‘Into View’ – Paul Riley Quintet

IntoView

A DEBUT RELEASE that has magnetised my attention over the past few weeks, young London-based saxophonist and composer Paul Riley’s quintet album, Into View, possesses a certain blue-sky luminosity which seems to combine the spirit of West Coast jazz with a cool, precise, English sensibility.

Riley’s companions on this recording are already familiar names on the circuit – Ant Law (guitar), Mitch Jones (piano), Matt Ridley (double bass), Dave Hamblett (drums) – and together they forge a compelling set of eleven original numbers which sparkle equally to tightly-scored and broadly-improvised episodes. Riley and Law solo upfront, as well as frequently sharing extended, rapid-fire unison lines, within a musical landscape which might suggest a blend of early Moutin Reunion Quartet, Kairos 4tet and John McLaughlin – yet this new band already demonstrates the potential to flourish under its own identity, due to Riley’s compositional strength and instrumental steadfastness.

Opening outlines the quintet’s clear, measured articulation before launching into the energetic, controlled propulsion of Spindrift which flows melodically to bustling solos from Riley, Law and Mitch Jones; and, following, the elegance of title track Into View is conveyed through Paul Riley’s smooth, dry, Getzian alto, buoyed by an infectious piano/bass/drum riff. Song for Laura subtly charms with a relaxed, fluent, soprano sax demeanour reminiscent of Tim Garland’s work; and Outlaw is a stand-out, its rippling groove showcasing Ant Law’s remarkable invention and dexterity through an attractive Santana/McLaughlin tone – the whole thing just flies!

Wistful and carefree, Another Summer relaxes to the delicacy of sustained sax and bass solos, whilst sprightly Underhand perpetuates the cloudless feel-good as Riley’s grittier alto pushes the envelope a little higher (a sign, perhaps, of greater freedoms to come). Brisk waltz Gamelas possesses a searching soprano melody and aura worthy of TV drama titles, Jones’ decorative piano chromatics especially impressive here; and the more shadowy aspect of Riley’s writing continues with the more introverted Looking Back. Ahead of Closing (a reflective tailpiece), The Way Home darts to more of those audaciously-extended, shared unison or harmonised lines from Riley and Law – and whilst there may be some sense of repetition of earlier material, it nonetheless tumbles over itself in unbridled enthusiasm.

Released on 6 April 2015, Into View is a fine and promising debut, displaying a fervour which is difficult to ignore. Available from Jellymould Jazz.

 

Paul Riley alto and soprano saxophones
Ant Law guitar
Mitch Jones piano
Matt Ridley double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

paulrileysax.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ018 (2014)

‘Chasing Rainbows’ – Babelfish

Babelfish

IN SO MANY WAYS, this feels like one of the most consummate and unswervingly original releases of the year to date.

Singer/songwriter Brigitte Beraha is distinct in jazz spheres for her venturous, artisan approach to music making, much in the same way as, say, Dame Cleo Laine and Annie Ross were in their heyday. For this second Babelfish quartet release, she again teams up with long-standing colleague Barry Green (piano), plus Chris Laurence (double bass) and Paul Clarvis (percussion), to offer an exquisite, acoustic collection of no less than sixteen numbers which explore “love in many different forms.”

Beraha and Green share writing credits on pieces which, along with a scattering of sensitive reinterpretations, glisten with clarity and emotion (whether lovelorn or in downright japery), all delivered with delightful unpredictability. And whilst the characteristic diversity of Brigitte Beraha’s vocalisations mostly take centre stage here, it’s the indubitable, intelligent connection between all four artists which creates this album’s magic.

Take, for example, Beraha’s opening composition, You, Me & The Rest of the World, which ripples with all the composure and stature of a Real Book classic, the lyric-inspired vocal phrases buoyed by deft bass and percussion and Barry Green’s high piano embellishment (certainly one of jazz’s most engagingly limpid pianists). The soft Brazilian sway of Caetano Veloso’s Michelangelo Antonioni is captured so rapturously, escalating into an impressive scat-like middle section from Beraha; and Your Turn To Ask parades Monkishly to Green’s piano before Beraha superbly embodies the level of exploratory dynamic range and creativity attributed to Dame Cleo.

A wondrously quirky thread of ‘confusion’ runs through the album, taking the form of four miniatures in which each musician improvises individually on the same mere fragment of a phrase before concluding in a final, quartet coming-together. All are fascinating in their own way, though arguably the most entertaining (perhaps even alarming on a first listen!) is Brigitte’s Confusion, Beraha’s faux frustrated laryngeal efforts eventually becoming clear; and even Paul Clarvis’s 24-second rhythmical snare interpretation is a treat.

The most surprising credit here is Aaron Copland’s… but, the lofty and intense beauty of this piano/vocal arrangement of Heart, We Will Forget Him (from Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson) genuinely shadows the more familiar classical soprano reading; and somehow it segues naturally into a breezy rendition of I’m Always Chasing Rainbows (that strange mix of Chopin, Vaudeville and Judy Garland!). Following is an attractive, bass-bubbling arrangement of traditional song Down by the Salley Gardens, its introductory combination of piano ostinati and percussion curiously resembling the timbres of a hang drum, as Beraha delivers folk-song purity and soaring improvisation.

A dramatic Edith Piaf-like preamble to Nuit Blanche evolves into a delicate display of Beraha’s voice as instrument, her wordless extemporisations seemingly effortless; and the weighty piano-and-voice simplicity of A Story Ends (another of the singer’s originals) is reminiscent of Norma Winstone’s fine work with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier. Barry Green’s compositions Knocked Knees and Stubble Rash are rather endearing – melodically bright, with harmonic and rhythmic twists, the four ‘voices’ match so well. And, before that impudent, closing Confusion, Beraha’s own Unspoken only confirms her bejewelled magnificence in “the cycle of life” of contemporary jazz vocalists.

Released on 27 April 2015, Chasing Rainbows is easily a five-star album, and not to be missed. Available from Amazon and all good jazz retailers.

 

Brigitte Beraha voice
Barry Green piano
Chris Laurence double bass
Paul Clarvis percussion

brigitteberaha.com
moletone.com

Moletone Records – Moletone 006 (2015)

‘Shoeless and the Girl’ – Theo Jackson

TheoJackson

IN THESE DAYS of quick-fix, fast fame, ten-a-penny singer/songwriters, the hope remains alive in many genres that genuine craftsmanship and musicality will out. Contemporary jazz has its own fine catalogue of distinctive, treasured piano vocalists… and it would appear that another is now entering the fold.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Theo Jackson piano, vocals
Huntly Gordon double bass
Marco Quarantotto drums, percussion
with
Leo Richardson tenor saxophone
Nathaniel Facey alto saxophone
Quentin Collins flugelhorn

theojackson.com

Dot Time Records – DT9035 (2015)

‘Alexander Hawkins Trio’ – Alexander Hawkins Trio

AHT

RELEASING a year or so on from his solo and ensemble recordings Song Singular and Step Wide, Step Deep, Oxford-born avant-garde pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins’ new album approaches arguably that most classic of jazz line-ups – the piano trio – with colleagues Neil Charles (double bass) and Tom Skinner (drums, percussion).

Having received various commissions in recent years (including the BBC), Alexander Hawkins is increasingly establishing his name on the circuit, both as leader and sideman. But here, for the uninitiated, the distinctly minimalist CD sleeve offers no clue as to the sound world which lies within, save perhaps for the qualities of openness and experimentalism which form the basis of Hawkins’ projects. And, although his many influences include Mingus, Ellington and even Nat King Cole, this is not such a familiar, steady-tempoed, tonal landscape. Indeed, the pianist explains that he had previously “shied away from the trio format because there’s so much luggage that comes with it”; but whilst there may be an initial, perceived randomness to these eight works, he is an authority on the history of the piano trio format and favours the traditional attributes of his companions – a bassist who plays low and woody, and a drummer whose principal focus is rhythm.

Subtle Ellingtonian big band auras fleet like glints of sunlight across this recording, heard in opening Sweet Duke which rattles to Tom Skinner’s lively ‘I’m an Old Cowhand’-style drums and the swagger of Charles’ bass, whilst Hawkins’ bright, hard-hewn chords buck wildly. Song Singular (Owl, Canon)‘s dramatic breadth seems to capture the essence of this trio: acres in which to improvise freely, yet always attuned to a holistic purpose – bluesy riffs, ostinato phrases and skittering percussion all contributing to its grandeur. Lurching tricksily and accurately, One Tree Found employs the band’s frequent unison deportment to great, even frivolous, effect; and Perhaps 5 Or 6 Different Colours enjoys greater freedoms, Hawkins’ jarring chords and glissandi combining well with the abruptness of bass and drums – and, as the title suggests, the variegated episodes here add to the fascination.

Resembling animated conversation, 40Hb finds all three players interacting closely, Hawkins’ piano voice taking a ‘brassy’ lead, dedicated as it is to cornetist (his colleague in The Convergence Quartet) Taylor Ho Bynum; and sparse, misterioso Ahra – mostly a piano solo, but then with delicate augmentation from Charles and Skinner – is quietly an album highlight. Hawkins’ dendrological interest continues with sprawling Baobabs (Sgra), a ten-minute slow-maturing of shifting ideas which is entrancing in its intricacy. And Blue Notes For A Blue Note (Joy To You) appears to meld Ellington and Monk in its straining-at-the-leash exuberance, Hawkins offering luscious chords amongst Skinner’s thunderous drum-led close.

It’s not impossible that Hawkins’ surface atonality might prove difficult for some. But I sincerely recommend the challenge here of gradually unlocking the seemingly abstract to discover and appreciate this fresh piano trio expression comprising order, collaboration and abandonment. Patulis auribus!

Released on 13 April 2015, the eponymously-titled, self-released Alexander Hawkins Trio is available from Bandcamp and all good jazz stockists.

 

Alexander Hawkins piano
Neil Charles double bass
Tom Skinner drums, percussion

alexanderhawkinsmusic.com

Alexander Hawkins Music – AH1001 (2015)

‘Slow Eastbound Train’ – Daniel Herskedal

SlowET

NORWEGIAN TUBA PLAYER Daniel Herskedal turned heads in 2012 with the release of his outstanding duo album, Neck of the Woods – a revelatory collaboration with friend and musical compatriot, saxophonist Marius Neset. Now, for much-anticipated follow-up Slow Eastbound Train, it is piano, percussion and chamber string orchestra that join him to broaden the creative possibilities.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Daniel Herskedal tuba, bass trumpet
Eyolf Dale piano
Helge Andreas Norbakken percussion
The Trondheim Soloists chamber string orchestra

danielherskedal.com

Edition Records – EDN1057 (2015)

‘Young At Heart’ – Ida Sand

IdaSand

POTENTIALLY sending seasoned Neil Young fans running for cover, Swedish songstress Ida Sand delves into the prolific songbook of the seminal Canadian singer/songwriter in this collection of thirteen jazz-inflected soft-rock interpretations.

But for those of us with only a vague recollection of Young’s influential early 1970s albums Harvest Moon and After the Gold Rush, or none at all, Sand’s soulful voice and piano celebrate selections from his classic output with attractive, sympathetic poise. Aided by a particularly polished core band – Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), Ola Gustafsson (guitars), Dan Berglund (acoustic bass), Christer Jansson (drums, percussion) – her guests include compatriot mentor (and producer here), trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren.

Ida Sand explains that she places at least as much importance on lyrics as melodies, and has sought to retain the integrity of each of the chosen songs. That said, the richness and pitch of her voice (influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James), when compared to Young’s high range, colour the sound in a markedly different way; and gone is the prominent acoustic guitar timbre so characteristic of that transitional ’60s/’70s era. But what does remain is the timeless, innate strength of Neil Young’s writing, communicated in fresh, contemporary arrangements.

The album’s rock thread is maintained throughout by Ola Gustafsson’s beautifully sustained/effected electric guitars, as in opener Cinammon Girl – and there are frequent imaginative textures such as Dan Berglund’s crunchy arco bass and the wide tremolo of Jesper Nordenström’s Fender Rhodes (confirming that these are, by no means, insipid covers). Pondering the decades of musical ‘water under the bridge’ since these songs first saw light, there’s distinct post-prog, melancholic grandeur in Sand’s rendition of Hey Hey, My My; and the pop-soul ballad feel of Harvest Moon is a long way down the road from the original’s folksiness, especially with Per Johansson’s silky tenor sax interludes.

Other highlights include Ohio, translating Neil Young’s rawness into a fuller, electronic sound embellished by Nils Landgren’s echoic, Groove Armada-like trombone; and the mellow, organ-sustained simplicity of Helpless evokes the remnants of the golden ’60s. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is infectious, with strong backing vocals, flamboyant wah-wah guitar and wailing Hammond; and Crosby Stills Nash & Young number Sea of Madness is carried well by Sand’s impassioned vocal and full band rock-out.

Whether or not you have Young ‘at heart’, this is an unexpectedly fine release, and great fair-weather driving music – so retract the sunroof, turn up the volume… and hit the gas!

Released 23 March 2015, details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Ida Sand vocals, piano
Jesper Nordenström keyboards
Ola Gustafsson guitars
Dan Berglund acoustic bass
Christer Jansson drums, percussion
with
Bo Sundström vocals
Nils Landgren trombone, vocals,
Per Texas Johansson tenor saxophone
Sven Lindvall electric bass
André Monde de Lang background vocals
Paris Renita background vocals

ACT Music – 9729-1 (2015)

‘Can of Worms’ – George Crowley

CanOfWorms

Y’SEE WHAT ‘APPENS when y’open a Can of Worms

Overflowing with writhing, jostling spontaneity, but with sufficient compositional structure to keep a lid on things, London-based saxophonist George Crowley’s new two-tenor quintet recording is a veritable powerhouse of creativity. His debut release, Paper Universe (Whirlwind, 2011), remains long in the memory as a jazz quartet recording of mature, unfettered exploration. Now, together with sparring tenor partner, the ever-chipper Tom Challenger, he constructs the formidable and foreceful front line of an energetic five-piece completed by Dan Nicholls (piano/Wurlitzer), Sam Lasserson (double bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Crowley reveals that this band came into being for the purposes of a 2013 live gig, leading to the desire to develop and document the project’s clear success in a studio album – a shrewd and worthwhile decision, given the resulting sense of excitement, anarchy and strong musicality on show here. As composer of all seven substantial pieces, the leader never settles for the obvious, nor any half measures – he and his colleagues go all out for unwavering improvisation whilst recognising the strength of tight ensemble playing. And it’s fabulously earthy, ‘unputdownable’ stuff.

The Opener‘s agitated ten-minute expanse bristles to Jon Scott’s trademark clattering-yet-incisive drum rhythms, bolstered by Sam Lasserson’s babbling bass and Dan Nicholls’ typically brash, animated piano; and in amongst all this, tenorists Crowley and Challenger (one in each ear!) breathlessly duel it out – the combination of the written and the abstract quite thrilling. Nicholls’ uneasy ‘music box’ Wurlitzer announces Whirl, a broad, impudent affair featuring Challenger’s gruffness and Crowley’s screeching – yet the precise framework is always apparent.

Ubiquitous Up Tune in 3, with tricksily-timed sax riffs, is certainly ‘up’, and it’s a tribute to the directness of the engineering/mixing that its raw, live feel translates so well into recorded sound. The jarring major/minor blues of Rum Paunch is a joy, the two tenors either in unison (or thereabouts) or otherwise taunting each other, whilst Nicholls’ sneering, rippling piano almost encourages them in their outrageous discord.

Hard-swinging but nevertheless anarchic I’m Not Here To Reinvent The Wheel rolls deliciously to Lasserson and Scott’s fast pace, the reedsmen clearly revelling in its abandon (confirmed by the group cackles that follow its abrupt finish!). Terminal shuffles mysteriously to Scott’s intricacy at the kit and Nicholls’ magnificent Wurlitzer weavings, Lasserson’s relentless bass underpinning the broadness of the tenors’ extemporisations – such a glorious (and at times, cheeky) sound world; and, to close, T-Leaf rumbles particularly freely, though the fractured improvisations finally come together in absolute unanimity… lid well and truly sealed!

A triumph for George Crowley and his team. Released on 23 March 2015, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found at Whirlwind.

 

George Crowley tenor saxophone
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone
Dan Nicholls piano/Wurlitzer
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jon Scott drums

georgecrowleymusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4666 (2015)