similar qualities. Tomalin occupies the piano chair for this track and he convincingly follows the two horn men. There is also a feature for the leader, who steps out of the shadows to demonstrate his dexterity as a double bass soloist.

“Meet Me At The Deli” draws inspiration from saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist Cedar Walton, both prolific jazz composers who have written pieces that have become modern day standards. Tomalin remains in the piano chair for this lively hard bop and latin flavoured item featuring concise but incisive solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, O’Higgins on tenor sax and Tomalin at the piano. Howles himself features with another agile bass solo and there’s an engaging series of exchanges between Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins as the track fades out, tantalisingly leaving the listener wanting more.

The first pop cover is an intriguing 5/4 arrangement of the Sting written “Message In A Bottle” with Howles commenting “my aims here were that one should still be able to sing the melody while getting away from Andy Summers’ great guitar riff”. It’s a song that has already been tackled very successfully in a jazz context by the Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio but Howles’ version ultimately sounds very different thanks to the involvement of Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins who share the solos, the saxophonist going first.

Howles’ own “Different Destinations” relaxes the pace a little and is a richly melodic piece that features Steve Fishwick and Dave O’Higgins dovetailing effectively in the early stages before the leader takes the first real solo at the bass. Some composing bassists like to keep themselves modestly hidden away in the ensemble but Howles has the confidence to highlight his own playing, and rightly so. Tomalin combines expansiveness with lyricism at the piano, as does Steve Fishwick on elegant flugel,  his solo contrasting neatly with O’Higgins’ more robust approach on tenor. The album was also mixed and mastered by O’Higgins, who plays a key role in the success of the recording as a whole.

“We Need To Talk About Benny” is Howles’ second Golson homage, with the composer this time commenting “I like the way that the middle eight of ‘Stablemates’ starts with the chords ascending, so I used that idea as a starting point”. Matt Fishwick’s drums play an important role in an arrangement that includes a sparkling solo from Ross Stanley at the piano. This is followed by the agile eloquence of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and the rougher edged fluency of O’Higgins on tenor before Matt Fishwick comes fully into his own with an extended drum feature.

“Song For Ann” is dedicated to Howles’ late mother, who passed away in 2015. A suitably tender tribute its the album’s first true ballad and features a lush blend of flugel and tenor with gently probing solos from O’Higgins and Steve Fishwick. Howles himself adds a melodic bass solo as Matt Fishwick gravitates between brushes and sticks and Stanley adds a dash of piano lyricism.

The next item is essentially a companion piece. “Ed’s Calypso” is a dedication to Howles’ young daughter Eden, who insists that her father should only write her upbeat tunes. The sunny Caribbean rhythms and flavourings of this piece help to spark relaxed but uplifting solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Tomalin at the piano. Matt Fishwick enjoys a series of lively and colourful drum breaks utilising all parts of the kit.

“Slow Love” is a Howles arrangement of a lesser known Prince song - it’s certainly not one that I was previously familiar with. But like the earlier Police offering this is indubitably a jazz performance with typically inventive solos coming from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

“Like John” is Howles’ tribute to another great saxophonist and composer, in this case John Coltrane. The sound generated by the Howles quintet is more akin to the bop inspired music of the classic “Blue Train” album (Coltrane’s only release for Blue Note”) than the ‘spiritual jazz’ that Coltrane pioneered later. The quintet deliver the piece at a fast clip with Matt Fishwick’s crisp drumming fuelling powerful but eloquent solos from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

The album ends on an energetic note with “Last Blues Home”, a Howles original inspired by the veteran alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and particularly his “Fried Buzzard” live recording from 1965. There’s no prizes for guessing what this sounds like as Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins deliver the head in tandem – their excellent ensemble playing is a characteristic of the album as a whole – before embarking on impressive individual statements. Tomalin and Howles follow and there is also a series of sparky drum breaks from Matt Fishwick as he trades choruses with the horns.

Howles’ music could never be described as ‘ground-breaking’ but there’s a refreshing honesty and unpretentiousness about the approach taken by him, the Fishwick brothers and others. Howles and the Fishwicks are among the foremost keepers of the hard bop flame in the UK, subtly updating the music for a modern day audience whilst simultaneously sticking to the virtues that made this genre of jazz such an exciting proposition in the first place. Their love for this style of music shines through, as does their mastery as players of it. One would imagine that this quintet would be a highly exciting prospect in a live, jazz club environment.

The blend of the two horns impresses throughout with both Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins also proving to be fluent and eloquent soloists, combining grace and fire in equal measure. Stanley and Tomalin each impress in the piano chair while Howles himself steps out of the shadows, soloing far more than he did on the previous septet release and seizing the opportunity with both hands. He and Matt Fishwick represent a formidable rhythm section, supportive, propulsive and swinging but also tasteful and sympathetic as the situation demands.

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive. “Along Came Benny” represents a highly enjoyable listen that should bring great pleasure to the many fans of this particular style of jazz.

 

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio - Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 "An intimate evening's music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys the playing of US saxophonist & flautist Greg Abate and his British trio.

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio
Jazz at Progress
The Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
Friday 12 July 2019


Greg Abate, alto saxophone, flute, composer, leader
Craig Milverton, piano
Adam King, double bass
Nick Millward, drums


Jazz at Progress completed the summer season with an intimate evening’s music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor.

With a packed schedule of British dates, including a visit to a well-known Sussex coastal city, he suggested they might start with “I ‘Hove’ You” (Cole Porter’s “I Love You”), but in fact launched into an up-tempo “What is This Thing Called Love”. The dynamic alto solo included (among other quotes), a snatch of Dameron’s contrafact “Hot House” (a tune Greg has recorded more than once and clearly enjoys).

Switching to flute (apparently an advance request from a local flute player - sadly not able to attend – prompting Greg to relate he often receives requests for specific instruments in his portfolio from fans who then can’t be there) we next heard Joe Henderson’s popular bossa nova “Recorda-Me”, with sparkling solos from all the band.

Having already (musically) referenced Tadd Dameron, the band followed with his composition “Afternoon in Paris”, starting with a trio (alto, bass, drums), then joined by piano. Pianist Craig Milverton is often in demand to accompany visiting US musicians, as well as being busy with many of his own projects.

“Contemplation”, an Abate minor blues composition, again showed his versatility, and command of flute. Piano, bass, and drums solos followed.

Drummer Nick Millward is said to have based his approach on Buddy Rich. As well featuring as vocalist in his own groups, Nick has a distinguished career as a drummer with traditional bands including those of Kenny Ball Jr. and Terry Lightfoot. This evening he demonstrated his ability to play superbly in any genre.

With Abate returning to alto, the second standard of the evening, “Moonlight in Vermont” began with an unaccompanied statement on saxophone, before the band joined. This composition, like several of the evening’s selections, is featured on Greg’s album “Kindred Spirits” with Phil Woods. This was a very rhythmic interpretation, the band moving into double time (and then double-double), with a thoughtful bass solo from Adam King.  The 2015 Young Jazz Musician of the Year King studied at Middlesex University, and cites Jaco Pastorius as his inspiration for switching to bass from his first choice, alto saxophone.

The first set closed with a fast version of “Star Eyes”, a favourite with jazz soloists since the bop era. After solos the band moved on to 8 bar exchanges. The Progress audience were intrigued with what may be a Greg Abate trademark: short musical ‘duets’ or ‘conversations’ with each of the trio, where Greg played a short phrase, and the other ‘replied’.

After the break, during which Greg continued the relaxed feeling of the evening, by freely chatting with audience members in the lounge, the band went to a fast “Yardbird Suite”.

At a contrasting tempo, the second ballad of the evening, “In a Sentimental Mood”, again presented Greg’s alto in an expressive interpretation, deploying varied articulations, dynamics, and the full range of the instrument. Craig Milverton took the middle eight on the opening theme, unhurried and with occasional ‘outside’ harmonic colour.

Another standard, reminiscent of the Charlie Parker repertoire, “I’ll Remember April” followed, in a very fast reading. Alternating latin and swing rhythms were enhanced by the fine drumming of Nick Millward.

The last flute feature of the concert, George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” was taken at a steady tempo, but with plenty of fluent double time in the flute solo. Craig’s piano solo included some ‘locked hands’ chordal playing (a nod to the composer’s style?), before a bass improvisation with Craig inserting a “walking bass line” on piano.

After selections from some of the most celebrated jazz composers, what could be more apt than Monk’s “Round Midnight”? Quotes, they say, are a neglected features of the improviser’s skill; a reference to the preceding theme in the alto solo illustrated this nicely.

Leaving the audience wanting more, the band finished on a high note (altissimo C on alto?) and at breakneck speed: “Donna Lee”, conventionally taken at a fast tempo, but here at a lick that defeated one audience member’s new BPM (beats per minute) app designed to pick up the metronome marking!

Sincere thanks to Greg Abate and all the Craig Milverton Trio for a superb evening, and, as ever, to the Progress Theatre people, Hickie’s of Reading, and all the Jazz in Reading team.

CLIVE DOWNS

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019.

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio

Monday, July 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Greg Abate sourced from the Progress Theatre website http://www.progresstheatre.co.uk

"An intimate evening's music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys the playing of US saxophonist & flautist Greg Abate and his British trio.

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio
Jazz at Progress
The Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
Friday 12 July 2019


Greg Abate, alto saxophone, flute, composer, leader
Craig Milverton, piano
Adam King, double bass
Nick Millward, drums


Jazz at Progress completed the summer season with an intimate evening’s music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor.

With a packed schedule of British dates, including a visit to a well-known Sussex coastal city, he suggested they might start with “I ‘Hove’ You” (Cole Porter’s “I Love You”), but in fact launched into an up-tempo “What is This Thing Called Love”. The dynamic alto solo included (among other quotes), a snatch of Dameron’s contrafact “Hot House” (a tune Greg has recorded more than once and clearly enjoys).

Switching to flute (apparently an advance request from a local flute player - sadly not able to attend – prompting Greg to relate he often receives requests for specific instruments in his portfolio from fans who then can’t be there) we next heard Joe Henderson’s popular bossa nova “Recorda-Me”, with sparkling solos from all the band.

Having already (musically) referenced Tadd Dameron, the band followed with his composition “Afternoon in Paris”, starting with a trio (alto, bass, drums), then joined by piano. Pianist Craig Milverton is often in demand to accompany visiting US musicians, as well as being busy with many of his own projects.

“Contemplation”, an Abate minor blues composition, again showed his versatility, and command of flute. Piano, bass, and drums solos followed.

Drummer Nick Millward is said to have based his approach on Buddy Rich. As well featuring as vocalist in his own groups, Nick has a distinguished career as a drummer with traditional bands including those of Kenny Ball Jr. and Terry Lightfoot. This evening he demonstrated his ability to play superbly in any genre.

With Abate returning to alto, the second standard of the evening, “Moonlight in Vermont” began with an unaccompanied statement on saxophone, before the band joined. This composition, like several of the evening’s selections, is featured on Greg’s album “Kindred Spirits” with Phil Woods. This was a very rhythmic interpretation, the band moving into double time (and then double-double), with a thoughtful bass solo from Adam King.  The 2015 Young Jazz Musician of the Year King studied at Middlesex University, and cites Jaco Pastorius as his inspiration for switching to bass from his first choice, alto saxophone.

The first set closed with a fast version of “Star Eyes”, a favourite with jazz soloists since the bop era. After solos the band moved on to 8 bar exchanges. The Progress audience were intrigued with what may be a Greg Abate trademark: short musical ‘duets’ or ‘conversations’ with each of the trio, where Greg played a short phrase, and the other ‘replied’.

After the break, during which Greg continued the relaxed feeling of the evening, by freely chatting with audience members in the lounge, the band went to a fast “Yardbird Suite”.

At a contrasting tempo, the second ballad of the evening, “In a Sentimental Mood”, again presented Greg’s alto in an expressive interpretation, deploying varied articulations, dynamics, and the full range of the instrument. Craig Milverton took the middle eight on the opening theme, unhurried and with occasional ‘outside’ harmonic colour.

Another standard, reminiscent of the Charlie Parker repertoire, “I’ll Remember April” followed, in a very fast reading. Alternating latin and swing rhythms were enhanced by the fine drumming of Nick Millward.

The last flute feature of the concert, George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” was taken at a steady tempo, but with plenty of fluent double time in the flute solo. Craig’s piano solo included some ‘locked hands’ chordal playing (a nod to the composer’s style?), before a bass improvisation with Craig inserting a “walking bass line” on piano.

After selections from some of the most celebrated jazz composers, what could be more apt than Monk’s “Round Midnight”? Quotes, they say, are a neglected features of the improviser’s skill; a reference to the preceding theme in the alto solo illustrated this nicely.

Leaving the audience wanting more, the band finished on a high note (altissimo C on alto?) and at breakneck speed: “Donna Lee”, conventionally taken at a fast tempo, but here at a lick that defeated one audience member’s new BPM (beats per minute) app designed to pick up the metronome marking!

Sincere thanks to Greg Abate and all the Craig Milverton Trio for a superb evening, and, as ever, to the Progress Theatre people, Hickie’s of Reading, and all the Jazz in Reading team.

CLIVE DOWNS

Rob Cope - Gods of Apollo Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A fascinating project that has been released at a very timely moment.

Rob Cope

“Gods of Apollo”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0020)

Rob Cope – soprano saxophone, Elliott Galvin – piano, Jon Ormston – drums, Rob Luft - guitar

The current media ballyhoo surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has reminded me that now is the ideal moment to review this space race inspired début album by the British saxophonist and composer Rob Cope.

Cope studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (1998-2006) before moving on to the Royal Northern College of Music (2006-10) and then to the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with an MA in Music Performance in 2012.

I first heard Cope’s playing in 2012 when he appeared on three albums featuring three different line ups that were simultaneously released by the enterprising young trumpeter and composer Jack Davies. Cope played tenor sax with the democratic quartet Southbound, clarinet and bass clarinet with the drummer-less folk jazz quartet Flea Circus and was part of a five man sax section in Davies’  nineteen piece big band. A feature containing reviews of all three albums can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/jack-davies/

Currently Cope is a member of Matt Roberts’ Bigish Band,  fellow saxophonist Andy Scott’s Group S and of the contemporary classical ensemble SoundSPARK. Very much a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps he has also appeared with the Matthew Herbert Big Band and with the Halle and English Symphony Orchestras.

Cope is also an acclaimed educator and teaches at the Donhead, Chepstow House and Westbury House preparatory schools as well as offering private music tuition.

One of his most significant projects has been the making of the film “Richard Turner: A Life in Music”, a jazz documentary telling the story of the much-loved British trumpet player who tragically died at the age of 27. The film charts the young trumpeter’s life and musical achievements through interviews with his friends, family and contemporaries. It was released worldwide as recently as May 2019 and I hope to take a look at it on these web pages shortly.

Cope also helps to run the Jazz Podcast, a platform for UK based jazz musicians and others. Details here;
http://thejazzpodcast.buzzsprout.com/

Turning now to Cope’s recorded début as a band leader, a conceptual affair inspired by the history of the ‘space race’ covering the years 1957 to 1972, but inevitably with a strong focus on the 1969 moon landing.

Cope’s album liner notes and comments in the press release shed light on the inspirations behind the music with the saxophonist stating;
“’Gods of Apollo’ is like a movie soundtrack, a love letter to space and music. It is set to the archival audio material of the race to the moon. There is no notation for this piece, the album is spoken word, and that’s the composition,  just a written script of what’s being said, with the band members improvising in response to what they hear. The piece is in chronological order, we follow the space race from Sputnik’s launch in 1957 to Gene Cernan being the last man to walk on the moon in 1972. I aimed to capture this excitement and add a new level of artistry to the voices of the astronauts”.

As Cope explains the genesis of the project occurred as far back as 2011;
“The idea came to me on a gig at the Spice of Life. I was improvising with trumpeter Laura Jurd and pianist Elliot Galvin while our friend Greg Sinclair narrated stories. Our playing reflecting what Greg was saying gave the audience a new perspective on the music”.

Given his presence at the very start of the Gods of Apollo project Galvin was a natural choice for the recording. Cope has worked with drummer Jon Ormston since the pair were eighteen, with both being part of Jack Davies’ Southbound quartet and Big Band. Rising star guitarist Rob Luft was the final addition to a quartet that sees the leader himself specialising on soprano saxophone.

The album consists of six pieces, with Cope credited as the composer in collaboration with Galvin, Luft and Ormston.

The journey begins with the near thirteen minute “Sputnik” which commences with almost subliminal looped ‘space noises’, sonar perhaps, these providing the backdrop for Cope’s solo soprano sax ruminations. These are thoughtful and unhurried and possessed of an almost zen like calm as he probes gently and airily. Luft’s shimmering guitar adds another instrumental dimension with the guitarist making subtle and atmospheric use of his range of effects. The rumble of Ormston’s drums then helps to give the music more of an orthodox ‘ free jazz’ feel with Galvin’s fractured, Keith Tippett like piano lines also making their presence felt during the latter stages of the piece. Mostly though the opener is about the leader’s serpentine sax meditations, his soprano a searching beam of light in the darkness of space.

A sample of President John F. Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech provides the segue into the next piece, “Human Spaceflight”. Here the music follows the patterns of speech with Galvin shadowing JFK’s words. Augmented by an array of sound effects the music ranges from free jazz squall, featuring Ormston’s martial style drums, to the rarefied luminosity of deep space as expressed via shimmering guitar, glacial piano and the piping of Cope’s soprano. Speech samples are interwoven throughout the track, helping to shape the flow of the music.

The use of the NASA transcripts to shape the musical narrative invites comparisons with the fifteen minute serial “Moon”, currently being transmitted on BBC Radio Four. Written by Anita Sullivan and narrated by scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock the script features the words of the original NASA transcripts as spoken by actors to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and the 1969 moon landing. There are obvious parallels between this work and Cope’s, although I suspect that the two projects were created entirely independently of each other.

Returning now to Cope’s “Gods of Apollo” and the shortest track on the album, “Flames”. I take this to be a musical depiction of the deaths of astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee, all killed during a launch test in 1967. Overall the music is less violent than one might expect, but nevertheless there’s a sharp metallic quality to Luft’s guitar and a harsher edge to the leader’s soprano, at least in the earlier stages of the piece. Later a more melancholic and elegiac feel emerges, expressing a sense of loss.

As its title suggests “Neil” brings us to 1969 and via the narrative of the NASA audio transcripts and the musical responses of the Cope quartet the six minute piece takes us on a journey to the moon. We start on the launch pad with the ignition sequence, achieving lift off as Cope and his colleagues gain musical momentum, the leader’s soprano blazing brightly alongside the clangour of Luft’s guitar, Galvin’s spiky piano and the military bustle of Ormston’s drums, all this interspersed with the voices of Mission Control and Apollo 11.

Armstrong’s famous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” actually forms part of the introduction to the next piece, “Magnificent Desolation”, the title taken from a phrase uttered by Aldrin. There’s a sense of the isolation, the beauty and the vastness of space, this expressed via Galvin’s crystalline solo piano meditations, his gentle lyricism punctuated by space noises, sampled voices, and passages of more robust piano improvising. Cope, Ormston and Luft only become involved towards the close, the leader’s soprano supplying the link into the album’s final piece.

“One Hell Of A Ride” celebrates the first full moon exploration in December 1972 by Gene Cernan and his colleagues. Again Cope and the members of the quartet respond to the sampled voices before eventually taking flight themselves as Cope’s soprano and Luft’s guitar thrillingly intertwine in a kind of astral ballet. The last words go to the astronauts as Cernan and his crew sing “I was strolling on the moon one day…”. Galvin’s barely audible single piano notes then play us out.

“Gods of Apollo” is a fascinating project and has been released at a very timely moment. As one would expect from musicians of this calibre there’s some excellent playing throughout the album with many instrumental highlights to enjoy. It has clearly been a labour of love for Cope and the way in which the musicians respond to the source audio material is never less than interesting.

The combination of music and recorded speech isn’t exactly new with Pink Floyd being among the pioneers of the genre, notably on the album “Dark Side of the Moon”. There the speech samples were artfully stitched into the songs and instrumental compositions, but Cope’s approach is very different, almost the opposite, with the musicians reacting to the voices rather than the other way round.

Ultimately I found the NASA transcripts and other space noises something of a distraction. With the exception of the opening “Sputnik” the voices run concurrently with the music almost throughout the album. One suspects that “Gods of Apollo” would be an intriguing and absorbing proposition live, especially if enhanced by visuals in some kind of multi-media project. Cope’s brief video on the Ubuntu Music website trailering the project gives a tantalising hint at how effective and exciting that might be.

In the home environment I’m not quite so convinced that “Gods of Apollo” would it stand up to repeated revisiting. Despite enjoying listening to the project during the course of writing this review I can’t see it being an album that I’d be likely to return to on a regular basis. A live performance though would be something else again.

Gods of Apollo

Rob Cope

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Gods of Apollo

A fascinating project that has been released at a very timely moment.

Rob Cope

“Gods of Apollo”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0020)

Rob Cope – soprano saxophone, Elliott Galvin – piano, Jon Ormston – drums, Rob Luft - guitar

The current media ballyhoo surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has reminded me that now is the ideal moment to review this space race inspired début album by the British saxophonist and composer Rob Cope.

Cope studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (1998-2006) before moving on to the Royal Northern College of Music (2006-10) and then to the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with an MA in Music Performance in 2012.

I first heard Cope’s playing in 2012 when he appeared on three albums featuring three different line ups that were simultaneously released by the enterprising young trumpeter and composer Jack Davies. Cope played tenor sax with the democratic quartet Southbound, clarinet and bass clarinet with the drummer-less folk jazz quartet Flea Circus and was part of a five man sax section in Davies’  nineteen piece big band. A feature containing reviews of all three albums can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/jack-davies/

Currently Cope is a member of Matt Roberts’ Bigish Band,  fellow saxophonist Andy Scott’s Group S and of the contemporary classical ensemble SoundSPARK. Very much a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps he has also appeared with the Matthew Herbert Big Band and with the Halle and English Symphony Orchestras.

Cope is also an acclaimed educator and teaches at the Donhead, Chepstow House and Westbury House preparatory schools as well as offering private music tuition.

One of his most significant projects has been the making of the film “Richard Turner: A Life in Music”, a jazz documentary telling the story of the much-loved British trumpet player who tragically died at the age of 27. The film charts the young trumpeter’s life and musical achievements through interviews with his friends, family and contemporaries. It was released worldwide as recently as May 2019 and I hope to take a look at it on these web pages shortly.

Cope also helps to run the Jazz Podcast, a platform for UK based jazz musicians and others. Details here;
http://thejazzpodcast.buzzsprout.com/

Turning now to Cope’s recorded début as a band leader, a conceptual affair inspired by the history of the ‘space race’ covering the years 1957 to 1972, but inevitably with a strong focus on the 1969 moon landing.

Cope’s album liner notes and comments in the press release shed light on the inspirations behind the music with the saxophonist stating;
“’Gods of Apollo’ is like a movie soundtrack, a love letter to space and music. It is set to the archival audio material of the race to the moon. There is no notation for this piece, the album is spoken word, and that’s the composition,  just a written script of what’s being said, with the band members improvising in response to what they hear. The piece is in chronological order, we follow the space race from Sputnik’s launch in 1957 to Gene Cernan being the last man to walk on the moon in 1972. I aimed to capture this excitement and add a new level of artistry to the voices of the astronauts”.

As Cope explains the genesis of the project occurred as far back as 2011;
“The idea came to me on a gig at the Spice of Life. I was improvising with trumpeter Laura Jurd and pianist Elliot Galvin while our friend Greg Sinclair narrated stories. Our playing reflecting what Greg was saying gave the audience a new perspective on the music”.

Given his presence at the very start of the Gods of Apollo project Galvin was a natural choice for the recording. Cope has worked with drummer Jon Ormston since the pair were eighteen, with both being part of Jack Davies’ Southbound quartet and Big Band. Rising star guitarist Rob Luft was the final addition to a quartet that sees the leader himself specialising on soprano saxophone.

The album consists of six pieces, with Cope credited as the composer in collaboration with Galvin, Luft and Ormston.

The journey begins with the near thirteen minute “Sputnik” which commences with almost subliminal looped ‘space noises’, sonar perhaps, these providing the backdrop for Cope’s solo soprano sax ruminations. These are thoughtful and unhurried and possessed of an almost zen like calm as he probes gently and airily. Luft’s shimmering guitar adds another instrumental dimension with the guitarist making subtle and atmospheric use of his range of effects. The rumble of Ormston’s drums then helps to give the music more of an orthodox ‘ free jazz’ feel with Galvin’s fractured, Keith Tippett like piano lines also making their presence felt during the latter stages of the piece. Mostly though the opener is about the leader’s serpentine sax meditations, his soprano a searching beam of light in the darkness of space.

A sample of President John F. Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech provides the segue into the next piece, “Human Spaceflight”. Here the music follows the patterns of speech with Galvin shadowing JFK’s words. Augmented by an array of sound effects the music ranges from free jazz squall, featuring Ormston’s martial style drums, to the rarefied luminosity of deep space as expressed via shimmering guitar, glacial piano and the piping of Cope’s soprano. Speech samples are interwoven throughout the track, helping to shape the flow of the music.

The use of the NASA transcripts to shape the musical narrative invites comparisons with the fifteen minute serial “Moon”, currently being transmitted on BBC Radio Four. Written by Anita Sullivan and narrated by scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock the script features the words of the original NASA transcripts as spoken by actors to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and the 1969 moon landing. There are obvious parallels between this work and Cope’s, although I suspect that the two projects were created entirely independently of each other.

Returning now to Cope’s “Gods of Apollo” and the shortest track on the album, “Flames”. I take this to be a musical depiction of the deaths of astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee, all killed during a launch test in 1967. Overall the music is less violent than one might expect, but nevertheless there’s a sharp metallic quality to Luft’s guitar and a harsher edge to the leader’s soprano, at least in the earlier stages of the piece. Later a more melancholic and elegiac feel emerges, expressing a sense of loss.

As its title suggests “Neil” brings us to 1969 and via the narrative of the NASA audio transcripts and the musical responses of the Cope quartet the six minute piece takes us on a journey to the moon. We start on the launch pad with the ignition sequence, achieving lift off as Cope and his colleagues gain musical momentum, the leader’s soprano blazing brightly alongside the clangour of Luft’s guitar, Galvin’s spiky piano and the military bustle of Ormston’s drums, all this interspersed with the voices of Mission Control and Apollo 11.

Armstrong’s famous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” actually forms part of the introduction to the next piece, “Magnificent Desolation”, the title taken from a phrase uttered by Aldrin. There’s a sense of the isolation, the beauty and the vastness of space, this expressed via Galvin’s crystalline solo piano meditations, his gentle lyricism punctuated by space noises, sampled voices, and passages of more robust piano improvising. Cope, Ormston and Luft only become involved towards the close, the leader’s soprano supplying the link into the album’s final piece.

“One Hell Of A Ride” celebrates the first full moon exploration in December 1972 by Gene Cernan and his colleagues. Again Cope and the members of the quartet respond to the sampled voices before eventually taking flight themselves as Cope’s soprano and Luft’s guitar thrillingly intertwine in a kind of astral ballet. The last words go to the astronauts as Cernan and his crew sing “I was strolling on the moon one day…”. Galvin’s barely audible single piano notes then play us out.

“Gods of Apollo” is a fascinating project and has been released at a very timely moment. As one would expect from musicians of this calibre there’s some excellent playing throughout the album with many instrumental highlights to enjoy. It has clearly been a labour of love for Cope and the way in which the musicians respond to the source audio material is never less than interesting.

The combination of music and recorded speech isn’t exactly new with Pink Floyd being among the pioneers of the genre, notably on the album “Dark Side of the Moon”. There the speech samples were artfully stitched into the songs and instrumental compositions, but Cope’s approach is very different, almost the opposite, with the musicians reacting to the voices rather than the other way round.

Ultimately I found the NASA transcripts and other space noises something of a distraction. With the exception of the opening “Sputnik” the voices run concurrently with the music almost throughout the album. One suspects that “Gods of Apollo” would be an intriguing and absorbing proposition live, especially if enhanced by visuals in some kind of multi-media project. Cope’s brief video on the Ubuntu Music website trailering the project gives a tantalising hint at how effective and exciting that might be.

In the home environment I’m not quite so convinced that “Gods of Apollo” would it stand up to repeated revisiting. Despite enjoying listening to the project during the course of writing this review I can’t see it being an album that I’d be likely to return to on a regular basis. A live performance though would be something else again.

Beresford Hammond - Circle Inside the Folds Rating: 4 out of 5 Beresford Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation, once again producing an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Beresford Hammond

“Circle Inside the Folds”

(the 52nd 52NDCD005)

Charlie Beresford – guitar, voice, piano
Sonia Hammond – cello

“Circle Inside the Folds” represents the third album release by the improvising duo Beresford Hammond.

It is actually the fourth album to feature this now well established partnership. Based in the Welsh Borders the pair made their recorded début in 2015 with the album “The Science of Snow” which found them bringing a genuine beauty to the art of free improvisation.

For “The Lightning Bell” (2016) they expanded the group to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume, one of Beresford’s collaborators in the group Fourth Page. The album also included an unexpected, but surprisingly successful, guest contribution from vocalist Judie Tzuke.

“Each Edge of the Field” (2017) saw a return to basics with the core duo delivering a set of entirely instrumental music that I described as; “a sound that is melancholy and sometimes unsettling, but is undeniably atmospheric and possessed of a dark beauty that is all its own”.

I first became aware of Beresford’s music in 2009 with the release of his highly personal solo album “Dark Transport”. He combines solo projects with membership of the improvising quartet Fourth Page alongside Hume, bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. This quartet’s album releases include 2011’s “Blind Horizons” and 2018’s “The Forest From Above”, both of which appear on Leo Records. Meanwhile “Along The Weak Rope” (2011) and the live recording “Ticks and Moans” (2012) were issued by the London based independent For/wind.

Beresford, Hume, Marsh and May are also part of the quintet Crystal Moth, which also features the percussionist Patrick Dawes. This line up, augmented by a number of guest musicians, released their eponymous début album in 2016.

Beresford has also played with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo. Others with whom he has collaborated include the Russian free jazz saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, French guitarist Christian Vasseur, and Brits bassist Tim Harries, folk singer June Tabor and performance poet Ian McMillan.

Beresford co-ordinates the Radnor Improvisers, a collective of improvising musicians from around the Welsh Borders and also has a parallel career as a visual artist and photographer. Further information on his numerous activities can be found on his website http://www.charlieberesford.com

Also a member of the Radnor Improvisers the classically trained Hammond (nee Oakes) studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia and the St. Woolos Sinfonia (acting as principal cellist for both) plus the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach.

However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr, Philip Kane and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui.

More recent collaborations have included a duo with jazz/folk guitarist Adrian Crick resulting in the albums “Something Beginning With…” (2016) and “More (off the beaten) Tracks” (2017).

Hammond has also been working with the high powered blues/rock guitarist/vocalist Troy Redfern, on the face of it an unlikely pairing. Having also covered Redfern’s music on this site I’d be highly intrigued to hear the results of this!

Living in the same geographical area as Beresford and Hammond I’ve been fortunate enough to see both musicians performing live in nearby locations. Fourth Page visited my home town of Leominster in 2012 while in 2018 the aptly named aggregation Borderless came to the town, a quartet featuring both Beresford and Hammond plus Camilla Cancantata (previously Saunders) on piano, trombone and vocals and the Baghdad born Ahmed Mukhtar on oud.

In May 2019 the Beresford Hammond duo performed at The Globe in Hay-on-Wye as part of the ongoing Nawr (Welsh for ‘now’) series of experimental music evenings. Usually based in Swansea but occasionally making forays out to Hay the Nawr events typically feature short-ish sets from four different and very varied acts, a kind of avant-garde music review that I like to liken to a live version of Late Junction.

The Beresford Hammond set was particularly enjoyable and it was good to see the core duo performing together live for the first time. Beresford told me afterwards that everything that they had played had been entirely improvised, even the lyrics that featured in the occasional vocal episodes. It’s an approach that the duo have been honing since 2014, a kind of ‘instantaneous composition’ that puts the focus on mood, texture and narrative rather than technique or extended technique, although both are essential components of their work. Instead of the noise and bluster of most free improv the emphasis here is on beauty, albeit one of an often melancholic kind. It’s a highly distinctive approach that also informs the music of associated acts such as Fourth Page and Crystal Moth.

“Circle Inside the Folds” finds the duo further refining their unique method of music making. The title references the album packaging which features the CD (the circle) within an origami style sleeve (the folds), which in turn features black and white images photographed by Beresford.  It appears as a limited edition of 100 (or 300 depending on who you listen to). Previous releases have featured beautiful graphic designs, these created by  Canadian photographer Gaena da Sylva , from Quebec,  who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name the52nd (as in parallel). See www.the52nd.bandcamp.com

I also suspect that the album title might be a reference to the ancient Mitchells Fold Stone Circle, which is located in the South Shropshire Hills, near to where Beresford lives. The duo’s music has always been influenced by the Border landscape, which can range from the beautiful and bucolic to the rugged and savage.

And so to this latest album recording which features seven brand new improvisations from the duo. Opener “Homage to Opus 8” is a perfect encapsulation of the duo’s delicate strengths, building from Hammond’s introductory cello scrapings and building slowly and organically with the introduction of acoustic guitar to embrace a kind of wide-screen magnificence, reflecting the beauty, drama and wildness of the landscape within which the duo live and work. This may be improvised music but it sounds natural and logical, almost written, with elements of folk and contemporary classical music in the mix. It rarely sounds like typical free jazz.

Hammond’s cello inevitably lends much of the music a melancholy edge and her bowing combines effectively with Beresford’s dramatic, almost flamenco like acoustic guitar picking on the following “Submerged”.

At three and a half minutes in length “Apparat Waltz” represents the shortest piece on the record and sounds almost pre-composed as cello and guitar dance around each other in almost courtly fashion. Once again there’s a narrative quality about the piece that sets Beresford Hammond’s unique brand of ‘chamber improvisation’ apart from the rest of the free jazz field.

“Mosquito Machinery” takes its title from the other worldly ‘buzzing’ sounds that introduce the piece, these perhaps produced by Beresford sliding objects across, or up and down, the guitar strings. Although a wholly acoustic player Beresford augments his sound via the use of an array of devices, these sometimes attached to, or wedged under, the strings. His use of these objects, among them a tea spoon, has sometimes been compared to prepared piano techniques and in recent years he has made increasing use of a bow on the strings. Hammond, too, is not averse to deploying extended techniques on the cello, plucking and striking the strings and generally pushing the sonic boundaries of her chosen instrument. This piece, perhaps the most abstract, impressionistic and unsettling so far sees some of these techniques being put to effective use.

The music of Fourth Page, Borderless and Beresford Hammond Hume has featured Beresford’s unique vocalising. The track “Adjust the File” represents the first occasion that he’s brought this aspect of his talent to the Beresford Hammond duo - at least on disc, he sang at the recent Globe live performance. Fourth Page like to describe their music as “spontaneously composed songs” and Beresford’s lyrics are improvised in the moment to match the feel of the music. He’s been compared to John Martyn, David Sylvian and Robert Wyatt and there’s certainly something of Martyn’s slurred brilliance and Wyatt’s fragile plaintiveness in his vocalising for Fourth Page.  Often his vocalising is almost subliminal and uses exhalations and vocal tics as well as words.  It often sounds deceptively simple but I would imagine that it is actually a very difficult skill to master.
“Adjust the File” finds the guitarist making extensive use of extended instrumental techniques as well as delivering an atmospheric and unsettling semi-spoken vocal, these qualities also reflected in the music with its guitar generated percussive effects and eerily bowed cello.

“Something Against The Hull”  features Beresford on piano, deploying prepared piano techniques and dampening the strings as he duets with Hammond’s wispy, but increasingly assertive cello. Again the atmosphere is abstract, dark and unsettling and it’s tempting to view “Mosquito Machinery”, “Adjust the File” and this piece as some kind of crepescular trilogy.

The album concludes with “Order of Odonata”, a more pastoral piece featuring bright, cleanly picked guitar contrasted with deep, dark, grainy cello sonorities, reminiscent perhaps of the bucolic Border landscape under a lowering sky, the threat of a storm hanging in the air. It’s typical of the gritty beauty of this remarkable duo’s improvised music.

It still astonishes me that Beresford Hammond are able to conjure these seemingly fully formed pieces out of thin air. I’m not sure how much editing there was prior to release, but that performance at The Globe in Hay served to prove just how finely attuned to one another’s musical sensibilities the duo have become during their five years of existence. Their level of rapport is truly remarkable and this latest release is arguably their most melodic and accessible album to date, even allowing for its darker episodes. Beresford and Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation and once again have produced an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Circle Inside the Folds

Beresford Hammond

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Circle Inside the Folds

Beresford Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation, once again producing an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Beresford Hammond

“Circle Inside the Folds”

(the 52nd 52NDCD005)

Charlie Beresford – guitar, voice, piano
Sonia Hammond – cello

“Circle Inside the Folds” represents the third album release by the improvising duo Beresford Hammond.

It is actually the fourth album to feature this now well established partnership. Based in the Welsh Borders the pair made their recorded début in 2015 with the album “The Science of Snow” which found them bringing a genuine beauty to the art of free improvisation.

For “The Lightning Bell” (2016) they expanded the group to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume, one of Beresford’s collaborators in the group Fourth Page. The album also included an unexpected, but surprisingly successful, guest contribution from vocalist Judie Tzuke.

“Each Edge of the Field” (2017) saw a return to basics with the core duo delivering a set of entirely instrumental music that I described as; “a sound that is melancholy and sometimes unsettling, but is undeniably atmospheric and possessed of a dark beauty that is all its own”.

I first became aware of Beresford’s music in 2009 with the release of his highly personal solo album “Dark Transport”. He combines solo projects with membership of the improvising quartet Fourth Page alongside Hume, bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. This quartet’s album releases include 2011’s “Blind Horizons” and 2018’s “The Forest From Above”, both of which appear on Leo Records. Meanwhile “Along The Weak Rope” (2011) and the live recording “Ticks and Moans” (2012) were issued by the London based independent For/wind.

Beresford, Hume, Marsh and May are also part of the quintet Crystal Moth, which also features the percussionist Patrick Dawes. This line up, augmented by a number of guest musicians, released their eponymous début album in 2016.

Beresford has also played with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo. Others with whom he has collaborated include the Russian free jazz saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, French guitarist Christian Vasseur, and Brits bassist Tim Harries, folk singer June Tabor and performance poet Ian McMillan.

Beresford co-ordinates the Radnor Improvisers, a collective of improvising musicians from around the Welsh Borders and also has a parallel career as a visual artist and photographer. Further information on his numerous activities can be found on his website http://www.charlieberesford.com

Also a member of the Radnor Improvisers the classically trained Hammond (nee Oakes) studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia and the St. Woolos Sinfonia (acting as principal cellist for both) plus the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach.

However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr, Philip Kane and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui.

More recent collaborations have included a duo with jazz/folk guitarist Adrian Crick resulting in the albums “Something Beginning With…” (2016) and “More (off the beaten) Tracks” (2017).

Hammond has also been working with the high powered blues/rock guitarist/vocalist Troy Redfern, on the face of it an unlikely pairing. Having also covered Redfern’s music on this site I’d be highly intrigued to hear the results of this!

Living in the same geographical area as Beresford and Hammond I’ve been fortunate enough to see both musicians performing live in nearby locations. Fourth Page visited my home town of Leominster in 2012 while in 2018 the aptly named aggregation Borderless came to the town, a quartet featuring both Beresford and Hammond plus Camilla Cancantata (previously Saunders) on piano, trombone and vocals and the Baghdad born Ahmed Mukhtar on oud.

In May 2019 the Beresford Hammond duo performed at The Globe in Hay-on-Wye as part of the ongoing Nawr (Welsh for ‘now’) series of experimental music evenings. Usually based in Swansea but occasionally making forays out to Hay the Nawr events typically feature short-ish sets from four different and very varied acts, a kind of avant-garde music review that I like to liken to a live version of Late Junction.

The Beresford Hammond set was particularly enjoyable and it was good to see the core duo performing together live for the first time. Beresford told me afterwards that everything that they had played had been entirely improvised, even the lyrics that featured in the occasional vocal episodes. It’s an approach that the duo have been honing since 2014, a kind of ‘instantaneous composition’ that puts the focus on mood, texture and narrative rather than technique or extended technique, although both are essential components of their work. Instead of the noise and bluster of most free improv the emphasis here is on beauty, albeit one of an often melancholic kind. It’s a highly distinctive approach that also informs the music of associated acts such as Fourth Page and Crystal Moth.

“Circle Inside the Folds” finds the duo further refining their unique method of music making. The title references the album packaging which features the CD (the circle) within an origami style sleeve (the folds), which in turn features black and white images photographed by Beresford.  It appears as a limited edition of 100 (or 300 depending on who you listen to). Previous releases have featured beautiful graphic designs, these created by  Canadian photographer Gaena da Sylva , from Quebec,  who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name the52nd (as in parallel). See www.the52nd.bandcamp.com

I also suspect that the album title might be a reference to the ancient Mitchells Fold Stone Circle, which is located in the South Shropshire Hills, near to where Beresford lives. The duo’s music has always been influenced by the Border landscape, which can range from the beautiful and bucolic to the rugged and savage.

And so to this latest album recording which features seven brand new improvisations from the duo. Opener “Homage to Opus 8” is a perfect encapsulation of the duo’s delicate strengths, building from Hammond’s introductory cello scrapings and building slowly and organically with the introduction of acoustic guitar to embrace a kind of wide-screen magnificence, reflecting the beauty, drama and wildness of the landscape within which the duo live and work. This may be improvised music but it sounds natural and logical, almost written, with elements of folk and contemporary classical music in the mix. It rarely sounds like typical free jazz.

Hammond’s cello inevitably lends much of the music a melancholy edge and her bowing combines effectively with Beresford’s dramatic, almost flamenco like acoustic guitar picking on the following “Submerged”.

At three and a half minutes in length “Apparat Waltz” represents the shortest piece on the record and sounds almost pre-composed as cello and guitar dance around each other in almost courtly fashion. Once again there’s a narrative quality about the piece that sets Beresford Hammond’s unique brand of ‘chamber improvisation’ apart from the rest of the free jazz field.

“Mosquito Machinery” takes its title from the other worldly ‘buzzing’ sounds that introduce the piece, these perhaps produced by Beresford sliding objects across, or up and down, the guitar strings. Although a wholly acoustic player Beresford augments his sound via the use of an array of devices, these sometimes attached to, or wedged under, the strings. His use of these objects, among them a tea spoon, has sometimes been compared to prepared piano techniques and in recent years he has made increasing use of a bow on the strings. Hammond, too, is not averse to deploying extended techniques on the cello, plucking and striking the strings and generally pushing the sonic boundaries of her chosen instrument. This piece, perhaps the most abstract, impressionistic and unsettling so far sees some of these techniques being put to effective use.

The music of Fourth Page, Borderless and Beresford Hammond Hume has featured Beresford’s unique vocalising. The track “Adjust the File” represents the first occasion that he’s brought this aspect of his talent to the Beresford Hammond duo - at least on disc, he sang at the recent Globe live performance. Fourth Page like to describe their music as “spontaneously composed songs” and Beresford’s lyrics are improvised in the moment to match the feel of the music. He’s been compared to John Martyn, David Sylvian and Robert Wyatt and there’s certainly something of Martyn’s slurred brilliance and Wyatt’s fragile plaintiveness in his vocalising for Fourth Page.  Often his vocalising is almost subliminal and uses exhalations and vocal tics as well as words.  It often sounds deceptively simple but I would imagine that it is actually a very difficult skill to master.
“Adjust the File” finds the guitarist making extensive use of extended instrumental techniques as well as delivering an atmospheric and unsettling semi-spoken vocal, these qualities also reflected in the music with its guitar generated percussive effects and eerily bowed cello.

“Something Against The Hull”  features Beresford on piano, deploying prepared piano techniques and dampening the strings as he duets with Hammond’s wispy, but increasingly assertive cello. Again the atmosphere is abstract, dark and unsettling and it’s tempting to view “Mosquito Machinery”, “Adjust the File” and this piece as some kind of crepescular trilogy.

The album concludes with “Order of Odonata”, a more pastoral piece featuring bright, cleanly picked guitar contrasted with deep, dark, grainy cello sonorities, reminiscent perhaps of the bucolic Border landscape under a lowering sky, the threat of a storm hanging in the air. It’s typical of the gritty beauty of this remarkable duo’s improvised music.

It still astonishes me that Beresford Hammond are able to conjure these seemingly fully formed pieces out of thin air. I’m not sure how much editing there was prior to release, but that performance at The Globe in Hay served to prove just how finely attuned to one another’s musical sensibilities the duo have become during their five years of existence. Their level of rapport is truly remarkable and this latest release is arguably their most melodic and accessible album to date, even allowing for its darker episodes. Beresford and Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation and once again have produced an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long, Martin Fisher - Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019

Ray d’Inverno – piano, Rod Paton – french horn, Tony Woods – alto & soprano saxophones, alto clarinet, Nette Robinson – vocals, Ashley John Long – double bass, Martin Fisher – drums

It was difficult to know quite how to bill this stellar sextet. The posters advertising this event made reference to the Ray d’Inverno / Tony Woods Quartet with Nette Robinson but this all star session was ultimately co-led by d’Inverno and jazz french horn player Rod Paton, now a Brecon resident. Paton had helped to curate the whole affair in conjunction with Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club.

Lynne and Roger have a proven track record of bringing together musicians who have never worked with each other before to create a convincing and successful one off group, united by a shared jazz music vocabulary. Such was the case here with Paton acting as the link between the players.

An acclaimed musical educator as well as a performer Paton moved to Brecon a couple of years ago and has since become involved with the South Wales jazz scene and played an important role as both musician and organiser at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival. During his career as an educator Paton spent time in the south of England where he made connections with both d’Inverno and Woods and also with Fisher. The drummer has also made the move to Wales and for a number of years organised jazz events in the Torfaen / Pontypool area under the Jazz MF banner.

As Lynne Gornall put it this was a band that was put together because the Jazz Club had wanted to feature several of the individuals involved as leaders of their own bands but had insufficient space in the monthly club event calendar to do so. Thus with Paton acting as facilitator they put them all together as one star group. Both d’Inverno and Woods are leaders of their own groups and once the front line musicians were on board it was decided to add the Wales based rhythm section of Fisher and Long. Woods and Robinson had never met with Long and Fisher before this evening but thanks to that shared jazz language the one off sextet gelled remarkably quickly and effectively.

Besides his work as a jazz musician d’Inverno has also enjoyed an academic career of some distinction and at one time held a post as Professor of Quantum Relativity at Southampton University. In his role as co-leader he kicked off the evening with a version of the standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, performed in the piano trio format with the help of Fisher and Long. d’Inverno took the first solo on his Yamaha electric keyboard, deploying an acoustic piano setting for the whole of the evening. Long, a Brecon regular and a great audience favourite also gave us a reminder of his formidable skills as a bass soloist. The piece concluded with a series of lively exchanges between d’Inverno on piano and the ebullient Fisher at the drums.

The line up was extended to a quintet with the addition of Woods on alto saxophone and Paton on french horn for an arrangement of another jazz standard, “My Beautiful Love”. Paton is one of a handful of musicians who has the ability to make the french horn a convincing instrument for jazz soloing – others include the UK’s Jim Rattigan and the Americans John Clark and Vincent Chancey.
He took the first solo here, improvising with great fluency, the tone of the instrument pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone. Woods followed, similarly assured and fluent and adopting a warm, almost tenor like, sound on his alto. Elsewhere the rarely heard combination of these two horns was both beguiling and effective. d’Inverno also featured as a soloist, his playing ripe with wit and invention.

Long’s double bass introduced the next piece, which saw vocalist Nette Robinson replace Paton on the stage to deliver a sultry, but playful, version of the familiar standard “Pennies From Heaven”. Following the initial bass and vocal duet piano and drums were added to the equation as Robinson artfully stretched the vocal melody lines with the flexibility and confidence of the highly accomplished singer that she is. Instrumental solos came from Woods on alto and Long at the bass.

Life partners Woods and Robinson have been key figures in preserving the legacy of the late pianist, composer and lyricist Michael Garrick (1933-2011), a musician with whom both have collaborated. Following Garrick’s death the couple took on the leadership of the Lyric Ensemble, Garrick’s last creative project, with pianist Nikki Iles taking on Garrick’s role. From the Lyric Ensemble repertoire came Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, with a lyric by Garrick beautifully delivered by Robinson following d’Inverno’s limpid solo piano introduction.  Fittingly Woods was also featured as a soloist as he delivered a fluent and expressive statement on alto.

Robinson took over the announcing duties to introduce the standard “You Must Believe In Spring” in a ballad arrangement inspired by a version sung by Cleveland Watkiss. Woods moved to what I jotted down as bass clarinet, although on reflection it may have been alto clarinet, an instrument he has played on previous occasions. The lustrous, woody sounds that he produced were the perfect foil for Robinson’s warm, well enunciated vocals and d’Inverno’s lyrical piano soloing. A word too for Fisher’s sensitive and sympathetic brushed drum accompaniment. This was a performance that received a particularly rapturous reception from a pleasingly large audience that included a sprinkling of regulars from the nearby Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny.

An excellent first half concluded with an appropriately sassy take on Steve Swallow’s composition “Ladies in Mercedes”, a tune introduced to the pianist by bassist Peter Maxwell, once of the Andy Sheppard band. Sheppard has worked extensively with Swallow and Carla Bley, hence that particular series of connections. Robinson was clearly enjoying herself as she delivered Norma Winstone’s witty lyrics in suitably coquettish fashion, her singing interspersed with solos from Woods, surprisingly powerful on alto, and d’Inverno, with Fisher also weighing in with a dynamic drum feature. Also of note were the dazzling scat vocal and alto sax exchanges between Robinson and Woods. In a neat touch d’Inverno dedicated the song, with its Brazilian inspired rhythms, to the memory of the recently deceased Joao Gilberto.

The flyers for tonight’s gig had promised a mix of standards and originals and a shorter second set commenced with d’Inverno’s “Bopping Up The A27”, a tune written many years ago as part of the “Roadway Suite”,  a commission from Hastings Jazz Festival. Performed in a quartet format this proved to be a suitably bebop flavoured tune and the perfect vehicle for Woods to release his inner Charlie Parker, driven on by Long’s propulsive bass and Fisher’s crisp, hard hitting drumming. With something of the feel of a bebop standard about it the tune also contained solos from d’Inverno and Long plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Fisher.

The quartet were joined by Robinson and Paton for the song “Alice in Wonderland”, written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the 1951 animated Disney film but which has since become a jazz standard. Robinson’s eloquent reading of the lyrics was complemented by similarly erudite instrumental statements from Paton on french horn and Woods on soprano sax.

Similarly lovely was the ballad “Turn Out The Stars” with music written by the late, great pianist Bill Evans and a later lyric penned by Michael Garrick. Garrick’s love of poetry is expressed in his words, beautifully sung here by Robinson with sensitive accompaniment coming from d’Inverno, Long and Fisher in yet another new instrumental configuration. The instrumental solo came from d’Inverno at his most lyrical.

MJQ pianist and composer John Lewis’ “20 East 30 West” was played as a blues with Paton demonstrating that the blues can authentically be played on the french horn as he delivered a stunning and totally convincing solo. Also featured were Woods on alto plus Long and Fisher on bass and drums respectively.

Paton also soloed on an uncharacteristically hard driving arrangement of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes”, a treatment that fellow soloist d’Inverno later described as “rock”. Also featured was Woods on alto sax.

Robinson returned to the stage for the closing number, an arrangement of multi-reed player Jerome Richardson’s composition “Groove Merchant” with vocalese lyrics by singer Jon Hendricks. d’Inverno had actually worked with Richardson and this connection helped to inspire his most exuberant playing of the evening as he traded solos with a similarly powerful and effusive Woods on alto.

Even the end of an excellent show it was still difficult to ascribe the leadership of this stellar sextet. d’Inverno and Paton shared most of the talking but Woods and Robinson had brought their Garrick inspired material along to form a key part of the performance. This may largely have been a ‘standards’ performance but it was one with a difference with all six musicians rising to the occasion and making excellent contributions. The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable and offered a good mix of styles and tempi throughout.

My thanks to Tony Woods, Nette Robinson and Ray d’Inverno for speaking with me at length and to old friends Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher for saying ‘hello’ too.

Woods is currently on tour with his five piece folk jazz Project featuring guitarist Mike Outram, vibraphonist Rob Millett, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Milo Fell. The Tony Woods Project have recorded a total of four albums  “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004), Wind Shadows” (2009) and “Hidden Fires” (2017). The two most recent recordings are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Their recent performance at the Sound Cellar in Poole has been recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and will be transmitted at 11.00 pm on Monday 22nd July. This is an excellent band playing Tony’s original material, catch them if you can.

In the meantime tonight’s event represented a great curtain raiser for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival on 9th, 10th and 11th August 2019.


COMMENTS:

From Martin Fisher via Facebook;

Hi Ian, lovely review of the Brecon gig, many thanks.                                           
Martin.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long, Martin Fisher

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019.

The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019

Ray d’Inverno – piano, Rod Paton – french horn, Tony Woods – alto & soprano saxophones, alto clarinet, Nette Robinson – vocals, Ashley John Long – double bass, Martin Fisher – drums

It was difficult to know quite how to bill this stellar sextet. The posters advertising this event made reference to the Ray d’Inverno / Tony Woods Quartet with Nette Robinson but this all star session was ultimately co-led by d’Inverno and jazz french horn player Rod Paton, now a Brecon resident. Paton had helped to curate the whole affair in conjunction with Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club.

Lynne and Roger have a proven track record of bringing together musicians who have never worked with each other before to create a convincing and successful one off group, united by a shared jazz music vocabulary. Such was the case here with Paton acting as the link between the players.

An acclaimed musical educator as well as a performer Paton moved to Brecon a couple of years ago and has since become involved with the South Wales jazz scene and played an important role as both musician and organiser at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival. During his career as an educator Paton spent time in the south of England where he made connections with both d’Inverno and Woods and also with Fisher. The drummer has also made the move to Wales and for a number of years organised jazz events in the Torfaen / Pontypool area under the Jazz MF banner.

As Lynne Gornall put it this was a band that was put together because the Jazz Club had wanted to feature several of the individuals involved as leaders of their own bands but had insufficient space in the monthly club event calendar to do so. Thus with Paton acting as facilitator they put them all together as one star group. Both d’Inverno and Woods are leaders of their own groups and once the front line musicians were on board it was decided to add the Wales based rhythm section of Fisher and Long. Woods and Robinson had never met with Long and Fisher before this evening but thanks to that shared jazz language the one off sextet gelled remarkably quickly and effectively.

Besides his work as a jazz musician d’Inverno has also enjoyed an academic career of some distinction and at one time held a post as Professor of Quantum Relativity at Southampton University. In his role as co-leader he kicked off the evening with a version of the standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, performed in the piano trio format with the help of Fisher and Long. d’Inverno took the first solo on his Yamaha electric keyboard, deploying an acoustic piano setting for the whole of the evening. Long, a Brecon regular and a great audience favourite also gave us a reminder of his formidable skills as a bass soloist. The piece concluded with a series of lively exchanges between d’Inverno on piano and the ebullient Fisher at the drums.

The line up was extended to a quintet with the addition of Woods on alto saxophone and Paton on french horn for an arrangement of another jazz standard, “My Beautiful Love”. Paton is one of a handful of musicians who has the ability to make the french horn a convincing instrument for jazz soloing – others include the UK’s Jim Rattigan and the Americans John Clark and Vincent Chancey.
He took the first solo here, improvising with great fluency, the tone of the instrument pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone. Woods followed, similarly assured and fluent and adopting a warm, almost tenor like, sound on his alto. Elsewhere the rarely heard combination of these two horns was both beguiling and effective. d’Inverno also featured as a soloist, his playing ripe with wit and invention.

Long’s double bass introduced the next piece, which saw vocalist Nette Robinson replace Paton on the stage to deliver a sultry, but playful, version of the familiar standard “Pennies From Heaven”. Following the initial bass and vocal duet piano and drums were added to the equation as Robinson artfully stretched the vocal melody lines with the flexibility and confidence of the highly accomplished singer that she is. Instrumental solos came from Woods on alto and Long at the bass.

Life partners Woods and Robinson have been key figures in preserving the legacy of the late pianist, composer and lyricist Michael Garrick (1933-2011), a musician with whom both have collaborated. Following Garrick’s death the couple took on the leadership of the Lyric Ensemble, Garrick’s last creative project, with pianist Nikki Iles taking on Garrick’s role. From the Lyric Ensemble repertoire came Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, with a lyric by Garrick beautifully delivered by Robinson following d’Inverno’s limpid solo piano introduction.  Fittingly Woods was also featured as a soloist as he delivered a fluent and expressive statement on alto.

Robinson took over the announcing duties to introduce the standard “You Must Believe In Spring” in a ballad arrangement inspired by a version sung by Cleveland Watkiss. Woods moved to what I jotted down as bass clarinet, although on reflection it may have been alto clarinet, an instrument he has played on previous occasions. The lustrous, woody sounds that he produced were the perfect foil for Robinson’s warm, well enunciated vocals and d’Inverno’s lyrical piano soloing. A word too for Fisher’s sensitive and sympathetic brushed drum accompaniment. This was a performance that received a particularly rapturous reception from a pleasingly large audience that included a sprinkling of regulars from the nearby Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny.

An excellent first half concluded with an appropriately sassy take on Steve Swallow’s composition “Ladies in Mercedes”, a tune introduced to the pianist by bassist Peter Maxwell, once of the Andy Sheppard band. Sheppard has worked extensively with Swallow and Carla Bley, hence that particular series of connections. Robinson was clearly enjoying herself as she delivered Norma Winstone’s witty lyrics in suitably coquettish fashion, her singing interspersed with solos from Woods, surprisingly powerful on alto, and d’Inverno, with Fisher also weighing in with a dynamic drum feature. Also of note were the dazzling scat vocal and alto sax exchanges between Robinson and Woods. In a neat touch d’Inverno dedicated the song, with its Brazilian inspired rhythms, to the memory of the recently deceased Joao Gilberto.

The flyers for tonight’s gig had promised a mix of standards and originals and a shorter second set commenced with d’Inverno’s “Bopping Up The A27”, a tune written many years ago as part of the “Roadway Suite”,  a commission from Hastings Jazz Festival. Performed in a quartet format this proved to be a suitably bebop flavoured tune and the perfect vehicle for Woods to release his inner Charlie Parker, driven on by Long’s propulsive bass and Fisher’s crisp, hard hitting drumming. With something of the feel of a bebop standard about it the tune also contained solos from d’Inverno and Long plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Fisher.

The quartet were joined by Robinson and Paton for the song “Alice in Wonderland”, written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the 1951 animated Disney film but which has since become a jazz standard. Robinson’s eloquent reading of the lyrics was complemented by similarly erudite instrumental statements from Paton on french horn and Woods on soprano sax.

Similarly lovely was the ballad “Turn Out The Stars” with music written by the late, great pianist Bill Evans and a later lyric penned by Michael Garrick. Garrick’s love of poetry is expressed in his words, beautifully sung here by Robinson with sensitive accompaniment coming from d’Inverno, Long and Fisher in yet another new instrumental configuration. The instrumental solo came from d’Inverno at his most lyrical.

MJQ pianist and composer John Lewis’ “20 East 30 West” was played as a blues with Paton demonstrating that the blues can authentically be played on the french horn as he delivered a stunning and totally convincing solo. Also featured were Woods on alto plus Long and Fisher on bass and drums respectively.

Paton also soloed on an uncharacteristically hard driving arrangement of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes”, a treatment that fellow soloist d’Inverno later described as “rock”. Also featured was Woods on alto sax.

Robinson returned to the stage for the closing number, an arrangement of multi-reed player Jerome Richardson’s composition “Groove Merchant” with vocalese lyrics by singer Jon Hendricks. d’Inverno had actually worked with Richardson and this connection helped to inspire his most exuberant playing of the evening as he traded solos with a similarly powerful and effusive Woods on alto.

Even the end of an excellent show it was still difficult to ascribe the leadership of this stellar sextet. d’Inverno and Paton shared most of the talking but Woods and Robinson had brought their Garrick inspired material along to form a key part of the performance. This may largely have been a ‘standards’ performance but it was one with a difference with all six musicians rising to the occasion and making excellent contributions. The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable and offered a good mix of styles and tempi throughout.

My thanks to Tony Woods, Nette Robinson and Ray d’Inverno for speaking with me at length and to old friends Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher for saying ‘hello’ too.

Woods is currently on tour with his five piece folk jazz Project featuring guitarist Mike Outram, vibraphonist Rob Millett, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Milo Fell. The Tony Woods Project have recorded a total of four albums  “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004), Wind Shadows” (2009) and “Hidden Fires” (2017). The two most recent recordings are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Their recent performance at the Sound Cellar in Poole has been recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and will be transmitted at 11.00 pm on Monday 22nd July. This is an excellent band playing Tony’s original material, catch them if you can.

In the meantime tonight’s event represented a great curtain raiser for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival on 9th, 10th and 11th August 2019.


COMMENTS:

From Martin Fisher via Facebook;

Hi Ian, lovely review of the Brecon gig, many thanks.                                           
Martin.

Snarky Puppy - Immigrance Rating: 4 out of 5 “Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove.

Snarky Puppy

“Immigrance”

(GroundUP Music)

It has become a source of great regret to me that several years ago I passed up the opportunity of covering the then unknown Snarky Puppy at one of their earliest UK shows at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Since then the international collective led by bassist and composer Michael League have become global stars, building an enormous following via the old fashioned virtues of hard work and almost constant gigging. Theirs is a success that, rather like their music, transcends conventional generic descriptions. Rather like Pat Metheny and e.s.t Snarky Puppy have achieved their superstar status via word of mouth, their exciting stage shows becoming the stuff of legend and holding equal appeal to jazz and rock audiences alike.

They now play leading rock venues and concert halls rather than pubs and the currently ongoing tour in support of current album “Immigrance” sees them ‘on the road’ for most of the year, from April to the end of November, as they criss-cross the globe playing dates in North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe, including the short series of UK shows listed at the end of this review.

I still haven’t got to see them (this year, perhaps?) as their appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival a couple of years ago was officially sold out and a press ticket wasn’t available. Occasional guest contributor Mark Albini was more fortunate and caught up with the band at London’s Eventim Apollo,  still better known as the Hammersmith Odeon, in October 2015. Mark’s brief, but highly enthusiastic, review of that performance appears elsewhere on this site and neatly encapsulates the energy and excitement of a Snarky Puppy live show. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/snarky-puppy-eventim-apollo-hammersmith-london-06-10-2015/

Founded by League in 2003 at the University of North Texas in Denton Snarky Puppy has developed its sound over the course of a dozen albums, steadily accruing members along the way, first from New York and other parts of the US and then from the rest of the world. British born keyboard player and composer Bill Laurance, also a successful solo artist in his own right, has been a linchpin of the band for a number of years, and the group, which now numbers some nineteen players, contains musicians hailing from the US, the UK, Canada, Argentina and Japan.

Snarky Puppy is now a truly global co-operative and it’s that spirit of internationalism that informs the title of their latest recording “Immigrance” as League explains;
“The band itself is a representation of what we’re trying to express musically, that people from different places can bring their various strengths and experiences, and how that can be beautiful and cohesive. The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving, and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration. Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones”.

Several of Snarky Puppy’s previous albums have been recorded live but “Immigrance”, like its predecessor “Culcha Vulcha” (2016), is a studio creation featuring the same pool of musicians. This latest album features eight new original compositions by members of the band, many of them adopting a darker tone than previously, a reflection of these troubled times.

For this recording Snarky Puppy lines up as follows;

Michael League – electric bass, oud

Bob Lanzetti, Chris McQueen, Mark Lettieri – guitars

Bill Laurance, Justin Stanton, Bobby Sparks, Shaun Martin – keyboards

Mike ‘Maz’ Maher, Jay Jennings – trumpets & flugels

Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds – reeds

Zach Brock – violin

Jason Thomas, Larnell Lewis, Jamison Ross – drums

Nate Werth, Keita Ogawa, Marcelo Woloski – percussion

Snarky Puppy don’t like to be thought of as a ‘fusion’ band but in many respects that’s exactly what they are, drawing together elements of jazz, rock, funk, soul and world music. They pack a mighty rhythmic punch courtesy of League’s bass allied to the two triple alliances of drummers and percussionists. With the impressive array of vintage keyboards on show there are links back to the original fusion era of the 70s and 80s and there’s also plenty of turbo-charged electric guitar from the three axe men in the band’s ranks. With strings, brass and reeds providing extra colour and texture and more it’s not surprising that Snarky Puppy make a big noise, even though they are nothing like a big band in the conventional sense. I like to think of them as updating the fusion tradition for the 21st century, with the emphasis on collective endeavour rather than individual grandstanding.

The group’s virtues are embodied in League’s rousing opener “Chonks”, with its mighty funk grooves, punchy horns and exotic keyboard sounds allied to fiery solos from guitarist Mark Lettieri and keyboard player Bobby Sparks on dirty sounding, funky clavinet.

Also by League “Bigly Strictness” is less obviously ‘in your face’ but still packs plenty of punch. The presence of a battery of North African percussion instruments gives an exotic feel to the music and there are inventive solos from Maher on trumpet and Stanton on a Moog Prodigy synth. There’s also a molten electric guitar solo although none of the three guitarists is singled out in the album credits.

Guitarist Chris McQueen takes over the compositional reins for “Coven”,  a more atmospheric offering that commences with the spooky sounds of keyboards, reeds and brass before expanding into more conventional groove driven territory. A colourful, richly textured arrangement that makes effective use of the group’s arsenal of keyboards ensures that an exotic, other worldly feel remains throughout, even in the most energetic moments. Martin, on keyboards, and the composer on guitar feature as the soloists here.

“Bling Bling” is written by multi-reed player Chris Bullock and features the composer on a variety of saxes and flutes in an arrangement that combines retro funk grooves and keyboard sounds with more abstract and unsettling stop/start passages with the drummers and percussionists playing key roles. No individual soloists are credited in what is essentially a highly accomplished ensemble performance.

Leader League takes over again for “Xavi”, one of the album’s stand out tracks with its percolating rhythms and imaginative horn arrangements. The latter make effective use of Bullock’s array of flutes to give the music an exotic North African feel, something encouraged by the deployment of an array of Moroccan percussion instruments. The overall effect is of the theme tune to a US cop show moved to North Africa, and incongruous though that idea might seem it makes for highly exciting listening with Laurance on piano, Sparks on mini-moog and Brock on violin weighing in with thrilling solos alongside percussionist Keita Ogawa.

Trumpeter Maher’s “While We’re Young” teams earthy funk and hip hop grooves with wispy Miles-ian trumpet and swirling keyboards on the album’s shortest track,  a brief but atmospheric cameo.

Justin Stanton’s provocatively titled “Bad Kids To The Back” is a snarling piece of old style funk that harks back to the group’s earlier days. Snappy funk grooves combine with choppy guitars, swaggering horns and Sparks’  growling Hammond to provide a seemingly unstoppable momentum. A rhythmic sidestep, something of a trademark in this triple drummer line up, provides the opening for tenor sax specialist Reynolds’ incisive solo. There’s also something of a feature for the drum and percussion sections too.

Written by League the closing “Even Us” is the most overt and profound statement of the group’s internationalism. Eschewing the trademark funk grooves this is a thoughtful, often lyrical, piece that features League playing a prominent role on oud while Lanzetti is featured on electric sitar. Brock’s violin and the use of Turkish percussion instruments also help to give the piece an authentically Middle Eastern feel. Laurance’s acoustic piano plays a key part in the arrangement while the featured soloist is Jennings on flugel, whose evocative playing fits into the Middle Eastern aesthetic perfectly.

I’m still fairly new to Snarky Puppy’s music but to these ears “Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove. These richly layered and subtly detailed performances retain the listeners attention while maintaining the levels of excitement that have come to be associated with Snarky Puppy. It’s fusion with a level of intelligence that recalls Weather Report at their best.

This is the sound of a mature dog, I won’t say old,  learning new tricks, but doing so without losing any of its bite.

No doubt these tune will take on new characteristics during the many live outings they will receive during 2019. I hope to finally catch up with Snarky Puppy at one of the British dates listed below;

06/07/2019 – Love Supreme Festival, Glynde, Sussex

06/11/2019 - Bournemouth - O2 Academy

07/11/2019 - Nottingham - Rock City

08/11/2019 - Bristol - O2 Academy

09/11/2019 - Oxford - O2 Academy

11/11/2019 – Ulster Hall - Belfast

12/11/2019 - Olympia, Dublin, Ireland

14/11/2019 - Royal Albert Hall, London

15/11/2019 - O2 Apollo, Manchester

16/11/2019 - Barrowlands, Glasgow

For ticket details please visit http://www.snarkypuppy.com

Immigrance

Snarky Puppy

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Immigrance

“Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove.

Snarky Puppy

“Immigrance”

(GroundUP Music)

It has become a source of great regret to me that several years ago I passed up the opportunity of covering the then unknown Snarky Puppy at one of their earliest UK shows at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Since then the international collective led by bassist and composer Michael League have become global stars, building an enormous following via the old fashioned virtues of hard work and almost constant gigging. Theirs is a success that, rather like their music, transcends conventional generic descriptions. Rather like Pat Metheny and e.s.t Snarky Puppy have achieved their superstar status via word of mouth, their exciting stage shows becoming the stuff of legend and holding equal appeal to jazz and rock audiences alike.

They now play leading rock venues and concert halls rather than pubs and the currently ongoing tour in support of current album “Immigrance” sees them ‘on the road’ for most of the year, from April to the end of November, as they criss-cross the globe playing dates in North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe, including the short series of UK shows listed at the end of this review.

I still haven’t got to see them (this year, perhaps?) as their appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival a couple of years ago was officially sold out and a press ticket wasn’t available. Occasional guest contributor Mark Albini was more fortunate and caught up with the band at London’s Eventim Apollo,  still better known as the Hammersmith Odeon, in October 2015. Mark’s brief, but highly enthusiastic, review of that performance appears elsewhere on this site and neatly encapsulates the energy and excitement of a Snarky Puppy live show. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/snarky-puppy-eventim-apollo-hammersmith-london-06-10-2015/

Founded by League in 2003 at the University of North Texas in Denton Snarky Puppy has developed its sound over the course of a dozen albums, steadily accruing members along the way, first from New York and other parts of the US and then from the rest of the world. British born keyboard player and composer Bill Laurance, also a successful solo artist in his own right, has been a linchpin of the band for a number of years, and the group, which now numbers some nineteen players, contains musicians hailing from the US, the UK, Canada, Argentina and Japan.

Snarky Puppy is now a truly global co-operative and it’s that spirit of internationalism that informs the title of their latest recording “Immigrance” as League explains;
“The band itself is a representation of what we’re trying to express musically, that people from different places can bring their various strengths and experiences, and how that can be beautiful and cohesive. The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving, and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration. Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones”.

Several of Snarky Puppy’s previous albums have been recorded live but “Immigrance”, like its predecessor “Culcha Vulcha” (2016), is a studio creation featuring the same pool of musicians. This latest album features eight new original compositions by members of the band, many of them adopting a darker tone than previously, a reflection of these troubled times.

For this recording Snarky Puppy lines up as follows;

Michael League – electric bass, oud

Bob Lanzetti, Chris McQueen, Mark Lettieri – guitars

Bill Laurance, Justin Stanton, Bobby Sparks, Shaun Martin – keyboards

Mike ‘Maz’ Maher, Jay Jennings – trumpets & flugels

Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds – reeds

Zach Brock – violin

Jason Thomas, Larnell Lewis, Jamison Ross – drums

Nate Werth, Keita Ogawa, Marcelo Woloski – percussion

Snarky Puppy don’t like to be thought of as a ‘fusion’ band but in many respects that’s exactly what they are, drawing together elements of jazz, rock, funk, soul and world music. They pack a mighty rhythmic punch courtesy of League’s bass allied to the two triple alliances of drummers and percussionists. With the impressive array of vintage keyboards on show there are links back to the original fusion era of the 70s and 80s and there’s also plenty of turbo-charged electric guitar from the three axe men in the band’s ranks. With strings, brass and reeds providing extra colour and texture and more it’s not surprising that Snarky Puppy make a big noise, even though they are nothing like a big band in the conventional sense. I like to think of them as updating the fusion tradition for the 21st century, with the emphasis on collective endeavour rather than individual grandstanding.

The group’s virtues are embodied in League’s rousing opener “Chonks”, with its mighty funk grooves, punchy horns and exotic keyboard sounds allied to fiery solos from guitarist Mark Lettieri and keyboard player Bobby Sparks on dirty sounding, funky clavinet.

Also by League “Bigly Strictness” is less obviously ‘in your face’ but still packs plenty of punch. The presence of a battery of North African percussion instruments gives an exotic feel to the music and there are inventive solos from Maher on trumpet and Stanton on a Moog Prodigy synth. There’s also a molten electric guitar solo although none of the three guitarists is singled out in the album credits.

Guitarist Chris McQueen takes over the compositional reins for “Coven”,  a more atmospheric offering that commences with the spooky sounds of keyboards, reeds and brass before expanding into more conventional groove driven territory. A colourful, richly textured arrangement that makes effective use of the group’s arsenal of keyboards ensures that an exotic, other worldly feel remains throughout, even in the most energetic moments. Martin, on keyboards, and the composer on guitar feature as the soloists here.

“Bling Bling” is written by multi-reed player Chris Bullock and features the composer on a variety of saxes and flutes in an arrangement that combines retro funk grooves and keyboard sounds with more abstract and unsettling stop/start passages with the drummers and percussionists playing key roles. No individual soloists are credited in what is essentially a highly accomplished ensemble performance.

Leader League takes over again for “Xavi”, one of the album’s stand out tracks with its percolating rhythms and imaginative horn arrangements. The latter make effective use of Bullock’s array of flutes to give the music an exotic North African feel, something encouraged by the deployment of an array of Moroccan percussion instruments. The overall effect is of the theme tune to a US cop show moved to North Africa, and incongruous though that idea might seem it makes for highly exciting listening with Laurance on piano, Sparks on mini-moog and Brock on violin weighing in with thrilling solos alongside percussionist Keita Ogawa.

Trumpeter Maher’s “While We’re Young” teams earthy funk and hip hop grooves with wispy Miles-ian trumpet and swirling keyboards on the album’s shortest track,  a brief but atmospheric cameo.

Justin Stanton’s provocatively titled “Bad Kids To The Back” is a snarling piece of old style funk that harks back to the group’s earlier days. Snappy funk grooves combine with choppy guitars, swaggering horns and Sparks’  growling Hammond to provide a seemingly unstoppable momentum. A rhythmic sidestep, something of a trademark in this triple drummer line up, provides the opening for tenor sax specialist Reynolds’ incisive solo. There’s also something of a feature for the drum and percussion sections too.

Written by League the closing “Even Us” is the most overt and profound statement of the group’s internationalism. Eschewing the trademark funk grooves this is a thoughtful, often lyrical, piece that features League playing a prominent role on oud while Lanzetti is featured on electric sitar. Brock’s violin and the use of Turkish percussion instruments also help to give the piece an authentically Middle Eastern feel. Laurance’s acoustic piano plays a key part in the arrangement while the featured soloist is Jennings on flugel, whose evocative playing fits into the Middle Eastern aesthetic perfectly.

I’m still fairly new to Snarky Puppy’s music but to these ears “Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove. These richly layered and subtly detailed performances retain the listeners attention while maintaining the levels of excitement that have come to be associated with Snarky Puppy. It’s fusion with a level of intelligence that recalls Weather Report at their best.

This is the sound of a mature dog, I won’t say old,  learning new tricks, but doing so without losing any of its bite.

No doubt these tune will take on new characteristics during the many live outings they will receive during 2019. I hope to finally catch up with Snarky Puppy at one of the British dates listed below;

06/07/2019 – Love Supreme Festival, Glynde, Sussex

06/11/2019 - Bournemouth - O2 Academy

07/11/2019 - Nottingham - Rock City

08/11/2019 - Bristol - O2 Academy

09/11/2019 - Oxford - O2 Academy

11/11/2019 – Ulster Hall - Belfast

12/11/2019 - Olympia, Dublin, Ireland

14/11/2019 - Royal Albert Hall, London

15/11/2019 - O2 Apollo, Manchester

16/11/2019 - Barrowlands, Glasgow

For ticket details please visit http://www.snarkypuppy.com

Bunker - Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian reports on a day of events hosted by Black Mountain Jazz as part of Abergavenny Arts Festival, including a new "Jazz Through The Ages" exhibition & a live performance by jazz-funk sextet Bunker.

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.


Joe Northwood – tenor sax, Jose Miguel Ruiz – keyboard, Chris James – guitar, Matt Thomas – electric bass, Simon Stuart – drums, Chris Stuart – percussion


Tonight’s performance by the Cardiff based jazz-funk sextet Bunker was part of a full day of events organised by Black Mountain Jazz at the Melville Centre as part of the 2019 Abergavenny Arts Festival.

Earlier in the day vocalist Naomi Rae had hosted a ‘Jazz for Little ‘uns’ session designed to introduce the joy of the music for two to four year olds, the third time BMJ had hosted organised such an event.

This was followed by a Jazz Improvisation Workshop run by the Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones, a regular and popular visitor to BMJ whether leading his own ensembles or playing as a sideman in the groups of others. The workshop was aimed at adult musicians in the early or intermediate stages of learning to improvise in a jazz context and was gratifyingly well attended.

Another important feature of the day was the unveiling of BMJ’s new Jazz Through The Ages Exhibition. The following extract culled from the Club’s website explains something about it;

“Here at BMJ we have created a dazzling series of ‘pop-up-posters’ telling the story of jazz. The thirteen posters – each around 3ft wide and 7ft high- can be easily unfurled and transported, so will feature at other events to signal BMJ’s presence. Jazz is an ongoing and developing music, but like all creative endeavours, it’s history is important, not least for those who are new to it and wish to learn more.”

The exhibition was the brainchild of BMJ founder and promoter Mike Skilton, who sourced much of the material. The banners were created by Abergavenny based graphic designer Jayne Goodwin and her company Art Matters and the text written by former newspaper journalist and current Jazz Journal contributor Nigel Jarrett, who lives locally and is a regular attender of BMJ events.

The new exhibition was available for perusal prior to the Bunker performance and made for impressive viewing. The panels chart the history of jazz from its late 19th century roots in New Orleans and in the blues to the present day. Skilton’s archive material, Goodwin’s clean, economical graphic design, and Jarrett’s succinct text combine to chart the history of jazz. Each poster focusses on a specific musical style or geographical location and features a photograph and words singling out a particularly significant musician associated with that place or musical style.

The history begins in New Orleans with Buddy Bolden and the blues of the Mississippi Delta with Bessie Smith. The next poster follows the migration of the music up the Mississippi with New Orleans born Louis Armstrong making the move to the ‘Windy City’ to pioneer what became known as the ‘Chicago Style’ of jazz. The music also made its mark in sophisticated New York City with Duke Ellington and reached its popularity during the ‘swing era’ of the 1930s and 40s, as illustrated by the ‘King of Swing’ Benny Goodman.

Charlie Parker is chosen to illustrate the bebop revolution while its offshoots of New York based hard bop and West Coast cool jazz are represented by Art Blakey and Gerry Mulligan respectively.

The ‘free jazz’ movement of the 1960s is represented by the radical saxophonist/violinist Ornette Coleman while the iconic, chameleon like Miles Davis is chosen to illustrate the development of modal jazz and jazz-rock fusion.

So far, so American but jazz has become a global music with a particularly strong tradition in Europe where the music has been played and appreciated since the 1920s. Out of many candidates the pioneering gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt has been selected to illustrate the history of jazz in Europe.

The penultimate panel looks at the music in the 21st century and looks toward the future, with bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding chosen depict the growing diversity of the musicians now playing jazz.

The final panel is a quirky glossary of some of the words associated with the music, an insight into the ‘jargon of jazz’ if you will.

The “Jazz Through The Ages” exhibition is an excellent introduction to the story of jazz and should prove to be an excellent investment for BMJ. Professionally produced to a very high standard of design it represents an excellent educational aid and the simplicity and portability of its design and manufacture should ensure that it is widely used. I assume that it will make a re-appearance at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in late August/ early September but it would also make an excellent temporary exhibition in local schools and libraries.

Tonight’s performance by Bunker saw the band playing surrounded by the posters of the exhibition, a highly effective backdrop as can be seen in the photographic image accompanying this review.

Bunker are a six piece jazz-funk band based in Cardiff. Named after the famous Bunker recording studio in Brooklyn the sextet claims to be leaderless but is fronted by the tenor saxophone of Joe Northwood.

Originally from Shrewsbury Northwood has been based in Cardiff for a number of years following his studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. A leading figure on the music scene in the Welsh capital he leads his own groups, including the acclaimed trio Tuk Tuk, featuring bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Paolo Adamo.

Northwood is also a great organiser, a real mover and shaker on the Cardiff jazz scene who promotes regular jazz events at Tiny Rebel Brewery’s flagship pub in Cardiff under the Echo Music banner. He also organises the regular Banshee Therapy Session jam nights at the Flute & Tankard.

Bunker brings Northwood together with a number of Cardiff’s other leading musicians in a sextet that covers all aspects and eras of the jazz-funk era. It’s a band that puts the emphasis on the groove and on having a good time and their repertoire includes a number of genre classics, some of them written by some very famous musicians. Bunker don’t try to compete, there is no emphasis on original material, but the group’s honest, no nonsense approach gives them a broad appeal, and not just to jazz audiences. They have accrued something of a cult following in South Wales and enjoy a residency at the Harbour Bar & Kitchen in Porthcawl and recently played the Swansea Waterfront Jazz & Blues Weekend.

Tonight saw them kicking off with the Herbie Hancock classic “Canteloupe Island”, a much loved tune that proved to be ideal vehicle for Northwood’s muscular tenor sax soloing above the infectious grooves generated by bassist Matt Thomas, drummer Simon Stuart and percussionist Chris Stuart, these last two presumably brothers, although I didn’t actually ask. Northwood was followed by keyboardist Jose Miguel Ruiz, who deployed an acoustic piano sound on his Nord Stage 2EX keyboard. It was my first sighting of Ruiz and I was highly impressed with the quality of his playing as he coaxed a wide range of sounds out of his keyboards and soloed with considerable flair and great authority. The final solo on this opening number came from guitarist Chris James, who brought a welcome blues element to the sextet’s music.

Bunker upped the funk quotient on US keyboard player Jeff Lorber’s “Tune 88” with a more overt funk groove accompanying the solos from Northwood on tenor, James on guitar and Ruiz on keyboard, this time delivering a combination of electric piano and synthesiser sounds.

“Chick’s Chums”, written by Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin and presumably named for Chick Corea, kept the funk cauldron bubbling as Northwood shared the solos with Ruiz, the latter again adopting a classic electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound.

Bunker seem to have a particular fondness for Lorber’s music and his “C.M.H”, the abbreviation standing for “Chinese Medical Herbs”, maintained the energy levels with solos from James on guitar, Northwood on tenor and Ruiz on ‘Rhodes’.

Funk legend Pee Wee Ellis once played saxophone with James Brown but is now happily settled in the English West Country where he works regularly with musicians on the Bristol music scene. Northwood described Ellis’ composition “The Chicken” as “a crowd pleaser” and this classic of the funk genre featured a bass heavy groove and a Stevie Wonder clavinet style keyboard sound as Bunker strutted their way through the piece. Northwood delivered a rousing tenor sax solo before Ruiz switched to a Hammond organ sound on his keyboards to produce one of the most outstanding solos of the night.

Bunker paid tribute to the recently deceased US trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) with a version of his “Strasbourg St. Denis”, arguably Hargrove’s best known tune. This lowered the temperature a little with its softer, soul jazz sound with Ruiz returning to an acoustic piano setting as he shared the solos with James and Northwood.

A highly enjoyable first set concluded with “Bounce”, written by the American drummer, composer and bandleader Nate Smith. This brought an earthy, urban feel to the proceedings, something encouraged by Ruiz’s use of the clavinet sound once more as Northwood soloed on gutsy tenor sax.

After imbibing refreshments at the Melville Centre bar during the interval Bunker seemed to be even more fired up for the second set. A storming version of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” got things off to a rousing start with Ruiz, on ‘electric piano’, sharing the solos with James and Northwood.

Next up was a hugely enjoyable instrumental take on the Steely Dan song “Peg”, sourced from the classic “Aja” album. This was very much a feature for Northwood who played the vocal melody line on tenor as well as acting as the principal instrumental soloist. Perhaps wisely James declined to try replicating Jay Graydon’s notoriously difficult guitar solo from the album recording.

It seemed to be classics all the way in this second set as drummer Billy Cobham’s fusion masterpiece “Red Baron” followed with Ruiz effecting a synth sound for his solo, followed by James on heavily distorted, rock influenced guitar and finally Northwood on tenor.

Chick Corea’s “Spain” brought some of the other players into the spotlight. Northwood’s opening tenor solo was followed by an extraordinarily fast and fluent bass feature from Harris that elicited one of the biggest cheers of the night, with guitarist James capturing the moment on his camera phone. Ruiz featured on ‘acoustic piano’ while percussionist Chris Stuart, an integral figure in the arrangements throughout, also cut loose on congas, bongos and numerous other percussive devices.

The old Average White Band hit “Pick Up The Pieces” encouraged at least one member of the audience to get to her feet and dance as Northwood delivered a blistering tenor solo above the choppy, infectious funk rhythms.

Less well known, but no less well received, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s “Wednesday” featured Ruiz on ‘acoustic piano’ and James on guitar as Northwood took a comparative ‘breather’ following his exertions on the AWB piece.

“Starchey”, by the Snarky Puppy offshoot Forq, brought the jazz-funk story up to date and proved to be something of a sonic juggernaut, headed by Northwood’s incisive tenor and with the saxophonist sharing the soloing with guitarist James.

The sextet’s arrangement of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” was effectively an encore and saw them subtly defusing the situation, closing things out on a slower, gentler note with drummer Chris Stuart picking up the brushes for the first and only time. Solos came from Northwood on tenor, Ruiz on electric piano and James on guitar, the latter bringing an appropriately bluesy feel to the music.

Bunker had delivered two hugely enjoyable and largely energetic sets of jazz funk with Northwood and Ruiz the outstanding soloists, ably supported by James and by a rhythm section that was commendably tight and genuinely funky. No doubt in other, less formal settings they get loads of people up and dancing but this listening, jazz club audience responded to them in a more cerebral way, genuinely appreciating the quality of the musicianship and giving them a great reception.

There may not have been anything startlingly original here but Bunker played their chosen material, many of the pieces being solid gold classics, with skill, verve and genuine affection. Their unpretentious, hard grooving approach communicated itself well to the audience and I, for one, would have no hesitation about going to see this band again. They haven’t been together for that long and will surely become even sharper and tighter as they continue to play together.

My thanks to Joe Northwood for speaking with me afterwards and providing details of some of the more obscure pieces in the Bunker repertoire.

A word too for Bath based Nick Steel, aka ‘The Wind-up Merchant’ who provided the musical backdrop to the Jazz Through The Ages exhibition and also entertained the crowd in the bar between Bunker’s sets with his vintage wind-up gramophones and collection of similarly vintage 78s. The material included classic jazz from the likes of Django Reinhardt and other musicians featured in the Exhibition to early rock’n’roll from artists such as Bill Haley during the break.

I rather enjoyed Steel’s contribution to BMJ’s ‘Day of Jazz’ at Abergavenny Arts Festival. It also brought back fond memories of the visit to the club by the similarly inclined Hugh Parry aka “The Sheik of Shellac” back in 2016 for a more extended presentation in the main house as part of a double bill with alto saxophonist Glen Manby’s quartet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-sheik-of-shellac-glen-manby-quartet-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre/

 

 

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.

Bunker

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Bunker surrounded by posters from the Jazz Through The Ages exhibition by Pam Mann.

Ian reports on a day of events hosted by Black Mountain Jazz as part of Abergavenny Arts Festival, including a new "Jazz Through The Ages" exhibition & a live performance by jazz-funk sextet Bunker.

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.


Joe Northwood – tenor sax, Jose Miguel Ruiz – keyboard, Chris James – guitar, Matt Thomas – electric bass, Simon Stuart – drums, Chris Stuart – percussion


Tonight’s performance by the Cardiff based jazz-funk sextet Bunker was part of a full day of events organised by Black Mountain Jazz at the Melville Centre as part of the 2019 Abergavenny Arts Festival.

Earlier in the day vocalist Naomi Rae had hosted a ‘Jazz for Little ‘uns’ session designed to introduce the joy of the music for two to four year olds, the third time BMJ had hosted organised such an event.

This was followed by a Jazz Improvisation Workshop run by the Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones, a regular and popular visitor to BMJ whether leading his own ensembles or playing as a sideman in the groups of others. The workshop was aimed at adult musicians in the early or intermediate stages of learning to improvise in a jazz context and was gratifyingly well attended.

Another important feature of the day was the unveiling of BMJ’s new Jazz Through The Ages Exhibition. The following extract culled from the Club’s website explains something about it;

“Here at BMJ we have created a dazzling series of ‘pop-up-posters’ telling the story of jazz. The thirteen posters – each around 3ft wide and 7ft high- can be easily unfurled and transported, so will feature at other events to signal BMJ’s presence. Jazz is an ongoing and developing music, but like all creative endeavours, it’s history is important, not least for those who are new to it and wish to learn more.”

The exhibition was the brainchild of BMJ founder and promoter Mike Skilton, who sourced much of the material. The banners were created by Abergavenny based graphic designer Jayne Goodwin and her company Art Matters and the text written by former newspaper journalist and current Jazz Journal contributor Nigel Jarrett, who lives locally and is a regular attender of BMJ events.

The new exhibition was available for perusal prior to the Bunker performance and made for impressive viewing. The panels chart the history of jazz from its late 19th century roots in New Orleans and in the blues to the present day. Skilton’s archive material, Goodwin’s clean, economical graphic design, and Jarrett’s succinct text combine to chart the history of jazz. Each poster focusses on a specific musical style or geographical location and features a photograph and words singling out a particularly significant musician associated with that place or musical style.

The history begins in New Orleans with Buddy Bolden and the blues of the Mississippi Delta with Bessie Smith. The next poster follows the migration of the music up the Mississippi with New Orleans born Louis Armstrong making the move to the ‘Windy City’ to pioneer what became known as the ‘Chicago Style’ of jazz. The music also made its mark in sophisticated New York City with Duke Ellington and reached its popularity during the ‘swing era’ of the 1930s and 40s, as illustrated by the ‘King of Swing’ Benny Goodman.

Charlie Parker is chosen to illustrate the bebop revolution while its offshoots of New York based hard bop and West Coast cool jazz are represented by Art Blakey and Gerry Mulligan respectively.

The ‘free jazz’ movement of the 1960s is represented by the radical saxophonist/violinist Ornette Coleman while the iconic, chameleon like Miles Davis is chosen to illustrate the development of modal jazz and jazz-rock fusion.

So far, so American but jazz has become a global music with a particularly strong tradition in Europe where the music has been played and appreciated since the 1920s. Out of many candidates the pioneering gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt has been selected to illustrate the history of jazz in Europe.

The penultimate panel looks at the music in the 21st century and looks toward the future, with bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding chosen depict the growing diversity of the musicians now playing jazz.

The final panel is a quirky glossary of some of the words associated with the music, an insight into the ‘jargon of jazz’ if you will.

The “Jazz Through The Ages” exhibition is an excellent introduction to the story of jazz and should prove to be an excellent investment for BMJ. Professionally produced to a very high standard of design it represents an excellent educational aid and the simplicity and portability of its design and manufacture should ensure that it is widely used. I assume that it will make a re-appearance at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in late August/ early September but it would also make an excellent temporary exhibition in local schools and libraries.

Tonight’s performance by Bunker saw the band playing surrounded by the posters of the exhibition, a highly effective backdrop as can be seen in the photographic image accompanying this review.

Bunker are a six piece jazz-funk band based in Cardiff. Named after the famous Bunker recording studio in Brooklyn the sextet claims to be leaderless but is fronted by the tenor saxophone of Joe Northwood.

Originally from Shrewsbury Northwood has been based in Cardiff for a number of years following his studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. A leading figure on the music scene in the Welsh capital he leads his own groups, including the acclaimed trio Tuk Tuk, featuring bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Paolo Adamo.

Northwood is also a great organiser, a real mover and shaker on the Cardiff jazz scene who promotes regular jazz events at Tiny Rebel Brewery’s flagship pub in Cardiff under the Echo Music banner. He also organises the regular Banshee Therapy Session jam nights at the Flute & Tankard.

Bunker brings Northwood together with a number of Cardiff’s other leading musicians in a sextet that covers all aspects and eras of the jazz-funk era. It’s a band that puts the emphasis on the groove and on having a good time and their repertoire includes a number of genre classics, some of them written by some very famous musicians. Bunker don’t try to compete, there is no emphasis on original material, but the group’s honest, no nonsense approach gives them a broad appeal, and not just to jazz audiences. They have accrued something of a cult following in South Wales and enjoy a residency at the Harbour Bar & Kitchen in Porthcawl and recently played the Swansea Waterfront Jazz & Blues Weekend.

Tonight saw them kicking off with the Herbie Hancock classic “Canteloupe Island”, a much loved tune that proved to be ideal vehicle for Northwood’s muscular tenor sax soloing above the infectious grooves generated by bassist Matt Thomas, drummer Simon Stuart and percussionist Chris Stuart, these last two presumably brothers, although I didn’t actually ask. Northwood was followed by keyboardist Jose Miguel Ruiz, who deployed an acoustic piano sound on his Nord Stage 2EX keyboard. It was my first sighting of Ruiz and I was highly impressed with the quality of his playing as he coaxed a wide range of sounds out of his keyboards and soloed with considerable flair and great authority. The final solo on this opening number came from guitarist Chris James, who brought a welcome blues element to the sextet’s music.

Bunker upped the funk quotient on US keyboard player Jeff Lorber’s “Tune 88” with a more overt funk groove accompanying the solos from Northwood on tenor, James on guitar and Ruiz on keyboard, this time delivering a combination of electric piano and synthesiser sounds.

“Chick’s Chums”, written by Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin and presumably named for Chick Corea, kept the funk cauldron bubbling as Northwood shared the solos with Ruiz, the latter again adopting a classic electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound.

Bunker seem to have a particular fondness for Lorber’s music and his “C.M.H”, the abbreviation standing for “Chinese Medical Herbs”, maintained the energy levels with solos from James on guitar, Northwood on tenor and Ruiz on ‘Rhodes’.

Funk legend Pee Wee Ellis once played saxophone with James Brown but is now happily settled in the English West Country where he works regularly with musicians on the Bristol music scene. Northwood described Ellis’ composition “The Chicken” as “a crowd pleaser” and this classic of the funk genre featured a bass heavy groove and a Stevie Wonder clavinet style keyboard sound as Bunker strutted their way through the piece. Northwood delivered a rousing tenor sax solo before Ruiz switched to a Hammond organ sound on his keyboards to produce one of the most outstanding solos of the night.

Bunker paid tribute to the recently deceased US trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) with a version of his “Strasbourg St. Denis”, arguably Hargrove’s best known tune. This lowered the temperature a little with its softer, soul jazz sound with Ruiz returning to an acoustic piano setting as he shared the solos with James and Northwood.

A highly enjoyable first set concluded with “Bounce”, written by the American drummer, composer and bandleader Nate Smith. This brought an earthy, urban feel to the proceedings, something encouraged by Ruiz’s use of the clavinet sound once more as Northwood soloed on gutsy tenor sax.

After imbibing refreshments at the Melville Centre bar during the interval Bunker seemed to be even more fired up for the second set. A storming version of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” got things off to a rousing start with Ruiz, on ‘electric piano’, sharing the solos with James and Northwood.

Next up was a hugely enjoyable instrumental take on the Steely Dan song “Peg”, sourced from the classic “Aja” album. This was very much a feature for Northwood who played the vocal melody line on tenor as well as acting as the principal instrumental soloist. Perhaps wisely James declined to try replicating Jay Graydon’s notoriously difficult guitar solo from the album recording.

It seemed to be classics all the way in this second set as drummer Billy Cobham’s fusion masterpiece “Red Baron” followed with Ruiz effecting a synth sound for his solo, followed by James on heavily distorted, rock influenced guitar and finally Northwood on tenor.

Chick Corea’s “Spain” brought some of the other players into the spotlight. Northwood’s opening tenor solo was followed by an extraordinarily fast and fluent bass feature from Harris that elicited one of the biggest cheers of the night, with guitarist James capturing the moment on his camera phone. Ruiz featured on ‘acoustic piano’ while percussionist Chris Stuart, an integral figure in the arrangements throughout, also cut loose on congas, bongos and numerous other percussive devices.

The old Average White Band hit “Pick Up The Pieces” encouraged at least one member of the audience to get to her feet and dance as Northwood delivered a blistering tenor solo above the choppy, infectious funk rhythms.

Less well known, but no less well received, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s “Wednesday” featured Ruiz on ‘acoustic piano’ and James on guitar as Northwood took a comparative ‘breather’ following his exertions on the AWB piece.

“Starchey”, by the Snarky Puppy offshoot Forq, brought the jazz-funk story up to date and proved to be something of a sonic juggernaut, headed by Northwood’s incisive tenor and with the saxophonist sharing the soloing with guitarist James.

The sextet’s arrangement of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” was effectively an encore and saw them subtly defusing the situation, closing things out on a slower, gentler note with drummer Chris Stuart picking up the brushes for the first and only time. Solos came from Northwood on tenor, Ruiz on electric piano and James on guitar, the latter bringing an appropriately bluesy feel to the music.

Bunker had delivered two hugely enjoyable and largely energetic sets of jazz funk with Northwood and Ruiz the outstanding soloists, ably supported by James and by a rhythm section that was commendably tight and genuinely funky. No doubt in other, less formal settings they get loads of people up and dancing but this listening, jazz club audience responded to them in a more cerebral way, genuinely appreciating the quality of the musicianship and giving them a great reception.

There may not have been anything startlingly original here but Bunker played their chosen material, many of the pieces being solid gold classics, with skill, verve and genuine affection. Their unpretentious, hard grooving approach communicated itself well to the audience and I, for one, would have no hesitation about going to see this band again. They haven’t been together for that long and will surely become even sharper and tighter as they continue to play together.

My thanks to Joe Northwood for speaking with me afterwards and providing details of some of the more obscure pieces in the Bunker repertoire.

A word too for Bath based Nick Steel, aka ‘The Wind-up Merchant’ who provided the musical backdrop to the Jazz Through The Ages exhibition and also entertained the crowd in the bar between Bunker’s sets with his vintage wind-up gramophones and collection of similarly vintage 78s. The material included classic jazz from the likes of Django Reinhardt and other musicians featured in the Exhibition to early rock’n’roll from artists such as Bill Haley during the break.

I rather enjoyed Steel’s contribution to BMJ’s ‘Day of Jazz’ at Abergavenny Arts Festival. It also brought back fond memories of the visit to the club by the similarly inclined Hugh Parry aka “The Sheik of Shellac” back in 2016 for a more extended presentation in the main house as part of a double bill with alto saxophonist Glen Manby’s quartet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-sheik-of-shellac-glen-manby-quartet-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre/

 

 

Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson - Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent evening of instrumental folk music. As part of a genuine double bill both acts delivered excellent sets of their own before teaming up for an engaging collaboration towards the close.

Owl Light Trio

Brackenbury & Neilson

Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019.


This double bill was presented as part of the “Folk at The Hermon” series at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry.

Curated by Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards the Hermon presents an eclectic programme of jazz, folk and world music events in addition to  live theatre, comedy, poetry slams, workshops and more. The former Welsh Congregational chapel represents an excellent performance space with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. Claudia has deployed her artistic skills to decorate the place in agreeably Bohemian fashion and the venue also boasts a well stocked bar.

When I first attended the venue back in 2017 for a performance by the guitar duo of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier the turnout was disappointingly low but since then the tireless efforts of Claudia and Barry have seen them developing an audience. My next visit to the Hermon at Easter 2018 saw around fifty people turning out for an excellent performance by those quirky Liverpudlian jazzers The Weave.

Claudia admits that attracting audiences for folk events has been easier than it has been for the jazz strand and this was reflected in tonight’s turn out of around seventy on the hottest night of the year to date. Virtually all of the downstairs seats were taken so we watched this event from the upstairs gallery. 

Oswestry is somewhat distant from my Herefordshire base so I haven’t visited the Hermon quite as often as I would have liked, despite my friendship with Claudia and Barry and despite the impressive roster of jazz and folk artists that they’ve hosted over the last couple of years.  This has included jazzers Gilad Atzmon,  Alan Barnes, Julian Costello and Maciek Pysz plus folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, now nationally known for performing the theme song to the BBC television series “Gentleman Jack”.

Turning to tonight’s show for which my interest had been piqued by the recent “Knife Angel” EP by violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury, an excellent recording made in the company of the leading jazz musicians Martin Speake (alto saxophone),  Alex Maguire (piano), Rob Luft (guitar), Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and Will Glaser (drums).  The work is a four movement suite lasting around half an hour in total and was inspired by the Knife Angel sculpture created by artist Alfie Bradley at the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry. I also enjoyed a conversation with Bradbury at the recent performance by the Rob Luft Band at The Hive in nearby Shrewsbury.
My review of the “Knife Angel” EP can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/faith-brackenbury-knifeangel/


Tonight’s double bill presented Brackenbury with her regular duo partner John Neilson (piano, accordion, concertina, bouzouki) in a shared bill with the Oxfordshire based Owl Light Trio. The previous evening the same two acts had performed at an Oxford venue with Brackenbury & Neilson opening for the Owl Light Trio. Tonight on Brackenbury & Neilson’s home turf it was the turn of the Oxfordshire trio to take to the stage first.


OWL LIGHT TRIO

Named after their 2017 début album “Owl Light” the trio consists of Jim Penny on concertina, Jane Griffiths on fiddle and viola and Colin Fletcher on acoustic guitar. Their repertoire includes traditional folk material arranged and adapted by the trio and is sourced from various folk traditions around the British Isles and beyond. Penny and Griffiths also write for the trio and the group also covers material by other contemporary composers working in the folk idiom.

The trio commenced with a Penny composition called “The Politician, the Lighthouse & the Trained Cormorant”, the curious title derived from an unfinished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This proved to be an energetic opener with the intertwining melody lines of Penny’s concertina and Griffiths’ fiddle given considerable rhythmic impetus by Fletcher’s rapidly strummed acoustic guitar, his chording giving his colleagues room to stretch and soar. Griffiths took the first real solo of the night and there was also a series of invigorating melodic exchanges between fiddle and concertina.

Tonight’s performance included a number of tunes not included on the trio’s début album. Presumably these are newer, as yet undocumented pieces that are likely to turn up on the next recording. From the tune titles I’d assume that the short set comprised of “Peel” (as in bells) and “Five Pints of Doom Bar” represented a couple of original compositions. This presented a gentler, more pastoral side of the trio with Fletcher adopting a more melodic, finger picking style on the guitar as Penny and Griffiths delivered longer, more languorous melody lines with the concertina sometimes providing an underlying drone beneath the fiddle. Elsewhere the interplay between Penny and Griffiths continued to impress, the combination of instruments proving to be very effective.

The segue that opens the album was to feature next. This teamed Penny’s “Centime in Space” with the Scottish fiddler Mike Vass’ s “Cavers of Kirkcudbright” on a segue featuring lilting fiddle melodies and cleanly picked acoustic guitar, with the second tune of the sequence bringing an increase of energy levels.

The trio dipped into the Swedish folk tradition for their next piece, the title of which they couldn’t actually pronounce. “We just call it ‘r r r’” said Penny, who handled the bulk of the announcements. Or was that ‘aa aa aa’ given the Swedish double vowel sound. Whatever, the music sounded good with the now familiar mix of concertina and fiddle underpinned by picked acoustic guitar. The concertina is an instrument that us jazz fans hardly ever see, even though its relative, the accordion, has made considerable headway in the jazz world in recent years thanks to Richard Galliano and others. I have to say that I was greatly impressed with Penny’s virtuosity on the instrument and by the way that he combined so effectively with Griffiths throughout the performance, whether dovetailing and intertwining, or exchanging melodic ideas.

Sourced from the “Owl Light” the traditional Irish tune “Lucy Farr’s” had a particularly beguiling melody and featured Griffiths on the deeper toned viola, giving the music a melancholic, but undeniably beautiful edge.

Owl Light Trio concluded their performance with the original tune “My Good Friend”, described by Penny as “an ode to friendship and conviviality”. This proved to be a suitably energetic and uplifting piece featuring lithe concertina melodies and dancing fiddle allied to taut, rhythmic, propulsive guitar strumming as the trio finished with a flourish, prompting an excellent reception from an appreciative Oswestry audience.

During the break I treated myself to a copy of Owl Light Trio’s début album and can confirm that it holds up very favourably in the home listening environment with engineers Richard Neuberg and the band’s own Colin Fletcher deserving credit for the quality of the recorded sound. It’s a little outside my usual listening zone, but that can sometimes be a good thing, and it’s none the worse for that.


BRACKENBURY & NEILSON

Faith Brackenbury and John Neilson have been working together as a duo since 2013. Both live in the Welsh Border area around Oswestry, Neilson in Wales and Brackenbury in England. The title of their début album, “Crossings” refers to the countless times the pair have crossed the border in order to play together. It also references the village of Rhydycroesau, one of the two locations in which the album was recorded, the place name meaning ‘ford of the crosses’ or ‘crossings’.


Brackenbury & Neilson differ from Owl Light Trio in that almost all of their material is original. They not only draw on the folk tradition but also dip into other musical genres as well, including jazz and contemporary classical music.  It’s this willingness to traverse musical boundaries that also serves to make “Crossings” a particularly appropriate album title.

All of their original material is jointly credited with most of the pieces beginning as free improvisations (very jazz!) before being, in the duo’s own words “knocked into shape”. The titles of many of the resultant tunes have names relating to locations specific or local to the performers, often with a story attached to them.

That said the performance began with a tune from the duo’s album prosaically titled “Fifteen”.
“The middle section of this piece is in alternating seven and eight time, which added together gives you the title” they explain. Featuring Neilson on the Hermon’s resident upright piano and Brackenbury on violin the piece was more contemporary in feel than the Owl Light’s material, embracing those jazz and classical elements alluded to above and occasionally nodding towards the avant garde. Like most of the duo’s music it was richly evocative and genuinely beautiful.

Neilson moved to piano accordion for another tune with a numerical title. The simply monikered “Number Six” was acknowledged as an example of a piece that had grown out of a spontaneous improvisation before undergoing further development. Neilson’s virtuosity on the accordion helped to give this item more of a conventional folk feel. This was one of the earliest pieces written by the duo and they no claim to have forgotten how it got its name. I found myself wondering whether the “Number Six” title is actually a reference to “The Prisoner” TV series starring Patrick McGoohan, which was famously filmed in the Italianate style Welsh tourist village of Portmeirion, developed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.

I’m on surer ground with regard to the influence behind “Echo’s Bones”, which Neilson informed was the title of a poem by Samuel Beckett. With Neilson returning to the piano this was a dramatic piece mixing folk and neo-classical influences with Brackenbury deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques. Rich in terms of both dynamic contrast and harmonic development this was a performance that transcended the apparent limits of the duo format as the pair delivered another absorbing and immersive performance.

The first ‘outside’ item came in the shape of the tune “Fingal”, written by the Swedish folk fiddler Ellika Frisell, once a member of the band Filarfolket. Frisell’s tune was sourced from her solo album “Tokpolska”. Featuring Neilson on piano accordion this was a lively tune with a true folk feel about it.

The “Crossings” album commences with the original tune “New Invention”,