‘Live’ – Brass Mask

Brass Mask LIVE

OUTRAGEOUS… cacophonous… majestic… and totally absorbing! Bandleader and Loop Collective saxophonist Tom Challenger brings the natural, live-stage experience of this nine-piece ensemble out from under the spotlights and into our hands. 

Imagine colourful New Orleans street promenades coalescing with free jazz in an unfettered, contemporary spirit, and that might just begin to identify the simmering-yet-brazen brilliance of Brass Mask. Exuberant 2013 studio debut Spy Boy first revealed the power of this coming-together of mostly London-based talent. Now, Live combines developments of some of those joyous, smile-inducing compositions/arrangements from Challenger with new material; and one look at his experimental personnel hints at the firecrackling show in prospect – George Crowley, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, Nathaniel Cross, Theon Cross, Dan Nicholls, John Blease and Jon Scott.

Tom Challenger’s inspiration for this project stems from various online bootlegs which feature, for example, the raw energy of John Coltrane, Mardi Gras Indians and Haitian Rara bands. But this is a live album with an edge, as he and Alex Bonney sensitively link and support the recorded gig (from the capital’s Servant Jazz Quarters) with imaginatively-crafted electronics, as well as ‘field recordings’ of “mangled YouTube and iPhone samples of found sound”. And it’s a blast!

The bleating, effected horns of Francilia herald Shallow Water – a slow, stirring, processional funeral march which trudges to wailing tenors and trumpets (quite different from the dance-groove original); Lil’ Liza Jane‘s infectious, shuffling trad playfulness echoes to almost sneery horn riffs amidst the most vociferous tuba, organ and percussion; and trancelike The Bague is just as cunningly shambolic. Held-back gospel tune Indian Red feels made for such a live setting, preening itself with hard-blown brass before breaking into swingin’ double-time abandon, whilst the grungy, rasping blues of I Thank You Jesus, underpinned by Nicholls’ sustained, palpitating keys and Theon Cross’s wildly whooping tuba, demands to be heard over and over.

Nyodi‘s oscillating canvas invites a delightfully unexpected Joe Zawinul-type tuba groove (à la River People), complemented by Wayne Shorter-style tenor tumblings and, appropriately, sustained, Weather Reportian chord clusters. Rapid, madcap capers in The Merman suggest Madness on acid; and the glorious, reedy, push-pull riff of Francis P (all ten minutes or more of it, compared to the original of less than three) enjoys a frenetic phantasmagoria of organ/keys, jousting trumpets, flailing tuba and the oxymoron of an ascending electronic wind-down.

A splendid, visceral hullabaloo. Turn up the volume and immerse yourself in it. Released on 21 April 2017, Brass Mask’s Live is available as CD or digital album from Bandcamp.

 

Tom Challenger tenor sax, clarinet
George Crowley tenor sax, clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
Dan Nicholls organ, keyboards, percussion
John Blease drums, percussion
Jon Scott percussion

tom challenger.co.uk
loop collective.org

Babel Label – BDV15137 (2017)

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‘Our Lady of Stars’ – Sorana Santos

SoranaSantos

OVERFLOWING with intrigue and frequently startling with the unexpected, Sorana Santos’ debut album Our Lady of Stars on her own label I Dream in Sound feels like one of the most delightfully original vocal jazz offerings of the year to date; a recording whose original compositions and performances progress with delicious unpredictability until they eventually seep into one’s soul.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Sorana Santos piano, prepared piano, guitar, voice
James Maddren drums
Joe Wright saxophones, feedback flute
Alex Bonney trumpet, cornet
Ligeti Quartet strings

sorana.co

I Dream in Sound – IDIS1CD (2015)

‘Ana’ – Emilia Mårtensson

ana2

MUSICAL DISCOVERIES are, I believe, waymarkers on a lifetime’s journey of appreciation and enjoyment of the artistic creativity that those blessed with a talent bestow upon us. Once experienced, they stay with us forever, evoking memories of the first unexpected rush of exhilaration that touched our soul.

In 2010, I chanced upon a debut release (Kairos Moment) by hitherto unknown contemporary jazz ensemble, Kairos 4tet. Led by indomitable saxophonist Adam Waldmann, their originality spoke loudly and clearly to me – and amongst the instrumental energy, a jazz vocalist delivered a single heartfelt ballad, Unresolved. Transfixed by its depth and beauty, I went on to discover this solo artist’s own debut album (And So It Goes… with pianist Barry Green) as well as appearances on subsequent Kairos albums and intimate piano-accompanied performances in London and Manchester.

Unsurprisingly, Emilia Mårtensson is rapidly making a name for herself on the London jazz circuit and beyond. A grounding in the folksongs of her native Sweden and standards of the leading ladies of jazz, combined with an admiration for a singer-songwriter genre that includes Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, has resulted in a meltingly gorgeous voice characterised by sincerity, warmth, dynamic control and endearingly crisp Anglo-Swedish diction.

Masterminded by producers Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney, this second solo release features a particularly inventive instrumental line-up, the spacial detail of which complements and colours Mårtensson’s sensitive approach so appropriately. As before, Barry Green’s expressive and intuitive piano is the perfect match for Emilia’s velvety tones. Rhythmic and ornamental zest is provided via a refreshing range of timbres from Brazilian percussionist Adrian Adewale; and bringing a deep sense of equilibrium is bassist Sam Lasserson. Finally, fashioning the most wonderfully interwoven textures on half of the album’s ten tracks are the Fable String Quartet, whose precision and integrality with this project are outstanding.

Illustrating all of this is opening number Harvest Moon, written by Jamie Doe, Emilia’s soft vocals floating above a gently bubbling momentum. In profound dedication to her grandmother, Ana is communicated with love (Soft, at night, her hand on mine, she says, “Close your eyes before you open up your mind”), Barry Green decorously enhancing the affectionate mood over Sam Crowe’s delicate string arrangement. Barnaby Keen’s Learnt from Love is a standout, the distinctive chord progressions and melody of the chorus, in particular, still lodged in my mind from a live first hearing last July; and Emilia’s voice also displays a brighter, stronger edge.

Tomorrow Can Wait is perfect for Mårtensson, the heart-on-sleeve poignancy of writer Emine Pirhason’s verses emphasised by the initial sparseness of solo piano, and Emilia’s digitally-layered harmonies are used to great effect here, suggesting her folk roots. Traditional Swedish folksong is represented by bass/percussion-accompanied När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År; and Black Narcissus Music, Joe Henderson’s familiar tune set to Emilia Mårtensson’s skilfully-intoned words, is interpreted breezily courtesy of a great Rory Simmons string arrangement which melds perfectly with the instrumental trio.

Paul Simon’s Everything Put Together Falls Apart comes so naturally to Mårtensson before Green and co. run with it in a jaunty, bluesy direction. Moffi’s Song confirms her own songwriting prowess, its string-led arrangement imbuing this tribute to her grandfather with the feel of an old jazz classic; and to close, a folksy unaccompanied miniature, Vackra Människa – the translation, ‘beautiful person’, so very fitting for this accomplished singer.

Released on 7 April 2014 (in Babel Label’s 20th anniversary year), Ana is available here … a musical discovery awaits.

Video: The Making of Ana
Video: Harvest Moon


Emilia Mårtensson
 voice
Barry Green piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Adriano Adewale percussion

The Fable String Quartet
Kit Massey violin
Paloma Deike violin
Becky Hopkin viola
Natalie Rozario cello

Babel Label – BDV14126 (2014)

‘Trio Riot’ – Trio Riot

TrioRiot

TRIO!… RIOT!… PUNK!… JAZZ!… BOOOOOOOOOOM!!!! It’s OK – I haven’t ‘lost it’ (as they say)… but this saxophone/drum trio is perhaps as hard-hitting and as ‘in your face’ as they come.

Released on the Efpi label, already renowned for blazing a trail of alternative improvisatory forms, Trio Riot bring us an eponymous album of honest, edgy, brash, chordless energy. With a sound that might encompass the ’60s jazz innovation of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, the gritty North-Eastern blues of Back Door and the anarchy of mid-’70s British punk, Anglo/Danish/Swiss band Trio Riot brandish an extreme vitality rarely heard on the current contemporary jazz scene.

Formed in Helsinki in 2009, the trio comprises Danish alto player Mette Rasmussen, Swiss tenorist Sam Andreae and, from the quintessentially northern UK oasis of Bollington (famous not least for its fine ales), drummer David Meier. Taking, as a musical parallel, the vast industrial heritage of Manchester, together these three instrumentalists creatively forge a feral, punchy and straight-down-the-line concoction of original, improvisatory, yet well-structured compositions which ‘take no prisoners’ when it comes to openness of heart and raw musical passion. You’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’ (‘Marmite’-style) – but I defy you not to be impressed (as I am) with the conviction of Mette, Sam and David.

Opening number, 3, fanfares the trio’s intent – grating, trilled sax solos interspersed with heavy drum responses; squawking, guttural tenor lines and shrill alto shrieks against fast-paced rhythms (those of a nervous disposition, please alight here!). Lala-lala (an onomatapaeic title) provides a percussive canvas over which Rasmussen and Andreae duel with increasing fervour; and Rondeau finds both sax players in a less confrontational frame of mind – indeed, they’re maybe of a more cheeky mindset, challenging drummer Meier to play their rasping and fun-filled game. I’m So Glad It Wasn’t Me sputters and sparks with atonal brashness; and Candid is just that – outspoken, with almost timpani-like heaviness… all good stuff!

Bartstock opens (and closes) with contrapuntal vigour, Rasmussen and Andreae chirping wildly in-between, against the rapid complexity of Meier’s percussion. Duo is a tense conversation between alto and tenor, though not without the suggested unwanted interjection of Meier’s ‘nails on blackboard’ cymbal-screeching; and Guru is an all-out rumpus, with impressively anarchic, tremulant, harmonic tenor whinings.

Unsurprisingly, Dadadadadadadada (is that enough ‘da’s?) is an intense three-minute celebration of all things reed and percussion – love it or hate it, it’s simply (for me, at least) sheer, unalloyed madness… but all in the best possible taste! 31 is sparky, blistering, riotous and altogether… well, wonderful. And Disorder (Joy Division) just revels in the relentless punky/’discoey’ groove laid down by David Meier, Andreae’s tenor improvising against Rasmussen’s quirky, repetitious and percussive alto. Drawing breath, closing number The Last Hurrah finds a corrupted solace in the searing, sinewy combination of cymbals and reedy harmonics, until alto and tenor find a mutually common ground and, finally, real beauty in their partnership – a mutual coming-together.

Recorded in just two days, mixed by Alex Bonney and packaged in Efpi’s ever-distinctive screenprinted sumptuousness (courtesy of designer Simen Engen Larsen), ‘Trio Riot’ is released on 17 March 2014 – available here. Trio… RIOT!


Mette Rasmussen
alto saxophone
Sam Andreae tenor saxophone
David Meier drums

Efpi Records – 2014

‘meets I Dig Monk, Tuned’ – ReDiviDeR

Redivider

AN INTRIGUING and, ultimately, satisfying second album from experimental Irish four-piece, ReDiviDeR, led by drummer and composer Matthew Jacobson.

The chordless (and palindromic) quartet have frequently trodden the festival trail of their homeland with an interesting mix of textures, grooves and samples, all melded by an innate jazz sensibility played out on alto sax, trombone, bass and drums. Citing such influences as Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Tim Berne, this latest release reveals their sharp creativity to a wider audience. And, if your ears are responsive (as well as eyes open to one or two track/guest-name japes – though my guess is the ‘AleX’s were an anagram too far!), there is much here to savour. Following up 2012 debut ‘Never odd or eveN’, they are found here in collaborative vein as four established UK jazz musicians guest on tracks written specifically with them in mind (the anagram of ‘United Kingdom’ as album title ‘I Dig Monk, Tuned’ far too clever for me!).

Leaping straight to the centrepoint of the seven tracks (a couple of which are brief interludes), Bin Saved begins with a compelling descending pattern over which a resonant fretless electric bass with trombone, plus alto embellishment, invites guest cellist Ben Davis to improvise impassionedly into a solo spotlight. Nick Roth’s alto then takes the piece on a new, raunchier route, Davis and Derek Whyte sharing the rocky bassline, Jacobson snapping cleanly on drums. Concluding with mellower, more echoic trombone and bass, it’s quite a number!

Opener, Twin Kodes, features the now-almost-trademark abstract Rhodes wizardry of Kit Downes, followed by effective, trippy, post-produced trombone from Colm O’Hara; then… a twist into Downes’ ‘Troyka’ territory and a random-yet-structured trombone/sax dash to the finish. Animal Code sees Alex Bonney’s trumpet beefing-up the horns, a wild elephantine cacophony ensuing over stampeding drums and electronics.

The guitar of Alex Roth brings an altogether different timbre to Velvet Pouch, a dark, smouldering track of repeated riffs and effects against an intensifying bass and drum groove whilst, finally, May I Agree‘s semitone-clustered, cascading horn melodies tumble along to Jacobson’s pointed, snare-driven rhythm.

As members of touring initiative Match & Fuse, it’s easy to understand why ReDiViDeR are a popular live act – check out the links below for further information.


Matthew Jacobson
drums  matthewjacobsonmusic.com
Derek Whyte bass
Nick Roth alto sax
Colm O’Hara trombone
with
Kit Downes keys
Alex Roth guitar
Alex Bonney trumpet/electronics
Ben Davis cello

ReDiviDeR
Diatribe
Match & Fuse

Diatribe – DIACD016 (2013)

‘Live at the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival’ – Troyk-estra

Troyk-estra

ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING and progressive trios to emerge in recent years has been Troyka, the members of which have also become key players in a host of other contemporary jazz and jazz/rock projects: Chris Montague (guitar, loops), Kit Downes (organ, keyboards) and Josh Blackmore (drums).

Their most recent album, ‘Moxxy’ (Edition Records, 2012), created a surge of interest for the band’s creative process of responding to an array of musical sources and influences to deliver their unique and heady mix of improvised jazz, rock, funk and electronics. Troyka’s live gigs are like no other, these three masters of their craft intuitively creating a mesmerising, sparky, sensory experience. So, with that same visionary spirit, how about augmenting the trio with the power and depth of a big band? Crazy? Well, what ensued was nothing short of a jazz sensation!

Montague, Downes and Blackmore assembled an 18-piece of brass, reeds, bass and vibes (personnel listed below, including familiar names such as Reuben Fowler, James Allsop and Mike Chillingworth) under the direction of Royal Academy of Music Head of Jazz, Nick Smart, who would bring a very different dimension to their music. To re-visit a sound originally built on a collective understanding between three, and widen its scope to a much larger ensemble, must have been something of a challenge – but the result, hearing it captured from the live setting of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival (originally recorded for BBC Jazz On 3), is both exhilarating and enthralling (and difficult to categorise – though try to imagine a hybrid of Dave Holland, Matthew Herbert and Beats & Pieces plus Keith Emerson, Billy Cobham and Hendrix!).

Anagram antics are plentiful in the titles of some arrangements of existing pieces, so Dropsy changes to Dry Ops, Chaplin becomes Hip Clan, Zebra turns into Braze… but it’s the musical transformations, of course, that amaze, along with specially-written new pieces. Opener Dry Ops confirms straightaway the successful fusion: brass section able to echo the instantly-recognisable technique of Montague’s guitar/effects with similar spike and crackle, as well as combining with the reeds to fashion a tight NYC-sounding orchestration, whilst also allowing space for individual improvisation. The big band scoring of Gain Noon Soon sounds particularly demanding, but this ten-minute number really sparkles, Blackmore just astonishing with the complexity and rapidity of his drumming. Braze is such a fantastic development of the original trio piece, Downes impressing with signature firecracker organ/keyboards and Montague bristling on lead guitar, whilst incisive chordal stabs and mischievous vibes add peppy colour.

Misterioso Elegant Her‘s mournful, bluesy trumpet opening and slide guitar precede an increasingly urgent pace which eventually unfolds into a particularly BIG band sound and a great coda, Downes and Montague rocking (crank up the volume for a superb live feel!). Coley‘s funk-driven groove – led by the Troyka trio, bassist Louis Van Der Westhuizen and Ralph Wyld on vibes – is so gripping, featuring great organ, trombone and tenor soloing. The spacial Hip Clan – a ‘Moxxy’ favourite featuring Chris Montague’s atmospheric Floydian guitar lead – takes on a different timbre as sustained brass and reeds, with vibes, seemingly float it beyond the clouds. Finally, the cryptically-titled 80 Neon Births teases with big band swing, only to develop into an enveloping electronic haze against Blackmore’s percussive power before a blazing, full-on finale.

Those present at Cheltenham’s Parabola hailed Troyk-estra’s performance as “unforgettable”, “stupendous”, “jaw-droppingly amazing” – and, with this closely-recorded and remixed live account, we now have the opportunity to enjoy much of that magic for ourselves. Launching at London Jazz Festival on 23 November 2013 (Purcell Room, Southbank Centre at 3pm), with a general release date of 2 December 2013, this remarkable debut album is available from Impossible Ark at BandCamp. Prepare to be dazzled!


Chris Montague
guitar, loops  chrismontague.com
Kit Downes organ, keyboards  kitdownes.com
Josh Blackmore drums  joshuablackmore.com

Nick Smart conductor
Reuben Fowler trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Noel Langley trumpet
Imogen Hancock trumpet
Kieran Stickle McLeod trombone
Patrick Hayes trombone
Tom Green trombone
Courtney Brown bass trombone
Mike Chillingworth alto saxophone
Nadim Teimoori alto saxophone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Allsop tenor saxophone
Sam Rapley bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Louis Van Der Westhuizen bass
Ralph Wyld vibes

Troyk-estra

Impossible Ark Records (2013)

‘Spy Boy’ – Brass Mask

Image

AN EARTHY, ALL-ACOUSTIC ENSEMBLE can be both refreshing and deeply affecting… and, indeed, Tom Challenger’s Brass Mask octet reaches right out and grabs you by the ears, heart and soul. With debut album, ‘Spy Boy’, this creative powerhouse delivers a distinctively venturous 13-track programme of exuberant (and, at times, emotional) strength.

Formed only last year, the standout grouping of horns and percussion offers intense, brash, rhythmic grooves as well as infectious, improvisational joy and freedom, drawing on a variety of influences such as the carnival atmospheres of Mardi Gras/New Orleans street bands, as well as Deep South spirituals/hymns and South African township music. Sax, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, drum and percussion pyrotechny is provided by current London jazz luminaries George Crowley, Dan Nicholls, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, John Blease, and Nathaniel and Theon Cross.

Challenger, primarily as a tenorist, is already a big name on the contemporary jazz scene (Dice Factory, Outhouse, Fofoulah), and here he magically weaves together a tapestry of imaginative self-penned compositions and brilliantly leftfield arrangements of traditional tunes, resulting in a blaze of colour (Dan Nicholls’ sleeve art interpreting this well!). As well as the thrilling invention of the writing, Challenger clearly relies on the skill, intuition and pluckiness of his colleagues – and how it pays off. Take, for example, Francis P, a short, rebellious number which encapsulates the raw abandon of this eight-piece; sax and trumpet sections blasting a strong unison line over irreverent tuba and deliberate clattering drums, tenor breaking off to improvise grittily.

Thank You Jesus immediately appeals with its slow, hard, bluesy edge. The lazy, swaggering, discordant Indian Red possesses a similarly charismatic gospel feel, seemingly taking to the street and then ending in glorious up-tempo celebration – irresistible! And the first of these three traditional tunes, Shallow Water, displays the band’s trademark bold unison melodies and effective overlapping of parts.

Rain, Rain, Rain dances lightly before increasingly building its strength and complexity, the impudent, crunchy tenor and trombone solos here a dream. The deep tuba, trombone, bass clarinet and percussion rhythm of Wizards provides a superbly mysterious ground for saxes, trumpets and clarinets to blend as well as fly improvisationally – and with razor-sharp brass stabs and high trumpet lines above escalating heavy drums, this proves to be nine and a half minutes of creative excellence. The foreboding of closely-meshed reeds in Israfil is made all the more intense by an incessant cymbal rhythm which then menacingly stops short of the conclusion, creating a tangible tension; and from a similarly troubled opening, Don’t Stand Up becomes impressively driven by rapid bongo-led percussion, pacey instrumental soloing and the occasional, characteristic tuba (“whOOh!”) outburst!

Brass Mask play tightly, as one, yet also enjoy what appears to be considerable free reign – the entire album maintaining a spirit which, once you are ‘in’, is so incredibly satisfying. This is certainly ‘jazz out of the comfort zone’ and, for that reason, hugely exhilarating. But hearing is believing – check out the excitement at Bandcamp.

Released on Babel Label, 14 October 2013.


Tom Challenger
sax, clarinet, percussion
George Crowley sax, clarinet
Dan Nicholls sax, bass clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
John Blease drums, percussion
(additional percussion: Jez Miles, Hugh Wilkinson)

tomchallenger.co.uk
babellabel.co.uk
loopcollective.org

Babel Label – BDV13121 (2013)