‘Double Trouble Live’ – Peter Ehwald

PeterEhwald

THERE’S an enticingly gritty, direct edginess to new album Double Trouble Live from German saxophonist Peter Ehwald.

A quartet by any other name, this ‘double double bass’ backbone of Robert Landfermann and Andreas Lang ensures a robust, hard-hitting edge to Ehwald’s original compositions (plus one arrangement), with drummer/percussionist Jonas Burgwinkel a particularly agile contributor to these nine tracks recorded at gigs in Düsseldorf, München and Potsdam in 2013/2014. Peter Ehwald is already known to UK ears as the melodic front lead to exciting quartet Paragon (with Jon Scott, Arthur Lea and Matthias Nowak) – but this line-up is different again, revelling in more raucous, edgy, free improvisation whilst also able to display contrasting openness and sensitivity.

Despite the potential of eight bass strings, the sound remains essentially that of a chordless trio (recalling the sound worlds of, say, Depart or Partikel). Nevertheless, there’s a spontaneity to the exploratory jazz semblance of this quartet – formed in 2010, with a 2013 studio album to their name – which suggests a promising live experience, the leader describing his intentions “to act out something wild and create beautiful sounds at the same time; warm, contrapuntal, free indeed and liberated, yet still thoroughly composed.”

Peter Ehwald is a particularly searching saxophonist, and very much upfront in these performances. Lurching, sinewy, arco basses support his relentless tenor tumblings and screeches in opener In the Zone; and Mimouna‘s soprano extemporisations (on a traditional tune) portray the quartet quite differently with shades of Jan Garbarek or Julian Arguëlles, plus ear-catching, percussive bubbling from Ehwald’s personnel. As live takes, there’s an engaging honesty to these recordings, Mr Soju (at almost nine minutes) hitting the walls and rebounding to the quick-fire staccato of Burgwinkel’s hard kit and Ehwald’s unyielding, gruff and often duo-toned perambulations.

Dreamband is especially colourful, Ehwald’s showy tenor deftly combining with impulsive, buoyant bass and sparky percussion. Disquieting Branded brings the impressive bass voices to the fore, with Ehwald’s soprano suggesting a Shorteresque kind of discovery; title track Double Trouble resounds to Ehwald’s unexpectedly Getzian tones and the eastern resonances of Landfermann and Lang; and Borden‘s audacity – Ehwald clearly on great tenor form – is elevated still higher by Jonas Burgwinkel’s firecracker drums and percussion.

Arguably, as a recorded-live account, this amalgamation of sets requires close attention to understand its detail (certainly not mainstream or background listening). But once ‘in’, there’s a depth of invention here which, to ears attuned to saxophone-led chordless ensembles, can become absorbing.

Released on 30 October 2015, with its launch at London Jazz Festival on 18 November, Double Trouble Live is available from Peter Ehwald’s website, and also at online store MDT.

 

Peter Ehwald tenor and soprano saxophones
Robert Landfermann double bass
Andreas Lang double bass
Jonas Burgwinkel drums

peter-ehwald.net

Jazzwerkstatt – JW164 (2015)

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‘Good is Good’ – Vula Viel

VulaViel

MELDING Ghanaian rhythm, minimalist repetition and improvisatory jazz pizazz, percussionist Bex Burch unveils a debut album which glints with hypnotic majesty, all based around first-hand experience of living and making music with the Dagaare tribe of West Africa.

Burch’s CV is fascinating. A childhood passion for percussion, and her classical studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, led to a series of chance encounters which resulted in a gap year travelling around Ghana’s ten regions, learning about and immersing herself in the musical culture of its people. It was there that she was introduced to master xylophonist Thomas Segkura, who invited her to be his apprentice. Across three years, she would buy and farm land, build a house – and, significantly, develop both the craftsmanship and the musicianship to create and master traditional instrument, the Gyil. On completion of her apprenticeship, she was given the name Vula Viel (which translates as ‘Good is Good’), and rewarded with the beautiful words, “All we have given you is yours, and all you have given us is ours. The good you do remains when you die.”

Returning to the UK, Burch decided to develop the richness of the Gyil music she had come to be a part of by forming a band – appropriately named Vula Viel – with some of London’s most progressive jazz and improvisational musicians; the beat-driven line-up consisting of saxophonist George Crowley, keyboardist Dan Nicholls, drummers Dave de Rose and Simon Roth, plus vibraphonist Stephen Burke (and Jim Hart guesting). Under Bex Burch’s direction, her colleagues rehearsed/gigged hard to understand the rhythms and melodies of the Dagaare tradition, respectfully reinterpreting them into this exciting, contemporary, groove-laden experience.

The successful cross-pollination of cultural creativity and instrumentation is what immediately grabs the attention – Nicholls’ electronic atmospheres and Crowley’s jazz-sax sensibility fusing organically with infectious world rhythms which glow to the leader’s bright, xylophonic timbres. Burch studied Steve Reich, and that mesmeric influence (also suggesting Terry Riley, Pierre Moerlen and even Ibiza-like sundown moods amongst its earthy, rustic charm) can clearly be identified in tracks such as Gandayina and Bewa which, with superbly echoic textures of Rhodes and synth, also become redolent of Soft Machine’s Six period. The dance element is key, as Zine Dondone Zine Daa rasps to the physicality of the Gyil, enhanced by sympathetic vibes and electronics (often the lines of definition are wonderfully blurred!) – and resounding to Crowley’s characteristically unfettered tenor, it all builds into magnificent, saturated, Nik Bärtsch-style complexity. There are moments of becalming beauty, too, across these seven tracks, often moving from watery, South African-tinted sunshine to Gamelanese delicacy – all displaying a constantly shifting undercurrent of invention.

Vula Viel’s appearance at this year’s Ronnie Scott’s London Jazz Festival launch confirmed an enthusiastic response to their fizzing, live presence; and this studio account, listening closely to exquisite detail, provides its own thrill. It would seem that there are areas of this vast, African-inspired canvas yet to be coloured – and with such an intuitive personnel, that’s something to very much look forward to.

Released on 23 October 2015, Good is Good can be heard at and purchased from Bandcamp.

 

Bex Burch Gyil
George Crowley sax
Dan Nicholls bass synth, keyboards
Dave De Rose drums
Simon Roth drums
Stephen Burke vibes
with
Jim Hart vibes (on Bewa)

vulaviel.com

Vula Viel Records – VVCD001 (2015)

‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time

MST_300

THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.

 

Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ

moonlightsavingtime.co.uk

MSTCD002 (2015)

‘Range’ – Pete McCann

Range

A FIRST LISTEN to the sparkling jazz-rock of guitarist Pete McCann may leave you pondering why, at least in the UK, his name is so unfamiliar. Respected as a first-call sideman on the New York scene, he has appeared on over 80 album recordings including those of Patti Austin, Curtis Stigers and the Mahavishnu Project; while in jazz his credentials include having worked alongside Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz and Brian Blade.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Pete McCann electric and acoustic guitars
John O’Gallagher alto sax
Henry Hey piano, Fender Rhodes, organ
Matt Clohesy acoustic and electric bass
Mark Ferber drums

petemccann.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4675 (2015)

‘The Mighty Five’ – Alexey Kruglov / Jaak Sooäär Quartet

TheMightyFive

THE PRACTICE of extracting music from one context and artfully adapting it for another has long been a fascination. Church organists, for example, can be such masters of disguise, relishing the opportunity to befuddle their listeners with, normally, the most incongruous of selections. So, this quartet release of sparky arrangements and improvisations by Alexey Kruglov (saxophones) and Jaak Sooäär (electric guitar), based on celebrated Russian classical masterpieces, instantly grabbed the attention.

Saxophonist Alexey Kruglov is a rising, creative star on the Russian and international jazz scene (his 2014 ACT Music release, Moscow, with renowned German pianist Joachim Kühn, of particular note) and Estonian guitarist Jaak Soäär has, for many years, featured prominently in the pop and jazz culture of his homeland. Joining them are seasoned jazz musicians Mihkel Mälgand (bass) and Tanel Ruben (drums).

In a programme of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev (the quartet sometimes include Cezar Cui – hence The Mighty Five), the players somehow retain the integrity of these familiar works whilst shifting them into an altogether different sphere – in turns, beautifully lyrical and punkily brazen. Yet, no matter how far they push the envelope, there is clearly a fundamental, underlying respect for and adherence to the originals.

The orchestral majesty of the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship) is, here, transformed by Kruglov’s alto into a luxurious, TV-theme-like sweep, with Sooäär’s guitar encouraging more energetic, improvised development – an altogether brilliant re-working. Polovtsian Dance (otherwise known as the Chorus of Polovtsian Girls from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor) is powered-up by crunchy rhythm guitar, its irregular metre paving the way for gutsy extemporisations. The first of the quartet’s interpretations from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Old Castle – possesses a fine, bluesy swagger, thanks to the pliant double bass of Mihkel Mägland, Kruglov’s hard sax tone and Sooäär’s high-fretted wails; and, audaciously and raucously, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is compressed into 75 seconds of intense pleasure, its wild, frenetic, group activity bordering on free jazz.

Mussorgsky’s stately The Great Gate of Kiev is fabulously fashioned with solid drumming, eloquent electric bass improv and the irrepressible scribbles and scrawls of Kruglov’s alto; then a Balakirev piano Nocturne is elegantly reimagined for jazz quartet, amidst hints of restlessness. Mussorgsky’s Baba-Yaga is well suited to the anarchic romp created here, including some wonderfully chattering soprano against a fast electric bass undercurrent, and Sooäär’s imaginative guitar/electronics are superb – a stand-out track, in fact. To close, Prince Igor’s Aria (Borodin’s emotive No Sleep, No Rest from Prince Igor) is sympathetically realised as extended chamber jazz, its many facets reflecting the shared invention throughout this extraordinary, rather special album.

Released on 11 November 2014, The Mighty Five is available, digitally, at Bandcamp.

 

Alexey Kruglov alto, soprano and baby saxophones, train whistle, shouts
Jaak Sooäär electric guitar, live electronics
Mihkel Mälgand double bass, electric bass
Tanel Ruben drums

ArtBeat Music – AB-CD-09-2014-074 (2014)

‘Fist Full of Notes’ – Indigo Kid II

IndigoKidII

FOR GUITARIST Dan Messore, the different yet similarly broad landscapes of his two spiritual homes – Pembrokeshire, Wales and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica – feature prominently in his compositions for this second Indigo Kid release, Fist Full of Notes.

Messore’s well-received debut Indigo Kid album, in 2012, was encouraged and led by renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy (who the guitarist studied under in Wales) – and whilst Ballamy returns for a couple of numbers here, he introduces creative tenorist Trish Clowes to take up the lead sax role. From the original quartet line-up, bassist Tim Harries remains, but drummer Martin France makes his first appearance with the ‘Kid.

Strikingly progressive in feel, Dan Messore has developed this band’s musical atmospheres of jazz, folk and country to judiciously include electronics/effects which complement and sustain the original, open, acoustic sound; and the transformation can become cinematic (maybe that’s the clue to the curious ‘fist full of notes/dollars’ title idea), often with satisfying prog rock grandeur.

The key to the success of the project lies in the constantly shifting textures which Messore and his team employ; here is a straightforward quartet/quintet line-up, yet the clever written and improvisational stratification – organically building, evolving and fading – defines the enticingly alternative approach. So, there are familiar jazz territory run-outs, such as Trish Clowes’ sunny pairing with Messore in lightly shuffling All Hands to Dance and Skylark, recalling the saxophonist’s work with guitarist Chris Montague (including the later inclusion of layered effects); but then the intense, rock-heavy aura of From Nowhere to Our Place excitingly summons the spirit of Robert Fripp and King Crimson.

The mellower side of Clowes’ very distinctive tone announces folksy Snow on the Presellis, its easy-going, guitar-rich demeanour perhaps leaning closer to Central America than mountainous South West Wales; and Mr Randall creates a fascinating blend of experimental jazz fusion and early prog as Harries’ wah-wahed electric bass combines with France’s fabulously intricate drumming over disquieting electronics. Dan Messore’s style has been likened to that of guitar legend Richard Thompson (though you could easily put John Etheridge, John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell into the mix, too). That self-accompanied folk style comes out in one of two pieces dedicated to his late father – the Soft Machine-imbued expanse of Carpet Boys; and The Healing Process reveals the familiar, deep, mellifluous signature of Iain Ballamy.

Waiting for Paula is quietly majestic, the echoic searchings of Clowes and Messore contrasting well with sparky rhythms delivered by Martin France – a perfect example of the cohesion within this ensemble; and interlude Quiet Waters does indeed ripple calmly to picked guitar and confident melodies, followed by the perky country-rock of The Bay. To close, Iain Ballamy again swells the ranks in Sketches in the Fabric, Tim Harries’ incisive electric bass driving its infectious jazz/rock energy.

It’s great to hear a fresh approach to contemporary jazz, and Dan Messore’s compositional and improvisational prowess flourishes amidst the distinguished musical company he keeps.

Released on 13 July 2015, Fist Full of Notes is available at Babel Label.

 

Dan Messore electric guitar, composition
Trish Clowes tenor sax
Iain Ballamy tenor sax (tracks 6 & 10)
Tim Harries electric bass
Martin France drums

danmessore.com

Babel Label – BDV14138 (2015)