REVIEW: ‘Torus’ – James Lindsay

THE WEAVE of warm, incisive melody and textural detail heard in bassist/composer James Lindsay’s Strand (his 2017 debut as leader) takes flight in this new album – a vibrant blend of folk-rock that radiates positivity, freedom and adventure.

Torus, in geometrical, natural and cosmological terms, is explained as ‘a spiralling flow of energy, constantly refreshing and influencing itself’ and informs this recorded “exploration of the flows which connect us to our world, and a reminder that change is our only constant”. Communicating those themes, Lindsay integrates himself within the body of an eight-piece instrumental line-up that drives his latest compositions with renewed vigour, certainly ramped-up from the relative homeyness of his original release. That said, amongst its high-energy rock riffs – from a core of electric guitar, keyboards, sax, bass, drums and percussion – the beguiling timbres and inflections of accordion and fiddle firmly root these nine numbers in the evolving folk-music heritage of the bassist’s native Scotland.

Also a member of renowned folk band Breabeach, and with various awards accolades to his name, Glasgow-based Lindsay’s approach to composition and arrangement feels both meticulous and open. There’s a clear sense of journeying threaded through his work that creates a fulgent or sometimes smirr-streaked soundtrack quality. Indeed, though the titles’ sources are varied, the strongest impressions are of Scottish coastal or heather-rich landscapes, with the ever-changing visual and meteorological contrasts they present (aligned to the album’s aspects of regeneration and renewal).

Optimistically-emerging Lateral Roots establishes Lindsay’s intent in an ebullient, contemporary folk-rock reel warmed by the particularly effective textural mesh of unison accordion and sax; and Ben MacDonald’s skittering, hammer-style improvisations can be fleetingly reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth or John Clark. Observatory’s sky-wide ambience brings forth the delightful, rapidly-articulated dance of fiddle and accordion, backed by a crashing, 1980s-hued pop groove; and in Electroreceptor (a system of tissues in a living organism that enables electrical power), suitably syncopated rhythms spark a buzz of overlapping soul-funk conversations throughout its instrumentation. The bass-rasping, synth-laden vigour of Lewisian Complex (referencing north-west Scotland’s ancient, craggy outcrops) has tremors of Depeche Mode or The Human League; but again, it’s fuelled by jazz-rock guitar and vibrant Scots colour, pausing only for the misty Gaelic vocal of Deirdre Graham.

Kalimba droplets and crunchy Rhodes chords prepare the ground for Cycles’ theme-tune riffs and solid beats, while ritualistically-dancing Skekler (a guiser involved in an ancient Shetland custom of banishing winter that includes the beating of wooden staves) culminates in the vehement pound of percussion, urgent fiddle and power chords. Taking Lindsay back to an old haunt, The Smiddy’s chirpy folk melodies become lusciously underpinned at one point by Moog bass, and Jinibara (the indigenous people of Queensland, Australia – an area once visited by the bassist) is similarly uplifting. To close, the first-light clarity of Holon’s accordion and bass seemingly rises to greet the sun, coruscating with a tapestry of guitar, fiddle and sax.

At times, the narrative of this music might benefit from greater fluctuations of light and shade, occasionally reducing the density to create space (as heard in that pool of atmospheric, vocal serenity) or even a near-silence that might portray dark sky zones, north of the border. But, imagined as the basis – or forerunner – of a mixed-media concept or screenplay score, James Lindsay’s evocations characteristically brim with vitality.

Produced by respected jazz and folk musician/engineer Euan Burton, Torus is released on 23 April 2021 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Angus Lyon accordion
Ben MacDonald electric guitars
Deirdre Graham vocals (on Lewisian Complex)
Jack Smedley fiddle
John Lowrie keyboard
James Lindsay bass guitar, electric guitar, Moog
Norman Wilmore alto saxophone
Scott Mackay drums
Signy Jakobsdottir percussion

Illustration: ‘Observatory’ by Alice Strange

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD002 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Wax///Wane’ – Lucien Johnson

MYSTICAL, a touch retro, and increasingly spellbinding, Wax///Wane is the work of New Zealand saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson. It’s described as an album inspired by the lunar landscape of the southern skies – echoed by Julien Dyne’s virtually animated Neil Fujita-style cover art – and feels influenced by the output of both John and Alice Coltrane.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 1 April 2021 as a digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Lucien Johnson tenor saxophone, compositions
John Bell vibraphone
Michelle Velvin harp
Tom Callwood double bass
Cory Champion drums
Riki Piripi percussion

Cover art by Julien Dyne

lucienjohnson.com/

Deluge Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Phylum’ – Nazareno Caputo

DISCOVERY in music can take many forms for creator, performer or audience; and the concept takes on a more specific definition in ‘research’ recording Phylum from Italian vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Nazareno Caputo.

Caputo, who studied classical percussion at the conservatories of Gesualdo da Venosa, Potenza, and Luigi Cherubini, Florence, contributed much to double bassist Ferdinando Romano’s outstanding 2020 debut release Totem (a lush, contemporary jazz sextet/septet album featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi). But this more challenging trio recording arguably stems from deeper, more studious origins. Combining indubitable skill as a musician with his architecture-graduate passion for structure and non-structure – viewed through evolution, elaboration and dissolution – the project documents the vibraphonist’s close dialogue of exploration with Romano and drummer Mattia Galeotti.

“The word ‘Phylum’”, he explains, ”is used in zoology and botany to indicate a precise taxonomic group. Organisms belonging to a certain phylum share the same structural plan but not necessarily [does] their morphological development [lead] them in the same direction. The music of the trio starts from similar concepts. In architecture … structure is an element that is often hidden and only there to support. Sometimes, however, [it] is also exposed and therefore becomes part of the external morphology and acquires an aesthetic value”.

So this album is conceived as an imaginary path through the concept of structure in which the ‘journeys’ are presented in shapeless, chaotic form but may then evolve into, or retreat from, more cohesive rhythms and phrases. This can perhaps be more directly assimilated as a blend of free jazz and composed forms. Recorded by renowned engineer Stefano Amerio in the crystal-clear surroundings of the Artesuono studio, Udine, these 70 minutes are indeed an organic experience, requiring full attention.

Nazareno Caputo’s sleeve notes comprehensively describe the nine tracks from his own perspective, though each is very much open to individual interpretation. Preludio’s disparate voicings succinctly demonstrate ‘order out chaos’ as they stumble upon a single note and rhythm, whereas the tentative vibraphone elegance of 13-minute Adi possesses a melodic, recognisably jazz-inflected beauty that suggests a five-note bass figure to Romano; and that becomes the basis of a crescendoing adventure which erupts to Galeotti’s frothy display at the kit. This is the first of four expansive numbers, followed by the lively vibraphone-led delirium of Dulce where Caputo’s tireless improvisations lead to solid rhythms and eventual arco-bass placidity.

Like a number of composers, including Liszt, Caputo’s basis for Abside (a polygonal, vaulted recess) is the four-note motif B-A-C-H, which persistently encourages the trio towards accelerating, percussive frenzy; and episodic Adam R. (referencing Adam Rainer – historically, the only man whose life was affected by both dwarfism and gigantism) fizzes with myriad, unpredictable expressions of animation and repose. Searching solo vibraphone introduces three-part suite Phylum, whose dreamlike central waltz suggests a more classical inspiration. Its concluding movement is the album’s closest reflection of contemporary jazz and rock, sparking a thrashing fervency from Galeotti, while the album’s brief Postludio pares down all that has gone before into the shady abstractionism of sustained chimes, knocks, cymbals and restless bowing – does this even possess a structure … or must everything?

The album trailer (linked below) presents the trio in the sympathetic environment of Giovanni Michelucci’s Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, Florence – a fine example of the artistic bond between music and architecture which Nazareno Caputo values so highly. For the listener, late-night calm or the ‘cathedral’ of pastoral spaciousness, too, can amplify the trio’s offbeat creativity – the rest is down to our imagination.

Released on 22 February 2021, Phylum is available as CD or digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Nazareno Caputo vibraphone, percussion, composition
Ferdinando Romano double bass
Mattia Galeotti drums

Trailer (1:27), Movie (9:30)

nazarenocaputo.com

Aut Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Yardbird Suite’ – Alexey Kruglov & Krugly Band

HAVING DISCOVERED the music of genial Russian alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, back in 2014, through his ‘Duo Art’ album Moscow with pianist Joachim Kühn, I’ve come to anticipate three, key aspects with each subsequent release.

Firstly, his projects often have a specific theme, such as 2015’s The Mighty Five, a wildly unique jazz celebration of native classical masters including Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov; and then 2020 release Tchaikovsky, marking 180 years since the composer’s birth. Secondly, he displays a wonderfully outrageous sense of experimentation, his improvisations sometimes squawked on reed only or blasted out simultaneously on two or more saxes (Roland Kirk style). Finally, given his ‘avant garde’ tag… expect the unexpected!

As with the likes of Gilad Atzmon or Marius Neset, Kruglov’s techniques eschew limits, with a creative flow almost persuading that his instruments are simply part of his physical being. For latest release Yardbird Suite, together with his Krugly Band of Artem Tretyakov (piano), Roman Plotnikov (double bass) and Pavel Timofeev (drums, percussion), the saxophonist focuses on this year’s 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Charlie Parker – one of his earliest influences as a player. An album described as a suite itself, the performance notes reveal how the eight interpretations have a direct connection with both Stravinsky and John Coltrane. And, boy, how these bebop arrangements bop!

‘Bird’, himself, could fly like the wind – and Kruglov’s present-day reimagining of Anthropology is similarly scintillating, including a couple of audacious, sauntering episodes within. Usually swinging, Now’s the Time surprises with its graceful waltz, while combined Scrapple from the Apple and Ornithology emphasize the quartet’s co-ordination in all manner of tempo/mood changes. Kruglov stamps incredible, bluesy individuality on Parker’s Mood, his dual, screeching altos certainly amongst the album highlights; and familiar, shuffling calypso My Little Suede Shoes is transformed into a jaunty stomp, Kruglov’s improvisations breathlessly traversing a capricious, quickening pace set and expanded on by his colleagues.

An unexpected balladic refashioning of Yardbird Suite is completed by the leader’s characteristic, reed-popping explorations; and Segment (sprightly when Parker and Miles Davis were upfront) takes on an shadowy, malleted, minor-key guise with shimmering Latin-piano overtones. Finally, classic bopper Confirmation enjoys its exuberant walking-bass moment in a band showcase to prove how mid-forties jazz, in our time, still gleams.

In our conversations, over the years, Alexey Kruglov’s artistic enthusiasm and zest for life have remained inspiring – and that’s sparklingly communicated, with intentional live-in-studio feel, throughout Yardbird Suite. Parker would surely approve!

Released on 28 August 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp, and also at Fancy Music and Apple Music.

Video: dual-alto brilliance in Parker’s Mood.

 

Alexey Kruglov alto saxophones
Artem Tretyakov piano
Roman Plotnikov double bass
Pavel Timofeev drums, percussion

Fancy Music (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Humble Travelers’ – Floating Circles Quartet

IF YOU IMAGINE the clarinet to be best suited to classical repertoire or ‘trad’ jazz, then Humble Travelers – the debut album release from Aidan Pearson’s Floating Circles Quartet (FCQ) – may prove a real ‘ear opener’.

There are clear exceptions to any such idea, of course – on the contemporary jazz scene, both Arun Ghosh and Idris Rahman immediately spring to mind. Yet there‘s a sparkling freshness to Pearson’s clarinet/bass clarinet-led quartet with electric guitar, double bass and drums (plus guest violinist Johanna Burnheart) which is elevated through intelligent instrumental blends, snappy musicianship and an irrepressible joie de vivre. FCQ forecast their potential in 2018 with four-track EP, Eleven Yesterdays Ago – but already, it seems they have reached higher uplands in this exhilarating and absorbing programme of six Pearson originals, their mostly quirky titles reflecting themes of travel, movement and challenge.

On introduction to this album, what instantly attracted were the sizzling dance-groove rhythms conjured by drummer Arthur Newell and bassist Jonny Wickham, aligned to the rocky edge which Pearson’s clarinets and Matt Hurley’s guitar attain; and Burnheart’s contributions are a great match, too, always seeking a different angle for the violin in jazz.

The band’s pleasant-enough, folsky intent is stated in shuffling Brockley ‘n’ Peas, its title alluding to Pearson’s London locale. But where they collectively take this (a theme throughout the album) is compelling as Pearson‘s gruff, filtered clarinet ‘waves the green flag’ into disco-funk rhythm guitar and soloing, plus soaring, echoic violin. Misty, awakening Beyond the Mountains of Aria develops into a retro–1960s groove (occasionally Dave Brubeckian) accentuated by its bass-instigated 5/4 riff. It’s one of many instances where the melodic timbres are fascinatingly paired – for example, bass and guitar, or clarinet and guitar – to create the illusion of a further-augmented ensemble.

There’s a lovely whiff of mischief to Caravan Curtains, peering through the drizzly condensation to observe pizzicato and portamento frolics between the players, including ‘octave-up’, synth-like improv from Burnheart. In the bubbling ‘cartoon ska’ of White ‘n’ Fluffy, Pearson’s bass clarinet treads and jives with gusto, again applying electronics with great effect, as well as duelling with Hurley’s perky guitar. Wading Through the Mist’s chirpy violin-and-clarinet folksong (with a Scots lilt) airily glides above and through its theme of unforeseen challenge and determination, while the dainty, pre-school-TV simplicity of Galactic Pedal Boat Trip (you won’t find that name duplicated in the jazz canon) concludes.

Humble Travelers clearly isn’t clarinet chamber music! Aidan Pearson seems to have instilled a spirit of adventure in FCQ, his jazz-folk compositions regularly evolving and glistening with new ideas and timbres. The whole album is a complete and slightly left-field pleasure to listen to.

Released on 12 September 2020 and available digitally at Bandcamp or in CD format at ebay.

Video: White ‘n’ Fluffy

 

Aidan Pearson clarinet, bass clarinet, compositions
Matt Hurley electric guitar
Jonny Wickham double bass, percussion
Arthur Newell drums
with guest artist
Johanna Burnheart violin

Cover art by Paul Middlewick

floatingcirclesquartet.com

(2020)

REVIEW: ‘Spirits of Absent Dancers’ – Martin Pyne

DANCE is central to vibraphonist and percussionist Martin Pyne’s varied professional career. So when, in 2020, musicians’ and artists’ livelihoods were challenged and even threatened as the Coronavirus pandemic forced them to ‘leave the stage’, Martin’s greatest sense of creative loss was in being unable to collaborate with dancers and choreographers, of whose dedication he remains in constant awe.

Recorded live in his home studio (‘GS1’, to BBC radio listeners), he worked intensively, in real time, as ‘a single accompanist’: “I imagined a lone musician in a deserted theatre, like a kind of medicine man, throwing sounds into the space in an attempt to conjure up the ghosts of dancers no longer present, to breathe movement into stillness”. The majority of the sounds come from varied percussion and a small drum kit that’s mostly played with hands and feet (titled after spirits or ghosts), while seven vibraphone solos (named as spells or enchantments) provide a fluid, mystical thread.

From the wings, like a shadowy Satie ‘Gnossiene’, enters the toy-piano and temple-bowl tune of Summoning, part of a ballet score created for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company. This provides the theme for the interspersed vibraphone variations such as Conjure, whose gossamer play might be imagined as fireflies in the twilight, and the sustained bowing and slow decays of Charm, suggesting nocturnal stillness. The more agile ‘spirits’ are just as entrancing, just a subtle hand clap amongst the toms and cymbals of Presence adding lovely detail; and Banshee’s fidgety, stop-start pats and tinkles feel quietly mischievous.

Discovering where Pyne’s explorations next turn is part of a magic which never wanes. Eidolon’s offbeat hi-hat pulse is addictive amongst its round-the-kit animation, and there‘s a resonance of gamelan in Ikiryo, prominently voiced by a delightful, tuned, wooden tongue drum acoustically sounded with hollow tubes. Vibraphone solo Hexing is mesmerically fleet and almost uncatchable, as is wispy Hocus Pocus, while impetuous tambourine interlude Spook might easily be an authentic medieval estampie. There’s a strong semblance of swing in the energetically brushed flams of Sprite, where pauses and interrupted rhythms create almost humorous anticipation (pity the dancer, there!). Even the bluesy chime of final vibes solo Enchantment might find a placid connection with the ‘MJ’ (Milt Jackson) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

While dominantly percussive, this is eloquent music (which, Pyne says, couldn’t exist without jazz or other genres) – music for dance studio, theatre or quiet contemplation. Find the space to be transported by its array of improvised timbres, rhythms and moods, even imagining the usual interaction with colourful, gyrating shapes (see video links below). Created out of adversity and artistic longing, this is a wondrous, evocative diversion.

Released on 26 August 2020 and available in CD and digital formats from Discus Music and Bandcamp.

Videos: Eidolon, Banshee and Enchantment

Martin Pyne percussion, vibraphone, toy piano

discus-music.co.uk

Discus Music – Discus 98CD (2020)