‘Can of Worms’ – George Crowley

CanOfWorms

Y’SEE WHAT ‘APPENS when y’open a Can of Worms?!…

Overflowing with writhing, jostling spontaneity, but with sufficient compositional structure to keep a lid on things, London-based saxophonist George Crowley’s new two-tenor quintet recording is a veritable powerhouse of creativity. His debut release, Paper Universe (Whirlwind, 2011), remains long in the memory as a jazz quartet recording of mature, unfettered exploration. Now, together with sparring tenor partner, the ever-chipper Tom Challenger, he constructs the formidable and foreceful front line of an energetic five-piece completed by Dan Nicholls (piano/Wurlitzer), Sam Lasserson (double bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Crowley reveals that this band came into being for the purposes of a 2013 live gig, leading to the desire to develop and document the project’s clear success in a studio album – a shrewd and worthwhile decision, given the resulting sense of excitement, anarchy and strong musicality on show here. As composer of all seven substantial pieces, the leader never settles for the obvious, nor any half measures – he and his colleagues go all out for unwavering improvisation whilst recognising the strength of tight ensemble playing. And it’s fabulously earthy, ‘unputdownable’ stuff.

The Opener‘s agitated ten-minute expanse bristles to Jon Scott’s trademark clattering-yet-incisive drum rhythms, bolstered by Sam Lasserson’s babbling bass and Dan Nicholls’ typically brash, animated piano; and in amongst all this, tenorists Crowley and Challenger (one in each ear!) breathlessly duel it out – the combination of the written and the abstract quite thrilling. Nicholls’ uneasy ‘music box’ Wurlitzer announces Whirl, a broad, impudent affair featuring Challenger’s gruffness and Crowley’s screeching – yet the precise framework is always apparent.

Ubiquitous Up Tune in 3, with tricksily-timed sax riffs, is certainly ‘up’, and it’s a tribute to the directness of the engineering/mixing that its raw, live feel translates so well into recorded sound. The jarring major/minor blues of Rum Paunch is a joy, the two tenors either in unison (or thereabouts) or otherwise taunting each other, whilst Nicholls’ sneering, rippling piano almost encourages them in their outrageous discord.

Hard-swinging but nevertheless anarchic I’m Not Here To Reinvent The Wheel rolls deliciously to Lasserson and Scott’s fast pace, the reedsmen clearly revelling in its abandon (confirmed by the group cackles that follow its abrupt finish!). Terminal shuffles mysteriously to Scott’s intricacy at the kit and Nicholls’ magnificent Wurlitzer weavings, Lasserson’s relentless bass underpinning the broadness of the tenors’ extemporisations – such a glorious (and at times, cheeky) sound world; and, to close, T-Leaf rumbles particularly freely, though the fractured improvisations finally come together in absolute unanimity… lid well and truly sealed!

A triumph for George Crowley and his team. Released on 23 March 2015, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found at Whirlwind.

 

George Crowley tenor saxophone
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone
Dan Nicholls piano/Wurlitzer
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jon Scott drums

georgecrowleymusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4666 (2015)

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‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Skyline’ – Tom Green Septet

Skyline

THE GRACEFULNESS of the cover art speaks volumes about the creative balance that shines out from Skyline, the debut septet recording from Cambridge-born trombonist Tom Green – a collection of expansive new compositions coloured by ever-changing hues, light and shade, allowing each of his players considerable freedom in improvisation.

The robust four-horn line-up of Green, Sam Miles (tenor), James Davison (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Matthew Herd (alto/soprano) offers impressive big band dynamism and breadth, yet also a supple luminosity which breathes life into the trombonist’s seven originals, plus one arrangement of a much-loved standard. Still in his 20s, Tom Green’s credentials are indubitable – the Royal Academy’s first postgraduate trombonist, winner of the 2013 Dankworth Composition Prize (leading Dame Cleo to declare his work as “some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time”) as well as a 2014 Help Musicians UK ‘Emerging Excellence’ award winner. And his mercurial brass dexterity is a delight, ranging from blistering riffs to svelte tonal lyricism.

Initial impressions are of crisp arrangements and sharp execution, typified by the opener, Sticks and Stones. It’s brisk and propulsive, with layers of textures and ideas over which Green and James Davison solo brightly; and gear changes throughout this album (such as the brief trombone and piano contrapuntalism here) add greatly to a sense of variety, not unlike the fluctuations of light on a plain caused by fast-moving cumulonimbus. The dilatory drawl of a Deep South-suggested horn preamble to thirteen-minute Equilibrium opens into an addictive bossa of moody twists and turns, bejewelled with Sam James’ precise piano expression – and then, all at once, it gleams to lush arrangements and, also, cacophonous scribbles which Green glides through with proverbial swan-like ease.

Arctic Sun swings delicately to the rhythm of bassist Mullov-Abbado and drummer Chapman, building towards elaborate, soaring soprano from Matthew Herd (a saxman who always displays a real penchant for pushing the envelope). There are shades of contemporary pop ballad in the memorable phrases of Peace of Mind, Green fluent in his extemporisations; and easy-going Mirage prompts fine soloing amongst the exacting full horn scoring.

Hoagy Carmichael’s perennial favourite, Skylark, is both chirpy and breezy in Green’s hands, though perhaps loses a little of the charm of mellower renditions; and Winter Halo might easily conjure luminescent landscapes and vacillating murmurations (startling rapidity of soprano bird calls from Herd!), including another of those delectable duo interludes – Sam Miles’ rich tenor against pellucid bass. DIY is an irresistible closer, pictorialising the brash, processional jazz of New Orleans and encouraging overlapping showy solos from all quarters, as well as more examples of the leader’s flair for snappy, complex arrangements (no doubt a crowd pleaser on their recent launch tour).

As a jazz release, this displays so many hallmarks of a classic, seasoned ensemble. As an ambitious debut from a young, close-knit septet, it’s a striking first statement with great potential for future development. And, above all… such an upbeat listen!

Released on 2 February 2015, Skyline can be purchased directly from Spark or Tom Green’s website.

 

Tom Green trombone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Davison trumpet and flugelhorn
Matthew Herd alto and soprano saxophones
Sam James piano
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums

Illustration/artwork by Tom Barley

tomgreenmusic.com

Spark Label – Spark 001 (2015)

‘Too Much Love’ – Euan Burton

too-much-love

A STRONG SENSE of yearning and heart-on-sleeve emotion, imbued with the plaintiveness of traditional folksong, are the predominant characteristics flowing from this appealing new jazz quartet release by Scottish composer and bassist Euan Burton. Indeed, Burton’s album title, Too Much Love, reflects a concept built around the idea of people’s mistakes arising from “misplaced love or having so much love that they don’t know how to deal with it and channel it properly.” 

The sequence of seven self-penned numbers seems to suggest thematic progression (not unlike the bassist’s 2012 album, Occurrences), offering the impression of storytelling throughout its engaging thirty-five minutes; and the empathetic response to his writing – by turns homey and exhilarating – is delivered by longstanding Glaswegian compatriots Adam Jackson (alto sax), Tom Gibbs (piano) and Alyn Cosker (drums and cymbals). Euan Burton’s creative identity is his distinctive fusion of through-composition and a trust in individual improvisation – this is no straight saxophone-led foursome banging out my-turn-next riffs to a predictable formula, but rather a close ensemble who appear to spark off each other, in the moment, to bring immediacy and freshness to melodies which remain wholly accessible.

Two opening tracks perfectly illustrate Burton’s approach: Prelude – a wistful, open weave of tunes effortlessly shared and developed between the players; and This World – a delightfully buoyant folksy creation (perhaps it’s the honest, fluid alto sax of Jackson that intimates the pastoral hallmarks of 20th Century British clarinet concerti). Pianist Tom Gibbs appears to be one of Scottish jazz’s best-kept secrets (his own Fear of Flying album, with Euan Burton as bassist, is a particularly memorable release from 2012), and here, in Burton’s quartet, his adaptable creative presence is very much in evidence. The romantic breadth of Rhapsody finds him switching, midway, from grandiose chordal embellishment to a compulsively perky groove propelled by Burton’s bass and the assertive intricacies of Alyn Cosker’s drums and cymbals (at nine minutes, clearly a performance that revels in its breathing space).

Subtle contentment in All That Is Left (with a melody so clear, it could easily be sung to words) is exemplified by the lyricism of Jackson’s alto which eloquently shapes every phrase over the sustained rubato of Gibbs’ piano, with bass and drums in delicate support. Krakow is embraced joyously, Gibbs flamboyantly breaking free in characteristic piano style as Jackson grittily contributes to its countryfied ebullience; and Fading Memories, the most freely improvised-sounding piece on the album, reveals much about these players’ interaction as Cosker’s persistent percussive pulse encourages extemporisation out of Jackson’s bluesy riff – a tantalising glimpse, perhaps, of how they can push and extend the thread of an idea outwards in a live setting. To close, title track Too Much Love briefly reprises the longing of earlier numbers before celebrating more profusely the quartet’s undoubted connection with this music, Jackson and Gibbs finally resting the theme with charming Scottish folksong simplicity.

Released on Whirlwind Recordings, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found here.

 

Euan Burton bass
Adam Jackson alto saxophone
Tom Gibbs piano
Alyn Cosker drums and cymbals

euanburton.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4662 (2014)

‘Celebrate’ – The Grip

TheGrip

The concept of the acoustic, chordless jazz ensemble is very much flourishing with the likes of Brass Mask and Trio Riot – and there’s no denying that the stripped-back immediacy of such instrumentation can be pretty compelling. So, putting respected musicians Finn Peters (alto sax and flute), Oren Marshall (tuba) and Tom Skinner (drums) together in the recording studio for a single day, following a number of successful live dates, perhaps unsurprisingly results in this strong, exuberant debut release, Celebrate.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News

 

Finn Peters alto saxophone & flute
Oren Marshall tuba
Tom Skinner drums

Slowfoot Records – SLOLP024 (2014)

‘Blowin’ That Old Tin Can’ – Robbie Harvey

RobbieHarvey

A SPLENDIDLY straight-down-the middle album from trombonist Robbie HarveyBlowin’ That Old Tin Can celebrates the less-frequent jazz leadership of a particularly lyrical and exciting instrument. With an impressive background – including tutelage by Denis Wick and lead trombonist with NYJO, as well as numerous international awards and high-profile big band appearances – Ronnie Scott’s regular Harvey now releases this fine debut recording. Joining him on an eight-track outing of standards and originals is the wonderfully buoyant team of Alex Garnett (tenor sax), Leon Greening (piano), Tom Farmer or Giorgos Antoniou (double bass), and Steve Brown (drums).

Read the full review at LondonJazz News

 

Robbie Harvey trombone
Alex Garnett tenor sax
Leon Greening piano
Tom Farmer bass (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Giorgos Antoniou bass (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4,7)
Steve Brown drums

Diving Duck Recordings (DDRCD020) – 2014

‘Step Wide, Step Deep’ – Alexander Hawkins Ensemble

AlexHawkinsEns

RELEASED SIMULTANEOUSLY with solo piano offering Song Singular (reviewed here), this absorbing album from the Alexander Hawkins Ensemble stops at nothing to deliver both compositional and free jazz which may challenge, astonish and/or delight. The sextet, led by pianist Alexander Hawkins, comprises Otto Fischer on electric guitar, Shabaka Hutchings on reeds, violinist Dylan Bates, double bassist Neil Charles and, on drums and percussion, Tom Skinner.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Alexander Hawkins
piano
Otto Fischer electric guitar
Shabaka Hutchings clarinet, bass clarinet
Dylan Bates violin
Neil Charles double bass
Tom Skinner drums, percussion

Babel Label – BDV13124 (2014)