‘Piano Ambulance’ – Maurizio Minardi

PianoAmbulance

MAURIZIO Minardi’s The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist of 2013 showcased the London-based Italian’s brilliance with the accordion in an engaging album of his own jazz compositions characterised by humour, theatre and showmanship.

New release Piano Ambulance shifts the focus of his unequivocal technical expertise to his first instrument, piano, with another fascinating programme of self-penned works – this time for piano quartet (with trio members bassist Nick Pini and drummer Jason Reeve, plus the sustained depth of Shirley Smart’s cello). The instrumental combination of the four is as distinctive as it is effective, capturing Minardi’s penchant for visual music which is so evidently cinematic in its predominance of drama, urgency and storytelling, whilst also contrasted by delightfully delicate interludes.

The siren-suggested piano oscillations of title number Piano Ambulance develop in vigorous Einaudian earnestness, balanced with a trio serenity which indicates the story behind Minardi’s album naming (his positive experiences of the beneficial, cathartic effects of live music that can sometimes be found in English hospitals and nursing homes). April Sun exudes an endearingly spacial, childlike simplicity peppered with the pianist’s improvisations, yet still with unsettled, ambulant overtones; and Goodbye London – its initial fluttering, tricksy moto perpetuo rhythms reminiscent of Penguin Cafe – builds into melodramatic grandeur enhanced by emotionally yearning cello.

Friday Almost paints pictures of both anticipatory joy and rush-hour bustle before relaxing into the most tranquil, electronic-tinged oasis, whilst the menacing impetus of Secret Skin resounds to Shirley Smart’s abrasive, Anja Lechner-like glissando extemporisations and Jason Reeve’s propulsive drum/cymbal accuracy (here, again, the quartet display their deftness in emotively ‘turning on a sixpence’ to sparser territory). There’s a stately, pseudo-Baroque air to Indulgence – and, complete with Minardi’s elegant piano ornamentation and Nick Pini’s delicious bass improvisation, its grazioso melody might easily be sung to words.

A strong sense of narrative defines Dangerous Innocence, Minardi’s characteristic piano ostinati (at times not unlike Michael Nyman or Philip Glass) escalating to a troubled, driven episode until a melancholy cello melody closes; certainly soundtrack material, as is Seven Sisters, a loftier, romantic affair coloured by Pini’s bass and Smart’s cello. In trio finale Francesca’s Gloves, the absence of Minardi’s familiar, repetitious pulse creates a more typically Italian style with subtle Bachian shades redolent of, say, pianists Paolo Paliaga or Michele Di Toro – an exquisite closer with a suppleness informed by the lightness of both Reeve’s percussion and Pini’s bass.

Released on 2 February 2015 and launching at The Vortex, London, on 18 February, Maurizio Minardi is touring Piano Ambulance during March (see dates below) – and, having previously seen this quartet live, I heartily recommend the excitement and entertainment value to be found in their intuitive performances.

 

Maurizio Minardi piano
Nick Pini double bass
Jason Reeve drums
Shirley Smart cello

March 2015 tour dates
4 March: Hull Jazz Club, Hull
5 March: Queens Hall Arts, Hexham
6 March: Pound Arts, Corsham
10 March: Annie’s Jazz, Southend
20 March: Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury
27 March: Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough
29 March: Omnibus Arts Centre, London

mauriziominardi.com

Belfagor Label – MM12 (2014)

‘Animalia’ – Mammal Hands

Animalia

IT’S NO SURPRISE that the live gigs of newcomers Mammal Hands caught the ears of Nick Blacka (bass player with trio-of-the-moment GoGo Penguin) – subsequently recommending them to Gondwana Records boss Matthew Halsall who duly signed them to his growing catalogue of new artists – for there’s more than a hint of Blacka’s band in this, their resulting debut release, Animalia, as well as echoes of early Portico Quartet. Yet their style is also defined by elements of electronica, classical minimalism, dance, Africana, and Indian classical, creating a richly creative blend which can, in equal measure, both move and excite.

The strong Norwich-based trio comprises brothers Nick Smart (piano) and Jordan Smart (saxes), with Jesse Barratt on drums and tabla – their eight original compositions here very much on-trend with the current wave of eclectic, democratically-conceived contemporary jazz ensembles. And what a compelling first outing this is.

Eschewing the traditional double bass element doesn’t, as one might expect, result in imbalance, thanks to the solid-chorded/octaved rhythmic piano of Nick Smart. Indeed, opener Mansions of Millions of Years – with influences and moods that might suggest e.s.t., Reich, Glass and Satie, as well as a raga pulse and energy – displays the impassioned intent of this one-time busking band, Jordan Smart’s escalating soprano sax whirling and crying over the busyness of piano and drums. The three players clearly share an empathy in composition and performance, delivering a varied sound world – the brief and more contemplative Snow Bough spacially glinting to falling piano and sax melodies which possess delightful Japanese koto-like clarity.

A brooding sense of anticipation fills Kandaiki, Jordan Smart’s clipped vibrato lines very much reminiscent of Portico’s Jack Wyllie – and here can be found the magic of the trio, as piano and sax intertwine contrapuntal melodies and harmonies over a simmering, near-perpetual 5/4 piano and drum figure. In contrast, the percussive, yet melancholy, open landscape of Spinning the Wheel finds Jordan Smart’s soprano in folky, yearning vein, Nick’s dark-set low piano chords shrouding the piece in mystery.

Suitably-titled Bustle teems with life to its pianistically-tricky seven-beat ostinati and trip-up pauses; and Jesse Barratt’s complex, ticking momentum, including subtly hollow tabla, is great to focus on. Luxuriant Inuit Party presents a particularly rich combination of tenor punch, tightly-clustered piano chords and solid four-square beat which also offers a tangible improvisatory glimmer of their live act. Upping their game still further – and a real stand-out – Street Sweeper revels in an infectious groove, the Smart brothers sharing melodies over an effusive left-hand piano hook, Barratt shuffling enthusiastically as well as offering a joyous touch of Cuban clatter.

Larger-scale Tiny Crumb closes the album, highlighting the trio’s aptitude for building and elaborating on themes, moving up through keys with ever-increasing urgency. Again, Nick Smart’s all-encompassing piano presence is impressive, sharing with Jesse Barratt its rhythmic intensity, all the while encouraging the apparent vigour of Jordan Smart’s tenor (the end of his white-hot, Pharaoh Sanders-style soloing induces a desire to applaud!); and then, a hypnotic, tabla-decorated end-piece which hints at a much longer play-out than afforded here.

As a debut, Animalia is captivating, yet also feels like just the beginning of Mammal Hands’ creative musings. In their multifarious musical minds, not to mention their considerable instrumental proficiency, Gondwana have signed a breakthrough band capable of hitting the heights. Catch a glimpse of the band at 2013’s Mostly Jazz Festival, as well as the official video for Mansions of Millions of Years.

Releasing on 15 September 2014, pre-order/purchase the album (and preview a couple of tracks) at Gondwana Records’ Bandcamp Store.

 

Nick Smart piano
Jordan Smart saxophones
Jesse Barratt drums, tabla

gondwanarecords.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD011 (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)

‘The Crux’ – Tommy Andrews Quintet

TheCrux

DEBUT JAZZ RELEASES never cease to engender a particular brand of eager anticipation – new names, fresh experiences and a portal on this thriving and constantly evolving genre. Firmly adding to that same excitement is the name of emerging reedsman Tommy Andrews and this fine new quintet album, The Crux.

Aside from his already considerable musical accomplishments, Andrews is a keen rock climber and reflects something of that activity’s challenge and patient attainment in an invigorating, eclectic approach to writing and performance, his extended through-composed works also providing the freedoms of open, developing improvisation. Joining him on the ascent are energetic pianist Rick Simpson, acclaimed bassist Dave Manington (Loop Collective, e17) and popular mainstay drummer Dave Hamblett, as well as guitarist Nick Costley-White who contributes impressive prog rock urgency and delicacy to this collection of seven originals by the saxophonist.

From the ominous preludial lyricism of Sirens into the upbeat sureness of The Crux, this quintet quickly outlines its intent of considered and collaborative creativity. Indeed, Andrews is a strong altoist who clearly ignites confidence in his equally ambitious ensemble, the effect frequently cinematic in its boldness. The brief, dreamy shimmerings of Crystal Car, with finely-spun guitar chords, afford Andrews the space to hit the heights of his range to the water-droplet piano of Rick Simpson, leading to the eight-minute Mr. Skinny Legs – and the jocose title here perhaps belies both the beauty and drive of this compelling, intensifying piece (references to elevation never far off). Team spirit shines through the precise arrangement, as do the shared melodies and solo work of Costley-White and Andrews against a pleasingly undulating bassline from Manington.

L.H.B. displays a real sense of originality, Simpson’s mysteriously inquiring chromaticism against clarinet and guitar suggesting dark crevasses, though still hanging on to positivity, and Costley-White’s rising, echoic guitar wash fascinatingly reminiscent of early Genesis (Steve Hackett, ‘Watcher of the Skies’, etc.). Hamblett and Simpson emphasise the four-square rock drive before pacing-up the tempo into dazzling sunlight, Andrews glorious in his soaring extemporisations and concluding on an abrupt high – summit reached, and beautifully portrayed. Subtitled Sirens Pt II, Toscana floats and glimmers to a steady Philip Glass-like pulse of arpeggioed piano, guitar and clarinet, eventually thinning and dissolving into the cirrus atmosphere – quite magical. And to close, quite possibly the pinnacle of the assembled tracks – Steep. Hamblett and Manington provide its complex, propulsive energy, sparking the best from Andrews, Costley-White and Simpson. The vibe is infectious… spirited piano and unison guitar and sax lines making way for the leader’s aqueous soloing which cries out for extended, dramatic development in a live setting.

Released on 30 June 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, The Crux is a skilled and mature offering from the Tommy Andrews Quintet – subtly rock-infused contemporary jazz, with the promise of still greater heights to be scaled. Further information, promo video and audio clips available here.

 

Tommy Andrews alto sax and clarinet
Nick Costley-White guitars
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Manington double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

tommyandrews.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ015 (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)

‘v2.0’ – GoGo Penguin

GoGo

THESE ARE EXCITING TIMES for the jazz piano trio – and Manchester-based GoGoPenguin are key movers in a current new wave of line-ups that eschew the traditional idea of pianist leader and supporting rhythmic duo for a totally democratic and, therefore, absorbing concept in sound.

The band’s debut release, ‘Fanfares’ (2012), created considerable ripples of interest on the British scene, as well as much further afield, with their obvious e.s.t.-influenced grooves (confirmed, as Svensson fans would recognise, by the opening track title, ‘Seven Sons of Bjorn’). That tantalising 35-minute recording, hailed by critics, no doubt found a quickly-gathering fan base clamouring for the next chapter, whilst finding the subsequent live experiences every bit as engaging – those present at the band’s hometown gigs at Band On The Wall (that I, too, witnessed) would, I’m sure, be happy to concur.

It’s important to recognise now, though, that GoGo Penguin are not “the next Esbjörn Svensson Trio” (nor could they be, given the Swedish band’s untouchable seminal status) – and I hazard a guess that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) would see it that way, too. So, what is both gratifying and thrilling about this new follow-up release, ‘v2.0’, is that the trio are already clearly honing a sound which appears to be uniquely theirs, Blacka and Turner providing the distinctive and frequently blistering up-front dance-groove edge. The resultant effect is mesmeric and trance-like (think ‘Aphex Twin’), with such breathtaking precision of metre to almost sound electronic… but with the satisfaction that it’s not! Illingworth, too, displays great mastery of his instrument, exploring the gamut of techniques and expression as well as, at times, seemingly employing Roland Kirk’s ability to ‘split his brain in two’ to state one melody with his right hand and another with his left – rapid electronica or anthemic breadth, his grand piano offers it all.

What better illustration of the band’s sparky originality than Garden Dog Barbecue? – Chris Illingworth’s zippy right-hand piano melodies over grungy, leaping left-hand fifths chords shared with buzzing bass, and all sped along by breakneck skittering drums, plus some terrific rhythmic and tempo changes. Opening track, Murmuration, reveals the trio’s alter ego – beautifully-considered, sustained and repetitive piano against bubbling bass and drums, intensifying in stature with electronically-echoic arco bass until the flocking avian display it suggests disperses to nothingness. Kamaloka brings to the fore Turner’s extraordinarily complex electro/techno drum likeness which drives a bright, arpeggio-accompanied piano tune, as does the following Fort, Blacka’s rasping bass combining so well with drums to its abrupt close. Not since Stefano Bollani’s live solo piano interpretation of a scratched vinyl LP have I heard the skills that are to be found in One Percent; already a compelling, bustling and highly-charged number, the final 45 seconds convincingly simulate, through a variety of closely-timed rhythms, a skipping CD – from an acoustic trio, this is something which has to be heard to be believed, and raises a smile with me every time!

Home‘s infectious groove is again down to the brilliant interaction between Blacka and Turner, laying down a relentless and very listenable ground for Illingworth’s strong piano melodies, and Blacka’s big, scampering bass sound resonating clearly at the close. Recorded in total darkness, The Letter is characterised by a heavy, sprawling and perhaps menacing pulse. To Drown In You continues the darker feel with its hint of Philip Glass piano and ethereal bowed bass… and with what is becoming Turner’s trademark percussive sound, his staccatoed rhythms shared with Blacka’s bass, and the huge energy of Illingworth’s ‘split piano’, this is a standout. The brief, spacial Shock and Awe, against a tense metronome-like tick, carries a palpable weight of emotion and presents another side to the trio – perhaps something for future concepts. Lucid and vibrant, Hopopono closes the album with an impressive summing-up of this band’s evident empathy and, perhaps even, telepathy.

Credit to sound engineers Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams for clarity of production, this release resembles a huge step forward in GoGo Penguin’s development – and the next gig will certainly be something to look forward to (see below). ‘v2.0’ is released by Gondwana Records on 17 March 2014, available from Bandcamp.


Chris Illingworth
piano
Nick Blacka double bass
Rob Turner drums

Live gigs:
27 March 2014: Pizza Express Jazz Club – Thump Festival
29 March 2014: Black Box, Belfast – Brilliant Corners Festival
5 April 2014: The Sage, Gateshead – Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Gondwana Records (2014)

‘meets I Dig Monk, Tuned’ – ReDiviDeR

Redivider

AN INTRIGUING and, ultimately, satisfying second album from experimental Irish four-piece, ReDiviDeR, led by drummer and composer Matthew Jacobson.

The chordless (and palindromic) quartet have frequently trodden the festival trail of their homeland with an interesting mix of textures, grooves and samples, all melded by an innate jazz sensibility played out on alto sax, trombone, bass and drums. Citing such influences as Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Tim Berne, this latest release reveals their sharp creativity to a wider audience. And, if your ears are responsive (as well as eyes open to one or two track/guest-name japes – though my guess is the ‘AleX’s were an anagram too far!), there is much here to savour. Following up 2012 debut ‘Never odd or eveN’, they are found here in collaborative vein as four established UK jazz musicians guest on tracks written specifically with them in mind (the anagram of ‘United Kingdom’ as album title ‘I Dig Monk, Tuned’ far too clever for me!).

Leaping straight to the centrepoint of the seven tracks (a couple of which are brief interludes), Bin Saved begins with a compelling descending pattern over which a resonant fretless electric bass with trombone, plus alto embellishment, invites guest cellist Ben Davis to improvise impassionedly into a solo spotlight. Nick Roth’s alto then takes the piece on a new, raunchier route, Davis and Derek Whyte sharing the rocky bassline, Jacobson snapping cleanly on drums. Concluding with mellower, more echoic trombone and bass, it’s quite a number!

Opener, Twin Kodes, features the now-almost-trademark abstract Rhodes wizardry of Kit Downes, followed by effective, trippy, post-produced trombone from Colm O’Hara; then… a twist into Downes’ ‘Troyka’ territory and a random-yet-structured trombone/sax dash to the finish. Animal Code sees Alex Bonney’s trumpet beefing-up the horns, a wild elephantine cacophony ensuing over stampeding drums and electronics.

The guitar of Alex Roth brings an altogether different timbre to Velvet Pouch, a dark, smouldering track of repeated riffs and effects against an intensifying bass and drum groove whilst, finally, May I Agree‘s semitone-clustered, cascading horn melodies tumble along to Jacobson’s pointed, snare-driven rhythm.

As members of touring initiative Match & Fuse, it’s easy to understand why ReDiViDeR are a popular live act – check out the links below for further information.


Matthew Jacobson
drums  matthewjacobsonmusic.com
Derek Whyte bass
Nick Roth alto sax
Colm O’Hara trombone
with
Kit Downes keys
Alex Roth guitar
Alex Bonney trumpet/electronics
Ben Davis cello

ReDiviDeR
Diatribe
Match & Fuse

Diatribe – DIACD016 (2013)