‘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)

‘Subterranea’ – Mosaic

mosaic_subterranea

VIBRAPHONIST Ralph Wyld can be found gracing many a contemporary jazz line-up (including those of Rick Simpson, John Martin and Tim Richards), so it’s good to see his own sextet, Mosaic, stepping out with debut album Subterranea.

An entirely acoustic band, Wyld’s personnel comprises James Copus (trumpet, flugelhorn), Sam Rapley (clarinets), Cecilia Bignall (cello), Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass) and Scott Chapman (drums, percussion), and together they bring an often ruminative, atmospheric dimension to the vibraphonist’s seven, original compositions. Indeed, the specific instrumental blend of brass, woodwind, strings and percussion creates a predominantly inquiring chamber ensemble effect – though not without expansive moments of boisterousness – the writing appearing to offer all players acres of space for their improvisational free-spiritedness.

Ralph Wyld was announced by Edition Records and the Royal Academy of Music as the 2015 winner of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize (following in the footsteps of Josh Arcoleo, Reuben Fowler, Lauren Kinsella and Misha Mullov-Abbado), thus providing the opportunity to record this release at Real World Studios.

Here is an album which often mysteriously, sometimes quirkily unfolds its fifty minutes of treasures through vibes-anchored expressions which might evoke Terry Riley or Pierre Moerlen, combining them with the kind of brash, theatrical mischievousness heard in the music of, say, Michael Chillingworth or George Crowley. Wyld’s sustained, modulating colours deftly permeate the evolving instrumental timbres; and with a markedly live, almost folk-band sonority, the sound is particularly direct.

White Horses, described as being influenced by Steve Reich and much-missed Steve Martland, holds the kind of anticipatory thrill of waiting for breakers to crash as the darkly-brooding vibraphone swell repeatedly erupts into foamy crests of trumpet and clarinet amidst a tumultuous bass-and-percussion rhythm (an exciting audio/visual connection can be envisaged); and title track Subterranea‘s luminous, undersea weightlessness reveals exquisite finds of double bass and bass clarinet extemporisation as Wyld’s measured touch supports throughout, and shafts of harmonic light are crafted with unusual tonal blending. Keira Konko (Hill of Peace, in The Gambia) is a multi-faceted, twelve-minute episode which balances lyrical cello with chirpy trumpet and sparkling vibes, its strongest melodic episode imaginable as a documentary theme tune; and Cryptogram (whose basis, Wyld states, is melodically and chordally derived from his name) is fidgety and excitable, with a bristling propulsion only stopped in its tracks by syncopated hiatuses – a cheeky old thing!

But one of the significant discoveries, at three points across this album, is the ensemble’s skill in serene abstraction. Interludes I and II, plus a Reprise, are interspersed amongst the larger works with a slow, otherworldly beauty reminiscent of Brian Eno; and the fact that these are overlapping acoustic voices makes them all the more special (perhaps a concept for the future).

The pleasure here is in navigating a route through this album’s unpredictable, winding paths. Where might they take you?

Released on 18 November 2016, Subterranea is available from Edition Records, as CD or digital download, at Bandcamp (album trailer here).

 

Ralph Wyld vibraphone
James Copus trumpet, flugelhorn
Sam Rapley clarinet, bass clarinet
Cecilia Bignall cello
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums, percussion

ralphwyld.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1077 (2016)

‘Klammer’ – Rick Simpson

Klammer

clamour ■ n. a loud and confused noise. ■ v. (of a group) shout or demand loudly.

IT WOULD SEEM rather off beam to suggest that this sextet resembled (in more conventional spelling) the above definitions; but they do provide a clue to their full-on, angular and often wondrously oblique approach to jazz.

Rick Simpson is a regular sideman on the London scene, as are his colleagues in this line-up – and saxophonists Michael Chillingworth and George Crowley are no strangers on the front line together (see recent release Scratch and Sift), communicating no-holds-barred creative grit and energy. The prospect, then, of them melodically heading-up the pianist’s original, unpredictable compositions is something to relish, especially in collaboration with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer David Hamblett.

Simpson’s broad musical understanding and appreciation provides a solid basis for his writing, though improvisation is a key motivator (as much at home with the music of Kenny Wheeler as Django Bates, or as inspired by post-bop as free jazz). So in this project, the avoidance of structure doesn’t signal ‘clamour’, but rather that the zesty compositions offer his colleagues considerable freedom – and it’s notable how, throughout this near-hour-full box of delights, arranged phrases can either meld or snap into the wide-open spaces of individual extemporisation.

The many rhythmic intricacies here must surely pose a knotty challenge, as evidenced in the first two tracks, Pins and Beware of Gabriel Garrick Imitators; and the furtive, jolting advancement of sax, vibes and bass (especially with Tom Farmer on board) resembles the excellence of Empirical. But, although Rick Simpson is happy to join the combined ‘klang’ of the ensemble, on Fender Rhodes, his pianistic inventiveness also regularly comes to the fore. So he shapes How Deep is Your Disrespect with the kind of sensitive, wayward fascination associated with John Taylor; and his ‘alarm’ ostinato in this number, picked up from Ralph Wyld’s vibes, is an attention-grabbing vehicle which sparks percussive excitement, as well as typical outlandishness from Chillingworth and Crowley (turn it up loud!).

A pianist’s approach to composition can clearly be picked out in slow-moving, spacial Orbital, as lush alto and sax harmonies are complemented by nebulous, star-glinting piano and vibes which are then sumptuously swelled by the whole ensemble; and aqueous, tremulant Rhodes in Sea Change binds together the evolving, painterly layers of a jewel-encrusted canvas. The complexity of volatile, irascible Greasy Child! Ugly Man!, with its simple yet provocative double-horn jibing, is riveting; so, too, is bright, snappy Unsustainabubble whose straight-ahead tenor and bass hook-up is immaculately delivered. Rings End is packed full of undulating intrigue, somehow suggesting a comedic movie accompaniment; and the easy, South African lilt of Surreal Estate (almost ten minutes in duration) is just the prelude to a many-roomed promenade, crescendoing to a synth-enhanced climax.

Shut out any other forms of, er, ‘klammer’… and revel in its spirited fullness.

Released on Two Rivers Records, on 30 September 2016, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Michael Chillingworth alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
George Crowley tenor saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Rick Simpson piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, MS-10, glockenspiel, harmonium
Tom Farmer double bass
David Hamblett drums

ricksimpsonjazz.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-012 (2016)

‘Scratch and Sift’ – Michael Chillingworth

Scratch2

THE CURIOUS ASSORTMENT of characters above conceals a delicious preponderance of reeds in Michael Chillingworth’s debut septet album, Scratch and Sift.

Saxophonist and clarinettist Chillingworth is a mainstay of London’s contemporary jazz scene, working with artists such as Stan Sulzmann, Julian Siegel, James Maddren and Kit Downes. So it’s fascinating to discover the free thinking of his own writing, realised with colleagues Tom Challenger (tenor, clarinet), Josh Arcoleo (tenor), George Crowley (bass clarinet), Lewis Wright (vibes), Sam Lasserson (bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Here is an album which rasps and sizzles so hard and so densely that it’s hard to ignore. Contrastingly sweet and sour, many of these eight, original compositions somehow seem to convey the arresting wit, irony and dark mischievousness to be found in classic, monochrome Ealing comedies. Right from the off, stealthy vibraphone and spicy horn ta-dahhs in Butterman lure the senses into an unusual world of theatrics and drollery, its agile melodies and close, spiky arrangements shadily tiptoeing around each corner; and Mint‘s syncopated blarings are matched by Jon Scott’s perky percussion, with some delightful individual improvisations widening into more open landscapes.

Yes, there’s a certain, honest Britishness to Chillingworth’s musical imagination. Overlaid tumblings in Brian Kuh give way to rapid, exuberant sax anarchy as the leader’s swirling alto is taunted by his assailants amidst challenging, irregular riffs (unpredictable, scampering unison passages here, which break into harmony, are especially effective… nay, smile-inducing). The furtive bass clarinet, double bass and vibes of clock-ticking The Wait (not to be listened to, alone, on a dimly-lit railway platform!) eventually screech to jittery alto and a cacophony of wailing sirens; so it’s quite likely that lumbering, irascible Capture is the resultant, bumpy, Black Maria journey!

Politely funky Grateful Lady is a joy, Lewis Wright’s repeated vibraphone chromatics providing the notorious ‘sax and clarinet boys’ with an opportunity to knock seven bells out of each other – so much vim and vigour, encouraged by Lasserson and Scott in the propulsive rhythm section, and concluding with wonderfully wheezy, out-of-breath textures in the reeds department. Through the opening flick of one eye, Numbers‘ initial quietude becomes utterly mischievous, its inquisitive alto extensions and trills breaking into communal boogie; and closing Righteous fools no-one – a chuffing, squawking hullabaloo which, though microscopically arranged, is as tireless and wild as the album’s earlier, madcap adventures – and Chillingworth’s hard-blown improv just as audacious.

Awright, mate [nudge, wink]… go get it!

Released on Two Rivers Records on 1 July 2016, Scratch and Sift is available from Bandcamp.

 

Michael Chillingworth alto saxophone, clarinet
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone, clarinet
Josh Arcoleo tenor saxophone
George Crowley bass clarinet
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Sam Lasserson bass
Jon Scott drums

michaelchillingworth.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR 010 (2016)

‘Let’s Get Deluxe’ – The Impossible Gentlemen

LetsGetDeluxe

I’VE BEEN TOWING this little beauty around for a while now… and travelling with it has only served to deepen the pleasure.

Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from ‘transatlantic supergroup’ The Impossible Gentlemen, following on from 2013’s Internationally Recognised Aliens. With guitarist Mike Walker and pianist/multi-instrumentalist Gwilym Simcock in the compositional driving seat, they once again hook up with bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum, and are augmented for the first time by saxophonist, clarinettist and flautist Iain Dixon.

Maybe it’s the fine UK/US instrumental blend which makes the Gents’ music so pleasingly difficult to categorise. Certainly there’s the contemporary jazz styling of Pat Metheny (with whom Simcock has recently been touring) and John Scofield, or even Weather Report; but there are also American-rock hints of Little Feat and Steely Dan, not to mention a touch of prog and a dusting of good old British whimsy. It all adds up to an hour of exquisitely arranged, multi-layered, seamless performance which sparkles with rhythmic verve and blitheful melody.

The reputations of Walker and Simcock go before them, their individual prolificacy enriching the world of jazz quite immeasurably. But here, the sense of them relishing their North West English alliance is especially evident, with free rein to take these collaborative compositions wherever they please as they sumptuously layer-up the arrangements (assisted by Steve Rodby’s considerable production expertise). Title track Let’s Get Deluxe bubbles to an anthemic post-prog groove featuring Simcock’s lithe piano soloing over a full, sleek arrangement which enjoys the mellow beauty of his French horn and Walker’s typically soaring jazz/rock lead guitar improv. A Fedora for Dora‘s snappy rhythms, so characteristic of Simcock’s piano work, are energised by Rodby and Nussbaum – and, as often is the case here, the weave of supporting instruments (bass clarinet, French horn, tuned percussion) creates so much interest across this unfolding soundscape.

Presumably inspired by Gwilym Simcock’s love of the ‘beautiful game’, Terrace Legend excitedly simmers to Zawinul/Santana-like keyboard-and-guitar phrases before exploding into percussive euphoria, only paused by distant, evocative crowd chants; and grungy, dimly-lit Dog Time – with particularly effective bass clarinet and tremulant Hammond pairing – finds Mike Walker at his bluesy, mischievous best as his guitar repeatedly howls to the moon. Purposefully shuffling, countryfied Hold Out for the Sun is melodically bright enough to be a TV signature tune – and despite its breezy openness, the many instrumental comings-and-goings along the way are delightful.

Friend, colleague and pianist, the great John Taylor, is remembered in It Could Have Been A Simple Goodbye* – a poignant, affectionate tribute whose lush stateside arrangement is redolent of Lyle Mays. Propane Jane‘s Scottish marching band feel soon breaks into jabbing Fender Rhodes-led ebullience, Mike Walker’s gutsy, colourful, harmonic guitar a runaway joy; and bucolic closer Speak to Me of Home, featuring Iain Dixon’s soprano sax, possesses a simple charm enhanced by Steve Rodby’s gently pliant bass improvisations.

The Impossible Gentlemen have developed a keen following on the strength of their first two releases and their entertaining live shows. This full-of-life album feels like their best yet.

Released on 1 July 2016, and launching at Manchester Jazz Festival on 26 July, Let’s Get Deluxe is available from Jazz CDs, etc.

*Video, from 2015 – live at Sligo Jazz Project: (It Could Have Been) A Simple Goodbye.

 

Mike Walker guitar, dog whistle
Gwilym Simcock piano, keyboards, French horn, flugel horn, accordion, vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Iain Dixon soprano sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute
Steve Rodby bass
Adam Nussbaum drums

impossiblegentlemen.com

Basho Records – SRCD 51-2 (2016)

‘The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure’ – John Martin

JohnMartin

CHARTING the lesser-known seas of saxophone multiphonics, this 2CD quintet release from John Martin is defined by its title – a spirited voyage of adventure in search of ‘the hidden notes’.

Martin explains that, around ten years ago whilst practicing, he discovered that the tenor sax had the potential to produce multiple overtones and textures; and for the past few years, he has set out to explore jazz in this context, developing a system to tempt out these “rather shy and often badly behaved notes.” Joining him on this recording are Ralph Wyld (vibraphone), Rob Updegraff (electric guitar), Tim Fairhall (double bass) and Tim Giles (drums).

Over ninety minutes, the vibe is of accessible post-bop jazz – yet, as with any expedition into unfamiliar territory, it can take a while to settle into the newness of the polyphonic experience. So the saxophone delivery might initially be difficult to fathom, as these ‘three-dimensional’ sounds are coaxed out of the instrument, with some more effective than others (first reactions, in places, might incorrectly suggest a lack of technique!). But Martin goes all out for experimentation, injecting his ten original compositions (plus three preludes) and otherwise full, clear, instrumental timbre with surprising piquancy.

Both the writing and the performances throughout are slick, the broad expanse of many of the tracks appearing to create an openness amongst the five musicians. The opening theme of Heptopia, for example, is so melodically warm, riding the gentle waves of Rob Updegraff’s luscious chords and Ralph Wyld’s bejewelled vibraphone; and often – as here and in Spirit of Adventure – this combination creates the kind of sweet repetition enjoyed in the music of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong or even Steve Reich. There’s much to excite, from Tick Tock‘s perky buoyancy, threaded with individual improv artistry, to swinging Folklore and Giant’s Stomp, both shot through with Martin’s gruff, harmonic clusters and richly-phrased soloing.

Pentacision – a sixteen-minute odyssey in two parts – ripples with episode after episode, as if traversing oceanic swells and reaching contrasting, breezeless conditions (the tricksy time signature riffs are pleasingly memorable). Eddies features more of Martin’s hypnotic riffs, which are especially effective here as the crescendoing and decrescendoing overtone patterns almost suggest a Doppler shift; and the joyous swing of The Optimistic Pessimist, bookended by more extreme tonal caws, is enriched by the saxophonist’s careful, melodic use of his system.

Employing an individual technique which might easily have been the ‘elephant in the studio’, John Martin’s release is full of engaging, jazz vibrancy – an expansive journey spangled with unexpected musical glints and refractions. A beautiful, dreamlike cover illustration, too, from Ellen Tovey.

The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure is available from F-IRE.com and John Martin’s website. More information at thehiddennotes.com.

 

John Martin tenor saxophone
Rob Updegraff electric guitar
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Tim Fairhall double bass
Tim Giles drums

Illustration by Ellen Tovey

thehiddennotes.com
johnnoblemartin.com

F-IRE Presents – F-IRE CD 92 (2016)

‘Wolf Valley’ – Eyolf Dale

EyolfDale

EDITION RECORDS’ impressive relationship with Scandinavian and other European artists, forged over the past few years, continues with pianist and composer Eyolf Dale’s Wolf Valley.

Having previously released a handful of solo albums in his native Norway, as well as appearing as sideman on many recordings (including tubist Daniel Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train), Dale’s compositional expertise is brought to life here by broader forces – a colourful and adaptable octet of piano, bass and saw, drums, tenor sax and clarinet, trumpet, trombone, vibraphone and violin. Greatly influenced by classical music, jazz, improvisation – and, most likely, the folksongs and landscapes of his homeland – the pianist’s eclectic output is distinct in its compositional spaciousness and instrumental diversity. Within such a spirit of invention, numerous musical boundaries are traversed, providing so many rich discoveries along the way.

Dale’s scaleable and constantly fluctuating episodes – one moment ‘big band’, then ‘chamber orchestra’ or ‘minimal atmospheric’ – are the key to these nine generous tracks. For example, gentle horn grooves in opener Furet are embellished by coruscating vibes and bluesy piano; and all at once the mood drifts into the cinematic longing of Fernanda, whose attractive, flowing undercurrent is elaborated upon by lyrical clarinet and violin, swelled by Dale’s beautiful eight-piece orchestration. Based on a previously-recorded improvised organ chorale, Shostachoral‘s sustained progress, featuring André Roligheten’s gruff, melancholic tenor, is reminiscent of John Surman or Jan Garbarek; and Ban Joe‘s folksy animation (cannily resembling a banjo accompaniment) pauses delicately amongst vibraphone ripples before breaking into exuberant piano jazz – but stay focused… this musical journey keeps moving on!

Combining funereal, New Orleans-style marching band with a weighty, prepared-piano bass pulse, Sideways restlessly portrays its themes of loss, adding classy solo trombone and trumpet improvisations, whilst Tegistein‘s empty, industrial landscape of sinuous screeches and echoes grabs the attention. The Creek‘s playfully clattering groove is another standout, full of dancing piano riffs, syncopated horns, languid jazz trumpet, audaciously fluttering tenor and delicate vibes-decorated textures (so much to enjoy); the quiet, slowly unfolding solitude of Silent Ways, complete with wavering saw, is oh so delicate; and fast-paced The Walk sparkles brightly, thanks to ticking percussion and a sumptuous octet arrangement.

Eyolf Dale and his accomplished personnel breathe so much into this vast panoply of creative ideas, presenting a recording which is a pleasure to delve into more and more deeply – and it’s bound to remain a favourite for some considerable time. Thank goodness for our resolute, European, musical connections.

Released on 10 June 2016, Wolf Valley (direct translation: Eyolf = Wolf, Dale = Valley) is available as CD and high-quality download at Bandcamp.

Video: Furet.

 

Eyolf Dale piano
Per Zanussi bass, saw
Gard Nilssen drums
André Roligheten tenor saxophone, clarinet
Hayden Powell trumpet
Kristoffer Kompen trombone
Rob Waring vibraphone
Adrian Løseth Waade violin

eyolfdale.com

Edition Records – EDN1073 (2016)