I’m still catching up with 2016’s recorded largesse as 2017 rolls on. These two excellent albums are wildly different but give a flavour of the diverse creativity honed and unleashed by now well established jazz programmes at top music colleges. Drummer Silk hails from Scotland originally but went to Birmingham, whilst pianist Dominic Marshall went to Leeds before migrating to Holland for further study.
Marshall’s latest recording Triolithic, released towards the end of last year, finds him reunited for half the dozen tracks with fellow Leeds alumni Sam Vicary on bass and Sam Gardner on drums. The rest are recorded with regular collaborator Jamie Peet on drums and Glenn Gaddum Jr on bass. There are plenty sources of inspiration blended into Marshall’s playing and writing but the lodestar is the blending of melodic lines, jazz drenched harmony, fluid improvising and the beats of hiphop. It’s territory he’s been exploring for a while, but this collection has the assured feel of an artist confident in his own voice. A liquid groove may never be far away but different atmosphere’s are conjured up with a playful hook from the synth on 80 Campbell Road, a dark modal work out on Deku Street with Jarret-like spiraling invention. Blue Lotus takes off with dazzling counterpoint. The pieces evolve and the developments suggest little stories. This is music that draws on influences and makes something fresh from them.
Jonthan Silk‘s Fragment is another set of original music, but using an altogether different palette. Silk has written for a big band augmented by a 13 piece string section. He’s put his studies with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider to good use creating sweeping, dynamic pieces. Some, like Introduction, Prelude, Reflection are very short setting us up for more prolonged development. After swelling strings, the trumpet entrance on Introduction is a catch the breath moment before Buchaille kicks in, layers build up and solos swoop over stabbing interjections from the ensemble. The title track Fragment is high octane, burning improv over a rocky clatter. Fool’s Paradise’s succession of episodes uses the full range of the the band building to a climax, the trumpet section soaring over a clamorous sax solo before calm descends. There’s some glorious playing from individuals and the whole ensemble. This is a notable achievement and too many strings to count added to the bow of Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records who put this one out.
If 2017’s crop of recordings produces many like these two, it will be a very good year.
John Law is a man in constant motion. On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums he popped up with a band he called Boink!, three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape. The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar. There was a sense of them all now fully integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.
The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band. An early stand-out was And Them. It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax. I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum. Each of the quartet had moments like this. On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck. They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high. A vintage night at the BeBop Club
There’s only one place to be, if you happen to find yourself in Sheffield on a Wednesday night. Off to The Lescar I went. This week they were hosting guitarist Alex Munk’s Flying Machines touching down in Sheffield on an extensive tour promoting their album.
They took off straight away with a throbbing bass line from Conor Chaplin, Dave Hamblett‘s drums and the guitar locking in a groove that had a whiff of a skirling dance to it. Rainbow Line followed with a fractured, funky bass line and a snapping, off-kilter feel. As Long As It Lasts after a ruminative intro from Munk, had a hymn like melody traced out by ringing chords. Chaplin unwound a fluid melodic solo before handing the baton to Munk. The leader has a knack of stringing crisply articulated motifs into long arcing phrases even as the rhythm section revs up underneath him and they collectively lean towards rocking out. Matt Robinson on keyboards is the fourth, indispensable element of the sound. Subtle synth washes and tastefully judged chordal stabs or melodic flurries were ever present. On a new, as yet untitled Munk tune, a plaintive, folky melody accelerated over Hamblett’s hip, driving drums and Robinson let fly with a blistering solo, blending darting lines and blocked chords to build to a climax. There were a couple of excursions into out and and out prog rock meltdowns, but always lurking were artfully layered rhythms and harmonic shifts. Towards the end Robinson guided a more reflective piece with a gorgeous reflective intro before the gently rocking groove of A Long Walk Home drew another bass solo, packed with ideas and long fluid lines.
Munk’s music steers a path through all sorts of references with a seasoning of a rocky groove or a kicking riff never far away. It was rapturously received by a full house at The Lescar. Their tour continues so catch them if you can. The remaining 16 (count-em) dates are here
Penning a couple of CD reviews for London Jazz in the last month (or so) has meant the chance to listen to some of the emerging talent from two UK cities with vibrant music scenes invigorated by the presence of a conservatoire based jazz course. Guitarist Ben Lee graduated form Birmingham Conservatoire and his quintet with a quirky line-up of guitar, organ, sax, trombone and drums have released a romp through a suitably quirky set of originals on his debut In The Tree, released on Stoney Lane Record. My review for London Jazz is here . A catchy riff and rocky groove are never far away, but prepared to be surprised and charmed. There’s a fertile creative mind at work.
Duski led by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate Aidan Thorne mostly hail from Cardiff and have taken their time before releasing their self-titled debut. It’s a strong individual sound , with looping riffs, atmospheric fills from keyboards and guitar and rocky vamps . Gutsy melodic soloing from Greg Sterland on tenor is a standout throughout the engaging set of originals. My review is here . This one has got stuck on repeat in my playlist.
If my blog has been a little neglected over the last few months, its not because the ears haven’t been full of great music. I seem to have reviewed quite a few albums for London Jazz News and looking back at them some random connections have amused me so here’s a round up of a few which are all pianist led.
First a pair: One by (Pablo) Held and one called Held (by Jason Rebello). German pianist Pablo Held leads a trio that’s recorded prolifically and toured all over the world in the last 10 years. Their album Lineage is dense, angular frequently abstract and alluring. My review is here. Jason Rebello‘s album Held is, in a wide ranging career, his first solo piano recording. It bursts with melody and rhythmic fire, so characteristic of Rebello’s playing. A really special and personal recording. My review is here.
Secondly, another pair: This time the connection is country of origin. Pianists Anat Fort and Ari Erev are both Israeli. ECM recording artist Anat Fort teamed up with Italian reedsman Gianluigi Trovesi for Birdsong, a set of her own by turns impressionistic, melodic and evocative compositions. My full review is here. On Flow, Ari Erev leads his trio plus guest through a lively set of latin tinged originals – review here.
Finally a pair… with no connection other than that they are led by pianists and I listened with pleasure and reviewed them.
Fred Hersch deserves a place in the jazz pantheon. He’s played with everyone, taught influential figures in the current generation including Ethan Iverson whose fascinating interview/ discussion with Hersch can be found here . He’s also in something of a purple patch in a long career releasing recordings annually (or quicker!) at the moment and there’s documentary film about him coming out. I reviewed the latest live trio album, Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard here – pretty much a straight recording of a gig at the legendary club.
Last but not least, Jan Lundgren is artistic director of the Ystad International Jazz Festival and recorded a tribute concert to Jan Johansson there in 2015. The release is a double treat; a fine recording its own right and a journey through the music of a seminal figure in Swedish and Nordic jazz. The review is here
The gospel and blues fuelled, grooving and swinging jazz of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers has an enduring appeal as well as endless potential for updating and absorbing into more contemporary styles. George Cooper’s Jazz Defenders are a great local example of that, as they have been reminding us recently. If you wanted a live taste, 25 years after Blakey’s death, of the repertoire and energy of the original band who better to lead, than an alumnus of the great man’s touring band that was an ever evolving school for talent. Jean Toussaint, a graduate from the mid-eighties incarnation, brought his Roots and Herbs project to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday with a line-up to die for and a pad of Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons tunes to set the the most resistant pulse racing.
They launched in with Wayne Shorter’s Roots and Herbs (of course). With Andrew McCormack on piano, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Dennis Rollins on trombone joining Toussaint, this was an all-star line-up that guaranteed fireworks when it came to the blowing. In the spirit of Blakey, one of Toussaint’s own students Will Theaksly took the drum chair and proved to be no passanger. Bass player Daniel Casimir took the first solo however and showed why he won the vote at this year’s Musicians Company awards. A perfectly paced solo, playing with space so that groove and momentum just oozed out had the band whooping. He repeated the feat in Blues March at the end of the set as the band dropped out and a long space somehow left the air pulsating. The faint tap of a grinning Toussaint’s shoe was hardly necessary to bring the the band roaring back in. There were plenty of other moments of drama and poetry. The racing swing of The Summit saw Andrew McCormack unwind a dazzling solo, skittering runs and driving left hand chords nodding at more fireworks to come. The sheer attack and inventiveness of Byron Wallen was riveting every time he stepped up to the microphone. McCormack again, on the gentler waltz Sleeping Dancer Sleep On (Shorter again) conjured more magic as he brought the tune in with evocative sketching of the harmony, then took it out again with fluid melodic flights during his solo. This was a prelude to a barnstorming unaccompanied intro to Moanin of visceral blues, swelling gospel and excursions via more dissonant neo-classical clusters before the classic theme emerged. Toussaint himself really let fly on this one reminding us, as he had all evening, of how to develop a foot stomping solo. He has been touring this project for the last year or so drawing on a large pool of players and just occasionally the ‘come together for the occasion’ nature of the band showed, but the quality and verve of these players was more than equal to the challenge. A great reminder of the energy and inspiration of the Blakey band.
Mark Nightingale is probably heartily sick of bad puns on his name, but his appearance at the St. James Wine Vaults session in Bath in the middle of the month in a cellar bar beneath St. James Square, made allusions to singing and squares irresistible. Anyone who was there might also think it’s an apt comparison however. Opportunities to see one of our foremost exponents of trombone as the lead horn are relatively rare so this was a real treat. The fluency and agility of the playing were dazzling and Nightingale’s tone was like honey in the ear as he led the house trio through two sets of tunes from some less visited corners of the standards and jazz classics repertoire. This was another absorbing evening in the fortnightly session’s programme, now a decade old, that continues to attract the best players on the scene.
It’s a year of anniversaries, as Play Jazz Weekend, an annual pop-up jazz jazz school held at Wiltshire Jazz Centre, reached a run of a decade under the stewardship of Rachel Kerry over the Bank Holiday Weekend . This year, as on some previous occasions, the tutors for the weekend assembled the night before for a gig at Bristol’s Be-Bop Club. Alan Barnes, Damian Cook and Andy Hague (alto, tenor, trumpet) formed the frontline of the band that also featured the fourth tutor Jim Blomfield on piano. Chris Jones on bass and Mark Whitlam secured a grooving, responsive rhythm section. This kind of gig is a Hague specialty. He arrived with a pad of arrangements in ‘roughly hard swinging, sixties Blue Note territory’ as he put it, making sure the impromptu sextet served up a fizzing set of familiar tunes with new twists and the unfamiliar with attention grabbing energy. So we got standards such as Like Someone in Love, Billy Strayhdorn’s UMMG, a little known rip-roaring Horace Silver, Smell my Attitude, evoking burning soloing all round. There were moments of tender delicacy sprinkled throughout the evening as well. A rousing Marcus Printup stomper closed the evening, loudly appreciated by prospective Play Jazz students and regular punters alike.
The much reduced Bath International Festival took place over the week before the bank holiday weekend and the overtly jazzy gigs were on the first Saturday. There’ll be more from me in Jazzwise about those, suffice to say that a solo Branford Marsalis gig in the Abbey, complete with tolling bells to welcome him to the stage, was a dramatic piece of billing. One man, his saxophones and a big church was certainly a challenge but Marsalis rose to it, sounding most compelling to these ears when he eased into some jazz standards, but mining classical and contemporary sounds along the way and using the response of the natural reverb chamber to exhilarating effect. Kansas Smitty’s House Band provided a raucous antidote later in the same evening, impossible not to enjoy.