REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.


Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Yorkshire Suite’ – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

THE PREMISE of this live recording is heartwarming, and should be to anyone with an interest in the continuation of the British big band jazz scene.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 7 December 2020 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.


Mark Ellis, Cat Miles, Matt Anderson, Will Howard, Rob Mitchell saxophones
Gareth Smith, Simon Dennis, Kim Macari, Simon Beddoe trumpets
Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Tom l’anson, Chris Dale trombones
Harry Orme guitar
Aron Kyne
John Marley bass
Steve Hanley drums

James Hamilton conductor, composer

Commissioned by Jazz Yorkshire
Recorded live at Seven Arts, Leeds, 31 May 2015
Mixed and mastered by James Hamilton, 2020

New Jazz Records (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Time OutTakes’ – The Dave Brubeck Quartet

INDELIBLY STAMPED on many a heart, 1959’s Time Out – followed by Time Further Out in 1961 – propelled pianist Dave Brubeck’s quartet with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, double bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello into jazz and pop immortality, helped by the still-ubiquitous Take Five. It became the first jazz album to sell a million copies.

Previously-unreleased recordings from the four sessions in the summer of 1959 have now been issued in Time OutTakes – the first output on the family’s Brubeck Editions imprint. Revelatory nuances are heard in alternative takes of five of the original album’s seven tracks, alongside two recently discovered numbers, plus fascinating audio insights into conversations between the artists and their studio engineers. As son Darius Brubeck explains, “Naturally, the takes chosen for release… were the most polished performances of this newly composed music. Sixty years later these ‘heads’ are familiar and this time around we can focus on the great improvisations that were held back because of little mistakes in the pre-composed sections”.

The quartet’s celebrated brand of American ‘West Coast cool’, an important waymarker in jazz ancestry, flings open the door on this archive with Blue Rondo à la Turk (whose 9/8 metre Brubeck famously heard from Turkish street musicians, a year earlier). Here, Paul Desmond’s swinging improvisations feel bluesier, less restrained; and the piano explorations are more angular, so much so that the album’s much-stated polyrhythmic experimentalism – initially unnerving, in a commercial sense, for label Columbia – is brought into sharper relief, including a hard-hitting conclusion. An elegant stride-piano difference to the opening of Strange Meadowlark (wait for the ‘attempts’ in the later banter!) is taken up by Desmond’s signature softness. How his improvisational angle changes things; and Brubeck and his rhythm section are jauntier and less inhibited, too (maybe with a chromatic-piano whiff of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Bali Hai’ at the close).

Take Five another way (it took many attempts to land on the final hit recording) turns out to be pacier, perhaps even hurried to our ears. The 5/4 piano figure obviously sets the groove, but it’s the toms of Morello (whose soundcheck playfulness gave birth to the idea) that create the ‘jam’, particularly when he weighs in with a seemingly more fervent drum solo than was first published; and Desmond is as unflappable as ever. Maybe Three To Get Ready is more akin to expectation, though there’s a perceptible ‘wink in the eye’ from the four – and its breezy disposition is embellished anew, Brubeck taking wonderful liberties with his rubato. Rounding off the Time Out tunes is Cathy’s Waltz, the title corrected from the original’s mistakenly-printed ‘Kathy’, for its then five-year-old dedicatee-in-a-tutu, Brubeck’s daughter. Still with an ascending phrase that feels like the inspiration for Lennon & McCartney’s ‘All My Loving’ of 1963, it whirls and skips to Desmond’s free-spiritedness.

Interestingly, Pick Up Sticks and Everybody’s Jumpin’ were captured in single takes at the sessions, hence no alternatives in this release. Instead, we hear fast-swinging I‘m in a Dancing Mood, whose percussive bossa episodes are evocative of the period; and Watusi Jam – a spontaneous piano trio number found unmarked on the session tapes – which is initiated by Wright’s bass groove, again featuring Morello. The frisson of collaborative adventure in this is palpable. Did they know, then, they were onto something?

Dave Brubeck passed away in 2012, just a day short of his 92nd birthday. After all these years, and admittedly with a good measure of nostalgia, to hear those Time Out tracks ‘disrupted’ by ’new’ improvisations and detail sends an involuntary tingle down the spine. So do the final track’s fascinating few minutes of back-and-forth quips (Brubeck: “Man, I can’t play it that good again… See, what’d’I tell you?… I didn’t even like that!”). So particularly for fans, this turning back of the clock to the 1959 studio – with interesting CD-booklet insights from the family, both on the pieces and the players’ characters – feels pretty special.

Released on 4 December 2020, to mark the centenary of the great man’s birth, Time OutTakes is available at Amazon, Apple Music, etc.


Dave Brubeck piano
Paul Desmond alto saxophone
Eugene Wright double bass
Joe Morello drums

Brubeck Editions – BECD20200901 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ – Gabriel Latchin Trio

THE WORDS ‘jazzed-up Christmas’ may well strike a note of suspicion with those of us who have encountered dodgy attempts to add a rhythm and a few ‘blue’ notes to The Oxford Book of Carols. But, safe to say, pianist Gabriel Latchin’s trio, with double bassist Dario Di Lecce and drummer Josh Morrison, skates to the opposite end of the scale with these glittering reinterpretations of festive songs, plus a couple of carols and an original of his own.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 December 2020 and available as CD or digital download on various platforms from this link.

Promo video


Gabriel Latchin piano
Dario Di Lecce double bass
Josh Morrison drums

Alys Jazz – AJ 1503 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Haven’ – Berardi Foran Karlen

AUSTRALIAN PIANIST Sean Foran is likely to be best known for his vibrant and long-running jazz outfit Trichotomy, but this ensemble with vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen (plus their guest, Luxembourg-based vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher) visits distinctly alternative environments.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 20 November 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Videos: No Shepherds Live Here, Bushfire Break and Orbit – Brisbane International Jazz Festival, 2017


Kristin Berardi vocals
Sean Foran piano
Rafael Karlen saxophone
with special guest
Pascal Schumacher vibraphone

Earshift Music – EAR029 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘In Fading Light’ – Tania Giannouli Trio

A TRIO led by a pianist – but not a piano trio in the expected sense. For, in new release In Fading Light, Tania Giannouli fashions a quite different energy with her Greek compatriots, trumpeter Andreas Polyzogopoulos and oud player Kyriakos Tapakis.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 17 November 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Tania Giannouli Trio at Jazzfest Berlin, November 2018 – Labyrinth
Solo piano at Ars Musica Festival, Brussels, November 2020


Tania Giannouli piano
Andreas Polyzogopoulos trumpet
Kyriakos Tapakis oud

Rattle Records – RAT-D105 (2020)