REVIEW: ‘Mór’ – Agnar Már Magnússon

MUSIC IS NOTHING if it doesn’t elicit a response (any response) from us; and it’s no embellishment to say that Mór, this new septet recording from established Icelandic pianist Agnar Már Magnússon, first arrested my attention in an unexpected, emotive fashion – so much so, that it has since been listened to repeatedly.

2016 album Svif revealed a classy piano trio of unpredictability and grace, melding folk-styled homeyness with an oblique jazz sensibility. However, this latest project elevates Magnússon’s creativity into a more expansive range. Perhaps unusually, he partners his trio (completed by double bassist Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson and drummer Matthías Hemstock) with four brass players from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra – French hornists Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun, Frank Hammarin and tubist Nimrod Ron. The resulting textural weave available to him, as arranger and composer, clearly brings much to these new expressions of traditional Icelandic folksong, bookended by two of Agnar’s own pieces.

In jazz piano terms, subdued hues of Tord Gustavsen or Esbjörn Svensson may be discernable; but there’s something else at work here, likely to be influenced by the culture and subarctic environment of the artists’ Nordic homeland. These are exquisitely crafted and blended sounds – often restrained, searching, even solemn – and for those reasons, their measured route into a receptive mind can feel almost spiritual.

The horn section’s significance, and a beautiful sense of enfoldment, is heard in opening title track Mór – a slow, Bachian trio chorale gradually infiltrated by their closely-harmonized rise and fall; and Magnússon’s skilful, sometimes unanticipated chordal changes even suggest shadowy, filmic drama. But Blastjarnan’s melancholy shifts into the ensemble’s ‘alter ego’ – an attractive, rhythmic persona to support Agnar’s pellucid improvisation and the horns’ subtle underpinning of its recurring three-note motif. These are certainly melodies and phrases which stay in the memory, now welcomed each time they are heard. In gradually-ascending Hliðskjálfs sjóla haukur rólið missti dfnn and Ísaspöng af andans hyl (‘An iceberg from the abyss’) there are hints of the precise sound world of e.s.t., the latter coloured by alluring bass resonances and waves of brass.

Softly dissonant medieval horns announce Almáttugur guð allra stétta sdbsggn, a lively, percussively-ornamented modal exploration, while sunlight breaks through onto the landscape with the free-flowing, pirouetting piano melodies of Modir Islands. In fact, there’s the impression of Agnar ‘receiving’ his extemporisations from a ‘higher’ source and instantly relaying them, with care and rubato, to the keyboard – as in Grafskrift Sæmundar Klemenssonar, and also in the choice chordal meshes of Ísland farsælda frón.

The final, four-minute work, I find the most affecting of all – Magnússon’s Svordur. Led by solo horn, then gradually joined by the full section and piano trio, it possesses incredible longing and humanity; a kind of Purcellian majesty along the lines of ‘When I Am Laid in Earth’, with a reassurance that ‘all will be well’. This is undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of new music I have heard amidst this troubled year.

For its imaginative musical symbiosis, with a profound ability to move the soul, Mór is fervently recommended.

Released 1 September 2020, the CD can be purchased through email addresses shown at the websites of Agnar (agnarmagnusson@gmail.com) and label Dimma (dimma@dimma.is), or as a download from Bandcamp.

 

Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson double bass
Matthías Hemstock drums

Stefán Jón Bernharðsson French horn
Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun French horn
Frank Hammarin French horn
Nimrod Ron tuba

agnarmagnusson.com

Dimma – DIM 87 (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)

REVIEW: ‘Tributes’ – Marius Neset

IT’S ALMOST TEN YEARS since Marius Neset’s ‘Golden Xplosion’ onto the European jazz scene with his debut album of that name, on the Edition Records label. Since then, this master of remarkable saxophonic technique has forged a prolific career, recording an impressive series of albums (most of them reviewed at this site). Neset describes latest ACT Music release, Tributes, as marking “a new phase”…

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 25 September 2020 and available from ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, compositions/arrangements

DANISH RADIO BIG BAND, conducted by Miho Hazama
Erik Eilertsen trumpet
Lars Vissing trumpet
Thomas Kjærgaard trumpet
Gerard Presencer trumpet (solo on Children’s Day Part 2)
Mads la Cour trumpet (solo on Leaving The Dock)
Peter Fuglsang alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet
Nicolai Schultz alto saxophone, flute
Hans Ulrik tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet (solo on Tribute)
Frederick Menzies tenor saxophone, clarinet (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Anders Gaardmand baritone saxophone (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Peter Dahlgren trombone (solo on Bicycle Town Part 1)
Vincent Nilsson trombone
Kevin Christensen trombone
Annette Saxe bass trombone
Jakob Munck Mortensen bass trombone, tuba
Per Gade guitar (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Henrik Gunde piano (solo on Leaving The Dock)
Kaspar Vadsholt double bass, electric bass
Søren Frost drums

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9051-2 (2020)

‘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)

‘Passport’ – Omar Rahbany

passport

STAMPED with kaleidoscopic impressions from around the globe, Lebanese pianist Omar Rahbany’s Passport is a sumptuous fusion of jazz, orchestral and world music, presented by more than one hundred and eighty collaborators from twelve different nations.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released in the UK on 18 April 2017, Passport can be purchased at Amazon.
Audio samples and information at Omar Rahbany’s Facebook artist page.

 

Omar Rahbany piano, keyboards, additional bezok

Individual artists listed mostly in track-sequence appearance:
Ghada Nehme
vocals
Christopher Michael drums, Brazilian and miscellaneous percussion
Tony Dib accordion
Trad Trad clarinet
Steve Rodby acoustic bass
Raymond Hage percussion, Arabic percussion
Cuong Vu trumpet
Wayne Krantz electric guitar
Ali Madbouh ney, mezmar
Keith Carlock drums
Elie Afif electric bass
Andrew Hachem vocals
Faraj Hanna bezok, oud
Scott Harrell trumpets
Judy Lee horns
Timothy Albright trombones
Morris Kainuma tuba
Claud Chalhoub violin
Khachatur Savzyan double bass
Tom Hornig soprano saxophone
Nidal Abou Samra alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, trumpet
Karim Ziad drums
Jihad Assaad kanoon
Raed Boukamel ney
Jessy Jleilaty, Mirna Ileilaty Abdo, Andree Dib female chorus
Simon Obeid, Nader Khoury, Elie Khayat, Gilbert Jalkh, Tony Azar male chorus
Loyal El Mir vocals
Rami Maalouf flute
José Fernandez guitar
Alain Makdessi electric guitar

The Kiev City Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko
Members of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra
additional strings

omarrahbany.com

Rahbany Yahya Productions (2017)

‘Fragment’ – Jonathan Silk

jonathansilk_fragment

A BIG BAND ALBUM whose stratified multicolours and dynamics are echoed by the cover art of British painter/printmaker David Stanley, Fragment is the original work of award-winning drummer and composer Jonathan Silk.

Increasingly a major presence on the Midlands’ contemporary jazz scene, following on from his graduation at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011, the Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2014 has worked with luminaries such as Iain Ballamy, Stan Sulzmann, Liane Carroll and Soweto Kinch; and in addition to celebrated big band mentors Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza, his drum tutors Jeff Williams and the late Tony Levin are cited as big influencers of his style.

Across a full hour, Jonathan Silk’s expansive canvas is varietally layered-up by impressive forces – a big band of 19 and a string section of 13 (just look at those credits below) – with fellow drummer Andrew Bain conducting and flugelhornist Percy Pursglove in a featured role (both are respected educators at Birmingham Conservatoire). Just as unfamiliar, abstract visual art can require time to develop, meld and be understood, this impressionistic approach has taken a while to reveal an identity; yet it increasingly entices with maturity of arrangement and strong musicianship, seamlessly blending scene after scene of energised drama (Silk on the drum stool) with rivulets of subtlety. In fact, rather than offering up the usual waymarked path of favourite tracks or standout melodies, it becomes an immersive experience in which to progressively savour different illuminations of the composer’s thoughts.

Softly grooving Buchaille (a beloved munro in the Scottish Highlands) luxuriates in close-knit brass and reeds, hitting high trumpet peaks before descending to quiet valleys of improvised trombone – but Silk’s way is to keenly press on as unison strings provide an almost Manhattan-style, bustling backdrop; and First Light‘s sustained serenity (recalling “a winter night spent with whiskey and friends, awaiting the snow reports at 6am”) supports Percy Pursglove’s mellow, watchful flugel, with the composer’s sensitive development fusing strings with a gently rhythmic momentum.

The drummer makes his mark in wildly percussive, brassy Prelude before segueing into South African-inspired Barefeet which fascinates with unpredictable jabbing piano and acoustic guitar – an example of the unlikely hues which Silk fashions. His searching miniature, Reflection, even suggests a route into movie soundtrack, preceding In Thought‘s similarly sublime, piano- and violin-graced journey. The spiky, perilous rock-guitar adventure of title track Fragment is a winner, teeming with electric bass-driven, saxophone-rippling life as guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford’s improvisations encourage bold, brass syncopation and a full-throttle display from Silk; and he is so adept in contrasting fervour with the finely-orchestrated tranquillity to be found in Withdrawal and end piece Last Light.

But it is perhaps Jonathan Silk’s broadest piece – eleven-minute Fool’s Paradise – which singly showcases his solidity and reach as a composer, the episodic variations (including inspired use of Hammond organ voice, and open spaces for extemporisation) providing a clear glimpse of a bright future. Hook up a few, memorable themes and there’ll be no stopping him!

As with most recordings, it’s a privilege to revisit and enjoy these luscious soundscapes at will – but it must certainly be exhilarating to also witness this scale of ardent musicality in a live setting. Good news, then, that 2017 tour dates are to be announced.

Released on Stoney Lane Records, Fragment is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.


Andrew Bain
conductor
Percy Pursglove flugelhorn

Mike Fletcher alto saxophone, flute
Chris Maddock alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Rob Cope baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Tom Walsh trumpet, flugelhorn
Reuben Fowler trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Gough trumpet, flugelhorn
Kieran Mcleod trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Yusuf Narcin trombone
Andy Johnson tuba

Emily Tyrell violin (leader)
Katrina Davies violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Ning-ning Li violin
Beth Bellis violin
Kathryn Coleman violin
Zhivko Georgiev violin
Pei Ann Yeoh violin
Victoria Strudwick viola
Eileen Smith viola
Lucy French cello
Katy Nagle cello
Ayse Osman double bass

Thomas Seminar Ford guitar
Andy Bunting piano, Nord
Toby Boalch piano, Nord
Nick Jurd double bass, electric bass
Jonathan Silk drums
Tom Chapman percussion

Original art by David Stanley

jonathansilk.co.uk

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1977 (2016)