‘Alimentation’ – Solstice

alimentation

WHAT A FEAST that Solstice spreads before us! A debut release, yet anything but an unknown line-up, this British sextet’s shared culinary enthusiasm is translated into an exploration of their combined compositional and instrumental possibilities – hence various ‘foody’ references. The musical outcome? Well, certainly luscious, zesty, cordial… and wonderfully satisfying.

A glance at the personnel is temptation enough – Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (voice), John Turville (piano), Jez Franks (guitars), Dave Manington (double bass) and George Hart (drums) – with each bringing original compositions to the table to prompt affable, fluvial conversations. The closeness of the collaboration was evident when the band presented this material at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival, and is discernible in this fine studio recording.

Brigitte Beraha is establishing herself as one the UK’s most dextrous jazz vocalists, including notable appearances on albums by Babelfish and Geoff Eales; and any comparison with Norma Winstone would seem quite appropriate. Across these nine tracks, her lyrical or wordless contribution is integral to the overall blend, and there’s a special affinity with Tori Freestone’s ever-tumbling wellspring of saxophonic invention. Space and balance are key. Even in the brisker numbers, there’s never a sense of oversaturation, thanks to consummate performances from Turville, Franks, Manington and Hart.

Ultimate Big Cheese‘s apparent, airy glee is enhanced by Tori Freestone’s delightfully feel-good flute; melodic Mourning Porridge, with a unison voice-and-guitar pairing redolent of Pat Metheny, finds Freestone’s characteristic tenor waltzing around feathery percussion and Dave Manington’s authoritative bass resonances; and Jez Franks’ acoustic timbres in his own composition, Tilt, provide a folksily-threaded backdrop to Beraha’s scat. Björk’s original The Anchor Song is a pearl of almost naive charm – but this band’s interpretation, in an arrangement by Dave Manington, is achingly beautiful, the affecting simplicity of voice and piano preceding a magical, bubbling otherworldliness, with a particularly vivid pictorialisation of diving to the bottom of the ocean.

Avocado Deficit (Freestone’s title inspired by her surprise that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years!) ascends, Escher-like, as the tenorist’s seamless phrasing emphasises its endless, hypnotic path. Beraha’s poetic delivery is central to Her Words, Like Butterflies, adorned by John Turville’s piano elegance; there’s an adroit sax-and-voice connection in Tori Freestone’s buoyant Universal Four (from her trio album In the Chop House); and George Hart’s turbulent, darkly-hued Solstice encourages dramatically screeching voice and sax. Arranged afresh for this ensemble, Beraha’s bright Unspoken closes the set with affirming repeated chorus (“It’s the cycle of life”).

Released on 9 December 2016, and available as CD or digital download from Two Rivers Records at BandcampAlimentation is a joy from beginning to end. To quote B Guðmundsdóttir – right now, “this is where I’m staying, this is my home.”

 

Tori Freestone tenor sax, soprano saxophone, flute
Brigitte Beraha voice
John Turville piano
Jez Franks guitars
Dave Manington double bass
George Hart drums

solstice-music.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR-020 (2016)

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‘Anatta’ – Alex Merritt Quartet


Anatta

SOMETIMES it just clicks. That sit-up-and-listen first connection with intelligently-conceived music and performance, prompting a compulsion to become involved and stay with it.

Taking its title from a Buddhist principle which, indeed, references ‘a state of no self, where we are fully immersed in our experience of the present moment’, Anatta is the debut release of young tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt and his fine quartet: pianist John Turville, double bassist Sam Lasserson and distinguished US drummer Jeff Williams. With the majority of the album’s eight compositions coming from Merritt’s pen (plus interpretations of Thelonious Monk and Eubie Blake), the tenorist’s lead exudes both maturity and confidence in an hour-plus outing which brims with exploration and reinvention.

Formed some six years ago, and encouraged by Jeff Williams whilst Alex Merritt was still studying at Birmingham Conservatoire, quartet and leader seek a fascinating duality in their approach – the concept of modelling new work based on the standard chord progressions of existing material (such as Merritt’s originals here based on Jule Styne’s Just in Time and John Coltrane’s Satellite), thereby reflecting the aim of ‘observing the elegance of life’s change’.

Merritt’s warm, dry, Getzian fluency (which, at higher range, even finds refractions of Paul Desmond) is a joy, whether intertwining with Turville’s mysterious, unpredictable chordal shifts in the title track or bubbling with controlled fervour in one of the aforementioned reinterpretations… cringingly-titled Justin Time-berlake (perhaps there’s a back-story!). In fact, for a saxman who rarely screeches or wails, such restrained eloquence shines prominently. For example, in swingin’ For Peter Schat (that Coltrane reworking), his mellifluous, elongated phrases set up a ‘pied piper’ kind of magnetism, with a constant stream of fresh improv ideas that don’t need any invitation to follow; and his band’s freer, nine-minute excursion through Pannonica beautifully echoes Monk’s famously capricious, angular approach.

The integration here is key and, throughout, feels like a sound this quartet has taken time to hone, driven along by Jeff Williams’ recognisable percussive solidity as well as Sam Lasserson’s double bass which, even amongst the sublime placidity of For Henri Dutilleux and Blake’s Memories of You, becomes majestic. Thelonious favourite Ugly Beauty is delightfully luxurious in this arrangement, especially when Merritt goes deep; and lively Conn Artist (other brands are available) cements his prowess as a composer with a promising future.

This feels like just the beginning… and what a beginning.

Released on the F-IRE label, Anatta is available from Propermusic, Amazon and iTunes.

 

Alex Merritt tenor sax
John Turville piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jeff Williams drums

alexmerritt.com

F-IRE presents – F-IRECD 86 (2015)

‘Songs to the North Sky’ – Tim Garland

Songs

THERE ARE TIMES, on my long and increasingly rewarding musical journey, that I feel urged to express gratitude to particular musicians whose work has become a long-term source of enjoyment and inspiration.

Falling firmly into this category is the instrumental and compositional prowess of reedsman Tim Garland, for many years now a respected mainstay of the British jazz scene. With a long roll-call of collaborators, projects and albums (most notably Chick Corea, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Dean Street Underground Orchestra and his own Lighthouse Trio), this most assured of saxophonists continues to develop and expand his artistic vocabulary, always with that warm signature vibrato.

Signed to progressive label Edition Records, Garland has now released this double album, Songs to the North Sky – featuring an impressive, interchanging quartet (seven musicians in all), and expertly configured orchestral/percussive forces – which represents a still higher pinnacle of writing and performance.

Part One focuses on the quartet material: eight tracks which bounce with characteristic ebullience, but also shimmer with expansive and often emotional beauty. Tim Garland’s dependable yet always exciting rhythm-maker, Asaf Sirkis, is key to proceedings, combining with the bubbling momentum of pianist Geoffrey Keezer and guitarist Ant Law on supercharged opener Uplift! The lightness of Kevin Glasgow’s electric bass and luminous piano of Jason Rebello refract the smooth golden rays of Little Sunshine, over which Garland’s tenor sings mellifluously. A Brother’s Gift finds a more reflective space, courtesy of Law’s steel strings and Sirkis’s distinctive custom kit – and often it’s the small details which please the ear, such as Garland’s ornamental phrasing, and also one particular end-of-phrase expiration here (odd, but true!).

There’s a hint of Earthworks days in the leader’s command of Yes to This, John Turville and Ant Law both sparkling with positivity; The Perth Flight‘s propulsive energy offers a great showcase for both Garland and Rebello; and Farewell to Ed is a delightfully freer episode, enhanced by Law’s subtly overdriven electric guitar explorations. Garland has long been a champion of the bass clarinet, and his unmistakably fluid ‘voice’ is heard in Lammas Days (along with flute), an exuberant celebration of the magic conjured between these versatile musicians. A soprano and piano interpretation of Tom Bahler’s She’s Out of My Life (Michael Jackson) closes this sequence; in less capable hands, so easily mawkish and shallow – but Garland and Rebello elevate it to somewhere very special.

The larger, themed work, Songs to the North Sky – supported by Sage Gateshead and Royal Northern College of Music – forms the second half of this release, and creatively draws on the dramatic open landscapes of Tim’s Garland’s adopted North East England homeland. Whereas 2008’s double album Libra found the composer writing on a larger, symphonic scale (the four-movement Frontier with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), there is an even greater organic balance here, successfully fusing saxes and percussion with The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings. The result is genuinely compelling – a 50-minute episodic jazz/orchestral masterpiece which vividly paints Northumberland’s rugged coastlines and wide skies, Garland often hinting at 20th Century English string writing (Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Rodney Bennett) as well as Glass, Pärt, and even Celtic influences which are colorised by the energetic violin soloing of Magdalena Filipczak. Asaf Sirkis melds perfectly with the suspense of Neil Percy’s classical percussion; and John Patitucci’s four equally interspersed bass interludes are remarkable – certainly not bass ‘fillers’ but, rather, beautifully imagined, skilful miniatures in their own right.

With both CDs regularly alternating in my car audio player for the past couple of weeks, I emphatically recommend this significant new release – and if you’re searching for stars (maybe over Kielder’s dark sky zone)… here they are ★★★★★.

Available from 2 June 2014, listen to samples and buy here.

 

Tim Garland tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute
Jason Rebello piano (tracks 2, 5, 7 & 8)
John Turville piano (tracks 3, 4 & 6)
Geoffrey Keezer piano (track 1)
Asaf Sirkis drum kit, custom percussion set, hang
Ant Law electric and steel string guitars (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 6)
Kevin Glasgow electric bass (tracks 2, 5 & 7)
The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings
John Patitucci double and electric basses
Neil Percy tuned and classical percussion
Magdalena Filipczak solo violin

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDN1051 (2014)

‘Thymos’ – Matt Ridley Trio

MattRidley_Thymos

THIS DEBUT RELEASE from double bassist and composer Matt Ridley has been fascinating me for a number of weeks, as I repeatedly return to its charming blend of sophistication, mystery and vitality.

Ostensibly a piano trio album with John Turville (piano) and George Hart (drums), ‘Thymos’ begins with that same highly-charged energy that we have come to experience with the likes of e.s.t., Phronesis and Vijay Iyer – yet this is different. Firstly, it becomes clear that Eastern musical influences are being explored here (to great effect, I might add), and then there is the masterstroke of judiciously augmenting the trio on some numbers with the considerable talents of Jason Yarde (sax), Attab Haddad (oud) and Vasilis Sirkis (percussion). The result: an exciting and diverse programme – written or arranged by Ridley and led by his distinctly melodic bass technique – which pleasingly achieves his own vision of “a sound encompassing the exotic flavours and emotions of Middle Eastern music with the jazz sensibility of improvisation on complex structures”.

Following a freely improvised opening, the trio immediately display their connectedness on the strong, bass-driven Siamese Twins which unfolds into heady splendour, George Hart’s hard-hitting drum improvisation over a repeated piano and bass phrase heightening the fizz of this seven-minute opener. Theme and Variations – a touch of baroque in 9 – displays Ridley’s liking for a transparent bass melody, John Turville’s piano contributing the same clarity; and Hart simply shines with his equal show of strength and dexterity. It’s impressively balanced, right through to the delicate close.

Homage to Kenny Wheeler opens with Jason Yarde’s molten soprano flowing and skipping effortlessly to Hart’s changing rhythms… and, again, Ridley is so melodically lucid, Yarde needing no prompt to take flight (imagining KW’s flugel) in this soaring, upbeat tribute. The Middle Eastern flavour of the album is unlocked with Siddhartha, the trio spinning expertly through a repeated descending motif, Turville and Ridley sharing complex lines as well as independently improvising (Matt Ridley frequently engages melodically even when fulfilling more of a supporting bass role!). Again, George Hart’s drumming is key to the overall sparkle here, as he then leads percussively into The River, eventually paring it down to a luscious, spacial, heartfelt piano/bass ballad with shimmering cymbal decoration and an achingly beautiful high bass lead (especially magical through high-quality earbuds).

Jason Yarde’s playing is always so characterful, typified by the rebellious-then-sheepish growl just seconds into his introduction to Ridley’s arrangement of Sari Gelin – a slow-burning take on a traditional tune which also finds Attab Haddad and Vasilis Sirkis skilfully interweaving mystical oud and percussion. Title track Thymos picks up the momentum first heard at the head of the album to create another lively, snappy, trio performance – it’s such a gripping vibe, I’d swear there were more than three of them in there!

Hijaz (Matt Ridley’s arrangement of a piece by Attab Haddad, whose oud provides its atmospheric intro) raises the heat still further – an intoxicating, pulsating showstopper in which Turville and Yarde respond magnificently to the intensifying bass/drums/percussion-led frenzy. Then, finally, over a calming, bell-like percussion drone, Matt Ridley eases things down with typically intricate bass… leaving us to ponder the thrill of the journey.

Certainly now (for me) an on-loop favourite, ‘Thymos’ was released on 1 October 2013 by Whirlwind and can be sampled here, along with further information and video.


Matt Ridley
double bass  mattridleybass.com
John Turville piano  johnturville.com
George Hart drums  whirlwind/georgehart
with
Jason Yarde sax
Attab Haddad oud
Vasilis Sirkis percussion

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4643 (2013)

‘Shepherd’s Stories’ – Asaf Sirkis Trio

Shepherd's_front

ISRAELI-BORN DRUMMER and percussionist Asaf Sirkis has firmly established himself as a highly individual and treasured mainstay of the buzzing British and international jazz scene. For many years the rhythmic backbone of Gilad Atzmon’s amazing Orient House Ensemble, also to be found within John Law’s and Alex Hutton’s piano trios with bassist Yuri Goloubev, and alongside Gwilym Simcock in Tim Garland’s Lighthouse Trio (to name but a few!), his precise, sensitive and versatile approach to jazz is both refreshing and unfailingly compelling.

For his own current trio project, his compositions and performances are fascinatingly redolent of the jazz-rock/’Canterbury’ period of the mid to late ’70s and early ’80s (I’m thinking maybe ‘National Health’, ‘Colosseum II’, ‘Bruford’… even ‘Camel’) – but the music is very much of the present, Sirkis’s many influences crystallising into this distinctive sound. Teaming up again with guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and bassist and fellow ‘Orient Householder’ Yaron Stavi (following on from their 2010 album, ‘Letting Go’), they present this new collection, ‘Shepherd’s Stories’. Sirkis explains the album title as the ‘déja vu’ effect we can experience when hearing a melody; familiar yet unable to place, but reminding us of times past and “where we have come from” – perhaps another suggestion of the richness and vision of Sirkis’s creativity.

As before, the extended tracks feature Spiliotopoulos who creates a clear, sustained lead guitar tone and technique often reminiscent of the great Allan Holdsworth. Considerable melodic interventions are also made by the accomplished Stavi on bass, leaving the guitar free to then create complex and varied backdrops of electric or acoustic chordal textures and washes.

Sirkis, himself, displays all of his customary panache throughout – yes, the leader and writer, but never dominating proceedings. He is one of those musicians who, in concert, completely captivates with his confidence, meticulousness and (very clearly) the enjoyment of all he is sharing with colleagues and audience alike. Here, ‘Meditation’ exemplifies his method, with bassist and guitarist combining to create a mysterious, anticipatory opening through which Sirkis gradually joins to reveal his mastery – subtle at first, then joyously abundant (check out the title track, too, for Asaf at glorious jazz/rock full tilt!).

For this release, three guests are welcomed into the fold, each of whom colour the trio’s sound in an interesting and different way. The Fender Rhodes of John Turville introduces an exciting new dynamic, with a deft display in the opening ‘1801’, and then later on in ‘Dream Sister’. In-demand flautist Gareth Lockrane also augments well the trio’s sound, presenting a beautifully restrained yet lithe improvisation in ‘Together’; and the charming, layered, wordless vocals of Sylwia Bialas on the gentle ‘Traveller’ further enhance the trio (for me, pleasingly reminiscent of the ‘new age’ vocals of Mike Oldfield’s early catalogue). These contributions certainly whet the appetite for, I hope, future collaborations.

I have been listening for a number of weeks now and have gradually become enchanted by this album’s feel-good ambience – another of those very welcome ‘slow burners’ that can be returned to again and again to reveal hidden delights. Already available at iTunes, ‘Shepherd’s Stories’ is launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, on 17 July, 2013, followed by a number of UK dates.

For information, news and discography: http://www.asafsirkis.co.uk/


Asaf Sirkis
 drums and percussion
Tassos Spiliotopoulos  guitar
Yaron Stavi  bass
with
John Turville  Fender Rhodes
Sylwia Bialas  voice
Gareth Lockrane  flute

 SBPT003 (2013)