Peter Oxley, Nicolas Meier ‘Travels to the West’ (MPG) 4/5

Guitar duets and trios are a relatively rare occurrence in the world of jazz and one immediately thinks of the seminal ‘One night in San Francisco’ that John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia recorded back in 1981 as a fine example of what can be achieved. It is all the more welcome, then, to hear a new guitar duet on the scene, though individually both musicians will be familiar to those in the know. Recorded live on tour in November 2011, Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier and fellow guitar maestro Peter Oxley present an evening’s worth of music with a distinct Latin flavour that takes in the music of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Milton Nascimento with three original compositions apiece between the co-leaders. A gorgeous rendition of Corea’s ‘Spain’ remains faithful to the original with a brief introduction leading straight into some intricate interplay while Nascimento’s ‘Vera Cruz’ is an ideal vehicle for the duo in which to excel. Metheny’s ‘Travels’ title track has long been a favourite of quality music lovers and the duo do this piece justice with an expansive interpretation that is in keeping with the album’s overall theme of musical journeys as does the appropriately named ‘Breeze’ which does exactly what is says on the proverbial tin. Of the originals, ‘Lodder leapin” stands out as a fine dialogue between the two guitarists with presumably the title being a homage of sorts to the bop era. The sheer joy of performing together comes shining through on this number. Eastern and possibly Indian flavours are conjured up on Meier’s composition ‘Yemin’ which develops into an increasingly fast-paced number with Meier taking the lead and Oxley offering up some excellent support. In general it was a good decision on the part of the guitarists to mix some well known and easy to follow standards with their own repertoire which requires more intense listening. The Latin theme is continued with a second Corea composition ‘Armando’s Rhumba’. What really comes across here is that while both guitarists are extremely well versed in contemporary jazz and indeed guitar influences beyond, they never allow this to get in the way of the music itself or allow their virtuosity to become subservient to the overall sound. A jazz guitarist’s nirvana is guaranteed on this fine new release.( Tim Stenhouse

Bobo Stenson Trio ‘Indicum’ (ECM) 4/5

Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has, incredibly, been a staple musician at ECM since 1971 and now deserves pride of place alongside the cream of European jazz pianists of the calibre of Joachim Kühn, Enrico Pieranunzi and John Taylor. In fact the Swede is not in his mid-sixties, though one would not think so by his youthful appearance and renewed appetite for life. He has graced several important formations including Jan Garbarek’s group (1973-1979), the Charles Lloyd quartet and also the Tomasz Stanko band. Since the 1990s Stenson has become more prolific in his trio recordings and these include the wonderful ‘War Orphans’ from 1997 and his 2008 trio outing ‘Cantado’. His latest trio comprises Anders Jormin on bass and Jon Fält on drums. As always with Bob Stenson the judicious selection of pieces is as fascinating as the music itself and there is once more a Latin American contribution with the Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez’s ‘La peregrinación’, that most lyrical of pieces with an instant hook in the main theme, in tandem with some choice Scandinavian numbers. Stenson’s love of Bill Evans’ work is no great secret and indeed stylistically the Swede comes across as an in-between of Evans and McCoy Tyner. His admiration for the former is paid tribute to on the opener ‘Your story’ with a sense of sophistication that is entirely in keeping with Evans’ own approach. Another fine interpretation is that of Walf Biermann’s protest song ‘Ermutigung’ with the trio in full, expansive flow here while the title track is the gentlest of pieces. A feature of this latest album is the deliberate showcasing of Scandinavian music with Dane Carl Nielsen being referenced on ‘Tit er jeg glad’, a Norwegian traditional version of Ave Maria and some Norewgian folk from composer Oli Gjeilo on ‘Ubi caritas’. In particular the rhythm section of Jormin and Fält is a well moulded one and little wonder, then, that they performed together on Jormin’s ‘Ad Lucem’ CD from earlier in the year. As is normally the case with ECM studio recordings, the sound quality is flawless and picks up the slightest nuance of timbre. Tim Stenhouse

Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti, Charlie Haden ‘Magico de amor’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5

This impressive trio of musiciams recorded two memorable albums for ECM in 1979 and individually were at the peak of their powers when performing live in Munich in 1981, from which this previously unreleased concert is taken. Immaculate sound quality and a reverential silence from the audience during the performance make for a thrilling experience at just under two hours with a finely balanced selection of compositions including Norwegian folk tunes, Brazilian-influenced pieces and spicy Spanish flavours contributed by Charlie Haden no less. This writer was especially taken by the Norwegian folk songs of which the simply titled ‘Folk song’ is an irresistable piece on which Garbarek in particular is in his element on soprano saxophone and Gismonti’s acoustic guitar strumming and Haden’s rambling basslines all contribute to a fine concert highlight. Another album of such material, following on from 1981’s ‘Folk songs’ album would be a welcome addition to the trio’s repertoire. Virtuoso playing by Gismonti is a feature of ‘Cego aderaldo’ which is fast-paced in parts and it should be remembered that it was during the mid-late 1970s that he cut some of his finest albums of which the trio of ‘Dança das cabecas (1976), ‘Sol de meio dia’ (1977) and ‘Solo’ (1978) are among the very best of his career thus far. Introspective and reflective hues are present on ‘Don Quixote’ with a lovely bass solo from Haden and some sensitive piano accompaniment from Gismonti. Garbarek contributes a soaring solo of his own. The second CD continues in a melodic vein with ‘Branquinho’ essentially a vehicle for Gismonti to shine while the lengthy fifteen minute ‘All that is beautiful’, penned by Haden, is in many ways a precursor to his later work fronting Quartet West and here Gismonti performs on piano. Haden’s near twenty minute piece ‘La pasionara’ receives an appropriately impassioned interpretation. The album ends on a lovely and ultimately gentle note with a reprise of the title track. Tim Stenhouse

Virginie Teychené ‘Double’ 2CD (Jazz Village) 4/5

Here is a new discovery in French jazz singer Virginie Techeyné whose previous two albums to her new one are presented here as an introduction. She sings almost exclusively in English without a hint of an accent and possesses a distinctive soulful voice with the odd Brazilian classic and even French chanson to add some variety to proceedings. The second album is the slightly stronger of the two with a more confident performance and an interesting, and, in places, unusual selection of lesser known standards. Her take on the lyrics added by Abbey Lincoln to Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Up jumped spring’ impresses as a lovely floating waltz while she reworks the Rogers and Hammerstein piece ‘It might as well be spring’ as a French language version retitled ‘C’est le printemps’. A duo of Brazilian songs are successfully attempted and sound authentic with the Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra composition ‘Voce e eu’ the most effective of the two. With greater assurance comes maturity in the songwriting department and Techeyné offers ‘Just a song’. Back on the Great American songbook track, she delivers a fine ‘Lester leapin’. The first album does nonetheless contain some fine singing with adventurous interpretations of Mingus’ ‘Portrait’ and Eddie Jefferson’s ‘I just got back in town’ with a trio of Billy Strayhorn numbers of which ‘Take the ‘A’ train’ is the most impressive, another duo of Brazilian songs with an English language version of Jobim’s ‘Double rainbow’ and the original Portugese of ‘Zingaro’. The jazz standard ‘The good life’ is actually the Jack Reardon English version rather than Sacha Distel’s French lyrics and is taken at a much slower pace than other versions, notably that of Betty Carter. Informative bilingual sleeve notes from Félix Sportis, formerly editor of the prestigious and oldest French jazz magazine Jazz Hot, is an indication of the high esteem in which Virginie Techeyné is held by the jazz cognoscenti in her native country. Techeyné’s new album, ‘Bright and sweet’ is already out and promises to be a real treat. Tim Stenhouse

Houston Person ‘Naturally’ (High Note) 3/5

Tenorist Houston Person is one of jazz’s elder statesmen and can back this up with no less than seventy-five recorded albums and is a regular on the label.
A top line up of Cedar Walton on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Lewis Nash on drums makes for entertaining listening and, while not groundbreaking, this is quality bop with a soulful and, in places, gospel-tinged touch. This is exemplified on Ellington’s ‘It shouldn’t happen to a dream’ and equally on the gospel sounding ‘Red sails in the sunset’. Person excels on the slower material and has something of Coleman Hawkins in his tone on ‘Don’ cha go way mad’ with deft drum work from Nash. A tribute to the late Bill Evans on ‘My foolish heart’ breathes newl ife into the piece wth lovely piano accompaniment from Walton while thre is fine all round playing on the emotive ballad ‘That’s all’. In a more uptempo groove, Milt Jackson’s ‘Bag’s groove’ receives a soulful treatment and the album ends on a bright ands breezy note with the mid-tempo ‘Sunday’.

Tim Stenhouse

Baptiste Trotignon ‘Song, Song, Song’ (Naïve) 4/5

French pianist is one of the most highly regarded musicians on the French jazz scene and has backed up his potential by winning the Grand Piano de Jazz prize at the prestigious SECAM awards in 2011. He debuted in 200 and has been a regular part of the Moutin Reunion quartet before becoming a leader in his own right. A 2009 album for Naïve, Share’ included top American musicians and featured trumpeter Tom Harrell and saxophonist Mark Turner. More recently, Trotignon performed in Septermber in Paris at the autumn festival Jazz à La Villette and collaborated with Bojan Z. His interested however, are not confined to jazz and the pianist has even written a piano concerto for Nicholas Angelich and the Orchestre National de Bordeaux. With such impressive credentials to hand, it will come as little surprise, then, that this latest recording is wide ranging in influence and revisits some classics of the French chanson repertoire alongside some finely crafted original compositions. Among guest musicians, vocalist Melody Gardot impresses with a French language take on Mon fantôme’ with Hot Club de France style accompaniment which could open up a whole new career for her. Brazilian flavours emerge with the aid of Brazilian vocalist Monica Passos with the wordless vocals of ‘Mr. Gone’ reminding one of the great Flora Purim while samba rhythms predominate on ‘Choro de cigarra’. However, the majority of the album is instrumental and this is truly where Trotignon excels. He dissects a duo of French chanson classics with a masterly medley of ‘Ne me quitte pas/La Javanaise’ that is a beautifully paced interpretation, while Claude Nougaro’s ‘Une petite fille’ is played as a duet between piano and Spanish cajon percussion instrument. Trotignon’s approach is essentially romantic in tradition, but neverly overly sentimental. Another fine original is ‘Palavas-les-Flots’, a seaside resort most famously depicted in a Houellebecq novel, but here featuring male vocalist Christophe Miossec whose tone is reminiscent of left-field French singer Arthur H. Classical elements are incoporated on the plaintive and mournful ‘Awake’ by the use of strings while the album ends with a take on Schubert’s ‘Du bist die Ruh’. If there is one CD of jazz music with a French twist that you should explore this year, then this is surely it. Expect to hear more of this talented pianist in the future. Tim Stenhouse

Vinicius Cantuaria ‘Indio de Apartamento’ (Naïve) 4/5

Brazilian singer-songwriter Vinicius Cantuaria has quietly established a body of work that ranks among the very finest of contemporary Brazilian artists. Furthermore he has expanded his repertoire and collaborators with the superlative ‘Lagrimas mexicanas’ project in tandem with Bill Frisell a career highlight thus far. He returns with a typically melodic and, in places, melancholic album with a host of guest musicians and all but one song are originals. Frisell once again features on three pieces, there is the surprise inclusion of Ryuichi Sakamoto who performs on two and even Norah Jones gets a foots in the door, this time as pianist on one composition. A gently lilting samba ‘Moça feia’ with dissonant piano chords from Sakamoto features Cantuaria at his most seductive and this is definitely a contender for the album’s strongest cut. Similarly uplfiting is ‘Um dia’ which is the ideal antidote to the winter blues. The inclusion of an English duet with Jesse Harris on ‘This time’ is an unexpected bonus which works well and the guitar playing is very Methenyesque. With such a catchy tune, this could be the ideal way to capture a wider audience if ever issued as a single. Frisell re-surfaces on guitar on the gentlest of songs, ‘Chove la fora’ while there is a folksy feel to the duet between Cantuaria and Frisell on ‘Pena estrada’. On ‘Humanas’ the keyboards are used more as a string instrument, yet there is still a pared down sound that is in keeping with the rest of the album. This may be an album that is relatively short in length, yet just like a sensitive Miles Davis classic, it is high on content and that is recommendation enough.

Tim Stenhouse

Barry Brown ‘Right now’ (Greensleeves) 4/5

Singer Barry Brown is one of the most respected singers on the circuit and his career has straddled that of the roots and dancehall era, and has even taken in some lovers tunes on occasion. This re-issue from 1984 captures the singer in truly fine form and has the added bonus of no less than eight versions plus a Tristan Palma 45, ‘No shot nuh fire’. Greensleeves are to be commended for offering such good value for money and the CD as a whole weighs in at just under seventy-five minutes. Barry Brown recorded for a variety of producers including Sugar Minott on his Black Roots label and a tasty 10″ for Coxsone at Studio One a year before this album was recorded. However, he will always be best known for his work at Channel One and ‘Right now’ features those trademark piano licks for which the studio is rightly famous and Brown here is accompanied by two crack sessions groups, the Roots Radics and the We are the People band. Overall, this is a nicely balanced set that includes some of then in-vogue slower dancehall-flavoured compositions such as ‘Sister Magling’ and the pared down and deeply melodic ‘Lovely girl’. What is a pleasant surprise, though, is that Barry Brown has not forsaken his roots fans for he delivers a trio of winners on ‘Guide and protect us’, the lovely guitar and organ breakdown of ‘Jukes and watch’, and, perhaps, finest of all, the social message-laden piece ‘Mister Minister’. Elsewhere there are definite echoes of Sugar Minott on ‘I give my love’ which is a strong lovers tune. Production duties are expertly handled by Jah Screw who was obviously in top form since he would during the same period produce Barrington Levy’s seminal ‘Under mi sensi’. While there are on major hits on this album that replicates the early success of ‘Step it up youthman’ or ‘Cool pon’ your corner’, the release is a fine example of the era and Brown’s vocals have a timeless quality that will appeal to all.

Tim Stenhouse

Aruan Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet ‘Banned in London’ (Whirlwind) 3/5

This live recording from the Pizza Express as part of the 2011 London Jazz Festival features music by one of the up and coming formations in New York jazz. The brainchild of bassist Michael Janisch, Boston(?) born, but now resident in London, and Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz, presently a member also of the Wallace Roney quintet. A truly cosmopolitan line-up is completed by French born, but Barcelona based trumpeter Raynald Colom, Texan Rudy Royston on drums and last but by no means least, the considerable guest skills of one Greg Osby on alto saxophone who has now formed his own label since his tenure at Blue Note ended. Five lengthy compositions, all over then ten minute mark and rising, are divided between three originals (two penned by Ortiz) and two jazz standards. Most lyrical of the originals is Ortiz’s driving ‘Orbiting’ which has a real sense of urgency to it. In parts this live performance is overlong and could do with being truncated by a good few minutes for each piece to ensure greater cohesion. This is a case of self-evident virtuosity by the musicians taking precedence over melodicism and it would aid matters greatly if pianist Ortiz took a more active leading role aside from writing duties. He certainly has all the talent to pull it off. That being said, there is much to commend of the actual playing and trumpeter Raynald Colom is a revelation on a much slower than usual take on Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug waltz’ with a tone that recalls early Lee Morgan while Osby is positively Dolphyesque. A nice change of tempo on Monk’s ballad ‘Ask me know’ is the perfect showcase for Ortiz to shine and this piece is a lovely duet between the pianist and Osby. All that is now required is for the band to reduce the amount of time devoted to pieces in order to create a tighter feel and they will excel. Excellent sound quality throughout. Tim Stenhouse

L’Orchestre National de Jazz’ ‘Piazzolla’ (Jazz Village) 3/5

Over some twenty-five years and more the ever fluctuating line up of the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) has been the starting point for many a talented young French jazz musician to launch a career and flourish as a soloist and leader. Laurent Cugny and Claude Barthélemy were just two such musicians who have gone on to bigger things. The latest cohort of young turcs are among us and on this occasion boasting the expert arrangements of one Gil Goldstein who has, among others, worked with the likes of Miles Davis and Don Grolnick and under artsitic director Daniel Yvinec. For this latest album, the project has been devoted entirely to the work of Argentine innovator and nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Some of the obvious pieces are included, sometimes in medley format to enable the largest number of compositions to be aired, but there are a few surprise choices into the bargain. Piazzolla recorded collaborative albums with vocalists and that with Amelita Baltar was one of his most memorable containing two bona fide tango canciones, namely ”Chiquilin de Bachin’/’Balada para un loco’. Particularly thrilling here is the use of bass clarinet. Surf guitar greets the opening of ‘Libertango’ which makes for a lovely change and the subtle use of bass and flute completes a fine interpretation. Revisiting the composer in a big band jazz setting is a hasardous enterprise and the ‘ONJ’ hierarchy are to be commended for such a courageous effort. If not everything comes off quite as well, it is only to be expected. Thus the famous ballad tango ‘Adios Noniño’ is a little tame and even more disappointing is that the uptempo ‘El dia que me quieras’ is treated here at a leisurely pace which does not suit the piece at all and is in cmoplete contrast to the magnificent salsa-tango that Eddie Palmieri cooked up on his legendary ‘White album’. Sadly, no details of the specific musicians and their instruments on the promo copy, though a listing of names does exist.

Tim Stenhouse