Stockport to Memphis
Naim jazz ****
People who like and even love jazz, despite what a few purists think, actually like other music “as well as" the word with four letters rather than, in curmudgeon-speak, “instead of" it, as if they’re giving up being a member of a club that they don’t actually have to be a member of in the first place. Well, Barb Jungr is a singer who many jazz people really like and work with, and it’s not at all surprising as there is an integrity, musicality and liveliness about what she does although she couldn’t really be called a jazz singer, her music just runs parallel to it. She can take the odd wrong turn though and I personally did not warm much to her Dylan or Elvis albums, but completely agree that her forte is in chanson or related material of which she is a subtle and knowledgeable interpreter. Certainly, she has a strong reputation in this area, but her eclecticism I suppose means that people who like her approach dip in and out depending on the angle she chooses for her latest project.
Produced by pianist Simon Wallace who also performs on the album and a collective personnel of Rod Youngs on drums, Neville Malcolm double bass, Jenny Carr, piano, Natalie Rozario cello, backing vocals from Mari Wilson,
Ian Shaw and Sarah Moule, Gary Hammond percussion, Mark Armstrong trumpet, and Roddy Matthews guitar, there is a broad selection of well known songs presented here with five originals Barb has co-written, including the title track partly referencing the town she grew up in, although the Memphis bit is a little more complicated but all is explained in the title song. These days when it’s fashionable for singers to project at the tops of their voices it’s refreshing to hear a singer who doesn’t sing as if she’s yelling to quell the racket all the drinkers at the bar might be making. OK, the downside might be it can be too cosy, but that’s not really Jungr’s way. ‘River’ for instance is very unJoni-like, and sometimes on whatever the material she chooses the approach of someone like Sandy Denny springs to mind instead as a sort of benign presence. Jungr’s strength is the way she narrates a song, gently leading you in for a fulfilling dialogue in song, maybe involving, maybe not; autobiographical perhaps, like ‘New Life’, or more out on a limb as on the passionate ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the best cover song on the album for me because of the light and shade, and the way she loses herself in the material. Other songs include Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’, Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’, Hank Williams’ ‘Lost on the River’, but it’s the new songs that are interesting as well, particularly ‘Urban Fox’, a wonderful metaphorical lyric, and quietly dark with it. A great late-night listen. Stephen Graham
Barb Jungr continues at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square in London on Friday and Saturday. Stockport to Memphis is released on 22 October
Fear of Flying
The title of this enjoyable record refers to pianist Tom Gibbs’ recently acquired nervousness about taking to the skies on a plane ride, that’s what becoming a father he says did to him. Being a dad also inspired the two-part second track here named after his daughter. Family man Gibbs is with the much touted sax player Will Vinson, bassist Euan Burton, and Kit Downes Golden Trio stalwart James Maddren. It’s highly proficient, likeable, and at the melodic end of the spectrum, although there is plenty of improvising going on. What is distinctive is the sincerity at work, the characterful soprano saxophone lines in particular from Vinson, Maddren keeping the pot boiling and I really liked the bass solo on ‘A Little Something’. Great title, that track, even better solo, a kind of sub-plot to the main tune. Glasgow-based Gibbs, who was mentored by John Taylor at York university, is certainly worth keeping an eye out for at a jazz club near you. He is his own man, although like so many he owes a small debt to Brad Mehldau, who is fairly indirectly referred to at the beginning of ‘The Smile That Never Forgets’, when Euan Burton channelling Larry Grenadier bounces Gibbs into a friendly familiar riff that allows Vinson scope later. The later track puntastically called ‘Daily Brad’ is possibly up Mehldau’s alley some more as well. You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to work these things out, although maybe the track is a homage to that fine guitarist Brad Shepik or a Hieronymous Brad with unknowable and mysterious merit. Gibbs is worth hearing, so watch the local papers or online for news of Gibbs’ next gig. Going to hear him on this evidence is definitely preferable to walking the dog, watching TV, or playing darts down your local, apparently a growing pastime in some parts, and this record similarly hits the bullseye in its own sweet way.
Released on 15 October
One of the most admired and respected pianists in UK jazz history, an influence on a young generation of international musicians as well as the possessor of a healthy critical reputation around the world based on quality and his musical vision, John Taylor turns 70 today. Since the late-1960s Taylor has been a leading fixture on the international jazz scene as a player, bandleader, recording artist and educator. Emerging initially alongside such players as tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, the Manchester-born pianist whose style has a still self-completeness to it, English, yet of no country, cerebral at times, but with a warmth that draws people in. A new generation of players, including young award winning pianist John Turville have been favourably compared to Taylor, and it’s extraordinary to think that a band such as Meadow came together because of the path finding Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen’s desire to work and play with Taylor in the first place. A generation of British players from the Loose Tubes school in the 1980s (he’s on Julian Arguelles’ album Phaedrus, for instance) to the current generation emerging from music colleges up and down the country has turned to Taylor’s music becoming aware of the sheer distinctiveness of his approach, with its roots in the style of Bill Evans perhaps as well as classical music and English traditions from choral music to the avant garde, and not forgetting the personalised innovations and style of a pianist few would hesitate to comfortably ignore. In the 1970s, with Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone, Taylor was involved in the ensemble most associated with his name, Azimuth, one of the most influential instrumental/vocals groupings (sometimes referred to, in terms of the vocals, as “wordless") to have come out of England throughout the 90-odd years jazz has been played here. Taylor by that time was working for ECM, the label that has defined large chunks of his career, along with the Italian Camjazz label more recently, and he went on to record many albums with a range of leading artists that has included Jan Garbarek and Enrico Rava. With Wheeler, for instance, hear Taylor on the sumptuous The Widow in the Window, but his own albums have left their own indelible footprints on jazz, and landmarks along the way have included the the languidly enigmatic Ambleside Days an early-1990s duo album with John Surman that once more consolidated his reputation as a fine interpreter, but also as a composer of note. His recent trio with Martin France and Palle Danielsson has picked up plaudits from a new generation coming to his music perhaps for the first time especially on such albums as Angel of the Presence, a landmark of European jazz past, present and in all likelihood, future. Stephen Graham
John Taylor pictured above
One more important upshot from last night’s iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse, before hunkering down for the next wave of gigs, is definitely worth recalling. Robert Glasper, typically generous with his bandstand and genuinely collectively-inclined, let drop extra detail of some recent news that the Experiment bassist Derrick Hodge standing on the far left of the stage and newly signed to Blue Note will release (as Derrick’s nods and bright smile confirmed) his debut for the label in early-2013.
Titled Live Today the electric bassist’s website adds more information about what’s to come on the release, a record likely to add to this highly tasteful and imaginative player’s wider fanbase. "Live Today”, says Hodge, “is the way I chose to begin my story as a solo artist. It is a melting pot of sound and emotions, and is how I decided to capture my thoughts at that moment in time. There were many directions that this record could have went, but I chose to give people what was on my mind in a very raw, unedited way. Live Today is about acceptance, being in the moment while paying respect to those that came before me, and about writing music that feels good to me."
The Experiment’s set-list last night included a knowing take on Floetry’s ‘Say Yes’, knowing, as Glasper explained because the band had played the song many times before yet Glasper himself as he fessed up did not know who the bassist was until Hodge volunteered “that was a fun session". The cut appeared on the original multi-platinum selling album Floetic released by the UK R&B duo a decade ago.
Hodge besides the Experiment has performed with Maxwell, Common, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Sade and Terence Blanchard, also works as a film composer, and has written a piece for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Last night’s gig included a song of Hodge’s, ‘Holding on to You’ performed by singer/guitarist Alan Hampton.
Derrick Hodge pictured