REVIEW: ‘Wes Reimagined’ – Nigel Price Organ Trio

ONE OF THE GREAT, industrious and entertaining characters of British jazz – a champion of UK festivals, drawing on years of performing experience and winning hefty appreciation on the live circuit – electric guitarist Nigel Price’s musical passion, versatility and technical expertise are a true delight.

His excellent contrafact organ trio double albums of 2011 and 2016, Heads & Tales, showcase his invention in reworking jazz standards (Volume 2 is especially recommended). Now, he specifically turns his attention to the music of influential American guitarist Wes Montgomery (1923–1968), confirming himself a fan, particularly as Montgomery’s compositions are “great vehicles for improvisation, especially used in the organ trio format”.

Alongside Price’s core line-up of B3 Hammond organist Ross Stanley and drummer Joel Barford, he also welcomes saxophonists Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor) and Tony Kofi (alto) who provide joyous horn textures and fervid soloing that reflect their particular characters, their mid-registers nicely attuned. Further complementing the sound is returning percussionist Snowboy; and the Phonograph Effect Strings, with fine arrangements by trombonist Callum Au, occasionally underpin with an elegant, soft sheen.

In the spirit of those earlier releases, Price’s homage – Wes Reimagined – respectfully looks afresh at eight of the Indianapolis-born guitarist’s works, plus two interpretations, respectively, of Monk Montgomery (Wes’s bassist brother) and Frederick Loewe (famously, Lerner and Loewe). And what a joyous celebration! Over a full hour, these tunes are respectfully reworked (“just a kind of ‘what if?’… if Wes had been in alternative frame of mind that day”); and, of course, they’re centred around the organ trio structure. Cariba!’s original bossa pace, for example, translates into Barford’s irresistibly cool slouch, Stanley’s offbeat chords supporting an exchange of lithe guitar and sax solos across preening strings, while familiar, ease-back Leila becomes an amiable fast swing of rippling improvisation.

Perky Jingles sambas with a great energy, thanks to Snowboy’s congas (including whistle-announced solo spot), its sense of fun also tangible in a vibrant reading of Monk’s Shop (Monk Montgomery). Far Wes’s usually straight promenade now elegantly waltzes to Price’s glistening extemporisations and, similarly, scampering So Do It! is refashioned as a lush, relaxed bolero, shimmering with the Phonograph Effect Strings’ airy grace. The cheery bliss of these reimaginings is equalled, throughout, by the band’s textural possibilities, along with some audacious, rhythmic twists. Just catch the new, strutting funk of Movin’ Along, Xenopoulos’s flowing tenor in the snappy boogaloo of Twisted Blues or the punchier groove of Road Song to get a feel for the validity of the project. In the latter, Price (not for the only time) nods to the characteristic, sunny octaves of Montgomery’s playing while Stanley’s soloing is, as ever, supported by his seemingly effortless bass pedalling – this is pure, contemporary organ trio, and it shuffles magnificently,

Recorded by Wes Montgomery, I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face (Frederick Loewe) provides the most gorgeous, wistful endpiece to this sequence as Nigel Price’s open, balladic guitar style becomes gradually infused with the sensitive, yet crunchy swell and ebb of Ross Stanley’s Hammond (with a beautiful solo tone), and the Phonograph’s tremulant strings add more than a dash of movie-like nostalgia.

Contextually, here is a recording which is as good as anything you’ll hear from the golden late-1950s and 1960s era of organ trios, but bolstered by the frontline pizzazz of double saxes and more. Enrich your library with the full, retro-styled CD package – rather than the superficial gratification of streaming or downloading (then mislaying) a random track – as this album might well be your summer-long vibe!

Released on 4 June 2021, Wes Reimagined is available from nigethejazzer.com, Amazon, etc.

 

Nigel Price guitar
Ross Stanley B3 Hammond organ
Joel Barford drums
with
Vasilis Xenopoulos tenor saxophone
Tony Kofi alto saxophone
Snowboy congas, bongos, surdo, shekere, whistle
Callum Au trombone, string arrangements
and
Phonograph Effect Strings:
Kay Stephen
violin 1
Anna Brigham violin 2
Elitsa Bogdanova viola
Chris Terepin cello

nigethejazzer.com

Ubuntu Music – UBU0080 (2021)

‘Flint’ – Bill Laurance

Flint

OVER THE LAST DECADE, thunderous New York jazz-funk fusionists Snarky Puppy have garnered a solid international fan base with their intoxicating live shows, as well as a successful catalogue of albums. At the heart of this creative powerhouse is English pianist/keyboardist Bill Laurance, who now presents his own sparkling debut release, along with a UK and Netherlands tour.

Described by Laurance as the album he’s been searching for since he started making music, Flint is a collaboration with two close friends – Snarky stalwarts Michael League (basses, guitars) and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight’ (drums, percussion) – as well as a host of string and horn players. Together, they realise a magnificent compositional spectrum, often on an orchestral/filmic scale as well as anticipated jazz-funk grooving, with Laurance commanding at the grand piano and Fender Rhodes. And, although the majority of the ten through-composed pieces are solely from the leader’s pen (along with League’s considerable input as arranger), the communal sense of striving for both musical exactitude and improvisation is palpable… and exciting.

Setting the tone are the complex urban drum patterns of opener Never-Ending City, with gutsy five-string bass, keys ostinati, cityscape strings and Laurance’s cool piano extemporisations. Janáček/Copland-style brass announces Money in the Desert, a brooding, quietly-pulsating episode which can’t help but break out into moog-driven funk with accented strings, and League’s popping electric guitar lead (blame it on the boogie!). Title track Flint (named after the inspirational effect on Laurance of a Snarky Puppy gig in Flint, Michigan) is more akin to soundtrack, dipping in and out of marching band mode and expansive Philip Glass-like pianistic/orchestral vistas, underpinned by Sput’s metronomic pulse. And all the while, the arrangements feel organically whole.

Smooth jazz Swag Times features quite breathtaking drum razzle-dazzle from Searight against an irresistible Rhodes/synth/vocoder wash – and again, brass and strings widen the landscape (such beautiful execution from string players who completed their entire recording requirement within a day!). The Good Things pares down the line-up to piano, bass and drums, Laurence leading in mysterious, echoic grandeur, plus impressive fuzz bass from League; and baroque-inflected Chia, with its gorgeously mercurial piano and double bass, invites the rapid gypsy fiddle of Zach Brock and portamento string backing to ramp up the tempo and augmented orchestration – in a word, delightful. Whimsical and grungy ska tune Smokers Castle jerks and clatters around Laurance’s detuned piano and a wonderfully brash New Orleans-style brass section; and Gold Coast features the fluid flugelhorn of Mike Maher (also of Snarky Puppy) in an orchestrally opulent, shining affair.

At ten minutes in length, penultimate track Ready Wednesday is a sure highlight, Searight’s fast Latinesque tempo showcasing Laurance’s exacting, rhythmic piano style; and the broad orchestral sweep – even in its later, slower section – has ‘movie soundtrack’ written all over it. As closing titles roll, classical piano end-piece Audrey, with delicate strings and flugel, melancholily waltzes to its rest.

As part of the package (on a second disc), a 47-minute DVD documentary – made by Andy Laviolette – provides a fascinating insight into the making of Flint, revealing the musicians’ passion for their art, as well as various triumphs over adversity along the way (including the sudden non-availability of their pre-booked studio, twelve few hours before recording sessions were due to begin!). Videos of all tracks are also included.

Released on 14 July 2014, this is an ambitious and absorbing project – not least for the Snarky Puppy faithful – which promises much in its translation to a live setting (see below for October 2014 tour dates, samples and purchasing). Check it out!

 

Bill Laurance acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, vocoder, keyboards, shaker, congas, ride cymbal, propane tank, hand claps
Michael League electric bass, double bass, moog bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hand claps
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight drums, timpani, marching snare & bass drums, shekere, cowbells, vibraslap, woodblocks, shaker, hand claps
Maria Im violin
Zach Brock violin (solos)
Curtis Stewart violin
Henry Flory violin
Lev Zhurbin viola
Eylem Basaldi viola
Maria Jeffers cello
J.Y. Lee cello
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt McLaughlin french horn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Brian Donohoe alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Scott Flynn trombone
Magda Giannikou propane tank, glockenspiel, xylophone
Emília Canas Mendes & Andy Laviolette hand claps

2014 UK tour dates
03 October: St George’s, Bristol
04 October: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
06 October: The Glee Club, Birmingham
07 October: Band on the Wall, Manchester
08 October: The Grand, Clitheroe
09 October: Ropery Hall, Barton on Humber
10 October: Turner Sims, Southampton

2014 Netherlands tour dates
11 October: Bird, Rotterdam
12 October: North Sea Jazz Club, Amsterdam

billlaurance.com
Bandcamp.com
iTunes

groundUP music – GRO117 (2014)