‘Can of Worms’ – George Crowley

CanOfWorms

Y’SEE WHAT ‘APPENS when y’open a Can of Worms?!…

Overflowing with writhing, jostling spontaneity, but with sufficient compositional structure to keep a lid on things, London-based saxophonist George Crowley’s new two-tenor quintet recording is a veritable powerhouse of creativity. His debut release, Paper Universe (Whirlwind, 2011), remains long in the memory as a jazz quartet recording of mature, unfettered exploration. Now, together with sparring tenor partner, the ever-chipper Tom Challenger, he constructs the formidable and foreceful front line of an energetic five-piece completed by Dan Nicholls (piano/Wurlitzer), Sam Lasserson (double bass) and Jon Scott (drums).

Crowley reveals that this band came into being for the purposes of a 2013 live gig, leading to the desire to develop and document the project’s clear success in a studio album – a shrewd and worthwhile decision, given the resulting sense of excitement, anarchy and strong musicality on show here. As composer of all seven substantial pieces, the leader never settles for the obvious, nor any half measures – he and his colleagues go all out for unwavering improvisation whilst recognising the strength of tight ensemble playing. And it’s fabulously earthy, ‘unputdownable’ stuff.

The Opener‘s agitated ten-minute expanse bristles to Jon Scott’s trademark clattering-yet-incisive drum rhythms, bolstered by Sam Lasserson’s babbling bass and Dan Nicholls’ typically brash, animated piano; and in amongst all this, tenorists Crowley and Challenger (one in each ear!) breathlessly duel it out – the combination of the written and the abstract quite thrilling. Nicholls’ uneasy ‘music box’ Wurlitzer announces Whirl, a broad, impudent affair featuring Challenger’s gruffness and Crowley’s screeching – yet the precise framework is always apparent.

Ubiquitous Up Tune in 3, with tricksily-timed sax riffs, is certainly ‘up’, and it’s a tribute to the directness of the engineering/mixing that its raw, live feel translates so well into recorded sound. The jarring major/minor blues of Rum Paunch is a joy, the two tenors either in unison (or thereabouts) or otherwise taunting each other, whilst Nicholls’ sneering, rippling piano almost encourages them in their outrageous discord.

Hard-swinging but nevertheless anarchic I’m Not Here To Reinvent The Wheel rolls deliciously to Lasserson and Scott’s fast pace, the reedsmen clearly revelling in its abandon (confirmed by the group cackles that follow its abrupt finish!). Terminal shuffles mysteriously to Scott’s intricacy at the kit and Nicholls’ magnificent Wurlitzer weavings, Lasserson’s relentless bass underpinning the broadness of the tenors’ extemporisations – such a glorious (and at times, cheeky) sound world; and, to close, T-Leaf rumbles particularly freely, though the fractured improvisations finally come together in absolute unanimity… lid well and truly sealed!

A triumph for George Crowley and his team. Released on 23 March 2015, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found at Whirlwind.

 

George Crowley tenor saxophone
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone
Dan Nicholls piano/Wurlitzer
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jon Scott drums

georgecrowleymusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4666 (2015)

‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law

ZeroSumWorld

MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.

 

Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Robin Goodie’ – Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm

Robin-Goodie

THERE’S FREQUENTLY a ‘loose cannon’ unpredictability and zanyism (or zhenyism?!) to the music of Russian-born saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev which is endearingly reminiscent of the great Roland Kirk – one only needs to take a look at the unfathomable naivety of his hand-scribbled sleeve art to this latest release, Robin Goodie, for an inkling. This is no stretch limousine of glossy, forgettable soft jazz, but rather an impassioned outpouring of the sax man’s quirky, raw, yet ultimately tuneful creations as composer and instrumentalist.

But don’t mistake any suggestion of apparently rough-hewn music for a lack of musicianship or inventiveness as, between them, he and his Smiling Organizm sextet serve up a programme of heady grooves, fervent ensemble playing and blistering improvisation. Joining Strigalev (on alto) is the illustrious team of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Tim Lefebvre (electric bass), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Eric Harland (drums). Strigalev says he is taken with the themes of “nature, humour, strong personalities, rebelliousness and stupidity” in the folklore tale of England’s heroic outlaw (Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie = Robin Goodie). Whatever his theory, these quoted characteristics certainly come to the fore in this second album, the leader’s desire for both acoustic and electric bass in this line-up producing a distinctly gritty edge to his eleven compositions.

The capriciousness of this musical romp contributes significantly to its enjoyment – so not too many spoilers here. But the powerful punkiness of opener Kuku reveals much about the character of this band, Lefebvre’s high bass delivering a funk drive, combined with Grenadier’s acoustic, over which hard, mainstream horns (sounding like four not two) give it everything they’ve got… until they step up higher to outrageously frenetic solos. Horizontal Appreciation‘s piano and electric bass groove coaxes some terrific chops, not least the flamboyance of drummer Harland; and the comedic Sharp Night (shades of Yakety Sax) rattles along at an astonishing pace, unison phrases, bass electronics and Strigalev’s superb squawkings doing nothing to dispel that Kirk notion – fabulous fun to listen to and, no doubt, to play.

It’s not all bustle and brashness, as Urgent Ballad (despite its oxymoronic title) provides the space for more reflective alto and double bass extemporisation; but you can’t keep these guys down for long, as the brilliant combination of complex, wacky grooves and high-flying straightahead jazz in closing Renduta takes off – and with so much going on here, it’s a shame for it to finally peter out (perhaps not so soon in a live setting).

So, if Zhenya at some point steps up to the mic. with a strangely familiar one-man, dual/contrapuntal saxophone display, I’ll realise the Rahsaan reincarnation is absolute! But seriously, it’s great to known that this same spirit of adventure, mischievousness and hard-pushing resourcefulness – to deliver sit-up-and-listen contemporary jazz – is alive and well. Crank it up…

Released on 2 February 2015, Robin Goodie is available from Whirlwind.

 

Zhenya Strigalev alto sax
Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet
Taylor Eigsti piano
Tim Lefebvre bass guitar
Larry Grenadier double bass
Eric Harland drums

zhenyastrigalev.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4665 (2015)

‘Andromeda’ – Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5

AlexGarnett

HARD-BOPPING, full-swinging and with two solid tenors upfront, this new offering from Alex Garnett’s ‘Bunch of 5’ project packs mighty punch after punch!

Over the last couple of decades, Alex Garnett has been much in demand as sideman, session player, composer and arranger, and his excellent quartet album of 2011, Serpent (Whirlwind), marked his long-awaited solo debut. Now, with a stellar quintet which also features tenorist Tim Armacost (read Garnett’s entertaining liner notes on the beginnings of the saxmen’s acquaintance), the ‘bunch’ hit the heights with a rollicking, eight-track, hour-plus performance which pretty much shines as brightly as any live gig. Completing the line-up are Liam Noble (piano), Michael Janisch (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

The combination of the leader’s tone and delivery is every bit as commanding as Rollins or Getz, whether rocking widely or producing those gorgeously lush, reaching phrases – and the diversity and inventiveness of the strong Garnett/Armacost musical partnership here is compelling throughout. Most compositions are Garnett’s and express the skill of his writing which, as he describes, “reflect brief moments in a twenty-year passage of time through my musical life experience”.

Opener So Long!, a beautifully straight-down-the-line swinger inspired by an early ’90s Benny Golson concert, is infectious in its ‘old standard’ melody and simplicity. Following, the childlike interruptedness of Charlie’s World (Garnett explains all) is both endearing and fascinating, Noble’s mischievous, jarring pianism a delight as Janisch also ‘comes out to play’; and there are some sparkling individual improvs from both tenors. Buoyantly lyrical, title number Andromeda (after the galaxy) finds Garnett and Armacost intertwining so richly, Maddren’s muted snare and toms effecting a certain weightlessness – and listen out for the magical, nebulous aura of both Noble and Janisch.

A rip-roaring, pacier version of Garnett’s Delusions of Grandma (heard also on Robbie Harvey’s Blowin’ that Old Tin Can release) is a show-stealer, the two unison tenor lines remarkably staying together before breaking into extemporised abandon; with Garnett clucking grittily and Armacost flowing freely, they eventually duel it out unaccompanied – an absolute joy, especially with the added complex solo display of Maddren. An arrangement of the Burns/Mercer tune Early Autumn reflects the influence of Stan Getz on Garnett, and both saxophonists here do well to summon his spirit with their own warm, deeply-felt searchings; and, written for this quintet, Her Tears exudes an unswerving edge which its composer explains as ‘lovers growing apart’, reflected in the fascinatingly terse melodic and rhythmic conversations shared throughout the band.

Holmes (Inspector, no less), though devoid of fiddle, opens with a bright Mancini (Clouseau?) swagger, clearly enjoyed by the five – blithe yet propulsive, it swings with a great joint sax melody. And, to close, the band make a good fist of Garnett’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s familiar I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm as it rattles along with exuberant, breathless and extended improvisation from all corners – and when the saxmen stand aside, the focus on Noble, Janisch and Maddren confirms both the intelligence and musicality of their performances throughout, including a dazzlingly high-flying piano solo (with the merest hint of Isley Brothers in its chordal conclusion!).

Releasing 26 January 2015, and currently being toured, Andromeda is weighty, fun, and available from Whirlwind Recordings. More information, promo video and purchasing here.

 

Alex Garnett tenor saxophone
Tim Armacost tenor saxophone
Liam Noble piano
Michael Janisch double bass
James Maddren drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4664 (2015)

‘Too Much Love’ – Euan Burton

too-much-love

A STRONG SENSE of yearning and heart-on-sleeve emotion, imbued with the plaintiveness of traditional folksong, are the predominant characteristics flowing from this appealing new jazz quartet release by Scottish composer and bassist Euan Burton. Indeed, Burton’s album title, Too Much Love, reflects a concept built around the idea of people’s mistakes arising from “misplaced love or having so much love that they don’t know how to deal with it and channel it properly.” 

The sequence of seven self-penned numbers seems to suggest thematic progression (not unlike the bassist’s 2012 album, Occurrences), offering the impression of storytelling throughout its engaging thirty-five minutes; and the empathetic response to his writing – by turns homey and exhilarating – is delivered by longstanding Glaswegian compatriots Adam Jackson (alto sax), Tom Gibbs (piano) and Alyn Cosker (drums and cymbals). Euan Burton’s creative identity is his distinctive fusion of through-composition and a trust in individual improvisation – this is no straight saxophone-led foursome banging out my-turn-next riffs to a predictable formula, but rather a close ensemble who appear to spark off each other, in the moment, to bring immediacy and freshness to melodies which remain wholly accessible.

Two opening tracks perfectly illustrate Burton’s approach: Prelude – a wistful, open weave of tunes effortlessly shared and developed between the players; and This World – a delightfully buoyant folksy creation (perhaps it’s the honest, fluid alto sax of Jackson that intimates the pastoral hallmarks of 20th Century British clarinet concerti). Pianist Tom Gibbs appears to be one of Scottish jazz’s best-kept secrets (his own Fear of Flying album, with Euan Burton as bassist, is a particularly memorable release from 2012), and here, in Burton’s quartet, his adaptable creative presence is very much in evidence. The romantic breadth of Rhapsody finds him switching, midway, from grandiose chordal embellishment to a compulsively perky groove propelled by Burton’s bass and the assertive intricacies of Alyn Cosker’s drums and cymbals (at nine minutes, clearly a performance that revels in its breathing space).

Subtle contentment in All That Is Left (with a melody so clear, it could easily be sung to words) is exemplified by the lyricism of Jackson’s alto which eloquently shapes every phrase over the sustained rubato of Gibbs’ piano, with bass and drums in delicate support. Krakow is embraced joyously, Gibbs flamboyantly breaking free in characteristic piano style as Jackson grittily contributes to its countryfied ebullience; and Fading Memories, the most freely improvised-sounding piece on the album, reveals much about these players’ interaction as Cosker’s persistent percussive pulse encourages extemporisation out of Jackson’s bluesy riff – a tantalising glimpse, perhaps, of how they can push and extend the thread of an idea outwards in a live setting. To close, title track Too Much Love briefly reprises the longing of earlier numbers before celebrating more profusely the quartet’s undoubted connection with this music, Jackson and Gibbs finally resting the theme with charming Scottish folksong simplicity.

Released on Whirlwind Recordings, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found here.

 

Euan Burton bass
Adam Jackson alto saxophone
Tom Gibbs piano
Alyn Cosker drums and cymbals

euanburton.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4662 (2014)

‘Red Circle’ – Simon Purcell

RedCircle

THE PURITY and completeness of the (red) circle speak profoundly about this long-awaited new quintet release from London-based pianist and composer Simon Purcell.

As Head of Jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, Purcell is primarily renowned as an educator, garnering praise and respect from many of today’s jazz artists who have benefited from his experience and guidance; so, no surprise that he was once the recipient of a Parliamentary Award for Jazz Educator of the Year. Purcell became prominent in the ’80s, including collaborations with Julian Arguelles, Eddie Henderson and Kenny Wheeler – but, by his own admission, performing and recording activities have since taken second place to his teaching career… until encouraged to cut this album.

The cover art, by artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson, is explained in detail on her own blog – and the crux of an analogy she makes of an encounter with an artist in residence provides a revelatory insight into this recording: “…the potter stood before us, a small piece of pottery cupped in her hands. Gazing into the ‘o’ of her bowl, she began to tell us what she had come to offer. Watching her, listening to her, I had the sense that we were encountering a woman whose life and creative work had worn away the impulse to impress, to prove, to convince. In her years of working with clay, the clay had also worked on her. Shed of pretense, the potter held out to us what she had to give. It was more than sufficient.”

That realisation of ‘more than sufficient’ seems key to the intention behind Simon Purcell’s desire to now, at last, document his powerfully direct approach to music-making with long-standing friends and colleagues who share a similarly high profile on the UK jazz scene – Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Julian Siegel (saxes), Steve Watts (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums). As Purcell explains, he doesn’t feel any expectation to connect to a particular tradition or genre of jazz, nor for the concept to be complex – the single most importance for this band’s creativity is about where their imagination takes them and the simple enjoyment of the moment.

Recorded ‘live’ in one room, this is jazz which is both tightly structured (from Purcell’s original compositions) yet endlessly free in improvisation, displaying some affinity with the classic Blue Note sessions of the ’60s. Imagine the immediacy of Wayne Shorter’s Angola or Freddie Hubbard’s Hub’s Nub, whilst embracing the influences of the intervening years (including early jazz fusion) and employing today’s clear production techniques, and this quartet’s combined inventiveness provides heady listening which demands focused attention.

From the restless momentum of Spirit Level (a reference, perhaps, to the early ’80s vibe of Tim Richards?) to the breadth of Red Circle – Enchantress, the double-horn-led character of this quintet is enthralling. Purcell is, all at once, lyrical and searching in his own extemporisations, as well as colouring the soloing of Julian Siegel and Chris Batchelor. The scat-like riffs of Minos pave the way for Watts’ brisk, walking-bass swing; at over eleven minutes in length, Answers for Job is an immersive experience – a space for improvisation to widen; and Pandora reels to the brashness of Gene Calderazzo’s intelligent percussion– a real swinger with a big band feel. Dark Night slow-grooves to Purcell’s marked piano fifths, encouraging Siegel (on soprano) and Batchelor to push to the limits, whilst Ithaca delicately waltzes to the crystalline piano of the leader; and show-stopper Maestros and Musos flies to Batchelor’s perky trumpet, plus monster soloing from Siegel.

To close, Liane Carroll guests as vocalist on an interpretation of the earlier Ithaca. There’s something magical about a lyricist performing their own words (“May the Summer mornings be bright and plenty”), and Carroll injects her unparalleled emotional intensity and rich tone into this piano-accompanied ballad, sparingly embellished by Siegel’s soprano. A tender and optimistic conclusion.

Released on 10 November 2014 (with a launch at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November), further information, promo video and purchasing can be found on the dedicated Red Circle page at Whirlwind.

 

Simon Purcell piano, compositions
Chris Batchelor
trumpet
Julian Siegel tenor and soprano saxophones
Steve Watts bass
Gene Calderazzo drums
with
Liane Carroll vocals (bonus track)

simonpurcell.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WWR4651 (2014)

‘Groove or Die’ – Paul Jackson Trio

PaulJackson

THIS MUST surely be one of the most addictive jazz/funk/soul grooves of the year! As a founding member of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters – and having forged, over the years, strong associations with musical dignitaries such as Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins and George Benson – California-born Paul Jackson remains one of the most influential and revered electric bass players around.

Now, featuring Xantoné Blacq (keys, vocals) and Tony Match (drums), the seasoned bassist and vocalist brings all of his musical wisdom and showmanship to this trio’s debut release, Groove or Die – and, with a decision on that title choice obvious, the resulting tracklist of ten original numbers becomes increasingly compelling. It’s said that once you’re in the right groove, you don’t wanna come out – and here’s proof from a slick triumvirate whose saturation of sound easily exceeds its number.

Take opener Groove, for example, which is immediately set up with an irresistible major/minor ground for Jackson’s fulsome, gritty voice (imagine an intoxicating blend of Clapton and Tom Jones!) plus solid background harmonies. The bass tempo erupts halfway through, Blacq’s sizzling Rhodes rising magnificently through an electronics forcefield, and Tony Match’s flamboyancy at the kit quite mesmeric. Everything coolly strides the sidewalk to Blacq’s upbeat, loftier-range vocoder lines, Jackson’s bass delivering looping high-fretboard riffs as well as that all-important rasping momentum. Doleful and slow-burning, Pain is curiously reminiscent of late ’70s chart hits such as Float On, though with greater profundity; and the vocalised (almost Methenyesque) instrumental Slick It that follows is compelling in its pithy burst of energy.

African percussion break Nuru precedes a real showstopper of a performance from Xantoné Blacq – What You’re Talkin’ ‘Bout. Unabashedly Stevie Wonder-like in its soulful, molten vocal and animated keyboard approach, the rhythm section’s entrance encourages Blacq to climb to the most astonishing falsetto pitch. And Jackson’s heartfelt crooning in Midnight is a Lonely Heart informs its slow bluesyness, with tightly-meshed background vocals and Blacq’s soaring embellishments adding layer after layer of textures.

Tiptoe Through The Ghetto, introduced by a brilliant Stanley Clarke-like harmonic-bass riff, bustles with impassioned verve. Suggesting, Earth Wind & Fire and Zawinul/Weather Report, the colourful percussive impetus of Tony Match is key to the thrill of it all – and with that seductive Rhodes, it’s got to be a live showstopper. Bringing the album to a close, the wide-open feel-good is confirmed in the jauntiness of People Cry, followed by short, Santana-like bookend, Die.

Some of the stateside vocal lines might initially appear clichéd to an audience this side of the ‘Pond’, but my belief is that it’s all part of the charm of Groove or Die – that and the downright ardent musicality this team exudes. As Match explains: “The trio is like a family; we support each other, we create and share ideas together. I can feel a unique energy and vibration in our music.” And that’s certainly palpable.

Released on 3 November 2014, and launching at The Hideaway, London, on 14 November, visit Whirlwind’s album page for details, videos and samples. Get your groove thang… ohwwwn!

 

Paul Jackson vocals, electric bass, background vocals
Xantoné Blacq vocals, background vocals, keyboards, talk box, percussion
Tony Match drums, percussion

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4656 (2014)