‘We Make The Rules’ – Jochen Rueckert

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THE MAXIM of German drummer, composer and bandleader Jochen Rueckert is certainly meritorious as his quartet releases We Make The Rules, captured following an international tour: “I’m getting a little allergic to ‘project style recordings’, where you play music in the studio without being able to fine tune it on the road. All said and done, the music on the album was recorded in only seven hours and six of the tracks are first takes, the rest second takes. The perks of having a working band!”.

That ethos is palpable in the assured immediacy of his interaction with fellow NYC-based band members Mark Turner (tenor sax), Lage Lund (electric guitar) and Matt Penman (acoustic bass), with whom he has worked for the last few years – all nine numbers here were written specifically for this grouping. It’s a sequence that requires ‘total immersion’ to fully appreciate its experiential depth, as these musicians are experts in detail and have evidently honed Rueckert’s technical, written frameworks before embarking with their panoply of break-loose extemporisations – there’s never any sense that this quartet is safely going through the motions.

The luxuriance of Mark Turner’s tenor is immediately apparent in opening number Eggshells, perfectly matched to the mellow solo and chordal reverberations of Lage Lund’s guitar; and Matt Penman and Jochen Rueckert provide its sensitive, detailed rhythmic buoyancy. Pretty From Afar displays a similar line of accomplishment, with a freer central section which finds guitar and sax weaving ideas together, the balance beautifully observed; and fans of TV’s Breaking Bad, take note – Saul Goodman swaggers to fine bass work from Penman (‘s’all good, man!).

Title track We Make The Rules is delightfully ebullient – and Rueckert, though never dominating proceedings, underpins his three colleagues’ improvisations with increasingly strident, ticking complexity. Slow ballad Bess glides unerringly to the softness of bass and drums, Turner’s congenial tenor lines melding effortlessly with Lund’s lusciously-woven chords; and there’s a mischievous streak to The Cook Strait which invites a more open dialogue amongst the quartet.

Rueckert’s cerebrally-intended Alloplasty is characterised by the enhanced echoings of Lund’s guitar, and the entire sequence ripples pleasingly to impressive drum patterns and Turner’s eloquent searchings. Following, the faster swing of Yellow Bottoms encourages Lund further into the spotlight with his measured-yet-leftfield creativity – a joy to hear; and finally, Manong Twilight At The Whatever Hotel (inspired by an artwork by the composer’s late jazz aficionado uncle) comfortably relaxes into a sublime, soporific haze in which tenorist Mark Turner basks.

Jochen Rueckert’s Whirlwind debut may not shout out strongly memorable melodies or revolutionary techniques – but it radiates an understated warmth and sophistication which is so very appealing. Released on 13 October 2014, visit the We Make The Rules album page for further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing.

 

Mark Turner tenor sax
Lage Lund electric guitar
Matt Penman acoustic bass
Jochen Rueckert drums

jochenrueckert.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4658 (2014)

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‘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)

‘Devotion’ – Marko Churnchetz

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THAT MOMENT when the ears prick up and the spine tingles. In the world of contemporary jazz, it happens fairly frequently… but not so often to this level. Debuting on the Whirlwind label, Slovenian pianist/keyboardist and composer Marco Churnchetz may just have entered the annual ‘best of’ stakes with Devotion – an outstanding programme of originals.

New York-based Churnchetz (Črnčec) is clearly influenced by the 1970s explosion of seminal keyboard creatives, including Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Together with an exceptional Stateside quartet – Mark Shim (tenor sax, midi controller), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Justin Brown (drums) – he melds stylish post-bop jazz and progressive jazz/rock grooves into an intoxicatingly distinctive fusion. And all presided over by his own staggering pianistic proficiency.

Being There is a suitably sizzling curtain-raiser, the quartet’s acoustic personae bristling with energy, Churnchetz and tenorist Mark Shim quite breathtaking in their relentless extemporisations. Here is a band high in confidence, in full control – yet this is only for starters! The rapid piano and Patrick Moraz-like midi synth runs of feverish, flamencan Schizo prepare the way for the most incredibly gritty tenor show from Shim… and it’s the pin-sharp rhythmic edge provided by double bassist Tordini and drummer Brown which perpetuates the tingling excitement. Title track Devotion cymbal-shimmers to the lyrical meanderings of piano and tenor – a beautifully open and considered ballad which demonstrates this quartet’s shared intuition, building in intensity with Shim reaching his higher register.

The jazz fusion pizazz of Gonzalost (presumably a reference to the brilliance of Afro-Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba) is one of the finest recorded displays I have experienced all year. The perfect electric bass and Fender Rhodes groove partnership here summons memories of Bill Bruford’s late ’70s solo releases (Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin), Shim carrying the pitch-bent synth torch brightly, and Justin Brown (fix the ‘drum cam’ on him!) absolutely scintillating at the kit. Complete with infectious Latin piano octaves and tremendous band co-ordination throughout, this is one for iPod repeat mode. A brief Interprelude keeps the pot boiling, leading to similarly blazing (and appropriately titled) Risk Free, characterised by highly-charged tenor and piano, and inhabitating a sound world which nods to the likes of Weather Report and the Moutin Reunion Quartet. Running at eight minutes (and in common with most of the tracks), there is space for themes and ideas to develop, Shim’s searching tenor displaying Shorteresque beauty, and Justin Brown magnificent in hard-hitting complexity.

Shim’s mellifluous tenor lead in Without Tomorrow is achingly beautiful against supporting acoustic piano, bass and drums – an exquisite repose before the keyboard-fest of Late sparkles to the retro-imbued mix of Rhodes, midi controller, electric bass and drums (sans sax) – utterly irresistible. The closing Improvisation finds Churnchetz’s solo piano animated, rippling and enquiring – a raw glimpse of his unfettered creative genius.

Released on 7 July 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

A wondrous release – not to be missed!

 

Marko Churnchetz piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards
Mark Shim tenor saxophone, Yamaha Wind electric MIDI controller
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Justin Brown drums

markocrncec.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4653 (2014)

‘Beyond These Voices’ – Nick Malcolm Quartet

NickMalcolm

BRIMMING with intelligent and zesty exploration, this second release from the Nick Malcolm Quartet (plus guest Corey Mwamba) charts a truly absorbing path ‘twixt the written and the free, between rhythmic intensity and spacial tranquillity, sparking and igniting the deep creativity of the varied individual characters within a remarkable jazz blend. 

Trumpeter and composer Nick Malcolm clearly has an eclectic musical persona, as well as a multi-faceted style, often found belting out riffs (along with drummer Mark Whitlam, also of this quartet) between the dusky, enigmatic vocals of Emily Wright’s song-based Moonlight Saving Time. Put into this particular mix experimental jazz pianist Alexander Hawkins (whose solo and ensemble album releases created ripples of excitement earlier this year) plus the inspired, improvisatory bass playing of Olie Brice… and the result is a sophisticated quartet/quintet team capable of a satisfyingly original collaborative output. Beyond These Voices follows the band’s 2012 début, Glimmers, and explores, intentionally and quite beautifully, an equal appreciation of sound and silence (which Malcolm describes as “the essential paradox of music”).

Take, for example, Grimes, an eight-minute improvisation which opens with brash and brassy intent, Malcolm bouncing off Whitlam’s wide-open drums before the steadying undercurrent of Hawkins’ lush, deep chords and Brice’s bass enter, only to develop more strongly. The contrast between the two forms is marked, yet the whole combined concept is realised perfectly. And then the ‘silence’ – the most limpid and emotionally-charged high piano extemporisation, with space taking equal importance, plus an affirming, sustained bass. There’s Lead In Their Pencils is great fun – a kind of dissonant Ellington boogie in which Malcolm blasts and neighs his way through the pulsating, rhythmic chaos, Corey Mwamba’s sparky, hard vibes adding vivid colour.

Views takes a gentler back seat, although this is no straight-laced ballad. Malcolm’s tone is lazily mellow, peppered with the occasional flutter, and the precise vibraphone playing of Mwamba is a joy. The shuffling momentum of A Very Blusterous Day, upheld magnificently by Whitlam and Brice, offers a broad canvas for the written and improvised thoughts of Malcolm and Hawkins, with Mwamba offering again his distinctive approach to vibes, eddying and gyrating (like a supercharged Pierre Moerlen) to the shimmerings of Hawkins’ piano – and an orchestral, Brittenesque trumpet flourish to close. It’s Alright, We’re Going to the Zoo is a cheeky, smouldering, fizzing affair, Malcolm improvising freely and brightly against Brice’s bass bounce; Sidereal (the album opener) develops and opens out to display more of that spontaneous quartet interaction, whilst the the two free improvisations that punctuate the programme further reveal their insightful and creative abilities.

To close, something quite affecting… Where, Beyond These Voices, There is Peace. Prompted by Alexander Hawkins’ quiet then increasingly anguished piano chords, the trumpet of Nick Malcolm chatters and squawks to the bowed scratchings of Brice and tempered percussion of Whitlam. And, for a final magical minute, Hawkins almost completely suspends animation with characteristic piano weightlessness.

If you’re searching for new experiences, and the fascination of free-yet-accessible improvisation, Beyond These Voices demonstrates the heights that British jazz is currently achieving – and this is certainly a ‘grower’ of an album. Most impressive.

 

Nick Malcolm trumpet
Alexander Hawkins piano
Olie Brice double bass
Mark Whitlam drums

Guest
Corey Mwamba vibraphone

nickmalcolm.co.uk

Green Eyes Records – GE15 (2104)

‘Sutures and Stitches’ – Ollie Howell

OllieHowell_Sutures

WHEN A DEBUT ALBUM sounds this good (correction: this spectacular), you simply cannot ignore it! Relatively new to British and international jazz audiences, drummer and composer Ollie Howell’s first release comes as something of a revelation.

The initially curious title, ‘Sutures and Stitches’, soon becomes clear as Howell openly shares his recent history of numerous neurosurgeries and, importantly, his determination to take the positive from these experiences and channel them musically. Indeed, this collection of self-penned post-bop originals (plus an arrangement of Dear Old Stockholm) is a remarkably confident and mature first release, boasting a strong personnel: Mark Perry (trumpet), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (double bass) and Matt Robinson (piano). With endorsements from renowned drummer Jimmy Cobb (“He’s loaded with talent!”) and music legend Quincy Jones (describing Howell as “an unbelievable drummer. So creative I couldn’t believe it. This kid is a 360-degree beautiful young cat that I believe has what it takes to make a life out of music.”), this is surely a great curtain-raiser to a glittering career to come.

Later On opens the album with aplomb, Howell instantly displaying his crisp and direct attention to compositional and drumming detail, Robinson hitting the advance button for Perry and Eagles to take flight with characteristic shared brilliance. There’s a cordial spirit to the lively Beyond, its opening unison melody feeling welcomingly familiar, soon stepping up a gear for a terrific tenor solo, Robinson’s accomplished piano then driving on and on to a cross-rhythmical hand-clap/percussion conclusion.

Short solo intros from each band member precede five of the tracks – not mere fillers, but concise lead-ins to the pieces which follow, beginning with Howell himself on rapid, perfectly-tuned toms, ahead of So Close, So Far. With its finely-balanced sound, and possible imaginings of a big band arrangement, Perry’s assured flutter-tongueing blazes high above the tight ensemble accompaniment. Lively miniature, Angry Skies, leads to Perry’s melancholy trumpet intro to 19th Day, a wistful tune beautifully carried by Eagles’ rich tenor, partnering with Perry to great effect. At almost nine minutes, A World Apart is a great centrepiece to showcase the raw, combined talent of this quintet – Howell skilfully directs the band to reach for that higher rhythmic, melodic and improvisational plane… result: success!

Max Luthert’s sonorous bass intro to For Anya is a worthy preamble to its delicate bass- and piano-led dedication. They finds Ollie Howell on fine form, bringing shape to Perry’s and Eagles’ searching solos, Luthert again with a lyrical bass addition. Eagles’ brief sax intro takes us into the gorgeously introspective Two Sides, tenor and piano creating between them such an appealing dialogue. Traditional tune Dear Old Stockholm receives a feisty arrangement, all players pushing at its animated energy. Howell’s drum display is so dynamic, so exact, whilst Robinson and Luthert perpetuate the heady groove. Finally, a particularly limpid piano intro leads to A Hollow Victory, Eagles’ and Perry’s unanimous melody giving way to their own thoughtful solos – a gentler, considered finale to a superbly creative and rounded album.

Released by Whirlwind on 23 September 2013, Howell is touring ‘Sutures and Stitches’ until 3 December – and one can imagine (or, better still, experience) live pyrotechnics of the highest order! Details and samples here.


Ollie Howell
drums/compositions  olliehowell.com
Mark Perry trumpet  markperrymusic.com
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone  duncaneagles.com
Max Luthert double bass  maxluthertcouk
Matt Robinson piano  mattrobinsonmusic.com

Sleeve design and illustration by Alban Low  artofjazz.blogspot.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4636 (2013)