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.


Alan Musson

Da Lata ‘Birds’ LP/CD (Da Lata Music/Kartel) 4/5

‘Birds’ is the fourth album from London’s Afro-Brazilian soul duo, Da Lata, making this their first record release in five years. With past releases on Palm Pictures and Agogo Records, Da Lata now find themselves aligned with London’s Kartel Music Group, home to a variety of eclectic and diverse acts including saxophonist Colin Stetson, US rapper Chali 2na and trip-hop icons, Morcheeba.

Comprised of musician Chris Franck and DJ Patrick Forge – both former members of the 90s Brazilian musical outfit Batu – Da Lata have developed a strong reputation and catalogue stemming back to their 2000 debut, ‘Songs From The Tin’, and through their subsequent releases ‘Serious’ and ‘Fabiola’. Da Lata’s music has always been something of a sum of all its parts – while absolutely a celebration of African and Brazilian musical styles and genres, its origins from the late-90s London scene have always instilled a more versatile and all-encompassing dynamic as it teetered along the trip-hop, electronica and broken beat genres happily creating music that boasted elements of each.

Spearheaded by the singles ‘Memory Man’ (featuring Courtney Dennie) and ‘Oba Lata’, ‘Birds’ presents ten tracks of such a perfectly-balanced amalgamation of everything listeners have come to expect and love from Da Lata’s music. While songs like the album opener ‘Mentality’ (featuring Diabel Cissokho) and second single ‘Oba Lata’ showcase Franck and Forge’s afrobeat-esque styles, songs like ‘To B’ (featuring Adriana Vasques) and ‘Thunder of Silence’, which boasts the vocal talents of the incredible Bembé Segué, delve deeper into the band’s signature Latin inspirations. The vastly underrated vocalist Vanessa Freeman, herself famed for her appearances with artists as varied as The Baker Brothers, Kyoto Jazz Massive and Reel People, appears on perhaps the album highlight ‘Sway’, and the nostalgic folky soul of the closing title track provides Luiz Gabriel Lopes a perfectly lush backdrop to close the album. Some of the collaborators assembled on ‘Birds’ serve as long-standing contributors with some having appeared as far back as ‘Songs From The Tin’ and some even further back to the Batu days, like percussionist Carl Smith and drummer Tristan Banks.

‘Birds’ marks an interesting evolution for Da Lata’s music as we approach twenty years since the band’s debut record. While still celebrating all of the musical influences, styles and genres that they have always heralded for inspiration, the results are perhaps more accessible than they’ve ever been resulting in a welcome return after a five-year absence.

Live date:
Da Lata plus DJ Patrick Forge at The Hideway, London – 15th November – tickets HERE

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Da Lata ‘Fabiola’ LP/CD (Agogo) 3/5

Adam Rudolph’s Go Organic Orchestra with Brooklyn Raga Massive ‘Ragmala: A Garland of Ragas’ 3LP/2CD (Meta) 5/5

I don’t feel equipped to review this album, neither emotionally or technically. It overheats my tiny brain and asks me “spiritual” questions I haven’t begun to feel answers for. I don’t fear it though, in fact, I am deeply in love with it, but I am a touch overwhelmed by it. Its expansive otherness, its core rasa, remind of the feeling I get when listening to my heroes; Cherry, Sanders, Sun Ra, Coltrane. It’s that close to being *too* big.

Where to start then? Facts. Facts might help.

“Ragmala” is created by 40 odd musicians from Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra (termed the “future orchestra” by Bennie Maupin) and Brooklyn Raga Massive (an artist community rooted in both traditional Indian and South Asian classical music, as well as cross-cultural Raga inspired music, hailed as the “leaders of a raga renaissance” by the New Yorker).

Go: Organic Orchestra are a two-decade old, world concept/community of ever-changing musicians from everywhere: Mongolia, Nepal, Senegal, Ghana, Japan, Korea, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Jamaica; all expressing themselves within Rudolph’s yogic framework, following no set instrumentation (8 bass players one night, none the next) but always leading to heightened exploration and discovery.

Rudolph’s intent to push boundaries and reach for the new has urged him to design matrices and cosmograms to map out scales and intervallic patterns for the musicians, in place of the Western notational scores. His matrices derive from Schoenberg’s “magic boxes” but they don’t conform to a formula, more flexible like a raga’s scale/melody middle ground. He also applies a unique rhythm concept he calls Ostinatos of Circularity, “It’s like the cycle references you would experience in Indian music,” he says, “where things orbit around, and then come together, like a circle.” It combines the rhythms you would find in North Indian (he studied tabla for decades) and Middle Eastern music.

Those 3 paragraphs of facts do indeed help, I think. They give a context for the globe-traversing blend of cross-continental sounds, underlain by the raga. They raise expectations for the array of instruments used; sitar, percussion (bata, caxixi, wood box surdo, mineiro, okonkolo, tabla and more), violins, didgeridoo, reeds, midrigan, the chromatic tambin, brass, guitar, bass, harp. They brace you for the deep, fearless, 20-track long listening experience that awaits. This ain’t no background wash to do the pots to or a singalong for that long family drive to visit the folks. It’s a serious piece of work. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t groove, it just means it needs to be listened to; it needs your focus.

“Mousa Azure” shows us the way to enlightenment with simple, surging circular patterns, Alice Coltrane-ish washes and stabs and Hassan Hakmoun’s rejoicing, soaring Gnawa voice. “Rotations” has an intense, hip, filmic, symphonic jazz groove that would have benefited any 60s thriller, so long as they could work in a loosely Eastern connection. “Ecliptic” mesmerically plods, swells and deflates while, contrastingly, “Savannahs” rides hard and long, relentless and urgent, extending, propelling; needing to arrive at or escape somewhere.

“Shantha” is pure and brief, an empathic violin, guitar duo. “Wandering Star” speaks of freedom and chaos with its percussive bed and sitar wash attacked by unexpected bursts of heavy strings and stinging guitar. “Ascent to Now” is slick as, with a deep, angular, eyes-closed-head-nodding Strata-East groove and limpid flute skimming and skating.

“Lamentations” is achingly remote guitar, violin and bass, “Dialectic” is percussive peace, “Thirteen Moons” is bowed drama and “Reflective” is, well, reflective. “Glare of the Tiger” initially surprises with its distorted guitar histrionics and metronomic beat and power before expanding into a tense strings/flute/guitar elegant diffusion. “We Grieve” moans and weeps its grief in pockets of lament; didgeridoo, horns, strings all contributing their personal story of loss to the wake’s congregation.

“Turiya” is an uplifting, easy swinging, spiritual jazz/psych saunter. “Syntactic Journey” is the lightly-cacophonous meeting place of symphonic jazz and contemporary classical while “Sunset Lake” is a gloriously trippy, trancy ascendancy to a higher state of awareness. “Africa 21” brings the danceable funk, cleansed and stretched to the devotional by swirling horns, reeds and voices reaching ever, ever higher. “Gone to Earth” is an unlikely brusque, visceral, guttural goodbye.

As I said at the top, this album is very big, very important, hard for me to fully assimilate. It’s beautiful, expansive and majestic with a palpable deep connectedness but a virtuosic freedom too. It manages to forge a focused synergistic relationship between jazz, Indian Classical, West African etc. music while still expressing individual voices and creating a universal, not generic, whole. It is an authoritative step forward in the evolution of a truly global, celestial, cosmic “world” music.

“This album feels like the culmination of everything I’ve been reaching for in my creative pursuits,” says Rudolph “With this music I can hear the humanity of all these different musicians shine through, and their voices bring forth something that’s never existed before.” No wonder it feels so close to being *too* big.

Ian Ward

Louis Sclavis ‘Characters On A Wall’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

“Characters on a wall” marks the second time that French clarinettist Louis Sclavis has devoted an album to music inspired by the art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest. “Napoli’s Walls”, recorded in 2002, was the first, and this new release, Sclavis’ 13th as a leader for ECM, is inspired by the artist’s work in all its periods. Sclavis: “Ernest’s work speaks to me very directly. When I look at his images, I don’t have to search for long – ideas come to me very quickly. But there’s no rule, no method. Each work generates its own form and compositional processes.”

Surprisingly, this is the first time the clarinettist has explored the classic jazz quartet format of reeds, piano, bass and drums on an ECM session. And he does it in a characteristically individual style. With Benjamin Moussay on piano, Sarah Murcia on bass, and Christophe Lavergne on drums, the music being performed benefits from Sclavis’ experience with writing for ensembles, with a very clearly defined atmosphere created in the process, enabling this band to feel like a real jazz group – in its make-up, subtleties and intuitive interplay between the musicians.

There are some stunning compositions on this album, brought to life by all of the musicians involved. Sclavis is on top form, his sensitive and emotive playing always melodic and often melancholic, as on the beautiful and moving “Extases”, a wonderful tune that sends shivers down my spine. The quartet are in full jazz-ahead mode for the exhilarating “Prison”, with its powerful, striking bass lines, riffs and solos. One of the skills of any small ensemble musician is to know when to stay in the background and when to come forward, and these musicians are particularly adept at this throughout this recording. On “La dame de Martigues” pianist Benjamin Moussay shows a lyricism that is at once beautiful and engaging. In fact, this quartet, led by the indomitable clarinettist, produce an often spellbinding array of melody and musicianship across all 8 original pieces, with the closing track “Darwich dans la ville” being one of this writer’s favourites.

“Characters on a wall” is an evocative jazz album, produced by Manfred Eicher and benefiting from ECM’s high quality of sound recording. Available in CD and vinyl formats, there are comprehensive liner notes by Louis Sclavis and Stephane Olivier, along with a selection of photos of Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s artwork.

Live dates:
November 14 – Lux Valence France
November 15 – D’jazz Nevers festival Nevers France
November 24 – Flagey, studio 1 Brussels Belgium
January 15 – Theater, Hinterbühne Rüsselsheim Germany
February 03 – Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal Hamburg Germany

Mike Gates

Read also:
Dominique Pifarély Quartet ‘Tracé Provisoire’ (ECM) 3/5
Louis Sclavis Quartet ‘Silk and Salt Melodies’ (ECM) 3/5