‘Thought You Knew’ – Snowpoet

ThoughtYouKnew

THE IMMERSIVE experience of Snowpoet’s eponymous 2016 debut album left a lasting imprint…

Read my full review at LondonJazz News.

Released on 9 February 2018 and available in CD, digital and vinyl formats from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals, backing vocals, lyrics
Chris Hyson electric bass, double bass, piano, synths
Nicholas Costley-White acoustic guitar
Matthew Robinson piano
Dave Hamblett drums
Josh Arcoleo saxophone
with
Alice Zawadzki violin
Francesca Ter-Berg cello
Lloyd Haines drums, percussion (tracks 1, 2 and 7)

Produced by Chris Hyson

snowpoet.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1105 (2018)

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‘By’ – Hvalfugl

Hvalfugl

IT NEITHER SHOUTS nor stamps its feet, but this delightful debut release from Scandinavian trio Hvalfugl exudes crystalline warmth and a certain spacial delicacy – a beacon of serenity above the throng of high-energy jazz. 

The twelve tracks of By (translated as ‘town’) feature bucolic, European folk tunes which suggest they have been called out and handed down through the generations, yet are the original, contemporary works of pianist Jonathan Fjord Bredholt, guitarist Jeppe Lavsen and double bassist Anders Juel Bomholt. With Bazar Blå, Esbjörn Svensson Trio and Jan Johansson amongst their inspirations, the trio’s compositions combine brightly-dancing unison melodies and soft, carol-like phrases with subtle improvisation; and whilst this landscape’s openness might, at times, be interpreted as ‘new-age’ or ‘ambient’, it’s the precise execution and atmospheric breathability, as well as the skill in evoking imagery, which appeals.

There’s a reassuring bonhomie to ForårsdagOp Nord and Stormsvale, their gently rhythmic phrases skipping with a freshness which intimates the cycle of seasons and traditions, whilst Novemberhymne celebrates the coming of Autumn with shadowy bass-thrummed anticipation, then the cheery fireside glow of focused guitar and piano. Countryfied, suspended tranquillity in Lomborg and title track By are redolent of the music of Jonas Knutsson and Johan Norberg; velvety harmonium in Listevals recalls the folksy collaborations of Frode Alnæs, Arild Andersen and Stian Carstensen; and spirited waltz Mäsk exemplifies the trio’s natural aptitude for creating momentum without percussion, Bomholt’s bass providing the foundation to pirouetting motifs from Bredholt and Lavsen. Lilting Hvalfugl possesses a characterful melody which, like so many from the band, feels attractively familiar; and in pellucid Færgen (‘the ferry’), subtle electronics help to magically convey a twilight homecoming.

If you’re sensing a chill in the air or disfavour the quickening sundown… this could be your lodestar.

Released in June 2017, By is available as a digital download from Amazon or eMusic, or as a CD by directly emailing: hvalfugl@gmail.com

Video: Novemberhymne

 

Jonathan Fjord Bredholt piano, harmonium
Jeppe Lavsen guitar
Anders Juel Bomholt double bass

hvalfugl.dk
@_Hvalfugl

Self-released (2017)

‘Nightfall’ – Quercus

Quercus_Nightfall

THE ORIGINAL Quercus album of 2013 – a live recording of a concert from several years earlier – was one of those musically defining moments where folk and jazz were both eloquently and movingly brought together. So this second release from vocalist June Tabor, saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren should surely delight the many who first rose to applaud the emergence of these already respected musicians as a trio. 

Initially, Nightfall does appear to be the anticipated, natural progression – why wouldn’t it? But as you allow yourself to take them to your heart, these eleven new expressions of songs (of traditional folk origin and from the likes of Bob Dylan and Stephen Sondheim / Leonard Bernstein) begin to surrender their emotional array of treasures; so much so that perhaps it even surpasses the attraction of that still much-played debut. Recorded in rural Somerset, this studio account loses nothing of Quercus’ perfect synergy as they again combine to present music from different sources with customary poise and attention to detail.

Ballamy’s instantly distinctive tenor sound, one of the most oratory in contemporary jazz (and still summoning the magic of his The Little Radio album with Stian Carstensen) is flawlessly matched to the rich, resonant voice of June Tabor, who has remained such a great ambassador of English folk music. And though Huw Warren is also known for his pianistic exuberance – as witnesses to the fervour of his Brazilian- or African-flavoured jazz performances will concur – here his ruminative and precise focus unwaveringly articulates Tabor’s poetic storytelling, where predominant themes of longing, love and loss are balanced with glimpses of light.

On Berrow Sands‘ warning of the perils of the Bristol Channel are elucidated by Tabor’s siren-like lament (reminiscent of her Ashore album), the haunting repetition of ‘Away, keep away, the gulls do cry…’ affirmed by Warren’s ominous, perpetual currents and darkly-plumbed depths. Reinterpreted strains of Auld Lang Syne paint Robert Burns’ familiar words with subdued melancholy; and Iain Ballamy’s subtle control which, throughout this session, can enter and recede almost imperceptibly, is so intelligently shaped. His more obvious lyricism can be heard intertwining with Tabor’s heartfelt four-line stanzas in 19th Century folk tale The Irish Girl and the evocative, sunset hues of The Shepherd and His Dog, whilst Emmeline – Ballamy’s own instrumental, shared with Warren – tumbles with sweet, open innocence.

An especially bluesy rendition of You Don’t Know What Love Is aches to June Tabor’s rubato enunciation, inviting breathy improvisations from Ballamy; the singer’s tormented narrative in traditional folk song The Manchester Angel is particularly compelling; and Huw Warren’s piano-and-soprano sax instrumental Christchurch possesses a wistful elegance. In that vein, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright is almost unrecognisable in a superbly resigned reinvention of Bob Dylan’s sparse guitar-and-vocal original, Tabor’s subtle, conversational inflections bringing the lyric to life over Huw Warren’s deliciously chromatic gospel accompaniment. Both pianist and saxophonist charmingly ornament the blithe poetry of Dorset gypsy song The Cuckoo; and Sondheim/Bernstein favourite Somewhere, maybe more than ever, has the power to echo our ever-present feelings of despair and hope, Iain Ballamy’s luscious tenor spirit suggesting a pathway to the latter.

This is a recording which, to quote Sondheim, needs ‘a time, a place’. Ascend a tor or a ‘moel’ with Nightfall in your ears – and for a mountain-top experience like no other, it’s up there… somewhere.

Released on 28 April 2017 and available from ECM, Amazon, iTunes, record stores, etc.

 

June Tabor voice
Iain Ballamy tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Huw Warren piano

topicrecords.co.uk/junetabor
ballamy.com
huwwarren.com

ECM Records – 574 3078 (ECM 2522) (2017)

‘Strand’ – James Lindsay

TUMBLING with Gaelic threads which evoke festal reels and climatic atmospheres, Scottish bassist James Lindsay’s Strand – his debut as leader – melds grooving jazz, traditional folk and zesty rock to create a tapestry of airy, attractive landscapes.

A regular session musician and arranger, Glasgow-based Lindsay won the Martyn Bennett prize for composition in 2014 and is also a member of multi-award-winning folk band Braebeach. This programme of eight, broad numbers for sextet features lithe flute and fiddle melodies, instantly placing his original music ‘north of the border’; but don’t be fooled by its initial easy-going nature, as this ensemble works together to produce what becomes an inviting, contrasting weave of warm, incisive melody and textural detail. There are hints of the focus and camaraderie of the BBC’s Transatlantic Sessions – perhaps unsurprising, given that this album’s engineer, Iain Hutchinson, was key to that long-term project – yet the bassist’s jazz sensibilities also imbue his compositions with creative twists of opportunity for he and his players to offer their own improvisational flair.

Scotland’s rich and distinctive musical heritage is evident throughout, as in the mist-clearing expanses of Hebrides Terrace Seamount (the largest undersea mountain in the British Isles) which are coloured by Hamish Napier’s tremulant flute and Adam Sutherland’s lilting, portamento violin; and The Silent Spring‘s soft rivulets of Celtic-tinged melody reflect its compositional inspiration, a hidden stream which now supplies one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries (pianist Tom Gibbs’ sole use of Fender Rhodes throughout this recording contributes greatly in blending tradition with contemporary ideas). Ben Macdonald’s country-rock electric guitar motion underpins Sòdhaigh (one of the isles of Skye), buoyed by fresh, unison flute and fiddle tunes, then side-footed into a tricksy, rhythmic pattern from drummer Scott Mackay; and Shallow Firth‘s more pressing Rhodes-and-guitar dominance echoes the composer’s interest in the work of jazz luminaries Bill Frisell and Ben Wendel.

Lindsay takes much inspiration from his native shores, so UB85, despite its breezy, flutey demeanour, is in fact based on a true story of sea monsters and a sunken German U-boat – and again the transition into another phase (a lurching, Groove Armada-style figure) is delightful, delicately enhanced by Sutherland’s jazz fiddle and Napier’s breathy harmonics. The rhythmic union of Lindsay, Macdonald, Gibbs and Mackay sails blithely around Stacks, supporting a spirited folk tune which celebrates these impressive geographical features of Scotland’s west coast with joyful, Joe Sample-like Rhodes acciaccaturas and trills as well as washy, iridescent seascapes, plus a measure of crashing-wave guitar grit. The soft-rock, up-in-the-clouds impressions of Forvie Sands / Creel (again, landscape-themed) are elegantly dancelike, infused with sustained electric guitar and bluesy fiddle; and widescreen Beaufort’s Dyke (inspired by a Wesleyan hymn tune) closes with a simple, longing sense of ‘going home’.

A few pre-recording studio videos – The Silent Spring, Forvie Sands and Hebrides Terrace Seamount – offer a glimpse of this accessible, fine and heartwarming Scottish excursion.

Released on 2 June 2017, Strand is available as a digital download or limited edition CD from Bandcamp.

 

James Lindsay double bass, compositions
Hamish Napier flute, Wurlitzer
Adam Sutherland fiddle
Ben Macdonald guitar
Tom Gibbs Fender Rhodes
Scott Mackay drums

Cover art: Into the Blue – Jane McMillan

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD001 (2017)

‘Signals’ – Sue Rynhart

mrsuesue_002_cd_artwork_updated

“STAND UP, MAKE IT HAPPEN, live your precious life, stay on your path and lose your way

It only took a few short excerpts to be drawn into the magic of Dublin-based vocalist and songwriter Sue Rynhart’s twelve-track album Signals. A collection of jazz-inflected folk compositions, it continues the partnership with Dan Bodwell established in 2014’s debut release Crossings. The revelation is that the perceived acoustic simplicity of voice and double bass actually presents such a richness of unpredictable artistry, with Rynhart’s imaginative and individualistic approach perhaps comparable to Björk and Lauren Kinsella, and her synergy with the multi-faceted technique of Bodwell endlessly compelling (so much so that a shiver of emotional pleasure is never far away).

Melding melodic Irish folk tradition and enigmatic poetry with oblique, atmospheric twists, the duo radiates a beautiful, contemporary freedom of spirit. Rynhart’s pure, dextrous voice communicates her original writing in a personal, storytelling way that suggests it simply wells up from inside and demands to be heard, whilst Bodwell’s pizzicato-dancing bass is able to shift into arco lyricism and mystery. Descending-bass jazz number Be Content has a catchy familiarity, whilst smouldering Foxed couples a subtle, thrummed bass groove with Rynhart’s wide, enquiring phrases (“Oh little red fox I know you’ve been there, but today your coat looks brighter than a gemstone rare”). Dramatic whisperings and close-to-the bridge bass creaks in The Tree precede a plaintive annunciation which becomes elaborated with wisps of choral psalmody and the classically-interpreted folk of E J Moeran or Vaughan Williams; Little Sparrow‘s autumnal melancholy is simple and tender; and The Coldest Month‘s openness lilts with harmonic bass colour.

Closely layered vocals in Compassion are extraordinarily intricate, and haunting harmonies in a new interpretation of In Dulci Jubilo (with multi-instrumentalist guest Francesco Turrisi providing drum rhythm) suggest the period work of Trio Mediaeval. A contemporary edge is maintained by the dark, arco bass and fluid vocalisations of In Between, accentuated by Rynhart’s persistent mbira chimes; and Black as the Crow Flies (“Twinkle twinkle are your eyes tonight, black as the crow flies on a new moon and never went home”) stands out with its hushed tones and an especially captivating, pliant bass motif from Bodwell. Sue Rynhart paints so vividly with words and music, the repeated phrases of solo piece Summer Bell offering an impression of distant peals across endless fields; Turrisi’s baroque-ornamented then rock-grooving lute in Silliest Game perfectly complements the elegant, bittersweetness of this new Irish folk song; and Wall, Wall, Another Wall closes with a dreamy overlay of speech and floating, sung phrases.

Signals is different… original… and enchantingly transports us to another place. “Lose your way and I’ll follow you.”

Released on 28 April 2017 and available as CD or vinyl from Sue Rynhart’s website, or as a digital download from Amazon or iTunes.

 

Sue Rynhart voice, mbira, recorders, zither
Dan Bodwell double bass
with
Francesco Turrisi lute, medieval drum

suerynhart.com

mrsuesue Records – MRSUESUE 002 (2017)

‘Khamira’ – Khamira

Khamira

EXHILARATING and mesmeric, the eponymous debut release from seven-piece Khamira fuses Welsh folk, jazz and rock with Indian classical music.

It was a masterclass at the Berklee-affiliated Global Music Institute in New Delhi by the four Welsh members of this band (who are united in separate jazz/folk outfit, Burum) which led to the concept of combining a standard jazz quartet of trumpet, piano, bass and drums with the Indian colours of sarangi and tabla, plus vocals/Konnakol and guitar. Blurring the edges of genres and cultures here feels entirely organic, summoning the seminal ’70s fusion experiments of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, as well as finding a modern-day crossover connection with artists such as Dwiki Dharmawhan and Dewa Budjana.

New arrangements of traditional Welsh songs and Indian classical melodies are combined with two original compositions to deliver fifty-five minutes of extensive, instrumental splendour. Particularly impressive is the versatility of Suhail Yusuf Khan’s stringed sarangi in partnering so melodically with Tomos Williams’ trumpet and Aditya Balani’s electric guitar; and the incisive, often rapid top-note resonances of Vishal Nagar’s tabla accentuate the rhythmic grooves of Dave Jones (piano), Aidan Thorne (electric bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums).

It’s a sound world which increasingly engages, as Khamira’s palette is so varied and the blends so intriguing. Slow-release Pan O’wn y Gwanwyn (The Song of Spring) awakens to spacial trumpet and sarangi conversations before launching a lurching, saturated jazz/rock pulse underpinned by tremulant organ and thrashing percussion; and Basant‘s heady, vocalised Indian flavours – including the ‘jugalbandi’ of sarangi and tabla – are complemented by gravelly electric bass and urgent trumpet improv.

Jazz-grooving, eleven-minute Answers reinforces that this is an immersive, progressive experience, rather than a collection of snappy, individual ‘tunes’ – but this band’s open and ever-changing landscape, here with exquisite Paulo Fresu-style muted trumpet, becomes so appealing. Ffarwel i Gymru / Morey Nain shimmers to plaintive trumpet and a sustained sarangi thread, supporting its beautifully inflected Indian vocal; and the vibrant, contemporary jazz piano of Dance of Nothingness prompts bluesy guitar and frenzied sarangi. The initial, Eastern serenity of Y Gwydd (The Weaver’s Song) belies the enthralling explosion of drums, tabla, Konnakol and electric piano to be revealed later, very much in the spirit of jazz/world fusion; and wistful hymn Hiraeth am Feirion (Longing for Meirionnydd), pairing trumpet and sarangi over the gentle ebb of tabla, creates a restrained yet anthemic sundown.

Released on 2 May 2017, Khamira is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp. Catch a ten-minute video impression here.

 

Tomos Williams trumpet
Suhail Yusuf Khan sarangi, vocal
Aditya Balani guitar
Dave Jones piano, keys
Aidan Thorne electric bass
Vishal Nagar tabla, vocal
Mark O’Connor drums

khamira.net

Recordiau Bona – BOPA 003 (2017)

‘Self-Identity’ – Ollie Howell

Self-Identity

THE SLEEVE of a seminal early-1970s 12″ vinyl jested that its contents could not ‘be played on old tin boxes, no matter what they are fitted with’ – maybe a prophetic warning to a quick-grab, smartphone-to-the-ear generation to come. But such wisdom was recalled when soaking up this second release, as leader, from British drummer and composer Ollie Howell.   

Self-Identity follows 2013 debut album Sutures and Stitches, and the intervening years have seen Howell’s career flourish, with the great Quincy Jones’ “360-degree beautiful young cat” compliment leading to him selecting the drummer for the opening residency, this year, at his Q’s jazz club in the luxurious Palazzo Versace Dubai.

Expanded to a sextet, with the addition of guitarist Ant Law, this line-up is completed by tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Henry Spencer, pianist Matt Robinson, double bassist Max Luthert; and ‘old tin boxes’ are definitely out, because what is striking – both about Howell’s arrangements and this Real World Studios recording – is the rhythmic sonority which he, Robinson and Luthert achieve. So, spanning some seventy minutes, the consistent appeal of these twelve original numbers is not so much the tuneful hook, but rather the slickness of the groove and the ensemble’s overarching synergy which provides fertile ground for confident, melodic soloing – and an especially tight link-up between tenor and trumpet.

Syncopated, leaping figures in Shadows typify the approach as unison piano bass and double bass riffs are driven by Howell’s exacting, versicoloured lead; and the album’s pervading optimism is continued with the bright sax-and-trumpet lines of Resurge. Echoic electronics play their part, too, transitorily segueing the usual broadness of the writing, as well as enhancing the ‘timeslip’ intro to ruminative, brushed Almost TomorrowRise and Fall‘s central vibrancy rocks to Eagles’ deep tenor improv and Law’s fretboard agility, whilst the rhythmic prominence of pianist Matt Robinson in Moving On and Knew is impressive.

Howell’s compositions are roomy, so not only do their ‘passing clouds’ of ideas have the effect of shedding fluctuating light on their progression, they also encourage freedom of individual expression. Balancing Stones‘ dynamic range illustrates this well (including delicate timbres from the leader’s kit), as does The Unknown with its dual-horn assertiveness; and Coming Home‘s subtle, opening blend of folk/hymn tune and Balkan-imbued percussion provides the springboard for breezy, closing showcases from Howell’s players.

Eschew the tinny headphones or portable speakers… and find a way to bask in the rewarding ‘hi fidelity’ of Self-Identity.

Released on 14 April 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, and at iTunes.

 

Ollie Howell drums, electronics, compositions
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Henry Spencer trumpet
Ant Law electric guitar
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, electronics
Max Luthert double bass

ollie howell.com

Ropeadope (2017)