…currently on a temporary, work-induced sabbatical!
YOU MAY BE LOOKING at that cover and thinking: this, surely, is a re-release of a typically twee 1970s folk singer-songwriter album. But take a listen at Bandcamp, and you’ll discover that Ruby Rushton is actually an inventive, occasionally quirky instrumental sextet delivering a collection of contemporary originals (and a fine Herbie Hancock interpretation) which has at its roots a blend of early jazz fusion and soul, plus a soupçon of Canterbury scene and new-age bohemianism.
Following their 2015 quartet debut Two for Joy, and Trudi’s Songbook: Volume One from earlier this year, the London-based band’s ‘period’ echoes are defined by a delicious blend of timbres and grooves. The pulsating Earth Wind and Fire or Santana redolence of Charlotte Emma Victoria, with bubbling electric bass, drums and percussion, features Edward Cawthorne’s impassioned sax as well as Aidan Shepherd’s clustered electric piano chords and clear synth lines. Cawthorne’s breathy, Roland Kirk-style flute character, too, can be heard in swingin’ organ interlude Together At Last; and the ease-back funk of Trudi’s Mood feels tantalisingly brief.
But Ruby Rushton mainly get their teeth into some fabulously extended episodes (written and arranged by Cawthorne or Cawthorne/Shepherd) which suggest an exciting live experience. Tisbury Truckin‘s gentle aubade evolves into a bass-fizzing groove boasting lively riffs and improvisations, especially from trumpeter Nick Walters (a familiar name on the Manchester jazz scene), all effusively ornamented by the bright, varied percussion of Joseph Deenmamode. Edward Cawthorne’s lithe flute colorations are key to a sound which will resonate with many ‘who were there’ as jazz turned a new corner, yet is also retro-relevant to new ears today. Indeed, the gradually-introduced electric piano and bass riff of Song for Christopher ignites fond memories of Mike Ratledge and Roy Babbington in Soft Machine’s many, seminal recordings – and here, alongside Aidan Shepherd and Fergus Ireland, Eddie Hick is an especially glittering starman as this number widens out with fervour. To close, Herbie Hancock’s cruiser, Butterfly, wraps flute and trumpet improv around smooth grooves and slouchy dubstep playfulness.
Jazz and its interconnected genres currently offer a wealth of under-the-radar brilliance; and on this album, there’s much to discover and enthuse about in what, surprisingly (because it’s so satisfying), is a run-time totalling just 36 minutes… so the perfect spur to then head over to Volume One for more!
Released on 11 November 2017, Trudi’s Songbook: Volume Two is available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.
Edward Cawthorne flute, sax
Nick Walters trumpet
Aidan Shepherd keys
Fergus Ireland bass
Joseph Deenmamode percussion
Eddie Hick drums
Tom Marriott trombone (on Charlotte Emma Victoria)
Ben Kelly sousaphone (on Charlotte Emma Victoria)
22a Records – 019 (2107)
AN ENTICING, evolving experience which exhibits tremors of 1970s progressive formats, exploratory Swedish electric guitarist Samuel Hällkvist returns with immersive instrumental soundscape Variety of Rhythm.
His Variety of Loud and Variety of Live releases, of 2012 and 2015 respectively, revealed a musician with a singularly experimental vision for composition, instrumentation and improvisation; and he continues to garner respect across music’s cross-pollenating rock, electronica and jazz boundaries, from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and ex-Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri to trumpeter Yazz Ahmed (who reciprocally invited Hällkvist to appear on her recent release La Saboteuse).
Over the course of this continuous suite of almost 45 minutes, Hällkvist collaborates with a dozen musicians – including renowned US guitarist David Torn – through separately-recorded, differing scales of ensemble (in Japan, Portugal, New York, Paris, Belgium and Scandinavia), drawing mind and soul into a fluctuating landscape of sound which prompts the listener to contribute through their imagination. Hällkvist typically becomes part of the whole, integrating his processed guitar through a labyrinth of industrially cinematic drama, repetitively clanging timbres and almost dystopian sustained resonances – yet rather than creating an abstract mishmash, these carefully-woven ideas and illusions gradually become powerfully compelling, especially once they establish themselves in the psyche.
Timed, named waymarkers offer a clue to a conceptual, rock-solid framework interspersed with improvisational interludes (Hällkvist elaborating on the technical and structural aspects here), though the entirety of the work can easily be appreciated from a purely creative, openly-receptive standpoint. Double Adagio‘s rippling, wailing fuzz-guitar wall is propelled by time-shifting voice-and-glockenspiel-like tones, whereas as the more grungy trudge of nine-minute Tete-a-Tete / Blivet progresses into heavy metal, tinged with Steve Reichian attacca strings and ominously soaring guitar. David Torn’s expansive Huly Marga features his searching low-distorted guitar extemporisations against an electronic landscape reminiscent of Pink Floyd or late EST, whilst the extraordinary cross-rhythmic complexity of The Necker Cube, with oriental overtones, spills into subway-sax frenzy, movie-mystery malleted percussion and climactic, grooving grandeur.
Samuel Hällkvist’s maverick, detoured pathways create intrigue, and might initially overwhelm; but put through a responsive sound system, these three-dimensional worlds render in vivid full colour – the excellent concentric/segmented cover graphic points the way!
Samuel Hällkvist guitar
Dick Lövgren bass
David Torn guitar
Liesbeth Lambrecht violin
Qarin Wikström voice
Knut Finsrud drums
Pete Drungle keys
Yasuhiro Yoshigaki drums
Kumiko Takara mallet percussion
Paulo Chagas sax, flute
Silvia Corda various objects
Adriano Orru bass
Katrine Amsler edit, sound design
Mixed by August Wanngren
BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD024 (2017)
MUSIC sometimes has the curious approach of making one wait, in a ‘just stay with me, let’s see where this takes us’ kinda way; but after doing exactly that with bassist/composer Greg Cordez’s latest release, Last Things Last, its restrained beauty has gradually unfurled.
UK-born and New Zealand-raised Cordez’s 2015 album, Paper Crane, is a return-to delight – and with a different instrumental angle and line-up, this follow-up presents a cool, Stateside aura which is perhaps enhanced by its Brooklyn recording location as well as the influence of production associate (and respected US bassist) Ben Allison. The leader describes his original compositions as exploring “themes of coincidence, optimism, and the slow dissolution of a personal relationship” – but, as suggested by its desolate gas-station cover, there’s also the tangibility of contemplative night-time journeying; a fitting soundtrack to endlessly snaking freeway lights ahead.
Alongside guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Allison Miller, Cordez pairs cornettist Kirk Knuffke and saxophonist Michael Blake upfront, their unison and contrapuntal horn melodies featuring strongly in eight numbers which don’t overstay their welcome; in fact, they succinctly say what they need to say, yet happily prompt repeat play.
The streetlight shuffle of Chekhov’s Gun is maintained through mobile electric bass groove, Rhodes-like guitar chords and fleeting electronics, with Knuffke and Blake intertwined in attractive, close riffs; and Cherry v Des Moines‘ American-rock bass pulse might easily invite a shouty vocal. But elsewhere, a hazy stillness pervades Cordez’s writing. Figlock‘s beautiful drowsiness is created by echoic horns and thrummed strings before crescendoing to pitch-bent electric guitar heaven; Last Things Last‘s resigned serenity is imbued with frail doubt, its brighter dawn inviting sublime individual guitar, sax and cornet improv; and Low Winter Sun‘s positivity is felt through gently propulsive rhythms and lasting melodies.
Charmingly soporific All That Is, with malleable rubato, allows the softness of Knuffke’s cornet and Blake’s sax to roam as they please, whilst Clementine‘s similar confidence in creating lush, open ground for solo and ensemble creativity provides a balm-like feel-good; and Junebug‘s cheery guitar-and-cornet ‘all is well’ tunefulness might even hint at Herb Alpert.
Cruise into the afterglow with Last Things Last… and see where it takes you.
Kirk Knuffke cornet
Michael Blake saxophones
Steve Cardenas guitar
Greg Cordez bass
Allison Miller drums
NORDIC CIRCLES is a Norwegian project conceived to bring together familiar and young performers from the Nordic jazz scene – and Under the Clouds (following first release Winter Rainbow) presents a balmy strand of cool, often meditative sounds from a sextet which features the gossamer vocal tonality of Siril Malmedal Hauge.
Established musicians Lars Jansson (piano), Jacob Young (guitar) and Jesper Bodilsen (bass) nestle alongside rising saxophonist Magnus Bakken and drummer/producer Anders Thorén to express nine mostly original compositions (either from Jansson or Bodilsen) which breathe life and light, principally through warm, easy-going conviviality rather than hard grooving. Nevertheless, the crystal-clear enunciation of Hauge – at times, reminiscent of Norah Jones – adds soft folk/jazz charm to atmospheres which seem to evoke the onset of shorter days (suggested by swirling Autumnal cover art).
Specific lyric-based songs such as homely, lilting A Beautiful Smile and buoyant waltz, Another Heart, are melodically memorable; and fireside miniature Om Natten (At Night), attributed to Swedish singer-songwriter Olle Adolphson, hints at deep-rooted tradition. But piano-led instrumentals anchor this album in accessible, feel-good jazz, Magnus Bakken’s rich, direct tenor lines in buoyant Special One only embellished by the subtlest vibrato. Hauge’s wordless tones enfold the guitar-and-piano dreaminess of Ahimsa as well as blithe, sunshiny Orvieto; Jansson’s pellucid, almost levitational piano in freely-improvised Searching for Meaning hints at the quieter oases of Rick Wakeman’s music; whilst sparkling, high-flying bopper School Dance closes with infectious Herbie Hancock-like fervour.
From a series whose harmonious aims are to be admired, and which hopefully will continue, Under the Clouds does indeed suggest candlelit mindfulness and cheer as the nights draw in.
Siril Malmedal Hauge vocals
Lars Jansson piano
Jacob Young guitar
Magnus Bakken saxophone
Jesper Bodilsen bass
Anders Thorén drums
AMP Music & Records – AT009 (2017)
SAXOPHONIST and composer Marius Neset’s kaleidoscopic music increasingly fills mind and soul with that ‘kid in a sweet shop’ thrill, the senses bombarded with a dizzying array of timbres and rhythms to assimilate.
Following 2016’s acclaimed, orchestrally-focused Snowmelt, Neset returns to an ensemble more closely aligned with its predecessor Pinball for new album Circle of Chimes. The familiar names of pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart, double bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Anton Eger are again joined by flautist Ingrid Neset and cellist Andreas Brantelid, whilst the inclusion of guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke adds a new compositional and improvisational dimension, imbuing Neset’s Scandinavian folk characteristics with attractive African hues.
A New Year’s Day commission premiered at Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, in 2016, Neset describes this 78-minute suite as the darkest, most melancholic music he has created – yet amongst those emotions, his innate, breathless exuberance is never far away. The tubular bell chimes of Satellite (whose fluctuating rhythmic peals the saxophonist experimented with at length, at the piano) ‘ring in the new’, its brooding cello emotion encircled by a passed-around melodic riff redolent of Tallis’ Canon. It’s the first sign of an octet working as one to express a huge, romantically cinematic landscape, segueing into Star which bounces and rebounds to a typically ecstatic folk tune, with Eger’s engine-room clamour driving its disco groove. Neset does well to engineer and contain the ferocity, bringing his electronically-charged tenor down to lyrical pools of cello, piano and soft African enunciations.
There’s a sense of progression, as if the year unfolds with fresh experiences – so funky A New Expression struts assuredly to Neset’s boppy improv (it can only be Neset) plus Loueke’s scratchy, synthesised fretwork and accompanying scat; and soprano sax in classically-inspired Prague’s Ballet dances delicately across pizzicato cello and featherweight marimba. Life Goes On tumbles – nay, somersaults – to Marius Neset’s melodica signature-tune positivity, a sign of Spring in the air as its jazz-orchestra cheerfulness (enhanced by Ingrid Neset’s lithe flute) is gatecrashed by percussion-fuelled vibraphone and pleasantly abrasive guitar chords. Perhaps its the West African influence which sparks such variety, Sirens of Cologne whirling to intoxicating samba grooves, deep vocal resonances, flutey songbirds – a full-on celebration.
Going right back to his 2011 release Golden Xplosion, as well as duo album Neck of the Woods with tubist Daniel Herskedal, Neset has always had a feel for an otherworldliness – and tenor feature Silent Room imagines lofty arches with its suspended sax lines and sensitive bass, piano and vibes support as it spirals into the heavens. At close on twelve minutes, 1994 almost needs separating from the pack to appreciate its fullness as it mesmerises with episodic vibrancy; and the saxophonist’s distinctive solo ‘hiccups’ announce ebullient Eclipse which brings the album’s opening chants and time-evocative carillons full circle.
Neset conceives such incredibly elaborate stories that they can sometimes be overwhelming to take in at one hearing – but Circle of Chimes becomes a joy as that intricate weave is gradually understood.
Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, melodica
Lionel Loueke guitar, vocals
Andreas Brantelid cello
Ingrid Neset flute, piccolo, alto flute
Ivo Neame piano
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion
ACT Music – ACT 9038-2 (2017)
AUSTRALIAN quartet The Vampires have a good ear for a vamp… and for a key collaborator in respected US-based guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke.
Headed up by saxophonist Jeremy Rose and trumpeter Nick Garbett, and driven by the heady rhythms of double bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Danny Fischer (with guest percussionist Alex Masso), this fifth release features Loueke’s distinctive guitar palette of synthy octave-enhanced improvisations and chordal sparkiness, combined with the colourful African vocalisations of his Benin homeland. Rose and Garbett have an affinity with strong melody, rising from the groove of each of their ten original numbers with increasing memorability; and their festal dual-horn lead especially imbues the air with mariachi, reggae, funk, European folk and flavours of Cuba and the Balkans.
So a genuine feel-good album which has long been in the pipeline, it’s myriad influences soon draw the attention and don’t let go. Take Freedom Song, for example, where an Ennio Morricone-style tijuana figure announces and infiltrates an irresistible Police-like reggae pulse, pulled in different directions by Loueke’s quirky modal explorations and bleepy improv, with tenor and trumpet acclamations soaring above. Bendalong, too, ripples and darts with dance-like fervour, yet gear-changes alter the landscape to allow space for Loueke’s characterful blend of guitar and ‘vocal percussion’.
The ebb and flow of rhythm and mood, across fifty-five minutes, is well considered; so lazy, grunging Hard Love (like a beautifully sedated ‘Spanish Flea’) contrasts markedly with the picked African guitar rhythms and side-stepped meanderings in Brand New – the jiving bass ground here is a winner, inspiring salsa celebrations. In Torta Salata, Zwartz’s pliant double bass also sets up a playful partnership with Loueke’s wah-wah fun, as trumpet and sax again eke out a melody that might still be in your head by daybreak; and an ease-back acoustic-styled tribute to Al Green – Green Green Green – somehow keeps a lid on its full-blown Latin potential, resisting a double-time step-up despite its varicoloured interest.
A rare moment of repose is delivered in bass-clarinet-hued Ubud Bubble, said to evoke the time-paused magic and mystery of Gamelan echoes in Bali streets, its smokiness suggested by Fischer’s brushed snare. Suck a Seed‘s attractive African sonorities are pounced on by the increasing clamour of frenetic horn improv and wailing, synthesised guitar; and Endings and Beginnings top and tails with intended softly-breathing ‘circle of life’ continuity.
The Vampires’ music feels visual, thanks to its fabulous grooves and differing atmospheres. In the UK, sight and sound can be experienced in Edinburgh on 13 October 2017, and again on 15 October as the album officially launches at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club.
The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke is available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.
Jeremy Rose alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet
Nick Garbett trumpet
Jonathan Zwartz double bass
Danny Fischer drums
Lionel Loueke acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals
Alex Masso drums, cajon, bongos, pandeiro, wood block, cowbells, shakers (tracks 3, 5)
Earshift Music – EAR017 (2017)