Various ‘Twenty Five Magic Years: The Jubilee Album 1992-2017’ CD (ACT) 4/5

Siggi Loch is the brains behind this most inventive and enterprising of labels and time seems to have flown by in the meantime, but it is indeed a good twenty-five years since the ACT label was first founded. This writer became aware of the Vince Mendoza production of Spanish jazz fusion music back in 1992, and then of course later in the decade the beginnings of a European superband in EST. To celebrate the anniversary, ACT have released not so much of a ‘greatest hits’ sampler, but in their own distinctive style, an overview of some of the key musicians with a quirky twist: ten of the thirteen selections are previously unissued. Eclecticism is the order of the day with covers of pop classics, interpretations of seminal original compositions that were featured first on the label and fascinating takes on standards.
Opening up proceedings is a pared down reading of the Beatles late period, ‘Come together’, which is transformed into a bass, guitar and trombone number complete with vocals by Nils Landgren. The original is thus reduced to its very essence, with country-folk influences in the vocals and a lovely acoustic blues feel to the guitar playing. A real favourite of this writer is the flute-led take on Esbjörn Svensson’s classic, ‘Dodge the Dodo’, which acquires a whole new identity with melodic violin soloing courtesy of Adam Baldych.

Elsewhere, there is a quiet, but heartfelt tribute to Esbjörn Svensson on, ‘Tears for Esbjorn’, with the same line-up that featured previously on his composition. A moody flute dominates the air here with refined classical-infused piano from Rantala. Chamber jazz hues are regularly espoused by ACT and the piano duet between Michael Wollny and Iiro Rantala on, White moon’, is a fine illustration. Fusion guitar with a flamenco base is paid homage to on, ‘Paco’s delight’, by the guitar duo of Ulf and Eric Wakenius, and the intricate guitar work displayed here would surely have met with the great Paco de Lucia’s wholehearted approval.

Accordion and soprano saxophone are an unusual combination. However, reedist Emile Parisien and accordionist Vincent Peirani in tandem with pianist Michael Wollny cook up a head mix of acoustic jazz on the longest album track just short of ten minutes on, ‘B & H’. Vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy has enjoyed success on the label in various guises, with tributes to the great singers as well as her own compositions. Here, she joins forces with the omnipresent Svensson on, ‘Monologue’.

The album ends fittingly with a solo piano piece composed and performed by the inimitable Esbjörn Svensson, ‘Prelude in D minor’, and this is at once a contemplative and mournful number which exemplifies what a consummate musician he truly was. Inside the trademark gatefold sleeve is both a back catalogue and a detailed graphical listing of brand new releases for 2017.

With the emphasis both on the present, future and a gentle glance back at the past, some names have consequently not been able to be highlighted, and these include the likes of Yaron Herman, Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock and more recently the excellent new French talent that is Grégory Privat. Young pianists have been a regular feature of the label and Siggi Loch in this respect, is quite possibly, the Arsène Wenger of jazz label executives in discovering and unearthing new talent.

To celebrate this momentous event in the history of ACT records, there will be a whole spate of new releases coming out from late April onwards and, if recent releases are anything to judge by (forthcoming in the review section), they are likely to have the ACT twenty-five years sticker on to mark the period in action. Major figures such as Richie Beirach and some familiar faces too. As ever with ACT, unusual fusions of musical styles is the norm, and this means in the near future Monteverdi interpreted in a jazz idiom! Of note to collectors is that some of the releases will be issued in vinyl format also. Long live vinyl!

Tim Stenhouse