‘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)

‘Pond Life’ – Big Bad Wolf

A DEBUT RELEASE whose fresh, invigorating sounds stem from an intriguing co-compositional method, Big Bad Wolf’s Pond Life is an instrumental/vocal delight.

The direction taken by trombonist Owen Dawson, guitarist Rob Luft, electric bassist Michael De Souza and drummer Jay Davis begins with recorded, open-ended group improvisation. On playback, ideas born out of these free expressions are then developed, structured and honed with fine attention to detail, resulting in music which radiates an experimental free-spiritedness combined with intelligent musicality. This young band’s many, collective influences include Nirvana, Radiohead, The Invisible, Björk and Django Bates, so their creations naturally weave together diverse strands of rock, pop and jazz, occasionally integrating refined, layered vocals and synthesizer traces redolent of ’70s progressive rock and the Canterbury scene.

Melodically and texturally, this blissful music coruscates to an enticing pairing of trombone and guitar; and the democratic creativity of the quartet (who studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music) is key to their mission of ‘forging an individual, contemporary sound whilst still honouring the improvisational element of the jazz tradition’. Indeed, Owen Dawson’s cool, breezy trombone lines in Canary immediately intimate Groove Armada, as Rob Luft’s classical guitar delicacy implies the Anthony Phillips era of Genesis; but there’s also a gritty edge to the band’s output (Michael De Souza’s six-string bass a key element), with overdriven guitar and vocal lines perhaps suggesting Everything Everything. Flats in Dagenham‘s sleek, summery trombone promenade is interspersed with crackling guitar-and-bass motifs and anthemic choruses, heralding joyously mellow, sustained electric guitar improv. It seems the band’s initial pooling and sequencing of ideas are key to these unpredictable, episodic progressions which feature adroit, sometimes head-scratching instrumental combinations.

Luft’s stylistic range colours each of these eight pieces quite differently, his rock riffs in Frog underpinning its brassy, cinematic pride, whilst Dawson’s radiophonic, wailing trombone is carried by a mind-boggling swathe of pulsating guitars and tricky, percussive rhythms. In repose, this quartet is just as appealing – Quiet Coach‘s charm defined by dreamy, almost nursery-rhyme guitar, blithe trombone melodies and soft vocal harmonies. But a swift gear-change is never far away, with Hopkins’ Choice rippling to ska-like fervency; both Grassfish and title track Pond Life recalling prog’s flightiness (the latter complete with Pink Floyd ‘Welcome to the Machine’ synth detail); and closing track The Plight of the Typewriter capturing the supreme balance these players achieve as its sublime serenity evolves into majestic funk.

Pond Life might well be approached from an ‘ambient’ perspective; a feel-good, windows-down cruiser. Yet it offers so much more in terms of well-crafted new sounds informed by and excitingly recalling the legacy of music’s previous decades. That surely is a successful basis for any band – and hopefully this gem might be the first of many from Big Bad Wolf.

Released on 16 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Pond Life, live at Sofar London.

 

Owen Dawson trombone
Rob Luft guitars
Michael De Souza six-string electric bass (Bass VI)
Jay Davis drums

bigbadwolf.london

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Killpartrick
Financially supported by Help Musicians UK (Peter Whittingham Award)

Self-Released (2017)

‘Strata’ – Graham Costello’s Strata

GrahamCostello

SCOTLAND is currently producing some vital, fresh expressions in jazz. Standing solidly amongst them is Glasgow-based drummer/composer Graham Costello – a first-class graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and his sextet, Strata.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 15 June 2017 and available digitally from Bandcamp.

Videos: _’88, _’60.

 

Scott Murphy tenor sax
Liam Shortall trombone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Joe Williamson guitar
Euan Taylor electric bass
Graham Costello drums, compositions

grahamcostello.com

Self-released (2017)

‘Live’ – Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra

TomHaines_live

COMPOSER, conductor and drummer Tom Haines’ live recording with The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra confirms just how adaptable, relevant and imaginative this large-scale jazz format continues to be.

The West Midlands is significant in nurturing some remarkable musicians, highlighted recently by solo albums from two members of this 17-strong ensemble, Jonathan Silk and Ben Lee; and the line-up’s emerging talent – captured at a scintillating 2016 performance celebrating 30 years of Stratford Jazz – also includes saxophonists Vittorio Mura and John Fleming, trumpeters Tom Syson and Sean Gibbs, plus trombonists Kieran McLeod and David Sear. Most of Tom Haines’ five substantial works here have garnered prizes and a commendation, either for composition or arrangement, at European competitions in recent years (Italy, Denmark, Belgium and UK) – the quicksilver energy and undulating, moody impressions conjured in this crystalline recording, with only the subtlest hint of enthused audience context, soon suggest why.

The definition of ‘big band’ versus ‘orchestra’ may be ambiguous, but Haines’ overarching approach to composition is both cohesive and prismatic, with opener Yitzoid‘s funk-infused rhythms and full arrangements (with some great, antiphonal bopping) opening the way for shapely solos from altoist Chris Young and trumpeter Sean Gibbs. At the beating heart of the edginess is a crackling rhythm section – Ben Lee (guitar), David Ferris (piano), Stuart Barker (double bass) and Jonathan Silk (drums) – heightening the dynamics, with the whole connecting so effectively. David Ferris is already proving himself to be an expressive pianist, his poetic reflections introducing thirteen-minute Mystery Dog (Mr E Dog), a snappy affair encouraging Alicia Gardener-Trejo’s wily baritone sax, Elliot Drew’s flighty soprano and wonderfully bombastic trombone from Kieran McLeod. It’s easy to be carried along on the crest of these luscious solos, but also listen out for Haines’ many details, such as swooning horn phrases and the rise and fall of closely-clustered harmonies.

Remembrance, with its personal dedication, ebbs and flows with sectional colour, as well as an openness to prompt the delicate solo artistry of guitarist Ben Lee and flugelhornist Mike Adlington; Haines’ skill in sustaining beauty and interest over ten minutes is to be applauded. The urgent vocals of Rosie Harris (with lyrics inspired by Ursula Andkjaer Olsen’s ‘The Book of the Serpent’) inform the dramatic delivery of Strange Utopia – and whether or not narrative in vocalised jazz can readily be understood, it’s nevertheless full of overdriven-guitar vibrancy. To close, Whistleblower‘s impertinent, interrupted stomp is a gem, its muted honks eliciting similar, rippling expressions from Vittorio Mura’s tenor – quite, quite irresistible!

A live album for all the right reasons – capturing the mutual electricity between orchestra and audience, with great attention to the recorded audio – Live is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, with scores/parts available from Tom Haines’ website.

 

Tom Haines composer, conductor

Elliot Drew soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Chris Young alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone, clarinet
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone, clarinet
Alicia Gardener-Trejo baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute

Tom Syson lead trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Hugh Pascall trumpet

Richard Foote trombone
Kieran McLeod trombone
David Sear trombone
Andrew Clennell bass trombone

Ben Lee guitar
David Ferris piano
Stuart Barker double bass
Jonathan Silk drums

with
Rosie Harris
vocals (on Strange Utopia)

Live recording, editing mixing and mastering by Luke Morrish-Thomas

tomhainesmusic.com

Self-released – THMCD001 (2017)

‘La Saboteuse’ – Yazz Ahmed

YazzAhmed

THE SMOULDERING, exotic and aromatic layers of trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse have gradually been infusing my psyche for the past few weeks – and it’s precisely this slowly unfolding, intoxicating weave which makes it both alluring and satisfyingly difficult to pigeonhole. 

Ahmed’s credentials to date speak for themselves, having worked alongside such illustrious names as Courtney Pine, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sir John Dankworth, as well as appearing on albums by artists including Samuel Hällkvist, Noel Langley and Radiohead; and following on from 2011 solo debut Finding My Way Home, the British-Bahraini musician describes this latest, sumptuous release as part of a long, spiritual journey: “the relationship between the optimism of my conscious self and the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, my inner saboteur”. It quite ingeniously fuses a personal desire to delve more deeply into her childhood experiences – the culture of the Middle East and the sounds of its maqam and folk music traditions – with the already exciting cross-pollinations of the current jazz scene. The resulting assimilation by Ahmed and her sparkling players is a hypnotic, almost continuous work of extraordinary nuance and breadth.

Exquisite illustrations, calligraphy and the trumpeter’s own engaging sleeve notes about the music and each of her personnel instantly reveal a labour of love (also confirming the advantage of artistic completeness which the physical product will always have over digital download or streaming), preparing the ground for immersion in this fragrant, almost hour-long labyrinth. Jamil Jamal‘s alternating seven-then-eight percussive metre is set up by a Rhodes and electric bass pulse, embellished by searching improvisations from the leader’s flugel and bass clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings; and, as throughout the album, details such as echoic guitar and hazy electronics add significantly to the suffusion. Indeed, Ahmed’s mastery of textural effect is much in evidence, as in The Space Between the Fish & the Moon, a mystical expanse of bowed vibraphone, digital oscillations and crackles traversed by blissful flugel.

The fluctuating riches of this recording are magnificent – dark, spacial, contrapuntal and unison phrases in title track La Saboteuse become interspersed with muted Arabian annunciations, whilst Al Emadi‘s brassy effusiveness is carried on a wave of bendir and darbuka, with so many fascinating embellishments contributing to its cinematic mood. The vibes-introduced buoyancy of The Lost Pearl has a subtle redolence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, albeit with syncopated, effects-swirling electric bass rhythms; and all the while, Ahmed’s assured imaginings ripple above. In Bloom, Martin France’s rapid pop-groove injects light into the pervading mystery, its otherwise straight-ahead demeanour glinting with vibes and (at one point, politely screeching) flugel; and Beleille‘s complex network of tonal intrigue (including bizarre electronic manipulations of bass clarinet) makes this one of this album’s most absorbing listens. Delicate miniatures, segued between these expansive pieces, provide a sense of continuity which may well be elaborated upon when performed live – and celebratory Organ External, with a riffy hint of Michael Nyman, intelligently seems to throw everything into the mix with great results, the low timbres of flugel and bass clarinet especially effective.

Yazz Ahmed’s atmospheres are lush, inventive, enticing and an impressive, progressive distillation of her many influences. In short – spellbinding.

Released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017, La Saboteuse is available as CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Yazz Ahmed flugelhorn, trumpet, quarter-tone flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet
Samuel Hällkvist electric guitars
Naadia Sheriff Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Dudley Phillips bass guitar
Dave Manington bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom)
Martin France drums
Corrina Silvester bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit

Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed

yazzahmed.com

Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)

‘Turn Up The Quiet’ – Diana Krall

DianaKrall-Quiet

RETURNING TO her undoubted jazz mastery, following 2015 album Wallflower‘s divergence into pop/rock ballad interpretations, new release Turn Up The Quiet finds Diana Krall’s characteristically restrained, closely-miked voice caressing romantic, twilight gems such as Cole Porter’s Night and Day and Rodgers and Hart’s Isn’t it Romantic.

The edgy pianistic flair and energetic vocals to be found in some of the multiple Grammy award-winning artist’s earlier recordings aren’t so evident here, yet there’s no denying the dinner-jazz finesse and attention to detail conjured by Krall in three specific line-ups – trio, quartet and quintet – providing a comfortable blend of differing timbres. Relishing the creative freedom to record and, in some cases, substantially refashion eleven standards with some of her favourite musicians, “to see what would happen”, this thirteenth album would become her final studio collaboration with renowned producer Tommy LiPuma, who recently passed away; but the craft of their long, artistic partnership is palpable.

Breezy ‘jazz manouche’ opener Like Someone in Love (Van Heusen/Burke) introduces the precise trio offerings with guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Christian McBride, who also present a slick rendition of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies where Malone’s muted rhythms are especially attractive; and Johnny Mercer’s Dream, in a serene string arrangement by Alan Broadbent, is classic, romantic Krall. The pianist’s longtime association with guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton Jnr, and drummer Jeff Hamilton shines in quartet numbers such as Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E (complete with dizzy, discordant piano detail) and dusky, Mexican rumba, Sway. Stuart Duncan’s fiddle completes a quintet line-up with guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Karriem Riggins, and softly jaunty 1930s tune I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You) is beautifully measured. In their hands, Moonglow (Hudson/Mills) becomes hushedly sublime, and the perky guitar shuffle of I’ll See You in My Dreams – a glimpse of Krall’s livelier character, hinting at moods of both George Shearing and Stéphane Grappelli – is both deft and polished.

Maybe a few more fireworks might have pepped up the dynamic range to greater effect, adding a soupçon of unpredictability – but the clarity of these commercially-appealing performances certainly showcases an artist who still thrives on the joy of pure, acoustic jazz familiarity and improvisation. As Krall herself says: “Sometimes you just have to turn up the quiet to be heard a little better”.

Released on 5 May 2017 and available from Diana Krall’s official online store, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Diana Krall piano, vocals
with
Russell Malone
guitar
Christian McBride bass
and
Anthony Wilson
guitar
John Clayton Jr bass
Jeff Hamilton drums
and
Marc Ribot
guitar
Tony Garnier bass
Karriem Riggins drums
Stuart Duncan fiddle

dianakrall.com

Verve (2017)

‘Strand’ – James Lindsay

TUMBLING with Gaelic threads which evoke festal reels and climatic atmospheres, Scottish bassist James Lindsay’s Strand – his debut as leader – melds grooving jazz, traditional folk and zesty rock to create a tapestry of airy, attractive landscapes.

A regular session musician and arranger, Glasgow-based Lindsay won the Martyn Bennett prize for composition in 2014 and is also a member of multi-award-winning folk band Braebeach. This programme of eight, broad numbers for sextet features lithe flute and fiddle melodies, instantly placing his original music ‘north of the border’; but don’t be fooled by its initial easy-going nature, as this ensemble works together to produce what becomes an inviting, contrasting weave of warm, incisive melody and textural detail. There are hints of the focus and camaraderie of the BBC’s Transatlantic Sessions – perhaps unsurprising, given that this album’s engineer, Iain Hutchinson, was key to that long-term project – yet the bassist’s jazz sensibilities also imbue his compositions with creative twists of opportunity for he and his players to offer their own improvisational flair.

Scotland’s rich and distinctive musical heritage is evident throughout, as in the mist-clearing expanses of Hebrides Terrace Seamount (the largest undersea mountain in the British Isles) which are coloured by Hamish Napier’s tremulant flute and Adam Sutherland’s lilting, portamento violin; and The Silent Spring‘s soft rivulets of Celtic-tinged melody reflect its compositional inspiration, a hidden stream which now supplies one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries (pianist Tom Gibbs’ sole use of Fender Rhodes throughout this recording contributes greatly in blending tradition with contemporary ideas). Ben Macdonald’s country-rock electric guitar motion underpins Sòdhaigh (one of the isles of Skye), buoyed by fresh, unison flute and fiddle tunes, then side-footed into a tricksy, rhythmic pattern from drummer Scott Mackay; and Shallow Firth‘s more pressing Rhodes-and-guitar dominance echoes the composer’s interest in the work of jazz luminaries Bill Frisell and Ben Wendel.

Lindsay takes much inspiration from his native shores, so UB85, despite its breezy, flutey demeanour, is in fact based on a true story of sea monsters and a sunken German U-boat – and again the transition into another phase (a lurching, Groove Armada-style figure) is delightful, delicately enhanced by Sutherland’s jazz fiddle and Napier’s breathy harmonics. The rhythmic union of Lindsay, Macdonald, Gibbs and Mackay sails blithely around Stacks, supporting a spirited folk tune which celebrates these impressive geographical features of Scotland’s west coast with joyful, Joe Sample-like Rhodes acciaccaturas and trills as well as washy, iridescent seascapes, plus a measure of crashing-wave guitar grit. The soft-rock, up-in-the-clouds impressions of Forvie Sands / Creel (again, landscape-themed) are elegantly dancelike, infused with sustained electric guitar and bluesy fiddle; and widescreen Beaufort’s Dyke (inspired by a Wesleyan hymn tune) closes with a simple, longing sense of ‘going home’.

A few pre-recording studio videos – The Silent Spring, Forvie Sands and Hebrides Terrace Seamount – offer a glimpse of this accessible, fine and heartwarming Scottish excursion.

Released on 2 June 2017, Strand is available as a digital download or limited edition CD from Bandcamp.

 

James Lindsay double bass, compositions
Hamish Napier flute, Wurlitzer
Adam Sutherland fiddle
Ben Macdonald guitar
Tom Gibbs Fender Rhodes
Scott Mackay drums

Cover art: Into the Blue – Jane McMillan

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD001 (2017)