Dave Ingham Group ‘A Sea Of Green’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

The Dave Ingham Group is 10 years old this year. So, to celebrate, let’s unwrap “A Sea of Green”; a 33-minute presentation box of Ingham penned gifts, where the G (of DIG) consists of Ingham (saxes, bells, flute), Stephen Mynott (guitar), Vilem Hais (double bass) and Azzy King (drums, percussion).

Opener “Upstream” is peppy, breezy, free and easy. Hais and KIng really make things happen; impellent but always very cool with it. There’s a fresh late 50s jazz via modal vibe going on, and visual energy that conjures atmospheric, angular (down to Mynott’s tidy chordal work), art shots of the musicians performing. Ingham’s soprano, so-sweet, responds to and rides on, the dynamic pulse and movements created by the other players. An opener of real vigour and swing.

“Straw Dogs” is much less carefree. It has a slightly airless, mildly oppressive feel collectively laid down by Hais’s deep 4 note lines, King’s coercive pushing and Mynott’s doomed chords. Ingham’s beautifully economic soprano tells stories of emotion, movement and places unseen via a Murakami-like simple prose.

“A Sea Of Green” has a big, enveloping, 80s Brit soul jazz reverb with the trippy space of Peter Green’s Albatross. It’s a composed, confident, loungin’ execution that slides effortlessly around a satisfying, Mynott 2 chord motif. Solos by Ingham and Mynott (love all of his sound) are lyrical, genial and germane. Again, it’s about simple language that communicates so much. This time bewitching with deeply seductive sensual movement. Salacious.

“Hometown Blues” is a drowsy, Joe Pass guitar-led haze. Hais and King admirably hold it down without dozing off as Ingham, now on tenor, and Mynott gently mosey and deeply meditate.

The album busies to its end with “Race To The Sun”. Hais’s high energy bassline hustles the lads into supporting its infectious groove, periodically relenting to allow space to open up for percussive explorations; Ingham as flautist; and Mynott to give his guitar a good working over as the sun finish line awaits.

What a hip, swingin’, sonically-charming 10th-anniversary present “A Sea of Green” is. It’s a real grower, so if you can find time to listen with intent and allow it to wash over you, you will be greatly rewarded. There’s a choreography to it, a clear direction; it’s swimming in movement while creating strong visualisations and absorbing atmospheres…like a minimalist, jazz Richard Hawley. Changes in pace are always used to create a clear dynamic, a shift – you look forward to them and anticipate them, no real surprises or challenges. Composition and musicianship are empathically bonded; there’s an innate understanding of what needs playing but more importantly what not to play – like the best of design. And each musician gets a big stand-out mention for what they bring.

In summary, then, I really dig The DIG.

Ian Ward

Kutiman ‘Wachaga’ LP/CD (Siyal) 5/5

‘Wachaga’ marks the new album release from the immeasurably talented Kutiman, hailed as an eclectic producer, multi-instrumentalist and filmmaker, Ophir ‘Kutiman’ Kutiel’s boundless talents have very possibly reached their pinnacle with the release of this – his fourth album – which has taken a staggering six years to come to fruition resulting in one of the most ambitious projects that I’ve encountered in recent years.

And as awe-inspiring a project as this is, ambitious and awe-inspiring projects really aren’t a new aspect for the Israeli musician at all, as is plainly evident from the litany of music available on his Bandcamp page. As well as being a hub to a treasure trove of diverse and bold music running the gamut from spiritual jazz to psychedelic funk, the collection of releases throughout is a testament to an unwavering commitment to pushing through any limits that may exist within his own capabilities – hurdles that are ultimately addressed by continually embracing new styles and cultures, see single releases ‘My Trip To Sri Lanka’, ‘Thru Krakow’, ‘Thru Tokyo’ and ‘Mix Hamburg’.

Musically all in stark contrast to each other with current, and fourth album release, ‘Wachaga’, seemingly worlds apart from Kutiman’s self-titled and debut album, released as far back as 2007. At its core, the album served as a raw funk record that beautifully intertwined twinges of electronica to exquisite effect. It was the first definitive and distinctly Kutiman record gifted to the world that saw him set the rules and then ingeniously rewrites them through his subsequent releases.

‘Wachaga’ places Kutiman in the company of the choirs of the Wachaga nation – Machame NKweshoo Women’s Group, Ee –Yeiyo Boma Ctw, Maasai Tribe Choir. Recorded by Kutiman in Tanzania during his visit in 2014, his extensive recordings went beyond the intended sessions of the choirs’ chants with inspiration also being sought from commonplace effects like children playing. With all of these recordings pieced together and amalgamated with pangs of electronica and the inclusion of his own instrumentals layered underneath the vocals, the results really are masterful.

But in true Kutiman fashion, ‘Wachaga’ is very much an audio-visual project with each of the nine songs presented here being accompanied by their own psychedelic visuals from video recordings made during 2014’s visit. We fleetingly referenced Kutiman as a filmmaker early on in this review but his mind-blowing concepts and vision in this field really can’t be overlooked. In this instance, his visuals help to propel ‘Wachaga’ into something even more special but perhaps his most revered visual projects lay in his incredible ‘Thru You Too’ series which saw him create songs from disparate pieces of YouTube videos as an ongoing series which I’d urge people to check out if anyone reading this has yet to do so.

Where Kutiman’s music goes from here is anyone’s guess – whether his passions take him to another part of the world or whether they see him tear up the rule book again, the results are sure to be awe-inspiring.

Imran Mirza

Matthew Tavares & Leland Whitty ‘Visions’ 2LP (Mr Bongo) 5/5

Sensational. I looked up the meaning of the word and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it describes something sensational as being ‘very good indeed, very impressive or attractive’. Well, that’s a very typically understated English description if ever I heard one. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘Sense-ational: a startling barrage of the senses; inspirational, gorgeous, stunning, enchanting, surprising, magnificent’. So for the purpose of this review, I’ll go with my version.

Ok, so you might think I’m sad, but this album is the best thing that’s happened to my ears in a long time. But that’s not all. My heart is alive with the passion it brings. My soul is infected with its deeply creative beauty. My mind is running wild, fuelled with refreshed belief. And my life is enriched. Oh yes. I’ve found my pot of musical gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a happy man.

Double vinyl, gatefold sleeve, inventively astounding music. Simply put, I can give you 11 reasons to go and listen to this album right now. 3 tracks across 3 sides of vinyl plus 2 on the 4th side equals 11. Each track a killer tune, the sum of its parts equaling much more than a whole. It’s spirited, it’s exciting, it’s moving and it’s beguiling – all in a way that sparks an exuberant and exhilarated cry of “YES!”

I have to confess, prior to hearing this album, I hadn’t heard of Matthew Tavares and Leland Whitty. On further investigation, it would appear they have been making some mighty fine music for many years now, mostly as two parts of the four-piece outfit Badbadnotgood. This album is perhaps a slight turn in the road for them, jazzier for sure, but certainly no u-turn. Like all great artists, no matter what music they write, record and perform, they retain their own key element of identity.

On “Visions” guitarist/pianist Tavares and saxophonist/flautist Whitty have collaborated in a way that is both intuitive and masterful, creating mesmerising soundscapes that traverse the realms of contemporary jazz, impressionist classical, post-folk-rock and ambient electronica. The key thing though is how it all just sounds so organic, so natural. The album was almost entirely performed and recorded in one take, during an intense recording session. The record is a partly composed, partly improvised suite of free-flowing music that is varied in content, yet glued together with one ‘vision’ that allows the music to glide effortlessly from one track to another. But it’s not just the duo who impress. Bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes and drummer Matthew Chalmers add incredible depth and weight to the session, their contributions being way more than just a rhythmic bedrock. Their collaborative approach and imaginative performances help make this album what it is; an exhilarating experience for the listener, from a quartet of inspired musicians.

This emotive roller-coaster sets off with the intensely dramatic “Through The Looking Glass”, acoustic guitars, impressionistic vocals, sax, bass and drums all converging headlong into its tense, high octane atmosphere. The piano-led track “Woah” is both audacious and exhilarating. In a jazz context its pure, unadulterated energy is bold and bright, a spellbinding quartet piece. The reflective, contemplative “Blue” has Latin blood running through its veins, Tavares’ guitar meeting Whitty’s sax in combined melody and distinctive mood, lush strings adding to the overall chilled-out ambience. “Symbols of Transformation” is a beautiful journey, gorgeously crafted through melody, tone, texture and colour. As with much of this album, there are moments of clarity in this music that are absurdly rewarding. Whitty turns to the flute for the exquisite “Visions of You”. Combined with Tavares’ piano this really is just so beautiful. It’s like a spiritual awakening as the track rises and falls, eventually transcending into its own meditative state of nirvana. The short yet compellingly graceful “Eyes” is followed by the chant-like omnipresence of “Awakenings”, and the almost neo-classical leanings of the fervent “Heart of the Moon”. The musical storytelling continues with the opulent simplicity of the mesmerising “Black Magic”, rhythmic acoustic guitar balanced perfectly with the sax, with luscious chord changes and a gorgeous melody that will stay with you long after listening. “Symbols of Transformation 2” is just as startling as part 1, this time piano, sax, drums and bass all overflowing with spontaneous freedom of expression. The closing piece “Living Water Assembly” is awash with a living, suffering, enduring melancholia that delves into the depths of humanity before rising up undefeated, beyond skin and bone, with cosmic all-seeing energy.

Nothing short of sensational, this is music that truly inspires. It lives in its own time and space. It screams with passion. It bleeds with emotion. It burns with its own swelling integrity. Its depth and beauty resonate on and on and on. Like soul food, its delicious flavours touch the palate with mouth-watering sensations, leaving me fulfilled with an incandescent sense of pleasure and contentment.

Mike Gates

Compro Oro with Murat Ertel & Esma Ertel ‘Simurg’ LP (Sdban Ultra) 4/5

The Belgian collective, Compro Oro move further from the Latin jazz of their debut, “Transatlantic”, towards rock with their third full album “Simurg”. It’s a collaboration with Murat Ertel, frontman of legendary Turkish psych rockers, BaBa ZuLa and singer Esma Ertel, Murat’s partner. Recently the couple curated the excellent Uzelli Elektro Saz (1976-1984) compilation, which I gave a rave review of here when it was released a few months ago.

“Simurg” is a concept album, with Turkish words, telling a story; an analogy. Millions of birds travel over several valleys seeking fulfilment. Out of the millions, only thirty birds abide and complete the journey. They merge then are reborn and reincarnated as a Simurg (or Phoenix).

Foot-down wah-wah on fiery, fuzzed-out saz sparks the hard rock of “Ben” raised by heroic power chords, soaring vocals and the rippling shade of vibraphone. “Murmur” drips a trippy vibe of Esma and Murat’s spoken, often whispered words on twangy guitar and floaty ride cymbal. “Ignorance Is Bliss (Valley Of Ignorance)” engages, conveying the sense of journey with swathes of electronic noise and percussion reminiscent of Kraftwerk but with tenderness. “Valley Of Extinction” is populated with reverberated guitar and creamy synth and leaves a vague feeling of poignancy.

The sparse introduction to “Valley Of Disbelief” soon builds into a precise psychedelic dub groove. “Valley Of Loneliness” is another vocal track over distant chiming which leads to “Valley Of Ego” with Laibach-ian persistent percussion. The birds become Simurg at “Kaf Mountain” and are played out by a melodic vibes and drums duet.

I guess a concept album, particularly one that tells a story could be seen as a brave artistic (some would say foolish) venture in the 21st century. I have to admit I have a soft spot for the pioneering spirit of the original progressive rockers and I detect the same sense of adventure here. However, it’s not retro, it is a fresh mix with flavours of jazz, electronica and dub.

Though the tracks do have to convey a certain mood and tell the story, it’s surprisingly improvisational and I detect a sense of freedom to the performance. There are some good jams and beauty on this album. I think it’s an exciting, successful experiment and I’m left wondering what happens next on their adventures.

Kevin Ward

Hedvig Mollestad ‘Ekhidna’ LP/CD (Rune Grammofon) 4/5

Okay then “serendipity”, how come I hadn’t heard Hedvig Mollestad’s work before now? Having spent my teenage years in a state of constant Heavy-Metal-as-amphetamine stimulation, a guitarist who is categorised as “jazz-metal” or, more judgmentally, as a “jazzrock monster” AND has been blessed with adjectives such as “riffmeister”, “fierce”, “one mutha”, “powerful” and “fearless” should really have been on my radar, love.

Serendipity-less until now then, “Ekhidna” is my virgin experience of Mollestad’s work and I am now in thrall. The album is named after the half woman, half snake monster of Greek mythology. With a serpentine smirk, I note that the gender ratio of musicians here is half woman, half man with Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll on keyboards, Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Torstein Lofhus (drums) and Ole Mofjell handling percussion.

“No Friends But The Mountains” opens with a heroic, resolute Santos Silva standing erect and alone as doomy, smoky density looms beneath and around her; further portended by a cleanish, slowish Fates Warning/Metallica-esque Mollestad chord progression. It acts as that very Metal of things, the quiet-bit-intro; a segue to the hard riffing of “A Stone’s Throw”. “A Stone’s Throw” has a touch of the Frippian NWOBHM about it, but that rock tightness is soon blown apart via Lofhus’ busy, explosive kit work and Santos Silva’s perfectly accentuating playing. Then there’s some Zappa vs Mahavishnu fusion dual lead dramatics before Mollestad closes her eyes for the Dave Gilmour moment. Riffarama returns before it excitingly falls apart as battles ensue between guitar, keyboards and percussion.

“Antilone” kicks off with an organic Green Tinted Sixties Mind and a Paul Gilbert Mr Big boogie that punches with a damp, warm, dense fist (the nicest sort of fist) instead of the sharper, tinnier fist (metaphor dies) of some 80s/90s metal. It then expands into a welcome airy trumpet break which closes back up into the riff before breaking into a busy Zappa-esque phrase fest. Again, the rhythmically compelling Lofhus leads with an extraordinary ability to enable and propel Santos Silva (fusion) and Mollestad (psych/fusion) to, separately, go on irresistible rambling solos…hopefully managing to avoid the bottles of piss inevitably propelled at the stage during this late afternoon/early evening festival set.

“Slightly Lighter” is. Glowing, glistening, gliding chords caress and cosset. “Ekhidna” drops a Sabbathy, flabby Fu Manchu-y riff with Lofhus getting properly all around it(!) before it opens into a gently uplifting, dreamy trumpet moment. We’re rudely slapped awake by the returning riff and Santos Silva pairs up again for that wonderful layered effect, where all harmonies are exponentially improved by the dualling of guitar and horn. Percussive breaks fire up the now newly-awkward trumpet’s suddenly staggering digital note choices; on edge and stumbling. Again, extraordinary compelling energy and dynamism throughout.

“One Leaf Left” builds from repeating, shifting, swaying Mollenstad four-note patterns to a proudly gripping trumpet/guitar melody that heralds something of great import. Mollestrad then stomps pedals and unleashes a tirade of trills, bends and divebombs leading to an abrupt end.

“Ekhidna” thrives on the wonderful knack that great progressive bands (whether Metal, psych, prog, fusion or funk) have of jumping from something tight & fierce to something open and expansive at the drop of a hat; creating an engrossing drama where intense pressure leads to respiteful release then back to intense pressure and so on.

I’ve littered this review with loads of subjective ‘heard influences’. I think this is an attempt, by me, to frame what’s going on because I’ve never heard these influences/styles/sonics so congruently blended before. It incorporates much that I’ve loved on my musical journey while boasting much more than a sum of their parts. It seems it was created solely for me. Serendipitous the boss gave it to me to review then, eh?

Ian Ward

Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet ‘When Angels Fall’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

The Polish bass player was born in 1976 and is often credited with the current resurgence in jazz from his homeland. He has collaborated with Tim Berne, Tomasz Stanko, John Zorn and Pete Wareham. As well as performing he has composed music for film and theatre. He has released several albums since his recording debut in 2008.

His first release for Whirlwind Recordings ‘Polka’ proved to be very successful and popular in dance clubs and rock festivals alike showing his wide appeal. This new release focusses attention on his Polish colleague Krzysztof Komeda who was not only a legend of Polish jazz but also an established composer for film and here the quintet explores Komeda’s output. The quintet is made up of fellow Polish musicians and comprises trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums with the trumpeter also supplying electronics and the pianist playing Wurlitzer. The bassist carried out detailed research when preparing to record this album, feeling the need to find out who Komeda was and how he lived. This is the product of a three year project to write original material based on Komeda’s music.

So, to the music itself. ‘When Angels Fall’ opens the album and seems to set the scene for what is to come. It is a pensive piece of music and features delightful keyboard and trumpet. ‘Roman II’ follows and is in complete contrast to the opening piece. Free exploration soon gives way to a pulsating rhythm with the saxophonist making his presence felt.

Introspection returns with all of the musicians featured on ‘Le Depart’ with trumpet and tenor saxophone blending particularly well and later, an ethereal feature for the trumpet and a relaxed tempo. There are eleven tracks on the album and most are relatively short but this allows for a great variety of approach. Mood and texture. Some pieces incorporate elements of free jazz but the overall feel of the album is that of a melodic excursion inspired by Komeda. ‘Crazy Girl’ is fun with drummer and electronics to the fore.

The feeling of this being an album of music for film is all-pervasive but is certainly not a bad thing.

There is much to enjoy in this varied collection which reveals its pleasures slowly and certainly repays repeated listening.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet ‎’Polka’ Deluxe 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

Gerald McClendon ‘Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now’ CD (Delta Roots) 5/5

I stumbled over this fantastic voice way back in 1999 when his “Choose Love” album was recommended to me by the late Dean Johnson, and then nothing until recently. Whilst trawling through YouTube, I heard a number of tracks advertising this new album, then within a few days, I heard the very same tracks played on soul radio, so I tracked down the album, which wasn’t cheap with new postage rates from the USA now more than the actual cost of the disc. From the moment it arrived it has taken up residence in the listening room and have been constantly playing.

Where the hell has he been? His voice is one that has been ‘lived in’, there’s no mistake, and with accompaniment by one of the best soundtracks I have heard on an album in a long time. We have to thank Twist Turner, another seasoned performer in his own right, who wrote the lyrics for all twelve tracks, every facet of life is played out, falling in and out of love, slipping around and all its pitfalls, I’m on record many times over the past 54 years in that I believe Clarence Carter is the greatest black storyteller of all time, well it seems Twist Turner is up there too – a fabulous writer who also recorded, produced and mixed the album at the Delta Roots Sound Studio in Chicago. Having said all that, we still needed a great voice to interpret the songs with passion and grit and in Gerald we have such a singer, who with consummate ease, ploughs his way through every episode that life can throw at you. When he tells you he’s falling in love with you, you believe him, when he’s out of love you feel his pain and of cause you’re shaking your head when he’s been caught slipping around and about to be cut once and shot twice. Gerald, also known as the ‘Soulkeeper’, is a native of Chicago, Illinois and has loved music from a very young age, he cites Marvin Gaye, Wilson Picket and Otis Redding as inspirations, he is able to ply his trade in various forms of music, be it rock, blues, country or jazz and has completed over 1000 performances to raving audiences while collaborating on countless musical projects.

The simply wonderful soundtrack is provided by Herb Walker, Joe Burba and Mark Wydra – Guitars, Roosevelt Purifoy, Sumito ‘Aryio’ Aryioshi and Brian James – Keyboards, Skinny Williams – Sax, John ‘Boom’ Brumbach, Delta Roots Horns – Horns with an unknown Trumpet player, Twist Turner – strings and drums, Art Love – bass. The album kicks off with a terrific dancer that in years past would have laid waste to UK dancefloors at the more adventurous soul nights. “Can’t nobody stop me now” has instant appeal and would have been very in-demand but sadly the days of new releases sitting next to endless DJ sets of rare soul are well and truly over. The same could be said of “Groove on tonight” set at a slightly slower pace but equally magnificent. The rest of the album provides mid-tempo and the odd stroller, all very enjoyable. The track that has risen to the top here is the mournful, “I think about you”, a deep soul opus with a tick-tock rhythm, bathed in horns and ticking all the boxes.

When I pen my thoughts to these albums it’s not from a theatrical, dishonest view of a music hack who has a vested interest in being nice so they can keep their feet in the trough and get freebies and lots of back-slapping. I do it at my own cost, and from the standpoint of an obsessive collector of soul music and in recent times I have found it hard to find complete albums, there appears to be very little promotion of the product, this release a classic example of finding purely by luck. I find about 40 MP3s every week that satisfy my taste, and so when a physical album hits the collection it makes the searching well worth the effort. I’m listening to “Runnin Wild” as I type, a blast of horns pave the way for our man to announce his arrival, all very restrained, that is until the sax arrives and dominates the proceedings. Lovely, simply lovely. “Mr Wrong” is also creeping up on me as I found myself humming this lowrider earlier, telling his woman that he has a love for her and can he be Mr wrong tonight until Mr right comes along. The strutting “I started over” is another joy, he’s telling us he’s a brand new man and starting over again, which fits perfectly into “You can’t take my love” a slow and torturous tune which just meanders along on a bed of percussion, bass and that sax is at it again with subtle horns just letting you know they are here.

Twelve tracks of majestic soulful beauty that will stand the test of time for sure, an absolute must. Twist Turner has an interesting autobiography out and also check the website for the excellent Z.Z. Hill Jr. album “Goin’ to Mississippi”. You can also find more about Gerald here http://www.geraldmcclendon.com/

Brian Goucher

Ant Law ‘The Sleeper Wakes’ (Edition) 3/5

Born in Saudi Arabia, now living in London, guitarist Ant Law has steadily been making a name for himself over recent years, with his previous albums (Life I know, 2018 on Edition Records, Zero Sum World, 2015 on Whirlwind Records, and Entanglement, 2013 on 33Jazz) receiving very favourable reviews along the way. Law also plays in Tim Garland’s band with Jason Rebello and Asaf Sirkis, featuring on the albums Songs to the North Sky, Return to the Fire, and ONE. Tim Garland makes an appearance here on two of the tracks, with saxophonist /clarinettist Michael Chillingworth also appearing on two tracks, Adam Kovacs on percussion on two tracks, and the core band of Law on guitars, Ivo Neame on piano, Tom Farmer on acoustic bass, and James Maddren on drums.

As one might expect from such a strong line-up of musicians, there’s a distinct tightness to the band’s playing, adding a clear connectedness and warm, intuitive feel to the music being performed. The eleven original compositions (one of these co-written) have an emphasis on warmth, in contrast to Law’s previous release “Life I Know” which was somewhat darker in mood. Whilst some of the tunes strike a chord with me on first listen, it is repeated plays that bears fruit with Law’s music, his style of writing benefitting from hidden depths that don’t always reveal themselves straight away.

One thing of which there’s no doubt whatsoever is that Ant Law is an exceptionally gifted guitarist. Technically brilliant, he brings a wealth of skill and ability to the pieces recorded here. For me, some of his compositions work better than others, with the occasional tune just not quite hitting the sweet spot – for whatever reason – whether that be a feeling that the music could be more emotive, or whether it’s the feeling that I’m just not connecting with the flow and atmosphere in the time and space I’m listening to it… I’m not one to ‘analyse’ the whys and wherefores too much. So let’s focus on the plus sides, and there are plenty of them with some real gems to be heard on this album.

The musicianship throughout this recording is exceptional. Ivo Neame, in particular, is on top form, adding touches of inspiration with his wonderful playing. The understanding between all of the musicians is clearly evident, with Tim Garland and Michael Chillingworth both supplying masterful contributions to the session. I love how the slightly melancholic feel at the beginning of “Swan Song” opens out into a joyous celebration. One of the most original pieces “Her Majesty” is a real pleasure to listen to, with its intriguing flights of fancy creating a lovely atmosphere. The uplifting title track takes the listener on an adventurous journey, with solos from both Law and Garland really swinging with a deep resonating depth. “Bridges” benefits from a vibrant groove that once you’re in on, you’re hooked. And the catchy, compelling “Harvest” is one of those tunes that offers sunshine on a rainy day.

“The Sleeper Wakes” is a solid, enjoyable album from Ant Law. I can’t help feeling that these set of tunes would come alive in a live setting… but then that’s something that we all crave right now. Maybe when the ‘new normal’ of life gets back to a ‘better normal’ for artists and musicians, we’ll be able to enjoy hearing Law and band stoke the fire that little bit more with their musical prowess.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Ant Law ‘Zero Sum World’ CD (Whirlwind) 3/5

Sasha Mashin ‘Happy Synapse’ 2xLP/CD (Rainy Days) 5/5

‘Happy Synapse’ is the sophomore album from St. Petersburg native and drummer Sasha Mashin, but here with a different group to his bandleader debut ‘Outsidethebox’ (2018), which was also released on Russian based Rainy Days Records. Here, the group consists of Josh Evans on trumpet, Rosario Giuliani on alto saxophone, Dmitry Mospan on tenor saxophone, Benito Gonzalez on piano and Makar Novikov on bass. Featuring eight original pieces with half the album using a quintet configuration, two being trio based and the other two compositions using a quartet and a sextet, which shows a very modern approach to composing and arranging.

The album begins with ‘Flowing’ and its circular piano playing and dynamic structure. This is 100% contemporary bebop with its drum and piano heavy form and impeccable bass timing which sounds like a multitrack recording rather than a live group session. The longest piece at 13’18”, ‘The Hidden Face of Stars’, offers fluidity and melodic backbone even with all the colourful playing from its counterparts, as this piece features the whole ensemble, but Giuliani particularly excels on alto as does Evans on trumpet. The Coltrane-esque ‘The Hidden Voice’ offers choppy piano chords and extended runs as Benito Gonzalez jolts over the uptempo rhythm track with Giuliani again in fine form.

Quartet number ‘Incantation’ uses subtlety but still remains extremely absorbing and is again melodically heavy, but with a title like ‘Incantation’ it does veer into more ‘cosmic’ territory especially in the final half of the arrangement, but it’s possibly my personal favourite cut on the album. ‘Inner News’ returns the album to a more fiery bebop status, featuring large amounts of intricate playing and improvisation, key changes and a very pronounced rhymic centre from the quartet. With ‘Night Melody’, the frantic drum and piano workout and underlining touches of bass highlight the strong trio set up of Mashin, Gonzalez and Makar Novikov, and ‘Sim Card’ returns to a more standard bebop affair and would be a definite crowd-pleasing live number – post lockdown. ‘Sulieman Saud’ is another soaring composition and covers all the bases during its 12-minute long journey which bounds along with energy and sophistication with some excellent unison playing included.

Unknown to this writer, Mashin and his group offer something new but familiar with ‘Happy Synapse’. Obviously influenced by both legacy US jazz musicians and newer contemporary artists from around the community, the album is faultless in its writing, stylisation and execution. Admittedly, the group includes non-Russian musicians in this instance, but bandleader Sasha Mashin offers a voice not commonly heard in modern jazz environments. And as like most people, I’m sure, my knowledge of Russian jazz is almost non-existent, but jazz is universal, transcultural and open, and I for one would love to learn more about music from his part of the world.

Damian Wilkes

Joe Downard ‘Seven Japanese Tales’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Inspired by the deep and lyrical collection of short stories by writer Junichiro Tanizaki, UK bassist Joe Downard makes his debut as composer and band-leader with this refreshingly innovative album. The music features a range of moods and dynamics, supported by soundscapes, analogue electronics and an energised acoustic septet featuring the composer on bass, Alex Hitchcock on sax, James Copus on trumpet, Will Barry on piano, Rupert Cox on synths, and Felix Ambach on drums.

Junichiro Tanizaki was a masterful storyteller and was awarded Japan’s imperial prize in literature in 1949. His collected stories “Seven Japanese Tales” explore themes along the lines of love becoming self-annihilation, contemplation of beauty that gives way to fetishism, and where tradition becomes an instrument of voluptuous cruelty. Heavy subject matter it may be, but it’s always written in a meticulous and poetic way. It’s easy to see how this Japanese writer could have influenced Downard’s musical adventures, and the composer’s “Seven Japanese Tales” stand up on their own as highly imaginative musical tales.

Downard’s compositions are distinctive and intriguing. There’s energy, excitement, joy and reflection all rolled into these seven tracks. Although each piece was conceptualised and penned by the bassist, the actual session was very much a collaborative process between all of the musicians. Downard wrote the tunes with the specific musicians in mind so that when the time came to record he would have known that an intuitive and collaborative effort should enhance the pieces, bringing new ideas and a collective spirit to the proceedings. And it certainly worked, with the whole album being recorded in a day ready for post-production, the results are at times startlingly good.

Apart from the book itself, Downard also took inspiration from many musical avenues, including Radiohead, James Blake, Messiaen and Ambrose Akinmusire. Downard’s music is as diverse as those names might suggest, with genuine originality coursing through each of the tracks presented here. The composer’s music is overflowing with creativity and colour, and none more so than on the album opener “A portrait of Shunkin”. A heady mix of acoustic piano, subtle electronics, heightened drums and bass and enigmatic sax and trumpet firing out the melody can’t fail to impress. In some ways, I’m reminded of Brian Blade’s Fellowship, or even Joe Zawinul, with such a cool vibe and rousing moments sparking fresh emotions as the tune progresses. “Terror” is one of the most lyrical pieces on the album, almost anthemic in its cascading brilliance. The Zen-like “Bridge Of Dreams” offers thoughtful contemplation. Meditative in nature, it delves and it toys, delivering a multi-layered subtle beauty. “The Tattooist” has an epic filmic quality to it, imaginatively working its way through time like a jazz-infused best of Morricone set. Reflective yet alluring, “Aguri” features some tropically wonderful acoustic soloing, luxuriating in the presence of a synth-laden atmosphere. “The Thief” gives all the band members the opportunity to stretch out in style, and “A Blind Man’s Tale” evokes a frenzy of thought as it crashes and burns, before rising again with an optimistic omnipresence. The short but sweet “My dreams are all in black and white” closes the album like a gatecrashed Donald Byrd vocal-led piece from a time gone by.

“Seven Japanese Tales” is a mesmerising debut from Joe Downard. On this evidence, he has to be one to watch for the future. His music is fresh and inspiring, with a free creative spirit that one hopes will continue to flourish in the years ahead.

Mike Gates

Astral Travelling Since 1993