CD

Compact Disc

The Snowghost Sessions

26 Nov 2018
Wayne Horvitz
CD
Songlines

Wayne Horvitz is a New York based jazz composer and musician who has collaborated with the likes of Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Fred Frith and Carla Bley among many others. Here the keyboard player and his rhythm section, Geoff Harper (double bass) and Eric Eagle (drums and percussion), navigates his way between a bit of the avant but mostly the modern and traditional, applying equal aplomb and talent to all three styles.

The Snowghost Sessions will divide, intrigue, charm and hold listeners spellbound, all in a manner that will never insult the intelligence and is devoid of any attempt to create controversy. Horvitz’s playing is sensitive and sensual, it has a beautiful balance that carries the listener through a marvellous musical landscape that combines tunes and rhythms that are as captivating as they are original and intelligent. The 15 tracks are soulful, mesmerising and melodious in equal parts, you are always left yearning for them to continue beyond their mostly short runs of two to three minutes.

The recording is open and accurate if somewhat ‘digital’ and processed, a warm fast sounding system will give it a bit more of an ‘analogue’ feel and smooth the slightly bright edge to the cymbals and some of the electronic effects. This is a slightly mellow but never dark album superbly performed by all involved. It’s exceedingly highly recommended for those who are looking for an original musical interpretation of modern jazz, the type that will endear and stay with listeners long after the last note has stopped reverberating.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
DL

Ritual

9 Nov 2018
Fire! Orchestra
CD
rune grammofon

Ritualsees Erik Lindgren’s Mannen utan väg (The Man Without a Way) a Swedish modernist poem noted for its unconventional imagery and syntax, brought to life in a musical format by the Fire!Orchestra in the shape of five long suites. Originally the simple trio of Mats Gustaffson on sax, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werliin on drums the band have expanded and contracted in numer for each of their four releases. A few seconds into the opening explosion of saxes riffing in unison like a deranged heavy rock group you know that this is a big band like no other. The Fire! Orchestra unleashes challenging, powerful music that is full of unexpected tonal clusters, mad twists and turns, the odd bit of free jazz dissonance that often quickly dissolves into groovy bass lines and rock solid beats mixed with electronica. Somehow, they have managed to learn enough from the challenging big bands of yesteryear to bring the whole project to an entirely new dimension. When considering their influences, Keith Tippett’s Centipede, Don Ellis and even George Russell spring to mind. It’s an irresistible concoction with odd bits of psychedelia, prog and post rock appearing out of the wood work. Even a Fred Frith styled prepared guitar improv gets a look in.  

Lining up two drummers, electric piano, guitar, bass, two vocalists, walls of horns, saxophones, trumpets, and other paraphernalia could have been a recipe for acoustic anarchy. But here, the anarchy is contained within a steady selection of stirring repetitive rhythms which owe far more to Krautrock than expected. As the band ploughs on, rhythms become more intense, rising and falling with the music. They often repeat grooves incessantly often in odd time signatures and delivered with this entrancing energy, making this whole  album explode with relentless, unbridled  power.

Despite following a seemingly unusual trajectory the Fire! Orchestra is a finely chiselled and razor sharp big band with an incredible sense of urgency. The vocal performances by the two lead singers, Sofia Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin, act as the proverbial superglue that makes the performance complete and credible. They employ a wide range of vocal styles and techniques, taking from the heroic free jazz vocal improvisations of Maggie Nichols and Julie Tippetts as much as Bjork and other avant pop luminaries. From wailing, growling and howling to soulful purity and luminous transcendence, their voices are simultaneously scary and appealing. Whilst putting this album on repeat play may be considered a challenge too far, it is nevertheless what I ended up doing time after time. The sheer scale and sonic size of Ritual is a joy to behold and often charged with a sense of endless possibilities.

Charles Imperatori

Formats also available: 
vinyl

The Other Side

27 Sep 2018
Tord Gustavsen Trio
CD
ECM

Recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in January 2018, this is Gustavsen’s eighth album. It is also his return to a trio form after a number of albums that the Norwegian pianist made with quartets. Joining him on this occasion are drummer Jarle Vespestad his long musical partner who helped to cement the Gustavson sound, and bass player Sigurd Hole.

Tord Gustavsen’s fans will be delighted with this album, and those who discover him for the first time could not ask for a better introduction.

The Other Sideis reminiscent of his formative albums The Groundand Being There. But while his phrasing and style has been maintained some of the tango and flamenco themes that were evident in the music of his second and third albums has made way for themes that are more related to Nordic folk and religious hymns.

The album consists of 11 short pieces (the longest is just over six minutes). The rich sound that has been his hallmark with mighty drum, bass and a slight reverb, is a reminder of his earlier tiro albums, and like them this is an album that MUST be heard on a decent sound system to be fully appreciated. Auditioning on a mobile device or while in a car will not reveal the layers of sound and the brilliance of the playing. It is made up of contemplative and rhythmic tracks in equal amounts. It hovers between jazz and classical but is neither. It creates instrumental themes of immense size and intimacy all at the same time. An uncommon feast for the ears.

The Other Side is immense and is exceedingly highly recommended, I suggest you preview it on YouTube and then rush to buy tickets for the trio’s appearance during their visit to the UK as part of the London Jazz Festival in November. Consider this album a must have.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
LP, DL 24/96

Binaural Baroque / España / Mozart By Candlelight

8 Dec 2017
Various
CD
Chasing The Dragon

If you’ve been fortunate enough to experience a symphony orchestra in a concert hall, you’ll appreciate how exceptionally difficult it is to capture the sound in a way that not only does justice to the intricacies, scale and emotional impact of the performance but also reflects the distinctive sonic qualities of the venue. Mike Valentine is among a handful of recording engineers in high demand for their expertise in such challenging live recording environments. Valentine’s modus operandi is capturing maximum natural spaciousness whilst faithfully preserving the acoustic timbres of instruments, and in his most recent projects he uses a binaural ‘dummy head’ microphone to achieve this. 

The trio of Chasing The Dragon binaural offerings, Binaural Baroque, España – A Tribute to Spain, and Mozart By Candlelight, provides a small but varied selection of classical styles ranging from the intimate to the grandiose that will interest many listeners. Even if you’re not a classical aficionado, but simply enjoy rousing music recorded to the highest reference standards, España is without doubt  a ‘must have’ album for its sheer dynamic impact. Not only do the arrangements make excellent use of the chosen instrumental ensembles who perform them with wonderful sensibility and spirit, the recordings themselves are of breathtaking sonic quality and showcase what is possible when the art and science are done properly. 

For headphone listeners the binaural mics contribute favourably to the listening experience by capturing the interchannel timing differences in a way that reveals a more natural ambience, depth and perspective that effectively teleports you inside the very concert halls in which the recordings were made.  I was able to compare the binaural version of one album with its conventional stereo counterpart and the former sounded preferably smoother, less strained and more dimensional, both through headphones and loudspeakers. If you care passionately about sound quality and are curious about binaural, these three Chasing The Dragon releases come highly recommended!

Richard Barclay

Formats also available: 
vinyl, 24/192 DL

Hudson

28 Nov 2017
DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield
CD
Motéma
Hudson DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield

In essence Hudson is all about a bunch of long time friends getting together and playing to their hearts’ content. Only those four friends just so happen to be elder statesman of jazz at their peak, the result is sheer musical magic. The quartet of Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield have so much talent that listing all their collaborations and awards would take the better part of a few A4 pages but here are the headlines.

Band leader, DeJohnette, is one of the most famous drummers in jazz. His roots stretch back to the early sixties, he played with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, and has provided rhythms for Stan Getz, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and just about everybody who’s somebody in the jazz world. Larry Grenadier has been strumming his bass strings professionally ever since he was 16 and had his talent called for by Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny and Joshua Redman among many other collaborations since the early nineties.

John Scofield is one of the most influential guitar players of his generation. His unique style is as recognisable as George Benson or Wes Montgomery. His collaboration with Medeski, Martin & Wood established him as a musician who can adapt to funk as well as bop (and be). You can find his name associated with Steve Swallow, Larry Goldin, Elian Elias, John Patitucci and many others. John Medeski is part of Medeski, Martin & Wood, a band instantly recognisable for its sound and musical talent. He is a keyboardist equally adept at playing distorted electronica and accompanying Phil Lesh’s various Southern rock/blues/country blues session bands. Medeski and Scofield have worked together on many albums and tours as part of MM&W.

The combined talent shines from the first note, Hudson is a sumptuous album, and it is hard to judge if grace or sheer talent are driving it. There is a sense of togetherness about it that is hard to describe but creates the most attractive noise that one could wish to hear. Whether it is the opportunity to hear Medeski tinkling the ivories of a grand piano or the very gentle riffs of Scofield which are so familiar yet elevated to new heights. Or it’s the gentle backing of DeJohnette that ties the band together, or even Grenadier’s bass notes that fill and syncopate to augment is hard to tell but it sure hangs together well.

The album contains homages to a range of classic Americana courtesy of Dylan, Hendrix, Mitchell and the Band. In addition, it features original material and a nod to both gospel and native American chants. The interpretations breathe new life into ‘Lay Lady Lay’ and ‘Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’, ‘Woodstock’, ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’ and ‘Up On Cripple Creek’. Offering whole new vistas onto oh-so familiar tunes, all of which are associated in some way to the Woodstock festival which took place in the Hudson Valley nearly fifty years ago.

Lovers of pure straight jazz will be dazzled by ‘Tony Then Jack’ a fast paced classic bop that does not sound out of place on this album and helps to complete the exhilarating musical ride that this amazing quartet produces. The familiar tunes of Dylan, Mitchell Hendrix and The Band naturally integrate with the title track, a funky number that is reminiscent of the MM&W/Scofield sound.

The recording is very natural, you get a good sense of the room the musicians are playing in and it’s a joy to listen to throughout. In fact I haven’t stopped listening to it for three days now, whether on a high end hi-fi system, mobile device or in the car, it oozes energy and quality. The talent of these musicians gets more immense and impressive as the years pass, I hope this is not their last collaboration. And I really hope that DeJohnette, Grenadier, Scofield and Medeski get on the road and play in the UK for a few nights. 

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
FLAC download

Brightbird

1 Nov 2017
João Paulo Esteves da Silva, Mário Franco, Samuel Rohrer
CD
Arjunamusic

To some the album Brightbird might be considered an expression of modern jazz. I beg to respectfully disagree. This incredibly well recorded album sounds like a modern version of baroque music. It is very intricate and rich in tonal colour and harmonies. It is also almost ‘algebraic’ and often cerebral in its composition, requiring both concentration and a very open mind. Yet it is never difficult to listen to, a neat trick if you can pull it off.

Brightbird is a strictly acoustic collaboration by a trio of musicians. João Paulo Esteves plays piano, Mario Franco on double bass and Samuel Rohrer is the drummer/percussionist.  This is a very non-Brexit, pan European collaboration marrying Latin and Swiss temperaments and nationalities, it highlights the musical skills of all its protagonists and offer all the chance to strut their stuff.

Brightbird consists of 13 wonderfully recorded tracks that ebb and flow in a very intimate fashion with a constant gentle movement of complimentary layers of sound. The lush result relies on harmonies rather than rhythms and on intricate movements rather than on melodies.

The effect is a rich tapestry of musical shades that convey a very opulent yet reserved and introspective sonic character. In places intriguing, in parts very captivating, this album is certainly not for those who are looking for background music, it requires both concentration and an open mind (as well as open ears). Those who get to hear Brightbird will have the opportunity to enjoy a rich tapestry of sounds that are not often heard, and be the richer for it.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
download

Guris Celebrating the music of Hermeto Pascoal

14 Aug 2017
Jovino Santos Neto, André Mehmari
CD
Adventure Music

Guris is a charming and in places romantic Brazilian antidote for super-hot summer days of the sort we occasionally experience in the UK. It is a musical smorgasbord that contains flavours from many musical styles but is fundamentally a testament to the very unique charm and magic of Brazilian music and culture. Those looking for a samba or bossa nova will be disappointed, while those rhythms are here, they are mixed and intertwined and never dominate or take the foreground. There are influences of modern classical and jazz but the harmonies and tunes can only be described as “Brazilian”. 

Guris is a collaboration that celebrates the life of composer Hermeto Pascoal, a musical tribute for his 80th birthday. It is full of soul, musicality and talent that’s charmingly performed by Jovino Santos Neto (piano) and André Mehmari (piano, Fender Rhodes, harmonium and bandolim). The album is a musical romp (for the most part) that oozes and smoulders its way through a mix of very lyrical and soulful tunes that one can easily sing along to or harmonise with. It is played by both with much confidence and a great deal of talent. The songs are Pascoal originals which while they may be familiar in his native land are not well known further afield. That said his Slaves Mass album was repressed by Pure Pleasure on 180g vinyl not so long ago. It is quite a gem.

On this album the performance is aided by voices and towards the end of the album the two performers indulge in what sounds like puerile nonsense (read: noises) as they add voice to the instruments. Pascoal used a pig to provide such sounds in at least one of his performances. The album is not for everyone, some may struggle with the absence of a clearly defined style, but those who take time to listen will discover a mighty rich tapestry from a musical world that can usually only be found in Brazil. The recording quality is somewhere between rich and exact.

Standout tracks
‘Samba Do’
‘Andorinhas’

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
none

Oté Maloya

23 Jun 2017
Various Artists
CD
Strut

Subtitled The birth of electric maloya on Réunion Island 1975 – 1986, the music on this compilation is something else. Réunion is part of the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean and a melting pot of different cultures for centuries, maloya is it’s traditional music, originally described as the music of slaves. This album however focuses on what occurred when western influences combined with local styles and electric instruments to create a fusion that is apparently unique. The influences may have been jazz, funk, blues, rock, reggae and beyond but what results is fabulous in a whole other way. The 19 tracks were compiled by local duo La Basse Tropicale, who are DJ Konsöle and DJ Natty Hö who have found some real gems including Hervé Imare’s ‘Mele-Mele Pas Toué P’Tit Pierre’ with its noodling guitar, and the irresistible opening track Caméléon’s ‘La Rosée Si Feuilles Songes’, where the groove is made up with electric organ, percussion and guitar. All 19 tunes are songs, with a mix of male and female voices so there’s plenty of variety but also a certain vibe that knits them together.

The sound isn’t exactly polished but neither is it crude, in fact for the most part it’s mercifully free of production effects. These tracks sound like fairly natural analogue recordings on the whole but Oté Maloya isn’t primarily recommended for its sound quality, the music is far better.  Some of the tracks can be found on YouTube but the thin MP3 sound does them a disservice, this album is a doorway into a parallel rhythmic universe it deserves better.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl

Behind the Vibration

24 Apr 2017
Rez Abbasi & Junction
CD
Cuneiform Records

Rez Abbasi, a stalwart of the New York jazz scene with a good twenty five years’ experience and twelve recorded albums under his belt informs us that the music on this new release is intended to create an intersection, a junction where all the music that he and his band love can come together. In his words, it’s not jazz but the music of now. Trying to avoid being neatly filed away in a category is a typical response of many a musician and yet for the rest of us there has to be some sort of frame of reference to begin with. Abbasi and his band return to the glory days of jazz-rock, trying to recapture its original spirit before it became a joyless, million note a minute marathon. To this they add a myriad of other influences and ideas all presented in a very ‘in the moment’ type of recording where the listener has the constant sensation of witnessing a live performance.

From the opening ‘Holy Butter’ it is immediately obvious that Abbasi thrives on writing and performing material that demands a highly cohesive performance by the whole band. Here we find plenty of propulsive strength in Kenny Grohowski’s drums which deliver constant deep grooves along with Mark  Shim’s doubling on tenor saxophone and Wind Controller (a synthesizer that plays like a sax), and Ben Stivers proposing differing sounds on Rhodes and Hammond B3. Overall, what we have here is a complex sound, a uniquely New York scene mixture of deep grooves and intricate combinations of shimmering sax and sizzling organ. Abbasi himself often leans towards Allan Holdsworth’s legato style without being overtly cerebral and yet often shifting towards a jazzier and more pristine sound when required. The absence of a bass player reduces overall bandwidth but allows for more spacious arrangements where every nuance counts and the dialogue between musicians is more clearly revealed. There’s also the odd progressive rock intrusion; on ‘Inner Context’, the main melody played in unison by guitar, Wind Controller and organ could have easily come out of the classic Gentle Giant songbook. In spite of everything that has been said in fusion over the last fifty years, Rez Abbasi and Junction have somehow managed to find new avenues and make the whole thing sound fresh and invigorating. More of this please.

Charles Imperatori

Formats also available: 
FLAC download

Live 1970

18 Apr 2017
Nucleus with Leon Thomas
CD
Gearbox Records

It is almost unbelievable that this recording has sat in a vault for well over four decades. Thankfully, Gearbox saw fit to release it first on 180gram vinyl and now in a gatefold cover CD. On paper nobody would have ever put Leon Thomas on the same stage as Nucleus but, thanks to Peter King who was their manager at the time, Nucleus often found themselves working as a backing band for visiting musicians at Ronnie Scott's. So at the beginning of June 1970 they had been backing Leon Thomas for a good two weeks at the club. By the time they met again for this concert in Montreux, Nucleus were at one with Leon Thomas, often taking his peculiar spiritual mixture of blues and soul inflected post Coltranian jazz to a much wider context.

Thomas was then a largely conventional singer with more than a hint of the Joe Williams about him who had been caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the time. Out of sheer necessity, he had developed a type of guttural stop-start yodel that he liked to use a great deal in between lines. Here, the opening ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ with its long, languid rhythm patterns laid down by John Marshall and Jeff Clyne sees Thomas alternating conventional singing with  ample stretches of yodelling. Whilst the lyrics he sings on ‘Damn ‘Nam (Ain’t Going to Vietnam)’ are very much of their time, Chris Spedding’s scratchy and furious guitar matches the intense feelings note for note and are a joy to hear.

Elsewhere, Thomas takes things a step further with his intricate scatting on ‘One’ with Nucleus running at speed in a tight pack with highly charged soloing by Brian Smith on soprano sax and Ian Carr’s flugelhorn. Then, Thomas displays his credentials as a blues singer in the classic ‘Chains of Love’, with more persuasive interplay between singer and band.

More yodelling and an excellent oboe solo by Karl Jenkins over a rumbling, hypnotic far eastern sounding shuffle brings this set to its conclusion. Here the Nucleus front line clearly showed how far out they could go by interweaving the melody like a drunken Art ensemble of  Chicago. In the end, the crowd wanted more. A sentiment I heartily share.

Charles Imperatori

Formats also available: 
vinyl

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