Beatles, Bach, and balmy strings on Redman’s latest
Sooner or later, and this is only when a jazz artist becomes successful, he or she can put out records and give concerts in massive halls that are of a satisfyingly high standard sufficient to retain their fans and attract new ones, but somehow don’t rattle any cages. They don’t need to, and it’s not like the artist is coasting. It’s just an “at ease with yourself” kind of feeling. Joshua Redman, even when he wasn’t at peace with himself, always had a calmness and clarity about him, and while not an old fashioned player in the ultra young-fogey sense, wasn’t mad keen to be a trailblazing innovator either. Dewey Redman, his late father, was so much more of an avantgardist in his day, although there are many more similarities than differences than you might think. The first big talking point on Walking Shadows is the fact that Brad Mehldau has produced it and plays Boswell to Redman’s Dr Johnson, manicuring every nuance and little touch in this diary of strings-laden discovery. Brad puts his stamp on the record by suggesting ensemble arrangements and pointing Joshua in the direction of Lennon and McCartney. ‘Let it Be’ is as quietly moving as ‘Tears in Heaven’ on Wish, with Mehldau perfect and Redman so very cool on what could have been a cheesefest.
During the European tour of Highway Rider I thought Redman had found a new space for himself both as a performer and in the way he listened to the Britten Sinfonia before he joined in to solo at their London concert in the Barbican. This new record is a slightly snoozy but very upmarket ballads (and Bach) affair, and even with the newer material to bear in mind Redman shows his jazz pedigree best by a very nuanced take on a classic ballad in ‘Lush Life’, a memorable interpretation. It’s not angsty or a memorial but just languorous and that’s Redman’s style. He’s like a good friend having a heart-to-heart throwing in a few jokes to lighten the mood over a few beers. The band is a mix of Brad’s with the ever reliable bassist Larry Grenadier and Brad joined by the distinguished Wayne Shorter Quartet drummer Brian Blade, while both Joshua and Brad provide arrangements as does Patrick Zimmerli whose music Mehldau toured in the UK earlier this year alternating with Mehliana. I think Redman’s James Farm in 2011 was a more adventurous record (and fans took its quality for granted), but Redman has been less daring with these ballads and not just because they’re ballads. But that said it’s a likeable record that has a mellow mood all of its own and at its best is like a conversation you don’t want to end. Stephen Graham
Walking Shadows is released on 7 May
Joshua Redman above
Lineage (clockwise from top left): Byron Wallen, Tony Kofi, Trevor Watkis, Rod Youngs, and Larry Bartley
It’s looking like Lineage are to make their Ronnie Scott’s debut on 12 June, now confirmed (4.30pm update) on the club’s site following the news broken by the quintet’s Tony Kofi today.
This is great for the music following on from the supergoup’s London debut in Hideaway earlier in the year.
That gig was only their second gig ever after an earlier try-out in Brighton. With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist Tony Kofi concentrating on alto saxophone and soprano sax, the quintet features a rhythm section of fine Mulgrew Miller-influenced pianist Trevor Watkis, bassist Larry Bartley, and UK-based American drummer Rod Youngs, like Bartley and Kofi, a member of the great Abdullah Ibrahim’s band Ekaya.
The Collins Dictionary defines the word ‘Lineage’ as meaning in one primary sense “direct descent from an ancestor, especially a line of descendants from one ancestor”, and both as a diaspora band united in shared musical and cultural approaches, and as stylistic descendants of some of the giants of jazz from the hard bop years and their modern day counterparts, the band succeeds on both fronts as it does on its own terms as top class players.
It’s also a meeting of old musical friends, as for instance Kofi and Wallen go way back to the heyday of 1990s hard bop band Nu Troop, and you can tell when two instrumentalists have a close understanding as they know each other’s moves and can read each other’s direction beyond the letter of the closely arranged often intricate material as here.
Kofi said that night at Hideaway he couldn’t think of anyone better to play the trumpet part on his ballad ‘A Song For Papa Jack’, which appeared on Kofi’s acclaimed 2006 album Future Passed, the song dedicated to Tony’s father who died 15 years ago, and Wallen played it beautifully.
Wallen, also a member of Mulatu Astatke’s fine band about to release a new record for Jazz Village, made the astute comment: “Music is about relationships,” and that’s something audiences and musicians neglect to remember sometimes, but this band doesn’t in the broader sense even for one moment.
Bookended by Woody Shaw tunes at Hideaway, opening with ‘Sweet Love of Mine’ and culminating at the end of the first set in Shaw’s classic mover, ‘Moontrane’ (Byron explained the title by saying amusingly: “Woody Shaw had a dream of Coltrane riding a bicycle on the moon”). Other set highlights that night were Tony Williams’ ‘Citadel’, heard on the much missed drummer’s 1980s Blue Note quintet album Civilization, here featuring Trevor Watkis on fine form as he was throughout, especially later on his own tune ‘With Substance’, which featured Larry Bartley and the deep throb of his bass was captured accurately by the club sound system, while Youngs’ cymbals were crisp and clear in the body of the big room.
This band just has to be heard. And it will be in June at the heart of the matter and the heat of the action on Frith Street.
Tickets from www.ronniescotts.co.uk
Tracks and release date confirmed
It’s an achievement in itself to perform at the Montreux jazz festival, the Swiss summertime festival founded by the late Claude Nobs, one of the few festivals to stand tall with Newport in jazz mythology where the whole notion of a jazz festival was born in the first place.
Now the Neil Cowley Trio have gone one step further with the release of Live at Montreux 2012 confirmed for a 29 April release by Eagle.
The Cowley band played the festival for the first time on 11 July last year and the release comes hard on the heels of the trio winning the accolade of UK jazz artist of the year at the prestigious Jazz FM awards in January following a public vote.
London-born pianist Cowley, 40, with Australian bassist Rex Horan and New Zealander Evan Jenkins on drums take jazz to a new generation within a classic jazz piano trio format, their music laced with influences including EST, indie rock, and electronic dance music. Cowley is also known for his work with Adele appearing on 19 and 21 and features crucially on monster hit ‘Rolling in the Deep’, the pianist’s ability to build hypnotic drama in his backing to the vocal part of the song’s wide appeal.
2012 besides recording in Montreux saw the band’s biggest UK concert to date with a Barbican hall gig accompanied by strings during the London Jazz Festival.
Live in Montreux as well as appearing as a DVD is also released as a CD, and on Blu-Ray. Tracks are: ‘Lament’, Rooster Was a Witness’, ‘Distance By Clockwork’, ‘Slims’, ‘Hug The Greyhound’, ‘Kenny Two Steps’, ‘Box Lily’, ‘How Do We Catch Up’, ‘Hope Machine’, ‘Meyer’, ‘Skies Are Rare’, ‘La Porte’, ‘Fable’, ‘The Face of Mount Molehill’, and ‘She Eats Flies.’
The Cowley trio (originally featuring Richard Sadler on bass) debuted with Displaced in 2006, from which ‘She Eats Flies’ ‘How Do We Catch Up’ and ‘Kenny Two Steps’ are taken. The album won a BBC jazz award the following year and went into the studio to record Loud…Louder….Stop, which then appeared in 2008 although no tracks from this album are featured on the DVD. ‘Hug The Greyhound’ from the follow-up Radio Silence is, though, included, as is ‘Box Lily’ released in 2010, the last to feature Sadler, with the rest of the material drawn from The Face of Mount Molehill, an album that saw rocker Horan join and the band augmented with strings and electronic textures. This new release should further enhance the trio’s reputation internationally with American touring having already begun in earnest last year.
The Neil Cowley trio top and the cover of the DVD above
Hülsmann soars on the beautiful Mehldau-esque introduction to ‘Sealion’
A baker’s dozen of tracks, the majority of compositions written by Julia Hülsmann, and her husband Marc Muellbauer, In Full View (ECM), the pianist/composer’s latest album released next week is a quartet affair, the difference this time is that Hülsmann is joined by trumpeter/flugel player Tom Arthurs whose superb but much delayed album Postcards from Pushkin with Richard Fairhurst was released last year.
In Full View has multiple points of entry, and one of the main talking points comes at the end with a nuanced take on ‘Nana’ by Manuel de Falla, the twentieth century Spanish composer’s lovely melody based on an Andalucian lullaby.
Hülsmann also demonstrates just what she can do without artifice as an interpretative artist on the beautiful Mehldau-esque introduction to ‘Sealion’, the song also known as ‘See Line Woman’ made famous by Nina Simone and covered more recently by Canadian indie folk singer/songwriter Feist.
Arthurs’ ‘Forgotten Poetry’ is another firm highlight of an album on early listens that as a quartet extends the ambition of Hülsmann’s writing that bit further, and shows the acute sensitivity of Arthurs on melancholic ballads and mood pieces.
In Full View was recorded over three days in June 2012 by the Bonn-born Hülsmann, a former pupil of the late Walter Norris who famously appeared on Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary debut Something Else!!!!.
The Hülsmann trio was founded in 1997, has changed personnel a little over the years, and now with the addition of Arthurs, who first burst on to the scene just under a decade ago with the remarkable Centripede, moves to an adventurous if more settled-sounding fresh phase, its essence intact.
As well as collaborating with singer Rebekka Bakken for ACT, with Scattering Poems, Hülsmann has also released The End of a Summer, a trio record for ECM featuring half a dozen of her own tunes, along with co-operatively written band material, and a version of Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’. Summer was followed by Imprint, but In Full View reflects some of her very best work to date, heard in a clear new light with Arthurs. SG
Released on Monday 15 April. Julia Hülsmann, above
Time still does the talking for Patty Griffin
“Time goin’ do the talking/ Years’ll do the walking,” soul great Bettye LaVette sang on her return to form last year and rising to the theme later in the song almost hollered “…change the locks on the door/ Learn how to take a little bit more/ I can outrun all the devils here/ But I just can’t outrun doubt."
LaVette might have taken a few liberties with the song but she did everyone a favour by covering it in the first place. It’s ‘Time Will Do The Talking’ the lead-off track from Living with Ghosts from Patty Griffin’s 1996 debut, an album that may well be long in the past but, although it may be a truism, great songs refuse to age.
Griffin is just announced to gig in the UK on the back of a new album American Kid to be released in May with a Union Chapel date in July. The new album was written to honour her father and is her first album of new material in six years. Of late Griffin has appeared as a guest with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy and toured solo dates of her own in the States last year according to Rolling Stone. A Top 40 Billboard album artist her songs have been covered by a wide range of artists across genres from the Dixie Chicks to Detroit soul great LaVette.
Listen to Bettye’s take on the song ‘Time Will Do The Talking’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVdeU0w5zs8
‘Ohio’ from American Kid you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/newwestrecords/patty-griffin-ohio
Patty Griffin above
Damon Albarn with Michael Horovitz
Released for the fast approaching Record Store Day on Saturday 20 April the vinyl-only Kings Cross jazz label Gearbox is to release a single featuring poet Michael Horovitz called ‘Ballade Of The Nocturnal Commune / Extra Time Meltdown’ when the poet is joined by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Paul Weller.
The Blur pair and the Modfather also appear with the distinguished anti-war poet on the new heavy vinyl album Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues, the title track of which was commissioned by Paul Weller and the text of which appeared within the artwork of Weller’s album Sonik Kicks.
These releases are to coincide with the first ever release of archive recording Blues For The Hitchiking Dead (Jazz Poetry SuperJam #1) on two pieces of heavy 12-inch vinyl within a box set that recalls the important anti-nuclear era of the 1960s. ‘Hitchhiking Dead’ features the Live New Departures Jazz Poetry Septet in a March 1962 recording, with Horovitz and poet/songwriter Pete Brown playing the student union of Southampton university along with Stan Tracey, Jeff Clyne, Laurie Morgan, John Mumford and Bobby Wellins. In pre-release publicity material Pete Brown is quoted as saying: “Listening to the Blues again, the first thing that hits me is the fear. This was the most dangerous known period in history for a potential nuclear war, and we really felt it…. This may be a piece of history, an antique even, but it still has a lot to say. And we are by no means out of trouble yet.” MB
Damon Albarn and Michael Horovitz above (photo: Damon Albarn unofficial).
In the States as Jazz Times has reported these records are being released for Record Store Day in limited runs: Miles Davis Round About Midnight (Legacy 12" LP); Miles Davis Milestones (Legacy 12" LP); Miles Davis Someday My Prince Will Come (Legacy 12" LP); Fela Kuti Sorrow Tears and Blood/Perambulator (Knitting Factory); The Cal Tjader Trio The Cal Tjader Trio (Fantasy 3-9/Concord 10" orange vinyl); The Dave Brubeck Trio Distinctive Rhythm Instrumentals (Fantasy 3-2/Concord 10" red vinyl), and Marco Benevento Invisible Baby (The Royal Potato 12" blue vinyl). More at www.jazztimes.com
Chet Baker: gone too soon
Released in May to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the death of Chet Baker, Too Cool: The Life and Music of Chet Baker, as this 12-song set is ambitiously titled, is a new album that combines trumpet and vocals on material written by Chet Baker, with other songs by Sue Richardson and one a fan-girl anthem called ‘Adored’ the Sussex-based Richardson has co-written with Annette Keen. The trumpeter, who has worked with Mina Agossi and Ian Shaw in recent years and whose brassy trumpet style is forthright and bold, is joined by a modern mainstream band with Karen Sharp on baritone saxophone making her presence felt on Richardson’s tune ‘All Through
It’s pretty laid back stuff, as you can imagine, and fairly undemanding at times although very well meant. Richardson’s singing on ‘My Funny Valentine’ and on the bittersweet ‘Chetty’s Lullaby’ are the pick of the vocals. Sue’s husband Neal, who also produced the record, accompanies effectively on piano and Rhodes while Jazz Jamaica’s Rod Youngs on drums drives the band along, with George Trebar’s double bass a lively presence. There’s guest guitar from Andy Drudy as well as the presence of Karen Sharp referred to above. The album could do, it’s fair to say, with a bit more of the dark side of Chet on display, but maybe that would be pushing everyone’s luck that bit too far. Chet certainly pushed his, as most great artists inevitably do. Their tragedy, but our guilty reward in the music and artistry they leave behind.
Sue Richardson plays a special lunchtime show in Ronnie Scott’s on 19 May, a club Chet himself performed in. Watch this extraordinary video of Chet Baker at Ronnie Scott’s in 1986 with footage filmed just two years before the trumpeter’s untimely passing in Amsterdam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6IiFpOVBjU
Andy Kershaw once likened modern jazz to a “fire in a pet shop", well he would, wouldn’t he?, but in a suitable spirit of mischief, prog jazzers World Service Project take that fire on the road, presumably carrying it like the Olympic torch with protective gloves accompanied by a bus riding alongside blaring out inappropriate music, possibly by Heather Small.
They’re off to Hull and back beginning on Humberside at the Pave Bar on Sunday (14 April) followed by dates in Lancashire, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, da da da, and ending up, at least for this month, in Bristol on the 28th.
They’re “the Led Bib you can dance to", as Moochin’ About’s Selwyn Harris so memorably put it. He’s got a point, with WSP apparently harbouring a deep seated grudge against Rick Wakeman into the bargain I’d add. The band hunkers around the band’s visionary Dave Morecroft at the keyboards in oddly asymmetric and suitably anonymous fashion but that’s part of the plan: it’s all about the band even with all those tricky time signatures and real ale-powered crypto-funk handbrake turns as the band gets into one.
Digging in live in Dalston last summer
There’s a new album out to coincide with the tour featuring the title track, which has already appeared on a collectable EP called Live From London. I’m not sure of the other tracks so far but ‘De-Frienders’, a highlight of last year’s Match & Fuse festival in Dalston, might make the cut as well (looks like ‘Barmy Army might be on it going by their Soundcloud page). If they don’t it’s a case of tracking down WSP’s back catalogue to a local pet shop that may even these days double as a pop-up vinyl emporium and probably offers a bespoke key-cutting service as well. There are worse things than a burn-up on the high street, the band seem to saying, as an artfully de-(be)friended Kershaw might realise if he heard this lot. SG
Quiet Money Recordings **** RECOMMENDED
The Liane Carroll album we’ve all been waiting for in more ways than one is released on Monday, an album that surpasses her greatest and considerable achievements to date such as her quietly moving 2003 album, Billy No Mates, or the way, live, she sings ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with that despairing rebuke in her voice. Forget all the awards she’s won this is where the music does the talking. The 11 songs of Ballads, such sad lingering ones, with their demon eyes blazing furiously, or simply gazing slackly as the song demands, the mood set in terms of interpretation by the resigned quietly dark despair in the ambivalent ‘Here’s to Life’, as good in its different way as the superlative version of the song on Barbra Streisand’s Love is the Answer. Another early album peak of Ballads is the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen song Sinatra made his own, ‘Only the Lonely’, set for big band by a 21st century Nelson Riddle, Chris Walden, its opening lyric: ‘Each place I go/only the lonely go’, could even be the maxim for an album that as a journey to intimacy thrives on isolation as in the stark Gwilym Simcock piano accompaniment to ‘Mad About the Boy’, or returning to the theme explicitly on ‘The Two Lonely People’, Carroll’s expression by times hotly emotional or icily cold depending on the mood she’s conveying. Be warned though, it’s not a depressing album in any way, as her version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ more than affirms. In a sense Ballads is a confessional album gathering together many classic complementary songs cleverly collected and interpreted that espouse loneliness, loss, but above all a longing for love. Carroll is at her most heartfelt and life-affirming on Todd Rundgren’s ‘Pretending to Care’ from 1985’s A Cappella with a remarkable, pingingly-pure, top note at a crucial arc of the song. No one’s come close to releasing a jazz vocals album of this quality so far this year and my guess is it will be a long wait until someones does.
Bassist draws on Middle Eastern sound for trio album featuring guests including Jason Yarde
Jazz record labels you would have thought are an endangered species. With little or no subsidy from arts bodies or charitable foundations their very survival particularly in the niche jazz area is always an issue. Few labels can do it all, possess the ability to invest and grow their artists, keep to their brief, and grow their business by spotting new talent and cutting good deals so they can at least cover their costs, and with any luck find an artist that the public gets behind. For a long period the UK indie jazz label sector was out of step with the progress made in other parts of Europe particularly in Germany and France where there are bigger markets and a bigger and deeper appetite for jazz to cushion the development period. That now has changed with a wave of new active indie jazz labels. Distribution patterns have also altered greatly since the digital revolution of the last 15 years, and with the decreasing costs of manufacturing albums also helping the small operator for bread and butter physical releases and the ability to harness cheaper means of marketing and PR via social media, newer labels such as Edition, Naim Jazz and Jellymould have taken on the challenge of getting new jazz out there to find and meet demand.
Whirlwind Recordings, bassist Michael Janisch’s label, has shown consistent growth in the last two years and ahead of releasing a new live album by Lee Konitz next month, a landmark release for Whirlwind, the label has now signed the Matt Ridley Trio for an autumn release with the bassist’s debut album Thymos (Greek for ‘spiritedness’) set to appear in October.
With alto saxophone star Jason Yarde guesting, bassist Ridley, a Trinity college of music graduate in 2005, will preview tunes from the album at a club show in the Vortex later this month. The bassist’s trio features John Turville whose Parliamentary award-winning album Midas first put the pianist on the map and relative unknown George Hart on drums. Pretty much a complete unknown himself still, Ridley has, though, worked extensively as a member of the popular Darius Brubeck Quartet touring widely, and has appeared with the MJQ Celebration band featuring Jim Hart, Barry Green, and Steve Brown, as well as the Lyric Ensemble. A SE London Collective scenester Ridley has also collaborated with celebrated oudist Attab Haddad, who is an additional guest on Thymos.
The debut album features original tunes and Ridley says ahead of the Vortex date: “I envisaged a sound encompassing the exotic flavours and emotions of Middle Eastern music, with the jazz sensibility of improvisation on complex structures.” One to watch for later in the year. There’s a tour then in the offing as well. SG
Matt Ridley pictured above
Gimme the Boots
Continuing the label’s commitment to young German jazz Gimme the Boots taps the Maceo Parker side of soul jazz with Rhodes knitting in, plenty of Maceo-like blowing from Felix F. Falk on various saxes and much else, and there’s so much positive energy flying around that the band could power a small town with their relentless flow. It does wear a bit thin after a while, and by the time a didgeridoo, no less, is produced on the title track the band has almost done itself a mischief. Debuting for the label with For Those About To Funk a few years back, Mr Funky Trombone himself, Nils Landgren, produced these funkster likely lads. Not so much feel good as feel exhausted Mo’Blow must have needed a good sit down after these 12 tracks, and so might you. Released on 29 April. SG
When jazz and pop collide it can be messy. But if the tunes are good, the spirit’s right, the words to the songs possessing a staying power, delivered by a confident performer then what’s not to like: it’s not as if it’s life or death, is it?
Next Tuesday at the Hippodrome in London’s west end (the old Talk of the Town, now a casino with a music venue on tap as well as the roulette wheel and blackjack), Erin Boheme makes her London debut following the release of What a Life last month on Heads Up. She’s to be joined by Tammy Weis, a London-based Canadian singer who’s a well kept secret until, well, now, on the London jazz vocals scene. Tammy’s also co-written one of the songs on the album as previously reported in these pages. Michael Bublé no less has produced this album… so where’s the jazz you might ask?! Well if you ask that kind of question, this album is not for you. It’s about songs, not improvising, but it’s perfectly compatible within its commercial framework rather than the flawed smooth jazz format that is now disappearing or at best morphing into more acceptable soul-jazz.
Contrast the Eric Benet version of ‘The Last Time’ with the version here and there’s a huge difference in interpretation, less cheesy for sure. In Benet’s take on his own highly effective melancholic song, co-written among others with famed songwriter David Foster, incidentally also chair of the Verve Music Group (who penned ‘I Have Nothing’ for the late Whitney Houston), the natural feeling gets lost a bit crouched behind the layers of glossy audio production and arrangement.
Bublé’s approach although you mightn’t think so at first blush is to strip away the varnish, and let the songs breathe, and Carly Simon-loving Boheme begins demurely on a low key Emerald-esque rumba ‘Everything But Me’, Tammy’s song, which is close enough for jazz as Van Morrison put it on Born To Sing: No Plan B. Why Boheme needed to cover a Coldplay song I don’t know, and I didn’t care one bit for the Bublé-sounding Spencer Day who is on the otherwise excellent ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last’. But ‘One More Try’ is quite superb, and jazz-intuitive, and of the band itself we really should be hearing more of pianist Alan Chang who co-wrote the song with Boheme. Overall then, songs that will stay with you, delivered by a singer who clearly believes in her material and carries both the record and the day.
Erin Boheme above plays the Hippodrome, London on Tuesday 16 April, with special guest Tammy Weis.
Superlative Paul Motian retrospective
ECM 6 CDs ****1/2
A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma may be an apt way to view Paul Motian now with the benefit of the passage of time since his passing at the age of 80 in November 2011. This extraordinary eponymous box set of six albums recorded between 1972 and 1984 all issued for the first time together as an Old & New Masters edition reinforces that impression. The story begins, but does not end, in a band with Keith Jarrett, in fact for once Jarrett is a bit player in the overall musical drama, and while Ethan Iverson in his warm and beautifully written essay accompanying the music attempts to organise the music into three pairs: Conception Vessel and Tribute made when Motian was a member of the Jarrett Quartet; trio albums with Charles Brackeen “their own private universe” and in Psalm and It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago, a "triumphant reign" as a bandleader, even this sensible pointer adds little to the making sense of the music as a whole. Iverson comments most effectively that Motian changed as a late starter into becoming a composer in his own right. And if you listen to Motian in his Bill Evans days it’s almost as if this is a new person entirely. Conception Vessel is less about Jarrett perhaps than the chrysalis phase of Motian reborn as a musical thinker, and an advanced abstract expressionist at that. Sam Brown’s flamenco touches at the beginning are something you don’t easily expect but the first big moment is the doom-laden drum statement at the beginning of ‘Ch’i Energy’ matched and surpassed only in sheer daring at the very end of all these albums by ‘Fiasco’ on It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago.
That latter album title could well be the mantra of all the music collected in Paul Motian. They’re much freer than I remember previous selected listens in isolation and Iverson goes so far as to make the claim “There have been many great free drummers, but I believe Motian might have been the greatest.” I’m not sure if I agree with that but there is strong evidence here that Motian has achieved the nirvana of musical freedom in terms of both structure and abstraction. Best bits for me? Well, Charlie Haden coming in at the beginning of ‘War Orphans’ on Tribute with Motian clanking almost in the shadows to scuffle in behind the pristine guitar of Paul Metzke; or how about the very still and mysterious cymbal work at the beginning of ‘Folk Song For Rosie’ with the chilled saxophone of Charles Brackeen wading in the luke warm water of JF Jenny-Clark’s lulling bass? Or even, on ‘Second Hand’ from Psalm, the toms joyously going AWOL right at the beginning, a voice off, and then the dull ache of Frisell’s chordal pain entering dispassionately?
This riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma is a major retrospective that marks only the beginning of a coming to terms with Motian as a major artist. His legend will grow even more: and it starts right here. Stephen Graham
Monday sees the release of At Home the first album of unreleased George Shearing material since the bebop piano master’s passing two years ago. It’s unusual in that it was recorded in the front room of Shearing’s New York flat in down time during a club residency in the 1980s.
Released on Jazzknight, a label established by Sir George’s widow Lady Ellie the album begins like a foxtrot, and ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ has a twinkling style, full of the chirpiness Nat King Cole managed to endow old Broadway songs with when he himself played piano.
Shearing turns on his significant charm though after about a minute in, and these living room songs draw out Don Thompson’s role as a confidant to Shearing’s left hand.
Thompson played with Shearing for some 20 years in all, and you feel as if he knows Shearing’s every move on the tracks they play together. Now 73, he accompanied Barney Kessel early in his career in Vancouver clubs, and appears on the John Handy Quintet classic live album Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival recorded in 1965.
‘Up at the crack of Don’
Thompson began playing concerts with Shearing decades later, from 1982 onwards, the year before the newly discovered At Home was recorded. And just under the three-minute mark he draws out the woodiness of the bass a skilled carpenter would find hard to locate.
A sprightly start then to this remarkable Jazzknight records album and there’s an elegant fade at the end of the opener; and like some sort of mirage Johnny Mandel’s ‘A Time For Love’ emerges after the silence. Thompson comes in on the arc of the Shearing line here time and again, at the emotional tug of the note.
Bill Evans link, as two tracks on At Home appeared on
1961 album Explorations
Thompson’s own tune ‘Ghoti’ (apparently Shearing dubbed it “up at the crack of Don”), leads into a riot in swing, and you could hear this being played with a vibes quintet, Shearing’s preferred stomping ground in his heyday. This one’s got bebop written all over it. After two minutes Shearing changes the goalposts, and there’s a rhythmic murmur that’s the very essence of bop syncopation.
The sound quality is fine throughout At Home: you can really hear the piano and bass and the instruments together. The album was mastered much later in Toronto, the city where Ellie Shearing first heard the tapes played before pressing green for go to start the process towards release after an ice age of 30 years in the obscurity of a drawer.
‘The Things We Did Last Summer’, the Jule Style/Sammy Cahn song begins jauntily, as if the duo are feeling completely at ease, and that’s a defining feature of this wonderful album. Lady Shearing provided cups of tea in breaks over the few days the album took to make. No producer was present, and there is a comfortable feel to all these tracks recorded around the time of a run of club dates in New York.
‘Laura’ is the first big talking point and really the test of the album. Opening expansively the theme is stated quite simply with a few ornate touches, but Shearing seems more interested in building the darkness in his left hand at which he more than succeeds. The tempo slows right down and there are some lovely washes after the 150-second mark moving towards some high-end tinkling that ends even more seriously than it began. With Thompson back ‘The Skye Boat Song’ I could have done without, although it’s a pretty enough melody and close to the bassist’s heart. But Shearing and Thompson are on more satisfying territory with Bird’s ‘Confirmation’ joyously foot tapping, but not fast at all. Remaining tracks are a winningly shy take on ‘The Girl Next Door’ with its hesitant opening; a swayingly optimistic ‘Can’t We Be Friends?’; the more mundane ‘I Cover the Waterfront’; and ‘Out of Nowhere’. Although ‘That Old Devil Called Love’ opens things up, ‘SubconsciousLee’ allows lots of bass space, and little detours here and there. Victor Young’s ‘Beautiful Love’ is simply a display of Shearing genius at the end.
Sir George Shearing top, Don Thompson above; and the album cover. Listen to another version of ‘Beautiful Love’, recorded in the 1970s, by Shearing to get in the zone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz9njOgKBYU
Rich Tailors, and international Take Five Europe band, gig
in Paris on 18 April
Soweto Kinch will be performing music from The Legend of Mike Smith at the Banlieues Bleues festival in Paris this month, and at la Dynamo situated right in the heart of the Quatre-Chemins quartier in Pantin, there’s a Take Five Europe presentation featuring new music developed and performed by a group of leading new European jazz artists performing under its EU-funded banner. Trumpeter Airelle Besson, saxophonist Guillaume Perret, clarinettist Arun Ghosh, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, reeds player David Kweksilber, guitarist Chris Sharkey, pianist Marcin Masecki piano, bassist Per Zanussi and drummer Marcos Baggiani will perform at the concert in a double bill with the Rich Tailors, the formidable Anglo-French collaboration formed of members of Blink and the Mediums with Robin Fincker, Daniel Erdmann, Vincent Courtois, Alcyona Mick, and Paul Clarvis.
Rich Tailors, above
Anthony Branker & Word Play
Provocative and controversial in his choice of title Princeton professor Anthony Branker explains extremely well his motivation for using such a frequently offensive term, and moves the discussion in his notes to the album on by referring to the murder and beatings of young African-American men such as Jordan Miles, Jordan Davis, Ramarley Graham and most notoriously Trayvon Martin an unarmed Miami teenager who was killed by a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator because, Branker says, he looked “suspicious while wearing a ‘hoody’.”
It’s a marvel that this sextet album, recorded last year in Brooklyn, and other albums by the composer such as Word Play’s 2011 album Dialogic exist at all given the fact that Branker suffered life threatening illness that necessitated brain surgery more than a decade ago. Originally a trumpeter he has written and arranged six tunes of depth and interest here, beginning with a light funk feel courtesy of Jim Ridl’s Fender Rhodes on ‘Let’s Conversate!’ but there’s a considerable step change after the relatively light opening as the album goes deeper and deeper and has a seriousness and integrity to it that draws you in.
The best of the tunes is the moving ballad ‘Three Gifts (from a Nigerian Mother to God)’ that Branker was inspired to write following a television news report about a plane crash that killed dozens of young African school children. He dedicated the piece to the Nigerian mother he watched interviewed about the loss of her three children. Eli Asher’s flugelhorn solo does the human tragedy justice as an artistic response, as does the integrated vocal of Charmaine Lee, while overall tenorist Ralph Bowen is a towering presence throughout the album. Uppity is an album you won’t want to forget in a hurry: for all the right reasons. SG
The cover of Uppity above