‘Celebrate’ – The Grip

TheGrip

The concept of the acoustic, chordless jazz ensemble is very much flourishing with the likes of Brass Mask and Trio Riot – and there’s no denying that the stripped-back immediacy of such instrumentation can be pretty compelling. So, putting respected musicians Finn Peters (alto sax and flute), Oren Marshall (tuba) and Tom Skinner (drums) together in the recording studio for a single day, following a number of successful live dates, perhaps unsurprisingly results in this strong, exuberant debut release, Celebrate.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News

 

Finn Peters alto saxophone & flute
Oren Marshall tuba
Tom Skinner drums

Slowfoot Records – SLOLP024 (2014)

‘Resonance’ – Eyeshutight

eyeshutight

TEETH-TANGLINGLY-TITLED jazz piano trio Eyeshutight (aka Eyes Shut Tight) release their third album, Resonance, with an enticing sound which encompasses dynamic dance beats and melodic serenity, all held together by a beguilingly off-the-wall but nonetheless intuitive approach.

Formed in Leeds in 2010 by bassist and composer Paul Baxter, with pianist Johnny Tomlinson and drummer Kristoffer Wright, they belong to a jazz generation which includes GoGo Penguin, Neil Cowley Trio, Mammal Hands and indisputed sovereigns e.s.t. (note that initialism). Exploring shifting rhythmic dimensions and effective electronic enhancement, Eyeshutight possess an upbeat group personality – with a few tricks up their sleeves – which becomes increasingly infectious as this nine-track offering proceeds.

Quickly putting aside a somewhat irritating opening 90-second, jumbled, spoken definition of the word Resonance (at least, it is after a few plays), the title track hits a great alternation of grooving and spaciousness, Johnny Tomlinson’s piano rocking out and electronically erupting in its wonderfully jarring riffs and irresistible neo-Cuban rhythms. Addict‘s chordal sequences curiously recall Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out, and Kristoffen Wright’s drum patterns are metronomically executed, despite the many challenging sudden turns – a chirpy, accessible reflection of a world hooked on electronic screens (and music which TV producers might well drool over!). The contrasting introspection of Transition treads a more traditional path, featuring Baxter’s cantabile bass soloing over lush piano clusters; and Theism, a charming miniature, was written to mark the birth of Baxter’s second daughter.

Under-pressure The Precipice spirals tangibly downwards before new life is breathed into it via Wright’s broadening pulsations. The breathless momentum is again, at times, punctuated by moments of calm lucidity – but for the most part, Tomlinson runs brilliantly with it in Rhodes-like hysteria and an almost ska-ish piano exuberance (there’s plenty going on in this – a real standout). A freer melancholic Intro precedes the gently-lilting simplicity of T&C, a warm, homely melody and improvisation which, with eloquent, almost African bass meanderings, pauses politely between its softly-beaten pulse.

Hit & Hope’s troubled progressions echo GoGo Penguin, yet there is also a brighter melodic side which then evolves into an unexpected hard-edged disco-style bass/piano riff. Another of the trio’s longer numbers, it has the space to open and develop, carrying bright solos from Tomlinson and Baxter. To close, Re:Sounds unfortunately invites back those extraneous voices (in reverse) – but they certainly can’t mar the strength of this album, especially when followed by…… shhh…… that would be telling……

It’s presently a pretty crowded stage out there for the piano trio format, requiring something rather special to succeed. And perhaps Eyeshutight‘s best is yet to come – to, as it were, open eyes wide. But this is a masterly and fresh outing, with its own distinct character, which should resonate and ‘hit the spot’ with a current, dance-invigorated jazz audience. Or, put another way – sharpianoutfitriumphsplendidly!

Released on 21 October on Hungry Bear Records, further information is available at the following websites (with tour dates listed below):

paulbaxtermusic
eyeshutight


Johnny Tomlinson
piano
Kristoffen Wright drums
Paul Baxter double bass

2014 UK tour dates
21 October: Parrjazz at Frederiks, Liverpool
22 October: Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
23 October: Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
24 October: Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
25 October: Zeferellis, Ambleside
29 October: Demspeys, Cardiff
30 October: SoundCellar @ The Blue Boar, Poole
04 November: Matt & Phreds, Manchester
05 November: Jazz at The Lescar, Sheffield
09 November: 7Arts, Leeds
14 November: Fleece Jazz, Sudbury
22 November: The Unitarian Chapel, York
23 November: The Forge, Camden, London

Hungry Bear Records – HBR001 (2014)

‘We Make The Rules’ – Jochen Rueckert

CDDG6T1-002.pdf

THE MAXIM of German drummer, composer and bandleader Jochen Rueckert is certainly meritorious as his quartet releases We Make The Rules, captured following an international tour: “I’m getting a little allergic to ‘project style recordings’, where you play music in the studio without being able to fine tune it on the road. All said and done, the music on the album was recorded in only seven hours and six of the tracks are first takes, the rest second takes. The perks of having a working band!”.

That ethos is palpable in the assured immediacy of his interaction with fellow NYC-based band members Mark Turner (tenor sax), Lage Lund (electric guitar) and Matt Penman (acoustic bass), with whom he has worked for the last few years – all nine numbers here were written specifically for this grouping. It’s a sequence that requires ‘total immersion’ to fully appreciate its experiential depth, as these musicians are experts in detail and have evidently honed Rueckert’s technical, written frameworks before embarking with their panoply of break-loose extemporisations – there’s never any sense that this quartet is safely going through the motions.

The luxuriance of Mark Turner’s tenor is immediately apparent in opening number Eggshells, perfectly matched to the mellow solo and chordal reverberations of Lage Lund’s guitar; and Matt Penman and Jochen Rueckert provide its sensitive, detailed rhythmic buoyancy. Pretty From Afar displays a similar line of accomplishment, with a freer central section which finds guitar and sax weaving ideas together, the balance beautifully observed; and fans of TV’s Breaking Bad, take note – Saul Goodman swaggers to fine bass work from Penman (‘s’all good, man!).

Title track We Make The Rules is delightfully ebullient – and Rueckert, though never dominating proceedings, underpins his three colleagues’ improvisations with increasingly strident, ticking complexity. Slow ballad Bess glides unerringly to the softness of bass and drums, Turner’s congenial tenor lines melding effortlessly with Lund’s lusciously-woven chords; and there’s a mischievous streak to The Cook Strait which invites a more open dialogue amongst the quartet.

Rueckert’s cerebrally-intended Alloplasty is characterised by the enhanced echoings of Lund’s guitar, and the entire sequence ripples pleasingly to impressive drum patterns and Turner’s eloquent searchings. Following, the faster swing of Yellow Bottoms encourages Lund further into the spotlight with his measured-yet-leftfield creativity – a joy to hear; and finally, Manong Twilight At The Whatever Hotel (inspired by an artwork by the composer’s late jazz aficionado uncle) comfortably relaxes into a sublime, soporific haze in which tenorist Mark Turner basks.

Jochen Rueckert’s Whirlwind debut may not shout out strongly memorable melodies or revolutionary techniques – but it radiates an understated warmth and sophistication which is so very appealing. Released on 13 October 2014, visit the We Make The Rules album page for further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing.

 

Mark Turner tenor sax
Lage Lund electric guitar
Matt Penman acoustic bass
Jochen Rueckert drums

jochenrueckert.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4658 (2014)

‘Weltentraum Live’ – Michael Wollny Trio

WeltentraumLive

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, German pianist Michael Wollny released outstanding jazz piano trio album Weltentraum (Dream World), taking ‘lied’ as its theme. With a new line-up – Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) – the studio recording was met with critical acclaim across the international music media for its intelligent, inventive sequence of song-based interpretations, as well as its excitingly fresh, flawless delivery (AP Review here).

Wollny has been on the scene with Siggi Loch’s ACT Music label for some ten years now, garnering countless awards for his burgeoning catalogue of recordings, not least (with Weltentraum) four stars in US magazine Downbeat and a place in the Top 50 pop album charts. In March, during the trio’s 2014 Jazznights tour, Loch decided to record their gig in the Chamber Music Hall of Philharmonie Berlin; and, citing Wollny as the “creative pillar of the ACT family” who inspired him to carry on after the tragic, untimely death of Esbjörn Svensson, the performances here exude, at times, a similar spine-tingling energy and spontaneity to that of e.s.t.’s inspired double Live in Hamburg release of 2007 (ACT 6002-2).

Featuring extended development of six tracks from the studio album – along with two scintillating new works by drummer Schaefer – the whole fifty-five minute Weltentraum Live experience is excellently captured and clearly appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.

Here, the nocturnal mystery of Alban Berg’s Nacht is afforded more space for improvisatory elaboration; and Hindemith’s Rufe in der Horchenden Nacht comes alive with an enhanced, glowing timbre, Lefebvre’s fluent, rasping bass matching Wollny’s range of skittering high lines and impressionistic iridescence. Phlegma Phighter (Schaefer’s vigorous, bustling eleven minutes’ worth) is a fantastic, contrasting showcase for the trio – one minute, thunderously heavy; the next, displaying a ‘deafening tranquillity’ before blazing red hot at the invitation of the writer’s snare fanfare. These ingenious twists and turns might invite comparisons with, say, The Bad Plus or Phronesis – but Wollny is his own man, whose distinctive pianistic character very much shapes this trio; his own pop-infused When the Sleeper Wakes shines all the brighter thanks to the crackling impetus of bass and drums, which Wollny clearly responds to.

Eric Schaefer’s beautiful, contemporary reworking of Guillaume de Machaut’s 14th Century Lasse! holds the breath with Gustavsen-like reverence (no doubt the Philharmonie gathering were similarly spellbound); and Wollny’s dark-edged Engel grooves to the gruff, distorted bass of Lefebvre, leading directly to Gorilla Biscuits (now, there’s a title!), an absolute masterpiece which pushes each player to the limits, carefully synchronised but also clanging with extreme and quite physical extemporisation (triggering huge applause). To close, the trio’s delectable, almost levitational reading of Jon Brion’s charming song, Little People – quietly irresistible, and all the more wondrous in this live setting.

Released in the UK on 13 October 2014, the heights that the Michael Wollny Trio are currently scaling might pose a dilemma in choosing which of these two recent releases to own – studio or live? For the sheer magic of it all, I offer a single recommendation – BOTH!

Weltentraum
Weltentraum Live

 

Michael Wollny piano
Tim Lefebvre upright bass
Eric Schaefer drums

ACT Music – 8579-2 (2014)

‘Under the Moon’ – Blue-Eyed Hawk

UnderTheMoon

THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.

The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.

For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.

Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.

The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.

Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.

Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.

Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.

 

Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
with
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth

blue-eyedhawk.com

*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.

Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)

‘Cerca’ – Paragon

paragon

IF IT ISN’T already impressive that this quartet recorded new album Cerca over just two days – in Cologne, around their touring schedule – the resulting studio capture of ten exciting new compositions is nothing short of brilliant.

Paragon have been on the scene for a decade, releasing two previous albums in that time (amongst numerous other projects), forging a distinctive fusion of instrumental jazz and blues imbued with a profusion of world and retro influences. Sharing writing credits here are saxophonist Peter Ehwald and pianist Arthur Lea, with Matthias Nowak (bass) and Jon Scott (drums) completing the Anglo-German line-up.

Key to the band’s individuality are the remarkably varicoloured textures and effects shaped by Lea’s Fender Rhodes – and immediately it’s Lea and his own Cerca de Ti that glistens with keyboard sparkle to the recognisable spiky drum signature of Jon Scott (as heard in Kairos 4tet, Dice Factory, Monocled Man, etc.). Matthias Nowak’s bass grooves are resonant and melodic, frequently doubling Lea’s phrases, and there’s an appealing, brisk confidence to Ehwald’s alto – it’s a boisterous opener, evidencing the band’s cohesion and like-mindedness. East to West and the later North to South are miniatures from Ehwald’s pen whose explorations are more spacial, the latter gradually teasing and accelerating its way with great alto grit towards a Soft Machine-like wah-wahed Rhodes riff. Unsurprisingly, Delhi Belly swirls animatedly to bhangra-style motifs in which Ehwald luxuriates, Lea contributing progressively flamboyant glissandi and tremulant gyrations; Nowak’s bass is always beautifully prominent and inventive (no mere support), and Scott never disappoints, constantly shifting emphases and pulling new tricks out of the stick bag.

Ehwald’s Bohdan is a firecracker of a tune, snapping and changing course at every opportunity, featuring his extended, fluid sax runs coupled with bluesy piano from Lea who also switches into sputtering, echoic prog. jazz electronics over intense bass and drums; and whilst there’s a clear sense of written structure, the band always bubbles assuredly with improvisatory freedom – a real pleasure to hear. Arco bass introduces the quietly unsettled, irregular pulse of Glory, a nevertheless beautifully-weighted piece which features Ehwald upfront in soft, reflective and slightly melancholy vein; and the following ’60s-suggested Blue Eyes White Dragon provides contrast with its chirpy shared sax/Rhodes melodies over an infectiously shuffling rhythm, Lea’s sustained Rhodes daring to masquerade as a Hammond – ‘love it!

Fat Pig‘s title perhaps belies the sumptuousness of its nature, Peter Ehwald’s laid-right-back tenor and Arthur Lea’s classic Rhodes timbre wallowing splendidly in an intriguing, shimmering undercurrent of double bass, cymbals and hard snare/toms – another of the manifold sound worlds this quartet can conjure. At times, mysterious and questioning, Linguine moves with ease and, featuring fine extended soloing from both Ehwald and Lea, hangs together superbly in its subtly NYC way. Similarly, the Ballade which closes the album is perfectly realised, the eloquent bass solo of Nowak complementing the soft, Paul Desmond-like characteristics of Ehwald’s balladic playing – and with that quintessential Rhodes ambience… all is well.

Released in the UK on 13 October 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, Cerca comes from a band who are, indeed, a paragon of contemporary jazz excellence – one foot in the tradition, the other pushing forward with the combined fervour and eclecticism of their experiences. This is very much a repeat-player, and I suspect they are thrilling to catch ‘live’ (UK dates below).

 

Peter Ehwald saxophones
Jon Scott drums
Arthur Lea Fender Rhodes
Matthias Nowak double bass

2014 UK tour dates
28 October: Schmazz, Jazz Café, Newcastle
30 October: The Spin @ The Wheatsheaf, Oxford
31 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, London
02 November: Milestones Jazz Club, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft
03 November: Jazz Café, Clifford Arms, Teignmouth
04 November: Jazz Club, Western Hotel, St Ives

paragonlikesyou.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ014 (2014)

‘Abstract Forces’ – Cloudmakers Trio

Cloudmakers

IN 2012, vibraphonist Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers Trio featured renowned Californian trumpeter Ralph Alessi on their inaugural tour – and the recorded live set from the Pizza Express date, subsequently identified for album release (Live in London), won many plaudits across the contemporary jazz fraternity for both the quality and immediacy of the performances. 

Their much-anticipated second release, Abstract Forces – a studio album of seven extended new Hart compositions for trio only – now builds on this ensemble’s strongly improvisational ethos (the band name stemming from the analogy of a power station or engine room creating ever-changing, cloud-like abstractions). And, with the driving bass of Michael Janisch and trademark drumming vigour of Dave Smith, Cloudmakers continues to produce inventive, oblique, tricksy-but-accessible grooves. On the back of the live album, the absence of an out-front lead instrument might have left this line-up seeming somewhat lacklustre… but the key to success here is very much the chemistry between these three collaborative minds (who have worked together for many years), intuitively brewing up their own ingenious brand of ‘cumulonimbus’ clout.

Janisch’s thrummed bass sets up the bristling momentum of Snaggletooth, Jim Hart extemporising colourfully and broadly with mallets and bows – and immediately the high energy of the trio can be grasped. Hart’s assuredness at the vibes is breathtaking, whether soloing rapidly or pushing the pulse with chordal clusters, including judicious use of electronics. Angular Momentum races to impossibly-complex written time signatures, yet the three players remain remarkably synced throughout (#jawdrop), Smith hustling and bouncing magnificently.

Great explorations characterise Post Stone, Hart’s free electro-distorted hammers and celestial bowings ringing to the busyness of bass and drums, and then breaking loose into ‘ordered delirium’. Michael Janisch’s solo bass is both lithe and attractive, teasing out chords, harmonics and trills – and, appropriately, it introduces melodious Early Hours, Hart’s compositional prowess here leaning more towards the Bachian mystery of John Lewis’s writing for the Modern Jazz Quartet (Hart also features in The MJQ Celebration – reviewed). The playing here displays delightful luminosity, sustained vibes balanced delicately with the lightness of bass and drums.

Social Assassin swings out to Janisch’s bass chords, Smith hitting the kit solidly, Hart roaming freely; and Ramprasad conjures a little more of that Milt Jackson magic, Hart and Janisch sharing its inquisitive melody before electronics coax ethereal bell chimes and drones from the vibes. Finally, Conversation Killer fizzes with Phronesis-like bass impetus, Smith thrashing in tandem with Hart’s persistent Steve Reich-ian rhythms.

There is never a sense that this is ‘easy listening’ or ‘background’ jazz (piped lounge bar muzak of the late ’60s and early ’70s never did the vibraphone any favours!). Instead, Cloudmakers offer intelligently crafted music, in terms of composition and synergetic execution, which demands close scrutiny to understand its many details and nuances – a real tour de force.

Released on 29 September 2014, check out the Abstract Forces album page at Whirlwind for promo video, audio samples and purchasing – tour dates below – as well as the Live in London album page.

 

Jim Hart vibraphone
Michael Janisch double bass
Dave Smith drums

2014 tour dates
28 September: The Albert, Bristol
29 September: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
30 September: St Ives Jazz Club
03 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
10 October: Sheffield Jazz Club

cloudmakerstrio.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4655 (2014)