John O’Gallagher ‘Trio: Live in Brooklyn’ (Whirlwind) 5/5

It seems that jazz fans are kept waiting for a new saxophone-led piano-less trio recording and then two releases appear within short order, both on the esteemed Whirlwind imprint.
Californian John O’Gallagher’s horn of choice is the alto saxophone. An instrument upon which he can push the boundaries of jazz expression and yet maintain a strong melodic element. O’Gallagher has paid his dues in the time honoured fashion, attending Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music where he studied with saxophone maestros Jerry Bergonzi and George Garzone. Since then he has managed to add many star names to his C.V. having worked with the likes of Joe Henderson, Maria Schnieder, Billy Hart, Kenny Wheeler and Tom Rainey, to name a select few.
Having established an enviable reputation in the USA, John has more recently recently crossed the Atlantic to work with students from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire and can regularly be seen playing live around the City in various contexts.

Perhaps what makes John stand out from the crowd is the way that he draws on the contemporary classical 12-tone system as inspiration for his own compositions. A system which John Coltrane also drew upon in his solos during the later period of his life. This system allows John to create an original approach to both his compositions and his solo explorations.

What is immediately apparent from this recording of seven self-penned compositions is John’s strong saxophone tone and his feel for swing. There is nothing quite like the environment of a live gig to bring out the best in the musicians and this set is no exception. Alongside O’Gallagher we have Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Mark Ferber at the drums. Whilst the bassist is a new name to me at least, Ferber has been active for quite some time. The trio have been together for some years and this shows in the empathy between them.

An album of “in the moment creativity”. The saxophonist often “blurs the lines between composition and conversational improvisation”.

Variety is key here with the trio at times setting up a turbulent collective dialogue and at others showing a more considered approach

Outstanding for me is “Extralogical Railman” where the trio pays homage to be-bop with their own interpretation of the Charlie Parker line “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”. Here, once again, swing is the thing.

In conclusion, I quote from O’Gallagher “We are constantly listening and taking risks, creating an atmosphere which is exciting to play in – there is no ‘wrong’. A shared trust provides the confidence to pretty much explore any avenue and be assured that everything will be OK”.

That quite nicely sums up the music on this album.

Alan Musson

V/A ‘Virtue Recording Studio’ (Tramp) 4/5

This compilation features a collection of 18 songs recorded at Virtue Recording Studio in Philadelphia, a recording studio setup and operated by Frank Virtue, who was himself a local musician before becoming a full-time record producer and record label owner of numerous labels in the 1960s until his death in 1994. Here, the Virtue record label is the focus, which was essentially a soul and funk record label that released dozens of singles from 1967 to the late 1970s, and it’s the more collectable 45s from this era that Tramp have curated for this release.
The artists featured will not be known to most, but highlights include Bob Marshall & The A/Cs double sider, ‘Big Ladies Man’, which stays in funk 45 territory and the previously released Tramp 45, ‘The Funky Fox’, which is an uptempo instrumental jam, both being solid DJ friendly pieces. R.D.M. Band have three cuts, ‘How Can I Get In Touch With You’ with vocals by Milton Campbell and ‘Give Up’, with both falling into the modern soul category. And finally ‘Butter That Popcorn’ is an obvious James Brown inspired funk roller, with its uptempo pace and solid drum, bass, horn and guitar grooves. I just wish someone would tell me what the fascination was with popcorn in early 1970s funk, with James Brown having eight different records with the word ‘popcorn’ in the title.

Ann Byers’s rousing warning cry to women, ‘This Man Is Rated-X’, is a 1975 early Disco stormer that was actually released as a single in the UK in the same year, and here you hear traces of the early Philly soul/disco sound that was to become so influential on the burgeoning disco scene. And staying soulful, Gene Faith delivers four soul gems, ‘Love Of A Woman, Soul Of A Man’, ‘When My Ship Comes In’, ‘Family Man’ and ‘My Baby’s Missing’, but all are slightly funky in the production department.

Releases from Fantastic Virtues, ‘Tequila‘, and The Virtues ‘Meditation Of The Soul’ (they’re essentially the same group) require further attention, with ‘Tequila’ being a hybrid of Latin and funk, with dabs of psychedelic overtones and fuzz guitar which is probably the quirkiest track of the set, and ‘Meditation Of The Soul’ is best described as sitar funk, although it sounds somewhere between a guitar and a sitar, with both again being very DJ friendly.

Past Due ‘Hot Fun In The Summertime’, which is a cover of a lesser-known Sly and the Family Stone single, would have gained more attention if it had originally been released on 12” rather than 7” in 1976, when 12” singles were first being issued. This solid instrumental chucks a 120 BPM Philly disco rhythm over guitars and horns and is very reminiscent of MFSB, although the version here is an instrumental and not the (pretty average) vocal version that I know, but it’s a shame the drum track at the beginning of the vocal is not present in this version.

There are two tracks by New World which are taken from different 45s from the mid 1970s, ‘World Today’ – the funky soul male vocal is a message driven dance floor piece and was previously released on 45 by Athens of The North in 2016, and ‘To Be A Man’, which contains touches of early B.T. Express. And rounding up, there are releases by Quiet Storm with ‘High Horse’, which is another disco message piece, The Volcanos ‘No Trespassing’ and the funky soul of ‘Take These Memories’ by The Creations.

The included CD booklet includes an abundance of information regarding Virtue Records, Frank Virtue and the artists signed to the label and its offshoots, and rightly documents their history in detail and essentially highlights the fact that the music industry, especially within black music history, has been forged by small independent record labels and passionate individuals such as Frank Virtue.

So this isn’t a strictly raw funk compilation album, and neither is it an outright rare soul album either – but funky soul, early disco and modern soul sounds are all presented in addition to some heavy funk numbers. And thus, you don’t become bored, which is a criticism of many genre specific compilations of this nature.

Damian Wilkes

Natalia Mateo ‘De Profundis’ (ACT) 3/5

Polish singer-songwriter Natalia Mateo is now resident in Berlin and this is the first time that this writer has heard her voice which comes across as heavily influenced by the 1970s work of Joni Mitchell, and is a fascinating juxtaposition of East meets West styles. In fact, multiple influences are discernible here and they include music, literature and fine art, with Maya Angelou and Louise Bourgeois counting as key figures in the life of the singer.
Of interest is the frequent referencing of cultural figures such as the composer/pianist Krzysztof Komeda whose soundtrack to the film, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, is re-interpreted here, or a song devoted to the French poet and entitled, ‘François Villon’. French chanson legend and singer Georges Brassens is just one of many who have paid tribute to this historical writer. The Polish traditional song, ‘Bandosha’, is revisited and comes across as an eery drum sound plus electric piano which almost sounds like a dub reggae accompaniment.
Three out of the ten songs are composed by Mateo and, while this writer is not conversant in Polish, the translated versions of the original Polish compositions hint at a deeply poetic writer.

Bilingual English and German inner sleeve notes provide a wider historical context and there is a maturity to Mateo’s voice and lyrics that bodes well for the future.

Tim Stenhouse

Freddie Gavita ‘Transient’ (Froggy) 4/5

Now in his thirties, trumpeter/flugelhorn player and composer Freddie Gavita has earned his jazz spurs having been for a decade a regular performer with the Ronnie Scott’s club quintet as well as being an integral member of jazz-rock formation Fletch’s Brew. Earlier on in his career, Gavita was in fact part of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and performed equally with the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra. This debut recording was actually financed via the crowdfunding website Kickstarter on which no less than one hundred and fifty backers pledged their financial allegiance to the cause of jazz. The results are here for all to hear and, in general, the music itself is an inventive take on the hard-bop format with creative compositions that break the traditional mould of this idiom, and, moreover, hint at a promising future. A piece, ‘Iverson oddity’, is an interesting waltz-like number where the trumpet scales soar increasingly higher and there is fine percussive accompaniment from Madden. Indeed, the compositions showcased offer the musicians the opportunity to improvise at length and this is certainly the case for Madden on, ‘Lion-O’. In a more mournful mood is the nine and a half minute, ‘The Vow’, where rim-drum effects are deployed with bass and flugelhorn in tandem and a simple repetitive riff. Vamps are a feature of this band and pianist Cawley produces the catchiest of riffs on the album opener, ‘Stromming the ham’.

Ballads are not forgotten, however, and can be quite opaque in character as on, ‘Beloved’, where once again piano and flugelhorn enter into a lengthy duet. A heartfelt tribute to a close friend, Richard Turner, serves as the inspiration on, ‘Turneround’, and this has something of a Blue Note feel with a pretty melody and a clarity of phrasing that seems to be the hallmark of the leader. If one had to mention influences, then Freddie Hubbard would immediately spring to mind, both the early Blue Note years as well as the Atlantic period, while pianist Tom Cawley comes across as someone who has taken in the influences of mid-1960s Herbie Hancock and the modal flavours of McCoy Tyner.

Ably assisting proceedings are the swinging rhythm section comprising pianist Tom Cawley who excels throughout and clearly has an important role in the band sound, bassist Calum Gourlay and the ever inventive drumming of James Madden. The colourful artwork comes courtesy of Carl Hyde. Freddie Gavita and the quintet performed their debut at, where else? Ronnie Scott’s on 19 April.

Tim Stenhouse

Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery ‘Smokin’ in Seattle’ 180g LP/CD (Resonance) 4/5

The original ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’ recording on Verve remains a definitive example of Wes Montgomery’s career and one of the all-time great live recordings, as well as of the modern jazz guitar. These previously unreleased live recordings date from the very last year in Wes’ life in 1968, between 14 and 21 April, and provide all the ammunition required to counter the argument by some that Montgomery had by this time ‘sold out’ his craft for commercial success. They were recorded at the Penthouse club in Seattle, Washington state, and feature musicians with whom the guitarist regularly recorded. Pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb formed two-thirds of the classic 1950s rhythm section of Miles Davis and this proved to be the most convivial of settings for Wes Montgomery. Moreover, they were also to be found with Wes Montgomery on a seminal live date, ‘Full house’, that featured the ‘little giant’ himself in Johnny Griffin. Bassist Ron McClure was a vastly experienced musician who slotted into the band with the greatest of ease.
As ever with his albums as a leader, Wes selected some of his favourite tunes of the day and these included the ace songwriting pairing of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes with, ‘O morro n o tem vaz’ being the prettiest of melodies and a piece that the guitarists caresses with the greatest delicacy. What a pity, then, that he did not devote an entire album to the Brazilian repertoire because he was ideally suited to this idiom. In a more straight ahead jazz vein, Sonny Rollins’, ‘Oleo’, demonstrated that Montgomery could still play fast licks as well as anyone and he stretches out. Some of his own compositions are showcased for good measure and the evergreen, ‘Jingles’, will bring a smile to many a face.

An eight page A3 size helps the reader to critically assess the recording date and place it in it’s true historical context. The extended interview with Jimmy Cobb sheds fascinating light on the genesis of the recording date and Kenny Barron offers additional expert coverage of the specificity of Wynton Kelly’s distinctive and highly influential pianistic style. Another winner of a release from Resonance.

Tim Stenhouse

Bill Evans ‘Another Time: The Hilversum Concert’ LP/CD (Resonance) 4/5

First of all, this is not a part of the wonderful MPS studio sessions that came out in 2016 on Resonance. Instead, it is a completely separate studio session that took place in Holland at the Hilversum studio to the south-east of Amsterdam, on 22 June 1968. As such, the many Bill Evans devotees will wish to purchase both this and the 2CD set of MPS recordings.

The chronology here is important insofar as it places the Bill Evans trio European tour of that year into a wider context. In June of that year Evans and trio had performed at the fifteenth incarnation of the Montreux Jazz Festival and the recording of that performance released on Verve records went on to become a defining moment in Evans’ career, and certainly among the very finest live recordings he ever made, including the seminal Village Vanguard sessions in 1961 and, much later, in 1980. For the Dutch date, Evans’ regular trio of Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack deJohnette on drums are present, and it is the explorative inventiveness of the latter that is a defining characteristic of this excellent unreleased recording with fine sound quality. A selection of Evans’ favourites including self-penned compositions are on offer here. Of the standards, ‘You’re gonna hear from me’, written by the duo of André and Dory Previn, receives a gently swinging rendition that is, if anything, even stronger than previous versions. Deft work from deJohnette is equally a feature of, ‘Who can I turn to?’. Of the uptempo numbers, Miles Davis’ ‘Nardis’ is a clear illustration that when Evans needed to, he could compete on an equal footing with the hard bop musician fraternity. Another perennial favourite of Bill is, ‘Very early’, a waltz-like number that was in fact composed by Evans way back in the 1940s while he was still studying at college, according to the informative notes of regular Jazz Wax contributor Marc Myers. Indeed, the piece featured originally on the 1962 Riverside album, ‘Moonbeams’. If there was one composition that typified Evans, then, ‘Turn out the stars’, would be a prime contender, alongside possibly, ‘Waltz for Debbie’ (Evans acolytes would doubtless disagree and offer their own favourites) and this interpretation is one of the earlier examples and a fine slice of the Evans songbook. Listeners will marvel equally at a piece that Evans regularly deployed, ‘Five’, as the closing theme of his concerts during this period.

Rounding off matters is the superlative job done by Resonance in adding a lavish eight page booklet in A3 size that contains a plethora of information that readers will soak up and among the golden nuggets, one finds interviews with Eddy Gomez, Jack deJohnette and Steve Kuhn, while original producer Joop de Roo sheds light on how the session came about. A wider historical context is provided by regular music writer Marc Myers. The gatefold sleeve contains further black and white photos of the trio and on the outer cover an evocative pose of Evans from a New York session.

Tim Stenhouse

Mark Lewandowski ‘Waller’ (Whirlwind) 5/5

Any album that includes Paul Clarvis in the line-up simply has to be fun. This album certainly is that. Here we have a trio under the leadership of bassist Mark Lewandowski and also featuring Liam Noble at the piano. Mark is a new name to me so here’s a little about him. He hails from Nottingham and has arrived on the London jazz scene comparatively recently having studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, whilst also gigging around the capital. Amongst his tutors have been Steve Watts and Michael Janisch. So it’s really no surprise that Mark’s debut album is released on his mentor’s label.
Now established as an in-demand sideman, he has been able to work in a variety of settings, from straight ahead to contemporary, original and improvised music.
It looks like 2017 is set to be Mark’s year as he is currently touring the music from this album during April and May.
Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller was certainly a colourful, larger- than- life character. The one thing that seemed to pervade all of his music was a humour and light-heartedness. He wrote many songs during his career, a lot of which have become staples of the jazz and popular song repertoire. However, above all he was an entertainer.

Waller was most active during the 1920’s and 1930’s and died in 1943 at the age of 39. This collection of Waller’s tunes seeks to re-dress the songs in 21st Century clothing. Not for this trio the Harlem stride style, but something more contemporary. Sometimes it seems that we are seeing the work of Fats Waller through the prism of Thelonious Monk.

Each song is dismantled and then carefully re-assembled, musical brick by musical brick but with due reverence to the original.

As in much of Waller’s work, the musicians here sound happy and relaxed. It’s a particular delight to hear Clarvis using brushes throughout the album. This is an intimate meeting of minds and one feels at times that one is almost eaves dropping on a personal three way conversation. But then, such is the creativity of the musicians that they draw the listener into their dialogue.

Listening to Noble, I realise that he has a wry sense of humour similar to Clarvis and they therefore make the ideal partnership for this project.

Authentic samples of Waller’s own voiced introductions seems to add a certain authenticity to the performances.

Eleven Waller tracks and a final piece written by Jelly Roll Morton make up the album contents.

An almost free-form introduction ushers in the opening track ‘Lulu’s Back in Town’ and then Noble’s impish piano enters ushering in the familiar theme aided and abetted by Clarvis’ skittering brushwork. The musical icing is provided by the leader’s propulsive bass underpinning the whole.

Every track is a musical gem, but I particularly enjoyed ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. Noble’s solo delicately deconstructing the well-worn melody, and the leader’s bass solo which follows is the epitome of good taste.

The trio build up a fantastic head of steam on ‘Blue Because Of You’ and we get a nice arco bass solo too.

‘Fair and Square…in Love’ is another proposition entirely beginning with the sound of Waller himself and concluding with very considered and stately playing, not at all how Waller would have played the tune. The sound here is reminiscent of one of the many Scandinavian jazz trios which seem to abound at the moment.

The musicians cleverly intertwine two of Waller’s best known tunes on ‘It’s a Sin to…Write a Letter’ to great effect. Clarvis’ solo on this track is nothing less than outstanding.

Lewandowski’s tour de force is a solo bass rendition of ‘Have A Little Dream on Me’. A miniature delight.

‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ is another track where the musicians lead the listener up a rather mysterious byway before stating the melody.

Waller himself introduces ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ before the protagonists stamp their own musical identities on the piece.

The concluding track is ‘Why’ by Jelly Roll Morton and features a vocal, I imagine, by the leader.

I have said before that jazz does not necessarily have to be thrusting and original to have merit and I stand by that comment. These are totally fresh interpretations of Fats Waller classics but still manage to stay faithful to the original compositions. For me the best jazz displays humour and musical empathy in equal measure and this album has this in abundance. Who would have thought it possible to have a smile on one’s face continuously for almost 50 minutes?

If ever you are feeling down listen to this album and your mood will lift instantly.

Alan Musson

Charlie Watts ‘Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band’ (Impulse!) 4/5

Rolling Stones’ drummer, Charlie Watts, has graced the veteran rock group from the outset and been a key member who is often under-valued, but his primary love of jazz, especially from the be-bop era, is well known to jazz devotees and he has regularly set aside time to focus on his own jazz-based projects. This latest offering finds him in the convivial setting of a larger big band format and it proves to be a revelatory experience, and equally a chance to hear both what a fine composer Watts is, and a sensitive accompanist and leader to boot. Major contributors to the overall sound are conductor and flugelhorn soloist, Gerard Presencer, who excels in this environment and Dave Green on acoustic bass. The live setting of the National Concert hall in Copenhagen proves to be the ideal location in which to hear this formation at its very best.
Maestro Elvin Jones has long been a hero of Charlie Watts and, as an integral part of the classic John Coltrane quintet of the 1960s, one understands why. A two-part suite devoted to the drummer forms the first part of the album and, while ‘Elvin Suite Pt. 1′ is gentle and sensitive number, with Kenny Burrell-esque guitar accompaniment, it is really part two that captured this writer’s attention, with a sudden surge of tempo and an explosion of percussive action from Watts, with a lovely wailing saxophone. No information is available from the preview copy as to whom that saxophonist may be, nor the pianist who contributes the vamp, but an engaging piece of big band jazz it is nonetheless and, one moreover, that is not without recalling the Coltrane plus larger ensemble work of the early 1960s on the original Impulse label.

What really captures the listener’s attention, however, are the two re-readings of classic Stones’ material revisited in a big band jazz idiom. A candidate with ‘Elvin Suite Part. 2’ for strongest album track is, ‘Faction’ aka ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’, and here Watts maintains a heavy beat while electric piano and guitar operate in tandem, while there is a gorgeous flugelhorn solo from Gerard Presencer. What appeals especially here is the gently propelling Latin-jazz rhythm with arrangements that Chico O’Farrill might have attempted with and Freddie Hubbard from his 1970s era could have placed on one of his Columbia recordings. An outstanding performance all round. The second Stones re-interpretation is that of, ‘You can’t always get what you want’, which features a lengthy solo from Presencer. Watts’ love of the jazz tradition is emphasized on the standard ballad, ‘I should care’, with collective reeds here including flutes as well as a trombone solo, and with fine work from the rhythm section. Watts and Presencer seem to have been soaking up the pioneering big band sounds of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis big band and these come to the surface on the excellent driving groove of, ‘Molasses’, which could easily have been composed by Lalo Schifrin for a film soundtrack.

This new and live big band recording captures Charlie Watts in his prime as a jazz performer and can be heartily recommended to jazz fans young and old. Full marks to Gerard Presencer for his creative arrangements.

Tim Stenhouse

The Brothers Nylon ‘Bitches Cold Brew’ (Resistant Mindz) 4/5

From title alone one can discern this record isn’t lacking in some sort of charm; tongue firmly in cheek, frat boy frippery or playful lack of reverence for dead jazzers, perhaps? The Brothers Nylon have spread themselves across several types of toast (melba, French and spelt loaf, perhaps) and flung it all at the listener.
First thing that grabbed me is the Les Claypool (of Primus and other egotistical splinter projects), Residents and Zappa (Frank, not Dweezel thankfully) feel of it all. All the tracks are crammed with ideas from funk, jazz and fusion, but there’s a strong punkfulness running throughout. I don’t mean a four-chord oi-along, more of a strident and unabashed confidence. Further, this attitude isn’t restricted to the frankly ridiculous musicality on show, or even the verging-on-infantile humour, but the production values as well. Presentation is thick and lavish, with hearty bass up front in the mix, lashings of reverb on the vocals and sometimes painful horn honks.
A brief look over the track names will either amuse or cause a roll of the eyes (criminally unknown bizarro metal-funk band Nuclear Rabbit cause the same response in my friends). Titles on this record such as “CousCous”, “Hot Sauce” and “Local Fruit And Veg Emporium” provide the food fetish, while “Shove It In My Mouth”, “Girls Just Like To Party” and “All Man Milk” provide the brazen maleness (reminiscent in concept to some of Parliament’s sleazier tracks), but the strong opener “Khaleesi” will be the acid test for most listeners, I feel. Having little interest in Game of Thrones after Sean Bean was de-headified at the close of season one, I wondered whether I would care about the record. The Brother’s revelling in destroying the po-facedness of the eponymous Queen of Dragons provoked a sigh of relief, as I’m sure any rabid protective reverence to a TV program would’ve been the deathnail for me. That’s enough conceptual stuff.

Musically, expect strong riffs on the strings, sometimes slick, sometimes grinding. Uncompromising use of guitar effects makes this a constantly shifting creature. The bass is the real star for me, efficient when it needs to be, percussive at other times, but always the core driving force. The drums and percussion inject a massive shot of excitement throughout, breaking moments of calm and pushing the intricate nature of the other parts. And finally, the vocals are joyfully bold, with crooning, Barry White sleaze, spoken skits and screeching. There’s lots going on here, and The Brothers are certainly a talented bunch. I’d hope that even if you had your sense of humour pummelled to bits by your own musical snobbishness (remember when music was fun, Simon?) I hope you can still recognise talented gits when you hear them.

Even if you don’t like it, they probably don’t care, and that is the rogueish charm of this record.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Bridges with Seamus Blake ‘Bridges’ CD (AMP Music & Records) 4/5

This is a de facto ECM release in all but name. Recorded at the famous Rainbow studio in Oslo, engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, and comprising a Nordic rhythm section of pianist Espen Berg, drummer and producer Anders Thorén, with Ole Morten Vågan on acoustic bass. The omnipresent Scandinavian influence is supplemented by two American musicians in Hayden Powell on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone. All the original ten pieces are relatively concise at just under forty-five minutes, with only three numbers exceeding the five minute mark, and, as with ECM albums proper, there is a long silence before the music commences.

There is certainly something about that distinctive Oslo studio sound that creates a feeling of space and on the expansive title track, horns operate beautifully in tandem with piano underneath cementing the cohesion of the band. Blake in particular is in smouldering form here on this number. Middle Eastern flavours open up on the introductory piece to the album, ‘Heart in mind’, with Berg taking the first solo. The most delicate of melodies is generated on the reposing piece, ‘Song for Karla’, with horn ensemble work adding to the sensitivity, and the sweetest of flugelhorn solos, as well as a lovely piano solo that recalls Bobo Stenson in his prime with Jan Garbarek.

In general, the music has been carefully thought through with pretty melodies a key feature and yet there is still enough going on underneath it all retain the listener’s attention over repeated listens. Of note in the creative inner sleeve, are the black and white photos of the band members that is like a trip back in time to the ECM releases of the mid-1970s. ECM fans should ignore this release at their peril and one wonders whether even Manfred Eicher blindfolded could tell the difference. One suspects that with his finely tuned ears, he might well do so. A real slow burner of an album.

Tim Stenhouse