Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson
Better known for his tenure in Brass Jaw, Scottish saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski (above) and pianist Euan Stevenson (below) are here not appearing as a duo as a casual glance at the billing might first suggest, but as part of a quartet (Whirlwind label boss Michael Janisch on double bass and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra rhythm maker par excellence Alyn Cosker completing the core band on drums). And there’s also the Glasgow String Quartet and a harpist attached, a major element of New Focus. The album has its genesis in an Edinburgh Jazz Festival Stan Getz Focus-themed concert for which Wiszniewski and Stevenson wrote new material and performed, recording this album in the studio as a result last summer to reflect their own compositional direction with each contributing pieces included on the album. New Focus is very accessible and melodic, and the tunes are so much stronger than you’ll hear around. It is dreamier than Getz’s master work, and is romantic in the style of a player such as say the late Tomasz Szukalski or Janusz Muniak (in terms of Wiszniewski’s playing that has classic Polish jazz roots), although Bobby Wellins’ singular style circa Under Milk Wood rings a bell as well in terms of placing Wiszniewski’s highly proficient and characterful style if you are unfamiliar with his work so far. With Stevenson pinpointing influences is not so easy although he has been compared a little loosely to Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner and on this album does not embrace needless grandstanding, a big plus, as he is a nuanced performer.
There are 10 tracks and Wiszniewski is the clear instrumental voice to cling on to, or at least his role is more obvious. The softly unfolding ‘El Paraiso’ with some quizzical saxophone and dynamic pizzicato from the strings commands close attention as the album progresses, and I very much liked Stevenson’s introduction to the following track, ‘For Ray’. Brass Jaw fans will be fascinated to hear Wiszniewski in another musical situation while Stevenson’s star will undoubtedly rise both for his writing here (for instance ‘Music for a Northern Mining Town’), and the tastefulness of his overriding approach.
Released on 5 November. The album launch takes place at the London Jazz Festival on 13 November with a concert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, W1
Bobo Stenson Trio
ECM 279 4575 **** RECOMMENDED
Young musicians relate to the past in different ways. Some adhere to it closely, some refuse to at all, consciously, at least. In jazz the past is always present, just walk into any record shop or trawl online, the new artists’ music is displayed side by side with that of the masters; at concerts they pay tribute to the greats while at the same time implicitly or explicitly make as if to say: "this is me now; that is them, then." Take the remarkable young Hamburg-based Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall who in the summer during some press interviews was talking about how much he revered the music of his countryman Bobo Stenson, the longstanding ECM artist whose new album Indicum was released just yesterday. It comes after quite a gap of four years since his last trio outing in the company of fellow Swedes bassist Anders Jormin (Stenson and Jormin’s playing relationship encompassing long spells with Charles Lloyd and Tomasz Stanko) and drummer Jon Fält.
Recorded towards the end of last year in southern Switzerland, Indicum, for me Stenson’s most inspiring work since War Orphans recorded in 1997, possibly even surpassing that considerable achievement in terms of sheer rhapsodic expression, begins with a Bill Evans tune, ‘Your Story’, which itself appeared on a live album Letter to Evan recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in 1980, a record that incidentally had to wait some 14 years for release. The Stenson trio album continues with a pair of tracks credited to the trio including the title track. Then there’s a Wolf Biermann protest song called ‘Ermutigung’ (meaning ‘Encouragement’), trio-penned ‘Indigo’, a Jormin composition, folk song by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez, George Russell’s ‘Event V1’, a Norwegian traditional rendition of ‘Ave Maria’, and the final three tracks, respectively, by composer Carl Nielson, Jormin once more, and a contemporary composition by the Norwegian Ola Gjello.
At 68 Stenson is well into his prime, and this is a beautiful and at times quite moving record, thoughtful in the best possible sense encompassing special musical insight, with considerable improvising candour and a rugged determination, but one that also indicates the vision of an improviser at the top of his game who has searched within himself at least that’s how it seems to appear given the nocturnal atmospheres evoked. Stenson is also to be heard on the recently reissued and frequently revelatory 1970s Dansere period recordings with Jan Garbarek so his present and past collide at least in terms of audio documentation. Stenson relates to what has gone before by concerning himself with the present on this new record, the here and now. Those who quite sensibly follow in his footsteps know that his past could very well be their present. Stephen Graham
Bobo Stenson pictured above
Tonight Jazz Line-Up on BBC Radio 3 broadcasts a programme that was recorded yesterday as part of the station’s piano season and celebrates the 70th birthday of pianist John Taylor. One of the most influential and revered pianists in UK jazz history, an influence on a young generation of international musicians as well as the possessor of a healthy critical reputation around the world, John Taylor since the late-1960s has been a leading fixture on the international jazz scene as a player, bandleader, recording artist and educator. Emerging initially alongside such players as tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, the Manchester-born musician whose style has a still self-completeness to it, English, yet of no country, cerebral at times, but with a warmth that draws people in.
The solo pieces at the beginning of the concert, which included ‘Coniston’, and ‘Ambleside’, with their evocation of the places and people of the Lake District, as Taylor explained in conversation with presenter Claire Martin, were a jolt in terms of immediacy and distinctive style with their deftly probing improvising lines drawn from the pools of the pianist’s experience.
It’s not surprising in the least the influence Taylor has had on a new generation of players, including pianist Richard Fairhurst (well known recently for his work with trumpeter Tom Arthurs), who later in the concert joined Taylor to perform some arranged pieces for two pianos including the evening’s highlight for me, a beautiful rendition of Bill Evans’ ‘Turn Out The Stars’, with Taylor’s modal grasp a thing to behold as Fairhurst carried the melody line. On the broadcast Taylor is on the left of the stereo image, and Fairhurst on the right.
After the initial solo pieces heard at the concert Taylor was joined by Spin Marvel drummer Martin France, saxophonist Julian Siegel of Partisans, and Chris Laurence on bass, the latter known for his longstanding work with Taylor but also with Andy Sheppard for many years. Laurence and Taylor clearly showed their mutual empathy and the extended range to his double bass, sparingly used, captured some sense of the satisfying stillness that Taylor’s writing seems to bring out as did his mobility on ‘Calypso 53’ inspired by Kurt Vonnegut.
Late in the concert Sons of Kemet tuba player Oren Marshall joined Taylor for a duo, and then became part of the ensemble, adding an extra sonic dimension to a programme that had surprising width, but nonetheless was only a small glimpse of Taylor’s musical world. His roots in Evansiana were one of the main features for sure, and recent tunes such as music from last year’s Requiem for A Dreamer were quite superb.
The programme begins at ten minutes before midnight http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tnmw
The well sprung dance floor of the Islington Assembly Hall used to attract dancers when bluebeat was around in the early-1960s to the Upper Street venue. Teenagers from the area and further out in Tottenham, and as far afield as Wood Green would come down to dance the night away to bands from the Caribbean.
Fifty years later Courtney Pine was in the hall last night on a classically drizzling yet warm London evening for a hometown gig to launch House of Legends, released earlier in the week on his own label Destin-e records, with a strong north and east London contingent present as his shouts outs to the different sections of the hall later confirmed.
House of Legends is very different to its predecessor Europa when Pine, a continuing inspiration for jazz in this country and beyond, continued his explorations as part of his new period bass clarinet phase having made a shift in his overriding musical conception firstly heard on Transition in Tradition and his meditations on the music of Sidney Bechet.
In some ways the new album is a return to the Caribbean, 50 years since the independence of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, but it’s also about Britain itself and ongoing important political concerns because the legends as Courtney explained include the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, a recognition of the contribution of cultural pioneer Claudia Jones who founded the Notting Hill Carnival, as well as the recollection of a historic figure such as Samuel Sharpe who led the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 in Jamaica.
With Courtney’s sisters in the audience, and his wife also present, the gig was a family affair, the audience the extended family if you like: it had that friendly, approachable and comfortable feel to it, with Pine the affable host.
The band’s approach followed a subtly different path to earlier albums such as the more reggae-inflected Closer To Home, mainly because of the presence of French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge, who had a dominant role in the ensemble, his zouk style a fresh and stimulating element. It was a bit like adding in some cinnamon in cooking up a fine dish as Pine mentioned in a different context in one of his asides to the audience, although the band, with Darren Taylor playing in his customarily forthright manner on stand-up bass and Cameron Pierre fresh from his Radio Jumbo opening set, had some deep Courtney Pine Group road experience to draw on.
Early highlights of Courtney’s own set were ‘Redemption Song’, which in the past Courtney has delivered as an encore, and steel pan player Samuel Dubois, who appeared on Courtney’s definitive large ensemble album Afropeans recorded live at the Barbican, made his presence felt, his gently lilting Caribbean swing beautifully weighted. From the album itself ‘From The Father To the Son’ was a definite standout.
Courtney, wearing a Jamaican football shirt with the number 7 and words ‘Pine’, and ‘Jah’ emblazoned on it played soprano saxophone and later EWI against closely miked piano, guitar low in the mix, carefully weighted and supportive drumming from Robert Fordjour and beacon beats throughout from a beaming Taylor who came into his own on the “sci-fi” section near the end when there was lots of treated EWI, the floaty wind sounds strafing the ceiling of the old 1930s hall like a sonic comet.
The hall’s bouncy floor got a good opportunity to show what it was capable of later in the evening that had shortly before seen Courtney tutoring the main body of the crowd downstairs to jump together in unison, complete with crashing chords and laughter all round.
More seriously Courtney made a call for unity in society through the power of music, and to any “pharaohs of industry” present to give the youth of the country a chance, mentioning an old African saying: “If you exclude the young from building the village they will burn it.”
Courtney’s stalwart and highly likeable guitarist Cameron Pierre opened the evening after a short welcome from Pine with his Radio Jumbo band featuring French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge who played quite superbly with the Wes-inspired Pierre and later Pine. Bassist Michael Bailey, the sterling percussion from super steady Donald Gamble, and drums from Wesley Joseph completed Cameron’s compadres in an ideal warm-up to the main event.
Freddie. What a great word. Freddie. Anyone who’s into jazz knows what name’s coming next. Sadly, the great Mr Hubbard has moved on to the great jam session in the sky but there are always the records, and the people who sound great in the Freddie idiom (not like Freddie, there’s a big difference, isn’t there?), are doing some great things. Just think Jeremy Pelt for one, and Eddie Henderson burrowing deep into the style in the Cookers as well.
And on a different tack with plenty to say on his own account, in his own way and his own time, and a sound you just want to bottle and enjoy at a moment’s notice is trumpeter Pharez Whitted, who plays in the Freddie domain and then some.
His new album For The People is an absolute pleasure from start to finish. It’s released on the Origin label, and it’s got Bobby Broom on it. Say no more. You may have heard the soulful guitarist with Sonny Rollins or know his own records. Broom co-produced the record with Whitted, who’s 52, and lives in Chicago where he is an associate professor of music at Chicago State. He’s also a member of an Indianapolis jazz family, the son of a drummer and vocalist/bassist, and the nephew of the great Slide Hampton. Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery, both of whom Pharez’s dad played with, they even practised in his grandparents’ house, and Pharez’s brothers are jazz musicians, while one of his sisters sings.
A sextet record with 11 tracks For The People comes after Transient Journey from two years ago with a big break of 14 years before that release until the previous record. So while not prolific as a recording artist, it doesn’t show one bit, and this record just cries out to be heard.
All the tunes are originals and they’re steeped in a deep understanding of the vibrant sub-currents within hard bop that makes the music swell and froth. Take the first track ‘Watusi Boogaloo’, which refers to the dance craze of the early-1960s, or ‘Keep The Faith’ written with President Barack Obama in mind: both have got that indefinable feel of the undergrowth and energy and filters into a very hip momentum. Four more years, in 4/4, or whatever meter it takes!
Whitted’s trumpet combines mostly on the record like a boxer sparring amiably with Eddie Bayard on tenor and soprano saxophones. Bayard, Whitted taught and mentored at Ohio State, and there is good rapport between the two bolstered by ingenious and hearty support from drummer Greg Artry. Broom’s role is more subtle at times, and the artillery is provided mainly when bassist Dennis Carroll whips up the big beats thrown over from Ron Perrillo on piano. The great educator David Baker taught Pharez at Indiana University where the trumpeter did his masters, and his learning shows in the best possible manner because he performs with all that key theory in his head, as if he has a picture of the style in front of him, a knowledge of the sound and is instinctive enough not to fuss about the arcane detail but make sure the feeling is right. His days recording and touring with John Mellencamp may be long back, and a 1990s smooth diversion similarly so. But this record stands on its own, a refreshing blast of hard bop and more. If you’re always going to be ready for Freddie you’ll definitely be in the mood for Pharez.
Pharez Whitted, pictured top
When Saturday comes it’s a jazz indie record night this week at Kings Place as the Norwegian label Hubro presents two bands from its roster.
“Label night" has a certain ring to it, you don’t hear that expression so much any more, do you? But that’s not all, as the bands in question are also very out-of-the-ordinary. Because, taking to the small stage in the agreeably contemplative atmosphere of Hall 2 in the York Way venue not far away from the recently ensconced Central St Martin’s art college, are the folk/improv ensemble 1982 with BJ Cole, Cole being the famed Enfield-born pedal steel player who ages ago was in country rock band Cochise, and who has appeared since on albums by a wide range of big name artists including David Sylvian and Elvis Costello. BJ appears alongside the integrated trio of hardanger fiddle virtuoso ECM artist Nils Økland; organist Sigbjørn Apeland; and drummer Øyvind Skarbø.
Support is provided by the promising Moskus, and both bands have records out, the self titled 1982 with BJ Cole, and the Moskus release Salmesykkel, the trio’s gently loping arthouse debut released on CD and vinyl with a striking cover depicting assorted bits of slumbering statuary, and, um, a bicycle.
Very much still in their twenties pianist Anja Lauvdal, bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and drummer Hans Hulbækmo emerged initially from the Trondheim Conservatory of Music scene, and nestling on the Hubro roster, a subsidiary of Norwegian indie record company Grappa, a label that describes itself as cherishing the album as a “physical object”, now sit comfortably alongside such contrasting and complementary luminaries as the neo-doom inclined improv-rockers Splashgirl, and bassist Mats Eilertsen, best known for his tenure in the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, and whose album Skydive got good reviews last year. Hubro has taste, and a bagful of ideas, and you will have too, very probably, if you find yourself in the audience when Saturday comes.
Moskus pictured top and 1982 with BJ Cole, above
Where Land Ends
F-IRE CD 63 ****
Water is there where the land ends, and in this natural element ancient and modern civilisations have always found a way of coming together, a life force. Chris Higginbottom has found his own sense of time and tide with this astute, mature quartet release, a record pooled from discipline, study, and performed here with great skill. The drummer composer has been on quite a journey that a decade ago saw him studying at the New School in New York whose new generation alumni have included Robert Glasper and Bilal. Higginbottom’s career since has seen him return to the UK following a fruitful period in the States, but it’s seven years since he released his album One. More acoustically inclined that debut outing was recorded in America with a band that included the formidable US saxophonist Seamus Blake. On Where Land Ends recorded in London at the same studio as the recent Ivo Neame record Yatra there isn’t a sax in sight, instead the album is characterised initially by the agenda-setting jazz-rock guitar of Mike Outram with former Acoustic Ladyland keyboardist Tom Cawley (who’s on another fine drummer Tom Bancroft’s First Hello to Last Goodbye), and impressive electric bassist Robin Mullarkey.
Listen to Cawley’s part say on ‘The Wide Open’ for an example of some of the light and shade on this six-tracker that thankfully does not burn itself out too quickly, although at times you’re wondering what the musical satnav of the band is set for, as clearly no one wants to give the destination away until you as a listener get there. The blues-rock that in the 1960s, on the London scene at least, jazz-rock learned from and then promptly discarded comes to the fore a little (say on ‘Taters in the Mould’), but there’s no exhausting charging about or retro cul de sacs anywhere to be found on this record even if there is the odd nod to the likes of a classic later jazz-rock behemoth like Return to Forever (in terms of what Cawley is doing) and even Derek Trucks-like Indofusion in the latter part of the record, in the hands of Outram.
Higginbottom knows how to pace things, a bit like Adam Nussbaum plays perhaps, and in his tunes he has come up with some great material for the band that is as strong as say those by drummer/composer Alyn Cosker on his album Lyn’s Une, the last time for me an essentially straightahead UK jazz drummer/composer made such an impact from a compositional point of view clearly pushing outside the core of his style. I don’t want to give the plot away too much, and this album does have a sort of narrative because the track sequencing is well thought-through, but zone in on what’s happening after about six minutes on the epic title track with the quick-as-a-flash bass line, Indo-jazz vignettes and a barnstorming guitar solo.
Released on Monday 29 October. Chris Higginbottom plays a F-IRE Festival gig that night with his band at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, London W1.
Chris Higginbottom , pictured top
Guitarist Kevin Eubanks is to release The Messenger next week, his second album for US label Mack Avenue following on from Zen Food from two years ago.
Coming out in the UK some five months ahead of its US release, the Philadelphian, who in the early-1980s was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and until two years ago was well known in the States for his long tenure in The Tonight Show leading Jay Leno’s house band, has written most of the tunes of the album with tracks including ‘JB’, a tribute to James Brown, Jeff Beck’s ‘Led Boots’, and Trane’s ‘Resolution’, from A Love Supreme like you’ve never heard it before, with a striking vocal bass line sung by Take 6’s Alvin Chea.
Eubanks’ band sees the guitarist joined by reedsman Billy Pierce, bassist Rene Camacho, long time drum pal Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Joey De Leon, Jr. on percussion with Eubanks’ younger brother Duane on trumpet on three tracks, and older brother Robin on trombone on a brace of numbers.
Explaining the title track Eubanks has said: “There is an urgency about it; it has the energy of a message that really should get across. The Messenger, I feel, is in everyone. We’re at the point that whatever it is that you feel strongly about, that can help a person or persons that you love, or a situation that affects your life…you should let that message out”.
The album opens uptempo with the percussion driven title track softly opening out to Billy Pierce’s sax line and a vibrant bass figure, with Eubanks opening up the throttle to give the band a pacey run out.
Born into a musical family on 15 November 1957 Eubanks’ mother Vera was a composer and held a doctorate in music, and Kevin had two musical uncles, the great pianist Ray and Tommy Bryant, so it was natural in a way that Eubanks would go into music. It was hardly a surprise that he firstly moved to Boston to study at Berklee with a bunch of influences in his head including the likes of John McLaughlin and George Benson, although his life was to be changed forever by touring with the great Blakey and work with other leaders including Sam Rivers.
Eubanks’ career took a fusion turn in the 1980s with a bunch of records for GRP including Face to Face and Promise of Tomorrow that perhaps did not totally show the full roundness of his musical personality. In the 1990s though he changed tack and was in a memorable trio with ex-Miles Davis bassist Dave Holland and percussionist Mino Cinelu for a while that really showed what he could do, as a stylish soulful guitarist capable of appealing to straightahead, fusion and jazz-rock fans alike. Eubanks was as recently as the summer just past playing with Holland once again for some tour dates by the much fancied band they’re calling Prism, also featuring pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland.
The tenderness of George Benson comes across on a track like ‘Sister Veil’ on The Messenger, while tackling ‘Resolution’ could be seen as a risk few would undertake lightly comes off winningly with that light funk and dancefloor-friendly feel certainly blowing a few cobwebs off some overly studious approaches to the track you might have come across.
‘JB’ takes up the mantle of that other great Phillie jazz player Christian McBride whose affection for the music of James Brown is widely understood, and this quietly engrossing song is all about the build and in this it’s clear Rene Camacho’s role is an important presence on the album, but so too is Robin Eubanks who also shines here as the trombone gathers some seriously sinuous pace. ‘420’ has great drive with a late-Milesian feel, although Kevin Eubanks’ lightly strung sound here is more reminiscent of the approach of a player such as the UK’s Tony Remy than say Mike Stern, one of Miles’ most favoured guitarists during his latter years on the planet.
‘Led Boots’ is simply infectious and may well prove to be the album’s main talking point taking its cue from Max Middleton’s penned homage to Led Zep on Beck’s 1976 album Wired. But don’t expect a power version of the classic, it’s not what Eubanks is all about. Softly insistent ‘M.I.N.D’, ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘The Gloaming’, a beautiful charmer worked around acoustic guitar and saxophone, as is the supermelodic slow ‘Loved Ones’, all have plenty of character, but ‘Ghost Dog Blues’ with its compelling momentum alters the scope of the album just as it seems to be becoming a little too ballad-heavy.
A very classy album indeed that marks a welcome return of a player whose quality is beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Messenger cleverly steers a path away from some sort of slick confection that would turn a lot of people off. Instead we’ll all want to talk about Kevin.
Released on 23 October
Kevin Eubanks pictured above. Photo: Raj Naik