‘Red Circle’ – Simon Purcell

RedCircle

THE PURITY and completeness of the (red) circle speak profoundly about this long-awaited new quintet release from London-based pianist and composer Simon Purcell.

As Head of Jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, Purcell is primarily renowned as an educator, garnering praise and respect from many of today’s jazz artists who have benefited from his experience and guidance; so, no surprise that he was once the recipient of a Parliamentary Award for Jazz Educator of the Year. Purcell became prominent in the ’80s, including collaborations with Julian Arguelles, Eddie Henderson and Kenny Wheeler – but, by his own admission, performing and recording activities have since taken second place to his teaching career… until encouraged to cut this album.

The cover art, by artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson, is explained in detail on her own blog – and the crux of an analogy she makes of an encounter with an artist in residence provides a revelatory insight into this recording: “…the potter stood before us, a small piece of pottery cupped in her hands. Gazing into the ‘o’ of her bowl, she began to tell us what she had come to offer. Watching her, listening to her, I had the sense that we were encountering a woman whose life and creative work had worn away the impulse to impress, to prove, to convince. In her years of working with clay, the clay had also worked on her. Shed of pretense, the potter held out to us what she had to give. It was more than sufficient.”

That realisation of ‘more than sufficient’ seems key to the intention behind Simon Purcell’s desire to now, at last, document his powerfully direct approach to music-making with long-standing friends and colleagues who share a similarly high profile on the UK jazz scene – Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Julian Siegel (saxes), Steve Watts (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums). As Purcell explains, he doesn’t feel any expectation to connect to a particular tradition or genre of jazz, nor for the concept to be complex – the single most importance for this band’s creativity is about where their imagination takes them and the simple enjoyment of the moment.

Recorded ‘live’ in one room, this is jazz which is both tightly structured (from Purcell’s original compositions) yet endlessly free in improvisation, displaying some affinity with the classic Blue Note sessions of the ’60s. Imagine the immediacy of Wayne Shorter’s Angola or Freddie Hubbard’s Hub’s Nub, whilst embracing the influences of the intervening years (including early jazz fusion) and employing today’s clear production techniques, and this quartet’s combined inventiveness provides heady listening which demands focused attention.

From the restless momentum of Spirit Level (a reference, perhaps, to the early ’80s vibe of Tim Richards?) to the breadth of Red Circle – Enchantress, the double-horn-led character of this quintet is enthralling. Purcell is, all at once, lyrical and searching in his own extemporisations, as well as colouring the soloing of Julian Siegel and Chris Batchelor. The scat-like riffs of Minos pave the way for Watts’ brisk, walking-bass swing; at over eleven minutes in length, Answers for Job is an immersive experience – a space for improvisation to widen; and Pandora reels to the brashness of Gene Calderazzo’s intelligent percussion– a real swinger with a big band feel. Dark Night slow-grooves to Purcell’s marked piano fifths, encouraging Siegel (on soprano) and Batchelor to push to the limits, whilst Ithaca delicately waltzes to the crystalline piano of the leader; and show-stopper Maestros and Musos flies to Batchelor’s perky trumpet, plus monster soloing from Siegel.

To close, Liane Carroll guests as vocalist on an interpretation of the earlier Ithaca. There’s something magical about a lyricist performing their own words (“May the Summer mornings be bright and plenty”), and Carroll injects her unparalleled emotional intensity and rich tone into this piano-accompanied ballad, sparingly embellished by Siegel’s soprano. A tender and optimistic conclusion.

Released on 10 November 2014 (with a launch at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November), further information, promo video and purchasing can be found on the dedicated Red Circle page at Whirlwind.

 

Simon Purcell piano, compositions
Chris Batchelor
trumpet
Julian Siegel tenor and soprano saxophones
Steve Watts bass
Gene Calderazzo drums
with
Liane Carroll vocals (bonus track)

simonpurcell.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WWR4651 (2014)

‘Swamp’ – Partisans

swamp

CREDITED as movers and shakers in gritty, groundbreaking jazz since the late ’90s – with four previous albums to their name – Partisans now come together for their first release in five years… and it’s certainly a bold, renewed statement of intent.

The all-star line-up – Phil Robson (guitar), Julian Siegel (saxes and clarinets), Thaddeus Kelly (electric bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums) – approaches these eight originals with customary verve. Robson and Siegel equally split writing duties, yet there’s also a strong emphasis on intuitively-developed, rock-grooved improvisation within the quartet – and the overall balance of this set, recorded within just 48 hours, is quite remarkable.

Near-nine-minute Overview indeed reveals much about a band who have recorded and toured together for almost two decades, Siegel’s initial sunshiny jazz groove widening into freer discovery over thunderous bass and drum energy, and clearly demonstrating a sense of collaborative purpose. The impudent one-note motif of opener Flip The Sneck introduces a boisterousness which is irresistible; the Sowetan feel of Robson’s open guitar and Kelly’s rolling baseline sets up a great platform for Siegel’s rich, elaborate tenor searchings and Robson’s sustained rocky lead, Calderazzo obviously revelling in its energy. And Low Glow‘s catchy, mid-tempo 5/4 guitar’n’bass riff suggests earlier John Scofield, with Robson and Siegel sharing bright, intertwining melodies.

Phil Robson’s title track, Swamp, forays darkly into more experimental territory (’70s prog. jazz style). Sinewy sax lines creep through eerie wah-wah chords and electronic spatters until Kelly and Calderazzo inject a brilliantly rumbling, clattering rockiness over which Robson’s effected guitar growls and whistles until a sudden gear-shift invites Siegel to solo over a cheeky disco groove – splendid stuff! Veto swings attractively to Calderazzo’s hi-hat and ride, as well as Robson’s mellow chordal clusters (heard to great to effect in his organ trio), but all the while it has that appealingly unpredictable touch of Partisans questioning; and Siegel sails broadly and elegantly on tenor.

The relative simplicity of Thin Man (Siegel opening on bass clarinet) is a delight, such is its buoyancy and cohesiveness which is due, in part, to Thad Kelly’s underpinning electric bass plus Gene Calderazzo’s ticking precision and embellishment. A final fast swinger, Mickey, finds the quartet in scintillating form, Phil Robson relishing the opportunity to gambol rapidly across the fretboard, Siegel joining in unison as well as extemporising colourfully; and Icicle Architects closes the show in more pensive vein, though its slower folksongy clarinet meanderings eventually open out into an animated, earthy, deep-reed conclusion.

These guys still love what they do together, kicking at the boundaries with a combined wealth of experience – and it shows. Swamp is pretty unputdownable!

Releasing on 22 September 2014, mini-documentary, samples and purchasing options can be found on Whirlwind’s dedicated album page – tour details below.

 

Julian Siegel saxophones and clarinets
Phil Robson guitar
Thaddeus Kelly electric bass
Gene Calderazzo drums

2014 tour dates
29 September: LAUNCH – Jazz in the Round, Cockpit Theatre, London
10 October: The Verdict, Brighton
11 October: Marsden Jazz Festival
23 October: Jazz Lines at Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
31 October: Fleece Jazz, Stoke by Nayland
05 November: The Y Theatre, Leicester
14 November: The Victory Club, Cheltenham
20 November: Seven Jazz at Chapel Allerton, Leeds
21 November: The Vortex, London (London Jazz Festival)

partisans.org.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4657 (2014)

‘Subterranean: New designs on Bowie’s Berlin’ – Dylan Howe

Subterranean

THE ‘BERLIN YEARS’ of David Bowie’s wide-ranging pop/rock career are amongst the most memorable – a source of fascination and inspiration to musicians, including composers and instrumentalists from other genres.

In the mid-to-late ’70s, Bowie had turned his attentions to a more minimalistic/ambient output, influenced by a move to West Berlin and stemming from his interest in postmodernist contemporary art. The recorded legacy of that period centres around two (some say three) seminal albums – Low and Heroes, both from 1977 – produced by Tony Visconti and including celebrated rock experimentalists Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Two decades on, leading American contemporary composer – and friend of Bowie – Philip Glass reimagined both projects as stunning orchestral symphonies which highlighted the far-reaching creative possibilities of these iconic compositions.

Now, as a fan of Bowie’s original recordings from his teenage years, and seeking a more original and personal direction for his own work, British rock and jazz drummer Dylan Howe has translated the ‘call’ of that ‘Berlin era’ into a remarkable new studio release, Subterraneans, mainly interpreting the instrumental aspects of this pair of albums. Created over a period of several years, and realised thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the accomplished personnel comprises Julian Siegel and Brandon Allen (tenor sax), Ross Stanley (piano, synths) and Mark Hodgson (double bass) along with appearances from bassist Nick Pini, guitarist Adrian Utley and special guest on koto, Dylan’s father (needing no introduction to Yes fans!), Steve Howe.

The landscape of the project is broadly filmic, encompassing prog/synth rock and post-bop jazz; and whilst initially slow burning, it progresses and expands into an imaginatively colourful fusion of both. So, opening track Subterraneans maintains the shifting synth profile of the Low original, but ticks perhaps more optimistically to Howe’s snare/cymbal rhythm and the subtle explorations of piano and sax. Weeping Wall encourages a greater jazz quintet presence and momentum, Howe prominent at the kit against Vangelis-like electronics; and the extended All Saints (a later Bowie creation), opening with the expressive bass of Mark Hodgson, leaps into a wide piano-driven jazz swing, Brandon Allen taking the wonderfully hard, dry Coltrane-esque tenor solos (sinister synth whinings hovering behind).

Some Are smoulders like some late ’60s TV thriller theme, leading to the similar drama of Neuköln – Night (from Heroes) – this time, an effective, fast-paced reworking in which Howe’s drums and Stanley’s piano skitter to the ebullition of Nick Pini’s bass. Howe takes Art Decade to another place, its ambient Eno-like qualities evident, but shimmering as a sensuously-felt, droplet-piano ballad. Warszawa – in Bowie’s hands, sombre and menacing – becomes sprightly and dance-like to Dylan Howe’s touch. Whilst such a transformation might sound crass or insensitive, it is in fact surprisingly successful; tempered with unsettling moments characterised by Adrian Utley’s echoic guitar, the jazz groove which ultimately dominates these eleven minutes is joyful in its synth-infused abandon.

Neuköln – Day picks up on the earlier Night theme; here, a darker variation – and my futile, self-indulgent desire at this point anticipates a crashing Sound Chaser-like injection from master guitarist Steve Howe! But no fear – Mr Howe (Senior) takes up the koto embellishments of serene Moss Garden to close the set.

Released on 7 July 2014, Dylan Howe will be touring Subterranean in the UK from 5 September (see dates below). Whether or not Bowie runs through your veins, it’s worth investigating at Bandcamp (download/CD/vinyl) – and endorsed enthusiastically by davidbowie.com and the great man himself.

 

Dylan Howe drums
Mark Hodgson double bass
Ross Stanley piano, synths
Brandon Allen tenor saxophone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
with
Nick Pini double bass
Adrian Utley guitar
Steve Howe koto

dylanhowe.com

2014 tour dates:
Dylan Howe; Dave Whitford; Ross Stanley; Steve Lodder; Andy Sheppard

5 September: Colchester
10 September: Lincoln
11 September: Nottingham
12 September: Derby
13 September: Hessle
26 September: Brighton
29 September: London
1 October: Halifax
2 October: Milton Keynes
3 October: Liverpool
18 October: Coventry

Motorik Recordings – MR1004 (2014)