‘Skyline’ – Tom Green Septet

Skyline

THE GRACEFULNESS of the cover art speaks volumes about the creative balance that shines out from Skyline, the debut septet recording from Cambridge-born trombonist Tom Green – a collection of expansive new compositions coloured by ever-changing hues, light and shade, allowing each of his players considerable freedom in improvisation.

The robust four-horn line-up of Green, Sam Miles (tenor), James Davison (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Matthew Herd (alto/soprano) offers impressive big band dynamism and breadth, yet also a supple luminosity which breathes life into the trombonist’s seven originals, plus one arrangement of a much-loved standard. Still in his 20s, Tom Green’s credentials are indubitable – the Royal Academy’s first postgraduate trombonist, winner of the 2013 Dankworth Composition Prize (leading Dame Cleo to declare his work as “some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time”) as well as a 2014 Help Musicians UK ‘Emerging Excellence’ award winner. And his mercurial brass dexterity is a delight, ranging from blistering riffs to svelte tonal lyricism.

Initial impressions are of crisp arrangements and sharp execution, typified by the opener, Sticks and Stones. It’s brisk and propulsive, with layers of textures and ideas over which Green and James Davison solo brightly; and gear changes throughout this album (such as the brief trombone and piano contrapuntalism here) add greatly to a sense of variety, not unlike the fluctuations of light on a plain caused by fast-moving cumulonimbus. The dilatory drawl of a Deep South-suggested horn preamble to thirteen-minute Equilibrium opens into an addictive bossa of moody twists and turns, bejewelled with Sam James’ precise piano expression – and then, all at once, it gleams to lush arrangements and, also, cacophonous scribbles which Green glides through with proverbial swan-like ease.

Arctic Sun swings delicately to the rhythm of bassist Mullov-Abbado and drummer Chapman, building towards elaborate, soaring soprano from Matthew Herd (a saxman who always displays a real penchant for pushing the envelope). There are shades of contemporary pop ballad in the memorable phrases of Peace of Mind, Green fluent in his extemporisations; and easy-going Mirage prompts fine soloing amongst the exacting full horn scoring.

Hoagy Carmichael’s perennial favourite, Skylark, is both chirpy and breezy in Green’s hands, though perhaps loses a little of the charm of mellower renditions; and Winter Halo might easily conjure luminescent landscapes and vacillating murmurations (startling rapidity of soprano bird calls from Herd!), including another of those delectable duo interludes – Sam Miles’ rich tenor against pellucid bass. DIY is an irresistible closer, pictorialising the brash, processional jazz of New Orleans and encouraging overlapping showy solos from all quarters, as well as more examples of the leader’s flair for snappy, complex arrangements (no doubt a crowd pleaser on their recent launch tour).

As a jazz release, this displays so many hallmarks of a classic, seasoned ensemble. As an ambitious debut from a young, close-knit septet, it’s a striking first statement with great potential for future development. And, above all… such an upbeat listen!

Released on 2 February 2015, Skyline can be purchased directly from Spark or Tom Green’s website.

 

Tom Green trombone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Davison trumpet and flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto and soprano saxophones
Sam James piano
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums

Illustration/artwork by Tom Barley

tomgreenmusic.com

Spark Label – Spark 001 (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)

‘Anything But Look’ – Jason Rebello

Image

A NEW solo studio release from Jason Rebello was always going to be something of an event, given his track record as one of the UK’s most respected jazz/rock keyboard players – and, with an album a year in the making, he’s certainly back with a funky, soulful BANG!

The excitement of ‘Anything But Look’ is due, in part, to so many of its ten originals having considerable commercial appeal (easily radio hits) – yet, delving deep into the detail, there is much to savour in terms of differing vocal performances, shifting time signatures and modulations, clever tricks, flicks and textures… all held together by Rebello’s multifarious, entertaining keyboard work. He has a terrific understanding of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of jazz (his Steinway-only interpretations of standards and folksong were brilliantly displayed in a recent acoustic trio gig at Kings Place with Stephen Keogh on drums and bassist Alex Davis). Here, he combines that mastery with his vast experience of touring over the years as keyboardist for the likes of Jeff Beck, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Joss Stone.

The hand-picked personnel of established and up-and-coming instrumental and vocalist friends provide a sumptuous programme, the result being an intensely joyous, positive and personal album which Rebello describes as “a musical kaleidoscope of jazz, soul, Latin, funk and rock, painting a picture of a soul’s journey into the unknown. We all are made up of light and dark, but we don’t usually want to acknowledge what we really are, due to a fear that we may discover something terrible… we will do anything, but look!”

The funkiest of electric bass and clav grooves open the show, celebrated soul singer Omar’s resolute tones delivering the catchy Know What You Need, Pino Palladino providing a fantastic ground for Rebello’s typically glittering piano and electric piano soloing. Sumudu Jayatilaka’s beguiling voice intertwines effortlessly with Rebello’s piano on The Man on the Train (with a hint, maybe, of Gordon Sumner in its sublime slower section) – and Troy Miller’s drums, the percussion of Miles Bould and Karl Rasheed-Abel’s acoustic bass provide the irresistible pulse. Bouncy 7/8 instrumental Without a Paddle, with cheeky contrary motion hook and Paul Stacey’s bristling guitar, is breathlessly compelling – so much going on, a real smile-inducer!

Solid bass and pitch-bent synth characterise the beautifully-measured chill-out title track Anything But Look before Alicia Carroll’s soprano voice brings theatrical urgency to the more sinister Dark Night of the Soul, an intoxicating multitracked masterclass in Rebello’s considerable piano and keyboard prowess – breathtaking to listen closely. With Immediate Effect flows along with all the amiability of a Lyle Mays/Pat Metheny favourite, backing vocals, guitar and synth soloing the key to this likeness. Sadness-tinged ballad Is This How? features the vocals of US jazz/R&B singer Will Downing and the adept, prodigious drumming of Rebello’s 14 year-old son George – a particularly beautiful, poignant and memorable chorus here; and young singer Jacob Collier’s precise wordless vocals are a perfect match for the bright keys of In The Thick Of It, jazz stalwart Tim Garland (on flute) adding to the lightness of touch.

Joy Rose’s vocal warmth and dexterity in the deliberate, soulful New Joy symbolise the sincerity of this release, Miller and Palladino again creating a fantastic rhythm, Rebello and Garland just magnificent – joy all round! Concluding, Xantoné Blacq presents the uplifting, perhaps even spiritual lyric of Lighten Up The Load, the Latin flavour of Bould’s percussion and Rebello’s piano octaves taking us on our onward journey.

Released on LYTE Records on 4 November 2013, the fervour and craftsmanship of ‘Anything but Look’ are stunningly evident. Indeed, Jason Rebello’s creativity, optimism and technical wizardry might well encourage us through the long, dark winter months – as the fade-out whispers, “See you on the other side”!……

 

Jason Rebello keyboards; bass, track 7; backing vocals, track 6
Troy Miller drums, tracks 1,2,3,4,5,8,9,10; guitar, track 7; percussion, track 4
Pino Palladino bass guitar, tracks 1,4,6,7,9,10
Karl Rasheed-Abel acoustic bass, tracks 2,3,5,8
Paul Stacey guitar, tracks 3,6,9
Jeremy Stacey drums, track 6
George Rebello drums, track 7
Miles Bould percussion, tracks 1,2,3,10
Tim Garland flute, bass clarinet, tracks 8,9
Joy Rose vocals, track 9; backing vocals, tracks 1,6,9,10
Omar Lye-Fook vocals, track 1
Sumudu Jayatilaka vocals, track 2
Alicia Carroll vocals, track 5
Will Downing vocals, track 7
Jacob Collier vocals, track 8
Xantoné Blacq vocals, track 10
Aja Downing backing vocals, track 7

jasonrebello.com

LYTE Records – LR021 (2013)