Timo Lassy with Ricky-Tick Big Band Brass ‘Big Brass Live At Savoy Theatre Helsinki’ LP/CD (Must Have Jazz) 5/5

Timo Lassy’s new release sees him present a live performance with the Ricky-Tick Big Band, collectively gracing the stage at Helsinki’s celebrated Savoy Theatre.

The saxophonist’s extensive work over the years has surely solidified him as a leading name within Finland’s thriving jazz scene. The variety of his projects and collaborations have seen him – as in this case – work on projects from the grand scale of partnering with the Ricky-Tick Big Band Brass wonderful contrasting with considerably smaller scale projects like the pairing of Lassy’s sax with just the drums of long-time collaborator Teppo Mäkynen for their self-titled album released through We Jazz last year. And then there’s his contributions as member of the brilliant Five Corners Quintet – whose Ricky-Tick releases ‘Chasin’ The Jazz Gone By’ (2005) and ‘Hot Corner’ (2008) are personal classics – and his work with the revered Italian guitarist and producer, Nicola Conte along with a host of other collaborations.

With projects released through a variety of labels over the years from Ricky-Tick to Schema and Membran, it’s Must Have Jazz that holds the distinction of this fantastic set, recorded live over the course of two nights and boasting members of Lassy’s core Quintet which includes keyboards by Georgios Kontrafouris, drums by Teppo Mäkynen, bass by Antti Lötjönen and percussion by Abdissa Assefa.

The songs selected for ‘Big Brass’ take the scenic route through Lassy’s extensive career enabling him to revisit some of his personal favourites with the added dimension of the Ricky-Tick Big Band Brass helping to reimagine and reinterpret songs from his catalogue. ‘Universal Four’, ‘Sweet Spot’ and ‘African Rumble’ are tackled here from Lassy’s ‘The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy’ (2007) – the latter of which sees its original six minute composition transformed into an overwhelming fourteen minute centrepiece for the whole performance that any appreciative crowd in attendance would have rightly marvelled at.

‘Northern Express’ also makes for a nice inclusion – a relatively young song within Lassy’s catalogue, it was originally housed on his ‘Moves’ (2018) album and actually features the accompaniment of the Ricky-Tick Big Band Brass, as a handful of the album’s songs did, so for the collective to revisit that song within this live context makes for a nice extension from the ‘Moves’ original. On that note, within this ensemble big band style performance, it might have been fun to have Lassy perhaps revisit a track or two from his aforementioned collaborative album with Teppo Mäkynen – the two-man band compositions could have had exciting new life breathed into them which could have been particularly exciting seeing as Mäkynen is providing drums for this very performance.

‘Big Brass’ serves as another wonderful set from Timo Lassy – an artist whose prolific approach to music continues to see his star rise through each release.

Imran Mirza

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York ‘Entity’ CD (Libra) 4/5

Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss –alto sax, Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin –tenor sax, Andy Laster – baritone sax, Herb Robertson, Natsuki Tamura, Dave Ballou – trumpet, Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler – trombone, Nels Cline – guitar, Stomu Takeishi – bass, Ches Smith – drums

Considering the recent burst of interest in Japanese free/spiritual music of the 60s, 70s and 80s manifested in the excellent BBE J Jazz Masterclass series (which has highlighted the work of many forgotten [or unknown in the West] Japanese players), it should be Satoko Fujii’s time. Her music, in all its extraordinary diversity and proliferation, would certainly appeal to fans of J Jazz, and provides a useful link between the rare grooves of the 20th century and the contemporary scene.

Satoko plays in many formations, from solo to big band, but it’s the orchestras that really demonstrate all her talents. Entity consists of a series of pieces focusing on the tenets of Buddhism as understood by Fujii played by the all-star NY Orchestra (she has another, Japan-based, large ensemble: the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo). Satoko studied in New York, has kept her connections there and is able to bring together a super-talented ensemble including US stars Ellery Eskelin (ts), Ches Smith (drms), Nels Cline (e-gtr) and Herb Robertson (tpt).

Satoko’s style, owing something to Butch Morris’ ‘conduction’ and to John Zorn’s games pieces, attempts to bridge the difficult water between composition and improvisation. She uses cards and signs to create mood and tempo, to introduce new ideas and to change up the rhythm, otherwise leaving it to the players to navigate the tune. Fujii explains, “I can hold up Sign 1, which means play a long tone with any note, or Sign 2, which means play a glissando”. But it is the skill with which she integrates the improvisation into the composition, without resorting simply to free blowing over the top of the changes, that allows Fujii’s music to stand out.

Take the opening number and title track, Entity. The orchestra comes in on a mammoth chord, only for something more introverted and subtle to emerge into the sonic vacuum. Hung on Ches Smith’s percussive framework, Cline’s guitar sonics twist and turn. Other soloists come and go building to a bruising trombone solo climax. It’s hard to tell where the arrangements end and the improvisations start.

But if this sounds like difficult music, I’m doing it a disservice. While Morris and Zorn and European free groups (other large ensembles that have wrestled with the composing/improvising dichotomy include the Dutch ICP Orchestra, the German Globe Unity Orchestra and the UK’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra) are important touchstones in Fujii’s development, Entity sits easily alongside classic New York albums by Gil Evans and George Russell, or Carla Bley – just turned up a notch. The freeform muted solo given to Herb Roberson on Flashback is Miles on steroids and is followed by a beautifully introspective alto exploration by Oscar Noriega.

Gounkaikou is metaphorically and physically at the centre of the album, bringing together the Buddhist inspiration, the live composition and the improvisational talents of the individual musicians. The majestic opening themes are played out in stately time before the orchestra swaggers in. Dave Ballou contributes a fine trumpet solo, moving from bell-like clarity to fiery jabbing, and the piece dissolves into uncertainty, featuring percussion and dissonance.

Satoko Fujii is undoubtedly one of the finest composer/arranger/band leaders working today. It’s a travesty that she hasn’t played in the UK with one of her large ensembles. London Jazz Festival? It’s overdue…

Mike Gavin

Hugh Masekela and Company ‘Live in Lesotho’ 2LP 180g Vinyl (Matsuli Music) 5/5

Matsuli Music’s purpose of unearthing and reissuing “classic South African jazz on vinyl” has led to some wonderful (re)discoveries. Okay Temiz and Johnny Dyani’s ‘Witchdoctor’s Son’ from their 1976 Istanbul collaboration is a rare treasure as is The Soul Jazzmen’s 1969 hard bop album ‘Inhlupeko (Distress)’; however, the release of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s 1980 concert ‘Live in Lesotho’ sits high amongst some of the label’s greatest releases.

Often referenced as “the father of South African jazz”, Masekela’s music was for much of his career synonymous with the anti-apartheid movement – his 1987 single ‘Bring Him Back Home’ was added to the long list of voices in the call for Nelson Mandela’s freedom. Having left South Africa in 1960 due to the extreme measures carried out by the Apartheid state, Masekela initially studied in London before moving to the US and quickly making waves in jazz circles for his innovative approach to jazz – picking up where he left off in South Africa having started South Africa’s first youth orchestra (The Huddleston Jazz Band) and being a part of the Jazz Epistles who, in 1959, were cited as having recorded the first African jazz record.

Performed in 1980, ‘Live in Lesotho’ was billed as part of a series of Hugh Masekela’s ‘welcome home’ shows and sees Masekela on Flugelhorn and vocals backed by members of his New York band including the revered talents of jazz-funk pianist, singer and songwriter Don Blackman, who in this case is also credited as handling all the musical arrangements for the show along with Masekela; saxophonist and flautist Rene McLean (Yusef Lateef, Gary Bartz), guitarist Bobby Broom (credited here as Bobby Brew and further famed for his work with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis), bassist Victor Bailey (Weather Report, Kashif) and drummer Poogie Bell (Weldon Irvine, Marcus Miller). The band is rounded out with backing vocals by Thandeka Hgono, Thembi Mtshali and Lorraine Mahlangu.

‘Ashiko’ kicks the project off fantastically with such afrobeat-esque swagger; ‘Stimela’, a song about migrant workers which sees Hgono, Mtshali and Mahlangu lead on vocals, is sublime as is the incredible energy of ‘Ha Le Se Le Li Khanna’ which builds wonderfully from a lush and lengthy Blackman solo. With four of the six tracks presented here clocking around the nine-minute and over mark, the vigour that carries across these recordings is just a joy to experience 40 years later.

While always serving as a beacon for South Africa, and South African music and culture, so much of the performance here serves as a testament to Masekela’s global travels and western influences – having studied in London’s Guildhall School of Music and Manhattan’s School of Music, Masekela was always encouraged to explore his own musical roots but found genuine fascination with US luminaries like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. The New York-based band on show for Lesotho perfectly capture Masekela’s vision of afro-jazz making this a blissful unearthed treasure.

Imran Mirza

Bobby Selvaggio ‘Live From The Bop Stop’ CD (Dot Time) 4/5

This is the first live album release by alto saxophonist, composer, arranger, band leader and jazz educator Bobby Selvaggio. It’s preceded by ten studio albums, the most recent of which was Quantum Man, described as ‘persuasive and moving’ by Downbeat in 2017. Selvaggio himself says he wants to offer a ‘sonic adventure for the listener.’ On this date at the Bop Stop Cleveland, Ohio he’s joined by Theron Brown (piano) Zaire Darden (drums) Paul Thomas (bass) as well as Dan Wilson (guitar) who guests on a couple of tracks. A woodwind section also contributes to the recording, Tommy Lehman (flugelhorn) Liz Carney (clarinet) Summer Cantor (bassoon) Kent Larmee (horn in F).

After a stint in New York’s Manhattan School of Music where he was taught by the likes of Joe Lovano, Bobby Watson, Dick Oates and Maria Schneider, Selvaggio gigged around the city before returning to his native Cleveland. He’s director of jazz studies at Kent State University and is also an alumni of that institution. The son of Pete Selvaggio, virtuoso jazz accordion player, jazz is in his DNA.

The intimate setting of the Bop Stop is a key venue for Selvaggio, one he has played countless times since returning to his Cleveland roots. Judging by the Facebook reviews the place is a bit of a gem and at the time of writing this ballsy venue is open for business despite the lurking menace of Covid-19.

The album comprises eight original compositions. Selvaggio takes what initially looks and sounds like a fairly low key approach to the music, in the video he barely appears to break a sweat. However, this soon proves to be a deceptive first impression as the music takes on a powerful and tight intensity of its own.

‘Times A Changin’ is the first track, it sets off in a pretty smooth vein, the languid approach soon evolves as Selvaggio pushes the tune right to the parameters of its containment. After some pretty neat work, the leader earns the right to step back. This allows Brown’s piano and Darden’s drums an opening, they, in turn, offer up enough space for Thomas’ deftly executed acoustic bass solo. Selvaggio leads the band as they return to the main theme.

‘Run Away’, is a ’60s themed and quite frenetically paced arrangement with Dan Wilson’s guitar having a Grant Green vibe about it. The piece ends with a satisfyingly calm exhalation by Selvaggio.

With ‘Deniable Plausibility’, things get thought-provokingly political with the CIA coined phrase for the art of black ops as a title. It’s in a more sombre mood and Theron Brown gets the chance to plug in his electric piano to add to the sense of melancholy.

‘Spy Movie’ at first seems like a dramatic departure and change of feel, it has echoes, effects and is a contemporary abstract jam of writhing funkiness. Despite its superficial disconnect from the other pieces on the album, the underlying personality of the music is retained providing a sense of continuity.

Selvaggio describes what he feels about live performance, ‘The raw emotion of being in front of a sold-out house and experiencing every note, every moment with a 150 person crowd really sets the stage for a special environment’. For Selvaggio it’s personal and it shows on these great live recordings.

James Read

Jamie Breiwick ‘Awake / The Music of Don Cherry’ (Shifting Paradigm) 4/5

With the release of his latest project, trumpeter Jamie Breiwick pays homage to one of his heroes with his new album ‘Awake / The Music of Don Cherry’ released through Shifting Paradigm Records.

The multi-faceted nature of Breiwick’s artistry has always been explored through numerous avenues – from the variety of collaborations and ensembles he’s founded or performed with including the Lesser Lakes Trio, Choirfight, Clamnation, We Six to his role as an educator for high schools and universities in his home of Wisconsin or as a graphic design artist who has gone on to create stunning album presentations across a range of media through Breiwick’s own B Side Graphics business including albums from fellow Shifting Paradigm label mates like Andrea Scala’s ‘Coming Back, Leaving Again’ and Tony Barba’s ‘Blood Moon’.

Breiwick has always worn his influences on his sleeve and been more than happy to celebrate the musicians that have provided the biggest inspiration for his own music. Further to the ‘Awake’ album, Breiwick is also the band leader for Dreamland – a project that celebrates the indelible music of Thelonious Monk with the moniker ‘Dreamland’ in reference to an obscure Monk track.

It’s this unquenchable desire to continually try new things that Breiwick perhaps best identifies with when considering Don Cherry as a subject for such a touching tribute – that and of course the unquestionable quality of Cherry’s music. As a trumpeter, much is made about Cherry’s lengthy association with saxophonist Ornette Coleman as well as his pioneering steps in the 1970s within the realms of world fusion – before ‘world fusion’ was even a concept – and his subsequent incorporation of African and Middle Eastern styles within his compositions.

Joining Breiwick in his celebration of Cherry’s successes is Lesser Lakes Trio collaborator, drummer Devin Drobka, who also acts as the engineer for the album and can cite work with Kenji Herbert and Kyle Nasser, and rounding out the trio is stand-up bassist Tim Ipsen from the Tom Matta Big Band and Paul Dietrich Quintet.

Breiwick’s trio pay loving tribute to Cherry’s music within various stages of his expansive output: ‘Art Deco’ kicks the album off with its masterful reinterpretation of the 1989 title track ‘Awake Nu’ and ‘The Thing’ are also tackled beautifully from the 1969 album ‘Where is Brooklyn?’. In earlier reference to Cherry’s journey into the fusion-style territory, it’s particularly exciting to see Breiwick and company tackle the Coleman-composed ‘Race Face’ from the first of what would become three albums from Cherry’s Codona project in 1979. Codona paired Cherry with sitarist and tabla player Collin Walcott and Naná Vasconcelos on percussion, cuica and berimbau so to hear the inspired new take on that composition on ‘Awake’ is a real treat.

Don Cherry’s music has been left in the more than capable hands of Jamie Breiwick as he delivers a touching tribute to Cherry’s monumental achievements.

Imran Mirza

Jasper Høiby ‘Planet B’ LP/CD (Edition) 5/5

Planet B is the new project and title of the first of four albums to be released over the next five years by bassist Jasper Høiby. Each album will focus on four global topics of vital importance; Humanity, Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence and Monetary Reform. If this first album – which focusses on Humanity, is anything to go by, we are in for a real treat in the years to come. Featuring Høiby on bass and electronics, Josh Arcoleo on saxophone and Marc Michel on drums, this is a trio recording with a difference. Planet B uses a powerful, imaginative mix of thought-provoking voice samples and loops, knitted together with an open, inspiring approach to expressive, innovative jazz from this incredible trio of musicians.

Perhaps best known for his work with Phronesis, Danish bassist and composer Høiby’s music has long since been shaped by thoughts around ecology and the political landscape that affects us all as human beings. With this release, he successfully pulls together his reasoning into a musical art-form that conveys relevance, conviction and an independent thinking that surely will resonate with many of us.

He can’t, of course, in a musical sense, achieve this all on his own. The contribution of the fiery young British saxophonist Josh Arcoleo and adventurous French drummer Marc Michel cannot be underestimated. Together this trio shape a new musical language, their deeply intuitive performances raising the trio bar. Høiby’s vision and message is embraced to the full, with high production values not taking anything away from the earthiness and immediacy of the performances.

The session kicks off with the contemplative “Story of Self”. Hushed bowed strings lusciously working their way around the spoken words of the story of self. Throughout this recording, the spoken word and the music compliment each other perfectly. They are integral to one another. We hear words of wisdom from great thinkers and philosophers such as the incomparable Jiddu Krishnamurti, mindfulness master Ram Dass, and civil rights leader John Robert Lewis. The readings are crafted beautifully together with the music, creating a sense of sincerity, of genuine love and respect. “Reimagine” is an exploratory piece that builds in essence and strength, like the beginning of a journey for the trio, leading us into the explosive opening of “Consciousness”, a wonderful piece that plays out like a Nordic folk song, gentle yet auspicious in nature. “Interconnectedness” is perhaps on more familiar Høiby territory, yet reminding me of just how great a sax-bass-drums trio can sound. Think JD Allen or Jason Rigby Trio and you’re somewhere close. “Never Forgotten” is uneasy, meandering, menacing even. The interplay between this trio is a highlight of the whole session, and this track is a perfect example of how cool and ‘on it’ the performers are. The exhilarating “The Dinosaur” is more experimental, with its powerful drums encouraging the searing, soaring sax to go further out into the cosmos, just to see what happens. I love the eeriness that lurks behind “We Didn’t Earn The Sun”. Høiby’s bass combines perfectly with the melancholic melody of the sax, with drums building as the trio combine with a deep, resonating natural force. “Life is a Gift” is reminiscent of a Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet piece, melodically alluring yet deep and meaningful, with the added bonus of Høiby’s driving bass solo and Arcoleo’s stunning sax improvisations. There’s so much feel and emotion in his playing it’s just a delight to listen to, so expressive. “Never Give Up”, like all of the pieces on this album, carries such a powerful message. The way Høiby sensitively handles the subject matter is incredible. I can feel a part of this, I feel ‘involved’… somehow energised by the music and the message. The album comes to a close with “Reimagine (Outro)” and I can now pause for reflection. And hit the play button once more.

Planet B sounds exceptional. But it also ‘feels’. It feels like something special is happening. It feels important. It feels timely. It feels emotive yet well-thought through. Make no mistake about it, this is a powerhouse of a performance from the trio, one that will reverberate for months and possibly years to come. We await the second instalment from Høiby and co with much anticipation.

Mike Gates

Emie R Roussel Trio ‘Rythme de Passage’ CD (UNI Musiqc) 3/5

It’s been ten years since Emie R Roussel Trio produced their first album. Over the last decade Roussel; piano, Nicolas Bédard; bass, and Dominic Cloutier; drums, have forged their own collective personality, releasing four albums, touring eleven countries across four continents, and picking up awards aplenty on the Canadian jazz scene. “Rhythme de Passage”, the trio’s fifth album, continues the group’s adventures and offers new music inspired by their continuing journey together.

The trio’s music benefits from its own personality, in turn quiet, agitated and passionate. It’s obvious from listening to this album that the many years of performing together has brought an intuitive feel to their music. The interaction and understanding between the threesome makes for some wonderful moments, with the group interplay particularly noticeable throughout the session.

Roussel’s writing style is interesting. Whilst some tunes meander somewhat, others, like the album opener “Yatse Club” benefit from being more sharply focussed. There’s a keen edginess to tracks such as this which I really like, and the performances can’t be faulted as all three musicians thrive on the intelligence and freedom of the composer’s stylistic approach. The title track is one of the most original and inventive pieces on the album. Rolling neo-classical piano chords give a beautiful intro to the tune, with drums and bass mirroring the twists and turns of the piano as the tune develops. Whilst “Agent Orange” is more akin to an avant-garde pop tune, “Maltagliati” is much more introspective, like a reflection, fluttering and slowly cascading, lost in the essence of its own thoughts. “Taniata” is a ballad that’s melodic yet slightly melancholic in nature. The likeable “Est” has a lovely lyricism to it and allows for some splendid soloing to add fuel to its fire. The laid-back feel of “Loners” is a grower, seemingly engaging the listener more and more with each play. The closing track “Empreinte” has a wonderful atmosphere to it; free-spirited and exhilarating. It’s one of those tunes that makes you feel alive.

Although overall this album felt a little inconsistent to me, there are moments that really catch fire, making it well worthy of a listen. The undoubted musicality of this trio still has much to offer.

Mike Gates

Ambiance ‘Into A New Journey’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Ambiance’s ‘Into A New Journey’ album was originally released in 1982 on the Los Angeles based private press record label Da Mon Records, a self-financed enterprise that allowed for short runs of each of Ambiance’s albums, at a time when avenues for distribution were restricted for many independently funded labels. The album quickly fell below the radar and became a highly sought after item amongst collectors of jazz and Private Press material, occasionally cropping up at the more specialist jazz record fairs around the world with a hefty price tag. The record has been on many of the more nuanced jazz record lists for years and finally arrives again courtesy of the BBE team. As usual with the label, the emphasis on presentation and high quality of sound represent the original to the best possible level.

This obscure jazz masterpiece is led by Nigeria-born, LA-tutored multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer and photographer Daoud Abubakar Balewa, who studied with some of the great jazz innovators including Jackie McLean and Frank Mitchell, who played with The Jazz Messengers. ‘Into A New Journey’ features a superb group of little known talented musicians from different backgrounds, resulting in a fascinating idiosyncratic mix of Latin, Brazilian, afro and soulful spiritual quality.

Considered to be the pinnacle from the group’s six recordings between 1979 and 1986, ‘Into A New Journey’ carries a warmth and energy that is captivating and beguiling. As well as four original compositions by Daoud Abubakar Balewa and guitarist Jim Lum, Chick Corea’s compositions ‘500 Mile High’ and ‘Windows’ and Joe Henderson’s modal classic ‘Black Narcissus’ are firm choices that elicit the quality and character from the group.

On ‘500 Miles High’, a memorable jazz fusion track from the Chick Corea 1972 ‘Return To Forever’ album, the group bring a particularly attractive slant to the piece with the vocal pitch and tone similar to that of vocalist Irene Datcher and her contributions with Tarika Blue on tracks including ‘Truth Is The Key’. There’s a warm padded sound and some great changes in tempo accentuated by Danny Newmark on electric piano and drummer Danny Yamamoto. Both the drummer and June Kuramoto, who brings the Japanese Koto instrument to the album, were also both members of the group Hiroshima and they bring a welcome variant and quality to the recording.

The title track, ‘Into A New Journey’, is an exhilarating percussive uptempo track that combines a Manu Dibango style chant with the spiritual vocal harmonies of Monife Balewa adding a particular feel that is off kilt and never dull. Daoud Abubakar Balewa places the alto and tenor saxophone to one side, focusing on his percussive talents with Bells [African], Agogô, Shekere, Berimbau, Cuica, Shekere [Agbe] stepping into focus. The track aired memories of Marius Cultier and Guem with its dynamic wide-angled approach.

The lush and warm vocal track, ‘Something Better’, brings the leader and wife together, with words about taking some time out and putting the handbrake on, which seems a timely message and it adds a perfect insight into the overall feel that the leader and wife producer Monife wished to convey throughout the album with both sound and instrumentation.

On Joe Henderson’s classic modal composition ‘Black Narcissus’ Daoud Abubakar Balewa’s distinctive style of saxophone brings an expressive quality that adds a refreshing appeal. It seems a good choice to have included this piece as the group appear to have an affinity with this modal offering which allows Kimo Cornwell’s keyboard style more space.

On ‘Windows’ the vocal harmonies of Monife Balewa effortlessly links up with the saxophone stridings of partner Daoud Abubakar Balewa adding a welcome cosmic slant to Chick Corea’s soulful fusion classic, whilst the energetic bass of Randy Landis and piano of Danny Newmark add a perfect counterweight for this effervescent arrangement.

Featuring alongside Daoud Abubakar Balewa, who plays a multitude of instruments including Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards and percussion instruments are Vocalists Monife Balewa and Atiji Malomon, Guitarist Jim Lum, Tyrone Ponder playing Apito [Samba Whistle], Randy Landis on Bass, Danny Yamamoto on Drums, Rick Smith on African Drums, Danny Newmark on Electric Piano and Fender Rhodes, June Kuramoto on Koto, Jim Thornburn and Kimo Cornwell on Keyboards and Acoustic Keyboards.

Another essential and important album from the West Coast Private Press jazz scene during the early 1980s period, centred in and around Los Angeles.

Mark Jones

Marc Jufer Trio ‘Trip To The Centre’ (QFTF) 5/5

Jazz Trios are one of the classic formation for jazz artists to explore their field. Saxophone trios, due to the lack of a harmony instrument, hold a special ground within jazz history. Marc Jufer introduces his brilliant new album “Trip To The Center”, featuring Lisa Hoppe on Bass and Devin Gray on Drums.

This album is impressive! These three musicians really don’t hold back and take risks in the most unexpected ways. It gets loud, it gets rough and it gets fast – it’s classic Jazz at its very best!

Jufer swings and leads reminiscent of a young Sonny Rollins. Fearless and rhythmically trenchant.

Hoppe and Gray beautifully connect as a rhythm section, laying out pathways or providing sneaky trapdoors to explore unexpected terrain. It’s an exciting dialog. A vibrant travelogue. An exciting trip to the city! More of this, please!

SG

Julia Hülsmann Quartet ‘Not Far From Here’ CD (ECM) 4/5

German pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann, together with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling have been producing some exquisite albums as a trio for well over a decade now. This latest offering from ECM brings the threesome together with tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff, expanding the group dynamic to a quartet. “I had the growing feeling that Uli was the right player for us now”, Hülsmann says. “The four of us did a lot of rehearsing together, which was interesting in itself: the trio had never been much of a rehearsing group. It’s not so easy as a player from the outside, to come into the music of this close circle of friends. But it was soon clear that Uli, by observing and listening carefully, had got the idea of the way our group functions and brought something of his own to it, in a thoughtful and sensitive way.” And this is most certainly the impression I get listening to the wonderful interaction between all four members of this group. There is a timeless, intuitive subtlety to much of the playing that makes this album very enjoyable and fulfilling.

I like the fact that each member of the quartet brings in original compositions. The only cover on the session is an inspired reworking of the Bowie/Metheny/Mays song “This is not America”. No stranger to diverse musical interpretations, Hülsmann has always been open to expanding her music beyond expected jazz sources, previously having drawn on music from Kurt Weill to Kyrgyzstan folk song to pop and rock music of Seal and Radiohead. It is though, the exceptionally crafted originals from all members of this quartet that form the major body of this work. The interesting thing is that it’s difficult to define which person composed which tune, without reading the liner notes, and this is a testament to the togetherness of the quartet, the overall feel and style of each piece being a clearly defined sound of the four-piece rather than focusing on any one individual.

Hülsmann contributes five pieces to the album. “Weit Weg”, “Streflicht” and “No Game” began their life as solo piano tunes, adapted and expanded for the quartet. The title track was written specifically for the quartet and it shows, Kempendorff’s eloquent sax playing bringing everything together with style. Drummer Köbberling offers a pair of strikingly different pieces, both very engaging in their own way. Bassist Muellbauer is the author of the album’s two longest tunes, with different rhythms and timings allowing the quartet to explore many musical possibilities together. Saxophonist Klempendorff’s tunes are deceptively simple yet enigmatic, mirroring the skill with which he plays.

“Not Far From Here” is a typically masterful recording from Hülsmann. The playing is often inspired, sensitive and wholly engaging. Saxophonist Kempendorff has a deep, alluring tone that blends perfectly with the trio, making for an engaging and rewarding listen.

Julia Hülsmann Quartet are on tour throughout March and April. Go to ecmrecords.com for detailed gig listings.

Mike Gates

Astral Travelling Since 1993