‘Portrait: Reflections on Belonging’ – Byron Wallen

DISPLAYING integrity and humanity, respected trumpeter/flugelhornist Byron Wallen’s Portrait – his first recorded release in thirteen years – drew me in at the very first listen… and hasn’t let go yet!

It’s a beautiful concept. Wallen’s original, storytelling compositions are carried on a kaleidoscopic, journeying wave of urban ‘field recordings’ and communal interactions from his native London. In these tarnished days of discrimination and hatred (countered, thankfully, by positive expressions such as #BeKind), it’s worth reading Byron’s heartfelt words… and then responding in gratitude by feeling his and his band’s uplifting, even healing, creativity:

“This album is a meditation and reflection on the powerful impact that music has had on my life. It was conceived whilst sitting in the central square in Woolwich, an area of South East London. I was struck by the community around me with its mixture of cultures and nationalities, from Nepalese elders to young Nigerian men, Somali mothers with their children, a new Eastern European contingent and descendants of families who used to work in the docks and at the Arsenal. Music paved my way to travel and see the world, meeting people from all different cultures and walks of life. The study of music and the process of striving to become a better musician furnished me with a deeper knowledge of self and a gift I could share on so many different levels. In Portrait I am meditating on identity, culture and what it means to belong. The compositions, workshops, performances, and social interaction born out of this project deepened my artistic and personal relationships with the people in my neighbourhood. The album pays tribute to the heart, soul and vibrant provenance of the community I call my home.”

Rising-star guitarist Rob Luft features alongside bassist Paul Michael, drummer Rod Youngs and percussionist Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker – and together, the leader and his Four Corners band produce a rich swell of vibrant celebration, as well as atmospheres of introspection and reminiscence (sleeve notes provide background to several numbers).

It’s no surprise that Byron Wallen studied with Jon Faddis, Hugh Masekela, George Benson and Chaka Khan; and there’s also a semblance of Freddie Hubbard in his joyful, natural phrases and improvisations. Each For All and All For Each, as an example, presents a warmly-grooving South African vibe, plus a freer sense of looking back; and percussively-driven No Stars No Moon (its title referencing historic racial tensions) features a memorable, chromatic guitar riff supporting Wallen’s almost growling, dual-tracked lead.

Chordal and rhythmic arrangements are tightly executed, Luft usually at the heart, providing agile coloration quite different to that of a keyboard instrument. Reflective moments summon imagery, also – especially the eery, flugelhorn/mouthpiece repetition of Alert (for the workers at the Royal Arsenal) which seemingly pictorialises ships’ horns, seagull cries and gunfire echoing around the docklands of (former) heavy industry. Wallen’s miniatures, such as sweetly-dancing Ferry Shell and bold percussion solo Warren to Arsenal, are tantalisingly brief; and calming Fundamental, with jazz-country pedalled guitar textures, is described as ‘a meditation on what it is to be human’.

The educational aspects of Wallen’s career are fascinatingly woven into the fabric of this album, too, employing the choral exuberance of Plumcroft Primary School, in the heart of Woolwich. Young voices chant ’Spirit of the Ancestors (is calling)’ to a bass-and-drum groove as Wallen bluesily improvises across, connecting to the classes’ examination of family and ancestry; and calypsoing, “soft and squishy” Banana Man (for Bannockburn Primary School) highlights the importance of street markets. Harmonious joy, indeed – something further communicated through gyrating, sunshiny instrumental, Holler.

Byron Wallen tours Portrait in the UK from 2 February to 14 October 2020 – and the album, released on 17 February, is available as CD or download from Bandcamp.

 

Byron Wallen trumpet, flugelhorn, shells, piano, percussion
Rob Luft guitar
Paul Michael bass guitar
Rod Youngs drums
Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker congas, talking drums
Plumcroft Primary School, classes 3G and 3H vocals

Illustration: Marc Drostle

byronwallen.co.uk

Twilight Jaguar Recordings – TJCD3 (2020)

‘La Saboteuse’ – Yazz Ahmed

YazzAhmed

THE SMOULDERING, exotic and aromatic layers of trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse have gradually been infusing my psyche for the past few weeks – and it’s precisely this slowly unfolding, intoxicating weave which makes it both alluring and satisfyingly difficult to pigeonhole. 

Ahmed’s credentials to date speak for themselves, having worked alongside such illustrious names as Courtney Pine, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sir John Dankworth, as well as appearing on albums by artists including Samuel Hällkvist, Noel Langley and Radiohead; and following on from 2011 solo debut Finding My Way Home, the British-Bahraini musician describes this latest, sumptuous release as part of a long, spiritual journey: “the relationship between the optimism of my conscious self and the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, my inner saboteur”. It quite ingeniously fuses a personal desire to delve more deeply into her childhood experiences – the culture of the Middle East and the sounds of its maqam and folk music traditions – with the already exciting cross-pollinations of the current jazz scene. The resulting assimilation by Ahmed and her sparkling players is a hypnotic, almost continuous work of extraordinary nuance and breadth.

Exquisite illustrations, calligraphy and the trumpeter’s own engaging sleeve notes about the music and each of her personnel instantly reveal a labour of love (also confirming the advantage of artistic completeness which the physical product will always have over digital download or streaming), preparing the ground for immersion in this fragrant, almost hour-long labyrinth. Jamil Jamal‘s alternating seven-then-eight percussive metre is set up by a Rhodes and electric bass pulse, embellished by searching improvisations from the leader’s flugel and bass clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings; and, as throughout the album, details such as echoic guitar and hazy electronics add significantly to the suffusion. Indeed, Ahmed’s mastery of textural effect is much in evidence, as in The Space Between the Fish & the Moon, a mystical expanse of bowed vibraphone, digital oscillations and crackles traversed by blissful flugel.

The fluctuating riches of this recording are magnificent – dark, spacial, contrapuntal and unison phrases in title track La Saboteuse become interspersed with muted Arabian annunciations, whilst Al Emadi‘s brassy effusiveness is carried on a wave of bendir and darbuka, with so many fascinating embellishments contributing to its cinematic mood. The vibes-introduced buoyancy of The Lost Pearl has a subtle redolence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, albeit with syncopated, effects-swirling electric bass rhythms; and all the while, Ahmed’s assured imaginings ripple above. In Bloom, Martin France’s rapid pop-groove injects light into the pervading mystery, its otherwise straight-ahead demeanour glinting with vibes and (at one point, politely screeching) flugel; and Beleille‘s complex network of tonal intrigue (including bizarre electronic manipulations of bass clarinet) makes this one of this album’s most absorbing listens. Delicate miniatures, segued between these expansive pieces, provide a sense of continuity which may well be elaborated upon when performed live – and celebratory Organ External, with a riffy hint of Michael Nyman, intelligently seems to throw everything into the mix with great results, the low timbres of flugel and bass clarinet especially effective.

Yazz Ahmed’s atmospheres are lush, inventive, enticing and an impressive, progressive distillation of her many influences. In short – spellbinding.

Released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017, La Saboteuse is available as CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Yazz Ahmed flugelhorn, trumpet, quarter-tone flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet
Samuel Hällkvist electric guitars
Naadia Sheriff Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Dudley Phillips bass guitar
Dave Manington bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom)
Martin France drums
Corrina Silvester bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit

Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed

yazzahmed.com

Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)

‘Cross-Platform Interchange’ – Misha Mullov-Abbado

MishaM-A

IT SAYS MUCH about the rude health of the British contemporary jazz scene when an album such as London-based Misha Mullov-Abbado’s Cross-Platform Interchange makes its arrival with this level of young, high-spirited musicality.

The bassist’s second album – “dedicated to my love of trains, travelling, movement and constantly evolving musical journeys” – is a breath of fresh air as eight original, often European-inflected compositions offer an entertaining ‘itinerary’ of verve, lucid beauty and obvious humour, all delivered by a three-horn septet augmented with guest musicians. Mullov-Abbado’s musical progression comes as no surprise (the son of acclaimed classical artists Viktoria Mullova and the late Claudio Abbado), yet he has already embarked on his own creative route which appears to take in so many influences.

These fifty-seven minutes are, indeed, something of an eclectic sightseeing adventure, with the winding, bluesy, ‘in-crowd’ bass-groove of Shanti Bell announcing its departure, whilst a steam-filled segue accelerates into high-speed Mariachi folk tune No Strictly Dancing, characterised by James Davison’s blistering trumpet and the hissing perpetual motion provided by drummer Scott Chapman and percussionist Elad Neeman. Mullov-Abbado explains that these compositions have been written, performed and honed over a two-year period, so they take inspiration from different sources. The echoic, tumbling-sax atmospheres of Waves divert into a pictorial vista stretching for miles; and its deep, reedy, dance-band elegance suggests romantic evocations of early 20th Century rail travel (dedicated with love to the bassist’s stepfather, Matthew Barley, whose cello adornments can be heard here); and Still, Hidden Morning‘s hazy aurora again tumbles into swiftly-travelling percussiveness, illuminated by Liam Diunachie’s deft, US-soul piano improvisations as well as the vividly-phrased, fluctuating impressions of fleeting landscapes from saxophonists Matthew Herd and Sam Rapley, and James Davison on flugel.

‘Wensleydale-and-cracker’ antics in Gromit’s Grand Outing (complete with animated, Nick Park sound effects) mischievously bluster to Mullov-Abbado’s flapper-style fast-walking bass – but behind the madcap comedy are some great, bubbling, trad-jazz-club solo turns from the melodicists (the Mozart didn’t go unnoticed!). Pure 100% Nunnery‘s cool-cat sax lines nonchalantly shuffle (cue the tea dance), breaking into magnificent, Louis Armstrong-style abandon/cacophony before its exaggerated swoons hint at the opening titles of ‘That Darn Cat’. Blithe title track Cross-Platform Interchange hits an irresistible Stateside groove, thanks to Rob Luft’s rhythm guitar and Dunachie’s piano, along with a smooth horn-quartet backing (including bass trombonist Yusuf Narcin); and Latinesque Hair of the Bop‘s elaborate conga patterns and trumpet/sax melodies infuse the closing festivities with delectable, Mexican warmth as Mullov-Abbado’s express disappears around the cove.

An album of new music imbued with Misha-Mullov Abbado’s cultural experiences, Cross-Platform Interchange teems with life and cheer.

Released on 19 May 2017 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass, bass guitar
James Davison trumpet, flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto saxophone
Sam Rapley tenor saxophone, clarinet
Liam Dunachie piano, Fender Rhodes
Scott Chapman drums
Elad Neeman percussion
with 
Nick Goodwin acoustic guitar
Rob Luft electric guitar
Matthew Barley cello
Yusuf Narcin bass trombone

mishamullovabbado.com

Edition Records – EDN1091 (2017)

‘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)

‘Gurutopia’ – Shez Raja

Adobe Photoshop PDF

QUOTING ‘bass’, ‘groove’ and ‘fusion’ in the same conversation is likely to summon thoughts of Stateside heavyweights Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke or Marcus Miller – so it feels something of a privilege to flag up and recommend the progressive, impassioned contribution to UK jazz/funk being made by five-string electric bassist Shez Raja. 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Shez Raja bass guitar
Monika Lidke voice
Chris Nickolls drums
Steve Pringle Fender Rhodes and keyboards (tracks 1, 5, 6, 7)
Pascal Roggen violin
Alex Stanford keyboards (tracks 2, 3, 4, 8)
Vasilis Xenopoulos saxophone
featuring
Mike Stern guitar (tracks 1, 6)
Randy Brecker trumpet (tracks 5, 7)

shezraja.com

Dot Time Records – DT9050 (2016)

‘Umoya’ – Philip Clouts Quartet

Umoya

IT HAS TO BE the innate South African rhythm of life that Philip Clouts possesses which marks out his quartet albums with such sunshiny zest.

Born in Cape Town, and resident of the generally balmier UK region of West Dorset, the pianist/composer’s approach is typically melodic, straight-ahead and high-spirited. Following up his Hour of Pearl album of 2013, the Umoya title of this latest release is a Zulu word for ‘life force’, confirming that accessible joie de vivre in his performances; and to the rhythm section of Alex Keen (electric bass) and Dave Ingamells (drums), he invites young saxophonist Samuel Eagles – who impressed with his own debut album – to add considerable upfront sparkle.

So, certainly a jazz album, generously filled with memorable hooks and broad improvisation… but these eight tracks are also unquestionably infused with alluring ‘world’ grooves which find their way so readily into Clouts’ compositions, and which are central to their attraction. Title track Umoya is the perfect illustration, its clarity and apparent simplicity actually paving the way for bright, syncopated rhythms which might recall Chris McGregor or Dudu Pukwana, as Samuel Eagles’ elongated phrases intertwine with Clouts’ own lucid solo lines and endearing block chord triplet sequences.

Dreamy Driving catches the imagination – a musically colourful journey taking in contemporary riffs, oases of calm and ear-pricking textural combinations held together by the mobility of Alex Keen’s electric bass; and Taranto‘s world/folk influence is heightened by Eagles’ Italianate inflections and Clouts’ vigorously cascading sequences.

Walking in Starlight‘s cool sidewalk nonchalance is created out of Keen’s unhurried bass and Clouts’ softly-jabbing electric piano, whilst Dave Ingamells’ momentum and crisp detail here are typical of his pervading presence throughout these 50 minutes or so. Perhaps it’s the Joe Sample-style keys here – reminiscent of Street Life – which bring the tantalising realisation that so many of Clouts’ melodically strong compositions cry out for a vocal line (his father was a South African poet); one can only imagine the potential vivacity – not to mention beauty – of such a project!

Direction South pays direct homage to the music of the pianist’s birth land in a joyous, Abdullah Ibrahim-like gambol; Amor possesses a contrasting restlessness, Eagles’ mysterious soprano sax deliciously weaving around Clouts’ ostinato undercurrent, occasionally hitting a hard-driving rock pulse; and the bright, lurching gospel/blues of Meandering is pounced upon by Eagles, his swooning modal explorations especially attractive.

There are certainly grittier, edgier experiences out there – but this is a life-affirming, musically-accomplished album to relax into (and, I dare say – when the sun deigns to reappear – to pop a cork to!). Umoya can be purchased from Philip Clouts’ website, Odradek Records, record stores and online retailers.

 

Philip Clouts piano, composer
Samuel Eagles saxophones
Alex Keen electric bass
Dave Ingamells drums

philipcloutsquartet.co.uk

Odradek Records – ODRCD503 (2015)