REVIEW: ‘Tenacity’ – Django Bates

TRULY A MAVERICK PIANIST, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator in the world of contemporary jazz (Loose Tubes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, etc.), Django Bates has long been turning the traditional concept of ‘piano trio’ on its head in his Belovèd ensemble with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun – so compelling to watch, in concert. Two superb albums – 2010’s Belovéd Bird and 2012’s Confirmation – demonstrated a continuing breadth of invention; the former, in particular, emphasizing his deep affinity with childhood hero Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

For those drawn to numeric tidiness, this year marks Bates’ 60th birthday, his 40th year as a professional musician, and the 100th anniversary of Parker’s birth. So a celebration of the ‘200’ seems entirely appropriate – and new album Tenacity sees the trio joining forces with the astonishingly adept, 14-piece Norrbotten Big Band (NBB). A number of arrangements of tracks from the aforementioned albums are included, interpreted on a grander scale, alongside original compositions such as twelve-minute sensory overload, The Study of Touch (the title track of his 2017 ECM album) which was commissioned by the NBB. The trio “travelled to the Arctic Circle” (Sweden) to record the album with them because, Django declares, “…any band who’s brave enough to ask me to write for them, gets the gig!”

That mutual spirit of adventure, impressively conveyed through Nick White’s detailed ‘craggy summit’ cover imagery, is explored with immense imagination. Bates stops at nothing to achieve a different take on ‘big band’, his studio wizardry manipulating the NBB’s prowess with aplomb; and both Eldh and Bruun maintain their key positions as creative alchemists and rhythm-makers.

The leader’s hallmarks of manically prancing energy, playful rallentandos and accelerandos, plus wonderfully detuned piano/synth, are ever present, and heard in uproarious takes on Parker’s Ah Leu Cha and Donna Lee – the latter, a particular stand-out. David Raksin’s Laura (from the 1940s movie) is both sumptuous and madcap, imbued with close-harmony horns and elegant piano, then unexpected electronic squiggles and squawks. But amidst all of this, the integrity of Bates’ pianism is never in doubt, rolling breathlessly through the intricate transformation of Bird’s Confirmation; and lush Star Eyes, with characteristic upward glissandi and twinkles, is ornamented more subtly by the big band, the electric guitar textures of Markus Pesonen in particular adding to its distant otherworldliness. Throughout, the ability to dramatically scale-up and further colorize previous compositions/reimaginings such as We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and My Little Suede Shoes is simply magnificent – and applause is due to the NBB for their technique and focus!

Overflowing with invention and verve, Tenacity is an album of continual discovery. Django Bates describes the title (and title track) as a suggestion for his audience: “Please hang on in there, the reward is not a spoonful of honey but it should be profound and lasting”. It’s certainly that, and also has me reaching for those trio albums to try to grasp a little of the thought process behind some of these opulent big band arrangements. “Best of luck with that”, went up the cry!

Released on 2 October 2020 and available from Proper Music.

 

BELOVÈD
Django Bates piano, vox
Petter Eldh double bass, vox
Peter Bruun drums, vox

NORRBOTTEN BIG BAND
Håkan Broström soprano sax
Jan Thelin clarinets
Mats Garberg flutes
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor sax, clarinet
Per Moberg baritone sax
Bo Strandberg trumpet 1
Magnus Ekholm trumpet
Dan Johansson trumpet
Jacek Onuszkiewich trumpet
Peter Dahlgren trombone 1
Ashley Slater trombone
Björn Hängsel bass trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Markus Pesonen electric guitar

djangobates.co.uk

Lost Marble – LM009 (2020)

REVIEW: The Gaz Hughes Sextet – ‘The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey’

UNTIL NOW, young Manchester-based drummer Gaz Hughes has, perhaps, best been known as the cool, atmospheric rhythm-maker behind the music of trumpeter and Gondwana Records owner Matthew Halsall, in recordings such as On the Go and Fletcher Moss Park (also appearing on recent three-album release Oneness).

For his debut release as leader, Hughes honours the music of one of the true jazz drumming ‘greats’ in a glorious sextet with Alan Barnes, Bruce Adams, Dean Masser, Andrjez Baranek and Ed Harrison. The art of ‘Jazz Messenger’ Art Blakey (1919–1990) – described by fellow drummer Max Roach as ‘Thunder’ – is captured superbly by Hughes, right down to that retro album-cover design, in an album brimming with joyous, bebop fervour. From the first strains of A Bitter Dose, the feel-good is there – this band’s easier-swinging interpretation is refreshing, with Bruce Adams’ piercing trumpet improv a stand-out. The entire ensemble sparkles as one; and whilst classic jazz numbers are just that, it’s great to hear them portrayed by today’s players and with the depth and clarity of modern recording techniques (it often seems that the pianist lost out in the 1950s and early 1960s!).

Ping Pong (Wayne Shorter) pops and bounces fluently, even cheekily, to Alan Barnes’ bari, while full horns sizzle together. Hughes’ leadership is focused, with heady rhythms and erupting splashes clear in the mix, yet never dominating. Ten-minute-medley homage – Together Again, Lover Man, Easy Living – is sublime, Masser’s and Barnes’ lush, romantic expression especially moving; and Blakey’s spirit is alive and well in Freddie Hubbard’s swaggering Crisis (jazz-heavenly nods of approval imagined!). The sextet’s hypnotic swell in Wheel Within a Wheel (interestingly, at times, reminiscent of Hughes’ work with Halsall) is illuminated by fine individual solos passed around; blithesome One By One (from Blakey’s Ugetsu) is celebrated with infectious abandon; and strutting, Middle-Eastern (almost mariachi-hued) Arabia completes the album in fast-swinging style.

Throughout these 52 minutes, it’s clear that Gaz Hughes and his illustrious band are honouring the tradition – and the greatness of Blakey and his esteemed contemporaries – while breathing 21st-century fire into these evergreen classics (going back into the originals, they really are). An extensive UK tour, billed from February through to October 2020, already suggests they’ll shake things up with more Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers numbers – and this album forecasts a fabulous live experience.

Released on 1 February 2020, The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey is available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Alan Barnes alto sax, baritone sax
Bruce Adams trumpet
Dean Masser tenor sax
Andrjez Baranek piano
Ed Harrison double bass
Gaz Hughes drums

gazhughesmusic.com

Gaz Hughes (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Street Talk’ – Saxophone Summit

WHEN THE JOY AND THRILL of music-making gushes out of your speakers with a life force such as this, you know you’re onto a good thing.

Saxophone Summit is not simply the meeting of renowned reedsmen Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano and Greg Osby, but a fervent sextet completed by the similarly luminous names of drummer Billy Hart, pianist Phil Markowitz and double bassist Cecil McBee.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 October 2019, Street Talk is available from Proper Music.

Dave Liebman soprano sax
Joe Lovano tenor sax
Greg Osby alto sax
featuring
Billy Hart drums
Phil Markowitz piano
Cecil McBee bass

daveliebman.com
joelovano.com
gregosby.com

Enja Records – ENJA 9769 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Strata’ – Graham Costello’s Strata

GrahamCostello

SCOTLAND is currently producing some vital, fresh expressions in jazz. Standing solidly amongst them is Glasgow-based drummer/composer Graham Costello – a first-class graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and his sextet, Strata.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 15 June 2017 and available digitally from Bandcamp.

Videos: _’88, _’60.

 

Scott Murphy tenor sax
Liam Shortall trombone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Joe Williamson guitar
Euan Taylor electric bass
Graham Costello drums, compositions

grahamcostello.com

Self-released (2017)

‘Live’ – Brass Mask

Brass Mask LIVE

OUTRAGEOUS… cacophonous… majestic… and totally absorbing! Bandleader and Loop Collective saxophonist Tom Challenger brings the natural, live-stage experience of this nine-piece ensemble out from under the spotlights and into our hands. 

Imagine colourful New Orleans street promenades coalescing with free jazz in an unfettered, contemporary spirit, and that might just begin to identify the simmering-yet-brazen brilliance of Brass Mask. Exuberant 2013 studio debut Spy Boy first revealed the power of this coming-together of mostly London-based talent. Now, Live combines developments of some of those joyous, smile-inducing compositions/arrangements from Challenger with new material; and one look at his experimental personnel hints at the firecrackling show in prospect – George Crowley, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, Nathaniel Cross, Theon Cross, Dan Nicholls, John Blease and Jon Scott.

Tom Challenger’s inspiration for this project stems from various online bootlegs which feature, for example, the raw energy of John Coltrane, Mardi Gras Indians and Haitian Rara bands. But this is a live album with an edge, as he and Alex Bonney sensitively link and support the recorded gig (from the capital’s Servant Jazz Quarters) with imaginatively-crafted electronics, as well as ‘field recordings’ of “mangled YouTube and iPhone samples of found sound”. And it’s a blast!

The bleating, effected horns of Francilia herald Shallow Water – a slow, stirring, processional funeral march which trudges to wailing tenors and trumpets (quite different from the dance-groove original); Lil’ Liza Jane‘s infectious, shuffling trad playfulness echoes to almost sneery horn riffs amidst the most vociferous tuba, organ and percussion; and trancelike The Bague is just as cunningly shambolic. Held-back gospel tune Indian Red feels made for such a live setting, preening itself with hard-blown brass before breaking into swingin’ double-time abandon, whilst the grungy, rasping blues of I Thank You Jesus, underpinned by Nicholls’ sustained, palpitating keys and Theon Cross’s wildly whooping tuba, demands to be heard over and over.

Nyodi‘s oscillating canvas invites a delightfully unexpected Joe Zawinul-type tuba groove (à la River People), complemented by Wayne Shorter-style tenor tumblings and, appropriately, sustained, Weather Reportian chord clusters. Rapid, madcap capers in The Merman suggest Madness on acid; and the glorious, reedy, push-pull riff of Francis P (all ten minutes or more of it, compared to the original of less than three) enjoys a frenetic phantasmagoria of organ/keys, jousting trumpets, flailing tuba and the oxymoron of an ascending electronic wind-down.

A splendid, visceral hullabaloo. Turn up the volume and immerse yourself in it. Released on 21 April 2017, Brass Mask’s Live is available as CD or digital album from Bandcamp.

 

Tom Challenger tenor sax, clarinet
George Crowley tenor sax, clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
Dan Nicholls organ, keyboards, percussion
John Blease drums, percussion
Jon Scott percussion

tom challenger.co.uk
loop collective.org

Babel Label – BDV15137 (2017)

‘Effervescence’ – Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra

effervescence

TAKE A LOOK at that cover art – a clue to the polychromatic flamboyance of this new release from the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Formed fourteen years ago by renowned Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, the TSYJO has consistently provided an important, ongoing, step-up platform for young jazz musicians. This third album is a real joy because, rather than reflecting any insecure naivety of youth, Effervescence emphatically displays the orchestra’s unfettered go-for-it creativity, all backed up by solid musicality. In fact, all eight of these sumptuous tracks fizz without any trace of inhibition, Smith’s choice of material showcasing the players’ versatility.

The breathless, strummed pace of Woody Herman’s Apple Honey sets the tone. Complete with feisty wah-wah trumpet section and rolling saxes, Liam Shortall’s brash trombone antics are met with appreciative band cheers; and Helena Kay’s whirling, spirited clarinet connects with the piece’s origins. Jerome Kern’s familiar phrases in The Way You Look Tonight (lavishly arranged by Florian Ross) swing with life-affirming positivity, summoning a delicious alto spotlight from Adam Jackson, whilst a tangible rhythmic reduction clears the way for trombonist Kevin Garrity’s sublime, held-back solo. Glitzy Blues March (Benny Golson) parades to snappy snare, with infectious piano swing at its heart; and Florian Ross’ expansive arrangement of Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty (more familiar in trio format) is imaginatively colorised by guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Pete Johnstone, including an intricate feature for drummer Stephen Henderson.

From within the orchestra’s ranks, trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ composition Tam O’Shanter coolly saunters to crunchy, pitch-bent rock guitar and high-blasting trumpets before its switch to an effusive, driven, spy-thriller of a middle section; and the big-band swing of Nefertiti (Miles Davis, arr. Ross) is becalmed for Michael Butcher’s lush tenor solo, supported by smooth, sustained trombone voices. The rapidity of Things To Come is audacious (you can almost sense Dizzy Gillespie applauding Sean Gibbs’ display from the wings), whilst the orchestra’s sensitivity to crescendi and diminuendi is especially notable, underpinning a fluvial alto solo from Helena Kay – altogether an utterly convincing performance. And Christian Jacob’s tightly-swung arrangement of Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, featuring tenorist Samuel Tessier, is both sleek and snappy.

Entertainingly feel-good, all the way, Tommy Smith and his players are to be congratulated on this exuberant release.

Effervescence is available from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra website or Amazon.

 

Tommy Smith director, producer

Helena Kay alto sax, clarinet
Adam Jackson alto sax
Samuel Tessier tenor sax
Michael Butcher tenor sax
Heather Macintosh baritone sax
Tom Walsh trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Joshua Elcock trumpet
Christos Stylianides trumpet
Cameron T Duncan trumpet
Tom Clay Harris trumpet
Michael Owers trombone
Liam Shortall trombone
Kevin Garrity trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Joe Williamson guitar
Fergus McCreadie piano
Pete Johnstone piano
David Bowden acoustic bass
Stephen Henderson drums

Also available: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Beauty & the Beast – an original work composed and directed by Tommy Smith, with guest saxophonist Bill Evans.

tsyjo.com
snjo.co.uk
tommy-smith.co.uk

Spartacus Records – STS024 (2016)