‘While We Still Can’ – Johnny Hunter Quartet

WhileWeStillCan

JOHNNY HUNTER is featuring with increasing prominence across North West England’s jazz scene… and for very good reason. The drummer/composer contributes to a number of mainstream and avant garde bands – especially in Manchester and Liverpool – including Blind Monk Trio, Marley Chingus and his own reggae/dub sextet Skamel, as well as working with artists such as Adam Fairhall, Martin Archer and Nat Birchall.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available, as CD or download, from Bandcamp.

 

Johnny Hunter drums, compositions
Ben Watte tenor saxophone
Graham South trumpet
Stewart Wilson double bass

Illustration by Angela Guyton

Efpi Records – FP024 (2016)

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‘Let Go’ – Let Spin

LetSpin

IT’S POSSIBLE, considering today’s welcome proliferation of independent jazz labels, that significant, gleaming gems of albums could be overlooked by the wider music media.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available from Bandcamp.

 

Chris Williams alto saxophone
Moss Freed
guitar
Ruth Goller bass
Finlay Panter drums

letspinband.com

Efpi Records – FP023 (2015)

‘All In’ – Beats & Pieces Big Band

AllIn

TALK ABOUT Northern soul – these guys have it in three-storey-with-a-mezzanine-shed-loads!

Beats & Pieces Big Band have come a long way in seven years. From their tentative beginnings as Manchester students, through to their early EP and local gigs at Band on the Wall and the Royal Northern College of Music, they have developed a keen following which, on the basis of last year’s blazing Manchester Jazz Festival appearance, is swiftly on the rise. Their excellent 2012 debut album, Big Ideas, turned more than jazz heads, brought Jazz FM and Parliamentary awards, and prompted invitations to perform internationally.

Directed by enthusiastic composer, arranger and instrumentalist Ben Cottrell, and drawing big band comparisons such as Loose Tubes and Matthew Herbert (due to their infectious energy, use of electronics and an unorthodox, contemporary approach), 14-strong Beats & Pieces now release their much-anticipated follow-up, All In – a bristling statement of their current stature. Three powerful banks of three (saxes, trumpets and trombones) are completed by guitar, piano/Rhodes, bass and drums; and buried amongst the irrepressibly slick grooves, their quite-likely uniqueness is characterised by the occasional, endearing whiff of no-nonsense Lancashire colliery band (confirmed by the album’s tailpiece).

Collective influences include Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Radiohead and Björk… so the resultant six originals and one interpretation (recorded essentially live in the studio) are both dynamic and even entertainingly perplexing. Opener Rocky blasts its way through the first three minutes with all the gritty verve of an extreme, full-throttle movie car chase – raucous and wayward, yet somehow together. Pop hits a relentless, rapid, ‘Can’t Hurry Love’ groove, with Nick Walters’ chattering muted trumpet and Anton Hunter’s guitar riding the swelling, crashing then ebbing wall of horns, whilst Patrick Hurley’s ostinato Rhodes impression of Rain is particularly effective, underpinning tight, reverbed, brassy arrangements before soloing freely.

Ten-minute expanse Havmann (‘the man from the sea’, inspired by Antony Gormley’s statue installation in Mo í Rana, Northern Norway) feels like a new departure; its piercing, semitonal, synth rise-and-fall seems redolent of early Genesis or Robert Fripp, with the icy, spiky urgency of the overlapping extemporisations perhaps echoing the Scandinavian fjords experienced by Cottrell. Originally composed for and workshopped by Norwegian band Ensemble Denada, its impressive slowly-building intensity glints to Graham South’s echoic flugel horn and cinemascope unison trumpets.

Hendo is classic B & P – all solid bass drum, swirling baseline, impudent wah-wah guitar, crescendoing blasts and Sam Healey’s typically flamboyant soprano sax. Revealed a few years ago at an RNCM gig, Ben Cottrell’s sultry New York-style reading of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance finds its place here. A great example of the director’s prowess with arrangements of the unexpected, its lazy demeanour erupts into funky Average White Band euphoria, complete with cheeky, rising James Taylor (Starsky & Hutch) quotation courtesy of Sam Healey’s alto. And so to close, the aforementioned miniature of misty, brass band nostalgia, Fairytale – so beautiful in hymn-like simplicity.

Long may this forward-thinking band continue! All In is released on 8 June 2015, by Efpi Records, and is available here. The album officially launches at Soup Kitchen, Manchester, on 7 July 2015, and at Ronnie Scott’s the following evening.

 

Ben Cottrell director
Anthony Brown, Sam Healey, Ben Watte saxophones
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters trumpet
Ed Horsey, Simon Lodge, Rich McVeigh trombone
Anton Hunter guitar
Patrick Hurley piano, Rhodes
Harrison Wood bass
Finlay Panter drums

beatsnpieces.net

Efpi Records – FP022 (2015)

‘Trio Riot’ – Trio Riot

TrioRiot

TRIO!… RIOT!… PUNK!… JAZZ!… BOOOOOOOOOOM!!!! It’s OK – I haven’t ‘lost it’ (as they say)… but this saxophone/drum trio is perhaps as hard-hitting and as ‘in your face’ as they come.

Released on the Efpi label, already renowned for blazing a trail of alternative improvisatory forms, Trio Riot bring us an eponymous album of honest, edgy, brash, chordless energy. With a sound that might encompass the ’60s jazz innovation of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, the gritty North-Eastern blues of Back Door and the anarchy of mid-’70s British punk, Anglo/Danish/Swiss band Trio Riot brandish an extreme vitality rarely heard on the current contemporary jazz scene.

Formed in Helsinki in 2009, the trio comprises Danish alto player Mette Rasmussen, Swiss tenorist Sam Andreae and, from the quintessentially northern UK oasis of Bollington (famous not least for its fine ales), drummer David Meier. Taking, as a musical parallel, the vast industrial heritage of Manchester, together these three instrumentalists creatively forge a feral, punchy and straight-down-the-line concoction of original, improvisatory, yet well-structured compositions which ‘take no prisoners’ when it comes to openness of heart and raw musical passion. You’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’ (‘Marmite’-style) – but I defy you not to be impressed (as I am) with the conviction of Mette, Sam and David.

Opening number, 3, fanfares the trio’s intent – grating, trilled sax solos interspersed with heavy drum responses; squawking, guttural tenor lines and shrill alto shrieks against fast-paced rhythms (those of a nervous disposition, please alight here!). Lala-lala (an onomatapaeic title) provides a percussive canvas over which Rasmussen and Andreae duel with increasing fervour; and Rondeau finds both sax players in a less confrontational frame of mind – indeed, they’re maybe of a more cheeky mindset, challenging drummer Meier to play their rasping and fun-filled game. I’m So Glad It Wasn’t Me sputters and sparks with atonal brashness; and Candid is just that – outspoken, with almost timpani-like heaviness… all good stuff!

Bartstock opens (and closes) with contrapuntal vigour, Rasmussen and Andreae chirping wildly in-between, against the rapid complexity of Meier’s percussion. Duo is a tense conversation between alto and tenor, though not without the suggested unwanted interjection of Meier’s ‘nails on blackboard’ cymbal-screeching; and Guru is an all-out rumpus, with impressively anarchic, tremulant, harmonic tenor whinings.

Unsurprisingly, Dadadadadadadada (is that enough ‘da’s?) is an intense three-minute celebration of all things reed and percussion – love it or hate it, it’s simply (for me, at least) sheer, unalloyed madness… but all in the best possible taste! 31 is sparky, blistering, riotous and altogether… well, wonderful. And Disorder (Joy Division) just revels in the relentless punky/’discoey’ groove laid down by David Meier, Andreae’s tenor improvising against Rasmussen’s quirky, repetitious and percussive alto. Drawing breath, closing number The Last Hurrah finds a corrupted solace in the searing, sinewy combination of cymbals and reedy harmonics, until alto and tenor find a mutually common ground and, finally, real beauty in their partnership – a mutual coming-together.

Recorded in just two days, mixed by Alex Bonney and packaged in Efpi’s ever-distinctive screenprinted sumptuousness (courtesy of designer Simen Engen Larsen), ‘Trio Riot’ is released on 17 March 2014 – available here. Trio… RIOT!


Mette Rasmussen
alto saxophone
Sam Andreae tenor saxophone
David Meier drums

Efpi Records – 2014

‘Let Spin’ – Let Spin

LetSpin

THE GUITAR PLAYING and writing of Moss Freed captivate me. His style seems to hark back to the vibrant ’70s period of discovery and invention, when ‘prog’ was king and the UK was bursting at the seams with high-profile, home-grown rock and jazz/rock talent. Yet the Berklee College-trained guitarist also has a forward-thinking approach to his music, which is reflected in this wholly collaborative quartet project, ‘Let Spin’ – and recognised by artistically imaginative indie label Efpi Records.

Manchester-born Freed impressed with his 2013 release, ‘What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes?’ (reviewed here) – a particularly successful marriage of jazz/rock and literature in which eminent writers were invited to create their interpretations of already-conceived and recorded tracks. In ‘Let Spin’, he teams up with the same bassist, Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland), along with Chris Williams (Led Bib) on alto sax and drummer Finlay Panter (Beats & Pieces Big Band), to deliver this eight-track debut release of powerful proportions… and equally-shared writing credits. For the most part, it’s hard-edged jazz and/or rock (depending on your viewpoint), Goller and Freed providing the propulsive electric framework on which Williams and Panter thrive.

The heavy unison sax, guitar and bass chromatics of Finlay Panter’s Awowowa immediately conjure thoughts of King Crimson, with fast-paced, stressed screeches and feedback – heady stuff indeed, especially when lines begin to cross and intertwine, Chris Williams’ alto displaying impressive Ron Aspery-like acrobatics and bite. Coincidentally (another ’70s ‘Back Door’ reference!), Ruth Goller’s bass technique is partially reminiscent of that of Colin Hodgkinson, combining – as in opening number, Castle, Sea, Ferry – strong melody and chordal groupings to great effect. Moss Freed’s bizarrely-titled, seven-minute How To Woo A Dolphin initially veers more towards a jazz soundworld, demonstrating Freed’s luxuriant guitar chords before his impassioned, sustained lead (with echoes of Mahavishnu) invites the quartet to break loose into a satisfyingly rich groove. Shapes & Sizes finds its writer, Chris Williams, pitching his raw sax improvisations against a great saturation of bass and wah-wah guitar, Panter relishing this full-on vibe.

The simple-yet-addictive retro bass hook of 102 Hill Street becomes irresistible, Freed and Williams establishing a very effective tonal sax/guitar partnership. Punching hard and heavy, thanks to Panter’s determined rhythm, it increases in intensity and complexity… and I can imagine a thrilling, extended, live showstopper! Mellower in approach, Goller’s Piper is neatly balanced – a platform for Williams’ alto ruminations, as well as Freed’s lush chords and clear solo creativity. From it’s title, it’s no surprise that Chris Williams’ Up And At Them is the rockiest number on the album, leaning towards Goller’s ‘Ladyland world – alto sax blowing hard through gritty, repeated riffs, plus terrifyingly-high reverbed solo work from Freed (to be revved up loud!). Ruth Goller’s ‘mock-tuning’ introduces the final track, Moss Freed’s A Change Is Coming, the band’s unison signature unfolding into a more lyrical, countrified expanse, yet still bursting with character and invention from all quarters.

‘Let Spin’ is released on 10 February 2014, available from efpirecords.com. Accompanying 10-date UK tour begins in Bath on 17 February, concluding at The Vortex on 27 February.


Moss Freed guitar
Chris Williams alto saxophone
Ruth Goller electric bass
Finlay Panter drums

mossfreed.com
soundcloud.com/mossfreed

Efpi Records – FP013 (2014)

‘Entanglement’ EP – Paradox Ensemble

Paradox

NICK WALTERS’ Manchester-based nonet, Paradox Ensemble, certainly packs a punch thanks to the earthy grooving of trumpet, tenor and alto saxes, sousaphone, trombone, electric bass, drums and piano, as well as the inventive inclusion of accordion and electronics. And this 30-minute four-track EP captures much of the excitement and exuberance of their live jazz performances.

Hitch Slap, building electronically and organically from a single 5/4 sousaphone riff, sets the pace – Walters’ trumpet combining closely with both the tenor sax of Ed Cawthorne and the alto of Tom Harrison to create a powerful front line. The recorded sound is pleasingly close and immediate – Tim Cox’s rasping, echoic trombone soloing adding greater depth – and the brightness of Aidan Shepherd’s agile accordion and the electric piano of Rebecca Nash (with beautifully gyrating electric bass from Paul Michael) contrasts well. The whole ensemble at full tilt creates an intensely strong and original sound… and this is an irresistible opener!

Over a mesmerising, swift 7/8 walking bass, LJM finds Cawthorne’s simple bass clarinet motif shared and elaborated by the horns, Walters soloing on trumpet above the resulting ‘big band’ sound. Once again, the intensity of the forces is impressive, Yussuf Dayes’ solid drumming a key factor in the band’s pulsating energy.

At rhythmic ‘6s and 7s’, Entanglement twines together alto and tenor saxes, whilst accordion also demands a piece of the action (such a pleasing, folky timbre amongst the overall scale and brashness). Retro electric piano, bass and brightly ticking drums create a captivating interlude ahead of the final ‘tousle’.

Finally, Photo 51 showcases the tenor soloing of Ed Cawthorne over Michael’s propulsive 5/4 bass lick. Shepherd’s spiralling accordion, in conjunction with Dayes’ drumming, is a real treat before a triumphant and characteristically cacophonous close!

Nick Walters and his colleagues can be justifiably proud of Paradox – and the enthusiastic reaction to their live shows (as I witnessed at 2013’s Manchester Jazz Festival) is testament to their broad appeal. Meanwhile, fans will await… the album!

For further information on this and other Efpi albums, and to purchase, visit efpirecords.com.


Nick Walters
trumpet, electronics
Tom Harrison alto sax
Ed Cawthorne tenor sax , bass clarinet, vibraphone
Tim Cox trombone
Ben Kelly sousaphone
Aidan Shepherd accordion
Rebecca Nash piano, keyboards
Paul Michael bass
Yussuf Dayes drums

Efpi Records – FP012 (2013)