‘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)

‘Flint’ – Bill Laurance

Flint

OVER THE LAST DECADE, thunderous New York jazz-funk fusionists Snarky Puppy have garnered a solid international fan base with their intoxicating live shows, as well as a successful catalogue of albums. At the heart of this creative powerhouse is English pianist/keyboardist Bill Laurance, who now presents his own sparkling debut release, along with a UK and Netherlands tour.

Described by Laurance as the album he’s been searching for since he started making music, Flint is a collaboration with two close friends – Snarky stalwarts Michael League (basses, guitars) and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight’ (drums, percussion) – as well as a host of string and horn players. Together, they realise a magnificent compositional spectrum, often on an orchestral/filmic scale as well as anticipated jazz-funk grooving, with Laurance commanding at the grand piano and Fender Rhodes. And, although the majority of the ten through-composed pieces are solely from the leader’s pen (along with League’s considerable input as arranger), the communal sense of striving for both musical exactitude and improvisation is palpable… and exciting.

Setting the tone are the complex urban drum patterns of opener Never-Ending City, with gutsy five-string bass, keys ostinati, cityscape strings and Laurance’s cool piano extemporisations. Janáček/Copland-style brass announces Money in the Desert, a brooding, quietly-pulsating episode which can’t help but break out into moog-driven funk with accented strings, and League’s popping electric guitar lead (blame it on the boogie!). Title track Flint (named after the inspirational effect on Laurance of a Snarky Puppy gig in Flint, Michigan) is more akin to soundtrack, dipping in and out of marching band mode and expansive Philip Glass-like pianistic/orchestral vistas, underpinned by Sput’s metronomic pulse. And all the while, the arrangements feel organically whole.

Smooth jazz Swag Times features quite breathtaking drum razzle-dazzle from Searight against an irresistible Rhodes/synth/vocoder wash – and again, brass and strings widen the landscape (such beautiful execution from string players who completed their entire recording requirement within a day!). The Good Things pares down the line-up to piano, bass and drums, Laurence leading in mysterious, echoic grandeur, plus impressive fuzz bass from League; and baroque-inflected Chia, with its gorgeously mercurial piano and double bass, invites the rapid gypsy fiddle of Zach Brock and portamento string backing to ramp up the tempo and augmented orchestration – in a word, delightful. Whimsical and grungy ska tune Smokers Castle jerks and clatters around Laurance’s detuned piano and a wonderfully brash New Orleans-style brass section; and Gold Coast features the fluid flugelhorn of Mike Maher (also of Snarky Puppy) in an orchestrally opulent, shining affair.

At ten minutes in length, penultimate track Ready Wednesday is a sure highlight, Searight’s fast Latinesque tempo showcasing Laurance’s exacting, rhythmic piano style; and the broad orchestral sweep – even in its later, slower section – has ‘movie soundtrack’ written all over it. As closing titles roll, classical piano end-piece Audrey, with delicate strings and flugel, melancholily waltzes to its rest.

As part of the package (on a second disc), a 47-minute DVD documentary – made by Andy Laviolette – provides a fascinating insight into the making of Flint, revealing the musicians’ passion for their art, as well as various triumphs over adversity along the way (including the sudden non-availability of their pre-booked studio, twelve few hours before recording sessions were due to begin!). Videos of all tracks are also included.

Released on 14 July 2014, this is an ambitious and absorbing project – not least for the Snarky Puppy faithful – which promises much in its translation to a live setting (see below for October 2014 tour dates, samples and purchasing). Check it out!

 

Bill Laurance acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, vocoder, keyboards, shaker, congas, ride cymbal, propane tank, hand claps
Michael League electric bass, double bass, moog bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hand claps
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight drums, timpani, marching snare & bass drums, shekere, cowbells, vibraslap, woodblocks, shaker, hand claps
Maria Im violin
Zach Brock violin (solos)
Curtis Stewart violin
Henry Flory violin
Lev Zhurbin viola
Eylem Basaldi viola
Maria Jeffers cello
J.Y. Lee cello
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt McLaughlin french horn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Brian Donohoe alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Scott Flynn trombone
Magda Giannikou propane tank, glockenspiel, xylophone
Emília Canas Mendes & Andy Laviolette hand claps

2014 UK tour dates
03 October: St George’s, Bristol
04 October: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
06 October: The Glee Club, Birmingham
07 October: Band on the Wall, Manchester
08 October: The Grand, Clitheroe
09 October: Ropery Hall, Barton on Humber
10 October: Turner Sims, Southampton

2014 Netherlands tour dates
11 October: Bird, Rotterdam
12 October: North Sea Jazz Club, Amsterdam

billlaurance.com
Bandcamp.com
iTunes

groundUP music – GRO117 (2014)

‘Swamp’ – Partisans

swamp

CREDITED as movers and shakers in gritty, groundbreaking jazz since the late ’90s – with four previous albums to their name – Partisans now come together for their first release in five years… and it’s certainly a bold, renewed statement of intent.

The all-star line-up – Phil Robson (guitar), Julian Siegel (saxes and clarinets), Thaddeus Kelly (electric bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums) – approaches these eight originals with customary verve. Robson and Siegel equally split writing duties, yet there’s also a strong emphasis on intuitively-developed, rock-grooved improvisation within the quartet – and the overall balance of this set, recorded within just 48 hours, is quite remarkable.

Near-nine-minute Overview indeed reveals much about a band who have recorded and toured together for almost two decades, Siegel’s initial sunshiny jazz groove widening into freer discovery over thunderous bass and drum energy, and clearly demonstrating a sense of collaborative purpose. The impudent one-note motif of opener Flip The Sneck introduces a boisterousness which is irresistible; the Sowetan feel of Robson’s open guitar and Kelly’s rolling baseline sets up a great platform for Siegel’s rich, elaborate tenor searchings and Robson’s sustained rocky lead, Calderazzo obviously revelling in its energy. And Low Glow‘s catchy, mid-tempo 5/4 guitar’n’bass riff suggests earlier John Scofield, with Robson and Siegel sharing bright, intertwining melodies.

Phil Robson’s title track, Swamp, forays darkly into more experimental territory (’70s prog. jazz style). Sinewy sax lines creep through eerie wah-wah chords and electronic spatters until Kelly and Calderazzo inject a brilliantly rumbling, clattering rockiness over which Robson’s effected guitar growls and whistles until a sudden gear-shift invites Siegel to solo over a cheeky disco groove – splendid stuff! Veto swings attractively to Calderazzo’s hi-hat and ride, as well as Robson’s mellow chordal clusters (heard to great to effect in his organ trio), but all the while it has that appealingly unpredictable touch of Partisans questioning; and Siegel sails broadly and elegantly on tenor.

The relative simplicity of Thin Man (Siegel opening on bass clarinet) is a delight, such is its buoyancy and cohesiveness which is due, in part, to Thad Kelly’s underpinning electric bass plus Gene Calderazzo’s ticking precision and embellishment. A final fast swinger, Mickey, finds the quartet in scintillating form, Phil Robson relishing the opportunity to gambol rapidly across the fretboard, Siegel joining in unison as well as extemporising colourfully; and Icicle Architects closes the show in more pensive vein, though its slower folksongy clarinet meanderings eventually open out into an animated, earthy, deep-reed conclusion.

These guys still love what they do together, kicking at the boundaries with a combined wealth of experience – and it shows. Swamp is pretty unputdownable!

Releasing on 22 September 2014, mini-documentary, samples and purchasing options can be found on Whirlwind’s dedicated album page – tour details below.

 

Julian Siegel saxophones and clarinets
Phil Robson guitar
Thaddeus Kelly electric bass
Gene Calderazzo drums

2014 tour dates
29 September: LAUNCH – Jazz in the Round, Cockpit Theatre, London
10 October: The Verdict, Brighton
11 October: Marsden Jazz Festival
23 October: Jazz Lines at Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
31 October: Fleece Jazz, Stoke by Nayland
05 November: The Y Theatre, Leicester
14 November: The Victory Club, Cheltenham
20 November: Seven Jazz at Chapel Allerton, Leeds
21 November: The Vortex, London (London Jazz Festival)

partisans.org.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4657 (2014)

‘Shine’ – Jacob Karlzon 3

Karlzon

CONFESSEDLY, I was initially wrong-footed by the Jacob Karlzon 3’s new album, Shine. A casual first-track listen revealed electronica and piano with an amiable, anthemic melody suggesting this release may have more in common with the commercial accessibility of Coldplay than a creative jazz trio. But therein lies the clue…

Swedish pianist/keyboardist/composer Karlzon’s approach to his music is an unusual hybrid – seemingly a traditional piano trio (with bassist Hans Andersson and drummer Robert Mehmet), he seeks to combine the improvisatory unpredictability of jazz with the catchy immediacy of pop. Indeed, following on from 2012 ACT debut, More, and a successful couple of years honing their sound on the live circuit, the mood of these eight originals – along with a surprising U2 interpretation – is generally upbeat, either in effulgent vitality or warm serenity.

The production is tight, with a strong emphasis on synthesised pop techniques – yet, impressively, Robert Mehmet’s acoustic percussion and Hans Andersson’s sung bass meld organically with Karlzon’s shimmering electronics, as well as his eloquent pianistic wizardry. The title track’s Vangelis-like theme tune propulsion typifies this, providing Karlzon with the bright, washy canvas on which to sparkle high at the piano; and Bubbles twinkles magically, Andersson’s bass contributing a beautifully resonant extemporised tune. Recall Bono’s vocal to U2’s pounding classic I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (from 1987’s The Joshua Tree)… and then imagine it as a gently lilting, Enya-style piano solo – it works so well. And to follow, the more rock-driven piano/synth number Outsourced trudges with intent, bearing an uncanny resemblance, say, to Bruce Hornsby’s exuberant live offerings. So, already it’s clear that Karlzon is filtering many influences and styles to fashion a fascinating sound world.

Metropolis is more shadowy. Here, e.s.t. comparisons are difficult to avoid, given the complex techno drum rhythms and prominent, rolling prepared piano improvisations – but, still, it carries the Karlzon mark, tinted with ’70s/’80s prog rock. In contrast, the piano limpidity of Inner Hills, with its soft, simple motion, is a sure heartbeat reducer – time standing still for a light-headed few minutes. And, consistently, it’s the composer’s desire for melody which elevates his creations above any suggestion of humdrum ambience.

Folksong-imbued One More Day shifts into modulatory overtones of Thijs van Leer’s Focus, albeit with a funkier bass edge, Andersson’s pliant strings colouring Karlzon’s piano extemporisations; Screening Self seems to fuse late-Genesis rock influences with (again) a hint of Focus in its scratchy, ascending Hammond interventions; and, finally, Karlzon winds down with A Thousand Conclusions, a meditation which displays the subtle interaction of the ‘3’, building to showcase the pianist’s undeniable piano prowess.

Released in the UK on 15 September 2014, the Jacob Karlzon 3 reach for the feel-good, hoping that this album “helps each and every one who hears it to shine a little in their daily life.” More information and samples can be found at ACT.

 

Jacob Karlzon piano, keys, synths & programming
Hans Andersson bass
Robert Mehmet Ikiz drums

jacobkarlzon.com

ACT – 9573-2 (2014)

‘Forward In All Directions’ – Andy Milne & Dapp Theory

AndyMilne

THE DISTILLATION of the genres that the five members of Dapp Theory inhabit and are influenced by produces a new album of quite dazzling musicianship. Directed by pianist and keyboardist Andy Milne, Forward In All Directions primarily exudes jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop, with a dash of vocal poetry – yet this resulting programme of Milne’s ten originals borders on the uncategorizable, such is the breadth of its creativity and eclecticism.

Firmly established on the New York jazz scene and respected highly as both musician and educator, Canadian-born Andy Milne’s CV speaks for itself, including associations with Steve Coleman, Joe Lovano, Archie Shepp and Ravi Coltrane. Dapp Theory has been in existence for some fifteen years and was formed, in Milne’s words, to “tell passionate stories, promote peace and inspire collective responsibility towards uplifting the human spiritual condition.” He sees this latest release – co-produced by renowned Yellowjackets founder Jimmy Haslip – as a milestone; and that sense of celebration is communicated by a personnel equally adept with angulous strength and dreamy lyricism: Aaron Kruziki (reeds and programming), John Moon (vocal poetry), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Kenny Grohowski (drums and percussion). Guesting are Ben Monder (guitar), Jean Baylor (lead vocal) and Gretchen Parlato (additional vocals).

From the percussive complexity and pressing, synthy urgency of opener Hopscotch to the Return To Forever-like wordless vocal balm of Katharsis, there is much to discover here. Indeed, the profusion of the writing, instrumentation and improvisation within this sixty-five minutes is spectacularly whelming on a first hearing – and then different spotlights illuminate the detail over time in an abundant journey of discovery. Photographs illustrates this, its wonderfully crisp, buoyant rhythm supporting a shared, bright lead from Milne’s synth and Aaron Kruziki’s soprano; and Kenny Grohowski’s jazz/rock drumming technique (so well produced) is compelling throughout. A chilling, menacing theme in Search Party is maintained brilliantly by Fender Rhodes, synths and electric bass with sustained, inquiring lines from Ben Monder’s guitar; here, the anxious, megaphone-style vocal poetry of John Moon is well suited.

The combination of Christopher Tordini’s earthy, tensile double bass and Kruziki’s douduk sets up the mysterious Eastern-imbued landscape of In The Mirror, Darkly. Then, conjuring a late ’70s sound world (echoes of Wayne Shorter, Jeff Berlin, Billy Cobham and National Health’s Dave Stewart), Nice To Meet You hits a kind of balanced retro funkiness, Milne’s colourful, chordal acoustic piano chords a key element of this stand-out track. The Trust‘s bass clarinet and sinewy piano sinisterly waltz and intertwine to Tordini’s supple double bass, Milne revelling in the open space; and the grittiness of his Rhodes in How And When Versus What encourages a terrific groove which gives way to serene, guitar-led transcendence (there’s so much in this!).

Dreamy sax-led interlude Fourteen Fingers precedes a final, nine-minute spectacle of ‘prog’ proportions – Headache In Residence – thanks to its slow-burning, overdriven guitar energy. And, as with this entire project, it’s the sum of its parts which defines its ingenuity, Andy Milne and his colleagues evidently putting their heart and soul into it. In all directions… it’s quite a blast!

Released on 8 September 2014, further information, audio clips, purchasing and promo video can be found at Whirlwind Recordings.

 

Andy Milne piano, prepared piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesisers
Aaron Kruziki soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, douduk,
alto saxophone, additional keyboard programming
John Moon vocal poetics (tracks 2, 4, 5)
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Kenny Grohowski drums and percussion
with guests
Ben Monder guitar
Jean Baylor lead vocal
Gretchen Parlato additional vocals

andymilne.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4660 (2014)

‘Animalia’ – Mammal Hands

Animalia

IT’S NO SURPRISE that the live gigs of newcomers Mammal Hands caught the ears of Nick Blacka (bass player with trio-of-the-moment GoGo Penguin) – subsequently recommending them to Gondwana Records boss Matthew Halsall who duly signed them to his growing catalogue of new artists – for there’s more than a hint of Blacka’s band in this, their resulting debut release, Animalia, as well as echoes of early Portico Quartet. Yet their style is also defined by elements of electronica, classical minimalism, dance, Africana, and Indian classical, creating a richly creative blend which can, in equal measure, both move and excite.

The strong Norwich-based trio comprises brothers Nick Smart (piano) and Jordan Smart (saxes), with Jesse Barratt on drums and tabla – their eight original compositions here very much on-trend with the current wave of eclectic, democratically-conceived contemporary jazz ensembles. And what a compelling first outing this is.

Eschewing the traditional double bass element doesn’t, as one might expect, result in imbalance, thanks to the solid-chorded/octaved rhythmic piano of Nick Smart. Indeed, opener Mansions of Millions of Years – with influences and moods that might suggest e.s.t., Reich, Glass and Satie, as well as a raga pulse and energy – displays the impassioned intent of this one-time busking band, Jordan Smart’s escalating soprano sax whirling and crying over the busyness of piano and drums. The three players clearly share an empathy in composition and performance, delivering a varied sound world – the brief and more contemplative Snow Bough spacially glinting to falling piano and sax melodies which possess delightful Japanese koto-like clarity.

A brooding sense of anticipation fills Kandaiki, Jordan Smart’s clipped vibrato lines very much reminiscent of Portico’s Jack Wyllie – and here can be found the magic of the trio, as piano and sax intertwine contrapuntal melodies and harmonies over a simmering, near-perpetual 5/4 piano and drum figure. In contrast, the percussive, yet melancholy, open landscape of Spinning the Wheel finds Jordan Smart’s soprano in folky, yearning vein, Nick’s dark-set low piano chords shrouding the piece in mystery.

Suitably-titled Bustle teems with life to its pianistically-tricky seven-beat ostinati and trip-up pauses; and Jesse Barratt’s complex, ticking momentum, including subtly hollow tabla, is great to focus on. Luxuriant Inuit Party presents a particularly rich combination of tenor punch, tightly-clustered piano chords and solid four-square beat which also offers a tangible improvisatory glimmer of their live act. Upping their game still further – and a real stand-out – Street Sweeper revels in an infectious groove, the Smart brothers sharing melodies over an effusive left-hand piano hook, Barratt shuffling enthusiastically as well as offering a joyous touch of Cuban clatter.

Larger-scale Tiny Crumb closes the album, highlighting the trio’s aptitude for building and elaborating on themes, moving up through keys with ever-increasing urgency. Again, Nick Smart’s all-encompassing piano presence is impressive, sharing with Jesse Barratt its rhythmic intensity, all the while encouraging the apparent vigour of Jordan Smart’s tenor (the end of his white-hot, Pharaoh Sanders-style soloing induces a desire to applaud!); and then, a hypnotic, tabla-decorated end-piece which hints at a much longer play-out than afforded here.

As a debut, Animalia is captivating, yet also feels like just the beginning of Mammal Hands’ creative musings. In their multifarious musical minds, not to mention their considerable instrumental proficiency, Gondwana have signed a breakthrough band capable of hitting the heights. Catch a glimpse of the band at 2013’s Mostly Jazz Festival, as well as the official video for Mansions of Millions of Years.

Releasing on 15 September 2014, pre-order/purchase the album (and preview a couple of tracks) at Gondwana Records’ Bandcamp Store.

 

Nick Smart piano
Jordan Smart saxophones
Jesse Barratt drums, tabla

gondwanarecords.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD011 (2014)

‘First Light’ – Andrew McCormack

FirstLight

‘MODERN CLASSIC’ is the recurring impression, each time I listen to this latest piano trio release, First Light, from Englishman in New York, Andrew McCormack.

The trajectory of McCormack’s jazz career has been fascinating to monitor since his 2007 debut album, Telescope, through to the more recent digital-only Live in London of 2012. In between, his musical partnership with saxophonist Jason Yarde (in two impressive duo recordings, as well as captivating live performances), revealed much about his personality and musical drive – and a relocation across the Atlantic to immerse himself in the American jazz scene has now, excitingly, increased his compositional/improvisational creativity and technical accomplishment to the heights that are to be discovered here.

Along with NYC rhythm section Zack Lober (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums), the pianist delivers a precise set of eight contrasting originals, plus a closing interpretation of Thelonious Monk – and, pleasingly, the overarching feel is one of an intelligent and inventive trio at ease with their connective artistry, which makes for the most heartwarming chamber jazz experience.

Bustling Prospect Park launches the album, perhaps suggesting the freedoms of Brooklyn’s urban oasis, McCormack’s morning-light piano seemingly dancing and cascading in the sun. The brisk, jaunty bass and drum tempo is particularly finely weighted, neither of the three players overshadowing the other, which enhances the sense of openness – and it’s a joy to experience McCormack’s exquisite keyboard touch throughout. Gotham Soul probes and twists to McCormack’s misterioso opening left-hand motif, gradually building in intensity but then pulling back to reveal a delicate double bass extemporisation against the combined subtlety of piano and drums – the communication lines here are most definitely clear, as the pianist closes with contrapuntal finesse. There’s a certain Monkish impudence and unpredictability to Leap of Faith, the trio’s jabbing punches transforming into McCormack’s effortless, melodic rolling across the keys to Lober’s steady, city-walking bass and Stranahan’s drumming intricacy.

Title track First Light summons the cerebral sound world of Bill Evans, such is the measured lucidity of all three musicians – but, specifically, it’s the incredible detailing of Andrew McCormack, from held-back droplet melodies, through rapid high runs and chordal saturation, and then back to final, sustained simplicity which vividly paints that very first, quiet glimpse of daybreak. Lober’s opening chromatic bass edginess in Reluctant Gift contrasts well, eventually breaking into more confident ground until the whole trio flies at impressive speed, inviting a hard-hitting show from Colin Stranahan until its unexpected… STOP! Reflecting the cityscape impressions of the cover art, Vista quietly patters through shifting major/minors, building and fading as if to emulate the changing patterns of a day in the US capital, pitching tranquillity against the heavy hydraulic hiss of sprawling traffic.

The River is more improvisatory in feel, ebbing and flowing to individual creative thoughts and a great combined bass and piano bass pulse, yet always cohesive. Its tense, jarring motifs are quite different to the earlier, reflective numbers; and elaborated live possibilities – hinted at by Stranahan’s colourful percussion – can easily be imagined. A brief interlude, Faith Remembered, recalls themes from the earlier Leap of Faith, expertly reinterpreting them into a pensive, perhaps melancholy, late-night piano solo. And then, to close, Thelonious Monk’s Pannonica, McCormack and his trio exchanging the writer’s trademark piano ‘clumsiness’ for a suitably bright’n’breezy evening walk in the park – full circle: first light to twilight.

Released on 7 July 2014 by increasingly successful British label Edition Records – superbly recorded/produced and packaged – First Light is available in digital and CD formats from their Bandcamp store. Certainly the mark of a consummate pianist/composer with a maturing, distinctive voice… and an album to treasure.

 

Andrew McCormack piano
Zack Lober double bass
Colin Stranahan drums

Edition Records – EDN1052 (2014)