‘Portrait: Reflections on Belonging’ – Byron Wallen

DISPLAYING integrity and humanity, respected trumpeter/flugelhornist Byron Wallen’s Portrait – his first recorded release in thirteen years – drew me in at the very first listen… and hasn’t let go yet!

It’s a beautiful concept. Wallen’s original, storytelling compositions are carried on a kaleidoscopic, journeying wave of urban ‘field recordings’ and communal interactions from his native London. In these tarnished days of discrimination and hatred (countered, thankfully, by positive expressions such as #BeKind), it’s worth reading Byron’s heartfelt words… and then responding in gratitude by feeling his and his band’s uplifting, even healing, creativity:

“This album is a meditation and reflection on the powerful impact that music has had on my life. It was conceived whilst sitting in the central square in Woolwich, an area of South East London. I was struck by the community around me with its mixture of cultures and nationalities, from Nepalese elders to young Nigerian men, Somali mothers with their children, a new Eastern European contingent and descendants of families who used to work in the docks and at the Arsenal. Music paved my way to travel and see the world, meeting people from all different cultures and walks of life. The study of music and the process of striving to become a better musician furnished me with a deeper knowledge of self and a gift I could share on so many different levels. In Portrait I am meditating on identity, culture and what it means to belong. The compositions, workshops, performances, and social interaction born out of this project deepened my artistic and personal relationships with the people in my neighbourhood. The album pays tribute to the heart, soul and vibrant provenance of the community I call my home.”

Rising-star guitarist Rob Luft features alongside bassist Paul Michael, drummer Rod Youngs and percussionist Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker – and together, the leader and his Four Corners band produce a rich swell of vibrant celebration, as well as atmospheres of introspection and reminiscence (sleeve notes provide background to several numbers).

It’s no surprise that Byron Wallen studied with Jon Faddis, Hugh Masekela, George Benson and Chaka Khan; and there’s also a semblance of Freddie Hubbard in his joyful, natural phrases and improvisations. Each For All and All For Each, as an example, presents a warmly-grooving South African vibe, plus a freer sense of looking back; and percussively-driven No Stars No Moon (its title referencing historic racial tensions) features a memorable, chromatic guitar riff supporting Wallen’s almost growling, dual-tracked lead.

Chordal and rhythmic arrangements are tightly executed, Luft usually at the heart, providing agile coloration quite different to that of a keyboard instrument. Reflective moments summon imagery, also – especially the eery, flugelhorn/mouthpiece repetition of Alert (for the workers at the Royal Arsenal) which seemingly pictorialises ships’ horns, seagull cries and gunfire echoing around the docklands of (former) heavy industry. Wallen’s miniatures, such as sweetly-dancing Ferry Shell and bold percussion solo Warren to Arsenal, are tantalisingly brief; and calming Fundamental, with jazz-country pedalled guitar textures, is described as ‘a meditation on what it is to be human’.

The educational aspects of Wallen’s career are fascinatingly woven into the fabric of this album, too, employing the choral exuberance of Plumcroft Primary School, in the heart of Woolwich. Young voices chant ’Spirit of the Ancestors (is calling)’ to a bass-and-drum groove as Wallen bluesily improvises across, connecting to the classes’ examination of family and ancestry; and calypsoing, “soft and squishy” Banana Man (for Bannockburn Primary School) highlights the importance of street markets. Harmonious joy, indeed – something further communicated through gyrating, sunshiny instrumental, Holler.

Byron Wallen tours Portrait in the UK from 2 February to 14 October 2020 – and the album, released on 17 February, is available as CD or download from Bandcamp.

 

Byron Wallen trumpet, flugelhorn, shells, piano, percussion
Rob Luft guitar
Paul Michael bass guitar
Rod Youngs drums
Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker congas, talking drums
Plumcroft Primary School, classes 3G and 3H vocals

Illustration: Marc Drostle

byronwallen.co.uk

Twilight Jaguar Recordings – TJCD3 (2020)

‘Snowmelt’ – Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta


Snowmelt

IT ONLY REQUIRES the two-minute solo Prologue to this collection of new material by Marius Neset to be reminded of that first rush of excitement, experienced just a few short years ago, when his distinct, often otherworldly saxophonic approach blew away the senses.

Through the release of his most recent solo albums – BirdsLion and Pinball – a progressive, wider development of Neset’s compositional powers has become strikingly apparent; and now, this collaboration with the renowned London Sinfonietta and long-time jazz colleagues Ivo Neame (piano), Petter Eldh (double bass) and Anton Eger (drums) sees the Norwegian virtuoso realising what is described as his most ambitious, cherished and personal project to date.

Mainly comprising three extended works, the concept for the album was prompted by a 2013 Oslo Sinfonietta commission which Neset wrote for solo saxophone, chamber orchestra and five singers. Already possessing astonishing flair for constructing rhythmically challenging, larger-scale music (2014’s Lion was for jazz orchestra), that fifteen-minute piece spurred the saxophonist on to still greater things – the opportunity to meticulously through-compose, incorporating elements of improvisation, for the combined forces of small orchestra and his own quartet. He explains how working with the London Sinfonietta and their intuitive conductor, Geoffrey Paterson, took his ideas to another level, whilst Neame, Eldh and Eger are now so engaged with Neset’s rhythmical language that they “play it like it was the easiest thing in the world” (summoning incredulous shakes of the head from mere mortals!). Recorded in just two days, at London’s highly-regarded AIR Studios, the outcome is awe-inspiring.

Marius Neset’s contrasting, yet cohesive compositional flow is apparent in seven-movement Arches of Nature – a continuous, 25-minute suite which revels in his masterful orchestration. Appropriately chromatic and discordant, the Bartokian woodwind chatter of Sirens announces a recognisably boisterous sound world which offers a glimpse of how well Neset blends orchestra and quartet, whilst Acrobatics‘ audacious, high-wire tenor antics are heightened by rapidly swirling strings, shrill woodwind alarm, Anton Eger’s skittering percussion, and all manner of intricate details (John Orford’s babbling bassoon delightfully partnering Neset). Halting this intense animation with Janacek-style trumpet fanfare, the lofty arcs of Circles are characteristically traced by Neset’s soprano, sumptuously and emotionally filled out by swelling brass amidst its symphonic splendour; and Caves‘ jazz quartet energy is percussively accentuated by the leader’s gruff, popping tenor and remarkably fleet, exacting orchestration.

As this suite progresses, the sustained thread of Paradise showcases the many guises of Ivo Neame’s piano eloquence, his scampering bass figure especially attractive; romantically lyrical Rainbows unwinds into Getzian tenor-and-strings elegance (though there is never any doubting the saxophonist here); and impudent, showtime finale Pyramiden ripples to phantasmagorical, almost bewildering orchestration.

The Storm is Over further reveals the considered brilliance of this writing – a heavenly ‘land of Cockaigne’ which intriguingly fuses Mahlerian/Brucknerian depth and mystery with a reassuring dance-band warmth, traversed by Marius Neset’s luxurious, soaring and always affecting tenor melodies (so much detail to discover each time). And arguably the album’s main feature – introduced by another gloriously multiphonic solo sax display – Snowmelt brims with Nordic zeal as Neset’s quartet and the London Sinfonietta coalesce so immaculately. Listen closely to the the tonal balance… the orchestral weave… the rhythmic fire… the folksung inflection… the tear-inducing beauty… and, at that moment, there’s nothing creatively or heartwarmingly finer.

Released on 26 August 2016, Snowmelt is available from ACT Music. Promo video here.

 

Marius Neset tenor and soprano saxophones
Ivo Neame piano
Petter Eldh bass
Anton Eger drums

LONDON SINFONIETTA
Geoffrey Paterson conductor
Karen Jones flute, piccolo
Gareth Hulse oboe
Michael Whight clarinet, bass clarinet
John Orford bassoon
Michael Thompson horn
Torbjörn Hultmark trumpet
Byron Fulcher trombone
Jonathan Morton violin (principal 1st)
Miranda Fulleylove violin
Elizabeth Wexler violin
Joan Atherton violin (principal 2nd)
Hilaryjane Parker violin
Charlotte Reid violin
Roger Chase viola
Zoe Matthews viola
Richard Waters viola
Tim Gill cello
Adrian Bradbury cello
Markus van Horn contrabass

All music composed and arranged by Marius Neset
Produced by Marius Neset with Anton Eger

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – 9035-2 (2016)

‘Seven Hills’ – Alexi Tuomarila Trio

SevenHills

MOVING TO A NEW HOME at Edition Records, Finnish-born pianist Alexi Tuomarila and his trio have released Seven Hills, an engaging collection of nine jazz originals by the pianist himself, Mats Eilertsen (double bass) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums) – plus guest appearances by guitarist and album engineer André Fernandes.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Alexi Tuomarila
piano
Mats Eilertsen double bass
Olavi Louhivouri drums
with
André Fernandes guitar

Edition Records – EDN1041 (2013)