‘The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke’ – The Vampires, Lionel Loueke

The Vampires

AUSTRALIAN quartet The Vampires have a good ear for a vamp… and for a key collaborator in respected US-based guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke.

Headed up by saxophonist Jeremy Rose and trumpeter Nick Garbett, and driven by the heady rhythms of double bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Danny Fischer (with guest percussionist Alex Masso), this fifth release features Loueke’s distinctive guitar palette of synthy octave-enhanced improvisations and chordal sparkiness, combined with the colourful African vocalisations of his Benin homeland. Rose and Garbett have an affinity with strong melody, rising from the groove of each of their ten original numbers with increasing memorability; and their festal dual-horn lead especially imbues the air with mariachi, reggae, funk, European folk and flavours of Cuba and the Balkans.

So a genuine feel-good album which has long been in the pipeline, it’s myriad influences soon draw the attention and don’t let go. Take Freedom Song, for example, where an Ennio Morricone-style tijuana figure announces and infiltrates an irresistible Police-like reggae pulse, pulled in different directions by Loueke’s quirky modal explorations and bleepy improv, with tenor and trumpet acclamations soaring above. Bendalong, too, ripples and darts with dance-like fervour, yet gear-changes alter the landscape to allow space for Loueke’s characterful blend of guitar and ‘vocal percussion’.

The ebb and flow of rhythm and mood, across fifty-five minutes, is well considered; so lazy, grunging Hard Love (like a beautifully sedated ‘Spanish Flea’) contrasts markedly with the picked African guitar rhythms and side-stepped meanderings in Brand New – the jiving bass ground here is a winner, inspiring salsa celebrations. In Torta Salata, Zwartz’s pliant double bass also sets up a playful partnership with Loueke’s wah-wah fun, as trumpet and sax again eke out a melody that might still be in your head by daybreak; and an ease-back acoustic-styled tribute to Al Green – Green Green Green – somehow keeps a lid on its full-blown Latin potential, resisting a double-time step-up despite its varicoloured interest.

A rare moment of repose is delivered in bass-clarinet-hued Ubud Bubble, said to evoke the time-paused magic and mystery of Gamelan echoes in Bali streets, its smokiness suggested by Fischer’s brushed snare. Suck a Seed‘s attractive African sonorities are pounced on by the increasing clamour of frenetic horn improv and wailing, synthesised guitar; and Endings and Beginnings top and tails with intended softly-breathing ‘circle of life’ continuity.

The Vampires’ music feels visual, thanks to its fabulous grooves and differing atmospheres. In the UK, sight and sound can be experienced in Edinburgh on 13 October 2017, and again on 15 October as the album officially launches at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club.

The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke is available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Jeremy Rose alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet
Nick Garbett trumpet
Jonathan Zwartz double bass
Danny Fischer drums
featuring
Lionel Loueke acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals
with
Alex Masso drums, cajon, bongos, pandeiro, wood block, cowbells, shakers (tracks 3, 5)

thevampires.com.au

Earshift Music – EAR017 (2017)

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‘Rabble Rouser’ – The Brass Funkeys

THERE’s a thriving strain of New Orleans-style acoustic bands marching through the UK festival scene – and right up there are effervescent eight-piece The Brass Funkeys.

Following-up their eponymous debut album of 2014, new release Rabble Rouser continues the typically boisterous horn-and-percussion fervour as they rattle through thirteen, often quirkily-titled numbers – mostly band originals, plus a smattering of arrangements. Importantly, the Funkeys’ relentless, fun-filled energy doesn’t gloss-over technical precision, ensuring it’s a delight from beginning to end. Sousaphone, drums and percussion provide the crisp rhythm section, solidly framing a slick ensemble of two trumpets, two trombones and sax; and whilst it’s unashamedly about that live, festive spirit, here’s an octet which also colours its hot jazz euphoria with refreshing shades of ska, disco, funk, tijuana, big band, movie soundtrack…

The graffiti/cartoon cover art might imply it’s not ‘your thing’. But turn up the volume, launch into these fifty-four minutes anywhere you choose, and the feel-good is instant; from the infectious riff-and-chant of Dirty Harry to a canonic calypso conviviality in Bizness; from the rapid, madcap African knees-up of Zambezi to ‘Strictly’-showband-shimmying Clave Maria; and Honeydripper‘s soulful Dexys-like stomp, electronic wah-wahs and anarchic wails are delectable.

Sounding breathless? Well, yes! But these guys make this music increasingly irresistible, not least because of the stylistic contrasts. Mexican trumpets anchor the grungy groove of Pacha Mama, whilst Underdub‘s cool, crescendoed phrasing and sparkly percussion bolster Dave Robinson’s lush sax improv. Here, the sousaphone’s endearing harmonic brays offer an atmosphere that no string bass could match, and in Tom Green’s theme-tune-like Dynamo Blues, it bubbles under the trombonist’s own feature. Cheeky, slothful Goblins evokes the ska of Madness or Bad Manners, and who could resist a groove entitled David Battenberg’s Life of Cakes or the overexcited pulse of P.I.T.A. (‘love that acronym)?

Although The Brass Funkeys are well suited to the live environment (warmly received at Glastonbury, North Sea Jazz, London Jazz Festival, etc.), this is certainly a vibrant studio recording in which to revel and dig more deeply.

Released on 18 September 2017, Rabble Rouser is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Rob Smith trumpet
Matt Letts trumpet
Dave Robinson saxophone
Vij Prakash trombone
Tom Green trombone
Rob Slater sousaphone (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13)
John Caddick sousaphone (tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13)
Scott Jowett drums
Chris Brice percussion
with special guests
Jack Banjo Courtney trumpet (track 1)
Chris Saunders trombone (tracks 4, 8)

brassfunkeys.com

Boom Baboon Records – BB002 (2017)

‘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)

‘Unit[e]’ – Alexander Hawkins (2CD)

Alexander Hawkins —Double CD Digipak-v1.3

BEHIND THAT intensely black, nondescript cover… well, perhaps even the initiated might only hazard a guess at the mercurial ninety minutes of original music presented in this double CD – Unit[e] – from Oxford-based pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins.

Previous albums such as Song Singular, Step Wide, Step Deep and Alexander Hawkins Trio have identified a distinctly explorative musician whose avant garde approach to jazz and improvisation is fed by many influences, suggesting the left-field vociferations of Ornette Coleman or Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and most certainly the classic, genteel swing of Duke Ellington (Hawkins describes The Duke as possibly the most basic element of his DNA). The recording is split into two sessions – the sextet of CD1, [C]ALL; the larger ensemble of CD2, HEAR[T] (personnel listed below) – and Hawkins refers to his use of square brackets in each piece’s title as an intentional ‘add or subtract a letter’ couplet device, for example: [W]here (‘here’ is one answer to ‘where’) and [S]how (‘show’ is one answer to ‘how’).

The seven tracks of [C]ALL find Hawkins’ piano in dialogue with violin, guitar, bass clarinet/tenor sax, double bass and drums – and an overarching reference to jazz tradition seems infused throughout, opening with For the People‘s perpetual, blustering, unison riff which invites Tom Skinner’s excited percussion and Shabaka Hutchings’ characteristic tenor squawks, as well as contrastingly mellow electric guitar lines from Otto Fischer. [C]all (parts 1 and 2) stomp proudly to an unusually beautiful, almost naive dance groove (in the right mood, a wonderfully cacophonous seven minutes to get into); and overlapping instrumental voices in [T]each ruminate freely to Hawkins’ sparky, leaping piano before eventually and quietly admitting defeat. The heritage jazz foundation of Hawkins’ work becomes more prominent in [K]now, where ‘MC’ Otto Fischer delivers his calmative, abstract narrative over an oblique lounge ensemble (the Ellington link accentuated by Hawkins’ delicious, semitonal chords). The fiddle and double bass of Dylan Bates and Neil Charles, in [W]here, introduce searching guitar and bass clarinet improvisations over angular piano and drums; and [S]how‘s relative spaciousness seems to beckon the listener inside, to join its subterranean roaming.

With Hawkins directing from the piano, HEAR[T]‘s thirteen-piece ensemble treads a freer, less structural path through five tracks which frequently groan and exclaim with a bewildering mesh of sounds. [Forge[t] is boisterous, irascible and anarchic, whilst the palpable trad swing of fifteen-minute-plus See[k] > Hear[t] includes splendid horn combinations and distressed flute, underpinned by Stephen Davis’ colourful percussion and enhanced by intriguing live electronics (a multifaceted experience worth staying with!). Idea[l]’s pandemonium recalls the cosmic, orchestral colour of David Bedford’s ‘Star’s End’; the awakening of [Sun[g] > Star[k] might summon Aaron Copland’s broad, restful landscapes (and its crescendoing trumpet-led progression perhaps akin to his ‘Rodeo’); and title track Unit[e]‘s nebulous instrumentation, carried on thinly-sustained strings, hints at dark-sky activity, complete with effusive, empyrean swing-band celebration.

Alexander Hawkins’ creativity may be challenging… but his jazz credentials and true, unfettered expression make it one hell of a ride!

Released on 7 July 2017, Unit[e] is available as a double CD from Discovery Records or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

CD1: [C]ALL
Dylan Bates
violin
Neil Charles double bass
Otto Fischer
guitar, voice
Alexander Hawkins
piano
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Tom Skinner drums

CD2: HEAR[T]
James Arben flute, tenor saxophone
Dylan Bates violin
Neil Charles double bass
Stephen Davis drums, percussion
Otto Fischer guitar
Alexander Hawkins piano, conductor
Laura Jurd trumpet
Julie Kjær flute, alto flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Nick Malcolm trumpet, flugelhorn
Hannah Marshall cello
Percy Pursglove trumpet, double bass
Alex Ward clarinet
Matthew Wright live electronics

alexanderhawkinsmusic.com

Self-released – AH1002/3 (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)

‘La Saboteuse’ – Yazz Ahmed

YazzAhmed

THE SMOULDERING, exotic and aromatic layers of trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse have gradually been infusing my psyche for the past few weeks – and it’s precisely this slowly unfolding, intoxicating weave which makes it both alluring and satisfyingly difficult to pigeonhole. 

Ahmed’s credentials to date speak for themselves, having worked alongside such illustrious names as Courtney Pine, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sir John Dankworth, as well as appearing on albums by artists including Samuel Hällkvist, Noel Langley and Radiohead; and following on from 2011 solo debut Finding My Way Home, the British-Bahraini musician describes this latest, sumptuous release as part of a long, spiritual journey: “the relationship between the optimism of my conscious self and the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, my inner saboteur”. It quite ingeniously fuses a personal desire to delve more deeply into her childhood experiences – the culture of the Middle East and the sounds of its maqam and folk music traditions – with the already exciting cross-pollinations of the current jazz scene. The resulting assimilation by Ahmed and her sparkling players is a hypnotic, almost continuous work of extraordinary nuance and breadth.

Exquisite illustrations, calligraphy and the trumpeter’s own engaging sleeve notes about the music and each of her personnel instantly reveal a labour of love (also confirming the advantage of artistic completeness which the physical product will always have over digital download or streaming), preparing the ground for immersion in this fragrant, almost hour-long labyrinth. Jamil Jamal‘s alternating seven-then-eight percussive metre is set up by a Rhodes and electric bass pulse, embellished by searching improvisations from the leader’s flugel and bass clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings; and, as throughout the album, details such as echoic guitar and hazy electronics add significantly to the suffusion. Indeed, Ahmed’s mastery of textural effect is much in evidence, as in The Space Between the Fish & the Moon, a mystical expanse of bowed vibraphone, digital oscillations and crackles traversed by blissful flugel.

The fluctuating riches of this recording are magnificent – dark, spacial, contrapuntal and unison phrases in title track La Saboteuse become interspersed with muted Arabian annunciations, whilst Al Emadi‘s brassy effusiveness is carried on a wave of bendir and darbuka, with so many fascinating embellishments contributing to its cinematic mood. The vibes-introduced buoyancy of The Lost Pearl has a subtle redolence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, albeit with syncopated, effects-swirling electric bass rhythms; and all the while, Ahmed’s assured imaginings ripple above. In Bloom, Martin France’s rapid pop-groove injects light into the pervading mystery, its otherwise straight-ahead demeanour glinting with vibes and (at one point, politely screeching) flugel; and Beleille‘s complex network of tonal intrigue (including bizarre electronic manipulations of bass clarinet) makes this one of this album’s most absorbing listens. Delicate miniatures, segued between these expansive pieces, provide a sense of continuity which may well be elaborated upon when performed live – and celebratory Organ External, with a riffy hint of Michael Nyman, intelligently seems to throw everything into the mix with great results, the low timbres of flugel and bass clarinet especially effective.

Yazz Ahmed’s atmospheres are lush, inventive, enticing and an impressive, progressive distillation of her many influences. In short – spellbinding.

Released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017, La Saboteuse is available as CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Yazz Ahmed flugelhorn, trumpet, quarter-tone flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet
Samuel Hällkvist electric guitars
Naadia Sheriff Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Dudley Phillips bass guitar
Dave Manington bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom)
Martin France drums
Corrina Silvester bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit

Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed

yazzahmed.com

Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)

‘Green’ – Tom Syson

TomSyson

TRUMPET was Tom Syson’s musical focus from an early age, and Green – his debut sextet release as both composer and player – clearly fanfares a mature artistic vision. 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Tom Syson trumpet, compositions
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone
Ben Lee electric guitar
David Ferris piano, Fender Rhodes
Pete Hutchison double bass
Jonathan Silk drum kit
with
Lauren Kinsella vocals (on Raindrops)

tomsyson.com

Self-released – TSYSCD01 (2017)