With settings of Byzantine Greek prayers Stephan Micus returns for his twentieth album for ECM with Panagia, an astonishing tally for the Mallorca-based German composer who defies categorisation. Only rarely on a concert stage in the UK, though returning for a concert in April at Kings Place in London, Micus, who turned 60 earlier this month, sings and performs on an array of instruments on this his latest album released last week, including Bavarian zither, dilruba, chitrali sitar, and his own customised 14-string guitar. On Panagia, the Virgin Mary, Micus meditates via a concept of female energy inherent in the symbolism. New Agey, contemplative, and thought provoking, the album comes into its own on the third track ‘I Praise You Lady of Passion’, but it’s an hour of music with its alternating sung poems and instrumentals you need to experience as a single entity, preferably in one hearing. A music based on a sense of wonder and mysticism. SG
Stephan Micus above
Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project
Edition **** RECOMMENDED NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
With all music by Kenny Wheeler, London Vocal Project director Pete Churchill in the album notes explains that Mirrors was a commission for five solo voices in the first place, and with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler, they duly performed it at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival. After performing the material with various college choirs and then, with the London Vocal Project five years ago, Churchill realised he “knew Mirrors had finally found a home.” The poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Kenny Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the LVP whose members number 25 split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats (Winstone excelling on ‘The Lover Mourns’). Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album. Mirrors is still a further example, after The Long Waiting, of the extraordinary late-period flowering of Kenny Wheeler’s artistry once again. There’s a section on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ when Wheeler, Lockheart and Winstone interact spontaneously to tremendous effect, but it’s just one instance of the spirit on display on this remarkable album.
Released on 25 February
The View From Here
Jazz Village ***1/2
It’s uncanny although not a drummer’s record, The View From Here has that Jazz Messengers feel subtly transformed organically with the passage of time. “The View From Here” could even be an outlook on a pivotal period of jazz history, the Golden Age in the 1950s and 60s, rather than in some literal sense of a landscape or babbling brook. It’s scenic though, with the two Graemes (Blevins and Flowers) on saxophone and trumpet/flugel respectively, Martyn Kane on drums and Andrew McCormack on piano with Eastwood working as one on some pretty melodies. As much a film composer in recent years he’s no slouch at releasing records with his band and at only 44 Eastwood has packed in a great deal in his career so far. I think From There to Here right at the beginning is his best album to date, but this latest one builds on the huge advances made in Songs from the Chateau, and is easily his most mature album. Eastwood isn’t the most showy of bassists, and his instrument is quietly amplified whether on double or electric bass, and often not that demonstrative even on some of the solos he takes. That’s to his credit to an extent leaving the two Graemes as the public face of the album, with the harmonically advanced McCormack taking up the slack when he chooses to let off some steam. But The View From Here is also a classic hard bop quintet record, and not about the individuals as individuals. So in that sense, and perhaps it’s the first time in Eastwood’s jazz work so far, all the elements of his personal musical interests mostly steeped in the golden age of Blue Note records have come together on one set of tunes. ‘Sirocco’ has a perky “unsquare dance” feel to it (one of the most notable tunes, which each of the band had a hand in writing), and the album is also imbued with a link to the winds of the Mediterranean, and to Africa, with some track titles to reinforce these connections. There’s also, characteristically, an air of romance in Eastwood’s writing, and ‘Luxor’, which Eastwood has co-written with McCormack, is a good showcase for the Clifford Brown side of Graeme Flowers to emerge, with a melody that has a gracenote-leading character, before his peach of a solo. An unashamedly retro album that could have been made in the late-1950s or early-1960s, but no worse for this. If you’re an Eastwood fan already you’ll love this. For the unconvinced The View From Here is as good a place as any to start.
Released on 25 March
Oli Road Records ***
Singer-songwriter, keyboardist and arranger Oli Rockberger, a Londoner who has made his way steadily in the US music industry since studying at Berklee, has played with a host of jazz luminaries since, including the likes of Randy Brecker and Les McCann and two of his co-written songs will appear on Randy Brecker’s latest album. Old Habits is Rockberger’s second album as a singer songwriter (following the promising Hush Now), and this his latest album to be released in March, has guests who include erstwhile Pat Metheny Group harmonica whiz Gregoire Maret, guitarist John Shannon, and Becca Stevens Band drummer Jordan Perlson. The nine songs, plus bonus track ‘My Home’, are radio friendly jazzy pop with resemblances to Randy Newman and James Taylor. ‘Old Habits Die Hard’ has a bluesy feel that opens out into a gospellised keyboards break with the sound all misted up, which is part of the oblique appeal in the production. ‘Don’t Forget Me’, with multi-tracked vocals, harks back to the Phil Collins 1980s vocal sound circa ‘In the Air Tonight’, and is the best song on the album by far with its air of slight regret (‘Under the stars with the falling snow/Don’t forget me when I go’). The more upbeat ‘Queen of Evasion’ has a Steely Dan-like vibe, while ‘My Home’ has a lovely piano opening, a bit like Bob James would have recorded in years gone by, and sounds as if it could be used as a TV theme. It’s got that slightly ambiguous bittersweet quality, a character the album as a whole shares. Stephen Graham
Oli Rockberger, above
John Turville performed at the first Shearing Hour last night at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in a new early-evening piano hour slot at the Soho club in London. The theme of the hour was the music of George Shearing, and award winning pianist Turville whose album Conception, the title track of which is one of Shearing’s best known compositions, performed some newly transcribed material associated with Shearing. He interpreted Shearing’s signature “locked hands" style admirably, with a nuanced airy feel, and the club’s newly tuned Steinway sounded a treat. As well as ‘Conception’ he played the great Horace Silver’s composition ‘The Outlaw’, which appeared on the Shearing Quintet’s 1960 Capitol album San Francisco Scene, and another of Silver’s, ‘Room 608’. The set also featured ‘Station Break’, a lesser known tune from the Shearing live album Rare Form recorded in San Fran, the standard ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, ‘September in the Rain’ (the Shearing Hour’s theme song), and of course ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, which Turville played quite beautifully. Earlier the audience, who would swell to fill the club to hear jazz singer Clare Teal deliver a fine performance later in the evening with her piano trio, warmed to some original 1947-1952 Shearing gems played over the club’s house sound system. SG
John Turville pictured at the Shearing Hour. Photo: Aimua Eghobamien
One word is already amounting to a major theme of jazz releases this year and that is: Duke. Of course, it’s Duke as in Ellington, and with Mark Lockheart releasing his remarkable Ellington in Anticipation record and heading out on tour http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/38943427946/265 , the uncanny Ellingtonian homage in Adrian Johnston’s original music for Dancing on the Edge http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/40600198373/2847525 set to reach a TV audience next month, the early part of 2013 will also see the release of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s new Spartacus records album In the Spirit of Duke. Recorded in the autumn of last year actually in Scotland the album follows the SNJO’s 2012 debut for ECM, Celebration, which featured Norwegian bass supremo Arild Andersen. Tracks on the new album are thought to include ‘Black & Tan Fantasy’, ‘Concerto for Cootie’, ‘Harlem Airshaft’, ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’, and movements from ‘The Queenʼs Suite’, plus the Ellington Strayhorn jazz adaptation of Edvard Griegʼs ‘Peer Gynt Suite’. Soloists on the album include pianist Brian Kellock, trumpeters Tom MacNiven and Ryan Quigley, alto saxophonist Ru Pattison, and director Tommy Smith on saxophone adopting the role of Paul Gonsalves on the Ellingtonian’s celebrated Newport crowdstealer, ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.’ SG
In the Spirit of Duke is released on 13 March. Members of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Tommy Smith pictured top. Upcoming SNJO dates with guest trumpeter Paolo Fresu are Caird Hall, Dundee, 21 February; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22 Feb; Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow, 23 Feb; and Macrobert, Stirling, 24 Feb
The input of the music of the Cape Verde islands in jazz, particularly as it appears indirectly within the music of Horace Silver and more directly with the late Cesária Évora, is considerable, and Souza, who’s in her early thirties from Lisbon of Cape Verdean descent is another part of the stream merging local folkloric musics and jazz. Released in France as long ago as September the new album comes out in the UK next month. Called Kachupada, after a well loved Cape Verdean dish, Souza is certainly not brand new, but fairly unknown to jazz audiences in the UK, although world music fans know of her here more but she has mutual appeal it’s clear. A decade ago the singer whose voice has a lingering contralto lilt was first working with the producer bassist Theo Pas’cal and she debuted in 2003 with an album that mixed Creole, African and Cape Verdean rhythms. Poppy at times, but not as light as a singer such as Luisa Sobral, on the new album Souza lets loose some lively vocalese on tracks such as ‘Tchega’, and there are jazz standards such as ‘Donna Lee’ and ‘My Favourite Things’ here sparkily handled, with a sympathetic band varying in size as the album tracks demand. So, a laidback sound with plenty of jazz textures (fine instrumental solos for instance saxophonist Guto Lucena’s on ‘Terra Sab’ [‘Amazing Land’]), along with pleasurable rhythms in abundance, although saudade is never far away. SG
Following news earlier this week that Liane Carroll is to headline the new Brilliant Corners festival in March, the following month, it’s now understood, will see the latest album to be released by the award winning singer who is also touring heavily in the spring. Titled, quite simply, Ballads, it’s the classic jazz singer’s latest for Quiet Money Recordings, trumpeter James McMillan’s label, who returns to produce Liane once more following their work together on Up and Down released two years ago. This new album features arrangements by Chris Walden whose work includes Paul McCartney’s 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom.
Ballads tracks include ‘Here’s To Life’, featuring Carroll’s powerful vocals along with classical guitar and celeste; ‘Goodbye’ with a Walden orchestration and Mark Edwards on piano; a big band take on ‘Only The Lonely’ (not the Roy Orbison song, the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen torch song closely identified with Frank Sinatra); ‘Mad About The Boy’ with an appearance by pianist Gwilym Simcock; jazz standard ‘You’ve Changed’; Todd Rundgren’s ‘Pretending To Care’ featuring the bass clarinet of Julian Siegel; ‘Calgary Bay’ by songwriter Sophie Bancroft; a strong reading of ‘My One and Only Love’; ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ with acoustic guitar and the saxophone of Kirk Whalum who worked with Liane on Up and Down; ‘The Two Lonely People’; and the Buddy Holly associated song ‘Raining in My Heart’. Stephen Graham
Liane Carroll pictured top, and the album’s cover. Ballads is released on 15 April