‘Snowmelt’ – Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta


Snowmelt

IT ONLY REQUIRES the two-minute solo Prologue to this collection of new material by Marius Neset to be reminded of that first rush of excitement, experienced just a few short years ago, when his distinct, often otherworldly saxophonic approach blew away the senses.

Through the release of his most recent solo albums – BirdsLion and Pinball – a progressive, wider development of Neset’s compositional powers has become strikingly apparent; and now, this collaboration with the renowned London Sinfonietta and long-time jazz colleagues Ivo Neame (piano), Petter Eldh (double bass) and Anton Eger (drums) sees the Norwegian virtuoso realising what is described as his most ambitious, cherished and personal project to date.

Mainly comprising three extended works, the concept for the album was prompted by a 2013 Oslo Sinfonietta commission which Neset wrote for solo saxophone, chamber orchestra and five singers. Already possessing astonishing flair for constructing rhythmically challenging, larger-scale music (2014’s Lion was for jazz orchestra), that fifteen-minute piece spurred the saxophonist on to still greater things – the opportunity to meticulously through-compose, incorporating elements of improvisation, for the combined forces of small orchestra and his own quartet. He explains how working with the London Sinfonietta and their intuitive conductor, Geoffrey Paterson, took his ideas to another level; whilst Neame, Eldh and Eger are now so engaged with Neset’s rhythmical language that they “play it like it was the easiest thing in the world” (summoning incredulous shakes of the head from mere mortals!). Recorded in just two days, at London’s highly-regarded AIR Studios, the outcome is awe-inspiring.

Marius Neset’s contrasting, yet cohesive compositional flow is apparent in seven-movement Arches of Nature – a continuous, 25-minute suite which revels in his masterful orchestration. Appropriately chromatic and discordant, the Bartokian woodwind chatter of Sirens announces a recognisably boisterous sound world which offers a glimpse of how well Neset blends orchestra and quartet, whilst Acrobatics‘ audacious, high-wire tenor antics are heightened by rapidly swirling strings, shrill woodwind alarm, Anton Eger’s skittering percussion, and all manner of intricate details (John Orford’s babbling bassoon delightfully partnering Neset). Halting this intense animation with Janacek-style trumpet fanfare, the lofty arcs of Circles are characteristically traced by Neset’s soprano, sumptuously and emotionally filled out by swelling brass amidst its symphonic splendour; and Caves‘ jazz quartet energy is percussively accentuated by the leader’s gruff, popping tenor and remarkably fleet, exacting orchestration.

As this suite progresses, the sustained thread of Paradise showcases the many guises of Ivo Neame’s piano eloquence, his scampering bass figure especially attractive; romantically lyrical Rainbows unwinds into Getzian tenor-and-strings elegance (though there is never any doubting the saxophonist here); and impudent, showtime finale Pyramiden ripples to phantasmagorical, almost bewildering orchestration.

The Storm is Over further reveals the considered brilliance of this writing – a heavenly ‘land of Cockaigne’ which intriguingly fuses Mahlerian/Brucknerian depth and mystery with a reassuring dance-band warmth, traversed by Marius Neset’s luxurious, soaring and always affecting tenor melodies (so much detail to discover each time). And arguably the album’s main feature – introduced by another gloriously multiphonic solo sax display – Snowmelt brims with Nordic zeal as Neset’s quartet and the London Sinfonietta coalesce so immaculately. Listen closely to the the tonal balance… the orchestral weave… the rhythmic fire… the folksung inflection… the tear-inducing beauty… and, at that moment, there’s nothing creatively or heartwarmingly finer.

Released on 26 August 2016, Snowmelt is available from ACT Music. Promo video here.

 

Marius Neset tenor and soprano saxophones
Ivo Neame piano
Petter Eldh bass
Anton Eger drums

LONDON SINFONIETTA
Geoffrey Paterson conductor
Karen Jones flute, piccolo
Gareth Hulse oboe
Michael Whight clarinet, bass clarinet
John Orford bassoon
Michael Thompson horn
Torbjörn Hultmark trumpet
Byron Fulcher trombone
Jonathan Morton violin (principal 1st)
Miranda Fulleylove violin
Elizabeth Wexler violin
Joan Atherton violin (principal 2nd)
Hilaryjane Parker violin
Charlotte Reid violin
Roger Chase viola
Zoe Matthews viola
Richard Waters viola
Tim Gill cello
Adrian Bradbury cello
Markus van Horn contrabass

All music composed and arranged by Marius Neset
Produced by Marius Neset with Anton Eger

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – 9035-2 (2016)

‘Vyamanikal’ – Kit Downes & Tom Challenger

Vyamanikal

ARISING from a 2015 Aldeburgh Music residency, keyboardist Kit Downes and tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger conceived this imaginative project under the title Vyamanikal (from an ancient Sanskrit term for ‘flying machines’ – Vaimānika Shāstra).

Seven improvisations, recorded across five Suffolk churches*, take advantage of pipe organs and converted harmoniums in widely differing acoustic environments. Some instruments are in a creatively intriguing state of disrepair, whilst others – such as Framlingham’s historic, opulently-decorated 17th Century Thamar organ – are presumably more likely to be heard sounding the triumphant strains of J B Dykes or Samuel Wesley.

As a church organist of many years, I declare a specific interest in the instrument’s myriad capabilities. But here, like some musical ‘horse whisperer’, Kit Downes discovers and teases out perhaps hitherto undiscovered hoots, wheezes and subterranean reverberations which are accordantly combined with tenor saxophone ‘plainsong’ and distant, natural bird calls (close to Suffolk’s wetlands).

The duo recently took their project to St Ann’s Church, Manchester, backed by continuous video projections of various hard and soft landscapes. Late at night, with Downes arched across four manuals and pedal board, the deep, 32′ acoustic bass frequencies remarkably shook and rattled the very back corridors and galleries of the 18th Century architecture; and Challenger’s dry, often hollow tenor echoed around the elegant, white-columned ceiling spaces, melding sympathetically with the windy or intense strains of Downes’ own improvisations.

Rural village church quietness is discernible in Apicha as chattering birdsong and variably-opened, train-whistle-like drawstops are underpinned by sustained chordal clusters, whilst tentative tenor melodies drift around; and Bdhak‘s repetitive engine-room bleeps and modulations provide an otherworldly canvas for Tom Challenger to roam (shades of Garbarek, but with loftier freedom). Tremulant, hurdy-gurdy-like Sa becomes extraordinarily industrial, Tromba stops blustering with incredible density (far removed from any hymnary) before floating heavenwards with harmonic tenor beauty; and moorhen cheeps and cawing ravens enhance the breathy textures of Vistri in a soundtrack for windswept wheat fields and marshlands.

The flapping organ resonances and tenor sax melancholy of one of the album’s longer movements, Jyotir, might suggest desolate, chilled panoramas as an impressive, sustained swell rises symphonically to imply the glorious warmth of sunrise… eventually returning to afterglow birdcall mimicry. Also suggesting midwinter solitude, Maar-ikar‘s de-tuned, fading registrations ebb and flow to a background of tweets and gravel-path treads (an organ solo, unless Challenger’s timbres are perfectly integrated); and Nya-aya‘s subtle, dark-sky drone closes the sequence with a peculiar sense of anticipation and apprehension.

As an improvisational experience, this is an offbeat yet distinctive recording which requires a clear mind and an open spirit. Turn the lights low and let your imagination take you……

Vyamanikal is available from Bandcamp.

Watch Aldeburgh Music’s video about the project.

 

Kit Downes organs
Tom Challenger saxophone

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Bonney

*Recorded at:
• All Saints Church, Darsham
• Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh
• St Michael’s Church, Framlingham
• St Edmund’s Church, Bromeswell
• St John’s Church, Snape

Wedding Music is also available.

kitdownes.com/Vyamanikal
aldeburgh.co.uk

Slip Imprint – SLP042 (2016)

‘Scratch and Sift’ – Michael Chillingworth

Scratch2

THE CURIOUS ASSORTMENT of characters above conceals a delicious preponderance of reeds in Michael Chillingworth’s debut septet album, Scratch and Sift.

Saxophonist and clarinettist Chillingworth is a mainstay of London’s contemporary jazz scene, working with artists such as Stan Sulzmann, Julian Siegel, James Maddren and Kit Downes. So it’s fascinating to discover the free thinking of his own writing, realised with colleagues Tom Challenger (tenor, clarinet), Josh Arcoleo (tenor), George Crowley (bass clarinet), Lewis Wright (vibes), Sam Lasserson (bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Here is an album which rasps and sizzles so hard and so densely that it’s hard to ignore. Contrastingly sweet and sour, many of these eight, original compositions somehow seem to convey the arresting wit, irony and dark mischievousness to be found in classic, monochrome Ealing comedies. Right from the off, stealthy vibraphone and spicy horn ta-dahhs in Butterman lure the senses into an unusual world of theatrics and drollery, its agile melodies and close, spiky arrangements shadily tiptoeing around each corner; and Mint‘s syncopated blarings are matched by Jon Scott’s perky percussion, with some delightful individual improvisations widening into more open landscapes.

Yes, there’s a certain, honest Britishness to Chillingworth’s musical imagination. Overlaid tumblings in Brian Kuh give way to rapid, exuberant sax anarchy as the leader’s swirling alto is taunted by his assailants amidst challenging, irregular riffs (unpredictable, scampering unison passages here, which break into harmony, are especially effective… nay, smile-inducing). The furtive bass clarinet, double bass and vibes of clock-ticking The Wait (not to be listened to, alone, on a dimly-lit railway platform!) eventually screech to jittery alto and a cacophony of wailing sirens; so it’s quite likely that lumbering, irascible Capture is the resultant, bumpy, Black Maria journey!

Politely funky Grateful Lady is a joy, Lewis Wright’s repeated vibraphone chromatics providing the notorious ‘sax and clarinet boys’ with an opportunity to knock seven bells out of each other – so much vim and vigour, encouraged by Lasserson and Scott in the propulsive rhythm section, and concluding with wonderfully wheezy, out-of-breath textures in the reeds department. Through the opening flick of one eye, Numbers‘ initial quietude becomes utterly mischievous, its inquisitive alto extensions and trills breaking into communal boogie; and closing Righteous fools no-one – a chuffing, squawking hullabaloo which, though microscopically arranged, is as tireless and wild as the album’s earlier, madcap adventures – and Chillingworth’s hard-blown improv just as audacious.

Awright, mate [nudge, wink]… go get it!

Released on Two Rivers Records on 1 July 2016, Scratch and Sift is available from Bandcamp.

 

Michael Chillingworth alto saxophone, clarinet
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone, clarinet
Josh Arcoleo tenor saxophone
George Crowley bass clarinet
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Sam Lasserson bass
Jon Scott drums

michaelchillingworth.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR 010 (2016)

‘Silent Storm’ – Kristian Borring

red-withguides

A COOL, LUMINOUS BREEZE once again permeates the classy grooves of Danish guitarist Kristian Borring’s original music in new album Silent Storm.

Directly following 2015’s late Autumn tour schedule with pianist Arthur Lea, double bassist Mick Coady and drummer Jon Scott (who were also the core line-up of 2014’s Urban Novel), London-based Borring and his quartet took to the studio to capture, within 24 hours, something of the freshness of their live performances; and the shared empathy and vibrancy honed in their time on the road is stylishly communicated throughout this one-hour, ten-track session.

The guitarist’s clear improvisatory journeyings, as always, catch the attention here; and with integral support from Lea, Coady and Scott, he gleefully swings opening number When He Goes Out to Play with a subtly overdriven, wide-skied freedom at which both its title and Borring’s own album cover image hint. This is no underused fretboard, Ton‘s solo guitar lines scuttling across the pacey rhythm section as Arthur Lea adeptly jabs at and chromatically runs across the keys; and the afterglow freshness of Islington Twilight‘s solo guitar introduction belies its punkish drive, later halted by the leader’s attractively phased timbres which recede into the darkness.

April Fools‘ central, homely piano figure encourages eloquent bass meanderings from Mick Coady, wrapped warmly in Borring’s delicate chords – and Jon Scott’s drums, so often characterised by crackling fervour, add sensitive, glinting precision. The purposeful pop-song demeanour of Everyman, which could easily invite a vocal line, instead opens the way for expressive, Latinesque electric guitar as Lea’s piano provides a rockier edge; and Cool It (modelled on Sonny Rollins’ Airegin) flies like the wind, its swift, classic jazz exuberance buoyed by the happy chatter of bass and drums.

Borring’s delicate tracery throughout title track Silent Storm – mainly for guitar trio – might suggest John Etheridge or Mike Walker, yet the Scandinavian inflections here are quite distinctive, creating such gentle positivity. Nosda, too, is finely balanced, as Lea’s piano emphasises its subtle samba rhythms and bright, rolling phrases (Arthur Lea is clearly the perfect melodic partner for Borring, especially evident when their paths intertwine so meticulously); and closing Fable displays all the guitar finesse of Jim Hall with a soft, bluesy, summer’s afternoon swing which reveals, with more clarity than ever, the individual musicality of these fine players.

Joyful, sophisticated and certainly moreish.

Released on 29 July 2016, Silent Storm is available from Jellymould Jazz.

 

Kristian Borring electric guitar
Arthur Lea piano
Mick Coady double bass
Jon Scott drums

kristianborring.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ024 (2016)

‘Punch’ – Elliot Galvin Trio

Punch

SO WHAT was your early-childhood response to traditional seaside Punch & Judy entertainment – raucous laughter or quaking terror?!

Elliot Galvin’s wonderfully divergent trio release of 2014 – Dreamland, with bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Simon Roth – identified the creative ingenuity of this pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer, reinventing the notion of that most classic of jazz formats (toy piano and all) in a spirit reminiscent of the great Django Bates or Frank Zappa. No-less-mischievous follow-up album Punch (recorded at the Funkhaus, Berlin) again combines indubitable, slick musicality with an entertaining, edgy unpredictability; the startling title track Punch and Judy, in particular, reflecting those questionable, garish, Victorian puppet show characters delivering wry humour, domestic violence and capital punishment.

Hurdy-Gurdy‘s writhing, looping piano increasingly gathers pace, not unlike the rotary mechanics of the ‘ancient synth’ to which its title refers, until McCredie’s and Roth’s sparky rhythms eventually encourage Galvin into a more level-headed, if entrancingly angular, accordion passage; and evocative, kalimba-toned Tipu’s Tiger creeps both cautiously and beautifully, adorned by waltzing double bass phrases and delicate glockenspiel (Galvin’s compositional and spacial awareness always spot on). Recognisably broken, distorted Stylophone and dual/detuned melodicas bring more than a touch of self-satisfied Mr Punch anarchy to Blop (the video reveals all), whilst Lions – with pizzicato prepared piano (ie duct tape!) – is arguably the most outrageously slapstick episode of these ten tracks, yet so compelling.

Beethoven, Bach and e.s.t. affectingly rub shoulders in the brooding darkness of 1666 (London’s year of war, plague and the Great Fire) as Galvin’s funereal, chordal piano agonisingly treads to slowly-thrummed bass momentum and jangling percussion; and audaciously deconstructed Mack the Knife lurches almost unrecognisably, though magnificently… until a piano-and-glockenspiel musical box finally states its melody with reassuring clarity. Jaunty Polari recalls the heyday of mid-’60s pop, its straight-ahead catchiness suggesting Alan Price or Georgie Fame, with the trio at least as ebullient; and simply-whistled closer Cosy can’t help but erupt with Lady Madonna-styled piano bass riff, jarring chords and rhythmic fizz.

Even if you have a tendency towards pupophobia… please, don’t have nightmares. It’s all good, clean fun – and another triumph of contemporary jazz invention. That’s the way to do it!

Released on 26 July 2016, on the Edition Records label, Punch is available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Elliot Galvin piano, kalimba, melodicas, accordion, cassette player, Stylophone
Tom McCredie double bass
Simon Roth drums, percussion, glockenspiel

elliotgalvin.com

Edition Records – EDN1076 (2016)

‘Let’s Get Deluxe’ – The Impossible Gentlemen

LetsGetDeluxe

I’VE BEEN TOWING this little beauty around for a while now… and travelling with it has only served to deepen the pleasure.

Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from ‘transatlantic supergroup’ The Impossible Gentlemen, following on from 2013’s Internationally Recognised Aliens. With guitarist Mike Walker and pianist/multi-instrumentalist Gwilym Simcock in the compositional driving seat, they once again hook up with bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum, and are augmented for the first time by saxophonist, clarinettist and flautist Iain Dixon.

Maybe it’s the fine UK/US instrumental blend which makes the Gents’ music so pleasingly difficult to categorise. Certainly there’s the contemporary jazz styling of Pat Metheny (with whom Simcock has recently been touring) and John Scofield, or even Weather Report; but there are also American-rock hints of Little Feat and Steely Dan, not to mention a touch of prog and a dusting of good old British whimsy. It all adds up to an hour of exquisitely arranged, multi-layered, seamless performance which sparkles with rhythmic verve and blitheful melody.

The reputations of Walker and Simcock go before them, their individual prolificacy enriching the world of jazz quite immeasurably. But here, the sense of them relishing their North West English alliance is especially evident, with free rein to take these collaborative compositions wherever they please as they sumptuously layer-up the arrangements (assisted by Steve Rodby’s considerable production expertise). Title track Let’s Get Deluxe bubbles to an anthemic post-prog groove featuring Simcock’s lithe piano soloing over a full, sleek arrangement which enjoys the mellow beauty of his French horn and Walker’s typically soaring jazz/rock lead guitar improv. A Fedora for Dora‘s snappy rhythms, so characteristic of Simcock’s piano work, are energised by Rodby and Nussbaum – and, as often is the case here, the weave of supporting instruments (bass clarinet, French horn, tuned percussion) creates so much interest across this unfolding soundscape.

Presumably inspired by Gwilym Simcock’s love of the ‘beautiful game’, Terrace Legend excitedly simmers to Zawinul/Santana-like keyboard-and-guitar phrases before exploding into percussive euphoria, only paused by distant, evocative crowd chants; and grungy, dimly-lit Dog Time – with particularly effective bass clarinet and tremulant Hammond pairing – finds Mike Walker at his bluesy, mischievous best as his guitar repeatedly howls to the moon. Purposefully shuffling, countryfied Hold Out for the Sun is melodically bright enough to be a TV signature tune – and despite its breezy openness, the many instrumental comings-and-goings along the way are delightful.

Friend, colleague and pianist, the great John Taylor, is remembered in It Could Have Been A Simple Goodbye* – a poignant, affectionate tribute whose lush stateside arrangement is redolent of Lyle Mays. Propane Jane‘s Scottish marching band feel soon breaks into jabbing Fender Rhodes-led ebullience, Mike Walker’s gutsy, colourful, harmonic guitar a runaway joy; and bucolic closer Speak to Me of Home, featuring Iain Dixon’s soprano sax, possesses a simple charm enhanced by Steve Rodby’s gently pliant bass improvisations.

The Impossible Gentlemen have developed a keen following on the strength of their first two releases and their entertaining live shows. This full-of-life album feels like their best yet.

Released on 1 July 2016, and launching at Manchester Jazz Festival on 26 July, Let’s Get Deluxe is available from Jazz CDs, etc.

*Video, from 2015 – live at Sligo Jazz Project: (It Could Have Been) A Simple Goodbye.

 

Mike Walker guitar, dog whistle
Gwilym Simcock piano, keyboards, French horn, flugel horn, accordion, vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Iain Dixon soprano sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute
Steve Rodby bass
Adam Nussbaum drums

impossiblegentlemen.com

Basho Records – SRCD 51-2 (2016)

‘While We Still Can’ – Johnny Hunter Quartet

WhileWeStillCan

JOHNNY HUNTER is featuring with increasing prominence across North West England’s jazz scene… and for very good reason. The drummer/composer contributes to a number of mainstream and avant garde bands – especially in Manchester and Liverpool – including Blind Monk Trio, Marley Chingus and his own reggae/dub sextet Skamel, as well as working with artists such as Adam Fairhall, Martin Archer and Nat Birchall.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available, as CD or download, from Bandcamp.

 

Johnny Hunter drums, compositions
Ben Watte tenor saxophone
Graham South trumpet
Stewart Wilson double bass

Illustration by Angela Guyton

Efpi Records – FP024 (2016)