Sigmar Matthíasson ‘Meridian Metaphor’ LP/CD (Reykjavík Record Shop) 4/5

“Meridian Metaphor” is the second album that the Icelandic bassist and composer Sigmar Matthiason has released as leader. A fascinating mix of East-meets-West contemporary jazz, the bassist’s choice of band members and instrumentation makes for a compellingly characterful set of tunes.

Bassist Mattiasson is joined by Ásgeir Ásgeirsson – oud & tamboura, Haukur Gröndal – clarinet, Ingi Bjarni Skúlason – piano, Matthías Hemstock – drums, and special guests Ayman Boujlida – konnakol & percussion, and Taulant Mehmeti – çifteli. The music they make together is infused with influences from Balkan folk music and Arabic world music, creating a colourful palette of fluid, languid, beatific lyricism.

The inspiration for the project was Matthiasson’s collaboration and friendship with two musicians whom he met while studying in New York City – guitarist Taulant Mehmeti from Kosovo and Tunisian percussionist Ayman Boujlida. The way this project has come together so well speaks volumes of the composer and his band, cross-cultural music stretching across the Prime Meridian, where the composer makes up musical metaphors in each song with various references to people, places and experiences which have shaped him over time.

Born in Reykjavik, Matthiasson has been an active performer on the Icelandic music scene for several years, performing and/or recording with many of the most in-demand pop and jazz musicians in Iceland. In addition, the bassist has performed at many international festivals, including London Jazz Festival, Oslo Jazz Festival, Jazz Finland Festival in Helsinki, Bern Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Nordic Jazz Festival in Washington DC and Reykjavík Jazz Festival. His last project called ÁRÓRA plays Matthiasson’s original music. Debuting at the Reykjavík Jazz Festival in 2014, in 2018 the band celebrated the release of their self-titled debut album.

Matthiasson’s style reminds me a little of Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson. He shares the same penchant for a great melody, allowing time and space for his fellow musicians to weave their magic in and around the heart of a tune. The album opener “Don” is a prime example of this, with the composer’s bass leading the tune into its twisting, lilting melodies, with oud and clarinet taking the lead and developing the Arabic feel of the tune in alluring fashion.

There’s always a deep groove sitting behind the melody on Matthiasson’s music. Often soft and understated, yet always the backbone of a tune. Listening to “Berlin Becalhau” delivering its gentle passion, “East River” as it lyrically unwinds and unravels, or “Mehmetaphor” with its delightful journey of discovery, makes me think how well certain artists can blend together different styles of music and arrange their instrumentation in such a way that it sounds like it was always meant to be. Perhaps this in its own way is the perfect metaphor for life in general; embrace your fellow man, whatever cultural background he may be from, and with care, respect, learning and understanding, beautiful things can happen.

“Meridian Metaphor” works extremely well as an album. The beguiling beauty of the music draws you in, leaving you enchanted by its wonderful melodies and musicianship. On this evidence I’m sure there will be much more to come from Sigmar Por Matthiasson, and I very much look forward to hearing where his music takes him to in the years ahead.

Mike Gates

Matthew Stevens ‘Pittsburgh’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

Having made many noticeable contributions to a whole host of artists’ music over the last few years, this release by Toronto born, New York based guitarist Matthew Stevens comes as a very welcome spotlight on his skills as a writer and virtuoso musician. “Pittsburgh” is a solo acoustic album, featuring eleven short – but very sweet – original compositions. Unlike many other solo acoustic guitar albums I’ve heard, the tunes are vignettes, moments in time, full of depth and character. Each piece tells its own story, packed with flavour and candour, richly evocative and immersive.

Stevens’ extensive high-profile work with Esperanza Spalding (serving as co-producer on Exposure and 12 Little Spells), and co-producer of Terri Lyne Carrington’s GRAMMY-nominated Social Science band has helped put the guitarist well and truly on the map in recent times, but it is his work with composer/trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah that first grabbed my attention. Stevens’ dark, almost divisive guitar sound worked perfectly with Scott’s inquiring, downbeat, revolutionary style, so much so that it made for a couple of killer albums. He has also made vital contributions to groups led by Dave Douglas and Linda May Han Oh, among many others, and with saxophonist Walter Smith III he co-leads the In Common collective, which will soon release its third volume.

Although Stevens’ previous two outings, Woodwork (2015) and Preverbal (2017), made use of steel-string acoustic as a vibrant textural contrast, notably on “Brothers” and “Our Reunion” (featuring Spalding as guest and co-composer), a solo acoustic album seemed to Stevens like a “maybe someday” prospect, if that. Then came the convergence of two major events — the COVID-19 pandemic and a fractured elbow. By September 2020, Stevens was hunkering down in his wife’s family’s hometown of Pittsburgh. He had with him a vintage Martin 00-17, a small-body mahogany guitar that he bought not long after recording Exposure with Spalding. Practicing daily on the Martin, he began generating a series of short song “starts” — ideas and sketches he thought might lead somewhere. With the help of his friend, go-to drummer and producer Eric Doob, he made preliminary versions of some of the Pittsburgh material for The Jazz Gallery’s virtual “Lockdown Sessions” video series, and the vision started to take on a more concrete form. Then one rainy Pittsburgh day, Stevens’ bike slid out from under him and he broke his right elbow. Rather than getting derailed musically, he became immersed in a creative process that led straight to Pittsburgh: a document of those short song “starts” from the notebook, now hatched as completed compositions.

As the album took shape, it became clear to Stevens that he was headed in the direction of a wholly unaccompanied recital, with no overdubs or sound layering of any kind. Just him and this special Martin, two Neumann U89 mics and enough peace of mind across two separate sessions to make Pittsburgh the triumph that it is. On recordings like this, and perhaps pianist Keith Jarrett performing a solo recital might be a fair comparison, the musician is so obviously at one with his instrument that there are no barriers or bridges to be crossed, they are just in that moment, open to the music being created. Music laid bare like this takes so much skill and courage. I often think unless you are a musician, or have a very good appreciation of what it takes to get to this point, you just can’t fully understand the dedication and hard graft, with untold hours of practice and repetition, that it takes. And yet, I sense that you can hear this in every short piece that Stevens performs on this album. Decades of learning are condensed into a few beautiful minutes of performance. Each tune is compelling, intriguing and manages to cover so much ground in such a short space of time, it often leaves me breathless.

With an immediacy and wealth of invention, “Pittsburgh” covers a lot of ground within its eleven tunes. Stevens’ style of playing also encompasses many influences, from jazz, blues, country, folk, bluegrass and much more besides. But he is a true original, of that there’s no doubt. There are discernible families of songs on this session, from the rapidly flowing, intricately arpeggiated pattern pieces such as “Purpose of a Machine,” “Can Am” and “Cocoon”, through to the tranquil, hymn-like songs “Foreign Ghosts,” “Ending Is Beginning” and “Miserere”, and the grittier inventions such as “Ambler” and “Northern Touch.” Fans of Egberto Gismonti, John McLaughlin, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Ralph Towner and John Renbourn will love this. An acoustic guitar album to sit back and lose yourself in.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens ‘In Common 2’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5
Matthew Stevens ‘Woodwork’ CD (Whirlwind Recordings)

Petter Eldh ‘Projekt Drums Vol. 1’ LP (Edition) 5/5

‘Projekt Drums Vol. 1’ is the new album from Swedish bassist and producer, Petter Eldh, whose new album is released via the UK’s Edition Records.

I have to confess, seeing the name Petter Eldh attached to a project peaks my interest in a way other artists don’t do. My initial introduction to his music came through the phenomenal Koma Saxo project – the Eldh-helmed super group released through Helsinki’s We Jazz Records that took the concept of contemporary jazz, shook it violently in a blender of late 90s-inspired backpack hip-hop production and created something unlike anything I had ever heard before. Whatever the results were, they were in fact inspirational levels of brilliance that needs to be heard to be fully understood.

Conversely, his work with vocalist Lucia Cadotsch for her ‘Speak Low’ album equally stands out – rounding out their trio with saxophonist Otis Sandsjö, ‘Speak Low’ beautifully recreated jazz standards like ‘Don’t Explain’ and ‘Ain’t Got No / I Got Life’ that have been tackled countless times and reconceptualised them with a bass and saxophone accompaniment to Cadotsch’s vocal. Haunting, ingenious and unparalleled in its vision, the album is a stark contrast to Koma Saxo but such is Eldh’s incredible scope, there seems to be a reinvention with each outing.

Eldh’s ‘Projekt Drums’ seems to build upon ideas almost already perfectly captured by Koma Saxo although two projects sounding nothing alike. With each of the six tracks presented here showcasing a collaboration with a different drummer, Eldh and his featured ‘plus one’ seek to celebrate the concepts of – as aptly described via the artist’s Bandcamp page – “heavy beats, psychedelic sounds and musical collaboration”. The six featured drummers are an auspicious line-up in anyone’s eyes – each with a wealth of experience as performers and musicians having performed with an extensive array of artists as well as, in many cases, leaders of their own collectives. Even with each contributor’s indelible status and accolades, you have to believe Eldh’s invitation still afforded them that fresh-faced excitement for trying something completely new.

The revered London-based Richard Spaven, who guests on ‘Goods Yard’, serves as a perfect pick due to his own skill for creating music within that small middle ground between jazz and electronica; the New York-based prodigal talents of Savannah Harris blesses the album opener ‘Lorimer’ while Nate Wood, the US jazz-fusion multi-instrumentalist features on ‘Green Street’. Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen features on ‘Gimsøy’ which is very possibly the album’s centrepiece for all of its intricate twists and turns over the course of the song’s 8+ minute runtime.

While the drummers for each track are certainly being afforded their due prominence for ‘Projekt Drums’, the album in general still benefits greatly from an incredible team of musicians throughout. With Eldh assuming a variety of roles including bass, piano, synthesizers, guitars and production, further guests come in the form of pianist Kit Downes and the aforementioned Otis Sandsjö on saxophone amongst others.

The introduction of ‘Vol. 1’ within the title is a tantalising prospect for future releases within this series. ‘Vol. 1’ however is another within Petter Eldh’s catalogue of music projects that see him continually embrace the challenges of where he can likely take his music next, subsequently redefining the parameters of what constitutes contemporary jazz.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Petter Eldh presents ‘Koma Saxo’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 5/5

Dos Santos ‘City of Mirrors’ LP/CD (International Anthem) 5/5

My mother used to tell me that every person you meet is a messenger. Every relationship we have is there to teach us something, they are mirrors that can help us see parts of ourselves we might otherwise not be able to. No interaction is too small, nothing is meaningless if you are willing to see it. Dos Santos’ latest effort City of Mirrors brings this lesson to light. The Chicago band, however, doesn’t limit the mirror to just people, they remind us that relationships transcend mere bodies. Our relationship with the land, in particular borders, can be mirrors too. In City of Mirrors, Dos Santos argues that the physical borders that separate countries live inside of us. We are also the mirror and we can be the ones to embody alternatives. That comes through an understanding of how we are affected by borders, what they mean in our lives and how we decide to cross them, in this case through art.

Full of sweeping cinematic sounds, City of Mirrors reflects the Americas and our relationship with it. Combining traditional Latin sounds with contemporary ones, mimicking the contemporary human struggle. City of Mirrors somehow seems to capture it all, from pain and grief to joy and hopefulness, sometimes in the same song. This echoing of our present reality makes the album relatable and strangely comforting. It’s obvious in the details that Dos Santos put a lot of thought into each song. From the sonic flourishes in “Glorieta” to the way the drums penetrate your ears in “A Shot in the Dark”. It doesn’t hurt that Alex Chavez’s voice is a soothing balm, a disarming guide to your deepest self. Dos Santos has managed to capture a timelessness that takes you exactly where your journey demands. “Alma Cósmica” feels simultaneously ancient and current. “A Tu Lado” makes you want to move, not just your body on the dancefloor but your feet as you march to the next struggle. These songs are calls to action, what that action is is up to you – look to your mirror. Capping off this desperately beautiful album is “Lejos de Ti” a heartbreaking bilingual love letter to endings that reminds us that though nothing lasts forever there is still beauty to come.

Much like the people in our cities are mirrors, offering opportunities to transcend our darker parts, the borders of City of Mirrors reflect back to us who we are and who we might choose to be.

Molly Gallegos

John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle’ LP/CD (Impulse!) 5/5

First of all I have to say that this hitherto unimagined, let alone unknown, live recording of John Coltrane’s most famous work is both incredible and incredibly frustrating in (almost) equal measure. I’ll come to the frustrating bit later, but for now, let’s look at the incredible part.

If we put aside the fact that no one even dared to dream that such a recording might exist, which alone would be enough to make it incredible, the music itself is revelatory, showing just how much Coltrane’s music had begun to expand and broaden out during the past year or so.
Whilst the time/beat was still present it wasn’t stated in anything approaching an obvious manner by the present group. Mostly they play around it, over it and under it, without ignoring its presence completely. A perfect example of this can be heard in the recording from 2nd August 1965 (Exactly 2 months before this recording) in Comblain-la-Tour, of ‘Naima’, where the form and the time is never lost but subjugated to an almost unnecessary aspect of the music. Trane himself had mentioned this approach at least as early as 1962 where he talked about having the group play time in a more implied way, rather than explicitly stating the beat.

The group heard here, on 2nd October 1965, is still the “Classic Quartet” with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, but Pharoah Sanders had just recently joined on tenor saxophone and the group is further augmented by having Carlos Ward on alto saxophone on one song and Donald Rafael Garret on bass. This was part of Trane’s continuing expansion of the group sound in terms of instrumentation and musical diversity. There is also a fair amount of percussion – cowbell, guiro, wood blocks etc, on Part 1 – Acknowledgement, which adds a really nice element to the music. There are photos from an early 1967 studio recording session which show various percussion instruments lying at Trane’s feet: tambourines, bells and guiros, but the recordings from that session are missing and unaccounted for as yet. Parts of this Seattle recording give us a tantalising glimpse into what that recording session might sound like.

The whole of the A Love Supreme suite had been played by the quartet (and recorded) just a couple of months previous to this club date, at the Antibes Jazz Festival in Juans Les Pins in southern France. But Trane himself expressed his own dissatisfaction with that performance to writer Randi Hultin, and, as strong as the performance is, it does come across as being slightly rushed, or maybe not quite as stately as it might have been. This concert is a very different matter though, everyone sounds completely at home and relaxed and the ensuing music is magnificent in its concept and execution.

The actual recording itself is the source of my frustration, however. Recorded in stereo by musician Joe Brazil using two microphones, the instruments are actually recorded very well indeed and come across very natural sounding and with a nice presence and dynamic range, top quality even. But the placement of the two mics must have been less than ideal, in part because all the instruments except the piano are in the left channel with the piano sounding slightly lonesome in the right channel. But that in itself isn’t that much of a problem, the big frustration is that the horns, and especially Trane’s horn, are off mic for the entire concert. You can hear the horns clearly, but being just a little (well ok, quite a bit…) out of range from the mic, the full dynamic effect of the music doesn’t quite come across to the listener. Which is a real shame of course, but I’m still rejoicing that this music actually exists at all, and I’m determined not to let the slightly flawed quality of the recording take anything away from the music.

So, to the music.

The music, it has to be said, is nothing short of glorious, Trane is on absolutely top form, (when was he ever not…) weaving solos of incredible energy and beauty, which is apparent even with the less than ideal recording quality.
Pharoah Sanders plays an excellent solo on Part III – Pursuance, after Trane plays the melody, which takes him all of 20 seconds, Sanders jumps in so seamlessly that you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s actually Coltrane using Pharoah’s approach and style. In fact, Sanders plays really great throughout, his solos seem to have more logic and form than most of his recorded output with Coltrane’s group. Maybe it was because the group still acknowledged the time/beat even without specifically playing it, and after Jones and Tyner left that aspect was absent, but who knows, maybe it was just one of those unfathomably great nights, the music certainly sounds that way.
Carlos Ward turns in a great solo on Part II – Resolution, and the bassists play together beautifully, their duet on ‘Interlude 1’ is full of brotherly love, no one is letting their ego get in the way of the proceedings, just beautiful, pure music.

So this is a monumental recording, in many ways, but the overriding factor is, of course, the music itself, and despite the less than perfect audio quality it has to be admitted that this is an indisputably great, and incredible, recording that I unhesitatingly recommend to anyone and everyone.

Nat Birchall

Read also:
John Coltrane ‘Blue World’ LP/CD (Impulse!) 5/5
John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters’ 3CD (Impulse!) 5/5
John Coltrane ‘The Impulse! Albums: Volume Three.’ 5CD (Impulse!) 5/5

Kit Sebastian ‘Melodi’ LP/CD/Cassette (Mr Bongo) 5/5

Duo Kit Sebastian may be London based but their sound isn’t so easy to pinpoint. They absorb and renew a vast array of styles and influences from Brazilian Tropicalia to 60s Europop via Anatolian psychedelia and US jazz. Kit Martin, raised in London and France takes care of instrumentation while Merve Erdem originally from Istanbul is charged with lyrics and vocals which she sings in Turkish, English and French. Their music very much stimulates the visual imagination and the duo have produced evocative videos which become part of the songs rather than simply visual accompaniment. They also use short filmic fragments to sketch out moods, ideas and a sense of place in their imaginations. ‘We like the 60s and 70s aesthetic and it influences how we produce our sound and visuals, ‘ Merve Erdem explains. Kit Martin cites cinema as his main source of inspiration and describes the sound as ‘lo-fi hi-fi’, while Merve adds ‘books, long walks and crises’ to her list of inspirations. Melodi is their second album following their 2019 debut Mantra Moderne. The new record follows a similar thread but in a more concentrated and assured way, taking the eclecticism of their influences to another level. With some live events coming up Kit Martin says ‘some of the songs are very contemplative and some very dancey. It is important that we don’t replicate the studio sound and leave some room for improvisation’.

‘Yalvarma’ is the album’s catchy opener, there’s a wistful Europop feel to it and the Anatolian vibe is immediately evident in the rhythms and Erdem’s vocalisations. This is all fused with a neat retro jazz-funk keyboard theme and some beautiful key changes in the vocal. The lo-fi sensibility makes it sound like a track off a much-loved mixtape that has spent rather too long in the baking hot sun on an extended road trip.

‘Agitate’ follows, it’s one of the album’s high points; there’s a heavier groove-based sound, the Heliocentrics meet Belle and Sebastian. It’s a homage to political agitators everywhere, ‘The song calls on its listeners to remember, act against injustice and question figures of authority from our daily lives.’ It’s a great example of how important the aesthetic is to the band, the video has a real Deutschland 83 vibe to it with plenty of stylish yet sinister period details. From the bunker to the trim phone it’s all done with great humour and wit but the point is hammered home quite literally.

Later on the sublime and dreamy ‘Inertia’ is also influenced by the duo’s love of cinema. They use ‘orchestral textures that reminded us of certain soundtracks from our favourite films.’ The lyrics were written in response to Marlene Dietrich’s performance in the movie Der Blaue Engel. It’s probably one of the most pop-oriented tunes on the album, more Bacharach and David than Anatolian psychedelia which makes its juxtaposition with ‘Ahenk’ which follows all the more satisfying. A solid keyboard theme soon fuses with enigmatic Anatolian grooves and spoken vocal, an angular horn arrangement makes for a very 60s, very Avant-Garde ambience.

‘Don’t Take This Badly’ rounds off the album. It’s a Brazilian theme that channels Gilberto Gil in a 60s Tropicalia homage; it’s as light as a feather and like every track on this inspired album it is a highly stimulating place for the imagination to travel to.

James Read

Read also:
Kit Sebastian ‘Mantra Moderne’ LP/CD/Cassette (Mr Bongo) 3/5

On Our Own Clock ‘On Our Own Clock’ LP+Fanzine (Mushroom Hour Half Hour / Total Refreshment Centre) 4/5

‘On Our Own Clock’ is the new project from South African record label Mushroom Hour Half Hour bringing together artists and musicians from South Africa, Senegal and London.

Having started life nine years ago as a radio show on a pirate station, the Mushroom Hour Half Hour brand has since evolved into – as described by the label’s website – a “unique Johannesburg-based Experimental Recording Imprint”. From a radio show to a multimedia pioneer spearheading innovative perspectives throughout new music releases, radio, live music events and film.

As relates to the brand’s record label, a wonderful array of projects have been amassed to comprise some inspiring music releases waving the Mushroom Hour Half Hour flag: the cosmic introspection of ‘Ithuba Loku Hlola’ (2016) is a stunning improvised live performance from a collection of Johannesburg’s eclectic minds; the ever-evolving line-up of the experimental afro jazz-funk fusion outfit SPAZA (2019) turned heads with their self-titled debut outing which was swiftly followed up by their soundtrack to the documentary film ‘UPRIZE!’ charting apartheid-rooted protests in Johannesburg in 1976. Each of the label’s releases continually find a way to root their music to South Africa’s past while still projecting a visionary perspective on the music’s future.

On paper, the ‘On Our Own Clock’ project was destined to be something of a jewel within the Mushroom Hour Half Hour crown. An incredibly ambitious project that would have taken musicians from South Africa and Senegal to record in London with a roster backed by Total Refreshment Records.

But what is it they say about the best-laid plans…?

Last year’s global pandemic saw off plans to have the teams collaborate in person but thankfully didn’t deter the project from happening altogether. Whether it be for businesses, schooling or the functioning of general households, the Internet was very much the hero of 2020 and 2021 allowing life to continue in its digital age – Zoom, Teams, Netflix all helped to ease the quarantine burden and also facilitated the existence of ‘On Our Own Clock’. With recording sessions now taking place in each of the home locations, files were subsequently passed back and forth allowing the project to live on through an existence indicative of the times it was created in.

Maybe the project benefitted from this technique in the long run? I suppose there’s no real way of ever knowing which method would have generated the better results but when you listen to songs on this album like ‘Dune Dance’ – a clear standout for one of the album’s many highlights – it’s hard not to perhaps appreciate the serendipitous nature of the finished product. The events of the last year did go on to impact the music in a variety of ways, from how the music was subsequently created, to much of its inspirations as well – the album allots three ‘How to Make Art in a Pandemic’ interludes amongst its eleven tracks which also seek to inspire and celebrate the ability to adapt throughout personal adversity.

‘On Our Own Clock’ boasts an exciting guest list of like-minded and inspirational musicians committed to travelling previously unexplored musical paths. The project’s end result may not be what was originally envisioned but they have ended up with something equally special.

Imran Mirza

UK Vibe Mix No.37: motto fukaku

Travelling the space ways to Japan for a deeper selection of AOR, two step and boogie – Steve Williams

#japan #AOR #twostep #boogie #softrock #gospel #yachtrock

Tracklist:

Ann Odell Feat. Madeline Bell and Doris Troy – I Didn’t Mean To 1973 (Phonogram Japan 1993)
Erik Tagg – Never Had The Feelin’ 1975 (EMI Japan 2015)
Messenger – Set Your Mind (Cool Sound Japan 1976)
Kimiko Kasai – Take Me (CBS/Sony Japan 1977)
Mayo Shono – そうしましょうね (Blow Up Japan 1977)
Minako Yoshida – Koi wa Ryuusei [Shooting Star of Love] (RCA Japan 1977)
Rajie – It’s Me…It’s You (CBS/Sony Japan 1977)
Tetsuji Hayashi – Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break (Kitty Japan 1977)
Issei Okamoto – In This State (Discomate Japan 1978)
Maria Muldaur – Make Love To The Music (Warner Bros. Japan 1978)
Minako Yoshida – Flames of Love (Alfa Japan 1978)
So Nice – Earth Mover (Self-released Japan 1979)
Hiromi Iwasaki – Kiss Again (Victor Japan 1980)
Tetsuji Hayashi – Silly Girl = シリー·ガール (Invitation Japan 1980)
Yoko Maeno – 白い雨 (Columbia Japan 1980)
TONY – トワイライト·フリーウェイ (King Japan 1981)
Hiroshi Sato – I Can’t Wait Feat. Wendy Matthews (Alfa Japan 1982)
Makoto Matsushita – Love Was Really Gone (Air Japan 1982)
Marz – You Got Me Crying Again (Capitol Japan 1982)
Tomoko Aran – Blue Note (Warner Bros. Japan 1982)
東北新幹線 (Etsuko Yamakawa / Hiroshi Narumi) – 月に寄りそって (Philips Japan 1982)
AB’S – Deja Vu (Moon Japan 1983)
Marlene – Deja Vu (CBS/Sony Japan 1983)
Tranzam Moon Band – Night Cruisin’ (Climax Japan 1983)
Colorblind – Crazy 1984 (Capitol Japan 2008)
Rie Murakami – If I Ever Lose This Heaven (Vap Japan 1984)
Naoko Gushima – You Can Fly (Universal Japan 1999)

Mathias Eick ‘When We Leave’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick has one of those tones, and a style of playing, that makes him immediately recognisable among his peers. His wistful, atmospheric sound, combined with his melodic compositions, can’t help but make his music sonically irresistible. And so it is, with his latest release, “When we leave”, an album that successfully furthers the moods and delights of his previous outing, the 2017 release “Ravensberg”. Where that album drew portraits of friends and family and sketched some personal interactions, the new album follows its protagonists through a troubled year. A sense of narrative can be drawn from the interplay of titles and musical atmosphere.

In the same way that Eick’s fellow trumpeters, compatriot Arve Henriksen and Finland’s Verneri Pohjola, draw the listener in with their breathy, mysterious beauty, there are some mouth-watering soundscapes to be enjoyed here. The strength of the bandleader’s compositions lie in their deceptive simplicity. Quaint melodies come and go, sometimes almost touchable before disappearing into the Norwegian mist. Magical sounds can be heard emanating from a forest, with gently cascading water sparkling in the crisp sunlight, dancing in and out of focus. Each moment an individual moment in time, yet beautifully balanced and connected to the whole.

The connected nature of the band is of great importance. And this is where Eick really gets the best from his music. With Hakon Aase on violin and percussion, Andreas Ulvo on piano, Audun Erlien on bass, Stian Carstensen on pedal steel guitar, and Torstein Lofthus and Helge Andreas Norbakken on drums, a perfect balance of sound is beautifully crafted by all of the musicians involved. As a combined unit, the performers create a lovely ambience and lyricism, helping to bring the composer’s musical storytelling to life.

The album opener, “Loving” is a fine example of what Eick’s music is all about. A wonderful melody from the trumpeter gently leads us into the piece, with sensitive, intelligent accompaniment from piano, bass and drums. The violin (sounding more like an Irish fiddle here) develops the tune even further, its effortless, folky musings adding to the beauty. And the pedal steel – what a masterstroke – creating deeper reflections within the music. It’s an instrument not often heard in jazz, although I do remember being particularly impressed by its inclusion in Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band, and it brings a celestial quality to the music here.

Six further tunes roll effortlessly onward; “Caring” shimmers, “Turning” beguiles, “Flying” contemplates, “Arvo” soars, “Playing” dances, and “Begging” enlightens.

Listening to this album is a beautiful experience. Emotive, melancholic, uplifting, and wondrous.

Mike Gates

The Cookers ‘Look Out!’ 2LP/CD (Gearbox) 4/5

Recorded at the legendary Van Gelder studios in New Jersey and released on the London based Gearbox Records, ‘Look Out’ is the sixth album by The Cookers. It’s been five years since the last album, due to extensive touring. The ensemble Features Billy Harper: tenor sax, Eddie Henderson: trumpet, David Weiss: trumpet, Donald Harrison: alto sax, George Cables: piano, Cecil McBee: bass and Billy Hart: drums.
The group’s 2014 album ‘Time and Time Again’ was voted iTunes best selling jazz album of the year with titles including ‘Sir Galahad’ and ‘Dance Eternal Spirits Dance’, showcasing the strong arrangements, collective composure, spirit and the understanding accrued over many years of experience alongside fellow zeitgeists within the jazz world. This latest album brings more of the same cohesive sparks and inventiveness which each member has brought to the group. It’s definitely a collective effort and a joyful listen with some superb solos and notes on each of the seven performances.

The album features original, fresh pieces written by Cecil McBee, Billy Harper, and George Cables and there’s a soulful jazz edge running through each of the seven tracks. The album opens up with an uplifting George Cables’ composition for presenter/writer Monifa Brown who has, through her various channels, been championing jazz and the artists over many years. It’s a perfect start with a Jazz Messengers feel and some wonderful solos. Other writing contributions by George Cables include ‘AKA Reggie’, a tinted lights down low piece and the shuffling midtempo groove of ‘Travelling Lady’.

Billy Harper delivers a huge and bold sound on his compositions ‘Destiny is Yours’ and ‘Somalia’ and it’s of a tempo that seems perfect for him and the other soloists on board. The chanting on ‘Somalia’ brings a welcome angle to the proceedings and a deep spiritual tone that seems Strata-East like in comparison.

Cecil McBee’s ‘Mutima’ is the final track on the album and it rounds off an understated masterclass in musicianship featuring artists who have performed through the jazz timeline, stretching way back to Max Roach and Lee Morgan, always in but stretching out to expand the horizons without losing the essence and respect of the past and its influence.

Eddie Henderson and Billy Hart were integral figures within the more adventurous jazz fusion period in the 1970s and valued members of Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking Mwandishi group. Donald Harrison was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and went on to record some exceptional albums including his debut album alongside Terence Blanchard titled ‘New York Second Line’ in 1985. He also dipped into hip hop with the Digable Planets on their ‘Blowout’ album. David Weiss has had an interesting career that included a path from art school to attend Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio, studying with artists including George Lewis, Jimmy Giuffre, Leo Smith and Pauline Oliveros, before performing alongside Charles Tolliver, Bobby Hutcherson and many other well-known jazz artists.

This ensemble continues to grow and inspire with their rooted composed sound and ‘Look Out’ is no exception. A warm and enjoyable listen featuring some of jazz’s most respected veterans.

Mark Jones

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Astral Travelling Since 1993