‘Self-Identity’ – Ollie Howell

Self-Identity

THE SLEEVE of a seminal early-1970s 12″ vinyl jested that its contents could not ‘be played on old tin boxes, no matter what they are fitted with’ – maybe a prophetic warning to a quick-grab, smartphone-to-the-ear generation to come. But such wisdom was recalled when soaking up this second release, as leader, from British drummer and composer Ollie Howell.   

Self-Identity follows 2013 debut album Sutures and Stitches, and the intervening years have seen Howell’s career flourish, with the great Quincy Jones’ “360-degree beautiful young cat” compliment leading to him selecting the drummer for the opening residency, this year, at his Q’s jazz club in the luxurious Palazzo Versace Dubai.

Expanded to a sextet, with the addition of guitarist Ant Law, this line-up is completed by tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Henry Spencer, pianist Matt Robinson, double bassist Max Luthert; and ‘old tin boxes’ are definitely out, because what is striking – both about Howell’s arrangements and this Real World Studios recording – is the rhythmic sonority which he, Robinson and Luthert achieve. So, spanning some seventy minutes, the consistent appeal of these twelve original numbers is not so much the tuneful hook, but rather the slickness of the groove and the ensemble’s overarching synergy which provides fertile ground for confident, melodic soloing – and an especially tight link-up between tenor and trumpet.

Syncopated, leaping figures in Shadows typify the approach as unison piano bass and double bass riffs are driven by Howell’s exacting, versicoloured lead; and the album’s pervading optimism is continued with the bright sax-and-trumpet lines of Resurge. Echoic electronics play their part, too, transitorily segueing the usual broadness of the writing, as well as enhancing the ‘timeslip’ intro to ruminative, brushed Almost TomorrowRise and Fall‘s central vibrancy rocks to Eagles’ deep tenor improv and Law’s fretboard agility, whilst the rhythmic prominence of pianist Matt Robinson in Moving On and Knew is impressive.

Howell’s compositions are roomy, so not only do their ‘passing clouds’ of ideas have the effect of shedding fluctuating light on their progression, they also encourage freedom of individual expression. Balancing Stones‘ dynamic range illustrates this well (including delicate timbres from the leader’s kit), as does The Unknown with its dual-horn assertiveness; and Coming Home‘s subtle, opening blend of folk/hymn tune and Balkan-imbued percussion provides the springboard for breezy, closing showcases from Howell’s players.

Eschew the tinny headphones or portable speakers… and find a way to bask in the rewarding ‘hi fidelity’ of Self-Identity.

Released on 14 April 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, and at iTunes.

 

Ollie Howell drums, electronics, compositions
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Henry Spencer trumpet
Ant Law electric guitar
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, electronics
Max Luthert double bass

ollie howell.com

Ropeadope (2017)

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‘ONE’ – Tim Garland

ONE

THE PROSPECT of a new Tim Garland album always raises the pulse… and unquestionably, ONE is no exception.

The saxophonist/composer has, through time and experience, become a treasured mainstay of the UK jazz scene – and his releases of the last couple of years (2014’s Songs to the North Sky and last year’s Return to the Fire) have certainly confirmed that status. The final track of the 2015 album – a recording which rekindled, on vinyl, the acoustic excitement of 1995’s Enter the Fire – featured both longtime collaborator Jason Rebello on Fender Rhodes and versatile guitarist Ant Law in a more electronic groove, presumably sparking the notion of a future project in similar vein.

Well, here it is, in all its splendid jazz-rock magnificence, completing the quartet with Asaf Sirkis (from Lighthouse Trio days) on drums and percussion, plus guests Hossam Ramzy (percussion) and Dionne Bennett (vocals). It’s a thriller of a masterpiece, pretty much from start to finish, with Tim Garland’s instantly-recognisable vibrato and commanding presence heading up a wondrous complexity of textural arrangements, sparkling rhythms and fabulous virtuosity. Garland was, notably, a key player in legendary prog rock and jazz drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks line-ups, and the influence of that sound world is frequently apparent in many of these nine original compositions. Indeed, a similar level of detail certainly keeps this album on loud ‘repeat’ in the car CD player (no track-jumping here!) – a recording which adroitly achieves a perfect synthesis of slick production and spontaneous, improvisatory performance.

Garland and colleagues ‘roadworked’ this material, whilst touring, to both hone and co-own the interpretations which made the final recording. Such acquired confidence is evident from the off, in Sama’i for Peace whose energetic and tricksy ten-beat pulse fuses Sirkis’ Middle Eastern colours, emphasised by Hossam Ramzy’s added percussion, with Genesis-like electronic keyboard and guitar sustenance; and Garland’s soprano exuberance seems to hit new heights. Bright New Year must be one of the most optimistic, blue-sky compositions heard in some time, its shimmering, folksy guitar and piano supporting Garland’s memorable, soaring melodies (Ant Law’s 12-string acoustic adding hard-edged urgency); and the burning drama of The Eternal Greeting demands focus as Garland’s deep tenor richness pirouettes with the gradually building instrumental weave.

Colours of Night ripples with Garland’s signature compositional riffs, echoing his jazz-fusion association with Chick Corea – and the depth of chordal Rhodes and guitar palettes ensure that this quartet always remains strong, without the need for a bassist. Here, Ant Law’s high electric guitar improvisations are both incisive and dextrous, whilst Zawinulesque keyboards and Sirkis’ remarkable konnakol voice send shivers up the spine – this is a band which continually seeks out new combinations to impressive effect. Prototype hits the King Crimson and Yes buttons with vigour, its flawless, percussive synchronisation and Law’s searing guitar recalling that first rush of hearing Robert Fripp or Steve Howe; and Gathering Dark‘s smouldering Mediterranean journey, featuring Jason Rebello’s typical elegant piano improvisation, is full of mercurial interest.

Dionne Bennett’s smoky and earnest vocal adds weight to Garland’s lyrics in Pity the Poor Arms Dealer – a passionate protest song against arms profiteering (though amidst the album’s predominant, instrumental feel-good, it could seem a little incongruous). Foretold is reminiscent of Garland’s excellent Libra album, his multi-layered tenor combining with synthy washes and both Sirkis’ and Ramzy’s percussive elaborations; and to close, Youkay fizzes with the most delicious Weather Reportian fervour – quite possibly the album standout.

Succinctly… it’s difficult to recommend this album too highly.

Released on Edition Records, ONE is available as CD and high-quality download at Bandcamp.

 

Tim Garland soprano and tenor saxophones, additional keyboards and percussion
Asaf Sirkis drums, percussion, konnakol
Jason Rebello piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ, keyboards
Ant Law nylon string, 12 string, 8 string and semi-acoustic guitars
with guests
Hossam Ramzy doholla, Egyptian tabla, karkabu (tracks 1, 4 and 8)
Dionne Bennett vocals (track 7)

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDN1072 (2016)

‘Return to the Fire’ – Tim Garland

Return

THERE’S a school of thought that says you should never go back – y’know, that was then, and now is now. But thank goodness the rule book can occasionally, for all the right reasons, be ripped up and emphatically trodden into the ground!

Back in 1995, rising British saxophonist Tim Garland began to put together and record his fourth solo project, Enter the Fire, with colleagues Jason Rebello (piano), Mick Hutton (bass) and Jeremy Stacey (drums), as well as bringing Gerard Presencer (trumpet, flugelhorn) into the fold; and the album was eventually completed and released in 1997. Garland recalls how, soon after, whilst staying at the New York apartment of vibraphonist Joe Locke, the pianist Billy Childs turned up – and, on hearing the album, requested a copy to give to a friend… who just turned out to be jazz icon Chick Corea. Thus began Tim Garland’s long friendship with Corea (quoted as saying of the saxophonist, “I wanted some of that fire in my band”) and consequently, many years of shared international success which show no sign of waning.

Twenty years down the line, now greatly-renowned UK saxophonist and composer Garland has rekindled the excitement of that significant moment by re-connecting with the same personnel, along with guest appearances from newer names on the scene – Tom Farmer, James Maddren and Ant Law – plus respected bassist Laurence Cottle. The result is a new 40-minute recording which focuses on the revered (and now resurgent) era of vinyl, offering a combination of four originals and two arrangements which, whilst redolent of late ’90s and earlier acoustic strains of straight-ahead jazz, feel as relevant and as fresh as ever, especially with a final, more contemporary flourish.

Tim Garland has long possessed an unmistakable signature sound – his assured vibrato and a no-holes-barred approach to lyrical phrasing, whilst also scaling the topmost heights of the register – and this album continually flows and coruscates to that potent combination, as well as affording the whole band the space to stretch out. Nine-minute opener Abiding Love achieves exactly that, its classic sound bubbling to the smooth meld of tenor and flugel against Rebello’s crystalline piano, which Presencer then cuts through with customary, tonally-bright trumpet improvisation. J.J. Johnson’s Lament is the perfect platform for Garland’s rich, characterful tenor lead (as the melodies begin to cascade freely, it really couldn’t be anyone else) with such a wonderfully spacial quality created by his quartet of Rebello, Farmer and Maddren. And title track Return to the Fire swings with unequivocal verve, led by Rebello’s sparkling runs – as if to proudly state “we’re back” – and certainly not withholding anything as Stacey’s deliberate drum rhythms cleverly shift gear into a pulsating final section.

Beautifully inquiring Valse pour Ravel somehow suggests the freedoms of a Pat Metheny / Lyle Mays composition, with Garland taking an eloquent soprano lead over romanticised piano, and Presencer’s flugel dreamily intertwining or magically dancing in unison. McCoy Tyner’s sumptuous Search for Peace remains one of jazz’s most haunting melodies, and here it develops into a particularly engaging, near-ten-minute exploration as Garland’s tenor revels in its unhurriedness, with Rebello taking the Tyner role exquisitely. To close, All Our Summers ripples to complex bass clarinet and electric guitar riffs over jabbing Fender Rhodes (Garland an especially versatile and colourful exponent of the bass clarinet) in a groove that perhaps harks back to those early NYC days, and almost fading before its time.

Released by Edition Records on 2 October 2015, Return to the Fire is available only in 12″ vinyl and digital download formats – at Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores. The lack of CD physicality might hinder some collectors, but this is a recording whose confidence, fluency and out-and-out jazz feel-good becomes irresistible.

 

Tim Garland saxophones, bass clarinet
Jason Rebello piano, Fender Rhodes
Gerard Presencer trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 5)
Jeremy Stacey drums (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Mick Hutton double bass (tracks 1, 4 & 5)
with
Tom Farmer double bass (tracks 2 & 3)
Laurence Cottle electric bass (track 6)
James Maddren drums (tracks 2 & 6)
Ant Law guitar (track 6)

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDNLP1063 (2015)

‘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)

‘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)

‘Songs to the North Sky’ – Tim Garland

Songs

THERE ARE TIMES, on my long and increasingly rewarding musical journey, that I feel urged to express gratitude to particular musicians whose work has become a long-term source of enjoyment and inspiration.

Falling firmly into this category is the instrumental and compositional prowess of reedsman Tim Garland, for many years now a respected mainstay of the British jazz scene. With a long roll-call of collaborators, projects and albums (most notably Chick Corea, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Dean Street Underground Orchestra and his own Lighthouse Trio), this most assured of saxophonists continues to develop and expand his artistic vocabulary, always with that warm signature vibrato.

Signed to progressive label Edition Records, Garland has now released this double album, Songs to the North Sky – featuring an impressive, interchanging quartet (seven musicians in all), and expertly configured orchestral/percussive forces – which represents a still higher pinnacle of writing and performance.

Part One focuses on the quartet material: eight tracks which bounce with characteristic ebullience, but also shimmer with expansive and often emotional beauty. Tim Garland’s dependable yet always exciting rhythm-maker, Asaf Sirkis, is key to proceedings, combining with the bubbling momentum of pianist Geoffrey Keezer and guitarist Ant Law on supercharged opener Uplift! The lightness of Kevin Glasgow’s electric bass and luminous piano of Jason Rebello refract the smooth golden rays of Little Sunshine, over which Garland’s tenor sings mellifluously. A Brother’s Gift finds a more reflective space, courtesy of Law’s steel strings and Sirkis’s distinctive custom kit – and often it’s the small details which please the ear, such as Garland’s ornamental phrasing, and also one particular end-of-phrase expiration here (odd, but true!).

There’s a hint of Earthworks days in the leader’s command of Yes to This, John Turville and Ant Law both sparkling with positivity; The Perth Flight‘s propulsive energy offers a great showcase for both Garland and Rebello; and Farewell to Ed is a delightfully freer episode, enhanced by Law’s subtly overdriven electric guitar explorations. Garland has long been a champion of the bass clarinet, and his unmistakably fluid ‘voice’ is heard in Lammas Days (along with flute), an exuberant celebration of the magic conjured between these versatile musicians. A soprano and piano interpretation of Tom Bahler’s She’s Out of My Life (Michael Jackson) closes this sequence; in less capable hands, so easily mawkish and shallow – but Garland and Rebello elevate it to somewhere very special.

The larger, themed work, Songs to the North Sky – supported by Sage Gateshead and Royal Northern College of Music – forms the second half of this release, and creatively draws on the dramatic open landscapes of Tim’s Garland’s adopted North East England homeland. Whereas 2008’s double album Libra found the composer writing on a larger, symphonic scale (the four-movement Frontier with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), there is an even greater organic balance here, successfully fusing saxes and percussion with The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings. The result is genuinely compelling – a 50-minute episodic jazz/orchestral masterpiece which vividly paints Northumberland’s rugged coastlines and wide skies, Garland often hinting at 20th Century English string writing (Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Rodney Bennett) as well as Glass, Pärt, and even Celtic influences which are colorised by the energetic violin soloing of Magdalena Filipczak. Asaf Sirkis melds perfectly with the suspense of Neil Percy’s classical percussion; and John Patitucci’s four equally interspersed bass interludes are remarkable – certainly not bass ‘fillers’ but, rather, beautifully imagined, skilful miniatures in their own right.

With both CDs regularly alternating in my car audio player for the past couple of weeks, I emphatically recommend this significant new release – and if you’re searching for stars (maybe over Kielder’s dark sky zone)… here they are ★★★★★.

Available from 2 June 2014, listen to samples and buy here.

 

Tim Garland tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute
Jason Rebello piano (tracks 2, 5, 7 & 8)
John Turville piano (tracks 3, 4 & 6)
Geoffrey Keezer piano (track 1)
Asaf Sirkis drum kit, custom percussion set, hang
Ant Law electric and steel string guitars (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 6)
Kevin Glasgow electric bass (tracks 2, 5 & 7)
The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings
John Patitucci double and electric basses
Neil Percy tuned and classical percussion
Magdalena Filipczak solo violin

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDN1051 (2014)