Big apple date for Claire Martin
With the Jazzahead trade show coming up this weekend featuring a British jazz stand promoting the local scene to wider European promoters and labels, and after that the Made in the UK shows at Rochester in New York state in June with Cleveland Watkiss, YolanDa Brown, Christine Tobin, Michael Mwenso, Julian Arguelles, Soweto Kinch, Zoe Rahman, Phronesis and Gwilym Simcock all taking part this year, it’s a good time to actually look at how jazz exports itself from the UK.
Clearly these initiatives help, and regularly boost the perception and profile of UK jazz abroad. The world scene needs constantly reminding. But outside these initiatives what happens? Well, bands tour a bit if they’re picked up by local promoters confident that they can stand on their own two feet commercially and get a crowd. But it’s patchy. Sometimes a band who have strong word of mouth, say like Sons of Kemet who are playing an obscure festival in Katowice later in the month, operate independently of broader initiatives and benefit from adventurous bookers going the extra mile and taking a risk. Or if they’re long established like Courtney Pine with strong management they get booked globally for sound commercial reasons: that is they can guarantee a big crowd.
It all takes time but with a recent boost in jazz vocals in the UK artists like Claire Martin are able to get a booking in Jazz at Lincoln Center building on her New York appearance in the past while her close friend and duo partner Ian Shaw can play clubs in Canada, and the likes of instrumentalist bands the Neil Cowley Trio and Get The Blessing (partly on the back of the Made in the UK initiative) can develop their touring in America as the NCT did last year.
If there comes a time when UK jazz bands are as ubiquitous in America as say British actors in Hollywood movies are then you’ll know jazz from these shores has crossed a barrier.
That may be some time off, but with the work of Jazz Services, financial backing by UK Trade and Investment, and promoters such as ESIP and others the sheer body of evidence about the quality of the music here is a springboard to build audiences in other countries not just the States.
For some later in their careers that incubating support won’t be needed quite in the same way because an appetite for the music and its commercial standing has been established, but then it’s the new generation that can be concentrated on. But the cycle needs to be established in the first place or suddenly the old cry will go out again internationally: where’s all the British jazz, to furrowed brows and general puzzlement. Stephen Graham
Claire Martin plays Dizzy’s in New York on 13 May www.jalc.org
Mimimal amplification isn’t something that’s much talked about. Who really cares if it’s really loud or soft? But this, in case you were wondering, is not a loud record at all although it’s not whispery-soft either and might make you a convert to ‘human scale’ recordings. It’s also highly relevant, along with some beautifully fractured dissonance and an implied “so what?” attitude, if a band like drummer Jeff Williams’ quartet finds itself within the realm of the Cool School, a sound partly identified with the lodestar of Lee Konitz. Williams, who’s on another deeply Konitzian record Always A First Time recently released goes to that softly echoing well again and again here, inevitably maybe, after performing so much with Konitz in the 1980s and 1990s.
Williams can sound like the late Paul Motian at times but really it’s not an issue hunting down the lineage because this album more than stands on its own eight feet. Trumpeter Duane Eubanks (younger brother of silky guitar star Kevin and fine Dave Holland trombonist Robin) has a pleasantly deadpan way with falling phrases and plenty of power, and the unduly underrated but appealingly dislocated sound on alto saxophone of John O’Gallagher, who appeared with Williams in Hans Koller’s Ensemble at Kings Place earlier in the year, and rated bassist John Hébert, complete the band. Remember that remarkable record Byzantine Monkey of Hébert’s?
Anyway, The Listener knows where it lives in terms of style, which is always an advantage; and the composing is excellent working piece by piece to build the record into something special. It’s formal in terms of band discipline and yet somehow informal as the style is if you like a satire on society, an outsider’s music. Mostly the tunes are by Williams with Eubanks tune ‘Beer and Water’ opening, Hébert chipping in on ‘Fez’ which the May 2012 Vortex club audience really got, judging by the big applause, and finishing with the sentimental Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn standard ‘Dedicated to You.’
Released on 4 June
Jeff Williams pictured top, and the album cover above
Kit Downes Quintet
Light From Old Stars
Really seeing stars? Possibly not as the title of pianist Downes’ latest refers to the long-held theory that the stars in the night sky have already died. Combining a variety of elements from chamber jazz signifiers in the arranging style through to free improv, on a track such as ‘Owls’, leavened by the more cinematic “road movie” conception of ‘Outlaws’, or the remoulded ‘jam’ blow-out feel of ‘What’s the Rumpus’, this is Kit Downes’ best album to date. Highlights are ‘Bley Days’, which the quintet played live on selected dates last year, Downes’ homage to the often neglected Paul Bley, and the final track is clearly named as a tribute for the lost leader of Swedish jazz, pianist Jan Johansson who died at the young age of 37 in 1968. Johansson is best known for his classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. ‘Jan Johansson’ is a quietly yearning dream-like track that begins with a scamperingly laidback James Maddren rhythm, a low piano rumble, and a lovely melody line that Downes and cellist Lucy Railton state in unison before the softly unfolding melody line ascends.
Out now. The quintet play Jazz in the Round on Monday http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/jazz_in_the_round
The Sleep of Reason – Ode to Goya
It’s not often an Ondes Martenot appears on a jazz record. It’s more likely to be on a Muse or Radiohead album, but come to think of it there aren’t many albums that pay homage to an eighteenth-century Spanish painter.
Guitarists as accomplished as Arne Jansen, best known for his work with the Jazzanova live shows, aren’t exactly two-a-penny either: his greatly varied approach on Steve Vai-like electric, all blustery and with plenty of power, as well as acoustic guitar where he plays in a style that falls somewhere between Kurt Rosenwinkel and Egberto Gismonti, immediately appeals.
Eleven tracks mostly composed by Jansen with a sentimental reading of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Brothers in Arms’ at the end allow the Berlin-based player to show just what he can do, not so much technically as it’s quickly clear that this is to be taken as read, but in terms of nuanced interpretation.
A real storyteller Jansen studied at workshops led by Pat Metheny, most obviously an influence on ‘Divina’, and John Abercrombie, and he’s learnt a great deal from these masters over the course of a well established career by now. Drummer Eric Schaefer, of hit piano trio [em], is a driving presence meshing well with lively bassist Andreas Edelmann in tow, and shows great maturity on ‘Love is Blindness’, what could have been an overblown U2 embarrassment but which is instead an early highlight.
The Ondes Martenot, by the way, is wielded sparingly by Friedrich Paravicini on the Achtung Baby track but even though The Sleep of Reason sounds as if it’s all proggy (the amusing if ludicrously titled ‘The Great He-Goat’, otherwise known as ‘Witches Sabbath’, veers in that direction), it’s not.
More of a power rock album slightly sagging in the middle the album nonetheless is remarkable for a pristine and much better jazz inlay, beautifully set amid all this gilt. Jansen has tremendous talent. Hopefully some of the overpowering rock (and flamenco on ‘Tauromaquia’) will be lopped off next time he comes to record. There’s too much talent here to be wasted on poodle rock posturing.
Released at the end of May
Eric Schaefer (above left), Arne Jansen, and Andreas Edelmann photo: ACT
F-IRE **** Recommended
Opening with the aching squall of ‘Calum Campbell’ Part Two was recorded two years on from the Basquiats’ picking up what was a welcome but surprise Mercury nomination in 2007 but has waited until this year to be released. As previously reported in marlbank the new-look Basquiats, with Fly Agaric polymath Fred Thomas on board playing bass, are touring soon, but this is the familiar line-up. What set them apart from other strings groups who play jazz in the first place was the contribution of Seb Rochford, the remarkable Polar Bear drummer who’s also featured on the acclaimed new Rokia Traoré record Beautiful Africa.
But the Basquiats are first and foremost the vision of cellist Ben Davis and all the tunes and arrangements apart from ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ are his, and they are as simpático to a jazz way of being within the loose framework of serialism as you could wish. His wonderfully expressive solo on ‘Hop Scotch’ also shows his great facility as a performer, the solo emerging organically to make a strong impact.
Achingly “as one”, violinists Emma Smith and Vicky Fifield, with viola player Jennymay Logan, bassist Richard Pryce, Davis and Rochford are a true unit and it’s a shame in a way this is a time machine recording although when Davis tours with the new-look band the spirit I’m sure will remain.
The Basquiats stand tall with radio.string.quartet.vienna and the Atom String Quartet but they’re perhaps closer to the experimental jazz approach in essence than both these impressive outfits. On Basquiat Strings With Seb Rochford the musicians were able to reimagine material such as Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’, and Ornette’s spirit hovers benignly on the new record as well, But on Emma Smith’s solo on ‘History of Her’, the third track, there’s a sense of even more jazz delving and the improvising takes on a still more natural dimension than on the first record. Smith (and Rochford for that matter) are on the new Ellington in Anticipation record, one of the best new jazz records from Britain in years, and her work here, soloing on three tracks, can be listened to happily along Mark Lockheart’s fine record even if it predates it. A uniformly excellent album, well worth seeking out. SG
The album cover top and Ben Davis right
Released on 13 May
Jazzahead in Bremen later this week promises a feast of music and much new jazz in store, and there’s a major opportunity to sample a great deal of new sounds resolutely below the radar, brand new or just under known. It’s not just about live music, though, as the jazz music business gathers en masse in the German city in increasing numbers each year, the event having taken on the mantle of a latterday MIDEM for jazz. Here’s a brief look at what’s on offer this year. The partner country in 2013 is Israel, and there are many new and established Israeli jazz acts appearing in Bremen. Also look out for a broad cross-section of the host country Germany’s burgeoning scene often little known internationally, as well as jazz from all over Europe and beyond. On Thursday 25 April check out Yotam, and the Omer Klein Trio as a taster while on Friday 26 April the Olivia Trummer trio, Avishai Cohen trio, and the jazz@Israel jam session are distinct highlights. Saturday 27 April has a British presence with Zoe Rahman, Beats & Pieces, and Django Bates all appearing. Also worth making a point to catch are the Helge Lien trio from Norway, Belgian pace setters De Beren Gieren, and the unique sound of Elina Duni and her quartet.
More at http://www2.jazzahead.de/en
Zoe Rahman above
With the husky Danish singer’s take on the opening track here of Duffy’s ‘Stepping Stone’ one of the surprise highlights of the various artists Magic Moments 6: In the Spirit of Jazz compilation recently I was looking forward to Silent Ways. And this is quite a band joining Norby typically expressive and in control. With her are her husband, brilliant bassist Lars Danielsson; the dynamic pianist Leszek Możdżer; Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê and the less familiar Turkish/Swedish drummer Robert Mehmet Ikiz; along with saxophonist Marius Neset, on the ACT radar I think for the first time as a tasteful guest, especially on ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty.
Leonard Cohen’s ‘In My Secret Life’, from 2001 album Ten New Songs, brings out the best of Norby here, and in some ways it’s even better than ‘Stepping Stone’. Mostly rock covers Możdżer lays out a solo on the Cohen song stocked here with a vocabulary of melodic imagination all of his own that takes the breath away while Norby luxuriates in the song. Not everything works: I wish Norby didn’t sing Dylan quite the way she does in such a cabaret style, but her infinitely pleasant easygoing blues vocal manner taps into a kind of a tradition you don’t often hear nowadays. Her middle of the road version of Paul Simon’s ‘Hearts and Bones’ could be played again and again on Radio 2, but probably won’t be.
Highlights? Well, Lê’s poignant solo on the title track is beautifully interpreted; and his interplay with the singer is a real education. But if you’re looking to Norby to ‘do edgy’ then forget about it. If, though, you’d prefer a singer who delivers quality interpretations of a range of mostly well chosen songs, then step this way. SG
Released at the end of May
Cæcilie Norby, top. Photo: Stephen Freiheit
There’s a new jazz and cinema two-part series beginning next Monday at 10pm on Radio 2 presented by singer/pianist Jamie Cullum whose latest album Momentum is released in May. The hour-long first part of Jazz at the Movies focuses on early cinema history, the struggle for racial equality and the discrimination African American musicians faced, and there’s an emphasis on Duke Ellington’s ‘Symphony in Black’. Cullum looks at how cartoon character Betty Boop broke down the racial and sexual conventions of the day although she was later censored, and concentrates on Ellington’s music for Anatomy of a Murder, and Martial Solal’s for Godard’s Breathless (A Bout De Souffle).
The Bohemian Mooney
Named after a Dublin pub The Bohemian Mooney is the Irish singer and guitarist’s bluesy second album following All My Love’s In Vain back in 2005. Nearly four years in the can the new record features a core band of pianist Johnny Taylor, bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Dominic Mullan, and guests include the great Georgie Fame on a couple of tracks and the Irish jazz icon Louis Stewart who plays rhythm guitar on three tracks.
Mooney has a warm authentic blues and soul voice, think James Hunter a bit, a dash of Van Morrison here and there, and Brother Ray of course, and plays the guitar like Kenny Burrell at times. It’s old fashioned jazz blues with some Mooney originals, some Ray Charles (a swinging ‘Ain’t That Love’ a highlight), standards in ‘April in Paris’ for instance, and a traditional blues thrown in for good measure with Robert Johnson’s ‘Hellhound on my Trail’ superbly done.
‘Hard Times’ is the first great interpretation here, five songs in, after some enjoyable scene-setting with Georgie and Louis on ‘Down for Double’, Basie guitarist Freddie Green’s song that Mel Tormé put words to. ‘April in Paris’ is a bit cheesier with glossy horns but there’s a good swing shuffle from Mullan and Mooney croons a bit which he doesn’t really do anywhere else on the album.
Arranged and produced by Mooney the title track has a really catchy guitar opening line (recalling the tune of ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’) that moves more into Grant Green territory after a while and bassist Bodwell rises to the occasion sounding a bit like that fine player David Hayes. ‘Bohemian Moondance’ joins the dots between the opening fast take on ‘Milestones’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ with plenty of improvising along the way. Infectious stuff with a lot of spirit, and that’s not just the gin and dry vermouth. SG
The cover of The Bohemian Mooney top and Nigel Mooney above
Released on 27 May
Melt Yourself Down
Melt Yourself Down
This is disappointing. It just has nowhere to go. Fizzing with energy but within the confines of a small musical structure trying to be a commercial dance record (maybe the remix will be better!), it beats at the walls but the walls simply won’t give. Ruth Goller’s bass guitar is gutsy enough on the opener ‘Fix My Life’ but the vocals of Kushal Gaya sound so processed and it’s not dangerous enough or as inventive as say Sons of Kemet, another band drummer Tom Skinner’s currently a member of. Pete Wareham has been searching for a way to reinvent himself since the curious decision to close down the much better Acoustic Ladyland and he’s moved completely away from conventional jazz and more into the arms of one of his big influences James Chance, mixing punk-funk with Afro flavours. The band seem to stall no matter how hard Tom Skinner pushes, and even Shabaka Hutchings sounds as if he’s being held back. Transglobal Underground’s Satin Singh adds some interest on percussion, but these eight pent-up tracks refuse to catch: the material just isn’t strong enough. Stephen Graham
When Tommy Smith was starting out, and a student at Berklee in Boston, the young saxophonist was part of a band called Forward Motion. The pianist in the band, Laszlo Gardony, a Hungarian-American has made many records since but retains the link to Smith’s alma mater, as since the 1980s the professor has taught at Berklee. Clarity is an unusual, and quite brave, album. He says in the notes: “I was at my Berklee studio all by myself. I felt a burst of inspiration so I set up some mics, turned on a recorder and started playing. I kept playing for 49 minutes.” Each short piece, he explains, took on from the previous one but he put the recording away; and not until a few months later would he listen to what he had performed last year. The resulting album, so much for months spent in the studio and an eternity in post-production, is probably best compared with earlier solo piano album Changing Standards (1990), the originals here the yin to the yang of the evergreen tunes back then. Despite the passage of time and difference in method the two compare very well: Gardony’s approach is muscular but quite passionate, and it’s from the fourth track, ‘Working Through (Clarity)’, that the music really begins to speak. It’s a kind of Gnostic meditation in the manner of Keith Jarrett (and track six, ‘Better Place’, is very Jarrettian) but with a few bravura twists, quite a lot of folk music, even gospel, but oddly very little bebop. Occasionally this very spontaneous set sags, but not for long, and is as honest an album as you’ll come across. That transparency is its strength and appeal, as well as a natural improviser’s flair at play.
Released in May.
The cover of Clarity, above
Matt Ridley, Vortex, London: Monday
Whirlwind Recordings, bassist Michael Janisch’s label, has shown consistent growth in terms of output and quality in the last two years and ahead of releasing a new live album by Lee Konitz soon, a landmark release for Whirlwind, the label has now signed the Matt Ridley Trio for an autumn release with the bassist’s debut album Thymos (Greek for ‘spiritedness’) set to appear in the autumn. With alto saxophone star Jason Yarde guesting, bassist Ridley, a Trinity college of music graduate in 2005, will preview tunes from the album at this Vortex club show. The bassist’s trio features John Turville, whose Parliamentary award-winning album Midas, first put the pianist on the map, along with relative unknown George Hart on drums. Pretty much a complete unknown himself still, Ridley has, though, worked extensively as a member of the popular Darius Brubeck Quartet touring widely, and has appeared with the MJQ Celebration band featuring Jim Hart, Barry Green, and Steve Brown, as well as the Lyric Ensemble. A SE London Collective scenester Ridley has also collaborated with celebrated oudist Attab Haddad, who is an additional guest on Thymos. His trip to east London is just the start for a player whose name we might well have to more acquainted with before too long.
Matt Ridley above
Tickets, and more details, at www.vortexjazz.co.uk
‘Put it in the pocket’
From Liquid Love
Compilations are anathema to most serious jazz fans or at best a guilty pleasure. But despite this there’s always a function in a compilation even if it’s a throwaway item and maybe a single track, if you’re lucky, just cries out to be heard such as this Freddie Hubbard gem linked to above.
Compilations are ideal though for dipping your toes in the waters of a style you don’t know or catching up on a movement that’s passed you by. But sometimes the sheer brutal force of a style lumped together can also show that despite artists’ best intentions to be individual their sound is more generic than they might well think, or listeners even realise catching their output in isolation.
The Demon music group’s Harmless Records for a decade has been putting out compilations in quantity covering, soul, and funk and next month Backbeats: In The Pocket – 70s Jazz Funk is coming, released on 13 May.
In the wake of whosampled.com all the detective work involved in sourcing these tiny slabs of dancefloor pleasure is easier. But there’s still an art in making a compilation even when the process is democratised: you can’t vote for knowledge, more’s the pity. Compilers Dean Rudland and Ralph Tee are some of the best in the business and Backbeats features music compiled from Columbia, Arista, Epic, RCA and CTI releases in a decade where this style of jazz gave way to disco.
Tracks here are Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Africano’ from That’s the Way of the World; Herbie Hancock’s ‘Just Around The Corner’ from Manchild; Webster Lewis’ ‘Barbara Ann’ from Touch My Love; Ramsey Lewis’ ‘Brazilica’ from Salongo; Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘In the Park’ from Love is the Answer; Harvey Mason’s ‘Hop Scotch’ from Marching in the Streets; Eddie Russ’ ‘Zauis’ from See the Light Monument; Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Put it in the Pocket’ from Liquid Love; Charles Earland’s ‘Coming to You Live’ from Coming to You Live; Weldon Irvine’s ‘Sinbad’ from RCA album Sinbad; Willie Bobo’s ‘Palos’ from Bobo; and Hubert Laws’ ‘Chicago Theme (Love Loop)’ from The Chicago Theme.
Some festivals hang around for ages to name their line-ups. Others don’t. So while the Edinburgh jazz festival in July is still a blank sheet as far as the line-up is concerned (wonder why?), Kings Place in London in September has announced its. The festival crams in well over 100 events over three days at the York Way complex near St Pancras station and St Martin’s art college. This year the festival runs from 13-15 September and besides jazz there’s lots of classical music, art and talks. Oddarrang, Slowly Rolling Camera, Vive and Jay Rayner’s Hungry Jazz: The Great American (Foodie) Songbook are first day highlights; while Saturday picks include singer Aimua Eghobamien, the Martin Speake trio, Nicolas Meier, and ECM band, Food. The Jason Rebello trio and Dave Stapleton’s Cellophony play on the Sunday. More at www.kingsplace.co.uk/festival
Dionne Bennett, of Slowly Rolling Camera, above.
Photo: Tim Dickeson
Seven Hills: imbued with the spirit of Bill Evans
Listen to 02, and Dark Eyes, and you’ll start to gain a glimpse of a hugely talented pianist whose much interrupted story starts again with Seven Hills. The Finn, also well known in Belgium having studied and lived there and where his wider reputation gained ground, has had his ups and downs as a fickle major label built him up and knocked him down before Tomasz Stańko, a great appreciator of piano talent, brought him into the fold to record Dark Eyes in 2009. Seven Hills, relating in its title to Lisbon, not the more obvious Rome,is increasingly, as the album develops, imbued with the spirit of Bill Evans and it’s a feeling that grows and grows like a rhapsody. With Tuomarila are highly cultured bassist Mats Eilertsen who’s also a member of Tord Gustavsen’s ensemble, and ex-Stańko drummer Olavi Louhivuori, plus Lisbon-born guitarist André Fernandes, who plays a little like Jakob Bro, on a couple of tracks. Nine tracks in all, beginning with the guitar-flavoured title track highlights are the fast flow of ‘Cyan’ decanting into unaffected melodicism; later ‘Visitor Q’ is gloriously quiet and unvarnished; and then Eilertsen’s bass opening to the folkloric ‘Miss’ has an involving poignancy that the album as a whole shares without being twee at all. The earlier ‘Skuld’ draws together a range of influences, again Bill Evans and perhaps Jan Johansson, with Eilertsen’s buzzy drone and jump-off riff bringing out the subtlety of Louhivuori, as Tuomarila measures his solo like a surveyor with a theodolite. SG
Alexi Tuomarila, above. Photo: Edition
Ideal for Record Store Day, Cardiff jazz indie Edition, partnering with London vinyl specialists Gearbox, has released a limited heavyweight vinyl edition of Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, and London Vocal Project’s Mirrors, a big highlight of the springtime jazz releases so far this year.
With all music by Kenny Wheeler, the poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the 25-strong LVP split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats.
Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album.
What goes around: Local record shops are back from the dead
Record Store Day isn’t just about the special editions and novelty items released for the big day today. It’s primarily about going to a record shop. That’s actually stepping foot in one. For most people now it is a distinctly odd experience to do just this as it’s a thing that has gone out of fashion. When CDs were new the music industry predicted for years that the end was nigh for vinyl, and now the writing is on the wall for CDs, yet they too are still with us. The last two years has against all industry wisdom seen a big uplift in vinyl sales. Ask a label such as Gearbox who have responded with enthusiasm to the turn-up in trade and they’ll tell you about their Record Store Day plans, and that’s just for one. More at: http://www.marlbank.net/post/47693394770/record-store-day-approaches-hip-to-the-beat.
Sphere: Barronial sounds
While genuinely rare vinyl attracts often staggeringly high prices on a par with a particularly fine vintage wine, relatively recent releases, particularly 1970s and 80s pressings of hard-to-find albums can still be snapped up for less than £10. And of course there’s the added bonus of artwork coming with the vinyl, and album information that digital formats are less equipped to handle unless you like tiny thumb nails run off on a home printer. But it’s not really about trophy items. Pop in, like I did earlier in the week, to an old favourite shop such as Alan’s in north London, where I was delighted to pick up Sphere’s Flight Path. Put out in 1983 a decade that many from the counter-culture generation thought was the death of music itself, on the back of this white Elektra Musician liveried cardboard cover there’s a pipe-smoking Charlie Rouse and the band grouped around him (that’s Buster Williams, the great Kenny Barron and Ben Riley) simply smiling. Put on first track ‘If I Should Lose You’ and you’ll join me in smiling too. And that’s what great music does, and you’ll find it nearer to you than you might think, in a last record shop standing, or not, and not just on Record Store Day. SG
Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
Columbia/Legacy (3 CDs and a DVD) ****
Recorded live in France, Sweden and Germany separated by less than four months these quintet recordings are a curiosity, the work of what’s being called a ‘lost band’ or more optimistically ‘the third great quintet’. It never released a studio album. The bootleg in the subtitle is slightly deceptive as these are official recordings made by European radio stations, not the work of fly-by-night characters with microphones hidden in their coats, and follow the first in the series a 1967 recording released two years ago. Miles is here with Wayne Shorter, the last remaining second quintet member besides the trumpeter; Chick Corea on electric piano and piano; Dave Holland on bass; and Jack DeJohnette, drums.
Tucked inside the box’s sleeve on the back of the pull-out notes there’s a black and white poster depicting four of the band with Wayne sporting a slight moustache caught in the middle of a solo, and Miles eyes shut standing beside him wearing leather trousers, DeJohnette at the back is in a stripy shirt, and a bearded Holland is looking down as he plays. They were even more snappily dressed in the Berlin video with Corea looking sombre.
Each album has stage introductions and share some songs although none are exactly the same in terms of tunes. There are two versions of ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’, for instance, the first on the opening CD with Holland’s riff ringing clear and true. ‘Bitches Brew’ crops up on both the final CD recorded in Stockholm and on the DVD. Corea’s ‘This’ on the Stockholm CD, the producers note, Miles never officially recorded.
Downbeat writer Josef Woodward in the notes quotes Chick Corea who explains that the recordings “document an important step in Miles’ artistic development which take us from the famous suit-and-tie wearing quintet with Herbie… through to this quintet, which definitely leaned more towards the rock and beat generation.”
With electric piano and increased volume at times you can see what he means but how intense is the music? Well it’s not as in-your-face as say the Isle of Wight concert or some later studio sessions but there is plenty of fire power, the first a coiled fist within the velvet glove of ‘Sanctuary’ say and the abstractions of Corea on electric piano do give the music a very modernist edge. But contrast this with the beginning of ‘Milestones’, which sounds actually very old in the opening theme, like a jam session Miles might have played on in the earlier part of his career. Yet listen on and a transformation takes place: DeJohnette’s slashing rhythms are so very different. A track such as ‘Nefertiti’ on the second Antibes CD shows how modern the band is, the nihilism of Corea’s solo early on, say, and the blare and loneliness of ‘Sanctuary’.
George Wein’s polite introduction to the Stockholm concert leads into ‘Bitches Brew’ and this is when for me the music really gets going, more rock-inclined and getting pretty out there rapidly. DeJohnette is vital: providing rolling thunder in a makeshift laboratory. ‘This’, with its shrill opening, is an eye opener. Produced by Richard Seidel and Michael Cuscuna the set is yet another distinguished piece of curating “all in Honor of Miles Davis”. For the Miles Davis obsessive in your life, and those who are verging in that direction, it’s a must.