REVIEW: ‘Tenacity’ – Django Bates

TRULY A MAVERICK PIANIST, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator in the world of contemporary jazz (Loose Tubes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, etc.), Django Bates has long been turning the traditional concept of ‘piano trio’ on its head in his Belovèd ensemble with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun – so compelling to watch, in concert. Two superb albums – 2010’s Belovéd Bird and 2012’s Confirmation – demonstrated a continuing breadth of invention; the former, in particular, emphasizing his deep affinity with childhood hero Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

For those drawn to numeric tidiness, this year marks Bates’ 60th birthday, his 40th year as a professional musician, and the 100th anniversary of Parker’s birth. So a celebration of the ‘200’ seems entirely appropriate – and new album Tenacity sees the trio joining forces with the astonishingly adept, 14-piece Norrbotten Big Band (NBB). A number of arrangements of tracks from the aforementioned albums are included, interpreted on a grander scale, alongside original compositions such as twelve-minute sensory overload, The Study of Touch (the title track of his 2017 ECM album) which was commissioned by the NBB. The trio “travelled to the Arctic Circle” (Sweden) to record the album with them because, Django declares, “…any band who’s brave enough to ask me to write for them, gets the gig!”

That mutual spirit of adventure, impressively conveyed through Nick White’s detailed ‘craggy summit’ cover imagery, is explored with immense imagination. Bates stops at nothing to achieve a different take on ‘big band’, his studio wizardry manipulating the NBB’s prowess with aplomb; and both Eldh and Bruun maintain their key positions as creative alchemists and rhythm-makers.

The leader’s hallmarks of manically prancing energy, playful rallentandos and accelerandos, plus wonderfully detuned piano/synth, are ever present, and heard in uproarious takes on Parker’s Ah Leu Cha and Donna Lee – the latter, a particular stand-out. David Raksin’s Laura (from the 1940s movie) is both sumptuous and madcap, imbued with close-harmony horns and elegant piano, then unexpected electronic squiggles and squawks. But amidst all of this, the integrity of Bates’ pianism is never in doubt, rolling breathlessly through the intricate transformation of Bird’s Confirmation; and lush Star Eyes, with characteristic upward glissandi and twinkles, is ornamented more subtly by the big band, the electric guitar textures of Markus Pesonen in particular adding to its distant otherworldliness. Throughout, the ability to dramatically scale-up and further colorize previous compositions/reimaginings such as We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and My Little Suede Shoes is simply magnificent – and applause is due to the NBB for their technique and focus!

Overflowing with invention and verve, Tenacity is an album of continual discovery. Django Bates describes the title (and title track) as a suggestion for his audience: “Please hang on in there, the reward is not a spoonful of honey but it should be profound and lasting”. It’s certainly that, and also has me reaching for those trio albums to try to grasp a little of the thought process behind some of these opulent big band arrangements. “Best of luck with that”, went up the cry!

Released on 2 October 2020 and available from Proper Music.

 

BELOVÈD
Django Bates piano, vox
Petter Eldh double bass, vox
Peter Bruun drums, vox

NORRBOTTEN BIG BAND
Håkan Broström soprano sax
Jan Thelin clarinets
Mats Garberg flutes
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor sax, clarinet
Per Moberg baritone sax
Bo Strandberg trumpet 1
Magnus Ekholm trumpet
Dan Johansson trumpet
Jacek Onuszkiewich trumpet
Peter Dahlgren trombone 1
Ashley Slater trombone
Björn Hängsel bass trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Markus Pesonen electric guitar

djangobates.co.uk

Lost Marble – LM009 (2020)

‘Wildflower’ – Wild Flower Sextet

Wildflower

THE HIGH praise I can bestow on saxophonist Matt Anderson is that, on his equally-balanced collection of interpretations and new compositions inspired by jazz icon Wayne Shorter, I genuinely need to refer to the credits to check the provenance of each of the eight extensive numbers!

The Wild Flower Sextet takes its name from Shorter’s piece of the same name – from much-lauded 1966 album Speak No Evil – and comprises Anderson (tenor sax), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Alex Munk (guitar), Jamil Sherriff (piano), Sam Vicary (double bass) and Sam Gardner (drums).

From the very first bars of Anderson’s confident opener, Blues for Wayne, there’s a discernible Jazz Messengers buoyancy to this debut album recording which quickly identifies the tightness of his ensemble; and whilst keeping alive the tradition of joyous, swinging mainstream jazz, this relatively young personnel – including the spirited playing of guitarist Alex Munk – injects Anderson’s and Shorter’s writing with considerable pizazz. The leader’s own tenor is commanding both in its resonance and uninhibitedness, rallying his players to a full and fluent sound which exudes real enjoyment.

Another of Matt Anderson’s originals, Sfumato, struts its stuff with all the familiarity of an established ’60s standard (reminiscences of Johnny Dankworth not far off) thanks to memorable trumpet and tenor lines, as well as pacey guitar improvisation. But it must take a certain amount of fearlessness to approach the venerable music of Wayne Shorter. Nonetheless, the sextet’s reading of Masqualero feels impressively unrestrained, allowing efflorescent freedom of expression; and the combination of Laura Jurd’s blazing trumpet and Munk’s wailing guitar over Jamil Sheriff’s Rhodes, all to the bass and drums turbulence of Sam Vicary and Sam Gardner, provides the exciting edginess of experimental fusion.

Burning Man again indicates Anderson’s prowess as a writer – a beautifully melodic retro bossa with a roaming spirit as free as a wildflower meadow, creating shifting sweeps of colour (so much fine detailing here from all players, including the effective simplicity of unison piano and guitar lines). The broad canvas of J.G., at over nine minutes’ duration, finds the sextet in a wonderfully ebullient frame of mind – one of those atmospheres to simply ease back into as it scales luscious semitonal chord progressions, featuring delicious solos from Jurd and Anderson; and, with an introductory inertia magically evoking the memory of Weather Report, Wayne Shorter’s Fall beautifully treads the fine line between freedom and structure over complex, constantly ticking drums and cymbals from Gardner (Munk’s involvement a reminder of WR’s final release, This Is This, with Carlos Santana guesting).

Two further Shorter tunes complete the album. Three Clowns (from Weather Report’s popular Black Market) is strangely unfamiliar, devoid of Joe Zawinul’s trademark keyboards, but compelling to hear Anderson’s relaxed Shorteresque melodies instead; and the joyous Lester Left Town (from Messenger days, circa 1960) is brought bang up to date in a fabulously audacious shifting-tempi arrangement, Sam Gardner’s presence at the kit especially imposing (Mr Blakey would surely approve!).

Released on 9 March 2015 on the Jellymould Jazz label, Wildflower is as fresh and imaginative as they come – this sextet deserves to flourish.

 

Matt Anderson tenor saxophone
Laura Jurd trumpet
Alex Munk electric guitar
Jamil Sheriff piano
Sam Vicary double bass
Sam Gardner drums

matt-anderson.org.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ017 (2014)

‘Under the Moon’ – Blue-Eyed Hawk

UnderTheMoon

THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.

The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.

For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.

Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.

The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.

Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.

Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.

Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.

 

Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
with
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth

blue-eyedhawk.com

*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.

Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)