‘My Iris’ – Trish Clowes

myiris

THE AWAKENING AURORA of Trish Clowes’ new album, My Iris, seems to summon those marvellously intuitive Weather Report conversations between Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Clowes was privileged to meet the legendary saxophonist; and both the sustained and fleeting subtleties of Hammond organ and guitar which support her soprano in opening number One Hour recall A Silent Way‘s delicate, suspended beauty.

Indeed, Trish Clowes is keen to understand and even draw on the lineage which underpins her development as saxophonist and composer: “It’s not about trying to sound like anything except yourself, but it’s becoming quite important to me to check out where it’s all coming from, because I think that comes out in your writing and in what you choose to play. The more you understand about the past, the better you can understand what you might want to offer to the future.”

As a reviewer, before drawing any conclusions, I place great emphasis on ‘living with’ an album over a period of time until its familiarity then begins to reveal hitherto undiscovered depths; and this has positively proved its worth here. A former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, Clowes revels in the opportunity to write for and play alongside large ensembles – perhaps most notably with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2014 release Pocket Compass. But in her own quartet line-up with Ross Stanley (piano, Hammond organ), Chris Montague (electric guitar) and James Maddren (drums), there appears to be a vital key which unlocks its magic – and that is a tangible musical intimacy which ensures a thread of free-flowing dialogue throughout the scoring and the improvisation. It can be heard in Clowes’ peekaboo phrases which open Blue Calm, or in the shared, intuitive development of A Cat Called called Behemoth (a perky little number inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita).

Whilst the term ‘chamber jazz’ might be applied to the focus of this album (both the perceived focus of the quartet’s interaction and our reward in engaging with its detail), it also rocks unashamedly. The glorious panic of I Can’t Find My Other Brush (apparently one of Maddren’s!) is redolent of Marius Neset, as Clowes’ tenor sputters and squawks through its restless, skittering percussion; and sticks-and-snare Tap Dance for Baby Dodds (which, in part, refers to early drum pioneer Warren Dodds, but is elaborated upon in the sleeve notes) is unashamedly buoyant, breaking loose to Chris Montague’s string-bent country guitar.

Especially poignant – and part of a shared project with Anglo-Armenian composer/musician Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, exploring the subject of forced migration and genocide – is Muted Lines. Clowes’ description of both artists’ individual approaches to this, expressing silence in reductive poetry and music, becomes affecting; and this is reinforced by a slowly pervading darkness painted by Ross Stanley’s Hammond, Montague’s guitar and the intended frailty of Clowes’ own voice (textures akin to the subterranean melancholy of Peter Gabriel). Stanley is a consummate organist and pianist in any environment – but his restrained, haunting contribution here is unexpectedly emotive.

Wistful, hazy country-garden meanderings of In Between the Moss and Ivy are laden with instrumental sensitivity, softly brushed with transitory piano, guitar and soprano fragrances; and rambunctious Be a Glow Worm (Clowes citing “some gnomic advice from my friend Iain Ballamy”) is mischievously bookended with furtive, microtonal tenor ascents and descents.

Immerse yourself in this captivating, wholly accessible, original music. The deeper you travel, the wider your ears (and irises) will be opened.

Released on 13 January 2017, My Iris is available from Basho Records, Jazz CDs and Amazon.

 

Trish Clowes saxophones
Chris Montague electric guitar
Ross Stanley piano, Hammond organ
James Maddren drums

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 53-2

‘Together, As One’ – Dinosaur

Dinosaur

THAT MOMENT… when, across the musical landscape, a creative direction comes into view which has the incisiveness to stir a memory, to create the tingling thrill of formative years’ discoveries. Such is the overriding experience of hearing debut album Together, As One from trumpeter/composer Laura Jurd’s quartet, Dinosaur.

Already establishing herself as a popular and hard-working musician on the UK jazz scene – recording/gigging with the likes of Mark Lockheart, Jasper Høiby and Lauren Kinsella, as well as being selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for 2015-17 – Jurd has regularly collaborated with pianist and keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick. So the opportunity to realise this long-dreamt project, in the studio, is clearly of great significance. Here are eight tracks whose 47 minutes suggest that the ambition held by this ensemble might just be the beginning of something far greater in scale, the invention and instrumentation conjuring something of that revelatory buzz of early-mid ’70s fusion or the artsiness of the Canterbury scene.

Although leading on trumpet, Jurd also melds synth with the now-familiar and pleasingly left-field keyboard approach of Elliot Galvin (here on Rhodes and Hammond alone) – so Living, Breathing, for example, is delivered with biting urgency as blisteringly-tongued melodies, high electric bass and crashing percussion are bathed in a haze of sustained keyboard riffs. Galvin’s Rhodes and Chaplin’s bass are magically intertwined in Awakening, a spacial opening number which chimes to the drum precision of Corrie Dick; and Robin‘s jazz-rock-folk blend might easily summon Jethro Tull or Camel, albeit with Jurd’s eloquent tones dancing around as if in some fire-crackling, trippy ritual (the tonal combinations here are a delight, as they similarly are in abstract, distorted, Rhodes/Hammond-led interlude Underdog).

Hinting at the novelty of, say, Django Bates, Steadily Sinking ominously descends into Extinct, a near-ten-minute tremulant Hammond groove built so infectiously by Chaplin and Dick (and somehow redolent of the confident, smouldering, improvised progression heard in late e.s.t.). Continuing the prehistoric theme, Primordial‘s ’60s-pop abandon finds Jurd even hinting at Herb Alpert, as Galvin is given free rein in this glorious, extended psychedelia; and though curious to conclude with an Interlude, its beautiful freedom further demonstrates these four players’ intentions of continually leaping boundaries and traversing uncharted terrains. That’s a prospect which, also for the future, is monstrously exciting – particularly for Jurd, who concludes: “This music now belongs to no-one… I absolutely love it when music does that.”

Released on 16 September 2016, Together, As One is available as CD, LP or high-quality digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, compositions
Elliot Galvin Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ
Conor Chaplin electric bass
Corrie Dick drums

laurajurd.com

Edition Records – EDN1078 (2016)

‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time

MST_300

THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.

 

Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ

moonlightsavingtime.co.uk

MSTCD002 (2015)

‘The Cut Off Point’ – Phil Robson

PhilRobson

THE THREE MASKED MEN were spotted last year on a visit to one of Phil Robson’s favourite UK haunts – the Players Theatre, Davenham, Cheshire. In its most intimate of surroundings, the guitarist and his colleagues (sans disguise!) entertained a rapt audience with new music destined for this debut organ trio release, The Cut Off Point. Small venue, big vibe.

An influential figure on the British contemporary jazz scene (and one quarter of seminal jazz/rockers Partisans), Phil Robson has long been a fan of the organ trio – and, citing Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery amongst his influences, he has harboured a desire to write and perform in this format. As with any trio, the exposure requires nerve and intuition to ignite the creative spark… oh, and the opportunity to work with seasoned pros – in Robson’s case, here, with Ross Stanley (Hammond organ) and Gene Calderazzo (drums).

The impact of the organ trio is instant. Without bass or piano, it’s the huge physical and audible presence of the Hammond B-3 that takes centre stage – and Ross Stanley’s is as authentic as they come, complete with separate, whirring tone cabinet. Robson and drummer Calderazzo go back many years, especially through their work with Partisans, and therefore have a ready-made connection which is clearly evident.

With seven of the eight tracks penned by Robson, his opener, Thief, reveals the classic organ trio groove – guitar and keyboard melodies deftly gryrating and intertwining, buoyed by Calderazzo’s irresistible, carefully-weighted, toe-tapping rhythms; and with Stanley in charge of pedal-board bass, the organ-and-guitar flexibility of combining or alternating sustained chordal colour with brisk upfront soloing is a great feature, captured particularly well in bustling Second Thoughts. The trio’s retro interpretation of David Liebman’s Dimi and the Blue Men bleeps and echoes in hyperspace before landing on craggy Jeff Beck terrain, Calderazzo particularly eloquent in his snare detail.

Snappy organ and guitar lines are shared in Vintage Vista, its rapid intensity inviting terrific soloing all round (again, its Calderazzo that steals the show – how I’d love to hear that drum track in isolation!). Dedicated to the late Kenny Wheeler, Astral‘s floating, undulating soundworld is redolent of Zawinul’s In a Silent Way and Metheny’s Sirabhorn, whilst pleasingly jarring title track The Cut Off Point buzzes to Robson’s hard-edged, John Scofield-like effects and restless group improvisation. One of Robson’s older, unrecorded tunes, Berlin, swings airily to his light and apparently effortless exploration of the fingerboard; and, to finish, Ming the Merciless deep-grooves to crunchy guitar’n’Hammond chords and infectious bluesy soloing.

As ‘Ratzo’ shouts at the close, “We got an album”. Yep, they sure have!

The Cut Off Point is released by Whirlwind on 18 May 2015 – further information, audio samples and purchasing can be found here.

 

Phil Robson electric guitar
Ross Stanley Hammond organ
Gene Calderazzo drums

philrobson.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4672 (2015)

‘China Lane’ – Alice Zawadzki

CDWalletCrescent_DW-WithSpineNew.pdf

FROM THE DELICATE opening riff of this debut release, singer, songwriter, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki has me enraptured. A number of years in gestation, China Lane offers a unique and pleasantly beguiling approach to jazz, folk (call it what you will) which is enduringly irresistible.

Comprised mostly of originals, this collection can be curious, unpredictable and maybe even eccentric – but it is this bold individuality which sets it apart. And, with the immense musicality of friends such as Kit Downes (Hammond), Alex Roth (guitar), Jon Scott (drums) and Andreas Lang (bass) on board, as well as strings and associate voices, this is a magical journey with a breadth that takes in stories of love, tenderness, desolation, discord and mischief. Zawadzki’s assured vocal delivery – heard also in Moss Freed’s excellent Moss Project (album review here) – is, for me, redolent of the invention of Annette Peacock and Björk, with a touch of the light, new-age folkiness of Sally Oldfield – yet it also possesses a rich and passionate depth which particularly comes to the fore in the two arrangements here of traditional Sephardic tunes.

The breathy, brushed, folksy opening number Ring of Fire, featuring Zawadzki’s clear lead vocal and mysterious violin melodies, is the perfect example of the twists and turns to be found in these entertaining fifty minutes. Kit Downes’ distinctive scratchy Hammond gradually nudges further into the proceedings against the sustained wash of Alex Roth’s guitar until, with rapid gear change, Andreas Lang’s double bass signals the glorious blues-jam conclusion, Downes and Roth underpinning Zawadzki’s playful scat-like vocal improvisations which, in the end, seemingly catch them out (to their audible amusement!). Cat is described by the composer as a modern fairytale in which “the ghost of a murdered feline finds its way into the body of a woman with excellent consequences”, the laboured push-pull rhythm provided by Jon Scott and sinewy effects from Downes and Roth – plus close, soulful harmonies – adding to the fantasy. Again, the mercurial nature of Zawadzki’s writing triumphs, Downes turning in a characteristically showy solo.

Indome Para Marsilia (arranged by Alex Roth) whirls and gyrates to its mesmeric folk melody, led by hard percussion and pulsating bass, giving Zawadzki the opportunity to reach vocal highs (Roth’s guitar a key element). Dicho Me Habían Dicho, the more introspective of these two traditional tunes, burns slowly and mystically, Shirley Smart’s typically gritty, wailing cello against Alex Roth’s harmonics enhancing Zawadzki’s brooding tones. The horizontal string-shimmering effect of Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light – with chromatically-climbing harmonies from Zawadzki, Emilia Mårtensson and Fini Bearman, plus Roth’s chorused guitar against Andreas Lang’s resonant bass – is heartstoppingly gorgeous, its rising, crescendoing impressions recalling a Danish winter sunrise. Emotional in other directions, nine-minute You As A Man reveals a tangible poignancy, Zawadzki’s lyricism perhaps at its height (“It’s like selling your feet to make money for shoes; using blood to wash your wounds”). The constant swell and diminuendo of Downes’ Hammond chords provide intrigue to this spiky and discomforting tale of obsessional love, and the whole band’s interpretation of Alice Zawadzki’s intentions match her dramatic vocal expression.

The urbanity of Manchester, including the buses which pass behind the stage of Matt & Phred’s jazz club, provide the subtle background ambience for the closing title track which reflects Zawadzki’s affection for and association with this northern city. Singing at the piano, accompanied by string sextet, she nostalgically paints images of the red sunset-tinged brick buildings of narrow China Lane in the album’s most commercially anthemic number.

As enchanting to experience ‘live’ as in this fine recording, Alice Zawadzki is most definitely one of contemporary’s jazz’s stars of the present and the future, possessing, as she does, remarkable musical dexterity and personality. A fine solo album debut.

Released on Whirlwind on 16 June 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

 

Alice Zawadzki voice, violin, piano
Alex Roth guitar
Andreas Lang double bass
Kit Downes Hammond organ
Jon Scott drums
Shirley Smart cello
Emilia Mårtensson voice
Fini Bearman voice
with
Eva Thorarinsdottir violin
Steve Proctor violin
Lucy Nolan viola
Tanah Stevens viola
Peggy Nolan cello
Rosie Toll cello

alicezmusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4647 (2014)

‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

SRC

IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.

There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Høiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.

The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track Protagonist which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Høiby’s pliant opening bass riff, Dream a Life inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and Rain That Falls conjures ‘007’ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. Bridge is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.

Fragile Ground is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat Two Roads; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into Rolling Clouds, an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.

Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).

Available from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, as well as iTunes and usual outlets (listen at SoundCloud).


Dionne Bennett
 lyricist, vocals
Dave Stapleton composer, Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ
Deri Roberts producer, sound design, electronics, trombone, additional saxophone
Elliot Bennett drums
with
Jasper Høiby double bass
Chris Montague guitar
Mark Lockheart tenor and soprano saxophones
Neil Yates trumpet
Matt Robertson synths

Strings:
Jon Visanji violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Katy Rowe violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Rebekah Frost viola
Alice Hoskins cello
Sarah Stevens cello

Edition Records – EDN1048 (2014)

editionrecords.com