REVIEW: ‘A New York Flight’ – Andreas Toftemark Quartet

HAIRS RAISED on the nape of the neck, here. Why? Well, the sound of Danish saxophonist Andreas Toftemark and his quartet, on new release A New York Flight, is summoning memories of those revelatory early years of musical discovery in bars and halls – the formative experiences of live jazz that are indelibly printed on heart and mind.

Toftemark moved to New York some four or five years ago, studying with Joel Frahm and Ben Wendel, while also learning fast by playing in the heat of its vibrant, yet famously tough jazz scene alongside names such as Peter Bernstein and Ethan Iverson. 2020, a year like no other, saw him return to Denmark, soon establishing a band with his colleagues Calle Brickman (piano), Felix Mosehol (bass) and Andreas Svendsen (drums). For this studio recording, selecting two originals alongside four reinterpretations, Toftemark has crafted a set which captivated on its first hearing, his confident, rounded tenor tone sometimes reminiscent of Scott Hamilton. Significantly, he absolutely achieves that important ‘one foot in the past’ aim of honouring jazz heritage in a way that is just as relevant for our time; and the balmy, romantic thread of these roomy performances (averaging seven minutes apiece) is balanced by both a breeziness and episodes of invigorating sparkle.

The initial, wistful ‘look back’ of the leader’s title-track opener – described in the sleeve notes as ‘a bridge from the New York that was to the near future of the Danish jazz scene’ – soon snaps into a crackling groove which presents the individual merits of each player. Able to create space for detail, they also collectively punch out substantial waves of excitement, Calle Brickman’s rolling piano phrases leading to Toftemark’s gradual pathway towards a potentially limitless torrent of tenor improvisation. Cryptically explained as ‘a row of numbers that seem to follow Andreas in love and friendships’, his gladsome, streetwalking 2223 ramps up into blistering full-on swing – certainly a feel-good gem amongst gems.

Count Basie classic, Blue and Sentimental, is transported oh so elegantly from its 1930s beginnings into an ease-back blues brimming with delectable, acciaccatura piano phrasing, while Toftemark’s measured explorations pay homage to that golden era of jazz; and the assured rhythms of Mosehol and Svendsen are beautifully controlled. From a decade earlier, Donaldson/Kahn’s Love Me or Leave Me (recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone et al) feels at home in instrumental guise as the quartet navigate its push-pull metre before cruising to the leader’s extemporisations – and even when he bows out midway, the remaining piano-trio display, incorporating fine piano and drum soloing, is similarly engaging.

The Big Apple is evidently dear to Toftemark, his dusky, heart-on-sleeve interpretation of enduring Autumn in New York seemingly glinting in the afterglow. Focusing on each cadence, his cool delivery of this Vernon Duke evergreen (originally written with a longing for the city) is consistently a joy, supported by lucent touches from his attentive personnel – and it’s easy, too, to imagine a rapt audience in the shadows of the bandstand. To close, romantic I’m a Fool to Want You (Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, Frank Sinatra) is treated to a lush arrangement which finds light amongst the original’s lovelorn torment, gently swinging to bewitching tenor and piano spotlights.

Aside from the overriding pleasure of these 43 minutes, the intriguing takeaway is what might yet be in the pipeline from the relatively young Andreas Toftemark and, indeed, his friends on this recording. As fine, contemporary interpreters of the tradition, and with that glimpse of the saxophonist’s compositional prowess, the stage seems well and truly set.

Released on 11 June 2021, A New York Flight is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.

 

Andreas Toftemark tenor saxophone
Calle Brickman piano
Felix Mosehol bass
Andreas Svendsen drums

andreastoftemark.com

April Records – APR086CD / APR086LP (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Another Land’ – Dave Holland

IN A CAREER spanning an astonishing seven decades, the name of master bassist Dave Holland is affectionately known to most in the sphere of contemporary jazz. Working with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Kenny Wheeler, Jack DeJohnette, John Abercombie, Pat Metheny (the list goes on) – and extraordinarily prolific for many, many years on the revered ECM label, leading or contributing to around 40 albums – his legendary status has long been assured.

More recently, his Crosscurrents Trio performances with percussionist Zakir Hussain and saxophonist Chris Potter revealed a wonderful camaraderie that enfolded the most glorious acoustic sounds, followed-up by an album – Good Hope. Now, moving on from that 2019 release, Dave Holland extends his association with Edition Records in Another Land – a striking gear-shift of a project with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire.

Those mostly familiar with the veteran bassist’s upright stance alongside his full-bodied or Czech Eaze instruments will, here, instantly identify a quite different environment as a number of the album’s dynamic jazz-rock grooves are driven by electric bass, tuning into the fervid invention and tracery of Eubanks, plus Calvaire’s vehement, often thunderous presence behind the kit. Describing the live shows that informed this New York studio recording, Holland relates that once their continuous set began, they rarely stopped. That sense of being deep within the groove is palpable here, and totally infectious. Indeed, the fullness, equality and adaptability of this trio’s sound is pivotal across 68 minutes which feel like they could run and run.

Funk-laden Grave Walker mixes up 7/8 beats with mellow, shuffling riffs, Eubanks completely at one with his crunching, pitch-bent rhythms and improvised melodies; and the exchange of knowing nods and smiles can easily be envisaged throughout its propulsive yet precise course. 20 20, too, ripples with purpose, Holland’s double-bass euphony just as integrated with the exciting, Jimi Hendrixian blues/rock of Eubanks as its more subdued sequences – again, this cohesive triumvirate turns out so many variations and moods within a single number. Holland’s alternating trip-up figure sets up elegant title track Another Land, whose bossa-suggested gyrations provide space to illuminate detail; and the bassist’s Quiet Fire is reimagined, pared down in a sensitive and enchanting solo guitar arrangement.

Back on the groove trail, the ‘playground chant’ of Calvaire’s South American-hued Gentle Warrior is a delight as it proceeds towards Holland’s tireless, rhythmic soloing and an audacious, scratchy feature from Eubanks. For rock energy and complexity, the guitarist’s Mashup takes some beating, its velocity prompting an amazing, collaborative saturation of ideas; and hearing Holland’s electric bass meshing with Eubanks’ tones is just stunning – conceivably it enjoys considerable development in a live setting. Ice-cool bass and guitar licks/improv in Passing Time drift blithely, supported by crisp, percussive colour, while Holland provides The Village’s deep, blue bass as Eubanks chromatically ascends (with fabulous fretboard and pedal techniques) to the crackling accompaniment of Calvaire. Closing, the guitarist leads his soulfully smooth Bring It Back Home with an unashamedly ostentatious swagger.

Always progressive in both outlook and his support of new talent, now in his mid-seventies, Dave Holland has created a zestful trio partnership whose classy, full-on grooving is repeatedly a joy to get into.

Released on 28 May 2021, Another Land is available in various formats at Edition Records.

 

Dave Holland bass, bass guitar
Kevin Eubanks guitar
Obed Calvaire drums

daveholland.com

Edition Records – EDN1172 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘After The Real Thing’ – Roy Mor

THE EVOCATIVE STRAINS of the oud were the immediate allure of this attractive debut recording, as leader, by Israeli pianist Roy Mor.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 21 May 2021 at Ubuntu Music and available from Proper Music, Amazon, etc.

 

Roy Mor piano, Fender Rhodes
with
Amos Hoffman oud, guitar
Myles Sloniker bass
Itay Morchi drums
Davy Lazar flugelhorn
Marty Kenney bass
Peter Traunmueller drums
Joel Kruzic bass
Jeremy Dutton drums

roymormusic.com

Ubuntu Music – UBU0081 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’ – Cwmwl Tystion / Witness

THE IDENTITY and landscape of Wales is steeped in historical, political and cultural significance, something which composer and trumpeter Tomos Williams seeks to explore and interpret through his experimental project Cwmwl Tystion (‘Witness’ or, literally, ‘Cloud of Witnesses’, quoted from 20th century poet Waldo Williams’ ‘What is Man?’).

Cardiff-based Tomos Williams also leads folk/jazz outfit Burum and ‘Indo-Welsh’ band Khamira; but this more exploratory, frequently free-jazz suite stems from his desire to “create a piece that both celebrated and questioned the idea of Welshness and referenced notable events in Welsh history.” The democratically-spirited sextet – with Francesca Simmons (violin, saw), Rhodri Davies (harp, electronics), Huw V Williams (bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums) – also features acclaimed pianist Huw Warren; and for this live recording, captured both in Swansea and London, the performances were accompanied by the animated visuals of Simon Proffitt.

Seven movements indeed identify specific inspirations from Williams’ homeland, opening with a suitably expansive depiction of Mynyddoedd Cymru (Mountains of Wales). From rugged Snowdonia in the north to the vast, southerly sprawl of the Brecon Beacons, the majesty of Wales’ geographical wonders is illustrated through austere, ascending motifs and fierce, whirling, climatic expressions. Across more than twenty minutes, its episodic breadth and saturation is initially whelming – yet the relentless progression can also be breathtaking, its many textures including Rhodri Davies’ Jimmy Page-like electronically-manipulated harp. Welsh folk tune Glyn Tawe is beautifully interpreted by violin and piano – a plaintive melody, heard on the wind, that brings to mind Sir Edward Elgar’s useful, distant-song encounter in Llangranog – but it also seems to have a troubled soul (Elgar again!), Francesca Simmons’ ‘flattened’ string improvisations so gorgeously bittersweet.

The fascinating and well-documented connection of popular African-American baritone Paul Robeson with Welsh mining communities is remembered in Paul Robeson ac Eisteddfod y Glowyr 1957 (Paul Robeson and the Miners’ Eisteddfod 1957). This brashly jazz-swinging commemoration vigorously flashes with harp and piano, and the effect of a classic horn section from the duality of trumpet and violin is quite something. The anger of Llyfrau Gleision 1847 (the disparaging 19th century enquiry into the state of education in Wales) is communicated through urgent rhythms, crashing ‘guitar’, impassioned trumpet improv and the curious waver of a saw, while Huw Warren‘s unbridled mastery (both inside and outside the piano frame) is just glorious.

Quoting a triad of Welsh folk songs, the restless angst of Pa Beth yw Cenedl? (What is a Nation?) develops apace, Warren’s intense soloing white-hot against the throng of thrashing percussion and tumultuous bass. Tryweryn 1965 recalls the controversial flooding of valley village Capel Celyn to create a reservoir for Liverpool’s water supply, sparking huge local and political unrest, now belied by its quiet beauty. Williams illustrates these contrasts with sparky, disoriented figures and an elegant though wistful violin tune. Closing Pa Beth yw Dyn? (What is Man?) – the source of the project’s title – transforms discordancy into a verdant, straightahead-jazz celebration of Cymru, dominated by Huw Warren’s elegant pianism.

Peeling back the layers of this performance – excellently recorded, live – and either learning of or reacquainting oneself with the extraordinary history and breathtaking landscape of this nation, the creativity of Tomos Williams and his sextet becomes increasingly meaningful. A truly effective and important melding of message and music.

Released on 5 March 2021, Cwmwl Tystion / Witness is available from tycerddshop.com, iTunes and Amazon.

Tomos Williams trumpet, compositions
Francesca Simmons violin, saw
Rhodri Davies harp, electronics
Huw Warren piano
Huw V Williams bass
Mark O’Connor drums
with
Simon Proffitt live visuals

Videos: Mynyddoedd Cymru and Tryweryn 1965

Introductory YouTube video
Tomos Williams at khamira.net
tycerdd.org

Tŷ Cerdd Records – TCR029 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘People Flow’ – Erik Verwey Trio

A DEBUT ALBUM to lift the spirits, Dutch pianist Erik Verwey’s People Flow most certainly has feel-good and interest at its heart.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 December 2020 and available from Erik Verwey’s website.

 

Erik Verwey piano
Hendrik Müller bass
Daniel van Dalen drums
featuring
Teus Nobel flugelhorn
Bart Wirtz saxophone

Artwork by Helia Toledo

erik-verwey.squarespace.com

Promo video

Supported by Sena Muziekproductiefonds – Dutch Performers House

Self-released (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)