‘Live at the Vortex’ – Kristian Borring Quartet

KristianBorring_Live at the Vortex

DANISH GUITARIST Kristian Borring’s most recent solo albums (Urban Novel and Silent Storm) revealed artistry and technique of particularly deft, cool clarity – and from the bright, opening phrases of the first of six well-chosen numbers, these live quartet recordings garnered from a session at London’s Vortex Jazz Club hold the attention in an especially direct way.

Live music is so precious; and a glimpse (or memory) of this quartet’s late-November evening sparkle is recorded and engineered here with precision by Alex Bonney, the inclusion of appreciative, close audience applause placing it in context. Along with pianist Rick Simpson, double bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Jon Scott, Borring’s electric guitar personality consistently shines – from a Jim Hall lushness in busy Imperfect Circumstances to the free-spirited dreaminess of A Lullaby which shimmers to Simpson’s tremulant piano washes and Scott’s brush-and-cymbal coloration (a drummer who consistently shades even the subtlest original music with focused, balmlike expression). Interesting, too, to hear two different interpretations from the Silent Storm release – Fable and April Fools, both with particularly effusive piano spotlights and the strong bass presence of Dave Whitford.

Borring’s London Magic (complete with recurring chordal motifs echoing the since-silenced hour chimes of Big Ben) is a positive and buoyant treasure, with crystalline solo-line improv supported so skilfully by his band; and turn up the volume for the romantically ornamented, unaccompanied guitar opening of Hoagy Carmichael’s evergreen Skylark which, it turns out, is just the prelude to almost nine minutes of rapturous, restrained, six-string beauty.

A pleasure to listen in on Kristian Borring and colleagues, on-stage, right there in their element.

Released on 15 September, Live at the Vortex is available, digitally, from Amazon.

 

Kristian Borring guitar
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Whitford double bass
Jon Scott drums

kristianborring.com

Self-released (2017)

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‘Live’ – Brass Mask

Brass Mask LIVE

OUTRAGEOUS… cacophonous… majestic… and totally absorbing! Bandleader and Loop Collective saxophonist Tom Challenger brings the natural, live-stage experience of this nine-piece ensemble out from under the spotlights and into our hands. 

Imagine colourful New Orleans street promenades coalescing with free jazz in an unfettered, contemporary spirit, and that might just begin to identify the simmering-yet-brazen brilliance of Brass Mask. Exuberant 2013 studio debut Spy Boy first revealed the power of this coming-together of mostly London-based talent. Now, Live combines developments of some of those joyous, smile-inducing compositions/arrangements from Challenger with new material; and one look at his experimental personnel hints at the firecrackling show in prospect – George Crowley, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, Nathaniel Cross, Theon Cross, Dan Nicholls, John Blease and Jon Scott.

Tom Challenger’s inspiration for this project stems from various online bootlegs which feature, for example, the raw energy of John Coltrane, Mardi Gras Indians and Haitian Rara bands. But this is a live album with an edge, as he and Alex Bonney sensitively link and support the recorded gig (from the capital’s Servant Jazz Quarters) with imaginatively-crafted electronics, as well as ‘field recordings’ of “mangled YouTube and iPhone samples of found sound”. And it’s a blast!

The bleating, effected horns of Francilia herald Shallow Water – a slow, stirring, processional funeral march which trudges to wailing tenors and trumpets (quite different from the dance-groove original); Lil’ Liza Jane‘s infectious, shuffling trad playfulness echoes to almost sneery horn riffs amidst the most vociferous tuba, organ and percussion; and trancelike The Bague is just as cunningly shambolic. Held-back gospel tune Indian Red feels made for such a live setting, preening itself with hard-blown brass before breaking into swingin’ double-time abandon, whilst the grungy, rasping blues of I Thank You Jesus, underpinned by Nicholls’ sustained, palpitating keys and Theon Cross’s wildly whooping tuba, demands to be heard over and over.

Nyodi‘s oscillating canvas invites a delightfully unexpected Joe Zawinul-type tuba groove (à la River People), complemented by Wayne Shorter-style tenor tumblings and, appropriately, sustained, Weather Reportian chord clusters. Rapid, madcap capers in The Merman suggest Madness on acid; and the glorious, reedy, push-pull riff of Francis P (all ten minutes or more of it, compared to the original of less than three) enjoys a frenetic phantasmagoria of organ/keys, jousting trumpets, flailing tuba and the oxymoron of an ascending electronic wind-down.

A splendid, visceral hullabaloo. Turn up the volume and immerse yourself in it. Released on 21 April 2017, Brass Mask’s Live is available as CD or digital album from Bandcamp.

 

Tom Challenger tenor sax, clarinet
George Crowley tenor sax, clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
Dan Nicholls organ, keyboards, percussion
John Blease drums, percussion
Jon Scott percussion

tom challenger.co.uk
loop collective.org

Babel Label – BDV15137 (2017)

‘Scratch and Sift’ – Michael Chillingworth

Scratch2

THE CURIOUS ASSORTMENT of characters above conceals a delicious preponderance of reeds in Michael Chillingworth’s debut septet album, Scratch and Sift.

Saxophonist and clarinettist Chillingworth is a mainstay of London’s contemporary jazz scene, working with artists such as Stan Sulzmann, Julian Siegel, James Maddren and Kit Downes. So it’s fascinating to discover the free thinking of his own writing, realised with colleagues Tom Challenger (tenor, clarinet), Josh Arcoleo (tenor), George Crowley (bass clarinet), Lewis Wright (vibes), Sam Lasserson (bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Here is an album which rasps and sizzles so hard and so densely that it’s hard to ignore. Contrastingly sweet and sour, many of these eight, original compositions somehow seem to convey the arresting wit, irony and dark mischievousness to be found in classic, monochrome Ealing comedies. Right from the off, stealthy vibraphone and spicy horn ta-dahhs in Butterman lure the senses into an unusual world of theatrics and drollery, its agile melodies and close, spiky arrangements shadily tiptoeing around each corner; and Mint‘s syncopated blarings are matched by Jon Scott’s perky percussion, with some delightful individual improvisations widening into more open landscapes.

Yes, there’s a certain, honest Britishness to Chillingworth’s musical imagination. Overlaid tumblings in Brian Kuh give way to rapid, exuberant sax anarchy as the leader’s swirling alto is taunted by his assailants amidst challenging, irregular riffs (unpredictable, scampering unison passages here, which break into harmony, are especially effective… nay, smile-inducing). The furtive bass clarinet, double bass and vibes of clock-ticking The Wait (not to be listened to, alone, on a dimly-lit railway platform!) eventually screech to jittery alto and a cacophony of wailing sirens; so it’s quite likely that lumbering, irascible Capture is the resultant, bumpy, Black Maria journey!

Politely funky Grateful Lady is a joy, Lewis Wright’s repeated vibraphone chromatics providing the notorious ‘sax and clarinet boys’ with an opportunity to knock seven bells out of each other – so much vim and vigour, encouraged by Lasserson and Scott in the propulsive rhythm section, and concluding with wonderfully wheezy, out-of-breath textures in the reeds department. Through the opening flick of one eye, Numbers‘ initial quietude becomes utterly mischievous, its inquisitive alto extensions and trills breaking into communal boogie; and closing Righteous fools no-one – a chuffing, squawking hullabaloo which, though microscopically arranged, is as tireless and wild as the album’s earlier, madcap adventures – and Chillingworth’s hard-blown improv just as audacious.

Awright, mate [nudge, wink]… go get it!

Released on Two Rivers Records on 1 July 2016, Scratch and Sift is available from Bandcamp.

 

Michael Chillingworth alto saxophone, clarinet
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone, clarinet
Josh Arcoleo tenor saxophone
George Crowley bass clarinet
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Sam Lasserson bass
Jon Scott drums

michaelchillingworth.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR 010 (2016)

‘Silent Storm’ – Kristian Borring

red-withguides

A COOL, LUMINOUS BREEZE once again permeates the classy grooves of Danish guitarist Kristian Borring’s original music in new album Silent Storm.

Directly following 2015’s late Autumn tour schedule with pianist Arthur Lea, double bassist Mick Coady and drummer Jon Scott (who were also the core line-up of 2014’s Urban Novel), London-based Borring and his quartet took to the studio to capture, within 24 hours, something of the freshness of their live performances; and the shared empathy and vibrancy honed in their time on the road is stylishly communicated throughout this one-hour, ten-track session.

The guitarist’s clear improvisatory journeyings, as always, catch the attention here; and with integral support from Lea, Coady and Scott, he gleefully swings opening number When He Goes Out to Play with a subtly overdriven, wide-skied freedom at which both its title and Borring’s own album cover image hint. This is no underused fretboard, Ton‘s solo guitar lines scuttling across the pacey rhythm section as Arthur Lea adeptly jabs at and chromatically runs across the keys; and the afterglow freshness of Islington Twilight‘s solo guitar introduction belies its punkish drive, later halted by the leader’s attractively phased timbres which recede into the darkness.

April Fools‘ central, homely piano figure encourages eloquent bass meanderings from Mick Coady, wrapped warmly in Borring’s delicate chords – and Jon Scott’s drums, so often characterised by crackling fervour, add sensitive, glinting precision. The purposeful pop-song demeanour of Everyman, which could easily invite a vocal line, instead opens the way for expressive, Latinesque electric guitar as Lea’s piano provides a rockier edge; and Cool It (modelled on Sonny Rollins’ Airegin) flies like the wind, its swift, classic jazz exuberance buoyed by the happy chatter of bass and drums.

Borring’s delicate tracery throughout title track Silent Storm – mainly for guitar trio – might suggest John Etheridge or Mike Walker, yet the Scandinavian inflections here are quite distinctive, creating such gentle positivity. Nosda, too, is finely balanced, as Lea’s piano emphasises its subtle samba rhythms and bright, rolling phrases (Arthur Lea is clearly the perfect melodic partner for Borring, especially evident when their paths intertwine so meticulously); and closing Fable displays all the guitar finesse of Jim Hall with a soft, bluesy, summer’s afternoon swing which reveals, with more clarity than ever, the individual musicality of these fine players.

Joyful, sophisticated and certainly moreish.

Released on 29 July 2016, Silent Storm is available from Jellymould Jazz.

 

Kristian Borring electric guitar
Arthur Lea piano
Mick Coady double bass
Jon Scott drums

kristianborring.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ024 (2016)

‘Can of Worms’ – George Crowley

CanOfWorms

Y’SEE WHAT ‘APPENS when y’open a Can of Worms?!…

Overflowing with writhing, jostling spontaneity, but with sufficient compositional structure to keep a lid on things, London-based saxophonist George Crowley’s new two-tenor quintet recording is a veritable powerhouse of creativity. His debut release, Paper Universe (Whirlwind, 2011), remains long in the memory as a jazz quartet recording of mature, unfettered exploration. Now, together with sparring tenor partner, the ever-chipper Tom Challenger, he constructs the formidable and foreceful front line of an energetic five-piece completed by Dan Nicholls (piano/Wurlitzer), Sam Lasserson (double bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Crowley reveals that this band came into being for the purposes of a 2013 live gig, leading to the desire to develop and document the project’s clear success in a studio album – a shrewd and worthwhile decision, given the resulting sense of excitement, anarchy and strong musicality on show here. As composer of all seven substantial pieces, the leader never settles for the obvious, nor any half measures – he and his colleagues go all out for unwavering improvisation whilst recognising the strength of tight ensemble playing. And it’s fabulously earthy, ‘unputdownable’ stuff.

The Opener‘s agitated ten-minute expanse bristles to Jon Scott’s trademark clattering-yet-incisive drum rhythms, bolstered by Sam Lasserson’s babbling bass and Dan Nicholls’ typically brash, animated piano; and in amongst all this, tenorists Crowley and Challenger (one in each ear!) breathlessly duel it out – the combination of the written and the abstract quite thrilling. Nicholls’ uneasy ‘music box’ Wurlitzer announces Whirl, a broad, impudent affair featuring Challenger’s gruffness and Crowley’s screeching – yet the precise framework is always apparent.

Ubiquitous Up Tune in 3, with tricksily-timed sax riffs, is certainly ‘up’, and it’s a tribute to the directness of the engineering/mixing that its raw, live feel translates so well into recorded sound. The jarring major/minor blues of Rum Paunch is a joy, the two tenors either in unison (or thereabouts) or otherwise taunting each other, whilst Nicholls’ sneering, rippling piano almost encourages them in their outrageous discord.

Hard-swinging but nevertheless anarchic I’m Not Here To Reinvent The Wheel rolls deliciously to Lasserson and Scott’s fast pace, the reedsmen clearly revelling in its abandon (confirmed by the group cackles that follow its abrupt finish!). Terminal shuffles mysteriously to Scott’s intricacy at the kit and Nicholls’ magnificent Wurlitzer weavings, Lasserson’s relentless bass underpinning the broadness of the tenors’ extemporisations – such a glorious (and at times, cheeky) sound world; and, to close, T-Leaf rumbles particularly freely, though the fractured improvisations finally come together in absolute unanimity… lid well and truly sealed!

A triumph for George Crowley and his team. Released on 23 March 2015, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found at Whirlwind.

 

George Crowley tenor saxophone
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone
Dan Nicholls piano/Wurlitzer
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jon Scott drums

georgecrowleymusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4666 (2015)

‘Cerca’ – Paragon

paragon

IF IT ISN’T already impressive that this quartet recorded new album Cerca over just two days – in Cologne, around their touring schedule – the resulting studio capture of ten exciting new compositions is nothing short of brilliant.

Paragon have been on the scene for a decade, releasing two previous albums in that time (amongst numerous other projects), forging a distinctive fusion of instrumental jazz and blues imbued with a profusion of world and retro influences. Sharing writing credits here are saxophonist Peter Ehwald and pianist Arthur Lea, with Matthias Nowak (bass) and Jon Scott (drums) completing the Anglo-German line-up.

Key to the band’s individuality are the remarkably varicoloured textures and effects shaped by Lea’s Fender Rhodes – and immediately it’s Lea and his own Cerca de Ti that glistens with keyboard sparkle to the recognisable spiky drum signature of Jon Scott (as heard in Kairos 4tet, Dice Factory, Monocled Man, etc.). Matthias Nowak’s bass grooves are resonant and melodic, frequently doubling Lea’s phrases, and there’s an appealing, brisk confidence to Ehwald’s alto – it’s a boisterous opener, evidencing the band’s cohesion and like-mindedness. East to West and the later North to South are miniatures from Ehwald’s pen whose explorations are more spacial, the latter gradually teasing and accelerating its way with great alto grit towards a Soft Machine-like wah-wahed Rhodes riff. Unsurprisingly, Delhi Belly swirls animatedly to bhangra-style motifs in which Ehwald luxuriates, Lea contributing progressively flamboyant glissandi and tremulant gyrations; Nowak’s bass is always beautifully prominent and inventive (no mere support), and Scott never disappoints, constantly shifting emphases and pulling new tricks out of the stick bag.

Ehwald’s Bohdan is a firecracker of a tune, snapping and changing course at every opportunity, featuring his extended, fluid sax runs coupled with bluesy piano from Lea who also switches into sputtering, echoic prog. jazz electronics over intense bass and drums; and whilst there’s a clear sense of written structure, the band always bubbles assuredly with improvisatory freedom – a real pleasure to hear. Arco bass introduces the quietly unsettled, irregular pulse of Glory, a nevertheless beautifully-weighted piece which features Ehwald upfront in soft, reflective and slightly melancholy vein; and the following ’60s-suggested Blue Eyes White Dragon provides contrast with its chirpy shared sax/Rhodes melodies over an infectiously shuffling rhythm, Lea’s sustained Rhodes daring to masquerade as a Hammond – ‘love it!

Fat Pig‘s title perhaps belies the sumptuousness of its nature, Peter Ehwald’s laid-right-back tenor and Arthur Lea’s classic Rhodes timbre wallowing splendidly in an intriguing, shimmering undercurrent of double bass, cymbals and hard snare/toms – another of the manifold sound worlds this quartet can conjure. At times, mysterious and questioning, Linguine moves with ease and, featuring fine extended soloing from both Ehwald and Lea, hangs together superbly in its subtly NYC way. Similarly, the Ballade which closes the album is perfectly realised, the eloquent bass solo of Nowak complementing the soft, Paul Desmond-like characteristics of Ehwald’s balladic playing – and with that quintessential Rhodes ambience… all is well.

Released in the UK on 13 October 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, Cerca comes from a band who are, indeed, a paragon of contemporary jazz excellence – one foot in the tradition, the other pushing forward with the combined fervour and eclecticism of their experiences. This is very much a repeat-player, and I suspect they are thrilling to catch ‘live’ (UK dates below).

 

Peter Ehwald saxophones
Jon Scott drums
Arthur Lea Fender Rhodes
Matthias Nowak double bass

2014 UK tour dates
28 October: Schmazz, Jazz Café, Newcastle
30 October: The Spin @ The Wheatsheaf, Oxford
31 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, London
02 November: Milestones Jazz Club, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft
03 November: Jazz Café, Clifford Arms, Teignmouth
04 November: Jazz Club, Western Hotel, St Ives

paragonlikesyou.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ014 (2014)

‘China Lane’ – Alice Zawadzki

CDWalletCrescent_DW-WithSpineNew.pdf

FROM THE DELICATE opening riff of this debut release, singer, songwriter, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki has me enraptured. A number of years in gestation, China Lane offers a unique and pleasantly beguiling approach to jazz, folk (call it what you will) which is enduringly irresistible.

Comprised mostly of originals, this collection can be curious, unpredictable and maybe even eccentric – but it is this bold individuality which sets it apart. And, with the immense musicality of friends such as Kit Downes (Hammond), Alex Roth (guitar), Jon Scott (drums) and Andreas Lang (bass) on board, as well as strings and associate voices, this is a magical journey with a breadth that takes in stories of love, tenderness, desolation, discord and mischief. Zawadzki’s assured vocal delivery – heard also in Moss Freed’s excellent Moss Project (album review here) – is, for me, redolent of the invention of Annette Peacock and Björk, with a touch of the light, new-age folkiness of Sally Oldfield – yet it also possesses a rich and passionate depth which particularly comes to the fore in the two arrangements here of traditional Sephardic tunes.

The breathy, brushed, folksy opening number Ring of Fire, featuring Zawadzki’s clear lead vocal and mysterious violin melodies, is the perfect example of the twists and turns to be found in these entertaining fifty minutes. Kit Downes’ distinctive scratchy Hammond gradually nudges further into the proceedings against the sustained wash of Alex Roth’s guitar until, with rapid gear change, Andreas Lang’s double bass signals the glorious blues-jam conclusion, Downes and Roth underpinning Zawadzki’s playful scat-like vocal improvisations which, in the end, seemingly catch them out (to their audible amusement!). Cat is described by the composer as a modern fairytale in which “the ghost of a murdered feline finds its way into the body of a woman with excellent consequences”, the laboured push-pull rhythm provided by Jon Scott and sinewy effects from Downes and Roth – plus close, soulful harmonies – adding to the fantasy. Again, the mercurial nature of Zawadzki’s writing triumphs, Downes turning in a characteristically showy solo.

Indome Para Marsilia (arranged by Alex Roth) whirls and gyrates to its mesmeric folk melody, led by hard percussion and pulsating bass, giving Zawadzki the opportunity to reach vocal highs (Roth’s guitar a key element). Dicho Me Habían Dicho, the more introspective of these two traditional tunes, burns slowly and mystically, Shirley Smart’s typically gritty, wailing cello against Alex Roth’s harmonics enhancing Zawadzki’s brooding tones. The horizontal string-shimmering effect of Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light – with chromatically-climbing harmonies from Zawadzki, Emilia Mårtensson and Fini Bearman, plus Roth’s chorused guitar against Andreas Lang’s resonant bass – is heartstoppingly gorgeous, its rising, crescendoing impressions recalling a Danish winter sunrise. Emotional in other directions, nine-minute You As A Man reveals a tangible poignancy, Zawadzki’s lyricism perhaps at its height (“It’s like selling your feet to make money for shoes; using blood to wash your wounds”). The constant swell and diminuendo of Downes’ Hammond chords provide intrigue to this spiky and discomforting tale of obsessional love, and the whole band’s interpretation of Alice Zawadzki’s intentions match her dramatic vocal expression.

The urbanity of Manchester, including the buses which pass behind the stage of Matt & Phred’s jazz club, provide the subtle background ambience for the closing title track which reflects Zawadzki’s affection for and association with this northern city. Singing at the piano, accompanied by string sextet, she nostalgically paints images of the red sunset-tinged brick buildings of narrow China Lane in the album’s most commercially anthemic number.

As enchanting to experience ‘live’ as in this fine recording, Alice Zawadzki is most definitely one of contemporary’s jazz’s stars of the present and the future, possessing, as she does, remarkable musical dexterity and personality. A fine solo album debut.

Released on Whirlwind on 16 June 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

 

Alice Zawadzki voice, violin, piano
Alex Roth guitar
Andreas Lang double bass
Kit Downes Hammond organ
Jon Scott drums
Shirley Smart cello
Emilia Mårtensson voice
Fini Bearman voice
with
Eva Thorarinsdottir violin
Steve Proctor violin
Lucy Nolan viola
Tanah Stevens viola
Peggy Nolan cello
Rosie Toll cello

alicezmusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4647 (2014)