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It’s always sad when someone whose music you admire and who you’ve even met a few times passes away. Even more so when it’s someone with such a freewheeling spirit as Tomasz Szukalski, the saxophonist, who has died in a Piaseczno hospital in Poland. He was not very old, just 64, and even though he wasn’t that well known outside his native land he was very well known indeed inside Poland, liked, admired and revered inside the country often winning polls as the leading jazz saxophonist. His playing on Stanko’s album Balladyna alone is a great legacy and testimony to his endeavours.

A true bohemian who embraced the jazz lifestyle and had an infectious smile and big personality, Szukalski, known as the Jackal, was the sort of person jazz needs. Not boring and with a willingness to reach out to any audience who cares to pitch up, listeners always got something out of his playing even if he wasn’t by any chalk an innovator nor would he have wanted to have been. He had too much modesty.

But he did make you think and he had a fine strong sound, Slavic, for sure, and with the blues at its heart as well. He was best known for his work with Stanko, and with alto hero Zbigniew Namysłowski. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease in recent years.

From Warsaw Szukalski was born on 8 January 1948. He studied clarinet at the Academy of Music and first made his mark nationally at the Jazz on the Oder festival in 1970 when he won a prize for his playing, ushering him in to play with the Polish Radio Jazz Studio Orchestra. He’s to be found on Namysłowski’s great album Winobranie, and the classic Kujaviak Goes Funky. But with Stanko in 1975 he left his most indelible mark on Balladyna in a band that also featured the wondrous bass playing of Dave Holland and Stanko’s great soul mate Edward Vesala on drums. In the 1980s Szukalski made a great splash with the band Time Killers in the company of keyboards hero Wojciech Karolak, and the diminutive Czeslaw Bartkowski on drums, and the album received suitable acclaim in the Polish music press notably in Jazz Forum magazine, the country’s leading authority on jazz. Stephen Graham

John Turville Trio

Conception

F-IRE Records ***

A surprise Parliamentary Jazz Award winner for best album last year when Turville’s debut Midas garnered enough votes to win, the 33-year-old Walthamstow scene pianist/composer has earned more than his share of plaudits in his short career to date although he is still fairly unknown to the wider public.

Here with Jamie Cullum bassist Chris Hill and drummer Ben Reynolds joined by cellist Eduardo Vassallo on some tracks, Turville comes across in the manner of Gwilym Simcock at first. It’s highly proficient, of course, but somehow fails to engage on the opener ‘Pharaoh Ant’, while his arrangement of Radiohead’s ‘Scatterbrain’, which draws out Turville’s more rhapsodic side is also a bit on the undercooked side. Then again until Blues Vignette many people recognised Simcock’s talent but failed to connect emotionally with him until he managed to unlearn a certain amount of musical baggage from his hothoused youth.

Turville certainly shows his learning, and has been compared by some critics to John Taylor, in itself quite a compliment, but fairly meaningless especially here. Maybe it’s an allusion to a specific style of chamber jazz Turville is pursuing, it’s hard to say, which prompts the linking of the two.

Conception, taking its name from the George Shearing bop original arranged sympathetically by Turville, is the final track here and worth the wait. But don’t forget Hill who plays a big role in the band sound overall, and he also writes one of the more expressive tunes in ‘Old Park Avenue’, with Reynolds more functional but pretty handy throughout, and in what makes all the difference the tango-like input of Vassallo who enters the fray with ‘Barrio Once’ and sticks around on ‘Elegia’ when the album only really starts to get going.

It’s a hard album to like but easy enough to admire particularly as structurally it’s strong with clear notions of episodic form and a sense of the wider world especially when Vassallo is involved. However, there are many fine piano trios around and it’s not clear given the presence of cello if Turville actually wishes to lead a piano trio or a flexible ensemble instead, his writing hints at the latter.

The album was recorded at the famed Artesuono studio in Italy, and mention ought to be made of engineer Stefano Amerio who has a reputation in Italy akin to Jan Erik Kongshaug’s in Norway for world class sound. He’s been working with the hit Hamburg trio Tingvall to telling effect as well as with Trio Libero, Craig Taborn, Anouar Brahem, Marcin Wasilewski, and a host of others. Conception has some handsome sonic clarity; if only the songs were that bit more memorable, but Turville has time on his side.

Stephen Graham

John Turville plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 27 September. Conception is released on 1 October and further live dates are: Jazz at the Fleece, Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Suffolk (5 October); Dempsey’s Cardiff (9 Oct); The Castle, Wellingborough (11 Oct); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (14 Oct); Symphony Hall foyer Birmingham (19 Oct); St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall (23 Oct); Performance Centre, Falmouth (24 Oct); 606, London (6 November); and The Cellar, Southampton (12 November)

It’s one of the questions of our age. No, not how do we stop global warming or tackle world poverty, but does the venerable ECM label have a sense of humour? Even a tiny bit. Well you may contend that an inanimate object is unlikely ever to have a sense of anything, but as we’re all guilty of conferring human qualities on our most cherished pets then why not ponder on whether the label that brought us such pieces of art as Afric Pepperbird, The Köln Concert, Officium and Khmer has a funny bone, or not, as the case may be.

Mostly ECM as everyone knows is about the deadly serious making of music, although there is brooding and there is downright blatant moodiness and there’s many an ECM album that could do with a little bit of lightening up. Someone close to producer and label founder Manfred Eicher, even the great man himself, must have thought we have to loosen up. So step forward the perfect man for the job: Enrico Rava. That may explain the unlikeliest ECM album ever with the silver haired lion of Italian jazz, an icon of the 1970s European avant garde with a wonderful fractured trumpet style, recording Rava On the Dance Floor with the Parco della Musica Jazz Lab live in the Eternal City last year. Then again it may not, as Rava explains that after Michael Jackson’s death he bought all Jacko’s CDs and DVDs and really got into him: “I felt the need to delve more deeply into Michael’s world."

And so for whatever reason Rava On the Dance Floor was born, nine tracks with nearly all the music Jackson’s, plus one of the singer’s favourite songs Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ and Rod Temperton’s ‘Thriller’ thrown in, of course. Well you’ve got to laugh, it’s the wackiest thing Rava’s ever done and while not as risible as say a jazzed up collection of ABBA songs it’s pretty lightweight stuff which feels like dad dancing with the lights on at a disco in Romford, or should that be Rimini, on a Tuesday night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, within reason.

The band give it a shot and there’s plenty of beef from the trumpets neighing and carrying on in ‘Thriller’ and sentimental tenderness on ‘Smile’, a tune that’s impossible to dislike.

It’s not as if the album is an attempt either to reimagine Michael Jackson, surely Miles Davis did that better than anyone when he did ‘Human Nature’, or invest the music with such import as if every note was like a massive statement. That would have been fatal and actually you come away from this thinking, that Enrico Rava, bit of a groover. You can’t help but throw your head back and laugh at the opening to ‘Privacy’ say. So there we have it, the Italians make Manfred and the rest of us smile. Who would ever have thought it, no not even Manfred.

Stephen Graham