‘Live at The Verdict’ – Frank Harrison Trio

FrankHarrison_Verdict

IN APRIL 2014, acclaimed British jazz pianist Frank Harrison launched his latest studio album, Lunaris – a work I described then as an “anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, possessing an overriding sense of equanimity”, created with the new trio line-up of Dave Whitford (double bass) and Enzo Zirilli (drums).

During each evening of the Lunaris launch tour, Harrison set up his own digital recorder to capture a personal record of their gigs. After replaying the session from The Verdict, Brighton, it was decided to release five of the extended tracks as a free download (or as a CD which includes an excellent ten-minute bonus number). The resulting Live at The Verdict album, Frank freely declares, is ‘lo-fi’ – but, once acclimatised to that sonic zone (which exudes the excitement of a live feed), it’s a beautiful account of the freedom and conviviality to be found in this trio’s live performances.

The animation of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned (from Lunaris) becomes enhanced in this setting, Harrison brightly improvising and then passing the baton to Whitford and Zirilli who, individually, are equal to the challenge, and appreciated by the audience. The ambience of this recording conjures memories of great jazz gigs we’ve been privileged to be a part of – the thrill of the unexpected, the marvelling of the very real musicianship unfolding before our eyes. Harrison’s own Flowing at Rest (from the Sideways album) enjoys the space to slowburn, with Whitford extemporising broadly and eloquently; and Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz strides out to the easy-going pace of Whitford and Zirilli, with Harrison glittering (as he so often does) at the upper extremities of the piano before prompting a four-square percussive solo display from Zirilli – absolute magic!

Cole Porter’s Everything I Love swings with unabashed abandon, an irresistibly cohesive display from the whole trio who intuitively track every next move, Harrison inviting deft solo explorations from his drummer; and jaunty, familiar standard Tea for Two is unusually reinterpreted as a restrained, ornamented ballad with glorious echoes of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. Bonus track Autumn Leaves (recorded live in Oxford) appears as never before, introduced by a resonantly top-end percussive bass display from Whitford. ‘Name that tune’ contenders would struggle with this contemporary twist of the Joseph Kosma favourite – testament to Harrison’s spirit of retaining tradition yet imaginatively reinventing as, with clarity, he solos brightly and dextrously. This track alone is worth Harrison’s modest CD price tag, Zirilli’s toms working overtime and Whitford as nimble as ever. Evidence enough that this trio needs to be experienced ‘live’.

The Frank Harrison Trio’s Live at The Verdict is available as a free download or, for just £4.99, as a CD (with that bonus track). Just follow this link.

 

Frank Harrison piano
Dave Whitford double bass
Enzo Zirilli drums

Artwork by Andrew Walton.

frankharrison.net
verdictjazz.co.uk

Linus Records – LRCD03 (2014)

‘Orbital’ – Max Luthert

MaxLuthert

AN INCANDESCENT elegance pervades this debut release from bassist Max Luthert – a sumptuous and mature sextet recording, richly coloured and layered by the creative possibilities this particular collaboration engenders.

Very much a respected player on the London jazz scene, Luthert is joined by Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Séb Pipe (alto sax), Matt Robinson (piano) and Dave Hamblett (drums), who warmly bring to life these nine original compositions in which the leader has challenged himself to write for larger ensemble. The flute and dual sax combination achieves strikingly effective textures as mellifluent unison lines splay into opulent, three-way harmonic expressions, whilst also providing the freedom to extemporise individually – and, with an overarching sense of joie de vivre, this ‘little big band’ has much to say.

Title track Orbital perfectly illustrates the strengths of the collective with an ebullience which crackles to snappy, tricksy rhythms through which Duncan Eagles’ deeply-toned tenor both breezes and luxuriates. The mood swings in this are delicious, as is the crispness of the interaction, due in no small part to Dave Hamblett’s typically incisive though equally flamboyant drumming. Cloud on Cloud is characterised by flautist Gareth Lockrane’s mellow, slurred phrasing both floating above and melding with alto and tenor to create a luscious, dreamy ballad; and the subtly-infused Indian flavour of Assam‘s melodies and arrangements dissolve to afford space to Luthert’s distinctively-resonant bass soloing and the tabla-like hollowness of Hamblett’s carefully-weighted rhythms.

Grand Designs ripples to the complexity of shared and overlaid improvised woodwind phrases, Matt Robinson enhancing Luthert’s authoritative momentum with sparkling piano runs. In contrast, the most delightfully spacial Quiet December features the haunting tenor soloing of Eagles and the eloquent, gossamer fragility of Luthert’s imaginings (each attuned to the other, due to their close association in trio Partikel); and ascending tenor motifs bring an initial perky briskness to The Edgewall, its later, edgy sections finding Luthert’s mobile bass leaning more towards a Dave Holland sound world.

Full-bodied and swirling to a wonderfully tenacious bass and drums swing, Banrock Station is brightly illuminated by Lockrane’s high agility and Matt Robinson’s pianistic deftness; again, the close-knit ensemble work of Lockrane, Eagles and Séb Pipe shine out to provide that full, almost ’60s-style ambience – a definite stand-out. The broader landscape of Pacific Before Tiger features open, extensive soloing from Pipe, whilst the jaunty airiness of closing number Metro Moodie, with its tom-tempered percussion, includes Gareth Lockrane’s irresistible velvety-cum-gravelly bass flute register.

The majority of this session might well comfortably sit in the background at a dinner party, such is its unabashed equanimity – but, boy, how it lives and breathes when turned up loud and given the opportunity to fill a room! Released on 27 October 2014, information and audio samples can be found on the dedicated Orbital page of Whirlwind’s website.

 

Max Luthert double bass
Gareth Lockrane flutes
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Séb Pipe alto saxophone
Matt Robinson piano
Dave Hamblett drums

2015 UK live dates:
18 January: Ashburton Jazz Club
19 January: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
21 January: Dempsey’s, Cardiff
22 January: SoundCellar, Poole
23 January: Sheffield Jazz Club

Album artwork by Alban Low

maxluthert.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4659 (2014)

‘Abstract Forces’ – Cloudmakers Trio

Cloudmakers

IN 2012, vibraphonist Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers Trio featured renowned Californian trumpeter Ralph Alessi on their inaugural tour – and the recorded live set from the Pizza Express date, subsequently identified for album release (Live in London), won many plaudits across the contemporary jazz fraternity for both the quality and immediacy of the performances. 

Their much-anticipated second release, Abstract Forces – a studio album of seven extended new Hart compositions for trio only – now builds on this ensemble’s strongly improvisational ethos (the band name stemming from the analogy of a power station or engine room creating ever-changing, cloud-like abstractions). And, with the driving bass of Michael Janisch and trademark drumming vigour of Dave Smith, Cloudmakers continues to produce inventive, oblique, tricksy-but-accessible grooves. On the back of the live album, the absence of an out-front lead instrument might have left this line-up seeming somewhat lacklustre… but the key to success here is very much the chemistry between these three collaborative minds (who have worked together for many years), intuitively brewing up their own ingenious brand of ‘cumulonimbus’ clout.

Janisch’s thrummed bass sets up the bristling momentum of Snaggletooth, Jim Hart extemporising colourfully and broadly with mallets and bows – and immediately the high energy of the trio can be grasped. Hart’s assuredness at the vibes is breathtaking, whether soloing rapidly or pushing the pulse with chordal clusters, including judicious use of electronics. Angular Momentum races to impossibly-complex written time signatures, yet the three players remain remarkably synced throughout (#jawdrop), Smith hustling and bouncing magnificently.

Great explorations characterise Post Stone, Hart’s free electro-distorted hammers and celestial bowings ringing to the busyness of bass and drums, and then breaking loose into ‘ordered delirium’. Michael Janisch’s solo bass is both lithe and attractive, teasing out chords, harmonics and trills – and, appropriately, it introduces melodious Early Hours, Hart’s compositional prowess here leaning more towards the Bachian mystery of John Lewis’s writing for the Modern Jazz Quartet (Hart also features in The MJQ Celebration – reviewed). The playing here displays delightful luminosity, sustained vibes balanced delicately with the lightness of bass and drums.

Social Assassin swings out to Janisch’s bass chords, Smith hitting the kit solidly, Hart roaming freely; and Ramprasad conjures a little more of that Milt Jackson magic, Hart and Janisch sharing its inquisitive melody before electronics coax ethereal bell chimes and drones from the vibes. Finally, Conversation Killer fizzes with Phronesis-like bass impetus, Smith thrashing in tandem with Hart’s persistent Steve Reich-ian rhythms.

There is never a sense that this is ‘easy listening’ or ‘background’ jazz (piped lounge bar muzak of the late ’60s and early ’70s never did the vibraphone any favours!). Instead, Cloudmakers offer intelligently crafted music, in terms of composition and synergetic execution, which demands close scrutiny to understand its many details and nuances – a real tour de force.

Released on 29 September 2014, check out the Abstract Forces album page at Whirlwind for promo video, audio samples and purchasing – tour dates below – as well as the Live in London album page.

 

Jim Hart vibraphone
Michael Janisch double bass
Dave Smith drums

2014 tour dates
28 September: The Albert, Bristol
29 September: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
30 September: St Ives Jazz Club
03 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
10 October: Sheffield Jazz Club

cloudmakerstrio.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4655 (2014)

‘The Crux’ – Tommy Andrews Quintet

TheCrux

DEBUT JAZZ RELEASES never cease to engender a particular brand of eager anticipation – new names, fresh experiences and a portal on this thriving and constantly evolving genre. Firmly adding to that same excitement is the name of emerging reedsman Tommy Andrews and this fine new quintet album, The Crux.

Aside from his already considerable musical accomplishments, Andrews is a keen rock climber and reflects something of that activity’s challenge and patient attainment in an invigorating, eclectic approach to writing and performance, his extended through-composed works also providing the freedoms of open, developing improvisation. Joining him on the ascent are energetic pianist Rick Simpson, acclaimed bassist Dave Manington (Loop Collective, e17) and popular mainstay drummer Dave Hamblett, as well as guitarist Nick Costley-White who contributes impressive prog rock urgency and delicacy to this collection of seven originals by the saxophonist.

From the ominous preludial lyricism of Sirens into the upbeat sureness of The Crux, this quintet quickly outlines its intent of considered and collaborative creativity. Indeed, Andrews is a strong altoist who clearly ignites confidence in his equally ambitious ensemble, the effect frequently cinematic in its boldness. The brief, dreamy shimmerings of Crystal Car, with finely-spun guitar chords, afford Andrews the space to hit the heights of his range to the water-droplet piano of Rick Simpson, leading to the eight-minute Mr. Skinny Legs – and the jocose title here perhaps belies both the beauty and drive of this compelling, intensifying piece (references to elevation never far off). Team spirit shines through the precise arrangement, as do the shared melodies and solo work of Costley-White and Andrews against a pleasingly undulating bassline from Manington.

L.H.B. displays a real sense of originality, Simpson’s mysteriously inquiring chromaticism against clarinet and guitar suggesting dark crevasses, though still hanging on to positivity, and Costley-White’s rising, echoic guitar wash fascinatingly reminiscent of early Genesis (Steve Hackett, ‘Watcher of the Skies’, etc.). Hamblett and Simpson emphasise the four-square rock drive before pacing-up the tempo into dazzling sunlight, Andrews glorious in his soaring extemporisations and concluding on an abrupt high – summit reached, and beautifully portrayed. Subtitled Sirens Pt II, Toscana floats and glimmers to a steady Philip Glass-like pulse of arpeggioed piano, guitar and clarinet, eventually thinning and dissolving into the cirrus atmosphere – quite magical. And to close, quite possibly the pinnacle of the assembled tracks – Steep. Hamblett and Manington provide its complex, propulsive energy, sparking the best from Andrews, Costley-White and Simpson. The vibe is infectious… spirited piano and unison guitar and sax lines making way for the leader’s aqueous soloing which cries out for extended, dramatic development in a live setting.

Released on 30 June 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, The Crux is a skilled and mature offering from the Tommy Andrews Quintet – subtly rock-infused contemporary jazz, with the promise of still greater heights to be scaled. Further information, promo video and audio clips available here.

 

Tommy Andrews alto sax and clarinet
Nick Costley-White guitars
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Manington double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

tommyandrews.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ015 (2014)

‘Lunaris’ – Frank Harrison Trio

Lunaris

MANY MOONS AGO, Frank Harrison’s pianistic virtuosity and compositional brilliance first captured my imagination. As a cornerstone of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and then with his own piano trios, it was Harrison’s perfect marriage of creative rebellion and heart-on-sleeve sensitivity which stood out from the crowd. So, following up 2012’s excellent Sideways (Linus Records), it’s a real pleasure to discover this new trio release, Lunaris, which refines those attributes.

There’s a change of line-up as the pianist welcomes the prodigious talents of double bassist Dave Whitford and, on drums, Enzo Zirilli. Between them, they spark something fresh – an approach which includes recurring celestial and planetary themes, as well as references to English landscape and folksong. Individually, the twelve pieces – Harrison originals and interpretations of standards, plus collaborative freestyle improvisations – are attractively constructed mini-masterpieces. Collectively, they form a well-balanced fifty-minute anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, possessing an overriding sense of equanimity.

A typically pellucid reading of the classic David Raksin number, My Love and I, opens the album – dreamy and unhurried, Frank Harrison keeps its deep, recognisable melody aloft, bass and brushed drums caressing every nuance. The delicate geniality of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned is a joy, ringing to Enzo Zirilli’s precise yet enquiring percussion which varicolours this bright interpretation, Harrison’s customary keyboard poise so tangible.

From this opening familiarity of melody, a panoply of astral discovery is unveiled with the first of two miniatures – Stars – its spacial, searching piano chords subtly enhanced by synthesiser twinklings. Continuing the night sky observation, An Evening of Spaceships and UFOs is a remarkable group improvisation which confirms this trio’s new-found empathy. A mysterious deep bass rhythm set up by Dave Whitford has a sonority and momentum reminiscent of Dan Berglund’s work with e.s.t., intertwining with Harrison’s supple, measured chord progressions and solo lines; and, around all this, Zirilli percussively paints vivid streaks of asteroids and shooting stars. Following on, the weightlessness of Io – one of Jupiter’s four moons – is softly imagined via a restrained piano/synth and bass ostinato, shimmering all the while with ethereal and atmospheric beauty (I intend taking these tracks to a dark-sky zone!).

Sunrise (Port Meadow) announces daylight with a lilting 6/8 melody which racks the mind, searching for the title of a much-loved standard – but this is another from Harrison’s pen, evoking the natural beauty of Oxford’s ancient riverside pasturelands. The new compositions continue with Ascent, climbing apace and displaying lively interaction within the trio, maybe providing a glimpse of extended development in a live setting; and, at the summit, there are the ominous soarings of The Bird, conveyed by the pianist’s shapeshifting chordal tracery and dark bass octaves. BoRG-58, another group improvisation (its title referencing far-flung galaxies), brings arresting open fifths grooving from Whitford and Harrison (a hint of Esbjörn) and broad, cross-patterned drumming from Zirilli – with understated synth infusions, its a winning combination.

The emotion of Frank Harrison’s solo discipline is to be found in a wistful rendition of traditional North East English folk tune The Recruited Collier – assured and clean, with the most sumptuous harmonies, time momentarily stands still. Johnny Mandel’s late ’50s song Emily (a favourite of Bill Evans) waltzes through its several minutes, Harrison and Whitford soloing radiantly to Zirilli’s gently sifting rhythm; and to close, the brief, sustained, Debussy-like Stars II suggests upward-looking wonderment towards an endless universe.

Finally, acknowledgement must be made to landscape painter Andrew Walton, whose cover and booklet art so beautifully reflects an album of exquisite musical imagery.

Launched on 9 April 2014, Lunaris is available from all good jazz outlets, iTunes, etc. (audio samples here).


Frank Harrison
piano, synthesizer
Dave Whitford double bass
Enzo Zirilli drums

frankharrison.net

Linus Records – LRCD02 (2014)

‘The MJQ Celebration’ – Jim Hart, Barry Green, Matt Ridley, Steve Brown with Dave O’Higgins

MJQ

Originally formed by pianist and composer Michael Garrick MBE, who sadly passed away in 2011, The MJQ Celebration had been delighting sell-out UK audiences with their fresh interpretations of the pioneering 1950s/60s sounds of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Determined to continue the success of the project, and in Michael’s memory, the friends are now touring again as a new line-up, launching this engaging debut release.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Jim Hart
vibraphone
Barry Green piano
Matt Ridley double bass
Steve Brown drums

special guest
Dave O’Higgins tenor saxophone

Kings Gambit Records (KGR001) – 2014

‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

SRC

IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.

There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Høiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.

The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track Protagonist which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Høiby’s pliant opening bass riff, Dream a Life inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and Rain That Falls conjures ‘007’ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. Bridge is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.

Fragile Ground is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat Two Roads; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into Rolling Clouds, an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.

Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).

Available from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, as well as iTunes and usual outlets (listen at SoundCloud).


Dionne Bennett
 lyricist, vocals
Dave Stapleton composer, Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ
Deri Roberts producer, sound design, electronics, trombone, additional saxophone
Elliot Bennett drums
with
Jasper Høiby double bass
Chris Montague guitar
Mark Lockheart tenor and soprano saxophones
Neil Yates trumpet
Matt Robertson synths

Strings:
Jon Visanji violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Katy Rowe violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Rebekah Frost viola
Alice Hoskins cello
Sarah Stevens cello

Edition Records – EDN1048 (2014)

editionrecords.com