REVIEW: ‘Worry Not’ – Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat

THE LAST fifteen, pandemic-dominated months have undoubtedly pulled focus on our mercurial emotions. So the premise of debut release Worry Not, from Leeds-based tenorist/composer Emma Johnson and her quintet, resonates all the more loudly.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 2 July 2021, Worry Not is available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Emma Johnson tenor saxophone
Fergus Vickers electric guitar
Richard Jones piano
Angus Milne double bass
Steve Hanley drums

johnsonmusic.co.uk

Self-released (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Sankofa’ – Amaro Freitas

THERE’S ALWAYS a frisson of excitement when a left-field approach to ‘piano trio’ comes into view; and an online search for ‘Amaro Freitas’ soon returns live video which goes towards confirming the audio essence of new album Sankofa – that of a man who is utterly and perhaps even spiritually absorbed in his instrument and his music-making.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 25 June 2021 and available as CD, vinyl and digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Amaro Freitas piano
Hugo Medeiros drums, percussion
Jean Elton double bass

amarofreitas.com

Far Out Recordings (2021)

REVIEW: ‘A New York Flight’ – Andreas Toftemark Quartet

HAIRS RAISED on the nape of the neck, here. Why? Well, the sound of Danish saxophonist Andreas Toftemark and his quartet, on new release A New York Flight, is summoning memories of those revelatory early years of musical discovery in bars and halls – the formative experiences of live jazz that are indelibly printed on heart and mind.

Toftemark moved to New York some four or five years ago, studying with Joel Frahm and Ben Wendel, while also learning fast by playing in the heat of its vibrant, yet famously tough jazz scene alongside names such as Peter Bernstein and Ethan Iverson. 2020, a year like no other, saw him return to Denmark, soon establishing a band with his colleagues Calle Brickman (piano), Felix Mosehol (bass) and Andreas Svendsen (drums). For this studio recording, selecting two originals alongside four reinterpretations, Toftemark has crafted a set which captivated on its first hearing, his confident, rounded tenor tone sometimes reminiscent of Scott Hamilton. Significantly, he absolutely achieves that important ‘one foot in the past’ aim of honouring jazz heritage in a way that is just as relevant for our time; and the balmy, romantic thread of these roomy performances (averaging seven minutes apiece) is balanced by both a breeziness and episodes of invigorating sparkle.

The initial, wistful ‘look back’ of the leader’s title-track opener – described in the sleeve notes as ‘a bridge from the New York that was to the near future of the Danish jazz scene’ – soon snaps into a crackling groove which presents the individual merits of each player. Able to create space for detail, they also collectively punch out substantial waves of excitement, Calle Brickman’s rolling piano phrases leading to Toftemark’s gradual pathway towards a potentially limitless torrent of tenor improvisation. Cryptically explained as ‘a row of numbers that seem to follow Andreas in love and friendships’, his gladsome, streetwalking 2223 ramps up into blistering full-on swing – certainly a feel-good gem amongst gems.

Count Basie classic, Blue and Sentimental, is transported oh so elegantly from its 1930s beginnings into an ease-back blues brimming with delectable, acciaccatura piano phrasing, while Toftemark’s measured explorations pay homage to that golden era of jazz; and the assured rhythms of Mosehol and Svendsen are beautifully controlled. From a decade earlier, Donaldson/Kahn’s Love Me or Leave Me (recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone et al) feels at home in instrumental guise as the quartet navigate its push-pull metre before cruising to the leader’s extemporisations – and even when he bows out midway, the remaining piano-trio display, incorporating fine piano and drum soloing, is similarly engaging.

The Big Apple is evidently dear to Toftemark, his dusky, heart-on-sleeve interpretation of enduring Autumn in New York seemingly glinting in the afterglow. Focusing on each cadence, his cool delivery of this Vernon Duke evergreen (originally written with a longing for the city) is consistently a joy, supported by lucent touches from his attentive personnel – and it’s easy, too, to imagine a rapt audience in the shadows of the bandstand. To close, romantic I’m a Fool to Want You (Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, Frank Sinatra) is treated to a lush arrangement which finds light amongst the original’s lovelorn torment, gently swinging to bewitching tenor and piano spotlights.

Aside from the overriding pleasure of these 43 minutes, the intriguing takeaway is what might yet be in the pipeline from the relatively young Andreas Toftemark and, indeed, his friends on this recording. As fine, contemporary interpreters of the tradition, and with that glimpse of the saxophonist’s compositional prowess, the stage seems well and truly set.

Released on 11 June 2021, A New York Flight is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.

 

Andreas Toftemark tenor saxophone
Calle Brickman piano
Felix Mosehol bass
Andreas Svendsen drums

andreastoftemark.com

April Records – APR086CD / APR086LP (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Perihelion’ – Guido Spannocchi

COOL AS YOU LIKE, Viennese alto saxophonist Guido Spannocchi’s Perihelion (a title referencing the position in the orbit of a planet where it’s nearest to the sun) has ‘summer’ written all over it!

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 14 May 2021, Perihelion is available from Audioguido Records.

 

Jay Phelps trumpet
Guido Spannocchi alto saxophone
Sylvie Leys tenor saxophone
Robert Mitchell Wurlitzer, piano
Michelangelo Scandroolio double bass
Tristan Banks drums

Composed, arranged and produced by Guido Spannocchi

audioguido.com

Audioguido Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Close to Home’ – Ari Erev

EVER THE MELODICIST and bestower of hope and light, Israeli pianist Ari Erev releases Close to Home, the follow-up to 2016 album Flow.

Continuing the configuration of piano trio augmented by soprano saxophone and percussion (plus, on this occasion, flute), Erev again presents a considerable breadth of original composition and reinterpretation – over 70 minutes, in fact. Within this music is a beauty which clearly amplifies its overarching title, referencing his deep emotions for family, friends and familiar places – a sentiment which has been pulled into sharp relief for so many, over the past year or so.

The pianist’s deliberate yet rubato expression can sometimes be reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim – there’s a warmth and a focus there that reflects both his experience and this album’s theme. In addition, the subtly detuned tone of his instrument creates a ‘chamber’ aura of intimate recital or jazz bar, even with occasional traces of traditional music hall. However you might define this ensemble’s collective sound, it’s a congenial blend.

Curiously, from a purely personal perspective, the opening two numbers – Israeli Story and Playground – don’t necessarily foretell the elegance and interest of the hour which then follows them. But then, immediately in Childhood Scenes, is found the most dreamy, slightly nostalgic trio waltz – an example of how Erev’s originally-stated themes frequently have a recollective dimension, suggesting they might also host a vocal lyric first heard many moons ago. Chipper Falling in Place crackles with Yuval Cohen’s soprano-led exuberance as bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Gasper Bertoncelj drive it forward with panache, while Old Friends’ chromatic figure possesses a tentative air. Another ruminative original, Saturday Coffee, features lithe sax improvisations, as well as posing a thought of how the richer timbres of tenor or baritone might also suit the pianist’s output. In Afar (for Tal), though, Cohen’s high register is gracefully interlaced with the flute of Hadar Noiberg, fashioning a particularly homely, trad-jazz-tinged dedication to Erev’s daughter.

In terms of other composers’ works, the emotive, Brazilian shades of Debora Gurgel’s Para Sempre (Forever) find greater mobility with Erev, accented by the percussion of Gilad Dobrecky; and the solid beat of Efraim Shamir’s Shi’ur Moledet (Homeland Class) – from successful Israeli pop band Kavaret – is significantly reworked as a melodramatic, almost silent-movie-styled episode whose percussion impetuously tugs the piano trio towards an excitable Latin groove. Keith Jarrett’s So Tender (known to many in his breezy recording with Gary Peacock and Jack De Johnette) is respectfully visited in a sparkling, bossa miniature; Olha Maria (Antonio Carlos Jobim) flows tenebrously; and Paul Simon’s evergreen Still Crazy After All These Years enjoys a pleasant, countrified outing. To close, Erev’s assuredly grooving Po (Here) displays a theme-tune quality, its bright, memorable melody expanded on by saxophone and piano.

At the heart of this recording and, indeed, Erev’s own pianistic delivery is a sense of both conviviality and gratitude; and his own compositional flair perhaps has the greatest appeal in this collection. Falling in Place is certainly an irresistible, tightly executed, good-time gem!

Released on 8 June 2021, Close to Home is available at Bandcamp.

 

Ari Erev piano
Assaf Hakimi double bass, bass guitar
Gasper Bertoncelj drums
with
Yuval Cohen soprano saxophone
Hadar Noiberg flute
Gilad Dobrecky percussion

arierev.com

(2021)

REVIEW: ‘Wes Reimagined’ – Nigel Price Organ Trio

ONE OF THE GREAT, industrious and entertaining characters of British jazz – a champion of UK festivals, drawing on years of performing experience and winning hefty appreciation on the live circuit – electric guitarist Nigel Price’s musical passion, versatility and technical expertise are a true delight.

His excellent contrafact organ trio double albums of 2011 and 2016, Heads & Tales, showcase his invention in reworking jazz standards (Volume 2 is especially recommended). Now, he specifically turns his attention to the music of influential American guitarist Wes Montgomery (1923–1968), confirming himself a fan, particularly as Montgomery’s compositions are “great vehicles for improvisation, especially used in the organ trio format”.

Alongside Price’s core line-up of B3 Hammond organist Ross Stanley and drummer Joel Barford, he also welcomes saxophonists Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor) and Tony Kofi (alto) who provide joyous horn textures and fervid soloing that reflect their particular characters, their mid-registers nicely attuned. Further complementing the sound is returning percussionist Snowboy; and the Phonograph Effect Strings, with fine arrangements by trombonist Callum Au, occasionally underpin with an elegant, soft sheen.

In the spirit of those earlier releases, Price’s homage – Wes Reimagined – respectfully looks afresh at eight of the Indianapolis-born guitarist’s works, plus two interpretations, respectively, of Monk Montgomery (Wes’s bassist brother) and Frederick Loewe (famously, Lerner and Loewe). And what a joyous celebration! Over a full hour, these tunes are respectfully reworked (“just a kind of ‘what if?’… if Wes had been in alternative frame of mind that day”); and, of course, they’re centred around the organ trio structure. Cariba!’s original bossa pace, for example, translates into Barford’s irresistibly cool slouch, Stanley’s offbeat chords supporting an exchange of lithe guitar and sax solos across preening strings, while familiar, ease-back Leila becomes an amiable fast swing of rippling improvisation.

Perky Jingles sambas with a great energy, thanks to Snowboy’s congas (including whistle-announced solo spot), its sense of fun also tangible in a vibrant reading of Monk’s Shop (Monk Montgomery). Far Wes’s usually straight promenade now elegantly waltzes to Price’s glistening extemporisations and, similarly, scampering So Do It! is refashioned as a lush, relaxed bolero, shimmering with the Phonograph Effect Strings’ airy grace. The cheery bliss of these reimaginings is equalled, throughout, by the band’s textural possibilities, along with some audacious, rhythmic twists. Just catch the new, strutting funk of Movin’ Along, Xenopoulos’s flowing tenor in the snappy boogaloo of Twisted Blues or the punchier groove of Road Song to get a feel for the validity of the project. In the latter, Price (not for the only time) nods to the characteristic, sunny octaves of Montgomery’s playing while Stanley’s soloing is, as ever, supported by his seemingly effortless bass pedalling – this is pure, contemporary organ trio, and it shuffles magnificently,

Recorded by Wes Montgomery, I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face (Frederick Loewe) provides the most gorgeous, wistful endpiece to this sequence as Nigel Price’s open, balladic guitar style becomes gradually infused with the sensitive, yet crunchy swell and ebb of Ross Stanley’s Hammond (with a beautiful solo tone), and the Phonograph’s tremulant strings add more than a dash of movie-like nostalgia.

Contextually, here is a recording which is as good as anything you’ll hear from the golden late-1950s and 1960s era of organ trios, but bolstered by the frontline pizzazz of double saxes and more. Enrich your library with the full, retro-styled CD package – rather than the superficial gratification of streaming or downloading (then mislaying) a random track – as this album might well be your summer-long vibe!

Released on 4 June 2021, Wes Reimagined is available from nigethejazzer.com, Amazon, etc.

 

Nigel Price guitar
Ross Stanley B3 Hammond organ
Joel Barford drums
with
Vasilis Xenopoulos tenor saxophone
Tony Kofi alto saxophone
Snowboy congas, bongos, surdo, shekere, whistle
Callum Au trombone, string arrangements
and
Phonograph Effect Strings:
Kay Stephen
violin 1
Anna Brigham violin 2
Elitsa Bogdanova viola
Chris Terepin cello

nigethejazzer.com

Ubuntu Music – UBU0080 (2021)