‘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)

‘Connection’ – Empirical

Empirical

ALWAYS pushing, always challenging… progressive UK quartet Empirical strike out on their own with fifth studio album, Connection.

For almost a decade – and in this line-up since 2008 – Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Lewis Wright (vibes), Tom Farmer (double bass) and Shaney Forbes (drums) have, in previous releases, sought to experiment and collaborate with other artists. But, as Farmer explains, “This time, we went into a great-sounding studio with just the four of us. Connection is an accurate representation of what we’re doing now, what our gigs sound like. This is our expression.” Indeed, by all accounts, their recent week-long ‘pop-up jazz lounge’ in a London Underground retail unit – an opportunity to introduce their sound to new audiences, for free – was a runaway success in terms of live jazz awareness and social media presence.

Ten original tracks, mostly composed by either Wright or Farmer, find the band in typically spirited, spiky vein, crafting an acoustically raw edge to all they do. Card Clash is a great example of their consummate flexibility in communication, skipping from jagged dissonance into infectious, lucid swing; and whilst alto sax and vibes may be expected to be the principal melodic voices here, it is in fact the democratic and dynamic parity of all four musicians which is key to their appeal, as the snappy rhythms, false endings and lightning riffs of Nathaniel Facey’s Stay the Course prove.

All manner of textures seem possible in this grouping, Lewis Wright’s vibraphone easily conjuring sustained ’60s MJQ (Lethe) or the effervescent brightness of Gary Burton (The Two-Edged Sword); and Facey’s alto can swing from hard-bop (Initiate the Initiations) to subtle exploration (Mind Over Mayhem). Yet the invention here is consistently contemporary, unpredictable and engaging. Announced by Steve Reichian clapping rhythms, Farmer’s The Maze darts, twists and flips to Wright’s similarly minimalist vibes repetition, picked up by the bassist with impossible rapidity; and Driving Force‘s burning mystery gradually unfolds across slowly-oscillating vibes, with Facey’s firecracker improv and Forbes’ brittle percussion breaking the smoothness of the surface.

The surprises are fast-arriving across these fifty-three minutes, Anxiety Society possessing an almost Clouseauian/Shot in the Dark quirkiness, thanks to its bobbing bass undercurrent, cheekily ticking percussion and characterful, anarchic alto; and the delicate vibraphone pools and cascades of closing number It’s Out of Your Hands are especially becalming until their confluence with the fast-flowing eddies of bass, drums and alto sax.

True to form, Empirical delight with their unadorned though particularly physical and creative approach to jazz, melding tradition with forward-facing fervour.

Released on 18 March 2016, Connection is available as CD or download from Cuneiform Records’ Bandcamp page.

 

Nathaniel Facey alto saxophone
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Tom Farmer double bass
Shaney Forbes drums

empiricalmusic.com

Cuneiform Records – RUNE 416 (2016)

‘Let’s Dance’ – Per Oddvar Johansen

LetsDance

IT MAY BE CLICHÉD to describe an album as a ‘musical journey’, yet the progression in Let’s Dance very much suggests passage through the kind of open, atmospheric Scandinavian landscape portrayed on the cover of this new release from Norwegian drummer and multi-instrumentalist Per Oddvar Johansen. 

Although it marks his debut as leader – with longstanding colleagues Helge Lien (piano) and Torben Snekkestad (saxophones, reed trumpet) – Johansen’s established recording career has seen him appear on over eighty albums (ECM, ACT, etc.), collaborating with names such as Adam Baldych, Trygve Seim and Solveig Slettahjell, and collecting six Spellemannprisen (Norwegian Grammys).

This trio’s sound palette is many-hued, whilst maintaining a thread of serene majesty, as in opening title track Let’s Dance – a gentle, misty, Tord Gustavsen-like dawn with an arcing sunrise melody painted by Torben Snekkestad’s wispy, duduk-toned soprano sax. As a drummer, percussionist and composer, Johansen also has other instrumental capabilities up his sleeve on this recording (violins, vibes, guitars, etc.), yet the structural balance of these nine tracks is never in doubt. Forest Flower‘s atmospheric delicacy – with distorted reeds, low-sustained piano strings and fragile percussion respectively evoking bird calls, looming storms and the gradual onset of rainfall – is so beautifully imagined. Flying extends the themes of natural openness and shifting climatic conditions through the spacial rise and fall of electronics, violin and dewdrop vibraphone; and the lyrical, folksong qualities in No. 7 feel reminiscent of the work of Jonas Knutsson.

Helge Lien’s restrained yet exploratory piano style is central to many of these pieces, his authoritative sense of equilibrium shining through in Panorama, a dark, brooding episode suspended by his deeply-plumbed pedal notes and only occasional glimmers of brightness; and Per Oddvar’s brushed subtleties underpin Snekkestad’s lachrymose improvisations with incantational foreboding. In contrast, the lurching slide-guitar folksiness of Uluru (for Anette) suggests arrival at a woodland clearing, complete with the sound of lofty tweets and distant, flowing streams – one of a pair of delightful miniatures (with free, electro-percussive Impromptu) which perpetuate the pervading themes of free-roaming expedition.

The rubato of Families, over a slowly oscillating bass figure, offers both Snekkestad and Johansen a broad canvas to explore, with Lien’s own, single-line piano excursions finely placed; and closing track Song M is coloured by the beautifully richness of tenor sax amidst the tranquillity of brushed snare/cymbals and nebulous piano.

Recorded deep within the forests of Sweden, the tranquillity of Per Oddvar Johansen’s Let’s Dance may be interpreted as a grateful invocation to nature – and it’s not difficult, on close examination, to fall under its spell. Watch the video of the recording of the title track here.

Released on 25 March 2016, the album can be purchased from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Per Oddvar Johansen drums, violins, vibraphone, guitars, wood percussion, electronics
Helge Lien piano
Torben Snekkestad saxophones, reed trumpet

peroddvar.no

Edition Records – EDN1068 (2016)

‘Notes Are But Wind’ – Dino Betti van der Noot

NotesAreButWind

DINO BETTI VAN DER NOOT certainly likes to think big!

A name perhaps unfamiliar to UK audiences, the veteran Italian composer and bandleader has made his mark, especially over the last decade, with a string of bold orchestral jazz releases (most recently 2011’s September’s New Moon and 2013’s Stuff Dreams Are Made On) which might best be compared to the work of Gil Evans or Gunther Schuller.

For latest album Notes Are But Wind, he quotes a line from Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind” – to convey the notion of a cause disappearing without trace, yet the effect left either visible or as a vivid memory. The concept is vaguely symphonic in its compositional scale – a twenty-piece orchestra (predominantly brass and reeds) interpreting van der Noot’s five expansive, individually titled movements across a full hour; and the composer has specifically sought to integrate the sounds of different ages and cultures by giving improvisational freedom to instruments including the clarsach harp (of Medieval Gaelic association), the dizi (a Chinese transverse flute), didgeridoo and jazz violin.

Though contemporary jazz audiences may be less attuned to such breadth, Dino Betti’s imaginings throughout this recording are arguably his most accessible yet. He frequently elicits the high drama of theatrical or movie soundtracks through the dynamism of his orchestra, evidenced in title track Notes Are But Wind, whose mysterious, breathy dizi tones herald gritty, chromatic violin extemporisations over a solid battery of horns. The extent of van der Noot’s seemingly through-composed music (this opener at fifteen minutes’ length) clearly provides space for open contemplation as well as biting, electric bass-driven excitation – and the fluctuation of moods here may well imply that earlier ’cause and effect’ reference. Often there are protracted meanderings around a theme, creating shifting atmospheres and textures (as opposed to complex, changing rhythms and melodies); but, nevertheless, the detail in the arrangements can be entrancing.

A synthy backwash introduces Memories from a Silent Nebula (developed from a composition of 1987, inspired by a fragment of a Gregorian Magnificat), its amorphous, mystical timbres building to big band grandeur overlayed with cacophonous free jazz improvisation; and whilst brash In the Deep Bosom of the Ocean could easily resemble the revelry of New Orleans street jazz, its mournful fanfare and discordant disintegration is intended to highlight the plight of Mediterranean refugees seeking a better life (a comparison which seems slightly at odds with the arrangement’s exhilaration – but perhaps that’s the point).

The brassy ebullience of Midwinter Sunshine (another 1987 reworking) is infectious, as blistering trombone, trumpet and sax solos, buoyed by clanging percussion and vibes, feasibly evoke bustling cityscapes – likely to be one of the most dazzling, frenetic, full-on episodes you’ll hear all year! To close, a heartfelt tribute to Italian pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini, who passed away in 2014 – a piece whose sorrowful ruminations might hint at Philip Glass’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ symphonies, evolving into a triumphal climax heightened by wide violin portamenti/glissandi before a suitably reverential departure.

Voted ‘Italian Album of the Year 2015′ in Musica Jazz magazine’s annual critics’ poll, Notes Are But Wind possesses a grand and distinctive jazz spirit which is difficult to ignore.

Available from online retailers, including StradivariusAmazon and iTunes.

 

Dino Betti van der Noot director, composer

The orchestra:
Gianpiero LoBello, Alberto Mandarini, Daniele Moretto, Alberto Capra trumpets, flugelhorns
Luca Begonia, Stefano Calcagno, Enrico Allevena trombones
Gianfranco Marchesi bass trombone
Sandro Cerino dizi, flute, alto flute, didgeridoo, bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Francesco Bianchi clarinet, alto saxophone
Giulio Visibelli flute, alto flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Claudio Tripoli flute, tenor saxophone
Gilberto Tarocco alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Luca Gusella vibraphone
Emanuele Parrini violin
Niccolò Cattaneo keyboards
Vincenzo Zitello clarsach harp
Gianluca Alberti electric bass
Stefano Bertoli, Tiziano Tononi drums, percussion

Stradivarius – STR 57915 (2015)

‘Treehouse’ – Tom Hewson Trio

Treehouse

A TRIO ALBUM with a difference, this has been swirling around in my head for some time now, captivating me with its cerebral and emotional effect on the senses.

The lofty soundscapes of the Tom Hewson Trio’s debut release, Treehouse – with magical combined timbres of piano, vibraphone and double bass – might evoke white-streamed morning mists and glistening, eddying streams, or equally possess a swinging, quicksilver sprightliness to raise an involuntary smile. It’s certainly an album of precise yet often fearless chamber jazz which demands close attention to its shifting complexities and frequent coruscations of beauty.

Described by one of Tom Hewson’s musical heroes – the late, respected John Taylor – as a pianist and “sublime composer” with a “ravishing and daring” style, he cites key musical discoveries which have helped shape his personality and career. As well as Taylor, these include the music of Ravel, Debussy, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell… and such influences become remarkably apparent across this album of ten originals. Hewson’s colleagues, since the trio’s inception in 2010, are Lewis Wright (vibes) and Calum Gourlay (double bass).

This project’s unwavering appeal is due in part to the mercurial weave of textures that is possible between the players, suggesting in the first few minutes of opening track Sparticle that any augmentation, especially percussion, might hinder this perfect synergy. Flowing French impressionism here melds easily with bold, syncopated rhythm; and sprightly solo piano passages become organically infused with gently dancing bass and the sustained chimes of vibraphone.

The democratic outlook of the trio is another important factor – title track Treehouse, for example, allowing Hewson to become rhythm maker beneath Wright’s glowing improvisations; rockin’-in-rhythm Glitch is predominantly a lively, Oscar Peterson-like piano-and-bass feature until previously subtle vibes flamboyantly (Gary Burton-style) steal the show; and, in contrast, Silver Strands and Gelsomina are both sensitively crafted, raindrop-splashed watercolours, their luscious harmonies possessing paradoxical contentment and melancholy.

Interspersing the main features are three solo improvisations from each instrumentalist, offering a window on their raw creativity and the overtones and resonances achievable; Gourlay’s harmonic arco bass exploration, sans effects, is particularly intriguing. Maybe suggesting the livelier side of Bill Evans, Not Relevant‘s bright swing is characterised by oscillating vibes and piano riffs, opening the door for clean-cut piano extemporisations as well as twinkling moments of repose. And Beanie’s Bounce (shades of Bouncing with Bud?) serves as a fabulous curtain call, its crackling verve showcasing each player’s physical and creative dexterity, with Hewson’s audacious, bluesy piano solo spot a standout.

You won’t often hear a jazz landscape as simultaneously sincere, eloquent and lucent as this, nor one which throws out shooting-star surprises each time it’s played. A rare and focused treasure from an adventurous British trio.

Treehouse is available directly from CAM JAZZ Presents, online and record store retailers, and also iTunes.

 

Tom Hewson piano
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Calum Gourlay bass

tomhewson.com

CAM JAZZ Presents (KEPACH Music) – CAMJ 3316-2 (2015)