‘Red Circle’ – Simon Purcell

RedCircle

THE PURITY and completeness of the (red) circle speak profoundly about this long-awaited new quintet release from London-based pianist and composer Simon Purcell.

As Head of Jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, Purcell is primarily renowned as an educator, garnering praise and respect from many of today’s jazz artists who have benefited from his experience and guidance; so, no surprise that he was once the recipient of a Parliamentary Award for Jazz Educator of the Year. Purcell became prominent in the ’80s, including collaborations with Julian Arguelles, Eddie Henderson and Kenny Wheeler – but, by his own admission, performing and recording activities have since taken second place to his teaching career… until encouraged to cut this album.

The cover art, by artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson, is explained in detail on her own blog – and the crux of an analogy she makes of an encounter with an artist in residence provides a revelatory insight into this recording: “…the potter stood before us, a small piece of pottery cupped in her hands. Gazing into the ‘o’ of her bowl, she began to tell us what she had come to offer. Watching her, listening to her, I had the sense that we were encountering a woman whose life and creative work had worn away the impulse to impress, to prove, to convince. In her years of working with clay, the clay had also worked on her. Shed of pretense, the potter held out to us what she had to give. It was more than sufficient.”

That realisation of ‘more than sufficient’ seems key to the intention behind Simon Purcell’s desire to now, at last, document his powerfully direct approach to music-making with long-standing friends and colleagues who share a similarly high profile on the UK jazz scene – Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Julian Siegel (saxes), Steve Watts (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums). As Purcell explains, he doesn’t feel any expectation to connect to a particular tradition or genre of jazz, nor for the concept to be complex – the single most importance for this band’s creativity is about where their imagination takes them and the simple enjoyment of the moment.

Recorded ‘live’ in one room, this is jazz which is both tightly structured (from Purcell’s original compositions) yet endlessly free in improvisation, displaying some affinity with the classic Blue Note sessions of the ’60s. Imagine the immediacy of Wayne Shorter’s Angola or Freddie Hubbard’s Hub’s Nub, whilst embracing the influences of the intervening years (including early jazz fusion) and employing today’s clear production techniques, and this quartet’s combined inventiveness provides heady listening which demands focused attention.

From the restless momentum of Spirit Level (a reference, perhaps, to the early ’80s vibe of Tim Richards?) to the breadth of Red Circle – Enchantress, the double-horn-led character of this quintet is enthralling. Purcell is, all at once, lyrical and searching in his own extemporisations, as well as colouring the soloing of Julian Siegel and Chris Batchelor. The scat-like riffs of Minos pave the way for Watts’ brisk, walking-bass swing; at over eleven minutes in length, Answers for Job is an immersive experience – a space for improvisation to widen; and Pandora reels to the brashness of Gene Calderazzo’s intelligent percussion– a real swinger with a big band feel. Dark Night slow-grooves to Purcell’s marked piano fifths, encouraging Siegel (on soprano) and Batchelor to push to the limits, whilst Ithaca delicately waltzes to the crystalline piano of the leader; and show-stopper Maestros and Musos flies to Batchelor’s perky trumpet, plus monster soloing from Siegel.

To close, Liane Carroll guests as vocalist on an interpretation of the earlier Ithaca. There’s something magical about a lyricist performing their own words (“May the Summer mornings be bright and plenty”), and Carroll injects her unparalleled emotional intensity and rich tone into this piano-accompanied ballad, sparingly embellished by Siegel’s soprano. A tender and optimistic conclusion.

Released on 10 November 2014 (with a launch at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November), further information, promo video and purchasing can be found on the dedicated Red Circle page at Whirlwind.

 

Simon Purcell piano, compositions
Chris Batchelor
trumpet
Julian Siegel tenor and soprano saxophones
Steve Watts bass
Gene Calderazzo drums
with
Liane Carroll vocals (bonus track)

simonpurcell.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WWR4651 (2014)

‘Subterranean: New designs on Bowie’s Berlin’ – Dylan Howe

Subterranean

THE ‘BERLIN YEARS’ of David Bowie’s wide-ranging pop/rock career are amongst the most memorable – a source of fascination and inspiration to musicians, including composers and instrumentalists from other genres.

In the mid-to-late ’70s, Bowie had turned his attentions to a more minimalistic/ambient output, influenced by a move to West Berlin and stemming from his interest in postmodernist contemporary art. The recorded legacy of that period centres around two (some say three) seminal albums – Low and Heroes, both from 1977 – produced by Tony Visconti and including celebrated rock experimentalists Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Two decades on, leading American contemporary composer – and friend of Bowie – Philip Glass reimagined both projects as stunning orchestral symphonies which highlighted the far-reaching creative possibilities of these iconic compositions.

Now, as a fan of Bowie’s original recordings from his teenage years, and seeking a more original and personal direction for his own work, British rock and jazz drummer Dylan Howe has translated the ‘call’ of that ‘Berlin era’ into a remarkable new studio release, Subterraneans, mainly interpreting the instrumental aspects of this pair of albums. Created over a period of several years, and realised thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the accomplished personnel comprises Julian Siegel and Brandon Allen (tenor sax), Ross Stanley (piano, synths) and Mark Hodgson (double bass) along with appearances from bassist Nick Pini, guitarist Adrian Utley and special guest on koto, Dylan’s father (needing no introduction to Yes fans!), Steve Howe.

The landscape of the project is broadly filmic, encompassing prog/synth rock and post-bop jazz; and whilst initially slow burning, it progresses and expands into an imaginatively colourful fusion of both. So, opening track Subterraneans maintains the shifting synth profile of the Low original, but ticks perhaps more optimistically to Howe’s snare/cymbal rhythm and the subtle explorations of piano and sax. Weeping Wall encourages a greater jazz quintet presence and momentum, Howe prominent at the kit against Vangelis-like electronics; and the extended All Saints (a later Bowie creation), opening with the expressive bass of Mark Hodgson, leaps into a wide piano-driven jazz swing, Brandon Allen taking the wonderfully hard, dry Coltrane-esque tenor solos (sinister synth whinings hovering behind).

Some Are smoulders like some late ’60s TV thriller theme, leading to the similar drama of Neuköln – Night (from Heroes) – this time, an effective, fast-paced reworking in which Howe’s drums and Stanley’s piano skitter to the ebullition of Nick Pini’s bass. Howe takes Art Decade to another place, its ambient Eno-like qualities evident, but shimmering as a sensuously-felt, droplet-piano ballad. Warszawa – in Bowie’s hands, sombre and menacing – becomes sprightly and dance-like to Dylan Howe’s touch. Whilst such a transformation might sound crass or insensitive, it is in fact surprisingly successful; tempered with unsettling moments characterised by Adrian Utley’s echoic guitar, the jazz groove which ultimately dominates these eleven minutes is joyful in its synth-infused abandon.

Neuköln – Day picks up on the earlier Night theme; here, a darker variation – and my futile, self-indulgent desire at this point anticipates a crashing Sound Chaser-like injection from master guitarist Steve Howe! But no fear – Mr Howe (Senior) takes up the koto embellishments of serene Moss Garden to close the set.

Released on 7 July 2014, Dylan Howe will be touring Subterranean in the UK from 5 September (see dates below). Whether or not Bowie runs through your veins, it’s worth investigating at Bandcamp (download/CD/vinyl) – and endorsed enthusiastically by davidbowie.com and the great man himself.

 

Dylan Howe drums
Mark Hodgson double bass
Ross Stanley piano, synths
Brandon Allen tenor saxophone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
with
Nick Pini double bass
Adrian Utley guitar
Steve Howe koto

dylanhowe.com

2014 tour dates:
Dylan Howe; Dave Whitford; Ross Stanley; Steve Lodder; Andy Sheppard

5 September: Colchester
10 September: Lincoln
11 September: Nottingham
12 September: Derby
13 September: Hessle
26 September: Brighton
29 September: London
1 October: Halifax
2 October: Milton Keynes
3 October: Liverpool
18 October: Coventry

Motorik Recordings – MR1004 (2014)

‘#ONE’ – Black Top with Steve Williamson

BlackTop

THE ALBUM ART is intriguing, only subtly hinting at the extended explorations contained within. Recorded live at the creative crucible that is Jazz in the Round (curated by BBC Jazz on 3’s Jez Nelson at The Cockpit Theatre, London), duo Black Top collaborate with saxophonist Steve Williamson to produce an absorbing free jazz experience.

Former Jazz Warriors Pat Thomas (piano, keyboards and electronics) and Orphy Robinson (marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet and electronics) have, over the past three years, been experimenting with live instruments and lo-fi technology, inviting jazz ‘royalty’ such as Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde and Claude Deppa to guest with them to create a diversity of improvised trio sets. For this performance and subsequent debut release (recorded in January 2012), they welcomed back acclaimed saxophonist Steve Williamson, together setting up these excitingly original, live soundscapes.

The album’s three tracks cover a spectrum of musical textures and shifting atmospheres, referencing New York’s ‘Loft Scene’ avant-gardism of the 1970s as well as revealing Afro-Caribbean influences and dance rhythms. Piano, marimba and saxes take centre stage, but Black Top also infuse their evident virtuosity with a plenitude of beats, samples, loops and effects.

Opener There Goes the Neighbourhood! meanders to the unadorned sounds of tenor sax, marimba and piano, the three players spontaneously developing their shared ideas with increasing complexity, intermittently augmented by pounding electronic dubstep patterns and oscillations. The gradually-changing marimba ostinatos are, unsurprisingly, redolent of Steve Reich, Thomas’s full piano stabs adding to the hypnotic pulse and Williamson’s tenor melodically soaring above.

At almost 24 minutes in length, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner provides a central focus. The deep, hollow voice of the marimba possesses a strong personality, Robinson building its sustained, edgy mystery towards a repeated phrase on which Thomas lavishes a brash and richly percussive Cuban-style piano display, jabbing and rolling across the entire keyboard. Crunchy tenor heightens the excitement, Williamson blasting and scurrying to the concurrent fever. This expansive journey is initially indeterminate and unpredictable, yet the familiarity of repeated listenings remains just as compelling, the trance-like effect of spiralling soprano sax, rapid marimba, fuzzed electronics, jagged piano and thudding rhythm impressively gripping – and then a palpable calmness when it briefly dies back to more spacial cerebration. The closing section finds Williamson’s soprano sneering broadly at the keys, though piano and marimba are up for the challenge with the same tumultuous intensity… and appearing unresolved at the close!

Archaic Nubian Stepdub throws electronics to the fore in this funkier and more succinct closing track, its perpetual-though-shifting rhythms encouraging Williamson to reciprocate with similarly loop-mimicked soprano sax.

One of Babel Label’s 20th anniversary releases for 2014, the exhilarant rhythms and open environments of #ONE are capable of prompting an almost interactive listener response, such is their power to move. To sample and purchase, visit Babel’s website/Bandcamp store – and catch a great video excerpt of the gig here.

 

Pat Thomas piano, keyboards, electronics
Orphy Robinson marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet, electronics
with
Steve Williamson tenor and soprano saxophones

Babel Label – BDV14128 (2014)

‘Blowin’ That Old Tin Can’ – Robbie Harvey

RobbieHarvey

A SPLENDIDLY straight-down-the middle album from trombonist Robbie HarveyBlowin’ That Old Tin Can celebrates the less-frequent jazz leadership of a particularly lyrical and exciting instrument. With an impressive background – including tutelage by Denis Wick and lead trombonist with NYJO, as well as numerous international awards and high-profile big band appearances – Ronnie Scott’s regular Harvey now releases this fine debut recording. Joining him on an eight-track outing of standards and originals is the wonderfully buoyant team of Alex Garnett (tenor sax), Leon Greening (piano), Tom Farmer or Giorgos Antoniou (double bass), and Steve Brown (drums).

Read the full review at LondonJazz News

 

Robbie Harvey trombone
Alex Garnett tenor sax
Leon Greening piano
Tom Farmer bass (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Giorgos Antoniou bass (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4,7)
Steve Brown drums

Diving Duck Recordings (DDRCD020) – 2014

‘The MJQ Celebration’ – Jim Hart, Barry Green, Matt Ridley, Steve Brown with Dave O’Higgins

MJQ

Originally formed by pianist and composer Michael Garrick MBE, who sadly passed away in 2011, The MJQ Celebration had been delighting sell-out UK audiences with their fresh interpretations of the pioneering 1950s/60s sounds of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Determined to continue the success of the project, and in Michael’s memory, the friends are now touring again as a new line-up, launching this engaging debut release.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Jim Hart
vibraphone
Barry Green piano
Matt Ridley double bass
Steve Brown drums

special guest
Dave O’Higgins tenor saxophone

Kings Gambit Records (KGR001) – 2014