‘Stillefelt’ – Stillefelt

IN THE STILLNESS of the night, this is an enthralling place to inhabit.

Stillefelt (translated from Norwegian as ‘quiet field’) is the eponymous debut release from improvising trio Chris Mapp, Percy Pursglove and Thomas Seminar Ford; and their ‘nattmusikk’ drew an immediate, emotional reaction at a late hour… and then called me back to listen more deeply.

Misty, often brooding landscapes are created from the relative simplicity of electric bass, trumpet/flugelhorn and electric guitar – but the digital manipulation of these otherwise traditional tones expands the creativity in a subdued wonder reminiscent of e.s.t.’s final studio experiments (Leucocyte and 301). The album’s progression – in six tracks, named perhaps for distinction only – has the remarkable, continuous effect of eliciting sometimes indeterminate feelings. But, warm or cold, they arrive. So, in a quiet space, the music can become personal to the listener; and that, in essence, is the profound alchemy of improvisation. 

From the thriving Birmingham jazz scene, Stillefelt is described as a ‘dynamically quieter response’ to Mapp’s band, Gonimoblast (which features vocalist Maja SK Ratkje and trumpeter Arve Henriksen). Their explorations are prompted by ‘short cell-like ideas’ from the bassist, provided simply as starting points; so, in live performance, the landscape is ever-changing. Ostinati and riffs might suggest the root of each piece, but it’s their complete evolutionary and immersive nature which stands so effectively.

While nocturnal imagery is tangible through the album, slowly stirring aubade, opening, paints a springlike awakening through sustained guitar layers and breathy trumpet; and Pursglove’s mouthpiece sputters combine with radio-wave electronics to widen what seems like a heat-hazy portrayal of nature. Mapp’s bass regularly provides an effective (sometimes chordal) foundation, and the initial hint of Scandinavian folksong in a kind of day is tinged with an ominous, hollow jarring which becomes more urgent.

This sound world cleverly adopts a ‘three-dimensionality’ akin to photographic depth of field. The industrial hisses, gargles, squawks and whistles of expansive towards a rusty future can be unsettling, set against a subliminal ticking metre. But segueing into the more saturated quiet field, Mapp’s muted, pulsating bass takes the trio towards a hopeful horizon. Pursglove’s tone is now cleaner as it melds into half life, where open guitar, bass and skywards electronics create an otherworldly beauty only interrupted by the opening, free-jazz clamour of never…ending – until tentative calm is restored.

It’s an environment of invention and discovery; a broad canvas over which we might wander through our own imagination – and all sparked by this spontaneous artistry. A magical thing. 

Recorded live at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Stillefelt is released on 3 April and available as a limited edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

Video promo.

 

Chris Mapp bass, electronics
Percy Pursglove trumpet, flugelhorn 
Thomas Seminar Ford guitar, electronics

Visual art / sleeve design: Tom Tebby

chrismapp.co.uk/stillefelt

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1883 (2020)

‘The Sleepless Kind’ – Andy Fleet ft. Andre Canniere

THE NAME of trumpeter Andre Canniere is familiar across the UK contemporary jazz scene; but perhaps less so, the jazz-inflected pop of pianist, vocalist and songwriter Andy Fleet.

Following his previous albums The Night Falls Fast and Takin’ Aim, Fleet’s The Sleepless Kind picks up a theme which seems to permeate his musical output – an ‘ode to the night’ which (presumably reflecting his years as a lounge pianist) ‘recounts tales of the sticky lights of Soho in the small hours’. As before, it’s Canniere’s muted, Paolo Fresu-style trumpet which strongly evokes jazz-bar auras; and alongside bassist Zane Maertens and drummer Joe Evans, there are appearances from electric guitarist Pete Kershaw, saxophonist/flautist Chez Taylor and backing vocalist Sarah Doe.   

Andy Fleet’s straight-ahead approach is beguiling, not least because the riffs and sequences of these songs subtly imply inspiration from previous decades, and it can take the memory some persuading to deliver the result! But also, his MOR vocals possess an almost reassuring ‘glow’ – listen to the gentle bop of Stolen Years to imagine Colin Blunstone, or the soft, storytelling wistfulness of I’ve Had It All to recall the chart hits of Dean Friedman. There’s even a fond reminder of Gilbert O’Sullivan in bluesy, up-tempo “don’t wanna seem like a drama queen” Been There, Drunk That.

The telephone-line opening to All Broke Out With The Blues may feel a little obvious, but its smoky solace – again with Canniere’s sultry improvisation – is reminiscent of Randy Newman’s finest. Rock-grooving Love’s Enemy (Supertramp meets Bryan Adams) confidently struts; and there’s even a hint of Neil Tennant in gentle, memorable Through Closed Eyes, its 1980s backing vocal and flute intimating the fragile hope of a poignant movie scene.

If this all sounds like a disconnected melange, Andy Fleet actually has the ability to cohesively fashion new soft-pop/rock, complemented by the jazz inflections of Andre Canniere, into an album which I’ve now replayed many times. In the afterglow, pour a dram and ease back to this retro-styled songbook.    

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Andy Fleet piano, vocals
Andre Canniere trumpet
Zane Maertens bass
Joe Evans drums
with
Pete Kershaw electric guitar
Chez Taylor saxophone, flute
Sarah Doe backing vocals

Illustration by Alban Low

andyfleet.com

Low Vinyl Records / Cadiz – LV1608 (2020)

‘Affinity’ – Henrik Jensen’s Followed By Thirteen

PURITY AND LUMINOSITY characterise Affinity, the third release from Henrik Jensen’s Followed By Thirteen. As discovered in the double bassist’s previous albums as leader – Qualia (2013) and Blackwater (2016) – his original compositions have an accessible attraction with a sure foundation in jazz tradition.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 20 March 2020 and available as CD, digital download and limited edition 12″ vinyl at Bandcamp.

 

Rory Simmons trumpet, flugelhorn
Esben Tjalve piano
Henrik Jensen double bass
Pete Ibbetson drums

Cover art (oil on canvas) by Aurelie Freoua

henrik-jensen.com

Babel Label – BDV19157 (2020)

‘Portrait: Reflections on Belonging’ – Byron Wallen

DISPLAYING integrity and humanity, respected trumpeter/flugelhornist Byron Wallen’s Portrait – his first recorded release in thirteen years – drew me in at the very first listen… and hasn’t let go yet!

It’s a beautiful concept. Wallen’s original, storytelling compositions are carried on a kaleidoscopic, journeying wave of urban ‘field recordings’ and communal interactions from his native London. In these tarnished days of discrimination and hatred (countered, thankfully, by positive expressions such as #BeKind), it’s worth reading Byron’s heartfelt words… and then responding in gratitude by feeling his and his band’s uplifting, even healing, creativity:

“This album is a meditation and reflection on the powerful impact that music has had on my life. It was conceived whilst sitting in the central square in Woolwich, an area of South East London. I was struck by the community around me with its mixture of cultures and nationalities, from Nepalese elders to young Nigerian men, Somali mothers with their children, a new Eastern European contingent and descendants of families who used to work in the docks and at the Arsenal. Music paved my way to travel and see the world, meeting people from all different cultures and walks of life. The study of music and the process of striving to become a better musician furnished me with a deeper knowledge of self and a gift I could share on so many different levels. In Portrait I am meditating on identity, culture and what it means to belong. The compositions, workshops, performances, and social interaction born out of this project deepened my artistic and personal relationships with the people in my neighbourhood. The album pays tribute to the heart, soul and vibrant provenance of the community I call my home.”

Rising-star guitarist Rob Luft features alongside bassist Paul Michael, drummer Rod Youngs and percussionist Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker – and together, the leader and his Four Corners band produce a rich swell of vibrant celebration, as well as atmospheres of introspection and reminiscence (sleeve notes provide background to several numbers).

It’s no surprise that Byron Wallen studied with Jon Faddis, Hugh Masekela, George Benson and Chaka Khan; and there’s also a semblance of Freddie Hubbard in his joyful, natural phrases and improvisations. Each For All and All For Each, as an example, presents a warmly-grooving South African vibe, plus a freer sense of looking back; and percussively-driven No Stars No Moon (its title referencing historic racial tensions) features a memorable, chromatic guitar riff supporting Wallen’s almost growling, dual-tracked lead.

Chordal and rhythmic arrangements are tightly executed, Luft usually at the heart, providing agile coloration quite different to that of a keyboard instrument. Reflective moments summon imagery, also – especially the eery, flugelhorn/mouthpiece repetition of Alert (for the workers at the Royal Arsenal) which seemingly pictorialises ships’ horns, seagull cries and gunfire echoing around the docklands of (former) heavy industry. Wallen’s miniatures, such as sweetly-dancing Ferry Shell and bold percussion solo Warren to Arsenal, are tantalisingly brief; and calming Fundamental, with jazz-country pedalled guitar textures, is described as ‘a meditation on what it is to be human’.

The educational aspects of Wallen’s career are fascinatingly woven into the fabric of this album, too, employing the choral exuberance of Plumcroft Primary School, in the heart of Woolwich. Young voices chant ’Spirit of the Ancestors (is calling)’ to a bass-and-drum groove as Wallen bluesily improvises across, connecting to the classes’ examination of family and ancestry; and calypsoing, “soft and squishy” Banana Man (for Bannockburn Primary School) highlights the importance of street markets. Harmonious joy, indeed – something further communicated through gyrating, sunshiny instrumental, Holler.

Byron Wallen tours Portrait in the UK from 2 February to 14 October 2020 – and the album, released on 17 February, is available as CD or download from Bandcamp.

 

Byron Wallen trumpet, flugelhorn, shells, piano, percussion
Rob Luft guitar
Paul Michael bass guitar
Rod Youngs drums
Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker congas, talking drums
Plumcroft Primary School, classes 3G and 3H vocals

Illustration: Marc Drostle

byronwallen.co.uk

Twilight Jaguar Recordings – TJCD3 (2020)

The Gaz Hughes Sextet – ‘The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey’

UNTIL NOW, young Manchester-based drummer Gaz Hughes has, perhaps, best been known as the cool, atmospheric rhythm-maker behind the music of trumpeter and Gondwana Records owner Matthew Halsall, in recordings such as On the Go and Fletcher Moss Park (also appearing on recent three-album release Oneness).

For his debut release as leader, Hughes honours the music of one of the true jazz drumming ‘greats’ in a glorious sextet with Alan Barnes, Bruce Adams, Dean Masser, Andrjez Baranek and Ed Harrison. The art of ‘Jazz Messenger’ Art Blakey (1919–1990) – described by fellow drummer Max Roach as ‘Thunder’ – is captured superbly by Hughes, right down to that retro album-cover design, in an album brimming with joyous, bebop fervour. From the first strains of A Bitter Dose, the feel-good is there – this band’s easier-swinging interpretation is refreshing, with Bruce Adams’ piercing trumpet improv a stand-out. The entire ensemble sparkles as one; and whilst classic jazz numbers are just that, it’s great to hear them portrayed by today’s players and with the depth and clarity of modern recording techniques (it often seems that the pianist lost out in the 1950s and early 1960s!).

Ping Pong (Wayne Shorter) pops and bounces fluently, even cheekily, to Alan Barnes’ bari, while full horns sizzle together. Hughes’ leadership is focused, with heady rhythms and erupting splashes clear in the mix, yet never dominating. Ten-minute-medley homage – Together Again, Lover Man, Easy Living – is sublime, Masser’s and Barnes’ lush, romantic expression especially moving; and Blakey’s spirit is alive and well in Freddie Hubbard’s swaggering Crisis (jazz-heavenly nods of approval imagined!). The sextet’s hypnotic swell in Wheel Within a Wheel (interestingly, at times, reminiscent of Hughes’ work with Halsall) is illuminated by fine individual solos passed around; blithesome One By One (from Blakey’s Ugetsu) is celebrated with infectious abandon; and strutting, Middle-Eastern (almost mariachi-hued) Arabia completes the album in fast-swinging style.

Throughout these 52 minutes, it’s clear that Gaz Hughes and his illustrious band are honouring the tradition – and the greatness of Blakey and his esteemed contemporaries – while breathing 21st-century fire into these evergreen classics (going back into the originals, they really are). An extensive UK tour, billed from February through to October 2020, already suggests they’ll shake things up with more Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers numbers – and this album forecasts a fabulous live experience.

Released on 1 February 2020, The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey is available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Alan Barnes alto sax, baritone sax
Bruce Adams trumpet
Dean Masser tenor sax
Andrjez Baranek piano
Ed Harrison double bass
Gaz Hughes drums

gazhughesmusic.com

Gaz Hughes (2020)

‘Alphabets’ – David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Väli

BIRMINGHAM-BASED pianist David Ferris has already added his considerable skills to a number of recordings emanating from the West Midlands jazz scene including Tom Syson’s Green, Ben Lee Quintet’s In the Tree (also appearing on Live at the Spotted Dog), plus Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra’s Live.

A 2015 jazz graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire, Ferris benefited from the tutelage of Dave Holland, Hans Koller, Jeff Ballard (amongst many others), and summer schools also brought him into contact with established artists such as Mark Lockheart, Nikki Iles and Martin Speake.

Larger ensembles and big bands seem to be enjoying an increasingly strong presence across Birmingham’s contemporary jazz landscape, and the David Ferris Septet debut release, Alphabets, brings his own compositional and leadership prowess to the fore in a programme of seven numbers mostly inspired by and set to literary works of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, W B Yeats and W H Auden. Already familiar, emerging names – trumpeter Hugh Pascall, trombonist Richard Foote, saxophonists Chris Young and Vittorio Mura, bassist Nick Jurd and drummer Euan Palmer – combine to create original and lively jazz explorations from Ferris’ tight arrangements whilst taking advantage of their improvisational freedom. Guest vocalist Maria Väli illuminates the verse with dexterity and finesse.

The pianist references ‘song’ – from jazz standards through Rodgers & Hammerstein to The Beatles – as a particular source of inspiration in his writing, alongside the Art Blakey golden years; and his ability to meld melodies with existing poetry, as well as encourage individual instrumental creativity, is central to the overarching vibe. It’s a buoyant affair, teeming with fluctuating moods, lush harmonic episodes and zesty solos.

Heralded by close-knit horns, Chorale unpacks its hymnal foundation with rhythmic purpose and contrapuntal fervour, building to a grand groove; and the album’s only other purely instrumental number, Fred (acknowledging one of the composer’s heroes, Fred Hersch), joyously rolls to its memorable main ensemble riff and bright, open piano. The words of Ted Hughes’ Crow Hill are fashioned sublimely by Ferris (almost redolent of Michel Legrand’s The Summer Knows), Maria Väli’s vocal clarity supported by contrasting light-and-shade textures and Chris Young’s lyrical alto soloing; whilst in W B Yeats’ The Hawk, Richard Foote’s free trombone invention is married to Väli’s cascading phrases to create swirling, brooding atmospheres. Seamus Heaney’s work is twice represented: his eight-line poem, Song, becomes elegantly flecked with a lyricism reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors suite; and Alphabets – a picturesque text on a child’s introduction to and love of the written word – takes a nursery-rhyme/folksong-like motif and develops it into a flowing, glowing jazz poem of beauty. To close, W H Auden’s The Willow-Wren and the Stare is treated to a lively, snare-rattling hoedown (with hints of “boop-boop dit-tem-dat-tem what-tem chu”!).

At this early stage in his career, David Ferris’ writing and playing already suggest maturity and imagination, with an interpretive assuredness which could find him a strong niche in contemporary jazz, theatre, etc.

Originally released in February 2018, with support from Help Musicians UK, the album is available as CD only (harking back to the exciting discovery experiences of pre-digital days) from the website of David Ferris.

Alphabets is very much worth hearing.

 

David Ferris piano
Hugh Pascall trumpet
Richard Foote trombone
Chris Young alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Nick Jurd bass
Euan Palmer drums
with special guest
Maria Väli vocals

david ferris.co.uk

Self-released with support from Help Musicians UK (2018)