‘Alphabets’ – David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Väli

BIRMINGHAM-BASED pianist David Ferris has already added his considerable skills to a number of recordings emanating from the West Midlands jazz scene including Tom Syson’s Green, Ben Lee Quintet’s In the Tree (also appearing on Live at the Spotted Dog), plus Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra’s Live.

A 2015 jazz graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire, Ferris benefited from the tutelage of Dave Holland, Hans Koller, Jeff Ballard (amongst many others), and summer schools also brought him into contact with established artists such as Mark Lockheart, Nikki Iles and Martin Speake.

Larger ensembles and big bands seem to be enjoying an increasingly strong presence across Birmingham’s contemporary jazz landscape, and the David Ferris Septet debut release, Alphabets, brings his own compositional and leadership prowess to the fore in a programme of seven numbers mostly inspired by and set to literary works of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, W B Yeats and W H Auden. Already familiar, emerging names – trumpeter Hugh Pascall, trombonist Richard Foote, saxophonists Chris Young and Vittorio Mura, bassist Nick Jurd and drummer Euan Palmer – combine to create original and lively jazz explorations from Ferris’ tight arrangements whilst taking advantage of their improvisational freedom. Guest vocalist Maria Väli illuminates the verse with dexterity and finesse.

The pianist references ‘song’ – from jazz standards through Rodgers & Hammerstein to The Beatles – as a particular source of inspiration in his writing, alongside the Art Blakey golden years; and his ability to meld melodies with existing poetry, as well as encourage individual instrumental creativity, is central to the overarching vibe. It’s a buoyant affair, teeming with fluctuating moods, lush harmonic episodes and zesty solos.

Heralded by close-knit horns, Chorale unpacks its hymnal foundation with rhythmic purpose and contrapuntal fervour, building to a grand groove; and the album’s only other purely instrumental number, Fred (acknowledging one of the composer’s heroes, Fred Hersch), joyously rolls to its memorable main ensemble riff and bright, open piano. The words of Ted Hughes’ Crow Hill are fashioned sublimely by Ferris (almost redolent of Michel Legrand’s The Summer Knows), Maria Väli’s vocal clarity supported by contrasting light-and-shade textures and Chris Young’s lyrical alto soloing; whilst in W B Yeats’ The Hawk, Richard Foote’s free trombone invention is married to Väli’s cascading phrases to create swirling, brooding atmospheres. Seamus Heaney’s work is twice represented: his eight-line poem, Song, becomes elegantly flecked with a lyricism reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors suite; and Alphabets – a picturesque text on a child’s introduction to and love of the written word – takes a nursery-rhyme/folksong-like motif and develops it into a flowing, glowing jazz poem of beauty. To close, W H Auden’s The Willow-Wren and the Stare is treated to a lively, snare-rattling hoedown (with hints of “boop-boop dit-tem-dat-tem what-tem chu”!).

At this early stage in his career, David Ferris’ writing and playing already suggest maturity and imagination, with an interpretive assuredness which could find him a strong niche in contemporary jazz, theatre, etc.

Originally released in February 2018, with support from Help Musicians UK, the album is available as CD only (harking back to the exciting discovery experiences of pre-digital days) from the website of David Ferris.

Alphabets is very much worth hearing.

 

David Ferris piano
Hugh Pascall trumpet
Richard Foote trombone
Chris Young alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Nick Jurd bass
Euan Palmer drums
with special guest
Maria Väli vocals

david ferris.co.uk

Self-released with support from Help Musicians UK (2018)

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‘Flow’ – Drifter

Drifter_Flow_300

“THE MUSIC means so much more now. Ten years ago, we were just playing tunes that we loved to play. Now the music comes from within us and somehow encapsulates the feelings of the last ten years.”

There’s a heartwarming sense of triumph and arrival which emanates from the backstory to those words from Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila. Early in the ‘noughties’, Tuomarila and his quartet were flying high and recording with Warner Jazz France (most notable, their excellent 2003 album 02) when suddenly the label shut down their jazz and classical department. Here was a prominent European jazz ensemble without the proverbial paddle… or so it seemed. In the intervening years, both Tuomarila and saxophonist Nicolas Kummert continued to independently develop their craft through regular touring, and perhaps there was an inevitability about them not just crossing paths in the future, but once again kindling the spark of their creativity.

Now, following Edition Records’ 2014 release of Alexi Tuomarila’s engaging trio album Seven Hills, and encouraged by Edition, the quartet have reconvened as Drifter; former members Tuomarila and Kummert join again with drummer Teun Verbruggen and welcome bassist Axel Gilain to the fold. There’s a smile-inducing mystique about this quartet’s combined output which can be difficult to nail. Certainly, the instrumentation is familiar – but perhaps the best explanation is that there is both strength and balance achieved through the co-leadership of pianist Tuomarila and saxophonist Kummert, buoyed by the varicoloured rhythmic skills of Verbruggen and Gilain. Persistent up-front soloing is not Drifter’s way.

From this near hour-long collection of eight originals, plus one arrangement, opener Crow Hill reveals the aforementioned parity as piano and sax become almost conjoined in the melodic spotlight; and when Tuomarila eloquently breaks loose, Kummert responds up through the gears, his verbal tone redolent of Joshua Redman or Mark Lockheart. Tuomarila’s dual trademark is found in The Elegist which grooves to his deep chordal impetus, yet also produces effortless high piano lines which sail as purely as fast-moving cirrus; and, taking Axel Gilain’s high ostinato bass hook plus Verbruggen’s bristling percussion, Harmattan provides greater extemporised freedom for piano and sax.

Drifter’s sound world is beautifully accessible, with the added complexion of a few vocal tracks (as in the 02 album’s Bone-Yard Jive). But rather than offering extensive lyricism, the quietly harmonic voices of Kummert and Gilain are employed more instrumentally through repeated phrases which, in Lighthouse, cleverly pictorialise its dark, lilting momentum (“I’m looking for a lighthouse”); and with more of a rock inflection than jazz, the effect is quite distinctive. Nothing Ever Lasts (music by Tuomarila, words by Gilain) feels particularly anthemic, its solid folksong-like motif carried through into a memorable vocal exultation, with Kummert’s sax hinting at Garbarek.

The grungy, wailing, jazz/blues of Breathing Out My Soul becomes knee-tappingly infectious. With only a simple, repeated, unison vocalisation of the title, a wonderfully pliant bass motif sets up stand-out piano from Tuomarila against the thrashing of Verbruggen’s kit; and enticing rhythmic changes invite Kummert’s sax to overflow in improvisation – quite unlike anything out there at present! Gilain’s Toueï is delightful as it gently pirouettes around the bass – and, as throughout the album, themes and rhythms regularly metamorphose with entertaining unexpectedness.

The concept of covering a rock/pop hit such as the The Police’s King of Pain might well come with a warning – but Tuomarila unlocks its hidden dance qualities so remarkably that it becomes its own idea, with the lyrics of Sting’s original soon forgotten amidst its driving energy. And to close, Vagabond combines the compositional Englishness of Tim Garland with Svensson-like piano explorations – a resounding, dizzying climax.

Alexi Tuomarila’s belief that this quartet’s re-emergence marks “the development of our friendship as a band and the greater sense of purpose we all have in our lives” is borne out in an exciting album which I’ve repeatedly enjoyed over the past few weeks.

Released on 17 July 2015, Flow is available at Bandcamp as download, CD or 140gm 12″ vinyl.

 

Alexi Tuomarila piano
Nicolas Kummert saxophone, vocals
Axel Gilain double bass, vocals
Teun Verbruggen drums

Edition Records – EDN1059 (2015)