Category Archives: Album Reviews

Matt Gold ‘Imagined Sky’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

“Imagined Sky” is an engaging slice of post-rock / folk / blues / Americana from Chicago based guitarist and songwriter Matt Gold. It’s his first solo outing but it sounds more collaborative than that implies, with great contributions coming from bassists Matt Ulery and Brian Doherty, drummer Jeremy Cunningham and synth player Dan Pierson, along with some lovely cameos from vocalists Macie Stewart and Sara Serpa, and violinist Myra Hinrichs.

There’s an alluring kinetic energy to this recording, whether it be Gold’s electric guitar power-playing, his acoustic guitar and its whispered textures, the folk-tinged vocals blending perfectly with the abstracted Americana, or the bluesier elements that are a welcome delight. As Gold comments: “I’ve tried to stitch together the more improvisatory electric trio material with something more song-focused and concise, balancing these energies.”

‘Augusta Fairgrounds’ opens the album with the electric trio, a driving piece that reminds me of the great Brian Setzer with its rockabilly-tinged backbone. As with much of the album, the music evokes wide-open, turbulent landscapes, long-forgotten dreams drifting wistfully across the plains. The outstanding ‘Queen Anne’ is a far more folky affair featuring the stunning vocals of Macie Stewart… what a voice! I found myself hitting the repeat button on my player after being instantly hooked by this tune. “I think a lot about space in my writing,” says Gold, “whether it’s external, as in a physical space, or internal – the spaces of our imagination, our uncertainties, our own particular ways of seeing the world…this record leans into both interpretations.” Propelled by a trance-inducing drum pattern, ‘Crimes’ emerges with a sparse, desert landscape of guitar chords and synthesizer textures that build in energy and intensity, hinting at the sounds of a Morricone film score. The analogue sounding, tape manipulated solo acoustic guitar of ‘Between The Four Seas’ is followed by Gold’s vocal and acoustic guitar on the John Renbourn-esque ‘Truehearted’, which is embellished with some lovely strings. The trio piece ‘Dollarama,’ reminds me of a late 60’s Terje Rypdal, cool and bluesy, whilst ‘Always Starting Over,’ a wonderfully melodic piece, captures perfectly Gold’s style with lovely, slightly discordant acoustic guitar matched well by the rhythmic drums that give the tune an engrossing pulse. I love this and it’s definitely one of the most original tracks on the album. ‘Petrichor,’ written with and featuring Sara Serpa on vocals, finds Gold and Serpa in a duet as dreamlike synthesizer lines wash over the mix. ‘Bottom Of The Barrel’ leans into an earthy, familiar feeling, bursting with raucous, blues-tinged energy, rounding off the album in uplifting style.

“Imagined Sky” has a warm, feel-good atmosphere to it. It’s accessible, yet healthily unconstrained by genre and sure of its own identity, feeling less like a debut and more like a culmination of all the good things Matt Gold has taken on board along his journey to reach this point. With a refreshing vitality, I’d highly recommend it.

Mike Gates

mu:n ‘fabrics’ (QFTF) 3/5

Mu:n​ is another fresh collective from Switzerland’s ever so creative Jazz scene.
Mu:n’​s sound is airy and contemplative. They take time and patience to develop their songs. At times a little too much time, the overall album experience lacks diversity in its dramatic balance and misses its edge.
However, ​fabrics​ is an interesting music production! mu:n’s music is a dreamy, hazy soundscape. Their songs carry a feel of time and space, utterly hypnotizing and meditative – reminiscent of the works of Bill Frisell or Jacob Bro. Driving a jazz subgenre that could be described as modest, free complexity.
It will be interesting to hear where ​mu:n’s​ musical journey will take them. The young ensemble definitely holds the talent to stay in the mix. ​

Musicians: Djamal Moumène – Guitar, Composition, Tobias Pfister – Tenor Saxophone, Vito Cadonau – Bass, Noah Weber – Drums


Soft Power ‘Brink Of Extinction’ LP (RR GEMS) 5/5

Helsinki based sextet Soft Power, release their second long-player, Brink Of Extinction. Since their self-released debut, “In a Brown Study”, drummer Mikael Jurmu has augmented the line up of Antti Vauhkonen (alto saxophonist/flautist), Staffan Södergård (Rhodes piano), Otto Kyrklund (guitar), Iiri Tulkki (bass) and Lauri Vertanen (tenor sax). This coincides with an evolution to a jazzier and groovier sound hinted at on the more guitar-based psych of their first.

“Brink Of Extinction” is a concept album based on the human threat to the biodiversity of our planet. Indeed, the group pic on the sleeve sees the band in silhouette, teetering on a precipice. It’s heavy stuff! But there’s a positivity in the message and music mirroring much of the recent activism of the climate movement.

The sparse, tentative piano chords of “Awakening” segues into “Brink Of Extinction”, a track built on a groovy rhythm punctuated by twangy guitar and Fender Rhodes trills with swoops of melody from the twin saxes. It succumbs to a dreamy backdrop for the recital of a poem, in Finnish, by Juhana Henrik Harju before a slight return with flute and electric piano solos. This is reminiscent of David Axelrod with its lush but quirky arrangement and cinematic feel. The laid-back mellowness of “Orange Red Yellow” is buoyant on a smooth and consistent bass line followed by the flute and saxophone wash and drips with late 1960s melancholy. All this groove-laden goodness is interrupted by the jerky jazz dance of “The Water Rooms” which breaks into joyous scat-guitar.

The movie soundtrack feel continues on the moody “New Beginning” where piano and horns weave around the walking bassline until solo electric piano sings to the ambient sea waves. With a cheeky nod towards “Naima”, the swagger of the sax, flute, distorted guitar and Fender Rhodes in the epic, “Window Of Opportunity” switches a bustling jazz dance rhythm with improvisations from flute and guitar. The track breaks down to pensive electric piano melody lines which are slowly built on by synthesiser, saxophone and flute. This is a killer track that, for me, hits that often elusive sweet spot between jazz, rock and folk like late-era Traffic could. After its abrupt ending, there’s the brief brass fog of “Final Blow”.

Is this rock or jazz? Mikael Jurmu describes their music as rock with strong ingredients of jazz and free expression which I think this is fair enough. They have clearly identified the free form elements that both psychedelic rock and jazz share and delivered them with a performance that is subtle and organic. The movable sonic textures of the twin saxophones and flutes are beautiful and ethereal. The effect is emotional and exhilarating. I just can’t stop listening to it!

Kevin Ward

Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Angular Blues’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

For his fourth ECM album as leader, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel returns to the trio format, with Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums. The interplay between the three musicians is especially organic on this recording, helping imbue the trio with its own personal dynamic.

Whilst each of the groups Muthspiel has put together for his previous ECM outings has enjoyed a special rapport, most notably perhaps his previous session featuring pianist Brad Mehldau on “Where The River Goes”, there appears to be more of an intuitive musical conversation going on here which is, after all, what the best trios hope to achieve.

Scott Colley brings a fresh, earthy edge to Muthspiel’s compositions. His connectedness to both the guitar and the drums kind of holds everything together in a subtle, effortless way. But it is Brian Blade’s contribution that is possibly most striking. In a quiet, skillful way, he uses his experience wisely, knowing intuitively what to bring to the tunes themselves. Blade’s own innovative music with his Fellowship Band, alongside his own songwriting skills on the exquisite “Mama Rosa”, make him the perfect drummer to sit alongside Colley and Muthspiel.

Along with the guitarist’s characteristically melodic originals, the trio play a couple of Standards, as well as Muthspiel’s first ever bebop rhythm tune, and a single guitar only piece. The whole album sits together wonderfully well, with the first three tunes featuring Muthspiel on acoustic guitar, with the rest on electric. A hypnotic glow resonates throughout the entire recording, with a crystalline joy emanating from the music being made. Muthspiel’s guitar playing is both creative and subtle, yet punchy and adventurous when required.

From the gorgeously opulent opener “Wondering”, to the gentle and contemplative “Hüttengriffe”, from the engrossing “Kanon in 6/8” to the superlative “I’ll Remember April”, the trio effortlessly speak their own melodically warm and welcoming jazz language. Fluent and inventive, this is a wonderful trio recording that I’ll be returning to time and time again.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Rising Grace’ 2LP/CD (ECM) 4/5
Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Driftwood’ CD (ECM) 3/5

Deborah Jordan ‘See In The Dark’ CD (Futuristica Music) 5/5

Deborah Jordan unveils her new album ‘See in the Dark’ continuing her long-running association with leading future soul label, Futuristica Music.

It can be seen as almost futile to attempt to surmise a career as expansive as Deborah Jordan’s but I’m still feeling compelled to scream about her incredible accomplishments – an artist with a near unparalleled ability to walk within disparate musical realms and genres like her timeless contribution as vocalist for Robert Mitchell’s Panacea or the innumerable collaborations she’s chalked up with artists including Atjazz (‘Let Go’), Unforscene (‘Unbroken’) and Soulpersona (‘Weightless’); her work as part of groups including Sun Circle, pairing Jordan with producer Simon S, Silhouette Brown with Kaidi Tatham and then there are her solo albums ‘The Light’ (2009) and ‘What You See’ (2011) all under the umbrella of Futuristica.

And Futuristica is very much a part of the story here as well – through a team of dedicated, immeasurably talented and unified producers, musicians and vocalists, Futuristica has released genre-defining projects – Simon S’ ‘Music 4 Alternative Souls’ (2018) warrants essential listening as do releases by the Jazz Chronicles and Georgie Sweet.

Deborah Jordan has always been a remarkable talent – her voice is able to capture a genuine, aching sincerity that completely validates her music over the staggering fifteen plus years she has been making music. ‘See in the Dark’ is a further testament to that fact – a great album that, in many ways, runs the gamut of sonic compositions that people have become accustomed to equating with her talents. With production from a dream team assembly of names including K15, Simon S, Tris Browne and Mecca 83, the album boasts varied musical soundscapes like the sweet R&B of ‘You Should Know’, the broken beat inspiration of ‘Stay With You’ and ‘Horizon’, and the harder-edged beats of ‘Machine’.

But there’s little chance of anything on this album resonating with listeners more than the project’s exquisite lead single, ‘I’ll See You Again’. Produced by Mark Rapson, ‘I’ll See You Again’ was written following the passing of Jordan’s mother but is destined to be a song that will be adopted by countless people the world over as a vessel for their own losses and heartbreak. It’s a song exemplary of every one of Jordan’s talents already discussed – a match-made-in-heaven of an awe-inspiring vocal paired with flawless production.

In many ways, ‘See in the Dark’ is the culmination of everything that came before it: an incredibly versatile release that sees Jordan, not only continue to straddle the various styles she’s developed her formidable reputation on but an album that has managed to fuse so many of these elements together into a stunning and cohesive project. As a result, Deborah Jordan has delivered, quite possibly, her magnum opus.

Imran Mirza

Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow ‘Safar-e-Daroon’ CD (Songlines) 4/5

The oud, a sophisticated short-necked lute-like stringed instrument, doesn’t really feature as much as it should in Western music. My first memorable introduction to it was Vishnu Wood’s performance on ‘Isis and Osiris’ from Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda and I also recall Mohammed Ahmed playing in Pharoah Sanders’ group for ‘A Concert For Alice and John’ at the Barbican a few years ago. With some exceptions, the oud player has been a guest musician for more established artists or there to add a little exotic colour.

However, Gordon Grdina’s oud playing on “Safar-e-Daroon” takes centre stage. This is the second release for Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow. It’s primarily a jazz project that utilises Arabic and Persian melodies and rhythms. The five-piece also consists of Joshua Zubot on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, Mark Helias on bass, and Hamin Honari on tombak, daf and frame drum. An all-acoustic set up that suits the oud’s smooth and subtle tone.

And it’s this smooth and subtle tone that introduces this set on the title track, which has three sections. The first is a hypnotically slow solo. Then the pace quickens as oud and percussion lock into an Arabic groove with quality violin and bass solos. Finally, a folky dash with a top oud solo. All instruments burst into the winding and intricate signature of “El Baz” which includes a complex violin and oud duet. A plucked bass pattern kicks off the slower “Mini-Con”, the highlight of which is an intense and exciting violin solo.

On “Calling on You”, a stand out track, the Middle Eastern influences lean pleasingly into free jazz territory. “Shamshir” is a measured return to Arabic roots. “Convergence” is graceful and moving as it builds on the simple melody. On the percussive “Illumination”, the string instruments orbit the muscular rhythmic core. With the strident and joyful “Outsize”, I feel the group comes closest to achieving the ideal of merging East and West. Bowed strings wash over the simple repetitive strummed oud on “Gabriel James”, producing something balladic and beautiful.

The musicianship on “Safar-e-Daroon” is consistently excellent and it’s apparent that there’s clearly a rapport between the players. The album does serve well as a showcase for the oud and also presents some Middle Eastern musical traditions but is not a museum artefact. It is vibrant and avoids feeling academic. Maybe sometimes a little too polished and polite for me, but the strength of this release is on tracks like “Calling on You” and “Outsize”, where the traditional melodies and rhythms act as a springboard towards exciting new ideas and improvisations.

Kevin Ward

Vibration Black Finger ‘Can You See What I’m Trying To Say’ LP (Jazzman) 5/5

At last, Vibration Black Finger vibrates its dark digit once more. After too long away from the LP format, Lascelle Gordon is back. If you don’t know, Gordon, and VBF, is the epitome of ‘deep’. Look up ‘heavy’ in a muso-indulgent dictionary and you’ll see something like “of great musical and emotional density; thick, deep or substantial e.g. ‘VBF’s music is heavy'”. The very definition. And, now, after 3 years of work, and using recordings from as far back as the 1995 and 2000 vintages(!), he’s back to deliver more of that trademark heavy by the way of “Can You See What I’m Trying To Say?”.

New Life Trio’s ‘Empty Streets’ (how apposite) is the album’s bewitching theme song; an immediate introduction to the overarching mood of this unified soundtrack. It aches with tender yearning and dry desolation. Vocalist Ebony Rose is glorious; godforsaken but defiantly calm in the face of an otherworldly sonic wash of dereliction.

The soundtrack continues through the eastern found-music, waterside buzz of ‘Adrianna’ and the relentless, 10 minute plus, beats-infused, urgent space-bleepery, hip sax breaks/multi-voiced swells and final digital breakdown that is “Acting For Liberation Pt 1”.

The brief but liberating, revitalising piano breaks of (Diana) “Gutkind’s Dream” and “Law of the Universe” (featuring Gordon’s niece’s) lead into the arresting, Marion Brown-introduced “Can You See What I’m Trying To Say?”. It’s a rolling mix of exploratory percussion and digital burps that’s caressed into an introspective, not-quite-comfortable space by a vocal/flute massage and empathic sax meanderings.

“Acting For Liberation Pt 2” picks up where Pt 1 left off. This time an engrossing, statement-making, Maggie Nicholls vocal dynamic offers stimulating relief from the Pt 1 relentlessness: “Centred and strong in a journey in song. Trusting my own sense of right and wrong.”

The piano intro to “Persia and Cornelius” makes the heart swell. It continues and flows, the focus of a touching intimacy where, with windows open and soothing summer breeze wafting, fellow musical mates nonchalantly contribute supportive punctuation.

“The Glory” sonically and ideologically nods to a utopian neo-soul Britain of decades previous. Gloriously sensual and optimistic. “Soul Fire” starts with a piano and violin-enabled spiritual awakening, a compassionate meeting of me and something greater than me. It shifts into a flute and strings-voile-muffled academic discussion about some, probably, questionable behavioural ‘conversion’ treatments consisting of electroshock aversion and hormonal rebalancing. It creates an abrupt, audio vérité pause where peaceful, spiritual indulgence is met with real-world human-led brut; maybe scientific, maybe not, maybe political.

Album closer, “Only In A Dream”, is initially a reflective, portentous Gordon soundscape spiritedly traversed by an impeccable jazz vocal. Then, unexpectedly, riffing piano chords, a tidy, busy beat and a Ken Kambayashi bassline kick in; focusing message and intent, seemingly accelerating to a playful, uplifting, communal, future-facing declaration.

This album is special. Lascelle Gordon’s (first) masterpiece. It talks to me in the way Shepp’s “Attica Blues” does. Less in-your-face and more meandering, of course, but its seamless soundtrack-ness, heightened socio-political awareness and deep spirituality is palpable throughout, as is its undeniable beauty. I feel connected to it and have, as I do with all great and meaningful music, appropriated its meaning and assimilated it in me. We are now one.

‘As always I’ve made a conscious move towards making deep, heavy music’ Gordon says, ‘Music without meaning seems pointless.’ I, for one, can definitely see what he’s trying to say.

Ian Ward

John Carroll Kirby ‘My Garden’ LP (Stones Throw) 4/5

The evolution of the Los Angeles-based Stones Throw Records has really been brought into stark contrast with their recent releases, particularly over the last year. Once renowned as being forerunners of the era of leftfield hip-hop that spawned revered projects still celebrated years later including an extensive Madlib catalogue notwithstanding the collaboration with MF Doom in what’s become a cult classic ‘Madvillainy’ (2004, under the joint name Madvillain) or J Dilla’s cherished ‘Donuts’ (2006) which would be released on his 32nd birthday and three days before his untimely passing.

But while other hip-hop labels of this era have now become defunct, Stones Throw was able to adapt and overcome, expanding their catalogue beyond the signature sound it had become noted for and welcoming leftfield and future soul artists into the fold. Aloe Blacc’s ‘Good Things’ serves as a strong highlight, featuring the global success of its lead single ‘I Need a Dollar’, and even looking more specifically at their last few releases: violinist and vocalist Sudan Archives released an excellent project in ‘Athena’, the 80s-styled funk of Prophet’s ‘Don’t Forget It’ certainly warrants mention as does the eclectic jazz of Jamael Dean’s ‘Oblivion’. Which brings us to John Carroll Kirby’s ‘My Garden’.

Serving as his debut album for Stones Throw, the pianist, composer and producer, John Carroll Kirby, has actually found himself in an incredibly prolific period with his debut album, ‘Travel’, having only been released in 2017 through LA label Outside Insight; subsequent releases including ‘Meditations in Music’ (2018, Leaving Records) along with the release ‘Tuscany’ (Patience, 2019) and the free-to-download project ‘Conflict’. Kirby’s talents haven’t just been relegated to his own releases, however, as his skills as a producer, instrumentalist and writer have made their way to projects from an incredibly diverse line-up of acts including Solange Knowles, whose album of last year ‘When I Get Home’ saw a strong contribution from Kirby’s production and writing throughout, as well as further session work for Mark Ronson’s ‘Late Night Feelings’ and last year’s album by alt-pop outfit, Bat For Lashes.

While placing the piano at the forefront, Kirby has channelled his own solo work into exploring numerous themes including peace, hope and even nature. ‘My Garden’ seems to touch on elements of spirituality and a connection to the earth around us while set to sparse, atmospheric production which would almost make match-made-in-heaven accompaniments to the visuals of a Michael Mann film – the filmmaker was famous for tailoring his films into mini love letters to Los Angeles which, at times, it can feel like ‘My Garden’ is inclined to do.

Kirby’s compositions expertly capture this enticing cocktail of influences and experiences which you can slowly underpin through repeated listens resulting in a rich and diverse aesthetic throughout. While certainly different to the music Stones Throw were noted for in the early-00s, the label always waved the flag for innovative LA-based artistry and, with ‘My Garden’, they’re continuing that tradition all these years later.

Imran Mirza

Mike Westbrook featuring John Surman ‘Love and Understanding: Citadel / Room 315 Sweden ’74’ LP/CD (My Only Desire) 5/5

Prior to the RCA album of 1975, which gathered to the studio the finest of home-grown talents in Henry Lowther, Kenny Wheeler and Chris Laurence, this live concert from Folkets Hus (community centre) Södertälje, Sweden in March of 1974 had already been witnessed in the flesh by, quite possibly, the creme of the Swedish progressive music fraternity. A programme commissioned by Sweden’s Sveriges Radio under the watchful protection of producer, jazz trumpeter and composer, Bosse Broberg, who was head of Sveriges Radio’s jazz programming between 1966 and 1990. With only Mike Westbrook and John Surman travelling to Sweden, it was then possible to tap in to the huge wealth of talent available, while keeping at least travel cost from the UK down considerably no doubt.

Composed and arranged by Mike Westbrook, this live, never before released, ‘Citadel/Room 315’ we have before us, was to indeed pool bright musicians under the umbrella ‘The Swedish Radio Jazz Group’, with an incredible history; Arne ‘Dompan’ Domnérus (alto saxophone, clarinet) had played beside Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown and Quincy Jones, with a staggering 25 albums under his wing, including Jazz at the Pawnshop, which has graced my own CD collection for a considerable time; Egil Johansen (drums), Bengt Hallberg (piano), Rune Gustafsson (guitar), Georg Riedel (bass), Lennart Åberg (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute) and Claes Rosendahl (tenor saxophone, flute) all of Radiojazzgruppen fame from as far back as 1967, had shared stages with jazz greats Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Gil Evans, Thad Jones and George Russell; Erik “Tönna” Nilsson (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute) featured on ‘Cubano Be, Cubano Bop’ as part of George Russell’s New York Band back in 1977, the same band that in 1978 featured Americo Bellotto (trumpet), Bertil Lövgren (trumpet, flugel horn), Jan Allan (trumpet, alto horn), Håkan Nyquist (trumpet, flugel horn, French horn), Lars Olofsson (trombone) and Sven Larsson (bass trombone, tuba), with none other than Sabu Martinez, Stanton Davis and Terumasa Hino present while Stockholm resident, Stefan Brolund (bass guitar) had had a stint with Lee Schipper in 1973 beside Ted Curson no less, and Jan Bandel (drums, vibraphone, percussion) was gaining much ground in 1970 as part of several Swedish progressive music groups. It was Stefan Brolund who just two years previous had recorded a live album in Sweden with Gabor Szabo.

It wouldn’t be the first live recording our ears had been granted access; The Mike Westbrook Concert Band had firmly held that door ajar for several years, even before the 1972 ‘Live’ album for Cadillac records, there had been a seven and a half hours long piece at the Guildford Festival back in 1971. He was very much at home in this setting surrounded by, and writing for, large groups of musicians, and indeed some of the top British exponents in Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, John Warren and Mike Page too.

Compositions and sequence during the concert were to be replicated on the Phonogram Studios/RCA album with a dramatically scored ‘Overture’ and swinging ‘Finale’ sandwiching nine longer pieces. The studio album, adorned with the brutalist concrete architecture of Leeds College of Music, has an uncanny resemblance to Södertälje’s own Tingsrätt building and where the similarities to the two releases end. ‘Construction’ hurdle steps prog/experimental jazz against the springboard of Bitches Brew where we are reminded that this was at a time when Herbie Hancock was working on ‘Thrust’ and ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ was just around the Headhunters corner – it was at a time of exciting new sounds, it was a creative time under construction, and Westbrook is on the cusp delivering, sometimes funky, always boundary-breaking, sounds that is lead during this truly impressive segment by Surman and Rune Gustafsson – both flourishing throughout the 8min number. Oh to have been at this concert…

Allowing a little respite, ‘Pistache’, from Buckinghamshire born Westbrook is the next movement, where we hear Bengt Hallberg on piano supported by the diversity of the orchestra amidst trombone emphasis, as we move in to ‘View from the Drawbridge’ with the mighty bass clarinet lighting the path ahead. A melancholy soundscape from the orchestra draws us in to each and every beautiful note as it gathers pace and flourishes into one of the stand-out numbers and indeed, the Westbrook writing that we have all grown to admire. The title track, ‘Love and Understanding’, then joins the larger than life party with our friend the bass clarinet. This piece drops back into the funky pace giving some of the classics of the time a real run for their money – a distant cousin at best to the studio version – with horn-led chase scene soundtrack written all over it and where drummer Egil Johansen is more than noteworthy.

‘Tender Love’ bridges the halfway mark where Surman’s Soprano takes centre stage. There’s further beauty here as the song rivets the listener’s attention. I’m reminded at how listening to Stan Tracey’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ first made me feel. A deep musical moment that will see repeated plays. Coincidentally, back in 1968 when Tracey was touring said album, Westbrook was performing live for the first time ‘Marching Song’ at the Camden Festival. It was at that very festival in the autumn of 1974 that Westbrook’s 18-piece band first showcased Citadel / Room 315 on our own shores and where Surman’s solo performance was so good the audience’s applause almost ground the concert to a halt.

‘Bebop de Rigueur’ is a far freer part to this suite with Surman on bass clarinet alongside electric bassist Georg Riedel elevating the jazzier elements prior to ‘Pastorale’ taking shape. The longest of the eleven songs. ‘Pastorale’ allows trumpeter Bertil Lövgren and tenorist Lennart Åberg to express themselves. This is very much the go-to part of the recording with all the elements that make this special combined. ‘Sleepwalker Awaking in Sunlight’ is the perfect compliment with what sounds like the entire orchestra vying for attention only to be impressed further by the ‘Outgoing Song’ as Surman takes up the baritone saxophone and reminds us all of how darn good his playing is.

Westbrook had been part of at least eleven album releases prior to this concert and countless live performances, while Surman (baritone and soprano saxes, bass clarinet) had maybe notched up a few more than that – some weight indeed to carry into this project. One might be forgiven for thinking this concert would have allowed Westbrook to iron out any creases he thought necessary in preparing and executing the studio album on his return to England – not so. The interaction between leader and musicians is miles apart on the two recordings, finding, as I have, the studio album to be better balanced as studio control would clearly allow, and whilst many musicians are indeed involved in both, the studio recording a little crisper, but the flair and energy that flows from this, never before released, live in Sweden concert has spontaneity and freshness in bucketloads, and therefore, in my opinion, a far richer and enjoyable listening experience.

It would be 1977 before Swedish jazz, in the aftermath of the glory days of say the Nalen dance hall, would reap a little money via organisations like STIM (Phono Suecia) and Rikskonserter (Caprice records) and open the famed Fasching club at a buoyant period when venues like Engelen, Stampen, Kurbits, Bullerbyn, Mosebacke and Atlantic featured regular jazz. One might be forgiven for thinking Mike Westbrook had jump-started that in 1973. Gratitude therefore to London label, My Only Desire Records under the baton of Jon Griffiths, for releasing this recording. High praise on their third release and compliments to the wonderful sleeve notes by The Wire writer Daniel Spicer and for Caspar Sutton-Jones’ remastering work at Gearbox Records, which from the original analogue tapes have given us a treasured thing indeed and a must for any record collection.

Steve Williams

Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra ‘If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours’ 2LP/CD (Odin) 4/5

In these postmodern days, band image is often a pointer to artistic intention. The flyer for Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra might have come from the early 1970s – maybe for the Brotherhood of Breath, or the AACM, or perhaps the 1966/67 Essence of George Russell group that incorporated those pioneers of modern Norwegian jazz: Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen. From that early interest in creating something uniquely Norwegian to today’s crop of creative and talented young players, Norwegian jazz has stood out for its ability to mine the tradition while sounding fresh and contemporary.

So to drummer, composer and super-busy Gard Nilssen’s latest project, his “ultimate dream band came true”, a huge troll of a band featuring no less than three drummers, three double bassists and ten horn players, commissioned for his residency at the Moldejazz festival, premiered on July 19th 2019, recorded and released by the Norwegian label Odin. There is much here that looks backwards to the great free orchestras of the past. The way that the themes are developed from passages of completely free playing is reminiscent of Chris McGregor’s ensembles. The very bigness of the band and the massive sound brings to mind Charles Mingus’ 1972 Philharmonic Hall concert. The comparison is not meant to suggest that this is in any way a retro concept – Gard appears to be paying heartfelt and very noisy tribute to these great groups while staying very much in the here and now.

To do this he has brought together some of the finest young Norwegian players including members of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra as well as representatives of indie band Broen, new generation outfit Friends & Neighbors and such established players on the scene as Petter Eldh and Per ”Texas” Johansson. Many of these players have worked closely together and there’s clearly an intimate understanding, both within the band and also between the musicians and the composer, that compensates for the potentially unwieldy size and the unusual configuration of the orchestra.

The themes are strong and surprisingly lyrical, and the balance between composition and improvisation is carefully maintained. There is some great soloing – the trumpet on the percussion-heavy drum-fest ‘Bytta Bort Kua Fikk Fela Igjen’ (is that Thomas Johansson or the Swede Goran Kajfeš?), and the powerful tenor sax centrepiece to ‘Bøtteknott / Elastic Circle’ are as good as you’ll hear anywhere in the world at the moment.

What’s exciting is that this powerhouse free-blowing sounds fresh and revitalised at present. What’s not to like when a big band is blasting away for all its worth? The excitement is tangible in the band’s playing and the crowd’s response. The sound recording is beautifully balanced for such a live, large group. It’s a blast! And man do we have some need of a good, head-cleansing racket these days! Pin your ears back and turn up the volume…

Mike Gavin