‘The Crux’ – Tommy Andrews Quintet

TheCrux

DEBUT JAZZ RELEASES never cease to engender a particular brand of eage anticipation – new names, fresh experiences and a portal on this thriving and constantly evolving genre. Firmly adding to that same excitement is the name of emerging reedsman Tommy Andrews and this fine new quintet album, The Crux.

Aside from his already considerable musical accomplishments, Andrews is a keen rock climber and reflects something of that activity’s challenge and patient attainment in an invigorating, eclectic approach to writing and performance, his extended through-composed works also providing the freedoms of open, developing improvisation. Joining him on the ascent are energetic pianist Rick Simpson, acclaimed bassist Dave Manington (Loop Collective, e17) and popular mainstay drummer Dave Hamblett, as well as guitarist Nick Costley-White who contributes impressive prog rock urgency and delicacy to this collection of seven originals by the saxophonist.

From the ominous preludial lyricism of Sirens into the upbeat sureness of The Crux, this quintet quickly outlines its intent of considered and collaborative creativity. Indeed, Andrews is a strong altoist who clearly ignites confidence in his equally ambitious ensemble, the effect frequently cinematic in its boldness. The brief, dreamy shimmerings of Crystal Car, with finely-spun guitar chords, afford Andrews the space to hit the heights of his range to the water-droplet piano of Rick Simpson, leading to the eight-minute Mr. Skinny Legs – and the jocose title here perhaps belies both the beauty and drive of this compelling, intensifying piece (references to elevation never far off). Team spirit shines through the precise arrangement, as do the shared melodies and solo work of Costley-White and Andrews against a pleasingly undulating bassline from Manington.

L.H.B. displays a real sense of originality, Simpson’s mysteriously inquiring chromaticism against clarinet and guitar suggesting dark crevasses, though still hanging on to positivity, and Costley-White’s rising, echoic guitar wash fascinatingly reminiscent of early Genesis (Steve Hackett, ‘Watcher of the Skies’, etc.). Hamblett and Simpson emphasise the four-square rock drive before pacing-up the tempo into dazzling sunlight, Andrews glorious in his soaring extemporisations and concluding on an abrupt high – summit reached, and beautifully portrayed. Subtitled Sirens Pt II, Toscana floats and glimmers to a steady Philip Glass-like pulse of arpeggioed piano, guitar and clarinet, eventually thinning and dissolving into the cirrus atmosphere – quite magical. And to close, quite possibly the pinnacle of the assembled tracks – Steep. Hamblett and Manington provide its complex, propulsive energy, sparking the best from Andrews, Costley-White and Simpson. The vibe is infectious… spirited piano and unison guitar and sax lines making way for the leader’s aqueous soloing which cries out for extended, dramatic development in a live setting.

Released on 30 June 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, The Crux is a skilled and mature offering from the Tommy Andrews Quintet – subtly rock-infused contemporary jazz, with the promise of still greater heights to be scaled. Further information, promo video and audio clips available here.

 

Tommy Andrews alto sax and clarinet
Nick Costley-White guitars
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Manington double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

tommyandrews.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ015 (2014)

‘Beyond These Voices’ – Nick Malcolm Quartet

NickMalcolm

BRIMMING with intelligent and zesty exploration, this second release from the Nick Malcolm Quartet (plus guest Corey Mwamba) charts a truly absorbing path ‘twixt the written and the free, between rhythmic intensity and spacial tranquillity, sparking and igniting the deep creativity of the varied individual characters within a remarkable jazz blend. 

Trumpeter and composer Nick Malcolm clearly has an eclectic musical persona, as well as a multi-faceted style, often found belting out riffs (along with drummer Mark Whitlam, also of this quartet) between the dusky, enigmatic vocals of Emily Wright’s song-based Moonlight Saving Time. Put into this particular mix experimental jazz pianist Alexander Hawkins (whose solo and ensemble album releases created ripples of excitement earlier this year) plus the inspired, improvisatory bass playing of Olie Brice… and the result is a sophisticated quartet/quintet team capable of a satisfyingly original collaborative output. Beyond These Voices follows the band’s 2012 début, Glimmers, and explores, intentionally and quite beautifully, an equal appreciation of sound and silence (which Malcolm describes as “the essential paradox of music”).

Take, for example, Grimes, an eight-minute improvisation which opens with brash and brassy intent, Malcolm bouncing off Whitlam’s wide-open drums before the steadying undercurrent of Hawkins’ lush, deep chords and Brice’s bass enter, only to develop more strongly. The contrast between the two forms is marked, yet the whole combined concept is realised perfectly. And then the ‘silence’ – the most limpid and emotionally-charged high piano extemporisation, with space taking equal importance, plus an affirming, sustained bass. There’s Lead In Their Pencils is great fun – a kind of dissonant Ellington boogie in which Malcolm blasts and neighs his way through the pulsating, rhythmic chaos, Corey Mwamba’s sparky, hard vibes adding vivid colour.

Views takes a gentler back seat, although this is no straight-laced ballad. Malcolm’s tone is lazily mellow, peppered with the occasional flutter, and the precise vibraphone playing of Mwamba is a joy. The shuffling momentum of A Very Blusterous Day, upheld magnificently by Whitlam and Brice, offers a broad canvas for the written and improvised thoughts of Malcolm and Hawkins, with Mwamba offering again his distinctive approach to vibes, eddying and gyrating (like a supercharged Pierre Moerlen) to the shimmerings of Hawkins’ piano – and an orchestral, Brittenesque trumpet flourish to close. It’s Alright, We’re Going to the Zoo is a cheeky, smouldering, fizzing affair, Malcolm improvising freely and brightly against Brice’s bass bounce; Sidereal (the album opener) develops and opens out to display more of that spontaneous quartet interaction, whilst the the two free improvisations that punctuate the programme further reveal their insightful and creative abilities.

To close, something quite affecting… Where, Beyond These Voices, There is Peace. Prompted by Alexander Hawkins’ quiet then increasingly anguished piano chords, the trumpet of Nick Malcolm chatters and squawks to the bowed scratchings of Brice and tempered percussion of Whitlam. And, for a final magical minute, Hawkins almost completely suspends animation with characteristic piano weightlessness.

If you’re searching for new experiences, and the fascination of free-yet-accessible improvisation, Beyond These Voices demonstrates the heights that British jazz is currently achieving – and this is certainly a ‘grower’ of an album. Most impressive.

 

Nick Malcolm trumpet
Alexander Hawkins piano
Olie Brice double bass
Mark Whitlam drums

Guest
Corey Mwamba vibraphone

nickmalcolm.co.uk

Green Eyes Records – GE15 (2104)

‘Blowin’ That Old Tin Can’ – Robbie Harvey

RobbieHarvey

A SPLENDIDLY straight-down-the middle album from trombonist Robbie HarveyBlowin’ That Old Tin Can celebrates the less-frequent jazz leadership of a particularly lyrical and exciting instrument. With an impressive background – including tutelage by Denis Wick and lead trombonist with NYJO, as well as numerous international awards and high-profile big band appearances – Ronnie Scott’s regular Harvey now releases this fine debut recording. Joining him on an eight-track outing of standards and originals is the wonderfully buoyant team of Alex Garnett (tenor sax), Leon Greening (piano), Tom Farmer or Giorgos Antoniou (double bass), and Steve Brown (drums).

Read the full review at LondonJazz News

 

Robbie Harvey trombone
Alex Garnett tenor sax
Leon Greening piano
Tom Farmer bass (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Giorgos Antoniou bass (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4,7)
Steve Brown drums

Diving Duck Recordings (DDRCD020) – 2014

‘Urban Novel’ – Kristian Borring

Kristian

THERE’S a sophisticated vein of cool confidence running through this new Jellymould Jazz release from Danish electric guitarist Kristian Borring who employs varying trio, quartet and quintet groupings to interpret eight original compositions inspired by the metropolitanism of London (where Borring resides) and its current, bustling jazz scene. 

Fellow urbanites are the fascinatingly jagged-yet-melodic pianist Arthur Lea, master drummer Jon Scott (Kairos 4tet, Dice Factory, Monocled Man) and Irish bassist Mick Coady (whose own Synergy recorded the impressive Nine Tales of the Pendulum, released last year on Jellymould), plus the illuminant vibraphone of much-in-demand Jim Hart. It’s evident from the outset that Borring’s writing encourages a collaborative approach amongst this personnel, rather than assuming an over-inflated guitar lead. In fact, a key strength of this follow-up to 2011’s Nausicaa is the seamlessness of the written and the improvised, the latter frequently dovetailing into rhythmically complex episodes with imperturbable composure.

From the gentle swing of opening number Hipster and the pacier Number Junky (both chiming with the close-knit perambulations of Borring and Hart) to the snappy drive of Equilbrium (in which Lea’s piano increasingly impresses both with hard chordal rhythm and deft soloing), there is much here to savour. Borring’s style occasionally, and happily, echoes that of seminal Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman, with sustained, pitch-bent phrases and unexpected harmonic directions (there’s a touch, too, of Metheny). The guitar, bass and drums gem Arcade Coffee Shop is a particular highlight, displaying wonderfully accomplished interaction amongst the trio; and vibraphone is the key to the mystery of Kasper (In Darkness), Borring partnering Jim Hart’s runs against the superbly deliberate chordal stabs and percussive invention of Lea and Scott.

Quartet title number Urban Novel conjures the heat haze of a cityscape, Borring gliding high over the brake-hiss of Jon Scott’s cymbals and low hubbub of Mick Coady’s bass, and then providing subtly-chorused chords behind Lea’s bright piano extemporisations – imaginative picture-painting, tightly arranged… yet suggesting much freedom within. Out-and-out swinger Hidden Corners glistens with Kristian Borring’s unwavering soloing which eventually invites characteristically colourful, resonant percussion from Scott; and a piano-less quartet brings a different, mellow conclusion to the album, Hart and Borring eloquently combining in Weltall.

Released on 2 June 2014, and with Autumn tour dates on the horizon, this is the perfect opportunity to catch a rising name on the UK contemporary jazz scene. For further information and purchasing, visit Jellymould Jazz.

 

Kristian Borring guitar
Arthur Lea piano
Mick Coady bass
Jon Scott drums
Jim Hart vibes

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ016 (2014)

‘If I was to describe you’ – Monika Lidke

MonikaLidke

WARMTH AND BEAUTY, matching the Summer mood, pervade the air around me as I listen to an endearing and heartfelt new release, If I was to describe you, from Polish songstress Monika Lidke. Now resident in London, this collection of self-composed soft jazz/folk songs reflects Lidke’s Polish and French personas, each of its fourteen tracks imbued with appealing honesty, freshness and lyrical accomplishment.

An album made possible by an enthusiastic Kickstarter response, Lidke employs an enviable team of musicians to bring to life her very personal collection of life experiences and observations – and it’s very much the congruous compositional attention to detail in both words and music which grabs the attention, as well as the clear, fluent vocal delivery. Kristian Borring (guitars), Tim Fairhall (double bass) and Chris Nickolls (drums) provide the principal instrumental line-up, but there are contributions throughout from Maciek Pysz, Shez Raja, Mark Rose and many others who ensure a refreshingly eclectic recording.

Monika Lidke’s vocal tone possesses a silky richness, with crystal-clear diction, as demonstrated in the soft, bluesy opener They Say. It has a suppleness, too, which matches well the prominent electric bass grooving of Janek Gwizdala, Kristian Borring’s light guitar accompaniment and the ticking rhythm maintained by drummer Chris Nickolls. The more folksy title number If I was to describe you – a song of love or deep friendship – has a charm which is enhanced by cello and vibes, as well as Lidke’s beautifully layered harmonies; and carefree Tum tum song, with Polish lyric shared by Basia Trzetrzelewska, bounces along with gently effervescing amiability.

Already, then, it’s clear that Lidke displays an aptitude for carefully combining words with appropriate musical styles and rhythms – yet the varied tracklist coalesces well, with a proliferation of melodic hooks. Light under the bruises explores further themes of closeness (“I lift you up just to show you a new horizon”) – then, out of the blue… the jaunty-but-delicate Funny little dance swings to Mark Rose’s double bass and Maciek Pysz’s guitar embellishments; and with all the positivity and pace of a ’70s Gordon Giltrap hit (which could quite easily be an up-tempo interpretation of a traditional French folk song), Ensemble flows briskly to the electric bass of Shez Raja – feel-good factor ten!

The delicacy of Rozpalona kolyska is exquisite, Lidke vocalising in tandem with Borring’s tight guitar melodies, Fairhall and Nickolls providing the feathery double bass and drum motion. In contrast, Monika’s sunshiny love song of gratitude, Waves and curves, displays unabashed ‘pop’ folkiness; and the cheerful, cheeky Questions gênantes (Awkward questions) is irresistible in its trad. quirkiness, Borring pitching a suitably nimble guitar lead against the chirpy rhythm section. Bread on toast, a Jobimesque samba which eddies gorgeously to Kristian Borring’s rhythmic guitar, shows off both the purity and dexterity of Lidke’s vocals, whilst Footprints on the seashore revisits the writer’s easy-going pop/folk lyric and sound world (“We’re dangerous and beautiful; we make impressions that only last as long as ripples on the water”).

Oceany lez is another graceful Polish ballad which Lidke delivers with appealing simplicity; and the following Higher self swirls to the singer’s joyful assurance. Finally, self-accompanied on guitar, plus heavenly electric bass harmonics from Shez Raja (a wife and husband thing!), the miniature Kolysanka dla Janka holds the breath with its crystalline beauty… a fitting conclusion to an album which reflects a passion for songwriting, all delivered by a golden voice.

If I was to describe you launches in the UK at Pizza Express, Soho, London on 2 July 2014, released on 33JAZZ – check out a studio video of They Say, and audio taster compilation of the album.

 

Monika Lidke vocals, acoustic guitar
Basia Trzetrzelewska vocals
Janek Gwizdala bass guitar
Kristian Borring guitars, arrangements of tracks 1, 4, 7, 8 & 11
Tim Fairhall double bass
Mark Rose double bass
Chris Nickolls drums
Shez Raja bass guitar
Genevieve Wilkins vibraphone, percussion
Maciek Pysz acoustic guitar
Adam Spiers cello
Jerzy Bielski acoustic guitar
Paul Reynolds mandolin

monikalidke.com

33JAZZ – 33JAZZ242 (2014)

‘Petite Fleur’ – Christof Lauer & NDR Bigband play Sidney Bechet

Layout 1

TAKING THE MUSIC of one of New Orleans jazz’s pioneers, Sidney Bechet, and significantly reimagining it for present-day big band may seem a touch audacious, and even unlikely – but this new release from German saxophonist Christof Lauer and the NDR Bigband, focusing on the output of saxophonist and clarinettist Bechet and his contemporaries, confounds any doubt with a scintillating performance.

By accounts a cavalier and larger-than-life character known for his brash, wide vibrato, Sidney Bechet found success in the early 1920s, his quaint archive recordings now very much ‘of the period’. Moving on almost a century, it was ACT boss Siggi Loch (whose early introduction to jazz was via the music of Bechet) who prompted Christof Lauer to consider revisiting and reinterpreting his music. The resulting transformation is both striking and accessibly attractive, due to the insightful, lush big band arrangements of Rainer Tempel and their dynamic, meticulous execution by Lauer and the NDR.

Dans Les Rues D’Antibes is a stunning opener – tuneful, and brimming with bright harmonic and percussive verve (sample Bechet’s original to understand its metamorphosis into a 21st Century sound world!). The NDR Bigband have a history of recordings with great instrumental leaders (Joe Zawinul, Alan Broadbent, Mark Lockheart, Mike Gibbs, Norma Winstone…), and here they share a similar affinity with Christof Lauer who, perhaps echoing the flamboyance of Bechet, dazzles with rapid ascending and descending soprano runs. This arrangement grows with multi-layered complexity, including expansive piano work from Hubert Nuss; and a deliciously close-knit saxophone ensemble interlude crowns a tremendously joyful number.

The original, fast-paced quirkiness of Les Oignons is magically interpreted by Tempel into mid-tempo brassy and reedy sumptuousness, Fender Rhodes completing the downtown ’70s feel. Following Lauer’s own lissome solo interlude, September, the impetus of Bechet’s Petite Fleur is maintained by a muted, questioning big band backing, Lauer’s soprano showboating against Patrice Héral’s incisive drumming and a riproaring trumpet solo; meanwhile, the Arabic impressionism of Casbah – Song of the Medina smoulders to a mysterious Rhodes ostinato and trombone counterpoint, conjuring filmic images of subterfuge and high drama. Similarly, that twee, trad. memory of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose that I carry in my mind now becomes, in the hands of Lauer and the NDR, a slowburning, eight-minute thriller movie prelude, bright unison brass and electronics supporting Lauer’s rich tenor lines.

The jaunty, homely Si Tu Vois Ma Mère connects more readily to Sidney Bechet’s Louisiana roots – a charming offering led by Lauer’s soprano, though not without a strangely sinister undercurrent; and Harry Barris’s Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – a number Bechet would, no doubt, have held in his repertoire – is brought right up to date with a funky, smooth jazz slant. Finally, Jimmy McHugh’s classic On the Sunny Side of the Street melts the heart with Tempel’s sophisticated-yet-carefree big band arrangement, Lauer’s ‘Bechet’ taking the final, showy bow.

It’s a glorious project whose intention captures my imagination, recalling Sidney Bechet’s early contribution to the genre, but also demonstrating the relevance of our current jazz scene in arranging and improvising bygone standards for a new and, in my experience, receptive generation.

Released in the UK on 2 June 2014, further information and audio samples are available here.

 

Christof Lauer soprano & tenor saxophone
Hubert Nuss piano
Patrice Héral drums
NDR Bigband conducted by Rainer Tempel

ACT 0657-2 (2014)

‘Songs to the North Sky’ – Tim Garland

Songs

THERE ARE TIMES, on my long and increasingly rewarding musical journey, that I feel urged to express gratitude to particular musicians whose work has become a long-term source of enjoyment and inspiration.

Falling firmly into this category is the instrumental and compositional prowess of reedsman Tim Garland, for many years now a respected mainstay of the British jazz scene. With a long roll-call of collaborators, projects and albums (most notably Chick Corea, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Dean Street Underground Orchestra and his own Lighthouse Trio), this most assured of saxophonists continues to develop and expand his artistic vocabulary, always with that warm signature vibrato.

Signed to progressive label Edition Records, Garland has now released this double album, Songs to the North Sky – featuring an impressive, interchanging quartet (seven musicians in all), and expertly configured orchestral/percussive forces – which represents a still higher pinnacle of writing and performance.

Part One focuses on the quartet material: eight tracks which bounce with characteristic ebullience, but also shimmer with expansive and often emotional beauty. Tim Garland’s dependable yet always exciting rhythm-maker, Asaf Sirkis, is key to proceedings, combining with the bubbling momentum of pianist Geoffrey Keezer and guitarist Ant Law on supercharged opener Uplift! The lightness of Kevin Glasgow’s electric bass and luminous piano of Jason Rebello refract the smooth golden rays of Little Sunshine, over which Garland’s tenor sings mellifluously. A Brother’s Gift finds a more reflective space, courtesy of Law’s steel strings and Sirkis’s distinctive custom kit – and often it’s the small details which please the ear, such as Garland’s ornamental phrasing, and also one particular end-of-phrase expiration here (odd, but true!).

There’s a hint of Earthworks days in the leader’s command of Yes to This, John Turville and Ant Law both sparkling with positivity; The Perth Flight‘s propulsive energy offers a great showcase for both Garland and Rebello; and Farewell to Ed is a delightfully freer episode, enhanced by Law’s subtly overdriven electric guitar explorations. Garland has long been a champion of the bass clarinet, and his unmistakably fluid ‘voice’ is heard in Lammas Days (along with flute), an exuberant celebration of the magic conjured between these versatile musicians. A soprano and piano interpretation of Tom Bahler’s She’s Out of My Life (Michael Jackson) closes this sequence; in less capable hands, so easily mawkish and shallow – but Garland and Rebello elevate it to somewhere very special.

The larger, themed work, Songs to the North Sky – supported by Sage Gateshead and Royal Northern College of Music – forms the second half of this release, and creatively draws on the dramatic open landscapes of Tim’s Garland’s adopted North East England homeland. Whereas 2008′s double album Libra found the composer writing on a larger, symphonic scale (the four-movement Frontier with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), there is an even greater organic balance here, successfully fusing saxes and percussion with The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings. The result is genuinely compelling – a 50-minute episodic jazz/orchestral masterpiece which vividly paints Northumberland’s rugged coastlines and wide skies, Garland often hinting at 20th Century English string writing (Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Rodney Bennett) as well as Glass, Pärt, and even Celtic influences which are colorised by the energetic violin soloing of Magdalena Filipczak. Asaf Sirkia melds perfectly with the suspense of Neil Percy’s classical percussion; and John Patitucci’s four equally interspersed bass interludes are remarkable – certainly not bass ‘fillers’ but, rather, beautifully imagined, skilful miniatures in their own right.

With both CDs regularly alternating in my car audio player for the past couple of weeks, I emphatically recommend this significant new release – and if you’re searching for stars (maybe over Kielder’s dark sky zone)… here they are ★★★★★.

Available from 2 June 2014, listen to samples and buy here.

 

Tim Garland tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute
Jason Rebello piano (tracks 2, 5, 7 & 8)
John Turville piano (tracks 3, 4 & 6)
Geoffrey Keezer piano (track 1)
Asaf Sirkis drum kit, custom percussion set, hang
Ant Law electric and steel string guitars (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 6)
Kevin Glasgow electric bass (tracks 2, 5 & 7)
The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings
John Patitucci double and electric basses
Neil Percy tuned and classical percussion
Magdalena Filipczak solo violin

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDN1051 (2014)