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)

‘Home’ – Søren Bebe Trio

sorenbebe

IN DENMARK, the traditional expression of ‘hygge’ (rather than its commercial ‘hijacking’) can be defined as an acceptance of what we have; the contentment in taking time to celebrate, with family and friends, life’s simpler pleasures. And the shortening of daylight hours – when all outside seems endlessly dark and cold – can, indeed, find us grateful to retire to the familiar warmth and coziness of our dwellings… if we are so fortunate.

Reflecting that ambience, Danish pianist Søren Bebe’s latest trio release Home, with bassist Kasper Tagel and drummer Anders Mogensen, is an intimate collection of original material which never shouts from the rooftops. Instead, each of its eleven compositions is conveyed through spacious, considered serenity, not unlike the work of Tord Gustavsen (Tango for T is intentionally and recognisably in homage). Yet, Bebe has his own imprint, delivering Time with such delicacy of restraint (Tagel’s high bass melodies quite affecting), whilst quietly rhythmic, Latinesque A Simple Song is ornamented with a precision of touch which isn’t simple to accomplish.

Averaging four minutes, the pianist’s compositions don’t overstay their welcome – in fact, the entire programme resembles a partita as the succinctness of each ‘movement’ roomily achieves its intentions before moving naturally into the next. The gossamer suspension of Look Out Now hints both at Bill Evans and Erik Satie, its major/minor moods blurring 4/4 with 3/4; and Tyst (‘Quietly’) magically jangles to Mogensen’s miniature bells, evoking memories of the MJQ’s Connie Kay (more of such oblique enchantments will always be welcome).

The Path to Somewhere appropriately feels its way through softly-beaten percussion, and Haarlem Landscape – part of a 2011 suite commissioned by the National Gallery of Denmark – waltzes gracefully, as if pictorialising marbled hallways of grand masters’ artworks (Harald Slott-Møller comes to mind). Trieste‘s Gustavsen-like clarity and rising progression display a quiet confidence, as does Bebe’s softly-lit title track, full of meticulous, folky piano inflections. The darker, chromatic chordal shifts of Floating are redolent of Esbjörn Svensson; and reverent Tak (‘Thank You’), with Tagel’s cantabile bass again so listenable, closes almost prayerfully.

Recorded and mixed by renowned engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, Søren Bebe reveals that this album is the truest he has been to his artistic vision, and therefore it feels like Home to him. It may well also hold the sense of equilibrium that so many of us seek; after all, creative music can possess the extraordinary power, even as subtly as this, to reach deeply into our souls.

Released on 1 November 2016 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Studio video: Trieste.

 

Søren Bebe piano
Kasper Tagel bass
Anders Mogensen drums

sorenbebe.com

Find Out Here Music – FOHMCD008 (2016)

‘v2.0’ – GoGo Penguin

GoGo

THESE ARE EXCITING TIMES for the jazz piano trio – and Manchester-based GoGoPenguin are key movers in a current new wave of line-ups that eschew the traditional idea of pianist leader and supporting rhythmic duo for a totally democratic and, therefore, absorbing concept in sound.

The band’s debut release, ‘Fanfares’ (2012), created considerable ripples of interest on the British scene, as well as much further afield, with their obvious e.s.t.-influenced grooves (confirmed, as Svensson fans would recognise, by the opening track title, ‘Seven Sons of Bjorn’). That tantalising 35-minute recording, hailed by critics, no doubt found a quickly-gathering fan base clamouring for the next chapter, whilst finding the subsequent live experiences every bit as engaging – those present at the band’s hometown gigs at Band On The Wall (that I, too, witnessed) would, I’m sure, be happy to concur.

It’s important to recognise now, though, that GoGo Penguin are not “the next Esbjörn Svensson Trio” (nor could they be, given the Swedish band’s untouchable seminal status) – and I hazard a guess that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) would see it that way, too. So, what is both gratifying and thrilling about this new follow-up release, ‘v2.0’, is that the trio are already clearly honing a sound which appears to be uniquely theirs, Blacka and Turner providing the distinctive and frequently blistering up-front dance-groove edge. The resultant effect is mesmeric and trance-like (think ‘Aphex Twin’), with such breathtaking precision of metre to almost sound electronic… but with the satisfaction that it’s not! Illingworth, too, displays great mastery of his instrument, exploring the gamut of techniques and expression as well as, at times, seemingly employing Roland Kirk’s ability to ‘split his brain in two’ to state one melody with his right hand and another with his left – rapid electronica or anthemic breadth, his grand piano offers it all.

What better illustration of the band’s sparky originality than Garden Dog Barbecue? – Chris Illingworth’s zippy right-hand piano melodies over grungy, leaping left-hand fifths chords shared with buzzing bass, and all sped along by breakneck skittering drums, plus some terrific rhythmic and tempo changes. Opening track, Murmuration, reveals the trio’s alter ego – beautifully-considered, sustained and repetitive piano against bubbling bass and drums, intensifying in stature with electronically-echoic arco bass until the flocking avian display it suggests disperses to nothingness. Kamaloka brings to the fore Turner’s extraordinarily complex electro/techno drum likeness which drives a bright, arpeggio-accompanied piano tune, as does the following Fort, Blacka’s rasping bass combining so well with drums to its abrupt close. Not since Stefano Bollani’s live solo piano interpretation of a scratched vinyl LP have I heard the skills that are to be found in One Percent; already a compelling, bustling and highly-charged number, the final 45 seconds convincingly simulate, through a variety of closely-timed rhythms, a skipping CD – from an acoustic trio, this is something which has to be heard to be believed, and raises a smile with me every time!

Home‘s infectious groove is again down to the brilliant interaction between Blacka and Turner, laying down a relentless and very listenable ground for Illingworth’s strong piano melodies, and Blacka’s big, scampering bass sound resonating clearly at the close. Recorded in total darkness, The Letter is characterised by a heavy, sprawling and perhaps menacing pulse. To Drown In You continues the darker feel with its hint of Philip Glass piano and ethereal bowed bass… and with what is becoming Turner’s trademark percussive sound, his staccatoed rhythms shared with Blacka’s bass, and the huge energy of Illingworth’s ‘split piano’, this is a standout. The brief, spacial Shock and Awe, against a tense metronome-like tick, carries a palpable weight of emotion and presents another side to the trio – perhaps something for future concepts. Lucid and vibrant, Hopopono closes the album with an impressive summing-up of this band’s evident empathy and, perhaps even, telepathy.

Credit to sound engineers Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams for clarity of production, this release resembles a huge step forward in GoGo Penguin’s development – and the next gig will certainly be something to look forward to (see below). ‘v2.0’ is released by Gondwana Records on 17 March 2014, available from Bandcamp.


Chris Illingworth
piano
Nick Blacka double bass
Rob Turner drums

Live gigs:
27 March 2014: Pizza Express Jazz Club – Thump Festival
29 March 2014: Black Box, Belfast – Brilliant Corners Festival
5 April 2014: The Sage, Gateshead – Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Gondwana Records (2014)