Ihsan Al Munzer ‘Belly Dance Disco’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 2/5

Originally released in 1979, “Belly Dance Disco” is Lebanese keyboardist / composer / arranger Ihsan Al-Munzer’s first solo album. It has been re-issued as the first in the series of records titled “Middle Eastern Heavens” on the BBE Music label, curated by Beirut born DJ, Ernesto Chahoud.

Let’s start with the sleeve. It features a smiling blonde bikini-clad lady standing slightly awkwardly on a sandy beach in front of the sun-kissed surf and holding, also slightly awkwardly, an acoustic guitar. My kitschy sensors are tingling already!

The album is a fusion of international contemporary sounds and Middle Eastern music. Al-Munzer says “I wanted to put a mixture of European beat with Arabic percussion, but I made the European rhythm and harmony very easy to listen to for the Arabic ear – soft and understandable”. So what does that sound like? I’d pitch it somewhere between 70s synth-pop, easy listening, disco-lite and belly dance. It’s a heady mix ripe for plunder by samplers to bring that exotic edge to your hip-hop and dance tunes. A sample from “The Joy Of Lina” does feature on a Mos Def track from a while back.

“Girls Of Iskandariah” has a melody line delivered by layers of synthesiser and synthetic string sounds with heavily reverberated percussion and an innocuous Latin disco bassline. “Night Entertainer” brings some restrained funk guitar into the soundscape. “The Joy Of Lina” and “Dance Of Tenderness” are sonically and rhythmically more interesting as the western influences are reined in a little. “Jamileh” is musically direct and the most successful fusion of the foreign sound and Middle Eastern feel.

Unfortunately, the quality drops off severely for the second half of this album, particularly “A New Candle”, which is convoluted and a tad boring with its melody mostly blagged from Happy Birthday. “Once A Year” has a promising soul intro but lapses into synth-laden easy listening. “A Flower Of My Imagination” is similar but more uptempo with Latin drum machine rhythms. The last tracks, “Love Of Laura” and especially the immediate and funky “A Night At The Station” are a big improvement.

Obviously, this is great fun but does it offer anything more than novelty or as part of a sample source library? Well, yes, it does. In parts. Tunes like “Jamileh”, “The Joy Of Lina” and “Dance Of Tenderness” are imaginative and exciting. They have bags of charm and would spice up a compilation record or a DJ setlist. However, the standard of the songs here is variable and the weaker tunes can’t really maintain the momentum provided by the better tracks.

Kevin Ward

In Interview: Byron Wallen

Byron Wallen on ‘Portrait: Reflections on Belonging’.

“…people need a creative outlet, they need to have a creative way of expressing themselves, they need a way of feeling like they belong. That’s why this album was called “…Reflections on Belonging.”
-Byron Wallen

Read the full interview here

Weldon Irvine ‘Time Capsule’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Recorded in 1973 on his own Nodlew imprint, Weldon Irvine’s ‘Time Capsule’ became a landmark album which continues to inspire on many levels, having a profound effect on many artists and listeners. The music is timeless, suffused with Weldon Irvine’s deep sense of context and spirit woven into the narrative which crosses elements of funk with soul, jazz and spoken word creating a unique picture of the 1970s; formidable and always captivating.

Weldon Irvine was a lyricist, composer and musician; a mentor to many New York hip-hop artists, including Q-Tip and Mos Def, and In 2003, Madlib, Mr Dibbs and Breakestra produced a tribute to Weldon Irvine, “Suite for Weldon”. The following year, Madlib released the full-length album ‘A Tribute to Brother Weldon’. The classic album by Boogie Down Productions featured a sample from Weldon Irvine’s keyboard contribution on Stanley Turrentine’s ‘Sister Sanctified’. It’s easy to see why many contemporary creators would gravitate towards his music and his sensibility. His lyrics for Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, led to the song being dubbed the “official” Civil Rights anthem.

Time Capsule has everything within. The eloquent futuristic spoken word, electronic inquisitiveness and the incredible acoustic sounds created by the love for the music and the seriousness of the artform. The space and balance are evident throughout the album. ‘Soul Sisters’ features trumpeter Jimmy Owens and George Cables on electric piano with some nice organ touches by Weldon; it’s a perfect counterbalance for the more introspective tracks with a funk edged soul-jazz vibe, . Recording on his own label exacted much more freedom and authenticity than under the umbrella of a record company, although the reception from his first two albums did lead to some interesting future collaborations with both Strata East and RCA before Weldon’s hiatus in the late 1970s. it would have been interesting to hear more albums with labels like Strata East.

Spontaneous Interaction’ is a driving uptempo jazz fusion piece with Weldon Irvine’s harmonica like Melodica keyboard adding an emotive depth towards the interplay with Clint Houston bass and probing inventiveness of pianist George Cables. The electronic sound adds both a progressive and reflective essence to this futuristic composition.

‘Watergate—Don’t Bug Me!’ airs the commentary of the political activist sentiment which surrounded Weldon Irvine’s life. It’s a deep piece with a spoken word narrative bound for future minds. Drummer Lenny White and percussionists Tony Wiles and Napoleon Revels add weight and propulsion to this rocket-fuelled funk fusion track. It’s an important track for future generations listening in, looking for context or understanding.

‘Bananas’ is a superb instrumental funk jam with a tight groove that was faintly reminiscent of the Mizell Brothers. It’s only just over two minutes long but it’s another memorable piece from the album.

The title track is a soft word in the ear for future prosperity. A commentary on the music and a revealing position from within. The subjects of harmony, thoughts, feelings and vibrations, sealed with the word within the Time Capsule. The recitations by Weldon Irvine and Charlette Cook share a platform with subtle interplay from the keyboard which adds to the atmosphere and the message.

‘Deja Vu’ is one of the most popular vocal cuts from the album. The track headed Luv N’ Haight’s superb compilation from 1992 titled ‘Deja Vu’ alongside such tracks as ‘Sweetie Pie’ by Stone Alliance and ‘Can I Be our Squeeze’ by Chuck Carbo. It’s another buoyant composition which begins with a recitation from narrator Charlette Cook, whose voice seems perfect for the temperament throughout the album. Vocalist Emerson Cain features alongside the voice of Weldon Irvine as they both lead the track towards a juncture where it opens up into a mid-tempo jam fronted by Flugelhorn players Jimmy Owens and Preston Williams. It’s the longest track on the album and this adds room for all the musicians to stretch out with some really warm inventive solos. The track features bassist Alex Blake who played alongside many great musicians including Sun Ra and Randy Weston.

The album has a soulful modality that is never constrained or predictable and seems to be one of those albums which has many layers. It’s a fantastic indie release that has all the elements and it remains one of those timeless recordings that you can always revisit.

Previous to the recording of ‘Time Capsule’ Weldon Irvine featured on albums by Nina Simone, Richard Groove and Freddie Hubbard. A later fascinating connection appeared through his contribution towards LTJ Bukem’s label Good Looking Records with contributions on Big Bud’s album and the Earth 5 compilation. His contribution spanned decades with a timeless appeal and many of his written tracks featured on pivotal compilations such as ‘London Jazz Classics’ and the ‘Rare’ series back in 1987

A stone-cold classic remastered and reissued by the Pure Pleasure record label.

Mark Jones

Read also:
Weldon Irvine ‘Liberated Brother’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

Roy Ayers ‘Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981’ 2LP Repress (BBE Music) 4/5

Everybody loves the Roy Ayers. I’ve yet to meet a single person that doesn’t. I wouldn’t trust anybody who doesn’t. My daughter, Jessie, knows that if she ever showed signs of not loving Roy she would no longer be a financial beneficiary. He’s a vibraphonistical Santa, a sunshine loving Michael Palin, a dippy-doo-run-run-run Ian Wright. Everybody loves him.

Roy will be 80 in September (pause for audience applause) and if you’ve ever experienced him live; either incapable of standing still in a field on a summer’s day or sweaty-as-hell in a club/tent late at night, you’ll know why he’s so important. He was an essential element in the reawakening of cool that was Acid Jazz, Jazzmatazz and Nuyorican Soul as well as being sampled to infinity. He’s known as The Godfather of Neo-Soul (don’t worry D’Angelo/Omar, people can have more than one Godfather); that’s how important he is.

‘Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981’ was initially released back in 2004 and is now being given a brand new feeling by BBE. It consisted of 13 previously unreleased recordings from Roy’s vintage Polydor period and is a subset of BBE’s Roy holdings (there’s a Virgin Ubiquity II amongst others). It was also given a successful remix by a host of biggies: Kenny Dope, Joey Negro, Basement Jaxx etc. in 2006.

The comp kicks off with Carla Vaughan’s formidable, never-one-to-fear-a-dynamic, Minnie who?, gymnastic pipes, demanding that we ‘Boogie Down’ via a tight-as Dennis Davis (drums) and William Allen (bass) disco rhythm and a funk-punchy keyboard/guitar riff that attacks in waves. You know it’s proper boogie when it rhymes ‘I got a notion’ with ‘your magic potion’…pour yourself on me, obvs.

Merry Clayton takes over the vocals for the next three tracks. ‘What’s the T?’ is some synth-line led, dirty yet polished funk, with horn stabs and Clayton’s shiny-uptown-Betty Davis delivery that is just dirty enough to demand you pull stank face but slick enough to get you hovering confidently down the Soul Train line. ‘I Really Love You’ is a gorgeous, lush lovemaker’s soul duet where Clayton leads Roy in the schmooziest of harmonies but also belts out some specific requests including “come meet my family”. Ser-i-ous.

‘Oh What A Lonely Feeling’ is a winner. It’s a two-parter: the ‘Oh What A Lonely Feeling’ half, a hi-drama Minnie’s ‘Inside My Love’ soul diva affair; and the ‘Love Of My Life’ half, a hi-joy, deepest of the deepest, deep groover with Allen’s heavy bass mercilessly prodding Chano O’Ferral’s congafest. It cries out to be two separate songs. ‘Love Of My Life’ is truly what it is and Clayton is breathtaking.

‘Sugar’ is archetypal happy times Roy. Sweet, loved-up, dancefloor buoyant with those Tommy-Cooper-just-like-that electric piano shoved chords. ‘Mystery Of Love’ is silk-sheeted, honey-dripped soulfulness while ‘Green and Gold’ is all about upbeat funky vibes and a proper bassline – just how we like it.

Majestic ten minuter, ‘Brand New Feeling’, has Clayton and Sylvia Fox battling it out on fierce vocals with Steve “click track” Cobb supporting Roy’s Sunshine chords and sprinkled magic dust, while Justo Amario’s blesses with a smooth, unhurried tenor solo. ‘I Did It In Seattle’ is a 5 mates bar jam with Roy chatting over fluent, seductive vibes and Peter Brown’s spanking bass. The vibes-sprinkled smooth jazz of ‘Mystic Voyage’ highlights the flawless Carla Vaughn’s rich-hued voice and some beloved, low-in-the-mix, Roy scatting.

‘I Just Wanna Give It Up’ has main-man, Harry Whitaker, on the ivories, Roy on the electric and Clayton on vocals all bringing the groin-led flourishes while Allen and Cobb hold it down true. The Vaughn led duet ‘Together Forever’ is juicily sensuous while album closer, ‘I Am Your Mind’, is a thumping, bass-heavy Roy free-your-mind manifesto; not sure what I’m meant to take from it (apart from minds and unity and souls) but it has a trippy epic-ness that I DIG.

This comp is delicious and it’s worth the entrance fee for ‘Oh What A Lonely Feeling’ alone. The production is lush and saturated with Roy-ness sunshine throughout; the vocals are powerful and occasionally excessive, which is a happy indulgence; and, although most of these recordings may not quite be top-3-Roy, they are still essential-Roy. So, it’s a big thanks to BBE from me and all humans everywhere because…everybody loves the Roy Ayers.

Repress link here

Ian Ward

Andre Canniere ‘Ghost Days’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

“Ghost Days” is US-born, London-based trumpeter and composer Andre Canniere’s follow up to his 2016 release “The Darkening Blue” and reunites him with singer Brigitte Beraha and saxophonist Tori Freestone, whilst introducing a new, all-star UK rhythm section of Rick Simpson on piano, Tom Farmer on bass and Andrew Bain on drums. Six of the album’s seven original compositions were inspired by a unique collaboration between Canniere and the poets/writers Malika Booker and Rebecca Lynch. Each piece had a poem as its starting point, defining the overall mood and the rhythm and phrasing of the melody. The songs deal with loss, anxiety and disappointment, yet are often uplifting in nature with a quirky sense of humour and an imaginative and hopeful message that works its way effortlessly through the music.

A Pennsylvania native, Canniere first developed his career in New York where he worked with artists such as Maria Schneider, Becca Stevens, Donny McCaslin, Kate McGarry, Ingrid Jensen and Darcy James Argue, and this album is full of the kind of innovative cross-genre exploration for which those artists are renowned. There’s a quietly confident, often exploratory feel to the composer’s tunes, with a highly original feel to the music being performed. Sometimes funky, often melodramatic and always thought-provoking, it makes for an intriguing mix of vocal-led jazz/pop and cool ensemble jazz.

“Suicides” has a lovely brassy big band feel to it, with a powerful funk-inspired groove and some superb blowing from the horns. One my favourite pieces on the album is “Colours”. It’s the kind of track that reminds me of Brad Mehldau or Mark Guilliana in dark, anthemic mood, bringing together a post-rock Radiohead sound with a jazz vibe that’s both sombre and uplifting. It’s a wonderfully crafted tune that brings out the best in Beraha’s voice and works exquisitely well with the melancholic chords and brass. This leads nicely into “Erasure”, a tune that slowly builds in intensity, switching from fragments of lyrics into wordless melodies, reminiscent perhaps of an imaginary, extended Snowpoet piece. “My Star” reminds me of a long-lost 80’s ECM tune, with its pop-inflected relaxed simplicity quite beautiful, before opening out with a pair of truly breathtaking solos from Canniere and Simpson. In fact, one of the highlights of this album as a whole is the understated yet wonderfully engaging playing of pianist Simpson. He’s got that magical thing going on where the notes he plays are at once emotive and kinetic, in a way that simply oozes class. “The Arrival” is a reflective piece, featuring a thoughtful muted trumpet solo. “One More Down” features another spellbinding solo from Simpson as Farmer and Bain lock into a precision groove. “Endure” exemplifies all that is good about Canniere’s compositional style and playing, creating an atmosphere of warmth and hopeful intent.

All the vocal-based material for “Ghost Days” was toured by the band extensively before they went into the studio, and although for me, some tunes work better than others, the sureness with which they deliver the arrangements is testament to how thoroughly each musician assimilated the concept. This is a very enjoyable album, owing as much to the likes of Norah Jones and Bjork, as it does to Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard.

Mike Gates

TOUR DATES

20 Feb – Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham

22 April – Pizza Express, London

14 May – Soundcellar, Poole

24 May – Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham

25 May – NQ Jazz, Manchester

26 May – Parrjazz, Liverpool

27 May – Lescar, Sheffield

Mike Gates

Horace Tapscott ‘Live at Lobero’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

The Pure Pleasure label continues to explore the Nimbus West catalogue, stepping into 2020 with a brilliant reissue of Horace Tapscott ‘Live at The Lobero Theater’ recorded on November 12th 1981 in Santa Barbara, California.

Horace Tapscott is joined by fellow musicians Roberto Miguel Miranda on bass and percussionist Sonship Theus for this special occasion. All the pieces except for ‘Inception’ were taken from the original LP ‘Live at Lobero Volume 1’, released on the Nimbus West record label. Both Horace Tapscott and Roberto Miguel Miranda were an integral part of the label’s roster, outlook and direction, bringing together musicians with a serious dedication to not just the art but the important grassroots work that was so important for the community of L.A. They were true influencers, musicians and teachers. It was a volatile time on the streets of L.A so their inspiring projects were of incredible importance. All three musicians laid great importance on their contribution to local work and you can sense the respect which would have surrounded them wherever they played. The music is tirelessly inventive with a much larger sound than you would expect from a trio outing. But above all, it’s music of the highest quality which really moves you.

The music begins with a meditative feel. Percussionist Sonship Theus and Roberto Miguel Mirando sketching out the foundations with a rich mix of dynamics on the gently building ‘Inception’. The first 10 minutes feature Sonship’s colourful array of instrumentation with chimes, bow and percussion creating a building from a silent presence to a sustained intensity before Horace Tapscott enthrals with an endless stream of innovative playing. Bassist Roberto Miranda and Sonship Theus both produce lengthy captivating solos before Horace Tapscott adds a more soulful approach towards the finish of this 30 minutes composition. As you would expect with any Horace Tapscott piece they are real works of art with complex natures that always touch you.

‘Sketches of Drunken Mary’ is a warm and evocative composition written in memory of a local drunk lady who lived in Horace Tapscott’s Houston community when he was a teenager. The piece is split between ‘Mary at Church’ and ‘Mary at Sunset’, building into a driving percussive piece with the reflective harmonies of Horace Tapscott in tandem with Roberto Miranda’s deep complex tone on the bass. It’s a really great track that grows with each listen and kind of reveals the community-minded spirit of all three musicians who’ve been integral to the continuation of Los Angeles musical heritage and influence on the younger jazz musicians in the area and the workshops. The music switches from a relaxed pace to a whirlwind.

One of Horace Tapscott’s most memorable compositions is ‘Dark Tree’ and here the musicians yet again create a much fuller sound than expected from a trio, filling the room with a sustained build-up, with Sonship’s percussive twists and turns acting as a bold leverage for Horace Tapscott’s fully flighted intensity and direction. The composition is another example of Horace Tapscott’s illusive artistry and the energetic interplay between all three musicians at work. The solos are inventive and almost excavatory with the heavy bass sound of Roberto Miguel Miranda bringing an inspirational style of playing to the album.

‘Raisha’s New Hip Dance’ is reminiscent of some of the great solo albums Horace Tapscott released for the Nimbus West Label, and here the commentary is one of reflective nature with contemplative tones, weighted and synonymous with his social message and incredible creativity. Check out his solo rendition of Roy Porters’ ‘Jessica’ on volume 6 of The Horace Tapscott Sessions as another insight of his solo performance works.

For a greater understanding of Horace Tapscott, the musicians and the label, the book ‘Songs of the Unsung: The Musical and Social Journey of Horace Tapscott’ is a really interesting read. ‘Live at Lobero’ is another important jazz album and each listen brings something unexpected. Highly recommended.

Mark Jones

Alex Hitchcock Quintet ‘All Good Things’ CD (Fresh Sound New Talent) 4/5

‘All Good Things’ is the latest project from the Alex Hitchcock Quintet which finds its home on the Spanish label Fresh Sound New Talent.

Released in 2019 to nothing short of a rapturous reception, tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock heads up a fantastic line-up of musicians who build upon the strong 2018 introduction of their unit through their ‘Live at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals’ EP. With live recordings included from their performances at the London Jazz Festival from 2016 and the Cambridge Jazz Festival in 2017, expectations were certainly high for the release of ‘All Good Things’, and frankly almost everything Hitchcock has added his name to in the interim…

Last year saw the release of the third album by Resolution 88 – of which Hitchcock is a member – and saw the jazz-funk, Herbie Hancock-inspired quartet sign with German label Légère Recordings to release their magnificent ‘Revolutions’ album; last year also saw the release of the Alex Hitchcock Quartet’s debut EP, ‘Outside In’, which featured the added luxury of Trope vocalist, Cherise Adams-Burnett, guesting on two of the project’s four songs. And then there’s the upcoming AuB collaborative project pairing Hitchcock with fellow saxophonist Tom Barford for their soon to be released, more experimental, album on Edition Records.

But for now, all eyes (and ears) are firmly fixed on the Quintet release of ‘All Good Things’ which is comprised of an inspiring cast list of diverse UK talent. With Hitchcock on tenor saxophone, he is joined by bassist Joe Downard (Waaju, Jessica Radcliffe), pianist Will Barry (Madison McFerrin, Fellow Creatures), drummer Jay Davis (Daisy George Trio, Big Bad Wolf) and trumpeter James Copus (Ashley Henry, Tony Momrelle).

Serving as champions to new, innovative and undiscovered artists within jazz from all parts of the world, ‘All Good Things’ makes such a worthy contribution to the catalogue of Fresh Sound New Talent [who themselves have very few UK artists on their label]. Hitchcock’s compositions are exquisite and multi-layered – almost as if they contain several stories within their own respective narratives. The virtuosic performances on the opening number, ‘Hamburg 2010’, for example, seem to traverse numerous twists and turns throughout its eight minutes but ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ may be the star among them all that shines the brightest – with its almost trippy introduction it effortlessly flows into the smoothest of pieces concluding with an excellent solo from Will Barry.

The performances throughout are really stunning and it’s a project that is brought to incredible life by the next crop of scene-stealing UK talent.

Imran Mirza

Jan Simonsen Quintet ‘Jan Simonsen Quintet’ LP (Jazzaggression) 3/5

Jazzaggression Records dig deep into the archives from mid-1970s Oslo to release a four-track vinyl album (plus a digital bonus) by a group called the Jan Simonsen Quintet featuring Simonsen on keyboards, Trond Matheson on sax, flautist Svein Hansen and rhythm section; Kristian Røstad on electric bass and drummer Thor Bendikson. Although recorded late 75/early 76, these tunes have never had a commercial release up until now. This line-up was active for a couple of years from 1974 until Bendikson and Simonsen departed for twee jazzy proggers Ruphus. I admit I had never heard of Ruphus until now but they apparently built up a decent following on the European mainland back in the day, particularly in West Germany.

“Martin” begins slowly with a quite long solo piano intro which does not feel like it fits with rest of the track but it’s Simonsen’s band so he can do what he likes! Then the band jump head first into the uplifting joyous motif driven hard by the rockist leanings of the robust rhythm section. After the delicate flute/sax introduction, the energetic work-out of “Afro Blue” is pretty much faithful to Trane’s version so there’s not too many surprises, but it is fun.

Side Two and the stand out track, “Agnus” is smooth and luxuriant but balanced with staccato bluesy piano and vigorous drums. The intense “Fire Sju” drips with syrupy Rhodes riding on the momentum of the disciplined rhythm section’s pounding repetition.

The digital only track, “Kyrie”, is an entertaining slice of contemporary funky fusion built on solid but groovy bass. The pitch wheel synth solo is especially exciting. There are a few mistakes in the performance and the ending is very abrupt so I’m guessing that they may be the reasons why it doesn’t make the cut which I think is a bit of a shame.

The music is clearly influenced by fusion pioneers such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, etc. and is very much evocative of its time. However, listening, it comes as no surprise that as the group splintered some members found their way into prog rock. I can’t honestly say that this is an essential record but the musicianship is good and there is exuberance and positivity in the performance which is infectious to the listener. It has been a real pleasure to listen to and if you dig Headhunters et al, then you’ll also enjoy this.

Kevin Ward

Alex Jønsson ‘Heathland’ LP/CD (Self-released) 4/5

For Alex Jønsson’s new album, ‘Heathland’, the sparse windswept grasslands of his native Jutland provide the inspiration. This unique landscape evokes a time forgotten and untouched by human civilisation. Here, nature works quietly in solitude, and the relentless northern winds deter most outsiders. It’s a place Danish guitarist Alex Jønsson knows well, having grown up there like his generations of ancestors before him. Despite the romantic and natural inspiration, ‘Heathland’ is the first album Jønsson plays alongside an electric bass played by Jens Mikkel Madsen.

The soft moments on this album are beautiful in their vulnerability and poetic in their nuance. The fluttering guitar effects on ‘Icicles’ suggest an uncertainty and fragility. Alex’s playing is full of emotion and has a refined maturity beyond his years. His soft string attack adds to the gentle bowed effect. The dynamics on ‘The Sun is Slowly Rising’ are spot on, with overdubbed volume swells and droning tremolo chords. The steady drums of Andreas Skamby invoke an ancient ritualistic performance from the others.

However, the album avoids being one dimensional with the brutish ‘…and Darkness Crept In’ where the band rocks out, employing distortion and wailing octave fuzz. On ‘Re: Herr Sehr Schwer’, the band dazzles with burst of upbeat Americana which grooves with great fluidity. It is a track which provides a bit of light relief and won’t tire after repeated plays. Drummer Andreas’ energetic solo is impassioned and adds an existential Prog-Rock passage when combined with Alex’s eerie harmonic swells.

The album moves away from western tonality for the expressive ‘Paul’. The sounds generated from the musicians give a more intimate ambience and a personal experience. Alex’s plucked playing is purposely unpolished and Andreas’ rimshots and frenetic percussive rolls give this track a distinct timbre.

Ending with the soft ‘Emu’, Alex’s vivid melodies portray a wistful sentiment set in front of the chiming of textured percussion. At first, it seems like a piece without much depth, but the layers of the arrangement and variations appear as the piece progresses. The harmonic movement becomes static, yet the emotion and creativity are upheld through the spirited drumming and stoic bass lines. It is a solemn yet cautiously optimistic end to proceedings.

‘Heathland’ is a thoughtful and experimental work founded on Jønsson’s love for Denmark, but it also shows influence from other musical cultures in the compositions. Alex’s modern and varied approach to his work means even in the delicate of moments the pieces are meaningful.

Fred Neighbour

Byron Wallen ‘Portrait’ CD (Twilight Jaguar) 4/5

‘Portrait’ is Byron Wallen’s third album on his own Twilight Jaguar records, but although this is his first in thirteen years, Byron has been a consistent fixture in UK jazz circles for around 30 years. A modern-day polymath playing trumpet, flugelhorn, piano and percussion plus other instruments, unfortunately for many music fans including at UK Vibe his presence is still relatively low-key for someone so revered and respected. For ‘Portrait’ Byron is joined by a new band including on bass guitar Paul Michael (Nick Walters and The Paradox Ensemble), on African percussion Richard Olatunde Baker, on drums Rodney Youngs – a one-time drummer for Gil Scott-Heron and on guitar Rob Luft, with the whole album composed by Byron.

The album begins with the enigmatic ‘Anthem (Epilogue)’, a brooding percussion-less piece that is as much absorbing as it is intriguing. The first full-length composition is ‘Each For All And All For Each’, an Afrobeat inspired number that sees Bryon in quite a subdued temperament which also possesses some excellent guitar voicings from Rob Luft. ‘Alert’ is another atmospheric piece, albeit short at 2’19”. This is then followed by the difficult to define ‘No Stars No Moon’ which contains influences from Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as contemporary jazz. A snapshot of London no doubt.

‘Warren To Arsenal’ is a short drum and percussion-based track while ‘Fundamental’ begins with a contemplative disposition with again trumpet and guitar taking centre stage, while the final third moves into slightly more animated territory. Again, this is more than just a straight-ahead jazz album, with many nuances and inflections throughout ‘Portrait’ including here with ‘Fundamental’. ‘Ferry Shell’ is a very infectious percussive jam and would be welcomed in an extended form rather than its 2’03” duration. Another African inspired composition is ‘Holler’, a personal favourite on the album, which is difficult to fully outline in reference to its musical makeup due to its fascinating composition and arrangement. And the album closes with ‘Anthem (Prologue)’ a resolving continuation from the opening epilogue of which I could have listened to a full album of material in this vein.

Being critical and as mentioned, some of the pieces were rather short in length with only four tracks possessing a running time of over 4 minutes and with a total album length of 44 minutes, but maybe less is more? I suppose I ultimately wanted more. But Byron has skilfully utilised his extensive travelling as an inspiration for ‘Portrait’ which can be felt throughout the album. This adds a somewhat ambiguity to the musical complexion of certain pieces. It is also a reflection of Byron’s home town of London and the multi-layered and faceted milieu he’s experienced.

As per of many of his contemporaries, Byron has contributed to numerous projects outside of the jazz community, such as playing with Loose Ends, Mica Paris and Matthew Herbert, in addition to working with UK jazz faves Binker & Moses, South African musician Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and Ethio-jazz legend Mulatu Astatke. At UK Vibe HQ we would all love more full-length albums from Byron (13 years is a long time), as we’re big fans, but nonetheless, with his ogoing 2020 tour, we will be making the trip to experience one of the UK’s unsung heroes of jazz in a live setting.

Current ‘Portrait’ tour dates here

Damian Wilkes

Astral Travelling Since 1993