‘The Chamber Music Effect’ – Vein

GIVEN THE proliferation of jazz piano trios out there, there’s something remarkably open and inviting about Vein’s ‘chamber music effect’.

Pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns have been around a while – after just over a decade together, this is the Swiss trio’s tenth album; and with a cover lobe reminiscent of Manfred Mann’s ‘The Roaring Silence’, The Chamber Music Effect is very much about audible space – ‘the gaps in-between’ – as well as the sheer, percussive dynamism of their performance. The album title and ethos stem from their classical training, as well as the freedom of interpretation to be found in chamber works, which reflects the band’s philosophy: “interplay and the greatest possible equality for all members”.

Comparisons might well include The Bad Plus and Get the Blessing – it’s that kind of edgy, purposeful and unpredictable approach. But the enduring wonder of this stripped-down, no-hiding-place format is that each has its own identity – and Vein are no exception.

The writing of eight original compositions, across 48 minutes, is mainly provided by each of the Arbenz twins – and it’s a tour de force, both technically and emotionally. Boarding the Beat‘s impetuous groove is characterised by the falling-semitone figure of Thomas Lähns’ double bass (shades of Dan Berglund), the crashing, rapid-fire piano of Michael Arbenz, and Florian Arbenz’s fizzing percussion – straightaway, the democratic method is evident. Prelude suggests a subtle, searching air of ‘Bouncing with Bud’, its intimate swing buoyed throughout by pliant bass; and Poème de Nuit‘s slow, nighttime wanderings, delicately illuminated with chimes, offers a beguiling calm.

But Vein are capricious. In Medias Res‘s crackling chromaticism is a compelling listen, contrasting attitudinal stomp with florid, breathtaking piano runs; and Ode to the Sentimental Knowledge‘s sumptuous, chordal beauty intimates Bill Evans, though with pervasive, contemporary colour from Florian Arbenz’s kit. Quirky udu timbres announce Sheherezade – a punctuated groove which combines the lively rapport between Florian Arbenz and Thomas Lähns with incisive, bluesy piano lines; and curious arco bass harmonics are a feature of Lähns’ spacious, mysteriously rippling Pastorale.

Who knows whether Michael Arbenz’s attractive piano in this video of snappy closer, Ballet of the Monkeys, is simply a piece of ‘steam punk’ theatre or the real deal – but it provides a great snapshot of this band’s bracing energy.

Released on 21 April 2017, The Chamber Music Effect is available from Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Michael Arbenz piano
Thomas Lähns double bass
Florian Arbenz drums

vein.ch

UTR 4716 (2017)

‘Amorandom’ – Aki Rissanen

Amorandum

DISPLAYING a distinctly oblique yet beautifully affecting jazz sensibility, Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen’s Amorandom defines ‘the piano trio’ afresh in an album which effervesces with both spontaneity and unpredictability.

Rissanen originally conceived this music, a few years ago, as a soundtrack for respected Finnish animator, Antti Peränne. Yet, in its final form – and brought to life by colleagues Antii Lötjönen (double bass) and Teppo Mäkynen (drums) – it stands in splendid isolation as an absorbing, sit-up-and-listen release full of invention, atmosphere… and startling technique. Following a distinguished progression of classical and jazz education, the pianist has steadily been developing his international career as sideman/leader (recording with the likes of Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker and Michael Gibbs); and now, this collection – described as his major international debut – confirms Nordic jazz of lucid intelligence fired by an unquenchable, crackling spirit.

From the outset, Pulsar reveals what it is that sets this trio apart – arresting, repeated piano figures (imagine Reich, Glass) and deeply-plumbed notes; relentless, skittering impetus; sudden, ‘deafening’ calm. Jangling, atonal freedom in For Rainbows becomes animated through broken piano chords and crisp bass/percussion; and Passages Pas Sages creeps icily to rapid, dull toms and expansive piano, the trio’s innate sense of intensifying exploration continually unveiling fresh expression and interest. Aleatoric grooves to Rissanen’s rich chordal depth and joyously rippling soloing (the piano detail is stunning, with Lötjönen and Mäkynen such an integral part of its make-up); and delicately ornamented étude, Signettes (studio video here), demands close attention.

A woody clarinet resonance is imaginable in the carefree, piano-octave swing of For Jimmy Giuffre – such a precise yet blithe trio performance all round. Rissanen’s growling keyboard vigour in virtuosic solo miniature Eye-Opener might equally suggest Ginastera or Gwilym Simcock, its brevity neatly leading into the dramatic swirl of Bird Vision (maybe Charlie Parker is the inspiration) which bounces off the walls with reveille-car-horn motif and jarring block-chord energy, as well as Lötjönen’s wonderfully propulsive jazz/rock-fusion bass and Mäkynen’s scintillating percussion. And, to close, title track Amorandom carries the emotive, crescendoing, piano-led yearning associated with Esbjörn Svensson – a depth of musicality which indicates that this might just be the beginning of this partnership’s long and productive journey.

The jazz piano trio format exists in many guises as an enduringly powerful, creative and emotional environment – and Rissanen, who enjoys the variety and eclecticism of all of the projects he’s involved in, humbly (and surprisingly) alludes to a mild concern that there are “too many good trios around and everything has been done before.” WAIT a minute! Put this album through a responsive sound system, and it may well become one of the finest you’ll hear this year. Outstanding.

Released on 4 March 2016, Amorandom can be purchased as CD or high quality download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Aki Rissanen piano
Antti Lötjönen double bass
Teppo Mäkynen drums

akirissanen.com

Edition Records – EDN1067 (2016)

‘Never Ending January’ – Espen Eriksen Trio

EspenEriksen

THE STEADFAST appeal of the jazz piano trio format continues with this limpid jewel from Norway. Following two previous releases (You Had Me At GoodbyeWhat Took You So Long) and led melodiously by pianist Espen Eriksen – with colleagues Lars Tormod Jenset (bass) and Andreas Bye (drums) – Never Ending January appears to find its lofty inspiration in misty, enforested, fjordal panoramas. And whilst that Scandinavian impression may be somewhat clichéd, this trio’s approach is, indeed, particularly elemental and spacial.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Espen Eriksen piano
Lars Tormod Jenset double bass
Andreas Bye drums

espeneriksentrio.com

Rune Grammofon – RCD 2173 (2015)

‘Cielito Lindo’ – Sunna Gunnlaugs

Sunna

CARRIED ON A WARM, NORTHERLY BREEZE, Sunna Gunnlaugs’ previous trio release Distilled (2013) brought treasures aplenty from the pianist/composer’s native Iceland – a finely-crafted display of elegance, playfulness and imaginative free improvisation. Now, new album Cielito Lindo expands on those themes to deliver an hour-plus of 14 more engaging originals and arrangements, with bassist Þorgrímur (Toggi) Jónsson and drummer Scott McLemore.

What particularly appeals about the pianistic character of Sunna Gunnlaugs is her blend of influences which allude to Bill Evans’ and Bobo Stenson’s lyricism, yet also seem to incorporate the bright, tuneful openness of, say, Oscar Peterson and the kind of sparky, inquiring edge associated with Esbjörn Svensson. Title track Cielito Lindo has it all – opening, percussive rustlings and under-the-lid piano string shimmers unveiling Quirino Mendoza y Cortés’ charming, lilting Mexican melody upon which Gunnlaugs improvises with customary authority. Scott Lemore’s Compassion reveals the trio’s steady, delicate interaction with almost Bachian overtones; and the subtle bossa of the pianist’s own Endastopp becomes increasingly energized as it crackles to hard-edged drums and double bass.

The trio’s freely improvised ‘spin cycle’ thread continues, briefly punctuating the lengthier tracks with short settings Spin 8, 9 and 11 (maybe 10 is in the next load!) – and Dry Cycle communicates urgency through its high, ostinato piano chords, syncopated riff and memorable melody, followed by flamboyant improvisation. Seemingly obvious choice, Gershwin’s Summertime, is however reinterpreted beautifully, as fleeting snatches of the familiar strains are glimpsed through the mystery of skittering bass and drums; whilst amiable Workaround suggests e.s.t.’s blues-implied impudence.

Jónsson’s Vetrarstef possesses the yearning eloquence of a classic theme tune, its wintry folksiness occasionally redolent of acoustic Mike Oldfield; and Gunnlaugs’ Icelandic Blues snaps and crunches its way through seven glorious minutes which brim with smile-raising chromatic jollity, jaunty piano extemporisation and a thunderously percussive conclusion – a tour de force! Contrasting Tiltekt is exquisitely homely, its chiming melodies afforded the space to resonate; and All Agaze (another of McLemore’s gems) twists and turns unpredictably – ebullient grooving, yet with darker, Gustavsen-like moments. And to close… well, the songwriting of Tom Waits is frequently a source of jazz inspiration, and his Johnsburg, Illinois receives a faithful, picturesque outing from the trio, highlighting Waits’ penchant for a good melody.

Once again, Gunnlaugs and her trio achieve their discerning balance of tuneful accessibility, compositional distinctiveness and the constantly-undulating landscape of delicacy and high energy. A remarkable achievement – and a very fine album.

Released on Sunny Sky Records on 14 August 2015, Cielito Lindo is available at Bandcamp.

 

Sunna Gunnlaugs piano
Þorgrímur Jónsson double bass
Scott McLemore drums

sunnagunnlaugs.com

Sunny Sky Records – 733 (2015)

‘Magna Carta Suite’ – Alex Hutton Trio

AlexHutton

THE CONCEPT of improvisation in Medieval English music seems highly probable as, before the 15th Century, most musicians would have been illiterate. Sharing melodies and words aurally, the likelihood of invention and variation is quite imaginable – and, presumably, a talented, seasoned extemporiser of estampies and danses would have been highly prized.

So, for pianist Alex Hutton, his vision to commemorate this year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, through a themed jazz suite, is entirely appropriate – especially as his dog-walking routine takes in the ancient woodlands around Runnymede and Wraysbury (near Windsor), where the charter was historically sealed. He recalls his outstanding colleagues from 2012 release Legentis – bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Asaf Sirkis – to create a programme of original piano trio music which takes in an English landscape of early music, traditional folk and classical music, with delicate woodwind flecks of baroque flute and cor anglais coruscating through leafy glades.

Alex Hutton’s pictorialisations here can, indeed, be that vivid – his compositions, at times, easily comparable to the soundtracks of small- or big-screen period drama; and there’s even a whiff of Rick Wakeman’s Six Wives in the turbulent, chasing motif of The Barons. The Middle Ages context and sequencing can either be followed or disregarded; but the thematic writing, and the players’ eloquent interpretations of Hutton’s imaginings, are the strong threads which bind this recording together so well.

Old Yew (significantly, under which the Magna Carta was believed to have been signed) opens the album with characteristic sinewy bass from Goloubev, almost as storyteller, leading to the brief, though exquisite, cor anglais melody of King John’s Hunting Lodge. June 15th 1215‘s impish Medieval motif has Hutton’s penny-whistle-suggested high piano frolicking with cor anglais over Sirkis’ hollow percussion (these all feel like scene-setting miniatures) before the pianist’s more recognisably extended ‘jazz trio’ tune, Gutenberg Press, is expanded on by Goloubev’s scampering improvisations.

The tinderbox urgency of Gunpowder and Compass cleverly incorporates the consummate beauty of J S Bach’s Fugue in C Minor, with Hutton’s own, sparkling inventiveness shining above the fizzing impetus of Sirkis and Goloubev; and Self Made Man rapidly switches into sweet romanticism, Hutton’s ear for a lyrical melody followed through by Goloubev (a bassist whose dexterity always impresses). The intentionally bumbling rhythms and Sirkis’ clattering, sputtering exchanges of weaponry in Fog of War poignantly reflect the futility of conflict, replaced by a mournful, dejected reprise of King John’s Hunting Lodge; yet, standing defiant through the ages, Old Yew is again brought into focus with an air of resigned grandeur (Hutton’s musical imagery remaining powerful).

Almost as a postscript, the spoken word of Neil Sparkes illuminates, with drama and pathos, the final two tracks’ reminder of the charter’s values of liberty and fairness (the deep, echoic sonority perhaps a touch exaggerated). Nevertheless, Thoughts Bear Heirs to Memory hinges on the majestic delivery of Sparkes’ own lines such as, “as light for trees, justice needs great ideas to grow”; and concluding As Sunlight Passes rises triumphant, with baroque flute in anthemic character.

The Alex Hutton Trio’s Magna Carta Suite exudes a well-defined Englishness, its not-your-average-piano-trio accessibility fortified by the engaging historic weave.

Released on 15 July 2015, the album is available from Alex’s website, as well as all good jazz and online retailers.

 

Alex Hutton piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Asaf Sirkis drums
with
Liesbeth Allart cor anglais
Liz Palmer baroque flute
Neil Sparkes spoken word

alexhuttonmusic.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 82 (2015)

‘This Is The Day’ – Giovanni Guidi Trio

Guidi

IF YOU ADMIRE expressive watercolour impressionism in contemporary jazz, this album by the trio of Italian pianist Giovanni Guidi, who is thirty this year, with its evocations of fragile, rain-teary washes across a broad, receptive canvas will prove particularly satisfying.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Giovanni Guidi piano
Thomas Morgan double bass
João Lobo drums

ECM Records – ECM 2403 (470 9271) – 2015

‘Mein Beethoven’ – Dieter Ilg

DieterIig

BEETHOVEN AND JAZZ… I sense the classical purists cringing… and maybe the jazz purists squirming. Preconceived thoughts based on the dated ’70s pop-classic era of Waldo de los Rios and James Last, or Jacques Loussier’s fairly literal jazz trio interpretations of J S Bach, possibly spring to mind when such crossover projects are birthed.

But double bassist Dieter Ilg and his colleagues approach their piano trio extemporisations on the incalculably revered works of Ludwig van Beethoven in a less conspicuous manner (having taken on both Wagner and Verdi in previous releases). Describing his 18thC German compatriot as “undoubtedly one of the great improvisers of Europe’s music history, approaching everything with passion, imagination and the will to create something new”, Ilg seeks to embody that spirit of invention in thirteen pieces for bass, piano (Rainer Böhm) and drums (Patrice Héral).

Some selections are more familiar than others, but even the recognisable phrases of Pathétique and Moonlight sonatas break away from their moorings sufficiently to flow into new, undiscovered rivulets. In Ode, the life-affirming stature of the final movement of the 9th Symphony (famously the ‘Ode to Joy’) is translated into serene impressionism, Böhm’s lush piano chords painting steadfastness from a different viewpoint. There’s drama, too, as Sturm (Klaviersonate no. 17, op. 31) broods and then vigorously swirls to Böhm’s rapid runs, Ilg’s rasping bass and Héral’s drum solidity; and it’s entrancing to hear how the trio reinterpret the string quartet tension of the Grosse Fuge (op. 133) into a greatly improvised work, Fuge, which maintains reference to the master’s compositional characteristics.

Illustrating clearly the intentions of this project, an audacious adaptation of the Arietta from final Piano Sonata no. 32 (op. 111) takes its usual solemnity off into unpredictable territory; Böhm’s deft chromaticism here rolls freely over the turbulence of bass and drums – and whilst such a transformation may sound crass, it creates a perfectly plausible jazz trio number which respects its origins (in Dieter’s words – my Beethoven). Ilg’s bass technique is strong and supple, ranging from the bluesy pliancy displayed in 109 to his rapidity in the Allegro from the Pathétique sonata (this, a particularly demanding number which demonstrates the remarkable unity of these slick musicians).

Listen again to Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim or Paul Lewis (the majority of Ilg’s creations, here, are based on the piano sonatas) and it’s incomprehensible, of course, that the beauty and majesty of Beethoven’s sublime works could ever be surpassed. However, there’s fascination to be found in these perceptive piano trio reworkings – with or without comparison to the originals – which provide an absorbing and, at times, pleasingly disorientating sound world.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, further information on Mein Beethoven can be found at ACT Music.

 

Dieter Ilg bass
Rainer Böhm piano
Patrice Héral drums

dieterilg.de

ACT Music – ACT 9582-2 (2015)