Julian Argüelles ‘Tetra’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

julian-argüellesLoose Tubes alumni Julian Argüelles is a busy man. As a leader he is currently fronting an exciting quartet comprising pianist Kit Downes, double bassist Sam Lasserson and drummer James Madren. This all original set was inspired by a visit to Portugal and Spain, hence the impressionistic visions that the leader has created. A famous Iberian riff that is in fact a north-western Spanish folk song in ‘Asturias’ begins in earnest after a lengthy drum intro when the main theme suddenly emerges. Thereafter, the listener is taken on a tenor saxophone and piano excursion into deepest Spain. This writer especially liked the polyrhythms deployed. Another lovely piece is the staccato rhythm of ‘Hurley Burley’ and here features some intense soprano work from Argüelles. Meditational themes permeate the album with the meandering ten and a half minute ‘Nitty gritty’ a fine illustration with lyrical vamping from Downes and then a lengthy solo while the rest of the rhythm section accompany gently. At times Argüelles come across as a composite of Charles Lloyd and Wayne Shorter and it is the former who is evoked on the spiritually uplifting and soulful ‘Yada Yada’ with drum beats that keep the piece on edge. This working quartet has operated collectively for the last three years and an integral part of the winning formula is the individual chemistry between leader and pianist. The two combine on a reflective number, ‘Hocus pocus’, that gradually builds up a head of pace and bass and drums head off on an inventive lyrical adventure. A fine recording, then, all round. A recent UK tour has taken place in late October and early November.

Tim Stenhouse

Food ‘This is Not a Miracle’ (ECM) 3/5

foodCreated back in 1998, the musical collective Food has oscillated in composition over time, but two stalwarts have remained and they are multi-reedist Iain Ballamy and keyboardist/percussionist Thomas Strønen with a single new member in guitarist and electronica performer Christian Fennesz. Recorded in Oslo (but not at the usual Rainbow studios) over a relatively short period of three days and then re-worked over a further five month period in Str*nen’s own studio, this is very much a twenty-first century take on improvisational music with a heavy dose of electronica that will either endear or alienate depending on the individual’s capacity to taken on board contemporary beats. In parts it can be a disconcerting listen insofar as instruments can seem to be going against one another. However, it is also an album of beautiful moments and, in general, a sound that in some respects harks back to the early 1990s Jan Garbarek group recordings. The album works best on the layered textures created on synthesizers of the title track with the sparseness of Ballamy’s tenor and sheets of sound emanating from the percussion. A haunting combination of soprano saxophone and an experimental sounding percussion works a treat on ‘Death of Niger’.

On the other hand, some of the numbers are difficult to access with drum beats ever more discernible and intrusive on ‘Exposed to frost’. As befitting the use of electronic music involved in the editing process, Iain Ballamy’s own saxophone playing has not been spared from the cutting and this writer would have liked to have heard more of that contribution overall. The pieces are concise and for an ECM album and quite short with album as a whole weighing in at just under fifty minutes. Late November and early December dates in Ireland and the UK including the MAC, Birmingham on 2 December.

Tim Stenhouse

Stefano Battaglia Trio ‘In The Morning’ (ECM) 4/5

stefano-battaglia-trioPiano trios are becoming something of a speciality within the Italian jazz fraternity and now reaching the venerable age of fifty, leader and pianist Stefano Battaglia demonstrates why he is one of the leading exponents in both his country and on the European continent with this live recording from the Teatro Vittoria in Turin in April 2014. Parallels with the Bill Evans trio and even Keith Jarrett are valid and will be made given the introspective nature of the music contained within, though Battaglia is most influenced by the style and work of Paul Bley and to a lesser extent by that of Jarrett. However, Battaglia is very much his own man and devotes the album to an exploration of the major, yet lesser known composers of what has become known as the great American songbook in Alec Wilder. For those not already familiar with his body of work, his compositions have been recorded by a bevvy of star singers including Judy Garland, Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra among others. Double bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani complete the line-up and the fact that there is only a four year gap between all the trio members may account for the natural empathy between the constituent parts of the trio. The lengthy, languid opener of the title track unfolds with a mounting of tension while Battaglia is at his most melodic on the quiet introspection of ‘When I am dead by dearest’ and there is glorious supportive work from the rest of the rhythm section here. One of the most endearing of all Wilder pieces is ‘River run’ and Battaglia is on fire with cascading piano rolls that create several layers of sound.
Alec Wilder not only composed, but equally wrote about music with his book, ‘American popular song. The great innovators 1900-1950’ a very worthy read. A number covered by Jarrett, ‘Moon and Soul’, receives a treatment that is at once subtle and tender, caressing the melody tenderly. Previous recordings have been similarly theme focused with ‘Pasolini’ from 2007 noteworthy and locations prominent as in ‘Songways’ from 2012. A fine way to end the year and once again an ECM recording of distinction with impeccable sound as ever.

Tim Stenhouse

Philip Clouts Quartet ‘Umoya’ (Odradek) 4/5

00 porta CD Aki def foto+traccia  copiaIf you like your jazz music to be strong on the groove and with a subtle infusion of world beats, then this excellent new recording from the Philip Clouts Quartet may well prove to be a revelatory experience. Born in South Africa, but from an early age resident in London, leader, pianist and composer Philip Clouts studied under renowned pianist and music lecturer Howard Riley at the Guildhall School of Music and further study with Bheki Mseleku helped to refine his sound. The waltz-like opener, ‘Lila’, is notable for the sweet sounding alto saxophone of Eagles, but it’s inspiration in fact lies in the trance-like gnawa music tradition of Morocco. Interestingly, there are hints of an all-acoustic Weather Report on ‘Dreamy Driving’ and here the change of pace within the piece is a joy to behold. Saxophonist Samuel Eagles, who has been mentored partly by former Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint and studied at Trinity Music College, comes across as something of a latter day Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, and has already been featured as a leader in his own right for his debut album on the F-IRE label, ‘Next Beginning’. There is a subtle use of Afro-Beat drum patterns by drummer Dave Ingamells on ‘Walking in Starlight’ with Clouts reverting to electric piano for a more 1970s feel, and the bass line by Alex Keen is an especially compelling one. A slow burner of an album that gets better with repeated listens.

Tim Stenhouse

David Sinclair’s “25 years of jazz photography” – 116 gems

November 2015 @ The Royal Albert Hall – sponsored by Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Soho, London

– An EFG London Jazz Festival event.

steve-williamson_by_David Sinclair

When one is faced with 116 photos of some of the great artists and musicians of the jazz world (and more), one can only stand and admire.
I was honoured to be invited to the preview of the show: all the photos, curated by David’s son as well, Malcolm, are exhibited around the amphitheatre of the building. Clever and fun at the same time.
I loved looking at each and every single one of them, but David Sinclair being David Sinclair, his mark is for sure on each print. One can spot the David Sinclair from a mile. From Max Roach to Ronnie Scott to Charlie Watts. My favourite illustrates this short piece on the exhibition. I am a great fan of saxophonist Steve Williamson, I love David’s photo of him. It captures the man perfectly.

David Sinclair’s photos for the exhibition are only a hand-full taken from an archive of 50,000!

To see more photos, and perhaps buy some too, visit sinclairjazz.com

by Erminia Yardley

Oran Etkin ‘What’s new? Re-imagining Benny Goodman’ (Motéma) 3/5

oran-etkinHow might Benny Goodman have sounded if he was catapulted several decades into the future and to the present day state of jazz? This is the unlikely task that Israeli born, but now long-time US settled clarinettist Oran Etkin set himself and, in truth, this is a very patchy affair which certainly, has its moments, but is fundamentally flawed in its conceptualisation. Take for example the very modern and even experimental sounding ‘Dinah’. Here, the influence of Thelonius Monk seems to have been added, but the result is sadly disjointed. That said, when Etkin ditches the inappropriate modern musings and instead goes back to a more traditional interpretation, the music improves immeasurably as on the uptempo piano plus clarinet duetting on ‘Running Wild’, with vibraphone in attendance. A welcome addition is that of singer Charanee Wade and she contributes with fine vocals alongside supportive piano work from Sullivan Frotner on ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’ and once more on ‘After You’ve Gone’. The question does need to be asked of whether Etkin wishes to be a traditionalist or a modernist and quite possibly he currently sits uneasily between the two. Perhaps Oran Etkin would have been better served devoting the whole project to a vocal plus clarinet duet recording and separating out his major stylistic elsewhere. A bit of a missed opportunity in general.

Tim Stenhouse

Wilson Pickett ‘Mr. Magic Man. The Complete RCA Studio Recordings’ 2CD (Real Gone Music) 4/5

wilson-pickettBy the beginning of the 1970s, soul singer Wilson Pickett was moving with the times and he scored a major success with his final Atlantic recording, ‘In Philadelphia’, that was a marked departure in style from the grittier southern recorded albums. The then newly ascending Philly sound was in its infancy and a single ‘Engine number nine’ shot up the charts. This handy anthology neatly takes up the story where Pickett’s Atlantic contract finished and a new chapter in his career with RCA began. Wilson Pickett was already an established artist and consequently there was little need to re-brand him since he had an immediately recognisable voice and overall sound.
The first album for RCA was ‘Mr Magic’ and while the title track was a minor hit, as a whole there was something a little missing of the magic that his Atlantic albums captured in abundance. However, the second album, recorded in Nashville in 1973, was ‘Miz Lena’s boy’ and was co-produced by the singer and Brad Shapiro. It retains some of the rougher edge to Pickett’s previous work and there is certainly an old school feel to ‘Soft soul boogie woogie’ with blues-inflected electric piano and the use of horns. Why break a winning formula when it attracted attention in the past? Pickett was always an excellent chooser of cover material and in this case ‘Help me through the night’ had been a recent chart entry for Kris Kristofferson and Pickett transforms the number into an uptempo soulful ditty. A tasteful mid-tempo song, ‘Is your love live better’, is taken at a leisurely tempo while the Stax-influenced, ‘Take a close look at the woman you’re with’, was a top forty entry in the R & B charts.

During the early 1970s Wilson Pickett’s voice was still in its prime and the 1974 album, ‘Pickett in the Pocket’, saw him return to Muscle Shoals. The Memphis Horns were on board for stabbing horn accompaniment and the classy female background vocals were supplied by none other than Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes. This is arguably the strongest album of all the RCA records and it is one that most logically follows on from the Atlantic era. A storming mid-tempo southern soul opener was penned by singer-songwriter George Jackson and is a winner in every department with some tasty piano rounding off the pleasurable experience. The deep soul ambiance continues on a gently uplifting ballad in Isn’t that so’ and there is something of a blues feel to ‘I was too nice’, co-written by Pickett and Dave Crawford, the latter of whom would play a vital role in Candi Staton’s career in the mid-1970s. Only the slightly dated neo-Stax sound of ‘Don’t pass me by’ sounds a trifle passé in comparison to the smoother soul sound that was permeating the United States from the Philadelphia International staple. In 1974 Pickett recorded a ‘Live in Japan’ double album that reprised some of old material and fused it with the new. Sadly this album is not contained within and that is pity. By 1975 Wilson Pickett was primarily associated with a previous era and the advent of disco made his old-school soul seem somewhat behind the times. A change of musical direction arrived with ‘Joint me and let’s be free’ and in truth it confused long-term fans and did not attract a substantial number of new ones. Funk producer Yusuf Rahman was recruited, but the result is not especially convincing to these ears in comparison to rivals of the stature of Earth-Wind and Fire, the Ohio Players and even veterans the Isley Brothers who had evolved their distinctive sound. It works best on the ballads and the blues influenced numbers with a cover of a Paul Butterfield tune, ‘Take your pleasure where you find it’, the pick of the bunch among the uptempo songs and a killer bass line throughout. An aching ballad of some distinction comes in the shape of ‘What good is a lie’ and with fine female background vocals and horns, this was a vintage blast from the past. It should have been a hit single, but in fact no single was ever released off the album, a sure sign that the record company had lost faith in their singer. To give some idea of how this material compared with his mid-late 1960s classics, one only has to listen carefully to ‘Smokin’ in the United Nations’, a pretty decent driving number, yet not nearly as strong in the horns department and, recorded in L.A, just a little too on the smooth side for Pickett’s trademark delivery. Wilson Pickett would pass away aged just sixty-four in 2006. While his Atlantic sides will remain the definitive era in his career, these RCA albums as a whole stand the test of time pretty well and any fan of Pickett or indeed quality soul music will want to hear them.

Tim Stenhouse

Brian Ellis & Brian Granger ‘At Dusk’ (El Paraiso) 5/5

brian-ellis-brian-grainger“At Dusk” is a collaboration between Southern Californian native Brian Ellis and South Carolina ambient producer Brian Granger – and it’s a little gem of an album. It’s trippy, ambient and psychedelic sound takes the listener back to the heyday of an early 70’s analogue, vintage warmth and spaced-out loveliness. The two offbeat musicians tune in, zone out, and with the use of acoustic guitars, percussion, flutes and vintage synths create their own unique world of sound that drifts effortlessly into the listener’s ears. The resulting set of tunes are of a ghostly, meditative nature, mellow and mysterious.
“At Dusk” is a tale of two Brians: Brian Ellis is a producer and multi-musician from Escondido. He plays guitar in the progrock band Astra, saxophone for Psicomagia and keys in the excellent, ever-adventuring Brian Ellis Group. Brian Granger is a musician, producer and record label owner from Columbia, South Carolina. His massive output over the years has included his work as Milieu and Coppice Halifax. Their collaboration here is a kaleidoscopic work of rare intensity. At times serene and life affirming, at other times dark and edgy, the two Brians share an interconnected, at times intergalactic understanding. Their music sounds rooted in the British folk scene of the late 60’s, with the alluring textures and colours of early 70’s psychedelia thrown in for good measure. I would hasten to add though, there is nothing hastily thrown together about this album. “At Dusk” is a carefully crafted work of art, one that stirs the soul with a spiritual like grace.

As a guitarist myself, I can really appreciate the sound and feel of this recording. Lovely open tunings truly radiate and glow. The synth sounds are beautifully played and thoughtfully mixed with other instruments to give an earthy, lush sound that personifies everything good about a musical (not so?) bygone era. I remember well (albeit around 25 years ago), playing around with my Fostex 4 Track Tape Recorder- attempting to stretch the boundaries by bouncing tracks down and trying out new looped sounds from a reel to reel echo machine. Double tracking guitar parts, inventing brave new sounds in my head that my skill as a guitarist could never quite achieve. This is the album I would have loved to have made. There’s a timelessness to this music, and although it may sound easy to achieve, it’s not. Many have tried similar projects, but this one stands alone as a majestic masterpiece.

There are 10 tracks on the album, though to separate them out would be the wrong thing to do. Each tune has its own ambience but together the pieces flow like a river, sometimes slow and lazy, sometimes crashing with carefree abandon. From the gentile opening of the title track, through to the ethereal sounds of the closing track “Night Beach”, we are taken on a journey through time and space, evoking thoughts of a rural American long-lost landscape, with its less travelled byroads leading to lost love and abstract acquaintances along the way. This is undoubtedly one of those albums that shifts in mood depending on the circumstances it is played in. When all is said and done, “At Dusk” is a gorgeous recording that needs to be listened to with an open mind and an open heart. Let the music in and allow the sumptuous sounds to speak for themselves.

Mike Gates

Rogier Telderman Trio ‘Contours’ (RM) 4/5

rogier-telderman-trioNine original compositions make up Dutch pianist Rogier Telderman’s debut recording with his trio. Featuring Guus Bakker on bass, and Tuur Moens on drums, the threesome have produced a very fine album indeed. “Contours” is awash with some excellent writing from Telderman, married with first rate performances from all involved. There is a quiet, untroubled beauty to this album, with the pianist creating melodic and lyrical themes that gently twist and turn their way throughout the recording. Telderman is a storyteller at heart, and it is with a romantic, emotive bent that he spins these nine mesmerising tales for the trio to perform.
My initial thoughts as “Goodbye Monsieur Belkin” begins the album, are that Telderman has that same clarity and melodic simplicity as Brad Mehldau. There is a touching minimalism to this tune, a focus that is clear throughout the entire album. Thoughtful, lovely chord sequences stir the emotions as the song builds – somewhat EST style – allowing for the coherent trio to explore the feel of the tune itself. One could say that these are mood pieces, and the trio might have a solid jazz ethic at its core, but there are certainly a mixture of influences shining through, from classical to ambient to rock. “Minor Conspiracy” is built upon a great bass line from Bakker, with Telderman adding a light and deft touch with the uplifting melody. There’s nothing “out there” and there’s no pushing of musical boundaries here, but as on tracks like “Sketch” and “Strange Place” it is the lyrical beauty which grabs hold of the listener – gently at first – then more tightly as the interplay between the trio works it’s magic. “Song for AC” is more straight ahead jazz, with Moens on top form on the kit. As the album develops with more and more intelligently played themes, Telderman proves himself to be an incisive teller of tales. On “Slippers” there is a sense of strength and purpose that lifts the music to a high level, and the closing track “Waltz” will have a place in my heart for some time to come.

A very good debut from a very promising trio, “Contours” was released earlier this year and the trio have spent much of 2015 touring the Netherlands and Europe. Between April and May 2016 the trio will embark on a Nationwide tour, for which Telderman has been composing new tunes. Their live sound is said to be more raw and open – allowing the trio to explore the tunes in more depth. One to look out for next year.

Mike Gates

Sean Khan ‘Muriel’ CD/Dig (Far Out) 4/5

sean-khanSaxophone player Sean Khan has been a regular fixture on the London jazz scene since the 1990s, as previously a member of SK Radicals, a broken beat/nu jazz outfit that released numerous albums and singles on People and Freestyle Records. But here, Khan releases his second solo album, Muriel, an ode to his mother who recently passed away with what is mainly a return to his more traditional jazz roots – but with a twist.
This 12-track set comprises of nine original compositions created by his four-piece band of sax, piano/keys, drums and upright bass, plus the inclusion of three previously released 12” single remixes. Starting with the original cuts, five of these are instrumentals, including ‘Tranes Shadow’, a discerning musical poem to Khan’s musical hero Coltrane, with its time signature changes and brisk saxophone and piano solos, and ‘Dance For Little Emily’, an infectious and melodic piece with the sax and piano sections working well together. ‘Murial’ is obviously a more contemplative number, with its fluid sax runs, effortless Fender Rhodes meanderings and steady rhythm section.
Three tracks have full vocal recordings, including ‘Things To Say’ with the soulful Diana Martinez, ‘Sister Soul’ featuring the graceful Sabrina Malheiros from Brazil and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ with London legend Omar, which was an obvious single choice for the project. The addition of the vocal tracks does propel this set outside of the conventional jazz boundaries and will help it appeal to a broader audience, but yet, still fulfill the needs of regular jazz listeners.
As mentioned, three remixes are also added to the album, including 4Hero’s remix of ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ by Marc Mac with his infectious samba influenced mix, Ben Hauke’s choppy remix of ‘Things to Say’, which replaced most of the original instrumentation for some supplementary electronic textures, and finally, the ‘Samba For Florence’ remix by Henry Wu, with its rimshot friendly drum pattern and jumpy synth chords.
This is an album that is difficult to dislike. Straight jazz fans get their fill of excellent jazz musicianship, yet listeners of a more contemporary outlook will enjoy the vocal tracks and remixes. Thus, the album does display Sean Khan’s versatility as a jazz musician and composer and will hopefully lead to more opportunities for this group to perform live. And again, Joe Davis’s Far Out Records has pitched the album perfectly to satisfy both creative and economic needs.

Damian Wilkes

This is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises and, from a label that prides itself on quality Brazilian music old and new, a new avenue to explore. Multi-reedist Sean Khan seems to have soaked up some of the all-time great saxophonists in an acoustic setting with Roland Kirk and Sonny Rollins an obvious influence, yet equally has listened to a good deal of music from the 1970s and here the influence of Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Liston Smith immediately springs to mind. The combination of these styles is a winning formula and this may just end up as a late contender for one of the year’s best new jazz recordings because both the quality of the compositions and the performances are well and truly exemplary. Starting off matters on a high is the title track with its wordless vocals and overall breezy Brazilian feel, and this piece features Khan on flute. Elsewhere, a contender for best vocal number is the soulful opener, ‘Things to say’, that has Diana Martinez on lead vocals, though others might argue that the larger horn ensemble song, ‘Samba para Florence’ with Heidi Vogel of Cinematic Orchestra fame on lead is just as strong. For fans of deeper jazz grooves, there is a real treat in store with heavy saxophone and mellow fender rhodes in tandem on the provocatively titled, ‘What has jazz become?’ Meanwhile, there are no less than two tribute pieces. The first is devoted to titan saxophone player John Coltrane on ‘Trane’s shadow’ and this instrumental has some lovely Latin piano vamps and drum solo. However, the second is an acoustic straight ahead interpretation on ‘Fire within’ that is a moving homage to French film director, the late Louis Malle, who regularly championed jazz in his soundtracks, with ‘Life to the Scaffold’ featuring Miles Davis and ‘Lacombe Lucien’ with Stéphane Grappelli being particularly noteworthy. Soul singer Omar guests on ‘Don’t let the sun go down’. What really impresses here is that while the music is at once accessible and lyrical, it is far removed from the unchallenging smooth jazz format and Khan takes chances throughout. As a bonus on the CD version, there are three remixes aimed at club land and DJs.

Tim Stenhouse