‘Hommage à Eberhard Weber’

Eberhard

RARELY has a live jazz album felt as emotive or as broadly momentous, encompassing and celebrating so many strands and decades of sublime creativity.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Pat Metheny guitars
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
Gary Burton vibraphone
Scott Colley double bass
Danny Gottlieb drums
Paul McCandless English horn, soprano saxophone
Klaus Graf alto saxophone
Ernst Hutter euphonium
and
Eberhard Weber double bass (from tape)

Michael Gibbs arranger, conductor
Ralf Schmid arranger
Rainer Tempel arranger
Libor Šíma arranger

SWR Big Band conducted by Helge Sunde

ECM Records – 473 2344 (ECM 2463) (2015)

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‘Good is Good’ – Vula Viel

VulaViel

MELDING Ghanaian rhythm, minimalist repetition and improvisatory jazz pizazz, percussionist Bex Burch unveils a debut album which glints with hypnotic majesty, all based around first-hand experience of living and making music with the Dagaare tribe of West Africa.

Burch’s CV is fascinating. A childhood passion for percussion, and her classical studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, led to a series of chance encounters which resulted in a gap year travelling around Ghana’s ten regions, learning about and immersing herself in the musical culture of its people. It was there that she was introduced to master xylophonist Thomas Segkura, who invited her to be his apprentice. Across three years, she would buy and farm land, build a house – and, significantly, develop both the craftsmanship and the musicianship to create and master traditional instrument, the Gyil. On completion of her apprenticeship, she was given the name Vula Viel (which translates as ‘Good is Good’), and rewarded with the beautiful words, “All we have given you is yours, and all you have given us is ours. The good you do remains when you die.”

Returning to the UK, Burch decided to develop the richness of the Gyil music she had come to be a part of by forming a band – appropriately named Vula Viel – with some of London’s most progressive jazz and improvisational musicians; the beat-driven line-up consisting of saxophonist George Crowley, keyboardist Dan Nicholls, drummers Dave de Rose and Simon Roth, plus vibraphonist Stephen Burke (and Jim Hart guesting). Under Bex Burch’s direction, her colleagues rehearsed/gigged hard to understand the rhythms and melodies of the Dagaare tradition, respectfully reinterpreting them into this exciting, contemporary, groove-laden experience.

The successful cross-pollination of cultural creativity and instrumentation is what immediately grabs the attention – Nicholls’ electronic atmospheres and Crowley’s jazz-sax sensibility fusing organically with infectious world rhythms which glow to the leader’s bright, xylophonic timbres. Burch studied Steve Reich, and that mesmeric influence (also suggesting Terry Riley, Pierre Moerlen and even Ibiza-like sundown moods amongst its earthy, rustic charm) can clearly be identified in tracks such as Gandayina and Bewa which, with superbly echoic textures of Rhodes and synth, also become redolent of Soft Machine’s Six period. The dance element is key, as Zine Dondone Zine Daa rasps to the physicality of the Gyil, enhanced by sympathetic vibes and electronics (often the lines of definition are wonderfully blurred!) – and resounding to Crowley’s characteristically unfettered tenor, it all builds into magnificent, saturated, Nik Bärtsch-style complexity. There are moments of becalming beauty, too, across these seven tracks, often moving from watery, South African-tinted sunshine to Gamelanese delicacy – all displaying a constantly shifting undercurrent of invention.

Vula Viel’s appearance at this year’s Ronnie Scott’s London Jazz Festival launch confirmed an enthusiastic response to their fizzing, live presence; and this studio account, listening closely to exquisite detail, provides its own thrill. It would seem that there are areas of this vast, African-inspired canvas yet to be coloured – and with such an intuitive personnel, that’s something to very much look forward to.

Released on 23 October 2015, Good is Good can be heard at and purchased from Bandcamp.

 

Bex Burch Gyil
George Crowley sax
Dan Nicholls bass synth, keyboards
Dave De Rose drums
Simon Roth drums
Stephen Burke vibes
with
Jim Hart vibes (on Bewa)

vulaviel.com

Vula Viel Records – VVCD001 (2015)

‘Telegraph Hill’ – Tim Richards’ Hextet

Hextet

A NAME synonymous with great British jazz of the last thirty five years, pianist Tim Richards brought us the invention of his quartet/quintet Spirit Level back in the ’80s and ’90s, followed by the excitement of nine-piece Great Spirit (with the likes of Tony Kofi, Jason Yarde and Seb Rochford). Both were impressive bands when heard live.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Tim Richards piano
Ed Jones tenor sax
Ralph Wyld vibes
Peter Ibbetson drums
Dick Pearce trumpet
Dominic Howles bass

timrichards.ndo.co.uk

Track – CD0215 (2015)

‘Strata’ – Ivo Neame

Strata

IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.

2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.

Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”

Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ –  lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.

Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.

Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.

A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!

 

Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

ivoneame.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)

‘Knowledge Porridge’ – The Weave

Weave_lite

“On the street for knowledge, you must eat your porridge.”

BASING THE TITLE of their second album on that quote from a late ’80s song by The La’s (they of There She Goes), fellow Liverpudlians The Weave serve up this ten-track delight which brims with good cheer, memorable licks and more than a hint of positively-channelled mischief.

Led by trumpeter and composer Martin Smith, the band (who have played together in different guises for many years) have grown to be a key element of the city’s buzzing Georgian Quarter scene – an architecturally and artistically rich sector where live music at venues such as The Caledonia and The Grapes is keenly championed. Essentially a dual trumpet and guitar-fronted jazz sextet, they are joined on this recording (engineered by Tony Draper at the very local Parr Steet Studios) by a number of colleagues who add lustre to their happy, ebullient, sometimes quirky Liverpool sound drawn from hard bop and classic trad styles of jazz, as well as pop, rock and a whiff of Canterbury scene eccentricity.

You can get the drift from opener The Pogo (which Smith co-wrote with Frank Zappa drummer, the late Jimmy Carl Black), as it grooves with all the cheerful amiability of Clark Terry or Kenny Ball; and if the initial few bars’ impression is of modest easy-listening jazz/R&B, wait for the album’s irresistibly teasing influences to unfold. Plodding New Orleans-tinged Trumpet Ear audaciously chucks an unexpected extra beat here and there into its rising, Three Little Fishies-suggested motif (Smith’s improvisational trumpet style here not unlike Freddie Hubbard), and the vibes-sparkling I’m In Your House hits a fabulously ’60s about-town blend of Gerry Marsden’s Pacemakers, retro-pop Merseyside band The Coral, and even Herb Alpert (with cool guitar improv from Anthony Ormesher).

The blithe, late-’60s/early-’70s mood is perpetuated in dreamy Our Day On The Mountain, its precise call-and-answer arrangement and smooth, high-reaching flugel lines recalling the late, great Kenny Wheeler; and Evolve and Expand, featuring the voice and acoustic guitar of writer Luciana Mercer, shuffles coolly to sauntering piano and muted trumpets. Written by bassist Hugo Harrison, Para Parrot might imagine an agreeable Django Reinhardt and Dave Brubeck meet-up, with Satchmo guesting; and languishing Our Fathers seems to summon the case-solved closing titles of a monochrome TV detective series, albeit it with subtle Mariachi-twinned trumpets.

Swirling Celtic melodies in Not On Your Nelly (in Liverpool, ‘could be a ‘wet Nelly’ – Google it!) find Smith wonderfully mimicking the double-stopping effect of Irish fiddle music as the piece stomps assuredly, whilst eclectic, new-age title track Knowledge Porridge perhaps reflects the leader’s long association with Kevin Ayers, its faux-tango feel crowned by a bizarre yet eloquent Vivian Stanshall-like oration from trumpeter Anthony Peers. And the gentle, musical-box waltz of charmingly-titled Princess Salami Socks (dedicated to Smith’s young god-daughter, with lilting cello duet from her parents) wistfully winds down the album to its conclusion.

This is certainly a release of fascinatingly different flavours from a clutch of musicians who, through many years of collaboration and enjoyment of their art, intuitively ‘click’ – and it’s a great left-field Summer pleaser, to boot.

Released on 6 July 2015, Knowledge Porridge is available at Bandcamp as download, CD and limited edition 12″ vinyl.

 

Martin Smith trumpet, flugelhorn, musicbox
Anthony Peers trumpet, flugelhorn, spoken word
Anthony Ormesher guitar
Hugo “Harry” Harrison double bass
Tilo Pirnbaum drums
Rob Stringer piano
Andrzej Baranec piano
Vidar Norheim vibraphone
Stuart Hardcastle percussion
with
Luciana Mercer vocals, acoustic guitar
Michael Head 12-string acoustic guitar
Georgina Aasgaard cello
Jonathan Aasgaard cello

theweavemusic.com

Rufusalbino Records (2015)

‘Kind of Cool’ – Wolfgang Haffner

Layout 1

IT WOULD BE EASY, on a first hearing, to pass off Wolfgang Haffner’s Kind of Cool as bog-standard ‘elevator music’, given his assured, easy-going approach to this stream of jazz favourites. But offering so much more than that, he presents a thread of accessible Summer’s afternoon ‘cool’ in immaculate, straight-ahead renditions including So What, Summertime, and My Funny Valentine.

As a jazz drummer, composer, producer and bandleader, Haffner has for many years been highly regarded throughout his native Germany and beyond – indeed, a weighty back catalogue of recorded and live collaborations (including Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Michael Wollny) tell their own story. Recalling his early introduction to jazz, it was the LPs of Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Modern Jazz Quartet that helped Haffner forge his musical identity; and here, he approaches familiar ‘greats’ with a fresh elegance, along with a trio of his own compositions which neatly dovetail into the prevailing chilled groove. A sextet album with guests, the main line-up boasts extraordinary collective experience: Christopher Dell (vibes), Jan Lundgren (piano), Dan Berglund (bass), Dusko Goykovich (trumpet) and Jukka Perko (alto sax), plus Haffner at the kit.

So a few pointers: Haffner’s gently shuffling Hippie, with Jukka Perko’s mellow alto conjuring thoughts of Paul Desmond’s (Brubeck’s) signature sound, leads to a buoyant, vibes-embellished interpretation of Miles Davis’ So What. The only vocal track finds soulful Max Mutzke (in an impressive first take) easing into Billy Eckstein’s Piano Man, with marvellously measured blues piano from guest Frank Chastenier; and the timeless appeal of Autumn Leaves is longingly windswept by Dusko Goykovich’s muted trumpet. Tantricity (from Haffner’s pen) meanders abstractly before a welcome gear change in Summertime – Gershwin’s spiritual reinvented as a catchy, laid-back swing.

Rodgers & Hart’s My Fully Valentine maintains its slow, haunting mystery thanks to Perko’s silky alto; and the cheeky unison horn demeanour of Nat Adderley’s One For Daddy O swaggers to the velvety trombone of guest Nils Landgren. With reminiscences of Chet Baker’s smooth vocal delivery, I Fall In Love Too Easily smoulders to Goykovitch’s soft trumpet and Jan Lundgren’s pianistic grace. John Lewis’s Django takes a new twist away from MJQ familiarity, its inquiring sax melody entering the realm of TV drama theme; and Haffner’s Remembrance is a fitting bookend, every bit as appealing as its classic companions.

A recording occasionally veering close to soporific in places, the similar key-change oscillations of the first two programmed tracks didn’t initially help to grab the attention (though perhaps Wolfgang would be quite happy with the Miles comparison!). But as the album proceeds, there’s the realisation of ordered clarity and sophistication which becomes increasingly satisfying. Maybe not literally “my favourite work of art”… but, having already received many enjoyable plays, it will no doubt be pressed into action as the long (hopefully warm and sunny) days of Summer approach.

Released on 23 February 2015, further information, audio clips and purchasing can be found at ACT Music.

 

Wolfgang Haffner drums
Christopher Dell vibraphone
Jan Lundgren piano
Dan Berglund bass
Dusko Goykovich trumpet
Jukka Perko alto saxophone
with
Max Mutzke vocals
Frank Chastenier piano
Christian von Kaphengst bass
Nils Landgren trombone

wolfganghaffner.com

ACT Music  – ACT 9576-2 (2015)

‘Next Beginning’ – Samuel Eagles Quartet

SamuelEagles

BALANCE IS EVERYTHING… and this fine debut album, Next Beginning, from young London saxophonist and composer Samuel Eagles and his quartet achieves that assured, measured clarity and cohesion. Tutored and mentored by jazz sax illuminati including Mornington Lockett, Jason Yarde, Mark Lockheart and Jean Toussaint, this release suggests Eagles has got what it takes, both as an instrumentalist and writer, to make a big splash on the contemporary jazz scene.

Joining him are Ralph Wyld (vibes), Fergus Ireland (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) in an insouciant programme of originals which, laudibly, have been developed and honed on the live circuit before committing them to the recording studio – perhaps this explains the extended nature of all eight numbers here, importantly affording time and space for uninhibited improvisation. Declaring Stateside influences such as Logan Richardson and Ambrose Akinmusire, the quartet’s style is wholly accessible, revealing an empathy – and a certain warmth – which comes from strongly-forged musical bonds.

Key to the band’s openness is the vibraphone limpidity of Ralph Wyld, demonstrated in ten-minute opener Remembering Myself which, with weightless bass and percussion, offers a sax tune so eloquent and amiable that it feels pleasingly familiar. The Place I Live swings apace to Eric Ford’s frisky, ricocheting drums and Fergus Ireland’s sprinting bass; the liquidity of Eagles’ extemporisations, gliding over this babbling momentum, are easily comparable to those of Jean Toussaint, or even Scott Hamilton – and again, Wyld sparkles, particularly in a trio episode with Ireland and Ford. The affable 50 Pound Friendship further displays the band’s parity in a glassy-smooth late-nighter; and Outsider rattles to Ford’s distinctive drum crispness, Eagles’ hard-edged rapid-fire riffs radiating an impressive maturity.

Jason Yarde’s guidance is tangible in Samuel Eagles’ supple soprano prowess on Smells Like Summer, its easy-going, sunshiny demeanour unfolding from an African-style hook that could easily be from the pen of Abdullah Ibrahim (and Ford’s circular cymbal patterns which welcome back the leader towards the close are a joy). The perky, inquiring chromatics of My Instigation set up a more furtive mood as bass and vibes gingerly tread a path for the busy percussion of Ford. Following, We Were Meant To Be provides a glimpse of this saxman’s obvious world-at-his-feet potential with a firecracker that sizzles to the frenetic energy of all; and, as Eagles uses the lower end of his alto register so effectively, it begs the question as to how compelling he might also sound as a tenorist. Title track Next Beginning closes the album – a beautifully upbeat, shuffling number which ‘final-curtains’ each member of the band, the leader proudly revelling in its ebullience.

Released on the F-IRE label on 10 November 2014, the album launches at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on 16 November as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. More live dates are shown below, and the quartet will also be performing at Jazz in the Round, The Cockpit Theatre, London, on 23 February 2015 – check out previous live video clips here.

 

Samuel Eagles alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Fergus Ireland double bass
Eric Ford drums

Recorded and mastered by Derek Nash.
Artwork by Alban Low.

2014 live dates:
16 November: LAUNCH – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
28 November: Torfaen Jazz Club, Griffithstown
02 December: Sela Bar, Leeds
03 December: The Globe Jazz Co-op, Newcastle upon Tyne
04 December: WM Jazz Club, London
07 December: Southampton Modern Jazz Club, Southampton
18 December: The Bull’s Head, London

samueleagles.co.uk
f-ire.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 72 (2014)