‘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

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‘Wild Life’ – Hannes Riepler

wildlife_4-page-booklet.indd

RADIATING easy-going confidence and expressive, improvisatory freedom, guitarist Hannes Riepler’s new quartet release, Wild Life, balances West Coast cool with East End ebullience.

Born in Austria, though resident in London for the last decade and increasingly a key figure on the capital’s lively music scene, Riepler assembled this fine personnel from his popular weekly melting pot of international ‘happening’ jazz – Sunday night downstairs sessions at the Vortex Jazz Club. The spark of playing a set there with celebrated New York saxophonist Chris Cheek and established UK musicians Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and James Maddren (drums) ignited further collaboration, resulting in a 2015 European tour and this ‘live feel’ studio recording (his second as leader).

Riepler suggests that these eight tracks – mostly his own originals – are a reflection of the thronging multicultural community he is a part of (hence the ‘marketplace minstrel’ appearance on the CD cover!). There’s certainly a sense of momentum and discovery here; and whilst the predominant ‘easiness’ of this ensemble might initially allow these fifty-or-so minutes to blend pleasantly into the background, its impressive invention, detail and buoyant energy soon begin to emerge.

The guitarist’s sound is wholly integral to the quartet, either in understated chordal exploration or fleet solo line improvisation, as in Golden Rainbow which brightly breezes along to Chris Cheek’s fluid tenor delivery and James Maddren’s distinctive, hard-snare/tom exuberance. Nothing New … Just Beautiful‘s smooth openness highlights the lynchpin role of Riepler, laying down smouldering riffs and melodies for Cheek to take in new directions, as well as providing his own precise, self-accompanied forays; and the mobile guitar groove to Gillett Square Blues (alight at Dalston Kingsland station!) might conjure retro, swingin’ ’60s imagery, with tenor tumblings and a driving pulse from Maddren and Hayhurst.

Cheek’s composition Sailing Ships cuts through the swell with the sunniest of sax deliveries, Riepler matching Cheek’s feel-good with chromatic solo deftness and carefully woven rhythms to ease back into; and One Shot (the album opener) rocks out to this quartet’s incisive, responsive drum/bass pairing, with a whiff of livelier Joe Pass in Riepler’s showcases. Completing the urban portrait, title track Wild Life shuffles chirpily, and the impudence of the closing interpretation of singer-songwriter Beck’s pop-stomp, Modern Guilt, can’t fail to raise a smile (nay, a dance).

Released on 9 February 2016, Wild Life may well nudge its way into your affections – and there it might stay. Available directly from Jellymould Jazz.

 

Hannes Riepler guitar
Chris Cheek tenor saxophone
Oli Hayhurst double bass
James Maddren drums

hannesriepler.com

Jellymould Jazz – JJ-JM022 (2016)

‘Return to the Fire’ – Tim Garland

Return

THERE’S a school of thought that says you should never go back – y’know, that was then, and now is now. But thank goodness the rule book can occasionally, for all the right reasons, be ripped up and emphatically trodden into the ground!

Back in 1995, rising British saxophonist Tim Garland began to put together and record his fourth solo project, Enter the Fire, with colleagues Jason Rebello (piano), Mick Hutton (bass) and Jeremy Stacey (drums), as well as bringing Gerard Presencer (trumpet, flugelhorn) into the fold; and the album was eventually completed and released in 1997. Garland recalls how, soon after, whilst staying at the New York apartment of vibraphonist Joe Locke, the pianist Billy Childs turned up – and, on hearing the album, requested a copy to give to a friend… who just turned out to be jazz icon Chick Corea. Thus began Tim Garland’s long friendship with Corea (quoted as saying of the saxophonist, “I wanted some of that fire in my band”) and consequently, many years of shared international success which show no sign of waning.

Twenty years down the line, now greatly-renowned UK saxophonist and composer Garland has rekindled the excitement of that significant moment by re-connecting with the same personnel, along with guest appearances from newer names on the scene – Tom Farmer, James Maddren and Ant Law – plus respected bassist Laurence Cottle. The result is a new 40-minute recording which focuses on the revered (and now resurgent) era of vinyl, offering a combination of four originals and two arrangements which, whilst redolent of late ’90s and earlier acoustic strains of straight-ahead jazz, feel as relevant and as fresh as ever, especially with a final, more contemporary flourish.

Tim Garland has long possessed an unmistakable signature sound – his assured vibrato and a no-holes-barred approach to lyrical phrasing, whilst also scaling the topmost heights of the register – and this album continually flows and coruscates to that potent combination, as well as affording the whole band the space to stretch out. Nine-minute opener Abiding Love achieves exactly that, its classic sound bubbling to the smooth meld of tenor and flugel against Rebello’s crystalline piano, which Presencer then cuts through with customary, tonally-bright trumpet improvisation. J.J. Johnson’s Lament is the perfect platform for Garland’s rich, characterful tenor lead (as the melodies begin to cascade freely, it really couldn’t be anyone else) with such a wonderfully spacial quality created by his quartet of Rebello, Farmer and Maddren. And title track Return to the Fire swings with unequivocal verve, led by Rebello’s sparkling runs – as if to proudly state “we’re back” – and certainly not withholding anything as Stacey’s deliberate drum rhythms cleverly shift gear into a pulsating final section.

Beautifully inquiring Valse pour Ravel somehow suggests the freedoms of a Pat Metheny / Lyle Mays composition, with Garland taking an eloquent soprano lead over romanticised piano, and Presencer’s flugel dreamily intertwining or magically dancing in unison. McCoy Tyner’s sumptuous Search for Peace remains one of jazz’s most haunting melodies, and here it develops into a particularly engaging, near-ten-minute exploration as Garland’s tenor revels in its unhurriedness, with Rebello taking the Tyner role exquisitely. To close, All Our Summers ripples to complex bass clarinet and electric guitar riffs over jabbing Fender Rhodes (Garland an especially versatile and colourful exponent of the bass clarinet) in a groove that perhaps harks back to those early NYC days, and almost fading before its time.

Released by Edition Records on 2 October 2015, Return to the Fire is available only in 12″ vinyl and digital download formats – at Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores. The lack of CD physicality might hinder some collectors, but this is a recording whose confidence, fluency and out-and-out jazz feel-good becomes irresistible.

 

Tim Garland saxophones, bass clarinet
Jason Rebello piano, Fender Rhodes
Gerard Presencer trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 5)
Jeremy Stacey drums (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Mick Hutton double bass (tracks 1, 4 & 5)
with
Tom Farmer double bass (tracks 2 & 3)
Laurence Cottle electric bass (track 6)
James Maddren drums (tracks 2 & 6)
Ant Law guitar (track 6)

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDNLP1063 (2015)

‘Our Lady of Stars’ – Sorana Santos

SoranaSantos

OVERFLOWING with intrigue and frequently startling with the unexpected, Sorana Santos’ debut album Our Lady of Stars on her own label I Dream in Sound feels like one of the most delightfully original vocal jazz offerings of the year to date; a recording whose original compositions and performances progress with delicious unpredictability until they eventually seep into one’s soul.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Sorana Santos piano, prepared piano, guitar, voice
James Maddren drums
Joe Wright saxophones, feedback flute
Alex Bonney trumpet, cornet
Ligeti Quartet strings

sorana.co

I Dream in Sound – IDIS1CD (2015)

‘Westerly’ – The Printmakers

Printmakers

OHHHHH… and ohhhhh again…… to an exemplary and eagerly anticipated debut release from six leading lights of British contemporary jazz, collectively known here as The Printmakers.

Imagine the perfect vocal/instrumental sextet, and it might easily comprise Nikki Iles (piano), Norma Winstone (vocals), Mike Walker (electric guitar), Mark Lockheart (saxes), Steve Watts (double bass) and James Maddren (drums). Indeed, with a band name explained as a metaphor for the subtle variances in handmade printmaking, the combined artistry revealed in new album Westerly is as satisfying – in light, shade and hue – as any wander through a gallery of fine impressionism. Recorded amidst the painterly charm of the English Lake District, the compositional palette is beautifully balanced, and includes a trio of numbers by leader Nikki Iles with Norma Winstone as lyricist (a remarkable partnership).

The expansive ten-track sequence opens with a bubbling vocal interpretation of Ralph Towner’s A Breath Away, brought to life through Winstone’s authoritative storytelling – and immediately from this personnel there’s a sense of technical ‘safe hands’ and impassioned musicality. The lovelorn vocal of Under the Canopy (an Iles/Winstone original) delicately sambas to Mark Lockheart’s deeply-coloured bass clarinet and Nikki Iles’ trademark crystalline piano – a reminder of their rich contribution to Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors; and Paul Simon’s jaunty I Do It For Your Love is whisked away into the most sumptuous of slow ballads, Norma Winstone bringing so much weight to Simon’s poetry (and here, as throughout the album, it’s the exquisite detailing which pleases – Lockheart’s subtle, characterful tenor and then Mike Walker’s illustrative guitar glissando on “the colours ran, the orange bled the blue”).

Impish improvisational colourwash precedes an airy rendition of John Taylor’s ‘O’ – strutting to dazzling, shared vocal and sax lines plus Lockheart’s own wonderfully demonstrative soprano creativity, its sunshiny and exploratory demeanour is irresistible. Nikki Iles’ Westerly is curiously imagined in Norma Winstone’s cryptically dark cowboy lyrics, evocatively portrayed through Iles’ accordion, Mike Walker’s pitch-bent guitar and bassist Steve Swallow’s campfire banjo tailpiece; and Winstone’s effortless vocal delivery confirms why she is one of British jazz’s national treasures. The same compositional duo produce lilting, Jobimesque Tideway, its brooding coastal atmospheres conveyed by woodwind breaths and guitar gull cries – at eight minutes, its easy to luxuriate in the broad guitar and tenor extemporisations and Winstone’s gliding lyricism.

The gems in this 68-minute treasure trove keep on turning up, Ralph Towner’s animated The Glide (as heard on Nikki Iles’ trio album, Hush) dancing to Winstone’s impressive high scat and Iles’ signature piano luminosity; and the obsessional story of Joni Mitchell’s Two Grey Rooms is quietly touching, the band supporting and enhancing its resigned lyric. In direct contrast, the Celtic feel of Nikki Iles’ High Lands tumbles and reels to wordless vocal and soprano sax, as well as soaring, rocky guitar from Walker and James Maddren’s pin-sharp flamboyance at the kit. To close, Steve Swallow’s countryfied The City of Dallas finds Winstone teasingly delivering the writer’s delightfully droll lines (“I hope the evening paper’s got a lot of good stuff-in-it… stuff-in-it”!) amongst a consummate-as-ever instrumental performance led by Mike Walker’s woozy guitar.

This, unquestionably, is chamber jazz whose elegance has to be heard to be believed, such is the shared empathy and depth of musical experience on show, all realised in a musical landscape that feels as magical as it is peerless.

Released on 11 May 2015, on Basho RecordsWesterly is available from Jazz CDs and all good jazz retailers.

 

Norma Winstone voice
Nikki Iles piano, accordion
Mark Lockheart tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet
Mike Walker guitar
Steve Watts bass, banjo
James Maddren drums, percussion

nikkiiles.co.uk

Basho Records – SRCD 46-2 (2015)

‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Andromeda’ – Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5

AlexGarnett

HARD-BOPPING, full-swinging and with two solid tenors upfront, this new offering from Alex Garnett’s ‘Bunch of 5’ project packs mighty punch after punch!

Over the last couple of decades, Alex Garnett has been much in demand as sideman, session player, composer and arranger, and his excellent quartet album of 2011, Serpent (Whirlwind), marked his long-awaited solo debut. Now, with a stellar quintet which also features tenorist Tim Armacost (read Garnett’s entertaining liner notes on the beginnings of the saxmen’s acquaintance), the ‘bunch’ hit the heights with a rollicking, eight-track, hour-plus performance which pretty much shines as brightly as any live gig. Completing the line-up are Liam Noble (piano), Michael Janisch (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

The combination of the leader’s tone and delivery is every bit as commanding as Rollins or Getz, whether rocking widely or producing those gorgeously lush, reaching phrases – and the diversity and inventiveness of the strong Garnett/Armacost musical partnership here is compelling throughout. Most compositions are Garnett’s and express the skill of his writing which, as he describes, “reflect brief moments in a twenty-year passage of time through my musical life experience”.

Opener So Long!, a beautifully straight-down-the-line swinger inspired by an early ’90s Benny Golson concert, is infectious in its ‘old standard’ melody and simplicity. Following, the childlike interruptedness of Charlie’s World (Garnett explains all) is both endearing and fascinating, Noble’s mischievous, jarring pianism a delight as Janisch also ‘comes out to play’; and there are some sparkling individual improvs from both tenors. Buoyantly lyrical, title number Andromeda (after the galaxy) finds Garnett and Armacost intertwining so richly, Maddren’s muted snare and toms effecting a certain weightlessness – and listen out for the magical, nebulous aura of both Noble and Janisch.

A rip-roaring, pacier version of Garnett’s Delusions of Grandma (heard also on Robbie Harvey’s Blowin’ that Old Tin Can release) is a show-stealer, the two unison tenor lines remarkably staying together before breaking into extemporised abandon; with Garnett clucking grittily and Armacost flowing freely, they eventually duel it out unaccompanied – an absolute joy, especially with the added complex solo display of Maddren. An arrangement of the Burns/Mercer tune Early Autumn reflects the influence of Stan Getz on Garnett, and both saxophonists here do well to summon his spirit with their own warm, deeply-felt searchings; and, written for this quintet, Her Tears exudes an unswerving edge which its composer explains as ‘lovers growing apart’, reflected in the fascinatingly terse melodic and rhythmic conversations shared throughout the band.

Holmes (Inspector, no less), though devoid of fiddle, opens with a bright Mancini (Clouseau?) swagger, clearly enjoyed by the five – blithe yet propulsive, it swings with a great joint sax melody. And, to close, the band make a good fist of Garnett’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s familiar I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm as it rattles along with exuberant, breathless and extended improvisation from all corners – and when the saxmen stand aside, the focus on Noble, Janisch and Maddren confirms both the intelligence and musicality of their performances throughout, including a dazzlingly high-flying piano solo (with the merest hint of Isley Brothers in its chordal conclusion!).

Releasing 26 January 2015, and currently being toured, Andromeda is weighty, fun, and available from Whirlwind Recordings. More information, promo video and purchasing here.

 

Alex Garnett tenor saxophone
Tim Armacost tenor saxophone
Liam Noble piano
Michael Janisch double bass
James Maddren drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4664 (2015)