by Ian Mann
October 19, 2015
A highly promising début from a major new talent.
(Edition Records EDN1062)
A former winner of the Kenny Wheeler Music Prize the young double bassist and composer Misha Mullov-Abbado is the son of the Russian classical violinist Viktoria Mullova and the late Italian conductor Claudio Abbado.
Despite his distinguished classical lineage Mullov-Abbado has opted to pursue a jazz career and has studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music in London where his double bass tutors included such well known jazz names as Jasper Hoiby, Tom Herbert, Michael Janisch and Jeremy Brown.
It was during his studies at the Academy that he formed the quintet which forms the core unit of musicians to be heard on this album with Matthew Herd on alto and soprano saxes, Tom Green on trombone, Jacob Collier on keyboards and percussion and Scott Chapman at the drums. Guests on the recording are James Davison on trumpet and flugelhorn, Nick Goodwin on guitar, Matthew Barley on cello and the leader’s mother, Viktoria Mullova, on violin.
Away from his quintet Mullov-Abbado has been a prolific sideman who has performed in bands led by saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, drummer Enzo Zirilli, vibraphonist Ralph Wyld and pianists Tom Millar and Liam Dunachie. He recently appeared on “Skyline”, the acclaimed début album by his group colleague Tom Green, a record that also features Chapman. Misha-Abbado also co-runs the Patchwork Orchestra, a new London based big band playing original compositions by some of the capital’s most promising young jazz musicians.
Meanwhile Mullov- Abbado has not totally forsaken the classical world. He is also an accomplished French horn player and has appeared on that instrument with a number of classical ensembles, particularly during his student days. He plays the horn on the album too. He has also written for the London based classical groups The Hermes Experiment and Sinfonia D’Amici and has had his Clarinet Concerto premièred in Cambridge by soloist Joseph Shiner. Meanwhile his skills as a jazz composer earned him the 2014 Dankworth Prize.
Co-produced by Julian Joseph “New Ansonia” brings the multifarious strands of Mullov-Abbado’s musical DNA together with its creator rationalising his contribution thus;
“Since before I was born I have been surrounded by an immense volume of music, I would practically not exist without it. Whether Bach, Byrd, Brahms or Basie, Igor Stravinsky or Stevie Wonder the influence of the music that I am playing or listening to gives me such joy when I’m writing my own pieces”.
He continues; “New Ansonia is a collection of songs written during the last two years that have seen the beginning of my life as a jazz bass player. Whilst writing these pieces I have set out to honour the things that are most important to me in music -melody, counterpoint and groove -and within these three to communicate the different sides of my personality from the sensitive and sentimental to the joyful and ecstatic to the eccentric and irregular”.
The album commences with the atmospheric “Circle Song” as the shimmer of percussion leads to an attractive bass led melody. There’s a kind of ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘world jazz’ feel here with the gentle patter of percussion underscoring the delicately intertwining sax and trombone melodies. Mullov-Abbado is the featured soloist and it’s immediately obvious that he’s a highly talented bass player with a rich, warm tone, a highly developed melodic sense and a high level of dexterity. Herd’s succinct sax solo is no less appealing and despite the slightly precious, chamber jazz atmosphere the piece still represents a good start.
“Lock, Stock & Shuffle” adopts a far more conventional jazz sound and swings impressively in a style that could have been lifted direct from a 1950s or 1960s Blue Note record. The leader’s bass in harness with Chapman’s drums really drives the band and elicits powerful solos from Herd on alto, Collier on bluesy piano before Chapman weighs in with an extended drum feature. Any doubts about this band’s ability to swing and groove are quickly dispelled.
Mullov-Abbado delights in wordplay as the title “Real Eyes Realise Real Lies” attests. However the music is a lot more serious than the title might suggest, a richly coloured and textured ensemble piece featuring some gorgeous horn voicings with guest James Davison adding to the lush sonic palette. Solos come from Collier on piano and the consistently impressive Green on trombone.
The word “Ansonia” is made up although Mullov-Abbado once lived in a house with a broadly similar name. “New Ansonia” was chosen as the title track for its uplifting qualities and its true that the piece boasts an attractive melody and an infectious groove that clearly stems from Mullov-Abbado’s love of Stevie Wonder. Davison is still on board and Nick Goodwin’s electric guitar also provides rhythmic impetus. Mullov-Abbado takes the first solo and again impresses mightily, he’s followed by Collier with a sparkling contribution on piano. Perhaps best known as a vocalist Collier’s contribution as a pianist throughout this album is little short of revelatory. Green, a more familiar property on trombone, also impresses.
Another piece of inspired wordplay occurs with the palindromic title of “Satan, Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas”. Again it’s a piece that is more serious than the title might suggest, a multi hued eight minute epic that passes through several phases including a richly textured ensemble introduction, an almost free jazz episode mid tune and a triumphal final section that incorporates Goodwin’s guitar among the soaring horns.
There are more free jazz moments on the rumbustious, densely written “Ode To King Michael” which also includes snippets of sampled voices and other sounds alongside the joyous whinnying of Herd’s soprano saxophone, the pounding of Collier’s piano and the clatter of Chapman’s drums.
Next we come to the sombre but beautiful “Heal Me On This Cloudy Day” which was written by Mullov-Abbado on the passing of his father Claudio Abbado and which was performed at Claudio’s funeral. Although Misha saw comparatively little of his father during his childhood the great conductor still provided him with a huge amount of musical inspiration. The tolling of a church bell can be heard among the melancholy horn and string textures with Viktoria Mullova featuring on violin, Matthew Barley on cello and Misha on French horn. Green plays a significant role on trombone and Chapman’s drum accompaniment is admirably sensitive.
The only ‘outside’ item on the album is an inventive but not totally successful re-working of the old Earth Wind & Fire tune “September”, another indication of Mullov-Abbado’s love of classic soul and funk. It begins on almost free jazz fashion with the sound of the leader’s bass but soon settles into a tightly written arrangement featuring punchy horns allied to odd meter grooves with both Herd and Green making excellent contributions on alto and trombone respectively. There’s a virtuoso bass solo from Mullov-Abbado expertly shadowed by Chapman’s drums with the latter enjoying a feature of his own as the arrangement moves closer to the straight ahead disco feel of the original in its closing stages. It’s all very interesting but sometimes the listener can’t escape the feeling that Mullov-Abbado is trying just a bit too hard to be ‘clever’ or ‘unusual’.
The album concludes with the near eleven minute “Just Another Love Song”, the modesty of the title a cunning disguise for the ambitiousness of the writing. The tune begins with the sound of the composer’s unaccompanied double bass and develops organically and elegantly as piano, horns and drums are added. The piece is highly melodic and features some delightful interplay between Green and Herd as the piece unfolds. Their eloquent and absorbing dialogue is superbly supported by the rest of the group.
“New Ansonia” represents a highly promising début from a major new talent. Mullov-Abbado is clearly a highly accomplished technician and is already a virtuoso bass soloist but he’s an admirably ambitious and talented composer and arranger too. This album stands up well on its own merits and is well worth hearing but one senses that there are even bigger and better things to come from this young prodigy.
In the meantime Mullov-Abbado is currently touring with his quintet. Catch him while he’s still playing intimate club venues. The remaining dates are listed below;
21st Oct - Dempsey’s - Cardiff
23rd Oct - Bristol Bebop Club
20th Nov - Bath Burdell’s Yard
22nd Nov - Deal Lighthouse
28th Nov - Coventry Jazz Festival
9th Dec - St Edmund’s London (City Music Foundation Series)
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