‘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)

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‘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)

‘Amorandom’ – Aki Rissanen

Amorandum

DISPLAYING a distinctly oblique yet beautifully affecting jazz sensibility, Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen’s Amorandom defines ‘the piano trio’ afresh in an album which effervesces with both spontaneity and unpredictability.

Rissanen originally conceived this music, a few years ago, as a soundtrack for respected Finnish animator, Antti Peränne. Yet, in its final form – and brought to life by colleagues Antii Lötjönen (double bass) and Teppo Mäkynen (drums) – it stands in splendid isolation as an absorbing, sit-up-and-listen release full of invention, atmosphere… and startling technique. Following a distinguished progression of classical and jazz education, the pianist has steadily been developing his international career as sideman/leader (recording with the likes of Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker and Michael Gibbs); and now, this collection – described as his major international debut – confirms Nordic jazz of lucid intelligence fired by an unquenchable, crackling spirit.

From the outset, Pulsar reveals what it is that sets this trio apart – arresting, repeated piano figures (imagine Reich, Glass) and deeply-plumbed notes; relentless, skittering impetus; sudden, ‘deafening’ calm. Jangling, atonal freedom in For Rainbows becomes animated through broken piano chords and crisp bass/percussion; and Passages Pas Sages creeps icily to rapid, dull toms and expansive piano, the trio’s innate sense of intensifying exploration continually unveiling fresh expression and interest. Aleatoric grooves to Rissanen’s rich chordal depth and joyously rippling soloing (the piano detail is stunning, with Lötjönen and Mäkynen such an integral part of its make-up); and delicately ornamented étude, Signettes (studio video here), demands close attention.

A woody clarinet resonance is imaginable in the carefree, piano-octave swing of For Jimmy Giuffre – such a precise yet blithe trio performance all round. Rissanen’s growling keyboard vigour in virtuosic solo miniature Eye-Opener might equally suggest Ginastera or Gwilym Simcock, its brevity neatly leading into the dramatic swirl of Bird Vision (maybe Charlie Parker is the inspiration) which bounces off the walls with reveille-car-horn motif and jarring block-chord energy, as well as Lötjönen’s wonderfully propulsive jazz/rock-fusion bass and Mäkynen’s scintillating percussion. And, to close, title track Amorandom carries the emotive, crescendoing, piano-led yearning associated with Esbjörn Svensson – a depth of musicality which indicates that this might just be the beginning of this partnership’s long and productive journey.

The jazz piano trio format exists in many guises as an enduringly powerful, creative and emotional environment – and Rissanen, who enjoys the variety and eclecticism of all of the projects he’s involved in, humbly (and surprisingly) alludes to a mild concern that there are “too many good trios around and everything has been done before.” WAIT a minute! Put this album through a responsive sound system, and it may well become one of the finest you’ll hear this year. Outstanding.

Released on 4 March 2016, Amorandom can be purchased as CD or high quality download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Aki Rissanen piano
Antti Lötjönen double bass
Teppo Mäkynen drums

akirissanen.com

Edition Records – EDN1067 (2016)

‘The Moon and the Bonfires’ – Roberto Olzer Trio

RobertoOlzerTrio

THE ATTRACTION of the Italian jazz piano trio continues to wax both luminously and poetically – and none more so than pianist Robert Olzer and colleagues Yuri Goloubev (double bass) and Mauro Beggio (drums).

Olzer was born in northern Italy, studying piano from an early age before going on to graduate in organ, piano and jazz improvisation in Milan. His trio was founded in 2011, previously releasing acclaimed debut album Steppin’ Out in 2013. The inspiration for this latest album, curiously titled The Moon and the Bonfires, is actually drawn from a novel of the same name by Italian writer Cesare Pavese; and Olzer sees something of his own musical career path in its theme – the need to constantly broaden horizons, yet also return to and preciously hold fast to one’s roots.

Comprising a variety of originals and arrangements – including impressions of Schumann and Poulenc – this recording exudes a passion and precision which appears to be synonymous with chamber jazz from this cultural confluence (as in the output of Giovanni Guidi, Michele Di Toro, the Alboran Trio, etc.). It may be an innate classical connection, cultivating the sublimity and deftness of touch associated with the music of, say, Locatelli or Albinoni; but somehow Olzer, Goloubev and Beggio suspend time with their magical partnership, either in intense rhythmic fervour or through exquisite, tenuto pools of quiet.

In all honesty, these eleven tracks have called me back so often, each encounter glinting a little differently; and, presided over by Stefano Amerio at the lauded Artesuono studios, the album’s clarity is assured. From the yearning yet mobile delicacy of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Bibo no Aozora (introduced by the open, romantic lyricism of Olzer’s piano solo, La bella estate) to Enrico Pieranunzi’s pressing Seaward, there is indubitable balance. The tender Andante from Poulenc’s Piano Concerto is re-imagined in the trio’s Adagio (from Piano Concerto), Goloubev’s characteristically-voiced arco lines serenely reflecting Olzer’s fragile water droplets; and the depth of the bassist’s lachrymose Little Requiem echoes Beethoven and hints at Tord Gustavsen, whilst his pizzicato extemporisations ensure a certain brightness.

Victor Young’s Beautiful Love (yes, that may trigger thoughts of Bing Crosby) is whisked away, almost unrecognisably, into a realm uplifted by Mauro Beggio’s delightful perpetuum mobile accuracy; and Robert Schumann’s emotional ‘lied’, Ich will meine Seele tauchen, is similarly disguised, but within a purposeful, contemporary waltz. It’s the subtleties which speak volumes throughout this session, title track La luna e i falo full of contrasts as Olzer’s lucidly rippling ostinati come up against fiery block chords and a solid percussive display; and Chris Collins’ fabulously-titled Gaelic romp, Muirruhgachs, Mermaids, and Mami Wata is unexpectedly calmed by Sting’s Wrapped Around Your Finger before its jaunty piano-and-bass reel is slammed with the full force of Beggio’s batteria – such joy! Completing the sequence, Goloubev paints watercolour images in Le Vieux Charme, and Olzer’s Chàrisma leaps energetically to his vigorously ornamented display.

Packaged within appealingly minimal cover art, The Moon and the Bonfires burns increasingly brightly in my estimation.

Available from record label Atelier Sawano and also Yuri Goloubev’s website.

 

Roberto Olzer piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Mauro Beggio drums

robertoolzer.com
yurigoloubev.com
maurobeggio.com

Atelier Sawano – AS147 (2015)

‘Treehouse’ – Tom Hewson Trio

Treehouse

A TRIO ALBUM with a difference, this has been swirling around in my head for some time now, captivating me with its cerebral and emotional effect on the senses.

The lofty soundscapes of the Tom Hewson Trio’s debut release, Treehouse – with magical combined timbres of piano, vibraphone and double bass – might evoke white-streamed morning mists and glistening, eddying streams, or equally possess a swinging, quicksilver sprightliness to raise an involuntary smile. It’s certainly an album of precise yet often fearless chamber jazz which demands close attention to its shifting complexities and frequent coruscations of beauty.

Described by one of Tom Hewson’s musical heroes – the late, respected John Taylor – as a pianist and “sublime composer” with a “ravishing and daring” style, he cites key musical discoveries which have helped shape his personality and career. As well as Taylor, these include the music of Ravel, Debussy, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell… and such influences become remarkably apparent across this album of ten originals. Hewson’s colleagues, since the trio’s inception in 2010, are Lewis Wright (vibes) and Calum Gourlay (double bass).

This project’s unwavering appeal is due in part to the mercurial weave of textures that is possible between the players, suggesting in the first few minutes of opening track Sparticle that any augmentation, especially percussion, might hinder this perfect synergy. Flowing French impressionism here melds easily with bold, syncopated rhythm; and sprightly solo piano passages become organically infused with gently dancing bass and the sustained chimes of vibraphone.

The democratic outlook of the trio is another important factor – title track Treehouse, for example, allowing Hewson to become rhythm maker beneath Wright’s glowing improvisations; rockin’-in-rhythm Glitch is predominantly a lively, Oscar Peterson-like piano-and-bass feature until previously subtle vibes flamboyantly (Gary Burton-style) steal the show; and, in contrast, Silver Strands and Gelsomina are both sensitively crafted, raindrop-splashed watercolours, their luscious harmonies possessing paradoxical contentment and melancholy.

Interspersing the main features are three solo improvisations from each instrumentalist, offering a window on their raw creativity and the overtones and resonances achievable; Gourlay’s harmonic arco bass exploration, sans effects, is particularly intriguing. Maybe suggesting the livelier side of Bill Evans, Not Relevant‘s bright swing is characterised by oscillating vibes and piano riffs, opening the door for clean-cut piano extemporisations as well as twinkling moments of repose. And Beanie’s Bounce (shades of Bouncing with Bud?) serves as a fabulous curtain call, its crackling verve showcasing each player’s physical and creative dexterity, with Hewson’s audacious, bluesy piano solo spot a standout.

You won’t often hear a jazz landscape as simultaneously sincere, eloquent and lucent as this, nor one which throws out shooting-star surprises each time it’s played. A rare and focused treasure from an adventurous British trio.

Treehouse is available directly from CAM JAZZ Presents, online and record store retailers, and also iTunes.

 

Tom Hewson piano
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Calum Gourlay bass

tomhewson.com

CAM JAZZ Presents (KEPACH Music) – CAMJ 3316-2 (2015)

‘Never Ending January’ – Espen Eriksen Trio

EspenEriksen

THE STEADFAST appeal of the jazz piano trio format continues with this limpid jewel from Norway. Following two previous releases (You Had Me At GoodbyeWhat Took You So Long) and led melodiously by pianist Espen Eriksen – with colleagues Lars Tormod Jenset (bass) and Andreas Bye (drums) – Never Ending January appears to find its lofty inspiration in misty, enforested, fjordal panoramas. And whilst that Scandinavian impression may be somewhat clichéd, this trio’s approach is, indeed, particularly elemental and spacial.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Espen Eriksen piano
Lars Tormod Jenset double bass
Andreas Bye drums

espeneriksentrio.com

Rune Grammofon – RCD 2173 (2015)

‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time

MST_300

THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.

 

Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ

moonlightsavingtime.co.uk

MSTCD002 (2015)