REVIEW: ‘Close to Home’ – Ari Erev

EVER THE MELODICIST and bestower of hope and light, Israeli pianist Ari Erev releases Close to Home, the follow-up to 2016 album Flow.

Continuing the configuration of piano trio augmented by soprano saxophone and percussion (plus, on this occasion, flute), Erev again presents a considerable breadth of original composition and reinterpretation – over 70 minutes, in fact. Within this music is a beauty which clearly amplifies its overarching title, referencing his deep emotions for family, friends and familiar places – a sentiment which has been pulled into sharp relief for so many, over the past year or so.

The pianist’s deliberate yet rubato expression can sometimes be reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim – there’s a warmth and a focus there that reflects both his experience and this album’s theme. In addition, the subtly detuned tone of his instrument creates a ‘chamber’ aura of intimate recital or jazz bar, even with occasional traces of traditional music hall. However you might define this ensemble’s collective sound, it’s a congenial blend.

Curiously, from a purely personal perspective, the opening two numbers – Israeli Story and Playground – don’t necessarily foretell the elegance and interest of the hour which then follows them. But then, immediately in Childhood Scenes, is found the most dreamy, slightly nostalgic trio waltz – an example of how Erev’s originally-stated themes frequently have a recollective dimension, suggesting they might also host a vocal lyric first heard many moons ago. Chipper Falling in Place crackles with Yuval Cohen’s soprano-led exuberance as bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Gasper Bertoncelj drive it forward with panache, while Old Friends’ chromatic figure possesses a tentative air. Another ruminative original, Saturday Coffee, features lithe sax improvisations, as well as posing a thought of how the richer timbres of tenor or baritone might also suit the pianist’s output. In Afar (for Tal), though, Cohen’s high register is gracefully interlaced with the flute of Hadar Noiberg, fashioning a particularly homely, trad-jazz-tinged dedication to Erev’s daughter.

In terms of other composers’ works, the emotive, Brazilian shades of Debora Gurgel’s Para Sempre (Forever) find greater mobility with Erev, accented by the percussion of Gilad Dobrecky; and the solid beat of Efraim Shamir’s Shi’ur Moledet (Homeland Class) – from successful Israeli pop band Kavaret – is significantly reworked as a melodramatic, almost silent-movie-styled episode whose percussion impetuously tugs the piano trio towards an excitable Latin groove. Keith Jarrett’s So Tender (known to many in his breezy recording with Gary Peacock and Jack De Johnette) is respectfully visited in a sparkling, bossa miniature; Olha Maria (Antonio Carlos Jobim) flows tenebrously; and Paul Simon’s evergreen Still Crazy After All These Years enjoys a pleasant, countrified outing. To close, Erev’s assuredly grooving Po (Here) displays a theme-tune quality, its bright, memorable melody expanded on by saxophone and piano.

At the heart of this recording and, indeed, Erev’s own pianistic delivery is a sense of both conviviality and gratitude; and his own compositional flair perhaps has the greatest appeal in this collection. Falling in Place is certainly an irresistible, tightly executed, good-time gem!

Released on 8 June 2021, Close to Home is available at Bandcamp.

 

Ari Erev piano
Assaf Hakimi double bass, bass guitar
Gasper Bertoncelj drums
with
Yuval Cohen soprano saxophone
Hadar Noiberg flute
Gilad Dobrecky percussion

arierev.com

(2021)

REVIEW: ‘Hi Res Heart’ – Archer / Keeffe / Pyne

THE RESOURCEFULNESS and technical achievement in this trio recording, alone, tell an impressive tale. But, much more than that, the lockdown-enforced concept of collaborating at distance (due to the global pandemic) to shape a seamless melting pot of musical creativity has produced an enthralling home-studio performance of composed/free jazz.

Hi Res Heart is the collective work of saxophonist/woodwind player Martin Archer, trumpeter/flugelhornist Charlotte Keeffe and vibraphonist/percussionist Martin Pyne; and both the ingenuity of their experimental process and the resultant dialogue is quite remarkable. All twelve tracks are listed with a three-character code (e.g. a – p – k) which identifies their remote order of construction (in this case, Archer – Pyne – Keeffe), with each trio member writing and recording the foundations of four pieces. These are then elaborated on and completed by the remaining two players, in different sequences and layers. The breadth of the soundscapes is fascinating, not least because each instrumentalist brings to the project their own experiences and interests – for instance, Martin Archer specifically draws inspiration from the masters of the black 1970s American avant-garde scene (an area in which he says he feels like he is writing and playing his very best).

These 65 minutes feel very much a personal expedition for musicians and listener alike, their multifaceted evolution sure to elicit a multitude of responses. To the uninitiated, the oblique freedom at the heart of this album may initially seem bewildering, perhaps even cacophonous – and, at times, they wouldn’t be far wrong! But to listen closely and emotionally interact with it is experientially satisfying, only in a quite different sense to more straight-ahead jazz. From the rambunctious clamour of Silena’s Fire, through the almost New Orleansian stomp of Keeffe’s G.E.M. and sassy, percussive resonance of big-band-style Seduction Dance, to inebriated, comedic Jean, the trio build compelling, unpredictable mélanges of timbres and rhythms.

Raw, bluesy riffs and japes in Looking for Gene bring to mind Blakey Ridge’s famed Back Door, though threaded with fidgety vibraphone improvisations; and the ‘noir’ mood of June is disconcertingly peppered with abstract trumpet (often forced through the mouthpiece), toy piano and reedy, melodramatic phrases. Pyne’s Earth Memory takes on an eastern flavour, its descending and chromatic melodies hypnotically buoyed by his perpetual undercurrent of strong, weltering rhythms, while Sleep Uneasy’s didgeridoo-style drones, sputtering ‘duck calls’ and misterioso flute certainly wouldn’t provide the ideal background to slumber!

Over eleven minutes, Archer’s Song for Bobby Naughton interlaces tenor sax, bass clarinet and muted trumpet in a markedly free and pensive progression, the saxophonist’s rich extemporisations partnering well with Pyne’s sustained, chiming vibraphone. The brief, brash plod of The Story in the Mirror and cartoonish squeal of Tommy (both of which momentarily try their hand at swing) are irresistibly fun, while closing Dolly Grip disjointedly sallies back and forth with jocular high trumpet utterances, reedy interjections and erratic percussion towards a frenzied B movie conclusion.

Martin Archer references US trumpeter Leo Smith’s trio of the late 1970s (with Dwight Andrews and Bobby Naughton) in terms of matching its instrumentation. But considering music’s development in the forty-plus years since, and the unique, combined influences on Archer / Keeffe / Pyne, it doesn’t feel outrageous to suggest Hi Res Heart offers an even greater attraction. That they produced it all ‘down the wire‘ seals it.

Released on 4 May 2021 and available as CD or download from Discus Music or Bandcamp.

 

Martin Archer sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, bass harmonica, flute, electronics
Charlotte Keeffe trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Pyne vibraphone, drum set, percussion, toy piano

Cover art by Silena

Discus Music – 108CD (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Tenacity’ – Django Bates

TRULY A MAVERICK PIANIST, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator in the world of contemporary jazz (Loose Tubes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, etc.), Django Bates has long been turning the traditional concept of ‘piano trio’ on its head in his Belovèd ensemble with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun – so compelling to watch, in concert. Two superb albums – 2010’s Belovéd Bird and 2012’s Confirmation – demonstrated a continuing breadth of invention; the former, in particular, emphasizing his deep affinity with childhood hero Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

For those drawn to numeric tidiness, this year marks Bates’ 60th birthday, his 40th year as a professional musician, and the 100th anniversary of Parker’s birth. So a celebration of the ‘200’ seems entirely appropriate – and new album Tenacity sees the trio joining forces with the astonishingly adept, 14-piece Norrbotten Big Band (NBB). A number of arrangements of tracks from the aforementioned albums are included, interpreted on a grander scale, alongside original compositions such as twelve-minute sensory overload, The Study of Touch (the title track of his 2017 ECM album) which was commissioned by the NBB. The trio “travelled to the Arctic Circle” (Sweden) to record the album with them because, Django declares, “…any band who’s brave enough to ask me to write for them, gets the gig!”

That mutual spirit of adventure, impressively conveyed through Nick White’s detailed ‘craggy summit’ cover imagery, is explored with immense imagination. Bates stops at nothing to achieve a different take on ‘big band’, his studio wizardry manipulating the NBB’s prowess with aplomb; and both Eldh and Bruun maintain their key positions as creative alchemists and rhythm-makers.

The leader’s hallmarks of manically prancing energy, playful rallentandos and accelerandos, plus wonderfully detuned piano/synth, are ever present, and heard in uproarious takes on Parker’s Ah Leu Cha and Donna Lee – the latter, a particular stand-out. David Raksin’s Laura (from the 1940s movie) is both sumptuous and madcap, imbued with close-harmony horns and elegant piano, then unexpected electronic squiggles and squawks. But amidst all of this, the integrity of Bates’ pianism is never in doubt, rolling breathlessly through the intricate transformation of Bird’s Confirmation; and lush Star Eyes, with characteristic upward glissandi and twinkles, is ornamented more subtly by the big band, the electric guitar textures of Markus Pesonen in particular adding to its distant otherworldliness. Throughout, the ability to dramatically scale-up and further colorize previous compositions/reimaginings such as We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and My Little Suede Shoes is simply magnificent – and applause is due to the NBB for their technique and focus!

Overflowing with invention and verve, Tenacity is an album of continual discovery. Django Bates describes the title (and title track) as a suggestion for his audience: “Please hang on in there, the reward is not a spoonful of honey but it should be profound and lasting”. It’s certainly that, and also has me reaching for those trio albums to try to grasp a little of the thought process behind some of these opulent big band arrangements. “Best of luck with that”, went up the cry!

Released on 2 October 2020 and available from Proper Music.

 

BELOVÈD
Django Bates piano, vox
Petter Eldh double bass, vox
Peter Bruun drums, vox

NORRBOTTEN BIG BAND
Håkan Broström soprano sax
Jan Thelin clarinets
Mats Garberg flutes
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor sax, clarinet
Per Moberg baritone sax
Bo Strandberg trumpet 1
Magnus Ekholm trumpet
Dan Johansson trumpet
Jacek Onuszkiewich trumpet
Peter Dahlgren trombone 1
Ashley Slater trombone
Björn Hängsel bass trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Markus Pesonen electric guitar

djangobates.co.uk

Lost Marble – LM009 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Tributes’ – Marius Neset

IT’S ALMOST TEN YEARS since Marius Neset’s ‘Golden Xplosion’ onto the European jazz scene with his debut album of that name, on the Edition Records label. Since then, this master of remarkable saxophonic technique has forged a prolific career, recording an impressive series of albums (most of them reviewed at this site). Neset describes latest ACT Music release, Tributes, as marking “a new phase”…

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 25 September 2020 and available from ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, compositions/arrangements

DANISH RADIO BIG BAND, conducted by Miho Hazama
Erik Eilertsen trumpet
Lars Vissing trumpet
Thomas Kjærgaard trumpet
Gerard Presencer trumpet (solo on Children’s Day Part 2)
Mads la Cour trumpet (solo on Leaving The Dock)
Peter Fuglsang alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet
Nicolai Schultz alto saxophone, flute
Hans Ulrik tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet (solo on Tribute)
Frederick Menzies tenor saxophone, clarinet (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Anders Gaardmand baritone saxophone (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Peter Dahlgren trombone (solo on Bicycle Town Part 1)
Vincent Nilsson trombone
Kevin Christensen trombone
Annette Saxe bass trombone
Jakob Munck Mortensen bass trombone, tuba
Per Gade guitar (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Henrik Gunde piano (solo on Leaving The Dock)
Kaspar Vadsholt double bass, electric bass
Søren Frost drums

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9051-2 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘The Fire Still Burns’ – Alan Braufman

THE RAW ENERGY across this quintet/sextet recording is on another level!

When the promo informed that it’s Brooklyn-born saxophonist and flautist Alan Braufman’s first album recording for 45 years – since Valley of Search, his 1975 debut with pianist Cooper-Moore – The Fire Still Burns just demanded to be heard… and it doesn’t disappoint. A man with a jazz story or five (seeing Sun Ra and Coltrane in the 1960s, playing in Carla Bley’s band, etc.), his curious blend of original, blithe, accessible tunes and fiery free jazz is driven with gusto, throughout, by drummer Andrew Drury, while the approach of Braufman and the rest of his team is similarly impassioned.

Listen to the segued contrast between sunshiny, flute-ornamented Morning Bazaar and screeching, uproarious No Floor No Ceiling to understand the range. Dual-horn strength and the leader’s own, blistering soloing matches Cooper-Moore’s strong piano foundation in Home, while the romantic soulfulness of Alone Again (easily imaginable with a lyric) still maintains an appealing hard edge, as does the impressively hard-blown title track with Braufman, again, giving it everything on sax. The township-style prelude to City Nights – with fabulously solid, shuffling groove – heralds neat arco-bass harmonics from Ken Filiano as the whole, unfolding climax becomes irresistible (and I could happily enjoy another couple of minutes of Michael Wimberly’s lively, closing percussion!). That’s the vibe to discover.

With eight tracks averaging around four and a half minutes each, it would be easy to feel short-changed on album length; but the breathless invention of it all – melodic or wildly improvised – dispels that notion, delivering huge satisfaction.

Released on 28 August 2020 in LP, CD and digital formats at Bandcamp (view the trailer).

 

Alan Braufman alto saxophone, flute
Cooper-Moore piano
James Brandon Lewis tenor saxophone
Ken Filiano bass
Andrew Drury drums
with
Michael Wimberly percussion (tracks 2 & 8)

alanbraufman.com

(2020)

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)