Janne Mark with Arve Henriksen ‘Pilgrim’ (ACT) 4/5

Scandinavian folk combined with elements of jazz has become a repeated feature of ECM releases in recent years, and in truth, this comes from almost identical roots. Trumpeter Arve Henriksen is a regular contributor to that label and this recording of a reworking of the Danish hymn repertoire given a modern update firmly belongs in the ECM Nordic jazz meets folk tradition. Born in Jutland, singer Janne Marke has a pure and sweet sounding voice that is almost certainly inspired by the native folk tradition. Recorded by Lars Nilsson, who worked with Lars Danielsson on the excellent, ‘Libretto’ album of last year, this project has a gentle, reposing quality and one where folk fans will feel very much at home. Mark adds her own lyrics to the traditional music, and is clearly interested in the close artistic relationship that exists between literature and music. A pared down instrumentation includes piano and celeste, bass and drums, plus tap steel, but it is the sound of the trumpet that dominates proceedings here.

Of interest to jazz fans is the highly personalised sound that Henriksen generates on the trumpet and which has rightly been described as flute-like. This is evident on the title track where he takes a solo on the introduction, with the sparse sounding vocals only to accompany. Then, the trumpet takes on another guise, that of a high-pitched alto saxophone, in the style and manner of Jan Garbarek. Other world music influences come to the fore as the album progresses, with, ‘Walk quietly, hushed through the world’, this time on the trumpet betraying a distinctive Indian feel and this is a truly haunting piece, with minimalist piano accompaniment from Henrik Gunde Pedersen. Full marks to ACT for including an outstanding inner sleeve with canvas painting by Neo Rauch that has something of Frida Kahlo quality to it, full lyrics in both English and Danish, and useful notes by the Scottish translator on the complexities of the translation process.

With the current interest in English folk music, a renewed passion for Welsh folk music and the continued devotion to folk in both the Irish and Scottish music traditions, Scandinavian folk sometimes loses out which is a great pity. Watch out for a review in these columns of a stunning re-issue of a Norewgian folk duo in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Very Best of TappanZee Records’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

Compilations galore abound in the field of jazz and especially, its more commercial aspects. The label TappanZee, however, is one of those labels that rarely receives an in-depth re-assessment and yet it is one of the most sampled of all 1970’s labels by the hip-hop generation. The label was co-created by then Columbia records head of jazz, Bruce Lundvall, and keyboardist, Bob James. While a separate 2 CD anthology of James already exists (though eight entries here covers a lot of the essential tracks, some paired with fellow fusion guitarist Earl Klugh) and is required listening for those wishing to hear the first four albums that are so revered, this brand new anthology of the label as a whole embraces left-field disco. Latin fusion, and even some straight ahead piano trio work, as well as classic jazz-fusion, often with a soulful disposition. That is certainly the case of another keyboardist, Richard Tee, and his interpretation of Aaron Neville’s immortal ‘Tell it like it is’. A far less known revisit is that of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Jesus children of America’, that receives a faithful treatment.

As a whole, this compilation veers towards the crossover instrumental soul with a jazzy content territory and as such those with a deeper interest in jazz may feel out-of-place. However, there are some interesting reworkings of classic funk and soul. One example is a lovely take on Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Serpentine fire’ by Mark Colby (am member of the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra), and the alto saxophone is straight out of the David Sanborn school of jazz. Dance floor action is seldom far from the surface and the traditional folk song, ‘Black is the colour’, serves as the pretext for an extended percussion workout that has long been adored by discerning fans of disco, His second offering, ‘Love’s holiday’, is a lovely mid-tempo soul outing with surprisingly good vocals. The Latin jazz standard, ‘Watermelon man’, became a first hit for Herbie Hancock on Blue Note, but the original composer and performer was Cuban congacero, Mongo Santamaria and during the disco era, he fused Latin dance rhythms with the then newly emerging hi-hat drum groove. On a radical 1979 reworking of this number which will not necessarily meet with approval from Latin music traditionalists, Santamaria, with the addition of a vocal sample by no less than Cuban diva La Lupe, achieves a similar effect to what fellow Cuban percussionist Candido Camero accomplished with his take on ‘Jingo’. Both remain firm favourites of the disco crowd.

One of the earliest examples of the label is jazz pianist Joanne Brackeen whose album surfaced on the label in 1975 and is very different in tone from the rest, and would go on to become one of the most accomplished of the younger generation of pianists to emerge in the 1980s. Her reposing ‘Let me know’, is an indication that even during the jazz-fusion era, quality acoustic jazz was being recorded, even if the prevailing vogue would not go full circle until the early 1980’s with the emergence of Wynton Marsalis and the signing of Arthur Blythe onto the Columbia imprint. It would be lovely to have a similar compilation of the straighter ahead jazz side of the Columbia label.

Incidentally, for those wondering why the label was thus titled, TappanZee is a well known name to the inhabitants of New York state since it refers to a bridge that spans the Hudson river and connects Westchester county (another well known reference for James fans) and the metropolitan New York area. Fans of CTI will find much to admire here and if you have been reticent to dip into the jazz pantheon and require an easy to decipher introduction, then this may be for you.

Tim Stenhouse

Elliot Galvin ‘The Influencing Machine’ CD (Edition) 4/5

“The Influencing Machine” is the third album from the creative mind of pianist, keyboardist and composer Elliot Galvin. A key member of Mercury Music Prize nominated band Dinosaur, Galvin builds on his reputation as one of the rising stars of European jazz by tearing up the textbook and allowing his idiosyncratic approach to music making to blaze a bold and brazen trail on this latest release.

This sonic exploration of the human mind, technology and our postmodern age features bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick. A disparate world of influences old and new work together to powerful effect as the trio negotiate compelling musical melodies, outlandish ideas and intricate concepts to create a devilishly fascinating whirlwind of a recording.

Galvin’s compositions are inspired by “The Influencing Machine” by Mike Jay, a fascinating historical account of the life of James Tilly-Matthews, a double agent at the time of the French civil war. He was a tea merchant, political thinker and architect, and became the first fully documented case of a paranoid schizophrenic who was committed to Bethlem psychiatric hospital in 1797. Tilly-Matthews lived under the delusion that he was controlled by a machine; the Air Loom, operated by a gang of criminals and spies skilled in pneumatic chemistry. Galvin was fascinated by the uncanny parallels with our modern lives and this album reflects Tilly-Matthews’ life and times in an apt way, bringing together sounds both old and new to identify the chaos, the beauty, the joy and the sadness of the world that was then, and the world in which we live today.

There is chaos in Galvin’s music, yet there is also intricate organisation. Beautiful piano melodies, reminiscent of something familiar you might have heard by The Neil Cowley Trio, crash headlong into broken, twisted musical caricatures, a-la The Nick Sanders Trio. Throw in a dose of The Bad Plus and you get a peek as to where this music might take you. But only a fleeting glimpse… this music at times is just bonkers, in a good way. Crazy themes ride effortlessly alongside twisted childhood nightmares. Like a Tim Burton movie, the darkness is interspersed with light. The ill-tempered chaos at times washed away by a soothing, caring, healing sunshine.

“The Influencing Machine” is like a fairground attraction; exciting, intriguing and more than a little bit scary. But just like a child, walking precariously and nervously towards that ultimate thrill, once you’ve experienced it you’ll be hooked, impatiently wanting to come back for more and more.

Mike Gates

Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Berlin ‘Ninety-Nine Years’ (Libra) 4/5

When I say free, you say jazz. Free. JAZZ. Free. JAZZ.

Okay, now we all know what to expect, which is, of course, the unexpected.

Pianist and composer Satoko Fujii returns with 48 minutes of free-spirited expression straight out of nobody’s handbook. Now solidified as one of the foremost figures in her field, Fujii has built an enviable portfolio of more than 80 albums. Her latest, ‘Ninety-Nine Years,’ is sure to confuse and excite anyone looking for no holds barred composition.

Ten-piece ensemble Orchestra Berlin are the drones of the Japanese pianist’s wanton revelry. Having first worked together in 2015 to record Ichigo Ichie, she asked German saxophonist Gebhard Ullman to gather a band of merry souls willing to let themselves go. And so he did, and they did.

“I really didn’t know how they would play together or how the music would sound,” Fujii says. “I didn’t expect them to play so hot, with so much energy.”

Fewer birthday presents are as wackily grand to welcome in a person’s 60th year as Fujii’s present to herself. In 2018 she plans to release 12 albums, one every month. She goes by no rules.

So, back to business; you stick a bunch of musicians in a room together, fronted by an individualist maestro, and tell them to dig deep. They oblige, and their special character comes forth as each is given time to show their abilities and covey their ideas.

Opening, and aptly named, track ‘Unexpected Incident’ is the perfect introduction to Fujii’s manifesto. The music is a perfect representation of the Japanese government’s euphemism for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, from which the name derives. Over the course of 10 minutes we gain a real insight to the band’s bold, energized glory. Tenor saxophonists Matthias Schubert and Gebhard Ullman push to boundaries beyond, with Schubert and trombonist aggressively fighting midway through. Ullman brings it home, but not on this world, with a raving unaccompanied solo.

There’s something creeping in the latter part of ‘Ninety-Nine Years.’ Perhaps a fox is skulking in the shadows, until spotted, running for its life in a frenzy of shrieking saxophone. One may find it difficult to believe that the track opens to bassist Jan Roder, paying tribute Fujii’s late mother-in-law.

Natsuki Tamura is the embodiment of sheer horror during ‘On The Way.’ After a nice, relaxing sequence of percussion, demonstrative of the musicians’ command of rhythm and groove, hell breaks loose. Demons possess trumpeter Tamura. He gabbles uncontrollably. One can imagine him twitching in a corner somewhere, grounded by some otherly being, trumpet stuck snake-like to his lips.

It was Tamura who suggested the title of fourth track ‘Oops,’ perhaps given to him during his trance. In actual fact the inspiration came from the horn players finding the track’s rhythms tricky, or so Tamura says. Any hint of difficulty is not present in the final recording. Pure, intended, trumpeted havoc ensues.

The album closes with ‘Follow The Idea.’ Peter Orins and Michael Griener set the precedent with a parade of rolling drums. The track ends up breaking into something evoking a call to arms. Don’t be fooled though, there’s plenty of mad gargling hidden away throughout, a fitting close to Fujii’s vision.

Cadence Magazine have called her ‘the Ellington of free jazz,’ but that’s untrue. She’s Satoko Fujii, and her music’s coming to get you.

Sam Turnell

The Dissolute Society ‘Soldiering On’ CD/Dig (Babel Label) 3/5

As a fan of psychedelic, sludge and garage rock, I’m not one to usually listen to lyrics. That changed when I first played ‘Soldiering On’ by The Dissolute Society, captivated by the sadness of verse. London born trombonist, improviser, composer, and educator Raph Clarkson’s new ensemble has created a debut album sure to absorb even the hardier of people.

A graduate of York and Oxford Universities, Clarkson is probably best known as member of award-winning jazz-punk ensemble WorldService Project. He’s been involved in a huge array of projects, a true restless creative, and embarks on this album with no sign of lacking energy.

The fifteen track ‘Soldiering On’ is a deeply personal display of a talent in love with his craft. There is no shortage of brilliance from the album’s contributing artists. Clarkson’s father, Gustav, plays delightful viola, and there are compositions by the late John Taylor, who sadly died in 2015.

Singer Fini Bearman guest stars as the vocalist, and is supported masterfully by the other musicians. She sings sweetly on opening track ‘Opening (A Journey)’ in a performance which could be straight out of a West End show.

A change overcomes her on ‘Grandma’, lilting with a cut-up poetism like a broken train of thought. The song is inspired by Clarkson’s German-Jewish grandmother, who lived in Palestine for many years. But, if you were unaware of this, one might see it as a representation of a mind overrun with dementia. Few songs have captured the trials old-age so accurately.

Later on, on ‘Soldiering On/On,’ she bites with Bjork like brilliance whilst Huw Warren breaks through a scintillating piano score. Suddenly, on ‘I’m Sorry’ Norwegian singer Mia Marlen Berg transforms into a sort of female 80’s post-punk vocal, before unleashing a full-blown operatic staccato.

This is not an easy listening record. Far from it. There’s a deep sadness to much of what goes on which I’d recommend listening to in the right mind-set. Although ‘Find The Way Through’ is a really good, groove laden antidote featuring a rap from Joshua Idehen. But, you’ve got to wait until track 14 to reach respite if listening as a continuous stream.

The only criticism I have is that I often find poetry quite self-indulgent, but so is writing reviews, I guess. Contrary to that, the musicianship on display is all exceptional, exuberant sadness.

Soldiering On is out on the 11th May on the Babel label.

Sam Turnell

Ilios Steryannis ‘Bethany Project’ CD/Dig (Private Press) 4/5

Drummer, percussionist and composer Ilios Steryannis has been a stalwart member of the Canadian jazz community for a number of years. A Berklee alumnus, ‘Bethany Project’ is (we think) his first full album length release as bandleader after years of contributing to other musical ventures. This set comprises of 11 tracks of varying sounds, styles and flavours with an experienced mid-sized group of musicians including Sundar Viswanathan on alto and soprano saxophone, Kenny Kirkwood on baritone sax, Joel Visentin on Hammond organ and synth duties, Connor Walsh on electric and upright bass, Scott Neary on guitar, Larry Graves playing various percussion parts, Adam Hay on congas
and Eric St-Laurent playing electric guitar and acting as producer for the project.

The album begins with ‘Group of Seven’, a 7/4 Afro-Cuban piece with heavy drums and percussion including conga and timbales running beneath the duel saxophones of Kenny Kirkwood and Sundar Viswanathan – but it is rather short at 3’20”. Any jazz music student should be able to identify the inspiration behind ‘Keep The Change’, which is based around the chord changes of ‘Giant Steps’, Coltrane‘s 1960 masterpiece, which is now used heavily within music education as a device for developing improvisational skills and an understanding of key centres. Luckily, the added guitar and B3 additions move it away from just another ‘Giant Steps’ remake.

The funk inspired ‘College Street Knowledge’ with its changing JBs encouraged bass lines and heavy use of melody make it an obvious crowd pleasing live number. ‘Mombasa Lisa’, as the name suggests, takes its influence from the African continent, again, making great use of percussion, guitar and alto saxophone, and ‘Florina’ utilises Eastern European rhythms, taking motivation from Ilios’ father’s hometown in Greece of the same name with its jazz sensibility and again heavy use of sax and guitar.

‘The Ornado’ returns to the funk with its melodic unison chorus and individual solos running throughout the verses. ‘Alek’s 11’ fuses Mediterranean and African textures, but again, at just over four minutes in length feels a touch short in allowing for all musical conversations to be made, and ‘To Infinity’ is essentially a Hammond workout for Joel Visentin. The final track of the set, ‘Soledad’ contains be-bop, Afro-Cuban and fusion ideals, keeping an obvious eye on its place as a solid live performance inclusion, being very much an ensemble affair.

Being critical, it could be stated that the large numbers of influences and variety of musical ideas within ‘Bethany Project’ could produce a disjointed and fragmented album, but due to its strong Afro-Cuban theme I feel the LP still maintains a consistency. Some of the compositions are a touch short but the playing is of a very high standard and the song writing is also of high quality. The group are also touring, so maybe a trip to Greece is forthcoming.

Damian Wilkes

Ilios Steryannis is a new name to me and, I imagine, to many readers. He is a drummer and composer from Toronto, describing this project as “World Jazz from the Heart”. This seems an apt description. The unusual group instrumentation consists of Sundar Viswanathan (alto and soprano saxophones), Joel Visentin (keyboards), Eric St-Laurent (guitar, producer), Steryannis (drums and djembe), Larry Graves (percussion), Connor Walsh (electric and upright bass), Adam Hay (congas), Scott Neary (guitar) and Kenny Kirkwood (baritone saxophone), all of which offer up a heady mixture of Mediterranean melodies, Afro-Cuban rhythms and West African percussion with elements of funk and bebop thrown in for good measure.

“The Group of 7” gets things underway described as a jaunty melody with an Afro-Cuban vibe. I can’t argue with that. “Keep the Change” (surely a distant relative of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”) follows; a piece with a “bright bouncy swing”. Another highlight is “Mangambe” which, as its title might suggest is a catchy upbeat tune with energetic West African percussion.

There are eleven varied tracks in total and other influences include “Coltranesque post bop”. Most are relatively short pieces with only two running in excess of nine minutes. Africa comes to the fore with “Mombasa Lisa”, “Florina” seems to bring to mind the composer’s roots in Greece with the piece including elements from Greek folk music and “The Ornado” at times seems reminiscent of something that Weather Report might produce.

The theme statement of “ScoJoe” brings to mind the music of John Scofield and Joe Lovano. Could they be the dedicatees in the song title?

“To Infinity” is a joyous swinger with some fine organ-playing.

The album concludes with “Soledad”. This is a lengthy track but it succeeds in retaining the listener’s attention throughout. It is full of musical variety and is yet another example of the musical expertise of these musicians.

It is sometimes difficult to bring together so many disparate musical elements to create a cohesive whole. In this case, however, all concerned have put in sterling work in bringing to life the drummer’s accomplished compositions. This is certainly an album worthy of repeated listening as it reveals new musical pleasures every time.

Alan Musson

Dijf Sanders ‘Java’ (W.E.R.F.) 3/5

Let’s go to Indonesia where, southwest of Malaysia and Sumatra, south of Borneo, and west of Bali, lies Java. Here, rich soil gives birth to plush, exotic plant life. From east to west runs a mountain chain, interspersed with volcanoes, like a spine through the island. Whilst here, why not try some Bubur Ayam, the delicious breakfast made with porridge and shredded chicken. If that doesn’t take your fancy, how about some music? Go and find a nice spot for a drink, soak up the sunshine and listen to a few of the 141 million people play.

Belgian musician Dijf Sanders did and made an album of the music variety, but probably also of the photo description, from his travels, taking in every rural and urban corner in search of the Javanese sound. Inspired by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, Dijf engulfed himself in the island’s culture and tradition, fervently collecting an impressive repertoire of recordings.

Back on Belgian soil, he cut and spliced, and gave his ear to, hours upon hours of field recordings. When he was satisfied he’d captured Java to it’s most bountiful, he enlisted the help of Nathan Daems, Filip Vandebril, and Simon Segers, musicians who specialise in creating Oriental sound.

Did they pull it off?

Course they did. And it’s a mighty nice listen. Although I’ve only seen images of Java on Google images, I do feel like I’ve been transported to some distant shore.

Sam Turnell

Guy One ‘#1’ (Philophon) 5/5

If it hadn’t been for Max Weissenfeldt’s label, Philophon, the world wouldn’t have heard this album, and this review would never have been written. Let’s not dwell on what if’s, but concentrate on the what’s it all about’s.

And what it’s all about is a man from a small North Ghanaian town called Bolgatanga. That man is Guy One, and his debut album is very good. Now, that’s not very good in the usual sort of way; Guy One isn’t usual.

He had no schooling, and had to build his own instruments, whilst herding cows and goats. He had to teach himself to sing, then plied his trade at funerals and weddings, becoming a North Ghanaian icon. His stature grew to such reverence that it is said that if Guy One was unable to sing at somebody’s funeral, they simply wouldn’t be buried.

The fire spread quickly throughout Ghana, fanned by appearances on Ghanaian TV, reaching the ears of Weissenfeldt, who swept it up and took it to Berlin accompanied by a full orchestra.

It’s a sweet story, their meeting. Weissenfeldt found a Guy One CD, got on a bus, and arrived in Bolgatanga. It took ten minutes to track down the man, soon they were shaking hands. Two hours later they were at a funeral, crowded by villagers who listened as Guy one sang.

Jump to sometime later, to now, and the resulting album. #1. It’s an eclectic record fit for the man. There’s tradition, there’s flutes, there’s fanfare. Guy One harks to the skies, yells to them, all the while playing the lute-like Kologo, named such by the Frafra people from which he comes. The orchestra don’t dominate, they cooperate, picking up the Frafra sound with reverential ease. In N’yella Be Bobere? a vibraphone resonates unexpectedly, an appropriate surprise from a surprising musician.

Guy One left Ghana for the first time in 2013, taking with him a genre of music little known to shores outside Africa. His music is sure to travel the world from now on.

Sam Turnell

Mélissa Laveaux ‘Radyo Siwèl’ (Nø Førmat!) 3/5

Mélissa Laveaux is in search of a lost past.

Born to Haitian parents in Ottowa, Canada, her Creole culture wasn’t something which was talked about in her household. Some years later, in Paris, Laveaux is putting that right.

On an album as globally encompassing as her passport, she succeeds in exploring voodoo rhythm, Haitian folklore, and calypso, mixed with a French sultriness. This is not an album full of self-regret and longing, a trap easily fallen into by artists who have put something down somewhere and forgotten its exact location. This is a full blown of celebration of re-discovered roots and new horizons.

Instead of smacking with desperation, the music smacks joyfully with juxtaposition. Shimmering guitars rain down whilst Laveaux sings about Haiti’s occupying parties, lilting through a history of American rule between 1915 to 1936. She perfectly encompasses the Haitian culture; resilience, colour, strength in spirit.

Radyo Siwèl is out tomorrow on Nø Førmat!.

Sam Turnell

Julian Lage ‘Modern Lore’ Vinyl/CD (Mack Avenue) 3/5

Guitarist Julian Lage is another young Turk out to conquer the world of jazz and he is heard here in a trio setting with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wolleson who also doubles up on vibraphone. The leader’s musical influences take in electric jazz guitarists such as Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and especially the sound of John Scofield. There is a country-folk feel to both the opener, ‘The ramble’, with nice melodic interplay between the musicians, and to the gentle, reposing piece, ‘Atlantic limited’, with fine rim-drum work from Wollesen. For fans of jazz-rock, the drum propelled groove of ‘General thunder’ will impress, while in stark contrast, a lovely lyrical duet between bassist and guitarist ensures on ‘Wordsmith’, and indeed it is this more introspective side to Lage’s work that this writer would like to hear more of on future releases. Some of the self compositions need to be stronger lyrically, but there is nonetheless a good deal to praise equally, as on ‘Rodger the dodger’, where the influence of Frisell is once more felt and country-folk-blues does suit this guitarist down to the ground. A definite case of work in progress on this talented young guitarist.

Tim Stenhouse