Jazz Trios are one of the classic formation for jazz artists to explore their field. Saxophone trios, due to the lack of a harmony instrument, hold a special ground within jazz history. Marc Jufer introduces his brilliant new album “Trip To The Center”, featuring Lisa Hoppe on Bass and Devin Gray on Drums.
This album is impressive! These three musicians really don’t hold back and take risks in the most unexpected ways. It gets loud, it gets rough and it gets fast – it’s classic Jazz at its very best!
Jufer swings and leads reminiscent of a young Sonny Rollins. Fearless and rhythmically trenchant.
Hoppe and Gray beautifully connect as a rhythm section, laying out pathways or providing sneaky trapdoors to explore unexpected terrain. It’s an exciting dialog. A vibrant travelogue. An exciting trip to the city! More of this, please!
German pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann, together with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling have been producing some exquisite albums as a trio for well over a decade now. This latest offering from ECM brings the threesome together with tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff, expanding the group dynamic to a quartet. “I had the growing feeling that Uli was the right player for us now”, Hülsmann says. “The four of us did a lot of rehearsing together, which was interesting in itself: the trio had never been much of a rehearsing group. It’s not so easy as a player from the outside, to come into the music of this close circle of friends. But it was soon clear that Uli, by observing and listening carefully, had got the idea of the way our group functions and brought something of his own to it, in a thoughtful and sensitive way.” And this is most certainly the impression I get listening to the wonderful interaction between all four members of this group. There is a timeless, intuitive subtlety to much of the playing that makes this album very enjoyable and fulfilling.
I like the fact that each member of the quartet brings in original compositions. The only cover on the session is an inspired reworking of the Bowie/Metheny/Mays song “This is not America”. No stranger to diverse musical interpretations, Hülsmann has always been open to expanding her music beyond expected jazz sources, previously having drawn on music from Kurt Weill to Kyrgyzstan folk song to pop and rock music of Seal and Radiohead. It is though, the exceptionally crafted originals from all members of this quartet that form the major body of this work. The interesting thing is that it’s difficult to define which person composed which tune, without reading the liner notes, and this is a testament to the togetherness of the quartet, the overall feel and style of each piece being a clearly defined sound of the four-piece rather than focusing on any one individual.
Hülsmann contributes five pieces to the album. “Weit Weg”, “Streflicht” and “No Game” began their life as solo piano tunes, adapted and expanded for the quartet. The title track was written specifically for the quartet and it shows, Kempendorff’s eloquent sax playing bringing everything together with style. Drummer Köbberling offers a pair of strikingly different pieces, both very engaging in their own way. Bassist Muellbauer is the author of the album’s two longest tunes, with different rhythms and timings allowing the quartet to explore many musical possibilities together. Saxophonist Klempendorff’s tunes are deceptively simple yet enigmatic, mirroring the skill with which he plays.
“Not Far From Here” is a typically masterful recording from Hülsmann. The playing is often inspired, sensitive and wholly engaging. Saxophonist Kempendorff has a deep, alluring tone that blends perfectly with the trio, making for an engaging and rewarding listen.
Julia Hülsmann Quartet are on tour throughout March and April. Go to ecmrecords.com for detailed gig listings.
Recorded live at Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham in December 17, “No Boundaries” is the final part in a trilogy of differentiated projects conceived by drummer / percussionist Andrew Bain. First came 2015’s “Player Piano” concert in tribute to the late John Taylor, followed by 2017’s wonderful release of original material “Embodied Hope”. This third album couldn’t offer a bigger contrast, being one continuous sequence of free improvisation.
The musicians involved on this performance, like Bain himself, are of the highest standard. Joining the drummer are Peter Evans on trumpet and flugelhorn, John O’Gallagher on alto saxophone, and Alex Bonney on electronics. Let’s be clear, this is a very challenging album. If you’re not into your free jazz improv you’re not going to get anything from this. As Bain explains: “I’m challenging the idiomatic instrumental make-up of the jazz ensemble where conventional boundaries and comparisons are usually already set”.
So here’s the thing. I fully understand that music without boundaries can be liberating. Perhaps more so for the performers than the audience. Creating something completely instantaneous can be inspiring, and the results can be startling, but equally, it just might not work. And it’s all a very personal thing anyway, dependant upon mood, circumstance and a whole host of factors that can affect any listening experience. And so all I can do on hearing this recording is to share my own thoughts and observations.
First off, regardless of the musical content, the album is just under 33 minutes long. It might be available on 12” “violet-splattered” 180 gram vinyl, but does that really give value for money? Depends on whether you think the music is worth the purchase I guess. Then there’s the concept of “no boundaries”. Let’s use an analogy here. If a trio of world-class chefs were brought together for a one-off cookery improv session, and we all knew that they were three of the world’s best chefs, if the results of their cooking together tasted rubbish, would that make them bad chefs? No, of course it wouldn’t. What I’m trying to say is that you can have all the best ingredients but that doesn’t necessarily mean a masterpiece will be created.
There are, on this live performance, moments of intrigue, of passion, and of undoubted musical playfulness mixed equally with a sober sincerity. The music is way beyond perceived jazz territory, out into the galaxy and far, far away. For some, it may resonate like no other music they have ever heard, but for me, despite my best efforts, I find it difficult to take much from this at all. Maybe the audience at the gig itself felt differently, given the atmosphere and excitement of experiencing an innovative musical moment in time, but as a recording, for me it’s just a bit of a struggle.
‘Nothing Remains Unchanged’ is the brand new release for the multi-talented Ross McHenry marking his third solo project for the incredible First Word Records.
Ross McHenry projects have long inspired a real interest from me. Putting aside the outstanding quality usually associated with McHenry’s output, it’s the sheer unpredictability of his releases that have always grabbed me. As a bassist, producer and composer from Adelaide, Australia, McHenry so fluently displays a genuine chameleonic talent when creating such a variety of music.
The Transatlantics self-titled 2010 release through Freestyle Records displayed McHenry in full funk and soul mode and was a project swiftly followed by the Fela Kuti and afrobeat inspired collective, The Shaolin Afronauts. Again released through Freestyle Records, The Shaolin Afronauts boast three full-length projects to their name including ‘Follow The Path’ (2014), ‘Quest Under Capricorn’ (2012) and ‘Flight of the Ancients’ (2011) and have gone on to become one of the most beloved names associated with Freestyle and their continual celebration of contemporary funk, soul and afrobeat.
And to further expand on McHenry’s chameleonic abilities, last year’s album, ‘Chasing Gold’, by Melbourne vocalist Chelsea Wilson absolutely warrants mention again for being a complete change of pace with what listeners may have come to expect from McHenry’s music. Serving as the producer for the album, ‘Chasing Gold’ was a contemporary disco-infused soul release in the vein of the revered Elektra era recordings of Patrice Rushen amongst other influences.
‘Nothing Remains Unchanged’ is the third instalment of McHenry’s solo releases with First Word Records – who are themselves visionaries when it comes to contemporary perspectives of jazz as evidenced through some of their incredible releases by Teotima and 14KT – and provide a wonderful platform for McHenry to showcase his skill as a leading talent within contemporary jazz.
While past albums have featured line-ups including Mark de Clive-Lowe, Corey King, Marcus Strickland and Myele Manzanza, ‘Nothing Remains Unchanged’ sees McHenry recruit the talents of saxophonist Ben Wendel (Kneebody, Gerald Clayton), pianist Matthew Sheens (Myele Manzanza, Quentin Angus) and drummer Eric Harland (Theo Croker, Joey Alexander) for an exquisite project that seems to bask in the notion of perhaps, both, people’s personal evolution as well as that of the society and people around us. While ‘Complicated Us’ kicks the project off with the high energy combination of frenetic drumming and dissonant sax, other compositions are more serene like the superb ten minute ‘This I Give To You’. ‘Perspectives’ is another standout of the album, beautifully composed as it shifts in pace throughout seemingly remaining true to its title.
‘Nothing Remains Unchanged’ is another beautiful project taking pride of place amongst McHenry’s releases along with that of First Word Records as well.
The Hideto Sasaki – Toshiyuki Sekine Quartet + 1 ‘Stop Over’ album is one of those extremely rare Japanese jazz recordings from the mid-1970s that has remained under the radar for many years. Only 100 copies were pressed for the Japanese private press label Smile on release in 1976 and it’s been a highly sought after album ever since. The title track featured on the 2019 J Jazz compilation ‘Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1983 (Volume 2)’; a precursor for the albums reissue via the BBE J Jazz Masterclass Series. The music is personally curated by Tony Higgins and Mike Peden and is dedicated to presenting the very finest in Japanese modern jazz. The whole series features rare material presented in the highest quality reproductions of the original releases, fully licensed and authorised.
‘Stop Over’ is the sixth release from the BBE J Jazz Masterclass Series following last year’s reissue of the Miyasaka + 5 album ‘Animals Garden’, recorded in 1979, and it’s another essential listen throughout, with first-class musicians at the top of their game. The album includes a stellar line up with pianist Toshiyuki Sekine and writer/trumpeter Sasaki Hideto joined by drummer Takashi Kurosaki, bassist Kei Narita and Alto saxophonist Noriyasu Watanabe.
The full sounding acoustic recording carries a reflective stance, highlighting a particular bop and modal feel that was prevalent during the late 1950s and mid-1960s, whilst adding an updated renewed spirit to the chosen compositions without losing the essence of the period. Of the five chosen pieces, compositions by Cedar Walton, Bobby Hutcherson, Tadd Dameron, Danny Zeitlin feature alongside the title track ‘Stop Over’, written by Sasaki Hideto.
‘Carole’s Garden’ is treated to an energetic sprint with the driving Messengers style high hat work by drummer Takashi Kurosaki adding a springboard for Sasaki Hideto and Noriyasu Watanabe’s fast tempo improvising. The sparse and rapid flurries from pianist Toshiyuki Sekine create a full-bodied piece that stretches over 8 minutes. It’s a good choice for the album and the group add a dynamic spark to the 1965 original from Danny Zeitlin.
Toshiyuki Sekine’s melodic creativity really takes centre stage on ‘Little B’s Poem’ with the alto saxophone of Noriyasu Watanabe the perfect accompaniment for this superbly nuanced version of Bobby Hutcherson’s original modal piece. The track enjoyed wide recognition through Dee Dee Bridgewater’s vocal version off her ‘Afro Blue’ album from 1974.
Tadd Dameron’s 1956 ballad ‘Soultrane’ is a warm and sublime update of the original with Hedito Sasaki setting the tone before pianist Takashi Kurosaki adds his melodic touches and exchanges with the trumpeter. It’s a well-chosen piece that sits well between the more mid and uptempo tracks.
Pianist Toshiyuki Sekine opens up the uptempo memorable title track in a similar vein to Horace Silver on a Messengers album with some superb performances on this Sasaki Hideto written piece. It’s one of the highlights from this solid album and a fitting choice for its place on the J Jazz compilation. There’s some relentless dynamic drumming on the track by Takashi Kurosaki who builds an intensity which brings the piece alive with some excellent moments by the composer.
Bassist Kei Narita and Sasaka Hideto both swing on ‘Turquoise Twice’ which was originally recorded by Cedar Walton on ‘Cedar’ for the Prestige record label. On the groups version there are shades of Kenny Dorham’s style evoked by Sasaki Hideto and again its a fitting tribute to the 1967 composition.
Licensed and released with the approval of Toshiyuki Sekine himself, ‘Stop Over’ will be available for download and streaming, as a CD and double vinyl LP, the first vinyl reissue of this amazing album since originally slipping out to family and friends in 1976. With a deluxe packaging and translated sleeve notes, there will also be new notes and an interview with Toshiyuki Sekine.
Another quality reissue with all the deserved attention surrounding its reissue.
Organic Pulse Ensemble is the Swedish ‘One Man Ensemble’, Gustav Horneij. As is his way, ‘The Light Comes Black’ is entirely composed, produced and recorded by him, alone. Extraordinary chap.
It is an ode to the cycle-of-light-compelled way of living experienced by those in the northern parts of our world. Where days and nights blend together in a long period of darkness but when sun returns, the birds sing again and it feels like rebirth. It’s an album of moods where each track lays bare its sensitivity to today’s light prejudice.
‘Descending’ is portentous; watchful and deep but timidly one-dynamic. Its buzzing spiritual jazz layers are atopped by loosely braided melodies with flute and sax meandering noncommittally. ‘Long Time Of Darkness’ is patient; serene and understanding, submissive. Its bewitchingly resigned, hovering woodwind wash awaits the inevitable. ‘Mighty Cold’ is stoic; plodding, wrapped up against the elements. A hypnotic lilting bassline underpins lightly cascading eastern-edged motifs.
‘Ascending’ is hopeful; faithful and blithe. A carefree flute nimbly frolics through a field of uplifting spirituality with the bass confidently pathfinding. ‘See the Sun Rise’ is purposeful; swaggering. It’s a slow ride on the funky train, a less sensual, more spiritual take on Yusef Lateef’s own long and lat adventures. ‘Reinvigoration’ is grateful; relieved and healing. African melodies gambol as the layered percussion strat to wash away any ill thoughts.
‘First BBQ’ is breezy, baby; jaunty and impish. Angular stabbing Rhodes n bass and flirtatious flute (in the great Gil tradition) with an occasional dead-set, hipcat harmonised sax line to beef things up. ‘Midnight Sun’ is emphatic; resolved yet sober. Exotic, slightly trippy, a moment for awe and reflection with eyes looking towards the omnipotent star deity during its most persuasive expression, the polar day.
‘The Light Comes Black’ is a spiritual jazz album; a sincere, respectful call to the Sun. It is serene and knowing. Wise. A captivating, hypnotic and calming experience with a Stata-East ease. It begs to be performed live with a gang of skilled musicians who ‘get it’; enhancing Horneij’s singular voice with the dynamic, instinctive, multi-voiced energy a band creates. Yep. You’ve heard it right – I wanna see an ensemble organically vibing on Gustav’s pulse.
“God is a Drummer” is virtuoso percussionist Trilok Gurtu’s twentieth solo album, the latest addition to the colossal discography accumulated over his accomplished career. Here he continues to present his philosophy of a unique seamless fusion of funky electric jazz, world music and something else not quite tangible. “My music is my music everywhere and I’m the way my music sounds”.
“Josef Erich”, one of a few tributes here to artists who are beloved to and have inspired Gurtu over the years, starts the show. It has a polished and slick jazz fusion signature with tablas, electronic percussion, Latin keyboard arpeggios and a purring thick creamy fretless bass.
Next is the pure tabla attack of “Connect”. The first of four tabla interludes dotted throughout the album, the others named ‘Connecting’, ‘Still Connecting’ and finally ‘Connected’, each time increasing in length and intensity.
“Obrigado” is exuberant with joyous almost spiritual singing accompanied by percussive vocals with angular drums and synthy bursts reminiscent of late 80s electro-funk which slightly dates it a little. Stand out track “Holy Mess” hangs on a hard funky riff. And it’s a beast of a track with skittish rhythms and shifting tectonic plates of sound.
The poignant and emotional “Madre” lowers the tempo and the sonic intensity. Through keyboard washes and the sympathetic tabla pattering, violin and voice connect and entwine. “Samadhan” is also beautiful, the warm but mournful trumpet motif is doubled by voices and violin. Later, Latin keyboard shapes add a bit of spice to the mostly balladic structure.
Splashes of backward effects introduce “Indranella” then it’s drums and more drums topped with disciplined percussive vocals. The closer, “Try This”; the spectacular and complex melody lines are expansive but also constrained by the dominant drums and rigid but groovy bass.
God is a drummer and the drummer is god here. Percussion doesn’t just establish the rhythmic structure, it is at the forefront, providing the melody and the character of the tracks. Probably the most interesting element to this is how the often hidden percussive properties of other instruments and the voices are released too. While maybe this album doesn’t really add anything particularly new to the well-established Trilok Gurtu paradigm, it’s still very impressive and enjoyable. It is another affirmative reflection of Gurtu’s exciting and open-minded vision of music.
The first run through of Holy Science nothing really stuck. And like the critical Teflon I am, I gave it another go. Somewhere in this winding-unwinding, pastoral-urban, grating-soothing four-track, just-over-an-hour jazz-scat-drone statement, I actually got into it. This was a bit of a surprise as I am not known for my fondness for wordless vocals. Kidambi’s vocals stay on a sort of Dada fringe area of scat. There’s something more than vocal imitation of a trumpet or what-have-you. Especially on what is undeniably the peak of the album, “Dvapara Yuga (for Eric Garner)”, which is two slabs of expanding and contracting that smother a brief and painful section of swollen double bass.
Holy Science isn’t really a good album to put on while trying to do anything that requires focus. It is unapologetically busy and the band deploys its limited range of instrumentation with confident aplomb. A brief search informed me that the “yuga” of the titles refer to the cycle of four epochs in Hindu theology. I recommend, if you do listen to this record, looking up a brief description of the yugas and you can certainly see the ambitious conceptual linking and interpretation. Even from a largely uninformed point of view, I thought this was a satisfying conceit and artistically successful. For example, the fourth track “Kali Yuga” does have a sense of something sliding into ruin, but at the same time tonally reflecting the first track with the drone of a harmonium. There is a link to Coltrane’s Psalm here, who Kidambi has cited as an influence.
Instrumentally, behind Amirtha Kidambi’s sizeable vocal breadth and experimental vigour, the soprano sax weaves behind the vocal lines, echoing sometimes, altering and throwing them back at other points creating a lively conversation. The double bass from Brandon Lopez is to be applauded for some especially melodic and dynamic playing, especially on “Treta Yuga”. The drums and percussion wrong-foot and mislead as much as they secure and stabilise, adding to the seat of your pants effect.
A great album that I’m glad I sent round the brain another time after the dust settled from the first wave. Ambitious and humble, tender and violent.
As we get older what looks like a good time to us starts to shift. What used to be late nights out in loud streets is now literally one hit of herb, a paintbrush and some headphones. In our youths we wanted to escape into other people, now it’s more of an escape into ourselves. Tapping into that, Mexican brother-sister duo Sotomayor’s third studio release Orígenes is a channel for both. Produced by multiple Grammy award-winning producer Eduardo Cabra (Calle 13), Paulina and Raul Sotomayor have created a stunning, intelligent and hard-hitting piece of art. Orígenes takes us to our roots, marrying cumbia, Peruvian chicha and pulsating percussion with electronica and house, creating something that is accessible to all listeners. Orígenes’ offerings could be found in any self-respecting club while still being the perfect accompaniment to a solo good time.
I was impressed at how smart this album is. Everything was so clearly thought out and intentional. The way Paulina morphs her voice to evoke different feelings in each song, it adds so much complexity and depth to what could at the surface seem like just another pop song. Add to that the nuance of Raul’s sonic foundation, the way he serves up these incredible beats creating an entire universe in each song. Sotomayor’s strength has always been their musicality; Orígenes takes that to another level. The structure of the album further confirms how considered Orígenes really is. They start you off with the digitized and thumping “Nunca es Tarde” and bring you home with “Ella” a deeper, slower ode to the marvel that is Woman.
Each song brings something different to the table, underpinned by this constant reminder of who the hell you are. So many lyrics could be taken down, written on sticky notes and placed on your mirror, setting your intention for the day before you head out into the big bad world. “Esta Vez” is this beautiful cloud forest of a song calling you back to your voice. Paulina’s calming vocals declare, “no me lo voy a callar…yo te lo quiero decir…es que no puedo parar”. I’m not going to shut up, I want to tell you that I’m not going to stop. An important memento to take with you after the song is over. Beyond the loving reminders in the song, the guitar in “Esta Vez” is transformative, it alone makes the whole album worth listening to.
Orígenes is full of these moments. Yes, Sotomayor is taking us back to the roots of what makes up our music, but they also take us back to the roots of ourselves. Orígenes is music for women, for people of colour, for the marginalized. “Nunca es Tarde” asserts in the midst of knee bending beats “si queremos gritar es importante escuchar”. If we want to shout you must listen. Or “Latin History Month”, which urges you to be “el que siembra la tierra”. Be the one who sows the seed. “Despierta” is an alarm clock, waking you up to your potential. Utilizing perfectly paced percussion that will raise you right up out of bed, and this guitar that just makes you want to live longer, the song perked me right up, just as promised. The whole of the album upholds that we are the creators, the originators and that will not be lost to the history books.
Orígenes is dancefloor therapy, dancefloor spirituality. Through dancing, you can transcend to spirit creating openings to better hear the message of the song. Orígenes permeates the tough exterior we’ve had to create to get through the day, filling us back up with our creative power. When people pray to their god(s) they get on their knees, humbling themselves in deference and gratitude to the power before them. Listening to the power in Orígenes, my knees are also the vehicle to prayer and power, gratefully bending and extending as the beat commands, taking me through a physical meditation. My only complaint is that I wish the songs were four times longer. Sometimes it felt like I was just getting into the groove and the song would be over, cutting my enjoyment short. But I guess maybe it’s a reminder that the best things are savoured in small bites so we can love them in the moment with greater presence and attention. Throughout, Orígenes begs us to acércate un poco más. And you will, I promise.
Dave De Rose, London based Anglo-Italian drummer and multi instrumentalist is the force behind Agile Experiments, a loose and changing collective of musicians committed to spontaneously created free-form music. For these recordings at the Empire Bar Hackney, from November last year De Rose was joined by John Edwards (double bass) Dan Nicholls (synths samples and FXs) and George Crowley (sax and FXs).
The origins of Agile Experiments lie in the Agile Rabbit, a pizza restaurant in Brixton Village. De Rose had the idea of bringing unsuspecting consumers of pizza face to face with free-form jazz musicians, thus going against the grain of targeting people with exactly what they want. Instead he offered them the excitement of an unexpected encounter, music they might not ordinarily come across.
Agile Experiments Volume 1 and 2 were culled from these encounters with unsuspecting diners at the Agile Rabbit. The only rules laid down by De Rose for the band were; no discussion about what they would play and the set would be one hour straight with no break. Someone from the British Library was impressed enough by these off the cuff volumes of creativity to include them in the library’s sound archives of cultural achievement.
De Rose has toured with and played on an impressive roster of other people’s records including Mulato Astatke, Jamie Cullum, Bastille, Scroobius Pip and Vula Veil to name just a few. The record is released on 27th March on vinyl only and is produced, mixed and mastered by De Rose himself.
Alive In The Empire consists of excerpts from longer performances, there are seven pieces in total. Some tracks almost flow into each other, others have a very different mood or pace. They’re simply titled Alive Ⅰ-Ⅶ, the longest almost ten minutes in duration.
‘Alive Ⅰ’ is introduced with short and breathless notes from the sax, the music then meanders in a sonic territory that made me think of Miles’ On The Corner album, this was reinforced later when the electronics kicked in with ferocious snarls and growls along with an inspired level of percussive energy.
‘Alive Ⅱ’ moves at a different pace altogether, with an almost 70s funk feel, allowing Crowley’s sax to take centre stage with a potent energy. As the rhythm breaks down Crowley echoes much further back in the mix before Edwards’ double bass comes to the fore as the track fades out.
‘Alive Ⅴ’ at the extended ten minutes length gives a better impression of what the music is about. Ominous bowing by Edwards introduces some satisfying interplay between his bass and Crowley’s sax. The underlying structure makes this part of the recording easier on the ear than other parts of the album. De Rose increases the pace and intensity which gradually dismantles the hypnotic sax structure of the piece.
Finally, ‘Alive Ⅶ’ is pleasingly ambient, akin to a retro sci-fi movie soundtrack. Though brief at three and a half minutes it has some intriguing electronic texture.
Is there a contradiction at the heart of a recorded free jazz concert? Knowing what’s coming next in that moment of spontaneous creativity certainly changes the experience and provides a useful reference for posterity. I watched a performance on YouTube recorded earlier this month with the band performing as a trio, (minus sax). This twenty-five minute piece was also recorded at the Empire Bar. What’s missing from the album is the amazing visual spectacle and physicality of John Edwards’ bass playing, the drama of which draws attention to the stunningly agile interaction between him and De Rose. The fluidity of this performance somehow works better as an extended audio visual experience rather than the shorter excerpts on the album.
Live Dates at The Empire Bar, 291 Mare St, London E8 1EJ
11 March – Ruth Goller elec bass & FX / Tom Challenger saxophone / Dave De Rose drums
1 April – Tom Herbert elec bass & FX / Dan Nicholls synths, samples & FX / Dave De Rose drums
13 May – Colin Somervell double bass / George Crowley saxophone & FX / Dave De Rose drums
3 June – Dave Smith drums / Marius Mathiszik guitar, loops & FX / Dave De Rose bass & FX