‘Can of Worms’ – George Crowley

CanOfWorms

Y’SEE WHAT ‘APPENS when y’open a Can of Worms?!…

Overflowing with writhing, jostling spontaneity, but with sufficient compositional structure to keep a lid on things, London-based saxophonist George Crowley’s new two-tenor quintet recording is a veritable powerhouse of creativity. His debut release, Paper Universe (Whirlwind, 2011), remains long in the memory as a jazz quartet recording of mature, unfettered exploration. Now, together with sparring tenor partner, the ever-chipper Tom Challenger, he constructs the formidable and foreceful front line of an energetic five-piece completed by Dan Nicholls (piano/Wurlitzer), Sam Lasserson (double bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Crowley reveals that this band came into being for the purposes of a 2013 live gig, leading to the desire to develop and document the project’s clear success in a studio album – a shrewd and worthwhile decision, given the resulting sense of excitement, anarchy and strong musicality on show here. As composer of all seven substantial pieces, the leader never settles for the obvious, nor any half measures – he and his colleagues go all out for unwavering improvisation whilst recognising the strength of tight ensemble playing. And it’s fabulously earthy, ‘unputdownable’ stuff.

The Opener‘s agitated ten-minute expanse bristles to Jon Scott’s trademark clattering-yet-incisive drum rhythms, bolstered by Sam Lasserson’s babbling bass and Dan Nicholls’ typically brash, animated piano; and in amongst all this, tenorists Crowley and Challenger (one in each ear!) breathlessly duel it out – the combination of the written and the abstract quite thrilling. Nicholls’ uneasy ‘music box’ Wurlitzer announces Whirl, a broad, impudent affair featuring Challenger’s gruffness and Crowley’s screeching – yet the precise framework is always apparent.

Ubiquitous Up Tune in 3, with tricksily-timed sax riffs, is certainly ‘up’, and it’s a tribute to the directness of the engineering/mixing that its raw, live feel translates so well into recorded sound. The jarring major/minor blues of Rum Paunch is a joy, the two tenors either in unison (or thereabouts) or otherwise taunting each other, whilst Nicholls’ sneering, rippling piano almost encourages them in their outrageous discord.

Hard-swinging but nevertheless anarchic I’m Not Here To Reinvent The Wheel rolls deliciously to Lasserson and Scott’s fast pace, the reedsmen clearly revelling in its abandon (confirmed by the group cackles that follow its abrupt finish!). Terminal shuffles mysteriously to Scott’s intricacy at the kit and Nicholls’ magnificent Wurlitzer weavings, Lasserson’s relentless bass underpinning the broadness of the tenors’ extemporisations – such a glorious (and at times, cheeky) sound world; and, to close, T-Leaf rumbles particularly freely, though the fractured improvisations finally come together in absolute unanimity… lid well and truly sealed!

A triumph for George Crowley and his team. Released on 23 March 2015, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found at Whirlwind.

 

George Crowley tenor saxophone
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone
Dan Nicholls piano/Wurlitzer
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jon Scott drums

georgecrowleymusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4666 (2015)

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‘Wildflower’ – Wild Flower Sextet

Wildflower

THE HIGH praise I can bestow on saxophonist Matt Anderson is that, on his equally-balanced collection of interpretations and new compositions inspired by jazz icon Wayne Shorter, I genuinely need to refer to the credits to check the provenance of each of the eight extensive numbers!

The Wild Flower Sextet takes its name from Shorter’s piece of the same name – from much-lauded 1966 album Speak No Evil – and comprises Anderson (tenor sax), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Alex Munk (guitar), Jamil Sherriff (piano), Sam Vicary (double bass) and Sam Gardner (drums).

From the very first bars of Anderson’s confident opener, Blues for Wayne, there’s a discernible Jazz Messengers buoyancy to this debut album recording which quickly identifies the tightness of his ensemble; and whilst keeping alive the tradition of joyous, swinging mainstream jazz, this relatively young personnel – including the spirited playing of guitarist Alex Munk – injects Anderson’s and Shorter’s writing with considerable pizazz. The leader’s own tenor is commanding both in its resonance and uninhibitedness, rallying his players to a full and fluent sound which exudes real enjoyment.

Another of Matt Anderson’s originals, Sfumato, struts its stuff with all the familiarity of an established ’60s standard (reminiscences of Johnny Dankworth not far off) thanks to memorable trumpet and tenor lines, as well as pacey guitar improvisation. But it must take a certain amount of fearlessness to approach the venerable music of Wayne Shorter. Nonetheless, the sextet’s reading of Masqualero feels impressively unrestrained, allowing efflorescent freedom of expression; and the combination of Laura Jurd’s blazing trumpet and Munk’s wailing guitar over Jamil Sheriff’s Rhodes, all to the bass and drums turbulence of Sam Vicary and Sam Gardner, provides the exciting edginess of experimental fusion.

Burning Man again indicates Anderson’s prowess as a writer – a beautifully melodic retro bossa with a roaming spirit as free as a wildflower meadow, creating shifting sweeps of colour (so much fine detailing here from all players, including the effective simplicity of unison piano and guitar lines). The broad canvas of J.G., at over nine minutes’ duration, finds the sextet in a wonderfully ebullient frame of mind – one of those atmospheres to simply ease back into as it scales luscious semitonal chord progressions, featuring delicious solos from Jurd and Anderson; and, with an introductory inertia magically evoking the memory of Weather Report, Wayne Shorter’s Fall beautifully treads the fine line between freedom and structure over complex, constantly ticking drums and cymbals from Gardner (Munk’s involvement a reminder of WR’s final release, This Is This, with Carlos Santana guesting).

Two further Shorter tunes complete the album. Three Clowns (from Weather Report’s popular Black Market) is strangely unfamiliar, devoid of Joe Zawinul’s trademark keyboards, but compelling to hear Anderson’s relaxed Shorteresque melodies instead; and the joyous Lester Left Town (from Messenger days, circa 1960) is brought bang up to date in a fabulously audacious shifting-tempi arrangement, Sam Gardner’s presence at the kit especially imposing (Mr Blakey would surely approve!).

Released on 9 March 2015 on the Jellymould Jazz label, Wildflower is as fresh and imaginative as they come – this sextet deserves to flourish.

 

Matt Anderson tenor saxophone
Laura Jurd trumpet
Alex Munk electric guitar
Jamil Sheriff piano
Sam Vicary double bass
Sam Gardner drums

matt-anderson.org.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ017 (2014)

‘Skyline’ – Tom Green Septet

Skyline

THE GRACEFULNESS of the cover art speaks volumes about the creative balance that shines out from Skyline, the debut septet recording from Cambridge-born trombonist Tom Green – a collection of expansive new compositions coloured by ever-changing hues, light and shade, allowing each of his players considerable freedom in improvisation.

The robust four-horn line-up of Green, Sam Miles (tenor), James Davison (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Matthew Herd (alto/soprano) offers impressive big band dynamism and breadth, yet also a supple luminosity which breathes life into the trombonist’s seven originals, plus one arrangement of a much-loved standard. Still in his 20s, Tom Green’s credentials are indubitable – the Royal Academy’s first postgraduate trombonist, winner of the 2013 Dankworth Composition Prize (leading Dame Cleo to declare his work as “some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time”) as well as a 2014 Help Musicians UK ‘Emerging Excellence’ award winner. And his mercurial brass dexterity is a delight, ranging from blistering riffs to svelte tonal lyricism.

Initial impressions are of crisp arrangements and sharp execution, typified by the opener, Sticks and Stones. It’s brisk and propulsive, with layers of textures and ideas over which Green and James Davison solo brightly; and gear changes throughout this album (such as the brief trombone and piano contrapuntalism here) add greatly to a sense of variety, not unlike the fluctuations of light on a plain caused by fast-moving cumulonimbus. The dilatory drawl of a Deep South-suggested horn preamble to thirteen-minute Equilibrium opens into an addictive bossa of moody twists and turns, bejewelled with Sam James’ precise piano expression – and then, all at once, it gleams to lush arrangements and, also, cacophonous scribbles which Green glides through with proverbial swan-like ease.

Arctic Sun swings delicately to the rhythm of bassist Mullov-Abbado and drummer Chapman, building towards elaborate, soaring soprano from Matthew Herd (a saxman who always displays a real penchant for pushing the envelope). There are shades of contemporary pop ballad in the memorable phrases of Peace of Mind, Green fluent in his extemporisations; and easy-going Mirage prompts fine soloing amongst the exacting full horn scoring.

Hoagy Carmichael’s perennial favourite, Skylark, is both chirpy and breezy in Green’s hands, though perhaps loses a little of the charm of mellower renditions; and Winter Halo might easily conjure luminescent landscapes and vacillating murmurations (startling rapidity of soprano bird calls from Herd!), including another of those delectable duo interludes – Sam Miles’ rich tenor against pellucid bass. DIY is an irresistible closer, pictorialising the brash, processional jazz of New Orleans and encouraging overlapping showy solos from all quarters, as well as more examples of the leader’s flair for snappy, complex arrangements (no doubt a crowd pleaser on their recent launch tour).

As a jazz release, this displays so many hallmarks of a classic, seasoned ensemble. As an ambitious debut from a young, close-knit septet, it’s a striking first statement with great potential for future development. And, above all… such an upbeat listen!

Released on 2 February 2015, Skyline can be purchased directly from Spark or Tom Green’s website.

 

Tom Green trombone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Davison trumpet and flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto and soprano saxophones
Sam James piano
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums

Illustration/artwork by Tom Barley

tomgreenmusic.com

Spark Label – Spark 001 (2015)

‘Ana’ – Emilia Mårtensson

ana2

MUSICAL DISCOVERIES are, I believe, waymarkers on a lifetime’s journey of appreciation and enjoyment of the artistic creativity that those blessed with a talent bestow upon us. Once experienced, they stay with us forever, evoking memories of the first unexpected rush of exhilaration that touched our soul.

In 2010, I chanced upon a debut release (Kairos Moment) by hitherto unknown contemporary jazz ensemble, Kairos 4tet. Led by indomitable saxophonist Adam Waldmann, their originality spoke loudly and clearly to me – and amongst the instrumental energy, a jazz vocalist delivered a single heartfelt ballad, Unresolved. Transfixed by its depth and beauty, I went on to discover this solo artist’s own debut album (And So It Goes… with pianist Barry Green) as well as appearances on subsequent Kairos albums and intimate piano-accompanied performances in London and Manchester.

Unsurprisingly, Emilia Mårtensson is rapidly making a name for herself on the London jazz circuit and beyond. A grounding in the folksongs of her native Sweden and standards of the leading ladies of jazz, combined with an admiration for a singer-songwriter genre that includes Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, has resulted in a meltingly gorgeous voice characterised by sincerity, warmth, dynamic control and endearingly crisp Anglo-Swedish diction.

Masterminded by producers Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney, this second solo release features a particularly inventive instrumental line-up, the spacial detail of which complements and colours Mårtensson’s sensitive approach so appropriately. As before, Barry Green’s expressive and intuitive piano is the perfect match for Emilia’s velvety tones. Rhythmic and ornamental zest is provided via a refreshing range of timbres from Brazilian percussionist Adrian Adewale; and bringing a deep sense of equilibrium is bassist Sam Lasserson. Finally, fashioning the most wonderfully interwoven textures on half of the album’s ten tracks are the Fable String Quartet, whose precision and integrality with this project are outstanding.

Illustrating all of this is opening number Harvest Moon, written by Jamie Doe, Emilia’s soft vocals floating above a gently bubbling momentum. In profound dedication to her grandmother, Ana is communicated with love (Soft, at night, her hand on mine, she says, “Close your eyes before you open up your mind”), Barry Green decorously enhancing the affectionate mood over Sam Crowe’s delicate string arrangement. Barnaby Keen’s Learnt from Love is a standout, the distinctive chord progressions and melody of the chorus, in particular, still lodged in my mind from a live first hearing last July; and Emilia’s voice also displays a brighter, stronger edge.

Tomorrow Can Wait is perfect for Mårtensson, the heart-on-sleeve poignancy of writer Emine Pirhason’s verses emphasised by the initial sparseness of solo piano, and Emilia’s digitally-layered harmonies are used to great effect here, suggesting her folk roots. Traditional Swedish folksong is represented by bass/percussion-accompanied När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År; and Black Narcissus Music, Joe Henderson’s familiar tune set to Emilia Mårtensson’s skilfully-intoned words, is interpreted breezily courtesy of a great Rory Simmons string arrangement which melds perfectly with the instrumental trio.

Paul Simon’s Everything Put Together Falls Apart comes so naturally to Mårtensson before Green and co. run with it in a jaunty, bluesy direction. Moffi’s Song confirms her own songwriting prowess, its string-led arrangement imbuing this tribute to her grandfather with the feel of an old jazz classic; and to close, a folksy unaccompanied miniature, Vackra Människa – the translation, ‘beautiful person’, so very fitting for this accomplished singer.

Released on 7 April 2014 (in Babel Label’s 20th anniversary year), Ana is available here … a musical discovery awaits.

Video: The Making of Ana
Video: Harvest Moon


Emilia Mårtensson
 voice
Barry Green piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Adriano Adewale percussion

The Fable String Quartet
Kit Massey violin
Paloma Deike violin
Becky Hopkin viola
Natalie Rozario cello

Babel Label – BDV14126 (2014)

‘Trio Riot’ – Trio Riot

TrioRiot

TRIO!… RIOT!… PUNK!… JAZZ!… BOOOOOOOOOOM!!!! It’s OK – I haven’t ‘lost it’ (as they say)… but this saxophone/drum trio is perhaps as hard-hitting and as ‘in your face’ as they come.

Released on the Efpi label, already renowned for blazing a trail of alternative improvisatory forms, Trio Riot bring us an eponymous album of honest, edgy, brash, chordless energy. With a sound that might encompass the ’60s jazz innovation of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, the gritty North-Eastern blues of Back Door and the anarchy of mid-’70s British punk, Anglo/Danish/Swiss band Trio Riot brandish an extreme vitality rarely heard on the current contemporary jazz scene.

Formed in Helsinki in 2009, the trio comprises Danish alto player Mette Rasmussen, Swiss tenorist Sam Andreae and, from the quintessentially northern UK oasis of Bollington (famous not least for its fine ales), drummer David Meier. Taking, as a musical parallel, the vast industrial heritage of Manchester, together these three instrumentalists creatively forge a feral, punchy and straight-down-the-line concoction of original, improvisatory, yet well-structured compositions which ‘take no prisoners’ when it comes to openness of heart and raw musical passion. You’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’ (‘Marmite’-style) – but I defy you not to be impressed (as I am) with the conviction of Mette, Sam and David.

Opening number, 3, fanfares the trio’s intent – grating, trilled sax solos interspersed with heavy drum responses; squawking, guttural tenor lines and shrill alto shrieks against fast-paced rhythms (those of a nervous disposition, please alight here!). Lala-lala (an onomatapaeic title) provides a percussive canvas over which Rasmussen and Andreae duel with increasing fervour; and Rondeau finds both sax players in a less confrontational frame of mind – indeed, they’re maybe of a more cheeky mindset, challenging drummer Meier to play their rasping and fun-filled game. I’m So Glad It Wasn’t Me sputters and sparks with atonal brashness; and Candid is just that – outspoken, with almost timpani-like heaviness… all good stuff!

Bartstock opens (and closes) with contrapuntal vigour, Rasmussen and Andreae chirping wildly in-between, against the rapid complexity of Meier’s percussion. Duo is a tense conversation between alto and tenor, though not without the suggested unwanted interjection of Meier’s ‘nails on blackboard’ cymbal-screeching; and Guru is an all-out rumpus, with impressively anarchic, tremulant, harmonic tenor whinings.

Unsurprisingly, Dadadadadadadada (is that enough ‘da’s?) is an intense three-minute celebration of all things reed and percussion – love it or hate it, it’s simply (for me, at least) sheer, unalloyed madness… but all in the best possible taste! 31 is sparky, blistering, riotous and altogether… well, wonderful. And Disorder (Joy Division) just revels in the relentless punky/’discoey’ groove laid down by David Meier, Andreae’s tenor improvising against Rasmussen’s quirky, repetitious and percussive alto. Drawing breath, closing number The Last Hurrah finds a corrupted solace in the searing, sinewy combination of cymbals and reedy harmonics, until alto and tenor find a mutually common ground and, finally, real beauty in their partnership – a mutual coming-together.

Recorded in just two days, mixed by Alex Bonney and packaged in Efpi’s ever-distinctive screenprinted sumptuousness (courtesy of designer Simen Engen Larsen), ‘Trio Riot’ is released on 17 March 2014 – available here. Trio… RIOT!


Mette Rasmussen
alto saxophone
Sam Andreae tenor saxophone
David Meier drums

Efpi Records – 2014