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)

‘Culcha Vulcha’ – Snarky Puppy

Culcha

THE PHENOMENON known as Snarky Puppy is a grooving ‘must see’ if they’re in town!

Over the past few years, the infectious exuberance of this Brooklyn-based collective has spread out over the globe. Led by charismatic electric bassist Michael League, their seemingly inexhaustible energy has found them performing across six continents, wowing audiences from Bremen to Buenos Aires, from Manchester to Mumbai; and the sense of ‘community’ in their musical outlook has spawned residency programmes as well as many musical collaborations (most recently their second Family Dinner album featuring the likes of David Crosby, Laura Mvula and Jacob Collier).

For eleventh release Culcha Vulcha, the guys (not a snarky character amongst them!) relocated to a remote Texan pecan orchard – Sonic Ranch Studios – to record their first pure studio album in eight years. As a live band, League and colleagues fill their demographically wide audiences with an inescapable feel-good – a combination of astonishing, eclectic artistry and elated self-bemusement at the energy and new ideas they forge together on stage; but it’s also exciting to discover the sounds they carefully craft whilst spending a week in each others’ pockets. The result – well, possibly their best recorded account yet.

The personnel and instrumentation listed below only begin to indicate the heady, groove-laden ‘riffage’ that makes up this hour-plus, nine-track celebration. Often possessing an anthemic quality, the Snarkys’ memorable performances here begin to activate a ‘fave’ rush – that intro recognition which settles you in for a good time, as in the lurching groove of opener Tarova. Twang-tight horns and multifarious percussion are frequently in evidence, but its also the varied palette of pitch-bent synth improv, along with flamboyant guitar lines and League’s inherent bass impetus, which make up this potent brew.

Semente‘s Brazilian vibrancy is coloured by Chris Bullock’s peppy flute melodies and zazzy repinique triplet clattering; Grown Folks has a grungy big band urgency, full of bold horn and guitar phrases; and Gemini‘s cool, sidewalk demeanour, with mellotron and bottleneck guitar, is one of the classiest grooves heard for some time. Electronics, slow-attack synth and alto flute in Beep Box change the pace with retro space-age charm, and sophisticated clav/moog bass-driven , with so many individual instrumental highlights (at times, even redolent of Level 42 at their mid-80s live best), is a first-listen standout which has cemented itself as a ‘go-to’ to lift the spirits.

And that’s the way it continues, each track a winner – reggae-synth The Simple Life (with gritty, David Gilmour-like slide guitar) totally addictive; Cory Henry’s organ dream Palermo (written by percussionist Marcelo Woloski, and featuring haunting flugel) suggesting a gamelanese hypnotism; and Big Ugly‘s soulful, prog-tinged synth-fest a superb closer.

This album has been spinning around for a few weeks now, yet never needs a second invitation to enjoy another complete, loud play-through. Keep on doing what you’re doing, boys!

Released on 29 April 2016, Culcha Vulcha is available from the GroundUP Music website and all good retailers.

 

Cory Henry organ, Clavinet, Mellotron, Moog
Bill Laurance piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthex
Justin Stanton piano, Fender Rhodes, Omni, Prophet 6, Synthex, Arp Axxe
Bobby Sparks Clavinet, MiniMoog, Moog Bass
Michael League electric bass, nylon-string guitar, baritone guitar, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Bass, Mellotron
Bob Lanzetti electric guitar
Mark Lettieri electric guitar, baritone guitar
Chris McQueen guitar
Jay Jennings trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike “Maz” Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, keyboards
Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone
Zach Brock violin
Jason “J.T.” Thomas drums
Robert “Sput” Searight drums
Larnell Lewis drums
Nate Werth trap set, cowbells, chimes, caixa, floor tom, tambourine, shaker, angklung, cymbals, percussion, clapping
Keita Ogawa timbal, repinique, kanjira, caixa, congas
Marcelo Woloski djembe, shakers, surdo, triangle, caixa, angklung, Tang-Tang, Reco-reco cowbell, Bombo Legüero, donkey jaw, kalimba, daf, effects, clapping

snarkypuppy.com

GroundUP Music / Universal Music Classics  (2016)