‘Wildflower’ – Wild Flower Sextet

Wildflower

THE HIGH praise I can bestow on saxophonist Matt Anderson is that, on his equally-balanced collection of interpretations and new compositions inspired by jazz icon Wayne Shorter, I genuinely need to refer to the credits to check the provenance of each of the eight extensive numbers!

The Wild Flower Sextet takes its name from Shorter’s piece of the same name – from much-lauded 1966 album Speak No Evil – and comprises Anderson (tenor sax), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Alex Munk (guitar), Jamil Sherriff (piano), Sam Vicary (double bass) and Sam Gardner (drums).

From the very first bars of Anderson’s confident opener, Blues for Wayne, there’s a discernible Jazz Messengers buoyancy to this debut album recording which quickly identifies the tightness of his ensemble; and whilst keeping alive the tradition of joyous, swinging mainstream jazz, this relatively young personnel – including the spirited playing of guitarist Alex Munk – injects Anderson’s and Shorter’s writing with considerable pizazz. The leader’s own tenor is commanding both in its resonance and uninhibitedness, rallying his players to a full and fluent sound which exudes real enjoyment.

Another of Matt Anderson’s originals, Sfumato, struts its stuff with all the familiarity of an established ’60s standard (reminiscences of Johnny Dankworth not far off) thanks to memorable trumpet and tenor lines, as well as pacey guitar improvisation. But it must take a certain amount of fearlessness to approach the venerable music of Wayne Shorter. Nonetheless, the sextet’s reading of Masqualero feels impressively unrestrained, allowing efflorescent freedom of expression; and the combination of Laura Jurd’s blazing trumpet and Munk’s wailing guitar over Jamil Sheriff’s Rhodes, all to the bass and drums turbulence of Sam Vicary and Sam Gardner, provides the exciting edginess of experimental fusion.

Burning Man again indicates Anderson’s prowess as a writer – a beautifully melodic retro bossa with a roaming spirit as free as a wildflower meadow, creating shifting sweeps of colour (so much fine detailing here from all players, including the effective simplicity of unison piano and guitar lines). The broad canvas of J.G., at over nine minutes’ duration, finds the sextet in a wonderfully ebullient frame of mind – one of those atmospheres to simply ease back into as it scales luscious semitonal chord progressions, featuring delicious solos from Jurd and Anderson; and, with an introductory inertia magically evoking the memory of Weather Report, Wayne Shorter’s Fall beautifully treads the fine line between freedom and structure over complex, constantly ticking drums and cymbals from Gardner (Munk’s involvement a reminder of WR’s final release, This Is This, with Carlos Santana guesting).

Two further Shorter tunes complete the album. Three Clowns (from Weather Report’s popular Black Market) is strangely unfamiliar, devoid of Joe Zawinul’s trademark keyboards, but compelling to hear Anderson’s relaxed Shorteresque melodies instead; and the joyous Lester Left Town (from Messenger days, circa 1960) is brought bang up to date in a fabulously audacious shifting-tempi arrangement, Sam Gardner’s presence at the kit especially imposing (Mr Blakey would surely approve!).

Released on 9 March 2015 on the Jellymould Jazz label, Wildflower is as fresh and imaginative as they come – this sextet deserves to flourish.

 

Matt Anderson tenor saxophone
Laura Jurd trumpet
Alex Munk electric guitar
Jamil Sheriff piano
Sam Vicary double bass
Sam Gardner drums

matt-anderson.org.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ017 (2014)

‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Living Being’ – Vincent Peirani

VincentPeirani

THERE IS something intrinsically Gallic about the sound of the accordion, evoking visions (however hackneyed) of Parisiene walkways or vast Loire Valley vineyards to a bal-musette soundtrack of Émile Vacher – or alternatively, in current musical spheres, the highly regarded and prolific master of that instrument, Richard Galliano.

Breaking the mould in pretty spectacular fashion is the genre-busting accordion artistry of Vincent Peirani. Hailing from Nice, and recently collecting both Prix Django d’Or and ECHO Jazz awards, as well as being voted 2014 Artist of the Year in Jazz Magazine France, his music draws on sounds which have influenced him over the years – classically trained, yet absorbing the diversity of rock, pop, jazz and electronica. Describing the worldwide accessibility of music which brings so much verve and freedom to his own compositions, Peirani says, “For me, this is the future of jazz: today, musicians have access to every conceivable form of music anytime on the Internet. Travelling is easier, so in Paris, as in most other cities, you’ll meet musicians from all around the world. If you are open to exploring new cultures and ideas, this is a goldmine of opportunity!”

The accordionist’s band was created with that multiformity in mind, though all originating from the same home town – Emile Parisien (saxes), Tony Paeleman (Rhodes, effects), Julien Herné (electric bass, effects) and Yoann Serra (drums). And having performed and rehearsed intensely, prior to this recording, it’s evident that they have crystallised their varying career experiences – eg rhythm & blues, hip-hop, pop, jazz, gypsy – into a tight yet exhilaratingly transitional new quintet. Indeed, after much listening, it’s the unpredictability and divergence of these nine numbers (mostly originals) which hold the attention.

Vincent Peirani is clearly an accomplished accordionist, using his instrument to offer sustained walls of sound, rapid ostinati and fluid soloing – and the ability to closely meld his output with the often similar timbres of Tony Paeleman’s Fender Rhodes can be heard in Suite en V, Pt. 1, over which Emile Parisien improvises broadly on soprano sax. Dream Brother swings between accordion wistfulness and driving jazz/rock; and the hallucinatory groove of Mutinerie brings reminiscences of ’70s Soft Machine, complete with echoic effects and tricksy riffs.

Air Song #2‘s powerful melodic intertwining of soprano, accordion and Rhodes ripples to an addictive electronic pulse from Paeleman, Herné and Serra. At almost nine minutes, Some Monk is both spacially and flamboyantly inventive, with a tangible impression of free group improvisation; and Julien Herné’s fabulously mobile electric bass is just one exciting element of fusion-feel Workin’ Rhythm, Yoann Serra’s precise drums combining with Peirani’s complex fingerwork and Paeleman’s joyously gruff Rhodes – priceless.

Released on 9 February 2015, the successful weave of so many strands marks out Living Being as a compelling experience. Further information and audio clips are available at ACT Music.

 

Vincent Peirani accordion, voice
Emile Parisien soprano & tenor saxophones
Tony Paeleman Fender Rhodes, effects
Julien Herné electric bass, effects
Yoann Serra drums

vincent-peirani.com

ACT Music – 9584-2 (2015)

‘Mein Beethoven’ – Dieter Ilg

DieterIig

BEETHOVEN AND JAZZ… I sense the classical purists cringing… and maybe the jazz purists squirming. Preconceived thoughts based on the dated ’70s pop-classic era of Waldo de los Rios and James Last, or Jacques Loussier’s fairly literal jazz trio interpretations of J S Bach, possibly spring to mind when such crossover projects are birthed.

But double bassist Dieter Ilg and his colleagues approach their piano trio extemporisations on the incalculably revered works of Ludwig van Beethoven in a less conspicuous manner (having taken on both Wagner and Verdi in previous releases). Describing his 18thC German compatriot as “undoubtedly one of the great improvisers of Europe’s music history, approaching everything with passion, imagination and the will to create something new”, Ilg seeks to embody that spirit of invention in thirteen pieces for bass, piano (Rainer Böhm) and drums (Patrice Héral).

Some selections are more familiar than others, but even the recognisable phrases of Pathétique and Moonlight sonatas break away from their moorings sufficiently to flow into new, undiscovered rivulets. In Ode, the life-affirming stature of the final movement of the 9th Symphony (famously the ‘Ode to Joy’) is translated into serene impressionism, Böhm’s lush piano chords painting steadfastness from a different viewpoint. There’s drama, too, as Sturm (Klaviersonate no. 17, op. 31) broods and then vigorously swirls to Böhm’s rapid runs, Ilg’s rasping bass and Héral’s drum solidity; and it’s entrancing to hear how the trio reinterpret the string quartet tension of the Grosse Fuge (op. 133) into a greatly improvised work, Fuge, which maintains reference to the master’s compositional characteristics.

Illustrating clearly the intentions of this project, an audacious adaptation of the Arietta from the final Piano Sonata, no. 32 (op. 111), takes its usual solemnity off into unpredictable territory; Böhm’s deft chromaticism here rolls freely over the turbulence of bass and drums – and whilst such a transformation may sound crass, it creates a perfectly plausible jazz trio number which respects its origins (in Dieter’s words – my Beethoven). Ilg’s bass technique is strong and supple, ranging from the bluesy pliancy displayed in 109 to his rapidity in the Allegro from the Pathétique sonata (this, a particularly demanding number which demonstrates the remarkable unity of these slick musicians).

Listen again to Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim or Paul Lewis (the majority of Ilg’s creations, here, are based on the piano sonatas) and it’s incomprehensible, of course, that the beauty and majesty of Beethoven’s sublime works could ever be surpassed. However, there’s fascination to be found in these perceptive piano trio reworkings – with or without comparison to the originals – which provide an absorbing and, at times, pleasingly disorientating sound world.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, further information on Mein Beethoven can be found at ACT Music.

 

Dieter Ilg bass
Rainer Böhm piano
Patrice Héral drums

dieterilg.de

ACT Music – ACT 9582-2 (2015)

‘Robin Goodie’ – Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm

Robin-Goodie

THERE’S FREQUENTLY a ‘loose cannon’ unpredictability and zanyism (or zhenyism?!) to the music of Russian-born saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev which is endearingly reminiscent of the great Roland Kirk – one only needs to take a look at the unfathomable naivety of his hand-scribbled sleeve art to this latest release, Robin Goodie, for an inkling. This is no stretch limousine of glossy, forgettable soft jazz, but rather an impassioned outpouring of the sax man’s quirky, raw, yet ultimately tuneful creations as composer and instrumentalist.

But don’t mistake any suggestion of apparently rough-hewn music for a lack of musicianship or inventiveness as, between them, he and his Smiling Organizm sextet serve up a programme of heady grooves, fervent ensemble playing and blistering improvisation. Joining Strigalev (on alto) is the illustrious team of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Tim Lefebvre (electric bass), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Eric Harland (drums). Strigalev says he is taken with the themes of “nature, humour, strong personalities, rebelliousness and stupidity” in the folklore tale of England’s heroic outlaw (Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie = Robin Goodie). Whatever his theory, these quoted characteristics certainly come to the fore in this second album, the leader’s desire for both acoustic and electric bass in this line-up producing a distinctly gritty edge to his eleven compositions.

The capriciousness of this musical romp contributes significantly to its enjoyment – so not too many spoilers here. But the powerful punkiness of opener Kuku reveals much about the character of this band, Lefebvre’s high bass delivering a funk drive, combined with Grenadier’s acoustic, over which hard, mainstream horns (sounding like four not two) give it everything they’ve got… until they step up higher to outrageously frenetic solos. Horizontal Appreciation‘s piano and electric bass groove coaxes some terrific chops, not least the flamboyance of drummer Harland; and the comedic Sharp Night (shades of Yakety Sax) rattles along at an astonishing pace, unison phrases, bass electronics and Strigalev’s superb squawkings doing nothing to dispel that Kirk notion – fabulous fun to listen to and, no doubt, to play.

It’s not all bustle and brashness, as Urgent Ballad (despite its oxymoronic title) provides the space for more reflective alto and double bass extemporisation; but you can’t keep these guys down for long, as the brilliant combination of complex, wacky grooves and high-flying straightahead jazz in closing Renduta takes off – and with so much going on here, it’s a shame for it to finally peter out (perhaps not so soon in a live setting).

So, if Zhenya at some point steps up to the mic. with a strangely familiar one-man, dual/contrapuntal saxophone display, I’ll realise the Rahsaan reincarnation is absolute! But seriously, it’s great to known that this same spirit of adventure, mischievousness and hard-pushing resourcefulness – to deliver sit-up-and-listen contemporary jazz – is alive and well. Crank it up…

Released on 2 February 2015, Robin Goodie is available from Whirlwind.

 

Zhenya Strigalev alto sax
Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet
Taylor Eigsti piano
Tim Lefebvre bass guitar
Larry Grenadier double bass
Eric Harland drums

zhenyastrigalev.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4665 (2015)

‘Skyline’ – Tom Green Septet

Skyline

THE GRACEFULNESS of the cover art speaks volumes about the creative balance that shines out from Skyline, the debut septet recording from Cambridge-born trombonist Tom Green – a collection of expansive new compositions coloured by ever-changing hues, light and shade, allowing each of his players considerable freedom in improvisation.

The robust four-horn line-up of Green, Sam Miles (tenor), James Davison (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Matthew Herd (alto/soprano) offers impressive big band dynamism and breadth, yet also a supple luminosity which breathes life into the trombonist’s seven originals, plus one arrangement of a much-loved standard. Still in his 20s, Tom Green’s credentials are indubitable – the Royal Academy’s first postgraduate trombonist, winner of the 2013 Dankworth Composition Prize (leading Dame Cleo to declare his work as “some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time”) as well as a 2014 Help Musicians UK ‘Emerging Excellence’ award winner. And his mercurial brass dexterity is a delight, ranging from blistering riffs to svelte tonal lyricism.

Initial impressions are of crisp arrangements and sharp execution, typified by the opener, Sticks and Stones. It’s brisk and propulsive, with layers of textures and ideas over which Green and James Davison solo brightly; and gear changes throughout this album (such as the brief trombone and piano contrapuntalism here) add greatly to a sense of variety, not unlike the fluctuations of light on a plain caused by fast-moving cumulonimbus. The dilatory drawl of a Deep South-suggested horn preamble to thirteen-minute Equilibrium opens into an addictive bossa of moody twists and turns, bejewelled with Sam James’ precise piano expression – and then, all at once, it gleams to lush arrangements and, also, cacophonous scribbles which Green glides through with proverbial swan-like ease.

Arctic Sun swings delicately to the rhythm of bassist Mullov-Abbado and drummer Chapman, building towards elaborate, soaring soprano from Matthew Herd (a saxman who always displays a real penchant for pushing the envelope). There are shades of contemporary pop ballad in the memorable phrases of Peace of Mind, Green fluent in his extemporisations; and easy-going Mirage prompts fine soloing amongst the exacting full horn scoring.

Hoagy Carmichael’s perennial favourite, Skylark, is both chirpy and breezy in Green’s hands, though perhaps loses a little of the charm of mellower renditions; and Winter Halo might easily conjure luminescent landscapes and vacillating murmurations (startling rapidity of soprano bird calls from Herd!), including another of those delectable duo interludes – Sam Miles’ rich tenor against pellucid bass. DIY is an irresistible closer, pictorialising the brash, processional jazz of New Orleans and encouraging overlapping showy solos from all quarters, as well as more examples of the leader’s flair for snappy, complex arrangements (no doubt a crowd pleaser on their recent launch tour).

As a jazz release, this displays so many hallmarks of a classic, seasoned ensemble. As an ambitious debut from a young, close-knit septet, it’s a striking first statement with great potential for future development. And, above all… such an upbeat listen!

Released on 2 February 2015, Skyline can be purchased directly from Spark or Tom Green’s website.

 

Tom Green trombone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Davison trumpet and flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto and soprano saxophones
Sam James piano
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums

Illustration/artwork by Tom Barley

tomgreenmusic.com

Spark Label – Spark 001 (2015)

‘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)