‘Into View’ – Paul Riley Quintet

IntoView

A DEBUT RELEASE that has magnetised my attention over the past few weeks, young London-based saxophonist and composer Paul Riley’s quintet album, Into View, possesses a certain blue-sky luminosity which seems to combine the spirit of West Coast jazz with a cool, precise, English sensibility.

Riley’s companions on this recording are already familiar names on the circuit – Ant Law (guitar), Mitch Jones (piano), Matt Ridley (double bass), Dave Hamblett (drums) – and together they forge a compelling set of eleven original numbers which sparkle equally to tightly-scored and broadly-improvised episodes. Riley and Law solo upfront, as well as frequently sharing extended, rapid-fire unison lines, within a musical landscape which might suggest a blend of early Moutin Reunion Quartet, Kairos 4tet and John McLaughlin – yet this new band already demonstrates the potential to flourish under its own identity, due to Riley’s compositional strength and instrumental steadfastness.

Opening outlines the quintet’s clear, measured articulation before launching into the energetic, controlled propulsion of Spindrift which flows melodically to bustling solos from Riley, Law and Mitch Jones; and, following, the elegance of title track Into View is conveyed through Paul Riley’s smooth, dry, Getzian alto, buoyed by an infectious piano/bass/drum riff. Song for Laura subtly charms with a relaxed, fluent, soprano sax demeanour reminiscent of Tim Garland’s work; and Outlaw is a stand-out, its rippling groove showcasing Ant Law’s remarkable invention and dexterity through an attractive Santana/McLaughlin tone – the whole thing just flies!

Wistful and carefree, Another Summer relaxes to the delicacy of sustained sax and bass solos, whilst sprightly Underhand perpetuates the cloudless feel-good as Riley’s grittier alto pushes the envelope a little higher (a sign, perhaps, of greater freedoms to come). Brisk waltz Gamelas possesses a searching soprano melody and aura worthy of TV drama titles, Jones’ decorative piano chromatics especially impressive here; and the more shadowy aspect of Riley’s writing continues with the more introverted Looking Back. Ahead of Closing (a reflective tailpiece), The Way Home darts to more of those audaciously-extended, shared unison or harmonised lines from Riley and Law – and whilst there may be some sense of repetition of earlier material, it nonetheless tumbles over itself in unbridled enthusiasm.

Released on 6 April 2015, Into View is a fine and promising debut, displaying a fervour which is difficult to ignore. Available from Jellymould Jazz.

 

Paul Riley alto and soprano saxophones
Ant Law guitar
Mitch Jones piano
Matt Ridley double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

paulrileysax.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ018 (2014)

‘Kind of Cool’ – Wolfgang Haffner

Layout 1

IT WOULD BE EASY, on a first hearing, to pass off Wolfgang Haffner’s Kind of Cool as bog-standard ‘elevator music’, given his assured, easy-going approach to this stream of jazz favourites. But offering so much more than that, he presents a thread of accessible Summer’s afternoon ‘cool’ in immaculate, straight-ahead renditions including So What, Summertime, and My Funny Valentine.

As a jazz drummer, composer, producer and bandleader, Haffner has for many years been highly regarded throughout his native Germany and beyond – indeed, a weighty back catalogue of recorded and live collaborations (including Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Michael Wollny) tell their own story. Recalling his early introduction to jazz, it was the LPs of Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Modern Jazz Quartet that helped Haffner forge his musical identity; and here, he approaches familiar ‘greats’ with a fresh elegance, along with a trio of his own compositions which neatly dovetail into the prevailing chilled groove. A sextet album with guests, the main line-up boasts extraordinary collective experience: Christopher Dell (vibes), Jan Lundgren (piano), Dan Berglund (bass), Dusko Goykovich (trumpet) and Jukka Perko (alto sax), plus Haffner at the kit.

So a few pointers: Haffner’s gently shuffling Hippie, with Jukka Perko’s mellow alto conjuring thoughts of Paul Desmond’s (Brubeck’s) signature sound, leads to a buoyant, vibes-embellished interpretation of Miles Davis’ So What. The only vocal track finds soulful Max Mutzke (in an impressive first take) easing into Billy Eckstein’s Piano Man, with marvellously measured blues piano from guest Frank Chastenier; and the timeless appeal of Autumn Leaves is longingly windswept by Dusko Goykovich’s muted trumpet. Tantricity (from Haffner’s pen) meanders abstractly before a welcome gear change in Summertime – Gershwin’s spiritual reinvented as a catchy, laid-back swing.

Rodgers & Hart’s My Fully Valentine maintains its slow, haunting mystery thanks to Perko’s silky alto; and the cheeky unison horn demeanour of Nat Adderley’s One For Daddy O swaggers to the velvety trombone of guest Nils Landgren. With reminiscences of Chet Baker’s smooth vocal delivery, I Fall In Love Too Easily smoulders to Goykovitch’s soft trumpet and Jan Lundgren’s pianistic grace. John Lewis’s Django takes a new twist away from MJQ familiarity, its inquiring sax melody entering the realm of TV drama theme; and Haffner’s Remembrance is a fitting bookend, every bit as appealing as its classic companions.

A recording occasionally veering close to soporific in places, the similar key-change oscillations of the first two programmed tracks didn’t initially help to grab the attention (though perhaps Wolfgang would be quite happy with the Miles comparison!). But as the album proceeds, there’s the realisation of ordered clarity and sophistication which becomes increasingly satisfying. Maybe not literally “my favourite work of art”… but, having already received many enjoyable plays, it will no doubt be pressed into action as the long (hopefully warm and sunny) days of Summer approach.

Released on 23 February 2015, further information, audio clips and purchasing can be found at ACT Music.

 

Wolfgang Haffner drums
Christopher Dell vibraphone
Jan Lundgren piano
Dan Berglund bass
Dusko Goykovich trumpet
Jukka Perko alto saxophone
with
Max Mutzke vocals
Frank Chastenier piano
Christian von Kaphengst bass
Nils Landgren trombone

wolfganghaffner.com

ACT Music  – ACT 9576-2 (2015)

‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Robin Goodie’ – Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm

Robin-Goodie

THERE’S FREQUENTLY a ‘loose cannon’ unpredictability and zanyism (or zhenyism?!) to the music of Russian-born saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev which is endearingly reminiscent of the great Roland Kirk – one only needs to take a look at the unfathomable naivety of his hand-scribbled sleeve art to this latest release, Robin Goodie, for an inkling. This is no stretch limousine of glossy, forgettable soft jazz, but rather an impassioned outpouring of the sax man’s quirky, raw, yet ultimately tuneful creations as composer and instrumentalist.

But don’t mistake any suggestion of apparently rough-hewn music for a lack of musicianship or inventiveness as, between them, he and his Smiling Organizm sextet serve up a programme of heady grooves, fervent ensemble playing and blistering improvisation. Joining Strigalev (on alto) is the illustrious team of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Tim Lefebvre (electric bass), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Eric Harland (drums). Strigalev says he is taken with the themes of “nature, humour, strong personalities, rebelliousness and stupidity” in the folklore tale of England’s heroic outlaw (Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie = Robin Goodie). Whatever his theory, these quoted characteristics certainly come to the fore in this second album, the leader’s desire for both acoustic and electric bass in this line-up producing a distinctly gritty edge to his eleven compositions.

The capriciousness of this musical romp contributes significantly to its enjoyment – so not too many spoilers here. But the powerful punkiness of opener Kuku reveals much about the character of this band, Lefebvre’s high bass delivering a funk drive, combined with Grenadier’s acoustic, over which hard, mainstream horns (sounding like four not two) give it everything they’ve got… until they step up higher to outrageously frenetic solos. Horizontal Appreciation‘s piano and electric bass groove coaxes some terrific chops, not least the flamboyance of drummer Harland; and the comedic Sharp Night (shades of Yakety Sax) rattles along at an astonishing pace, unison phrases, bass electronics and Strigalev’s superb squawkings doing nothing to dispel that Kirk notion – fabulous fun to listen to and, no doubt, to play.

It’s not all bustle and brashness, as Urgent Ballad (despite its oxymoronic title) provides the space for more reflective alto and double bass extemporisation; but you can’t keep these guys down for long, as the brilliant combination of complex, wacky grooves and high-flying straightahead jazz in closing Renduta takes off – and with so much going on here, it’s a shame for it to finally peter out (perhaps not so soon in a live setting).

So, if Zhenya at some point steps up to the mic. with a strangely familiar one-man, dual/contrapuntal saxophone display, I’ll realise the Rahsaan reincarnation is absolute! But seriously, it’s great to known that this same spirit of adventure, mischievousness and hard-pushing resourcefulness – to deliver sit-up-and-listen contemporary jazz – is alive and well. Crank it up…

Released on 2 February 2015, Robin Goodie is available from Whirlwind.

 

Zhenya Strigalev alto sax
Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet
Taylor Eigsti piano
Tim Lefebvre bass guitar
Larry Grenadier double bass
Eric Harland drums

zhenyastrigalev.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4665 (2015)

‘Skyline’ – Tom Green Septet

Skyline

THE GRACEFULNESS of the cover art speaks volumes about the creative balance that shines out from Skyline, the debut septet recording from Cambridge-born trombonist Tom Green – a collection of expansive new compositions coloured by ever-changing hues, light and shade, allowing each of his players considerable freedom in improvisation.

The robust four-horn line-up of Green, Sam Miles (tenor), James Davison (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Matthew Herd (alto/soprano) offers impressive big band dynamism and breadth, yet also a supple luminosity which breathes life into the trombonist’s seven originals, plus one arrangement of a much-loved standard. Still in his 20s, Tom Green’s credentials are indubitable – the Royal Academy’s first postgraduate trombonist, winner of the 2013 Dankworth Composition Prize (leading Dame Cleo to declare his work as “some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time”) as well as a 2014 Help Musicians UK ‘Emerging Excellence’ award winner. And his mercurial brass dexterity is a delight, ranging from blistering riffs to svelte tonal lyricism.

Initial impressions are of crisp arrangements and sharp execution, typified by the opener, Sticks and Stones. It’s brisk and propulsive, with layers of textures and ideas over which Green and James Davison solo brightly; and gear changes throughout this album (such as the brief trombone and piano contrapuntalism here) add greatly to a sense of variety, not unlike the fluctuations of light on a plain caused by fast-moving cumulonimbus. The dilatory drawl of a Deep South-suggested horn preamble to thirteen-minute Equilibrium opens into an addictive bossa of moody twists and turns, bejewelled with Sam James’ precise piano expression – and then, all at once, it gleams to lush arrangements and, also, cacophonous scribbles which Green glides through with proverbial swan-like ease.

Arctic Sun swings delicately to the rhythm of bassist Mullov-Abbado and drummer Chapman, building towards elaborate, soaring soprano from Matthew Herd (a saxman who always displays a real penchant for pushing the envelope). There are shades of contemporary pop ballad in the memorable phrases of Peace of Mind, Green fluent in his extemporisations; and easy-going Mirage prompts fine soloing amongst the exacting full horn scoring.

Hoagy Carmichael’s perennial favourite, Skylark, is both chirpy and breezy in Green’s hands, though perhaps loses a little of the charm of mellower renditions; and Winter Halo might easily conjure luminescent landscapes and vacillating murmurations (startling rapidity of soprano bird calls from Herd!), including another of those delectable duo interludes – Sam Miles’ rich tenor against pellucid bass. DIY is an irresistible closer, pictorialising the brash, processional jazz of New Orleans and encouraging overlapping showy solos from all quarters, as well as more examples of the leader’s flair for snappy, complex arrangements (no doubt a crowd pleaser on their recent launch tour).

As a jazz release, this displays so many hallmarks of a classic, seasoned ensemble. As an ambitious debut from a young, close-knit septet, it’s a striking first statement with great potential for future development. And, above all… such an upbeat listen!

Released on 2 February 2015, Skyline can be purchased directly from Spark or Tom Green’s website.

 

Tom Green trombone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Davison trumpet and flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto and soprano saxophones
Sam James piano
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums

Illustration/artwork by Tom Barley

tomgreenmusic.com

Spark Label – Spark 001 (2015)

‘The Whistle Blower’ – Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble

Gilad

A CASCADE of unalloyed Middle Eastern exuberance announces this latest release from Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble. One of the hardest-working musicians on the London and UK jazz scene, multi-instrumentalist and composer Atzmon is one of those privileged beings whose instrument (here, chiefly sax) appears simply to be an extension of their own being, such is the fervid eloquence and quick-witted delivery of his performances.

Recorded again with OHE associates Frank Harrison (piano/keyboards), Yaron Stavi (basses) and Chris Higginbottom (drums), here is an album of Gilad’s original compositions which, characteristically, dances with ease between uproarious, Israeli-infused passion and utter, luxuriant romanticism. Easily the ‘Jeff Beck of the sax/clarinet’, there seems to be no capability of his reed instruments that he doesn’t understand or implement (as those who have seen his live creativity with mouthpiece and crook alone will testify!); and the rapidity of his trademark unbroken, chromatic runs up and down the keys – sometimes, with the dry timbre of a Medieval shawm – is as thrilling as ever.

So, that opening number, Gaza Mon Amour – with evocative percussion, rhythmic shouts and wails, it relentlessly surges to Atzmon’s hypnotic, swirling clarinet and sax extemporisations until he attains feverish screams; and following, the brooding mystery of Forever finds the leader in contrasting legato vein, coloured by Frank Harrison’s inquiring piano against the softness of cymbals and bass. The Romantic Church, harking back to the sentimentality of 2009’s In Loving Memory of America, is positively ambrosial – Atzmon at his most lyrical with wide vibrato, backed by Harrison’s lush strings and articulate, perspicuous piano.

Magnum opus Let Us Pray (at over eleven minutes) has an air of soundtrack, the drama escalating as Atzmon caterwauls almost in Doppler effect to the encouragement of Chris Higginbottom’s blazing drums and Yaron Stavi’s reliable bass propulsion, plus sweeping, piano improv and monolithic chords (stirring vivid memories of the electrifying atmospheres of OHE gigs). The homespun though subtly disquieting charm of The Song, expressed through the leader’s accordion, is sufficiently melodic as to proffer lyrics; and the edgy longing of To Be Free reverberates indeed to freer ensemble playing, Atzmon again reaching incredible heights.

For Moana – perhaps a love song – is spacially elegant, thanks to the delicate balance of piano, bass and drums – the perfect vehicle for Atmon’s sustained soprano meanderings. And ever the capricious, jesting showman, Gilad the guitarist and accordionist leads the closing title track – a cheeky, flouncy rumba – to wolf-whistle-prompting wordless vocal allurement from Tali Atzmon, accompanied by laddish, unison backing vocals.

Launching at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club on 12 March, the album is released on and available from Atzmon’s new publishing outlet Fanfare Publications (and presumably all good jazz retailers) on 23 February. Extensive tour dates listed below – a show not to be missed, proven by this live video from The Hideaway – Gaza Mon Amour.

And ‘The Whistle Blower’? – Gilad explains: “I am an avid admirer of simplicity and transparency. The moment of clarity that leaves the mind in the dark, yet content. I guess this is why I blow the whistle instead of playing the fiddle.”

 

Gilad Atzmon alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, accordion, guitar, vocals
Frank Harrison piano, keyboards, vocals
Yaron Stavi double bass, electric bass, vocals
Chris Higginbottom drums, vocals
with
Tali Atzmon vocals
Antonio Feola voice

2015 tour dates
23 February: Everyman Studio, Cheltenham
26 February: The Albany Club, Coventry
1 March: Hen & Chicken, Bristol
5 March: RNCM, Manchester [cancelled by RNCM]
6 March: Birmingham Jazz, Birmingham
11 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
12 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (album launch)
13 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
14 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
31 March: Brook Theatre, Chatham
1 April: Y Theatre, Leicester
4 April: 606 Club, London
5 April: Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester
7 April: A-Trane, Berlin
9 April: Saarwellingen, Germany
11 April: Drill Hall, Lincoln
16 April: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
17 April: Wakefield Jazz Club, Wakefield
25 April: (TBC) Freiburg
30 April: Spin Jazz Club, Oxford

gilad.co.uk

Fanfare Jazz – FJ1501 (2015)