‘Moscow’: Duo Art – Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov

Kuhn

SENSING THE ELECTRICITY between two jazz instrumentalists ‘in conversation’ can be both fascinating and revealing – and when musicians of the calibre of Joachim Kühn and Alexey Kruglov join forces, it’s a safe bet that a sensory display of fireworks is in the offing. Certainly, in the case of this new release, ‘Moscow’, it’s a pretty special coming together for the pianist and alto saxophonist as part of ACT’s expanding Duo Art series.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Joachim Kühn
piano
Alexey Kruglov alto saxophone

ACT – 9623-2 (2014)

‘Song Singular’ – Alexander Hawkins

AlexHawkinsSolo

IMMEDIATELY DRAWN to a familiar title, Take The A Train, I discover an intriguingly brash, agitated and break-neck solo piano interpretation of the Ellington (Strayhorn) classic which imaginatively and impressionistically evokes the raw steam energy and bustle of an era long since gone. It’s a device which immediately grabs the listener’s attention and offers an irresistible invitation to investigate further.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Alexander Hawkins
piano

Babel Label – BDV13120 (2014)

 

‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

SRC

IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.

There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Høiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.

The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track Protagonist which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Høiby’s pliant opening bass riff, Dream a Life inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and Rain That Falls conjures ‘007’ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. Bridge is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.

Fragile Ground is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat Two Roads; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into Rolling Clouds, an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.

Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).

Available from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, as well as iTunes and usual outlets (listen at SoundCloud).


Dionne Bennett
 lyricist, vocals
Dave Stapleton composer, Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ
Deri Roberts producer, sound design, electronics, trombone, additional saxophone
Elliot Bennett drums
with
Jasper Høiby double bass
Chris Montague guitar
Mark Lockheart tenor and soprano saxophones
Neil Yates trumpet
Matt Robertson synths

Strings:
Jon Visanji violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Katy Rowe violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Rebekah Frost viola
Alice Hoskins cello
Sarah Stevens cello

Edition Records – EDN1048 (2014)

editionrecords.com

‘Big Ship’ – Christoph Stiefel, Inner Language Trio

BigShip

STEAMING FULL AHEAD, Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel and his colleagues steer a different directional course with a second UK trio release, ‘Big Ship’ – following the isorhythmic emphasis of 2012’s ‘Live!’ album – on a journey of deeper and more melodic jazz exploration.

Stiefel’s compositional and pianistic range is impressive – often full-on-energetic and infectiously rhythmic; at other times, finding delicately reflective backwaters. And in bassist Arne Huber and drummer Kevin Chesham, he has discovered two empathetic musicians who bring their own particular expertise, sophistication and spark to these eleven originals.

Setting sail, Thalatta instantly demonstrates the Inner Language Trio’s intent – piano, bass and drums propelling forward positively with velocity and verve. Although the piece is characterised by Cristoph Stiefel’s lush chordal textures and driving momentum, he also clearly relishes the opportunity to produce high, rapid solo runs which veer into alternative keys to create a delightfully acidic edge. Attitudes’ piano voice possesses similar wayward impudence over a jaunty 5/4 +7/4 left-hand ostinato; playful bass and crashing percussion happily implicated in the lively cheekiness of it all.

Contrasting well, the quietly shifting major/minor beauty of Elegy is emphasised by Arne Huber’s rounded bass sonority and Kevin Chesham’s subtle perpetual-motion brushed snare and soft cymbals – all so perfectly poised. Pyramid is a stand-out, Stiefel’s array of arpeggioed, jagged and clear solo lines dancing prominently over subtly-muted left-hand piano chords, and a swift, bubbling tempo maintained by Huber and Chesham.

Full of lyrical finesse and measured intensity, New May is defined as much by space as by sound – eight minutes of melodic tenderness, paring down to Stiefel’s blues-grooved solo conclusion (fading all too soon). Title number Big Ship cruises at a fairly brisk rate of knots, Huber quietly vocalising his scampering bass. Stiefel’s sprightly contrapuntal and chordal display eventually invites bass and drums to intensify the pace, Chesham adding clangs, chimes and fizz throughout to great effect. First Blossom‘s charming solo piano brevity leads to the gyrations of The Dance – highly charged, yet never boiling over, it’s a particularly compelling performance incorporating prepared/muted piano strings, bells and handclaps.

The tuneful simplicity of South is followed by Angel Falls, a combination of tumbling energy and shimmering piano-led eddies amid suggestions of Stiefel’s familiar isorhythmic style. Vividly-painted Solar Glider, from tense take-off to free-flight, is a graceful album closer, the trio swirling both elatedly and calmly (with occasional buffeting) before disappearing into the blue yonder.

All this amounts to an excellent hour of jazz creativity and originality. For those who love the unpredictable excitement and invention of, say, the Alboran, Avishai Cohen or Baptiste Trotignon trios, ‘Big Ship’ (with its striking, bold cover art) is to be highly recommended. Released in the UK on 24 February 2014 by Basho Records, the album launch follows at The Forge, London, on 2 April.


Christoph Stiefel
piano
Arne Huber bass
Kevin Chesham drums

Basho Records – SRCD 44-2

bashorecords.com
christophstiefel

‘Weltentraum’ – Michael Wollny Trio

WeltentraumII

THE ART OF the jazz piano trio has undergone something of a renaissance over the past couple of decades, advancing so much more on the traditional expectation of Real Book pianist supported by drums and bass rhythm section. One only needs to look at the trailblazing achievements of Django Bates, Kit Downes and Phronesis, the seminal work of Esbjörn Svensson and, more recently, the rising interest in newcomers GoGo Penguin to understand that the format is travelling in increasingly more creative, vibrant and exciting directions.

Enter Michael Wollny who, like his one-time ACT stablemates e.s.t., possesses the innate ability, and the vision, to take the concept of the piano trio to a distinctly higher level. The German pianist has been on the scene for a decade or so, gradually building an impressive catalogue of recordings and collaborations. With this latest release, however, and a new trio – Time Lefebvre (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) – he appears to have catapulted his ambitions into the stratosphere with a recording of exceptional dynamism, divergence and beauty. ‘Weltentraum’ (or ‘Dream World’) has been approached from the point of view of songs or ‘lied’, with Wollny finding inspiration in music which is equal in strength of both melody and words/poetry – and, in doing so, has crafted an album of instrumentals (save for the final track) which, citing his own wish-list, encompasses “tonality and atonality, fragility and force, melodic purity, romantic totalism, endless melodies, dark abysses, angels, dream logic, light and darkness, and gothic beauty.”

The provenance of the fourteen numbers could hardly be more ingeniously varied and considered, Wollny and Schaefer producing remarkable acoustic trio arrangements of numbers from The Flaming Lips and Pink to Paul Hindemith, Wolfgang Rihm, Alban Berg and Guillaume de Machaut, as well as a couple of originals from the leader – yet the entire concept holds together so brilliantly. And, for all its inventiveness and interest, the music contained within these fifty-five-plus minutes, regardless of its origin, is consistently accessible and, I find, profoundly engaging.

For example, Eric Schaefer takes a 14th Century motet – de Machaut’s Lasse! – and transforms it into a gently shimmering, ebbing contemporary tune. With a deliciously bendy bass intro, Peter Ivers’ song, In Heaven (from movie Eraserhead), becomes a wide, flamboyant blues; and Be Free, A Way exchanges its psychedelic electronica for driving jazz/rock with a smattering of Gustavsen-like restraint. Rihm’s Hochrot (usually for soprano or tenor voice) maintains the original’s unsettled beauty, again Lefebvre’s bass integral to the whole pellucid reading; and whilst the words and music of Jon Brion’s Little People are already too beautiful, the song transcribes magically for jazz piano trio. Amongst all this are Michael Wollny’s own compositions –  Engel, a dark, smouldering affair; and When the sleeper wakes, whose pop-song groove is illuminated by characteristically sputtering piano soloing.

And so the wonderful reinterpretations continue, the added spin-off being that they spark further personal discovery (Hindemith or The Flaming Lips might well be my next stop!) – and I positively recommend the whole ear-opening experience. The trio’s ensemble and individual performances are exceptional throughout, and the recording both bright and immediate.

Released on 10 February 2014, ‘Weltentraum’ is available from ACT Music, as well as iTunes and usual outlets; the trio begins a short UK tour on 29 April 2014 (see below).


Michael Wollny
piano (harpsichord on final track, God is a DJ)
Tim Lefebvre upright bass
Eric Schaefer drums
with special guest
Theo Bleckmann (vocals & electronics on final track, God is a DJ)


UK tour dates 2014

29 April: The Vortex, London (TBC)
30 April: Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple
1 May: Watermill Jazz at Friends Provident Social Club, Dorking
2 May: Sheffield Jazz, Sheffield
3 May: Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham

ACT Music – ACT 9563-2 (2014)

‘Tate Song’ – Jean Toussaint (JT4)

JeanTousaintTateSong

IN A GLITTERING CAREER that has seen him working alongside such jazz icons as Art Blakey, Terence Blanchard, McCoy Tyner and Gil Evans (to name but a few), former Jazz Messenger and Grammy Award-winning, US-born saxophonist Jean Toussaint now releases his tenth album, ‘Tate Song’, on LYTE Records.

And what an effervescent blast of accomplished quartet creativity this is! Known as ‘JT4’ for this studio recording and accompanying tour, the personnel comprises Toussaint (now based in London) on tenor and soprano, high-flying British pianist Andrew McCormack (who currently resides in New York) plus bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Troy Miller, both much in demand on the London scene.

Toussaint’s own Mood Mode is an exceptional and lively post-bop opener, the perfect introduction to the magnificent richness of the leader’s tenor – so commanding, both in solidity and fluidity, and an absolute joy to hear. Bartley and Miller lock the tempo with precision, yet fill the air with so much interest and intracacy; and McCormack displays his natural and now quite distinctive flair for chordal and bassline imagination as well as a crisp solo high line. Mulgrew (presumably in dedication to late jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller) freely but respectfully portrays both the lyricism and exuberance of Toussaint’s fellow Messenger who passed away in 2013. And a third original composition, My Dear Ruby, strolls nonchantly from an ascending four-note tenor hook (maybe an inferred reversal, as suggested by the rearranged title, of Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’) – again, the detail offered by each instrumentalist here is worthy of close attention (McCormack, perhaps as ‘Thelonious’, just wonderful).

Rice (for C R Peppers) is an extended and ebullient swinger of a tune, teed up by the rapid unison bassline phrasing of Bartley and McCormack. Toussaint is unstoppable on tenor, as is McCormack at the piano, throwing in improvisatory idea after idea, and Blakey would no doubt have been impressed with Troy Miller’s aptitude for rock-steady rhythmic ingenuity. Title track Tate Song is a luscious ballad, Toussaint’s genial melodies so sensitively colour-washed by piano, bass and drums; and McCormack’s Tunnel Vision has all the accessible upbeat qualities of a Sixties standard, affording the pianist and his colleagues the space to showcase their spectacular skills.

The amiable, easy-going demeanour of the Strachey/Maschwitz favourite These Foolish Things is expertly balanced, as is Nascimento’s Vera Cruz, Toussaint warmly interpreting its South American flavour. Miller is particularly percussive here, creating a great vibe, and the gently-rhythmic yet sparklingly-chromatic piano is a highlight, buoyed by sturdy bass. To close, Andrew McCormack’s eight-minute, piano-based Vista finds Toussaint on soprano (reminiscent of the writer’s duo collaborations with Jason Yarde) – a brooding, slowly-building episode (not unlike Ravel’s ‘Bolero’!) in which the leader reveals an alternative aspect to his playing, improvising up through the key changes and increasing dynamic.

‘Tate Song’ is the latest in the fast-growing catalogue of jazz and other genres at LYTE Records – and, as always, crystal clear in its engineering and mixing. From a release date of 24 February 2014, the quartet will then tour fourteen UK dates, including Ronnie Scott’s, London (see below) – catch them, and the album, at a venue near you (also available from lyterecords.com, iTunes, etc.).


Jean Toussaint
tenor and soprano saxophones
Andrew McCormack piano
Larry Bartley bass
Troy Miller drums


Tour dates

14 March 2014: Walton-on-Thames – Riverhouse Arts Centre
16 March 2014: Colchester – Colchester Arts Centre
18 March 2014: London – Ronnie Scott’s
19 March 2014: Grimbsy – Grimsby Jazz
20 March 2014: Leeds – Seven Arts
21 March 2014: Sheffield – Millennium Hall
22 March 2014: Shrewsbury – The Hive
23 March 2014: Herts – Herts Jazz Club
24 March 2014: Cheltenham – The Everyman
27 March 2014: Cambridge – Cambridge Jazz Club
4 April 2014: Altrincham – The Cinnamon Club
5 April 2014: Gateshead – The Sage
6 April 2014: Bristol – Hen and Chicken
 


LYTE Records – LR022 (2014)

lyterecords.com