When jazz and pop collide it can be messy. But if the tunes are good, the spirit’s right, the words to the songs possessing a staying power, delivered by a confident performer then what’s not to like: it’s not as if it’s life or death, is it?
Next Tuesday at the Hippodrome in London’s west end (the old Talk of the Town, now a casino with a music venue on tap as well as the roulette wheel and blackjack), Erin Boheme makes her London debut following the release of What a Life last month on Heads Up. She’s to be joined by Tammy Weis, a London-based Canadian singer who’s a well kept secret until, well, now, on the London jazz vocals scene. Tammy’s also co-written one of the songs on the album as previously reported in these pages. Michael Bublé no less has produced this album… so where’s the jazz you might ask?! Well if you ask that kind of question, this album is not for you. It’s about songs, not improvising, but it’s perfectly compatible within its commercial framework rather than the flawed smooth jazz format that is now disappearing or at best morphing into more acceptable soul-jazz.
Contrast the Eric Benet version of ‘The Last Time’ with the version here and there’s a huge difference in interpretation, less cheesy for sure. In Benet’s take on his own highly effective melancholic song, co-written among others with famed songwriter David Foster, incidentally also chair of the Verve Music Group (who penned ‘I Have Nothing’ for the late Whitney Houston), the natural feeling gets lost a bit crouched behind the layers of glossy audio production and arrangement.
Bublé’s approach although you mightn’t think so at first blush is to strip away the varnish, and let the songs breathe, and Carly Simon-loving Boheme begins demurely on a low key Emerald-esque rumba ‘Everything But Me’, Tammy’s song, which is close enough for jazz as Van Morrison put it on Born To Sing: No Plan B. Why Boheme needed to cover a Coldplay song I don’t know, and I didn’t care one bit for the Bublé-sounding Spencer Day who is on the otherwise excellent ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last’. But ‘One More Try’ is quite superb, and jazz-intuitive, and of the band itself we really should be hearing more of pianist Alan Chang who co-wrote the song with Boheme. Overall then, songs that will stay with you, delivered by a singer who clearly believes in her material and carries both the record and the day.
Erin Boheme above plays the Hippodrome, London on Tuesday 16 April, with special guest Tammy Weis.
Superlative Paul Motian retrospective
ECM 6 CDs ****1/2
A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma may be an apt way to view Paul Motian now with the benefit of the passage of time since his passing at the age of 80 in November 2011. This extraordinary eponymous box set of six albums recorded between 1972 and 1984 all issued for the first time together as an Old & New Masters edition reinforces that impression. The story begins, but does not end, in a band with Keith Jarrett, in fact for once Jarrett is a bit player in the overall musical drama, and while Ethan Iverson in his warm and beautifully written essay accompanying the music attempts to organise the music into three pairs: Conception Vessel and Tribute made when Motian was a member of the Jarrett Quartet; trio albums with Charles Brackeen “their own private universe” and in Psalm and It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago, a "triumphant reign" as a bandleader, even this sensible pointer adds little to the making sense of the music as a whole. Iverson comments most effectively that Motian changed as a late starter into becoming a composer in his own right. And if you listen to Motian in his Bill Evans days it’s almost as if this is a new person entirely. Conception Vessel is less about Jarrett perhaps than the chrysalis phase of Motian reborn as a musical thinker, and an advanced abstract expressionist at that. Sam Brown’s flamenco touches at the beginning are something you don’t easily expect but the first big moment is the doom-laden drum statement at the beginning of ‘Ch’i Energy’ matched and surpassed only in sheer daring at the very end of all these albums by ‘Fiasco’ on It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago.
That latter album title could well be the mantra of all the music collected in Paul Motian. They’re much freer than I remember previous selected listens in isolation and Iverson goes so far as to make the claim “There have been many great free drummers, but I believe Motian might have been the greatest.” I’m not sure if I agree with that but there is strong evidence here that Motian has achieved the nirvana of musical freedom in terms of both structure and abstraction. Best bits for me? Well, Charlie Haden coming in at the beginning of ‘War Orphans’ on Tribute with Motian clanking almost in the shadows to scuffle in behind the pristine guitar of Paul Metzke; or how about the very still and mysterious cymbal work at the beginning of ‘Folk Song For Rosie’ with the chilled saxophone of Charles Brackeen wading in the luke warm water of JF Jenny-Clark’s lulling bass? Or even, on ‘Second Hand’ from Psalm, the toms joyously going AWOL right at the beginning, a voice off, and then the dull ache of Frisell’s chordal pain entering dispassionately?
This riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma is a major retrospective that marks only the beginning of a coming to terms with Motian as a major artist. His legend will grow even more: and it starts right here. Stephen Graham
Monday sees the release of At Home the first album of unreleased George Shearing material since the bebop piano master’s passing two years ago. It’s unusual in that it was recorded in the front room of Shearing’s New York flat in down time during a club residency in the 1980s.
Released on Jazzknight, a label established by Sir George’s widow Lady Ellie the album begins like a foxtrot, and ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ has a twinkling style, full of the chirpiness Nat King Cole managed to endow old Broadway songs with when he himself played piano.
Shearing turns on his significant charm though after about a minute in, and these living room songs draw out Don Thompson’s role as a confidant to Shearing’s left hand.
Thompson played with Shearing for some 20 years in all, and you feel as if he knows Shearing’s every move on the tracks they play together. Now 73, he accompanied Barney Kessel early in his career in Vancouver clubs, and appears on the John Handy Quintet classic live album Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival recorded in 1965.
‘Up at the crack of Don’
Thompson began playing concerts with Shearing decades later, from 1982 onwards, the year before the newly discovered At Home was recorded. And just under the three-minute mark he draws out the woodiness of the bass a skilled carpenter would find hard to locate.
A sprightly start then to this remarkable Jazzknight records album and there’s an elegant fade at the end of the opener; and like some sort of mirage Johnny Mandel’s ‘A Time For Love’ emerges after the silence. Thompson comes in on the arc of the Shearing line here time and again, at the emotional tug of the note.
Bill Evans link, as two tracks on At Home appeared on
1961 album Explorations
Thompson’s own tune ‘Ghoti’ (apparently Shearing dubbed it “up at the crack of Don”), leads into a riot in swing, and you could hear this being played with a vibes quintet, Shearing’s preferred stomping ground in his heyday. This one’s got bebop written all over it. After two minutes Shearing changes the goalposts, and there’s a rhythmic murmur that’s the very essence of bop syncopation.
The sound quality is fine throughout At Home: you can really hear the piano and bass and the instruments together. The album was mastered much later in Toronto, the city where Ellie Shearing first heard the tapes played before pressing green for go to start the process towards release after an ice age of 30 years in the obscurity of a drawer.
‘The Things We Did Last Summer’, the Jule Style/Sammy Cahn song begins jauntily, as if the duo are feeling completely at ease, and that’s a defining feature of this wonderful album. Lady Shearing provided cups of tea in breaks over the few days the album took to make. No producer was present, and there is a comfortable feel to all these tracks recorded around the time of a run of club dates in New York.
‘Laura’ is the first big talking point and really the test of the album. Opening expansively the theme is stated quite simply with a few ornate touches, but Shearing seems more interested in building the darkness in his left hand at which he more than succeeds. The tempo slows right down and there are some lovely washes after the 150-second mark moving towards some high-end tinkling that ends even more seriously than it began. With Thompson back ‘The Skye Boat Song’ I could have done without, although it’s a pretty enough melody and close to the bassist’s heart. But Shearing and Thompson are on more satisfying territory with Bird’s ‘Confirmation’ joyously foot tapping, but not fast at all. Remaining tracks are a winningly shy take on ‘The Girl Next Door’ with its hesitant opening; a swayingly optimistic ‘Can’t We Be Friends?’; the more mundane ‘I Cover the Waterfront’; and ‘Out of Nowhere’. Although ‘That Old Devil Called Love’ opens things up, ‘SubconsciousLee’ allows lots of bass space, and little detours here and there. Victor Young’s ‘Beautiful Love’ is simply a display of Shearing genius at the end.
Sir George Shearing top, Don Thompson above; and the album cover. Listen to another version of ‘Beautiful Love’, recorded in the 1970s, by Shearing to get in the zone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz9njOgKBYU
Rich Tailors, and international Take Five Europe band, gig
in Paris on 18 April
Soweto Kinch will be performing music from The Legend of Mike Smith at the Banlieues Bleues festival in Paris this month, and at la Dynamo situated right in the heart of the Quatre-Chemins quartier in Pantin, there’s a Take Five Europe presentation featuring new music developed and performed by a group of leading new European jazz artists performing under its EU-funded banner. Trumpeter Airelle Besson, saxophonist Guillaume Perret, clarinettist Arun Ghosh, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, reeds player David Kweksilber, guitarist Chris Sharkey, pianist Marcin Masecki piano, bassist Per Zanussi and drummer Marcos Baggiani will perform at the concert in a double bill with the Rich Tailors, the formidable Anglo-French collaboration formed of members of Blink and the Mediums with Robin Fincker, Daniel Erdmann, Vincent Courtois, Alcyona Mick, and Paul Clarvis.
Rich Tailors, above
Anthony Branker & Word Play
Provocative and controversial in his choice of title Princeton professor Anthony Branker explains extremely well his motivation for using such a frequently offensive term, and moves the discussion in his notes to the album on by referring to the murder and beatings of young African-American men such as Jordan Miles, Jordan Davis, Ramarley Graham and most notoriously Trayvon Martin an unarmed Miami teenager who was killed by a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator because, Branker says, he looked “suspicious while wearing a ‘hoody’.”
It’s a marvel that this sextet album, recorded last year in Brooklyn, and other albums by the composer such as Word Play’s 2011 album Dialogic exist at all given the fact that Branker suffered life threatening illness that necessitated brain surgery more than a decade ago. Originally a trumpeter he has written and arranged six tunes of depth and interest here, beginning with a light funk feel courtesy of Jim Ridl’s Fender Rhodes on ‘Let’s Conversate!’ but there’s a considerable step change after the relatively light opening as the album goes deeper and deeper and has a seriousness and integrity to it that draws you in.
The best of the tunes is the moving ballad ‘Three Gifts (from a Nigerian Mother to God)’ that Branker was inspired to write following a television news report about a plane crash that killed dozens of young African school children. He dedicated the piece to the Nigerian mother he watched interviewed about the loss of her three children. Eli Asher’s flugelhorn solo does the human tragedy justice as an artistic response, as does the integrated vocal of Charmaine Lee, while overall tenorist Ralph Bowen is a towering presence throughout the album. Uppity is an album you won’t want to forget in a hurry: for all the right reasons. SG
The cover of Uppity above
Jazzahead in Bremen later this month promises a feast of music and much new jazz in store, and there’s a major opportunity to sample a great deal of music 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 in terms of live music 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.
De Beren Gieren above
ECM (5-CDs) Old & New Masters Edition **** RECOMMENDED
Fish Out of Water, Notes From Big Sur, All My Relations, The Call and Canto are collected here in the by now easily recognisable white box livery of the Old and New Master series were recorded in Oslo between 1989 and 1996. Three of the albums share the same quartet line-up with The Call, All My Relations and Canto able to be exactly compared although on The Call Lloyd restricts himself to tenor saxophone. Fish Out of Water made the greatest impact at the time of release, as Lloyd had not been active on the jazz scene for many years until prompted out of retirement some years before these recordings were made by the enthusiasm of a questing Michel Petrucciani who recorded with him, drummer Son Ship Theus and the Belonging band’s Palle Danielsson, as well as touring extensively. It’s fitting that Danielsson is on Fish Out of Water, along with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and ex-Jarrett bandmate Jon Christensen on drums. Christensen’s tenure in the Lloyd quartet as far as these recordings are concerned was brief and apart from Ralph Peterson appearing on Notes From Big Sur it’s Billy Hart who plays on the majority of the Quartets tracks taken as a whole.
Fish Out of Water begins very meditatively and it takes almost 15 minutes, well into the second track, when it’s Stenson who lifts the momentum to which Lloyd responds with that deeply emotional sound of his on the saxophone and the holding pattern melts away. ‘Mirror’ here isn’t the same song as the recent New Quartet album title track incidentally (that melody resembles ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’ whereas this piano-introduced composition doesn’t). By the end of Fish Out of Water the stately flute is underlining the fact that Lloyd has made a significant comeback.
The big swell on ‘Requiem’, the opening track of Notes From Big Sur, recorded two years later underlines the point of Lloyd’s earlier return and in tandem with Stenson whose role becomes more defined and the fine articulation of Ralph Peterson’s brushes an additional factor Lloyd plays with even greater confidence and the tunes change. You could imagine in ‘Sam Song’ a tune that would have worked for Keith Jarrett like the old days. Whether Lloyd was recreating (via Stenson and casting Peterson as DeJohnette, Anders Jormin as Cecil McBee) is unlikely, but the comparison at times is striking.
Nowadays Jason Moran accompanies Lloyd so differently to Stenson although there is a continuum in the choice of melodies between these two important periods in Lloyd’s career. Lloyd’s style then and now digs deep into his soul and enters the listener’s subconscious eventually. The pick of the tracks could be ‘When Miss Jessye Sings’, a long tune that really unfolds into an exuberantly weary swing, just the sort of beat Lloyd needs when the tears in his sound transform into pure joy in the course of the improvisation.
1993’s The Call introduces Billy Hart whose presence is so important on three of these albums. ‘The Blessing’ is the big tune here (it’s a Lloyd composition, not the tune of the same name by Ornette Coleman), its stillness breathtaking, and Stenson’s African-sounding gently brittle backdrop to the developing improvisation is a masterclass in control. The Swede’s opening statement on ‘Figure in Blue, Memories of Duke’ shows how Stenson can manipulate the descending line of a Ellington-inspired melody routine. No tenor player then or now enters after a piano introduction like Lloyd habitually does, and his first solo here on ‘Figure in Blue’ is just one of many memorable moments of this box set. All My Relations, which Lloyd uses to extend his instrumental palette by paying Chinese oboe, has as its centrepiece a homage to Nelson Mandela in the ‘Cape to Cairo Suite’ begun by Jormin and where Hart comes into his own as cross rhythms stir and shake the band into a new direction. In the course of this journey Lloyd responds magisterially, Coltrane-like just after the three-minute mark: another exquisite sensation. The title track of ‘All My Relations’ is catchily calypso-like within a bebop prism and this also leaves its mark.
The final album, Canto, recorded towards the end of 1996, is the most mysterious of the albums and possibly the greatest of all, and the use of Tibetan oboe has something to do with this on ‘Nachiketa’s Lament’, but it’s more an extension of the unique mood Lloyd through his writing, performance and inspirational presence is able to draw on during these years. There’s a power too and on ‘Durga Durga’ Lloyd testifies like he was simply put on this planet to play this music and to communicate its power, and to transcend.
Charles Lloyd top and the cover of Quartets above. Released today.
Bernt Rosengren Big Band
Bernt Rosengren Big Band with Horace Parlan piano, Doug Raney guitar
While the title might be cumbersome, the music isn’t in an album located stylistically firmly within the Basie band sound. The eponymous tenor saxophonist famous for ‘Ballad for Bernt’, the tune Komeda named after him and which he played on in the soundtrack to Polanski’s early masterpiece Knife in the Water, is a significant senior jazz figure in Scandinavia, now in his mid-seventies. Lars Westin in the 1980 notes updated in 2012 and reissued earlier this year says: “Ask almost any jazz saxophonist in Sweden and he (or she) will be mentioning Bernt as a great source of inspiration.”
It’s easy to understand why: unadorned, characterful playing from the heart with the prowess of a Dexter Gordon and with the speed and agility at times of Johnny Griffin although it’s not just about the tenor as Rosengren also plays alto and flute on this album as well. Rosengren formed his big band in 1975, a surprise, Westin says, at the time, but beyond Scandinavia and big band contexts he occasionally surfaced on the wider international stage most notably with Tomasz Stańko on the Litania Komeda-themed album released in 1997 when Rosengren as good as stole the show at live concerts, the matching of his romantic lead to the pervasive Stańko ensemble’s ascetic sound a perfect fit. US players Parlan and Raney who were long established in Denmark by the time of this recording have been part of the jazz scene there for a long time and have worked regularly with the Rosengren big band recording this project in Stockholm in 1980. The arrangements were written by Rosengren and most of the tunes too although there are a few standards, ‘How Deep is the Ocean’, and ‘Naima’. An unaffected album made with a love of the music: the funkiness on a track such as ‘Hip Walk’, tuneful optimism in ‘Sad Waltz’, and a real period feel in ‘Autumn Song’ give it a certain warm nostalgic appeal.
Archive listening: ‘Ballad for Bernd’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpSP_a5XdNQ
Magic Moments 6: In the Spirit of Jazz
Label compilations are made for a variety of reasons. For someone completely unfamiliar with some or all of the artists but curious to explore genuinely new music then they work on that level. They can be, though, as unsatisfactory as a short story or as untypical as a taster of an artist’s work as a by-election is an indicator of the result of a general election. The sixth Magic Moments, a personal compilation by ACT label owner Siggi Loch of recently released music on his label, is to some extent no different to the earlier albums in the series. There are some surprises, though. For instance, the version of Duffy’s ‘Stepping Stone’ by Caecilie Norby, Lars Danielsson and Leszek Możdżer made me like the song for the first time. Norby’s serious version of the song with Możdżer’s choice of chord changes work together admirably to apply a huge textural makeover to this half decent but slightly doleful pop number. The tracks to go for, worth the price of purchase alone, are In The Country’s ‘Birch Song’ and radio.string.quartet.vienna’s ‘Volcano For Hire’, as well as ‘Stepping Stone’.
Caecilie Norby above