‘Anatta’ – Alex Merritt Quartet


Anatta

SOMETIMES it just clicks. That sit-up-and-listen first connection with intelligently-conceived music and performance, prompting a compulsion to become involved and stay with it.

Taking its title from a Buddhist principle which, indeed, references ‘a state of no self, where we are fully immersed in our experience of the present moment’, Anatta is the debut release of young tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt and his fine quartet: pianist John Turville, double bassist Sam Lasserson and distinguished US drummer Jeff Williams. With the majority of the album’s eight compositions coming from Merritt’s pen (plus interpretations of Thelonious Monk and Eubie Blake), the tenorist’s lead exudes both maturity and confidence in an hour-plus outing which brims with exploration and reinvention.

Formed some six years ago, and encouraged by Jeff Williams whilst Alex Merritt was still studying at Birmingham Conservatoire, quartet and leader seek a fascinating duality in their approach – the concept of modelling new work based on the standard chord progressions of existing material (such as Merritt’s originals here based on Jule Styne’s Just in Time and John Coltrane’s Satellite), thereby reflecting the aim of ‘observing the elegance of life’s change’.

Merritt’s warm, dry, Getzian fluency (which, at higher range, even finds refractions of Paul Desmond) is a joy, whether intertwining with Turville’s mysterious, unpredictable chordal shifts in the title track or bubbling with controlled fervour in one of the aforementioned reinterpretations… cringingly-titled Justin Time-berlake (perhaps there’s a back-story!). In fact, for a saxman who rarely screeches or wails, such restrained eloquence shines prominently. For example, in swingin’ For Peter Schat (that Coltrane reworking), his mellifluous, elongated phrases set up a ‘pied piper’ kind of magnetism, with a constant stream of fresh improv ideas that don’t need any invitation to follow; and his band’s freer, nine-minute excursion through Pannonica beautifully echoes Monk’s famously capricious, angular approach.

The integration here is key and, throughout, feels like a sound this quartet has taken time to hone, driven along by Jeff Williams’ recognisable percussive solidity as well as Sam Lasserson’s double bass which, even amongst the sublime placidity of For Henri Dutilleux and Blake’s Memories of You, becomes majestic. Thelonious favourite Ugly Beauty is delightfully luxurious in this arrangement, especially when Merritt goes deep; and lively Conn Artist (other brands are available) cements his prowess as a composer with a promising future.

This feels like just the beginning… and what a beginning.

Released on the F-IRE label, Anatta is available from Propermusic, Amazon and iTunes.

 

Alex Merritt tenor sax
John Turville piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jeff Williams drums

alexmerritt.com

F-IRE presents – F-IRECD 86 (2015)

‘Double Trouble Live’ – Peter Ehwald

PeterEhwald

THERE’S an enticingly gritty, direct edginess to new album Double Trouble Live from German saxophonist Peter Ehwald.

A quartet by any other name, this ‘double double bass’ backbone of Robert Landfermann and Andreas Lang ensures a robust, hard-hitting edge to Ehwald’s original compositions (plus one arrangement), with drummer/percussionist Jonas Burgwinkel a particularly agile contributor to these nine tracks recorded at gigs in Düsseldorf, München and Potsdam in 2013/2014. Peter Ehwald is already known to UK ears as the melodic front lead to exciting quartet Paragon (with Jon Scott, Arthur Lea and Matthias Nowak) – but this line-up is different again, revelling in more raucous, edgy, free improvisation whilst also able to display contrasting openness and sensitivity.

Despite the potential of eight bass strings, the sound remains essentially that of a chordless trio (recalling the sound worlds of, say, Depart or Partikel). Nevertheless, there’s a spontaneity to the exploratory jazz semblance of this quartet – formed in 2010, with a 2013 studio album to their name – which suggests a promising live experience, the leader describing his intentions “to act out something wild and create beautiful sounds at the same time; warm, contrapuntal, free indeed and liberated, yet still thoroughly composed.”

Peter Ehwald is a particularly searching saxophonist, and very much upfront in these performances. Lurching, sinewy, arco basses support his relentless tenor tumblings and screeches in opener In the Zone; and Mimouna‘s soprano extemporisations (on a traditional tune) portray the quartet quite differently with shades of Jan Garbarek or Julian Arguëlles, plus ear-catching, percussive bubbling from Ehwald’s personnel. As live takes, there’s an engaging honesty to these recordings, Mr Soju (at almost nine minutes) hitting the walls and rebounding to the quick-fire staccato of Burgwinkel’s hard kit and Ehwald’s unyielding, gruff and often duo-toned perambulations.

Dreamband is especially colourful, Ehwald’s showy tenor deftly combining with impulsive, buoyant bass and sparky percussion. Disquieting Branded brings the impressive bass voices to the fore, with Ehwald’s soprano suggesting a Shorteresque kind of discovery; title track Double Trouble resounds to Ehwald’s unexpectedly Getzian tones and the eastern resonances of Landfermann and Lang; and Borden‘s audacity – Ehwald clearly on great tenor form – is elevated still higher by Jonas Burgwinkel’s firecracker drums and percussion.

Arguably, as a recorded-live account, this amalgamation of sets requires close attention to understand its detail (certainly not mainstream or background listening). But once ‘in’, there’s a depth of invention here which, to ears attuned to saxophone-led chordless ensembles, can become absorbing.

Released on 30 October 2015, with its launch at London Jazz Festival on 18 November, Double Trouble Live is available from Peter Ehwald’s website, and also at online store MDT.

 

Peter Ehwald tenor and soprano saxophones
Robert Landfermann double bass
Andreas Lang double bass
Jonas Burgwinkel drums

peter-ehwald.net

Jazzwerkstatt – JW164 (2015)

‘Fist Full of Notes’ – Indigo Kid II

IndigoKidII

FOR GUITARIST Dan Messore, the different yet similarly broad landscapes of his two spiritual homes – Pembrokeshire, Wales and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica – feature prominently in his compositions for this second Indigo Kid release, Fist Full of Notes.

Messore’s well-received debut Indigo Kid album, in 2012, was encouraged and led by renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy (who the guitarist studied under in Wales) – and whilst Ballamy returns for a couple of numbers here, he introduces creative tenorist Trish Clowes to take up the lead sax role. From the original quartet line-up, bassist Tim Harries remains, but drummer Martin France makes his first appearance with the ‘Kid.

Strikingly progressive in feel, Dan Messore has developed this band’s musical atmospheres of jazz, folk and country to judiciously include electronics/effects which complement and sustain the original, open, acoustic sound; and the transformation can become cinematic (maybe that’s the clue to the curious ‘fist full of notes/dollars’ title idea), often with satisfying prog rock grandeur.

The key to the success of the project lies in the constantly shifting textures which Messore and his team employ; here is a straightforward quartet/quintet line-up, yet the clever written and improvisational stratification – organically building, evolving and fading – defines the enticingly alternative approach. So, there are familiar jazz territory run-outs, such as Trish Clowes’ sunny pairing with Messore in lightly shuffling All Hands to Dance and Skylark, recalling the saxophonist’s work with guitarist Chris Montague (including the later inclusion of layered effects); but then the intense, rock-heavy aura of From Nowhere to Our Place excitingly summons the spirit of Robert Fripp and King Crimson.

The mellower side of Clowes’ very distinctive tone announces folksy Snow on the Presellis, its easy-going, guitar-rich demeanour perhaps leaning closer to Central America than mountainous South West Wales; and Mr Randall creates a fascinating blend of experimental jazz fusion and early prog as Harries’ wah-wahed electric bass combines with France’s fabulously intricate drumming over disquieting electronics. Dan Messore’s style has been likened to that of guitar legend Richard Thompson (though you could easily put John Etheridge, John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell into the mix, too). That self-accompanied folk style comes out in one of two pieces dedicated to his late father – the Soft Machine-imbued expanse of Carpet Boys; and The Healing Process reveals the familiar, deep, mellifluous signature of Iain Ballamy.

Waiting for Paula is quietly majestic, the echoic searchings of Clowes and Messore contrasting well with sparky rhythms delivered by Martin France – a perfect example of the cohesion within this ensemble; and interlude Quiet Waters does indeed ripple calmly to picked guitar and confident melodies, followed by the perky country-rock of The Bay. To close, Iain Ballamy again swells the ranks in Sketches in the Fabric, Tim Harries’ incisive electric bass driving its infectious jazz/rock energy.

It’s great to hear a fresh approach to contemporary jazz, and Dan Messore’s compositional and improvisational prowess flourishes amidst the distinguished musical company he keeps.

Released on 13 July 2015, Fist Full of Notes is available at Babel Label.

 

Dan Messore electric guitar, composition
Trish Clowes tenor sax
Iain Ballamy tenor sax (tracks 6 & 10)
Tim Harries electric bass
Martin France drums

danmessore.com

Babel Label – BDV14138 (2015)

‘Strata’ – Ivo Neame

Strata

IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.

2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.

Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”

Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ –  lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.

Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.

Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.

A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!

 

Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

ivoneame.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)

‘These Skies In Which We Rust’ – John Law’s New Congregation

JohnLaw

FOR ALMOST thirty years, classically-trained British pianist John Law has been pushing on the door of jazz creativity, forming and reshaping his own particularly diverse routes through an impressive catalogue of ensemble and solo piano releases.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

John Law piano, keyboards, glockenspiel
Josh Arcoleo tenor sax
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Laurie Lowe drums, ibo drum
with 
Holly Law voice

johnlaw.org.uk

33 Extreme – 33Xtreme006 (2015)

‘Westerly’ – The Printmakers

Printmakers

OHHHHH… and ohhhhh again…… to an exemplary and eagerly anticipated debut release from six leading lights of British contemporary jazz, collectively known here as The Printmakers.

Imagine the perfect vocal/instrumental sextet, and it might easily comprise Nikki Iles (piano), Norma Winstone (vocals), Mike Walker (electric guitar), Mark Lockheart (saxes), Steve Watts (double bass) and James Maddren (drums). Indeed, with a band name explained as a metaphor for the subtle variances in handmade printmaking, the combined artistry revealed in new album Westerly is as satisfying – in light, shade and hue – as any wander through a gallery of fine impressionism. Recorded amidst the painterly charm of the English Lake District, the compositional palette is beautifully balanced, and includes a trio of numbers by leader Nikki Iles with Norma Winstone as lyricist (a remarkable partnership).

The expansive ten-track sequence opens with a bubbling vocal interpretation of Ralph Towner’s A Breath Away, brought to life through Winstone’s authoritative storytelling – and immediately from this personnel there’s a sense of technical ‘safe hands’ and impassioned musicality. The lovelorn vocal of Under the Canopy (an Iles/Winstone original) delicately sambas to Mark Lockheart’s deeply-coloured bass clarinet and Nikki Iles’ trademark crystalline piano – a reminder of their rich contribution to Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors; and Paul Simon’s jaunty I Do It For Your Love is whisked away into the most sumptuous of slow ballads, Norma Winstone bringing so much weight to Simon’s poetry (and here, as throughout the album, it’s the exquisite detailing which pleases – Lockheart’s subtle, characterful tenor and then Mike Walker’s illustrative guitar glissando on “the colours ran, the orange bled the blue”).

Impish improvisational colourwash precedes an airy rendition of John Taylor’s ‘O’ – strutting to dazzling, shared vocal and sax lines plus Lockheart’s own wonderfully demonstrative soprano creativity, its sunshiny and exploratory demeanour is irresistible. Nikki Iles’ Westerly is curiously imagined in Norma Winstone’s cryptically dark cowboy lyrics, evocatively portrayed through Iles’ accordion, Mike Walker’s pitch-bent guitar and bassist Steve Swallow’s campfire banjo tailpiece; and Winstone’s effortless vocal delivery confirms why she is one of British jazz’s national treasures. The same compositional duo produce lilting, Jobimesque Tideway, its brooding coastal atmospheres conveyed by woodwind breaths and guitar gull cries – at eight minutes, its easy to luxuriate in the broad guitar and tenor extemporisations and Winstone’s gliding lyricism.

The gems in this 68-minute treasure trove keep on turning up, Ralph Towner’s animated The Glide (as heard on Nikki Iles’ trio album, Hush) dancing to Winstone’s impressive high scat and Iles’ signature piano luminosity; and the obsessional story of Joni Mitchell’s Two Grey Rooms is quietly touching, the band supporting and enhancing its resigned lyric. In direct contrast, the Celtic feel of Nikki Iles’ High Lands tumbles and reels to wordless vocal and soprano sax, as well as soaring, rocky guitar from Walker and James Maddren’s pin-sharp flamboyance at the kit. To close, Steve Swallow’s countryfied The City of Dallas finds Winstone teasingly delivering the writer’s delightfully droll lines (“I hope the evening paper’s got a lot of good stuff-in-it… stuff-in-it”!) amongst a consummate-as-ever instrumental performance led by Mike Walker’s woozy guitar.

This, unquestionably, is chamber jazz whose elegance has to be heard to be believed, such is the shared empathy and depth of musical experience on show, all realised in a musical landscape that feels as magical as it is peerless.

Released on 11 May 2015, on Basho RecordsWesterly is available from Jazz CDs and all good jazz retailers.

 

Norma Winstone voice
Nikki Iles piano, accordion
Mark Lockheart tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet
Mike Walker guitar
Steve Watts bass, banjo
James Maddren drums, percussion

nikkiiles.co.uk

Basho Records – SRCD 46-2 (2015)