‘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)

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‘Skyline’ – Tom Green Septet

Skyline

THE GRACEFULNESS of the cover art speaks volumes about the creative balance that shines out from Skyline, the debut septet recording from Cambridge-born trombonist Tom Green – a collection of expansive new compositions coloured by ever-changing hues, light and shade, allowing each of his players considerable freedom in improvisation.

The robust four-horn line-up of Green, Sam Miles (tenor), James Davison (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Matthew Herd (alto/soprano) offers impressive big band dynamism and breadth, yet also a supple luminosity which breathes life into the trombonist’s seven originals, plus one arrangement of a much-loved standard. Still in his 20s, Tom Green’s credentials are indubitable – the Royal Academy’s first postgraduate trombonist, winner of the 2013 Dankworth Composition Prize (leading Dame Cleo to declare his work as “some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time”) as well as a 2014 Help Musicians UK ‘Emerging Excellence’ award winner. And his mercurial brass dexterity is a delight, ranging from blistering riffs to svelte tonal lyricism.

Initial impressions are of crisp arrangements and sharp execution, typified by the opener, Sticks and Stones. It’s brisk and propulsive, with layers of textures and ideas over which Green and James Davison solo brightly; and gear changes throughout this album (such as the brief trombone and piano contrapuntalism here) add greatly to a sense of variety, not unlike the fluctuations of light on a plain caused by fast-moving cumulonimbus. The dilatory drawl of a Deep South-suggested horn preamble to thirteen-minute Equilibrium opens into an addictive bossa of moody twists and turns, bejewelled with Sam James’ precise piano expression – and then, all at once, it gleams to lush arrangements and, also, cacophonous scribbles which Green glides through with proverbial swan-like ease.

Arctic Sun swings delicately to the rhythm of bassist Mullov-Abbado and drummer Chapman, building towards elaborate, soaring soprano from Matthew Herd (a saxman who always displays a real penchant for pushing the envelope). There are shades of contemporary pop ballad in the memorable phrases of Peace of Mind, Green fluent in his extemporisations; and easy-going Mirage prompts fine soloing amongst the exacting full horn scoring.

Hoagy Carmichael’s perennial favourite, Skylark, is both chirpy and breezy in Green’s hands, though perhaps loses a little of the charm of mellower renditions; and Winter Halo might easily conjure luminescent landscapes and vacillating murmurations (startling rapidity of soprano bird calls from Herd!), including another of those delectable duo interludes – Sam Miles’ rich tenor against pellucid bass. DIY is an irresistible closer, pictorialising the brash, processional jazz of New Orleans and encouraging overlapping showy solos from all quarters, as well as more examples of the leader’s flair for snappy, complex arrangements (no doubt a crowd pleaser on their recent launch tour).

As a jazz release, this displays so many hallmarks of a classic, seasoned ensemble. As an ambitious debut from a young, close-knit septet, it’s a striking first statement with great potential for future development. And, above all… such an upbeat listen!

Released on 2 February 2015, Skyline can be purchased directly from Spark or Tom Green’s website.

 

Tom Green trombone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Davison trumpet and flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto and soprano saxophones
Sam James piano
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums

Illustration/artwork by Tom Barley

tomgreenmusic.com

Spark Label – Spark 001 (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)

‘Fracture’ – Roller Trio

RollerTrio

SHATTERING any preconceptions of ‘jazz’, Fracture presents the breakaway sound of an impressively dynamic trio who know where they want to be heading with their musical creativity. Already with a much-lauded BBC Introducing performance to their name, as well as the kudos of Mobo and Mercury Prize nominations, Roller Trio’s second album consolidates their identity with a bold, exhilarating programme acuminated from their time on the road.

Hailing from Leeds, UK, the line-up of James Mainwaring (saxophone and electronics), Luke Wynter (guitar) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) radiates a confident, piquant spirit throughout ten instrumental numbers, indicating an unerring ability to absorb multifarious influences and regenerate them into powerful, unpredictable environments. Variously echoing the raw guitar energy of Troyka, the electro-ambiences of Brian Eno and perhaps even a trace of the Kaiser Chiefs’ driving rock, their satisfyingly complex grooves, electronics and improvisations are intertwined with accessible (memorable, even) hooks and melodies which hold the key to its overall appeal.

Engaging from the outset, Reef Knot spins to Luke Reddin-Williams’ quite impossibly beat-skipping pulse, yet the trio hold the whole concept incredibly tight – and James Mainwaring displays the most furiously fluid tenor capabilities, often in tandem with the similarly agile fret-work of Luke Wynter. Doris continues to push and pull rhythms at will with almost ska-tinged audacity, and the gear changes and slip-timings keep it well above interesting. The brief echoic guitar mystery of Low Tide introduces an early album highlight… High Tea, buzzing with hypnotic, electronic Eastern inflections. Tenor sax and guitar share its mystical mantra, whilst Mainwaring utters beautifully pop-phrased melodies; and, again, Reddin-Williams’ high energy at the kit is extraordinary.

Blistering 2 Minutes to 12 exudes TV thriller urgency with fabulously precise stop/start phrases; and Tracer floats across a smoothly-electronic soul soundscape reminiscent of Sade/Matthewman, its gently ticking beat providing the platform for luxurious tenor improvisations. The enquiring hook of guitar-led Splinter paves the way for lyrical-then-flamboyant soprano sax (shades of Portico), the importance of melody ever-present; and the apparent post-bop jazz amiability of Mango conceals a darker central section, revealing a band who are adept at ‘turning on a sixpence’ to create that element of surprise.

Three Pea Soup summons the guitar rhythmicity of Average White Band, albeit with an edge – and, sure enough, the trio take it off into spectacularly saturated, time-sig-challenging new levels (‘hard, at times, to believe this is a trio); and finally, the improvised, slow-burning, levitational guitar/electronics atmospheres of Tightrope suggest uncertainty, with Mainwaring’s crying, falling soprano adding to the intensity.

Released on 8 December, as a debut on the band’s own Lamplight Social Records label (which, they explain, provides them with total control of their output as well as making provision for future projects), Fracture is one of 2014’s most vibrantly original trio offerings, and it’s no surprise that Roller Trio are gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting new jazz talents – take a listen.

 

James Mainwaring saxophone, electronics
Luke Wynter guitar
Luke Reddin-Williams drums

rollertrio.com

Lamplight Social Records – LSRCD001 (2014)

‘Pocket Compass’ – Trish Clowes

PocketCompass

THE BELIEF in staying true to oneself, particularly as a creative, improvising musician (hence Pocket Compass), is very much the thread running through this third release from British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes. A journey to California early in 2013, including a meet-up with jazz icon Wayne Shorter, provided considerable inspiration for these latest imaginings and writings, resulting in an adventurous recorded project which reflects “the people who help us stay on the right paths.”

Concluding three years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and recording here in full for the first time with her experienced and intuitive Tangent quintet, Clowes has also chosen to collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra to provide a luxurious weave of timbres and textures across all eight expansive originals.

From the outset, in the first of the three orchestral sessions, Radiation unfurls into a smorgasbord of delights as the quintet dances freely and comfortably with the lush breadth of its larger counterpart; and Clowes’ commanding, lyrical tenor is equalled by the familiar high dexterity of pianist Gwilym Simcock. With the orchestra extemporising from a melodic fragment, there’s a lot going on, yet it melds intriguingly well. Tangent’s Question Mark, written ahead of the Californian trip, introduces a mood of encircling apprehension as soprano sax pirouettes to Chris Montague’s distinctively unpredictable guitar staccato, the whole episode driven by the bass and drum urgency of Calum Gourlay and James Maddren; and Porcupine is expectedly spiky as its pointed rhythms jar against the satisfying amplified ramblings of Montague, whilst Clowes’ almost mocking tenor encourages a rapid swing to rise out of glorious disorder – just perfect.

From Oscar Wilde’s Symphony in Yellow, Trish Clowes interprets his paradoxical impressions of London’s vistas – “like a yellow silken scarf, the thick fog hangs along the quay” – into the most ravishing of quintet pieces, its combination of soft lyricism and light, workaday scurrying tempered by Montague’s sinewy, shadowier moments. Chattering octaves introduce high-spirited Balloon, as Clowes’ soprano and the oboe (fondly labelled ‘jazzboe’) of the BBCCO’s Lauren Weavers spiral upwardly against boisterous quintet action (Maddren as extravagant as ever) and striking, full orchestration with flickers of the late, great Kenny Wheeler.

Heralded by imitation mammal calls, courtesy of saxophone harmonics plus delicately plucked piano strings, the serenity of whale-watching in Big Sur is communicated beautifully in echoic Pfeiffer and the Whales; and in homage to the genius of Wayne Shorter, Wayne’s Waltz dazzles with the improvisatory soprano spark of its dedicatee, Clowes impressively unwavering throughout. To close, a sensitively-balanced Chorale displays the pellucid soloing of Calum Gourlay and Gwilym Simcock; and with luscious orchestral arrangements reminiscent of Claus Ogerman, the leader’s tenor searchings here become increasingly spellbinding.

All the while – as with 2012’s And In the Night-Time She Is There – this album carries the spine-tingling realisation that Trish Clowes is constantly knocking at the door of innovation, needing to pass through to discover further, uncharted avenues. It’s that inquiring edge, along with an innate musicality, that defines this collection of intelligently-crafted, collaborative compositions – a truly compelling addition to the catalogue as well as another indicator of this artist’s undoubtable advancement.

Releasing on 10 November 2014 and available from JazzCDs via Basho Records, the Pocket Compass album launch takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on 18 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014, including work by Guy Barker and Norma Winstone.

 

TANGENT
Trish Clowes
 composer/arranger; tenor and soprano saxophones
Gwilym Simcock piano
Chris Montague electric guitar
Calum Gourlay double bass
James Maddren drums

BBC Concert Orchestra
André de Ridder conductor

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 45-2 (2014)

‘Anton Hunter Trio’ – Anton Hunter Trio

AntonHunter

EFPI RECORDS is one of those indie jazz labels whose fairly recent trajectory is fascinating to follow. With the hugely popular Beats & Pieces Big Band arguably their flagship act, the Manchester-based organisation is carving out a niche, and an audience, for emerging musicians who are keen to forge their own distinctive – and frequently experimental – musical explorations, the emphasis being on artistic innovation (which their album art, often handmade, reflects).

Co-founder of Efpi (as well as member of Beats & Pieces and numerous other ensembles) is guitarist Anton Hunter who, here, fronts his own trio with a particularly distinctive, frequently minimal, improvisatory guitar and compositional style. Given the spacial worlds created, the five tracks of this eponymous release might easily evoke landscapes – and closer inspection of the band’s mutual extemporisations is both intriguing and rewarding. Joining Anton are James Adolpho (bass) and brother, Johnny Hunter (drums).

Tentatively-seeking in nature, opening number Kolme finds Anton demonstrating the delicacy of his guitar approach with his melodic and chordal weave – drums and bass similarly sparse – before crescendoing into an impressively purposeful, saturated soundwash. Aire, a 13-minute voyage, engages from the start, with appealing repeated vanishing droplets of guitar colour. Picking up rhythmic momentum, bass and drums breathe life into (its title may indicate) a tumbling, fast-flowing river, shimmering cymbals and sustained overlapping guitar textures furthering this notion (beautiful musical imagery indeed).

Snare-led Newsome is curious and melancholy, as well as being melodically open, suggesting both freedom and interaction between the three. In contrast, TRSQ enters Robert Fripp territory… a gloriously potent mix of grungy distorted guitar, boisterous percussion and constant deep bass rumble – entrancing stuff indeed for this listener and clearly deeply satisfying for the trio! Finally, Tyven finds open ground once more, drums and bass exploring sparkily together as Anton’s guitar rises above with an almost out-of-body calm.

With this release, the Anton Hunter Trio are marking the way for others brave enough to follow – and the creative spirit of Efpi is much to be admired for its services to boundary-pushing jazz and (as they describe it) ‘jazz-ish’ music. Long may it continue!

For further information on this and other Efpi albums, and to purchase, visit efpirecords.com.


Anton Hunter
 guitar, effects
James Adolpho double bass
Johnny Hunter drums

Efpi Records – FP011 (2013)

‘Halftime’ – Rachael Cohen

RachaelCohen

THERE IS SOMETHING rather kick-off-your-shoes warm and inviting about this new quartet release from saxophonist and composer Rachael Cohen. With a beautifully rounded, gentle vibrato alto tone (think Getz, Desmond or, currently, Ben van Gelder) and the assured mellowness of Phil Robson’s guitar, the whole ten-track programme presents a particularly fine debut.

Alluding to the world of sport – “the idea of half-time in a sports game, of pausing for thought and considering your next move” – ‘Halftime’ is an album of impressive Cohen originals (plus Ornette Coleman’s Just For You). Bassist Calum Gourlay and James Bashford on drums complete the line-up – and the four hit it off perfectly, creating a particularly satisfying cohesion and balance. Originally hailing from the far-north-easterly Shetland Islands and already with an impressive jazz pedigree, Cohen exudes a freedom of spirit which inhabits both her writing and playing – quite a breath of fresh of air. A prime example is Rise and Fall of SC, a breezy descending-bass number in which Rachael’s melodious sax dances fancifully, eventually giving way to Robson who shares the same airiness. Preceding this, the seven-minute Groove Envy is more driven and freely felt, Robson offering a pleasingly crunchy dissonance as well as bright soloing, Gourlay and Bashford controlling well its catchy, triplet-heavy rhythm.

A sublime ‘halftime’ sax/guitar/bass miniature, Intermission, leads to the blithe and chirpy Riggins, Higgins?, drums, bass and chordal guitar supplying an appealing, repetitive ground for the nimble, confident alto and guitar soloing. In Window Watcher, Cohen’s inquiring sax is pitched against the mystery of Robson’s close chord clusters and Gourlay’s tiptoeing bass before a fast-paced central section snaps into action, guitar and bass delectably scampering and falling over each other. Album opener, The Manor, is beautifully buoyant, Bashford’s precise snare and cymbals maintaining lightness throughout and the alto melodies so affable; and Cohen’s interpretation of Just For You offers a touch more momentum than Coleman’s original, but still ‘lays back’ to Gourlay’s cool, walking bass and Robson’s ornamentation.

In the amiable, tuneful Ask Me Later, Rachael’s alto lead is so velvety – and the piece’s winsome rhythmic and chromatic motifs, along with Gourlay’s lucid bass soloing, give the impression of a standard that’s been around for years. Free Speech reveals a harder-edged improvisational aspect of the quartet’s playing – and, though brief, it perhaps suggests a development for ‘album no.2’ with obvious communication between the players, yet an exciting taste of spontaneity (Bashford’s ringing cymbal a great touch). Softly-brushed Full Time certainly brings a hankering for extra time – a gorgeous final number underpinned by Phil Robson’s genial guitar accompaniment.

Apparently, Rachael Cohen is Whirlwind’s first female leader ‘signing’ – expect to see plenty more classy ‘first team’ performances in the future!

Released on 18 November 2013, details, video and audio samples can be found here.


Rachael Cohen
alto sax  rachaelcohenmusic.com
Phil Robson guitar  philrobson.net
Calum Gourlay bass  whirlwindrecordings.com/calum-gourlay/
James Bashford drums  jimbashford.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4644 (2013)