Neue Grafik Ensemble ‘Foulden Road’ LP (Total Refreshment Centre) 4/5

Neue Grafik Ensemble is a collaboration between French producer/DJ Neue Grafik and the Hackney based Total Refreshment Centre. The ensemble’s core is a quartet of saxophone, bass, drums with Neue Grafik on keyboards augmented by other musicians on a track by track basis. The mini-LP, “Foulden Road” is the ensemble’s debut.

The title track, which opens the set, however, is performed by a trio comprising of drums, bass and keys. It’s a kind of jazzy drum and bass with its urgent broken beat style drum patterns. The chorused slidey bass, while maybe a little polite in the mix, also emphasises the staccato keyboard stabs. Next, it’s south to “Dalston Junction”. The pace is slackened to swaggering gooey hip-hop. The rhythm section drops out; in comes dreamlike solo flute and a brief spoken word part from Brother Portrait, who appears on several tracks in this release. “Voodoo Rain”, with its light percussive introduction, is progressively embellished with sweeping saxophone and squiggly Worrellian synth noodling, the strutting bass line bringing forward momentum. “Something is missing” follows. Dual saxophones harmonise over the urgent, repetitive, stuttering rhythm section and swinging keys. The drum and bass slow build gives a platform for the pleasing sax solos.

“Hotel Laplace” is recorded from live, as is the previous track. A Rhodes piano led soulful ballad and a beautiful vehicle for Melbourne based (not Derbyshire) Allysha Joy, whose smoky, soulful and yet fragile voice is enchanting. As the verses trail off, the track continues to very slow fade with simple sax and key melodies. The tempo is raised on “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” with it’s driving tight rhythmic pattern and brief but expansive sax-led melody, topped with manic rhymes from Brother Portrait. The album’s closer “Dedicated To Marie Paule” is jazzy hip-hop reminiscent of the early 90s with vocals, again, from Brother Portrait. The smooth, floating, envelope filter washed backing gives way to a simple and cute solo piano melody.

“Foulden Road” is an exciting and enjoyable album. It is musically not particularly innovative or unique but has plenty of energy and joyfulness which rubs off on the listener. While the most successful tracks are the harder, more uptempo tunes such as the dynamic “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” and the title track, there’s also some moments of quiet delicacy, which may reward repeated listens.

Kevin Ward

Tonbruket ‘Masters of Fog’ LP/CD (ACT Music) 4/5

Celebrating ten years of making music, and with four Swedish Grammy awards and five studio albums under their belts, the Swedish genre-hopping quartet Tonbruket return with their sixth studio album “Masters of Fog”. Led by founding EST member, bassist Dan Berglund, this impressive release is an exploration of sound that traverses jazz, prog-rock, Americana, psychedelia, ambient trance and avant-garde pop music.

Tonbruket was originally assembled as Berglund’s own crossover band, with the help of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Johan Lindström. Together with drummer Andreas Werlin and keyboardist Martin Hederos, over the years the quartet have forged their own unique sound, whilst continuing to surprise listeners with their open, ever-evolving music. Whereas previous releases have seen the band focussing on a single narrative thread, this new release, with eleven original tracks, presents a powerfully inventive foray into a multi-layered musical world, opening more doors and adventures than ever before.

With so many styles and genres now being encompassed within the band’s music, it’s almost a surprise that it all fits together so well. And yet it does. This is intelligent, stylish music, with the individual skills and experience of each band member being brought together to create a collective whole that simmers and burns with a subtle intensity. The intoxicating title track, and album opener, blends dark, shadowy sounds with luscious melodies, creating a feel and vibe reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s masterpiece Dark Side of The Moon. Berglund’s cool bass creates a deep groove on “AmFm”, with bluesy guitar and keys mixing perfectly with electronic effects and a focussed drum beat. As with much of the album, there’s an edginess to the music that lurks behind the obvious subtleties. “The Enders” is one of the finest pieces of music I’ve heard this year. Wonderful piano chords and floating strings create a rich, melancholic tapestry of sound. This is one of those tracks that sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it. It’s incredibly well produced and beautifully dark and captivating. Whilst “Entering the Amazonas” actually sounds like a creepy-crawly rainforest hooked on techno music, “Tonability” is a heavy-duty slice of Rockabilly on fire, a-la legendary guitarist Brian Setzer. It’s brazen and so fuc*ing cool you’ve just got to admire it. The rather strange “Waiting for Damocles Sword”, with its shimmering musical shape-shifting, leads the listener into the pulsating Black Keys-esque “Wheel No.5”. There’s a more laid-back, lazy vibe to “The Barn” with its acoustic guitars and bass creating a sound akin to a low-fi Nirvana track. The avant-garde Bowie/Eno/Fripp influences are clear on “Chain Rule Formula”, whereas the gorgeous “A Tale of Fall” is particularly reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s classic “Last Train Home”. The closing track, “The Pavlova Murders” mixes things up even further, with its pinball melodies crossing paths with deliciously infused doses of esoteric instrumentation.

Mixing an evocative palette of sound and sonic ambience with wonderful writing, Tonbruket have created a sensory experience that flows compellingly with style and imagination. Their best album to date, one might argue.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Tonbruket ‘Live Salvation’ (ACT Music) 3/5

Binker Golding ‘Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers’ LP/CD (Gearbox) 4/5

Saxophonist Binker Golding caps off an already excellent year with the release of his brand new project ‘Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers’, released through the vinyl-led record label, Gearbox Records.

Golding’s unique talents have always allowed him to take his music in any direction he feels – perhaps best known as an artist who embraces a free and improvisational approach to jazz with still maintaining a devoted love to the genre’s classics and forefathers. It’s become almost passé to continually note the wave of rising young talent within the UK scene but that’s usually because of the beaming pride that London-born reviewers (like myself) have with what’s unfolded over the past comparatively few years. All of a sudden, young UK talent made jazz accessible and embraced by young UK fans. I still pinch myself.

And Binker Golding has certainly been one of the names that’s seen himself at the forefront of this very revolution. In a year that has already seen him serve as part of the ensemble for pianist Sarah Tandy’s Jazz Re:freshed debut, ‘Inflection In The Sentence’, as well as Zara McFarlane & Dennis Bovell’s ‘East of the River Nile’ and Golding’s collaborative project with pianist Elliot Galvin, ‘Ex Nihilo’, ‘Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers’ sees Golding take centre-stage with a veritable dream team of musicians making up his quartet.

Double bassist Daniel Casimir (Jasmine Power, Camilla George), drummer Sam Jones (Charlotte Dos Santos, Zara McFarlane) and pianist Joe Armon-Jones (Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble) are all names that have found themselves collaborating on past projects – be it their own and for other musicians – and all with a progressive multi-genre encompassing approach to jazz each often fusing elements from electronic to afrobeat into their music. The very nature of ‘Abstractions…’ however is rooted in its nostalgia – a celebration of the events and influences that placed Golding and his quartet into Abbey Road studios to record this exquisite collection of songs.

Gearbox Records – themselves with an exceptional year boasting releases of ‘Mothership’ by Dwight Trible and ‘Fyah’ by another beaming UK light, Theon Cross – has long served as the recording base for Golding; home to the three projects of Binker & Moses, the multi-award winning duo comprising of Golding and drummer Moses Boyd, and their trilogy of releases, ‘Dem Ones’ (2015), ‘Journey to the Mountain of Forever’ (2017) and ‘Alive in the East?’ (2018).

Although ‘Abstractions…’ perhaps goes against the grain for what people may have expected for this project, it is absolutely a testament to Golding’s limitless talent and a real gem within his ever-expanding and diverse catalogue.

Live dates:

Sep 18 Ronnie Scott’s, London, UK
Oct 06 Ronnie Scott’s, London, UK
Oct 29 Rough Trade East, London, UK

Imran Mirza

Various ‘IF Music presents: You Need This – A Journey Into Deep Jazz Vol. 3’ 3LP (BBE Music) 4/5

At a time when jazz records are often judged by the ever-increasing prices that chancers on eBay and Discogs are asking for it, the latest compilation from Jean Claude at If Music, London makes a welcome change. Ten hard to find tunes spread over three slabs of vinyl that have been selected for the quality of music, not for the devastating impact on your bank balance, make for a very interesting listening experience that hits the heights more often than not.
Imagine going to a friend’s house, a friend who is really trying hard to impress you with their record collection, and generally succeeding. That’s what this record is like. Covering a period roughly between ’73 and ’88, there’s a heavy European influence throughout, a couple of modal monsters and maybe just a bit too much fusion. All of which is bookended by Phineas Newborns Jnr’s very jazzy trio take of Manteca, from 1961 and a banging Fania style workout from Japanese group Copa Sabro from 2004.

There is also a lot of flute. Frank Strozier blows pretty on Grachan Moncur’s take on Impressions and with Louis Hayes and Harold Maben also in attendance it was always going to be a difficult tune to mess up. Gunnar Bergsten’s flute also sets the scene for Swedish bassist Björn Alkes, Nepal which starts off in a meditative, eastern kind of way before breaking into a swinging hard bop affair with Göran Strandberg clearly influenced by McCoy Tyner.

I always thought by Czech jazz rockers Probuzeni was a Paz tune, kicking off with a very happy Brazilian sounding Fender and guitar riff, that you will be very familiar with if into the jazz dance scene of the early ’80s, before kicking into a “Streets of San Francisco” style groove a la Funk Factory.
Grachan Moncur is back again with Beaver Harris and this time it’s Ken McIntyre on flute on Aladdin’s Carpet a surprisingly gentle and hypnotic Latin influenced groove, considering the players. Originally released on Italian label Soul Note in 1983.
24 Karat is a very long and funky tune from one of the more familiar names on this record the Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo. It’s from 1978 and clocks in at around 14 minutes, getting really interesting when Pop Factory alumni Wlodek Gulgowski takes centre stage on keys.
Dawn is a real hardcore fusion tune coming on like a 100mph Mumbai version of Sivuca, or Okay Temiz with a wonderful wordless vocal by Rama Mani. It was recorded by the Indian Fusion pioneers the Jazz Yatra Sextet in Germany in 1982. It’s one of the real highlights of the record which also features two absolute stone-cold killers from trombonist Tyrone Jefferson and the US composer/flautist/saxophonist and academic Karlton Hester.
Jefferson has form with James Brown, Public Enemy and James Spaulding on his call sheet. Middle Passage from his 1988 album ‘Free Your Mind’ is deep. Lonnie Plaxico’s brooding bass and a heavy percussion section set the tone for Tyrone’s meandering solos and Ellene Rockettes vocal improvisation. If you know the wonderful Belgian album by Raphaël that was issued a few years back, then you are on the right lines with this Pan African Ballet Music at the centre of this compilation. It’s epic in scope and length coming in at just over twenty minutes. Karlton Hester’s Contemporary Jazz Art Movement throw everything into the mix. The opening passage swings from Rag Time to Bop into a polyrhythmic march taking in elements of contemporary classical music before Hester comes in and suddenly, we are deep in Tapscott territory with Kamau Seitus drums laying down a relentless and hypnotic rhythm for violin, oboe, bassoon, piccolo and clarinet. Stunning.

Do I “Need This”, as the album title tells me I do? Well, there’s enough on here to keep me coming back for more and maybe making a mini-splurge on Discogs for a few of the originals.

Nick Schlittner

Read also:
Various ‘If Music Presents: You Need This – World Jazz Grooves’ 3LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5
Various ‘IF Music presents: You Need This – An Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note – 1975-1985’ 3LP (BBE Music) 4/5

Sara Gazarek ‘Thirsty Ghost’ LP/CD (Self-released) 4/5

With former releases on Steel Bird Music, Palmetto Records and Sony, Sara Gazarek now opts for the independent route with the release of her new, and sixth album, ‘Thirsty Ghost’.

It’s actually wholly fitting that this album should find itself released independently – while previous releases, including her debut album ‘Yours’ (2005), have achieved strong critical and commercial success, there’s something about ‘Thirsty Ghost’ that presents this project as Gazarek’s line-in-the-sand album, and something of a reinvention of the artist we had previously been introduced to. Even the title of ‘Thirsty Ghost’ is provocative in of itself – the notion of a person that feels a sense of incompleteness whether that be through a thirst that can’t be quenched, or through the desire to achieve more than they have before.

And helping Gazarek to achieve those goals are an incredible array of musicians including organist Larry Goldings, drummer Christian Euman, bassist Alex Boneham, saxophonist Josh Johnson and pianist Stu Mindeman, who, when paired with Gazarek’s exquisite vocal, really deliver a thrilling project worthy of all their collective talents. ‘I’m Not The Only One’, ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ and ‘Never Will I Marry’ are just a handful of songs that demonstrate some of the stirring and genuinely captivating highs to be found throughout. And then there’s the appearance of world-renown, Grammy-winning vocalist, Kurt Elling – with Gazarek having guested on Elling’s ‘Passion World’ album in 2015, Elling returns the favour with a guest vocal on the album closer, ‘Distant Storm’, which is an apt reworking of pianist Brad Mehldau’s ‘When It Rains’ with lyrics penned by Gazarek.

The song that could very well serve as the project’s centrepiece is Gazarek’s reinterpretation of Dolly Parton’s seminal ‘Jolene’ – a song that has seen its fair share of covers from artists as diverse as Gloria Ann Taylor to Taylor Swift. While the pace of Parton’s original presents a woman potentially trying to stop something before it happens, Gazarek’s composition changes the complexion of the song and through its more fierce and intense arrangement, the greater sense of urgency seems to suggest that something already has happened.

It’s these near-microscopic touches that propel something from being good to great, and while it’s probably not entirely accurate to describe ‘Thirsty Ghost’ as a riskier project than its predecessors… it could certainly be argued to be a more honest one.

European tour dates:
October 24 Guadalajara, Spain
October 25 Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
October 28-30 Café Central, Madrid, Spain

Imran Mirza

Rebecca Nash / Atlas ‘Peaceful King’ CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

In her first major recording as leader, keyboardist and composer Rebecca Nash’s debut release with Atlas covers a wide range of musical styles. Predominantly jazz, yes, but it is the intelligent and intuitive integration of rock, drum and bass, 70’s fusion, soul-jazz and electronica, alongside singer-songwriter influences, that makes this album stand out as something special.

There’s a beauty to this recording that goes beyond any pigeon-holes of musical styles. In the same way that artists such as Collocutor, Pat Metheny Group, Zero7, or Joni Mitchell manage to traverse musical styles with such grace and ease, “Peaceful King” is a delightfully engaging journey that well and truly showcases Nash’s talents and marks her out as one of freshest creative talents in the UK at this present time.

Nash grew up in Bristol, listening to the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack, but there’s also a strong Birmingham connection; as an educator with Birmingham Jazzlines, Birmingham Conservatoire, Cheltenham Festivals and the National Youth Collective. She is a major player in Entropi, Paradox Ensemble and Sara Colman’s band, featuring heavily on Colman’s recent album “What We’re Made Of” which was released on the Birmingham label Stoney Lane Records. Nash also performs regularly as part of saxophonist/composer Chris Bowden’s band Unlikely Being. Singer Colman returns the compliment here, featuring on three tunes on this recording for Nash.

This album features Nash’s long-time associates Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Matt Fisher on drums, plus Thomas Seminar Ford on electric guitar and Chris Mapp on electric bass and electronics. Nash describes the album with collaboration at its heart. “Nick, Matt and I go way back. Nick and I both think about music in similar terms – he’s contributed greatly to this recording, often making artistic sense of the seemingly nonsensical! We just have that connection. Tom and Chris perform together often and are really creative with electronics, so they generate walls of sound which tune into the more cosmic vibes and abstract harmonies that I love.”

As a collective, Nash’s band work wonderfully well together. They achieve a near-perfect balance between composition and improvisation, with each person bringing their own ideas and skilful playing to create a vibrant and invigorating landscape of sound. Right from the distinctive opening bars of the title track, it’s clear there’s something special happening here. You know when you listen to something new for the first time, and it grabs your attention straight away, with intrigue and excited anticipation… well this is a great example of that feeling. The adventure continues with the effervescent, free-flowing “Tumbleweed”. Gorgeous melodies crash head-on with cosmic, ambient sounds and fabulous soloing. “Hot Wired”, “Grace” and “Dreamer” all feature the intuitive vocals of Sara Colman, each track shining brightly with its own elegance. The incredibly powerful “Lockma”, featuring some of the album’s best soloing from both Nash and Ford, gives way to mellow auras of the luscious “Little Light”. Inspired by a turbulent boat trip to the western island “Inishbofin” this final track is a pulsating piece of pure musical brilliance, summing up everything that’s great about this recording.

As an album “Peaceful King” has it all. From Fisher’s inventive, powerhouse drumming and Mapp’s beguiling bass lines and electronics, through to Ford’s melodious guitar playing, Colman’s exquisite vocals, and Nash’s own penchant for blindingly beautiful chord structures, the resulting music is simply stunning. Undoubtedly one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year.

You can see Rebecca Nash /Atlas live on the following tour dates:
30th October – The Canteen, Bristol.
31st October – The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham.
20th November – The Sebright Arms, London.

Mike Gates

Dave O’Higgins / Rob Luft ‘O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Saxophonist, composer, arranger and producer Dave O’Higgins and award-winning guitarist Rob Luft have joined forces to celebrate the music performed by Monk and Coltrane. Both artistes have enjoyed favourable press over the last couple of years for their own original compositions and album releases, and the duo get to show their inventive jazz chops on this highly enjoyable slice of old-school jazz. This is the thing though; it doesn’t get old does it. Not when musicians such as these breathe new and exciting life into a range of classic and perhaps lesser-known tunes, as they have done here. “Rob called me for some ‘blowing’ gigs last year. It wasn’t difficult to find a common repertoire, and a predilection for Monk and Trane tunes was apparent,” explains O’Higgins. “The music we’ve chosen to play focuses on lesser-known Monk compositions and some of the songs Coltrane chose to record in the late 50s, more than the usual few Monk tunes and modal Coltrane so often heard.”

The choice of Scott Flanigan on organ changed their course from the obvious sonority associated with either musician. O’Higgins and Luft have reinterpreted the material in a way that is both contemporary and in the tradition, drawing from a wide range of influences with deep respect for the authors. American drummer Rod Youngs completes the quartet.

For me, the most memorable tunes from this session are those that swing, and don’t they just! The quartet as a whole reminds me a little of a John Scofield quartet, just in the way they gel so effortlessly together, with, in this case, the two leaders trading solos throughout. The playing is impeccable; tight, inventive, and extremely entertaining. There’s a keen sense of respect between the musicians that makes for a relaxed atmosphere, bringing out the best from all four protagonists with an overriding conclusion to my ears that they’re all just having a bloody good time playing these tunes, resulting in a joyous experience for the listener.

“Minor Mishap” is a Blue Note style swinger from a Tommy Flanigan record featuring Coltrane with the guitar and organ replacing the trumpet and piano of the original. ‘Spring Is Here’ was recorded by Coltrane on his Prestige album “Standard Coltrane”. O’Higgins comments; “I created a new arrangement in the style I imagine Coltrane would have played it later on in his career. Rob’s Bill Frisell inspired guitar textures, with Rod’s most Elvin-esque drum contribution of the recording, and Scott’s gutsy organ are a good example of our re-interpretation of standard material.” And so this album goes, flowing freely with stunning musicianship throughout. Tunes including “Little Melonae”, “Trinkle-Tinkle” and “Like Sonny” really do hit the spot. The more thoughtful tunes such as “Round Midnight” and “Dreamland” also work particularly well, with a loose, contented vibe shining through. Most of the session is pretty much straight-ahead, with O’Higgins and Luft occasionally trying something new. Coltrane’s classic “Naima” is one such track. I love the atmosphere created by Luft at the beginning of the tune, with his layered guitars crafting a gentle colour-wash of sound, but the rest of the tune takes a wrong turn for me, losing the essence of the piece itself. That particular tune is perhaps the only slightly off-key moment on the whole album, with a big, smiling thumbs up overall. I can’t wait to see this quartet performing live. Should be a killer band to go and see. They’re on tour right now, so catch them at a venue near you soon!

Sept
7 Bull’s Head, London
8 Bristol Old Vic
9 North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
10 Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, Wales
11 Stratford Jazz, Stratford-Upon-Avon
12 Calstock Arts Centre, Cornwall
13 Creative Innovation Centre, Taunton
15 The Oval Tavern, Croydon (lunch)
15 The Royal Albert, Deptford (evening)
16 Ronnie Scott’s (late show)
17 Southampton Modern Jazz Club
21 Birdland, Hamburg, Germany

Oct
6 Boaters, Kingston
7 Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch)
9 Guildford Pavilion
10 Cambridge Modern Jazz
14 Bexley Jazz Club
15 Jazz In Sevenoaks
17 All Saints Church, Hove (lunch)
17 Albany Social Club, Coventry (eve)
18 Great Broughton Village Hall

Nov
2 Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
5 The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
6 Swansea Jazzland, Wales
8 Crookes Social Club, Sheffield Jazz
9 The Blue Room, Lincoln
10 Herts Jazz

Mike Gates

Daniel Meron ‘Embracing Wild’ CD (Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit) 4/5

For his new release, Embracing Wild, Daniel Meron is hitting hard. Though I have been occasionally following the Israeli-born pianist, this is the first album of his that I listen to and I am utterly enchanted. Teaming up with an international palette of excellent musicians, Pablo Menares on bass, Felix Lecaros on drums and vocalist Kéren-Or Tayar, Meron delivers an album that is forceful and graceful at the same time.

The album opens up with the title track, an engaging tune which throws listeners right into the mood as they get the first taste of Meron’s piano which is fluid, confident and vibrant. You know right away you’re onto something good. Starting with a refrain, intercepted by delicate classical intonations, Meron leads the melody into a sinewy jazz phrase which is eloquent and hued with colours and depth.

Morning Shadows introduces us to Kéren-Or Tayar’s modulated vocals as she sings in English on this track. This is a catchy song where Tayar’s affective vocals and Meron’s piano sway to and fro out of the melody in perfect harmony, allowing a piano solo to crank up the groove a notch.

Newborn, one of my favourite tracks on the album, is a gentle tune, full of light about to explode but which remains very contained. To me, this is a rather spiritual tune where the piano tiptoes as if it was to reveal the wonders of life. Meron’s unhurried approach is beautiful and thoughtful as it gives way to a bass solo which highlights the delicate melody before the piano reclaims its poetic flow.

In contrast, Flight Mode is an upbeat tune with a definite jazz vibe to it, like several others which appear later on the album. After all, Meron may include faint hints of various musical influences in his compositions, but the album remains primarily a contemporary jazz album. Toshba, Jolly Beggar and Limonada keep a stellar jazz quality while offering both lyrical and rhythmic melodies. Toshba is an engaging tune in which Meron delivers a frenzied piano that is delightfully interlaced by the drums. Equally, it is an example of Meron’s ability to delve into and create an aural experience that uplifts and rivets you, keeping on your toes and wanting more. Jolly Beggar is a softer, infectious tune which is as captivating though, especially as it gradually picks up speed. The piano retreats slightly to give way to an earnest bass before it takes it up again, sounding almost improvised. With Jolly Beggar, Meron succeeds in taking us along a cadence into which we almost get lost.

On Darkness and Light, Tayar soothes us with velvety vocals backed up by a scintillating piano. Though Tayar sings in Hebrew, there is no need to understand the lyrics; the song exudes so much warmth that its energy would be understood by all.

This is an album that warrants attention. There is something for everyone in it. It is an excellent project, full of light and colour, laced with softer and more head-bopping grooves that are carefully executed and packed with musical beauty. The melodies are evocative and have a magical appeal, rendering the album full of soul. I have definitely become a fan.

Nathalie Freson

John Coltrane ‘Blue World’ LP/CD (Impulse!) 5/5

In June 1964, just a few weeks after the second session for the classic ‘Crescent’ album (Many people cite that album as their favourite Coltrane album ever, for good reason). John Coltrane took his quartet once again into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio for another recording session. This time however it wasn’t for an Impulse! Records session, it was for music for the soundtrack of a film, Le Chat Dans Le Sac by Canadian film maker (And Coltrane devotee) Gilles Groulx. Presumably, with Trane being under exclusive contract to Impulse at the time, the session was conducted “under cover”. We’ll probably never know, but whatever the details this session has gone unknown for most of the intervening years. A few years ago an update to the indispensable “The John Coltrane Reference” book was added to contributor David Wild’s excellent website stating that Chris DeVito, another contributor to the Coltrane Reference, had realised that the music used in the film, ‘Naima’, ‘Village Blue’ and ‘Out Of This World’, were not, as previously assumed, the existing released recordings from albums, but new, otherwise unheard versions.

Now, after the tapes have finally come to light, we can hear these performances in their entirety, along with other songs and alternate takes from the session.

In all there are three versions of ‘Village Blues’, two of ‘Naima’, and one each of ‘Like Sonny’, ‘Traneing In’ and the title tune, ‘Blue World’.

‘Blue World’ is described in the liner notes as a “contrafact” of ‘Out Of This World’, the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer song that Trane famously recorded on the ‘Coltrane’ album for Impulse! The term “contrafact” is used to describe an original tune that is based on the chord changes of an existing standard tune. So, for instance, Sonny Rollins’ ‘Oleo’ is based on the changes of the Gershwins’ ‘I Got Rhythm’, so it’s a contrafact of ‘I Got Rhythm’. But in the case of ‘Blue World’, this isn’t entirely true. When Trane originally recorded ‘Out Of This World’ he dispensed with the chord changes and turned it into a modal tune with a bridge. In this newly discovered version we hear the quartet playing the modal arrangement from the ‘Coltrane’ album version, but at a slower, deeper pace. But Trane doesn’t play Arlen’s melody, instead, he plays his own lines, sometimes hinting at parts of the melody as if to tease us, and they don’t play the bridge. So we end up with an entirely original piece of music and one worthy of having its own title and composer.

Comparing this version to the quartet’s recording on the ‘Coltrane’ album, the difference between the group sound from 1962 to 1964 is brought into sharp relief. The same thing applies to the versions of ‘Naima’ and the other tunes. The group has developed a huge, broad sound with a depth and stately grace rarely matched then as now. It’s as if the musicians had grown in size along with their instruments until the music they produced became larger than life. If you can imagine the sound of the Quartet on the afore-mentioned ‘Crescent’ album, with all the poise, grace and depth of expression on that album, but applied to songs like ‘Naima’ and ‘Like Sonny’ then you’ll get the gist of the sound the group achieve here.

The session proceeds with a relaxed intensity as the quartet manoeuvre their juggernaut sound through the familiar songs. Maybe part of this relaxed ambience comes from the fact that the songs were very familiar, maybe partly because the music was for use in a film, who knows. Recording sessions can often be difficult with all kinds of pressures affecting the temperaments of the people involved. It’s part of the leader’s job to negate these pressures as much as they can and thus allow the music to flow unhindered as much as possible. I would imagine that John Coltrane was as relaxed as anyone in the studio, although he is on record as saying he was nervous on at least two occasions, when recording the album with Duke Ellington and when he recorded his ‘Ascension’ album. So perhaps the circumstances surrounding this session helped to get the best out of the quartet? Whatever the reason(s), the music here is truly a joy to listen to from start to finish and it made me wish they had recorded a few more songs at the session.

Majestic music from one of the greatest groups of all time, indispensable.

Nat Birchall

BRAHJA ‘BRAHJA’ LP (RRGEMS) 5/5

Devin Brahja Waldman is a New York saxophonist, drummer, synthesizer player and composer who has performed with Patti Smith, William Parker, Nadah El Shazly, Malcolm Mooney, Thurston Moore, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Charles Hayward, Mette Rasmussen and Yoshiko Chuma.
He leads the band BRAHJA. BRAHJA have been playing, in one form or another, since 2008 and is currently made up of 10 musicians coming out of Montreal, New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago; the core being Waldman, Isis Giraldo (piano, synthesizer, voice), Damon Shadrach Hankoff (organ, piano, synthesizer), Martin Heslop (acoustic bass) and Daniel Gélinas (drums, synthesizer).

Waldman says of the new 8-track release, “These songs mostly deal with the purging of uninvited darkness. Some kind of cure for some kind of poison. Some kind of death for some kind of renewal. I hope you can derive meaning and joy from this music. With sincere gratitude, Devin Brahja Waldman.”

Those first 3 paragraphs suggest that we’re probably not in for some formulaic musical ride. Add to them the knowledge that this release is on the RR GEMS label, the Estonian home of all things free and uplifting, and you can be 100% certain we’re about to experience something a bit, well, different.
Deep throbbing, guttural swells and cascading cymbal washes feed an expectant, charged atmosphere that is graced and soothed by Waldman’s divine alto sax motif and caressing vocal layers. Occasional, less benign screeches interrupt the divinity and the track begins a disconcerting and dizzying oscillation into something more dark and airless. “In The Mess” is extraordinary – it sucks you in, softens you up and then, when you’re deeply engaged and unable to escape, it prods at your anxieties leaving you ruminative and unnerved.
Anxieties are allayed by “Keepers”. It has a Tubular Bells/Profondo Rosso intro that’s subjugated by a very flabby snare, a lazy, laconic Waldman and a fat, loungin’ bassline. A group vocal mantra, that you will not escape from, picks up the bass motif and floats above all, inviting introspection or something more transcendental. Deeply pacifying and optimistic.
Unexpectedly, “Qwikness” riffs and grooves. All hip blues, cop drama with punchy, trebly guitar (Afro-surf!) and a light, airy wind pattern that whisks you to the coastal road. Mobilising and boding and the only track that escapes the BRAHJA claustrophobia. “Just Passing Thru” initially extends that cool vibe then opens up into a free Waldman spirit warble and that BRAHJA trademark glow (gentle vocal wash + cymbal glances + subtle layers of echoey, reverberating magic dust) before resolving with a broken beat.
“Ineffable Intro” can’t be described (lolz) but, if pushed to, it’s the perfect hypnotherapy space. “Medicine Women” is reticent, pensive, stuck or calming, numbing, soothing. It’s a sluggish beat, a meandrous sax and layers of spiritual cleansing and healing. A truly beautiful 11 minutes 43 seconds that can shift your mood and allow you to alter your perspective.
“Return Of The Good Enemy” is surprising. A plodding shoe-gazing rhythm, sprinkled angular piano and a simple spacey sax line leads to harp-like cascades and a sense of confinement. The final track, “Welcome to Wohlom”, is a dense, brooding, cymbal-first, whispering melancholy, moaning to be set free.

I’m not sure I’ve heard anything like this on a single album before. It’s quite an extraordinary piece of work. It is blessed with much influence but always sounds unique; it’s entirely free but never hard work; it troubles and purges, questions and resolves, excites and calms, mourns and uplifts. It’s outside and inside. It portends and is claustrophobic yet it glistens and optimistically reflects.
As you can probably tell, I’m more than a little blown away by this album. And, just as Devin Brahja Waldman hoped…I will continue to derive meaning and great joy from this music; with the sincerest gratitude.

Ian Ward

Astral Travelling Since 1993