REVIEW: ‘Torus’ – James Lindsay

THE WEAVE of warm, incisive melody and textural detail heard in bassist/composer James Lindsay’s Strand (his 2017 debut as leader) takes flight in this new album – a vibrant blend of folk-rock that radiates positivity, freedom and adventure.

Torus, in geometrical, natural and cosmological terms, is explained as ‘a spiralling flow of energy, constantly refreshing and influencing itself’ and informs this recorded “exploration of the flows which connect us to our world, and a reminder that change is our only constant”. Communicating those themes, Lindsay integrates himself within the body of an eight-piece instrumental line-up that drives his latest compositions with renewed vigour, certainly ramped-up from the relative homeyness of his original release. That said, amongst its high-energy rock riffs – from a core of electric guitar, keyboards, sax, bass, drums and percussion – the beguiling timbres and inflections of accordion and fiddle firmly root these nine numbers in the evolving folk-music heritage of the bassist’s native Scotland.

Also a member of renowned folk band Breabeach, and with various awards accolades to his name, Glasgow-based Lindsay’s approach to composition and arrangement feels both meticulous and open. There’s a clear sense of journeying threaded through his work that creates a fulgent or sometimes smirr-streaked soundtrack quality. Indeed, though the titles’ sources are varied, the strongest impressions are of Scottish coastal or heather-rich landscapes, with the ever-changing visual and meteorological contrasts they present (aligned to the album’s aspects of regeneration and renewal).

Optimistically-emerging Lateral Roots establishes Lindsay’s intent in an ebullient, contemporary folk-rock reel warmed by the particularly effective textural mesh of unison accordion and sax; and Ben MacDonald’s skittering, hammer-style improvisations can be fleetingly reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth or John Clark. Observatory’s sky-wide ambience brings forth the delightful, rapidly-articulated dance of fiddle and accordion, backed by a crashing, 1980s-hued pop groove; and in Electroreceptor (a system of tissues in a living organism that enables electrical power), suitably syncopated rhythms spark a buzz of overlapping soul-funk conversations throughout its instrumentation. The bass-rasping, synth-laden vigour of Lewisian Complex (referencing north-west Scotland’s ancient, craggy outcrops) has tremors of Depeche Mode or The Human League; but again, it’s fuelled by jazz-rock guitar and vibrant Scots colour, pausing only for the misty Gaelic vocal of Deirdre Graham.

Kalimba droplets and crunchy Rhodes chords prepare the ground for Cycles’ theme-tune riffs and solid beats, while ritualistically-dancing Skekler (a guiser involved in an ancient Shetland custom of banishing winter that includes the beating of wooden staves) culminates in the vehement pound of percussion, urgent fiddle and power chords. Taking Lindsay back to an old haunt, The Smiddy’s chirpy folk melodies become lusciously underpinned at one point by Moog bass, and Jinibara (the indigenous people of Queensland, Australia – an area once visited by the bassist) is similarly uplifting. To close, the first-light clarity of Holon’s accordion and bass seemingly rises to greet the sun, coruscating with a tapestry of guitar, fiddle and sax.

At times, the narrative of this music might benefit from greater fluctuations of light and shade, occasionally reducing the density to create space (as heard in that pool of atmospheric, vocal serenity) or even a near-silence that might portray dark sky zones, north of the border. But, imagined as the basis – or forerunner – of a mixed-media concept or screenplay score, James Lindsay’s evocations characteristically brim with vitality.

Produced by respected jazz and folk musician/engineer Euan Burton, Torus is released on 23 April 2021 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Angus Lyon accordion
Ben MacDonald electric guitars
Deirdre Graham vocals (on Lewisian Complex)
Jack Smedley fiddle
John Lowrie keyboard
James Lindsay bass guitar, electric guitar, Moog
Norman Wilmore alto saxophone
Scott Mackay drums
Signy Jakobsdottir percussion

Illustration: ‘Observatory’ by Alice Strange

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD002 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Tales from the Punjab’ – Shez Raja

A SULTRY SUN silhouetting Badshahi Mosque and the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh in the cosmopolitan city of Lahore, Punjab, signals a quite different project from Wirral-born, London-based electric bassist Shez Raja.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released 19 March 2021 at Ubuntu Music and available from Shez Raja’s website, Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Shez Raja bass guitar
Fiza Haider vocals
Ahsan Papu bansuri
Zohaib Hassan sarangi
Kashif Ali Dani tabla
Qamar Abbas cajon

shezraja.com

Ubuntu Music – UBU0077 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Wait For Me’ – Snowpoet

A PORTAL to aesthetic escapism, the divergent and beautifully efflorescent approach of Snowpoet (vocalist Lauren Kinsella and producer/instrumentalist Chris Hyson) was laid down in an early EP and their eponymous debut album of 2016, followed by 2018’s Thought You Knew.

Now, new release Wait For Me explores ‘the deeper questions of how we love, how we accept our faults and how we let go in a time of profound confusion’, offering ‘protection and solace, advocating openness to adversity and a way to safely navigate great change’. In that vein, perhaps these twelve original songs are more cogitative than before, given the uncertain age in which we presently live – but they’re no less compelling.

Whether you hear Godley & Creme/10cc in multi-layered A Chance To Hear The Rain, Annette Peacock in the ‘spoken singing’ of pop-pulsed The Wheel, or Laurie Anderson in the oblique art of Early Feelings, Kinsella and Hyson have the ability to coax memories of our formative years’ musical experiences, distilling them through their unique brand of genre-defying music and poetry (pop/electronica/jazz might be an opening reference point). There are also songwriter evocations of Joni Mitchell and Björk, with digital grooves and effects that bind the whole with more current influences. Each listen prompts another ripple of emotion – maybe a fleeting, halcyon recollection or even a physical sensation of hypnopompic warmth; and Kinsella’s wordplay may ‘click’, baffle or provide a single line or phrase that feeds the imagination. That’s the artistry – and therein lies the allurement.

Friends from the jazz/creative music world again contribute to the weave, including saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, pianist Matthew Robinson and drummer Dave Hamblett. While the structural foundation of these creations can sometimes be a simple oscillation or riff – as in the folky zephyr of FaceTime or elevated, anthemic Sky Thinking – it’s the blend of Hyson’s synthy atmospheres/arrangements and Kinsella’s distinctive palette of vocal expression and lyricalness that produce the wonder. For example, Roots bustles to her signature clipped soundbites and harmonies over radio-friendly beats, while also featuring Arcoleo’s billowing sax and the nightingale-suggested violin of Alice Zawadzki.

Preceded by Tiers’ industrial, Eno-style smog, With You hints at the electronic bop of Everything Everything, Hyson’s busy production packing much into its four minutes, while sustained fortitude in Here’s the Thing (“… she has a secret, there’s a field, there’s a forest, there’s a river running through her”) maintains a balmy sway. Burn Bright, too, possesses the gossamer weight of earlier Snowpoet, Kinsella’s encouragement (“Can you touch someone’s pain? Burn bright, my love”) supported by improvisatory elegance from Zawadzki and Arcoleo. The gently-accompanied prose of Floating Practice is delightful – just rest and listen; and ticking, nursery-rhyme-like chant Wool, Cotton, Lace & Snow leads out with “sunny days … and warming rays”.

Through word, music and ambience, Snowpoet adeptly build the layers on their canvases, while at times leaving space for our own impressions and emotions. These fifty minutes might simply wash over you, provide an urban soundtrack or become profoundly moving and connective. However you respond, there’s no doubting Snowpoet’s continued mastery.

Released on 19 February 2021 (streaming/download) and 26 March 2021 (worldwide – CD/LP) at Edition Records.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals
Chris Hyson piano, synths
Matthew Robinson piano, synths
Josh Arcoleo saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums (except on With You)
Lloyd Haines drums (on With You)
Alex Haines guitar
Alice Zawadzki violin

snowpoet.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1166 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Haven’ – Berardi Foran Karlen

AUSTRALIAN PIANIST Sean Foran is likely to be best known for his vibrant and long-running jazz outfit Trichotomy, but this ensemble with vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen (plus their guest, Luxembourg-based vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher) visits distinctly alternative environments.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 20 November 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

Videos: No Shepherds Live Here, Bushfire Break and Orbit – Brisbane International Jazz Festival, 2017

 

Kristin Berardi vocals
Sean Foran piano
Rafael Karlen saxophone
with special guest
Pascal Schumacher vibraphone

bfkmusic.com

kristinberardi.com
seanforanmusic.info
rafaelkarlen.com

Earshift Music – EAR029 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid’ – Tara Minton

WITH AN INVITATION to listen for welcoming selkies, sirens, undines and yawkyawks (the latter, from Northern Australian mythology), harpist/vocalist Tara Minton releases Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid – a collection of original music and lyrics which communicates themes of fancy, self-identity, climate change and hope.

Tara Minton’s connection to the sea (evidenced in 2017’s The Tides of Love) stems from an oceanside upbringing in Melbourne; and the decision, a decade ago, to relocate her life and career to London says much about her artistic ambition and ebullient personality. In this album, together with pianist Phil Merriman, double bassist Ed Babar, drummer David Ingamells and soprano saxophonist Tommaso Starace, she explores marine tales through a fascinating fusion of jazz and singer/songwriter styles, alongside pleasing glimpses of folkloristic ‘prog’ rock. As well as being a particularly eclectic harpist in both jazz and classical arenas, it’s also clear that Tara might easily have flourished purely as a vocalist, given her fluent, often deftly-harmonised expression; and the recording’s evident narrative thread is something she regards as fundamental to her creativity.

Incisively described as an impressionistic dreamscape, there’s a sense of this seven-track sequence of ‘stories from mermaids around the world’ being accompanied by flowing, animated imagery as the harp’s undercurrents and riptides provide the basis for its lush, sometimes dramatic journeying. Heralded by siren calls, We Sing For Each Other plunges into an iridescent, subaqueous world of mystery, while The Origin Of The Harp (an interpretation of Thomas Moore’s poem) reveals Minton’s beautifully controlled sung phrases which shift in and out of harp-ornamented coral view, creating a meditative jazz soundtrack.

Eugénie’s glissando strings delicately dance with brushed snare and cymbals under its jade-lit canopy, leading to a selkie’s wonderfully soulful intro to teasing, free-spirited, walking-bass number Skin (“I wanna shed my skin… everything is on the menu tonight… sometimes I just wanna be naughty and flirty…”). Here, the ‘piano trio’ of Merriman, Babar and Ingamells combines with Minton’s flourishes to create smilingly retro feel-good; something which continues in the whirlpool freedom of Undine Undying, embellished by the swooning then high-flying shared melodies of soprano sax and voice.

Midway through title track Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid (an environmental exhortation), Minton propels her writing towards the solid synthesized/drummed rock of Genesis or Yes, its soaring, effected vocals and harp sforzandi also imaginable as a Bond theme, culminating in the mermaids’ impressive choral anthem. And Puerto Rican-tinted Starfish – where harp almost emulates Spanish guitar – concludes with splendid improvisational showings, including communal burlesque/folk voices proclaiming “Come down to the beach, we can change our fate… before it’s too late”.

Tara Minton’s creative route teems and glistens with individuality, while that ‘prog’ side of her personality will be watched and encouraged!

Released on 6 November 2020, Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid is available as limited-edition vinyl and CD, or digital download, from Bandcamp.

 

Tara Minton vocals, harp, co-producer
Phil Merriman piano, co-producer
Ed Babar double bass
David Ingamells drums
Tommaso Starace soprano saxophone
Tom Nancollas voice on The Origin Of The Harp

Cover art by Blanche Ellis

taraminton.com

Lateralize Records – LR010CD (2020)