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Scott Hamilton
Swedish Ballads… & More

Stunt ***1/2
This may sound heretical but there comes a point when everyone has to put away their Miles Davis records. It may well be that his music is so engrained in listeners and musicians’ consciousness that the imagining and being-influenced-by will still make their presence felt. Like sunlight, and darkness, it’s unavoidable. Scott Hamilton is possibly the antithesis of Miles Davis in that he has never been and probably never will be even remotely fashionable. He probably put away his Miles Davis records long ago, and more to the point his Ben Webster ones a generation back (although Hamilton is a mere youth in “jazz years” of 58). Yet the first track on Swedish Ballads… & More is ‘Dear Old Stockholm’, based on a Swedish folk song called ‘Ack Värmeland Du Sköna’, and identified closely with not just Miles Davis but John Coltrane. Hamilton is not derivative essentially any more (he really is too good to have that accusation hurled at him) but it’s easy to place Hamilton nonetheless, and it’s in the Golden Age of jazz any time from the year Coleman Hawkins recorded ‘Body and Soul’ in 1939 until the release of Kind of Blue in 1959.

Recorded not in Sweden but the Danish capital of Copenhagen just four months ago the tweedy popular tenorist, looking a little tired in the album artwork but playing as beautifully as ever with that vibrato-laden teasingly laconic sound of his on a ballad, is joined by pianist Jan Lundgren, whose style is closer to Swedish lost leader Jan Johansson than most even if it’s filtered via Wynton Kelly, along with bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Kristian Leth.

Lundgren provides the gloss in the notes on the seven tracks that besides ‘Stockholm’ are ‘Swing in F’, ‘You Can’t Be In Love With A Dream’, a big headline-grabbing highlight, ‘Trubbel’, Quincy Jones’ ‘Stockholm Sweetnin’’, ‘Min soldat’ (‘My Soldier’), and very suitably Jan Johansson’s  ‘Blues i Oktaver’.

To be perfectly frank everything on this album sounds American and a time machine takes you back to a world photographed chiefly in black and white despite the Swedish origins of the tunes. This isn’t really an issue at all, though, so don’t be put off. Pipe and slippers music played with panache and perfect as a backdrop for a Sunday afternoon snooze the album works on a blue and sentimental level. Olle Adolphson’s bossa-hinting ballad ‘Trubbel’ is a revelation, just one of the delights of this latest slice of Hamiltonia.     

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Sam Crowe Group
Towards the Centre of Everything
Whirlwind ****
NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
The best Whirlwind release so far? Well that depends on your criteria, but for me it is, based on the life in the performance and the quality of the compositions and improvising group interplay. While the pianist composer’s Synaesthesia three years ago showed a lot of promise it wasn’t an album that stayed with me for long but this new one, though, shaped by the twin pillars of on different tracks saxophonists Adam Waldmann and Will Vinson with new bassist Alan Hampton (who appears in singer/songwriter guise on the Kendrick Scott album Conviction), and new drummer Mark Guiliana recently in the UK with Brad Mehldau as half of Mehliana, is different. Will Davies, a long time Crowe associate is retained, and Kairos 4tet singer Emilia Mårtensson crops up on the fourth track ‘Back into the Earth’. Recorded in Brooklyn last year by famed engineer Mike Marciano this is a step up in terms of ambition all round for Crowe. But put all the ‘facts’ aside and what is there?

Well, the title track with Vinson taking the melody on is a kind of anthem that has a certain gravitational pull to it, and you’d guess that physics plays a part in ideas behind the album. Some of the other titles have that sort of direction (‘Gaia’, ‘The Arrow of Time’ or the EST-like intro to ‘Bad Science’), but the album sounds very untechnical as there is plenty of humanity and spontaneity to it, and while the recording does not feature Jasper Høiby who appeared on Synaesthesia there is a sense of a Phronesis influence here and there. Maybe that comes from Guiliana who of course was on Alive.

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Crowe’s first truly ‘naked’ solo happens on the ballad ‘Gaia’ and it’s skilfully weighted, while Hampton on woody upright bass keeps the pace down as Crowe gains momentum. Davies adds some great touches to warm the ensemble sound on ‘64 Interlude’, while the tasteful Waldmann’s saxophone contribution has a saltiness that then lends itself to lead on to Davies’ Lionel Loueke-like solo. The much vaunted English sense of melancholia (whatever that is exactly) you can guess is here a bit in Crowe’s writing although Towards the Centre of Everything is more urban than a pastoral album, and on a track such as ‘Back into the Earth’ takes on a New Age-y sophisticated jazz-rock dimension, a tune that Chick Corea would perhaps be pleased to have written. Crowe in the solo after Mårtensson’s Flora-like vocal shows he can develop an idea in the course of a real-time solo, and that’s what Towards the Centre of Everything is all about: a sense of ideas at work and an improvising sophistication that gives it staying power. Mehliana fans might want to start with the drum ’n’ bass-driven ‘The Global Brain’ where Crowe also shows what he can do on Rhodes, and clearly it’s not all about Brad any more, is it, when players like Crowe appear on a quality album such as this?

Crowe says a little grandly but unapologetically in the notes that “Music for me has always been a gateway to the infinite”, and there is a sense of scale on Towards the Centre of Everything, in the miasmic conjuring of ‘The Arrow of Time’ and yet there’s a contrasting intimacy on the ballads, particularly ‘Lydia’. At the end reprising ‘64’ Hampton’s bass leads off the tune rather than the piano earlier, and it’s an interesting contrast that works to draw attention to one of the best songs on a robustly creative album.

Stephen Graham

Sam Crowe top and the album cover above. Released on Monday 29 April.

 

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Jaki Byard above left and Tommy Flanagan

Monday sees the release of Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard’s The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner available on CD and vinyl. Housed in CD format in a sturdy stiffly-boarded digipak with a picture of the street sign of San Francisco club Keystone Korner, where the album was recorded on a February night in 1982, on the inside front and a full plate photograph of the pianists on the inside back, the music is annotated carefully with producer Zev Feldman doing the introduction and then a note from the first voice actually on the record Todd Barkan, who was general manager of the Korner and now after a spell at Jazz@Lincoln Center is at Iridium in New York city.

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Barkan used to record artists at the club on cassette and explains that: “From 1972-1983 Tommy and Jaki both came out from New York to play regularly at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, singularly leading their own bands, and together for a total of two weeks.” In his introduction on the first track from the stage Barkan then continues the praise by quoting club favourite Rahsaan Roland Kirk as he introduces Byard as “the emperor of creative jazz piano” while reserving lavish praise on Flanagan as well. The songs in the set are Bird’s ‘Scrapple From The Apple’; Cole Porter’s ‘Just One Of Those Things’; Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’; Strayhorn’s ‘Something To Live For’; and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Send One Your Love’ with an extensive quotation, the main talking point of the whole set, from ‘Giant Steps’ performed by Byard not Flanagan who of course played the epic Coltrane composition on the original Atlantic studio album of the same name. Later Tadd Dameron’s ‘Our Delight’ is probably the most orthodox bebop rendering of the album, with a lovely little ‘English Country Garden’ quotation at the end, while the album is steeped in Ellingtonia that Tommy Flanagan himself alludes to in his brief words before the quietly moving ‘Something To Love For’ (he says “Jaki Byard just quit” [to laughter] so it gives me a chance to play something alone, see”).

The album also includes Strayhorn’s ‘All Day Long’; the standard ‘Sunday’; Strayhorn’s ‘Chelsea Bridge’; an oddity in Chuck Mangione’s ‘Land of Make Believe’, which Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap in a note towards the end of the CD booklet says “finds Jaki in a freer zone. You can hear Jaki’s humour and intensity.” A seven-and-a-half minute version of Miles’ ‘The Theme’ completes The Magic of 2. Distinguished jazz writer Howard Mandel and historian Dan Morgenstern contribute to the scholarship in the album’s booklet and Mandel quotes Jason Moran who took lessons from Byard interestingly, with the pianist commenting: “I think of Tommy as a legato player, Jaki as a staccato player. Tommy slides through the rhythm, each move well-calculated, while Jaki is trying to up-end the structure all the time. Tommy plays within the steps of the tune, and Jaki plays these large intervals, which are strangely beautiful.”

And the beauty is there particularly on Flanagan’s solo take on ‘Chelsea Bridge’, while Byard is possibly at his best on ‘Send One Your Love’ the Wonder tune from Secret Life of Plants released three years before this club date. The sound quality while good isn’t totally pristine possibly this is down to the fact that the source is from cassette tape but it’s perfectly acceptable and creates no barrier to enjoyment, the only downside is that there’s too much piano bass at times and the treble sound is not as clear as it could be. Byard died in 1999 and Flanagan in 2001. This release keeps memory of these departed mastiers alive by the care and attention to detail the producers exhibit. Their music making continues to give joy and pleasure, and Resonance once more have made a big contribution to curating jazz from yesteryear. Stephen Graham     

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I’m grateful to jazz writer Selwyn Harris, the compiler and producer of acclaimed box sets Film Noir and Beat, Square and Cool  for news of a special screening tomorrow afternoon of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (‘Lift to the Scaffold’) at the Institut Français’ Ciné Lumière in London. The 88 minute-long black and white film in French with English subtitles dates back to 1958, and was directed by Louis Malle at the beginning of his career. The film starred Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, and featured an atmospheric soundtrack composed and performed on by Miles Davis. The story revolves around Florence Carala and her lover Julien’s conspiracy to murder Florence’s husband by faking a suicide, but a forgotten-about rope and a malfunctioning lift complicate the pair’s murderous intent. Lift to the Scaffold was a first feature for the influential director who would later become known to a new generation in America with the effectively elegiac Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, and his late masterpiece Au Revoir les Enfants. For more details and ticket information go to www.institut-francais.org.uk

Jeanne Moreau as Florence Carala above in a still from Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. Watch a scene from the film with music by Miles Davis here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OKQdp6iGUk

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Before Duck Baker’s gig last night a fan who had travelled across London to Dalston from Croydon was recalling the first time he had heard the player, as he remembered in an obscure part of Hampshire. “Hope he plays ‘Zebra Blues’." Baker, an American avant gardist known for his work with Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn, didn’t get round to ‘Zebra Blues’ at least in the first set but began instead with ‘Friday’ firmly in Jimmy Giuffre-land with a lively Alex Ward on clarinet. Decoy’s John Edwards was on bass with his bandmate Steve Noble either joining the trio on drums or sitting out as the quartet became a trio before our very eyes.

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Duck Baker above left before the gig and top  

“The balance all right out there?” asked Baker near the beginning. “You can hear the trumpet?” This bit of banter was typical of the guitarist’s agreeably droll humour and luckily there were plenty of people in the club to hear it and this fine performance, and more came in as the set progressed to fill the place, and the musicians responded to the congenial atmosphere. The quirkiness of ‘The Odd Fellows’ March’ which was where Noble took the loping gait of the tune under his wing coaxing the band along like Han Bennink might the ICP. ‘There’s No Time Like The Past’ was where the band hit their stride and their humour collided perfectly with Baker’s on ‘Ode to Joe’, a rewriting of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ leaving out “mostly every seven notes”, Baker said, the 63-year-old Washington DC-born musician a little amused. His own ballad ‘Always’ near the end showed great control at low volume and Baker’s grasp of bebop harmonies to render them not too twangy on the nylon strings and his dextrous navigational sense at the frets was always sure-fingered. Sometimes his sound resembled the approach of Jim Hall, but with more of an avant edge. ‘The Legend of the Legend of Bebop’ at the end (a play on words and reference to Ornette’s tune from The Art of The Improvisers) was a case of keeping the very best to last, its sinuous labyrinthine swing a good way to go to the break. Wonder if they played ‘Zebra Blues’ in the second half? That would have sent the Baker fan from earlier back to Croydon a happy man. Stephen Graham

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Iiro Rantala/Michael Wollny/Leszek Możdżer
Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Interesting for a number of reasons chief among them the fact that the concert was able to take place at the home of the Berlin Philharmonic, in the Kammermusiksaal, the chamber music room, at all. Also of topical interest is the presence of Iiro Rantala, now confirmed as the pianist at the first EST Symphonic concert to take place in Stockholm in June. In a double piano setting with [em]’s Michael Wollny the pair fittingly perform the Finn’s composition ‘Tears for Esbjörn’, the lovely melody of which curiously recalls Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day in Paradise’ in the harmonic setting of the opening notes of the main theme. The sound of this album is as you’d expect given the acoustics of the room, pianos utilised and the quality of ACT album sound, very fine with the audience applause superbly captured, a sure indication as well of the album’s live feel. These three pianists comprise a troika of ACT’s stellar front line main piano jazz talent (the others including Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock, and the veteran Joachim Kühn) an aggregation few labels are able to match globally. Rantala, Wollny and Możdżer come together to play Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rumba’ at the end in a dazzling piano and Rhodes display but highlights for me were Rantala’s measured Jarrett-esque arrangement of ‘Aria and Goldberg Variation’ (which turns into ‘All the Things You Are’ by the end), and Możdżer’s modulating pointilist tour de force ‘No Message’ half way through.

A dazzling December night at the  Berlin Phil: the cover of Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I, above

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Joe Morello above left, Eugene Wright, Tony Bennett, and Dave Brubeck

In the White House of President John F Kennedy two jazz legends came together for a concert that has never before been issued in full. It was a special time and a place in American history, but the long wait for the recordings in full to see the light of day for the first time is almost over.  RPM/Columbia/Legacy recordings are recalling this brief glimpse of the Camelot years with the release of the meeting of Tony Bennett and the late Dave Brubeck in what’s being dubbed “the White House sessions" and officially Bennett & Brubeck: Live at the Washington Monument.

It was 28 August 1962, but the record company only dusted down the Teo Macero produced master tapes in the Sony vaults just in December not long after Brubeck’s death at the age of 91 to ready the process it takes for a release. Next month the recordings are released in their entirety for the first time. The show, a party thrown by President Kennedy for college students working as interns for the administration, was recorded in the Sylvan Theater in the grounds of the White House with the Washington Monument in the near distance. The plan had been to stage the concert in the Rose Garden, but there were too many people to accommodate so the venue switch was made. Bennett was on an early career high in 1962 having released what became the song most identified with the singer, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’. But he and Brubeck didn’t work together again until four years ago at the Newport jazz festival which adds further to the interest in this 1962 collaboration.

The recordings begin with an introduction by New York radio DJ William B Williams, then Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’, a band introduction, ‘Nomad’, ‘Thank you Dziekuje’ [that’s Polish for “thank you"], and ‘Castilian Blues’, performed by the classic Brubeck quartet (the pianist plus Paul Desmond, alto sax; Eugene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, drums). Then after another introduction from Williams, Bennett, joined by longstanding pianist and musical director Ralph Sharon on piano, Hal Gaylor on bass, and Billy Exiner, drums, perform ‘Just in Time’, ‘Small World, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)’ and ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ . The final tracks feature the key collaboration: with Bennett joining Brubeck, Wright and Morello on ‘Lullaby Of Broadway’, ‘Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)’, ‘That Old Black Magic’ [which has previously appeared on record], and ‘There Will Never Be Another You’. The album will be released on Monday 27 May in the UK.

Stephen Graham

Photo: Columbia/RPM/Legacy

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Tingvall trio
In Concert
Skip ****

In September last year Martin Tingvall, the leader of one of the most acclaimed and best selling young European piano jazz trios currently around, released En ny dag, his first solo piano album. Here the trio reconvene and are back with another first: their debut live album recorded on tour in the autumn.They’re still fairly unknown in the UK with only a single club appearance in London so far but I guess this will change although don’t hold your breath given the difficulties jazz promoters are facing taking risks with new bands particularly outside the capital even if Tingvall are a safe bet.

The trio, that’s Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall based like Cuban bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and German drummer Jürgen Spiegel in Hamburg, are a big deal in Germany winning ensemble of the year at the Echo awards and charting at number one in the German jazz charts. Their previous albums Vattensaga (2009), Norr (2008), and Skagerrak (2006) have each sold very well, and Vägen (‘The Road’) was released in the UK by their long time label Skip. All the songs on In Concert were written by Tingvall and arranged by the trio, and several of the tunes the band played at their Pizza Express Jazz Club concert last summer including ‘Mustasch’ and ‘Trolldans-Monster’ are here. From the off and certainly by ‘Nu Djävlar’ the band is in the zone, and Martin Tingvall has the ability to raise the drama at a rate of knots while he throws in little touchs of stride and funk. The big track ‘Vägen’ , the title track of the last studio album and played live in London is quite superb, an emotional tour de force, with little folk-y touches that recall Jan Johansson the patron saint of Swedish jazz piano who English piano star Kit Downes is remembering as well on his latest album for Basho. The talented Calvo (think Cachaito) makes his presence felt, for instance at the end of ‘Valsang’, and Spiegel brings life force and personality to all the tracks.

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Martin Tingvall, above left, Jürgen Spiegel, and Omar
Rodriguez Calvo

Trolldans-Monster’ takes the improvising a step further and has a great deal of impact and it’s here the band is closest to EST. But really Tingvall are quite different: naturalistic in essence, and they’re not afraid to play what they feel. If you’re still unfamiliar with Tingvall experience the sheer flow of these talented improvisers: they’re the real thing.
Released on Monday 8 April

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Murphy: a continuing inspiration

The release date is still to be confirmed but Gearbox records hopes it will be in time for what would have been Shirley Horn’s 79th birthday on 1 May. The release in question, Mark Murphy’s vinyl EP A Beautiful Friendship Remembering Shirley Horn, with tracks ‘A Beautiful Friendship’, ‘But Beautiful’, ‘Get out of Town’ and ‘Here’s To Life’ were recorded in the US as recently as November 2012 as previously reported in these pages. It’s a rare chance to hear Mark Murphy on a record at all these days and recently even though he was to have appeared at Ronnie Scott’s in London for club dates, Murphy, who’s 81, on doctor’s orders, wasn’t able to fly to make the gigs.

The only jazz singer (possibly the only person) on the planet to make Kurt Elling seem unhip, Murphy is no stranger to the UK and lived in London for a spell in the late-1960s and later in the acid jazz years the young retro clubbers took to Murphy with some fervour and he found a new young listenership. Murphy’s setting of lyrics to Oliver Nelson’s ‘Stolen Moments’ was just one point of entry for new fans, and he still retained the affection of the beats. Many think of Murphy as the only jazz singer truly on the same artistic wavelength as Jack Kerouac. Murphy’s last great album, one of the best vocal jazz albums of the 1990s, was Song for the Geese for which he was Grammy nominated, but Murphy has continued to work with younger musicians such as the driving Five Corners Quintet. On A Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn two of the songs, ‘But Beautiful’ and ‘Here’s To Life’ Horn recorded, apparently at a New York spot called the Au bar, and was released in 2005 with Roy Hargrove her muse, as Miles Davis once regarded Shirley Horn as his.

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ACV
Busk
Babel ***
Very much a heart-on-sleeve band ‘Degree Absolute’ the second track here exemplifies Andy Champion’s band ACV’s debut for Babel best, with ‘Dust Red’ at the end driving the point home. Rough and ready, but deliberately so, as the band swarms and separates on opening numbers they’re big softies really. On ‘Nutmeg State’ the short stabby phrases leaking out of Paul Edis’ rubbery keyboards as drummer Adrian Tilbrook conjures a Billy Cobham-like rhythm undertow have impact that Champion builds on; but ‘She Said It Ugly’ throws the ball sharply to Edis to kick about, and like ‘Degree Absolute’ this song is all about anthemic saxophone with Graeme Wilson giving it plenty of wellie guided by an in-your-face production approach that Chris Sharkey of trioVD injects. ‘Second Season’ allows the proggy McCallum-esque guitar of Mark Williams a bit of space at the beginning, but the song drags its heels and Busk does have its longueurs, feeling more like a gig (part of the point I suppose) than an album at times. ‘Giant Mice’ is the band at its proggiest with gizmo keyboards and Tilbrook hooligan-like on drums, and later Sharkey’s no-messing-about influence coming to bear on ‘What’s For Breakfast’. So, honest music-making by a band that follows its own instincts, and sees them through come what may.
Currently on release.
ACV play the Vortex on Thursday 4 April, supported by Dialogues. See Gigs

 

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There are slim pickings for jazz fans at the Glastonbury festival this year given its sheer scale but there are some notable names close enough for jazz at the biggest rock festival in the world when all attention this year will understandably be on The Rolling Stones. Closest to a jazz sensibility on the Pyramid stage is Rokia Traoré who before Glastonbury will be taking herself to Band on the Wall for a jazz club set soon. And Laura Mvula, who’s appearing at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in May, is also heading for the Pyramid stage, while the Other Stage has only Portishead of interest, a bit tangential maybe although Jim Barr and Clive Deamer of Get the Blessing are strongly part of the Portishead sound. The West Holts stage has Lianne La Havas, like Mvula Cheltenham-bound, and also there’s a chance to hear the jazztronica sound of BadBadNotGood, and the soul jazz clubber’s delight approach of Alice Russell. Michael Kiwanuka who’s appearing at many jazz festivals on the continent this summer is on at the Park stage, while other highlights include Steve Winwood in the Acoustic tent.
Laura Mvula above

Joshua Redman to release ballad-driven new album Walking Shadows

Brad Mehldau has produced the soon to be released Walking Shadows, saxophonist and composer Joshua Redman’s latest album to be released in early-May. Ballad-heavy and characterised by an orchestral ensemble with a core quartet featuring Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, and Brian Blade from Wayne Shorter’s quartet the tunes feature Redman and Mehldau originals and songs by John Mayer, Pino Palladino, Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein, and Lennon and McCartney.