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)

‘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)

‘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)

‘Caipi’ – Kurt Rosenwinkel

caipi

PHILADELPHIA-BORN, Berlin-resident jazz guitarist/keyboardist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s career is especially associated with influential artists such as Gary Burton, Paul Motion, Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter. So the sunshiny, vocal emphasis of his new release Caipi comes as something of a surprise. Yet it’s a surprise which prompts fascination, increasing endearment and positivity. 

Rosenwinkel suggests that it’s taken a decade to make this album a reality – and whilst it’s very much a solo album (the composer playing guitars, bass, piano, synth and drums throughout, and also occasionally taking lead vocal), he also welcomes a number of guests to provide a panoply of textures, including appearances from saxophonist Mark Turner and vocalist/lyricist Amanda Brecker. There’s even a subtle cameo from Eric Clapton, who describes Rosenwinkel as “a genius – he really is”; and the album’s decidedly effervescent South American flavours (‘Caipirinha’ being a Brazilian/Portuguese cocktail) are enhanced by the intriguing vocal timbres of young Brazilian singer/instrumentalist Pedro Martins.

This full hour’s eleven-track diversity might initially be perplexing, especially for fans of the guitarist’s instrumental-jazz back catalogue. But it doesn’t take long to warm to the naive frailty of Pedro Martins’ gentle voice; and though Rosenwinkel’s straight vocal delivery may be reminiscent of ’70s prog instrumentalists who came from behind the frontman’s shadows to sing for their own solo projects, it’s these constantly fluctuating points of difference, plus a tangible homely quality, which attracts. The background to this bold, intentional move is explained thus: “Writing songs with lyrics has always been very much a part of musical world, but they’ve usually stayed in my private sphere. With Caipi, I realised that these were also lyric songs and that ultimately I would sing them as well. It’s definitely something different from my other albums, but it’s a familiar place for me and it was just a matter of doing what the music needed”.

A sultry bossa nova influence is there from the opening of the title track, its wordless backing vocals and flute-voiced synth redolent of Pat Metheny or The Isley Brothers, with Rosenwinkel’s electric guitar improv reaching up to an azure sky; and Martins’ tremulant falsetto sails across the gently bass-driven gossamer-sustained layers of Kama. The contrasting pop chirpiness of Casio Vanguard and Summer Song quirkily recall the pop-jingle of ’80s band Johnny Hates Jazz, though brimming with invention and detail, whilst Methenyesque Chromatic B‘s babbling electric bass underpins its Latin piano-and-guitar pulse. Shadows-style riffs support Rosenwinkel’s affirming vocal in purposeful Hold On (“…and you know we’re not alone”); and the folksy tenderness of Ezra, dedicated to his youngest son, is similarly uplifting (“live each day with joy and laughter”) as Mark Turner’s tenor sax extemporises broadly over a mid-rock groove.

By now, it’s possible you’ll be hooked… only to discover Rosenwinkel still has four more appealing numbers to deliver – Little Dream and Casio Escher (both embellished by Amanda Brecker’s vocal dexterity), bossa shuffler Interspace and anthemically-closing Little B. An album which is both curious and distinctive, it leaves a beautiful impression of radiance and hope, and is described by its creator as “angels working for the light”.

Released in UK/Europe on 10 February 2017, and in the US on 30 March 2017, Caipi is available from Heartcore Records as well as iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Kurt Rosenwinkel acoustic guitar, nylon guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion, synth, Casio, voice
with
Pedro Martins voice, synth, harmonium, drums, floor tom
and guests
Frederika Krier violin
Andi Haberl drums
Antonio Loureiro voice
Alex Kozmidi baritone guitar
Kyra Garéy voice
Mark Turner tenor sax
Amanda Brecker voice
Eric Clapton guitar
Zola Mennenöh voice
Chris Komer French horn

kurtrosenwinkel.com

RazDaz Recordz / Heartcore Records – RD4618 (2016)