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Rights

6 Nov 2017
Schnellertollermeier
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Cuneiform Records

Tight doesn’t even begin to describe the high level of interplay displayed by this Swiss guitar bass drums trio. Somehow, with just four albums under their belt they have managed to map out an alternative route to  the conventional guitar-led power trio format and take it to an altogether different level. Schnellertollermeier is in fact  Andi Schnellmann on bass, Manuel Troller on guitar and David Meier on drums. These three musicians have been working together as a band for more than ten years and  have produced three albums  Holz (2008), Zorn einen ehmer üttert stem!! (2010) and X (2015) before this new album made in 2016 during the band’s residency at the Südpol cultural centre in Lucerne.

Schnellertollermeier composed and rehearsed new material in different rooms of the house, and performed the initial results in a series of concerts. They sketched out their material, adapted it, took it apart, and put it back together again like highly skilled engineers.  Schnellmann, Troller and Meier, it has to be said, belong to a younger generation that takes heavy metal, hip hop, grunge and electronica in its stride. Their idea of a power trio is a million miles away from the long soloing excursions of bands like Cream. Their music always starts from the ground up, building and developing one idea, adding a series of powerful crescendos to it with the occasional solo foray. Here, every single note has a clear, precise function in the building and development of the whole piece. If ever you wished to hear precise mechanical engineering in music, this is probably it. And yet it sounds so natural and organic. Using the lilting minimalism of early 80s King Crimson as a point of departure, the trio inject into it a much tighter  series of bass and drums interactions underpinning cyclical and mesmerizing arrangements, full of off kilter  phrasings and devastating guitar riffs.  

Going along this high voltage rollercoaster ride, we finally discover how it is possible to connect the more avant side of progressive rock with post rock’s math-like inclinations and fuse them with eerie, improvised industrial soundsculptures. Bands like Battles had in the past got very near this kind of approach but never quite with the same level of detail and intensity. Whilst the band’s approach is undoubtedly embedded in mechanical minimalism, when they break ranks, the end result is more often than not quite surprising. On the opening ‘Rights’, the band suddenly breaks from it’s rampant, highly strung cycle leading the listener into a fractured David Torn-like post industrial desolation. It’s a moment of  respite before taking the piece into it’s devastating finale.

Essentially, what makes the difference here and in the other three compositions is  the  clever use of  loops, treatments and delays which adds a strong visual dimension to their music. The original idea built from the ground up, expanded and empowered by high octane riffing suddenly turns into a mesmerising industrial sound sculpture bursting the notion that rock music might be dead after all these years. Following carefully the band’s train of thought, we become at one with the sound, taking in every nuance and detail; nothing is thrown in our face and so the music comes alive with tons of raw emotion and we are all there in the middle of it. Riveting stuff indeed.

Charles Imperatori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

Sleepwalkers

15 May 2017
Omer Klein
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Warner

Every few years one comes across an album such as Sleepwalkers. An album that jolts one awake with its brilliance, but Sleepwalkers is that kind of an album. It is played with talent and confidence that justifies putting Omer Klein on a scale normally reserved for the work of fellow pianist Tord Gustavsen, it has a rare and rarefied elegance and musicality that clearly warrants the comparison.

Klein is an Israeli born German based keyboardist whose talent reserves are deep, he does post rock as well as he does jazz and can stretch out in all directions. He has played with John Zorn and Avishahi Cohen and has been appearing with his trio across Europe and in the US, needless to say you should catch him if you can.

Klein is joined by two equally impressive partners, Haggai Cohen Milo on double bass and Amir Bresler on drums. The trio plays music that moves from classical to world to modern to the mainstream of jazz, blues and funk with a little Sati-like intimacy for good measure. Of the 13 original and dazzling pieces two tracks stand out; ‘Blinky Palermo’ with its lovely bass and piano interplay, and ‘Spilt Milk’ where’s Klein’s playing takes on a lyrical bent. As you can probably tell I quite like this musical gem, it’s a performance that is not to be missed. Sound quality is about par for a jazz trio recording, not ECM standard but it sounds natural and everything is in perspective. Downloads in 44.1/16 and 24bits are available from Qobuz, hard copies can be found in various European outlets. If you want to elevate your life a little higher, this sublime musical experience will definitely help.

Reuben Klein (no relation!)

 

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

New Path

2 May 2017
Yogev Shetrit
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www.yogevshetrit.com

Yogev Shetrit and his fellow musicians are a brilliant bi-product of the land they live in. It would appear that in addition to being a pressure cooker, Israel is a melting pot of many cultures and musical genres which are represented here in a polished and mighty impressive set of world music style jazz that draws inspiration from a very rich tapestry of Yemenite, Arabic, western jazz and samba styles and rhythms. Throughout the album the musical glue that bonds the performance is ‘Israeli music’ of a kind that only those who spent years of living there will be able to easily identify.

Shetrit’s trio includes piano, bass and drums and brings to mind another such trio from the same country that was led by the renowned bass player Avishai Cohen. This trio and the guests accompanying it through the album exhibit a verve, talent and confidence that belies their anonymity. The album is an exciting mix of melodious tracks that owe much to middle eastern and north African influence, in addition two of the tracks are pure hard bop, further illustrating the breadth and talent of this trio.

The album’s core group of players is made up of leader and drummer Yogev Shetrit, who was declared a prodigy in his very early youth and spent his formative years attending renowned music schools in both Israel and the US. He is accompanied by Avri Borochov on bass, and Gil Zohar on piano. They are joined by a very large group of other musicians, the list of credits includes: Omri Mor on piano and karkabou (metal castanets), Yuval Gerstein on guitar, Ariel Levi on saxophone, with Miryam Shetrit and Joel Covington on backing vocals.

New Path is available direct from the artist on Bandcamp. The album’s sound is intimate but the recording quality is average and slightly compressed. The album consists of 11 tracks and is just over an hour long. From Moroccan themes to hard bop this is a must for music lovers who wish to mix up their jazz with the extra pizzazz offered by the fusion of world music.

Recommended track Café Atlas

Reuben Klein

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none

Live at Club Helsinki

10 Jan 2017
Club D’Elf
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Face Pelt Records

This conclusion to this review goes as follows: This is likely to be the most impressive release of 2017. Get it now. Live at Club Helsinki is as immense as it is intense. A double album that in uncompressed WAV form requires 1.2Gb of space on the hard drive, with a set of 12 tracks offering over two hours of music. It features one famous musician by the name of John Medeski, but don’t let that fool you, he is not at the forefront, he is in the same league as the other musicians in this Boston based band.

Medeski (employing an arsenal of analogue keyboard instruments including a vintage Mellotron and grand piano), is mostly supporting and not leading the Club D’Elf crew. The band consists of Brahim Fribgane (oud, cajon, vocals), Duke Levine (guitar), Mister Rourke (DJ), Mike Rivard (bass) and Dean Johnston (drums). I don’t know how often these guys jam together but the session is live and the synergy is incredible, in places their precision evokes starling formations, so incredibly unified is the musical ebb and flow. 

Club D’Elf’s music is a constant stream of almost any funk groove that one can imagine and enjoy with a tinge of north African influence. It is not a challenging album, but music lovers who are looking to find relief from the soft and mostly clichéd soundtrack of mainstream music will discover an endless source of inspiration, energy and talent of a calibre that one rarely encounters.

The sound is brittle, open and bright, the recording does not keep up with the musical brilliance, but even this doesn’t diminish the enjoyment that so much talent, verve and sheer depth of exuberance exhibited by all the musicians. As per the start of the review, Live at Club Helsinki is an extremely highly recommended musical jam without which 2017 will be paler for those who miss it.
Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
CD

Little Crimes

14 Dec 2016
Melissa Menago
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Chesky Records

Binaural recordings are made using a pair of omnidirectional mics mounted inside a pinnae-equipped dummy head at the precise location of the ear canals, capturing the same naturally-reverberant, three-dimensional sound a listener would experience if they were present at the performanc. Due to the way the brain processes directional cues, enjoyment of binaural recordings has long remained the preserve of headphone users. In 2012 however, Chesky Records developed Binaural+, a processing technique claimed to make binaural recordings sound spatially realistic through headphones and loudspeakers. Melissa Menago’s debut solo album Little Crimes, released in July, is one such recording to receive Chesky’s special engineering. Better known for being lead singer in rock band June Divided, this acoustic folk-styled live album is somewhat of a left-turn for the Philadelphian singer-songwriter. Recorded in a 130-yr old Brooklyn church during the middle of a thunderstorm - evident from the soothing pitter-patter of rain falling onto the venue’s roof! Little Crimes is a 12-track treasure trove of original compositions, reworked June Divided material and quirky medley covers of classics. Joined by her bandmates, Menago delivers a relaxed and utterly captivating 50 minutes of contemporary arrangements, underpinned by beautifully expressed lyrics that are stylised with a fun edginess and emotional vulnerability that demonstrate both a youthful innocence and a maturity beyond her years. Chesky’s faithful reproduction of the church’s rich and spacious acoustics adds immeasurably to the imagery by ushering you onto its pews to take refuge from the rain and witness Menago’s gently uplifting recital in all its understated elegance. Little Crimes is a little treat both for the ears and for the soul.

Richard Barclay

Formats also available: 
24-bit/192kHz DL, CD, vinyl

Upward

7 Dec 2016
Ross Hammond & Sameer Gupta
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Prescott Recordings

Ross Hammond is a genuine troubadour, seemingly spending his life on the road playing acoustic and electric guitars to anyone that has the sense to listen. His style on Upward will be familiar to those who appreciate the work of John Fahey and Ry Cooder, steel string picking on 12-string acoustic guitar with a strong folk and blues flavour. Here he is joined by long time collaborator, drummer and tabla player Sameer Gupta who sticks to the latter instruments throughout this eight track release. His playing here is more about feel than speed, it is clearly bedded in the classical Indian style but avoids its characteristic high speed solos, instead both musicians lay down a groove that doesn’t have a foreground beat but at the same time has a clear tempo. One of his comments regarding working with Hammond is “He goes in for a raw sound, something that's outside of what are considered the conventional barriers.” He’s not wrong.

This combination of instruments has its forebears in the work of John McLaughlin (Shakti) and Ry Cooder (Meeting by the River with VM Bhatt) among others, but Hammond and Gupta have a more gritty, down to earth sound. It’s a simple recording with each artist given their own channel and surrounded by the natural reverb of the studio. The tracks vary in length from the title track’s 4’37” to the 11’39” of ‘For Chris Ferreira’, the latter is one of the stand outs on the album and remains interesting and engaging throughout thanks to both musicians’ improvisational skills. Hammond recorded duets with the late Ferreira which are beautiful pieces and available as part of a subscription deal he offers via bandcamp.com. For $20 or more you get four records [WAV or FLAC downloads] from his back catalogue and an exclusive music selection each month. If you like his music you’ll realise that this is a bargain and a half.

Hammond’s playing appeals because it is honest, open hearted balm for the soul. It’s not about virtuosity although he’s clearly a great player and there is no studio flim flam to give it a smokin’ sound, just the open, vibrant sound of the acoustic guitar. Which when combined with the dynamics of clearcut tabla makes for an absorbing musical experience. If you only try one track make it ‘Being and Becoming’, it is a solid gone beauty of the rarest kind.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
Ltd CD

Rejected Scripts

3 May 2016
M.A Bakker
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www.mabakker.com

How do you pay the ultimate homage to a musician you love? Do you start a tribute band that imitates the artist’s original work, or do you create an inspired semi facsimile that is distinctive in its own right? M.A Bakker and his large band appear to have taken the latter approach with Rejected Scripts.
I have been a Steely Dan devotee for give or take 40 years so I can say that this is not a pastiche to the venerable duo behind that band, instead it pays homage to Donald Fagen. For those who fondly remember Nightfly this album will feel like an exceedingly comfortable pair of slippers. The milieu and even some of the scenes described are all familiar, the slightly sneering observations, the details that paint an era and its icons, it is Fagen down to the Chesterfield cigarettes. Nothing is identical yet everything is eerily familiar.
The tunes are funky in a charming mid nineties kind of a way. M.A Bakker is accompanied by a bunch of musicians who contribute to the merry Danospherics, the sound is tight and bright (very) it’s not a small band and includes:

Maarten Bakker - all music & lyrics, arrangements, bass guitar, guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (track 2 & 8), mixing & editing, recording engineer, artwork, catering
Warren Byrd - lead vocals
Peter Weissink - drums
Natasja den Toom - backing vocals (track 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 10)
Simon Feenstra - backing vocals (track 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Anna Zeijlemaker - flute (track 5 & 9), piccolo (track 5)
Hans van Wingerden - trumpet (track 1, 6, 7, 8)
David Wilschut - tenor saxophone (track 1, 6, 7, 8)
Jos van den Heuvel - trombone (track 1, 6, 7, 8)

The recording is exact rather than sumptuous. It’s an enjoyable and very sophisticated tribute made by a talented bunch of musicians.
Rejected Scripst can be downloaded directly from the Bakker’s own very stylish site.
Favourite Track-Ming Zhao Paradise

Reuben Klein

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none

Black Light

3 Nov 2015
Sonar
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Cuneiform

This album has many intriguing qualities; it is the most listenable avant garde music I’ve heard all year. Sonar have an expressive sound that is rhythmic and almost funky in places, but all in a prog-Sufi kind of a way. It is so precise it makes Steely Dan sound positively clumsy. Fans of King Crimson will find much to love about it and some have suggested it is album that they never made. It is rock jazz as opposed to the other way round, the sort of sound that fans of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree will cherish. It is also the best prog rock I have ever heard (not that I’m a big fan of the genre ) and it’s a wall of sound that makes you feel as if you are watching a giant wave rolling endlessly towards the shore.

The band of sound alchemists called Sonar are largely from Switzerland, they are Stefan Thelen (electric guitar), Bernhard Wagner (electric guitar), Christian Kuntner (electric bass) and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. These guys are a breed apart, founder Stefan Thelen has a PhD in mathematics and studied with Robert Fripp, the other guitar player Bernard Wagner is a software engineer involved in Nik Bärtsch’s various ensembles.

The six pieces this album contains form a long'ish album of almost 50 minutes. It doesn't have a theme but does have a very distinctive and addictive sound. It has enough energy stored in it to power a small Midwestern town for the foreseeable and isn't easy to categorise, but it’s hard to turn off. For the audiophile it will sound a bit artificial but all in all it’s not a bad recording given the nature of the instrumentation. It’s hard to pick an ultimate single track that is better than the rest, for me it's a toss up between ‘Enneagram’ and ‘Angular Momentum’, but every track is a small masterpiece. As you can probably tell I was quite taken by its hypnotic presentation.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
CD, double vinyl

Trialogue

31 Oct 2014
Wesseltoft Schwarz Berglund
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Jazzland

If you crave musical experiences that intrigue the ears and create emotional memories the name Bugge Wesseltoft should be very high on your list of must hear artists. Although his name may resemble a medical condition he is quite the opposite of being harmful to your health. This album is the latest of Wesseltoft’s masterful creations, he has about 15 albums to his credit and more that he has been a collaborator on, long may his creativity continue. Sadly, like most artists of his ilk he is bound to remain unknown to most of those who might enjoy his work. Which is not only a shame but verging on the criminal as Wesseltoft is one of the most inspiring instrumentalists (piano, synthesizers, percussion) currently producing music in Europe. A Norwegian, he belongs to a breed that are generally considered to be jazz musicians, but his prowess stretches (much like many of his scandiwegian peers) far beyond the confines of jazz. Wesseltoft is a musical power station who is not confined to any genre, he seamlessly mixes styles and rhythms in a fashion that at times can only be described as magical. Case in point is this album, a collaboration with Henrik Schwarz (computer, small percussion) who made the album Duo with Wesseltoft in 2011, and Dan Berglund (double bass) of Tonbruket and formerly est.

The trio use their instruments with great creativity. The music is flowing and melodious, in parts hypnotic, in part dance inducing. Wesseltoft's piano is sampled and treated and accompanied by computerized percussive and distorted sounds as well as plucked and bowed double bass. It may sound like an attempt to reinvent cacophony but the end result is a coherent wall of innovative sound spread across eight short tracks. The album offers a set of elaborate soundscapes that veer from the majestic to the rhythmic. The sound is rich but is not particularly transparent, a result of the electronic and digital elements introduced by Schwarz on his computer and by Wesseltoft sampling the piano. The album starts slowly and picks up pace to end up in an expressive and haunting version of Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight. Not for the first time Wesseltoft demonstrates his skill at breathing magic into well known pieces; this is one of the most original renditions I have ever heard. It is equaled and possibly bettered by Valiant, the second track on the album. Rumours abound at The Ear that some of the qualities found on this album relate to the fact that after years of head shaving Bugge is sporting curls. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt.
I am currently compiling my list of the best five albums of the year, a list I thought I had sorted but this has thrown a spanner in the works, it stands a very good chance of being included.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

Touch and Flee

21 Oct 2014
Neil Cowley Trio
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www.naimlabel.com

The Neil Cowley Trio is made up of musicians who, although they claim to be British, sound distinctly Scandinavian. This is not just an observation but high praise as well. Anybody who has listened to Scandinavian jazz will realise that it means this album will be a treat and a delight to listen to. For those looking for a new interpretation of jazz that’s not based on the macho, play- ever-faster American model Touch and Flee will serve as a mighty fine starting point.
The album comes from the Naim Label and is by far the best recording I have heard this year. It was supplied in the guise of a 24/96 FLAC download, but even when burned to CD it continues to impress. In my system at least the quality of low notes was a revelation, I suspect that many will be surprised at how good bass can sound when it’s properly recorded. But the recording mastery doesn't stop there, the instruments are placed naturally in a soundstage that is deep and wide, creating a beguiling three dimensional presence behind and ahead of the speakers.
The music is made from more rhythm than melody and more syncopation than harmony. But the overall result is captivating, innovative and appeals to ears, brain and heart. Cowley's playing style offers listeners the opportunity to hear a piano in all its moods, from tinkling to positively banging. In parts delicate in parts mighty energetic, but always musical. There is as mentioned a strong whiff of Scandinavian innovation, his style is more Wesseltoft than Gustavsen but can also be likened to that of the late Esbjorn Svensson. To my ears there are three tracks that are the equal to the best of the Nordic competition: Kneel down, Sparkling and Queen.
Cowley is not the only musician that shines on this album, the bass player Rex Horan and drummer Evan Jenkins are able to offer virtuosity that equals Cowley's abilities. This is a refreshingly different and superbly recorded album, it’s exceedingly highly recommended for those who looking for the music that one rarely has the opportunity to hear on the radio. Lamentably this trio is not able to fill halls in the UK and, much like very many other talented musicians who are able to find eager ears east of Dover, it can be found touring in Europe a lot of the time.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
24/96 FLAC, WAV

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