REVIEW: ‘Torus’ – James Lindsay

THE WEAVE of warm, incisive melody and textural detail heard in bassist/composer James Lindsay’s Strand (his 2017 debut as leader) takes flight in this new album – a vibrant blend of folk-rock that radiates positivity, freedom and adventure.

Torus, in geometrical, natural and cosmological terms, is explained as ‘a spiralling flow of energy, constantly refreshing and influencing itself’ and informs this recorded “exploration of the flows which connect us to our world, and a reminder that change is our only constant”. Communicating those themes, Lindsay integrates himself within the body of an eight-piece instrumental line-up that drives his latest compositions with renewed vigour, certainly ramped-up from the relative homeyness of his original release. That said, amongst its high-energy rock riffs – from a core of electric guitar, keyboards, sax, bass, drums and percussion – the beguiling timbres and inflections of accordion and fiddle firmly root these nine numbers in the evolving folk-music heritage of the bassist’s native Scotland.

Also a member of renowned folk band Breabeach, and with various awards accolades to his name, Glasgow-based Lindsay’s approach to composition and arrangement feels both meticulous and open. There’s a clear sense of journeying threaded through his work that creates a fulgent or sometimes smirr-streaked soundtrack quality. Indeed, though the titles’ sources are varied, the strongest impressions are of Scottish coastal or heather-rich landscapes, with the ever-changing visual and meteorological contrasts they present (aligned to the album’s aspects of regeneration and renewal).

Optimistically-emerging Lateral Roots establishes Lindsay’s intent in an ebullient, contemporary folk-rock reel warmed by the particularly effective textural mesh of unison accordion and sax; and Ben MacDonald’s skittering, hammer-style improvisations can be fleetingly reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth or John Clark. Observatory’s sky-wide ambience brings forth the delightful, rapidly-articulated dance of fiddle and accordion, backed by a crashing, 1980s-hued pop groove; and in Electroreceptor (a system of tissues in a living organism that enables electrical power), suitably syncopated rhythms spark a buzz of overlapping soul-funk conversations throughout its instrumentation. The bass-rasping, synth-laden vigour of Lewisian Complex (referencing north-west Scotland’s ancient, craggy outcrops) has tremors of Depeche Mode or The Human League; but again, it’s fuelled by jazz-rock guitar and vibrant Scots colour, pausing only for the misty Gaelic vocal of Deirdre Graham.

Kalimba droplets and crunchy Rhodes chords prepare the ground for Cycles’ theme-tune riffs and solid beats, while ritualistically-dancing Skekler (a guiser involved in an ancient Shetland custom of banishing winter that includes the beating of wooden staves) culminates in the vehement pound of percussion, urgent fiddle and power chords. Taking Lindsay back to an old haunt, The Smiddy’s chirpy folk melodies become lusciously underpinned at one point by Moog bass, and Jinibara (the indigenous people of Queensland, Australia – an area once visited by the bassist) is similarly uplifting. To close, the first-light clarity of Holon’s accordion and bass seemingly rises to greet the sun, coruscating with a tapestry of guitar, fiddle and sax.

At times, the narrative of this music might benefit from greater fluctuations of light and shade, occasionally reducing the density to create space (as heard in that pool of atmospheric, vocal serenity) or even a near-silence that might portray dark sky zones, north of the border. But, imagined as the basis – or forerunner – of a mixed-media concept or screenplay score, James Lindsay’s evocations characteristically brim with vitality.

Produced by respected jazz and folk musician/engineer Euan Burton, Torus is released on 23 April 2021 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Angus Lyon accordion
Ben MacDonald electric guitars
Deirdre Graham vocals (on Lewisian Complex)
Jack Smedley fiddle
John Lowrie keyboard
James Lindsay bass guitar, electric guitar, Moog
Norman Wilmore alto saxophone
Scott Mackay drums
Signy Jakobsdottir percussion

Illustration: ‘Observatory’ by Alice Strange

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD002 (2021)

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)