Jazz blog: notes, tips, recommendations
Elina Duni Quartet
It’s always tempting to second guess a label or make sweeping generalisations about their output. Labels with a big release schedule and eclectic tastes, such as ECM’s, regularly by their ambition prove the absurdity of such dragooning of music into neat little phrases. Of course, that’s not to say that everything is individual, again a fairly ludicrous attitude, but certainly this release by the Elina Duni Quartet is unusual. Singer Duni born in the Albanian capital of Tirana in 1981, sings mournfully over a dozen songs on the album, the title of which means ‘Beyond the Mountain’, several of which mine the fairly unknown folk music of her native land. Her Swiss husband Colin Vallon’s trio (its personnel changed now since their Albanian-influenced album Rruga with the trio’s longstanding drummer Samuel Rohrer replaced here by Norbert Pfammatter) is a typically modern European style very quiet piano trio that we’re accustomed to since Tord Gustavsen’s rise to prominence. So it’s library-like in the level of contemplation at play. Duni came to Switzerland in the early-1990s and it’s her collision with the world outside the formerly closed country of Albania through her music that makes this album startling. The quartet has released hard to find albums Baresha and Lume Lume for the tiny Meta Records label which I’ll seek out as clearly the music here on the new album is mature and deepy considered and the journey the musicians have made would be interesting to trace. Patrice Moret, the quartet’s bassist, holds the key to much of the integrating of vocals and trio on Matanë Malit, and it’s clear that Balkan folk songs have rarely sounded so ancient seen through the lens of a very modern artist in Duni.
Elina Duni Quartet, pictured above
2012 has been a big year for Breach. With touring in the summer that led them to the Rochester Jazz Festival in New York state and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada as well as a run of dates all over England and Scotland recently, their just released new album Borders finds them claim their due place in the sun at last, or as the album cover picture has it, an overcast beach. The album, released on their own Breach label sees guitarist Graeme Stephen also manipulating electronics, with organist Paul Harrison in electronic mode as well, plus drummer/percussionist Chris Wallace testing very interesting waters.
Whether it’s teasing with the melody of ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ on ‘I Smell Something’, or the organ trio format itself, at the heart of the matter, there’s a playfulness at work and plenty of explorative and engaged playing throughout that manages to vault over the stultifying limitations of the format. “Paul Harrison would like to apologise to Duke Ellington”, the drily amusing note puts it, so clearly Breach aren’t up themselves, the latter a factory fault setting in band ego-land quite often. This trio find a way on these eight tracks to dispel nearest easy comparisons (say Lifetime, or to a lesser extent Troyka), and fit in well with the current redefining of how prog fits within jazz. Harrison plays the organ like a synth, if you know what I mean, and that makes all the difference, so he comes over like Gary Husband might with John McLaughlin sometimes, Larry Young very occasionally. There’s less firepower needed as the idea clearly is not a Heath Robinson-like fusion explosion, and I think that’s where the subtlety of the electronics comes in as well as Stephen’s superb approach to jazz guitar. He plays in the lineage of Phil Robson perhaps more than McLaughlin and there is considerable flexibility and passion in his playing. Take his Celtic rock-like solo on ‘Borders’, say. The tunes are good (‘Judgement’ is the pick of a strong set, especially the ‘bridge’ section there). A fine record from three players who have something that bit different and distinctive to say with their improvising. Seek them out.
Pictured, above Breach
So what’s in store for 2013? Well, everything goes quiet for a bit in terms of record releases now and over Christmas but already there are pre-release copies of some big releases available and some tracks from them online.
The record companies, at least the ones that are really sussed, allow considerable promo of their albums ages before release these days. It takes time for people to find music despite the universality of the web, time to think about buying tracks, and pre-buy listens are essential in the build, and it’s not just about the hard sell or even a subliminally insidious push.
In the digital age and in a recession it’s as if you have to really believe in the artist to then invest with hard cash and people can get engaged whether they’re media or especially not.
It’s democratising and there’s more open access to listen early than in the old white label days when white labels were scarce. Of course some artists don’t like this new method, and there are records that simply are kept under strict wraps until release, although protective marketing can mess things up. The trailing of tracks generally works and crucially allows time for fans to really get to grip with what their artists are doing new and then they can choose to go out to the clubs and concert halls to hear them. Take a look at say the Babel site for great upfront access to the latest releases and new bands: http://babel-label.bandcamp.com
Last year UK indie Naim Jazz began circulating copies of The Face of Mount Molehill four to five months before its release, something that really helped push sales way past the 6,000 mark, and Harlem indie Motéma garnered even more UK sales for Gregory Porter’s Be Good by providing easily available good quality videos and streams before release although word of mouth from the live shows was the best promotion ultimately, as t’will ever be.
Blue Note are doing the advance trail in different ways for two big releases for 2013: Wayne Shorter’s Without a Net, more of which in a later blog, and José James’ No Beginning No End, which is released on 21-22 January. The work on this began with the help of iTunes and ‘Trouble’ was named track of the week, but also an appearance by James at the associated iTunes fest was a significant factor, supporting Robert Glasper who since then has appeared in promo video form interviewing the New York-based singer for extra matching.
James’ career has fluctuated a great deal since he first emerged on Gilles Peterson’s radar with the hipster DJ signing the at-that-point complete unknown to his label, Brownswood. James’ Coltrane-rooted gigs with Jef Neve were very fine live (see links below) yet their duo album for Impulse disappointed a bit, and I’m not that keen on the hip hop-tinged Black Magic even with Flying Lotus’ imput.
Signing to Blue Note has done wonders for James’ creativity. The new album has an authentic retro jazzed soul sound, not Gregory Porter’s way, say, although both singers profess much love for the music of Nat King Cole. They have very different voices, and James is more alert to the club scene, ‘club’ as in the old acid jazz rare groove sense, and with James it’s one ear to Bill Withers, one ear to Flying Lotus and all ears to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman but Gil Scott-Heron comes in to the picture as well.
The new album of originals opens in bedroom fashion with JJ’s lyrics on ‘It’s All Over Your Body’ with a band featuring bassist Pino Palladino, some retro horns, Robert Glasper and Chris Daddy Dave. World-jazz singer Hindi Zahra guests memorably on the next track ‘Sword and Gun’, yet it’s ‘Trouble’ blessed with a monster groove that really impresses. Ex-Guy Barker and current Van Morrison band member Alistair White on trombone makes his presence felt on this JJ-penned song, written with Scott Jacoby.
‘Vanguard’ following is also excellent, Glasper helming it on Rhodes with Daddy Dave and Pino Palladino, the latter who played very well live with Glasper at the Roundhouse in October and is an album co-producer. Emily King adds lovely feminine touches on the seductive ‘Come to my Door’, the fifth track, and she’s even better on the second of her two album tracks ‘Heaven on the Ground’, which is track six.
‘Do You Feel’ and ‘Make it Right’ passed me by a bit, but ‘Bird of Space’ didn’t, possibly the connoisseurs’ choice and if rumours are right James’ favourite cut from the whole superlative affair, while final tracks ‘No Beginning No End’ and ‘Tomorrow’, the latter with Monk prizewinning pianist Kris Bowers an interesting presence. A record this good hardly ever comes along. Thank goodness it has. Set your clocks for release time in late-January.
Some José James links
They’re new in that they have debuted with an album or haven’t even done that. They’ve often picked up good reviews, impressed live, or have that extra distinctive touch that makes them stand out from the crowd. There’s no science involved in picking them, it’s just a gut feeling. They may change their line-ups, break up acrimoniously in the years to come, last as long as the Rolling Stones, or simply vanish without a trace by breakfast. They’re the lifeblood of the scene, though, and they’re bands, not groups, and nope not ensembles either.
Sons of Kemet
Unbeatable energy from Shabaka and the two-tubs tuba turbanauts
Are you going to go my way? Maths jazz par excellence from mystery man George Fogel and co
Laura Jurd Quartet
Trumpeter’s sensational debut
World Service Project
They matched, it fused
The new melodic straight out of Hamburg
Flexible resourceful improvising: Steve Williamson in his element with Pat Thomas and Orphy Robinson with Cleveland Watkiss on some gigs
Opalińska & Whates
Distant echoes of Komeda and Roman Dylag
Dice Factory, top and Tingvall Trio above