‘Spacebound Apes’ – Neil Cowley Trio

spacebound

DONNING HIS SPACESUIT, pianist/composer Neil Cowley joins with fellow primates Rex Horan (bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) in this, their sixth album – and as Spacebound Apes, they head for galaxies anew.

The origin of the species’ music might, especially with their ‘trio’ tag, be perceived as jazz – but Cowley prefers to be more open-minded about his output: “I just like lovely sounds”. So rather than being founded on improvisation, the through-compositional nature of this release is more akin to early-’80s pop, carefully integrated with the atmospheric soundtrack breadth of, say, Tomita or Jean-Michel Jarre. Indeed, the classically-trained musician’s successes have included recordings with Brand New Heavies and Zero 7; whilst, as a session player on Adele’s global chart hits, he adopted the mantle of “2011’s most-listened-to pianist on the planet.”

Linked to a developing online blog and interactive digital experience (as well as a live visual event to be staged at Union Chapel, London, in October 2016), this tale of middle-aged Lincoln taking a hallucinatory journey into the cosmos finds Cowley unabashed in labelling it a ‘concept album’; and he explains that he’s been working towards the project for a long time, its immersive development taking in themes of guilt, loss and longing. But however deeply the trio’s ambitious vision is embraced, its eleven instrumental tracks also stand alone as an increasingly enticing, varied and progressive soundscape.

With Cowley prominent on piano, hyperspatial beauty rubs shoulders with boisterous stomp throughout these 45 minutes – so the electronically-pulsed launchpad preparation of Weightless evolves into the whispy, crescendoed minimalism of Hubris Major before arriving at a jaunty, martial piano strut in Governance, its percussive metre breaking free whilst Cowley’s lyricism contrasts well; and the memorably propulsive synth groove of The City and the Stars offers more than a semblance of OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’.

The album’s delicate piano interludes are especially effective. Grace‘s restrained ‘bridge over Satie’s water’ possessing a distinct, Rachmaninov-like romanticism; the endless, reverberant journeyings of Echo Nebula and The Return of Lincoln are, at times, reminiscent of The Enid; Duty to the Last suggests the contemporary jazz of e.s.t. or Michael Wollny; and later in the story, Death of Amygdala’s piano nocturne eloquence is swelled by the affecting grandeur of a French horn quartet.

But Cowley and co. also like a good pop romp – and The Sharks of Competition‘s relentless Stranglers-punk is counterbalanced by the blithe, synthy delights of Garden of Love. Whatever genre your might hook on it, the Neil Cowley Trio’s multi-faceted approach rebounds across the musical universe, its strains repeatedly a joy to hear.

Released on 16 September 2016, Spacebound Apes is available from Proper Music and various retailers.

Videos: Grace, The City and the Stars.

 

Neil Cowley piano
Rex Horan bass
Evan Jenkins drums
with
Leo Abrahams guitar, fx
Angus West, Oliver Fitzgerald-Lombard, Craig Macdonald French horns
Stile Antico choir

neilcowleytrio.com
spaceboundapes.com
lincolnsdiary.tumblr.com

Hide Inside Records – HIDE/CD002 (2016)

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‘Culcha Vulcha’ – Snarky Puppy

Culcha

THE PHENOMENON known as Snarky Puppy is a grooving ‘must see’ if they’re in town!

Over the past few years, the infectious exuberance of this Brooklyn-based collective has spread out over the globe. Led by charismatic electric bassist Michael League, their seemingly inexhaustible energy has found them performing across six continents, wowing audiences from Bremen to Buenos Aires, from Manchester to Mumbai; and the sense of ‘community’ in their musical outlook has spawned residency programmes as well as many musical collaborations (most recently their second Family Dinner album featuring the likes of David Crosby, Laura Mvula and Jacob Collier).

For eleventh release Culcha Vulcha, the guys (not a snarky character amongst them!) relocated to a remote Texan pecan orchard – Sonic Ranch Studios – to record their first pure studio album in eight years. As a live band, League and colleagues fill their demographically wide audiences with an inescapable feel-good – a combination of astonishing, eclectic artistry and elated self-bemusement at the energy and new ideas they forge together on stage; but it’s also exciting to discover the sounds they carefully craft whilst spending a week in each others’ pockets. The result – well, possibly their best recorded account yet.

The personnel and instrumentation listed below only begin to indicate the heady, groove-laden ‘riffage’ that makes up this hour-plus, nine-track celebration. Often possessing an anthemic quality, the Snarkys’ memorable performances here begin to activate a ‘fave’ rush – that intro recognition which settles you in for a good time, as in the lurching groove of opener Tarova. Twang-tight horns and multifarious percussion are frequently in evidence, but its also the varied palette of pitch-bent synth improv, along with flamboyant guitar lines and League’s inherent bass impetus, which make up this potent brew.

Semente‘s Brazilian vibrancy is coloured by Chris Bullock’s peppy flute melodies and zazzy repinique triplet clattering; Grown Folks has a grungy big band urgency, full of bold horn and guitar phrases; and Gemini‘s cool, sidewalk demeanour, with mellotron and bottleneck guitar, is one of the classiest grooves heard for some time. Electronics, slow-attack synth and alto flute in Beep Box change the pace with retro space-age charm, and sophisticated clav/moog bass-driven , with so many individual instrumental highlights (at times, even redolent of Level 42 at their mid-80s live best), is a first-listen standout which has cemented itself as a ‘go-to’ to lift the spirits.

And that’s the way it continues, each track a winner – reggae-synth The Simple Life (with gritty, David Gilmour-like slide guitar) totally addictive; Cory Henry’s organ dream Palermo (written by percussionist Marcelo Woloski, and featuring haunting flugel) suggesting a gamelanese hypnotism; and Big Ugly‘s soulful, prog-tinged synth-fest a superb closer.

This album has been spinning around for a few weeks now, yet never needs a second invitation to enjoy another complete, loud play-through. Keep on doing what you’re doing, boys!

Released on 29 April 2016, Culcha Vulcha is available from the GroundUP Music website and all good retailers.

 

Cory Henry organ, Clavinet, Mellotron, Moog
Bill Laurance piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthex
Justin Stanton piano, Fender Rhodes, Omni, Prophet 6, Synthex, Arp Axxe
Bobby Sparks Clavinet, MiniMoog, Moog Bass
Michael League electric bass, nylon-string guitar, baritone guitar, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Bass, Mellotron
Bob Lanzetti electric guitar
Mark Lettieri electric guitar, baritone guitar
Chris McQueen guitar
Jay Jennings trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike “Maz” Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, keyboards
Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone
Zach Brock violin
Jason “J.T.” Thomas drums
Robert “Sput” Searight drums
Larnell Lewis drums
Nate Werth trap set, cowbells, chimes, caixa, floor tom, tambourine, shaker, angklung, cymbals, percussion, clapping
Keita Ogawa timbal, repinique, kanjira, caixa, congas
Marcelo Woloski djembe, shakers, surdo, triangle, caixa, angklung, Tang-Tang, Reco-reco cowbell, Bombo Legüero, donkey jaw, kalimba, daf, effects, clapping

snarkypuppy.com

GroundUP Music / Universal Music Classics  (2016)

‘Living Being’ – Vincent Peirani

VincentPeirani

THERE IS something intrinsically Gallic about the sound of the accordion, evoking visions (however hackneyed) of Parisiene walkways or vast Loire Valley vineyards to a bal-musette soundtrack of Émile Vacher – or alternatively, in current musical spheres, the highly regarded and prolific master of that instrument, Richard Galliano.

Breaking the mould in pretty spectacular fashion is the genre-busting accordion artistry of Vincent Peirani. Hailing from Nice, and recently collecting both Prix Django d’Or and ECHO Jazz awards, as well as being voted 2014 Artist of the Year in Jazz Magazine France, his music draws on sounds which have influenced him over the years – classically trained, yet absorbing the diversity of rock, pop, jazz and electronica. Describing the worldwide accessibility of music which brings so much verve and freedom to his own compositions, Peirani says, “For me, this is the future of jazz: today, musicians have access to every conceivable form of music anytime on the Internet. Travelling is easier, so in Paris, as in most other cities, you’ll meet musicians from all around the world. If you are open to exploring new cultures and ideas, this is a goldmine of opportunity!”

The accordionist’s band was created with that multiformity in mind, though all originating from the same home town – Emile Parisien (saxes), Tony Paeleman (Rhodes, effects), Julien Herné (electric bass, effects) and Yoann Serra (drums). And having performed and rehearsed intensely, prior to this recording, it’s evident that they have crystallised their varying career experiences – eg rhythm & blues, hip-hop, pop, jazz, gypsy – into a tight yet exhilaratingly transitional new quintet. Indeed, after much listening, it’s the unpredictability and divergence of these nine numbers (mostly originals) which hold the attention.

Vincent Peirani is clearly an accomplished accordionist, using his instrument to offer sustained walls of sound, rapid ostinati and fluid soloing – and the ability to closely meld his output with the often similar timbres of Tony Paeleman’s Fender Rhodes can be heard in Suite en V, Pt. 1, over which Emile Parisien improvises broadly on soprano sax. Dream Brother swings between accordion wistfulness and driving jazz/rock; and the hallucinatory groove of Mutinerie brings reminiscences of ’70s Soft Machine, complete with echoic effects and tricksy riffs.

Air Song #2‘s powerful melodic intertwining of soprano, accordion and Rhodes ripples to an addictive electronic pulse from Paeleman, Herné and Serra. At almost nine minutes, Some Monk is both spacially and flamboyantly inventive, with a tangible impression of free group improvisation; and Julien Herné’s fabulously mobile electric bass is just one exciting element of fusion-feel Workin’ Rhythm, Yoann Serra’s precise drums combining with Peirani’s complex fingerwork and Paeleman’s joyously gruff Rhodes – priceless.

Released on 9 February 2015, the successful weave of so many strands marks out Living Being as a compelling experience. Further information and audio clips are available at ACT Music.

 

Vincent Peirani accordion, voice
Emile Parisien soprano & tenor saxophones
Tony Paeleman Fender Rhodes, effects
Julien Herné electric bass, effects
Yoann Serra drums

vincent-peirani.com

ACT Music – 9584-2 (2015)

‘Under the Moon’ – Blue-Eyed Hawk

UnderTheMoon

THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.

The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.

For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.

Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.

The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.

Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.

Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.

Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.

 

Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
with
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth

blue-eyedhawk.com

*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.

Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)

‘Live at the Blue Boar’ – John Law’s Boink!

Image

THE LICHTENSTEINESQUE cartoon cover art of pianist and composer John Law’s new album, ‘Live at the Blue Boar’, perhaps belies the depth, invention and musicality of his new quartet project known as ‘Boink!’.

Law has delighted, for many years, with the eloquence of his writing and musicianship. His various trio and solo piano albums have become treasures in the jazz catalogue, pushing creative possibilities with the outstanding ‘Congregation’ (2009) and ‘Three Leaps of the Gazelle’ (2012) which experimented so successfully with prepared piano, electronics and samples. ‘Boink!’ take this a step further, with a greater emphasis on electronics and effects, and the addition of electric guitar, soprano sax and bass clarinet, as well as drums. In the hands of a consummate and dedicated musician such as Law, the result is both surprising and exciting.

The album was recorded live at the Blue Boar, Poole, Dorset (though, with no evidence of the audience, this could easily be a studio production, such is its clarity). John Law eschews the Steinway for electronic keyboards/synths and backing tracks – yet, importantly, the orchestrated sound is far from synthetic, combining expertly with guitar, reeds and drums to create a refreshing assembly of jazz, rock and ambience. All but one of the compositions (John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’) are Law originals.

An introductory scan of the album drew me in to Jazzz…, one of those tracks which immediately demands repeat play (bringing to mind Joe Zawinul’s 1980 rework of Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’). Through an atmospheric urban weave of café/barroom chat and taxi horns, a faux horn section and Rhodes combo teasingly nudges its way into the foreground, Rob Palmer’s mellow-toned guitar and Jon Lloyd’s dulcet soprano soon establishing their improvisations over a catchy walking bass effect. This nine-minute swinging groove is irresistible, Law’s unmistakably adept piano display glistening as always.

Fast-running opener, Dark Knight, is propelled by Law’s keyboards and Laurie Low’s cymbals and fast toms, Lloyd’s bass clarinet barking through a haze of fear-laden electronics – very effective, atmospheric picture-painting indeed. Lessness, as its title indicates, offers a certain weightlessness in instrumentation overlaid with an oration of words by Samuel Beckett (keys, guitar and soprano merging beautifully over the sustained effects), whilst the echoey, nimble And Them finds Lloyd and Law improvising over impressively intricate drum patterns, the whole repetitive piano-led momentum becoming more and more compelling.

An electronics ruckus introduces and threads through Boink! (the track), Law soon commanding order via customary piano bravura, Lloyd’s soprano the perfect partner in this lively number. In huge contrast, recalling the horror of ‘9/11’, the chilling Incarnadine Day is inspired by words credited to 15 year-old Holly Law: “…in death our immortal victims of hate still live; etched in ash, their memories sing across the sky; the dead will never die.” Rob Palmer’s electric guitar and Law’s equally hard-edged keys bring an appropriate urgency to this memorial, dazed bass clarinet and effects seemingly evoking the incredulity of the aftermath of this world-changing disaster.

John Law’s interpretation of Coltrane’s Naima (from ‘Giant Steps’) is fascinating, its Coltrane/Shorter-like soprano sax smouldering into a wash of carefully-programmed ambience, percussion and keyboard elegance. Closing number So Fast So Good pleasingly suggests further Weather Report influence. Its fast-moving, upbeat 7/8 piano and organ riffs (complete with F1 asteroid accompaniment!) are superb, the wah-wah guitar of Palmer such a great feature, as well as his persistent, crunchy lead. With Lowe an exceptional rhythm maker, this is an exhilaratory finale!

Although ‘Live at the Blue Boar’ isn’t available through usual outlets, it’s easy to order (£10) directly from John by email (john.m.law@blueyonder.co.uk). Take a listen to Jazzz… and So Fast So Good over at SoundCloud – you’ll be hooked!


John Law
Korg, Yamaha, Arturia Minibrute, iPod
Jon Lloyd soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, effects
Rob Palmer guitar, effects
Laurie Lowe drums

johnlaw.org
Cornucopia