‘Hommage à Eberhard Weber’

Eberhard

RARELY has a live jazz album felt as emotive or as broadly momentous, encompassing and celebrating so many strands and decades of sublime creativity.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Pat Metheny guitars
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
Gary Burton vibraphone
Scott Colley double bass
Danny Gottlieb drums
Paul McCandless English horn, soprano saxophone
Klaus Graf alto saxophone
Ernst Hutter euphonium
and
Eberhard Weber double bass (from tape)

Michael Gibbs arranger, conductor
Ralf Schmid arranger
Rainer Tempel arranger
Libor Šíma arranger

SWR Big Band conducted by Helge Sunde

ECM Records – 473 2344 (ECM 2463) (2015)

‘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)

‘Drama’ – Colin Towns Mask Orchestra

Drama

BEFITTINGLY, Colin Towns’ latest production, Drama, is lavish, expansive and thrilling. Drawn from the composer/keyboardist’s extensive, high-profile projects for the theatre – an environment which he has more than successfully navigated for many years – this double CD combines original music from an impressive range of stage productions with jazz-focused reinterpretations.

The Mask Orchestra was formed by Towns back in 1990 – and for this seventh release, he welcomes back a host of seasoned, big-name jazz artists to collaborate with new-generation players (all listed below) to create a dynamic 21-piece wall of sound. The scale of the undertaking is epic – so much so that these two and a quarter hours might initially feel somewhat dizzying. But then, out of the seemingly relentless rush, the detail begins to emerge as Colin Towns’ considerable jazz, rock, TV and stage soundtrack experience is distilled into a gripping collection of skilfully crafted portraits which draw on a variety of genres, whilst incorporating and encouraging jazz’s inherent improvisational excitement.

To ‘tread the boards’ appropriately, the band were required to digest the synopses of the fifteen storylines – from Macbeth to Hysteria, The Cherry Orchard to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Whatever level of understanding you may or may not have of these great theatrical works, there’s a hair-tingling exhilaration to the musical realisation of each; Towns’ description of his compositions (with their origins in shows from 1986 to 2014) being “simply maps, and the musicians are the magicians who turn them into 3D kaleidoscopes.”

As the house lights fade, this ‘supergroup pit orchestra’ launches into a raucous pictorialisation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, a fascinating hybrid of Russian dance and New Orleans street jazz, briefly tempered by Julian Siegel’s lyrical tenor and then excitingly driven into its conclusion by Chris Montague’s electric guitar flamboyance and Stephan Maass’s elaborate percussion. The barren, windswept landscape of Shakespeare’s Macbeth becomes increasingly agitated as it evolves into big band grandeur, brimming with rippling horn riffs and Andrew McCormack’s propulsive piano energy; and the languid jazz expression of Long Day’s Journey Into Night reflects the relentless weariness and bitterness of Eugene O’Neill’s script, beautifully portrayed by close-knit harmonies and sumptuous tenor trombone and sax soloing.

Tom Stoppard’s Shakespearean tragicomedy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is sneerily quirky and spiky, and The Bard’s own King Lear eerily captured in Towns’ choral synth miniature, with eloquent tenor solo from Nigel Hitchcock. Peter Shaffer’s troubled equine tale, Equus, darts and leaps with especially effective, sinister trumpet neighs and exciting brass and baritone chasing sections; disquieting Ghosts (Henrik Ibsen) floats mysteriously to Henry Lowther’s lithe trumpet lines; and closing ‘Act One’, Terry Johnson’s impressions of Dali and Freud, Hysteria, are portrayed on a grand scale by Towns’ inventive, saturated orchestration, including sumptuous tenor work from Tim Garland.

Opening ‘Act Two’, the Peruvian hues of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun are enhanced by a buoyant passing around of its progressive, anthemic tune, swelled by saxophone-led improv and Joji Hirota’s huge, Japanese percussion; and vivid orchestration in The Cripple of Inishmaan (Martin McDonagh) cleverly evokes Irish pipes and fiddle. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘s energetic fourteen minutes (interpreting Dale Wasserman’s stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s famous novel, then movie) become crazy, challenging, mesmerising… and downright entertaining (its fullness almost beyond categorisation), whilst the inquiring nature of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen is reflected in the fantastic, pressing urgency of Towns’ big band thriller. And emotionally romantic Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) is captured by the misty, slow-waltzing soprano sax of Simon Allen.

Towns’ vast musical depiction of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (at virtually twenty minutes, almost too broad to take in) is volatile and impassioned, offering a spectacular window into the composer’s major contribution to British theatre. And before a triumphal, final reprise of The Royal Hunt of the Sun, the liberated themes of A Doll’s House (Henrik Ibsen, Frank McGuinness) are presented in exuberant, showy, jazz big band style, Montague’s guitar adding a contemporary, rasping edge – truly edge-of-the-seat stuff!

Most definitely not your average jazz release – but, especially for those with a theatrical proclivity, this is an ambitious project which delivers on so many levels. Released on 2 October 2015 on the Provocateur label, Drama is available from online and record store outlets, and at iTunes.

 

George Hogg, Graham Russell, Henry Lowther, Rory Simmons trumpets/flugelhorns
Barnaby Dickinson, Tom White, Harry Brown tenor trombones
Roger Williams bass trombone
Peter King, Simon Allen alto/soprano saxophones
Tim Garland, Alan Skidmore, Nigel Hitchcock tenor/soprano saxophones
Julian Siegel baritone/bass clarinet/tenor/soprano/clarinet/flute
Stephan Maass percussion/electronic percussion
Andrew McCormack piano
Arnd Geise bass
Chris Montague guitars
Ralph Salmins drums
Colin Towns keyboards
with special guest Joji Hirota percussion

colintowns.com

Provocateur Records – PVC1044 (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)

‘It Takes Two to Tango’: Duo Art – Jukka Perko & Iiro Rantala

ItTakesTwo

HAVE YOU EVER perused the specialist CD store shelves (a rare pleasure these days, I know) and eschewed the solo or duo releases in favour of something seemingly bigger, bolder and multi-layered? If so, you might run the risk of missing out on the likes of Finnish treasure It Takes Two to Tango.

As part of ACT Music’s expanding Duo Art* series, saxophonist Jukko Perka and pianist Iiro Rantala recorded, across just two consecutive days, this no-hiding-place duo performance which demonstrates their affinity with the Finnish tradition of tango, as well as their richly empathetic, improvisatory qualities. Making expansive and particularly sonorous use of the renowned Alfred Brendel Steinway d-524780 (which the great virtuoso played during his concert appearances at Berlin’s Philharmonie), Rantala clearly revels in this thirteen-track musical conversation with ace saxophonist Perko. Based around themes of love, it’s not all about the tango – indeed, for a programme so wide-ranging (from Charles Aznavour to Jean Sibelius), it holds together beautifully, requiring close attention to enjoy its depth of detail.

Perko’s agitated arrangement of traditional melody My Sweetheart is Beautiful (Minun Kultani Kaunis On) is taken far from its traditional Finnish roots, resounding to his slippery alto and Rantala’s spirited rhythms; and Jacob Gade’s showy tango, Jealousy, oozes passion in a particularly lively outing. The clear communication between Perko and Rantala is tangible in their creative reading of Just Say I Love Her as they subtly deconstruct its achingly beautiful melody, followed by the sighing soprano sax solace of Charles Aznavour’s For Mama, gorgeously underpinned by Rantala’s strong-yet-subtle assurance.

The quizzical tango buoyancy of another Finnish folk tune arrangement, Therefore I Am Sad, is reminiscent of the Ballamy/Carstensen album The Little Radio, Perko’s wonderfully drowsy alto easing over signature chordal ripples from Rantala, whilst Romance rises with the anthemic lyricism and confidence of Tim Garland. And traditional Swedish tune A Blessing (Lyckönskan) resonates to muted bottom-end Steinway strings, this most ravishing of melodies bearing all the quiet nobility of Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding.

Jukka Perko’s own I Will tenderly rises and falls, its unfailingly amiable soprano tune giving way to Rantala’s lucid piano soloing; and Victor Young’s classic Stella by Starlight is given a resolute, smouldering tango twist, the duo’s dynamic sensitivity carefully balanced. Of Russian origin, Love Is So Beautiful is delicately pitched, with Perko’s alto taking on a Getzian mellowness and vibrato, as it also does in Finnish-titled Good Intentions – carefree yet with pangs of disquiet.

To close, Sibelius’s familiar hymn from symphonic poem Finlandia is explored in both piano solo and duet versions: redolent of a Keith Emerson transcription of Copland or Ginastera, Rantala’s take on it grooves heavily to deep-end piano oscillations; and, in contrast, the duet variation twinkles to emotive high soprano exploration and solid piano grandeur.

My admittedly cursory first listen was a brief mistake, for the exquisite clarity and musicality later revealed in this recording now call me back again and again.

Released on 11 May 2015, further information and audio clips can be found at ACT Music.

 

Jukka Perko alto & soprano saxophones
Iiro Rantala piano

jukkaperko.com
iirorantala.fi

*the Duo Art series also includes:
Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev
Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov

ACT Music – ACT 9629-2 (2015)

‘Westerly’ – The Printmakers

Printmakers

OHHHHH… and ohhhhh again…… to an exemplary and eagerly anticipated debut release from six leading lights of British contemporary jazz, collectively known here as The Printmakers.

Imagine the perfect vocal/instrumental sextet, and it might easily comprise Nikki Iles (piano), Norma Winstone (vocals), Mike Walker (electric guitar), Mark Lockheart (saxes), Steve Watts (double bass) and James Maddren (drums). Indeed, with a band name explained as a metaphor for the subtle variances in handmade printmaking, the combined artistry revealed in new album Westerly is as satisfying – in light, shade and hue – as any wander through a gallery of fine impressionism. Recorded amidst the painterly charm of the English Lake District, the compositional palette is beautifully balanced, and includes a trio of numbers by leader Nikki Iles with Norma Winstone as lyricist (a remarkable partnership).

The expansive ten-track sequence opens with a bubbling vocal interpretation of Ralph Towner’s A Breath Away, brought to life through Winstone’s authoritative storytelling – and immediately from this personnel there’s a sense of technical ‘safe hands’ and impassioned musicality. The lovelorn vocal of Under the Canopy (an Iles/Winstone original) delicately sambas to Mark Lockheart’s deeply-coloured bass clarinet and Nikki Iles’ trademark crystalline piano – a reminder of their rich contribution to Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors; and Paul Simon’s jaunty I Do It For Your Love is whisked away into the most sumptuous of slow ballads, Norma Winstone bringing so much weight to Simon’s poetry (and here, as throughout the album, it’s the exquisite detailing which pleases – Lockheart’s subtle, characterful tenor and then Mike Walker’s illustrative guitar glissando on “the colours ran, the orange bled the blue”).

Impish improvisational colourwash precedes an airy rendition of John Taylor’s ‘O’ – strutting to dazzling, shared vocal and sax lines plus Lockheart’s own wonderfully demonstrative soprano creativity, its sunshiny and exploratory demeanour is irresistible. Nikki Iles’ Westerly is curiously imagined in Norma Winstone’s cryptically dark cowboy lyrics, evocatively portrayed through Iles’ accordion, Mike Walker’s pitch-bent guitar and bassist Steve Swallow’s campfire banjo tailpiece; and Winstone’s effortless vocal delivery confirms why she is one of British jazz’s national treasures. The same compositional duo produce lilting, Jobimesque Tideway, its brooding coastal atmospheres conveyed by woodwind breaths and guitar gull cries – at eight minutes, its easy to luxuriate in the broad guitar and tenor extemporisations and Winstone’s gliding lyricism.

The gems in this 68-minute treasure trove keep on turning up, Ralph Towner’s animated The Glide (as heard on Nikki Iles’ trio album, Hush) dancing to Winstone’s impressive high scat and Iles’ signature piano luminosity; and the obsessional story of Joni Mitchell’s Two Grey Rooms is quietly touching, the band supporting and enhancing its resigned lyric. In direct contrast, the Celtic feel of Nikki Iles’ High Lands tumbles and reels to wordless vocal and soprano sax, as well as soaring, rocky guitar from Walker and James Maddren’s pin-sharp flamboyance at the kit. To close, Steve Swallow’s countryfied The City of Dallas finds Winstone teasingly delivering the writer’s delightfully droll lines (“I hope the evening paper’s got a lot of good stuff-in-it… stuff-in-it”!) amongst a consummate-as-ever instrumental performance led by Mike Walker’s woozy guitar.

This, unquestionably, is chamber jazz whose elegance has to be heard to be believed, such is the shared empathy and depth of musical experience on show, all realised in a musical landscape that feels as magical as it is peerless.

Released on 11 May 2015, on Basho RecordsWesterly is available from Jazz CDs and all good jazz retailers.

 

Norma Winstone voice
Nikki Iles piano, accordion
Mark Lockheart tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet
Mike Walker guitar
Steve Watts bass, banjo
James Maddren drums, percussion

nikkiiles.co.uk

Basho Records – SRCD 46-2 (2015)