REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Yorkshire Suite’ – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

THE PREMISE of this live recording is heartwarming, and should be to anyone with an interest in the continuation of the British big band jazz scene.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 7 December 2020 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Mark Ellis, Cat Miles, Matt Anderson, Will Howard, Rob Mitchell saxophones
Gareth Smith, Simon Dennis, Kim Macari, Simon Beddoe trumpets
Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Tom l’anson, Chris Dale trombones
Harry Orme guitar
Aron Kyne
piano
John Marley bass
Steve Hanley drums

James Hamilton conductor, composer

Commissioned by Jazz Yorkshire
Recorded live at Seven Arts, Leeds, 31 May 2015
Mixed and mastered by James Hamilton, 2020

newjazzrecords.co.uk

New Jazz Records (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Le Chat Brel’ – Gabriel Bismut & Maurizio Minardi

RECORDINGS such as The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist and Piano Ambulance provided a personal introduction to the characterful music of Italian composer, accordionist and pianist Maurizio Minardi, having seen him perform some years ago in London. So it’s no surprise that new album Le Chat Brel – his collaboration with French violinist Gabriel Bismut – has grown into a complete listening delight.

Their entrancingly rounded quartet is completed by guitarist Barthélemy Seyer and double bassist Maurizio Congiu, plus guest harpist Livia Ferrandon-Bescond. Twelve original compositions of Bismut and Minardi – six apiece – are performed with jocose or romantic spirit through an evocative melding of their jazz/folk/baroque sensibilities (European union – stronger together, as so many of us well know). The album title’s feline ‘Brel’ reference links to their appreciation, and sometimes their live interpretations, of the music of Jacques Brel.

While the timbres of violin/alto and accordion have long complemented each other, there’s something inherently natural about the way their own creations are fashioned, right down to details which often reflect the pieces’ titles. So, for example, there’s the impulsive scratch and busyness of MInardi’s Le Coq Baroque, as well as cheery, shuffling Penguin (an irresistible tune from his Cook album, in the mould of The Divine Comedy or, appropriately, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). The two composers are certainly well-matched. Holiday atmospheres in Bismut’s blithe Persévérence are given a lovely depth by his alto instrument, complemented by Seyer’s lithe guitar improvisations; and Endurance’s sunny, Parisian demeanour steals the heart.

More contemplative numbers such as Fleur Du Hasard and Per I Tuoi 28 Anni sigh with wistful, spatial elegance, their intimacy enhanced by the closeness of this recording. La Brume too, supported by hazy electric guitar textures, feels melancholic as shared violin and accordion melodies evoke illuminated riverside vistas of gently-rippling reflection. And two sumptuous Bismut compositions, Bipolarité and Peau, Neuve – the latter contrasting hymnal quietude with improvisational freedom – are sensitively enhanced by the harp of Livia Ferrandon-Bescond.

But the joyful vigour of this quartet’s interaction is always bound to resurface – firstly in Minardi‘s gypsy-jazz Anastasia, where Bismut’s bluegrass-suggested portamenti gleefully dance over its infectious rhythms; and then in galloping Tulipano Nero, whose anticipatory, Vivaldian drama is summoned by chattering accordion and Danse Macabre-style double-stopping and brash soloing (all brilliant ensemble-playing that has to be heard). As a final curtain call, sneering tango Marcello struts into colorized vaudeville – a great summation of this album’s seductive entertainment.

Le Chat Brel is released on 13 November 2020 and available here.

Videos: trailer, Endurance, Persévérence.

 

Gabriel Bismut violin, alto
Maurizio Minardi accordion
Barthélemy Seyer guitar
Maurizio Congiu double bass
with
Livia Ferrandon-Bescond harp (tracks 8, 11)

mauriziominardi.com/bismut-minardi

AMA – AMA 01 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Let the world be a question’ – Monika Lidke

SINCE IF I WAS TO DESCRIBE YOU, and through 2017’s Gdyby każdy z nas… (If all of us…), singer-songwriter Monika Lidke has seemingly been absorbing musical influences and experimenting with vocal styles to bring divergent atmospheres to latest album Let the world be a question.

Polish-born and London-resident, Lidke’s earlier output has comfortably breezed between light jazz, European folk and easy-going pop. But this collection of a dozen songs, self-penned or co-written, also reveals different facets to her vocal expression. So alongside the recognisably carefree numbers, there are others which display a seasoned edge; and a host of accomplished musicians (listed below, including guitarists Matt Chandler, Kristian Borring and Maciek Pysz) interpret the contrasting moods and grooves with attractive detailing. These are unashamedly direct pop songs – but the trick is that they avoid lovelorn clichés, focusing rather on deepening family relationships and the circle of life, as well as the quiet beauty of the natural world.

Some lovely scenes are painted, including the Paul Simon-like, country-guitar-enhanced shuffle of Making it up as we go, Lidke’s vocal occasionally veering towards that of Suzanne Vega. The characteristic innocence of her wordless (‘dooh-dooh’) melodies break into poetic profundity in A Winter Morning, Curious Puzzle and heartfelt Mother, while Lazy Detour’s bluesy electric-piano groove, including a feature for trumpeter Dawid Frydryk, suggests the illumination of new artistic pathways. Alle Choir London’s snappy backing brings frissons of delight to numbers such as gospel-tinted Not a Bad Bone and hip-swinging Samba, Biodra i Nogi; and soft-rock Słuchaniem być (To be listening) especially stays in the memory, with Matt Chandler’s fluid electric-guitar improv a real treat.

Initially quaint, Snowflake’s Dream’s lyric implies a touching mother-to-son conversation about life (“…always remember me shining… I’ll make a full circle… a teardrop in the corner of your eye”), then ramping up into a more effusive aspect of Lidke’s performance we should hear more of. Tango’s descending-bass mystery, too, has an attraction, the Polish-sung lyric of encouragement offering up pictorial lines such as “I’m not afraid [of] your words which fight like a windmill with light” before hitting a bright rock-out; and rhythmic W deszczu pod parasolem (In the rain under an umbrella) is joyously uplifting – Could it really have happened, a miracle between us.

Finally, alongside Zimowy Poranek (a Polish version of A Winter Morning) are three remixes by producers Happy Cat Jay and Wulfnote. While such arrangements can sometimes appear to be gimmicky or even questionable add-ons, these are imaginatively refashioned with a peppy, radio-play vibe. Wulfnote’s Lazy Detour, in particular, abounds with so much interest.

There’s a sense, from the depth of a clutch of these songs, that Monika Lidke’s journey could flourish in more challenging areas, perhaps led by a theme, a concept. Certainly her harder vocal timbres point that way… in a direction I’d follow.

Released on 8 October 2020, Let the world be a question is available as CD, vinyl and digital download at the monikalidke.com store.

 

Monika Lidke vocals
Alle Choir London* backing vocals (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Matt Chandler guitars (tracks 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15)
Kristian Borring electric guitar (tracks 4, 5, 14)
Maciek Pysz acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 5)
Adam Teixeira drums (tracks 1, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Waldemar Franczyk drums (tracks 2, 6, 8, 13, 16)
Chris Nickolls drums (tracks 3, 4, 5)
Tim Fairhall double bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Marcin Grabowski fretless bass (tracks 2, 13, 16), double bass (track 6), electric bass (track 8)
Shez Raja electric bass (tracks 4, 5)
Jan Freicher piano (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 14), vibraphone (tracks 2, 6, 13, 16), synth (tracks 2, 13)
Adam Spiers cello (tracks 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Wayne Urquhart cello (track 14)
Dawid Frydryk trumpet (tracks 3, 6, 14)
Happy Cat Jay drums, piano (track 15), synth (tracks 15, 16), bass guitar (track 16)

*Alle Choir London are:
Marta Mathea Radwan director, backing vocal arrangements
Klaudia Baca, Anita Łazińska, Karolina Micor, Marta Mathea Radwan,
Justyna Rafalik, Krystian Godlewski, Krzysztof Suwała singers

monikalidke.com

MLCD002 (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: ‘Øjeblikke Vi Husker’ – Hvalfugl

THEY BREEZED IN with debut album By in 2017 and airlifted purple whales over Scandinavian peaks with 2019’s Somm En Faldskærm. Now, Danish electric guitar, piano/harmonium and double bass trio Hvalfugl release their third album, Øjeblikke Vi Husker (Moments We Remember) – another temperate airstream of blithe melody and ‘feel good’, this time occasionally augmented by featured artists.

The musical world of Jeppe Lavsen, Jonathan Fjord Bredholt and Anders Juel Bomholt oscillates between Nordic jazz, European folk/country, ambient reverie and even a touch of hymnal repose. And whilst the clear accessibility of their carefully arranged and precisely performed original numbers could initially be mistaken as ‘lightweight’, beneath is a beautiful depth of emotion and honesty which reveals itself – and that overall combination is both attractive and heartwarming. Lavsen’s pellucid guitar lines are a prominent melodic feature; yet the trio is completely intertwined and balanced, each dependent on the other for this open, congenial flow. Maybe that’s the keystone of their success.

Averaging three to four minutes, none of these thirteen frequently visual impressions outstays its welcome, but leads naturally onto the next. So the gently falling flakes of grey-skied Snefald Over Fjorden (Snowfall Over the Fjord), with Sørensen’s soft trumpet perhaps wistfully recalling childhood days, ease to reveal the coruscating sunlight of Polardrømme’s (Polar Dreams’) shimmering piano and guitar over Bomholt’s tuneful bass riff. Folksong, as an influence, never feels far away – Funklende Blikke (Sparkling Glances) dances brightly to its double cello elegance; and piano-led Sommereufori (Summer Euphoria) does have that tingle of a halcyon tune heard way back when.

The subtle waves of Bredholt’s harmonium in Dugvåde Asfaltstriber (Dew-wet Asphalt Stripes) provide a tranquil, homely ground to support Lavsen’s echo-effected guitar, while drums and trumpet bring a rare, rhythmic busyness to Hvalfugl in Regnen Falder Som Sne (The Rain Falls Like Snow). Rather special is the clear, yearning cello of Vandrer Mig Til Ro (Wandering To My Rest) – imaginable as extended, emotive soundtrack material, certainly aligned to the album‘s theme of ‘memory’; and lyric-suggested Der Hvor Alting Ender (Where Everything Ends) epitomises the band’s lambent glow.

Hvalfugl’s output is not oblique, innovative or challenging – but neither should it be labelled or heard as ‘background music’. Expanding the instrumental weave only enhances their finespun landscapes, and this album’s easy-going 45 minutes call me back to bask in the positivity of their autumn-mellow riches.

Released on 4 September 2020 and available as CD, digital download and limited-edition vinyl from Bandcamp.

YouTube audio track: Dugvåde Asfaltstriber

 

Jeppe Lavsen guitar
Jonathan Fjord Bredholt piano, harmonium
Anders Juel Bomholt double bass
with featured artists
Jakob Sørensen trumpet
Lasse Jacobsen drums
Gabriella de Carvalho e Silva Fuglsig cello
Rebecca de Carvalho e Silva Fuglsig cello

hvalfugl.dk

(2020)