‘Young At Heart’ – Ida Sand

IdaSand

POTENTIALLY sending seasoned Neil Young fans running for cover, Swedish songstress Ida Sand delves into the prolific songbook of the seminal Canadian singer/songwriter in this collection of thirteen jazz-inflected soft-rock interpretations.

But for those of us with only a vague recollection of Young’s influential early 1970s albums Harvest Moon and After the Gold Rush, or none at all, Sand’s soulful voice and piano celebrate selections from his classic output with attractive, sympathetic poise. Aided by a particularly polished core band – Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), Ola Gustafsson (guitars), Dan Berglund (acoustic bass), Christer Jansson (drums, percussion) – her guests include compatriot mentor (and producer here), trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren.

Ida Sand explains that she places at least as much importance on lyrics as melodies, and has sought to retain the integrity of each of the chosen songs. That said, the richness and pitch of her voice (influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James), when compared to Young’s high range, colour the sound in a markedly different way; and gone is the prominent acoustic guitar timbre so characteristic of that transitional ’60s/’70s era. But what does remain is the timeless, innate strength of Neil Young’s writing, communicated in fresh, contemporary arrangements.

The album’s rock thread is maintained throughout by Ola Gustafsson’s beautifully sustained/effected electric guitars, as in opener Cinammon Girl – and there are frequent imaginative textures such as Dan Berglund’s crunchy arco bass and the wide tremolo of Jesper Nordenström’s Fender Rhodes (confirming that these are, by no means, insipid covers). Pondering the decades of musical ‘water under the bridge’ since these songs first saw light, there’s distinct post-prog, melancholic grandeur in Sand’s rendition of Hey Hey, My My; and the pop-soul ballad feel of Harvest Moon is a long way down the road from the original’s folksiness, especially with Per Johansson’s silky tenor sax interludes.

Other highlights include Ohio, translating Neil Young’s rawness into a fuller, electronic sound embellished by Nils Landgren’s echoic, Groove Armada-like trombone; and the mellow, organ-sustained simplicity of Helpless evokes the remnants of the golden ’60s. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is infectious, with strong backing vocals, flamboyant wah-wah guitar and wailing Hammond; and Crosby Stills Nash & Young number Sea of Madness is carried well by Sand’s impassioned vocal and full band rock-out.

Whether or not you have Young ‘at heart’, this is an unexpectedly fine release, and great fair-weather driving music – so retract the sunroof, turn up the volume… and hit the gas!

Released 23 March 2015, details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Ida Sand vocals, piano
Jesper Nordenström keyboards
Ola Gustafsson guitars
Dan Berglund acoustic bass
Christer Jansson drums, percussion
with
Bo Sundström vocals
Nils Landgren trombone, vocals,
Per Texas Johansson tenor saxophone
Sven Lindvall electric bass
André Monde de Lang background vocals
Paris Renita background vocals

ACT Music – 9729-1 (2015)

‘We Make The Rules’ – Jochen Rueckert

CDDG6T1-002.pdf

THE MAXIM of German drummer, composer and bandleader Jochen Rueckert is certainly meritorious as his quartet releases We Make The Rules, captured following an international tour: “I’m getting a little allergic to ‘project style recordings’, where you play music in the studio without being able to fine tune it on the road. All said and done, the music on the album was recorded in only seven hours and six of the tracks are first takes, the rest second takes. The perks of having a working band!”.

That ethos is palpable in the assured immediacy of his interaction with fellow NYC-based band members Mark Turner (tenor sax), Lage Lund (electric guitar) and Matt Penman (acoustic bass), with whom he has worked for the last few years – all nine numbers here were written specifically for this grouping. It’s a sequence that requires ‘total immersion’ to fully appreciate its experiential depth, as these musicians are experts in detail and have evidently honed Rueckert’s technical, written frameworks before embarking with their panoply of break-loose extemporisations – there’s never any sense that this quartet is safely going through the motions.

The luxuriance of Mark Turner’s tenor is immediately apparent in opening number Eggshells, perfectly matched to the mellow solo and chordal reverberations of Lage Lund’s guitar; and Matt Penman and Jochen Rueckert provide its sensitive, detailed rhythmic buoyancy. Pretty From Afar displays a similar line of accomplishment, with a freer central section which finds guitar and sax weaving ideas together, the balance beautifully observed; and fans of TV’s Breaking Bad, take note – Saul Goodman swaggers to fine bass work from Penman (‘s’all good, man!).

Title track We Make The Rules is delightfully ebullient – and Rueckert, though never dominating proceedings, underpins his three colleagues’ improvisations with increasingly strident, ticking complexity. Slow ballad Bess glides unerringly to the softness of bass and drums, Turner’s congenial tenor lines melding effortlessly with Lund’s lusciously-woven chords; and there’s a mischievous streak to The Cook Strait which invites a more open dialogue amongst the quartet.

Rueckert’s cerebrally-intended Alloplasty is characterised by the enhanced echoings of Lund’s guitar, and the entire sequence ripples pleasingly to impressive drum patterns and Turner’s eloquent searchings. Following, the faster swing of Yellow Bottoms encourages Lund further into the spotlight with his measured-yet-leftfield creativity – a joy to hear; and finally, Manong Twilight At The Whatever Hotel (inspired by an artwork by the composer’s late jazz aficionado uncle) comfortably relaxes into a sublime, soporific haze in which tenorist Mark Turner basks.

Jochen Rueckert’s Whirlwind debut may not shout out strongly memorable melodies or revolutionary techniques – but it radiates an understated warmth and sophistication which is so very appealing. Released on 13 October 2014, visit the We Make The Rules album page for further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing.

 

Mark Turner tenor sax
Lage Lund electric guitar
Matt Penman acoustic bass
Jochen Rueckert drums

jochenrueckert.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4658 (2014)

‘Forward In All Directions’ – Andy Milne & Dapp Theory

AndyMilne

THE DISTILLATION of the genres that the five members of Dapp Theory inhabit and are influenced by produces a new album of quite dazzling musicianship. Directed by pianist and keyboardist Andy Milne, Forward In All Directions primarily exudes jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop, with a dash of vocal poetry – yet this resulting programme of Milne’s ten originals borders on the uncategorizable, such is the breadth of its creativity and eclecticism.

Firmly established on the New York jazz scene and respected highly as both musician and educator, Canadian-born Andy Milne’s CV speaks for itself, including associations with Steve Coleman, Joe Lovano, Archie Shepp and Ravi Coltrane. Dapp Theory has been in existence for some fifteen years and was formed, in Milne’s words, to “tell passionate stories, promote peace and inspire collective responsibility towards uplifting the human spiritual condition.” He sees this latest release – co-produced by renowned Yellowjackets founder Jimmy Haslip – as a milestone; and that sense of celebration is communicated by a personnel equally adept with angulous strength and dreamy lyricism: Aaron Kruziki (reeds and programming), John Moon (vocal poetry), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Kenny Grohowski (drums and percussion). Guesting are Ben Monder (guitar), Jean Baylor (lead vocal) and Gretchen Parlato (additional vocals).

From the percussive complexity and pressing, synthy urgency of opener Hopscotch to the Return To Forever-like wordless vocal balm of Katharsis, there is much to discover here. Indeed, the profusion of the writing, instrumentation and improvisation within this sixty-five minutes is spectacularly whelming on a first hearing – and then different spotlights illuminate the detail over time in an abundant journey of discovery. Photographs illustrates this, its wonderfully crisp, buoyant rhythm supporting a shared, bright lead from Milne’s synth and Aaron Kruziki’s soprano; and Kenny Grohowski’s jazz/rock drumming technique (so well produced) is compelling throughout. A chilling, menacing theme in Search Party is maintained brilliantly by Fender Rhodes, synths and electric bass with sustained, inquiring lines from Ben Monder’s guitar; here, the anxious, megaphone-style vocal poetry of John Moon is well suited.

The combination of Christopher Tordini’s earthy, tensile double bass and Kruziki’s douduk sets up the mysterious Eastern-imbued landscape of In The Mirror, Darkly. Then, conjuring a late ’70s sound world (echoes of Wayne Shorter, Jeff Berlin, Billy Cobham and National Health’s Dave Stewart), Nice To Meet You hits a kind of balanced retro funkiness, Milne’s colourful, chordal acoustic piano chords a key element of this stand-out track. The Trust‘s bass clarinet and sinewy piano sinisterly waltz and intertwine to Tordini’s supple double bass, Milne revelling in the open space; and the grittiness of his Rhodes in How And When Versus What encourages a terrific groove which gives way to serene, guitar-led transcendence (there’s so much in this!).

Dreamy sax-led interlude Fourteen Fingers precedes a final, nine-minute spectacle of ‘prog’ proportions – Headache In Residence – thanks to its slow-burning, overdriven guitar energy. And, as with this entire project, it’s the sum of its parts which defines its ingenuity, Andy Milne and his colleagues evidently putting their heart and soul into it. In all directions… it’s quite a blast!

Released on 8 September 2014, further information, audio clips, purchasing and promo video can be found at Whirlwind Recordings.

 

Andy Milne piano, prepared piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesisers
Aaron Kruziki soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, douduk,
alto saxophone, additional keyboard programming
John Moon vocal poetics (tracks 2, 4, 5)
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Kenny Grohowski drums and percussion
with guests
Ben Monder guitar
Jean Baylor lead vocal
Gretchen Parlato additional vocals

andymilne.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4660 (2014)

‘Devotion’ – Marko Churnchetz

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THAT MOMENT when the ears prick up and the spine tingles. In the world of contemporary jazz, it happens fairly frequently… but not so often to this level. Debuting on the Whirlwind label, Slovenian pianist/keyboardist and composer Marco Churnchetz may just have entered the annual ‘best of’ stakes with Devotion – an outstanding programme of originals.

New York-based Churnchetz (Črnčec) is clearly influenced by the 1970s explosion of seminal keyboard creatives, including Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Together with an exceptional Stateside quartet – Mark Shim (tenor sax, midi controller), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Justin Brown (drums) – he melds stylish post-bop jazz and progressive jazz/rock grooves into an intoxicatingly distinctive fusion. And all presided over by his own staggering pianistic proficiency.

Being There is a suitably sizzling curtain-raiser, the quartet’s acoustic personae bristling with energy, Churnchetz and tenorist Mark Shim quite breathtaking in their relentless extemporisations. Here is a band high in confidence, in full control – yet this is only for starters! The rapid piano and Patrick Moraz-like midi synth runs of feverish, flamencan Schizo prepare the way for the most incredibly gritty tenor show from Shim… and it’s the pin-sharp rhythmic edge provided by double bassist Tordini and drummer Brown which perpetuates the tingling excitement. Title track Devotion cymbal-shimmers to the lyrical meanderings of piano and tenor – a beautifully open and considered ballad which demonstrates this quartet’s shared intuition, building in intensity with Shim reaching his higher register.

The jazz fusion pizazz of Gonzalost (presumably a reference to the brilliance of Afro-Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba) is one of the finest recorded displays I have experienced all year. The perfect electric bass and Fender Rhodes groove partnership here summons memories of Bill Bruford’s late ’70s solo releases (Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin), Shim carrying the pitch-bent synth torch brightly, and Justin Brown (fix the ‘drum cam’ on him!) absolutely scintillating at the kit. Complete with infectious Latin piano octaves and tremendous band co-ordination throughout, this is one for iPod repeat mode. A brief Interprelude keeps the pot boiling, leading to similarly blazing (and appropriately titled) Risk Free, characterised by highly-charged tenor and piano, and inhabitating a sound world which nods to the likes of Weather Report and the Moutin Reunion Quartet. Running at eight minutes (and in common with most of the tracks), there is space for themes and ideas to develop, Shim’s searching tenor displaying Shorteresque beauty, and Justin Brown magnificent in hard-hitting complexity.

Shim’s mellifluous tenor lead in Without Tomorrow is achingly beautiful against supporting acoustic piano, bass and drums – an exquisite repose before the keyboard-fest of Late sparkles to the retro-imbued mix of Rhodes, midi controller, electric bass and drums (sans sax) – utterly irresistible. The closing Improvisation finds Churnchetz’s solo piano animated, rippling and enquiring – a raw glimpse of his unfettered creative genius.

Released on 7 July 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

A wondrous release – not to be missed!

 

Marko Churnchetz piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards
Mark Shim tenor saxophone, Yamaha Wind electric MIDI controller
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Justin Brown drums

markocrncec.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4653 (2014)

‘Colorfield’ – Romain Pilon

Color_Pilon

FRENCH GUITARIST Romain Pilon presents pretty much a blank, white canvas for the cover of his new release on Whirlwind Records – which seems entirely appropriate, given the title ‘Colorfield’. For, just as the distinctive art movement of the same name saw the likes of Rothko and Gottlieb creating enveloping expanses of bright, abstract, overlapping colour, so too gleams Pilon’s impeccably-formed quartet with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Michael Janisch (bass) and Jamire Williams (drums).

Since graduating from Berklee College, the past ten years or so of Romain Pilon’s rising career have seen him working with top flight musicians in New York and Paris, and is currently a member of the Paris Jazz Underground collective (along with David Prez, Olivier Zanot, Sandro Zerafa, Yoni Zelnik and Karl Jannuska). Although a new name to me, this characterful album is sure to increase Pilon’s profile.

Colorfield’s impressive sequence of seven originals (plus a sublimely rich tenor and guitar reading of Horace Silver’s ‘Lonely Woman’) displays a sense of carefully crafted chamber jazz – though the quartet can certainly ramp up the tempo, as heard in the bass- and guitar-driven groove of the title track. There is clarity and warmth both in Pilon’s writing and playing, his open and fluid guitar style allowing the band considerable latitude, typified by the measured, cerebral calmness of ‘Man on a Wire’. And, on the subject of balance… as the chordal player here, Romain Pilon demonstrates remarkable respect for the overall colour palette, as heard in mobile opener ‘Acceptance’.

The animated ‘Twombly’ suggests the freedom of the American painter’s expressionism, Pilon’s deft, reaching solo work easily echoing the artist’s huge red swirls seen recently at the Tate Modern. Further evidence of the leader’s skilful soloing is to be found in ‘Three on Seven’, along with subtle, lush chords and the fast, fluttering bass and drums of Michael Janisch and Jamire Williams. Profoundly delicate – and maybe a love song – the melodic line of ‘You’ is shared by Walter Smith and Pilon who also allow space for Janisch’s bass to sing, both as soloist and support; and closing number ‘7th Hour’ scurries joyfully to the high rhythm maintained by Williams who is a brilliantly precise presence throughout this recording.

Launched on 7 October 2013, and featuring in the first Whirlwind Festival (Kings Place, 10-12 October), this is an intelligent and engaging set from a quartet of players who clearly feel a great connection.


Romain Pilon
 guitar
Walter Smith III tenor saxophone
Michael Janisch acoustic bass
Jamire Williams drums

romainpilon.com
whirlwind recordings.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4641 (2013)