‘Young At Heart’ – Ida Sand

IdaSand

POTENTIALLY sending seasoned Neil Young fans running for cover, Swedish songstress Ida Sand delves into the prolific songbook of the seminal Canadian singer/songwriter in this collection of thirteen jazz-inflected soft-rock interpretations.

But for those of us with only a vague recollection of Young’s influential early 1970s albums Harvest Moon and After the Gold Rush, or none at all, Sand’s soulful voice and piano celebrate selections from his classic output with attractive, sympathetic poise. Aided by a particularly polished core band – Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), Ola Gustafsson (guitars), Dan Berglund (acoustic bass), Christer Jansson (drums, percussion) – her guests include compatriot mentor (and producer here), trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren.

Ida Sand explains that she places at least as much importance on lyrics as melodies, and has sought to retain the integrity of each of the chosen songs. That said, the richness and pitch of her voice (influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James), when compared to Young’s high range, colour the sound in a markedly different way; and gone is the prominent acoustic guitar timbre so characteristic of that transitional ’60s/’70s era. But what does remain is the timeless, innate strength of Neil Young’s writing, communicated in fresh, contemporary arrangements.

The album’s rock thread is maintained throughout by Ola Gustafsson’s beautifully sustained/effected electric guitars, as in opener Cinammon Girl – and there are frequent imaginative textures such as Dan Berglund’s crunchy arco bass and the wide tremolo of Jesper Nordenström’s Fender Rhodes (confirming that these are, by no means, insipid covers). Pondering the decades of musical ‘water under the bridge’ since these songs first saw light, there’s distinct post-prog, melancholic grandeur in Sand’s rendition of Hey Hey, My My; and the pop-soul ballad feel of Harvest Moon is a long way down the road from the original’s folksiness, especially with Per Johansson’s silky tenor sax interludes.

Other highlights include Ohio, translating Neil Young’s rawness into a fuller, electronic sound embellished by Nils Landgren’s echoic, Groove Armada-like trombone; and the mellow, organ-sustained simplicity of Helpless evokes the remnants of the golden ’60s. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is infectious, with strong backing vocals, flamboyant wah-wah guitar and wailing Hammond; and Crosby Stills Nash & Young number Sea of Madness is carried well by Sand’s impassioned vocal and full band rock-out.

Whether or not you have Young ‘at heart’, this is an unexpectedly fine release, and great fair-weather driving music – so retract the sunroof, turn up the volume… and hit the gas!

Released 23 March 2015, details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Ida Sand vocals, piano
Jesper Nordenström keyboards
Ola Gustafsson guitars
Dan Berglund acoustic bass
Christer Jansson drums, percussion
with
Bo Sundström vocals
Nils Landgren trombone, vocals,
Per Texas Johansson tenor saxophone
Sven Lindvall electric bass
André Monde de Lang background vocals
Paris Renita background vocals

ACT Music – 9729-1 (2015)

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‘Ornithophobia’ – Troyka

Ornithopobia

WITH two studio albums under their collective belt, in addition to 2014’s acclaimed live Troyk-estra big band recording, heteroclite jazz trio Troyka have always sought to use their combined creative genius to create something extraordinary.

As if to illustrate the point, following a resounding Kings Place Festival taster gig a few years ago, a chap in the row behind enthusiastically turned to his wife as the final applause subsided, asking, “What did you think of THAT?!”… only to prompt the deflating reply, as she rose to her feet to exit, “Uh, not MUCH”! Exactly the kind of divided and controversial response (electric guitarist Chris Montague gleefully explained to me later) that they thrive on. For Troyka are not just any old jazz combo, but rather a triumvirate of like-minded wizards who soak up all manner of genres and refashion them into their own unique, experimental sound worlds. For the uninitiated, this can initially be a pretty bumpy ride – but once attuned to the band’s ‘way of things’ (live, absolutely compelling), it’s easy to become engrossed in the heightened technical and creative intelligence on display here.

Recording for the first time on the Naim label, Montague and colleagues – Joshua Blackmore (drums), Kit Downes (keyboards and tuned percussion) – have upped their game still further with a musical outpouring inspired by the guitar man’s Hitchcockian fear of birds – Ornithophobia. And in a move which widens the scope of ‘the three’, they welcome renowned bassist Petter Eldh to add his considerable weight of experience to production/mixing and, for two numbers, composition.

Launching in typically intense character, Arcades crackles to the abrasive guitar/keys perambulations of Montague and Downes, with synthy prog backwash, before relaxing into a pleasingly retro, Keith Emerson-like rock beat. Key to Troyka’s success is the blurring of the scored, manipulated and improvised – and the groove of this opening number almost feels too short (perhaps a live extension is already in the bag!). Life was Transient undulates to an impossible Hammond rhythm, picked at by Montague until irregular synth melodies that Herbie Hancock would be proud of puncture the fluid, pulsating bass-driven momentum. Crunchy title track Ornithophobia thuds to Blackmore’s metallicised percussion, Montague’s rapidity on the fingerboard just extraordinary – and, at every twist and turn, something new arrives to excite the senses.

Magpies (black’n’white hysteria from writer Montague!) hits the trance button with a blistering saturation of sound, Kit Downes’ distorted keyboards reminiscent of National Health’s Dave Stewart – and the overall drive is hugely cinematic (movie editors take note). The concept of the album is realised in Thopter (faux newsreader suggesting the BBC’s Fiona Bruce may have been more convincing), rendering in sound the album art’s storyboard horror of the band transmogrifying into avian counterparts; with urgent, clamouring guitar, keys and drums, it results in another irresistible adventure. And sustained, contrasting miniature, Bamburgh (replete with seagull effects) implies the rugged, dune-swept coastal terrain of Northumberland in serene, Eno-suggested ambience.

Kit Downes’ The General fascinates with a riff which broods, then accelerates, into a wondrously bluesy lead guitar show from Montague (shades of Knopfler?) – and imagine the ’70s prog rock illuminati queuing up to employ Josh Blackmore! Troyka Smash mesmerises briefly with Eldh’s resampled titbits from Troyka’s catalogue until another impressionistic North Eastern landscape, Seahouses (with helicopter rescue overtones), crashes its waves to shore.

Released on 26 January 2015, and launching on 12 February at Rich Mix, London, Ornithophobia is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats. Dates of Troyka’s extensive national and international 2015 tour can be tracked here – New York, are you ready?!……

 

Chris Montague guitars
Joshua Blackmore drums, electronic drums
Kit Downes keyboards, organ, tuned percussion, piano

troyka.co.uk

Illustration/storyboard by Naiel Ibbarola

Naim Jazz Records – naimcd210 (2015)

‘Lion’ – Marius Neset, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra

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IT WAS JUST THREE YEARS AGO that a young Norwegian saxophonist, Marius Neset, powered onto the wider European jazz scene, staggering audiences with his breathtaking, mind-boggling tenor and soprano wizardry. Here was a musician with the world at his feet, already leaving excited, jaw-dropped crowds funnelling out of venues, incredulous at what they had witnessed.

Following his album Golden Xplosion (Edition Records, 2011), hailed enthusiastically by critics, and a remarkable duo release with tubist Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods – Edition, 2012 – reviewed here), Neset wasted no time in further broadening his outlook, releasing Birds (Edition, 2013 – reviewed here), which revealed as much about his compositional stature as it did his astounding playing. Although writing for, essentially, a quintet (with Ivo Neame, Jim Hart, Jasper Høiby and Anton Eger, plus guests), it was clear that he could express himself on an orchestral scale, laying down the written complexities of contrapuntal hooks and darting time signatures whilst also communicating and improvising with his colleagues on a profoundly visceral level.

Famously mentored and inspired by Django Bates (at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Copenhagen) and influenced by a list of musicians and composers as long as one of Neset’s extended solos (Wayne Shorter, Jan Garbarek, Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, Radiohead, as well as Grieg and Stravinsky… to name but a few), he now makes his ACT debut with a release which widens his ambition to write for larger forces. Resulting from a commission to compose specifically for the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra’s billing at the 2012 Molde Jazz Festival – including Lion, the ten-minute title track which heads up this recording – Neset decided also to re-visit a few numbers from his previous releases, pulling them all together in this impressive 64-minute outing. The Trondheim’s twelve-piece arrangements, here, often display the variety and openness of orchestral timbres, as well as the sectional horn solidity of a big band – hence the name and their particularly open and eclectic sound – and this, therefore, is the perfect vehicle to deliver the potential of Marius Neset’s vision.

From its disquieting but then stately entry, opening number Lion becomes a boisterous affair very much in the Neset style, brassy stabs leading to a freer environment of imitation growls and general foreboding before Erik Johannesen’s terrific trombone soloing reinstates big band grandeur; and, to close, the ‘king’ slopes into the distance to a more softly pulsating rhythm (tremendous imagery). Golden Xplosion kicks off with Marius’s trademark, hypnotic, ‘self-accompanied’ tenor, punctuated by rhythmically-teasing reeds. Listeners familiar with the original will surely be drawn to this increasingly voluminous, sparky arrangement, Neset extemporising magnificently over Petter Eldh’s pounding bass and Gard Nilssen’s flamboyant drumming. In The Ring appears to be ’round two’ of Boxing (from the Birds album), its hard-hitting drums appropriately packing a punch, and the balance of power, agility and space calculated perfectly (with Neset’s mouthpiece popping to some superb trombone and bari action) – and is that a sense of dazed resignation that follows, before the final knockout?!

A short tenor Interlude leads to Sacred Universe, another creative reinterpretation for this versatile jazz orchestra, Petter Eldh’s industrious, vocalised bass solo opening the floodgates for a real showpiece of ensemble writing and wide-ranging soloing. Weight Of The World rasps brusquely to Eirik Hegdal’s up-tempo baritone and Eldh’s characteristically percussive bass; once again, the diversity and lucidity of the performances need to be heard to grasp Neset’s mastery of arrangement, eventually blazing with brassy brilliance – a real standout. Away from that intensity, Raining is the most luscious of ballads, Jovan Pavlovic and Espen Berg offering homely accordion and piano before the scoring swells; and Daniel Herskedal’s distinctive cantabile tuba combined with Peter Fuglsang’s quietly folksong-like clarinet over muted piano string ‘raindrops’ is otherworldly. Finally, Birds is returned to its grander concept, building instrumentally, one by one, to a thrilling, cacophonous dawn chorus.

Released in the UK on 21 April 2014, Lion is certainly an album to get your teeth into.

Additional information and audio samples here.
Video of Birds at 2012 Molde Jazz Festival here.
Video of Golden Xplosion at Bergen JazzForum, 2013 here.


Marius Neset
 tenor and soprano saxophones
Hanna Paulsberg tenor saxophone
Peter Fuglsang alto saxophone, flute and clarinet
Eirik Hegdal baritone and soprano saxophone
Eivind Lønning trumpet
Erik Eilertsen trumpet
Erik Johannesen trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Jovan Pavlovic accordion
Espen Berg piano
Petter Eldh bass
Gard Nilssen drums, percussion, vibraphone and marimba

Ingrid Neset additional flute and piccolo flute on Sacred Universe and Birds

 

ACT Music – 9031-2 (2014)