#recentlistening – August 2019

Ingi Bjarni – Tenging
Ingi Bjarni Skúlason, Jakob Eri Myhre, Merje Kägu, Daniel Andersson, Tore Ljøkelsøy
Release date: 30 August 2019 (Losen Records)
losenrecords.no/release/tenging

Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored Ensemble – Reflections Transformations | Improvisations
Eddie Parker, James Allsopp, Gareth Lockrane, Jan Hendrickse, Rowland Sutherland, Alcyona Mick, James Gilchrist, Brigitte Beraha, Imogen Ridge, Steve Watts, Simon Limbrick, Martin France
Release date: 13 September 2019
(awaiting full propermusic.com link) debussymirroredensemble.org

Michael Janisch – Worlds Collide
Michael Janisch, Jason Palmer, John O’Gallagher, Rez Abbasi, Clarence Penn
with John Escreet, George Crowley, Andrew Bain

Release date: 6 September 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
michaeljanisch.bandcamp.com/album/worlds-collide

Zac Gvi – Monk Spent Youth
Zac Gvirtzman, Ben Davis, Fred Thomas
Release date: 13 August 2019 (F-IRE)
zacgvi.bandcamp.com/album/monk-spent-youth

Michael J Bolton – Earthrise
Michael J Bolton, Mike Walker, Neil Yates, David Hentschel, Alex Smith, Matthew Johns, Marc Russo, Tim Garland, Noelle Rollings
Release date: 30 August 2019 (Market Square Music)
propermusic.com/product-details/Michael-J-Bolton-Earthrise-267575

Corey Mwamba – NTH
Corey Mwamba, Laura Cole, Andy Champion, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 2 July 2019 (Discus Music)
discus-music.co.uk/catalogue-mobile/dis86-detail

‘Ellington in Anticipation’ – Mark Lockheart

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EVERY NOW AND THEN, an album comes along which blows my jazz socks off – one of those I can’t help but play on loop and identify as being present in my ‘best of the year’ summations. It immediately demands my attention, sends me into rapture, produces involuntary smiles and requires me to tell the world about it! My most recent experience of this has to be Mark Lockheart’s ‘Ellington in Anticipation’.

Released earlier this year (2013), the project was initially conceived for Trinity Laban Conservatoire students. Inspired by Lockheart’s love of Ellington’s music (introduced to him by his father), it draws together pieces by or associated with ‘the Duke’ (including those of Billy Strayhorn and Victor Herbert) and intersperses them with a number of his own superb compositions. Knowing these jazz standards so well, Mark Lockheart clearly has the authority to (respectfully) deconstruct and reconstruct them into the most fascinating reinterpretations.

Lockheart’s credentials as saxophonist and writer need little introduction: Loose Tubes, Perfect Houseplants, Polar Bear and his own excellent albums such as ‘In Deep’ and (with NDR Big Band) ‘Days Like These’. Numerous recent ventures include Kenny Wheeler’s fine ‘Mirrors’ album, Colin Towns’ crossover band ‘Blue Touch Paper’ and Dave Stapleton’s new ‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ project. The remarkable, full-sounding septet able to realise the creative nature of this recording, with Lockheart on tenor, comprises Finn Peters (alto sax and flute), James Allsopp (clarinet and bass clarinet), Emma Smith (violin), Liam Noble (piano), Tom Herbert (bass) and Seb Rochford (drums).

So what is it that pushes this album onto a significantly higher plane? Well, put simply: great musicianship, reinvention, diversity, beauty, humour and the courage to push the limits in order to deliver something new and exciting. Far from being straightahead jazz, every one of these eleven gems is crafted and improvised in extraordinary detail by Lockheart and his musicians.

For example, the familiar swing of Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing is deliciously transformed in triple time, whilst Come Sunday lays back perhaps even further than the sacred intent of the original, though also introducing a contemporarily-scored, slightly uneasy episode to great effect. Mark Lockheart’s composition My Caravan takes on the modal vamp concept of the popular original (‘Caravan’), allowing all players their improvisatory freedom, and only quoting Ellington’s distinctive melody towards the close. Jungle Lady is another piece of Lockheart brilliance, cleverly referencing Satin Doll. Defined by Seb Rochford’s percussion, the beautiful tone of Emma Smith’s violin and the richness of Allsopp’s bass clarinet, it displays some pretty tight ensemble scoring… including glorious elephantine calls!

A clever combination of Liam Noble’s piano with drums and reeds provide particularly vivid, fast-moving imagery in Lockheart’s interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s classic Take the A Train (often incorrectly attributed to Ellington, being his ‘signature tune’). It’s an utter joy – and great fun – to hear snippets of the melody coming and going, as if trying to find a clear view beyond the motion blurring – and the reshaped riff is a lovely, quirky twist! Lockheart’s tenor journeys in and out of destinations, Allsopp detouring with mischievous bass clarinet, before finally easing to a halt.

And so the album continues, the playful violin of Azure and blithe modern rhythms of Mood Indigo never failing to charm. Lockheart provides two more sublime originals – a pensive Beautiful Man and the Roaring ’20s ‘flapping’ of Uptown with appropriate, elegant fiddle lead. Victor Herbert’s limpid Indian Summer closes – the held-back, teardrop piano of Noble so entrancing.

The language of jazz is constantly being reinvented and developed, thanks to the consummate skill of artists such as Mark Lockheart and his colleagues – which means that the best of its historical legacy is capable of being preserved, yet sensitively reimagined for the present age, as well as providing inspiration for new works. Here, Lockheart eloquently and spectacularly displays that achievement in an album I will return to again and again.


Mark Lockheart
tenor sax
Finn Peters alto sax and flute
James Allsopp clarinets
Emma Smith violin
Liam Noble piano
Tom Herbert bass
Seb Rochford drums

marklockheart.co.uk

Subtone Records – ST802 (2012)

‘Places’ – Aquarium / Sam Leak

placesr300-scaled500

WITH their eponymous album (Babel Label, 2011), Aquarium presented a mature and distinctive debut on the UK’s vibrant contemporary jazz scene. ‘Places’, their much-anticipated follow-up on Jellymould Jazz, confirms that this quartet of creative, hard-working musicians, led by pianist and composer Sam Leak, is continuing to develop a very special and captivating sound.

Leak clearly puts heart and soul into his writing, as well as his playing; the emotion and conviction are there for all to hear across these eight originals – from the dark openings of Milan, through the almost anarchic Scribbles and Scrawls, to the feel-good of Daybreak.

James Allsopp gives an assured lead on tenor, offering rich tone and beautifully fluent melodies, as well as some wonderfully screeching episodes! When Allsopp introduces another angle – bass clarinet – it hints at English folksong (I’m thinking ‘Finzi, Vaughan Williams’) creating a mood sometimes mysterious, but always delightful. Calum Gourlay (bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums), now both familiar names on the circuit, must be a dream to work with – close-knit yet adventurous, and evidently ‘in tune’ with the many melodic and rhythmic twists and turns that are conjured by Leak and Allsopp. Some may describe this as ‘chamber’ jazz, but that perhaps belies the fact that this is inspired and stimulating original music of the highest calibre.

The opening title track, Places, initially suggests (as does Marrakech) an old standard favourite, with Allsopp providing its lyrical melody, but soon growing into something more complex and pacey. Milan builds with a troubled undercurrent, eventually transforming into a second section of delicate, piano-led positivity. Barging in abruptly with a terrific, free and lively swagger is Scribbles and Scrawls (reminiscent of the superb ‘Evensong’ on their debut album). February steals in, bringing with it the most luxurious bass clarinet soloing (Maurice Jarre’s ‘Lara’s Theme’ comes to mind at times!) against Blackmore’s impressive, feathery and persistent brushwork.

Clutter is infectious, Gourlay scampering all over it, before Catherine Grove agitatedly bursts through (Leak reveals an unpleasant back-story to this, when he was attacked at knife-point in this area of London). Nevertheless, it provides a piece characterised by a relentless momentum, with excellent piano improvisation from Leak, and the whole quartet providing an exciting urgency. This studio recording ends on an even keel with the bright and breezy Daybreak.

Concluding the album is a bonus track – a great live broadcast of Milan from London Jazz Festival, courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz Line-Up’, prompting us (as if needed) to catch this quartet on their UK tour which accompanies this album release.

A greatly recommended album from a highly creative pianist/composer, Places is available from Jellymould Jazz and all good jazz outlets.

 

Sam Leak piano
James Allsopp tenor sax, bass clarinet
Callum Gourlay double bass
Joshua Blackmore drums

samleak.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ010 (2013)