‘Pond Life’ – Big Bad Wolf

A DEBUT RELEASE whose fresh, invigorating sounds stem from an intriguing co-compositional method, Big Bad Wolf’s Pond Life is an instrumental/vocal delight.

The direction taken by trombonist Owen Dawson, guitarist Rob Luft, electric bassist Michael De Souza and drummer Jay Davis begins with recorded, open-ended group improvisation. On playback, ideas born out of these free expressions are then developed, structured and honed with fine attention to detail, resulting in music which radiates an experimental free-spiritedness combined with intelligent musicality. This young band’s many, collective influences include Nirvana, Radiohead, The Invisible, Björk and Django Bates, so their creations naturally weave together diverse strands of rock, pop and jazz, occasionally integrating refined, layered vocals and synthesizer traces redolent of ’70s progressive rock and the Canterbury scene.

Melodically and texturally, this blissful music coruscates to an enticing pairing of trombone and guitar; and the democratic creativity of the quartet (who studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music) is key to their mission of ‘forging an individual, contemporary sound whilst still honouring the improvisational element of the jazz tradition’. Indeed, Owen Dawson’s cool, breezy trombone lines in Canary immediately intimate Groove Armada, as Rob Luft’s classical guitar delicacy implies the Anthony Phillips era of Genesis; but there’s also a gritty edge to the band’s output (Michael De Souza’s six-string bass a key element), with overdriven guitar and vocal lines perhaps suggesting Everything Everything. Flats in Dagenham‘s sleek, summery trombone promenade is interspersed with crackling guitar-and-bass motifs and anthemic choruses, heralding joyously mellow, sustained electric guitar improv. It seems the band’s initial pooling and sequencing of ideas are key to these unpredictable, episodic progressions which feature adroit, sometimes head-scratching instrumental combinations.

Luft’s stylistic range colours each of these eight pieces quite differently, his rock riffs in Frog underpinning its brassy, cinematic pride, whilst Dawson’s radiophonic, wailing trombone is carried by a mind-boggling swathe of pulsating guitars and tricky, percussive rhythms. In repose, this quartet is just as appealing – Quiet Coach‘s charm defined by dreamy, almost nursery-rhyme guitar, blithe trombone melodies and soft vocal harmonies. But a swift gear-change is never far away, with Hopkins’ Choice rippling to ska-like fervency; both Grassfish and title track Pond Life recalling prog’s flightiness (the latter complete with Pink Floyd ‘Welcome to the Machine’ synth detail); and closing track The Plight of the Typewriter capturing the supreme balance these players achieve as its sublime serenity evolves into majestic funk.

Pond Life might well be approached from an ‘ambient’ perspective; a feel-good, windows-down cruiser. Yet it offers so much more in terms of well-crafted new sounds informed by and excitingly recalling the legacy of music’s previous decades. That surely is a successful basis for any band – and hopefully this gem might be the first of many from Big Bad Wolf.

Released on 16 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Pond Life, live at Sofar London.

 

Owen Dawson trombone
Rob Luft guitars
Michael De Souza six-string electric bass (Bass VI)
Jay Davis drums

bigbadwolf.london

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Killpartrick
Financially supported by Help Musicians UK (Peter Whittingham Award)

Self-Released (2017)

‘Cross-Platform Interchange’ – Misha Mullov-Abbado

MishaM-A

IT SAYS MUCH about the rude health of the British contemporary jazz scene when an album such as London-based Misha Mullov-Abbado’s Cross-Platform Interchange makes its arrival with this level of young, high-spirited musicality.

The bassist’s second album – “dedicated to my love of trains, travelling, movement and constantly evolving musical journeys” – is a breath of fresh air as eight original, often European-inflected compositions offer an entertaining ‘itinerary’ of verve, lucid beauty and obvious humour, all delivered by a three-horn septet augmented with guest musicians. Mullov-Abbado’s musical progression comes as no surprise (the son of acclaimed classical artists Viktoria Mullova and the late Claudio Abbado), yet he has already embarked on his own creative route which appears to take in so many influences.

These fifty-seven minutes are, indeed, something of an eclectic sightseeing adventure, with the winding, bluesy, ‘in-crowd’ bass-groove of Shanti Bell announcing its departure, whilst a steam-filled segue accelerates into high-speed Mariachi folk tune No Strictly Dancing, characterised by James Davison’s blistering trumpet and the hissing perpetual motion provided by drummer Scott Chapman and percussionist Elad Neeman. Mullov-Abbado explains that these compositions have been written, performed and honed over a two-year period, so they take inspiration from different sources. The echoic, tumbling-sax atmospheres of Waves divert into a pictorial vista stretching for miles; and its deep, reedy, dance-band elegance suggests romantic evocations of early 20th Century rail travel (dedicated with love to the bassist’s stepfather, Matthew Barley, whose cello adornments can be heard here); and Still, Hidden Morning‘s hazy aurora again tumbles into swiftly-travelling percussiveness, illuminated by Liam Diunachie’s deft, US-soul piano improvisations as well as the vividly-phrased, fluctuating impressions of fleeting landscapes from saxophonists Matthew Herd and Sam Rapley, and James Davison on flugel.

‘Wensleydale-and-cracker’ antics in Gromit’s Grand Outing (complete with animated, Nick Park sound effects) mischievously bluster to Mullov-Abbado’s flapper-style fast-walking bass – but behind the madcap comedy are some great, bubbling, trad-jazz-club solo turns from the melodicists (the Mozart didn’t go unnoticed!). Pure 100% Nunnery‘s cool-cat sax lines nonchalantly shuffle (cue the tea dance), breaking into magnificent, Louis Armstrong-style abandon/cacophony before its exaggerated swoons hint at the opening titles of ‘That Darn Cat’. Blithe title track Cross-Platform Interchange hits an irresistible Stateside groove, thanks to Rob Luft’s rhythm guitar and Dunachie’s piano, along with a smooth horn-quartet backing (including bass trombonist Yusuf Narcin); and Latinesque Hair of the Bop‘s elaborate conga patterns and trumpet/sax melodies infuse the closing festivities with delectable, Mexican warmth as Mullov-Abbado’s express disappears around the cove.

An album of new music imbued with Misha-Mullov Abbado’s cultural experiences, Cross-Platform Interchange teems with life and cheer.

Released on 19 May 2017 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass, bass guitar
James Davison trumpet, flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto saxophone
Sam Rapley tenor saxophone, clarinet
Liam Dunachie piano, Fender Rhodes
Scott Chapman drums
Elad Neeman percussion
with 
Nick Goodwin acoustic guitar
Rob Luft electric guitar
Matthew Barley cello
Yusuf Narcin bass trombone

mishamullovabbado.com

Edition Records – EDN1091 (2017)

‘Seaside’ – Liane Carroll

Seaside

BREATHE IN DEEPLY, and you can almost sense that familiar, hazy blend of aromas on the breeze: salty sea air, fish’n’chips, candy floss… and then the distant sounds of brass band vibrato and children’s play against a reassuring, shingle-stroked ebb tide. It’s all conjured by eminent, award-winning British jazz/soul singer Liane Carroll in a new coastal-inspired collection of songs – Seaside.

The vocalist/pianist who brought us such memorable gems as her own, peppy Dublin Morning and a powerfully emotive interpretation of Tom Waits’ Picture in a Frame now reaches new heights in this, her ninth album, surrounding herself with a fabulous array of musicians (notably multi-instrumentalist and producer James McMillan). Prompted by friend and renowned singer, pianist and songwriter Joe Stilgoe (who gifted Carroll the wonderfully evocative and wistful title track), here are ten songs inspired by the singer’s affection for her home town of Hastings; an inviting musical promenade which encounters sunny exuberance, swaggering grooves and tender, reassuring love, sometimes tinged with melancholy.

That title track is, indeed, a winner – its swirling silver band arrangement and classy, solid, melodic hooks (easily redolent of late Lennon & McCartney) combine with lyrics which tell a story of ardent, carefree, though perhaps seasonal companionship (“We’ll always have the seaside”); and love’s exhilaration is embodied in the bubbly piano-trio-and-scat burst of Lerner and Loewe’s Almost Like Being in Love (or Hove, as teasingly alternatively titled by Liane!). One of this album’s exquisite surprises is a thoughtful, mellow rendering of Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee’s Bring Me Sunshine – light years away from Eric’n’Ern’s japes, it might warmly pictorialise the cuddled devotedness of a couple looking out across the waves from their seafront shelter.

Led Zeppelin’s originally heavy-rocking Nobody’s Fault But Mine is effectively reimagined as a gravelly, bluesy strut (featuring Julian Siegel on tenor) – those characteristically wide, soulful vocals as impressive as ever; and the countryfied feel of Fred Lavery and Gordie Sampson’s Get Me Through December (previously recorded by, amongst others, Alison Krauss) becomes quietly majestic in Carroll’s hands. Evan Jolly’s broad, gospel-imbued arrangement of Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now displays all the brassy stature of an Elton John chart high-rider; and Wild is the Wind (from the 1950s movie of the same name) features the lush piano and brass arrangements of Malcolm Edmonstone, its haunting lyricism emphasised by bowed and sustained vibes.

A guitar-accompanied vocal interlude – popular 1930s standard I Cover the Waterfront, which Carroll has always wanted to record – is delightfully decorated by Rob Luft’s scampering fret work; and My Ship (Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin), with a playful vocal timbre reminiscent of Natalie Cole, cruises breezily before switching into fast scat swing. Finally, in recognition of the ever-present dangers of seafaring communities, Liane offers a poignant reading of J B Dykes’ familiar hymn tune Melita (words by William Whiting) – For Those In Peril on the Sea‘s reverent vocals are underpinned by Mark Edwards’ sublime jazz piano and organ harmonies, enhanced by James McMillan’s plaintive flugelhorn.

Seaside consolidates Liane Carroll’s position as one of the UK’s most expressive jazz/soul vocalists and pianists in an accessible recording which combines unalloyed high spirits with beauteous, heart-aching emotion. Released on 18 September 2015, the album is available from Linn Records and jazz retailers (take a look at the Seaside video).

 

Liane Carroll vocals, piano
Steve Pearce acoustic bass
Ian Thomas drums
James McMillan flugelhorn, keyboards, percussion, bass, tenor horn, vibraphone
Evan Jolly trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn; brass band and brass arrangements
Andy Wood euphonium, trombone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
Rob Leake baritone and tenor saxophones
Mark Edwards piano
Malcolm Edmonstone piano; brass arrangements
Mark Jaimes acoustic and electric guitars
Rob Luft guitar

lianecarroll.co.uk

Linn Records – AKD 533 (2015)