‘In The Tree’ – Ben Lee Quintet


MUSIC contributes immeasurably to our human existence, accompanying us through joy, grief, reflection, love… and dropping from the leafy cover illustration of guitarist/composer Ben Lee’s debut quintet album In The Tree comes unabashed vivacity in the form of one of this year’s most entertaining, occasionally whimsical jazz offerings.

Originally hailing from Devon, and now based in London, Birmingham Conservatoire jazz guitar graduate Lee is not only an accomplished instrumentalist, but clearly cherry-picks whatever sounds and genres please him in order to create his phantasmagorical world. And colleagues Chris Young, Richard Foote, David Ferris and Euan Palmer are up for it, too, in an unconventional line-up which enjoys the earthy sustenance of organ and boasts great dual-horn fervour.

It’s remarkable that, no matter how often these ten tracks are heard, they possess a joyful unpredictability and tremendous variety – yet they’re strongly rooted and beautifully constructed in jazz. The opening Folk Theme, for example, seems to draw on ’60s movie themes (Enio Morricone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ comes to mind), encouraged by its sinewy guitar sound and undulating, tremulant organ (no need for a bassist); yet it blasts heady trombone and sax riffs over vibrant drumming. Title track In The Tree‘s playful demeanour is redolent of the folksy trio outings of Frode Alnaes, Arild Andersen and Stian Carstensen, its smilingly carefree, whistled melody improvised upon throughout with glee; and First Contact‘s slick, big-band weight also grooves infectiously to Lee’s country guitar (‘has to be heard!).

Hygge pictorialises that Danish expression of candlelit conviviality and intimacy through lush chordal organ and mellow, Wes Montgomery-styled guitar; Beginning of the End‘s breathless ‘Brazil 66′-like animation, underpinned by David Ferris’ bubbling organ baseline, offers so much fascination inside five and half minutes, including the tight trombone and alto pairing of Richard Foote and Chris Young, as well as Lee’s no-holes-barred Jimmy Page guitar rockiness; and the buzzing, harmonic colour of Drone builds through anthemic, canonic layering. Swingin’ Scratching the Itch (which, Lee says, reflects his mildly addictive personality) wildly crashes and sears up and down the frets –and the overall band verve, carried by Euan Palmer’s fervent percussion, is electric.

Tuneful, Barbados-inspired Kickin’ the Chicken summons steel pans and sunshine as Chris Young’s warm, meandering alto glides across the feel-good rhythm; Nirvana‘s expansive, rasping energy melds indie rock with cinematic score (one of, frankly, many standouts); and twee, acoustic vocal/guitar endpiece Skateboarding On My Own, if nothing else, demonstrates Lee’s indubitable chordal precision.

Such an eclectic mix might well cause a few to scratch their heads – and, sure, it has its moments of almost naive levity. But when, without preconception, you slot in a new CD and it brings a smile, warms your heart, cranks up your spirit and ends up on repeat play… well, such reactions are the essence of good music.

Festooned with delights, and yours for the climbing (released 21 October 2016), In The Tree is available as CD or digital download from Stoney Lane Records’ Bandcamp store.


Ben Lee guitar, composition
Chris Young alto saxophone
Richard Foote trombone
David Ferris organ
Euan Palmer drums

Illustration: ningningli.com


Stoney Lane Records – SLR1892 (2016)

‘In Motion’ – Square One


A YOUNG QUARTET from Glasgow, Square One’s debut release In Motion quickly catches the attention with its imaginative compositional breadth, sparkling energy and nuanced elegance.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 October 2016 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.


Joe Williamson guitar
Peter Johnstone piano
David Bowden bass
Stephen Henderson drums, percussion

Website: squareonequartet.com
Video: In Motion album trailer
Album artwork: lizzydoe.co.uk 

Self-released – SQ1CD1601 (2016)

‘Ypsilon’ – Andrés Thor


WITH NO INTENTION of sitting on the sidelines, Icelandic electric guitarist Andrés Thor and his impressive quartet serve up a compelling, hour-long set of varied originals in their latest release, Ypsilon.  

Perhaps it’s Thor’s formative musical discoveries – Hendrix, Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, and then Coltrane and Metheny – which inform the eclecticism of his compositional approach; but this nine-track outing with pianist Agnar Már Magnusson, bassist Richard Andersson and drummer Ari Hoenig fixes the attention, combining the eloquence of the guitar-led jazz tradition with a zesty, rock-imbued drive. The mellow fuzziness in Thor’s tonal palette is positively ambrosial, as is the precision of his technique, which reflects out into the rewarding richness of the overall sound (there’s certainly no sense of the leader showboating here, but rather an empathetic balance and clarity to every track).

Richard Andersson and Ari Hoenig together provide the band’s markedly rhythmic stability, identified in the purposeful groove of opening title track, Ypsilon, which sails blithely to guitar and piano improvisations. Across the entire album, the melodic partnership and individual improvisations of Andrés Thor and Agnar Már Magnússon are a joy, April‘s carefree journeyings coloured by warm, pedalled guitar textures and Hoenig’s incisive, ornamented cross-rhythms; and the openness of Zafón affords space for Andersson’s cantabile bass expression and Thor’s relaxed, Frisellian chromatics.

Cool, street-walking Biscuit displays the edginess of John Abercrombie as Magnússon’s hip, jabbing electric piano fuses with Thor’s grittier, rock resonance (each texturally supporting the other’s soloing). The almost insolent, lurching swing of Simple Question, with particularly elegant piano and guitar improv, is irresistible; an underlying pop-bass pulse brings a touch of George Benson ‘easy’ to Farmhouse; and the brooding, descending Andersson/Hoenig propulsion of Paw subtly evokes prog or even funk, as Thor combines effective repeated riffs with fluid extemporisations. Lush, late-night Snævi holds the poise of a Real Book classic, Magnússon’s luxurious chords impressionistically supporting Thor’s melodic sensitivity; and final track Oozy‘s sprightly, samba-like radiance also seems to have ‘jazz standard’ written all over it.

A pleasure to get to know this recording.

Released on 10 August 2016, Ypsilon is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.


Andrés Thor guitar, compositions
Agnar Már Magnússon piano, electric piano
Richard Andersson bass
Ari Hoenig drums


Dimma – DIM 17 (2016)

‘Flying Machines’ – Flying Machines

FlyingMachines_digital assets

A NEAT SYNTHESIS of pioneering inspiration, elegant sleeve art and exhilarating original music ties together Flying Machines’ eponymous debut album – a jazz-rock experience founded on imaginative, soaring electric guitar expression and energized, synth-sizzling grooves. 

With crew of piano/keyboardist Matt Robinson, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Dave Hamblett, guitarist/composer Alex Munk’s inspirited artistic approach is fired by the legacy and memory of his father, Roger Munk, whose tireless, award-winning vision for the advancement of British airship technology resulted in this year’s maiden voyage of the world’s longest aircraft – hybrid vehicle Airlander 10.

Indeed, there is undoubtedly a sense of gliding freedom and adventure as these nine, aeronautically-themed tracks take to the skies, as if the guitarist’s overarching brief to the band is to ascend towards spatial euphoria. So although opening number Tracks ripples to incisively picked guitar, deftly chromatic piano and tricksy, propulsive rhythms, it then levels out into an above-cloud state of tranquillity, with Munk’s clean, sustained melodies basking in endless sunlight; and the busyness of Bliss Out also has wide-openness at its heart, Robinson’s anthemic piano octaves floating over Hamblett’s snare drum propulsion, giving rise to gutsy guitar improvisation.

Munk’s citation of Pat Metheny and Mike Walker as influences can be heard in dreamy As Long As It Lasts. Rapid, anticipatory synth patterns in Emotional Math Metal bubble underneath crashing rock chords and breathless, extended, bass-driven riffs (yet there are always moments of serenity for taking in the view); and the guitarist’s solo piece, First Breath, possesses a Tracy Chapman song-like simplicity which almost implies a lyrical vocal line, as well as a redolence of Steve Howe or Steve Hackett prog interlude.

This quartet coalesces superbly across these differently-hued episodes, the buoyant electric bass and Rhodes funk of Lighter Than Air perhaps suggesting Snarky Puppy or, again, Metheny; and Peace Offering‘s initial weightlessness hits some splendidly turbulent dynamic and rhythmic fluctuations, all so exactingly co-ordinated. Stratosphere‘s crunchy, pop/rock solidity treads somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and Genesis; and post-flight A Long Walk Home (with Chaplin’s switch to double bass and Robinson’s acciaccatura piano inflections emphasising this more rustic, acoustic amble) views the afterglow with an exquisite, thankful reverence.

Technically and emotionally thrilling, Flying Machines’ own inaugural flight is ‘up there’ with the best. Released on 14 October 2016, it’s available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.


Alex Munk guitars, compositions
Matt Robinson piano, synths, Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin electric bass, double bass
Dave Hamblett drums


Sleeve art by Oli Bentley at split.co.uk

Pictor Records – 001 (2016)

‘Duski’ – Duski


AN EPONYMOUS debut release from Welsh-based quintet project Duski, led by bassist/composer Aidan Thorne, offers relaxed grooves and pleasurably atmospheric hues throughout its eight original tracks.

Seemingly informed by ’80s new romantic, indie pop and ambient/electronic jazz, its appeal owes much to the undulating washes of Paul Jones’ keys/synths and Dan Messore’s electric guitar inventiveness. Carried on a wave of bubbling electric bass and Mark O Connor’s tight percussive rhythms, Greg Sterland’s luxurious, straight-ahead tenor sax resonances glide across these instrumental landscapes with reassuring warmth, frequently with an accessibility which recalls The Crusaders, though also with the nebulous searchings of, say, Zero 7 or Air.

Smoky melodic hooks and controlled synth/guitar expanses in Spare Part elegantly prepare a canvas for Greg Sterland’s subway-echoed tenor improvisations, whilst the ticking groove of Simple Tune might easily recall Talk Talk’s ‘It’s My Life’, glistening to Jones’ Fender Rhodes chimes and Thorne’s legato bass phrasing. Amongst dreamlike, vaporous miniatures, Sterland’s gruff-toned tenor in slowly-building Lakeside then becomes positively drowsy in slumberous Two Hours Long, its guitar sustenance suggesting endless late-night journeyings; and agile Another Simple Song again breezes along to relatively uncomplicated yet attractive pop harmonies with electronic refractions.

A likeable first outing indicating a penchant for pictorial soundtrack, Duski’s effectiveness in layering textures and evoking moods is admirable, and it even prompts thoughts as to how their already established group sound might develop in the future – perhaps augmented by voice or Canterbury Scene unusualities such as bassoon or oboe to provide a more distinctive edge. A pathway has been opened…

Released on 12 October 2016, Duski is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp. Aidan Thorne tours as bassist with Slowly Rolling Camera; guitarist Dan Messore records as Indigo Kid.


Greg Sterland saxophone
Dan Messore guitars
Paul Jones keys, synths
Aidan Thorne bass, compositions
Mark O Connor drums

Illustration: Sophia Wagstaff


Cambrian Records – CAM008 (2016)

‘Pasar Klewer’ – Dwiki Dharmawan (2CD)


THE SCALE AND DYNAMISM of double album Pasar Klewer, from Indonesian pianist Dwiki Dharmawan, is pretty awe-inspiring. 

Reflecting the hustle and bustle of its South-East Asian marketplace title (and reinforced by a lively cover illustration), this ambitious, one-hundred-minute fusion of jazz, rock and world music has at its core a vibrant trio, with Dharmawan joined by the brilliance of bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis. But the beautiful eclecticism of contributions made by the pianist’s guest musicians – including clarinettist/saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and electric guitarist Mark Wingfield – elevates these eleven, expansive tracks into a cornucopia of often unexpected riches.

Described as a cultural icon in his homeland, performer, composer and arranger Dharmawan’s expertise in bringing together these various strands is impressive; and with a breathlessly flamboyant piano technique, he is clearly an inspirational leader. Title track Pasar Klewer brims with exotic colour, Mark Wingfield’s characteristic, high-velocity guitar the ideal partner for the busyness of Dharmawan, Stavi and Sirkis; yet it is also imbued with the magical sound-imagery of chants, bells and Aris Daryono’s three-stringed rebab. Glad Atzmon’s clarinet deftness (always with such a distinctly ‘vocal’ expression) soars in Spirit of Peace, a relentless, smouldering dance suffused with Nicolas Meier’s glissentar improvisations and Asaf Sirkis’ konakol voicings.

It’s an adventure of mystery and discovery, with the sense of pulling back the curtain to reveal the next chapter – so Atzmon’s superb soprano sax outpourings over vigorous gamelan orchestra and free-jazz piano trio are just a small part of the story of thirteen-minute Tjampuhan; melodically uplifting Frog Dance (with a field recording of the Balinese variety) is irresistible; and Asaf Sirkis’ own Life It Self enjoys a hard-driven prog groove perpetuated by the heavier aspect of his drumming and the stratospheric, pitch-bent guitar of Mark Wingfield.

Robert Wyatt’s Forest and the trio’s composition London in June include the theatrical vocals of Boris Savoldelli; and Dharmawan’s arrangement of traditional tune Lir Ilir is introduced by the decorative voice of Peni Candra Rini before it cranks up into full-throttle piano jazz embellished by glissentar. Amidst such intensity, moments of repose can be found in elegant Bubuyu Bulan and Purnama, whilst the expanded, instrumental version of Forest which closes the programme – featuring both Dharmawan and Wingfield, effectively enhanced by electronic shooting stars – possesses a transcendental magic.

Bask in its cosmopolitan outlook and astounding musicianship.

Further details and audio samples at MoonJune Records.


Dwiki Dharmawan acoustic piano
Yaron Stavi upright bass, electric bass
Asaf Sirkis drums, udu clay percussion, shaker, konakol singing
Mark Wingfield guitar
Nicolas Meier glissentar, acoustic guitar
Gilad Atzmon clarinet, soprano sax
Boris Savoldelli vocals
Ari Daryono vocals, gamelan percussion, kendang percussion, rebab
Peni Candra Rini vocals
Gamelan Jess Jegog led by I Nyoman Windha gamelan orchestra


MoonJune Records – MJR081 (2016)

‘Klammer’ – Rick Simpson


clamour ■ n. a loud and confused noise. ■ v. (of a group) shout or demand loudly.

IT WOULD SEEM rather off beam to suggest that this sextet resembled (in more conventional spelling) the above definitions; but they do provide a clue to their full-on, angular and often wondrously oblique approach to jazz.

Rick Simpson is a regular sideman on the London scene, as are his colleagues in this line-up – and saxophonists Michael Chillingworth and George Crowley are no strangers on the front line together (see recent release Scratch and Sift), communicating no-holds-barred creative grit and energy. The prospect, then, of them melodically heading-up the pianist’s original, unpredictable compositions is something to relish, especially in collaboration with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer David Hamblett.

Simpson’s broad musical understanding and appreciation provides a solid basis for his writing, though improvisation is a key motivator (as much at home with the music of Kenny Wheeler as Django Bates, or as inspired by post-bop as free jazz). So in this project, the avoidance of structure doesn’t signal ‘clamour’, but rather that the zesty compositions offer his colleagues considerable freedom – and it’s notable how, throughout this near-hour-full box of delights, arranged phrases can either meld or snap into the wide-open spaces of individual extemporisation.

The many rhythmic intricacies here must surely pose a knotty challenge, as evidenced in the first two tracks, Pins and Beware of Gabriel Garrick Imitators; and the furtive, jolting advancement of sax, vibes and bass (especially with Tom Farmer on board) resembles the excellence of Empirical. But, although Rick Simpson is happy to join the combined ‘klang’ of the ensemble, on Fender Rhodes, his pianistic inventiveness also regularly comes to the fore. So he shapes How Deep is Your Disrespect with the kind of sensitive, wayward fascination associated with John Taylor; and his ‘alarm’ ostinato in this number, picked up from Ralph Wyld’s vibes, is an attention-grabbing vehicle which sparks percussive excitement, as well as typical outlandishness from Chillingworth and Crowley (turn it up loud!).

A pianist’s approach to composition can clearly be picked out in slow-moving, spacial Orbital, as lush alto and sax harmonies are complemented by nebulous, star-glinting piano and vibes which are then sumptuously swelled by the whole ensemble; and aqueous, tremulant Rhodes in Sea Change binds together the evolving, painterly layers of a jewel-encrusted canvas. The complexity of volatile, irascible Greasy Child! Ugly Man!, with its simple yet provocative double-horn jibing, is riveting; so, too, is bright, snappy Unsustainabubble whose straight-ahead tenor and bass hook-up is immaculately delivered. Rings End is packed full of undulating intrigue, somehow suggesting a comedic movie accompaniment; and the easy, South African lilt of Surreal Estate (almost ten minutes in duration) is just the prelude to a many-roomed promenade, crescendoing to a synth-enhanced climax.

Shut out any other forms of, er, ‘klammer’… and revel in its spirited fullness.

Released on Two Rivers Records, on 30 September 2016, and available from Bandcamp.


Michael Chillingworth alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
George Crowley tenor saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Rick Simpson piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, MS-10, glockenspiel, harmonium
Tom Farmer double bass
David Hamblett drums


Two Rivers Records – TRR-012 (2016)