‘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)

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‘Porgy & Bess’ – Fini Bearman

Porgy&Bess

GEORGE GERSHWIN’S 1930s American folk opera, Porgy & Bess – a tale of against-all-odds love set against a backdrop of prostitution and drug addiction – is known to many for its popular songs such as Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So and I Loves You Porgy.

In 1959, iconic jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and renowned bandleader Gil Evans together issued a recording, on Columbia, of their own interpretations of songs from the opera, which became one of the most enduringly favoured Davis albums from what has become a considerable discography. The inherent blues/jazz feel of the original was what particularly drew them to their new nine-piece band explorations (not just ‘jazz treatments’), leading Evans to divulge, “The three of us, it seems to me, collaborated in the album.”

Some fifty-odd years later, it’s that landmark Davis/Evans recording which has provided the inspiration for London-based singer, songwriter and composer Fini Bearman to present this new album of eight numbers/impressions from the original score, backed by an impressively adaptable line-up: Ross Stanley (Hammond, Wurlitzer), Matt Calvert (guitars, plus piano), Jon Cox (double bass) and John Blease (drums, percussion). All arrangements are by Bearman, Calvert and Blease and are transformatively compelling.

For example, in Bearman’s hands, Davis’ New Orleans-style funeral march interlude of Gone, Gone, Gone breaks into a strong-beat Sixties single, courtesy of Ross Stanley’s evocative Augeresque organ playing and Matt Calvert’s lively, tremulant guitar (interesting to consider Miles’ recording was made on the cusp of a decade that was to be characterised by this sound). Fini Bearman’s voice is strong, soulful and, if emulating this period, utterly convincing. The despair of My Man’s Gone Now, as heard in Gershwin’s vocalised original (though more smoothly swinging in Davis’ world) is beautifully weighted in its solid, sustained, major/minor bluesyness; and, in stark contrast, the plainly optimistic (usually baritone-sung) I Got Plenty of Nuthin’ skips in countrified abandon, Bearman getting into its cheeky, resigned character.

Porgy, I’m Your Woman Now is touchingly delicate, the spacial arpeggioed guitar arrangement here illuminating the beauty, and even modernity, of Gershwin’s writing; and the richness and feeling in Fini Bearman’s delivery carries the song so well. Lively blues to the fore, It Ain’t Necessarily So rings to the crashing, gritty precision of Calvert’s guitar and Stanley’s truly authentic chordal and soloing organ tone – sensational stuff from the whole quintet. I Loves You Porgy, a well-covered classic (and here, as in Miles’ version, a first take) is winsomely engaging – Bearman feels the emotion of the lyric, and echoic guitar and brittle percussion provide a certain weightlessness, whilst Ross Stanley’s bright melodic tone is quite magical.

The chirpy beat of Davis’ There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon is delightfully remodelled as an easy-going groove, held up well by bassist Jon Cox and drummer John Blease, which Bearman clearly revels in; it all sounds remarkably fresh, shimmering to guitar and Rhodes soloing. And to close, Prayer – a freely-improvised, less obvious impression of Summertime – perhaps suggests the misty poignancy of the previous number as it ebbs and washes to vocal and instrumental overlays, idealistically heading out to New York.

David Ewen, Gershwin’s first biographer, reputedly stated of the man and this opera that he “never quite ceased to wonder at the miracle that he had been its composer. He never stopped loving each and every bar, never wavered in the conviction that he had produced a work of art.” Its longevity, although due in part to the popularity of the mainstream ‘hits’, is testament to that belief – and thanks to the vision of artists including Miles Davis, and now Fini Bearman, his work can continue to be appreciated through contemporary interpretations. And that, happily, is one of the wonders of a living, breathing, creative genre such as jazz.

Released on the ‘F-IRE presents’ label on 28 October 2014, Porgy & Bess is available from ProperMusic and usual outlets.

 

Fini Bearman voice
Ross Stanley Hammond organ, Wurlitzer
Matt Calvert guitars, piano
Jon Cox double bass
John Blease drums, percussion

(original credits: music by George Gershwin; libretto by DuBose Heyward; lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin)

finibearman.com
f-ire.com

F-IRE presents – F-IRECD 76 (2014)

‘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)

‘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)

‘Southern Drawl’ – Monocled Man

MonocledMan

THE NAMES Rory Simmons, Chris Montague and Jon Scott, together as a trio, are all it takes to set the jazz pulse racing. Already prominent in multifarious line-ups and projects, each bring their razor-sharp creativity to this zesty trumpet, electric guitar and drums collaboration.

Monocled Man’s instrumentation may initially appear curious, with no evidence of traditional bass input – but the saturation achieved, due in part to Chris Montague’s signature guitar loop wizardry and Rory Simmons’ intelligent audio editing, offers an absorbing 9-track, 45-minute playlist (all composed by Simmons) which is as full-bodied as it is exciting. Fast becoming a major player on the British scene, Jon Scott delivers both hard-hitting and sensitive drums/percussion which maintain and add lustre to what might be recognised as a grungy New York jazz or jazz/rock soundworld, though a certain Britishness is tangible; and Simmons’ blistering, clear trumpet shines like a beacon – yet, impressively, he never overdominates the collective trio’s offering.

Opening number Southern Drawl fanfares the album’s intent, Montague delivering the crunchiest, Frippertronic-style effects and Simmons blasting a high solo line against Scott’s solid drum framework; the three musicians cohere perfectly, briefly taking a more introverted path before changing up again to full intensity. There’s a touch of John Schofield to Big Wheeze as the trio share intricate, shifting melodics, Montague summoning his Troyka experience to provide the grooving bass end, and Simmons hitting rasping heights usually occupied by such greats as Jon Faddis – classy stuff indeed. The more reserved Scribbles further highlights the band’s connectivity, its motion, repetition and electronics suggesting early hours downtown cityscapes; and Pud Pud finds Simmons’ echoic trumpet dancing effusively to Scott’s relentless metallic rhythms, Montague presenting the most dazzling array of rapid bleeps, scratches and clashing, bent solo lines.

The anticipatory, slightly uneasy momentum of Royalty is heightened by pedalled cluster guitar chords with hallucenogenic cymbals and keyboards; and, in Van Vliet, Simmons’ mournful solo tune pervades the in-cahoots chimes of guitar, electronics and fluttering percussion. Over its seven minutes, Blip finds the trio perhaps at their most cohesive, synths behind the trumpet lead suggesting a brassy ensemble backing and Montague excelling with customary crackling improvisation. Following a brief, reverbed Royalty Reprise, Bullet Nose ends this compelling set with Simmons’ trumpet bristling above the percussive guitar/drum partnership, its irregular rhythms increasingly monopolised to great effect by the drive and dexterity of Jon Scott.

The verve and raw energy of Monocled Man is addictive, especially from a trio (Troyka and Partikel fans are sure to find the rough-hewn vitality here very attractive), and the prospect of live extemporisation is definitely something to look out for (their ‘Jazz in the Round’ performance at The Cockpit Theatre, London, on 20 June 2014, is to be recorded for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz On 3’). Further information, audio samples and purchasing here.


Rory Simmons
trumpet, keyboards, audio editing  rorysimmons.com
Chris Montague guitar  chrismontague.com
Jon Scott drums  jons.co.tt

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4649 (2014)

‘Coalescence’ – Andre Canniere

Coalescence

A MASTERLY new release from trumpeter and composer Andre Canniere, ‘Coalescence’ presents a strong quintet line-up and a fine collection of nine originals.

Canniere’s debut with Whirlwind (‘Forward Space’, 2011) received numerous plaudits for its rock-driven jazz grooves. This new recording marks a shift to a more elaborate post-bop feel, displaying greater compositional eloquence… and delivered by a top team of Hannes Riepler (guitar), Ivo Neame (piano and accordion), Ryan Trebilcock (bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

American-raised Canniere (based in London since 2008) consistently delivers a clear, bright trumpet tone, immediately making its mark on his confident, bustling opener, Sweden Hill – Ivo Neame’s piano a particularly brilliant rhythmic and textural core. Hans Riepler’s guitar tone and technique are vital ingredients in this album’s mix. As well as his nimble soloing, a fascinating ‘chemical reaction’ occurs when he either shares or harmonises a melody with Canniere. Their tones are surprisingly close, beginning to resemble a paired trumpet or trumpet/sax frontline, but with the added string attack that Riepler’s guitar can bring – a full and engaging sound.

Gibbs and East is a great showcase for the trademark drumming of Jon Scott – a rock-solid, hard-edged, but also sensitive and imaginative player (heard with Kairos 4tet and Dice Factory) who provides the spectacular ‘snap, crackle and pop’ to a number which Canniere describes as his homage to Rochester, New York. Riepler comes to the fore in Nylon, providing pleasing guitar textures as well as a warm yet agile lead in a punchy and sometimes wonderfully clumping track in which Canniere bristles chromatically. In contrast, Gaslands – a commentary on the topical issue of US and UK fracking activity – finds Canniere soloing mournfully over a troubled backdrop of guitar wash and high piano elaboration.

The eleven-minute Zuid is a brash and lively stand-out, opening with impressive, sonorous, flexing bass. Canniere positively flies on this (Hubbard-like), Scott and Trebilcock providing and maintaining its fabulous motion which intentionally suggests memories of train journeys through Europe. And Ivo Neame provides characteristic shape, reflection and embellishment. Neame is becoming something of a pianistic chameleon in differing line-ups, able to re-invent his ‘colour’ of play – yet his innate musicality and wizardry always reveal the identity of an artist who is so evidently at the top of his game.

Parallax, from its first ear-catching guitar and bass riff, possesses a questioning, tentative air. As Trebilcock’s bass continues the same pulse, Canniere and Riepler freely expound on its subject of perceived change in perspectives, guitar and piano here a classy combination. The more urgent, guitar-led Point Zero acknowledges Canniere’s abhoration of inadequate gun laws in the States, Scott’s straight-talking drums and Neame’s accordion giving weight to the trumpet line. Finally, Neame’s spacious and delightful countrified piano is a key element of the homely, closing, Pennsylvania-inspired Elk Run – mellowness and memories the watchwords from Canniere.

This new quintet somehow has the ability to continually shed new light on their offering, the various nuances frequently revealing themselves differently each time – an indicator of their superb collaborative musicality. An excellent programme, and definitely a repeat player, ‘Coalescence’ is released on Whirlwind Recordings on 28 October 2013.


Andre Canniere
trumpet
Hannes Riepler guitar
Ivo Neame piano, accordion
Ryan Trebilcock bass
Jon Scott drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4642 (2013)

andrecanniere.com