REVIEW: ‘Another Land’ – Dave Holland

IN A CAREER spanning an astonishing seven decades, the name of master bassist Dave Holland is affectionately known to most in the sphere of contemporary jazz. Working with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Kenny Wheeler, Jack DeJohnette, John Abercombie, Pat Metheny (the list goes on) – and extraordinarily prolific for many, many years on the revered ECM label, leading or contributing to around 40 albums – his legendary status has long been assured.

More recently, his Crosscurrents Trio performances with percussionist Zakir Hussain and saxophonist Chris Potter revealed a wonderful camaraderie that enfolded the most glorious acoustic sounds, followed-up by an album – Good Hope. Now, moving on from that 2019 release, Dave Holland extends his association with Edition Records in Another Land – a striking gear-shift of a project with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire.

Those mostly familiar with the veteran bassist’s upright stance alongside his full-bodied or Czech Eaze instruments will, here, instantly identify a quite different environment as a number of the album’s dynamic jazz-rock grooves are driven by electric bass, tuning into the fervid invention and tracery of Eubanks, plus Calvaire’s vehement, often thunderous presence behind the kit. Describing the live shows that informed this New York studio recording, Holland relates that once their continuous set began, they rarely stopped. That sense of being deep within the groove is palpable here, and totally infectious. Indeed, the fullness, equality and adaptability of this trio’s sound is pivotal across 68 minutes which feel like they could run and run.

Funk-laden Grave Walker mixes up 7/8 beats with mellow, shuffling riffs, Eubanks completely at one with his crunching, pitch-bent rhythms and improvised melodies; and the exchange of knowing nods and smiles can easily be envisaged throughout its propulsive yet precise course. 20 20, too, ripples with purpose, Holland’s double-bass euphony just as integrated with the exciting, Jimi Hendrixian blues/rock of Eubanks as its more subdued sequences – again, this cohesive triumvirate turns out so many variations and moods within a single number. Holland’s alternating trip-up figure sets up elegant title track Another Land, whose bossa-suggested gyrations provide space to illuminate detail; and the bassist’s Quiet Fire is reimagined, pared down in a sensitive and enchanting solo guitar arrangement.

Back on the groove trail, the ‘playground chant’ of Calvaire’s South American-hued Gentle Warrior is a delight as it proceeds towards Holland’s tireless, rhythmic soloing and an audacious, scratchy feature from Eubanks. For rock energy and complexity, the guitarist’s Mashup takes some beating, its velocity prompting an amazing, collaborative saturation of ideas; and hearing Holland’s electric bass meshing with Eubanks’ tones is just stunning – conceivably it enjoys considerable development in a live setting. Ice-cool bass and guitar licks/improv in Passing Time drift blithely, supported by crisp, percussive colour, while Holland provides The Village’s deep, blue bass as Eubanks chromatically ascends (with fabulous fretboard and pedal techniques) to the crackling accompaniment of Calvaire. Closing, the guitarist leads his soulfully smooth Bring It Back Home with an unashamedly ostentatious swagger.

Always progressive in both outlook and his support of new talent, now in his mid-seventies, Dave Holland has created a zestful trio partnership whose classy, full-on grooving is repeatedly a joy to get into.

Released on 28 May 2021, Another Land is available in various formats at Edition Records.

 

Dave Holland bass, bass guitar
Kevin Eubanks guitar
Obed Calvaire drums

daveholland.com

Edition Records – EDN1172 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Wait For Me’ – Snowpoet

A PORTAL to aesthetic escapism, the divergent and beautifully efflorescent approach of Snowpoet (vocalist Lauren Kinsella and producer/instrumentalist Chris Hyson) was laid down in an early EP and their eponymous debut album of 2016, followed by 2018’s Thought You Knew.

Now, new release Wait For Me explores ‘the deeper questions of how we love, how we accept our faults and how we let go in a time of profound confusion’, offering ‘protection and solace, advocating openness to adversity and a way to safely navigate great change’. In that vein, perhaps these twelve original songs are more cogitative than before, given the uncertain age in which we presently live – but they’re no less compelling.

Whether you hear Godley & Creme/10cc in multi-layered A Chance To Hear The Rain, Annette Peacock in the ‘spoken singing’ of pop-pulsed The Wheel, or Laurie Anderson in the oblique art of Early Feelings, Kinsella and Hyson have the ability to coax memories of our formative years’ musical experiences, distilling them through their unique brand of genre-defying music and poetry (pop/electronica/jazz might be an opening reference point). There are also songwriter evocations of Joni Mitchell and Björk, with digital grooves and effects that bind the whole with more current influences. Each listen prompts another ripple of emotion – maybe a fleeting, halcyon recollection or even a physical sensation of hypnopompic warmth; and Kinsella’s wordplay may ‘click’, baffle or provide a single line or phrase that feeds the imagination. That’s the artistry – and therein lies the allurement.

Friends from the jazz/creative music world again contribute to the weave, including saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, pianist Matthew Robinson and drummer Dave Hamblett. While the structural foundation of these creations can sometimes be a simple oscillation or riff – as in the folky zephyr of FaceTime or elevated, anthemic Sky Thinking – it’s the blend of Hyson’s synthy atmospheres/arrangements and Kinsella’s distinctive palette of vocal expression and lyricalness that produce the wonder. For example, Roots bustles to her signature clipped soundbites and harmonies over radio-friendly beats, while also featuring Arcoleo’s billowing sax and the nightingale-suggested violin of Alice Zawadzki.

Preceded by Tiers’ industrial, Eno-style smog, With You hints at the electronic bop of Everything Everything, Hyson’s busy production packing much into its four minutes, while sustained fortitude in Here’s the Thing (“… she has a secret, there’s a field, there’s a forest, there’s a river running through her”) maintains a balmy sway. Burn Bright, too, possesses the gossamer weight of earlier Snowpoet, Kinsella’s encouragement (“Can you touch someone’s pain? Burn bright, my love”) supported by improvisatory elegance from Zawadzki and Arcoleo. The gently-accompanied prose of Floating Practice is delightful – just rest and listen; and ticking, nursery-rhyme-like chant Wool, Cotton, Lace & Snow leads out with “sunny days … and warming rays”.

Through word, music and ambience, Snowpoet adeptly build the layers on their canvases, while at times leaving space for our own impressions and emotions. These fifty minutes might simply wash over you, provide an urban soundtrack or become profoundly moving and connective. However you respond, there’s no doubting Snowpoet’s continued mastery.

Released on 19 February 2021 (streaming/download) and 26 March 2021 (worldwide – CD/LP) at Edition Records.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals
Chris Hyson piano, synths
Matthew Robinson piano, synths
Josh Arcoleo saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums (except on With You)
Lloyd Haines drums (on With You)
Alex Haines guitar
Alice Zawadzki violin

snowpoet.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1166 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Cairn’ – Fergus McCreadie

THE SIGHT of a neatly constructed mound or pillar of stones on a barren, hilltop landscape immediately changes our response to that environment – the sense of others treading the path ahead of us and leaving a landmark for all who continue to pass along. Anologously, that may apply to any musician influenced by what has gone before, including pianist Fergus McCreadie.

His original compositions certainly reverberate with the passion and vigour of Phronesis, e.s.t and others. But new album Cairn, with double bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson, signals why, unquestionably, this trio possesses a distinctive character of its own. The root of that lies in both the artistic heritage and the landscape of McCreadie’s Scottish homeland; so this hour of nine contemporary jazz numbers feels steeped in an authenticity that intrinsically connects to traditional folk music. Already with a string of accolades to his name, including ‘Album of the Year’ in Parliamentary and Scottish jazz awards (for self-released 2018 debut, Turas) and finalist in BBC Jazz Musician of the Year, the pianist has also appeared on recordings which include those of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and Graham Costello’s Strata.

The mists of history and folklore spread their fingers across opening North, where inflected piano melodies ride deep-bass fifths as it gains stature; then, breaking through at the summit, sunlit title track Cairn especially reveals McCreadie’s deft ornamentation around the soft, shuffling groove provided by bassist and drummer. Piano explorations ripple and dart with strong improvisational conviction – a theme reinforced throughout the more rhythmic episodes of the album, including the countrified, Bruce Hornsby-like momentum of Across Flatlands which is purposeful though undeniably and melodically attractive. Over eight minutes, the whirling, breathless rock drive and jazz interest of Jig is a stand-out, featuring intensely fervid rhythms from Bowden and Henderson while McCreadie’s white-hot keyboard figures dazzle.

An impressive prehistoric henge in Orkney provides the inspiration for mystically waltzing The Stones of Brodgar, and the intensifying lap of Tide paints wide-sky imagery. But it’s An Old Friend’s slow-release folk atmospheres, across nine minutes, which are the most affecting. The augmented-chord conclusion of its plaintive Scots theme is so bewitching, before pianist and bassist each offer out their homespun improvisations through an endless valley-floor vista. Tree Climbing somehow suggests a transatlantic country/folk connection, proudly bustling and reeling to rapid riffs, chords and bass lines; and to close, Cliffside has the cyclical animation favoured by bands such as Mammal Hands, but always coruscating with McCreadie’s silver-stream thread of extemporisation.

Vibrant, progressive, energetic, wistful – McCreadie, Bowden and Henderson together have the power to transport mind and heart back to the visual beauty of Scotland’s wild places. Such are the reasons why, in every generation, we’ll never cease to be sustained and buoyed by the spell of creative music.

Released on 29 January 2021 in CD, vinyl, mp3 and WAV formats, Cairn is available from Edition Records.

 

Fergus McCreadie piano
David Bowden double bass
Stephen Henderson drums

fergusmccreadie.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1165 (2021)

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)

RECENT LISTENING: May 2020 (1)

Pale Blue Dot – Johnny Hunter
Mark Hanslip, Gemma Bass, Aby Vulliamy, Mick Bardon, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 January 2020 (Northern Contemporary)
johnnyhuntermusic.bandcamp.com

To The Earth – Dinosaur
Laura Jurd, Elliot Galvin, Conor Chaplin, Corrie Dick
Release date: 15 May 2020 (Edition Records)
dinosaurband.bandcamp.com

Discourses – Jon Balke
Jon Balke – solo piano
Release date: 15 May 2020 (ECM Records)
ecmrecords.com/shop

The Rainbow Mountain / Can We Care – Robert Mitchell
Robert Mitchell – solo piano
Release date: 25 April 2020 (Depth of Field)
robertmitchell.bandcamp.com

The Lost Tapes – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Rod Mason, Andrew Cox, Simon Kaylor, Ben Mallinder, Emma Frampton, Gareth Smith, Greg Nicholas, Kim Macari, Reuben Fowler, Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Ellie Smith, Tom I’anson, John Kelly, Jamil Sheriff, Garry Jackson, Dave Walsh
Release date: 23 April 2020 (New Jazz Records)
jameshamiltonjazzorchestra.bandcamp.com

Out of Doors – Bruno Heinen Trio
Bruno Heinen, Andrea Di Biase, Gene Calderazzo
Release date: 22 May 2020
brunoheinen.com

REVIEW: ‘Life is the Dancer’ – Rob Luft

THE CONCEPT that ‘you don’t live your life but life lives you’ (quoted from Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now) is behind Rob Luft’s sophomore album as leader, and aptly describes a characteristically joyful and optimistic approach heralded in 2017’s debut, Riser.

At this relatively early stage of his career, Luft is already forging a style all of his own which certainly amounts to more than his simple ‘guitar’ credit – a many-hued sound world and technique with a distinct, bubbling, aqueous attraction. His prowess as leader, composer and prolific sideman has placed him on the current roster of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, and a key role in Big Bad Wolf (a real crowd-puller at Manchester Jazz Festival) produced their feel-good release, Pond Life. More recently, he is prominent in the line-up of trumpeter Byron Wallen’s Portrait recording and has shown a natural affinity for improvising over the jazz and gamelan-inspired auras of multi-instrumentalist Felix Jay’s 3CD album Trio.

For Life is the Dancer – a programme of mostly self-penned material – Luft’s quintet again comprises tenorist Joe Wright, organist/pianist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick, with Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen guesting. Heard recently in conversation with Jess Gillam at BBC Radio 3, the guitarist’s warm personality and eclectic musical interests clearly shine through both his playing and interactions with others. Such vibrant, dance-imbued, sun-soaked strains are a welcome tonic in our uncertain times; and he’s unquestionably a groover, as Anders Christensen’s Berlin immediately signals through its pulsating, increasingly rock-driven progression.

It’s easy to fall under the spell of Luft’s writing and his band’s interpretations, the vocal-enhanced title track evoking the balmy, summertime haze of Sergio Mendes and Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays. The album thrives on the rapid, electronic-suggested (though entirely acoustic) rhythms of Corrie Dick and Tom McCredie’s fluent bass – ‘fast city’ fervour in One Day in Romentino is a prime example as Joe Wright’s tenor screeches above Luft’s pointillistic decoration. Co-written with Enzo Zirilli, Synesthesia pulls off audaciously tricky ‘push-pull’ time signatures, enough to raise a smile each time, amidst its rapturous energy; and the countryfied soul-blues of Sad Stars, accentuated by Joe Webb’s Hammond, is beautifully blithesome. Rob Luft’s message that “the past is in your head and the present is in your hands” is captured in the closing, gentle ebb of Expect the Unexpected, elevated by wordless chorus, muted trumpet and the never-failing bliss of those mellifluous guitar improvisations. 

Dance, smile and enjoy, you will.

Life is the Dancer is released on 17 April 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Rob Luft guitar
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Joe Webb Hammond organ, piano
Tom McCredie bass
Corrie Dick drums
with
Byron Wallen trumpet
Luna Cohen vocals

robluft.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1152 (2020)