The well sprung dance floor of the Islington Assembly Hall used to attract dancers when bluebeat was around in the early-1960s to the Upper Street venue. Teenagers from the area and further out in Tottenham, and as far afield as Wood Green would come down to dance the night away to bands from the Caribbean.
Fifty years later Courtney Pine was in the hall last night on a classically drizzling yet warm London evening for a hometown gig to launch House of Legends, released earlier in the week on his own label Destin-e records, with a strong north and east London contingent present as his shouts outs to the different sections of the hall later confirmed.
House of Legends is very different to its predecessor Europa when Pine, a continuing inspiration for jazz in this country and beyond, continued his explorations as part of his new period bass clarinet phase having made a shift in his overriding musical conception firstly heard on Transition in Tradition and his meditations on the music of Sidney Bechet.
In some ways the new album is a return to the Caribbean, 50 years since the independence of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, but it’s also about Britain itself and ongoing important political concerns because the legends as Courtney explained include the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, a recognition of the contribution of cultural pioneer Claudia Jones who founded the Notting Hill Carnival, as well as the recollection of a historic figure such as Samuel Sharpe who led the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 in Jamaica.
With Courtney’s sisters in the audience, and his wife also present, the gig was a family affair, the audience the extended family if you like: it had that friendly, approachable and comfortable feel to it, with Pine the affable host.
The band’s approach followed a subtly different path to earlier albums such as the more reggae-inflected Closer To Home, mainly because of the presence of French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge, who had a dominant role in the ensemble, his zouk style a fresh and stimulating element. It was a bit like adding in some cinnamon in cooking up a fine dish as Pine mentioned in a different context in one of his asides to the audience, although the band, with Darren Taylor playing in his customarily forthright manner on stand-up bass and Cameron Pierre fresh from his Radio Jumbo opening set, had some deep Courtney Pine Group road experience to draw on.
Early highlights of Courtney’s own set were ‘Redemption Song’, which in the past Courtney has delivered as an encore, and steel pan player Samuel Dubois, who appeared on Courtney’s definitive large ensemble album Afropeans recorded live at the Barbican, made his presence felt, his gently lilting Caribbean swing beautifully weighted. From the album itself ‘From The Father To the Son’ was a definite standout.
Courtney, wearing a Jamaican football shirt with the number 7 and words ‘Pine’, and ‘Jah’ emblazoned on it played soprano saxophone and later EWI against closely miked piano, guitar low in the mix, carefully weighted and supportive drumming from Robert Fordjour and beacon beats throughout from a beaming Taylor who came into his own on the “sci-fi” section near the end when there was lots of treated EWI, the floaty wind sounds strafing the ceiling of the old 1930s hall like a sonic comet.
The hall’s bouncy floor got a good opportunity to show what it was capable of later in the evening that had shortly before seen Courtney tutoring the main body of the crowd downstairs to jump together in unison, complete with crashing chords and laughter all round.
More seriously Courtney made a call for unity in society through the power of music, and to any “pharaohs of industry” present to give the youth of the country a chance, mentioning an old African saying: “If you exclude the young from building the village they will burn it.”
Courtney’s stalwart and highly likeable guitarist Cameron Pierre opened the evening after a short welcome from Pine with his Radio Jumbo band featuring French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge who played quite superbly with the Wes-inspired Pierre and later Pine. Bassist Michael Bailey, the sterling percussion from super steady Donald Gamble, and drums from Wesley Joseph completed Cameron’s compadres in an ideal warm-up to the main event.
Freddie. What a great word. Freddie. Anyone who’s into jazz knows what name’s coming next. Sadly, the great Mr Hubbard has moved on to the great jam session in the sky but there are always the records, and the people who sound great in the Freddie idiom (not like Freddie, there’s a big difference, isn’t there?), are doing some great things. Just think Jeremy Pelt for one, and Eddie Henderson burrowing deep into the style in the Cookers as well.
And on a different tack with plenty to say on his own account, in his own way and his own time, and a sound you just want to bottle and enjoy at a moment’s notice is trumpeter Pharez Whitted, who plays in the Freddie domain and then some.
His new album For The People is an absolute pleasure from start to finish. It’s released on the Origin label, and it’s got Bobby Broom on it. Say no more. You may have heard the soulful guitarist with Sonny Rollins or know his own records. Broom co-produced the record with Whitted, who’s 52, and lives in Chicago where he is an associate professor of music at Chicago State. He’s also a member of an Indianapolis jazz family, the son of a drummer and vocalist/bassist, and the nephew of the great Slide Hampton. Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery, both of whom Pharez’s dad played with, they even practised in his grandparents’ house, and Pharez’s brothers are jazz musicians, while one of his sisters sings.
A sextet record with 11 tracks For The People comes after Transient Journey from two years ago with a big break of 14 years before that release until the previous record. So while not prolific as a recording artist, it doesn’t show one bit, and this record just cries out to be heard.
All the tunes are originals and they’re steeped in a deep understanding of the vibrant sub-currents within hard bop that makes the music swell and froth. Take the first track ‘Watusi Boogaloo’, which refers to the dance craze of the early-1960s, or ‘Keep The Faith’ written with President Barack Obama in mind: both have got that indefinable feel of the undergrowth and energy and filters into a very hip momentum. Four more years, in 4/4, or whatever meter it takes!
Whitted’s trumpet combines mostly on the record like a boxer sparring amiably with Eddie Bayard on tenor and soprano saxophones. Bayard, Whitted taught and mentored at Ohio State, and there is good rapport between the two bolstered by ingenious and hearty support from drummer Greg Artry. Broom’s role is more subtle at times, and the artillery is provided mainly when bassist Dennis Carroll whips up the big beats thrown over from Ron Perrillo on piano. The great educator David Baker taught Pharez at Indiana University where the trumpeter did his masters, and his learning shows in the best possible manner because he performs with all that key theory in his head, as if he has a picture of the style in front of him, a knowledge of the sound and is instinctive enough not to fuss about the arcane detail but make sure the feeling is right. His days recording and touring with John Mellencamp may be long back, and a 1990s smooth diversion similarly so. But this record stands on its own, a refreshing blast of hard bop and more. If you’re always going to be ready for Freddie you’ll definitely be in the mood for Pharez.
Pharez Whitted, pictured top
When Saturday comes it’s a jazz indie record night this week at Kings Place as the Norwegian label Hubro presents two bands from its roster.
“Label night" has a certain ring to it, you don’t hear that expression so much any more, do you? But that’s not all, as the bands in question are also very out-of-the-ordinary. Because, taking to the small stage in the agreeably contemplative atmosphere of Hall 2 in the York Way venue not far away from the recently ensconced Central St Martin’s art college, are the folk/improv ensemble 1982 with BJ Cole, Cole being the famed Enfield-born pedal steel player who ages ago was in country rock band Cochise, and who has appeared since on albums by a wide range of big name artists including David Sylvian and Elvis Costello. BJ appears alongside the integrated trio of hardanger fiddle virtuoso ECM artist Nils Økland; organist Sigbjørn Apeland; and drummer Øyvind Skarbø.
Support is provided by the promising Moskus, and both bands have records out, the self titled 1982 with BJ Cole, and the Moskus release Salmesykkel, the trio’s gently loping arthouse debut released on CD and vinyl with a striking cover depicting assorted bits of slumbering statuary, and, um, a bicycle.
Very much still in their twenties pianist Anja Lauvdal, bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and drummer Hans Hulbækmo emerged initially from the Trondheim Conservatory of Music scene, and nestling on the Hubro roster, a subsidiary of Norwegian indie record company Grappa, a label that describes itself as cherishing the album as a “physical object”, now sit comfortably alongside such contrasting and complementary luminaries as the neo-doom inclined improv-rockers Splashgirl, and bassist Mats Eilertsen, best known for his tenure in the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, and whose album Skydive got good reviews last year. Hubro has taste, and a bagful of ideas, and you will have too, very probably, if you find yourself in the audience when Saturday comes.
Moskus pictured top and 1982 with BJ Cole, above
Where Land Ends
F-IRE CD 63 ****
Water is there where the land ends, and in this natural element ancient and modern civilisations have always found a way of coming together, a life force. Chris Higginbottom has found his own sense of time and tide with this astute, mature quartet release, a record pooled from discipline, study, and performed here with great skill. The drummer composer has been on quite a journey that a decade ago saw him studying at the New School in New York whose new generation alumni have included Robert Glasper and Bilal. Higginbottom’s career since has seen him return to the UK following a fruitful period in the States, but it’s seven years since he released his album One. More acoustically inclined that debut outing was recorded in America with a band that included the formidable US saxophonist Seamus Blake. On Where Land Ends recorded in London at the same studio as the recent Ivo Neame record Yatra there isn’t a sax in sight, instead the album is characterised initially by the agenda-setting jazz-rock guitar of Mike Outram with former Acoustic Ladyland keyboardist Tom Cawley (who’s on another fine drummer Tom Bancroft’s First Hello to Last Goodbye), and impressive electric bassist Robin Mullarkey.
Listen to Cawley’s part say on ‘The Wide Open’ for an example of some of the light and shade on this six-tracker that thankfully does not burn itself out too quickly, although at times you’re wondering what the musical satnav of the band is set for, as clearly no one wants to give the destination away until you as a listener get there. The blues-rock that in the 1960s, on the London scene at least, jazz-rock learned from and then promptly discarded comes to the fore a little (say on ‘Taters in the Mould’), but there’s no exhausting charging about or retro cul de sacs anywhere to be found on this record even if there is the odd nod to the likes of a classic later jazz-rock behemoth like Return to Forever (in terms of what Cawley is doing) and even Derek Trucks-like Indofusion in the latter part of the record, in the hands of Outram.
Higginbottom knows how to pace things, a bit like Adam Nussbaum plays perhaps, and in his tunes he has come up with some great material for the band that is as strong as say those by drummer/composer Alyn Cosker on his album Lyn’s Une, the last time for me an essentially straightahead UK jazz drummer/composer made such an impact from a compositional point of view clearly pushing outside the core of his style. I don’t want to give the plot away too much, and this album does have a sort of narrative because the track sequencing is well thought-through, but zone in on what’s happening after about six minutes on the epic title track with the quick-as-a-flash bass line, Indo-jazz vignettes and a barnstorming guitar solo.
Released on Monday 29 October. Chris Higginbottom plays a F-IRE Festival gig that night with his band at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, London W1.
Chris Higginbottom , pictured top
Guitarist Kevin Eubanks is to release The Messenger next week, his second album for US label Mack Avenue following on from Zen Food from two years ago.
Coming out in the UK some five months ahead of its US release, the Philadelphian, who in the early-1980s was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and until two years ago was well known in the States for his long tenure in The Tonight Show leading Jay Leno’s house band, has written most of the tunes of the album with tracks including ‘JB’, a tribute to James Brown, Jeff Beck’s ‘Led Boots’, and Trane’s ‘Resolution’, from A Love Supreme like you’ve never heard it before, with a striking vocal bass line sung by Take 6’s Alvin Chea.
Eubanks’ band sees the guitarist joined by reedsman Billy Pierce, bassist Rene Camacho, long time drum pal Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Joey De Leon, Jr. on percussion with Eubanks’ younger brother Duane on trumpet on three tracks, and older brother Robin on trombone on a brace of numbers.
Explaining the title track Eubanks has said: “There is an urgency about it; it has the energy of a message that really should get across. The Messenger, I feel, is in everyone. We’re at the point that whatever it is that you feel strongly about, that can help a person or persons that you love, or a situation that affects your life…you should let that message out”.
The album opens uptempo with the percussion driven title track softly opening out to Billy Pierce’s sax line and a vibrant bass figure, with Eubanks opening up the throttle to give the band a pacey run out.
Born into a musical family on 15 November 1957 Eubanks’ mother Vera was a composer and held a doctorate in music, and Kevin had two musical uncles, the great pianist Ray and Tommy Bryant, so it was natural in a way that Eubanks would go into music. It was hardly a surprise that he firstly moved to Boston to study at Berklee with a bunch of influences in his head including the likes of John McLaughlin and George Benson, although his life was to be changed forever by touring with the great Blakey and work with other leaders including Sam Rivers.
Eubanks’ career took a fusion turn in the 1980s with a bunch of records for GRP including Face to Face and Promise of Tomorrow that perhaps did not totally show the full roundness of his musical personality. In the 1990s though he changed tack and was in a memorable trio with ex-Miles Davis bassist Dave Holland and percussionist Mino Cinelu for a while that really showed what he could do, as a stylish soulful guitarist capable of appealing to straightahead, fusion and jazz-rock fans alike. Eubanks was as recently as the summer just past playing with Holland once again for some tour dates by the much fancied band they’re calling Prism, also featuring pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland.
The tenderness of George Benson comes across on a track like ‘Sister Veil’ on The Messenger, while tackling ‘Resolution’ could be seen as a risk few would undertake lightly comes off winningly with that light funk and dancefloor-friendly feel certainly blowing a few cobwebs off some overly studious approaches to the track you might have come across.
‘JB’ takes up the mantle of that other great Phillie jazz player Christian McBride whose affection for the music of James Brown is widely understood, and this quietly engrossing song is all about the build and in this it’s clear Rene Camacho’s role is an important presence on the album, but so too is Robin Eubanks who also shines here as the trombone gathers some seriously sinuous pace. ‘420’ has great drive with a late-Milesian feel, although Kevin Eubanks’ lightly strung sound here is more reminiscent of the approach of a player such as the UK’s Tony Remy than say Mike Stern, one of Miles’ most favoured guitarists during his latter years on the planet.
‘Led Boots’ is simply infectious and may well prove to be the album’s main talking point taking its cue from Max Middleton’s penned homage to Led Zep on Beck’s 1976 album Wired. But don’t expect a power version of the classic, it’s not what Eubanks is all about. Softly insistent ‘M.I.N.D’, ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘The Gloaming’, a beautiful charmer worked around acoustic guitar and saxophone, as is the supermelodic slow ‘Loved Ones’, all have plenty of character, but ‘Ghost Dog Blues’ with its compelling momentum alters the scope of the album just as it seems to be becoming a little too ballad-heavy.
A very classy album indeed that marks a welcome return of a player whose quality is beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Messenger cleverly steers a path away from some sort of slick confection that would turn a lot of people off. Instead we’ll all want to talk about Kevin.
Released on 23 October
Kevin Eubanks pictured above. Photo: Raj Naik
Finnish record label Tum has just released Ancestors by Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo, their first recording together, and for anyone who caught Wadada’s recent Cafe Oto shows a further appetising glimpse of an artist who is clearly in the middle of a fertile period artistically here in intimate duo with Moholo-Moholo, one of the abiding heroes of the 1970s-era UK and London improvisers who were inspired by the South African Blue Notes during the anti-apartheid era. Wadada Leo Smith has worked in duo with many drummers, most notably Ed Blackwell and Jack DeJohnette, while Moholo-Moholo’s playing partners over the years in this format have included Cecil Taylor and Keith Tippett.
The new album, a beauty, has five tracks, two written by Smith, two by Moholo-Moholo and Smith together and one, ‘Siholaro’, by Moholo-Moholo just by himself dedicated to his late father. At just under half the album’s length title track ‘Ancestors’ is a five-part suite that stands as the most thought provoking element of a genuinely thought-provoking album one that retains the unique ability to unify uncompromising aesthetic considerations, a sense of history and cultural context, to then combine these aspects with lucid interaction and the creative impulse.
Pictured top Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Artwork from an acrylic reproduced in the CD booklet by Marianna Uutinen above
ReVoice, the wide ranging jazz vocals-themed festival run by singer Georgia Mancio in association with the Pizza Express Jazz Club, was well underway on Saturday night after the return on opening night of Gregory Porter. The marvellous Gregory, newly signed to Universal and a very hot property with a busy schedule as everyone wants to hear him, nonetheless keeping up his close association with the Dean Street club, arrived a little late and as the sold out evening featured two houses, the staff had to turn around the club within minutes to get everyone in and fired up again. For fans who couldn’t be there Porter is on the great David Murray’s new album due in early-2013 and Murray told me recently he very much enjoyed working with the big man, so expect some chemistry as one of the most significant tenor saxophonists since John Coltrane teams up with the jazz singer of the year.
So second night, and a very busy club, with something of a party vibe, more of which later. The format of the festival, which moves across to the larger Union Chapel in Islington later in the week for Tuck & Patti and Raul Midón, is for Mancio, intrepidly multitasking, to open each night with different playing partners. Last night she appeared in duo with vibes player Jim Hart of Cloudmakers, reassuring the cooing audience that the black rosette on her right shoulder was a “fashion statement", and that “I’m not a Tory". These things are important.
The brief set worked well. Georgia is good singing in Portuguese and interpreting Jobim, although ‘Laura’ in more prosaic English was the pick of the set for me. Hart plays vibes like they are a piano and what I mean by that is you’re not drowning in the aftertaste of the note, a problem sometimes with this most subtle but occasionally soporific of instruments.
So, on to the main act, and singer Jamie Davis who’s also on tonight. He’s best known for his work with the Basie orchestra, and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, and without beating around the bush too much, he’s an old school deep baritone who likes to croon. People say he sounds like Joe Williams, and so I spent a bit of the afternoon earlier reacquainting myself with Williams thanks to a 1980s vinyl pressing of the old Roulette album Sing Along With Basie. OK, on Joe’s contribution to ‘Going to Chicago Blues’, maybe, that kind of song, it’s why people make the big Joe link. Whatever, it’s OK to be compared to people sometimes. Davis is definitely old school and a shock to young people not acquainted with KC-type swing, and later I thought about the first time I was in Pizza Express Jazz Club when it was a smaller place before the expansion in the 1990s. Harry Sweets Edison was on the stand and he did ‘Centrepiece’, and that theme song of his took him to the bar after the first half. It was as natural as breathing, and Davis is like that. He also says “Oh baby" a lot and was backed by the brittle but effective Leon Greening on piano, the perfect double bass accompaniment of Malcolm Creese, think Milt Hinton in his heyday, the reliable tinkling swing of Steve Brown at the kit, and highly simpático tenor sax of Alex Garnett. Davis got the crowd going on Stevie Wonder’s 1976 megahit ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’, was knowledgeable on ‘How High The Moon’, and extraordinarily found time to leave the band to its own devices to play a little fast-flowing feature called ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Limehouse as in the Tunnel), as he grabbed a beer from the bar, signed fans’ autographs, had his picture taken with a couple of young women, and returned to the stage, to much excitement. At the end you somewhat reluctantly went home. A swinging time was had by all.
Jamie Davis, top, and Georgia Mancio
During the closing weekend of the London Jazz Festival last year, the most avant garde in nature of the LJF in recent years the final Saturday programme provided a unique snapshot of how substantial and wide ranging the avant garde is stylistically within the music across the decades. For instance, on just one day there was Henry Threadgill and his band Zooid covering the A-Z of the Chicago and New York jazz avant garde supported by US-based Doncaster area pianist John Escreet, while earlier Gannets featuring moonlighting Guillemot Fyfe Dangerfield, not singing but playing piano and synths, delved deep into improv rather than strictly free jazz along with drummer Steve Noble, bass clarinet virtuoso Chris Cundy, clarinettist Alex Ward and double bassist Dominic Lash. By contrast and it was still very much avant garde but this time from the new generation of French improvisers over at the Vortex in Dalston the Coax Collectif triple bill had Pipeline, Irène and Metalophone on stage.
Two nights ago Irène returned to the club in a double bill, this time with English electronicists Ma who opened proceedings. Irène has been billed as the French version of Polar Bear and I can see why people have written this down although it’s a bit of a back-of-a tatty-envelope description, tempting though it is. The band is (and I still haven’t found out who the titular ‘Irène’ is, although it’s safe to say she wasn’t on stage) Yoann Durant and Clement Edouard on saxophones and electronics, plus the interesting sounding bluesy texturalist Julien Desprez on guitar and Sebastien Brun at the drums. Coax is a bit like the Loop collective in practice and artistic impulse, and it’s fair to say they’re where it’s at in terms of the new young French scene. They aren’t that known yet beyond la belle France and the Vortex show was alas sparsely attended, although word had seeped out among musicians and the likes of José James’ drum hotshot Richard Spaven came in for a listen, and the band complemented Ma nicely. In Ma’s mature set Tom Challenger played beautifully at the helm of a three-piece that deserves to be better known although his other band Dice Factory may well get talked up a bit more but they’re both inspiring.
Irène have released a four-track EP (pictured) and plan to release an album this year co-operating with the British Babel label for added exposure. The band has won awards at the prestigious La Défense Jazz Festival in France but like many young bands in France and in the UK it’s hard to make the next step forward even with kudos such as this. There is definitely an audience out there. The music is not massively difficult. It can be loud, it has some spiky touches and it’s abstract harmonically for sure but it is different, and pointless comparisons would not be helpful. Perhaps some of the material needs tightening, and I’m not sure about playing a soprano saxophone upside down, but hey vive la différence and go hear them if you get a chance.
Pictured top, Irène
Gareth Lockrane’s Grooveyard
Full marks for the album title, a neat turn of phrase, and praise too for the illustrations by one Bill Bragg with lively design from Matt Willey contributing to a strong look featuring cat-like freaky creatures in overcoats carrying musical instruments against a great dollop of red, the figures zigzagging from as far as the eye can see to up close at the front, matched with a litter of well chosen fonts. Highly rated flautist Lockrane (above, pic by Tom Cawley) has written all but one of the tunes that very often rely on the Lonnie Smith-like organ of Ross Stanley. Vocals later by Nia Lynn retain the outlook of a band that won’t be hurried, and it’s a set for connoisseurs of the soul-jazz sound from the 1960s played by some of the busiest straightahead players around. Old school for sure, The Strut is a highly likeable release that values musicianship and strong tunes played with a respect and the right attitude adhering to the best traditions of jazz from the Golden Age.
Grooveyard play the Forge in Camden, London NW1 on 9 November, and The Strut is released on 12 November
Fletcher Moss Park
Prolific and increasingly confident in his writing trumpeter Halsall has by now more than managed to carve out a space for himself alongside his main influences whether they are the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane or rooted in the club-scene he’s part of as a DJ and producer. Pianist Adam Fairhill delivers the necessary stillness throughout that Halsall seems to be after, and Rachael Gladwin’s harp playing is an important constituent sound in the Halsall approach and has been for a while. The album is named after a Manchester park that Halsall likes to write in and gain inspiration from, and he clearly has come up with something special here, although you need to be patient with the unfolding spectacle. Fletcher Moss Park is an album that takes its time, and it’s one that spreads itself luxuriously but doesn’t overstay its welcome too much although the seven tracks each act like an extended mood piece at lingeringly slow and medium tempos mostly. The opener ‘Cherry Blossom’ immediately demands some proper attention and the title track may well be Halsall performing at the top of his game. An album that should delight his growing army of admirers and may even blow newcomers away.
Released on 22 October
Original Album Series
The latest in this elegant line of reissues (there’s a Modern Jazz Quartet release coming as well incidentally), the formula is unbeatable, the presentation effortless and crisp. OK, Miles’ long Columbia tenure is incomparable, but by presenting Tutu **** Music From Siesta ***, Amandla ****, Dingo Selections From The Motion Picture Soundtrack ***, and Doo-Bop ** in a simple card box, and five facsimile albums in slim cardboard sleeves inside, the music does the talking, naysayers can as they say do the walking. Head straight for the Marcus Miller-produced Tutu and the politically conscious Amandla (Miller co-produced it with Tommy LiPuma and George Duke), clearly the pick of the bunch. Avoid Doo-Bop although it’s a curiosity worth a little more than a passing glance if you don’t know it but no great shakes mainly as Miles was not in good health at all as he reached the end of the road. Dingo is so-so although the orchestrations by Michel Legrand and the decent tunes add interest. Music From Siesta is far superior, and like the material for Dingo has actually more staying power than the films the music was written for in the first place, as both movies sank without a trace. The only small down side of this immaculate release is the lack of info beyond song titles and basic production details. A small booklet tucked inside would have helped in this regard without going the whole hog, and there is just enough room to squeeze a booklet in. But as a working tool for anyone who thinks Miles Davis from any period should be listened to by any cultured person at least once or twice every day, a reasonable point of view, the Original Album Series late period Miles presented here is a godsend. So do yourself a big favour and grab this set especially if you only have bits and pieces of Miles’ last period. It’s just common sense. Stephen Graham
Playing like EST is not a put down, it’s a compliment. Why? Well it’s not just because the Swedish band who changed the course of the piano trio are personal favourites of mine, that would be a bit crap, wouldn’t it? (Although they are, incidentally.) But it’s because they were so significant, and have inspired a host of bedroom dreamers and thinkers to found bands all over the place. So if you can play like them or rise to their level you’ve got musicianship for sure, taste as well, and good compositional horse sense into the bargain, because after EST piano jazz has never been the same. This cannot be ignored. GoGo Penguin you feel realise they have to face up to what the Swedes achieved together and like them are all about the band “as band", their individual names, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Grant Russell, and drummer Rob Turner, are all emblazoned in a ridiculously tiny point size on the back of the CD, under the titles of their songs although these tune names are all picked out in block capitals. That says something.
Opener ‘Seven Sons of Björn’ flares up with “pop chords", a lot of fluid build, and owes everything to EST. ‘Last Words’, which follows, doesn’t, although Russell takes on Dan Berglund’s method without the extra ampage, and the tasteful use of electronics. The beginning of the title song ‘Fanfares’ again recalls the late Esbjörn Svensson, and Illingworth sounds as if he knows what he’s doing and has tackled the faintly heretical notion that there’s more to life than just music. Most good musicians know how to step back eventually because in their music they are able to draw on what life is all about, even if they don’t know all the answers. I felt this about GoGo Penguin. They don’t have an innocence in the same way that say the excellent Hamburg melodicists Tingvall trio project for instance, but Tingvall aren’t as close to EST as these Mancunian aquatically-inclined creatures seem to be. The bar with these post-EST bands is set incredibly high, and GoGo Penguin have made a good dip into challenging Nordic waters here on their debut, and the seven co-written tunes recorded in January knit well. So far, so good.
GoGo Penguin, top, and the CD sleeve above right. Fanfares is released on 5 November