ECM has made a reputation for its eclectic and open-minded approach to music and this is one perfect illustration of why it has been such an inspiration for and supporter of internationally lesser recognised world roots sounds. Who else would have had the foresight and put their hands into their pockets to finance a project that unites grass roots musicians of Armenia and Turkey and couple them with the Dresden Symphony Orchestra. That feat alone is deserving of our attention and gratitude. What of the music? It is a deliberate attempt to take the listener on a musical voyage of discovery and to aid them a concert of the performance from July 2011 has been included in DVD format with stunning images of the local scenery. Overseeing matters musically is Marc Sinan whose own ancestral roots lie with his grandparents who resided on the Black Sea coast, near to the Armenian border. What truly comes across in the film is the extent to which the eastern roots instrumentation has been expertly weaved into a cohesive whole with the textures of a symphonic orchestra of western classical and east meets west in a heady fusion. The various frescoes bear testimony to the métissage of cultures as with the use of the darbouka and oud which are both commonplace in the Maghreb and Middle East, or on the Turkish saz. On occasions the instrumental accompaniment becomes minimalist as on Painting Four with the traditional wailing voice of Sener Götz.
Conductor Jonathan Stockhammer does a fine job of ensuring the orchestra embellishes the existing roots rhythms rather than overpowering them. As ever with ECM, superb digipak presentation and a real treat of a recording if you are in search of something deeply melodic, yet a subtle dislocation from the norm. Tim Stenhouse
Here is one of the most intriguing new releases of the year and a major new talent on the London jazz scene. Born on the south-east coast of Ireland in picturesque Waterford, nothing predestined bassist Mick Coady towards jazz. Rather he performed in local R & B and rock bands before a chance encounter led to a Damscus-style conversion to the preaching of the jazz gospel and a period of study at the prestigious Berklee music college. In fact Coady has been performing on the London jazz scene for the last ten years and has worked under the likes of Ronnie Cuber, Scott Hamilton and Mark Murphy to name but a few as well as being a member of Loop Collective. His debut as a leader is a delight from start to finish and deserves to be placed among the finest new recordings of the year. The tightly bound rhythm section comprises pianist Ivo Neame who will be a familiar name to fans of Phronesis, tenor saxophonist Michael Buckley, drummer Sean Carpio and a guest appearance by US alto saxophonist David Binney. It has to be stated form the outset that this is challenging music with the musicians themselves pushing themselves to the limit and this makes for a thrilling listening experience. The all original set is marked by a maturity of writing that only comes from having spent so much time observing and participating with some of the contemporary greats, and is perfectly illustrated by the near thirteen minute composition ‘Abyss’ which begins with a reflective opening, but then develops into a expansive trio-led piece with an alto solo that recalls Wayne Shorter’s tenor in the degree of intensity expended. Likewise the gentle number ’64 Claudio Coelho’ is a deceptive piece that builds up a head of steam with a lengthy tenor solo on this occasion from Michael Buckley and some piano excursions from Neame that remind one of mid-1960s Herbie Hancock. Indeed the fluidity of performance here harks back to the 1960s era and on ‘Autumn’ the fiery alto of Binney conjures up Eric Dolphy while Buckley’s more laid back approach hints at Joe Lovano and Hank Mobley. A fine ensemble number is ‘Beginning’ with an intensely passionate rhythm section in full flow reaching ever higher climbs and mid-1960s Miles has surely been an inspiration for this formation. The indefinable quality to this album that lifts it above the rest is the subtle use of world music elements that add just an extra touch of variety to proceedings. In future albums perhaps this ingredient may become more pronounced and should be explored further. For the time being this wonderful recording will do just nicely. Tim Stenhouse
If the name is somewhat unfamiliar, the brains behind it will be a welcome rediscovery. Blue Torch Paper is in fact the brainchild of composer, keyboardist and leader Colin Towns and his impressive and extremely diverse CV includes both film and television work as well as his previous musical life as a prog-rock keyboardist. This latest project has been two years in the planning and is a follow up to the well received ‘Stand well back’ album. An interesting array of London-based musicians accompany Towns in his endeavours with individual members of Polar Bear, Troyka and Kit Downs’ ensemble all present. In terms of influences, Miles’ electric period is well represented, particularly from ‘Bitches Brew’ onwards, there are hints at the jazzier side of frank Zappa and even the progressive innovations of the latter part of the Beatles career. That said, the music is still rooted in the jazz tradition with Gil Evans’ orchestrations an obvious feature and the great composer and arranger is evoked on both the brass and piano sound of ‘Juggling with strangers’ which is a definite album highlight. Post-bop mayhem of the Weather Report meets John Zorn variety is a dominant theme of ‘Watch Out’ with a meaty tenor solo from Mark Lockheart while Towns himself excels on the intimate keyboards of ‘Isadora’. For devotees of jazz-rock the guitar soloing on ‘Attention seeker’ will fit the bill admirably and this is a homage to Gil Evans’ own tribute to the Jimi Hendrix era. World beats emerge with gospel, Spanish tinge and tango all combining on ‘Suddenly tango’ which has some delightful piano vamps and soprano sax from Lockheart. Blue Torch Paper will be performing live at the Vortex in London next February and this will be part of a forthcoming UK tour. Tim Stenhouse
UK born, but New York resident since 2006, pianist and composer John Escreet has quickly established a reputation for music on the edges and this latest set, following on from the 2011 album ‘The age we live in’ will not disappoint. What is impressive here is the post-bop approach that incorporates big band orchestrations alongside strings, and in the recording sound this has something of a 1970s retro feel to it. The quintet includes saxophonists Chris Potter and David Binney, the latter of whom makes a lengthier appearance on the debut album by Mick Coady’s Synergy, another Jellymould release. The album is characterised by a combination of off-beat rhythms and free improvisational influences as on the staccato rhythm of the trio-led ‘The Decapitator’ which is on the surface a quiet reflective piece, yet still unsettling underneath, or on the explosion of brass that predominates on the title track. Elsewhere there is lyricism on ‘Laura Angela’ and even a neo-bop theme undercurrent on ‘He who dares’ with a fine tenor solo by Potter. The album title is actually a reference to both the US Presidential triumph of Barack Obama and hurricane Sandy. Tim Stenhouse
If it is music that has you on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next that you are searching for, then you may just have found your nirvana in Tim Berne’s Snakeoil formation. This acoustic quartet has been in operation for four years and a critically acclaimed debut for ECM surfaced only last year and rapidly made the Downbeat top ten. It is an indication of the band’s precocious inventiveness that a second album is already upon us. The music veers between post-bop, new music and improvisation and as such is quite divorced from the jazz tradition and this is reflected in the influences of the group members that are truly eclectic and by no means exclusive to jazz. Percussionist Ches Smith has performed with both Marc Ribot and John Zorn while pianist Matt Mitchell has recently been part of the Dave Douglas Quintet. Multireedist Oscar Noriega meanwhile has worked with Anthony Braxton. With such heavyweight credentials, the music is anything but predictable and the rambling number ‘Socket’ gains in intensity at the piece unfolds with furious percussion work from Smith and the alto saxophone work of the leader and the clarinet of Noriega working in tandem when all of a sudden an intimate piano and alto interlude intervenes. A cacophony of sounds greets the listener on the hustle bustle of a piece that is ‘OC/DC’ and a hypnotic riff is created between piano and alto with Smith doubling up on vibraphone. However, it would be wrong to bracket the formation as being only interested in fast-paced numbers for on the Paul Motion composition ‘Psalm’ the saxophone wails sweetly and this writer would like to hear more of this side to the band on subsequent albums. Three of the compositions range between fifteen and twenty minutes in length and comprise the second half of the album. Progressive improvised music where jazz is but one component is a recurring theme in much of New York’s cutting edge scene and Tim Berne’s Snakeoil are at the apex of the emerging groups. Tim Stenhouse
This is in fact the third album on the label for London-based collective Empirical, the previous two dating from 2009 and 2011 respectively, and the latest offering roughly follows suit in an Eric Dolphy from his ‘Out to Lunch ‘ period meets the classic Coltrane quartet inspired set. A similar core line-up to previously of the quartet comprises the alto saxophone of Nathaniel Farcey, the vibes of Lewis Wright, the bass of Tom Farmer with Shaney Forbes on the drums. What is different this time round is the addition of strings in the form of the Benyounes quartet who add an extra layer of texture to the band’s overall sound and if they develop this over a couple of albums, it could just be the making of them. Indeed in the six years in which Empirical have been in existence there has been a marked transformation from contemporary jazz to a jazz ensemble with distinctive classical chamber group influences. One of the most interesting compositions ‘The Prophet’ has a strong rootsy folk influence with a vibes and alto saxophone led riff and this conjures up late 1960s Bobby Hutcherson. On the opener ‘The simple light shines brightest’ there is something of an Eastern flavour in the use of strings and Farcey’s alto lead is accompanied with some tasteful drum accompaniment. Coltrane’s musical presence is most evident on the spiritually imbued pieces ‘Ascent’ and ‘Descent’ with some gentle strings leading the way. A recent UK tour including a date in mid-October at the Purcell room will have done the band a power of good and one looks forward to their future output and continuing evolution. Tim Stenhouse
Seattle based group Pink Martini have a widely eclectic approach to music and have endeared themselves to fans globally by combining easy listening flavours with quirky takes on world beats. It sometimes comes across as Manhattan Transfer meets Tinariwen, though no comparison can truly convey what is in store for the listener. This latest album is in fact the first studio in four years following on from 2009’s ‘Splendour in the grass’. While the retro take on world roots is a reassuring and comforting one, the jazzy orchestrations hint at Frank Sinatra. The 1950s style old world charm is typified by the opener ‘Ich liebe dich’ which is sung in both English and German and the polyglot nature of the vocals is quite bewildering, but mightily impressive. Japanese pop surfaces on ‘Zundohobushi’ while ‘I’m writing for you’ is possibly in Chinese and features the vocals of one Meouw Meouw who delivers in a high-pitched tone with swing jazz accompaniment. Latin mambo with a big band flavour has long been a staple of Pink Martini’s repertoire and on this occasion ‘Sway’ is sung in English with brass and percussion both prominent. Spanish language devotees will not be disappointed, however, with ‘Yo te quiero’ that features a classical piano and strings intro even if the vocals are more opera than flamenco! World roots purists will be foaming at the mouth at some of the interpretations here, but that is to miss the point. Listening to Pink Martini is meant to be a fun experience and if the versions are anything but authentic, they were never intended to be.