27th May2016

Kenny Barron Trio ‘Book of Intuition’ (Impulse!) 4/5

by ukvibe

kenny-barron-trioPianist Kenny Barron is one of the finest jazz musicians on the planet and his impressive CV includes the all-time greats from a 1960s tenure with Dizzy Gillespie to regular accompanist with Stan Getz, and recording at various times with the likes of James Moody and Yusef Lateef, to mention but a few. However, from the mid-1970s onwards, Barron has regularly recorded as a leader and in the early noughties this included two fabulous live sets in New York. With six decades of work before him, Kenny Barron has stacked up a wealth of experience. Twenty selections were whittled down to ten, and many of these have served as a vehicle for regular live performances.
Thus the recently re-invigorated and re-launched historical label Impulse, home for Ahmad Jamal as well as Duke Ellington’s smaller group projects during the 1960s, is an appropriate setting, then, for Kenny Barron’s latest endeavour, another trio album this time in the studio with young Turks Kiyoshi Kitagawa featuring on double bass while Jonathan Blake occupies the drums with aplomb. Occupying the executive producer role is none other than Frenchman Jean-Philippe Allard and it was he who was responsible for many of the Gitanes/Verve recordings of the 1990s on which Kenny Barron participated along with Joe Henderson and Randy Weston. Without question, the whole is enhanced by a classy French input to the graphic presentation.

The new recording took only two days to complete and there is certainly a spontaneity about the music that indicates that the musicians allowed the music to flow organically and the listener is most certainly the beneficiary. Seven of the pieces are Barron originals previously recorded, but here re-interpreted and a continued love of the music of Monk is attested to with two covers while Charlie Haden is the other composer revisited. Of particular note is the warm tribute to the recently departed bassist Charlie Haden on ‘Nightfall’ and this is supplemented in the sleeve notes by a personal written tribute by Barron.

Barron’s own influences beyond Monk are revealed on the cu-bop driven ‘Bud Like’ that has similarities to ‘Un poco loco’ in its phrasing. An underlying Brazilian influence permeates the opener, ‘Magic Dance’, which is a Barron original that he has rarely performed and only recorded on Japanese import previously. What impresses is how the new versions condense the larger group settings of the original versions. This is the case of a piece such as ‘Lunacy’ where Eddie Henderson, John Stubblefield added brass phrasings to the original live performance, the trio reading still manages to sound bigger than the sum of its parts. Two lesser known Monk originals, ‘Light Blue’ and ‘Shuffle Boil’, the latter a solo number for Barron complete the package and, like Barry Harris and Steve Lacy, are testimony to Barron’s abiding love of the be-bop maestro. Masterful craftsmanship from the leader.

Tim Stenhouse

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26th May2016

Xantoné Blacq Presents…

by ukvibe

Xantoné-Blacq

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26th May2016

Mammal Hands ‘Floa’ LP/CD/Dig (Gondwana) 4/5

by ukvibe

mammal-handsHere is a welcome return for East Anglian band Mammal Hands who weigh in with a strong follow up to the excellent debut that came out Gondwana eighteen months ago in ‘Animalia’. Once again minimalist cover graphics, possibly a nod to the Factory label that became inextricably linked with the Manchester indie scene, make this CD stand out from the crowd and the same can certainly be said of the music within.
Mammal Hands have carved out their own distinctive path that takes on multiple influences that range from Sufi and African trance to eastern European and Irish folk influences. Contemporary improvised and electronica music are skilfully weaved into the mix and Weather Report are surely one of the major jazz influences for the band. This reviewer immediately warmed to the intimacy of ‘Hourglass’ and the ability of the band to conjure up seemingly simple, yet highly effective and melodic collective riffs, with an empathy between piano and saxophone evident here. That should come as little surprise since they are the brotherly nucleus of the band in pianist Nick Smart and saxophonist Jordan Smart. A real favourite is the North African flavoured ‘Think anything’ that has at once a supplementary and complementary Latin undercurrent with sensitive percussive accompaniment from regular drummer and tabla player, Jesse Barrett. At times the interplay between musicians takes the breath away as illustrated on the percussion plus saxophone intro to ‘Kudu’. Hints of acoustic period Steps Ahead emerge on ‘Hillum’, with another pretty folk-tinged melody and the lilting hues of ‘Quiet fire’. This is music for the twenty-first century, and very much in keeping with the musical ‘global village’ that we now inhabit. What marks Mammal Hands out from the rest is the creative use of such resources while still retaining their own image.

If Mammal Hands receive sufficient promotion, they will surely appeal to an audience well beyond the already committed jazz fraternity and there is floating quality to their work in general that is not without recalling the most lyrical of EST. Mammal Hands will be performing live on the bank holiday Saturday (27 May) at the launch of their new album in their native city of Norwich and on 31 May at the Jazz Café in London.

Tim Stenhouse

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25th May2016

Kenneth Dahl Knudsen Orchestra ‘We’ll Meet In The Rain’ (Two Rivers) 5/5

by ukvibe

kenneth-dahl-knudsen-orchestraI’m sitting on a rocky outcrop, overlooking a distant, hazy valley; contemplating, waiting for the sun to rise. As the deep blue hues of the Northern sky begin to lighten, I look below as a half-hidden landscape gradually reveals itself. Gently frozen lakes, shimmering trees, long, angular rocks, all peaceful and stately in their serenity. And as I sit, in reflective pose, thinking of someone who holds a very special place within my heart, my soul awakens as I see the first sparks of sunlight break from the horizon. And very quickly, as if a miracle is taking place, magnificent shafts of light the colour of my heart, race toward me, lighting up the majestic landscape in front of my eyes. The day is new. The time is now. And I am alive. Every inch of my body feels the gentle, caressing breeze, my senses heightened as mind, body and spirit become one with everything that is. These are my thoughts as I listen intently to Kenneth Dahl Knudsen Orchestra’s “We’ll Meet In The Rain”, a stunningly beautiful and evocative album. Powerful, emotional, intense and richly rewarding, this music is all of these things….and more.
Bassist/composer Knudsen was born and raised in Denmark, and as is often the case in life, it was on returning from a time away from his homeland that he first found inspiration for this album; “It seems like all the music I’ve written for this album, is basically soundtracks to the thoughts of my mind.” He continues; “There is always a story or a person on my mind when I compose for this orchestra… I’ll walk around with that thought on my mind for some time, and make it evolve into musical ideas in my head, before I even touch the piano.”

One of the first things that strikes me about this music, is its naturalness. There is such an open, honest feel to it, that the listener actually senses the composer’s thoughts and intentions whilst listening. There is a breathtaking beauty to it, provided not only by the skill of the composer’s writing, but also by the strength and poignance in the way it is performed. The orchestra features 19 of Europe’s best young improvisers, all up and coming musicians in their own right. It is essentially a jazz orchestra, conducted by Malte Schiller, and also featuring the wonderful vocals of Marie Seferian. Each piece of music weaves its own magical tale; a spellbinding combination of jazz, folk and classical music. What does stand out a country mile is the importance to the writer of Danish folk music traditions. I asked the composer if he felt this was as important to him as his jazz influences; “Yes for sure. I mean, the jazz is important because that’s the area of work I’m in. But it’s not me. It’s just what I’ve learned. I’ve been playing jazz for 15 years, but I was born into this part of the world where the music is simple, epic and very, very beautiful. It’s a folk tradition here, and I like it more and more every day, as I mature.” I went on to ask him about who, if anyone in particular has influenced him musically over the years, and I think his response sums up well his open-minded attitude, one which has obviously helped him develop his music in such a way as to make writing this beautiful album possible; as a musician yes, but essentially as a human being; “I’ve always liked the players that can create some tension and release. I like players that can bring out a lot of emotions. For example, a guy like Gilad Hekselman. I did 2 albums with him. For bass players I like Pattitucci, Colley, Mcbride and a guy called Renaud Garcia Fons, a very inspiring musician. In general I think I just try to soak up all the inspiration I get through travels and music, whether it’s in Europe, The US, South America or Japan. To me music is music and people are people. And it changes all the time and that’s totally OK. I mean, jazz is only about 100 years old. Let’s not put ourselves into boxes all the time.”

“We’ll Meet In The Rain” begins with “Light Unfolds”, with its beautiful opening suggesting “first encounters” as the composer puts it, “and thinking back on them and reflecting about the outcome as a learning experience and joy.” The tune’s welcoming intro soon develops into a magical celebration of life, love and friendship, as Seferian’s vocal melodies turn the glimpses of light into a raging, passionate sunrise for all the earth to enjoy. The level of musicianship throughout is excellent, with some of the solos, especially on sax and trumpet, simply spellbinding. There’s a youthful energy that comes across in the music, one which often surprises and delights. There is a sensitive romanticism to Knudsen’s writing, yet this often manifests itself as if in a passionate embrace. On “Krig og Kaerlighed”‘ inspired by the composer’s chance meeting with a group of Syrian refugees, we get a clear understanding of what he refers to as “tension and release”, with the rising and falling of the music, gripping and intense, before letting go. Brilliant sax and trumpets intertwine as the tune reaches fever pitch. The funkier “Dapo” uses folk traditions in a stunning way, to take us on a wonderful journey, exploring thoughts and themes, based on the bassist’s friendship with a Nigerian musician whilst spending time in Berlin. There’s a much more reflective nature to “The Camera Man”, the orchestral strings and voice combining to create one of the most wonderful pieces of music you will hear this year. “A Merry Song”, with its Garbarek/ECM – like musical colours and textures, sweeps the listener up in its depth of emotion. Knudsen wrote the melody when his mother became ill, and one can hear the love shining out from the music being performed. As the composer says; “from sadness and suffering, to joy and a celebration of life…” Knudsen refers to his country’s folk music traditions as being “simple and very, very beautiful”, and this is perfectly captured on “Mettelody”, a tune without an ending… If seeing the positives is a gift in a person, Knudson has that gift, with the upbeat “Victoria’s World” having been written to celebrate the life of his autistic niece, Victoria. An incredibly uplifting piece of music. The title track, “We’ll Meet In The Rain” is perhaps best explained by the composer himself; “You will cross paths with a lot of people in your life. Some for a short time, and some for life… You’ll meet these people in different ways, but most of them, through other people. Like the drops of rain running down a window, meeting new drops, splitting into new groups, forming beautiful patterns.” His words are almost as beautiful as his music. A common theme through the whole album is the composer’s wonderful, sensitive arrangements, bringing the best out of the musicians in a way that shows such maturity and musical intelligence. The final track “Tucked In”, a piece that teeters on the brink for so long, hanging on the thread of a single, soulful piano note, gradually builds until eventually leading the listener into the essence of what this music is all about… With stirring emotion the temperature rises until it explodes from within into a wonderful life of its own, like a first kiss, like seeing a baby being born, like being reunited with long-lost parents… whichever way one chooses to describe it, this is a moving, life-affirming piece of music. A fitting end to an incredible album.

It’s rare to hear an album that takes the listener on an emotional journey such as “We’ll Meet In The Rain” does. This will undoubtedly be one of my album’s of the year, and I emplore you to go and buy it now. It is only a limited edition release, so don’t hang around. Kenneth Dahl Knudsen’s music has enriched my life and for that I simply and sincerely say “thank you”. It is a pleasure to have experienced this music, one which continues to grow with every listen.

Mike Gates

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24th May2016

Ana Moura ‘Moura’ (Universal Portugal/Blue Wrasse) 4/5

by ukvibe

anamoura_3fasePortugese fado singer Ana Moura returns for her sixth album in total, and the music on this occasion embraces both traditional fado territory and, in addition, looks beyond to other influences, pop and roots. This time round the album is overseen by the expert production talents of Larry Klein, who has previously done wonders for both Joni Mitchell and Madeleine Peyroux. Klein’s understated production works well for the majority of songs and is exemplified on the gentle, uplifting number that is ‘Ninharia’, with Portugese guitar in the foreground and the lovely use of dissonant guitar. For those hitherto unfamiliar with this music genre, fado is the Portugese equivalent of the blues. While it may take time to soak on first listen, once fully digested it has the ability to get right under the skin.
Moura excels on the impassioned vocals to the decidedly laid back vibe of ‘Moura encantada’ and the haunting strings make this one of the album’s most atmospheric songs. African tinges creep in on the uptempo, ‘Fado dançado’, while a duet of great refinement and an album highlight comes in the form of ‘Eu entrego’ (‘I give over’) where Moura duets with Cuban diva and Buena Vista Social Club member Omara Portuondo. Fans of the veteran Cuban sound will love this.

In places the pop influence is omnipresent as on the contemporary ballad, ‘Cantiga de Abrigo’, with Klein’s distinctive keyboards adding a touch of sophistication to proceedings. Only on ‘Dia de folga’ does the rock-tinged guitar accompaniment sound out-of-place. This contrasts with the pared down production on ‘Ai eu!’ (‘Oh me!’) which will appeal well beyond the strictly roots audience and fado unquestionably has universal appeal. The Everly Brothers emerge as an unlikely influence on the Afro-Latin meets rock and roll feel of ‘Agora é que é’ (‘Now is the time’) and Moura’s vocals soar over the guitars in stunning fashion.

Ana Maura is now well and truly established as modern-day fadista who, in her native Portugal, is seen as a serious rival to her better known rival, Mariza. Between them, they have done a marvellous job of carrying on the lineage of Amalia Rodrigues, finding new avenues to explore. This new recording expands upon the fado tradition and, in the process, uncovers some new potential areas for cross-pollination.

Tim Stenhouse

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22nd May2016

Dick Oatts/Mats Holmquist New York Jazz Orchestra ‘A Tribute to Herbie + 1’ CD/DIG (Mama) 3/5

by ukvibe

oatts-holmquistBoth Dick Oatts and Mats Holmquist come from the world of Big Band Jazz. Oatts has been performing and recording since the 1970’s, most notably as a sideman with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. He is currently the lead woodwind player and Artistic Director of The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, originally founded by Jones and Lewis. Whilst Holmquist can’t currently match Oatts’s impressive back catalogue he has made a name for himself through his arrangements of classic works by Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter.
In planning this project the pair brought together a talented pool of musicians from New York, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Describing the group as an Orchestra might be a bit of a push though, given that it comprises only of brass, woodwind and rhythm sections; in this instance Big Band is probably more appropriate.
In case you had not already guessed, this album is Holmquist’s homage to another of the 60’s/70’s Jazz gods, Herbie Hancock. The plus one in the title relates to the only original composition, “Stevie R”, dedicated to another one of Holmquist’s inspirations, Steve Reich.
With the exception of “Chameleon” and “Stevie R”, the music comes from Hancock’s Blue Note period in the 60’s. My initial impression, before listening to the album, was that some of the choices seemed a bit safe, especially as Hancock’s work has previously been interpreted in a Big Band setting (take Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra’s Live in Montreux, which Dick Oatts performed on).

It’s the arrangements that make this album different. Holmquist refers to his technique as “Big Band Minimalism”, inspired by the likes of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. If the thought of Big Band jazz mixed with art music fills you with dread then don’t worry. His arrangements do not deconstruct the originals; rather they maintain and repeat the main themes developed to his style.

The results, whilst not exactly revolutionary (this is big band jazz after all) are an interesting take on familiar ground. The brass section is much busier, with a series of short repetitive notes, different instruments adding distinct voices, at times across each other. This intricate phrasing and layering of sound is characteristic of the album and is testament to the talent involved given that they only had a day and a half to rehearse and record.

The album opens with “Cantaloupe Island”, with it’s instantly recognisable piano line. The tempo is faster than the Hancock original and the sound more powerful, as you would imagine. The solos by Adam Birnbaum on piano and Mark Gross on alto sax stand out.

The minimalist style is immediately apparent from the opening bars of “Chameleon”. The piano starts with a single note, becoming four, introducing sax, trombone and trumpets who build similarly before combining for the hook. Whilst Holmquist tries to add different texture towards the end with a guitar solo the track is overlong for my liking, a criticism that I would level at the original as well.

“Dolphin Dance” gives some respite from the energy in the album up to that point, before “Eye of the Hurricane” cranks up the tempo again. Whilst I prefer the Mel Lewis/Bob Mintzer-arranged version for intensity this version swings and uses the original theme really well.

“Maiden Voyage” lends itself to a bigger production. The original itself is quite minimalist, to which Holmquist adds a touch more colour both in the chorus and the solos (most notably from Dick Oatts on soprano sax). My one criticism would be the spaced out, echo filled ending, which feels lacklustre.

For me the pop sounding “Stevie R” does not really fit within the rest of the album, although it does adhere to Holmquist’s approach to music making.

Having played the album any number of times now, I find myself with the same thought; that whilst I enjoy individual tracks I find the overall sound too busy, too overwhelming to make listening to the whole thing an easy experience.

Andy Hazell

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16th May2016

James Tatum ‘Contemporary Jazz Mass’ / ‘Live at Orchestra Hall & The Paradise Theater’ CD/DIG/Vinyl (Jazzman) 5/5

by ukvibe

james-tatumOwning a copy of the original Contemporary Jazz Mass LP takes time, effort and money. Depending on condition, getting hold of a copy will probably set you back somewhere in the region of £200 – £300 and may take several months of searching online.
For those of you who don’t want to wait or spend the heightened price tag then fortunately Jazzman Records have re-issued Contemporary Jazz Mass on Vinyl, Digital and CD. The latter includes Tatum’s second album, ”Live at Orchestra Hall & the Paradise Theater” as well.
I have a fairly pragmatic approach to re-issues; providing the sound quality is good enough then I’m prepared to accept the compromise. Of course, Jazzman has a proven track record when it comes to these types of releases, providing detailed liner notes to help contextualise the artist and the release as well as the music itself.
Tatum was commissioned by St Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church, Detroit to compose the Mass. His inspiration came from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts performed some years earlier. At the time Ellington’s Concerts were quite controversial. Whilst they contained scriptural references they did not follow liturgical form and whilst Ellington did not intend this religious conservatives responded poorly to what they saw as a syncretistic amalgamation of faith and jazz. Broadly speaking however the Concerts were received positively and in the following years a number of similar projects combined elements of liturgical structure and/or content with jazz. Examples include Paul Horn and Lalo Schifrin’s “Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts”, Mary Lou Williams’ “Mary Lou’s Mass” and “Black Christ of the Andes”, but gospel/choral influences are also evident in work by others – Donald Byrd, Archie Shepp, Andrew Hill and Max Roach, for example.

Tatum’s Mass avoided the controversy of these quasi-religious compositions by sticking to the liturgical text.

The Mass was first performed at St Cecilia’s in May 1973, and released as an album on Tatum’s own JTTP Record label in 1974. The band comprised of Tatum’s regular trio plus additional local Detroit musicians drafted in for the occasion. Conwell Carrington and Ursula Walker provided vocals with choral support.

Music helps create and heighten the tone of ceremony and ritual. It’s important to understand that this music was written for a church service, but nonetheless this tone, and the emotional response it evokes, can resonate in the secular world as well, whether we call it Spiritual or Gospel Jazz.

The opening bars of “Introduction/Lord Have Mercy” are solemn, with horns calling the listener to attention and acting as a clarion call. The track has a distinct, dramatic quality, signifying the transformation from the mundane to the spiritual. When Carrington’s voice first enters, towards the end of the composition, it instills a slightly unnerving sense of foreboding in his passionate baritone.

“Lord Have Mercy” aside the rest of the album has a lighter tone, a mixture of songs and instrumentals, rich in melody and harmony.

For me the vocal roles are quite defined and both are equally appealing. Carrington’s style is worldly, knowing, paternal even, Walker’s no less powerful but filled with optimism. These different means of expression are most apparent on the devotional “Gloria” which features both leads. “Holy, Holy, Holy” is mellifluously light and uplifting, and “The Lord’s Prayer”, well we all know the lyrics, don’t we?

Tracks like “Amen” and “Alleluia” feature the 13-piece choir, The Motif. The latter opens slowly, with a deliberate pulse-like rhythm lifted by soft harmonies and Tatum’s embellishments on keys. This meditative calm is dispelled when the tempo picks up and the musicians come to the fore, not in an act of ego, but to exult the congregation.

Throughout, the intention of the music is not to showcase the virtuosity of the musicians involved, but at different times to stimulate contemplation, devotion and praise. The results are both reverent and enriching. Taylor’s delightfully meandering lines on the electric piano lift the melodies; take my favourite instrumental track, “Communion” for example.

As much as the music arouses an emotional response centred in the spiritual sound and messages, for me it is also conjures up the structure it is was performed in as well. The sound is wonderfully open, to the extent that you can imagine it reverberating around the expanse of the church.

“Live at Orchestra Hall & the Paradise Theater”, recorded 7 years later, is a continuation in style, albeit without the consistent intensity or quality of his seminal work. It’s no coincidence that the strongest track in this set, “Zoombah Lu”, is reminiscent of tracks like “Alleluia”.

Jazzman had already released several tracks from these LPs prior to this release and I approached it with some concern that we had already heard the best. I’m happy to report that there is plenty more to enjoy and this, for me, is the best re-issue of the year so far.

Andy Hazell

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15th May2016

Stoop Quintet ‘Confession’ (ASC) 4/5

by ukvibe

stoop-quintet“Confession” is the excellent debut from Stoop Quintet, a band formed at the University of York, led by pianist/composer Jonathan Brigg. The album has a deeply rich and darkly melodic feel to it, with sudden, refreshing bursts of improvisation. Band-leader Brigg is joined by Sam Miles on saxophones, Alex Munk on guitar, Flo Moore on bass, and Dave Smyth on drums. Together the quintet have forged an engrossing originality that not only highlights the compositional skills of Brigg, but also brings to life a togetherness and richly entertaining balance of thought-provoking and expressionistic music. “Since writing for “Ranch” for Threads Orchestra in 2012,” says Briggs, “I’ve been preoccupied with the challenge of composing for improvising musicians, while at the same time trying to honour my classical roots. Confession takes a step closer towards a jazz aesthetic, but the influences remain diverse and the role of improvisation within the music is perhaps unusual.” What is clear from listening to this album, is that each and every musician involved contributes an important role in how the tunes develop. One can hear that it’s cleverly written, but at the same time, it’s also very evident that the skill and understanding of the quintet as a whole manage to take tunes on to even greater heights.

The opening track “Ranch” gives a clear indication of the inventiveness that flows throughout the whole album. There’s often a quirkiness and always an edginess to the music that I really like. The opening riff of this tune leads into a rocky guitar solo from Munk, before journeying on, changing pace, exploring the riff and leading into the first of many stunning improvised sax solos from Miles, this one on soprano. Another feature of the tunes is just how well bassist Moore and drummer Smyth drive the pieces with a deeply understated cool groove. The impeccable piano and bass-led riff of “Turn” has a maturity to it, one that suggests this band have been playing together far longer than they actually have. There’s a warmth and depth to the music that is very satisfying. On “Fable”, undoubtedly one of my favourite tracks on the album, Briggs’ haunting piano draws the listener in. His tunes may be like short stories individually, but on this piece he creates a whole new world for the listener to fall into. But what really lifts this track into a deeper, darker, more emotional place, is Sam Miles’ sax solo. His playing truly sends shivers down my spine with an awesome tone to his tenor playing, totally enthralling. He has to be one of the most promising saxophonists on the UK scene at the moment and I can’t wait to hear more from him in the future. “Stoop Kid” is a far more exploratory piece, with conversations taking place between the instruments, inquiring and responding in various ways before the tension breaks and the tune continues to evolve. The energetic, romping “Sevens” has a classical/jazz avante grade feel to it, but it never loses the listener’s attention. Briggs’ piano is the rock on which most of the music is built, with him rarely coming to the fore, but here he does, with an infectious style to his playing that suggests a restlessness, a kind of searching to still a cluttered, over-active mind. The beauty of “Spring Song” is a stunning change of pace, with Miles’ mellow soprano working beautifully with Munk’s sensitive guitar. When Briggs’s piano brings in the melody, it’s a wonderful sound, a textural and rewarding palette of colours. The title track “Confession” is once again a piece that evolves, with many changes of mood and atmosphere all within this one tune. I’m listening to a very good composer here, as the band lead me through this confession in alluring, revealing style. The music twists and turns, taking me on journey of surprise and intrigue. The album closes with “Soldier On”, a stunning end to the recording. It opens with some ethereal guitar, before developing into a slow, pensive, yet astoundingly beautiful, soothing piece of music. I found myself putting this track on repeat several times, just to make it four or five times longer… the time needed sometimes to draw breath in a crazy world, the time needed to calm the mind and revitalise the soul.

“Confession” is a wonderful debut from Stoop Quintet. It’s so good to hear music like this being released, especially given the fact that they are all relatively young UK musicians still making their way in the music world. They have certainly made their mark here, and I for one cannot wait to hear how this quintet develops in the future.

Mike Gates

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09th May2016

Matthew Fries ‘Parallel States’ (Xcappa) 3/5

by ukvibe

matthew-friesHere’s an interesting concept. “Parallel States” is a collection of nine solo pieces of music from pianist Matthew Fries, composed in a collaborative project with his sister, visual artist Loryn Spangler-Jones. Some of the music was inspired by the paintings, and vice-versa. Fries explains: “Loryn and I worked together to create a special set of music and art. We began by discussing what inspires us as artists, and we decided to step up the creative challenge by inspiring each other directly to create new work. To do this we reached across the boundaries of art and music and sent each other samples of what we were working on. We both then created pieces inspired by what we were sent. What we ended up with is a set of parallel art and music.” If you stop and think about it, this concept isn’t perhaps as unusual as it sounds at first. Musicians and artists take inspiration from all things too numerous to mention, including what they see, hear, feel, touch, taste and smell. The emotive reaction to such things often inspire a musician or artist on to great new things. In this case though, the idea behind the project is far more specific, with brother and sister pooling their combined talents to work together on a shared creative process. “It went both ways” Spangler-Jones adds, “Each song has a corresponding piece of work with the same title to accompany it”.

Pianist/composer Fries lives in New York and tours frequently with his collaborative trio “TRI-FI”. He is a regular member of Curtis Stigers’ band and also performs with a diverse line-up of musicians including Stacey Kent, DeeDee Bridgewater, Steve Wilson and Dave Samuels, to name but a few. “Parallel States” is the composer’s first solo piano album, one which brought new challenges to the pianist, not just inherently within the project itself, but also in not having other musicians alongside him. “This is my first solo piano recording. I’ve been feeling for a long time that I wanted to record this genre, but it was a real challenge for me” he says. “Playing solo piano you’re so free to express yourself, but you’re also exposing a very personal view of your music. Some of the tunes are more fully composed piano pieces, and others are more jazz songs that are open to a more traditional jazz interpretation. All of the recorded performances rely heavily on improvisation.”

As an avid music listener, and occasional art lover, I found myself drawn in to this project. The front cover of the album sleeve features Loryn Spangler-Jones’ visual piece “Whirl”. Inside, there are three further small images from the artist, with explanatory text and information. One thing that strikes me is that the overall experience of listening to this album could have been improved if separate prints of the artist’s work were supplied within the album’s packaging. This would have given an added understanding as to how the visual art was interpreted by the composer, and in turn, how the music inspired the artist. Obviously this might well have been financially difficult to do, but I do feel that the overall experience would have been heightened.

There is some wonderful, lyrical, expressive playing to be enjoyed on “Parallel States”. Highlights for this listener include the sweet romanticism of “I Remember When”. This is music to lose yourself in, with Fries proving just what a consummate performer he is. His tunes are full of joy and wonderment, whilst still retaining a thoughtful, skillful repose. Several of his tunes highlight a delicate, melodic beauty, none more so than the beautifully composed “Garden”. This tune was written as a tribute to British pianist John Taylor, who passed away last year. And a fitting tribute it is too, with Fries showing a maturity in his writing that is evident for all to hear. “I called it Garden” explains Fries, “because much of the work Loryn was creating looked like flowers to me – a little attempt to create a more literal connection between abstract art and instrumental music. John was such a beautiful and sensitive pianist and composer.” The free-flowing nature of “Whirl” is an exhilarating piece, its lyrical themes, riffs and motifs, all bringing together the music and art perfectly. There’s an imagination set alight on “Just Keep Swimming”. Fries also highlights this track as one that he found particularly inspiring; “This was one of the first images that Loryn sent to me. I loved it right away. I love the maturity and fearlessness in the open space that she leaves in what is a pretty large canvas.” And the pianist’s initial thoughts are certainly captured well within the music. “It feels peaceful, honest and bold to me” he continues. “It seemed to express so many of the things I was feeling about creating a solo piano recording.” The closing number, “Kerrie”, ends the album on a charming, uplifting note.

The music and art of “Parallel States” complement each other very well. This is an album of solo piano music that can be enjoyed either as a stand-alone musical journey, or as a companion piece to the visual art that helped inspire the music. Either way, it makes for a very pleasant listen.

Mike Gates

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08th May2016

Omer Avital ‘Abutbul Music’ CD/DIG/Vinyl (Jazz Village) 4/5

by ukvibe

omer-avitalIt’s fitting that the first album I review after International Jazz Day is from Omer Avital, as it seems to me that in many ways his music epitomises many of the qualities enshrined within UNESCO’s mission to celebrate “the virtues of jazz as an educational tool, and a force for peace, unity, dialogue and enhanced cooperation among people”.
Born and brought up in Israel, to Moroccan and Yemeni parents (Abutbul is the original family name) his music is centred in contemporary Jazz but blends in influences from North African and Middle Eastern styles.
In the early 1990’s Avital moved with his friend, the trombonist Avi Lebovich, to New York, in order, as he puts it, to follow two dreams, to play with musicians he admired, and to become a good musician. The bassist Avishai Cohen also moved at about the same time; starting a trend that would significantly increase the profile of Israeli jazz artists.
These three would become key perfomers at Smalls, a Greenwich Village club that was the focal point for a generation of young players including Josh Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brian Blade and Brad Mehldau. Although initially signed to Impulse, the resulting album Devil Head never got released. Nonetheless, after a period of reflection and further study of his musical heritage, Avital has gone on to a successful career.
This is Avital’s tenth album as bandleader, this time on the Paris-based Jazz Village label. The group features regular collaborators, and fellow Israelis – Yonathan Avishai (piano), Asaf Yuria (tenor and soprano sax), Alexander Levin (tenor sax) and Ofri Nehemya (Drums). The prescence of two saxophonists recalls Avital’s earlier bands. Avital puts great stock in ‘growing up’ with his fellow musicians so that they understand each others playing intimately and their sound can grow organically.

This natural synergy is evident throughout “Abutbul Music”. The group has a deft ability to effortlessly switch rhythms and meters without the results sounding grating or forced. Avital does what all bassists/bandleaders should do; he helps create a structure for melody and harmony to shine.

The album opens with “Muhammad’s Market”, a swinging soul jazz number. “Three Four” is driven by fantastic piano lines, which chop and change throughout without losing the sense of the original tune. Yuria and Levin play fast, repetitive harmonies during the second half of the composition. For me this is the most recognisable Middle Eastern motif and one that reappears regularly through the rest of the album.

“New Yemenite Song” has such a great sound to it and is probably my favourite track. It starts out slowly, but when the tune gets going it really swings thanks to the rhythm section. Yuria and Levin’s playing has a spiritual power to it both in their harmonies and call and response.

I’m a sucker for a Bass solo and “Bass Hijaz (Intro in to Ramat Gan)” is bold enough to extend beyond a few bars. Eastern modes infuse this with something captivating, turning it from potential filler to a highlight.

The closer, “Eser (Middle Eastern Funk)” plays the album out with real style even pulling in some Montuno piano lines along the way.

Overall a really strong release where the beauty is in the balance of the sympathetic components – jazz that swings with eastern tones that enhance and stimulate melodic and harmonic content.

Andy Hazell

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