REVIEW: ‘While Looking Up’ – Jimmy Greene

LOVE at first ‘sound’. All it took was the brightly flowing and eddying preview track, April 4th. But that touch of ‘American cool’, with glinting soprano sax, flute and vibraphone, is just one facet of saxophonist and woodwind player Jimmy Greene’s latest release, While Looking Up.

Greene is clearly a man whose faith guides him through the best and certainly the very worst of times (the latter, specifically, an unimaginable family tragedy in 2012). And amidst the turbulence of our world, his pastor‘s words provided inspiration for the title: “If I’m not able to find strength or peace by looking inward, or if I’m not able to do it by looking outward to my immediate surroundings, I have to look upward”.

From a back catalogue including Grammy-nominated Beautiful Life, 2009’s Mission Statement marked a specific musical turning point for Greene and more recently reminded him of those musicians he hadn’t recorded with for some time. So as well as a core trio with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Kendrick Scott, the majority of these ten tracks are also greatly illuminated by Aaron Goldberg (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Lage Lund (guitar), with piquant contributions from Stefon Harris (marimba, vibes). All are established bandleaders in their own right, which explains how assuredly their personal expressions meld in an album of exquisite beauty and positivity.

Arranging Cole Porter’s So In Love, Greene’s soprano displays the kind of playful agility associated with Wayne Shorter, chromatically darting above the joyful sway of its bossa rhythms. But his own compositions can hit a pressing complexity – for example, the smouldering, bluesy Fender Rhodes groove of No Words with discordant guitar and husky tenor and the fever-pitch morse-code pulsations of Always There, accentuated by Harris’s marimba – an outstanding sextet collaboration. In Good Morning Heartache (remember – Billie Holliday), Greene’s deliciously fluid tenor almost sings those ‘might as well get used to you hanging around’ lyrics, though it’s also tinged with a father’s grief; and it’s Goldberg’s piano riff again, on Overreaction, which sparks the breathless Weather Report/Moutin Reunion Quartet-style fervour. The title track, too, shares something of that feel, with lustrous guitar.    

In addition to charming April 4th (a poignant anniversary for Greene), there are other pure, airy moments of reflection such as optimistic Steadfast and the leisurely gospel-soul of Simple Prayer. But perhaps most unlikely is a luscious, balladic reworking of the Whitney Houston hit I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), full of serene nostalgia and emotion; and, as ever, the gorgeous tenor technique is supported by the spacial sensitivity of this band.

Throughout While Looking Up, Jimmy Greene unequivocally confirms his absolute truth, recognised by empathetic musicians and listeners alike: “At its best, music transforms us and transports us to another place. We lose ourselves in it”. Amen to that.

Released on 3 April 2020 and available from Proper Music, Mack Avenue and Apple Music.

 

Jimmy Greene soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet
Reuben Rogers bass
Kendrick Scott drums
Aaron Goldberg piano, Fender Rhodes
Lage Lund guitar
Stefon Harris marimba, vibraphone

jimmygreene.com

Mack Avenue – MAC1154 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘The Sleepless Kind’ – Andy Fleet ft. Andre Canniere

THE NAME of trumpeter Andre Canniere is familiar across the UK contemporary jazz scene; but perhaps less so, the jazz-inflected pop of pianist, vocalist and songwriter Andy Fleet.

Following his previous albums The Night Falls Fast and Takin’ Aim, Fleet’s The Sleepless Kind picks up a theme which seems to permeate his musical output – an ‘ode to the night’ which (presumably reflecting his years as a lounge pianist) ‘recounts tales of the sticky lights of Soho in the small hours’. As before, it’s Canniere’s muted, Paolo Fresu-style trumpet which strongly evokes jazz-bar auras; and alongside bassist Zane Maertens and drummer Joe Evans, there are appearances from electric guitarist Pete Kershaw, saxophonist/flautist Chez Taylor and backing vocalist Sarah Doe.   

Andy Fleet’s straight-ahead approach is beguiling, not least because the riffs and sequences of these songs subtly imply inspiration from previous decades, and it can take the memory some persuading to deliver the result! But also, his MOR vocals possess an almost reassuring ‘glow’ – listen to the gentle bop of Stolen Years to imagine Colin Blunstone, or the soft, storytelling wistfulness of I’ve Had It All to recall the chart hits of Dean Friedman. There’s even a fond reminder of Gilbert O’Sullivan in bluesy, up-tempo “don’t wanna seem like a drama queen” Been There, Drunk That.

The telephone-line opening to All Broke Out With The Blues may feel a little obvious, but its smoky solace – again with Canniere’s sultry improvisation – is reminiscent of Randy Newman’s finest. Rock-grooving Love’s Enemy (Supertramp meets Bryan Adams) confidently struts; and there’s even a hint of Neil Tennant in gentle, memorable Through Closed Eyes, its 1980s backing vocal and flute intimating the fragile hope of a poignant movie scene.

If this all sounds like a disconnected melange, Andy Fleet actually has the ability to cohesively fashion new soft-pop/rock, complemented by the jazz inflections of Andre Canniere, into an album which I’ve now replayed many times. In the afterglow, pour a dram and ease back to this retro-styled songbook.    

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Andy Fleet piano, vocals
Andre Canniere trumpet
Zane Maertens bass
Joe Evans drums
with
Pete Kershaw electric guitar
Chez Taylor saxophone, flute
Sarah Doe backing vocals

Illustration by Alban Low

andyfleet.com

Low Vinyl Records / Cadiz – LV1608 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Trudi’s Songbook: Volume Two’ – Ruby Rushton

YOU MAY BE LOOKING at that cover and thinking: this, surely, is a re-release of a typically twee 1970s folk singer-songwriter album. But take a listen at Bandcamp, and you’ll discover that Ruby Rushton is actually an inventive, occasionally quirky instrumental sextet delivering a collection of contemporary originals (and a fine Herbie Hancock interpretation) which has at its roots a blend of early jazz fusion and soul, plus a soupçon of Canterbury scene and new-age bohemianism.

Following their 2015 quartet debut Two for Joy, and Trudi’s Songbook: Volume One from earlier this year, the London-based band’s ‘period’ echoes are defined by a delicious blend of timbres and grooves. The pulsating Earth Wind and Fire or Santana redolence of Charlotte Emma Victoria, with bubbling electric bass, drums and percussion, features Edward Cawthorne’s impassioned sax as well as Aidan Shepherd’s clustered electric piano chords and clear synth lines. Cawthorne’s breathy, Roland Kirk-style flute character, too, can be heard in swingin’ organ interlude Together At Last; and the ease-back funk of Trudi’s Mood feels tantalisingly brief.

But Ruby Rushton mainly get their teeth into some fabulously extended episodes (written and arranged by Cawthorne or Cawthorne/Shepherd) which suggest an exciting live experience. Tisbury Truckin‘s gentle aubade evolves into a bass-fizzing groove boasting lively riffs and improvisations, especially from trumpeter Nick Walters (a familiar name on the Manchester jazz scene), all effusively ornamented by the bright, varied percussion of Joseph Deenmamode. Edward Cawthorne’s lithe flute colorations are key to a sound which will resonate with many ‘who were there’ as jazz turned a new corner, yet is also retro-relevant to new ears today. Indeed, the gradually-introduced electric piano and bass riff of Song for Christopher ignites fond memories of Mike Ratledge and Roy Babbington in Soft Machine’s many, seminal recordings – and here, alongside Aidan Shepherd and Fergus Ireland, Eddie Hick is an especially glittering starman as this number widens out with fervour. To close, Herbie Hancock’s cruiser, Butterfly, wraps flute and trumpet improv around smooth grooves and slouchy dubstep playfulness.

Jazz and its interconnected genres currently offer a wealth of under-the-radar brilliance; and on this album, there’s much to discover and enthuse about in what, surprisingly (because it’s so satisfying), is a run-time totalling just 36 minutes… so the perfect spur to then head over to Volume One* for more!

Released on 11 November 2017.

*UPDATE: volumes one and two now combined as vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Edward Cawthorne flute, sax
Nick Walters trumpet
Aidan Shepherd keys
Fergus Ireland bass
Joseph Deenmamode percussion
Eddie Hick drums
with
Tom Marriott trombone (on Charlotte Emma Victoria)
Ben Kelly sousaphone (on Charlotte Emma Victoria)

22amusic.bandcamp.com

22a Records – 019 (2017)

REVIEW: ‘Variety of Rhythm’ – Samuel Hällkvist

AN ENTICING, evolving experience which exhibits tremors of 1970s progressive formats, exploratory Swedish electric guitarist Samuel Hällkvist returns with immersive instrumental soundscape Variety of Rhythm.

His Variety of Loud and Variety of Live releases, of 2012 and 2015 respectively, revealed a musician with a singularly experimental vision for composition, instrumentation and improvisation; and he continues to garner respect across music’s cross-pollenating rock, electronica and jazz boundaries, from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and ex-Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri to trumpeter Yazz Ahmed (who reciprocally invited Hällkvist to appear on her recent release La Saboteuse).

Over the course of this continuous suite of almost 45 minutes, Hällkvist collaborates with a dozen musicians – including renowned US guitarist David Torn – through separately-recorded, differing scales of ensemble (in Japan, Portugal, New York, Paris, Belgium and Scandinavia), drawing mind and soul into a fluctuating landscape of sound which prompts the listener to contribute through their imagination. Hällkvist typically becomes part of the whole, integrating his processed guitar through a labyrinth of industrially cinematic drama, repetitively clanging timbres and almost dystopian sustained resonances – yet rather than creating an abstract mishmash, these carefully-woven ideas and illusions gradually become powerfully compelling, especially once they establish themselves in the psyche.

Timed, named waymarkers offer a clue to a conceptual, rock-solid framework interspersed with improvisational interludes (Hällkvist elaborating on the technical and structural aspects here), though the entirety of the work can easily be appreciated from a purely creative, openly-receptive standpoint. Double Adagio‘s rippling, wailing fuzz-guitar wall is propelled by time-shifting voice-and-glockenspiel-like tones, whereas as the more grungy trudge of nine-minute Tete-a-Tete / Blivet progresses into heavy metal, tinged with Steve Reichian attacca strings and ominously soaring guitar. David Torn’s expansive Huly Marga features his searching low-distorted guitar extemporisations against an electronic landscape reminiscent of Pink Floyd or late EST, whilst the extraordinary cross-rhythmic complexity of The Necker Cube, with oriental overtones, spills into subway-sax frenzy, movie-mystery malleted percussion and climactic, grooving grandeur.

Samuel Hällkvist’s maverick, detoured pathways create intrigue, and might initially overwhelm; but put through a responsive sound system, these three-dimensional worlds render in vivid full colour – the excellent concentric/segmented cover graphic points the way!

Released on 13 October 2017, Variety of Rhythm can be purchased digitally at Bandcamp, and is due to be available in gatefold CD format from Discovery Records and Amazon.

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitar
Dick Lövgren bass
David Torn guitar
Liesbeth Lambrecht violin
Qarin Wikström voice
Knut Finsrud drums
Pete Drungle keys
Yasuhiro Yoshigaki drums
Kumiko Takara mallet percussion
Paulo Chagas sax, flute
Silvia Corda various objects
Adriano Orru bass
Katrine Amsler edit, sound design

Mixed by August Wanngren

samuelhallkvist.com
varietyof.com

BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD024 (2017)

REVIEW: ‘Circle of Chimes’ – Marius Neset

MariusNeset_Circle

SAXOPHONIST and composer Marius Neset’s kaleidoscopic music increasingly fills mind and soul with that ‘kid in a sweet shop’ thrill, the senses bombarded with a dizzying array of timbres and rhythms to assimilate.

Following 2016’s acclaimed, orchestrally-focused Snowmelt, Neset returns to an ensemble more closely aligned with its predecessor Pinball for new album Circle of Chimes. The familiar names of pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart, double bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Anton Eger are again joined by flautist Ingrid Neset and cellist Andreas Brantelid, whilst the inclusion of guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke adds a new compositional and improvisational dimension, imbuing Neset’s Scandinavian folk characteristics with attractive African hues.

A New Year’s Day commission premiered at Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, in 2016, Neset describes this 78-minute suite as the darkest, most melancholic music he has created – yet amongst those emotions, his innate, breathless exuberance is never far away. The tubular bell chimes of Satellite (whose fluctuating rhythmic peals the saxophonist experimented with at length, at the piano) ‘ring in the new’, its brooding cello emotion encircled by a passed-around melodic riff redolent of Tallis’ Canon. It’s the first sign of an octet working as one to express a huge, romantically cinematic landscape, segueing into Star which bounces and rebounds to a typically ecstatic folk tune, with Eger’s engine-room clamour driving its disco groove. Neset does well to engineer and contain the ferocity, bringing his electronically-charged tenor down to lyrical pools of cello, piano and soft African enunciations.

There’s a sense of progression, as if the year unfolds with fresh experiences – so funky A New Expression struts assuredly to Neset’s boppy improv (it can only be Neset) plus Loueke’s scratchy, synthesised fretwork and accompanying scat; and soprano sax in classically-inspired Prague’s Ballet dances delicately across pizzicato cello and featherweight marimba. Life Goes On tumbles – nay, somersaults – to Marius Neset’s melodica signature-tune positivity, a sign of Spring in the air as its jazz-orchestra cheerfulness (enhanced by Ingrid Neset’s lithe flute) is gatecrashed by percussion-fuelled vibraphone and pleasantly abrasive guitar chords. Perhaps its the West African influence which sparks such variety, Sirens of Cologne whirling to intoxicating samba grooves, deep vocal resonances, flutey songbirds – a full-on celebration.

Going right back to his 2011 release Golden Xplosion, as well as duo album Neck of the Woods with tubist Daniel Herskedal, Neset has always had a feel for an otherworldliness – and tenor feature Silent Room imagines lofty arches with its suspended sax lines and sensitive bass, piano and vibes support as it spirals into the heavens. At close on twelve minutes, 1994 almost needs separating from the pack to appreciate its fullness as it mesmerises with episodic vibrancy; and the saxophonist’s distinctive solo ‘hiccups’ announce ebullient Eclipse which brings the album’s opening chants and time-evocative carillons full circle.

Neset conceives such incredibly elaborate stories that they can sometimes be overwhelming to take in at one hearing – but Circle of Chimes becomes a joy as that intricate weave is gradually understood.

Released on 29 September and available from ACT Music, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, melodica
Lionel Loueke guitar, vocals
Andreas Brantelid cello
Ingrid Neset flute, piccolo, alto flute
Ivo Neame piano
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9038-2 (2017)

REVIEW: ‘Unit[e]’ – Alexander Hawkins (2CD)

Alexander Hawkins —Double CD Digipak-v1.3

BEHIND THAT intensely black, nondescript cover… well, perhaps even the initiated might only hazard a guess at the mercurial ninety minutes of original music presented in this double CD – Unit[e] – from Oxford-based pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins.

Previous albums such as Song Singular, Step Wide, Step Deep and Alexander Hawkins Trio have identified a distinctly explorative musician whose avant garde approach to jazz and improvisation is fed by many influences, suggesting the left-field vociferations of Ornette Coleman or Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and most certainly the classic, genteel swing of Duke Ellington (Hawkins describes The Duke as possibly the most basic element of his DNA). The recording is split into two sessions – the sextet of CD1, [C]ALL; the larger ensemble of CD2, HEAR[T] (personnel listed below) – and Hawkins refers to his use of square brackets in each piece’s title as an intentional ‘add or subtract a letter’ couplet device, for example: [W]here (‘here’ is one answer to ‘where’) and [S]how (‘show’ is one answer to ‘how’).

The seven tracks of [C]ALL find Hawkins’ piano in dialogue with violin, guitar, bass clarinet/tenor sax, double bass and drums – and an overarching reference to jazz tradition seems infused throughout, opening with For the People‘s perpetual, blustering, unison riff which invites Tom Skinner’s excited percussion and Shabaka Hutchings’ characteristic tenor squawks, as well as contrastingly mellow electric guitar lines from Otto Fischer. [C]all (parts 1 and 2) stomp proudly to an unusually beautiful, almost naive dance groove (in the right mood, a wonderfully cacophonous seven minutes to get into); and overlapping instrumental voices in [T]each ruminate freely to Hawkins’ sparky, leaping piano before eventually and quietly admitting defeat. The heritage jazz foundation of Hawkins’ work becomes more prominent in [K]now, where ‘MC’ Otto Fischer delivers his calmative, abstract narrative over an oblique lounge ensemble (the Ellington link accentuated by Hawkins’ delicious, semitonal chords). The fiddle and double bass of Dylan Bates and Neil Charles, in [W]here, introduce searching guitar and bass clarinet improvisations over angular piano and drums; and [S]how‘s relative spaciousness seems to beckon the listener inside, to join its subterranean roaming.

With Hawkins directing from the piano, HEAR[T]‘s thirteen-piece ensemble treads a freer, less structural path through five tracks which frequently groan and exclaim with a bewildering mesh of sounds. [Forge[t] is boisterous, irascible and anarchic, whilst the palpable trad swing of fifteen-minute-plus See[k] > Hear[t] includes splendid horn combinations and distressed flute, underpinned by Stephen Davis’ colourful percussion and enhanced by intriguing live electronics (a multifaceted experience worth staying with!). Idea[l]’s pandemonium recalls the cosmic, orchestral colour of David Bedford’s ‘Star’s End’; the awakening of [Sun[g] > Star[k] might summon Aaron Copland’s broad, restful landscapes (and its crescendoing trumpet-led progression perhaps akin to his ‘Rodeo’); and title track Unit[e]‘s nebulous instrumentation, carried on thinly-sustained strings, hints at dark-sky activity, complete with effusive, empyrean swing-band celebration.

Alexander Hawkins’ creativity may be challenging… but his jazz credentials and true, unfettered expression make it one hell of a ride!

Released on 7 July 2017, Unit[e] is available as a double CD from Discovery Records or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

CD1: [C]ALL
Dylan Bates
violin
Neil Charles double bass
Otto Fischer
guitar, voice
Alexander Hawkins
piano
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Tom Skinner drums

CD2: HEAR[T]
James Arben flute, tenor saxophone
Dylan Bates violin
Neil Charles double bass
Stephen Davis drums, percussion
Otto Fischer guitar
Alexander Hawkins piano, conductor
Laura Jurd trumpet
Julie Kjær flute, alto flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Nick Malcolm trumpet, flugelhorn
Hannah Marshall cello
Percy Pursglove trumpet, double bass
Alex Ward clarinet
Matthew Wright live electronics

alexanderhawkinsmusic.com

Self-released – AH1002/3 (2017)