Nick Costley-White ‘Detour Ahead’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

The current youthful London scene is at once eclectic and capable of taking in diverse stylistic influences. This is most certainly the case of a very promising debut recording by guitarist Nick Costley-White. It is the Great American songbook tradition that seems to have inspired the guitarist and Herb Ellis in particular has been a guiding light, though the acoustic and solo Pat Metheny and even the folk-jazz of Bill Frisell can also be heard in the mix. All but two pieces are originals and what comes across is an accomplished sound that is rooted in the 1950s and 1960s mainstream of the jazz tradition. A medium tempo take on Cole Porter’s ‘Just One of Those Things’ impresses with the subtle use of Latin inflections on the drums, while a tribute to Ellis is paid on that guitarist’s own, ‘Detour Ahead’, where the rapport between double bassist Conor Chaplin (who has performed with Laura Jurd and Dinosaur) and guitarist is continued throughout, and proves to be a major attraction to these ears. However, Costley-White is very much his own man and the standard of the compositions bodes well for the future, with a variety of moods captured. Thus, a more reflective guitar plus acoustic piano of Matt Robinson makes for a lovely slice of intimacy on ‘Lords of the Blues’, which contrasts with the uptempo ‘Swing State’, where fine interplay between piano and guitar is a feature, and some delightful and rapid guitar riffs. Definitely a musician to keep an ear and eye out for in the near future with plenty of live options around the country over the coming months.

Album Launch:
31st July – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London

Tour dates:
September
3rd – Peer Hat Jazz, Manchester
4th – The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
5th – The Lescar, Sheffield
7th – Hampstead Jazz Club, Hampstead
8th – The Bear Club, Luton
13th – Future Inns, Bristol
15th – Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
20th – The SoundCellar, Poole
23rd – Southampton Modern Jazz Club
27th – Silvershine Jazz Club, Smethwick, West Midlands
29th – Jazz at Heart, Headingley

October
3rd – Jazzland, Swansea
4th – Café Jazz, Cardiff
5th – Con Cellar Bar, Camden
17th – House Concert, Edinburgh
18th – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
21st – Sela Bar, Leeds
23rd – The Mad Hatter, Oxford
24th – Mill Hill Jazz Club, Mill Hill
30th – St. Ives Jazz Club, St. Ives

November
8th – The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
9th – The Blue Arrow, Glasgow

Tim Stenhouse

Mark Kavuma ‘Kavuma’ LP/CD/DIG (Ubuntu Music) 3/5

‘London is the place for me’ might be an apt description of young trumpeter Mark Kuvuma who, although born in Uganda, has made the capital city his home and is a permanent resident there. In fact, Kuvuma has become just one part of the burgeoning young lions who figure in Jean Toussaint’s outstanding formation, and the former has even been featured as a guest soloist with the Wynton Marsalis Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Interestingly, among the influences on this debut for the enterprising Ubuntu label, that has a keen ear for new talent, is the 1960s sound of saxophonist Wayne Shorter that can be heard most immediately, especially on the brooding original, ‘Into The Darkness’, which is a strong nod to the composition, ‘Prince Of Darkness’ that featured as a Wayne Shorter piece on Miles Davis’ 1967 album, ‘Sorcerer’. Indeed, the use of a sextet with the added saxophone of Mussinghi Brian Edwards is very much in the lineage of the mid-late 1960’s progressive jazz formations.

A tribute to his musical teacher, Joe Morgan, arrives in the form of ‘Papa Joe’, while for a taste of Kavuma’s talents as a composer, the ballad, ‘Barber G’, is an indication perhaps that the trumpeter is keen to reflect his everyday surroundings. Another major influence on this album is that of gospel music and the church more generally, though not in any undue preachy manner. Mark Kavuma grew up in his immediate family with church music in close proximity with exposure to hymns and, as a consequence, that has informed his musical outlook. Here, that influence is most evident on the final piece that ends the album fittingly, ‘Abide With Me’. Of note also are the excellent photography by Carl Hyde and one of the most compelling front covers of the year to date by Gaurab Thakali. A promising debut recording.

Tim Stenhouse

Sound Prints ‘Scandal’ CD/DIG (Greenleaf) 4/5

A titan duo of musicians come together for a recording on Douglas’ own label that pays homage in part to the compositions of Wayne Shorter, yet in terms of style, has all the feel of a retrospective re-examination of the early duets between Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry on both the Contemporary and Atlantic labels. On this particular recording, Joe Lovano also performs on G mezzo soprano saxophone as well as tenor. In fact, the co-leaders are the authors of no less than five compositions a piece, but it those two Shorter covers that dominate proceedings here. The title track of a historic mid-1960s Wayne Shorter Blue Note album ‘Juju’, is actually performed with a freer and looser sound than on the original and starts with a drum solo (indeed throughout the intros are anything but conventional), and builds up a head of steam, with a meaty solo from Lovano. By contrast, ‘Fe Fi Fo Fum’, from this writer’s all-time favourite Shorter 1965 recording, ‘Speak No Evil’, is far closer in approach to the original, with saxophonist and trumpeter stating the theme in tandem, the music taken at a more sedate pace, and some deft work on rim drums by Joey Baron. This line-up incidentally first performed together live at the Monterrey Jazz Festival and operate extremely well as a tight quintet.

Of the originals, it is the pieces by Douglas that impress most of all, as illustrated on the title track, a reflective ballad that in its motif borrows from Coltrane’s ‘Naima’, and with a lovely classical touch on the piano by Lawrence Fields. Piano and trumpet work in unison on the excellent Douglas composed, ‘Libra’, which commences this time with a piano intro. On Lovano’s ‘Full Moon’, the duo reproduce that early Ornette-Don duet work, while on ‘Full Sun’ there is a strong hint of hard bop and a bass solo from Linda May Han Oh. For fans of freer form, the duet are on all-out attack on ‘Dream State’, with Fields engaging in some tasty mid-1960s Hancock-esque musings. In general, there is plenty of space in which musicians can operate independently, and the music is never formulaic. Arguably, Lovano’s strongest composition is reserved for ‘The Corner Tavern’, which has an infectious Latin vamp on piano. While at times the stylistic tribute to Cherry and Coleman is taken a little too far on occasion for these ears with simultaneous improvisation that could have been reduced to fewer examples, this is still a fine album to behold and the accompanying soloing by bassist, pianist and drummer are of an extremely high standard and inventive. Fans of a looser and more radical sound will undoubtedly find their musical nirvana here.

Tim Stenhouse

Espen Berg Trio ‘Bølge’ 2LP/CD (Odin) 4/5

Question: when is an ECM album not an ECM album? When it has been recorded at the Rainbow studios in Oslo engineered by Jan Erik Koigshaug, recording a Scandinavian trio and with a deeply evocative cover photo. One could easily be mistaken for thinking that this is on the revered label, and yet it is in fact on the independent Odin one. Young leader and pianist Espen Berg has distinguished himself as a solo artist with two solo piano albums to date, yet it is this second recording of the trio that he regularly works with which is the focus of attention here. The music is trimmed down to its absolute essence, with the pieces never longer than between three and seven minutes, and that is a definite plus in this writer’s book.

Building on the well received (in Scandinavia and Japan at least) first recording from 2015, ‘Mønster’, the trio have toured extensively in Japan, gaining useful live experience collectively and this new album certainly indicates a well honed outfit on this all-original but one set. The one cover opens up the album, ‘Hounds of Winter’, by Sting, and has a lovely simplicity to the interpretation, and that observation can easily be extended to the recording as a whole which has an impressive organic progression, with the subtle use of percussion by drummer, Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Faroe Islander, Bárður Reinert Poulsen rounds off the young band of musicians. A real favourite is the attractively themed ‘Bridges’, with fine ensemble work, and an empathetic rapport between pianist and bassist.

If one had to cite any influences upon Berg the pianist, then it would probably be both Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau but by no means a bad place to start. Gentle, reposing themes are Berg’s trademark as a composer, no more so than on the title track itself. Elsewhere, an inventive use of percussion with hand claps included is a feature of ‘XIII’, which is another piece that flows beautifully. There is, on several numbers, a quite deliberate connection between the music and mathematics insofar as Berg doubles up his musical duties with that of an academic in the field of numbers. The link is most evident on a piece such as ‘Maetrix’. Impressionistic, dream-like pieces are a hallmark of this trio and these are further illustrated on ‘For Now’ and ‘Tredje’. A fine introduction to yet another piano trio, but one that has a most promising future ahead of them.

Live dates throughout July in Estonia, Spain and Norway.

Tim Stenhouse

David Helbock’s Random Control ‘Tour d`Horizon – from Brubeck to Zawinul’ CD (ACT) 3/5

Here is an example of how the ACT label is keen to endorse musical projects that other labels might turn their back on and should be commended for such endeavours. This is a trio with a difference; tuba/trumpet, piano and electronics, multiple reed instruments. Hardly the kind of trio one might expect for an exploration of the compositions of major pianists/composers, but that is precisely what this trio is about. In fact, some twenty instruments and more are used by the three musicians on this album. The result is some unexpected triumphs among the inevitable hits and misses of such a courageous project. A reworking of the Adagio from ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ by Spanish classical composer Rodrigo effortlessly merges into Chick Corea’s ode to all things to evoke the Iberian peninsular in ‘Spain’, and that Latin feel is continued to good effect on Cedar Walton’s ‘Bolivia’, with the piano interestingly performed like a celeste. Maybe the project as a whole would have benefited from an entire album’s worth of Latin-based material where there is probably greater scope for artistic liberties to be taken with the use of instrumentation. However, a take on the soul-jazz classic of the Cannonball Adderley band and a Joe Zawinul composition, ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’, receives a bright and breezy interpretation. Not everything is as convincing and the trio’s interpretation of EST’s ‘Seven Days of Falling’, is barely recognisable, and the same can also be said of Duke Ellington’s ‘In A Sentimental Mood’. Nonetheless, producer Siggi Loch is to be congratulated for even attempting such a project and the music itself builds upon the 2016 debut recording by the trio on ACT, ‘In The Mystic’.

Tim Stenhouse

Aerie ‘Sonic’ CD/DIG (QFTF) 3/5

Aerie have established themselves as a premiere European jazz band, highlighting the threads that tie jazz together: The experimentalism, the roots and the soul.

Bandleader, Ingo Hipp, hones in on the Avantgarde, surrounding himself with a trusted band of exceptional talent. Aerie has been compared to the likes of Steve Coleman’s Five Element; a comparison they can certainly stand! The sense of fluidity and flow in Aerie’s music mesmerises. The five members move in and out of what seem to be sometimes loosely constructed ideas. Some being very exotic, delivering high energy improvised music that could be the shape of “future-jazz-rock” to come.

This eight track album fluctuates and transforms modal and expectant to loud and tempered and Hipp re-enlists the kinetic rhythm-section of Matthew Jacobsen on drums and David Helm on bass. The two provide a groove centre throughout the set. Drummer Jacobsen stands out as a fast and creative listener who constantly drives the band and pushes ideas. Hipp and fellow saxophonist Sam Comerford provide the leads and tight vamps. Add to the mix guitarist Laurent Meteau, who’s proven to be another intrepid artist as he adds colour and texture. The connection between these players is superb, countering and engaging each other’s intentions.

“Sonic” is the second link in the maturing and progressive creative chain in one of Europe’s most interesting jazz bands. At the end of the day, though, it is about the music, and this release provides stimulation for both the mind and body.

SG

Various ‘Fahrt ins Blaue II – groovin’ in the spirit of jazz’ LP (ACT) 4/5

A follow up of sorts to the first compilation of recent releases on the ACT label from 2016, but the quality of the music and the calibre of musicians is collectively so high that this simply works as an excellent overview of contemporary gospel, soul and jazz music. The connection between gospel and soul-blues is dissected by the Mighty Sam McClain on an outstanding interpretation of ‘I Wish I Had A Girl Like You’. From a big band jazz perspective, this writer would like to hear a lot more of Gil Goldstein and the WDR Big Band if the rest is as compelling as their wonderful take on Bobby Timmons’ ‘Moanin’, a number that opens up the compilation on a truly uplifting note. In fact the WDR Big Band are featured elsewhere on a lovely riff-laden reading of ‘The Sidewinder’, with Randy Brecker in the chief trumpeter role, and this makes for a fine modern update on the Woody Herman big band version.

Contemporary soul is an area that ACT have been eager to explore and Viktoria Tolstoy revisits a lesser known piece by Herbie Hancock from the early 1980s in, ‘Paradise’, now transformed from the original disco beat to a mid-tempo soulful groove. A reposing take on, ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’, emerges on the duet between keyboardist Ira Sands and vocalist Raul Midón. What is impressive is the number of major jazz musicians that ACT have managed to bring on board as guest artists as with the gorgeous soul-jazz keyboard of Joe Sample on a duet with Nils Landgren on, ‘Don’t Take My Love To Hollywood’, or the soul-jazz collective of Cornell Dupree, Hank Crawford and Bernard Purdie on, ‘Joshua Makeover’, with pianist Benny Green featuring. Indeed, Nils Landgren returns with his own Funk Unit including one of the most in-demand guitarists of the 1970s in Ray Parker Jr. on ‘Just A Kiss Away’. Elsewhere, left-field guitarist Marc Ribot turns up to offer some melodic support with vocalist Youn Sun Nah on ‘She Moves On’. What is indisputable is that ACT is well on the way to carving out its own distinctive identity and this fine overview demonstrates how in the process it is diversifying its sound to sometimes thrilling effect.

Tim Stenhouse

Nicola Conte and Spiritual Galaxy ‘Let Your Light Shine On’ 2LP/CD/DIG (MPS) 4/5

DJ, producer, leader and compiler Nicola Conte has devoted a good deal of time to perfecting his craft as a musician, composer and arranger in recent years and this latest offering is testimony to his increasing interest in fusing African rhythms with jazz. In fact, the motivation for the project is rooted in some of the original MPS recordings when the, ‘Jazz meets the world on MPS’ series, resulted in some wonderful fusion albums of flamenco, Brazilian and South Asian music, to name but three external influences. On this new recording with a live band, the extended ensemble comprises South African, American, Italian and Scandinavian musicians, while the numerous guests include Zara McFarlane on vocals, and promising trombone player Gianluca Petrella who has been the recipient of a Down Beat ’emerging artist’ award. Trumpeter Theo Croker, UK Vibe favourite, Nduduzo Makhathini, and saxophonist Logan Richardson feature throughout.

Among the regular band members, multi-reedist Magnus Lindgren plays a key role, and he performs on flute on the excellent ‘Cosmic Peace’, which has a strong Strata East influence, with layered keyboards and percussion recalling Lonnie Liston Smith. Female vocals are provided by Bridgette Amofah. The influence of John Coltrane permeates the entire album, but is particularly discernible on ‘Tribes From the Unknown’, which features a saxophone riff taken from ‘A Love Supreme’. Sun Ra, in his interest in Egyptology and what has come to be termed Afro-futurism, combined an interest in both the past and future with a clear African theme and the spaced out opener, ‘Uhuru Na Umoja’, pays homage to that influence, with the use of electronics and voices.

An interest in both West African high life music and a subtle nod to Afrobeat are themes pursued by Nicola Conte on this album. The former is present on, ‘Mystic Revelation of the Gods’, with fine brass ensemble work, while on the latter, wah-wah guitar and percussion combine effectively on the piece, ‘Me Do Wo’, and this approach differs markedly from other less experienced musicians who elsewhere have attempted an impersonation of the Afrobeat sound. In a more traditional West African setting, ‘Ogun’ is a percussive number that gradually builds, while Afro-jazz predominates on the lovely, ‘Universal Rhythm’, with ensemble brass and flute operating in tandem. The reactivated MPS label is flourishing if this recording is anything to go by, but watch out for some key re-issues of the original label in this column during the summer months.

Tim Stenhouse