‘Vein plays Ravel’ – Vein

Vein plays Ravel

IF EVER there was a jazz piano trio album whose informed, creative invention deserved the proposition “just buy it”… well, Vein plays Ravel is most certainly a contender.

After more than a decade together, the partnership of pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns has spawned numerous recordings; and the Swiss trio’s recent release of originals (The Chamber Music Effect) beautifully reflects the freedom of interpretation to be found in classical chamber works. To approach the output of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) might, then, be seen as a natural progression; though also an audacious step, as it’s a sound world brimming with much-loved melodies and impressionistic piano and orchestral textures. However, Ravel famously listened to early-20th Century jazz (meeting George Gershwin in the States) and embraced it in his writing… so there’s a sense here that, if any of the historical composers were to sit on Vein’s collective shoulders, the Frenchman might well have collaborated with the greatest enthusiasm.

Importantly, the trio are way beyond any idea of simply retouching Ravelian manuscripts with a superficial swing or a cheery, ornamented solo line – on the contrary, it’s their depth of thought which is so compelling, understanding how to substantially deconstruct then sensitively reshape this glorious music without it becoming grotesque. Seemingly a labour of love – and what a triumph!

The recognisably babbling piano Prélude to Le Tombeau de Couperin organically integrates perpetuum-mobile bass and drums, drifting in and out of its formal structure with contemporary abandon, yet always faithful to the romanticism of Ravel. Forlane‘s original 6/8 dance is initially stated with exquisite fluidity before being decorated with fine percussion and lithe bass expressions; and there’s a magical, almost levitational intricacy to the opening of Toccata – the last of Vein’s three interpretations from this six-movement work – and the most dynamic, syncopated transformation, complete with rapid piano-and-bass figures and flamboyant drumming.

Entitled Blues by Ravel himself, the already impudent-sounding middle movement of his second Violin Sonata is the perfect vehicle for Vein’s mysterious, tango-like searching as Lähns’ arco octaves toy vocally with their suspicious accompaniment, whilst similarly playful Five o’Clock Foxtrot (from opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges) is magnificently refashioned as an episodic arrangement full of cat-and-mouse chase, elegant piano sorcery and rock-heavy riffs. Guest saxophonist Andy Sheppard joins the trio to reimagine Movement de Menuet (originally a piano sonatina) in a contemporary jazz setting of undulating tenor-led improvisation; and at first disguised within the charming, musical-box softness of Michael Arbenz’s prepared piano, the familiar motifs of Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte evolve into one of the most limpid, even emotional interpretations imaginable (replay it many times to luxuriate in its otherworldliness).

At the centrepiece of this project is, arguably, Ravel’s most familiar work – the repetitive orchestral progression, Bolero. Though sometimes derided, this is a unique masterpiece of crescendoing orchestral arrangement – and Vein’s octet interpretation (augmented by Sheppard and a quartet of reed and brass players) is extraordinarily imaginative. The constant snare drum motif of the original is cleverly expanded upon by Florian Arbenz, somehow managing to maintain its building momentum through elaborate rhythms whilst lush, rising, almost Zawinul-like harmonies and exuberant improvisations are underpinned by morse-code piano ostinati. Initially quite a jolt to the senses – ultimately an absolute tour de force.

The title Vein plays Ravel doesn’t begin to describe the detailing and the brilliance of this project – and it wouldn’t be surprising if Maurice is right there, in the midst.

Released on 8 September 2017 and available from vein-plays-ravel.com, as well as Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Michael Arbenz piano
Thomas Lähns bass
Florian Arbenz drums
featuring
Andy Sheppard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
(on Bolero and Mouvement de Menuet)
and
Martial In Al-bon trumpet, flugelhorn
Florian Weiss trombone
Nils Fischer soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Noah Arnold alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
(on Bolero)

vein.ch

Challenge Records – DMCHR 71179 (2017)

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‘The Day I Had Everything’ – Malija

Malija

IT’S A FEELING that probably resonates with most of us; as kids, relishing those long, school summer holidays stretching out in front, safe in the knowledge that with each seemingly endless day came the freedom to explore and make new discoveries with friends.

Entitling this new album The Day I Had Everything, saxophonist Mark Lockheart expresses that same kind of excitement in a working environment with equally adroit colleagues, Jasper Høiby (double bass) and Liam Noble (piano). “The sheer excitement one has as a child getting up in the morning and not being able to decide what to do first” is Lockheart’s parallel to the process of pooling their own, original compositions and the pleasure of developing and recording them in the studio; and whilst their perhaps African-sounding trio name is nothing more than a connecting of forenames, it clearly reinforces their unalloyed musical cohesion and friendship (first collaborating on Mark Lockheart’s impressive 2009 album In Deep).

What becomes fascinating across these 56 minutes is that each of the three players’ contributions are often stamped with their recognisable, individual characters, whilst also possessing an openness and eclecticism which continually delights. Malija’s realm is far away from a standards trio, and the element of surprise remains strong throughout, as does the group’s flawless musicality and invention… frequently flecked with coltish exuberance and tangible mischievousness.

Enter at any point in this 11-track release and there is soon the realisation of both depth and warmth in the unfolding artistry. The eccentric folksiness of Lockheart’s opener, Squared, might easily have its roots in Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance as his signature full tenor voice weaves around jaunty piano and bass grooving, plus an ever-present tinge of the unexpected; and intricately-constructed Mr Wrack (after Noble’s technical drawing teacher) anarchically bursts into a Beach Boys-style piano riff, increasingly swelled by the Ligeti Quartet’s chattering grandeur and Lockheart’s wonderfully disorderly screeching. Jasper Høiby’s occasionally-tripped-up walking-5/4 Unknown is quietly cheerful, with a cross-pollination of phrases and subtle horn / bass clarinet layering underpinning flighty soprano sax, whilst The Pianist shunts and grunges to Noble’s bass fifths and bluesy ornamentation in tandem with brash, almost cackling tenor (and so deeply satisfying!).

Høiby’s bass harmonics (redolent of his Phronesis) and the added complexity of modal, out-of-body riffs from Noble and Lockheart’s soprano tee-up the pianist’s Wheels, happily jarring the senses before finding a more freewheeling clear road ahead; and the bassist’s shadowy title track Malija (with such a memorable, searching melody) seems to reference his work with Kairos 4tet – an exquisite, richly-tenored wellspring of beauty. Almost a Tango is typically Mark Lockheart, full of shifting dance rhythms, textures and moods (not unlike the writing on his acclaimed release Ellington in Anticipation), all three players seeming to wallow in its quirky splendour.

An echoic, slowly-oscillating piano-and-bass motif in Liam Noble’s miniature, Blues, melds superbly with breathy tenor (Polar Bear minus electronics?); then the saxophonist’s charming, breezy One For Us emerges like a beloved classic at the end of a set, and could easily invite a delicate vocal from Cleo Laine or Norma Winstone. Wayne’s World – Høiby’s tribute to Wayne Shorter, with his sinewy bass encircling the whole piece – gives free rein to Noble and Lockheart to improvise more abstractedly and, in the detail, still more deliciously, Then, closing anthemically yet mysteriously, and integrating the Ligeti’s strings, Mark Lockheart’s With One Voice feels imbued with the spirits of both Michael Tippett and Joe Zawinul, its poignancy filled once again with the tenorist’s unmistakable, luxurious tones.

Listening now, and in musical and emotional terms… this feels like I have everything.

Released on 27 November 2015 – available as CD, download and 12″ vinyl at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Mark Lockheart saxophones, bass clarinet
Jasper Høiby double bass
Liam Noble piano
with
Ligeti Quartet (on Mr Wrack and With One Voice)

Edition Records – EDN1064 (2015)

‘Live’ – Will Butterworth Trio

willbutterworth

PERHAPS it’s due to the powerful, enigmatic mystery of music that it sometimes only unlocks its bejewelled treasures to listeners when they’re good and ready.

Pianist Will Butterworth’s live trio album, recorded at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, has been drifting in and out of my consciousness for some time now – but only recently has it flowered into the lively/balmy wonder that it undoubtedly is. Butterworth is joined by the familiar names of bassist Henrik Jensen and drummer Pete Ibbetson in five expansive numbers which clearly require the space and focus to fully appreciate their various perambulations and nuances.

Hailing from Edinburgh – born into a classical music environment – and resident in London for the past decade, Will Butterworth is known for his work with drummer Dylan Howe in reinterpreting Stravinsky, as well as his sideman role on the British jazz scene. He reflects on the interesting way in which this particular gig unfolded as, in the true spirit of improvisation, most of the trio’s playing was totally unlike their rehearsal: “When we finished… we had no idea what had happened… it was so different to our expectations. We try to get away from the individual solo with a backing track. So I guess… unexpected stuff will happen.” Certainly the resulting live capture (with the occasional clinking wine glass) reveals a fertile air of malleability and equality, rather than a bland, pre-meditated piano showcase with rhythmic accompaniment.

Butterworth’s own The One opens the set in restless, almost Bachian tones, as the pianist pushes spry singular lines and bold chordal colour – and, as it builds, already the combined strength of all three musicians is evident, with Ibbetson’s drums and percussion satisfyingly prominent in the mix and Jensen’s resonant, fluid bass in meaningful dialogue with the piano. Will’s style is difficult to pin down, somewhere between Bill Evans and John Law, and his own brightly-swinging Blues (at ten minutes’ duration) also evokes the spirit of Ellington, Monk and Tyner – his varietal cadences ripple with that kind of bravura and invention, happily matched by bass and drums. In this trio’s hands, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne standard I Fall In Love Too Easily finds that beauteous sweet spot of elegance balanced with unexpected, subtly-jarring pianistic intervals and clusters; it’s as if the “no idea what happened” that Butterworth referred to is at work in this triangle, providing an edge which takes it far from any sense of the soporific (and his solo coda briefly reveals Rachmaninov-like romanticism).

The Syndicate (another Butterworth original) becomes a jaunty conversation between the three instrumentalists, the space left between just as important as the elaborate, teasing extemporisations. Here, Jensen and Ibbetson instigate the anarchic momentum, and Butterworth relishes the opportunity to dart in and out as the breathless, pacey intensity becomes extraordinarily compelling (maybe all cutlery activity was involuntarily suspended at this point!). Finally, an interpretation of Willard Robison’s ballad Old Folks, its initial tenderness eventually breaking into brisk walking pace, with Butterworth’s luminescent soloing sounding Brubeckian at times – and Jensen and Ibbetson crackle in a momentary duet. At almost fifteen minutes in length, it feels like time suspended.

This is a piano trio album which is totally accessible, yet continually and politely fizzes with interest. The recorded sound is close and direct, yet benefits from ‘at the gig’ reality, engendering that exciting sense of jazz ‘in the moment’.

Released on 16 March 2015, the album is available from Music Chamber Records (take a listen to the audio samples there), iTunes and Amazon.

 

Will Butterworth piano
Henrik Jensen bass
Pete Ibbetson drums

Sleeve illustration by Chloe Vallance

willbutterworth.com

Music Chamber Records – MC0014 (2015)

‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Dreamland’ – Elliot Galvin Trio

Dreamland

THE JANGLING TOY PIANO offers a clue. From its impudent, clumsy, pealing intro to this Elliot Galvin Trio debut release, gradually disintegrating into an outrageous, messy sprawl before first track, Ism, finds its rhythmic feet, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary piano trio. In fact, the players – Elliot Galvin (piano), Tom McCredie (bass) and Simon Roth (drums) – appear to be redefining the genre.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Elliot Galvin
piano, toy piano
Tom McCredie double bass
Simon Roth drum kit

Chaos Collective – CC003 (2014)

elliotgalvin.com
chaos-collective.com