Bruno Heinen Trio ‘Out Of Doors’ LP/CD (Self-released) 4/5

“Out of Doors” is an original suite inspired by the eight Hungarian folk melodies used by Bela Bartók in his 1920 composition 8 Improvisations Op. 20. Pianist/composer Bruno Heinen also cites a particular passion for Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle, Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, Chick Corea’s Now He Sings Now He Sobs, and the piano music of Ligeti and Ravel. An intriguing mix indeed, and interestingly one that is discernible in the criss-crossing of styles that sing out from the music being performed here.

With Italian bassist and long-time collaborator Andrea Di Blase, and acclaimed US drummer Gene Calderazzo, this is a particularly inventive piano-led trio that somehow breaks the mould, bringing a unique sound and style that blurs the borders between modern jazz, contemporary classical and traditional folk tunes. There’s an almost fairytale-esque feel to the music, ranging from light, melodic playfulness, to darkly transformative and transient melancholia.

Heinen’s roots in impressionistic classical music are embellished by Di Blase’s classical training and deep understanding of European jazz, with Calderazzo going beyond the usual groove and swing we have come to expect, adding mood and atmosphere with an incredibly thoughtful and deft palette of colour and texture. This is the first release from this trio, adding to an already diverse array of recordings from Heinen, which include collaborations with artists such as Shabaka Hutchings, Denys Baptiste, Jean Toussaint and Sir Simon Rattle, along with music composed for groups ranging from sextet to two pianos and percussion and from big band to classical ensembles.

As the opening piece “What Happens Now” begins, I find myself being immediately drawn in by its slightly uneasy narrative. In a musical sense, imagine a nursery rhyme that gradually becomes more uncomfortable in essence and you won’t be far off the feel of this tune. It is, however, intriguing and haunting, and I love the interaction between the three musicians, creating together something of indefinable beauty. Calderazzo’s drums are like a heartbeat beating strong and rhythmically for the intro to “Devil’s Ditty”. Heinen then takes the piece into an almost hysterically frenzied place where parody meets pathos; a theatrical ensemble piece one might conclude. “Fool In The Grave” begins with Di Blase’s bowed bass and comes alive with Heinen’s spiritual apparition blazing forth into a flickering light. “The Wave” is an adventurous piece that in itself seems to cover most musical genres known to man. Moving onto Fender Rhodes, “Look Before You Leap” seems to give the pianist an equally large canvass to paint his musical pictures, with the groove hitting strong and hard, deep and vivacious. The spellbinding “Past Present” is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this album. Its anthemic nature doesn’t prevent it from hitting the emotions hard, it’s boldness turning things on its head, like an idolised anti-hero. “Mirror” cascades with its own freedom and vitality emanating from an unadulterated romanticism that stuns me with its innate beauty. The closing piece “Homecoming” benefits from that warm Rhodes sound that just wants to keep you wrapped up like a welcoming comfort blanket. Bass and drums accentuate the vibe, as the tune itself reverberates and redirects the listener with its odd little melodies seeping in and out, gradually finding the right path home.

“Out of Doors” is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and original trio albums I’ve heard in a fair old while. It definitely benefits from repeated listening as its unassuming brilliance gradually reveals itself. On a first rather inattentive initial listen, I might have dismissed this album as too quirky or contrived even. How glad I am that I then gave it the time it deserves. It may have its flaws, but it stands out as a compellingly original release that offers something new and exciting to the world of piano-led jazz trios.

Mike Gates

Deerhoof & Wadada Leo Smith ‘To Be Surrounded By Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing Flesh Is Enough’ (Joyful Noise Recordings) 4/5

The idiosyncratic, near-legendary, experimental indie conglomeration Deerhoof have worked quickly to get this album out in support of Black Lives Matter (to whom the profits go). The album consists of previously unissued live material including five tracks with avant-garde trumpeter and political activist Wadada Leo Smith, recorded at New York City’s Winter Jazzfest at Le Poisson Rouge (which the jazzers amongst you will remember as the Village Gate), back in the previous reality that was 2018. That should be enough, really. An important, vital, cause, and musicians who in their own ways reject the orthodoxy, political and musical.

Smith has been outspoken in the current crisis which, as a member of the AACM collective, he’s been doing so long before the latest outbreak of violent oppression. As he says: “Since in today’s world, true democracy is not practised anywhere on the planet, Human Rights is a colossal type of event for anyone to realize, and it’s hard to do. But it must be done and I believe it can be achieved. What makes it so hard is that true democratic principles demand that all human beings respect the rights of others and that we develop the capacity to share the wealth, the power and the earth and the sky together, with the condition that we collectively work to build a peaceful world. For all of us!”

The title of the album, overtly political and supporting Smith’s statement, is taken from Walt Whitman’s early classic I Sing The Body Electric which asserted the democratic primacy of the body, whatever sex or skin colour:

“Within there runs blood, / The same old blood! The same red-running blood!”

As to the music, Deerhoof fans will enjoy the band’s tracks which continue on from the earlier live album Fever 121614 in their combination of Sonic Youth style noise rock and lyrical interludes. The interest, for me at least, arrives with the introduction of Wadada Leo Smith – how will the band integrate his jazzy/improv lines into the rock schtick? Well, in two ways. On the first track of the live set, ‘Snoopy Waves’, for instance, they lay back, showing respect and cushioning Smith’s introspective trumpet line. Whereas on ‘Breakup Songs’, further into the set, they confront his free-blowing head-on, creating a fine racket. What’s unusual about Deerhoof and sets them apart from other rock groups who play with improvising guests is that they are adept at the changes of pace and to the listening necessary for this to work. As Greg Saunier says, “democracy and improvisation are linked”, so there’s a commonality in their musical philosophy from the start. There’s a pleasant tension; it’s not clear where the music will go next. This is particularly true in the duetting of Smith and vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki (on ‘Mirror Monster’ or the central section of ‘Last Fad’).

In all an album that won’t please musical purists, perhaps, but will help bring tribes together and support one of the most important causes in our fast-fracturing reality.

Mike Gavin

Harry Roesli Gang ‘Titik Api’ LP (LaMunai) 5/5

In a market awash with newly released unearthed treasures from the 1970s, Jakarta-based LaMunai Records bring us this gem. ‘Titik Api’ (Hotspot) is described as a ‘successful effort to blend Indonesian’s traditional instruments, such as gamelan, with Western music from progressive to funky hypnotic groove’. Well, that’s got my attention, let’s give it a spin!

I admit I had never heard of Harry Roesli, although he is still a well-known figure in his native country despite his death in 2004. As well as an artist, he was a political and social activist and I am told that the lyrics on this record reflect this.

The Gang of Harry Rusli was formed in the early 70s with the concept of merging traditional Indonesian instruments with contemporary rock music. Titik Api is their second recorded effort, originally a cassette only release from Aktuil music magazine in 1976. The group was soon disbanded after this project, however, when Roesli was offered a scholarship at Rotterdam Conservatoire. Upon graduation, he returned to Indonesia but concentrated on avant-garde compositions often in collaboration with other artists.

The record starts with a bang. “Sekar Jepun” is a Balinese traditional mutated into a prog-rock masterpiece with squidgy old-school mono synth, fuzz guitar and gamelan pounding a ferocious intro before it hits a laid back prog-fuzz guitar riff with syncopated gamelan. There are myriad changes of pace and rhythms even including an electric funereal burst. Gamelan goes missing though for the well-executed but more conventional AOR poppy funk-lite vibe of ”Merak”. Indonesian percussion headlines ”Jangga Wareng” apart from the occasional bursts of manic fuzz riffs and the rebab (stringed instrument) solo.

The epic ”Kebo Jiro” is adapted from a traditional Javanese tune and starts sweetly with lightly flanged guitar and solo voice. Soon it expands into some beautiful lush instrumental moments and builds into an engrossing jam. The brief “Epilog #1” closes record one with lusty vocals accompanied by arpeggiated acoustic guitar chords and keyboard drones.

“Prolog” is moody bluesy hard rock with kendang and outrageously heavily-affected guitar then locking into uptempo synthy/gamelan jam. “Curah Hujan” is a pleasant but relatively uneventful Bossa-style ballad. On the funky “Dinding Tulang”, the gravelly slightly sleazy lead vocal is offset by angelic female backups, the slide guitar/harmonica question and answer section is fun too! The slower “Semut” has heroic vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar and big keyboards wash; it’s a little too saccharine for my taste but the warm jazzy soul of “Bunga Surga” has a groove reminiscent of ‘What’s Going On’.

The Maluku Island traditional song, “Lembe Lembe”, is given the full Roesli treatment. Fuzzy guitar and mono synth double up on the riff with flute taking the lead. It’s a wall of percussion augmented by sustained guitar power chords, mono synth fills and a burst of beautiful choral vocals. “Epilog #2” concludes the record with country-folk tinged ballad including lap-steel and harmonica.

Bringing together such a diverse range of musical styles and instrumentation could easily have sounded clunky and contrived but the cohesion is so strong, it feels intuitive and natural. The album, while a success, is maybe a little uneven but I think that’s a credit to the sheer brilliance of the best tracks. The hotspots, so to speak! I would get this release just for “Sekar Jepun” or “Lembe Lembe” alone. I am amazed that I have never heard this music before but am thankful we now have the opportunity to enjoy it.

Kevin Ward

Various ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ LP (Shika Shika) 5/5

In the late 1960s, Roger Payne found the music in whale song. He became convinced that if people could only experience the profound beauty of the whale, they just might work to protect them. He recognized that people needed to have an emotional connection to the animal, to see them as a part of themselves. Hearing the “humanness”, and more specifically the almost recognizable emotion in the whale, helped prompt numerous “save the whale” campaigns.

In 2015 Robin Perkins (El Búho) and Augustin Rivaldo’s (Barrio Lindo) label Shika Shika released the crowdfunded ‘A Guide to Birdsong of South America’, hoping to inspire the same connection to endangered birds. If we can see them in the music we love, created by people we love maybe we would be moved to save them. And we were. That album was such a success that Shika Shika are back with ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’, released June 26th. Perkins and Rivaldo provided artists with sound files of tweets of vulnerable or near-extinct birds who then incorporated those sounds into new compositions. The album features the sounds of vulnerable bird species like the Momoto Carenado (Nicaragua), Ferminia (Cuba) and the Jamaican Blackbird (Jamaica), birds who have dwindled in numbers as a result of the environmental repercussions of climate change, deforestation and trapping for the pet trade. Through Kickstarter, they were able to raise over $15,000 from 343 backers, all of which will go to local bird conservation projects.

Though still young, Shika Shika is known for remarkable releases that always focus on the meeting between organic and electronic sounds, between folk traditions and digital production and between the past and the future. The human connection to nature is always a focal point and the call to action to save it comes as no surprise. The 10 artists chosen for ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ include well-known names like DJ Jigüe, Siete Catorce and The Garifuna Collective, along with emerging artists like Alex Hentze and NAOBA.

‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ spans pulsing psychedelic chicha, glitchy folktronica and downtempo, poly-rhythmic grooves. The artists were specifically chosen to bridge connections between traditional music and modernity, or between organic and electronic sounds. Exploring these connections help remind us of our own connections to the organic and traditional, helping bridge the gap between ourselves and these birds. It is an unfortunate circumstance of our modern reality that technology and the pursuit of material gain have distanced us from our roots, from nature. And today, in this exact moment when we are now kept from each other, isolated in the structures we built to protect us from nature, this is becoming more clear. In my city, you can’t find a watering can to save your life. People are using this time to reconnect, to dig in the earth, to watch something that can nourish and delight you grow from a tiny little seed. People are taking advantage of the small joys, of butterflies and birdsong. Shika Shika has inadvertently captured the needs of the moment.

These are strange times, but the sort of calm remembering that ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ provides just might help you connect to yourself. If you close your eyes, especially during Alex Hentze’s Tecolote Barbudo, you can almost imagine yourself lying on a forest floor watching all the birds. The song pulses through you with faint bird calls bringing you back into yourself. And that’s the strength of this album, its ability to push and pull you along with the beat. One of the best things about nature is the tendency for your mind to wander along with your feet. That’s what this album does, it takes you there when you can’t actually go there. The only thing missing is the sun on your skin. Time Cow’s Jamaican Blackbird is another song that gives the bird its due. He lets the animal speak to your heart and the bass to your body. DJ Jigüe’s Ferminia closes out the album in the most perfect way. It’s subtle. It could easily be music to meditate to (which is true of just about any Shika Shika release really). There is a primal feeling to this whole album that makes your ancestors feel very close. And they are. In a time like this when we are forced to be alone and we really need to not be alone, because how can you get through this alone, we can turn to them. It felt like at times listening to this album that my ancestors were right there with me reminding me that I am never alone even in my most lonely because I am connected to everything around me.

There are a few stand out tracks on ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’, but the album should really be taken in as a whole to remind us of our deep connection to our ancestors, and especially to our first ancestor, nature. If we can again see that we are a part of the cycle not outside of or above it, maybe we will be moved to action too.

Molly Gallegos

Danilo Blaiotta Trio ‘Departures’ CD (Filibusta) 4/5

Having recently heard the exquisite and inventive piano playing of Danilo Blaiotta on guitarist Andrea Gomellini’s release “The Gift”, I was intrigued to discover how the Italian pianist transferred his skills to the traditional trio format. Inspired by, above all, Keith Jarrett along with music from the French 1900s, “Departures” doesn’t disappoint.

Despite his prodigious career as a concert performer of classical music, Blaiotta is widely known as one of the young talents in Italian jazz circles. Having studied with John Taylor, Kenny Werner, Larry Grenadier and Avishai Cohen, it’s easy to see why he is now coming to the fore as one of Europe’s most sought-after jazz musicians.

“Dispatches” does have a very European feel to it. Alongside the pianist is bassist Jacopo Ferrazza and drummer Valerio Vantaggio. Together the trio performs a selection of original compositions, along with a couple of standards. The trio was formed by Blaiotta in 2017 and they have quickly succeeded in finding their own voice. This is very much a traditional jazz trio album, but the classical elements of the multi-styled compositions really do bring a sense of freshness and adventure to the trio’s music.

The opening track “Claude” is dedicated to Debussy’s music. It’s a thrilling piece that brings together jazz and classical music, with some lovely lyricism at its heart. I am reminded of Brad Mehldau’s “Art of the trio” releases on “Gioco d’azzardo”. Blaiotta’s playing has that lovely Mehldau melancholic lilt here, with a charming demeanour. The energetic and theatrical “The Devil’s Kitchen” sounds a little like an old EST piece, one of those tunes that would certainly get the crowd going if performed live. “Into the blue” is a Bill Evans tribute, and the great man himself would have been proud of this, the trio showing their thoughtful, delicate side, resulting in a gorgeous and emotive piece of music. There are definitely some Keith Jarrett influences in the pianist’s playing, with the spellbinding trickery of “No Waltz” and the emotively spaced title track “Departures”, both taking a leaf out of the legend’s book. The wonderful standard “There will never be another you” is followed by “Feelings”, a piece that compositionally and performance wise is reminiscent of an old Steve Kuhn piece, definitely no bad thing. There’s even time for the trio to finish with their free-flowing take on Miles’ classic “Solar”.

There’s plenty to like here from this expressive European trio. Intuitive playing, skillfully executed, one can only see this trio going from strength to strength in the future.

Mike Gates

oAxAcA ‘Onde Di Sabbia’ LP (2 Headed Deer) 4/5

Spanish label, 2 Headed Deer, who describe themselves as ‘jazz-infused’, have recently released Onde Di Sabbia (Waves of Sand) by Italian free jazz collective oAxAcA. I’m guessing this is pronounced like the Mexican city of Oaxaca. The band consist of Ivan Gross (percussion and noise) Diego Viada (trumpet) Tato Filipazzi (bass) Alberto Dutto (guitars) Mattia Bernandi (drums and percussion) Stephano Isaia (clarinet and sax) on a couple of tracks. This is their first release on 2 Headed Deer but their third album following their 2011 debut and Salvatoria from 2014, so maybe what you might call an occasional free jazz collective.

I understood the first track, ‘Trittico’ better when it dawned on me that the Italian title translates as ‘Triptych’ and sure enough it has three distinct passages. Beginning with a section all about the heavy pulse of Tato Filipazzi’s bass, the instrument is central, like a stake being hammered into the earth leaving the other musicians to swirl around the periphery of this seemingly invincible structure. Alberto Dutto’s guitar and Mattia Bernardo’s drums offer a trace of Captain Beefheart in abstract detailing while the 70s Miles Davis style wah-wah trumpet of Diego Viada also echoes around the pounding bassline. Around the 7 minute mark, the tempo changes and focus turns to Dutto’s guitar. Sonny Sharrack and John McLaughlin are plucked from the mood board and accompanied by a tentative series of percussive clicks and claps. The final section is calmer, like a chant based around a trumpet motif which gradually becomes powerfully insistent as the song closes. It’s been an exhilarating 17 minutes.

The enigmatic title track ‘Onde de Sabbia’ (Waves of Sand) neatly illustrated on the sleeve art with a photograph of sand left rippled by a retreating tide, follows on side one of the LP release. It sits comfortably after ‘Trittico’, it’s relatively short duration providing an oceanic atmosphere. It commences as a wave or pulse, a jangling guitar emphatically gives a sense of menace. Soon the trumpet finds a theme, the rest of the band join the ebb and flow of this disquieting interlude.

A different mood is altogether apparent in ‘Reich’ an uptempo Latin meets Afrobeat hybrid with more added Beefheart tinged guitar grooves. Certainly, this is an unexpected shift, I couldn’t decide whether having this drop out of the sky was a good idea or not. It probably makes more sense on the LP release as it’s the first tune on side two.

The last of the six tracks on the album is ‘Pannella’, maybe it’s a homage to Marco Pannella Italian political activist and civil rights campaigner? It’s definitely a punk-jazz affair with a late 70s new wave feel. At the beginning is the faintest sample of an old bebop tune I was unable to identify, the same sample is audible at the end of the previous track, ‘640 Blues’ I like these intriguing details.

Onde Di Sabbia is an album which frequently changes gear stylistically, usually with impressive ease. On a couple of tracks perhaps rather abruptly but the eclectic influences on this disc offer ample listener satisfaction.

James Read

Benjamin Moussay ‘Promontoire’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Over the last 50 years, ECM has had a long tradition of releasing solo piano recordings, Keith Jarrett being the most obvious. It’s nice to see a new name coming to the fore; French pianist Benjamin Moussay. I was extremely impressed with his contribution on last year’s Louis Sclavis release “Characters on a wall”, and in many ways, “Promontoire” feels like a more intimate extension of the pianist’s thoughtful and reflective lyricism heard on that and other Sclavis recordings.

Given the nature of solo recordings, it’s fair to say that “Promontoire” is naturally a self-portrait of its maker, touching upon many aspects of Moussay’s life and influences. Although it was the solo piano recordings of Thelonious Monk that first fired Moussay’s imagination, installing a love of jazz subsequently nurtured in parallel with classical studies and it’s only in recent years that he has embraced the solo format himself. I respect the fact that Moussay has taken his time getting to this point where he felt it was right to record a solo album. Having been working extensively with his trio, the pianist felt that his initial solo concerts were too focussed on written material, with little improvisation. The more he played, the more he wanted to let go and improvise. His compositions became more and more reduced, often to just the essential elements of a melody and a few chords. And so this is the starting point for this recording.

Moussay’s playing is both delicate and imaginative. The pieces recorded here offer an insight into his reflective style, with structured, melodic moments blurring into spontaneous improvisation. The pianist has that rare gift of time and space within his music. As a listener, I can feel these moments unfold and sense the preciousness of each note being played.

Inspired by Danny Boyle’s film “127 Hours”, the opening track “127” introduces us to the expressive and intimate nature of the pianist’s style. As the album develops, through the cinematic soundscapes of “Theme for Nana”, “Horses” and “The Fallen”, all composed as new music to accompany old silent films, we get a sense that the pianist is totally at home and relaxed with the fact that wherever the music takes him is just fine. “Sotto Voice” reveals Moussay’s Chopin romantic side, with the energised “Don’t Look Down” offering a more active side to the pianist’s fingers.

All in all, a consummate performance from Moussay across the twelve tracks recorded here. An excellent introduction to the man and his music, with much promise for the future.

Mike Gates

Verneri Pohjola ‘The Dead Don’t Dream’ LP/CD (Edition) 4/5

Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola has deservedly earned a formidable reputation over recent years as one of Europe’s most creative and innovative musicians in jazz. With a series of highly successful and praised albums behind him, this is his fourth release on Edition Records and continues to showcase what a refreshing talent he undoubtedly is.

Featuring Tuomo Prättälä on piano, Antti Lötjönen on bass, and Mika Kallio on drums, “The Dead Don’t Dream” brings together elements of Pohjola’s previous releases, most notably the wonderful “Bullhorn”, with the same thoughtful yet adventurous spirit coursing through the seven compositions. Pohjola’s expressive playing is as sensitive and exquisite as ever, bringing to mind the likes of Arve Henriksen and Jon Hassell, his creative voice a statement of subtle intent that flows effortlessly through the whole album.

The album title itself conjures up many thoughts. It might appear to reference a darker side, and there is indeed a contemplative solemnity to much of the music here, but it is also an album of opportunity and optimism, as the trumpeter explains; “The music is not necessarily about anxiety or hopelessness, even though there’s plenty of both in our modern society. For me, it’s more about breathing in and out, letting go of unnecessary stress, accepting who you are and hopefully becoming a more balanced person. It’s about embracing life in all of its complex emotions, while we still have it. After all, the Dead Don’t Dream.”

The tunes presented on this session all benefit from their own narrative quest. The sparse, dream-like nature of the title track simply broods with its own melancholic virtue. In contrast, the anthemic “Monograph” is gently uplifting, and along with the engaging “Suspended” all feature Miika Paatelainen on pedal steel, adding to the atmosphere of these pieces. One of my favourite tunes “Wilder Brother” features Pauli Lyytinen on saxophone, and is a majestic piece of music, fluent, melodious and rich in texture. The pensive, reflective nature of “Voices Heard” gathers strength and pace as the tune develops, cautiously opening up as it goes. I love the way Pohjola expertly traverses light and dark shades, as on “Argirro”, his twisting breathy lines bringing optimism from despair. Cool and vibrant, “The Conversationalist” harks back to an early era of Miles, with its licks and tricks all pulling together on this beautifully balanced piece of music.

Once again Verneri Pohjola has produced an album with many layers to it. There are many depths within his music and the more one listens, the more chance there is that those hidden depths will reveal themselves. Like dreams, they come in waves. Sometimes coherent, sometimes inexplicable. But always worthy of our attention.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Verneri Pohjola ‘Pekka’ 2LP/CD (Edition) 5/5
Verneri Pohjola ‘Bullhorn’ CD (Edition) 4/5