‘Last Things Last’ – Greg Cordez

Greg Cordez_Last

MUSIC sometimes has the curious approach of making one wait, in a ‘just stay with me, let’s see where this takes us’ kinda way; but after doing exactly that with bassist/composer Greg Cordez’s latest release, Last Things Last, its restrained beauty has gradually unfurled.   

UK-born and New Zealand-raised Cordez’s 2015 album, Paper Crane, is a return-to delight – and with a different instrumental angle and line-up, this follow-up presents a cool, Stateside aura which is perhaps enhanced by its Brooklyn recording location as well as the influence of production associate (and respected US bassist) Ben Allison. The leader describes his original compositions as exploring “themes of coincidence, optimism, and the slow dissolution of a personal relationship” – but, as suggested by its desolate gas-station cover, there’s also the tangibility of contemplative night-time journeying; a fitting soundtrack to endlessly snaking freeway lights ahead.

Alongside guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Allison Miller, Cordez pairs cornettist Kirk Knuffke and saxophonist Michael Blake upfront, their unison and contrapuntal horn melodies featuring strongly in eight numbers which don’t overstay their welcome; in fact, they succinctly say what they need to say, yet happily prompt repeat play.

The streetlight shuffle of Chekhov’s Gun is maintained through mobile electric bass groove, Rhodes-like guitar chords and fleeting electronics, with Knuffke and Blake intertwined in attractive, close riffs; and Cherry v Des Moines‘ American-rock bass pulse might easily invite a shouty vocal. But elsewhere, a hazy stillness pervades Cordez’s writing. Figlock‘s beautiful drowsiness is created by echoic horns and thrummed strings before crescendoing to pitch-bent electric guitar heaven; Last Things Last‘s resigned serenity is imbued with frail doubt, its brighter dawn inviting sublime individual guitar, sax and cornet improv; and Low Winter Sun‘s positivity is felt through gently propulsive rhythms and lasting melodies.

Charmingly soporific All That Is, with malleable rubato, allows the softness of Knuffke’s cornet and Blake’s sax to roam as they please, whilst Clementine‘s similar confidence in creating lush, open ground for solo and ensemble creativity provides a balm-like feel-good; and Junebug‘s cheery guitar-and-cornet ‘all is well’ tunefulness might even hint at Herb Alpert.

Cruise into the afterglow with Last Things Last… and see where it takes you.

Released on 18 August 2017 and available as a CD through Greg’s website (the break-up ‘F37 Glaser Street’ font takes an impressive tumble on the inlay tray!) or digitally at Bandcamp.

Kirk Knuffke cornet
Michael Blake saxophones
Steve Cardenas guitar
Greg Cordez bass
Allison Miller drums

gregcordez.comSelf-released (2017)

Advertisements

‘Circle of Chimes’ – Marius Neset

MariusNeset_Circle

SAXOPHONIST and composer Marius Neset’s kaleidoscopic music increasingly fills mind and soul with that ‘kid in a sweet shop’ thrill, the senses bombarded with a dizzying array of timbres and rhythms to assimilate.

Following 2016’s acclaimed, orchestrally-focused Snowmelt, Neset returns to an ensemble more closely aligned with its predecessor Pinball for new album Circle of Chimes. The familiar names of pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart, double bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Anton Eger are again joined by flautist Ingrid Neset and cellist Andreas Brantelid, whilst the inclusion of guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke adds a new compositional and improvisational dimension, imbuing Neset’s Scandinavian folk characteristics with attractive African hues.

A New Year’s Day commission premiered at Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, in 2016, Neset describes this 78-minute suite as the darkest, most melancholic music he has created – yet amongst those emotions, his innate, breathless exuberance is never far away. The tubular bell chimes of Satellite (whose fluctuating rhythmic peals the saxophonist experimented with at length, at the piano) ‘ring in the new’, its brooding cello emotion encircled by a passed-around melodic riff redolent of Tallis’ Canon. It’s the first sign of an octet working as one to express a huge, romantically cinematic landscape, segueing into Star which bounces and rebounds to a typically ecstatic folk tune, with Eger’s engine-room clamour driving its disco groove. Neset does well to engineer and contain the ferocity, bringing his electronically-charged tenor down to lyrical pools of cello, piano and soft African enunciations.

There’s a sense of progression, as if the year unfolds with fresh experiences – so funky A New Expression struts assuredly to Neset’s boppy improv (it can only be Neset) plus Loueke’s scratchy, synthesised fretwork and accompanying scat; and soprano sax in classically-inspired Prague’s Ballet dances delicately across pizzicato cello and featherweight marimba. Life Goes On tumbles – nay, somersaults – to Marius Neset’s melodica signature-tune positivity, a sign of Spring in the air as its jazz-orchestra cheerfulness (enhanced by Ingrid Neset’s lithe flute) is gatecrashed by percussion-fuelled vibraphone and pleasantly abrasive guitar chords. Perhaps its the West African influence which sparks such variety, Sirens of Cologne whirling to intoxicating samba grooves, deep vocal resonances, flutey songbirds – a full-on celebration.

Going right back to his 2011 release Golden Xplosion, as well as duo album Neck of the Woods with tubist Daniel Herskedal, Neset has always had a feel for an otherworldliness – and tenor feature Silent Room imagines lofty arches with its suspended sax lines and sensitive bass, piano and vibes support as it spirals into the heavens. At close on twelve minutes, 1994 almost needs separating from the pack to appreciate its fullness as it mesmerises with episodic vibrancy; and the saxophonist’s distinctive solo ‘hiccups’ announce ebullient Eclipse which brings the album’s opening chants and time-evocative carillons full circle.

Neset conceives such incredibly elaborate stories that they can sometimes be overwhelming to take in at one hearing – but Circle of Chimes becomes a joy as that intricate weave is gradually understood.

Released on 29 September and available from ACT Music, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, melodica
Lionel Loueke guitar, vocals
Andreas Brantelid cello
Ingrid Neset flute, piccolo, alto flute
Ivo Neame piano
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9038-2 (2017)

‘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)

‘Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio’ – Gabriel Latchin Trio

Intr Gabriel Latchin

THE SARTORIAL cover-art purity of Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio seems in tune with the pianist’s classic approach to this enduring format – and from the outset, the formative, stylistic influences of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum are frequently evident across eleven numbers which balance four of Latchin’s compositions with seven, elegant interpretations of standards.

A debut solo release from the first-call London-based sideman, it suggests a strong partnership with double bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison; the piano trio environment, as always, shining a shadowless arc light on every technical and artistic nuance from each player. They do it so well, evoking that exciting, first-time experience of the three-faceted acoustic alchemy of, say, Peterson, Bill Evans or George Shearing, and this straight-ahead recording certainly brings heartwarmed cheer.

Amongst the increasingly colourful hybridisation of jazz, bebop remains effulgent in the right hands, and both Edgar Sampson’s Stompin’ at the Savoy and Cole Porter’s Can’t We Be Friends are interpreted with panache, the latter providing the space for Latchin’s precise, walking stride and carefree, high-line embellishments. The pianist’s ability, also, to compositionally complement some of those familiar time-honoured tunes is a great strength, his own brightly swinging, contrary-motion Carlora perfectly at home alongside a snappy reading of It Had To Be You.

Classy gems abound here, including Lush Life, whose piano ornaments and low, chromatic descents are not unlike those in Billy Strayhorn’s own recordings; the gorgeously slow-rolling blues of Lover Man which, perhaps more than any other in this selection, picks up on Oscar’s delicious characteristics; and sumptuous harmonies in If I Only Had a Brain (from ‘The Wizard of Oz’), dancing to the crisp soft-shuffle of Farmer’s and Morrison’s rhythm.

The changes in Frank Loesser’s ‘Slow Boat to China’ are a popular basis for new composition and, intentionally, those same climbing phrases in Latchin’s Off the Latch (‘grand title) are recognisable – an ebullient, sparkling showcase indeed. Trane Hopping – one of the pianist’s early blues, inspired by John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ – swings with great parity through the trio (a pleasure to hear the exuberance of Tom Farmer here, away from his more contemporary project adventures); and Blues for Billy, Latchin’s tribute to the great drummer Billy Higgins, feels like a memory of a favourite classic-in-the-tradition with its perky acciaccatura and major/minor piano personality.

This CD has been spinning for some time… and never loses its sheen, nor its smile.

Released on 15 September 2017, Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio is available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Gabriel Latchin piano
Tom Farmer bass
Josh Morrison drums

gabriellatchin.com

Alys Jazz – AJ 1501 (2017)

‘Rabble Rouser’ – The Brass Funkeys

THERE’s a thriving strain of New Orleans-style acoustic bands marching through the UK festival scene – and right up there are effervescent eight-piece The Brass Funkeys.

Following-up their eponymous debut album of 2014, new release Rabble Rouser continues the typically boisterous horn-and-percussion fervour as they rattle through thirteen, often quirkily-titled numbers – mostly band originals, plus a smattering of arrangements. Importantly, the Funkeys’ relentless, fun-filled energy doesn’t gloss-over technical precision, ensuring it’s a delight from beginning to end. Sousaphone, drums and percussion provide the crisp rhythm section, solidly framing a slick ensemble of two trumpets, two trombones and sax; and whilst it’s unashamedly about that live, festive spirit, here’s an octet which also colours its hot jazz euphoria with refreshing shades of ska, disco, funk, tijuana, big band, movie soundtrack…

The graffiti/cartoon cover art might imply it’s not ‘your thing’. But turn up the volume, launch into these fifty-four minutes anywhere you choose, and the feel-good is instant; from the infectious riff-and-chant of Dirty Harry to a canonic calypso conviviality in Bizness; from the rapid, madcap African knees-up of Zambezi to ‘Strictly’-showband-shimmying Clave Maria; and Honeydripper‘s soulful Dexys-like stomp, electronic wah-wahs and anarchic wails are delectable.

Sounding breathless? Well, yes! But these guys make this music increasingly irresistible, not least because of the stylistic contrasts. Mexican trumpets anchor the grungy groove of Pacha Mama, whilst Underdub‘s cool, crescendoed phrasing and sparkly percussion bolster Dave Robinson’s lush sax improv. Here, the sousaphone’s endearing harmonic brays offer an atmosphere that no string bass could match, and in Tom Green’s theme-tune-like Dynamo Blues, it bubbles under the trombonist’s own feature. Cheeky, slothful Goblins evokes the ska of Madness or Bad Manners, and who could resist a groove entitled David Battenberg’s Life of Cakes or the overexcited pulse of P.I.T.A. (‘love that acronym)?

Although The Brass Funkeys are well suited to the live environment (warmly received at Glastonbury, North Sea Jazz, London Jazz Festival, etc.), this is certainly a vibrant studio recording in which to revel and dig more deeply.

Released on 18 September 2017, Rabble Rouser is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Rob Smith trumpet
Matt Letts trumpet
Dave Robinson saxophone
Vij Prakash trombone
Tom Green trombone
Rob Slater sousaphone (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13)
John Caddick sousaphone (tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13)
Scott Jowett drums
Chris Brice percussion
with special guests
Jack Banjo Courtney trumpet (track 1)
Chris Saunders trombone (tracks 4, 8)

brassfunkeys.com

Boom Baboon Records – BB002 (2017)

‘Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet’ – Nat Steele

Nat Steele_MJQ

THE SEMINAL SOUND of the Modern Jazz Quartet is especially evocative of the 1960s – those almost levitational atmospheres rising from Milt Jackson’s vibraphone, coupled with John Lewis’s sensitive, Bachian piano impressions, supported by what would become the classic line-up with double bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay.

Although the MJQ’s output is redolent of its time, it’s a cause for rejoicing that, generations later, jazz artists hold dear the quartet’s legacy in revisiting their substantial catalogue of recordings. Continuing the work of the late Michael Garrick’s MJQ Celebration project (more recently led by Matt Ridley) is London-based vibraphonist/drummer Nat Steele; and his new Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet brings together a personnel steeped in the acoustic bebop tradition – pianist Gabriel Latchin and bassist Dario Di Lecce, along with charismatic drummer Steve Brown (a link from the previous 2014 release).

Described by respected drummer Clark Tracey as “one of the best vibes players this country has ever produced”, Steele adopts Milt Jackson’s two-malleted approach, authentically summoning his reverberant, chiming tones with fervour. But as a ‘portrait’, this ensemble seeks to put its own signature, here, on nine selections from earlier MJQ material; and recorded live in the studio, just a matter of hours after a Ronnie Scott’s ‘Late Late Show’, the zing was evidently still coursing through their collective veins.

Where these interpretations score, firstly, is the reality of the 21st Century recording quality; but there’s also a considered approach to the performances. So (purists look away now), where the tempo of the MJQ’s archive take on Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n’ You can sound a tad impatient, this quartet’s balanced swing feels easier on the ear. Their buoyancy, under Steele’s direction, is also captured well in classic, bluesy The Golden Striker, with its hallmark jangling bells, and again in a slick rendition of Jackson’s signature piece, Bags’ Groove. In contrast, the measured, easy walk of Autumn in New York focuses on their ability to use space to great effect, as does a luscious reading of Cole Porter’s All of You.

I’ll Remember April and Lewis’s ‘well-tempered’ Bach-infused Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise (both from mid-’50s release ‘Concorde’) find a spring in their step – Steve Brown’s dependable precision, and that infectious smile, are all over them. Django honours the MJQ’s gift to us with poise, maintaining both its animation (thanks to Di Lecce’s lucid bass) and suspended vibes delicacy; and whilst the complete La Ronde Suite may seem more percussively ‘polite’ than the original, once again it’s the fine, chamber detail that delights.

Released on 22 September 2017, Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet might, with its blithe spirit, either ‘take you back’ or open a very clear portal to this still-relevant musical landscape. Available from Nat Steele’s websiteProper MusicAmazon and record stores.

 

Nat Steele vibraphone
Gabriel Latchin piano
Dario Di Lecce double bass
Steve Brown drums

natsteele.com

Trio Records – TR598 (2017)

‘Live at the Vortex’ – Kristian Borring Quartet

KristianBorring_Live at the Vortex

DANISH GUITARIST Kristian Borring’s most recent solo albums (Urban Novel and Silent Storm) revealed artistry and technique of particularly deft, cool clarity – and from the bright, opening phrases of the first of six well-chosen numbers, these live quartet recordings garnered from a session at London’s Vortex Jazz Club hold the attention in an especially direct way.

Live music is so precious; and a glimpse (or memory) of this quartet’s late-November evening sparkle is recorded and engineered here with precision by Alex Bonney, the inclusion of appreciative, close audience applause placing it in context. Along with pianist Rick Simpson, double bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Jon Scott, Borring’s electric guitar personality consistently shines – from a Jim Hall lushness in busy Imperfect Circumstances to the free-spirited dreaminess of A Lullaby which shimmers to Simpson’s tremulant piano washes and Scott’s brush-and-cymbal coloration (a drummer who consistently shades even the subtlest original music with focused, balmlike expression). Interesting, too, to hear two different interpretations from the Silent Storm release – Fable and April Fools, both with particularly effusive piano spotlights and the strong bass presence of Dave Whitford.

Borring’s London Magic (complete with recurring chordal motifs echoing the since-silenced hour chimes of Big Ben) is a positive and buoyant treasure, with crystalline solo-line improv supported so skilfully by his band; and turn up the volume for the romantically ornamented, unaccompanied guitar opening of Hoagy Carmichael’s evergreen Skylark which, it turns out, is just the prelude to almost nine minutes of rapturous, restrained, six-string beauty.

A pleasure to listen in on Kristian Borring and colleagues, on-stage, right there in their element.

Released on 15 September, Live at the Vortex is available, digitally, from Amazon.

 

Kristian Borring guitar
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Whitford double bass
Jon Scott drums

kristianborring.com

Self-released (2017)