‘Orbital’ – Max Luthert

MaxLuthert

AN INCANDESCENT elegance pervades this debut release from bassist Max Luthert – a sumptuous and mature sextet recording, richly coloured and layered by the creative possibilities this particular collaboration engenders.

Very much a respected player on the London jazz scene, Luthert is joined by Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Séb Pipe (alto sax), Matt Robinson (piano) and Dave Hamblett (drums), who warmly bring to life these nine original compositions in which the leader has challenged himself to write for larger ensemble. The flute and dual sax combination achieves strikingly effective textures as mellifluent unison lines splay into opulent, three-way harmonic expressions, whilst also providing the freedom to extemporise individually – and, with an overarching sense of joie de vivre, this ‘little big band’ has much to say.

Title track Orbital perfectly illustrates the strengths of the collective with an ebullience which crackles to snappy, tricksy rhythms through which Duncan Eagles’ deeply-toned tenor both breezes and luxuriates. The mood swings in this are delicious, as is the crispness of the interaction, due in no small part to Dave Hamblett’s typically incisive though equally flamboyant drumming. Cloud on Cloud is characterised by flautist Gareth Lockrane’s mellow, slurred phrasing both floating above and melding with alto and tenor to create a luscious, dreamy ballad; and the subtly-infused Indian flavour of Assam‘s melodies and arrangements dissolve to afford space to Luthert’s distinctively-resonant bass soloing and the tabla-like hollowness of Hamblett’s carefully-weighted rhythms.

Grand Designs ripples to the complexity of shared and overlaid improvised woodwind phrases, Matt Robinson enhancing Luthert’s authoritative momentum with sparkling piano runs. In contrast, the most delightfully spacial Quiet December features the haunting tenor soloing of Eagles and the eloquent, gossamer fragility of Luthert’s imaginings (each attuned to the other, due to their close association in trio Partikel); and ascending tenor motifs bring an initial perky briskness to The Edgewall, its later, edgy sections finding Luthert’s mobile bass leaning more towards a Dave Holland sound world.

Full-bodied and swirling to a wonderfully tenacious bass and drums swing, Banrock Station is brightly illuminated by Lockrane’s high agility and Matt Robinson’s pianistic deftness; again, the close-knit ensemble work of Lockrane, Eagles and Séb Pipe shine out to provide that full, almost ’60s-style ambience – a definite stand-out. The broader landscape of Pacific Before Tiger features open, extensive soloing from Pipe, whilst the jaunty airiness of closing number Metro Moodie, with its tom-tempered percussion, includes Gareth Lockrane’s irresistible velvety-cum-gravelly bass flute register.

The majority of this session might well comfortably sit in the background at a dinner party, such is its unabashed equanimity – but, boy, how it lives and breathes when turned up loud and given the opportunity to fill a room! Released on 27 October 2014, information and audio samples can be found on the dedicated Orbital page of Whirlwind’s website.

 

Max Luthert double bass
Gareth Lockrane flutes
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Séb Pipe alto saxophone
Matt Robinson piano
Dave Hamblett drums

2015 UK live dates:
18 January: Ashburton Jazz Club
19 January: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
21 January: Dempsey’s, Cardiff
22 January: SoundCellar, Poole
23 January: Sheffield Jazz Club

Album artwork by Alban Low

maxluthert.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4659 (2014)

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‘#ONE’ – Black Top with Steve Williamson

BlackTop

THE ALBUM ART is intriguing, only subtly hinting at the extended explorations contained within. Recorded live at the creative crucible that is Jazz in the Round (curated by BBC Jazz on 3’s Jez Nelson at The Cockpit Theatre, London), duo Black Top collaborate with saxophonist Steve Williamson to produce an absorbing free jazz experience.

Former Jazz Warriors Pat Thomas (piano, keyboards and electronics) and Orphy Robinson (marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet and electronics) have, over the past three years, been experimenting with live instruments and lo-fi technology, inviting jazz ‘royalty’ such as Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde and Claude Deppa to guest with them to create a diversity of improvised trio sets. For this performance and subsequent debut release (recorded in January 2012), they welcomed back acclaimed saxophonist Steve Williamson, together setting up these excitingly original, live soundscapes.

The album’s three tracks cover a spectrum of musical textures and shifting atmospheres, referencing New York’s ‘Loft Scene’ avant-gardism of the 1970s as well as revealing Afro-Caribbean influences and dance rhythms. Piano, marimba and saxes take centre stage, but Black Top also infuse their evident virtuosity with a plenitude of beats, samples, loops and effects.

Opener There Goes the Neighbourhood! meanders to the unadorned sounds of tenor sax, marimba and piano, the three players spontaneously developing their shared ideas with increasing complexity, intermittently augmented by pounding electronic dubstep patterns and oscillations. The gradually-changing marimba ostinatos are, unsurprisingly, redolent of Steve Reich, Thomas’s full piano stabs adding to the hypnotic pulse and Williamson’s tenor melodically soaring above.

At almost 24 minutes in length, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner provides a central focus. The deep, hollow voice of the marimba possesses a strong personality, Robinson building its sustained, edgy mystery towards a repeated phrase on which Thomas lavishes a brash and richly percussive Cuban-style piano display, jabbing and rolling across the entire keyboard. Crunchy tenor heightens the excitement, Williamson blasting and scurrying to the concurrent fever. This expansive journey is initially indeterminate and unpredictable, yet the familiarity of repeated listenings remains just as compelling, the trance-like effect of spiralling soprano sax, rapid marimba, fuzzed electronics, jagged piano and thudding rhythm impressively gripping – and then a palpable calmness when it briefly dies back to more spacial cerebration. The closing section finds Williamson’s soprano sneering broadly at the keys, though piano and marimba are up for the challenge with the same tumultuous intensity… and appearing unresolved at the close!

Archaic Nubian Stepdub throws electronics to the fore in this funkier and more succinct closing track, its perpetual-though-shifting rhythms encouraging Williamson to reciprocate with similarly loop-mimicked soprano sax.

One of Babel Label’s 20th anniversary releases for 2014, the exhilarant rhythms and open environments of #ONE are capable of prompting an almost interactive listener response, such is their power to move. To sample and purchase, visit Babel’s website/Bandcamp store – and catch a great video excerpt of the gig here.

 

Pat Thomas piano, keyboards, electronics
Orphy Robinson marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet, electronics
with
Steve Williamson tenor and soprano saxophones

Babel Label – BDV14128 (2014)

‘Sutures and Stitches’ – Ollie Howell

OllieHowell_Sutures

WHEN A DEBUT ALBUM sounds this good (correction: this spectacular), you simply cannot ignore it! Relatively new to British and international jazz audiences, drummer and composer Ollie Howell’s first release comes as something of a revelation.

The initially curious title, ‘Sutures and Stitches’, soon becomes clear as Howell openly shares his recent history of numerous neurosurgeries and, importantly, his determination to take the positive from these experiences and channel them musically. Indeed, this collection of self-penned post-bop originals (plus an arrangement of Dear Old Stockholm) is a remarkably confident and mature first release, boasting a strong personnel: Mark Perry (trumpet), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (double bass) and Matt Robinson (piano). With endorsements from renowned drummer Jimmy Cobb (“He’s loaded with talent!”) and music legend Quincy Jones (describing Howell as “an unbelievable drummer. So creative I couldn’t believe it. This kid is a 360-degree beautiful young cat that I believe has what it takes to make a life out of music.”), this is surely a great curtain-raiser to a glittering career to come.

Later On opens the album with aplomb, Howell instantly displaying his crisp and direct attention to compositional and drumming detail, Robinson hitting the advance button for Perry and Eagles to take flight with characteristic shared brilliance. There’s a cordial spirit to the lively Beyond, its opening unison melody feeling welcomingly familiar, soon stepping up a gear for a terrific tenor solo, Robinson’s accomplished piano then driving on and on to a cross-rhythmical hand-clap/percussion conclusion.

Short solo intros from each band member precede five of the tracks – not mere fillers, but concise lead-ins to the pieces which follow, beginning with Howell himself on rapid, perfectly-tuned toms, ahead of So Close, So Far. With its finely-balanced sound, and possible imaginings of a big band arrangement, Perry’s assured flutter-tongueing blazes high above the tight ensemble accompaniment. Lively miniature, Angry Skies, leads to Perry’s melancholy trumpet intro to 19th Day, a wistful tune beautifully carried by Eagles’ rich tenor, partnering with Perry to great effect. At almost nine minutes, A World Apart is a great centrepiece to showcase the raw, combined talent of this quintet – Howell skilfully directs the band to reach for that higher rhythmic, melodic and improvisational plane… result: success!

Max Luthert’s sonorous bass intro to For Anya is a worthy preamble to its delicate bass- and piano-led dedication. They finds Ollie Howell on fine form, bringing shape to Perry’s and Eagles’ searching solos, Luthert again with a lyrical bass addition. Eagles’ brief sax intro takes us into the gorgeously introspective Two Sides, tenor and piano creating between them such an appealing dialogue. Traditional tune Dear Old Stockholm receives a feisty arrangement, all players pushing at its animated energy. Howell’s drum display is so dynamic, so exact, whilst Robinson and Luthert perpetuate the heady groove. Finally, a particularly limpid piano intro leads to A Hollow Victory, Eagles’ and Perry’s unanimous melody giving way to their own thoughtful solos – a gentler, considered finale to a superbly creative and rounded album.

Released by Whirlwind on 23 September 2013, Howell is touring ‘Sutures and Stitches’ until 3 December – and one can imagine (or, better still, experience) live pyrotechnics of the highest order! Details and samples here.


Ollie Howell
drums/compositions  olliehowell.com
Mark Perry trumpet  markperrymusic.com
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone  duncaneagles.com
Max Luthert double bass  maxluthertcouk
Matt Robinson piano  mattrobinsonmusic.com

Sleeve design and illustration by Alban Low  artofjazz.blogspot.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4636 (2013)