‘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)

‘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)

‘Seaside’ – Liane Carroll

Seaside

BREATHE IN DEEPLY, and you can almost sense that familiar, hazy blend of aromas on the breeze: salty sea air, fish’n’chips, candy floss… and then the distant sounds of brass band vibrato and children’s play against a reassuring, shingle-stroked ebb tide. It’s all conjured by eminent, award-winning British jazz/soul singer Liane Carroll in a new coastal-inspired collection of songs – Seaside.

The vocalist/pianist who brought us such memorable gems as her own, peppy Dublin Morning and a powerfully emotive interpretation of Tom Waits’ Picture in a Frame now reaches new heights in this, her ninth album, surrounding herself with a fabulous array of musicians (notably multi-instrumentalist and producer James McMillan). Prompted by friend and renowned singer, pianist and songwriter Joe Stilgoe (who gifted Carroll the wonderfully evocative and wistful title track), here are ten songs inspired by the singer’s affection for her home town of Hastings; an inviting musical promenade which encounters sunny exuberance, swaggering grooves and tender, reassuring love, sometimes tinged with melancholy.

That title track is, indeed, a winner – its swirling silver band arrangement and classy, solid, melodic hooks (easily redolent of late Lennon & McCartney) combine with lyrics which tell a story of ardent, carefree, though perhaps seasonal companionship (“We’ll always have the seaside”); and love’s exhilaration is embodied in the bubbly piano-trio-and-scat burst of Lerner and Loewe’s Almost Like Being in Love (or Hove, as teasingly alternatively titled by Liane!). One of this album’s exquisite surprises is a thoughtful, mellow rendering of Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee’s Bring Me Sunshine – light years away from Eric’n’Ern’s japes, it might warmly pictorialise the cuddled devotedness of a couple looking out across the waves from their seafront shelter.

Led Zeppelin’s originally heavy-rocking Nobody’s Fault But Mine is effectively reimagined as a gravelly, bluesy strut (featuring Julian Siegel on tenor) – those characteristically wide, soulful vocals as impressive as ever; and the countryfied feel of Fred Lavery and Gordie Sampson’s Get Me Through December (previously recorded by, amongst others, Alison Krauss) becomes quietly majestic in Carroll’s hands. Evan Jolly’s broad, gospel-imbued arrangement of Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now displays all the brassy stature of an Elton John chart high-rider; and Wild is the Wind (from the 1950s movie of the same name) features the lush piano and brass arrangements of Malcolm Edmonstone, its haunting lyricism emphasised by bowed and sustained vibes.

A guitar-accompanied vocal interlude – popular 1930s standard I Cover the Waterfront, which Carroll has always wanted to record – is delightfully decorated by Rob Luft’s scampering fret work; and My Ship (Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin), with a playful vocal timbre reminiscent of Natalie Cole, cruises breezily before switching into fast scat swing. Finally, in recognition of the ever-present dangers of seafaring communities, Liane offers a poignant reading of J B Dykes’ familiar hymn tune Melita (words by William Whiting) – For Those In Peril on the Sea‘s reverent vocals are underpinned by Mark Edwards’ sublime jazz piano and organ harmonies, enhanced by James McMillan’s plaintive flugelhorn.

Seaside consolidates Liane Carroll’s position as one of the UK’s most expressive jazz/soul vocalists and pianists in an accessible recording which combines unalloyed high spirits with beauteous, heart-aching emotion. Released on 18 September 2015, the album is available from Linn Records and jazz retailers (take a look at the Seaside video).

 

Liane Carroll vocals, piano
Steve Pearce acoustic bass
Ian Thomas drums
James McMillan flugelhorn, keyboards, percussion, bass, tenor horn, vibraphone
Evan Jolly trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn; brass band and brass arrangements
Andy Wood euphonium, trombone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
Rob Leake baritone and tenor saxophones
Mark Edwards piano
Malcolm Edmonstone piano; brass arrangements
Mark Jaimes acoustic and electric guitars
Rob Luft guitar

lianecarroll.co.uk

Linn Records – AKD 533 (2015)