Album Reviews



Spark! - spark006

Lorraine Baker - drums; Binker Golding - tenor sax; Liam Noble - piano; Paul Michael - bass guitar

Here’s something new - a young drummer leading a tribute to veteran New Orleans sticksman Ed Blackwell, with a band that features streetwise new-thing iconoclast Binker Golding alongside long-established, critically acclaimed pianist and mentor Liam Noble, with feisty newcomer Paul Michael providing tough, imagnative basslines and credited with key input to the arrangements. The results are immediately arresting, with Baker’s punchy, assertive intro leaping into the twisting rhythmic variations of ‘Dakar Dance’, and thence to  ‘Thumbs Up’, with a beguiling mix of chords on the bass guitar and afrobeat flavoured groove underpinning stark pentatonic riffing. Just when you think you’ve got the track’s measure, it breaks down to a duet between Golding and the ever-resourceful Noble, before building back into a wonderfully melodic solo from the leader that retains the lilting time feel even with the surprise addition of dubwise studio effects. ‘Pentahouve’ casts the net of inspiration wider to include a melody by free-improv stalwart and Blackwell associate Mark Helias; the Blackwell link is made even more explicit in a version of ‘Coleman’s ‘Blues Connotation’ that explodes into hard driving swing after it’s edgy, M-Base style intro; ‘Chairman Mao’ has a dub reggae feel, the whole band combining into abstract rhythmic textures, and ‘Mopti’ has more pentatonics over an afro 12/8.

Baker’s style on kit is already recognisable and distinctive enough to tie the album together - a warm, relaxed but driving groove, spread out across the entire kit so that toms and side stick are fully deployed for maximum melodic content - Blackwell would surely have recognised a kindred spirit. Golding really shows his range and power as an individual voice as well, with an edgy assertive tone that can be tender as well, and a fertile melodic imagination underpinned by sophisticated harmonic ear that isn’t always apparent in his acclaimed duo performances with Moses Boyd. Noble’s presence adds an extra layer of depth, gravitas and resonance throughout; while he may be associated with an older generation of the jazz establishment, and Golding by contrast with the New Thing, this recording demonstrates what a remarkable pair of unclassifiable musicians they are, and how compatible. This debut manages to avoid the cliches of both the old guard and the new school - while the compositions are sometimes slight, there are a plethora of signposts pointing in all kinds of intriguing directions.


NYSQ -  Heaven Steps To Seven

Whirlwind WR4727

Tim Armacost - tenor & soprano sax; David Berkman - piano; Gonna Okegwo - bass; Gene Jackson - drums

Hot on the heels of their 2017 issue comes another typically vigorous NYSQ exploration of the standards tradition, recorded off the back of a week-long tour, with the band in fine fettle, simply bursting with ideas and energy. While ‘Power Of 10’ featured a number of contrafacts and ‘Sleight Of Hand’ returned to the unmediated hits of the  Great American Songbook, this new offering includes a sprinkling of additions from the jazz composers’ repertoire. Charlie Parker’s ‘Cheryl’ is deconstructed by Berkman, to include a feature for new guy Okegwo on bass and a Hancock-esque straight-8s groove section with reharms - Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’ is expanded on by the entire quartet in a group improv that uses shards of the melody as motivic cells alongside chordal harmony as a starting point, according the finest modern methodologies, and sounds absolutely fresh as a result; Bud Powell’s solo ballad  ‘I’ll Keep Loving You” is arranged for the quartet with ravishing results; and Hancock’s own ‘Eye Of The Hurricane’ is feistily presented by Gene Jackson (Hancock’s drummer of many years) as a burning finale.

There’s still a plentiful array of Songbook standards for the quartet to get their collective teeth into as well - ‘If I Should Lose You’ is a turned into a latin-flavoured, densely arranged soprano feature, full of complex harmonies - ‘Every Time We say Goodbye’ showcases Armacost’s supremely controlled delivery on tenor over a rhythm section that seems forever poised on the brink of runaway abandon; ‘I Love You’ features new guy in the studio (but longtime touring associate) Okegwo again, in a boisterously oblique arrangement by Jackson that edges close to freedom while still retaining the contours of the original. This is document of a band at the absolute top of their game, showing how the standards tradition can still provide a vehicle for some of the freshest and most exciting playing on the scene today.


NEW YORK ALL STARS - Burnin’ in London


Eric Alexander - tenor saxophone; Harold Mabern - piano; Darryl Hall - bass; Bernd Reiter - drums

The band name, title and tracklisting on this new offering from the consistently excellent Ubuntu label could all be appended to an album released any time since the 1960s - a tenor-plus-piano-trio  offering long, swinging workouts on classic Great American Songbook fare, recorded live in an intimate club setting - there’s even a version of that jam-session evergreen, Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, to conclude. 

However, this recording stands out in it’s crowded field by virtue of the sheer energy, taste and virtuosity of the performers. New-school traditionalists Eric Alexander, Darryl Hall and Bernd Reiter all combine superhuman chops with a complete understanding of the tradition, and the empathy between them ensures that for all the flash and fire of the performances there is no sense of excess or wasted notes - everything is informed by a clear sense of purpose. The blowing arrangements are deceptively informal but all reveal neat touches - like the sudden switch into 3/4 time at the end of Frederik Lowe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” - that show the sure hand of a master guiding proceedings. At the heart of the ensemble is 82-year old veteran Harold Mabern, his ferocious imagination and power undimmed, his thrilling amalgamation of McCoy Tyner, Art Tatum and Phineas Newborn alternating between lushly florid and crisply hip, and always unfailingly swinging. It’s exciting to hear voicings and licks familiar from the classic recordings by Lee Morgan and Wes Montgomery reappear amidst the more contemporary language of the younger players, still sounding as fresh and vital as ever, demonstrating the strength and continuity of the tradition. 

Every now and again we are reminded how far the base standard of instrumental technique has increased since the Golden Era - Alexander’s extended high register passage in “Almost Like Being In Love”, Reiter’s explosive trades on “I Could Have Danced All Night” and Hall’s super-fast 16th note solo passages on the sole original, Mabern’s “Nightlife In Tokyo”, are part of the contemporary currency, as is the general level of precision and power, but the connection to the fundamentals of swing is strong enough for the soul of the music to be retained. Highly recommended. 


HEXAGONAL - McCoy & Mseleku

Hexagonal Records - HRCD101

John Donaldson - piano, arranger; Greg Heath - tenor sax & flute; Simon Thorpe - bass; Jason Yarde - alto & baritone sax; Tristan Banks - drums & percussion; 
Graeme Flowers, Quentin Collins - trumpet & flugelhorn

John Donaldson’s piano style - dynamic, exciting, heavy with dense left hand chording and fluttering pentatonic runs -  has drawn comparisons with that of McCoy Tyner, and he worked extensively with maverick South African pianist/composer before the latter’s untimely death. Ensconced in his Hastings stronghold,  he has written a set of well plotted arrangements of tunes by both these inspirations, and assembled a muscular band of UK A-listers to play them. Opener ‘Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit’ sets the scene - Tyner’s original piano figure is re-written for the horns, who   deliver the part with a swaggering gusto, leading into a pounding straight eights groove that bursts into soaring swing under Greg Heath’s fluent tenor solo. Fellow Hastings resident and Mseleku accompanist Simon Thorpe combines with powerhouse drummer Tristan Banks to keep the grooves locked and tight - ‘The Man From Tanganyika’ is taken as a rollicking  afro 12/8 that adds a convincing update to the seminal original recording, while Mseleku’s ‘My Passion’ is played with a grace and subtlety that highlights what an outstanding composer he was; the Mseleku material stands up consistently well against the better-known Tyner classics. 

It’s fun comparing the contributions from the two trumpeters, with Flowers’ warm tones and lyrical accuracy offset by Collins’ fire and flash. The internationally acclaimed, currently under-represented Jason Yarde reminds us what an outstandingly characterful player he is, on both alto and baritone; the lesser-known Heath more than holds his own in this exalted company. With so many powerful contributors the leader’s own piano is almost sidelined but there’s room for pithy statements on ‘Joy’ and Mseleku’s astonishing ‘Angola’, the latter also providing a feature for Banks to demonstrate what’s what in terms of modern drumming. ‘For Tomorrow’ is a contemplative, beautifully arranged closer. The album’s highlight is an 8 minute workout on Tyner’s ‘Fly With The Wind’ - full of imaginative arrangement details, powerfully and precisely delivered, with everyone playing up an absolute storm. Catch them live if you can. 


CAMILLA GEORGE - The People Could Fly


Camilla George - alto sax; Sarah Tandy - piano, rhodes; Daniel Casimir - bass; Femi Koleoso -drums; Winston Clifford - drums; Omar Lye-Fook -vocals; Cherise Adams-Burnett -vocals; Shirley Tetteh - guitar; Quentin Collins - trumpet

A lot has happened since Camilla George’s debut ‘Isang’ was released in 2016 - the South London scene with which she is linked through a web of associations, notably through Gary Crosby and Janine Irons’ pivotal Tomorrow’s Warriors, has been making headlines and giving feature writers around the world material for countless articles about the New British Jazz Explosion. If ‘Isang’ perhaps hinted at more potential than it delivered, this sophomore effort shows how far the scene and the individual players have developed in the intervening time. George has wisely retained her excellent band - all of whom are now emerging as stars in their own right - and expanded the line-up to present a package that is both more ambitious and more fully realised. The energy and poise exuded from Casimir’s bass solo on ‘He Lion, Bruh Bear, Bruh Rabbit’, the interplay on the hyped, funky “How Nehemiah Got Free” between Casimir, elder statesman Winston Clifford and Sarah Tandy’s fluid, effortless rhodes solo, and the leader’s own full-toned pithy statements throughout the album show evidence of a new confidence and creative assertiveness. 

The project is thematically based around folk tales George heard as a child in Nigeria, and the echoes of them that can be found throughout the cultures of the African diaspora. The shadows of slavery and oppression are evoked in the affecting ballad ‘Little Eight John”, beautifully sung by Cherise Adams-Burnett, in titles like ‘The Most Useful Slave’ and in the story underlying the title track, a lilting 12/8 with an irresistibly infectious contribution from the excellent Shirley Tetteh which showcases her clear, warm tone and rhythmic ingenuity. ‘Carrying The Runnings Away’ has a  feature for Clifford, who shares drum duties for Femi Koleoso  - one assumes the latter’s career must now seriously compromise his availability - and demonstrates yet again what an amazing, undervalued asset he is to the UK jazz community. Legendary vocalist Omar lends his magnetic presence to the album closer, with young lion Ryan Quigley also present on trumpet to flesh out a version of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Here But I’m Gone’, transformed into a headlong Drum n’ Bass rush of excitement. This album marks  an exciting progression, showing positive proof of Camilla George’s growth as a composer and bandleader, and of the continuing vitality of the UK jazz scene of which she is an integral part.



MPG Records - mpgcd020

Gabrielle Ducomble - vocals, piano, melodica; Nicolas Meier - guitar; Richard Jones - viola; Nick Kacal - bass; Saleem Raman - drums

Ducomble studied jazz at Guildhall; previous releases featuring the likes of Gilad Atzmon and Chris Garrick have established her on the UK jazz circuit, and she’s appeared alongside Jacqui Dankworth and Tina May as part of the Jazz Diva series, and as part of Georgia Mancio’s Revoice series. The twelve original compositions on this record occupy a stylistic territory closer to the jazz-tinged folk songwriting of Joni Mitchell, or more mainstream accessible figures like Katie Melua; singing in both English and her native French, Ducomble brings in flavours of Piazzola tango (‘Like A Bridge Across Your Heart’) chanson waltz (‘Les Roses Et Leurs Epines’) mellow latin rhythms (‘Tell Me Today’) jaunty trad swing (‘Circus’) and a polite strain of cafe blues (‘Is This It’) that evokes another jazz-tinged pop chanteuse, Rikki Lee Jones. Ducomble’s voice is a delight; an accurate instrument on the scat sections that embellish tunes like the gently swaying ‘Ride’, warm and intimate on ballads like ‘Forest Boy’ , pure and clear throughout.

The arrangements are brought to life by the outstanding band, with drummer Saleem Raman deserving special mention for injecting some dynamic energy without ever overwhelming the delicate balance of the music. The reserve, restraint and sheer good taste evident throughout sometimes rather dull the emotional impact and those seeking the grittier confessional tradition of, for instance, Billie Holiday,  should probably look elsewhere, but there is no denying the sincerity, skill and  accomplishment on display; Ducomble is a class act, and this is a well conceived and executed showcase for her considerable talents.   The cover art, a photographic collage of Monet’s Le Pont Japonais , is the perfect packaging for this appealing record. 



Pathway Records - PBCD0121

Paul Booth - saxophones, leader; Sammy Mayne - alto, flute; Jason Yarde - alto & soprano; Richard Beesley - tenor, clarinet; Ryan Quigley, Kevin Robinson, Andy Greenwod, Shanti Paul Jayasinha, Steve Fishwick - trumpet, flugel; Trevor Mires, Barnaby Dickinson, Robbie Harvey, Martin Gladdish, Richard Henry - trombones; Giorgio Serci - guitar, oud; Alex Wilson - piano; Davide Mantovani - bass; Satin Singh, Edwin Sanz - percussion; Rod Youngs, Tristan Banks - drums; Jonathan Mayer - sitar; Oli Rockberger - piano; Seckou Keita - kora
Recorded 6th & 7th January, 2016

Paul Booth is one of that rare elite of players known as musician’s musicians - a supreme technician, respected by his peers both for his mastery of his instrument and his ability to fit effortlessly into any number of commercial settings. Technical mastery and versatility are very much to the fore in this expansive set of recordings from the big band he co-leads with trumpeter Kevin Robinson and guitarist Giorgio Serci, as the compositions flit around the world to create a lushly arranged musical travelogue. Opener ‘Cross Channel’ sets out the stall with a mix of Lebanese and Afro-Cuban rhythms, some densely arranged horn parts with all manner of hip modern extensions, and sizzling solos from Booth and fellow luminaries Steve Fishwick and Rod Youngs; ‘The Long Road’ introduces Jonathan Mayer’s sitar for some evocative indo-jazz fusion.

Elsewhere there are African and Celtic flavours - ‘The Village’ marries a Celtic sounding theme to a dazzlingly athletic trombone from Barnaby Dickinson and some really intricate chart writing -  and ‘Currulao Cool’ brings together Afro-Colombian percussion with lush Quincy Jones style big band horns. Versatile drummer Tristan Banks shows his mettle on the latter tune, providing the bridge between the pure energy of the percussionist’s folkloric feel and the sophistication of the topline writing, and contributing a truly spectacular solo on  the tricky ‘Takes Three To Samba’ which, as composer Serci notes, is ‘a samba in 3/4 which features poly-chords and poly-rhythms’. Booth contributes two tunes, Serci one, and Kevin Robinson writes an arrangement of ‘Light My Fire’ - the rest of the book is generously opened up to the other band members, giving this the feel of a collective effort, and the writing, playing and arrangements are top class throughout. 

The band’s name comes from a transliteration of Brazilian percussionist/bandleaders Airto Moreira’s attempts to say ‘band sounds good’, and he’d surely repeat the compliment if he heard these performances, all captured in the studio over a couple of days. The live shows should be spectacular. 


CHET BAKER - Live In London Volume II

Ubuntu Music - UBU00014

Chet Baker - trumpet & vocals; John Horler - piano; Jim Richardson - bass; Tony Mann - drums

Last year’s surprise re-discovery of Jim Richardson’s Sony Walkman cassette archive, cleaned up after sitting in a shoe-box for 33 years and re-issued by Ubuntu, was a revelation to many, and the initial release was popular enough for this follow-up to be issued from the same source. Baker had worked with Richardson and Mann before and requested them for the gig, and these recordings bear out the wisdom of his choice - as on the initial release, the trio sound superb - supple, sophisticated and totally in tune with the leader.As before, Horler’s piano playing is great as well, both comping and in solo, and though the sound here is a little tinny so that some details of his touch are lost, his richly creative imagination shines through. His fluid romanticism is reminiscent of George Cables, much favoured by the similarly gifted and troubled West Coast star Art Pepper, and the matching of ideas and taste is similarly compatible. 

Chet himself sounds loud and clear and his playing is uniformly superb, as on the earlier release. It’s interesting to hear him tackle more contemporary sounding material such as ‘Dolphin Dance’ and Richie Beirach’s ‘Broken Wing’ alongside the classic standards that made his reputation. ‘My Ideal’ has him singing and sounding heartbreakingly worn and a touch adenoidal, but his trumpet playing is as fresh and vital as ever. There are two discs of music here, and with all the tracks clocking in at the ten minute mark there’s a real sense of creative abundance. A welcome re-discovery, even in today’s crowded reissue market. 


PETER FRAIZE - Chord Lines/In the Groove

Union Records URCD 010

Peter Fraize - tenor sax; Mark Stanley - Guitar; Greg Hatza - organ; Leland Nakamura - drums

Tenorman Fraize impressed with 2016’s ‘Facts and Figures’ release, and he’s back in the UK this month with a tour and this latest recorded offering. This is muscular, hard swinging organ jazz in the contemporary Joey Francesco influenced tradition, with powerful grooves courtesy of the splendidly-monikered Leland Nakamura and blistering solos from all concerned. Though he’s Director Of Jazz Studies at George Washington University  back home in DC, Mr Fraize is a man of diverse musical taste and the twist here is the choice of material - such unlikely sources as Blue Oyster Cult,  Barry Manilow, Chris Cornell and Janet Jackson are called upon and given the treatment to satisfying effect. 

Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ becomes a Killer Joe style swagger, Cornell’s ‘When I’m Down’ is heavily flavoured with lush gospel chording from Hatza, and Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’ gets a Dr Lonnie Smith funk makeover. Fraize’s tenor is precise, full-voiced, confident and bold - whether preaching the funk on the latter tune, or ingeniously exploring substitute dominants on his own ‘Sub Terra’ he shows a mastery of form and build in his solos coupled with an impressive technique. The band play up majestically alongside him, - especially fluid, big-toned guitarist Stanley - and have an absolute ball on ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ by Janet’s little brother. The extensive UK tour throughout July is highly recommended.


PETER LEE - The Velvet Rage

Ubuntu Music - UBU0011

Peter Lee - piano, rhodes, synth; Josh Arcoleo - tenor sax; Alex Munk - guitar; Huw Foster - bass; Ali Thynne - drums

The Amika Strings
Laura Senior - violin; Rich Jones - violin 2; Lucy Nolan - viola; Peggy Nolan - cello; Simmy Singh - violin

Cardiff-born, Royal Academy trained pianist Lee has a musical ear attuned to a variety of different sounds. He graduated with distinction from the RA’s Jazz course, but has toured around the world with pop artists Gabrielle Aplin, Maverick Sabre and Tom Walker, and provided keys for crossover classical sensations Il Divo. This is his debut album, and the diversity of influences is apparent from the opening bars of ‘Writer’s Block’ - the descending diminished chords of the piano introduction, evoking Debussy,  give way to a churning jazz-rock riff, then a melodic pop-fusion interlude overlaid with swooping strings, before Lee sets of on a confident solo exploration with hints of Corea’s rhythmic assurance. Guitarist Alex Munk has explored similar jazz-rock territory with his own Flying Machine project, and makes the ideal partner; Ali Thynne on drums contributes a suitably pyrotechnic interlude; and Josh Arcoleo continues to impress with his sophistication and versatility, more than holding his own amidst the bombast. 

Lee’s writing is complex and intricate, with tightly plotted rhythm arrangements, but he’s not afraid to let the band rock out over a driving groove, or to pull the band out for a pensive, introverted solo piano and strings exploration as on the evocative title tune. Munk contributes scalding fusion solos throughout, notably on ‘Edinburgh’ , where he combines fluid, Holdsworth style altered patterns with bluesy inflections; Arcoleo’s work ties the band back into the jazz tradition, and Lee treads a path between those styles and his audible love of the classical language to impressive effect. There are occasional reflective interludes - rhodes-heavy ‘The Mirror Stage’ has Huw Foster channelling the Headhunter’s Paul Jackson to superb effect, with spacey rhodes over some more laid-back beats, and ‘Dependency’  opens with Lee’s writing for string quartet - but they are set between a plethora of headlong unison charges, ingenious metrical twists and muscular soloing and the overall impression is rather hectic and showy in the best jazz-fusion tradition, which can be experienced as either exhilarating or exhausting depending upon one’s personal taste. What cannot be denied is the commitment and talent on display, both from the performers and from Lee himself; the title is drawn from a book by Alan Downs about a personal journey towards self-acceptance, and this music is drawn from a deep personal wellspring of experience that makes it never less than affecting.




Mark Kavuma - trumpet; Mussinghi Brian Edwards - sax; Ruben Fox - sax; Artie Zaitz - guitar; Reuben James - piano; Conor Chaplin - bass; Kyle Poole - drums

As the rising generation of young British jazz musicians continues to attract the attention of the wider world, Mark Kavuma arrives to add his voice to the chorus with this debut release. It features many of the stalwarts of London’s late-night blowing scene; closing track ‘The Church’ is an uptempo cooker dedicated to late-night hangs at the Haggerston, featuring the seldom-heard sound of tap dancing ( the superlatively nimble Michela Marino Lerman) which adds an exciting live ambience to hard swinging horn charts straight out of the hard-bop recipe book. The whole set absolutely crackles with energy and you can hear the band urging each other on with whoops and hollers throughout. Top solo honours go to Artie Zaitz for his stinging, edgy-toned fluency on the swaggering shuffle of ‘Modibo’ channelling Grant Green but with a healthy dose of his own original personality;  Chaplin and Poole in the engine room attack each tune with tireless gusto tempered with admirable precision; and the twin-sax attack of Edwards and Fox are both equally matched with big-toned, assertive authority. 

The individual sax contributions aren’t credited so it’s impossible to guess who contributes the wonderfully old-fashioned solo on ‘Papa Joe’, evoking the spirit of Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins with an authentically youthful zest. Elsewhere ‘Into The Darkness’ evokes Shorter and ‘Barbar G’ is a boppish ballad that shows how thoroughly these players, and Kavuma as composer, have absorbed the language of the classic Golden era and infused it with their unstoppable commitment and energy. Kavuma himself writes most of the tunes and  contributes concise bop phrases in a full middle-register tone with a touch of grease, like an early Donald Byrd - he seems content to give the band it’s head and is somewhat self-effacing as a leader, his own contributions modestly limited to a few well-paced, immaculately swinging choruses on most of the tunes. This band sound like they’d be an absolute riot to see live, so catch them if you can. 



Ubuntu Music UBU0010

Nick Costley-White - guitar; Matt Robinson - piano, rhodes; Conor Chaplin - bass; Dave Hamblett -drums

Costley-White has built quite a reputation since graduation from Gulidhall in 2011; his clear tone, assertive rhythm, smooth effortless articulation and sophisticated harmonic chops have made him a popular choice of sideman with established high-end operatives like Stan Sulzmann, Jeff Williams and Martin Speake as well as the younger crowd of London-based players. Opener ‘Just One Of Those Things’ sets out his stall - a knowing and highly evolved take on a classic standard with some neat rhythmic twists. The top-grade rhythm section take it at an exhilarating but carefully controlled high-speed dash while Costley-White spins through the changes, each note clearly and confidently articulated, with shades of Jim Hall’s poise and Jonathan Kreisberg’s sure sense of adventure. ‘Loads Of Bar Blues’ is a cool, easy lope with a great solo from Robinson; ‘Swing State’ has a Monkish feel and puts the crack team of Hamblett and Chaplin through their paces; the latter has a great solo on ‘Detour Ahead’ that confirms his place as a great interpreter of the standard tradition, an aspect that’s less often heard these days in his role as anchor of Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur project. ‘Thinky Pain’, a tribute to comedian Marc Maron, is the album’s compositional showcase, with contributions from Sam Rapley on bass clarinet weaving their way through an intricate maze of harmony. This album is a considered, even mannered artefact that dances rather than cooks, maintaining an even emotional temperature throughout; all in all a very well conceived and executed, effortlessly classy affair.




Alina Bzezhinska - harp; Tony Kofi - tenor & soprano sax; Larry Bartley - bass; Joel Prine - drums

The harp has played a peripheral role in the history of jazz and its leading exponent, Alice Coltrane, left a towering body of work that is still undergoing a much-deserved re-evaluation, but no obvious successors. Into the breach now leaps the fearless Alina Bzezhinska - opening tune ‘Wisdom Eye’  retains the magisterial glissandos that characterised Ms Coltrane’s work, but adds a percussive attack on the strings that is all Alina’s own. ‘Blue Nile’ has become something of an anthem for the cosmic jazz crowd, and it’s so well known and idiosyncratic that despite the passion and reverence apparent in this reading one can’t escape a slight feeling of redundancy. ‘Los Caballos’  is given a suitably equine percussion arrangement, with some unexpected tempo changes matching the original version, and Kofi’s sax a well-judged replacement for the woozy organ on the 1975 ‘Eternity’ album release. Bzezhinska’s originals are open-ended pieces based around pulsing grooves (the unfortunately titled Annoying Semitones) or somber, impressionistic sweeps of colour and texture (Winter Moods, Lemky). 

Tony Kofi is a powerful and original voice on both tenor and soprano, and he and big-toned bassist Bartley lend a real gravitas to proceedings throughout - Bartley’s sonorous bowed work on ‘Following A lovely Sky Boat’ is a delight, and Kofi doesn’t shrink from tackling such iconic material as ‘After The Rain’ and ‘Journey In Satchidananda’ - his playing draws inspiration from the towering masters who performed the originals without being overwhelmed by their legacy, reminding us what an enormous, often under-heard asset he is to the UK jazz scene. Together they cook up a real vibe, aided by Joel Prine’s swinging kit work and tastefully deployed percussion; despite it’s acknowledged indebtedness to the source material, this album retains a quirky originality that’s all its own.



Lyte Records LR040

Jean Toussaint - tenor sax; Jason Rebello - piano; Byron Wallen -trumpet; Dennis Rollins - trombone; Andrew McCormack - piano; Alec Dankworth - bass; Daniel Casimir - bass; Mark Mondesir - drums; Troy Miller - drums; Shane Forbes - drums; Ashley Henry - piano; Williams Cumberbatch Perez - congas, percussion; Tom Dunnet - trombone; Mark Kavuma - trumpet; Tom Harrison - alto sax

Jean Toussaint is a major figure on the UK jazz scene, both as a performer and educator, and this storming release sees him heading up a variety of sextet line-ups drawn from both the established and the rising generations of UK jazz musicians. The opening ‘Abamo’, written in tribute to the outgoing US president, ties together different strands of Toussaint’s musical identity - the caribbean accents reflecting his own heritage, while the swaggering, clamorous three-horn frontline recall the early 60s band of his most famous employer, Art Blakey. Newcomers Ashley Henry and Shane Forbes take flight. ‘Doc’ is a mellow 12/8, with Byron Wallen on plaintive muted trumpet, while ‘Interlude For Idris’ has Troy Miller recreating Idris Muhammed’s ‘Poinciana’ groove while Rebello soars above. ‘Major Changes’ features the leaders’ full-voiced, throaty toned tenor over a lilting groove from Mark Mondesir, while Andrew McCormack rises to the level set by Rebello. Wallen and trombonist Rollins show how their voices are well matched to Toussaint’s own in their hip, brassy assertiveness before another young lion, Daniel Casimir, contributes his own powerful statement on bass. ‘Letters To Milena’ has a mid-tempo lope reminiscent of Wayne Shorter and Toussaint’s solo is full of allusions to the master’s oblique melodicism. ‘Brother Raymond’ has a Shorter flavour as well, with Toussaint’s arrangement utilising the three horn frontline to lush effect.

Elsewhere there are tributes to Eddie Harris, Kirk Lightsey, Stevie Wonder and Charlie Mingus. The arrangements are rich, varied, assured and executed with power and conviction; you get the sense that all the musicians involved were determined to give their very best out of respect and affection for the leader. “Interlude For Kirk’ has a joyous old-school swing that’s an all-too-brief delight, ‘Wonder Where’ has an infectiously uplifting groove that inspires a truly outstanding alto solo from Tom Harrison, full of fire and passion, and the reprise of ‘Amabo’ gives young lion Henry another chance to shine and show his Mcoy Tyner influences. A wonderful snapshot of the contemporary UK jazz community.


JURE PUKL - Doubtless

Whirlwind WR4724

Jure Pukl - tenor sax; Melissa Aldana - tenor sax; Joe Sanders - bass; Gregory Hutchinson - drums

The charismatic international husband-and-wife team of Jure Pukl and Melissa Aldana are a creative force to be reckoned with, as is amply demonstrated by this latest release. Both have a commitment to freely improvised music, backed by a formidable technique and a command of contemporary language that eschews the bebop conventions. This album presents them in a chordless quartet backed by bass and drums - while both studied with George Garzone and have cited Sonny Rollins as an influence, the spirit of Ornette Coleman is inevitably summoned whenever this format is used, and they acknowledge his presence by including his little known composition ‘Intersong’ -  starting with a free-ranging counterpoint, both saxes unite to state the melody before the excellent Sanders and Hutchinson enter with an intuitive, free-pulse backing, roaming at will below the leader’s expansive explorations. The title track follows a similar template, organically developing out of a lively intro which features the two saxes intertwining in an upbeat, easily digestible melody before spinning off into what would be known in more conventional jazz as ‘trades’ between the two. 

There’s plenty of exploration of the slurs, bleats and honks that typify free jazz, but both saxes maintain a common harmonic ground with bassist Sanders that, even if it’s not explicit, is enough to tie the piece together, as Hutchinson drives the flow of irregular phrases forward. ‘Doves’ is remarkable for moving from a tightly written, harmonised melody, with Sanders sketching out the ghost of a harmonic progression below, seamlessly into free territory, and back out again - the level of interplay between Sanders and Hutchinson as they match phrases is remarkable, and there’s a tender solo interlude by Sanders that changes the mood again to one of lyrical introspection.  ‘Eliote’, written by the bassist, has a sprightly melody and an almost- straight groove that’s a vehicle for his virtuosity; ‘Compassion’ is a stately ballad, that again seems to skirt the borders of conventional harmony; ‘Elsewhere’ is a jagged rush of tumbling basslines and off-kilter phrases, driven forward by Hutchinson’s powerfully creative drumming, and both ‘Where Are You Coming From’ and ‘Bad Year - Good Year’ seem to nod towards Aldana’s Chilean heritage with a latin flavour. Under it’s guise of artless,  improvised  freedom, this is highly sophisticated music, requiring an impressive level of virtuosity from all concerned, yet there’s an accessibility and melodicism that makes it an easier listen than other offerings in this rather austere tradition, and anyone interested in the outer edges of international jazz should check it out. There’s a cover painting by Cecile Mclorin Salvant as well.




Brigitte Beraha - vocals; Ivo Neame - rhodes, mellotron, hammond; Tomas Challenger - tenor sax; Rob Updegraff - guitar; Dave Manington - bass; Tim Giles - drums

Manington is a founder member of the Loop Collective, along with such luminaries as Ivo Neame, Tom Challenger and Jim Hart, and shares their vision of a progressive, free-ranging take on jazz that draws inspiration from the European tradition as much as from the American masters. Riff Raff has been an ongoing project, developed organically over the last decade - in fact, Manington’s association with Giles and Updegraff stretches back to their schooldays - but this is only their second release, following up 2013’s ‘Hullabaloo’. 

The band are all superbly accomplished musicians, and there’s plenty of room to stretch out on the multi-section ‘Iliad’, with a wonderful light-as-air solo from Updegraff and a frenetic rhodes-and-drum duet from Neame and Giles, while Challenger rises to the challenge on the arrestingly quirky ‘Dangerpig’, soaring above the soup of electronic effects, and is at once affectingly lyrical and highly individual on the ballad ‘Willow Tree’. Manington is a powerful, accurate player, as evidenced by the extended unison passages with Challenger on ‘Challenger Deep’ and the tumbling odd-number rhythms of ‘Prime Numbers’, and ‘Free Spirit’ showcases his warm, woody tone. However, the real star turn is in the carefully plotted compositions, and the way this highly empathetic band bring them to life, devoting as much attention to group texture and timbre as they do to their individual contributions. Beraha’s voice is a crucial element here, adding an airy lightness to the fusiony, Weather Report style group improvisation of ‘Dr Octopus’, while her sincere and unaffected delivery and lyrics make ‘Free Spirit’ and “Willow Tree’ work as simple, direct songs and tie them in to the more extrovert, overtly jazzy material to give the album a sense of unity that might otherwise be rather lost in the eclectic range of the writing. Fans of early Return to Forever will find much to enjoy here as well.  

The end result is a record that feels accessible, with a clear sense of fun and adventure, yet still manages to demonstrate an impressive set of individual and collective chops. An extensive tour follows, and you should try and go if you can. 


GENE JACKSON - Power Of Love

Whirlwind WR4723

Gene Jackson - drums; Gabriel Guerrero - piano; Carlo De Rosa - bass

Gene Jackson sits firmly in the line of the tradition as it goes forward; with a CV that includes stints with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Dave Holland as well as modern arch-traditionalists like Christian McBride and a long tenure holding down the drum chair in the New York Standards Quartet. Here he’s presenting his addition to a long line of contemporary explorations of the trio format; kicking things off with the jazz-school favourite ‘I Love You’, the trio are flexible, creative and tasteful - De Rosa demonstrates his dizzying virtuosity, Guerrero is fleet, swinging and unsentimental, and Jackson powerful without being overly domineering.

The rest of the programme is made up of originals, with all the band contributing, alongside a couple of infrequently played Monk classics - ‘Ugly Beauty’ taken as a pensive waltz is particularly successful. Jackson’s  “Great River’ has a cheerful, eccentric swagger, while his “Before Then’ has an accessible, dancing theme reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal before spinning off into high-velocity swing. Guerrero brings traces of his Colombian heritage in the bass ostinatos of his latin-flavoured composition ‘Lightning’ while the closely arranged rhythmic complexities of ‘Lapso’ recall Chick Corea and ‘Land Of The Free’ moves between tumultuous free-form and a mutated cha-cha-cha. Guerrero has a multitude of voices at his command, capable of executing contemporary swing, latin or free style with equal conviction; his fluent virtuosity is matched by the other players in this outstandingly balanced and accomplished outfit. While there’s no new ground being broken here, you couldn’t ask for a more powerful, considered and sincerely offered summation of the current state of the piano trio. 



Whirlwind WR4721

Jeff Williams - drums; Goncalo Marquez - trumpet; John O’Gallagher - alto sax; Josh Arcoleo tenor sax; Kit Downes - piano; Sam Lasserson - bass

Jeff William’s contribution to jazz history stretches back to his epochal 1970s collaboration with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach’s Lookout Farm, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. This recording follows on from 2016s well-received Outlier; in a kind of trans-atlantic talent swap, guitarist Phil Robson has moved to New York and is replaced by Brooklyn native O’Gallagher who has recently relocated to the UK and contributes a cutting power and unpredictability throughout, notably in his Dolphy-esque solo on to ‘The Interloper’. The two-horn frontline with Arcoleo is a real success, creating a sonorous weight that strengthens the stark, powerful melodies of ‘Under The Radar’ and ‘Dream Visitor’ so that they float impressively above William’s powerful, restless drumming.

While the majority of the band are European (trumpeter Marquez hails from Portugal and contributes the contrastingly introspective ‘Cancao De Amolador’) there’s an all-out swaggering energy to these performances that feels very NYC, tapping back to the era of Jack DeJohnette’s collaborations with David Murray and Arthur Blythe, when post-bop and free were mixed up to explosive effect. Arcoleo especially rises to the occasion, contributing scorching work on  the urgently pulsing ‘Dream Visitor’ - Kit Downes is wonderfully expressive and imaginative in support throughout, and his intensity in solo matches the horns. The writing is free-ranging, with lots of exploration at the edges of free-form,  but the melodies and structures are satisfyingly memorable and direct throughout - ‘Dream Visitor’ builds  over a throbbing pulse to a cathartic, wailing blues-inflected climax. ‘Lament’ has a stately introduction from the remarkable Lasserson, and ‘Borderline’ has a sprightly, Monkish feel.

Some of the tunes have been heard before in other contexts but all are enriched by the expanded line-up and the ferocious energy that all the players bring to this collection of live recordings from the Vortex on a June night last year. Highly recommended.



Ubuntu Music UBU0009

Martin Speake - alto sax; Ethan Iverson - piano; Fred Thomas - bass; James Maddren - drums

Martin Speake is a significant figure in contemporary British jazz, with 18 albums under his belt, including a notable collaboration with Paul Motian, and  a long-standing and pivotal teaching post at Trinity Laban. Ethan Iverson has an established international reputation, and presumably more time on his hands since quitting the Bad Plus, so the circumstances seem ideal for them to renew the relationship that started when Iverson was only 17, and whose last concrete manifestation was the 2004  set of Great American Songbook duets released as ‘My Ideal’. This record features 10 originals by Speake, drawn from different stages in his long and fruitful career and demonstrating both his versatility as a composer, and Iverson’s impressive range as creative contributor . ‘Spring Dance’ from his first album is a sprightly, major-key romp clearly indebted to Ornette Coleman’s classic Atlantic recordings with Iverson contributing a sparkling solo, limiting himself effortlessly to one hand to avoid un-Ornetteish chording;  ‘Twister’ is a politely bluesy groove reminiscent of Eddie Harris with a suitably in-the-pocket piano break; while ‘The Heron’ matches the leader’s light-toned, plaintive alto with florid, lushly, romantic chording. James Maddren and F-ire Collective stalwart Fred Thomas are equally subtle and responsive in support, whether cooking up  a quiet storm on the attractively afro-grooving ‘Blackwell’ or enjoying a playful deconstruction of classic bop in a take on ‘Parker’s Wig’.

‘Hidden Vision’ is a kind of gospel-flavoured excursion that the Keith Jarrett’s European quartet might have favoured, and ‘Intention’ is a quiet, delicately intense piece, the band’s subtle approach allowing the leader’s alto space to dance over the gently thrumming bass ostinato and chiming chords. 

Overall, while there is much to enjoy and many deft touches from composer and band alike to admire, there’s a sense of restrained politeness throughout that means that while this record may delight it seldom grips in the way that Iverson’s more bombastic excursions with his former band used to - perhaps that was part of the appeal.



Whirlwind WR4722

Tori Freestone - tenor & soprano sax & flute; Alcyona Mick - piano; Brigitte Beraha - voice 

Freestone is one of the UK’s most intriguing and creative musicians, exploring the space where jazz, improv, folk music and contemporary classical intersect. Alcyona Mick has a similarly diverse artistic portfolio that encompasses film scores, her own duo/trio Blink and work with international fusion music star Natacha Atlas. 

The two have been friends for years and this project has arisen spontaneously out of their shared encounters over the years, finally crystallised in a commission from the Manchester Jazz Festival. The results are as wide-ranging, empathetic and quirkily humorous as you might expect. ‘Hermetica’ introduces a scatted vocal from eminently simpatica collaborator Beraha alongside a tumbling flute melody and tricky 11/8 piano vamp, the whole combining to recall Return To Forever’s early 70 origins. Elsewhere the spirit of Monk hovers as a presiding deity; echoes can be heard in the florid swagger of Mick’s stride piano on ‘Strange Behaviour’  as well as the classic, eccentrically conceived composition that provides the title track. ‘Mrs PC’ has a bluesy feel to the initial  that wouldn’t be out of place on an Eddie Harris record, before spinning off into dense harmonic explorations from the piano as Freestone shows off her comprehensive technique. ‘Goodnight Computer’ is an extended 12-minute piece that moves through a series of sombre moods towards an unresolved climax - Mick’s sureness of touch and awesome control of dynamics create the landscape , and the empathy between her and Freestone is evident every step of the way.

‘Pressgang’ re-presents the folk tune from Freestone’s El Barranco album to poignant effect, and the title track is also revisited, the piano fleshing out the harmony that was only implied on the original chordless trio recording to lush effect. ‘Exchange’ is a closely written piece that highlights both players’ effortless virtuosity over rolling triplets. What might potentially have been a rather dry exercise in chamber jazz is invigorated by the good humour and warmth evident in the relationship between the players.


CLOUDMAKERS FIVE - Traveling Pulse

Whirlwind WR4719

Jim Hart - vibes; Antonin-Tri Hoang - alto sax/clarinet; Michael Janisch - bass; Hannes Riepler - guitar; Dave Smith - drums

Jim Hart is one of a select group of UK musicians who’s as well established in Europe as his original homeland (he’s lived in France since 2014) and as comfortable in the role of sideman (for Marius Neset, Ivo Neame, Stan Sulzmann and Vula Viel to name but a few) as he is leading his own projects. This album presents an expanded version of his acclaimed Cloudmakers Trio; Hoang adds a reedy, soprano-like alto and Riepler’s contributes Terje Rypdal-style washes of echo and delay as well as considered, fluent single-note runs. The compositions are wide-ranging and impressionistic, with plenty of space for group improvisation, taking full advantage of the open sound afforded by a vibes-based rhythm section. ‘Travelling Pulse’ starts with a Ghanaian clave pattern, swiftly built up with layers of complementary textures into a very contemporary piece of euro-jazz; ‘The Past Is Another Country’ builds through a series of improvisations to a quizzically unresolved, harmonically ambiguous closing unison; ‘Golden’ is described as a lullaby in the liner notes, but would probably only soothe a child with a highly sophisticated ear attuned to it’s mix of chromaticism and bluesy intonations. ‘The Road’ provides a feature for the superb Dave Smith before a plaintive, Ornetteish melody floats incongruously over the driving pulse - ‘The Exchange’ is a complex, through-composed piece with some mellifluous clarinet work from Hoang that perfectly suits it’s buoyant tone, and ‘Cycle Song’ is a rhythmically intricate tribute to the late lamented John Taylor that also evokes something of the spirit of early weather Report and allows Janisch a typically virtuosic statement. 

This is complex, sophisticated music and all the players are eminently in tune with each other’s creative voices and with the spirit of the compositions themselves - all the pieces were recorded live at the Vortex in 2017, and the level of musicianship displayed is truly formidable. While all the pieces are powerfully propulsive, Hart isn’t really interested in writing melodies that stick in the head - each piece is more like a journey towards an unknown destination, and it’s the spirit of exploration that’s so exhilarating about this record which is sure to add to the leader’s already impressive reputation. 



Whirlwind WR4720

Zhenya Strigalev - alto sax, soprano sax, alto box, electronics; Federico Danneman - guitar; Linley Marthe - bass guitar, keyboards; Eric Harland - drums

This album was recorded live with Strigalev’s current touring band, including ubiquitous drum virtuoso Harland and Mauritian bassist Linley, who together form the rhythmic nucleus of a number of progressive acts, including the might Chris Potter’s outfit. There’s not a huge amount of live ambience, however, and the sound quality is of a studio standard, so it feels like a ‘live in the studio’ production - the leader says “the goal was to capture our ‘breath’ along with our mistakes - you won’t notice them, I bet”, and he’s absolutely right, as each take seems as flawlessly tight as you’d expect from such a team of international A-listers.  Linley and Harland are solidly grooving on the reggae flavoured ‘Not Upset’ and locked, tight and funky on ‘Pinky’ - the latter strangely reminiscent of Level 42 in their earlier pre-chart topping years -  and Danneman is on top contemporary-fusion form when it comes to incendiary solos and effective comping.  Over the top dances Strigalev’s high-pitched, fluid alto, less quirkily circus like in this more straight ahead jazz-fusion context, more reminiscent of such classic 70s blowers like the mighty John Handy, until he unleashes the extremely peculiar sounding alto box on the cartoonish ‘Wondering About Swing’ .

‘Take Off Socks’ has a Mahavishnu-type riff melody over a flexible shuffle groove that allows Marthe and Harland to really stretch out, the latter delivering a spectacular drum solo after Danneman does the Scofield thing at some length to terrific effect. Throughout Marthe gives an outstanding display of the current state of hip bass guitar language, as expounded by Tim Lefebvre et al  while simultaneously adding keyboard textures  at opportune moments. There’s lots of hot blowing over altered scales, but the intensity is offset by a light-hearted sense of fun that comes through in the almost naive-sounding ‘Happy Professors’ - “Little Struggle” has a propulsive mutant disco groove and the band really dig into it with gusto, especially Danneman in a wonderfully flowing clean-toned solo. This is music that sounds like it was a lot of fun to play, and should be just as much fun to listen to when they appear live in the UK. 



Whirlwind WR4718

Walter Smith - tenor sax; Harish Raghavan - bass; Christian McBride - bass; Eric Harland - drums; Joshua Redman - tenor sax

Walter Smith may be best known to international audiences through his association with Christian Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Eric Harland; he has accumulated an impressive tally of recordings, tours and awards that place him at the forefront of an adventurous and forward-looking movement in US jazz. This latest album turns it’s face squarely back to the tradition, revisiting the chordless tenor trio format pioneered by Rollins, and a range of material from the classic Golden-era repertoire of standards and bop classics. Smith’s own words best describe the mission statement - “I would try and alter the tunes quite radically, by rearranging, reharmonizing and altering meters to a point where I was barely playing the original song; but realized I was confusing the point of playing the songs, so I began to interpret them more directly, as they were meant to be played” You can see this as part of one of jazz’s periodic reassessments of its past, as pursued by such as George Colligan, New York Standards Quartet and Christian McBride (who guests here on four tracks, to magisterial effect on ‘On The Trail’, channelling Ray Brown on Way Out West). 

There’s the inevitable risk of deja vu, but fortunately with such a creative team on board the results are fresh-sounding and deeply satisfying. “Ask Me Now’ is taken a jaunty pace, with Harland’s multilayered polyrhythms boiling away, and Smith’s sweet, high-register work sounding almost alto-sax like; ‘Nobody Else But Me’ definitely shows signs of radical rearrangement in the head, as if the guys just couldn’t help themselves, but soon straightens out into pure swinging joy, underpinned by Raghan’s powerhouse walking bass. His supremely swinging groove, each note placed firmly on top of the beat with a sense of simultaneously relaxed but driving time-feel that recalls a young Ron Carter, is the glue that holds the trio together. ‘On The Trail’ has fellow sometime-traditionalist Redman on board for some joyous duetting - We’ll Be Together Again’ is just sax and drums, and an object lesson in understated, unshowy percussive creativity from Mr Harland - ‘Social Call’ repeats the experiment with bass replacing drums, allowing McBride to demonstrate his own impeccable groove. ‘Contrafact’ is a high-intensity bop creation ( try guess the original on which it’s based from the Ornette-ish development) and suitable closer for this superb album. Smith has said ‘The plan is that when we tour, I’ll use that opportunity to invite the community to come and sit in, have fun and share ideas, which I imagined this music was all about in the first place” and it should be well worth catching the shows if you can. 



Whirlwind WR4717

Julian Siegel - tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet; Liam Noble - piano; Oli Hayhurst - bass; Gene Calderazzo - drums
Given the stringencies of the current UK Jazz scene it’s rare for bands to maintain stable line ups or notch up long recording histories, which makes this release all the more welcome, as the quartet celebrate nine years of working together by showing how their collective empathy can reward the risks involved in . As before, while Siegel is the leader and supplies all the compositions, aside from a dazzling re-invention of Bud Powell’s ‘Un Poco Loco’, he’s as much a facilitator for this group of supremely qualified musicians, and while the writing is as forceful and creative as ever, there’s also a sense that on tunes such as the darkly swinging trio ‘Billion Years’ and the back-beat driven ‘Vista’ Siegel is just giving the band a push and seeing where they roll - an exhilarating experience, especially in the latter tune when Noble takes centre stage to show off his sense of freedom and daring harmonic imagination in dialogue with Calderazzo’s powerhouse drumming. While the rippling introduction to ‘Pastorale’ shows off Siegel’s arranging chops, in general this record is less closely written than it’s predecessor and the band leap into the spaces created and give it their all. Several of the themes are more lyrically accessible than on the last disc - ‘The Goose’ contains echoes of sunny west-coast fusion, ‘I Want To Go To Brasil’ develops from gentle rubato to a subtly pulsing homage to Hermeto Pascoal and Elis Regina that doesn’t fight shy of the melodicism inherent in both those artists, and ‘Song’ is an outright ballad sensitively handled by the band, with Hayhurst lending his rich tone and sure intonation to outline the theme. There’s plenty of pushing at the barriers of tonality as well, as you’d expect from such adventurous and accomplished players, but it’s tempered with a refreshing melodicism and groove. An extensive tour approaches and should be a rewarding experience for all. 


MATTHEW READ TRIO - Anecdotes Vol 2

Self Release

Arthur Newell - drums; Matthew Read - bass; Benedict Wood - guitar
Matthew Read is a young British bass player, whose route into jazz has led him from Alton College in Hampshire to the Guildhall, collecting a Dankworth Prize for composition along the way. He’s got an attractively dark, woody tone, and solid  chops that always serve the song - no Stanley Clarke style showboating to be found here. Instead his sure sense of melody sees him often taking the lead voice, allowing guitarist Wood to create textures in support, as on the ballad feature ‘They Know, You Know’.  

lsewhere the trio explore the territory first notably investigated by Metheny and Bill Frisell, and more recently by Julian Lage, where jazz overlaps with other more folksy American forms like country and spirituals - there’s a hint of Haden about Read’s quietly assertive support and restrained, melodic solo on ‘Many Roads Travelled’ and both the title and the lyrical, gently uplifting major-key pulse of the song recall the classic Metheny/Haden collaborations memorably captured on 80/81 and Beyond The Missouri Sky. The trio are very evenly balanced in terms of playing style and artistic vision and have the easy familiarity and unhurried, open communication that comes with long practice - this album follows on from an earlier ‘Anecdotes Volume 1’. ‘Burford Brown’ has some midtempo walking-bass swing that allows Read and Newell to turn things up with some active interplay - ‘In Motian’ is surely a tribute to the late lamented drummer, whose longstanding collaborations with Frisell and exploration of a similarly loosely simpatico collection of influences are both audible inspirations. ‘K’ has a funky swagger, apparently inspired by Kendrick Lamar and Kurt Rosenwinkel in equal measure, though the latter’s influence is easier to detect, and ‘Revolutions’ is a straight breezy swinger that wouldn’t be out of place on a Barney Kessel album. All in all this is a well-realised and delivered project, with the quality of the (all-original) compositions and the restraint and taste in evidence from all three participants demonstrating a high level of maturity for such a new act. If the temperature never rises above a certain level, there’s a nice blend of the contemporary and the traditional that keeps the interest alive throughout and leaves the listener wanting more. 


GREG CORDEZ - Last Things Last

Micheal Blake - tenor sax; Steve Cardenas - guitar; Greg Cordez - bass guitar; Kirk Knufke - cornet; Allison Miller - drums

New Zealand born, Bristol-based Greg Cordez is a busy fellow, dividing his time between the UK and New York City and his talent between electric and double bass. His CV features a diverse range of artists including Patrick Wolf, Jim White, Merz, Oi Va Voi, Avishai Cohen, Hayley Westenra, Jerry Douglas, Iain Ballamy, Jason Rebello, Pee Wee Ellis, Jim Mullen, Andy Sheppard amongst many others, and his press release mentions influences from Charlie Haden, the Bad Plus’ Reid Anderson and Todd Sickafoose (another Haden fan) but also Mogwai, Ethiopiques and Gram Parsons, so we can tell that we’re dealing with a wide-ranging musical multidisciplinarian.

his recording follows on from 2015’s Paper Crane; while that debut was recorded in Bristol with  some of the city’s finest, this sophomore recording sees him in Brooklyn with an impressive cast of hot New York players, loosely associated around the New School in Manhattan all of whom share his genre-blending proclivities. Kirk Knufke and Micheal Blake both simply fly in their solos after the  Ethiopiques flavoured theme on opener  ‘Chekov’s Gun’ - the rhythm section are solid, creative but unflashy, grooving away imperturbably.  ‘Cherry Des Moines’, named in tribute to the Cherry Sisters, ‘the worst musical act of all time’, has an indie-rock flavour to it’s straight-ahead rhythm track, like something Arcade Fire might do, but the theme and solos are pure NYC jazz. Cordez’ economical bass playing is a perfect match for Miller’s crisp, clean-cut drumming, and he’s mostly content to remain in the engine room and let his high-caliber soloists explore the forms he’s written - ‘Figlock’ is given to Cardenas as a workout over soaring horns, like a mix between Bill Frisell and Bon Iver - the guitarist’s back catalogue provides a direct link to Paul Motian and Charlie Haden through his work with both those titans.  There’s plenty of great playing and Cordez’ compositions are convincing and emotive, but the mood is consistently introspective and downbeat after the first two tracks and the album might have benefitted from a more diverse programming - this band can really catch fire when the occasion demands.  ‘JuneBug’ is a quiet, introverted closer and this highly individual record deserves a more rousing send-off.




Monica Vasconcelos - voice; Ife Tolentino - guitaR; Liam Noble - piano; Andres Lafone - bass guitar; Yaron Stavi - bass; Marius Rodrigues - drums

The subtitle for this record is ‘Brasilian Resistance Songs’  - it’s a collection of material from the golden age of Musica Popular Brasilieira, or MPB, when artists like João Bosco, Caetono Veloso Chico Buarque and Gonzaguinha blended the folkloric sounds of their native Brasil with influences from American jazz and funk and current pop sounds such as the Beatles to create a vibrant international hybrid. This period also coincided with Brasil’s 20-year repressive military dictatorship; many of the writers represented here were censored, imprisoned or fled to the UK (hence those Beatles influences), and underneath the infectiously joyful spirit of the music there are messages of defiance and resistance, giving an added weight and depth to much of the material. 

In keeping with the original music’s international outlook, the band is a blue-ribbon blend with top-flight players from South America, the UK and Israel, and the music is as immaculately performed as you might expect.  Pianist Liam Noble contributes a pair of apposite interludes that show him  absorbing the language into his own unmistakeable voice. The arrangements are dominated by nylon string guitar, light, sensitive drumming from Rodrigues and Vasconcelos’ warm, clear vocals - the obvious reference is Joyce Moreno, especially on the storming version of Bosco’s ‘Ronco Da Cuica’ and the baião flavoured ‘Disparada’ - Vasconcelos’ voice has a similar tone and delivery, and the carefully plotted, tastefully swinging arrangements are reminiscent of Joyce’s early 80s releases with her husband, drummer Tutty Moreno. There’s great solo work from Noble, especially on ‘Mestre-Salas dos Mares’ and the rich tones of Stavi’s bowed double bass add sonorous weight to ‘Agnus Sei’ and the album’s stand-out, the astonishing and little known composition ‘Sete Centas De Imyra’ by the heavily censored artist Taiguara Chalar da Silva. Non-Lusanophones can benefit from the detailed booklet included that gives cultural and historical background to each song, but this album is equally accessible to all by virtue of the superb quality of the performances, and the arrangements that do justice to the timeless quality of the songwriting from some of Brasil’s greatest composers.


TONY TIXIER - The Life Of Sensitive Creatures

Whirlwind WR4716

Tony Tixier - piano; Karl McComas-Reichi  - bass; Tommy Crane - drums

Tony Tixier  made waves as a child prodigy in his native France;  he’s written extensively for larger ensembles and currently plays in the bands of Christian Scott, Seamus Blake and Wallace Roney, so you might expect some pretty bold, tough-swinging statements from this latest release. Instead he’s presenting a trio of highly personal, intimate sounding originals, spiced with a handful of  interpretations of pop tunes from across the ages of the American Songbook. Tixier has a light, fluid touch, able to move seamlessly from hushed block chords to rippling streams of notes - his playing is highly virtuosic but he never hits you over the head with it, as the impressive technique is throughout subordinated to the creation of delicate, introspective mood even in the more uptempo numbers. There are clear echoes of Keith Jarret and Maurice Ravel - ‘Calling Into Quesion’ has a wistful, gently uplifting feel that clearly evokes Jarret’s European quartet, ‘Home At Last” is a dark, propulsive blues with a  strong hint of McCoy Tyner;  Louis Armstrongs’ venerable  “Tight Like Me’ is turned into a headlong rush of right-hand runs reminiscent of Chick Corea over a modishly broken-beat ostinato -  ‘Blind Jealously Of A Paranoid’ recalls Corea again, in the era of ‘Now He Sings, Now He Sobs’, and is nowhere near as abrasive as the title suggests - ‘I Remember The Time Of Plenty’ is an affectingly introspective opening number with Jarrett’s mix of European, jazz and free influences, that also parallels some of the Neil Cowley trio’s characteristic minor chording over pulsing straight eighths.  

The writing is a nicely balanced blend of precision and freedom, and McComas-Reichi and Crane are perfect partners, empathetically supportive, capable of following the flow of the music and supporting wherever it goes, and with emphatic but un-flashy chops - Crane’s drum breaks on ‘Denial Of Love’ catch the attention. Overall a very satisfying, well conceived and immaculately executed entry into the crowded piano-trio field that should make waves.


SEN3 - The Drop

Max O’Donnell - guitar; Dino Giulino - bass; Saleem Raman - drums
with Charlie Platt - keys; Andrew Kramer - metallicophone, gimbri, hang, tabla, melodica, harp, kalimba; Alan Short - flute

This album has been around for a while, but SEN3 are starting to attract the attention of a wider audience, not least because of a tip from Jazzwise in their ‘Who To Look Out For In 2018’ column, so it’s worth a revisit for those who may not yet be aware. The band are a modern take on the jazz-fusion power trio format, with the Wayne Krantz influenced guitar stylings of Max O’Donnell at the centre, supported by Raman’s nimble drumming and Giulino’s considered bass playing, boosted by judicious use of synths. 

Their contemporary sensibility is evident in the lack of the levels of bombast traditionally associated with fusion - there’s a lot of textural work from O’Donnell using various pedal combinations, and Giulino keeps his enthusiasm for Pastorius in check to deliver some slick, laid-back palm mute lines. ‘Benson Dealer’ sets out their stall, with a cool chording over a laid-back feel between shuffle and straight, swapping into an urgent cop-show wah-wah funk;  ‘The Meat’ has Giulino and Raman mixing up the dragging, ‘slug’ feel with more straight-ahead groove, and throughout  there’s an accessible, very contemporary, almost pop sensibility to proceedings helped out by the additional musicians who add layers of sound to expand the aural horizon. O’Donnell is a fleet enough soloist when required, as evidenced on ‘The Rinse’, but in general the band stick to the Weather Report ‘we always solo, we never solo’ ethos so that each track is a truly group effort. ‘The Drop’  and ‘Orbit’ would fit neatly into the zone where fusion and post-rock intermingle - the shifting meters and textures intermingle to exciting effect, but the overall result is supremely listenable and works equally well as a backdrop to your daily round.  ‘The Drop Live’ gives a taste of the hard-working trio in a live setting at one of their innumerable gigs and has an extra immediacy - let’s hope that their upcoming release manages to capture some more of that energy. 



Jure Pukl - soprano & tenor sax, bass clarinet; Matija Dedic - piano; Matt Brewer - bass; Johnathan Blake - drums; Melissa Aldana - tenor sax 

Pukl and Dedic are a pair of highly accomplished Balkan jazz practitioners who have gravitated to New York, as do so many from the world over in pursuit of the particular vision of jazz for which the city remains unparalleled. Pukl is from Slovenia, Dedic is Croatian, and impressive newcomer Melissa Albana (featured on two tracks) is from Chile, but the language they speak is pure 21st century New York jazz, though there are also some European echoes to be heard if you listen hard enough.  ‘Hybrid’ gives a good indication - a fast swinging excursion through harmonically adventurous territory, with plenty of offbeat accents in the theme and everybody blazing through the changes with effortless freedom, powered along by Blake’s tumultuously virtuosic drumming that climaxes in some stunning solo breaks. Next up, ‘Where Are You Coming From?’ introduces the soprano and a yearning minor key introductory theme that suggests the protagonists’ European heritage before a free-time bass cadenza leads us into a powerful  odd-metered vamp section. Blake and Brewer are a well-matched pair, epitomising the current state of contemporary rhythm section chops - Brewer’s warm gut sound and Blake’s mixture of freedom and precision are very much the sound of now, and both Pukl and Dedic exhibit the technical virtuosity and mix of lyricism with uncompromising chromaticism that constitutes the current creative forefront.There’s incomplete information as to who wrote what, though Dedic’s compositions seem to tend towards the more traditional post-bop,  as in the hot mid-tempo swinging ‘Hempburger’ and the mellower ‘Family’ , which starts with an almost-quote from ‘Love For Sale’ and is one of the more straightfowardly melodic compositions on offer, while Pukl gravitates more towards the free end of things, as in his wide ranging ‘Sequence’ pair.  Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’ gets a highly creative, late-night reading on bass clarinet that stands out. 

Overall, while the standard of playing is as exceptional as demanded by the super-competitive NYC scene, the compositions from both participants tend towards a rather rambling abstraction that makes this release easier to admire than to warm to, and Blake’s super-busy, assertive drumming, while consistently impressive, becomes wearisome over the course of the full 67 minutes. Less playing might have equated to more music in this case.



Whirlwind WR4715

Andrew Bain - drums; George Colligan - piano; Jon Irabagon - tenor sax; Michael Janisch - bass

Bain is a terrific drummer in the Elvin Jones tradition, equally established on both sides of the Atlantic, and he’s assembled a top-flight band for this suite of compositions. The spirit of late-period Coltrane looms large over the project’s opener; ‘Accompaniment’ is a classic free-rhythm exploration in the style of ‘Sunship’, though Jon Irabagon is very much his own man on tenor, with a light-toned, fleetly accurate voice. Bain declares that the project ‘takes jazz as a metaphor for positive change in the world’ and that it ‘seeks to link improvisation with the increasingly topical issues of human rights, community and social transformation’. This may seem to indicate a rather daunting experience for the casual listener, but the second track, ‘Hope’ commences with an uplifting, melodic and eminently accessible theme, buoyed by Bain’s thunderous drums, allowing Irabagon and Colligan to showcase their super-hip NYC chops and range from inside to outside and back without losing the initial joyous impetus. ‘Practice’ has fun swapping from an uptempo odd-number meter to a super-swinging groove and back again, with Colligan and Irabagon making sparks fly; ‘Responsibility’ has a swinging backbeat and an artful Steely Dan quote from Colligan, generating some down-home bluesy heat; elsewhere there are some ingenious writing devices that bely Bain’s modest claim that he’s a writer of music for improvisors rather than a composer, like the shifting, overlapping tempos of ‘Surprise, and the structures lurking within the free-sounding ‘Listening’. 

The overall impression is of a band of superb players at the top of their game, all pushing each other to greater heights of improvisation with spirited good humour. However, it’s also Bain’s compositional strength that ties the project together. While the players are forever pushing at the boundaries, the writing is firmly rooted in the melodically comprehensible, high-energy extrovert post-bop tradition, and this makes the album an extremely uplifting, even accessible listen that succeeds in making straight jazz sound exciting and relevant.  ‘Embodied Hope’ turns out to be a highly appropriate title.


SAM BARNETT - New York-London Suite

Sam Barnett - alto & tenor sax; Laurence Wilkins - trumpet; Timur Pak - piano; Michele Montolli - bass; Zoe Pascal - drums

Sam and cohort are representing the sound of the emerging London jazz scene; it’s a fun exercise to put the album on and listen all the way through before trying to guess the age of the players. If you can’t wait that long, we can reveal that the leader was just 16 at the time of recording, and even then he wasn’t the youngest player on the session. The level of playing matches the quality of the compositions, which are all by Sam, though ‘Maiden Flight’ has an acknowledged debt to Herbie Hancock as suggested by the title. 

Throughout the writing displays an astonishing maturity and grasp of contemporary jazz forms. There’s a loose theme based around impressions of New York and Sam’s native London, with a stylistic variety that’s convincingly handled, whether it’s the poised ballad of ‘Liberty’ or the more rumbustious ‘Morning Shadowplay’, where teenage drum prodigy Zoe Pascal handles the shifts from swing to free-time to 12/8 with startling ease and aplomb for one so young. Barnett has a clear, slightly acidic tone on alto and his solos are chock full of exciting ideas beautifully executed - his solo on ‘London Meditations’ is really attention grabbing. Elsewhere Laurence Wilkins impresses with his creativity, control and accuracy, Montolli is solid and swinging, and melodically satisfying on his solo statement on ‘London Meditiation’  and pianist Pak has some excellent contributions throughout, notably on the same waltz-time tune.  Overall the record tends more towards the reflective, but this band can really cook and it would have been good to hear more of them in a more extrovert mode. 

Already the recipient of several tips by Jazzwise journalists in their ‘Shape Of Jazz To Come 2018’ column, we can expect to hear a great deal more from Mr Barnett. 


REZ ABBASI - Unfiltered Universe

Whirlwind WR4713

Rez Abbasi - guitar; Rudresh Mahanthappa - alto sax; Vijay Iyer - piano; Johannes Weidenmuller - bass; Dan Weiss - drums; Elisabeth Mikhael - cello. 

Rez Abbasi has been making waves as a formidable musician operating in a multicultural world where the sounds of the Indian subcontinent are freely blended with the jazz tradition of his adopted New York home. It’s no surprise that he’s joined here by the two other leading exponents of what you might call Indo-Jazz fusion, Iyer and Mahanthappa, whose regular drummer Dan Weiss is also present to handle the fiendishly complex metrical structures. Both Iyer and Maranthappa are international travellers who have roots in India’s southern states, and this album is infused with the intense, rhythmically exuberant tradition of Carnatic music. Unlike in Abbasi’s previous two albums, there is no attempt to introduce the distinctive sounds of South Asian instrumentation - instead, he uses the energy and concepts of Carnatic music as a foundation for this set of upbeat, intense, multi-layered jazz-rock. So the title track uses the kind of metric tricks and long, winding melodies of South India, with no trace of jazz vocabulary, juxtaposed with muscular soloing from Mahanthappa’s full-toned, brassy alto and Abbasi’s own guitar, which bears the imprint of John Abercrombie in it’s fluid, logical blend of abstraction and melody. ‘Unfiltered Universe’ has a solo  by Iyer that almost approaches a hip New York piano trio sound before returning to the Mahavishnu Orchestra-like main theme. ‘Thoughts’ deploys electronic effects to evoke the keening, vocalised swoops typical of U Srinivas’ Carnatic mandolin before turning into a measured, ECM-style ensemble piece with faint echoes of Keith Jarret’s European Quartet. ‘Disagree To Agree’ has a full-on Indo-rock fusion vibe, as does with ‘Dance Number’,  based on Carnatic dance steps, which shows off Abbasi’s fluid attack.  Mikhael’s cello is used to bolster the ensemble parts, but she gets space to come to the  fore with free-improv contributions on ‘Turn Of Events’ which also features a typically virtuosic tumbling solo from Iyer. 

verall this is intense, powerful music with a distinctive personality - Abbasi has succeeded in melding together the many extremely disparate traditions represented here into a coherent whole, with a unique vision well served by his extremely talented ensemble.



APP:003 CD.

Peter Horsfall - vocals; Giacomo Smith - alto sax; Joe Webb - piano; Ferg Ireland - bass; Pedro Segundo - drums

Horsfall is a member of cult Lodon retro-swing outfit Kansas Smitty’s House Band; like Chet Baker, he’s equally known as trumpeter and singer. Here he puts down the horn to deliver a set of hushed, smoky ballads, evoking atmosphere of the eponymous painting by Edward Hopper. The tradition of ballad albums has become something of a lost art recently, despite its noble precedent set by such megastars as Sinatra and Cole and echt jazzers like Johnny Hartmann - Horsfall makes a convincing case for reviving the form with this beautifully understated set. The hidden strength here is is the songwriting - all originals by Horsfall, the five originals show how thoroughly he and co-writer Smith absorbed the Great American Songbook tradition, with ‘Secretly’ being a particularly satisfying example of restrained emotion and good old-fashioned melody over artfully understated chording. Horsfall’s voice is light and airy, restrained, breathy and intimate, reaching up affectingly into the upper registers without undue strain, with a  light touch vibrato, and the band play up to him superbly. Webb’s piano evokes echoes of Tommy Flanagan’s effortlessly hip, light-touch backing for Ella Fitzgerald, the rhythm section are all subtle swing and controlled dynamics, with plenty of space allowed in the arrangements for the songs to breathe. There are some brief, delicious instrumental interludes to set the scene, the first of which breaks down to a simple kick drum pattern before receding into silence, and tastefully conceived, bittersweet Cannonball Adderley flavoured interjections from Smith.  Horsfall has added lyrics to Ellington’s ‘The Sunset and The Mockingbird’ and Barry Harris’ ‘Paradise’ - the former has a particularly successful solo from Smith, and in both cases the venerable standards sit easily with Horsfall and Smith’s own material and demonstrate how convincingly it’s adopted the language; only ‘Couldn’t Stop Loving You’, with it’s meticulously arranged backing chorus, has more of a Ray Charles via Norah Jones vibe. Let’s hope that this extremely satisfying set doesn’t get overlooked in favour of more strident but less fulfilling offerings.


GARETH LOCKRANE BIG BAND - Fistfight At The Barn Dance

Whirlwind WR4710

Gareth Lockrane - flutes, composer, arranger; Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman, Graeme Blevins, Paul Booth, Nadim Teimoori, Richard Shepherd - saxophones and clarinets; Andy Greenwood, Tom Walsh, Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins - trumpets & flugelhorns; Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson, Trevor Mires, Barry Clements - trombones; Mike Outram - guitar; Ross Stanley - keyboards
Ryan Trebilcock - bass; Ian Thomas - drums; Hugh Wilkinson - percussion; Jonny Mansfield - marimba

Anyone who’s seen Gareth Lockrane in concert, or met him in person, will surely have been impressed by his clean-cut, engaging and  approachable personality and his seemingly inexhaustible reserves of energy and enthusiasm. He’s also respected as one of the UK’s foremost jazz virtuosi, notwithstanding the rather marginal place that his axe of choice has occupied in conventional jazz instrumentation. So it’s entirely appropriate that this offering from his big band features a wish-list line-up of superb UK players, and a dazzling display of technical prowess in writing, arrangement and performance that’s agreeably tempered by an accessible melodic sensibility and a palpable sense of fun. The title track lays out the stall - over a swinging New Orleans groove impeccably delivered by the impeccable Thomas and  spiced with hammond organ from the indispensable Ross Stanley, the horns deliver tight, punchy riffs, the ingeniously interlocking parts making way for bravura solo statements from the trombones as the leader’s own flute soars weightlessly above. ‘Do It’ has a cop-show funky swagger - ‘We’ll Never Meet Again’ is a lushly arranged ballad setting for the leader’s cooing tones on alto flute and the endlessly inventive Mike Outram on guitar - ‘Aby7innia’ gives Thomas a stunning solo over the tricky metre, and ‘On The Fly’ has outstanding work by Fishwick and Paul Booth, but everyone rises to the occasion so magnificently that it’s impossible to single out a Man Of The Match. Incredibly, all eleven tunes here were recorded in just one day - given the depth and complexity of the arrangements, and extent to which they switch seamlessly from full ensemble passages to flexible small-group textures, it’s a real tribute to Lockheart’s skill as a bandleader as well as his cohorts level of musicality. 

The sound, captured at the Fish Market by engineer Ben Lamdin, is rich and detailed, and Lockheart is generous with solo space, allowing each member of his multi-generational dream band space to shine. It’s ample evidence of the strength of the UK musical community’s talent, and the leader’s delight in every aspect of music making shines through in every aspect of this joyous recording. 


ENTROPI - Moment Frozen

Whirlwind WR4711

Dee Byrne - alto sax; Andre Canniere - trumpet; Rebecca Nash - piano; Olie Brice - bass; Matt Fisher - drums

This is the second release under the leadership of Dee Byrne, who writes all the tunes here, though the balance of strong personalities in the band mean that no single voice dominates. Byrne’s solos are powerful, urgent and attractively grainy-toned, with a touch of the Jackie McClean, and her writing is equally forceful and characteristic. The titles hint at an overarching concept at work, to do with interstellar bodies and cycles of energy, and the musical content is suitably austere and serious. ‘Stelliferous Area’ has an imposing, minor-key atmosphere, enhanced the clear, restrained trumpet work of Canniere, who impressed with his own equally sombre ‘Darkening Blue’ release earlier in 2017 - the composition is elegantly put together in the European straight-8 style and Fisher’s powerfully virtuosic drumming builds up a real intensity. ‘Fish Whisperer’ moves from similarly chilly, evocative beginnings into free territory. ‘Interloper’ is described as ‘a dark, aggressive tune about an unwanted intruder’ but the switch to fender rhodes actually introduces some warmth to the theme before the band embark upon a group free improvisation. ‘Moment Frozen’ is a stand-out, the horns playing long notes to create a sense of stillness and peace over a turbulent free rhythm section, ‘It’s Time’ is the most accessible piece here with a great rhodes solo from Rebeca Nash, whose creative and sensitive accompaniment shines throughout. ‘In The Cold Light Of Day’ is the album’s centrepiece, at 14 minutes long giving everyone time to stretch out and allow the intensity to build, sustain and descend again to stillness. ‘Leap Of Faith’ has a melody faintly reminiscent of ‘In A Silent Way’ and a mood of Alpine space similar to the earliest Weather Report records.

The quality of the musicianship is outstanding throughout, beautifully captured in a crystal clear recording by James Towler and Alex Bonney.  Byrnes is a powerful creative force both as writer and performer and fans of European contemporary jazz will find much to satisfy. 



Gilad Atzmon - tenor & soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet & flute; Frank Harrison - piano; Yaron Stavi - bass; Enzo Zirilli - drums
With the Sigamos String Quartet
Ros Stephen - violin, arranger; Marianne Haynes - violin; Felix Tanner; Laura Anstee - cello

As 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the man who still bestrides the music like a colossus, there’s a slew of celebratory and commemorative releases. Coltrane’s most commonly audible legacies today are perhaps his speed, harmonic ingenuity and extreme prolixity - whenever a young sax player takes innumerable choruses at breakneck tempo and unwavering fortissimo, they can justify their artistic choice by pointing to Trane’s legacy, as filtered down via such athletic virtuosi as Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker. Atzmon is a familiar figure on the UK musical landscape, renowned for his forceful playing and equally uncompromisingly assertive personality, and one might have been forgiven for expecting a high-velocity barnstorming shredfest from this offering. Refreshingly, Atzmon and co have taken an entirely different approach to this tribute. A clue is offered by the presence of the Sigamos String Quartet, who collaborated on the well-received ‘Gilad With Strings’ project - another by the tracklisting. Of the eight compositions, only three are by Coltrane himself - ballads predominate over cookers. 
The album opens with Ellington’s ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ - pianist Harrison replays the motif introduced by Ellington on his collaboration with Trane,  rich-toned bassist Stavi takes the first carefully considered solo,  and Atzmon’s contribution is an exercise in restraint, simply stating the melody with every note given it’s full weight of conviction and intensity before taking flight in an emotionally charged coda . ‘Invitation’ is taken at a slow, sultry rumba, allowing space for the eastern inflections that characterise Atzmon’s playing, convincingly integrated into the jazz language. The tune showcases the beautifully poised, reflective work from the superb Harrison, a quietly virtuosic player whose unique imagination and lightness of touch deserve to be more widely celebrated.  ‘Minor Thing’ is perhaps closest to the usual high-intensity modal Trane tribute, but the rhythm section’s use of space still allows in some air and light, providing an eminently sympathetic environment for Harrison’s particular talents to shine and allowing for a demonstration of how Atzmon remains a unique voice on tenor, his full-bodied tone overlaid with keening, yearning vocalisations that are all his own. 

Throughout, Atzmon points towards some less generally recognised aspects of Trane’s output which perhaps come closer to illuminating the spirit of his music; the strings and multi-tracked reeds imply the kind of textural explorations that Trane briefly employed on ‘Africa Brass’ , while ‘Soul Eyes’, the Mal Waldron composition he championed on his eponymous ‘Coltrane’ release in 1962 illustrates his mastery of the ballad. Atzmon confounds expectations again by taking the inevitable ‘Giant Steps’ at an easy lope, with Harrison’s delightful solo introducing a west-coast cool in place of the original hard bop charge before the quirky sign-off, and ‘Blue Trane’’s implacable blues-heavy swing is subverted into a soprano-sax led 7/4. The album closes with a beautiful rendition of ‘Say It Over And Over Again’ - riding on an airy cloud of strings, Atzmon states the melody before handing over to the impeccable Harrison, and only departs from it to construct a posed, melodic final cadenza. This is a really outstanding record that achieves the difficult task of acknowledging the spirit of Trane without being overwhelmed by his legacy - an authentically creative transformation that is a more fitting tribute than a host of imitators. 


TOM MILLAR - Unnatural Events

Spark 004

Tom Millar - piano; Alex Munk - guitar; Misha Mullov Abbado - bass; Mike Clowes -drums; Alice Zawadski - vocals

This is the debut from Australian RAM graduate Millar, presenting all his own compositions on a fresh new label with a band of rising stars; Munk and Mullov Abbado are both interesting bandleaders in their own right. Opening track ‘Azura Days’ bursts with buoyant melodicism, with the light, upbeat rhythm and Munk’s clean-toned, soaring guitar inviting comparisons with Pat Metheny. ‘The Seafarer’ meanders from an extended rubato opening into a skipping 16th-note jazz-rock feel, with Millar adding puckish solo interjections and lush romantic chords, before some very involved unison work between Millar and Munk.The playing is exemplary but the piece doesn’t really take off as a ‘rock-out anthem’ as it’s publicist has described it - more of a mood piece. Millar’s writing explores the kind of airy, melodically accessible fusion pioneered by Metheny - the title track gives him plenty of room to stretch out in a yearning minor key over a subtly grooving 12/8, and he and Munk are highly compatible players, with a similar melodic sensibility that dances over the track’s gently uplifting harmonic cadences, building upwards towards Mike Clowes’ bravura drum break. ‘Power Chord Thing’ is an exercise in rhythmic virtuosity from the whole band, with the same kind of skipping minor-key urgency, and the tricky 5/8 metre is handled so expertly that it sounds compellingly natural throughout - ‘Choro’ has a wordless vocal from Alice Zawadski and a mellow pastoral feel under it’s sophisticated open harmony, with something of the feel of a Kenny Wheeler composition and Munk in full Metheny mode. ‘Inversaid’ invites Zawadski back in a setting of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem over another rolling 12/8 - the potentially incongruous mix is actually very effective thanks to her compelling delivery and the tight, carefully controlled arrangement. Mullov Abbado gets to show off his impressive solo chops, as he does again in the more overtly fusion-y ‘Woad’ and again in ‘Park Hill’,  a Norah Jones style, gospel-tinged piano ballad that is beautifully written - a real stand-out composition.

 This is carefully plotted, ambitiously composed and virtuosically performed music, treading a skilfully maintained balance between the tricky time-signature exercises of contemporary fusion and a highly accessible melodic sense. Those looking for raw, unfiltered jazz self-expression should probably look elsewhere but fans of contemporary fusion will find much here to delight them. It sounds like it would be great to see live as well. 


Samuel Eagles - alto sax; Duncan Eagles - tenor sax; Jean Toussaint - tenor sax; Sam Leak - piano; Ralph Wyld - vibraphone; Dave Hamblett - drums

The prolific Eagles brothers continue to blaze a trail through the UK jazz scene - 2017 has already seen the release of Counteraction  from Partikel, the band co-led by Duncan which also features the bassist Max Luthert,  and now here’s Samuel’s belated follow-up to his wave-making 2014 debut Next Beginning. Duncan lends a brotherly hand on the frontline, and the two saxes complement each other perfectly in terms of tone, texture and phrasing, as shown to good effect on the euphoric rising coda to ‘Changed, Changing Still’, where there seem to be more than two parts - either through double-tracking or very dextrous multi-playing a la Roland Kirk. The writing shows a wide-ranging set of influences drawn from  the area where contemporary jazz shades over into acoustic fusion  - ‘Hear His Voice’ has a folk-music tinge to it’s opening modal melody before progressing into darker waters; ‘Hope In The Hills’ and 'Ask, Seek Knock' both have evocative rising pentatonic melodies over piano ostinatos that could fit neatly into a  Snarky Puppy’s or Christian Scott setlist, though Eagle’s more intimate approach precludes unnecessary bombast.

The title ‘The Twelve’ suggests a Schoenbergian tribute or a celebration of the Apostles but has a tumbling, straight 8 groove and chiming chords that actually approaches a straight jazz-rock feel. Eagles likes writing long, winding melodic lines over open, tonally resolving harmony, with some neat rhythmic tricks thrown in for good measure, and the results are accessible without being trite, and generate an atmosphere of calmly restrained, gently building euphoria, fitting the track titles which seem to suggest a spiritual quest. Leak and Wyld are sympathetic accompanists and outstanding soloists who never overshadow the leader, and the team of Hamblett and Luthert are unerringly precise and flexible - ‘Dreams And Visions’ starts out in free-rhythm but never loses it’s melodic impulse, and generally Eagles’ priority seems to be to engage the listener rather than confound them. Mentor Jean Toussaint lends a heavyweight jazz presence to the latter tune, his hoarse urgent tone over the 6/8 groove tying things back to the US jazz tradition, but overall this is a poised and melodic work that for all the virtuosity of the playing seldom rises over a certain emotional temperature. But the writing is strong, the band are capable of doing great things with the material, and there’s enough really beautiful playing - check out Sam’s solo on ‘SPIRIT’ - to make this a stand-out UK release from this year.



Ubuntu Music UBU0005

Leo Richardson - tenor sax; Rick Simpson - piano; Mark Lewandowski - bass; Ed Richardson - drums

The album cover features a besuited Richardson, a duskily lit shot of the quartet playing at Ronnie’s and a fulsome eulogy from Jean Toussaint by way of liner notes, coupled with a quote from John Coltrane - “You’ve got to look back at old things and see them in a new light”. All of which serves to introduce Richardson as a player who operates firmly within the jazz tradition. Leo’s dad is bassist Jim Richardson, a stalwart of the UK scene; recordings of Jim’s work backing Chet Baker as part of the John Horler trio recently resurfaced on Ubuntu music to universal acclaim. Richardson senior has accumulated  a diverse musical biography since the 1970s, including spells with Keith Tippet and funksters Morrissey-Mullen, but on this recording his son’s musical frame of reference is set squarely in the decades before his dad's career had even begun. ‘The Curve’ is a classic Blue Note latin boogie, like an out-take from ‘The Sidewinder’, with the quartet  augmented by ace trumpeter Quentin Collins to underline the comparison - ‘Blues For Joe’ is a Silver-esque exploration of the form, ‘Demon E’  is a gospel-tinged minor-key shuffle of the kind that Bobby Timmons used to supply for Art Blakey, and ‘Silver Lining’ completes the set with a boppish head over rhythm changes of the type beloved by the title’s namesake. Uptempo burner ‘The Chase’ and the modal flavoured ‘Mambo’ move things forward into the era of Joe Henderson and the more self-consciously spiritually charged, harmonically adventurous sound of post-Coltane jazz, and the UK’s greatest Trane disciple Alan Skidmore is on hand to lend his undimming commitment and urgency to the closing 10-minute ‘Mr Skid’, complete with thunderous Elvin groove, crashing left-hand chording from Simpson and starkly portentous minor blues theme. 

To plough such a well-established furrow and still bring forth a fruitful musical harvest takes a high level of skill and a genuine deep understanding of the music, and fortunately Richardson and his cohort are amply equipped with both. ‘Blues For Joe’ sets out the stall; Lewandowski rises effortlessly to the challenge of keeping the momentum going with an opening bass solo on such an uptempo tune, and the groove he sets up with drummer Ed Richardson is swinging, supple, responsive and strong. Leo’s solo is storming; a powerful, rounded, projecting sound and an immaculately swinging groove recalling such mighty classic-era tenor giants as Rollins and Gordon, with incorporations from the later harmonic explorations of the school of Joe Henderson. The band play up magnificently under Simpson’s equally assured piano solo. ‘Elisha’s Song’ is the sole ballad and allows Richardson to demonstrate both his compositional skill and his control, melodicism and beautifully velvety tone, but elsewhere the dominant mood is one of confident, muscular extroversion. The band sound terrific - it’s really impossible to single out any one of them as man of the match, so balanced is their collective musicality - and the focus and strength of Richardson’s compositions elevate proceedings above the status of the stereotypical quartet blowing session. One is tempted to make comparisons with another great UK tenorist, Tubby Hayes, equally renowned for his technical skill, big, brawny tone and thorough assimilation of the US post-bop language. If Hayes leaves the impression that he never quite seemed to live up to his promise, as though his technical facility outstripped his capacity for a profound artistic vision, Richardson’s good taste, poise and soul make this a thoroughly enjoyable outing that should be even more satisfying when appreciated in a live setting. 



Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 1007

Sam Braysher - alto sax; Michael Kanan - piano

This is a cross-continental, cross-generational hook-up between young Guildhall graduate Braysher and formidable New York pianist Kanan, known in particular as a duettist with such luminaries and Jimmy Scott, Jane Monheit and guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Kanan is a renowned interpreter of the Great American Songbook and this album presents the pair duetting on ten carefully chosen standards from some of the more unfamiliar corners of the repertoire. “Dancing In The Dark” gets a hushed, reverent reading, the verse stripped down to a spacious counterpoint between sax and right hand until Kanan enters with stripped, unsentimental chords and Braysher embellishes with such restraint that it seems like a natural extension of the composer’s original intention. Charlie Parker’s ‘Cardboard’ has an extended unison passage that showcases the similarities between Braysher and the acid-drop coolness of Lee Konitz - it’s utterly swinging, with the restraint that comes from total self-assurance,  and hip as a New York minute. 

The sole original is by Braysher - ‘BSP’ is a ringer for the 50s cool school of Konitz or Warne Marsh, and lives up to it’s ambitions well thanks in no small part to an effortlessly poised solo from Kanan. It’s  a rich legacy that got somewhat overlooked in the stampede to follow Coltrane, but which now seems to be regaining influence thanks to the championing from players such as Chris Potter and Seamus Blake. Throughout this excellent record both players seem to be seeking to reinvigorate the  standards tradition by looking back towards it’s original inspirations in the show tunes and pop music culture that initiated it, rather than by re-visiting existing jazz interpretations - but the restraint, taste and hipness of their musicality not only breathes new life into the material but re-affirms the values that defined some of the classic material of the Golden Era. Kanan has a huge technique at his disposal but uses it sparingly - the magisterial way he evokes the lush Ellington sound on “All Too Soon” contrasting with stark opening voicings on “Beautiful Moons Ago” to show how he effectively he deploys his repertoire. 

The mood is subtle and introverted rather tan heart-on-the-sleeve, but nonetheless this very classy and hugely enjoyable recording, produced and released by the Barcelona label that helped launch the careers of Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire and Rosenwinkel himself,  should delight traditionalists and might send some others back to check out aspects of the music that they may have neglected. Catch them on tour together in the UK this September.


DAVE O'HIGGINS - It’s Always 9.30 in Zog

JVG Productions JVG018CD

Dave O’Higgins - tenor & soprano sax; Graham Harvey - piano, rhodes; Geoff Gascoyne - bass; Sebastian De Krom - drums

The attractively retro packaging on this record is copied from the classic era Blue Notes and the line-up is the classic horn-plus-rhythm format, but O’Higgins has chosen this album to expand beyond his customary repertoire of standards and contrafacts and showcase no less than eight original compositions, plus a couple of extras from Bheki Mseleku and accordionist Chico Chagas - an excitingly eclectic mix. The title track is a blues with a contemporary twist, with theme influenced by Jerry Bergonzi and a dab of free blowing in the intro, but once the band kick in for solos we’re in familiar territory, with O’Higgins doing what he does best - breathing real life and vitality into the tried and tested post-bop tradition. The band swing like the clappers as Harvey invokes the spirit of Wynton Kelly - O’Higgins follows with a seamless mix of bop phrases and angular modernistic obliquities, all delivered with his customary rhythmic panache and pure, crisply centered tone. There’s a walking solo from Gascoyne and a shout chorus with a tumultous Blakey-esque solo from De Krom, and that’s really everything you could want from a contemporary bop outfit delivered in a single immaculately executed package. 

s you might expect, O’Higgin’s writing is as carefully and crisply delivered as his playing -  ‘The Adventures Of Little Peepsie’ has some well-considered meter changes to keep things moving along,  ‘Alien With Extraordinary Ability’ ranges further afield to invoke the rhodes-and-soprano samba sound of Chick Corea’s initial Return To Forever albums, and ‘Nothing To Lose’ has all the swagger and blues-drenched sophisitication of a Benny Golson chart. ‘Brixton’, the Chagas penned bossa nova, has an  O’Higgins solo that is a lesson in clear construction and as it moves from melting romanticism to rigourous explorations of the changes and descends to a quiet finale - ‘Timelessness’ the stormingly upbeat Mseleku track, bears an interesting relationship to the version recorded by John Donaldson on his ‘Nearer Awakening” album, also well worth checking out. Elsewhere there’s an odd-number time signature jazz-rock inflected groover in ‘New Resolution’ and a couple of straight readings of standards to round things off.

The recording, in O’Higgin’s own studio, is as clear and warm as you could wish for and the band sound terrific throughout this high quality resume of one of our foremost players in the tradition - perhaps no new ground broken, but a thorough demonstration of mastery of the form. There’s an exhaustively comprehensive tour in support so you’re advised to check the website for your nearest gig. 


TOM MILLAR - Unnatural Events

Spark 004

Tom Millar - piano; Alex Munk - guitar; Misha Mullov Abbado - bass; Mike Clowes -drums; Alice Zawadski - vocals

This is the debut from Australian RAM graduate Millar, presenting all his own compositions on a fresh new label with a band of rising stars; Munk and Mullov Abbado are both interesting bandleaders in their own right. Opening track ‘Azura Days’ bursts with buoyant melodicism, with the light, upbeat rhythm and Munk’s clean-toned, soaring guitar inviting comparisons with Pat Metheny. ‘The Seafarer’ meanders from an extended rubato opening into a skipping 16th-note jazz-rock feel, with Millar adding puckish solo interjections and lush romantic chords, before some very involved unison work between Millar and Munk.The playing is exemplary but the piece doesn’t really take off as a ‘rock-out anthem’ as it’s publicist has described it - more of a mood piece. Millar’s writing explores the kind of airy, melodically accessible fusion pioneered by Metheny - the title track gives him plenty of room to stretch out in a yearning minor key over a subtly grooving 12/8, and he and Munk are highly compatible players, with a similar melodic sensibility that dances over the track’s gently uplifting harmonic cadences, building upwards towards Mike Clowes’ bravura drum break. ‘Power Chord Thing’ is an exercise in rhythmic virtuosity from the whole band, with the same kind of skipping minor-key urgency, and the tricky 5/8 metre is handled so expertly that it sounds compellingly natural throughout - ‘Choro’ has a wordless vocal from Alice Zawadski and a mellow pastoral feel under it’s sophisticated open harmony, with something of the feel of a Kenny Wheeler composition and Munk in full Metheny mode. ‘Inversaid’ invites Zawadski back in a setting of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem over another rolling 12/8 - the potentially incongruous mix is actually very effective thanks to her compelling delivery and the tight, carefully controlled arrangement. Mullov Abbado gets to show off his impressive solo chops, as he does again in the more overtly fusion-y ‘Woad’ and again in ‘Park Hill’,  a Norah Jones style, gospel-tinged piano ballad that is beautifully written - a real stand-out composition.

 This is carefully plotted, ambitiously composed and virtuosically performed music, treading a skilfully maintained balance between the tricky time-signature exercises of contemporary fusion and a highly accessible melodic sense. Those looking for raw, unfiltered jazz self-expression should probably look elsewhere but fans of contemporary fusion will find much here to delight them. It sounds like it would be great to see live as well. 


KENNY WARREN QUARTET - Thank You For Coming To Life

Whirlwind WHR 4702

Kenny Warren - trumpet; JP Schlegelmilch - piano; Noah Garabedian - bass; Satoshi Takeishi - drums

This is a highly ambitious, eclectic recording that emphasises yet again how the melting pot of New York’s improvised music scene continues to draw in the fiercest talents from across the US and beyond. All the compositions are by the leader and showcase his clear, pure tone, awesomely accurate intonation and powerful attack across all the registers - and the band are right up with him in terms of technical accomplishment and musical bravado. ‘Stones Change’ has a staccato, serial-music sounding theme that owes nothing to bop vocabulary; the irregular, unpredictable phrasing is picked up by the rhythm section and used as a springboard for the kind of metric experiments that are defining the cutting edge of international contemporary jazz.

Despite the implacably abstract nature of the writing the band manage to convey a lot of joy and enthusiasm due to the sheer gusto with which they tackle Warren’s challenging compositions - ‘Huge Knees’ is a manic grab-bag of different time signatures, all played at full pelt and with equal conviction. Takeishi deserves special mention for his powerhouse contributions, and he and Garabedian nail every change with pin-point accuracy. All the contributors are bandleadersin their own right, and it shows; pianist Schlegelmilch adding neatly compositional improvisations throughout that show how in tune his conception is with Warren,  his long-term collaborator and former school-friend. ‘Iranosaurus Rex’ has a more introspective mood, allowing for a lot of inventive colouration behind Warren’s probing, exploratory lines; ‘Hala Hala’ suprises by breaking from a dizzy Ornette/Braxton-style unison line into a a raucous shuffle, and then back again; ‘Cheese Greater’ is a quirkily jaunty as it’s name suggests, again echoing Ornette’s quizzical melodic sense over a bouncing backbeat; album closer ‘Every Moment Is Born Lives And Dies’ sees the quartet exploring a more soft-edged, melodic expression that is delivered with every bit of the same conviction as the rest of the set, but throttles back on the manic energy, and is in many ways the real stand-out as a result. 

This is a powerful set of immaculate performances displaying real integrity, good humour and muscular imagination, and a great summary of where contemporary jazz has headed over the last decade, though it demands a level of commitment from the listener as well as the players that may put off anyone who wants a suitably unobtrusive accompaniment for their dinner. 



Fanfare FJ1701

Tali Atzmon - vocals; Jenny Bliss Bennet - viola da gambe, violin, flute, vocals; Gilad Atzmon - bass clarinet, soprano sax, accordion; Yaron Stavi - bass; Frank Harrison - piano; Enzo Zirilli - percussion

This is billed as ‘a music loving adventure’ on the sleeve, and it certainly lives up to that description as well as any other. Tali Atzmon is an Israeli actress and singer, and Jenny Bliss is a Baroque music specialist; together they front a band whose other members are drawn from various incarnations of the Orient House Ensemble, led by another Atzmon with whom UK jazz audiences are already very familiar, the incendiary reedsman Gilad.

The mood throughout is intense, downtempo, hushed and meditative, and the contributions of the different musicians’ highly diverse disciplines blend effectively on Atzmon’s original compositions, with Gilad’s broad vibrato evoking the rich culture of the Levant in fascinating contrast to Bennet’s restrained, decidedly European contributions. ‘Don’t Explain’ is given a straight ballad reading, with Atzmon’s accented english conjuring a vision of cafe society over Harrison and Stavi’s flawlessly sensitive accompaniment; ‘Invitation’’s exotic melody is worked into a middle eastern tango hybrid, and ‘Four 2 Tango’ adds plaintive accordion and freaky vocalisations to the mix to eerie effect. 

Gilad Atzmon is known as a powerful and prolix improvisor, but his contributions here are restrained and nicely judged to enhance the unusual blend - Stavi gives a lesson in solid and sensitive support, and Harrison’s piano is a delight as always. ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ sounds almost Teutonically stern; original ‘When You’re Gone’ adds an affectingly simple, attractively naive freshness by way of contrast, captured by a clear and warm recording by Ben Lamdin.  

here could have been space for more contributions from Bennet, as the overall impression is decidedly heavier on the jazz/chanson side that on the Baroque - it will be intriguing to see how the sound develops if this powerfully atmospheric, unusual recording generates the attention it richly deserves and leads to a follow-up. 


TARA MINTON - The Tides Of Love

Tara Minton - harp, vocals; Ed Babar - bass; Tom Early - drums; Duncan Menzies - violin; Phil Merriman - hammond organ; Filippo Dall’Asta - guitar; Lilia Ioncheva - percussion
Tim Boniface -horns, keys
Plus string quartet arranged by Graham Foote

The harp has played a relatively minor role in jazz - notable exceptions being provided by Dorothy Ashby’s bop-to-groove exploits in the 60s, and of course by Alice Coltrane who deployed it’s facility for sweeping glissandos to utterly cosmic effect in her seminal series of 70s recordings for Impulse! records. Of late there’s been a revival of interest in the cosmic jazz sounds of Coltrane and the harp has re-appeared in the self-avowedly tribute paying bands of Matthew Halsall and Alina Bzhezhinska.  Minton’s music however works from a very different set of influences - opener and title track ‘Tides Of Love’ showcases her impressive vocal power and emotive songwriting in a sweepingly, grandiosely romantic performance that is more reminiscent of Kate Bush or that other noted harpist/vocalist, Joanna Newsome, than it is of the jazz tradition. 

Songs like ‘Play With Me’ and ‘Smitten’ work within the tried and tested formula of tin pan alley songwriting as practiced by the Brill Building songwriters of the early 60s like Goffin and King. Minton’s voice is clear, strong and pure and conveys a great deal of sincerity - ‘February Forever’’s verse has a tumbling flow of confessional lyrics that clearly owe a debt to Joni Mitchell, whose influence can also be seen in the swooping multi-register melody and the carefully thought out complexity of the arrangement. There’s a high standard of playing by the excellent band, which features several well-respected players from the London jazz scene, and the quality of the arrangements is outstanding, with the harp taking on the role usually given to the piano, adding an attractive space and lightness.

However it’s questionable whether there will be much here to appeal to those looking for jazz content - the song title ‘Rock And Roll Romance” is a pretty clear indicator of the music’s primary influences - while those in search of confessional songwriting may already have pledged their allegiance elsewhere in this crowded field, where there are a host of other artists who, while Minton can match the best of them in emotional sincerity and musical skill, may have the edge when it comes to originality.  


SUE McCREETH - Look Back & Love
Tru-nu TNCD355

Sue McCreeth - vocals, guitar, keys; John Donaldson, Mike Varty, John Horler, Paul Harrison - keys; Dave Green, Andrew Cleyndert, Mario Caraibe, - bass; Steve Brown, Mark Fletcher, Stuart Brown, Steve Brown - drums; Andres Ticino - percussion; Martin Shaw - trumpet; Ian Salmon - guitar and bass guitar

This is an anthology of work from at least four different sessions over thelast fifteen years, the consistency provided by McCreeth’s cool, controlled delivery, pitched in an intimate sounding mid-register, and her songwriting style, which occupies the same territory between confessional folk balladry, fusiony jazz and adult-oriented rockthat was explored by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny or John Martyn in the late seventies and early eighties. Like those artists, McCreeth has availed herself of the services of some of the finest jazz players available; it’s a real delight to hear underexposed piano master John Donaldson and veteran bassist Dave Green take flight on their sessions; ‘Sat Nam’ sees them exploiting the plentiful space afforded by McCreeth’s relatively harmonically static composition to cook up some groovy Fender Rhodes explorations. 

The sessions with the awesome trio of Horler, Cleyndert and Fletcher are equally notable for the band’s contributions - ‘The Dancer’ makes effective use of an odd-number meter to create a dark, exotic mood and provides the jumping-off point for some exciting jamming. The mood is reflective and gently inspirational, with the lyrics exploring personal themes; ‘Mother Sister Father Brothers’ conjures up echoes of the Carpenters for a heartfelt tribute to personal relationships - ‘Other Times We Fly’ has Martin Shaw adding thoughtful trumpet for a spacious ballad. There are echoes of Flora Purim’s features with the early editions of Return To Forever as well, or Gayle Moran’s work with Corea, as well as smooth jazz minimalists like Sade. 

Though McCreeth’s unaffected performances are consistent and all the bands are great, the album struggles to create a coherent personality from the different sessions; the more ‘studio’ based session with Mike Varty sits uneasily alongside the spontaneously played band sessions, and the increased level of production on the former occasionally sounds dated and undercooked. Still, there’s plenty here that would enhance a JazzFm playlist. 



ASC Records - ASCCD167/68

Daryl Runswick - bass ; Don Rendell, Stan Sulzmann, Alan Skidmore, Jim Philip - flute, tenor & soprano sax; Alan Branscombe, Mike McNaught, Tony Hymas, Mick Pyne - piano, rhodes; Spike Wells, Mike Travis, Harold Fisher - drums

This collection of live quartet recordings made between 1970 and 1978 provide a fascinating snapshot of the state of UK jazz in the 1970s as it moved out of the shadow of the US giants of the 50s and 60s and towards forging an identity of it’s own. Runswick is something of a polymath, being a pianist, composer, conductor and singer as well as a true virtuoso on bass - his solo on the very first tune,  the altered blues ‘Wyntones’, demonstrates that Dave Holland wasn’t the only fast gunslinger in London town. The earliest tracks here are by The London Jazz Four - a couple of covers of pop hits ‘McArthur Park’ and Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without Her’ - that have not aged particularly well, but give a glimpse into the high standards of skill and originality on the scene at the time, as demonstrated by the relatively obscure players Philip, McNaught and Travis, that have perhaps been unfairly overlooked by subsequent generations. McNaught’s work on the furious modal solo section of ‘MacArthur Park’, and the level of interplay within the band, is worth the price of admission by itself. Runswick worked for Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine for 13 years, first as bassist then as pianist, which put him right at the heart of the UK jazz establishment, and his own quartet recordings from 1973 feature the mighty Don Rendell, then an established player of an older generation who Runswick had met as part of Dankworth’s big band,  contributing his own very personal interpretation of Coltrane’s influence. The band, completed by Branscombe on piano and Wells on drums gels ‘like superglue’  (to cite Runswick himself, justifiably) in a series of tracks that are reaching beyond the hard-swinging bop-and-blues format associated with players like Tubby Hayes towards the more reflective, harmonically adventurous style that would come to typify European jazz - the straight-8 feel of ‘Lainey’s Tune’’ in particular looks forwards towards the future and still sounds current today. ‘Starkers’ is a frantically fast free tune that shows the band’s awesome chops and inventiveness, and the thorough deconstruction of the old chestnut ‘There Is No Greater Love’ shows how they had come to absorb and take ownership of the repertoire. The CD closes with Runswick singing a lyric by Clive James over his own bass accompaniment - an oddity from the heady days of the Cambridge review scene that dominated the comedy landscape in the 1960s. 

CD 2 has some really outstanding music - the 1974 quartet with Stan Sulzmann, Hymas and Wells opens with ‘Sails’, an original by Runswick that owes almost nothing to bop language and fits into the mould of classically influenced UK jazz as developed by Kenny Wheeler or John Taylor, mirrored in Europe by ECM records, particularly through the records made by Jarret’s European Quartet. It’s a delight to hear the wonderful Spike Wells giving free rein to his musical imagination and considerable chops, and laying down a righteous groove on ‘Gazeuse’. The final band is an all-star affair from 1978 with Skidmore, Pyne and Harold Fisher playing ‘Hamrun’, a clear ‘Afro-Blue’ derivative, with a great deal of skill and passion, and a truly explosive solo from Fisher, but it feels as though the initiative has slipped - ‘Lainey My Dear’ owes a very audible debt to Monk, and in a story that was sadly typical of the struggles of jazz in the UK, Runswick had already quit regular jazz work to become a session player. In 1983 he hung up his bass for good. 

he quality of all the recordings is superb given their provenance from live recordings in long-ago clubs, and plaudits are due to ASC for bringing them before the public at a time when UK jazz in enjoying all the signs of a renaissance, albeit in a very different form. 


PETER JONES - Under the Setting Sun

Howlin’ Werewolf HW003

Peter Jones - vocals; Vasilis Xenopolous - tenor sax, flute; Anthony Kerr - vibes; Neil Angilley - piano; Andy Hamill - bass, harmonica; Davide Giovanni - drums

This is the third release by Peter Jones, following on from his well-received 2013 debut ‘One Way Ticket To Palookaville’ and 2015’s ‘Utopia’, which documented how Jones, by his own account ‘fell under the spell of Mark Murphy’. This recording reunites Jones with Angilley and Giovanni, his regular piano and drum team, in a set of original compositions by Jones and Trevor Lever. 

Contemporary jazz vocal albums are a bit of a rarity; the tendency is either to take a brave tilt at the classic repertoire in strictly traditional Sinatra-esque setting, or to move towards a pop style  with only a tangential relationship to the tradition, a la Norah Jones. Mr Jones does neither but instead presents a set of eleven original compositions in a range of carefully arranged small-group settings, using a retro musical vocabulary of which Murphy would surely have approved. There’s a suave lounge-style bossa in ‘Island Honey’, eminently suited to Jones’ warm baritone, a poised, hipply understated ballad in ‘Doggerland’ , acoustic funk in ‘Baby and Hog’ and finger-clicking swing in ‘If Not Now, When?’ driven by Giovanni’s superlatively grooving brushwork. The latter tune also allows the excellent band to show off their authentically boppish jazz credentials - Xenopolous in particular is a well-chosen foil for Jones, with his crisp economical phrasing and impeccably swing.

Jones is also a journalist and the lyrical subjects range far and wide - “A Voice That’s Low, A Voice That’s Sweet’ is surely a tribute to to Murphy as well as humourous diatribe on the noise levels of modern urban living, ‘Doggerland’ imagines the plight of a Mesolithic family forced to abandon their hunting grounds due to rising sea levels in the last glacial period, ‘Baby And Hog’ remembers a pair of Harlem hoofers from the 1940s, and ‘Your Secrets’ contains a lyrical nod to Sandy Denny and a lush multi-tracked vocal harmony in a  wistful paean to an absent lover. 

The mood is deliberately low-key and late-night but doesn’t suffer a loss of intensity or conviction as a result. If Jones’ vocal skills don’t quite match those of Murphy in terms of pitch and control, the unaffected sincerity of his delivery and the tasteful restraint of the compositions win out to make this a very engaging listen, and Jones’ refreshingly personal approach is a welcome addition to the field. 



Resonance Records RCD - 1025

Polly Gibbons - vocals; Tamir Henderson - piano; James Pearson - piano; Shedrick Mitchell - hammond organ; Graham Dechter - guitar; Kevin Axt - bass; Ray Brinker - drums; Willie Murillo - trumpet; Vinny Dawson - trumpet; Bob McChesney - trombone; Andy Martin - trombone; Bob Shepherd - reeds; Brain Scanlon - reeds; Keith Bishop - reeds; Tom Peterson - baritone & tenor sax

Polly Gibbons has come a long way from her childhood hometown of Framlingham, Suffolk - after spending her teenage years exploring the records of such great Black American artists asMahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, she’s now recording for US-based Resonance records under the eye of label boss George Klabin, with a band of hot LA session players - Dechter and Axt can both be heard on this season’s jazz-related movie smash, LaLa Land - and the twin guidance of Ronnie Scott’s house bandleader Pearson and pianist Tamir Henderson, who numbers Barbara Streisand among his regular employers. There’s a big, slickly arranged horn section and an eclectic repertoire that includes compositionsby Ellington,  Gary McFarlane and Antony Newley as well as more left-field choices such as80s popster Thomas Dolby, whose ‘Ability To Swing’ is given a rollicking big-band treatment. Gibbons is a big-voiced, soulful belter of the old school, who can also deliver an intimate and hushed performance with conviction - as evidenced on a theatrical, emotionally charged ‘Wild Is The Wind’ - thanks to her thorough command of her art.

‘Basin Street Blues’ gets an attractively relaxed delivery from Gibbons, avoiding the kind of showboating that some might find tempting in such a lush setting, until the tempo picks up for a funky interlude, followed by a rollicking swing with plenty of room given to the band to stretch out. Gibbons always sounds powerful and supported, her intonation and rhythm are invariably spot on, and the arrangements are as tasteful and flawlessly executed as you’d expect from such a mainstream A-list team. 

The choice of gospel and soul-flavoured material favours an extroverted interpretation, but amidst all the power, sustain and florid melismas Gibbons also conveys a sincere intimacy in her delivery that makes this feel like an authentic and personal statement despite the very slick ‘showbiz jazz’ arrangements. Her original composition ‘Is It Me’ gives a hint of how she might sound in a more informal, small-band setting and in it’s way is as powerfully affecting and convincing as the highly enjoyable big-band tracks. 



Whirlwind WR4704

Tim Armacost - tenor & sopranosax; David Berkman - piano; Daiki Yasukagawa - bass; Gene Jackson - drums

This is the sixth studio album from the New York Standards Quartet in their twelve-year history, which may not seem a particularly prodigious output compared to the album-every-three-months schedule favoured by Blue Note and Prestige back in the day; until you delve into the recording history of each individual band member, and realise that the relatively low output of the band is a consequence of their own multitude of solo and sideman projects. 

This record follows on from the 2015 release ‘Power Of 10’ and re-unites the band with original bassist Yasukagawa for a studio session captured whilst on tour in Japan a couple of years back. ‘Power Of 10’ featured label boss Mike Janisch on bass, and the program had a number of contrafacts, or original melodies written over familiar chord progressions - a favourite device of the Tristano school of cool. The combination of Janisch’s adventurous bass and the guessing-game nature of the altered material gave the last album a questing intensity, and this record returns to territory that’s closer to the tradition; the setlist features a number of cherished old-time numbers from the very core of the repertoire. ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ is given a beautifully sensitive treatment that opens out the rhythm section to almost free-time rubato and allows Armacost to deliver the melody with dignified, emotionally charged precision and a minimum of embellishment. Monk’s‘Ask Me Now’ is re-rendered into 7 time, but so naturally as to seem an extension of the composer’s quirky sense of timing. The title track is the sole contrafact, it’s boppish line evoking Lee Konitz or Warne Marsh, and Armacost’s linear, melodic soloing underscores the comparison, while Berkman is joyously swinging, his bouncing left hand evoking the irrepressible Errol Garner. Yasukagawa anchors a strong, elastic swing throughout as Jackson demonstrates his ferocious creativity, ensuring that proceedings always have a contemporary feel.

‘This I Dig Of You’ has a bravura opening on the bass and develops into a feast of metrical modulations, but the real stars here are the ballads - ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’, ‘Lover Man’ and ‘Detour Ahead’ are beautifully played and arranged so as to preclude any hint of staleness. This record delivers exactly what you’d expect from a band titled ‘The New York Standards Quartet’ , fully living up to the weightyexpectations implicit in the title. 

Quinsin Nachoff Ethereal Trio Cover.jpg


Whirlwind WR4706

Quinsin Nachoff - tenor saxophone; Mark Helias - bass; Dan Weiss -drums

There’s a bit of a sleight of tenor-plus-rhythm trio recordings emerging on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment, with notable efforts of late from Tim Armacost in the US and Tori Freestone and Josephine Davies on this side of the pond. Quinsin Nachoff may have attracted the attention of UK listeners through his work with late great pianist John Taylor as part of the Horizons project, but on the strength of this recording he deserves to be better known over here.

This album presents a set of originals by Nachoff, featuring a blend of through composition and group improvisation and bringing a wealth on contemporary language into play, skirting the area where jazz, fusion andfree playing overlap. 'Clairvoyant Jest’ shows the trio’s roots in the swing tradition; ‘Imagination Reconstruction’ flirts with a rock backbeat and proggy metric shifts, while ‘Subliminal Circularity’ starts with a James Brown-style funky drummer groove before developing into a series of quizzical exchanges between sax and bass that lead to a free textural exploration and back into the groove again. ‘Push-Pull Topology’ features the kind of metric modulation that seems to be de rigeur in New York circles at the moment - ‘Portrait in Sepia Tones’ is closer to the world of free improv, ramping up relentlessly into a percussive maelstrom. This recording stands out from a crowded field by virtue of the exceptional skill of the players; bassist Helias in particular has a comprehensive technique with fingers and bow and a particularly rich and clear tone, and the level of empathy between all three participants is never less than impressive. 

he virtuosity on display, the depth and richness of Helias’ tone, and the avowed influence of Mark Turner on Nachoff’s light, fluent approach draw a line back through Turner’s favourite Warne Marsh and his seminal trios with Red Mitchell, all the way to Lennie Tristano and his experiments with free-form, though Dan Weiss’s drumming is far more ebullient than Tristano would have countenanced. This is ambitious, difficult but rewarding music from highly accomplished players. 



Alexander Bone- alto & soprano sax, synths; Rory Ingham - trombone; Toby Comeau - keys; Joe Lee - bass guitar; Jonny Mansfield - drums

Jazz Experiment are a young UK band, fronted by the twin punch of Rory Ingham’s attractively full-toned trombone and Alex Bone’s neat, fleet saxophone attack, over an ebulliently energetic rhythm section. ‘It’s You’ sets out their stall of good-natured, high-energy jazz-funk - Bone’s penetrating tone and fluid bluesy articulation recalls Dave Sanborn, and Joe Lee obliges with a slap bass break to complete the picture. ‘Chorale’ is a Mansfield composition, with a quasi-classical canon melody taken at a statelypace; ‘You Are The Vibe To My Hang’ is a mid-tempo, sunnily optimistic swing-to-shuffle from pianist Comeau with suitably uplifting rhodes solo from the composer, and ‘First Day’ is an expressively performed downtempo melody from Bone that approaches pop-jazz territory, though the tasteful arrangement leaves plenty of space for the tune to breathe. Bone’s own solo is a nice demonstration of restraint and careful construction; Ingham is richly brassy on Comeau’s closing ballad ‘Last Decade’. 

The band really shine when they can get to work on the uptempo numbers, like ‘Off On A Rant’ with great ensemble playing that fizzes with youthful energy. The same reserves of energy should see them through their 35-plus date UK tour in support of this record, and win over anyone lucky enough to catch their high-octane live sets; on the strength of this assured debut, they’d be a perfect addition to a summer festival line-up.



Whirlwind WR4708

George Colligan - piano; Linda May Han Oh - bass; Rudy Royston - drums ; Nicole Glover - tenor and soprano saxophone

Colligan is one of the generation of play-anything virtuosi who can inhabit virtually any contemporary style and make it their own. This is his 28th album as a leader; his CV could be modestly described as ‘extensive’; last year he toured the UK with Andrew Bain’s ‘Embodied Hope' band. ‘Whiffle Ball’ is a storming piece of contemporary post-bop swing with a showpiece drum statement from the equally impeccable Royston - ‘Waterfall Dreams’ is more in the contemplative, harmonically static vein of Pat Metheny, and allows space for a fluid solo from sometime Metheny employee and bassist -of-the-moment Linda May Han Oh. Colligan’s piano is utterly assured, especially as evidenced by trio track ‘Effortless’, where the rippling super-fast right hands are matched by a tricky ostinato figure of the left, all executed as effortlessly as the title suggests. There are echoes of Corea in his rhythmic accuracy and fluency, and the unashamed high-wire pyrotechnics that burst out of these tunes. The whole impression is of a band simply humming with energy, very much at ease with the contemporary scene that comes under the label ‘modern mainstream’.

‘Today Again’ allows relative newcomer Glover to demonstrate her diamond-hard, centered tone, confident articulation and wealth of creative ideas in a brief solo space, and Oh to give a run-down in what’s fresh in modern bass soloing. ‘More Powerful Than You Could Possibly Imagine’ (titled after a Star Wars quote) has echoes of McCoy Tyner - ‘Empty’ is a chaotically conversational free-time showcase for the outstanding Glover on tenor.  ‘The Nash’ is like Thelonious Monk on steroids. 

his is powerful, accessible, exciting contemporary jazz by a crack team of high-level operatives, treading a fine line between maintaining the tradition and pushing at the frontiers. The flash and fire may exhaust some as much as it exhilarates others, but there’s no denying the sheer level of confident, endlessly creative musicality on display from all involved. 

Reviewed by Eddie Myer


MATT CHANDLER - Astrometrics

33 Jazz Records - 33JAZZ61

Matt Chandler - guitar; Ross Stanley - organ; Eric Ford - drums

Chandler has an interesting CV that encompasses work at the cutting edge of rock electronica with Killing Joke and Orb producer known only as Youth, as well as awards for blues guitar. He’s picked a superb pair of accompanists - Eric Ford is a driving force behind genre-bending high-intensity fusioneers Partikel, and Ross Stanley seems to have single-handedly cornered the market in Hammond organ, bringing his unwieldy instrument and his crisp, progressive playing to clubs all across the UK; you may have seen him with Nigel Price on one of that guitarist’s endless tour schedules.

Opener ‘Funk Work’ is a close cousin to Ben Tucker’s ‘Coming Home Baby’ ; a smoky blues workout with a Chandler channelling his inner Scofield with great conviction and fluency, and some dazzling explorations high up the neck that seem to have a pitch shifter involved, giving proceedings a futuristic cast. ‘The Sting’ recalls Larry Young in it’s twisting uptempo melody, and launches Chandler off into a fleet and harmonically adventurous solo that swings as hard as Mr Young might have wanted. ‘El Diablo’ is a fast waltz, and ‘Doctor’s In The House’ has a Blue Note boogaloo-bossa feel.

Throughout Stanley and Chandler keep things tight and bluesy and Ford cooks along in the best tradition. ‘Intricate Facade’ has a more contemporary post-rock/fusion feel in it’s upliftingly open chord intro, returning to the minor-blues template for the fluent solos; Ford gets a chance to stretch out and show his stuff under Stanley’s atmospheric chords for the extended outro. ‘Scene Of No Scene’ has the feel of a breezy standard and shows Chandler’s writing chops; ‘Bar Short’ and ‘Dirty Rat’ should appeal to fans of Scofield’s work with Medeski, Martin and Wood. This record may not be trying to break any new ground, but there’s no denying the taste, skill and talent of everyone involved and both Chandler’s compositions and his effortlessly swinging solos have an infectious energy.



Whirlwind WR4700

Josephine Davies - tenor and soprano sax, Dave Whitford - bass, Paul Clarvis - drums

Josephine Davies is tenorist and composer with the London Jazz Orchestra - this fine album allows her to explore the space and freedom of a spare trio setting. Opener ‘Satori’ has a cool, detached poise to it’s serpertine melodic explorations - bassist Whitford sounds like a a ringer for Dave Holland in the sure-footed precision of his brief solo break. There’s a danger that the chordless trio format may allow the players such freedom as to meander out of the listener’s attention, but Davies seems determined to avoid this pitfall by retaining an accessible melodic sense in everything she does - ‘Something Small’ has a free-tempo rhythm but still never drifts too far from the harmonic roots implied by the chirpy melody. Half the record was recorded in front of an audience, with no discernible change in sound quality, and these tunes display a little more intensity, notably on ‘The Tempest Prognosticator’. It’s interesting to compare this record with Tori Freestone’s ‘El Barranco’ which shares a similar aesthetic and approach to seamlessly combining written parts with group improvisation, and mixing the language of contemporary jazz with nods to earlier bop traditions. Any tenor trio will be measured against Sonny Rollin’s titanic achievements in the field, and there’s a sly nod in the title of ‘Paradoxy’ which is borne out by the subtle deconstruction of the master’s original melody before the tune goes on to generate some real blowing heat.  The material is handle with supreme confidence by all three, there’s plenty of even-handed, empathetic conversation, and the rather dry nature of the format is tempered by Davies’ ready wit and the effortless groove of the rhythm section.


PARTIKEL - Counteraction

Whirlwind WR4699

Duncan Eagles - tenor saxophone; Max Luthert - electric and double bass; Eric Ford - drums
Ant Law - guitar; Anna Cooper - flute and baritone saxophone; Sisi Lu - electronics; Matthew Sharp - cello
Benet Mclean - violin

Over the course of two previous Whirlwind releases and accompanying tour campaigns, Partikel have established them as one of the most pro-active and forward thinking units on the UK scene today, intent on going the extra mile to stand out from the crowd.  Their first record had already staked out a claim at the leading edge of modern jazz, where it interacts with the kind of mathematical rhythmic subdivisions and complex harmony found in fusion and post-rock - the second saw them add a string section and embark on an ambitious touring schedule that saw the band’s sound developing to new heights, aided by violinist Benet Mclean and an array of digital harmonisers, pedals and programming to expand the palette yet further. 

This album sees Mclean still on board, and adds guitarist Law, already renowned for his own adventures in this kind of dense, proggy music. ‘Land And Sea’ opens with a stately saxophone melody over ambient electronic soundscapes that seem to promise a cinematic, evocative piece, but it quickly mutates into a dizzying, ever-shifting succession of different moods, from furious unison ‘guess the time signature’ passages to harsh sax skronking to heavy-metal guitar licks and back again. Ford excels on drums throughout - bold, crisp, creative, in total command of a seemingly endless range of techniques. ‘Scenes and Sounds is similarly frenetic, shifting restlessly from section to section; the most engaging moments are when the band breaks down to a simple trio, allowing Eagles or Law respectively to join Ford and build up a head of steam together around Luthert’s unflappably solid bass. ‘Lanterns’ offers some relief in a quieter, more consistent composition with a single melody line that’s fairly easy to grasp before shifting suddenly into a tumult of toms, crash cymbals and distorted guitar. ‘Counteraction’ is as complex as the name suggests, with long solos from Mclean and Eagles that show off their speed and fluidity, backed by plenty more crash cymbals. ‘Moving Fields’ is a dizzying whirl of special effects and jagged unisons; ‘Blood Of The Pharoah’ moves from an extended cello solo into an electronic soundscape full of alternating melodrama and abstraction; ‘Bolden Days’ has an unexpectedly zesty blend of mutated New Orleans drumming and Asian bamboo flute pentatonics.

While there’s no ignoring the boldness of the musical vision and the superlative musical skills of all involved, many may find this album an exhausting listen due to the sheer number and density of the gymnastic ideas involved in every composition. Despite the dizzying onrush of musical information over the course of the hour-long running time, there’s a noticeable absence of memorable melody, which might have offered the listener some respite.  Partikel wear their intention to be exceptional on their sleeves, but the exceptional is not always the easiest to love. The live spectacle, however, should be utterly exhilarating. 

WR4703 copy.jpg


Whirlwind WR4703

Mark Lewandoski - bass, Liam Noble - piano, Paul Clarvis - drums

Fats Waller has been an endless fount of inspiration since his twenty-year reign was cut cruelly short by pneumonia in 1943; his timeless compositions continue to be re-worked and re-sold by everyone from blues artists to electro-swing producers. The rise in enthusiasm for swing-era jazz, and all thing cabaret-related, has resulted in many of his classic numbers returning to the musical mainstream - but Waller also has solid credentials as a fountainhead of modernism, with both Parker and Dolphy among the countless players who have re-interpreted his enduring melodies. This album of trio versions pulls both ways. Noble in particular has a reputation as a serious player, equally at home at the edges of the avant-garde as he is in re-interpreting the modern masters - his outstandingly successful tribute to Brubeck attracted the admiration of the man himself. Lewandowski and Clarvis are equally adept on their instruments - in full command of their techniques and fearlessly ready for sophisticated musical exploration. A large part of the success of this exhilarating record lies in the way that this thoroughly modern trio never lose sight of the playful, hard-swinging and hard-living personality that lay at the heart of all Waller’s music.  ‘Blue Because Of You’ is abstracted into a furious be-bop tempo but Lewandowski’s bowed bass solo has all the mischievous melodicism of Slam Stewart - Noble teases at the melody of ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ but never unpicks beyond recognition - ‘Fair And Square In Love’ moves from spacious, Evans-trio restraint into an almost Motown ballad vibe towards it’s close - ‘Lulu’s Back In Town’ allows Noble to hint at radical reharmonisations as the trio tear into it’s venerable structure, but retains it’s vaudevillian swagger throughout. This makes for a recording that feels thoroughly contemporary but is also a lot of fun to listen to - no mean feat. The interaction between the trio is a delight - there’s plenty of use of space, and Clarvis sticks to brushes throughout without sacrificing the ability to cook when needed. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ is taken at a surprisingly restrained pace, but ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ is given the full treatment and emerges triumphant. ‘Surprise Ending’ is just that -  jauntily sung and whistled by Lewandowski in a very English accent, a suitable summation of this successful attempt to stake a place in this well-worked tradition. 



Froggy Records - Frog001

Freddie Gavita - trumpet and flugelhorn; Tom Cawley - piano; Calum Gourlay - bass; James Maddren - drums

Freddie Gavita is right at the centre of the UK jazz establishment; as a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and alumnus of NYJO, the John Dankworth Orchestra, and the BBC Big Band and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, he certainly qualifies as an Upcoming Talent, or even a Leading Light.  He’s assembled a blue-ribbon trio to back him on his debut recording; all long-time collaborators, their empathy and shared musical vision is evident from the first number, the New Orleans-with-a-twist groove of ‘Strimming The Ham’ . Right from the start, Gavita’s tone and confident, clear delivery impress, as does the quality of his writing - ‘Turneround’ has a tricky structure but sounds natural and accessible, and provides Gourley with space to stretch out in an fluent, big-voiced solo statement.

‘Beloved’ shows that unlike many young jazz lions, Gavita isn’t averse to writing digestible melodies - ‘The Vow’ has a quirkily arranged but memorable, almost child-like theme theme that sticks in the mind. ‘Lion-O’ shows off Maddren’s skills and imagination as a tone colourist on the kit; ‘Iverson Oddity’ has a chamber-jazz feel of spacious poise and equilibrium and features Cawley giving the tune’s Bad Plus namesake a run for his money with a thoughtful, beautifully structured solo. Gavita also plays in the jazz-rock outfit Fletch’s Brew, and this music has some of the precision and polished execution you’d associate with fusion, but the band eschew electric instruments and the results are as often subtle and nuanced as they are fiery or flashy. ’Pull Your Socks’ has the kind of jauntily melancholic mid-tempo swing and slightly off-kilter phrasing you’d expect from a mid-sixties Shorter album - very much part of the tradition, and a really lovely piece ofgroup creativity.

Overall it’s a very impressive, highly accomplished package, from conception to performance,  that shows off the musicality of these exciting young players to great advantage. The recording, by Curtis Schwartz, the UK’s answer to Manfred Eicher, is as crystal clear as you might expect, though perhaps you need to see them live to really connect with the emotional heart of the music that sometimes seems a little lost beneath the polished execution. 


HENRY SPENCER - The Reasons Don’t Change

Whirlwind WR4698

Henry Spencer- trumpet & flugelhorn; Nick Costley-White - guitar; Matt Robinson - piano, keyboards; Andrew Robb - double bass; David Ingamells - drums
Strings by the Guastalla Quartet

Guildhall graduate Spencer is a highly personable young man, well able to live up to a star billing,  and his background as a singer songwriter may have informed his approach to this carefully conceived and presented album. This is not to detract in any way from his genuine jazz credentials - he’s a highly accomplished trumpeter with a bright clear tone and an impressive control, as well as a thoughtful and varied composer. His statement in the liner notes makes it clear that he’s interested in reaching out to his audience via music that’s simultaneously accessible to the listener and sincerely meaningful to the performer. In practice this means a kind of jazz-rock blend of the kind associated with fellow trumpeter Christian Scott - acoustic piano and bass keep the sound warm and grounded, while Spencer plays soaring melodies over static but uplifting chord progressions. The mood is one of what you might call introspective euphoria, though outstanding contributions from powerhouse drummer Ingamells stop proceedings from descending into blandness.

It’s a type of fusion that reaches back through Scott and ultimately owes it’s concept and it’s emotional atmosphere to the Pat Metheny bands of the 1980s - a comparison that’s underlined when guitarist Costley-White shows off his clean tone and impressive chops on ‘Knock Back, Knocked Forward’  - a typical example of Spencer’s writing, which builds over a succession of ascending chords to a clarion-call climax over boiling drums. Careful production by Spencer and Paul Whalley and a great job from US-based superstar mix engineer ensure that the sound is sufficiently epic and detailed to carry the music’s ambition. 'Never Draw A Line' shows that Spencer can create spacious Kenny Wheeler type melodies over sophisticated harmony when called upon, and also gives bassist Robb a brief and well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Matt Robinson mostly sticks to piano for his solos and really shines on ‘Hindsight Can’t Wait’.

The strings are reserved for the final two tracks - ‘Hopeless Heartless’ is closer to a straight jazz waltz, beautifully arranged and played, though the overall effect is pleasant rather than soul-stirring, and ‘The Survivor And The Descendant’ brings together all nine musicians for an epic, rocking finale that would sit alongside a Snarky Puppy track on your playlist. It’s a powerful statement of intent from a young musician determined to be noticed, and should get him the attention he deserves.



Whirlwind Recordings WR4701

Tim Armacost - tenor saxophone; Robert Hurst -bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts -drums
with David Kikoski - piano

Armacost is, in the words of his publicist, a ‘marquee player’ - he’s spent the last ten years building a formidable reputation in New York and beyond, operating in the zone populated by such heavyweights as Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove and Maria Schnieder. His last UK visit was as part of the New York Standards Quartet, which indicates where he stands regarding the tradition. This record sees him in company with former Marsalis associates Watts and Hurst, but this is no exercise in straight-ahead bop nostalgia. Instead, the inspiration came from an idea that he had of a performance of Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’ (included here) where all the participants interpreted the tempo in their own way, converging and diverging at will.

This may sound like a recipe for indulgent chaos, and perhaps it might be in lesser hands, but this resulting album is simply a triumphant tour de force of skill, courage and imaginationthat should mark Armacost as one of the foremost exponents of the evolving music. ‘Alawain’ sets the page - a fiercely virtuosic bass introduction is joined by an explosive, boiling groove from Watts, over which Armacost takes flight, displaying the full breadth of his resources. His tone is full and clear, crisp and precise, his phrasing sometimes urgent, sometimes declamatory, but always with a quality of relaxed assurance that marks out greatness. There are echoes of Rollins, Coltrane, and of course Coleman as well, in performances that reach back into the riches of the past but have all the passion and fire of a living art. All the players seem to be inspired to commanding heights by each other’s company in the freedom of the trio format; the divergent time signatures never obstruct the flow of the music (though ‘Sculpture 2; Tempus Funkit’ pushes the idea closer to the limit of easy listenability) and instead breathe new life into the conception, and all the players respond to the challenge with grace and aplomb. Kikoski is artfully deployed; his single, plangent chord, chiming in at the climax of ‘Sculpture 1 Phase Shift’ , is one of the simplest but most exciting piano moments for many ayear.

There are nods to past inspirations in versions of Monk’s ‘Teo’ - which brings out the New York bop credentials of all the players to very satisfying effect and points up links between Armacost and the under-acknowledged Charlie Rouse in their blend of off-centre melody and relaxed but punchy phrasing - and in Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’, here re-imagined to include a witty dialogue between sax and bass. ‘Time Being’ and ‘One And Four’ bring in a more reflective mood with no loss of power or presence. This is an exciting, imaginative album, both rooted in the history of the music and forward-looking, and deserves to be recognised as a powerful re-invigoration of a noble tradition. 


Remi Harris - In on the Two

Remi Harris is in an enviable position, having both youth on his side and talent in abundance, and the goodwill of both the jazz scene and the more commercial crossover market that opens up as a consequence of support from Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music. He operates within the confines of the gypsy jazz style as originated by the great Django, which allows for a great deal of individual virtuosity within the very set stylistic limits of a chunking offbeat rhythm guitar marking unwaveringly strict swing time under a fiery soaring lead; it’s a genre that remains a fountainhead of inspiration for jazz guitarists, especially those who are coming from a place outside the American jazz tradition, and is where Martin Taylor OBE got his start. It’s also remained very true to its original form as conceived in 1930s Europe, so it’s natural that a youngster like Harris would also have a range of more contemporary musical inspirations, and want to incorporate them into his oeuvre. So alongside such Django-esque staples asCherokee and Putting On the Ritz this album features material from such diverse sources as the Beatles, Neil Young, the Meters (a rollicking Cissy Strut) and Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac. There’s also an investigation of more contemporary jazz derivations – ‘contemporary’ being a relative term in this case to include Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Bill Evans. 

Can’t Buy Me Love and Cherokee demonstrate Harris’ awesome skill within the tradition; torrents of perfectly executed licks, with flawless time and effortless articulation, with all the fun and eccentricity of Django’s unique euro-goes-bebop melodic sensibility that preceded the boppers at their own game. Harris accompanies himself throughout via the magic of overdubbing, and herein perhaps lies a problem; without the live interplay of musicians, some of the pieces don’t really take flight, so that despite the superbly inventive soloing, Round Midnight and Waltz For Debbiesound a little staid. Veteran Mike Green provides solid accompaniment and a couple of very enjoyable solos, notably on Bock to Bock but his role is to remain in support, rather than to join the conversation. Have You Met Miss Jones fares better as there’s a little more air in the arrangement, but the two rock numbers are left in their original rhythmic feels, and while they demonstrate Harris’ versatility, seem incongruous beside the very traditional treatments that dominate elsewhere. In the blues-fest Need Your Love So Bad,  Harris runs the risk of simply swapping one set of cliches for another, rather than expanding on his chosen form. Only the time-twisting orientalism of Odd Elegy offers something intriguingly new and different. It’s a difficult undertaking to update a tradition as strong and resilient as gypsy jazz and if Harris hasn’t quite managed it here he’s given ample evidence of the breadth of his talent and willingness to experiment – future developments should be very interesting.

Remi Harris, guitar; Mike Green, double bass.

Yardbird Arts:


NIGEL PRICE ORGAN TRIO - Heads & Tales Volume 2

Whirlwind WR4695

Nigel Price - guitar; Ross Stanley - Hammond organ; Matt Home - drums; Alex Garnett - tenor & alto sax; Vasilis Xenopolous - tenor sax

The term ‘journeyman’ is often employed by jazz critics as a means of damning with faint praise, implying a musician who has achieved basic competence but is unable to inspire any higher feelings in his audience. In it’s original sense, it referred to a guild of skilled craftsmen, wandering from workshop to workshop in pursuit of excellence, employed by the day by whoever had need of their hard-earned talents. Nigel Price could surely wear this label with pride; his tireless travels around the length and breadth of the UK, at the helm of his own trio or as a valued addition to another leader’s outfit, seemingly only interrupted by regular appearances hosting the late show at Ronnies’, are becoming the stuff of legend, and speak volumes about the depth of his commitment to his art. He’s content to let others carry the banner of the avant-garde and dedicate himself to reaffirming the values that crystallised around the hard-bop movement of the 1950s Golden Age - impeccable swing, passionate execution, thorough harmonic knowledge and an intimate familiarity with both the language of be-bop and the standard repertoire of the Great American Songbook. 

This album demonstrates all these virtues with a programme ofnewly written contrafact melodies over standard forms, enabling Price to play to all his strengths over familiar changes while avoiding the staleness of over-familiarity. Back in the 50s, bands could hone their musical identities over the course of month-long club residencies, but that scene has all but disappeared; by sheer self-motivated dedication Price has managed to get more gigs in the last year for the regular trio featured on this recording than many bands play in a lifetime, and it shows - there’s exactly the levels of empathy and telepathic communication that this music needs to really take off. Ross Stanley astonishes at the Hammond, and Matt Home provides sympathetic support and dazzling solo breaks as necessary, but it’s the buoyant, irresistible group swing of every tune that really lifts this above other releases in the genre. Price’s own guitar soloing is an endless delight, supple, inventive and swift, but with an unassuming yet passionate honesty in his tone that’s worlds away from the rather clinical smoothness of many contemporary guitarists.  His work on ‘Wet & Dry’ and ‘Blue Genes’ is particularly inspired, and ‘Smokescape’ brings out the blues to superb effect - elsewhere ‘Up and Out’ has a spiralling melody that stays in the mind, and ‘R & R’ benefits from a particularly imaginative re-working of the old warhorse ‘Have You Met Miss Jones’ . Proceedings are further enhanced by the presence of guest saxophonists, and long-time associates Garnett and Xenopolous, both making perfectly judged contributions, especially on ‘Majority’ which features both together for some exciting trades. 

The second disc features renditions of the original tunes on guitar, alone or overdubbed, and underlines the leader’s complete mastery both of his instrument and his repertoire. Anyone who wants to support the continued existence of jazz in the UK, and also treat themselves to the sound of masters at work, should buy a copy, then check their calendar for the next live appearance. 


The Bopped and The Bopless


McLean is a true polymath; pianist,  guitarist, vocalist, violinist, writer, arranger and producer, he’s on a musical journey that’s included such diverse adventures as receiving mentoring from Yehudi Menuhin at the Royal College of Music and touring with Brit-soul legend Omar. This album presents him unleashing the full strength of his musical personality in a set of muscular jazz-derived originals and a couple of unusual covers, delivered by a tight and punchy band – including local hero and international man of mystery Ashley Slater – and crisply and cleanly recorded for maximum impact. The title track sets out his stall – his full, fruity, jazz-inflected vocals deliver a powerful lyric decrying social inequality, before the band takes flight for a virtuosicswing-time piano solo complete with Monk quotes. I Waited For You sets off at a canter into full-on fusion territory, with the piano evoking Hancock and Corea over Harvey and Raman’s top-draw rhythm section as overdubbed strings and brass create sweeping orchestral textures. 

     Babylon’s Burning creates an unlikely punk-jazz hybrid, with McLean’s snarling vocals over the dense twisting arrangement recalling the kind of virtuosic mash-ups you’d find on a Frank Zappa record. It’s unashamedly flashy, totally excessive and brilliantly bonkers. Like his fellow Brit multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, McLean is bursting with seemingly limitless talent and utterly uninterested in restraint or understatement. Lucy sees him create a choir of multi-octave voices in dazzling harmony, then allows Harvey to stretch out on a prodigious solo, followed by scat and piano from the leader over triumphant brass and woodwind. Polly is a lachrymose ballad enlivened by unexpected key shifts and vocalese effects; Electric Bopland delivers on it’s title exactly;  Shizannah reworks Faure into a work of high drama that could sit well as a piece of musical theatre. Credit goes to McLean, and to his truly outstanding band, for pulling all these diverse strands together into a work that’s as strong and cohesive as it is dazzlingly, even bewilderingly, adventurous. Don’t miss the live shows.

Benet McLean, vocals, piano, violin; Gareth Lockrane, flute; Noel Langley, trumpet; Duncan Eagles, tenor sax; Ashley Slater, trombone; Jonathan Harvey, bass; Donald Gamble, percussion; Saleem Raman, drums; Isabella-Maria Asbjornsen, harp; Aydenne Simone, vocals; Jason Yarde, alto/baritone sax.

Read more of my album reviews here:

Facts & Figures - Peter Fraize

Philip Clemo - Dream Maps

Tori Freestone El Barranco

Nigel Thomas Quartet - Hidden

Peter Edwards Trio - A Matter of Instinct

Paul Richards - Episodes

Andre Canniere - The Darkening Blue

New Focus - New Focus On Song

Monocled Man (Rory Simmons) - We Drift Meridian

Ryan Quigley - What Doesn't Kill You