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: ‘What?’ – What?

FOR AN IMPROVISATORY PROJECT, the title What? perhaps poses the ultimate open-ended question. In earlier recordings on The 52nd imprint – including The Science of Snow, The Lightning Bell and Each Edge of the Field – guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond proved adept in summoning musical vibrations from the rural landscapes of the Welsh Marches in which they dwell, inviting us, the audience, to creatively interact.

Though again recorded in their familiar surroundings of Hammond’s old schoolhouse in Radnorshire, this time the possibilities are significantly expanded with the trumpet/flugelhorn of Gerry Gold and various instrumentation from Rod Paton – primarily piano and French horn.

There’s a perennial wonder in the way that, across genres, composers painstakingly craft classic works which stay with us all our lives. But fascinating, too, is the ability of improvising musicians to begin and develop a ‘conversation’ which, moments earlier, had not existed. Somehow, too, the freshness of discovery in listening remains, influenced by our environment or mood – interpretation is certainly a personal, sometimes involuntarily emotional experience.

Heard at Eastertide (around the time of the album’s release), What? can tangibly express both torment and hope; in the dead of night, there’s a different feel, with every nuance more sharply focused; under springtime-azure skies, animation and whimsy unfold. Whatever you find, thanks to the perception and musicality within this quartet, there’s a profound connectedness which never falters.

Just five tracks across almost an hour echo the expanses of Stow Hill’s ‘trig point’ location seen in the monochrome sleeve imagery, and the combinations of timbres can be teasingly ambiguous. De-liberation’s cagey chitchat between horns, guitar and cello evolves into a playful, if tentative discussion, while the midway piano entry paints pointillistic splashes as well as providing romantic sustenance and structure. Fragile wooden-flute murmurs and chinking percussion in Hill suggest folkloric mystery, belying the rumbustious dances to follow; and Paton’s piano again brings a more tonal stability. Over twenty minutes or so, Wolf’s winding, sprawling route is waymarked with beauty – howling French horn, jangling ‘prepared’ strings, reeling piano and cello; and here, the quartet’s intuition feels particularly strong. There’s even a charming, homey coda reminiscent of the early output of once (relatively) nearby resident Mike Oldfield – tender and pretty.

Horn yelps, angular melodica and percussive guitar and cello in Is imply inhospitable weather, accentuated by droplet piano and dramatic ostinati before gathering a rhythmic, Kurt Weillian jauntiness (amidst so many other acoustically-achieved effects). To close, Beresford’s elegant guitar improv in Ask Me Now is complemented by shadowy, elongated voice and cello phrases, culminating in ‘symphonic’ torrents as the piano’s precipitation gently ceases.

Improvisation such as this requires a listener’s total participation… which I find endlessly mind-expanding and rewarding. Music of pure imagination to ‘take us outside’, What? feels like this label’s most absorbing collaboration to date.

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as digital download or limited edition CD at Bandcamp.


Charlie Beresford
 acoustic guitar
Gerry Gold trumpet, flugelhorn
Sonia Hammond cello
Rod Paton piano, French horn, melodica, voice

the52nd.com
beresfordhammond.com

The 52nd – 52NDCD007 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Our New Earth’ – Sirkis/Bialas IQ (2CD)

IN HIS LINER NOTES to Our New Earth, esteemed drummer Bill Bruford references the dual basis of this 2CD release from the Sirkis/Bialas IQ (International Quartet): the challenge of improving our turbulent world, and an exploratory approach to music – “you don’t play what you practiced anymore”.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released 20 November 2019 and available as CD or digital download at MoonJune Records.

 

Asaf Sirkis drums, crotales, konnakol, manjira, frame drums
Sylwia Bialas voice, waterphone, overtone singing, konnakol, lyrics
Frank Harrison piano, keyboards
Kevin Glasgow six-string electric bass

MoonJune Records – MJR099 (2019)

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: ‘Minor Moments’ (EP) – Laura Zakian

LONDON-BASED JAZZ VOCALIST and educator Laura Zakian has released four solo albums to date, the most recent – 2014’s Songs for Modern Lovers – including in its line-up pianist Steve Lodder, double bassist Simon Thorpe, drummer Nic France and baritone saxophonist Paul Bartholomew. For new project and EP release Minor Moments she returns with that same quartet – but, notably, it marks her creative collaboration with vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Martin Pyne.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 13 May 2019, the EP is available at Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Laura Zakian voice, lyrics
Steve Lodder piano
Simon Thorpe bass
Nic France drums
Paul Bartholomew baritone saxophone
Martin Pyne percussion, composition

laurazakian.com
tallguyrecords.com

Tall Guy Records (2019)