Mark Wade ‘Event Horizon’ (Edition 46) 4/5

mark-wadeUS bassist Mark Wade triumphs with his debut album “Event Horizon” – 9 tracks of pure elegant and innovative jazz.
The album is now available worldwide having been released in the US last year. 8 out of the 9 tracks on the album are Wade’s compositions, with the last one “If I only had a brain” (as written by Harold Arlen for the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”).
Wade says (on his press release) that he has always been interested in piano trios. These consisting of just 3 musicians represent a challenge for Wade as he is then pushed to play music that sounds big and means big, just like an orchestra of 20 people!
I concur. Wade’s tracks are immersed in originality and complexity. The opening one, for example, “Jump for Joy” has a melodic tone to it, a ballad-like one, but stays true to its aim: it makes the listener listen!
British-born (Nottingham to be precise) pianist Tim Harrison is a skilled craftsman on what becomes not just a pianoforte, but a means to illustrate stories and moods. Listen attentively to Harrison on the beautiful “Valley and Stream”. Moving to the core, one of the trio’s best tracks.
Although Wade admits his interest in science being a mere casual hobby, his choice of the album title is fundamental, an event horizon is to do with black holes, it is the point of “no return”… when it is literally too late to go back and the black void of the hole has captured one. Back to the music, “Event Horizon” is just this, a powerful vortex full of talent and musicality where one cannot escape, but is pulled into.

“Twist in the Wind” is forceful and fast-paced, showing off drummer Scott Neumann. A slick and energizing drumming tour de force.

Wade tells me in conversation that “some of the songs on the record I wrote before I knew that I was going to work with Tim and Scott. As we began to work together, the compositions I wrote began to take into consideration their style of play, their strengths, and the identity that began to emerge with this trio. The new material that I am writing for the next album is with this trio in mind and will build on the sounds and concepts that we developed thus far. My concept for the trio was always for it to be a three-way conversation, and my writing hopefully reflects this. In general, as a composer I’ve always been interested in exploring unique forms for a small ensemble, like a piano trio, as opposed to a large ensemble like a big band. A large ensemble will put more colours readily at the composers disposal, but there is a unique freedom available with a small group that is particularly of interest to me”. This is in full evidence on “Cold Spring”, for example, impeccably dark, nuanced with a blue tint perfect for Wade’s bass style.

I also asked Wade whether he is classically trained, he answers that mine is an interesting question as he did not start playing the double bass until his second year of college. That is obviously much later than most people begin their studies, he says. “I didn’t begin playing classical music until I was on my way out of the University. I began playing in amateur groups as a way to improve my overall technique on the instrument. I fell in love with the music, and decided that it was something I had to participate in. After many hours of practice, this hobby turned into a part-time career, and eventually became part of my performing practice as a professional musician. I currently play with a number of classical freelance groups in the New York City area. I am certainly influenced by classical music in my writing choices as a jazz composer. In fact, I am planning to record an album of classical compositions arranged and reduced for a jazz piano trio. I already have about half of the material written. The album will include big works such as the Goreki 3rd symphony, the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and several others. I think it is a wonderful challenge as a composer and arranger”.

This writer is certainly looking forward to listening to the new project. A classical and jazz mélange of creativity!

In the meantime, let’s listen and enjoy “Event Horizon”, the debut album par excellence!

Erminia Yardley

Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles ‘Stardust’ (Jellymould) 4/5

stan-sulzmann-nikki-iIlesSuccessful piano and saxophone duets are extremely difficult to pull off and historically one thinks of Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy, or more recently Hank Jones and Joe Lovano for examples of partnerships that have worked. What comes across in this refreshing and indeed invigorating new reworking of standards is that tenorist Stan Sulzmann and pianist Nikki Iles have a natural empathy for one another and ideally complement one another. It takes genuine skill and endeavour (not to say a good deal of experience) to attempt this kind of recording, retaining the listener’s attention throughout and the duets work for the entire album. A personal favourite is the lovely Coltranesque tone adopted by Sulzmann on the opener, ‘Nikki’s corner’, with Iles contribution evoking Bill Evans and this is an absolute joy from start to finish. Contrast this with the introspective treatment of ‘Young and foolish’ which features a passionate solo by Sulzmann who adds just the right amount of restricted passion and this is matched by a delicate solo from Iles. Sulzmann in particular here extracts the maximum amount of the tune and this is a sheer delight. The relaxed reading of ‘Body and Soul’ includes a lovely intro by Sulzmann who is in a most relaxed mode while Iles offers up a gentle solo. In general, there is a maturity to the playing who both combine to fill in the spaces beautifully. This is unquestionably one of the most enjoyable listening albums of the year so far and the pair should seriously think of recording together in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse

Samuel Leipold ‘Seven Short Songs’ (QFTF) 4/5

samuel-leipoldRealising a dream and paying a fitting tribute to Swiss composer Arthur Honegger is what we have in Samuel Leipold’s debut album, Seven Short Songs. This was a challenging project, simply because of the avant-garde nature of Honegger’s musical language. However, with the help from bass player Lukas Traxel, sax player Toni Bechtold and drummer Samuel Büttiker, the young Swiss guitar player has managed to create a contemporary jazz album which is both melodic and captivating. Unlike other band leaders who would like to take the upper hand, especially on a debut album, Samuel Leipold appears withdrawn at first, or lacking confidence. When first listening to the album, it feels as if the saxophone player dominates the album but then slowly, one realizes that through his fluidity, Samuel Leipold acts as a gentle force that either propels the melody forward (as in his solo in Intervalle #1) or brings back the saxophone within the boundaries of the melody (as in Die Tanke).
In fact, a striking feature throughout the album is the contrast and repartie between the gentle, almost mesmerizing, guitar playing and the more untamed saxophone performance.
The album consists of seven tracks, three covers of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger and four original compositions. It is an interesting album which offers some more upbeat solo moments (Die Tanke) in addition to more tender compositions (Intervalle #2, Une pièce brève).
The album gets off to a wonderful start with the haunting Drei kurze Stücke #2 (Three short pieces #2(, the first of a three pieces suite based on Arthur Honegger’s music. In this interpretation, the bass and saxophone immediately introduce the riff, which is intercepted by splashes from the guitar. With a hypnotic bass in the background, the dialogue between the saxophone and the guitar keeps the melody forward and evolving.
Moving along its melodic journey, Drei kurze Stücke #3 is a track with a lazy cadence, where the guitar short solo is a nice contrast with the more edgy saxophone. Out of the three pieces, my personal favourite is Drei kurze Stucke #1. It has an enchanting feel to it. Samuel Leipold’s short performance is so transparent, his notes glisten in musical space and we truly get a taste of his talent and class. Somehow I wish we’d heard him a bit more present on the other two short pieces.
The three short pieces (#1, 2 and 3) are short sketches which are more atmospheric than melodious. In them, Samuel Leipold dissects the melody and renders the music of Arthur Honegger alive and more discernable for the new generations. However short each piece is, he manages to transform what sounds chaotic to a more defined musical concept and convey a specific atmosphere. The pieces sound like the strands of an oneiric introspection.

The silky smooth melody of Intervalle #1 offers a panel of textures and rhythms which the trio seems so fond of. Samuel Leipold offers the listeners some guitar action which is proof of his technical prowess and lures the listeners into the melody before the saxophone breaks into a typical jazz crescendo, if only briefly. I personally am very fond of Intervalle #2. It oozes that flair of cool jazz, which I love so much and which I find so addictive. Its sensitive repetitive beginning leads to a wonderful atmospheric guitar solo. I particularly enjoyed how Samuel Leipold’s playing is so entrancing, it is as if it almost inspires the saxophone to play in a more subdued manner. In both Intervalle #1 and #2, the guitar and saxophone feed on each other’s energies, each manoeuvring along the storyline in their own way to finally join forces at the end.

Die Tanke (The Gas Station) is a good solid jazz number, dominated by a skittish saxophone, but which I found lacks any of that originality I heard in the previous tracks.

All in all, it is an album that needs to be listened to a few times to appreciate all its finesse. I found Samuel Leipold’s lack of gimmicks and humble playing greatly appealing though and can only wish for a second album where we could hear him more in the forefront.

Nathalie Freson

Avi Darash ‘Impermanence’ (Private Press) 4/5

12 cm digi-2-sides-1tray_OK.cdr“Impermanence”, by Israeli born pianist Avi Darash, was four years in the making and features the pianist in three different settings; solo, trio, and with strings. The album is written, arranged and produced by Darash, with Ofri Nehemya (drums) and Avri Borochov (double bass) making up the trio, and a string quartet from the Grammy winning National Orchestra of Netherlands “Metropol Orket” adding occasional strings. Darash has brought both his Israeli heritage and life in Amsterdam into a musical melting pot, but it is his stylistic and melodically rewarding approach to making music that stands out most. Darash is a relative newcomer to the world of jazz composition (not that you would know it from listening to this album), having been introduced to jazz when he was 16 years of age, when he attended his first jazz concert and was deeply moved by the experience. Having been playing piano since he was 11, inspired by his cousin Tal Ben-Ari (better known as Tribul Tul), it was the acoustic and classical aspects of contemporary jazz that later led the pianist to study in Jerusalem and New York, before taking up residency in the Netherlands, studying both jazz and classical composition. In June 2012 he produced a solo piano album titled “Piano Works”, which featured eight original compositions. “Impermanence” further develops his original writing style, enabling him to expand his themes into a trio and ‘with strings’ setting.

It is impossible (to these ears at least) to write about Darash’s style of playing without mentioning Brad Mehldau. And indeed, the great pianist has himself said of Darash; “Avi Darash is a gifted musician. He has a strong technique at the piano, and that gives him the ability to explore the very individual approach he is taking. I appreciate his commitment to nurturing and developing his own voice. He is already a compelling pianist for the listener.” And there are a lot of the Mehldau trademarks to be heard in Darash’s playing; the polyphonic style, the chordal progressions and a taste for the quirky and the melodramatic- it’s all there. This is clearly evident on his tunes, for example “Lullaby for Bendavid”, “Nothingness”, and “A Three Day’s Journey”. But so is his original voice, one which shines through and will undoubtedly grow as the pianist matures with both age, and experience.

It is often one’s experiences in life, and all the emotions that come with them, that have a way of making us reach inside to try and fathom the reasons, why’s and wherefores. Davish’s journey that led to the making of this album, has undoubtedly been a difficult one. He lost his mother in October 2014 and a month later was divorced by his wife who left his home, taking their son with her. As Davash explains; “I thought I was going through a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t touch the piano or do anything. I would go into deep meditations to figure out these emotions and finally I decided to go into a practice called Vipissanna, a 10 day meditation course done in complete silence. I went through deep experiences of outer body, outer consciousness, and finally the idea of the album came about; especially the name. Vipissanna is rooted in the idea of observation, observing one’s emotions, one’s rise and fall of feelings and desires whilst being a pure observer, seeing the constant flux we are in as people, our attachments and emotions we hold so dear to us without realising the suffering infused in that paradox.” And as a lover of music, and fellow human being, if you’re reading this, I now implore you to go and listen to track 7 from this album; “The Shepherd of Dreams”. It is such a beautiful piece of music that perhaps sums up best my thoughts on how wonderful this musician can be. On tracks like this, and on the marvellous “Morenica”, a new voice in the world of music is not only dazzling us with his incredible virtuosity, but doing it in such a heartfelt and thoughtful manner that it leaves this listener believing he is hearing a musician who is on a path that will lead to great things.

The writing throughout this fine album is at times innovative and is performed with a deft touch from all of the musicians involved. The drums and bass of Nehemya and Borochov seem to share an excellent rapor with the pianist, helping bring to life his intelligent tunes. There’s clearly a musical maturity mixed in with the youthful exuberance, with the tunes themselves never appearing to be introspective despite the composer’s recent experiences. It is as if he has found himself, both personally and musically speaking, and the music reflects this. All eleven tracks have something in them that delights, whether it be the well-crafted strings, the interplay between the trio, or the confident, uninhibited playing of the pianist himself. Reflective in parts, exciting in others, “Impermanence” is an album I will return to time after time, with each new listen bringing with it something fresh. There is undoubtedly much more to come from Avi Darash, and I very much look forward to hearing it.

Mike Gates

Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Icilongo: The African Peace Suite’ CD/DIG (Gundu Entertainment) 5/5

nduduzo-makhathiniIt seems that you don’t have to wait very long for a new album from Nduduzo Makhathini. We only reviewed his third album, “Listening to the Ground” in February and now we have his fifth release “Icilongo (The African Peace Suite)”. Mr. Makhathini we can’t keep up!
Nduduzo’s music is rooted in spirituality. It’s the means by which he was initially introduced to music as a child, through his family and the church, and as a young adult it was the way he was able to connect Jazz to his musical upbringing.
The theme at the heart of this album is one advocating peace and unity within Africa, with the inspirations coming from Nduduzo’s background. The title, “Icilongo”, the Zulu word for a trumpet/horn has several levels of symbolism. Most immediately it can be seen as heralding a call for people to come together and is drawn from the significance of the trumpet in the Bible as marking an important event or change.
Icilongo also refers to Icilongo Levangeli, a popular Zulu hymnbook, which was taught to Nduduzo by his Grandmother. This book has significance because as Nduduzo explains “not every family could afford to own a copy, when it was time to sing a song from this particular book people would form groups sharing the 10 or so copies we had among the whole congregation then we would start singing, the sound of the voices would be magical you could feel a strong sense of unity the power of coming together”.

Enough about symbolism, and on to the music itself. The album contains 9 original compositions featuring Nduduzo on piano, vocals and water effects, the UK’s very own Shabaka Hutchings on Tenor sax, Nduduzo’s regular drummer Ayande Sikade, Benjamin Jephta on double bass, Justin Bellairs on alto and soprano sax and the voice of Sakhile Moleshe.

Stylistically the album encapsulates Nduduzo’s key musical influences – South African jazz, traditional Zulu music, Gospel and the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane.

The album starts, just as a church service would, with a prayer, in this case delivered by Nduduzo’s Grandmother, Alphinah. It’s fitting that the second track is a song of tribute to his grandmother and is a traditional South African blues.

For me the Peace Suite starts in earnest with “Resolution”, which I can only assume is another tribute of sorts, this time to Love Supreme. It’s not a cover version, although both are spiritually motivated. Nduduzo’s piano playing really stand out on this track, whilst there’s passion in those key strokes there’s also real nuance as the track ebbs and flows.

“Imagined Race” is Nduduzo at his most euphoric and reminds me of those classic Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas albums. The tune builds slowly, at first around Sakhile Moleshe’s deep, full vocals and then as it progresses Nduduzo explores some great spiritually driven piano lines, rising and falling in energy and power, with passionate support by the saxophones. The lyrics are full of hope and optimism, although for me the chorus doesn’t quite work for me.

“Inkululeko (Freedom for all)” is a hearty, emboldened call and response. “Ubumbano (Unity)” also features much of this passionate energy and emotion within a long intro.

“Shwele (Amnesty)” and “Ivangeli (The Gospel)” are much darker compositions featuring impassioned, emotive readings from Sakhile Moleshe. Moleshe ‘preaches’ over improvised passages of music before giving way to Nduduzo’s piano and some inspirational saxophone playing. Without doubt this is my favourite track.

Overall this album is full of spirit and real emotional and musical integrity. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I hope that this will be the springboard to wider recognition.

Andy Hazell

Various ‘Kev Beadle presents the best of Inner City Records’ (BBE) 4/5

kev-beadle-presents-the-best-of-inner-city-recordsCast your minds back to a golden era for jazz-fusion record collectors from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Devotees in major cities would flock to their local record specialist that held the latest imports and among these, LPs from Inner City records consistently contained hidden Latin-tinged, instrumental and vocal jazz gems during a period when jazz was somewhat in the doldrums. This period is chronicled by Kev Beadle on this excellent overview of the label. Chronologically, the compilation covers roughly the period 1977-1981 and sub-divides into Latin fusion, quality jazz-funk and jazz vocalese. Latin music and jazz have long enjoyed a fruitful and mutually enhancing relationship and so it proves on the frenetic piece ‘The samba’ from Jeff Lorber Fusion. Adding and abetting matters was the contribution of Chick Corea on electric keyboards and on this number the storming rendition compares favourably with his work as part of Return to Forever. In an uptempo vein, but with softly spoken vocals, singer and keyboardist Judy Roberts delivers a classic slice of jazz-fusion in Never was love’ that was a dancefloor delight. Interestingly, Roberts also recorded in a straight ahead vein on acoustic piano and those albums are worth seeking out also.

Japanese musicians regularly figured among the imports arriving in the late 1970s and three of the most prominent are featured here. Trumpeter Terumasa Hino was in some ways an equivalent of Norman Connors in so far as several emerging soul and jazz musicians passed through his band at one stage or another. On ‘Send me your feelings’ from an original 1979 Japanese album on City Connection, the unknown soulful vocals of the song (written by one Harry Whitaker, who was an integral member of Roy Ayers Ubiquity period) embellish the underlying jazz component and this is a real treat to hear again. Trombonist Hiroshi Fukumura and tenor saxophonist Sadao Watanabe combine beautifully on an import favourite and album title track that eventually came out on 12′, ‘Hunt up wind’. This belongs alongside ‘Spaces and Places’, ‘Expansions’ as a bona fide jazz-funk classic.

Last, but by no means least, this is an anthology that showcases the vocal talent that Inner City had on their roster and what an impressive line-up they had at the time. Janet Lawson has thankfully seen her album ‘Janet Lawson Quintet’ re-issued previously be BBE and ‘So high’ is a defining example of her artistry. One of the pioneers of jazz vocalese and personal favourite of this writer is the late and unquestionably great Eddie Jefferson. His 1977 album, ‘The main man’ is richly deserving of a re-issue, but one superb example of his craft is to be found on the stunning interpretation of Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeannine’. Jefferson was a major innovator in the field of jazz vocals and took on some challenging projects, including adding lyrics to Miles Davis’ jazz-rock opus, ‘Bitches Brew’ and even Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’. Wordless vocals was a technique that came to the fore during the 1970s and included Al Jarreau and a then young Bobby McFerrin. One major practitioner was Polish vocalist Urszula Dudziak and her offering, ‘Shenkansen’, conveys the breakneck speed of a Japanese bullet train. In a more straight ahead vein, but on less enthralling, Tom Lellis, akin perhaps to Jackie Paris, never received his full due, and one truly wonders why when listening to the excellent, ‘Lucky Southern’. Again another album that deservers to be heard in its entirety and re-released. A major vocalist from the past who came back with a lovely album for Inner City was Helen Merrill and her take on the Brazilian jazz-samba ‘Vera Cruz’ immortalised by singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, adds a new layer to the vocal offerings here.

For a second volume, perhaps greater light could be shed on some of the fine acoustic jazz that surfaced on the label and included the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, on the fine collaboration between Stan Getz and a then young singer Cybil Shepherd and on the history behind the label. Otherwise, this is a near flawless anthology and one that has been a long time coming.

Tim Stenhouse

Daniel Freedman ‘Imagine That’ (Anzic) 4/5

daniel-freedmanIt’s always a pleasure to listen to an album that is a breath of fresh air. “Imagine That” is just that. A multi-cultural sounding mix of jazz, blues and world music, it is infused with eclectic delights and wonderful craftsmanship, from start to finish. New York born drummer Daniel Freedman, brings together a great band of musicians for this recording, featuring Lionel Loueke (from Benin) on guitars and vocals, Jason Lindner (from Brooklyn) on keyboards, Omer Ivital (from Israel) on bass, and Gilmar Gomez (from Brazil) on percussion. There is also a guest appearance by Benin-born vocalist Angelique Kidjo, with whom Freedman has toured the world in her band. A truly international group then, and one in which every person makes an important contribution, all brilliantly pulled together into a cohesive whole by the band-leader. Freedman studied with master drummers Max Roach, Billy Higgins and Vernel Fournier, before travelling to further his studies in West Africa, Cuba and the Middle East. It is this vast understanding of his instrument and the backgrounds of the musical traditions he has learned from that really does shine out from the music he and his band make. There’s such a natural flow to the tunes, at times the listener could be forgiven for thinking that they had all known each other from childhood, such is the strength of the bond that can be heard in their performances throughout the album. Freedman, now at 41 years of age, musically long since came of age, and on this wonderful follow-up to his two previous releases, his musical journeying continues on with a cultured and fresh originality that is both purposeful and innovative.

“Imagine That” kicks off in style with the lively, infectious “Determined Soul”. One of the things that makes this album so enjoyable is the fact that each musician brings with them their own skill and original style. None more so, perhaps, than guitarist Lional Loueke, who lights up the proceedings with his joyful, spirited playing. Composed by keyboardist Jason Lindner, the tune has a distinct Afrobeat sound and feel to it. “Baby Aya”‘ composed by Freedman, is a stunning piece of music. “I sang this tune to my baby daughter” explains the multi-talented drummer, “In the middle of the night when I thought she’d never go to sleep…it’s almost a joke- a melody that sounds like a lullaby, but with a rhythm that feels like a party towards the end.” This piece of music is so original, with such a beautiful, thoughtful feel to it, it moves me every time I hear it, contemplative yet ultimately celebratory and uplifting; lifted even higher with the vocals that come in and build up as the tune progresses. The seductive “Big In Yemen” begins with Loueke on the oud, the Middle Eastern sounds adding a nostalgic feel to the tune. Based on a rhythmic Yemenite groove, guitar and keyboards eventually combine on this coolest of tunes. Radiohead’s “Codex” could be seen as a surprise choice, but in the hands of these musicians, arranged by Freedman and Lindner, they make it their own in explosively creative fashion. It’s nice to see an album where many of the members contribute to the writing, not just the performing, and guitarist Loueke brings his tune “Mindaho” to the table, with terrific results. The tune itself has an emotionally engaging centre to it, with the drums and percussion completely unified, sharing an intuitively rewarding path, one that sparkles with truth and awareness. “Love Takes Time” is a beautiful piece written by Lindner. Deceptively simple and soulful to the core. Another major plus point to this recording is the sound. It’s such an open, honest feel created by the band (and sound engineers), it makes me smile on every listen. One of the many pleasures is listening to Omer Ivital’s bass, highlighted on this tune. The ballad “Eastern Elegy” is a tune that Freedman wrote when the war was escalating in Syria. “I saw pictures of the destruction in Aleppo and had also talked to a friend whose family was from there. The ballad is a kind of wordless elegy for all that was, that can’t be brought back.” The influences of Freedman’s collaborations with fellow Third World Love band member Avishai Cohen are apparent on the closing number “The Sisters Dance”. Play it loud is all I can say- your room will be filled with an infectious youthful spirit that dances in and out of the sunlight coming in through the windows; like another world entering a different domain. And that is what this album achieves so well; a meeting of cultures and musical minds joyously sharing their stories and journeys. Open the your doors and windows and let the music in!

Mike Gates

Les McCann Trio ‘Live’ 2CD (Groove Hit) 4/5

les-mccann-trioSoul-jazz pianist Les McCann is best remembered for his 1969 collaborative recording at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Eddie Harris, ‘Swiss Movement’, but his own work predates that by a good decade and included other musical partnerships, notably with singer Lou Rawls on the ‘Stormy Monday album, as well as with Blue Mitchell, Joe Pass, Stanley Turrentine and Ben Webster. This excellent value for money two CD set captures an earlier live incarnation of McCann with his trio at the beginning of the 1960s for Pacific Jazz records. McCann has always had an ear for catchy commercial numbers and scored some early career hits that became juke box as well as radio hits. These included the title track to the first album here, ‘Plays the shout’. However, he is a good deal more than a mere hit maker and his gospel-tinged piano has graced some of the standard repertoire from Duke Ellington to Gershwin, imbuing it with new meaning. His interpretation of ‘A foggy day’ is at once a refined and stylish reading and develops into a medium paced blues number. Elsewhere McCann delivers a masterful rendition of ‘On Green Dolphin St.’ that compares favourably with the Gene Harris and the Three Sounds version on Blue Note.

If the first album was largely confined to covers of the great American songbook, then by the second live album the pianist was more confident in his own compositional prowess and something of the exuberant, showmanship quality is showcased here and this would earn him a long-term loyal audience. The album, ‘Les McCann in San Francisco’ is notable for the inclusion of four tracks not originally available on the 1960 vinyl and this was recorded at the Jazz Workshop. A strong set is brought to a climax with quality numbers such as ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and the gospel-infused, ‘Gone on a get that church’.

Collectively, the three albums contain all of the music recorded by McCann and the trios on 16 and 17 July 1960. These albums have been available at various times separately, but this is undoubtedly the best environment to hear them in their totality and on vinyl the Pacific Jazz albums are not easy to finds in Europe in contrast with McCann’s later Atlantic offerings. A twenty page booklet sheds plenty of light on the musician with a fascinating interview that reveals how much McCann was indeed influenced by gospel music. From his early hits, only ‘The truth’ is missing on this mini anthology of his work. Otherwise a fine place to supplement the more famous albums hitherto referred to within.

Tim Stenhouse

Nicklas Sørensen ‘Solo’ (El Paraiso) 3/5

nicklas-sørensen“Solo” is in fact the first solo album from Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørensen. The similarities with the oeuvre created with his band Papir can be heard, but only from a distance. On this album the Copenhagen native focuses on the exploration of guitar soundscapes. He does enlist the help of the Papir rhythm section, along with Causa Sui’s Jonas Monk, but the intent appears to have been to make an ambient album mixed with ethereal sounds and dream-like visions. And on some levels he does succeed. There are some nice touches to be heard, especially when after repeated listens… the music grows on you, its hidden depths revealing themselves gradually. It takes time to reveal the little gems, but what it doesn’t do is cover up the poor aspects of the album.
Six original compositions make up the album; simply titled “Solo 1-6”. So let’s start at the beginning with the opening track, unsurprisingly titled “Solo 1” – and with it, my biggest bugbear with this album. Whilst there are moments and entire passages even, of lovingly crafted contemplative music to be heard on this release, for me, the whole conceptual feel and essence of the album is let down badly by the need to put a track like “Solo 1” on the recording. It just doesn’t do anything to introduce the listener to the music that lies ahead. Basically it’s a very average upbeat tune that lacks any kind of originality or purpose. It offers very little and delivers even less. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the album proper. “Solo 2” begins with a meditative drum beat, laying the foundation for the guitarist to play some lovely, bright yet sparse chords, over which a tune gradually develops. As with most of the album, Sørensen uses the standard guitarist’s toolkit nicely, utilising some nice delays, reverbs and echoes, among other things, to create atmospheres that shimmer, sparkle and fade. It’s pretty simple stuff really, and initially not particularly involving, but after a few listens I did let go of something…not sure what, but suddenly it all sounded so much more ‘whole’. The sounds cascade, rise and fall, twisting and turning as they go, like little stories trying to break free into a bigger, more meaningful novel. “Solo 3” has a great vibe to it. The use of synths on this track works particularly well, combining with the guitar sounds to create an almost Pat Metheny-esque / Tangerine Dream-like landscape of journeying sound. Definitely one of the best tracks on the album, it shows that the skill of the composer is there and that when things work, they work magnificently. A lusciously ethereal sound envelops the listener on “Solo 4”. Some beautifully crafted reverse delay adds an otherworldly ambient feel to the tune. The composer has the skill and confidence to just let the tune drift, in quite a beautiful way I might add. There’s nothing forced or Ill-conceived on this piece, its simplicity allowing the listener to sit back, breath slowly, and enjoy the subtleties that grace this fine piece of music. “Solo 5”, although perhaps more melodic, loses the flow somewhat. It just doesn’t work as well as some of the other tracks, sounding a bit like Sørensen feeling the need to add in some pretty uninspiring soloing, with the drums sounding more like a 1980’s backbeat than anything of musical meaning. “Solo 6”, the longest piece on the album, is a slow burner. There’s a quiet grace to this tune that I really like. As with the other good tracks, it has room to breathe, allowing a natural atmosphere to be created. Nothing’s rushed, the music has the time and space to speak for itself. There’s a lovely warmth and ambience, dream-like in nature, letting the listener drift off to wherever the music takes them. The synths and drums combine perfectly with Sørensen’s guitar, and even as the tune twists in on itself into slightly avant-garde, experimental territory, it all works superbly well. The heartbeat runs deep through the tune, never ceasing, whilst the changes come and go around it, probing, searching, discovering. A brilliant piece of music to end the album.

A mixed mag then, “Solo”. A couple of tracks stand out as brilliant 5 star pieces of music, whilst a couple more are extremely forgettable 1 star duds. And the remaining numbers sit bang in the middle. With some spellbinding passages of true brilliance, it’s very frustrating that the album is so unbalanced with the inclusion of some annoying mediocrity. But maybe that’s what making music is, and should be, all about… being brave enough to try something new. And ultimately accepting that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I can certainly live with that, it’s well worth it in order to hear the bits that do work, exceptionally well.

Mike Gates

Kirk MacDonald ‘Symmetry’ CD (Addo) 5/5

15004_6PCDdigiThere is an added thrill to listening to an album of which you have little expectation, by an artist that you have never heard of, and being thoroughly charmed by it from start to finish.
If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the music of Kirk MacDonald then I think some background would be helpful. He is a Canadian saxophone player who has built a solid reputation in his own country over the past 30 years. His last album, “Vista Obscura” features Harold Mabern and Pat LaBarbera and he has played or recorded with the likes of Eddie Henderson, Walter Bishop Jr, Kenny Wheeler and Bernie Senensky. This is McDonald’s 13th album as a bandleader, although he has appeared on countless dates as a sideman.
“Symmetry” was originally released in Canada in 2013, and after getting a good reception and even winning an Award, it is now being distributed more widely.
The line up for the album is Kirk MacDonald (tenor sax) Tom Harrell (trumpet and flugelhorn), Brian Dickinson (piano), Neil Swainson (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums). Tom Harrell’s name stands out as the most well-known in this group, but this album is very much an ensemble piece.

The title of the album, “Symmetry” is also its connecting theme. In determining the make up the album MacDonald selected compositions that captured a particular sense of balance, adhering to this idea of symmetry. This concept was not explored in a singular way, but could be present in melody, rhythm or harmony. For MacDonald it was just as important that this worked for the composer as it does for us, the listeners.

I have to admit that this concept didn’t seem particularly exciting or inspiring to me, but having listened to the album over and over for the past week I’ve come to the conclusion that that doesn’t really matter, it’s better to just let the music speak for itself.

First and foremost this is an album of fantastic compositions, all written by MacDonald, full of melody, eloquence and joie de vivre. The synergy between all the players is apparent from the outset; something that is all the more remarkable given that most of the tracks were recorded in one or two takes. I hesitate to describe this as mainstream jazz, only because I use this as a pejorative term most of the time. In this instance however it perfectly describes what I am listening to, jazz that is instantly accessible, expressive, friendly and uplifting.

The whole album seems to fly by. In the main this is down to the tempo, which is light and upbeat most of the time. Drums are rarely to the fore, although bass does get the occasional solo. None of the tracks have extended intros so you are in to the meat of the composition from the first few bars.

“Eleven”, which MacDonald describes as a “sort of a tribute to Bill Evans”, has a wonderfully lilting melody and caught my ear straightaway. MacDonald and Harrell tag team, taking off where the other ends. McDonald’s sax playing is rich in detail and soulful in its delivery. Harrell’s playing on this track, as in much of the album, reminds me of Freddie Hubbard, there’s a real warmth and depth to it.

I love the rising chord pattern in “Common Ground” which takes you spiraling upwards, before dumping you down at the end of the track.

It would be wrong to see this as the MacDonald and Harrell show though. Brian Dickinson’s contributions are significant throughout, full of fast flowing lines, as showcased in “Mackrel’s Groove”, “Brazil Like” and the aforementioned “Eleven”.

Overall this is a great set of tunes played well by all participants. Fortunately I won’t be so clueless the next time Kirk MacDonald releases an album.

Andy Hazell