REVIEW: ‘By And By’ – Graham South Quartet

A DEBUT ALBUM from trumpeter Graham South might sound like misinformation, given his prominence on Manchester’s thriving jazz scene over the last few years (including Beats & Pieces Big Band, Johnny Hunter Quartet, Article XI). But, sure enough, By And By is South’s first as leader – and what a well considered, sometimes appropriately understated realisation of his concept from this quartet with pianist Richard Jones, double bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 18 September 2020 and available in CD and digital formats from Efpi Records at Bandcamp.

 

Graham South trumpet
Richard Jones piano
Seth Bennett double bass
Johnny Hunter drums

Recorded at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios by Alex Bonney, assisted by Tony Draper

grahamsouth.com

Efpi Records – FP032 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Humble Travelers’ – Floating Circles Quartet

IF YOU IMAGINE the clarinet to be best suited to classical repertoire or ‘trad’ jazz, then Humble Travelers – the debut album release from Aidan Pearson’s Floating Circles Quartet (FCQ) – may prove a real ‘ear opener’.

There are clear exceptions to any such idea, of course – on the contemporary jazz scene, both Arun Ghosh and Idris Rahman immediately spring to mind. Yet there‘s a sparkling freshness to Pearson’s clarinet/bass clarinet-led quartet with electric guitar, double bass and drums (plus guest violinist Johanna Burnheart) which is elevated through intelligent instrumental blends, snappy musicianship and an irrepressible joie de vivre. FCQ forecast their potential in 2018 with four-track EP, Eleven Yesterdays Ago – but already, it seems they have reached higher uplands in this exhilarating and absorbing programme of six Pearson originals, their mostly quirky titles reflecting themes of travel, movement and challenge.

On introduction to this album, what instantly attracted were the sizzling dance-groove rhythms conjured by drummer Arthur Newell and bassist Jonny Wickham, aligned to the rocky edge which Pearson’s clarinets and Matt Hurley’s guitar attain; and Burnheart’s contributions are a great match, too, always seeking a different angle for the violin in jazz.

The band’s pleasant-enough, folsky intent is stated in shuffling Brockley ‘n’ Peas, its title alluding to Pearson’s London locale. But where they collectively take this (a theme throughout the album) is compelling as Pearson‘s gruff, filtered clarinet ‘waves the green flag’ into disco-funk rhythm guitar and soloing, plus soaring, echoic violin. Misty, awakening Beyond the Mountains of Aria develops into a retro–1960s groove (occasionally Dave Brubeckian) accentuated by its bass-instigated 5/4 riff. It’s one of many instances where the melodic timbres are fascinatingly paired – for example, bass and guitar, or clarinet and guitar – to create the illusion of a further-augmented ensemble.

There’s a lovely whiff of mischief to Caravan Curtains, peering through the drizzly condensation to observe pizzicato and portamento frolics between the players, including ‘octave-up’, synth-like improv from Burnheart. In the bubbling ‘cartoon ska’ of White ‘n’ Fluffy, Pearson’s bass clarinet treads and jives with gusto, again applying electronics with great effect, as well as duelling with Hurley’s perky guitar. Wading Through the Mist’s chirpy violin-and-clarinet folksong (with a Scots lilt) airily glides above and through its theme of unforeseen challenge and determination, while the dainty, pre-school-TV simplicity of Galactic Pedal Boat Trip (you won’t find that name duplicated in the jazz canon) concludes.

Humble Travelers clearly isn’t clarinet chamber music! Aidan Pearson seems to have instilled a spirit of adventure in FCQ, his jazz-folk compositions regularly evolving and glistening with new ideas and timbres. The whole album is a complete and slightly left-field pleasure to listen to.

Released on 12 September 2020 and available digitally at Bandcamp or in CD format at ebay.

Video: White ‘n’ Fluffy

 

Aidan Pearson clarinet, bass clarinet, compositions
Matt Hurley electric guitar
Jonny Wickham double bass, percussion
Arthur Newell drums
with guest artist
Johanna Burnheart violin

Cover art by Paul Middlewick

floatingcirclesquartet.com

(2020)

 

 

REVIEW: ‘Spirits of Absent Dancers’ – Martin Pyne

DANCE is central to vibraphonist and percussionist Martin Pyne’s varied professional career. So when, in 2020, musicians’ and artists’ livelihoods were challenged and even threatened as the Coronavirus pandemic forced them to ‘leave the stage’, Martin’s greatest sense of creative loss was in being unable to collaborate with dancers and choreographers, of whose dedication he remains in constant awe.

Recorded live in his home studio (‘GS1’, to BBC radio listeners), he worked intensively, in real time, as ‘a single accompanist’: “I imagined a lone musician in a deserted theatre, like a kind of medicine man, throwing sounds into the space in an attempt to conjure up the ghosts of dancers no longer present, to breathe movement into stillness”. The majority of the sounds come from varied percussion and a small drum kit that’s mostly played with hands and feet (titled after spirits or ghosts), while seven vibraphone solos (named as spells or enchantments) provide a fluid, mystical thread.

From the wings, like a shadowy Satie ‘Gnossiene’, enters the toy-piano and temple-bowl tune of Summoning, part of a ballet score created for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company. This provides the theme for the interspersed vibraphone variations such as Conjure, whose gossamer play might be imagined as fireflies in the twilight, and the sustained bowing and slow decays of Charm, suggesting nocturnal stillness. The more agile ‘spirits’ are just as entrancing, just a subtle hand clap amongst the toms and cymbals of Presence adding lovely detail; and Banshee’s fidgety, stop-start pats and tinkles feel quietly mischievous.

Discovering where Pyne’s explorations next turn is part of a magic which never wanes. Eidolon’s offbeat hi-hat pulse is addictive amongst its round-the-kit animation, and there‘s a resonance of gamelan in Ikiryo, prominently voiced by a delightful, tuned, wooden tongue drum acoustically sounded with hollow tubes. Vibraphone solo Hexing is mesmerically fleet and almost uncatchable, as is wispy Hocus Pocus, while impetuous tambourine interlude Spook might easily be an authentic medieval estampie. There’s a strong semblance of swing in the energetically brushed flams of Sprite, where pauses and interrupted rhythms create almost humorous anticipation (pity the dancer, there!). Even the bluesy chime of final vibes solo Enchantment might find a placid connection with the ‘MJ’ (Milt Jackson) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

While dominantly percussive, this is eloquent music (which, Pyne says, couldn’t exist without jazz or other genres) – music for dance studio, theatre or quiet contemplation. Find the space to be transported by its array of improvised timbres, rhythms and moods, even imagining the usual interaction with colourful, gyrating shapes (see video links below). Created out of adversity and artistic longing, this is a wondrous, evocative diversion.

Released on 26 August 2020 and available in CD and digital formats from Discus Music and Bandcamp.

Videos: Eidolon, Banshee and Enchantment

Martin Pyne percussion, vibraphone, toy piano

discus-music.co.uk

Discus Music – Discus 98CD (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Øjeblikke Vi Husker’ – Hvalfugl

THEY BREEZED IN with debut album By in 2017 and airlifted purple whales over Scandinavian peaks with 2019’s Somm En Faldskærm. Now, Danish electric guitar, piano/harmonium and double bass trio Hvalfugl release their third album, Øjeblikke Vi Husker (Moments We Remember) – another temperate airstream of blithe melody and ‘feel good’, this time occasionally augmented by featured artists.

The musical world of Jeppe Lavsen, Jonathan Fjord Bredholt and Anders Juel Bomholt oscillates between Nordic jazz, European folk/country, ambient reverie and even a touch of hymnal repose. And whilst the clear accessibility of their carefully arranged and precisely performed original numbers could initially be mistaken as ‘lightweight’, beneath is a beautiful depth of emotion and honesty which reveals itself – and that overall combination is both attractive and heartwarming. Lavsen’s pellucid guitar lines are a prominent melodic feature; yet the trio is completely intertwined and balanced, each dependent on the other for this open, congenial flow. Maybe that’s the keystone of their success.

Averaging three to four minutes, none of these thirteen frequently visual impressions outstays its welcome, but leads naturally onto the next. So the gently falling flakes of grey-skied Snefald Over Fjorden (Snowfall Over the Fjord), with Sørensen’s soft trumpet perhaps wistfully recalling childhood days, ease to reveal the coruscating sunlight of Polardrømme’s (Polar Dreams’) shimmering piano and guitar over Bomholt’s tuneful bass riff. Folksong, as an influence, never feels far away – Funklende Blikke (Sparkling Glances) dances brightly to its double cello elegance; and piano-led Sommereufori (Summer Euphoria) does have that tingle of a halcyon tune heard way back when.

The subtle waves of Bredholt’s harmonium in Dugvåde Asfaltstriber (Dew-wet Asphalt Stripes) provide a tranquil, homely ground to support Lavsen’s echo-effected guitar, while drums and trumpet bring a rare, rhythmic busyness to Hvalfugl in Regnen Falder Som Sne (The Rain Falls Like Snow). Rather special is the clear, yearning cello of Vandrer Mig Til Ro (Wandering To My Rest) – imaginable as extended, emotive soundtrack material, certainly aligned to the album‘s theme of ‘memory’; and lyric-suggested Der Hvor Alting Ender (Where Everything Ends) epitomises the band’s lambent glow.

Hvalfugl’s output is not oblique, innovative or challenging – but neither should it be labelled or heard as ‘background music’. Expanding the instrumental weave only enhances their finespun landscapes, and this album’s easy-going 45 minutes call me back to bask in the positivity of their autumn-mellow riches.

Released on 4 September 2020 and available as CD, digital download and limited-edition vinyl from Bandcamp.

YouTube audio track: Dugvåde Asfaltstriber

 

Jeppe Lavsen guitar
Jonathan Fjord Bredholt piano, harmonium
Anders Juel Bomholt double bass
with featured artists
Jakob Sørensen trumpet
Lasse Jacobsen drums
Gabriella de Carvalho e Silva Fuglsig cello
Rebecca de Carvalho e Silva Fuglsig cello

hvalfugl.dk

(2020)

REVIEW: ‘Momento’ – Dave Milligan

I SOMETIMES WONDER if ‘charm’ – that genteel expression of beauty that can often be lacking in our present age – is at risk of becoming consigned to the ‘lost words’ chest. But, for all the right reasons, Dave Milligan’s delightful new piano trio album, Momento, with double bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer U.T. Gandhi, has enchanted me endlessly over the last few weeks… to the point of not being able to leave it alone!

The Scottish pianist’s career, across the last decade or so, has seen him focus on projects with artists including Scott Hamilton, Trilok Gurtu, Colin Steele and Karine Polwart; and, as musical supervisor, he collaborated with Mark Knopfler on the stage adaptation of Local Hero. So the finalisation of this first album as leader since 2008 only gained impetus due to the artistic hiatus created by the Coronavirus pandemic. The recording of these seven tracks – part of a longer session captured with typical clarity by Stefano Amerio at Italian studio Artesuono – actually goes back to 2015.

It’s a great mix. Going Nowhere, one of Milligan’s five original pieces here, was written down in a departure lounge between flights; and described as a ‘sketch’ which didn’t request a specific melody, its quiet, Escher-like progression evokes resonances of Tord Gustavsen. With similar opening delicacy, (There’s) Always Tomorrow – from a suite inspired by letters between Robert Burns and Agnes McLehose, and reduced from big band arrangement to trio intimacy – increasingly coruscates with lively pianistic improv and cymbal flashes, while They Said It Was About You (‘For Ella’) actually displays a precise, Italianate piano charisma akin to Giovanni Guidi, buoyed by Gallo’s prominent bass colorations.

Dave Milligan’s national roots are represented by dancing Parcel of Rogues (trad., first printed in 1792) and evocative, north-of-the-border Freedom (John McLellan, 1875–1949), whose marching origins (not without a hint of ‘Loch Lomond) are cleverly refashioned with lush, ebullient chordal rhythms and percussive momentum. Quietly affecting piano solo Sandy’s 70th easily brings to mind Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopédies’ – but perhaps more so, the moving serenity of the adagio from Ravel‘s Piano Concerto – in a particularly elegant birthday tribute ‘For Dad’. Finally, inspired by a tune from a book of collected fiddle music, Milligan’s Made In The Border features sternly-planted ‘riffs’ and a ‘Scotch snap’ folk melody (Gallo in whimsical Arild Andersen mode) before Gandhi swells its arresting, extended race to the finish.

After a few cycles of listening, at around the midpoint of these 43 minutes came the realisation that I had discovered what can only be described as the heart of the recording. In that moment, the overall flow of the pieces fell into place, shedding a brighter light on the whole – and therein, the spell was smilingly cast. A word of caution, though – do not attempt to sample or listen to this fine album on a ‘tin box’ (ie smartphone speaker), otherwise its musical richness is likely to be obscured. 13 tracks remain ‘in the can’, so rumours of more seeing the light of day are keenly anticipated.

Initially released in digital format on 28 August 2020 (though a physical CD release is also indicated for perhaps later this year, complete with Milligan’s background notes), Momento is available from Bandcamp and Amazon.

Video: (There’s) Always Tomorrow

 

Dave Milligan piano
Danilo Gallo double bass
U.T. Gandhi drums

davemilligan.co.uk

Big Bash Records – BBRCD018 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘The Fire Still Burns’ – Alan Braufman

THE RAW ENERGY across this quintet/sextet recording is on another level!

When the promo informed that it’s Brooklyn-born saxophonist and flautist Alan Braufman’s first album recording for 45 years – since Valley of Search, his 1975 debut with pianist Cooper-Moore – The Fire Still Burns just demanded to be heard… and it doesn’t disappoint. A man with a jazz story or five (seeing Sun Ra and Coltrane in the 1960s, playing in Carla Bley’s band, etc.), his curious blend of original, blithe, accessible tunes and fiery free jazz is driven with gusto, throughout, by drummer Andrew Drury, while the approach of Braufman and the rest of his team is similarly impassioned.

Listen to the segued contrast between sunshiny, flute-ornamented Morning Bazaar and screeching, uproarious No Floor No Ceiling to understand the range. Dual-horn strength and the leader’s own, blistering soloing matches Cooper-Moore’s strong piano foundation in Home, while the romantic soulfulness of Alone Again (easily imaginable with a lyric) still maintains an appealing hard edge, as does the impressively hard-blown title track with Braufman, again, giving it everything on sax. The township-style prelude to City Nights – with fabulously solid, shuffling groove – heralds neat arco-bass harmonics from Ken Filiano as the whole, unfolding climax becomes irresistible (and I could happily enjoy another couple of minutes of Michael Wimberly’s lively, closing percussion!). That’s the vibe to discover.

With eight tracks averaging around four and a half minutes each, it would be easy to feel short-changed on album length; but the breathless invention of it all – melodic or wildly improvised – dispels that notion, delivering huge satisfaction.

Released on 28 August 2020 in LP, CD and digital formats at Bandcamp (view the trailer).

 

Alan Braufman alto saxophone, flute
Cooper-Moore piano
James Brandon Lewis tenor saxophone
Ken Filiano bass
Andrew Drury drums
with
Michael Wimberly percussion (tracks 2 & 8)

alanbraufman.com

(2020)