Category Archives: Album Reviews

Tom Cawley ‘Catenaccio’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Jazz pianist Tom Cawley’s new album ‘Catenaccio’ is a melodious and mystical jaunt, there’s a party atmosphere like at those colourful Brazilian carnivals or perhaps a football match is a more apt metaphor. ‘Catenaccio’ is an Italian football term relating to a tactical player formation. I can see Tom’s interest in football is strong as a few other track titles are football terms. Despite this, it’s not all just a euphoric high. Fini Bearman provides vocalised melodies which accentuate the soothing flute lines of Gareth Lockrane, navigating the fast and challenging chord changes with fluidity.

The album begins in an upbeat and heady fashion with ‘The Ungainlies’. A track with swelling synth chords from Tom, funky loose playing from Robin Mullarkey on electric bass and energetic drum fills from Chris Higginbottom. Tom’s speedy solo is grooving and gritty and is followed by an expressive flute solo.

On the jubilant ‘Jabulani’ flute bellows out over the intensifying back-drop of frantic chords, as if attempting to provoke a reaction for an increasingly impressive flute performance. The whole group flourishes here, achieving a vibrant orchestral fullness.

‘Nutmeg’ is a dreamy and ethereal Bossa ballad, it’s sorrowful yet sultry. Fini’s vocal tone takes a more subtle feel, as if longing for something, contrasting beautifully with the distorted and gliding synth textures.

‘Zona Mista’ – another Italian Football tactic, and the ‘evolution of Catenaccio’ if its Wikipedia page is to be believed – is a much more challenging a cacophonous affair with drums, keys and bass dissonantly grooving behind the distracted and troubled melodies of the flute and vocals.

‘Left Peg’ is more of a laid-back soulful track with tasteful Bebop lines on the flute responding to the vocals. Initially hummed by Fini, its melodies require less vocal dexterity than the previous ones, which does make you think perhaps lyrics could’ve have added an extra dimension to these vocal lines.

The surreal yet brief, ‘Row Z’ is an introspective lament. It’s full of atmospheric suspense and intrigue, with sparkling synth strings elevating the drifting melodies. Flautist Gareth’s alto flute provides a lower more sombre tone which dances around the minimalist vocals of Fini.

Completing ‘Catenaccio’ is ‘Rabona’ with more of the 70s Jazz vibe as earlier on. ‘Rabona’ provides one more chance to showcase the tender voice of Fini and virtuosity of flautist Gareth in this upbeat finale. Tom’s compositions here have created a fantastic starting point for his bandmates to triumph, making for a unique and inventive listening experience.

Fred Neighbour

Wes Montgomery ‘Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings’ 2LP-RSD/2CD (Resonance) 4/5

This is the sixth in a series of albums devoted to previously unreleased Wes Montgomery performances, initially available as a 180 gram 2 LP vinyl set, and now also on CD. The vinyl edition which I’m basing my review on was released last month to celebrate Record Store Day.

The overall package is a lovely thing to behold. Gatefold sleeve, premium vinyl pressing, and a sumptuous and informative 8-page inner booklet which includes interviews with Malcolm DeCamp and George Benson, along with extensive notes on how the recordings were discovered and the journey they took until eventually being released here. The vinyl pressing is a deluxe limited edition (3000 copies), hand-numbered 2LP set mastered by Bernie Grundman and pressed at Record Technology Inc (RTI).

The sound on these recordings has been restored from original mono tape reels. Although there doesn’t appear to be any accurate documentation of the time period these were taken from, it’s safe to assume that the recordings were made in the late ’50s, right before Montgomery would sign for Riverside Records. Whilst the quality of the sound is extremely variable, from good (for the most part), to fair to poor, the music itself is riveting, and of obvious historic importance. Included on this release are a mix of live sessions, studio recordings, and some tunes from the guitarist’s home.

Exact dates, locations and indeed, supporting musicians are not known, and the information given in the accompanying sleeve notes states that educated guesses have been made. Essentially the 2LP set is split across Sides A-D like this:
Side A is piano quartets with guitar, piano, bass and drums. Side B is an organ trio and sextet with trombone and saxophone. Side C is Nat King Cole style trios with guitar, piano and bass. Side D is also Nat King Cole trios with guitar, piano and bass. Performing with Montgomery across these sessions are pianists Earl Van Riper, Buddy Montgomery, John Bunch and Carl Perkins, organist Melvin Rhyne, bassists Monk Montgomery and Mingo Jones, drummers Paul Parker and Sonny Johnson, along with trombonist David Baker and saxophonist David Young. Although the exact list of musicians is unknown, one has to say that the music being performed is of a very high standard, especially given the fact that this was prior to Montgomery finding the fame and adulation that he went on to rightfully achieve.

The 22 selections on “Back on Indiana Avenue” include some embryonic versions of several tunes that the guitarist would later go on to record with Riverside Records. It’s fascinating to hear tracks such as “Round Midnight”, “Whisper Not”, “The End of a Love Affair”, “West Coast Blues” and “Four On Six”, to name but a few, in settings that highlight subtle differences (and some obvious differences on a few tunes), compared to the famous recordings that were to follow. Producer Zev Feldman comments: “These are very exciting recordings that Resonance is honoured to present in conjunction with the Montgomery Estate. To be able to contribute to a large part of the legacy of such an iconic artist as Wes – with even more newly discovered, great music – is very special. Unearthing not just run of the mill recordings, but some really great material from one of the guitar’s most distinctive voices is a momentous event. Stuff like this doesn’t pop up every day.” And on that final point, I would add this; although it’s true to say recordings like this don’t pop up every day, there has been a distinctly noticeable increase in such releases over the last couple of years. I’m not just talking about Wes Montgomery, in fact, the list of artists ranges from Bill Evans to Yusef Lateef and everything in between. Whilst some releases do disappoint somewhat and are perhaps for the artist’s hardcore fans only, I would say that “Back on Indiana Avenue” reaches beyond that, and although some of the sound on selected tracks is pretty poor, overall the warmth and the atmosphere makes for exciting and enjoyable listening in general, not just to Montgomery aficionados. You can almost imagine being there.

Montgomery’s guitar style is evidently well on the way to mastery on these sessions. His playing is assured and confident, his tone immediately recognisable, his trademark sound clear and defined. My personal favourites include the iconic “Four on Six” and the classic “Round Midnight” from Side A, The swinging “Jingles” and the enchanting “Sandu” from Side B, the exciting “Stompin’ at The Savoy” and the relaxed nature of “Summertime” from Side C, and the lovely ballad “Easy Living” and the infectious “The Song Is You” from Side D.

Having listened intently to “Back on Indiana Avenue” for a few weeks now, I have to say that despite the sound quality not being great throughout – even if that sounds a little harsh given the era of the recordings – this is a very enjoyable release from Resonance. I will now be avidly tracking down their other Wes Montgomery releases with great interest.

Mike Gates

Inna De Yard ‘Inna De Yard’ LP/CD (Wagram/Chapter Two) 5/5

There is nothing humbler and calming for any musician to pick up an instrument or use their voice in their yard. A back garden will do, even a veranda. Yard in Jamaica means home. ‘Back a Yard’ the famous song by The In Crowd always brings a smile to people’s faces when heard in a dance. ‘Inna Yard’ as a concept has been around for a while musically. It the acoustic remedy to all the autotune drivel churned out of studios worldwide. We have so many plugins and gadgets at our disposal that it has become like junk food, and the dependency on them for everything is in so many ways killing the soul of all kinds of music the globe over. Reggae will always go back to the roots because it was founded in the roots, in the yards of Jamaica. In that sense it’s a music with remedies and alternatives on the liberation from the evil wickedness and brainless addictions and consumerisms of Babylon. Remember those opening scenes from the movie ‘Rockers’ where Leroy Horsemouth Wallace goes on a hustle mission to check his musical bredrens for some unpaid drum sessions. Each yard he goes into there’s another group rehearsing. Music played out in the open air always has a different ambience and I can imagine so many sessions being rehearsed over and over, to perfection by Jamaican creators over the decades. Jamaica has something special when it comes to music. It is the home of Reggae. There is also something spiritual there, it’s the ‘acoustic’ from streams flowing by the window to those tree frog orchestras and booming bass-lines from people’s yards, speakers big, small and larger. So with these thoughts in mind I listened to a few of my favourite foundation artists singing and playing on ‘Inna De Yard’, an LP released a few weeks ago. Kiddus I opens the set. He is the spiritual leader of the Inna De Yard troupe based in Stony Hill, just outside Kingston, Jamaica, and he moves mountain ranges with this simple plea for love. Kiddus I is such an understated artist yet his contribution to Reggae as a vocalist is so substantial because he has kept the flame burning with many other foundation artists for the last few decades. Remember that one scene in ‘Rockers’ where he is recording ‘Graduation in Zion’ in one take. No edits, no frills, just total performance on the mic. He always gives that completeness to his vocals and this version of ‘If You Love Me’ – it was originally by Edith Piaf so its roots meets chanson – should be on every couple’s future wedding playlist. Absolute spine chilling magic.

There are many songs as well that are more familiar as hits in their own right. I never thought for instance that Ken Boothe could sing ‘Everything I Own’ in this acoustic ‘yard’ manner without me thinking “no Ken, it can’t touch the original”, but some 45 years later after its release, you think yes Ken, respect, and still going strong at 70! Horace Andy is also here. He just feels like he is vibezing, in his charismatic vocal manner on the Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and it’s just that feeling, that makes him such a special artist on the mic. Judy Mowatt also teams up with Jah9 for a rendition of ‘Black Woman’ reflecting the cross-generational power of roots Reggae music and the timelessness of the song with its chorus line that you won’t get out of your head for a few days. Inna De Yard will be playing L’Olympia in Paris on June 15th and various dates around Europe. The only rating I can give this release is all the stars in the sky…. One Love

Haji Mike

Read also:
Various ‘Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica’ CD/LP/DIG (Chapter Two) 4/5
Ken Boothe ‘Inna de Yard’ (Chapter Two/Wagram) 5/5

Kino Trio ‘Il Cielo Sopra Berlino’ CD (Babel Label) 4/5

The Kino Trio is a collective comprising Bruno Heinen (piano) Michele Tacchi (bass) and Riccardo Chiaberta (drums). They have been working together since 2015 and their repertoire comprises compositions by all three bandmates.

Heinen has been making waves on the London jazz scene and beyond for some years now. His website describes him as a contemporary improvising pianist. That description is all-encompassing as it allows for the inclusion of more impressionistic classical music too. Of course, jazz and classical music has not always made for a marriage made in heaven. The pianist’s past tutors have included the late John Taylor and Peter Saberton who were both questing and adventurous pianists in their own right. The influence of these two past masters is clearly detectable in Heinen’s own playing, but he has distilled the best that they had to offer and created a recognisably personal style of his own.

Italian bass player Tacchi has an impressive pedigree having played blues, jazz, fusion, Latin, rock, pop, funk and gospel music and worked with a wide range of musicians in his homeland. He is also busy composing and producing music for film, video games and commercials. He is currently resident in London. Tacchi’s fellow Italian, Chiaberta started out studying piano at the age of 9, only later moving to study drums. Like Tacchi, he has worked and recorded extensively in Italy.

The title of this album translates as ‘Wings of Desire’ and is also the title of a 1987 film directed by Wim Wenders. In turn, the film was inspired by the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke and Wenders is quoted as saying that angels live in Rilke’s poems.

The music on this album is similarly evocative. ‘Diano’ written by the drummer opens with a delicate percussion masterclass before piano and bass guitar enter with the bass guitar taking up the melody. Indeed, the highlight of this piece is the wonderful bass solo. The title track follows with the melody line traced out by piano and bass in unison, before more delicate drum embellishments which ultimately lead to an impassioned conclusion. ‘Canzone Per Leo’ is a more considered melodic feature for the bassist initially before piano and drums add their own particular magic and a sprinkling of good humour. ‘Ram’ opens with delicate solo piano before the energy level is dramatically increased with the entry of bass and drums once more. The piano is at the forefront on the meditative ‘In Paris’ and which includes the sound of what I take to be a Paris street scene. This is the outstanding track of this eight-track collection. The cleverly titled ‘Heineniana’ is next, a composition by the bassist, and as one might guess is another feature for the pianist and again in a more considered vain. ‘Lionel’ is an altogether busier piece with the pianist switching to electronic keyboard to great effect. There is also a fine feature for the bassist on this piece too. Heinen reverts to acoustic piano for the closing piece ‘Le Prince Defectueux’ which sees the pianist in a romantic mode.

This music was inspired by the Wim Wenders film and each piece seems to evoke a particular filmic soundscape of its own. It is beautifully recorded and played. Bruno Heinen will be well-known to UK audiences but less so his musical partners here. This is music of great delicacy and sensitivity and thoughtfully produced. For me, this album is an unexpected delight.

Catch the trio live on these dates:
14 May – 8.30pm LONDON – Oliver’s Jazz Bar, 9 Nevada St, East Greenwich, SE10 9JL
26 June – 8.00pm LONDON – Bull’s Head, 373 Lonsdale Road, Barnes, SW13 9PY
20 July – 7.00pm LUTON – The Bear Club, Mill Yard, 24A Guildford St, LU1

Alan Musson

The Art Ensemble of Chicago ‘We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration’ 2CD (Pi Recordings) 5/5

In 1969 the founder members of Art Ensemble Of Chicago decided to relocate to France. in 1968-9, the social unrest in Chicago made it near on impossible for avant-garde musicians to find favour in any venues in Chicago or further afield.

10 years earlier Albert Ayler had been stationed in France whilst serving in the army. His subsequent move to Sweden three years later resulted in a collaboration with avant-garde musicians including Cecil Taylor and Sonny Murray. Sonny Murray recounts astonishment at their first gig in Stockholm where the majority of the audience started to dance as soon as they started playing. Cecil Taylor nearly fell off his seat laughing; in part, taking aback with admiration for the openness and participation from the hip Swedish crowd. It was a far more embracing response than back in the States.

Europe was becoming more attractive for avant-garde jazz musicians. Over the course of their 18 months stay in Paris from 1969-71, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago recorded some landmark albums including ‘People In Sorrow’, ‘Message To Our Folks’, ‘A Jackson In Your House’ and the soundtrack ‘Les Stances a Sophie’, featuring vocalist Fontella Bass. The album was released on NESSA and later reissued by the Sounds Of The Universe record label back in 2000 due to the growing interest from radio and club. After returning to the States in the early 70s, the group went on to record two pivotal albums titled ‘Bap-tizum’ and ‘Fanfare For The Warriors’ for Atlantic Records which allowed for a much wider appreciation.

Fast forward 50 years and The Art Ensemble Of Chicago is still a living testament to the power and support of the musicians and educators within the community. The AACM continue to nurture emerging artists, passing the baton through the generations with their operating motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future”. Although the theatrical movements and colourful stage presence is not as prominent, the music continues to represent the attitude that the great quintet brought to the world during their formative years and throughout their time together as well as through their own projects. This new album sees them exploring new boundaries and the possibilities around those boundaries, with real-time composing allowing for many options to reinvent through the diverse musical expression of the collective.

On their first AEOC album for over 10 years, Roscoe Mitchell (soprano and alto saxophone, sopranino) and Don Moye (drums, percussion) pay tribute to their fellow creators Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favors from the classic quintet era. Accompanied by a 15-plus ensemble including a conducted string section courtesy of professor Stephen Rush, ‘We Are On The Edge: A 50th Year Anniversary’ brings together a much larger group of musicians from different generations and backgrounds in part celebrating the diverse musical heritage of their community and Chicago. Comprised of two discs: a meticulous studio session and the capture of a rousing live set at Edgefest in Ann Arbor, MI. The album features both original and classic compositions.

The album begins with Roscoe Mitchell’s contemplative composition, ‘Variations and Sketches from the Bamboo Terrace’, featuring the operatic voice of Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron alongside the string section comprising of Tomeka Reid (cello) Jean Cook (violin) and Edward Yoon Kwon (viola). On ‘The Bell Song’ Christina Wheeler adds a range of colourful electronic sounds from her amazing array of instruments, that include the autoharp, Moog and theremin, to accompany the muted trumpet, flute and subtle touches of percussion which permeate this moody composition.

Vocalist poet Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) delivers a powerful message on the title track, ‘We Are On The Edge’ and ‘Mama Koko’, the latter an evocative probing afrofuturism journey to the homeland with elements of pan-African percussion creating a perfect setting. The space within both compositions allowing the words room to resonate.

Don Moye adds the updated and reshaped hypnotic percussive elements to the original 1972 Malachi Favors composition, ‘Chi Congo’, aptly titled ‘Chi- Congo 50’. Throughout the album, he is joined by the stellar percussionists Dudù Kouaté, Enoch Williamson and Titos Sompa. The wonderful dreamy afro Cuban-esque ‘Oasis At Dusk’ is another percussive highlight – a tapestry of sound that is warm and evocative with the combination of percussion and strings, adding a rich sound to the composition.

Flautist and educator Nicole Mitchell has been involved with some great projects and acts as the first chairwoman within the organisation. Check out her highly acclaimed 2017 album ‘Liberation Narratives’ featuring poet and professor, Haki R. Madhubuti, and also her TEDx talk ‘Connecting To The Source Of Intelligence’ where she also performs alongside vocalist Dwight Trible.

Trumpeter, conductor and educator Fred Berry and trumpeter Hugh Ragin have been long time collaborators with the ensemble. Bassist Jaribu Shahid, is also one of the long-established members who feature within this current ensemble. Joining him are fellow bassists Silvia Bolognesi and Junius Paul.

In summary, ‘We Are On The Edge: A Celebration of 50 Years’ is a fresh chapter in the ever-unfolding of an explorative sound that the collective continues to represent and achieve. Highly recommended.

Mark Savva

Tom Syson ‘Different Coloured Days’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

“Different Coloured Days” is trumpeter/composer Tom Syson’s second release as bandleader, following up on his acclaimed 2017 debut “Green”. The eight original compositions are performed with style and finesse by Syson, along with Tom Barford on saxophone, David Ferris on piano, Pete Hutchison on bass and Jonathan Silk on drums. This quintet of musicians gel so well together and on this recording have produced some of the finest contemporary jazz I’ve heard this year. There’s also an old-school feel to the album which I really like. It’s the kind of music that makes me think I’ve just walked into a very cool jazz club, with the band performing at the top of their game.

Syson has matured through time spent with Birmingham Jazz Orchestra where he holds the trumpet chair, NYJO, European Radio Jazz Orchestra, London Jazz Orchestra and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra. Listening to his music on this session, I can’t help think that the big bands and larger group ensembles he has worked with have played a major part in developing his writing style. At times it’s like listening to a larger ensemble rather than just a quintet of musicians. And that’s no bad thing at all. In fact, the wonderful synergy that the band obviously enjoy is only enhanced by that big band ethos, all making for a very full and rewarding sound.

The front-line of Syson and saxophonist Barford work exceptionally well together, each complimenting one another throughout the whole album. And there has to be a special mention for the rhythm section here, with Ferris, Hutchinson and Silk not only holding things down with a noticeable, unerring quality but also adding something special to the nature of the music being made. Some of the changes in pace and mood are handled so well that you would think this quintet had been performing together for twenty years or more.

The album begins with “At Peace”, a clear statement of intent as the solo trumpet leads the listener into this fine tune with conviction and confidence. “Distraction” is anything but, with the deep jazz groove of the bass holding my attention as the tune develops into a gorgeous melody with some sumptuous soloing. “Near Death on the A90” presumably has a tale to tell judging by the track’s title. This shorter exploratory piece is followed by the excellent “Soon”. Reminding me of a Blue Note era Wayne Shorter piece, I love the feel and sublime nature of the tune, being both thoughtful and uplifting. Syson’s writing continues to delight on “Purple”, with its Tony Williams’ Lifetime vibe drawing the listener in. A feature of the band leader’s compositions is his delicious chord changes. The solos flow effortlessly over the wonderfully crafted music. The ethereal and slightly anthemic “Relief” has the pull and intelligence of a Mark Guilliana Quartet tune; stunningly exquisite writing, beautifully performed. And there’s no let-up to the brilliance with “A Leisurely Walk is a Luxury” featuring some of the finest soloing from both Barford and Ferris. The album closes with Syson’s simply gorgeous trumpet on “Soon Reprise”, bringing to mind the late, great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.

There’s nothing remotely tedious or forced about Syson’s music. He seems to be able to capture an elusive and emotive energy that propels this album well beyond your average contemporary jazz offering. It moves me, it excites me and it captivates me. “Different Coloured Days” is an album I’ll be listening to for a long time to come.

Mike Gates

Read also: Tom Syson Sextet ‘Green’ (Self-released) 5/5

Tour dates
12 May SOUTHAMPTON Modern Jazz Mango Basement-Ocean Village, 5 Canute Rd. SO14
13 May MANCHESTER – Whiskey Jar (NQ Jazz), 14 Tariff St, Manchester M1 2FF
14 May BIRMINGHAM, Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Birmingham, B12 0NH
15 May LONDON – Vortex Jazz Club 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ **ALBUM LAUNCH**
17 May BRADFORD -JATP Jazz, Glyde House, Glydegate, Little Horton Road, BD5 0AD
18 May GLASGOW – Blue Arrow Jazz Club, 323 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3HW
5 June SHEFFIELD – The Lescar, Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, S11 8ZF

Bonsai ‘Bonsai Club’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 3/5

Formerly known as ‘Jam Experiment’, this band boast one of the more intriguing line-ups in jazz, with the two front-men trombonist Rory Ingham and drummer Jonny Mansfield, joined by violinist/vocalist Dominic Ingham, pianist/keyboardist Toby Comeau and bassist Joe Lee. “Bonsai Club” features eight highly original compositions of adventurous jazz-fusion, with all five band members contributing towards their uniquely bohemian sound.

“Bonsai is a group where everyone is the leader.” explains Rory Ingham. “The music is written to be played by each other, with each other. The long-standing relationships mean that Bonsai are able to work cohesively and freely as a collective, resulting in total synergy.”

Bonsai’s music is driven by a myriad of ingredients. I very much like the expressive use of vocals, with Dominic Ingham’s voice often mirroring a melody or taking a tune into a more ethereal dimension, a little like Joe Zowinal did on certain Weather Report tracks. The heavy use of synths works better on some pieces than others, but the strength of the groove-fuelled improvisations is never in doubt, often shaping the direction of the music.

Whilst the title track is a pop-hued vocal led piece, the infectious “The Crescent” is like a Pat Metheny Group piece that morphs into a trombone and bass-led hard groove. The subtle synths and cool vibe of “Tin” make this one of my favourite tracks on the album. The vocals are beautiful, and the way the track develops is wonderful, with its Pink Floyd/Talk Talk-esque nature shining through. “Bmjc” brings out the funk, with violin leading the way. The slower, smoother “Quay” is uplifting with its warmth gently pulsating. Perhaps the most straight-ahead jazz piece is “Hop-The Hip Replacement”; an excellent tune consummately performed. “Itchy Knee” takes the band into joyous and unabashed jazz-rock territory, with the title track’s reprise closing the album.

Ultimately “Bonsai Club” is a very enjoyable listen. There’s nothing too stretching about it and the album works well on many levels. The music is light and free-flowing, without ever being challenging. I can imagine this band sounding great in a live setting and to this end catch them while you can at one of the following venues in the coming weeks and months…

Mike Gates

08/05 Stratford Jazz, Stratford-upon-Avon
10/05 Wakefield Jazz, Yorkshire
13/05 North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
14/05 St. Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall
24/05 Jazzlines, Birmingham
28/05 Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch)
24/07 Teignmouth Jazz, Devon
25/07 Soundcellar, Poole
26/07 The Verdict, Brighton
13/09 Fleece Jazz, Colchester
15/09 Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
16/09 The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
17/09 PARRJAZZ, Liverpool
18/09 The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
19/09 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
20/09 The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22/09 Scarborough Jazz Festival, Yorkshire
06/10 Seven Jazz, Leeds
08/10 The Stables, Milton Keynes
31/10 Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London

Dave Stryker ‘Eight Track III’ CD (Strikezone) 5/5

Let me say immediately that I am a big fan of guitarist Dave Stryker and have enjoyed greatly the previous two releases in this series. The formula for volume three is very much as its predecessors. In his lengthy and illustrious career, Stryker has recorded more than twenty-five albums as leader and has also been a featured side man with the likes of saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and organist Jack McDuff. With such a pedigree one can expect great stuff and he does not disappoint.

The personnel on the album is largely as the previous albums with regular cohorts Stephon Harris (vibraphone), returning after being replaced by Steve Nelson for volume two, Jared Gold (organ) McClenty Hunter (drums) but this time with the addition of Mayra Casales (congas and percussion). The repertoire follows the path established previously with some choice popular songs from the leader’s formative years in the 1970’s. This third instalment comes some five years after the first and the concept seems as fresh as ever it did. Stryker maintains that playing these familiar melodies “has been a great way to connect with people and bring more people to the music, whether they remember the songs or are just discovering them.”

This time around, the sense of discovery is greater as the ‘hits’ are slightly lesser known. Having said this, however, Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’ will be familiar to most and opens the album in great style. This is joyous music. The guitarist is on fine form on this one and in fact the whole group burns.

Music from The Temptations is featured next with ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’. The tempo is taken down a little but this is no less intense and guitarist and vibraphonist play the lead in unison, something that they are very good at. Steely Dan’s ‘Pretzel Logic’ is a perfect fit for this group. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Too High’ gets an outing next and proves to be a great swinging piece. After this, it’s a wonderful contrast to hear ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ with everyone relaxing into this dreamy ballad. This is a pure delight. Another swinger follows with ‘This Guys In Love With You’.

Roy Ayers’ ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ provides room for Harris to stretch out a little. A helping of Marvin Gaye follows with ‘After The Dance’ and the group return to Stevie Wonder to end the set with ‘Joy Inside My Tears’ which is a bluesy outing where I’m reminded a little of fellow guitarist John Scofield.

We often hear the phrase “feel good music”. In this case the phrase seems to be particularly apt. This is relatively undemanding, fun music and should appeal to a wide audience. The album received its official release on 3rd May. Be sure to place an order for your copy without delay.

For fans of the guitarist, Dave is currently touring the new album through to August with plenty more to come with a quartet album and an album with the WDR Big Band expected in 2020.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Dave Stryker ‘Eight Track II’ CD (Strikezone)
Dave Stryker ‘Strykin’ Ahead’ CD (Strikezone) 5/5
The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded ‘Routes’ CD (Strikezone) 4/5

Jasper Blom Quartet ‘Polyphony’ 2LP/2CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

‘Polyphony’ marks the fourth album from the Jasper Blom Quartet who now find themselves at home on the UK’s Whirlwind Recordings label. And for the London-based independent record label whose statement of intent is to “provide a platform for showcasing adventurous and visceral music that spans genres” and “is rooted in originality”, Whirlwind Recordings couldn’t have hoped for a better project to introduce the Jasper Blom Quartet as a part of their already staggering array of artists.

Danish saxophonist Jasper Blom once again assembles the tried, tested and trusted combination of musicians that comprise his quartet – Jesse van Ruller on guitar, Martijn Vink on drums and Frans van der Hoeven on double bass – a collective that has now been performing together for over twenty years with celebrated past releases ‘Statue of Liberty’ (2008), ‘Gravity’ (2012) and ‘Audacity’ (2015), all available through Mainland Recordings.

‘Polyphony’ displays the band at their absolute best. A double album capturing the quartet performing over two nights in 2018 at Amsterdam’s revered BIMHUIS venue, famed for housing over 300 concerts a year celebrating both local and international jazz musicians. As an added bonus, each set boasts the involvement of two guests resulting in exciting interplay throughout: Belgian trumpeter and composer Bert Joris contributes throughout disc 1; Joris with numerous releases to his name, most notably with his own quartet and with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. While Joris has served as a long-time friend and collaborator to the Jasper Blom Quartet, disc 2 pairs the foursome with the comparatively new combination of German trombonist, Nils Wogram, current Whirlwind Recording artist and an artist who lays claim to more than twenty album releases as a bandleader.

The dynamic between the players on each set work incredibly well over the total of sixteen tracks as they glide through a range of styles, some inspired by fourteenth century Belgian composer Johannes Ciconia, while others dip into Jasper Blom Quartet like ‘Nancy in the Sky’ from their sophomore album ‘Gravity’ and ‘Least of Your Worries’ from the band’s debut ‘Statue of Liberty’.

Inducting fellow musicians into the fold for past Jasper Blom Quartet releases may not necessarily be a new technique – vocalists including Tuto Puoane, Ruben Hein and Lilian Vieira have previously featured on the quartet’s prior releases as has percussionist Bart Fermie but there’s something particularly special about the chemistry and dynamics formed between the quartet’s members when paired with Joris and Wogram that makes for compelling listening.

Imran Mirza

Elder Ones ‘From Untruth’ LP/CD (Northern Spy) 4/5

Elder Ones is a New York based quartet led by vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, who writes the tunes and also plays harmonium and analogue synth. Also featured are Matt Nelson on saxophone, Nick Dunstan on bass and Max Jaffe on drums. ‘From Untruth’, their second album, differs conceptually from their previous outing, ‘Holy Science’, pursuing more political topics. Sonically, the often sparse arrangements are now embellished with electronic instruments and effects on the acoustic instruments. These additions actually sound quite low tech which seems to suit the primal feel of the music. There are four tracks here.

‘Eat The Rich’ starts the album at a funereal tempo. Voice solely accompanied by the droning harmonium sets the tone. They are slowly joined by the other instruments. There’s a more uptempo middle section, with some pleasing vocal gymnastics in a South Indian percussive style and a supporting sax improvisation. The track closes with the unequivocal mantra of ‘Eat the rich or die starving.’ A march for the dead for our times.

Listening to Kidambi’s vocals is an intense experience. Her often wordless lines energetically and assertively flit from precise tonality to whispers, howls and screams. However, that’s not to suggest there’s a lack of control, the delivery is very disciplined. On the occasions she does use words, it’s often repetitive sentences which again emphasise the directness in the themes of this album.

While ‘Eat The Rich’ has quite a rigid musical arc, ‘Dance of the Subaltern’ is more improvisational. The verses are musically more conventional (even with more words) but between them, there’s space for some fine musicianship before the exciting and chaotic conclusion. ‘Decolonize the Mind’ begins with a percussive attack from drums and vocals, the bass is bowed at times to augment the harmonium in a drone effect then the song locks into a sax led Asian influenced groove. The set closer, the epic ’From Untruth’, reins in some of the aggression of the previous tracks for a beautiful and moving conclusion. The rhythm section excels on this last track.

In times of social turmoil, an artist can choose to provide escapism for their audience or feel compelled to address concerns face on. While Elder Ones music may be viewed as abstract and eclectic, the message here is direct and overtly political. At times, I feel that the performances, with the eagerness to convey this message, lean into the melodramatic. On the other hand, I do love a melodrama! While it would be easy to dismiss this album’s effectiveness as a call to arms, it would be even easier with this type of music for the artist to ignore such mundane and trivial stuff as everyday life. Elder Ones is using the tools it has to try to make a positive difference and that has to be admired. To quote from the closing track, ‘From darkness into light’.

Kevin Ward