‘Rabble Rouser’ – The Brass Funkeys

THERE’s a thriving strain of New Orleans-style acoustic bands marching through the UK festival scene – and right up there are effervescent eight-piece The Brass Funkeys.

Following-up their eponymous debut album of 2014, new release Rabble Rouser continues the typically boisterous horn-and-percussion fervour as they rattle through thirteen, often quirkily-titled numbers – mostly band originals, plus a smattering of arrangements. Importantly, the Funkeys’ relentless, fun-filled energy doesn’t gloss-over technical precision, ensuring it’s a delight from beginning to end. Sousaphone, drums and percussion provide the crisp rhythm section, solidly framing a slick ensemble of two trumpets, two trombones and sax; and whilst it’s unashamedly about that live, festive spirit, here’s an octet which also colours its hot jazz euphoria with refreshing shades of ska, disco, funk, tijuana, big band, movie soundtrack…

The graffiti/cartoon cover art might imply it’s not ‘your thing’. But turn up the volume, launch into these fifty-four minutes anywhere you choose, and the feel-good is instant; from the infectious riff-and-chant of Dirty Harry to a canonic calypso conviviality in Bizness; from the rapid, madcap African knees-up of Zambezi to ‘Strictly’-showband-shimmying Clave Maria; and Honeydripper‘s soulful Dexys-like stomp, electronic wah-wahs and anarchic wails are delectable.

Sounding breathless? Well, yes! But these guys make this music increasingly irresistible, not least because of the stylistic contrasts. Mexican trumpets anchor the grungy groove of Pacha Mama, whilst Underdub‘s cool, crescendoed phrasing and sparkly percussion bolster Dave Robinson’s lush sax improv. Here, the sousaphone’s endearing harmonic brays offer an atmosphere that no string bass could match, and in Tom Green’s theme-tune-like Dynamo Blues, it bubbles under the trombonist’s own feature. Cheeky, slothful Goblins evokes the ska of Madness or Bad Manners, and who could resist a groove entitled David Battenberg’s Life of Cakes or the overexcited pulse of P.I.T.A. (‘love that acronym)?

Although The Brass Funkeys are well suited to the live environment (warmly received at Glastonbury, North Sea Jazz, London Jazz Festival, etc.), this is certainly a vibrant studio recording in which to revel and dig more deeply.

Released on 18 September 2017, Rabble Rouser is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Rob Smith trumpet
Matt Letts trumpet
Dave Robinson saxophone
Vij Prakash trombone
Tom Green trombone
Rob Slater sousaphone (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13)
John Caddick sousaphone (tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13)
Scott Jowett drums
Chris Brice percussion
with special guests
Jack Banjo Courtney trumpet (track 1)
Chris Saunders trombone (tracks 4, 8)

brassfunkeys.com

Boom Baboon Records – BB002 (2017)

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‘Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet’ – Nat Steele

Nat Steele_MJQ

THE SEMINAL SOUND of the Modern Jazz Quartet is especially evocative of the 1960s – those almost levitational atmospheres rising from Milt Jackson’s vibraphone, coupled with John Lewis’s sensitive, Bachian piano impressions, supported by what would become the classic line-up with double bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay.

Although the MJQ’s output is redolent of its time, it’s a cause for rejoicing that, generations later, jazz artists hold dear the quartet’s legacy in revisiting their substantial catalogue of recordings. Continuing the work of the late Michael Garrick’s MJQ Celebration project (more recently led by Matt Ridley) is London-based vibraphonist/drummer Nat Steele; and his new Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet brings together a personnel steeped in the acoustic bebop tradition – pianist Gabriel Latchin and bassist Dario Di Lecce, along with charismatic drummer Steve Brown (a link from the previous 2014 release).

Described by respected drummer Clark Tracey as “one of the best vibes players this country has ever produced”, Steele adopts Milt Jackson’s two-malleted approach, authentically summoning his reverberant, chiming tones with fervour. But as a ‘portrait’, this ensemble seeks to put its own signature, here, on nine selections from earlier MJQ material; and recorded live in the studio, just a matter of hours after a Ronnie Scott’s ‘Late Late Show’, the zing was evidently still coursing through their collective veins.

Where these interpretations score, firstly, is the reality of the 21st Century recording quality; but there’s also a considered approach to the performances. So (purists look away now), where the tempo of the MJQ’s archive take on Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n’ You can sound a tad impatient, this quartet’s balanced swing feels easier on the ear. Their buoyancy, under Steele’s direction, is also captured well in classic, bluesy The Golden Striker, with its hallmark jangling bells, and again in a slick rendition of Jackson’s signature piece, Bags’ Groove. In contrast, the measured, easy walk of Autumn in New York focuses on their ability to use space to great effect, as does a luscious reading of Cole Porter’s All of You.

I’ll Remember April and Lewis’s ‘well-tempered’ Bach-infused Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise (both from mid-’50s release ‘Concorde’) find a spring in their step – Steve Brown’s dependable precision, and that infectious smile, are all over them. Django honours the MJQ’s gift to us with poise, maintaining both its animation (thanks to Di Lecce’s lucid bass) and suspended vibes delicacy; and whilst the complete La Ronde Suite may seem more percussively ‘polite’ than the original, once again it’s the fine, chamber detail that delights.

Released on 22 September 2017, Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet might, with its blithe spirit, either ‘take you back’ or open a very clear portal to this still-relevant musical landscape. Available from Nat Steele’s websiteProper MusicAmazon and record stores.

 

Nat Steele vibraphone
Gabriel Latchin piano
Dario Di Lecce double bass
Steve Brown drums

natsteele.com

Trio Records – TR598 (2017)

‘Live at the Vortex’ – Kristian Borring Quartet

KristianBorring_Live at the Vortex

DANISH GUITARIST Kristian Borring’s most recent solo albums (Urban Novel and Silent Storm) revealed artistry and technique of particularly deft, cool clarity – and from the bright, opening phrases of the first of six well-chosen numbers, these live quartet recordings garnered from a session at London’s Vortex Jazz Club hold the attention in an especially direct way.

Live music is so precious; and a glimpse (or memory) of this quartet’s late-November evening sparkle is recorded and engineered here with precision by Alex Bonney, the inclusion of appreciative, close audience applause placing it in context. Along with pianist Rick Simpson, double bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Jon Scott, Borring’s electric guitar personality consistently shines – from a Jim Hall lushness in busy Imperfect Circumstances to the free-spirited dreaminess of A Lullaby which shimmers to Simpson’s tremulant piano washes and Scott’s brush-and-cymbal coloration (a drummer who consistently shades even the subtlest original music with focused, balmlike expression). Interesting, too, to hear two different interpretations from the Silent Storm release – Fable and April Fools, both with particularly effusive piano spotlights and the strong bass presence of Dave Whitford.

Borring’s London Magic (complete with recurring chordal motifs echoing the since-silenced hour chimes of Big Ben) is a positive and buoyant treasure, with crystalline solo-line improv supported so skilfully by his band; and turn up the volume for the romantically ornamented, unaccompanied guitar opening of Hoagy Carmichael’s evergreen Skylark which, it turns out, is just the prelude to almost nine minutes of rapturous, restrained, six-string beauty.

A pleasure to listen in on Kristian Borring and colleagues, on-stage, right there in their element.

Released on 15 September, Live at the Vortex is available, digitally, from Amazon.

 

Kristian Borring guitar
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Whitford double bass
Jon Scott drums

kristianborring.com

Self-released (2017)

‘Transitions’ – Julian Costello Quartet

JulianCostello_Transitions

THE THREE subtle soprano sax keys on Julian Costello’s album cover hint at the assiduous craftsmanship which he applies, both compositionally and in performance, to this new quartet release, Transitions; and entirely appropriate that he’s joined by the similarly focused minds of guitarist Maciez Pysz, double bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 15 September 2017 and available from 33 Jazz and Amazon.

 

Julian Costello tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Maciek Pysz electric guitar, classical guitar
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Adam Teixeira drums, percussion

juliancostello.co.uk

33 Jazz Records – 33JAZZ268 (2017)

‘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)

‘Vein plays Ravel’ – Vein

Vein plays Ravel

IF EVER there was a jazz piano trio album whose informed, creative invention deserved the proposition “just buy it”… well, Vein plays Ravel is most certainly a contender.

After more than a decade together, the partnership of pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns has spawned numerous recordings; and the Swiss trio’s recent release of originals (The Chamber Music Effect) beautifully reflects the freedom of interpretation to be found in classical chamber works. To approach the output of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) might, then, be seen as a natural progression; though also an audacious step, as it’s a sound world brimming with much-loved melodies and impressionistic piano and orchestral textures. However, Ravel famously listened to early-20th Century jazz (meeting George Gershwin in the States) and embraced it in his writing… so there’s a sense here that, if any of the historical composers were to sit on Vein’s collective shoulders, the Frenchman might well have collaborated with the greatest enthusiasm.

Importantly, the trio are way beyond any idea of simply retouching Ravelian manuscripts with a superficial swing or a cheery, ornamented solo line – on the contrary, it’s their depth of thought which is so compelling, understanding how to substantially deconstruct then sensitively reshape this glorious music without it becoming grotesque. Seemingly a labour of love – and what a triumph!

The recognisably babbling piano Prélude to Le Tombeau de Couperin organically integrates perpetuum-mobile bass and drums, drifting in and out of its formal structure with contemporary abandon, yet always faithful to the romanticism of Ravel. Forlane‘s original 6/8 dance is initially stated with exquisite fluidity before being decorated with fine percussion and lithe bass expressions; and there’s a magical, almost levitational intricacy to the opening of Toccata – the last of Vein’s three interpretations from this six-movement work – and the most dynamic, syncopated transformation, complete with rapid piano-and-bass figures and flamboyant drumming.

Entitled Blues by Ravel himself, the already impudent-sounding middle movement of his second Violin Sonata is the perfect vehicle for Vein’s mysterious, tango-like searching as Lähns’ arco octaves toy vocally with their suspicious accompaniment, whilst similarly playful Five o’Clock Foxtrot (from opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges) is magnificently refashioned as an episodic arrangement full of cat-and-mouse chase, elegant piano sorcery and rock-heavy riffs. Guest saxophonist Andy Sheppard joins the trio to reimagine Movement de Menuet (originally a piano sonatina) in a contemporary jazz setting of undulating tenor-led improvisation; and at first disguised within the charming, musical-box softness of Michael Arbenz’s prepared piano, the familiar motifs of Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte evolve into one of the most limpid, even emotional interpretations imaginable (replay it many times to luxuriate in its otherworldliness).

At the centrepiece of this project is, arguably, Ravel’s most familiar work – the repetitive orchestral progression, Bolero. Though sometimes derided, this is a unique masterpiece of crescendoing orchestral arrangement – and Vein’s octet interpretation (augmented by Sheppard and a quartet of reed and brass players) is extraordinarily imaginative. The constant snare drum motif of the original is cleverly expanded upon by Florian Arbenz, somehow managing to maintain its building momentum through elaborate rhythms whilst lush, rising, almost Zawinul-like harmonies and exuberant improvisations are underpinned by morse-code piano ostinati. Initially quite a jolt to the senses – ultimately an absolute tour de force.

The title Vein plays Ravel doesn’t begin to describe the detailing and the brilliance of this project – and it wouldn’t be surprising if Maurice is right there, in the midst.

Released on 8 September 2017 and available from vein-plays-ravel.com, as well as Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Michael Arbenz piano
Thomas Lähns bass
Florian Arbenz drums
featuring
Andy Sheppard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
(on Bolero and Mouvement de Menuet)
and
Martial In Al-bon trumpet, flugelhorn
Florian Weiss trombone
Nils Fischer soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Noah Arnold alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
(on Bolero)

vein.ch

Challenge Records – DMCHR 71179 (2017)

‘World Peace Trio’ – World Peace Trio

WorldPeaceTrio

INVITED to perform, in 2015, at Jakarta’s Kota Tua Jazz Festival and then at the Bali World Music Festival, Indonesian pianist/keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan, British saxophonist/clarinettist Gilad Atzmon and Kuwaiti oud player/guitarist Kamal Musallam chose to consolidate their new-found partnership as the World Peace Trio.

Creating a tingling fusion of musical strands – as well as importantly demonstrating an absence of cultural or religious divide – the trio followed up each of these festival performances by capturing their essence in local studio recordings, honing down a larger amount of material which flowed from the sessions into this hour of hypnotically exotic grooves. Atzmon’s impressive Orient House Ensemble catalogue of Israeli-inflected jazz improvisation and cabaret eccentricity is well-loved – and here, that signature clarinet and sax vibrato melds sublimely with Musallam’s evocative oud textures and Dharmawan’s profuse, polychromatic piano to fashion music which displays oriental and gamelan luminosity.

With the majority of these eight, spacious numbers being co-composed and improvised as a trio, the connectional freedom is tangible as themes are introduced and then expanded through heady, often repetitive environments – so The Seeker‘s mysterious, rhythmic motif crescendos towards Atzmon’s dry, reedy acclamations; and the aromatic kendang-and-oud impetus of traditional Palestinian song Ramallah, across almost eleven minutes, finds Atzmon’s low, fervid clarinet electronically ‘whistled’ in higher register.

Another kind of beauty is reflected in quieter pools. Nasser Salameh’s high, hollow frame drumming accentuates Morning Mist‘s overlapping melodic chants; balmy Peace and Beyond shimmers to Dharmawan’s electric piano, along with Asaf Sirkis’s intuitive snare and open cymbals, before Musallam’s energized midi guitar soloing ramps up; and in a particularly original interpretation of Gershwin’s In a Sentimental Mood, coruscating piano and kendang patterns give way to a rapturous central section of oh-so-romantic clarinet and piano.

The intense, addictive gyrations of Ghaza Mon Amour (from Atzmon’s album ‘The Whistle Blower‘) seem made for this trio, with guest Ade Rudiana’s driving kendang spirit coaxing angular yet rolling piano, fierce oud improv and electronically-manipulated soprano sax enunciations – a quite mesmerising cocktail. And segued by the dreamy piano and questioning reed escalations of Anecdote, expansive Dawn paints an awakening aurora of gathering positivity through fluctuating, episodic imagery.

A stimulating project whose concordal ambitions are as much about world harmony as musical discovery, it’s tantalising to imagine how it might evolve by inviting guests from around the globe to add their cultural imprint.

Released on 18 August 2017, World Peace Trio is available from Proper Music, Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Dwiki Dharmawan piano, synthesizers
Gilad Atzmon clarinet, soprano saxophone, electronics
Kamal Musallam oud, guitar, midi guitar
with guest musicians:
Ade Rudiana kendang (on Ramallah, In a Sentimental Mood, Ghaza Mon Amour)
Nasser Salameh
frame drum (on Morning Mist)
Asaf Sirkis
drums (on Peace and Beyond)

worldpeacetrio.net

Enja Records – ENJ-9642 2 (2017)