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
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.
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.
Fred Hersch Trio
Alive at the Vanguard
The first striking aspect of this 2-CD set recorded during a five-night run at the famed New York club in February is the superb sound engineering of the album. So take a bow Tyler McDiarmid and Geoffrey Countryman. But good sound is only the icing on the cake of any album truth be told, and the trio of the 56-year-old Hersch, who has battled the effects of HIV for many years and has even survived a two-month coma, is on superlative form, along with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson who both played in Andrew Hill’s last band, on this album of seven new Hersch tunes, four from the Great American Songbook’s panoply of treasure, and seven jazz standards, the latter including ‘Softly as in a Morning Sunrise’ which John Coltrane recorded in the Vanguard in 1961. So no pressure!
Towards the end of the first CD on the penultimate track Hersch’s playful version rewards its inclusion and is a clear highlight overall, although the sandwiching of Russ Freeman’s ‘The Wind’ into Alec Wilder’s ‘Moon and Sand’, with its softly lapping ebb and flow on the second disc, which also has another clever segueing of ‘The Song Is You’ and Monk’s ‘Played Twice’ at the end, comes movingly close.
Wonderfully woody bass, drums you’d swear you can hear the skin’s very wrinkles of, and deep expressive improvising drawing out the fertile ideas in Hersch’s head, make this a must for fans and more than worth the purchase price for Hersch newcomers alike. It’s a piano trio that has no fussy gimmicks, no pop or rock sensibility at all, but is never pretentious in a cod chamber goulash. A wonderful album, that works because it has a cleverly assembled narrative arc disc-by-disc (the second is less intense but possibly more organic than the first) capturing a master pianist at the top of his game presented by the admirable Palmetto, a record label that values taste and presentation over the fast food approach of certain very famous jazz megacorporations. No one ever named a ballad ‘The Takeover’, did they?
Released on 11 September in the US
Fred Hersch plays solo at the Purcell Room in London on 2 October; The Apex, Bury St Edmunds (3 Oct); St George’s, Bristol (4 Oct); Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton (5 Oct); The Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock (7 Oct); The Venue, Leeds College of Music, Leeds (9 Oct); Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (10 Oct); The Church of St John the Evangelist, Oxford (11 Oct, note new venue); and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (12 Oct).
An accountant by training who used to manage the Jazz Cafe and The Forum for promoter Mean Fiddler, has opened a new jazz venue in London’s Herne Hill. Tony Dyett opened Jazz on the Hill, a smart street front cafe bar with good sight lines on Railton Road very close to Herne Hill station in late-June, and it all got underway in some style with a range of high profile jazz acts.
With bookings now under the personal remit of Dyett the cafe has an eclectic Caribbean-style menu and presents jazz on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with open mic nights on Sundays and weekly blues nights on Tuesdays. Dyett says the Herne Hill area is in need of a jazz club and already locals are looking to the club as a regular haunt.
It’s on the site of a former night club and the Poet’s Bar but Dyett and his team have made a series of much needed alterations, including moving the bar further to the right, removing stud walls and relocating the kitchen. Jazz on the Hill is working with local visual artists mounting exhibition space at the front of the club and at the rear for regular art exhibitions, and a relationship has also been established with the local Sunday farmers market with jazz becoming a soundtrack to activities on the street as shoppers sample the local traders’ wares.
There’s no house drum kit just yet, and the piano is a modest upright but with good sound, attractive decor and an easily accessible location, Jazz on the Hill adds considerably to the profile of jazz in south London with Hideaway in Streatham not far away, already a major draw.
Upcoming bookings for the venue include Anton Browne Trio (9 August), The Esther Bennett Trio (10 August), Alan Barnes Quartet (11 August) and the Brandon Allen Trio (16 August) - Stephen Graham
The exterior of Jazz on the Hill (pictured, top), and Anton Browne appearing on Thursday 9 August above
The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers
Rune Grammofon ****
Westerhus is the Nordic jazz cognoscenti’s guitarist of choice, and this album more than explains why. Just guitars and voice the ex-Fraud and recent Nils Petter Molvaer sideman pulls off a formidable coup with this tantalisingly anti-chillout excursion. The Terje Rypdal of his generation it’s clear, Westerhus slowly unfolds slabs of sonic sophistication in a masterfully unhurried style.
Released on 17 August
Django Bates Belovèd
Lost Marble ****
Three years on from their first album, and still keeping Charlie Parker as honorary inspiration, Django Bates, Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun, joined by Ashley Slater on Bacharach/David’s ‘A House is Not A Home’, are on dazzling form with an album that’s sure to delight longstanding Django fans. It’s complex for sure, relevant to the bop tradition just like the first album, but with a warmth and curiosity that has a life force all of its own. Head straight for the hucklebuck meditation, ‘Now’s The Time’, but Slater’s lounge-sleazy vocal is also a big plus.
Released on 17 September
With pianist Yaron Herman in trio mode I have often felt he’s a musician in search of a band. Expanding to a quintet here he’s finally found a better expression for his huge talent. Go down to the beautifully revealing ‘Mechanical Brothers’ for a great piano-led beat cooked up along with bassist Stéphane Kerecki, leading into suitably dank and drizzling saxophone from highly promising Kansas City altoist Logan Richardson and Herman’s long time playing colleague Emile Parisien.
Released on 28 September
I was pretty unimpressed by the self-consciousness of Pédron’s earlier album Cheerleaders, but the alto saxophonist has turned things around dramatically here with this fine Monk-themed trio album he has also co-arranged. Featuring much talked about Blue Note trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on three tracks, you’ve just got to hear Ambrose burn the house down on ‘Ugly Beauty.’
Released on 28 September
Next year Brad Mehldau will be touring with former Avishai Cohen drummer Mark Guiliana but before that and following quickly on from Ode, a companion album, Where Do You Start, taking its name from the Johnny Mandel, Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman song, is to be released on 17 September, the pianist’s label Nonesuch has confirmed. Barbra Streisand covered the song to great effect on her Columbia album Love Is The Answer three years ago.
Performing with his familiar trio of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on Where Do You Start, Mehldau, who is due to play the London Jazz Festival in November with the trio, has included his celebrated and so far unreleased take on Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Holland’ on this album, which Mehldau fans will know nearly always steals the show when he performs it live, often as an encore.
But the album actually opens with ‘Got Me Wrong’ by Jerry Cantrell of the grunge band Alice in Chains, a song that appeared on the soundtrack of Kevin Smith’s film Clerks and was released as a single in the wake of the film’s runaway success in 1994.
Other tracks are ‘Brownie Speaks’ by Clifford Brown; ‘Baby Plays Around’, by Elvis Costello and his former wife Cait O’Riordan of The Pogues; ‘Airegin’ by Sonny Rollins; ‘Hey Joe’ by Californian folkster Billy Roberts made famous by Jimi Hendrix; ‘Samba E Amor’ by Rio legend Chico Buarque; ‘Jam’ by Mehldau, his only self-penned song on the album; ‘Time Has Told Me’ by Nick Drake, whose songs Mehldau interprets so intuitively; ‘Aquelas Coisas Todas’ by Clube da Esquina guitarist Toninho Horta; and the tearjerking ‘Where Do You Start.’
Brad Mehldau, pictured top
Talking to Eric Revis three years ago after his performance with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel on an outdoor stage overlooking the Grand Harbour of Valletta the Branford Marsalis Quartet bassist shrugged as he was asked how the band’s new recruit Justin Faulkner, still a teenager at the time, was settling in. Revis looked at me hard and said simply, as if it was the most blindingly obvious thing in the world: “He’s doing fine.”
At the time I was surprised there wasn’t more reaction to the departure of Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, who had been with Branford for such a long time and whose place at the forefront of jazz drumming globally was pretty much unassailable for someone of his vintage. Tain was up there, and had been for some time, as Generation X’s version of Elvin Jones, or Tony Williams. There was nobody quite like him in post-bop circles and his own albums for Columbia particularly Citizen Tain and Bar Talk even raised him to the level of a Jack DeJohnette, a drummer who could not just play at a superlative level but one who could write interestingly into the bargain. Tain has been busy on a myriad of projects since, although it is true for the time being he is less high profile than he was, although granted Branford isn’t quite centre stage in the way he used to be.
The quartet without Tain but with Faulkner has recorded for the first time on the rebelliously titled Four MFs Playin’ Tunes just released on Branford’s own Marsalis Music label. It follows on from the slightly disappointing duo album Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, which Marsalis cut with the quartet’s pianist Joey Calderazzo and released just last year. Four MFs is a much more vital record, displaying a sinuous sense of abandon as the watchword from the off on opener ‘The Mighty Sword.’ Faulkner is athletic for certain, but I’m not sure it necessarily “marks an exciting new era”, as Branford’s website puts it. Faulkner isn’t that different, and to claim that his appearance on the scene equates with Miles’ hiring of the then 17-year-old Tony Williams, is to heap too many expectations on Faulkner’s still young shoulders. In many ways although this is to Faulkner’s credit he sounds like a much much older player, one with a sensible head on him and the maturity of an elder. But sheer maturity does not necessarily mean a major new voice has arrived and this record is about the band. By the third track ‘Maestra’ Faulkner shows he has the seriousness both Marsalis and Calderazzo demand, and the way the drummer moulds himself around Calderazzo’s yearning solo and Revis’ insistent pedal point shows he knows how to listen and assert himself while still working with the pianist as an accompanist essentially.
On ‘Teo’ it’s almost as if Marsalis is back to his Trio Jeepy days, I mean because of the jaunty irreverent opening theme, and it’s good to hear he’s got his sense of humour back as it seemed to have deserted him entirely on Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, which was more about melancholy… and still more dolefulness, even on the lighter bits. There’s an endearingly scampering quality to ‘Whiplash’, and that jam session sense of adventure it’s hard to fake, but which comes instinctively to both Marsalis and Calderazzo. ‘As Summer Into Autumn Slips’ makes me think of Branford’s wonderful album Requiem and I wonder what Branford thinks of Sleeper, the long-in-hibernation Keith Jarrett Belonging Band’s just released album given that on Requiem Marsalis paid tribute to Jarrett on the track ‘Lykief’. ‘My Ideal’ definitely is in the lineage of Jarrett’s quartet work from the 1970s, particularly the European quartet. Four MFs is a great return to form by Marsalis, his best album since Braggtown, although it does lack the fire power with Tain on A Love Supreme Live. It’s also worth mentioning the bookending of the album with nods to the atmosphere of New Orleans on ‘The Mighty Sword’ with its sweltering sense of momentum and then the bonus track at the end, ‘Treat It Gentle’, drawing Sidney Bechet firmly to mind. Stephen Graham
The Branford Marsalis Quartet pictured above