‘In the North’ – Tassos Spiliotopoulos

Tassos

THERE’S A SENSE of needing to break through the surface of electric guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos’ new release, In the North, to fully appreciate its harmonic/melodic depth and the diversity of its carefully-balanced instrumental weave.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Tassos Spiliotopoulos guitar
Örjan Hultén saxophone
Palle Sollinger bass
Fredrik Rundqvist drums

tassos-spiliotopoulos.com

Anelia Records – ACD002 (2016)

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‘The Moon and the Bonfires’ – Roberto Olzer Trio

RobertoOlzerTrio

THE ATTRACTION of the Italian jazz piano trio continues to wax both luminously and poetically – and none more so than pianist Robert Olzer and colleagues Yuri Goloubev (double bass) and Mauro Beggio (drums).

Olzer was born in northern Italy, studying piano from an early age before going on to graduate in organ, piano and jazz improvisation in Milan. His trio was founded in 2011, previously releasing acclaimed debut album Steppin’ Out in 2013. The inspiration for this latest album, curiously titled The Moon and the Bonfires, is actually drawn from a novel of the same name by Italian writer Cesare Pavese; and Olzer sees something of his own musical career path in its theme – the need to constantly broaden horizons, yet also return to and preciously hold fast to one’s roots.

Comprising a variety of originals and arrangements – including impressions of Schumann and Poulenc – this recording exudes a passion and precision which appears to be synonymous with chamber jazz from this cultural confluence (as in the output of Giovanni Guidi, Michele Di Toro, the Alboran Trio, etc.). It may be an innate classical connection, cultivating the sublimity and deftness of touch associated with the music of, say, Locatelli or Albinoni; but somehow Olzer, Goloubev and Beggio suspend time with their magical partnership, either in intense rhythmic fervour or through exquisite, tenuto pools of quiet.

In all honesty, these eleven tracks have called me back so often, each encounter glinting a little differently; and, presided over by Stefano Amerio at the lauded Artesuono studios, the album’s clarity is assured. From the yearning yet mobile delicacy of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Bibo no Aozora (introduced by the open, romantic lyricism of Olzer’s piano solo, La bella estate) to Enrico Pieranunzi’s pressing Seaward, there is indubitable balance. The tender Andante from Poulenc’s Piano Concerto is re-imagined in the trio’s Adagio (from Piano Concerto), Goloubev’s characteristically-voiced arco lines serenely reflecting Olzer’s fragile water droplets; and the depth of the bassist’s lachrymose Little Requiem echoes Beethoven and hints at Tord Gustavsen, whilst his pizzicato extemporisations ensure a certain brightness.

Victor Young’s Beautiful Love (yes, that may trigger thoughts of Bing Crosby) is whisked away, almost unrecognisably, into a realm uplifted by Mauro Beggio’s delightful perpetuum mobile accuracy; and Robert Schumann’s emotional ‘lied’, Ich will meine Seele tauchen, is similarly disguised, but within a purposeful, contemporary waltz. It’s the subtleties which speak volumes throughout this session, title track La luna e i falo full of contrasts as Olzer’s lucidly rippling ostinati come up against fiery block chords and a solid percussive display; and Chris Collins’ fabulously-titled Gaelic romp, Muirruhgachs, Mermaids, and Mami Wata is unexpectedly calmed by Sting’s Wrapped Around Your Finger before its jaunty piano-and-bass reel is slammed with the full force of Beggio’s batteria – such joy! Completing the sequence, Goloubev paints watercolour images in Le Vieux Charme, and Olzer’s Chàrisma leaps energetically to his vigorously ornamented display.

Packaged within appealingly minimal cover art, The Moon and the Bonfires burns increasingly brightly in my estimation.

Available from record label Atelier Sawano and also Yuri Goloubev’s website.

 

Roberto Olzer piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Mauro Beggio drums

robertoolzer.com
yurigoloubev.com
maurobeggio.com

Atelier Sawano – AS147 (2015)

‘Stardust’ – Stan Sulzmann, Nikki Iles

Stardust

IN MANY WAYS – and in the right, focused moment – the carefree eloquence and clear conversational flow of new duo album Stardust speaks volumes about the absolute empathy and trust shared by two stellar British jazz performers.

Career highlights, to date, of saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and longtime friend and colleague pianist Nikki Iles might keep you Googling and scrolling for some time. But here, all of that glittering experience is channelled into the most intimate of musical environments – an unadorned, hour-plus dialogue between tenor sax and piano. And it’s beautiful.

Sulzmann and Iles each offer one original work, with their compositional ‘guests’ including Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, Burt Bacharach; and, above all, it’s the improvisational and harmonic elegance – frequently illuminating familiar, timeless melodies across acres of space – which is to be revelled in.

Classic Body & Soul is wonderfully luxurious here, with Stan’s rich tenor momentarily having us believe he’s also picked up alto or clarinet, such is the diversity of his range and timbres. Gershwin’s impassioned, drawling My Man’s Gone Now (from Porgy & Bess) is translated into a more measured blues as Sulzmann’s extemporisations cascade down through Iles’ delicious major/minor chords, characteristic sequences of fourths and delicate high lines; and initially echoing the restrained wistfulness of Bill Evans, Young and Foolish increasingly sparkles to Stan’s mellifluous tenor invention, as does the irrepressible optimism of I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (away from the sentimentality of its Sinatra/Riddle association). And this nine-track treasury can also dance, with Jerome Kern’s Nobody Else But Me putting on a sprightly, swinging show.

Sulzmann’s references to Evans’ Some Other Time and Peace Piece can be heard in Nikki’s Corner – an affectionate, buoyant tribute to his pianist; and Iles reciprocates with Under The Canopy (from The Printmakers’ Westerly release of 2015), its warm, falling and rising melodies inviting Sulzmann to glide broadly and effortlessly across the pianist’s gentlest of samba rhythms. A perhaps lesser-known Bacharach tune, You’ll Never Get To Heaven, unveils its lyrical beauty with an especially limpid piano interlude; and the concluding title track arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael couldn’t be more lucid, delicate or assured.

Stardust is not so much a meteor shower spectacular, but rather a delightfully reassuring, crystal-encrusted, dark-sky panoply. And as you fix your attention, it magically reveals subtler, coruscating constellations.

Released on 25 January 2016. Available from Jellymould Jazz, record stores and online retailers.

 

Stan Sulzmann tenor saxophone
Nikki Iles piano

stansulzmann.co.uk
nikkiiles.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ020 (2015)

‘Homes’ – Gilad Hekselman

GiladHekselman

AN ALBUM which, interestingly for this reviewer, needed ‘space and time’ to understand and fully appreciate its varied nuances seems to be summed-up well by the title of one particular track at its mid-point… Cosmic Patience!

Based at the heart of New York’s jazz scene, the flourishing reputation of Israeli electric/acoustic guitarist and composer Gilad Hekselman has found him playing alongside artists such as John Scofield, Avishai Cohen, Ari Hoenig and Tigran Hamasyan; and worldwide tours have taken in Montreux, Montreal and North Sea jazz festivals.

Fifth solo release, Homes, is an especially crystalline trio recording, the crisp, often delicate openness of Hekselman’s technique shared by longtime band colleagues Joe Martin (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums), with Jeff Ballard guesting on two numbers. There’s a distinct craft to the guitarist’s style; not the solid, upfront soloing of John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth or Mike Stern, but predominantly a more measured, mobile and understated delivery which needs careful attention – no bad thing. And this more dialogous approach turns the key on the album’s title, a suite of twelve pieces reflecting Hekselman’s physical, geographic, musical and spiritual homes.

Such a sense of reflection is echoed in occasional, sparse miniatures which contrast with Hekselman’s otherwise broad, colorfield canvases (classically-tinged opening title track Homes is a mere 37 seconds’ duration). Indeed, this outing feels like a promenade through a virtual gallery, as the trio create a range of sizes, textures and atmospheres. Verona intimates the romantic influence of this Italian ‘Romeo and Juliet’ destination, as the guitarist’s high, flighty improvisations mingle with animated bass and percussion; and brief solo acoustic Home in E-minor could melt the stoniest of hearts. But this album isn’t all mellowness, as proven in rapid, erratic, Ghanaian-imbued KeeDee (with Jeff Ballard adding percussive fireworks on that very instrument, a kidi drum) – a joyful celebration, as is Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare which, here, swings diaphanously (quite distinct from its piano trio origin), with Martin’s fast-walking bass and Gilmore’s tight drum detail adding significantly to Hekselman’s fretboard verve.

Then there’s that centrepiece, eleven-minute Cosmic Patience, floating intergalactically against nebulous synth echoes, with Hekselman’s radiophonic guitar tone adding another dimension; and all the while, bass and drums hold a steady course. This Methenyesque exploration is echoed later with an interpretation of Pat Metheny’s classic Last Train Home – although it loses something of the journeying impetus of the original, its light, dancing samba groove becomes increasingly attractive. Baden Powell’s Samba Em Prelúdio’s affecting Latin melancholy is carried both eloquently and deftly by the trio, Hekselman’s amplified higher register so precise; and bold, statuesque Eyes to See possesses an anthemic breadth quite unlike anything else heard on this album.

Gilad Hekselman’s versatile signature guitar sound demands focus – but it’s that very detail, in conjunction with the sensitivity of his personnel, which becomes the attraction.

Released on the JazzVillage label, Homes is available from Harmonia Mundi’s store, as well as other retailers and iTunes.

 

Gilad Hekselman guitars
Joe Martin bass
Marcus Gilmore drums
with 
Jeff Ballard drums (tracks 3 and 10)

giladhekselman.com

JazzVillage (Harmonia Mundi) – SP 9570058 (2015)

‘Notes Are But Wind’ – Dino Betti van der Noot

NotesAreButWind

DINO BETTI VAN DER NOOT certainly likes to think big!

A name perhaps unfamiliar to UK audiences, the veteran Italian composer and bandleader has made his mark, especially over the last decade, with a string of bold orchestral jazz releases (most recently 2011’s September’s New Moon and 2013’s Stuff Dreams Are Made On) which might best be compared to the work of Gil Evans or Gunther Schuller.

For latest album Notes Are But Wind, he quotes a line from Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind” – to convey the notion of a cause disappearing without trace, yet the effect left either visible or as a vivid memory. The concept is vaguely symphonic in its compositional scale – a twenty-piece orchestra (predominantly brass and reeds) interpreting van der Noot’s five expansive, individually titled movements across a full hour; and the composer has specifically sought to integrate the sounds of different ages and cultures by giving improvisational freedom to instruments including the clarsach harp (of Medieval Gaelic association), the dizi (a Chinese transverse flute), didgeridoo and jazz violin.

Though contemporary jazz audiences may be less attuned to such breadth, Dino Betti’s imaginings throughout this recording are arguably his most accessible yet. He frequently elicits the high drama of theatrical or movie soundtracks through the dynamism of his orchestra, evidenced in title track Notes Are But Wind, whose mysterious, breathy dizi tones herald gritty, chromatic violin extemporisations over a solid battery of horns. The extent of van der Noot’s seemingly through-composed music (this opener at fifteen minutes’ length) clearly provides space for open contemplation as well as biting, electric bass-driven excitation – and the fluctuation of moods here may well imply that earlier ’cause and effect’ reference. Often there are protracted meanderings around a theme, creating shifting atmospheres and textures (as opposed to complex, changing rhythms and melodies); but, nevertheless, the detail in the arrangements can be entrancing.

A synthy backwash introduces Memories from a Silent Nebula (developed from a composition of 1987, inspired by a fragment of a Gregorian Magnificat), its amorphous, mystical timbres building to big band grandeur overlayed with cacophonous free jazz improvisation; and whilst brash In the Deep Bosom of the Ocean could easily resemble the revelry of New Orleans street jazz, its mournful fanfare and discordant disintegration is intended to highlight the plight of Mediterranean refugees seeking a better life (a comparison which seems slightly at odds with the arrangement’s exhilaration – but perhaps that’s the point).

The brassy ebullience of Midwinter Sunshine (another 1987 reworking) is infectious, as blistering trombone, trumpet and sax solos, buoyed by clanging percussion and vibes, feasibly evoke bustling cityscapes – likely to be one of the most dazzling, frenetic, full-on episodes you’ll hear all year! To close, a heartfelt tribute to Italian pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini, who passed away in 2014 – a piece whose sorrowful ruminations might hint at Philip Glass’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ symphonies, evolving into a triumphal climax heightened by wide violin portamenti/glissandi before a suitably reverential departure.

Voted ‘Italian Album of the Year 2015′ in Musica Jazz magazine’s annual critics’ poll, Notes Are But Wind possesses a grand and distinctive jazz spirit which is difficult to ignore.

Available from online retailers, including StradivariusAmazon and iTunes.

 

Dino Betti van der Noot director, composer

The orchestra:
Gianpiero LoBello, Alberto Mandarini, Daniele Moretto, Alberto Capra trumpets, flugelhorns
Luca Begonia, Stefano Calcagno, Enrico Allevena trombones
Gianfranco Marchesi bass trombone
Sandro Cerino dizi, flute, alto flute, didgeridoo, bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Francesco Bianchi clarinet, alto saxophone
Giulio Visibelli flute, alto flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Claudio Tripoli flute, tenor saxophone
Gilberto Tarocco alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Luca Gusella vibraphone
Emanuele Parrini violin
Niccolò Cattaneo keyboards
Vincenzo Zitello clarsach harp
Gianluca Alberti electric bass
Stefano Bertoli, Tiziano Tononi drums, percussion

Stradivarius – STR 57915 (2015)

‘Treehouse’ – Tom Hewson Trio

Treehouse

A TRIO ALBUM with a difference, this has been swirling around in my head for some time now, captivating me with its cerebral and emotional effect on the senses.

The lofty soundscapes of the Tom Hewson Trio’s debut release, Treehouse – with magical combined timbres of piano, vibraphone and double bass – might evoke white-streamed morning mists and glistening, eddying streams, or equally possess a swinging, quicksilver sprightliness to raise an involuntary smile. It’s certainly an album of precise yet often fearless chamber jazz which demands close attention to its shifting complexities and frequent coruscations of beauty.

Described by one of Tom Hewson’s musical heroes – the late, respected John Taylor – as a pianist and “sublime composer” with a “ravishing and daring” style, he cites key musical discoveries which have helped shape his personality and career. As well as Taylor, these include the music of Ravel, Debussy, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell… and such influences become remarkably apparent across this album of ten originals. Hewson’s colleagues, since the trio’s inception in 2010, are Lewis Wright (vibes) and Calum Gourlay (double bass).

This project’s unwavering appeal is due in part to the mercurial weave of textures that is possible between the players, suggesting in the first few minutes of opening track Sparticle that any augmentation, especially percussion, might hinder this perfect synergy. Flowing French impressionism here melds easily with bold, syncopated rhythm; and sprightly solo piano passages become organically infused with gently dancing bass and the sustained chimes of vibraphone.

The democratic outlook of the trio is another important factor – title track Treehouse, for example, allowing Hewson to become rhythm maker beneath Wright’s glowing improvisations; rockin’-in-rhythm Glitch is predominantly a lively, Oscar Peterson-like piano-and-bass feature until previously subtle vibes flamboyantly (Gary Burton-style) steal the show; and, in contrast, Silver Strands and Gelsomina are both sensitively crafted, raindrop-splashed watercolours, their luscious harmonies possessing paradoxical contentment and melancholy.

Interspersing the main features are three solo improvisations from each instrumentalist, offering a window on their raw creativity and the overtones and resonances achievable; Gourlay’s harmonic arco bass exploration, sans effects, is particularly intriguing. Maybe suggesting the livelier side of Bill Evans, Not Relevant‘s bright swing is characterised by oscillating vibes and piano riffs, opening the door for clean-cut piano extemporisations as well as twinkling moments of repose. And Beanie’s Bounce (shades of Bouncing with Bud?) serves as a fabulous curtain call, its crackling verve showcasing each player’s physical and creative dexterity, with Hewson’s audacious, bluesy piano solo spot a standout.

You won’t often hear a jazz landscape as simultaneously sincere, eloquent and lucent as this, nor one which throws out shooting-star surprises each time it’s played. A rare and focused treasure from an adventurous British trio.

Treehouse is available directly from CAM JAZZ Presents, online and record store retailers, and also iTunes.

 

Tom Hewson piano
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Calum Gourlay bass

tomhewson.com

CAM JAZZ Presents (KEPACH Music) – CAMJ 3316-2 (2015)

‘A Journey’ – Maciek Pysz

Maciek-Pysz-A-Journey-Cover-Art-Final-Production

A TRAVELOGUE of refined chamber jazz, acoustic guitarist Maciek Pysz’s new release A Journey meanders, eddies and dances afresh to European jazz and world/folk atmospheres.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Maciek Pysz acoustic and classical guitars
Yuri Goloubev double bass (and piano on Always on the Move)
Asaf Sirkis drums and percussion
Daniele di Bonaventura bandoneon, piano

maciekpysz.com

Dot Time Records – DT9044 (2015)