REVIEW: ‘Trio’ – Felix Jay (3CD)

FOLLOWING the singular creative path of Felix Jay has been illuminating, and proves how limitless our discoveries can be. A varied career has seen the multi-instrumentalist collaborate with artists including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, working for NME and striking a friendship with Brian Eno, while his recording acquaintance with jazz trumpeter Byron Wallen is long-standing.

Trio isn’t a ‘jazz piano trio’ recording, as one might surmise, but a three-album work of sessions which cover a double decade, from 1999 to 2019 – two featuring Wallen and guitarist Rob Luft – and much of it recorded at his music room on the River Eye, in the serene rurality of the Cotswolds. It seems Jay has always preferred improvisational collages, yet his music is generally accessible and certainly increasingly absorbing. Personnel details and instrumentation for each album are listed further below.

Riverseyeside Recordings weaves a sinuous route, Calabash and Song for Ch(arli)e featuring muted trumpet (echoes of Miles) over rivulets of Fender Rhodes and wavering, phased electric guitar; and its Jay’s marimba and other percussion which provides mysterious depth in Bush of mists. Electronics are effective in pieces such as Sacred flutes, creating a breathy ostinato for bass clarinet to crawl through; and Shisya’s joyful conversation between scampering guitar runs, bass flute and a clapping rhythm is attractive (one of Jay’s earlier recordings, Cardamom & Coriander, demonstrates his skill with fluttering, harmonic bass flute). Fils de fils de Kilimanjaro taps into Luft’s affection for an African vibe; grooving Where’s Jack? feels like it could run and run; and expansive Must it be? It must be! views the afterglow with steel guitar shooting star trails soaring above delicate soprano sax melodies.

Jay’s connection to Indonesian ensemble music features strongly in second album, Jazz Gamelan, which is mostly his three-way dialogue with Wallen and Luft. In a slendro way quietly chimes, perhaps in reverence to Joe Zawinul; and there are delightfully mesmeric tuned percussion solo episodes such as Jasmine and Kempulus. This hour’s sequence genuinely feels like an exploration in and out of different rooms, the prepared piano and clarinet of Samburan more akin to classical chamber music, then countered by softly bass-funked, trumpet-improvised On what corner? Luft’s sitar impressions against hammered gamelan tones in Ripples (1 & 2) are inspired; and exotic, guiro-scratched Lull leads into another meditative space – In a suling way – becalmed by high, Southeast Asian-suggested soprano recorder.

Third album, Prepared/Unprepared, is a thread of Jay’s spontaneous improvisations at a prepared electric grand piano. Arguably more challenging to take in, these extended experiments seem to combine pianistic and percussive ideas, though maybe the solidity of an acoustic instrument would be more sympathetic.

For an alternative, tributary experience of predominantly improvised music, I recommend pursuing this unique collection (especially for the first and second albums) which reveals new textures every time. It was the enthusiasm of Rob Luft which prompted Jay to resurrect and complete these archive recordings, and it’s right that they have now found the light of day and are also entirely relevant to the current jazz/improvised scene. 

Recently-released Trio isn’t available through the usual channels (burningshed.com is yet to make it available). But it is on sale, directly from Felix Jay, at ebay.

 

RIVEREYESIDE RECORDINGS
Felix Jay all percussion, basses, Rhodes, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet, ngoni
Nicola Alesini bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole pedal steel guitars

JAZZ GAMELAN
Felix Jay all percussion, bass, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet
Jan Steele clarinet, soprano recorder

PREPARED/UNPREPARED
Felix Jay prepared Kawai electric grand piano

Hermetic Recordings – HERM 7, 8 & 9 (2019)

RECENT LISTENING: April 2020 (2)

Steal the Light – Let Spin
Moss Freed, Ruth Goller, Finlay Panter, Chris Williams
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Efpi Records)
letspin.bandcamp.com

Life is the Dancer – Rob Luft
Rob Luft, Joe Wright, Joe Webb, Tom McCredie, Corrie Dick with Byron Wallen, Luna Cohen
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Edition Records)
robluft.bandcamp.com

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne Quartet
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
martinpyne.bandcamp.com

Two Chevrons Apart – Yuri Goloubev
Tim Garland, John Turville, Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Basho Records)
bashorecords.com

Neutral Tones – Beresford Harries
Charlie Beresford, Tim Harries
Release date: 15 April 2020 (The 52nd)
the52nd.bandcamp.com

Trio (3CD) – Felix Jay
Felix Jay, Rob Luft, Byron Wallen, Nicola Alesini, Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole, Jan Steele
Recorded 1999–2019 (Hermetic Recordings)
burningshed.com (TBC) and ebay.co.uk

REVIEW: ‘First Flight’ – Trialogue

Trialogue_300px

A NEUROSCIENTIST, a physicist and a biologist walk into a studio – and the outcome is a pretty tasty account of what they’ve been working on to achieve debut release First Flight. Dankworth Prize-winning composer Chris McMurran (piano), Arvin Vaghela (double bass) and Alexander Blackwell (drums) lift their trio recording off the runway with seven originals and an interpretation of a popular standard, fronted by original cover art which appears to nod to the mathematical graphic genius of M C Escher.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 29 April 2018 and available as CD or digital download at Spark Label.

 

Chris McMurran piano
Arvin Vaghela double bass
Alexander Blackwell drums

trialoguetrio.com

Spark Label – SPARK005 (2018)

REVIEW: ‘e.s.t. live in London’ – Esbjörn Svensson Trio (2CD)

e.s.t. live in london_300dpi

FOR MANY, E.S.T. (the Esbjörn Svensson Trio) were a truly seminal force in music. Translating the relative simplicity of a piano trio into an outfit which could energize the pulse or melt the heart with dewdrop tenderness, they spawned and influenced a generation of bands which followed.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 11 May 2018 and available from ACT, Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Esbjörn Svensson piano
Dan Berglund double bass
Magnus Öström drums

est-music.com

ACT Music – ACT 9042-2 (2018)

‘The Chamber Music Effect’ – Vein

GIVEN THE proliferation of jazz piano trios out there, there’s something remarkably open and inviting about Vein’s ‘chamber music effect’.

Pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns have been around a while – after just over a decade together, this is the Swiss trio’s tenth album; and with a cover lobe reminiscent of Manfred Mann’s ‘The Roaring Silence’, The Chamber Music Effect is very much about audible space – ‘the gaps in-between’ – as well as the sheer, percussive dynamism of their performance. The album title and ethos stem from their classical training, as well as the freedom of interpretation to be found in chamber works, which reflects the band’s philosophy: “interplay and the greatest possible equality for all members”.

Comparisons might well include The Bad Plus and Get the Blessing – it’s that kind of edgy, purposeful and unpredictable approach. But the enduring wonder of this stripped-down, no-hiding-place format is that each has its own identity – and Vein are no exception.

The writing of eight original compositions, across 48 minutes, is mainly provided by each of the Arbenz twins – and it’s a tour de force, both technically and emotionally. Boarding the Beat‘s impetuous groove is characterised by the falling-semitone figure of Thomas Lähns’ double bass (shades of Dan Berglund), the crashing, rapid-fire piano of Michael Arbenz, and Florian Arbenz’s fizzing percussion – straightaway, the democratic method is evident. Prelude suggests a subtle, searching air of ‘Bouncing with Bud’, its intimate swing buoyed throughout by pliant bass; and Poème de Nuit‘s slow, nighttime wanderings, delicately illuminated with chimes, offers a beguiling calm.

But Vein are capricious. In Medias Res‘s crackling chromaticism is a compelling listen, contrasting attitudinal stomp with florid, breathtaking piano runs; and Ode to the Sentimental Knowledge‘s sumptuous, chordal beauty intimates Bill Evans, though with pervasive, contemporary colour from Florian Arbenz’s kit. Quirky udu timbres announce Sheherezade – a punctuated groove which combines the lively rapport between Florian Arbenz and Thomas Lähns with incisive, bluesy piano lines; and curious arco bass harmonics are a feature of Lähns’ spacious, mysteriously rippling Pastorale.

Who knows whether Michael Arbenz’s attractive piano in this video of snappy closer, Ballet of the Monkeys, is simply a piece of ‘steam punk’ theatre or the real deal – but it provides a great snapshot of this band’s bracing energy.

Released on 21 April 2017, The Chamber Music Effect is available from Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Michael Arbenz piano
Thomas Lähns double bass
Florian Arbenz drums

vein.ch

UTR 4716 (2017)

‘Klangspuren’ – Michael Wollny Trio in concert (CD + DVD)

Klangspuren

A GLORIOUS opportunity to experience – both audibly and visually – the sparky, voltaic intensity of pianist Michael Wollny’s current trio, limited CD + DVD collectors’ edition Klangspuren (sound/feel) captures the excitement of two enthralling concerts from Hamburg and Leverkusen.

Described by ACT Music founder Siggi Loch as a long-standing “creative pillar” of the label (especially in the wake of the tragic, untimely death of Esbjörn Svensson), Michael Wollny has steadily grown in stature as a particularly intelligent musician. The extraordinary breadth of his original Weltentraum album, for example, was cleverly themed around the words or music of song/’lied’; and his pianistic approach is equally diverse, balancing heavy, tumultuous attack with dark, nocturnal serenity and suspension. Taking material chiefly from the Weltentraum and Nachtfahrten studio albums of 2014 and 2015 respectively – and with DVD footage capturing the kind of verve found in 2014’s Weltentraum Live CD – Wollny and his colleagues Christian Weber (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) deliver typically seductive atmospheres which are a joy to be drawn into.

As well as an accomplished composer, Wollny is historically a master arranger – and opening this recorded Hamburg set on CD, he elevates Angelo Badalamenti’s Questions in a World of Blue (from Twin Peaks, originally sung by Julee Cruise) into achingly measured, Bachian loftiness, complemented by Schaefer’s re-working of Guillaume de Machaut’s 14thC motet De Desconfort before the trio unfurl their percussive wings in his own Motette No.1 – and any similarities between Wollny and Svensson in those velocitious, high-end piano improvisations are both exciting and strangely comforting, as if the baton has been naturally passed down. But here is a contemporary jazz beacon with his own, strong pianistic and compositional identity, the melodic pop-catchiness of his When the Sleeper Wakes erupting magnificently to the trio’s combined clamour, double-time snaps and often unpredictable progression.

Rising out of a lugubrious, solidly-beaten death march, Nachtfahrten‘s sustained, intensifying weightiness can be quite affecting, eventually suggesting arrival at the brilliance of a morning sunrise; Schaefer’s Arséne Somnambule perpetuates the nocturnal theme, its panicky central perambulations imagining a sleepwalk to quickly erase from memory; and the vibrant interplay in such storytelling remains consistently engaging. White Moon (from the pen of one of the pianist’s early teachers, Chris Beier) is appropriately delicate as it shimmers to internal strings and muted percussion/bass, whilst Wollny’s arrangement of Alban Berg’s Nacht – with pleasing, jarring motifs which are instantly recognisable from the Weltentraum releases – is thrillingly executed by this thunderous, three-piece wall of sound; and the restrained beauty of seven-minute original, Der Wanderer – with a Mussorgsky-like solidity in places – might dispel any traditional preconception of the jazz piano trio format (a composition to lose oneself in).

The accompanying live DVD opens a window on the detail and passion of Wollny and his trio. Multi-angled, and allowing an intimate, over-the-shoulder view of Wollny’s technique, it also highlights the trio’s rapport. At the ferocious peak of numbers such as Phlegma Fighter and When the Sleeper Wakes, the pianist’s artistic bravura is mesmerising to witness, his most extreme flamboyance sometimes sacrificing accuracy for dynamic effect (wonderful to see); yet, the contrasting limpidity of Lasse! and delightful Little People, with the satisfaction of scrutinising all three instrumentalists’ individual subtleties, is just as rewarding.

Klangspuren is available from ACT Music – and ‘limited’ edition may well be pretty accurate. So don’t miss this feast for ears and eyes.

 

Michael Wollny piano
Christian Weber bass
Eric Schaefer drums

michaelwollny.com

ACT Music – ACT 6019-2 (2016)