‘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)

‘Fellow Creatures’ – Jasper Høiby

FellowCreatures

THE EXPERIENCE is entrenched in mind and soul – those purely analogue days of poring over and falling in love with a new vinyl and its gatefold sleeve art, flipping the 12″ over at the exit groove so many times that one grew to anticipate every track, every bar, every instrumental entry. 

There’s something of that sentiment captured within double bassist, composer and bandleader Jasper Høiby’s new release, Fellow Creatures. Now a prominent personality and musical backbone of so many outstanding contemporary jazz line-ups – most notably as creator of enduringly successful trio Phronesis, but also a key player with names such as Marius Neset, Django Bates, Mark Guiliana and Kairos 4tet – the bassist sees these ten, eloquent tracks as a narrative in which the listener might connect with the music and its interpreters across the album’s near-full-hour entirety. In that context, he couldn’t have wished for a more empathetic personnel than Mark Lockheart (saxes), Laura Jurd (trumpet, flugel), Will Barry (piano) and Corrie Dick (drums).

Høiby explains that he has long wished to broaden his writing to a larger ensemble, including two melody instruments; and whilst his signature percussive/cantabile bass technique and Phronesis-based compositional identity are pleasingly evident here, he opens up a refreshingly bright, undulating vista which takes in graceful, Scandinavian folkiness, zesty post-bop jazz riffs and improvisational free-spiritedness… plus a dash of characteristic mischief. Canadian author Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is cited amongst the inspiration for the writing and track titles, highlighting the need to recognise and embrace the fragility of the earth and its natural resources; that, and also the importance of family and human accord.

Key to the album’s intent are Høiby’s memorable hooks which become enchantingly familiar – Folk Song‘s plaintive trumpet and piano tune in thirds which, traced with high, wiry arco bass harmonics, follows the otherwise spacial freedom of its beginnings; or the close trumpet and tenor sax ‘crashing wave’ phrases in title track Fellow Creatures, a number which excitedly ripples to the kind of unison piano-and-bass riffs that Phronesis fans will easily recognise. Laura Jurd’s increasing prominence on the UK jazz circuit (currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation artist) includes left-field projects such as Blue-Eyed Hawk and, recently, Huw V Williams’ album Hon. Yet here, her particularly clear tones combine perfectly with those of distinguished saxophonist Mark Lockheart to create a rich frontline, as in urgent soundtrack for troubled times, World of Contradictions, and especially in Little Song for Mankind where their intertwining boisterousness (Jurd as high and hard-hitting as, say, Jon Faddis) is swelled by the remaining trio’s turbulent undercurrent.

Optimistic mariachi dance Song for the Bees finds the horn duo gyrating around Høiby’s unmistakably conversational bass ground (almost guaranteed to bring out the sun), whilst Tangible is reminiscent of Ivo Neame’s compositions for trio, Will Barry’s pianistic invention just as engaging. Quartet piece Collective Spaces (minus piano) feels intimately folky, akin to a journeying minstrel band, whereas the bassist’s groove which sets up Suddenly, Everyone inspires a ‘Phronesis big band’ episode which explodes to Corrie Dick’s skittering, crashing percussion and impressive tenor and trumpet improv. Lumbering, tricksy Before feels just on the edge of hysterics from duo Lockheart and Høiby; and closer Plastic Island perpetuates the band camaraderie as it stomps both gleefully and anarchically to a choppy bass-and-piano motif, swaggering tenor, growling trumpet and impertinent percussion – fabulous!

Høiby’s summing-up of this album is surely something to which most of us would aspire: “This music is an encouragement to the love between human beings and an acknowledgement of our belonging to nature, that I believe we all share as fellow creatures.” Indeed, this quintet’s joyous, life-enriching creativity provides us with a continuing hope.

Released on Edition Records on 15 July 2016, Fellow Creatures is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Jasper Høiby double bass, composer
Mark Lockheart saxophones
Laura Jurd trumpet, flugel
Will Barry piano
Corrie Dick drums

jasperhoiby.com

Edition Records – EDN1075 (2016)

‘The Lightning Bell’ – Beresford Hammond Hume

BeresfordHammondHume

THE IMPROVISATORY MUSIC of guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond, in 2014 album The Science of Snow, came as something of a revelation. Arising quite simply from a cancelled studio booking, the duo proceeded to use the time to create an enticing, spontaneous sequence of artistic impressions which had the ability to conjure visual imagery in a spacial and often affecting way.

For new release The Lightning Bell, Beresford and Hammond collaborate with classical, prog rock and improv pianist Carolyn Hume; and singer Judie Tzuke guests on two tracks, complementing Charlie Beresford’s own vocal contributions (Tzuke’s 1979 chart hit Stay With Me Till Dawn remains a spine tingler). Once again, this is original music which somehow transports mind and soul to another place, where the freedoms of improvisation are able to connect with the emotions so surprisingly. On the surface, these abstract soundscapes could be perceived as dark, sombre spaces – yet beneath lies bohemian beauty resulting from a meeting of creative spirits at one moment in time. The title is derived from an 18th Century device which demonstrated, albeit simply, the conversion of an electrical charge into mechanical energy – the movement of a clapper between two oppositely-charged bells to create sound.

The introduction of improvised, sung phrases into some of this album’s eight, expansive tracks brings a further instrumental dimension, rather than apparent, specific meaning. Beresford’s utterances in slowly drifting opener Call the Time add to a sultriness vaguely redolent of Gershwin’s Summertime, as he whispers across sustained cello, diminished piano elaborations and abstract guitar; and the addition of Judie Tzuke’s recognisable, mellow tones in Then the Cloud Comes contribute to a vivid, overcast landscape, with Hammond’s cello scratching the sky and Beresford’s persistent, wiry guitar tremblings accentuating Hume’s rainy piano.

As with the first release, the music here is often on a filmic scale – Feather War Cast’s openness and unpredictability, across almost ten minutes, allows the imagination to run free; a combination of melodic, pitch-bent guitar extemporisations across sustained, English contemporary classical piano and cello, interspersed with extraneous knocks and scrapes. The Heavy Branch is particularly indicative of deep bell clangs and chimes as Hammond’s sinuous cello harmonics meld effectively with Beresford’s clever, echoic guitar purrs – and Carolyn Hume’s Debussyian piano depth (à la The Sunken Cathedral) emphasises its humidity.

Fascinating, if a little disturbing, Laid Bare‘s darting guitar glissandi and slippery, whistling harmonic cello become clothed in delicate, skylit piano; and pastoral, melancholic As If All Was Within, with subtly chattering guitar strings on frets, is ornamented by the soft, folky words of Charlie Beresford. Judie Tzuke’s vocals provide In the Dark Hours with a more songlike feel, though its references to insomnia and nightmare bring a chill to the sparse instrumental weave; and The Last Port concludes – perhaps the darkest, most menacing film-score episode of the entire album.

These are deep expressions, yet the imagery and emotion triggered by the sincerity of such artistic improvisation can make this a compelling experience. Take a listen – video: Call the Time.

Released on 12 June 2016, The Lightning Bell is available from the52ndshop and Amazon.

 

Charlie Beresford acoustic guitar, voice
Sonia Hammond cello
Carolyn Hume piano
with
Judie Tzuke voice (tracks 3, 7)

Sleeve images: Gaëna da Sylva.

the52nd.com

the52nd – 52NDCD002 (2016)

‘The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure’ – John Martin

JohnMartin

CHARTING the lesser-known seas of saxophone multiphonics, this 2CD quintet release from John Martin is defined by its title – a spirited voyage of adventure in search of ‘the hidden notes’.

Martin explains that, around ten years ago whilst practicing, he discovered that the tenor sax had the potential to produce multiple overtones and textures; and for the past few years, he has set out to explore jazz in this context, developing a system to tempt out these “rather shy and often badly behaved notes.” Joining him on this recording are Ralph Wyld (vibraphone), Rob Updegraff (electric guitar), Tim Fairhall (double bass) and Tim Giles (drums).

Over ninety minutes, the vibe is of accessible post-bop jazz – yet, as with any expedition into unfamiliar territory, it can take a while to settle into the newness of the polyphonic experience. So the saxophone delivery might initially be difficult to fathom, as these ‘three-dimensional’ sounds are coaxed out of the instrument, with some more effective than others (first reactions, in places, might incorrectly suggest a lack of technique!). But Martin goes all out for experimentation, injecting his ten original compositions (plus three preludes) and otherwise full, clear, instrumental timbre with surprising piquancy.

Both the writing and the performances throughout are slick, the broad expanse of many of the tracks appearing to create an openness amongst the five musicians. The opening theme of Heptopia, for example, is so melodically warm, riding the gentle waves of Rob Updegraff’s luscious chords and Ralph Wyld’s bejewelled vibraphone; and often – as here and in Spirit of Adventure – this combination creates the kind of sweet repetition enjoyed in the music of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong or even Steve Reich. There’s much to excite, from Tick Tock‘s perky buoyancy, threaded with individual improv artistry, to swinging Folklore and Giant’s Stomp, both shot through with Martin’s gruff, harmonic clusters and richly-phrased soloing.

Pentacision – a sixteen-minute odyssey in two parts – ripples with episode after episode, as if traversing oceanic swells and reaching contrasting, breezeless conditions (the tricksy time signature riffs are pleasingly memorable). Eddies features more of Martin’s hypnotic riffs, which are especially effective here as the crescendoing and decrescendoing overtone patterns almost suggest a Doppler shift; and the joyous swing of The Optimistic Pessimist, bookended by more extreme tonal caws, is enriched by the saxophonist’s careful, melodic use of his system.

Employing an individual technique which might easily have been the ‘elephant in the studio’, John Martin’s release is full of engaging, jazz vibrancy – an expansive journey spangled with unexpected musical glints and refractions. A beautiful, dreamlike cover illustration, too, from Ellen Tovey.

The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure is available from F-IRE.com and John Martin’s website. More information at thehiddennotes.com.

John Martin tenor saxophone
Rob Updegraff electric guitar
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Tim Fairhall double bass
Tim Giles drums

Illustration by Ellen Tovey

thehiddennotes.com
johnnoblemartin.com

F-IRE Presents – F-IRE CD 92 (2016)

‘Snowpoet’ – Snowpoet

Snowpoet

IN A WORLD where, like some time-lapse street scene, we are frequently bombarded by high-energy grooves and cacophonous soundbites, Snowpoet have an adroit ability to create, through arresting vocal melodies/utterances and unexpected instrumental timbres, a gossamer labyrinth of intrigue and enchantment in which to lose ourselves.

The mesmerising vocals of Lauren Kinsella, fronting these nine tracks, are sensitively woven into the band’s ebbing and flowing sonic spaces – and the effect, particularly when heard in quiet isolation, has a remarkable impact on the senses. Kinsella – who sees her voice primarily as an instrument – places an emphasis on syllabic deconstruction, as well as rhythmic and tonal modulation (reminiscent of Annette Peacock), explaining that “sound comes through the word and has a musical meaning all of its own, regardless of its linguistic understanding.” That approach, central to this album’s creative folk/ambience, can be inexplicably and emotionally moving. Comprising a personnel (see below) who, individually, perform across a variety of genres (including contemporary jazz), these soundscapes are mixed by Chris Hyson and Alex Killpartrick; and the musical environments they produce require a certain abandonment from the listener.

Vivid, sun-glinted rivulets are depicted in Mermaid, a beautifully accessible introduction teeming with instrumental/electronic life and dreamy, layered vocals; and the whispered usherings of In a Quiet Space lead to Kinsella’s characteristic, undulating voice, the sense of anticipation painted by luscious clusters of sound suggesting a magical discovery under a forest canopy. Glad To Have Lost is redolent of one of Kinsella’s other projects, Blue Eyed Hawk, in the way its prog-style guitar and electronics underpin her typically measured lines before melting into piano-teared ambience; and the Irish lilt of Laura Kinsella’s poetic, melodic speech here is so compelling.

Creaking, tuned-out piano accompanies the vocal line in live-feel If I Miss a Star (an effect which recalls the quaintness of Peter Gabriel’s Me and My Teddy Bear), and countryfied Little Moon Man, with its acoustic guitar momentum, is utterly charming, delicately swathed in wordless backing vocals and ’70s-style synth riffs. The band’s acuity with audio imagery is continued in Gathering, as floating patterns, clicky extraneous sounds and broken, sustained electronics head downstream; and Kinsella’s playful dialogue in Waves is fused with 12-string guitar and plush vocal textures which later hit crashing breakers. Poetry of Stillness suggests an echoic, Peter Pan world of heavenly imagination with lengthened, storytelling vocalisations (“together, we walked up into a clou-u-ud of dreams”); and extended, rising Eviternity closes with a tingling sense of hope.

Especially in late-night solitude, this is a go-to album for immersive escapism – and that can be engendered in so many ways, be it disturbing, becalming or joyfully life-affirming. It takes deep, musical sincerity to achieve such powerful therapy; and for this reason, Snowpoet’s debut recording remains an outstanding body of work.

Released on Two Rivers Records, Snowpoet can be purchased in CD and digital download formats at Bandcamp.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals, lyrics
Chris Hyson electric bass, keyboards, synths, piano, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer
Matthew Robinson piano, keyboards, synths
Nicholas Costley-White acoustic and electric guitars
Josh Arcoleo backing vocals, synths, tenor saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums
with
Lloyd Haines additional drums (Little Moon Man, Poetry of Stillness)
Alex Killpartrick additional synth (Little Moon Man)

snowpoet.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 007

‘Wolf Valley’ – Eyolf Dale

EyolfDale

EDITION RECORDS’ impressive relationship with Scandinavian and other European artists, forged over the past few years, continues with pianist and composer Eyolf Dale’s Wolf Valley.

Having previously released a handful of solo albums in his native Norway, as well as appearing as sideman on many recordings (including tubist Daniel Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train), Dale’s compositional expertise is brought to life here by broader forces – a colourful and adaptable octet of piano, bass and saw, drums, tenor sax and clarinet, trumpet, trombone, vibraphone and violin. Greatly influenced by classical music, jazz, improvisation – and, most likely, the folksongs and landscapes of his homeland – the pianist’s eclectic output is distinct in its compositional spaciousness and instrumental diversity. Within such a spirit of invention, numerous musical boundaries are traversed, providing so many rich discoveries along the way.

Dale’s scaleable and constantly fluctuating episodes – one moment ‘big band’, then ‘chamber orchestra’ or ‘minimal atmospheric’ – are the key to these nine generous tracks. For example, gentle horn grooves in opener Furet are embellished by coruscating vibes and bluesy piano; and all at once the mood drifts into the cinematic longing of Fernanda, whose attractive, flowing undercurrent is elaborated upon by lyrical clarinet and violin, swelled by Dale’s beautiful eight-piece orchestration. Based on a previously-recorded improvised organ chorale, Shostachoral‘s sustained progress, featuring André Roligheten’s gruff, melancholic tenor, is reminiscent of John Surman or Jan Garbarek; and Ban Joe‘s folksy animation (cannily resembling a banjo accompaniment) pauses delicately amongst vibraphone ripples before breaking into exuberant piano jazz – but stay focused… this musical journey keeps moving on!

Combining funereal, New Orleans-style marching band with a weighty, prepared-piano bass pulse, Sideways restlessly portrays its themes of loss, adding classy solo trombone and trumpet improvisations, whilst Tegistein‘s empty, industrial landscape of sinuous screeches and echoes grabs the attention. The Creek‘s playfully clattering groove is another standout, full of dancing piano riffs, syncopated horns, languid jazz trumpet, audaciously fluttering tenor and delicate vibes-decorated textures (so much to enjoy); the quiet, slowly unfolding solitude of Silent Ways, complete with wavering saw, is oh so delicate; and fast-paced The Walk sparkles brightly, thanks to ticking percussion and a sumptuous octet arrangement.

Eyolf Dale and his accomplished personnel breathe so much into this vast panoply of creative ideas, presenting a recording which is a pleasure to delve into more and more deeply – and it’s bound to remain a favourite for some considerable time. Thank goodness for our resolute, European, musical connections.

Released on 10 June 2016, Wolf Valley (direct translation: Eyolf = Wolf, Dale = Valley) is available as CD and high-quality download at Bandcamp.

Video: Furet.

 

Eyolf Dale piano
Per Zanussi bass, saw
Gard Nilssen drums
André Roligheten tenor saxophone, clarinet
Hayden Powell trumpet
Kristoffer Kompen trombone
Rob Waring vibraphone
Adrian Løseth Waade violin

eyolfdale.com

Edition Records – EDN1073 (2016)