REVIEW: ‘Worry Not’ – Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat

THE LAST fifteen, pandemic-dominated months have undoubtedly pulled focus on our mercurial emotions. So the premise of debut release Worry Not, from Leeds-based tenorist/composer Emma Johnson and her quintet, resonates all the more loudly.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 2 July 2021, Worry Not is available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Emma Johnson tenor saxophone
Fergus Vickers electric guitar
Richard Jones piano
Angus Milne double bass
Steve Hanley drums

johnsonmusic.co.uk

Self-released (2021)

REVIEW: ‘A New York Flight’ – Andreas Toftemark Quartet

HAIRS RAISED on the nape of the neck, here. Why? Well, the sound of Danish saxophonist Andreas Toftemark and his quartet, on new release A New York Flight, is summoning memories of those revelatory early years of musical discovery in bars and halls – the formative experiences of live jazz that are indelibly printed on heart and mind.

Toftemark moved to New York some four or five years ago, studying with Joel Frahm and Ben Wendel, while also learning fast by playing in the heat of its vibrant, yet famously tough jazz scene alongside names such as Peter Bernstein and Ethan Iverson. 2020, a year like no other, saw him return to Denmark, soon establishing a band with his colleagues Calle Brickman (piano), Felix Mosehol (bass) and Andreas Svendsen (drums). For this studio recording, selecting two originals alongside four reinterpretations, Toftemark has crafted a set which captivated on its first hearing, his confident, rounded tenor tone sometimes reminiscent of Scott Hamilton. Significantly, he absolutely achieves that important ‘one foot in the past’ aim of honouring jazz heritage in a way that is just as relevant for our time; and the balmy, romantic thread of these roomy performances (averaging seven minutes apiece) is balanced by both a breeziness and episodes of invigorating sparkle.

The initial, wistful ‘look back’ of the leader’s title-track opener – described in the sleeve notes as ‘a bridge from the New York that was to the near future of the Danish jazz scene’ – soon snaps into a crackling groove which presents the individual merits of each player. Able to create space for detail, they also collectively punch out substantial waves of excitement, Calle Brickman’s rolling piano phrases leading to Toftemark’s gradual pathway towards a potentially limitless torrent of tenor improvisation. Cryptically explained as ‘a row of numbers that seem to follow Andreas in love and friendships’, his gladsome, streetwalking 2223 ramps up into blistering full-on swing – certainly a feel-good gem amongst gems.

Count Basie classic, Blue and Sentimental, is transported oh so elegantly from its 1930s beginnings into an ease-back blues brimming with delectable, acciaccatura piano phrasing, while Toftemark’s measured explorations pay homage to that golden era of jazz; and the assured rhythms of Mosehol and Svendsen are beautifully controlled. From a decade earlier, Donaldson/Kahn’s Love Me or Leave Me (recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone et al) feels at home in instrumental guise as the quartet navigate its push-pull metre before cruising to the leader’s extemporisations – and even when he bows out midway, the remaining piano-trio display, incorporating fine piano and drum soloing, is similarly engaging.

The Big Apple is evidently dear to Toftemark, his dusky, heart-on-sleeve interpretation of enduring Autumn in New York seemingly glinting in the afterglow. Focusing on each cadence, his cool delivery of this Vernon Duke evergreen (originally written with a longing for the city) is consistently a joy, supported by lucent touches from his attentive personnel – and it’s easy, too, to imagine a rapt audience in the shadows of the bandstand. To close, romantic I’m a Fool to Want You (Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, Frank Sinatra) is treated to a lush arrangement which finds light amongst the original’s lovelorn torment, gently swinging to bewitching tenor and piano spotlights.

Aside from the overriding pleasure of these 43 minutes, the intriguing takeaway is what might yet be in the pipeline from the relatively young Andreas Toftemark and, indeed, his friends on this recording. As fine, contemporary interpreters of the tradition, and with that glimpse of the saxophonist’s compositional prowess, the stage seems well and truly set.

Released on 11 June 2021, A New York Flight is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.

 

Andreas Toftemark tenor saxophone
Calle Brickman piano
Felix Mosehol bass
Andreas Svendsen drums

andreastoftemark.com

April Records – APR086CD / APR086LP (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Perihelion’ – Guido Spannocchi

COOL AS YOU LIKE, Viennese alto saxophonist Guido Spannocchi’s Perihelion (a title referencing the position in the orbit of a planet where it’s nearest to the sun) has ‘summer’ written all over it!

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 14 May 2021, Perihelion is available from Audioguido Records.

 

Jay Phelps trumpet
Guido Spannocchi alto saxophone
Sylvie Leys tenor saxophone
Robert Mitchell Wurlitzer, piano
Michelangelo Scandroolio double bass
Tristan Banks drums

Composed, arranged and produced by Guido Spannocchi

audioguido.com

Audioguido Records (2021)

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)

REVIEW: ‘Hi Res Heart’ – Archer / Keeffe / Pyne

THE RESOURCEFULNESS and technical achievement in this trio recording, alone, tell an impressive tale. But, much more than that, the lockdown-enforced concept of collaborating at distance (due to the global pandemic) to shape a seamless melting pot of musical creativity has produced an enthralling home-studio performance of composed/free jazz.

Hi Res Heart is the collective work of saxophonist/woodwind player Martin Archer, trumpeter/flugelhornist Charlotte Keeffe and vibraphonist/percussionist Martin Pyne; and both the ingenuity of their experimental process and the resultant dialogue is quite remarkable. All twelve tracks are listed with a three-character code (e.g. a – p – k) which identifies their remote order of construction (in this case, Archer – Pyne – Keeffe), with each trio member writing and recording the foundations of four pieces. These are then elaborated on and completed by the remaining two players, in different sequences and layers. The breadth of the soundscapes is fascinating, not least because each instrumentalist brings to the project their own experiences and interests – for instance, Martin Archer specifically draws inspiration from the masters of the black 1970s American avant-garde scene (an area in which he says he feels like he is writing and playing his very best).

These 65 minutes feel very much a personal expedition for musicians and listener alike, their multifaceted evolution sure to elicit a multitude of responses. To the uninitiated, the oblique freedom at the heart of this album may initially seem bewildering, perhaps even cacophonous – and, at times, they wouldn’t be far wrong! But to listen closely and emotionally interact with it is experientially satisfying, only in a quite different sense to more straight-ahead jazz. From the rambunctious clamour of Silena’s Fire, through the almost New Orleansian stomp of Keeffe’s G.E.M. and sassy, percussive resonance of big-band-style Seduction Dance, to inebriated, comedic Jean, the trio build compelling, unpredictable mélanges of timbres and rhythms.

Raw, bluesy riffs and japes in Looking for Gene bring to mind Blakey Ridge’s famed Back Door, though threaded with fidgety vibraphone improvisations; and the ‘noir’ mood of June is disconcertingly peppered with abstract trumpet (often forced through the mouthpiece), toy piano and reedy, melodramatic phrases. Pyne’s Earth Memory takes on an eastern flavour, its descending and chromatic melodies hypnotically buoyed by his perpetual undercurrent of strong, weltering rhythms, while Sleep Uneasy’s didgeridoo-style drones, sputtering ‘duck calls’ and misterioso flute certainly wouldn’t provide the ideal background to slumber!

Over eleven minutes, Archer’s Song for Bobby Naughton interlaces tenor sax, bass clarinet and muted trumpet in a markedly free and pensive progression, the saxophonist’s rich extemporisations partnering well with Pyne’s sustained, chiming vibraphone. The brief, brash plod of The Story in the Mirror and cartoonish squeal of Tommy (both of which momentarily try their hand at swing) are irresistibly fun, while closing Dolly Grip disjointedly sallies back and forth with jocular high trumpet utterances, reedy interjections and erratic percussion towards a frenzied B movie conclusion.

Martin Archer references US trumpeter Leo Smith’s trio of the late 1970s (with Dwight Andrews and Bobby Naughton) in terms of matching its instrumentation. But considering music’s development in the forty-plus years since, and the unique, combined influences on Archer / Keeffe / Pyne, it doesn’t feel outrageous to suggest Hi Res Heart offers an even greater attraction. That they produced it all ‘down the wire‘ seals it.

Released on 4 May 2021 and available as CD or download from Discus Music or Bandcamp.

 

Martin Archer sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, bass harmonica, flute, electronics
Charlotte Keeffe trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Pyne vibraphone, drum set, percussion, toy piano

Cover art by Silena

Discus Music – 108CD (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Second Lives’ – Graham Costello’s STRATA

“SONICALLY, this is a fully analogue record – a computer hasn’t touched it. You hear full takes, and practically zero overdubs.”

Since Strata, his debut release of 2017, Glaswegian drummer/composer Graham Costello (a first-class graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) has been honing his craft; in particular, developing this intensive, progressive band with tenor saxophonist Harry Weir, trombonist Liam Shortall, pianist Fergus McCreadie, guitarist Joe Williamson and electric bassist Mark Hendry. That first, self-released step into a polyrhythmic jazz/rock/minimalist environment, followed by 2019’s Obelisk, has clearly spurred this sextet on to greater heights. The drummer’s ‘live in studio’ approach to capturing it all in full flight (quoted above and qualified by “You hear everything – squeaks, room sounds, pedal clicks”) perhaps bears the most immediate comparison with the ‘real-time process music’ of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, though with more of a funk/soul vibe.

Themes of evolution, heritage, stoicism and inner challenge (look deeper into that cover ‘icon’) permeate these eleven compositions/improvisations, with discoveries about Costello’s extended, Burmese-Indian family especially inspiring the creativity. Fronted by richly powerful tenor sax and trombone, though clearly driven by the leader’s fervent, metrical energy, STRATA as a unit are tight, uncompromising and dynamic – something initially belied by the ambient-piano awakening of အစ (translated from Burmese as ‘beginning’). Recurring motifs strongly inform their overriding energy, exemplified by Eudaimonia which thrives on a blistering wall of approaching/receding horns and pyrotechnic percussion, and continued in torrid, sax-squealing Legion (Costello’s flamboyance at the kit, here, is on another level).

Certainly there are oases of calm, as in Satie-suggested Iris led by McCreadie’s restrained, echoic piano; or Williamson’s notable pitch-bent guitar that paints an unsettling, industrial landscape in Snowbird; and Circularity’s repose summons the slowly-shifting figures of John Ellis and The Cinematic Orchestra. But STRATA’s trademark thunder is unquestionably ‘main feature’, the rasping horns and full-band saturation of The Colossus crescendoing and thrashing to fever pitch, while the brisk momentum of bass-babbling Impetu is carried by relentless piano figures, its boldness momentarily side-stepping into calypso. The pulsating, upward trajectory of Arrowhead creates an exciting, almost menacing three minutes (a double or triple extension to its development can be imagined), closely followed by the John Adams-reminiscent propulsion of Ataraxia – crashing, riffing… and anything but tranquil! To close, the band’s ruminative title track seemingly connects with the earlier-mentioned themes, its cyclical piano and meditational effects perhaps impressing continuity of ‘family’.

Graham Costello’s STRATA have, so far, furrowed their particular groove with panache, character and honesty; and that foundational principle of artistic realism delivers a ‘wow factor’ in this album which will undoubtedly translate explosively into eventual live performance. Advancing the band’s compositional style and sound may be their next challenge – but they’ll be up for it!

Co-produced and engineered by the legendary Hugh Padgham, Second Lives is released on 7 May 2021 and available as CD, vinyl and digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Graham Costello drums, composition
Harry Weir tenor saxophone
Liam Shortall trombone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Joe Williamson guitar
Mark Hendry electric bass

Cover image by Bernadette Kellermann and Graham Costello

Videos: Eudaimonia, Legion, Circularity, Impetu, Live in concert (2018)

grahamcostello.com
gcstrata.net

Gearbox Records – GB1566CD (2021)