‘Good is Good’ – Vula Viel

VulaViel

MELDING Ghanaian rhythm, minimalist repetition and improvisatory jazz pizazz, percussionist Bex Burch unveils a debut album which glints with hypnotic majesty, all based around first-hand experience of living and making music with the Dagaare tribe of West Africa.

Burch’s CV is fascinating. A childhood passion for percussion, and her classical studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, led to a series of chance encounters which resulted in a gap year travelling around Ghana’s ten regions, learning about and immersing herself in the musical culture of its people. It was there that she was introduced to master xylophonist Thomas Segkura, who invited her to be his apprentice. Across three years, she would buy and farm land, build a house – and, significantly, develop both the craftsmanship and the musicianship to create and master traditional instrument, the Gyil. On completion of her apprenticeship, she was given the name Vula Viel (which translates as ‘Good is Good’), and rewarded with the beautiful words, “All we have given you is yours, and all you have given us is ours. The good you do remains when you die.”

Returning to the UK, Burch decided to develop the richness of the Gyil music she had come to be a part of by forming a band – appropriately named Vula Viel – with some of London’s most progressive jazz and improvisational musicians; the beat-driven line-up consisting of saxophonist George Crowley, keyboardist Dan Nicholls, drummers Dave de Rose and Simon Roth, plus vibraphonist Stephen Burke (and Jim Hart guesting). Under Bex Burch’s direction, her colleagues rehearsed/gigged hard to understand the rhythms and melodies of the Dagaare tradition, respectfully reinterpreting them into this exciting, contemporary, groove-laden experience.

The successful cross-pollination of cultural creativity and instrumentation is what immediately grabs the attention – Nicholls’ electronic atmospheres and Crowley’s jazz-sax sensibility fusing organically with infectious world rhythms which glow to the leader’s bright, xylophonic timbres. Burch studied Steve Reich, and that mesmeric influence (also suggesting Terry Riley, Pierre Moerlen and even Ibiza-like sundown moods amongst its earthy, rustic charm) can clearly be identified in tracks such as Gandayina and Bewa which, with superbly echoic textures of Rhodes and synth, also become redolent of Soft Machine’s Six period. The dance element is key, as Zine Dondone Zine Daa rasps to the physicality of the Gyil, enhanced by sympathetic vibes and electronics (often the lines of definition are wonderfully blurred!) – and resounding to Crowley’s characteristically unfettered tenor, it all builds into magnificent, saturated, Nik Bärtsch-style complexity. There are moments of becalming beauty, too, across these seven tracks, often moving from watery, South African-tinted sunshine to Gamelanese delicacy – all displaying a constantly shifting undercurrent of invention.

Vula Viel’s appearance at this year’s Ronnie Scott’s London Jazz Festival launch confirmed an enthusiastic response to their fizzing, live presence; and this studio account, listening closely to exquisite detail, provides its own thrill. It would seem that there are areas of this vast, African-inspired canvas yet to be coloured – and with such an intuitive personnel, that’s something to very much look forward to.

Released on 23 October 2015, Good is Good can be heard at and purchased from Bandcamp.

 

Bex Burch Gyil
George Crowley sax
Dan Nicholls bass synth, keyboards
Dave De Rose drums
Simon Roth drums
Stephen Burke vibes
with
Jim Hart vibes (on Bewa)

vulaviel.com

Vula Viel Records – VVCD001 (2015)

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‘Strata’ – Ivo Neame

Strata

IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.

2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.

Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”

Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ –  lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.

Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.

Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.

A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!

 

Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

ivoneame.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)

‘Pinball’ – Marius Neset

Pinball

IF THE NAME Marius Neset hasn’t yet entered your vocabulary, or his staggering musical proficiency not already hit your ears… then, with this latest album, Pinball, prepare for a life-changing jazz experience!

The Norwegian saxophonist and composer first erupted onto the wider European scene only four years ago with debut Golden Xplosion, and the ensuing releases – Birds (Edition, 2013) and Lion (ACT, 2014) – each time, left mouths gaping wider at the technical precision and impassioned musicality of the performances and writing. Some say he is the Parker or Coltrane of our time, with clear echoes of Brecker and Garbarek, and it’s unlikely to be an exaggeration that his distinct imprint on the progression and broadening of the jazz genre is creating, for us, the same revelatory tremors (turn out the lights, listen… and the saxophonist surely couldn’t be anyone else).

Mentored by Django Bates, that same sense of perpetual exploration and living on the edge is evident in Neset’s music – but it is also ingrained with atmospheres which reflect the musical folk traditions and awe-inspiring landscapes of his homeland, resulting in a rich combination of raw excitement and deep emotion. And, with every new release, the complexity and beauty of his compositional outpourings become impressively aggrandised.

Early in 2014, and in Mahlerian ‘composing hut’ spirit, Neset tucked himself away in a Norwegian mountain cottage and was inspired “to write almost a whole album”, specifically with his band colleagues (mostly from the Birds album) in mind – Ivo Neame (piano, Hammond), Jim Hart (vibes, marimba), Petter Eldh (bass) and Anton Eger (drums, percussion), plus special guests. Neset’s association with Eger runs deep, both collaborating here on production as well as some of the writing.

Title track Pinball conveys the overarching character of these twelve numbers – meticulously-conceived melodies, yet the varietal moods, audacious polyrhythms and fervid, darting improvisations make it all so entertainingly unpredictable. Mesmerising clapping and flutter-tongued flute herald World Song Pt. 1, a joyous, African-imbued opener filled with chattering folk dance riffs and soaring tenor; Pt. 2 is more ruminative – with distant knell, quivering cello and elegiac violin – until Jim Hart’s eloquent vibes resound up into the skies to summon a sunshiny recapitulation. The album’s effervescence is punctuated by calmer interludes, the subterranean resonance of Petter Eldh’s bass and Eger’s slow drum in Odes of You remarkably soothing, combined with Ivo Neame’s Hammond/piano and Neset’s lyricism.

Police (for silent movie buffs) portrays all the cheeky, madcap clatter of the Keystone Cops; with Marius’s tenor and sister Ingrid’s flute so chirpily yet accurately synched, it’s a real smile-raiser. Evoking thoughts of Neset’s haunting 2012 album with Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods), Music for Cello and Saxophone is a fascinating echoic ‘duologue’ in which both instruments intertwine so convincingly; and the later Music for Drums and Saxophone finds Neset sharing the percussive possibilities of his tenor with Eger’s pin-sharp rhythms in a delicate, trance-like episode.

Never pass up the opportunity to catch this band live (tour dates here), Theatre of Magic offering a glimpse of the divergency of their craft as Marius, here with the illusion of playing both tenor and soprano, leads its glorious vivacity. Swirling Aberhonddu, presumably a nod to Brecon’s much-loved jazz festival, might suggest the capricious climatic conditions up on the Beacons, whilst Jaguar showcases the leader’s forceful soprano rapidity. His sparkling, trademark ‘duotone’ tenor announces Summer Dance, an astonishingly detailed Irish reel-like celebration coloured warmly with Hart’s marimba, before layered sax end-piece Hymn from the World reverently closes.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, the spine-tingling musicianship of Pinball makes it an irresistible repeat player!

Further information and audio samples at ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ivo Neame piano, Hammond B3, a.o.
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion
with
Andreas Brantelid cello
Rune T. Sørensen violin
Ingrid Neset flute
August Wanngren tambourine
Pinball band clapping

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9032-2 (2014)

‘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)

‘Urban Novel’ – Kristian Borring

Kristian

THERE’S a sophisticated vein of cool confidence running through this new Jellymould Jazz release from Danish electric guitarist Kristian Borring who employs varying trio, quartet and quintet groupings to interpret eight original compositions inspired by the metropolitanism of London (where Borring resides) and its current, bustling jazz scene. 

Fellow urbanites are the fascinatingly jagged-yet-melodic pianist Arthur Lea, master drummer Jon Scott (Kairos 4tet, Dice Factory, Monocled Man) and Irish bassist Mick Coady (whose own Synergy recorded the impressive Nine Tales of the Pendulum, released last year on Jellymould), plus the illuminant vibraphone of much-in-demand Jim Hart. It’s evident from the outset that Borring’s writing encourages a collaborative approach amongst this personnel, rather than assuming an over-inflated guitar lead. In fact, a key strength of this follow-up to 2011’s Nausicaa is the seamlessness of the written and the improvised, the latter frequently dovetailing into rhythmically complex episodes with imperturbable composure.

From the gentle swing of opening number Hipster and the pacier Number Junky (both chiming with the close-knit perambulations of Borring and Hart) to the snappy drive of Equilbrium (in which Lea’s piano increasingly impresses both with hard chordal rhythm and deft soloing), there is much here to savour. Borring’s style occasionally, and happily, echoes that of seminal Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman, with sustained, pitch-bent phrases and unexpected harmonic directions (there’s a touch, too, of Metheny). The guitar, bass and drums gem Arcade Coffee Shop is a particular highlight, displaying wonderfully accomplished interaction amongst the trio; and vibraphone is the key to the mystery of Kasper (In Darkness), Borring partnering Jim Hart’s runs against the superbly deliberate chordal stabs and percussive invention of Lea and Scott.

Quartet title number Urban Novel conjures the heat haze of a cityscape, Borring gliding high over the brake-hiss of Jon Scott’s cymbals and low hubbub of Mick Coady’s bass, and then providing subtly-chorused chords behind Lea’s bright piano extemporisations – imaginative picture-painting, tightly arranged… yet suggesting much freedom within. Out-and-out swinger Hidden Corners glistens with Kristian Borring’s unwavering soloing which eventually invites characteristically colourful, resonant percussion from Scott; and a piano-less quartet brings a different, mellow conclusion to the album, Hart and Borring eloquently combining in Weltall.

Released on 2 June 2014, and with Autumn tour dates on the horizon, this is the perfect opportunity to catch a rising name on the UK contemporary jazz scene. For further information and purchasing, visit Jellymould Jazz.

 

Kristian Borring guitar
Arthur Lea piano
Mick Coady bass
Jon Scott drums
Jim Hart vibes

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ016 (2014)

‘The MJQ Celebration’ – Jim Hart, Barry Green, Matt Ridley, Steve Brown with Dave O’Higgins

MJQ

Originally formed by pianist and composer Michael Garrick MBE, who sadly passed away in 2011, The MJQ Celebration had been delighting sell-out UK audiences with their fresh interpretations of the pioneering 1950s/60s sounds of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Determined to continue the success of the project, and in Michael’s memory, the friends are now touring again as a new line-up, launching this engaging debut release.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Jim Hart
vibraphone
Barry Green piano
Matt Ridley double bass
Steve Brown drums

special guest
Dave O’Higgins tenor saxophone

Kings Gambit Records (KGR001) – 2014

‘Between Shadows’ – Reuben Fowler

BetweenShadows

FROM THE very first horns entry, this debut album from Kenny Wheeler Prize-winning trumpeter/composer Reuben Fowler announces its clear intent – contemporary big band artistry of significant stature!

Only a short time since graduation from the Royal Academy of Music, and just a handful of years from picking up his instrument as a teenager, Fowler has mustered an incredible line-up of musicians to play out the creativity that seemingly gushes from his passion for this field of jazz! The personnel is on outstanding form, boasting such names as Stan Sulzmann, Jim Hart, Tom Harrell, George Crowley, with Dave Hamblett (drums) and Matt Robinson (piano and Rhodes).

Opening number ‘Too Minor’ (written by the late Richard Turner) is an absolute tour de force, brimming with confidence and impetus, building in energy and complexity as it progresses. The mellow ‘Holness’, with George Crowley leading both smoothly and lithely on clarinet, is introduced with tight brass harmonies which then extend out into lush scoring for the whole band. Indeed, the writing is exceptional throughout this album – accessible, yet overflowing with ideas which twist and turn away from the conventional (not unlike Dave Holland’s large-scale projects).

‘Dundry (for JGB)’, written for alto sax soloist James Gardiner-Bateman and referencing his south-of-Bristol residence, presents a ten-minute groove-driven stand-out track, with Hart’s vibes and Alex Munk’s guitar suggesting a landscape more Manhattan than Somerset (Fowler & Hutch, maybe?!), complete with brassy crescendos. It just pulls you under its spell, with Tom Harrell’s flugelhorn the perfect Hubbard-like lead, and Gardiner-Bateman providing a wonderfully jarring sax line – magnificent right through to its TV theme tune close!

The five-part suite ‘Between Shadows’ neatly incorporates an exquisite arrangement of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, the tempo eventually changing up a gear to showcase ravishing improvisations including that of trombonist, Robbie Harvey, backed by Jim Hart. Voices add another dimension to ‘The Lost’ and ‘The Lost and the Found’ (gorgeous tone from Brigitte Beraha), with Stan Sulzmann embellishing brightly on soprano – and Fowler plays flugel so assuredly and sensitively beyond his years. Tenor player Joe Wright features on ‘Ending’, drawing this generous release (recorded in just two days) to a close.

We are told that the pieces in the suite ‘Between Shadows’ are a response to poetry which suggests ‘something special, to cherish’. That is certainly the case here, and Reuben Fowler deserves all the accolades that are sure to come his way – firstly, for his compositional maturity, and then for the achievement of masterminding such an accomplished and illustrious group of musicians to breathe life into his music.

As is the Edition Records way, the production is crystal clear, capturing the detail from the full range of dynamics to present this big band in all its glory. A real winner of an album, which is launched at The Forge, London, 25 July 2013.

Edition Records – EDN1042 (2013)