‘La Saboteuse’ – Yazz Ahmed

YazzAhmed

THE SMOULDERING, exotic and aromatic layers of trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse have gradually been infusing my psyche for the past few weeks – and it’s precisely this slowly unfolding, intoxicating weave which makes it both alluring and satisfyingly difficult to pigeonhole. 

Ahmed’s credentials to date speak for themselves, having worked alongside such illustrious names as Courtney Pine, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sir John Dankworth, as well as appearing on albums by artists including Samuel Hällkvist, Noel Langley and Radiohead; and following on from 2011 solo debut Finding My Way Home, the British-Bahraini musician describes this latest, sumptuous release as part of a long, spiritual journey: “the relationship between the optimism of my conscious self and the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, my inner saboteur”. It quite ingeniously fuses a personal desire to delve more deeply into her childhood experiences – the culture of the Middle East and the sounds of its maqam and folk music traditions – with the already exciting cross-pollinations of the current jazz scene. The resulting assimilation by Ahmed and her sparkling players is a hypnotic, almost continuous work of extraordinary nuance and breadth.

Exquisite illustrations, calligraphy and the trumpeter’s own engaging sleeve notes about the music and each of her personnel instantly reveal a labour of love (also confirming the advantage of artistic completeness which the physical product will always have over digital download or streaming), preparing the ground for immersion in this fragrant, almost hour-long labyrinth. Jamil Jamal‘s alternating seven-then-eight percussive metre is set up by a Rhodes and electric bass pulse, embellished by searching improvisations from the leader’s flugel and bass clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings; and, as throughout the album, details such as echoic guitar and hazy electronics add significantly to the suffusion. Indeed, Ahmed’s mastery of textural effect is much in evidence, as in The Space Between the Fish & the Moon, a mystical expanse of bowed vibraphone, digital oscillations and crackles traversed by blissful flugel.

The fluctuating riches of this recording are magnificent – dark, spacial, contrapuntal and unison phrases in title track La Saboteuse become interspersed with muted Arabian annunciations, whilst Al Emadi‘s brassy effusiveness is carried on a wave of bendir and darbuka, with so many fascinating embellishments contributing to its cinematic mood. The vibes-introduced buoyancy of The Lost Pearl has a subtle redolence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, albeit with syncopated, effects-swirling electric bass rhythms; and all the while, Ahmed’s assured imaginings ripple above. In Bloom, Martin France’s rapid pop-groove injects light into the pervading mystery, its otherwise straight-ahead demeanour glinting with vibes and (at one point, politely screeching) flugel; and Beleille‘s complex network of tonal intrigue (including bizarre electronic manipulations of bass clarinet) makes this one of this album’s most absorbing listens. Delicate miniatures, segued between these expansive pieces, provide a sense of continuity which may well be elaborated upon when performed live – and celebratory Organ External, with a riffy hint of Michael Nyman, intelligently seems to throw everything into the mix with great results, the low timbres of flugel and bass clarinet especially effective.

Yazz Ahmed’s atmospheres are lush, inventive, enticing and an impressive, progressive distillation of her many influences. In short – spellbinding.

Released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017, La Saboteuse is available as CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Yazz Ahmed flugelhorn, trumpet, quarter-tone flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet
Samuel Hällkvist electric guitars
Naadia Sheriff Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Dudley Phillips bass guitar
Dave Manington bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom)
Martin France drums
Corrina Silvester bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit

Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed

yazzahmed.com

Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)

‘Strand’ – James Lindsay

TUMBLING with Gaelic threads which evoke festal reels and climatic atmospheres, Scottish bassist James Lindsay’s Strand – his debut as leader – melds grooving jazz, traditional folk and zesty rock to create a tapestry of airy, attractive landscapes.

A regular session musician and arranger, Glasgow-based Lindsay won the Martyn Bennett prize for composition in 2014 and is also a member of multi-award-winning folk band Braebeach. This programme of eight, broad numbers for sextet features lithe flute and fiddle melodies, instantly placing his original music ‘north of the border’; but don’t be fooled by its initial easy-going nature, as this ensemble works together to produce what becomes an inviting, contrasting weave of warm, incisive melody and textural detail. There are hints of the focus and camaraderie of the BBC’s Transatlantic Sessions – perhaps unsurprising, given that this album’s engineer, Iain Hutchinson, was key to that long-term project – yet the bassist’s jazz sensibilities also imbue his compositions with creative twists of opportunity for he and his players to offer their own improvisational flair.

Scotland’s rich and distinctive musical heritage is evident throughout, as in the mist-clearing expanses of Hebrides Terrace Seamount (the largest undersea mountain in the British Isles) which are coloured by Hamish Napier’s tremulant flute and Adam Sutherland’s lilting, portamento violin; and The Silent Spring‘s soft rivulets of Celtic-tinged melody reflect its compositional inspiration, a hidden stream which now supplies one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries (pianist Tom Gibbs’ sole use of Fender Rhodes throughout this recording contributes greatly in blending tradition with contemporary ideas). Ben Macdonald’s country-rock electric guitar motion underpins Sòdhaigh (one of the isles of Skye), buoyed by fresh, unison flute and fiddle tunes, then side-footed into a tricksy, rhythmic pattern from drummer Scott Mackay; and Shallow Firth‘s more pressing Rhodes-and-guitar dominance echoes the composer’s interest in the work of jazz luminaries Bill Frisell and Ben Wendel.

Lindsay takes much inspiration from his native shores, so UB85, despite its breezy, flutey demeanour, is in fact based on a true story of sea monsters and a sunken German U-boat – and again the transition into another phase (a lurching, Groove Armada-style figure) is delightful, delicately enhanced by Sutherland’s jazz fiddle and Napier’s breathy harmonics. The rhythmic union of Lindsay, Macdonald, Gibbs and Mackay sails blithely around Stacks, supporting a spirited folk tune which celebrates these impressive geographical features of Scotland’s west coast with joyful, Joe Sample-like Rhodes acciaccaturas and trills as well as washy, iridescent seascapes, plus a measure of crashing-wave guitar grit. The soft-rock, up-in-the-clouds impressions of Forvie Sands / Creel (again, landscape-themed) are elegantly dancelike, infused with sustained electric guitar and bluesy fiddle; and widescreen Beaufort’s Dyke (inspired by a Wesleyan hymn tune) closes with a simple, longing sense of ‘going home’.

A few pre-recording studio videos – The Silent Spring, Forvie Sands and Hebrides Terrace Seamount – offer a glimpse of this accessible, fine and heartwarming Scottish excursion.

Released on 2 June 2017, Strand is available as a digital download or limited edition CD from Bandcamp.

 

James Lindsay double bass, compositions
Hamish Napier flute, Wurlitzer
Adam Sutherland fiddle
Ben Macdonald guitar
Tom Gibbs Fender Rhodes
Scott Mackay drums

Cover art: Into the Blue – Jane McMillan

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD001 (2017)

‘Klammer’ – Rick Simpson

Klammer

clamour ■ n. a loud and confused noise. ■ v. (of a group) shout or demand loudly.

IT WOULD SEEM rather off beam to suggest that this sextet resembled (in more conventional spelling) the above definitions; but they do provide a clue to their full-on, angular and often wondrously oblique approach to jazz.

Rick Simpson is a regular sideman on the London scene, as are his colleagues in this line-up – and saxophonists Michael Chillingworth and George Crowley are no strangers on the front line together (see recent release Scratch and Sift), communicating no-holds-barred creative grit and energy. The prospect, then, of them melodically heading-up the pianist’s original, unpredictable compositions is something to relish, especially in collaboration with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer David Hamblett.

Simpson’s broad musical understanding and appreciation provides a solid basis for his writing, though improvisation is a key motivator (as much at home with the music of Kenny Wheeler as Django Bates, or as inspired by post-bop as free jazz). So in this project, the avoidance of structure doesn’t signal ‘clamour’, but rather that the zesty compositions offer his colleagues considerable freedom – and it’s notable how, throughout this near-hour-full box of delights, arranged phrases can either meld or snap into the wide-open spaces of individual extemporisation.

The many rhythmic intricacies here must surely pose a knotty challenge, as evidenced in the first two tracks, Pins and Beware of Gabriel Garrick Imitators; and the furtive, jolting advancement of sax, vibes and bass (especially with Tom Farmer on board) resembles the excellence of Empirical. But, although Rick Simpson is happy to join the combined ‘klang’ of the ensemble, on Fender Rhodes, his pianistic inventiveness also regularly comes to the fore. So he shapes How Deep is Your Disrespect with the kind of sensitive, wayward fascination associated with John Taylor; and his ‘alarm’ ostinato in this number, picked up from Ralph Wyld’s vibes, is an attention-grabbing vehicle which sparks percussive excitement, as well as typical outlandishness from Chillingworth and Crowley (turn it up loud!).

A pianist’s approach to composition can clearly be picked out in slow-moving, spacial Orbital, as lush alto and sax harmonies are complemented by nebulous, star-glinting piano and vibes which are then sumptuously swelled by the whole ensemble; and aqueous, tremulant Rhodes in Sea Change binds together the evolving, painterly layers of a jewel-encrusted canvas. The complexity of volatile, irascible Greasy Child! Ugly Man!, with its simple yet provocative double-horn jibing, is riveting; so, too, is bright, snappy Unsustainabubble whose straight-ahead tenor and bass hook-up is immaculately delivered. Rings End is packed full of undulating intrigue, somehow suggesting a comedic movie accompaniment; and the easy, South African lilt of Surreal Estate (almost ten minutes in duration) is just the prelude to a many-roomed promenade, crescendoing to a synth-enhanced climax.

Shut out any other forms of, er, ‘klammer’… and revel in its spirited fullness.

Released on Two Rivers Records, on 30 September 2016, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Michael Chillingworth alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
George Crowley tenor saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Rick Simpson piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, MS-10, glockenspiel, harmonium
Tom Farmer double bass
David Hamblett drums

ricksimpsonjazz.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-012 (2016)

‘Snowpoet’ – Snowpoet

Snowpoet

IN A WORLD where, like some time-lapse street scene, we are frequently bombarded by high-energy grooves and cacophonous soundbites, Snowpoet have an adroit ability to create, through arresting vocal melodies/utterances and unexpected instrumental timbres, a gossamer labyrinth of intrigue and enchantment in which to lose ourselves.

The mesmerising vocals of Lauren Kinsella, fronting these nine tracks, are sensitively woven into the band’s ebbing and flowing sonic spaces – and the effect, particularly when heard in quiet isolation, has a remarkable impact on the senses. Kinsella – who sees her voice primarily as an instrument – places an emphasis on syllabic deconstruction, as well as rhythmic and tonal modulation (reminiscent of Annette Peacock), explaining that “sound comes through the word and has a musical meaning all of its own, regardless of its linguistic understanding.” That approach, central to this album’s creative folk/ambience, can be inexplicably and emotionally moving. Comprising a personnel (see below) who, individually, perform across a variety of genres (including contemporary jazz), these soundscapes are mixed by Chris Hyson and Alex Killpartrick; and the musical environments they produce require a certain abandonment from the listener.

Vivid, sun-glinted rivulets are depicted in Mermaid, a beautifully accessible introduction teeming with instrumental/electronic life and dreamy, layered vocals; and the whispered usherings of In a Quiet Space lead to Kinsella’s characteristic, undulating voice, the sense of anticipation painted by luscious clusters of sound suggesting a magical discovery under a forest canopy. Glad To Have Lost is redolent of one of Kinsella’s other projects, Blue Eyed Hawk, in the way its prog-style guitar and electronics underpin her typically measured lines before melting into piano-teared ambience; and the Irish lilt of Laura Kinsella’s poetic, melodic speech here is so compelling.

Creaking, tuned-out piano accompanies the vocal line in live-feel If I Miss a Star (an effect which recalls the quaintness of Peter Gabriel’s Me and My Teddy Bear), and countryfied Little Moon Man, with its acoustic guitar momentum, is utterly charming, delicately swathed in wordless backing vocals and ’70s-style synth riffs. The band’s acuity with audio imagery is continued in Gathering, as floating patterns, clicky extraneous sounds and broken, sustained electronics head downstream; and Kinsella’s playful dialogue in Waves is fused with 12-string guitar and plush vocal textures which later hit crashing breakers. Poetry of Stillness suggests an echoic, Peter Pan world of heavenly imagination with lengthened, storytelling vocalisations (“together, we walked up into a clou-u-ud of dreams”); and extended, rising Eviternity closes with a tingling sense of hope.

Especially in late-night solitude, this is a go-to album for immersive escapism – and that can be engendered in so many ways, be it disturbing, becalming or joyfully life-affirming. It takes deep, musical sincerity to achieve such powerful therapy; and for this reason, Snowpoet’s debut recording remains an outstanding body of work.

Released on Two Rivers Records, Snowpoet can be purchased in CD and digital download formats at Bandcamp.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals, lyrics
Chris Hyson electric bass, keyboards, synths, piano, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer
Matthew Robinson piano, keyboards, synths
Nicholas Costley-White acoustic and electric guitars
Josh Arcoleo backing vocals, synths, tenor saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums
with
Lloyd Haines additional drums (Little Moon Man, Poetry of Stillness)
Alex Killpartrick additional synth (Little Moon Man)

snowpoet.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 007

‘Spring Rain’ – Samuel Blaser Quartet

SamuelBlaser

SWISS TROMBONIST Samuel Blaser has a strong aspiration to further expand the scope of his instrument, unconfined from the worlds of jazz and free improvisation, through this new release of quartet material in tribute to American clarinettist and composer Jimmy Giuffre.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Samuel Blaser trombone
Russ Lossing piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Minimoog
Drew Gress bass
Gerald Cleaver drums

samuelblaser.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4670 (2015)

‘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)

‘Porgy & Bess’ – Fini Bearman

Porgy&Bess

GEORGE GERSHWIN’S 1930s American folk opera, Porgy & Bess – a tale of against-all-odds love set against a backdrop of prostitution and drug addiction – is known to many for its popular songs such as Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So and I Loves You Porgy.

In 1959, iconic jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and renowned bandleader Gil Evans together issued a recording, on Columbia, of their own interpretations of songs from the opera, which became one of the most enduringly favoured Davis albums from what has become a considerable discography. The inherent blues/jazz feel of the original was what particularly drew them to their new nine-piece band explorations (not just ‘jazz treatments’), leading Evans to divulge, “The three of us, it seems to me, collaborated in the album.”

Some fifty-odd years later, it’s that landmark Davis/Evans recording which has provided the inspiration for London-based singer, songwriter and composer Fini Bearman to present this new album of eight numbers/impressions from the original score, backed by an impressively adaptable line-up: Ross Stanley (Hammond, Wurlitzer), Matt Calvert (guitars, plus piano), Jon Cox (double bass) and John Blease (drums, percussion). All arrangements are by Bearman, Calvert and Blease and are transformatively compelling.

For example, in Bearman’s hands, Davis’ New Orleans-style funeral march interlude of Gone, Gone, Gone breaks into a strong-beat Sixties single, courtesy of Ross Stanley’s evocative Augeresque organ playing and Matt Calvert’s lively, tremulant guitar (interesting to consider Miles’ recording was made on the cusp of a decade that was to be characterised by this sound). Fini Bearman’s voice is strong, soulful and, if emulating this period, utterly convincing. The despair of My Man’s Gone Now, as heard in Gershwin’s vocalised original (though more smoothly swinging in Davis’ world) is beautifully weighted in its solid, sustained, major/minor bluesyness; and, in stark contrast, the plainly optimistic (usually baritone-sung) I Got Plenty of Nuthin’ skips in countrified abandon, Bearman getting into its cheeky, resigned character.

Porgy, I’m Your Woman Now is touchingly delicate, the spacial arpeggioed guitar arrangement here illuminating the beauty, and even modernity, of Gershwin’s writing; and the richness and feeling in Fini Bearman’s delivery carries the song so well. Lively blues to the fore, It Ain’t Necessarily So rings to the crashing, gritty precision of Calvert’s guitar and Stanley’s truly authentic chordal and soloing organ tone – sensational stuff from the whole quintet. I Loves You Porgy, a well-covered classic (and here, as in Miles’ version, a first take) is winsomely engaging – Bearman feels the emotion of the lyric, and echoic guitar and brittle percussion provide a certain weightlessness, whilst Ross Stanley’s bright melodic tone is quite magical.

The chirpy beat of Davis’ There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon is delightfully remodelled as an easy-going groove, held up well by bassist Jon Cox and drummer John Blease, which Bearman clearly revels in; it all sounds remarkably fresh, shimmering to guitar and Rhodes soloing. And to close, Prayer – a freely-improvised, less obvious impression of Summertime – perhaps suggests the misty poignancy of the previous number as it ebbs and washes to vocal and instrumental overlays, idealistically heading out to New York.

David Ewen, Gershwin’s first biographer, reputedly stated of the man and this opera that he “never quite ceased to wonder at the miracle that he had been its composer. He never stopped loving each and every bar, never wavered in the conviction that he had produced a work of art.” Its longevity, although due in part to the popularity of the mainstream ‘hits’, is testament to that belief – and thanks to the vision of artists including Miles Davis, and now Fini Bearman, his work can continue to be appreciated through contemporary interpretations. And that, happily, is one of the wonders of a living, breathing, creative genre such as jazz.

Released on the ‘F-IRE presents’ label on 28 October 2014, Porgy & Bess is available from ProperMusic and usual outlets.

 

Fini Bearman voice
Ross Stanley Hammond organ, Wurlitzer
Matt Calvert guitars, piano
Jon Cox double bass
John Blease drums, percussion

(original credits: music by George Gershwin; libretto by DuBose Heyward; lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin)

finibearman.com
f-ire.com

F-IRE presents – F-IRECD 76 (2014)