Tom McClung ‘Burning Bright’ (Archieball) 4/5

tom-mcclungTom McClung’s piano style is full of colour, imagination and expression. Born in New York in 1957, McClung paid his jazz dues over many years, settling in New England and becoming a sought after musician with, among others, Bobby McFerrin, James Cotton, Yusef Lateef and Bo Diddley calling on his services. These days he resides in Paris and works regularly on the international stage with Archie Shepp. “Burning Bright” is McClung’s sixth release as a leader or co-leader and he is joined on this excellent trio outing by Matyas Szandai on bass and Mourad Benhammou on drums. McClung is a very versatile pianist and seems just as at home performing folk and avant-garde as he does with bebop, salsa and blues.
“Burning Bright” is filled with inventive, expressive playing from all three musicians. McClung may lead the trio, but the importance and contribution of both bassist Szandai and drummer Benhammou cannot be underestimated. They add energy and creativity in spades, especially Szandai with his bass solos standing out as one of the highlights of this recording. Eleven tracks see the trio crossing many genres, making for an interesting and at times captivating listening experience. The opening tune “Terra” and the gorgeous “The Source” are reminiscent of a free flowing, lyrical EST. Beautifully interwoven themes and patterns are accentuated with some eloquent playing from McClung. “Fire Waltz” has a touch of the Dave Brubecks and develops into a platform for this wonderful pianist to express himself to the full with some mesmerising soloing. The title track “Burning Bright” along with the tracks “There You Go” and “Minor Deeds” bring to mind the legendary (in this writer’s mind at least) Japanese pianist Ryo Fukui with their infectious energy and uncompromising spirit. Brilliant playing from a trio truly performing at their peak. There are many changes of pace and style throughout this album and this is perhaps more evident than anywhere else on the wonderful “In The Woods”, the trio here serving up a slightly avant-garde piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bobo Stenson Trio ECM release.
Wonderful interaction and touch from the three performers. McClung lets the emotion pour out on the lovely “Noctilucent”, an emotionally engaging composition. Whilst a more easy-going, bluesy feel is captured on “Last of The Wild” and “La Manzana” with its Latin inflected rhythms.

In summary, “Burning Bright” is a wholly satisfying listen. Outstanding in many parts, with surprises a-plenty along the way. It’s rare to hear a trio covering so much ground in one album and for the most part it just keeps giving the more it plays. Highly recommended.

Mike Gates

Goran Kajfeš Subtropic Arkestra ‘The Reason Why vol. 2’ (Headspin) 4/5

goran-kajfes-subtropic-arkestraSwedish trumpeter of Balkan heritage Goran Kajfeš has over a couple of albums perfected a highly individual hybrid of styles that is so diverse that it takes in late 1960s Miles Davis, notably from the electric period, as well as pan-Balkan beats from Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and beyond. British influences are not absent and include prog and jazz-rock legends Soft Machine, yet even this is not the limit of Kajfeš’ visionary scope and on the latest adventure in sound, he takes on board the music of Cameroon, Nigeria and Brazil and in the process weaves his own magical spell. Little wonder, then, that he has been likened to a European equivalent of Sun Ra minus the cosmic attachment. A first volume surfaced in 2013 which was not in fact the debut, since the album ‘X/Y’ came out as long ago as 2010.
Of immediate interest this time round is the cover of a musician who has rapidly gained cult status, Francis Bebey’, a polyglot and polymath of immense talent whose music and words are currently being rediscovered. On Bebey’s ‘New Track’ the keyboards hint at ‘In a Silent Way’ with Afro-Beat horns and rhythm guitar and this may well be the track to showcase the album as a whole to a wider audience. Turkish influences abound on the opener. ‘Dokua Seki/Esmerim’, which was co-composed by Turkish drummer Okay Temiz and is indeed a rootsy number that aims at club land and features heavy psychedelic guitar and a memorable bass line from Johan Berkling with a sparse trumpet. What is of interest here for the album in general is how well the unfamiliar instrumentation combines with the more familiar and this is testimony to Kajfeš’ own study and appreciation of other musical traditions that he has carefully blended and incorporated into a cohesive whole. His growing interest in other cultures has extended to Brazil and Milton Nascimento’s early piece ‘A Lua Girou’ works a treat here, almost as though Bill Frisell has been instructed to perform on dissonant guitar. José Gonzalez guest vocals on one number, Yet Again’ which demonstrates another side to Kajfeš’ versatile and all-encompassing approach. This has been garnering support from the rock music press on playlists and may just be the left-field winner for the summer.

Tim Stenhouse

Giovanni Guidi Trio ‘This Is The Day’ (ECM) 4/5

giovanni-guidi-trioYoung Italian pianist and leader Giovanni Guidi has quietly emerged onto the scene and quickly established an individual style in the lineage of both Bill Evans and his compatriot Enrico Piernanunzi, while collectively the trio have gained useful experience with groups of the calibre of Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko among others. This new recording is a follow-up to the well received debut from 2012, ‘City of Broken Dreams’ and features his long-term trio of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer João Lobo. Marked introspection and stylish restraint is the order of the day and the tone is set by the contemplative opener ‘Trilly’ with a fine languid bass solo from Morgan. As a whole the album stylistically divides up into three parts, with the first third the most relaxed, a second third in a more freer and experimental mode, and then a melodic finale. A highlight is the treatment of a staple of the Cuban songbook, ‘Quizas, Quizas, Quizas’ that Nat Cole immortalised and his version was as the soundtrack to Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’ film Here the trio attempt an altogether slower pace than per usual with quasi-Bach tones in parts, and the number slowly builds in intensity, developing through stages into a burning mid-tempo piece with Morgan engaging in some delightful soloing while Guidi comps. This writer would like to hear more of this side of the trio. Another cover, this time from the US songbook, ‘I’m through with love’, receives a reposing treatment and yet still retains a soulfulness of approach. Elsewhere Lobo offers a free-form composition in ‘Baiiia’ that transforms into a delicate and somewhat minimalist piece complete withy delicate touches from Guidi and inventive use of percussion from Lobo. For evidence of what this trio are fully capable of, look no further than the deeply romantic classical hues of ‘Trilly var.’ where the influence of Schubert on Guidi is apparent. A one-off performance in early April in London at, of all places, a prestigious art gallery, will hopefully not be the sole occasion on which a British public will finally have the opportunity to hear this trio in a live setting. Expect them to return for a longer sojourn at some stage in the future and this new album will go some way to cementing their already burgeoning reputation.

Tim Stenhouse