RECENT LISTENING: April 2021

‘Conversation #1: Condensed’ – Arbenz X Mehari/Veras
Hermon Mehari, Nelson Veras, Florian Arbenz
Release date: 23 April 2021
florianarbenz.bandcamp.com

‘Reflector’ – Twospeak
Ronan Perrett, Mike De Souza, Ben Lee, Joseph Costi, Ben Brown, Adam Teixeira, Ben Rodney
Release date: 7 May 2021
twospeak.bandcamp.com

‘Shores’ – Fergus Hall
Fergus Hall, Cameron Nixon, Matt Carmichael, Fergus McCreadie, Mark Hendry, Dominykas Snarskis, Fay Guiffo, Sarah Wagner, Helena Rose, Aimée Laws, Rufus Isabel Elliot, Zakia Fawcett, Keena Wildman, Sarah McWhinney, Mathew McAteer
Release date: 16 April 2021
linktr.ee/Fergushall

‘XXXX’ – Michael Wollny
Michael Wollny, Emile Parisien, Tim Lefebvre, Christian Lillinger
Release date: 30 April 2021
actmusic.com

‘Tvuru’ – Tvuru
Andreas Andersen, Henrik Sandstad Dalen, Ola Øverby
Release date: 23 April 2021
ingroov.es/tvuru

‘Moon On The Lake’ – Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii, Takashi Sugawa, Ittetsu Takemura
Release date: 8 May 2021
librarecords.com

REVIEW: ‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’ – Cwmwl Tystion / Witness

THE IDENTITY and landscape of Wales is steeped in historical, political and cultural significance, something which composer and trumpeter Tomos Williams seeks to explore and interpret through his experimental project Cwmwl Tystion (‘Witness’ or, literally, ‘Cloud of Witnesses’, quoted from 20th century poet Waldo Williams’ ‘What is Man?’).

Cardiff-based Tomos Williams also leads folk/jazz outfit Burum and ‘Indo-Welsh’ band Khamira; but this more exploratory, frequently free-jazz suite stems from his desire to “create a piece that both celebrated and questioned the idea of Welshness and referenced notable events in Welsh history.” The democratically-spirited sextet – with Francesca Simmons (violin, saw), Rhodri Davies (harp, electronics), Huw V Williams (bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums) – also features acclaimed pianist Huw Warren; and for this live recording, captured both in Swansea and London, the performances were accompanied by the animated visuals of Simon Proffitt.

Seven movements indeed identify specific inspirations from Williams’ homeland, opening with a suitably expansive depiction of Mynyddoedd Cymru (Mountains of Wales). From rugged Snowdonia in the north to the vast, southerly sprawl of the Brecon Beacons, the majesty of Wales’ geographical wonders is illustrated through austere, ascending motifs and fierce, whirling, climatic expressions. Across more than twenty minutes, its episodic breadth and saturation is initially whelming – yet the relentless progression can also be breathtaking, its many textures including Rhodri Davies’ Jimmy Page-like electronically-manipulated harp. Welsh folk tune Glyn Tawe is beautifully interpreted by violin and piano – a plaintive melody, heard on the wind, that brings to mind Sir Edward Elgar’s useful, distant-song encounter in Llangranog – but it also seems to have a troubled soul (Elgar again!), Francesca Simmons’ ‘flattened’ string improvisations so gorgeously bittersweet.

The fascinating and well-documented connection of popular African-American baritone Paul Robeson with Welsh mining communities is remembered in Paul Robeson ac Eisteddfod y Glowyr 1957 (Paul Robeson and the Miners’ Eisteddfod 1957). This brashly jazz-swinging commemoration vigorously flashes with harp and piano, and the effect of a classic horn section from the duality of trumpet and violin is quite something. The anger of Llyfrau Gleision 1847 (the disparaging 19th century enquiry into the state of education in Wales) is communicated through urgent rhythms, crashing ‘guitar’, impassioned trumpet improv and the curious waver of a saw, while Huw Warren‘s unbridled mastery (both inside and outside the piano frame) is just glorious.

Quoting a triad of Welsh folk songs, the restless angst of Pa Beth yw Cenedl? (What is a Nation?) develops apace, Warren’s intense soloing white-hot against the throng of thrashing percussion and tumultuous bass. Tryweryn 1965 recalls the controversial flooding of valley village Capel Celyn to create a reservoir for Liverpool’s water supply, sparking huge local and political unrest, now belied by its quiet beauty. Williams illustrates these contrasts with sparky, disoriented figures and an elegant though wistful violin tune. Closing Pa Beth yw Dyn? (What is Man?) – the source of the project’s title – transforms discordancy into a verdant, straightahead-jazz celebration of Cymru, dominated by Huw Warren’s elegant pianism.

Peeling back the layers of this performance – excellently recorded, live – and either learning of or reacquainting oneself with the extraordinary history and breathtaking landscape of this nation, the creativity of Tomos Williams and his sextet becomes increasingly meaningful. A truly effective and important melding of message and music.

Released on 5 March 2021, Cwmwl Tystion / Witness is available from tycerddshop.com, iTunes and Amazon.

Tomos Williams trumpet, compositions
Francesca Simmons violin, saw
Rhodri Davies harp, electronics
Huw Warren piano
Huw V Williams bass
Mark O’Connor drums
with
Simon Proffitt live visuals

Videos: Mynyddoedd Cymru and Tryweryn 1965

Introductory YouTube video
Tomos Williams at khamira.net
tycerdd.org

Tŷ Cerdd Records – TCR029 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Wax///Wane’ – Lucien Johnson

MYSTICAL, a touch retro, and increasingly spellbinding, Wax///Wane is the work of New Zealand saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson. It’s described as an album inspired by the lunar landscape of the southern skies – echoed by Julien Dyne’s virtually animated Neil Fujita-style cover art – and feels influenced by the output of both John and Alice Coltrane.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 1 April 2021 as a digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Lucien Johnson tenor saxophone, compositions
John Bell vibraphone
Michelle Velvin harp
Tom Callwood double bass
Cory Champion drums
Riki Piripi percussion

Cover art by Julien Dyne

lucienjohnson.com/

Deluge Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘One From Brooklyn’ – Matt Clark Three

FROM BRIGHTON to Brooklyn in thirty minutes, guitarist/bassist Matt Clark has fashioned, in this lockdown-enforced, home-studio creation, a sidewalking soundtrack influenced by his recollections of New York and Chicago, where he experienced first-hand their avant-garde jazz scenes.

A retro-styled album cover and name – the Matt Clark Three – finds him assembling a mid-grooving sequence of numbers which draws on his affinity with lo-fi samples/loops, jazz and blues, experimental and electronic music. Now based on England’s south-east coast, some 35 years in (and out of) the business included his formation of Leicester-based psychedelic rockers Cardboard, as well as undertaking various solo projects; and this recording’s guests, Mark Wilson (double bass) and Darren Beckett (drums), have worked with Underhood and Madeleine Peyroux respectively.

Across seven tracks, the guitarist creates an ambulatory soundscape evoking big-city panoramas, twilit vistas and populational bustle; and the mellow, pitch-bent tones he elicits from a rebuilt Fender Jaguar also add a dash of raw, Sixties-pop colour. However you view sampled sounds, Clark’s creative adeptness in this field is obvious, and clearly integral to his intentions. Opening Gambit’s nonchalant, bass-figured strut seemingly takes in a nearby jazz club’s smoky, muted trumpet improvisation before this almost cinematographic, urban exploration progresses with bluesy, cool-as-you-like partners Two Hours This Side and Two Hours That Side (the latter, journeying down electric rails to alight at the next subway station).

Other facets of these instrumental perspectives suggest alternative rock, punk and minimalism, Exit Kennedy’s crackling progression (with a violin-like motif reminiscent of Penguin Cafe) even invoking the steam-filled thoroughfares of Philip Glass’s ‘Low Symphony’, three-dimensionalised with public-address echoes and travelling chatter. In Hey Queens, a street-corner saxophonist connects with the prominent, purposeful gait of bass and guitar, the location enhanced by siren wails and passing dialogue – effectively, on these foursquare Manhattan journeys, Clark is recalling the atmospheres he absorbed. Swinging Melancholia is peppered with impressionistic electronic communications; and in Last Lost, his blithe guitar lines are appealingly underpinned by a scratchy, worn piano ground harking back to archive jazz recordings, though carried on a strong, slouchy drum rhythm.

Like so many of us over the past year, Matt Clark’s half-hour sojourn takes solace from revisiting, in his imagination, a significant place – and he invites us along for the ride. Don’t forget your root beer and Ray-Bans.

Released on 2 April 2021, One From Brooklyn is available as a digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Matt Clark guitars, bass guitar, samples
Mark Wilson double bass
Darren Beckett drums

mattclarkmusic.co.uk

Matt Clark Music – MCM0020 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘The New Cool’ – David Helbock

DAVID HELBOCK is clearly a guy who is difficult to pigeonhole, his Random Control Trio project, for example, often involving a complex array of instruments on stage to present his own music and almost comedic reinterpretations at the edge of unpredictability.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 26 March 2021 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

David Helbock piano
Sebastian Studnitzky trumpet
Arne Jansen guitar

Cover art: Violet Blue Monk – Ugo Rondinone, painted cast bronze, 2020

davidhelbock.com

ACT Music – 9927-2 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Quiet Is The Star’ – Georgia Mancio & Alan Broadbent

HAVE YOU EVER peered into the midnight-blue yonder to pick out its brightest astral personalities, and then watched in awe as endless constellations begin to unfold before your eyes? A metaphor, perhaps, for the magical, prolific songwriting and performing collaboration of vocalist/lyricist Georgia Mancio and pianist/composer Alan Broadbent, revealing still more wonder in new release Quiet Is The Star.

Following a chanced-upon opportunity in 2013 to perform together as a duo, Mancio and Broadbent began to build a collection of co-written material, some of which the double Grammy award-winning pianist had penned, many years ago, as wordless instrumental pieces waiting for wings. All was revealed in 2017’s glorious Songbook – its quartet line-up completed by double bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ohm – and this successful pairing of authoritative musicianship and heartfelt poetry kindled an ongoing creative partnership which has led to a current total of 33 songs in the tradition of timeless jazz standards (all newly published in a desirable lead-sheet songbook*).

The nine numbers of Quiet Is The Star find the two artists in their pure, alchemic environment of pianist and vocalist, exposing the structure, detail and elegance of sensitively-crafted songs whose themes reflect love, loss, family, friendship and empathy. Georgia Mancio’s ability to complement Alan Broadbent’s music with the perfect lyric, and then deliver it either at breathtaking speed or with lush, romantic eloquence, never wanes. This selection focuses largely on the latter, with a fine, balladic style redolent of, say, Rodgers and Hart or Johnny Mercer.

Such comparison can be heard in the sunshiny yet lost-love resignation of I Can See You Passing By (“No need to say hello when it’s goodbye”) or the fond, sisterly recollections breezily portrayed in All My Life (“I think of that child, all her thoughts running wild with exhilaration … you will listen to me, take my side, let me see all the things that I still can be”). Let Me Whisper To Your Heart continues the close-family theme with its emotive but sweet legacy of beautiful images (“Let me welcome each sunrise … and find you”), while elegant Tell The River expresses a deep desire for justice and freedom (“Tell my children to grow strong and healthy … tell them you will find me free”).

An early Alan Broadbent tune, bluesily ornamented, conveys When You’re Gone From Me’s expression of hope in adversity through an autumnal sense of longing (russet shades of Michel Legrand), with poignant, shadowy Night After Night sharing that search for positivity; and in If I Think Of You, Georgia Mancio’s heartfelt phrases (“Every road is clear and true, if I think of you”) perfectly adorn its touchingly warm piano melodies and harmonies. Time after time, these are songs whose joint mastery suggests they have already become established in a much-loved stage show or movie musical, an impression heard again within the graceful, reassuring glow of If My Heart Should Love Again. To close, Quiet Is The Star’s twinkling lap displays a supremely exquisite and quietly affecting marriage of words and music: “I see the sky, I watch the birds go by. They seem to tell us: we too can find which way to follow, which ties to bind” – encouragement indeed that, amidst life’s tribulations, all will be well.

The particular character, intonation and accuracy of Georgia Mancio’s voice makes it one of the most compelling I’ve known, infusing and shaping every phrase with honesty and emotion; and her artistic alliance with Alan Broadbent grows ever stronger. Look into this album’s glinting treasures. Reflected there, especially in these days, is beauty to hold dear.

Quiet Is The Star is released on 27 March 2021 and available in CD and digital formats at Bandcamp and Georgia Mancio’s website.

*The Songs of Georgia Mancio & Alan Broadbent songbook is published on 27 March 2021 and available from Georgia Mancio’s website.

 

Georgia Mancio voice, lyrics
Alan Broadbent piano, music

Illustration by Simon Manfield

georgiamancio.com
alanbroadbent.com

Roomspin Records – 2020 (2021)