New Simplicity Trio ‘Common Spaces’ CD/DIG (Babel Label) 5/5

The avowed intent of New Simplicity Trio is to place an emphasis on groove and melody. The Trio intends their tunes to be memorable and capable of being whistled and hummed.

The ‘simplicity’ is that of melody and harmony. Things not always apparent in the music of their contemporaries. The trio consists of Bruno Heinen on piano, Henrik Jensen on bass and Antonio Fusco at the drums. The Trio have been in existence since 2014 and since then have honed their craft in live performance. There seems to be no one individual who could be called a leader. The group interplay is something akin to that of the great Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian. Their interplay also brings to mind the music of the wonderful Peter Erskine Trio with John Taylor on the piano stool. All of the members of the trio contribute compositions. Having mentioned the more obvious musical reference points, it seems clear that they have managed to forge an original group voice. Something that is very difficult to do in the seemingly over crowded world of the contemporary jazz trio.

Interestingly, Heinen showed his affinity with the music of Bill Evans on an earlier release ‘Postcard to Bill Evans’. The music appeals on different levels. Perhaps as polite background music, but this is to do the music a disservice, as repeated listening reveal, somewhat counter-intuitively, hidden depths to the music. The listener might fall into the trap of thinking that this might be cool, uninvolving music. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is some quite involving and high spirited soloing on offer throughout the album. Don’t confuse simplicity with being uninvolving. There are actually plenty of complex passages to enjoy.

The opening track ‘Groovy’ is well-named but it also has a sort of off kilter funkiness, before settling into a slightly more rhapsodic mode for a time and then the intensity slowly builds, giving way to an accomplished and quite lengthy drum solo. In contrast ‘Riccardo’s Room’ opens with a delicate riff from the bassist, before piano and drums join in a delicate dialogue. This is a true musical earworm of a tune. ‘Around Milan’ is a wonderfully introspective theme. Again played with great delicacy by the pianist. Then around two minutes in bass and drums are there supporting and commenting on the pianists statements. Jensen provides a magnificently sonorous solo. ‘Across the Pond’ follows in similar mood and is, for me, the most outstanding piece on the album, bringing to mind the best of the more introspective European jazz trios currently in vogue.

There is so much to enjoy that it is difficult to draw attention to all of the highlights, such as the masterful bass playing on ‘Orient Express’. On this piece, as on several of the other pieces, I’m reminded of the early work of pianist Howard Riley. Perhaps in the way that both Riley and Heinen seem to tread the path between melody and abstraction.

The album concludes with ‘The Seagull’ where the trio seem to be having lots of fun in a tango-like performance. Fusco is particularly outstanding here. All but one of the ten tracks come from within the trio. The exception is a very individual reading of Mingus’s ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’. The musicians clearly love what they are doing and their enjoyment and good humour are evident throughout the album. Check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Alan Musson

Jamie Saft Trio ‘Loneliness Road’ 2LP/CD/DIG (RareNoise) 5/5

I do like pleasant surprises. None more so than when I put on an album with no particular expectations and am blown away by the music I’m listening to. And so we have pianist Jamie Saft’s latest release, “Loneliness Road”. Saft is perhaps best known for his work with John Zorn, with whom he has recorded several albums that often push the avant-garde buttons to the extreme. And so to hear the pianist performing such a subtle set of jazz tunes alongside bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte is quite a turn-up. But that’s not all. More surprises ensue, with the legendary rock singer Iggy Pop adding his deep, incisive vocal hues to three of the tunes on this session. Iggy Pop!? Really!? Well yes, and what a revelation it is. The Stooges front-man delivers his lines with such an air of authority that it sends a chill down my spine. Distinctively audacious and beautifully executed.

“Loneliness Road” draws its inspiration from a varied cross-section of American music, from the likes of Bob Dylan, The Band, Pharoah Sanders and Bill Evans. What is immediately evident is the naturalness and sensitivity with which the trio performs these tunes. The vibe is predominantly laid-back and cool, with moments of expansiveness and engrossing improvisation. But the tune itself is always at the forefront of the mind, and the subtlety with which the trio cajole and entice fresh ideas from these musical pieces, rewards the listener with what sounds like an intimate and personal musical journey.

Iggy Pop’s voice is raw and emotive. Maybe not for everyone, but having now turned 70, for me his vocal delivery here on the three tracks “Loneliness Road”, “Don’t Lose Yourself” and “Everyday” is quite startling. There’s an organic feel to the whole proceedings, his voice fitting perfectly with the contemporary piano/bass/drums that sit together so wonderfully well.

But it’s the trio itself that take centre stage. One of the noticeable things here is how no one musician takes the obvious lead over the others. This is a trio in the truest sense, each musician being incredibly individually gifted, but working together in unison to create a ‘oneness’ that just sings with clarity, understanding and an effortless intensity. “Ten Nights” opens the set, a stunning piece of delightfully interwoven colour and texture. There’s an ethereal, unrushed depth of beauty to “Bookmarking”, whilst melancholy reigns on the downtempo “Pinkus”. Across the whole album there is a rare depth and sincerity that lets out a gentle, soft light, the sound of the trio warm and welcoming, breathing new life into the songs it performs, and quietly yet assuredly standing heads and shoulders out from the crowd.

Mike Gates

Christian Sands ‘Reach’ (Mack Avenue) 4/5

Young pianist Christian Sands is a talent to watch out for and this largely original set, bar two carefully selected adaptations of classic soul numbers, is co-produced by another Christian, namely bassist McBride, and drummer Al Foster. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland guests on four numbers.

Pianistic influences seem to include both Bud Powell and Chick Corea, and there is in fact a tribute to the latter on, ‘Armando’s song’, which is a thinly disguised homage to Corea’s very own 1970s opus, ‘Armando’s Rhumba’, but what is interesting here is that the composition is performed by Sands as a straight ahead piano trio number without any hint of Latinization. That said, Sands is interested in how Latin music and jazz interweave and overarches one another and he does explore Latin rhythms and more specifically their connection to Africa on, ‘¡Oyemé!’, which showcases some lovely bass and percussion work.

Elsewhere, bop hues are evident on, ‘Bud’s tune’, this time in reference to the great Bud Powell and this piece is performed by the trio with blues inflections from the leader and some fine polyrhythmic licks from the drummer. An interesting choice of standards emerges on, ‘Use me’, the Bill Withers’ song which is taken here at a relaxed mid-tempo with a jazz-rock tinged guitar solo from Gilad Hekselman, who features on three numbers, and is very much in the vein of John Scofield. The album ends with a ballad, co-written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, ‘Somewhere out there’, that is again a piano trio with great subtlety on bass and the softest of percussion. Christian Sands is a new name with a promising feature and this recording will certainly enhance his growing reputation.

Tim Stenhouse

Kevin Eubanks ‘East West Time Line’ (Mack Avenue) 3/5

It may surprise some to learn that guitarist Kevin Eubanks, the elder brother of trombonist Robin, is now sixty years of age. Earlier on his career he had a brief stint as part of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey, but as of 1983 the Berkley school graduate has led his own group. If the early leader albums verged on fusion for the GRP label, then they became more mainstream in outlook as Eubanks’ music progressed with heavyweight musicians featured including bassist Marcus Miller, Branford Marsalis, Ralph Moore, and not forgetting his own brother, Robin. In the early 1990s, Kevin Eubanks was signed to the re-activated Blue Note label which was promoting neo-bop and his recordings here included the participation of bassist Dave Holland, who likewise features on the first line-up of musicians on this new album.

The recording was in essence made in both Los Angeles and New York and features two contrasting line-ups with an all-star building including Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Dave Holland, while the second features regular band members including Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and saxophonist Bill Pierce, who is excellent throughout. This writer preferred the second of the line-ups insofar as with the first the sound of the guitar tends to get lost in a sea of virtuosity whereas with the second, the leader is properly showcased and finally has an opportunity to shine. Conceptually, Eubanks has reverted back to the old days of vinyl with clearly distinctive ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides. On a CD, that translates into a first part of original compositions and a second of standards. In truth, the latter are the more interesting to listen to and, while the originals are pleasant, they are not that inspirational and it is to the treatment of standards that the listener’s attention focuses on primarily.

Stylistically, Kevin Eubanks belongs firmly in the Wes Montgomery tradition and it is that sound that is heard on one of the strongest re-workings, on, ‘What’s going on?’, with a lovely solo from Pierce who is listed as being on tenor saxophone, but surely sounds like it is actually on soprano. Eubanks adopts a straight ahead approach and offers up some tasty guitar licks here.

An interest in Latin music is one characteristic of the selections made here and this includes a creditable reading of Ray Bryant’s memorable, ‘Cubano Chant’, which received blistering renditions back in the late 1950s from both Art Blakey and Cal Tjader. On this new interpretation, Eubanks starts off with a gentle guitar solo, but then the piece takes on an altogether different life and becomes a fast-paced number. Chick Corea is well known for his love of Latin music and there is something of a Latin jam session quality to the version of his, ‘Captain Señor Mouse’. Duke Ellington’s, ‘Take the Coltrane’, is given a whole new lease of life with Latin percussion, a catchy bass riff, and this writer warmed to the simple playing of the theme from Pierce. Another standard, this time a ballad, ‘My one and only love’, once again is notable for some fine soprano work from Bill Pierce.

If anything, on this recording, Kevin Eubanks seems to have ben caught between two distinctive and separate ideas, and for a future recording he would be better served devoting an entire album to the Latin jazz repertoire which he clearly has a genuine passion for.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Funky Chimes: Belgian Grooves From The 70s’ Ltd Edition 2CD/2xLP/ (Sdban) 4/5

Independent Belgian label Sdban made something of a reputation with their wonderful exploration of Belgian jazz earlier on in the year with, ‘Let’s get swinging: modern jazz in Belgium 1950-1980’, and this new anthology retains the extremely high standard with de-luxe packaging in mini gatefold sleeve and a plethora of information about individual tracks and musicians. It also features full colour original covers which help bring the music to life.

The tone this time is on music from the funkier side of the tracks from the 1970s and that means trawling through library music albums, 45s and the like to unearth some supremely rare grooves. Compiled by Stefan Vandenberghe, this is definitely music you are unlikely to have heard previously, but it has a strong funk and jazz flavour.

Guitarist Grant Green and his late period recordings on Blue Note were probably an inspiration for the guitar riff grooves of, ‘Barabajazagal’, from the obscure artiste known as Flying Guitar, beating Prince to the title of alternative sounding professional nom de plume by a couple of decades. Psychedelic accompaniment make this an interesting piece. More serious jazz credentials emerge on a pianist and arranger, Francis Coppieters, who recorded primarily library music, but was both a creative and gifted musician and joining him on vibes is none other than Fats Sadi whose name is all over that previous jazz compilation. Here they perform on what has been adopted as the title track of the compilation as a whole, and this is very much in keeping with the jazzier content of the previous anthology.

A piece that hip-hop samplers might want to check out is, ‘Travelling on rhythms’, with a sound is that of a jazzy big band meets Les McCann over a percussive rhythm and going under the unlikely sounding name of Bud Hunga and his Diplomatic Music. Modal bass line and drum patterns are a feature of Indo-Jazz fusion Belgian style by a group called Kandahar and the track, ‘The fancy yodel’, with guitar and brass leading the way. In a more contemporary jazz-funk idiom, SSO (The Soul Sensation Orchestra) produce something that takes on board the street of ‘Shaft’, the lush strings of Barry White and some trumpet soloing straight out of the Freddie Hubbard school. One of the most melodic of the funk-tinged tunes is actually in a more laid back vein and deploys a lovely flute on a groove that seems to last forever in, ‘Scratch my back (Pt. 1 and 2)’ by the Soul Scratchers and this opens up the first CD. Incredibly, this was the band’s only ever 45 and as such is extremely rare to find.

The emphasis throughout is on creating funky rhythms, inspired largely by what was happening over the pond in the United States and, ‘Tiger walk’, by the Peter Lain Orchestra borrows heavily from the melody of Herbie Hancock’s, ‘Watermelon man’, but then gives the music a distinctive film soundtrack flavour with an assortment of sound effects cropping up in the background. As the music progresses through the second CD, the odd name of wider note emerges such as fusion guitarist Philip Catherine who is much respected on the French jazz scene and here offers up, ‘Give it up or turn it alone’, which is an unusual 45 release taken from a 1972 album on Warner, ‘Stream’, and significantly featured on electric piano is none other than Marc Moulin, a key musician who sparked a wider interest in Belgian music from the 1970s.

This is an extremely well presented and worthwhile investigation of music you are likely never to have come across unless you are a specialist in obscure Belgian music from the era. For that reason alone, the music is worthy of your attention.

[There are also a series of five 7″ singles available]

Tim Stenhouse