‘Soldiering On’ – The Dissolute Society

HATS OFF (bowler style, if you like) to trombonist Raph Clarkson and his eight-piece ensemble of musical mavericks in the creation of Soldiering On – a kaleidoscopic and often avant garde debut release from The Dissolute Society, with guests including Huw Warren (piano, accordion) and Mia Marlen Berg (vocals, effects).

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 11 May 2018 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman vocals
Raph Clarkson trombone, vocals
Laura Jurd trumpet
Naomi Burrell violin
Zosia Jagodzinska cello
Gustav Clarkson viola
Phil Merriman keys, synth bass
Simon Roth drums
with special guests
Huw Warren piano, accordion
Mia Marlen Berg vocals, FX
Joshua Idehen vocals
Mike Soper trumpet

thedissolutesociety.com

Babel Label – BDV16145 (2018)

 

 

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‘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)

‘Porgy & Bess’ – Fini Bearman

Porgy&Bess

GEORGE GERSHWIN’S 1930s American folk opera, Porgy & Bess – a tale of against-all-odds love set against a backdrop of prostitution and drug addiction – is known to many for its popular songs such as Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So and I Loves You Porgy.

In 1959, iconic jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and renowned bandleader Gil Evans together issued a recording, on Columbia, of their own interpretations of songs from the opera, which became one of the most enduringly favoured Davis albums from what has become a considerable discography. The inherent blues/jazz feel of the original was what particularly drew them to their new nine-piece band explorations (not just ‘jazz treatments’), leading Evans to divulge, “The three of us, it seems to me, collaborated in the album.”

Some fifty-odd years later, it’s that landmark Davis/Evans recording which has provided the inspiration for London-based singer, songwriter and composer Fini Bearman to present this new album of eight numbers/impressions from the original score, backed by an impressively adaptable line-up: Ross Stanley (Hammond, Wurlitzer), Matt Calvert (guitars, plus piano), Jon Cox (double bass) and John Blease (drums, percussion). All arrangements are by Bearman, Calvert and Blease and are transformatively compelling.

For example, in Bearman’s hands, Davis’ New Orleans-style funeral march interlude of Gone, Gone, Gone breaks into a strong-beat Sixties single, courtesy of Ross Stanley’s evocative Augeresque organ playing and Matt Calvert’s lively, tremulant guitar (interesting to consider Miles’ recording was made on the cusp of a decade that was to be characterised by this sound). Fini Bearman’s voice is strong, soulful and, if emulating this period, utterly convincing. The despair of My Man’s Gone Now, as heard in Gershwin’s vocalised original (though more smoothly swinging in Davis’ world) is beautifully weighted in its solid, sustained, major/minor bluesyness; and, in stark contrast, the plainly optimistic (usually baritone-sung) I Got Plenty of Nuthin’ skips in countrified abandon, Bearman getting into its cheeky, resigned character.

Porgy, I’m Your Woman Now is touchingly delicate, the spacial arpeggioed guitar arrangement here illuminating the beauty, and even modernity, of Gershwin’s writing; and the richness and feeling in Fini Bearman’s delivery carries the song so well. Lively blues to the fore, It Ain’t Necessarily So rings to the crashing, gritty precision of Calvert’s guitar and Stanley’s truly authentic chordal and soloing organ tone – sensational stuff from the whole quintet. I Loves You Porgy, a well-covered classic (and here, as in Miles’ version, a first take) is winsomely engaging – Bearman feels the emotion of the lyric, and echoic guitar and brittle percussion provide a certain weightlessness, whilst Ross Stanley’s bright melodic tone is quite magical.

The chirpy beat of Davis’ There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon is delightfully remodelled as an easy-going groove, held up well by bassist Jon Cox and drummer John Blease, which Bearman clearly revels in; it all sounds remarkably fresh, shimmering to guitar and Rhodes soloing. And to close, Prayer – a freely-improvised, less obvious impression of Summertime – perhaps suggests the misty poignancy of the previous number as it ebbs and washes to vocal and instrumental overlays, idealistically heading out to New York.

David Ewen, Gershwin’s first biographer, reputedly stated of the man and this opera that he “never quite ceased to wonder at the miracle that he had been its composer. He never stopped loving each and every bar, never wavered in the conviction that he had produced a work of art.” Its longevity, although due in part to the popularity of the mainstream ‘hits’, is testament to that belief – and thanks to the vision of artists including Miles Davis, and now Fini Bearman, his work can continue to be appreciated through contemporary interpretations. And that, happily, is one of the wonders of a living, breathing, creative genre such as jazz.

Released on the ‘F-IRE presents’ label on 28 October 2014, Porgy & Bess is available from ProperMusic and usual outlets.

 

Fini Bearman voice
Ross Stanley Hammond organ, Wurlitzer
Matt Calvert guitars, piano
Jon Cox double bass
John Blease drums, percussion

(original credits: music by George Gershwin; libretto by DuBose Heyward; lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin)

finibearman.com
f-ire.com

F-IRE presents – F-IRECD 76 (2014)

‘China Lane’ – Alice Zawadzki

CDWalletCrescent_DW-WithSpineNew.pdf

FROM THE DELICATE opening riff of this debut release, singer, songwriter, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki has me enraptured. A number of years in gestation, China Lane offers a unique and pleasantly beguiling approach to jazz, folk (call it what you will) which is enduringly irresistible.

Comprised mostly of originals, this collection can be curious, unpredictable and maybe even eccentric – but it is this bold individuality which sets it apart. And, with the immense musicality of friends such as Kit Downes (Hammond), Alex Roth (guitar), Jon Scott (drums) and Andreas Lang (bass) on board, as well as strings and associate voices, this is a magical journey with a breadth that takes in stories of love, tenderness, desolation, discord and mischief. Zawadzki’s assured vocal delivery – heard also in Moss Freed’s excellent Moss Project (album review here) – is, for me, redolent of the invention of Annette Peacock and Björk, with a touch of the light, new-age folkiness of Sally Oldfield – yet it also possesses a rich and passionate depth which particularly comes to the fore in the two arrangements here of traditional Sephardic tunes.

The breathy, brushed, folksy opening number Ring of Fire, featuring Zawadzki’s clear lead vocal and mysterious violin melodies, is the perfect example of the twists and turns to be found in these entertaining fifty minutes. Kit Downes’ distinctive scratchy Hammond gradually nudges further into the proceedings against the sustained wash of Alex Roth’s guitar until, with rapid gear change, Andreas Lang’s double bass signals the glorious blues-jam conclusion, Downes and Roth underpinning Zawadzki’s playful scat-like vocal improvisations which, in the end, seemingly catch them out (to their audible amusement!). Cat is described by the composer as a modern fairytale in which “the ghost of a murdered feline finds its way into the body of a woman with excellent consequences”, the laboured push-pull rhythm provided by Jon Scott and sinewy effects from Downes and Roth – plus close, soulful harmonies – adding to the fantasy. Again, the mercurial nature of Zawadzki’s writing triumphs, Downes turning in a characteristically showy solo.

Indome Para Marsilia (arranged by Alex Roth) whirls and gyrates to its mesmeric folk melody, led by hard percussion and pulsating bass, giving Zawadzki the opportunity to reach vocal highs (Roth’s guitar a key element). Dicho Me Habían Dicho, the more introspective of these two traditional tunes, burns slowly and mystically, Shirley Smart’s typically gritty, wailing cello against Alex Roth’s harmonics enhancing Zawadzki’s brooding tones. The horizontal string-shimmering effect of Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light – with chromatically-climbing harmonies from Zawadzki, Emilia Mårtensson and Fini Bearman, plus Roth’s chorused guitar against Andreas Lang’s resonant bass – is heartstoppingly gorgeous, its rising, crescendoing impressions recalling a Danish winter sunrise. Emotional in other directions, nine-minute You As A Man reveals a tangible poignancy, Zawadzki’s lyricism perhaps at its height (“It’s like selling your feet to make money for shoes; using blood to wash your wounds”). The constant swell and diminuendo of Downes’ Hammond chords provide intrigue to this spiky and discomforting tale of obsessional love, and the whole band’s interpretation of Alice Zawadzki’s intentions match her dramatic vocal expression.

The urbanity of Manchester, including the buses which pass behind the stage of Matt & Phred’s jazz club, provide the subtle background ambience for the closing title track which reflects Zawadzki’s affection for and association with this northern city. Singing at the piano, accompanied by string sextet, she nostalgically paints images of the red sunset-tinged brick buildings of narrow China Lane in the album’s most commercially anthemic number.

As enchanting to experience ‘live’ as in this fine recording, Alice Zawadzki is most definitely one of contemporary’s jazz’s stars of the present and the future, possessing, as she does, remarkable musical dexterity and personality. A fine solo album debut.

Released on Whirlwind on 16 June 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

 

Alice Zawadzki voice, violin, piano
Alex Roth guitar
Andreas Lang double bass
Kit Downes Hammond organ
Jon Scott drums
Shirley Smart cello
Emilia Mårtensson voice
Fini Bearman voice
with
Eva Thorarinsdottir violin
Steve Proctor violin
Lucy Nolan viola
Tanah Stevens viola
Peggy Nolan cello
Rosie Toll cello

alicezmusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4647 (2014)