A Different Time
Medeski originals, gospel, and Willie Nelson’s ‘I’m Falling in Love Again’ feature on new solo piano album by the jam band hero
The spine says it all. On the far left on black the yellow letters in a familiar handwritten script allow the eye to catch the word “OKeh”. It’s tiny. As the label is owned by a major record company there’s only so much romance in its return, but A Different Time is the first album to appear since welcome news came that the historical blues and jazz label is now back in the land of the living and signing again.
Stepping back in time is what the record is about. A solo piano release recorded on a French period Gaveau piano, an instrument known for its crafted cases, manufactured by a company originally founded in the mid-19th century. Medeski in the notes says this 7-footer dates back to 1924 and “the feel is very different” and that “one must sing with the fingers.”
It’s a very quiet often elegiac album and gets that bit more whisper-soft after opener ‘A Different Time’ on Willie Nelson’s ‘I’m Falling in Love Again’, which has a sort of musical box quality to it that’s new and sometimes on the record you have to do a double take. After all with Medeski Martin & Wood in the early-1990s Medeski got swept up in what became known as the jam band phenomenon, often with Hammond organ leading the swelling youth-friendly grassroots movement as at ease in indie rock clubs and outdoor festivals as it was in jazz spots.
A Different Time is the antithesis of groove and acid jazz. Most of the tunes are by Medeski except the Nelson just mentioned and an arrangement of Gabriel and Martin’s early 20th century gospel hymn ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’. At its best, on say the lovely opening to ‘Graveyard Fields’ or the melodic exposition of ‘Luz Marina (From Mama Kia)’ the album shows another side to Medeski; at its worst it is that bit too ponderous.
On the cover there’s a piano on a flying carpet and a song such as ‘Luz Marina’ does just about have the ability to transport you to a land beyond the temporal sphere. For instance ‘Waiting at the Gate’ grows beautifully, like a Randy Newman song, with an air of optimistic expectation the album to that point had lacked and this song has a quiet grandeur to it, one that might outlast everything else on the album in my mind. So all in all very much the contemplative side of Medeski on display, in an album that has its moments but doesn’t always ignite. Stephen Graham
John Medeski above. Photo: Michael Bloom
Kendrick Scott, Julian Siegel, and Sam Leak jam at Ronnie’s
Kurt Elling was having his picture taken with fans as the Ronnie Scott’s door staff last night let a bunch of people standing on the street in for the Late Late Show. He had just completed the second night of his sold out residency at the club this week, and there’s a buzz about the place.
The late show hosted by Alex Garnett, the diminutive flat cap-wearing saxophonist who can whip up a solo from the lower reaches of his horn with all the panache of a conjurer, was hosting the show, a featured band-led jam session for night owls after eleven, and this was a chance to let touring US alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius and his quartet show their undoubted class. The altoist may have kept his very best to last, to around 2am, with a fine take on his hero Charlie Parker’s tune ‘Dexterity’, but Cornelius with old friend Michael Janisch on pulsing bass and tasteful guitarist Phil Robson (pushed along by drummer Andrew Bain) called the shots harmonically on demandingly sinuous advanced bebop.
Garnett, who has a winningly deadpan patter introducing the musicians, encouraged a “quiet roar” from the sizable late night turn-out for a line-up of great players who then joined to jam. Besides Garnett on tenor another fine tenor attraction was Julian Siegel standing lean and mean attacking like a latter-day Sonny Rollins, and with pianist Sam Leak joining in, Harold Arlen’s ‘My Shining Hour’ was the pick of this section of the session. Arlen oddly has made headline news this week for very different reasons as the writer of ‘Ding Dong’, now a Margaret Thatcher protest song currently at number two in the charts.
The promising Konitzian altoist Allison Neale impressed on a few numbers with ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ the pick, and Kendrick Scott from the Elling band in residence really turned up the heat when he joined. And then towards the end former Amy Winehouse guitarist Robin Banerjee found those friction-heavy percussive sounds at low volume on the instrument only he seems to know how to locate: a nice surprise.
Elling with his young daughter stayed to observe the jam for a while, and the Kurtster’s drummer Kendrick Scott told me later after he had eaten supper that he is in talks with promoters Serious to bring his band Oracle to the UK. Let’s hope this pans out as their latest album Conviction is one of the best jazz releases to appear this year, burning as it does with sheer energy and packed full of strong compositional ideas. Elling pianist and main man Laurence Hobgood chatted about his former Naim labelmate the late Chris Anderson, and reminisced about meeting Alan Broadbent which he said was “a thrill”. He also intimated that he’s putting together a new band for the autumn, featuring a trumpet in the line-up. When I asked who he’d envisage filling that role the pianist and arranger said unblinkingly: “Terence Blanchard.” Let’s hope that exciting prospect shapes up. SG
Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter among the giants of jazz performing in 21st running of the London Jazz Festival
Tickets go on sale on Friday for some of the big names just announced for the 21st London Jazz Festival to be held this year. With the BBC having now ended its long-running commitment as a festival sponsor the LJF adds three replacement letters, EFG, a private bank, who have been involved with the festival since 2008, in the corporation’s place. The festival which runs from 15-24 November will also feature Jazz Voice on opening night at the Barbican; Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis; Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra; Arild Andersen; Schlippenbach Trio vs Noszferatu; the Wayne Shorter Quartet and BBC Concert Orchestra at the Barbican; a Charlie Parker on Dial jazz theatre event; Sonny Rollins this time at the Royal Albert Hall; Tigran Hamasyan + Elina Duni; Mehliana; John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain: Remember Shakti; Gilad Atzmon at the QEH; and Madeleine Peyroux at the Festival Hall.
Sonny Rollins above
Erin Boheme + Tammy Weis, Hippodrome, London tonight
When jazz and pop collides 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?
Tonight at the Hippodrome in London’s west end Wisconsin-born 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. Contrast the Eric Benet smooth jazz version of ‘The Last Time’ with the version here and there’s a huge difference in interpretation, and it’s 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 Caro Emerald-esque rumba ‘Everything But Me’, Tammy’s song, which is close enough for jazz 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 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
With the Pizza Express Jazz Club currently closed for a refurbishment to the restaurant upstairs (it’s opening up again next week), there’s no better time to check out the club’s sister venue the Pheasantry. This week at the restaurant venue on the King’s Road, a jazz and cabaret place that’s built up a loyal following in the last few years, pianist Dominic Alldis is appearing on Friday and Saturday, following the release of A Childhood Suite earlier in the year. That release, a trio album "for jazz piano trio and orchestra", picks up from earlier album Songs We Heard with bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Stephen Keogh that first drew on the idea of a trio improvising on nursery rhymes from around the world. A Childhood Suite reworks more than a dozen of these arrangements, adding a string section and containing an Alldis original. The album has a simplicity and sincerity rare these days in the hustle and bustle of the record industry demanding a certain crash, bang, wallop approach. ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ is typical of some of the momentum generated by the trio, and with a dark opening, the mood changes to allow for a developing momentum and joyousness that many of the other improvisations also possess. Very much in the Jacques Loussier or David Rees-Williams stream of light jazz and classical synthesis it’s an album that never lacks for charm and empathy, with some lovely moments along the way including the captivating Vaughan Williams-like violin solo and fine arrangement on ‘Girls and Boys Come Out To Play.’ Alldis is appearing at the Pheasantry in duo with the fine saxophone player Alex Garnett.
There must come a time when an artist wakes up and says: “I’m going to do a ‘with strings’ project”. Purists or the jaded might roll their eyes not another one, but you would be a brave person to second guess Avishai Cohen. The charismatic Israeli bassist and singer, an inspiration to leading UK bands Phronesis, Kairos 4tet, and a generation of progressively minded young improvisers around the world, is to debut his “with strings” concept at the Barbican in London on Tuesday 7 May. This video of ‘Russian Song there’s a link below gives you an idea of what to expect.
Cohen’s ensemble based around the trio of pianist Nitai Hershkovits, who the bassist recorded Duende for Blue Note with an album released last year, and drums of 19-year-old Ofri Nehemya (on superb form recently in London with Eli Degibri) adds the strings/wind quintet of violinist Cordelia Hagmann, viola players Amit Landau and Noam Haimovitz Weinschel, cellist Yael Shapira, and oboist Yoram Lachish.
Expect arrangements of Israeli love songs, and music by Mordechai Ze’ira, with Ladino songs, as is often the case at Cohen concerts, a feature, and extracts from Avishai’s ‘Concerto.’
Avishai Cohen above
‘Russian song’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mlncsn-r10Q
Tap: The Book of Angels: Vol 20
Nonesuch/Tzadik **** RECOMMENDED
There’s going to a lot of interest in this album on the avant jazz circuit, mainly as it acts as a prelude to the Zorn@60 festival touring activity this spring and summer, ahead of John Zorn’s birthday in September. For Metheny Tap is the third in a trilogy of out-there albums, not as shocking as Song X or his collaboration with the late Derek Bailey were but that’s not really the point. It would be more of a sensation in a way if blazing controversy was the only point. A duo album, drummer Antonio Sanchez is Metheny’s foil although it’s a subsidiary role this time apart from on the final improv-heavy track as the guitarist has typically come fully equipped with numerous guitars, sitar, tiples, bass, keyboards, orchestrionics, electronics, and much more, and plays expansively.
The musical ideas of Zorn Metheny is performing date back to the 1990s and these half dozen songs based on traditional Jewish music are but a small fraction of the 300 songs belonging to the second of what Zorn calls the “Masada Book”. Where Zorn ends and Metheny begins can be traced fairly easily to ‘Tharsis’, the third track, which starts with the atmosphere of a village dance and then with a deep synth guitar crunch Metheny, well, is just unmistakeably Metheny, with the lovely minimalist overdubs his trusty companion. It’s a fairly hi-tech record that nonetheless retains its humanity, although with a certain mystical apparatus attached, archangels or no. ‘Mastema’ at the beginning has the most driving jazz-rock intensity, while ‘Sariel’ is the most “middle Eastern” in a way although it twists and turns into a kind of road movie, swapping sensuality for a rickety momentum that is both appealing and different. ‘Phanuel’ becomes a love song by the end, as the curtain of disembodied voices and altered rhythmic emphasis reduce the overall effect to an evocative essence. Tap has some gorgeous moments, and Metheny is simply marvellous, negotiating the complexities of the writing with consummate artistry. As an early birthday present to Zorn what could be better?
Released on 20 May
Pat Metheny, above
Tune into Jazz on 3 tonight on BBC Radio 3 for the first UK airplay of ‘Mastema’
Time machine: Basquiat Strings as they were
They might have to graffiti the news on the walls but Basquiat Strings, a band that led the way in fusing cutting edge jazz within a strings format, is returning after an extended hiatus to release an album long in the can called Part Two next month. A new-look Basquiats line-up will also tour.
Part Two (F-IRE) was recorded just two years on from picking up what was a welcome but surprise Mercury nomination in 2007 that cemented their reputation and paved the way for the zeitgeist across Europe to encompass other similarly minded ensembles, such as radio.string.quartet.vienna and later the Atom String Quartet in Poland.
The Basquiats on their debut album Basquiat Strings With Seb Rochford were able to reimagine material such as Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’ but now the band’s leader Ben Davis says Part Two: “Is an extension of the first record, producing an alternative string sound from the spontaneity of jazz, rawness of ethnic sounds, and finesse and heavy arco attacking fusion of classical/contemporary music.”
Second coming: album due on 13 May
The Basquiats on the album are the violins of Emma Smith (who also features on the acclaimed new Ellington in Anticipation record) and Vicky Fifield; with Jennymay Logan, viola; Ben Davis, cello; Richard Pryce, double bass and Seb Rochford, drums; plus violinist Amanda Drummond and Outhouse drummer Dave Smith, on some tracks. All the tunes all composed by Ben Davis apart from the final track and are: ‘Calum Campbell’, ‘Bobette II’, ‘History of Her’, ‘Slopes’, ‘Scam’, Great Gables’, ‘Bebella’ ‘Jack and Jill’, ‘Hop Scotch’, and ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’. Tour dates with Davis joined by Seb Rochford, Fly Agaric’s Fred Thomas on bass, and Newt guitarist Graeme Stephen are: Village Hall, Hunton (Kent) 16 May; Vortex, London 17-18 May; Stables, Milton Keynes, 19 May; Queen’s theatre, Barnstaple, 22 May; St George’s, Bristol, 23 May; and Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 25 May.
40 Kurt Elling tracks
Ahead of the Kurt Elling Ronnie Scott’s residency this week here are 40 tracks featuring the singer that pack the biggest punch in terms of interpretation, delivery, and overall performance to whet your appetite
40 ‘Rosa Morena’ bossa time from This Time It’s Love. Understated and all the better for it.
39 On ‘The Beauty of All Things’ Elling showed his control at speed on this nimble track from The Messenger.
38 On ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ part of Elling’s appeal is his maturity and believability. From Flirting With Twilight.
37 ‘Matte Kudasai’. Who would have thought it? The Kurtster does King Crimson. Laconic and persuasive. From the Don Was-produced album The Gate.
36 Lovely swinging stuff from the band on ‘April in Paris’, and Elling responds and how! Featured on The Messenger.
35 No pressure let’s be Frank: on ‘Come Fly With Me’ Elling doesn’t do the obvious and refuses to deal with it as a swinger. He adds new depth in the process. From the new 1619 Broadway album.
34 On ‘Norwegian Wood’ Elling opens the song up, and what a guitar solo from John McLean. From The Gate.
33 ‘Remembering Veronica’. Adventurous but still familiar. From Close Your Eyes.
32 Wonderfully weighted take on Paul Simon’s ‘An American Tune’, a highlight of 1619 Broadway. Elling does mournful.
31 On ‘Orange Blossoms in Summertime’ it’s hip and laidback. From Flirting With Twilight.
30 ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ is the ultimate Elling suburban critique, and a nod to Ken Nordine into the bargain. From 1619 Broadway.
29 ‘After the Love Has Gone’ sees Elling step back into a private zone. Quietly moving. From The Gate.
28 ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ from Live in Chicago. An over familiar song holds no fear.
27 ‘Tutti for Cootie’ Ridiculously catchy and lively, it’s wise guy time. From the new Brill Building album.
26 ‘You Send Me’ also from 1619 Broadway. A vibey treatment.
25 ‘A Time for Love’ from This Time It’s Love, and Elling shows he’s not just sentimental and blue.
24 ‘Lil’ Darlin’’ can be a boring big band staple these days. In Elling’s hands at a slow tempo it more than earns its place on this list. From Flirting With Twilight.
23 Scat time ‘Downtown live’ from the Live in Chicago album: “Sing along now”, says Kurt!
22 ‘Higher Vibe’ from Man in the Air. The spiritual side without any of the usual phoney banter.
21 On ‘Easy Living’ the horns respond as if Elling is a horn player himself. From Flirting With Twilight.
20 A very nuanced take on ‘The Very Thought of You’. Again from This Time It’s Love, made during Elling’s Blue Note years.
19 ‘Man in the air’: ‘He can fly off anywhere’ can the man in the air, and so too can Elling on the title track to one of his best albums.
18 ‘Steppin’ Out’ is about turning a likeable enough pop song into a classic swinger. Elling makes Joe Jackson’s song really move. From The Gate.
17 ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ from The Messenger: E is for Ellington, too.
16 ‘Tight’ from Night Moves. Sage advice from the singer. Truly effortless.
15 ‘Night Dream Live’, on home ground on the live Chicago album. Tremendous impact and band energy here.
14 ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’ Warm and swinging. From Dedicated to You.
13 On ‘Minuano’ it’s a case of getting completely inside the Pat Metheny classic composition. From Man in the Air.
12 On ‘Nature Boy’ the Chicagoan is optimistic and elegant as he powers up on The Messenger.
11 ‘All Or Nothing At All’ from the Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album Dedicated To You. Lots of drama and this live recording crackles with energy.
10 ‘Time To say Goodbye’: comforting and comfortably accomplished. From Man in the Air. There’s no need to try to impress any more.
9 ‘I’m Thru With Love’, Elling’s great on material associated with Nat King Cole. From Flirting with Twilight.
8 ‘A New Body and Soul’ from Nightmoves. Technique, expression, improvisational flair, it’s got it all.
7 ‘Ballad of the Sad Young Men’: Almost dropping the tempo to a dead stop on this Landesmann/Wolf classic back in the 1990s on Close Your Eyes.
6 ‘Lush Life (Live)’ Classic take on the Strayhorn song. From Dedicated to You.
5 ‘You Are Too Beautiful’: Corny but effective. The audience love it and they’re not faking. Again from Dedicated to You.
4 ‘In The Winelight’ from Man in the Air. It’s all about the feel. Almost genius.
3 ‘Golden Lady’ a tremendous counter-intuitive version of Stevie Wonder’s song. From The Gate.
2 ‘Nancy With the Laughing Face’. Phil Silvers’ song got very lucky. From Dedicated To You.
1 ‘Nightmoves’ Darkness and light come together on this Michael Franks song. From the 2007 album of the same name.
Jamil Sheriff Big Band
Pianist Sheriff lectures at the Leeds College of Music as do some other members of the 16-piece big band here, beginning modally on ‘Future Car’. It is, despite the title, a lively 1950s-era set of wheels that runs on gas rather than petrol (or for that matter hydrogen), equipped with a tantalising solo from Jamie Taylor who then digs digger with a more extensive feature on third track ‘T.T.F’. Nine tracks in all composed and arranged by Sheriff, the title track (the word refers to the study of fish) has a lovely far-away feel to it in the horn theme eventually allowing Sheriff to emerge. The pianist, who’s 36, formed his own octet a decade ago and released Daydreams on GLP and later Backchat for 33 records five years ago, so he’s a seasoned bandleader and composer and Ichthyology points to further development three years on from the big band having been founded. His influences on the evidence here seem to range from Gil Evans (‘T.T.F’) to Oliver Nelson (at least as far as the horns are concerned), and Sheriff likes close harmonies and improvising around a scale. You’ll hear little clashes rather than blaring horns in his arranging but in a year when prevailing fashions have favoured Ellingtonia this is a bit different. Of the soloists Tori Freestone from Compassionate Dictatorship on flute particularly emerges well, and Taylor is a name to watch out for. SG
June Tabor, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren’s Quercus released earlier this month is a folk-jazz revelation, an album that not since 1990s-era band Lammas with saxophonist Tim Garland, and Don Paterson now a leading poet, has jazz and folk combined so effectively. The record also combines English folk traditions with hints of Celtic songcraft, a very unusual feat deftly accomplished. Touring at the moment with dates at the Stables in Milton Keynes tomorrow, Exeter on the 23rd, and then Bristol, Gateshead, Coventry, London and Salisbury, the band having taken on the name of the album straddles folk and, by association and intent, jazz. The 11 songs on the record have taken some time to be released, seven years since they were recorded in Basingstoke on a fabled piano in the town’s Anvil venue. But it’s more than worth the wait and it’s Warren’s interplay with the full expressive sound of Tabor’s voice (like Norma Waterson’s slightly, but darker than Christine Tobin’s) that counts.
Iain Ballamy here and in Food recently has been on the form of his life, and his solo for instance on ‘Near But Far Away’ distils a life time’s work on ballads. At the end ‘All I Ask of You’ is a reminder of the moving version of the song on Balloon Man Ballamy’s first big breakthrough in the late-1980s. Texts of the songs draw on disparate sources including Robert Burns, A. E .Housman and Shakespeare, and highlights include the lovely ‘Who Wants the Evening Rose’ where the honesty of Tabor’s voice momentarily recalling the late Kirsty MacColl, is truest. Ballamy here, oak-sturdy as the genus the band itself takes its name from, intertwines his improvisations with Warren’s superbly empathetic accompaniment so appropriately.
June Tabor pictured
Speake low: Jeff Williams (above, left), Martin Speake, and Mike Outram
Saxophonist Martin Speake’s new recording, a double album called Always a First Time was released a decade after Change of Heart was recorded, Speake’s last big statement until now eventually emerging on ECM. It’s very stop and start with Speake, one of the 1980s Britjazz generation’s biggest talents but whose contribution is most difficult to gauge. Change of Heart recorded with the late Paul Motian, Mick Hutton, and Bobo Stenson, was praised at the time for its Lee Konitz-type clarity and “unhurried” playing. And Always a First Time, this new double album released on Speake’s own label retains that palpable sense of patience, beginning at an almost stately pace.
The Konitz connection is retained, not just in Speake’s sound but in the presence of former Konitz drummer Jeff Williams returning from the quartet. Speake also dedicates ‘Ramshackle’ to Konitz.
At the Vortex gig the Finchley-based saxophonist appears with Williams and guitarist Mike Outram. On Always A First Time Williams appears in an up-front role throughout the 20 songs just like the other two musicians, with Outram also performing a crucial function, colouring the sound especially on the Puccini aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (dedicated to Speake’s father, appropriately). Oddly you don’t miss the bass, but Outram’s skill has a lot to do with this as well as Williams’ ability to make the drums sing.
The trio covers a great deal of ground only partially explained by the extra canvas the two CDs provide. With songs dedicated to friends, mentors and inspirations Always a First Time is predominantly ballad-driven, but it’s not particularly brooding. More philosophical, and on tracks such as ‘Twister’, on the second CD, there is also a sense of abandon that a quick first listen might not straight away fix on to but is definitely there. Recorded in the same room, unseparated, without headphones, the way records used to be made Speake says “we all played from the heart”. And you can tell this when a song like ‘Meditation’, which crops up on both discs with two different dedicatees one of whom includes Fidel Castro, dissolves (on the second disc) into a ‘listening silence’, when you just know the players like what they’re hearing and do not need to push the tune on any more than is strictly necessary in case the mood is spoiled. The second of the CDs may well have the edge, as it’s a bit more open, and perhaps the club gig will draw on this aspect of Speake’s approach. But the more orthodox ballad-and- cool school bop approach on the first disc, with songs that include Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ and many fine Speake originals, have an integrity that is a hallmark of Always a First Time as is its sense of the bigger picture. SG
Beatles, Bach, and balmy strings on Redman’s latest
Sooner or later, and this is only when a jazz artist becomes successful, he or she can put out records and give concerts in massive halls that are of a satisfyingly high standard sufficient to retain their fans and attract new ones, but somehow don’t rattle any cages. They don’t need to, and it’s not like the artist is coasting. It’s just an “at ease with yourself” kind of feeling. Joshua Redman, even when he wasn’t at peace with himself, always had a calmness and clarity about him, and while not an old fashioned player in the ultra young-fogey sense, wasn’t mad keen to be a trailblazing innovator either. Dewey Redman, his late father, was so much more of an avantgardist in his day, although there are many more similarities than differences than you might think. The first big talking point on Walking Shadows is the fact that Brad Mehldau has produced it and plays Boswell to Redman’s Dr Johnson, manicuring every nuance and little touch in this diary of strings-laden discovery. Brad puts his stamp on the record by suggesting ensemble arrangements and pointing Joshua in the direction of Lennon and McCartney. ‘Let it Be’ is as quietly moving as ‘Tears in Heaven’ on Wish, with Mehldau perfect and Redman so very cool on what could have been a cheesefest.
During the European tour of Highway Rider I thought Redman had found a new space for himself both as a performer and in the way he listened to the Britten Sinfonia before he joined in to solo at their London concert in the Barbican. This new record is a slightly snoozy but very upmarket ballads (and Bach) affair, and even with the newer material to bear in mind Redman shows his jazz pedigree best by a very nuanced take on a classic ballad in ‘Lush Life’, a memorable interpretation. It’s not angsty or a memorial but just languorous and that’s Redman’s style. He’s like a good friend having a heart-to-heart throwing in a few jokes to lighten the mood over a few beers. The band is a mix of Brad’s with the ever reliable bassist Larry Grenadier and Brad joined by the distinguished Wayne Shorter Quartet drummer Brian Blade, while both Joshua and Brad provide arrangements as does Patrick Zimmerli whose music Mehldau toured in the UK earlier this year alternating with Mehliana. I think Redman’s James Farm in 2011 was a more adventurous record (and fans took its quality for granted), but Redman has been less daring with these ballads and not just because they’re ballads. But that said it’s a likeable record that has a mellow mood all of its own and at its best is like a conversation you don’t want to end. Stephen Graham
Walking Shadows is released on 7 May
Joshua Redman above
Lineage (clockwise from top left): Byron Wallen, Tony Kofi, Trevor Watkis, Rod Youngs, and Larry Bartley
It’s looking like Lineage are to make their Ronnie Scott’s debut on 12 June, now confirmed (4.30pm update) on the club’s site following the news broken by the quintet’s Tony Kofi today.
This is great for the music following on from the supergoup’s London debut in Hideaway earlier in the year.
That gig was only their second gig ever after an earlier try-out in Brighton. With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist Tony Kofi concentrating on alto saxophone and soprano sax, the quintet features a rhythm section of fine Mulgrew Miller-influenced pianist Trevor Watkis, bassist Larry Bartley, and UK-based American drummer Rod Youngs, like Bartley and Kofi, a member of the great Abdullah Ibrahim’s band Ekaya.
The Collins Dictionary defines the word ‘Lineage’ as meaning in one primary sense “direct descent from an ancestor, especially a line of descendants from one ancestor”, and both as a diaspora band united in shared musical and cultural approaches, and as stylistic descendants of some of the giants of jazz from the hard bop years and their modern day counterparts, the band succeeds on both fronts as it does on its own terms as top class players.
It’s also a meeting of old musical friends, as for instance Kofi and Wallen go way back to the heyday of 1990s hard bop band Nu Troop, and you can tell when two instrumentalists have a close understanding as they know each other’s moves and can read each other’s direction beyond the letter of the closely arranged often intricate material as here.
Kofi said that night at Hideaway he couldn’t think of anyone better to play the trumpet part on his ballad ‘A Song For Papa Jack’, which appeared on Kofi’s acclaimed 2006 album Future Passed, the song dedicated to Tony’s father who died 15 years ago, and Wallen played it beautifully.
Wallen, also a member of Mulatu Astatke’s fine band about to release a new record for Jazz Village, made the astute comment: “Music is about relationships,” and that’s something audiences and musicians neglect to remember sometimes, but this band doesn’t in the broader sense even for one moment.
Bookended by Woody Shaw tunes at Hideaway, opening with ‘Sweet Love of Mine’ and culminating at the end of the first set in Shaw’s classic mover, ‘Moontrane’ (Byron explained the title by saying amusingly: “Woody Shaw had a dream of Coltrane riding a bicycle on the moon”). Other set highlights that night were Tony Williams’ ‘Citadel’, heard on the much missed drummer’s 1980s Blue Note quintet album Civilization, here featuring Trevor Watkis on fine form as he was throughout, especially later on his own tune ‘With Substance’, which featured Larry Bartley and the deep throb of his bass was captured accurately by the club sound system, while Youngs’ cymbals were crisp and clear in the body of the big room.
This band just has to be heard. And it will be in June at the heart of the matter and the heat of the action on Frith Street.
Tickets from www.ronniescotts.co.uk
Tracks and release date confirmed
It’s an achievement in itself to perform at the Montreux jazz festival, the Swiss summertime festival founded by the late Claude Nobs, one of the few festivals to stand tall with Newport in jazz mythology where the whole notion of a jazz festival was born in the first place.
Now the Neil Cowley Trio have gone one step further with the release of Live at Montreux 2012 confirmed for a 29 April release by Eagle.
The Cowley band played the festival for the first time on 11 July last year and the release comes hard on the heels of the trio winning the accolade of UK jazz artist of the year at the prestigious Jazz FM awards in January following a public vote.
London-born pianist Cowley, 40, with Australian bassist Rex Horan and New Zealander Evan Jenkins on drums take jazz to a new generation within a classic jazz piano trio format, their music laced with influences including EST, indie rock, and electronic dance music. Cowley is also known for his work with Adele appearing on 19 and 21 and features crucially on monster hit ‘Rolling in the Deep’, the pianist’s ability to build hypnotic drama in his backing to the vocal part of the song’s wide appeal.
2012 besides recording in Montreux saw the band’s biggest UK concert to date with a Barbican hall gig accompanied by strings during the London Jazz Festival.
Live in Montreux as well as appearing as a DVD is also released as a CD, and on Blu-Ray. Tracks are: ‘Lament’, Rooster Was a Witness’, ‘Distance By Clockwork’, ‘Slims’, ‘Hug The Greyhound’, ‘Kenny Two Steps’, ‘Box Lily’, ‘How Do We Catch Up’, ‘Hope Machine’, ‘Meyer’, ‘Skies Are Rare’, ‘La Porte’, ‘Fable’, ‘The Face of Mount Molehill’, and ‘She Eats Flies.’
The Cowley trio (originally featuring Richard Sadler on bass) debuted with Displaced in 2006, from which ‘She Eats Flies’ ‘How Do We Catch Up’ and ‘Kenny Two Steps’ are taken. The album won a BBC jazz award the following year and went into the studio to record Loud…Louder….Stop, which then appeared in 2008 although no tracks from this album are featured on the DVD. ‘Hug The Greyhound’ from the follow-up Radio Silence is, though, included, as is ‘Box Lily’ released in 2010, the last to feature Sadler, with the rest of the material drawn from The Face of Mount Molehill, an album that saw rocker Horan join and the band augmented with strings and electronic textures. This new release should further enhance the trio’s reputation internationally with American touring having already begun in earnest last year.
The Neil Cowley trio top and the cover of the DVD above
Hülsmann soars on the beautiful Mehldau-esque introduction to ‘Sealion’
A baker’s dozen of tracks, the majority of compositions written by Julia Hülsmann, and her husband Marc Muellbauer, In Full View (ECM), the pianist/composer’s latest album released next week is a quartet affair, the difference this time is that Hülsmann is joined by trumpeter/flugel player Tom Arthurs whose superb but much delayed album Postcards from Pushkin with Richard Fairhurst was released last year.
In Full View has multiple points of entry, and one of the main talking points comes at the end with a nuanced take on ‘Nana’ by Manuel de Falla, the twentieth century Spanish composer’s lovely melody based on an Andalucian lullaby.
Hülsmann also demonstrates just what she can do without artifice as an interpretative artist on the beautiful Mehldau-esque introduction to ‘Sealion’, the song also known as ‘See Line Woman’ made famous by Nina Simone and covered more recently by Canadian indie folk singer/songwriter Feist.
Arthurs’ ‘Forgotten Poetry’ is another firm highlight of an album on early listens that as a quartet extends the ambition of Hülsmann’s writing that bit further, and shows the acute sensitivity of Arthurs on melancholic ballads and mood pieces.
In Full View was recorded over three days in June 2012 by the Bonn-born Hülsmann, a former pupil of the late Walter Norris who famously appeared on Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary debut Something Else!!!!.
The Hülsmann trio was founded in 1997, has changed personnel a little over the years, and now with the addition of Arthurs, who first burst on to the scene just under a decade ago with the remarkable Centripede, moves to an adventurous if more settled-sounding fresh phase, its essence intact.
As well as collaborating with singer Rebekka Bakken for ACT, with Scattering Poems, Hülsmann has also released The End of a Summer, a trio record for ECM featuring half a dozen of her own tunes, along with co-operatively written band material, and a version of Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’. Summer was followed by Imprint, but In Full View reflects some of her very best work to date, heard in a clear new light with Arthurs. SG
Released on Monday 15 April. Julia Hülsmann, above
Time still does the talking for Patty Griffin
“Time goin’ do the talking/ Years’ll do the walking,” soul great Bettye LaVette sang on her return to form last year and rising to the theme later in the song almost hollered “…change the locks on the door/ Learn how to take a little bit more/ I can outrun all the devils here/ But I just can’t outrun doubt."
LaVette might have taken a few liberties with the song but she did everyone a favour by covering it in the first place. It’s ‘Time Will Do The Talking’ the lead-off track from Living with Ghosts from Patty Griffin’s 1996 debut, an album that may well be long in the past but, although it may be a truism, great songs refuse to age.
Griffin is just announced to gig in the UK on the back of a new album American Kid to be released in May with a Union Chapel date in July. The new album was written to honour her father and is her first album of new material in six years. Of late Griffin has appeared as a guest with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy and toured solo dates of her own in the States last year according to Rolling Stone. A Top 40 Billboard album artist her songs have been covered by a wide range of artists across genres from the Dixie Chicks to Detroit soul great LaVette.
Listen to Bettye’s take on the song ‘Time Will Do The Talking’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVdeU0w5zs8
‘Ohio’ from American Kid you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/newwestrecords/patty-griffin-ohio
Patty Griffin above
Damon Albarn with Michael Horovitz
Released for the fast approaching Record Store Day on Saturday 20 April the vinyl-only Kings Cross jazz label Gearbox is to release a single featuring poet Michael Horovitz called ‘Ballade Of The Nocturnal Commune / Extra Time Meltdown’ when the poet is joined by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Paul Weller.
The Blur pair and the Modfather also appear with the distinguished anti-war poet on the new heavy vinyl album Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues, the title track of which was commissioned by Paul Weller and the text of which appeared within the artwork of Weller’s album Sonik Kicks.
These releases are to coincide with the first ever release of archive recording Blues For The Hitchiking Dead (Jazz Poetry SuperJam #1) on two pieces of heavy 12-inch vinyl within a box set that recalls the important anti-nuclear era of the 1960s. ‘Hitchhiking Dead’ features the Live New Departures Jazz Poetry Septet in a March 1962 recording, with Horovitz and poet/songwriter Pete Brown playing the student union of Southampton university along with Stan Tracey, Jeff Clyne, Laurie Morgan, John Mumford and Bobby Wellins. In pre-release publicity material Pete Brown is quoted as saying: “Listening to the Blues again, the first thing that hits me is the fear. This was the most dangerous known period in history for a potential nuclear war, and we really felt it…. This may be a piece of history, an antique even, but it still has a lot to say. And we are by no means out of trouble yet.” MB
Damon Albarn and Michael Horovitz above (photo: Damon Albarn unofficial).
In the States as Jazz Times has reported these records are being released for Record Store Day in limited runs: Miles Davis Round About Midnight (Legacy 12" LP); Miles Davis Milestones (Legacy 12" LP); Miles Davis Someday My Prince Will Come (Legacy 12" LP); Fela Kuti Sorrow Tears and Blood/Perambulator (Knitting Factory); The Cal Tjader Trio The Cal Tjader Trio (Fantasy 3-9/Concord 10" orange vinyl); The Dave Brubeck Trio Distinctive Rhythm Instrumentals (Fantasy 3-2/Concord 10" red vinyl), and Marco Benevento Invisible Baby (The Royal Potato 12" blue vinyl). More at www.jazztimes.com
Chet Baker: gone too soon
Released in May to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the death of Chet Baker, Too Cool: The Life and Music of Chet Baker, as this 12-song set is ambitiously titled, is a new album that combines trumpet and vocals on material written by Chet Baker, with other songs by Sue Richardson and one a fan-girl anthem called ‘Adored’ the Sussex-based Richardson has co-written with Annette Keen. The trumpeter, who has worked with Mina Agossi and Ian Shaw in recent years and whose brassy trumpet style is forthright and bold, is joined by a modern mainstream band with Karen Sharp on baritone saxophone making her presence felt on Richardson’s tune ‘All Through
It’s pretty laid back stuff, as you can imagine, and fairly undemanding at times although very well meant. Richardson’s singing on ‘My Funny Valentine’ and on the bittersweet ‘Chetty’s Lullaby’ are the pick of the vocals. Sue’s husband Neal, who also produced the record, accompanies effectively on piano and Rhodes while Jazz Jamaica’s Rod Youngs on drums drives the band along, with George Trebar’s double bass a lively presence. There’s guest guitar from Andy Drudy as well as the presence of Karen Sharp referred to above. The album could do, it’s fair to say, with a bit more of the dark side of Chet on display, but maybe that would be pushing everyone’s luck that bit too far. Chet certainly pushed his, as most great artists inevitably do. Their tragedy, but our guilty reward in the music and artistry they leave behind.
Sue Richardson plays a special lunchtime show in Ronnie Scott’s on 19 May, a club Chet himself performed in. Watch this extraordinary video of Chet Baker at Ronnie Scott’s in 1986 with footage filmed just two years before the trumpeter’s untimely passing in Amsterdam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6IiFpOVBjU
Andy Kershaw once likened modern jazz to a “fire in a pet shop", well he would, wouldn’t he?, but in a suitable spirit of mischief, prog jazzers World Service Project take that fire on the road, presumably carrying it like the Olympic torch with protective gloves accompanied by a bus riding alongside blaring out inappropriate music, possibly by Heather Small.
They’re off to Hull and back beginning on Humberside at the Pave Bar on Sunday (14 April) followed by dates in Lancashire, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, da da da, and ending up, at least for this month, in Bristol on the 28th.
They’re “the Led Bib you can dance to", as Moochin’ About’s Selwyn Harris so memorably put it. He’s got a point, with WSP apparently harbouring a deep seated grudge against Rick Wakeman into the bargain I’d add. The band hunkers around the band’s visionary Dave Morecroft at the keyboards in oddly asymmetric and suitably anonymous fashion but that’s part of the plan: it’s all about the band even with all those tricky time signatures and real ale-powered crypto-funk handbrake turns as the band gets into one.
Digging in live in Dalston last summer
There’s a new album out to coincide with the tour featuring the title track, which has already appeared on a collectable EP called Live From London. I’m not sure of the other tracks so far but ‘De-Frienders’, a highlight of last year’s Match & Fuse festival in Dalston, might make the cut as well (looks like ‘Barmy Army might be on it going by their Soundcloud page). If they don’t it’s a case of tracking down WSP’s back catalogue to a local pet shop that may even these days double as a pop-up vinyl emporium and probably offers a bespoke key-cutting service as well. There are worse things than a burn-up on the high street, the band seem to saying, as an artfully de-(be)friended Kershaw might realise if he heard this lot. SG
Quiet Money Recordings **** RECOMMENDED
The Liane Carroll album we’ve all been waiting for in more ways than one is released on Monday, an album that surpasses her greatest and considerable achievements to date such as her quietly moving 2003 album, Billy No Mates, or the way, live, she sings ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with that despairing rebuke in her voice. Forget all the awards she’s won this is where the music does the talking. The 11 songs of Ballads, such sad lingering ones, with their demon eyes blazing furiously, or simply gazing slackly as the song demands, the mood set in terms of interpretation by the resigned quietly dark despair in the ambivalent ‘Here’s to Life’, as good in its different way as the superlative version of the song on Barbra Streisand’s Love is the Answer. Another early album peak of Ballads is the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen song Sinatra made his own, ‘Only the Lonely’, set for big band by a 21st century Nelson Riddle, Chris Walden, its opening lyric: ‘Each place I go/only the lonely go’, could even be the maxim for an album that as a journey to intimacy thrives on isolation as in the stark Gwilym Simcock piano accompaniment to ‘Mad About the Boy’, or returning to the theme explicitly on ‘The Two Lonely People’, Carroll’s expression by times hotly emotional or icily cold depending on the mood she’s conveying. Be warned though, it’s not a depressing album in any way, as her version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ more than affirms. In a sense Ballads is a confessional album gathering together many classic complementary songs cleverly collected and interpreted that espouse loneliness, loss, but above all a longing for love. Carroll is at her most heartfelt and life-affirming on Todd Rundgren’s ‘Pretending to Care’ from 1985’s A Cappella with a remarkable, pingingly-pure, top note at a crucial arc of the song. No one’s come close to releasing a jazz vocals album of this quality so far this year and my guess is it will be a long wait until someones does.
Bassist draws on Middle Eastern sound for trio album featuring guests including Jason Yarde
Jazz record labels you would have thought are an endangered species. With little or no subsidy from arts bodies or charitable foundations their very survival particularly in the niche jazz area is always an issue. Few labels can do it all, possess the ability to invest and grow their artists, keep to their brief, and grow their business by spotting new talent and cutting good deals so they can at least cover their costs, and with any luck find an artist that the public gets behind. For a long period the UK indie jazz label sector was out of step with the progress made in other parts of Europe particularly in Germany and France where there are bigger markets and a bigger and deeper appetite for jazz to cushion the development period. That now has changed with a wave of new active indie jazz labels. Distribution patterns have also altered greatly since the digital revolution of the last 15 years, and with the decreasing costs of manufacturing albums also helping the small operator for bread and butter physical releases and the ability to harness cheaper means of marketing and PR via social media, newer labels such as Edition, Naim Jazz and Jellymould have taken on the challenge of getting new jazz out there to find and meet demand.
Whirlwind Recordings, bassist Michael Janisch’s label, has shown consistent growth in the last two years and ahead of releasing a new live album by Lee Konitz next month, a landmark release for Whirlwind, the label has now signed the Matt Ridley Trio for an autumn release with the bassist’s debut album Thymos (Greek for ‘spiritedness’) set to appear in October.
With alto saxophone star Jason Yarde guesting, bassist Ridley, a Trinity college of music graduate in 2005, will preview tunes from the album at a club show in the Vortex later this month. The bassist’s trio features John Turville whose Parliamentary award-winning album Midas first put the pianist on the map and relative unknown George Hart on drums. Pretty much a complete unknown himself still, Ridley has, though, worked extensively as a member of the popular Darius Brubeck Quartet touring widely, and has appeared with the MJQ Celebration band featuring Jim Hart, Barry Green, and Steve Brown, as well as the Lyric Ensemble. A SE London Collective scenester Ridley has also collaborated with celebrated oudist Attab Haddad, who is an additional guest on Thymos.
The debut album features original tunes and Ridley says ahead of the Vortex date: “I envisaged a sound encompassing the exotic flavours and emotions of Middle Eastern music, with the jazz sensibility of improvisation on complex structures.” One to watch for later in the year. There’s a tour then in the offing as well. SG
Matt Ridley pictured above
Gimme the Boots
Continuing the label’s commitment to young German jazz Gimme the Boots taps the Maceo Parker side of soul jazz with Rhodes knitting in, plenty of Maceo-like blowing from Felix F. Falk on various saxes and much else, and there’s so much positive energy flying around that the band could power a small town with their relentless flow. It does wear a bit thin after a while, and by the time a didgeridoo, no less, is produced on the title track the band has almost done itself a mischief. Debuting for the label with For Those About To Funk a few years back, Mr Funky Trombone himself, Nils Landgren, produced these funkster likely lads. Not so much feel good as feel exhausted Mo’Blow must have needed a good sit down after these 12 tracks, and so might you. Released on 29 April. SG
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
Swedish Ballads… & More
This may sound heretical but there comes a point when everyone has to put away their Miles Davis records. It may well be that his music is so engrained in listeners and musicians’ consciousness that the imagining and being-influenced-by will still make their presence felt. Like sunlight, and darkness, it’s unavoidable. Scott Hamilton is possibly the antithesis of Miles Davis in that he has never been and probably never will be even remotely fashionable. He probably put away his Miles Davis records long ago, and more to the point his Ben Webster ones a generation back (although Hamilton is a mere youth in “jazz years” of 58). Yet the first track on Swedish Ballads… & More is ‘Dear Old Stockholm’, based on a Swedish folk song called ‘Ack Värmeland Du Sköna’, and identified closely with not just Miles Davis but John Coltrane. Hamilton is not derivative essentially any more (he really is too good to have that accusation hurled at him) but it’s easy to place Hamilton nonetheless, and it’s in the Golden Age of jazz any time from the year Coleman Hawkins recorded ‘Body and Soul’ in 1939 until the release of Kind of Blue in 1959.
Recorded not in Sweden but the Danish capital of Copenhagen just four months ago the tweedy popular tenorist, looking a little tired in the album artwork but playing as beautifully as ever with that vibrato-laden teasingly laconic sound of his on a ballad, is joined by pianist Jan Lundgren, whose style is closer to Swedish lost leader Jan Johansson than most even if it’s filtered via Wynton Kelly, along with bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Kristian Leth.
Lundgren provides the gloss in the notes on the seven tracks that besides ‘Stockholm’ are ‘Swing in F’, ‘You Can’t Be In Love With A Dream’, a big headline-grabbing highlight, ‘Trubbel’, Quincy Jones’ ‘Stockholm Sweetnin’’, ‘Min soldat’ (‘My Soldier’), and very suitably Jan Johansson’s ‘Blues i Oktaver’.
To be perfectly frank everything on this album sounds American and a time machine takes you back to a world photographed chiefly in black and white despite the Swedish origins of the tunes. This isn’t really an issue at all, though, so don’t be put off. Pipe and slippers music played with panache and perfect as a backdrop for a Sunday afternoon snooze the album works on a blue and sentimental level. Olle Adolphson’s bossa-hinting ballad ‘Trubbel’ is a revelation, just one of the delights of this latest slice of Hamiltonia.