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Metamorphic
Coalescence
F-IRE ***
Unique probably in the long and chequered annals of popular music and jazz in featuring a song based on a dream about becoming a puma Coalescence in no way amounts to a ‘dreamy’ soundscape. Instead it’s the polar opposite, an intense and at times quite dark world, the vision of Leeds pianist Laura Cole whose squalling six-piece Metamorphic are identified in one main aspect by the vocals of Kerry Andrew and in another by the alto saxophone of Led Bib’s Chris Williams. A step up from debut album The Rock Between released in 2011, most of the dystopian tunes are Cole’s but the leader has also included an arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Gentle Piece’ (from Music for Large and Small Ensembles), fused Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’ and Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ into a brand new piece, and arranged Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’ from their album In Rainbows, which is the best thing here. The Latinate ‘Light Up Yourself’ is untypical of the album as a whole but may actually show the breadth of this adventurously inclined band in the best light. SG
Released on 17 June
Metamorphic above

Releasing their debut album My Guess this week Thought-Fox are not a band built on a big blustery wave of noise, but one that favours asides and confidences, syllabic invention, and daring intervallic leaps, with a control at low volumes that can translate to a bigger effect. They’re that bit different. Simon Roth on drums sculpts an alternative direction with a growing sense of unforced momentum as the album develops, and by ‘Worm of Thought’ (inspired by The Waste Land) when the album gains a free improv impetus, both he and the voice of Lauren Kinsella (the main distinguishing feature of the band), have clearly found common ground, a sort of “peace of mind” as the lyric to the title track later has it as the singer’s ambition increases and the direction of the music becomes less mannered. ‘Malin’s Chai’, the best melody by far and most involved band interplay, ‘Celia’, and title track ‘My Guess’ then build on the promise shown first in ‘Worm of Thought’. It’s a tantalising prospect all in all. Catch the band at the Vortex in London on Wednesday. MB
Tickets www.vortexjazz.co.uk

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Joshua Redman
Walking Shadows
Nonesuch ***1/2
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. 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. 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. MB
Walking Shadows is released tomorrow.
Joshua Redman, above

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Lucian Ban/Mat Maneri
Transylvanian Concert
ECM ****

This unusual piano-viola duo album recorded in Romania by a pairing also known as Deco Heart channels serialism, an abstract often achingly-plangent wash of bittersweet registers, and naturally conceived improvisations. Ban, who moved to the US from his homeland of Romania in the late-1990s a decade after the country’s hated dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were shot dead by firing squad, got to hear his future playing partner at the Vanguard in New York when Maneri was performing there with the late Paul Motian. Ban and Maneri started to work together for the pianist’s Enesco project, issued in octet form on a Sunnyside album called Enesco Re-Imagined. But for this album they travelled to Targu Mures in Transylvania for the pianist’s first outing, a live affair, although it sounds more like a studio album despite the discerning applause. There’s an aching sadness on a tune such as Maneri’s ‘Retina’ with Maneri outgrowing his instrument on his own tune, and indeed both players follow an organic compositional, often orchestrated approach by extension. It’s the nature of the big sky songs on this fine album. Ban has a pointillist barrelhouse touch when he frees himself up on ‘Not That Kind of Blues’ and you instinctively believe in his solos. Most of the tunes are the pianist’s own with the traditional ‘Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen’ and some hymns at the end the additional well integrated elements.There’s a coming together of many influences on this album, a synthesis if you like of Schoenberg, advanced contemporary classical music, much Ellington and Gershwin-derived jazz, and the hinterland of Ban’s belovèd Enesco. But the improvisational spirit, beginning at the crossroads of the free jazz revolution and Nicolas Slonimsky’s theoretical influence on John Coltrane by the early-1960s, is at the album’s core. MB

Lucian Ban above left and Mat Maneri. Photo: Claire Stefani/ECM

Transylvanian Concert is released on 13 May. Hear the Ban/Maneri duo at the Vortex, London on 21 May; Voice Box, Derby the next day; and Newcastle university on 23 May

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Antony Gormley’s bronze outside the Millennium Forum

Where better to hear ‘Danny Boy’ than in Derry one hundred years old this year, played in the right spirit by local alto saxophone and clarinet legend Gay McIntyre, who has just celebrated his 80th birthday. Performing an afternoon set on the second day of this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival McIntyre was in duo with guitarist Joe Quigley in the Rocking Chair on Waterloo Street. McIntyre performed several times during this year’s festival, and was joined by his son Paul and fellow Irish jazz legend Louis Stewart for a headline show at the Playhouse on the penultimate day.

On Saturday evening David Lyttle, the Irish drummer known to wider audiences for his band featuring Soweto Kinch and his championing of teenage guitar sensation Andreas Varady, performed in trio mode at the Playhouse theatre on Artillery Street with Dublin-based Australian double bassist Damian Evans and former Sting keyboardist Jason Rebello here on piano. Their set included music from Lyttle’s Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe-inspired work ‘Dark Tales’, music the 28-year-old Waringstown musician and composer has performed during a Pizza Express Jazz Club residency in London with his band at the time featuring pianist Robert Mitchell. Also included in this accomplished set were the multi-layered composition ‘Childhood’, and Rebello’s knottily appealing tune ‘As the Dust Settles’. Lyttle’s style recalls Brian Blade’s a touch, with the same open, loose feel and a driving post-straightahead way about him. Rebello responded well, and in passages took me back to his halcyon Make It Real days in the 1990s.

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The line-up in Derry this year also included crossover headliners Puppini Sisters and Pink Martini as well as an extensive Guinness Trail, a very inclusive concept featuring mostly free-entry gigs with events taking place all over the city and not just inside. In Guildhall Square there was a stage and a market and in City of Culture year the festival, now in its twelfth running, had an extra spring in its step. Caolán McLaughlin, one of the participants in the second day Neil Cowley masterclass at Henderson’s showroom, was on stage in the square with a covers band at Saturday lunchtime and bumping into this fine player later he mentioned an early evening set at the Bentley wine bar.  Making my way over there at the Bentley Mark Black and the Trips really kicked in hard, with Letterkenny man Black’s style recalling the Stax sound of blues great Albert King at times allied with an expert swung groove from the drummer, and McLaughlin on keys adding authentic textures as the band slowed for effect.

Another of Cowley’s masterclass participants who goes by the moniker Grim (real name: Laurence McDaid) a tall, confident multi-instrumentalist, electronicist and singer who sang Leadbelly’s  ‘Sylvie’ (‘Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie)’ a cappella quite fearlessly to begin with and who played bass guitar later was the support act at the Nerve Centre. His own dark and catchy song ‘Little Fizz’ was the highlight of the set for me.  

Cowley’s set after a long unexplained delay was one of the best, and the most intuitive in terms of improvisational firepower I’ve seen the band perform to date. The audience responded well, and bassist Rex Horan played his socks off, with Evan Jenkins’ coiled aggression at the kit, and Cowley getting into the zone particularly on ‘The Face of Mount Molehill’, the title track of the band’s last studio album. The audience rose to their feet immediately at the end of the set and encore piece ‘She Eats Flies’ contained a superb bass solo from Horan as the band settled into a further improvisation-heavy groove that underlined the band’s sheer class. Stephen Graham

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Neil Cowley piano masterclass at the city of Derry jazz and big band festival

Musician in residence at the UK City of Culture this year Neil Cowley was nearing the end of a day of masterclasses in a piano showroom in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Derry during the second day of this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival in Northern Ireland, which continues today and comes to a conclusion at the end of a busy run of gigs on bank holiday Monday. 

With him were three young musicians one of whom was the talented multi-instrumentalist and singer Grim (above, left) who has just released a single ‘Little Fizz’, and who was Cowley’s support act last night at the Nerve Centre venue on Magazine Street for one of the festival’s key concerts. Singer-pianist Caolán McLaughlin (above, right) who also attended would also perform next day outdoors at Guildhall Square, and later at the Bentley wine bar as a member of Mark Black and the Trips. 

The Nerve Centre’s Martin McGill, who organised the workshops, speaking surrounded by organs upstairs inside the Henderson showroom on Northland Road as the masterclass continued below said: “Sixty musicians from across all genres had applied to be musician in residence, and Neil most impressed the City of Culture’s director with his idea for the ‘eighth gate’.”

The new piece, creating an additional metaphorical gate to add to the city’s collection dating back to the seventeenth century siege, will be performed at the defining point of the residency in Ebrington at the massive Venue performance space which hosted the emotive Sons and Daughters concert broadcast by the BBC at the beginning of City of Culture year. “Neil had a strong sense of the piece involving people on the ground and local musicians,” says McGill, and since Cowley’s appointment at the end of last year, the jazz pianist has been working with local school children and musicians towards the autumn performance which will involve choirs, a range of instrumentalists, and a multi-media dimension.

As the workshop reached a conclusion, and Cowley managed to grab a sandwich, in between bites offering suggestions to the class such as: “With tenths wherever you go it sounds richer”, as well as demonstrating from some of his work including ‘Lament’, the haunting atmospheric opening track on The Face of Mount Molehill, the musicians looked on before they each performed.

The Cowley trio return to Derry in June for Music City, an all-day feast of music in the cit,y performing with a choir in a new arrangement of music from Molehill, Cowley’s bestselling album from last year, for a performance at St Augustine’s church. Stephen Graham

 

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Grammy nominated singer prepares for release of The Changing Lights and major tour in the autumn

Singer Stacey Kent is to be presented with a gold disc for her 2003 Candid album The Boy Next Door, reflecting sales of 100,000 units at the concert, in London’s Cadogan Hall on 14 June. It’s an album that goes to the heart of the Great American Songbook featuring a selection of Kent’s signature interpretations, notably ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ and ‘The Trolley Song’.

The New Jersey-born singer, who first came to prominence from within the London jazz scene at the peak of the jazz vocals boom in the early-noughties, will reprise songs from The Boy Next Door as well as other more recent material.

This concert at the central London venue located near Sloane Square comes just a few months ahead of the release of Kent’s latest album The Changing Lights, the title track of which the singer first debuted in Liverpool and London during the final round of concerts touring Dreamer In Concert, her latest album. The song, written for her by the longstanding songwriting partnership of The Remains of The Day novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and the singer’s husband saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, Kent performed to a receptive Ronnie Scott’s jazz club audience during the singer’s most recent residency at the Soho institution. 

‘The Changing Lights’, is, if anything, an even stronger, more intimate number than ‘The Ice Hotel’, Ishiguro and Tomlinson’s most well known number, which appeared on the Grammy nominated Blue Note album Breakfast on the Morning Tram, embued as it is with a certain loneliness and big city melancholia implicit in its atmosphere and lyrics.

At this stage there are no details at all about the new album the first by Stacey Kent for Blue Note since Universal acquired the label as part of its take-over of EMI last year. But it’s possible ‘This Happy Madness’ (‘Estrada Branca’), a Jobim song with English lyrics written by the late Gene Lees the former Downbeat editor a writer Stacey warmed to as she has also interpreted Lees’ take on both ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Quiet Nights’, might well be included. Jobim recorded the song with Frank Sinatra, on the fabled Sinatra-Jobim Sessions, and this stole the show at Ronnie’s as reported at the time in these pages. MB
www.cadoganhall.com

 

 

 

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Patty Griffin
American Kid
New West records ****
Any jazz singer worth their salt could cover just about any track on American Kid, Patty Griffin’s latest. Why? Well, with the exception of ‘Go Wherever You Wanna Go’ they all have that indefinable thing that connects no matter the musical genre. Come to think of it listen to the beginning of ‘Wild Old Dog’ and listen to the beginning of ‘Cyprus Avenue’, on Astral Weeks, and draw your own conclusions. Genres melt. Last year Bettye LaVette, who can cover Van Morrison songs better than most, did everyone a favour by doing a Detroit soul version of Griffin’s ‘Time Will Do the Talking’ from Living with Ghosts, Griffin’s 1996 debut. Recorded in Memphis with North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer Cody Dickinson, every song has its merits and quite a few (‘Ohio’, ‘Wild Old Dog’ and ‘Not a Bad Man’ primarily) have “instant classic" written all over them. ‘Irish Boy’ has a very pretty melody and is quite sad as is the more mannered ‘Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone’; while ‘Get Ready Marie’ is a bar-room belter of some quality. Robert Plant Band of Joy fans see Griffin as family, and his appearance on three songs with his partner, only intensifies that process. The sheer quality of this album will only further increase their affection for Griffin.
Released on 13 May.

Patty Griffin tours in July. Dates are Sage, Gateshead, 19 July; Concert Hall, Perth (21 July), Stables, Milton Keynes (23 July); Glee Club, Birmingham (24 July); Union Chapel, London (25 July); and Cambridge Folk Festival, Cambridge (26 July).

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WorldService Project
Fire in a Pet Shop
Megasound **** ALBUM OF THE WEEK

The early life of WorldService Project, invariably known as WSP, in terms of recording was unusual as the band issued fiddly EPs and developed a live following “match & fusing” with similarly minded below-the-radar often bizarrely accomplished prog-jazz outfits from across Europe. This all culminated in a two-day festival last year in Dalston, and its successor is on the horizon this year having relocated, as you do, to Oslo. As an album band Fire in a Pet Shop is probably the first real test of the band’s mettle. The title track may be dimly familiar to more hardcore fans as it appeared on a by-now collectable EP called Live From London. While ‘De-Frienders’, is a reference to people online who dispense with the boring, botherers, dotty, and frankly deranged who increasingly populate social networking sites, and who also feature in “the thanks”, which bizarrely ranges from London’s most Ryanair-like council, Barnet; to the Portuguese language. This tune was an obvious highlight of last year’s Match & Fuse festival performance by the band.

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WSP is a powerful quintet: It doesn’t do skronk (ie it’s not a free improv-into-metal “punk jazz” band), and while there isn’t an official cloak of secrecy the band of Tim Ower on saxophones, apparently “meowing” as well, trombone player Raphael Clarkson, bassist Conor Chaplin, and drummer Neil Blandford are very much the secret behind keyboardist/svengali Dave Morecroft’s rise to World stardom. Surely he is the owner of a cape.

But what do they play? Well, if you draw a line in the sand back to Soft Machine (the birth of prog jazz via the Canterbury scene) and take it forward in time to Delightful Precipice then downsize it, chop off a bit of the arch chat, instal a no-vocals policy in these teeteringly tripledip times, and there you have it. WSP are part of that glorious continuum. It’s quite loud and it is very messy with Morecroft’s factory-setting keyboards somehow sounding like he could be Django Bates but can’t really be bothered, at least yet. All eight tunes of his are on message and it’s beyond-the-barline funky with a feeling of abandon. The boffin-like preternaturally-quiet keyboards passages folded in resemble a scientist at work on some mad scheme in a garden shed absent mindedly applying jump leads to an unsuspecting squirrel while listening to Keith Emerson. Clarkson also gets out of control from time to time very much like his motoring journalist namesake. But thankfully, in this phase of the band’s colourful history to date, with quite a few more social skills. MB

No animals were hurt in the making of this album: WorldService Project top and above 

Released officially on 24 June