Iro Haarla ‘Ante Lucem: For Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet’ (ECM) 3/5

iro-haarlaThis largely symphonic live recording is taken from commissioned pieces for the 2012 October Jazz Festival in Umeå, Sweden, and brings together the piano and harp playing of leader Iro Haarla, in demand saxophonist Trygve Seim and others in tandem with the NorrlandsOperans Symfonieorkester, conducted by Jukka Lisakkila. Fans of classical music will enjoy the music here as
much as fans of chamber jazz and the four lengthy pieces vary between fifteen and almost twenty minutes. In general the musical tone is mournful and this is attributable to the recent passing of Haarla’s mother who was an opera singer. Different seasons are evoked in the numbers and these include, ‘Perseverence with winter’, which evokes the time of hibernation. The bowed double bass of Ulf Krokfors comes to the fore here with piercing strings and crashing cymbals. On ‘Songbird chapel’, the Debussy-esque tones impress with harp in the background. Introspection is to the fore on this most recent ECM release and once again it cuts across musical boundaries which pretty much typifies the whole ECM ethos.

Tim Stenhouse

Mike Wheeler Band ‘Turn Up!!’ (Delmark) 4/5

mike-wheeler-bandIf the soul-blues sounds of Little Milton and Robert Cray are to your liking, then lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Wheeler provides a modern twist on the soulful blues groove. A veteran of the Chicago blues scene from the mid-1980s onwards, Wheeler founded the band in 2001 and made his debut CD in 2003. A previous release on Delmark from 2012, ‘Self made man’, set the scene and this new recording with a two horn section has a slightly rougher edge than the Cray sound, but is just as compelling. A tribute to Little Milton comes in the shape of a new reading of, ‘That;s what love will make you do’, and there is a beautiful soulful ballad, ‘Nothing lasts forever’. However, with time and experience, the tight sounding band has developed its rhythm section and this is on fire on the stomping beat of the opener, ‘Sweet girl’. Some critics have remarked that the guitar phrasing recalls Vernon Reid and it is certainly true that Wheeler has soaked up myriad musical influences that range from blues and R&B to funk and even disco. The good news is that with regular live performances throughout the city of Chicago Wheeler and the band have created their own sound, and their diversity of influences even takes in New Orleans, as on the drum beat to, ‘I can’t do that’. A fine new release on Delmark and one that demonstrates beyond doubt that the blues is still rocking in the windy city for sure.

Tim Stenhouse

GQ ‘Standing Ovation: The Story of GQ and the Rhythm Makers 1974-1982’ 2CD (BBR) 4/5

gqFor British fans of disco, GQ were a short-lived band who scored a minor hit with ‘Disco nights (rock freaks)’ and then their biggest success with the title track to this compilation that crossed over into the lower echelons of the pop charts. In fact, the group had started way back in the mid-1970s when they were known as the Rhythm Makers and this extremely well annotated anthology sheds useful new light on their rise to fame. Mr GQ was none other than Emmnuel Raheem LeBlanc and the group’s big opportunity came when they were signed to Arista records under the tutelage of Larkin Arnold. It was he in fact who was responsible for signing A Taste of Honey, Maze and Nathalie Cole among others. Remixer Jimmy Simpson helped catapult GQ into the disco charts and his full-length remixes including an interesting interpretation of ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’, a hit for a Taste of Honey, are contained within. Like many other acts, GQ were more than a dance band and some of the strongest albums cuts are their updating of soul classics such as, Billy Stewarts’ and the Chantells, ‘Sitting in the Park’, whereas tracks like ‘Spirit’ and ‘Wonderful’ were inspired by hearing Earth. Wind and Fire. GQ would be at the height of their popularity in 1979 when they opened for Teddy Pendergrass at Madison Square Gardens in New York in June of that year. Sadly, their early 1980s efforts fall into the gimmick sound effect of the era with ‘Try smurfit’, a low point and consequently they lost their distinctive voice.

Tim Stenhouse

Trygve Seim ‘Rumi Songs’ (ECM) 3/5

trygve-seimNorwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim has featured as sideman on various recent ECM recordings, but on this occasion he is leader for a recording that is inspired by the poems of thirteenth century poet Jelahuddin Rumi that have been transposed into English by an American translator in the 1970s. if this sounds a tad complex for a music project, then the lyrics sung in English by Tora Augestad are folk-inspired and do facilitate our understanding of the poetry. Even by ECMs usual standards, this is an eclectic affair. However, this writer would have preferred from a musical perspective if the lyrics had been dispensed with altogether and instead the instrumental side had been emphasized more. That oversight is a pity because Seim is a gifted tenor and soprano saxophone player who on this album is simply not afforded the space in which to stretch out fully. That said, the use of violincello by Svante Henryson and accordion from Frodi Haltlil hints at Piazzolla, as on the intro to ‘Seeing double’. The combination of instrumentation and vocals works best on the downtempo, ‘In your beauty’, where the cello acts as a kind of double bass. Overall, the saxophone here is lost and would have been enhanced by tablas and sitar rather than vocals. Full English lyrics are contained in the detailed inner sleeve notes (another recent ECM innovation) by Steve Lake.

Tim Stenhouse

Scrapbook ‘Scrapbook’ CD/DIG (Spark) 4/5

scrapbookI remember a program about jazz which was presented by my favourite of the two Marsalis brothers, Branford. In it, he looked at how jazz music has permeated most parts of the world and he made what I thought was an over simplistic statement and said that ‘real’ jazz was only written and played by American musicians – or words to that effect. This made my blood boil a little because for one I am British and I love jazz music and whilst we Brits may not boast a Duke Ellington, Monk, a Davis or Coltrane, we do produce some fine musicians that make some wonderful music.
Here we have a collection of nine songs that sounds as British as bangers n’ mash. The group/ensemble (whichever way they want to be considered) are collectively called Scrapbook and is led (if you had to name names) by pianist and man behind all of the compositions, Angus Bayley. The rest of the ensemble comprises:
Bass: Paul Trippett
Drums: Dave Hamblett
Violin: Nick Sigsworth
Viola: Daisy Watkins
Trumpet: Alaric Taylor
Trombone: Kieran McLeod

And what a sound they make! The two horns and two string instruments take this from mere acoustic jazz to something that is minorly symphonic. (P.S. the squiggly line underneath the word ‘minorly’ tells me it’s not a real word but I’m leaving it in any way…)

From the very start, with ‘Alex’s Song’ (co-written with Alex Chilton), the listener is embraced and bathed in a warm and subtle jazz waltz-like sound with the first bars of the melodic piano, to the horns stating the theme and the violin and viola reassuring the us that this will be a delightful experience. It was.

‘Henno’ is up next and begins with Angus setting the moment with a gospel sounding intro before being joined by the strings and then the rest of the instruments. This one is slightly more complex in composition than the first track with everyone playing to a nicely paced climax 2mins in before the violin and viola usher in a beautifully layered, but short, piano solo and a short and almost restrained solo from the trumpet. Another very listenable piece that almost puts me in mind of composers such as Mike Westbrook and Mike Gibbs.

‘Triads’ begins with piano and trumpet, then not too long in comes the strings to accompany. What a majestic sound they all produce together. Although this begins almost symphonically, it is a jazz piece and trombonist Kieran McLeod acquits himself well with a tasty solo – pure heaven.

‘Wrioter’ is a sparse arrangement, almost improvisational in feel but no less worthy than what we have listened to before.

I could go on and on about each track here but to me there isn’t really a bad piece of music on this release. Having said that, ‘My First Friends’ is another standout with the piano sounding decidedly Mehldau-esque and Dave Hamblett’s drums adding a percussive flair to the whole proceedings.

These seven musicians simply make wonderful gentle meaningful, (almost) elegiac music together. They don’t get in each other’s way musically and with the benefit of such insightful and thoughtful writing, the resulting sum is definitely greater than its component parts. Beautiful.

Look out for the band at these venues soon:

4th Oct The Stables, Milton Keynes
8th Nov The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
9th Nov The Lescar, Sheffield
9th Dec Spark Label night @ The Vortex, London

Sammy Goulbourne

Corey Dennison Band ‘Corey Dennison Band’ CD/DIG (Delmark) 4/5

corey-dennison-bandTennessee born bluesman Corey Dennison was born and raised in Chatanooga, Tennessee and as a child was exposed to the folk-blues guitar playing of his uncle, but his musical influences are very much in the 1960s Chicago electric blues tradition and this debut for premier Windy City label Delmark is testimony to the sounds he has soaked up in his adopted home.
Interestingly, Dennison’s interest in funk guitar riffs comes across on the JBs sounding, ‘Aw, snap’, which also features a mini rap by the leader. However, the feel is varied with the soul-blues of Bobby Bland merging on the excellent, ‘City lights’, and this approach suits Dennison’s naturally throaty delivery. As a teenager, Corey Dennison listened to a good deal of soul music that ranged from Curtis Mayfield through to the rootsy sounds of Bloodstone and more contemporary modern soul of the Controllers. Yet, he still found time to take in Junior Wells and regards his voice as equally soulful as the aforementioned. Close musical collaborator and band guitarist and organist Gerry Hundt is similarly eclectic in taste and performs elsewhere as a leader on harp, mandolin and bass and drums. For a rocking bassline, ‘Tugboat blues’ leaves no doubt that this band is the real deal and they are a regular live performance band in Chicago. This all original set places emphasis on the uptempo, but is adept on the slower material, with the melodic mid-tempo number, ‘The deacon’ an album highlight. Worth checking out if Chicago blues is your bag.

Tim Stenhouse

Slim Gaillard ‘The Extrovert Spirit Of Slim Gaillard 1945-1958’ 2CD (Avid) 5/5

slim-gaillardHipster extraordinaire who created his very own slang form of language, Slim Gaillard almost escapes definition. He is at once a self-taught linguist, singer, musician, comedian (in tandem with Slam Stewart, part of the Slim-Slam duo, with whom he also recorded music, most notably ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Laughing In Rhythm’), DJ and raconteur with a heavy dose of satire. There simply is no equivalent character in present day society, but he certainly deserves pride of place among the likes of Lord Buckley and Kenneth Rexroth, and is invariably linked to the beat generation However, in truth he predates all of these, being active from the mid-1930s onwards, and is in a league all of his own. In the late 1980s, a brief vinyl re-issue of ‘Opera In Vout’ emerged and was quickly bought up by the cognoscenti, but other than that his name is better known for his 1989 BBC multi-part radio series, ‘The world of Slim Gaillard, and he remained in the UK until his death in February 1991.
Born and raised in Detroit, Gaillard tried his hand at being a boxer, mortician and even during the prohibition era ran a bootleg rum business. From a musical perspective, his interest coincided with the be-bop revolution in jazz and in fact he recorded his early hit, ‘Cement Mixer’, with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, included here. His musical inspiration included the guitarist Charlie Christian and boogie-woogie piano, and this is reflected in he music. While ‘Flat foot floogie’ is, perhaps his signature tune, there are numerous sides here to admire. They included the odd dose of Latin rhythms as on the early 1950s recording, ‘Sabroso’, or the exotic hues of the mambo on, ‘Mishugana Mambo’ and ‘Sukiyaki Cha Cha’. In general, Slim Gaillard was adept at capitalising on the craze for Eastern rhythms on ‘Arabian boogie’, but was still capable of singing straight ballads from the Great American songbook, and this is illustrated by his rendition of the Gershwin brothers, ‘Oh Lady Be Good’, or on ‘I can’t give you anything but love’. That he was taken seriously by jazz musicians is reflected in the number of top session instrumentalists who accompanied him and they included Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Lucky Thompson and Ben Webster to name but a few. Above all else, there is a great sense of fun that permeates the totality of these recordings with ‘Babalu, ‘Soony-Roony’ and the four-part, ‘Opera In Vout (The groove Juice Symphony)’ typifying the relaxed and witty humour that flowed out of Gaillard. A fine re-issue and one that will provide endless hours of pleasure, not least from the invented language that Slim was able to conjure up from his highly inventive brain.

Tim Stenhouse

Earl Bostic ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid) 4/5

earl-bosticOne of a select few rhythm and blues saxophonists who were studio regulars, Earl Bostic recorded prolifically and in a variety of formats. He was much favoured on the Juke boxes where he delivered some eighty or so 45s, his output of EPs numbered over sixty, and he recorded almost a dozen 10″ LPs and another twenty-five full-length LPs, nine of which were released in 1959 alone, stands the test of time and is an impressive testimony to his dedicated efforts. More importantly, however, he was an influential figure for later saxophonists in soul and rock music, as well as many jazz musicians and among the latter of those who performed in his band, one finds the likes of Blue Mitchell, the Turrentine brothers Stanley and Tommy, as well as vibist Teddy Charles and tenorist Benny Golson. Indeed altoist Lou Donaldson, who himself recorded prolifically for Blue Note, cites Bostic as a seminal influence. A young tenorist by the name of John Coltrane spoke in idolatry terms of Earl Bostic when he briefly joined the band on tour in 1952 and referred to Bostic’s, ‘Fabulous technical facilities’.

Earl Bostic enjoyed a lengthy tenure with King records for whom he signed as early as 1948 after a stint with the Gotham label and it is the King sides that the listener hears on the two CD set. While success was not immediately forthcoming, the label’s patience was finally rewarded in 1951 with two R &B hits,’Harlem Nocture’, and ‘Where or when’, both of which open up the first CD set here on the album, ”Dance time’. In general, Bostic’s approach was to take standards, and these sometimes included a classical piece, and imbue them with his own infectious rocking dose of R & B that appealed to a wide audience and one that signficantly cut across genres and ethnic group interests. They were instrumentals that were instantly catchy possessing strong hooks and yet within these numbers, Bostic was fully capable of delivering a blistering solo in miniature. Thus Irvin Berlin’s, ‘Blues skies’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s, ‘Lover come back to me’, could rub shoulders on the record, ‘Let’s dance’, with the likes of Franz Liszt, on ‘Leiberstraum’ and Saint Saens’, My heart at thy sweet voice’, which tells you everything you need to know about Bostic’s wholly eclectic approach to music.

Ideally, one would have liked to have seen included some of the other early major hits such as ‘Flamingo’ or ‘Sleep’, and the stunning overview album, ‘Earl Bostic blows a fuse’, which covers Gotham and King sides, is equally deserving of a new re-issue since it last surfaced on vinyl in 1985 on Charly. Otherwise, this is a fine entrance point for those not familiar with classic R & B instrumentals and the influence of Bostic on a later generation simply cannot be ignored and among these, King Curtis and Bruce Springsteen’s favoured saxophonist, Clemence Clemons (both now sadly departed) certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of Earl Bostic.

Tim Stenhouse

Myriad3 ‘Moons’ CD/DIG (Alma) 4/5

myriad3“Moons” is the engrossing third album from Myriad3, an eclectic jazz-rooted trio comprising pianist Chris Donnelly, bassist Dan Fortin and drummer Ernesto Cervini. Each band member brings original material to the group, resulting in an intriguing and often beguiling set of tunes. There’s a refreshing variety to the trio’s tunes, no doubt due in some respect to the fact that the compositions are spread between the three band members. Fortin explains that “We all write with our distinctive style but we’re very much informed by the others. I write a very different kind of song for this band compared with other projects, and Chris and Ernesto’s songwriting is a real influence on me.” For the listener what this means is that although there is healthy variation, it’s also pleasantly hinged together by the understanding and collective interplay between the three musicians. This works really well overall, with rarely a dull moment or an out of context tune to worry the listener’s ears. A dynamic act in performance, Myriad3 have successfully toured Canada, the US, Europe and Japan in recent years, and it’s good to hear them transferring this energy in such a positive way into a studio recording.

Eleven tunes grace this album, taking the listener on an eventful journey, one that has the potential to delight and surprise in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed the quirkiness and hard-edged feel of the opener “Skeleton Key”. This tune is known as a crowd pleaser apparently, and it’s easy to hear why. It has passion, verve and style and it’s anthemic qualities and uncompromising originality make it one of the stand-out tracks on the album. Fast forward to the closing track, and this gives a perfect example of just how skilfully adept the band are at creating an atmosphere – in this case in a beautifully subtle and engaging way. “Exhausted Clock” combines the talents of all three musicians so well, producing emotive music that is just as powerful when being introspective as when they power-up with a gleeful exhibitionism. There are plenty of wonderful moments to enjoy on the nine tracks that sit between the two aforementioned tunes. I loved the melancholic meanderings of “Stoner”, the dynamic “Sketch 8” and the dreamy yet ultimately contemporary feel of the title track “Moons”.

If you’re into your piano trios then this is an album well worth checking out. I’d say it’s slightly quirkier than the average trio album, but it’s undoubtedly all the better for it. Strong performances and songwriting that evokes a fearless sense of adventure make it stand out well above your average tried and tested piano trio session. It’s fresh, invigorating and spirited.

Mike Gates