REVIEW: ‘Wax///Wane’ – Lucien Johnson

MYSTICAL, a touch retro, and increasingly spellbinding, Wax///Wane is the work of New Zealand saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson. It’s described as an album inspired by the lunar landscape of the southern skies – echoed by Julien Dyne’s virtually animated Neil Fujita-style cover art – and feels influenced by the output of both John and Alice Coltrane.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 1 April 2021 as a digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Lucien Johnson tenor saxophone, compositions
John Bell vibraphone
Michelle Velvin harp
Tom Callwood double bass
Cory Champion drums
Riki Piripi percussion

Cover art by Julien Dyne

lucienjohnson.com/

Deluge Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘One From Brooklyn’ – Matt Clark Three

FROM BRIGHTON to Brooklyn in thirty minutes, guitarist/bassist Matt Clark has fashioned, in this lockdown-enforced, home-studio creation, a sidewalking soundtrack influenced by his recollections of New York and Chicago, where he experienced first-hand their avant-garde jazz scenes.

A retro-styled album cover and name – the Matt Clark Three – finds him assembling a mid-grooving sequence of numbers which draws on his affinity with lo-fi samples/loops, jazz and blues, experimental and electronic music. Now based on England’s south-east coast, some 35 years in (and out of) the business included his formation of Leicester-based psychedelic rockers Cardboard, as well as undertaking various solo projects; and this recording’s guests, Mark Wilson (double bass) and Darren Beckett (drums), have worked with Underhood and Madeleine Peyroux respectively.

Across seven tracks, the guitarist creates an ambulatory soundscape evoking big-city panoramas, twilit vistas and populational bustle; and the mellow, pitch-bent tones he elicits from a rebuilt Fender Jaguar also add a dash of raw, Sixties-pop colour. However you view sampled sounds, Clark’s creative adeptness in this field is obvious, and clearly integral to his intentions. Opening Gambit’s nonchalant, bass-figured strut seemingly takes in a nearby jazz club’s smoky, muted trumpet improvisation before this almost cinematographic, urban exploration progresses with bluesy, cool-as-you-like partners Two Hours This Side and Two Hours That Side (the latter, journeying down electric rails to alight at the next subway station).

Other facets of these instrumental perspectives suggest alternative rock, punk and minimalism, Exit Kennedy’s crackling progression (with a violin-like motif reminiscent of Penguin Cafe) even invoking the steam-filled thoroughfares of Philip Glass’s ‘Low Symphony’, three-dimensionalised with public-address echoes and travelling chatter. In Hey Queens, a street-corner saxophonist connects with the prominent, purposeful gait of bass and guitar, the location enhanced by siren wails and passing dialogue – effectively, on these foursquare Manhattan journeys, Clark is recalling the atmospheres he absorbed. Swinging Melancholia is peppered with impressionistic electronic communications; and in Last Lost, his blithe guitar lines are appealingly underpinned by a scratchy, worn piano ground harking back to archive jazz recordings, though carried on a strong, slouchy drum rhythm.

Like so many of us over the past year, Matt Clark’s half-hour sojourn takes solace from revisiting, in his imagination, a significant place – and he invites us along for the ride. Don’t forget your root beer and Ray-Bans.

Released on 2 April 2021, One From Brooklyn is available as a digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Matt Clark guitars, bass guitar, samples
Mark Wilson double bass
Darren Beckett drums

mattclarkmusic.co.uk

Matt Clark Music – MCM0020 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Where Will The River Flow’ – Matt Carmichael

THE OPENNESS and beauty of the west Central Lowlands of Scotland (Yon wandering rill that marks the hill, And glances o’er the brae*) evoked in the cover art to tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael’s Where Will The River Flow hints at the contemporary expressions of jazz and Scots folk heritage found in this vitalising debut album.

From Dunbartonshire, and soon to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 21-year-old Carmichael began playing at around the age of 11. A Peter Whittingham Development Award in 2019 recognised the potential that had earlier been seen by saxophonist Tommy Smith (“better than I was at that age”) who invited him to join his youth jazz orchestra. More recently, he also impressed as a finalist in 2020’s BBC Young Jazz Musician awards, playing his own compositions which included numbers from this album.

Like so many Scottish composers and players before him, the beauty of Carmichael’s homeland strongly informs these nine tracks which are melodically fresh, yet can also erupt with vivacity and technical flair. Their folksy footing means that, while these originals don’t head into the rugged terrain of more exploratory, avant garde jazz, they can most certainly jig with an infectious joie de vivre – and that’s due in equal part to the ebullience of his quartet colleagues, pianist Fergus McCreadie, double bassist Ali Watson and drummer Tom Potter.

The Spey is perhaps the most boisterous example of that – a breathlessly rapid reel reflecting ‘the fastest river in Scotland’, which nevertheless provides space for McCreadie’s improvisatory vigour (becoming his signature, as heard in recent release Cairn). It also demonstrates Carmichael’s confidence in writing a ruthlessly difficult main figure to share with the pianist (eventually) on the bandstand! Another river depiction, Firth – specifically, the Moray Firth – teems and tumbles over itself to Tom Potter’s thrashing percussion as it heads over to the North Sea. The title track, too, is an eleven-minute hike that climaxes in gushing, torrential grandeur – an indicator of the saxophonist’s unbounded optimism, amidst current artistic ‘turbulence’, in the early stages of what promises to be a fulfilling career.

Just as warming are Carmichael’s more mellow excursions into the great outdoors of his childhood. Cononbridge (near Inverness) ambles to the homey, rhythmic tread of piano, bass and drums; and its softly whirling tenor melody possesses ‘sig tune’ appeal, while also joyfully scaling improvisational heights. Looking north-east from the summit, Carmichael recalls his time studying in Oslo, and his watery inspiration taken from there – Sognnsvann – is a beautifully lilting lakeside theme imaginable as a Trio Mediaeval interpretation. Contrasting pibroch-styled Interlude, under greying skies, swoons to plaintive tenor over double bass drone, its icy grip relinquished to Hopeful Morning which skips with memorable, almost Spyro Gyra-like radio appeal.

Dedication Dear Grandma seems to draw from its composer a sense of gratitude and ‘place’ in a tranquil, meandering ballad; and the aurora of closing improvisation Valley signals the sun to gradually arc into full brilliance as the quartet thunders in rock-solid celebration.

Matt Carmichael’s musicality already displays striking maturity and awareness, with a compositional vocabulary that suggests much for future projects. Right now, Where Will The River Flow is likely to put a spring in your step!

Released on 12 March 2021 and available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.

 

Matt Carmichael tenor saxophone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Ali Watson double bass
Tom Potter drums

Album art by Joanne Carmichael

*quoted from An Ode to Spring – Robert (Rabbie) Burns

mattcarmichaelmusic.com

Porthole Music – PM01 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Winter Dream’ – Patrick Naylor

THERE’S SOMETHING reassuringly inviting about the music of guitarist Patrick Naylor – a seasoned player and composer in the fields of TV, film, radio and advertising, also known for his session work and as an educator.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 5 March 2021 and available in CD and digital formats at Bandcamp.

See also: Days of Blue.

 

Patrick Naylor guitar
Ian East
saxophone
David Beebee
piano
Jakub Cywinski double bass
Milo Fell drums
with
Julian Costello soprano saxophone (on Satori and Tory Drug Off)

Cover art by Claire Astruc (Kastruc)

patricknaylor.com

BeeBoss Records – BBCD2030 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Phylum’ – Nazareno Caputo

DISCOVERY in music can take many forms for creator, performer or audience; and the concept takes on a more specific definition in ‘research’ recording Phylum from Italian vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Nazareno Caputo.

Caputo, who studied classical percussion at the conservatories of Gesualdo da Venosa, Potenza, and Luigi Cherubini, Florence, contributed much to double bassist Ferdinando Romano’s outstanding 2020 debut release Totem (a lush, contemporary jazz sextet/septet album featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi). But this more challenging trio recording arguably stems from deeper, more studious origins. Combining indubitable skill as a musician with his architecture-graduate passion for structure and non-structure – viewed through evolution, elaboration and dissolution – the project documents the vibraphonist’s close dialogue of exploration with Romano and drummer Mattia Galeotti.

“The word ‘Phylum’”, he explains, ”is used in zoology and botany to indicate a precise taxonomic group. Organisms belonging to a certain phylum share the same structural plan but not necessarily [does] their morphological development [lead] them in the same direction. The music of the trio starts from similar concepts. In architecture … structure is an element that is often hidden and only there to support. Sometimes, however, [it] is also exposed and therefore becomes part of the external morphology and acquires an aesthetic value”.

So this album is conceived as an imaginary path through the concept of structure in which the ‘journeys’ are presented in shapeless, chaotic form but may then evolve into, or retreat from, more cohesive rhythms and phrases. This can perhaps be more directly assimilated as a blend of free jazz and composed forms. Recorded by renowned engineer Stefano Amerio in the crystal-clear surroundings of the Artesuono studio, Udine, these 70 minutes are indeed an organic experience, requiring full attention.

Nazareno Caputo’s sleeve notes comprehensively describe the nine tracks from his own perspective, though each is very much open to individual interpretation. Preludio’s disparate voicings succinctly demonstrate ‘order out chaos’ as they stumble upon a single note and rhythm, whereas the tentative vibraphone elegance of 13-minute Adi possesses a melodic, recognisably jazz-inflected beauty that suggests a five-note bass figure to Romano; and that becomes the basis of a crescendoing adventure which erupts to Galeotti’s frothy display at the kit. This is the first of four expansive numbers, followed by the lively vibraphone-led delirium of Dulce where Caputo’s tireless improvisations lead to solid rhythms and eventual arco-bass placidity.

Like a number of composers, including Liszt, Caputo’s basis for Abside (a polygonal, vaulted recess) is the four-note motif B-A-C-H, which persistently encourages the trio towards accelerating, percussive frenzy; and episodic Adam R. (referencing Adam Rainer – historically, the only man whose life was affected by both dwarfism and gigantism) fizzes with myriad, unpredictable expressions of animation and repose. Searching solo vibraphone introduces three-part suite Phylum, whose dreamlike central waltz suggests a more classical inspiration. Its concluding movement is the album’s closest reflection of contemporary jazz and rock, sparking a thrashing fervency from Galeotti, while the album’s brief Postludio pares down all that has gone before into the shady abstractionism of sustained chimes, knocks, cymbals and restless bowing – does this even possess a structure … or must everything?

The album trailer (linked below) presents the trio in the sympathetic environment of Giovanni Michelucci’s Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, Florence – a fine example of the artistic bond between music and architecture which Nazareno Caputo values so highly. For the listener, late-night calm or the ‘cathedral’ of pastoral spaciousness, too, can amplify the trio’s offbeat creativity – the rest is down to our imagination.

Released on 22 February 2021, Phylum is available as CD or digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Nazareno Caputo vibraphone, percussion, composition
Ferdinando Romano double bass
Mattia Galeotti drums

Trailer (1:27), Movie (9:30)

nazarenocaputo.com

Aut Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Human’ – Shai Maestro

THIS ALBUM has already become very special – and it’s taken a while to evaluate why, on each listening, Human continues to play on the senses in such a powerful way.

Israeli pianist Shai Maestro, who recorded four albums with bassist Avishai Cohen’s trio, recently appeared on Ben Wendel’s High Heart (Edition Records, 2020), doubling with Gerald Clayton to create dynamic atmospheres on piano and Fender Rhodes as part of a sextet fronted by Wendel’s tenor sax and the unique voicings of Michael Mayo. This new quartet release, however, with double bassist Jorge Roeder, drummer Ofri Nehemya and trumpeter Philip Dizack finds Maestro returning to the his own chamber project, presenting original music alongside an adroit Duke Ellington reinterpretation.

So what marks it out with such distinction? The acoustic line-up isn’t especially unusual. But this feels so sensational – often quietly so – that it pulses the kind of emotional electricity experienced when hearing a specific contemporary jazz approach for the very first time; and that in itself is a remarkable achievement. Human follows The Dream Thief (ECM, 2018) with Roeder and Nehemya – a recording that presented a pianist whose classical training paved a way to his uniquely restless, oblique yet precise impressionism; and a trio that, through some extraordinary kind of alchemy, considerably elevated the traditional expectation of the format. But now, Dizack adds a significant dimension to Maestro’s work, his seemingly inexhaustible palette of trumpet textures, always beautifully toned, melding immaculately with the original personnel’s established creativity. Here is an ensemble that walks the enigmatic tightrope between precise arrangement and spontaneous improvisation, which feels crucial to the success of these eleven tracks.

Maestro’s intricate ornamentation, across an hour that demands absolute concentration, is exquisite. Following the abstract prelude of Time, waltzing Mystery and Illusions is the first indicator of his chromatic searching, punctuated by beautifully fidgety drum invention, before Dizack matches the piano’s melodic lines and then takes stratospheric flight. In GG, the rapid complexity of these shared piano and trumpet ‘improvisations’ is simply extraordinary, while homey title track Human culminates in a grandeur featuring Dizack’s distinctive, portamento-shaped phrasing. Bristling, explosive The Dream Thief continues the theme of the previous album’s title track. In Hank and Charlie is heard the most graceful, country/gospel-imbued tribute to Maestro‘s heroes, Hank Jones and Charlie Haden – 4:42 of sheer, balladic perfection, right down to the concluding harmonic effect as the piano’s sustain pedal is lifted.

In an imaginative reworking of In a Sentimental Mood (in particular, the Ellington/Coltrane meeting), staccato snippets of the melody are stated over continually bobbing rivulets of accompaniment, with the various strands seamlessly intertwined. Only at its conclusion comes a reverent nod to the original’s legato elegance. Understated Compassion allows Maestro’s vocal expressions to be heard, while They Went War represents futility through repeated snare pattern and mournful trumpet. A simple, falling, Beethovenesque figure is central to Prayer, featuring Nehemya’s fascinating percussive maelstrom; and the meditative Middle-Eastern swirl of Ima once again highlights the pianist’s semitonal finesse.

Shai Maestro describes this music as often arriving in quick bursts of creativity during the stillness of night, and then letting it “just be”, presenting it as a “human effort”. As a listener completing that circle (or square), I extol the beauty, craftsmanship and warmth found in both Human and The Dream Thief – wondrous, attentive recordings that will undoubtedly stay with me for a very long time.

Released on 29 January 2021, Human is available from ECM Records and Proper Music.

 

Shai Maestro piano
Jorge Roeder double bass
Ofri Nehemya drums
Philip Dizack trumpet

shaimaestro.com

ECM Records – ECM 2688 (2021)