by Ian Mann
March 13, 2020
An impressive statement from Canniere. The music sounds totally natural and organic, and is likely to appeal to adventurous rock and pop listeners as well as the regular jazz audience.
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4753)
Andre Canniere – trumpet, flugelhorn, Tori Freestone – tenor sax, Brigitte Beraha – vocals
Rick Simpson – piano, keyboards, Tom Farmer – bass, Andrew Bain – drums
“Ghost Days” is the fourth album as a leader by Andre Canniere, the Pennsylvania born, London based trumpeter and composer.
All of Canniere’s previous solo releases have appeared on the Whirlwind label, beginning with 2012’ s excellent “Forward Space”, then refining his all instrumental approach on the follow up “Coalescence” in 2014. Both of these albums are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.
Canniere’s writing on these first two recordings, and particularly on the début, made use of song like structures so it didn’t come as a total surprise when he introduced vocals and lyrics on his next release, 2016’s “The Darkening Blue”. The work was inspired by the poetry and writings of Rainer Maria Rilke and Charles Bukowski and the words were sung by vocalist Brigitte Beraha.
“The Darkening Blue” was recorded by an Anglo-American ensemble that included the talents of Canniere, Beraha and Freestone plus Ivo Neame on piano and keyboards, Whirlwind label owner Michael Janisch on bass and the American musician Ted Poor at the drums. A different line up featuring Bain on drums and John Turville on keys toured the material, with guest contributor Sean Wilkie reviewing a performance at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in October 2016. Sean’s account can be read here;
“Ghost Days” sees Canniere continuing his experiments with music and poetry and features a new all British sextet, several of whom are Whirlwind label stalwarts. The lyrics are provided by the contemporary poets / writers Rebecca Lynch and Malika Booker. Both wordsmiths are pictured on the album packaging, alongside photographs of the musicians, a fact that emphasises their importance in the creative process. Booker’s words are taken from her book “Pepper Seed”, published by Peepal Tree Press.
Six of the album’s seven tracks deploy lyrics with Booker and Lynch supplying three poems each. The poems were the staring point for each piece with Canniere composing all of the music, including the closing instrumental piece “Endure”. The words influence and shape the melody, rhythm, phrasing and overall mood of each composition. The music encompasses jazz, with Canniere acknowledging Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard as primary influences, plus contemporary rock and pop. These last two elements have been part of Canniere’s sound since “Forward Space” but are arguably more pronounced this time round.
Prior to moving to the UK in 2008 Canniere worked with North American jazz artists such as composer/ bandleaders Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and vocalists Becca Stephens and Kate McGarry, all of whom have influenced his subsequent solo work.
As a leading figure on the London jazz scene for a decade or more Canniere has been a key member of bands led by saxophonist Dee Byrne (Entropi), bassist Henrik Jensen (Followed by Thirteen) and guitarist Hannes Riepler. He has also worked with the large ensembles Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra and Overground Collective, the latter led by the Portuguese guitarist and composer Paulo Duis Duarte.
Turning now to the music on this new CD, which commences with “Suicides”, teaming Booker’s lyrics with Canniere’s highly rhythmic music, fuelled by the solid grooves of Farmer and Bain, the dirty, funky sounds of Simpson’s Rhodes and the brass and reed stabs of Canniere and Freestone. Beraha, always an adventurous and technically accomplished vocalist, soars above this vibrant backdrop, telling the tale of the ‘graveyard of ladybirds’ on Booker’s window sill. The piece includes a feature for Bain at the drums plus a spirited duel between the leader on trumpet and Freestone on tenor. An invigorating, and strangely uplifting, start, despite the apparent darkness of the subject matter.
“Colours” features the first lyric from Lynch on a piece that has been described as “punchy post rock” and which has invited comparisons with Radiohead. The overall band sound is again powerful and assertive with Bain’s rock influenced drumming really driving the band. Lynch’s enigmatic lyrics contain the phrase “ghost days”, from which the album takes its title. There’s even a chorus of sorts on a piece that owes much to rock and conventional song structures. The jazz content comes with Canniere’s trumpet solo, an effective amalgam of power, fluency and deep emotion.
Following the ferocity of the opening salvoes “Erasure” cools things down a little with Simpson moving to acoustic piano and Canniere moving between flugel and trumpet. The mood is generally more sombre and subdued, although hardly lacking in terms of dynamism. Beraha provides wordless vocals as well as speaking and singing Booker’s lyrics, her voice sometimes exploring the worlds of extended technique. This is a slow burner of a song that gradually gathers momentum before cutting loose in its closing stages as Canniere takes flight with a rousing solo, complemented by Beraha’s soaring wordless vocal and Bain’s driving rhythms.
“My Star” is perhaps the most conventional ‘song’ on the album with Beraha delivering Lynch’s lyrics in a fairly straight-ahead manner, backed by the band in subtle, unshowy fashion. Canniere delivers a fluent, lyrical, subtly blues tinged solo, followed immediately by Simpson on acoustic piano. The keyboard player also doubles effectively on organ on this track, adding extra depth, colour and texture to the arrangement.
Booker’s lyrics for “The Arrival” tell the tale of a father to be and his anxieties, while drawing parallels to the artistic creative process. The lines “preparing like a raw trumpeter, sketching abstract notes, creating jazz” must have appealed to Canniere and he responds with an elegant, muted solo, but ultimately it’s Freestone that steals the show with a powerful, visceral tenor solo that erupts out of the main body of the song.
Lynch’s final lyrical contribution comes on “One More Down”, the tale of a missing person written from the point of view of those that remain. Again the words are delivered fairly straight, but it’s still a commanding vocal performance from Beraha. The instrumental honours go to Simpson with an expansive and neatly constructed acoustic piano solo above an emphatic bass and drum groove.
Towards the close there’s another powerful passage of soaring trumpet from the leader, again buoyed by complementary vocals and vibrant rhythms.
The album concludes with the instrumental “Endure”, a piece that Canniere regards as a political statement. “The reason I called it ‘Endure’ is because that’s what we’re doing now, enduring and hoping that something better will come - something is around the corner that will change things”.
The trumpeter’s writing has always been informed by a political edge, as evidenced by some of the pieces on his first two, all instrumental recordings.
Introduced by Bain at the drums and featuring Simpson on acoustic piano “Endure” was recorded in a single take and unfolds in melodic fashion to deliver its message of hope, with the clarion call of Canniere’s trumpet to the fore.
“Ghost Days” represents an impressive statement from Canniere. It’s a more confident and assertive record than “The Darkening Blue” and neatly straddles the ground between jazz and more conventional songwriting. Canniere sees the music as jazz, as inspired by Miles and Freddie, but readily acknowledges the pop and rock elements.
The resultant blend could have sounded stiff and awkward but in the hands of these exceptional musicians the music sounds totally natural and organic, and is likely to appeal to adventurous rock and pop listeners as well as the regular jazz audience. The dates on the tour to promote the album largely take place in conventional jazz clubs but one can also imagine this music being well received in rock venues, with bands such as Acoustic Ladyland, GoGo Penguin and Slowly Rolling Camera coming to mind.
All the musicians perform superbly but it’s also Canniere’s writing that helps to make the music such a success. He responds brilliantly to words that are often enigmatic, but consistently poetic, and frequently open to several possible interpretations. Themes of loss, anxiety and disappointment feature consistently but the overall effect is strangely uplifting, thanks in no small part to the brilliance of the playing. I’m sometimes reminded of the music of Sarah Gillespie, another artist whose work combines powerful singing and poetic and literate lyrics with top level playing from musicians with genuine jazz chops.
It’s also fascinating to hear Beraha in a different setting to usual. Her often ethereal work as a solo artist and in groups like Babelfish and Solstice has frequently evoked comparisons with the great Norma Winstone but her singing here is more direct, powerful and assertive, demonstrating just how versatile a vocalist she is.
Canniere and his group will be touring the material in the UK in the coming months with dates as listed below;
22 April - Pizza Express, London
14 May - Soundcellar, Poole
24 May - Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
25 May - NQ Jazz, Manchester
26 May - Parrjazz, Liverpool
27 May - Lescar, Sheffield
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