‘Soho Live’ – Shez Raja Collective

ShezRaja

IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE JAZZ/FUNK on the current scene with quite such the invigorating edge and retro passion of the Shez Raja Collective. Captured live, and drawing material from studio albums Magica (2007) and Mystic Radikal (2010), ultra-dynamic electric bassist Shez Raja and his augmented personnel serve up a decidedly high-powered performance in this new release, Soho Live.

Raja’s no-holds-barred grooving is redolent of the seminal and psychedelic jazz/rock fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, the hypnotic energy of the Zawinul Syndicate and legendary bass genius of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller – but there is bite and electricity here which demonstrates the genre’s ongoing relevance and explains Raja’s own fervent following, especially when guests Gilad Atzmon, Soweto Kinch, Shabaka Hutchings, Jay Phelps and vocalist Monika Lidke leap on board for what was evidently an unforgettably vibrant gig.

The core line-up steams through this 55-minute set with quite breathtaking verve – Aaron Liddard on alto and tenor saxes, electric violinist Pascal Roggen, Alex Stanford on keys and Chris Nickolls on drums. Adding Shabaka Hutchings into the mix, as clarinettist on opening number Adrenalize, simply revs up the excitement as his improvisations spiral unfalteringly. Electronics are a significant part of the band’s make-up and, with Stanford able to maintain the bass ‘raga’, Raja is free to solo extensively and colourfully.

Karmic Flow‘s deep bass riff against the mesmeric soundmix of tanpura, violin, saxes, drums and wordless vocals sets the tone for Soweto Kinch’s freestyling rap, much to the delight of the Pizza Express audience. And if ever there was a saxophonist whose instrument appeared to be simply an extension of their creative being, it must surely be Gilad Atzmon. In upbeat mid-groove FNUK – which finds Shez Raja soloing so fluidly, high on the fretboard, to infectious wah-wah keys and unified horn section – Atzmon grabs the the opportunity to wind up his tenor soloing from initial placidity to identifiable and outrageously rapid in-and-out-of-key brilliance – a joy to hear.

Taking on a Mahavishnu feel, thanks to the band’s unison melodies led by Pascal Roggen’s electric violin, Quiverwish bubbles to the slap’n’pop of Shez’s bass, Atzmon again in the midst; and Eastern Revolution melds violin and sitar sounds to great effect over whizzing electronics and Chris Nickolls’ high-impetus drums. Chirpy Chakras On The Wall features the lissome, scat-like vocals of Monika Lidke coupled with purposeful violin; South African in flavour, it includes, from Raja, a notable reverse-bass simulation (Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, anybody?!).

Announced as “our funkiest track”, Junk Culture summons for me the memory of Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer classic You Never Know (There and Back, 1980) – certainly an infectious dazzler from this band’s nucleus involving a frothy keyboard frenzy from Alex Stanford. Finally, Freedom offers more of that African sunshine, courtesy of gyrating brass and clav over Raja’s swirling bass, Jay Phelps’ trumpet and Soweto Kinch’s alto determined to keep this party bouncing!

Released on 7 April 2014, on 33 Jazz, this is one spectacular jazz/funk celebration!

Check out the videos at Shez Raja’s YouTube channel.


Shez Raja
electric bass
Soweto Kinch alto saxophone, rapping
Gilad Atzmon tenor saxophone
Shabaka Hutchings clarinet
Jay Phelps trumpet
Monika Lidke vocals
Aaron Liddar alto and tenor saxophones
Pascal Roggen electric violin
Alex Stanford keyboards
Chris Nickolls drums

2014 gigs announced:
16 & 17 April: Album launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (album launch)
6 June: The Forge, Camden
3 August: Erie Jazz Festival, USA
August: Australia and New Zealand tour

33 Jazz – 238 (2014)

‘v2.0’ – GoGo Penguin

GoGo

THESE ARE EXCITING TIMES for the jazz piano trio – and Manchester-based GoGoPenguin are key movers in a current new wave of line-ups that eschew the traditional idea of pianist leader and supporting rhythmic duo for a totally democratic and, therefore, absorbing concept in sound.

The band’s debut release, ‘Fanfares’ (2012), created considerable ripples of interest on the British scene, as well as much further afield, with their obvious e.s.t.-influenced grooves (confirmed, as Svensson fans would recognise, by the opening track title, ‘Seven Sons of Bjorn’). That tantalising 35-minute recording, hailed by critics, no doubt found a quickly-gathering fan base clamouring for the next chapter, whilst finding the subsequent live experiences every bit as engaging – those present at the band’s hometown gigs at Band On The Wall (that I, too, witnessed) would, I’m sure, be happy to concur.

It’s important to recognise now, though, that GoGo Penguin are not “the next Esbjörn Svensson Trio” (nor could they be, given the Swedish band’s untouchable seminal status) – and I hazard a guess that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) would see it that way, too. So, what is both gratifying and thrilling about this new follow-up release, ‘v2.0’, is that the trio are already clearly honing a sound which appears to be uniquely theirs, Blacka and Turner providing the distinctive and frequently blistering up-front dance-groove edge. The resultant effect is mesmeric and trance-like (think ‘Aphex Twin’), with such breathtaking precision of metre to almost sound electronic… but with the satisfaction that it’s not! Illingworth, too, displays great mastery of his instrument, exploring the gamut of techniques and expression as well as, at times, seemingly employing Roland Kirk’s ability to ‘split his brain in two’ to state one melody with his right hand and another with his left – rapid electronica or anthemic breadth, his grand piano offers it all.

What better illustration of the band’s sparky originality than Garden Dog Barbecue? – Chris Illingworth’s zippy right-hand piano melodies over grungy, leaping left-hand fifths chords shared with buzzing bass, and all sped along by breakneck skittering drums, plus some terrific rhythmic and tempo changes. Opening track, Murmuration, reveals the trio’s alter ego – beautifully-considered, sustained and repetitive piano against bubbling bass and drums, intensifying in stature with electronically-echoic arco bass until the flocking avian display it suggests disperses to nothingness. Kamaloka brings to the fore Turner’s extraordinarily complex electro/techno drum likeness which drives a bright, arpeggio-accompanied piano tune, as does the following Fort, Blacka’s rasping bass combining so well with drums to its abrupt close. Not since Stefano Bollani’s live solo piano interpretation of a scratched vinyl LP have I heard the skills that are to be found in One Percent; already a compelling, bustling and highly-charged number, the final 45 seconds convincingly simulate, through a variety of closely-timed rhythms, a skipping CD – from an acoustic trio, this is something which has to be heard to be believed, and raises a smile with me every time!

Home‘s infectious groove is again down to the brilliant interaction between Blacka and Turner, laying down a relentless and very listenable ground for Illingworth’s strong piano melodies, and Blacka’s big, scampering bass sound resonating clearly at the close. Recorded in total darkness, The Letter is characterised by a heavy, sprawling and perhaps menacing pulse. To Drown In You continues the darker feel with its hint of Philip Glass piano and ethereal bowed bass… and with what is becoming Turner’s trademark percussive sound, his staccatoed rhythms shared with Blacka’s bass, and the huge energy of Illingworth’s ‘split piano’, this is a standout. The brief, spacial Shock and Awe, against a tense metronome-like tick, carries a palpable weight of emotion and presents another side to the trio – perhaps something for future concepts. Lucid and vibrant, Hopopono closes the album with an impressive summing-up of this band’s evident empathy and, perhaps even, telepathy.

Credit to sound engineers Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams for clarity of production, this release resembles a huge step forward in GoGo Penguin’s development – and the next gig will certainly be something to look forward to (see below). ‘v2.0’ is released by Gondwana Records on 17 March 2014, available from Bandcamp.


Chris Illingworth
piano
Nick Blacka double bass
Rob Turner drums

Live gigs:
27 March 2014: Pizza Express Jazz Club – Thump Festival
29 March 2014: Black Box, Belfast – Brilliant Corners Festival
5 April 2014: The Sage, Gateshead – Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Gondwana Records (2014)