Gülistan ‘Oriental Groove’ LP (Hot Mule) 4/5

Subtitled “Jazz meets the Orient”, this new reissue was the first and only album from Viennese fusioneers, Gülistan, originally released in 1986. The group, all Austrians on this album apart from a newly arrived Kurdish immigrant, was the brainchild of flautist/saxophonist Josef Olt, who nurtured an interest of things Middle Eastern during a holiday in Turkey. A project to bring Balkan and Turkish musical styles to the band’s electric jazz influences, the songs are mainly derived from traditional tunes though there are a couple of originals. The self-financed album was mainly sold at their gigs and not long afterwards the group disbanded, apparently acrimoniously.

“Nazmiye”, begins with a salvo of percussion, the flute and bass take the melody to the middle section, which is essentially 1970s fusion tied to the subtle Middle Eastern rhythm and the ever-present darbuka. The flute and violin are the dominant instruments on all the tracks here and there’s a pleasing light tone when they’re in harmony. On the slower “Plajda – On The Beach”, the Jaco-esque fretless bass is a reminder of the core band style. An original tune, “Deli Horoz – The Crazy Cock” locks into a busy repetitive rhythm for solos incorporating exotic scales. “Ahtarma Meni – Don’t Search Me”, mixes jaunty flute/violin melody lines with cascading keyboard chords which adds a slight Latin edge. The balladic “Ayrılık – Separation” follows which is a little too easy listening for me. Slippy fretless bass introduces “Cano, Cano – Darling, Darling”, the epic highpoint of the album and the most seamless mix of East and West. The closer, “Kervan – Caravan” is probably more recognisable to Western ears as “Misirlou”, particularly the deranged surf rock version by Dick Dale. Obviously, it doesn’t hit the energy levels of that but is a pleasant floaty conclusion to the set.

The album can still be seen as an exciting experiment. The tunes have the glitter of Middle Eastern glamour and underneath there’s substantial groovy jazz fusion, well performed by proficient musicians with a vision. Obviously, these days, the concept of co-opting jazz and ethnic music is not so unusual and the music is very much of its time but that’s fine with me. With thirty-odd years hindsight, there is a slight novelty feel to this album especially apparent with the original packaging and the odd fez here and there! However, it is successful as the simple clean folky melodies and the pyrotechnics of jazz fusion do actually sit very well together. It is also evocative of the time when less esoteric listeners in the West began to dip their toe into what became known as World Music.

The album is well worthy of the Hot Mule reissue and the new liner notes are excellent, recording the reunion of the band members and letting them tell their story. I especially enjoyed the tale of the promotional scam on a local radio station involving an imaginary Turkish truck driver!

Kevin Ward

Petter Eldh presents ‘Koma Saxo’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 5/5

Helsinki’s We Jazz Records has never had a problem in boasting stunning jazz releases, but their output this year alone has really helped to solidify their status as one of Europe’s premier labels: drummer Terkel Nørgaard’s ‘With Ralph Alessi’ project from earlier this year scored highly as an excellent release, as did saxophonist Timo Lassy & drummer Teppo Mäkynen’s self-titled collaborative album.

The new project from Petter Eldh, ‘Koma Saxo’, sees the Swedish bassist assemble a wonderful five-piece comprised of long-time friends and collaborators, each incredible artists in their own right, to further carry the flag for We Jazz Records in 2019.

Credited as the project’s bassist and producer, as well as handling supplementary recording and mixing duties, Eldh’s lengthy career has seen him play and perform with groups as varied as the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, SoulFanatix and Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity, as well as many of the musicians featured throughout ‘Koma Saxo’. The combination of Eldh’s bass and drums by Christian Lillinger (Anton Eger, Burkhard Schlothauer) provide the backbone of the music for frontline saxophonists Mikko Innanen (Andrew Barker, Daniel Sommer), Jonas Kullhammar (La La Lars, Ola Englund) and Otis Sandsjö (Lucia Cadotsch, August Rosenbaum).

The roots of the music here stem from the group’s live performance at the We Jazz Festival, 3rd December 2018, before the recordings were later revisited by Eldh with the intention of shaping the music into the versions presented on the album. The end-result reveals the inspired and innovative vision that Eldh brought to the project, and maybe it was his love of 90s hip-hop and groups like A Tribe Called Quest that served as inspiration to some capacity, but many of ‘Koma Saxo’s compositions you could almost envisage as being the products of hip-hop producers like Madlib or DJ Premier – or at the very least these are tracks they’d salivate at the thought of getting their hands on.

‘Ostron Koma’, ‘Cyclops Dance’ and ‘Fanfarum For Komarum II’ are otherworldly in their approach and thrilling endorsements for everything contemporary jazz can and should be: it’s the kind of album that makes you ask “Is this music even jazz?” before you immediately settle on the realisation, “It couldn’t be anything BUT jazz!”

The We Jazz 2019 Festival kicks off this December with Koma Saxo on stage for two dates.

Imran Mirza

Hugo Heredia ‘Mananita Pampera’ LP (Jazz Room) 4/5

Paul Murphy’s first release on his Jazz Room Records label is a little known 1976 underground classic by Hugo Heredia. The ‘Mananita Pampera’ album was recorded in Germany and later released on the small French label, ‘Cote D’Azur’, which only ended up releasing a handful of albums during its short reign. The album was championed by Paul Murphy and was a firm favourite on the emerging London jazz dance circuit. It’s another one of those essential fusion rarities that has somehow slipped under the reissue radar until now.

Recorded in Germany with an international line up comprising of Swiss double bassist Peter Frei, Brazillian percussionist Ivanir Mandrake Do Nascimento, drummer Peter Schmidlin, pianist Horace Parlan and saxophonist Hugo Heredia, the album highlight is the unique style of the leader and his heavyweight fusion style. This is epitomised on ‘El Beto’, a serious uptempo Latin jazz jam highlighting the Argentine leader on flute, alongside pianist Horace Parlan, who provides a perfect repetitive left-hand groove and tempo for the leaders infectious sound. Hugo Heredia exchanges flute for the tenor saxophone towards the latter stage of this 8-minute piece and it’s here that a nod towards his fellow countryman Gato Barbieri seems apparent and a nice touch indeed, if that’s the case. There’s a particular free feel about the track as though not contained by the four walls of a studio or the rigidity of a rehearsed composition.

‘Mananita Pampera’ is a true Afro-Cuban masterpiece with a European touch and it’s interesting to hear the sound that arrives throughout the album. Recorded in Germany, released on a French label, with Swiss, Italian, American, Danish, Brazillian, Argentine and more, the album is a superb mix of jazz and Latin fusion with a good balance between the two styles.

‘Have You Met Miss…?’ is a welcome reprieve from the uptempo, with Hugo Heredia playing a chilled soprano saxophone set alongside the softer side of Horace Parlan’s playing with some tempered drumming support adding a slight lift to the groove although it’s really a perfect setting for both piano and soprano saxophone to thrive.

Throughout the album, there’s some great playing by all the musicians and on the uptempo gutsy ‘Al Bebbe Guia’, Hugo’s earthy tenor again airs a slight resemblance to Gato Barbieri with some powerful playing and memorable moments, whilst percussionist Mandrake and drummer Peter Schmidlin weave a dynamic momentum for Horace Parlan to follow. Before moving to Denmark in the early 1970s and later becoming a citizen of the country, Horace Parlan recorded some great albums back in the States, such as ‘Heading South’ and ‘Happy Frame Of Mind’ in his early relationship stages with Blue Note Records, as well as featuring on many great albums alongside names including Charlie Mingus, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Booker Ervin, Johnny Griffin, Archie Shepp and many more.

A welcome reissue of a little known album on a label that is sure to bring more great releases. Meanwhile, check out this live performance from Hugo Heredia on Bandcamp.

Mark Jones

Miyasaka + 5 ‘Animals Garden’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Originally recorded in 1979 on the iconic Tokyo based label, ALM, ‘Animals Garden’ was recorded as a one-off project led by master drummer Takashi ‘Bear’ Miyasaka featuring Hiroshi Itaya on trombone, Tsugaki Hiromichi on piano, Genji Sawai on both soprano and tenor, Koiche Matsukaze on alto and tenor.

Since its release back in 1979, the album has become a real collector’s piece, demanding hefty prices for a mint copy. Under the direction of the label founder Yukio Kojima and his visionary approach, the album nestled amongst other important works for the record label within the Kojima studio set up. Together with his avant-garde parent label ALM-Uranoia, Yukio Kojima managed to attract many respected Japanese jazz musicians and although the jazz side of the label wasn’t so extensive, it aired a similar approach to the outlook that great labels such as Nimbus West, Strata-East or ESP Disk imbued with their collective spirit and input. This superb project features four solid pieces all composed by the leader with exceptional playing throughout the session.

The title track ‘Animals Garden’ was selected for inclusion on the J Jazz volume 2 compilation; an excellent documentation of Japanese jazz from a particular period of Japanese jazz put together by Tony Higgins and Mike Peven. ‘Animals Garden’ is the fourth album to be reissued off the back of the J-Jazz Masterclass compilation series, following the Takeo Moriyama album ‘East Plants’, the Koichi Matsukaze Trio + Toshiyuki Daitok album ‘Earth Mother’ and the Tohru Aizawa Quartet album ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’. Check the bizarre story behind the Tachibana album on the following link. The album doubled up as a business card.

Selected by Tony Higgins and Mike Peven, ‘Animals Garden’ is immaculately packaged and lovingly restored with the greatest attention towards the sound quality and presentation. It’s quite evident that both compilers share an extensive knowledge of the more collectable Japanese Jazz works and their focus on a particular time frame makes for an intriguing insight of this particular period of transition and the musicians that were such a big part of the movement in Japan.

The album features four compositions by Takashi ‘Bear’ Miyasaka. With most pieces exceeding the 10-minute mark; ample room is given for the leader and his fellow musicians to stretch out, adding a more spacious feel throughout the sets. It’s an all-round performance of the highest quality.

As well as the brilliant modal title track that featured on the 2nd volume of the J-Jazz compilation, the album includes three other strong tracks that bring the whole package together really well. ‘Ballard For Mammoth’ is a warm laid back 14-minute composition with trombonist Hirioshi Itaya setting the mood whilst creating space for pianist Tsugaki Hiromichi’s sparse touches of harmonic beauty and delicate runs.

‘Pecker’s Blues’ is an uptempo piece with some special sharp playing by Koichi Matsukaze whilst trombonist Hiroshi Itaya adds a staccato approach which was slightly reminiscent of JJ Johnson.

Koichi Matsukaze is a Japanese jazz saxophonist and flautist deservedly back in the spotlight after some interesting compilations from the Jazzman label and BBE Music focused attention towards his and other contributions to the developments of jazz in Japan during an important transitional period between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s​. ‘Under Construction’ and ‘Earth Mother’ were just two Koichi Matsukaze pieces that featured on compilations and his contribution on this superb album follows his aforementioned trio album reissue for BBE in 2018.

This rare album is a welcome reissue that is top quality throughout the album’s four exceptional tracks.

Mark Jones

Leon Maria Plecity ‘Otherworld’ CD (JazzHausMusik) 5/5

I suspect that, like me, many readers will not know Plecity or his music, so here’s a little background… Plecity is a guitarist and composer born in Düsseldorf in 1995. He started on piano, taking lessons from the age of six, switching to guitar at the age of 14. He has recorded previously on albums by others, but this is the first album to be released under his own name.

Here is a quintet with tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums supporting the guitarist and, like Plecity, all of his band-mates are little known on the wider jazz scene. The quintet has been performing together since 2017. The eight compositions making up the album are all written and arranged by the leader. They are all carefully crafted with much care and attention to detail. Each piece allows ample space for self-expression from the band members. The music can sometimes be intense and at other times fragile and delicate. I’m reminded of the best of the music produced by the ECM label and of the best of the Scandinavian groups that seem to be all-pervasive currently. The recorded sound is exemplary.

The album opens with ‘The end of a Voyage’ and begins in a contemplative form with the tenor saxophone centre stage before the guitarist enters. Thereafter a gentle insistent beat ushers in the complex theme statement with tenor and guitar in unison before a commanding bass feature, followed by fine piano as the temperature slowly rises. Delicately nimble saxophone figures take over gradually increasing in complexity and intensity.

‘Waves of Light’ is a similarly complex theme, at once delicate and yet joyful and the quintet acquit themselves well throughout the ebb and flow of the music.

‘Inner Riot’ introduces electronic keyboard and another of the leader’s collection of guitars. Here he sounds at times like a combination of a more powerful Pat Metheny combined with early John Abercrombie with a little Bill Frisell thrown in for good measure and the intensity in his playing is palpable. There is a fine keyboard solo and the drummer has a chance to show his abilities.

‘Halcyon Bird’ exhibits a kind of relaxed intensity and commences with some wonderfully ruminative piano. The guitarist here reminding me of Pat Martino in his approach to the instrument.

Unusually, ‘Otherworld’ is ushered in by the drummer before first tenor and then guitar take up the lovely introspective melody. The feel changes to a more aggressive intensity during the saxophonist’s solo before returning to the beguiling melody.

‘Ondine’ is introduced by the bassist before the piano builds musical wisps of smoke in the air and then the theme is sketched out by the guitarist, at times hinting at a hitherto unnoticed blues element in his playing.

‘Fear of Rejection’ is altogether more impassioned with the guitarist taking on the persona of guitar maestro Terje Rypdal in rock mode at the outset, but this soon gives way to more melodic gracefulness from the pianist before high-intensity guitar returns.

The set concludes with ‘Dawn’ where again saxophone and guitar (this time acoustic) take on the beautiful tune. This, for me, is the outstanding piece on the album. It threatens to break into a Jobim- style bossa-nova from time to time and the thoughtful keyboard solo is exquisite.

This is an album full of variety which will hold the listener’s attention throughout. The musicianship is of the highest order as is the recording quality and although you may not know Plecity just yet, make a note of the name because he is likely to soon be joining the ranks of the best of the current crop of jazz guitarists.

https://jazzhausmusik.de

Alan Musson