‘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)

‘Constant Movement’ – Þorgrímur Jónsson Quintet

ConstantMovement

ICELANDIC JAZZ frequently delivers a jetstream of cool sophistication, somehow viewing things from a different perspective, whether through abstract impressionism or invigorating accessibility. The latter is certainly the case with new release Constant Movement from the Þorgrímur Jónsson Quintet.

Bassist Þorgrímur “Toggi” Jónsson (Þ = Th in Iceland’s alphabet) will be familiar to many as the backbone of pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs’ trio (current release, Cielito Lindo). But this is quite a different venture, his own ten originals brought to life with the help of a fine personnel: Ari Bragi Kárason (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ólafur Jansson (tenor sax), Kjartan Valdemarsson (piano, Rhodes) and Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson (drums).

Jónsson’s creative approach is multi-faceted, so there’s always a sense of something new at each turn – and that is manifested both in attention-grabbing musicality and playful whimsy. The imperturbable stride of Humble borders on easy-listening, but its catchy phrases and Ólafur Jónsson’s lazy tenor are irresistible; the same goes for cloudless Mountain View, whose purposeful, spring-in-the-step gait provides a platform for sublime, ascending flugel and sax riffs, with the clarity of Toggi Jónsson’s double bass momentum providing a steady pathway. Then, all at once, retro-pop-grooving In Berlin bursts through, a dazzling powerhouse of incisive Rhodes and trumpet improv underpinned by electric bass and metallic percussion (by now, there’s the realisation that this project must surely be a labour of love).

Somewhere between Stan Getz and trad jazz, From Above sedately floats down the river – you can almost smell sweet honeysuckle and feel the glinting sun’s warmth. The trumpet and tenor pairing of tijuana-style Eastern Time Zone is irresistible (again, Valdemarsson’s Rhodes explorations are deliciously fervid); and title track Constant Movement‘s irrepressible Puerto Rican beat, courtesy of Toggi Jónsson and Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson, feels like it might party all night long.

Crystalline acoustic piano in Hringrás invites restrained, hymnal expression from trumpet, sax and arco bass to a backdrop of shimmering cymbals; and Rotation‘s sumptuous, Latinesque swagger is emphasised by splendidly articulate bass and brazen, muted trumpet. A tongue-in-cheek whiff of ’60s comedy movie theme or Alan Moorhouse marching band might be imagined in horn-swooning Don’t Panic, though again it possesses characterful charm through its jabbing Rhodes, bass piano-string strikes and luxurious soloing; and Spiffy presents perhaps the most convivial, straight-ahead jazz of the recording.

This is undoubtedly good-time music with a sparkle in its eye, offering bags of interest fired by impassioned musicianship. In fact, a must-listen.

Released on 14 August 2016, Constant Movement is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Ari Bragi Kárason trumpet, flugelhorn
Ólafur Jónsson tenor saxophone
Kjartan Valdemarsson piano, Rhodes
Þorgrímur “Toggi” Jónsson acoustic bass, electric bass
Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson drums

Sunny Sky Records – Sunny Sky 736 (2016)

‘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)

‘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)

‘Cerca’ – Paragon

paragon

IF IT ISN’T already impressive that this quartet recorded new album Cerca over just two days – in Cologne, around their touring schedule – the resulting studio capture of ten exciting new compositions is nothing short of brilliant.

Paragon have been on the scene for a decade, releasing two previous albums in that time (amongst numerous other projects), forging a distinctive fusion of instrumental jazz and blues imbued with a profusion of world and retro influences. Sharing writing credits here are saxophonist Peter Ehwald and pianist Arthur Lea, with Matthias Nowak (bass) and Jon Scott (drums) completing the Anglo-German line-up.

Key to the band’s individuality are the remarkably varicoloured textures and effects shaped by Lea’s Fender Rhodes – and immediately it’s Lea and his own Cerca de Ti that glistens with keyboard sparkle to the recognisable spiky drum signature of Jon Scott (as heard in Kairos 4tet, Dice Factory, Monocled Man, etc.). Matthias Nowak’s bass grooves are resonant and melodic, frequently doubling Lea’s phrases, and there’s an appealing, brisk confidence to Ehwald’s alto – it’s a boisterous opener, evidencing the band’s cohesion and like-mindedness. East to West and the later North to South are miniatures from Ehwald’s pen whose explorations are more spacial, the latter gradually teasing and accelerating its way with great alto grit towards a Soft Machine-like wah-wahed Rhodes riff. Unsurprisingly, Delhi Belly swirls animatedly to bhangra-style motifs in which Ehwald luxuriates, Lea contributing progressively flamboyant glissandi and tremulant gyrations; Nowak’s bass is always beautifully prominent and inventive (no mere support), and Scott never disappoints, constantly shifting emphases and pulling new tricks out of the stick bag.

Ehwald’s Bohdan is a firecracker of a tune, snapping and changing course at every opportunity, featuring his extended, fluid sax runs coupled with bluesy piano from Lea who also switches into sputtering, echoic prog. jazz electronics over intense bass and drums; and whilst there’s a clear sense of written structure, the band always bubbles assuredly with improvisatory freedom – a real pleasure to hear. Arco bass introduces the quietly unsettled, irregular pulse of Glory, a nevertheless beautifully-weighted piece which features Ehwald upfront in soft, reflective and slightly melancholy vein; and the following ’60s-suggested Blue Eyes White Dragon provides contrast with its chirpy shared sax/Rhodes melodies over an infectiously shuffling rhythm, Lea’s sustained Rhodes daring to masquerade as a Hammond – ‘love it!

Fat Pig‘s title perhaps belies the sumptuousness of its nature, Peter Ehwald’s laid-right-back tenor and Arthur Lea’s classic Rhodes timbre wallowing splendidly in an intriguing, shimmering undercurrent of double bass, cymbals and hard snare/toms – another of the manifold sound worlds this quartet can conjure. At times, mysterious and questioning, Linguine moves with ease and, featuring fine extended soloing from both Ehwald and Lea, hangs together superbly in its subtly NYC way. Similarly, the Ballade which closes the album is perfectly realised, the eloquent bass solo of Nowak complementing the soft, Paul Desmond-like characteristics of Ehwald’s balladic playing – and with that quintessential Rhodes ambience… all is well.

Released in the UK on 13 October 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, Cerca comes from a band who are, indeed, a paragon of contemporary jazz excellence – one foot in the tradition, the other pushing forward with the combined fervour and eclecticism of their experiences. This is very much a repeat-player, and I suspect they are thrilling to catch ‘live’ (UK dates below).

 

Peter Ehwald saxophones
Jon Scott drums
Arthur Lea Fender Rhodes
Matthias Nowak double bass

2014 UK tour dates
28 October: Schmazz, Jazz Café, Newcastle
30 October: The Spin @ The Wheatsheaf, Oxford
31 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, London
02 November: Milestones Jazz Club, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft
03 November: Jazz Café, Clifford Arms, Teignmouth
04 November: Jazz Club, Western Hotel, St Ives

paragonlikesyou.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ014 (2014)

‘Forward In All Directions’ – Andy Milne & Dapp Theory

AndyMilne

THE DISTILLATION of the genres that the five members of Dapp Theory inhabit and are influenced by produces a new album of quite dazzling musicianship. Directed by pianist and keyboardist Andy Milne, Forward In All Directions primarily exudes jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop, with a dash of vocal poetry – yet this resulting programme of Milne’s ten originals borders on the uncategorizable, such is the breadth of its creativity and eclecticism.

Firmly established on the New York jazz scene and respected highly as both musician and educator, Canadian-born Andy Milne’s CV speaks for itself, including associations with Steve Coleman, Joe Lovano, Archie Shepp and Ravi Coltrane. Dapp Theory has been in existence for some fifteen years and was formed, in Milne’s words, to “tell passionate stories, promote peace and inspire collective responsibility towards uplifting the human spiritual condition.” He sees this latest release – co-produced by renowned Yellowjackets founder Jimmy Haslip – as a milestone; and that sense of celebration is communicated by a personnel equally adept with angulous strength and dreamy lyricism: Aaron Kruziki (reeds and programming), John Moon (vocal poetry), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Kenny Grohowski (drums and percussion). Guesting are Ben Monder (guitar), Jean Baylor (lead vocal) and Gretchen Parlato (additional vocals).

From the percussive complexity and pressing, synthy urgency of opener Hopscotch to the Return To Forever-like wordless vocal balm of Katharsis, there is much to discover here. Indeed, the profusion of the writing, instrumentation and improvisation within this sixty-five minutes is spectacularly whelming on a first hearing – and then different spotlights illuminate the detail over time in an abundant journey of discovery. Photographs illustrates this, its wonderfully crisp, buoyant rhythm supporting a shared, bright lead from Milne’s synth and Aaron Kruziki’s soprano; and Kenny Grohowski’s jazz/rock drumming technique (so well produced) is compelling throughout. A chilling, menacing theme in Search Party is maintained brilliantly by Fender Rhodes, synths and electric bass with sustained, inquiring lines from Ben Monder’s guitar; here, the anxious, megaphone-style vocal poetry of John Moon is well suited.

The combination of Christopher Tordini’s earthy, tensile double bass and Kruziki’s douduk sets up the mysterious Eastern-imbued landscape of In The Mirror, Darkly. Then, conjuring a late ’70s sound world (echoes of Wayne Shorter, Jeff Berlin, Billy Cobham and National Health’s Dave Stewart), Nice To Meet You hits a kind of balanced retro funkiness, Milne’s colourful, chordal acoustic piano chords a key element of this stand-out track. The Trust‘s bass clarinet and sinewy piano sinisterly waltz and intertwine to Tordini’s supple double bass, Milne revelling in the open space; and the grittiness of his Rhodes in How And When Versus What encourages a terrific groove which gives way to serene, guitar-led transcendence (there’s so much in this!).

Dreamy sax-led interlude Fourteen Fingers precedes a final, nine-minute spectacle of ‘prog’ proportions – Headache In Residence – thanks to its slow-burning, overdriven guitar energy. And, as with this entire project, it’s the sum of its parts which defines its ingenuity, Andy Milne and his colleagues evidently putting their heart and soul into it. In all directions… it’s quite a blast!

Released on 8 September 2014, further information, audio clips, purchasing and promo video can be found at Whirlwind Recordings.

 

Andy Milne piano, prepared piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesisers
Aaron Kruziki soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, douduk,
alto saxophone, additional keyboard programming
John Moon vocal poetics (tracks 2, 4, 5)
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Kenny Grohowski drums and percussion
with guests
Ben Monder guitar
Jean Baylor lead vocal
Gretchen Parlato additional vocals

andymilne.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4660 (2014)

‘Devotion’ – Marko Churnchetz

Print

THAT MOMENT when the ears prick up and the spine tingles. In the world of contemporary jazz, it happens fairly frequently… but not so often to this level. Debuting on the Whirlwind label, Slovenian pianist/keyboardist and composer Marco Churnchetz may just have entered the annual ‘best of’ stakes with Devotion – an outstanding programme of originals.

New York-based Churnchetz (Črnčec) is clearly influenced by the 1970s explosion of seminal keyboard creatives, including Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Together with an exceptional Stateside quartet – Mark Shim (tenor sax, midi controller), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Justin Brown (drums) – he melds stylish post-bop jazz and progressive jazz/rock grooves into an intoxicatingly distinctive fusion. And all presided over by his own staggering pianistic proficiency.

Being There is a suitably sizzling curtain-raiser, the quartet’s acoustic personae bristling with energy, Churnchetz and tenorist Mark Shim quite breathtaking in their relentless extemporisations. Here is a band high in confidence, in full control – yet this is only for starters! The rapid piano and Patrick Moraz-like midi synth runs of feverish, flamencan Schizo prepare the way for the most incredibly gritty tenor show from Shim… and it’s the pin-sharp rhythmic edge provided by double bassist Tordini and drummer Brown which perpetuates the tingling excitement. Title track Devotion cymbal-shimmers to the lyrical meanderings of piano and tenor – a beautifully open and considered ballad which demonstrates this quartet’s shared intuition, building in intensity with Shim reaching his higher register.

The jazz fusion pizazz of Gonzalost (presumably a reference to the brilliance of Afro-Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba) is one of the finest recorded displays I have experienced all year. The perfect electric bass and Fender Rhodes groove partnership here summons memories of Bill Bruford’s late ’70s solo releases (Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin), Shim carrying the pitch-bent synth torch brightly, and Justin Brown (fix the ‘drum cam’ on him!) absolutely scintillating at the kit. Complete with infectious Latin piano octaves and tremendous band co-ordination throughout, this is one for iPod repeat mode. A brief Interprelude keeps the pot boiling, leading to similarly blazing (and appropriately titled) Risk Free, characterised by highly-charged tenor and piano, and inhabitating a sound world which nods to the likes of Weather Report and the Moutin Reunion Quartet. Running at eight minutes (and in common with most of the tracks), there is space for themes and ideas to develop, Shim’s searching tenor displaying Shorteresque beauty, and Justin Brown magnificent in hard-hitting complexity.

Shim’s mellifluous tenor lead in Without Tomorrow is achingly beautiful against supporting acoustic piano, bass and drums – an exquisite repose before the keyboard-fest of Late sparkles to the retro-imbued mix of Rhodes, midi controller, electric bass and drums (sans sax) – utterly irresistible. The closing Improvisation finds Churnchetz’s solo piano animated, rippling and enquiring – a raw glimpse of his unfettered creative genius.

Released on 7 July 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

A wondrous release – not to be missed!

 

Marko Churnchetz piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards
Mark Shim tenor saxophone, Yamaha Wind electric MIDI controller
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Justin Brown drums

markocrncec.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4653 (2014)