‘La Saboteuse’ – Yazz Ahmed

YazzAhmed

THE SMOULDERING, exotic and aromatic layers of trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse have gradually been infusing my psyche for the past few weeks – and it’s precisely this slowly unfolding, intoxicating weave which makes it both alluring and satisfyingly difficult to pigeonhole. 

Ahmed’s credentials to date speak for themselves, having worked alongside such illustrious names as Courtney Pine, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sir John Dankworth, as well as appearing on albums by artists including Samuel Hällkvist, Noel Langley and Radiohead; and following on from 2011 solo debut Finding My Way Home, the British-Bahraini musician describes this latest, sumptuous release as part of a long, spiritual journey: “the relationship between the optimism of my conscious self and the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, my inner saboteur”. It quite ingeniously fuses a personal desire to delve more deeply into her childhood experiences – the culture of the Middle East and the sounds of its maqam and folk music traditions – with the already exciting cross-pollinations of the current jazz scene. The resulting assimilation by Ahmed and her sparkling players is a hypnotic, almost continuous work of extraordinary nuance and breadth.

Exquisite illustrations, calligraphy and the trumpeter’s own engaging sleeve notes about the music and each of her personnel instantly reveal a labour of love (also confirming the advantage of artistic completeness which the physical product will always have over digital download or streaming), preparing the ground for immersion in this fragrant, almost hour-long labyrinth. Jamil Jamal‘s alternating seven-then-eight percussive metre is set up by a Rhodes and electric bass pulse, embellished by searching improvisations from the leader’s flugel and bass clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings; and, as throughout the album, details such as echoic guitar and hazy electronics add significantly to the suffusion. Indeed, Ahmed’s mastery of textural effect is much in evidence, as in The Space Between the Fish & the Moon, a mystical expanse of bowed vibraphone, digital oscillations and crackles traversed by blissful flugel.

The fluctuating riches of this recording are magnificent – dark, spacial, contrapuntal and unison phrases in title track La Saboteuse become interspersed with muted Arabian annunciations, whilst Al Emadi‘s brassy effusiveness is carried on a wave of bendir and darbuka, with so many fascinating embellishments contributing to its cinematic mood. The vibes-introduced buoyancy of The Lost Pearl has a subtle redolence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, albeit with syncopated, effects-swirling electric bass rhythms; and all the while, Ahmed’s assured imaginings ripple above. In Bloom, Martin France’s rapid pop-groove injects light into the pervading mystery, its otherwise straight-ahead demeanour glinting with vibes and (at one point, politely screeching) flugel; and Beleille‘s complex network of tonal intrigue (including bizarre electronic manipulations of bass clarinet) makes this one of this album’s most absorbing listens. Delicate miniatures, segued between these expansive pieces, provide a sense of continuity which may well be elaborated upon when performed live – and celebratory Organ External, with a riffy hint of Michael Nyman, intelligently seems to throw everything into the mix with great results, the low timbres of flugel and bass clarinet especially effective.

Yazz Ahmed’s atmospheres are lush, inventive, enticing and an impressive, progressive distillation of her many influences. In short – spellbinding.

Released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017, La Saboteuse is available as CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Yazz Ahmed flugelhorn, trumpet, quarter-tone flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet
Samuel Hällkvist electric guitars
Naadia Sheriff Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Dudley Phillips bass guitar
Dave Manington bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom)
Martin France drums
Corrina Silvester bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit

Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed

yazzahmed.com

Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)

‘Green’ – Tom Syson

TomSyson

TRUMPET was Tom Syson’s musical focus from an early age, and Green – his debut sextet release as both composer and player – clearly fanfares a mature artistic vision. 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Tom Syson trumpet, compositions
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone
Ben Lee electric guitar
David Ferris piano, Fender Rhodes
Pete Hutchison double bass
Jonathan Silk drum kit
with
Lauren Kinsella vocals (on Raindrops)

tomsyson.com

Self-released – TSYSCD01 (2017)

‘Strand’ – James Lindsay

TUMBLING with Gaelic threads which evoke festal reels and climatic atmospheres, Scottish bassist James Lindsay’s Strand – his debut as leader – melds grooving jazz, traditional folk and zesty rock to create a tapestry of airy, attractive landscapes.

A regular session musician and arranger, Glasgow-based Lindsay won the Martyn Bennett prize for composition in 2014 and is also a member of multi-award-winning folk band Braebeach. This programme of eight, broad numbers for sextet features lithe flute and fiddle melodies, instantly placing his original music ‘north of the border’; but don’t be fooled by its initial easy-going nature, as this ensemble works together to produce what becomes an inviting, contrasting weave of warm, incisive melody and textural detail. There are hints of the focus and camaraderie of the BBC’s Transatlantic Sessions – perhaps unsurprising, given that this album’s engineer, Iain Hutchinson, was key to that long-term project – yet the bassist’s jazz sensibilities also imbue his compositions with creative twists of opportunity for he and his players to offer their own improvisational flair.

Scotland’s rich and distinctive musical heritage is evident throughout, as in the mist-clearing expanses of Hebrides Terrace Seamount (the largest undersea mountain in the British Isles) which are coloured by Hamish Napier’s tremulant flute and Adam Sutherland’s lilting, portamento violin; and The Silent Spring‘s soft rivulets of Celtic-tinged melody reflect its compositional inspiration, a hidden stream which now supplies one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries (pianist Tom Gibbs’ sole use of Fender Rhodes throughout this recording contributes greatly in blending tradition with contemporary ideas). Ben Macdonald’s country-rock electric guitar motion underpins Sòdhaigh (one of the isles of Skye), buoyed by fresh, unison flute and fiddle tunes, then side-footed into a tricksy, rhythmic pattern from drummer Scott Mackay; and Shallow Firth‘s more pressing Rhodes-and-guitar dominance echoes the composer’s interest in the work of jazz luminaries Bill Frisell and Ben Wendel.

Lindsay takes much inspiration from his native shores, so UB85, despite its breezy, flutey demeanour, is in fact based on a true story of sea monsters and a sunken German U-boat – and again the transition into another phase (a lurching, Groove Armada-style figure) is delightful, delicately enhanced by Sutherland’s jazz fiddle and Napier’s breathy harmonics. The rhythmic union of Lindsay, Macdonald, Gibbs and Mackay sails blithely around Stacks, supporting a spirited folk tune which celebrates these impressive geographical features of Scotland’s west coast with joyful, Joe Sample-like Rhodes acciaccaturas and trills as well as washy, iridescent seascapes, plus a measure of crashing-wave guitar grit. The soft-rock, up-in-the-clouds impressions of Forvie Sands / Creel (again, landscape-themed) are elegantly dancelike, infused with sustained electric guitar and bluesy fiddle; and widescreen Beaufort’s Dyke (inspired by a Wesleyan hymn tune) closes with a simple, longing sense of ‘going home’.

A few pre-recording studio videos – The Silent Spring, Forvie Sands and Hebrides Terrace Seamount – offer a glimpse of this accessible, fine and heartwarming Scottish excursion.

Released on 2 June 2017, Strand is available as a digital download or limited edition CD from Bandcamp.

 

James Lindsay double bass, compositions
Hamish Napier flute, Wurlitzer
Adam Sutherland fiddle
Ben Macdonald guitar
Tom Gibbs Fender Rhodes
Scott Mackay drums

Cover art: Into the Blue – Jane McMillan

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD001 (2017)

‘Cross-Platform Interchange’ – Misha Mullov-Abbado

MishaM-A

IT SAYS MUCH about the rude health of the British contemporary jazz scene when an album such as London-based Misha Mullov-Abbado’s Cross-Platform Interchange makes its arrival with this level of young, high-spirited musicality.

The bassist’s second album – “dedicated to my love of trains, travelling, movement and constantly evolving musical journeys” – is a breath of fresh air as eight original, often European-inflected compositions offer an entertaining ‘itinerary’ of verve, lucid beauty and obvious humour, all delivered by a three-horn septet augmented with guest musicians. Mullov-Abbado’s musical progression comes as no surprise (the son of acclaimed classical artists Viktoria Mullova and the late Claudio Abbado), yet he has already embarked on his own creative route which appears to take in so many influences.

These fifty-seven minutes are, indeed, something of an eclectic sightseeing adventure, with the winding, bluesy, ‘in-crowd’ bass-groove of Shanti Bell announcing its departure, whilst a steam-filled segue accelerates into high-speed Mariachi folk tune No Strictly Dancing, characterised by James Davison’s blistering trumpet and the hissing perpetual motion provided by drummer Scott Chapman and percussionist Elad Neeman. Mullov-Abbado explains that these compositions have been written, performed and honed over a two-year period, so they take inspiration from different sources. The echoic, tumbling-sax atmospheres of Waves divert into a pictorial vista stretching for miles; and its deep, reedy, dance-band elegance suggests romantic evocations of early 20th Century rail travel (dedicated with love to the bassist’s stepfather, Matthew Barley, whose cello adornments can be heard here); and Still, Hidden Morning‘s hazy aurora again tumbles into swiftly-travelling percussiveness, illuminated by Liam Diunachie’s deft, US-soul piano improvisations as well as the vividly-phrased, fluctuating impressions of fleeting landscapes from saxophonists Matthew Herd and Sam Rapley, and James Davison on flugel.

‘Wensleydale-and-cracker’ antics in Gromit’s Grand Outing (complete with animated, Nick Park sound effects) mischievously bluster to Mullov-Abbado’s flapper-style fast-walking bass – but behind the madcap comedy are some great, bubbling, trad-jazz-club solo turns from the melodicists (the Mozart didn’t go unnoticed!). Pure 100% Nunnery‘s cool-cat sax lines nonchalantly shuffle (cue the tea dance), breaking into magnificent, Louis Armstrong-style abandon/cacophony before its exaggerated swoons hint at the opening titles of ‘That Darn Cat’. Blithe title track Cross-Platform Interchange hits an irresistible Stateside groove, thanks to Rob Luft’s rhythm guitar and Dunachie’s piano, along with a smooth horn-quartet backing (including bass trombonist Yusuf Narcin); and Latinesque Hair of the Bop‘s elaborate conga patterns and trumpet/sax melodies infuse the closing festivities with delectable, Mexican warmth as Mullov-Abbado’s express disappears around the cove.

An album of new music imbued with Misha-Mullov Abbado’s cultural experiences, Cross-Platform Interchange teems with life and cheer.

Released on 19 May 2017 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass, bass guitar
James Davison trumpet, flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto saxophone
Sam Rapley tenor saxophone, clarinet
Liam Dunachie piano, Fender Rhodes
Scott Chapman drums
Elad Neeman percussion
with 
Nick Goodwin acoustic guitar
Rob Luft electric guitar
Matthew Barley cello
Yusuf Narcin bass trombone

mishamullovabbado.com

Edition Records – EDN1091 (2017)

‘Liberetto III’ – Lars Danielsson

Liberetto III

A KEY FASCINATION with Swedish bassist, cellist and composer Lars Danielsson’s Liberetto III is that his original music’s instrumental fluctuations and juxtapositions frequently pose thoughts of “What is that instrument or combination of sounds?”

The third of the bassist/composer’s recordings under this title again brings together guitarist John Paricelli and drummer Magnus Öström to form the core quartet, this time with pianist Grégory Privat; and as before, some of Danielsson’s twelve new pieces also feature a clutch of guests (including returning trumpeter Arve Henriksen) to further varicolour the attractive, pictorialised soundscapes.

German label ACT Music (this year celebrating its 25th anniversary) has successfully continued to discover and nurture a distinctive, European ‘family’ of artists; and Danielsson’s output is very much a part of its prolific release catalogue – typically cosmopolitan, infused with cross-cultural atmospheres and refractions, defined by a welcome lack of boundary. Describing the project’s development, he refers to the band having a ‘sixth sense’ which comes from playing together so much; and this surely is a factor in why this array of ebullient, haunting and even spiritual expressions melds together so well across the album’s fifty-five minutes.

Lars Danielsson’s melodic approach is not unlike that of German bassist Eberhard Weber, and his bright, lyrical vibrato is prominent in opening numbers Preludium and Agnus Dei, with the latter’s warm, hymnal equilibrium emphasised by Arve Henriksen’s subtle trumpet and Björn Bohlin’s oboe d’amore. With Magnus Öström driving the precise energy of numbers such as Lviv, there’s a pleasing inevitability of his brushed ‘perpetuum mobile’ summoning e.s.t., confirmed by Danielsson’s searing, screeching strings in Dawn Dreaming. Hussam Aliwat’s oud and John Paracelli’s acoustic guitar enhance the dusky, heated Arabic flavours of Taksim by Night and also (showcasing Grégory Privat’s rapid, pianistic flair) catchy Sonata in Spain.

The clear, reverential aspects of the bassist’s compositions and arrangements are particularly magnetic – from the melancholy trumpet phrasing and wordless vocal of Henriksen in Orationi (which also features an achingly beautiful solo from Danielsson) to a similarly wistful pastorale, Da Salo, painted with exquisite, teardrop watercolours from Bohlin’s English horn. The appealing African-lute timbres of Danielsson’s gimbri are given a contemporary twist in Gimbri Heart as chromatic trumpet and sustained effects prompt the leader’s flamboyant rock cello; and the echoic, French elegance of Mr Miller (US bassist Marcus Miller also, incidentally, a master of the gimbri) suggests the romanticism of Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ and Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ – glimpses of European classical and folk, throughout this album, add so much.

To close, affably scurrying guitar lollipop Affretando spreads soft sunshine with theme-tune-like memorability until slow, eventide bossa nova Berchidda seemingly honours Antônio Carlos Jobim in sublime suspension, featuring Danielsson’s dulcet high-bass melodies, with great attention to detail.

Released on 26 May 2017, Liberetto III somehow casts a spell… a real joy to hear, again and again.

Available from ACT Music, Amazon and iTunes.

 

Lars Danielsson double bass, cello, piano, wah-wah cello, gimbri
Grégory Privat piano, Fender Rhodes
John Paricelli guitars
Magnus Öström drums, percussion
with guests
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Dominic Miller acoustic guitar
Hussam Aliwat oud
Björn Bohlin English horn, oboe d’amore
Mathias Eick trumpet

ACT Music – Act 9840-2

‘Burn the Boat’ – Fini Bearman

Fini

“ABANDON THE SHIP, embrace the water, take a leap of faith… don’t think of what could stop you.”

Such a challenge should resonate with all truly creative musicians. And if you ever ruminated on whether the songwriter’s art had mostly degenerated into a three-chord trick – with a middle eight, if you’re lucky – then vocalist and composer/lyricist Fini Bearman traverses vast, colourful oceans to dispel those notions (see what I did there?). 2014’s album of new interpretations from George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess is an especially captivating listen; but now, with Burn the Boat, Bearman presents a collection of mostly self-penned songs, three of which are crafted upon the works of American/Portuguese poets.

The point of difference in Fini Bearman’s melodic, contemporary/folk artistry is that its basis is in contemporary jazz – and from that genre’s sea of accomplished instrumentalists, you could hardly wish for finer collaborators than Matt Robinson (keys), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). Here is a writer who not only vividly communicates her own thoughts and others’, but also wraps the sung words in shifting waves of colour and texture, combining crashing breakers with coruscating pools of heart-on-sleeve emotion. Recorded at residential Giant Wafer Studios, tucked away in rural Mid Wales, there’s a tangible sense of conviviality emanating from these fifty minutes – and familiarity with these nine originals only heightens the attraction.

Sand on Sand‘s airy, exuberant invitation to “Step out of the darkness… and into the light” is layered with vocals as piano, guitar and synth washes perpetuate its positive spirit – and alongside the bubbling, commercial appeal, it is crowned with lush instrumental finesse. Title track Burn the Boat‘s scratchy guitar-rock ascension (Costley-White’s electronics so ‘on it’ here) enhances the suppleness of Bearman’s emphatic delivery as Robinson’s synth lines soar overhead, whilst the catchy, poetic lines of Gone, co-written by Tommy Antonio – “Fell asleep with my clothes on, screensaver waving ’til dawn” – are musically ’70s-reminiscent of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille; and, again, it’s difficult to emphasise enough the incisive jazz invention.

Deeply-felt You Bring the Sunlight focuses on the strong bonds of relationship (“I’d rather have nothing at all”), the folksy, guitar- and piano-accompanied gracefulness suggesting a touch of ‘talkin’ at me’ Harry Nilsson; and Bearman’s playful miniature I Know, I Alone (based on Richard Zenith’s translation of Fernando Pessoa’s short poem) is carried by Dave Hamblett’s colourful percussive display. Maybe Next Year‘s reluctant acceptance is portrayed through an imaginative, undulating arrangement enhanced by the improvisatory clarity of Robinson and Costley-White, whilst Langton Hughes’ poem The Idea inspires a purposeful touch of soundtrack, or even musical theatre – much of that due to Bearman’s characteristic, acute sense of expression and storytelling.

Say the Words is an album standout to put on loop – buoyed by Conor Chaplin’s aqueous yet mobile electric bass and Matt Robinson’s Latinesque piano highlights, this exquisite, soulful, shuffling groove is so evocative of Stevie Wonder that a vocal duet with Fini is imaginable! Such a Fool closes the album, bathing E E Cummings’ poetry in watercolour atmospherics before its animated conclusion – and he couldn’t have foretold it better: “May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living.”

Released on Two Rivers Records, Burn the Boat is a ‘must hear’, available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman voice, composition
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, synths
Nick Costley-White guitar
Conor Chaplin bass
Dave Hamblett drums

Album art by Fini Bearman

finibearman.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-015 (2016)

‘All Things’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

src_allthings

SLOWLY ROLLING CAMERA’s eponymous 2014 debut release made a strong impression, garnering an enthusiastic, international fanbase – and follow-up All Things powers to still greater heights with its dynamic blend of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz and rock.

Fronted by charismatic vocalist, vocal arranger and lyricist Dionne Bennett – whose deep, emotional timbres are the band’s signature – the central quartet completed by Dave Stapleton (keyboards), Deri Roberts (sound design, electronics, percussion) and Elliot Bennett (drums, percussion) calls upon an impressive complement of musicians to assist in realising their ambitious, lush, almost rock-symphonic imaginings. Echoes of The Cinematic Orchestra are authenticated by the presence of guitarist Stuart McCallum; jazz collaborators Ben Waghorn and Laura Jurd provide improvisational flair; and strings enhance the cinemascopic fervour whilst also providing contrasting tranquillity.

Dionne Bennett’s intense, often angsty delivery is perfect for this album’s pervading themes of ‘relationships and the human condition’, and her inflected control, vibrato and sumptuous harmonies feel matchless on the current scene. Scintillation, for example, smoulders over searing strings before erupting into darting rhythms and instrumental soloing over tremulant Fender Rhodes, with tensile “I feel your fire” vocals at snapping point; and McCallum’s reverberant electric guitar paints the sky with incandescent white light. Key to the band’s percussive drive is Elliot Bennett, whose intricacy and energy is always so compelling to watch and hear – opener The Fix is typical of his kaleidoscopic approach, combining weighty, held-back lurching with pin-sharp, cymbal-thrashing accuracy.

It’s difficult to overstate how slick and how layered this production is. Delusive‘s catchy core riff recalls Harold Faltermeyer’s ‘Axel F’; Dave Stapleton’s introduction of the Moog synth, especially in High Praise and Room with a View, is inspired – evocative of ’70s prog, it adds so much to this tumultuous, energising 21st Century landscape; and Deri Roberts’ sound manipulation in Oblivion, supporting Dionne Bennett’s frenetic, shouted choruses of “Leave me alone” confirm that any one of this album’s nine tracks could be the dramatic backdrop to a blockbuster thriller (and equally at home on BBC 6 Music’s playlists).

The transformation of one of Stapleton’s earlier, minimalist, Gorecki-inspired piano works (from his own album Flight) into the soulful vocal outpouring of Unsetting Sun is effective, with string quartet intensifying the heart-wrenched emotion; The Brink is a standout, pulsating, soul/rock episode, with McCallum’s cascading guitar lines enhancing its exciting cacophony; and wind-down end-piece All Things, complete with oscillating synth sirens, wraps up this breathtaking 46-minute visceral explosion.

The ‘difficult second album’? Not… a… chance!

Released on 4 November 2016, All Things is available as LP, CD and digital download from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Dionne Bennett lyrics, vocals, vocal arrangements
Dave Stapleton Fender Rhodes, Moog, string arrangements, piano
Deri Roberts sound design, electronics, production, pandeiro, cuica, berimbau, udu, cabasa, calabash, ghungharu bells, finger cymbals, seed pod shaker
Elliot Bennett drums, tumbadores, bongos, shakers, ribbon crasher, bells
with
Stuart McCallum guitar
Aidan Thorne double bass, electric bass
Ben Waghorn saxophones, bass clarinet
plus
Laura Jurd trumpet
Gareth Roberts trombone
Simon Kodurand violin
Christiana Mavron violin
Katy Rowe violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Niamh Ferris viola
Sarah Davison cello
Abigail Blackman cello
and (on Unsetting Sun)
David Brodowski violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Felix Tanner viola
Reinoud Ford cello

slowlyrollingcamera.com

Edition Records – EDN1080 (2016)