REVIEW: ‘Cairn’ – Fergus McCreadie

THE SIGHT of a neatly constructed mound or pillar of stones on a barren, hilltop landscape immediately changes our response to that environment – the sense of others treading the path ahead of us and leaving a landmark for all who continue to pass along. Anologously, that may apply to any musician influenced by what has gone before, including pianist Fergus McCreadie.

His original compositions certainly reverberate with the passion and vigour of Phronesis, e.s.t and others. But new album Cairn, with double bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson, signals why, unquestionably, this trio possesses a distinctive character of its own. The root of that lies in both the artistic heritage and the landscape of McCreadie’s Scottish homeland; so this hour of nine contemporary jazz numbers feels steeped in an authenticity that intrinsically connects to traditional folk music. Already with a string of accolades to his name, including ‘Album of the Year’ in Parliamentary and Scottish jazz awards (for self-released 2018 debut, Turas) and finalist in BBC Jazz Musician of the Year, the pianist has also appeared on recordings which include those of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and Graham Costello’s Strata.

The mists of history and folklore spread their fingers across opening North, where inflected piano melodies ride deep-bass fifths as it gains stature; then, breaking through at the summit, sunlit title track Cairn especially reveals McCreadie’s deft ornamentation around the soft, shuffling groove provided by bassist and drummer. Piano explorations ripple and dart with strong improvisational conviction – a theme reinforced throughout the more rhythmic episodes of the album, including the countrified, Bruce Hornsby-like momentum of Across Flatlands which is purposeful though undeniably and melodically attractive. Over eight minutes, the whirling, breathless rock drive and jazz interest of Jig is a stand-out, featuring intensely fervid rhythms from Bowden and Henderson while McCreadie’s white-hot keyboard figures dazzle.

An impressive prehistoric henge in Orkney provides the inspiration for mystically waltzing The Stones of Brodgar, and the intensifying lap of Tide paints wide-sky imagery. But it’s An Old Friend’s slow-release folk atmospheres, across nine minutes, which are the most affecting. The augmented-chord conclusion of its plaintive Scots theme is so bewitching, before pianist and bassist each offer out their homespun improvisations through an endless valley-floor vista. Tree Climbing somehow suggests a transatlantic country/folk connection, proudly bustling and reeling to rapid riffs, chords and bass lines; and to close, Cliffside has the cyclical animation favoured by bands such as Mammal Hands, but always coruscating with McCreadie’s silver-stream thread of extemporisation.

Vibrant, progressive, energetic, wistful – McCreadie, Bowden and Henderson together have the power to transport mind and heart back to the visual beauty of Scotland’s wild places. Such are the reasons why, in every generation, we’ll never cease to be sustained and buoyed by the spell of creative music.

Released on 29 January 2021 in CD, vinyl, mp3 and WAV formats, Cairn is available from Edition Records.

 

Fergus McCreadie piano
David Bowden double bass
Stephen Henderson drums

fergusmccreadie.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1165 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Afterglow’ – Enrico Pieranunzi & Bert Joris

THOSE CHASING fast-city lights might imply the hard-grooving world of jazz-rock. But look beyond, into the deepening vermilion Afterglow, to find a quite different fusion in this intimate set from the acoustic duo of Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and Belgian trumpeter/flugelhornist Bert Joris.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 22 January 2021 and available from Challenge Records and Proper Music.

 

Enrico Pieranunzi piano
Bert Joris trumpet, flugelhorn

enricopieranunzi.it
bertjoris.com

Challenge Records – CR73460 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Vesuviana’ – Bruno d’Ambra Trio

PIANIST Bruno d’Ambra has quite a story to tell – not just through the spirit of his music, but also in the way he first set foot on UK soil with the zeal to energize his career.

Discovering jazz in his teens and then progressing to play the clubs and bars of his native Italy, he was searching for more as he reached his early twenties. So with a rucksack, a small keyboard carefully packed into a cardboard box and £300 in his pocket (a parting gift from his late grandad), Bruno arrived in London. Over the next two decades, the dedication of this self-taught musician led him to the stages of venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, 606 Club, Pizza Express Dean Street; and one of his greatest honours was the invitation to perform at a 2011 gala dinner for US President Barack Obama and Her Majesty The Queen. He is now an established educator, while sharing bandstand or recording studio with the likes of Tony Kofi, Alex Garnett, Jim Mullen, Brandon Allen, Nigel Price, Natalie Williams and Tommaso Starace.

New album Vesuviana sees d’Ambra collaborating with his piano-trio personnel of double bassist Jason Reyes and drummer Emiliano Caroselli in an often fiery yet elegant programme of eight originals, presented as a musical diary inspired by a person, place or situation. The title, explains Bruno, references the railway connecting Naples to towns around Mount Vesuvius, but also describes “a connection and a sense of belonging” to the region.

Initially erupting with cinder-hurling vocal chant, the title track is transformed into a carefree sightseeing journeying, transported by the lightness of bass and brushes; and Bruno d’Ambra’s pianistic touch at this point feels considered, even polite. Waltzing Mandorla Kiss shares that aura, its recollections of “romantically sipping ‘latte di mandorla’ on a beach in Puglia” offering phrases that could easily carry a lyric. But there are different facets to his playing, especially in the improvisational streaks, here, which are so freely liquescent (as is Reyes’ nimble bass soloing). Fast-swinging Top Geezer – with characterful flattened fifth, and named after grandad – flies like the spark-imbued wind, illuminated by firecracking drumming from Caroselli; and blithe Three for Trane almost cries out for its dedicatee to join the trio on tenor or soprano sax!

Alternating rhythms in Midnight Road Rage (inspired by a post-gig drive home) capture the artistic effrontery of Thelonius Monk as they dart and then ease back, including an ostinato section during the drum feature which might illustrate the wearying repetition of streetlights (d’Ambra must be a delight to watch in performance). Warm ballad Blue Pictures of You softly blazes in the night sky, with Reyes’ bass improv given free rein; In for a Penny’s rapid bossa feel is exhilarating; and charming Concettina (affectionately the leader’s “third grandmother”) closes the set in sensitive wonder, with distant echoes of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ – are the stars out tonight?

It’s always a pleasure to unwrap new music in the post-bop idiom and also of Neapolitan origin. At just over half an hour’s duration, Vesuviana brings to mind the old ‘small packages’ adage – there are indeed ‘good things’ aplenty in Bruno d’Ambra Trio’s bright, breezy and accessible outing.

Released on 21 January 2021 and available from Bandcamp.

 

Bruno d’Ambra piano
Jason Reyes double bass
Emiliano Caroselli drums
with
Al Maranca (voice, lyrics, percussion – track 1)

Artwork by Jonathan Emmerson

brunodambramusic.com

Self-released (2021)

REVIEW: ‘People Flow’ – Erik Verwey Trio

A DEBUT ALBUM to lift the spirits, Dutch pianist Erik Verwey’s People Flow most certainly has feel-good and interest at its heart.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 December 2020 and available from Erik Verwey’s website.

 

Erik Verwey piano
Hendrik Müller bass
Daniel van Dalen drums
featuring
Teus Nobel flugelhorn
Bart Wirtz saxophone

Artwork by Helia Toledo

erik-verwey.squarespace.com

Promo video

Supported by Sena Muziekproductiefonds – Dutch Performers House

Self-released (2020)

TOP 12 OF 2020

DISTILLING a year’s music into just a few highlights isn’t easy! But during 2020, when (perhaps for all of us) emotions have been unpredictable, the wonderful creativity of much-valued jazz artists, alongside classical and folk interests, has been instrumental in ‘holding it together’. So, below are a dozen reviewed albums that I have frequently returned to for solace, for joy, for introspection, for escapism, and to accompany an eventual reacquaintance with ‘the great outdoors’. Presented in no particular order, I encourage you to follow the links to sample, purchase and enjoy these treasures.

Season’s greetings. Stay safe.

🎹 AP

Going Down The Well – MoonMot
Dee Byrne, Simon Petermann, Cath Roberts, Oli Kuster, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 February 2020 (Unit Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/02/13/going-down-the-well-moonmot/

Tributes – Marius Neset
Marius Neset, Danish Radio Big Band conducted by Miho Hazama
Release date: 25 September 2020 (ACT Music)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/22/review-tributes-marius-neset/

By And By – Graham South Quartet
Graham South, Richard Jones, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 18 September 2020 (Efpi Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/18/review-by-and-by-graham-south-quartet/

Tenacity – Django Bates
Django Bates, Petter Eldh, Peter Bruun, Norbotten Big Band
Release date: 2 October 2020 (Lost Marble)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/30/review-tenacity-django-bates/

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/05/08/rickety-rackety-martin-pyne-quartet/
(see also Spirits of Absent Dancers)

Mór – Agnar Már Magnússon
Agnar Már Magnússon, Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson, Matthías Hemstock, Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun, Frank Hammarin, Nimrod Ron
Release date: 1 September 2020 (Dimma)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/05/review-mor-agnar-mar-magnusson/

While Looking Up – Jimmy Greene
Jimmy Greene, Reuben Rogers, Kendrick Scott, Aaron Goldberg, Lage Lund, Stefon Harris
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Mack Avenue)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/03/30/while-looking-up-jimmy-greene/

Another Kind of Soul – Tony Kofi
Tony Kofi, Andy Davies, Alex Webb, Andrew Cleyndert, Alfonso Vitale
Release date: 24 April 2020 (The Last Music Company)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/04/23/another-kind-of-soul-tony-kofi/

Flow – Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming
Maria Chiara Argirò, Jamie Leeming
Release date: 16 October 2020 (Cavalo Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/12/review-flow-maria-chiara-argiro-jamie-leeming/

Totem – Ferdinando Romano
Ralph Alessi, Tommaso Iacoviello, Simone Alessandrini, Nazareno Caputo, Manuel Magrini, Ferdinando Romano, Giovanni Paolo Liguori
Release date: 24 April 2020 (Losen Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/05/04/totem-ferdinando-romano-feat-ralph-alessi/

High Heart – Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel, Shai Maestro, Gerald Clayton, Michael Mayo, Joe Sanders, Nate Wood
Release date: 30 October 2020 (Edition Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/26/review-high-heart-ben-wendel/

Humble Travelers – Floating Circles Quartet
Aidan Pearson, Matt Hurley, Jonny Wickham, Arthur Newell, Johanna Burnheart
Release date: 12 September 2020
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/10/review-humble-travelers-floating-circles-quartet/

REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)