‘Lunaris’ – Frank Harrison Trio

Lunaris

MANY MOONS AGO, Frank Harrison’s pianistic virtuosity and compositional brilliance first captured my imagination. As a cornerstone of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and then with his own piano trios, it was Harrison’s perfect marriage of creative rebellion and heart-on-sleeve sensitivity which stood out from the crowd. So, following up 2012′s excellent Sideways (Linus Records), it’s a real pleasure to discover this new trio release, Lunaris, which refines those attributes.

There’s a change of line-up as the pianist welcomes the prodigious talents of double bassist Dave Whitford and, on drums, Enzo Zirilli. Between them, they spark something fresh – an approach which includes recurring celestial and planetary themes, as well as references to English landscape and folksong. Individually, the twelve pieces – Harrison originals and interpretations of standards, plus collaborative freestyle improvisations – are attractively constructed mini-masterpieces. Collectively, they form a well-balanced fifty-minute anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, an overriding sense of equanimity.

A typically pellucid reading of the classic David Raksin number, My Love and I, opens the album – dreamy and unhurried, Frank Harrison keeps its deep, recognisable melody aloft, bass and brushed drums caressing every nuance. The delicate geniality of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned is a joy, ringing to Enzo Zirilli’s precise yet enquiring percussion which varicolours this bright interpretation, Harrison’s customary keyboard poise so tangible.

From this opening familiarity of melody, a panoply of astral discovery is unveiled with the first of two miniatures – Stars – its spacial, searching piano chords subtly enhanced by synthesiser twinklings. Continuing the night sky observation, An Evening of Spaceships and UFOs is a remarkable group improvisation which confirms this trio’s new-found empathy. A mysterious deep bass rhythm set up by Dave Whitford has a sonority and momentum reminiscent of Dan Berglund’s work with e.s.t., intertwining with Harrison’s supple, measured chord progressions and solo lines; and, around all this, Zirilli percussively paints vivid streaks of asteroids and shooting stars. Following on, the weightlessness of Io – one of Jupiter’s four moons – is softly imagined via a restrained piano/synth and bass ostinato, shimmering all the while with ethereal and atmospheric beauty (I intend taking these tracks to a dark-sky zone!).

Sunrise (Port Meadow) announces daylight with a lilting 6/8 melody which racks the mind, searching for the title of a much-loved standard – but this is another from Harrison’s pen, evoking the natural beauty of Oxford’s ancient riverside pasturelands. The new compositions continue with Ascent, climbing apace and displaying lively interaction within the trio, maybe providing a glimpse of extended development in a live setting; and, at the summit, there are the ominous soarings of The Bird, conveyed by the pianist’s shapeshifting chordal tracery and dark bass octaves. BoRG-58, another group improvisation (its title referencing far-flung galaxies), brings arresting open fifths grooving from Whitford and Harrison (a hint of Esbjörn) and broad, cross-patterned drumming from Zirilli – with understated synth infusions, its a winning combination.

The emotion of Frank Harrison’s solo discipline is to be found in a wistful rendition of traditional North East English folk tune The Recruited Collier – assured and clean, with the most sumptuous harmonies, time momentarily stands still. Johnny Mandel’s late ’50s song Emily (a favourite of Bill Evans) waltzes through its several minutes, Harrison and Whitford soloing radiantly to Zirilli’s gently sifting rhythm; and to close, the brief, sustained, Debussy-like Stars II suggests upward-looking wonderment towards an endless universe.

Finally, acknowledgement must be made to landscape painter Andrew Walton, whose cover and booklet art so beautifully reflects an album of exquisite musical imagery.

Launched on 9 April 2014, Lunaris is available from all good jazz outlets, iTunes, etc. (audio samples here).


Frank Harrison
piano, synthesizer
Dave Whitford double bass
Enzo Zirilli drums

frankharrison.net

Linus Records – LRCD02 (2014)

‘Lion’ – Marius Neset, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra

Layout 1

IT WAS JUST THREE YEARS AGO that a young Norwegian saxophonist, Marius Neset, powered onto the wider European jazz scene, staggering audiences with his breathtaking, mind-boggling tenor and soprano wizardry. Here was a musician with the world at his feet, already leaving excited, jaw-dropped crowds funnelling out of venues, incredulous at what they had witnessed.

Following his album Golden Xplosion (Edition Records, 2011), hailed enthusiastically by critics, and a remarkable duo release with tubist Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods – Edition, 2012 – reviewed here), Neset wasted no time in further broadening his outlook, releasing Birds (Edition, 2013 – reviewed here), which revealed as much about his compositional stature as it did his astounding playing. Although writing for, essentially, a quintet (with Ivo Neame, Jim Hart, Jasper Høiby and Anton Eger, plus guests), it was clear that he could express himself on an orchestral scale, laying down the written complexities of contrapuntal hooks and darting time signatures whilst also communicating and improvising with his colleagues on a profoundly visceral level.

Famously mentored and inspired by Django Bates (at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Copenhagen) and influenced by a list of musicians and composers as long as one of Neset’s extended solos (Wayne Shorter, Jan Garbarek, Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, Radiohead, as well as Grieg and Stravinsky… to name but a few), he now makes his ACT debut with a release which widens his ambition to write for larger forces. Resulting from a commission to compose specifically for the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra’s billing at the 2012 Molde Jazz Festival – including Lion, the ten-minute title track which heads up this recording – Neset decided also to re-visit a few numbers from his previous releases, pulling them all together in this impressive 64-minute outing. The Trondheim’s twelve-piece arrangements, here, often display the variety and openness of orchestral timbres, as well as the sectional horn solidity of a big band – hence the name and their particularly open and eclectic sound – and this, therefore, is the perfect vehicle to deliver the potential of Marius Neset’s vision.

From its disquieting but then stately entry, opening number Lion becomes a boisterous affair very much in the Neset style, brassy stabs leading to a freer environment of imitation growls and general foreboding before Erik Johannesen’s terrific trombone soloing reinstates big band grandeur; and, to close, the ‘king’ slopes into the distance to a more softly pulsating rhythm (tremendous imagery). Golden Xplosion kicks off with Marius’s trademark, hypnotic, ‘self-accompanied’ tenor, punctuated by rhythmically-teasing reeds. Listeners familiar with the original will surely be drawn to this increasingly voluminous, sparky arrangement, Neset extemporising magnificently over Petter Eldh’s pounding bass and Gard Nilssen’s flamboyant drumming. In The Ring appears to be ’round two’ of Boxing (from the Birds album), its hard-hitting drums appropriately packing a punch, and the balance of power, agility and space calculated perfectly (with Neset’s mouthpiece popping to some superb trombone and bari action) – and is that a sense of dazed resignation that follows, before the final knockout?!

A short tenor Interlude leads to Sacred Universe, another creative reinterpretation for this versatile jazz orchestra, Petter Eldh’s industrious, vocalised bass solo opening the floodgates for a real showpiece of ensemble writing and wide-ranging soloing. Weight Of The World rasps brusquely to Eirik Hegdal’s up-tempo baritone and Eldh’s characteristically percussive bass; once again, the diversity and lucidity of the performances need to be heard to grasp Neset’s mastery of arrangement, eventually blazing with brassy brilliance – a real standout. Away from that intensity, Raining is the most luscious of ballads, Jovan Pavlovic and Espen Berg offering homely accordion and piano before the scoring swells; and Daniel Herskedal’s distinctive cantabile tuba combined with Peter Fuglsang’s quietly folksong-like clarinet over muted piano string ‘raindrops’ is otherworldly. Finally, Birds is returned to its grander concept, building instrumentally, one by one, to a thrilling, cacophonous dawn chorus.

Released in the UK on 21 April 2014, Lion is certainly an album to get your teeth into.

Additional information and audio samples here.
Video of Birds at 2012 Molde Jazz Festival here.
Video of Golden Xplosion at Bergen JazzForum, 2013 here.


Marius Neset
 tenor and soprano saxophones
Hanna Paulsberg tenor saxophone
Peter Fuglsang alto saxophone, flute and clarinet
Eirik Hegdal baritone and soprano saxophone
Eivind Lønning trumpet
Erik Eilertsen trumpet
Erik Johannesen trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Jovan Pavlovic accordion
Espen Berg piano
Petter Eldh bass
Gard Nilssen drums, percussion, vibraphone and marimba

Ingrid Neset additional flute and piccolo flute on Sacred Universe and Birds

 

ACT Music – 9031-2 (2014)

‘Step Wide, Step Deep’ – Alexander Hawkins Ensemble

AlexHawkinsEns

RELEASED SIMULTANEOUSLY with solo piano offering Song Singular (reviewed here), this absorbing album from the Alexander Hawkins Ensemble stops at nothing to deliver both compositional and free jazz which may challenge, astonish and/or delight. The sextet, led by pianist Alexander Hawkins, comprises Otto Fischer on electric guitar, Shabaka Hutchings on reeds, violinist Dylan Bates, double bassist Neil Charles and, on drums and percussion, Tom Skinner.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Alexander Hawkins
piano
Otto Fischer electric guitar
Shabaka Hutchings clarinet, bass clarinet
Dylan Bates violin
Neil Charles double bass
Tom Skinner drums, percussion

Babel Label – BDV13124 (2014)

‘Soho Live’ – Shez Raja Collective

ShezRaja

IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE JAZZ/FUNK on the current scene with quite such the invigorating edge and retro passion of the Shez Raja Collective. Captured live, and drawing material from studio albums Magica (2007) and Mystic Radikal (2010), ultra-dynamic electric bassist Shez Raja and his augmented personnel serve up a decidedly high-powered performance in this new release, Soho Live.

Raja’s no-holds-barred grooving is redolent of the seminal and psychedelic jazz/rock fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, the hypnotic energy of the Zawinul Syndicate and legendary bass genius of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller – but there is bite and electricity here which demonstrates the genre’s ongoing relevance and explains Raja’s own fervent following, especially when guests Gilad Atzmon, Soweto Kinch, Shabaka Hutchings, Jay Phelps and vocalist Monika Lidke leap on board for what was evidently an unforgettably vibrant gig.

The core line-up steams through this 55-minute set with quite breathtaking verve – Aaron Liddard on alto and tenor saxes, electric violinist Pascal Roggen, Alex Stanford on keys and Chris Nickolls on drums. Adding Shabaka Hutchings into the mix, as clarinettist on opening number Adrenalize, simply revs up the excitement as his improvisations spiral unfalteringly. Electronics are a significant part of the band’s make-up and, with Stanford able to maintain the bass ‘raga’, Raja is free to solo extensively and colourfully.

Karmic Flow‘s deep bass riff against the mesmeric soundmix of tanpura, violin, saxes, drums and wordless vocals sets the tone for Soweto Kinch’s freestyling rap, much to the delight of the Pizza Express audience. And if ever there was a saxophonist whose instrument appeared to be simply an extension of their creative being, it must surely be Gilad Atzmon. In upbeat mid-groove FNUK – which finds Shez Raja soloing so fluidly, high on the fretboard, to infectious wah-wah keys and unified horn section – Atzmon grabs the the opportunity to wind up his tenor soloing from initial placidity to identifiable and outrageously rapid in-and-out-of-key brilliance – a joy to hear.

Taking on a Mahavishnu feel, thanks to the band’s unison melodies led by Pascal Roggen’s electric violin, Quiverwish bubbles to the slap’n’pop of Shez’s bass, Atzmon again in the midst; and Eastern Revolution melds violin and sitar sounds to great effect over whizzing electronics and Chris Nickolls’ high-impetus drums. Chirpy Chakras On The Wall features the lissome, scat-like vocals of Monika Lidke coupled with purposeful violin; South African in flavour, it includes, from Raja, a notable reverse-bass simulation (Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, anybody?!).

Announced as “our funkiest track”, Junk Culture summons for me the memory of Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer classic You Never Know (There and Back, 1980) – certainly an infectious dazzler from this band’s nucleus involving a frothy keyboard frenzy from Alex Stanford. Finally, Freedom offers more of that African sunshine, courtesy of gyrating brass and clav over Raja’s swirling bass, Jay Phelps’ trumpet and Soweto Kinch’s alto determined to keep this party bouncing!

Released on 7 April 2014, on 33 Jazz, this is one spectacular jazz/funk celebration!

Check out the videos at Shez Raja’s YouTube channel.


Shez Raja
electric bass
Soweto Kinch alto saxophone, rapping
Gilad Atzmon tenor saxophone
Shabaka Hutchings clarinet
Jay Phelps trumpet
Monika Lidke vocals
Aaron Liddar alto and tenor saxophones
Pascal Roggen electric violin
Alex Stanford keyboards
Chris Nickolls drums

2014 gigs announced:
16 & 17 April: Album launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (album launch)
6 June: The Forge, Camden
3 August: Erie Jazz Festival, USA
August: Australia and New Zealand tour

33 Jazz – 238 (2014)

‘Ana’ – Emilia Mårtensson

ana2

MUSICAL DISCOVERIES are, I believe, waymarkers on a lifetime’s journey of appreciation and enjoyment of the artistic creativity that those blessed with a talent bestow upon us. Once experienced, they stay with us forever, evoking memories of the first unexpected rush of exhilaration that touched our soul.

In 2010, I chanced upon a debut release (Kairos Moment) by hitherto unknown contemporary jazz ensemble, Kairos 4tet. Led by indomitable saxophonist Adam Waldmann, their originality spoke loudly and clearly to me – and amongst the instrumental energy, a jazz vocalist delivered a single heartfelt ballad, Unresolved. Transfixed by its depth and beauty, I went on to discover this solo artist’s own debut album (And So It Goes… with pianist Barry Green) as well as appearances on subsequent Kairos albums and intimate piano-accompanied performances in London and Manchester.

Unsurprisingly, Emilia Mårtensson is rapidly making a name for herself on the London jazz circuit and beyond. A grounding in the folksongs of her native Sweden and standards of the leading ladies of jazz, combined with an admiration for a singer-songwriter genre that includes Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, has resulted in a meltingly gorgeous voice characterised by sincerity, warmth, dynamic control and endearingly crisp Anglo-Swedish diction.

Masterminded by producers Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney, this second solo release features a particularly inventive instrumental line-up, the spacial detail of which complements and colours Mårtensson’s sensitive approach so appropriately. As before, Barry Green’s expressive and intuitive piano is the perfect match for Emilia’s velvety tones. Rhythmic and ornamental zest is provided via a refreshing range of timbres from Brazilian percussionist Adrian Adewale; and bringing a deep sense of equilibrium is bassist Sam Lasserson. Finally, fashioning the most wonderfully interwoven textures on half of the album’s ten tracks are the Fable String Quartet, whose precision and integrality with this project are outstanding.

Illustrating all of this is opening number Harvest Moon, written by Jamie Doe, Emilia’s soft vocals floating above a gently bubbling momentum. In profound dedication to her grandmother, Ana is communicated with love (Soft, at night, her hand on mine, she says, “Close your eyes before you open up your mind”), Barry Green decorously enhancing the affectionate mood over Sam Crowe’s delicate string arrangement. Barnaby Keen’s Learnt from Love is a standout, the distinctive chord progressions and melody of the chorus, in particular, still lodged in my mind from a live first hearing last July; and Emilia’s voice also displays a brighter, stronger edge.

Tomorrow Can Wait is perfect for Mårtensson, the heart-on-sleeve poignancy of writer Emine Pirhason’s verses emphasised by the initial sparseness of solo piano, and Emilia’s digitally-layered harmonies are used to great effect here, suggesting her folk roots. Traditional Swedish folksong is represented by bass/percussion-accompanied När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År; and Black Narcissus Music, Joe Henderson’s familiar tune set to Emilia Mårtensson’s skilfully-intoned words, is interpreted breezily courtesy of a great Rory Simmons string arrangement which melds perfectly with the instrumental trio.

Paul Simon’s Everything Put Together Falls Apart comes so naturally to Mårtensson before Green and co. run with it in a jaunty, bluesy direction. Moffi’s Song confirms her own songwriting prowess, its string-led arrangement imbuing this tribute to her grandfather with the feel of an old jazz classic; and to close, a folksy unaccompanied miniature, Vackra Människa – the translation, ‘beautiful person’, so very fitting for this accomplished singer.

Released on 7 April 2014 (in Babel Label’s 20th anniversary year), Ana is available here … a musical discovery awaits.

Video: The Making of Ana
Video: Harvest Moon


Emilia Mårtensson
 voice
Barry Green piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Adriano Adewale percussion

The Fable String Quartet
Kit Massey violin
Paloma Deike violin
Becky Hopkin viola
Natalie Rozario cello

Babel Label – BDV14126 (2014)

‘The MJQ Celebration’ – Jim Hart, Barry Green, Matt Ridley, Steve Brown with Dave O’Higgins

MJQ

Originally formed by pianist and composer Michael Garrick MBE, who sadly passed away in 2011, The MJQ Celebration had been delighting sell-out UK audiences with their fresh interpretations of the pioneering 1950s/60s sounds of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Determined to continue the success of the project, and in Michael’s memory, the friends are now touring again as a new line-up, launching this engaging debut release.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Jim Hart
vibraphone
Barry Green piano
Matt Ridley double bass
Steve Brown drums

special guest
Dave O’Higgins tenor saxophone

Kings Gambit Records (KGR001) – 2014

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’: Duo Art – Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev

Reverie

PART OF ACT’S ‘DUO ART’ SERIES, ‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ brings together two good friends from the contemporary jazz world – British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Russian (Milan-resident) double bassist Yuri Goloubev – for a programme of gloriously poetic brilliance.

Situated in Germany, towards the Austrian border, Elmau is a favoured stomping ground for Simcock – a recording retreat of creative calm, and the location for his solo piano album, ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’ (ACT, 2011). In this same environment, the pianist and bassist have woven together a sumptuous tapestry of co-written originals, drawn from their illustrious classical and jazz experiences – the appeal of this crossover confirmed by their recent, well-received live performance on BBC Radio 3′s established, chamber-focused Lunchtime Concert slot, as well as many international stage appearances.

Recording together previously (on ‘Blues Vignette’, as a trio with James Maddren – Basho, 2009), it’s clear that Simcock and Goloubev have developed a strong telepathic communication, their compositions leaping to the vibrant rhythms of jazz, as well as incorporating the grace and complex harmonic language of (amongst others I hear) Debussy, Ravel, Brahms and perhaps even Gershwin. Both musicians approach their craft with exacting precision, each able to ‘turn on a sixpence’ from emotional yearning – often characterised by Goloubev’s sustained, rhapsodic arco – to the tumbling, overflowing joy of Simcock’s dazzling piano.

Pastoral begins the journey with a pellucid, spacial simplicity which resembles Scandinavian folksong, pictorialised by droplet- and icicle-suggested effects before gaining gently-paced momentum – the first indication of the extraordinarily sensitive interaction that permeates the entire album. Also, it soon becomes apparent that these nine pieces are not for the background but, rather, demand close attention to fully appreciate the detail – indeed, importantly, at louder volumes the physical resonance is such that it’s easy to become involved at a much more intimate level. As an illustration, in Lost Romance, Goloubev’s lithe fingerwork annunciates every passage with such amazing depth, melodic accuracy, ringing harmonics and vibrato… it really is breathtaking, especially for an instrument so often consigned to plodding support! Shades of Pleasure explores major and minor keys with a luscious intertwining of piano and bass between its gently jarring main theme, set against a smoothly-ebbing piano ostinato, Goloubev again demonstrating his considerable dexterity.

In contrast to the duo’s quieter moments, Antics is a wondrously frolicking episode based around a familiar ‘playground jibe’ motif which the pair gladly tease each other with. Simcock seems to be establishing an upbeat pianistic style all of his own, featuring heavily accented chords and bounding baselines, best described as a ‘breakneck blues’ – such a compelling listen; and Yuri does well to chase him closely into every corner of these brisk four minutes. A Joy Forever tugs at the heartstrings, a beautifully emotive tune from the exquisite, cello-like fluidity of Goloubev, his switch from arco to fingered bass no less sublime (I recall seeing a young Gwilym Simcock playing many years ago with legendary drummer Bill Bruford – Earthworks, with Tim Garland – and the loftiness of this piece brings to mind Bruford’s own piano and bass gem, ‘Palewell Park’).

Non-Schumann Lied might be seen as reference to the artists’ classical beginnings, its songlike impressions maybe more elegantly Brahmsian in flavour; and Flow eddies and skips along to the lucid, colourful melodies that both instrumentalists share so keenly. The leggero ‘song without words’ feel of Vain Song finds Goloubev once again displaying a remarkable lightness of touch, Simcock hitting the heights of jazz soloing finesse (listen closely – this is a real treasure). And finally, an almost Elgarian Reverie (from the pen of 19th Century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini) – its subtle Victorian shades, reminiscent of Chanson de Nuit, find Yuri Goloubev at his most classically lyrical (though not without idiosyncratic improvisatory interlude) against the restrained romantic piano of Simcock.

Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev are, separately, to be found in many different guises in a currently buzzing contemporary jazz scene. But here, they pause to forge beauty and majesty in this coming together of two acoustic instruments – illuminated, of course, by their combined musical genius.

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ is released on the ACT label – more information and audio samples here.


Gwilym Simcock
piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass

ACT 9624-2 (2104)