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While for Kit Downes last year involved performing with a variety of bands including Troyka whose album Moxxy picked up good reviews across the board, Anglo-French band Barbacana, and appearing on Golden Age of Steam’s Welcome to Bat Country issued late in the year, 2013 will see the acclaimed ex-Empirical player release a quintet record with piano again at its heart.

Featuring members of his trio, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren, with Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp on bass clarinet, and cellist Lucy Railton, the album was recorded at Fishmarket Studios by Robert Harder who produced The Cherry Thing released last year to considerable acclaim.

The new album to be titled Light From Old Stars combines a variety of elements from chamber jazz signifiers in the arranging style through to free improv on a track such as ‘Owls’ and the more cinematic “road movie” conception of ‘Outlaws’, or the remoulded ‘jam’ blow-out feel of ‘What’s the Rumpus.’

Recorded on a Steinway sourced from Beccles in Suffolk Light From Old Stars is to be released in April by London-based indie jazz label Basho, home to The Impossible Gentlemen and Gwilym Simcock, and follows Downes’ albums the Mercury nominated trio album Golden (2009), and Quiet Tiger (2011).

Tracks are ‘Wonder and Colossus’, ‘Bley Days’, ‘Outlaws’, ‘What’s the Rumpus’, ‘Two Ones’, ‘Falling, Dancing’, ‘Owls’, ‘The Mad Wren’, and ‘Jan Johansson’. Details are sketchy so far, but ‘Bley Days’, which the quintet played live on selected dates last year, is Downes’ homage to 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 Maddren rhythm, a low piano rumble, and a lovely melody line that Downes and cellist Railton state in unison before the softly unfolding melody line ascends.
Stephen Graham

Quintet tour dates include: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, 2 March; Komedia, Brighton, 8 March; The Hive, Shrewsbury 13 April; Bonnington Theatre, Nottingham 18 April; and Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre, London, on 29 April, with more dates in May and June

Kit Downes above

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Crazy name, crazy guys? Very possibly, going by the postcard pictures on the band’s website. I suppose Shatner’s Bassoon could conceivably have been Nimoy’s Nadaswaram or Doohan’s Dulcimer if Chris Morris hadn’t provided some inspiration instead. But maybe there’s something to be said about the perils of band names becoming better known than their lovingly crafted music: Hamster Axis Of The One-Click Panther, anyone? Sadly but a fleeting musical memory.

Aquatic Ape Privilege, the Leeds band’s debut due out on the Wasp Millionaire label in February, opens up with a pleasurable guitar squall from Craig Scott conjuring for a moment the reclusive twang of undersung prophet-of-suburbia Billy Jenkins among the squelchy keyboards, toy effects and disembodied spoken word on opening gambit ‘This Is How You Make A Buck’.

The Bassoon swell to a six-piece combo augmented with a second drummer for live dates, and have been around for a little under three years. Their influences are Tim Berne, Mr Bungle, and importantly John Zorn, who produced that funk metal band’s cult debut album in 1991. Zappa also figures as a reference point and so too, surely, the reigning saint of Leeds improv, the outrageously influential Matthew Bourne.

With four longish tracks among the seven, the opener plus ‘Altered Beast’, the intriguingly titled ‘Breakfast with Boghead’ (beats toast, although not sure about the parrot retching), and the closing track ‘Someone Killed My Panda, the album is a fun rollercoaster ride with some formidable improvising, but they certainly don’t take themselves too seriously. I liked saxophonist Ollie Dover’s talkatively emotive saxophone opener to ‘Boghead’, and hopefully the jokes won’t wear too thin after more repeated play. The signs are good so far. SG

Released on 11 February. Shatner’s Bassoon play Oporto, Leeds on 15 January; The Cluny, Newcastle 29 Jan; The Noise Upstairs, Sheffield on 13 February; The Fish Tank, Durham 18 Feb; Sandbar, Manchester 19 Feb; The Fox and Newt, Leeds 23 Feb; The Splinter, Newcastle 24 Feb; Vortex, London 26 Feb; Safehouse, Brighton 27 Feb; Club Integral, London N16 on 7 March; and Ort Café, Birmingham, 8 March

Shatner’s Bassoon pictured

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Hymns Spheres, released complete for the first time as a double CD set, recorded in Bavaria on an eighteenth century Karl Joseph Riepp organ at Ottobeuren Abbey in 1976, is in this complete version bookended by a ‘Hymn of Remembrance’ right at the beginning, and a ‘Hymn of Release’ at the end of the second disc, with the nine-movement ‘Spheres’ forming the rest. The only version on CD (as opposed to the harder-to-find vinyl) that does exist lopped off five of the Spheres movements and the pair of Hymns.

Jarrett for the recording experimented with the Trinity organ’s stops to reach notes beyond the tempered scale, and in so doing contributed to part of the album’s unusual nature. Occasionally the music sounds ultra modern, a soundtrack to a vast galaxy of limitless space Jarrett’s vision and the remarkable instrument he plays created in tandem. Yet the contours of the improvisation allow the music to dive back into the baroque especially on the hymns, which will be a revelation to those only familiar with the existing CD where they don’t appear. The hymns are less experimental, it’s true to say, or at least have a more familiar back story, the catharsis after the dancing on the edge that the Jarrett faithful will be familiar with at his solo piano concerts, which he sometimes achieves by playing a gospel-influenced song.

As intense in its own different way as the early piano odyssey Facing You, and the much later masterpiece Testament, this audacious album which Jarrett followed up in 1980 by returning to Ottobeuren and further developing his approach to appear as Invocations/The Moth and the Flame, has an otherworldliness that I guess will appeal to the magpies of electronica, the passage of time and austere Benedictine acoustics no barrier at all. Jarrett has achieved a music on Hymns Spheres that surrounds itself in the ineffability of the past to reflect on the equal mystery of the present.

Stephen Graham

Released on 14 January

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Saturday lunchtime gigs are very unusual but sometimes a good thing comes along and you’d be a fool to miss one, no matter the time.

Back in October there was one such occasion, when the Cloudmakers Trio launched their debut album. It was a special gig, not just because of the time but because the line-up was different as the band’s usual drummer Dave Smith was away touring in South America with no less a figure than Led Zep’s Robert Plant.

Instead the audience had the chance to hear very in-form Ivo Neame octet drummer Dave Hamblett who took the Cloudmakers and Outhouse drummer Smith’s place, and the more alert members of the audience quietly munching pizza in the spectral gloom of the Dean Street Pizza Express Jazz Club must have picked up on the clear evidence that while little known beyond musician circles Hamblett was the coming man, following his graduation from the Royal Academy of Music with first class honours a few years earlier, and picking up a Yamaha Jazz Scholarship along the way.

Whirlwind records who in May will release a live Lee Konitz album have picked up on Hamblett’s promise indicated as well on Ivo Neame’s superb album Yatra, and Light at Night, the drummer’s highly promising debut for the label, is released in February. There are eight tracks on the album, with the title track kept to last and it features Hamblett with members of saxophonist Josh Arcoleo’s band (bassist Calum Goulay and Ivo Neame) plus saxophonist Joe Wright, the increasingly mature sounding guitarist Alex Munk, with all the tunes written by Hamblett.

Recorded in the studio in the latter part of 2011 Hamblett is pictured in the artwork in front of autumnal trees with the low sun just about nudging some blurry sunlight through reluctantly obliging branches.

The album is all about the optimism of youth, and while it’s not too overly romantic Arcoleo’s old fashioned lyrical tenor shines through time and again. Hamblett credits Martin France in the notes, and the Spin Marvel drummer has clearly influenced Hamblett especially in those light, nimble strokes that effortlessly push the horn players on without ever seeming too martial or rigid.

While this recording is perhaps only an early statement of intent and the tunes lack immediate impact, it’s easy to enjoy the musicianship at work and realise that a fine new drummer who we’ll all be hearing much more about in the future has arrived. He’s appearing on 8 February with his group at The Forge in London’s Camden Town when Light at Night is launched. Other dates coming soon are St Lawrence Chapel in Ashburton (17 Feb); the Beaver Inn, Appledore (18 Feb); Dempsey’s, Cardiff (20); and the Lescar in Sheffield (27 Feb). SG

Dave Hamblett top

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He’s presented papers on subjects as varied as “air guitar and the music of Sigur Rós” and the “sound of a rock record” but now Hull university academic Peter Elsdon has turned his attention to Keith Jarrett, and has written a book called Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, named after the pianist’s groundbreaking concert recorded on 24 January 1975.

It’s to be published next month just under 38 years on from the groundbreaking concert Jarrett gave in the Cologne opera house when he was just 29.

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The concert began late in the evening, a half an hour before midnight, and was the first jazz concert ever to be staged in the North Rhine Westphalian city’s 1950s-era opera house, sited on Offenbachplatz.

The highest selling solo piano album in recorded music, with more than 3 million copies sold, the record finds Jarrett compensating for a less-than-satisfactory Bösendorfer following a backstage mix-up, as well as feeling back pain and the effects of heavy touring including tiredness from a recent concert in Zurich. The record nonetheless has changed people’s lives by the power of its improvising and unique atmosphere. image

According to publishers OUP the 192-page book is the “first detailed study” of The Köln Concert, and it explores the “musical construction” of the Cologne improvisations in particular, as well as examining the reception and success of the record along with its “importance as a cultural symbol.” SG

Keith Jarrett top. The album sleeve of The Köln Concert, and above the cover of the new book

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Very sad to learn today of the passing of poet Jayne Cortez, whose death at the age of 76 has been reported in New York. The mother of Denardo Coleman, and former wife of Ornette Coleman, Cortez was a significant poet and intellectually inclined performance artist of some note. She was what all good poets are, honest, and also acutely aware of socio-economic, gender and racial injustice in her work and said so directly whether people wanted to hear or not. She wrote as many as 10 books of poetry, and her work encompassed performance and behind-the-scenes writer workshops, organisations, and conferences including one entitled Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writer Dissecting Globalization, held in New York. She was awarded the Langston Hughes Medal, an NEA award, and the American Book Award, among other honours, and her books include Firespitter, and Jazz Fan Looks Back of which this extract is taken:

I crisscrossed with Monk
Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                    Jazz at the Philharmonic