‘Vein plays Ravel’ – Vein

Vein plays Ravel

IF EVER there was a jazz piano trio album whose informed, creative invention deserved the proposition “just buy it”… well, Vein plays Ravel is most certainly a contender.

After more than a decade together, the partnership of pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns has spawned numerous recordings; and the Swiss trio’s recent release of originals (The Chamber Music Effect) beautifully reflects the freedom of interpretation to be found in classical chamber works. To approach the output of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) might, then, be seen as a natural progression; though also an audacious step, as it’s a sound world brimming with much-loved melodies and impressionistic piano and orchestral textures. However, Ravel famously listened to early-20th Century jazz (meeting George Gershwin in the States) and embraced it in his writing… so there’s a sense here that, if any of the historical composers were to sit on Vein’s collective shoulders, the Frenchman might well have collaborated with the greatest enthusiasm.

Importantly, the trio are way beyond any idea of simply retouching Ravelian manuscripts with a superficial swing or a cheery, ornamented solo line – on the contrary, it’s their depth of thought which is so compelling, understanding how to substantially deconstruct then sensitively reshape this glorious music without it becoming grotesque. Seemingly a labour of love – and what a triumph!

The recognisably babbling piano Prélude to Le Tombeau de Couperin organically integrates perpetuum-mobile bass and drums, drifting in and out of its formal structure with contemporary abandon, yet always faithful to the romanticism of Ravel. Forlane‘s original 6/8 dance is initially stated with exquisite fluidity before being decorated with fine percussion and lithe bass expressions; and there’s a magical, almost levitational intricacy to the opening of Toccata – the last of Vein’s three interpretations from this six-movement work – and the most dynamic, syncopated transformation, complete with rapid piano-and-bass figures and flamboyant drumming.

Entitled Blues by Ravel himself, the already impudent-sounding middle movement of his second Violin Sonata is the perfect vehicle for Vein’s mysterious, tango-like searching as Lähns’ arco octaves toy vocally with their suspicious accompaniment, whilst similarly playful Five o’Clock Foxtrot (from opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges) is magnificently refashioned as an episodic arrangement full of cat-and-mouse chase, elegant piano sorcery and rock-heavy riffs. Guest saxophonist Andy Sheppard joins the trio to reimagine Movement de Menuet (originally a piano sonatina) in a contemporary jazz setting of undulating tenor-led improvisation; and at first disguised within the charming, musical-box softness of Michael Arbenz’s prepared piano, the familiar motifs of Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte evolve into one of the most limpid, even emotional interpretations imaginable (replay it many times to luxuriate in its otherworldliness).

At the centrepiece of this project is, arguably, Ravel’s most familiar work – the repetitive orchestral progression, Bolero. Though sometimes derided, this is a unique masterpiece of crescendoing orchestral arrangement – and Vein’s octet interpretation (augmented by Sheppard and a quartet of reed and brass players) is extraordinarily imaginative. The constant snare drum motif of the original is cleverly expanded upon by Florian Arbenz, somehow managing to maintain its building momentum through elaborate rhythms whilst lush, rising, almost Zawinul-like harmonies and exuberant improvisations are underpinned by morse-code piano ostinati. Initially quite a jolt to the senses – ultimately an absolute tour de force.

The title Vein plays Ravel doesn’t begin to describe the detailing and the brilliance of this project – and it wouldn’t be surprising if Maurice is right there, in the midst.

Released on 8 September 2017 and available from vein-plays-ravel.com, as well as Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Michael Arbenz piano
Thomas Lähns bass
Florian Arbenz drums
featuring
Andy Sheppard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
(on Bolero and Mouvement de Menuet)
and
Martial In Al-bon trumpet, flugelhorn
Florian Weiss trombone
Nils Fischer soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Noah Arnold alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
(on Bolero)

vein.ch

Challenge Records – DMCHR 71179 (2017)

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‘Pond Life’ – Big Bad Wolf

A DEBUT RELEASE whose fresh, invigorating sounds stem from an intriguing co-compositional method, Big Bad Wolf’s Pond Life is an instrumental/vocal delight.

The direction taken by trombonist Owen Dawson, guitarist Rob Luft, electric bassist Michael De Souza and drummer Jay Davis begins with recorded, open-ended group improvisation. On playback, ideas born out of these free expressions are then developed, structured and honed with fine attention to detail, resulting in music which radiates an experimental free-spiritedness combined with intelligent musicality. This young band’s many, collective influences include Nirvana, Radiohead, The Invisible, Björk and Django Bates, so their creations naturally weave together diverse strands of rock, pop and jazz, occasionally integrating refined, layered vocals and synthesizer traces redolent of ’70s progressive rock and the Canterbury scene.

Melodically and texturally, this blissful music coruscates to an enticing pairing of trombone and guitar; and the democratic creativity of the quartet (who studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music) is key to their mission of ‘forging an individual, contemporary sound whilst still honouring the improvisational element of the jazz tradition’. Indeed, Owen Dawson’s cool, breezy trombone lines in Canary immediately intimate Groove Armada, as Rob Luft’s classical guitar delicacy implies the Anthony Phillips era of Genesis; but there’s also a gritty edge to the band’s output (Michael De Souza’s six-string bass a key element), with overdriven guitar and vocal lines perhaps suggesting Everything Everything. Flats in Dagenham‘s sleek, summery trombone promenade is interspersed with crackling guitar-and-bass motifs and anthemic choruses, heralding joyously mellow, sustained electric guitar improv. It seems the band’s initial pooling and sequencing of ideas are key to these unpredictable, episodic progressions which feature adroit, sometimes head-scratching instrumental combinations.

Luft’s stylistic range colours each of these eight pieces quite differently, his rock riffs in Frog underpinning its brassy, cinematic pride, whilst Dawson’s radiophonic, wailing trombone is carried by a mind-boggling swathe of pulsating guitars and tricky, percussive rhythms. In repose, this quartet is just as appealing – Quiet Coach‘s charm defined by dreamy, almost nursery-rhyme guitar, blithe trombone melodies and soft vocal harmonies. But a swift gear-change is never far away, with Hopkins’ Choice rippling to ska-like fervency; both Grassfish and title track Pond Life recalling prog’s flightiness (the latter complete with Pink Floyd ‘Welcome to the Machine’ synth detail); and closing track The Plight of the Typewriter capturing the supreme balance these players achieve as its sublime serenity evolves into majestic funk.

Pond Life might well be approached from an ‘ambient’ perspective; a feel-good, windows-down cruiser. Yet it offers so much more in terms of well-crafted new sounds informed by and excitingly recalling the legacy of music’s previous decades. That surely is a successful basis for any band – and hopefully this gem might be the first of many from Big Bad Wolf.

Released on 16 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Pond Life, live at Sofar London.

 

Owen Dawson trombone
Rob Luft guitars
Michael De Souza six-string electric bass (Bass VI)
Jay Davis drums

bigbadwolf.london

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Killpartrick
Financially supported by Help Musicians UK (Peter Whittingham Award)

Self-Released (2017)

‘Strata’ – Graham Costello’s Strata

GrahamCostello

SCOTLAND is currently producing some vital, fresh expressions in jazz. Standing solidly amongst them is Glasgow-based drummer/composer Graham Costello – a first-class graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and his sextet, Strata.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 15 June 2017 and available digitally from Bandcamp.

Videos: _’88, _’60.

 

Scott Murphy tenor sax
Liam Shortall trombone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Joe Williamson guitar
Euan Taylor electric bass
Graham Costello drums, compositions

grahamcostello.com

Self-released (2017)

‘Live’ – Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra

TomHaines_live

COMPOSER, conductor and drummer Tom Haines’ live recording with The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra confirms just how adaptable, relevant and imaginative this large-scale jazz format continues to be.

The West Midlands is significant in nurturing some remarkable musicians, highlighted recently by solo albums from two members of this 17-strong ensemble, Jonathan Silk and Ben Lee; and the line-up’s emerging talent – captured at a scintillating 2016 performance celebrating 30 years of Stratford Jazz – also includes saxophonists Vittorio Mura and John Fleming, trumpeters Tom Syson and Sean Gibbs, plus trombonists Kieran McLeod and David Sear. Most of Tom Haines’ five substantial works here have garnered prizes and a commendation, either for composition or arrangement, at European competitions in recent years (Italy, Denmark, Belgium and UK) – the quicksilver energy and undulating, moody impressions conjured in this crystalline recording, with only the subtlest hint of enthused audience context, soon suggest why.

The definition of ‘big band’ versus ‘orchestra’ may be ambiguous, but Haines’ overarching approach to composition is both cohesive and prismatic, with opener Yitzoid‘s funk-infused rhythms and full arrangements (with some great, antiphonal bopping) opening the way for shapely solos from altoist Chris Young and trumpeter Sean Gibbs. At the beating heart of the edginess is a crackling rhythm section – Ben Lee (guitar), David Ferris (piano), Stuart Barker (double bass) and Jonathan Silk (drums) – heightening the dynamics, with the whole connecting so effectively. David Ferris is already proving himself to be an expressive pianist, his poetic reflections introducing thirteen-minute Mystery Dog (Mr E Dog), a snappy affair encouraging Alicia Gardener-Trejo’s wily baritone sax, Elliot Drew’s flighty soprano and wonderfully bombastic trombone from Kieran McLeod. It’s easy to be carried along on the crest of these luscious solos, but also listen out for Haines’ many details, such as swooning horn phrases and the rise and fall of closely-clustered harmonies.

Remembrance, with its personal dedication, ebbs and flows with sectional colour, as well as an openness to prompt the delicate solo artistry of guitarist Ben Lee and flugelhornist Mike Adlington; Haines’ skill in sustaining beauty and interest over ten minutes is to be applauded. The urgent vocals of Rosie Harris (with lyrics inspired by Ursula Andkjaer Olsen’s ‘The Book of the Serpent’) inform the dramatic delivery of Strange Utopia – and whether or not narrative in vocalised jazz can readily be understood, it’s nevertheless full of overdriven-guitar vibrancy. To close, Whistleblower‘s impertinent, interrupted stomp is a gem, its muted honks eliciting similar, rippling expressions from Vittorio Mura’s tenor – quite, quite irresistible!

A live album for all the right reasons – capturing the mutual electricity between orchestra and audience, with great attention to the recorded audio – Live is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, with scores/parts available from Tom Haines’ website.

 

Tom Haines composer, conductor

Elliot Drew soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Chris Young alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone, clarinet
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone, clarinet
Alicia Gardener-Trejo baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute

Tom Syson lead trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Hugh Pascall trumpet

Richard Foote trombone
Kieran McLeod trombone
David Sear trombone
Andrew Clennell bass trombone

Ben Lee guitar
David Ferris piano
Stuart Barker double bass
Jonathan Silk drums

with
Rosie Harris
vocals (on Strange Utopia)

Live recording, editing mixing and mastering by Luke Morrish-Thomas

tomhainesmusic.com

Self-released – THMCD001 (2017)

‘Live’ – Brass Mask

Brass Mask LIVE

OUTRAGEOUS… cacophonous… majestic… and totally absorbing! Bandleader and Loop Collective saxophonist Tom Challenger brings the natural, live-stage experience of this nine-piece ensemble out from under the spotlights and into our hands. 

Imagine colourful New Orleans street promenades coalescing with free jazz in an unfettered, contemporary spirit, and that might just begin to identify the simmering-yet-brazen brilliance of Brass Mask. Exuberant 2013 studio debut Spy Boy first revealed the power of this coming-together of mostly London-based talent. Now, Live combines developments of some of those joyous, smile-inducing compositions/arrangements from Challenger with new material; and one look at his experimental personnel hints at the firecrackling show in prospect – George Crowley, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, Nathaniel Cross, Theon Cross, Dan Nicholls, John Blease and Jon Scott.

Tom Challenger’s inspiration for this project stems from various online bootlegs which feature, for example, the raw energy of John Coltrane, Mardi Gras Indians and Haitian Rara bands. But this is a live album with an edge, as he and Alex Bonney sensitively link and support the recorded gig (from the capital’s Servant Jazz Quarters) with imaginatively-crafted electronics, as well as ‘field recordings’ of “mangled YouTube and iPhone samples of found sound”. And it’s a blast!

The bleating, effected horns of Francilia herald Shallow Water – a slow, stirring, processional funeral march which trudges to wailing tenors and trumpets (quite different from the dance-groove original); Lil’ Liza Jane‘s infectious, shuffling trad playfulness echoes to almost sneery horn riffs amidst the most vociferous tuba, organ and percussion; and trancelike The Bague is just as cunningly shambolic. Held-back gospel tune Indian Red feels made for such a live setting, preening itself with hard-blown brass before breaking into swingin’ double-time abandon, whilst the grungy, rasping blues of I Thank You Jesus, underpinned by Nicholls’ sustained, palpitating keys and Theon Cross’s wildly whooping tuba, demands to be heard over and over.

Nyodi‘s oscillating canvas invites a delightfully unexpected Joe Zawinul-type tuba groove (à la River People), complemented by Wayne Shorter-style tenor tumblings and, appropriately, sustained, Weather Reportian chord clusters. Rapid, madcap capers in The Merman suggest Madness on acid; and the glorious, reedy, push-pull riff of Francis P (all ten minutes or more of it, compared to the original of less than three) enjoys a frenetic phantasmagoria of organ/keys, jousting trumpets, flailing tuba and the oxymoron of an ascending electronic wind-down.

A splendid, visceral hullabaloo. Turn up the volume and immerse yourself in it. Released on 21 April 2017, Brass Mask’s Live is available as CD or digital album from Bandcamp.

 

Tom Challenger tenor sax, clarinet
George Crowley tenor sax, clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
Dan Nicholls organ, keyboards, percussion
John Blease drums, percussion
Jon Scott percussion

tom challenger.co.uk
loop collective.org

Babel Label – BDV15137 (2017)

‘The Behemoth’ – Phronesis, Julian Argüelles, Frankfurt Radio Big Band

thebehemoth

THE CAPACITY OF JAZZ to reshape, reinvent and reimagine seems extraordinarily limitless – though, naturally, it’s founded on improvisation and the creative vision to ‘think outside the box’. But, especially with long-established artists’ outputs, any deviation can bring on the nagging doubts: “Might it match up to what we know; will it be as good as the original; perhaps it shouldn’t be tinkered with?” However, the success of any such venture is dependent on the integrity of the original music and the possibilities it can offer, as well as the expertise of its interpreters.

Over the last decade, acoustic trio Phronesis have democratically forged a distinctive path through the traditional piano trio format. Six albums and innumerable sell-out international shows have cemented their reputation for breathtaking, risk-taking music; and thankfully, double bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer/percussionist Anton Eger show no sign of easing up.

For their tenth anniversary, The Behemoth celebrates the band’s back catalogue with a bold commission to arrange ten compositions for the scaled-up forces of trio and fifteen-strong big band – a project confidently placed in the hands of renowned saxophonist, composer and bandleader Julian Argüelles. A founder member of Loose Tubes, Argüelles has enjoyed a long association with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Let It Be Told being a 2015 album highlight for many), so his affinity with its players was presumably crucial in both translating and integrating with the complex energy of Phronesis. Ivo Neame has previously alluded to the malleability of the trio’s music, with no two performances the same – and its potential for even greater dynamic scope has long been evident. So what do these sixty-five minutes offer?

Well, Julian Argüelles’ arrangements skilfully capture the essence of Phronesis by filling-out those familiar, snappy rhythms (heard first, here, in OK Chorale) whilst also creating lusciously-layered horn textures and space for solo improvisation – yet the beating heart of Høiby, Neame and Eger is ever-present. Closely-clustered brass and reeds in Untitled#1 suggest a stateside city skyline aurora, subtly diminishing to reveal its integral piano, bass and drum framework – and the electric guitar extemporisations of Martin Scales are certainly a previously unimagined adornment. Comparisons with the original album tracks are worth making, the tension of Stillness enhanced with muted trumpets, bass clarinet and rasping trombones before Eger’s percussive cutlery opens it up to celebratory big-band euphoria. The Latin dance-groove of Herne Hill is similarly exuberant, with a deliciously lazy wah-wah trombone solo from Peter Feil; whilst trombonist Christian Jaksø features in Neame’s piano-led Charm Defensive, which might easily have been conceived for large ensemble.

Anton Eger’s superb Zieding, too, feels so natural in its ‘new clothes’, with Jasper Høiby’s heavily-thrummed soloing prominent and Argüelles’ sleek horns and brassy stabs complementing its typically crackling trio vigour, whilst the arrangement of Phraternal emphasises its inherent mystery (these really do unfold as extended masterpieces which perfectly balance trio with big band). Høiby’s impossibly-leaping signature is present in the descending motifs of Urban Control as Argüelles’ tenor paints it in different splashes of colour, including a wonderfully overflowing solo spot; and the bassist’s Happy Notes (an early, jaunty favourite from the Green Delay and Alive albums) closes the set in cacophonic splendour.

Initially, The Behemoth may be quite a gear-change for hardened Phronesis fans. But be open to its remarkable achievement in a recording which teems with an unquenchable, adventurous spirit.

Released on 31 March 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

Promo video: Zieding

 

PHRONESIS
Jasper Høiby double bass
Ivo Name piano
Anton Eger drums, percussion

JULIAN ARGÜELLES arranger, conductor (tenor saxophone solo on Urban Control)

FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, piccolo
Oliver Leicht alto saxophone, clarinet (clarinet solo on Stillness)
Tony Lakatos tenor saxophone, alto flute (tenor solo on OK Chorale)
Steffen Weber tenor saxophone (solo on Stillness)
Rainer Heute baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Frank Wellert trumpet, flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Auer trumpet, flugelhorn (trumpet solo on Intro to Urban Control)
Axel Schlosser trumpet, flugelhorn (trumpet solo on Zieding)
Günter Bollmann trombone
Peter Feil trombone (solo on Herne Hill)
Christian Jaksjø trombone, bass trumpet (bass trumpet solo on Charm Defensive)
Manfred Honetschläger bass trombone
Martin Scales guitar (solos on Untitled#1 and Happy Notes)

phronesismusic.com

Edition Records – EDN1085 (2017)

‘Effervescence’ – Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra

effervescence

TAKE A LOOK at that cover art – a clue to the polychromatic flamboyance of this new release from the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Formed fourteen years ago by renowned Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, the TSYJO has consistently provided an important, ongoing, step-up platform for young jazz musicians. This third album is a real joy because, rather than reflecting any insecure naivety of youth, Effervescence emphatically displays the orchestra’s unfettered go-for-it creativity, all backed up by solid musicality. In fact, all eight of these sumptuous tracks fizz without any trace of inhibition, Smith’s choice of material showcasing the players’ versatility.

The breathless, strummed pace of Woody Herman’s Apple Honey sets the tone. Complete with feisty wah-wah trumpet section and rolling saxes, Liam Shortall’s brash trombone antics are met with appreciative band cheers; and Helena Kay’s whirling, spirited clarinet connects with the piece’s origins. Jerome Kern’s familiar phrases in The Way You Look Tonight (lavishly arranged by Florian Ross) swing with life-affirming positivity, summoning a delicious alto spotlight from Adam Jackson, whilst a tangible rhythmic reduction clears the way for trombonist Kevin Garrity’s sublime, held-back solo. Glitzy Blues March (Benny Golson) parades to snappy snare, with infectious piano swing at its heart; and Florian Ross’ expansive arrangement of Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty (more familiar in trio format) is imaginatively colorised by guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Pete Johnstone, including an intricate feature for drummer Stephen Henderson.

From within the orchestra’s ranks, trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ composition Tam O’Shanter coolly saunters to crunchy, pitch-bent rock guitar and high-blasting trumpets before its switch to an effusive, driven, spy-thriller of a middle section; and the big-band swing of Nefertiti (Miles Davis, arr. Ross) is becalmed for Michael Butcher’s lush tenor solo, supported by smooth, sustained trombone voices. The rapidity of Things To Come is audacious (you can almost sense Dizzy Gillespie applauding Sean Gibbs’ display from the wings), whilst the orchestra’s sensitivity to crescendi and diminuendi is especially notable, underpinning a fluvial alto solo from Helena Kay – altogether an utterly convincing performance. And Christian Jacob’s tightly-swung arrangement of Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, featuring tenorist Samuel Tessier, is both sleek and snappy.

Entertainingly feel-good, all the way, Tommy Smith and his players are to be congratulated on this exuberant release.

Effervescence is available from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra website or Amazon.

 

Tommy Smith director, producer

Helena Kay alto sax, clarinet
Adam Jackson alto sax
Samuel Tessier tenor sax
Michael Butcher tenor sax
Heather Macintosh baritone sax
Tom Walsh trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Joshua Elcock trumpet
Christos Stylianides trumpet
Cameron T Duncan trumpet
Tom Clay Harris trumpet
Michael Owers trombone
Liam Shortall trombone
Kevin Garrity trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Joe Williamson guitar
Fergus McCreadie piano
Pete Johnstone piano
David Bowden acoustic bass
Stephen Henderson drums

Also available: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Beauty & the Beast – an original work composed and directed by Tommy Smith, with guest saxophonist Bill Evans.

tsyjo.com
snjo.co.uk
tommy-smith.co.uk

Spartacus Records – STS024 (2016)