Slipped out sooner than you think, the debut of tenor-of-our-time Chris Potter on ECM is fast approaching with a 28 January release. I haven’t heard it yet but going by Potter’s last few superlative appearances in the UK with his own band at Ronnie Scott’s during the Jazzwise to the Power of 15 week and previously with McCoy Tyner, and the fact that this is a special “new label" event The Sirens will for these reasons be anticipated as one of the first major saxophone statements of the year.
Inspired by Homeric legend, the Chicago-born Potter, who celebrated his 42nd birthday just this week on New Year’s Day, is on his habitual tenor and soprano saxophones plus bass clarinet, joined by past and present Potter band pianists the sophisticated avant gardist Craig Taborn, and upcoming Cuban David Virelles on prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium. (Virelles also appears on Tomasz Stanko’s double album Wislawa set for a February release). Potter also brings in Brad Mehldau trio and Fly bassist Larry Grenadier, and happening Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland. Tracks are: ‘Wine Dark Sea’, ‘Wayfinder’, ‘Dawn (With Her Rosy Fingers’), ‘The Sirens’, ‘Penelope’, ‘Kalypso’, ‘Nausikaa’, and ‘Stranger at the Gate’. SG
The Sirens cover top and Chris Potter above
Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues
BAG Production ***1/2
Unfold Ordinary Mind
BAG Production ****
The first of these albums may have a fancy title, but don’t let that put you off as there’s a bit of joshing going on; it’s not something that might earnestly seek to detain Professor Brian Cox for too long. Down-home from the beginning, Ches Smith’s loose feel on drums underpins the only-a-little fogey-ish environment; and you won’t usually hear trumpeter Ron Miles play like this, certainly not when he was with Bill Frisell. Joshua Redman who has been in his own jazz 2.0 career brave new world phase (1.0 was the glorious Wish and Moodswing days) on fantastic form again on his own records since Compass, working cleverly in tandem with leader clarinettist Ben Goldberg who has written all the tunes (except for one) on these records.
There is plenty to savour on Subatomic Homesick Blues recorded just under five years ago, including the pretty opening of ‘Asterisk’ leading eventually to fine, loose double bass backing from Devin Hoff, and a Ron Miles trumpet line you would have thought no-one was capable of playing any more, at least in atmosphere terms, with the demurring reeds a perfect backdrop. And who knew ‘Who Died and Where I Moved to’ would swing quite as much as it does? No, me neither. An album where everyone knows you shouldn’t be too nostalgic but can’t help themselves.
The quintet album Unfold Ordinary Mind is the more out-there music of this pair of albums, although I certainly wouldn’t want to start thinking about what on earth an “ordinary mind" is. That would be much too boring. More to the point, it is different, with (let’s call him the Marc Ribot of his generation) Nels Cline, and superbly visceral Tim Berne associate Ellery Eskelin, who joins the fray in a two-tenor assault with the gentler Rob Sudduth making up the five as Goldberg and Smith stay on from the other album. ‘Parallelogram’ gives a good account of what Cline can bring to the party, but track four called ‘Lone’ is where it gets deeply serious (the horns stark and real at the beginning), and the feeling that there is an existential dread at the heart of the record that Cline manages to interpret in his own forthright way resorting to an appealingly dank car-park blues with tantalising little bell-like sounds from Smith. Unfold Ordinary Mind is avant rock with loads of improv where history is junked without even the thought of a backwards glance. An extra point for the adventurous streak, and Cline going for it on ‘Stemwinder’. SG
Both albums are released in the States on 5 February. No UK release date so far. UPDATE 9/1/13: The US physical, and US/international digital release date, is now 19 Feb
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.
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
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
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.
Released on 14 January
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
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.
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.
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
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
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Fast and quick thinking with an energy that propels his music beyond the typical bebop threshold into another sphere entirely, a micro world of possibilities and rarely heard sounds merging with the more familiar, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is on exquisite form here. With the microtonally inclined David Fiuczynski a clever foil, chunky no-nonsense bass from François Moutin and thundering attack from drummer Dan Weiss, Gamak is full-on with the ornamentation of south Indian music a titular factor, but also a reinvented bebop spirit, hints at the delta blues and heavy rock. The clever bit is the microtonal or south Indian-sounding harmony Fiuczynski does much to provide, sometimes Fuze can be like the late Pete Cosey, at other times he’s just bluesy or wigs out detuned like a mutant tincan, so this is never going to be a trip to the bebop museum interesting though that may well be on a quiet afternoon. Yet the core of the Mahanthappa band style, particularly its roots in Charlie Parker’s music, are there like invisible ink. ‘Waiting is Forbidden’ is first and best for me, but every track has its merits, with the circling-in on ‘Ballad for Troubled Times’ a great build to a sad song that has the ache and forboding of a certain ugly sense of unease, while ‘The Majesty of the Blues’ rocks out. The album is also beautifully recorded by Mike Marciano.
Released on 7 January. Gamak with cover art by Peter Bremer above
From Istanbul to Ceuta With a Smile
MGP Records ***
Guitarist Nicolas Meier likes to do things in twos. Back in 2010 he released a pair of albums in the same month, but in 2013 he’s spacing them out a bit more so while again two albums are scheduled, we’ll have to wait until September for Kismet, as luck would have it. First though in February there’s his new suite-based concept album From Istanbul to Ceuta with a Smile featuring the virtuoso UK-based Swiss musician’s compositions whose playing style mixes flamenco, Turkish music and contemporary progressive jazz guitar, in the company of a band that includes Ronnie Scott’s club musical director pianist James Pearson straying from his more regular mainstream and straightahead inclinations, saxophone titan Gilad Atzmon, Lighthouse percussionist Asaf Sirkis, bass stalwart Pat Bettison, and talented violinist Lizzie Ball. Quality playing for sure, with rigorous improvisation teased out winningly on tracks such as ‘The Gate’, the album could, though, have done with more of an edge for yet more of an impact to lift it way beyond the realm of intrepid traveller’s tale. Stephen Graham
Journeying instinct: Nicolas Meier above