Brass Jaw saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and pianist Euan Stevenson have come together to record New Focus, a quartet album with additional string quartet and harp instrumentation, to be released by bassist Michael Janisch’s label Whirlwind just ahead of this year’s London Jazz Festival.
The album features original music by the pair working inside a quartet, which also comprises Scottish National Jazz Orchestra drummer Alyn Cosker, and Janisch on bass; and they’re joined by the Glasgow String Quartet, made up of players from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and harpist Alina Bzhezhinska.
Recorded and mixed at Castlesound Studios in Scotland and released on 5 November, tracks are: ‘Nicola’s Piece’, ‘Intro’, ‘El Paraiso’, ‘For Ray’, ‘Interlude’, ‘Music for a Northern Mining Town’, ‘Illuminate’, ‘Dziadzio’, ‘Leonard’s Lament’ and ‘Parsons Green.’
While Glasgow-based Wiszniewski is well known for his work with the hard gigging Brass Jaw and in his writing for New Focus draws on his Polish and Scottish heritage, Stevenson is less known outside Scotland but with influences including Oscar Peterson, George Shearing and Bill Evans the pianist has quickly achieved a following in his homeland in a relatively short space of time with BBC Radio Scotland broadcasts bringing his music to an audience far beyond the jazz club and concert hall circuit. Stevenson also leads his own standards-rooted trio, and has worked as an arranger for trumpeter Colin Steele’s high powered Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra. Tour dates include the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh on 26 September; Glasgow Art Club (27 Sept); Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (13 November); The Institute, New Lanark (24 Nov); and the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (29 Nov).
Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson pictured above
With little advance fanfare tomorrow sees the release of the latest album for Blue Note by US-based Beninese jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. Co-produced by labelmate Robert Glasper whose own record Black Radio this year has marked a turning point in his own already rocketing career and who returns to the UK for the iTunes festival next month, Heritage is Loueke’s third album for Blue Note a label that signed him after Loueke appeared on a couple of Terence Blanchard records. Loueke, who has also toured extensively with Herbie Hancock as recently as his Imagine Project tour, also contributed to the Blanchard band’s songbook, and ‘Benny’s Tune’ if you haven’t heard it, is to my mind one of the best jazz compositions across the board in the last decade. It’s like a standard in the making with a distinctively bittersweet poignancy.
Heritage has dispensed with Loueke’s longstanding trio of bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, so instead there’s electric bassist Derrick Hodge, who you’ll know from Robert Glasper’s band, and who is himself to release a debut as a leader for Blue Note. And there’s also Mark Guiliana, the drummer who made such an impact with UK jazz lovers on Alive by Phronesis and previously when he played with Avishai Cohen. Heritage has seven new Loueke tunes, a couple by Glasper, who also plays on many of the tracks, and another distinguishing feature of the album is background vocal glimpses of singer Gretchen Parlato on a few tracks.
There’s a real warmth to the album and it sounds undeniably Loueke from the first notes. It’s interesting that in the past he has talked about liking George Benson’s music when he started out and was thinking about playing jazz, and particularly the 1970s album Weekend in LA. Well, Heritage is a world away from the Benson sound but both players share an instant ability to communicate their musical ideas however complex. With Glasper’s involvement and a new band the message will get across that bit more directly with Heritage I think and maybe Loueke’s vocals will come to the fore more and more as his career develops. ‘Tribal Dance’, the third track, written by Glasper, has a beautiful warmth to it opening up for Loueke to expand on the bed of percussion and vocals behind him, but there’s a lot of strong material throughout and above all Heritage works as a play-through album, which is always better than just a series of tracks in isolation unless you just want the thrill of a pop hit. Glasper’s input gives Loueke’s approach a new creative energy and it’s interesting that Loueke was an original member of Glasper’s band the Experiment. How recent jazz history would have been different if he had stayed. Let’s hope Loueke plays the UK again soon so we can hear some of these songs live.
Little Mystery Records ***
Another of the burgeoning new-melodic school, trumpet/flugel player Nadje Noordhuis, from Sydney, based in New York since 2008, was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk competition the year before.
In her mid-thirties, a member of underground jazz composer Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, her band on this debut is full of good players including pianist Geoff Keezer, drummer Obed Calvaire, and bassist Joe Martin, and it’s easy to feel at ease with the chamber-jazz material, instantly attractive and approachable from the first sounds of the little piano figure on opener ‘Water Crossing.’
Fourth track ‘Big Footprint’ draws the musical world of Kenny Wheeler to mind, but the record also presents a very different side to Geoff Keezer, particularly if you think of him in terms of say his Rhodes work with Christian McBride’s jazz-rock band. Keezer is instead more like the pianist on a mid-20th century prairie period drama, and Sara Carswell’s violin playing on ‘Waltz for Winter’ completes this sepia tinted impression.
The last track ‘Open Road’, Noordhuis says this about on her blog: “I was thinking to myself ‘I want to write a tune as beautiful as a Pat Metheny ballad.’" And in some ways she has, although Metheny doesn’t spring to mind as an obvious source, which is probably a good sign. It’s a record that’s hard to dislike, but could do with a bit more of an edge at times, although the young trumpeter has a very expressive narrative style that lifts the record’s appeal immeasurably.
Released on 9 October in the US
Nadje Noordhuis, pictured top
1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project
An album about songs and the craft of songwriters centred around the famed building in Midtown Manhattan where for some 40 years some of the most universally loved songs in American popular music were created. Elling begins with ‘On Broadway’ and his typically knowing way with both the lyrics of a song and his rapport with the band mean it feels as if he’s making you ‘unhear’ these very familiar songs. Initial listens suggest Bacharach/David’s ’ A House is Not A Home’ and Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ are the go-to tracks but Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ will intrigue Zappa fans as well.
Released on 25 September. Kurt Elling, with Sheila Jordan, plays the London Jazz Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 14 November
The Bad Plus
Concord **** SEASON HIGHLIGHT
With this release you get the feeling that The Bad Plus have come up with something radically different. It’s almost as if they have begun all over again, with synthesizers and electronic drums added to the acoustic trio setting. The album comprises a bunch of original, frequently gripping, tunes, and a take on the late Paul Motian’s ‘Victoria’. Pianist Ethan Iverson says that Made Possible “is the sound of getting together in your garage and all committing, no matter what, seeing what you can make up today.” This frequently engrossing album indicates such an approach has more than paid off.
Released on 25 September in the States, and on 22 October internationally. The Bad Plus play Ronnie Scott’s in London on 23 and 24 October.
The Bad Plus photo by Cameron Wittig
End of an Era
Truth Revolution ***
Very promising, with a high-register sense of abandon and plenty of guts, trumpeter Philip Dizack is still a new name on a crowded US scene. Slightly reminiscent of Christian Scott (circa the album Anthem) it’s been seven years since the Milwaukee player’s debut, Beyond a Dream. With tracks featuring two separate bands, one with Linda Oh, the bassist most likely to storm through from the underground jazz scene in America, Blue Note artist pianist Aaron Parks and Herbie Hancock drummer Kendrick Scott, and strings even, it’s an ambitious project that came to fruition with the help of some Kickstarter fundraising. If Coldplay ever become remotely hip it will be thanks to the likes of Dizack for covering songs of theirs such as the heart-on-sleeve ‘What If’, the fifth track here.
Released on 2 October in the US
Next month at Ronnie Scott’s there’s a fascinating two-night Late Late Show presentation in prospect that aims to summon up the spirit of The Establishment, the legendary Greek Street club founded by Peter Cook that gave birth to the 1960s satire boom.
Actor Keith Allen is to MC the shows, which begin just a half an hour shy of midnight on 19 and 20 September.
The Establishment was a revelation in 1961, and as the Ronnie’s website relates, the club featured uncensored stand-up comedy giving “a platform to radical, political, and anarchic performers (everyone from Lenny Bruce to Barry Humphries)."
Dudley Moore used to play jazz at the Establishment and his role for these evenings now falls to Ronnie’s musical director James Pearson who will play Moore rarities. New comedy, cabaret, burlesque and musical talent as yet to be confirmed are also to play an intrinsic part of the presentation, and Private Eye writer Victor Lewis-Smith is to provide a Pathé News style round-up of the week’s news to begin each evening.
For more go to www.ronniescotts.co.uk
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
Now Here This
Abstract Logix ****
This is a deceptive release. Listen to the first tracks ‘Trancefusion’ and ‘Riff Raff’ and you’d swear the record was a generic jazz-rock fusion album with Ranjit Barot adopting the Billy Cobham role, and McLaughlin not sounding like himself at all. But everything changes from ‘Echoes From Then’ on, as Etienne M’Bappé steers the band on a loping, boogie-ing tilt, and Gary Husband moving into more open improvising territory. M’bappé produces a lovely figure at the beginning of ‘Wonderfall’ and so, lo and behold, the album suddenly becomes much more tender and approachable. ‘Not Here Not There’ is where McLaughlin really opens up in terms of expression rather than firepower, utterly remarkable at 70 or any age.
Released on 15 October
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
St Peter & 57th St
Marking 50 years of a trad jazz institution recorded at Carnegie Hall in January St Peter & 57th St is a starry gathering with Allen Toussaint, Steve Earle (a big highlight on ‘Taint Nobody’s Business’) and remarkably Merrill Garbus of the toggle-case loving Tuneyards. Check your deeply ingrained ideas about trad at the door or you’ll miss out on a few gems here.
Released on 24 September
The Cloudmakers Trio with Ralph Alessi
Live at the Pizza Express
Recorded in 2010 this classy release, with great artwork and live sound faithfully captured by the Pizza Express’ sound engineer Luc Saint-Martin complementing the quality of the musicianship at play, the Cloudmakers allow once more a good hard look at Jim Hart’s outstanding vibes playing. The existential, at times admittedly overly-serious, sound of trumpeter Ralph Alessi is the main thing you’ll hear upfront on many of the tracks, but there is a complex set of rhythms at play from the trio that demands more detailed listening, as anyone who has heard bassist Michael Janisch play in whatever context over the past five years will testify to. Outhouse’s Dave Smith is typically capable, and this release will also do much to raise the profile of Whirlwind not just for the undoubted taste it brings to its output, but also the label’s improving presentation, something that many indie jazz labels don’t think hard enough about.
Released on 10 September