30th Jan2015

Maurizio Minardi ‘Piano Ambulance’ (Belfagor) 3/5

by ukvibe

maurizio-minardiSince moving to London in 2008, Calabria born pianist Maurizio Minardi has released three studio albums, each with various themes and instrumentation. “Piano Ambulance”, his fourth album, is a piano trio plus one. Minardi on piano, Nick Pini double bass, Jason Reeve drums and Shirley Smart cello. Routed firmly in the European classical tradition, but with enough free spirit to allow us use of the phrase “classical/jazz crossover”, in truth the album falls into neither camp particularly well… But this is a good thing. Perhaps what would better describe this release is that of one man’s journey through a lyrical, emotional, interwoven walk of life. “April Sun” starts out as a procession, an uphill march, before allowing a short pause for thought, then onward once again but at a canter. Much of the album moves thus, quick, slow, quiet, louder, quiet again, quick quick slow… A yearning for lost love inflects “Dangerous Innocence”. I love this track’s clever mix of calm on the outside, with an excitable and impatient Cinematic Orchestra style backbeat kicking on the inside. Many of Minardi’s compositions have a child like innocence and fragility, none truer than on the gorgeous “Friday Almost”. But a change of pace is always just around the corner and there is a brightness of spirit and youthful exuberance to “Goodbye London”… An animated rush of the blood that captures a hustle and bustle of life and brings to mind a certain character: I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! An onlooker with a stoic reverence is how one might describe “Indulgence” – a stiff upper lip type of tune old boy. The title track “Piano Ambulance” (I’ve no idea why it’s called that…it doesn’t really evoke sad thoughts of a piano taking its last breath in a London ambulance…hmm, or does it?), is one of my favourite tracks on the album. A tuneful remembrance, bringing to mind many memories and reflections on life. The journey takes a few more interesting diversions before coming to an end with “Seven Sisters”, an acceptance of who we are and an affirmation of all the things that brought us to this place.

There is undoubtedly a lyrical beauty that runs through the entire album, with enough twists and turns to make it a rewarding listen. For me though, it’s just a little too formulaic and a tad too clinical. Imagine Michael Nyman piano music played by Jaques Lousier with Lars Danielson orchestrating the bass and cello over some lovely Tigran and Einaudi compositions and you’re just about there. The quartet embark on a UK journey imminently, beginning in London with their album launch at The Vortex on 18th February, driving northwards to various venues throughout March.

Mike Gates

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29th Jan2015

Casey Golden Trio ‘Outliers’ (Private Press) 4/5

by ukvibe

casey-goldenIt’s not too often Sydney, Australia and jazz are used in the same sentence, so it was with both curiosity and apprehension that these ears readied themselves for this new release from Casey Golden (piano/compositions), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums/percussion). Excited first by wonderful cover artwork by Ron Frenz (Marvel/DC Comics) and consistency through the website, it was clear there had been much thought and care spared in the preparation and execution of this album. The opening piece, ‘Flatpack Empire’ lured me in through the contemporary back door, past impressions of ECM and onto front stage where the trio fuse majestically together – with very few years between them, may I add. The clear lead from Casey’s piano drives the album through the title track into ‘Paralysed’, a well-structured and modern piece that leaves the listener most contented. Reaching finalist for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year in 2011, and enjoying as he does, a great deal of listening and reading about new jazz music, the youthful Casey has clearly achieved much with this project, one which can only see greater things ahead of him. There is richness to the overall production of the album, evident more so with ‘Home’ and ‘Us Or Them’ with a fulfilling warm timbre from the bass notes that envelops the listener. The album has a very untypical slant in the absence of solos through the compositions, although each member’s individualism can be easily picked out. The finale ‘One Of Two Places’ sits highest for this listener for the energy it has, but the album is a whole and it’s denouement most satisfying. Whether a stalwart of such names as Jack Brokensha/Bruce Hancock/Ed Gaston, an approachable listener to new names like Matt McMahon and Ben Gurton, or a sponge for all things jazz, perhaps Australia has much more to offer. Maybe Casey Golden will have a place in your collection and stay on our respective radars in anticipation of a UK tour this year, or sometime soon. We wish them every success.

Steve Williams

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28th Jan2015

Adam Birnbaum ‘Three of A Mind’ (Daedalus) 4/5

by ukvibe

adam-birnbaumPianist Adam Birnbaum is a rapidly rising star on the New York jazz scene. For this acoustic trio album “Three of a mind” he is joined by two celebrated rhythm section partners, Al Foster (drums) and Doug Weiss (bass). Foster and Weiss have a formidable pedigree, between them having worked with such luminaries as Miles Davis, Marcus Miller, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner. Over the past decade Birnbaum has performed with veteran masters such as Eddie Gomez and Wynton Marsalis and also worked with well established contemporaries Pedro Giraudo and Marshall Gilkes. On “Three of a mind” Birnbaum, Foster and Weiss complement each other perfectly, sharing an enviable chemistry and understanding which fuses with the ear of the listener. The album opens with “Binary”, a positive statement of intent: This is who we are! This is what we do! Upbeat and adventurous, bright and uplifting, Birnbaum’s compositions are often playful and engaging, and “Dream Waltz” facilitates some well-balanced interplay over an alluring melody. On the bluesy “Thirty Three” you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to an uncomplicated Brad Mehldau play the blues. By contrast the swinging “Brandyn”, one of Al Foster’s two compositions on the album, dazzles and shimmers with some exciting playing from all three protagonists. The reflective “Rockport Moon” allows a delightful change of pace. A lyrical and melodic ballad, it highlights Birnbaum’s lighter, softer touch. ‘Stutterstop”, a bright and breezy hip little number, gives way to “Kizuna”, an elegant piece punctuated with a gorgeous melody line. “Dream Song No. 1: Huffy Henry” is more ambitious. A darker, moodier tone lifts it above its blues inflected theme. The album closes with “Ooh what you do to me”, a joyous and confident end to a well-balanced, enjoyable album.

“Three of a mind” captures well the essence of the jazz trio. Whilst not too demanding, Birnbaum’s compositions rise above the norm, allowing space and freedom for Foster and Weiss to show their consummate skills without being too overpowering or headstrong. Adam Birnbaum plays with a refreshing intuition throughout the album. With hints of Steve Kuhn, Michel Petruciani and Kenny Baron occasionally working their way in, on this evidence Birnbaum is definitely one to look out for.

Mike Gates

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27th Jan2015

Tubby Hayes @ 80

by ukvibe

JANUARY 30th 2015 MARKS EIGHTY YEARS OF SAXOPHONIST TUBBY HAYES – Britain’s Greatest Jazz Performer.

2015 will see the release of a DVD ‘Tubby Hayes – A Man In A Hurry’ narrated by actor and Hayes fan Martin Freeman (produced by Mark Baxter/directed by Lee Cogswell – Summer 2015)

Featuring exclusive interviews with people that knew him, worked with him, musicians influenced by him, people from the music industry and fans, Tubby Hayes – A Man In A Hurry charts the life and times of Tubby Hayes.

January 30th 2015 marks what would have been the 80th birthday of Edward Brian Hayes, known to the world of jazz as Tubby.

A professional jazz musician at just fifteen, by his untimely death at thirty-eight, he had left behind a body of work, that has both stood the test of time and has proven to be an inspiration to many like minded musicians today.

For ten years from the mid 1950s to the middle of 1960s, jazz musician, composer and arranger, Tubby Hayes became a household name in Britain.

He had his own shows on national television and he played on some of the most iconic recordings of that era, including the soundtracks to the films ‘Alfie’ and ‘The Italian Job’.

Tubby became the first solo UK jazz performer to be invited to play in the United States, where Miles Davis attended his first gig in New York and his services were much in demand here in the UK by the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones and Dizzy Gillespie.

However, the combination of years of over work, drug abuse and the rise of Pop music in the UK – much to the detriment of the world of British jazz – ultimately found Tubby struggling to complete sometimes poorly attended concerts.

He had burnt very brightly but then quickly faded from the general publics consciousness soon after his untimely death in June 1973.

Perhaps, now a forgotten man by many.

But 2015, over forty years since his sad demise, Tubby and his numerous recordings from a highly productive twenty-year period have steadily attracted a growing band of dedicated fans around the globe.

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26th Jan2015

Renegades of Jazz ‘Paradise Lost’ (Agogo) 4/5

by ukvibe

renegades-of-jazzFans of Renegades of Jazz will love “Paradise Lost”, but then again, new listeners will do that, too! RoJ’s album is out now. This is the group’s second album, an innovative return, and, as Ornette Coleman would put it, “something else…” Sounding dark, very dark indeed, eight of the twelve tracks feature collaborations with some intriguing artists, Greg Blackman and Karin Ploog, to mention but a couple. The rest are up to the listeners to discover and enjoy, but suffice to say that all combinations work well. They are at the core of this new album. “Paradise Lost” needs to be handled with care, as one proceeds to listen, track by track, whether upbeat or not, the music draws one in and one is lost, yes, lost, just like John Milton intended it with his beautiful work… To delve a little bit into the world of literature, as Milton put it, Paradise Lost was “to justify the ways of God to men”, in parallel RoJ’s “Paradise Lost” is not a justification, but rather an invitation to discover a world where dark and light mix but where one doesn’t know what to expect until one has entered that world. And it is just this delving into the unknown that makes the album such a great one.
Enter at your peril? Yes, with such delights waiting in the penumbra.

Outstanding tracks are: “Ban-Shee” – a dark upbeat song pulling one into an irresistible crescendo and “Tamerlane” (feat. Greg Blackman) – like a rough-cut diamond. “Lucifer’s rising” is an incredibly mesmerizing track and, at times, scarily so. Then one listens to the track “Fire” featuring Aspects. What to do, but be in awe. This is a genius collaboration. The Bristol hip-hop band are just right and add even more value to an already precious album. A remembrance of the good old “Jazzmatazz” era! The voice of Chima Anya is suave realism on “Death Grip”. A reminder of how well rap and jazz can go together at times. And, to add to this already beautiful gem, the album cover is by the great 19th century artist, Gustave Dore’ (one of his engravings for Milton’s book), so all in all, music, literature and art all mix into one. Just perfect!

Erminia Yardley

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24th Jan2015

Vijay Iyer and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) ‘Radhe Radhe. Rites of Holi’ DVD or Blue Ray (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

vijay-iyerThis is an interesting venture from ECM that combines wordless documentary and music to useful effect and is a homage of sorts to the music and dance collaboration of Russian composer Stravinsky and choreographer Nijinsky on the famous ballet ‘Le Sacré du Printemps. An initial thirty-five minute documentary on India provides a visual feast and backdrop with dance sequences featuring Nawazaddin Siddiqui. From a musical perspective, Iyer performs on acoustic piano with accompanying in the form of the ICE who add something of a classical edge with brass, flute and woodwind. The extended suite goes through various stages and this is reflected in the pace of the music with one part sounding as though it has been heavily influenced by Manuel de Falla’s ‘Fire Dance’ and here the combination of flute, brass and percussion works especially well. A bonus near twenty-minute segment includes the band in live performance. Full marks to ECM for having the foresight to undertake this exploration of music and dance. Hopefully, at some stage there will be a resulting CD with extra pieces.

Tim Stenhouse

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23rd Jan2015

Robin Williamson ‘Trusting in the Rising’ (ECM) 3/5

by ukvibe

robin-williamsonVeteran Scottish folk singer and former member of the Incredible String Band returns with an esoteric release that is inspired in large part by the poetry of Blake, Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman. Produced by Steve Lake, what immediately attracts the listener’s attention is the unusual array of instrumentation for a folk album and this includes vibraphone, viola and percussion. This is certainly folk music, but with a difference. Now an octogenarian, there is something of a zen-llike quality to some of the songs as illustrated on the intro to ‘Just West of Monmouth’ which features a spoken delivery. It has to be stressed that the voice is not quite what is once was and the lyrics are, in parts, a tad clichéd. That said, there is still lyrical beauty to be found on songs such as ‘Roads’ and expansive instrumentation when let loose on numbers such as ‘Night comes quick in L.A.’. Maybe not the first port of entry for newcomers to Robin Williamson’s work, but a piece of work that gains in interest with repeated listens.

Tim Stenhouse

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22nd Jan2015

Various ‘The Afrosound of Colombia Vol. 2′ CD/2LP (Vampi Soul) 5/5

by ukvibe

afrosound-colombia-vol2If it is old-school cumbia, charanga and Afro-funk with a Colombian flavour you are after, then this beautifully presented and put together compilation by DJ Bongohead aka Pablo Yglesias is definitely for you. Recent years have seen the classic vaults of Discos Fuentes well and truly pillaged, yet there is still music of quality to be unearthed for a wider audience and this is very much a connoisseur’s guide to Afro-Colombian music with the offshoot labels Tropical and Machuca the subject of an-depth investigation here and the listener is most certainly the winner. For some collective call and response vocals plus accordion, then the percussive ‘Juventud flaca y loca’ by Lisandro Meza y su Combo Gigante will delight and there is some fine flute playing into the bargain. Breezy and rustic, ‘Cumbia de luna’ by the intriguingly named Combo Loco (crazy Combo) is an irresistible trip back in time while there are echoes of early salsa with brassy saxophone and joint lead vocals on Orquesta Ritmo de Sabanas and ‘Qué se hicieron’. Arguably strongest of all is the heavyweight Afro-Cuban rhythms of Michi Sarmiento y su Combo Bravo on the gorgeous sounding ‘Calenita’ with a fine piano solo. Sumptuously packaged in a deluxe edition inner sleeve complete with photos galore and extensive liner notes that leave practically no stone unturned on the information front, this mini anthology is finely rounded off by a terrific illustration on the cover with cartoon images of individual singers. A lovely creative way to attract our attention to the music, but in truth it needs little or no hype and stands up to the test of time magnificently.

Tim Stenhouse

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21st Jan2015

Marte Röling

by ukvibe

marte-rolingMarte Röling, niece of artist Matthijs Röling and niece of the polemologist Bert Röling, is a Dutch lithographer born in Amsterdam on 16th December 1939. Since 1959 she has exhibited in Europe and the United States, and perhaps better known for her large paintings and sculptures (Sculpture of Röling at the Harmonie Building can be found at the University of Groningen). In the sixties she won the Hilversum Culture Prize and worked with Jeanne Rose, fashion editor at Het Parool, who asked her to make fashion drawings. Although she had already made her mark back in 1990, notably with a successful exhibition of examples of her work at the Paris Biennale, it is back in 1990 that we familiarise ourselves with her work for Fontana Records, now designing album covers, stamps, theatre sets, murals, posters, costumes, reliefs and even movies. It was then, during the 1990s, that her canal-side apartment in Amsterdam, lit by the broad Dutch skies, was perpetually cleared for action because during those days commissions from public bodies and private persons flowed in almost as fast as Marte could meet them. Art’s in the blood, luckily. Both parents were artists and the training Marte received at the Amsterdam Academy brought a ready talent to early fruition. Today, Marte’s deepest mental affinities are with Picasso, but she is not automatically bored by people who prefer Leonardo da Vinci; indeed, she is bored by no-one or nothing that gives her a “new slant on things.” She reads widely, but not systematically, and claims to be interested in politics. As for the growing reputation that has brought her (among other things) appearances on television, she remarks: “It would be unnatural if I didn’t like that kind of thing, wouldn’t it? But my real ambition is to become a better and better artist.” On January 17, 2010 Röling was appointed Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion.

Steve Williams

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20th Jan2015

Various ‘Street Sounds presents Jazz Funk classics vol. 1′ 3 CD (Street Sounds) 5/5

by ukvibe

jazz-funk-classics-vol.1The Street Sounds logo was synonymous in the mid-late 1980s for quality compilations chronicling the roots of the underground dance music scene and this ranged from classic disco/boogie with the West End label and rare groove plus the origins of hip-hop to the superb ‘Jazz Juice’ albums that skilfully pillaged the crème de la crème of instrumental, vocalese and Latin jazz, and they are all required listening for anyone who wishes to acquire a more specialist knowledge of the field. Re-vamping the label for the twenty-first century is henceforth label owner Morgan Khan’s new goal and this new compilation of the golden era of jazz-funk from the 1970s is first up and served as a musical platter that is packed full of tasty saboroso vibes. Jazz-Funk is a much used and at times misunderstood and abused term, yet at its essence it was about gaining a foothold into the world of jazz via accessible groove-driven music that focused on instrumental prowess, but never at the expense of losing the melody. It was largely, but not exclusively inspired by the sounds emanating from the United States (groups such as Atmosfear, Central Line, Freeez, High Tension and Level 42 all being examples of the UK side and are not included here, but might form part of a future anthology of the UK scene). Musicians such as Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Lonnie Liston Smith to name but three became the heroes for a new generation of youth who were tired of the sugar-coated offerings of the BBC dictated pop charts.

Revisiting the generously timed tracks on offer here some thirty years after they initially surfaced, one cannot but be impressed by how successful these numbers in their extended version proved in both the pop and soul/R &B charts from the mid-1970s through to the early 1980s. Tom Browne scored a major hit with ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ while pianist Rodney Franklin went into the higher echelons of the top ten with a virtually instrumental 45, ‘The Groove’, something that only the likes of Acker Bilk, Dave Brubeck and Ramsey Lewis had achieved previously. It is still the catchiest of grooves and stands the test of time. Less of a major commercial hit, but arguably a greater influence on the movement as a whole was Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘Expansions’ which is now rightly regarded as an anthem and the various albums and compilations of his music last year re-issued on the ACE label are well worth exploring if you are unfamiliar.

The influence of disco played its part in the late 1970s on jazz-inspired musicians and this is illustrated by the vocoder vocals on Herbie Hancock’s classic ‘I thought it was you’, or on the percussive ‘Black is the colour’ by Wilbert Logmire. A good deal of the dancefloor oriented jazz put off jazz purists, as on the excellent trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s ‘Prance On’, but then jazz for a long period of time from the 1920s through to the mid-1940s was precisely a music that was intended for dancefloor consumption and nobody complained when Duke Ellington and Count Basie adapted their music to these new dance trends. Donald Byrd came in for a whole raft of criticism when he wholeheartedly embraced the new jazz-funk sound and served as educator and leader to the Blackbyrds with their offering ‘Rock Creek Park’ a definitive slice of jazz-funk magic. Byrd’s Blue Note label mate Bobbi Humphrey followed suit and still managed to incorporate flute solos on the exquisite ‘Harlem River Drive’ while Grover Washington Jr. extended the boundaries of the Motown franchise with his soulful take on jazz and ‘Mister Magic’ is a fine illustration. The Crusaders were one of the key groups of the era and are featured here on more than one occasion and in various guises. They contribute the backing instrumental sound to tenorist Wilton Felder’s epic 1981 number ‘Inherit the wind’ which showcased the fabulous vocals of one Bobby Womack who has sadly recently departed. Only the soul boy anthem by Frankie Beverly and Maze, ‘Before I let you go’, sounds slightly out-of-place, but that is minor quibble and it is a fine song in its own right. A nice touch was to include an updated and excellent version of George Benson’s ‘Breezin’ with vocals coming courtesy of soul-jazzer Al Jarreau. He could have had a song included as a leader. Fantastic value for money as always with Street Sounds and one hopes that Street Sound will go on to explore some other more specialised aspects of the music scene.

Tim Stenhouse

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