‘Red Circle’ – Simon Purcell

RedCircle

THE PURITY and completeness of the (red) circle speak profoundly about this long-awaited new quintet release from London-based pianist and composer Simon Purcell.

As Head of Jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, Purcell is primarily renowned as an educator, garnering praise and respect from many of today’s jazz artists who have benefited from his experience and guidance; so, no surprise that he was once the recipient of a Parliamentary Award for Jazz Educator of the Year. Purcell became prominent in the ’80s, including collaborations with Julian Arguelles, Eddie Henderson and Kenny Wheeler – but, by his own admission, performing and recording activities have since taken second place to his teaching career… until encouraged to cut this album.

The cover art, by artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson, is explained in detail on her own blog – and the crux of an analogy she makes of an encounter with an artist in residence provides a revelatory insight into this recording: “…the potter stood before us, a small piece of pottery cupped in her hands. Gazing into the ‘o’ of her bowl, she began to tell us what she had come to offer. Watching her, listening to her, I had the sense that we were encountering a woman whose life and creative work had worn away the impulse to impress, to prove, to convince. In her years of working with clay, the clay had also worked on her. Shed of pretense, the potter held out to us what she had to give. It was more than sufficient.”

That realisation of ‘more than sufficient’ seems key to the intention behind Simon Purcell’s desire to now, at last, document his powerfully direct approach to music-making with long-standing friends and colleagues who share a similarly high profile on the UK jazz scene – Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Julian Siegel (saxes), Steve Watts (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums). As Purcell explains, he doesn’t feel any expectation to connect to a particular tradition or genre of jazz, nor for the concept to be complex – the single most importance for this band’s creativity is about where their imagination takes them and the simple enjoyment of the moment.

Recorded ‘live’ in one room, this is jazz which is both tightly structured (from Purcell’s original compositions) yet endlessly free in improvisation, displaying some affinity with the classic Blue Note sessions of the ’60s. Imagine the immediacy of Wayne Shorter’s Angola or Freddie Hubbard’s Hub’s Nub, whilst embracing the influences of the intervening years (including early jazz fusion) and employing today’s clear production techniques, and this quartet’s combined inventiveness provides heady listening which demands focused attention.

From the restless momentum of Spirit Level (a reference, perhaps, to the early ’80s vibe of Tim Richards?) to the breadth of Red Circle – Enchantress, the double-horn-led character of this quintet is enthralling. Purcell is, all at once, lyrical and searching in his own extemporisations, as well as colouring the soloing of Julian Siegel and Chris Batchelor. The scat-like riffs of Minos pave the way for Watts’ brisk, walking-bass swing; at over eleven minutes in length, Answers for Job is an immersive experience – a space for improvisation to widen; and Pandora reels to the brashness of Gene Calderazzo’s intelligent percussion– a real swinger with a big band feel. Dark Night slow-grooves to Purcell’s marked piano fifths, encouraging Siegel (on soprano) and Batchelor to push to the limits, whilst Ithaca delicately waltzes to the crystalline piano of the leader; and show-stopper Maestros and Musos flies to Batchelor’s perky trumpet, plus monster soloing from Siegel.

To close, Liane Carroll guests as vocalist on an interpretation of the earlier Ithaca. There’s something magical about a lyricist performing their own words (“May the Summer mornings be bright and plenty”), and Carroll injects her unparalleled emotional intensity and rich tone into this piano-accompanied ballad, sparingly embellished by Siegel’s soprano. A tender and optimistic conclusion.

Released on 10 November 2014 (with a launch at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November), further information, promo video and purchasing can be found on the dedicated Red Circle page at Whirlwind.

 

Simon Purcell piano, compositions
Chris Batchelor
trumpet
Julian Siegel tenor and soprano saxophones
Steve Watts bass
Gene Calderazzo drums
with
Liane Carroll vocals (bonus track)

simonpurcell.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WWR4651 (2014)

‘Swamp’ – Partisans

swamp

CREDITED as movers and shakers in gritty, groundbreaking jazz since the late ’90s – with four previous albums to their name – Partisans now come together for their first release in five years… and it’s certainly a bold, renewed statement of intent.

The all-star line-up – Phil Robson (guitar), Julian Siegel (saxes and clarinets), Thaddeus Kelly (electric bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums) – approaches these eight originals with customary verve. Robson and Siegel equally split writing duties, yet there’s also a strong emphasis on intuitively-developed, rock-grooved improvisation within the quartet – and the overall balance of this set, recorded within just 48 hours, is quite remarkable.

Near-nine-minute Overview indeed reveals much about a band who have recorded and toured together for almost two decades, Siegel’s initial sunshiny jazz groove widening into freer discovery over thunderous bass and drum energy, and clearly demonstrating a sense of collaborative purpose. The impudent one-note motif of opener Flip The Sneck introduces a boisterousness which is irresistible; the Sowetan feel of Robson’s open guitar and Kelly’s rolling baseline sets up a great platform for Siegel’s rich, elaborate tenor searchings and Robson’s sustained rocky lead, Calderazzo obviously revelling in its energy. And Low Glow‘s catchy, mid-tempo 5/4 guitar’n’bass riff suggests earlier John Scofield, with Robson and Siegel sharing bright, intertwining melodies.

Phil Robson’s title track, Swamp, forays darkly into more experimental territory (’70s prog. jazz style). Sinewy sax lines creep through eerie wah-wah chords and electronic spatters until Kelly and Calderazzo inject a brilliantly rumbling, clattering rockiness over which Robson’s effected guitar growls and whistles until a sudden gear-shift invites Siegel to solo over a cheeky disco groove – splendid stuff! Veto swings attractively to Calderazzo’s hi-hat and ride, as well as Robson’s mellow chordal clusters (heard to great to effect in his organ trio), but all the while it has that appealingly unpredictable touch of Partisans questioning; and Siegel sails broadly and elegantly on tenor.

The relative simplicity of Thin Man (Siegel opening on bass clarinet) is a delight, such is its buoyancy and cohesiveness which is due, in part, to Thad Kelly’s underpinning electric bass plus Gene Calderazzo’s ticking precision and embellishment. A final fast swinger, Mickey, finds the quartet in scintillating form, Phil Robson relishing the opportunity to gambol rapidly across the fretboard, Siegel joining in unison as well as extemporising colourfully; and Icicle Architects closes the show in more pensive vein, though its slower folksongy clarinet meanderings eventually open out into an animated, earthy, deep-reed conclusion.

These guys still love what they do together, kicking at the boundaries with a combined wealth of experience – and it shows. Swamp is pretty unputdownable!

Releasing on 22 September 2014, mini-documentary, samples and purchasing options can be found on Whirlwind’s dedicated album page – tour details below.

 

Julian Siegel saxophones and clarinets
Phil Robson guitar
Thaddeus Kelly electric bass
Gene Calderazzo drums

2014 tour dates
29 September: LAUNCH – Jazz in the Round, Cockpit Theatre, London
10 October: The Verdict, Brighton
11 October: Marsden Jazz Festival
23 October: Jazz Lines at Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
31 October: Fleece Jazz, Stoke by Nayland
05 November: The Y Theatre, Leicester
14 November: The Victory Club, Cheltenham
20 November: Seven Jazz at Chapel Allerton, Leeds
21 November: The Vortex, London (London Jazz Festival)

partisans.org.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4657 (2014)

‘The New Straight Ahead’ – NYSQ (New York Standards Quartet)

NYSQ

THESE GUYS just wanna have fun!… and how clearly that message is conveyed, from the amiable tenor/piano intro and throughout The New Straight Ahead. Taking on ‘the jazz standards’ and setting them off in all kinds of new directions – avoiding the cracks and potholes of mediocrity and tedium – is no mean feat. But, on this joyous Whirlwind debut, the NYSQ (New York Standards Quartet) possess experience and passion, in spades, to carry it off.

Although a clear and immediate studio recording, the mood here is one of stumbling in off the street to find the most gloriously-ebullient four-piece at full tilt, buying a beer or two and waiting to discover which unlikely jazz avenue is traversed next. And up on stage, bringing this affectionate, colorised journey to life, are renowned musicians Tim Armacost (saxes), David Berkman (piano), Daiki Yasukagawa (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums).

Take, for example, It Don’t Mean a Thing which, contrary to the sentiment of the original lyric, finds a new spirit when taken on a surprisingly different rhythmic path. Both the dissective reworking and Tim Armacost’s soprano resemble the inquiring artistry of Wayne Shorter, Ellington’s original rapid swing smoothed into a broader, more leisurely, but still upbeat tempo. Evergreen (or browny orange) Autumn Leaves opens in familiar enough territory, but then takes off apace to Armacost’s liquid tenor, the band audaciously dipping in and out of 7/8 with palpable glee. Daiki Yasukagawa’s perfectly pliant bass sets up a boisterous interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s The Maze which bristles to a fervid bass and drum propulsion, with scintillating solo displays both from ‘Dexter’ Armacost and David Berkman at the piano.

Delightfully lush chords introduce When You Wish Upon a Star – mellow Scott Hamilton-style meanderings on the classic Disney tune of Harline/Washington; Remember finds Armacost in a perky Stan Getz state of mind, its assured, effervescent pulse courtesy of Gene Jackson’s flamboyance at the kit; and the piano quirkiness of Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso is embraced by Berkman, with Armacost’s sax offering an added dimension. Ah-leu-cha is one of the stand-outs of the album, a near-eight-minute offering which carries Charlie Parker’s original along on a wave of soprano-infused energy; and, in contrast, beautifully lyrical tenor improvisations on Jobim’s Zingaro relax to a gently shimmering South American piano and percussion sundown.

Released on 22 July 2014, this fourth NYSQ release warmly demonstrates how adaptable, in qualified hands, such old favourites can be… and it’s a great vibe to return to again and again. The band are clearly proud of their current eight years together, touring internationally, and happy to quote a Tokyo nightclub listener’s compliment: “I can hear each guy doing his own thing, but you’re doing it together”.

Visit the album page at Whirlwind for more information, promo video and purchasing.

 

Tim Armacost tenor and soprano saxophones
David Berkman piano
Daiki Yasukagawa double bass
Gene Jackson drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4654 (2104)