‘#ONE’ – Black Top with Steve Williamson


THE ALBUM ART is intriguing, only subtly hinting at the extended explorations contained within. Recorded live at the creative crucible that is Jazz in the Round (curated by BBC Jazz on 3’s Jez Nelson at The Cockpit Theatre, London), duo Black Top collaborate with saxophonist Steve Williamson to produce an absorbing free jazz experience.

Former Jazz Warriors Pat Thomas (piano, keyboards and electronics) and Orphy Robinson (marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet and electronics) have, over the past three years, been experimenting with live instruments and lo-fi technology, inviting jazz ‘royalty’ such as Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde and Claude Deppa to guest with them to create a diversity of improvised trio sets. For this performance and subsequent debut release (recorded in January 2012), they welcomed back acclaimed saxophonist Steve Williamson, together setting up these excitingly original, live soundscapes.

The album’s three tracks cover a spectrum of musical textures and shifting atmospheres, referencing New York’s ‘Loft Scene’ avant-gardism of the 1970s as well as revealing Afro-Caribbean influences and dance rhythms. Piano, marimba and saxes take centre stage, but Black Top also infuse their evident virtuosity with a plenitude of beats, samples, loops and effects.

Opener There Goes the Neighbourhood! meanders to the unadorned sounds of tenor sax, marimba and piano, the three players spontaneously developing their shared ideas with increasing complexity, intermittently augmented by pounding electronic dubstep patterns and oscillations. The gradually-changing marimba ostinatos are, unsurprisingly, redolent of Steve Reich, Thomas’s full piano stabs adding to the hypnotic pulse and Williamson’s tenor melodically soaring above.

At almost 24 minutes in length, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner provides a central focus. The deep, hollow voice of the marimba possesses a strong personality, Robinson building its sustained, edgy mystery towards a repeated phrase on which Thomas lavishes a brash and richly percussive Cuban-style piano display, jabbing and rolling across the entire keyboard. Crunchy tenor heightens the excitement, Williamson blasting and scurrying to the concurrent fever. This expansive journey is initially indeterminate and unpredictable, yet the familiarity of repeated listenings remains just as compelling, the trance-like effect of spiralling soprano sax, rapid marimba, fuzzed electronics, jagged piano and thudding rhythm impressively gripping – and then a palpable calmness when it briefly dies back to more spacial cerebration. The closing section finds Williamson’s soprano sneering broadly at the keys, though piano and marimba are up for the challenge with the same tumultuous intensity… and appearing unresolved at the close!

Archaic Nubian Stepdub throws electronics to the fore in this funkier and more succinct closing track, its perpetual-though-shifting rhythms encouraging Williamson to reciprocate with similarly loop-mimicked soprano sax.

One of Babel Label’s 20th anniversary releases for 2014, the exhilarant rhythms and open environments of #ONE are capable of prompting an almost interactive listener response, such is their power to move. To sample and purchase, visit Babel’s website/Bandcamp store – and catch a great video excerpt of the gig here.


Pat Thomas piano, keyboards, electronics
Orphy Robinson marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet, electronics
Steve Williamson tenor and soprano saxophones

Babel Label – BDV14128 (2014)

‘Kubic’s Cure’ – Pierrick Pédron


ALTERNATIVE/POST-PUNK band The Cure are now well into their thirtieth year. And, selling many millions of albums, with chart hits such as Boys Don’t Cry and In Between Days, the iconic rockers continue to gig to a huge following, headlining UK and international festivals.

Not the most obvious connection, then, for a new jazz release… but, for progressive French saxophonist Pierrick Pédron, the perfect challenge! His previous release on ACT Music, Kubik’s Monk, explored the music of legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Here, in Kubic’s Cure, he takes a sideways step to deconstruct a selection of nine pieces from The Cure’s considerable back catalogue and then re-invent them for a chordless trio line-up – with fellow countrymen Thomas Bramerie (double bass) and Franck Agulhon (drums) – plus guests. The transformation is remarkable, producing a grittier, harder edge than the darkly pulsating guitar characteristics of the originals – and even without direct comparison, the result is an exciting forty five minutes of high-octane invention.

Opener A Forest reflects a little of the original’s brooding mystery. But with expansive, thrashing drums and rasping, athletic bass, Pédron really pushes this into overdrive, abruptly changing tempi and creating strong, trilling, melodic sax lines – an extraordinarily solid output from a trio. ‘Surrogate guitarist’ Thomas Bramerie provides the repetitive bassline momentum to In Your House, which also features the expressive, gravelly vocals of Thomas De Pourquery who both complements and gyrates around Pédron’s alto. The former upbeat pop feel of The Caterpillar is replaced by propulsive drum/bass foreboding, any brief quotations of the original theme soon stifled by minacious sax and electronics, Pédron improvising rapidly and mesmerically; and the familiar ’80s synth-led In Between Days now teasingly dances to an impudent, boisterous complexity of rhythms – an excellent reimagining.

Bramerie’s sinewy bass introduces spectacular Middle Eastern dance episode A Reflection, Ghamri Boubaker’s atmospheric Algerian flute and Zorna Algeroise both combining deliciously with Pierrick Pédron’s alto; and, in similar vein, Killing an Arab only intensifies the pace, introducing the fiery trumpet of Médéric Collignon, Franck Agulhon as blistering as ever at the kit. Resembling quite markedly the fervour of ACT stablemate trio Depart, The Cure’s Just Like Heaven and Close To Me are represented in a quickfire 5/8, 6/8 conga; and Pédron picks up on Lullaby’s original pizzicato string effects to create a repetitive mid-tempo groove which escalates in intensity. Boys Don’t Cry is arguably the most familiar of The Cure’s hits and Pédron’s crew delight in pulling it this way and that, Collignon’s trumpet infusing it with mariachi zest and partnering the leader’s enthusiasm to a festive conclusion.

Released in the UK on 12 May 2014, this is a vibrant and imaginative project worth hearing (further information and audio samples here). I hope Pierrick has a copy on its way to Robert Smith!


Pierrick Pédron alto saxophone
Thomas Bramerie double bass
Franck Agulhon drums

Médéric Collignon trumpet
Thomas De Pourquery vocals
Ghamri Boubaker Zorna Algeroise & Algerian flute

ACT Music – 9554-2 (2014)

‘Instrumation’ – Gwilym Simcock

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THE WORLDS of orchestral music and contemporary jazz have always been, for me, on a par, their life-enhancing qualities able to spark a similar depth of emotion and appreciation. Sometimes, however, when the two are brought face to face, the result can be less than convincing – at best, forced and unnatural; at worst, excruciatingly unpalatable. A successful synthesis requires an equal measure of advanced compositional and improvisatory insight, as well as accomplished performers who are responsive to the demands and challenges.

Cue pianist/composer Gwilym Simcock, The City of London Sinfonia conducted by Clark Rundell, double bassist Yuri Goloubev, drummer Martin France and guitarist John Parricelli. Classically trained, Simcock already has, in his early thirties, an extraordinary track record: involved in a huge array of international jazz projects; BBC Radio 3’s first New Generation Artist; various premières and commissions (including the BBC Proms); recently instrumental in the realisation of the inaugural BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition; and a string of solo and collaborative album releases to his name. So it’s fascinating to hear these new works, specifically written for orchestral and chamber formats.

Instrumation presents two original five-movement suites: Move!, a City of London Sinfonia commission for piano, orchestra, double bass, drums and guitar; and Simple Tales (more a collection of individual pieces) for quintet – piano, violin, cello, double bass and drums. Both are through-composed by Simcock whilst allowing improvisatory freedom within – and there’s a discernable sense of engagement and drive amongst the players which informs the cohesion and sophistication of this crossover.

Opening movement Clunky instantly reveals Simcock’s skill in conjoining orchestral and jazz quartet elements as the pressing momentum is embraced by all (this is no bolt-on orchestral backing). The palette of colours achievable in this vast line-up is impressive, the whole canvas filling until Simcock offers the first of two improvised piano interludes which bridge the three main movements. Chromatically-searching Interlude #1 becomes progressively Gershwin-like, connecting seamlessly with Columns, a statuesque and sumptuously-scored ‘Manhattan soundtrack’ which sees Simcock writing eloquently for brass (no surprise, given his own flair for the French horn). Interlude #2 finds the pianist exploring the physicality of his instrument, registering heavy muted strings, bodywork thumps and rapid, low register keyboard runs before bursting energetically into Industrial (For Alan), dedicated to his father (who, he says, appreciates “a tune you can actually tap your feet to!”). This final movement is the most intensely rhythmic, featuring echoic electric guitar from John Parricelli and measured drumming from Martin France (the extended drum and piano duet section particularly striking). Again, the City of London Sinfonia’s involvement is completely integral, combining with Simcock’s supple piano soloing to conclude what is a riveting (and no doubt exacting to perform) ‘big band’ finale.

Simple Tales
Simcock’s writing for quintet feels natural, his signature jazz piano style in Overture elaborated upon by the violin of Thomas Gould and cello of Will Schofield (the original trio concept was reworked to include bass and drums, which now provide its gentle impetus). The Theme is more introspective – lush chords plus Yuri Goloubev’s typically sensitive bass soloing; and Mr Bricolage dances both vibrantly and mischievously, the players revelling in its folksy freedom, and Martin France providing the flamboyant percussive license to ‘go for it’. The several minutes of Long Road meander in and out of ‘classical’ and ‘jazz’ piano trio formats (at times, perhaps a strange marriage) until, finally – this time in dedication to Simcock’s mother and her love of Celtic folk music – Dance! (for Ann) skips and pirouettes brightly (plucked strings reminiscent of Ravel or Britten, and Thomas Gould’s showy fiddle à la Mussorgsky), the five-piece seeming at its most balanced here – a joyous conclusion.

Released in the UK on 7 April 2014 by ACT Music.

Gwilym Simcock
City of London Sinfonia conducted by Clark Rundell
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Martin France drums
John Parricelli guitar
Thomas Gould violin
Will Schofield cello


ACT Music – 9564-2 (2014)

‘Sails Set’ – Mats Eilertsen Trio


HIS FOURTH RELEASE for Norwegian label Hubro sees bassist Mats Eilertsen returning to trio format, with Harmen Fraanje (piano) and Thomas Strønen (drums). ‘Sails Set’ presents absorbing, wholly improvised music of understatement, intrigue and contemplation – mostly in two- or three-minute episodes – sparking the imagination with its varied sound palette and picture-painting.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Harmen Fraanje
piano  harmenfraanje.nl
Thomas Strønen drums  thomasstronen.com
Mats Eilertsen bass  matseilertsen.com

Hubro – HUBROCD2524 (2013)