‘Live’ – Brass Mask

Brass Mask LIVE

OUTRAGEOUS… cacophonous… majestic… and totally absorbing! Bandleader and Loop Collective saxophonist Tom Challenger brings the natural, live-stage experience of this nine-piece ensemble out from under the spotlights and into our hands. 

Imagine colourful New Orleans street promenades coalescing with free jazz in an unfettered, contemporary spirit, and that might just begin to identify the simmering-yet-brazen brilliance of Brass Mask. Exuberant 2013 studio debut Spy Boy first revealed the power of this coming-together of mostly London-based talent. Now, Live combines developments of some of those joyous, smile-inducing compositions/arrangements from Challenger with new material; and one look at his experimental personnel hints at the firecrackling show in prospect – George Crowley, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, Nathaniel Cross, Theon Cross, Dan Nicholls, John Blease and Jon Scott.

Tom Challenger’s inspiration for this project stems from various online bootlegs which feature, for example, the raw energy of John Coltrane, Mardi Gras Indians and Haitian Rara bands. But this is a live album with an edge, as he and Alex Bonney sensitively link and support the recorded gig (from the capital’s Servant Jazz Quarters) with imaginatively-crafted electronics, as well as ‘field recordings’ of “mangled YouTube and iPhone samples of found sound”. And it’s a blast!

The bleating, effected horns of Francilia herald Shallow Water – a slow, stirring, processional funeral march which trudges to wailing tenors and trumpets (quite different from the dance-groove original); Lil’ Liza Jane‘s infectious, shuffling trad playfulness echoes to almost sneery horn riffs amidst the most vociferous tuba, organ and percussion; and trancelike The Bague is just as cunningly shambolic. Held-back gospel tune Indian Red feels made for such a live setting, preening itself with hard-blown brass before breaking into swingin’ double-time abandon, whilst the grungy, rasping blues of I Thank You Jesus, underpinned by Nicholls’ sustained, palpitating keys and Theon Cross’s wildly whooping tuba, demands to be heard over and over.

Nyodi‘s oscillating canvas invites a delightfully unexpected Joe Zawinul-type tuba groove (à la River People), complemented by Wayne Shorter-style tenor tumblings and, appropriately, sustained, Weather Reportian chord clusters. Rapid, madcap capers in The Merman suggest Madness on acid; and the glorious, reedy, push-pull riff of Francis P (all ten minutes or more of it, compared to the original of less than three) enjoys a frenetic phantasmagoria of organ/keys, jousting trumpets, flailing tuba and the oxymoron of an ascending electronic wind-down.

A splendid, visceral hullabaloo. Turn up the volume and immerse yourself in it. Released on 21 April 2017, Brass Mask’s Live is available as CD or digital album from Bandcamp.

 

Tom Challenger tenor sax, clarinet
George Crowley tenor sax, clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
Dan Nicholls organ, keyboards, percussion
John Blease drums, percussion
Jon Scott percussion

tom challenger.co.uk
loop collective.org

Babel Label – BDV15137 (2017)

‘Identity’ – Patrick Lester-Rourke

CD DigiPak 6 Panel 1 Tray

PATRICK LESTER-ROURKE’s debut release arrives with no preconceptions. An undiscovered hour-long statement from a young and hitherto unknown musician. But its eclecticism and multifariousness – presented with an overarching, homemade ardency – makes Identity beguiling.

A graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire, the audio engineer, composer and performer was inspired by the concept of Miles Davis’ seminal 1970 double album Bitches Brew; specifically the idea of assembling an experimentally receptive ensemble to produce fresh, extended diversities of sound. That said, Lester-Rourke and his twelve collaborators (see below) create a musical landscape which is far from inaccessible, segueing elements of jazz, folk, pop/rock, prog and funk with free improvisation, electronic washes and audio soundbites.

Such a melange could be perceived as a lack of identity – yet Lester Rourke fashions it creatively, so there’s no let-up in a rhythmical and textural richness which also interweaves intangible retro glimmers of television soundtrack. The unfolding, flailing mystery of An-ka erupts into echoic, Israeli-inflected alto saxophone and ascending violin over crashing electric guitar and a cacophonous wall of sound, whilst expansive Soor-yo-day‘s gradual progression is exotically coloured with Spanish guitar and trumpet, seized upon by rapid-fire heavy rock.

But it’s not all climactic drama. Drus-ka-moma‘s mischievous bass clarinet figure sets up a spiralling gypsy-fiddle dance from Ning-Ning Li, its solid backing including trumpet, tremulant organ and bubbling synth, all carried on a wave of syncopated hand clapping; and Ow-in na shoor‘s folksy ’60s vibe features an attractive guitar round which is disseminated throughout the band.

There’s a splendid double bass, wah-wah guitar and bass synth funk groove to Get Movin’, prompting infectiously chattering organ as well as trumpet/sax banter between Alex Astbury and Josh Scofield (the raw, unpolished feel is rather charming). Scratchy guitar-rock Tear it Down channels The Sweet, Nirvana or Kaiser Chiefs (choose your era), interspersed with TV-theme melodies for trumpet and violin; and …A Cultural Clash closes with distinctly abstract ambience.

Unusual, genre-defying, quirky… but certainly both fascinating and listenable.

Released on 10 April 2017, Identity is available as a digital album from Bandcamp, CD BabyAmazon and iTunes.

 

Patrick Lester-Rourke audio engineer, composer
Josh Schofield alto saxophone
Ning-Ning Li violin
Alex Astbury trumpet
Alex Roche acoustic guitar
Matthew Price electric guitar
Oliver Law electric guitar
Tom Harris grand piano
David Ferris organ
Vittorio Mura bass clarinet
Ben Weatherill bass synth
Aram Bahmaie double bass
Gwilym Jones drums

plester-rourke.co.uk

PL-RP001 (2017)

‘In The Tree’ – Ben Lee Quintet

inthetree

MUSIC CONTRIBUTES IMMEASURABLY to our human existence, accompanying us through joy, grief, reflection, love… and dropping from the leafy cover illustration of guitarist/composer Ben Lee’s debut quintet album In The Tree comes unabashed vivacity in the form of one of this year’s most entertaining, occasionally whimsical jazz offerings.

Originally hailing from Devon, and now based in London, Birmingham Conservatoire jazz guitar graduate Lee is not only an accomplished instrumentalist, but clearly cherry-picks whatever sounds and genres please him in order to create his phantasmagorical world. And colleagues Chris Young, Richard Foote, David Ferris and Euan Palmer are up for it, too, in an unconventional line-up which enjoys the earthy sustenance of organ and boasts great dual-horn fervour.

It’s remarkable that, no matter how often these ten tracks are heard, they possess a joyful unpredictability and tremendous variety – yet they’re strongly rooted and beautifully constructed in jazz. The opening Folk Theme, for example, seems to draw on ’60s movie themes (Enio Morricone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ comes to mind), encouraged by its sinewy guitar sound and undulating, tremulant organ (no need for a bassist); yet it blasts heady trombone and sax riffs over vibrant drumming. Title track In The Tree‘s playful demeanour is redolent of the folksy trio outings of Frode Alnaes, Arild Andersen and Stian Carstensen, its smilingly carefree, whistled melody improvised upon throughout with glee; and First Contact‘s slick, big-band weight also grooves infectiously to Lee’s country guitar (‘has to be heard!).

Hygge pictorialises that Danish expression of candlelit conviviality and intimacy through lush chordal organ and mellow, Wes Montgomery-styled guitar; Beginning of the End‘s breathless ‘Brazil 66′-like animation, underpinned by David Ferris’ bubbling organ baseline, offers so much fascination inside five and half minutes, including the tight trombone and alto pairing of Richard Foote and Chris Young, as well as Lee’s no-holes-barred Jimmy Page guitar rockiness; and the buzzing, harmonic colour of Drone builds through anthemic, canonic layering. Swingin’ Scratching the Itch (which, Lee says, reflects his mildly addictive personality) wildly crashes and sears up and down the frets – and the overall band verve, carried by Euan Palmer’s fervent percussion, is electric.

Tuneful, Barbados-inspired Kickin’ the Chicken summons steel pans and sunshine as Chris Young’s warm, meandering alto glides across the feel-good rhythm; Nirvana‘s expansive, rasping energy melds indie rock with cinematic score (one of, frankly, many standouts); and twee, acoustic vocal/guitar endpiece Skateboarding On My Own, if nothing else, demonstrates Lee’s indubitable chordal precision.

Such an eclectic mix might well cause a few to scratch their heads – and, sure, it has its moments of almost naive levity. But when, without preconception, you slot in a new CD and it brings a smile, warms your heart, cranks up your spirit and ends up on repeat play… well, such reactions are the essence of good music.

Festooned with delights, and yours for the climbing (released 21 October 2016), In The Tree is available as CD or digital download from Stoney Lane Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Ben Lee guitar, composition
Chris Young alto saxophone
Richard Foote trombone
David Ferris organ
Euan Palmer drums

Illustration: ningningli.com

benleeguitar.com

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1892 (2016)

‘Vyamanikal’ – Kit Downes & Tom Challenger

Vyamanikal

ARISING from a 2015 Aldeburgh Music residency, keyboardist Kit Downes and tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger conceived this imaginative project under the title Vyamanikal (from an ancient Sanskrit term for ‘flying machines’ – Vaimānika Shāstra).

Seven improvisations, recorded across five Suffolk churches*, take advantage of pipe organs and converted harmoniums in widely differing acoustic environments. Some instruments are in a creatively intriguing state of disrepair, whilst others – such as Framlingham’s historic, opulently-decorated 17th Century Thamar organ – are presumably more likely to be heard sounding the triumphant strains of J B Dykes or Samuel Wesley.

As a church organist of many years, I declare a specific interest in the instrument’s myriad capabilities. But here, like some musical ‘horse whisperer’, Kit Downes discovers and teases out perhaps hitherto undiscovered hoots, wheezes and subterranean reverberations which are accordantly combined with tenor saxophone ‘plainsong’ and distant, natural bird calls (close to Suffolk’s wetlands).

The duo recently took their project to St Ann’s Church, Manchester, backed by continuous video projections of various hard and soft landscapes. Late at night, with Downes arched across four manuals and pedal board, the deep, 32′ acoustic bass frequencies remarkably shook and rattled the very back corridors and galleries of the 18th Century architecture; and Challenger’s dry, often hollow tenor echoed around the elegant, white-columned ceiling spaces, melding sympathetically with the windy or intense strains of Downes’ own improvisations.

Rural village church quietness is discernible in Apicha as chattering birdsong and variably-opened, train-whistle-like drawstops are underpinned by sustained chordal clusters, whilst tentative tenor melodies drift around; and Bdhak‘s repetitive engine-room bleeps and modulations provide an otherworldly canvas for Tom Challenger to roam (shades of Garbarek, but with loftier freedom). Tremulant, hurdy-gurdy-like Sa becomes extraordinarily industrial, Tromba stops blustering with incredible density (far removed from any hymnary) before floating heavenwards with harmonic tenor beauty; and moorhen cheeps and cawing ravens enhance the breathy textures of Vistri in a soundtrack for windswept wheat fields and marshlands.

The flapping organ resonances and tenor sax melancholy of one of the album’s longer movements, Jyotir, might suggest desolate, chilled panoramas as an impressive, sustained swell rises symphonically to imply the glorious warmth of sunrise… eventually returning to afterglow birdcall mimicry. Also suggesting midwinter solitude, Maar-ikar‘s de-tuned, fading registrations ebb and flow to a background of tweets and gravel-path treads (an organ solo, unless Challenger’s timbres are perfectly integrated); and Nya-aya‘s subtle, dark-sky drone closes the sequence with a peculiar sense of anticipation and apprehension.

As an improvisational experience, this is an offbeat yet distinctive recording which requires a clear mind and an open spirit. Turn the lights low and let your imagination take you……

Vyamanikal is available from Bandcamp.

Watch Aldeburgh Music’s video about the project.

 

Kit Downes organs
Tom Challenger saxophone

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Bonney

*Recorded at:
• All Saints Church, Darsham
• Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh
• St Michael’s Church, Framlingham
• St Edmund’s Church, Bromeswell
• St John’s Church, Snape

Wedding Music is also available

kitdownes.com/Vyamanikal
aldeburgh.co.uk

Slip Imprint – SLP042 (2016)

‘Culcha Vulcha’ – Snarky Puppy

Culcha

THE PHENOMENON known as Snarky Puppy is a grooving ‘must see’ if they’re in town!

Over the past few years, the infectious exuberance of this Brooklyn-based collective has spread out over the globe. Led by charismatic electric bassist Michael League, their seemingly inexhaustible energy has found them performing across six continents, wowing audiences from Bremen to Buenos Aires, from Manchester to Mumbai; and the sense of ‘community’ in their musical outlook has spawned residency programmes as well as many musical collaborations (most recently their second Family Dinner album featuring the likes of David Crosby, Laura Mvula and Jacob Collier).

For eleventh release Culcha Vulcha, the guys (not a snarky character amongst them!) relocated to a remote Texan pecan orchard – Sonic Ranch Studios – to record their first pure studio album in eight years. As a live band, League and colleagues fill their demographically wide audiences with an inescapable feel-good – a combination of astonishing, eclectic artistry and elated self-bemusement at the energy and new ideas they forge together on stage; but it’s also exciting to discover the sounds they carefully craft whilst spending a week in each others’ pockets. The result – well, possibly their best recorded account yet.

The personnel and instrumentation listed below only begin to indicate the heady, groove-laden ‘riffage’ that makes up this hour-plus, nine-track celebration. Often possessing an anthemic quality, the Snarkys’ memorable performances here begin to activate a ‘fave’ rush – that intro recognition which settles you in for a good time, as in the lurching groove of opener Tarova. Twang-tight horns and multifarious percussion are frequently in evidence, but its also the varied palette of pitch-bent synth improv, along with flamboyant guitar lines and League’s inherent bass impetus, which make up this potent brew.

Semente‘s Brazilian vibrancy is coloured by Chris Bullock’s peppy flute melodies and zazzy repinique triplet clattering; Grown Folks has a grungy big band urgency, full of bold horn and guitar phrases; and Gemini‘s cool, sidewalk demeanour, with mellotron and bottleneck guitar, is one of the classiest grooves heard for some time. Electronics, slow-attack synth and alto flute in Beep Box change the pace with retro space-age charm, and sophisticated clav/moog bass-driven , with so many individual instrumental highlights (at times, even redolent of Level 42 at their mid-80s live best), is a first-listen standout which has cemented itself as a ‘go-to’ to lift the spirits.

And that’s the way it continues, each track a winner – reggae-synth The Simple Life (with gritty, David Gilmour-like slide guitar) totally addictive; Cory Henry’s organ dream Palermo (written by percussionist Marcelo Woloski, and featuring haunting flugel) suggesting a gamelanese hypnotism; and Big Ugly‘s soulful, prog-tinged synth-fest a superb closer.

This album has been spinning around for a few weeks now, yet never needs a second invitation to enjoy another complete, loud play-through. Keep on doing what you’re doing, boys!

Released on 29 April 2016, Culcha Vulcha is available from the GroundUP Music website and all good retailers.

 

Cory Henry organ, Clavinet, Mellotron, Moog
Bill Laurance piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthex
Justin Stanton piano, Fender Rhodes, Omni, Prophet 6, Synthex, Arp Axxe
Bobby Sparks Clavinet, MiniMoog, Moog Bass
Michael League electric bass, nylon-string guitar, baritone guitar, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Bass, Mellotron
Bob Lanzetti electric guitar
Mark Lettieri electric guitar, baritone guitar
Chris McQueen guitar
Jay Jennings trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike “Maz” Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, keyboards
Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone
Zach Brock violin
Jason “J.T.” Thomas drums
Robert “Sput” Searight drums
Larnell Lewis drums
Nate Werth trap set, cowbells, chimes, caixa, floor tom, tambourine, shaker, angklung, cymbals, percussion, clapping
Keita Ogawa timbal, repinique, kanjira, caixa, congas
Marcelo Woloski djembe, shakers, surdo, triangle, caixa, angklung, Tang-Tang, Reco-reco cowbell, Bombo Legüero, donkey jaw, kalimba, daf, effects, clapping

snarkypuppy.com

GroundUP Music / Universal Music Classics  (2016)

‘Range’ – Pete McCann

Range

A FIRST LISTEN to the sparkling jazz-rock of guitarist Pete McCann may leave you pondering why, at least in the UK, his name is so unfamiliar. Respected as a first-call sideman on the New York scene, he has appeared on over 80 album recordings including those of Patti Austin, Curtis Stigers and the Mahavishnu Project; while in jazz his credentials include having worked alongside Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz and Brian Blade.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Pete McCann electric and acoustic guitars
John O’Gallagher alto sax
Henry Hey piano, Fender Rhodes, organ
Matt Clohesy acoustic and electric bass
Mark Ferber drums

petemccann.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4675 (2015)

‘The Cut Off Point’ – Phil Robson

PhilRobson

THE THREE MASKED MEN were spotted last year on a visit to one of Phil Robson’s favourite UK haunts – the Players Theatre, Davenham, Cheshire. In its most intimate of surroundings, the guitarist and his colleagues (sans disguise!) entertained a rapt audience with new music destined for this debut organ trio release, The Cut Off Point. Small venue, big vibe.

An influential figure on the British contemporary jazz scene (and one quarter of seminal jazz/rockers Partisans), Phil Robson has long been a fan of the organ trio – and, citing Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery amongst his influences, he has harboured a desire to write and perform in this format. As with any trio, the exposure requires nerve and intuition to ignite the creative spark… oh, and the opportunity to work with seasoned pros – in Robson’s case, here, with Ross Stanley (Hammond organ) and Gene Calderazzo (drums).

The impact of the organ trio is instant. Without bass or piano, it’s the huge physical and audible presence of the Hammond B-3 that takes centre stage – and Ross Stanley’s is as authentic as they come, complete with separate, whirring tone cabinet. Robson and drummer Calderazzo go back many years, especially through their work with Partisans, and therefore have a ready-made connection which is clearly evident.

With seven of the eight tracks penned by Robson, his opener, Thief, reveals the classic organ trio groove – guitar and keyboard melodies deftly gryrating and intertwining, buoyed by Calderazzo’s irresistible, carefully-weighted, toe-tapping rhythms; and with Stanley in charge of pedal-board bass, the organ-and-guitar flexibility of combining or alternating sustained chordal colour with brisk upfront soloing is a great feature, captured particularly well in bustling Second Thoughts. The trio’s retro interpretation of David Liebman’s Dimi and the Blue Men bleeps and echoes in hyperspace before landing on craggy Jeff Beck terrain, Calderazzo particularly eloquent in his snare detail.

Snappy organ and guitar lines are shared in Vintage Vista, its rapid intensity inviting terrific soloing all round (again, its Calderazzo that steals the show – how I’d love to hear that drum track in isolation!). Dedicated to the late Kenny Wheeler, Astral‘s floating, undulating soundworld is redolent of Zawinul’s In a Silent Way and Metheny’s Sirabhorn, whilst pleasingly jarring title track The Cut Off Point buzzes to Robson’s hard-edged, John Scofield-like effects and restless group improvisation. One of Robson’s older, unrecorded tunes, Berlin, swings airily to his light and apparently effortless exploration of the fingerboard; and, to finish, Ming the Merciless deep-grooves to crunchy guitar’n’Hammond chords and infectious bluesy soloing.

As ‘Ratzo’ shouts at the close, “We got an album”. Yep, they sure have!

The Cut Off Point is released by Whirlwind on 18 May 2015 – further information, audio samples and purchasing can be found here.

 

Phil Robson electric guitar
Ross Stanley Hammond organ
Gene Calderazzo drums

philrobson.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4672 (2015)