‘Last Things Last’ – Greg Cordez

Greg Cordez_Last

MUSIC sometimes has the curious approach of making one wait, in a ‘just stay with me, let’s see where this takes us’ kinda way; but after doing exactly that with bassist/composer Greg Cordez’s latest release, Last Things Last, its restrained beauty has gradually unfurled.   

UK-born and New Zealand-raised Cordez’s 2015 album, Paper Crane, is a return-to delight – and with a different instrumental angle and line-up, this follow-up presents a cool, Stateside aura which is perhaps enhanced by its Brooklyn recording location as well as the influence of production associate (and respected US bassist) Ben Allison. The leader describes his original compositions as exploring “themes of coincidence, optimism, and the slow dissolution of a personal relationship” – but, as suggested by its desolate gas-station cover, there’s also the tangibility of contemplative night-time journeying; a fitting soundtrack to endlessly snaking freeway lights ahead.

Alongside guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Allison Miller, Cordez pairs cornettist Kirk Knuffke and saxophonist Michael Blake upfront, their unison and contrapuntal horn melodies featuring strongly in eight numbers which don’t overstay their welcome; in fact, they succinctly say what they need to say, yet happily prompt repeat play.

The streetlight shuffle of Chekhov’s Gun is maintained through mobile electric bass groove, Rhodes-like guitar chords and fleeting electronics, with Knuffke and Blake intertwined in attractive, close riffs; and Cherry v Des Moines‘ American-rock bass pulse might easily invite a shouty vocal. But elsewhere, a hazy stillness pervades Cordez’s writing. Figlock‘s beautiful drowsiness is created by echoic horns and thrummed strings before crescendoing to pitch-bent electric guitar heaven; Last Things Last‘s resigned serenity is imbued with frail doubt, its brighter dawn inviting sublime individual guitar, sax and cornet improv; and Low Winter Sun‘s positivity is felt through gently propulsive rhythms and lasting melodies.

Charmingly soporific All That Is, with malleable rubato, allows the softness of Knuffke’s cornet and Blake’s sax to roam as they please, whilst Clementine‘s similar confidence in creating lush, open ground for solo and ensemble creativity provides a balm-like feel-good; and Junebug‘s cheery guitar-and-cornet ‘all is well’ tunefulness might even hint at Herb Alpert.

Cruise into the afterglow with Last Things Last… and see where it takes you.

Released on 18 August 2017 and available as a CD through Greg’s website (the break-up ‘F37 Glaser Street’ font takes an impressive tumble on the inlay tray!) or digitally at Bandcamp.

 

Kirk Knuffke cornet
Michael Blake saxophones
Steve Cardenas guitar
Greg Cordez bass
Allison Miller drums

gregcordez.com

Self-released (2017)

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‘All Things’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

src_allthings

SLOWLY ROLLING CAMERA’s eponymous 2014 debut release made a strong impression, garnering an enthusiastic, international fanbase – and follow-up All Things powers to still greater heights with its dynamic blend of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz and rock.

Fronted by charismatic vocalist, vocal arranger and lyricist Dionne Bennett – whose deep, emotional timbres are the band’s signature – the central quartet completed by Dave Stapleton (keyboards), Deri Roberts (sound design, electronics, percussion) and Elliot Bennett (drums, percussion) calls upon an impressive complement of musicians to assist in realising their ambitious, lush, almost rock-symphonic imaginings. Echoes of The Cinematic Orchestra are authenticated by the presence of guitarist Stuart McCallum; jazz collaborators Ben Waghorn and Laura Jurd provide improvisational flair; and strings enhance the cinemascopic fervour whilst also providing contrasting tranquillity.

Dionne Bennett’s intense, often angsty delivery is perfect for this album’s pervading themes of ‘relationships and the human condition’, and her inflected control, vibrato and sumptuous harmonies feel matchless on the current scene. Scintillation, for example, smoulders over searing strings before erupting into darting rhythms and instrumental soloing over tremulant Fender Rhodes, with tensile “I feel your fire” vocals at snapping point; and McCallum’s reverberant electric guitar paints the sky with incandescent white light. Key to the band’s percussive drive is Elliot Bennett, whose intricacy and energy is always so compelling to watch and hear – opener The Fix is typical of his kaleidoscopic approach, combining weighty, held-back lurching with pin-sharp, cymbal-thrashing accuracy.

It’s difficult to overstate how slick and how layered this production is. Delusive‘s catchy core riff recalls Harold Faltermeyer’s ‘Axel F’; Dave Stapleton’s introduction of the Moog synth, especially in High Praise and Room with a View, is inspired – evocative of ’70s prog, it adds so much to this tumultuous, energising 21st Century landscape; and Deri Roberts’ sound manipulation in Oblivion, supporting Dionne Bennett’s frenetic, shouted choruses of “Leave me alone” confirm that any one of this album’s nine tracks could be the dramatic backdrop to a blockbuster thriller (and equally at home on BBC 6 Music’s playlists).

The transformation of one of Stapleton’s earlier, minimalist, Gorecki-inspired piano works (from his own album Flight) into the soulful vocal outpouring of Unsetting Sun is effective, with string quartet intensifying the heart-wrenched emotion; The Brink is a standout, pulsating, soul/rock episode, with McCallum’s cascading guitar lines enhancing its exciting cacophony; and wind-down end-piece All Things, complete with oscillating synth sirens, wraps up this breathtaking 46-minute visceral explosion.

The ‘difficult second album’? Not… a… chance!

Released on 4 November 2016, All Things is available as LP, CD and digital download from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Dionne Bennett lyrics, vocals, vocal arrangements
Dave Stapleton Fender Rhodes, Moog, string arrangements, piano
Deri Roberts sound design, electronics, production, pandeiro, cuica, berimbau, udu, cabasa, calabash, ghungharu bells, finger cymbals, seed pod shaker
Elliot Bennett drums, tumbadores, bongos, shakers, ribbon crasher, bells
with
Stuart McCallum guitar
Aidan Thorne double bass, electric bass
Ben Waghorn saxophones, bass clarinet
plus
Laura Jurd trumpet
Gareth Roberts trombone
Simon Kodurand violin
Christiana Mavron violin
Katy Rowe violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Niamh Ferris viola
Sarah Davison cello
Abigail Blackman cello
and (on Unsetting Sun)
David Brodowski violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Felix Tanner viola
Reinoud Ford cello

slowlyrollingcamera.com

Edition Records – EDN1080 (2016)

‘Let’s Dance’ – Per Oddvar Johansen

LetsDance

IT MAY BE CLICHÉD to describe an album as a ‘musical journey’, yet the progression in Let’s Dance very much suggests passage through the kind of open, atmospheric Scandinavian landscape portrayed on the cover of this new release from Norwegian drummer and multi-instrumentalist Per Oddvar Johansen. 

Although it marks his debut as leader – with longstanding colleagues Helge Lien (piano) and Torben Snekkestad (saxophones, reed trumpet) – Johansen’s established recording career has seen him appear on over eighty albums (ECM, ACT, etc.), collaborating with names such as Adam Baldych, Trygve Seim and Solveig Slettahjell, and collecting six Spellemannprisen (Norwegian Grammys).

This trio’s sound palette is many-hued, whilst maintaining a thread of serene majesty, as in opening title track Let’s Dance – a gentle, misty, Tord Gustavsen-like dawn with an arcing sunrise melody painted by Torben Snekkestad’s wispy, duduk-toned soprano sax. As a drummer, percussionist and composer, Johansen also has other instrumental capabilities up his sleeve on this recording (violins, vibes, guitars, etc.), yet the structural balance of these nine tracks is never in doubt. Forest Flower‘s atmospheric delicacy – with distorted reeds, low-sustained piano strings and fragile percussion respectively evoking bird calls, looming storms and the gradual onset of rainfall – is so beautifully imagined. Flying extends the themes of natural openness and shifting climatic conditions through the spacial rise and fall of electronics, violin and dewdrop vibraphone; and the lyrical, folksong qualities in No. 7 feel reminiscent of the work of Jonas Knutsson.

Helge Lien’s restrained yet exploratory piano style is central to many of these pieces, his authoritative sense of equilibrium shining through in Panorama, a dark, brooding episode suspended by his deeply-plumbed pedal notes and only occasional glimmers of brightness; and Per Oddvar’s brushed subtleties underpin Snekkestad’s lachrymose improvisations with incantational foreboding. In contrast, the lurching slide-guitar folksiness of Uluru (for Anette) suggests arrival at a woodland clearing, complete with the sound of lofty tweets and distant, flowing streams – one of a pair of delightful miniatures (with free, electro-percussive Impromptu) which perpetuate the pervading themes of free-roaming expedition.

The rubato of Families, over a slowly oscillating bass figure, offers both Snekkestad and Johansen a broad canvas to explore, with Lien’s own, single-line piano excursions finely placed; and closing track Song M is coloured by the beautifully richness of tenor sax amidst the tranquillity of brushed snare/cymbals and nebulous piano.

Recorded deep within the forests of Sweden, the tranquillity of Per Oddvar Johansen’s Let’s Dance may be interpreted as a grateful invocation to nature – and it’s not difficult, on close examination, to fall under its spell. Watch the video of the recording of the title track here.

Released on 25 March 2016, the album can be purchased from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Per Oddvar Johansen drums, violins, vibraphone, guitars, wood percussion, electronics
Helge Lien piano
Torben Snekkestad saxophones, reed trumpet

peroddvar.no

Edition Records – EDN1068 (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)

‘The Day I Had Everything’ – Malija

Malija

IT’S A FEELING that probably resonates with most of us; as kids, relishing those long, school summer holidays stretching out in front, safe in the knowledge that with each seemingly endless day came the freedom to explore and make new discoveries with friends.

Entitling this new album The Day I Had Everything, saxophonist Mark Lockheart expresses that same kind of excitement in a working environment with equally adroit colleagues, Jasper Høiby (double bass) and Liam Noble (piano). “The sheer excitement one has as a child getting up in the morning and not being able to decide what to do first” is Lockheart’s parallel to the process of pooling their own, original compositions and the pleasure of developing and recording them in the studio; and whilst their perhaps African-sounding trio name is nothing more than a connecting of forenames, it clearly reinforces their unalloyed musical cohesion and friendship (first collaborating on Mark Lockheart’s impressive 2009 album In Deep).

What becomes fascinating across these 56 minutes is that each of the three players’ contributions are often stamped with their recognisable, individual characters, whilst also possessing an openness and eclecticism which continually delights. Malija’s realm is far away from a standards trio, and the element of surprise remains strong throughout, as does the group’s flawless musicality and invention… frequently flecked with coltish exuberance and tangible mischievousness.

Enter at any point in this 11-track release and there is soon the realisation of both depth and warmth in the unfolding artistry. The eccentric folksiness of Lockheart’s opener, Squared, might easily have its roots in Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance as his signature full tenor voice weaves around jaunty piano and bass grooving, plus an ever-present tinge of the unexpected; and intricately-constructed Mr Wrack (after Noble’s technical drawing teacher) anarchically bursts into a Beach Boys-style piano riff, increasingly swelled by the Ligeti Quartet’s chattering grandeur and Lockheart’s wonderfully disorderly screeching. Jasper Høiby’s occasionally-tripped-up walking-5/4 Unknown is quietly cheerful, with a cross-pollination of phrases and subtle horn / bass clarinet layering underpinning flighty soprano sax, whilst The Pianist shunts and grunges to Noble’s bass fifths and bluesy ornamentation in tandem with brash, almost cackling tenor (and so deeply satisfying!).

Høiby’s bass harmonics (redolent of his Phronesis) and the added complexity of modal, out-of-body riffs from Noble and Lockheart’s soprano tee-up the pianist’s Wheels, happily jarring the senses before finding a more freewheeling clear road ahead; and the bassist’s shadowy title track Malija (with such a memorable, searching melody) seems to reference his work with Kairos 4tet – an exquisite, richly-tenored wellspring of beauty. Almost a Tango is typically Mark Lockheart, full of shifting dance rhythms, textures and moods (not unlike the writing on his acclaimed release Ellington in Anticipation), all three players seeming to wallow in its quirky splendour.

An echoic, slowly-oscillating piano-and-bass motif in Liam Noble’s miniature, Blues, melds superbly with breathy tenor (Polar Bear minus electronics?); then the saxophonist’s charming, breezy One For Us emerges like a beloved classic at the end of a set, and could easily invite a delicate vocal from Cleo Laine or Norma Winstone. Wayne’s World – Høiby’s tribute to Wayne Shorter, with his sinewy bass encircling the whole piece – gives free rein to Noble and Lockheart to improvise more abstractedly and, in the detail, still more deliciously, Then, closing anthemically yet mysteriously, and integrating the Ligeti’s strings, Mark Lockheart’s With One Voice feels imbued with the spirits of both Michael Tippett and Joe Zawinul, its poignancy filled once again with the tenorist’s unmistakable, luxurious tones.

Listening now, and in musical and emotional terms… this feels like I have everything.

Released on 27 November 2015 – available as CD, download and 12″ vinyl at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Mark Lockheart saxophones, bass clarinet
Jasper Høiby double bass
Liam Noble piano
with
Ligeti Quartet (on Mr Wrack and With One Voice)

Edition Records – EDN1064 (2015)

‘Our Lady of Stars’ – Sorana Santos

SoranaSantos

OVERFLOWING with intrigue and frequently startling with the unexpected, Sorana Santos’ debut album Our Lady of Stars on her own label I Dream in Sound feels like one of the most delightfully original vocal jazz offerings of the year to date; a recording whose original compositions and performances progress with delicious unpredictability until they eventually seep into one’s soul.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Sorana Santos piano, prepared piano, guitar, voice
James Maddren drums
Joe Wright saxophones, feedback flute
Alex Bonney trumpet, cornet
Ligeti Quartet strings

sorana.co

I Dream in Sound – IDIS1CD (2015)

‘All In’ – Beats & Pieces Big Band

AllIn

TALK ABOUT Northern soul – these guys have it in three-storey-with-a-mezzanine-shed-loads!

Beats & Pieces Big Band have come a long way in seven years. From their tentative beginnings as Manchester students, through to their early EP and local gigs at Band on the Wall and the Royal Northern College of Music, they have developed a keen following which, on the basis of last year’s blazing Manchester Jazz Festival appearance, is swiftly on the rise. Their excellent 2012 debut album, Big Ideas, turned more than jazz heads, brought Jazz FM and Parliamentary awards, and prompted invitations to perform internationally.

Directed by enthusiastic composer, arranger and instrumentalist Ben Cottrell, and drawing big band comparisons such as Loose Tubes and Matthew Herbert (due to their infectious energy, use of electronics and an unorthodox, contemporary approach), 14-strong Beats & Pieces now release their much-anticipated follow-up, All In – a bristling statement of their current stature. Three powerful banks of three (saxes, trumpets and trombones) are completed by guitar, piano/Rhodes, bass and drums; and buried amongst the irrepressibly slick grooves, their quite-likely uniqueness is characterised by the occasional, endearing whiff of no-nonsense Lancashire colliery band (confirmed by the album’s tailpiece).

Collective influences include Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Radiohead and Björk… so the resultant six originals and one interpretation (recorded essentially live in the studio) are both dynamic and even entertainingly perplexing. Opener Rocky blasts its way through the first three minutes with all the gritty verve of an extreme, full-throttle movie car chase – raucous and wayward, yet somehow together. Pop hits a relentless, rapid, ‘Can’t Hurry Love’ groove, with Nick Walters’ chattering muted trumpet and Anton Hunter’s guitar riding the swelling, crashing then ebbing wall of horns, whilst Patrick Hurley’s ostinato Rhodes impression of Rain is particularly effective, underpinning tight, reverbed, brassy arrangements before soloing freely.

Ten-minute expanse Havmann (‘the man from the sea’, inspired by Antony Gormley’s statue installation in Mo í Rana, Northern Norway) feels like a new departure; its piercing, semitonal, synth rise-and-fall seems redolent of early Genesis or Robert Fripp, with the icy, spiky urgency of the overlapping extemporisations perhaps echoing the Scandinavian fjords experienced by Cottrell. Originally composed for and workshopped by Norwegian band Ensemble Denada, its impressive slowly-building intensity glints to Graham South’s echoic flugel horn and cinemascope unison trumpets.

Hendo is classic B & P – all solid bass drum, swirling baseline, impudent wah-wah guitar, crescendoing blasts and Sam Healey’s typically flamboyant soprano sax. Revealed a few years ago at an RNCM gig, Ben Cottrell’s sultry New York-style reading of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance finds its place here. A great example of the director’s prowess with arrangements of the unexpected, its lazy demeanour erupts into funky Average White Band euphoria, complete with cheeky, rising James Taylor (Starsky & Hutch) quotation courtesy of Sam Healey’s alto. And so to close, the aforementioned miniature of misty, brass band nostalgia, Fairytale – so beautiful in hymn-like simplicity.

Long may this forward-thinking band continue! All In is released on 8 June 2015, by Efpi Records, and is available here. The album officially launches at Soup Kitchen, Manchester, on 7 July 2015, and at Ronnie Scott’s the following evening.

 

Ben Cottrell director
Anthony Brown, Sam Healey, Ben Watte saxophones
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters trumpet
Ed Horsey, Simon Lodge, Rich McVeigh trombone
Anton Hunter guitar
Patrick Hurley piano, Rhodes
Harrison Wood bass
Finlay Panter drums

beatsnpieces.net

Efpi Records – FP022 (2015)