Saxophonist and clarinettist, Jesper Thilo, has been an established presence on the Danish jazz scene for many years. So much so that he can now be regarded as an elder statesman. He is one of the top European musicians working in what has come to be regarded as a straight-ahead style of jazz with the accent heavily placed on swing. Something he has been doing since the late 1960s.
The early masters of the tenor saxophone such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins were amongst his early influences. Indeed, he had the opportunity to work with both. Later, he established a more personal sound something akin to that of Zoot Sims. His first recordings under his own name date from 1973. In the 1980s he was to be found working with established musicians from the USA including pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Clark Terry and Harry “Sweets” Edison. He also featured on Miles Davis’ 1985 recording ‘Aura’. 2012 saw the release of an album with fellow tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton ‘Scott Hamilton meets Jesper Thilo’. Consequently, he became a first-call musician for visiting American artists.
It was only one month prior to his 78th birthday that Thilo recorded this album in 2019. The accompanying conventional trio of piano, bass and drums are made up of musicians from the Danish jazz scene and they certainly swing. The pianist has a flavour of Oscar Peterson, which is certainly no bad thing. The repertoire consists of familiar jazz standards together with a traditional folk song. Thilo has been quoted as saying that “jazz is for grown-ups who want to tear a few hours out of their perhaps boring lives to have a little fun and hear something that they can concentrate on”. That just about sums up the music that you hear on this album. It’s feel-good music. It’s a mark of the group’s professionalism that the album was recorded live (but without an audience) in the studio without edits and other fixes over a period of three days.
It’s difficult to pick favourite tracks but “I Want to Be Happy” appropriately, is an exemplar of the album as a whole. “Just Friends” is also outstanding, given a treatment somewhat different from the classic Charlie Parker version. Ballads also feature and “I Can’t Get Started” is a mellow beauty. It was an inspired touch to include “Splanky” in a fine blues treatment; a theme which will always be associated with the Count Basie Band. “Rosetta” is a nod to the saxophonists of an earlier era which suits Thilo perfectly. The single traditional theme translates as “It Happened One Saturday Night” and fits perfectly with the remainder of the material on the album and show off the tenor player’s engagingly wide vibrato.
Jesper Thilo may not be a household name but if you like your jazz in a mainstream swing style, he is certainly someone to investigate.
Before we spin through the album, let us first take a snapshot of the year 1970 in South Africa, the year Zorro Five release ‘Jump Uptight’ for the Brigadiers Recording label: Philips records highlighted that 1000 doctors in South Africa had already had cassette players in their cars, with a tremendous increase in the sale of eight-track cartridges, EMI stating that cassettes sales were also an encouraging sign of demand for local bands to record on cassette. Polydor were working with South African artist Steve Lonsdale and imported ‘budget priced’ records had started to enter the country from abroad through Teal Holdings, with expectations of tripling sales that year, with the Gallo label, Africa’s largest domestic record company, riding the wave soon after. There was much change and the industry was a healthy one to be in. At a time when ABC were trying to dip in to the market, CBS’s Ivan Rebroff was taking off as the biggest selling foreign artist in South Africa and Request Records had begun negotiating the distribution of “ethnic” recordings. 1970 was to see the first ever rock roadshow tour and it was also the year a proposed merger between Gallo and Teal (two of SA’s biggest record companies) was first called off and then agreed upon. Club-goers were strutting their stuff at Yellow Submarine discotheque and audiences were already familiar with bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago and Santana. Hugh Masekela formed The Union of South Africa this year, and awarded a scholarship grant to Johannesburg’s Gwigwi Mrwebi through CHISA – Mrwebi being the first to form a non-white band in SA and first to tour SA. EMI (SA) had acquired the rights to release records by Freda Payne and Chairmen of the Board and “Bad River” was to be the first SA record to be released in the States before South Africa. The South African government allowed Percy Sledge to perform before an all-white audience after the all-black opening night concert had caused so much frustration by white music lovers with The New York Times reporting “some whites even tried to masquerade as coloured in order to slip into his opening night show in Capetown”. A decision criticised by The American Committee on Africa for breaking “the cultural boycott of racist South Africa”, but the fact that Percy Sledge was at the time outgrossing every American artist in SA with orders of 28,000 units, you can see why Sledge and his label might have been persuaded.
Our Zorro Five story starts with Zimbabwe-born pop/cabaret/theatre singer Judy Page, who, having worked with Johnny Boshoff in 1969 had moved to Johannesburg and recorded a second album the same year for CBS. It’s is on this album, ‘Time And Love’, that we first see evidence of Zorro Five members working together. The following year introduces South Africa to the band’s collection of rocksteady, rhythm & blues and blue beat with, as mentioned, Johnny Boshoff (bass) – off the back of a 1969 CBS album ‘Hit Vibrations’, Archie van der Ploeg (guitar) – off the back of a 1969 South African Easy Listening album, Tony Moore (drums) off the back of a Philips’ Classical release, ‘Music From The 100 Years War’, Zane Cronje (composer, arranger, keyboards and organ) – who went on to score many soundtracks, South African engineer from Johannesburg, Peter Thwaites, who had worked on The Drakensberg Boys Choir ‘Get Me To The Fun On Time’, also 1970, perhaps more recognised for his notable release in 1998 on KPM Music (alongside Robin Hogarth and Teaspoon Ndelu) for ‘The Colours Of South Africa’. And finally, band member, and star name here, Johnny Fourie [Jan Carel Fourie], a guitarist from Postmasburg, Northern Cape, who had been part of four other albums prior to 1970, most notably a piece aptly called “Ragamuffin” in 1960 on SA label Renown. Fourie went on to work with UK’s MELT2000 in 2014 – at a time when guitar maestro, John McLaughlin, commented: “Johnny Fourie is one of the greatest guitar players of our époque”. The album was released on the day of Johnny Fourie’s memorial. Johnny Fourie goes back even further, performing beside Tubby Hayes at Ronnie Scott’s in 1964, amongst others, as resident guitarist at the club for many years. He would go on to work with Charles Earland, Hubert Laws, Billy Cobham and Lee Morgan in 1972. He also recorded with Richard “Groove” Holmes during the ‘80s on ‘African Encounter’ under the eye of South African music producer Rashid Vally (As Shams).
Although South Africa’s mainstream charts in 1970, compiled by Springbok Radio/EMI, were riddled with pop and rock songs by the likes of The Tremeloes, Tom Jones, Chris Andrews, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, there was also a somewhat significant rocksteady release in Harry J. All Stars’ ‘Liquidator’ floating around the top 10, Bobby Bloom’s “Montego Bay” hit the top 10 and so did Desmond Dekker with “You Can Get It If You Really Want”. It is clear then, on sales, that the public were embracing this “Jamaican” sound, one we can speculate an influence on local bands and those forming Zorro Five. Remember, 1970 was the year Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe were with Coxone Records, Derrick Morgan and Slim Smith were with Pama Records while The Heptones were over at Studio One. Let’s hope South Africa managed to hear some of these on home soil at the time.
Present before us, is an album of some twelve tracks, with all but one under that 3min cap set by radio stations, with nods to soul, funk, ska, rhythm & blues and rocksteady. From this album, two songs were pressed to 45, ‘Reggae Shhh!’ and ‘Reggae Meadowlands’ licensed by Decca UK, Decca Italy and Deram for the growing popularity of the jukebox. ‘Reggae Shhh!’ has instant SKA appeal with post-psychedelic organ riff and non-singing skits – not too dissimilar to the founding ska releases and a piece one appreciates had underground status and an obvious choice for a single. ‘Reggae Meadowlands’ has the belly of rocksteady but with just a little more than simple guitar chords, we often heard on other tracks, which in turn gives much pleasure. Of the remaining ten numbers, the tongue in cheek ‘Red Turnip’ is a close cousin to ‘Green Onions’ and what must be a deep play at MOD events with it’s rolling organ and late ‘60s appeal. ‘Plastic Iron’ follows a similar path with long organ chords, with ‘Jump Up Turn Around’ having that all-important Blue Beat/Mod/ska sound in abundance – yes they are all instrumentals. Taking the notch up considerably, I found ‘Good Books’, with it’s funky Curtis Mayfield influences to be one of my favourites. It has a richer ’soulful’ sound to it, and for that does shine. ‘The Exit Song’ is a fun jam you would be hard-pushed to dismiss, while ‘Rebel Rouser’ fits snugly on the album with more musicianship going on by the Five. And then there’s ‘First There Is A Mountain’, the clear stand-out track for me, which reminds me of where Jackie Mittoo was at with his Studio One album, ‘Now’, of the same year. One hell of a monster, and yes, worth the purchase of the album for alone.
There is little we know of the collective, but there must have been incredibly popularity in South Africa as Zorro Five would go on to win “Best Beat Group” at the 1971 South African Recording Industry Award (SARIE) for this fine album ‘Jump Uptight’, that hopefully with Matsuli uncovering, will sit atop new turntables and entertain many a music lover the world over. A brave but rewarding release.
“Golden Year” is the excellent debut album from young American guitarist/composer Tony Davis. Born and raised by his musical parents, trombonist Steve Davis and pianist/composer Mary Di-Paola, he has been surrounded by the sounds of a myriad of genres his entire life. Having played piano, several brass instruments and bass, it wasn’t till the age of 14 that he first picked up a guitar. After coming upon the music of such iconic blues men as Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix, Davis knew that he had begun the journey to finding his own musical identity.
Fast-forward a decade or so and here we have Davis showcasing his talents on this 11 track album, made up mostly of original compositions. “2019 was my golden year” says the guitarist. “June 25th 2019, 25 at 25. The album embodies the meaning of a golden year for me. An album of original music that was created with my mentors, friends and family who have helped me get this far.” This sentiment runs through the entire recording. There’s a lovely warmth to the music being made, with obvious respect and a healthy amount of soulful passion.
One of the things I love about this album is that nothing sounds forced. For a debut recording, it’s refreshing to hear music performed with such skill and humility. Despite his relatively young age, Davis writes and plays with a maturity that belies his years. It’s like he’s got nothing to prove, and the whole session benefits from a natural, collective spirit from everyone involved.
Joining Davis on guitar are David Bryant on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. There are also guest appearances from Steve Davis on trombone, Steve Wilson on alto sax and flute, JK Kim on drums and Alina Engibaryan on vocals.
Much of this album sounds like a proper good old-school jazz album like something you might have heard in years gone by. Yet it has a 21st Century edge to it that blends nicely with the historical references it evokes. As soon as the title track and album opener “Golden Year” springs into life, I’m thinking of a couple of the jazz greats, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Davis’ sound and style vary as the session progresses, but there’s always that wonderful underlying sense of tradition that rings true. The title track itself is superb, and along with “Braeburn”, “Night Ride” and “Hypnagogia” we are hearing a guitarist drawing on the great traditions of jazz guitar, whilst bringing his own compelling style the listener’s ear. “May This Be Love” is a gorgeous take on a lesser-known Jimi Hendrix tune. Performed here, it sounds more like a gentle Metheny/Mays piece and works especially well with guitar and piano playing off each other. There are two vocal tracks on the album, the exquisite “Orange Feathers” and the enticing “Lake Sebago”. Both tunes have a lovely laid-back Sunday afternoon feel to them. Other highlights include the melodious, flute-led piece “Sinha” and the gorgeous solo guitar of the closing track “Tua Imagem”.
“Golden Year” is a memorable debut from Tony Davis. With writing and performing as well as this, I think it’s fair to say that this won’t by any means be the guitarist’s only golden year, just one of many that lie ahead for this talented and very promising musician.
Welcome aboard the music train! There’ll be a few unscheduled stops but the Krebinetter is piping hot and the Tuborg is taste-bud-numbingly coooool… Unscheduled stops, indeed – the first time I heard this album was on Spotify and I assumed it had accidentally been set to random, or my guileless (?!) daughter was uncharacteristically (?!) messing about with the app, such was the variety of sound coming out of the speakers.
Carsten Meinert was a Danish tenor-playing, composer and bandleader. Prior to this 1969 album, his quartet had, in ‘68, released the beautifully rendered, Trane-adoring “To You” – an album that got a much-appreciated reissue on Frederiksberg Records in 2015. “C.M. Music Train” expands his quartet to a 16 musician collective and this 50th Anniversary Edition contains three extra takes of “San Sebastian”, “Before Sunrise” and “C.M. Musictrain”. Ole Matthiessen, the album’s pianist and arranger, has worked to re-enliven the sound and provide sleeve notes.
“San Sebastian” showbizzily bursts in, all MF Horn/Buddy Rich big band high kicks and flapping flares before it horn-rasgueado descends into a fiery, flamenco free jazz assailment that relents after five and a half minutes to reveal a spiritualised, percussion-saturated tranquillity, allowing airy revisits of earlier motifs. A breathtaking start that highlights Meinert’s vigour.
“Before Sunrise” is blessed with the Pharaoh’s divinity. It’s an awakening; the moments of lucid joy before the day; or, a self-discovery through a significant other that would’ve lifted Linklater’s same-named exploration from everyday human love to something much more extramundane. Meinert effortlessly floats above percussive clouds, with occasional explosive, ascendant surges and submissive gestures. Its recurring theme is used as a gentle parting mantra rendering my usually unquiet mind quiet.
So…what to expect after near-perfect spiritual jazz? Howsabout some playful psych-pop? “C.M Music Train” is a ten and a half minute, Rowan and Martin Love-In. Initially quite pop-proper with uptempo, slightly boisterous horn joy and a spidery Pierre Dørge guitar riff, it explodes into acid dropping, fast camera-zooming Thor Backhausen organ fire, slapping horns and fierce drum breaks before guitar/sax freakouts propel it further out there. It then consciously splashes some cold water on its face, drinks a coffee and acquiesces to the pop sensibilities it began with. Incredible stuff.
“This Time” is a handsome, colourful modal jazz propelled by expansive drum and piano. Meinert’s Selmer varitone driven sax confidently bullies, while Lee Schipper’s vibes placate and titillate. “I’m going to Valby by the Railroad Track” is a brief, incongruous folk-blues jolly eliciting laughter from its players.
I’m so glad I got on board the Music Train. Meinert and the lads are fluently conversant in the varied styles played here and deliver them with infectious enthusiasm and vigour. They emit a Parliament’s Osmium-like, close-to-chaos energy that I also feel from other albums of the era. Meinert’s playing is vital throughout and, although he wasn’t ultimately convinced by the harsh tone of his Varitone, I think it brings a dynamic that augments his playing, making the highlights of his uniquely personal style higher and lighter – like Hendrix + overdrive and wah-wah. This album is an absolute joy – it’s peppy fresh and compelling and doesn’t make me feel like hiding in the toilets to avoid paying the ticket collector.
With not much time at all having passed since BBE Records unveiled Volume 2 of Alex Attias’s LillyGood Party compilation, ‘A Taste of Chicago’ sees Jamie 3:26 transfer those glorious good times from the Swiss dance floors of the archetypal LillyGood experience to Chicago’s underground clubs in the late-1970s.
A Chicago native himself, Jamie Watson – Jamie 3:26 – has compiled seven remixes and edits of quintessential house numbers, paying his respects to the genre’s forefathers and some landmark records while continuing the innovative traditions of Chicago house music as a prevailing force in today’s modern dance scene.
And waving that flag for Chicago house music is as much the story for Watson as anything. With the genre rooted in that post-disco era of the club scene amidst renowned stories of Frankie Knuckles gracing the hallowed floors of the revered Warehouse club – a club so central to those pioneering years that many believe the name ‘house music’ to be spawned from the name of the club itself. What makes Jamie 3:26’s take on house music so distinctive is his understanding and respect for house’s lineage and culture.
Watson’s penchant for revisiting tracks under his Jamie 3:26 guise extends far further than the release of ‘A Taste of Chicago’ – tracks by Adryiano (‘Move It Move It’), Chromatic Filters (‘Horizon Stripes’) and Prince (‘Purple’) have each received the Midas touch over the years justifying high expectations for this release. And ‘A Taste of Chicago’ really does deliver on all fronts – BSTC’s ‘Venus & Mars’ kicks things off in explosive fashion thankfully retaining the track’s infectious horn line and potentially delivering the album’s strongest highlight right off the bat.
The selections revisit tracks from different eras of house music with numbers like Jungle Wonz’s ‘The Jungle’ (originally released in 1986) and ‘Mind Games’ by Quest (1985) capturing those glorious early years as well as selections from more recent treasures like the aforementioned ‘Venus & Mars’ and ‘Stomps & Shouts’ by Braxton Holmes with Cabrini-Greens and Cornbread (2003).
The New Jersey funk band, Calender, see their four-minute number ‘Comin on Strong’ (1976) transformed into a nine-minute dance floor excursion. The Jamie 3:26 edit masterfully retains so many of the song’s original elements that really propel ‘Comin on Strong’ along from the subtle strings, arresting lead guitar and, of course, that awesome horn line.
‘Comin on Strong’ is another song on this project that serves as a great example of Jamie 3:26’s progressive vision of house music but, again, paying homage to the foundations laid over forty years ago. Just as the original versions of these songs helped cement house music as a formidable genre within club culture, Jamie 3:26 helps now to reaffirm house music’s – and Chicago’s – legacy to an entirely new generation.
One thing I’ve noticed about Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski Trio is that the first track on their albums is always a stunner. “Trio Conversation/Hyperballad” from 2005’s “Trio”, “The First Touch” from 2008’s “January”, “An den kleinen Radioapparat” from 2011’s “Faithful”, “Austin” from 2014’s “Spark of Life” and “Spark of Life/Sudovian Dance” from their 2018 “Live” album. “Arctic Riff” is no different, the opening tune “Glimmer of Hope” being one of the most touching and emotive pieces of music I’ve heard this year.
Long established as one of ECM’s finest, most consistent piano-led trios, they rarely disappoint. Perhaps underrated for some years, they have quietly been producing wonderful music together since the early 90’s when pianist Wasilewski first established a musical partnership with bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz. Tomasz Stanko first mentored the group before recruiting the trio as his working band in 2001. Since then the trio have gone from strength to strength, producing some incredible music along the way.
“Arctic Riff” sees the first-time creative teaming for the trio with US tenorist Joe Lovano. This isn’t the first time the trio has morphed into a quartet, with Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder joining the trio on their “Spark of Life” album. Milder was well suited to the trio’s style and the recording was at times breathtakingly beautiful. With Joe Lovano though, his presence and style takes the band into some welcome new directions. It’s clear to hear on this recording the influence Lovano has had, with a more adventurous path being explored than on the trio’s previous albums.
Wasilewski and Lovano share the writing credits here, and the whole album does, in fact, feel like a very collaborative effort. Tracks such as the opener “Glimmer of Hope” and “Fading Sorrow” have the trio’s lyrical stamp all over them, whilst “Cadenza”, “Stray Cat Walk” and “On The Other Side” are very clearly far more collaborative with Lovano’s own inimitable style shining through. Carla Bley’s “Vashkar” takes the quartet into more unfamiliar territory, with Lovano bearing down authoritatively on the melody before the Polish trio unravel some the tune’s finer implications.
Overall, “Arctic Riff” is yet another richly rewarding album from the trio. Lovano adds his presence in a very positive way, with some delightfully intuitive, melodic and lyrical music flowing freely throughout the entire session. Not since ECM released the Steve Kuhn Trio / Joe Lovano album “Mostly Coltrane” have I enjoyed Lovano’s input so much on an ECM recording. Splendid stuff indeed.
Master Oogway is a four-piece Norwegian band made up of young, adventurous musicians intent on making high energy music based on a jazz-rock improv ethos. Earth and Other Worlds is the quartet’s second release, following on from their debut on Clean Feed Records in 2018. Strong group interaction mixes with spontaneous solo sketches to create a mellay of juxtaposed sounds, from avant-garde jazz to heavy rock and back again.
There’s a bit of a false dawn to this album. The first three minutes are simply stunning, sounding like a Norwegian hybrid version of Kit Downes, Tom Challenger and Robert Stillman. A pastiche of atmospheric sound is created as a backdrop for some beautiful blowing from saxophonist Lauritz Skeldsvoll. And then it turns like a bruised monster baying for blood. Håvard Nordberg Funderud’s thunderous guitar leads the way, with locked and loaded back-up from drummer Martin Heggli Mellem and bassist Karl Erik Horndalsveen. And on this opening track, the contrast works really well. It’s the light and dark shades and opposing atmospheres that create tension and release, thus making for a powerfully potent combination.
As the album unfolds each track has its moments of brilliance, and there is just enough variation to keep me interested. After a while though, the spontaneous improvisation and prog-rock cliches become a little too tried and tested, a little stale perhaps, the same formula repeating itself. It’s as if the band are trying too hard maybe to push even more boundaries when all they need to do is relax a little bit.
Earth and Other Worlds shows a lot of promise from this young Norwegian quartet. With a little more finesse in their performance and a more focussed element to their writing style, this could be one hell of a band in the future. I look forward with great interest to hearing their development and new releases.
Liberia Ballad is the fifth album from Örjan Hultén Orion. It sees the Swedish band collaborating with Liberian singer-composer Ernie Bruce. I for one was unaware of the long historic links between Sweden and Liberia. These are social and commercial links stretching over hundreds of years but here the currency is music. This does not mean that a group of Swedes and an African have come together to produce a worthy World Music blend. Liberia Ballad is as much about the American art form as the ethnicity of the musicians who are making the music. Each bring their own take on that art form channelled through their individual experience of the music from their location in its history and development. At the risk of this turning a little too serious, on to the music which at heart is joyous, positive and full of life.
The instrumental title track opens the album with its street sounds reminiscent of Weather Report’s ‘Black Market’ before taking us into a loping piano-driven tune by Torbjörn Gulz who is responsible for many of the compositions on this collaborative album. He says of ‘Dreams’ the first of the vocal tracks on Liberia Ballad, “we started a collaboration, where Ernie provided some of the compositions with lyrics, and I wrote ‘Dreams’ in the Spring of 2019. I composed it with the image of Ernie, sitting next to me at the piano with an always present laugh”. Ernie Bruce says, “I had to be very careful in complementing Torbjörn’s incredible piano platform to dance on”. ‘Dream’ is urging us to reach inside ourselves to find and connect with our dreams. Bruce’s voice warm but with a hint of fragility. The only obvious jazz comparison I could bring to mind here was the Johnny Hartman / John Coltrane collaborations without reliance on the American Songbook.
Elsewhere ‘Sixto’ sees Bruce crafting a lyric about Sixto Rodrigues, the subject of the 2012 award-winning documentary directed by Malik Bendjelloul, to the original Hultén composition which closed their 2016 album Faltrapport. It basically retells that story and features some urging, preaching tenor saxophone from the composer and finishes with an appreciative laugh from the lyricist who has treated us to some Eddie Jefferson style vocalise along the way.
Of the instrumentals which appear on Liberia Ballad, ‘The Bird’ is a lovely jaunty soprano outing based on the call of a bird which Hultén heard outside the band’s hotel in Monrovia. It is delivered as a trio with Filip Augustson at the bass and Peter Danemo drums. Sounds of heavy rain introduce ‘Liberian Rain’, an evocative bucolic composition by Torbjörn Gulz about “water in its various forms”. It has a simple but beautiful melodic form with Augustson’s bowed bass interlude particularly appealing.
‘Liberia Waltz’, a delightfully light, optimistic-sounding number features some crisp cymbal work from Danemo and a lyrical bass solo from Augustson before composer Gulz treats us to another of his uplifting solos.
‘Treaty Suite’ is strangely at odds with the mood of the rest of the album. Though not I think in a negative way. Where to place it on the album must have led to some interesting conversations I imagine. It appears as the sixth of nine tracks and features what sound engineer Johan Berke describes as a “collage of sound depicting a surrealistic dream sequence”. It opens with scene-setting by Gulz and Hultén before Ernie Bruce enters, not singing this time but reading in declamatory fashion from the text of a treaty of 1864 between Liberia and The Sweden-Norway Union. This is treated electronically to echo and repeat certain keywords against a backdrop of electronically processed sounds which swirl around the spoken lines in psychedelic fashion. An interesting aural experience through headphones. The electronic soundscape carries us to the second half of the composition with a gradual underpinning by piano and saxophone as though commenting upon the spoken text to a bass statement from Filip Augustson which becomes a definite bass hook leading us into a wonderful Coltranesque section with the band in full flight and Hultén’s strong tenor saxophone at its standout best. The coda brings us back to bleeping electronics.
Credit must go to Johan Berke whose electronic soundscape lifts ‘Treaty Suite’ to another level. It’s a strange but interesting trip.
‘When Delilah Smiles’ brings us back to earth. It’s the most classic jazz ballad on the album with a dancing solo from Gulz and lyrics from the vocalist which ask questions about Delilah which paint her as an enigmatic Mona Lisa figure.
The album’s closing track, ‘Sangay’, with music and lyrics by Ernie Bruce is in his words “about an imaginary African figure, who can be whomever the listener wishes it to be”. The repeated name of the songs central character leaves us with her shadow as an earworm.
Liberia Ballad is an interesting change of pace and experimentation for Örjan Hultén’s Orion. Their collaboration with singer Ernie Bruce is largely successful with everyone rising to the occasion. In the current times, we need to be reminded of the positive power of music and cross-continental friendship. Liberia Ballad reminds us of that. I look forward to hearing where we travel to next on our voyage.
Polish quartet, Błoto, are the hot muddy heart of the larger format EABS (Electro-Acoustic Beat Sessions); that sampling, loop-making, “reconstruction from deconstruction” jazz improv family from Wrocław. Marek Pędziwiatr (keys & synths), Olaf Węgier (tenor sax), Paweł Stachowiak (bass) and Marcin Rak (drums) are the plucky, handsome quadruplets who stepped out on their own for a single night session, back in 2018, that resulted in “Erozje”.
As I understand it, Błoto translates as ‘the mire’ and Erozje as “erosion”, so I wasn’t really expecting fun time, party time, all of the time, here. The opener, “Kałuże”, didn’t counter that expectation; it moves in a silent way – a sublimely empty, somewhat fretful space that segues into the Davis-fusion, beats-busy “Mady”; its fiery click energises Pędziwiatr’s rousing, space-jazz meanderings before resting on a solid hip-hop riff that Rock, Shadow, Dilla, Younge etc. would be chuffed with.
“Czarnoziemy” takes that energy and nails it to the floor. Rak’s hard-hitting; punctuating and fizzing but always smack dab solid. Pędziwiatr’s simple motif-of-four shifts into Węgier’s clamant spits and circles. More segue follows – sprinkling keys this time – as “Bagna” stiffens up under a bone-chilling breeze, stumbling into Rak’s stick-spinning patterns and collective percussive cracks and shivers.
“Czarne ziemie’ is a heavy, procrastinating hip-hop production with vintage 90s piano loop leading to a thrilling, syncopated, cacophonous breakdown. “Rędziny” is a west-side-story, back alley stand-off with plodding piano and cop strings that leads into the initially frenetic bassline-fuelled “Bielice”; slowing halfway into a delicious hip swing that Węgier lewdly makes out to.
“Ziemie zdegradowane przez człowieka” feels like space to breathe, a contemplative respite from the dark intensity that has preceded it. Limpid, liquid, ascendant piano dampens the insistent, metallic wash. It’s simple and bewitching, nostalgic, regretful. Momentary respite only though, as “Glina” disturbs the peace with gunshots and sirens and distress and anger. Intense and unrelenting, Its title is Polish slang for cop and its anti-police-violence message is vivid, felt and understood.
The hauntingly beautiful closer, “Gleby brunatne”, is another introspective piano-led soundscape. It still has the insistence that the rest of the album has but it feels more hopeful, more future-facing, more an imperative.
“Erozje” is arresting, riveting, vital jazz hip-hop for 2020. It has a mixtape feel which although having its roots firmly in the halcyon period of real hip-hop, it’s very much a voice of now. It has a damp, tacit, simmering anger and low-level anxiety not alien to most of us today. It’s not a downer though – more frustrated, I’d say; irritated by those blind to the truth and the change that’s needed. It gets in your head, yes. Does it erode? Maybe, but it hasn’t left me feeling mired at all. It’s left me feeling heard and it’s left me thinking “Yeah, I fucking know how you feel, mate”.
AuB (pronounced ORB) is the eponymous debut album from the London based quartet masterminded by saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock. United by a fiery desire to make music together, their debut is expressive and intoxicating, ambitiously bringing together individual ideas around which they improvise, developing new lines of thought and opening up fresh avenues of creativity. It’s a record that defines them as exciting, young and progressive musicians.
The band name and album title allude to their collaboration as the driving force. It originates from the points on a Venn diagram, the unity of A and B, at which the combined forces are greater than the sum of their parts. AuB represents the synergies created through the development of the collective voice and sound: when two minds come together with a common purpose to create something collectively greater. Ultimately, the music on the album would not have materialised without this deep collaborative ethos. Propelled by the driving rhythm section of Ferg Ireland and James Maddren, the music interweaves cross-rhythms with deft melodies and catchy hooks, playfully delighting and surprising in equal turns.
There’s a deft skill and radiance from this quartet that reminds me somewhat of Michael Brecker’s recordings through the 1990s and 2000s. It’s sharp, witty and inventive, with both saxophonists rising to the challenge and providing some startling virtuosic moments. The writing and collaborative effort works exceptionally well here, with Hitchcock and Barford sharing so many imaginative ideas, obviously on the same wavelength, with a sharp intensity and youthful boldness.
The stylistic approach and killer groove on “Not Jazz”, could be a tune penned by Chris Bowden in his prime. The band’s use of synths is also a fascinating feature, often heralding a change of pace or clever bridge to a tune, all making for a very engaging listening experience. The saxes combine so well on “Valencia” you’d have thought they’d been playing this piece together for decades. A natural combination of intuition and musical intelligence. The driving bass line on “Calvadoss” is mirrored by the swinging drums as the two saxophonists combine and intertwine in a classic way, each one bringing something new and inspiring out of the other. This is an audacious piece of music, one of my favourites on the album, sounding like a post-Bowie era Donny McCaslin in its originality. “Ruflo” pairs the two saxes together in a more traditional jazz style, the bass laying the foundation for some excellent soloing. “Ice Man” has a more jazz/pop feel to it, with some gorgeous ideas blazing a fresh trail. I particularly love the way the saxes take a back seat at times, in this case allowing the bass to take a wonderful solo. “Dual Reality” pairs the saxes together, sounding like a small sax chamber orchestra, reminiscent of similar pieces in years gone by from the likes of Tim Garland and Andy Shepard. The captivating “Doggerland” and “Groundhog Tuesday” both have an edgy Chris Potter feel to them, with a cool, uncompromising virtuosity.
This album just gets better and better the more I listen to it. Invigorating stuff from an exciting quartet. One can only surmise there be great things ahead for AuB.