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Vincent Peirani
Thrill Box
ACT ***1/2
Foreground or background? Well as Thrill Box is a chamber jazz record, and accordionist Peirani has a deliciously light touch, not so bravura in essence as a Richard Galliano for instance, it is music for the background to a conversation you imagine isn’t as interesting as the music performed. It’s not as self deprecating as either the title or the wallflower-like opening ‘Baïlèro’, written in the 1920s by French composer Joseph Canteloube tapping Auvergne folk music, would suggest. Crane to hear pianist Michael Wollny, fast becoming a firm favourite of the Munich label’s, and the little bass tickle of Trio Libero’s Michel Benita, a stimulating presence throughout particularly at the beginning of ‘Shenandoah’.

Tunes vary in style and range from the French player’s self-written numbers to ‘Goodnight Irene’, and Abbey Lincoln’s ‘Throw it Away’, as well as a Brad Mehldau tune ‘Waltz for JB’ among others. Peirani has been working with South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah and the guitarist Ulf Wakenius and it’s clear he has an abundance of musical vision although it’s a bit scattergun at the moment. He’s adept at installing a sense of tension on his own tune ‘Hypnotic’ and the trio tracks have a remarkable cohesion. The great French bass clarinettist Michel Portal guests tantalisingly on a few tracks even picking up a bandoneon on a homage Peirani has written to him; and watch out for the highly rated saxophonist Emile Parisien on ‘Air Song’ and violinist Alexandar Sisic’s ‘Balkanski Cocek’. Highlights? The lovely Ravel-like opening to ‘Air Song’ and the softly unfolding modal progression before Parisien makes a beautifully judged entrance. Its very eclecticism make the album hard to place: from the Auvergne to the music of Thelonious Monk is a long journey. When Peirani makes some more stopping-off points along the way as his career develops the overall picture will be a lot clearer and even more fulfilling. Stephen Graham

Vincent Peirani, above
photo: Dean Bennici / ACT

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Big apple date for Claire Martin

With the Jazzahead trade show coming up this weekend featuring a British jazz stand promoting the local scene to wider European promoters and labels, and after that the Made in the UK shows at Rochester in New York state in June with Cleveland Watkiss, YolanDa Brown, Christine Tobin, Michael Mwenso, Julian Arguelles, Soweto Kinch, Zoe Rahman, Phronesis and Gwilym Simcock all taking part this year, it’s a good time to actually look at how jazz exports itself from the UK.

Clearly these initiatives help, and regularly boost the perception and profile of UK jazz abroad. The world scene needs constantly reminding. But outside these initiatives what happens? Well, bands tour a bit if they’re picked up by local promoters confident that they can stand on their own two feet commercially and get a crowd. But it’s patchy. Sometimes a band who have strong word of mouth, say like Sons of Kemet who are playing an obscure festival in Katowice later in the month, operate independently of broader initiatives and benefit from adventurous bookers going the extra mile and taking a risk. Or if they’re long established like Courtney Pine with strong management they get booked globally for sound commercial reasons: that is they can guarantee a big crowd.

It all takes time but with a recent boost in jazz vocals in the UK artists like Claire Martin are able to get a booking in Jazz at Lincoln Center building on her New York appearance in the past while her close friend and duo partner Ian Shaw can play clubs in Canada, and the likes of instrumentalist bands the Neil Cowley Trio and Get The Blessing (partly on the back of the Made in the UK initiative) can develop their touring in America as the NCT did last year.

If there comes a time when UK jazz bands are as ubiquitous in America as say British actors in Hollywood movies are then you’ll know jazz from these shores has crossed a barrier.

That may be some time off, but with the work of Jazz Services, financial backing by UK Trade and Investment, and promoters such as ESIP and others the sheer body of evidence about the quality of the music here is a springboard to build audiences in other countries not just the States.

For some later in their careers that incubating support won’t be needed quite in the same way because an appetite for the music and its commercial standing has been established, but then it’s the new generation that can be concentrated on. But the cycle needs to be established in the first place or suddenly the old cry will go out again internationally: where’s all the British jazz, to furrowed brows and general puzzlement. Stephen Graham

Claire Martin plays Dizzy’s in New York on 13 May www.jalc.org

 

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Jeff Williams
The Listener
Whirlwind ****
Mimimal amplification isn’t something that’s much talked about. Who really cares if it’s really loud or soft? But this, in case you were wondering, is not a loud record at all although it’s not whispery-soft either and might make you a convert to ‘human scale’ recordings. It’s also highly relevant, along with some beautifully fractured dissonance and an implied “so what?” attitude, if a band like drummer Jeff Williams’ quartet finds itself within the realm of the Cool School, a sound partly identified with the lodestar of Lee Konitz. Williams, who’s on another deeply Konitzian record Always A First Time recently released goes to that softly echoing well again and again here, inevitably maybe, after performing so much with Konitz in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Williams can sound like the late Paul Motian at times but really it’s not an issue hunting down the lineage because this album more than stands on its own eight feet. Trumpeter Duane Eubanks (younger brother of silky guitar star Kevin and fine Dave Holland trombonist Robin) has a pleasantly deadpan way with falling phrases and plenty of power, and the unduly underrated but appealingly dislocated sound on alto saxophone of John O’Gallagher, who appeared with Williams in Hans Koller’s Ensemble at Kings Place earlier in the year, and rated bassist John Hébert, complete the band. Remember that remarkable record Byzantine Monkey of Hébert’s?

Anyway, The Listener knows where it lives in terms of style, which is always an advantage; and the composing is excellent working piece by piece to build the record into something special. It’s formal in terms of band discipline and yet somehow informal as the style is if you like a satire on society, an outsider’s music. Mostly the tunes are by Williams with Eubanks tune ‘Beer and Water’ opening, Hébert chipping in on ‘Fez’ which the May 2012 Vortex club audience really got, judging by the big applause, and finishing with the sentimental Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn standard ‘Dedicated to You.’  

Released on 4 June

Jeff Williams pictured top, and the album cover above   

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Kit Downes Quintet
Light From Old Stars

Basho ****
Really seeing stars? Possibly not as the title of pianist Downes’ latest refers to the long-held theory that the stars in the night sky have already died. Combining a variety of elements from chamber jazz signifiers in the arranging style through to free improv, on a track such as ‘Owls’, leavened by the more cinematic “road movie” conception of ‘Outlaws’, or the remoulded ‘jam’ blow-out feel of ‘What’s the Rumpus’, this is Kit Downes’ best album to date. Highlights are ‘Bley Days’, which the quintet played live on selected dates last year, Downes’ homage to the often neglected Paul Bley, and the final track is clearly named as a tribute for the lost leader of Swedish jazz, pianist Jan Johansson who died at the young age of 37 in 1968. Johansson is best known for his classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. ‘Jan Johansson’ is a quietly yearning dream-like track that begins with a scamperingly laidback James Maddren rhythm, a low piano rumble, and a lovely melody line that Downes and cellist Lucy Railton state in unison before the softly unfolding melody line ascends. 
Out now. The quintet play Jazz in the Round on Monday http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/jazz_in_the_round

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Arne Jansen
The Sleep of Reason – Ode to Goya
ACT ***
It’s not often an Ondes Martenot appears on a jazz record. It’s more likely to be on a Muse or Radiohead album, but come to think of it there aren’t many albums that pay homage to an eighteenth-century Spanish painter.

Guitarists as accomplished as Arne Jansen, best known for his work with the Jazzanova live shows, aren’t exactly two-a-penny either: his greatly varied approach on Steve Vai-like electric, all blustery and with plenty of power, as well as acoustic guitar where he plays in a style that falls somewhere between Kurt Rosenwinkel and Egberto Gismonti, immediately appeals.

Eleven tracks mostly composed by Jansen with a sentimental reading of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Brothers in Arms’ at the end allow the Berlin-based player to show just what he can do, not so much technically as it’s quickly clear that this is to be taken as read, but in terms of nuanced interpretation.

A real storyteller Jansen studied at workshops led by Pat Metheny, most obviously an influence on ‘Divina’, and John Abercrombie, and he’s learnt a great deal from these masters over the course of a well established career by now. Drummer Eric Schaefer, of hit piano trio [em], is a driving presence meshing well with lively bassist Andreas Edelmann in tow, and shows great maturity on ‘Love is Blindness’, what could have been an overblown U2 embarrassment but which is instead an early highlight.

The Ondes Martenot, by the way, is wielded sparingly by Friedrich Paravicini on the Achtung Baby track but even though The Sleep of Reason sounds as if it’s all proggy (the amusing if ludicrously titled ‘The Great He-Goat’, otherwise known as ‘Witches Sabbath’, veers in that direction), it’s not.

More of a power rock album slightly sagging in the middle the album nonetheless is remarkable for a pristine and much better jazz inlay, beautifully set amid all this gilt. Jansen has tremendous talent. Hopefully some of the overpowering rock (and flamenco on ‘Tauromaquia’) will be lopped off next time he comes to record. There’s too much talent here to be wasted on poodle rock posturing.
Released at the end of May

Stephen Graham

Eric Schaefer (above left), Arne Jansen, and Andreas Edelmann photo: ACT

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Basquiat Strings
Part two
F-IRE **** Recommended
Opening with the aching squall of ‘Calum Campbell’ Part Two was recorded two years on from the Basquiats’ picking up what was a welcome but surprise Mercury nomination in 2007 but has waited until this year to be released. As previously reported in marlbank the new-look Basquiats, with Fly Agaric polymath Fred Thomas on board playing bass, are touring soon, but this is the familiar line-up. What set them apart from other strings groups who play jazz in the first place was the contribution of Seb Rochford, the remarkable Polar Bear drummer who’s also featured on the acclaimed new Rokia Traoré record Beautiful Africa.

But the Basquiats are first and foremost the vision of cellist Ben Davis and all the tunes and arrangements apart from ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ are his, and they are as simpático to a jazz way of being within the loose framework of serialism as you could wish. His wonderfully expressive solo on ‘Hop Scotch’ also shows his great facility as a performer, the solo emerging organically to make a strong impact.

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 Achingly “as one”, violinists Emma Smith and Vicky Fifield, with viola player Jennymay Logan, bassist Richard Pryce, Davis and Rochford are a true unit and it’s a shame in a way this is a time machine recording although when Davis tours with the new-look band the spirit I’m sure will remain.

The Basquiats stand tall with radio.string.quartet.vienna and the Atom String Quartet but they’re perhaps closer to the experimental jazz approach in essence than both these impressive outfits. On Basquiat Strings With Seb Rochford  the musicians were able to reimagine material such as Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’, and Ornette’s spirit hovers benignly on the new record as well, But on Emma Smith’s solo on ‘History of Her’, the third track, there’s a sense of even more jazz delving and the improvising takes on a still more natural dimension than on the first record. Smith (and Rochford for that matter) are on the new Ellington in Anticipation record, one of the best new jazz records from Britain in years, and her work here, soloing on three tracks, can be listened to happily along Mark Lockheart’s fine record even if it predates it. A uniformly excellent album, well worth seeking out. SG

The album cover top and Ben Davis right

Released on 13 May