REVIEW: ‘Future Stride’ – Emmet Cohen

IF A ROYAL JAZZ VARIETY SHOW were to exist, it’s conceivable that American pianist Emmet Cohen and colleagues could take the stage for the first number and still be wowing the audience – clapping, or rattling their jewellery, as John Lennon put it – at the final curtain! Such is the diversity and entertainment to be found in Future Stride.

Already the recipient of numerous awards, including winner at the 2019 American Pianists Awards, Cohen began his journey at the tender age of three with the Suzuki method of instruction, and has become a pretty neat exponent of stride piano. But venture further than the evocative post-ragtime verve of this collection’s opening, century-old Symphonic Raps (which showcases those leaping left-hand skills) and you’ll find the first of many gear changes into lush contemporary or whimsical chamber jazz. Hence the album title’s implication of connection and continuity, reinforcing his commitment to ‘the intergenerational transfer of the knowledge, history and traditions of jazz’.

The pianist’s trio with double bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole is joined on a clutch of numbers by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana and trumpeter Marquis Hill. Together, they produce a fabulously rich sound across a blend of Cohen’s own compositions and those of past masters, including Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington and Van Heusen/Cahn.

Reflections at Dusk introduces the full quintet with a lush, melodious weave of muted trumpet and sax, underpinned by Cohen’s considered ornamentation. The blithe swing of Toast to Lo glides to the horns’ smooth, individual and combined improvisations, honouring the life of drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers (a big influence on this album’s players) through Kyle Poole’s glinting rhythms; and the eventual snap into double time is sublime. Full of audacious metrical switches and playful conversations, title trio track Future Stride flaps and fizzes, while breathlessly-swinging You Already Know suggests the mid-Sixties ‘cool’ of Johnny Dankworth – a foot-tapping joy-bringer that tumbles with solo after solo.

Cohen’s arrangements for his trio are just as inviting, Second Time Around sustaining its timeless beauty through cascading piano lines and group empathy, while My Heart Stood Still skips brightly. Now over a hundred years old, jaunty piano piece Dardanella is bathed in new light as Hall and Poole provide the intensifying, showtime impetus; and Ellington’s Pitter Panther Patter becomes a jolly, bass-slapping duo with piano. Finally, for Cohen’s Little Angel, Marquis Hill’s mellow trumpet overlays intervals and responsive phrases in this gorgeous ballad.

If that all smacks of a potpourri of disconnected ideas, the total experience is far from it. Instead, these performances are slick, engaging, and certainly not just about the piano. Emmet Cohen’s aptitude for sequencing and contrasting keeps it bubbling, prompting the desire to catch this album’s many delights over and over again. Encore, please!

Released on 29 January 2021, Future Stride is available from Mack Avenue and Proper Music.

 

Emmet Cohen piano
Russell Hall acoustic bass
Kyle Poole drums
with special guests
Melissa Aldana tenor saxophone
Marquis Hill trumpet

emmetcohen.com

Mack Avenue – MAC1181 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Snakes and Ladders’ – Paul Edis Trio

PIANIST Paul Edis established himself as one of the leading lights of contemporary jazz and other genres in his native north-east England, over the past fifteen years or so. Following his return to London in 2020 (where he studied), he has now released uplifting piano trio album Snakes and Ladders, with double bassist Andy Champion and drummer Russ Morgan.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 2 October 2020 and available as a digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Paul Edis piano, Fender Rhodes
Andy Champion double bass
Russ Morgan drums

Artwork by Lynsey Gray

pauledis.co.uk

Self-released (2020)

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)