‘Agartha’ – Oddarrang

Agartha

IT’S THREE YEARS since Finnish band Oddarrang came to the attention of UK audiences with their third studio album (and first with British label Edition Records), In Cinema, plus live gigs. Now, once again under the leadership of drummer and composer Olavi Louhivuori, new release Agartha permeates the senses with that same, statuesque wall of sound.

The line-up is less than conventional (a clue can be found in the quintet’s name which, rather than having its roots in folklore, was in fact devised from ‘odd arrangement’). Alongside Louhivuori is trombonist Ilmari Pohjola, guitarist Lasse Sakara, bassist Lasse Lindgren and cellist Osmo Ikonen; and there’s significant band input on synths and voices, with Ikonen also adding Chinese/Asian stringed instrument, the erhu. So whilst Oddarrang’s original music displays the power of progressive rock and the drama of widescreen soundtrack, it is also flooded with the broad, open spaces and inflections of Scandinavian folk.

In fact, it feels like Louhivuori’s world is informed by many influences, opening number Aletheia mysteriously awakening through synth ostinati and sustained, descending hazes redolent of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. This is not blistering-solo jazz, nor mundane ambience. Instead, a series of anthemic, post-rock panoramas are meticulously fashioned, often seeming to build their anticipatory energy towards a blazing aurora; and melodic Central Sun, in particular, reveals both the force and beauty of this fine instrumentation – steely, unison trombone and voices above driving guitar and percussion, steadfastly facing into the wind. In Admiral Byrd’s Flight, an ardent rock groove of determination and intrigue is woven around pulsating, phased electronics and impassioned cello (the stuff of adventure movie climax).

The remaining two tracks of five hint at those extended, storytelling, prog expeditions of yore. At around ten minutes’ duration, slow-burning Mass I-III moves through a series of connected movements, its orchestral poise maintained by trombone, cello and string synth sustenance; and the more folsky guitar addition opens the door to windswept electronics and a thunderously-drummed conclusion. And Telos/Agartha (the album is titled after the legendary city at the earth’s core) is another extended opus whose gaseous, overlapping textures invite the beautiful, cantabile vibrato of the erhu before eventually reaching a hymnal conclusion, with triumphant trombone and cello melodies elevated above the band’s now-familiar layers of synth and percussion.

Oddarrang’s ability to radiate awe and wonder through their specific instrumentation and careful detailing is sure to appeal to those who appreciate emotive, majestic soundscapes.

Released on 23 September 2016, Agartha is available as CD, vinyl or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Mass I-III

 

Olavi Louhivuori drums, synths, voice
Ilmari Pohjola trombone, synths, voice
Lasse Sakara guitars, voice
Lasse Lindgren bass, synths, voice
Osmo Ikonen cello, synths, erhu, voice
with
Aino Peltomaa voice on Aletheia

oddarrang.com

Edition Records – EDN1079 (2016)

‘Spacebound Apes’ – Neil Cowley Trio

spacebound

DONNING HIS SPACESUIT, pianist/composer Neil Cowley joins with fellow primates Rex Horan (bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) in this, their sixth album – and as Spacebound Apes, they head for galaxies anew.

The origin of the species’ music might, especially with their ‘trio’ tag, be perceived as jazz – but Cowley prefers to be more open-minded about his output: “I just like lovely sounds”. So rather than being founded on improvisation, the through-compositional nature of this release is more akin to early-’80s pop, carefully integrated with the atmospheric soundtrack breadth of, say, Tomita or Jean-Michel Jarre. Indeed, the classically-trained musician’s successes have included recordings with Brand New Heavies and Zero 7; whilst, as a session player on Adele’s global chart hits, he adopted the mantle of “2011’s most-listened-to pianist on the planet.”

Linked to a developing online blog and interactive digital experience (as well as a live visual event to be staged at Union Chapel, London, in October 2016), this tale of middle-aged Lincoln taking a hallucinatory journey into the cosmos finds Cowley unabashed in labelling it a ‘concept album’; and he explains that he’s been working towards the project for a long time, its immersive development taking in themes of guilt, loss and longing. But however deeply the trio’s ambitious vision is embraced, its eleven instrumental tracks also stand alone as an increasingly enticing, varied and progressive soundscape.

With Cowley prominent on piano, hyperspatial beauty rubs shoulders with boisterous stomp throughout these 45 minutes – so the electronically-pulsed launchpad preparation of Weightless evolves into the whispy, crescendoed minimalism of Hubris Major before arriving at a jaunty, martial piano strut in Governance, its percussive metre breaking free whilst Cowley’s lyricism contrasts well; and the memorably propulsive synth groove of The City and the Stars offers more than a semblance of OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’.

The album’s delicate piano interludes are especially effective. Grace‘s restrained ‘bridge over Satie’s water’ possessing a distinct, Rachmaninov-like romanticism; the endless, reverberant journeyings of Echo Nebula and The Return of Lincoln are, at times, reminiscent of The Enid; Duty to the Last suggests the contemporary jazz of e.s.t. or Michael Wollny; and later in the story, Death of Amygdala’s piano nocturne eloquence is swelled by the affecting grandeur of a French horn quartet.

But Cowley and co. also like a good pop romp – and The Sharks of Competition‘s relentless Stranglers-punk is counterbalanced by the blithe, synthy delights of Garden of Love. Whatever genre your might hook on it, the Neil Cowley Trio’s multi-faceted approach rebounds across the musical universe, its strains repeatedly a joy to hear.

Released on 16 September 2016, Spacebound Apes is available from Proper Music and various retailers.

Videos: Grace, The City and the Stars.

 

Neil Cowley piano
Rex Horan bass
Evan Jenkins drums
with
Leo Abrahams guitar, fx
Angus West, Oliver Fitzgerald-Lombard, Craig Macdonald French horns
Stile Antico choir

neilcowleytrio.com
spaceboundapes.com
lincolnsdiary.tumblr.com

Hide Inside Records – HIDE/CD002 (2016)

‘Constant Movement’ – Þorgrímur Jónsson Quintet

ConstantMovement

ICELANDIC JAZZ frequently delivers a jetstream of cool sophistication, somehow viewing things from a different perspective, whether through abstract impressionism or invigorating accessibility. The latter is certainly the case with new release Constant Movement from the Þorgrímur Jónsson Quintet.

Bassist Þorgrímur “Toggi” Jónsson (Þ = Th in Iceland’s alphabet) will be familiar to many as the backbone of pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs’ trio (current release, Cielito Lindo). But this is quite a different venture, his own ten originals brought to life with the help of a fine personnel: Ari Bragi Kárason (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ólafur Jansson (tenor sax), Kjartan Valdemarsson (piano, Rhodes) and Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson (drums).

Jónsson’s creative approach is multi-faceted, so there’s always a sense of something new at each turn – and that is manifested both in attention-grabbing musicality and playful whimsy. The imperturbable stride of Humble borders on easy-listening, but its catchy phrases and Ólafur Jónsson’s lazy tenor are irresistible; the same goes for cloudless Mountain View, whose purposeful, spring-in-the-step gait provides a platform for sublime, ascending flugel and sax riffs, with the clarity of Toggi Jónsson’s double bass momentum providing a steady pathway. Then, all at once, retro-pop-grooving In Berlin bursts through, a dazzling powerhouse of incisive Rhodes and trumpet improv underpinned by electric bass and metallic percussion (by now, there’s the realisation that this project must surely be a labour of love).

Somewhere between Stan Getz and trad jazz, From Above sedately floats down the river – you can almost smell sweet honeysuckle and feel the glinting sun’s warmth. The trumpet and tenor pairing of tijuana-style Eastern Time Zone is irresistible (again, Valdemarsson’s Rhodes explorations are deliciously fervid); and title track Constant Movement‘s irrepressible Puerto Rican beat, courtesy of Toggi Jónsson and Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson, feels like it might party all night long.

Crystalline acoustic piano in Hringrás invites restrained, hymnal expression from trumpet, sax and arco bass to a backdrop of shimmering cymbals; and Rotation‘s sumptuous, Latinesque swagger is emphasised by splendidly articulate bass and brazen, muted trumpet. A tongue-in-cheek whiff of ’60s comedy movie theme or Alan Moorhouse marching band might be imagined in horn-swooning Don’t Panic, though again it possesses characterful charm through its jabbing Rhodes, bass piano-string strikes and luxurious soloing; and Spiffy presents perhaps the most convivial, straight-ahead jazz of the recording.

This is undoubtedly good-time music with a sparkle in its eye, offering bags of interest fired by impassioned musicianship. In fact, a must-listen.

Released on 14 August 2016, Constant Movement is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Ari Bragi Kárason trumpet, flugelhorn
Ólafur Jónsson tenor saxophone
Kjartan Valdemarsson piano, Rhodes
Þorgrímur “Toggi” Jónsson acoustic bass, electric bass
Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson drums

Sunny Sky Records – Sunny Sky 736 (2016)

‘Frame of Reference’ – Sean Foran

seanforan

HIS FIRST ALBUM as leader, Australian pianist/composer Sean Foran’s Frame of Reference has already called me back time and time again to become immersed in its textural beauty.

In essence, that’s what the attraction is, and also what seems to have been in Foran’s mind as he explored the potential of this project. Known for his part in established piano trio Trichotomy, he envisaged chamber jazz to which artists he had long admired would bring their own character; and the specific instrumental line-up he imagined, creating its flow so evidently here, comprises guitarist Stuart McCallum, saxophonist Julian Arguelles, cellist Ben Davis and drummer Joost Hendrickx. Notably, the quintet first convened in the studio for the actual recording session – perhaps the key to the spontaneity of these eight absorbing tracks.

Foran’s fluvial pianism informs his music throughout, so that it either teems with sit-up-and-listen vitality or sparkles with rivulets of broken-chord elegance; yet it never brashly showboats, therefore allowing his colleagues the freedom to break out of the scored passages. Opening track Room with a View is many-hued, as if painting ever-changing climatic conditions’ effects across a lake. Here, piano ostinati are flecked with subtle electronics or vibraphone-like Rhodes embellishments and Arguelles’ strong alto melodies glide over rhythmically propulsive percussion. Foran’s ability to markedly change his colour palette is particularly attractive, Une Fille‘s full-band buoyancy eddying quietly into legato piano interludes, with McCallum’s mobility across the frets sounding remarkably sitar-like; and Ben Davis’ diverse cello voicings, displayed well in title track Frame of Reference, provide a refreshing change of timbre to more usual double bass.

Blue-sky Dare to Dream treads a delightfully simple groove, but it’s how Foran manages its instrumental light and shade which impresses so much; like a master distiller, he draws together the various streams to create musical nectar. Arguelles’ soprano eases out over the limpid, chamber feel of A Fine Balance before the piece’s invigorating, downward glissade, whilst Quiet Times‘ eventual, not-so-placid arrival finds McCallum’s guitar in a particularly fine improvisational swirl. Mish Mash alternates between folksy, new-age delicacy and Joost Hendrickx’s snappy, complex rhythms, and The Sum Of‘s closing, spacial chill-out is, at times, redolent of early Mike Oldfield (maybe that’s the gorgeously open guitar tone over Foran’s transcendental blend).

As with so much original jazz, don’t let this album rumble on in the background; it’s the compositional attention to detail and varietally improvised nuances which create the magnetism, along with a distinct air of equilibrium.

Released on 2 September 2016, Frame of Reference is available from Discovery Records, Bandcamp and record stores. Promo video here.

 

Sean Foran piano, Rhodes
Stuart McCallum guitars
Julian Arguelles saxophones
Ben Davis cello
Joost Hendrickx drums

seanforanmusic.info

Jazzhead Records – HEAD222 (2016)

‘Together, As One’ – Dinosaur

Dinosaur

THAT MOMENT… when, across the musical landscape, a creative direction comes into view which has the incisiveness to stir a memory, to create the tingling thrill of formative years’ discoveries. Such is the overriding experience of hearing debut album Together, As One from trumpeter/composer Laura Jurd’s quartet, Dinosaur.

Already establishing herself as a popular and hard-working musician on the UK jazz scene – recording/gigging with the likes of Mark Lockheart, Jasper Høiby and Lauren Kinsella, as well as being selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for 2015-17 – Jurd has regularly collaborated with pianist and keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick. So the opportunity to realise this long-dreamt project, in the studio, is clearly of great significance. Here are eight tracks whose 47 minutes suggest that the ambition held by this ensemble might just be the beginning of something far greater in scale, the invention and instrumentation conjuring something of that revelatory buzz of early-mid ’70s fusion or the artsiness of the Canterbury scene.

Although leading on trumpet, Jurd also melds synth with the now-familiar and pleasingly left-field keyboard approach of Elliot Galvin (here on Rhodes and Hammond alone) – so Living, Breathing, for example, is delivered with biting urgency as blisteringly-tongued melodies, high electric bass and crashing percussion are bathed in a haze of sustained keyboard riffs. Galvin’s Rhodes and Chaplin’s bass are magically intertwined in Awakening, a spacial opening number which chimes to the drum precision of Corrie Dick; and Robin‘s jazz-rock-folk blend might easily summon Jethro Tull or Camel, albeit with Jurd’s eloquent tones dancing around as if in some fire-crackling, trippy ritual (the tonal combinations here are a delight, as they similarly are in abstract, distorted, Rhodes/Hammond-led interlude Underdog).

Hinting at the novelty of, say, Django Bates, Steadily Sinking ominously descends into Extinct, a near-ten-minute tremulant Hammond groove built so infectiously by Chaplin and Dick (and somehow redolent of the confident, smouldering, improvised progression heard in late e.s.t.). Continuing the prehistoric theme, Primordial‘s ’60s-pop abandon finds Jurd even hinting at Herb Alpert, as Galvin is given free rein in this glorious, extended psychedelia; and though curious to conclude with an Interlude, its beautiful freedom further demonstrates these four players’ intentions of continually leaping boundaries and traversing uncharted terrains. That’s a prospect which, also for the future, is monstrously exciting – particularly for Jurd, who concludes: “This music now belongs to no-one… I absolutely love it when music does that.”

Released on 16 September 2016, Together, As One is available as CD, LP or high-quality digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, compositions
Elliot Galvin Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ
Conor Chaplin electric bass
Corrie Dick drums

laurajurd.com

Edition Records – EDN1078 (2016)

‘Scrapbook’ – Scrapbook

Scrapbook

THE TITLE of Yorkshire-born, London-based pianist/composer Angus Bayley’s septet project, Scrapbook, infers his idiosyncratic approach to music. 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 1 September 2016, Scrapbook is available from Spark Label (CD) and Bandcamp (digital download).

 

Angus Bayley piano
Paul Trippett bass
Dave Hamblett drums
Nick Sigsworth violin
Daisy Watkins viola
Alaric Taylor trumpet
Kieran McLeod trombone

scrapbook-music.com

Spark Label – SPARK002 (2016)

‘Blackwater’ – Henrik Jensen’s Followed by Thirteen

Blackwater

DANISH-BORN, London-resident double bassist Henrik Jensen’s second release with his Followed By Thirteen ensemble – Blackwater (named after the river by which he proposed to his wife-to-be) – follows up 2013’s debut, Qualia.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 2 September 2016, Blackwater is available from Jellymould Jazz.

 

Andre Canniere trumpet, flugelhorn
Esben Tjalve piano
Henrik Jensen bass
Antonio Fusco drums

henrik-jensen.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ023 (2016)