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)

REVIEW: ‘The Fire Still Burns’ – Alan Braufman

THE RAW ENERGY across this quintet/sextet recording is on another level!

When the promo informed that it’s Brooklyn-born saxophonist and flautist Alan Braufman’s first album recording for 45 years – since Valley of Search, his 1975 debut with pianist Cooper-Moore – The Fire Still Burns just demanded to be heard… and it doesn’t disappoint. A man with a jazz story or five (seeing Sun Ra and Coltrane in the 1960s, playing in Carla Bley’s band, etc.), his curious blend of original, blithe, accessible tunes and fiery free jazz is driven with gusto, throughout, by drummer Andrew Drury, while the approach of Braufman and the rest of his team is similarly impassioned.

Listen to the segued contrast between sunshiny, flute-ornamented Morning Bazaar and screeching, uproarious No Floor No Ceiling to understand the range. Dual-horn strength and the leader’s own, blistering soloing matches Cooper-Moore’s strong piano foundation in Home, while the romantic soulfulness of Alone Again (easily imaginable with a lyric) still maintains an appealing hard edge, as does the impressively hard-blown title track with Braufman, again, giving it everything on sax. The township-style prelude to City Nights – with fabulously solid, shuffling groove – heralds neat arco-bass harmonics from Ken Filiano as the whole, unfolding climax becomes irresistible (and I could happily enjoy another couple of minutes of Michael Wimberly’s lively, closing percussion!). That’s the vibe to discover.

With eight tracks averaging around four and a half minutes each, it would be easy to feel short-changed on album length; but the breathless invention of it all – melodic or wildly improvised – dispels that notion, delivering huge satisfaction.

Released on 28 August 2020 in LP, CD and digital formats at Bandcamp (view the trailer).

 

Alan Braufman alto saxophone, flute
Cooper-Moore piano
James Brandon Lewis tenor saxophone
Ken Filiano bass
Andrew Drury drums
with
Michael Wimberly percussion (tracks 2 & 8)

alanbraufman.com

(2020)

REVIEW: ‘Trio’ – Felix Jay (3CD)

FOLLOWING the singular creative path of Felix Jay has been illuminating, and proves how limitless our discoveries can be. A varied career has seen the multi-instrumentalist collaborate with artists including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, working for NME and striking a friendship with Brian Eno, while his recording acquaintance with jazz trumpeter Byron Wallen is long-standing.

Trio isn’t a ‘jazz piano trio’ recording, as one might surmise, but a three-album work of sessions which cover a double decade, from 1999 to 2019 – two featuring Wallen and guitarist Rob Luft – and much of it recorded at his music room on the River Eye, in the serene rurality of the Cotswolds. It seems Jay has always preferred improvisational collages, yet his music is generally accessible and certainly increasingly absorbing. Personnel details and instrumentation for each album are listed further below.

Riverseyeside Recordings weaves a sinuous route, Calabash and Song for Ch(arli)e featuring muted trumpet (echoes of Miles) over rivulets of Fender Rhodes and wavering, phased electric guitar; and its Jay’s marimba and other percussion which provides mysterious depth in Bush of mists. Electronics are effective in pieces such as Sacred flutes, creating a breathy ostinato for bass clarinet to crawl through; and Shisya’s joyful conversation between scampering guitar runs, bass flute and a clapping rhythm is attractive (one of Jay’s earlier recordings, Cardamom & Coriander, demonstrates his skill with fluttering, harmonic bass flute). Fils de fils de Kilimanjaro taps into Luft’s affection for an African vibe; grooving Where’s Jack? feels like it could run and run; and expansive Must it be? It must be! views the afterglow with steel guitar shooting star trails soaring above delicate soprano sax melodies.

Jay’s connection to Indonesian ensemble music features strongly in second album, Jazz Gamelan, which is mostly his three-way dialogue with Wallen and Luft. In a slendro way quietly chimes, perhaps in reverence to Joe Zawinul; and there are delightfully mesmeric tuned percussion solo episodes such as Jasmine and Kempulus. This hour’s sequence genuinely feels like an exploration in and out of different rooms, the prepared piano and clarinet of Samburan more akin to classical chamber music, then countered by softly bass-funked, trumpet-improvised On what corner? Luft’s sitar impressions against hammered gamelan tones in Ripples (1 & 2) are inspired; and exotic, guiro-scratched Lull leads into another meditative space – In a suling way – becalmed by high, Southeast Asian-suggested soprano recorder.

Third album, Prepared/Unprepared, is a thread of Jay’s spontaneous improvisations at a prepared electric grand piano. Arguably more challenging to take in, these extended experiments seem to combine pianistic and percussive ideas, though maybe the solidity of an acoustic instrument would be more sympathetic.

For an alternative, tributary experience of predominantly improvised music, I recommend pursuing this unique collection (especially for the first and second albums) which reveals new textures every time. It was the enthusiasm of Rob Luft which prompted Jay to resurrect and complete these archive recordings, and it’s right that they have now found the light of day and are also entirely relevant to the current jazz/improvised scene. 

Recently-released Trio isn’t available through the usual channels (burningshed.com is yet to make it available). But it is on sale, directly from Felix Jay, at ebay.

 

RIVEREYESIDE RECORDINGS
Felix Jay all percussion, basses, Rhodes, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet, ngoni
Nicola Alesini bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole pedal steel guitars

JAZZ GAMELAN
Felix Jay all percussion, bass, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet
Jan Steele clarinet, soprano recorder

PREPARED/UNPREPARED
Felix Jay prepared Kawai electric grand piano

Hermetic Recordings – HERM 7, 8 & 9 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Connections: without borders’ – Julian Costello Quartet

IT’S NOT DIFFICULT to warm to a recording whose character reflects that of its leader – and in Connections: without bordersJulian Costello and his quartet interpret the saxophonist’s original chamber jazz writing which meanders between wistfulness, adventure and perky mischief.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 28 February 2020 and available from 33 Jazz RecordsAmazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Julian Costello tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Maciek Pysz electric guitar, classical guitar
Jakub Cywinski double bass
Adam Teixeira drums, percussion

juliancostello.co.uk

33 Jazz Records – 33JAZZ283 (2020)