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Rudresh Mahanthappa
Gamak
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.

Stephen Graham

Released on 7 January. Gamak with cover art by Peter Bremer above

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Nicolas Meier
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

  

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Interest in Duke Ellington (1899-1974) is something that is hardly going to go out of fashion. Whether it’s a repertory band such as the Echoes of Ellington Orchestra dedicated to the Washingtonian, or such suitably inspired composer-pianists as the Nu Cilvilisation Orchestra’s Peter Edwards reviving ‘The Queen’s Suite’, or even musicians casually playing a tune from the great man’s work at a low-key club date any night of the week whether in Fargo or Folkestone, you’ll guarantee the Ellington repertoire will bring people together, hardcore jazz fans familiar with his work, “reminiscing in tempo”, and newcomers alike.

But how can a new generation who have come to jazz in the last decade, let’s call it the Polar Bear generation, after the band that from 2004 anticipated Brit-jazz with experimental albums such as Held on the Tips of Fingers. How do they take to Ellington? Well, the answer may well be found in significant upcoming album Ellington in Anticipation, the work of Mark Lockheart a pillar of Polar Bear, joined by the band’s drummer Seb Rochford, also known for his work with Sons of Kemet these days, and Polar Bear bassist Tom Herbert, who also performs with indie avatars The Invisible.

First roadtested by students of Trinity Laban, where Lockheart also teaches, the recording session came together over two days in May at the Livingston studio in north London.The EiA band is a septet with Lockheart, Rochford, and Herbert and four hip young gunslingers in Spatial AKA alto saxman Finn Peters, Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp on clarinet, Basquiat Strings violinist Emma Smith, and pianist Liam Noble, a mainstay of singer Christine Tobin’s Sailing to Byzantium band.

In Lockheart’s world view Ellington has not been preserved in aspic, and the Hampshire-born habitually leather-jacketed 51-year-old has managed to mingle his unfussy contemporary stylings with the core Ellington sound through this septet opening the album uncontroversially with ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it ain’t got that swing)’. ‘My Caravan’, Lockheart’s complex variant on ‘Caravan’ has a fascinatingly intricate structure that unfolds almost as a big introduction for ‘Come Sunday’ one of Ellington’s most beautiful pieces allowing Finn Peters’ flute to provide sufficient space to make the arrangement seem that more fresh, even if it’s a familiar piece and one that’s regularly reprised by bands steeped in Ellingtonia these days however unselfconsciously or not.

Lockheart’s own pieces ‘Jungle Lady’, ‘Uptown’, and ‘Beautiful Man’ sit comfortably with ‘Take the A Train’, ‘Azure’, ‘Creole Love Call’, ‘Mood Indigo’ and Victor Herbert’s ‘Indian Summer’, Lockheart’s Gil Evans-like arrangement of that likeable old song Al Dubin later wrote words to is very different to Ellington’s alto-sax feature for Russell Procope, although Noble’s channelling of Ellington’s piano style is uncanny in its empathy.

Punctuated by the unimpeachable Rochfordian rhythm imperative, and leavened jauntily by Emma Smith in the Ray Nance role on the most Polar Bear-like track, Lockheart’s ‘Uptown’, this album, whether aimed at the deeply frosted ursine generation or the nostalgia-loving jazz fan in their sixties or seventies (or both), is cleverly balanced.

In Deep, Lockheart’s last major statement as a composer and bandleader, made a big impact in 2010, and with the massive hinterland of Ellingtonia behind this album expertly availed of, and the sheer quality of the musicianship and life force of this record, chances are this will too.

Lockheart recalls in a note included in the liner tray of the Subtone Records release how his fascination with Ellington began. It was a de facto wake-up call: “I was first introduced to Ellington’s music,” he writes, “by my father, who would play Duke’s records very loudly on Sunday mornings to get me out of bed. In 1973 when I was 12 years old he took me to see the Ellington band at Eastbourne, an experience that further ‘hooked’ me on Ellington’s music and made me realise that he wrote for each of the different musical personalities in the band.” And in his very different way Lockheart has done just that, as audiences will very well discover for themselves as the Ellington in Anticipation band tours. Dates so far confirmed are: Watermill, Dorking (28 February); Turner Sims, Southampton (5 March); Y Theatre, Leicester (6 March); Seven Arts, Leeds (7 March); Crucible Sheffield (8 March); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (22 March); and Kings Place, London (23 March).

Stephen Graham

The Ellington in Anticipation band pictured top. Tom Herbert (above, left), Seb Rochford, Emma Smith, Finn Peters, Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble, and James Allsopp. Ellington in Anticipation is released on 18 February, cover above

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Tessa Souter
Beyond the Blue
Motéma ****
Released first of all in 2011 in Japan by Venus records but with a different mix, London-born singer Tessa Souter has at last made her mark with a single album following years of her being one to watch, and Beyond the Blue based as it is around the idea of setting new lyrics of hers, for the most part, to celebrated melodies from the classical music popular repertoire, amounts to that long anticipated breakthrough. Souter has a poised, characterful, and in-command style, and there is plenty to savour here not least title track ‘Beyond the Blue’ with Souter’s succinctly satisfying lyrics set to Chopin’s ‘Prelude in E Minor’, and the subtlety of ‘Sunrise’, the singer’s optimistically inclined lyric to the third movement of Brahms’ Third Symphony. Souter’s band on Beyond the Blue is excellent, with pianist Steve Kuhn a connoisseur’s choice as ever, and vibist Joe Locke approachably effusive. Joel Frahm fills the romantic tenor saxophone role beautifully. (Think a slightly more wistful, less worldly wise, Ernie Watts perhaps.) David Finck is a suitably lingering presence on bass, and Billy Drummond comfortably knowing on drums. The little touches from Gary Versace on accordion add more than a certain something as well, and fold in a hint of bal-musette (on the Prince Igor-derived ‘Dance With Me’) that adds to the bygone feel of portions of this fine record. Souter is a singer clearly blessed with a voice to believe in. SG

Out on 4 February. Tessa Souter plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 9-10 February

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Early-2013 has plenty in store. Wayne Shorter’s Without a Net released on 4 February, as previously discussed in these pages (http://bit.ly/W1Pymr), is a landmark release, its nine tracks engrossing and demanding, and it’s a thrilling ride. Studio track ‘Pegasus’, the Corinthian pillar of this largely live return to Blue Note, is a composition that stands tall with any of Shorter’s best work as a composer. A fortnight later comes the release of The Glimpse (Whirlwind), Robert Mitchell’s piano album for solo left hand available from 18 February, an extraordinary achievement early listens more than suggest, with a dozen tunes featuring the influential pianist on ridiculously fine form. Serious, with a contemplative feel listen out for tracks such as ‘The Sage’, like so many of the other tracks here, a composition that unfolds itself gently but casually delivers a powerful synthesis of abstract thought that always rewards your attention. Marius Neset’s new album Birds will also be a notable pace-setter in the spring. The young Norwegian saxophonist has come up with something special on this Edition/Gearbox release. Read Marlbank for more on this 18 March release in the New Year. Written for the 1927 French film La Proie du vent (translated into English as ‘The Prey of the Wind’), and also inspired by the film music Miles Davis wrote for Lift to the Scaffold quarter tone trumpeter’s Ibrahim Maalouf’s latest album Wind (Mi’ster) is his most mature and imaginative album to date. Meanwhile Swiss French trumpeter Erik Truffaz has also returned impressively with El tiempo de la Revolución (Blue Note France) shortly to gain an official UK release having been released on the Continent earlier and available here as an import. Club friendly, modal, and electronically processed sounds reminiscent of Mark Isham’s 1990s purple patch, Truffaz’s quartet has produced an evocative mood piece that joins the dots between the reimagined 1950s in his head and the “successive revolutions through which our lives are chronicled", as the unsigned note on the sleeve a little loftily suggests. Intelligent dance music through a jazz filter as ever with Truffaz, but this has more edge than his last few albums, and Anna Aaron’s Nico-via-Beth Gibbons vocal touches are a definite plus. The Truffaz quartet plays Ronnie Scott’s on 25 March.

Stephen Graham

Robert Mitchell pictured above

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Bassist Dave Manington’s until now unfathomably under-the-radar band Riff Raff is all set to make a splash in early-2013 with the release of Hullabaloo. Since completing a music degree at Nottingham University and studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Manington, as one of the founders of the Loop Collective, entered the fray by releasing an album called Headrush on the collective’s label four years ago that garnered quite some praise and made him a new name to watch out for. Part of the Walthamstow scene in north east London his work for the e17 Large Ensemble attracted the attention of close followers of the fertile scene that Riff Raff’s latest will, one would hope, shine further light on. The band besides Manington features singer Brigitte Beraha (generation Walthamstow’s Norma Winstone) who has had a great 2012, picking up acclaim from John Fordham in The Guardian for her word-of-mouth quartet Babelfish (with Barry Green, Chris Laurence and Paul Clarvis). image

Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame also joins the pulse-prevailing Manington on the new album, a big plus, and a continuation of their work together, as does Ma’s Tom Challenger, bluesy guitarist Rob Updegraff, who really lets rip on the title track against the supporting dream-like vocals of Beraha, and finally drummer Tim Giles, formerly of the precocious Hungry Ants many moons ago. Manington has written all the tunes with Beraha contributing lyrics on ‘Catch Me The Moon’, ‘Pedro Bernardo’, and ‘Not A Worthless Thing’. A record to put on the player when Twelfth Night is but a faded memory. SG

Released on 21 January. Dave Manington’s Riff Raff pictured top, and the album’s cover above inset

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The Collins dictionary defines the unusual word ‘trichotomy’ as possessing two meanings: a noun that indicates a division into three categories; and the second in the theological sense “the division of man into body, spirit, and soul.”

The band Trichotomy, led by the smart and charismatic Australian pianist Sean Foran (above centre), has come of age with Fact Finding Mission, their latest album. They are not overly concerned with numbers contrary to definition, and then again you suspect theology is hardly a concern of this band either.

Yet the band’s mathematically inclined name, in another sense of the word to do with order theory, connects it to certain influential currents that are driving jazz forward (think Dice Factory through the filter of Vijay Iyer or “maths jazz" for convenience). But this album is not just about the often fickle zeitgeist. Fact Finding Mission (**** RECOMMENDED) builds hugely on the slightly frustrating promise of Variations, and the much more satisfying album The Gentle War, and the band has shed itself completely of primary influence EST.

Trichotomy’s approach, like EST though, has a humanity to it a world away from mathematics, and there’s a realisation with the choice of the spoken word segments on the title track that some people in power are just plain wrong and even dangerous, hence the voice of what sounds like George W. Bush sampled. This band are as natural as rain: they can’t help it, and that’s the strength of an outfit that allows their musical ideas to convert abstractions into emotion.

It’s drummer John Parker who opens up the album with a solo on ‘Strom’, and Foran comes into his own on the lovely ‘Lullaby’. Bassist Patrick Marchisella starts to figure on the Bad Plus-like build that makes title track ‘Fact Finding Mission’ work, in tandem with Foran’s punchy left hand, and the well handled anger of the piece is paramount. Their most ambitious and in my mind successful album to date Trichotomy have added percussionist Tunji Beier, reeds player Linsey Pollak, and guitarist James Muller for this very fulfilling outing. Muller’s solo on ‘Strom’ kicks in like a Kurt Rosenwinkel epic. A suitably joyful noise, something for the body, spirit, and soul after all. SG

Fact Finding Mission is released by Naim records on 4 February

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EXCLUSIVE Not many details so far but it’s looking like Jamie Cullum will be releasing his new album, the singer/pianist’s first since 2009’s The Pursuit, in May time. He’ll move label, within the Universal group, to Island, and has been recording some jazz standards (Love For Sale has been mentioned) as well as some unconfirmed pop and rock covers. Cullum, whose Tuesday night BBC Radio 2 show has consolidated his media profile in the period since The Pursuit was launched, has gained high ratings in the early evening on the show, but hasn’t gigged much as he has been busy working on tracks for the album. But he was the surprise guest at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in July at the Soho Sessions making a return to the club after his Big Audition concert and judging venture for the talent competition the restaurant chain sponsored in 2011. Culllum told me, that night, referring to a possible release, joking: “If you talk to my manager, he’ll tell you it’s coming out next week!”

At the Steinway in the Dean Street club he was joined by leading singers in the body of the audience including Natalie Williams, Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll who harmonised to the mambo-hinting ‘When I Get Famous’, and also sang a lovely ballad called ‘Save Your Soul’, and romped home with ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. He then duetted with the Sessions headliner, the great Gregory Porter, on ‘God Bless the Child.’ Cullum is believed to be continuing his work with members of his touring band for the album including trumpeter/guitarist Rory Simmons who confirmed he had been recording with Cullum, speaking at the launch of his band Eyes of a Blue Dog’s excellent debut Rise again at the same Soho club in October. Bassist Chris Hill and drummer Brad Webb are also on the record but a complete personnel is unavailable at this time. Key industry figures have heard tracks from the record within the last fortnight. All Cullum is saying for now (via Twitter) is: “I’m going to be seeing all of you a lot next year. LP6 is coming."
Stephen Graham

Album on the way: Jamie Cullum pictured above

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In a Mayan mood, yes that’s ‘doom’ backwards, I’ll return to the endless search for even more genres-within-genres touched on in an earlier piece and what’s been dubbed ‘doom piano’. Why not?, even if it is a fairly meaningless term especially in terms of Norwegian band Splashgirl whose Field Day Rituals is released in February by Hubro, a label that just this week has announced its intention to withdraw from streaming sites. The label, on Twitter, said it took the decision “together with our great artists" to pull the plug on streaming from 2013. Maybe more indie jazz labels will follow Hubro’s lead if sites such as Spotify prove to turn out not to be the promo paradise that many judged them to be. The royalties are certainly tiny for niche or even not so niche music, and a listen or two might actually be all listeners opt for, and they won’t then get to know the band by buying the CD or vinyl. I’ve only heard a track so far from the unreleased album (‘Dulcimer’) and it’s not what you’d think, the track floats like Nordic alt.folk tinged with the New Melodicism a band like Danes Girls in Airports tend to conjour up in terms of atmosphere, but here there’s also an almost Celtic feel in the humanising gracenotes of the track’s lilt. Splashgirl, Andreas Stensland Løwe (piano/electronics), Jo Berger Myhre (double bass/tone generator), and Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød (drums, percussion), have been around for a while, and some jazz purists broke out in a rash when they heard their earlier album Pressure. ‘Dulcimer’ is the balm to their fever. SG

The cover of Field Day Rituals pictured above

Listen to ‘Dulcimer’ via http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/36590925946/46666

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Mingus Ah Um is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013, and last night at a memorial gig for the jazz photographer Peter Symes, ‘Fables of Faubus’, from the album, got the second set off to a flying start performed by the Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet at the Spice of Life backstage bar venue in Soho. Profiles is shortly to release a new CD called Live at Campus West, recorded in Hertfordshire’s Welwyn Garden City. Biscoe has had a busy autumn appearing with various bands he leads also performing with composer Mike Westbrook whose trio the Somerset-born reeds player has been a member of for 30 years. Three into Wonderfull released to coincide marked this anniversary admirably.

A man of many interests, Biscoe has explored the music of Eric Dolphy extensively, as well as that of Mingus with Profiles for some years now, and last night at Paul Pace’s Spicejazz session in the basement club a short distance from the Palace Theatre appeared with fellow quartet members saxophonist Tony Kofi and bassist Larry Bartley (who also play together in Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya), and drummer Stu Butterfield known for his work as a member of the Henry Lowther/Jim Mullen quartet. Last night’s excellent gig was a fitting tribute to Peter Symes, who died just over a year ago and who was well known and respected for his fine photographic coverage of the UK jazz scene over many years. SG

Profiles pictured above photographed in 2008 by Peter Symes