‘E.S.T. SYMPHONY’ – Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Ek, with Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström and soloists

estsymphony

IT IS NO OVERSTATEMENT that, in contemporary jazz and wider circles, Swedish trio E.S.T. rose to become a powerfully seminal band during the ‘Noughties’. On the face of it, a piano trio – but that barely scratches the surface of why pianist Esbjörn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström were, in so many hearts, creatively untouchable.

The dynamic breadth and profound atmospheres of E.S.T.’s music, across albums such as Strange Place for Snow, Seven Days of Falling and, later, the intense, improvised landscapes of Leucocyte and 301, pushed at limits whilst also respecting tradition; and their stunning live performances – thankfully preserved in a 1995 release, as well as extraordinary double album Live in Hamburg – left a feeling of excited astonishment as audiences filed out of packed concert halls. So when 2008’s catastrophic news of Svensson’s untimely, accidental death was announced, it was deeply felt that a guiding light had been extinguished.

With the imminent release of each E.S.T. album, there was always a sense of expectation because (as also revealed in their hidden, closing tracks) it surely wouldn’t find them standing still. So Svensson’s vision, dating back to 2003, to enlarge the trio’s output for a series of international orchestral performances, should perhaps come as no surprise. But it’s a concept whose realisation, now, sets the pulse racing. The resulting E.S.T. SYMPHONY‘s ten tracks, across 78 minutes, are performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, with Hans Ek as conductor and arranger. Integral to ‘that sound’ are the characteristic sonorities of Berglund and Öström, and their soloists couldn’t be more empathetic: Iiro Rantala (piano), Marius Neset (tenor sax), Verneri Pohjola (trumpet) and Johan Lindström (pedal steel guitar).

Key to the project’s solid foundation is Esbjörn Svensson’s own, single orchestral arrangement of Dodge the Dodo, its shadowy, surging energy transformed into filmic grandeur: brassy riffs, dramatically sustained strings, ominously ascending steel guitar sirens… and Berglund and Öström in magnificent, frenzied overdrive. Hans Ek’s reinterpretations follow Svensson’s lead so congruously, the gentle lilt of Seven Days of Falling coloured differently by Neset’s tenor, Lindström’s sliding steel, and subtle string embellishments; but amidst the symphonic swell, it can only be E.S.T. as Iiro Rantala sensitively summons the musical presence of his late, fellow pianist. When God Created the Coffee Break (always a live highlight) has bassoon picking up the fugue-inspired piano momentum, the overall scale reminiscent of the many and varied orchestral transcriptions of J S Bach, with Rantala’s mid-point piano spotlight providing an immaculate echo of its originator’s genius.

Eighthundred Streets By Feet send shivers up the spine, those swooning phrases beautifully embellished by the trumpet of Verneri Pohjola, supported by luscious orchestral waves which seemingly break shore; and the already existing tension in one of E.S.T.’s most majestically haunting tunes, Serenade for the Renegade, is raised to blockbuster soundtrack status, its sinewy, symphonic detail underpinning Lindström’s restless improvisations.

Hans Ek also successfully refashions albums Tuesday Wonderland and Viaticum into expansive suites which send up shooting stars of familiar, much-loved melodies and grooves, proving (as if it were necessary) the depth and potential of this trio’s original creations; and the now-emotional, suspended solemnity of Viaticum, in particular, easily suggests symphonic Dvorak or Beethoven before hitting a Philip Glass-like pulse. Though these compositions pave the way for future performances worldwide, the presence of Berglund and Öström feels central to the continuity of the story, conveyed in the open jazz-piano spaciousness of From Gagarin’s Point of View and the lavish, propulsive splendour of Behind the Yashmak which closes almost reaching up to the heavens to triumphantly reunite with Svensson himself.

The indelible impression of E.S.T., as a trio, can never be repeated, nor is that the intention with this impressive reimagining; for as well as prompting a rediscovery of their 13-album catalogue (try it – each one still something of a revelation), it re-evaluates the undoubtable integrity of the band’s considerable output on an orchestral scale, confirmed by Öström: “The music starts to live in itself… it’s not only E.S.T.… it’s going into the future, in a new setting.” And for that, we can be eternally grateful.

Released on 28 October 2016, E.S.T. SYMPHONY is available from ACT Music, AmazoniTunes and record stores.

 

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Hans Ek conductor, arranger
Marius Neset saxophone
Verneri Pohjola trumpet
Johan Lindström pedal steel
Iiro Rantala piano
Dan Berglund bass
Magnus Öström drums

est-symphony.com

ACT Music – 9034-2 (2016)

‘We’ll Meet In The Rain’ – Kenneth Dahl Knudsen

Knudsen

THERE IS SOMETHING profoundly enriching about Danish double bassist Kenneth Dahl Knudsen’s new orchestral jazz release. Full of vibrant jazz episodes as well as restrained, emotional tension, this is original, often filmic music which indubitably wears its heart on its sleeve.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Malte Schiller conductor
Marie Séférian vocals
Linda Josefowski flute
Roman Ott alto sax
Markus Ehrlich tenor sax
Viktor Wolf tenor sax
Lou Lecaudey trombone
Nils Marquardt trombone
Tomasz Dabwowski trumpet
Magnus Oseth trumpet
Fritz Moshammer trumpet
Daniel Weltlinger violin
Heloise Lefevre violin
Sebastian Peszko viola
Liron Yariv cello
Sebastian Bohlen guitar
Uri Gincel piano
Mathias Ruppnig drums
Kenneth Dahl Knudsen bass

kennethdahlknudsen.dk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 008 (2016)

‘Hommage à Eberhard Weber’

Eberhard

RARELY has a live jazz album felt as emotive or as broadly momentous, encompassing and celebrating so many strands and decades of sublime creativity.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Pat Metheny guitars
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
Gary Burton vibraphone
Scott Colley double bass
Danny Gottlieb drums
Paul McCandless English horn, soprano saxophone
Klaus Graf alto saxophone
Ernst Hutter euphonium
and
Eberhard Weber double bass (from tape)

Michael Gibbs arranger, conductor
Ralf Schmid arranger
Rainer Tempel arranger
Libor Šíma arranger

SWR Big Band conducted by Helge Sunde

ECM Records – 473 2344 (ECM 2463) (2015)

‘Lifecycles’ – Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group

Lifecycles2

LAST SUMMER, saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows released his quintet album, Engines of Creation – a remarkably accomplished debut from a musician whose ambition and drive are clearly on course to earn him a place in the upper echelons of the London jazz scene. Confirmation of his achievements to date (including continued involvement with NYJO), as well as recognising his potential for future success, have come via two accolades: Parliamentary Jazz Newcomer of the Year and the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.

Phil Meadows’ larger scale project, Engines Orchestra, is an ambitious group of twenty young London-based orchestral musicians who, directed by Matt Roberts, collectively seek to challenge conventions through stimulating, cross-genre, written and improvised music. For this debut recording, Meadows has created his colourful and unpredictable Lifecycles suite which melds the diverse textures and dynamics of both orchestral and quintet sound worlds, pressing into action again his Group colleagues – all rising stars in their own right – Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (piano), Conor Chaplin (basses) and Simon Roth (drums), plus adroit vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki.

The fusion of jazz soloists/bands with orchestra is, of course, nothing new – one only has to look at the seminal late-’50s/early-’60s projects of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, right up to Trish Clowes’ exciting new release Pocket Compass. Such a concept has never been without its critics as, in unaccomplished hands, it can become a laboured, incongruous, cold exercise – but, thankfully, recent collaborations have proved to be both sophisticated and organic, highlighting that there is still much to be discovered and achieved by breaking down perceived barriers. “Lifecycles“, the composer describes, “explores a series of situations that we all experience. The people we meet, love and lose shape our emotional responses” – and the result becomes increasingly captivating.

Missing Days, which opens the ten-track sequence, bustles to the brilliance of the orchestral scoring (a motivating woodwind ostinato here, a brassy stab cluster there, and tight, chattering strings and percussion). Combined with the characteristic fervour of Alice Zawadzki’s vocal delivery – “Sunrise breaks in the morning, people sleep through it all, missing out on the beauty of the time daybreak falls” – and the inspired placing of Tori Handsley’s harp, the piece takes on something of a ‘swinging Sixties London’ busyness; Meadows in no way takes centre stage, preferring to judiciously infuse the arrangement with lyrical alto until it all degenerates into cacophonous disorder. Lifecycles displays a broad, cinematic approach with a memorable brass-bold theme which evokes the pomp of Buddy Rich’s spectaculars, and improvisational meanderings add to the sense of the unexpected, as does the quirky, inventive openness of miniature The Spark. The written and the improvised are strikingly cross-pollenated in Intoxicated Delirium, an exciting showcase of near-perfect orchestral and band fusion, the brash energy reflecting its title – get it on repeat play!

Hallucinogenic Euphoria hints at the prog world of Pink Floyd, the Indian inflections of Elliot Galvin’s piano strings, as well as orchestral strings, mingling superbly with Meadows’ echoic soprano; and the abstract beauty of Prelude easily suggests Bartok and John Tavener. Balmlike harp over desolate, searing, portamento strings in Remembrance seem to speak (in this First World War centenary year) of tentative, rising hope, the development becoming impressively filmic with the addition of Zawadzki’s hard, soulful vocals.

Celebration effervesces in its scored/extemporised balance, Galvin’s unabashed piano bravura all part of the joy; and Laura Jurd’s bluesy trumpet prompts a four-square rockiness from the entire assembly which is irresistible and full of character. Jarring interlude Strife of Life explodes and then relaxes to Jurd’s lead before Twice The Man closes the suite – at almost nine minutes, it’s an impassioned, anthemic piece of writing which erupts into a huge Latinesque party, Meadows’ swirling soprano and Zawadzki’s pliant voice playing host to this unrestrained magnificence!

Keep a keen eye on Engines Orchestra’s progress – a great initiative which is set to include workshops, ensemble performance platforms and artist development programmes, all with the aim of engaging communities of young musicians. And congratulations to Phil Meadows for his vision – a refreshingly different musical approach. Finally, a nod to Oli Bentley (split.co.uk) for the orchestra’s beautifully minimal ‘pulley’ branding, as well as the album’s neatly considered sleeve design.

Launching at Kings Place, London, on 22 November 2014 (as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival), and with a general release date of 24 November, Lifecycles is available from the Engines Orchestra’s Bandcamp page.

 

PHIL MEADOWS GROUP
Phil Meadows composer, saxophones
Laura Jurd trumpet
Elliot Galvin piano
Conor Chaplin double bass, electric bass
Simon Roth drums, percussion

 

eo_60

ENGINES ORCHESTRA
Matt Roberts conductor
James Davison trumpet
Eddie Morgan French horn
James Buckle bass trombone
Jennah Smart flutes
Rob Cope clarinet, flute
Gennie Joy bass clarinet, clarinet
Tori Handsley harp
Emily Davis 1st violin (principal)
Tom Aldren 1st violin
Alice Zawadzki 1st violin, vocals
Katherine Waller 1st violin
Minn Majoe 2nd violin (principal)
Kirsty Lovie 2nd violin
Claire Sledd 2nd violin
Connie Chatwin 2nd violin
Matt Maguire viola (principal)
Joe Fisher viola
George White viola
Zosia Jagodzinska cello (principal)
Gregor Riddell cello

 

enginesorchestra.com

Engines Imprint – E1001CD (2014)

‘Pocket Compass’ – Trish Clowes

PocketCompass

THE BELIEF in staying true to oneself, particularly as a creative, improvising musician (hence Pocket Compass), is very much the thread running through this third release from British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes. A journey to California early in 2013, including a meet-up with jazz icon Wayne Shorter, provided considerable inspiration for these latest imaginings and writings, resulting in an adventurous recorded project which reflects “the people who help us stay on the right paths.”

Concluding three years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and recording here in full for the first time with her experienced and intuitive Tangent quintet, Clowes has also chosen to collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra to provide a luxurious weave of timbres and textures across all eight expansive originals.

From the outset, in the first of the three orchestral sessions, Radiation unfurls into a smorgasbord of delights as the quintet dances freely and comfortably with the lush breadth of its larger counterpart; and Clowes’ commanding, lyrical tenor is equalled by the familiar high dexterity of pianist Gwilym Simcock. With the orchestra extemporising from a melodic fragment, there’s a lot going on, yet it melds intriguingly well. Tangent’s Question Mark, written ahead of the Californian trip, introduces a mood of encircling apprehension as soprano sax pirouettes to Chris Montague’s distinctively unpredictable guitar staccato, the whole episode driven by the bass and drum urgency of Calum Gourlay and James Maddren; and Porcupine is expectedly spiky as its pointed rhythms jar against the satisfying amplified ramblings of Montague, whilst Clowes’ almost mocking tenor encourages a rapid swing to rise out of glorious disorder – just perfect.

From Oscar Wilde’s Symphony in Yellow, Trish Clowes interprets his paradoxical impressions of London’s vistas – “like a yellow silken scarf, the thick fog hangs along the quay” – into the most ravishing of quintet pieces, its combination of soft lyricism and light, workaday scurrying tempered by Montague’s sinewy, shadowier moments. Chattering octaves introduce high-spirited Balloon, as Clowes’ soprano and the oboe (fondly labelled ‘jazzboe’) of the BBCCO’s Lauren Weavers spiral upwardly against boisterous quintet action (Maddren as extravagant as ever) and striking, full orchestration with flickers of the late, great Kenny Wheeler.

Heralded by imitation mammal calls, courtesy of saxophone harmonics plus delicately plucked piano strings, the serenity of whale-watching in Big Sur is communicated beautifully in echoic Pfeiffer and the Whales; and in homage to the genius of Wayne Shorter, Wayne’s Waltz dazzles with the improvisatory soprano spark of its dedicatee, Clowes impressively unwavering throughout. To close, a sensitively-balanced Chorale displays the pellucid soloing of Calum Gourlay and Gwilym Simcock; and with luscious orchestral arrangements reminiscent of Claus Ogerman, the leader’s tenor searchings here become increasingly spellbinding.

All the while – as with 2012’s And In the Night-Time She Is There – this album carries the spine-tingling realisation that Trish Clowes is constantly knocking at the door of innovation, needing to pass through to discover further, uncharted avenues. It’s that inquiring edge, along with an innate musicality, that defines this collection of intelligently-crafted, collaborative compositions – a truly compelling addition to the catalogue as well as another indicator of this artist’s undoubtable advancement.

Releasing on 10 November 2014 and available from JazzCDs via Basho Records, the Pocket Compass album launch takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on 18 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014, including work by Guy Barker and Norma Winstone.

 

TANGENT
Trish Clowes
 composer/arranger; tenor and soprano saxophones
Gwilym Simcock piano
Chris Montague electric guitar
Calum Gourlay double bass
James Maddren drums

BBC Concert Orchestra
André de Ridder conductor

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 45-2 (2014)

‘Petite Fleur’ – Christof Lauer & NDR Bigband play Sidney Bechet

Layout 1

TAKING THE MUSIC of one of New Orleans jazz’s pioneers, Sidney Bechet, and significantly reimagining it for present-day big band may seem a touch audacious, and even unlikely – but this new release from German saxophonist Christof Lauer and the NDR Bigband, focusing on the output of saxophonist and clarinettist Bechet and his contemporaries, confounds any doubt with a scintillating performance.

By accounts a cavalier and larger-than-life character known for his brash, wide vibrato, Sidney Bechet found success in the early 1920s, his quaint archive recordings now very much ‘of the period’. Moving on almost a century, it was ACT boss Siggi Loch (whose early introduction to jazz was via the music of Bechet) who prompted Christof Lauer to consider revisiting and reinterpreting his music. The resulting transformation is both striking and accessibly attractive, due to the insightful, lush big band arrangements of Rainer Tempel and their dynamic, meticulous execution by Lauer and the NDR.

Dans Les Rues D’Antibes is a stunning opener – tuneful, and brimming with bright harmonic and percussive verve (sample Bechet’s original to understand its metamorphosis into a 21st Century sound world!). The NDR Bigband have a history of recordings with great instrumental leaders (Joe Zawinul, Alan Broadbent, Mark Lockheart, Mike Gibbs, Norma Winstone…), and here they share a similar affinity with Christof Lauer who, perhaps echoing the flamboyance of Bechet, dazzles with rapid ascending and descending soprano runs. This arrangement grows with multi-layered complexity, including expansive piano work from Hubert Nuss; and a deliciously close-knit saxophone ensemble interlude crowns a tremendously joyful number.

The original, fast-paced quirkiness of Les Oignons is magically interpreted by Tempel into mid-tempo brassy and reedy sumptuousness, Fender Rhodes completing the downtown ’70s feel. Following Lauer’s own lissome solo interlude, September, the impetus of Bechet’s Petite Fleur is maintained by a muted, questioning big band backing, Lauer’s soprano showboating against Patrice Héral’s incisive drumming and a riproaring trumpet solo; meanwhile, the Arabic impressionism of Casbah – Song of the Medina smoulders to a mysterious Rhodes ostinato and trombone counterpoint, conjuring filmic images of subterfuge and high drama. Similarly, that twee, trad. memory of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose that I carry in my mind now becomes, in the hands of Lauer and the NDR, a slowburning, eight-minute thriller movie prelude, bright unison brass and electronics supporting Lauer’s rich tenor lines.

The jaunty, homely Si Tu Vois Ma Mère connects more readily to Sidney Bechet’s Louisiana roots – a charming offering led by Lauer’s soprano, though not without a strangely sinister undercurrent; and Harry Barris’s Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – a number Bechet would, no doubt, have held in his repertoire – is brought right up to date with a funky, smooth jazz slant. Finally, Jimmy McHugh’s classic On the Sunny Side of the Street melts the heart with Tempel’s sophisticated-yet-carefree big band arrangement, Lauer’s ‘Bechet’ taking the final, showy bow.

It’s a glorious project whose intention captures my imagination, recalling Sidney Bechet’s early contribution to the genre, but also demonstrating the relevance of our current jazz scene in arranging and improvising bygone standards for a new and, in my experience, receptive generation.

Released in the UK on 2 June 2014, further information and audio samples are available here.

 

Christof Lauer soprano & tenor saxophone
Hubert Nuss piano
Patrice Héral drums
NDR Bigband conducted by Rainer Tempel

ACT 0657-2 (2014)