Harry Allen ‘Something About Jobim’ (Stunt) 4/5

Relatively unknown to some, and now reaching fifty years of age, tenorist Harry Allen recorded this one-off recording in Brooklyn, but it immediately conjurs up summer days in Rio de Janeiro and features an all-Brazilian band for some much needed authenticity. Why yet another Jobim tribute album? This one differs from the usual fare in that it focuses on the lesser known repertoire and in mood remains squarely in ballad territory and thus largely avoids the bossa nova clichés trap that so many non-Brazilian musicians have fallen into. A real surprise is that both Joyce and husband and drummer Tutty Moreno are on board and make a significant contribution. Joyce in fact contributes her vocals to three songs including ‘Theme for Jobim’ where she adds Brazilian Portugese lyrics to the instrumental composed by Gerry Mulligan as well as performing on guitar elsewhere.Unquestionably Stan Getz and his exploration of Brazilian music has influenced Allen, but he has a strong enough voice in his won right to stamp his own imprint on the project, and among others Allen. has recorded with Ray Brown, Kenny Burrell, Hank Jones and Rosemary Clooney, but more importantly to this project Brazilian compose and singer Dori Caymmi. Nothing moves out of second gear tempo-wise, but ‘Mojave’ is a outstanding piece with mood bassline and ‘Captain Bacardi’ features some inventive guitar and piano vamps and makes for an understated samba-jazz groove.

From the songs selected, ‘Chovendo na Roseira’ is interpreted as a gently uplifting piece with Joyce adding her distinctive voice, while ‘Theme for Jobim’ is a lovely ballad with sensitive piano accompaniment from Helio Alves who is excellent throughout. Alves performed with the late great Joe Henderson and in a Lain music context with Cuban reedist Paquito D’Rivera and is at ease here. The rhythm section as a whole operates as a tight cohesive whole with fine work from bassist Rodolfo Stroeter and drummer Moreno.

Of regular note on the Stunt albums is the consistently creative artwork by http://www.yellow1.dk/ Well worth viewing the covers and gatefold sleeves. Harry Allen is especially popular in Japan where he has won no less than three Gold Disc awards from the prestigious Swing Jazz Magazine.

Tim Stenhouse

Ole Matthiessen ‘Flashback and Dedications’ (Stunt) 5/5

Denmark and jazz have a long standing and continued relationship and that extends beyond the annual and truly excellent Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Some of the all-time greats have recorded there at the prestigious open air Tivoli Gardens in the capital including during the 1960s Roland Kirk, Lennie Tristano and Sarah Vaughan to name but three. Indeed, Dexter Gordon had a regular club residency when he lived in the city at the Jazzhus Montmartre. What do we actually know of Danish jazz musicians, though? A few names have become internationally renowned such as bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen who regularly performed alongside Oscar Peterson, and more recently London-based bassist and Jasper Høiby has come to prominence as leader of Phronesis, and various other formations besides. However, pianist Ole Matthiessen is far less known outside of his native country and Scandinavia more generally, but has recorded a series of different themed and stylistically diverse albums for the indie Stunt label out of Copenhagen, but now distributed in the UK. He is a multi-talented individual who is now in his late sixties, but has played piano since 1963 and, as a producer of the Danish Radio Big Band, has performed live with the greats and that includes Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Ben Webster. These days he can regularly be found behind the counter at one of Copenhagen’s remaining jazz record and CD specialist shops, Jazz Cup, that also has a small space for live jazz. Not one to rest on his laurels, Matthiessen finds time in between these various activities to be a record producer, DJ and lecturer, and has produced the Danish Radio Big Band for some thirty-seven years.

This latest recording, the fourth in total on the Stunt label, is devoted to modal jazz and in particular pays homage to the second half of the career of John Coltrane and it proves to be a revelatory listening experience. In outlook, one might add that it draws heavily upon the early 1980s sound of Pharoah Sanders while recording on the Theresa label. Matthiessen has enlisted a long-time collaborator in drummer Ole Streenburg who turned seventy last July, but propels the rhythm section with some Elvin Jones influenced polyrhythms, most notably on ‘Drummer’s mare’ and ‘Voodoo dance’, which is a favourite piece of this writer. Both seasoned musicians cut their musical teeth in the legendary 1960s Danish band, Carsten Meinert Kvartet. They recorded in 1969 what is probably the original version of ‘To Trane’ which is reprised here and is fine tribute to the iconic and highly influential reedman. Expat Bob Rockwell operates on tenor saxophone with a sound that is not without recalling Booker Ervin and is both a leader in his own right and a fellow stalwart of the live Copenhagen music scene. Underpinning the quartet sound is the solid and inventive bass playing of Jesper Lundgaard.

Stunt is a label that you will be reading a good deal more about this year. A definite discovery of an album, musicians and it is heartening to know that the jazz scene in Denmark is in surprisingly good health, though like everywhere else, its continued survival is dependent on the creativity, hard work and dedication of aficionados. For that we should be grateful and fully supportive.

Tim Stenhouse

Adrien Chicot ‘Playing in the Dark’ (Gaya Music Productions) 5/5

A native of Paris, pianist Adrien Chicot was self taught from childhood, before joining the IACP, a school led by the Belmondo brothers which is now seeing the emergence of a new generation of talented jazz musicians, including Samy Thiebault, Julien Alour, Alexandre Freiman and Geraldine Laurent, to name but a few and “Playing in the dark” is Chicot’s second album and as the first; “”All in”, it is a piano, bass and drums trio affair where intelligent composition meets passionate performance. The line-up for this recording is also the same as the previous outing, with bassist Sylvain Romano and drummer Jean-Pierre Arnaud joining Chicot on piano.

The first thing to say about this recording is that it is an acoustic trio album in the truest sense; no effects (apart from some birdsong on the final track), no electronics, no shenanigans. Just pure and simple acoustic jazz. In this sense, it harps back to a more traditional sound, one that we might hear in a small, late night jazz club. One that evokes memories of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, or even Ryo Fukui. And yet there is something else here… something intriguing and beguiling and post modernistic in how this trio go about their work. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love well-used studio techniques, sound manipulation and electronics etc, but this trio seem to instinctively know what’s right for them.

Chicot’s style is fascinating. There’s an architectural quality to it, one that employs a unique musical language that has a free, spirited and apparent spontaneity to it. The pianist plays at times with vigour, at times with sensitivity, but always with an unerring confidence and articulate passion. The opening tune “Late” sets the tone for the rest of the session. Melody is always a strength, with curiosity baring its teeth from beneath. The key to any trio is always how well the three performers interact, and on “Fourth Floor” it is easy to hear clearly how well these three musicians do so. The drum break and underpinning bass towards the end of the tune tells the listener everything they need to know. “Under The Tree” is a delicately balanced piece of music, hovering between light and shade, it has a beautiful poise to it that is both joyous and reflective in nature. “Blue Wall” swings with a life of its own, classic in its feel and aided and abetted by a superb bass solo from Romano. The heat rises further with “Key for Two”, once more providing some engaging and immersive interplay between the three musicians. The title track has a more meandering quality to it and as with much of Chicot’s writing and playing, has hooks to die for that sit comfortably at ease with the improvisation and soloing. “Backpack” exudes confidence and ability, with a slightly angular harshness counteracted by a powerful and lyrical melody. Brilliant and vibrant it enjoys a mood of its own. The solo piano of “Lush Life” has a timeless, endearing quality to it that leaves the listener totally entranced. The album closes with Sunset With The Birds” which sounds like a reprise of the first tune on the album, “Late”. Birdsong plays alongside the trio, creating a meditative and blissful mood to round the album off nicely.

“Playing In The Dark” is both playful and sincere. It is one of the most refreshingly inventive yet repeatedly listenable trio albums I have heard for quite some time. One of those albums where the more you listen, the more you find satisfying reward. A bright future lies ahead for Adrien Chicot and co.

The album will be celebrated with a live performance from the trio at Duc des Lombards, Paris, on Thursday March 16th.

Mike Gates

Oscar Pettiford and Jan Johansson ‘In Denmark 1959-1960’ CD/Vinyl (Stunt) 4/5

What we have here is one of the early examples of collaborative work between expat American musicians either passing through or resident in Scandinavia, and local musicians. In this instance, the various sessions contained within focus on a relatively short period between 1959 and 1960 when more generally modern jazz was undergoing a seismic change with seminal albums recorded by Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus that came out in 1959. Bassist Oscar Pettiford features strongly and this is in a very real sense a tribute to him (he passed away in December 1960 while still resident in Copenhagen), but it is the pairing of him with the superlative Swedish pianist Jan Johansson that makes this outing such an enjoyable experience. In particular, when tenorist Stan Getz enters into the mix, the music reaches a higher level altogether. They cook up an absolute storm on Benny Golson’s, ‘I remember Clifford’.
It should be emphasized from the outset that the formations and line-ups differ markedly on this CD, comprising no less than six separate sessions, with both a quintet and sextet featuring Getz, a quartet that leaves out Getz but includes vibist Louis Vjolmand, and three brief, but truly excellent solo piano pieces of traditional Swedish folk tunes that are interpreted by Johansson. Originally, the majority of pieces on the CD were released on a very rare Scandinavian only vinyl album, but unreleased items have been added to make for a better value all round package for the listener. The excellent twenty-four page booklet includes fascinating period photos of the musicians at the time taken by Jan Persson.

The true revelation here is the pairing of Getz and Johansson which was a musical marriage made in heaven and little wonder, then, that the pianist became a regular accompanist for Getz whenever the tenorist visited Scandinavia. They are on top form on a Pettiford composition, ‘La Verne Walk’, and on the Coleman Hawkins piece, ‘Stuffy’. Three numbers were taken from a live concert that the duo performed at in Copenhagen at the Tivoli Gardens in 1959 whilst on a European wide tour. Other pieces were recorded at the then new Montmartre jazz club in Copenhagen.

The three Swedish folk tunes performed solo by Johansson are significant from a historical perspective because they are a precursor to what would become arguably one of the greatest jazz albums, if not the greatest of all Swedish jazz recordings, certainly of modern Swedish jazz, ‘Jazz På Svenska’ (‘Jazz in Swedish’), an album where a local Scandinavian folkloric repertoire was interpreted in a jazz idiom. This had a profound influence upon jazz musicians throughout Scandinavia, and quite possibly in a longer-term context upon the likes of Jan Garbarek and fellow ECM label mate and pianist, Bobo Stenson, to name but two. A fine and well recorded document of how American and Scandinavian jazz musicians could co-exist and thrive in each other’s presence.

Tim Stenhouse

Henry Spencer and Juncture ‘The Reasons Don’t Change’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings was established in 2010. Janisch is an established bassist, composer, bandleader and producer. He is a native of the US but moved to the UK in 2005 and created the label specifically for the worldwide release of his debut recording ‘Purpose Built’. Since that time, the label has grown dramatically releasing, as Janisch says, “an eclectic catalogue of adventurous and visceral music that spans genres, is rooted in originality and has key emphasis on the improvised. The artists on the label range from established masters to guiding lights of their generation to undiscovered stars in the making”.
Releases for 2017 get underway with the debut from trumpeter and composer Henry Spencer. Henry is a recent graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The quintet featured here is made up of fellow Guildhall alumni. So, alongside Spencer we have Nick Costley-White (guitar), Matt Robinson (piano and keyboards), Andrew Robb (double bass), and David Ingamells (drums) interpreting Spencer’s original compositions. Add to the mix The Guastalla String Quartet adding to the tapestry of sound.
The opening ‘Introduction’ is a solo piece allowing us to experience up close and personal the sound of this wonderful trumpeter unhindered. It seems to me that we hear something of the history of jazz trumpet in the first minute or so. Then, suddenly, we are plunged into the maelstrom that is ‘Hindsight Can Wait’ as the rest of the band enter the fray. Then, things calm for the first statement from the pianist, almost rhapsodic in approach, ably supported by bass and drums. Interesting interludes of calm and vigour are set up against each other which all help to keep the listener’s attention.

‘On the Bridge’ starts with contemplative piano, with the trumpeter soon joining and it’s not long before bass, and guitar enter the fray. Drums join in adding a sense of urgency. All the time, the trumpeter is flying high above the ensemble. Then again the sound changes as a more considered, melodic motif is introduced. However, we are soon back in the high velocity high power of the band.

‘Eulogy’ is taken at a much more stately pace. But, once again, we are soon plunged into jazz-rock territory again.

‘Joanne’s Diary’ is certainly a more rhapsodic affair and we get to hear Costley-White’s guitar in all its glory.

‘Knock Back, Knocked Forward’ is a much more focussed piece of work and highlights more splendid guitar work. Indeed it is the close interplay between trumpet and guitar which make this music so different. The use of different keyboards also plays an important part in the overall picture.

‘Never Draw a Line’ is a lovely tune with equally eloquent solo work from the leader. Someone should write lyrics to this tune.

‘Hopeless Heartless’ finally affords the chance to hear the string quartet in support of the trumpeter. The track opens with the strings and trumpet and they are soon joined by the rhythm section. We have another fine piano solo, which is cushioned by the strings and rhythm and it’s all the better for that. For me, this has to be the highlight of the album.

For the most part this is very powerful and energetic music. For a case in point listen to the closing track ‘The Survivor and the Descendant’, a heady mixture of jazz-rock and classical sensibilities.

Be it on trumpet or flugel horn, Spencer is never less than outstanding.

One thing is for certain, if one were ever concerned about the current state of the British jazz scene, there is no reason to worry with music of this calibre. This is an outstanding release and sure to be a hit with all lovers of contemporary British jazz.

Alan Musson

Jimmy Scott ‘I Go Back Home’ CD/2LP/Dig (Eden River) 4/5

Singer Jimmy Scott passed away in 2009 and possessed an idiosyncratic voice that some depicted as quite effeminate in tone, due to his suffering from Kallman’s Syndrome during puberty, but which still had an aching blues hinterland to attract and grip the listener’s attention. This recording is almost certainly the very last that Scott ever cut in a studio and has been wonderfully put together with, at the helm of the project’s genesis, German producer Ralf Kemper and the mixing talents of Phil Ramone. The result is a rich and lush production that embellishes Scott’s voice and creates a wonderful warmness of tone. A first-rate rhythm section comprises pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Michael Valerio and drummer Pete Erskine, though on individual songs, one or more musician opts out, or else is replaced. The instrumentalists are augmented by Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, hammond organ player Joey DeFrancesco. harmonica player, Grégoire Maret, and tenor saxophonist James Moody. In the case of Castro-Neves and Moody both would subsequently die and thus the album is equally a tribute to their illustrious careers. Throughout the album the lush strings of the HBR Studio Symphony Orchestra help propel the music, the majority of which is taken from the Great American Songbook, and add a sophisticated classicism to the recording. Various guest singers contribute on individual songs and these include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini and Renee Olstead.

The opener, ‘Motherless child’, is just the kind of epic ballad that none other than Ray Charles might have recorded at his peak and Scott succeeds in imbuing his own interpretation with a similar degree of soulfulness, De Francesco laying down some meaty grooves on hammond organ. Just as compelling is a duet between Scott and Renee Olstead on, ‘Someone to watch over me’, while arguably best of all is a more contemporary cover, that of Stevie Wonder’s, ‘For once in my life’, which is significantly slowed down in this new version to a jazz ballad with Dee Dee Bridgewater entering half-way through and tenor saxophonist Bob MIntzer soloing in relaxed mode.

A number of duets surface as the album progresses, but one of the most endearing is that with Monica Mancini, daughter of composer Henry Mancini, on the gentle bossa take of, ‘I remember you’, with Castro-Neves infusing an authentic does of Brazilica and Cuban flugelhorn player Arturo Sandoval a touch of melancholy. A real favourite of this writer is, ‘Everybody is somebody’s fool’, on which tenorist James Moody solos beautifully and with the sensitive accompaniment of both strings and organ. Indeed on ‘Folks who live on the hill”, there is something of a cinematic quality to both the strings and woodwinds that operate, and here Joey DeFrancesco alternates on muted harmon trumpet. It is important to recognise that Scott was nearing the end at the time of these recordings and the quasi-spoken take on ‘Easy living’ is testimony to that, but once again the strings and hammond organ combination is a surprising winner. The intimacy of Scott’s voice is reinforced on the pared down voice, plus piano and string accompaniment on, ‘The nearness of you’.

While clearly the voice of Jimmy Scott has been weakened by illness and does not compare with his seminal 1960s albums, ‘Falling in love is wonderful’ (1962) and ‘The source’ (1969), the voice was always delicate in any case and that contributes to the emotional impact of the album in a way that Billie Holiday did for example on her end of career opus, ‘Lady in Satin’ album. The rapport between the trio throughout the recording is another major highlight. Of note is the forthcoming documentary on the process of the album’s creation and, more generally, on the life of Jimmy Scott due to be shown in the UK later in 2017.

Tim Stenhouse

John Abercrombie Quartet ‘Up and Coming’ (ECM) 4/5

ECM start off the new releases of the year with a strong quartet offering from John Abercrombie, recorded at the Avatar studios in New York under producer Manfred Eicher, with the guitarist’s long-standing quartet. This is that most subtle of musical experiences where the overriding emphasis is, on the one hand, upon lyricism that permeates proceedings and, on the other, upon the interplay between the musicians who know each other’s strengths and styles intimately, and are consequently at ease with one another. Marc Copland has a musical collaboration with the leader that goes all the way back to the early 1970s when Copland was then a saxophone player. The interplay between pianist and guitarist is a key element to understanding how the music operates here. Drew Grass is a respected double bassist who has performed among others with trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Fred Hersch. Experienced drummer Joey Barron has recorded in a wide variety of contexts and is ideally placed to replace the original quartet member, Billy Hart. All but one of the compositions are originals, five composed by the leader and the other two by Copland.
A reflective opener, ‘Joy’, begins with a quiet piano and guitar intro before gradually mutating into a mid-tempo groove with an uplifting main theme where guitar and piano work in tandem. This writer was particularly impressed by the conciseness of the piece. Copland has the opportunity to solo at length on the title track where once again it is the interplay between Abercrombie and the pianist that takes centre stage. As a whole the album is at its strongest on the melodic lyricism of the ballads and this is beautifully illustrated on the gentlest of ballads, ‘Tears’, with telepathic communication between pianist and guitarist. The one cover, ‘Nardis’, by Miles Davis is a favourite of Abercrombie that he has frequently performed, but never previously recorded as a leader. Here, the number is interpreted in an altogether moodier and more introspective setting. When the tempo does shift up a gear, it is nonetheless significantly below the usual tempo of the original. What is particularly appealing is the prominence of the piano here. On the lengthy piece, ‘Silver Circle’, Barron comes into his own on drums and at the end adds some evocative dub effects.

While the album is relatively short at just over forty-five minutes in length, that should in no way be equated with a lack of things to say. Quite the opposite in fact. It is clarity of communication that is of the essence here and on that criteria alone, the John Abercrombie quartet score highly. The quartet have five further live dates this month at Birdland, New York, with several scheduled for the Dazzle Jazz venue in Denver, Colorado during February before embarking on Europe in March.

Tim Stenhouse

Miguel Zenón ‘Típico’ (Miel Music) 5/5

Saxophonist / composer Miguel Zenón is one of a select group of musicians who over the years appear to have found the perfect balance between innovation and tradition. Considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of a generation, Zenón has developed a unique voice as a composer and conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American folkloric music and jazz. Born in Puerto Rico, Zenón has recorded and toured with a wide variety of musicians including Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, Bobby Huthcherson and Steve Coleman and is a founding member of the SF JAZZ Collective.
“Típico” is a celebration of Zenón’s longstanding quartet. And for my money, this is exactly how a quartet should sound. It’s inventive, exciting, powerful, intriguing and thoughtful in turns. The band seem to employ their own unique musical language, creating a distinctive feel and sound through the obvious kinship and music they are performing. The quartet have been playing together for over a decade now and this album is, perhaps, the culmination of their collective skills. Pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Hans Glawischnig have been with Zenón since the turn of the millennium and drummer Henry Cole joined the band in 2005. And this recording can be easily summed as this; thoroughly fluent, mouth-watering modern jazz.

The album features eight tunes, and opens with the brilliant “Academia”. As soon as the tune begins, with its stirring piano intro, and the drums, bass and sax all kick in with a blistering pace, I knew I was listening to something special. Over the years, so many technically gifted musicians have left me feeling a little cold, despite their undoubted musical prowess, but not here. Yes, these guys are technically at the top of the tree, but their music comes hand in hand with an emotional power that truly engages the listener. A wonderful example of this can be heard on “Cantor”, a tune that honours Zenón’s friend and frequent collaborator Guillermo Klein. There’s a lovely, personal and intimate feel to this composition that just sings out with its own touching and charismatic beauty. This is a graceful piece that features a gorgeous solo from Perdomo before a change of pace allows Zenón to let go in an almost spiritually Coltrane-esque kind of way. “Ciclo” and “Típico” explore what it is that gives a particular song a folkloric feel. The opening to “Ciclo” employs a quintessentially Nordic feel before driving headlong into the American jazz tradition, reminiscent perhaps of a Michael Brecker or Kenny Garrett piece. “Típico” employs the Latin tradition in a far more obvious way, with Perdomo’s infectiously rhythmic piano countering Zenón’s soft and sweet melody. “Sangre De Mi Sangre” is a balladic tribute to Zenón’s daughter, Elena, and was written before her first birthday. The composer recalls: “I was sitting in this park with her. She was playing around and I sat down and sketched out the song on my notepad.” Zenón wrote the tune first with lyrics, then orchestrated it for the quartet, featuring Glawischnig’s bass both on a sprightly introductory melody played in unison with Perdomo, and on a solo that successfully conveys a singing quality. One of the many fascinating things about the music being performed here is the quality and ease with which the quartet are able to strike a change of pace seemingly with such consummate skill. “Corteza” offers the perfect example of this, with the tune twisting and turning intelligently between ballad and bebop. The Perdomo feature “Entre Las Raíces” (Amongst The Roots) is perhaps the most challenging piece on this session, with its Ornette Coleman-like intro making way for some fiery avant-garde interplay from all four musicians. Sometimes the most difficult tracks on an album can be the most rewarding, this track being a case in point. Cole’s drumming is simply awesome and once again Zenón’s quick-fire alto playing leaves me breathless. The final three tracks, with “Las Ramas” (The Branches) being the album’s closing track, are all named for parts of a tree. As Zenón explains: “I was thinking of the band as a tree. And thinking of myself as the watcher. I mean, I’m part of it also, but mostly I’m observing these amazing musicians night after night, and how together they kind of make up this living organism.”

“Típico” is an excellent album of the highest quality.

Mike Gates

Brian Dickinson Quintet ‘The Rhythm Method’ (Addo) 5/5

Pianist composer and arranger Brian Dickinson is possibly not as well-known in the UK as he should be. A native of Ontario, Canada, he is a two-time winner of the Juno Award. Juno awards acknowledge the artistic and technical achievements of music artists and bands in all aspects of music in Canada. Winners are chosen either by members of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences or a panel of experts, depending on the award. The awards date back to 1970. Dickinson has been a mainstay on the Canadian jazz scene for more than thirty-five years.
I am only aware of Dickinson from his association with fellow Canadian and, of course, long-time British resident, the late Kenny Wheeler, which resulted in the album ‘Still Waters’ in 1999.
‘The Rhythm Method’, his eleventh release as leader, is a collection of ten original compositions and Dickinson is on record as saying that the instrumentation as well as some of the compositions are his homage to the cool music created by fellow pianist Lennie Tristano. He is well placed to do this having previously worked with another pioneer of the ‘cool school’; Lee Konitz. He takes his cue from the two saxophone front lines often featuring Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh adopted by Tristano. Here we have Luis Deniz, taking the part of Konitz, on alto saxophone and Kelly Jefferson exhibiting a somewhat gruffer and more powerful persona, somewhat reminiscent of Pete Christlieb. The opening track ‘Orion’, by way of a tribute to Wayne Shorter, allowing all to set out their respective stores.
‘Open Season’ follows, being a nicely paced piece which reminded me a little of the music of Horace Silver.

‘Bon Voyage’ is a very graceful sounding track which allows the rhythm section of Neil Swainson on bass and Ted Warren at the drums to exhibit their sensitive sides.

‘Moonshine’ is an altogether more complex piece of music and features some powerful tenor saxophone from Jefferson. ‘Tude’ is somewhat similar in approach.

The remaining five tracks constitute ‘The Rhythm Method Suite’ which allows all five men to doff their respective caps to the ‘cool school’. The trade mark of this type of music-making is the complex unison interweaving of the twin saxophones. I particularly enjoyed the suite, almost as much as I appreciated the tune titles. ‘Lennie’s Loonies’ features a lovely bass solo and a very self-assured Jefferson on tenor saxophone. ‘Trane Trip’ follows a similar format with more great bass playing. ‘Stepping Out’ features Deniz on alto saxophone to good effect. The prize for best song title has to be ‘It’s Hugh or Nolan’, following the format established earlier with more from Jefferson. The set concludes with ‘Raking Leaves’ with inspired piano playing from Dickinson, more fine alto and a neat drum solo from Warren.

All-in-all this is an enjoyable recording and a welcome reminder of an important but sometimes now overlooked period in jazz history.

Alan Musson

Camilla George Quartet ‘Isang’ (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Saxophonist Camilla George has been steadily making a name for herself for a decade or so now, having worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors, Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Jazz Jamaica, to name but a few. “Isang” is the eagerly awaited debut album from the MOBO nominated musician. It’s been a while coming, and as George says herself; “It wasn’t until I joined Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors and we played our debut gig at The Hideaway that I felt ready to lead my own band. That project inspired me and gave me the confidence I needed to branch out on my own.” And so in 2014 The Camilla George Quartet was formed, with rising stars Sarah Tandy on piano, Daniel Casimir on bass, and Femi Koleoso on drums.
“Isang” is an old Efik/Ibibio word that means voyage and symbolises the group’s musical journey. The choice of tunes, combined with the quartet’s love of fusing African and Western music works very well. George has a lovely tone to her playing; smooth and warm in a classic Blue Note kind of way, whilst still managing to sound slightly edgy and adventurous on occasions. The quartet compliment each other at every turn, with pianist Tandy particularly impressive. The general feel to the album is fairly laid back and quietly unassuming, but I really like that. Nothing appears to be forced and the confidence shines out in a way that is both mature and sophisticated, rather than there being any signs of the group trying to do too much and overplaying things. That said, my only minor criticism would be that perhaps overall, the album is a little too safe and could have been a tad more adventurous maybe.

The listener is treated to some wonderful playing throughout the album, from the driving blues of the opening track, written to celebrate the West African spirit Mami Wata, to Lunacity, based on one of the saxophonist’s favourite standards, It’s Only A Paper Moon, to the delicate ballad Song for Reds which is dedicated to her father, to the Kenny Garrett composition Ms Baja, to the silky groove of Mami Wata Returns/Usoro. It’s nice to hear George putting her own stamp on things, whether originals or covers, it’s her cool, stylish sound that fills the air with grace and passion.

“Isang” is a strong, accomplished debut from Camilla George. It’s a thoroughly listenable and enjoyable album which firmly lays down a marker for the saxophonist as one to watch as we head into 2017. Without a doubt it’s well worth checking this album out and looking out for the quartet’s live dates coming soon. For me personally, I’d love to hear her taking a few more risks on her next album, taking a chance or two on some less conventional tunes whilst developing her undoubted compositional talents even further. I for one can’t wait to see the band live though, here are the dates – go catch them live while you can.

22 February – The Lescar, Sheffield
23 February – Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
25 February – Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
26 February – 7ARTS, Leeds
27 February – Kenilworth Jazz Club
28 February – Royal British Legion, North Wales Jazz
1 March – Dempsey’s, Cardiff
2 March – The Vortex, London

Mike Gates