Griot Galaxy “Kins” LP (Third Man) 5/5

Gotta love Record Store Day when it enables the sort of joy that is, say, getting your avant-garde aural mitts on a copy of the rare, essential, Detroit art explorer’s, Griot Galaxy’s 1981 release, “Kins”.

For the unacquainted, let me introduce Griot Galaxy. They were founded in 1972, led by saxophonist and poet Faruq Z. Bey, with drummer Tariq Samad (Tani Tabbal on this recording), bassist Jaribu Shahid, and further saxophonists Anthony Holland and David McMurray. Their first recorded appearance is often cited as being part of Phil Ranelin’s “Vibes from the Tribe”. As well as Tribe(!), the group had various music-family links with the powers of political, philosophical, spiritual free jazz: Sun Ra, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Phil Cohran, Roscoe Mitchell-founded Creative Arts Collective (Detroit’s answer to the AACM). They even painted their faces griot-style as did the Art Ensemble. So, we know what to expect, then. Well, kinda.

“Xy-Moch” kicks things off with some unlikely, uplifting, frolicsome, whimsy; it drops its cod-military shuffle as soon as Shahid’s popping, synth-like, space bass arrives, morphing it into a driving fuzz as the saxes (and McMurray’s flute) mischievously dart around them. Something of a better-behaved, less overtly funky, Eddie Harris about it, somehow.

The Tabbal-penned “Zychron” (shout out to Saturday Night Live’s “Coneheads”) offers many things; a playful, pivoting, layered motif from the east; a short funeral march wail; some bow-led energy from Shahid; finger-clicking cool from Shahid and Tammal; post-bop sax meanderings; and a lengthy, spiritual free jazz atmospheric expedition. It could be several different bands from different times.

“Zenelog Aintro” is the main reason I said “well, kinda” earlier; it’s not the polyrhythmic, smart arse timings and free expression we expected. It’s tight, angular dancing, wah-bass, art funk. More underground jazz Pigbag or art school Fishbone than oozing Camembert. It’s rollicking fun though. And I do love a six-handed sax attack.

Shahid’s “Androgeny” is an absolute gem. Get on YouTube and see their 1984 Metro Times Music Awards’ performance to understand Griot at their forceful best; maaaan, I would love to have seen them live. It starts as “Zychron” ended but then chooses to kick-off some well-loved Sun Ra riffing in a well-loved musical mantra space. Cosmos theatre erupts with the rhythm section going off on one while the saxes explore and probe. Afrofutristic drama.

Title track, “Kins”, gradually morphs into a bluesy, plodding, sighing, maladroit thing. Lumbering bass and lazy, layered, moaning sax drag it along with an extraordinary apathy. Over 6 minutes of beautiful melancholia still isn’t enough beautiful melancholia sometimes.

“Xy-Moch theme” borrows the motif from the opening track. A quick reminder, before bye-byes, of Griot’s harmonic, wah-bass jazz art funk; joyously getting free-er as it gradually departs into the deep Detroit underground cosmos.

OK, I’m bound to be a wee bit partisan here. The connections at play (Tribe, Art Ensemble, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman (oh, yes), Johnny Hallyday(!) etc) would typically ensure a happy listening experience for me. Plus there’s that 3 sax attack. And I think that’s when I’m most in love with this album; when the sax build a harmonically layered motif, the rhythm section push it and then various voices go off on one for a bit before returning back to base. However, what makes this album unique is that Griot do that perfectly but then have a titillating urge to get all tight and art spacefunk on us. It’s Unique. It’s Special. And, maaan, I would have loved to have seen that live; griot and all.

Ian Ward

Örjan Hultén Orion ‘Minusgrader’ CD (Artogrush) 4/5

There’s a perception in some quarters that Scandinavian jazz offers cold and sometimes bleak music which reflects a cold and sometimes bleak landscape. ‘Minusgrader’, the fourth album from Swedish saxophonist Örjan Hultén’s band Orion, disproves this perception while sometimes playing with the idea of it. The band are currently celebrating their tenth anniversary. During that time there has been just one change of personnel with pianist Torbjörn Gulz replacing predecessor Adam Forkelid on this recording. Gulz has been a performing member of Orion for some time as anyone who saw the them on their tour of the UK last year will be aware. The fact that they have effectively been one unit for most of their existence was certainly evident to their audience on that tour. They are a tight band in a live context.

This tightness certainly sounds as though it transfers to their recorded output of which Minusgrader is the latest manifestation. The album features compositions by each of the members of Orion with three from Hultén and two each from the other members, Torbjörn Gulz at the piano, bassist Filip Augustson and drummer Peter Danemo.

The album’s title track is the opener. ‘Minusgrader’, translated as Minus Degrees opens with Gulz at the piano painting the very cold bleakness of which I wrote at the beginning of this review. It is inspired by a sombre poem by the great Tomas Tranströmer, who was responsible for the inspiration behind Jan Garberek’s 1984 ECM album ‘It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice’. That album was an altogether bleaker sounding affair than Minusgrader. Incidentally my copy of ‘New Collected Poems’ by Tranströmer (pub. Bloodaxe 2011) translates the poem as Below Zero. Either way it’s a cool piece of music which graduates like a suite from the unaccompanied piano opening to Danemo’s crisp cymbal work then Hultén joining the band to further along the story before an arco bass intervention reduces the quartet to a piano trio producing an interlude which would not have been out-of-place on an EST album.

It’s difficult to pick out single highlights on such a consistently fine album but Hultén’s ‘Adore You’, with a lovely piano solo from Gulz is one such. In a live performance I could imagine this one allowing everyone to really stretch out.

‘Blues I Manegan’ takes us firmly into late night Blue Note territory with some muscular tenor playing from Hultén.

‘1961 (Echoes)’ a composition from Peter Danemo sees the drummer driving things along with urgency behind Hultén’s tangy soprano saxophone.

‘Heading East’ has a beautiful opening bass introduction from Filip Augustson before Hultén’s tenor saxophone brings in a somewhat yearning theme and solo before Gulz, the composer gives us another of his many gently outstanding piano solos. It’s a soundtrack for that movie in your head.

Elsewhere bassist Filip Augustson’s, ‘One For Britten’, cooks with a passion and ‘October in May’ by pianist Torbjörn Gulz introduces us to a light pastoral theme that fairly skips along. The closing track, ‘Do It Anyway’, another Augustson composition brings things to a strong conclusion with bold playing all round particularly from Hultén on tenor saxophone.

I believe the band are set to play some UK dates to promote the album later in the year. If you spot that they are appearing near you I would urge you to experience them live. I think that the material on this exceptionally crafted album will have opened up new possibilities within itself with work and performance.

Garry Corbett

Liquid Saloon ‘Liquid Saloon’ (Raw Tapes) 5/5

The self-titled debut project from the super group that comprise Liquid Saloon unites long-term collaborators, and Raw Tapes Records stalwarts, Amir Bresler, Nomok and Sefi Zisling for an exciting and versatile jazz record released through the independent Israeli record label.

Collectively and individually, the work of this incredibly talented trio of musicians has done much to help shape the Raw Tapes sound over the past few years including their work for label mates iogi (‘The Ceiling’, 2018), Echo (‘Calling On Wonders’, 2016) and Nitai Hershkovits (‘I Asked You A Question’, 2016).

Founded in 2008 in Tel Aviv by Yuval Havkin, who himself is perhaps better known by a variety of monikers including his production identity Rejoicer, Raw Tapes Records have embraced their love of instrumental hip-hop, dusty beat tapes and jazz, and have truly proved to be a pioneering record label whose evolution over these last ten years has been staggering. Much of the label’s success can be attributed in large part to the prolific nature of Rejoicer’s music-making and to the contributions of the aforementioned artists. ‘Liquid Saloon’ is very much the continuation of the label’s vision and commitment to genre-defying music and serves as a stellar extension for each of the trio’s output thus far.

In terms of each’s solo work, drummer Amir Bresler can boast his previous single releases ‘Afro Golden Line’ and ‘Fish’ from 2017; trumpeter Sefi Zisling has his solo album ‘Beyond The Things I Know’, also from 2017, and keyboardist Nomok has a variety of projects for Raw Tapes with the earliest beat tape EP dating back to 2013’s ‘Blind Kick’. Each of Liquid Saloon’s members bring a wealth of experience from their own projects as well as their outside contributions to the album that was recorded over a three-month period during weekly recording sessions.

Rejoicer joins Liquid Saloon for production throughout the project even earning himself a guest spot on keyboards for the lush closing number ‘Slow Loris’. Additional musical guests and Raw Tapes affiliates appear including keyboardist Nitai Hershkovits (‘Gueta’) and Eyal Talmudi (‘Belibi’) on clarinet; label mate Jenny Penkin, who herself had an excellent release with last year’s ‘Him, on the other hand’, appears on the album’s only vocal track, ‘Won’t Be Led By Fear’, which is a real highlight, as is the 1970’s style soul of opener ‘Naive By Choice’ and the eclectic genre-mash of ‘Polaroid Banana’, along with its accompanying video.

Last year would have marked Raw Tapes’ 10th birthday and it’s a celebration that is marked through each of their incredible releases including this really thrilling project from Liquid Saloon. Albeit belatedly, happy ten years Raw Tapes, and here’s to another ten!

Imran Mirza

Anton Eger ‘Æ’ LP/CD (Edition) 4/5

Best known as drummer with the trio Phronesis, this is Anton Eger’s intriguing debut as band leader. It’s one of those albums that is practically unclassifiable, laden with supercharged electronica, strange beats, awkward rhythms and a uniquely novel approach to making music. The quirky track titles, the codas at the end of each tune and the fiercely uncompromising nature of the music make it one of the most interesting releases so far this year.

Somehow, almost despite himself, Eger has pulled off something very compelling here. The heavy reliance on synths and electronics make me think of a dystopian man versus machine novella. The theme tune for Alfred Bester’s ‘The Demolished Man’, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, or perhaps any number of 50s sci-fi ‘b movies’. It’s like the music has been fed into a machine, one where technology goes dangerously wrong, and is then spat out as something strange and new. The once logical melodies that made musical sense now become oddly enchanted and yet strangely emaciated, entering a new era where visionaries can either be hailed as Gods or gangsters.

The headliner may well be Eger himself, but he is indebted to a very well cast band of contributors. With Matt Calvert on guitar, live drum processing, electronics and synths, Dan Nicholls on keys, synths, Wurlitzer, and Robin Mullarkey on electric bass and synths, Eger has an innovative crew alongside him. The album also features appearances from Ivo Neame, Petter Eldh, Niels Broos, Matthias Heise, Otis Sandsjö, Christian Lillinger and Juliette Marland.

There’s an incredibly eclectic mix of influences one could point to, but essentially “Æ” is Anton Eger forging an identity, or rather, multiple identities. In a similar way to last year’s “Blow” by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, a few of the tracks take the listener into art-pop territory. The deliciously infectious “Sugaruzd” and the quasi-funk-broken-grooves of “datn” paint half a picture whilst the powerful and mesmerising “Monolith” completes the whole picture in blazing technicolour. “Oxford Supernova” is like a Zero7 tune on acid, with its cool groove and luminous vibe preceding its reggae-funktronica coda. “Never Not” is a subversive, anthemic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The beautifully dark and mysterious “Severn B” juxtaposes tight beats with esoteric synth hooks, “IOEDWLTO” is luscious and smooth before it turns into an 80’s pop classic, and if we fast forward to the 24th century where Weather Report are revered as long-forgotten gods, someone would be playing “HERb” as their latest reincarnation.

There are multi levels in Anton Eger’s multiverse. “Æ” is a journey that every inquisitive listener should take. Some may find the journey uncomfortable, some will find it unpalatable, but some will find it awe-inspiring and incredibly rewarding. Unconventional as it may be, we need music like this.

Anton Eger Launches Æ at Jazz Cafe, London on 30th April.

Mike Gates

Afro-Blue Persuasion ‘Live at Haight Levels, Vol. 2’ LP (Tramp) 3/5

Live at Haight Levels, Vol.2 follows the recent January release of Volume 1. The accompanying notes state this recording is from 1967 and Afro-Blue Persuasion appeared to be the brainchild of an impressively monikered chap called Ulysses Crockett. I have to admit that he’s new to me but a little research suggests he’s a professor at University of California Berkeley (and a potential California senator!). He is also credited as the vibraphone player here.

Track 1, listed as Cuban Fantasy, sets the tone of this release (and also the previous, Vol.1) with afro-cuban rhythms from piano, upright bass and congas. Solos from flute, congas and piano with the conga solo being the most successful (even eliciting some applause from the sparse audience). In my opinion it is the weakest track, so it is surprising that it’s the opener. Track 2, listed as Mambo at the M (or Cuban Fantasy?), it’s vibes all the way from Professor Crockett. From here, it starts warming up a little. Impression Theme eschews the latin feel of the rest of the album and leans towards a solid post-bop with a saxophone leading. The saxophone player is uncredited but is proficient. This track doesn’t seem to really fit in with the rest of the record but to me, it appears the players are the more confident here as if they are still learning this latin thing! We return the afro-cuban style for Poinciana. It’s my favourite track and also appears to be the favourite of the audience. There’s more cohesion between the players. They are pretty tight here. Then, a bright and breezy vibes-led version of Night In Tunisia closes the set.

There is a suggestion that this release (and also volume one) are one recording from a single performance but I get the impression that these are really recorded at different times with different musicians. There’s a significant difference in the performance of the first two tracks to the rest. Who knows though, apparently these recordings have been archived for 51 years! The sound quality is generally good maybe a little dull.

I assume that the performances are mainly by students and as you’d expect, the musicianship is variable. The set list and some of the solos are rather pedestrian. In that context, it’s hardly an essential release and certainly not “afro-cuban jazz at it’s very best” as claimed. However it does have charm. I enjoy the enthusiasm of the performers and their pleasure in performing. It’s fun!

Kevin Ward

Seamus Blake ‘Guardians of the Heart Machine’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Heralded as one of the most influential saxophonists of his generation, this is Seamus Blake’s eighth release as leader, and his first for Whirlwind Recordings. For this album the London born, Vancouver raised saxophonist has brought his considerable experience and teamed up with three exciting players originally from the French scene – pianist Tony Tixier, double bassist Florent Nisse, and drummer Gautier Garrigue. For this session, the ‘French Connection’ concept was pitched by jazz aficionado Olivier Saez. Blake explains: “He was interested in hearing me alongside some younger, top of the line French musicians. Olivier passionately puts time and energy into music, and I was blown away by his organisation and generosity when we toured France and Spain. I enjoyed how the quartet worked together, prompting us to then record over two days at Studio de Meudon, Paris.”

Blake wrote and arranged especially for these artists. “My idea was to bridge what I consider elements of European and American styles, writing music I like to play, but also with a European sensibility, including classical harmony and certain types of groove.” And this certainly is evident across the nine tunes on the album, with influences like Michael Brecker and Chris Potter evident throughout the recording.

Blake seems to relish the partnership with his fellow musicians, with the quartet as a whole putting in an exemplary band performance, whilst sparkling individually with verve and vigour, energy and enthusiasm. But it is very much Blake at the fore and he’s on top form here, with some of his soloing reaching stunningly creative and magical heights.

That verve and vigour is evident in the title track, whose anthemic drive and melodic hooks are informed by Blake’s indie-rock interest, an emphatic statement of purpose. The loping gait of ‘Vaporbabe’ was inspired by the 9/8 hand-drum and clapping rhythms of a street band in Istanbul, but it doesn’t take long for the tune to take off with an unerring, pounding precision. Furtive ‘Sneaky D’ confirms the saxophonist’s penchant for strong melody, sparking off his rhythm section’s vitality, and confirming the quality of this band. Eddie del Barrio’s ‘I’m OK’ echoes the lusciousness of Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s recording, Blake enjoying the space to solo on its elegant changes. There’s an innate beauty to this track that allows Blake to show his feel and passion. The bristling ‘Lanota’ extends the band’s sense of exploratory freedom, as does ‘Wandering Aengus’, taking WB Yeats’ poem as inspiration to traverse different key centres. ‘Betty in Rio’ (a contrefact on Benny Golson’s slow-swinging ‘Along Came Betty’) leads to Tixier’s amiable, countryfied ‘Blues for the Real Human Beings’ which shows once more the versatility and style that permeates its way through this quartet with skillful and intelligent playing. The album closes with ‘The Blasted Heath’, an odd addition to the album, it is Blake’s oblique observation of humanity’s impact on our planet. The lyrics and the style in which it is sung are deep, dark and very engaging, though I’m not so sure it sits comfortably with the balance of the rest of the tunes on the album.

“For me, Jazz is essentially about improvising and the beauty of a solo.” explains Blake. And this is essentially what you get with “Guardians of the heart machine.”

Mike Gates

Yola ‘Walk Through Fire’ LP/CD (Easy Eye Sound) 5/5

My first introduction to this wonderful voice was on the Jules Holland New Year’s Eve doo where she sang the immense soaring beat ballad “Faraway Look” – I was hooked. There are not too many people who give Ruby Turner a run for their money but she damn well came close, and then nothing. Four days ago I was thumbing through Record Collector whilst waiting for the good lady to finish the shopping and I saw a short review of the album, my appetite was further wetted when I read she’d been in Nashville and that Dan Penn had been involved. Anyway the vinyl is here and I can’t stop playing the beautiful mid paced stroller, “Keep Me Here”, kicking off with gentle keys, bass, guitar and then we’re off on an emotional ride, what a song, what superb lyrics. She soars high above the sweeping strings and that magical musical landscape which includes a piano keeps everyone under her spell. Well she has me well and truly hooked, of course “Faraway Look” is on here and it still has that deep attraction, other highlights are the down-low “Deep Blue Dream”, which meanders along taking its time to rinse every emotion out of you.

Twelve tracks that all have something to offer. “Lonely the Night” will have you paying attention from the opening caressing of the cymbals and then it morphs into one those tic toc foot tapping pieces that become so irresistible, you know what, Denise Lasalle would have been lorded for putting this out. The vibraphone played by Mike Rojas is a particular warming sound and echoes the sound of Nashville country music. You know I like to give you the names of all involved but the list of musicians and instruments played is vast, the album was produced by Dan Auerbach, Alan Parker was responsible for the recording and engineering at Easy Eye Sound. The album ends with the builder that is “Love is Light”, a superb way to leave you wanting for more. There will be a lot of my soul peers who won’t touch this with a barge-pole because I’ve mentioned the dreaded word ‘Country’ whilst describing a ‘soul’ album, but being a southern soul collector of some 50+ years I know how close the musical genres are and historically in this neck of the woods they are so intrinsically linked. An utterly fabulous ride from start to finish, however she may not be country enough for some or soulful enough for others, what a lovely dilemma.

Brian Goucher

James Booker ‘At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall / Hamburg 1976, Vol. 1’ 2LP/CD (Jazzline) 5/5

Such is the notoriety and respect for James Booker, a film directed by Lily Keber called ‘Bayou Maharajah’ was beautifully put together incorporating many interviewees like Charles Neville, who remarks that Booker’s “rhythms flowed like an ocean” and Allen Toussaint who calls him “a true genius”. It is a most enlightening story and winner of the New Orleans Film Festival 2013 for its account on the life of “The Piano Prince”, from his studio debut aged 14 with “Doin’ the Hambone” through the chart hit “Gonzo” (a song about heroin) in 1960, playing piano on some Little Richard records and raising awareness of Booker’s ability to even play tenor and alto saxophone. It looked at his spells in a psychiatric hospital, Acid and Heroin addiction, jail term in 1970 to the success of his performance at the Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1975, before a remarkable spell of success in Europe from 1976, with the one-eyed, piano virtuoso, tagged with a variety of nicknames like the “Ivory Emperor” and the self-dubbed “Black Liberace” until his untimely death in his birth place of New Orleans aged 43 years.

There is much written and documented about James. Sad though, as British musician and writer Keith Shadwick points out, “his recorded legacy remains meagre for the size of talent”, with just six albums released prior to his death. A number which thankfully increased afterwards, albeit posthumously, and why recordings like this previously unreleased Onkel Pö’s performance will be a welcome addition to all with a fondness for Rhythm & Blues, that space where gospel, jazz and the blues collide, and at a time when he was very much revered by European ears.

Sagitarian, James C. Booker, is a visual mix between the eccentricity of Booty Collins and the story-teller that was Gil Scott-Heron. The flair and bravado of the former twinned with the social awareness and attitude of 70s climate depicted through the latter. He rode the musical waves through Europe at a time when he was unappreciated back home in New Orleans and when his refusal to work in New York limited Stateside options. On the 70s recording timeline we start with a 1973/4 studio recording later known as ‘The Lost Paramount Tapes’, which was in fact ‘lost’ until its first release in 1992, would be the forbearer to his first official studio release in 1976, ‘Junco Partner’, the same year his visit to Hamberg’s Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall on October 27, provides the platform for this definitive new release; the 15-tracks of volume 1, recorded by NDR (famed for their Jazzworkshop series) under the sharp attention of recording engineer, Wolfgang Henrich, in “The Cave of Eppendorf” – a place of legendary status, not only for jazz, rock and blues, but also for comedy and where the Piano Blues would be embraced.

The mood of the people after the 1976 Federal elections in October would have been mixed and a night out would have been a welcome distraction. Before them that night Booker’s voice and a piano would lead them through several popular pieces, a selection from his own repertoire and a huge helping of the unfamiliar. We hear, to be expected, ‘Junco Partner’ through the set after ‘All By Myself’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’, which are favourites. We also hear his take on the very popular ‘Please Send Me Someone To Love’. All presented by lyrically assertive Booker, rewarding the crowd that night and the listeners to this release with a snapshot of extravagance from New Orleans – the birthplace of Blues Hall of Fame inductee, and influence, Professor Longhair. We welcome not the unstable performer that could be very hit or miss on any given night but someone focused and willing to give it his all – a special recording of a night when everything came together and produced remarkable music.

Having now spent time with three Onkel Pö’s releases, one is overwhelmed by the sound quality reproduced here. The packaging and effort put in to these releases by Joachim Becker must be appreciated, and although many might consider their collection of any of the artists represented might be sufficient, urge you to visit this exceptional Jazzline series.

Will we be treated to a ’76 version of his take on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” on volume 2? Or ‘Papa Was a Rascal’ with those Booker lyrics “There was a sweet white woman down in Savanna GA. She made love to my daddy in front of the KKK.” We can but patiently wait. Whatever volume 2 unfolds, it will be as special an addition to volume 1 as it would be to his body of works.

Steve Williams

Rémi Dumoulin / Bruno Ruder / Arnaud Biscay ‘Das Rainer Trio’ (Neuklang) 3/5

Das Rainer Trio consists of well-travelled French jazz amis Rémi Dumoulin (sax, Orchestre National De Jazz), Bruno Ruder (keyboards, Magma) and Arnaud Biscay (percussion, Bibi Tanga). Dumoulin and Ruder previously recorded together with the American drummer, Billy Hart, on 2017’s release “Gravitational Waves”, on which the track “Reiner Werner Fassbinder” first appeared; it’s on Das Rainer Trio too. Here’s hoping for a bit of audio New Wave/melodrama then.

A gentle Clangers intro reveals a galaxy for Dumoulin’s elegant, breathy, lyrical sax to float in on the opener, “Get Down on Your Knees”. Biscay shuffles and fills and Ruder brings fragrance as the romantic drama builds and sweetly releases. All very pretty apart from a minor electrical storm just after the fourth minute brings a bit of disruptive edge.

Not sure if the 6th Symphony of “A Single Melody from the 6th Symphony” is Beethoven’s or not, but there’s acres of pastoral space to relish. Biscay again slots into a supporting wash, while Ruder’s Rhodes drips and echoes and Dumoulin’s soulful voice sways and floats.

“Jack” is initially slightly trippy as Ruder takes the Rhodes out for a dreamy stroll before beckoning the lads over to get proper busy. Ruder lays down a heavy riff, Biscay burns and Dumoulin jives, chats and duals the riff. A highlight for me.

“Reiner Werner Fassbinder” is moodier than the preceding tracks and sounds like it could go off into a North African prog work out but then it’s mood lifts. Shame, I was quite fancying a bit of Nantucket Sleighride meets Fear Eats the Soul!

Another nod to film new wave comes via a cover of, the recently departed legend, Michel Legrand’s “Will Someone Ever Look at Me That Way”. It’s a perfectly lovely rendering, so suited to Dumoulin’s voice that it comes across as a lush, lively Strayhorn-esque ballad. Talking of Strayhorn, there’s another lovely rendering on here; Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge”. It initially sits sweetly in the Henderson/Webster space but then the trio step up a gear for the last 4 minutes into a space that really suits them (and I’d love to hear more of); less reserved, more expansive with Biscay really bringing the batterie.

“Filature” spins round and round like a top and lets us enjoy Biscay give it some centrifugal force while final track “My Plan” is a bright morning cafe with a loved one, the broadsheets and an easy, no-specific-plans, walk by the Seine.

This album bounces between sweetly amorous and earnestly energetic. Dumoulin’s dulcet voice is truly lovely and there’s an occasional something-slightly-at-odds between Dumoulin and Ruder that I quite like too…but what I like most is when Biscay opens up, the trio click n rip and I’m cheering them to stay ‘on the one’ for a bit longer, riff a bit harder and maybe add a guitar and a trumpet. Y’know, a bit more of the melodrama and a bit less of the New Wave. That’s just me though and what I really hope is that they play together more so we get to hear how they expand what they’ve already started.

Ian Ward

Bridges with Seamus Blake ‘Continuum’ CD (AMP Music) 5/5

“Continuum” is Bridges second studio album, following up on their 2016 debut release, both featuring saxophonist Seamus Blake. The full quintet are Blake on saxes, Hayden Powell on trumpet, Espen Berg on piano, Jesper Bodilsen on bass, and Anders Thorén on drums, the original idea being that of a modern, Nordic jazz project with a vision to construct musical bridges between Norway and other parts of the world. Well, whatever the basis for the band’s name, I have to say this quintet are performing some of the finest original acoustic jazz anywhere in the world at the moment.

This recording has such a lovely feel to it. The chemistry between the musicians is obvious from the outset, with Blake and Powell’s sax and trumpet having forged such a seemingly inseparable bond. The rhythm section with pianist Berg at the helm is clearly sharp and focussed, with Bodilson’s bass and Thorén’s drums cutting a crisp and rich bedrock of sound for the fluent and lyrical expression that flows throughout the album from all of the musicians.

This beautiful set of tunes also benefits from an equally beautiful sound recording. The album was recorded in legendary Rainbow Studio, Oslo (home of many ECM sessions of course), and was then mastered by Jacob S. Worm at Finland Studio in Aarhus. The resulting sound has an impeccable warmth and precision to it that certainly increases the listening experience.

There are nine original compositions on “Continuum”, written by several members of the ensemble, helping to achieve a musical diversity whilst retaining an identity that represents well what this band are all about. There is an integrity to this project that suggests a clear understanding of what the quintet were looking to achieve, and the tunes are best described as melodic layers of lyrical beauty combined with some intense and emotive creative virtuosity.

The strength of “Continuum” is in the writing and this is then matched by the performances. As the luscious “Introduction” leads the listener into “The Clues” I am reminded in a way of Tony Williams’ Lifetime, with the intertwined sax and trumpet colluding in unison before Seamus Blake is free to break out into some inspired improvised soloing. Pianist Berg brings the fireworks with a wonderful depth of feeling in his playing. The more gentle “Andromeda” is stunningly beautiful, with the combination of Berg’s gorgeous chords and Powell’s evocative trumpet moving me intensely as I lose myself in the true beauty of this wonderful music. “Slightly Behind” is like a musical sleeping beauty, with Bodilson’s quiet groove of a bass line gradually leading to a waking musically enchanted journey. Blake’s playing over Berg’s lyrical magnificence on “Two” is a highlight and a perfect example of how musical minds coming together can create something so resplendent in nature that one simply has to sit back, quietly marvel, and enjoy the ensuing music. “The Jupiter Line” captures well how this quintet work so wonderfully together as a unit. The synergy between these five musicians in incredible, with an urgency and flow to this tune allowing for Berg to express his characterful playing to the full, with dazzling support from the bass and drums of Bodilsen and Thorén. The introspective nature of “Mareel” has a kind of twisting folk-tale element to it that reminds me of an Andy Sheppard tune. Sax and trumpet combine perfectly as the piece rises and falls with an emotive simplicity and complexity, like two worlds or two races trying to understand one another, before eventually listening together and becoming one voice. “No Road For Readers” captures the imagination with Powell’s crystalline trumpet setting the tone for a tune which releases the soul and frees the singing heart. And almost as an ode to the place where the music was recorded, “Fanfare” echoes a Keith Jarrett 70’s era ECM recording of spiritual intensity and depth of beauty that we rarely get to hear these days.

“Continuum” is an album of rare beauty and one that I will enjoy returning to time and time again. Undoubtedly one of the finest releases this year so far, it shines a clear, contemporary light on melodic, lyrically engaging and satisfying acoustic jazz at its very best.

Mike Gates

Read also: Bridges with Seamus Blake ‘Bridges’ CD (AMP Music) 4/5