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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

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Jazzahead in Bremen later this week promises a feast of music and much new jazz in store, and there’s a major opportunity to sample a great deal of new sounds resolutely below the radar, brand new or just under known. It’s not just about live music, though, as the jazz music business gathers en masse in the German city in increasing numbers each year, the event having taken on the mantle of a latterday MIDEM for jazz. Here’s a brief look at what’s on offer this year. The partner country in 2013 is Israel, and there are many new and established Israeli jazz acts appearing in Bremen. Also look out for a broad cross-section of the host country Germany’s burgeoning scene often little known internationally, as well as jazz from all over Europe and beyond. On Thursday 25 April check out Yotam, and the Omer Klein Trio as a taster while on Friday 26 April the Olivia Trummer trio, Avishai Cohen trio, and the jazz@Israel jam session are distinct highlights. Saturday 27 April has a British presence with Zoe Rahman, Beats & Pieces, and Django Bates all appearing. Also worth making a point to catch are the Helge Lien trio from Norway, Belgian pace setters De Beren Gieren, and the unique sound of Elina Duni and her quartet.
More at http://www2.jazzahead.de/en 

Zoe Rahman above

Cæcilie Norby
Silent Ways
ACT ***1/2

With the husky Danish singer’s take on the opening track here of Duffy’s ‘Stepping Stone’ one of the surprise highlights of the various artists Magic Moments 6: In the Spirit of Jazz compilation recently I was looking forward to Silent Ways. And this is quite a band joining Norby typically expressive and in control. With her are her husband, brilliant bassist Lars Danielsson; the dynamic pianist Leszek Możdżer; Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê and the less familiar Turkish/Swedish drummer Robert Mehmet Ikiz; along with saxophonist Marius Neset, on the ACT radar I think for the first time as a tasteful guest, especially on ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty.

Leonard Cohen’s ‘In My Secret Life’, from 2001 album Ten New Songs, brings out the best of Norby here, and in some ways it’s even better than ‘Stepping Stone’. Mostly rock covers Możdżer lays out a solo on the Cohen song stocked here with a vocabulary of melodic imagination all of his own that takes the breath away while Norby luxuriates in the song. Not everything works: I wish Norby didn’t sing Dylan quite the way she does in such a cabaret style, but her infinitely pleasant easygoing blues vocal manner taps into a kind of a tradition you don’t often hear nowadays. Her middle of the road version of Paul Simon’s ‘Hearts and Bones’ could be played again and again on Radio 2, but probably won’t be.

Highlights? Well, Lê’s poignant solo on the title track is beautifully interpreted; and his interplay with the singer is a real education. But if you’re looking to Norby to ‘do edgy’ then forget about it. If, though, you’d prefer a singer who delivers quality interpretations of a range of mostly well chosen songs, then step this way. SG

Released at the end of May
Cæcilie Norby, top. Photo: Stephen Freiheit

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There’s a new jazz and cinema two-part series beginning next Monday at 10pm on Radio 2 presented by singer/pianist Jamie Cullum whose latest album Momentum is released in May. The hour-long first part of Jazz at the Movies focuses on early cinema history, the struggle for racial equality and the discrimination African American musicians faced, and there’s an emphasis on Duke Ellington’s ‘Symphony in Black’. Cullum looks at how cartoon character Betty Boop broke down the racial and sexual conventions of the day although she was later censored, and concentrates on Ellington’s music for Anatomy of a Murder, and Martial Solal’s for Godard’s Breathless (A Bout De Souffle).

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Nigel Mooney
The Bohemian Mooney
Lyte Records****
Named after a Dublin pub The Bohemian Mooney is the Irish singer and guitarist’s bluesy second album following All My Love’s In Vain back in 2005. Nearly four years in the can the new record features a core band of pianist Johnny Taylor, bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Dominic Mullan, and guests include the great Georgie Fame on a couple of tracks and the Irish jazz icon Louis Stewart who plays rhythm guitar on three tracks.

Mooney has a warm authentic blues and soul voice, think James Hunter a bit, a dash of Van Morrison here and there, and Brother Ray of course, and plays the guitar like Kenny Burrell at times. It’s old fashioned jazz blues with some Mooney originals, some Ray Charles (a swinging ‘Ain’t That Love’ a highlight), standards in ‘April in Paris’ for instance, and a traditional blues thrown in for good measure with Robert Johnson’s ‘Hellhound on my Trail’ superbly done.

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‘Hard Times’ is the first great interpretation here, five songs in, after some enjoyable scene-setting with Georgie and Louis on ‘Down for Double’, Basie guitarist Freddie Green’s song that Mel Tormé put words to. ‘April in Paris’ is a bit cheesier with glossy horns but there’s a good swing shuffle from Mullan and Mooney croons a bit which he doesn’t really do anywhere else on the album.

Arranged and produced by Mooney the title track has a really catchy guitar opening line (recalling the tune of ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’) that moves more into Grant Green territory after a while and bassist Bodwell rises to the occasion sounding a bit like that fine player David Hayes. ‘Bohemian Moondance’ joins the dots between the opening fast take on ‘Milestones’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ with plenty of improvising along the way. Infectious stuff with a lot of spirit, and that’s not just the gin and dry vermouth. SG 
The cover of The Bohemian Mooney
top and Nigel Mooney above

Released on 27 May