‘Floa’ – Mammal Hands

Floa

NORWICH-BASED Mammal Hands’ debut album Animalia (2014) considerably raised the profile of saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart and drummer Jesse Barnett – a trio apparently discovered by GoGo Penguin’s bassist, Nick Blacka. Since then, they have continued to garner interest in the UK, as well as enjoy international popularity (including gigs at festivals in the United States and Canada). Back in the recording studio, they now return with follow-up, Floa.

Comparisons with GoGo Penguin and the Portico Quartet are understandable (listen to the first three tracks, and this might be the GoGos with Jack Wyllie guesting). But Jordan Smart’s saxophone prowess does provide Mammal Hands with an organic, melodic advantage as he shapes his improvisations around the predominant piano ostinati; and notably, as this nine-track album proceeds, the trio pleasingly begin to develop their own, distinct voice.

So, opening numbers Quiet Fire, Hillum and Hourglass easily recall the aforementioned bands’ output, their trancelike repetition ebbing, flowing and gradually crescendoing to greater intensity (steadily-filling Hourglass, in particular, possesses – perhaps with an intended reference in the title – an appealing Philip Glass-like hypnotism with beautifully unexpected key shifts). But a change of gear in the form of a Dave Brubeckian 5/4 swing, in fourth track Think Anything, opens up a whole new vista of interest – a joyful, dancing blend of American jazz and European folk which invites intensifying improvisation from pianist Nick Smart, as well as the opportunity to create catchy, swirling riffs in fourths with Jordan Smart’s alto. Similarly, the sit-up-and-listen effect of In the Treetops suggests Mammal Hands eking out their own identity, as a highly repetitive sax figure is enhanced by Ibiza-style sustained strings.

By this mid-point, there’s the realisation that this music has the ability to seep and flow into the senses, as in the subtle, almost Oriental placidity of The Eyes that Saw the Mountain – yet here is a track which also sparkles with fresh, heavier grooving expressions. Kudu equally reveals that there is much more to this trio than the album first suggests; effective details such as Nick Smart’s low, undulating piano motifs and Jesse Barnett’s tabla resonance create something special in this increasingly energetic, high-point number. Miniature The Falling Dream indicates an aptitude for more filmic textures, with a gently cascading, Brian Eno-like dreaminess; so, too, does changeable Shift, whose eventual rockiness contrasts markedly with dramatically-charged serenity.

Striking, minimalistic cover art apart, don’t judge a book by its cover – i.e. immerse yourself in this whole album’s riches to understand how Mammal Hands are successfully charting their own course… and enjoy.

Released on 27 May 2016, Floa is available as CD, download and vinyl from Bandcamp.

 

Jordan Smart saxophones
Nick Smart piano
Jesse Barnett drums, tabla
with
Gavin Barras bass
Natalie Purton violin, viola

mammal hands.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD014 (2016)

 

‘We’ll Meet In The Rain’ – Kenneth Dahl Knudsen

Knudsen

THERE IS SOMETHING profoundly enriching about Danish double bassist Kenneth Dahl Knudsen’s new orchestral jazz release. Full of vibrant jazz episodes as well as restrained, emotional tension, this is original, often filmic music which indubitably wears its heart on its sleeve.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Malte Schiller conductor
Marie Séférian vocals
Linda Josefowski flute
Roman Ott alto sax
Markus Ehrlich tenor sax
Viktor Wolf tenor sax
Lou Lecaudey trombone
Nils Marquardt trombone
Tomasz Dabwowski trumpet
Magnus Oseth trumpet
Fritz Moshammer trumpet
Daniel Weltlinger violin
Heloise Lefevre violin
Sebastian Peszko viola
Liron Yariv cello
Sebastian Bohlen guitar
Uri Gincel piano
Mathias Ruppnig drums
Kenneth Dahl Knudsen bass

kennethdahlknudsen.dk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 008 (2016)

‘Into Forever’ – Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra

IntoForever

MANCHESTER-based trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader Matthew Hallsall appears to have played a masterstroke with The Gondwana Orchestra’s new album, Into Forever.

The chilled, slowly-shifting soundscapes of Matt’s previous releases, though hugely popular with audiences, have not especially struck a chord with me; the spiritual koto-and-harp atmospheres of 2014’s album When The World Was One and more recent EP Journey in Satchidananda/Blue Nile sounding particularly ambient, even soporific. But the realisation of a long-held desire to work with vocalists has, like a smouldering taper to a wick, brightly ignited Halsall’s compositional skills here like never before.

Halsall first met Manchester ‘soul poet’ Josephine Oniyama whilst collaborating on a BBC Radio 3 programme, consequently sparking his imagination – and in enlisting both Oniyama and vocalist Bryony Jarman-Pinto, along with a string ensemble, something beautiful (and often pleasingly retro in feel) has occurred. Blending the nine-piece Orchestra’s world/jazz hues with these new colours, there’s an awakening of sound whose multiplicity recalls Air (of Moon Safari fame), Nils Frahm, The Cinematic Orchestra… and going back further, glimmers of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.

The 11-track sequence is introduced by Josephine Oniyama’s strong, clear vocal in Only a Woman – illustrating a daughter’s eventual role reversal in caring for her elderly mother, its gently buoyant pulse is tempered by lush strings and shimmering harp glissandi. And the memorable octave-vocal of As I Walk – at steady-though-hypnotic walking pace marked out by strings and deliberate percussion – is finely decorated by harp and wordless backing. Serene interludes are to be found along the way, Dawn Horizon heralding the especially engaging Badder Weather whose Santana-like groove is illuminated by Oniyama’s emphatic vocal delivery. These Goodbyes reveals a deep, cinemascopic yearning (dedicated to the passing of one of Halsall’s friends and supporters), whilst fast-travelling The Land Of is clearly pictorialised by complex, clattering drums and percussion, as well as deliciously mystic flute which, in following Longsham Temple, evocatively pitch-bends the slower melodies, perhaps suggesting a long journey’s arrival.

Brief interlude Cushenden is majestically oriental, its strings resembling the world music explorations of Kronos, and title track Into Forever becomes meditative in its combination of Josephine’s Oniyama’s vocal lines and Halsall’s blue trumpet, upheld by delicate harp ostinati and droplet piano elaborations. Similarly transcendental Dean Park (prompted by an outdoor Tai Chi class the trumpeter witnessed in Taiwan) suggests the quietly-flowing streams of a Chinese garden, complete with bell-like chimes, which Halsall’s smooth improvisations pervade. And to close, Bryony Jarman-Pinto’s quirky, inflected vocals animate Jamais Vu (a fascinating voice which should be employed more extensively in later projects).

Still with Matthew Halsall’s trademark Eastern-flavoured ambience, this is a recording whose new-found vocal richness suggests further possibilities for development, and is sure to be a hit with established fans.

Released on 2 October 2015, Into Forever is available in CD, 12″ vinyl and digital formats from Hallsall’s own label, Gondwana Records (at Bandcamp) as well as online and in record stores.

 

Matthew Halsall trumpet
Lisa Mallett flute
Rachael Gladwin harp
Keiko Kitamura koto
Taz Modi piano
Gavin Barras bass
Luke Flowers drums
Sam Bell percussion
Chris Cruiks percussion
with
Josephine Oniyama vocals
Bryony Jarman-Pinto vocals
and
Margit Van Der Zwan cello
Natalie Purton viola, violin
John Purton violin
Jote Osahn violin
Ollie Izod violin

matthewhalsall.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD013 (2015)

‘A Moveable Feast’ – Mark Pringle

MarkPringle

WHO WOULD IMAGINE that quite such a breadth of engaging, meaningful jazz creativity might be realised inside 32 minutes?

24 year-old British pianist Mark Pringle has increasingly been making waves with his singular and adventurous approach to music-making. When he was just 19, about to embark on a scholarship at Birmingham Conservatoire, he appeared with his teacher, the splendid John Law, on duo album This Is; and earlier this year, he won a Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, as well as receiving an accolade to treasure from the sadly, recently-departed John Taylor, confirming him to be “an exceptionally gifted pianist and composer, and a remarkable improviser.”

Pringle’s inspiration for this debut album arose from his studies in Paris, drawing on cultural and naturalistic influences such as the work of Olivier Messaien and taking to heart author Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs of the capital: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Remarkably, in his writing for 12-piece ensemble, the pianist appears to ingest and then musically express the varietal sounds of the city, not unlike the way Messaien interpreted birdsong; and there are also hints of Ravel’s jazz inflections. It can all be found in opening number A Real Bombshell, whose skittering, shunting impressions might well reflect the chaos of a Paris rush hour. With string quartet at its heart, it has an attractive big band dynamism, offering a fantastic weave of brass and reed textures (reminiscent of Mark Lockheart’s evergreen Ellington in Anticipation) as Percy Pursglove’s shrill trumpet rises out of the clamour. Ode to the Trees evokes a moonlit woodland exploration, its quietly bluesy piano groove prompting an almost alarming crescendo of hoots, chatters and squawks from an ensemble heading towards the stature of Count Basie (with frissons of Carla Bley).

Bookended by the quirkiness of two miniatures, Happy Plants I & II (first, the strings’ playful pizzicato, and then an intriguing New Orleans/calypso hybrid), Hasha’s Theme seems to draw on Gershwin and Ellington – and the maturity of Pringle’s arrangement brings out both lush and jarring major/minor horns, fronted by Chris Young’s fabulously nonchalant alto. The Writer (Hemingway perhaps) is mischievous, its tentative first steps emphasising how well the strings and woodwind integrate; and both this and following track Through the Grate further reveal Mark Pringle’s knack of slowly unfolding a dramatic, trembling landscape with flecks and fizzes of orchestral colour, as well as sudden changes of tempi and dynamics (neither recommended for an iPod playlist along a dark country track!). And the final snippet, a windband-like And That’s OK, settles the equilibrium…… or does it?

Here is a recording which, in terms of composition, improvisation and overall musicianship, is exquisitely formed; yet it also alludes to many greater heights yet to be conquered. Released on Stoney Lane Records on 18 September 2015, A Moveable Feast is available at Bandcamp and also at iTunes.

 

Mark Pringle piano
Percy Pursglove trumpet
Chris Young alto saxophone
Dan Sarjeant tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Alicia Gardener-Trejo bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, alto flute
Christine Cornwell violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Megan Jowett viola
Lucy French cello
Ben Lee electric guitar
James Banner double bass
Euan Palmer drums

markpringlemusic.com

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1954 (2015)

‘The Aviators’ Ball’ – Matt Owens

MattOwens

I AM REMINDED of a golden age of TV themes. Statuesque 1960s/70s tunes and traditional orchestrations that have remained in the mind, the merest few bars’ snippet triggering inextricably-linked carefree memories. Manchester composer and bassist Matt Owens seems to capture such a spirit in this fine debut of charming, sometimes quirky, and beautiful creations.

Happily difficult to pigeonhole in terms of genre, with elements of jazz, folk, pop and movie soundtrack, Owens draws on an abundance of instrumentalists and vocalists (below) to convey the character of his distinctive writing. The majority of The Aviators’ Ball (a title inspired by Owens’ real-life discovery, in Prague, of an aviation society’s ball!) comes from his suite Ten – one of Manchester Jazz Festival’s excellent mjf originals commissions – and unabashedly seeks a mostly acoustic landscape of waltz, curtsy and blithe melody.

With woodwind, brass and breezy Irish tin whistle, Raindrops on our Rooftop immediately makes that retro leap, its persistent bassoon figure suggesting an era of Puppet on a String and marginal folk/rock band curiosity Gryphon. Title track The Aviators’ Ball exudes all the warmth of gentle period drama as mellow cornet improvisations float over piano and tea-parlour strings; and then – with a cosy woodwind intro redolent of… that’s right… The Clangers! – singer and guitarist Tom Davies delivers his winsome Mouse Song with unexpected and touching simplicity.

As sunshiny as a beach-bound, open-top Morris journey, the crisp, wordless vocal momentum of Going Back to the Village confirms Owens’ picture-painting prowess, arranged here by Manchester favourite (and co-producer of this album) guitarist/singer Kirsty Almeida; and the folksy theme of Every Wish is for You, initiated with pianistic nursery-rhyme candour, rolls along to placid trumpet and flute extemporisation.

The singular, expressive voice of Rioghnach Connolly interprets Celtic love song Black is the Colour like no other, her affecting tones breathing “I love the ground whereon he stands” like changeable winds across heather land. Soft-pop The Peanut Train shuffles to Owens’ downy horn-and-woodwind arrangement; Monsoon is similarly entrancing, led by the impassioned vocal of Zoe Kyoti; and full of dreamy nostalgia, Violet concludes the set, once again highlighting Matt Owens’ aptitude and greater potential for niche soundtrack scoring.

In an album which might initially appear quaint, due to the genuiness of its eclectic, yesteryear approach, the persuasive strength of its endearingly tuneful hooks and arrangements make it utterly irresistible – certainly a delightful musical diversion.

Launching at Chorlton Arts Festival on 18 May 2015, The Aviators’ Ball is available from All Made Up Records.

 

Matt Owens double bass
Neil Yates trumpet, tin whistle
John Ellis piano
Rick Weedon drums, percussion
Sophie Hastings marimba, glockenspiel
Amina Hussian flute
David Benfield oboe
Lucy Rugman clarinet
Jon Harris French horn
Simon Davies bassoon
Semay Wu cello
Steve Chadwick cornet
Edward Barnwell piano
Danny Ward drums
Alison Williams violin
Naomi Koop violin
Aimée Johnson viola
Tom Davies guitar, vocals
Carla Sousa flute
Philip Howarth cor anglais
Jill Allen clarinet
Lucy Keyes bassoon
Kirsty Almeida vocals
Caroline Sheehan vocals
Orli Nyles vocals
Cara Robinson vocals
Atholl Ransome alto flute
Rioghnach Connolly vocals
Billy Buckley guitar, lap steel
Zoe Kyoti vocals, guitar
Rosa Campos Fernandez clarinet

mattowens.co.uk

All Made Up Records – AMU0007 (2015)

‘String Theory’ – Partikel

Partikel

WITH A THRASHING RIFF worthy of Jimmy Page, chordless trio Partikel announce their boldest statement yet in new release String Theory – a collaboration with a dynamic string quartet led by violinist Benet McLean.

Originally formed for Monday night jam sessions on the London jazz circuit, Partikel – Duncan Eagles (saxes), Max Luthert (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) – have established themselves over the past few years with regular gigging, resulting in two previous albums (eponymous debut Partikel and 2012’s Cohesion). Now, further extending their possibilities with strings, that initial Led Zep-fuelled outpouring dramatically signals their renewed intent in a 12-track programme mostly composed and arranged by saxophonist Eagles.

Three-part Clash of the Titans reveals the augmented band’s creative process, the arrangements described as being “almost exclusively conceived on the bandstand… spontaneous musical exchanges that flowed from the heat of performance have been added to the compositions.” And that sense of discovery makes for an absorbing listen. Following the heavily rocking intro, the ‘concerto’ develops into atmospheres in which the string quartet becomes an integral part – certainly no grotesque, strap-on afterthought – with Midnight Mass (part 3) irridescing to luscious sax improvisation and sumptuous strings.

Shimmer‘s perky melodies are tossed about between sax and strings, buoyed by Eric Ford’s lively, creative percussion, until Benet McLean’s virtuosic solo violin introduces The Buffalo, a mesmerising, udu-accompanied episode with expansive, filmic qualities. Swinging an’ a-swaggering, Bartering with Bob is endearingly confident and as high-spirited as a rollicking old standard (like Monk without piano!), Eagles responding articulately to the temerarious bass and drums of Luthert and Ford; and in the graceful meandering of The River, the string quartet’s eloquence and empathy with the Partikel trio is beautifully captured – here in particular, Eagles’ soprano impresses with Coltranesque abandon and invention.

Smouldering Wray Common softly grooves to udu, bass and smooth tenor, with fabulously expressive strings; and Eagles’ alchemistic tenor reading of Johnny Green’s familiar Body and Soul intertwines effectively with Matthew Sharp’s emotive cello and the Kronos-like spikiness of the quartet as a whole, all adorned by Ford’s elaborate percussion. Partikel ‘laid bare’ is as immediate as ever in Cover, soprano, bass and drums weaving their spell with customary vivacity; and searing string glissandi add verve to closing number The Landing, Eagles’ tenor wildly jitterbugging to Luthert’s and Ford’s rapid animation.

As a trio, Partikel have clearly become stronger, unafraid to venture into the unknown, and looking to develop their musical journey with both spontaneity and bravura. Released by Whirlwind on 11 May 2015, further information, promo video and purchasing can be found at the dedicated String Theory web page.

Duncan Eagles saxophones
Max Luthert bass
Eric Ford drums
with
Benet McLean violin
David Le Page violin
Carmen Flores viola
Matthew Sharp cello

Current 2015 tour dates
28 May: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
2 June: LAUNCH – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
26 June: The Verdict, Brighton
28 June: Ashburton Live
29 June: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
1 July: Fisher Theatre, Bungay

partikel.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4671 (2015)