‘The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke’ – The Vampires, Lionel Loueke

The Vampires

AUSTRALIAN quartet The Vampires have a good ear for a vamp… and for a key collaborator in respected US-based guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke.

Headed up by saxophonist Jeremy Rose and trumpeter Nick Garbett, and driven by the heady rhythms of double bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Danny Fischer (with guest percussionist Alex Masso), this fifth release features Loueke’s distinctive guitar palette of synthy octave-enhanced improvisations and chordal sparkiness, combined with the colourful African vocalisations of his Benin homeland. Rose and Garbett have an affinity with strong melody, rising from the groove of each of their ten original numbers with increasing memorability; and their festal dual-horn lead especially imbues the air with mariachi, reggae, funk, European folk and flavours of Cuba and the Balkans.

So a genuine feel-good album which has long been in the pipeline, it’s myriad influences soon draw the attention and don’t let go. Take Freedom Song, for example, where an Ennio Morricone-style tijuana figure announces and infiltrates an irresistible Police-like reggae pulse, pulled in different directions by Loueke’s quirky modal explorations and bleepy improv, with tenor and trumpet acclamations soaring above. Bendalong, too, ripples and darts with dance-like fervour, yet gear-changes alter the landscape to allow space for Loueke’s characterful blend of guitar and ‘vocal percussion’.

The ebb and flow of rhythm and mood, across fifty-five minutes, is well considered; so lazy, grunging Hard Love (like a beautifully sedated ‘Spanish Flea’) contrasts markedly with the picked African guitar rhythms and side-stepped meanderings in Brand New – the jiving bass ground here is a winner, inspiring salsa celebrations. In Torta Salata, Zwartz’s pliant double bass also sets up a playful partnership with Loueke’s wah-wah fun, as trumpet and sax again eke out a melody that might still be in your head by daybreak; and an ease-back acoustic-styled tribute to Al Green – Green Green Green – somehow keeps a lid on its full-blown Latin potential, resisting a double-time step-up despite its varicoloured interest.

A rare moment of repose is delivered in bass-clarinet-hued Ubud Bubble, said to evoke the time-paused magic and mystery of Gamelan echoes in Bali streets, its smokiness suggested by Fischer’s brushed snare. Suck a Seed‘s attractive African sonorities are pounced on by the increasing clamour of frenetic horn improv and wailing, synthesised guitar; and Endings and Beginnings top and tails with intended softly-breathing ‘circle of life’ continuity.

The Vampires’ music feels visual, thanks to its fabulous grooves and differing atmospheres. In the UK, sight and sound can be experienced in Edinburgh on 13 October 2017, and again on 15 October as the album officially launches at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club.

The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke is available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Jeremy Rose alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet
Nick Garbett trumpet
Jonathan Zwartz double bass
Danny Fischer drums
featuring
Lionel Loueke acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals
with
Alex Masso drums, cajon, bongos, pandeiro, wood block, cowbells, shakers (tracks 3, 5)

thevampires.com.au

Earshift Music – EAR017 (2017)

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‘Culcha Vulcha’ – Snarky Puppy

Culcha

THE PHENOMENON known as Snarky Puppy is a grooving ‘must see’ if they’re in town!

Over the past few years, the infectious exuberance of this Brooklyn-based collective has spread out over the globe. Led by charismatic electric bassist Michael League, their seemingly inexhaustible energy has found them performing across six continents, wowing audiences from Bremen to Buenos Aires, from Manchester to Mumbai; and the sense of ‘community’ in their musical outlook has spawned residency programmes as well as many musical collaborations (most recently their second Family Dinner album featuring the likes of David Crosby, Laura Mvula and Jacob Collier).

For eleventh release Culcha Vulcha, the guys (not a snarky character amongst them!) relocated to a remote Texan pecan orchard – Sonic Ranch Studios – to record their first pure studio album in eight years. As a live band, League and colleagues fill their demographically wide audiences with an inescapable feel-good – a combination of astonishing, eclectic artistry and elated self-bemusement at the energy and new ideas they forge together on stage; but it’s also exciting to discover the sounds they carefully craft whilst spending a week in each others’ pockets. The result – well, possibly their best recorded account yet.

The personnel and instrumentation listed below only begin to indicate the heady, groove-laden ‘riffage’ that makes up this hour-plus, nine-track celebration. Often possessing an anthemic quality, the Snarkys’ memorable performances here begin to activate a ‘fave’ rush – that intro recognition which settles you in for a good time, as in the lurching groove of opener Tarova. Twang-tight horns and multifarious percussion are frequently in evidence, but its also the varied palette of pitch-bent synth improv, along with flamboyant guitar lines and League’s inherent bass impetus, which make up this potent brew.

Semente‘s Brazilian vibrancy is coloured by Chris Bullock’s peppy flute melodies and zazzy repinique triplet clattering; Grown Folks has a grungy big band urgency, full of bold horn and guitar phrases; and Gemini‘s cool, sidewalk demeanour, with mellotron and bottleneck guitar, is one of the classiest grooves heard for some time. Electronics, slow-attack synth and alto flute in Beep Box change the pace with retro space-age charm, and sophisticated clav/moog bass-driven , with so many individual instrumental highlights (at times, even redolent of Level 42 at their mid-80s live best), is a first-listen standout which has cemented itself as a ‘go-to’ to lift the spirits.

And that’s the way it continues, each track a winner – reggae-synth The Simple Life (with gritty, David Gilmour-like slide guitar) totally addictive; Cory Henry’s organ dream Palermo (written by percussionist Marcelo Woloski, and featuring haunting flugel) suggesting a gamelanese hypnotism; and Big Ugly‘s soulful, prog-tinged synth-fest a superb closer.

This album has been spinning around for a few weeks now, yet never needs a second invitation to enjoy another complete, loud play-through. Keep on doing what you’re doing, boys!

Released on 29 April 2016, Culcha Vulcha is available from the GroundUP Music website and all good retailers.

 

Cory Henry organ, Clavinet, Mellotron, Moog
Bill Laurance piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthex
Justin Stanton piano, Fender Rhodes, Omni, Prophet 6, Synthex, Arp Axxe
Bobby Sparks Clavinet, MiniMoog, Moog Bass
Michael League electric bass, nylon-string guitar, baritone guitar, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Bass, Mellotron
Bob Lanzetti electric guitar
Mark Lettieri electric guitar, baritone guitar
Chris McQueen guitar
Jay Jennings trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike “Maz” Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, keyboards
Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone
Zach Brock violin
Jason “J.T.” Thomas drums
Robert “Sput” Searight drums
Larnell Lewis drums
Nate Werth trap set, cowbells, chimes, caixa, floor tom, tambourine, shaker, angklung, cymbals, percussion, clapping
Keita Ogawa timbal, repinique, kanjira, caixa, congas
Marcelo Woloski djembe, shakers, surdo, triangle, caixa, angklung, Tang-Tang, Reco-reco cowbell, Bombo Legüero, donkey jaw, kalimba, daf, effects, clapping

snarkypuppy.com

GroundUP Music / Universal Music Classics  (2016)

‘Flint’ – Bill Laurance

Flint

OVER THE LAST DECADE, thunderous New York jazz-funk fusionists Snarky Puppy have garnered a solid international fan base with their intoxicating live shows, as well as a successful catalogue of albums. At the heart of this creative powerhouse is English pianist/keyboardist Bill Laurance, who now presents his own sparkling debut release, along with a UK and Netherlands tour.

Described by Laurance as the album he’s been searching for since he started making music, Flint is a collaboration with two close friends – Snarky stalwarts Michael League (basses, guitars) and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight’ (drums, percussion) – as well as a host of string and horn players. Together, they realise a magnificent compositional spectrum, often on an orchestral/filmic scale as well as anticipated jazz-funk grooving, with Laurance commanding at the grand piano and Fender Rhodes. And, although the majority of the ten through-composed pieces are solely from the leader’s pen (along with League’s considerable input as arranger), the communal sense of striving for both musical exactitude and improvisation is palpable… and exciting.

Setting the tone are the complex urban drum patterns of opener Never-Ending City, with gutsy five-string bass, keys ostinati, cityscape strings and Laurance’s cool piano extemporisations. Janáček/Copland-style brass announces Money in the Desert, a brooding, quietly-pulsating episode which can’t help but break out into moog-driven funk with accented strings, and League’s popping electric guitar lead (blame it on the boogie!). Title track Flint (named after the inspirational effect on Laurance of a Snarky Puppy gig in Flint, Michigan) is more akin to soundtrack, dipping in and out of marching band mode and expansive Philip Glass-like pianistic/orchestral vistas, underpinned by Sput’s metronomic pulse. And all the while, the arrangements feel organically whole.

Smooth jazz Swag Times features quite breathtaking drum razzle-dazzle from Searight against an irresistible Rhodes/synth/vocoder wash – and again, brass and strings widen the landscape (such beautiful execution from string players who completed their entire recording requirement within a day!). The Good Things pares down the line-up to piano, bass and drums, Laurence leading in mysterious, echoic grandeur, plus impressive fuzz bass from League; and baroque-inflected Chia, with its gorgeously mercurial piano and double bass, invites the rapid gypsy fiddle of Zach Brock and portamento string backing to ramp up the tempo and augmented orchestration – in a word, delightful. Whimsical and grungy ska tune Smokers Castle jerks and clatters around Laurance’s detuned piano and a wonderfully brash New Orleans-style brass section; and Gold Coast features the fluid flugelhorn of Mike Maher (also of Snarky Puppy) in an orchestrally opulent, shining affair.

At ten minutes in length, penultimate track Ready Wednesday is a sure highlight, Searight’s fast Latinesque tempo showcasing Laurance’s exacting, rhythmic piano style; and the broad orchestral sweep – even in its later, slower section – has ‘movie soundtrack’ written all over it. As closing titles roll, classical piano end-piece Audrey, with delicate strings and flugel, melancholily waltzes to its rest.

As part of the package (on a second disc), a 47-minute DVD documentary – made by Andy Laviolette – provides a fascinating insight into the making of Flint, revealing the musicians’ passion for their art, as well as various triumphs over adversity along the way (including the sudden non-availability of their pre-booked studio, twelve few hours before recording sessions were due to begin!). Videos of all tracks are also included.

Released on 14 July 2014, this is an ambitious and absorbing project – not least for the Snarky Puppy faithful – which promises much in its translation to a live setting (see below for October 2014 tour dates, samples and purchasing). Check it out!

 

Bill Laurance acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, vocoder, keyboards, shaker, congas, ride cymbal, propane tank, hand claps
Michael League electric bass, double bass, moog bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hand claps
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight drums, timpani, marching snare & bass drums, shekere, cowbells, vibraslap, woodblocks, shaker, hand claps
Maria Im violin
Zach Brock violin (solos)
Curtis Stewart violin
Henry Flory violin
Lev Zhurbin viola
Eylem Basaldi viola
Maria Jeffers cello
J.Y. Lee cello
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt McLaughlin french horn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Brian Donohoe alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Scott Flynn trombone
Magda Giannikou propane tank, glockenspiel, xylophone
Emília Canas Mendes & Andy Laviolette hand claps

2014 UK tour dates
03 October: St George’s, Bristol
04 October: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
06 October: The Glee Club, Birmingham
07 October: Band on the Wall, Manchester
08 October: The Grand, Clitheroe
09 October: Ropery Hall, Barton on Humber
10 October: Turner Sims, Southampton

2014 Netherlands tour dates
11 October: Bird, Rotterdam
12 October: North Sea Jazz Club, Amsterdam

billlaurance.com
Bandcamp.com
iTunes

groundUP music – GRO117 (2014)