Category Archives: Album Reviews

The Steve Howe Trio ‘New Frontier’ LP/CD (Esoteric Antenna) 3/5

“New Frontier” is the new studio album from celebrated Yes guitarist Steve Howe, following on from two relatively recent releases, the studio album “The Haunted Melody” and the live recording “Travelling”. This release is a trio session, featuring the guitarist’s son Dylan on drums, and Ross Stanley on organ.

There’s a natural warmth running through this album, with Howe’s guitar playing touching on several styles making for a nicely varied set of tunes. Dylan Howe and Ross Stanley both bring plenty to the musical table, drawing on their own experiences to create a lovely fluid, intuitive feel to the recording. Dylan Howe’s work with Wilco Johnson along with his perceptive and engaging musicianship as a band leader (Subterraneans in particular) pairs him well with organist Ross Stanley, who’s own career has blossomed performing with the likes of Dennis Rollins, Stan Sulzman, Steve Arguelles and Clark Tracey, among others. Together, the trio move effortlessly from rock to blues to jazz and back again.

The album opens with “Hiatus”, featuring some excellent classical guitar work from Howe, punctuated with Stanley’s 70’s sounding organ. “Left To Chance” has that prog-rock feel to it that one might expect, it’s cool bluesy groove acting as a counterpoint to the memories one initially gets of Yes in their heyday. The first of three tunes co-written with former band-mate Bill Bruford, “Fair Weather Friend” benefits from a cool, jazzy vibe, largely created by Howe’s engaging guitar riffs. “Zodiac” sounds like an old-time blues piece, one from a late night dance hall. The guitar and organ collide on “Gilded Splinter”, with some fascinating interplay and variation from all three band members. The fusion is strong on “Showdown”, whilst the highly original “Missing Link” benefits from some unified, intuitive playing from the threesome. “Outer Limit” has a distinctly Caribbean flavour to it, with a rockier vibe peeking through as the tune progresses. “Western Sun” sparkles with life, before the session closes with an especially sentimental sounding piece called “The Changing Same”, another tune co-written with Bill Bruford.

“New Frontier” might not be a groundbreaking album, but let’s face it, Steve Howe really has nothing left to prove. What it is though, is an enjoyable slice of fusion, well crafted and benefitting from a genuine warmth and relaxed sincerity. There are some strong tunes on here, with the trio blending their electric and acoustic sounds in an artful and intelligent way. As you’d expect, Howe is just as at home playing an effects-driven electric guitar, as he is playing acoustically, and although this album never really catches fire, it is still very well worth a listen, especially for Howe fans.

Mike Gates

Cecil McBee ‘Mutima’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

This early important work from composer/bassist extraordinaire Cecil McBee enjoys a welcome reissue via the Pure Pleasure record label. Recorded in 1974 on the independent New York based Strata-East label, ‘Mutima’ is Cecil McBee’s debut album as a leader, following a series of collaborations with Pharaoh Sanders during the early 1970s.

In the early 1960s Cecil McBee joined a stellar line of bassists who had worked with Paul Winter’s ensemble who had included Richard Evans and Chuck Israels. This appointment seemed an important precursor to what was to follow. A move to New York in the mid-1960s allowed for many important collaborations alongside such luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill, and Sam Rivers. Within a short space of time, Cecil McBee had become one of the most in-demand bassists amongst the new wave of jazz that was pushing the boundaries and stretching compositional approach.
Cecil McBee has since been an ambassador for jazz, receiving a Grammy for the 1988 recorded ‘Blues For Coltrane’ within the group that featured Pharoah Sanders, David Murray, McCoy Tyner, and Roy Haynes. Check ‘Naima’ from the album as an example of why the album received this prestigious award.

The compositional weight throughout ‘Mutima’ is a delight to hear, balancing improvisation and melody with a rich journey of musical excellence from the heavyweight musicians who have joined McBee for this album. Each of the six compositions were written by composer/bassist Cecil McBee. It’s a fantastic lineup of musicians, with many having worked alongside artists including Pharoah Sanders, Roy Ayers, Norman Connors, Lonnie Liston Smith, Billy Parker’s Fourth World and Roland Kirk.

The album starts off with the 11-minute ‘From Within’, a solo performance exploring within the bass sounds. A deep reflective piece, probing improvisational composition with the leader using the two acoustic basses almost like an echo, soul searching and classically leaning. Each moment of sound that travels through Cecil McBee’s instrument on this solo reminded me of the effects that Max Roach’s solo track ‘The Drum Also Waltzes’ imbued with its emphasis on each moment of sound.

‘Voice Of The 7th Angel’ is a short piece that opens up with the rich textures of the percussion and the wordless harmonies from Dee Dee Bridgewater rounding off the sublime arrangement. Check out Anthony Braxton’s ‘Five Pieces’ album recorded in 1975. It’s interesting to note that Cecil McBee had collaborated with Anthony Braxton and the approach on this piece was faintly reminiscent of ‘Comp 23 H’ from the ‘Five Pieces’ album.

Cecil McBee’s uptempo driving bass dances in between the weaving sharp staccato saxophones on ‘Life Waves’, exploring new ideas and paths as the unexpected is always close. His sound is never obvious and there’s a freshness to many of his compositions, especially this improvisational piece. Check out his ‘Music From The Source’ album from 1977; another example of great composing and complexity which seems to never wane or fade.

The title track, ‘Mutima’, is a beautiful 13-minute composition that has similar touches to Pharoah Sander’s ‘Prince Of Peace’ in its build-up. Pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs, percussionists Michael Carvin and Jaboli Billy Hart create a rich colourful platform for trumpeter Tex Allen, flautist Art Webb and George Adams on soprano saxophone. The changing tempo adds a samba element with its swing and uptempo brashness.

In 1997, Universal Sound compiled a follow up to their excellent ‘Soul Jazz love Strata-East’ compilation that had been lovingly put together 3 years earlier. This follow up delved deeper into the important works that had been recorded for the New York based Strata-East label. One of the tracks included on the compilation was Cecil McBee’s ‘Tulsa Black’. A composition which featured his son playing electric bass. Lawrence Killan [congas], Jaboli Billy Hart [cymbal, percussion], Jimmy Hopps [drums], Art Webb [flute] , Michael Carvin [gong, percussion] feature alongside the leader on this and other compositions on the album.

A welcome reissue and a superb insight into the influence on sound that Cecil McBee has continued to support with his teaching, composing and playing.

Mark Jones

Espen Berg Trio ‘Free To Play’ CD (Odin) 5/5

Pianist Espen Berg is one of those musicians who just seems to get better and better with every album release. His trio, with Bárður Reinert Pousen on bass, and Simon Olderskog Albertsen on drums, has a sound and feel that becomes more fulfilling with each recording. “Free To Play” is the trio’s follow-up to their 2018 album “Bølge”, and whilst some of the album is familiar territory for the band, much of it breaks new ground, but rather than being an all-out revolution, this confirms a natural evolution for the trio and their music being performed.

It’s fair to say that Berg’s trio has now found its own voice. There are some obvious influences running through the style of music being performed, as with 99% of music we all listen to, but there is a fresh and inspiring slant to this recording. It has an originality coursing through its veins that suggests an openness and confidence from all three musicians, the interplay and nuances within the tunes a joy to behold. The writing is particularly strong, making for a varied, compelling and very listenable album.

The trippy, contemplative opener “Monolitt” sounds like an intuitive and meditative piece rather than a pre-planned jazz tune. And the tune is indeed wholly improvised. It came about by chance, on impulse, before the session had really started, and the combination of bowed bass and celesta works beautifully well together. We’re on more familiar ground with “Skrivarneset”, a stunning piece highlighting the trio at their most enchanting. Berg’s meandering yet melodious piano sounds very reminiscent of Brad Mehldau at his luminous best. The bass and drums are perfect, working with a delightful intuition and exemplary skill, helping bring out the sparkle in Berg’s incredible playing. The bold side of the trio takes a firm hold of the listener on “Kestrel”, it’s wonderful drums at the beginning of the tune making way for some exploratory soloing from Berg. The gorgeously lyrical “Camillas Sang” once more benefits from a Mehldau-esque melancholic beauty, gradually becoming a voice of its own with its ultimately uplifting resonance. “Gossipel” is an outrageously enjoyable piece. I’m not sure if the likeness is playfully intentional from the trio, but this tune most certainly has its influence firmly rooted in a style going back to Keith Jarrett’s European Trio of the ’70s. I’d even dare to be more specific than that, with the rolling piano chords, groove-fuelled bass and kick-ass drums sounding very akin to Jarrett’s classic “As Long As You’re Living Yours” from the “Belonging” album. The highly original “Episk Aggressiv” is perhaps more akin to what one might expect to hear on a Bad Plus album, with its daring, confrontational sound interspersed with passages of calm reflection. “Oumuamua” has a much gentler nature to it, with piano, bass and drums combining perfectly and hitting the sweet spots just like the days of old with EST at their best. There’s a romanticism here that is very compelling, the tune’s beguiling grace and spirit shining a true, clear light. The iconic “Meanwhile in Armenia” brings together the trio’s skill and awareness in perfect harmony, doing what the very best trio’s do; playing on a different level and inspiring the listener. The final track “Furuberget” is nothing short of a mini-masterpiece. Hauntingly beautiful and sincerely moving, the trio combine their more ethereal skills to create this piece of music that is a stunning end to a wonderful album.

Undoubtedly one of my favourite albums of this year, “Free To Play” is a richly rewarding experience, from a trio who are proving to be not just one of the best in their field of music, but also beyond boundaries. Fabulous music that I have a feeling I’ll be enjoying for many years to come.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Espen Berg Trio ‘Bølge’ 2LP/CD (Odin) 4/5

Thinkin’ Big ‘Reclamation’ (Self-released) 4/5

Thinkin’ Big is a Chicago-based big band led by composer and trumpet player, Jonah Francese, a Mexican-American PhD candidate at Chicago University. ‘Reclamation’, their second album, is a chunky 19 tracks. The expansive tunes are interspersed with spoken word interludes. These tracks feature the opinions and observations of individuals belonging to minorities in the US because, as Francese says, their “voices remain unheard in our political environment, and the stories these voices can tell are important to the construction of the multicultural intersectionality of which most in power choose to ignore.”

“Rich Man’s Empty Pocket”, electric piano sparks the mid-paced spiky fusion-y rhythmic patterns. The drums here and throughout the set are excellent. The bright and breezy horns, although absent through much of the song, play out the anthemic melody. The proficient guitar solo midway through is Zappa-esque rather than the regular speed wizardry usually associated with this style. The combination of the big band, electric instruments and voices create an unusual but very pleasing texture which is consistent throughout this release. Piano arpeggio introduces the saxophone led theme of the refined and expansive “Sunburnt Daydreams”.

The band bursts into life sounding like the theme tune of a forgotten 70s crime show for the uptempo “Destroyer of Ignorance”. The smooth scat vocal melody line is juxtaposed with the gripping, industrious rhythm section. The tempo eases with the luscious bluesy melancholia of “Down the River”. The folky balladry of “Forgotten Forests”, complete with fiddly sounds, is vaguely reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s “American” music and not really my bag. The standard “Chim Chim Cheree” follows. On some of the tracks on this release, the big band merely provide a solid backing to the lead instruments but here it is fully utilised with the complex arrangement.

The immediate, rocky “Humidify” is dominated by distorted electric guitar rifferama and electric piano, the motif of which is adopted by other instrumental combinations throughout the arrangement. The rhythmically slow build middle section highlights the pleasing trumpet and keys solos. The post boppy “To Ash” is a joyous noise. The sombre cover of the gospel tune “Total Praise” is the last music track on this album. I guess it achieves the required grandeur for a conclusion of a work like this but is also rather mawkish and sentimental.

The spoken word sections are accompanied by solo piano, which very occasionally obscures some of the dialogue. The content is important and interesting, drawing upon experiences and opinions from differing ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations. Surprisingly, it does not appear to be as diverse as expected as all the contributors seem to have similar affluent, intellectual backgrounds. Maybe I am nitpicking here and of course, middle-class voices need to be heard too!

The sheer size of the band, the gravitas of the concept and the length of this release, it is apparent that this is a labour of love. This ambition of the project and sincerity of the performances is admirable and refreshing. A welcome addition to the standard big band sound is the prominent use of electric instruments and influences from soul, r&b and rock. An exciting and largely successful re-imagining of the big band for our times.

Kevin Ward

Jaimie Branch ‘FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise’ LP/CD (International Anthem) 5/5

While it’s certainly not uncommon for jazz and soul music to boast a reputation of music that ushers in feelings of good times, dancing and romantic numbers, some of the most impactful soul songs associated with each genre’s history can be attributed to addressing social and political injustice. Classics by no less than legends like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron… all ask timeless questions about the society they grew up in and questions that sadly still ring relevant today. Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ serves as a great example… maybe we’re destined to always ask that question but it’s certainly a question people still ask nearly 50 years later.

Jaimie Branch’s ‘FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise’ is actually an album that continues in the vein of asking that important question… ‘What’s Going On?’. Released through Chicago’s International Anthem – which is also home to Resavoir’s stunning self-titled debut album from earlier this year as well – trumpeter Branch’s second album sees her add the tag of vocalist to her seemingly never-ending skillset which includes trumpet, synths and composition.

With this project’s predecessor, ‘Fly or Die’, having been released in 2017, the sequel sees the return of many of that album’s contributors, and subsequent frequent collaborators, including Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums as part of the core band, along with guests including guitarist Matt Schneider and label-mate Ben LaMar Gay.

Much of ‘FLY or DIE II’ revolves around the thoughts and feelings conveyed in ‘Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 & 2’: “It’s a prayer for America, the good, the bad and the rest of ‘ya”. It’s a song that exudes passion over the course of its 11 minutes and 26 seconds, from the melancholy bass, to Branch’s screaming trumpet and ardent vocal openly calling out the racism attached to this Republican Presidency. The introduction of Branch as a vocalist serves to override the notion of any ambiguity regarding any of the messages littered within the music here and very much contributes to a more honest and sincere recording particularly with regards to the subject matter of such sensitivity. But the album boasts even more highs like the urgency captured throughout ‘Twenty-Three n Me, Jupiter Redux’ or the vibrant ‘Nuevo Roquero Estéreo’.

There really is something about a piece of art that challenges the notion of injustice or calls for change – it can be like staring into the remnants of Pandora’s Box and laying eyes on the faint glimmer of hope sitting at the bottom waving back at you. ‘FLY or DIE II’ is the hope that things can in fact change.

Imran Mirza

Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell ‘Common Practice’ CD (ECM) 5/5

Recorded live at Manhattan’s famed Village Vanguard, “Common Practice” features a set of standards and blues tunes, expertly performed and led by pianist Iverson, featuring the prime melodic voice of veteran trumpeter Tom Harrell. Iverson convened a group specifically to support and challenge Harrell. “Tom is one of the greatest living soloists. While it is always great to hear brand new compositions with every new Harrell band, there’s something to be said for just counting off familiar tunes and letting Tom blow.” And indeed, Harrell is in immaculate form, and together with Ben Street on double bass and Eric McPherson on drums, the quartet shine an intoxicating light on the tunes they perform, making this a truly wonderful album.

Listeners familiar with Iverson’s music via his 17 year tenure with trio The Bad Plus, could perhaps be a little surprised at the fact that the pianist chose to perform a set of standards, yet it’s clear from listening to the music on this session that he uses his skill and knowledge, along with tradition, to bring an innovative edge to the session. His playing, and listening, is masterful, and often restrained, letting Harrell take the lead, with subtlety and gentle nuances intelligently worked into the music. After the final set at The Vanguard, Harrell mentioned to Iverson that he thought the group’s sound felt new, despite the vintage repertoire, and that’s the beauty of this music, it can be enjoyed on so many different levels. And for Iverson, a long-held dream is realised in his overlapping of the traditional and the avant-garde, the premodern and the postmodern, the old and the new meeting at a single point.

There’s a gentle vulnerability to Harrell’s playing, but boy can he also swing. With this exemplary rhythm section, the iconic trumpeter is in focussed yet relaxed mood, at times allowing that exposed openness to touch the soul, whilst also hitting startling heights of melodic virtuosity as he swings as if it’s his last night on Earth. The album opener, Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” is given an expansive, especially ruminative treatment and is a truly beautiful rendition of this oldest of tunes. Iverson goes into a gorgeous rhapsodic mode on “I Can’t Get Started”, giving the tune a warm, lyrical hue. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” is simply stunning, and the bebop groover “Wee” sits nicely alongside two irresistible and surprisingly bluesy Iverson originals, “Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed from Teaneck”. The jazz tradition runs deep through old favourites such as “All The Things You Are”, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, and “I Remember You”, with a funky take on “Sentimental Journey” showing how well this quartet are able to draw on that tradition yet turn it seamlessly into something fresh and inspiring.

One of my favourite albums of the year so far, “Common Practice” should appeal to many. This is jazz of the highest standard, performed with subtlety and vision, with a great atmosphere and endearing nature, it just gets better and better the more I listen to it.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Mark Turner / Ethan Iverson ‘Temporary Kings’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

Die Parzäros ‘La Cachaca’ CD (JazzHausMusik) 3/5

Die Pazäros (The Buddies) are a German-based Colombian power trio consisting of good mates, Juan-Pablo González-Tobón (guitar), Joan Chavez (bass) and Luis-Javier Londoño (drums/percussion). They create a raw Colombian-rhythm enthused, jazz-rock; belting out a mix of originals and deconstructions of traditional Colombian pieces.

Opener “Galleguiando” is a quick insight into the hearts, minds and hips of the trio. A smashed wash of a power chord introduces a nasty, broken choppy riff with punctuated tremolo arm wobbles and jerks while the Latin percussion grooves. Over before it begins but the intent is clear.

“Tosque” expands on the “Galleguiando” riff and takes it into a more overt Colombian space – feeling like a slightly miffed, Latin John Scofield reworking some King Crimson/Song X mashup. Angular, busy and danceable, it has that breathing space/bottom falling out-ness unique to trios; most notable when González-Tobón and Chavez enjoy jaunty solos. Bet it’s fierce fun live.

“Madera Negra” is initially an edgy Latin-jazz stroll with a plucked, 4-chord wash over an emerging bass pattern before González-Tobón stamps on his overdrive, throwing some nasty prog our way – making way for a psych exploration to take over – the band really filling the space as sinuous guitar lines pop and dance.

“Kama de Shrekens” creates an exotic bluesy drama with Chavez and Londoño getting busy as González-Tobón ‘s guitar tells an unhurried story through several chapters. Much more hurry about “El Cuarto” though. It riffs hard, jagged and urgent. It builds and falls apart, just about keeping a lid on things. “Tunel” offers a needed respite from the angular aggression with a gorgeous guitar sequence of glancing chords, arpeggios and lines that are seemingly effortlessly moved into their rightful position by Chavez and Londoño’s gentle, yet purposeful, work. I’d like to hear a bit more of this. Handsome.

“Un Porrito para Noica” is a study of unbalanced binary; mainly watchful and very occasionally explosive. Chavez takes advantage of a watchful period to deliver a peppy, perky solo. “Q’hubo Pues” is a charged staccato while traditional piece, ” La Rebuscona”, has the uncomplicated “Go on son!” energy of 3 cerveza-happy mates jamming on it for the first time.

Die Pazäros have a unique schtick – do (actually, don’t) correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure there’s no other successful integrations of Colombian traditional music and raw jazz-rock out there? And successful it is. They crack, snap and drive with an endearing uncooked, organic roughness; almost ‘unthinking’, it is so instinctive, so visceral. They naturally, easily bounce off each other. I could imagine them being a real bag of fun live. My only reservation is a lack of dynamic shift; an occasional need for some relent, subtlety and maybe wider instrumentation to help deliver that. That said, I’m chuffed that they met up and became buddies.

Ian Ward

jazzhausmusik website

Various ‘Antologia de Música Atípica Portuguesa Vol.2: Regiões’ LP (Discrepant) 5/5

In my home, death is not the end. Death is just a different component of life. The ghosts of people we love don’t so much haunt us as they remain with us; to celebrate, to grieve, to dance with us. Disrepant’s newest anthology, Antologia de Música Atípica Portuguesa Vol2 Regiões, is haunted music. It’s the music you play not when you need to get rid of the ghosts, but when you need to sit with them.

Death comes in many forms and ghosts are not just the people we’ve lost. We may be haunted by past actions, thoughts or lovers. Antologia gives us the chance to commune with all of this, to consider who we were and who we want to be. Songs like “Manta” and “Por Riba” feel like the connective tissue between what was and what lays ahead. And connecting is exactly what Discrepant set out to do. For the second volume of the Antologia series, they chose to draw attention to the various regional styles of Portugal, each track connecting with a different province from the country.

Whatever you were expecting this album to be, just go ahead and toss that out the window. With its focus on the atypical, Antologia dives deep into the peculiar and unseen musical world of Portugal. While it may not help you exorcise your ghosts, at the very least this album is an exercise in exorcising your preconceived notions. Aside from the multiple drawn out expletives, the powerful playlist of songs like “Asylo” and “Montemor” have pretty much left me speechless. You. Need. To hear this.

Antologia sounds industrial, experimental and eerie. The sounds stay with you long after you turn them off. They are new and unknown. And yet, the handpicked songs are all very much bound up in tradition, just in an unexpected way. With Antologia, Discrepant is attempting to re-evaluate Portugal’s musical history, to de-construct clichés and re-assemble preconceptions to make you reconsider not only what you think about Portuguese music but what you think about music in general. For this, they have chosen artists working on the fringes. And it’s quite timely as we draw near to the Day of the Dead. The time when we light candles, set out breads and pictures and trails of fragrant flowers and call the dead home. Antologia will be our siren song, the soundtrack that will invite our ghosts to sit in reverence with us. I imagine the awe they must feel as they observe all the ways the world has changed since their last visit. And yet, what Discrepant has done here will serve as a reminder that it was only possible with the solid foundation they created.

Molly Gallegos

Ville Vannemaa ‘Cassiopeia’ LP [includes CD] (Jazzaggression) 5/5

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were gushing about Jazzaggression releases – namely drummer Aleksi Heinola’s Quintet and their excellent debut, self-titled album released earlier this year. This time, however, it’s the new album by Finnish saxophonist Ville Vannemaa, ‘Cassiopeia’, that has us swooning and reaching for the replay button.

Vannemaa studied at the Sibelius Academy’s jazz department and the Paris Conservatory and having spent years as a member of Kalevi Louhivuori Quintet, Teddy’s West Coasters and Teemu Åkerblom Quartet, as well as having contributed to projects by Kerkko Koskinen Kollektiivi and Vantaan Vilhdeorkesteri, Vannemaa has developed a reputation as one of the most revered saxophonists in Finland.

For his ‘Cassiopeia’ project, Vannemaa has assembled a stunning quintet comprised of long-time friends and collaborators: bassist Heikko Remmel (Max Zenger Globus, Kimara lovelace), drummer Jaska Lukkarinen (Jimi Tenor, Ricky-Tick Big Band), trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski (UMO Jazz Orchestra, Eija Kantola) and vibraphonist Panu Savolainen (Timo Lassy, Joanna Wang).

‘Cassiopeia’ features six tracks, composed by Vannemaa, and on the vinyl version of the album, the songs find themselves discerningly split into two categories: the ‘light side’ and the ‘dark side’. The CD version – which does thankfully accompany the vinyl version of the album as well – boasts an additional two bonus tracks not seemingly allocated to either ‘side’ (‘Ring The Bell’ and ‘Bacta Tank Blues’).

The gentle twinges of swing found in ‘Hyacinth’ along with the energy and vibrancy of ‘Hurry Up’ are impeccable contributions to the ‘light side’ but it really is the ‘dark side’ of the album that propels this project to another level. The sweet, almost romantic, melancholy attached to ‘Sorrow’ absolutely pulls you in and then there’s the sublime, almost ethereal nature of ‘Stars’ that is just captivating. The work of Panu Savolainen on vibraphone really does deserve special mention – his versatility when playing adds a fantastic new dimension to ‘Cassiopeia’ enabling him to excel on compositions whether they fall into the ‘light’ or ‘dark’ sides of the album.

Bassist Daryl Runswick once bestowed high praise for Vannemaa’s sax playing describing it as a “touch of Trane, touch of Pharoah”, while the Jazzaggression website refers to ‘Cassiopeia’ as a “future classic assured!”. They might just be very right.

Imran Mirza

Outhentic ‘Transparent’ CD (Self-released) 3/5

Outhentic is a Bulgarian ethno-jazz group, who bring their native folk and traditional flavours to modern jazz, funk, pop, etc. and vice versa. The core of the group are siblings, kaval player Zhivko Vasilev and singer Rayna Vasileva. Transparent is their self-released second album following their debut from 2016, which is titled “YesToday”. Yes, they do enjoy a bit of word play!

The kaval (a type of flute) melody line accompanied by other folk instruments introduces the album and the first track, the lively “Ayda, Ayda”. Vasileva’s voice is sweet, precise and pure, but apparently without too much power. As the song develops, the sparkly keyboards are joined by restrained bass and drums. “Transparent” is the sparse piano introduction to the slower paced “Yaz Ti Postilam” of which although it has traditional elements, the instrumental accompaniment is familiar with electric guitar, a standard rhythm section including electric bass and smooth solos from kaval and acoustic guitar. “Zalibih Si Edno Libe” is more uptempo, particularly during the non-vocal passages. The structure of tune is more conventional to western ears. “Razoral Dedo” kicks off with an electric guitar riff and then springs into an uptempo funky style shuffle. The verses drop out and it’s the opportunity for the band members to show their chops. The solos are proficient and pleasing.

The pace changes for “Chereshko Chorna”. Kaval and gentle Spanish guitar introduce the ballad. Rayna Vasileva’s singing is especially beautiful on this track and exhibits impressive control and constraint. It’s the highpoint of the album. “Yunache Ludo” continues the melancholic mood of the previous track but with a slightly bluesy feel. “Doydi, Doydi, Libe Le” is probably the most successful fusion of folk and jazz. It’s where the fit is most snug between traditional instruments and electric jazz phrasings and syncopation. “Stiga Mi Sa, Momne Le – Ti Rechi, Momne Le” stays close to their template of giving an edge to the traditional song using offbeats and jazzy fills.“Rachenitsa” is a kaval-led instrumental and for much of the track, is structured and quite rigid. That is, until about mid-way through, when there’s a bracing manic section and now it feels like the gloves have come off! Unfortunately, it doesn’t continue into the final track, “Rano E Moma”, which is rather prosaic. A generic funk/disco work-out.

Transparent is an enjoyable album without hints of dryness sometimes apparent in music tied to a concept such as this. It is embellished by good musicianship and a distinct cohesiveness within the group. Although sometimes the arrangements are a little tentative and derivative, the album is successful, allowing a listener with no specific knowledge of Bulgaria to sample and appreciate some of her culture and folklore within a familiar musical scenario. Although I would expect that there’s not much of interest here for the world music purist (whoever they are!), art like this is a reminder that you can still retain an internationalist outlook whilst preserving and nurturing your roots.

Kevin Ward