‘While We Still Can’ – Johnny Hunter Quartet

WhileWeStillCan

JOHNNY HUNTER is featuring with increasing prominence across North West England’s jazz scene… and for very good reason. The drummer/composer contributes to a number of mainstream and avant garde bands – especially in Manchester and Liverpool – including Blind Monk Trio, Marley Chingus and his own reggae/dub sextet Skamel, as well as working with artists such as Adam Fairhall, Martin Archer and Nat Birchall.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available, as CD or download, from Bandcamp.

 

Johnny Hunter drums, compositions
Ben Watte tenor saxophone
Graham South trumpet
Stewart Wilson double bass

Illustration by Angela Guyton

Efpi Records – FP024 (2016)

‘Weather Warning’ – Kevin Figes Quartet / ‘Time Being’ – Kevin Figes Octet

WeatherWarning_TimeBeing

EUREKA! That moment when, after weeks of listening, an album (or two, in this case) smacks you between the ears and becomes your unputdownable ‘jam’! 

There’s an osmotic attraction to Kevin Figes’ music. It possesses remarkable creative breadth, taking in fusion, post-bop and contemporary abstraction… and gradually seeps into the consciousness until it won’t let go.

For these two simultaneously-released albums – Weather Warning (quartet, augmented) and Time Being (octet) – the saxophonist/flautist/composer assembles a fine collective of fellow Bristol-based musicians (listed in full, below); and characterised by addictive, rhythmically-energised horn riffs and Rhodes/Prophet textures, often blended with retro-tinged wordless vocals and occasional, wistful flute, Figes and colleagues paint shifting, vibrant canvases of ‘colorfield’ sound which become increasingly engaging.

Weather Warning‘s sparky title track hints at the joys to come, Jim Blomfield’s synth and Rhodes combining with Mark Whitlam’s outrageously offbeat rhythmic patterns to underpin the superb, sputtering duo of Figes and trumpeter Nick Malcolm. It somehow recalls the wonder of 12″ vinyl discoveries of the ’70s – that time of poring over luxurious gatefold album sleeves; yet Figes’ writing sparkles brightly in today’s musical landscape. There is so much to enthuse about here, from the swinging, melodic, double-sax immediacy of Empathy, and Birdsong‘s improvised vocal and instrumental chattering, to the sublime, often spacial beauty of Fall Apart; and alto/tenor/trumpet Horn Improvisation‘s invention compellingly bridges contemporary classical and jazz. Figes is a consummate saxophonist, his excursions both eloquent and endlessly imaginative; but his delicate mastery of the flute in quartet piece For Cathy is at least as effective as it charmingly weaves around piano ostinati and subtle bass and drums.

The octet project throws the vocal contributions of Emily Wright and Cathy Jones to the fore, album Time Being resounding to the fascinating, close harmonic meld of saxes and voices over a fervent, piano-driven rhythm section (there is certainly chemistry at work here, not least because Wright, Harris, Whitlam and Malcolm are all close collaborators in vocal/instrumental jazz outfit Moonlight Saving Time). Again, a title track with memorable licks, pressing momentum and rich solo improvisation is followed by changing panoramas: Pastoral Scenes is coloured gracefully by the adept, interlocking vocals of Wright and Jones (at times, redolent of Kenny Wheeler’s compositions), and the urgent electric piano and sax groove of The Point deliciously bounces to Will Harris’s electric bass. It’s all classy stuff, often with a rough-hewn streak and frequently on the edge of unpredictability – Petit Plaits, in particular, is a masterpiece of unbridled energy, maximising the density of the band line-up; and Loft Space‘s extended adventures certainly aren’t alone in bringing on the desire to witness this ensemble perform live.

Released on 10 April 2016, Weather Warning and Time Being are available directly from Pig Records. Recommending one above the other, though, is virtually impossible – both are British jazz gems, and have long stayed in the car CD player!

 

‘WEATHER WARNING’
Kevin Figes
 alto saxophone, flute
Jim Blomfield piano, Rhodes, Prophet 5
Will Harris bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Nick Malcolm trumpet (tracks 1, 6 and 7)
Nick Dover tenor saxophone (tracks 3, 5, 6 and 7)
Emily Wright vocals (tracks 3 and 6)
Cathy Jones vocals (tracks 3 and 6)

Pig Records – PIG:08 (2016)

 

‘TIME BEING’
Kevin Figes 
alto saxophone
Nick Dover
 tenor saxophone
Emily Wright
 vocals
Cathy Jones
 vocals
Jim Blomfield
 piano
Will Harris
 bass
Mark Whitlam
 drums
Lloyd Haines
 drums

Pig Records – PIG:07 (2016)

 

kevinfiges.co.uk

‘In the North’ – Tassos Spiliotopoulos

Tassos

THERE’S A SENSE of needing to break through the surface of electric guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos’ new release, In the North, to fully appreciate its harmonic/melodic depth and the diversity of its carefully-balanced instrumental weave.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Tassos Spiliotopoulos guitar
Örjan Hultén saxophone
Palle Sollinger bass
Fredrik Rundqvist drums

tassos-spiliotopoulos.com

Anelia Records – ACD002 (2016)

‘Sure Will Hold a Boat’ – Graeme Wilson Quartet

GraemeWilson

SURE ENOUGH, it’s a quirky, kite-flying album cover… but the eight-or-so finely tuned ‘tentacles’ behind saxophonist Graeme Wilson’s new quartet release, Sure Will Hold a Boat, deliver over sixty minutes of bubbling, accessible and original contemporary jazz.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available from Jazz CDs.

 

Graeme Wilson tenor saxophone
Paul Edis piano
Andy Champion double bass
Adam Sinclair drums

Pleasureland Records – GBWQ002 (2016)

‘Crimson!’ – Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock

Crimson!

THE VERY THOUGHT might well make prog rock fans see red… but the connections with and reinterpretations of King Crimson in new piano and saxophone quartet work Crimson! are not as distant, nor as incongruous, as you may first imagine.

Delta Saxophone Quartet are immersed in commissioned, contemporary classical environments which include the typically propulsive music of Steve Martland, Steve Reich and Gavin Bryars, as well as the work of jazz composers such as Mike Westbrook; and they have previously arranged and recorded Soft Machine (their Aubade and Tale of Taliesin transcriptions – from original 1976 album Softs – are especially fascinating). But a chance encounter between pianist Gwilym Simcock and Delta’s baritone saxophonist Chris Caldwell (at the home ground of Stoke City FC, beloved of both musicians) netted this new project centred around seminal prog band King Crimson’s albums Starless and Bible Black, THRAK and Beat. A notable link for Simcock is that he joined the line-up of ex-Crimson drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks project, which included saxophonist Tim Garland (and I recall a live gig which certainly threw the pianist’s fledgling career into the spotlight).

So, how does a saxophone quartet (not just any old sax quartet, I might add) and a jazz pianist adapt, say, the dry vocals and punchy electric bass playing of John Wetton and specific guitar/electronics style of maestro Robert Fripp? Well, it’s quite a revelation, especially when it’s accepted that this is not a straight covers album – far from it. Recognising the powerful, unrelenting riffs and restless, dark colours associated with King Crimson, Gwilym set about identifying pieces which might best translate into this new arena, for quartet with or without piano, choosing to reimagine rather than copy. The key to its success has to be the combined vigour of all five players: Delta for their precision and dynamism; Simcock for his characteristically percussive, rhythmic energy across the piano keyboard.

As a prelude to five expansive arrangements, Simcock’s own A Kind of Red folds lyrical beauty and sprightliness into driving momentum, with upwardly spiralling soprano sax and leaping piano grooves cavorting together across lithe chordal sax textures (the writer alludes to the challenge of writing for only “four notes at any one time”); a masterly piece of contrapuntal composition thrown into sharp focus when the horns go it alone. Hitting the ground running, with recognisable shadowy mystery, Vrooom and Coda: Marine 475 swap the menacing Belew/Levin electric guitar/bass landscape for baritone-throbbing promenading and Simcock’s jazz inflections (with even a whiff of Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk); and the original wistful vocals of The Night Watch are translated into lush sax harmonies and buoyant piano, shifting in so many directions.

Dinosaur possesses an audacious swagger (Simcock particularly bluesy), as opposed to the urgent siren-like drive of the original, and portrays its central serenity quite magically; and Two Hands, quietly popping to mechanical sax ‘percussion’, feels so lyrically far-removed from Crimson territory, yet owns a delightful jazz delicacy. To close, perhaps the show-stopper – Starless and Bible Black‘s unmistakable The Great Deceiver at full tilt, reinterpreting the familiar ’70s electric riff and vocal with panache. OK, it’ll never replace the original, but that’s not the intention – its Crimsonesque verve, wailing sax improv and pianistic sparkle are infectious.

Whether or not you were ‘there’ through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Crimson! is a stylish and rattlingly good experience. Released on Basho Records on 26 February 2016, the album can be purchased from Jazz CDs.

 

Delta Saxophone Quartet:
Graeme Blevins soprano saxophone
Pete Whyman alto saxophone
Tim Holmes tenor saxophone
Chris Caldwell baritone saxophone
with
Gwilym Simcock pianoforte

deltasax.com
gwilymsimcock.com

Basho Records – SRCD 50-2 (2016)

 

‘Umoya’ – Philip Clouts Quartet

Umoya

IT HAS TO BE the innate South African rhythm of life that Philip Clouts possesses which marks out his quartet albums with such sunshiny zest.

Born in Cape Town, and resident of the generally balmier UK region of West Dorset, the pianist/composer’s approach is typically melodic, straight-ahead and high-spirited. Following up his Hour of Pearl album of 2013, the Umoya title of this latest release is a Zulu word for ‘life force’, confirming that accessible joie de vivre in his performances; and to the rhythm section of Alex Keen (electric bass) and Dave Ingamells (drums), he invites young saxophonist Samuel Eagles – who impressed with his own debut album – to add considerable upfront sparkle.

So, certainly a jazz album, generously filled with memorable hooks and broad improvisation… but these eight tracks are also unquestionably infused with alluring ‘world’ grooves which find their way so readily into Clouts’ compositions, and which are central to their attraction. Title track Umoya is the perfect illustration, its clarity and apparent simplicity actually paving the way for bright, syncopated rhythms which might recall Chris McGregor or Dudu Pukwana, as Samuel Eagles’ elongated phrases intertwine with Clouts’ own lucid solo lines and endearing block chord triplet sequences.

Dreamy Driving catches the imagination – a musically colourful journey taking in contemporary riffs, oases of calm and ear-pricking textural combinations held together by the mobility of Alex Keen’s electric bass; and Taranto‘s world/folk influence is heightened by Eagles’ Italianate inflections and Clouts’ vigorously cascading sequences.

Walking in Starlight‘s cool sidewalk nonchalance is created out of Keen’s unhurried bass and Clouts’ softly-jabbing electric piano, whilst Dave Ingamells’ momentum and crisp detail here are typical of his pervading presence throughout these 50 minutes or so. Perhaps it’s the Joe Sample-style keys here – reminiscent of Street Life – which bring the tantalising realisation that so many of Clouts’ melodically strong compositions cry out for a vocal line (his father was a South African poet); one can only imagine the potential vivacity – not to mention beauty – of such a project!

Direction South pays direct homage to the music of the pianist’s birth land in a joyous, Abdullah Ibrahim-like gambol; Amor possesses a contrasting restlessness, Eagles’ mysterious soprano sax deliciously weaving around Clouts’ ostinato undercurrent, occasionally hitting a hard-driving rock pulse; and the bright, lurching gospel/blues of Meandering is pounced upon by Eagles, his swooning modal explorations especially attractive.

There are certainly grittier, edgier experiences out there – but this is a life-affirming, musically-accomplished album to relax into (and, I dare say – when the sun deigns to reappear – to pop a cork to!). Umoya can be purchased from Philip Clouts’ website, Odradek Records, record stores and online retailers.

 

Philip Clouts piano, composer
Samuel Eagles saxophones
Alex Keen electric bass
Dave Ingamells drums

philipcloutsquartet.co.uk

Odradek Records – ODRCD503 (2015)

‘Flow’ – Drifter

Drifter_Flow_300

“THE MUSIC means so much more now. Ten years ago, we were just playing tunes that we loved to play. Now the music comes from within us and somehow encapsulates the feelings of the last ten years.”

There’s a heartwarming sense of triumph and arrival which emanates from the backstory to those words from Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila. Early in the ‘noughties’, Tuomarila and his quartet were flying high and recording with Warner Jazz France (most notable, their excellent 2003 album 02) when suddenly the label shut down their jazz and classical department. Here was a prominent European jazz ensemble without the proverbial paddle… or so it seemed. In the intervening years, both Tuomarila and saxophonist Nicolas Kummert continued to independently develop their craft through regular touring, and perhaps there was an inevitability about them not just crossing paths in the future, but once again kindling the spark of their creativity.

Now, following Edition Records’ 2014 release of Alexi Tuomarila’s engaging trio album Seven Hills, and encouraged by Edition, the quartet have reconvened as Drifter; former members Tuomarila and Kummert join again with drummer Teun Verbruggen and welcome bassist Axel Gilain to the fold. There’s a smile-inducing mystique about this quartet’s combined output which can be difficult to nail. Certainly, the instrumentation is familiar – but perhaps the best explanation is that there is both strength and balance achieved through the co-leadership of pianist Tuomarila and saxophonist Kummert, buoyed by the varicoloured rhythmic skills of Verbruggen and Gilain. Persistent up-front soloing is not Drifter’s way.

From this near hour-long collection of eight originals, plus one arrangement, opener Crow Hill reveals the aforementioned parity as piano and sax become almost conjoined in the melodic spotlight; and when Tuomarila eloquently breaks loose, Kummert responds up through the gears, his verbal tone redolent of Joshua Redman or Mark Lockheart. Tuomarila’s dual trademark is found in The Elegist which grooves to his deep chordal impetus, yet also produces effortless high piano lines which sail as purely as fast-moving cirrus; and, taking Axel Gilain’s high ostinato bass hook plus Verbruggen’s bristling percussion, Harmattan provides greater extemporised freedom for piano and sax.

Drifter’s sound world is beautifully accessible, with the added complexion of a few vocal tracks (as in the 02 album’s Bone-Yard Jive). But rather than offering extensive lyricism, the quietly harmonic voices of Kummert and Gilain are employed more instrumentally through repeated phrases which, in Lighthouse, cleverly pictorialise its dark, lilting momentum (“I’m looking for a lighthouse”); and with more of a rock inflection than jazz, the effect is quite distinctive. Nothing Ever Lasts (music by Tuomarila, words by Gilain) feels particularly anthemic, its solid folksong-like motif carried through into a memorable vocal exultation, with Kummert’s sax hinting at Garbarek.

The grungy, wailing, jazz/blues of Breathing Out My Soul becomes knee-tappingly infectious. With only a simple, repeated, unison vocalisation of the title, a wonderfully pliant bass motif sets up stand-out piano from Tuomarila against the thrashing of Verbruggen’s kit; and enticing rhythmic changes invite Kummert’s sax to overflow in improvisation – quite unlike anything out there at present! Gilain’s Toueï is delightful as it gently pirouettes around the bass – and, as throughout the album, themes and rhythms regularly metamorphose with entertaining unexpectedness.

The concept of covering a rock/pop hit such as the The Police’s King of Pain might well come with a warning – but Tuomarila unlocks its hidden dance qualities so remarkably that it becomes its own idea, with the lyrics of Sting’s original soon forgotten amidst its driving energy. And to close, Vagabond combines the compositional Englishness of Tim Garland with Svensson-like piano explorations – a resounding, dizzying climax.

Alexi Tuomarila’s belief that this quartet’s re-emergence marks “the development of our friendship as a band and the greater sense of purpose we all have in our lives” is borne out in an exciting album which I’ve repeatedly enjoyed over the past few weeks.

Released on 17 July 2015, Flow is available at Bandcamp as download, CD or 140gm 12″ vinyl.

 

Alexi Tuomarila piano
Nicolas Kummert saxophone, vocals
Axel Gilain double bass, vocals
Teun Verbruggen drums

Edition Records – EDN1059 (2015)