‘Alimentation’ – Solstice

alimentation

WHAT A FEAST that Solstice spreads before us! A debut release, yet anything but an unknown line-up, this British sextet’s shared culinary enthusiasm translated into an exploration of their combined compositional and instrumental possibilities – hence various ‘foody’ references. The musical outcome? Well, certainly luscious, zesty, cordial… and wonderfully satisfying.

A glance at the personnel is temptation enough – Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (voice), John Turville (piano), Jez Franks (guitars), Dave Manington (double bass) and George Hart (drums) – with each bringing original compositions to the table to prompt affable, fluvial conversations. The closeness of the collaboration was evident when the band presented this material at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival, and is discernible in this fine studio recording.

Brigitte Beraha is establishing herself as one the UK’s most dextrous jazz vocalists, including notable appearances on albums by Babelfish and Geoff Eales; and any comparison with Norma Winstone would seem quite appropriate. Across these nine tracks, her lyrical or wordless contribution is integral to the overall blend, and there’s a special affinity with Tori Freestone’s ever-tumbling wellspring of saxophonic invention. Space and balance are key. Even in the brisker numbers, there’s never a sense of oversaturation, thanks to consummate performances from Turville, Franks, Manington and Hart.

Ultimate Big Cheese‘s apparent, airy glee is enhanced by Tori Freestone’s delightfully feel-good flute; melodic Mourning Porridge, with a unison voice-and-guitar pairing redolent of Pat Metheny, finds Freestone’s characteristic tenor waltzing around feathery percussion and Dave Manington’s authoritative bass resonances; and Jez Franks’ acoustic timbres in his own composition, Tilt, provide a folksily-threaded backdrop to Beraha’s scat. Björk’s original The Anchor Song is a pearl of almost naive charm – but this band’s interpretation, in an arrangement by Dave Manington, is achingly beautiful, the affecting simplicity of voice and piano preceding a magical, bubbling otherworldliness, with a particularly vivid pictorialisation of diving to the bottom of the ocean.

Avocado Deficit (Freestone’s title inspired by her surprise that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years!) ascends, Escher-like, as the tenorist’s seamless phrasing emphasises its endless, hypnotic path. Beraha’s poetic delivery is central to Her Words, Like Butterflies, adorned by John Turville’s piano elegance; there’s an adroit sax-and-voice connection in Tori Freestone’s buoyant Universal Four (from her trio album In the Chop House); and George Hart’s turbulent, darkly-hued Solstice encourages dramatically screeching voice and sax. Arranged afresh for this ensemble, Beraha’s bright Unspoken closes the set with affirming repeated chorus (“It’s the cycle of life”).

Released on 9 December 2016, and available as CD or digital download from Two Rivers Records at BandcampAlimentation is a joy from beginning to end. To quote B Guðmundsdóttir – right now, “this is where I’m staying, this is my home.”

 

Tori Freestone tenor sax, soprano saxophone, flute
Brigitte Beraha voice
John Turville piano
Jez Franks guitars
Dave Manington double bass
George Hart drums

solstice-music.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR-020 (2016)

‘Fragment’ – Jonathan Silk

jonathansilk_fragment

A BIG BAND ALBUM whose stratified multicolours and dynamics are echoed by the cover art of British painter/printmaker David Stanley, Fragment is the original work of award-winning drummer and composer Jonathan Silk.

Increasingly a major presence on the Midlands’ contemporary jazz scene, following on from his graduation at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011, the Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2014 has worked with luminaries such as Iain Ballamy, Stan Sulzmann, Liane Carroll and Soweto Kinch; and in addition to celebrated big band mentors Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza, his drum tutors Jeff Williams and the late Tony Levin are cited as big influencers of his style.

Across a full hour, Jonathan Silk’s expansive canvas is varietally layered-up by impressive forces – a big band of 19 and a string section of 13 (just look at those credits below) – with fellow drummer Andrew Bain conducting and flugelhornist Percy Pursglove in a featured role (both are respected educators at Birmingham Conservatoire). Just as unfamiliar, abstract visual art can require time to develop, meld and be understood, this impressionistic approach has taken a while to reveal an identity; yet it increasingly entices with maturity of arrangement and strong musicianship, seamlessly blending scene after scene of energised drama (Silk on the drum stool) with rivulets of subtlety. In fact, rather than offering up the usual waymarked path of favourite tracks or standout melodies, it becomes an immersive experience in which to progressively savour different illuminations of the composer’s thoughts.

Softly grooving Buchaille (a beloved munro in the Scottish Highlands) luxuriates in close-knit brass and reeds, hitting high trumpet peaks before descending to quiet valleys of improvised trombone – but Silk’s way is to keenly press on as unison strings provide an almost Manhattan-style, bustling backdrop; and First Light‘s sustained serenity (recalling “a winter night spent with whiskey and friends, awaiting the snow reports at 6am”) supports Percy Pursglove’s mellow, watchful flugel, with the composer’s sensitive development fusing strings with a gently rhythmic momentum.

The drummer makes his mark in wildly percussive, brassy Prelude before segueing into South African-inspired Barefeet which fascinates with unpredictable jabbing piano and acoustic guitar – an example of the unlikely hues which Silk fashions. His searching miniature, Reflection, even suggests a route into movie soundtrack, preceding In Thought‘s similarly sublime, piano- and violin-graced journey. The spiky, perilous rock-guitar adventure of title track Fragment is a winner, teeming with electric bass-driven, saxophone-rippling life as guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford’s improvisations encourage bold, brass syncopation and a full-throttle display from Silk; and he is so adept in contrasting fervour with the finely-orchestrated tranquillity to be found in Withdrawal and end piece Last Light.

But it is perhaps Jonathan Silk’s broadest piece – eleven-minute Fool’s Paradise – which singly showcases his solidity and reach as a composer, the episodic variations (including inspired use of Hammond organ voice, and open spaces for extemporisation) providing a clear glimpse of a bright future. Hook up a few, memorable themes and there’ll be no stopping him!

As with most recordings, it’s a privilege to revisit and enjoy these luscious soundscapes at will – but it must certainly be exhilarating to also witness this scale of ardent musicality in a live setting. Good news, then, that 2017 tour dates are to be announced.

Released on Stoney Lane Records, Fragment is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Andrew Bain conductor
Percy Pursglove flugelhorn

Mike Fletcher alto saxophone, flute
Chris Maddock alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Rob Cope baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Tom Walsh trumpet, flugelhorn
Reuben Fowler trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Gough trumpet, flugelhorn
Kieran Mcleod trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Yusuf Narcin trombone
Andy Johnson tuba

Emily Tyrell violin (leader)
Katrina Davies violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Ning-ning Li violin
Beth Bellis violin
Kathryn Coleman violin
Zhivko Georgiev violin
Pei Ann Yeoh violin
Victoria Strudwick viola
Eileen Smith viola
Lucy French cello
Katy Nagle cello
Ayse Osman double bass

Thomas Seminar Ford guitar
Andy Bunting piano, Nord
Toby Boalch piano, Nord
Nick Jurd double bass, electric bass
Jonathan Silk drums
Tom Chapman percussion

Original art by David Stanley

jonathansilk.co.uk

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1977 (2016)

‘Evolution: Seeds & Streams’ – John Ellis

johnellis_evolution

THE OCCASIONS when art coincides with one’s own surroundings and experiences can be pretty special, even life-affirming; when music, in particular, somehow reveals its power to three-dimensionalise the here and now whilst also more brightly illuminating itself.

An unlikely setting for my recent experience of this was a softly sunny, three-hour southbound drive along the M6 and M5 – and the looped, Sunday morning soundtrack: John Ellis’ Evolution: Seeds & Streams. This new instrumental release began life as a 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival commission, the original music of the Manchester-based pianist, singer, composer, producer (and founder member of The Cinematic Orchestra) accompanied by visual projections from artist Antony Barkworth Knight.

Daniel Halsall’s intriguingly minimal cover art offers little insight as to what lies in waiting – yet inside, a ten-piece ensemble, with John Ellis’ piano at the centre, presents a compelling, unfolding soundscape. Perhaps now somewhat clichéd, music can often be described as ‘a journey’; but it was this inspired line-up (including kora players Cali Nyonkoling Kuyateh and John Haycock), offering a blend of jazz, world, folk and cyclic minimalism, which connected so markedly with the contrasting urban and rural fluctuations of that motorway passage, and have continued to enthral ever since.

One of the attractive characteristics of Ellis’ music is that it doesn’t rely on spotlight soloing to make such a deep impression. Instead, it achieves this through congruous shape-shifting textures and highlights from acoustic instruments and synthesiser which, despite an often repetitious basis, never become jaded. It’s as if composer and musicians paint their broad canvas so sensitively that they leave sufficient white space for the listener to contribute, thereby becoming involved emotionally; and its accessible, melodic hypnotism gradually pervades the air like a richly fragrant balm.

Flight‘s resonant, synthesised ‘womb’ ostinato gives rise to the ebb and flow of brass, reeds and cello, all coloured by subtle piano, flute, percussion and bird calls, with distinctive kora evoking a Toumani Diabete-like sound world – an unusual yet heavenly blend. Seamlessly changing scene, Sam Healey’s lyrical alto in the first of two interludes segues into Unidentical Twins, whose open, eastern calm strengthens to include the most rapturously phrased trombone improvisations from Ellie Smith; and Interlude Two‘s electronic cityscape momentum, tempered with cello and piano embellishments, feeds into The Ladder which possesses an echoic electric piano groove redolent of Soft Machine and reverberates with gently mesmeric, Steve Reichian overlaps.

Led by Helena Jane Summerfield’s clarinet, Poemander‘s homely, tuneful charm is again delicately enhanced by dual kora – but also note the luscious, close-knit brass and woodwind arrangements which swirl like a gentle but purposeful breeze. Electronic subtones in A Bigger Cake (and a keyboard motif which might even recall Supertramp) prompt Ellis’ delightfully chromatic, free-spirited jazz progressions; and Arrival‘s simple, folksong oasis features the haunting, wide portamento of Jessica MacDonald’s cello and an abundant instrumental summation of this whole, wondrous experience.

One of 2015’s most satisfying surprise packages, this album is now in the car glovebox as part of an essential ‘survival kit’.

Released on 11 November 2016, Evolution: Seeds & Streams is available from Gondwana Records, at Bandcamp, as CD or high-quality digital download (visual projection teaser trailers here).

 

John Ellis piano, keyboard
Pete Turner bass, synthesizer
Helena Jane Summerfield clarinet, tenor sax, flute
Sam Healey alto sax
Ellie Smith trombone
Jessica MacDonald cello
Cali Nyonkoling Kuyateh kora
John Haycock kora
Rick Weedon percussion
Jason Singh beatbox

johnellis.co.uk
antonybarkworthknight.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD015 (2016)

‘Let’s Get Deluxe’ – The Impossible Gentlemen

LetsGetDeluxe

I’VE BEEN TOWING this little beauty around for a while now… and travelling with it has only served to deepen the pleasure.

Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from ‘transatlantic supergroup’ The Impossible Gentlemen, following on from 2013’s Internationally Recognised Aliens. With guitarist Mike Walker and pianist/multi-instrumentalist Gwilym Simcock in the compositional driving seat, they once again hook up with bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum, and are augmented for the first time by saxophonist, clarinettist and flautist Iain Dixon.

Maybe it’s the fine UK/US instrumental blend which makes the Gents’ music so pleasingly difficult to categorise. Certainly there’s the contemporary jazz styling of Pat Metheny (with whom Simcock has recently been touring) and John Scofield, or even Weather Report; but there are also American-rock hints of Little Feat and Steely Dan, not to mention a touch of prog and a dusting of good old British whimsy. It all adds up to an hour of exquisitely arranged, multi-layered, seamless performance which sparkles with rhythmic verve and blitheful melody.

The reputations of Walker and Simcock go before them, their individual prolificacy enriching the world of jazz quite immeasurably. But here, the sense of them relishing their North West English alliance is especially evident, with free rein to take these collaborative compositions wherever they please as they sumptuously layer-up the arrangements (assisted by Steve Rodby’s considerable production expertise). Title track Let’s Get Deluxe bubbles to an anthemic post-prog groove featuring Simcock’s lithe piano soloing over a full, sleek arrangement which enjoys the mellow beauty of his French horn and Walker’s typically soaring jazz/rock lead guitar improv. A Fedora for Dora‘s snappy rhythms, so characteristic of Simcock’s piano work, are energised by Rodby and Nussbaum – and, as often is the case here, the weave of supporting instruments (bass clarinet, French horn, tuned percussion) creates so much interest across this unfolding soundscape.

Presumably inspired by Gwilym Simcock’s love of the ‘beautiful game’, Terrace Legend excitedly simmers to Zawinul/Santana-like keyboard-and-guitar phrases before exploding into percussive euphoria, only paused by distant, evocative crowd chants; and grungy, dimly-lit Dog Time – with particularly effective bass clarinet and tremulant Hammond pairing – finds Mike Walker at his bluesy, mischievous best as his guitar repeatedly howls to the moon. Purposefully shuffling, countryfied Hold Out for the Sun is melodically bright enough to be a TV signature tune – and despite its breezy openness, the many instrumental comings-and-goings along the way are delightful.

Friend, colleague and pianist, the great John Taylor, is remembered in It Could Have Been A Simple Goodbye* – a poignant, affectionate tribute whose lush stateside arrangement is redolent of Lyle Mays. Propane Jane‘s Scottish marching band feel soon breaks into jabbing Fender Rhodes-led ebullience, Mike Walker’s gutsy, colourful, harmonic guitar a runaway joy; and bucolic closer Speak to Me of Home, featuring Iain Dixon’s soprano sax, possesses a simple charm enhanced by Steve Rodby’s gently pliant bass improvisations.

The Impossible Gentlemen have developed a keen following on the strength of their first two releases and their entertaining live shows. This full-of-life album feels like their best yet.

Released on 1 July 2016, and launching at Manchester Jazz Festival on 26 July, Let’s Get Deluxe is available from Jazz CDs, etc.

*Video, from 2015 – live at Sligo Jazz Project: (It Could Have Been) A Simple Goodbye.

 

Mike Walker guitar, dog whistle
Gwilym Simcock piano, keyboards, French horn, flugel horn, accordion, vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Iain Dixon soprano sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute
Steve Rodby bass
Adam Nussbaum drums

impossiblegentlemen.com

Basho Records – SRCD 51-2 (2016)

‘We’ll Meet In The Rain’ – Kenneth Dahl Knudsen

Knudsen

THERE IS SOMETHING profoundly enriching about Danish double bassist Kenneth Dahl Knudsen’s new orchestral jazz release. Full of vibrant jazz episodes as well as restrained, emotional tension, this is original, often filmic music which indubitably wears its heart on its sleeve.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Malte Schiller conductor
Marie Séférian vocals
Linda Josefowski flute
Roman Ott alto sax
Markus Ehrlich tenor sax
Viktor Wolf tenor sax
Lou Lecaudey trombone
Nils Marquardt trombone
Tomasz Dabwowski trumpet
Magnus Oseth trumpet
Fritz Moshammer trumpet
Daniel Weltlinger violin
Heloise Lefevre violin
Sebastian Peszko viola
Liron Yariv cello
Sebastian Bohlen guitar
Uri Gincel piano
Mathias Ruppnig drums
Kenneth Dahl Knudsen bass

kennethdahlknudsen.dk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 008 (2016)

‘Culcha Vulcha’ – Snarky Puppy

Culcha

THE PHENOMENON known as Snarky Puppy is a grooving ‘must see’ if they’re in town!

Over the past few years, the infectious exuberance of this Brooklyn-based collective has spread out over the globe. Led by charismatic electric bassist Michael League, their seemingly inexhaustible energy has found them performing across six continents, wowing audiences from Bremen to Buenos Aires, from Manchester to Mumbai; and the sense of ‘community’ in their musical outlook has spawned residency programmes as well as many musical collaborations (most recently their second Family Dinner album featuring the likes of David Crosby, Laura Mvula and Jacob Collier).

For eleventh release Culcha Vulcha, the guys (not a snarky character amongst them!) relocated to a remote Texan pecan orchard – Sonic Ranch Studios – to record their first pure studio album in eight years. As a live band, League and colleagues fill their demographically wide audiences with an inescapable feel-good – a combination of astonishing, eclectic artistry and elated self-bemusement at the energy and new ideas they forge together on stage; but it’s also exciting to discover the sounds they carefully craft whilst spending a week in each others’ pockets. The result – well, possibly their best recorded account yet.

The personnel and instrumentation listed below only begin to indicate the heady, groove-laden ‘riffage’ that makes up this hour-plus, nine-track celebration. Often possessing an anthemic quality, the Snarkys’ memorable performances here begin to activate a ‘fave’ rush – that intro recognition which settles you in for a good time, as in the lurching groove of opener Tarova. Twang-tight horns and multifarious percussion are frequently in evidence, but its also the varied palette of pitch-bent synth improv, along with flamboyant guitar lines and League’s inherent bass impetus, which make up this potent brew.

Semente‘s Brazilian vibrancy is coloured by Chris Bullock’s peppy flute melodies and zazzy repinique triplet clattering; Grown Folks has a grungy big band urgency, full of bold horn and guitar phrases; and Gemini‘s cool, sidewalk demeanour, with mellotron and bottleneck guitar, is one of the classiest grooves heard for some time. Electronics, slow-attack synth and alto flute in Beep Box change the pace with retro space-age charm, and sophisticated clav/moog bass-driven , with so many individual instrumental highlights (at times, even redolent of Level 42 at their mid-80s live best), is a first-listen standout which has cemented itself as a ‘go-to’ to lift the spirits.

And that’s the way it continues, each track a winner – reggae-synth The Simple Life (with gritty, David Gilmour-like slide guitar) totally addictive; Cory Henry’s organ dream Palermo (written by percussionist Marcelo Woloski, and featuring haunting flugel) suggesting a gamelanese hypnotism; and Big Ugly‘s soulful, prog-tinged synth-fest a superb closer.

This album has been spinning around for a few weeks now, yet never needs a second invitation to enjoy another complete, loud play-through. Keep on doing what you’re doing, boys!

Released on 29 April 2016, Culcha Vulcha is available from the GroundUP Music website and all good retailers.

 

Cory Henry organ, Clavinet, Mellotron, Moog
Bill Laurance piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthex
Justin Stanton piano, Fender Rhodes, Omni, Prophet 6, Synthex, Arp Axxe
Bobby Sparks Clavinet, MiniMoog, Moog Bass
Michael League electric bass, nylon-string guitar, baritone guitar, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Bass, Mellotron
Bob Lanzetti electric guitar
Mark Lettieri electric guitar, baritone guitar
Chris McQueen guitar
Jay Jennings trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike “Maz” Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, keyboards
Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone
Zach Brock violin
Jason “J.T.” Thomas drums
Robert “Sput” Searight drums
Larnell Lewis drums
Nate Werth trap set, cowbells, chimes, caixa, floor tom, tambourine, shaker, angklung, cymbals, percussion, clapping
Keita Ogawa timbal, repinique, kanjira, caixa, congas
Marcelo Woloski djembe, shakers, surdo, triangle, caixa, angklung, Tang-Tang, Reco-reco cowbell, Bombo Legüero, donkey jaw, kalimba, daf, effects, clapping

snarkypuppy.com

GroundUP Music / Universal Music Classics  (2016)

‘Weather Warning’ – Kevin Figes Quartet / ‘Time Being’ – Kevin Figes Octet

WeatherWarning_TimeBeing

EUREKA! That moment when, after weeks of listening, an album (or two, in this case) smacks you between the ears and becomes your unputdownable ‘jam’! 

There’s an osmotic attraction to Kevin Figes’ music. It possesses remarkable creative breadth, taking in fusion, post-bop and contemporary abstraction… and gradually seeps into the consciousness until it won’t let go.

For these two simultaneously-released albums – Weather Warning (quartet, augmented) and Time Being (octet) – the saxophonist/flautist/composer assembles a fine collective of fellow Bristol-based musicians (listed in full, below); and characterised by addictive, rhythmically-energised horn riffs and Rhodes/Prophet textures, often blended with retro-tinged wordless vocals and occasional, wistful flute, Figes and colleagues paint shifting, vibrant canvases of ‘colorfield’ sound which become increasingly engaging.

Weather Warning‘s sparky title track hints at the joys to come, Jim Blomfield’s synth and Rhodes combining with Mark Whitlam’s outrageously offbeat rhythmic patterns to underpin the superb, sputtering duo of Figes and trumpeter Nick Malcolm. It somehow recalls the wonder of 12″ vinyl discoveries of the ’70s – that time of poring over luxurious gatefold album sleeves; yet Figes’ writing sparkles brightly in today’s musical landscape. There is so much to enthuse about here, from the swinging, melodic, double-sax immediacy of Empathy, and Birdsong‘s improvised vocal and instrumental chattering, to the sublime, often spacial beauty of Fall Apart; and alto/tenor/trumpet Horn Improvisation‘s invention compellingly bridges contemporary classical and jazz. Figes is a consummate saxophonist, his excursions both eloquent and endlessly imaginative; but his delicate mastery of the flute in quartet piece For Cathy is at least as effective as it charmingly weaves around piano ostinati and subtle bass and drums.

The octet project throws the vocal contributions of Emily Wright and Cathy Jones to the fore, album Time Being resounding to the fascinating, close harmonic meld of saxes and voices over a fervent, piano-driven rhythm section (there is certainly chemistry at work here, not least because Wright, Harris, Whitlam and Malcolm are all close collaborators in vocal/instrumental jazz outfit Moonlight Saving Time). Again, a title track with memorable licks, pressing momentum and rich solo improvisation is followed by changing panoramas: Pastoral Scenes is coloured gracefully by the adept, interlocking vocals of Wright and Jones (at times, redolent of Kenny Wheeler’s compositions), and the urgent electric piano and sax groove of The Point deliciously bounces to Will Harris’s electric bass. It’s all classy stuff, often with a rough-hewn streak and frequently on the edge of unpredictability – Petit Plaits, in particular, is a masterpiece of unbridled energy, maximising the density of the band line-up; and Loft Space‘s extended adventures certainly aren’t alone in bringing on the desire to witness this ensemble perform live.

Released on 10 April 2016, Weather Warning and Time Being are available directly from Pig Records. Recommending one above the other, though, is virtually impossible – both are British jazz gems, and have long stayed in the car CD player!

 

‘WEATHER WARNING’
Kevin Figes
 alto saxophone, flute
Jim Blomfield piano, Rhodes, Prophet 5
Will Harris bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Nick Malcolm trumpet (tracks 1, 6 and 7)
Nick Dover tenor saxophone (tracks 3, 5, 6 and 7)
Emily Wright vocals (tracks 3 and 6)
Cathy Jones vocals (tracks 3 and 6)

Pig Records – PIG:08 (2016)

 

‘TIME BEING’
Kevin Figes 
alto saxophone
Nick Dover
 tenor saxophone
Emily Wright
 vocals
Cathy Jones
 vocals
Jim Blomfield
 piano
Will Harris
 bass
Mark Whitlam
 drums
Lloyd Haines
 drums

Pig Records – PIG:07 (2016)

 

kevinfiges.co.uk