REVIEW: ‘A Million Conversations’ – Rachel Sutton

“I REMEMBER TIMES… when love was new.” This opening line, delivered with romantic phrasing reminiscent of the late, great Karen Carpenter, was all it took – all it took – to encourage further exploration of A Million Conversations, the debut release from vocalist Rachel Sutton with pianist Roland Perrin, bassist Michael Curtis Ruiz and drummer Paul Robinson.

To fall under the spell of the human voice is by no means automatic but, rather, a distinctly personal experience. In the case of Rachel Sutton, her background as a dramatic actress clearly feeds into the expressive detailing that illuminates the seven songs on this album, the majority of which are, musically and lyrically, self-penned. And it’s no surprise to read that Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Billy Joel and Judy Collins are amongst her long-time inspirations. But it takes more than a copyist to tug at the emotions as effectively (and, personally speaking, as involuntarily) as this.

Balladic When Love Was New possesses a timeless, yearning aura which encompasses both jazz and musical theatre – and, immediately, it’s apparent that this is a vocalist who instinctively paces the progression of a song, with mellow, lower resonances as attractive as her controlled vibrato. A Million Conversations has the classic feel and timbre of 1970s Carly Simon or Don Henley/Glenn Frey (“So won’t you join me as we go back through the years… to a halcyon time?”), with restrained country-rock piano to accompany sung melodies which fix in the mind as well as heart.

There’s also showmanship aplenty, as sassy, Broadway-style Pick Myself Up proves, brimming with chromatic joie de vivre and deliciously mobile fretless bass. The smouldering bossa/swing rhythms and hiatuses of Kiss My Baby Goodbye reveal a swagger to Sutton’s resigned delivery (“Now it’s gone, I have to forget you”); and a dark, theatrical mood akin to Lionel Bart is present in The Space, her emotion playing out well in its forlorn, aching storytelling. 

Alongside these original songs are two classy interpretations. Brother Can You Spare a Dime (Al Jolson, Bing Crosby) can easily be oversung, but Rachel’s discipline is well suited to this 1930s blues of the Great Depression, accentuated here by the trumpet break of guest Stuart Brooks; and Evil Gal Blues (Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin) has a sprightly, impetuous step – the final laugh confirming the joy of the performers!

Rachel Sutton’s voice sparkles, as do her own, memorable compositions. So it’s easy to imagine collaborations with larger ensembles and big bands, as well as maybe venturing into larger-scale compositional projects. Catch those opening words for yourself… and you may well hear why I delight in this discovery.

A Million Conversations released on 19 January 2020 and is available from 33 Jazz Records, Rachel Sutton’s website, Amazon and Apple Music.

 

Rachel Sutton voice
Roland Perrin piano 
Michael Curtis Ruiz
bass
Paul Robinson
drums
with
Stuart Brooks trumpet

rachelsuttonmusic.com

33 Jazz Records – 33JAZZ282 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Life is the Dancer’ – Rob Luft

THE CONCEPT that ‘you don’t live your life but life lives you’ (quoted from Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now) is behind Rob Luft’s sophomore album as leader, and aptly describes a characteristically joyful and optimistic approach heralded in 2017’s debut, Riser.

At this relatively early stage of his career, Luft is already forging a style all of his own which certainly amounts to more than his simple ‘guitar’ credit – a many-hued sound world and technique with a distinct, bubbling, aqueous attraction. His prowess as leader, composer and prolific sideman has placed him on the current roster of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, and a key role in Big Bad Wolf (a real crowd-puller at Manchester Jazz Festival) produced their feel-good release, Pond Life. More recently, he is prominent in the line-up of trumpeter Byron Wallen’s Portrait recording and has shown a natural affinity for improvising over the jazz and gamelan-inspired auras of multi-instrumentalist Felix Jay’s 3CD album Trio.

For Life is the Dancer – a programme of mostly self-penned material – Luft’s quintet again comprises tenorist Joe Wright, organist/pianist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick, with Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen guesting. Heard recently in conversation with Jess Gillam at BBC Radio 3, the guitarist’s warm personality and eclectic musical interests clearly shine through both his playing and interactions with others. Such vibrant, dance-imbued, sun-soaked strains are a welcome tonic in our uncertain times; and he’s unquestionably a groover, as Anders Christensen’s Berlin immediately signals through its pulsating, increasingly rock-driven progression.

It’s easy to fall under the spell of Luft’s writing and his band’s interpretations, the vocal-enhanced title track evoking the balmy, summertime haze of Sergio Mendes and Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays. The album thrives on the rapid, electronic-suggested (though entirely acoustic) rhythms of Corrie Dick and Tom McCredie’s fluent bass – ‘fast city’ fervour in One Day in Romentino is a prime example as Joe Wright’s tenor screeches above Luft’s pointillistic decoration. Co-written with Enzo Zirilli, Synesthesia pulls off audaciously tricky ‘push-pull’ time signatures, enough to raise a smile each time, amidst its rapturous energy; and the countryfied soul-blues of Sad Stars, accentuated by Joe Webb’s Hammond, is beautifully blithesome. Rob Luft’s message that “the past is in your head and the present is in your hands” is captured in the closing, gentle ebb of Expect the Unexpected, elevated by wordless chorus, muted trumpet and the never-failing bliss of those mellifluous guitar improvisations. 

Dance, smile and enjoy, you will.

Life is the Dancer is released on 17 April 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Rob Luft guitar
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Joe Webb Hammond organ, piano
Tom McCredie bass
Corrie Dick drums
with
Byron Wallen trumpet
Luna Cohen vocals

robluft.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1152 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘The Sleepless Kind’ – Andy Fleet ft. Andre Canniere

THE NAME of trumpeter Andre Canniere is familiar across the UK contemporary jazz scene; but perhaps less so, the jazz-inflected pop of pianist, vocalist and songwriter Andy Fleet.

Following his previous albums The Night Falls Fast and Takin’ Aim, Fleet’s The Sleepless Kind picks up a theme which seems to permeate his musical output – an ‘ode to the night’ which (presumably reflecting his years as a lounge pianist) ‘recounts tales of the sticky lights of Soho in the small hours’. As before, it’s Canniere’s muted, Paolo Fresu-style trumpet which strongly evokes jazz-bar auras; and alongside bassist Zane Maertens and drummer Joe Evans, there are appearances from electric guitarist Pete Kershaw, saxophonist/flautist Chez Taylor and backing vocalist Sarah Doe.   

Andy Fleet’s straight-ahead approach is beguiling, not least because the riffs and sequences of these songs subtly imply inspiration from previous decades, and it can take the memory some persuading to deliver the result! But also, his MOR vocals possess an almost reassuring ‘glow’ – listen to the gentle bop of Stolen Years to imagine Colin Blunstone, or the soft, storytelling wistfulness of I’ve Had It All to recall the chart hits of Dean Friedman. There’s even a fond reminder of Gilbert O’Sullivan in bluesy, up-tempo “don’t wanna seem like a drama queen” Been There, Drunk That.

The telephone-line opening to All Broke Out With The Blues may feel a little obvious, but its smoky solace – again with Canniere’s sultry improvisation – is reminiscent of Randy Newman’s finest. Rock-grooving Love’s Enemy (Supertramp meets Bryan Adams) confidently struts; and there’s even a hint of Neil Tennant in gentle, memorable Through Closed Eyes, its 1980s backing vocal and flute intimating the fragile hope of a poignant movie scene.

If this all sounds like a disconnected melange, Andy Fleet actually has the ability to cohesively fashion new soft-pop/rock, complemented by the jazz inflections of Andre Canniere, into an album which I’ve now replayed many times. In the afterglow, pour a dram and ease back to this retro-styled songbook.    

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Andy Fleet piano, vocals
Andre Canniere trumpet
Zane Maertens bass
Joe Evans drums
with
Pete Kershaw electric guitar
Chez Taylor saxophone, flute
Sarah Doe backing vocals

Illustration by Alban Low

andyfleet.com

Low Vinyl Records / Cadiz – LV1608 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Portrait: Reflections on Belonging’ – Byron Wallen

DISPLAYING integrity and humanity, respected trumpeter/flugelhornist Byron Wallen’s Portrait – his first recorded release in thirteen years – drew me in at the very first listen… and hasn’t let go yet!

It’s a beautiful concept. Wallen’s original, storytelling compositions are carried on a kaleidoscopic, journeying wave of urban ‘field recordings’ and communal interactions from his native London. In these tarnished days of discrimination and hatred (countered, thankfully, by positive expressions such as #BeKind), it’s worth reading Byron’s heartfelt words… and then responding in gratitude by feeling his and his band’s uplifting, even healing, creativity:

“This album is a meditation and reflection on the powerful impact that music has had on my life. It was conceived whilst sitting in the central square in Woolwich, an area of South East London. I was struck by the community around me with its mixture of cultures and nationalities, from Nepalese elders to young Nigerian men, Somali mothers with their children, a new Eastern European contingent and descendants of families who used to work in the docks and at the Arsenal. Music paved my way to travel and see the world, meeting people from all different cultures and walks of life. The study of music and the process of striving to become a better musician furnished me with a deeper knowledge of self and a gift I could share on so many different levels. In Portrait I am meditating on identity, culture and what it means to belong. The compositions, workshops, performances, and social interaction born out of this project deepened my artistic and personal relationships with the people in my neighbourhood. The album pays tribute to the heart, soul and vibrant provenance of the community I call my home.”

Rising-star guitarist Rob Luft features alongside bassist Paul Michael, drummer Rod Youngs and percussionist Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker – and together, the leader and his Four Corners band produce a rich swell of vibrant celebration, as well as atmospheres of introspection and reminiscence (sleeve notes provide background to several numbers).

It’s no surprise that Byron Wallen studied with Jon Faddis, Hugh Masekela, George Benson and Chaka Khan; and there’s also a semblance of Freddie Hubbard in his joyful, natural phrases and improvisations. Each For All and All For Each, as an example, presents a warmly-grooving South African vibe, plus a freer sense of looking back; and percussively-driven No Stars No Moon (its title referencing historic racial tensions) features a memorable, chromatic guitar riff supporting Wallen’s almost growling, dual-tracked lead.

Chordal and rhythmic arrangements are tightly executed, Luft usually at the heart, providing agile coloration quite different to that of a keyboard instrument. Reflective moments summon imagery, also – especially the eery, flugelhorn/mouthpiece repetition of Alert (for the workers at the Royal Arsenal) which seemingly pictorialises ships’ horns, seagull cries and gunfire echoing around the docklands of (former) heavy industry. Wallen’s miniatures, such as sweetly-dancing Ferry Shell and bold percussion solo Warren to Arsenal, are tantalisingly brief; and calming Fundamental, with jazz-country pedalled guitar textures, is described as ‘a meditation on what it is to be human’.

The educational aspects of Wallen’s career are fascinatingly woven into the fabric of this album, too, employing the choral exuberance of Plumcroft Primary School, in the heart of Woolwich. Young voices chant ’Spirit of the Ancestors (is calling)’ to a bass-and-drum groove as Wallen bluesily improvises across, connecting to the classes’ examination of family and ancestry; and calypsoing, “soft and squishy” Banana Man (for Bannockburn Primary School) highlights the importance of street markets. Harmonious joy, indeed – something further communicated through gyrating, sunshiny instrumental, Holler.

Byron Wallen tours Portrait in the UK from 2 February to 14 October 2020 – and the album, released on 17 February, is available as CD or download from Bandcamp.

 

Byron Wallen trumpet, flugelhorn, shells, piano, percussion
Rob Luft guitar
Paul Michael bass guitar
Rod Youngs drums
Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker congas, talking drums
Plumcroft Primary School, classes 3G and 3H vocals

Illustration: Marc Drostle

byronwallen.co.uk

Twilight Jaguar Recordings – TJCD3 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Hidden Seas’ – Maria Chiara Argirò

PIANIST AND COMPOSER Maria Chiara Argirò’s 2017 album The Fall Dance arrived like a bolt out of the blue – an unexpected, emotional swirl from a sextet featuring the striking vocalisations of Leïla Martial. Now, follow-up release Hidden Seas takes a particularly pelagic theme, allowing Argirò’s imaginative, often driving artistry to swim freely.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 27 September 2019 and available as CD, 12″ vinyl and download from Bandcamp.

 

Maria Chiara Argirò piano, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, Mellotron
Sam Rapley tenor saxophone, clarinet
Tal Janes electric guitar, acoustic guitar (percussion on Ocean)
Andrea Di Biase double bass
Gaspar Sena drums, percussion (vocals on Nautilus)
Leïla Martial vocals
featuring
Mauro Polito programming

www.mariachiaramusic.com

Cavalo Records (2019)