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Tenor-of-our-times Chris Potter on his ECM debut as leader has come up with something very special indeed, make no mistake, on The Sirens (*****). Released in just under a fortnight, on 28 January, the album has a Homeric conceit, like streets in close proximity can be named after peaks in the same mountain range,  so the tracks on this record have titles to match the legendary tale. You’re also by association supposed to say it is epic! Or heroic! In terms of technique it’s not just that Potter handles the saxophone like a rancher is able to tame the wildest horse; he can also charm, coax and caress.

It’s all about expression on The Sirens, and like a theatre play that suddenly makes you feel frightened, or anxious to know how the drama is resolved, whether it’s going to be happy, sad, or even tragic, the narrative of each tune manages this as well. The serious yet unpretentious tunes he’s written resemble the way Potter stands on stage in a club before he plays, looking ahead, presenting himself, at ease with what they call the fourth wall, although as improvisation gains traction he’s oblivious to it. Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland is at the kit and it’s a maelstrom of ideas he brings to the session, the way say Nasheet Waits can burn on a Jason Moran record, with Harland’s own customised input.

There is a tenderness at play that Potter is expert at, maybe the best interpreter of a ballad since, in a different idiom, Stan Getz. Larry Grenadier on bass sounds different here than the way he plays with Brad Mehldau, he’s actually sounding more like he does with Fly. As for brilliant pianist Craig Taborn, well he’s less abstract than he usually is say on a song like ‘Kalypso’ and he rows in to meet Potter somewhere close to a Monk sound after his solo here. The other pianist, David Virelles, is on hand with the role of adding prepared piano sounds, celeste and harmonium, so that’s a twist in the arranging and it gives the album a distinctiveness without being gimmicky. The title track, opening with Potter on bass clarinet, and the very moody and sensual seascape-like accompaniment then opens out to transport us the listeners into the middle of a dream. When was the last time a song did that? Chicago-born Potter, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on New Year’s Day, has been playing beautifully of late and in the Unity Band last year with Pat Metheny showed just one more aspect of what he can do. There’s something magical in the water with this release, an element as mysterious, dangerous, and vital as the best music.

Stephen Graham

Chris Potter top

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Early next month leading improv percussionist Mark Sanders, and the Steve Tromans Trio, led by pianist Tromans with bassist Chris Mapp and drummer Miles Levin, are to travel to the US as part of an exchange between the cities of Birmingham and Chicago. It’s an initiative of Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines programme, in collaboration with Umbrella Music Chicago. The Birmingham musicians will spend a week in Chicago performing and rehearsing with locally-based musicians in a city renowned for innovation in improv. They will be playing gigs at the Hideout in a double bill, with the Tromans trio joined by an avatar of Chicago improv, reedsman Ken Vandermark, plus Mark Sanders and Jason Adasiewicz in duo on Wednesday 6 February. All four Birmingham musicians then hook up to perform with Dave Rempis, James Falzone and Josh Berman in small and large groupings at The Elastic Arts Center the following day, which leads to two days in rehearsal of a new Steve Tromans octet commission involving all the players. The piece will then be performed at the Hungry Brain on Sunday 10 February. SG
Mark Sanders above

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Lineage made their London debut in Hideaway at the weekend. Only their second gig ever, the Streatham club had a busy Saturday night feel, as sleet fell softly outside.

With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist Tony Kofi concentrating on alto saxophone and soprano sax, with a rhythm section of fine Mulgrew Miller-influenced pianist Trevor Watkis, bassist Larry Bartley, fresh from a date with Skydive at the 606 on Wednesday, 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 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.

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Talking to the audience later in the set Wallen 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, 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 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.
Stephen Graham

The Hideaway audience top relaxes before Lineage above make their London debut

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Soweto Kinch
The Legend of Mike Smith
Soweto Kinch Productions **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT RECOMMENDED
When Conversations with the Unseen came out in 2003, everyone on the British jazz scene just had to stand back and take note. After all a young player, a complete unknown then, had somehow come up with something that immediately ranked him as a significant player who in time I suppose will be thought of as one of the greatest alto saxophone players this country has ever produced. And his skills were picked up internationally as well, with Kinch collecting international plaudits at the Montreux Jazz Festival winning a hotly contested saxophone award, while going on to develop his dual saxophone/rapping concept to move him into a new space, in the process gaining the high profile backing of Wynton Marsalis. Contrast Kinch’s musical journey with another Wynton protégé of the time, the blisteringly impressive Italian Francesco Cafiso, a more conventional if equally celebrated saxophonist, who has taken a different more orthodox path. When Kinch won the Peter Whittingham award back in the UK he used the money to fund the much sought-after single ‘Jazz Planet’, a catchy rap about an imagined topsy turvy world where jazz is the commercial music, and rock is the art music that no one really listens to. It’s amusing but makes its point felt. Kinch was underlining his ability as a lyrics man and a freestyler, at concerts often asking audience members to lob words (often very difficult rarely heard fiendishly polysyllabic ones) to build an impromptu rap.

Concept album A Life In The Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block, his Birmingham album, was not so much of a success despite some good ideas, and was a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts, but changing label and settling down into a better groove as his artistic direction changed The New Emancipation released in 2010 saw Kinch assert himself fully again and was met with positive reviews.

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The Legend of Mike Smith is once more a concept release, this time a double album built around the idea of the seven deadly sins with many short tracks spread over the two CDs, lots of humour, and role playing featuring characters that include Soweto speaking as his inner voice, his brother Toyin Omari-Kinch as album hero Smith, and skits plus full blown instrumental burn outs. Mike Smith is a hopeful MC looking for a deal but he has everyman qualities and faces everyman temptations, trials and tribulations.

The core band is Kinch with Karl Rasheed-Abel on bass and Graham Godfrey drums with Kinch inviting in many guests to either speak, act, sing, or play. Tessa Walker is perfect as the blasé record company A&R Kate Advo for instance and the best musical cameos include one from Jay Phelps on the ballad ‘Vacuum’ set against an elegiac piano line from Julian Joseph, with Kinch playing a kind of tough guy romantic on alto sax. Kinch also plays quite a bit of tenor sax on the album, an instrument he’s less associated with. Cleveland Watkiss appears on ‘Avaritia’, with its baroque liturgical undertow, in one sense a scaldingly anti-capitalist protest song critical of the excesses of a violent society obsessed obscenely with profit. It’s also a post English-riots London fable, the city as Mammon, but also the place where as urban people we live, an engine of greed. That song leads on to the Sons of Kemet-influenced ‘Slam’ with Shabaka Hutchings duelling against Soweto as the two master reedsmen go head to head. It’s wonderful stuff the pair riffing against neat harmonies with Godrey coming into his own hard at the kit. There’s lots more on this superb double album, funny little songs such as the fast food restaurant parody ‘Gula’ and its companion ‘Escape the Vomatorium’ and a certain historic time shuffling stepping back centuries before The Pharcyde via beats, baroque classical music programming, and a Milton-esque narrative sense. And what’s that rattling Mr Benn-type marimba-sounding moment on ‘Gula’, old TV music, lost in the ‘vomatorium’, possibly, as well? Finally, listen out for Eska Mtungwazi on the well crafted song-of-the-spurned, ‘Better off Alone’, on the second disc. There’s no getting away from it: The Legend of Mike Smith is a triumph.
Stephen Graham

Released on 18 February. Soweto Kinch and friends top, with the cover of The Legend… above

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In the studio with Empirical at the moment, bassist Tom Farmer can be heard on the talented guitarist Ant Law’s upcoming new album, Entanglement (***1/2), to be released on 33 records next month coinciding with a substantial tour. The former Edinburgh university and Berklee student, turned session player, makes his debut as leader at last with this album. With Farmer and Law, Kit Downes Quintet drummer James Maddren hitches up too and interestingly-vinegary former Round Trip saxophonist Michael Chillingworth plus pianist John Turville make up the complete band. Law equates improvising in the album title with quantum entanglement, when particles interact, apparently, but don’t let that put you off, as the improvising here is anything but coldly quantifiable. Law is deeply interested in the concept of a perfect fourths tuning system (tuning the low string to Eb allowing constant intervals between the strings) and is a published author on the subject, but combines the rigour of his academic thinking with instinctive playing of a high order here. His tunes have a holistic feel as the Binney-like Chillingworth runs take hold of the music in breakaway sections displaying well developed improvisational teeth. Not sure about some of the song titles (the otherwise engrossing ‘Entanglement 1 – Janus and Epimetheus’ is a bit of a tongue twister), but the playing is impressive throughout, and Maddren sounds as if he’s enjoying himself, as does the always switched-on Farmer. All the compositions are Law’s except for Trane’s ‘Satellite’, the sixth of the nine tracks. Hear Law’s band touring as a quartet on tour next month at Milestones, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft (3 February); Jazz Nursery, London SE1 (7 Feb); Jazz at St John’s, St John’s college, Cambridge (15 Feb); the Cellar, Southampton (18 Feb); Dempsey’s Cardiff (19 Feb); Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham (26 Feb); Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (27 Feb); and Art Club, Glasgow (28), with more dates in March and April. SG

Ant Law above

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Empirical are to enter the recording studio on Friday for the first session of a recording stint that will see the award winning post-hardbop band laying down tracks for their latest album for the Naim label joined by a string section. Empirical late last year performed brand new material with the Benyounes Quartet at the London Jazz Festival, some of which is destined for the album, and they join them in the London studio for the session. Benyounes are an ensemble formed six years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and find themselves with a key Brit-jazz band that made a huge impact when it appeared fully formed out of nowhere, as it seemed at the time, for a multi award-winning self titled debut album produced by Courtney Pine for his label Destin-e back in 2007. The band won both Jazzwise and Mojo album of the year, and has since gone on to build on its reputation recording for the Naim label.

The band’s alto saxophonist and co-founder, Nathaniel Facey, was in action last night playing quite superbly with new vocal star in the making singer-pianist Theo Jackson at the 606 club in Chelsea. Facey has been nominated in the UK instrumentalist of the year category of the inaugural Jazz FM Awards that take place at the end of January. The set’s standout was easily ‘A Bitter End For A Tender Giant’ with Facey in duo with Jackson. Facey also showed great poise and finely honed interpretative ability on Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue’ near the beginning. ‘A Bitter End…’ composed by the saxophonist first appeared on Empirical’s acclaimed 2009 album Out ’n’ In, Facey’s evocative and unsentimental tribute to Eric Dolphy, who died young after his diabetes condition was left untreated at a Berlin hospital in 1964 on the erroneous assumption by doctors that Dolphy was a drug addict.

The duo setting was complemented by band performances featuring the Oxford-based singer joined by the Ahmad Jamal-influenced rising star, the 19-year-old Reuben James, who took to the piano stool for a bunch of numbers when Jackson sang, joining Facey, Jackson band bassist Shane Alessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Reuben James has been touring as a member of Jay Phelps’ quartet recently, the trumpeter who played so memorably on Empirical’s debut album, and who will shortly be seen playing the part of a fictional 1930s trumpeter in Stephen Poliakoff’s television drama Dancing on the Edge as a member of the Louis Lester Band. Empirical are touring following the recording sessions and should be on firing form. Catch them at the Terry O’Toole Theatre, Lincoln on 24 January; Hidden Rooms Cambridge 25 Jan; Pizza Express Jazz Club, London on 4 February; Seven Arts, Leeds, 7 February; and Millennium Hall, Sheffield, on 8 February. Naim say they’re aiming for an August album release.

Stephen Graham

Nathaniel Facey, pictured with Shane Alessio, at the 606, London, above

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The line-up for next month’s 12 Points festival in Dublin has been announced. The bands, with related links are: OKO from Ireland http://breakingtunes.com/oko ; Sarah Buechi’s THALi from Switzerland http://www.sarahbuechi.com/pages/projects.html ; the Enrico Zanisi Trio from Italy http://www.enricozanisi.com ; Nikolas Anadolis from Greece http://nikolasjazz.com ; Cactus Truck from the Netherlands http://cactustruck.com ; Hanna Paulsberg Concept from Norway https://soundcloud.com/hannapaulsberg ; Mopo from Finland https://soundcloud.com/mopomopo ; Soil Collectors from Sweden https://soundcloud.com/soilcollectors ; Koenig Leopold from Austria http://www.koenigleopold.at/main.html ; Ozma from France http://ozma.free.fr ; Manchester’s Beats & Pieces Big Band from the UK http://beatsnpieces.net ; and the Olivia Trummer Trio from Germany http://www.oliviatrummer.de

Irish band OKO are on home territory this year after the festival’s trip to Portugal last year. This fairly new four-piece avant-folktronica band is on the radar of Matt Jacobsen’s Diatribe label, with a debut expected soon.

Swiss artist, singer Sarah Buechi’s quintet THALi, by contrast draws in world music flavours and particularly south Indian sounds to their jazz mantle inspired partly by Buechi’s studies in Bangalore.

The Italian band coming to 12 Points is a romantic piano trio, led by the multi-award winning pianist Enrico Zanisi, whose album Quasi Troppo Serio (‘Almost Too Serious’) has been issued to no small acclaim by leading Italian jazz indie label Egea.

Greek pianist Nikolas Anadolis, from the beautiful northern city of Thessaloniki, is another keyboards high flier, a player who won the Martial Solal piano competition in Paris two years ago, while Amsterdam sax/guitar/drums trio Cactus Truck, not long back from a tour of the States, should shake things up with their rumbustious free jazz and noisenik flavours.

The sax-led Norwegian band Hanna Paulsberg Concept only came together in 2010 but picked up a major accolade the following year by winning the Young Nordic Jazz Comets in Stockholm, the contest kudos always a strong indicator of a band on the rise. Their dreamy debut is called Waltz for Lilli.

Finns Mopo are another trio, this time with a quirky baritone saxophone attack and requisite free thinking attitude. Only around since 2009 they have a distinctive approach that could well make them ones to watch closely this year.

Another big hope is Swedish alternative impro-rock band Soil Collectors who have already toured widely, combining as they do in somewhat mysterious fashion, voice, electronica, and percussion to captivating effect, their signature sound infused with a Nordic sense of noir and littered with found sounds, one that is both vogueish, and also winningly atmospheric.

Austrian jokers-in-the-pack Koenig Leopold (taking their names from the surname of the band’s Lukas König, and part of bandmate Leo Riegler’s first name), summons dada, Zappa, and Monty Python with spectacular results served up over some characteristically reheated energy-laden beats.

French four piece prog jazz outfit Ozma are also strongly fancied for the festival, with guitarist Adrien Dennefeld already known on the London scene for his work joining forces with Kit Downes in the “shuttle" band Barbacana and his quintet. In Ozma Dennefeld is with saxophonist David Florsche, electric bassist Edouard Séro-Guillaume and drummer Stéphane Scharlé, and Ozma released their album Peacemaker just last year.

The UK’s Beats & Pieces need little introduction to close followers of all things jazz over the last two years. Simply Ben Cottrell’s Mancunians have become the Loose Tubes of the current scene, so their appearance following the success of World Service Project last year will be keenly gauged at 12 Points in 2013.

And finally Stuttgart pianist and vocalist Olivia Trummer comes to Dublin with her trio, a chance for the Irish audience to sample this seasoned classically-influenced musician who already has a strong collection of work as a recording artist.

Taking place at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar from 13-16 February the festival has built a hard won reputation as the key early adopter’s new band showcase of choice, with a broad range of the best progressive jazz talent from across the continent. This year’s crop of bands promises to build further on past accomplishments. SG

Soil Collectors top
www.12points.ie

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Unveiling his hot new band The Vigil, one of the greatest jazz musicians on the planet, pianist, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea returns to Ronnie Scott’s on 5-6 March for a tantalising two-night run.

Corea will be joined on the stage of the Frith Street jazz shrine by Tim Garland, Hadrien Feraud, Marcus Gilmore, and Charles Altura completing The Vigil. The club dates come just under a year since New Crystal Silence arranger and former Chick band member Garland joined the Return To Forever man on stage as a surprise guest at the Barbican, when Corea had earlier performed in front of a big concert hall audience that night with Gary Burton. Garland played soprano sax during the encore  “jamming" on Chick’s classic composition ‘La Fiesta’ and Monk’s ‘Blue Monk’.

With some 16 Grammys to his name the band Corea brings in to Soho in this coup for the club features fusion bass guitarist Hadrien Feraud, best known perhaps for his work with John McLaughlin appearing on such albums with the master axeman as Industrial Zen and Floating Point, while drummer Marcus Gilmore is no stranger to UK audiences, both as a member of Steve Coleman’s Reflex and Vijay Iyer’s trio. Guitarist Charles Altura, though, is the least known of Chick’s band, but has his own happening band in the States, in action just last week on the West Coast featuring the hotshot Blue Note trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. There are two houses each night for Corea’s Ronnie Scott’s shows, a fascinating new venture by a musician ever reluctant to rest on his considerable laurels. SG

Chick Corea above. Check www.ronniescotts.co.uk on Friday for remaining tickets

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Live dates have now firmed up for José James whose album No Beginning No End, is released in just under a fortnight on 21 January. Heavily trailed since October, the album may well see the jazz singer become much better known to wider audiences, but for now he will in all likelihood retain his jazz audience. No Beginining, No End (****) has an authentic retro jazzed-out soul sound, not Gregory Porter’s way, say, although both singers profess much love for the music of Nat King Cole yet come at the tradition from a different angle. Each has a very different voice, and James is more alert to the club scene, ‘club’ as in the old acid jazz rare groove sense, and with James it’s one ear to Bill Withers, one ear to Flying Lotus and all ears to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, but a touch of Gil Scott-Heron for the freestylin’ generation comes in to the picture as well.

The new album of originals opens in bedroom fashion with JJ’s lyrics on ‘It’s All Over Your Body’ with a band featuring famed ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’ bassist Pino Palladino, some retro horns, Robert Glasper and Chris Daddy Dave. World-jazz singer Hindi Zahra guests memorably on the next track ‘Sword and Gun’, yet it’s ‘Trouble’ blessed with a monster groove that really impresses. The Van Morrison band’s Alistair White on trombone makes his presence felt on this JJ-penned song, written with Scott Jacoby, and ‘Vanguard’ following is also excellent, Glasper helming it on Rhodes with Daddy Dave and Pino Palladino, the latter who played very well live with Glasper at the Roundhouse in October and is an album co-producer. Emily King adds lovely subtle touches on the seductive ‘Come to my Door’, the fifth track, and she’s even better on the second of her two album tracks ‘Heaven on the Ground’, which is track six. ‘Do You Feel’ and ‘Make it Right’ passed me by a bit, but ‘Bird of Space’ didn’t, it’s a stayer, while final tracks ‘No Beginning No End’ and ‘Tomorrow’, the latter with Monk prizewinning pianist Kris Bowers an appealing harmonic presence. A record this good hardly ever comes along. It’s for jazz and the wider world. SG
Live dates are: XOYO, London (9 April); Sugar Club, Dublin (12 April); and Band on the Wall Manchester (13 April). The cover of No Beginning, No End, above
Extra dates (15/03 update):
Wednesday 10 April, Wardrobe, Leeds; and 14 April at Hare & Hounds, Birmingham

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Kairos 4tet enter the studio next month to record their first album since signing to Naim, the label that already has hit bands the Neil Cowley Trio and Get the Blessing on its books. Saxophonist Adam Waldmann, above right, dropped the news to his fans in a new year newsletter that the band would be holing up at Real World studios early next month. That’s the Wiltshire recording facility where the Neil Cowley Trio recorded their debut Displaced. While Kairos had a fairly quiet 2012, partly through an injury sustained by Waldmann that kept the band off the road, the quartet with Waldmann joined by Phronesis’ Jasper Høiby and Ivo Neame, plus Dice Factory’s Jon Scott, won the MOBO for best jazz act the previous year following the release of their acclaimed album Statement of Intent, did appear to play a high profile London Jazz Festival gig in Kings Place where they showcased their single ‘Song for the Open Road’ featuring soul legend Omar who joined the band onstage as part of the Jazz in the New Europe strand. Kairos first emerged in 2010 with their debut album Kairos Moment, although Neame did not come on board until Statement of Intent replacing Rob Barron. Emilia Mårtensson’s vocals added a certain something on the last record as well as on the band’s debut, and Kairos manage the difficult feat of combining a vocal presence with a post-jazz feel, allowing jagged frequently metrically advanced solo lines to mesh intuitively with the often languorous delivery of the UK-based Swedish singer yet retaining an improvising credibility at its core.
Wednesday 9 January update: Naim Jazz label boss Simon Drake says: “Adam and I have wanted to work together for a long time, and I am delighted that everything is falling into place for Naim Jazz Records to release Kairos 4tet’s third album. Kairos are a supremely talented group, who inhabit their own space at the forefront of new British jazz. They work extremely hard and I hope we can help them build on their audience in the UK and beyond. They certainly deserve it!" SG

Kairos 4tet top. Photo: Paul Medley


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Rudresh Mahanthappa
Gamak

ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Fast and quick thinking with an energy that propels his music beyond the typical bebop threshold into another sphere entirely, a micro world of possibilities and rarely heard sounds merging with the more familiar, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is on exquisite form here. With the microtonally inclined David Fiuczynski a clever foil, chunky no-nonsense bass from François Moutin and thundering attack from drummer Dan Weiss, Gamak is full-on with the ornamentation of south Indian music a titular factor, but also a reinvented bebop spirit, hints at the delta blues and heavy rock. The clever bit is the microtonal or south Indian-sounding harmony Fiuczynski does much to provide, sometimes Fuze can be like the late Pete Cosey, at other times he’s just bluesy or wigs out detuned like a mutant tincan, so this is never going to be a trip to the bebop museum interesting though that may well be on a quiet afternoon. Yet the core of the Mahanthappa band style, particularly its roots in Charlie Parker’s music, are there like invisible ink. ‘Waiting is Forbidden’ is first and best for me, but every track has its merits, with the circling-in on ‘Ballad for Troubled Times’ a great build to a sad song that has the ache and forboding of a certain ugly sense of unease, while ‘The Majesty of the Blues’ rocks out. The album is also beautifully recorded by Mike Marciano. Stephen Graham

Released on 14 January

Rudresh Mahanthappa above

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Fifty years ago next month three musicians released an album that five months earlier they had got together to record. They weren’t just any musicians. But together they hadn’t recorded before, and would never do so again. A half a century on following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the post-credit crunch world where the banks have lost their once invincible air of respectability, big business still rules the money jungle. The album using those two words, and a new meditation on our western economy as a failed way to live, is marked next month with the release of Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue by Terri Lyne Carrington. On the cover of the original artwork of the LP of Money Jungle the biggest point size of the lettering for the musicians is accorded to Duke Ellington, then as now a talismanic figure whose music reached musicians and non-musicians alike the world over. Four days before the Money Jungle sessions it was business as usual for Duke, and with his orchestra he was in a New York studio recording tracks such as ‘Monk’s Dream’, ‘Do Nothin’ Till You Hear For Me (Concerto for Cootie’), and ‘The Lonely Ones’.

The seventeenth of September 1962 was different though, and with the maverick Mingus and bebop pioneer Roach rather than the gathered ranks of the orchestra this was a pared down piano trio album, like no other in Ellington’s vast discography before or since. Why so? Well, first of all because of the power of the personalities you don’t think of it as a piano trio album which is weird. In recent years Vijay Iyer in some ways has showed the modern way to look at this album with, not a trio take although that would be interesting, but just him playing ‘Fleurette Africaine’ in a California studio that later appeared on his album, Solo.

Money Jungle isn’t about instrumentation, it’s about people and ideas. The songs are mainly by Ellington yet the politics are a communality of all three players’ expressed in different ways but essentially the same in the context of the civil rights movement.

Side one opens with ‘Money Jungle’ and then there’s the beautiful ‘Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)’, ‘Very Special’, and ‘Warm Valley’, with side two ‘Wig Wise’, ‘Caravan’, not Ellington’s tune but Juan Tizol’s, and finally ‘Solitude’. CD-era listeners will know the album differently and so perceptions have been altered by time as formats change. So the order of the songs were changed and unreleased songs ‘A Little Max (Parfait)’, ‘REM Blues’, ‘Switch Blade’, and ‘Backward Country Boy Blues’ were now heard for the first time.

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Enter Terri Lyne Carrington fresh from the drummer’s Grammy winning success with her vocals-based album The Mosaic Project, and with the extra tracks in mind Provocative in Blue has kept these to the fore so ‘Backward Country Boy Blues’ is the third track with a Lizz Wright vocal, and the other unreleased 1963 tracks are also there plus originally released songs, though not ‘Warm Valley’, ‘Caravan’ and ‘Solitude’, as Carrington’s own tunes ‘Grass Roots’ and ‘No Boxes (Nor Words)’ plus pianist Gerald Clayton’s ‘Cut Off’ take their place.

Carrington says she first heard Money Jungle as a CD version in the new millennium and felt “something mysterious about it,” explaining further. “There was an energy that moved through the tracks. There was this tension that you could hear, and yet they fit together like a hand in a glove.”

Her rearranging of the album has many dimensions. It’s layered with a big cast and is very political. We look to jazz people to say it as it is, no nonsense, and that’s what TLC and her musicians do here. To rolling solo drums a voice at the beginning says:  “People are basically vehicles to just create money, which must create more money to keep the whole thing from falling apart, which is what’s happening. There is no profit under the current paradigm in saving lives, putting balance on this planet, having justice and peace or anything else. You have to create problems to create profit”, at which Christian McBride kicks in with the loose strung sound of Mingus you recognise from the title track of Money Jungle. The track ends with a collage of voices including that of Dr Martin Luther King speaking in December 1963 and President Barack Obama.

On the second track there’s a link to jazz royalty with the voice of Clark Terry, one of Miles Davis’ early mentors in the rap at the beginning of ‘Fleurette Africain’, as spelt here, before Clayton against a luxuriantly laidback Carrington rhythm and a lovely bigger ensemble arrangement that still retains the intimacy of a small band and conjures that mystery Carrington has referred to in her original reaction to the album. The core band is Carrington with McBride and the piano and Rhodes of Gerald Clayton, but the cast is expanded as the album progresses; as a feminist statement track 11 is also significant with new singer/songwriter Shea Rose’s contribution extolling womanhood.

Uniting the past half century with the present at just under the five-minute mark the album goes almost silent, and no less a figure than Herbie Hancock, as “the voice" of Duke Ellington, says: “If jazz means anything at all, which is questionable, it means the same thing it meant to musicians 50 years ago: freedom of expression. I can’t help feeling that the music has outgrown the word jazz. The greatest danger to civilisation is that we don’t appreciate enough our natural heritage. Musicians of the past have influenced all musicians of the future. I think jazz will be listened to by the same people who listen to it now: those who like creative things, whether they understand them or not. If it is accepted as an art the popularity of it doesn’t matter. When you get into popularity then you’re talking about money, not music.”

After the original Money Jungle sessions, two days later Ellington played solo for a TV broadcast, and it was ‘Fleurette Africaine’ he played that day. A week later he was recording with John Coltrane for Impulse.

Stephen Graham

Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (Concord) is released on 25 February. The cover of 1963 album Money Jungle, top. Terri Lyne Carrington, above

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Jazz singer Tammy Weis and pianist Tom Cawley have co-written the first song on the new Erin Boheme album What A Life. Produced by Michael Bublé the album features the star crooner’s band, with Wisconsin-born Boheme (above) duetting with the Bublé-sounding Spencer Day on the excellent ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last.’ Weis, a British Canadian singer who has become an integral part of the sophisticated UK mainstream jazz vocals scene with her highly rated jazz club appearances and recordings, together with Cawley better known for his work with Curios and Peter Gabriel, have written ‘Everyone But Me’ driven by a kind of modified rumba feel, think the feel of Caro Emerald’s ‘A Night Like This.’image

It’s a snappy opening to a record that seems guaranteed to receive commercial radio airplay. Bublé fans will head straight for ‘I’d Love to Be Your Last’ which has the potential to be a huge hit with its crossover country sound.

Less alt.country than Lady Antebellum there’s a kind of zeitgeisty 1970s vibe coming through as well on the album from around fifth track ‘The Last Time’ written by David Foster who also penned the Diana Krall performed song ‘I’ll Make It Up As I Go’ featured on Robert De Niro-starring film The Score. ‘Do I Do’ has got instant impact and mainstream soul fans might very well take to Boheme’s superb self-penned and jazzy ‘One More Try’.

Originally signed to Concord at just 17, a protégée of the distinguished jazz pianist and arranger Mike Melvoin who helped Boheme in the early part of her career Michael Bublé also warmed quickly to Boheme’s voice and her putatively Carly Simon-inspired sound. His touring band has worked with the singer on the sessions for the album, with pianist Alan Chang, guitarist Dino Meneghin, bassist Craig Polasko and drummer Rob Perkins appearing plus strings. Boheme says that Weis and Cawley’s song ‘Everyone But Me’ “was the story of my life”, and other songs on the album include a cover of Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ and Boheme’s ‘What A Life’.”

Stephen Graham

Released on 5 February in the US. Erin Boheme pictured top. Tammy Weis above right. UPDATE: UK release, 25 March

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Slipped out sooner than you think, the debut of tenor-of-our-time Chris Potter on ECM is fast approaching with a 28 January release. I haven’t heard it yet but going by Potter’s last few superlative appearances in the UK with his own band at Ronnie Scott’s during the Jazzwise to the Power of 15 week and previously with McCoy Tyner, and the fact that this is a special “new label" event The Sirens will for these reasons be anticipated as one of the first major saxophone statements of the year.

imageInspired by Homeric legend, the Chicago-born Potter, who celebrated his 42nd birthday just this week on New Year’s Day, is on his habitual tenor and soprano saxophones plus bass clarinet, joined by past and present Potter band pianists the sophisticated avant gardist Craig Taborn, and upcoming Cuban David Virelles on prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium. (Virelles also appears on Tomasz Stanko’s double album Wislawa set for a February release). Potter also brings in Brad Mehldau trio and Fly bassist Larry Grenadier, and happening Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland. Tracks are: ‘Wine Dark Sea’, ‘Wayfinder’, ‘Dawn (With Her Rosy Fingers’), ‘The Sirens’, ‘Penelope’, ‘Kalypso’, ‘Nausikaa’, and ‘Stranger at the Gate’. SG

The Sirens cover top and Chris Potter above

Ben Goldberg
Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues
BAG Production ***1/2

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Ben Goldberg
Unfold Ordinary Mind
BAG Production ****

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The first of these albums may have a fancy title, but don’t let that put you off as there’s a bit of joshing going on; it’s not something that might earnestly seek to detain Professor Brian Cox for too long. Down-home from the beginning, Ches Smith’s loose feel on drums underpins the only-a-little fogey-ish environment; and you won’t usually hear trumpeter Ron Miles play like this, certainly not when he was with Bill Frisell. Joshua Redman who has been in his own jazz 2.0 career brave new world phase (1.0 was the glorious Wish and Moodswing days) on fantastic form again on his own records since Compass, working cleverly in tandem with leader clarinettist Ben Goldberg who has written all the tunes (except for one) on these records.

There is plenty to savour on Subatomic Homesick Blues recorded just under five years ago, including the pretty opening of ‘Asterisk’ leading eventually to fine, loose double bass backing from Devin Hoff, and a Ron Miles trumpet line you would have thought no-one was capable of playing any more, at least in atmosphere terms, with the demurring reeds a perfect backdrop. And who knew ‘Who Died and Where I Moved to’ would swing quite as much as it does? No, me neither. An album where everyone knows you shouldn’t be too nostalgic but can’t help themselves.

The quintet album Unfold Ordinary Mind is the more out-there music of this pair of albums, although I certainly wouldn’t want to start thinking about what on earth an “ordinary mind" is. That would be much too boring. More to the point, it is different, with (let’s call him the Marc Ribot of his generation) Nels Cline, and superbly visceral Tim Berne associate Ellery Eskelin, who joins the fray in a two-tenor assault with the gentler Rob Sudduth making up the five as Goldberg and Smith stay on from the other album. ‘Parallelogram’ gives a good account of what Cline can bring to the party, but track four called ‘Lone’ is where it gets deeply serious (the horns stark and real at the beginning), and the feeling that there is an existential dread at the heart of the record that Cline manages to interpret in his own forthright way resorting to an appealingly dank car-park blues with tantalising little bell-like sounds from Smith. Unfold Ordinary Mind is avant rock with loads of improv where history is junked without even the thought of a backwards glance. An extra point for the adventurous streak, and Cline going for it on ‘Stemwinder’. SG
Both albums are released in the States on 5 February. No UK release date so far. UPDATE 9/1/13: The US physical, and US/international digital release date, is now 19 Feb

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While for Kit Downes last year involved performing with a variety of bands including Troyka whose album Moxxy picked up good reviews across the board, Anglo-French band Barbacana, and appearing on Golden Age of Steam’s Welcome to Bat Country issued late in the year, 2013 will see the acclaimed ex-Empirical player release a quintet record with piano again at its heart.

Featuring members of his trio, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren, with Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp on bass clarinet, and cellist Lucy Railton, the album was recorded at Fishmarket Studios by Robert Harder who produced The Cherry Thing released last year to considerable acclaim.

The new album to be titled Light From Old Stars combines a variety of elements from chamber jazz signifiers in the arranging style through to free improv on a track such as ‘Owls’ and the more cinematic “road movie” conception of ‘Outlaws’, or the remoulded ‘jam’ blow-out feel of ‘What’s the Rumpus.’

Recorded on a Steinway sourced from Beccles in Suffolk Light From Old Stars is to be released in April by London-based indie jazz label Basho, home to The Impossible Gentlemen and Gwilym Simcock, and follows Downes’ albums the Mercury nominated trio album Golden (2009), and Quiet Tiger (2011).

Tracks are ‘Wonder and Colossus’, ‘Bley Days’, ‘Outlaws’, ‘What’s the Rumpus’, ‘Two Ones’, ‘Falling, Dancing’, ‘Owls’, ‘The Mad Wren’, and ‘Jan Johansson’. Details are sketchy so far, but ‘Bley Days’, which the quintet played live on selected dates last year, is Downes’ homage to 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 Maddren rhythm, a low piano rumble, and a lovely melody line that Downes and cellist Railton state in unison before the softly unfolding melody line ascends.
Stephen Graham

Quintet tour dates include: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, 2 March; Komedia, Brighton, 8 March; The Hive, Shrewsbury 13 April; Bonnington Theatre, Nottingham 18 April; and Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre, London, on 29 April, with more dates in May and June

Kit Downes above

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Crazy name, crazy guys? Very possibly, going by the postcard pictures on the band’s website. I suppose Shatner’s Bassoon could conceivably have been Nimoy’s Nadaswaram or Doohan’s Dulcimer if Chris Morris hadn’t provided some inspiration instead. But maybe there’s something to be said about the perils of band names becoming better known than their lovingly crafted music: Hamster Axis Of The One-Click Panther, anyone? Sadly but a fleeting musical memory.

Aquatic Ape Privilege, the Leeds band’s debut due out on the Wasp Millionaire label in February, opens up with a pleasurable guitar squall from Craig Scott conjuring for a moment the reclusive twang of undersung prophet-of-suburbia Billy Jenkins among the squelchy keyboards, toy effects and disembodied spoken word on opening gambit ‘This Is How You Make A Buck’.

The Bassoon swell to a six-piece combo augmented with a second drummer for live dates, and have been around for a little under three years. Their influences are Tim Berne, Mr Bungle, and importantly John Zorn, who produced that funk metal band’s cult debut album in 1991. Zappa also figures as a reference point and so too, surely, the reigning saint of Leeds improv, the outrageously influential Matthew Bourne.

With four longish tracks among the seven, the opener plus ‘Altered Beast’, the intriguingly titled ‘Breakfast with Boghead’ (beats toast, although not sure about the parrot retching), and the closing track ‘Someone Killed My Panda, the album is a fun rollercoaster ride with some formidable improvising, but they certainly don’t take themselves too seriously. I liked saxophonist Ollie Dover’s talkatively emotive saxophone opener to ‘Boghead’, and hopefully the jokes won’t wear too thin after more repeated play. The signs are good so far. SG

Released on 11 February. Shatner’s Bassoon play Oporto, Leeds on 15 January; The Cluny, Newcastle 29 Jan; The Noise Upstairs, Sheffield on 13 February; The Fish Tank, Durham 18 Feb; Sandbar, Manchester 19 Feb; The Fox and Newt, Leeds 23 Feb; The Splinter, Newcastle 24 Feb; Vortex, London 26 Feb; Safehouse, Brighton 27 Feb; Club Integral, London N16 on 7 March; and Ort Café, Birmingham, 8 March

Shatner’s Bassoon pictured

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Hymns Spheres, released complete for the first time as a double CD set, recorded in Bavaria on an eighteenth century Karl Joseph Riepp organ at Ottobeuren Abbey in 1976, is in this complete version bookended by a ‘Hymn of Remembrance’ right at the beginning, and a ‘Hymn of Release’ at the end of the second disc, with the nine-movement ‘Spheres’ forming the rest. The only version on CD (as opposed to the harder-to-find vinyl) that does exist lopped off five of the Spheres movements and the pair of Hymns.

Jarrett for the recording experimented with the Trinity organ’s stops to reach notes beyond the tempered scale, and in so doing contributed to part of the album’s unusual nature. Occasionally the music sounds ultra modern, a soundtrack to a vast galaxy of limitless space Jarrett’s vision and the remarkable instrument he plays created in tandem. Yet the contours of the improvisation allow the music to dive back into the baroque especially on the hymns, which will be a revelation to those only familiar with the existing CD where they don’t appear. The hymns are less experimental, it’s true to say, or at least have a more familiar back story, the catharsis after the dancing on the edge that the Jarrett faithful will be familiar with at his solo piano concerts, which he sometimes achieves by playing a gospel-influenced song.

As intense in its own different way as the early piano odyssey Facing You, and the much later masterpiece Testament, this audacious album which Jarrett followed up in 1980 by returning to Ottobeuren and further developing his approach to appear as Invocations/The Moth and the Flame, has an otherworldliness that I guess will appeal to the magpies of electronica, the passage of time and austere Benedictine acoustics no barrier at all. Jarrett has achieved a music on Hymns Spheres that surrounds itself in the ineffability of the past to reflect on the equal mystery of the present.

Stephen Graham

Released on 14 January

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Saturday lunchtime gigs are very unusual but sometimes a good thing comes along and you’d be a fool to miss one, no matter the time.

Back in October there was one such occasion, when the Cloudmakers Trio launched their debut album. It was a special gig, not just because of the time but because the line-up was different as the band’s usual drummer Dave Smith was away touring in South America with no less a figure than Led Zep’s Robert Plant.

Instead the audience had the chance to hear very in-form Ivo Neame octet drummer Dave Hamblett who took the Cloudmakers and Outhouse drummer Smith’s place, and the more alert members of the audience quietly munching pizza in the spectral gloom of the Dean Street Pizza Express Jazz Club must have picked up on the clear evidence that while little known beyond musician circles Hamblett was the coming man, following his graduation from the Royal Academy of Music with first class honours a few years earlier, and picking up a Yamaha Jazz Scholarship along the way.

Whirlwind records who in May will release a live Lee Konitz album have picked up on Hamblett’s promise indicated as well on Ivo Neame’s superb album Yatra, and Light at Night, the drummer’s highly promising debut for the label, is released in February. There are eight tracks on the album, with the title track kept to last and it features Hamblett with members of saxophonist Josh Arcoleo’s band (bassist Calum Goulay and Ivo Neame) plus saxophonist Joe Wright, the increasingly mature sounding guitarist Alex Munk, with all the tunes written by Hamblett.

Recorded in the studio in the latter part of 2011 Hamblett is pictured in the artwork in front of autumnal trees with the low sun just about nudging some blurry sunlight through reluctantly obliging branches.

The album is all about the optimism of youth, and while it’s not too overly romantic Arcoleo’s old fashioned lyrical tenor shines through time and again. Hamblett credits Martin France in the notes, and the Spin Marvel drummer has clearly influenced Hamblett especially in those light, nimble strokes that effortlessly push the horn players on without ever seeming too martial or rigid.

While this recording is perhaps only an early statement of intent and the tunes lack immediate impact, it’s easy to enjoy the musicianship at work and realise that a fine new drummer who we’ll all be hearing much more about in the future has arrived. He’s appearing on 8 February with his group at The Forge in London’s Camden Town when Light at Night is launched. Other dates coming soon are St Lawrence Chapel in Ashburton (17 Feb); the Beaver Inn, Appledore (18 Feb); Dempsey’s, Cardiff (20); and the Lescar in Sheffield (27 Feb). SG

Dave Hamblett top

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He’s presented papers on subjects as varied as “air guitar and the music of Sigur Rós” and the “sound of a rock record” but now Hull university academic Peter Elsdon has turned his attention to Keith Jarrett, and has written a book called Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, named after the pianist’s groundbreaking concert recorded on 24 January 1975.

It’s to be published next month just under 38 years on from the groundbreaking concert Jarrett gave in the Cologne opera house when he was just 29.

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The concert began late in the evening, a half an hour before midnight, and was the first jazz concert ever to be staged in the North Rhine Westphalian city’s 1950s-era opera house, sited on Offenbachplatz.

The highest selling solo piano album in recorded music, with more than 3 million copies sold, the record finds Jarrett compensating for a less-than-satisfactory Bösendorfer following a backstage mix-up, as well as feeling back pain and the effects of heavy touring including tiredness from a recent concert in Zurich. The record nonetheless has changed people’s lives by the power of its improvising and unique atmosphere. image

According to publishers OUP the 192-page book is the “first detailed study” of The Köln Concert, and it explores the “musical construction” of the Cologne improvisations in particular, as well as examining the reception and success of the record along with its “importance as a cultural symbol.” SG

Keith Jarrett top. The album sleeve of The Köln Concert, and above the cover of the new book

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Very sad to learn today of the passing of poet Jayne Cortez, whose death at the age of 76 has been reported in New York. The mother of Denardo Coleman, and former wife of Ornette Coleman, Cortez was a significant poet and intellectually inclined performance artist of some note. She was what all good poets are, honest, and also acutely aware of socio-economic, gender and racial injustice in her work and said so directly whether people wanted to hear or not. She wrote as many as 10 books of poetry, and her work encompassed performance and behind-the-scenes writer workshops, organisations, and conferences including one entitled Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writer Dissecting Globalization, held in New York. She was awarded the Langston Hughes Medal, an NEA award, and the American Book Award, among other honours, and her books include Firespitter, and Jazz Fan Looks Back of which this extract is taken:

I crisscrossed with Monk
Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                    Jazz at the Philharmonic

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Rudresh Mahanthappa
Gamak
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Fast and quick thinking with an energy that propels his music beyond the typical bebop threshold into another sphere entirely, a micro world of possibilities and rarely heard sounds merging with the more familiar, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is on exquisite form here. With the microtonally inclined David Fiuczynski a clever foil, chunky no-nonsense bass from François Moutin and thundering attack from drummer Dan Weiss, Gamak is full-on with the ornamentation of south Indian music a titular factor, but also a reinvented bebop spirit, hints at the delta blues and heavy rock. The clever bit is the microtonal or south Indian-sounding harmony Fiuczynski does much to provide, sometimes Fuze can be like the late Pete Cosey, at other times he’s just bluesy or wigs out detuned like a mutant tincan, so this is never going to be a trip to the bebop museum interesting though that may well be on a quiet afternoon. Yet the core of the Mahanthappa band style, particularly its roots in Charlie Parker’s music, are there like invisible ink. ‘Waiting is Forbidden’ is first and best for me, but every track has its merits, with the circling-in on ‘Ballad for Troubled Times’ a great build to a sad song that has the ache and forboding of a certain ugly sense of unease, while ‘The Majesty of the Blues’ rocks out. The album is also beautifully recorded by Mike Marciano.

Stephen Graham

Released on 7 January. Gamak with cover art by Peter Bremer above

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Nicolas Meier
From Istanbul to Ceuta With a Smile
MGP Records ***
Guitarist Nicolas Meier likes to do things in twos. Back in 2010 he released a pair of albums in the same month, but in 2013 he’s spacing them out a bit more so while again two albums are scheduled, we’ll have to wait until September for Kismet, as luck would have it. First though in February there’s his new suite-based concept album From Istanbul to Ceuta with a Smile featuring the virtuoso UK-based Swiss musician’s compositions whose playing style mixes flamenco, Turkish music and contemporary progressive jazz guitar, in the company of a band that includes Ronnie Scott’s club musical director pianist James Pearson straying from his more regular mainstream and straightahead inclinations, saxophone titan Gilad Atzmon, Lighthouse percussionist Asaf Sirkis, bass stalwart Pat Bettison, and talented violinist Lizzie Ball. Quality playing for sure, with rigorous improvisation teased out winningly on tracks such as ‘The Gate’, the album could, though, have done with more of an edge for yet more of an impact to lift it way beyond the realm of intrepid traveller’s tale. Stephen Graham

Journeying instinct: Nicolas Meier above

  

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Interest in Duke Ellington (1899-1974) is something that is hardly going to go out of fashion. Whether it’s a repertory band such as the Echoes of Ellington Orchestra dedicated to the Washingtonian, or such suitably inspired composer-pianists as the Nu Cilvilisation Orchestra’s Peter Edwards reviving ‘The Queen’s Suite’, or even musicians casually playing a tune from the great man’s work at a low-key club date any night of the week whether in Fargo or Folkestone, you’ll guarantee the Ellington repertoire will bring people together, hardcore jazz fans familiar with his work, “reminiscing in tempo”, and newcomers alike.

But how can a new generation who have come to jazz in the last decade, let’s call it the Polar Bear generation, after the band that from 2004 anticipated Brit-jazz with experimental albums such as Held on the Tips of Fingers. How do they take to Ellington? Well, the answer may well be found in significant upcoming album Ellington in Anticipation, the work of Mark Lockheart a pillar of Polar Bear, joined by the band’s drummer Seb Rochford, also known for his work with Sons of Kemet these days, and Polar Bear bassist Tom Herbert, who also performs with indie avatars The Invisible.

First roadtested by students of Trinity Laban, where Lockheart also teaches, the recording session came together over two days in May at the Livingston studio in north London.The EiA band is a septet with Lockheart, Rochford, and Herbert and four hip young gunslingers in Spatial AKA alto saxman Finn Peters, Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp on clarinet, Basquiat Strings violinist Emma Smith, and pianist Liam Noble, a mainstay of singer Christine Tobin’s Sailing to Byzantium band.

In Lockheart’s world view Ellington has not been preserved in aspic, and the Hampshire-born habitually leather-jacketed 51-year-old has managed to mingle his unfussy contemporary stylings with the core Ellington sound through this septet opening the album uncontroversially with ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it ain’t got that swing)’. ‘My Caravan’, Lockheart’s complex variant on ‘Caravan’ has a fascinatingly intricate structure that unfolds almost as a big introduction for ‘Come Sunday’ one of Ellington’s most beautiful pieces allowing Finn Peters’ flute to provide sufficient space to make the arrangement seem that more fresh, even if it’s a familiar piece and one that’s regularly reprised by bands steeped in Ellingtonia these days however unselfconsciously or not.

Lockheart’s own pieces ‘Jungle Lady’, ‘Uptown’, and ‘Beautiful Man’ sit comfortably with ‘Take the A Train’, ‘Azure’, ‘Creole Love Call’, ‘Mood Indigo’ and Victor Herbert’s ‘Indian Summer’, Lockheart’s Gil Evans-like arrangement of that likeable old song Al Dubin later wrote words to is very different to Ellington’s alto-sax feature for Russell Procope, although Noble’s channelling of Ellington’s piano style is uncanny in its empathy.

Punctuated by the unimpeachable Rochfordian rhythm imperative, and leavened jauntily by Emma Smith in the Ray Nance role on the most Polar Bear-like track, Lockheart’s ‘Uptown’, this album, whether aimed at the deeply frosted ursine generation or the nostalgia-loving jazz fan in their sixties or seventies (or both), is cleverly balanced.

In Deep, Lockheart’s last major statement as a composer and bandleader, made a big impact in 2010, and with the massive hinterland of Ellingtonia behind this album expertly availed of, and the sheer quality of the musicianship and life force of this record, chances are this will too.

Lockheart recalls in a note included in the liner tray of the Subtone Records release how his fascination with Ellington began. It was a de facto wake-up call: “I was first introduced to Ellington’s music,” he writes, “by my father, who would play Duke’s records very loudly on Sunday mornings to get me out of bed. In 1973 when I was 12 years old he took me to see the Ellington band at Eastbourne, an experience that further ‘hooked’ me on Ellington’s music and made me realise that he wrote for each of the different musical personalities in the band.” And in his very different way Lockheart has done just that, as audiences will very well discover for themselves as the Ellington in Anticipation band tours. Dates so far confirmed are: Watermill, Dorking (28 February); Turner Sims, Southampton (5 March); Y Theatre, Leicester (6 March); Seven Arts, Leeds (7 March); Crucible Sheffield (8 March); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (22 March); and Kings Place, London (23 March).

Stephen Graham

The Ellington in Anticipation band pictured top. Tom Herbert (above, left), Seb Rochford, Emma Smith, Finn Peters, Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble, and James Allsopp. Ellington in Anticipation is released on 18 February, cover above

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Tessa Souter
Beyond the Blue
Motéma ****
Released first of all in 2011 in Japan by Venus records but with a different mix, London-born singer Tessa Souter has at last made her mark with a single album following years of her being one to watch, and Beyond the Blue based as it is around the idea of setting new lyrics of hers, for the most part, to celebrated melodies from the classical music popular repertoire, amounts to that long anticipated breakthrough. Souter has a poised, characterful, and in-command style, and there is plenty to savour here not least title track ‘Beyond the Blue’ with Souter’s succinctly satisfying lyrics set to Chopin’s ‘Prelude in E Minor’, and the subtlety of ‘Sunrise’, the singer’s optimistically inclined lyric to the third movement of Brahms’ Third Symphony. Souter’s band on Beyond the Blue is excellent, with pianist Steve Kuhn a connoisseur’s choice as ever, and vibist Joe Locke approachably effusive. Joel Frahm fills the romantic tenor saxophone role beautifully. (Think a slightly more wistful, less worldly wise, Ernie Watts perhaps.) David Finck is a suitably lingering presence on bass, and Billy Drummond comfortably knowing on drums. The little touches from Gary Versace on accordion add more than a certain something as well, and fold in a hint of bal-musette (on the Prince Igor-derived ‘Dance With Me’) that adds to the bygone feel of portions of this fine record. Souter is a singer clearly blessed with a voice to believe in. SG

Out on 4 February. Tessa Souter plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 9-10 February

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Early-2013 has plenty in store. Wayne Shorter’s Without a Net released on 4 February, as previously discussed in these pages (http://bit.ly/W1Pymr), is a landmark release, its nine tracks engrossing and demanding, and it’s a thrilling ride. Studio track ‘Pegasus’, the Corinthian pillar of this largely live return to Blue Note, is a composition that stands tall with any of Shorter’s best work as a composer. A fortnight later comes the release of The Glimpse (Whirlwind), Robert Mitchell’s piano album for solo left hand available from 18 February, an extraordinary achievement early listens more than suggest, with a dozen tunes featuring the influential pianist on ridiculously fine form. Serious, with a contemplative feel listen out for tracks such as ‘The Sage’, like so many of the other tracks here, a composition that unfolds itself gently but casually delivers a powerful synthesis of abstract thought that always rewards your attention. Marius Neset’s new album Birds will also be a notable pace-setter in the spring. The young Norwegian saxophonist has come up with something special on this Edition/Gearbox release. Read Marlbank for more on this 18 March release in the New Year. Written for the 1927 French film La Proie du vent (translated into English as ‘The Prey of the Wind’), and also inspired by the film music Miles Davis wrote for Lift to the Scaffold quarter tone trumpeter’s Ibrahim Maalouf’s latest album Wind (Mi’ster) is his most mature and imaginative album to date. Meanwhile Swiss French trumpeter Erik Truffaz has also returned impressively with El tiempo de la Revolución (Blue Note France) shortly to gain an official UK release having been released on the Continent earlier and available here as an import. Club friendly, modal, and electronically processed sounds reminiscent of Mark Isham’s 1990s purple patch, Truffaz’s quartet has produced an evocative mood piece that joins the dots between the reimagined 1950s in his head and the “successive revolutions through which our lives are chronicled", as the unsigned note on the sleeve a little loftily suggests. Intelligent dance music through a jazz filter as ever with Truffaz, but this has more edge than his last few albums, and Anna Aaron’s Nico-via-Beth Gibbons vocal touches are a definite plus. The Truffaz quartet plays Ronnie Scott’s on 25 March.

Stephen Graham

Robert Mitchell pictured above

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Bassist Dave Manington’s until now unfathomably under-the-radar band Riff Raff is all set to make a splash in early-2013 with the release of Hullabaloo. Since completing a music degree at Nottingham University and studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Manington, as one of the founders of the Loop Collective, entered the fray by releasing an album called Headrush on the collective’s label four years ago that garnered quite some praise and made him a new name to watch out for. Part of the Walthamstow scene in north east London his work for the e17 Large Ensemble attracted the attention of close followers of the fertile scene that Riff Raff’s latest will, one would hope, shine further light on. The band besides Manington features singer Brigitte Beraha (generation Walthamstow’s Norma Winstone) who has had a great 2012, picking up acclaim from John Fordham in The Guardian for her word-of-mouth quartet Babelfish (with Barry Green, Chris Laurence and Paul Clarvis). image

Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame also joins the pulse-prevailing Manington on the new album, a big plus, and a continuation of their work together, as does Ma’s Tom Challenger, bluesy guitarist Rob Updegraff, who really lets rip on the title track against the supporting dream-like vocals of Beraha, and finally drummer Tim Giles, formerly of the precocious Hungry Ants many moons ago. Manington has written all the tunes with Beraha contributing lyrics on ‘Catch Me The Moon’, ‘Pedro Bernardo’, and ‘Not A Worthless Thing’. A record to put on the player when Twelfth Night is but a faded memory. SG

Released on 21 January. Dave Manington’s Riff Raff pictured top, and the album’s cover above inset

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The Collins dictionary defines the unusual word ‘trichotomy’ as possessing two meanings: a noun that indicates a division into three categories; and the second in the theological sense “the division of man into body, spirit, and soul.”

The band Trichotomy, led by the smart and charismatic Australian pianist Sean Foran (above centre), has come of age with Fact Finding Mission, their latest album. They are not overly concerned with numbers contrary to definition, and then again you suspect theology is hardly a concern of this band either.

Yet the band’s mathematically inclined name, in another sense of the word to do with order theory, connects it to certain influential currents that are driving jazz forward (think Dice Factory through the filter of Vijay Iyer or “maths jazz" for convenience). But this album is not just about the often fickle zeitgeist. Fact Finding Mission (**** RECOMMENDED) builds hugely on the slightly frustrating promise of Variations, and the much more satisfying album The Gentle War, and the band has shed itself completely of primary influence EST.

Trichotomy’s approach, like EST though, has a humanity to it a world away from mathematics, and there’s a realisation with the choice of the spoken word segments on the title track that some people in power are just plain wrong and even dangerous, hence the voice of what sounds like George W. Bush sampled. This band are as natural as rain: they can’t help it, and that’s the strength of an outfit that allows their musical ideas to convert abstractions into emotion.

It’s drummer John Parker who opens up the album with a solo on ‘Strom’, and Foran comes into his own on the lovely ‘Lullaby’. Bassist Patrick Marchisella starts to figure on the Bad Plus-like build that makes title track ‘Fact Finding Mission’ work, in tandem with Foran’s punchy left hand, and the well handled anger of the piece is paramount. Their most ambitious and in my mind successful album to date Trichotomy have added percussionist Tunji Beier, reeds player Linsey Pollak, and guitarist James Muller for this very fulfilling outing. Muller’s solo on ‘Strom’ kicks in like a Kurt Rosenwinkel epic. A suitably joyful noise, something for the body, spirit, and soul after all. SG

Fact Finding Mission is released by Naim records on 4 February

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EXCLUSIVE Not many details so far but it’s looking like Jamie Cullum will be releasing his new album, the singer/pianist’s first since 2009’s The Pursuit, in May time. He’ll move label, within the Universal group, to Island, and has been recording some jazz standards (Love For Sale has been mentioned) as well as some unconfirmed pop and rock covers. Cullum, whose Tuesday night BBC Radio 2 show has consolidated his media profile in the period since The Pursuit was launched, has gained high ratings in the early evening on the show, but hasn’t gigged much as he has been busy working on tracks for the album. But he was the surprise guest at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in July at the Soho Sessions making a return to the club after his Big Audition concert and judging venture for the talent competition the restaurant chain sponsored in 2011. Culllum told me, that night, referring to a possible release, joking: “If you talk to my manager, he’ll tell you it’s coming out next week!”

At the Steinway in the Dean Street club he was joined by leading singers in the body of the audience including Natalie Williams, Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll who harmonised to the mambo-hinting ‘When I Get Famous’, and also sang a lovely ballad called ‘Save Your Soul’, and romped home with ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. He then duetted with the Sessions headliner, the great Gregory Porter, on ‘God Bless the Child.’ Cullum is believed to be continuing his work with members of his touring band for the album including trumpeter/guitarist Rory Simmons who confirmed he had been recording with Cullum, speaking at the launch of his band Eyes of a Blue Dog’s excellent debut Rise again at the same Soho club in October. Bassist Chris Hill and drummer Brad Webb are also on the record but a complete personnel is unavailable at this time. Key industry figures have heard tracks from the record within the last fortnight. All Cullum is saying for now (via Twitter) is: “I’m going to be seeing all of you a lot next year. LP6 is coming."
Stephen Graham

Album on the way: Jamie Cullum pictured above

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In a Mayan mood, yes that’s ‘doom’ backwards, I’ll return to the endless search for even more genres-within-genres touched on in an earlier piece and what’s been dubbed ‘doom piano’. Why not?, even if it is a fairly meaningless term especially in terms of Norwegian band Splashgirl whose Field Day Rituals is released in February by Hubro, a label that just this week has announced its intention to withdraw from streaming sites. The label, on Twitter, said it took the decision “together with our great artists" to pull the plug on streaming from 2013. Maybe more indie jazz labels will follow Hubro’s lead if sites such as Spotify prove to turn out not to be the promo paradise that many judged them to be. The royalties are certainly tiny for niche or even not so niche music, and a listen or two might actually be all listeners opt for, and they won’t then get to know the band by buying the CD or vinyl. I’ve only heard a track so far from the unreleased album (‘Dulcimer’) and it’s not what you’d think, the track floats like Nordic alt.folk tinged with the New Melodicism a band like Danes Girls in Airports tend to conjour up in terms of atmosphere, but here there’s also an almost Celtic feel in the humanising gracenotes of the track’s lilt. Splashgirl, Andreas Stensland Løwe (piano/electronics), Jo Berger Myhre (double bass/tone generator), and Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød (drums, percussion), have been around for a while, and some jazz purists broke out in a rash when they heard their earlier album Pressure. ‘Dulcimer’ is the balm to their fever. SG

The cover of Field Day Rituals pictured above

Listen to ‘Dulcimer’ via http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/36590925946/46666

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Mingus Ah Um is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013, and last night at a memorial gig for the jazz photographer Peter Symes, ‘Fables of Faubus’, from the album, got the second set off to a flying start performed by the Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet at the Spice of Life backstage bar venue in Soho. Profiles is shortly to release a new CD called Live at Campus West, recorded in Hertfordshire’s Welwyn Garden City. Biscoe has had a busy autumn appearing with various bands he leads also performing with composer Mike Westbrook whose trio the Somerset-born reeds player has been a member of for 30 years. Three into Wonderfull released to coincide marked this anniversary admirably.

A man of many interests, Biscoe has explored the music of Eric Dolphy extensively, as well as that of Mingus with Profiles for some years now, and last night at Paul Pace’s Spicejazz session in the basement club a short distance from the Palace Theatre appeared with fellow quartet members saxophonist Tony Kofi and bassist Larry Bartley (who also play together in Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya), and drummer Stu Butterfield known for his work as a member of the Henry Lowther/Jim Mullen quartet. Last night’s excellent gig was a fitting tribute to Peter Symes, who died just over a year ago and who was well known and respected for his fine photographic coverage of the UK jazz scene over many years. SG

Profiles pictured above photographed in 2008 by Peter Symes

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2012 has been the year of the piano trio with the Vijay Iyer trio, Ahmad Jamal, EST, the Brad Mehldau trio, Neil Cowley trio adding strings, Tingvall trio revealing themselves in the UK for the first time, and Mancunian bright young things GoGo Penguin just some of the notable trios both familiar and less so to release remarkable albums in both critical and popular terms. It’s an enduring format, and one that despite familiarity continues to exceed expectations whether in a classic incarnation based around the songs of the Great American Songbook or increasingly on newly composed or freshly interpreted original material encompassing a whole new world of inspiration, especially when creative solutions to old musical problems are tackled head on. It’s not just about good tunes, because some of the best jazz is completely abstract and unsingable. But it’s certainly partly about band empathy, that thing about “eye contact”, finishing improvisational lines or, more to the point, anticipating the direction of the music in a live situation to create something anew, that ‘moment’ everyone knows when it comes along.

Capturing that in the studio is an art. Coming up in early-2013 Norwegian piano trio In the Country have given this their best shot by releasing what will be their fifth album. In the Country, that’s pianist Morten Qvenild, bassist Roger Arntzen, and drummer Pål Hausken, marked their upcoming 10-year milestone as an improvising unit since forming at music college in Oslo by travelling to Los Angeles, to the Sunset Sound studio to record what will be titled, fittingly, Sunset Sunrise, after the famed Sunset Boulevard studio where Pet Sounds and other classic albums were recorded. Switching labels from Rune Grammofon to the German ACT label, home to the Vijay Iyer Trio and EST, their debut for Siggi Loch’s company has been mixed by Aimee Mann producer Ryan Freeland, who also mixed and engineered Mose Allison’s The Way of the World. With Australian trio Trichotomy releasing Fact Finding Mission and the Neil Cowley Trio adding finishing touches to the mix of their live album they recorded in Montreux, the early part of 2013 already shows signs that jazz’s enduring fascination with this most creative of formats shows no signs of abating.

Stephen Graham

In the Country pictured top: Roger Arntzen (above left), Pål Hausken, and Morten Qvenild. Photo: Jørn Stenersen/ACT. Sunset Sunrise will be released in March

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Kraftwerk knew a thing or two about robots. ‘We’re functioning automatic/And we are dancing mechanic/We are the robots/We are the robots/We are the robots/We are the robots’, as their song, no prizes for guessing, ‘The Robots’, has it. And come to think of it, so too does Pat Metheny, especially robots that with a little help from him like to improvise.

July’s Unity Band gig at the Barbican heralded the birth of a band for Metheny, the first featuring a saxophone in many years, but it also recalled, with a brief guest appearance, the Orchestrion, the “robot band" Metheny has recorded with before, and debuted in the UK on the same London stage in 2010.

On that first occasion, a hugely risky venture as a tour that was both audacious and a summation of Metheny’s naked, consummate artistry channelled through a sophisticated new instrument, something Metheny couldn’t have possibly dreamt of playing all around the world when as a child he was captivated by old player pianos he had become fascinated with. “People either ask ‘why’ or ‘how’,” Metheny told the audience in 2010 at the concert when he unveiled the Orchestrion from behind a curtain, a bit like a travelling magician would with no small ceremony present a bedazzled rabbit from a hat. “Let’s say the ‘why’ is between me and my shrink,” he joked.

Next month the banks of instruments including ‘bots’, drums, percussion, tuned bottles, marimba, vibes, player pianos and more that make up the Orchestrion are back on a double album called The Orchestrion Project (Nonesuch) with this beautiful beast of an instrument controlled once more by Metheny using foot pedals and a system of hydraulics and solenoids.

The highlight of the original album for me at the time was the lovely ballad ‘Soul Search’, and it appears winningly again this time as the lead track of the second disc of the new double album set to be released on 29 January, following recording sessions back in Brooklyn, where the project all began, some time after the world tour in 2010.

The double album includes all of Orchestrion plus eight more Metheny tunes. It’s clearly more than a passing episode in Metheny’s music (the very different Unity Band recording also features the impressionistic ‘Signals [Orchestrion Sketch]’). With the Pat Metheny Group in the long grass, and Metheny’s work with Lyle Mays an increasingly, if slightly frustratingly, distant memory, this expanded set in some ways is a more satisfying experience than the initial album. Partly it’s because the extra length does justice to the sheer scale of the music, and of course because the music is that bit more familiar.

The guitar bots, many percussion instruments, and cabinets of tuned bottles that you’d swear winked, spookily, on the Barbican stage have more personality through the tweaks and roadtested trials Metheny and his technical team have put these through. You’d want a friendly robot like the Orchestrion on your side if push were to come to shove should a sci-fi dystopia come real. It clearly hasn’t let Metheny down.

Stephen Graham

Pat Metheny and the Orchestrion above