Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen ‘Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 3/5

Saxophonist Timo Lassy and drummer Teppo Mäkynen are accomplished stars of the vibrant Finnish jazz scene; artists who have a proven record of successfully trying new things. Musical stasis just ain’t their bag.

So, no surprise then that they’ve decided to create just under 40 minutes worth of music that consists of only the two of them; just a drummer and just a saxman. That may seem to some (me) to be a bit risky, a bit brave. Some people (me) prefer the sonic and rhythmic dynamism and range that can only be delivered by more than two instruments. Maybe. We got a taste of how the album might be with their hypnotic, minimal, clappy 2017 single, “Calling James”. I loved it but am not sure I could handle 40 minutes of it. Probably.

Production is handled in-house by “Teddy Rok” Mäkynen for “Another Rok Solid Production” (still only the two of them involved then!) but, fortunately for everyone, the album cover is designed by a 3rd party, Matti Nives; We Jazz Records’ talented album designer. It’s a gorgeous, layered, rectilinear graphic piece representing the sequential flow of the album’s 13 tracks.

Nearly all of the tracks sit around the 3 minute mark and opener “Fallow” is no exception at 3.06. It’s a haunting, pipe-clanging exploration of smog, twilight and emptiness. Mäkynen brings the atmospheric wash while Lassy’s tenor sweetly sighs and mourns. “Glodenrod” immediately lifts the mood via Lassy’s playful melody while Mäkynen pats out a busy, muted pattern very much in the background; drums in the distance.

“Liberty (part 1)” is more focused and linear. A repeated sax motif and a cymbal-riding beat take us to an ideal stopping place for Lassy’s angular solo before returning to the motif and end. “Catawba” are a Native American tribe from Carolina, ensuring a tribal energy, a spirituality and a feeling of wide open space.

“Resolution Blue” is a wee bit self-indulgent, a bit improv-workshoppy, but the sounds and energy are so charming and full of playful life that it works. “Liberty (part 2)” tumbles in with Mäkynen really working his kit before Lassy enthuses over him, with a jiving freedom; switching between lyrical lines and emotive bursts. Nice.

“Aero” is a minimal space jazz. Tiny stars of sax and drum twinkle in the distance and echo beyond the atmosphere. “Kobi” is built on afro-rhythms; a body-swaying, repetitive motif. “Telemagenta” zones in on repetition too. Lassy works a pattern, as if he’s doing his warm-ups, while Mäkynen gives it a metallic metronome.”Nyanza” delivers more of Lassy repeatedly working related patterns in a solo, rolling ascend/descend that’s all about hypnotic hold, release and tempo. “Firebrick” is Mäkynen’s turn alone; he snares it, propelling over train tracks.

The end pair of “Dark Cyan” and “Heliotrope” are excellent parting notes. “Dark Cyan” drops a mazy, throbbing sax while the drums pump and prod its heartbeat. Repeat ad infinitum, please. “Heliotrope” is a warm, ambient blanket of sound that soothes away any sharp, angular edges that may have been felt during the preceding tracks.

This album is a success; turns out I could handle 40 minutes of it. It’s creative, interesting, intellectual. It’s equally free and repetitive, mathematical and expressive, ambient and linear. I was fairly sceptical but it’s won me over. They’ve managed to create difference and energy in each track but it collectively feels like the pair of them. And I think Matti Nives’s cover sums that up perfectly.

Ian Ward

Altin Gün ‘Gece’ LP/CD (Glitterbeat) 4/5

While it could be argued that it is a truism to say Turkey is where the East meets the West, it is certainly true of her rock music heritage. In the early 1970s, Turkish musicians emerged from their early careers copying contemporary popular western rock styles to found a new progressive music incorporating native folk songs, now commonly known as Anatolian Rock.

Altin Gün, a group whose music harks back to those pioneers, is actually based in Amsterdam, some 2000-odd miles west of Istanbul and only one member is actually Turkish born. But like those early rockers, Altin Gün add an exciting rocky, funky spin on traditional Turkish tunes. Gece, their second album, is mainly adapted from folk material, particularly songs by the late national icon, Neşet Ertaş. As well as the usual rock instrumentation, an electric saz is in the mix, a stringed instrument similar to a lute.

The opener ‘Yolcu’, kicks off with a fuzzy guitar riff, before the serpentine bass line underscores a smooth sub-funk verse. Listeners, like me, who go digging for those old records by Bariş Manço and Erkin Koray (mostly in vain) will be instantly gratified! ‘Vay Dünya’ is slightly mellower incorporating a disco rhythm. The notable part of this track is an enjoyable interplay between the synth and the wah wah guitar in the middle section. ‘Leyla’ bursts into life with tumbling heavy psychedelic phased guitar and bass which gives way to a fine vocal performance. ‘Anlatmam Derdimi’ is slows the pace with swaggering verses and smooth rolling choruses. ‘Şoför Bey’ is apparently the only self-penned track and is reminiscent of Flash and the Pan’s ‘Waiting On A Train’. Turning on to the second side, the guitar is generally less prominent and the songs are more danceable. Both singers are excellent but especially Merve Daşdemir’s beautiful rendition of ‘Derdimi Dökersem’. The highpoint of this album. Next, ’Kolbasti’ picks up the pace with a driving bass lines and has a little more groove than the fuzz heavy earlier tracks. ’Ervah-ı Ezelde’ is spacious with light staccato bursts of guitar and keys, a showcase for Erdinç Ecevit’s impressive vocals. Gesi Bağları is brief but blissful with just keyboards and voice. The album concludes with the early 1980s sounding ‘Süpürgesi Yoncadan’, an all synth bonanza, including retro synth-pads and easily my least favourite on the album. Though throughout the whole release, the performances are good and the band is very tight.

When a group mentions artists such as Bariş Manço, Selda Bağcan and Erkin Koray in their bio, you may expect juicy chunks of fuzzy wah guitar, squiggly mono synth lines and heroic reverberation. This album most definitely delivers on that. However, there are some songs where these trademark Anatolian rock traits are a little too heavy handed and there is a danger that the whole project could come across as a pastiche. It may be nitpicking though as the other songs are just about strong enough to avoid this and allow you to overlook the weaker tracks. As the group was only formed two years ago, I believe, in time, they can fully develop their own identity while retaining the essence of their influences as some other recent psych artists have managed to achieve.

UK live debut: 8 May @ London’s Jazz Cafe – tickets here

Kevin Ward

Pan Amsterdam ‘Elevator Music, Vol. 1’ (Def Pressé) 4/5

“A jazz musician died, Pan Am was born” – these are the now infamous words of Pan Amsterdam that have resonated so strongly with fans the world over. The “jazz musician” in question is trumpeter Leron Thomas who didn’t just go through a reinvention, but something more akin to an actual reincarnation.

Starting life as a trumpeter in New York, Leron Thomas’s musical journey saw him struggle to fit into the city’s jazz scene like the proverbial square peg in a round hole. There were successes, like the featured spot as part of the ensemble on Bobby Watson’s ‘From The Heart’ album, released in 2007 through Palmetto Records, but Thomas was aiming higher. The first stage of his evolution came when Thomas set the trumpet aside and claimed centre-stage as a lead vocalist, releasing his solo effort ‘Cliquish’ in 2015. Released through the revered Heavenly Sweetness label, Thomas’s desire to re-engage with his music and re-engage with his initial passion for creation led to the R&B/disco front man with an album backed by leading names including R&B vocalist Bilal and music from Hiatus Kaiyote’s Simon Mavin and Paul Bender, and Florian Pellissier of the Florian Pellissier Quintet.

Collaborating with Scott Moncrieff – better known as the prolific producer thatmanmonkz – helped set Thomas on to a new path all over again resulting in ‘The Pocket Watch’ in 2018. thatmanmonkz’s style of 90s style hip-hop production was the blank canvas Thomas didn’t know he was looking for. “A jazz musician died, Pan Am was born.”

And while ‘The Pocket Watch’ had been warmly received, the 2019 release of ‘Elevator Music, Vol. 1’ has really attracted widespread attention and acclaim. Intended as a trilogy of ‘Elevator Music’ releases, all due for this year, this six-track EP serves as a jaw-dropping combination of backpack-era hip-hop production while still wholly embracing of Thomas’s initial jazz aesthetic, providing the perfect sonic backdrop for Pan Am’s witty lyricism like “To get into my bars, you must first learn to parallel park your car” and references on topics ranging from WWE to the 1980s Karate Kid. After Pan Amsterdam and thatmanmonkz, Leron Thomas himself almost serves as the third member of collective with his subtle trumpet contributions really adding a fascinating dimension to the production.

Further contributions come from rapper Open Mike Eagle who trades verses with Pan Am on the fun opening ‘No Snare’, and in one of the most surprising on-paper collaborations ever, the “Godfather of Punk”, Iggy Pop, guests on the sparse production of ‘Mobile’. Thomas’s trumpet blowing over masterful Monk production while Iggy Pop repeats the words “Two scratches, beef jerky and a Powerball” for the final minute and a half of the song is the single best advert for this project there could be.

Expectations are high for subsequent ‘Elevator Music’ volumes but also for perhaps further cycles of evolution for Leron Thomas.

Imran Mirza

Ben Crosland Quintet ‘The Ray Davies Songbook, Volume II’ CD (Jazz Cat) 5/5

I was excited to receive this album for review, having previously enjoyed volume I greatly. I must confess that for me, Ben Crosland cannot put a foot wrong. Every recording that he has produced, and there are now many, has been a classy and accomplished product. He has garnered a strong and loyal following in the jazz world over the years and I understand that the earlier Ray Davies project has been the best received of all his albums, possibly bringing his music to a wider audience than hitherto. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Volume I played live in person and that was an even better experience than hearing the album.

Volume I contained many of the songs that would be familiar to the more general listener who had a passing acquaintance with Davies music. Volume II delves deeper into the large catalogue of wonderful songs written by Ray Davies. At first glance once might think Ray Davies and jazz to be strange bedfellows, however thanks to Crosland’s great talent as a musical arranger, each song is dramatically re-cast in jazzier clothing.

An initial glance at the personnel of the quintet will tell the listener almost all that he would need to know in terms of the musicianship on display. Alongside Ben Crosland on bass guitar we have Dave O’Higgins on tenor and soprano saxophone, John Etheridge on guitar, Steve Lodder on keyboards and Sebastiaan De Krom at the drums. Note that there is no vocalist. Together this ‘dream team’ treat the listener to thirteen golden nuggets from the Ray Davies songbook.

The album opens with ‘Sittin’ On My Sofa’ which was co-written by Ray and Dave Davies. This is an up-beat, funky opener with soprano saxophone and guitar to the fore and can’t fail to get your foot tapping. There’s a sinuous solo from O’Higgins, closely followed by Etheridge working his own particular brand of alchemy.

The familiar sound of ‘Days’ follows with O’Higgins on tenor saxophone and the guitarist taking the theme statement and this is sure to instantly bring a smile to any listener’s lips. Lodder on piano and O’Higgins are the soloists. ‘Till The End Of The Day’ opens with an infectious organ vamp before tenor and guitar trace out the tune. Towards the end of this one there is a fine contribution from Lodder. ‘Apeman’ is given a calypo-style make over to great effect with the unusual voicing of what I take to be guitar and keyboard evoking in my mind the sound of steel pans. O’Higgins provides a further inspired solo on tenor saxophone too.

This is happy, feel good music and as the musicians take us on their joyous journey we are treated to renditions of ‘Lola’, with the melody line shared between tenor and guitar with Etheridge later providing a witty statement with wah-wah effects and ‘Autumn Almanac’ with the melody again taken by soprano saxophone and guitar and featuring a lovely bass guitar solo from the leader. What makes this album truly stand out is the way in which Ben Crosland has expertly arranged these songs, making full use of the sound pallet made available to him by these fine musicians.

The CD booklet includes a print of a painting by Dave Newbould depicting the band in full flight. I suspect for Ben Crosland and his musicians this was a true labour of love. Although it is still just Spring, I think that this album will be a strong contender for the accolade of my album of the year.

Live dates:
Album launch at 606 Club, London – Tuesday 23rd April
Harwich Festival – 29th June
Fleece Jazz in Colchester – 16th August

Alan Musson

Josean Jacobo and Tumbao ‘Cimarrón’ CD (E7 Studios) 4/5

‘Cimarrón’ the third album from Afro Dominican jazz pianist, composer and arranger Josean Jacobo provides an expansive canvas for the artist to lay down the varied hues of his palette. The Dominican Republic may be a comparatively small nation but thanks to its location and history many musical traditions coexist and merge to create a unique subgenre, Afro Dominican Jazz. The album’s title ‘Cimarrón’ refers to the escape of black slaves across the Caribbean before taking refuge in the mountainous regions of Hispaniola where African customs and musical traditions met those of the Spanish. Jacobo is something of a student of the folk music of his homeland and has woven traditional elements into a contemporary jazz sensibility. The recording reflects this with its rhythmical dynamism of rich and varied percussive sounds. Jacobo plays six original compositions as well as four reinterpreted songs. The band, Tumbao comprises Jonathan Suazo and Rafael Suncar saxes, Daroll Méndez bass, Otoneil Nicolás drums and Mois Silfa percussion.

‘A Pesar de Todo’ sets the pace of the record with a very funky piano riff, heavy in the lower register and feeling quite 1960s in origin. The sound softens with the introduction of the saxes and percussion, it reminded me of something like Duke Pearson from that period. The recording and mixing by Edward Moreta and Alberto Santamaria respectively is beautiful and has a tremendous warmth to it. My only complaint is the length of this track, at 2.20 it felt like it was over before I could blink.

I wouldn’t say the first piece was a false start by any stretch of the imagination but the title of track 2 ‘Mind Reset’ suggests Jacobo might think otherwise or at least wants to lead us in a different direction for the next five and a half minutes. In contrast to the earlier tune the piano is now producing a wave like sound, more ripples than breakers and quite calming. Drums and percussion come in playing off each other, the saxes combine with a striking precision before a change of pace with solo sax and bass.The saxes join forces again to complete the setup with a pleasingly abstract and angular finale. This track is also a single release.

‘Aunque me cueste la vida’ is Jacobo’s reinterpretation of a popular song previously sung by the likes of Celia Cruz and Alberto Beltrán. Clearly there’s much more of an old school vibe going on here, at least for the first half of the song before the pianist shifts into a more contemporary sound and plays out on a repeated phrase. I was hoping for a reprise of the old school tune to take it full circle but instead there is a more linear musical history on offer.

Slightly puzzling is the inclusion of ‘Interludio Guloya’ which returns to something of the dynamic groove of the first tune combined with a driving rhythm section but alas fades out with solo drums after just over a minute, I wanted a longer interlude that’s all!

‘Lonnie Lament’ feels like the exploration of a different territory altogether, the circular motif pleasing though it is could be from a different album. The band sound more like a trio here with the exclusion of both sax players. I did enjoy this piece but realized what I was missing when l got into the next track, ‘Anaisa Pye’. It’s a joyful return of percussion and saxes, a blend of latin rhythms fused with a jazz sound, something the sextet do profoundly well on this record.

Towards the close of the album ‘San Antonio’ could be said to sum up what the whole record is all about, namely the interplay between percussion and piano and it packs it neatly together in just over two minutes. A piano intro and cymbals sound like waves breaking on the shore followed by complex percussive arrangements augmented by the keyboard, it’s short and sweet but it does a lot.

This record is a treat for those who like their music infused with historic association but at the same time brimming with contemporary vitality and energy.

James Read

Nat Birchall Quartet ‘Akhenaten’ CD (Sound Soul and Spirit) 5/5

“Akhenaten” was released 10 years ago by the, then, hot and new Manchester-based label, Gondwana Records. It was Nat Birchall’s first, and enthusiastically received, Gondwana album and it is now, thankfully, re-released on CD for us to enjoy again.

Nat’s on tenor sax throughout with the other 3/4’s of the quartet being Adam Fairhall (piano), Gavin Barras (bass), and Gaz Hughes (drums), with Matthew Halsall popping up on the title track to make a high five.

All that is true of this album is (not so) loud and (ever so) clear from the opening track, “Nica’s Dance”. The album is deeply mesmerising. It is soothing; healing; calmative; demulcent. It is a linear exploration of spirit and soul and heart. There are no incongruous pyrotechnics. It is a “thank you”; a modest request to join a grateful, hymn-like single state.

Nat’s style/sound has always felt British, I guess. It seems to effortlessly mix the American, Jamaican and African sax player influence with a unique here-ness that is quite common amongst contemporary Brit jazzers. You can feel Trane, Henderson, Sanders, Cedric Brooks, Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond etc but the end result is all about Nat.

“Nica’s Dance” is an unhurried, sensual dance, with Hughes gently pushing Barras/Fairhall’s groovy riff while Birchall floats; cooly, elegantly and sensitively serpentine. Fairhall drops the riff for a while to gently comp, flit and whirl around Barras/Hughes before Birchall slides back in to offer genial, peaceful resolution.

“A Prayer For…” is an acknowledgement for this place, this time. Birchall’s tenor sound’s rich, pure and meaningful. He plays with incredible feeling and focus and a purposeful restraint as Fairhall glides, glistens and sprinkles some of his special soul-dust over Barras’s mantra bassline. It is a definitive answer to the question “What does spiritual jazz sound like?”

“Akhenaten” has a deep ‘n’ easy, swinging riff which allows infinite space and time for Birchall, Halsall and Fairhall to tell us their truths. Halsall’s solo is glorious; long, patient, wistful notes that invite you to close your eyes and consider your own self, environment and relationships.

“Many Blessings” showers its grace and thanksgivings upon us. Barras/Hughes create a wash that ensures our souls are cleansed; Fairhall’s flowing shapes and arpeggios cascade us with soothing hope and divinity; and Birchall partially repeats and revisits motifs to firstly evoke and then emphasise their purpose. Many blessings gratefully received, thank you.

This album is extraordinary in its ability to say so much, and push us to feel so much, but be delivered with such a focused, restrained simplicity. It enables the listener to contemplate, heal and grow under its graceful, emotive, human warmth and assured collective voice. It feels as ‘right’ now as it did 10 years ago, and it will continue to feel right for decades to come. Many more Blessings to be gratefully received, then. Thank you.

Ian Ward

Read also:
Nat Birchall ‘Creation’ CD (Sound Soul And Spirit) 5/5
Nat Birchall Quintet ‘Live in Larissa: Divine Harmony in Duende Jazz Bar’ 2LP (Sound Soul and Spirit) 4/5
Nat Birchall ‘World Without Form’ CD (Sound Soul and Spirit) 4/5

Chupame El Dedo ‘No te Metas con Satan’ LP (Souk) 4/5

From the moment Chupame El Dedo’s second album, No Te Metas con Satan starts, you can tell this is gonna be one strange ride. And it is. This is weird music. For weird people. This is not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s ok. Some people prefer coffee, and coffee is exactly what they give you. No Te Metas Con Satan is that extra shot of espresso to jolt you right out of your daydreams. Thick with danceable rhythms, cartoonish vocals and satire, Chupame El Dedo continue to keep listeners on their toes, which is good, you’ll need to be light on your feet in order to keep up.

Originally meant to perform just one concert, Chupame El Dedo, formed in 2014 by psych cumbia master Eblis Alvarez (Meridian Brothers) and Pedro Ojeda (Romperayo), the man who found the perfect cocktail mix for acid + folk + tropical beats, are ready to mess around with Satan on this release. No Te Metas Con Satan is a surprisingly intelligent project mixing intense laughter with equally intense headbanging. I have to admit, I’ve done a lot of both to this album. The first night I listened to it I played it about 12 times in a row and just jumped around my apartment in my underwear (because let’s face it, if we’re gonna mess around with Satan it’s gotta be done in our underwear).

The inspiration behind Chupame El Dedo was to recreate a death metal group with influences of tropical music, both staples in the Colombian music scene. Joining the two cultural currents as they do plays like a joke. However, No Te Metas con Satan, for all its eccentric and extravagant production offers a clever critique of the reliance on clichés used in both tropical and metal music. For its part, “Mi Ancestro Berraco” pokes fun at the reliance on ancestral rhythms and conventions in tropical music. Colombia is one of the hot spots for music inspired by folklore and tradition; both Alvarez and Ojeda are deeply involved in the scene. While I don’t think they’re trying to make any statements I do think they’re laughing at themselves and their peers who are all capitalizing on different forms of the same thing.

No Te Metas con Satan is also really validating. Alvarez and Ojeda give you so many ideas of where to place blame for all the things that are wrong in your life. We’re all trying to be better versions of ourselves right? But sometimes it’s just so hard. Don’t worry it’s not your fault, it’s probably Satan. Not getting good grades in school? Satan. Can’t seem to hold on to your money? Satan. Can’t keep it in your pants? Definitely Satan!

Satan is also what’s getting you out on that dancefloor. For all of its hilarity and strangeness I can see several of these songs working at the club. It definitely had me dancing all over my apartment. Dancing and laughing as I made strange and hilarious shapes with my body. “Amo a mi Familia” feels like the musical equivalent of doing the escalator behind your couch. It’s funky and experimental and wild, all without losing you. As the song winds up so do you, as it slows down you do too, allowing your body’s creativity to take the lead.

I heard this album called repetitive and, while I don’t entirely disagree, I rather enjoyed that because the songs flowed right into one another. I didn’t have to stop moving to wait for the next song to get started. I could just keep my sexy cabbage patch going. It reminds me of the best nights of my youth. The ones on the dance floor with my best friends, maybe one drink too drunk, oscillating between dancing and laughing our hearts out.

The one downside of the album is “Alexandra Candelaria”, an erotic techno-infused subversion of Little Red Hood, featuring a conversation between a girl who’s looking forward to a round of bullerengue, and the devil himself. It’s hilarious and definitely worth the occasional listen but it’s the most skip worthy song on the album. And after about two listens, skip it you will because it kind of breaks up the flow you just got into. Ultimately, though, it does little to detract.

With No Te Metas con Satan, Chupame el Dedo advises you not to mess with Satan, but after a couple listens I’ve got my black candles out because I just might have to.

Molly Gallegos

Horace Tapscott Conducting The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra ‘Flight 17’ LP (Outernational Sounds) 5/5

This is one of a recent series of reissues of Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra albums, conducted by Horace Tapscott, who is increasingly, although belatedly, being recognised as a key figure of black art and activism from the 60s onwards. Consensus is this lack of recognition is from being based on the unfashionable West Coast, although it appears that it was never really a priority to me. I personally only became aware of them when listening to Desert Fairy Princess on Soul Jazz’s ‘Soul of a Nation’ compilation from a couple of years ago.

This release is a reissue of the 1978 album. Although, it has two more live tracks than the original, ‘Coltrane Medley’ and ‘Village Dance Revisited’, which featured on the 1990s CD version.

The album commences with the magnificent title track. It is effectively in three parts. It begins with unaccompanied pianos. Then the ensemble embark on a dense, circular and mechanical movement, a platform for horns and pianos to swoop and dive. We return to Earth with a beautiful solitary flute. The second track, the piano-centric, ‘Breeze’ is different to ‘Flight 17’ in intensity and also brevity but it is quietly as daring as the title track. It concludes with a moving lush wash from the full Arkestra, which sound almost like strings only more substantial. These first two tracks take full advantage of the texture of the unusual mix of the various instruments. Next though, it’s a significant change with ‘Horacio’, which is an exuberant Latin infused jingle. It’s unlike anything else on the album. I like to think it was named after the conductor’s Cuban alter-ego! ‘Clarisse’ gracefully switches between slow blues and bop and is bookended with a grand vaguely East Asian theme. The busy bass line introduces ‘Maui’. As with the previous track, it moves between a number of contrasting melody lines and rhythms but there’s still space for a tuneful sax solo. The extra tracks were recorded live in Immanuel Unit Church of Christ in Los Angeles. ‘Coltrane Medley’ is as stated in the title. It contains some outstanding solo piano. ‘Village Dance Revisited’ follows which is an intensive percussive treat! As mentioned earlier, the unusual mix of instruments create a wonderful smooth texture which is used to good effect towards the end of this tune. Another high point of this album and exciting conclusion to the set.

This is a must-have album. I think the first two tracks on their own make this release essential. After a quick look at Discogs, I saw their market place only has one original copy on offer and that’s on at well over a ton. It’s also without the two extra tracks so this Outernational Sounds release will be excellent value for money too!

Kevin Ward

Read also:
Horace Tapscott with the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra ‘Live At I.U.C.C.’ LP (Outernational Sounds) 5/5
Horace Tapscott Conducting The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra ‘The Call’ LP (Outernational Sounds) 5/5

Marc Mezgolits Quartett ‘Mostly Love Songs’ CD (QFTF) 3/5

Throughout music history love plays a significant role in songwriting. Good love songs need a certain sense of maturity experience and heartbreak. Listeners expect great taste and masterful delivery to take a ballad seriously. Without that, an album almost full of love songs could be misunderstood.

Marc Mezgolits, bassist from Switzerland raised to the challenge. The young artist devoted his debut album appearance to “Mostly Love Songs” and the result is an atmospheric arrival. Mezgolits delivers a blend of soulful compositions and warm and finesse playing. His Quartet, despite their young age, manages to tell musical stories of great depth. Thus, making clear that not all love songs have to be sad and that a debut album does not have to be loud to raise attention. Mezgolits decision to spare the drums, forces the band to a more chamber music approach. Unfortunately, they miss the chance to explore the full colour palette of this unique instrumentation. The album stays in a comprehensive soft and calculable mood and at times lacks risk taking. Which, in all fairness might have been the intention.

In summary Mezgolits Debut is not simply an album but a mood. “Mostly Love Songs” displays a band with a defining sound and attitude and a great future to come.


Kevin Hays / Chiara Izzi ‘Across The Sea’ CD (Jando Music) 4/5

“Across The Sea” is the new collaboration between pianist and vocalist Kevin Hays, and singer-songwriter Chiara Izzi. Producer Enzo Capua was first introduced to the talent of Chiara Izzi at a festival in Rome many years ago, and now reconvenes with his fellow Italian for this engaging journey that encompasses a full range of jazz and pop-tinged set of tunes. Hays and Izzi are joined by bassist and French hornist Rob Jost and drummer Greg Joseph. The quartet share the company of special guests Chris Potter on saxophone, Grégoire Maret on harmonica, Omer Avital on oud, Nir Felder on guitar and Rogério Boccato on percussion.

The multi-lingual, pan-stylistic set of ten tunes comprise of intelligent original compositions featuring lyrics from both Hays and Izzi, along with some highly personalised interpretations of songs written by artists whom both Hays and Izzi admire. The natural synergy between the duo is clearly apparent throughout the entire recording, with a joyous spirit evident for all to hear.

The pair share a compelling predominance of melody and osmosis between vocals and keyboards, reflected in the unity and clarity of their performances. There seems to be the highest level of intuition going on between the two, with subtle harmonies and the strength of a shared vision bringing the best out of their collective jazz, folk, soul, blues and Mediterranean hued pop influences.

In a way the music resembles a live conversation between the two singers, sparkling as they do on tunes like the endearing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face”, the beguiling “Sea O’ Life”, and the enchanting “Two For The Road”. There’s an acute lyricism to the performances throughout the session and some clever reworking of a few familiar tunes, none more so than a vocal-led version of the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays classic “James”.

It’s sometimes too easy to dismiss an album like this one. One could argue there’s nothing particularly over-inventive about it, and that it doesn’t stretch any musical boundaries or even come up with anything new. But not all music needs to do that, as sometimes it’s just nice to sit and listen to a very accomplished set of tunes performed with a heartfelt joy by musicians doing exactly what they’re good at. And that’s the case here, an album to relax to where you can feel the warmth of the music and just smile.

Mike Gates