‘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)

‘Christmas With My Friends V’ – Nils Landgren

v_flare_300

IT’S NOW TEN YEARS since Swedish trombonist and vocalist Nils Landgren released the first in a series of albums which have imparted joy and peace in the run-up to and throughout Christmas. The successful recordings (and concerts) have consistently drawn together new interpretations of familiar carols and songs with classical arrangements and lesser-known gems, all presented by vocalists and instrumentalists from the ACT Music roster. And following on from 2015’s offering comes Christmas With My Friends V

Landgren and his musicians researched and made their selections together; and, befittingly, they recorded during the week leading up to last Christmas Day – so this festive feel-good is delivered with an extra air of authenticity. Here, exuberant ‘lollipops’ rub shoulders with soft ballads, original compositions and peaceful, crisp, starlit tradition; and somehow, the whole is so lovingly crafted that it creates a sweet, homely and lasting impression.

Multi-tracked trombone ‘solo ensemble’ Morgenstern and Morgenlicht (recognisable as Epiphany carol How brightly beams the morning star, with harmony by J S Bach) heralds the proceedings to wide-skied, echoing valleys; and Landgren’s tender vocal in Eva Kruse’s Let the Stars Come Out Tonight is sparingly supported by folksy guitar and tenor sax. Familiar hymns and carols such as Joy to the World and Go Tell It on the Mountain are refashioned, the latter in growling, muted trombone gospel (Ida Sand the vocalist), and Hogmanay staple Auld Lang Syne‘s fireside coziness is sensitively weighted.

Baby It’s Cold Outside and Everyday is Christmas pick up the affable, swingin’ holiday vibe; the usual whipcracking orchestration of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is replaced with a delectable guitar-and-horn-accompanied soft-jazz jaunt featuring the voice of Jessica Pilnäs. Ida Sand presents her emotive Now the Time is Here with delicacy, enhanced by Eva Kruse’s empathetic bass soloing; and inflected, soulful Love is Born is delivered emphatically by Sharon Dyall’s colourful vocal to a slick and eager instrumental arrangement complete with bluesy sax break.

The tingle factor in these recordings so often comes from a sense of stillness. There Is No Rose‘s medieval strains are carried on the late-evening air by Jeanette Köhn’s crystalline annunciation; the clear, midnight-sky trombone melodies of Johan Norberg’s Seven Stains from Christmas Eve are reminiscent of Landgren’s duo album collaborations with pianist Esbjörn Svensson (Swedish Folk Modern and Layers of Light); and Norberg’s intricate kantele timbres are threaded through such fine delicacies as O Heiland, Reiß Die Himmel Auf and his own gossamer solo Kokles Christmas.

Amongst our regular, seasonal fare of choral, orchestral and pop favourites, Landgren’s concept remains a welcome breath of alternative, chilled enjoyment. A number of these eighteen tracks could be tagged #schmalzy, and there’s certainly variety in arrangements. As with all four previous albums, V possesses a special something – including more, rather attractive European folk-tinged discoveries – all presented with warmth and sincerity by accomplished musicians. A charming gift with which to scent the air during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Christmas With My Friends V can be found at ACT Music, iTunes and other outlets (promo video here). The complete 5CD box set, The Jubilee Collectionis also available.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Johan Norberg guitars, kantele
Ida Sand vocals, piano, school organ
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Eva Kruse bass

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9830-2 (2016)

‘ELDA trio’ – ELDA trio

ELDA

THE VOICE that launched… well, a whole new expression of jazz unveils her eponymous debut recording with Slovenian accordionist/vocalist Janez Dovč and Brazilian-born percussionist/vocalist Adriano Adewale – ELDA trio.

Over the last few years, award-winning Swedish singer Emilia Mårtensson has graced a number of fine recordings, such as those of Kairos 4tet (including Everything We Hold) and her own solo albums (the most recent, Ana). Based in London, she is unsurprisingly in demand for various jazz and cross-genre projects, the dexterity, warmth and Anglo-Swedish clarity of her voice so fascinatingly distinctive and desirable.

Mårtensson explains that the concept of providing a confluence for their own cultural and musical experiences was an exciting prospect for the trio – the idea of creating, through the folk music/tales of their three countries of origin, a space to develop and express new compositions with differently-timbred voices, traditional instruments and electronics. From the resultant twelve tracks – mixed, mastered and produced with the reputable expertise of Alex Killpartrick and Chris Hyson – unfolds an atmospheric, enchanting thread of emotion, longing and joy which feels as peerless as it is beautiful.

Much of the album was conceived by Mårtensson in Izola, on the coast of Slovenia; so it’s greatly inspired by the sea, especially her grandparents’ story of how they moved from Slovenia to Sweden (and her empathy with accordion music stems from the impression made on her by her grandfather’s talent for the instrument). So a strong element of adventure and journeying is evident both in Mårtensson’s sincere delivery of her poetic lyrics (“I’ll always remember when the moon fell asleep behind the hill”) and in the chameleonic chordal and percussive invention which Dovč and Adewale supply – and that sense of the unknown, throughout, holds the attention.

Dusky memories in Stone Agaton are emphasised by Adewale’s deep chantings, accompanied by earthy percussion; and songwriter Jamie Doe’s positive, accordion-pulsed love ode, Winter, appears to sneer at the darkest season (“So put on all your jumpers and scream around the house”). Homely, descending chromatics, along with Mårtensson’s warm, high tones, are a joy in Barnaby Keen’s The Air Holds a Memory, whilst the contrasting themes of exile in Aleksandrinke touch the heart, emphasised by the watery swell of udu; and tranquil, overlaid vocals alone in To the Sun, To the Moon evoke cool, clear skies above silhouetted forests.

Rhythmic Mårtensson/Dovč composition Hon Och Han might suggest it has long been rooted in tradition (redolent of, say, Trio Mediæval’s output), even with an anthemic, Coldplay-like chorus; and following, sustained by bass synth, the vocals of Dovč’s slow, mysterious The Tree cry upwards to the moon. Quirky hoots, squeaks and clangs in Jac Jones’ Ellis Dreams are interspersed with a blithe vocal/synth melody; and the hollow, echoic interpretation of Swedish folk song Remembering/Vem Kan Segla further confirms Mårtensson’s clear communication with Dovč’s sensitive accordion phrasing.

A mesmerising solo from Adewale – I am dreaming with you – is quietly disconcerting, with shouts and percussive rattles three-dimensionally coming in and out of range through the darkness; the Konnakol introduction of Dovč’s Tillsammans curiously evolves into a hint of melodic, swingin’ Sixties; and Adewale’s trio curtain-call, Lobo Guara, fizzes with joie de vivre (Emilia perhaps overdoing it on the punsch!).

Catalogue it in ‘jazz’, ‘folk’ or ‘world’… wherever, ELDA trio is a beautiful experience.

Released on Two Rivers Records, on 23 September 2016, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Emilia Mårtensson vocals
Janez Dovč accordion, synth bass, electronics, vocals
Adriano Adewale percussion, vocals

eldatrio.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR014 (2016)