Alexi Tuomarila Trio ‘Sphere’ LP/CD (Edition) 5/5

‘Sphere’ is the new album from the Alexi Tuomarila Trio, the third LP the northern European group has made since 2006’s ‘Constellation’. Pianist Alexi’s music is honest and empowering, with its excitement and passion. The trio is here complemented by the accompaniment of Alexi’s fellow Finn, the rising trumpeter Verneri Pohjola on several tracks. There’s just piano from Alexi and no electronics or synths, which in this day and age of highly polished and produced music is somewhat a relief.

The palpable ‘Shapeshifter’ (released early, along with ‘Jord’) opens the album with an immediacy created by unrelenting rhythmic uncertainty. A fierce melody is emphasised by the double bass of Mats Eilertsen. Even in its unstoppable character, dynamics subtly shift to keep the listener on edge and engrossed throughout. Olavi Louhivuori, drummer of the progressive Classical-Jazz ensemble Oddarrang, confidently holds the tempo. Never stepping on the toes of the others, he only develops the composition’s sentiment by making full use of his kit.

‘Jord’ sees the introduction of Verneri Pohjola who solemnly announces this defiant track. The fragile trumpet lines conflict with the often-disorientating drums and piano, and the effect is the emergence of war-like imagery. Beginning as a reflective bugle call, the trumpet later wails in a fit of distress.

The characteristic precision of Alexi returns on ‘Origins’, with a high tempo ostinato before a contradicting period of relaxation, from which the piano deftly intensifies. Finally, the motif returns, and it becomes gloriously intoxicating.

‘Sirius’ is a sorrowful ballad; sparse and delicate, with brushed drums and a mournful arpeggiated piano waltz section. The bass is even more moving, giving a laconic performance as if shouldering the grief. It’s a chance for the trio to show a more emotional side to their playing.

Verneri features again on ‘Boekloev’, the fluttering trumpet, a perfect fit over this Blues number. The range of tones and textures Verneri achieves here is impressive; going from flute-like raspiness to a vibrant cheerfulness.

Alexi’s harmonious playing is the star of the unadorned ‘Unfold’. There’s a resolute repeated chord pattern elevated by a little syncopation which appears intermittently. It provides some much-needed context to the freer sections of improvisation.

‘Krakow’ is unadulterated and unforgiving in its severity. It begins in a processional and regimented fashion, before going into more exploratory spheres where the piano and bass continuously temper the resistant trumpet.

Notable as the only track featuring bowing from Mats, ‘Celeste’ gracefully brings this spirited session to a modest end. ‘Sphere’ is a collaborative effort, with each member contributing compositions. It is a true expression the trio’s artistic flair and a result of the long-standing camaraderie of Mats, Olavi and Alexi. The addition of Verneri, however, is truly welcomed. If you like contemporary European Jazz, you’re going to love this.

Fred Neighbour

Read also: Alexi Tuomarila Trio ‘Seven Hills’ CD (Edition) 4/5

Dave Douglas / Uri Caine / Andrew Cyrille ‘Devotion’ CD (Greenleaf Music) 4/5

The world is a small place and the jazz world is even smaller these days. The distance between us punters and the players seems a lot less now. This CD dropped to review today and before getting down to writing I went to see the Xhosa Cole Quartet at Birmingham Jazz. David Austin Grey was on piano and it turns out he’s headed Stateside in a week or so to study with…Dave Douglas.

Seemed like a good omen. The title Devotion is not indicative of a re-run of the Sacred Harp approach of 2014’s Present Joys but a reference to the jazz and other “deities” Douglas’ tunes honour. But some of that hymnal feel is apparent throughout.

This is a trio record but I don’t think that has any link with the first “deity” Jerome Horowitz of the Three Stooges other than him being Douglas’ favourite Stooge. So ‘Curly’ opens with Uri Caine leading lively piano duo with just Cyrille on drums, Douglas perhaps surprisingly sits this one out so it’s a duo track, not a trio…

Uri Caine kicks off ‘D’Andrea’ with some portentous chords then Douglas comes in with a fuzzy start that moves into a funky lead. Uri chimes in with a bright, broken solo using the whole range of the keyboard. Cyrille solos with a lightfast touch and plenty of top cymbal riding, before Uri comes back in with the chords and a quick finish from Douglas.

‘Francis of Anthony’ is more of a ballad with a lyrical Douglas muted solo leading into Caine with another trademark percussive solo and some fine interplay which is indicative of the closeness they have from playing together in various contexts. It closes with a singing feel – I guess linked to that hymnal feel. Both D’Andrea and Francis are dedicated to the Italian pianist and composer Franco D’Andrea.

‘Miljøsang’ with its tumbling piano solo and ‘False Allegiances’ are for Carla Bley and on the latter Douglas goes with a more growling sound and a rather funereal marching feel which moves into a bluesy Caine solo.

‘Prefontaine’ is for the US Olympic runner who died young in a car crash so it has a spiky freer feel. ‘Pacific’ is back in ballad territory with a strong theme stated by Douglas. It’s for Aine Nakamura and the Mannes/New School composition class of fall 2017 and is based on the C-F-C tuning on the Asian instrument Nakamura played.

‘Rose and Thorn’ is another choppy (in a good way) tune for Mary Lou Williams. Douglas refers to it as “the pricklier one” and has some neo-stride piano from Caine.

‘We Pray’ is for Dizzy Gillespie but instead of perhaps an expected firecracker of a tune this is a gentle and reverent dedication with both Douglas and Caine in lyrically classic form.

‘Devotion’ goes back to the Sacred Harp approach of Present Joys and refers to the history between Douglas and Caine, as Douglas says: “I feel that the understanding and insight that Uri and I have into Sacred Harp repertoire has deepened and broadened.” It starts and stays lyrical and the hymnal feel is clear. It’s a beautiful and fitting end to the recording which is very well programmed.

And as it ends I realise I haven’t mentioned Cyrille very much – maybe because on this recording he plays perfectly and, a bit like you don’t notice a referee at a football match who just keeps the game flowing, he plays beautifully to the music supporting and suggesting and by turns soft and intense.

Douglas is clearly the leader and it’s an interesting shot on the cover of him and his trumpet with his head and upper body cropped off – reflecting perhaps that he does his talking through his instrument. But the feel throughout is of three close collaborators enjoying playing together. It’s a great record but I imagine hearing this live would be even better.

Brian Homer

Mikkel Nordsø Quintet ‘Out There’ LP/CD (Stunt) 5/5

Danish guitarist and composer Mikkel Nordsø’s latest offering, ‘Out There’, sees the player combine forces with Swedish saxophonist Tomas Franck to provide us with a record heavily indebted to their musical heroes, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. A spoiler alert is not required as early in the record Nordsø places a massive road sign in our path in the form of a powerful Hendrix like noise/riff to inform us of our projected line of travel. Thankfully the players inhabit their alter egos in such a way as to give each other the time and space to map what might have been a cosmic meeting of musical minds in a more considered fashion. Otherwise, the record may just have been too exhaustingly explosive.

Nordsø explains it has been his long term ambition to make an album exploring an alternative future where Hendrix and Coltrane encounter each other since he was inspired by the psychedelic and cosmic sound of both musicians from a young age. Kindred spirit Franck who is also something of a Coltrane stylist seemed to be an ideal band member for the project. They are joined by Ben Besiakov on keyboards and Anders Christensen on bass, two musicians equally at home in a jazz or rock setting. When Nordsø heard Elvin Jones mentored drummer Alvin Queen he knew the line up was complete.

One thing about this record, Nordsø doesn’t mess about with the track titles, each one pretty much lets us know what’s going to happen. ‘Take Off’ the first, is no exception, although the cat is not quite out of the bag at this point and we are eased into the theme of the project. The guitar intro is an acoustic blues-tinged flourish followed by Besiakov’s keyboard textures leading to the main theme on guitar and sax. The electric piano adds a lightness of touch with Nordsø’s guitar now way back in the mix. The main riff emerges from this courtesy of Franck and Nordsø in combination once again. On hearing this I felt I had entered a very familiar room which had undergone subtle changes in the position of the furniture and the colour of the walls, refreshing, but at the same time slightly disconcerting.

The road sign I mentioned earlier appears on the title track, ‘Out There’, Nordsø channels the spirit of Hendrix loudly and clearly, this was the point I got what the record is about. For my money, the spirit of Frank Zappa was also muscling in on the act at some points but I have no complaints about this. An explosive sax comes in with such force that Franck almost loses his breath at one point. We are also treated to some keyboard work sounding like it came from an early 70s Miles Davis live date before the return of the heavily Hendrix inflected guitar sound, the sax finds its way out of this into a quietened zone where the guitar settles into a cleaner less distorted tone.

‘Floating Squaw’ offers some relief from the frenetic nature of the previous tune and gives us a reflection of the sweeter, softer side of Coltrane, fused with subtle wah-wah guitar.

‘Rock Train’ is heavy on riffs with some Jon Lord style organ work buried beneath the tenor, as well as a smidgen of Jimmy Page ‘Dazed and Confused’ style bowing of the guitar. This train has many wagons, each spilling something into the mix.

‘Next to the Mountain’ neatly quotes Hendrix’s own ‘Voodoo Chile’ lyric for its title, and sees extended solos from Nordsø and Franck. The piece encapsulates several moods after a wildly exuberant guitar intro, squeaking fret sounds are followed by a Hammond passage from Besiakov which reminded me of Joey Defrancesco’s organ work on John McLaughlin’s own Coltrane homage, ‘After the Rain’.

The album rounds off with ‘Sweet Silence’ very much in the mode of Miles Davis’ ‘In a Silent Way’ with Besiakov directly quoting Zawinul’s keyboard in places. Franck here perhaps wondering what might have been should Coltrane have been around long enough to show up on ‘In a Silent Way’, though at times he sounds more like Wayne Shorter in a dreamy 60s mood.

A great album, quite playfully thought-provoking in setting up the Hendrix meets Coltrane scenario. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. l shall also be digging out some Hendrix and Coltrane records to listen afresh in the light of this album.

James Read

Aaron Whitby ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ CD (Ropeadope) 4/5

For a career as diverse and rewarding as Aaron Whitby’s has been, it certainly comes as a surprise that his new release, ‘Cousin From Another Planet’, marks his official debut solo project as a bandleader.

That very diverse and rewarding career has seen London-born Whitby – as a pianist – grace stages and studios with artists including George Clinton, Raul Midon, Natalie Cole, Neal Sedaka, as well as serving as the Musical Director for his wife, vocalist Martha Redbone. Even throughout Redbone’s own auspicious career, Whitby’s never been far from her side and has served as a co-writer and co-producer for each of her releases, ‘Home of the Brave’, ‘Skintalk’ (released through Dome Records) and ‘The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake’, as well as the incredibly successful NYC-based musicals they have gone on to create together.

‘Cousin From Another Planet’ fittingly now sees Redbone by her husband’s side providing vocals throughout with a thrilling array of artists and musicians, many of which serving as long-time Whitby collaborators and with an awe-inspiring body of work between them: saxophonist Keith Loftis (Abdullah Ibrahim, Roy Hargrove Big Band), bass by Fred Cash (Martha Redbone) and Jerome Harris (Sonny Rollins), violin by Charles Burnham (Stuart Matthewman, Cassandra Wilson), percussion by Gary Fritz (Roberta Flack, Ronny Jordan), drums by Rodney Holmes (Santana, Monday Michiru), and vocals provided by the aforementioned Redbone, Lisa Fischer, Rome Neal and Tamar-Kali.

Listening to this album, there really is no doubt that Whitby and company are a collective of musicians that genuinely enjoy making and performing music – ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ seems to capture an infectious, almost joyous, energy that just carries throughout the project with songs like ‘Escape Route’, ‘Sleeping Giant’ and ‘Mrs Quadrillon’. It’s an understandable conclusion to draw – with much of the album reportedly having been conceived during morning walks with his son to school, it’s touching that that experience itself is commemorated with the song ‘Walking With Z’ (Zach). Even when tackling Herbie Hancock’s ‘The Eye of the Hurricane’, the allure of creation is just too great and the original composition ends up serving as a launchpad for what ultimately transforms into ‘The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0’.

Released through Ropeadope Records, Whitby has potentially delivered his tour de force. This could be the record he’s longed to make – the project that serves as the culmination of years of studio and live collaborations, a homage to his own influences as well as the chance to establish Whitby’s own name amongst these masters.

Imran Mirza

Phraim ‘Phraim’ CD (QFTF) 2/5

Throughout its history, the evolution of jazz was lead by strong groups of individuals. Bands like the Miles Davis Quintet, The Bad Plus or The Sex Pistols. All of them combined strong visionaries, ideas and skills for a focused amount of time and channelled them through a collective spirit. Due to the financial situation in Jazz, bands nowadays form for one album production and maybe a tour. The usual group of mercenaries split up shortly after the project finished, and everyone was paid.

Nina Reiter’s band Phraim has been working together for the recent past years. As most of the young bands do, they also met during their university studies. In Nina Reiter’s case, meeting her band lead not only to a future long musical collaboration. She also married her drummer Peter Primus Frosch.

Phraim takes a rather usual approach of putting their album together. Throw in a couple of standards, a few originals and cover of a pop hit. No thrilling narrative, the selection of songs seem rather constructed and uninspired.

“Nur ein Wort” is a song from Germany’s 90s Pop sensation “Wir sind Helden”. A band who, if you have not lived in Berlin in 1998, won’t have any recollection of. Also, if you don’t speak German, you have never heard of them in the first place. Phraim’s cover version fails to deliver a great new look or depth on the original composition and does not add interest.

Nina Reiter’s leadership and defining vocal chops are very much displayed throughout the entire album. Her vocal range and technical finesse ceases to amaze. But​ Phraim’s​ entire songwriting concept follows a very schooled formula. Something of the kind you expect a jazz vocal album to do. “Winds of May” marks the low point of the album. Struggling to make a point in the thus very entertaining album.

Phraim’s​ creative approach misses artistic vision and a strong edge. The four talents know what they are doing, no doubt, but they are not risking to provoke. There is no real perspective on​ how to push their genre. They deliver what is the least expected. A pity! The band name already suggests breaking​ frames and their restrictive conventions. Instead,​ the band breaks the ​middle ground instead of making an artistic statement.

Phraim​ stays an easy listening album, pleasing and entertaining, played by an ambitious band. A clearer direction from their label and an experienced producer would help to put this band on the right​ track. Sometimes the simplest and most honest form of approach is what really adds something new to a format. Or as Iggy Pop puts it: “I like music that’s more offensive. I like it to sound like nails on a blackboard, get me wild.”


Tom Cawley ‘Catenaccio’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Jazz pianist Tom Cawley’s new album ‘Catenaccio’ is a melodious and mystical jaunt, there’s a party atmosphere like at those colourful Brazilian carnivals or perhaps a football match is a more apt metaphor. ‘Catenaccio’ is an Italian football term relating to a tactical player formation. I can see Tom’s interest in football is strong as a few other track titles are football terms. Despite this, it’s not all just a euphoric high. Fini Bearman provides vocalised melodies which accentuate the soothing flute lines of Gareth Lockrane, navigating the fast and challenging chord changes with fluidity.

The album begins in an upbeat and heady fashion with ‘The Ungainlies’. A track with swelling synth chords from Tom, funky loose playing from Robin Mullarkey on electric bass and energetic drum fills from Chris Higginbottom. Tom’s speedy solo is grooving and gritty and is followed by an expressive flute solo.

On the jubilant ‘Jabulani’ flute bellows out over the intensifying back-drop of frantic chords, as if attempting to provoke a reaction for an increasingly impressive flute performance. The whole group flourishes here, achieving a vibrant orchestral fullness.

‘Nutmeg’ is a dreamy and ethereal Bossa ballad, it’s sorrowful yet sultry. Fini’s vocal tone takes a more subtle feel, as if longing for something, contrasting beautifully with the distorted and gliding synth textures.

‘Zona Mista’ – another Italian Football tactic, and the ‘evolution of Catenaccio’ if its Wikipedia page is to be believed – is a much more challenging a cacophonous affair with drums, keys and bass dissonantly grooving behind the distracted and troubled melodies of the flute and vocals.

‘Left Peg’ is more of a laid-back soulful track with tasteful Bebop lines on the flute responding to the vocals. Initially hummed by Fini, its melodies require less vocal dexterity than the previous ones, which does make you think perhaps lyrics could’ve have added an extra dimension to these vocal lines.

The surreal yet brief, ‘Row Z’ is an introspective lament. It’s full of atmospheric suspense and intrigue, with sparkling synth strings elevating the drifting melodies. Flautist Gareth’s alto flute provides a lower more sombre tone which dances around the minimalist vocals of Fini.

Completing ‘Catenaccio’ is ‘Rabona’ with more of the 70s Jazz vibe as earlier on. ‘Rabona’ provides one more chance to showcase the tender voice of Fini and virtuosity of flautist Gareth in this upbeat finale. Tom’s compositions here have created a fantastic starting point for his bandmates to triumph, making for a unique and inventive listening experience.

Fred Neighbour

Wes Montgomery ‘Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings’ 2LP-RSD/2CD (Resonance) 4/5

This is the sixth in a series of albums devoted to previously unreleased Wes Montgomery performances, initially available as a 180 gram 2 LP vinyl set, and now also on CD. The vinyl edition which I’m basing my review on was released last month to celebrate Record Store Day.

The overall package is a lovely thing to behold. Gatefold sleeve, premium vinyl pressing, and a sumptuous and informative 8-page inner booklet which includes interviews with Malcolm DeCamp and George Benson, along with extensive notes on how the recordings were discovered and the journey they took until eventually being released here. The vinyl pressing is a deluxe limited edition (3000 copies), hand-numbered 2LP set mastered by Bernie Grundman and pressed at Record Technology Inc (RTI).

The sound on these recordings has been restored from original mono tape reels. Although there doesn’t appear to be any accurate documentation of the time period these were taken from, it’s safe to assume that the recordings were made in the late ’50s, right before Montgomery would sign for Riverside Records. Whilst the quality of the sound is extremely variable, from good (for the most part), to fair to poor, the music itself is riveting, and of obvious historic importance. Included on this release are a mix of live sessions, studio recordings, and some tunes from the guitarist’s home.

Exact dates, locations and indeed, supporting musicians are not known, and the information given in the accompanying sleeve notes states that educated guesses have been made. Essentially the 2LP set is split across Sides A-D like this:
Side A is piano quartets with guitar, piano, bass and drums. Side B is an organ trio and sextet with trombone and saxophone. Side C is Nat King Cole style trios with guitar, piano and bass. Side D is also Nat King Cole trios with guitar, piano and bass. Performing with Montgomery across these sessions are pianists Earl Van Riper, Buddy Montgomery, John Bunch and Carl Perkins, organist Melvin Rhyne, bassists Monk Montgomery and Mingo Jones, drummers Paul Parker and Sonny Johnson, along with trombonist David Baker and saxophonist David Young. Although the exact list of musicians is unknown, one has to say that the music being performed is of a very high standard, especially given the fact that this was prior to Montgomery finding the fame and adulation that he went on to rightfully achieve.

The 22 selections on “Back on Indiana Avenue” include some embryonic versions of several tunes that the guitarist would later go on to record with Riverside Records. It’s fascinating to hear tracks such as “Round Midnight”, “Whisper Not”, “The End of a Love Affair”, “West Coast Blues” and “Four On Six”, to name but a few, in settings that highlight subtle differences (and some obvious differences on a few tunes), compared to the famous recordings that were to follow. Producer Zev Feldman comments: “These are very exciting recordings that Resonance is honoured to present in conjunction with the Montgomery Estate. To be able to contribute to a large part of the legacy of such an iconic artist as Wes – with even more newly discovered, great music – is very special. Unearthing not just run of the mill recordings, but some really great material from one of the guitar’s most distinctive voices is a momentous event. Stuff like this doesn’t pop up every day.” And on that final point, I would add this; although it’s true to say recordings like this don’t pop up every day, there has been a distinctly noticeable increase in such releases over the last couple of years. I’m not just talking about Wes Montgomery, in fact, the list of artists ranges from Bill Evans to Yusef Lateef and everything in between. Whilst some releases do disappoint somewhat and are perhaps for the artist’s hardcore fans only, I would say that “Back on Indiana Avenue” reaches beyond that, and although some of the sound on selected tracks is pretty poor, overall the warmth and the atmosphere makes for exciting and enjoyable listening in general, not just to Montgomery aficionados. You can almost imagine being there.

Montgomery’s guitar style is evidently well on the way to mastery on these sessions. His playing is assured and confident, his tone immediately recognisable, his trademark sound clear and defined. My personal favourites include the iconic “Four on Six” and the classic “Round Midnight” from Side A, The swinging “Jingles” and the enchanting “Sandu” from Side B, the exciting “Stompin’ at The Savoy” and the relaxed nature of “Summertime” from Side C, and the lovely ballad “Easy Living” and the infectious “The Song Is You” from Side D.

Having listened intently to “Back on Indiana Avenue” for a few weeks now, I have to say that despite the sound quality not being great throughout – even if that sounds a little harsh given the era of the recordings – this is a very enjoyable release from Resonance. I will now be avidly tracking down their other Wes Montgomery releases with great interest.

Mike Gates

Inna De Yard ‘Inna De Yard’ LP/CD (Wagram/Chapter Two) 5/5

There is nothing humbler and calming for any musician to pick up an instrument or use their voice in their yard. A back garden will do, even a veranda. Yard in Jamaica means home. ‘Back a Yard’ the famous song by The In Crowd always brings a smile to people’s faces when heard in a dance. ‘Inna Yard’ as a concept has been around for a while musically. It the acoustic remedy to all the autotune drivel churned out of studios worldwide. We have so many plugins and gadgets at our disposal that it has become like junk food, and the dependency on them for everything is in so many ways killing the soul of all kinds of music the globe over. Reggae will always go back to the roots because it was founded in the roots, in the yards of Jamaica. In that sense it’s a music with remedies and alternatives on the liberation from the evil wickedness and brainless addictions and consumerisms of Babylon. Remember those opening scenes from the movie ‘Rockers’ where Leroy Horsemouth Wallace goes on a hustle mission to check his musical bredrens for some unpaid drum sessions. Each yard he goes into there’s another group rehearsing. Music played out in the open air always has a different ambience and I can imagine so many sessions being rehearsed over and over, to perfection by Jamaican creators over the decades. Jamaica has something special when it comes to music. It is the home of Reggae. There is also something spiritual there, it’s the ‘acoustic’ from streams flowing by the window to those tree frog orchestras and booming bass-lines from people’s yards, speakers big, small and larger. So with these thoughts in mind I listened to a few of my favourite foundation artists singing and playing on ‘Inna De Yard’, an LP released a few weeks ago. Kiddus I opens the set. He is the spiritual leader of the Inna De Yard troupe based in Stony Hill, just outside Kingston, Jamaica, and he moves mountain ranges with this simple plea for love. Kiddus I is such an understated artist yet his contribution to Reggae as a vocalist is so substantial because he has kept the flame burning with many other foundation artists for the last few decades. Remember that one scene in ‘Rockers’ where he is recording ‘Graduation in Zion’ in one take. No edits, no frills, just total performance on the mic. He always gives that completeness to his vocals and this version of ‘If You Love Me’ – it was originally by Edith Piaf so its roots meets chanson – should be on every couple’s future wedding playlist. Absolute spine chilling magic.

There are many songs as well that are more familiar as hits in their own right. I never thought for instance that Ken Boothe could sing ‘Everything I Own’ in this acoustic ‘yard’ manner without me thinking “no Ken, it can’t touch the original”, but some 45 years later after its release, you think yes Ken, respect, and still going strong at 70! Horace Andy is also here. He just feels like he is vibezing, in his charismatic vocal manner on the Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and it’s just that feeling, that makes him such a special artist on the mic. Judy Mowatt also teams up with Jah9 for a rendition of ‘Black Woman’ reflecting the cross-generational power of roots Reggae music and the timelessness of the song with its chorus line that you won’t get out of your head for a few days. Inna De Yard will be playing L’Olympia in Paris on June 15th and various dates around Europe. The only rating I can give this release is all the stars in the sky…. One Love

Haji Mike

Read also:
Various ‘Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica’ CD/LP/DIG (Chapter Two) 4/5
Ken Boothe ‘Inna de Yard’ (Chapter Two/Wagram) 5/5

Kino Trio ‘Il Cielo Sopra Berlino’ CD (Babel Label) 4/5

The Kino Trio is a collective comprising Bruno Heinen (piano) Michele Tacchi (bass) and Riccardo Chiaberta (drums). They have been working together since 2015 and their repertoire comprises compositions by all three bandmates.

Heinen has been making waves on the London jazz scene and beyond for some years now. His website describes him as a contemporary improvising pianist. That description is all-encompassing as it allows for the inclusion of more impressionistic classical music too. Of course, jazz and classical music has not always made for a marriage made in heaven. The pianist’s past tutors have included the late John Taylor and Peter Saberton who were both questing and adventurous pianists in their own right. The influence of these two past masters is clearly detectable in Heinen’s own playing, but he has distilled the best that they had to offer and created a recognisably personal style of his own.

Italian bass player Tacchi has an impressive pedigree having played blues, jazz, fusion, Latin, rock, pop, funk and gospel music and worked with a wide range of musicians in his homeland. He is also busy composing and producing music for film, video games and commercials. He is currently resident in London. Tacchi’s fellow Italian, Chiaberta started out studying piano at the age of 9, only later moving to study drums. Like Tacchi, he has worked and recorded extensively in Italy.

The title of this album translates as ‘Wings of Desire’ and is also the title of a 1987 film directed by Wim Wenders. In turn, the film was inspired by the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke and Wenders is quoted as saying that angels live in Rilke’s poems.

The music on this album is similarly evocative. ‘Diano’ written by the drummer opens with a delicate percussion masterclass before piano and bass guitar enter with the bass guitar taking up the melody. Indeed, the highlight of this piece is the wonderful bass solo. The title track follows with the melody line traced out by piano and bass in unison, before more delicate drum embellishments which ultimately lead to an impassioned conclusion. ‘Canzone Per Leo’ is a more considered melodic feature for the bassist initially before piano and drums add their own particular magic and a sprinkling of good humour. ‘Ram’ opens with delicate solo piano before the energy level is dramatically increased with the entry of bass and drums once more. The piano is at the forefront on the meditative ‘In Paris’ and which includes the sound of what I take to be a Paris street scene. This is the outstanding track of this eight-track collection. The cleverly titled ‘Heineniana’ is next, a composition by the bassist, and as one might guess is another feature for the pianist and again in a more considered vain. ‘Lionel’ is an altogether busier piece with the pianist switching to electronic keyboard to great effect. There is also a fine feature for the bassist on this piece too. Heinen reverts to acoustic piano for the closing piece ‘Le Prince Defectueux’ which sees the pianist in a romantic mode.

This music was inspired by the Wim Wenders film and each piece seems to evoke a particular filmic soundscape of its own. It is beautifully recorded and played. Bruno Heinen will be well-known to UK audiences but less so his musical partners here. This is music of great delicacy and sensitivity and thoughtfully produced. For me, this album is an unexpected delight.

Catch the trio live on these dates:
14 May – 8.30pm LONDON – Oliver’s Jazz Bar, 9 Nevada St, East Greenwich, SE10 9JL
26 June – 8.00pm LONDON – Bull’s Head, 373 Lonsdale Road, Barnes, SW13 9PY
20 July – 7.00pm LUTON – The Bear Club, Mill Yard, 24A Guildford St, LU1

Alan Musson

The Art Ensemble of Chicago ‘We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration’ 2CD (Pi Recordings) 5/5

In 1969 the founder members of Art Ensemble Of Chicago decided to relocate to France. in 1968-9, the social unrest in Chicago made it near on impossible for avant-garde musicians to find favour in any venues in Chicago or further afield.

10 years earlier Albert Ayler had been stationed in France whilst serving in the army. His subsequent move to Sweden three years later resulted in a collaboration with avant-garde musicians including Cecil Taylor and Sonny Murray. Sonny Murray recounts astonishment at their first gig in Stockholm where the majority of the audience started to dance as soon as they started playing. Cecil Taylor nearly fell off his seat laughing; in part, taking aback with admiration for the openness and participation from the hip Swedish crowd. It was a far more embracing response than back in the States.

Europe was becoming more attractive for avant-garde jazz musicians. Over the course of their 18 months stay in Paris from 1969-71, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago recorded some landmark albums including ‘People In Sorrow’, ‘Message To Our Folks’, ‘A Jackson In Your House’ and the soundtrack ‘Les Stances a Sophie’, featuring vocalist Fontella Bass. The album was released on NESSA and later reissued by the Sounds Of The Universe record label back in 2000 due to the growing interest from radio and club. After returning to the States in the early 70s, the group went on to record two pivotal albums titled ‘Bap-tizum’ and ‘Fanfare For The Warriors’ for Atlantic Records which allowed for a much wider appreciation.

Fast forward 50 years and The Art Ensemble Of Chicago is still a living testament to the power and support of the musicians and educators within the community. The AACM continue to nurture emerging artists, passing the baton through the generations with their operating motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future”. Although the theatrical movements and colourful stage presence is not as prominent, the music continues to represent the attitude that the great quintet brought to the world during their formative years and throughout their time together as well as through their own projects. This new album sees them exploring new boundaries and the possibilities around those boundaries, with real-time composing allowing for many options to reinvent through the diverse musical expression of the collective.

On their first AEOC album for over 10 years, Roscoe Mitchell (soprano and alto saxophone, sopranino) and Don Moye (drums, percussion) pay tribute to their fellow creators Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favors from the classic quintet era. Accompanied by a 15-plus ensemble including a conducted string section courtesy of professor Stephen Rush, ‘We Are On The Edge: A 50th Year Anniversary’ brings together a much larger group of musicians from different generations and backgrounds in part celebrating the diverse musical heritage of their community and Chicago. Comprised of two discs: a meticulous studio session and the capture of a rousing live set at Edgefest in Ann Arbor, MI. The album features both original and classic compositions.

The album begins with Roscoe Mitchell’s contemplative composition, ‘Variations and Sketches from the Bamboo Terrace’, featuring the operatic voice of Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron alongside the string section comprising of Tomeka Reid (cello) Jean Cook (violin) and Edward Yoon Kwon (viola). On ‘The Bell Song’ Christina Wheeler adds a range of colourful electronic sounds from her amazing array of instruments, that include the autoharp, Moog and theremin, to accompany the muted trumpet, flute and subtle touches of percussion which permeate this moody composition.

Vocalist poet Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) delivers a powerful message on the title track, ‘We Are On The Edge’ and ‘Mama Koko’, the latter an evocative probing afrofuturism journey to the homeland with elements of pan-African percussion creating a perfect setting. The space within both compositions allowing the words room to resonate.

Don Moye adds the updated and reshaped hypnotic percussive elements to the original 1972 Malachi Favors composition, ‘Chi Congo’, aptly titled ‘Chi- Congo 50’. Throughout the album, he is joined by the stellar percussionists Dudù Kouaté, Enoch Williamson and Titos Sompa. The wonderful dreamy afro Cuban-esque ‘Oasis At Dusk’ is another percussive highlight – a tapestry of sound that is warm and evocative with the combination of percussion and strings, adding a rich sound to the composition.

Flautist and educator Nicole Mitchell has been involved with some great projects and acts as the first chairwoman within the organisation. Check out her highly acclaimed 2017 album ‘Liberation Narratives’ featuring poet and professor, Haki R. Madhubuti, and also her TEDx talk ‘Connecting To The Source Of Intelligence’ where she also performs alongside vocalist Dwight Trible.

Trumpeter, conductor and educator Fred Berry and trumpeter Hugh Ragin have been long time collaborators with the ensemble. Bassist Jaribu Shahid, is also one of the long-established members who feature within this current ensemble. Joining him are fellow bassists Silvia Bolognesi and Junius Paul.

In summary, ‘We Are On The Edge: A Celebration of 50 Years’ is a fresh chapter in the ever-unfolding of an explorative sound that the collective continues to represent and achieve. Highly recommended.

Mark Savva

Astral Travelling Since 1993