Torsten Goods ‘Love Comes to Town’ (ACT) 3/5

Approaching twenty-seven years of age, German guitarist and vocalist Torsten Goods has opted for a change of approach that constitutes something of a re-evaluation of his career with a previous album ‘1980’ dating from five years ago. Now resident in Berlin, Goods has opted for a pop-jazz feel that owes a large debt of aliegance to Steely Dan in the overall sound whereas from a guitar perspective George Benson springs to mind. As for the voice, it veers somewhere between Michael Franks and Ben Sidran. Seven of the songs are co-written originals and there is an interesting selection of standards. The album is typified by catchy hooks such as ‘When love comes to town’ which with the use of fender and brass orchestrations could be right out of the Steely Dan songbook. The Doobie Brothers are evoked on another fusion-pop number ‘Unlucky like me’ which harks back to a byegone era when the likes of Michael Franks and Al Jarreau were able to enter the pop charts with their brand of superior quality pop songs infused with a jazzy edge. Of the standards, Joe Sample’s ‘Put it where you want it’ is a fine interpretation with a guitar solo on this mid-tempo rendition while for classicism in the songbook, one need look no further than the Gershwin brothers ‘They can’t take that away from me’ that includes a duet with fellow label artist Viktoria Tolstoy. The instrumental ‘Weekend at the A’Trane’ is by far Good’s finest guitar solo outing on the album and an extended one at that, and here he combines on guitar with some lovely flute and brass arrangements. Production is by label evergreen musician Nils Landgren who ensures a professional final touch from the tight sounding quartet that features the fine trumpet playing of Till Brönner. Torsten Goods is a musician in progress who needs to work at developing his own individual sound further, but shows definite potential.

Tim Stenhouse

Compassionate Dictatorship ‘Entertaining tyrants’ (Jellymould) 3/5

One of the latest in a series of up and coming London-based collective of musicians, Compassionate Dictatorship were formed in 2007 by co-leaders guitarist Jez Franks and tenor saxophonist Tori Freestone who had worked together from as far back as 1993. This is the group’s debut recording for the enterprising indie jazz label Jellymould and with both the Norwegian double bassist Jasper Hølby and drummer James Maddren onboard, the future looks decidedly rosy for them. Overall the music veers towards post-bop territory with a definite nod to Wes Montgomery in the guitar department. This is typified by a composition such as ‘Anger management’ which has something of a jam session feel to it and some John Coltrane-influenced tenor from Freestone. Indeed it is the co-leader who shines on the mid-tempo ‘Bubble and squeak’. Perhaps the more uptempo numbers are in places a tad messy and need to be pared down and refined. That said, the band are very much at home on ballads and this is emphasised by two ballads written by the two founding members. Elsewhere there is fine interplay between guitar and saxophone on the gentle ‘In the chophouse’ and an extended solo from Franks whereas ‘Sit tight’ features some sensitive drum work from Maddren, fine tenor playing and a guitar solo which hints at Pat Metheny. Underpinning it all is some solid as a rock bass playing from Hølby. Select live dates in the UK will take place during June and July. Tim Stenhouse

Craig Taborn Trio ‘Chants’ (ECM) 4/5

craig-taborn-trioPianist Craig Taborn, now aged forty-three, has over a lengthy fifteen year period as a leader and longer as a sideman established himself as a musician of some integrity and has worked with an impressive roster of musicians including his current membership of the Tomasz Stanko quartet alongside another trio member, double bassist Thomas Morgan. Both have known one another since they were teenagers and the natural empathy that flows from the trio on this latest adventurous recording is surely born of their long-lasting musical relationships. The final member of the trio is Gerald Cleaver and his collaboration with Taborn goes back some twenty-five years and indeed both debuted on the ECM label as part of the Roscoe Mitchell Note Factory group. Taborn’s pianistic influences take on board some of the more avant-garde aspects of the instrument with Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor being the most likely candidates. Although the trio has been in existence for some eight years in total, this is actually the first recording by the trio in New York and it is an all original set. If at times the structures are quite complex and dense and not immediately accessible, there is nonetheless a warm intimacy to the album as a whole that bodes well for the future and this is exemplified on the opener ‘Saints’ which a lovely crispness to the drum beats. An irresistibly catchy and repetitive piano vamp on ‘Beat the ground’ builds into a Bach-like groove and this is performed at a fast pace throughout. For an example of fine piano trio interplay, the highly rhythmic pattern of ‘Hot blood’ stands out where piano and drums create a collective riff. Where the trio really excel is on the ballads such as ‘In chant’ and on this gentle number the duet intro then affords bassist Morgan to focus on a solo while Taborn delicately comps. The piece has a slightly menacing edge to it and yet succeeds in being strangely reposing at the same time. Cleaver shines with some nifty brush work on the minimalist number ‘Cracking hearts’. Craig Taborn performed a memorable solo set at London’s Vortex in 2011 and ECM should give serious thought to a solo studio/live recording at some stage. A European and North American tour took place during April and May this year.

Tim Stenhouse

James Taylor Quartet ‘Closer to the Moon’ (Real Self) 4/5

Hammond organist James Taylor has, over a twenty-five year career, marked himself out as a stalwart of the UK jazz music scene and its funkier side sometimes referred to misleadingly as acid jazz, a spurious concept at the best of times even though the jazz dance scene it spawned has continued to thrive. For his latest project, Taylor has had something of a change of approach, although long-term fans need not worry. There are still the familiar Hammond B3 organ licks and funky beats lurking just beneath the surface. The leader has long been interested in other musical forms and in particular a life-long love of classical music. This has inspired him to come up with a more expansive and orchestral sound, performing on a variety of keyboard instruments including acoustic piano and celeste (with the hammond still predominating overall nonetheless) that takes on board these and other influences such as film soundtrack, 1970s soul and jazz-funk. There is a 1970s Latin-fusion feel with Earth, Wind and Fire-style harmonies on ‘Nightwalk’ which recalls in some respects Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess’ period while ‘Tick tock’ has a clockwise asymmetric pattern with blues inflections on organ and piano with Taylor alternating between the two. One of the heaviest jazz grooves is ‘Spencer takes a trip’ which features the excellent flute of Rob Townsend and an interesting combination of tubular bells and horns. Big band hammond sounds abound on ‘Don’t pass me by’ which has some lovely unison brass and a solo by Nick Smart on flugelhorn.

Nitin Sawhney is an invited guest on the album which, in its overall concept, conjures up another of Taylor’s influences, namely the 1970s CTI recordings produced by Creed Taylor which fused classical and jazz grooves, and especially for Hubert Laws. For an uptempo organ groover the psychedelic sounding ‘Parallelo’ sums up James Taylor’s current musical vision as well any piece on the album. A radical reworking of Beethoven’s sonata ‘Pathetique’ is the nearest Taylor gets to the classical repertoire and even here he performs on hammond, and it is anything but a standard interpretation. A follow up to the 2011 ‘The template’, this is certainly not your run of the mill soul-jazz organ outing. Indeed the latest recording is a long way from the early James Taylor music of the 1980s when his ‘Mission Impossible EP was championed by John Peel among others. However, it is is certainly James Taylor’s most diverse album thus far and ultimately one of his most satisfying also.

Tim Stenhouse

George Benson ‘Inspiration: a tribute to Nat King Cole’ (Concord) 4/5

While George Benson was growing up as a young boy, one of his main musical idols was pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole and when Benson finally made the transition from solo jazz guitarist to vocalist, ‘Nature boy’ was among the first recorded examples of his newly found status. This new album pays homage to the lasting legacy of Nat’s work and provides a well balanced mixture of orchestral and more intimate combo settings which reflects Cole’s own musical eclecticism. The Henri Mancini Orchestra are on hand to ably assist George Benson and so with great aplomb as on the swinging take on ‘Just one of those things’ which is a truly uplifting performance from all and the song shifts in tempo between mid and high with some delightful jazzy orchestrations and Benson himself engaging in a trademark guitar and scat duet. A more pared down sound greets the listener on ‘Route 66’ and we are treated to some fine piano trio plus an extended guitar solo from the leader. For some old-style jazz with jazz group vocals, ‘Straighten up and fly right’ is a winner, hinting at Manhattan Transfer, and features a lovely piano solo. In a gentler vein, the new take on ‘Nature boy’ is a beautiful interpretation that is considerably slower than Benson’s 1970s version and here the orchestrations include a strings intro with flute and violin solos while on ‘Smile’ the famous ballad is treated to a gentle rendition with solo by Brönner and some gorgeous understated flutes. The singer even sounds as though he has been taking in the influence of Frank Sinatra on the uptempo ‘I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter’ and here he sings straight with some lovely brass and piano arrangements. Top drawer guests include trumpeters Till Brönner and Wynton Marsalis and master percussionist Sheila E better known for her collaborations with Prince. Tim Stenhouse