20th Oct2016

Santiago Lara ‘Flamenco Tribute to Pat Metheny’ (Warner Spain) 4/5

by ukvibe

santiago-laraThe compositions of guitarist Pat Metheny have increasingly formed part of the jazz standard tradition, but what would his music sound like if transposed into an entirely different tradition, that of flamenco music? This was the question flamenco musician Santiago Lara asked himself and was the genesis for this excellent project that is both well researched and finely executed, and an example of flamenco fusion that, perhaps, inevitably begs comparison with the work of Paco de Lucia. Metheny has gone through various phases in his career, including ones devoted to Brazilian and Latin American rhythms, as well as film soundtracks, folk and acoustic music. These are creatively and evenly covered here with a basic rhythm section comprising bass, hand claps, flamenco guitar, but augmented where necessary by piano, vocals (both individual and collective wordless), flute, harmonica and percussion. That said, in contrast with other recordings serving as a de facto tribute, this album does not overuse the guest musician format and deserves credit for being sparing in its treatment. Lara served a long-term apprenticeship with flamenco guitar great Manolo Sanlucar and this has stood him in good stead for this creative new project.
One of the Metheny numbers most covered elsewhere is ‘James’ from the composer’s ECM period, and here the slow start rapidly develops into an uptempo flamenco number with guitar and piano in tandem which are added to by the fine harmonica playing of Antonio Serrano. Current flamenco vocal legend Estrella Morente (whose father Enrique was equally famous and has worked with Metheny no less) adds her own lyrics on, ‘Find me in your arms’, and the transformation here may come as a surprise, albeit a most pleasant one, to long-time fans of Metheny who remember the original off the ECM album, ‘American garage’, which some liken to a prog-jazz phase of Pat Metheny’s illustrious career. The contrast could not be greater, but what a fine performance from Morente who makes this her own.

Lara and band are at their most authentically flamenco on the lesser known, ‘Antonia’, where Metheny riff quotes are expertly inserted and fine work once again from the leader. However, on the opener, ‘Minuano’, the lengthy intro is similar in outlook to the original, but instead of Brazil being evoked, with the masterful flute playing of Jorge Pardo, it is instead Spain that is immediately conjured up, and the transition in the main part to solo guitar plus hand claps before there is a bass and guitar breakdown is sheer bliss, and this reaches a crescendo when flute and guitar operate together. Pardo is in fact no stranger to the flamenco-jazz idiom for he famously performed and recorded with Paco de Lucia and vocalist Camarón de la Isla who passed away in 1992.

Arguably one of the most inventive re-readings is that of ‘Question and answer’, originally the title track of an early 1990s trio album with Metheny joined by jazz greats Roy Haynes and Dave Holland. Pianist José Lavilla and Lara excel here on the jazz-inflected interplay and with drums entering, this provides an alternative version to the Metheny trio. What would Pat Metheny make of this tribute? Given the care taken to imbue his compositions with a distinctively Spanish flavour, the answer is likely be delighted and one can only speculate what musical sparks might fly if Pat Metheny ever assembled with Lara for a duo album. The seminal, ‘One night in San Francisco’, from 1981 with Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola springs to mind. A fine album from Santiago Lara and one that captures the open-minded spirit of Pat Metheny.

Tim Stenhouse

19th Oct2016

Neil Cowley Trio ‘Spacebound Apes’ (Hide Inside) 4/5

by ukvibe

neil-cowley-trioNeil Cowley Trio’s sixth album is an intriguing affair. A concept album based around a provoking tale of one man, Lincoln, his story is told through a combination of audio, literary, visual, interactive and live components. “This is a project I’ve been working towards for a long time” says Cowley. “It takes in themes of guilt, loss and longing with a few twists along the way. It’s been utterly immersive yet incredibly exciting. And yes, I’m not ashamed to say it, it’s a concept album!” And so, as a brief outline, what we have here is this: A diary that has been unfolding over the last few months on Tumbir, with short story instalments. There’s an LP sized book which is a beautifully crafted visual and literary representation of the protagonist’s story, brought to life with full colour pictures by DC Comics illustrator and Pan’s Labyrinth film concept artist Sergio Sandoval. In addition to this there’s also an interactive website – spaceboundapes.com – which acts as an immersive experience that allows the visitor to take centre stage; a must for pianists given the special code provided in the deluxe piano book. But of course, the centrepiece at the core of “Spacebound Apes” is the music itself; eleven original compositions written by Cowley, taking inspiration from Arthur C Clarke’s 1956 sci-fi book ‘The City and the Stars’.

Pianist Cowley is joined by his long-term band mates, drummer Evan Jenkins and bassist Rex Horan. The album was recorded at Cooper Hall, a studio and cinema set deep in the Somerset countryside, with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey running on permanent rotation. And the music itself most certainly has a cinematic feel to it; an atmospheric soundtrack to a tale of one man’s journey.

Cowley’s music has never fitted comfortably into any one genre, his passionate mix of classical, jazz and chill-out furthering his standing as an innovative musician following on from his earlier work with some of the most successful bands of the day, including Brand New Heavies and Zero7. For me personally, I’ve often felt his own projects had moments of brilliance tempered by a feeling that there was something missing, something so close to brilliance yet something that ultimately left me feeling a little underwhelmed. And so in some ways, it’s fair to say I approached this release with a strange combination of excitement and caution.

The good news is that from the off I was completely drawn into the whole concept of ‘Spacebound Apes”. And on first listen, my initial thoughts – which I have to say still stand – were that it felt like I was listening to one of the best Brian Eno albums I had never heard. Generally speaking, “Spacebound Apes” is a largely ambient affair, interspersed with some high energy 80’s-like electro-pop. Later, when I took the time to read the album credits, I saw that Brian Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams made contributions on guitar and fx. So maybe it’s not a coincidence that I was thinking the music had Eno as a major influence, or at least featured in some kind of thought process along the way. The whole concept works very well, it’s lavish and ambitious nature a credit to all concerned.

Taking the music in isolation, repeated listening is rewarded with hidden depths of beauty. It’s easy sometimes to listen to a seemingly simple, subtle piece of music and to only scratch the surface of it because of its apparent simplicity. Cowley uses his skill as a composer to create beautifully imagined soundscapes. The haunting, ethereal qualities of tracks like “Weightless”, “Grace” and “Death of Amggdala” are simply stunning. Conversely, I also enjoyed the quirkiness and change of tempo on the tracks “The City and the Stars” and “The Sharks of Competition”. There’s a highly original feel that combines an offbeat sensitivity with a stark eeriness on “Echo Nebula” and “Duty to the last”, and the closing track “The Return of Lincoln” enjoys all the filmic qualities of an ambient, lost in space mini masterpiece.

Perhaps Neil Cowley Trio’s most triumphant project to date, “Spacebound Apes” is a very enjoyable, immersive listen. But for all the high praise I gladly give to this release, I’m still of the mind that there’s still a little something missing…maybe, maybe not. One thing is for sure though, I keep putting the album back on for yet another listen, and I’m still really enjoying it. And I can’t wait to see the live shows.

Mini Tour:
Friday 21st October 2016 – Turner Sims Southampton SO17 1BJ
Thursday 27th October 2016 – Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington N1 2UN
Friday 4th November 2016 – St John the Evangelist Church, 109A Iffley Road, Oxford, OX4 1EH

* Full UK Tour spring 2017 *

Mike Gates

18th Oct2016

Nick Fraser ‘Starer’ (Private Press) 4/5

by ukvibe

nick-fraserNick Fraser has been a drummer and composer in the Toronto new jazz and improvised music community for over twenty years. The quartet’s album ‘Starer’ has admittedly been out some months now but there is still no harm in a review – pre or post release.
The quartet is made of Fraser on drums, Tony Malaby, saxophones, Andrew Downing, cello and
Rob Clutton on bass.
Whilst those not familiar with Nick Fraser’s work would just look at this as avant-garde jazz; listening to it makes you look beyond that sometimes misunderstood and often maligned soubriquet.
‘Minimalism/416 538-7149’ kicks the set off with drums and cello setting the rhythm, the bass augmenting the piece and the saxophone weaving in and out like a bird exploring its new habitat. The track has an almost cinematic quality to it and it has a nicely intriguing theme that draws the listener in.
‘Sketch #26’ is a short piece featuring drums, bass and saxophone engaging one another. An almost frenetic piece that could again, easily end up in a scene in a movie.
The title track has a Middle Eastern melody (if you want to call it that) that resonates throughout. This song as the others before shows an excellent interaction between the musicians.
‘Sketch #29’ is slow and sparse in arrangement but no less entertaining in content.
‘Jupiter (Sketch #15)’ is more abstract in arrangement with both cello and saxophone allowed more freedom and the drums and bass following their lead.
‘Sketch #20/22’ starts in a very slow and deliberate fashion with a crashing drum kit statement from Fraser and a response from Tony Malaby on soprano saxophone with a hint of cello. This ‘conversation’ carries on for the first 4 and a half minutes or so until things take a more spirited turn (for the better): drums play over a delightful bass solo before the tenor saxophone is called upon to solo – all the time the drums are becoming more and more ‘conversational’ sounding their most percussive yet. The tenor sax builds to its inevitable crescendo before coming down from its very high perch – and then it all stops. Remarkable.
‘Sketch #21’ is thoughtful and peaceful and features the quartet subdued reflective mood.
All in all, a very listenable album – not as difficult as some might feel. Just another interesting facet of jazz and one that deserves an audition.

Sammy Goulbourne

17th Oct2016

Mix No.2: Thokoza! South African Jazz Past and Present by Andy Hazell

by ukvibe

17th Oct2016

Various ‘Tony Minvielle presents Into Somethin’ Vol. 2’ (The Sound Of Everything) 4/5

by ukvibe

tony-minvielleCompilations like this used to come out almost monthly ‘back in the day’ (circa 1998-2003ish). It is a mixtape of a compilation showcasing some of the finest upcoming and established musicians, beatmakers and producers from around the world.
The quality of music here is no less good than the back in the day product – the only difference is that this will not have a physical presence on the streets as it will be released, like its volume 1 predecessor as a digital format.
The moods here take us from the soulful beat driven vocals of Jordan Rakei (whose own stunning debut album ‘Cloak’ has just been released) to the regal elegance of one of the dames of jazz vocal, Carmen Lundy. This is, thankfully, one of those compilations that you can listen to any track and find it an all-round pleasant head-nodding, toe-tapping experience.
Let’s go back to the opener by young, multi-talented Australian Jordan Rakei ‘Add the Bassline’: soft keys and his vocal kick things off before the abovementioned bassline kicks in. The bassline definitely does not overshadow the vocals but it doesn’t matter because you’re already nodding your head to this – quality stuff with a touch of raw street vibe.
Drummer to the stars Richard Spaven is up next with his trademark polyrhythmic drum playing set behind male and female vocals on ‘Whole Other’. This is definitely some next level music that defies the categories: it’s not jazz as such, it’s not soul, it’s not hip-hop but it is a great listen!
Can you follow that? In a word, yes, with keyboardist to the stars, Kaidi Tatham and an instrumental that could quite easily have been penned by the Mizell brothers or Herbie Hancock from their 70’s hit-making days. This one will just take you on a ride you won’t want to stop.
If we skip over Carmen Lundy’s bossa nova beauty to Peruvian singer/songwriter and saxophonist Carolina Araoz’s gentle but uplifting piece called ‘Acelerar’ which is soulful as it is folky as it is slightly reggaefied. The production on this excellent and one that the listener will need to put a pair of decent headphones to fully engage with this song.
Of the other great tracks, Snarky Puppy keys man, Bill Laurence, continues to enthral with his soaring string-drenched arrangements plus abstracts beats thrown in for good measure. Sidewalk Chalk sound like an ensemble that I really need to see live as it sounds like they know how to throw a damn good live show with their mix of jazzy keyboards, vocals and on-point rapping. Daniel Crawford is a new name to me but one I am already taking note of. His cut ‘The One’ featuring Vikter Duplaix on vocals is a driving rhythmic track that one could quite happily dance to. A very mature track indeed and another quality track that sits on a quality comp.

Sammy Goulbourne

16th Oct2016

The Fred Hersch Trio ‘Sunday Night at the Vanguard’ (Palmetto) 5/5

by ukvibe

the-fred-hersch-trioThe influence of Bill Evans on the music of pianist Fred Hersch is clear. Indeed, he recorded his own tribute to Evans, ‘Evanessence’, which was released in Japan in 1990 and in the USA some eight years later. Another pianist of significance to Hersch is Keith Jarrett. But where Jarrett is sometimes given to excess and histrionics, Hersch’s limpid, exquisite piano playing developed a more disciplined persona long ago. In turn Hersch has also had a significant impact on pianists of a later generation, perhaps most obviously Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson, both of whom were former students of his.
Since 1985 Hersch has released forty-nine albums as leader or co-leader, often in a trio format, but also solo and as vocal accompanist and including two recordings with Norma Winstone, one of which also featured Kenny Wheeler. Over this time he seems to have found the Village Vanguard to be a most congenial venue. This is his fourth album to be recorded there. Indeed, he was the first person to play a week-long engagement as solo pianist at the New York City venue. Yet, despite all of this, he remains one of the more enigmatic of musicians.
For his latest visit to the Village Vanguard, Hersch brings along his regular trio consisting of bassist John Hebert and Eric McPherson at the drums. This trio has worked together for many years and has built an almost telepathic rapport such that they appear as three musicians almost breathing as one. The set opens with ‘A Cockeyed Optimist’, a song familiar to fans of the musical, coming as it does from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, but less often heard in a jazz setting. This could have been a mawkish reading, but as soon as the familiar melody has been dispensed with, the trio move into their own flight of fancy. A very satisfying up-beat opener. Up next is ‘Serpentine’, one of Hersch’s own tunes. Here the mood changes completely from the jaunty opener into an altogether more mysterious, near free form exposition, with the melody not immediately obvious to the listener.

There is another mood change with ‘The Optimum Thing’s’ bebop flavour. A contrafact constructed on the chord changes to Irving Berlin’s ‘The Best Thing for You’ which opens at a brisk tempo and cleverly accelerating to a gallop.

‘Calligram’, has echoes of Thelonious Monk and once again edges into freer territory where bassist and drummer share the musical ebb and flow.

‘Blackwing Palomino’, has a blues feel, with all three trio members exhibiting a great synchronicity and apparently named after a pencil. Another Hersch classic in the making.

‘For No One’ is another brilliant change of pace. Hersch is a master of the romantic ballad and this is ravishingly lyrical. The first statement of the theme when bass and drums join the piano is exquisite. The song was written by Paul McCartney and appeared on the Beatles’ album ‘Revolver’. The poignant melody is clear for all to hear.

Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Everybody’s Song but My Own’ has almost become a jazz standard. Here it is given a rather more urgent reading than is customary. Perhaps inevitably, this melody evokes comparison with the late British pianist John Taylor who often featured the song in his own repertoire and serves as a fitting tribute to him.

‘The Peacocks’ written by fellow pianist Jimmy Rowles is next and again one could argue that this song too has become a modern-day jazz standard. The introduction is almost foreboding but then gives way to a very delicate rendition of the familiar theme. This, for me, has to be the highlight of the album. In his solo, Hersch deconstructs and then reassembles the melody in masterly fashion without ever straying far from the sublime melody. At over ten minutes this is the longest track on the album.

‘We See’ follows and is a less familiar Thelonious Monk tune, being the title track from a Monk album from 1962. Conjuring the spirit of Monk and being full of fun and humour. You can tell that the Trio are really enjoying this.

As if to remind the listener, if indeed a reminder were required, Hersch offers a solo encore in the shape of his excellent ballad ‘Valentine’, one of his most popular compositions and a fitting conclusion to what was clearly an outstanding night at The Village Vanguard.

Alan Musson

15th Oct2016

Bill Charlap Trio ‘Notes from New York’ (Impulse!) 4/5

by ukvibe

bill-charlap-trioPianist Bill Charlap belongs to that generation of musicians who are as familiar with the Great American Songbook tradition as they are with contemporary songwriters, and in his case growing up with his artist parents exposed him to the classic songs from an early age. He has performed as a sideman with some of the greats including Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis and Phil Woods, but from the mid-late 1990s his principal focus has been that of trio leader and one that has remained pretty much constant with bassist Pete Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (unrelated).
A series of composer specific trio outings have been released via Japan as well as The United States and Europe (Bernstein notably for the latter two), but this latest release on the reactivated Impulse! label is testimony to the sensitivity of the leader and telepathy between the trio members. It is the ability to manipulate standard material at will, and yet still find new and innovative approaches that is a defining feature of the trio. Throughout the tone is understated and when the ensemble sound is this good, why need to blow away the listener with endless notes when deliberately performing at a gentler pace works as wonderfully as this?
At times the approach of Charlap is almost Debussy like, recalling the work of Bill Evans, and no better is this exemplified than on the delicate ballad, ‘There is No Music’, and the tone is revisited on, ‘Too Late Now’. However, the trio can deliver a faster-paced repertoire when required as on the uplifting, ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’, where the musicians go up a couple of notches. For some variety, Charlap solos with, ‘On The Sunny Side of the Street’, while bassist Pete Washington takes an extended solo on, ‘Not a Care in the World’.

Overall, this is a deeply impressionistic vision of the great music tradition of New York with impeccable timing and subtle groove-laden riffs that are expertly weaved into the main theme. A virtually flawless performance and a pianist and trio that you should ignore at your peril.

Tim Stenhouse

14th Oct2016

Angus Bayley In Interview

by ukvibe


14th Oct2016

Lee Fields & The Expressions ‘Special Night’ LP/CD/DIG (Big Crown) 5/5

by ukvibe

lee-fieldsIt is no surprise that we are big fans of Lee Fields here. With two interviews already in the archive – one in 2012 here and one in 2014 here, and several live performance reviews too, the new album was always going to be an eagerly awaited moment, as anything from Mr Fields is snapped up and always hammered big time.
His last 3 albums for Truth & Soul are wonderful listens. “My world”, “Faithful Man” and “Emma Jean” are epic soul adventures into every facet of life, but what of his latest release? Well I’m happy to say although he’s switched to Big Crown Records the sound and the voice are intact. I’v been a fan of this great voice for 50 odd years, and have a healthy collection of both 45’s and albums including the hideously rare 1979 ‘Angle 3’ album “Let’s Talk It Over” [Perhaps a reissue should be on the cards].
His voice has evolved slightly, with a little more grit. Singing, as he does, about real life, which is what soul men do. Adding in 2016 the likes of Charles Bradley and a small number of other soul exponents proves once again that they are ambassadors for what has gone before with the likes of Stax, Atlantic, Fame, Goldwax and a myriad of other small labels that presented the grits and gravy type of our music, unlike Motown over in Detroit who aimed their sound straight at the white masses and for chart position.
But what of “Special Night” I hear you ask… Well as usual there are some dark moments on here in the promotional blurb; Fields tells us that this album reflects conversations he has had with his wife, again dealing in real life. The first track to take over my head is the 60’s influenced “I’m Comin Home” with its rolling bass, horns trying to get in on the act, simply stunning. A very special mention must go to “Work To Do” (not The Isley Brothers’ song) in which he’s trying to balance work and family life with drinking too much and trying to hold it all together – tell me you don’t know someone like that!
For me the album standout is the cavernous “Never Be Another You”, a beating drum, tinkling piano, an insidious rhythm, and then in he comes, just so so infectious, mid tempo madness, and when played loud, it really does grab you. The furiously funky “Make This World” will rip up funky dance-floors like no other. “Where Is The Love” will light up modern soul rooms with its timeless feel. Incidentally, I’m going to be spinning some records in the modern room at an all-niter shortly and at 4am I’ll be playing this – it will sound amazing. With its churchy pleading “Let Him In” is deep soul personified and I can guarantee several of the Sweet Soul rooms that have surfaced in recent times will jump on this to contrast the sweeter rhythms. “Precious Love” has it feet in several camps, just a lovely soul tune and a great way to end an album that will be on replay for me for weeks to come. Musically its heavy percussion, plenty of base and stabbing horns is all a music lover could wish for. It’s out on the 4th November on both Vinyl and CD – I’ll be the guy at the front of the queue for the vinyl, and that’s a fact!

Brian Goucher

13th Oct2016

Grégory Privat ‘Family Tree’ (ACT) 4/5

by ukvibe

gregory-privatThe musical contribution of the French Caribbean has been somewhat neglected, though in recent years UK compilations have begun to rectify the gaping hole, as well as the participation of French Caribbean pianists such as Mario Canonge as actor/musician in a more recent Claire Denis’ film, ’35 Shots of Rum’, which focused on the Caribbean community in the banlieue of Paris. One musical group that enjoyed major success on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and among the diaspora in mainland France was Malavoi. In the UK the group’s popularity was largely restricted to specialist world roots venues such as Bongo Go in Birmingham and the Mambo Inn in London, and it was indeed at the former that this writer became familiar with the group’s intoxicating mix of pan-Caribbean rhythms, such as the biguine, and a jazzy undercurrent. It was in fact he pianist in Malavoi, José Privat, who served as an inspiration to his son, Grégory Privat, born in Martinique in 1984, and took up classical piano for some ten years.
Upon moving with family to south-West France and the city of Toulouse, Privat Jr. studied for a degree in engineering, but gave up ambitions in this field in order to devote his time to jazz piano. It was to be another shift, this time to Paris that catapulted his interest in jazz and enabled him to gain notoriety on the Parisian jazz scene. Now aged twenty-seven, Grégory Privat, gave up an office job and focused entirely on music. This has involved sideman duties with trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo and jazz-rock musician Guillaume Perret as well as becoming a member of the Libretto Ensemble under the leadership of Lars Danielsson for the enterprising ACT German label. However, as a leader Privat came into his own when forming Trio Ka which fused jazz and Caribbean melodies. During this period in Paris he met with Cuban musician Orlando ‘Maraca’ Valle and Sonny Troupé, the latter of whom would become an integral member of Privat’s own formation. A first album, ‘Ki Koté’, was released in 2011 and this followed up on Privat achieving semi-finalist status at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival piano competition in 2008 and again at the 2010 Martial Solal international piano competition. More inventively conceived, a second album, Tales of Cyparis’, came out in 2013, which was inspired by the 1902 tragedy of Mount Pelée that erupted on the island of Martinique, destroying in the process the city of Saint-Pierre that was formerly the capital. In January of 2015 Privat had formed a duo with friend and percussionist Sonny Troupé, a practitioner of ‘Gwo ka’, the traditional music of Guadeloupe, and this resulted in a third album, ‘Luminescence’, on the jazz family label.

This brings us neatly to the present and a debut album under Privat’s own name for ACT. It has been almost twenty years since the passing of Maestro Michel Petrucciani and only Jacky Terrasson in the mid-1990s has really established any kind of international reputation among French jazz pianists, Which is why Grégory Privat’s new album is such a treat. The influence of Petrucciani is evident as is that of Brad Mehldau, and possibly Keith Jarrett, but Privat has quietly developed his own voice and there is a maturity in his compositions and performance that singles him out as an exceptional talent who has the potential to make the big time. A delightful mid-tempo number, ‘Le parfum’, displays sensitivity becoming of an older musician, while there is a lyricism to the storytelling on ‘Riddim’ that has definite shades of Petrucciani to it. The solid bass playing of Linley Marthe is showcased on the introspective intro to, ‘Zig Zagriyen’, while there is a solemn, quasi-religious tone to, ‘Filao’, which is imbued with a warm and soulful phrasing. For a complete change of pace, the frantic ‘Ladja’ reveals the trio in full flow and a feature of this number is the unusual time signature. In general, the all original compositions impress and there is no filler on this seventy minute plus set. Now into his thirty-second year, Grégory Privat is surely destined for greater things. The trio will be performing at select venues during autumn, but will be resident at the Duc des Lombards venue in Paris on 28 and 29 November. Well worth a visit if in the French capital.

Tim Stenhouse