‘Faces’ – David Lyttle

Faces

BOOKENDED by nonchalant sax improvisation from jazz luminary Joe Lovano, the rapped words declare, “Worth your while to take a second listen to” – and it’s a pleasure to concur. Once in a while, a new, unexpected sound world grabs us by the ears and refuses to let go – something leftfield, eclectic and brimming with honest, heartwarming creativity. David Lyttle’s Faces is such an album.

Lyttle has a creditable biography. From his early beginnings in County Armagh as a young drummer with his parents’ Celtic family folk band – The Lyttle Family – he took up scholarships in the USA and Canada, as well as studying for both BMus and PhD in Ulster, achieving a Doctorate in Music. Since then, his seemingly boundless energy has found him performing, launching his own recording label and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Greg Osby, Soweto Kinch, Jason Rebello, Jean Toussaint, Andreas Varady, Pino Palladino……

Any attempt to categorise the Irishman’s musical ingenuity is tricky, as he confidently skips across an array of genres, creating a melange of fresh, attractive new sounds – and such incisive blending is the key to the success of this third solo outing. Inviting musical friends and family to his album personnel… well, in lesser hands, it could have all gone horribly wrong – but there’s an incredible sagacity to Lyttle’s ten tracks of pop, jazz, soul, folk, rap and hip-hop which become both enchanting and irresistible.

The adventure is there to be discovered – but here’s a flavour…  announced by romantic cello solo, jaunty retro pop/rap The Second Line grooves to Lyttle’s amiable vocals, soulful keys and perky snare. Like many of the compositions, Houdini bubbles with on-the-tip-of-the-tongue influences, here suggesting Jeff Lynne, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Keane and even a tinge of Alan Price’s (Simon Smith’s) ‘Dancing Bear’– fascinating! A stand-out is the slow, gospel warmth of Seek, featuring the assured vocals of Anne Lyttle (David’s Mum) sustained by John Leighton’s evocative Hammond and pianist Jason Rebello’s perfect, crystalline sensitivity.

Rhea Lyttle (David’s sister) brings radio-friendly disco-pop to two numbers – Detour (including a sprinkling of Jean Toussaint’s soprano sax) and Game Boy, a Buggles-like teenage tale with rapping from Zane, coloured by Michael Buckley’s floral flute. Title track Faces is announced with mischievous “HAhaHAhaha”s from Cleveland Watkiss, whose characterful three-minute vocal/scat groove is a joy; and soft rap Lullaby For The Lost eases out to David Lyttle’s silky Fender Rhodes. Natalie Oliveri exchanges smooth soul voicings with rapper Homecut in To Be Free; and with the last word, Anne Lyttle presents homey, rocking-chair epilogue Perception to Meilana Gillard’s intimately-fashioned woodwinds.

Released on 23 February 2015, and already creating positive vibes across radio airwaves, Faces is available from Lyte Records. ‘Ready with that ‘repeat album’ setting?

 

David Lyttle drums, percussion, keyboards, cello, lead vocals
Keith Duffy bass, guitar
Duke Special lead vocals
Anne Lyttle lead vocals
Rhea Lyttle lead vocals
Cleveland Watkiss lead vocals
Natalie Oliveri lead vocals
Talib Kweli rap
Illspokinn rap
Homecut rap
Zane rap
Jason Rebello piano
John Leighton organ
Tom Harrison sax
Jean Toussaint sax
Joe Lovano sax
Michael Buckley flute
Meilana Gillard woodwinds
Jan Hutchinson violin
Eoin Walsh guitar

davidlyttle.com

Lyte Records (2015)

‘The Whistle Blower’ – Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble

Gilad

A CASCADE of unalloyed Middle Eastern exuberance announces this latest release from Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble. One of the hardest-working musicians on the London and UK jazz scene, multi-instrumentalist and composer Atzmon is one of those privileged beings whose instrument (here, chiefly sax) appears simply to be an extension of their own being, such is the fervid eloquence and quick-witted delivery of his performances.

Recorded again with OHE associates Frank Harrison (piano/keyboards), Yaron Stavi (basses) and Chris Higginbottom (drums), here is an album of Gilad’s original compositions which, characteristically, dances with ease between uproarious, Israeli-infused passion and utter, luxuriant romanticism. Easily the ‘Jeff Beck of the sax/clarinet’, there seems to be no capability of his reed instruments that he doesn’t understand or implement (as those who have seen his live creativity with mouthpiece and crook alone will testify!); and the rapidity of his trademark unbroken, chromatic runs up and down the keys – sometimes, with the dry timbre of a Medieval shawm – is as thrilling as ever.

So, that opening number, Gaza Mon Amour – with evocative percussion, rhythmic shouts and wails, it relentlessly surges to Atzmon’s hypnotic, swirling clarinet and sax extemporisations until he attains feverish screams; and following, the brooding mystery of Forever finds the leader in contrasting legato vein, coloured by Frank Harrison’s inquiring piano against the softness of cymbals and bass. The Romantic Church, harking back to the sentimentality of 2009’s In Loving Memory of America, is positively ambrosial – Atzmon at his most lyrical with wide vibrato, backed by Harrison’s lush strings and articulate, perspicuous piano.

Magnum opus Let Us Pray (at over eleven minutes) has an air of soundtrack, the drama escalating as Atzmon caterwauls almost in Doppler effect to the encouragement of Chris Higginbottom’s blazing drums and Yaron Stavi’s reliable bass propulsion, plus sweeping, piano improv and monolithic chords (stirring vivid memories of the electrifying atmospheres of OHE gigs). The homespun though subtly disquieting charm of The Song, expressed through the leader’s accordion, is sufficiently melodic as to proffer lyrics; and the edgy longing of To Be Free reverberates indeed to freer ensemble playing, Atzmon again reaching incredible heights.

For Moana – perhaps a love song – is spacially elegant, thanks to the delicate balance of piano, bass and drums – the perfect vehicle for Atmon’s sustained soprano meanderings. And ever the capricious, jesting showman, Gilad the guitarist and accordionist leads the closing title track – a cheeky, flouncy rumba – to wolf-whistle-prompting wordless vocal allurement from Tali Atzmon, accompanied by laddish, unison backing vocals.

Launching at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club on 12 March, the album is released on and available from Atzmon’s new publishing outlet Fanfare Publications (and presumably all good jazz retailers) on 23 February. Extensive tour dates listed below – a show not to be missed, proven by this live video from The Hideaway – Gaza Mon Amour.

And ‘The Whistle Blower’? – Gilad explains: “I am an avid admirer of simplicity and transparency. The moment of clarity that leaves the mind in the dark, yet content. I guess this is why I blow the whistle instead of playing the fiddle.”

 

Gilad Atzmon alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, accordion, guitar, vocals
Frank Harrison piano, keyboards, vocals
Yaron Stavi double bass, electric bass, vocals
Chris Higginbottom drums, vocals
with
Tali Atzmon vocals
Antonio Feola voice

2015 tour dates
23 February: Everyman Studio, Cheltenham
26 February: The Albany Club, Coventry
1 March: Hen & Chicken, Bristol
5 March: RNCM, Manchester
6 March: Birmingham Jazz, Birmingham
11 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
12 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (album launch)
13 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
14 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
31 March: Brook Theatre, Chatham
1 April: Y Theatre, Leicester
4 April: 606 Club, London
5 April: Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester
7 April: A-Trane, Berlin
9 April: Saarwellingen, Germany
11 April: Drill Hall, Lincoln
16 April: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
17 April: Wakefield Jazz Club, Wakefield
25 April: (TBC) Freiburg
30 April: Spin Jazz Club, Oxford

gilad.co.uk

Fanfare Jazz – FJ1501 (2015)

‘Piano Ambulance’ – Maurizio Minardi

PianoAmbulance

MAURIZIO Minardi’s The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist of 2013 showcased the London-based Italian’s brilliance with the accordion in an engaging album of his own jazz compositions characterised by humour, theatre and showmanship.

New release Piano Ambulance shifts the focus of his unequivocal technical expertise to his first instrument, piano, with another fascinating programme of self-penned works – this time for piano quartet (with trio members bassist Nick Pini and drummer Jason Reeve, plus the sustained depth of Shirley Smart’s cello). The instrumental combination of the four is as distinctive as it is effective, capturing Minardi’s penchant for visual music which is so evidently cinematic in its predominance of drama, urgency and storytelling, whilst also contrasted by delightfully delicate interludes.

The siren-suggested piano oscillations of title number Piano Ambulance develop in vigorous Einaudian earnestness, balanced with a trio serenity which indicates the story behind Minardi’s album naming (his positive experiences of the beneficial, cathartic effects of live music that can sometimes be found in English hospitals and nursing homes). April Sun exudes an endearingly spacial, childlike simplicity peppered with the pianist’s improvisations, yet still with unsettled, ambulant overtones; and Goodbye London – its initial fluttering, tricksy moto perpetuo rhythms reminiscent of Penguin Cafe – builds into melodramatic grandeur enhanced by emotionally yearning cello.

Friday Almost paints pictures of both anticipatory joy and rush-hour bustle before relaxing into the most tranquil, electronic-tinged oasis, whilst the menacing impetus of Secret Skin resounds to Shirley Smart’s abrasive, Anja Lechner-like glissando extemporisations and Jason Reeve’s propulsive drum/cymbal accuracy (here, again, the quartet display their deftness in emotively ‘turning on a sixpence’ to sparser territory). There’s a stately, pseudo-Baroque air to Indulgence – and, complete with Minardi’s elegant piano ornamentation and Nick Pini’s delicious bass improvisation, its grazioso melody might easily be sung to words.

A strong sense of narrative defines Dangerous Innocence, Minardi’s characteristic piano ostinati (at times not unlike Michael Nyman or Philip Glass) escalating to a troubled, driven episode until a melancholy cello melody closes; certainly soundtrack material, as is Seven Sisters, a loftier, romantic affair coloured by Pini’s bass and Smart’s cello. In trio finale Francesca’s Gloves, the absence of Minardi’s familiar, repetitious pulse creates a more typically Italian style with subtle Bachian shades redolent of, say, pianists Paolo Paliaga or Michele Di Toro – an exquisite closer with a suppleness informed by the lightness of both Reeve’s percussion and Pini’s bass.

Released on 2 February 2015 and launching at The Vortex, London, on 18 February, Maurizio Minardi is touring Piano Ambulance during March (see dates below) – and, having previously seen this quartet live, I heartily recommend the excitement and entertainment value to be found in their intuitive performances.

 

Maurizio Minardi piano
Nick Pini double bass
Jason Reeve drums
Shirley Smart cello

March 2015 tour dates
4 March: Hull Jazz Club, Hull
5 March: Queens Hall Arts, Hexham
6 March: Pound Arts, Corsham
10 March: Annie’s Jazz, Southend
20 March: Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury
27 March: Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough
29 March: Omnibus Arts Centre, London

mauriziominardi.com

Belfagor Label – MM12 (2014)

‘Ornithophobia’ – Troyka

Ornithopobia

WITH two studio albums under their collective belt, in addition to 2014’s acclaimed live Troyk-estra big band recording, heteroclite jazz trio Troyka have always sought to use their combined creative genius to create something extraordinary.

As if to illustrate the point, following a resounding Kings Place Festival taster gig a few years ago, a chap in the row behind enthusiastically turned to his wife as the final applause subsided, asking, “What did you think of THAT?!”… only to prompt the deflating reply, as she rose to her feet to exit, “Uh, not MUCH”! Exactly the kind of divided and controversial response (electric guitarist Chris Montague gleefully explained to me later) that they thrive on. For Troyka are not just any old jazz combo, but rather a triumvirate of like-minded wizards who soak up all manner of genres and refashion them into their own unique, experimental sound worlds. For the uninitiated, this can initially be a pretty bumpy ride – but once attuned to the band’s ‘way of things’ (live, absolutely compelling), it’s easy to become engrossed in the heightened technical and creative intelligence on display here.

Recording for the first time on the Naim label, Montague and colleagues – Joshua Blackmore (drums), Kit Downes (keyboards and tuned percussion) – have upped their game still further with a musical outpouring inspired by the guitar man’s Hitchcockian fear of birds – Ornithophobia. And in a move which widens the scope of ‘the three’, they welcome renowned bassist Petter Eldh to add his considerable weight of experience to production/mixing and, for two numbers, composition.

Launching in typically intense character, Arcades crackles to the abrasive guitar/keys perambulations of Montague and Downes, with synthy prog backwash, before relaxing into a pleasingly retro, Keith Emerson-like rock beat. Key to Troyka’s success is the blurring of the scored, manipulated and improvised – and the groove of this opening number almost feels too short (perhaps a live extension is already in the bag!). Life was Transient undulates to an impossible Hammond rhythm, picked at by Montague until irregular synth melodies that Herbie Hancock would be proud of puncture the fluid, pulsating bass-driven momentum. Crunchy title track Ornithophobia thuds to Blackmore’s metallicised percussion, Montague’s rapidity on the fingerboard just extraordinary – and, at every twist and turn, something new arrives to excite the senses.

Magpies (black’n’white hysteria from writer Montague!) hits the trance button with a blistering saturation of sound, Kit Downes’ distorted keyboards reminiscent of National Health’s Dave Stewart – and the overall drive is hugely cinematic (movie editors take note). The concept of the album is realised in Thopter (faux newsreader suggesting the BBC’s Fiona Bruce may have been more convincing), rendering in sound the album art’s storyboard horror of the band transmogrifying into avian counterparts; with urgent, clamouring guitar, keys and drums, it results in another irresistible adventure. And sustained, contrasting miniature, Bamburgh (replete with seagull effects) implies the rugged, dune-swept coastal terrain of Northumberland in serene, Eno-suggested ambience.

Kit Downes’ The General fascinates with a riff which broods, then accelerates, into a wondrously bluesy lead guitar show from Montague (shades of Knopfler?) – and imagine the ’70s prog rock illuminati queuing up to employ Josh Blackmore! Troyka Smash mesmerises briefly with Eldh’s resampled titbits from Troyka’s catalogue until another impressionistic North Eastern landscape, Seahouses (with helicopter rescue overtones), crashes its waves to shore.

Released on 26 January 2015, and launching on 12 February at Rich Mix, London, Ornithophobia is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats. Dates of Troyka’s extensive national and international 2015 tour can be tracked here – New York, are you ready?!……

 

Chris Montague guitars
Joshua Blackmore drums, electronic drums
Kit Downes keyboards, organ, tuned percussion, piano

troyka.co.uk

Illustration/storyboard by Naiel Ibbarola

Naim Jazz Records – naimcd210 (2015)

‘Pinball’ – Marius Neset

Pinball

IF THE NAME Marius Neset hasn’t yet entered your vocabulary, or his staggering musical proficiency not already hit your ears… then, with this latest album, Pinball, prepare for a life-changing jazz experience!

The Norwegian saxophonist and composer first erupted onto the wider European scene only four years ago with debut Golden Xplosion, and the ensuing releases – Birds (Edition, 2013) and Lion (ACT, 2014) – each time, left mouths gaping wider at the technical precision and impassioned musicality of the performances and writing. Some say he is the Parker or Coltrane of our time, with clear echoes of Brecker and Garbarek, and it’s unlikely to be an exaggeration that his distinct imprint on the progression and broadening of the jazz genre is creating, for us, the same revelatory tremors (turn out the lights, listen… and the saxophonist surely couldn’t be anyone else).

Mentored by Django Bates, that same sense of perpetual exploration and living on the edge is evident in Neset’s music – but it is also ingrained with atmospheres which reflect the musical folk traditions and awe-inspiring landscapes of his homeland, resulting in a rich combination of raw excitement and deep emotion. And, with every new release, the complexity and beauty of his compositional outpourings become impressively aggrandised.

Early in 2014, and in Mahlerian ‘composing hut’ spirit, Neset tucked himself away in a Norwegian mountain cottage and was inspired “to write almost a whole album”, specifically with his band colleagues (mostly from the Birds album) in mind – Ivo Neame (piano, Hammond), Jim Hart (vibes, marimba), Petter Eldh (bass) and Anton Eger (drums, percussion), plus special guests. Neset’s association with Eger runs deep, both collaborating here on production as well as some of the writing.

Title track Pinball conveys the overarching character of these twelve numbers – meticulously-conceived melodies, yet the varietal moods, audacious polyrhythms and fervid, darting improvisations make it all so entertainingly unpredictable. Mesmerising clapping and flutter-tongued flute herald World Song Pt. 1, a joyous, African-imbued opener filled with chattering folk dance riffs and soaring tenor; Pt. 2 is more ruminative – with distant knell, quivering cello and elegiac violin – until Jim Hart’s eloquent vibes resound up into the skies to summon a sunshiny recapitulation. The album’s effervescence is punctuated by calmer interludes, the subterranean resonance of Petter Eldh’s bass and Eger’s slow drum in Odes of You remarkably soothing, combined with Ivo Neame’s Hammond/piano and Neset’s lyricism.

Police (for silent movie buffs) portrays all the cheeky, madcap clatter of the Keystone Cops; with Marius’s tenor and sister Ingrid’s flute so chirpily yet accurately synched, it’s a real smile-raiser. Evoking thoughts of Neset’s haunting 2012 album with Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods), Music for Cello and Saxophone is a fascinating echoic ‘duologue’ in which both instruments intertwine so convincingly; and the later Music for Drums and Saxophone finds Neset sharing the percussive possibilities of his tenor with Eger’s pin-sharp rhythms in a delicate, trance-like episode.

Never pass up the opportunity to catch this band live (tour dates here), Theatre of Magic offering a glimpse of the divergency of their craft as Marius, here with the illusion of playing both tenor and soprano, leads its glorious vivacity. Swirling Aberhonddu, presumably a nod to Brecon’s much-loved jazz festival, might suggest the capricious climatic conditions up on the Beacons, whilst Jaguar showcases the leader’s forceful soprano rapidity. His sparkling, trademark ‘duotone’ tenor announces Summer Dance, an astonishingly detailed Irish reel-like celebration coloured warmly with Hart’s marimba, before layered sax end-piece Hymn from the World reverently closes.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, the spine-tingling musicianship of Pinball makes it an irresistible repeat player!

Further information and audio samples at ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ivo Neame piano, Hammond B3, a.o.
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion

with
Andreas Brantelid cello
Rune T. Sørensen violin
Ingrid Neset flute
August Wanngren tambourine
Pinball band clapping

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9032-2 (2014)

‘Wallflower’ – Diana Krall

DianaKrall

Wallflower is a new studio recording of songs garnered from the five-time Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall’s formative years. It mostly takes familiar pop ballads from the ’60s through to the present day, often shifting them further down a gear, and colours them in with lush orchestral arrangements. For anyone who appreciated the beautifully limpid, slo-mo interpretation of I’ve Got You Under My Skin from Diana Krall’s superb live album A Night in Paris, it will strike a pleasing chord.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Verve (2014)

‘And suddenly, evening’ – Mike Collins

MikeCollins

THOSE fortunate enough to have viewed the gentle illumination of the city once known as Aquae Sulis, at dusk from higher ground, might easily concur that this new quartet release, And suddenly, evening, offers a fittingly elegant soundtrack.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Mike Collins piano
Lee Goodall saxophones
Ashley-John Long bass
Greg White drums

mikecollinstrio.com

Suitpieces Records – spr0002 (2015)