‘The Port of Life’ – Jean John

SLOVENIA to NEW YORK… a personal narrative of immigration and acculturation. Drummer, composer and bandleader Jean John’s ambitious work The Port of Life – dedicated to all the immigrants of this world – fulfils his belief that music should always tell a story and create an experience.

Born Žan Tetičkovič, in Ptuj in Slovenia, Jean John relocated to the United States in 2010 to further his artistic ambitions, and desired to communicate the “whirl of emotions in trying to find and establish the existence in a new culture”.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Jean John (Žan Tetičkovič) drums and cymbals, composition
Alba Nacinovich vocals
Lenart Krečič tenor saxophone
Tomaž Gajšt trumpet and flugelhorn
Jani Moder guitar
Marko Črnčec (Churnchetz) piano
Myles Sloniker upright bass

Janus Atelier String Quartet:
Matija Krečič 1st violin
Nejc Avbelj 2nd violin
Barbara Grahor viola
Zoran Bičanin violoncello

Andrej Lamut photography
Marko Damiš design
Sergej Harlamov poetry

Žiga Murko electronics

jean-john.com

ZKP RTV Ljubljana – RTVS 114441 (2016)

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‘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)

‘In The Tree’ – Ben Lee Quintet

inthetree

MUSIC CONTRIBUTES IMMEASURABLY to our human existence, accompanying us through joy, grief, reflection, love… and dropping from the leafy cover illustration of guitarist/composer Ben Lee’s debut quintet album In The Tree comes unabashed vivacity in the form of one of this year’s most entertaining, occasionally whimsical jazz offerings.

Originally hailing from Devon, and now based in London, Birmingham Conservatoire jazz guitar graduate Lee is not only an accomplished instrumentalist, but clearly cherry-picks whatever sounds and genres please him in order to create his phantasmagorical world. And colleagues Chris Young, Richard Foote, David Ferris and Euan Palmer are up for it, too, in an unconventional line-up which enjoys the earthy sustenance of organ and boasts great dual-horn fervour.

It’s remarkable that, no matter how often these ten tracks are heard, they possess a joyful unpredictability and tremendous variety – yet they’re strongly rooted and beautifully constructed in jazz. The opening Folk Theme, for example, seems to draw on ’60s movie themes (Enio Morricone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ comes to mind), encouraged by its sinewy guitar sound and undulating, tremulant organ (no need for a bassist); yet it blasts heady trombone and sax riffs over vibrant drumming. Title track In The Tree‘s playful demeanour is redolent of the folksy trio outings of Frode Alnaes, Arild Andersen and Stian Carstensen, its smilingly carefree, whistled melody improvised upon throughout with glee; and First Contact‘s slick, big-band weight also grooves infectiously to Lee’s country guitar (‘has to be heard!).

Hygge pictorialises that Danish expression of candlelit conviviality and intimacy through lush chordal organ and mellow, Wes Montgomery-styled guitar; Beginning of the End‘s breathless ‘Brazil 66′-like animation, underpinned by David Ferris’ bubbling organ baseline, offers so much fascination inside five and half minutes, including the tight trombone and alto pairing of Richard Foote and Chris Young, as well as Lee’s no-holes-barred Jimmy Page guitar rockiness; and the buzzing, harmonic colour of Drone builds through anthemic, canonic layering. Swingin’ Scratching the Itch (which, Lee says, reflects his mildly addictive personality) wildly crashes and sears up and down the frets – and the overall band verve, carried by Euan Palmer’s fervent percussion, is electric.

Tuneful, Barbados-inspired Kickin’ the Chicken summons steel pans and sunshine as Chris Young’s warm, meandering alto glides across the feel-good rhythm; Nirvana‘s expansive, rasping energy melds indie rock with cinematic score (one of, frankly, many standouts); and twee, acoustic vocal/guitar endpiece Skateboarding On My Own, if nothing else, demonstrates Lee’s indubitable chordal precision.

Such an eclectic mix might well cause a few to scratch their heads – and, sure, it has its moments of almost naive levity. But when, without preconception, you slot in a new CD and it brings a smile, warms your heart, cranks up your spirit and ends up on repeat play… well, such reactions are the essence of good music.

Festooned with delights, and yours for the climbing (released 21 October 2016), In The Tree is available as CD or digital download from Stoney Lane Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Ben Lee guitar, composition
Chris Young alto saxophone
Richard Foote trombone
David Ferris organ
Euan Palmer drums

Illustration: ningningli.com

benleeguitar.com

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1892 (2016)

‘Fist Full of Notes’ – Indigo Kid II

IndigoKidII

FOR GUITARIST Dan Messore, the different yet similarly broad landscapes of his two spiritual homes – Pembrokeshire, Wales and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica – feature prominently in his compositions for this second Indigo Kid release, Fist Full of Notes.

Messore’s well-received debut Indigo Kid album, in 2012, was encouraged and led by renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy (who the guitarist studied under in Wales) – and whilst Ballamy returns for a couple of numbers here, he introduces creative tenorist Trish Clowes to take up the lead sax role. From the original quartet line-up, bassist Tim Harries remains, but drummer Martin France makes his first appearance with the ‘Kid.

Strikingly progressive in feel, Dan Messore has developed this band’s musical atmospheres of jazz, folk and country to judiciously include electronics/effects which complement and sustain the original, open, acoustic sound; and the transformation can become cinematic (maybe that’s the clue to the curious ‘fist full of notes/dollars’ title idea), often with satisfying prog rock grandeur.

The key to the success of the project lies in the constantly shifting textures which Messore and his team employ; here is a straightforward quartet/quintet line-up, yet the clever written and improvisational stratification – organically building, evolving and fading – defines the enticingly alternative approach. So, there are familiar jazz territory run-outs, such as Trish Clowes’ sunny pairing with Messore in lightly shuffling All Hands to Dance and Skylark, recalling the saxophonist’s work with guitarist Chris Montague (including the later inclusion of layered effects); but then the intense, rock-heavy aura of From Nowhere to Our Place excitingly summons the spirit of Robert Fripp and King Crimson.

The mellower side of Clowes’ very distinctive tone announces folksy Snow on the Presellis, its easy-going, guitar-rich demeanour perhaps leaning closer to Central America than mountainous South West Wales; and Mr Randall creates a fascinating blend of experimental jazz fusion and early prog as Harries’ wah-wahed electric bass combines with France’s fabulously intricate drumming over disquieting electronics. Dan Messore’s style has been likened to that of guitar legend Richard Thompson (though you could easily put John Etheridge, John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell into the mix, too). That self-accompanied folk style comes out in one of two pieces dedicated to his late father – the Soft Machine-imbued expanse of Carpet Boys; and The Healing Process reveals the familiar, deep, mellifluous signature of Iain Ballamy.

Waiting for Paula is quietly majestic, the echoic searchings of Clowes and Messore contrasting well with sparky rhythms delivered by Martin France – a perfect example of the cohesion within this ensemble; and interlude Quiet Waters does indeed ripple calmly to picked guitar and confident melodies, followed by the perky country-rock of The Bay. To close, Iain Ballamy again swells the ranks in Sketches in the Fabric, Tim Harries’ incisive electric bass driving its infectious jazz/rock energy.

It’s great to hear a fresh approach to contemporary jazz, and Dan Messore’s compositional and improvisational prowess flourishes amidst the distinguished musical company he keeps.

Released on 13 July 2015, Fist Full of Notes is available at Babel Label.

 

Dan Messore electric guitar, composition
Trish Clowes tenor sax
Iain Ballamy tenor sax (tracks 6 & 10)
Tim Harries electric bass
Martin France drums

danmessore.com

Babel Label – BDV14138 (2015)