‘The Behemoth’ – Phronesis, Julian Argüelles, Frankfurt Radio Big Band

thebehemoth

THE CAPACITY OF JAZZ to reshape, reinvent and reimagine seems extraordinarily limitless – though, naturally, it’s founded on improvisation and the creative vision to ‘think outside the box’. But, especially with long-established artists’ outputs, any deviation can bring on the nagging doubts: “Might it match up to what we know; will it be as good as the original; perhaps it shouldn’t be tinkered with?” However, the success of any such venture is dependent on the integrity of the original music and the possibilities it can offer, as well as the expertise of its interpreters.

Over the last decade, acoustic trio Phronesis have democratically forged a distinctive path through the traditional piano trio format. Six albums and innumerable sell-out international shows have cemented their reputation for breathtaking, risk-taking music; and thankfully, double bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer/percussionist Anton Eger show no sign of easing up.

For their tenth anniversary, The Behemoth celebrates the band’s back catalogue with a bold commission to arrange ten compositions for the scaled-up forces of trio and fifteen-strong big band – a project confidently placed in the hands of renowned saxophonist, composer and bandleader Julian Argüelles. A founder member of Loose Tubes, Argüelles has enjoyed a long association with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Let It Be Told being a 2015 album highlight for many), so his affinity with its players was presumably crucial in both translating and integrating with the complex energy of Phronesis. Ivo Neame has previously alluded to the malleability of the trio’s music, with no two performances the same – and its potential for even greater dynamic scope has long been evident. So what do these sixty-five minutes offer?

Well, Julian Argüelles’ arrangements skilfully capture the essence of Phronesis by filling-out those familiar, snappy rhythms (heard first, here, in OK Chorale) whilst also creating lusciously-layered horn textures and space for solo improvisation – yet the beating heart of Høiby, Neame and Eger is ever-present. Closely-clustered brass and reeds in Untitled#1 suggest a stateside city skyline aurora, subtly diminishing to reveal its integral piano, bass and drum framework – and the electric guitar extemporisations of Martin Scales are certainly a previously unimagined adornment. Comparisons with the original album tracks are worth making, the tension of Stillness enhanced with muted trumpets, bass clarinet and rasping trombones before Eger’s percussive cutlery opens it up to celebratory big-band euphoria. The Latin dance-groove of Herne Hill is similarly exuberant, with a deliciously lazy wah-wah trombone solo from Peter Feil; whilst trombonist Christian Jaksø features in Neame’s piano-led Charm Defensive, which might easily have been conceived for large ensemble.

Anton Eger’s superb Zieding, too, feels so natural in its ‘new clothes’, with Jasper Høiby’s heavily-thrummed soloing prominent and Argüelles’ sleek horns and brassy stabs complementing its typically crackling trio vigour, whilst the arrangement of Phraternal emphasises its inherent mystery (these really do unfold as extended masterpieces which perfectly balance trio with big band). Høiby’s impossibly-leaping signature is present in the descending motifs of Urban Control as Argüelles’ tenor paints it in different splashes of colour, including a wonderfully overflowing solo spot; and the bassist’s Happy Notes (an early, jaunty favourite from the Green Delay and Alive albums) closes the set in cacophonic splendour.

Initially, The Behemoth may be quite a gear-change for hardened Phronesis fans. But be open to its remarkable achievement in a recording which teems with an unquenchable, adventurous spirit.

Released on 31 March 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

Promo video: Zieding

 

PHRONESIS
Jasper Høiby double bass
Ivo Name piano
Anton Eger drums, percussion

JULIAN ARGÜELLES arranger, conductor (tenor saxophone solo on Urban Control)

FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, piccolo
Oliver Leicht alto saxophone, clarinet (clarinet solo on Stillness)
Tony Lakatos tenor saxophone, alto flute (tenor solo on OK Chorale)
Steffen Weber tenor saxophone (solo on Stillness)
Rainer Heute baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Frank Wellert trumpet, flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Auer trumpet, flugelhorn (trumpet solo on Intro to Urban Control)
Axel Schlosser trumpet, flugelhorn (trumpet solo on Zieding)
Günter Bollmann trombone
Peter Feil trombone (solo on Herne Hill)
Christian Jaksjø trombone, bass trumpet (bass trumpet solo on Charm Defensive)
Manfred Honetschläger bass trombone
Martin Scales guitar (solos on Untitled#1 and Happy Notes)

phronesismusic.com

Edition Records – EDN1085 (2017)

‘Let’s Get Deluxe’ – The Impossible Gentlemen

LetsGetDeluxe

I’VE BEEN TOWING this little beauty around for a while now… and travelling with it has only served to deepen the pleasure.

Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from ‘transatlantic supergroup’ The Impossible Gentlemen, following on from 2013’s Internationally Recognised Aliens. With guitarist Mike Walker and pianist/multi-instrumentalist Gwilym Simcock in the compositional driving seat, they once again hook up with bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum, and are augmented for the first time by saxophonist, clarinettist and flautist Iain Dixon.

Maybe it’s the fine UK/US instrumental blend which makes the Gents’ music so pleasingly difficult to categorise. Certainly there’s the contemporary jazz styling of Pat Metheny (with whom Simcock has recently been touring) and John Scofield, or even Weather Report; but there are also American-rock hints of Little Feat and Steely Dan, not to mention a touch of prog and a dusting of good old British whimsy. It all adds up to an hour of exquisitely arranged, multi-layered, seamless performance which sparkles with rhythmic verve and blitheful melody.

The reputations of Walker and Simcock go before them, their individual prolificacy enriching the world of jazz quite immeasurably. But here, the sense of them relishing their North West English alliance is especially evident, with free rein to take these collaborative compositions wherever they please as they sumptuously layer-up the arrangements (assisted by Steve Rodby’s considerable production expertise). Title track Let’s Get Deluxe bubbles to an anthemic post-prog groove featuring Simcock’s lithe piano soloing over a full, sleek arrangement which enjoys the mellow beauty of his French horn and Walker’s typically soaring jazz/rock lead guitar improv. A Fedora for Dora‘s snappy rhythms, so characteristic of Simcock’s piano work, are energised by Rodby and Nussbaum – and, as often is the case here, the weave of supporting instruments (bass clarinet, French horn, tuned percussion) creates so much interest across this unfolding soundscape.

Presumably inspired by Gwilym Simcock’s love of the ‘beautiful game’, Terrace Legend excitedly simmers to Zawinul/Santana-like keyboard-and-guitar phrases before exploding into percussive euphoria, only paused by distant, evocative crowd chants; and grungy, dimly-lit Dog Time – with particularly effective bass clarinet and tremulant Hammond pairing – finds Mike Walker at his bluesy, mischievous best as his guitar repeatedly howls to the moon. Purposefully shuffling, countryfied Hold Out for the Sun is melodically bright enough to be a TV signature tune – and despite its breezy openness, the many instrumental comings-and-goings along the way are delightful.

Friend, colleague and pianist, the great John Taylor, is remembered in It Could Have Been A Simple Goodbye* – a poignant, affectionate tribute whose lush stateside arrangement is redolent of Lyle Mays. Propane Jane‘s Scottish marching band feel soon breaks into jabbing Fender Rhodes-led ebullience, Mike Walker’s gutsy, colourful, harmonic guitar a runaway joy; and bucolic closer Speak to Me of Home, featuring Iain Dixon’s soprano sax, possesses a simple charm enhanced by Steve Rodby’s gently pliant bass improvisations.

The Impossible Gentlemen have developed a keen following on the strength of their first two releases and their entertaining live shows. This full-of-life album feels like their best yet.

Released on 1 July 2016, and launching at Manchester Jazz Festival on 26 July, Let’s Get Deluxe is available from Jazz CDs, etc.

*Video, from 2015 – live at Sligo Jazz Project: (It Could Have Been) A Simple Goodbye.

 

Mike Walker guitar, dog whistle
Gwilym Simcock piano, keyboards, French horn, flugel horn, accordion, vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Iain Dixon soprano sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute
Steve Rodby bass
Adam Nussbaum drums

impossiblegentlemen.com

Basho Records – SRCD 51-2 (2016)

‘Culcha Vulcha’ – Snarky Puppy

Culcha

THE PHENOMENON known as Snarky Puppy is a grooving ‘must see’ if they’re in town!

Over the past few years, the infectious exuberance of this Brooklyn-based collective has spread out over the globe. Led by charismatic electric bassist Michael League, their seemingly inexhaustible energy has found them performing across six continents, wowing audiences from Bremen to Buenos Aires, from Manchester to Mumbai; and the sense of ‘community’ in their musical outlook has spawned residency programmes as well as many musical collaborations (most recently their second Family Dinner album featuring the likes of David Crosby, Laura Mvula and Jacob Collier).

For eleventh release Culcha Vulcha, the guys (not a snarky character amongst them!) relocated to a remote Texan pecan orchard – Sonic Ranch Studios – to record their first pure studio album in eight years. As a live band, League and colleagues fill their demographically wide audiences with an inescapable feel-good – a combination of astonishing, eclectic artistry and elated self-bemusement at the energy and new ideas they forge together on stage; but it’s also exciting to discover the sounds they carefully craft whilst spending a week in each others’ pockets. The result – well, possibly their best recorded account yet.

The personnel and instrumentation listed below only begin to indicate the heady, groove-laden ‘riffage’ that makes up this hour-plus, nine-track celebration. Often possessing an anthemic quality, the Snarkys’ memorable performances here begin to activate a ‘fave’ rush – that intro recognition which settles you in for a good time, as in the lurching groove of opener Tarova. Twang-tight horns and multifarious percussion are frequently in evidence, but its also the varied palette of pitch-bent synth improv, along with flamboyant guitar lines and League’s inherent bass impetus, which make up this potent brew.

Semente‘s Brazilian vibrancy is coloured by Chris Bullock’s peppy flute melodies and zazzy repinique triplet clattering; Grown Folks has a grungy big band urgency, full of bold horn and guitar phrases; and Gemini‘s cool, sidewalk demeanour, with mellotron and bottleneck guitar, is one of the classiest grooves heard for some time. Electronics, slow-attack synth and alto flute in Beep Box change the pace with retro space-age charm, and sophisticated clav/moog bass-driven , with so many individual instrumental highlights (at times, even redolent of Level 42 at their mid-80s live best), is a first-listen standout which has cemented itself as a ‘go-to’ to lift the spirits.

And that’s the way it continues, each track a winner – reggae-synth The Simple Life (with gritty, David Gilmour-like slide guitar) totally addictive; Cory Henry’s organ dream Palermo (written by percussionist Marcelo Woloski, and featuring haunting flugel) suggesting a gamelanese hypnotism; and Big Ugly‘s soulful, prog-tinged synth-fest a superb closer.

This album has been spinning around for a few weeks now, yet never needs a second invitation to enjoy another complete, loud play-through. Keep on doing what you’re doing, boys!

Released on 29 April 2016, Culcha Vulcha is available from the GroundUP Music website and all good retailers.

 

Cory Henry organ, Clavinet, Mellotron, Moog
Bill Laurance piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthex
Justin Stanton piano, Fender Rhodes, Omni, Prophet 6, Synthex, Arp Axxe
Bobby Sparks Clavinet, MiniMoog, Moog Bass
Michael League electric bass, nylon-string guitar, baritone guitar, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Bass, Mellotron
Bob Lanzetti electric guitar
Mark Lettieri electric guitar, baritone guitar
Chris McQueen guitar
Jay Jennings trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike “Maz” Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, keyboards
Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone
Zach Brock violin
Jason “J.T.” Thomas drums
Robert “Sput” Searight drums
Larnell Lewis drums
Nate Werth trap set, cowbells, chimes, caixa, floor tom, tambourine, shaker, angklung, cymbals, percussion, clapping
Keita Ogawa timbal, repinique, kanjira, caixa, congas
Marcelo Woloski djembe, shakers, surdo, triangle, caixa, angklung, Tang-Tang, Reco-reco cowbell, Bombo Legüero, donkey jaw, kalimba, daf, effects, clapping

snarkypuppy.com

GroundUP Music / Universal Music Classics  (2016)

‘Notes Are But Wind’ – Dino Betti van der Noot

NotesAreButWind

DINO BETTI VAN DER NOOT certainly likes to think big!

A name perhaps unfamiliar to UK audiences, the veteran Italian composer and bandleader has made his mark, especially over the last decade, with a string of bold orchestral jazz releases (most recently 2011’s September’s New Moon and 2013’s Stuff Dreams Are Made On) which might best be compared to the work of Gil Evans or Gunther Schuller.

For latest album Notes Are But Wind, he quotes a line from Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind” – to convey the notion of a cause disappearing without trace, yet the effect left either visible or as a vivid memory. The concept is vaguely symphonic in its compositional scale – a twenty-piece orchestra (predominantly brass and reeds) interpreting van der Noot’s five expansive, individually titled movements across a full hour; and the composer has specifically sought to integrate the sounds of different ages and cultures by giving improvisational freedom to instruments including the clarsach harp (of Medieval Gaelic association), the dizi (a Chinese transverse flute), didgeridoo and jazz violin.

Though contemporary jazz audiences may be less attuned to such breadth, Dino Betti’s imaginings throughout this recording are arguably his most accessible yet. He frequently elicits the high drama of theatrical or movie soundtracks through the dynamism of his orchestra, evidenced in title track Notes Are But Wind, whose mysterious, breathy dizi tones herald gritty, chromatic violin extemporisations over a solid battery of horns. The extent of van der Noot’s seemingly through-composed music (this opener at fifteen minutes’ length) clearly provides space for open contemplation as well as biting, electric bass-driven excitation – and the fluctuation of moods here may well imply that earlier ’cause and effect’ reference. Often there are protracted meanderings around a theme, creating shifting atmospheres and textures (as opposed to complex, changing rhythms and melodies); but, nevertheless, the detail in the arrangements can be entrancing.

A synthy backwash introduces Memories from a Silent Nebula (developed from a composition of 1987, inspired by a fragment of a Gregorian Magnificat), its amorphous, mystical timbres building to big band grandeur overlayed with cacophonous free jazz improvisation; and whilst brash In the Deep Bosom of the Ocean could easily resemble the revelry of New Orleans street jazz, its mournful fanfare and discordant disintegration is intended to highlight the plight of Mediterranean refugees seeking a better life (a comparison which seems slightly at odds with the arrangement’s exhilaration – but perhaps that’s the point).

The brassy ebullience of Midwinter Sunshine (another 1987 reworking) is infectious, as blistering trombone, trumpet and sax solos, buoyed by clanging percussion and vibes, feasibly evoke bustling cityscapes – likely to be one of the most dazzling, frenetic, full-on episodes you’ll hear all year! To close, a heartfelt tribute to Italian pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini, who passed away in 2014 – a piece whose sorrowful ruminations might hint at Philip Glass’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ symphonies, evolving into a triumphal climax heightened by wide violin portamenti/glissandi before a suitably reverential departure.

Voted ‘Italian Album of the Year 2015′ in Musica Jazz magazine’s annual critics’ poll, Notes Are But Wind possesses a grand and distinctive jazz spirit which is difficult to ignore.

Available from online retailers, including StradivariusAmazon and iTunes.

 

Dino Betti van der Noot director, composer

The orchestra:
Gianpiero LoBello, Alberto Mandarini, Daniele Moretto, Alberto Capra trumpets, flugelhorns
Luca Begonia, Stefano Calcagno, Enrico Allevena trombones
Gianfranco Marchesi bass trombone
Sandro Cerino dizi, flute, alto flute, didgeridoo, bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Francesco Bianchi clarinet, alto saxophone
Giulio Visibelli flute, alto flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Claudio Tripoli flute, tenor saxophone
Gilberto Tarocco alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Luca Gusella vibraphone
Emanuele Parrini violin
Niccolò Cattaneo keyboards
Vincenzo Zitello clarsach harp
Gianluca Alberti electric bass
Stefano Bertoli, Tiziano Tononi drums, percussion

Stradivarius – STR 57915 (2015)

‘A Moveable Feast’ – Mark Pringle

MarkPringle

WHO WOULD IMAGINE that quite such a breadth of engaging, meaningful jazz creativity might be realised inside 32 minutes?

24 year-old British pianist Mark Pringle has increasingly been making waves with his singular and adventurous approach to music-making. When he was just 19, about to embark on a scholarship at Birmingham Conservatoire, he appeared with his teacher, the splendid John Law, on duo album This Is; and earlier this year, he won a Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, as well as receiving an accolade to treasure from the sadly, recently-departed John Taylor, confirming him to be “an exceptionally gifted pianist and composer, and a remarkable improviser.”

Pringle’s inspiration for this debut album arose from his studies in Paris, drawing on cultural and naturalistic influences such as the work of Olivier Messaien and taking to heart author Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs of the capital: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Remarkably, in his writing for 12-piece ensemble, the pianist appears to ingest and then musically express the varietal sounds of the city, not unlike the way Messaien interpreted birdsong; and there are also hints of Ravel’s jazz inflections. It can all be found in opening number A Real Bombshell, whose skittering, shunting impressions might well reflect the chaos of a Paris rush hour. With string quartet at its heart, it has an attractive big band dynamism, offering a fantastic weave of brass and reed textures (reminiscent of Mark Lockheart’s evergreen Ellington in Anticipation) as Percy Pursglove’s shrill trumpet rises out of the clamour. Ode to the Trees evokes a moonlit woodland exploration, its quietly bluesy piano groove prompting an almost alarming crescendo of hoots, chatters and squawks from an ensemble heading towards the stature of Count Basie (with frissons of Carla Bley).

Bookended by the quirkiness of two miniatures, Happy Plants I & II (first, the strings’ playful pizzicato, and then an intriguing New Orleans/calypso hybrid), Hasha’s Theme seems to draw on Gershwin and Ellington – and the maturity of Pringle’s arrangement brings out both lush and jarring major/minor horns, fronted by Chris Young’s fabulously nonchalant alto. The Writer (Hemingway perhaps) is mischievous, its tentative first steps emphasising how well the strings and woodwind integrate; and both this and following track Through the Grate further reveal Mark Pringle’s knack of slowly unfolding a dramatic, trembling landscape with flecks and fizzes of orchestral colour, as well as sudden changes of tempi and dynamics (neither recommended for an iPod playlist along a dark country track!). And the final snippet, a windband-like And That’s OK, settles the equilibrium…… or does it?

Here is a recording which, in terms of composition, improvisation and overall musicianship, is exquisitely formed; yet it also alludes to many greater heights yet to be conquered. Released on Stoney Lane Records on 18 September 2015, A Moveable Feast is available at Bandcamp and also at iTunes.

 

Mark Pringle piano
Percy Pursglove trumpet
Chris Young alto saxophone
Dan Sarjeant tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Alicia Gardener-Trejo bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, alto flute
Christine Cornwell violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Megan Jowett viola
Lucy French cello
Ben Lee electric guitar
James Banner double bass
Euan Palmer drums

markpringlemusic.com

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1954 (2015)

‘The Aviators’ Ball’ – Matt Owens

MattOwens

I AM REMINDED of a golden age of TV themes. Statuesque 1960s/70s tunes and traditional orchestrations that have remained in the mind, the merest few bars’ snippet triggering inextricably-linked carefree memories. Manchester composer and bassist Matt Owens seems to capture such a spirit in this fine debut of charming, sometimes quirky, and beautiful creations.

Happily difficult to pigeonhole in terms of genre, with elements of jazz, folk, pop and movie soundtrack, Owens draws on an abundance of instrumentalists and vocalists (below) to convey the character of his distinctive writing. The majority of The Aviators’ Ball (a title inspired by Owens’ real-life discovery, in Prague, of an aviation society’s ball!) comes from his suite Ten – one of Manchester Jazz Festival’s excellent mjf originals commissions – and unabashedly seeks a mostly acoustic landscape of waltz, curtsy and blithe melody.

With woodwind, brass and breezy Irish tin whistle, Raindrops on our Rooftop immediately makes that retro leap, its persistent bassoon figure suggesting an era of Puppet on a String and marginal folk/rock band curiosity Gryphon. Title track The Aviators’ Ball exudes all the warmth of gentle period drama as mellow cornet improvisations float over piano and tea-parlour strings; and then – with a cosy woodwind intro redolent of… that’s right… The Clangers! – singer and guitarist Tom Davies delivers his winsome Mouse Song with unexpected and touching simplicity.

As sunshiny as a beach-bound, open-top Morris journey, the crisp, wordless vocal momentum of Going Back to the Village confirms Owens’ picture-painting prowess, arranged here by Manchester favourite (and co-producer of this album) guitarist/singer Kirsty Almeida; and the folksy theme of Every Wish is for You, initiated with pianistic nursery-rhyme candour, rolls along to placid trumpet and flute extemporisation.

The singular, expressive voice of Rioghnach Connolly interprets Celtic love song Black is the Colour like no other, her affecting tones breathing “I love the ground whereon he stands” like changeable winds across heather land. Soft-pop The Peanut Train shuffles to Owens’ downy horn-and-woodwind arrangement; Monsoon is similarly entrancing, led by the impassioned vocal of Zoe Kyoti; and full of dreamy nostalgia, Violet concludes the set, once again highlighting Matt Owens’ aptitude and greater potential for niche soundtrack scoring.

In an album which might initially appear quaint, due to the genuiness of its eclectic, yesteryear approach, the persuasive strength of its endearingly tuneful hooks and arrangements make it utterly irresistible – certainly a delightful musical diversion.

Launching at Chorlton Arts Festival on 18 May 2015, The Aviators’ Ball is available from All Made Up Records.

 

Matt Owens double bass
Neil Yates trumpet, tin whistle
John Ellis piano
Rick Weedon drums, percussion
Sophie Hastings marimba, glockenspiel
Amina Hussian flute
David Benfield oboe
Lucy Rugman clarinet
Jon Harris French horn
Simon Davies bassoon
Semay Wu cello
Steve Chadwick cornet
Edward Barnwell piano
Danny Ward drums
Alison Williams violin
Naomi Koop violin
Aimée Johnson viola
Tom Davies guitar, vocals
Carla Sousa flute
Philip Howarth cor anglais
Jill Allen clarinet
Lucy Keyes bassoon
Kirsty Almeida vocals
Caroline Sheehan vocals
Orli Nyles vocals
Cara Robinson vocals
Atholl Ransome alto flute
Rioghnach Connolly vocals
Billy Buckley guitar, lap steel
Zoe Kyoti vocals, guitar
Rosa Campos Fernandez clarinet

mattowens.co.uk

All Made Up Records – AMU0007 (2015)