‘Vein plays Ravel’ – Vein

Vein plays Ravel

IF EVER there was a jazz piano trio album whose informed, creative invention deserved the proposition “just buy it”… well, Vein plays Ravel is most certainly a contender.

After more than a decade together, the partnership of pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns has spawned numerous recordings; and the Swiss trio’s recent release of originals (The Chamber Music Effect) beautifully reflects the freedom of interpretation to be found in classical chamber works. To approach the output of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) might, then, be seen as a natural progression; though also an audacious step, as it’s a sound world brimming with much-loved melodies and impressionistic piano and orchestral textures. However, Ravel famously listened to early-20th Century jazz (meeting George Gershwin in the States) and embraced it in his writing… so there’s a sense here that, if any of the historical composers were to sit on Vein’s collective shoulders, the Frenchman might well have collaborated with the greatest enthusiasm.

Importantly, the trio are way beyond any idea of simply retouching Ravelian manuscripts with a superficial swing or a cheery, ornamented solo line – on the contrary, it’s their depth of thought which is so compelling, understanding how to substantially deconstruct then sensitively reshape this glorious music without it becoming grotesque. Seemingly a labour of love – and what a triumph!

The recognisably babbling piano Prélude to Le Tombeau de Couperin organically integrates perpetuum-mobile bass and drums, drifting in and out of its formal structure with contemporary abandon, yet always faithful to the romanticism of Ravel. Forlane‘s original 6/8 dance is initially stated with exquisite fluidity before being decorated with fine percussion and lithe bass expressions; and there’s a magical, almost levitational intricacy to the opening of Toccata – the last of Vein’s three interpretations from this six-movement work – and the most dynamic, syncopated transformation, complete with rapid piano-and-bass figures and flamboyant drumming.

Entitled Blues by Ravel himself, the already impudent-sounding middle movement of his second Violin Sonata is the perfect vehicle for Vein’s mysterious, tango-like searching as Lähns’ arco octaves toy vocally with their suspicious accompaniment, whilst similarly playful Five o’Clock Foxtrot (from opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges) is magnificently refashioned as an episodic arrangement full of cat-and-mouse chase, elegant piano sorcery and rock-heavy riffs. Guest saxophonist Andy Sheppard joins the trio to reimagine Movement de Menuet (originally a piano sonatina) in a contemporary jazz setting of undulating tenor-led improvisation; and at first disguised within the charming, musical-box softness of Michael Arbenz’s prepared piano, the familiar motifs of Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte evolve into one of the most limpid, even emotional interpretations imaginable (replay it many times to luxuriate in its otherworldliness).

At the centrepiece of this project is, arguably, Ravel’s most familiar work – the repetitive orchestral progression, Bolero. Though sometimes derided, this is a unique masterpiece of crescendoing orchestral arrangement – and Vein’s octet interpretation (augmented by Sheppard and a quartet of reed and brass players) is extraordinarily imaginative. The constant snare drum motif of the original is cleverly expanded upon by Florian Arbenz, somehow managing to maintain its building momentum through elaborate rhythms whilst lush, rising, almost Zawinul-like harmonies and exuberant improvisations are underpinned by morse-code piano ostinati. Initially quite a jolt to the senses – ultimately an absolute tour de force.

The title Vein plays Ravel doesn’t begin to describe the detailing and the brilliance of this project – and it wouldn’t be surprising if Maurice is right there, in the midst.

Released on 8 September 2017 and available from vein-plays-ravel.com, as well as Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Michael Arbenz piano
Thomas Lähns bass
Florian Arbenz drums
featuring
Andy Sheppard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
(on Bolero and Mouvement de Menuet)
and
Martial In Al-bon trumpet, flugelhorn
Florian Weiss trombone
Nils Fischer soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Noah Arnold alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
(on Bolero)

vein.ch

Challenge Records – DMCHR 71179 (2017)

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‘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)

‘The Port of Life’ – Jean John

SLOVENIA to NEW YORK… a personal narrative of immigration and acculturation. Drummer, composer and bandleader Jean John’s ambitious work The Port of Life – dedicated to all the immigrants of this world – fulfils his belief that music should always tell a story and create an experience.

Born Žan Tetičkovič, in Ptuj in Slovenia, Jean John relocated to the United States in 2010 to further his artistic ambitions, and desired to communicate the “whirl of emotions in trying to find and establish the existence in a new culture”.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Jean John (Žan Tetičkovič) drums and cymbals, composition
Alba Nacinovich vocals
Lenart Krečič tenor saxophone
Tomaž Gajšt trumpet and flugelhorn
Jani Moder guitar
Marko Črnčec (Churnchetz) piano
Myles Sloniker upright bass

Janus Atelier String Quartet:
Matija Krečič 1st violin
Nejc Avbelj 2nd violin
Barbara Grahor viola
Zoran Bičanin violoncello

Andrej Lamut photography
Marko Damiš design
Sergej Harlamov poetry

Žiga Murko electronics

jean-john.com

ZKP RTV Ljubljana – RTVS 114441 (2016)

‘Fragment’ – Jonathan Silk

jonathansilk_fragment

A BIG BAND ALBUM whose stratified multicolours and dynamics are echoed by the cover art of British painter/printmaker David Stanley, Fragment is the original work of award-winning drummer and composer Jonathan Silk.

Increasingly a major presence on the Midlands’ contemporary jazz scene, following on from his graduation at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011, the Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2014 has worked with luminaries such as Iain Ballamy, Stan Sulzmann, Liane Carroll and Soweto Kinch; and in addition to celebrated big band mentors Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza, his drum tutors Jeff Williams and the late Tony Levin are cited as big influencers of his style.

Across a full hour, Jonathan Silk’s expansive canvas is varietally layered-up by impressive forces – a big band of 19 and a string section of 13 (just look at those credits below) – with fellow drummer Andrew Bain conducting and flugelhornist Percy Pursglove in a featured role (both are respected educators at Birmingham Conservatoire). Just as unfamiliar, abstract visual art can require time to develop, meld and be understood, this impressionistic approach has taken a while to reveal an identity; yet it increasingly entices with maturity of arrangement and strong musicianship, seamlessly blending scene after scene of energised drama (Silk on the drum stool) with rivulets of subtlety. In fact, rather than offering up the usual waymarked path of favourite tracks or standout melodies, it becomes an immersive experience in which to progressively savour different illuminations of the composer’s thoughts.

Softly grooving Buchaille (a beloved munro in the Scottish Highlands) luxuriates in close-knit brass and reeds, hitting high trumpet peaks before descending to quiet valleys of improvised trombone – but Silk’s way is to keenly press on as unison strings provide an almost Manhattan-style, bustling backdrop; and First Light‘s sustained serenity (recalling “a winter night spent with whiskey and friends, awaiting the snow reports at 6am”) supports Percy Pursglove’s mellow, watchful flugel, with the composer’s sensitive development fusing strings with a gently rhythmic momentum.

The drummer makes his mark in wildly percussive, brassy Prelude before segueing into South African-inspired Barefeet which fascinates with unpredictable jabbing piano and acoustic guitar – an example of the unlikely hues which Silk fashions. His searching miniature, Reflection, even suggests a route into movie soundtrack, preceding In Thought‘s similarly sublime, piano- and violin-graced journey. The spiky, perilous rock-guitar adventure of title track Fragment is a winner, teeming with electric bass-driven, saxophone-rippling life as guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford’s improvisations encourage bold, brass syncopation and a full-throttle display from Silk; and he is so adept in contrasting fervour with the finely-orchestrated tranquillity to be found in Withdrawal and end piece Last Light.

But it is perhaps Jonathan Silk’s broadest piece – eleven-minute Fool’s Paradise – which singly showcases his solidity and reach as a composer, the episodic variations (including inspired use of Hammond organ voice, and open spaces for extemporisation) providing a clear glimpse of a bright future. Hook up a few, memorable themes and there’ll be no stopping him!

As with most recordings, it’s a privilege to revisit and enjoy these luscious soundscapes at will – but it must certainly be exhilarating to also witness this scale of ardent musicality in a live setting. Good news, then, that 2017 tour dates are to be announced.

Released on Stoney Lane Records, Fragment is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.


Andrew Bain
conductor
Percy Pursglove flugelhorn

Mike Fletcher alto saxophone, flute
Chris Maddock alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Rob Cope baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Tom Walsh trumpet, flugelhorn
Reuben Fowler trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Gough trumpet, flugelhorn
Kieran Mcleod trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Yusuf Narcin trombone
Andy Johnson tuba

Emily Tyrell violin (leader)
Katrina Davies violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Ning-ning Li violin
Beth Bellis violin
Kathryn Coleman violin
Zhivko Georgiev violin
Pei Ann Yeoh violin
Victoria Strudwick viola
Eileen Smith viola
Lucy French cello
Katy Nagle cello
Ayse Osman double bass

Thomas Seminar Ford guitar
Andy Bunting piano, Nord
Toby Boalch piano, Nord
Nick Jurd double bass, electric bass
Jonathan Silk drums
Tom Chapman percussion

Original art by David Stanley

jonathansilk.co.uk

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1977 (2016)

‘The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure’ – John Martin

JohnMartin

CHARTING the lesser-known seas of saxophone multiphonics, this 2CD quintet release from John Martin is defined by its title – a spirited voyage of adventure in search of ‘the hidden notes’.

Martin explains that, around ten years ago whilst practicing, he discovered that the tenor sax had the potential to produce multiple overtones and textures; and for the past few years, he has set out to explore jazz in this context, developing a system to tempt out these “rather shy and often badly behaved notes.” Joining him on this recording are Ralph Wyld (vibraphone), Rob Updegraff (electric guitar), Tim Fairhall (double bass) and Tim Giles (drums).

Over ninety minutes, the vibe is of accessible post-bop jazz – yet, as with any expedition into unfamiliar territory, it can take a while to settle into the newness of the polyphonic experience. So the saxophone delivery might initially be difficult to fathom, as these ‘three-dimensional’ sounds are coaxed out of the instrument, with some more effective than others (first reactions, in places, might incorrectly suggest a lack of technique!). But Martin goes all out for experimentation, injecting his ten original compositions (plus three preludes) and otherwise full, clear, instrumental timbre with surprising piquancy.

Both the writing and the performances throughout are slick, the broad expanse of many of the tracks appearing to create an openness amongst the five musicians. The opening theme of Heptopia, for example, is so melodically warm, riding the gentle waves of Rob Updegraff’s luscious chords and Ralph Wyld’s bejewelled vibraphone; and often – as here and in Spirit of Adventure – this combination creates the kind of sweet repetition enjoyed in the music of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong or even Steve Reich. There’s much to excite, from Tick Tock‘s perky buoyancy, threaded with individual improv artistry, to swinging Folklore and Giant’s Stomp, both shot through with Martin’s gruff, harmonic clusters and richly-phrased soloing.

Pentacision – a sixteen-minute odyssey in two parts – ripples with episode after episode, as if traversing oceanic swells and reaching contrasting, breezeless conditions (the tricksy time signature riffs are pleasingly memorable). Eddies features more of Martin’s hypnotic riffs, which are especially effective here as the crescendoing and decrescendoing overtone patterns almost suggest a Doppler shift; and the joyous swing of The Optimistic Pessimist, bookended by more extreme tonal caws, is enriched by the saxophonist’s careful, melodic use of his system.

Employing an individual technique which might easily have been the ‘elephant in the studio’, John Martin’s release is full of engaging, jazz vibrancy – an expansive journey spangled with unexpected musical glints and refractions. A beautiful, dreamlike cover illustration, too, from Ellen Tovey.

The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure is available from F-IRE.com and John Martin’s website. More information at thehiddennotes.com.

 

John Martin tenor saxophone
Rob Updegraff electric guitar
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Tim Fairhall double bass
Tim Giles drums

Illustration by Ellen Tovey

thehiddennotes.com
johnnoblemartin.com

F-IRE Presents – F-IRE CD 92 (2016)

‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Too Much Love’ – Euan Burton

too-much-love

A STRONG SENSE of yearning and heart-on-sleeve emotion, imbued with the plaintiveness of traditional folksong, are the predominant characteristics flowing from this appealing new jazz quartet release by Scottish composer and bassist Euan Burton. Indeed, Burton’s album title, Too Much Love, reflects a concept built around the idea of people’s mistakes arising from “misplaced love or having so much love that they don’t know how to deal with it and channel it properly.” 

The sequence of seven self-penned numbers seems to suggest thematic progression (not unlike the bassist’s 2012 album, Occurrences), offering the impression of storytelling throughout its engaging thirty-five minutes; and the empathetic response to his writing – by turns homey and exhilarating – is delivered by longstanding Glaswegian compatriots Adam Jackson (alto sax), Tom Gibbs (piano) and Alyn Cosker (drums and cymbals). Euan Burton’s creative identity is his distinctive fusion of through-composition and a trust in individual improvisation – this is no straight saxophone-led foursome banging out my-turn-next riffs to a predictable formula, but rather a close ensemble who appear to spark off each other, in the moment, to bring immediacy and freshness to melodies which remain wholly accessible.

Two opening tracks perfectly illustrate Burton’s approach: Prelude – a wistful, open weave of tunes effortlessly shared and developed between the players; and This World – a delightfully buoyant folksy creation (perhaps it’s the honest, fluid alto sax of Jackson that intimates the pastoral hallmarks of 20th Century British clarinet concerti). Pianist Tom Gibbs appears to be one of Scottish jazz’s best-kept secrets (his own Fear of Flying album, with Euan Burton as bassist, is a particularly memorable release from 2012), and here, in Burton’s quartet, his adaptable creative presence is very much in evidence. The romantic breadth of Rhapsody finds him switching, midway, from grandiose chordal embellishment to a compulsively perky groove propelled by Burton’s bass and the assertive intricacies of Alyn Cosker’s drums and cymbals (at nine minutes, clearly a performance that revels in its breathing space).

Subtle contentment in All That Is Left (with a melody so clear, it could easily be sung to words) is exemplified by the lyricism of Jackson’s alto which eloquently shapes every phrase over the sustained rubato of Gibbs’ piano, with bass and drums in delicate support. Krakow is embraced joyously, Gibbs flamboyantly breaking free in characteristic piano style as Jackson grittily contributes to its countryfied ebullience; and Fading Memories, the most freely improvised-sounding piece on the album, reveals much about these players’ interaction as Cosker’s persistent percussive pulse encourages extemporisation out of Jackson’s bluesy riff – a tantalising glimpse, perhaps, of how they can push and extend the thread of an idea outwards in a live setting. To close, title track Too Much Love briefly reprises the longing of earlier numbers before celebrating more profusely the quartet’s undoubted connection with this music, Jackson and Gibbs finally resting the theme with charming Scottish folksong simplicity.

Released on Whirlwind Recordings, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found here.

 

Euan Burton bass
Adam Jackson alto saxophone
Tom Gibbs piano
Alyn Cosker drums and cymbals

euanburton.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4662 (2014)