REVIEW: ‘Le Chat Brel’ – Gabriel Bismut & Maurizio Minardi

RECORDINGS such as The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist and Piano Ambulance provided a personal introduction to the characterful music of Italian composer, accordionist and pianist Maurizio Minardi, having seen him perform some years ago in London. So it’s no surprise that new album Le Chat Brel – his collaboration with French violinist Gabriel Bismut – has grown into a complete listening delight.

Their entrancingly rounded quartet is completed by guitarist Barthélemy Seyer and double bassist Maurizio Congiu, plus guest harpist Livia Ferrandon-Bescond. Twelve original compositions of Bismut and Minardi – six apiece – are performed with jocose or romantic spirit through an evocative melding of their jazz/folk/baroque sensibilities (European union – stronger together, as so many of us well know). The album title’s feline ‘Brel’ reference links to their appreciation, and sometimes their live interpretations, of the music of Jacques Brel.

While the timbres of violin/alto and accordion have long complemented each other, there’s something inherently natural about the way their own creations are fashioned, right down to details which often reflect the pieces’ titles. So, for example, there’s the impulsive scratch and busyness of MInardi’s Le Coq Baroque, as well as cheery, shuffling Penguin (an irresistible tune from his Cook album, in the mould of The Divine Comedy or, appropriately, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). The two composers are certainly well-matched. Holiday atmospheres in Bismut’s blithe Persévérence are given a lovely depth by his alto instrument, complemented by Seyer’s lithe guitar improvisations; and Endurance’s sunny, Parisian demeanour steals the heart.

More contemplative numbers such as Fleur Du Hasard and Per I Tuoi 28 Anni sigh with wistful, spatial elegance, their intimacy enhanced by the closeness of this recording. La Brume too, supported by hazy electric guitar textures, feels melancholic as shared violin and accordion melodies evoke illuminated riverside vistas of gently-rippling reflection. And two sumptuous Bismut compositions, Bipolarité and Peau, Neuve – the latter contrasting hymnal quietude with improvisational freedom – are sensitively enhanced by the harp of Livia Ferrandon-Bescond.

But the joyful vigour of this quartet’s interaction is always bound to resurface – firstly in Minardi‘s gypsy-jazz Anastasia, where Bismut’s bluegrass-suggested portamenti gleefully dance over its infectious rhythms; and then in galloping Tulipano Nero, whose anticipatory, Vivaldian drama is summoned by chattering accordion and Danse Macabre-style double-stopping and brash soloing (all brilliant ensemble-playing that has to be heard). As a final curtain call, sneering tango Marcello struts into colorized vaudeville – a great summation of this album’s seductive entertainment.

Le Chat Brel is released on 13 November 2020 and available here.

Videos: trailer, Endurance, Persévérence.

 

Gabriel Bismut violin, alto
Maurizio Minardi accordion
Barthélemy Seyer guitar
Maurizio Congiu double bass
with
Livia Ferrandon-Bescond harp (tracks 8, 11)

mauriziominardi.com/bismut-minardi

AMA – AMA 01 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Flow’ – Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming

THE DRAMATIC, ATMOSPHERIC JAZZ of pianist/keyboardist Maria Chiara Argirò has already established itself in two outstanding sextet albums – The Fall Dance and Hidden Seas. But this quite different venture, in duo with inventive guitarist Jamie Leeming (plus guest violinist/violist Elisabeth Flett), has produced a veritable treasure-trove of acoustic/electronic ambience and motion.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 16 October 2020 as a digital album, Flow is available at Bandcamp.

 

Maria Chiara Argirò piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers
Jamie Leeming electric guitars, acoustic guitars
with
Elisabeth Flett violin, viola (tracks 5, 6, 9)

mariachiaramusic.com
jamieleeming.com

Cavalo Records (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Ever Open Door’ – John Helliwell

‘THE ACTORS AND JESTERS are here, the stage is in darkness and clear…’

An opening line familiar to fans of 1974 pop/rock album ‘Crime of the Century’, If Everyone Was Listening provides the curtain-raiser to former Supertramp saxophonist/clarinettist John Helliwell’s Ever Open Door – an account of easy-flowing jazz performances captured in concert at Chester’s enterprising Storyhouse venue.

This collaboration with fellow Manchester-area artists – creative keyboards guru John Ellis and The Singh String Quartet – presents an interesting range of compositions and arrangements, many by fellow saxophonist (and educator) Andy Scott. They draw on Helliwell’s career, as well as his evolving influences and discoveries which include music by Paolo Fresu, George Butterworth, Jim Scott, and also old bandmates.

Settle into the evening shadows for original delights such as English-folksong-styled Lord Stackhouse (aka Helliwell) and bluesy …It Seemed That Life Was So Wonderful (recognise that ‘Logical’ lyric in the title?), while Peter Gabriel’s introspective Washing of the Water takes on a brighter, hymnal quality. The catalyst for the project, traditional tune Waly Waly, is beautifully shaped, as is extended ‘bonus’ The Ballad of the Sad Young Men; and title track Ever Open Door (by Supertramp’s Rick Davies) offers a rare touch of animation.

Indeed, this 74-minute programme’s outlook is more about serenely melodic mood than adventurous, exuberant improvisation – and maybe a few up-tempo, curveball ‘firecrackers’ would have broken the intended spell. But the intimate, closely-recorded communion of rich tenor sax and clarinet lines, Ellis’s Hammond mastery and the quartet’s plush harmonies is both inspired and warming.

Released on 2 October 2020, Ever Open Door is available from Proper Music.

YouTube videos: The Ballad of the Sad Young Men and Father O’Shea.

 

John Helliwell tenor saxophone, clarinet
John Ellis Hammond B3 organ

THE SINGH STRING QUARTET
Rakhi Singh violin
Simmy Singh violin
Ruth Gibson viola
Ashok Klouda cello

johnhelliwell.com

Challenge Records – CR73511 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Humble Travelers’ – Floating Circles Quartet

IF YOU IMAGINE the clarinet to be best suited to classical repertoire or ‘trad’ jazz, then Humble Travelers – the debut album release from Aidan Pearson’s Floating Circles Quartet (FCQ) – may prove a real ‘ear opener’.

There are clear exceptions to any such idea, of course – on the contemporary jazz scene, both Arun Ghosh and Idris Rahman immediately spring to mind. Yet there‘s a sparkling freshness to Pearson’s clarinet/bass clarinet-led quartet with electric guitar, double bass and drums (plus guest violinist Johanna Burnheart) which is elevated through intelligent instrumental blends, snappy musicianship and an irrepressible joie de vivre. FCQ forecast their potential in 2018 with four-track EP, Eleven Yesterdays Ago – but already, it seems they have reached higher uplands in this exhilarating and absorbing programme of six Pearson originals, their mostly quirky titles reflecting themes of travel, movement and challenge.

On introduction to this album, what instantly attracted were the sizzling dance-groove rhythms conjured by drummer Arthur Newell and bassist Jonny Wickham, aligned to the rocky edge which Pearson’s clarinets and Matt Hurley’s guitar attain; and Burnheart’s contributions are a great match, too, always seeking a different angle for the violin in jazz.

The band’s pleasant-enough, folsky intent is stated in shuffling Brockley ‘n’ Peas, its title alluding to Pearson’s London locale. But where they collectively take this (a theme throughout the album) is compelling as Pearson‘s gruff, filtered clarinet ‘waves the green flag’ into disco-funk rhythm guitar and soloing, plus soaring, echoic violin. Misty, awakening Beyond the Mountains of Aria develops into a retro–1960s groove (occasionally Dave Brubeckian) accentuated by its bass-instigated 5/4 riff. It’s one of many instances where the melodic timbres are fascinatingly paired – for example, bass and guitar, or clarinet and guitar – to create the illusion of a further-augmented ensemble.

There’s a lovely whiff of mischief to Caravan Curtains, peering through the drizzly condensation to observe pizzicato and portamento frolics between the players, including ‘octave-up’, synth-like improv from Burnheart. In the bubbling ‘cartoon ska’ of White ‘n’ Fluffy, Pearson’s bass clarinet treads and jives with gusto, again applying electronics with great effect, as well as duelling with Hurley’s perky guitar. Wading Through the Mist’s chirpy violin-and-clarinet folksong (with a Scots lilt) airily glides above and through its theme of unforeseen challenge and determination, while the dainty, pre-school-TV simplicity of Galactic Pedal Boat Trip (you won’t find that name duplicated in the jazz canon) concludes.

Humble Travelers clearly isn’t clarinet chamber music! Aidan Pearson seems to have instilled a spirit of adventure in FCQ, his jazz-folk compositions regularly evolving and glistening with new ideas and timbres. The whole album is a complete and slightly left-field pleasure to listen to.

Released on 12 September 2020 and available digitally at Bandcamp or in CD format at ebay.

Video: White ‘n’ Fluffy

 

Aidan Pearson clarinet, bass clarinet, compositions
Matt Hurley electric guitar
Jonny Wickham double bass, percussion
Arthur Newell drums
with guest artist
Johanna Burnheart violin

Cover art by Paul Middlewick

floatingcirclesquartet.com

(2020)

REVIEW: ‘Finding Home’ – Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

‘SECRET, SILENT MOMENTS. Sweet, familiar voices. Colour into colour. Wonder into wonder. Beautiful traces play inside my mind.’

Those words from the coda of Finding Home’s final track, lovingly referencing those who have gone before us, also speak to me of the imaginative approach to this meticulous and poignant collaboration between Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three (the strings of The Guastalla Quartet alongside her piano trio with Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells) and vocalist Georgia Mancio.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 1 June 2019 and available from georgiamancio.com

 

Kate Williams piano, arrangements
Georgia Mancio voice
John Garner violin
Marie Schreer violin – featured on The Key
Francis Gallagher viola
Sergio Serra cello
Oli Hayhurst bass
David Ingamells drums
John Williams guitar – on Caminando, Caminando and We Walk (Slow Dawn)

Illustration by Alban Low

kate-williams-quartet.com
georgiamancio.com

KW Jazz – kwjazz002 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Soldiering On’ – The Dissolute Society

HATS OFF (bowler style, if you like) to trombonist Raph Clarkson and his eight-piece ensemble of musical mavericks in the creation of Soldiering On – a kaleidoscopic and often avant garde debut release from The Dissolute Society, with guests including Huw Warren (piano, accordion) and Mia Marlen Berg (vocals, effects).

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 11 May 2018 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman vocals
Raph Clarkson trombone, vocals
Laura Jurd trumpet
Naomi Burrell violin
Zosia Jagodzinska cello
Gustav Clarkson viola
Phil Merriman keys, synth bass
Simon Roth drums
with special guests
Huw Warren piano, accordion
Mia Marlen Berg vocals, FX
Joshua Idehen vocals
Mike Soper trumpet

thedissolutesociety.com

Babel Label – BDV16145 (2018)