‘ELDA trio’ – ELDA trio

ELDA

THE VOICE that launched… well, a whole new expression of jazz unveils her eponymous debut recording with Slovenian accordionist/vocalist Janez Dovč and Brazilian-born percussionist/vocalist Adriano Adewale – ELDA trio.

Over the last few years, award-winning Swedish singer Emilia Mårtensson has graced a number of fine recordings, such as those of Kairos 4tet (including Everything We Hold) and her own solo albums (the most recent, Ana). Based in London, she is unsurprisingly in demand for various jazz and cross-genre projects, the dexterity, warmth and Anglo-Swedish clarity of her voice so fascinatingly distinctive and desirable.

Mårtensson explains that the concept of providing a confluence for their own cultural and musical experiences was an exciting prospect for the trio – the idea of creating, through the folk music/tales of their three countries of origin, a space to develop and express new compositions with differently-timbred voices, traditional instruments and electronics. From the resultant twelve tracks – mixed, mastered and produced with the reputable expertise of Alex Killpartrick and Chris Hyson – unfolds an atmospheric, enchanting thread of emotion, longing and joy which feels as peerless as it is beautiful.

Much of the album was conceived by Mårtensson in Izola, on the coast of Slovenia; so it’s greatly inspired by the sea, especially her grandparents’ story of how they moved from Slovenia to Sweden (and her empathy with accordion music stems from the impression made on her by her grandfather’s talent for the instrument). So a strong element of adventure and journeying is evident both in Mårtensson’s sincere delivery of her poetic lyrics (“I’ll always remember when the moon fell asleep behind the hill”) and in the chameleonic chordal and percussive invention which Dovč and Adewale supply – and that sense of the unknown, throughout, holds the attention.

Dusky memories in Stone Agaton are emphasised by Adewale’s deep chantings, accompanied by earthy percussion; and songwriter Jamie Doe’s positive, accordion-pulsed love ode, Winter, appears to sneer at the darkest season (“So put on all your jumpers and scream around the house”). Homely, descending chromatics, along with Mårtensson’s warm, high tones, are a joy in Barnaby Keen’s The Air Holds a Memory, whilst the contrasting themes of exile in Aleksandrinke touch the heart, emphasised by the watery swell of udu; and tranquil, overlaid vocals alone in To the Sun, To the Moon evoke cool, clear skies above silhouetted forests.

Rhythmic Mårtensson/Dovč composition Hon Och Han might suggest it has long been rooted in tradition (redolent of, say, Trio Mediæval’s output), even with an anthemic, Coldplay-like chorus; and following, sustained by bass synth, the vocals of Dovč’s slow, mysterious The Tree cry upwards to the moon. Quirky hoots, squeaks and clangs in Jac Jones’ Ellis Dreams are interspersed with a blithe vocal/synth melody; and the hollow, echoic interpretation of Swedish folk song Remembering/Vem Kan Segla further confirms Mårtensson’s clear communication with Dovč’s sensitive accordion phrasing.

A mesmerising solo from Adewale – I am dreaming with you – is quietly disconcerting, with shouts and percussive rattles three-dimensionally coming in and out of range through the darkness; the Konnakol introduction of Dovč’s Tillsammans curiously evolves into a hint of melodic, swingin’ Sixties; and Adewale’s trio curtain-call, Lobo Guara, fizzes with joie de vivre (Emilia perhaps overdoing it on the punsch!).

Catalogue it in ‘jazz’, ‘folk’ or ‘world’… wherever, ELDA trio is a beautiful experience.

Released on Two Rivers Records, on 23 September 2016, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Emilia Mårtensson vocals
Janez Dovč accordion, synth bass, electronics, vocals
Adriano Adewale percussion, vocals

eldatrio.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR014 (2016)

‘Let’s Dance’ – Per Oddvar Johansen

LetsDance

IT MAY BE CLICHÉD to describe an album as a ‘musical journey’, yet the progression in Let’s Dance very much suggests passage through the kind of open, atmospheric Scandinavian landscape portrayed on the cover of this new release from Norwegian drummer and multi-instrumentalist Per Oddvar Johansen. 

Although it marks his debut as leader – with longstanding colleagues Helge Lien (piano) and Torben Snekkestad (saxophones, reed trumpet) – Johansen’s established recording career has seen him appear on over eighty albums (ECM, ACT, etc.), collaborating with names such as Adam Baldych, Trygve Seim and Solveig Slettahjell, and collecting six Spellemannprisen (Norwegian Grammys).

This trio’s sound palette is many-hued, whilst maintaining a thread of serene majesty, as in opening title track Let’s Dance – a gentle, misty, Tord Gustavsen-like dawn with an arcing sunrise melody painted by Torben Snekkestad’s wispy, duduk-toned soprano sax. As a drummer, percussionist and composer, Johansen also has other instrumental capabilities up his sleeve on this recording (violins, vibes, guitars, etc.), yet the structural balance of these nine tracks is never in doubt. Forest Flower‘s atmospheric delicacy – with distorted reeds, low-sustained piano strings and fragile percussion respectively evoking bird calls, looming storms and the gradual onset of rainfall – is so beautifully imagined. Flying extends the themes of natural openness and shifting climatic conditions through the spacial rise and fall of electronics, violin and dewdrop vibraphone; and the lyrical, folksong qualities in No. 7 feel reminiscent of the work of Jonas Knutsson.

Helge Lien’s restrained yet exploratory piano style is central to many of these pieces, his authoritative sense of equilibrium shining through in Panorama, a dark, brooding episode suspended by his deeply-plumbed pedal notes and only occasional glimmers of brightness; and Per Oddvar’s brushed subtleties underpin Snekkestad’s lachrymose improvisations with incantational foreboding. In contrast, the lurching slide-guitar folksiness of Uluru (for Anette) suggests arrival at a woodland clearing, complete with the sound of lofty tweets and distant, flowing streams – one of a pair of delightful miniatures (with free, electro-percussive Impromptu) which perpetuate the pervading themes of free-roaming expedition.

The rubato of Families, over a slowly oscillating bass figure, offers both Snekkestad and Johansen a broad canvas to explore, with Lien’s own, single-line piano excursions finely placed; and closing track Song M is coloured by the beautifully richness of tenor sax amidst the tranquillity of brushed snare/cymbals and nebulous piano.

Recorded deep within the forests of Sweden, the tranquillity of Per Oddvar Johansen’s Let’s Dance may be interpreted as a grateful invocation to nature – and it’s not difficult, on close examination, to fall under its spell. Watch the video of the recording of the title track here.

Released on 25 March 2016, the album can be purchased from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Per Oddvar Johansen drums, violins, vibraphone, guitars, wood percussion, electronics
Helge Lien piano
Torben Snekkestad saxophones, reed trumpet

peroddvar.no

Edition Records – EDN1068 (2016)

‘The Mighty Five’ – Alexey Kruglov / Jaak Sooäär Quartet

TheMightyFive

THE PRACTICE of extracting music from one context and artfully adapting it for another has long been a fascination. Church organists, for example, can be such masters of disguise, relishing the opportunity to befuddle their listeners with, normally, the most incongruous of selections. So, this quartet release of sparky arrangements and improvisations by Alexey Kruglov (saxophones) and Jaak Sooäär (electric guitar), based on celebrated Russian classical masterpieces, instantly grabbed the attention.

Saxophonist Alexey Kruglov is a rising, creative star on the Russian and international jazz scene (his 2014 ACT Music release, Moscow, with renowned German pianist Joachim Kühn, of particular note) and Estonian guitarist Jaak Soäär has, for many years, featured prominently in the pop and jazz culture of his homeland. Joining them are seasoned jazz musicians Mihkel Mälgand (bass) and Tanel Ruben (drums).

In a programme of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev (the quartet sometimes include Cezar Cui – hence The Mighty Five), the players somehow retain the integrity of these familiar works whilst shifting them into an altogether different sphere – in turns, beautifully lyrical and punkily brazen. Yet, no matter how far they push the envelope, there is clearly a fundamental, underlying respect for and adherence to the originals.

The orchestral majesty of the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship) is, here, transformed by Kruglov’s alto into a luxurious, TV-theme-like sweep, with Sooäär’s guitar encouraging more energetic, improvised development – an altogether brilliant re-working. Polovtsian Dance (otherwise known as the Chorus of Polovtsian Girls from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor) is powered-up by crunchy rhythm guitar, its irregular metre paving the way for gutsy extemporisations. The first of the quartet’s interpretations from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Old Castle – possesses a fine, bluesy swagger, thanks to the pliant double bass of Mihkel Mägland, Kruglov’s hard sax tone and Sooäär’s high-fretted wails; and, audaciously and raucously, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is compressed into 75 seconds of intense pleasure, its wild, frenetic, group activity bordering on free jazz.

Mussorgsky’s stately The Great Gate of Kiev is fabulously fashioned with solid drumming, eloquent electric bass improv and the irrepressible scribbles and scrawls of Kruglov’s alto; then a Balakirev piano Nocturne is elegantly reimagined for jazz quartet, amidst hints of restlessness. Mussorgsky’s Baba-Yaga is well suited to the anarchic romp created here, including some wonderfully chattering soprano against a fast electric bass undercurrent, and Sooäär’s imaginative guitar/electronics are superb – a stand-out track, in fact. To close, Prince Igor’s Aria (Borodin’s emotive No Sleep, No Rest from Prince Igor) is sympathetically realised as extended chamber jazz, its many facets reflecting the shared invention throughout this extraordinary, rather special album.

Released on 11 November 2014, The Mighty Five is available, digitally, at Bandcamp.

 

Alexey Kruglov alto, soprano and baby saxophones, train whistle, shouts
Jaak Sooäär electric guitar, live electronics
Mihkel Mälgand double bass, electric bass
Tanel Ruben drums

ArtBeat Music – AB-CD-09-2014-074 (2014)

‘Woven Entity’ – Woven Entity

WovenEntity

THE INTRIGUE, acceptance and then fascination with offbeat musical creativity is a sequence of emotions which, in my book, remains enduringly satisfying – those awakening senses of discovery and abandonment exposing hitherto uncharted soundscapes.

Oliver Weindling’s Babel Label (now in its 21st year) is the place to head for such revelations, the latest being this eponymous debut from electro-percussive quartet Woven Entity: Lascelle Gordon (percussion and electronics), Patrick Dawes (percussion), Paul May (drums) and Peter Marsh (bass), joined by guests Ben Cowen (keys, electronics), Julie Kjaer (alto sax, flute) and Alan Wilkinson (alto sax).

Woven Entity’s four base quartet members have impressive individual CVs and, formed in 2010, this collaboration interlaces shifting, free-running textures, effects and grooves, all with a strong hypnotic attraction. The instrumental psychedelia becomes progressively immersive (especially when experienced loud) as the album proceeds with a phantasmagoria of electronics, percussion, mechanicals and field recordings, plus the introduction of atmospheric saxes and flute. This is not the jazz of comfortable melody and rhythm, hard- or post-bop, but rather an exploration into the unknown which initially feels mysterious – even challenging – but then, with its divergence, saturation and complexity of sound mix, arrives at ‘compelling’.

Selecting some pointers from the ten tracks, the randomness of bass, drums, bongos and balafon in Naked Eye gradually transforms into a mesmeric riff illuminated by the brash, dry African mystery of Julie Kjaer’s flute; This Day Will Come suggests woodland clearings, Peter Marsh’s thrummed bass accompanied by echoic birdsong and childlike harmonica; and So Black Dada‘s vocalised jaw harp and multifarious percussive rattlings are joined by the hollow-yet-melodic alto sax of Alan Wilkinson.

Trissh, an engaging ‘clockwork gamelan’, evolves into slow, deep trance peppered with electronics; and a cacophony of scribbles and scrawls announces ten-minute Earth/Crisis, a brooding, mobile bass riff over which Julie Kjaer’s alto fidgets and squawks almost involuntarily before heavy drumming builds in intensity, Kjaer’s electronically-manipulated sax becoming more shawm-like. Point Noir is bathed in esoteric mysticism, as if viewing safely from a distance, its brilliantly flutter-tongued flute over foreboding percussion and sustained, otherworldly electronics adding a sense of widescreen drama; and Moors & Orandas closes with its tantalisingly short burst of soundtrack, again featuring the propulsive bass of Marsh… a trailer for volume two, perhaps!

Check out this absorbing release for yourself, available both as physical CD and download (with unlimited streaming) at Bandcamp. Woven Entity’s excitingly original sound feels particularly visual (maybe an oxymoron, but true) – no surprise, then, that their live London appearances have been so warmly received.

 

Lascelle Gordon percussion and electronics
Patrick Dawes percussion
Paul May drums
Peter Marsh bass
with
Ben Cowen keys, electronics
Julie Kjaer alto saxophone, flute
Alan Wilkinson alto saxophone

wovenentity.blogspot.co.uk
babellabel.co.uk

Babel Label – BDV13123 (2014)

‘Fracture’ – Roller Trio

RollerTrio

SHATTERING any preconceptions of ‘jazz’, Fracture presents the breakaway sound of an impressively dynamic trio who know where they want to be heading with their musical creativity. Already with a much-lauded BBC Introducing performance to their name, as well as the kudos of Mobo and Mercury Prize nominations, Roller Trio’s second album consolidates their identity with a bold, exhilarating programme acuminated from their time on the road.

Hailing from Leeds, UK, the line-up of James Mainwaring (saxophone and electronics), Luke Wynter (guitar) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) radiates a confident, piquant spirit throughout ten instrumental numbers, indicating an unerring ability to absorb multifarious influences and regenerate them into powerful, unpredictable environments. Variously echoing the raw guitar energy of Troyka, the electro-ambiences of Brian Eno and perhaps even a trace of the Kaiser Chiefs’ driving rock, their satisfyingly complex grooves, electronics and improvisations are intertwined with accessible (memorable, even) hooks and melodies which hold the key to its overall appeal.

Engaging from the outset, Reef Knot spins to Luke Reddin-Williams’ quite impossibly beat-skipping pulse, yet the trio hold the whole concept incredibly tight – and James Mainwaring displays the most furiously fluid tenor capabilities, often in tandem with the similarly agile fret-work of Luke Wynter. Doris continues to push and pull rhythms at will with almost ska-tinged audacity, and the gear changes and slip-timings keep it well above interesting. The brief echoic guitar mystery of Low Tide introduces an early album highlight… High Tea, buzzing with hypnotic, electronic Eastern inflections. Tenor sax and guitar share its mystical mantra, whilst Mainwaring utters beautifully pop-phrased melodies; and, again, Reddin-Williams’ high energy at the kit is extraordinary.

Blistering 2 Minutes to 12 exudes TV thriller urgency with fabulously precise stop/start phrases; and Tracer floats across a smoothly-electronic soul soundscape reminiscent of Sade/Matthewman, its gently ticking beat providing the platform for luxurious tenor improvisations. The enquiring hook of guitar-led Splinter paves the way for lyrical-then-flamboyant soprano sax (shades of Portico), the importance of melody ever-present; and the apparent post-bop jazz amiability of Mango conceals a darker central section, revealing a band who are adept at ‘turning on a sixpence’ to create that element of surprise.

Three Pea Soup summons the guitar rhythmicity of Average White Band, albeit with an edge – and, sure enough, the trio take it off into spectacularly saturated, time-sig-challenging new levels (‘hard, at times, to believe this is a trio); and finally, the improvised, slow-burning, levitational guitar/electronics atmospheres of Tightrope suggest uncertainty, with Mainwaring’s crying, falling soprano adding to the intensity.

Released on 8 December, as a debut on the band’s own Lamplight Social Records label (which, they explain, provides them with total control of their output as well as making provision for future projects), Fracture is one of 2014’s most vibrantly original trio offerings, and it’s no surprise that Roller Trio are gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting new jazz talents – take a listen.

 

James Mainwaring saxophone, electronics
Luke Wynter guitar
Luke Reddin-Williams drums

rollertrio.com

Lamplight Social Records – LSRCD001 (2014)

‘#ONE’ – Black Top with Steve Williamson

BlackTop

THE ALBUM ART is intriguing, only subtly hinting at the extended explorations contained within. Recorded live at the creative crucible that is Jazz in the Round (curated by BBC Jazz on 3’s Jez Nelson at The Cockpit Theatre, London), duo Black Top collaborate with saxophonist Steve Williamson to produce an absorbing free jazz experience.

Former Jazz Warriors Pat Thomas (piano, keyboards and electronics) and Orphy Robinson (marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet and electronics) have, over the past three years, been experimenting with live instruments and lo-fi technology, inviting jazz ‘royalty’ such as Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde and Claude Deppa to guest with them to create a diversity of improvised trio sets. For this performance and subsequent debut release (recorded in January 2012), they welcomed back acclaimed saxophonist Steve Williamson, together setting up these excitingly original, live soundscapes.

The album’s three tracks cover a spectrum of musical textures and shifting atmospheres, referencing New York’s ‘Loft Scene’ avant-gardism of the 1970s as well as revealing Afro-Caribbean influences and dance rhythms. Piano, marimba and saxes take centre stage, but Black Top also infuse their evident virtuosity with a plenitude of beats, samples, loops and effects.

Opener There Goes the Neighbourhood! meanders to the unadorned sounds of tenor sax, marimba and piano, the three players spontaneously developing their shared ideas with increasing complexity, intermittently augmented by pounding electronic dubstep patterns and oscillations. The gradually-changing marimba ostinatos are, unsurprisingly, redolent of Steve Reich, Thomas’s full piano stabs adding to the hypnotic pulse and Williamson’s tenor melodically soaring above.

At almost 24 minutes in length, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner provides a central focus. The deep, hollow voice of the marimba possesses a strong personality, Robinson building its sustained, edgy mystery towards a repeated phrase on which Thomas lavishes a brash and richly percussive Cuban-style piano display, jabbing and rolling across the entire keyboard. Crunchy tenor heightens the excitement, Williamson blasting and scurrying to the concurrent fever. This expansive journey is initially indeterminate and unpredictable, yet the familiarity of repeated listenings remains just as compelling, the trance-like effect of spiralling soprano sax, rapid marimba, fuzzed electronics, jagged piano and thudding rhythm impressively gripping – and then a palpable calmness when it briefly dies back to more spacial cerebration. The closing section finds Williamson’s soprano sneering broadly at the keys, though piano and marimba are up for the challenge with the same tumultuous intensity… and appearing unresolved at the close!

Archaic Nubian Stepdub throws electronics to the fore in this funkier and more succinct closing track, its perpetual-though-shifting rhythms encouraging Williamson to reciprocate with similarly loop-mimicked soprano sax.

One of Babel Label’s 20th anniversary releases for 2014, the exhilarant rhythms and open environments of #ONE are capable of prompting an almost interactive listener response, such is their power to move. To sample and purchase, visit Babel’s website/Bandcamp store – and catch a great video excerpt of the gig here.

 

Pat Thomas piano, keyboards, electronics
Orphy Robinson marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet, electronics
with
Steve Williamson tenor and soprano saxophones

Babel Label – BDV14128 (2014)