REVIEW: ‘Gecko’ – Tom Smith

TWO things…

Firstly, find yourself a good, bass-responsive speaker system; and then absorb one of the most cheering small ensemble recordings to be heard in a year like no other.

Once the lead alto in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and now with the Patchwork Orchestra, saxophonist, bass clarinettist and composer Tom Smith has twice been a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition and won the 2018 Peter Whittingham Development Award from Help Musicians UK. He already has a string of orchestral and big band arrangements to his name, has worked with artists including Maria Schneider, Donny McCaslin and Beverley Knight, and has garnered plaudits from the likes of Django Bates, Julian Joseph and Soweto Kinch.

Now, at the ‘ripe old age’ of 24 he steps out in debut album Gecko; and his trio with vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield and pianist Will Barry displays a fullness through these original compositions which belies its compact nature. There are echoes of Stan Sulzmann’s Neon project (Here to There, with Jim Hart and Gwilym Simcock, comes to mind) and also the duo of Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack. But also, significantly, the tone and ebullience of his personal hero Tim Garland (this album’s producer, and surely a wellspring of advice) can be heard in Smith’s unfaltering agility.

Spirited Flamenco Carlos, with its jaunty, showtime piano riff, instantly demonstrates the trio’s capabilities. Piano and vibes frolic with abandon while Smith’s improvisatory ideas overflow – and without a dedicated rhythm instrument, such blistering momentum shouldn’t sound so at ease! At not far off ten minutes’ duration, Steampunk Tendencies shows similar verve, with Will Barry’s low chordal grooving providing the driving force, pushing the saxophonist to ever greater heights.

Like Garland, Tom neatly switches to bass clarinet – in Alex and John (written for a wedding, celebrating LGBTQ+ love), his deeper range is a joy; and there are some lovely, sonorous descending and leaping figures in chameleonic Blueish. Piano and vibraphone may sometimes seem curious companions, but chirpy, slightly comedic House in the Clouds in particular qualifies that match, Barry and Mansfield darting around Smith’s catchy, alto signature-tune riffs. Everyday Epic, too, preens itself with confidence, as light and shade highlight the trio’s empathy.

Graceful piano in Anthem becomes refracted by sustained, shimmering vibraphone; and there’s something both plaintive and considered about the way Smith’s high alto enters only latterly. Reposeful Curiosity, also, is full of glinting reflection, only gradually offering a measured, lapping sense of headway; and melodic Viking Dance’s constantly-shifting textures and colours are fascinating to pore over.

Focus on the detail in these nine tracks, rather than pushing them to the background. Tom Smith’s interaction with his colleagues is intelligent, never short on technical flair or improvisational enterprise – and with his track record thus far, Gecko suggests many, still greater things to come.

Released on 6 November 2020 – Basho Records’ first digital-only release – and available at Bandcamp.

 

Tom Smith saxophone, bass clarinet
Jonny Mansfield vibraphone
Will Barry piano

tomsmithsax.com

Basho Records – SRCD58-2 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: April 2020 (2)

Steal the Light – Let Spin
Moss Freed, Ruth Goller, Finlay Panter, Chris Williams
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Efpi Records)
letspin.bandcamp.com

Life is the Dancer – Rob Luft
Rob Luft, Joe Wright, Joe Webb, Tom McCredie, Corrie Dick with Byron Wallen, Luna Cohen
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Edition Records)
robluft.bandcamp.com

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne Quartet
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
martinpyne.bandcamp.com

Two Chevrons Apart – Yuri Goloubev
Tim Garland, John Turville, Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Basho Records)
bashorecords.com

Neutral Tones – Beresford Harries
Charlie Beresford, Tim Harries
Release date: 15 April 2020 (The 52nd)
the52nd.bandcamp.com

Trio (3CD) – Felix Jay
Felix Jay, Rob Luft, Byron Wallen, Nicola Alesini, Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole, Jan Steele
Recorded 1999–2019 (Hermetic Recordings)
burningshed.com (TBC) and ebay.co.uk

TOP 12 OF 2019

HOW DOES ONE BEGIN to compile a ‘best of year’ list from the wealth and diversity of new releases out there?! Well, appreciation of music is, of course, entirely subjective. But during 2019, amongst all of the jazz and jazz-related albums I have written for or about, or have been privileged to simply receive an invitation to hear, these twelve (in no particular order) have been revisited the most frequently. All are heartily recommended, with info/links below. 

Here’s to a great new year – and decade – of musical discovery!

🎹 AP

Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band – Begin Again
Fred Hersch, The WDR Big Band, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza
Release date: 7 June 2019 (Palmetto Records)
Available from: propermusic.com/fredhersch/beginagain

Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio – Finding Home
Kate Williams, Georgia Mancio, John Garner, Marie Schreer, Francis Gallagher, Sergio Serra, Oli Hayhurst, David Ingamells, John Williams
Release date: 1 June 2019 (KW Jazz)
Review: ap-reviews.com/findinghome
Available from: katewilliams.bandcamp.com/findinghome or georgiamancio.com/findinghome

Ingi Bjarni – Tenging
Ingi Bjarni Skúlason, Jakob Eri Myhre, Merje Kägu, Daniel Andersson, Tore Ljøkelsøy
Release date: 30 August 2019 (Losen Records)
Available from: losenrecords.no/tenging

Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade – Trilogy 2
Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade
Release date: 18 October 2019 (Concord Jazz)
Available from: propermusic.com/chickcorea/trilogy2

Rymden Reflections & Odysseys
Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Release date: 8 February 2019 (Jazzland Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/rymden
Available from: rymden3.bandcamp.com/reflections&odysseys

Mark Lockheart and Roger Sayer – Salvator Mundi
Mark Lockheart, Roger Sayer
Release date: 5 July 2019 (Edition Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/salvatormundi
Available from: marklockheart.bandcamp.com/salvatormundi

Michael Janisch – Worlds Collide
Michael Janisch, Jason Palmer, John O’Gallagher, Rez Abbasi, Clarence Penn
with John Escreet, George Crowley, Andrew Bain

Release date: 6 September 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
Available from: michaeljanisch.bandcamp.com/worldscollide

Saxophone Summit – Street Talk
Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Billy Hart, Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Enja Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/streettalk
Available from: propermusic.com/streettalk

Trish Clowes – Ninety Degrees Gravity
Trish Clowes, Chris Montague, Ross Stanley, James Maddren
Release date: 26 April 2019 (Basho Records)
Available from: bashorecords.com/ninetydegreesgravity

Scott Kinsey – We Speak Luniwaz (The music of Joe Zawinul)
Scott Kinsey, Katise Buckingham, Hadrien Feraud, Gergo Borlai with Bobby Thomas Jr, Arto Tunçboyaciyan, Steve Tavaglione, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Baker, Danny Carey, Cyril Atef, Brad Dutz, Naina Kundu
Release date: 25 October 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
Available from: scott-kinsey.bandcamp.com/wespeakluniwaz

Huw Warren Trio – Everything In Between
Huw Warren, Dudley Phillips, Zoot Warren
Release date: 15 March 2019 (CAM JAZZ)
Review: ap-reviews.com/everythinginbetween
Available from: camjazz.com/everythinginbetween

e.s.t. – e.s.t. live in Gothenburg
Esbjörn Svensson, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Release date: 25 October 2019 (ACT Music)
Review: ap-reviews.com/estliveingothenburg
Available from: actmusic.com/estliveingothenburg

‘Ruby & All Things Purple’ – Andy Scott + Group S

andyscott2

OUR MUSICAL TIMELINES are threaded with waymarkers which, once in a while, magically point us back down the road to those first sit-up-and-listen experiences. They can appear fleeting, yet seem firmly anchored for all time.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available from Basho Records at Jazz CDs.

 

Andy Scott tenor saxophone, bandleader
Rob Buckland sopranino and soprano saxophones
Krzysztof Urbanski soprano saxophone
Simon Willescroft alto and soprano saxophones
Dave Graham alto saxophone
Mike Hall tenor saxophone
John Helliwell tenor saxophone
Rob Cope tenor and baritone saxophones
Chris Caldwell baritone saxophone
Jim Fieldhouse baritone and bass saxophones
Gwilym Simcock piano
James Pusey guitar
Laurence Cottle bass guitar
Elliot Henshaw drums
with special guests
Barbara Thompson tenor saxophone (on La Grande Image)
Jon Hiseman drums (on La Grande Image)

andyscott.org.uk

Basho Records – SRCD 52-2 (2017)

‘My Iris’ – Trish Clowes

myiris

THE AWAKENING AURORA of Trish Clowes’ new album, My Iris, seems to summon those marvellously intuitive Weather Report conversations between Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Clowes was privileged to meet the legendary saxophonist; and both the sustained and fleeting subtleties of Hammond organ and guitar which support her soprano in opening number One Hour recall A Silent Way‘s delicate, suspended beauty.

Indeed, Trish Clowes is keen to understand and even draw on the lineage which underpins her development as saxophonist and composer: “It’s not about trying to sound like anything except yourself, but it’s becoming quite important to me to check out where it’s all coming from, because I think that comes out in your writing and in what you choose to play. The more you understand about the past, the better you can understand what you might want to offer to the future.”

As a reviewer, before drawing any conclusions, I place great emphasis on ‘living with’ an album over a period of time until its familiarity then begins to reveal hitherto undiscovered depths; and this has positively proved its worth here. A former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, Clowes revels in the opportunity to write for and play alongside large ensembles – perhaps most notably with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2014 release Pocket Compass. But in her own quartet line-up with Ross Stanley (piano, Hammond organ), Chris Montague (electric guitar) and James Maddren (drums), there appears to be a vital key which unlocks its magic – and that is a tangible musical intimacy which ensures a thread of free-flowing dialogue throughout the scoring and the improvisation. It can be heard in Clowes’ peekaboo phrases which open Blue Calm, or in the shared, intuitive development of A Cat Called called Behemoth (a perky little number inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita).

Whilst the term ‘chamber jazz’ might be applied to the focus of this album (both the perceived focus of the quartet’s interaction and our reward in engaging with its detail), it also rocks unashamedly. The glorious panic of I Can’t Find My Other Brush (apparently one of Maddren’s!) is redolent of Marius Neset, as Clowes’ tenor sputters and squawks through its restless, skittering percussion; and sticks-and-snare Tap Dance for Baby Dodds (which, in part, refers to early drum pioneer Warren Dodds, but is elaborated upon in the sleeve notes) is unashamedly buoyant, breaking loose to Chris Montague’s string-bent country guitar.

Especially poignant – and part of a shared project with Anglo-Armenian composer/musician Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, exploring the subject of forced migration and genocide – is Muted Lines. Clowes’ description of both artists’ individual approaches to this, expressing silence in reductive poetry and music, becomes affecting; and this is reinforced by a slowly pervading darkness painted by Ross Stanley’s Hammond, Montague’s guitar and the intended frailty of Clowes’ own voice (textures akin to the subterranean melancholy of Peter Gabriel). Stanley is a consummate organist and pianist in any environment – but his restrained, haunting contribution here is unexpectedly emotive.

Wistful, hazy country-garden meanderings of In Between the Moss and Ivy are laden with instrumental sensitivity, softly brushed with transitory piano, guitar and soprano fragrances; and rambunctious Be a Glow Worm (Clowes citing “some gnomic advice from my friend Iain Ballamy”) is mischievously bookended with furtive, microtonal tenor ascents and descents.

Immerse yourself in this captivating, wholly accessible, original music. The deeper you travel, the wider your ears (and irises) will be opened.

Released on 13 January 2017, My Iris is available from Basho Records, Jazz CDs and Amazon.

 

Trish Clowes saxophones
Chris Montague electric guitar
Ross Stanley piano, Hammond organ
James Maddren drums

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 53-2

‘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)