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: ‘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)

REVIEW: ‘Let the world be a question’ – Monika Lidke

SINCE IF I WAS TO DESCRIBE YOU, and through 2017’s Gdyby każdy z nas… (If all of us…), singer-songwriter Monika Lidke has seemingly been absorbing musical influences and experimenting with vocal styles to bring divergent atmospheres to latest album Let the world be a question.

Polish-born and London-resident, Lidke’s earlier output has comfortably breezed between light jazz, European folk and easy-going pop. But this collection of a dozen songs, self-penned or co-written, also reveals different facets to her vocal expression. So alongside the recognisably carefree numbers, there are others which display a seasoned edge; and a host of accomplished musicians (listed below, including guitarists Matt Chandler, Kristian Borring and Maciek Pysz) interpret the contrasting moods and grooves with attractive detailing. These are unashamedly direct pop songs – but the trick is that they avoid lovelorn clichés, focusing rather on deepening family relationships and the circle of life, as well as the quiet beauty of the natural world.

Some lovely scenes are painted, including the Paul Simon-like, country-guitar-enhanced shuffle of Making it up as we go, Lidke’s vocal occasionally veering towards that of Suzanne Vega. The characteristic innocence of her wordless (‘dooh-dooh’) melodies break into poetic profundity in A Winter Morning, Curious Puzzle and heartfelt Mother, while Lazy Detour’s bluesy electric-piano groove, including a feature for trumpeter Dawid Frydryk, suggests the illumination of new artistic pathways. Alle Choir London’s snappy backing brings frissons of delight to numbers such as gospel-tinted Not a Bad Bone and hip-swinging Samba, Biodra i Nogi; and soft-rock Słuchaniem być (To be listening) especially stays in the memory, with Matt Chandler’s fluid electric-guitar improv a real treat.

Initially quaint, Snowflake’s Dream’s lyric implies a touching mother-to-son conversation about life (“…always remember me shining… I’ll make a full circle… a teardrop in the corner of your eye”), then ramping up into a more effusive aspect of Lidke’s performance we should hear more of. Tango’s descending-bass mystery, too, has an attraction, the Polish-sung lyric of encouragement offering up pictorial lines such as “I’m not afraid [of] your words which fight like a windmill with light” before hitting a bright rock-out; and rhythmic W deszczu pod parasolem (In the rain under an umbrella) is joyously uplifting – Could it really have happened, a miracle between us.

Finally, alongside Zimowy Poranek (a Polish version of A Winter Morning) are three remixes by producers Happy Cat Jay and Wulfnote. While such arrangements can sometimes appear to be gimmicky or even questionable add-ons, these are imaginatively refashioned with a peppy, radio-play vibe. Wulfnote’s Lazy Detour, in particular, abounds with so much interest.

There’s a sense, from the depth of a clutch of these songs, that Monika Lidke’s journey could flourish in more challenging areas, perhaps led by a theme, a concept. Certainly her harder vocal timbres point that way… in a direction I’d follow.

Released on 8 October 2020, Let the world be a question is available as CD, vinyl and digital download at the monikalidke.com store.

 

Monika Lidke vocals
Alle Choir London* backing vocals (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Matt Chandler guitars (tracks 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15)
Kristian Borring electric guitar (tracks 4, 5, 14)
Maciek Pysz acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 5)
Adam Teixeira drums (tracks 1, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Waldemar Franczyk drums (tracks 2, 6, 8, 13, 16)
Chris Nickolls drums (tracks 3, 4, 5)
Tim Fairhall double bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Marcin Grabowski fretless bass (tracks 2, 13, 16), double bass (track 6), electric bass (track 8)
Shez Raja electric bass (tracks 4, 5)
Jan Freicher piano (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 14), vibraphone (tracks 2, 6, 13, 16), synth (tracks 2, 13)
Adam Spiers cello (tracks 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Wayne Urquhart cello (track 14)
Dawid Frydryk trumpet (tracks 3, 6, 14)
Happy Cat Jay drums, piano (track 15), synth (tracks 15, 16), bass guitar (track 16)

*Alle Choir London are:
Marta Mathea Radwan director, backing vocal arrangements
Klaudia Baca, Anita Łazińska, Karolina Micor, Marta Mathea Radwan,
Justyna Rafalik, Krystian Godlewski, Krzysztof Suwała singers

monikalidke.com

MLCD002 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Yardbird Suite’ – Alexey Kruglov & Krugly Band

HAVING DISCOVERED the music of genial Russian alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, back in 2014, through his ‘Duo Art’ album Moscow with pianist Joachim Kühn, I’ve come to anticipate three, key aspects with each subsequent release.

Firstly, his projects often have a specific theme, such as 2015’s The Mighty Five, a wildly unique jazz celebration of native classical masters including Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov; and then 2020 release Tchaikovsky, marking 180 years since the composer’s birth. Secondly, he displays a wonderfully outrageous sense of experimentation, his improvisations sometimes squawked on reed only or blasted out simultaneously on two or more saxes (Roland Kirk style). Finally, given his ‘avant garde’ tag… expect the unexpected!

As with the likes of Gilad Atzmon or Marius Neset, Kruglov’s techniques eschew limits, with a creative flow almost persuading that his instruments are simply part of his physical being. For latest release Yardbird Suite, together with his Krugly Band of Artem Tretyakov (piano), Roman Plotnikov (double bass) and Pavel Timofeev (drums, percussion), the saxophonist focuses on this year’s 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Charlie Parker – one of his earliest influences as a player. An album described as a suite itself, the performance notes reveal how the eight interpretations have a direct connection with both Stravinsky and John Coltrane. And, boy, how these bebop arrangements bop!

‘Bird’, himself, could fly like the wind – and Kruglov’s present-day reimagining of Anthropology is similarly scintillating, including a couple of audacious, sauntering episodes within. Usually swinging, Now’s the Time surprises with its graceful waltz, while combined Scrapple from the Apple and Ornithology emphasize the quartet’s co-ordination in all manner of tempo/mood changes. Kruglov stamps incredible, bluesy individuality on Parker’s Mood, his dual, screeching altos certainly amongst the album highlights; and familiar, shuffling calypso My Little Suede Shoes is transformed into a jaunty stomp, Kruglov’s improvisations breathlessly traversing a capricious, quickening pace set and expanded on by his colleagues.

An unexpected balladic refashioning of Yardbird Suite is completed by the leader’s characteristic, reed-popping explorations; and Segment (sprightly when Parker and Miles Davis were upfront) takes on an shadowy, malleted, minor-key guise with shimmering Latin-piano overtones. Finally, classic bopper Confirmation enjoys its exuberant walking-bass moment in a band showcase to prove how mid-forties jazz, in our time, still gleams.

In our conversations, over the years, Alexey Kruglov’s artistic enthusiasm and zest for life have remained inspiring – and that’s sparklingly communicated, with intentional live-in-studio feel, throughout Yardbird Suite. Parker would surely approve!

Released on 28 August 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp, and also at Fancy Music and Apple Music.

Video: dual-alto brilliance in Parker’s Mood.

 

Alexey Kruglov alto saxophones
Artem Tretyakov piano
Roman Plotnikov double bass
Pavel Timofeev drums, percussion

Fancy Music (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Mór’ – Agnar Már Magnússon

MUSIC IS NOTHING if it doesn’t elicit a response (any response) from us; and it’s no embellishment to say that Mór, this new septet recording from established Icelandic pianist Agnar Már Magnússon, first arrested my attention in an unexpected, emotive fashion – so much so, that it has since been listened to repeatedly.

2016 album Svif revealed a classy piano trio of unpredictability and grace, melding folk-styled homeyness with an oblique jazz sensibility. However, this latest project elevates Magnússon’s creativity into a more expansive range. Perhaps unusually, he partners his trio (completed by double bassist Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson and drummer Matthías Hemstock) with four brass players from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra – French hornists Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun, Frank Hammarin and tubist Nimrod Ron. The resulting textural weave available to him, as arranger and composer, clearly brings much to these new expressions of traditional Icelandic folksong, bookended by two of Agnar’s own pieces.

In jazz piano terms, subdued hues of Tord Gustavsen or Esbjörn Svensson may be discernable; but there’s something else at work here, likely to be influenced by the culture and subarctic environment of the artists’ Nordic homeland. These are exquisitely crafted and blended sounds – often restrained, searching, even solemn – and for those reasons, their measured route into a receptive mind can feel almost spiritual.

The horn section’s significance, and a beautiful sense of enfoldment, is heard in opening title track Mór – a slow, Bachian trio chorale gradually infiltrated by their closely-harmonized rise and fall; and Magnússon’s skilful, sometimes unanticipated chordal changes even suggest shadowy, filmic drama. But Blastjarnan’s melancholy shifts into the ensemble’s ‘alter ego’ – an attractive, rhythmic persona to support Agnar’s pellucid improvisation and the horns’ subtle underpinning of its recurring three-note motif. These are certainly melodies and phrases which stay in the memory, now welcomed each time they are heard. In gradually-ascending Hliðskjálfs sjóla haukur rólið missti dfnn and Ísaspöng af andans hyl (‘An iceberg from the abyss’) there are hints of the precise sound world of e.s.t., the latter coloured by alluring bass resonances and waves of brass.

Softly dissonant medieval horns announce Almáttugur guð allra stétta sdbsggn, a lively, percussively-ornamented modal exploration, while sunlight breaks through onto the landscape with the free-flowing, pirouetting piano melodies of Modir Islands. In fact, there’s the impression of Agnar ‘receiving’ his extemporisations from a ‘higher’ source and instantly relaying them, with care and rubato, to the keyboard – as in Grafskrift Sæmundar Klemenssonar, and also in the choice chordal meshes of Ísland farsælda frón.

The final, four-minute work, I find the most affecting of all – Magnússon’s Svordur. Led by solo horn, then gradually joined by the full section and piano trio, it possesses incredible longing and humanity; a kind of Purcellian majesty along the lines of ‘When I Am Laid in Earth’, with a reassurance that ‘all will be well’. This is undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of new music I have heard amidst this troubled year.

For its imaginative musical symbiosis, with a profound ability to move the soul, Mór is fervently recommended.

Released 1 September 2020, the CD can be purchased through email addresses shown at the websites of Agnar (agnarmagnusson@gmail.com) and label Dimma (dimma@dimma.is), or as a download from Bandcamp.

 

Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson double bass
Matthías Hemstock drums

Stefán Jón Bernharðsson French horn
Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun French horn
Frank Hammarin French horn
Nimrod Ron tuba

agnarmagnusson.com

Dimma – DIM 87 (2020)