REVIEW: ‘Vesuviana’ – Bruno d’Ambra Trio

PIANIST Bruno d’Ambra has quite a story to tell – not just through the spirit of his music, but also in the way he first set foot on UK soil with the zeal to energize his career.

Discovering jazz in his teens and then progressing to play the clubs and bars of his native Italy, he was searching for more as he reached his early twenties. So with a rucksack, a small keyboard carefully packed into a cardboard box and £300 in his pocket (a parting gift from his late grandad), Bruno arrived in London. Over the next two decades, the dedication of this self-taught musician led him to the stages of venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, 606 Club, Pizza Express Dean Street; and one of his greatest honours was the invitation to perform at a 2011 gala dinner for US President Barack Obama and Her Majesty The Queen. He is now an established educator, while sharing bandstand or recording studio with the likes of Tony Kofi, Alex Garnett, Jim Mullen, Brandon Allen, Nigel Price, Natalie Williams and Tommaso Starace.

New album Vesuviana sees d’Ambra collaborating with his piano-trio personnel of double bassist Jason Reyes and drummer Emiliano Caroselli in an often fiery yet elegant programme of eight originals, presented as a musical diary inspired by a person, place or situation. The title, explains Bruno, references the railway connecting Naples to towns around Mount Vesuvius, but also describes “a connection and a sense of belonging” to the region.

Initially erupting with cinder-hurling vocal chant, the title track is transformed into a carefree sightseeing journeying, transported by the lightness of bass and brushes; and Bruno d’Ambra’s pianistic touch at this point feels considered, even polite. Waltzing Mandorla Kiss shares that aura, its recollections of “romantically sipping ‘latte di mandorla’ on a beach in Puglia” offering phrases that could easily carry a lyric. But there are different facets to his playing, especially in the improvisational streaks, here, which are so freely liquescent (as is Reyes’ nimble bass soloing). Fast-swinging Top Geezer – with characterful flattened fifth, and named after grandad – flies like the spark-imbued wind, illuminated by firecracking drumming from Caroselli; and blithe Three for Trane almost cries out for its dedicatee to join the trio on tenor or soprano sax!

Alternating rhythms in Midnight Road Rage (inspired by a post-gig drive home) capture the artistic effrontery of Thelonius Monk as they dart and then ease back, including an ostinato section during the drum feature which might illustrate the wearying repetition of streetlights (d’Ambra must be a delight to watch in performance). Warm ballad Blue Pictures of You softly blazes in the night sky, with Reyes’ bass improv given free rein; In for a Penny’s rapid bossa feel is exhilarating; and charming Concettina (affectionately the leader’s “third grandmother”) closes the set in sensitive wonder, with distant echoes of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ – are the stars out tonight?

It’s always a pleasure to unwrap new music in the post-bop idiom and also of Neapolitan origin. At just over half an hour’s duration, Vesuviana brings to mind the old ‘small packages’ adage – there are indeed ‘good things’ aplenty in Bruno d’Ambra Trio’s bright, breezy and accessible outing.

Released on 21 January 2021 and available from Bandcamp.

 

Bruno d’Ambra piano
Jason Reyes double bass
Emiliano Caroselli drums
with
Al Maranca (voice, lyrics, percussion – track 1)

Artwork by Jonathan Emmerson

brunodambramusic.com

Self-released (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Time OutTakes’ – The Dave Brubeck Quartet

INDELIBLY STAMPED on many a heart, 1959’s Time Out – followed by Time Further Out in 1961 – propelled pianist Dave Brubeck’s quartet with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, double bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello into jazz and pop immortality, helped by the still-ubiquitous Take Five. It became the first jazz album to sell a million copies.

Previously-unreleased recordings from the four sessions in the summer of 1959 have now been issued in Time OutTakes – the first output on the family’s Brubeck Editions imprint. Revelatory nuances are heard in alternative takes of five of the original album’s seven tracks, alongside two recently discovered numbers, plus fascinating audio insights into conversations between the artists and their studio engineers. As son Darius Brubeck explains, “Naturally, the takes chosen for release… were the most polished performances of this newly composed music. Sixty years later these ‘heads’ are familiar and this time around we can focus on the great improvisations that were held back because of little mistakes in the pre-composed sections”.

The quartet’s celebrated brand of American ‘West Coast cool’, an important waymarker in jazz ancestry, flings open the door on this archive with Blue Rondo à la Turk (whose 9/8 metre Brubeck famously heard from Turkish street musicians, a year earlier). Here, Paul Desmond’s swinging improvisations feel bluesier, less restrained; and the piano explorations are more angular, so much so that the album’s much-stated polyrhythmic experimentalism – initially unnerving, in a commercial sense, for label Columbia – is brought into sharper relief, including a hard-hitting conclusion. An elegant stride-piano difference to the opening of Strange Meadowlark (wait for the ‘attempts’ in the later banter!) is taken up by Desmond’s signature softness. How his improvisational angle changes things; and Brubeck and his rhythm section are jauntier and less inhibited, too (maybe with a chromatic-piano whiff of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Bali Hai’ at the close).

Take Five another way (it took many attempts to land on the final hit recording) turns out to be pacier, perhaps even hurried to our ears. The 5/4 piano figure obviously sets the groove, but it’s the toms of Morello (whose soundcheck playfulness gave birth to the idea) that create the ‘jam’, particularly when he weighs in with a seemingly more fervent drum solo than was first published; and Desmond is as unflappable as ever. Maybe Three To Get Ready is more akin to expectation, though there’s a perceptible ‘wink in the eye’ from the four – and its breezy disposition is embellished anew, Brubeck taking wonderful liberties with his rubato. Rounding off the Time Out tunes is Cathy’s Waltz, the title corrected from the original’s mistakenly-printed ‘Kathy’, for its then five-year-old dedicatee-in-a-tutu, Brubeck’s daughter. Still with an ascending phrase that feels like the inspiration for Lennon & McCartney’s ‘All My Loving’ of 1963, it whirls and skips to Desmond’s free-spiritedness.

Interestingly, Pick Up Sticks and Everybody’s Jumpin’ were captured in single takes at the sessions, hence no alternatives in this release. Instead, we hear fast-swinging I‘m in a Dancing Mood, whose percussive bossa episodes are evocative of the period; and Watusi Jam – a spontaneous piano trio number found unmarked on the session tapes – which is initiated by Wright’s bass groove, again featuring Morello. The frisson of collaborative adventure in this is palpable. Did they know, then, they were onto something?

Dave Brubeck passed away in 2012, just a day short of his 92nd birthday. After all these years, and admittedly with a good measure of nostalgia, to hear those Time Out tracks ‘disrupted’ by ’new’ improvisations and detail sends an involuntary tingle down the spine. So do the final track’s fascinating few minutes of back-and-forth quips (Brubeck: “Man, I can’t play it that good again… See, what’d’I tell you?… I didn’t even like that!”). So particularly for fans, this turning back of the clock to the 1959 studio – with interesting CD-booklet insights from the family, both on the pieces and the players’ characters – feels pretty special.

Released on 4 December 2020, to mark the centenary of the great man’s birth, Time OutTakes is available at Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Dave Brubeck piano
Paul Desmond alto saxophone
Eugene Wright double bass
Joe Morello drums

davebrubeck.com

Brubeck Editions – BECD20200901 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ – Gabriel Latchin Trio

THE WORDS ‘jazzed-up Christmas’ may well strike a note of suspicion with those of us who have encountered dodgy attempts to add a rhythm and a few ‘blue’ notes to The Oxford Book of Carols. But, safe to say, pianist Gabriel Latchin’s trio, with double bassist Dario Di Lecce and drummer Josh Morrison, skates to the opposite end of the scale with these glittering reinterpretations of festive songs, plus a couple of carols and an original of his own.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 December 2020 and available as CD or digital download on various platforms from this link.

Promo video

 

Gabriel Latchin piano
Dario Di Lecce double bass
Josh Morrison drums

gabriellatchin.com

Alys Jazz – AJ 1503 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Le Chat Brel’ – Gabriel Bismut & Maurizio Minardi

RECORDINGS such as The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist and Piano Ambulance provided a personal introduction to the characterful music of Italian composer, accordionist and pianist Maurizio Minardi, having seen him perform some years ago in London. So it’s no surprise that new album Le Chat Brel – his collaboration with French violinist Gabriel Bismut – has grown into a complete listening delight.

Their entrancingly rounded quartet is completed by guitarist Barthélemy Seyer and double bassist Maurizio Congiu, plus guest harpist Livia Ferrandon-Bescond. Twelve original compositions of Bismut and Minardi – six apiece – are performed with jocose or romantic spirit through an evocative melding of their jazz/folk/baroque sensibilities (European union – stronger together, as so many of us well know). The album title’s feline ‘Brel’ reference links to their appreciation, and sometimes their live interpretations, of the music of Jacques Brel.

While the timbres of violin/alto and accordion have long complemented each other, there’s something inherently natural about the way their own creations are fashioned, right down to details which often reflect the pieces’ titles. So, for example, there’s the impulsive scratch and busyness of MInardi’s Le Coq Baroque, as well as cheery, shuffling Penguin (an irresistible tune from his Cook album, in the mould of The Divine Comedy or, appropriately, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). The two composers are certainly well-matched. Holiday atmospheres in Bismut’s blithe Persévérence are given a lovely depth by his alto instrument, complemented by Seyer’s lithe guitar improvisations; and Endurance’s sunny, Parisian demeanour steals the heart.

More contemplative numbers such as Fleur Du Hasard and Per I Tuoi 28 Anni sigh with wistful, spatial elegance, their intimacy enhanced by the closeness of this recording. La Brume too, supported by hazy electric guitar textures, feels melancholic as shared violin and accordion melodies evoke illuminated riverside vistas of gently-rippling reflection. And two sumptuous Bismut compositions, Bipolarité and Peau, Neuve – the latter contrasting hymnal quietude with improvisational freedom – are sensitively enhanced by the harp of Livia Ferrandon-Bescond.

But the joyful vigour of this quartet’s interaction is always bound to resurface – firstly in Minardi‘s gypsy-jazz Anastasia, where Bismut’s bluegrass-suggested portamenti gleefully dance over its infectious rhythms; and then in galloping Tulipano Nero, whose anticipatory, Vivaldian drama is summoned by chattering accordion and Danse Macabre-style double-stopping and brash soloing (all brilliant ensemble-playing that has to be heard). As a final curtain call, sneering tango Marcello struts into colorized vaudeville – a great summation of this album’s seductive entertainment.

Le Chat Brel is released on 13 November 2020 and available here.

Videos: trailer, Endurance, Persévérence.

 

Gabriel Bismut violin, alto
Maurizio Minardi accordion
Barthélemy Seyer guitar
Maurizio Congiu double bass
with
Livia Ferrandon-Bescond harp (tracks 8, 11)

mauriziominardi.com/bismut-minardi

AMA – AMA 01 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid’ – Tara Minton

WITH AN INVITATION to listen for welcoming selkies, sirens, undines and yawkyawks (the latter, from Northern Australian mythology), harpist/vocalist Tara Minton releases Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid – a collection of original music and lyrics which communicates themes of fancy, self-identity, climate change and hope.

Tara Minton’s connection to the sea (evidenced in 2017’s The Tides of Love) stems from an oceanside upbringing in Melbourne; and the decision, a decade ago, to relocate her life and career to London says much about her artistic ambition and ebullient personality. In this album, together with pianist Phil Merriman, double bassist Ed Babar, drummer David Ingamells and soprano saxophonist Tommaso Starace, she explores marine tales through a fascinating fusion of jazz and singer/songwriter styles, alongside pleasing glimpses of folkloristic ‘prog’ rock. As well as being a particularly eclectic harpist in both jazz and classical arenas, it’s also clear that Tara might easily have flourished purely as a vocalist, given her fluent, often deftly-harmonised expression; and the recording’s evident narrative thread is something she regards as fundamental to her creativity.

Incisively described as an impressionistic dreamscape, there’s a sense of this seven-track sequence of ‘stories from mermaids around the world’ being accompanied by flowing, animated imagery as the harp’s undercurrents and riptides provide the basis for its lush, sometimes dramatic journeying. Heralded by siren calls, We Sing For Each Other plunges into an iridescent, subaqueous world of mystery, while The Origin Of The Harp (an interpretation of Thomas Moore’s poem) reveals Minton’s beautifully controlled sung phrases which shift in and out of harp-ornamented coral view, creating a meditative jazz soundtrack.

Eugénie’s glissando strings delicately dance with brushed snare and cymbals under its jade-lit canopy, leading to a selkie’s wonderfully soulful intro to teasing, free-spirited, walking-bass number Skin (“I wanna shed my skin… everything is on the menu tonight… sometimes I just wanna be naughty and flirty…”). Here, the ‘piano trio’ of Merriman, Babar and Ingamells combines with Minton’s flourishes to create smilingly retro feel-good; something which continues in the whirlpool freedom of Undine Undying, embellished by the swooning then high-flying shared melodies of soprano sax and voice.

Midway through title track Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid (an environmental exhortation), Minton propels her writing towards the solid synthesized/drummed rock of Genesis or Yes, its soaring, effected vocals and harp sforzandi also imaginable as a Bond theme, culminating in the mermaids’ impressive choral anthem. And Puerto Rican-tinted Starfish – where harp almost emulates Spanish guitar – concludes with splendid improvisational showings, including communal burlesque/folk voices proclaiming “Come down to the beach, we can change our fate… before it’s too late”.

Tara Minton’s creative route teems and glistens with individuality, while that ‘prog’ side of her personality will be watched and encouraged!

Released on 6 November 2020, Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid is available as limited-edition vinyl and CD, or digital download, from Bandcamp.

 

Tara Minton vocals, harp, co-producer
Phil Merriman piano, co-producer
Ed Babar double bass
David Ingamells drums
Tommaso Starace soprano saxophone
Tom Nancollas voice on The Origin Of The Harp

Cover art by Blanche Ellis

taraminton.com

Lateralize Records – LR010CD (2020)

REVIEW: ‘High Heart’ – Ben Wendel

A BIG HEART… and a big impact! Saxophonist Ben Wendel’s new sextet release, featuring the superbly adroit voice of Michael Mayo, was an immediate ‘ear grab’ on its first hearing and has since gone on to prove itself as an album which occupies a quite distinct contemporary jazz groove.

Canadian-born, raised in Los Angeles, and now residing in New York, Wendel’s career has seen him work alongside artists including Tigran Hamasyan, Eric Harland, Joshua Redman, Linda May Han Oh, Prince, and is a founding member of Kneebody.



For High Heart, his fifth recording as leader, Shai Maestro and Gerald Clayton interchange piano and Fender Rhodes (a masterstroke), supported by the fiery, industrious rhythm section of double bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Nate Wood. The tenorist’s neat band integration (rather than static, upfront soloing), plus a precise melodic pairing with vocalist Mayo, defines this abundant exploration of his clearly well-crafted music; and what sets it particularly ‘high’ is the almost outrageous technique, synchronicity and rapidity of these players’ performances, delivering frissons of excitement reminiscent of 1970s fusion bands.

This is, however, emphatically a recording for the here and now, described as a statement on society’s ‘increasing complexity, oversaturation and social imbalance’ in an ‘increasingly impersonal time’. The album’s ‘cover heart’ interprets designer Oli Bentley’s son’s simple line drawing, which the five-year-old slipped under the door for him during a digital meeting with Wendel – and as Bentley says, The simplicity and innocence of the symbol, its link to the title we had just been discussing, and the human connection it made through a closed door – I knew there wasn’t anything I could possibly bring to this project that was more personal or contained more humanity than this”.

Eight original numbers draw the attention in, more and more deeply, the pensive title track’s swirling motion introducing Wendel’s and Mayo’s close partnership. Burning Bright (inspired by William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’) unlfurls the band’s wondrously agile interaction as shared vocal-and-sax phrases and keyboard improvisations pull in and out of focus across its constantly skittering rhythm (witness Nate’s Wood’s fabulous composure in the videos, linked below). Wendel’s compositional diversity is impressive, the mechanically angular piano and Rhodes intro of Kindly contrasting well with its legato (even soporific) repeated figure from sax and voice; and lofty hymn, Less, takes Mayo’s gentler, wordless tones up into the firmament, carried on waves of piano and effects.

Up there in the album’s highlights, with hints of Pat Metheny and Weather Report, is positively bustling Drawn Away, complete with bluesy, Latinesque piano break. But more than anything, it’s the busy, combined weave of each individual contribution which elevates it – a real repeat-player, and a true feel-good. A sense of urgency, perhaps reflecting the album’s warning of ‘impersonality’, is heard in disquieted Fearsome, with Wendel’s sprawling tenor the orator. Similarly, the dazed soundtrack vibe of Darling – dedicated to a dear friend – feels ominous, as if to suggest the theme of sleepwalking into dispassion, before Traveler’s effected piano and percussion lead away to vocally harmonized meditation.

In High Heart, Ben Wendel’s music appears to progressively ‘commentate’ on the need for greater societal empathy. Above all, though, it’s the zeal of this band which shines through in gloriously exhilarating fashion.

Released on 30 October 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Edition Records and Bandcamp.

Videos: Burning Bright and Drawn Away.

 

Ben Wendel tenor saxophone, EFX, piano, wurlitzer, bassoon
Shai Maestro piano, Fender Rhodes
Gerald Clayton piano, Fender Rhodes
Michael Mayo voice, EFX
Joe Sanders double bass
Nate Wood drums

benwendel.com

Edition Records – EDN1162 (2020)