REVIEW: ‘Dream Feathers’ – Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS

THE DEPTH OF ORIGINAL MUSIC, newly created by artists and then fathomed further by our own imagination, remains a never-fading fascination – an opportunity to hear sounds for the very first time, and then continue to appraise and interpret them in relation our own experiences and circumstances. The possibilities are limitless.

Dream Feathers, presented by Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS, beautifully exemplifies that fact in a nine-track soundscape led by veteran saxophonist Caines (“composer”) and Sheffield multi-instrumentalist Archer (“studio enabler and magician”) where a multiplicity of melodies, textures, rhythms and field recordings abound. And whilst entirely accessible, both the freedom and blend of scored and improvised music takes this septet’s output far beyond a sequence of ‘jazz tunes’ and into an hour-long realm where the mind might freely roam the unexpected, eliciting visual and even visceral responses on a personal level.

Completing the line-up, pianist Laura Cole, guitarist Anton Hunter, double bassist Gus Garside and drummer Johnny Hunter – also proven masters of invention – paint canvases of acoustic and electronic colour which are enhanced with great effect by Hervé Perez’s field recordings, electronics and processing.

Throughout, Caines’ clear saxophonic tone/vibrato and ‘off-piste’ perambulations are a joy. In memorable, cyclic African Violets, piano and horns create a Coltranesque foundation for him to stretch out across Johnny Hunter’s shimmering cymbals and solid drumming impetus; and his easy alto lyricism in broad Uccello / 1934 (incidentally, a significant year in British classical music) becomes echoed by the most delightfully sparse electronic drones and electric-piano chimes. Free improv is prominent in mischievous, angular Mazeep; in prickly, unpredictable Harmonix; and in darker, mini-maelstrom Nico. But just as effective, and certainly more immersive, are the outer eleven-minute ‘movements’ – Rothko Veil / Dream Feathers and Almazon / 1934 Reprise – whose gently-shifting strata of extemporisation and complementary field captures seep into mind and heart, ultimately carried away through a canopy of woodland birdsong.

Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more.

Released on 13 November 2019 and available as CD or download from Discus Music at Bandcamp.

 

Ron Caines soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Martin Archer bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter guitar and electronics
Gus Garside double bass
Johnny Hunter drums

discus-music.co.uk
roncaines.co.uk

Discus Music (Discus 88CD) – 2019

REVIEW: ‘Point Blank’ – Tony Kofi and The Organisation

Kofi_PointBlank_300

THE SIGHT of Tony Kofi picking up baritone sax never fails to produce a tremor of excitement – and on Point Blank, he and The Organisation fervently explore the post-bop jazz repertoire through ten choice numbers from ten artists/composers, including Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Henry Mancini and Jimmy Smith.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 31 August 2018 and available from Proper Music, Amazon and iTunes.

 

Tony Kofi baritone saxophone
Simon Fernsby guitar
Pete Whittaker organ
Peter Cater drums

tonykofimusic.com
lastmusic.co.uk

The Last Music Company – LMCD2019 (2018)

REVIEW: ‘Händel Goes Wild’ – L’Arpeggiata

THEORBIST and director Christina Pluhar’s visionary 2014 recording with her period ensemble L’Arpeggiata, Music for a While, captured the imagination with its contemporary arrangements of and improvisations upon the 17th Century music of England’s renowned Mr Henry Purcell. 

Now turning their attention to German composer, and naturalised ‘Brit’, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), L’Arpegiatta and guests interpret an array of works in Händel Goes Wild – most especially the operatic arias, here eloquently conveyed by countertenor Valer Sabadus and soprano Nuria Rial. The album title references the composer’s reputed, fiery personality more than this alternative musical approach which is sophisticated, invigorating, yet respectful. But that said, Pluhar boldly infuses both the familiar and less well-known with an ingenious mix of jazz, folk, pop and Indian flavours – all part of the attraction, discovering where in the world GFH will be taken next; though, undoubtedly and intentionally, it’s also the recognisable genius of the baroque master that shines out.

This lavish, 76-minute production is heralded by Gianluigi Trovesi’s bluesy, rubato clarinet and Francesco Turrisi’s jazz-inflected piano improv – a sign that the Sinfonia from Act 3 of Alcina has found a distinctly different direction, its classical strings ultimately augmented by frenetic, accelerando, Russian dance rhythms. From the same opera, the luscious countertenor, clarinet and cornetto strains of Verdi prati are a balm to the soul, as is Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (one of a number of readings which, for balance, don’t automatically seek an alternative path); and Brazilian percussion encircles glorious Venti, turbine (from Rinaldo). Popular Where’er You Walk (from Semele) pleasantly wrong-foots as Nuria Rial’s clear annunciation is accompanied by a bright, childlike clarinet motif with Latinesque piano triplets; and its operatic partner O sleep, why dost they leave me becomes a gentle, musical-box lullaby.

An impressive and ebullient improvisation, Canario, dances to rhythmic baroque guitar, inviting splendid individual instrumental soloing (including ’60s Hammond organ) and a wonderfully vitalising konnakol and percussion episode, whilst aria Pena tiranna (from Amidigi di Gaula) demonstrates still further how effectively Handel can be interpreted through limpid piano with subtle bass-and-cymbal momentum. Unexpectedly, the spirited jazz abandon of Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon) can seem a little disjointed – perhaps too obvious a candidate for this project. Nevertheless, the vast majority of these fifteen selections gel superbly – and, as always with such considered and well-executed projects, it’s not impossible to imagine George Frideric enthusiastically experimenting with these textures and genres, had they been available to him. Indeed, how I wish he might have experienced these sublime theorbo and piano improvisations on Lascia ch’io pianga.

Released on 1 September 2017, Händel Goes Wild is available in physical and digital formats from Erato/Warner Music through a variety of outlets.

 

Valer Sabadus countertenor
Nuria Rial soprano

L’Arpeggiata:
Doron David Sherwin cornetto
Judith Steenbrink baroque violin
Leila Schayegh baroque violin
Catherine Aglibut baroque violin
Veronika Skuplik baroque violin
Dáša Valentová baroque viola
Rodney Prada viola da gamba
Felix Knecht baroque cello
Josep María Martí Duran theorbo, baroque guitar
Eero Palviainen archlute, baroque guitar
Haru Kitamika harpsichord, organ
Gianluigi Trovesi clarinet

Francesco Turrisi piano, organ
Boris Schmidt double bass
David Mayoral percussion
Sergey Saprichev percussion

Christina Pluhar theorbo, direction

arpeggiata.com

Erato/Warner Music (2017)

‘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)