‘Pond Life’ – Big Bad Wolf

A DEBUT RELEASE whose fresh, invigorating sounds stem from an intriguing co-compositional method, Big Bad Wolf’s Pond Life is an instrumental/vocal delight.

The direction taken by trombonist Owen Dawson, guitarist Rob Luft, electric bassist Michael De Souza and drummer Jay Davis begins with recorded, open-ended group improvisation. On playback, ideas born out of these free expressions are then developed, structured and honed with fine attention to detail, resulting in music which radiates an experimental free-spiritedness combined with intelligent musicality. This young band’s many, collective influences include Nirvana, Radiohead, The Invisible, Björk and Django Bates, so their creations naturally weave together diverse strands of rock, pop and jazz, occasionally integrating refined, layered vocals and synthesizer traces redolent of ’70s progressive rock and the Canterbury scene.

Melodically and texturally, this blissful music coruscates to an enticing pairing of trombone and guitar; and the democratic creativity of the quartet (who studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music) is key to their mission of ‘forging an individual, contemporary sound whilst still honouring the improvisational element of the jazz tradition’. Indeed, Owen Dawson’s cool, breezy trombone lines in Canary immediately intimate Groove Armada, as Rob Luft’s classical guitar delicacy implies the Anthony Phillips era of Genesis; but there’s also a gritty edge to the band’s output (Michael De Souza’s six-string bass a key element), with overdriven guitar and vocal lines perhaps suggesting Everything Everything. Flats in Dagenham‘s sleek, summery trombone promenade is interspersed with crackling guitar-and-bass motifs and anthemic choruses, heralding joyously mellow, sustained electric guitar improv. It seems the band’s initial pooling and sequencing of ideas are key to these unpredictable, episodic progressions which feature adroit, sometimes head-scratching instrumental combinations.

Luft’s stylistic range colours each of these eight pieces quite differently, his rock riffs in Frog underpinning its brassy, cinematic pride, whilst Dawson’s radiophonic, wailing trombone is carried by a mind-boggling swathe of pulsating guitars and tricky, percussive rhythms. In repose, this quartet is just as appealing – Quiet Coach‘s charm defined by dreamy, almost nursery-rhyme guitar, blithe trombone melodies and soft vocal harmonies. But a swift gear-change is never far away, with Hopkins’ Choice rippling to ska-like fervency; both Grassfish and title track Pond Life recalling prog’s flightiness (the latter complete with Pink Floyd ‘Welcome to the Machine’ synth detail); and closing track The Plight of the Typewriter capturing the supreme balance these players achieve as its sublime serenity evolves into majestic funk.

Pond Life might well be approached from an ‘ambient’ perspective; a feel-good, windows-down cruiser. Yet it offers so much more in terms of well-crafted new sounds informed by and excitingly recalling the legacy of music’s previous decades. That surely is a successful basis for any band – and hopefully this gem might be the first of many from Big Bad Wolf.

Released on 16 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Pond Life, live at Sofar London.

 

Owen Dawson trombone
Rob Luft guitars
Michael De Souza six-string electric bass (Bass VI)
Jay Davis drums

bigbadwolf.london

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Killpartrick
Financially supported by Help Musicians UK (Peter Whittingham Award)

Self-Released (2017)

‘Turn Up The Quiet’ – Diana Krall

DianaKrall-Quiet

RETURNING TO her undoubted jazz mastery, following 2015 album Wallflower‘s divergence into pop/rock ballad interpretations, new release Turn Up The Quiet finds Diana Krall’s characteristically restrained, closely-miked voice caressing romantic, twilight gems such as Cole Porter’s Night and Day and Rodgers and Hart’s Isn’t it Romantic.

The edgy pianistic flair and energetic vocals to be found in some of the multiple Grammy award-winning artist’s earlier recordings aren’t so evident here, yet there’s no denying the dinner-jazz finesse and attention to detail conjured by Krall in three specific line-ups – trio, quartet and quintet – providing a comfortable blend of differing timbres. Relishing the creative freedom to record and, in some cases, substantially refashion eleven standards with some of her favourite musicians, “to see what would happen”, this thirteenth album would become her final studio collaboration with renowned producer Tommy LiPuma, who recently passed away; but the craft of their long, artistic partnership is palpable.

Breezy ‘jazz manouche’ opener Like Someone in Love (Van Heusen/Burke) introduces the precise trio offerings with guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Christian McBride, who also present a slick rendition of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies where Malone’s muted rhythms are especially attractive; and Johnny Mercer’s Dream, in a serene string arrangement by Alan Broadbent, is classic, romantic Krall. The pianist’s longtime association with guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton Jnr, and drummer Jeff Hamilton shines in quartet numbers such as Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E (complete with dizzy, discordant piano detail) and dusky, Mexican rumba, Sway. Stuart Duncan’s fiddle completes a quintet line-up with guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Karriem Riggins, and softly jaunty 1930s tune I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You) is beautifully measured. In their hands, Moonglow (Hudson/Mills) becomes hushedly sublime, and the perky guitar shuffle of I’ll See You in My Dreams – a glimpse of Krall’s livelier character, hinting at moods of both George Shearing and Stéphane Grappelli – is both deft and polished.

Maybe a few more fireworks might have pepped up the dynamic range to greater effect, adding a soupçon of unpredictability – but the clarity of these commercially-appealing performances certainly showcases an artist who still thrives on the joy of pure, acoustic jazz familiarity and improvisation. As Krall herself says: “Sometimes you just have to turn up the quiet to be heard a little better”.

Released on 5 May 2017 and available from Diana Krall’s official online store, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Diana Krall piano, vocals
with
Russell Malone
guitar
Christian McBride bass
and
Anthony Wilson
guitar
John Clayton Jr bass
Jeff Hamilton drums
and
Marc Ribot
guitar
Tony Garnier bass
Karriem Riggins drums
Stuart Duncan fiddle

dianakrall.com

Verve (2017)

‘Khamira’ – Khamira

Khamira

EXHILARATING and mesmeric, the eponymous debut release from seven-piece Khamira fuses Welsh folk, jazz and rock with Indian classical music.

It was a masterclass at the Berklee-affiliated Global Music Institute in New Delhi by the four Welsh members of this band (who are united in separate jazz/folk outfit, Burum) which led to the concept of combining a standard jazz quartet of trumpet, piano, bass and drums with the Indian colours of sarangi and tabla, plus vocals/Konnakol and guitar. Blurring the edges of genres and cultures here feels entirely organic, summoning the seminal ’70s fusion experiments of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, as well as finding a modern-day crossover connection with artists such as Dwiki Dharmawhan and Dewa Budjana.

New arrangements of traditional Welsh songs and Indian classical melodies are combined with two original compositions to deliver fifty-five minutes of extensive, instrumental splendour. Particularly impressive is the versatility of Suhail Yusuf Khan’s stringed sarangi in partnering so melodically with Tomos Williams’ trumpet and Aditya Balani’s electric guitar; and the incisive, often rapid top-note resonances of Vishal Nagar’s tabla accentuate the rhythmic grooves of Dave Jones (piano), Aidan Thorne (electric bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums).

It’s a sound world which increasingly engages, as Khamira’s palette is so varied and the blends so intriguing. Slow-release Pan O’wn y Gwanwyn (The Song of Spring) awakens to spacial trumpet and sarangi conversations before launching a lurching, saturated jazz/rock pulse underpinned by tremulant organ and thrashing percussion; and Basant‘s heady, vocalised Indian flavours – including the ‘jugalbandi’ of sarangi and tabla – are complemented by gravelly electric bass and urgent trumpet improv.

Jazz-grooving, eleven-minute Answers reinforces that this is an immersive, progressive experience, rather than a collection of snappy, individual ‘tunes’ – but this band’s open and ever-changing landscape, here with exquisite Paulo Fresu-style muted trumpet, becomes so appealing. Ffarwel i Gymru / Morey Nain shimmers to plaintive trumpet and a sustained sarangi thread, supporting its beautifully inflected Indian vocal; and the vibrant, contemporary jazz piano of Dance of Nothingness prompts bluesy guitar and frenzied sarangi. The initial, Eastern serenity of Y Gwydd (The Weaver’s Song) belies the enthralling explosion of drums, tabla, Konnakol and electric piano to be revealed later, very much in the spirit of jazz/world fusion; and wistful hymn Hiraeth am Feirion (Longing for Meirionnydd), pairing trumpet and sarangi over the gentle ebb of tabla, creates a restrained yet anthemic sundown.

Released on 2 May 2017, Khamira is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp. Catch a ten-minute video impression here.

 

Tomos Williams trumpet
Suhail Yusuf Khan sarangi, vocal
Aditya Balani guitar
Dave Jones piano, keys
Aidan Thorne electric bass
Vishal Nagar tabla, vocal
Mark O’Connor drums

khamira.net

Recordiau Bona – BOPA 003 (2017)

‘Caipi’ – Kurt Rosenwinkel

caipi

PHILADELPHIA-BORN, Berlin-resident jazz guitarist/keyboardist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s career is especially associated with influential artists such as Gary Burton, Paul Motion, Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter. So the sunshiny, vocal emphasis of his new release Caipi comes as something of a surprise. Yet it’s a surprise which prompts fascination, increasing endearment and positivity. 

Rosenwinkel suggests that it’s taken a decade to make this album a reality – and whilst it’s very much a solo album (the composer playing guitars, bass, piano, synth and drums throughout, and also occasionally taking lead vocal), he also welcomes a number of guests to provide a panoply of textures, including appearances from saxophonist Mark Turner and vocalist/lyricist Amanda Brecker. There’s even a subtle cameo from Eric Clapton, who describes Rosenwinkel as “a genius – he really is”; and the album’s decidedly effervescent South American flavours (‘Caipirinha’ being a Brazilian/Portuguese cocktail) are enhanced by the intriguing vocal timbres of young Brazilian singer/instrumentalist Pedro Martins.

This full hour’s eleven-track diversity might initially be perplexing, especially for fans of the guitarist’s instrumental-jazz back catalogue. But it doesn’t take long to warm to the naive frailty of Pedro Martins’ gentle voice; and though Rosenwinkel’s straight vocal delivery may be reminiscent of ’70s prog instrumentalists who came from behind the frontman’s shadows to sing for their own solo projects, it’s these constantly fluctuating points of difference, plus a tangible homely quality, which attracts. The background to this bold, intentional move is explained thus: “Writing songs with lyrics has always been very much a part of musical world, but they’ve usually stayed in my private sphere. With Caipi, I realised that these were also lyric songs and that ultimately I would sing them as well. It’s definitely something different from my other albums, but it’s a familiar place for me and it was just a matter of doing what the music needed”.

A sultry bossa nova influence is there from the opening of the title track, its wordless backing vocals and flute-voiced synth redolent of Pat Metheny or The Isley Brothers, with Rosenwinkel’s electric guitar improv reaching up to an azure sky; and Martins’ tremulant falsetto sails across the gently bass-driven gossamer-sustained layers of Kama. The contrasting pop chirpiness of Casio Vanguard and Summer Song quirkily recall the pop-jingle of ’80s band Johnny Hates Jazz, though brimming with invention and detail, whilst Methenyesque Chromatic B‘s babbling electric bass underpins its Latin piano-and-guitar pulse. Shadows-style riffs support Rosenwinkel’s affirming vocal in purposeful Hold On (“…and you know we’re not alone”); and the folksy tenderness of Ezra, dedicated to his youngest son, is similarly uplifting (“live each day with joy and laughter”) as Mark Turner’s tenor sax extemporises broadly over a mid-rock groove.

By now, it’s possible you’ll be hooked… only to discover Rosenwinkel still has four more appealing numbers to deliver – Little Dream and Casio Escher (both embellished by Amanda Brecker’s vocal dexterity), bossa shuffler Interspace and anthemically-closing Little B. An album which is both curious and distinctive, it leaves a beautiful impression of radiance and hope, and is described by its creator as “angels working for the light”.

Released in UK/Europe on 10 February 2017, and in the US on 30 March 2017, Caipi is available from Heartcore Records as well as iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Kurt Rosenwinkel acoustic guitar, nylon guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion, synth, Casio, voice
with
Pedro Martins voice, synth, harmonium, drums, floor tom
and guests
Frederika Krier violin
Andi Haberl drums
Antonio Loureiro voice
Alex Kozmidi baritone guitar
Kyra Garéy voice
Mark Turner tenor sax
Amanda Brecker voice
Eric Clapton guitar
Zola Mennenöh voice
Chris Komer French horn

kurtrosenwinkel.com

RazDaz Recordz / Heartcore Records – RD4618 (2016)

‘Isang’ – Camilla George Quartet

camillag_isang

ONE OF saxophonist, composer and teacher Camilla George’s abiding recollections of music college (Trinity Laban, to be precise) is how she learnt to swing – and her straight-ahead, straight-to-the-heart debut quartet album Isang certainly offers a rich, lilting fusion of African and Western grooves, reflecting her coastal Nigerian roots.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available from Amazon.

 

Camilla George alto saxophone
Sarah Tandy piano
Daniel Casimir bass
Femi Koleoso drums
with
Zara McFarlane vocals on Ms Baja

camillageorge.com

Ubuntu Music – UBU0004 (2016)

‘Zentuary’ – Dewa Budjana (2CD)

zentuary

BALINESE electric guitarist Dewa Budjana seems to be a man on a mission. High-energy jazz-rock artistry pours from him like there’s no tomorrow! For latest double album Zentuary (follow-up to 2015’s Hasta Karma) he calls on a core, western powerhouse of bassist Tony Levin and drummer/keyboardists Gary Husband and Jack DeJohnette, as well as guests including saxophonists Tim Garland and Danny Markovich.

Major influences on Budjana’s career are iconic guitarists John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny; and such transmitted dynamism, coupled with heady, colourful infusions of Indonesian culture, provides the foundations for these one hundred minutes of intense, original composition and improvisation. With Bali some 8,000 miles from the UK, the guitarist’s often anthemic soundscapes traverse geographic borders – in music, what borders? – with ease, providing a window on exotic vocals, textures and rhythms. The scale of the project might initially feel pretty overwhelming, and perhaps Zentuary (the guitarist’s contrived word, melding ‘zen’ and ‘sanctuary’) could more easily be considered and digested as an entire, continuous movie soundtrack. In fact, Budjana thinks big, even taking the opportunity to incorporate sessions with the Czech Symphony Orchestra.

By turns, these twelve particularly expansive tracks are exhilarating and mysterious, Dancing Tears immediately chasing pace and bubbling to Tony Levin’s signature Chapman Stick bass. Budjana is undoubtedly a ‘guitar star’, his breathless, varying explorations of the fretboard shining out above thunderous rock drumming; and Solas PM‘s similar line is coloured by the rapidity of Danny Markovitch’s high-flying soprano. Lake Takengon adds flamboyant wordless vocals into the mix; the tropical atmospheres of Rerengat Langit (Crack in the Sky) combine the evocative tones of Indonesian flute with spoken phrases and delicious fuzz guitar; and the steady progression of Suniakala confirms the guitarist’s aptitude for orchestral, almost Pink Floydian grandeur.

Dear Yulman descends into dark, shady thriller territory, though Budjana’s impressively liquefied chromatics rise above; Pancarabo‘s Methenyesque vocals alternate with a driving synth groove redolent of Jan Hammer (and even Husband’s time with Level 42); and the exuberant, chiming celebration of Manhattan Temple glints to Tim Garland’s unmistakable vibrato and Levin’s beautifully resonant NS bass. At this stage of CD2, there’s a sense of envelopment, of basking in the aromatic wonder – and Dedariku‘s breathy suling flute finds a path through dense undergrowth to ascend melodically with synth and guitar (this is certainly theme tune material). The eastern joy of Ujung Galuh – one of many vast tracks – is carried by Danny Markovitch’s soprano improv; Uncle Jack‘s quirkiness is characterised by catchy guitar motifs, glissando bass and all manner of piano and synth hues; and the peaceful, closing acoustic guitar and strings oasis of title track Zentuary also has a symphonic urgency which suggests there remains plenty more for Budjana to say… next time.

A big statement from a strong Indonesian jazz-rock force, Zentuary is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp and Amazon, as well as at iTunes.

 

Dewa Budjana guitars, soundscapes
Tony Levin electric upright NS Design bass, Chapman Stick
Gary Husband drums, keyboards, acoustic piano
Jack DeJohnette drums, acoustic piano
with guests
Danny Markovich curved soprano sax
Tim Garland tenor sax
Guthrie Govan guitar
Saat Syah custom-made Indonesian suling flute
Ubiet vocals
Risa Saraswati vocals
Czech Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michaela Růžičková

dewabudjana.com

Favoured Nations (in association with MoonJune Music) – FN2880 (2016)

‘Burn the Boat’ – Fini Bearman

Fini

“ABANDON THE SHIP, embrace the water, take a leap of faith… don’t think of what could stop you.”

Such a challenge should resonate with all truly creative musicians. And if you ever ruminated on whether the songwriter’s art had mostly degenerated into a three-chord trick – with a middle eight, if you’re lucky – then vocalist and composer/lyricist Fini Bearman traverses vast, colourful oceans to dispel those notions (see what I did there?). 2014’s album of new interpretations from George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess is an especially captivating listen; but now, with Burn the Boat, Bearman presents a collection of mostly self-penned songs, three of which are crafted upon the works of American/Portuguese poets.

The point of difference in Fini Bearman’s melodic, contemporary/folk artistry is that its basis is in contemporary jazz – and from that genre’s sea of accomplished instrumentalists, you could hardly wish for finer collaborators than Matt Robinson (keys), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). Here is a writer who not only vividly communicates her own thoughts and others’, but also wraps the sung words in shifting waves of colour and texture, combining crashing breakers with coruscating pools of heart-on-sleeve emotion. Recorded at residential Giant Wafer Studios, tucked away in rural Mid Wales, there’s a tangible sense of conviviality emanating from these fifty minutes – and familiarity with these nine originals only heightens the attraction.

Sand on Sand‘s airy, exuberant invitation to “Step out of the darkness… and into the light” is layered with vocals as piano, guitar and synth washes perpetuate its positive spirit – and alongside the bubbling, commercial appeal, it is crowned with lush instrumental finesse. Title track Burn the Boat‘s scratchy guitar-rock ascension (Costley-White’s electronics so ‘on it’ here) enhances the suppleness of Bearman’s emphatic delivery as Robinson’s synth lines soar overhead, whilst the catchy, poetic lines of Gone, co-written by Tommy Antonio – “Fell asleep with my clothes on, screensaver waving ’til dawn” – are musically ’70s-reminiscent of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille; and, again, it’s difficult to emphasise enough the incisive jazz invention.

Deeply-felt You Bring the Sunlight focuses on the strong bonds of relationship (“I’d rather have nothing at all”), the folksy, guitar- and piano-accompanied gracefulness suggesting a touch of ‘talkin’ at me’ Harry Nilsson; and Bearman’s playful miniature I Know, I Alone (based on Richard Zenith’s translation of Fernando Pessoa’s short poem) is carried by Dave Hamblett’s colourful percussive display. Maybe Next Year‘s reluctant acceptance is portrayed through an imaginative, undulating arrangement enhanced by the improvisatory clarity of Robinson and Costley-White, whilst Langton Hughes’ poem The Idea inspires a purposeful touch of soundtrack, or even musical theatre – much of that due to Bearman’s characteristic, acute sense of expression and storytelling.

Say the Words is an album standout to put on loop – buoyed by Conor Chaplin’s aqueous yet mobile electric bass and Matt Robinson’s Latinesque piano highlights, this exquisite, soulful, shuffling groove is so evocative of Stevie Wonder that a vocal duet with Fini is imaginable! Such a Fool closes the album, bathing E E Cummings’ poetry in watercolour atmospherics before its animated conclusion – and he couldn’t have foretold it better: “May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living.”

Released on Two Rivers Records, Burn the Boat is a ‘must hear’, available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman voice, composition
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, synths
Nick Costley-White guitar
Conor Chaplin bass
Dave Hamblett drums

Album art by Fini Bearman

finibearman.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-015 (2016)