Album Reviews

 
 
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LEO RICHARDSON - The Chase

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. 

 
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SAM BRAYSHER & MICHAE KANAN -  Golden Earrings

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.

 
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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. 

 
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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. 

 
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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. 

 
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TALINKA

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. 

 
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TARA MINTON - The Tides Of Love

www.taraminton.com

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.  

 
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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. 

 
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DARYL RUNSWICK - The Jazz Years

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. 

 
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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. 

 

POLLY GIBBONS - Is It Me...?

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. 

 

NEW YORK STANDARDS QUARTET - Sleight Of Hand

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. 

 
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QUINSIN NACHOFF’S ETHEREAL TRIO

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. 

 

JAM EXPERIMENT

www.jamexperiment.com

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.

 

GEORGE COLLIGAN - More Powerful

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.

 

JOSEPHINE DAVIES - Satori

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
with
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. 

 
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MARK LEWANDOSKI - Waller

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. 

 

FREDDIE GAVITA - Transient

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.

 

TIM ARMACOST - Time Being

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. 
 

 
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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: www.yardbirdarts.com

 
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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

33Xtreme

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