‘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)

Advertisements

‘Soldiering On’ – The Dissolute Society

HATS OFF (bowler style, if you like) to trombonist Raph Clarkson and his eight-piece ensemble of musical mavericks in the creation of Soldiering On – a kaleidoscopic and often avant garde debut release from The Dissolute Society, with guests including Huw Warren (piano, accordion) and Mia Marlen Berg (vocals, effects).

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 11 May 2018 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman vocals
Raph Clarkson trombone, vocals
Laura Jurd trumpet
Naomi Burrell violin
Zosia Jagodzinska cello
Gustav Clarkson viola
Phil Merriman keys, synth bass
Simon Roth drums
with special guests
Huw Warren piano, accordion
Mia Marlen Berg vocals, FX
Joshua Idehen vocals
Mike Soper trumpet

thedissolutesociety.com

Babel Label – BDV16145 (2018)

 

 

‘Trudi’s Songbook: Volume Two’ – Ruby Rushton

YOU MAY BE LOOKING at that cover and thinking: this, surely, is a re-release of a typically twee 1970s folk singer-songwriter album. But take a listen at Bandcamp, and you’ll discover that Ruby Rushton is actually an inventive, occasionally quirky instrumental sextet delivering a collection of contemporary originals (and a fine Herbie Hancock interpretation) which has at its roots a blend of early jazz fusion and soul, plus a soupçon of Canterbury scene and new-age bohemianism.

Following their 2015 quartet debut Two for Joy, and Trudi’s Songbook: Volume One from earlier this year, the London-based band’s ‘period’ echoes are defined by a delicious blend of timbres and grooves. The pulsating Earth Wind and Fire or Santana redolence of Charlotte Emma Victoria, with bubbling electric bass, drums and percussion, features Edward Cawthorne’s impassioned sax as well as Aidan Shepherd’s clustered electric piano chords and clear synth lines. Cawthorne’s breathy, Roland Kirk-style flute character, too, can be heard in swingin’ organ interlude Together At Last; and the ease-back funk of Trudi’s Mood feels tantalisingly brief.

But Ruby Rushton mainly get their teeth into some fabulously extended episodes (written and arranged by Cawthorne or Cawthorne/Shepherd) which suggest an exciting live experience. Tisbury Truckin‘s gentle aubade evolves into a bass-fizzing groove boasting lively riffs and improvisations, especially from trumpeter Nick Walters (a familiar name on the Manchester jazz scene), all effusively ornamented by the bright, varied percussion of Joseph Deenmamode. Edward Cawthorne’s lithe flute colorations are key to a sound which will resonate with many ‘who were there’ as jazz turned a new corner, yet is also retro-relevant to new ears today. Indeed, the gradually-introduced electric piano and bass riff of Song for Christopher ignites fond memories of Mike Ratledge and Roy Babbington in Soft Machine’s many, seminal recordings – and here, alongside Aidan Shepherd and Fergus Ireland, Eddie Hick is an especially glittering starman as this number widens out with fervour. To close, Herbie Hancock’s cruiser, Butterfly, wraps flute and trumpet improv around smooth grooves and slouchy dubstep playfulness.

Jazz and its interconnected genres currently offer a wealth of under-the-radar brilliance; and on this album, there’s much to discover and enthuse about in what, surprisingly (because it’s so satisfying), is a run-time totalling just 36 minutes… so the perfect spur to then head over to Volume One for more!

Released on 11 November 2017, Trudi’s Songbook: Volume Two is available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Edward Cawthorne flute, sax
Nick Walters trumpet
Aidan Shepherd keys
Fergus Ireland bass
Joseph Deenmamode percussion
Eddie Hick drums
with
Tom Marriott trombone (on Charlotte Emma Victoria)
Ben Kelly sousaphone (on Charlotte Emma Victoria)

22amusic.bandcamp.com

22a Records – 019 (2017)

‘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)

‘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)