CD

Compact Disc

Live with Britten Sinfonia

14 Apr 2013
Jaga Jazzist
CD
Ninja Tune

This pairing seems as unlikely as Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra did back in the seventies yet it works, possibly rather better than the Purp's efforts judging from its place in the classic rock pantheon. Jaga Jazzist's effort has some chance of standing the test of the time because this performance captures their latter day prog inventiveness coupled with the tonal riches and majesty that only an orchestra can deliver. It is also a fully combined effort, the Britten Sinfonia is an integral part of each piece, the arrangements are remarkable and a very positive reflection of this Norwegian ensemble's capabilities. Almost an orchestra by most standards Jaga Jazzists is led by Lars Horntveth who plays tuba, flute and percussion and features powerhouse drum pummeller Martin Horntveth alongside seven other highly talented multi-instrumentalists
They use the full dynamic breadth of the orchestra and reinforce it with their own unique vision, a richly varied but purposeful and subtle view that gains an extra dimension in this setting. I was a little disappointed in One Armed Bandit, it couldn't quite match the intensity of What We Must but this unexpected treasure has reaffirmed their position as one of the most inventive an interesting leaders on the extremely fertile Scandinavian progressive music scene.
There are a number of new compostions on this album alongside rearrangements of five from previous albums
Bananafleur Overalt has overtones of Sketches of Spain, Mathias Eick's solo being distinctly Davis esque, the performance brings new dimensions to the piece without straying far from the framework of the original. The finale is an arrangement of JJ's strongest piece to date Oslo Skyline is as gloriously noisy as ever, enhanced by distorted brass and the scale of the orchestra it must have made a phenomenal finale at the live event. I was surprised that the press release lead with with "It's a live album, and when are those ever very exciting?" In my experience live albums can be among the very best but perceptions must differ. If this release doesn't shift that notion then nothing will.

 

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV download

Change the Beat

2 Apr 2013
The Celluloid Records Story 1979 - 1987
CD
Strut

Jean Karakos founded Celluloid Records in Paris in the late seventies but it wasn't until he started releasing bass player/producer Bill Laswell's work in the early eighties that it got off the ground. This two disc, 26 track retrospective (the download adds a further five including a rare Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles piece Doriella Du Fontaine) reveals Celluloid to have been an extremely eclectic and forward thinking label. The material ranges from post punk to electro, dub, world and hip-hop and includes hits such as Timezone's World Destruction featuring John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa. The sound varies as well but there is naturally a strong eighties feel as a result of the synths, drum machines and for that matter production styles that were popular at the time. Only the african artists manage to escape this and have not dated so obviously as a result, or is it that they are merely making better music?
The second disc serves up some interesting musical morsels including an instrumental credited to Ginger Baker called Dust To Dust and early examples of hip hop that serve to illustrate how much the genre has changed in the last 25 years. There is plenty to explore here especially for those who enjoy a good drum machine, the drum sounds on here have pretty much disappeared from music today but this isn't necessarily a bad thing! This may not be the view of those who weren't there the first time however and this compilation offers a fascinating insight into the era, one that has shown some signs of revival already but could come back stronger if enough people get to hear this.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, MP3 download

The Reason Why Vol.1

18 Mar 2013
Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra
CD
Headspin

Last year Goran Kajfes released the beautifully bound X/Y album with his Subtropic Arkestra playing largely original works on disc X and Kajfes with David Österberg doing a modern variant on In A Silent Way on disc Y, the latter is more ambient and has proved the most enduring. The name of this latest release from the Croatian born trumpet player may seem cryptic but is in fact a straight forward explanation of where the inspiration came from to make X/Y. The eight tracks on The Reason Why Vol.1 are Kajfes' versions of some pretty obscure but now must hear originals from today and back in the day. It kicks off with a bit of Turkish psych in Edip Akbayram's Yakar Inciden Inciden, me neither, and works its way through pieces by Tame Impala, Soft Machine and Cluster to name the artists I have heard of.
All instrumental and generally high energy thanks to the brass quotient this is a fabulous album if you enjoy jazz rock of the variety found on Zappa's Grand Wazoo or Jaga Jazzists What We Must to give two contrasting instances, powerful, exciting and pretty much full on stuff. The Subtropic Arkestra is a ten strong Swedish band that combines brass, keyboards/moog/cembalo, guitar and bass plus drums played by highly capable musicians who have either been well guided or have a natural affinity with the work. The sheer quantity of energy and dynamism of the playing means that a degree of obvious compression has been necessary in the production but the result is essential from beginning to end, the sound doesn't get in the way of the music. I was blown away when I first put this on and that feeling has remained with continued exposure, it seems a bit early to pick an album of the year but this is a very strong contender.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, MP3 download

Isle of Magic

14 Mar 2013
Mop Mop
CD
Agogo/!K7

An unusual afro-european melange with a fabulous sound Isle of Magic is the sonic result of Mop Mop founder Andrea Benini's vision of an island of musicians. It varies in style quite dramatically, the first four tracks have a heavy african influence and the voice of Trinidad poet/singer Anthony Joseph whose conscious lyrics give them a character not usually associated with this type of music. The release describes the music as voodoo-jazz, afro-funk and soul but fortunately in most instances only one of these names fits each individual piece.
Mop Mop consists of Benini on guitar and drums, Alex Trebo on piano, Pasquale Mirra on vibes and marimba, Guglielmo Pagnozzi on sax, clarinet and flute, Bruno Briscik on bass and Danilo Mineo on percussion. They are assisted by trombonist Fred Wesley who paid his dues with James Brown and Funkadelic among others and Sara Syed, a Finnish-Egyptian singer who delivers the more conventional soul quotient.
The juiciest funk is delivered in the instrumental passages where the orchestra of contributing musicians builds up a richly varied vibe that sounds gorgeous.This is a very warm and organic sounding album and I wasn't surprised that it had been recorded in analogue, what was less expected is that it was done with vintage electronics, which is never the easy nor economical way to make a record but the results speak for themselves. At its best with Joseph's voice this is the best sounding digital release of 2013 so far, the fact that it also includes good music makes it pretty much essential.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, download

Sunset Sunrise

28 Feb 2013
In The Country
CD
ACT

Sunset Sunrise continues the Norwegian trio In The Country's distinctive journey through the less obvious musical fjords. Morten Qvenlid's piano remains as rambling as ever yet continues to distract and delight. Laid back and freeform, the opener is a slow paced wander that takes us to places very different from our own surroundings. In the liner notes Qvenlid talks about the necessity of self reliance for many Norwegians, a situation that leads to them coming up with their own solutions and techniques. That appears to be the case with his playing even though he has worked with so many other musicians that this sense must be either cultural or nostalgic. The rhythm section of Roger Arntzen on bass and Pal Hausken on drums keep things on a relatively familiar track most of the time and this of course affords the pianist the freedom to roam wherever the muse takes him. This is not free jazz however, a label that conjures up pianos falling down stairs and saxophonists strangling geese, the central voice has some unusual things to say but it does so in an approachable way, there is little of the machismo here.
The title appears to have been inspired by Sunset Sound the studio in LA where the album was recorded in the summer of 2012. This might be why the sound is a bit more muscular and weighty than In The Country's previous albums. It's a good sound, one that's easy to approach, especially when Qvenlid's playing lapses into full on tunefulness. This gives the rhythm section a bit of room to manoeuvre, to show off their chops so to speak but there is no showboating, this band operates as a cohesive whole and its this that gives them the ability to explore without becoming self indulgent.
In The Country are genuinely pushing the art of the piano trio forward, they are exploring new forms without resorting to abstraction, resisting populism but remaining accessible. They are high on my list of must see bands.

 

Mercurial Balm

21 Jan 2013
Food
CD
ECM

For once the title fits the work, it's open to interpretation of course but does give some indication of the type of mood that it creates. Food is Thomas Strønen and Iain Ballamy, a drummer and a sax player and this is their second album for ECM. What those two instruments don't suggest is the soundscape of electronica that underpins everything on the record, it turns out that not only do both these musicians 'play' electronics but so do half of their four guests as well. Among their number are guitarists Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset and trumpet player Nils Petter-Molvaer.
Mercurial Balm feels like a journey, one that you can immerse yourself in with ease, and the way that it gradually builds over the first few tracks is very powerful. It's definitely a whole album rather than a series of pieces, some work on their own it's true but the sum of the parts is definitey greater. Ballamy's sax is pretty mellow, he's content to trace out a path across a field of low bass interspersed with bleeps and burbles and criss crossed by electric guitar that also maintain a calm until the climax. But as this point approaches the band creates a cauldron of visceral energy with high intensity drums and blazing brass that is reminiscent of jazz rock's finer moments. In some respects they reach this crescendo a little too early, it's a hard act to follow but they manage to do so by exploring different music terrain with the Aarset and Prakash Sontakke, the latter on slide guitar and vocal.
This is a powerful album that reminds me of Surman's The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon and Timeless by John Abercrombie, it's not as clearcut as those but looks at the same frontiers and leaves plenty of space for the mind to wander.

 

Indicum

27 Nov 2012
Bobo Stenson Trio
CD
ECM
Bobo Stenson Trio Indicum

Indicum starts out conventionally enough with a rendition of Bill Evans' Your Story, a gentle piece that lulls you into a false assumption that is quickly upturned in the next number. That tune is Indikon, a band composition that is distinctly scandiwegian in the absence of blues influences and the presence of a compulsive rhythmic drive. Indicum finds pianist Stenson in the trio he has worked with since 2004 with Anders Jormin on bass and Jon Falt on drums. They are clearly tied together by a wealth of experience, it would be very difficult to produce music that combines this much complexity with so little effort without it. Of the 12 numbers on the disc five are by the band or its members, the rest come from all over the musical landscape. This gives Indicum a variety that is missing from the work of less experienced bands, Stenson understands that it takes a range of ideas to maintain energy across a whole album. But this is also  an exceptional band, it can deliver a form of alchemy with the minimum of notes, it communicates in a subtle and multi-faceted style that means that the music is accessible yet always interesting.

Stenson has more flow and heart than most pianists in jazz, he is sparing but not cool and creates a warm sound that one suspects reflects the man, it’s a rare combination of technique and feeling that you don't get with younger players. The rhythm section is likewise unusually articulate, even the bass solo is interesting and the use of percussion imaginative yet understated. This really is a very fine album, an obvious contender for my 2012 top ten.

Jason Kennedy

 

 

 

Formats also available: 
FLAC download

Live

22 Oct 2012
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
CD
ECM
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Live

Nik Bärtsch is a restrained fellow, you'd not guess from this that he's a keyboard player, it sound's more like the bass player's band. This is because Bärtsch avoids taking a lead role, he is immersed in an ensemble which twists and turns in unison like a flock of starlings over the sea. This means that the work rarely has a central voice but is rather a series of moods, soundscapes and rhythmic explorations. It sounds superb, the bass in particular is glorious, it has a velvety darkness augmented by real weight from drums, bass guitar and a positively chewy bass clarinet.
It's uncannily well recorded for a live concert, noise levels are vanishingly low and there is sophisticated use of reverb. Apparently the percussionist Andi Pupato recorded 50 concerts from the stage and these were used honed down to the nine tracks presented here by Bärtsch and ECM's Manfred Eicher earlier this year, one suspects a little bit of tweezing might have been involved along the way.
There are two discs each containing Moduls (sic) from concerts around the world in 2011, the pieces on the first disc are relatively calm and introspective yet expansive acoustically with dynamic tension that's developed by serial bass lines. It encourages dimming of lights and raising of volume. Disc two is more explosive and visceral, you experience the full power of the Ronin, which if memory serves and Frank Miller was correct is a samurai without a master, it's a great choice of name for this stealthy yet fast and sinuous group.
This is definitely a grower, initially it doesn't seem like there is enough to engage but all you need is a little patience to get hooked into a grooves that have a dynamic all of their own. Next time that Bärtsch brings Ronin to my part of the world I'll be there.   

Jason Kennedy

Black Sands Remixed

17 Aug 2012
Bonobo
CD
Ninja Tune
Bonobo Black Sands Remixed

The remix of Bonobo's Black Sands is a variety box of little sonic delicacies. An improvement on more recent offerings, and much more like his first album, the sounds flit around your brain like illuminated deep sea creatures firing off electrical pulses and warm soothing glows. Bonobo's first album, ‘Animal Magic’, was full of unusual beats and good tunes and it still holds up today. The later ‘Days to Come’ and ‘Black Sands' also had some good stuff, but were curate’s eggs, and a trifle lack lustre overall. They felt like Bonobo was worrying too much about how the songs would sound on stage and whether they were poppy enough to make the album commercially viable. This remix avoids that problem, you can hear flavours of the smaller outfits that are currently floating around on ‘Soundcloud’ and the like, where a new wave of downbeat styles are emerging from bedroom producers slipping in under the radar. There is a whole world of sound out there at the moment, and Bonobo’s remix carries the feel of Apparat, Burial and Hiatus among others. Highlights on this album include the Ghost Ship remix Stay the Same (Blue Daisy 'Not quite the same' remix) and particularly The Keeper Banks remix. As on many remix albums, things occasionally get a bit dreary. The ARP 101 remix of Eyesdown which did nothing for me and The Machinedrum Eyesdown remix was a bit too skittery. I am guessing Bonobo wanted to break up the more laidback dubby tracks. Overall though, the album is a pleasure to listen to and one which I plan to make the most of over the coming months.

Listen to: Ghost Ship, Stay the Same (Blue Daisy 'Not quite the same' remix), The Keeper (Banks remix)

Patrick Kennedy

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV, MP3

Jack of Hearts

17 Aug 2012
Anthony WIlson Trio
CD
Green Note
Jack of Hearts

Anthony Wilson made his name accompanying Diane Krall on her various tours, but when he’s not accompanying Elvis Costello’s wife he tends to do his own shtick, which is very different to the soft bossas that made Krall’s Live In Paris DVD so famous.

Jack of Hearts was recorded in 2009, it features some very notable names that along with Wilson help to create a funky, jazzy energy that constantly entertains the ears. It’s somewhere between mainstream jazz and funk with a spoonful of blues and a smidgen of bebop.

Helping Wilson to create the noise are two drummers who swap seats and contribute their very prodigious talents. The first is Jim Keltner who has played with just about every great musician that has ever lived, the second is another Krall refugee by the name of Jeff Hamilton, who plays on the lion’s share of the tracks. Completing the trio is the Hammond organ specialist Larry Goldings who cut his teeth with the James Brown band and later joined the likes of Maceo Parker before turning to pure jazz.

Anthony Wilson plays guitar and his style is a combination of John Scofield and Kenny Burrell’s sounds, the tones are more funky than bluesy, with lots of straight jazz that is seamlessly interwoven with syncopating rhythms. Jack of Hearts is a dual layer, CD/SACD with multichannel surround at an alleged 176/24 bit rate. Either way the recording quality is very high if not superlative.

A highly recommended album for those who have had enough of macho jazz being played too fast and too loud and are looking to feel and hear as opposed to ‘understand’ the music.

The best tracks are Hawk Eyes and Harjuku, the latter will make fans of Medeski, Martin and Wood perform a very serious audiophonic double-take. Relaxing and exciting at the same time, recommended for snobs and music lovers alike.

listen to: Hawk Eyes, Harjuku

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
45rpm vinyl

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