‘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)

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‘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

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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)

‘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)

‘If I was to describe you’ – Monika Lidke

MonikaLidke

WARMTH AND BEAUTY, matching the Summer mood, pervade the air around me as I listen to an endearing and heartfelt new release, If I was to describe you, from Polish songstress Monika Lidke. Now resident in London, this collection of self-composed soft jazz/folk songs reflects Lidke’s Polish and French personas, each of its fourteen tracks imbued with appealing honesty, freshness and lyrical accomplishment.

An album made possible by an enthusiastic Kickstarter response, Lidke employs an enviable team of musicians to bring to life her very personal collection of life experiences and observations – and it’s very much the congruous compositional attention to detail in both words and music which grabs the attention, as well as the clear, fluent vocal delivery. Kristian Borring (guitars), Tim Fairhall (double bass) and Chris Nickolls (drums) provide the principal instrumental line-up, but there are contributions throughout from Maciek Pysz, Shez Raja, Mark Rose and many others who ensure a refreshingly eclectic recording.

Monika Lidke’s vocal tone possesses a silky richness, with crystal-clear diction, as demonstrated in the soft, bluesy opener They Say. It has a suppleness, too, which matches well the prominent electric bass grooving of Janek Gwizdala, Kristian Borring’s light guitar accompaniment and the ticking rhythm maintained by drummer Chris Nickolls. The more folksy title number If I was to describe you – a song of love or deep friendship – has a charm which is enhanced by cello and vibes, as well as Lidke’s beautifully layered harmonies; and carefree Tum tum song, with Polish lyric shared by Basia Trzetrzelewska, bounces along with gently effervescing amiability.

Already, then, it’s clear that Lidke displays an aptitude for carefully combining words with appropriate musical styles and rhythms – yet the varied tracklist coalesces well, with a proliferation of melodic hooks. Light under the bruises explores further themes of closeness (“I lift you up just to show you a new horizon”) – then, out of the blue… the jaunty-but-delicate Funny little dance swings to Mark Rose’s double bass and Maciek Pysz’s guitar embellishments; and with all the positivity and pace of a ’70s Gordon Giltrap hit (which could quite easily be an up-tempo interpretation of a traditional French folk song), Ensemble flows briskly to the electric bass of Shez Raja – feel-good factor ten!

The delicacy of Rozpalona kolyska is exquisite, Lidke vocalising in tandem with Borring’s tight guitar melodies, Fairhall and Nickolls providing the feathery double bass and drum motion. In contrast, Monika’s sunshiny love song of gratitude, Waves and curves, displays unabashed ‘pop’ folkiness; and the cheerful, cheeky Questions gênantes (Awkward questions) is irresistible in its trad. quirkiness, Borring pitching a suitably nimble guitar lead against the chirpy rhythm section. Bread on toast, a Jobimesque samba which eddies gorgeously to Kristian Borring’s rhythmic guitar, shows off both the purity and dexterity of Lidke’s vocals, whilst Footprints on the seashore revisits the writer’s easy-going pop/folk lyric and sound world (“We’re dangerous and beautiful; we make impressions that only last as long as ripples on the water”).

Oceany lez is another graceful Polish ballad which Lidke delivers with appealing simplicity; and the following Higher self swirls to the singer’s joyful assurance. Finally, self-accompanied on guitar, plus heavenly electric bass harmonics from Shez Raja (a wife and husband thing!), the miniature Kolysanka dla Janka holds the breath with its crystalline beauty… a fitting conclusion to an album which reflects a passion for songwriting, all delivered by a golden voice.

If I was to describe you launches in the UK at Pizza Express, Soho, London on 2 July 2014, released on 33JAZZ – check out a studio video of They Say, and audio taster compilation of the album.

 

Monika Lidke vocals, acoustic guitar
Basia Trzetrzelewska vocals
Janek Gwizdala bass guitar
Kristian Borring guitars, arrangements of tracks 1, 4, 7, 8 & 11
Tim Fairhall double bass
Mark Rose double bass
Chris Nickolls drums
Shez Raja bass guitar
Genevieve Wilkins vibraphone, percussion
Maciek Pysz acoustic guitar
Adam Spiers cello
Jerzy Bielski acoustic guitar
Paul Reynolds mandolin

monikalidke.com

33JAZZ – 33JAZZ242 (2014)