Liquid Saloon ‘Liquid Saloon’ (Raw Tapes) 5/5

The self-titled debut project from the super group that comprise Liquid Saloon unites long-term collaborators, and Raw Tapes Records stalwarts, Amir Bresler, Nomok and Sefi Zisling for an exciting and versatile jazz record released through the independent Israeli record label.

Collectively and individually, the work of this incredibly talented trio of musicians has done much to help shape the Raw Tapes sound over the past few years including their work for label mates iogi (‘The Ceiling’, 2018), Echo (‘Calling On Wonders’, 2016) and Nitai Hershkovits (‘I Asked You A Question’, 2016).

Founded in 2008 in Tel Aviv by Yuval Havkin, who himself is perhaps better known by a variety of monikers including his production identity Rejoicer, Raw Tapes Records have embraced their love of instrumental hip-hop, dusty beat tapes and jazz, and have truly proved to be a pioneering record label whose evolution over these last ten years has been staggering. Much of the label’s success can be attributed in large part to the prolific nature of Rejoicer’s music-making and to the contributions of the aforementioned artists. ‘Liquid Saloon’ is very much the continuation of the label’s vision and commitment to genre-defying music and serves as a stellar extension for each of the trio’s output thus far.

In terms of each’s solo work, drummer Amir Bresler can boast his previous single releases ‘Afro Golden Line’ and ‘Fish’ from 2017; trumpeter Sefi Zisling has his solo album ‘Beyond The Things I Know’, also from 2017, and keyboardist Nomok has a variety of projects for Raw Tapes with the earliest beat tape EP dating back to 2013’s ‘Blind Kick’. Each of Liquid Saloon’s members bring a wealth of experience from their own projects as well as their outside contributions to the album that was recorded over a three-month period during weekly recording sessions.

Rejoicer joins Liquid Saloon for production throughout the project even earning himself a guest spot on keyboards for the lush closing number ‘Slow Loris’. Additional musical guests and Raw Tapes affiliates appear including keyboardist Nitai Hershkovits (‘Gueta’) and Eyal Talmudi (‘Belibi’) on clarinet; label mate Jenny Penkin, who herself had an excellent release with last year’s ‘Him, on the other hand’, appears on the album’s only vocal track, ‘Won’t Be Led By Fear’, which is a real highlight, as is the 1970’s style soul of opener ‘Naive By Choice’ and the eclectic genre-mash of ‘Polaroid Banana’, along with its accompanying video.

Last year would have marked Raw Tapes’ 10th birthday and it’s a celebration that is marked through each of their incredible releases including this really thrilling project from Liquid Saloon. Albeit belatedly, happy ten years Raw Tapes, and here’s to another ten!

Imran Mirza

Anton Eger ‘Æ’ LP/CD (Edition) 4/5

Best known as drummer with the trio Phronesis, this is Anton Eger’s intriguing debut as band leader. It’s one of those albums that is practically unclassifiable, laden with supercharged electronica, strange beats, awkward rhythms and a uniquely novel approach to making music. The quirky track titles, the codas at the end of each tune and the fiercely uncompromising nature of the music make it one of the most interesting releases so far this year.

Somehow, almost despite himself, Eger has pulled off something very compelling here. The heavy reliance on synths and electronics make me think of a dystopian man versus machine novella. The theme tune for Alfred Bester’s ‘The Demolished Man’, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, or perhaps any number of 50s sci-fi ‘b movies’. It’s like the music has been fed into a machine, one where technology goes dangerously wrong, and is then spat out as something strange and new. The once logical melodies that made musical sense now become oddly enchanted and yet strangely emaciated, entering a new era where visionaries can either be hailed as Gods or gangsters.

The headliner may well be Eger himself, but he is indebted to a very well cast band of contributors. With Matt Calvert on guitar, live drum processing, electronics and synths, Dan Nicholls on keys, synths, Wurlitzer, and Robin Mullarkey on electric bass and synths, Eger has an innovative crew alongside him. The album also features appearances from Ivo Neame, Petter Eldh, Niels Broos, Matthias Heise, Otis Sandsjö, Christian Lillinger and Juliette Marland.

There’s an incredibly eclectic mix of influences one could point to, but essentially “Æ” is Anton Eger forging an identity, or rather, multiple identities. In a similar way to last year’s “Blow” by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, a few of the tracks take the listener into art-pop territory. The deliciously infectious “Sugaruzd” and the quasi-funk-broken-grooves of “datn” paint half a picture whilst the powerful and mesmerising “Monolith” completes the whole picture in blazing technicolour. “Oxford Supernova” is like a Zero7 tune on acid, with its cool groove and luminous vibe preceding its reggae-funktronica coda. “Never Not” is a subversive, anthemic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The beautifully dark and mysterious “Severn B” juxtaposes tight beats with esoteric synth hooks, “IOEDWLTO” is luscious and smooth before it turns into an 80’s pop classic, and if we fast forward to the 24th century where Weather Report are revered as long-forgotten gods, someone would be playing “HERb” as their latest reincarnation.

There are multi levels in Anton Eger’s multiverse. “Æ” is a journey that every inquisitive listener should take. Some may find the journey uncomfortable, some will find it unpalatable, but some will find it awe-inspiring and incredibly rewarding. Unconventional as it may be, we need music like this.

Anton Eger Launches Æ at Jazz Cafe, London on 30th April.

Mike Gates

Afro-Blue Persuasion ‘Live at Haight Levels, Vol. 2’ LP (Tramp) 3/5

Live at Haight Levels, Vol.2 follows the recent January release of Volume 1. The accompanying notes state this recording is from 1967 and Afro-Blue Persuasion appeared to be the brainchild of an impressively monikered chap called Ulysses Crockett. I have to admit that he’s new to me but a little research suggests he’s a professor at University of California Berkeley (and a potential California senator!). He is also credited as the vibraphone player here.

Track 1, listed as Cuban Fantasy, sets the tone of this release (and also the previous, Vol.1) with afro-cuban rhythms from piano, upright bass and congas. Solos from flute, congas and piano with the conga solo being the most successful (even eliciting some applause from the sparse audience). In my opinion it is the weakest track, so it is surprising that it’s the opener. Track 2, listed as Mambo at the M (or Cuban Fantasy?), it’s vibes all the way from Professor Crockett. From here, it starts warming up a little. Impression Theme eschews the latin feel of the rest of the album and leans towards a solid post-bop with a saxophone leading. The saxophone player is uncredited but is proficient. This track doesn’t seem to really fit in with the rest of the record but to me, it appears the players are the more confident here as if they are still learning this latin thing! We return the afro-cuban style for Poinciana. It’s my favourite track and also appears to be the favourite of the audience. There’s more cohesion between the players. They are pretty tight here. Then, a bright and breezy vibes-led version of Night In Tunisia closes the set.

There is a suggestion that this release (and also volume one) are one recording from a single performance but I get the impression that these are really recorded at different times with different musicians. There’s a significant difference in the performance of the first two tracks to the rest. Who knows though, apparently these recordings have been archived for 51 years! The sound quality is generally good maybe a little dull.

I assume that the performances are mainly by students and as you’d expect, the musicianship is variable. The set list and some of the solos are rather pedestrian. In that context, it’s hardly an essential release and certainly not “afro-cuban jazz at it’s very best” as claimed. However it does have charm. I enjoy the enthusiasm of the performers and their pleasure in performing. It’s fun!

Kevin Ward

Seamus Blake ‘Guardians of the Heart Machine’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Heralded as one of the most influential saxophonists of his generation, this is Seamus Blake’s eighth release as leader, and his first for Whirlwind Recordings. For this album the London born, Vancouver raised saxophonist has brought his considerable experience and teamed up with three exciting players originally from the French scene – pianist Tony Tixier, double bassist Florent Nisse, and drummer Gautier Garrigue. For this session, the ‘French Connection’ concept was pitched by jazz aficionado Olivier Saez. Blake explains: “He was interested in hearing me alongside some younger, top of the line French musicians. Olivier passionately puts time and energy into music, and I was blown away by his organisation and generosity when we toured France and Spain. I enjoyed how the quartet worked together, prompting us to then record over two days at Studio de Meudon, Paris.”

Blake wrote and arranged especially for these artists. “My idea was to bridge what I consider elements of European and American styles, writing music I like to play, but also with a European sensibility, including classical harmony and certain types of groove.” And this certainly is evident across the nine tunes on the album, with influences like Michael Brecker and Chris Potter evident throughout the recording.

Blake seems to relish the partnership with his fellow musicians, with the quartet as a whole putting in an exemplary band performance, whilst sparkling individually with verve and vigour, energy and enthusiasm. But it is very much Blake at the fore and he’s on top form here, with some of his soloing reaching stunningly creative and magical heights.

That verve and vigour is evident in the title track, whose anthemic drive and melodic hooks are informed by Blake’s indie-rock interest, an emphatic statement of purpose. The loping gait of ‘Vaporbabe’ was inspired by the 9/8 hand-drum and clapping rhythms of a street band in Istanbul, but it doesn’t take long for the tune to take off with an unerring, pounding precision. Furtive ‘Sneaky D’ confirms the saxophonist’s penchant for strong melody, sparking off his rhythm section’s vitality, and confirming the quality of this band. Eddie del Barrio’s ‘I’m OK’ echoes the lusciousness of Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s recording, Blake enjoying the space to solo on its elegant changes. There’s an innate beauty to this track that allows Blake to show his feel and passion. The bristling ‘Lanota’ extends the band’s sense of exploratory freedom, as does ‘Wandering Aengus’, taking WB Yeats’ poem as inspiration to traverse different key centres. ‘Betty in Rio’ (a contrefact on Benny Golson’s slow-swinging ‘Along Came Betty’) leads to Tixier’s amiable, countryfied ‘Blues for the Real Human Beings’ which shows once more the versatility and style that permeates its way through this quartet with skillful and intelligent playing. The album closes with ‘The Blasted Heath’, an odd addition to the album, it is Blake’s oblique observation of humanity’s impact on our planet. The lyrics and the style in which it is sung are deep, dark and very engaging, though I’m not so sure it sits comfortably with the balance of the rest of the tunes on the album.

“For me, Jazz is essentially about improvising and the beauty of a solo.” explains Blake. And this is essentially what you get with “Guardians of the heart machine.”

Mike Gates

Yola ‘Walk Through Fire’ LP/CD (Easy Eye Sound) 5/5

My first introduction to this wonderful voice was on the Jules Holland New Year’s Eve doo where she sang the immense soaring beat ballad “Faraway Look” – I was hooked. There are not too many people who give Ruby Turner a run for their money but she damn well came close, and then nothing. Four days ago I was thumbing through Record Collector whilst waiting for the good lady to finish the shopping and I saw a short review of the album, my appetite was further wetted when I read she’d been in Nashville and that Dan Penn had been involved. Anyway the vinyl is here and I can’t stop playing the beautiful mid paced stroller, “Keep Me Here”, kicking off with gentle keys, bass, guitar and then we’re off on an emotional ride, what a song, what superb lyrics. She soars high above the sweeping strings and that magical musical landscape which includes a piano keeps everyone under her spell. Well she has me well and truly hooked, of course “Faraway Look” is on here and it still has that deep attraction, other highlights are the down-low “Deep Blue Dream”, which meanders along taking its time to rinse every emotion out of you.

Twelve tracks that all have something to offer. “Lonely the Night” will have you paying attention from the opening caressing of the cymbals and then it morphs into one those tic toc foot tapping pieces that become so irresistible, you know what, Denise Lasalle would have been lorded for putting this out. The vibraphone played by Mike Rojas is a particular warming sound and echoes the sound of Nashville country music. You know I like to give you the names of all involved but the list of musicians and instruments played is vast, the album was produced by Dan Auerbach, Alan Parker was responsible for the recording and engineering at Easy Eye Sound. The album ends with the builder that is “Love is Light”, a superb way to leave you wanting for more. There will be a lot of my soul peers who won’t touch this with a barge-pole because I’ve mentioned the dreaded word ‘Country’ whilst describing a ‘soul’ album, but being a southern soul collector of some 50+ years I know how close the musical genres are and historically in this neck of the woods they are so intrinsically linked. An utterly fabulous ride from start to finish, however she may not be country enough for some or soulful enough for others, what a lovely dilemma.

Brian Goucher