Andrew McCormack Trio
Live in London
Edition ****

Andrew McCormack was one of the rising stars of the Dune years, when the record label, currently on hiatus since the release of Denys Baptiste’s Identity By Subtraction, for more than a decade was the incubator of such talents as the pianist, saxophone stars Soweto Kinch and Baptiste, and many more. Telescope, his debut for the label still stands tall from that now distant period.

Much more recently playing in duo with alto saxophonist Jason Yarde, or as a member of bassist Kyle Eastwood’s band, McCormack’s latest record Live in London released as a download-only album on Monday features instead his trio of bassist Chris Hill and drummer Troy Miller, and as indicated in the title was recorded in the capital, at Chelsea’s 606.

Most of the tunes are McCormack’s, typically sincere, and serious, yet also possessing an underlying, beautiful, sense of melancholy that lifts rather than drags you to the depths of despair.

The other tunes are the standards ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, and ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, maybe not the most exciting choices, but delivered with personality. I have seen this trio live, at the Green Note in Camden, and the rapport the three demonstrated some five years or so ago was immediately clear then and on this live document. Hill is Jamie Cullum’s bassist these days and Miller a busy session man, a player blessed with perfect timing, taste, and intuitive interpretative rhythmical ability who also plays with such fine guitar talents as Femi Temowo. I caught Troy and Femi playing together at the Late Late show in Ronnie Scott’s just last month and I was very impressed indeed with Miller, and this album is further proof.

So it’s a trio of strong players, in their prime, and McCormack’s material is up to the task. In his tunes, such as opener ‘Antibes’, and the quietly dogged ‘Junket’ he knows how to shape the composition, building tension, releasing that dramatic menace in an organic flow, and making his music as interpreted in the trio format appear like a conversation that has the potential to go off somewhere unexpected.

The improvising frequently embarks on ambitious detours which Hill and Miller steer adroitly. I like the way the 606 audience applause has been captured, it’s not intrusive or there to stoke the ego of the performers by its inclusion, simply part of the narrative arc of the record that more clinical records tend to forget.

McCormack at times reminds me of Keith Jarrett when he plays a beautiful balladic phrase, and ‘Junket’ is where you’ll hear this influence strongly. But McCormack retains his own identity, and the musicianship, empathy and quality of writing makes this a pleasure from start to finish. The trio form suits McCormack, and it’s a different kind of trio here than many new ones appearing this year, with others often labouring under the understandable shadow of the music of EST. This isn’t the case at all here, a sign of McCormack’s focus and ideas. It’s a breakthrough modern sounding album without being remotely avant garde or overly ambitious, but one that once again reminds the scene of McCormack’s great ability and flair, but one that also points to his growing confidence as a composer,

Stephen Graham

Andrew McCormack, pictured above


Ahmad Jamal is to appear at the first Jazz FM awards to be held at the end of January.

While no official announcement has been made so far, sources at the station have confirmed that the great Pittsburgh-born pianist, who turned 82 in the summer, and who along with Frank Sinatra counts as a seminal influence on Miles Davis, has accepted an invitation to attend. 

Jamal through his Pershing recordings staked his place immediately as a giant of jazz leaving an indelible mark on the music. These recordings created at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago beginning in 1958, were where the pianist laid down his best known sides along with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. They not only sold in very large numbers, but also provided a snapshot of a music that would be changed irrevocably in the years to come by such innovators as Cecil Taylor, the free jazz movement and its socio-political and cultural consequences, and later by the demands and challenges of jazz-rock.

Ahmad Jamal’s appearance at the awards underline the event’s credibility and mark the beginning of a big year for the DAB broadcaster, as the station is also to mount the Love Supreme outdoor festival in July.

Stephen Graham

Elina Duni Quartet
Matanë Malit
ECM ***
It’s always tempting to second guess a label or make sweeping generalisations about their output. Labels with a big release schedule and eclectic tastes, such as ECM’s, regularly by their ambition prove the absurdity of such dragooning of music into neat little phrases. Of course, that’s not to say that everything is individual, again a fairly ludicrous attitude, but certainly this release by the Elina Duni Quartet is unusual. Singer Duni born in the Albanian capital of Tirana in 1981, sings mournfully over a dozen songs on the album, the title of which means ‘Beyond the Mountain’, several of which mine the fairly unknown folk music of her native land. Her Swiss husband Colin Vallon’s trio (its personnel changed now since their Albanian-influenced album Rruga with the trio’s longstanding drummer Samuel Rohrer replaced here by Norbert Pfammatter) is a typically modern European style very quiet piano trio that we’re accustomed to since Tord Gustavsen’s rise to prominence. So it’s library-like in the level of contemplation at play. Duni came to Switzerland in the early-1990s and it’s her collision with the world outside the formerly closed country of Albania through her music that makes this album startling. The quartet has released hard to find albums Baresha and Lume Lume for the tiny Meta Records label which I’ll seek out as clearly the music here on the new album is mature and deepy considered and the journey the musicians have made would be interesting to trace. Patrice Moret, the quartet’s bassist, holds the key to much of the integrating of vocals and trio on Matanë Malit, and it’s clear that Balkan folk songs have rarely sounded so ancient seen through the lens of a very modern artist in Duni.
Stephen Graham

Elina Duni Quartet, pictured above