‘Abstract Forces’ – Cloudmakers Trio

Cloudmakers

IN 2012, vibraphonist Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers Trio featured renowned Californian trumpeter Ralph Alessi on their inaugural tour – and the recorded live set from the Pizza Express date, subsequently identified for album release (Live in London), won many plaudits across the contemporary jazz fraternity for both the quality and immediacy of the performances. 

Their much-anticipated second release, Abstract Forces – a studio album of seven extended new Hart compositions for trio only – now builds on this ensemble’s strongly improvisational ethos (the band name stemming from the analogy of a power station or engine room creating ever-changing, cloud-like abstractions). And, with the driving bass of Michael Janisch and trademark drumming vigour of Dave Smith, Cloudmakers continues to produce inventive, oblique, tricksy-but-accessible grooves. On the back of the live album, the absence of an out-front lead instrument might have left this line-up seeming somewhat lacklustre… but the key to success here is very much the chemistry between these three collaborative minds (who have worked together for many years), intuitively brewing up their own ingenious brand of ‘cumulonimbus’ clout.

Janisch’s thrummed bass sets up the bristling momentum of Snaggletooth, Jim Hart extemporising colourfully and broadly with mallets and bows – and immediately the high energy of the trio can be grasped. Hart’s assuredness at the vibes is breathtaking, whether soloing rapidly or pushing the pulse with chordal clusters, including judicious use of electronics. Angular Momentum races to impossibly-complex written time signatures, yet the three players remain remarkably synced throughout (#jawdrop), Smith hustling and bouncing magnificently.

Great explorations characterise Post Stone, Hart’s free electro-distorted hammers and celestial bowings ringing to the busyness of bass and drums, and then breaking loose into ‘ordered delirium’. Michael Janisch’s solo bass is both lithe and attractive, teasing out chords, harmonics and trills – and, appropriately, it introduces melodious Early Hours, Hart’s compositional prowess here leaning more towards the Bachian mystery of John Lewis’s writing for the Modern Jazz Quartet (Hart also features in The MJQ Celebration – reviewed). The playing here displays delightful luminosity, sustained vibes balanced delicately with the lightness of bass and drums.

Social Assassin swings out to Janisch’s bass chords, Smith hitting the kit solidly, Hart roaming freely; and Ramprasad conjures a little more of that Milt Jackson magic, Hart and Janisch sharing its inquisitive melody before electronics coax ethereal bell chimes and drones from the vibes. Finally, Conversation Killer fizzes with Phronesis-like bass impetus, Smith thrashing in tandem with Hart’s persistent Steve Reich-ian rhythms.

There is never a sense that this is ‘easy listening’ or ‘background’ jazz (piped lounge bar muzak of the late ’60s and early ’70s never did the vibraphone any favours!). Instead, Cloudmakers offer intelligently crafted music, in terms of composition and synergetic execution, which demands close scrutiny to understand its many details and nuances – a real tour de force.

Released on 29 September 2014, check out the Abstract Forces album page at Whirlwind for promo video, audio samples and purchasing – tour dates below – as well as the Live in London album page.

 

Jim Hart vibraphone
Michael Janisch double bass
Dave Smith drums

2014 tour dates
28 September: The Albert, Bristol
29 September: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
30 September: St Ives Jazz Club
03 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
10 October: Sheffield Jazz Club

cloudmakerstrio.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4655 (2014)

‘Ellington in Anticipation’ – Mark Lockheart

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EVERY NOW AND THEN, an album comes along which blows my jazz socks off – one of those I can’t help but play on loop and identify as being present in my ‘best of the year’ summations. It immediately demands my attention, sends me into rapture, produces involuntary smiles and requires me to tell the world about it! My most recent experience of this has to be Mark Lockheart’s ‘Ellington in Anticipation’.

Released earlier this year (2013), the project was initially conceived for Trinity Laban Conservatoire students. Inspired by Lockheart’s love of Ellington’s music (introduced to him by his father), it draws together pieces by or associated with ‘the Duke’ (including those of Billy Strayhorn and Victor Herbert) and intersperses them with a number of his own superb compositions. Knowing these jazz standards so well, Mark Lockheart clearly has the authority to (respectfully) deconstruct and reconstruct them into the most fascinating reinterpretations.

Lockheart’s credentials as saxophonist and writer need little introduction: Loose Tubes, Perfect Houseplants, Polar Bear and his own excellent albums such as ‘In Deep’ and (with NDR Big Band) ‘Days Like These’. Numerous recent ventures include Kenny Wheeler’s fine ‘Mirrors’ album, Colin Towns’ crossover band ‘Blue Touch Paper’ and Dave Stapleton’s new ‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ project. The remarkable, full-sounding septet able to realise the creative nature of this recording, with Lockheart on tenor, comprises Finn Peters (alto sax and flute), James Allsopp (clarinet and bass clarinet), Emma Smith (violin), Liam Noble (piano), Tom Herbert (bass) and Seb Rochford (drums).

So what is it that pushes this album onto a significantly higher plane? Well, put simply: great musicianship, reinvention, diversity, beauty, humour and the courage to push the limits in order to deliver something new and exciting. Far from being straightahead jazz, every one of these eleven gems is crafted and improvised in extraordinary detail by Lockheart and his musicians.

For example, the familiar swing of Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing is deliciously transformed in triple time, whilst Come Sunday lays back perhaps even further than the sacred intent of the original, though also introducing a contemporarily-scored, slightly uneasy episode to great effect. Mark Lockheart’s composition My Caravan takes on the modal vamp concept of the popular original (‘Caravan’), allowing all players their improvisatory freedom, and only quoting Ellington’s distinctive melody towards the close. Jungle Lady is another piece of Lockheart brilliance, cleverly referencing Satin Doll. Defined by Seb Rochford’s percussion, the beautiful tone of Emma Smith’s violin and the richness of Allsopp’s bass clarinet, it displays some pretty tight ensemble scoring… including glorious elephantine calls!

A clever combination of Liam Noble’s piano with drums and reeds provide particularly vivid, fast-moving imagery in Lockheart’s interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s classic Take the A Train (often incorrectly attributed to Ellington, being his ‘signature tune’). It’s an utter joy – and great fun – to hear snippets of the melody coming and going, as if trying to find a clear view beyond the motion blurring – and the reshaped riff is a lovely, quirky twist! Lockheart’s tenor journeys in and out of destinations, Allsopp detouring with mischievous bass clarinet, before finally easing to a halt.

And so the album continues, the playful violin of Azure and blithe modern rhythms of Mood Indigo never failing to charm. Lockheart provides two more sublime originals – a pensive Beautiful Man and the Roaring ’20s ‘flapping’ of Uptown with appropriate, elegant fiddle lead. Victor Herbert’s limpid Indian Summer closes – the held-back, teardrop piano of Noble so entrancing.

The language of jazz is constantly being reinvented and developed, thanks to the consummate skill of artists such as Mark Lockheart and his colleagues – which means that the best of its historical legacy is capable of being preserved, yet sensitively reimagined for the present age, as well as providing inspiration for new works. Here, Lockheart eloquently and spectacularly displays that achievement in an album I will return to again and again.


Mark Lockheart
tenor sax
Finn Peters alto sax and flute
James Allsopp clarinets
Emma Smith violin
Liam Noble piano
Tom Herbert bass
Seb Rochford drums

marklockheart.co.uk

Subtone Records – ST802 (2012)

‘Colorfield’ – Romain Pilon

Color_Pilon

FRENCH GUITARIST Romain Pilon presents pretty much a blank, white canvas for the cover of his new release on Whirlwind Records – which seems entirely appropriate, given the title ‘Colorfield’. For, just as the distinctive art movement of the same name saw the likes of Rothko and Gottlieb creating enveloping expanses of bright, abstract, overlapping colour, so too gleams Pilon’s impeccably-formed quartet with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Michael Janisch (bass) and Jamire Williams (drums).

Since graduating from Berklee College, the past ten years or so of Romain Pilon’s rising career have seen him working with top flight musicians in New York and Paris, and is currently a member of the Paris Jazz Underground collective (along with David Prez, Olivier Zanot, Sandro Zerafa, Yoni Zelnik and Karl Jannuska). Although a new name to me, this characterful album is sure to increase Pilon’s profile.

Colorfield’s impressive sequence of seven originals (plus a sublimely rich tenor and guitar reading of Horace Silver’s ‘Lonely Woman’) displays a sense of carefully crafted chamber jazz – though the quartet can certainly ramp up the tempo, as heard in the bass- and guitar-driven groove of the title track. There is clarity and warmth both in Pilon’s writing and playing, his open and fluid guitar style allowing the band considerable latitude, typified by the measured, cerebral calmness of ‘Man on a Wire’. And, on the subject of balance… as the chordal player here, Romain Pilon demonstrates remarkable respect for the overall colour palette, as heard in mobile opener ‘Acceptance’.

The animated ‘Twombly’ suggests the freedom of the American painter’s expressionism, Pilon’s deft, reaching solo work easily echoing the artist’s huge red swirls seen recently at the Tate Modern. Further evidence of the leader’s skilful soloing is to be found in ‘Three on Seven’, along with subtle, lush chords and the fast, fluttering bass and drums of Michael Janisch and Jamire Williams. Profoundly delicate – and maybe a love song – the melodic line of ‘You’ is shared by Walter Smith and Pilon who also allow space for Janisch’s bass to sing, both as soloist and support; and closing number ‘7th Hour’ scurries joyfully to the high rhythm maintained by Williams who is a brilliantly precise presence throughout this recording.

Launched on 7 October 2013, and featuring in the first Whirlwind Festival (Kings Place, 10-12 October), this is an intelligent and engaging set from a quartet of players who clearly feel a great connection.


Romain Pilon
 guitar
Walter Smith III tenor saxophone
Michael Janisch acoustic bass
Jamire Williams drums

romainpilon.com
whirlwind recordings.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4641 (2013)