‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

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‘Andromeda’ – Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5

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HARD-BOPPING, full-swinging and with two solid tenors upfront, this new offering from Alex Garnett’s ‘Bunch of 5’ project packs mighty punch after punch!

Over the last couple of decades, Alex Garnett has been much in demand as sideman, session player, composer and arranger, and his excellent quartet album of 2011, Serpent (Whirlwind), marked his long-awaited solo debut. Now, with a stellar quintet which also features tenorist Tim Armacost (read Garnett’s entertaining liner notes on the beginnings of the saxmen’s acquaintance), the ‘bunch’ hit the heights with a rollicking, eight-track, hour-plus performance which pretty much shines as brightly as any live gig. Completing the line-up are Liam Noble (piano), Michael Janisch (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

The combination of the leader’s tone and delivery is every bit as commanding as Rollins or Getz, whether rocking widely or producing those gorgeously lush, reaching phrases – and the diversity and inventiveness of the strong Garnett/Armacost musical partnership here is compelling throughout. Most compositions are Garnett’s and express the skill of his writing which, as he describes, “reflect brief moments in a twenty-year passage of time through my musical life experience”.

Opener So Long!, a beautifully straight-down-the-line swinger inspired by an early ’90s Benny Golson concert, is infectious in its ‘old standard’ melody and simplicity. Following, the childlike interruptedness of Charlie’s World (Garnett explains all) is both endearing and fascinating, Noble’s mischievous, jarring pianism a delight as Janisch also ‘comes out to play’; and there are some sparkling individual improvs from both tenors. Buoyantly lyrical, title number Andromeda (after the galaxy) finds Garnett and Armacost intertwining so richly, Maddren’s muted snare and toms effecting a certain weightlessness – and listen out for the magical, nebulous aura of both Noble and Janisch.

A rip-roaring, pacier version of Garnett’s Delusions of Grandma (heard also on Robbie Harvey’s Blowin’ that Old Tin Can release) is a show-stealer, the two unison tenor lines remarkably staying together before breaking into extemporised abandon; with Garnett clucking grittily and Armacost flowing freely, they eventually duel it out unaccompanied – an absolute joy, especially with the added complex solo display of Maddren. An arrangement of the Burns/Mercer tune Early Autumn reflects the influence of Stan Getz on Garnett, and both saxophonists here do well to summon his spirit with their own warm, deeply-felt searchings; and, written for this quintet, Her Tears exudes an unswerving edge which its composer explains as ‘lovers growing apart’, reflected in the fascinatingly terse melodic and rhythmic conversations shared throughout the band.

Holmes (Inspector, no less), though devoid of fiddle, opens with a bright Mancini (Clouseau?) swagger, clearly enjoyed by the five – blithe yet propulsive, it swings with a great joint sax melody. And, to close, the band make a good fist of Garnett’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s familiar I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm as it rattles along with exuberant, breathless and extended improvisation from all corners – and when the saxmen stand aside, the focus on Noble, Janisch and Maddren confirms both the intelligence and musicality of their performances throughout, including a dazzlingly high-flying piano solo (with the merest hint of Isley Brothers in its chordal conclusion!).

Releasing 26 January 2015, and currently being toured, Andromeda is weighty, fun, and available from Whirlwind Recordings. More information, promo video and purchasing here.

 

Alex Garnett tenor saxophone
Tim Armacost tenor saxophone
Liam Noble piano
Michael Janisch double bass
James Maddren drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4664 (2015)

‘Pocket Compass’ – Trish Clowes

PocketCompass

THE BELIEF in staying true to oneself, particularly as a creative, improvising musician (hence Pocket Compass), is very much the thread running through this third release from British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes. A journey to California early in 2013, including a meet-up with jazz icon Wayne Shorter, provided considerable inspiration for these latest imaginings and writings, resulting in an adventurous recorded project which reflects “the people who help us stay on the right paths.”

Concluding three years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and recording here in full for the first time with her experienced and intuitive Tangent quintet, Clowes has also chosen to collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra to provide a luxurious weave of timbres and textures across all eight expansive originals.

From the outset, in the first of the three orchestral sessions, Radiation unfurls into a smorgasbord of delights as the quintet dances freely and comfortably with the lush breadth of its larger counterpart; and Clowes’ commanding, lyrical tenor is equalled by the familiar high dexterity of pianist Gwilym Simcock. With the orchestra extemporising from a melodic fragment, there’s a lot going on, yet it melds intriguingly well. Tangent’s Question Mark, written ahead of the Californian trip, introduces a mood of encircling apprehension as soprano sax pirouettes to Chris Montague’s distinctively unpredictable guitar staccato, the whole episode driven by the bass and drum urgency of Calum Gourlay and James Maddren; and Porcupine is expectedly spiky as its pointed rhythms jar against the satisfying amplified ramblings of Montague, whilst Clowes’ almost mocking tenor encourages a rapid swing to rise out of glorious disorder – just perfect.

From Oscar Wilde’s Symphony in Yellow, Trish Clowes interprets his paradoxical impressions of London’s vistas – “like a yellow silken scarf, the thick fog hangs along the quay” – into the most ravishing of quintet pieces, its combination of soft lyricism and light, workaday scurrying tempered by Montague’s sinewy, shadowier moments. Chattering octaves introduce high-spirited Balloon, as Clowes’ soprano and the oboe (fondly labelled ‘jazzboe’) of the BBCCO’s Lauren Weavers spiral upwardly against boisterous quintet action (Maddren as extravagant as ever) and striking, full orchestration with flickers of the late, great Kenny Wheeler.

Heralded by imitation mammal calls, courtesy of saxophone harmonics plus delicately plucked piano strings, the serenity of whale-watching in Big Sur is communicated beautifully in echoic Pfeiffer and the Whales; and in homage to the genius of Wayne Shorter, Wayne’s Waltz dazzles with the improvisatory soprano spark of its dedicatee, Clowes impressively unwavering throughout. To close, a sensitively-balanced Chorale displays the pellucid soloing of Calum Gourlay and Gwilym Simcock; and with luscious orchestral arrangements reminiscent of Claus Ogerman, the leader’s tenor searchings here become increasingly spellbinding.

All the while – as with 2012’s And In the Night-Time She Is There – this album carries the spine-tingling realisation that Trish Clowes is constantly knocking at the door of innovation, needing to pass through to discover further, uncharted avenues. It’s that inquiring edge, along with an innate musicality, that defines this collection of intelligently-crafted, collaborative compositions – a truly compelling addition to the catalogue as well as another indicator of this artist’s undoubtable advancement.

Releasing on 10 November 2014 and available from JazzCDs via Basho Records, the Pocket Compass album launch takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on 18 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014, including work by Guy Barker and Norma Winstone.

 

TANGENT
Trish Clowes
 composer/arranger; tenor and soprano saxophones
Gwilym Simcock piano
Chris Montague electric guitar
Calum Gourlay double bass
James Maddren drums

BBC Concert Orchestra
André de Ridder conductor

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 45-2 (2014)

‘Nine Tales of the Pendulum’ – Mick Coady’s Synergy featuring David Binney

Pendulum

INITIALLY LAUNCHED towards the end of 2012, this excellent album from Mick Coady’s Synergy is now being re-released, this time in conjunction with a short UK tour, and then into Holland.

Coady assembles a great quintet to unlock the potential of these nine originals, and the players interact very much as a cohesive ensemble throughout – venturesome soloing, yet always an ear for overall colour and balance. The Irishman is a familiar presence on the London jazz circuit (bassist for Pete King and a host of visiting artists, as well as a founder member of the Loop Collective) – but here, for his first album, he reveals his prowess in creating intoxicating compositions (seven of the nine) for the estimable company of David Binney (alto), Michael Buckley (tenor), Ivo Neame (piano) and Sean Carpio (drums).

There is immediacy, solidity and verve to proceedings, typified by the driving pace of opening number, ‘Autumn’, Binney making his mark with unwavering, increasing vigour, the band matching him all the way; and Buckley offering only brief tenor respite in this magnetic, bubbling start. The anarchic saxophones of ‘Enemies of Order’ duel it out over Carpio’s exuberant rhythm before Neame and Coady enter the fray with their suitably brisk piano and bass display. The space of David Binney’s pegged-back ‘Real Ballad’ is delectable, alto and tenor fusing beautifully over the intertwining sonorous bass and searching piano improvisation – and such beguiling, sublime tenor soloing from Buckley.

‘Naturally Liberating Molecules’ communicates the band members’ empathy with each other; Carpio, Coady and Neame set up a mesmerising rhythm of intent which is the perfect vehicle for Binney and Buckley to accept the organic freedom the title suggests – hard-edged, growling and wailing tenor making this highlight bristle with excitement! Mick Coady takes the opportunity, in ’64 Claudio Coello’, to enhance mellifluous, combined sax lines before demonstrating his own instrumental lyricism. And from the pen of Ivo Neame comes the resolute ‘Unseen Coracle’ (from Neame’s current octet album, ‘Yatra’), his skilful writing and soloing illustrating why he is one of British jazz’s brightest and most versatile pianist/composers.

Further into the album, the 12-minute ‘Abyss’ is a darker affair, slow-burning, affording the quintet an expanse in which to breathe and explore ideas. ‘Beginning’ is strong on melodies, Buckley and Neame taking the lead assuredly, Coady and Carpio maintaining its strong impetus; and, finally, the enticing swing of ‘Skimpy’ provides an entertainingly lively play-out, refusing to adhere to the suggestion of its meagre title!

‘Nine Tales of the Pendulum’ (released 1 October 2013) deserves to be listened to closely and repeatedly – turn it up loud and you’re right there with them!


ALBUM PERSONNEL

Mick Coady Bass
David Binney Alto Saxophone
Michael Buckley Tenor Saxophone
Ivo Neame Piano
Sean Carpio Drums

LIVE PERSONNEL & DATES

Mick Coady Bass
David Binney Alto Saxophone
Julian Arguelles Tenor Saxophone
Ivo Neame Piano
James Maddren Drums

11 October 2013: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
13 October 2013: Marsden Jazz Festival
15 October 2013: Con Cellar Bar, London
17 October 2013: Band On The Wall, Manchester
18 October 2013: Denhaag, Holland

http://www.jellymouldjazz.net/releases/nine-tales-of-the-pendulum/

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ008 (2012/13)

‘Entertaining Tyrants’ – Compassionate Dictatorship

CompassionD

COMPASSIONATE DICTATORSHIP have been playing together for around six years, recording twice before (‘Coup d’Etat’ and ‘Cash Cows’). ‘Entertaining Tyrants’, however, is the quartet’s first release with progressive young British label, Jellymould Jazz, consolidating their already distinctive sound.

The personnel is outstanding – Tori Freestone (tenor sax), Jez Franks (guitar), Jasper Høiby (double bass), James Maddren (drums) – and, between them, this esteemed line-up create a powerful yet beautifully crafted set of nine Franks and/or Freestone compositions, all presented with an impressive display of mutual understanding, collaboration and musicianship. The melodic pairing is excellent: Freestone’s characteristic tenor delivery, in turns both mellifluous and gritty; Franks slickly switching from bright solo cadences to lush chord progressions.

Having listened over and over to ‘Tyrants’ (released 29 April 2013), this is a classic example of what I happily refer to as a ‘jazz treasure chest’. Opening the lid, it’s obvious straightaway that there is much inside to delight – deeper inspection, though, fascinatingly reveals greater ‘jewels’ as they very gradually come to the surface. And what a hoard!…

‘Anger Management’, with its sarcastic opening tenor call and sneering guitar replies, immediately provides a curiously-appealing, edgy tension. The energy here is wonderful, as is the terrific interplay between these close musical minds – and what sounds like a free-for-all is, in fact, a masterclass in control and shared voice. ‘In the Chophouse’ displays smart improvisation, as well as delicate guitar washes. ‘Bubble and Squeak’s momentum is skilfully carried by Jasper Høiby’s fluent bass and James Maddren’s incisive rhythm; calm is briefly restored with the lofty ‘Sit Tight’.

Changing tempi and close sax/guitar work are a feature of the attractive ‘Universal 4’, with Høiby’s recognisably colourful lines breaking through and Maddren setting an intricately shimmering pace. On ‘Ratios’, the guitar lays down a gentler pulse for Freestone to solo over, with Franks also contributing flowing improvisation. ‘Pottering Around’ is a standout, the tenor’s initial plaintive sound encouraging the group to freely exchange ideas (it’s lovely stuff) before gleefully breaking into a great guitar-driven groove with a mischievous ascending, spiralling tenor catch, Høiby and Maddren again a class act with their tight rhythmic contribution. A sense of anarchy (and fun!) pervades ‘Precious’, Freestone contrasting hard-pushing screeches with beautifully sonorous low-register passages, whilst ‘Loop’ closes the album with a mellow, perhaps slightly dark, serenity.

The quartet’s recorded sound, thanks to Nic Taylor and Dominic Sales, is crisp and clean, giving the listener a satisfyingly close experience, as well as a longing to witness, first hand, their exciting live chemistry! Good to see, then, that the Dictatorship have issued an accompanying tour schedule (with more dates to be added):

11 May 2013: Skein Jazz, Norway
23 May 2013: Hebden Bridge, UK
2 June 2013: Colchester Arts, UK
3 June 2013: Sela Bar, Leeds, UK
11 June: The Spin, Oxford, UK
1 September 2013: Milestones Jazz Club, Lowestoft, UK
17 November 2013: Teignmouth Jazz Festival, UK

A great album to get inside – highly recommended.

 

http://www.jellymouldjazz.net/releases/compassionate-dictatorship-entertaining-tyrants/
http://www.compassionatedictatorship.co.uk/

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ011 (2013)