Harry Allen ‘Something About Jobim’ (Stunt) 4/5

Relatively unknown to some, and now reaching fifty years of age, tenorist Harry Allen recorded this one-off recording in Brooklyn, but it immediately conjurs up summer days in Rio de Janeiro and features an all-Brazilian band for some much needed authenticity. Why yet another Jobim tribute album? This one differs from the usual fare in that it focuses on the lesser known repertoire and in mood remains squarely in ballad territory and thus largely avoids the bossa nova clichés trap that so many non-Brazilian musicians have fallen into. A real surprise is that both Joyce and husband and drummer Tutty Moreno are on board and make a significant contribution. Joyce in fact contributes her vocals to three songs including ‘Theme for Jobim’ where she adds Brazilian Portugese lyrics to the instrumental composed by Gerry Mulligan as well as performing on guitar elsewhere.Unquestionably Stan Getz and his exploration of Brazilian music has influenced Allen, but he has a strong enough voice in his won right to stamp his own imprint on the project, and among others Allen. has recorded with Ray Brown, Kenny Burrell, Hank Jones and Rosemary Clooney, but more importantly to this project Brazilian compose and singer Dori Caymmi. Nothing moves out of second gear tempo-wise, but ‘Mojave’ is a outstanding piece with mood bassline and ‘Captain Bacardi’ features some inventive guitar and piano vamps and makes for an understated samba-jazz groove.

From the songs selected, ‘Chovendo na Roseira’ is interpreted as a gently uplifting piece with Joyce adding her distinctive voice, while ‘Theme for Jobim’ is a lovely ballad with sensitive piano accompaniment from Helio Alves who is excellent throughout. Alves performed with the late great Joe Henderson and in a Lain music context with Cuban reedist Paquito D’Rivera and is at ease here. The rhythm section as a whole operates as a tight cohesive whole with fine work from bassist Rodolfo Stroeter and drummer Moreno.

Of regular note on the Stunt albums is the consistently creative artwork by http://www.yellow1.dk/ Well worth viewing the covers and gatefold sleeves. Harry Allen is especially popular in Japan where he has won no less than three Gold Disc awards from the prestigious Swing Jazz Magazine.

Tim Stenhouse

Ole Matthiessen ‘Flashback and Dedications’ (Stunt) 5/5

Denmark and jazz have a long standing and continued relationship and that extends beyond the annual and truly excellent Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Some of the all-time greats have recorded there at the prestigious open air Tivoli Gardens in the capital including during the 1960s Roland Kirk, Lennie Tristano and Sarah Vaughan to name but three. Indeed, Dexter Gordon had a regular club residency when he lived in the city at the Jazzhus Montmartre. What do we actually know of Danish jazz musicians, though? A few names have become internationally renowned such as bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen who regularly performed alongside Oscar Peterson, and more recently London-based bassist and Jasper Høiby has come to prominence as leader of Phronesis, and various other formations besides. However, pianist Ole Matthiessen is far less known outside of his native country and Scandinavia more generally, but has recorded a series of different themed and stylistically diverse albums for the indie Stunt label out of Copenhagen, but now distributed in the UK. He is a multi-talented individual who is now in his late sixties, but has played piano since 1963 and, as a producer of the Danish Radio Big Band, has performed live with the greats and that includes Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Ben Webster. These days he can regularly be found behind the counter at one of Copenhagen’s remaining jazz record and CD specialist shops, Jazz Cup, that also has a small space for live jazz. Not one to rest on his laurels, Matthiessen finds time in between these various activities to be a record producer, DJ and lecturer, and has produced the Danish Radio Big Band for some thirty-seven years.

This latest recording, the fourth in total on the Stunt label, is devoted to modal jazz and in particular pays homage to the second half of the career of John Coltrane and it proves to be a revelatory listening experience. In outlook, one might add that it draws heavily upon the early 1980s sound of Pharoah Sanders while recording on the Theresa label. Matthiessen has enlisted a long-time collaborator in drummer Ole Streenburg who turned seventy last July, but propels the rhythm section with some Elvin Jones influenced polyrhythms, most notably on ‘Drummer’s mare’ and ‘Voodoo dance’, which is a favourite piece of this writer. Both seasoned musicians cut their musical teeth in the legendary 1960s Danish band, Carsten Meinert Kvartet. They recorded in 1969 what is probably the original version of ‘To Trane’ which is reprised here and is fine tribute to the iconic and highly influential reedman. Expat Bob Rockwell operates on tenor saxophone with a sound that is not without recalling Booker Ervin and is both a leader in his own right and a fellow stalwart of the live Copenhagen music scene. Underpinning the quartet sound is the solid and inventive bass playing of Jesper Lundgaard.

Stunt is a label that you will be reading a good deal more about this year. A definite discovery of an album, musicians and it is heartening to know that the jazz scene in Denmark is in surprisingly good health, though like everywhere else, its continued survival is dependent on the creativity, hard work and dedication of aficionados. For that we should be grateful and fully supportive.

Tim Stenhouse

Adrien Chicot ‘Playing in the Dark’ (Gaya Music Productions) 5/5

A native of Paris, pianist Adrien Chicot was self taught from childhood, before joining the IACP, a school led by the Belmondo brothers which is now seeing the emergence of a new generation of talented jazz musicians, including Samy Thiebault, Julien Alour, Alexandre Freiman and Geraldine Laurent, to name but a few and “Playing in the dark” is Chicot’s second album and as the first; “”All in”, it is a piano, bass and drums trio affair where intelligent composition meets passionate performance. The line-up for this recording is also the same as the previous outing, with bassist Sylvain Romano and drummer Jean-Pierre Arnaud joining Chicot on piano.

The first thing to say about this recording is that it is an acoustic trio album in the truest sense; no effects (apart from some birdsong on the final track), no electronics, no shenanigans. Just pure and simple acoustic jazz. In this sense, it harps back to a more traditional sound, one that we might hear in a small, late night jazz club. One that evokes memories of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, or even Ryo Fukui. And yet there is something else here… something intriguing and beguiling and post modernistic in how this trio go about their work. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love well-used studio techniques, sound manipulation and electronics etc, but this trio seem to instinctively know what’s right for them.

Chicot’s style is fascinating. There’s an architectural quality to it, one that employs a unique musical language that has a free, spirited and apparent spontaneity to it. The pianist plays at times with vigour, at times with sensitivity, but always with an unerring confidence and articulate passion. The opening tune “Late” sets the tone for the rest of the session. Melody is always a strength, with curiosity baring its teeth from beneath. The key to any trio is always how well the three performers interact, and on “Fourth Floor” it is easy to hear clearly how well these three musicians do so. The drum break and underpinning bass towards the end of the tune tells the listener everything they need to know. “Under The Tree” is a delicately balanced piece of music, hovering between light and shade, it has a beautiful poise to it that is both joyous and reflective in nature. “Blue Wall” swings with a life of its own, classic in its feel and aided and abetted by a superb bass solo from Romano. The heat rises further with “Key for Two”, once more providing some engaging and immersive interplay between the three musicians. The title track has a more meandering quality to it and as with much of Chicot’s writing and playing, has hooks to die for that sit comfortably at ease with the improvisation and soloing. “Backpack” exudes confidence and ability, with a slightly angular harshness counteracted by a powerful and lyrical melody. Brilliant and vibrant it enjoys a mood of its own. The solo piano of “Lush Life” has a timeless, endearing quality to it that leaves the listener totally entranced. The album closes with Sunset With The Birds” which sounds like a reprise of the first tune on the album, “Late”. Birdsong plays alongside the trio, creating a meditative and blissful mood to round the album off nicely.

“Playing In The Dark” is both playful and sincere. It is one of the most refreshingly inventive yet repeatedly listenable trio albums I have heard for quite some time. One of those albums where the more you listen, the more you find satisfying reward. A bright future lies ahead for Adrien Chicot and co.

The album will be celebrated with a live performance from the trio at Duc des Lombards, Paris, on Thursday March 16th.

Mike Gates

Oscar Pettiford and Jan Johansson ‘In Denmark 1959-1960’ CD/Vinyl (Stunt) 4/5

What we have here is one of the early examples of collaborative work between expat American musicians either passing through or resident in Scandinavia, and local musicians. In this instance, the various sessions contained within focus on a relatively short period between 1959 and 1960 when more generally modern jazz was undergoing a seismic change with seminal albums recorded by Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus that came out in 1959. Bassist Oscar Pettiford features strongly and this is in a very real sense a tribute to him (he passed away in December 1960 while still resident in Copenhagen), but it is the pairing of him with the superlative Swedish pianist Jan Johansson that makes this outing such an enjoyable experience. In particular, when tenorist Stan Getz enters into the mix, the music reaches a higher level altogether. They cook up an absolute storm on Benny Golson’s, ‘I remember Clifford’.
It should be emphasized from the outset that the formations and line-ups differ markedly on this CD, comprising no less than six separate sessions, with both a quintet and sextet featuring Getz, a quartet that leaves out Getz but includes vibist Louis Vjolmand, and three brief, but truly excellent solo piano pieces of traditional Swedish folk tunes that are interpreted by Johansson. Originally, the majority of pieces on the CD were released on a very rare Scandinavian only vinyl album, but unreleased items have been added to make for a better value all round package for the listener. The excellent twenty-four page booklet includes fascinating period photos of the musicians at the time taken by Jan Persson.

The true revelation here is the pairing of Getz and Johansson which was a musical marriage made in heaven and little wonder, then, that the pianist became a regular accompanist for Getz whenever the tenorist visited Scandinavia. They are on top form on a Pettiford composition, ‘La Verne Walk’, and on the Coleman Hawkins piece, ‘Stuffy’. Three numbers were taken from a live concert that the duo performed at in Copenhagen at the Tivoli Gardens in 1959 whilst on a European wide tour. Other pieces were recorded at the then new Montmartre jazz club in Copenhagen.

The three Swedish folk tunes performed solo by Johansson are significant from a historical perspective because they are a precursor to what would become arguably one of the greatest jazz albums, if not the greatest of all Swedish jazz recordings, certainly of modern Swedish jazz, ‘Jazz På Svenska’ (‘Jazz in Swedish’), an album where a local Scandinavian folkloric repertoire was interpreted in a jazz idiom. This had a profound influence upon jazz musicians throughout Scandinavia, and quite possibly in a longer-term context upon the likes of Jan Garbarek and fellow ECM label mate and pianist, Bobo Stenson, to name but two. A fine and well recorded document of how American and Scandinavian jazz musicians could co-exist and thrive in each other’s presence.

Tim Stenhouse

Henry Spencer and Juncture ‘The Reasons Don’t Change’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings was established in 2010. Janisch is an established bassist, composer, bandleader and producer. He is a native of the US but moved to the UK in 2005 and created the label specifically for the worldwide release of his debut recording ‘Purpose Built’. Since that time, the label has grown dramatically releasing, as Janisch says, “an eclectic catalogue of adventurous and visceral music that spans genres, is rooted in originality and has key emphasis on the improvised. The artists on the label range from established masters to guiding lights of their generation to undiscovered stars in the making”.
Releases for 2017 get underway with the debut from trumpeter and composer Henry Spencer. Henry is a recent graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The quintet featured here is made up of fellow Guildhall alumni. So, alongside Spencer we have Nick Costley-White (guitar), Matt Robinson (piano and keyboards), Andrew Robb (double bass), and David Ingamells (drums) interpreting Spencer’s original compositions. Add to the mix The Guastalla String Quartet adding to the tapestry of sound.
The opening ‘Introduction’ is a solo piece allowing us to experience up close and personal the sound of this wonderful trumpeter unhindered. It seems to me that we hear something of the history of jazz trumpet in the first minute or so. Then, suddenly, we are plunged into the maelstrom that is ‘Hindsight Can Wait’ as the rest of the band enter the fray. Then, things calm for the first statement from the pianist, almost rhapsodic in approach, ably supported by bass and drums. Interesting interludes of calm and vigour are set up against each other which all help to keep the listener’s attention.

‘On the Bridge’ starts with contemplative piano, with the trumpeter soon joining and it’s not long before bass, and guitar enter the fray. Drums join in adding a sense of urgency. All the time, the trumpeter is flying high above the ensemble. Then again the sound changes as a more considered, melodic motif is introduced. However, we are soon back in the high velocity high power of the band.

‘Eulogy’ is taken at a much more stately pace. But, once again, we are soon plunged into jazz-rock territory again.

‘Joanne’s Diary’ is certainly a more rhapsodic affair and we get to hear Costley-White’s guitar in all its glory.

‘Knock Back, Knocked Forward’ is a much more focussed piece of work and highlights more splendid guitar work. Indeed it is the close interplay between trumpet and guitar which make this music so different. The use of different keyboards also plays an important part in the overall picture.

‘Never Draw a Line’ is a lovely tune with equally eloquent solo work from the leader. Someone should write lyrics to this tune.

‘Hopeless Heartless’ finally affords the chance to hear the string quartet in support of the trumpeter. The track opens with the strings and trumpet and they are soon joined by the rhythm section. We have another fine piano solo, which is cushioned by the strings and rhythm and it’s all the better for that. For me, this has to be the highlight of the album.

For the most part this is very powerful and energetic music. For a case in point listen to the closing track ‘The Survivor and the Descendant’, a heady mixture of jazz-rock and classical sensibilities.

Be it on trumpet or flugel horn, Spencer is never less than outstanding.

One thing is for certain, if one were ever concerned about the current state of the British jazz scene, there is no reason to worry with music of this calibre. This is an outstanding release and sure to be a hit with all lovers of contemporary British jazz.

Alan Musson