Wolfgang Haffner

Heart of the Matter

ACT ***

His fourth album as a leader for ACT, Haffner is an award-winning first call jazz drummer in Germany, and has played with a host of leading artists including Pat Metheny, Chaka Khan, Nils Landgren and Lars Danielsson. It’s a classy album for sure with a slick electric band that includes Sting guitarist Dominic Miller. Mostly Haffner tunes, Heart of the Matter is a little in the Pat Metheny Group vein at times, and manages to be highly polished without becoming too cloying. Not sure about the decision to include a cover of Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’ although it’s pleasant enough. I think the Haffner tunes stand up well enough to make the case for an all-originals album next time.
Released in late-October/early November

Laura Jurd
Landing Ground
Chaos Collective ****

Much talked about on the London jazz underground grapevine for the past year or so trumpeter Jurd (above) was only 21 when she recorded this album in May, and it’s astonishingly cohesive and rewarding. All the music is her own arranged for a quartet plus the strings of the formidably plangent Ligeti Quartet, which features Basquiat cellist Ben Davis and fine violinist Mandhira de Saram, who with the Mount Molehill Strings plays on the Neil Cowley Trio record The Face of Mount Molehill. At times Jurd’s sound possibly recalls long-ago Kenny Wheeler themes and maybe as the album progresses Dave Douglas, but sometimes there’s no clear reference point at all, usually a good sign. It’s very much a confident, engaging and stimulating approach characterised by a Nordic feel along the way. An excellent debut.
Released on 5 November


Lo’Jo
Cinéma El Mundo
World Village ****
Oh this is just great, and not just because Robert Wyatt crops up along the way. Lo’Jo, from Angers, have been round the block a bit with many albums under their belt already and so you’re in safe hands here. Funky, a mix of sounds, with a bit of chanson and dub Denis Péan’s voice is endearing as are the backing vocals of Nadia Nid El Mourid and Yamina Nid El Mourid. Open ended, socially conscious, and unpretentious, it’s no wonder they’re festival favourites in world-music land, and very jazz-friendly as well. ‘Tout est Fragile’ is the pick of the tunes but there are lots of good ones to dip into.
Released on 24 September


Iiro Rantala

My History of Jazz
ACT ***
Fascinatingly personal, Finnish pianist Rantala says “my entire history in music can be heard on this album", beginning with his encountering the music of Bach at just six, hence the presence of five improvisations on the Goldberg Variations at the core of this often sprightly mainstream album. Recorded in April, June and as recently as July in Sweden, Berlin and Montreux respectively, Rantala’s ‘journey’ via Bach takes in Kurt Weill, Monk, Gershwin, Juan Tizol, and Lars Gullin plus his own tunes. There is plenty of spirit, and good interplay with the band of Danish drummer Morten Lund, the supremely melodic Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, and Polish violinist Adam Baldych. Rantala’s indomitable zest for a good improvisational break always stands out.
Released in late-October/early-November


Sundog

Insofar
Penguin Cafe ***
A piano/dulcitone/Rhodes/harmonium-violin duo no less with Arthur Jeffes of Penguin Café Orchestra renown and violinist Oli Langford providing a cornucopia of minimalist delights and little moments scattered about that imprint themselves in your head gently and quite beautifully at times. I liked ‘Both Hands in Pockets’ best, which extraordinarily, according to Jeffes’ notes, “uses a rock which we found can be made to sing." Worth seeking out; clearly every dog (and the odd boulder) has its day.
Out now

Stephen Graham