REVIEW: ‘Rickety Racket’ – Martin Pyne Quartet

ANOTHER RECORDING which ‘winks’ at me to be heard over and over (‘more than happy to oblige) is Rickety Racket from the Martin Pyne Quartet (MPQ) – and it’s certainly proved to be neither rickety, nor a racket!

Prominent as a vibraphonist in performance and recordings, as well as to be found behind various percussion set-ups, Pyne frequently leans more towards free improvisation projects such as MPH; and as a songwriter, he is also pivotal to vocalist Laura Zakian’s EP, Minor Moments. But in the combined role of composer, bandleader and drummer, this new album of original material is his most straight-ahead instrumental jazz release to date.

It could partly be due to the pianoless nature of MPQ’s line-up – with saxophonist Philippe Guyard, electric guitarist Russell Jarrett and double bassist Marianne Windham – that there’s a distinct sense of light and space in these seven well-crafted numbers. In fact, it’s a glorious synergy of wafting, melodic tunes (with the blithe immediacy of 1960s recordings) and impish free-spiritedness that, especially in more animated episodes, even sans keyboard instrument, can summon the sound world of Thelonious Monk. The impudent title track does just that – a snappy, angular fairground ride of discordant guitar-and-sax riffs to reverberant bass and precise drumming. Percussive detailing is also a feature of delightfully buoyant Pony Express, Jarrett’s lithe guitar improv pushing the momentum forward – and that considered balance of rhythm and freeness is further demonstrated as Guyard’s soprano teasingly gyrates across its midway oasis.

Martin Pyne’s more contemplative or romantic pieces are sublime. The affectionate longing in Miss You Already (song for Cheryl), dedicated to a sadly departed musical colleague, is beautifully portrayed through the most elegant tenor melody. Here, Guyard’s mellow tone, with a slight edge, is so attractive, as is the all-round integration of MPQ’s instrumentation and arrangement. Wistful descending-bass bossa nova Desert Rose feels ready-made for TV, and again, the individual sparkle and dynamic of each musician elevates it. Pyne’s music can be inspired by literature, with A Stillness of Appomattox referencing historian Bruce Catton’s account of the final year of the American Civil War; and it’s Jarrett‘s lucid, countrified guitar strains that pave the way for the tranquil, almost weary footfall of this gorgeously homey tune.

Sixes and Sevens, originally conceived with vocals for Laura Zakian, swings irresistibly to ticking, crackling snare and throbbing bass, Jarrett’s melodic runs reminiscent of Jim Hall. And closing Beneath the Smile may yet become another song for Zakian, Guyard’s tenor pointing the lyrical way before the quartet promenades into the warm afterglow – a charming conclusion.

When music beckons us back, it’s a sure sign we’re onto something good. There’s much in jazz and classical repertoire which has that enduring effect – and the feel-good, mischief and effortless musicianship of Rickety Racket is, quite simply, blissful.

Released digitally on 3 April 2020 and available from Bandcamp.

 

Philippe Guyard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Russell Jarrett guitar
Marianne Windham bass
Martin Pyne drums, composition

Tall Guy Records / Martin Pyne at Bandcamp

Tall Guy Records (2020) 

 

REVIEW: ‘Paradox’ – Andrés Thor

A SUBTLE ‘white album’ cover reflects one of the key attributes of this latest release from Icelandic guitarist/composer Andrés Thor and his quartet with pianist Agnar Már Magnússon, double bassist Orlando Le Fleming and drummer Ari Hoenig.

Though a cursory listen might indicate familiar, four-piece jazz territory, the nine original tracks of Paradox (the follow-up to 2016’s Ypsilon) offer levels of light and clarity not always so prominent in a guitar-led quartet. The coupling of Már Magnússon’s picturesque piano and Thor’s chordal/melodic sensitivity (with warm tremulant) easily visualises open, breathing landscapes; and together, Le Fleming and Hoenig work to provide a crisp, refractional foundation to this cognitively-themed album’s whole.

Eden ripples with sunlight as Thor’s agile-yet-unhurried improvisations meander up and down, through imagined woodland glades, attuned to the quartet’s shared, gentle finesse; and although pacier, Quantum still allows bright diffractions to filter through onto its purposeful path. The guitarist’s eloquence is emphasised in his precise, self-accompanied prelude to Tvísaga, while coolly-swinging 8.J.L. feels especially balanced across the ensemble; and sidewalk-strutting Schrödinger’s Cat certainly teems with snare-accentuated life. Both Dal and the bluesy shuffle of Avi are exquisitely measured, offering room for pondering solos, and there’s beautiful, positive luminosity in bass-riffed Under Stars and the 55-minute set’s concluding title track.

Paradox has been out there for a few months, but the freshness and detail in this studio recording from Brooklyn, New York, is a treat.

Released on 5 April 2019 and available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Andrés Thor guitar, composition
Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Orlando Le Fleming double bass
Ari Hoenig drums

Dimma – DIM 82 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Minor Moments’ (EP) – Laura Zakian

LONDON-BASED JAZZ VOCALIST and educator Laura Zakian has released four solo albums to date, the most recent – 2014’s Songs for Modern Lovers – including in its line-up pianist Steve Lodder, double bassist Simon Thorpe, drummer Nic France and baritone saxophonist Paul Bartholomew. For new project and EP release Minor Moments she returns with that same quartet – but, notably, it marks her creative collaboration with vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Martin Pyne.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 13 May 2019, the EP is available at Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Laura Zakian voice, lyrics
Steve Lodder piano
Simon Thorpe bass
Nic France drums
Paul Bartholomew baritone saxophone
Martin Pyne percussion, composition

laurazakian.com
tallguyrecords.com

Tall Guy Records (2019)

‘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)

‘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)