CD

Compact Disc

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

In Case the World Changes Its Mind

16 Aug 2012
Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood
CD
Indirecto

Medeski, Martin and Wood have been at the forefront of being different for many years now. Their association with John Scofield originally resulted in the by now cherished legend that is the Scofield’s album A Go Go (1998). So fans of the curious and deliberately idiosyncratic trio will no doubt welcome this double album, others may wonder why two CDs where required to highlight the style of the quartet, when a single CD plus two and a half tracks would have been more than sufficient.

The double set is based on (in the main) live interpretations of the aforementioned A Go Go, but unfortunately this association  has been stretched beyond their natural ability to attract or intrigue. In the main this is an album that offers the NY guys another opportunity to just do as they feel. The reputation and style which made MMW and John Scofield a success is in evidence, but only just. The inclination to musically naval-gaze is indulged liberally which is sometimes a blessing but occasionally a curse.

The rhythms are as compelling as ever, the prog/jazz/funk combination resonates appealingly a lot of the time but there also moments when you feel that there is a private joke being shared between the musicians. They are clearly enjoying themselves and it would seem that the audience went home happy but away from the sweat and the darkness the message doesn’t necessarily translate. For those that wish to find out what the fuss is, the A Go-Go album offers a clearer path to the abilities of this undoubtedly talented combo.

Having said all that, there are two amazing tracks included on CD2 and these highlight the potential and offer proof of greatness. The opener Little Walter Rides Again and track three Amazing Grace which serves to remind all of us how great John Scofield is. These will offer the uninitiated as well as the hardcore a reason to listen to the band's other albums.

Listen to: Little Walter Rides Again, Amazing Grace

Reuben Klein

 

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl

Rava on the Dance Floor

14 Aug 2012
Enrico Rava
CD
ECM

Italian trumpet player Enrico Rava must have a pretty efficient shielding system for keeping pop music out of his life. The inspiration for this live concert is the music of Michael Jackson, music which Rava only discovered after the singer's passing in 2009. Equally surprising is that he is of the opinion that the star's later works, History and the karmically challenging Invincible, are his best but maybe that's what comes of approaching the body of work today. He is not immune to the classics however, apparently it was the riff in Smooth Criminal that got under his skin in the first place. The emphasis on later works is probably why the source of these pieces does not become obvious until you hear the familiar strains of Thriller, the third number.
Rava is accompanied by the Parco della Musica Jazz Lab from Rome, an ensemble that focuses on young musicians who were presumably not quite so new to the work. They are eleven strong with a brass section, electric guitar and keyboards among their number. The band features Giovanni Guidi the pianist from Rava's Quintet, a rather good bass player in Dario Deidda and arranger Mauro Ottolini who has worked with Carla Bley and Bill Frisell among others
Having not heard the original of They Don't Care About Us the intro seems more Rava than Jackson but a tune develops soon enough albeit one that the trumpeter makes his mark on in pretty distinct terms. As the album title suggests this is as much about fun as it is about musicianship but contains some outstanding playing from Rava  who steps in for the voice on tunes that are arranged so as to reveal new aspects of their form without losing site of the genius that went into their creation. The band has both energy, dynamics and flair. Despite Rava's obvious enthusiam for his subject this will probably be a too intense for the average Jackson fan, but those looking for a great sounding live band injecting a bit of variety into new standards will find plenty to enjoy.

listen to: I Just Can't Stop Loving You, Smooth Criminal

Jason Kennedy

 

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Live!

29 Jun 2012
Univers Zero
CD
Cuneiform Records
Univers Zero Live!

Univers Zero was a member of the late 1970s movement ‘Rock in Opposition’, a European collective (instigated by Henry Cow and Chris Cutler of the same) of bands committed to musical excellence and operating, by self-perpetuating accident, outside the mainstream record industry. Ten years before, major labels, as a legacy of the classical record tradition of making art available, had seemed more willing to take a chance on various ‘art’ projects; profits from one venture perhaps offsetting small losses from another. By 1980 and the post-punk era, the major record companies had got the idea that they should be the ones shaping public tastes, with a tighter grip on the profits.

 Of course, ‘musical excellence’ is a debatable concept! That Univers Zero exhibits a high standard of musicianship is clear; highly orchestrated, tight and focused ensemble playing. Its roots are in the ‘70s and the feeling that rock should rise from its ‘low’ origins to the status of a serious art form, surpass the efforts of ‘concept album’ pomp and leave behind the purely American influences that had largely dominated rock music to the early ‘70s. The market fuelled perhaps by the teenagers of the 1960s growing to adulthood, solvency, an appetite for progress, and mass availability of ‘real hi-fi’. I suppose one’s taste for this disc or the band in general will be coloured by the reader’s view of the above observations.

This European centred movement for the advancement of rock integrated classical, folk and jazz forms; this kind of deliberate cross fertilisation – as opposed to merely adopting phrases or the style of other genres – was much more open at the time.

Of course, this is not the 1970s, and this is not a reissue from any golden era of nostalgia. The band, despite a break between 1986 and ’99, is still playing, touring and recording. This recording dates is from 2006. It is a fine recording in the European progressive tradition largely overlooked in Britain. If your record shelves or hard drives contain the likes of Magma, Zappa, Colin Towns, Henry Cow etc this album will sit nicely amidst them without sounding like more of the same.

The recording quality is excellent too, great for impressing your mates with your latest hi-fi upgrade.

Andy Craig

 

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