REVIEW: ‘Let the world be a question’ – Monika Lidke

SINCE IF I WAS TO DESCRIBE YOU, and through 2017’s Gdyby każdy z nas… (If all of us…), singer-songwriter Monika Lidke has seemingly been absorbing musical influences and experimenting with vocal styles to bring divergent atmospheres to latest album Let the world be a question.

Polish-born and London-resident, Lidke’s earlier output has comfortably breezed between light jazz, European folk and easy-going pop. But this collection of a dozen songs, self-penned or co-written, also reveals different facets to her vocal expression. So alongside the recognisably carefree numbers, there are others which display a seasoned edge; and a host of accomplished musicians (listed below, including guitarists Matt Chandler, Kristian Borring and Maciek Pysz) interpret the contrasting moods and grooves with attractive detailing. These are unashamedly direct pop songs – but the trick is that they avoid lovelorn clichés, focusing rather on deepening family relationships and the circle of life, as well as the quiet beauty of the natural world.

Some lovely scenes are painted, including the Paul Simon-like, country-guitar-enhanced shuffle of Making it up as we go, Lidke’s vocal occasionally veering towards that of Suzanne Vega. The characteristic innocence of her wordless (‘dooh-dooh’) melodies break into poetic profundity in A Winter Morning, Curious Puzzle and heartfelt Mother, while Lazy Detour’s bluesy electric-piano groove, including a feature for trumpeter Dawid Frydryk, suggests the illumination of new artistic pathways. Alle Choir London’s snappy backing brings frissons of delight to numbers such as gospel-tinted Not a Bad Bone and hip-swinging Samba, Biodra i Nogi; and soft-rock Słuchaniem być (To be listening) especially stays in the memory, with Matt Chandler’s fluid electric-guitar improv a real treat.

Initially quaint, Snowflake’s Dream’s lyric implies a touching mother-to-son conversation about life (“…always remember me shining… I’ll make a full circle… a teardrop in the corner of your eye”), then ramping up into a more effusive aspect of Lidke’s performance we should hear more of. Tango’s descending-bass mystery, too, has an attraction, the Polish-sung lyric of encouragement offering up pictorial lines such as “I’m not afraid [of] your words which fight like a windmill with light” before hitting a bright rock-out; and rhythmic W deszczu pod parasolem (In the rain under an umbrella) is joyously uplifting – Could it really have happened, a miracle between us.

Finally, alongside Zimowy Poranek (a Polish version of A Winter Morning) are three remixes by producers Happy Cat Jay and Wulfnote. While such arrangements can sometimes appear to be gimmicky or even questionable add-ons, these are imaginatively refashioned with a peppy, radio-play vibe. Wulfnote’s Lazy Detour, in particular, abounds with so much interest.

There’s a sense, from the depth of a clutch of these songs, that Monika Lidke’s journey could flourish in more challenging areas, perhaps led by a theme, a concept. Certainly her harder vocal timbres point that way… in a direction I’d follow.

Released on 8 October 2020, Let the world be a question is available as CD, vinyl and digital download at the monikalidke.com store.

 

Monika Lidke vocals
Alle Choir London* backing vocals (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Matt Chandler guitars (tracks 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15)
Kristian Borring electric guitar (tracks 4, 5, 14)
Maciek Pysz acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 5)
Adam Teixeira drums (tracks 1, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Waldemar Franczyk drums (tracks 2, 6, 8, 13, 16)
Chris Nickolls drums (tracks 3, 4, 5)
Tim Fairhall double bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Marcin Grabowski fretless bass (tracks 2, 13, 16), double bass (track 6), electric bass (track 8)
Shez Raja electric bass (tracks 4, 5)
Jan Freicher piano (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 14), vibraphone (tracks 2, 6, 13, 16), synth (tracks 2, 13)
Adam Spiers cello (tracks 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Wayne Urquhart cello (track 14)
Dawid Frydryk trumpet (tracks 3, 6, 14)
Happy Cat Jay drums, piano (track 15), synth (tracks 15, 16), bass guitar (track 16)

*Alle Choir London are:
Marta Mathea Radwan director, backing vocal arrangements
Klaudia Baca, Anita Łazińska, Karolina Micor, Marta Mathea Radwan,
Justyna Rafalik, Krystian Godlewski, Krzysztof Suwała singers

monikalidke.com

MLCD002 (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: ‘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: ‘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)

REVIEW: ‘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

Self-released (2017)

REVIEW: ‘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)