‘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)

‘Abstract Forces’ – Cloudmakers Trio

Cloudmakers

IN 2012, vibraphonist Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers Trio featured renowned Californian trumpeter Ralph Alessi on their inaugural tour – and the recorded live set from the Pizza Express date, subsequently identified for album release (Live in London), won many plaudits across the contemporary jazz fraternity for both the quality and immediacy of the performances. 

Their much-anticipated second release, Abstract Forces – a studio album of seven extended new Hart compositions for trio only – now builds on this ensemble’s strongly improvisational ethos (the band name stemming from the analogy of a power station or engine room creating ever-changing, cloud-like abstractions). And, with the driving bass of Michael Janisch and trademark drumming vigour of Dave Smith, Cloudmakers continues to produce inventive, oblique, tricksy-but-accessible grooves. On the back of the live album, the absence of an out-front lead instrument might have left this line-up seeming somewhat lacklustre… but the key to success here is very much the chemistry between these three collaborative minds (who have worked together for many years), intuitively brewing up their own ingenious brand of ‘cumulonimbus’ clout.

Janisch’s thrummed bass sets up the bristling momentum of Snaggletooth, Jim Hart extemporising colourfully and broadly with mallets and bows – and immediately the high energy of the trio can be grasped. Hart’s assuredness at the vibes is breathtaking, whether soloing rapidly or pushing the pulse with chordal clusters, including judicious use of electronics. Angular Momentum races to impossibly-complex written time signatures, yet the three players remain remarkably synced throughout (#jawdrop), Smith hustling and bouncing magnificently.

Great explorations characterise Post Stone, Hart’s free electro-distorted hammers and celestial bowings ringing to the busyness of bass and drums, and then breaking loose into ‘ordered delirium’. Michael Janisch’s solo bass is both lithe and attractive, teasing out chords, harmonics and trills – and, appropriately, it introduces melodious Early Hours, Hart’s compositional prowess here leaning more towards the Bachian mystery of John Lewis’s writing for the Modern Jazz Quartet (Hart also features in The MJQ Celebration – reviewed). The playing here displays delightful luminosity, sustained vibes balanced delicately with the lightness of bass and drums.

Social Assassin swings out to Janisch’s bass chords, Smith hitting the kit solidly, Hart roaming freely; and Ramprasad conjures a little more of that Milt Jackson magic, Hart and Janisch sharing its inquisitive melody before electronics coax ethereal bell chimes and drones from the vibes. Finally, Conversation Killer fizzes with Phronesis-like bass impetus, Smith thrashing in tandem with Hart’s persistent Steve Reich-ian rhythms.

There is never a sense that this is ‘easy listening’ or ‘background’ jazz (piped lounge bar muzak of the late ’60s and early ’70s never did the vibraphone any favours!). Instead, Cloudmakers offer intelligently crafted music, in terms of composition and synergetic execution, which demands close scrutiny to understand its many details and nuances – a real tour de force.

Released on 29 September 2014, check out the Abstract Forces album page at Whirlwind for promo video, audio samples and purchasing – tour dates below – as well as the Live in London album page.

 

Jim Hart vibraphone
Michael Janisch double bass
Dave Smith drums

2014 tour dates
28 September: The Albert, Bristol
29 September: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
30 September: St Ives Jazz Club
03 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
10 October: Sheffield Jazz Club

cloudmakerstrio.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4655 (2014)

‘Colorfield’ – Romain Pilon

Color_Pilon

FRENCH GUITARIST Romain Pilon presents pretty much a blank, white canvas for the cover of his new release on Whirlwind Records – which seems entirely appropriate, given the title ‘Colorfield’. For, just as the distinctive art movement of the same name saw the likes of Rothko and Gottlieb creating enveloping expanses of bright, abstract, overlapping colour, so too gleams Pilon’s impeccably-formed quartet with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Michael Janisch (bass) and Jamire Williams (drums).

Since graduating from Berklee College, the past ten years or so of Romain Pilon’s rising career have seen him working with top flight musicians in New York and Paris, and is currently a member of the Paris Jazz Underground collective (along with David Prez, Olivier Zanot, Sandro Zerafa, Yoni Zelnik and Karl Jannuska). Although a new name to me, this characterful album is sure to increase Pilon’s profile.

Colorfield’s impressive sequence of seven originals (plus a sublimely rich tenor and guitar reading of Horace Silver’s ‘Lonely Woman’) displays a sense of carefully crafted chamber jazz – though the quartet can certainly ramp up the tempo, as heard in the bass- and guitar-driven groove of the title track. There is clarity and warmth both in Pilon’s writing and playing, his open and fluid guitar style allowing the band considerable latitude, typified by the measured, cerebral calmness of ‘Man on a Wire’. And, on the subject of balance… as the chordal player here, Romain Pilon demonstrates remarkable respect for the overall colour palette, as heard in mobile opener ‘Acceptance’.

The animated ‘Twombly’ suggests the freedom of the American painter’s expressionism, Pilon’s deft, reaching solo work easily echoing the artist’s huge red swirls seen recently at the Tate Modern. Further evidence of the leader’s skilful soloing is to be found in ‘Three on Seven’, along with subtle, lush chords and the fast, fluttering bass and drums of Michael Janisch and Jamire Williams. Profoundly delicate – and maybe a love song – the melodic line of ‘You’ is shared by Walter Smith and Pilon who also allow space for Janisch’s bass to sing, both as soloist and support; and closing number ‘7th Hour’ scurries joyfully to the high rhythm maintained by Williams who is a brilliantly precise presence throughout this recording.

Launched on 7 October 2013, and featuring in the first Whirlwind Festival (Kings Place, 10-12 October), this is an intelligent and engaging set from a quartet of players who clearly feel a great connection.


Romain Pilon
 guitar
Walter Smith III tenor saxophone
Michael Janisch acoustic bass
Jamire Williams drums

romainpilon.com
whirlwind recordings.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4641 (2013)