‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time

MST_300

THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.

 

Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ

moonlightsavingtime.co.uk

MSTCD002 (2015)

‘Range’ – Pete McCann

Range

A FIRST LISTEN to the sparkling jazz-rock of guitarist Pete McCann may leave you pondering why, at least in the UK, his name is so unfamiliar. Respected as a first-call sideman on the New York scene, he has appeared on over 80 album recordings including those of Patti Austin, Curtis Stigers and the Mahavishnu Project; while in jazz his credentials include having worked alongside Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz and Brian Blade.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Pete McCann electric and acoustic guitars
John O’Gallagher alto sax
Henry Hey piano, Fender Rhodes, organ
Matt Clohesy acoustic and electric bass
Mark Ferber drums

petemccann.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4675 (2015)

‘The Mighty Five’ – Alexey Kruglov / Jaak Sooäär Quartet

TheMightyFive

THE PRACTICE of extracting music from one context and artfully adapting it for another has long been a fascination. Church organists, for example, can be such masters of disguise, relishing the opportunity to befuddle their listeners with, normally, the most incongruous of selections. So, this quartet release of sparky arrangements and improvisations by Alexey Kruglov (saxophones) and Jaak Sooäär (electric guitar), based on celebrated Russian classical masterpieces, instantly grabbed the attention.

Saxophonist Alexey Kruglov is a rising, creative star on the Russian and international jazz scene (his 2014 ACT Music release, Moscow, with renowned German pianist Joachim Kühn, of particular note) and Estonian guitarist Jaak Soäär has, for many years, featured prominently in the pop and jazz culture of his homeland. Joining them are seasoned jazz musicians Mihkel Mälgand (bass) and Tanel Ruben (drums).

In a programme of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev (the quartet sometimes include Cezar Cui – hence The Mighty Five), the players somehow retain the integrity of these familiar works whilst shifting them into an altogether different sphere – in turns, beautifully lyrical and punkily brazen. Yet, no matter how far they push the envelope, there is clearly a fundamental, underlying respect for and adherence to the originals.

The orchestral majesty of the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship) is, here, transformed by Kruglov’s alto into a luxurious, TV-theme-like sweep, with Sooäär’s guitar encouraging more energetic, improvised development – an altogether brilliant re-working. Polovtsian Dance (otherwise known as the Chorus of Polovtsian Girls from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor) is powered-up by crunchy rhythm guitar, its irregular metre paving the way for gutsy extemporisations. The first of the quartet’s interpretations from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Old Castle – possesses a fine, bluesy swagger, thanks to the pliant double bass of Mihkel Mägland, Kruglov’s hard sax tone and Sooäär’s high-fretted wails; and, audaciously and raucously, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is compressed into 75 seconds of intense pleasure, its wild, frenetic, group activity bordering on free jazz.

Mussorgsky’s stately The Great Gate of Kiev is fabulously fashioned with solid drumming, eloquent electric bass improv and the irrepressible scribbles and scrawls of Kruglov’s alto; then a Balakirev piano Nocturne is elegantly reimagined for jazz quartet, amidst hints of restlessness. Mussorgsky’s Baba-Yaga is well suited to the anarchic romp created here, including some wonderfully chattering soprano against a fast electric bass undercurrent, and Sooäär’s imaginative guitar/electronics are superb – a stand-out track, in fact. To close, Prince Igor’s Aria (Borodin’s emotive No Sleep, No Rest from Prince Igor) is sympathetically realised as extended chamber jazz, its many facets reflecting the shared invention throughout this extraordinary, rather special album.

Released on 11 November 2014, The Mighty Five is available, digitally, at Bandcamp.

 

Alexey Kruglov alto, soprano and baby saxophones, train whistle, shouts
Jaak Sooäär electric guitar, live electronics
Mihkel Mälgand double bass, electric bass
Tanel Ruben drums

ArtBeat Music – AB-CD-09-2014-074 (2014)

‘Land Grab’ – Sam Trapchak

LandGrab

THE HEADY GROOVE of this solid Stateside jazz/rock album has had me transfixed for some weeks. But it’s way too good to keep to myself!…

Land Grab – the second release, as leader, from Michigan-born double bassist Sam Trapchak and his irrepressible quartet of Greg Ward (alto sax), Tom Chang (electric guitar) and Christian Coleman (drums) – hits a remarkable balance of compositional and improvisatory verve; and its the raw power of frontline alto and guitar combined with robust bass and drums which holds the attention throughout, as well as an impressive ability to snap from lush, lofty chordal jazz into irresistibly gutsy hard rock riffs.

Tom Chang’s prominent, sustained and enquiring guitar style is likely to draw a good few comparisons – easily John McLaughlin or Pete McCann; perhaps John Abercrombie, Allan Holdsworth or John Goodsall – sharing a great voicing affinity here with saxophonist Greg Ward to pull off a raft of audaciously complex unison lines. Take, for example, bold, swaggering Lumpy’s Blues which, buoyed by the thunderously percussive rhythms of Trapchak and Coleman, resounds to brash, Led Zeppelin-like guitar-and-sax riffs; and Trapchak himself displays an animated bass pliancy reminiscent of Dave Holland or Ben Allison.

Pterofractal, which opens the album’s extended six-track sequence, soars deliciously to a frenzy of clanging guitar mixed with unfettered, Steve Coleman-like sax; and the searching ambience of Beautiful/Furious switches into fabulously overdriven, pitch-bent wailing from Chang. Here again, sax and guitar connect superbly in shrill, on-the-edge improvisation as Greg Ward’s alto sputters and swoons to the fierce rhythm (as writer, Trapchak rarely seeks the limelight, but is clearly the backbone of this quartet).

The briefest and most insular of the tracks, Bell Curve, is a lightly-trod episode of rising and falling contrapuntalism, predominantly for drumless trio – fascinating to hear how the differently-textured, almost Bachian melodies intertwine; and, introduced by Trapchak’s phonetic bass solo, nine-minute Breathing Room opens into a broad, prog jazz landscape redolent of the work of Asaf Sirkis or Nguyên Lê. Title track Land Grab closes the album in a blazing Weather Reportian/Mahavishnuan maelstrom fired by the persistent pulsation of bass and drums; and Ward’s lower alto register, not unlike Shorter, becomes hypnotic when combined with Chang’s piercing, seemingly McLaughlin-inspired soloing.

Released on Raw Toast Records, Land Grab is available from CD Baby as well as iTunes and Amazon. Sam Trapchak’s intelligent compositional prowess is intuitively realised by this fine quartet, and turning up the volume is requisite… but just keep those ‘air guitar’ hands on the steering wheel!

 

Sam Trapchak bass, compositions
Greg Ward alto sax
Tom Chang electric guitar
Christian Coleman drums

samtrapchak.com

Raw Toast Records (2015)

‘New Era’ – Entropi

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ANNOUNCED by deep-space sleeve art and track listing, the crew of the Entropi head towards a galactic destination – and phasers are most emphatically set to stun. For debut album New Era, saxophonist and composer Dee Byrne’s quintet explore group improvisation in the context of “notions of chance and fate, our relationship with space and the cosmos and the unpredictable and insecure nature of existence.” 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Dee Byrne alto sax
Andre Canniere trumpet
Rebecca Nash piano
Olie Brice double bass
Matt Fisher drums

entropimusic.com

F-IRE Collective – F-IRECD 78 (2015)

‘It Takes Two to Tango’: Duo Art – Jukka Perko & Iiro Rantala

ItTakesTwo

HAVE YOU EVER perused the specialist CD store shelves (a rare pleasure these days, I know) and eschewed the solo or duo releases in favour of something seemingly bigger, bolder and multi-layered? If so, you might run the risk of missing out on the likes of Finnish treasure It Takes Two to Tango.

As part of ACT Music’s expanding Duo Art* series, saxophonist Jukko Perka and pianist Iiro Rantala recorded, across just two consecutive days, this no-hiding-place duo performance which demonstrates their affinity with the Finnish tradition of tango, as well as their richly empathetic, improvisatory qualities. Making expansive and particularly sonorous use of the renowned Alfred Brendel Steinway d-524780 (which the great virtuoso played during his concert appearances at Berlin’s Philharmonie), Rantala clearly revels in this thirteen-track musical conversation with ace saxophonist Perko. Based around themes of love, it’s not all about the tango – indeed, for a programme so wide-ranging (from Charles Aznavour to Jean Sibelius), it holds together beautifully, requiring close attention to enjoy its depth of detail.

Perko’s agitated arrangement of traditional melody My Sweetheart is Beautiful (Minun Kultani Kaunis On) is taken far from its traditional Finnish roots, resounding to his slippery alto and Rantala’s spirited rhythms; and Jacob Gade’s showy tango, Jealousy, oozes passion in a particularly lively outing. The clear communication between Perko and Rantala is tangible in their creative reading of Just Say I Love Her as they subtly deconstruct its achingly beautiful melody, followed by the sighing soprano sax solace of Charles Aznavour’s For Mama, gorgeously underpinned by Rantala’s strong-yet-subtle assurance.

The quizzical tango buoyancy of another Finnish folk tune arrangement, Therefore I Am Sad, is reminiscent of the Ballamy/Carstensen album The Little Radio, Perko’s wonderfully drowsy alto easing over signature chordal ripples from Rantala, whilst Romance rises with the anthemic lyricism and confidence of Tim Garland. And traditional Swedish tune A Blessing (Lyckönskan) resonates to muted bottom-end Steinway strings, this most ravishing of melodies bearing all the quiet nobility of Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding.

Jukka Perko’s own I Will tenderly rises and falls, its unfailingly amiable soprano tune giving way to Rantala’s lucid piano soloing; and Victor Young’s classic Stella by Starlight is given a resolute, smouldering tango twist, the duo’s dynamic sensitivity carefully balanced. Of Russian origin, Love Is So Beautiful is delicately pitched, with Perko’s alto taking on a Getzian mellowness and vibrato, as it also does in Finnish-titled Good Intentions – carefree yet with pangs of disquiet.

To close, Sibelius’s familiar hymn from symphonic poem Finlandia is explored in both piano solo and duet versions: redolent of a Keith Emerson transcription of Copland or Ginastera, Rantala’s take on it grooves heavily to deep-end piano oscillations; and, in contrast, the duet variation twinkles to emotive high soprano exploration and solid piano grandeur.

My admittedly cursory first listen was a brief mistake, for the exquisite clarity and musicality later revealed in this recording now call me back again and again.

Released on 11 May 2015, further information and audio clips can be found at ACT Music.

 

Jukka Perko alto & soprano saxophones
Iiro Rantala piano

jukkaperko.com
iirorantala.fi

*the Duo Art series also includes:
Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev
Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov

ACT Music – ACT 9629-2 (2015)