REVIEW: ‘Human’ – Shai Maestro

THIS ALBUM has already become very special – and it’s taken a while to evaluate why, on each listening, Human continues to play on the senses in such a powerful way.

Israeli pianist Shai Maestro, who recorded four albums with bassist Avishai Cohen’s trio, recently appeared on Ben Wendel’s High Heart (Edition Records, 2020), doubling with Gerald Clayton to create dynamic atmospheres on piano and Fender Rhodes as part of a sextet fronted by Wendel’s tenor sax and the unique voicings of Michael Mayo. This new quartet release, however, with double bassist Jorge Roeder, drummer Ofri Nehemya and trumpeter Philip Dizack finds Maestro returning to the his own chamber project, presenting original music alongside an adroit Duke Ellington reinterpretation.

So what marks it out with such distinction? The acoustic line-up isn’t especially unusual. But this feels so sensational – often quietly so – that it pulses the kind of emotional electricity experienced when hearing a specific contemporary jazz approach for the very first time; and that in itself is a remarkable achievement. Human follows The Dream Thief (ECM, 2018) with Roeder and Nehemya – a recording that presented a pianist whose classical training paved a way to his uniquely restless, oblique yet precise impressionism; and a trio that, through some extraordinary kind of alchemy, considerably elevated the traditional expectation of the format. But now, Dizack adds a significant dimension to Maestro’s work, his seemingly inexhaustible palette of trumpet textures, always beautifully toned, melding immaculately with the original personnel’s established creativity. Here is an ensemble that walks the enigmatic tightrope between precise arrangement and spontaneous improvisation, which feels crucial to the success of these eleven tracks.

Maestro’s intricate ornamentation, across an hour that demands absolute concentration, is exquisite. Following the abstract prelude of Time, waltzing Mystery and Illusions is the first indicator of his chromatic searching, punctuated by beautifully fidgety drum invention, before Dizack matches the piano’s melodic lines and then takes stratospheric flight. In GG, the rapid complexity of these shared piano and trumpet ‘improvisations’ is simply extraordinary, while homey title track Human culminates in a grandeur featuring Dizack’s distinctive, portamento-shaped phrasing. Bristling, explosive The Dream Thief continues the theme of the previous album’s title track. In Hank and Charlie is heard the most graceful, country/gospel-imbued tribute to Maestro‘s heroes, Hank Jones and Charlie Haden – 4:42 of sheer, balladic perfection, right down to the concluding harmonic effect as the piano’s sustain pedal is lifted.

In an imaginative reworking of In a Sentimental Mood (in particular, the Ellington/Coltrane meeting), staccato snippets of the melody are stated over continually bobbing rivulets of accompaniment, with the various strands seamlessly intertwined. Only at its conclusion comes a reverent nod to the original’s legato elegance. Understated Compassion allows Maestro’s vocal expressions to be heard, while They Went War represents futility through repeated snare pattern and mournful trumpet. A simple, falling, Beethovenesque figure is central to Prayer, featuring Nehemya’s fascinating percussive maelstrom; and the meditative Middle-Eastern swirl of Ima once again highlights the pianist’s semitonal finesse.

Shai Maestro describes this music as often arriving in quick bursts of creativity during the stillness of night, and then letting it “just be”, presenting it as a “human effort”. As a listener completing that circle (or square), I extol the beauty, craftsmanship and warmth found in both Human and The Dream Thief – wondrous, attentive recordings that will undoubtedly stay with me for a very long time.

Released on 29 January 2021, Human is available from ECM Records and Proper Music.

 

Shai Maestro piano
Jorge Roeder double bass
Ofri Nehemya drums
Philip Dizack trumpet

shaimaestro.com

ECM Records – ECM 2688 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Afterglow’ – Enrico Pieranunzi & Bert Joris

THOSE CHASING fast-city lights might imply the hard-grooving world of jazz-rock. But look beyond, into the deepening vermilion Afterglow, to find a quite different fusion in this intimate set from the acoustic duo of Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and Belgian trumpeter/flugelhornist Bert Joris.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 22 January 2021 and available from Challenge Records and Proper Music.

 

Enrico Pieranunzi piano
Bert Joris trumpet, flugelhorn

enricopieranunzi.it
bertjoris.com

Challenge Records – CR73460 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Yorkshire Suite’ – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

THE PREMISE of this live recording is heartwarming, and should be to anyone with an interest in the continuation of the British big band jazz scene.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 7 December 2020 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Mark Ellis, Cat Miles, Matt Anderson, Will Howard, Rob Mitchell saxophones
Gareth Smith, Simon Dennis, Kim Macari, Simon Beddoe trumpets
Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Tom l’anson, Chris Dale trombones
Harry Orme guitar
Aron Kyne
piano
John Marley bass
Steve Hanley drums

James Hamilton conductor, composer

Commissioned by Jazz Yorkshire
Recorded live at Seven Arts, Leeds, 31 May 2015
Mixed and mastered by James Hamilton, 2020

newjazzrecords.co.uk

New Jazz Records (2020)

REVIEW: ‘In Fading Light’ – Tania Giannouli Trio

A TRIO led by a pianist – but not a piano trio in the expected sense. For, in new release In Fading Light, Tania Giannouli fashions a quite different energy with her Greek compatriots, trumpeter Andreas Polyzogopoulos and oud player Kyriakos Tapakis.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 17 November 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Videos:
Tania Giannouli Trio at Jazzfest Berlin, November 2018 – Labyrinth
Solo piano at Ars Musica Festival, Brussels, November 2020

 

Tania Giannouli piano
Andreas Polyzogopoulos trumpet
Kyriakos Tapakis oud

taniagiannouli.eu

Rattle Records – RAT-D105 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Let the world be a question’ – Monika Lidke

SINCE IF I WAS TO DESCRIBE YOU, and through 2017’s Gdyby każdy z nas… (If all of us…), singer-songwriter Monika Lidke has seemingly been absorbing musical influences and experimenting with vocal styles to bring divergent atmospheres to latest album Let the world be a question.

Polish-born and London-resident, Lidke’s earlier output has comfortably breezed between light jazz, European folk and easy-going pop. But this collection of a dozen songs, self-penned or co-written, also reveals different facets to her vocal expression. So alongside the recognisably carefree numbers, there are others which display a seasoned edge; and a host of accomplished musicians (listed below, including guitarists Matt Chandler, Kristian Borring and Maciek Pysz) interpret the contrasting moods and grooves with attractive detailing. These are unashamedly direct pop songs – but the trick is that they avoid lovelorn clichés, focusing rather on deepening family relationships and the circle of life, as well as the quiet beauty of the natural world.

Some lovely scenes are painted, including the Paul Simon-like, country-guitar-enhanced shuffle of Making it up as we go, Lidke’s vocal occasionally veering towards that of Suzanne Vega. The characteristic innocence of her wordless (‘dooh-dooh’) melodies break into poetic profundity in A Winter Morning, Curious Puzzle and heartfelt Mother, while Lazy Detour’s bluesy electric-piano groove, including a feature for trumpeter Dawid Frydryk, suggests the illumination of new artistic pathways. Alle Choir London’s snappy backing brings frissons of delight to numbers such as gospel-tinted Not a Bad Bone and hip-swinging Samba, Biodra i Nogi; and soft-rock Słuchaniem być (To be listening) especially stays in the memory, with Matt Chandler’s fluid electric-guitar improv a real treat.

Initially quaint, Snowflake’s Dream’s lyric implies a touching mother-to-son conversation about life (“…always remember me shining… I’ll make a full circle… a teardrop in the corner of your eye”), then ramping up into a more effusive aspect of Lidke’s performance we should hear more of. Tango’s descending-bass mystery, too, has an attraction, the Polish-sung lyric of encouragement offering up pictorial lines such as “I’m not afraid [of] your words which fight like a windmill with light” before hitting a bright rock-out; and rhythmic W deszczu pod parasolem (In the rain under an umbrella) is joyously uplifting – Could it really have happened, a miracle between us.

Finally, alongside Zimowy Poranek (a Polish version of A Winter Morning) are three remixes by producers Happy Cat Jay and Wulfnote. While such arrangements can sometimes appear to be gimmicky or even questionable add-ons, these are imaginatively refashioned with a peppy, radio-play vibe. Wulfnote’s Lazy Detour, in particular, abounds with so much interest.

There’s a sense, from the depth of a clutch of these songs, that Monika Lidke’s journey could flourish in more challenging areas, perhaps led by a theme, a concept. Certainly her harder vocal timbres point that way… in a direction I’d follow.

Released on 8 October 2020, Let the world be a question is available as CD, vinyl and digital download at the monikalidke.com store.

 

Monika Lidke vocals
Alle Choir London* backing vocals (tracks 5, 6, 8)
Matt Chandler guitars (tracks 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15)
Kristian Borring electric guitar (tracks 4, 5, 14)
Maciek Pysz acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 5)
Adam Teixeira drums (tracks 1, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Waldemar Franczyk drums (tracks 2, 6, 8, 13, 16)
Chris Nickolls drums (tracks 3, 4, 5)
Tim Fairhall double bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Marcin Grabowski fretless bass (tracks 2, 13, 16), double bass (track 6), electric bass (track 8)
Shez Raja electric bass (tracks 4, 5)
Jan Freicher piano (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 14), vibraphone (tracks 2, 6, 13, 16), synth (tracks 2, 13)
Adam Spiers cello (tracks 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Wayne Urquhart cello (track 14)
Dawid Frydryk trumpet (tracks 3, 6, 14)
Happy Cat Jay drums, piano (track 15), synth (tracks 15, 16), bass guitar (track 16)

*Alle Choir London are:
Marta Mathea Radwan director, backing vocal arrangements
Klaudia Baca, Anita Łazińska, Karolina Micor, Marta Mathea Radwan,
Justyna Rafalik, Krystian Godlewski, Krzysztof Suwała singers

monikalidke.com

MLCD002 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Tenacity’ – Django Bates

TRULY A MAVERICK PIANIST, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator in the world of contemporary jazz (Loose Tubes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, etc.), Django Bates has long been turning the traditional concept of ‘piano trio’ on its head in his Belovèd ensemble with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun – so compelling to watch, in concert. Two superb albums – 2010’s Belovéd Bird and 2012’s Confirmation – demonstrated a continuing breadth of invention; the former, in particular, emphasizing his deep affinity with childhood hero Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

For those drawn to numeric tidiness, this year marks Bates’ 60th birthday, his 40th year as a professional musician, and the 100th anniversary of Parker’s birth. So a celebration of the ‘200’ seems entirely appropriate – and new album Tenacity sees the trio joining forces with the astonishingly adept, 14-piece Norrbotten Big Band (NBB). A number of arrangements of tracks from the aforementioned albums are included, interpreted on a grander scale, alongside original compositions such as twelve-minute sensory overload, The Study of Touch (the title track of his 2017 ECM album) which was commissioned by the NBB. The trio “travelled to the Arctic Circle” (Sweden) to record the album with them because, Django declares, “…any band who’s brave enough to ask me to write for them, gets the gig!”

That mutual spirit of adventure, impressively conveyed through Nick White’s detailed ‘craggy summit’ cover imagery, is explored with immense imagination. Bates stops at nothing to achieve a different take on ‘big band’, his studio wizardry manipulating the NBB’s prowess with aplomb; and both Eldh and Bruun maintain their key positions as creative alchemists and rhythm-makers.

The leader’s hallmarks of manically prancing energy, playful rallentandos and accelerandos, plus wonderfully detuned piano/synth, are ever present, and heard in uproarious takes on Parker’s Ah Leu Cha and Donna Lee – the latter, a particular stand-out. David Raksin’s Laura (from the 1940s movie) is both sumptuous and madcap, imbued with close-harmony horns and elegant piano, then unexpected electronic squiggles and squawks. But amidst all of this, the integrity of Bates’ pianism is never in doubt, rolling breathlessly through the intricate transformation of Bird’s Confirmation; and lush Star Eyes, with characteristic upward glissandi and twinkles, is ornamented more subtly by the big band, the electric guitar textures of Markus Pesonen in particular adding to its distant otherworldliness. Throughout, the ability to dramatically scale-up and further colorize previous compositions/reimaginings such as We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and My Little Suede Shoes is simply magnificent – and applause is due to the NBB for their technique and focus!

Overflowing with invention and verve, Tenacity is an album of continual discovery. Django Bates describes the title (and title track) as a suggestion for his audience: “Please hang on in there, the reward is not a spoonful of honey but it should be profound and lasting”. It’s certainly that, and also has me reaching for those trio albums to try to grasp a little of the thought process behind some of these opulent big band arrangements. “Best of luck with that”, went up the cry!

Released on 2 October 2020 and available from Proper Music.

 

BELOVÈD
Django Bates piano, vox
Petter Eldh double bass, vox
Peter Bruun drums, vox

NORRBOTTEN BIG BAND
Håkan Broström soprano sax
Jan Thelin clarinets
Mats Garberg flutes
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor sax, clarinet
Per Moberg baritone sax
Bo Strandberg trumpet 1
Magnus Ekholm trumpet
Dan Johansson trumpet
Jacek Onuszkiewich trumpet
Peter Dahlgren trombone 1
Ashley Slater trombone
Björn Hängsel bass trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Markus Pesonen electric guitar

djangobates.co.uk

Lost Marble – LM009 (2020)