What goes around: Local record shops are back from the dead
Record Store Day isn’t just about the special editions and novelty items released for the big day today. It’s primarily about going to a record shop. That’s actually stepping foot in one. For most people now it is a distinctly odd experience to do just this as it’s a thing that has gone out of fashion. When CDs were new the music industry predicted for years that the end was nigh for vinyl, and now the writing is on the wall for CDs, yet they too are still with us. The last two years has against all industry wisdom seen a big uplift in vinyl sales. Ask a label such as Gearbox who have responded with enthusiasm to the turn-up in trade and they’ll tell you about their Record Store Day plans, and that’s just for one. More at: http://www.marlbank.net/post/47693394770/record-store-day-approaches-hip-to-the-beat.
Sphere: Barronial sounds
While genuinely rare vinyl attracts often staggeringly high prices on a par with a particularly fine vintage wine, relatively recent releases, particularly 1970s and 80s pressings of hard-to-find albums can still be snapped up for less than £10. And of course there’s the added bonus of artwork coming with the vinyl, and album information that digital formats are less equipped to handle unless you like tiny thumb nails run off on a home printer. But it’s not really about trophy items. Pop in, like I did earlier in the week, to an old favourite shop such as Alan’s in north London, where I was delighted to pick up Sphere’s Flight Path. Put out in 1983 a decade that many from the counter-culture generation thought was the death of music itself, on the back of this white Elektra Musician liveried cardboard cover there’s a pipe-smoking Charlie Rouse and the band grouped around him (that’s Buster Williams, the great Kenny Barron and Ben Riley) simply smiling. Put on first track ‘If I Should Lose You’ and you’ll join me in smiling too. And that’s what great music does, and you’ll find it nearer to you than you might think, in a last record shop standing, or not, and not just on Record Store Day. SG
Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
Columbia/Legacy (3 CDs and a DVD) ****
Recorded live in France, Sweden and Germany separated by less than four months these quintet recordings are a curiosity, the work of what’s being called a ‘lost band’ or more optimistically ‘the third great quintet’. It never released a studio album. The bootleg in the subtitle is slightly deceptive as these are official recordings made by European radio stations, not the work of fly-by-night characters with microphones hidden in their coats, and follow the first in the series a 1967 recording released two years ago. Miles is here with Wayne Shorter, the last remaining second quintet member besides the trumpeter; Chick Corea on electric piano and piano; Dave Holland on bass; and Jack DeJohnette, drums.
Tucked inside the box’s sleeve on the back of the pull-out notes there’s a black and white poster depicting four of the band with Wayne sporting a slight moustache caught in the middle of a solo, and Miles eyes shut standing beside him wearing leather trousers, DeJohnette at the back is in a stripy shirt, and a bearded Holland is looking down as he plays. They were even more snappily dressed in the Berlin video with Corea looking sombre.
Each album has stage introductions and share some songs although none are exactly the same in terms of tunes. There are two versions of ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’, for instance, the first on the opening CD with Holland’s riff ringing clear and true. ‘Bitches Brew’ crops up on both the final CD recorded in Stockholm and on the DVD. Corea’s ‘This’ on the Stockholm CD, the producers note, Miles never officially recorded.
Downbeat writer Josef Woodward in the notes quotes Chick Corea who explains that the recordings “document an important step in Miles’ artistic development which take us from the famous suit-and-tie wearing quintet with Herbie… through to this quintet, which definitely leaned more towards the rock and beat generation.”
With electric piano and increased volume at times you can see what he means but how intense is the music? Well it’s not as in-your-face as say the Isle of Wight concert or some later studio sessions but there is plenty of fire power, the first a coiled fist within the velvet glove of ‘Sanctuary’ say and the abstractions of Corea on electric piano do give the music a very modernist edge. But contrast this with the beginning of ‘Milestones’, which sounds actually very old in the opening theme, like a jam session Miles might have played on in the earlier part of his career. Yet listen on and a transformation takes place: DeJohnette’s slashing rhythms are so very different. A track such as ‘Nefertiti’ on the second Antibes CD shows how modern the band is, the nihilism of Corea’s solo early on, say, and the blare and loneliness of ‘Sanctuary’.
George Wein’s polite introduction to the Stockholm concert leads into ‘Bitches Brew’ and this is when for me the music really gets going, more rock-inclined and getting pretty out there rapidly. DeJohnette is vital: providing rolling thunder in a makeshift laboratory. ‘This’, with its shrill opening, is an eye opener. Produced by Richard Seidel and Michael Cuscuna the set is yet another distinguished piece of curating “all in Honor of Miles Davis”. For the Miles Davis obsessive in your life, and those who are verging in that direction, it’s a must.
The Poet’s Embrace
Warner Jazz ****
At last gaining a UK release it’s the best album yet by hipster Haines playing a 1964 Selmer Mark VI
Dance music’s loss may well be jazz’s gain, as the New Zealand tenor saxophonist relocates his sound firmly within the spiritual domain. With his quartet here (pianist Kevin Field, bassist Thomas Botting, and drummer Alain Koetsier) the band journey deep into John Coltrane quartet territory rather than say Alice’s later experimentations beloved of the Mancunian Gondwana school. Dig deep, go way back and make it sincere, and Haines does this very admirably.
Best heard on vinyl
A big gutsy sound, not too dissimilar to Alan Skidmore’s Coltranian tenor approach but with a dance floor skip inevitably folded in, on a ballad of the quality of ‘Offering’ Haines manages to reproduce the feeling Trane put into the different sounding ‘Naima’. That’s no small feat. Using vintage microphones and recording in analogue in Haines’ native New Zealand The Poet’s Embrace is detailed without being stuffy and should appeal to Impulse! obsessives everywhere. Most of the tunes are Haines’ but there’s a suitably laidback take on a tune credited here by Patrick Forge in the notes to Yusef Lateef but also confusingly in the credits to Song For My Father drummer Roy Brooks whose version of ‘Eboness’ (from 1973 Im-Hotep album Ethnic Expression) is nonetheless hugely collectable whoever the author is. Best heard, it’s almost compulsory to say, on vinyl: but the CD sound is immaculate. SG
Released on 6 May
Nathan Haines, top, and the album cover above
Man of mystery Sam Lasserson joins Ethan Iverson above and Jeff Williams at the Vortex tomorrow
Surely Ethan Iverson won’t, will he, lean over to say ‘play it again, Sam?’ Even a whisper might be out of the question from the piano player, or the fun-loving fans in the audience bound to turn out in some number when The Bad Plus’ Iverson plays an exclusive trio club date tomorrow.
No, it’s not with The Bad Plus although he will be back on tour with the acclaimed trio in the UK soon but instead it’s with man of mystery, bassist Sam Lasserson, and the more familiar ex-Lee Konitz drummer and Dave Liebman associate, Jeff Williams whose new quartet album The Listener is released in June. But who exactly is Lasserson?
Well, the bassist (above) is in ECM saxophonist Martin Speake’s quartet, and plays with rising star of the guitar Hannes Riepler, the “Country Gentleman” player who has been helming the burgeoning Sunday night jam downstairs at the Vortex. Lasserson obviously keeps good company.
How the polymath Iverson has hooked up with Lasserson is anyone’s guess but the pianist is a shrewd observer of the scene, and in terms of London is no stranger to the Vortex where the gig is to take place. Iverson four years ago joined Bad Plus drummer Dave King, hipster alto sensation Tim Berne, and cellist Hank Roberts in the very spot for one of the most hardcore improvising gigs ever witnessed at the cutting edge club. Be prepared to stand.
www.vortexjazz.co.uk, Saturday 20 April
Steve Coleman and Five Elements
Pi **** Album of the week
There’s always been a thirst for knowledge with Steve Coleman, and an urge to connect his musical explorations to the wider world. “The title of this recording,” the MBASE originator says in the sleeve notes, “refers to paths of modulating heartbeat-like rhythmic melodies that function similar to the contrapuntal firing of nerve impulses.” And he goes on to explain that the compositions were created spontaneously, then transcribed, and then more improvisations added to “arrive at the final compositions performed by the ensemble.” Coleman credits drummer Milford Graves for his research and music that allowed him to “first become aware of the connection between the biology of the human body, the human soul and music.”
The 14 tracks of Functional Arrhythmias feature the Five Elements in quartet or quintet formation, the main difference between the two settings being the tracks that don’t feature guitarist Miles Okazaki.
Cultured British bassist Anthony Tidd who now lives in the States is back in the Five Elements fold and he plays an important anchoring role throughout but the main drama of the record is the trialogue between saxophone, trumpet, and drums.
When you hear a Steve Coleman record or see him live (for instance most recently with Reflex during the London Jazz Festival in 2011) the sound is immediately identifiable. After all, Coleman invented a whole sound that has influenced a new generation of what people now loosely call “maths jazz” musicians, or for those longer in the tooth, still MBASE. Musicians such as Tom Challenger and Tom Farmer most recently have followed in the wake of Vijay Iyer and before Vijay got the MBASE bug, Steve Williamson, and Barak Schmool who spread the message to his F-IRE Collective adding to other new ideas.
Its base sound is avant funk with a rough edge mixed in with bebop although as the years have gone by there are few clichés of classic bebop left. On a track such as ‘Medulla-Vagus’ there is an Afro-Cuban layer to the abstract picture Coleman paints (an element Coleman has investigated before extensively), while on an Improv-heavy ballad such as the very stark ‘Chemical Intuition’ once more Coleman’s debt to Bunky Green’s sound comes through, and Jonathan Finlayson manages to channel the late Bill Dixon a little. Sean Rickman plays time and no-time on a track such as ‘Chemical Intuition’, and when trumpet, sax and drums play separate melody and rhythm lines the true no-safety-net improvising approach can be glimpsed. This record is about the naked improvising method customised by Coleman as he explained in his method mentioned earlier. It’s uncompromising, and a worthy successor to Harvesting Semblances and Affinities his first album for Pi.
Last year I was chatting to David Murray at the London Jazz Festival launch briefly and I asked him about Curves of Life, the Paris live album he appeared on with Coleman back in the 1990s. Murray’s eyes lit up, and agreed that he thought it was some of Coleman’s best work. Although Coleman’s music is very different now but just as appealing, its essence is no different to Curves of Life. Rhythm is key, and when blocks and drum rhythms embed themselves behind the loose off-beats and off kilter momentum often implied, as on ‘Cerebrum Crossover’, a tipping point is reached. It’s another language entirely, one that now has many dialects, but Coleman is the source and this fine, inspirational album is a reminder of just what he has to say: and how potent that message still is.
Steve Coleman above and the cover of Functional Arrhythmias. Out now
Paul Edis Sextet
There Will Be Time
Jazz action ***
A second release involving 27-year-old north east pianist Paul Edis, following his appearance on ACV’s Babel debut Busk released earlier this month, There Will Be Time, with a clock on the front depicting the timepiece’s hands stuck at eight minutes past ten surrounded by autumnal leaves, is a three-horn sextet full of the spirit of the Jazz Messengers even if the muted trumpet of Graham Hardy on opener ‘Administrate This!’ seems to dig back further stylistically to Rex Stewart or Buck Clayton. There are a dozen tunes, mostly written and arranged by Edis, and it’s pretty orderly modern mainstream stuff: exuberantly brassy on ‘Re: Vamp’, with Edis dismantling his chords behind the plaintive trumpet melody, and drummer Adam Sinclair lending an air of solid authority as he does throughout. Edis can sound like a disciple of Herbie Hancock or Horace Silver at times and favours accessible licks and funky solo lines but perhaps the easy going tempi make the tunes just too digestible. The funky turns and twists on ‘Sharp 9/8’, though, exhibit plenty of spirit and it’s likeable enough fare by a promising pianist. SG