REVIEW: ‘Haven’ – Berardi Foran Karlen

AUSTRALIAN PIANIST Sean Foran is likely to be best known for his vibrant and long-running jazz outfit Trichotomy, but this ensemble with vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen (plus their guest, Luxembourg-based vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher) visits distinctly alternative environments.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 20 November 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Videos: No Shepherds Live Here, Bushfire Break and Orbit – Brisbane International Jazz Festival, 2017

 

Kristin Berardi vocals
Sean Foran piano
Rafael Karlen saxophone
with special guest
Pascal Schumacher vibraphone

bfkmusic.com

kristinberardi.com
seanforanmusic.info
rafaelkarlen.com

Earshift Music – EAR029 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Gecko’ – Tom Smith

TWO things…

Firstly, find yourself a good, bass-responsive speaker system; and then absorb one of the most cheering small ensemble recordings to be heard in a year like no other.

Once the lead alto in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and now with the Patchwork Orchestra, saxophonist, bass clarinettist and composer Tom Smith has twice been a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition and won the 2018 Peter Whittingham Development Award from Help Musicians UK. He already has a string of orchestral and big band arrangements to his name, has worked with artists including Maria Schneider, Donny McCaslin and Beverley Knight, and has garnered plaudits from the likes of Django Bates, Julian Joseph and Soweto Kinch.

Now, at the ‘ripe old age’ of 24 he steps out in debut album Gecko; and his trio with vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield and pianist Will Barry displays a fullness through these original compositions which belies its compact nature. There are echoes of Stan Sulzmann’s Neon project (Here to There, with Jim Hart and Gwilym Simcock, comes to mind) and also the duo of Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack. But also, significantly, the tone and ebullience of his personal hero Tim Garland (this album’s producer, and surely a wellspring of advice) can be heard in Smith’s unfaltering agility.

Spirited Flamenco Carlos, with its jaunty, showtime piano riff, instantly demonstrates the trio’s capabilities. Piano and vibes frolic with abandon while Smith’s improvisatory ideas overflow – and without a dedicated rhythm instrument, such blistering momentum shouldn’t sound so at ease! At not far off ten minutes’ duration, Steampunk Tendencies shows similar verve, with Will Barry’s low chordal grooving providing the driving force, pushing the saxophonist to ever greater heights.

Like Garland, Tom neatly switches to bass clarinet – in Alex and John (written for a wedding, celebrating LGBTQ+ love), his deeper range is a joy; and there are some lovely, sonorous descending and leaping figures in chameleonic Blueish. Piano and vibraphone may sometimes seem curious companions, but chirpy, slightly comedic House in the Clouds in particular qualifies that match, Barry and Mansfield darting around Smith’s catchy, alto signature-tune riffs. Everyday Epic, too, preens itself with confidence, as light and shade highlight the trio’s empathy.

Graceful piano in Anthem becomes refracted by sustained, shimmering vibraphone; and there’s something both plaintive and considered about the way Smith’s high alto enters only latterly. Reposeful Curiosity, also, is full of glinting reflection, only gradually offering a measured, lapping sense of headway; and melodic Viking Dance’s constantly-shifting textures and colours are fascinating to pore over.

Focus on the detail in these nine tracks, rather than pushing them to the background. Tom Smith’s interaction with his colleagues is intelligent, never short on technical flair or improvisational enterprise – and with his track record thus far, Gecko suggests many, still greater things to come.

Released on 6 November 2020 – Basho Records’ first digital-only release – and available at Bandcamp.

 

Tom Smith saxophone, bass clarinet
Jonny Mansfield vibraphone
Will Barry piano

tomsmithsax.com

Basho Records – SRCD58-2 (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: ‘Spirits of Absent Dancers’ – Martin Pyne

DANCE is central to vibraphonist and percussionist Martin Pyne’s varied professional career. So when, in 2020, musicians’ and artists’ livelihoods were challenged and even threatened as the Coronavirus pandemic forced them to ‘leave the stage’, Martin’s greatest sense of creative loss was in being unable to collaborate with dancers and choreographers, of whose dedication he remains in constant awe.

Recorded live in his home studio (‘GS1’, to BBC radio listeners), he worked intensively, in real time, as ‘a single accompanist’: “I imagined a lone musician in a deserted theatre, like a kind of medicine man, throwing sounds into the space in an attempt to conjure up the ghosts of dancers no longer present, to breathe movement into stillness”. The majority of the sounds come from varied percussion and a small drum kit that’s mostly played with hands and feet (titled after spirits or ghosts), while seven vibraphone solos (named as spells or enchantments) provide a fluid, mystical thread.

From the wings, like a shadowy Satie ‘Gnossiene’, enters the toy-piano and temple-bowl tune of Summoning, part of a ballet score created for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company. This provides the theme for the interspersed vibraphone variations such as Conjure, whose gossamer play might be imagined as fireflies in the twilight, and the sustained bowing and slow decays of Charm, suggesting nocturnal stillness. The more agile ‘spirits’ are just as entrancing, just a subtle hand clap amongst the toms and cymbals of Presence adding lovely detail; and Banshee’s fidgety, stop-start pats and tinkles feel quietly mischievous.

Discovering where Pyne’s explorations next turn is part of a magic which never wanes. Eidolon’s offbeat hi-hat pulse is addictive amongst its round-the-kit animation, and there‘s a resonance of gamelan in Ikiryo, prominently voiced by a delightful, tuned, wooden tongue drum acoustically sounded with hollow tubes. Vibraphone solo Hexing is mesmerically fleet and almost uncatchable, as is wispy Hocus Pocus, while impetuous tambourine interlude Spook might easily be an authentic medieval estampie. There’s a strong semblance of swing in the energetically brushed flams of Sprite, where pauses and interrupted rhythms create almost humorous anticipation (pity the dancer, there!). Even the bluesy chime of final vibes solo Enchantment might find a placid connection with the ‘MJ’ (Milt Jackson) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

While dominantly percussive, this is eloquent music (which, Pyne says, couldn’t exist without jazz or other genres) – music for dance studio, theatre or quiet contemplation. Find the space to be transported by its array of improvised timbres, rhythms and moods, even imagining the usual interaction with colourful, gyrating shapes (see video links below). Created out of adversity and artistic longing, this is a wondrous, evocative diversion.

Released on 26 August 2020 and available in CD and digital formats from Discus Music and Bandcamp.

Videos: Eidolon, Banshee and Enchantment

Martin Pyne percussion, vibraphone, toy piano

discus-music.co.uk

Discus Music – Discus 98CD (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Totem’ – Ferdinando Romano feat. Ralph Alessi

AS MUSIC DEVOTEES, we must all have enjoyed the experience of a new recording which ‘follows us around’. Whatever comes and goes, that one album begs to be heard again and again over a period of time, and for good reason. Italian double bassist and composer Ferdinando Romano’s Totem has landed very firmly in this category.

In his first contemporary jazz release as leader, Romano’s core quintet of alto/soprano saxophones, vibraphone/marimba, piano, double bass and drums is frequently augmented to sextet or septet by flugelhornist Tommaso Iacoviello and acclaimed trumpeter Ralph Alessi. Together, they produce some of the most luscious and melodious ensemble performances I’ve heard for some time, the bassist’s eight compositions captured with typically crystalline clarity at Artesuono studio. His overarching theme and album title is described thus:

“A totem is a symbol that represents a natural or spiritual entity which has a particular meaning for a single person or even for a large group of people. In an artistic sense, each of us has [our] own totems, they are our references, our lighthouses and also the people we met and whom we shared musical and artistic experiences with. However, the single totems can give life to a much bigger one, something that is much more than the sum of the parts and that represents the creative synthesis of our musical personality, giving birth to something new.”

There are so many exquisite moments and interactions in this near-hour’s listening that create atmospheres which, arguably, only music can offer; and this ensemble demonstrates faultless intuition in integrating and continuing textures. The Gecko’s apparently straightforward bass-and-marimba groove is clearly approached with relish by each player, with interwoven horns and shimmering vibraphone. Romano’s sleeve notes explain the background to each piece, and stealthy flugel and soprano in Wolf Totem pictorialises its described inspiration with mystery, then triumphant vitality.

The ballads are especially pellucid, with Romano’s expressive bass improvisations in Curly carried on bell-like rivulets of piano and vibes; and Memories Reprise is an emotive stand-out. I understand that sometimes the soprano sax is maligned for being shrill or narrow, but in Simone Allessandrini’s hands, it glides so smoothly (listen to this track at 4:42 where his sustained melody is seamlessly carried forward by Tommaso Iacovelli’s flugel). Longer outings come in the form of eleven-minute Mirrors – a freer, immersive exploration; and Sea Crossing (parts 1 & 2) is a suitably wild, turbulent voyage which benefits from the undoubted mastery of Ralph Alessi’s bright, limitless improvisations, though the whole band basks in the joint ebullience.

The concept of ‘life’s dance’ is never far away in this recording, with Romano referencing Mattisse’s familiar 1910 oil painting ‘The Dance’. There’s certainly an eloquence to these original sounds which, through vibrant rhythm or iridescent calm, speak to our humanity. In that sense, right now, the value of beauty in Totem feels inestimable.

Released on 24 April and available as CD, vinyl or download at Bandcamp.

 

Ralph Alessi trumpet (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)

Tommaso Iacoviello flugelhorn (tracks 1, 3, 7)

Simone Alessandrini alto sax, soprano sax

Nazareno Caputo vibraphone, marimba

Manuel Magrini piano
Ferdinando Romano double bass

Giovanni Paolo Liguori drums

ferdinandoromano.com

Losen Records – LOS 242-2 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘While Looking Up’ – Jimmy Greene

LOVE at first ‘sound’. All it took was the brightly flowing and eddying preview track, April 4th. But that touch of ‘American cool’, with glinting soprano sax, flute and vibraphone, is just one facet of saxophonist and woodwind player Jimmy Greene’s latest release, While Looking Up.

Greene is clearly a man whose faith guides him through the best and certainly the very worst of times (the latter, specifically, an unimaginable family tragedy in 2012). And amidst the turbulence of our world, his pastor‘s words provided inspiration for the title: “If I’m not able to find strength or peace by looking inward, or if I’m not able to do it by looking outward to my immediate surroundings, I have to look upward”.

From a back catalogue including Grammy-nominated Beautiful Life, 2009’s Mission Statement marked a specific musical turning point for Greene and more recently reminded him of those musicians he hadn’t recorded with for some time. So as well as a core trio with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Kendrick Scott, the majority of these ten tracks are also greatly illuminated by Aaron Goldberg (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Lage Lund (guitar), with piquant contributions from Stefon Harris (marimba, vibes). All are established bandleaders in their own right, which explains how assuredly their personal expressions meld in an album of exquisite beauty and positivity.

Arranging Cole Porter’s So In Love, Greene’s soprano displays the kind of playful agility associated with Wayne Shorter, chromatically darting above the joyful sway of its bossa rhythms. But his own compositions can hit a pressing complexity – for example, the smouldering, bluesy Fender Rhodes groove of No Words with discordant guitar and husky tenor and the fever-pitch morse-code pulsations of Always There, accentuated by Harris’s marimba – an outstanding sextet collaboration. In Good Morning Heartache (remember – Billie Holliday), Greene’s deliciously fluid tenor almost sings those ‘might as well get used to you hanging around’ lyrics, though it’s also tinged with a father’s grief; and it’s Goldberg’s piano riff again, on Overreaction, which sparks the breathless Weather Report/Moutin Reunion Quartet-style fervour. The title track, too, shares something of that feel, with lustrous guitar.    

In addition to charming April 4th (a poignant anniversary for Greene), there are other pure, airy moments of reflection such as optimistic Steadfast and the leisurely gospel-soul of Simple Prayer. But perhaps most unlikely is a luscious, balladic reworking of the Whitney Houston hit I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), full of serene nostalgia and emotion; and, as ever, the gorgeous tenor technique is supported by the spacial sensitivity of this band.

Throughout While Looking Up, Jimmy Greene unequivocally confirms his absolute truth, recognised by empathetic musicians and listeners alike: “At its best, music transforms us and transports us to another place. We lose ourselves in it”. Amen to that.

Released on 3 April 2020 and available from Proper Music, Mack Avenue and Apple Music.

 

Jimmy Greene soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet
Reuben Rogers bass
Kendrick Scott drums
Aaron Goldberg piano, Fender Rhodes
Lage Lund guitar
Stefon Harris marimba, vibraphone

jimmygreene.com

Mack Avenue – MAC1154 (2020)