Florian Arbenz / Hermon Mehari / Nelson Veras ‘Conversation #1: Condensed’ LP/CD (Hammer Recordings) 4/5

“Conversation” is an ambitious new project by Florian Arbenz in twelve parts. Each part is a collaboration between the Swiss drummer and various musicians approaching differing themes and concepts, the results hopefully being released periodically up to Summer 2022. “Conversation #1: Condensed”, as you would have deduced, is the first one and Arbenz is joined by American trumpeter Hermon Mehari and Brazilian Nelson Veras on guitar.

Guitar and percussion flirt with the signature on “Boarding The Beat”, before the trumpet rips into the melody line. Although rhythmically complex, it has a loose, upbeat, fresh feel and also some exciting and unorthodox solo work from Veras’ fluid, unfettered Spanish guitar. From the uptempo start to the sophisticated trumpet balladry of “Let’s Try This Again”, well-suited to Mehari’s light touch.

You may have noticed that there’s no bass player on this album and this has allowed all the performers to encroach on the space left behind with some success. However on the excellent, “Groove A”, Arbenz hits a custom percussive concoction that simulates a popping bass guitar. The result is a repetitive and hard-hitting rhythm “section” but not wholly surprising when the group’s combined CV includes collaborations with Steve Coleman and Greg Osby.

Jobim’s “Olha Maria” is stripped back to its melodic core and adds a little more Rio flavour. Followed by the boisterous “In Medias Res” with a rapid-fire percussive motif and an exuberant drum solo.

“Vibing With Morton” is an abstract study of percussion textures framed by the sparse repetitive trumpet. By contrast, the dense, relentlessly booming chug of drums on Ornette Coleman’s “Race Face” is the platform for streaks of trumpet. “Dedicated To The Quintessence” is a showcase for Mehari’s warm tone and sense for a sweet melody. There’s an entertaining, almost playful interaction between the three performers on “Circle”. Yeah, a conversation. The highlight though is an energetic version of “Freedom Jazz Dance”. The ensemble pull out the stops as the intensity builds.

Percussion, trumpet and guitar is an unusual combination and it appears to have allowed the artists to explore and experiment with sonic textures and roles within a group even if for the most part, the results are still relatively conventional.

“Conversation #1: Condensed” is an exciting and interesting start to the challenge Florian Arbenz has set himself. As the roster of artists changes for the future parts, it remains to be seen where this project will lead us musically, but if the quality remains this high, it should be a fun ride.

Kevin Ward

Read also:
Florian Arbenz / Greg Osby ‘Reflections Of The Eternal Line’ LP/CD (Self-released) 5/5

PS5 ‘Unconscious Collective’ LP (Hyperjazz) 4/5

‘Unconscious Collective’ is the new quintet project from Pietro Santangelo under the guise of PS5.

The new album from Italian saxophonist, producer and composer, Santangelo, has found such an apt home through the Italian Hyperjazz Records – a label that’s committed to presenting new perspectives in contemporary jazz through a variety of genre-defying and genre-defining projects. Or, as detailed via the Hyperjazz Bandcamp page, “Beyond genres, leaning towards musical mutation and social evolution”. The three-track ‘Studio Session’ EP by Phresoul featuring TJ Scratchavite, for example, is an adventure into exploring multiple avenues for creating music from varying between analogue and digital techniques to live sampling through a video presentation; there’s the decidedly 80s soundscapes of Kidd Mojo’s ‘Dionysia’, or the electronica-styled hip-hop beat tape by Trrmà, ‘Mixtape Vol. I’.

Hyperjazz seem to thrive not just in showcasing music that challenges the listener but also in showcasing music that challenges the artist in its creation as well – to explore untapped sounds, genres and to blur borders. Pietro Santangelo’s ‘Unconscious Collective’ has definitely found itself the right home and is a project that embodies these inspired and daring values.

Famous for his contributions as part of the “progressive gypsy eclectic jazz group”, Slivovitz, who have chalked up five album releases by the time of this writing, Santangelo has also headed up his own trio project called – I’m sure you can guess already – PS3. As part of the ensemble recruited for ‘Unconscious Collective’ however, Santangelo has pulled together an excellent array of musicians, many of which comprise of long-time collaborators like bassist Vincenzo Lamagna and drummer Salvatore Rainone who have secured their places amongst not just Slivovitz but also PS3. Alto and baritone saxophonist Giuseppe Giroffi joins the fray along with percussionist Paolo Bata Bianconcini with band leader Santangelo providing tenor and soprano sax duties and serving as the project’s composer and arranger.

A revered improviser, much of that associated energy is masterfully captured by Santangelo and the team throughout this album. With compositions continuing in that Hyperjazz style of joyful exploration, the musicians seem to celebrate the luxury of the playground afforded to them as members of PS5 – the slow build of ‘Sempre Dodici’ marks a distinct album highlight as does the unbridled energy of ‘Idris’ and ‘Transe Napolitaine’ that genuinely seem to leave themselves open to potential broken beat reinterpretations. The sublime ‘Šulūk’ takes the album down new avenues once again rounding out the versatility of such a fantastic project.

Imran Mirza

Thomas Lossius Septet ‘Seven Words For Ekstasia’ CD (AMP Music & Records) 4/5

The sound of sixties jazz looms large on Thomas Lossius Septet’s debut album released on Norway’s AMP label. These references are intentionally ‘loud and clear’ according to Bergen resident and bassist Lossius who founded the septet in 2018. The album contains textural themes from Christian mysticism, apparent from the esoteric sleeve imagery and song titles and obviously central to Lossius who describes himself as a disciple of Jesus on his YouTube channel. The septet is influenced by the likes of Alice Coltrane, Art Blakey and the second quintet of Miles Davis as well as more contemporary jazz from South Africa, Ndabo Zulu, The Unity Band and Bokani Dyer. When asked why he is inspired by Afro sounds that few non-African Norwegians would be familiar with, Lossius replies by quoting Japanese author and jazz fan Haruki Murakami, ‘if you only read the books that everyone else is reading you can only think what everyone else is thinking’. Lossius experienced the music first hand while living in South Africa, explaining that it seemed natural to take inspiration from musicians he admired as a way of ‘expanding his musical imagination’.

The septet consists of: Ørjan Hammer Vollvik (trumpet) Andri Schärli (sax) Roar Kjeldahl Bernsen (guitar) Eivind Austad (piano) Audun Humberset (percussion) Amund Nordstrøm (drums). As well as leading the septet Lossius is also a member of the Briotrio, described as ‘cozy jazz’ blending humour, spontaneity and American sounds. They’re also to be found on the AMP label.

The record begins with a brief introductory track that flows into the second tune ‘Shekinah’ where a cool Nordic theme converges with spiritual jazz that hints at the exotic soundscapes of Pharoah Sanders. There’s some wonderful sax and trumpet interplay and fine guitar work from Bernsen. ‘Epiphany’ follows, owing a heavy debt of gratitude to Miles Davis’ album Nefertiti. The addition of textural percussive elements further emphasizes the 60s vibe and helps to distinguish it from the Miles Davis album. Lossius explains he was inspired by both Miles Davis and John Coltrane for this track, Coltrane for the complex harmony and Miles for the interplay and melody. After plenty of references to Nefertiti, it continues with a phrase from Giant Steps, probably an obvious reference to sax players but one that I missed at first. Another ‘Interlude’ follows featuring the only vocal performance of the record, there’s a sense of religious exaltation in the singing, ending with the words ‘I hear the voices of angels’. ‘Rapture’ is apparently inspired by South African ‘Ghoema’ style music. When Lossius was living and studying in Cape Town he admired the sense of identity locals got from this music so adapted some of the themes with Norwegian folk harmonies and added jazz twists. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is one of the few places on the album where the bass is near the top of the mix, the paired down feeling lets us hear what Lossius is capable of. The last full-length track is ‘Exaltation’ in which the trumpet meanders its way on an abstract journey. I didn’t quite feel it here, I thought the exaltation was more present on the vocal ‘Interlude’ I mentioned earlier. ‘Outro’ ends the album with a haunting piano solo from Austad, it’s all too brief and he fades out in his prime, perhaps that’s the point but just as I was really feeling it he was suddenly absent.

Seven Words for Ekstasia is a very decent debut that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve while shining a new light on some familiar musical themes.

James Read

Los Pirañas ‘Infame Golpazo en Keroxen’ LP (Keroxen/Discrepant) 5/5

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the Cumbia. Cumbia feels like home to me. I’ve always thought of it like that real cool homegirl who is always there when you need someone to talk to or laugh with. She’s relatable but aspirational at the same time. She has travelled the world several times over, each trip changing her just a little, but not so much that she isn’t still as down to earth as the day you met her. Cumbia is a responsive rhythm that bends and morphs to the musician’s commands. Cumbia can be whatever you want it to be and that has led some of the greatest musicians to really push the limits of experimentation. The three men, Eblis Alvarez, Pedro Ojeda and Mario Galeano who make up Colombian band Los Pirañas have been innovating Cumbia for the last two decades. Under their guidance Cumbia has become once again subversive. Their Cumbia takes you by surprise creating entire worlds of colour and light. The frenzy in your feet created by the frenetic beats promises to leave you drenched in sweat. Galeano, Ojeda and Alvarez came together as teenagers and have become some of the most influential musicians in the neo Cumbia scene, putting out dozens of records in their own various bands and together under Los Pirañas. Their sound socializes the Cumbia with Champeta, psychedelic surf rock and just about everything in between.

Their latest release, Infame Golpazo en Keroxen, is a re-configuration of some of their more memorable sounds from their last three albums. They added another layer of experimentation by re-recording the songs live in a disused gasoline tank situated off of the Canary Islands. These songs have matured inside that gasoline tank yet they still manage to keep the youthful, playful energy of the originals, in fact, I would argue they’ve become more playful the second time around. They start us off with “Lambada de Oceania, Africa y America (eran un solo continente)” which just kind of creeps up on you, slinking up into your eardrums like a Jaguar in the jungle, slow and agile you never see it coming when it pounces. The song is constantly surprising you, taking unexpected turns and curves and just when you think you have it figured out it takes another. That’s what makes Los Pirañas so good, their music is intriguing, it keeps you hooked as you wait to see what comes next because even if you’ve heard it a hundred times, you’ll still find something new.

For this album they also worked with local brass players, Pablo Arocha on Trumpet, Pablo González on Trombone and Eduardo Martín on Tuba. This was a great decision. The way the brass mingles with the percussion in the breakdowns of “Dragones Chinos” is magical. “Dragones Chinos” is also a great example of their subversive style. What could just be a mass of sound is really the product of several incredible talents creating contortions with traditional tropical rhythms while also injecting a little bit of humour into the process.

There’s a tightness, a contained excitement to songs like “Infame golpazo” that must come from being confined to that tank. The frenetic merengue beat feels like some sort of psychedelic Carnival full of horns and drums and peculiar digital sounds. “Monstruo prometedor” is one of the more captivating songs on the album. If you listen closely it sounds like the brass instruments are in conversation, as if one is trying to convince the other to engage in some sort of forbidden activity. I get the impression that whatever the activity is, it will eventually become irresistible.

I think it would be easy to listen to this and just hear noise and maybe even a little confusion, there is a lot going on and your ears don’t always know what to pay attention to, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Infame Golpazo en Keroxen really illustrates the genius of Los Pirañas, it’s not just “noise”, it’s caricature, it’s humour, it’s tribute, and it’s spectacular.

Molly Gallegos

Thomas Strønen / Ayumi Tanaka / Marthe Lea ‘Bayou’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

Thomas Strønen’s groups have each had clear and individual characteristics. Food, his collaboration with saxophonist Iain Ballamy, increasingly emphasized electronics over the course of its recordings, while Time Is A Blind Guide has developed as an acoustic chamber ensemble playing the drummer/percussionist’s compositions. The trio heard on Bayou is very different again, distinctive in its sense of borderless inquiry and musical interplay, and freely improvisational. The group first convened at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, where Strønen has an associate professorship and where pianist Tanaka and clarinettist/vocalist/percussionist Lea were studying, the players meeting regularly for exploratory music-making.

The music from this trio is reflective, delicate, and space-conscious, with the musicians relying on an intuitive, open approach to shape the pieces of music that develop. Openness is the watchword here. The album came into being after Thomas Strønen visited Munich to finalize aspects of his Lucus project with Time Is A Blind Guide. “I played Manfred Eicher part of the very first concert with Ayumi and Marthe which I happened to have on my laptop – just a rough document that I’d made with one microphone. He caught the special tension and stylistic freedom in this trio and said we should do a studio recording – which was a welcome surprise”.

The trio had been conceived primarily as an open-form rehearsal and sound research project, “drifting between elements of contemporary classical music, folk music, jazz, whatever we were inspired by. Sometimes the music was very quiet and minimalistic, and sometimes it was the opposite. Playing together generated some special experiences.” That spontaneous spirit is reflected in the trio’s debut recording. With the exception of the title piece, based on a traditional Norwegian tune, the music on Bayou was created collectively, in the moment, drawing upon the individual and shared histories of the musicians.

Most of the music presented on this intriguing album is minimalistic. And yet, within this minimalism, it’s clear that there’s certainly no lack of adventure and experimentation, it’s just that’s it’s largely performed in a very subtle and quiet way. Lea’s beautifully phrased vocal performances on the two versions of the title piece mark the first time that she had sung with the trio. Her voice is particularly well suited to the style of the music. The focus on clarinet on the present recording suggests lines of influence that stretch back to Jimmy Giuffre (an association underlined by Tanaka’s sometimes Bley-ish piano) as well as to contemporary freer players such as Fredrik Ljungkvist. An air of depth and sincerity permeates through the whole session, with Japanese pianist Tanaka adding an assured quality with her beautiful Zen-like playing. Strønen successfully steers this trio in between a naturally Nordic, gently flowing stream, and a bubbling river that builds in intensity as it nears its vergent destination. For me personally, the improvised journey is a rewarding one, even if at times I would have liked to have heard a more obvious point of reference for a final destination.

Mike Gates

James Brandon Lewis, Patrick Holmes, Ches Smith & Josh Werner ‘Resilient Vessels Live at The Cell’ 200g Vinyl (RRGEMS) 4/5

In an interview with 15questions.net, bassist Josh Werner described his preferred style art of music-making: “Improvising in person with other humans is the ultimate way to collaborate. Playing free music with no pre-composed songs, no chord charts, no safety net is the pinnacle of musical expression for me at this point, and no technology can ever catch up to that freedom of expression.”

There’s very little that could paint as eloquent a picture for what’s achieved on ‘Resilient Vessels Live at the Cell’ than that. Released through RR Gems, the label based in Estonia whose mission statement is to wave the flag for “free-form, jazz and experimental music” have just unveiled a project that absolutely typifies those intentions.

‘Resilient Vessels…’ proves to be another project indicative of the times in which it was created in – with respect to last year’s Covid quarantine conditions, what was to be a live performance as part of Werner’s residency at The Cell Gallery (New York) was instead a pre-recorded one for people to experience at a later time. And in light of Werner’s comments cited at the opening of this review, his collaboration with three revered names within New York’s live music scene, as well as themselves noted improvisers, would surely have proven to be a dream ensemble and experience.

Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis brings his distinguished class to the quartet – as a performer, writer, producer and composer, Lewis has seen his star rise to incredible heights over the recent years. Having released nine albums as a bandleader, the Howard University graduate and recipient of DownBeat magazine’s Rising Star award, Lewis has established a formidable reputation based around a stunning catalogue of music and dedication to his craft. Another staple of New York’s live stages, drummer Ches Smith can boast of being a part of an extensive array of diverse musical collectives and ensembles including performances rooted in religious and folkloric groups. The Texas-born, New York resident, Patrick Holmes with clarinet in tow marks another notable inclusion following his contributions to the collectives of Five Dollar Priest, Listening Group and Modra. And of course, celebrated bassist Josh Werner rounds the quartet out with a project that perhaps did not complete in the way he initially had envisioned but has subsequently found a new path to pass its magic onto the world.

Over the course of the nine tracks presented on ‘Resilient Vessels…’, the improvisational elements are certainly prevalent and beautifully captured throughout tracks that boast voracious energy like ‘Gotham Rundown’ or the sublime eight-minute gem that serves as the album’s title track. An accompanying video for ‘Embody’ (which can be viewed through the album’s Bandcamp page) featuring shots of the players performing together, while wearing the mandatory face masks, interspersed with video of a foggy New York City all highlight the surreal times that impacted the album’s creation.

With the prospect of the world moving into a post-Covid era, hopefully, the Lewis/Smith/Holmes/Werner quartet will be able to reconvene for more performances together and maybe even gift us with an official follow-up to this fantastic offering.

Imran Mirza

Gary Bartz NTU Troop ‘Live In Bremen 1975’ 2CD (Moosicus) 4/5

Recorded in 1975, ‘Live In Bremen’ includes several compositions from seminal albums recorded by Gary Bartz for the Milestone and Prestige record labels in the early ’70s including the two ‘Harlem Bush Music’ recordings ‘Taifa’ and ‘Uhuru’ together with ‘I’ve Known Rivers’.

This superb archive reissue features two hours of music with twelve tracks, of which some are incorporated into a medley. The recording captures a particular sound and spirit, synonymous with Gary Bartz and the NTU Troop. There’s an unrelenting inventiveness and freedom throughout the performance, anchored by a soulful underpinning from the quartet and each track feels, if you didn’t know the tracks already, that they are being composed in the moment. The spontaneity keeps the light flickering and the anticipation buoyant. The group seems perfect for the leader’s sustained improvised passages, adding a weighted thread that allows Gary Bartz to build on the ideas within a supportive framework.

As well as Gary Bartz on Alto and Soprano Saxophone, the album features long-standing partner Howard King on drums, Curtis Robertson on Electric Bass and Charles Mims on Piano and Synthesizer. Gary Bartz also provides vocals alongside Curtis Robertson on backing vocals.

Before embarking on a solo career Gary Bartz worked alongside some of the greats of jazz including Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Max Roach, Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner. Drummer Howard King had featured alongside the leader on his early 1970s albums as well as working on albums by Carlos Garnett and Larry Young before this live recording. In the same year as this Bremen Concert, pianist Charles Mims Jr began working with Patrice Rushen on a number of her albums as well as collaborations including Eddie Henderson and Lenny Williams. Bassist Curtis Robertson continued to work with Gary Bartz after the concert and also enjoyed stints with artists including Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard and Syreeta.

Compositions include ‘Peace and Love’, ‘I’ve Known Rivers’, ‘Celestial Blues’, ‘Nation Time’, ‘Uhuru Sasa’ and ‘Ju Ju Man’, each steeped in Gary Bartz’s unique sound and vision. The album is rounded off with a warm tribute to The Isley Brothers song ‘For The Love Of You’; an original sampled by Jaylib, Peanut Butter Wolf, Common and many more artists.

24 minutes seems more like 5 minutes on the classic Langston Hughes inspired ‘I’ve Known Rivers’. The piece opens up into a space where sound and silence make way for each other with composure and depth from the quartet’s connection to the piece. The performance on both ‘Peace and Love’ and ‘Ju Ju Man’ alone make this CD an essential purchase.

Mark Jones

Calle Neumann / Christian Reim Quartet ‘Live at Molde International Jazz Festival 1976’ LP (Jazzaggression) 5/5

The first Molde Jazz Festival took place in August 1961, with a three day programme featuring many Norwegian artists, including Karin Krog, Laila Dalseth and Kjell Karlsen. The bill also featured American trumpeter Benny Bailey, giving it an International touch, since the organisers’ intent was clear from the start, to make the Molde Festival an international one. In 1960, two members of Storyville, a very active jazz club set up in 1953, in the heart of the small Norwegian city of Molde, Per-Inge Hansen and Otto Christian Saettem Junior, had been toying with the idea of putting on a festival. Known as the ‘city of jazz and roses’, Molde seemed the perfect place to launch a festival, and with its stunning scenery and outstanding beauty, it wasn’t long before the combination of great music and tourism opportunities combined to provide a showcase for the city. One could say that everything began in the early ’60s, but from a Norwegian point of view, this surely was their time to develop, certainly with their music, their own identity. The arrival of American musician and composer George Russell was a game-changer, not just for the development of Norwegian jazz, but also for the future involvement of American artists performing at Molde. Add to this the international prestige of the ECM record label, a beacon of light for Scandinavian artists through the ’70s and ’80s (and beyond, of course), and it’s clear to see why it didn’t take too many years for Molde to become one of Europe’s largest and most renowned jazz festivals.

By the summer of 1976, the festival had expanded into a truly international affair, featuring an impressive line-up, including Roy Haynes and his Hip Ensemble, Zoot Sims and Red Rodney Quintet, Jan Akkerman and Philip Catherine, and Eastern Rebellion, among others. Also on the bill was the only all Norwegian line-up to be featured this year; alto saxophonist Carl Magnus Neumann, pianist Christian Reim, bassist Bjorn Kjellemyr, and drummer Ole Jacob Hansen. Perhaps not particularly well-known outside of Norway (then or now), this exciting quartet had already been making waves in their native country for a good few years. The early repertoire of the band had begun with jazz standards and material in the Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano songbook. Soon though, it expanded with Christian Reim’s own original material. The pianist had experience in both popular music and jazz, through his previous bands as Dream, Bash, and his sextet, becoming well regarded for his musical diversity and composing skills. With a focus on simplistic yet effective melody, his ballads and lyrical qualities were becoming more and more noticed by audiences throughout Norway. Alto saxophonist Calle Neumann had a reputation for possessing huge amounts of energy whilst retaining impressive control of his tone on solos, ranging from the tender lyrical to the sheer powerplay. The group were by now developing their own trademark sound and when they performed at Kongsberg festival in 1975, one year prior to this live recording, many of the American musicians playing at the festival had heard positive reviews about the band and found their way to the gig, later praising the quartet for their ability to play complex melodies which required an almost perfect interplay, without losing the freshness and spontaneity that was the group’s trademark.

The “Nordic sound” that many listeners worldwide are familiar with today, didn’t just happen, it developed organically over a period of time. Pioneered by many Scandinavian jazz musicians throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the roots of this musical identity were being formed long before then. The pre-Nordic sound of the ’60s and ’70s was rooted in the post-bop tradition and gradually developed into a furtively melodic, lyrical and improvisational sound that became the hallmark of musicians like Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Bobo Stenson, Palle Danielsson, Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen et al. Even American pianist Keith Jarrett, with his ‘European’ Quartet championed this free-flowing style of Scandinavian/ European jazz. Two of my favourite albums of all time were from this era. Released on the ECM label in the ’70s, both were, and still are, magnificent albums. There’s a unique sound and feel captured on those 70’s recordings that still sounds so fresh and vibrant today. Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet’s “Witchi Tai To” and Keith Jarrett’s “Belonging”, also featuring Garbarek, Danielsson and Christensen, were outstanding albums that would still be in my top 10 even today. If you put this “Live at Molde” album on without knowing who the artists are, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Garbarek/Stenson/Jarrett from that period of time. The music here would fit nicely onto either of those two aforementioned albums, it’s that good. It’s like discovering one of the greatest albums of a favourite bygone era that you never knew existed. Pure gold.

The comparisons between Calle Neumann and Jan Garbarek are inescapable. Their alto sax playing shares a distinct edginess, a restlessness, and a keenness to explore new and ground-breaking musical territories, whilst still retaining a deftness of touch that is both sublime and beautiful. Neumann‘s soloing throughout this live album is impeccable; rousing, exciting, mesmerising and thought-provoking in equal measure. Together with pianist Christian Reim, whose gorgeous melodies and charismatic writing accounts for five of the six tunes on the album, the pair perform with a telepathic-like understanding, intuitively creating music that leaves me breathless. Bassist Bjorn Kjellemyr and drummer Ole Jacob Hansen are an integral part of the quartet, not just offering skilful and intelligent support, but also adding wonderful character and personality to the music. The two shorter pieces on the album, “Goodbye” and “Goodbye II” are exquisite. The melody dances with a joyous precision as Neumann and Reim share its spellbinding intricacies. It makes me wonder if the quartet ever expanded these tunes on any of their live performances. That would have been a mouth-watering prospect. The other four tunes on the album are all approximately ten minutes long, each tune giving time and space for all four musicians to explore and enjoy the music they are playing. “Hippie” is a firecracker of a tune, Neumann’s explosive playing sending out sparks of light, radiant and decadent. Reim’s piano bounces with delight, gleefully encouraging the bass and drums to drive this piece on. “Diplomatology” is a more thoughtful piece, more reflective in nature. As with all of their music, the quartet’s interaction is astounding, creating moods and atmospheres for fun. I get such a feeling of contentment listening to this, with Reim’s compelling piano solo drawing me in deeper and deeper to the heart of this fabulous piece of music. The more experimental “Den Fandenivolske” takes the listener on a heart-pumping journey, adventuring through a post be-bop landscape of floral jazz and dense forests, bringing you out on the other side, overlooking fjords and glades of natural beauty. This leads very nicely into Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”, a stunningly eloquent take on this timeless classic. The band are so together, the vibe is so cool, and the music is so beautiful. What more could we possibly ask for.

Now famous the world over, Molde Festival has gone from strength to strength through the last six decades, a remarkable achievement that has seen anyone who’s anyone in jazz performing there. There have been many important recordings documented along the way, with some exceptional live albums having been released by the likes of Arild Andersen, Chick Corea, Peter Brotzmann, Chicago Tentet, and indeed, Christian Reim’s own sextet whose album “Mona Lisa Suite” was also released on Jazzaggression Records earlier this year. You can now, most categorically, add this release to the very top of that list. “Live at Molde International Jazz Festival” is a fine example of this band in its prime. With all studio constraints absent and with the added atmosphere of the Lucullus club in Molde, producer Erling Wicklund captured a near-flawless performance on reel to reel tape. Remastered by Audin Strype, the vinyl sounds remarkably clean and precise, yet exuding a warmth and clarity that makes it the only high-quality recording that remains of one of Norway’s finest jazz quartets of the ’70s. A real gem of an album and one to savour for many years to come.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Christian Reim Sextet ‘Mona Lisa Suite live at Molde Jazz Festival 1973’ LP (Jazzaggression) 5/5

Cymin Samawatie / Ketan Bhatti ‘Trickster Orchestra’ CD (ECM) 4/5

The Trickster Orchestra represents singer, Cymin Samawatie and percussionist, Ketan Bhatti’s first shared collaboration outside of Cyminology, their Berlin-based group, whose three ECM recordings gained praise for their cross-cultural approach. This album sees the duo expanding their musical reach with the multi-faceted Trickster Orchestra. Drawing on inspiration from ancient to modern verses, spanning psalms to texts by Sufi poets, and incorporating an expansive set of tunes, instrumentation, dynamics, textures and colours, this is an intriguing and fascinating album.

The choice of instrumentation is one of the key points throughout this experimental and adventurous recording. From the Arabic flute to the zither-like oriental kanun, electronic effects and manipulations, the music is both challenging and rewarding. As percussionist Ketan Bhatti explains: “We have such a variety of musical systems and conventions gathered under one roof – from people who read notes versus those who don’t to the simple matter of instruments being differently tuned. In an attempt to work together, we automatically conspire in an act of imitation, or to be more precise, we enter into a mimetic process. While trying to understand and translate each other’s respective traditions, we create something new.”

Born out of a collaboration as part of the education program of the Berlin Philharmonic, The Trickster Orchestra soon turned into a permanent outlet for the singer’s and percussionist’s diverse music and experimental compositions. Drawing on influences from other contemporary classical music, Cymin Samawatie comments that “what really distinguishes this orchestra from other projects and what makes it so special, is the fact that it’s made up of very strong and individual personalities, who have each achieved great things on their own. For this project, they step outside of their individual musical bubbles and join forces to create a new, collective musical world.”

As I listen to this album, the seemingly disparate elements of the music gradually but fittingly begin to unravel in a quasi-cohesive kind of way. Something clicks in my head that allows the music to flow in and out of my ears in a very pleasing fashion. The mirrored sounds, the compositional structure, the conversational essence of the music, becomes blindingly obvious. It’s as if I’ve just smoked something much stronger than my usual cigarettes and my brain has successfully rewired itself somewhat. The music now makes sense. Alert, meaningful, enriched with cultural life and diversity as the composer and musicians talk to me in many languages that speak one voice. I’m open to this newly-found universal music and it’s working for me, making me smile and nod appreciatively as the moods change, the stars tumble, and the oceans roar, from one tune into another.

Perhaps better attuned to an ECM New Series release, this contemporary classical/experimental album of tunes and voices delivers a rewarding experience. There’s a festival flavour throughout, with a joyous after-taste that’s not lost on this listener.

Mike Gates

Snazzback ‘In The Place’ LP/Dig (Worm Discs) 4/5

‘In The Place’ is the new album from Snazzback – the eclectic septet hailing from Bristol whose new album is released through Worm Discs.

Since the release of the band’s debut full-length ‘Hedge’ in 2019, the Snazzback sound was established very early on as one that drew from multiple influences but, at the same time, didn’t find itself rooted to any one style. But even their initial dalliances into the realms of neo-soul and left-of-centre jazz – which are beautifully presented through the seven tracks that comprise ‘Hedge’ – has found their sound significantly evolve when now examining the music on the band’s sophomore album release.

Dubbed “new wave dancefloor instrumentalists”, there’s more of an explorative nature to the band’s music that’s fascinating to hear unfold through the album’s repeated listens. The lengthy and more meaty tracks on ‘In The Place’ are punctuated by shorter interlude-style compositions that are like mini-experiments in their own right. Through tracks like the cinematic electro sonics of ‘Drunq Choirs’ to the nostalgia-laden ‘Whirlpools’, it’s almost as if the intention is to see just how far they can stretch their “new wave dancefloor” aesthetic in these moments before they give way to some of the epic ten-minute compositions (‘Reading’ and ‘Triangle’) that really afford Snazzback the freedom to explore their full arsenal.

‘In The Place’ boasts some strong vocal contributions from rapper Soss who provides a nice hip-hop edge to ‘Snazzual’, spoken word artist Solomon OB makes a strong contribution to the haunting introspection of ‘Ponder’ and fellow Worm Discs label mate, vocalist China Bowls, graces four of the album’s tracks with her presence following a similarly strong contribution to the band’s ‘Hedge’ debut. Herself poised for great things, China Bowls really excels when backed by the incredible soundscapes that Snazzback provide making her contribution to ‘In The Pace’ invaluable.

The release of ‘In The Place’ is aptly timed as the UK finds itself on the verge of being restriction-free following the extensive Covid-related quarantine periods that dominated our lives since March 2020. Snazzback’s commitment to performing live is a passion that will find itself realised as the album’s accompanying UK tour will afford listeners the complete “Snazzback” experience. With past live performances at Glastonbury, Shambala and Boomtown along with a weekly residency at Gallimaufry – a venue notable for its supporting of innovative, young, Bristol-based talent – Snazzback’s music finds its second life on the stage and would prove an unrivalled live experience for anyone fortunate enough to catch the “new wave dancefloor instrumentalists”.

Imran Mirza

UK Tour Dates and tickets available here
21st July – Strange Brew, Bristol
22nd July – The Cornish Bank, Falmouth
23rd July – Patchwork Studios, nr Plymouth
30th July – Brunel Goods Shed, Stroud
4th August – The Crescent, York
5th August – YES Basement, Manchester
6th August – Assembly House, Leeds
7th August – The Jago, London

Astral Travelling Since 1993