Pérez/Patitucci/Blade ‘Children of the Light’ (Mack Avenue) 4/5

pérez-patitucci-bladeBetter known as the rhythm section that has accompanied Wayne Shorter for a good part of the last decade, this trio operate in their own right and this latest offering demonstrates why. The music is dense, angular with a profound urgency and this is a marked departure from your standard piano trio. If anything the music harks back to the mid-1960s and the trio that backed Miles Davis that would later in the 1970s reform and record in trio and quartet/quintet formats. A staccato rhythm on ‘Sunborn and mosquito’ hints at Andrew Hill in the phrasing while the repetitive riff on the New Orleans flavoured ‘Moonlight on Congo Square’ sounds like an update on Monk. Pianist Danilo Pérez has soaked up all these influences and more, since on the 1970s flavoured ‘Lunem’, he performs on electric piano in precisely the manner that Chick Corea did on those epic Return to Forever recordings and, in parts, the ‘In a silent way’ period of Joe Zawinul with Miles is similarly evoked here. A medley of ‘Light Echo’ with Wayne Shorter’s ‘Dolores’ allows the trio to flow more organically and really stretch out and at almost ten minutes in length is by some distance the longest piece. The famous piano riff is repeated, but with a different time signature and the trio, here and throughout the album, experiment with varying tempi. In general, this is chamber jazz music a notch or two about the norm and with disparate music influences from African-American and Latin to classical and rock all weaved in. They cooked up a storm at Ronnie Scott’s in 2014 and do likewise in the studio here.

Tim Stenhouse

Malted Milk and Toni Green ‘Milk and Green’ (Nuevo Uno) CD/LP 4/5

milk-and-greenOne of the year’s real soul discoveries, French group Malted Milk and Memphis soul singer Toni Green deserve to enjoy a major hit with this Franco-American collaboration that is a tad grittier than Daft Punk and Nile Rogers/Pharell Williams. Green comes across as in-between of mid-1970s Millie Jackson and Ann Peebles, and when she hits the high notes there are even shades of Chaka Khan, though that is where that comparison ends. Toni Green began singing as a backing singer and worked in Memphis with the likes of deep soul singer Luther Ingram as well as blue-eyed soulsters the Doobie Brothers. Moving to New York, the work rate intensified and she sang background with Dennis Edwards of the Temptations and Luther Vandross among a host of others. By the mid-1990s Green decided to move back to Memphis where she remained in relative obscurity until French producer and writer Sebastian Danchin was introduced to her music via Chicago blues guitarist Poppa Willie. That was some twenty years ago, but more recently Danchin, as artistic director of both the Nice and Paris Jazz Festivals, came across French rhythm and blues group Malted Milk and two years ago he stumbled upon a possible collaboration. The results are here for all to judge.

If Hi Records and the classic 1970s sound of Stax is your bag, then this album will seem like a trip down memory lane. However, there are no famous covers, but rather virtually all newly written material performed in the old style with even a Mary J. Blige song reworked in the classic soul tradition. A fine contender for single release and one of the strongest songs on the entire album is ‘I’d really like to know’ which is quite simply a stunning mid-tempo number. A fine take on ‘Slipped, tripped and fell in love’ is a second uptempo winner with terrific bass line while for quality deep soul ballads, you could hardly better, ‘I can do bad all by myself’ with lovely string accompaniment and a blues guitar solo. There is a neo-Motown backing flavour to the soul-blues number ‘The weather is still fine’ and is the kind of song that either Mavis Staples or indeed Amy Winehouse might have attempted. Malted Milk are a tight sounding outfit and one would not flinch if you heard them and were told they were southern soul veterans from the States, such is their command of the instrumentation and superior arrangements. This album deserves to be a hit and, with a little promotion, the public will be genuinely surprised and taken back at its provenance and the quality of its content.

Tim Stenhouse

Makaya McCraven ‘In The Moment’ (International Anthem) 4/5

makaya-mccravenIt’s not often that you come across an album that is truly innovative. I would stick my neck out and say this is one of them. Makaya McCraven is a Chicago based drummer, writer, producer and not to put too fine a point on it, innovator. “In The Moment” is a work of art – 48 hours worth of live, improvised music, taken from 28 shows at 1 venue – finely edited and crafted into 19 tracks / 75 minutes on 1 uniquely intimate album. Let’s start with McCraven himself; the more you listen to this album, the more obvious it becomes that you are listening to one incredible musician. His style and sound is unique, a heady, skillful, sophisticated and boldly uncompromising mix of jazz and hip-hop, it’s not stretching it too far to say that he has the same aura about him as did say Jack DeJohnette or Tony Williams when they first came on the scene. His sound is so… musical, his beats and rhythms are tunes within themselves. Forget everything else, just listen to the plethora of ideas that spark from his kit – simply stunning. Throughout the sessions that make up this album, McCraven utilises many guest musicians who all contribute to the tunes – most notably Matt Ulery on electric and double bass, Marquis Hill on trumpet, Justin Thomas on vibraphone and Jeff Parker on guitar. Other musicians include Tony Barba on tenor sax and electronics, Joshua Abrams and Janius Paul on double bass, and DeSean Jones on tenor sax. The music being performed could best be described as soundscapes; an artist sculpting themes and repeating motifs to create an energy, an improvised movement of sound that builds and dissipates and fractures before building itself a world anew. It’s not just the wonder of the live recordings that impress, it’s the fact that McCraven has intelligently and thoughtfully used loops and overdubs, remixed and edited the recordings to successfully blend and piece all the elements together into one coherent whole. Masterful work. The tracks are all primarily based around grooves; some that underpin the theme, some that gradually drive before morphing into something quite different, and others that simply go for it, straight out of the starting blocks. Different instruments at different times throughout the session add to the improvisations, but essentially it’s the drum and bass that everything else hinges on, whether that be structured, melodic, lyrical or free-form. There are undoubtedly elements of “In The Moment” that blow the listener away, not least McCraven’s incredible ability as a drummer. Those who love the idea of improvised grooves and beats, looped and beautifully produced to create soundscapes to lose themselves in will be on a high when they hear this. If however, you like your jazz with more clearly defined tunes and a delicious melody, you may be left thinking how awesome this album could have been, if only McCraven had perhaps pre-composed some of the tunes to allow for a melody to lift things out of the groove and to hear the benefits that some solid, unadulterated soloing would have brought to the party. But then, one could also argue, that wouldn’t have been “In the moment”. Either way, McCraven is proving himself to be an immense talent, promising much for the future.

Mike Gates

Frank Carlberg ‘Word Circus’ (Red Piano) 5/5

frank-carlbergPianist/Composer Frank Carlberg has a tidy back catalogue, with perhaps his most notable appearance being beside Kenny Wheeler & Bob Brookmeyer on their album ‘Island’ (Artist House 2002), although for this reviewer it was the release of ‘The Sound of New York Jazz Underground’ (Fresh Sound New Talent 2005) where his complex composition ‘Heaven’ grabbed tightly my attention, and indeed, the very same source for first hearing Christine Correa’s vocal range, proving the release to be the reference for many New York musical adventures of recent years, and it is with the latter that this new album first opens – a short, brow-raising one-liner pushes aside any preconceptions of this being simply a piano led project. No, indeed not, as throughout the album, Christine, a native of Mumbai, dominates the stage, weaving between the intricacy of Carlberg’s exceptional playing ability and the delights that band members John O’Gallagher, alto sax; Pascal Niggenkemper, bass; and Michael Sarin, drums bring to ‘Word Circus’, we are now under no illusion as to the reason for the chosen title, and why, as Frank Carlberg clarifies, “Word Circus is a continuation of my fascination with American poets”.

Written specifically for this quintet, and commissioned by Chamber Music America, the album unfolds around Christine Correa’s voice, the combination is electrifying, but not as one might presume when the word poetry is thrown in the mix – poetic yes, but not poetry as in the spoken word. This stimulating collection of 7 songs make up the album with ‘Even If’ and ‘Stop Telling Me’ screaming an almost spiritual quality, which is why I find the cover artwork to the album most misleading as the look of the album is nothing like the sound of the album.

“But what of the music?” I hear you say. “Simply stunning” comes the reply. The interplay between the band and vocals is astonishing, both rhythmically and dynamically this releases is imaginative. Although little comparison with tone and pitch could be taken from that of Norma Winstone during her ‘Edge of Time’ period, it still has an energy that reminds me of such skill and freedom, particularly when the delivery between Christine and John O’Gallagher is let loose. ‘Things To Do In An Economic Crisis’ has Pascal Niggenkemper providing his beautiful bass solo on what would otherwise be a frenetic number the most harden Avant-Garde listener would be satisfied with hearing. ‘Ecology’ with its slight mutterings, is out there with the best jazz around. There is no denying that Carlberg is a masterful technician at the piano. He knits the piece together with Michael Sarin ‘s pace lifting it for vocal finale – perhaps the band at its best. Indeed, every song has something special.

My only criticism of this release is the cover artwork. It just doesn’t fit with the music therein. That aside, this is a remarkable jazz vocal album and comes highly recommended. Whilst recommending; we would suggest scheduling your next New York trip around the group’s live dates, although admittedly a quick hop over to The Bimhuis in Amsterdam this December 13th might be less of a challenge for our UK readers. Frank Carlberg is pushing boundaries and we will be watching closely.

Steve Williams

ACT ‘ACT II’ (Private Press) 4/5

FINALBen Wendel, tenor sax, melodica, bassoon, Harish Raghavan, bass, and Nate Wood, drums, are collectively ACT, an exciting jazz trio who combine wonderfully on this, their second release. Together they make for a creative force with their gripping, innovative music that wields an effusive, adventurous spirit. The threesome are long-time friends and collaborators, collectively having appeared with Chaka Khan, Greg Osby, Vijay Iyer, Wayne Krantz, Mark Turner and Daedelus. Despite this plethora of outside opportunities, Wendel, Raghavan and Wood continue to feel an enticing lure to perform and record as a stand-alone trio. And I for one am incredibly thankful that this is the case. Wendel explains; “We’ve always had a great time as a trio and this group has always felt like the no pressure/ just for the fun of it project. After we recorded our first album years ago, we always assumed we would document the group again in the future. It’s great to see how things have changed over the years.” The saxophonist goes on to outline how the album was made; “In the dead of winter we stayed in a beautiful home upstate (New York) and recorded/ composed for three days to make this album.” Bassist Raghavan adds; “Recording this cd was a unique experience, going to a random house, not knowing what the space would sound like, writing and arranging and recording in three days. It was crazy, but also inspiring. We’ve played together for almost a decade, and months, even years can pass between gigs, but there’s always a familiarity that’s inspiring.” What they have given us, the listeners, on “ACT II” is a refreshing take on the sax/bass/drums trio format. Invigorating and free-flowing, a general sense of melancholy hangs in the air, with a fresh, crisp winter breeze fuelling excitement and inspired, intelligent performances.

“ACT II” features eight compelling originals, five written by Raghavan and three by Wendel. The key thing here though is that all the tunes are performed with a unity and interplay between the musicians that suggests they all bring an equal presence to the session, the sum of the three creating a multi faceted recording that burns brightly with invention and credibility. Nate Ward’s infectious drumming illuminates many of the tracks, not least the opener “Unforseable” with its power and intensity. Wendel’s melody is raw and untethered, with Raghavan’s bass wonderfully uncompromising in its groove. A perfect example of how richly melodic, yet edgy and unpredictable this trio can be, is heard on one of the best tracks the album has to offer; “Yes You”. Its dark, brooding vigour has a potency that fills the room, forceful, daring and commanding. The music being played is incredible, it seethes with character and bursts with life. Haunting and beautifully somber, “Memorial” employs a stroke of genius with Wendel adding a chordal element to the tune with his clever use of the melodica. Pitched perfectly behind the sax man’s leading lines, the tune radiates an emotional sincerity that is wonderful to hear. “Day and Night” twists the standard “Night and Day” in on itself and dances a dangerous yet riveting path toward the end of what is a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable album. I’m looking forward to “ACT III”. Don’t leave it too long guys.

Mike Gates

Gilad Hekselman ‘Homes’ CD (JazzVillage) 3/5

gilad-hekselmanIsraeli born, New York based guitarist Gilad Hekselman is joined by regular bandmates bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore for this, the trio’s fourth release. Drummer Jeff Ballard also guests on a couple of tracks. The core trio undoubtedly benefit from having performed together for years now, delighting listeners with their elegant, intuitive interplay and a cool sense of time and place that suggests the trio know each other so well that they have the freedom to improvise around a tune with an almost telepathic-like understanding. The recording of “Homes” was inspired by Hekselman’s exhaustive travelling and touring, as the guitarist explains; “Being a travelling musician you go to different places, and different places start feeling like home as well. So it’s like this feeling that you have several homes, and sometimes feeling like you don’t have a home…like you’re rootless. But then in a way you have to realise that home is who you are; you’re carrying home on you.” And it has to be said that the music throughout this album really does have that sense of a mixture of feelings that such matters arouse; longing, hope, love, loneliness, peace, warmth and placement/displacement. This is partly due to the themes involved that course freely through the compositions, but also due to the unique style and tone of the guitarist’s playing. Hekselman employs an at times sparse, laid-back style that emits a cool radiance of thoughtfulness and contemplation; one which allows the guitarist to explore complex music with both subtlety and gentle, accomplished skill. The session opens with the title track which acts as a short introduction to the album, followed by “Verona” which gets the trio up and running, working their way around a melodic piece of writing that gradually draws the listener in with its carefully crafted subtleties and nuances. “Keedee” excels with its wonderful two drummer interplay between Marcus Gilmore and Jeff Ballard, richly rewarding. Hekselman switches to nylon string guitar for the lovely solo piece “Home E-Minor” and the even shorter “Space” allows the guitarist to test out a few cosmic sounds, leading into the lengthy piece “Cosmic Patience”. The drums and bass combine wonderfully here to help Heskelman create an electric atmosphere that benefits from some grungy overdubs. The trio show their class on “Eyes to See”, before taking on Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare”, a tune that the trio get hold of by the scruff of the neck before loosening their grip and enjoying the freedom that the tune evokes. Great playing from all three musicians and a cracking solo from Heskelman, this is one of my favourite tracks on the album. There’s a warm glow to the excellent Baden Powell tune “Samba Em Preludio”, and Heskelman delivers an interesting, original take on Pat Metheny’s classic “Last Train Home”. The album closes with “Dove Song” and is rounded off nicely with the equanimity that “Place Like No Home” gives us.

It is obvious to me that Hekselman is one of the most intelligent, quietly accomplished guitarists I could hope to listen to. He breathes life into his music through his incomparable skill and devotion. For me though, on this recording at least, there’s just something missing. Perhaps that little bit of magic or spark that ignites a feeling that I’m listening to something very special. It’s hard to explain, and I guess as with all music it’s a personal thing that is difficult to verbalise, but I’m not “feeling” an emotional depth or a rewarding excitement. It is masterful playing from all of the musicians involved, but I don’t have the same sense of engagement or involvement that I do with albums that truly light my fire; for whatever reason that may be.

Mike Gates

Enrico Rava and Gianluca Petrella ‘Wild Dance’ (ECM) 4/5

2456 XVeteran Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava has been recording for ECM on and off for some forty years, a highpoint being the 1975 recording, ‘The Pilgrim and the stars’, and on this latest project has enlisted his fellow native and trombonist Gianluca Petrella for a lyrical album of all original pieces that in some respects harks back in tone to the mid-late 1950s recordings of Miles Davis, though guitarist Francesco Diodati’s contribution updates the sound to the post-acoustic period of ‘Bitches Brew’. There are glorious moments of introspection as on the opener, ‘Diva’, with delicate guitar accompaniment. Trumpet and trombone at the forefront of a jazz formation may sound odd to some, but for Rava this is very much a continuation of his own association with trombonist Roswell Rudd whose music and the New York loft scene of the 1970s has heavily influenced the trumpeter. Those wilder days of the hedonistic era are now less frequent, though there are definite shades of the post-bop Ornette on an uptempo raid on ‘Infant’ where Petrella solos ad lib. The two operate in tandem on the attractive chorus to ‘Space girl’ with shades of Kenny Wheeler from Rava while the guitar certainly has echoes of 1980s Pat Metheny on the ECM label. Overall, there is a lovely spaced out feel to the recording which took place in Udine. Fine and sensitive percussive accompaniment from Enrico Morello facilitates an economy of style and the use of guitar rather than piano is ideal in this context, and lends a greater flexibility to musical matters.

Tim Stenhouse

Christian McBride ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ (Mack Avenue) 4/5

christian-mcbride-trioBassist extraordinaire Christian McBride toured Europe during this summer and this fine in concert recording from the unofficial historical home of live jazz in New York’s Greenwich Village gives us a real flavour of where his trio is currently at. The emphasis is on relentlessly soulful grooves that swing and an unlikely, yet stunning reworking of the disco classic ‘Car Wash’ from Rose Royce, is inventively resituated in a jazz idiom with repeated bass line and piano vamp serving as a departure point from improvisation, plus audience handclapping, all of which helps create a vibrant atmosphere in which to re-create the famous Norman Whitfield production. With a line-up comprising pianist Christian Sands, who combines elements of the blues approach of Gene Harris, the modern impressionistic hues of Herbie Hancock and the soulfulness of Ramsey Lewis, and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., this a trio out to impress. The jazz tradition is never too far away from the surface as exemplified on a stretched out piano melody to ‘Good morning heartache’ that Billie Holiday made her own and McBride takes a fine solo here. Opening up the evening’s entertainment is a Wes Montgomery number in the soul-jazz tradition, ‘Fried Pies’, and one barely notices the absence of guitar as on the original. Only the slightly odd mid-tempo waltz take on ‘Cherokee’ does not really work for this writer in comparison to the blistering be-bop original. Contemporary soul music is something this trio feels comfortable with and a lovely, gentle and altogether introspective reading of Rod Temperton’s ‘Lady in my life’ that Michael Jackson sang on ‘Thriller’ here receives a relaxed blues-inflected work over. One original composition, co-written by McBride and Sands, rounds matters off nicely.

Tim Stenhouse

Mark Murphy R.I.P.

The celebrated singer who gave the UK jazz world so much joy passed away yesterday.

Some random recollections on the passing of Mark Murphy (March 14, 1932 – October 22, 2015).

I still remember like it was yesterday (instead of half my lifetime ago) the trepidation I felt as I travelled to an early (1986/7) Birmingham Jazz gig as a new recruit to their board, to hear for the first time a Male Jazz singer. I had stayed silent when his concert availability was first mooted, knowing nothing of his singing style, and expected yet another sub Sinatra crooner. I knew my Last Poets and Leon Thomas, relating to their righteousness and mysticism, but some white guy with a pick up piano trio?

This was of course Mark Murphy, who passed away on Thursday the 22nd of October at the age of 83, in the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. It just goes to show how prejudice is a two way street. Instead of judging him by the press pic with the booking details, I should have done my homework. What we heard that night was a soloist of the first order, making harder work of riffing off tunes and famous horn solos by setting his own words to them. We were eased in to the programme with a subtly quirky take on ‘Nature Boy’, but this was followed by a full immersion in to a concoction of tunes themed around Jack Kerouac. This material drew on several Muse label albums of his, still in print I suspect at that time, all worth hearing. San Francisco of the Bop era came to life in a jagged expressionist soundscape. I was hooked.

Vocalese, as this style is known, really calls upon the patience of the improvisor, armed with a turntable and notepad, as they build the picture in sound at the speed of a stop motion animator working in the pre digital era. Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure, Annie Ross and Jon Hendricks pioneered the form, but the leap from Swing to Modern was made by this charming, affable, urban and urbane vocalist. His unique sound was no doubt informed by the New York lifestyle he embraced so wholeheartedly (it was, after all the heart of modern jazz for half a century), whilst maintaining a hidden sexuality. We are on a new page in singing style from his earliest Riverside recordings, albums we saw over here first in Fontana guise, all of which I hoovered up as I spotted them on my travels, as well as those Muses I mentioned. Fine singing is still found in this last decade on recordings made by British label, Gearbox, along with six or seven other projects, mainly collaborations. Sandwiched between these, he developed an affinity for England, moving here for a while in the late 60’s to early 70’s. He retained that fondness for here, letting his local admirers know he wanted them to set up a British fan club.

As I’ve mentioned in social media, I firmly believe the torch has been passed to Kurt Elling in this niche vocalese style, but what greater tribute to his standing could there be than to know that Elling regards him as without peer.

Mark Harrington

Gloria Gaynor ‘I’ve Got You’ (BBR) 3/5

gloria-gaynorDisco diva par excellence, Gloria Gaynor has an impressive track record prior to the global hit, ‘I will survive’, and this album, dating from 1976, is one of the forgotten and overlooked recordings that was just three years away from her achieving mega stardom, and historically arrived on the scene in the summer of 1976 when the Bee Gees were climbing the dance charts with ‘You should be dancing’ and in the number one slot was the left-field debut of Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. In truth, the album is a tale of two cities with a strong first side and a weaker second. The first replicates the winning formula of the previous album concept, ‘Never can say goodbye’, from 1975, and again Tom Moulton is at the helm to ensure a non-stop segue of three dance-oriented numbers and this works extremely well. These include the more pop-disco Philly feel of ‘Let’s make a deal’ that starts off the album, while the pick of the trio is probably the inventive reworking of Cole Porter’s standard, the classic, ‘I’ve got you under my skin’. This unlikely candidate for a disco makeover actually works a treat and the jazzy orchestrations, snare drum and swirling strings transform the song into a classy dance number. A heavily percussive ‘Be mine’ ends the first side of the original vinyl with a quality soul-disco piece. Side two highlights how the distinction between pop and disco was a subtle one with the cheesy synths on ‘Let’s make love’ detracting somewhat whereas the Philly stomper of ‘Nothing in this world’ is a far superior effort and clearer indication of what Gloria Gaynor was fully capable of. Gloria even gets down to a grittier Stax feel on the mid-tempo ‘Do it right’ and had she come onto the scene a few years earlier she could have thrived as a deep soul singer. That Gaynor could sing soul ballads is amply demonstrated by ‘Touch of lightning’ and this side to her repertoire is largely neglected. Perhaps, what this album reveals is that Gloria Gaynor’s musical identity had not yet been fully forged at the time of this recording, but better was definitely to come and especially in the shape of the 1978 album, ‘Park Avenue Sound’, that is arguably her strongest all round album of her entire career.

Tim Stenhouse