‘Alimentation’ – Solstice

alimentation

WHAT A FEAST that Solstice spreads before us! A debut release, yet anything but an unknown line-up, this British sextet’s shared culinary enthusiasm translated into an exploration of their combined compositional and instrumental possibilities – hence various ‘foody’ references. The musical outcome? Well, certainly luscious, zesty, cordial… and wonderfully satisfying.

A glance at the personnel is temptation enough – Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (voice), John Turville (piano), Jez Franks (guitars), Dave Manington (double bass) and George Hart (drums) – with each bringing original compositions to the table to prompt affable, fluvial conversations. The closeness of the collaboration was evident when the band presented this material at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival, and is discernible in this fine studio recording.

Brigitte Beraha is establishing herself as one the UK’s most dextrous jazz vocalists, including notable appearances on albums by Babelfish and Geoff Eales; and any comparison with Norma Winstone would seem quite appropriate. Across these nine tracks, her lyrical or wordless contribution is integral to the overall blend, and there’s a special affinity with Tori Freestone’s ever-tumbling wellspring of saxophonic invention. Space and balance are key. Even in the brisker numbers, there’s never a sense of oversaturation, thanks to consummate performances from Turville, Franks, Manington and Hart.

Ultimate Big Cheese‘s apparent, airy glee is enhanced by Tori Freestone’s delightfully feel-good flute; melodic Mourning Porridge, with a unison voice-and-guitar pairing redolent of Pat Metheny, finds Freestone’s characteristic tenor waltzing around feathery percussion and Dave Manington’s authoritative bass resonances; and Jez Franks’ acoustic timbres in his own composition, Tilt, provide a folksily-threaded backdrop to Beraha’s scat. Björk’s original The Anchor Song is a pearl of almost naive charm – but this band’s interpretation, in an arrangement by Dave Manington, is achingly beautiful, the affecting simplicity of voice and piano preceding a magical, bubbling otherworldliness, with a particularly vivid pictorialisation of diving to the bottom of the ocean.

Avocado Deficit (Freestone’s title inspired by her surprise that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years!) ascends, Escher-like, as the tenorist’s seamless phrasing emphasises its endless, hypnotic path. Beraha’s poetic delivery is central to Her Words, Like Butterflies, adorned by John Turville’s piano elegance; there’s an adroit sax-and-voice connection in Tori Freestone’s buoyant Universal Four (from her trio album In the Chop House); and George Hart’s turbulent, darkly-hued Solstice encourages dramatically screeching voice and sax. Arranged afresh for this ensemble, Beraha’s bright Unspoken closes the set with affirming repeated chorus (“It’s the cycle of life”).

Released on 9 December 2016, and available as CD or digital download from Two Rivers Records at BandcampAlimentation is a joy from beginning to end. To quote B Guðmundsdóttir – right now, “this is where I’m staying, this is my home.”

 

Tori Freestone tenor sax, soprano saxophone, flute
Brigitte Beraha voice
John Turville piano
Jez Franks guitars
Dave Manington double bass
George Hart drums

solstice-music.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR-020 (2016)

‘Burn the Boat’ – Fini Bearman

Fini

“ABANDON THE SHIP, embrace the water, take a leap of faith… don’t think of what could stop you.”

Such a challenge should resonate with all truly creative musicians. And if you ever ruminated on whether the songwriter’s art had mostly degenerated into a three-chord trick – with a middle eight, if you’re lucky – then vocalist and composer/lyricist Fini Bearman traverses vast, colourful oceans to dispel those notions (see what I did there?). 2014’s album of new interpretations from George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess is an especially captivating listen; but now, with Burn the Boat, Bearman presents a collection of mostly self-penned songs, three of which are crafted upon the works of American/Portuguese poets.

The point of difference in Fini Bearman’s melodic, contemporary/folk artistry is that its basis is in contemporary jazz – and from that genre’s sea of accomplished instrumentalists, you could hardly wish for finer collaborators than Matt Robinson (keys), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). Here is a writer who not only vividly communicates her own thoughts and others’, but also wraps the sung words in shifting waves of colour and texture, combining crashing breakers with coruscating pools of heart-on-sleeve emotion. Recorded at residential Giant Wafer Studios, tucked away in rural Mid Wales, there’s a tangible sense of conviviality emanating from these fifty minutes – and familiarity with these nine originals only heightens the attraction.

Sand on Sand‘s airy, exuberant invitation to “Step out of the darkness… and into the light” is layered with vocals as piano, guitar and synth washes perpetuate its positive spirit – and alongside the bubbling, commercial appeal, it is crowned with lush instrumental finesse. Title track Burn the Boat‘s scratchy guitar-rock ascension (Costley-White’s electronics so ‘on it’ here) enhances the suppleness of Bearman’s emphatic delivery as Robinson’s synth lines soar overhead, whilst the catchy, poetic lines of Gone, co-written by Tommy Antonio – “Fell asleep with my clothes on, screensaver waving ’til dawn” – are musically ’70s-reminiscent of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille; and, again, it’s difficult to emphasise enough the incisive jazz invention.

Deeply-felt You Bring the Sunlight focuses on the strong bonds of relationship (“I’d rather have nothing at all”), the folksy, guitar- and piano-accompanied gracefulness suggesting a touch of ‘talkin’ at me’ Harry Nilsson; and Bearman’s playful miniature I Know, I Alone (based on Richard Zenith’s translation of Fernando Pessoa’s short poem) is carried by Dave Hamblett’s colourful percussive display. Maybe Next Year‘s reluctant acceptance is portrayed through an imaginative, undulating arrangement enhanced by the improvisatory clarity of Robinson and Costley-White, whilst Langton Hughes’ poem The Idea inspires a purposeful touch of soundtrack, or even musical theatre – much of that due to Bearman’s characteristic, acute sense of expression and storytelling.

Say the Words is an album standout to put on loop – buoyed by Conor Chaplin’s aqueous yet mobile electric bass and Matt Robinson’s Latinesque piano highlights, this exquisite, soulful, shuffling groove is so evocative of Stevie Wonder that a vocal duet with Fini is imaginable! Such a Fool closes the album, bathing E E Cummings’ poetry in watercolour atmospherics before its animated conclusion – and he couldn’t have foretold it better: “May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living.”

Released on Two Rivers Records, Burn the Boat is a ‘must hear’, available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman voice, composition
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, synths
Nick Costley-White guitar
Conor Chaplin bass
Dave Hamblett drums

Album art by Fini Bearman

finibearman.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-015 (2016)

‘Say Hello to You’ – Sarah Munro

sarahmunro

IT WAS A VIDEO of an original song which first grabbed my attention, prompting this review of debut album Say Hello to You from 20-year-old British vocalist and guitarist Sarah Munro.

Already having caught the ears of Jamie Cullum and Tom Robinson, Sarah has, to date, played Cheltenham Jazz Festival, opened for both Clare Teal and Jimmy Webb, and is due to continue to support soul artist Paul Carrack on his forthcoming 24-date UK tour. Melding gentle, folksy singer/songwriter pop and jazz, this first release relies substantially on keyboards and programming for its polished arrangements. However, it’s the promise of Munro’s sit-up-and-listen voice, her guitar-playing confidence and her maturity as a songwriter which suggests this is a name destined for success.

Ten original tracks – plus an emotional rendition of Johnny Mercer’s Autumn Leaves – reveal the extent of Sarah Munro’s indubitable musicality; and flying in the face of reality TV and quick-fix fame, the control and passion she conveys through her silken voice is consistently magnetic. Opening numbers Say Hello to You and Fool Forever are delivered with impeccable poise and diction (oboe interludes redolent of Mike Batt’s chart hits), and Make It Your Own‘s country guitar is endearing, as is bossa-beat Crazy Game. Dreamily elegant Paint the World offers a hint of nostalgia (even a smidgen of ‘Whispering Grass’) thanks to the purity of Munro’s strings-backed vocal; and the memorable, melodic hooks of Lovebird and Goodbye Mr Moonlight feel effortless. Irish-inflected ballad Young Heart recalls Leo Sayer, whilst Little Sister‘s attractive, easy-going Hammond groove indicates why the artistic match with Paul Carrack must be so strong.

Frequently this album’s unaffected simplicity veers into easy-listening, with smooth-jazz inflections (Katie Melua could be a parallel). But it’s imaginable that, one day, Sarah Munro might collaborate with a creative combo or lush big band (word has it that a Christmas single, with string arrangement, is due for release); and combining such a magical voice with her guitar fluency, she should surely rise to prominence.

Oh… and that beautiful video performance – For Eternity.

Released on 14 September 2016, Say Hello to You is available from Amazon.

 

Sarah Munro voice, guitar, ukulele, composition/lyrics
with
M Munro guitar, electronic instrumentation/programming, composition

sarahmunromusic.com

Self-produced – FLBCD001 (2016)

‘Agartha’ – Oddarrang

Agartha

IT’S THREE YEARS since Finnish band Oddarrang came to the attention of UK audiences with their third studio album (and first with British label Edition Records), In Cinema, plus live gigs. Now, once again under the leadership of drummer and composer Olavi Louhivuori, new release Agartha permeates the senses with that same, statuesque wall of sound.

The line-up is less than conventional (a clue can be found in the quintet’s name which, rather than having its roots in folklore, was in fact devised from ‘odd arrangement’). Alongside Louhivuori is trombonist Ilmari Pohjola, guitarist Lasse Sakara, bassist Lasse Lindgren and cellist Osmo Ikonen; and there’s significant band input on synths and voices, with Ikonen also adding Chinese/Asian stringed instrument, the erhu. So whilst Oddarrang’s original music displays the power of progressive rock and the drama of widescreen soundtrack, it is also flooded with the broad, open spaces and inflections of Scandinavian folk.

In fact, it feels like Louhivuori’s world is informed by many influences, opening number Aletheia mysteriously awakening through synth ostinati and sustained, descending hazes redolent of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. This is not blistering-solo jazz, nor mundane ambience. Instead, a series of anthemic, post-rock panoramas are meticulously fashioned, often seeming to build their anticipatory energy towards a blazing aurora; and melodic Central Sun, in particular, reveals both the force and beauty of this fine instrumentation – steely, unison trombone and voices above driving guitar and percussion, steadfastly facing into the wind. In Admiral Byrd’s Flight, an ardent rock groove of determination and intrigue is woven around pulsating, phased electronics and impassioned cello (the stuff of adventure movie climax).

The remaining two tracks of five hint at those extended, storytelling, prog expeditions of yore. At around ten minutes’ duration, slow-burning Mass I-III moves through a series of connected movements, its orchestral poise maintained by trombone, cello and string synth sustenance; and the more folsky guitar addition opens the door to windswept electronics and a thunderously-drummed conclusion. And Telos/Agartha (the album is titled after the legendary city at the earth’s core) is another extended opus whose gaseous, overlapping textures invite the beautiful, cantabile vibrato of the erhu before eventually reaching a hymnal conclusion, with triumphant trombone and cello melodies elevated above the band’s now-familiar layers of synth and percussion.

Oddarrang’s ability to radiate awe and wonder through their specific instrumentation and careful detailing is sure to appeal to those who appreciate emotive, majestic soundscapes.

Released on 23 September 2016, Agartha is available as CD, vinyl or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Mass I-III

 

Olavi Louhivuori drums, synths, voice
Ilmari Pohjola trombone, synths, voice
Lasse Sakara guitars, voice
Lasse Lindgren bass, synths, voice
Osmo Ikonen cello, synths, erhu, voice
with
Aino Peltomaa voice on Aletheia

oddarrang.com

Edition Records – EDN1079 (2016)

‘The Lightning Bell’ – Beresford Hammond Hume

BeresfordHammondHume

THE IMPROVISATORY MUSIC of guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond, in 2014 album The Science of Snow, came as something of a revelation. Arising quite simply from a cancelled studio booking, the duo proceeded to use the time to create an enticing, spontaneous sequence of artistic impressions which had the ability to conjure visual imagery in a spacial and often affecting way.

For new release The Lightning Bell, Beresford and Hammond collaborate with classical, prog rock and improv pianist Carolyn Hume; and singer Judie Tzuke guests on two tracks, complementing Charlie Beresford’s own vocal contributions (Tzuke’s 1979 chart hit Stay With Me Till Dawn remains a spine tingler). Once again, this is original music which somehow transports mind and soul to another place, where the freedoms of improvisation are able to connect with the emotions so surprisingly. On the surface, these abstract soundscapes could be perceived as dark, sombre spaces – yet beneath lies bohemian beauty resulting from a meeting of creative spirits at one moment in time. The title is derived from an 18th Century device which demonstrated, albeit simply, the conversion of an electrical charge into mechanical energy – the movement of a clapper between two oppositely-charged bells to create sound.

The introduction of improvised, sung phrases into some of this album’s eight, expansive tracks brings a further instrumental dimension, rather than apparent, specific meaning. Beresford’s utterances in slowly drifting opener Call the Time add to a sultriness vaguely redolent of Gershwin’s Summertime, as he whispers across sustained cello, diminished piano elaborations and abstract guitar; and the addition of Judie Tzuke’s recognisable, mellow tones in Then the Cloud Comes contribute to a vivid, overcast landscape, with Hammond’s cello scratching the sky and Beresford’s persistent, wiry guitar tremblings accentuating Hume’s rainy piano.

As with the first release, the music here is often on a filmic scale – Feather War Cast’s openness and unpredictability, across almost ten minutes, allows the imagination to run free; a combination of melodic, pitch-bent guitar extemporisations across sustained, English contemporary classical piano and cello, interspersed with extraneous knocks and scrapes. The Heavy Branch is particularly indicative of deep bell clangs and chimes as Hammond’s sinuous cello harmonics meld effectively with Beresford’s clever, echoic guitar purrs – and Carolyn Hume’s Debussyian piano depth (à la The Sunken Cathedral) emphasises its humidity.

Fascinating, if a little disturbing, Laid Bare‘s darting guitar glissandi and slippery, whistling harmonic cello become clothed in delicate, skylit piano; and pastoral, melancholic As If All Was Within, with subtly chattering guitar strings on frets, is ornamented by the soft, folky words of Charlie Beresford. Judie Tzuke’s vocals provide In the Dark Hours with a more songlike feel, though its references to insomnia and nightmare bring a chill to the sparse instrumental weave; and The Last Port concludes – perhaps the darkest, most menacing film-score episode of the entire album.

These are deep expressions, yet the imagery and emotion triggered by the sincerity of such artistic improvisation can make this a compelling experience. Take a listen – video: Call the Time.

Released on 12 June 2016, The Lightning Bell is available from the52ndshop and Amazon.

 

Charlie Beresford acoustic guitar, voice
Sonia Hammond cello
Carolyn Hume piano
with
Judie Tzuke voice (tracks 3, 7)

Sleeve images: Gaëna da Sylva.

the52nd.com

the52nd – 52NDCD002 (2016)

‘Gurutopia’ – Shez Raja

Adobe Photoshop PDF

QUOTING ‘bass’, ‘groove’ and ‘fusion’ in the same conversation is likely to summon thoughts of Stateside heavyweights Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke or Marcus Miller – so it feels something of a privilege to flag up and recommend the progressive, impassioned contribution to UK jazz/funk being made by five-string electric bassist Shez Raja. 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Shez Raja bass guitar
Monika Lidke voice
Chris Nickolls drums
Steve Pringle Fender Rhodes and keyboards (tracks 1, 5, 6, 7)
Pascal Roggen violin
Alex Stanford keyboards (tracks 2, 3, 4, 8)
Vasilis Xenopoulos saxophone
featuring
Mike Stern guitar (tracks 1, 6)
Randy Brecker trumpet (tracks 5, 7)

shezraja.com

Dot Time Records – DT9050 (2016)

‘Transience’ – Geoff Eales

CONVEYING evident themes of both the wonderment and the fragility of life’s journey, Geoff Eales’ elegant new quintet release brings together respected musicians from the UK jazz scene.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Transience is available from Jazz CDs.

 

Geoff Eales piano, organ
Brigitte Beraha voice
Noel Langley trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Laurence double bass
Martin France drums

geoffeales.com

Fuzzy Moon Records – FUZ008 (2016)