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