Daniel Murray ‘Guitar Solo: Universo Musical de Egberto Gismonti’ CD (Carmo/ECM) 4/5

In 1983 guitarist, pianist, composer and arranger Egberto Gismonti launched his own label, named after his Brazilian hometown Carmo. Focusing on other, mainly instrumental Brazilian artists, the label’s initial releases were predominantly for the Brazilian domestic market, until ECM began to make the music accessible internationally. It has been over a decade since the label’s last release, but 2019 sees two new albums from the label, a vocal and guitar duo, Grazie Writti & Matias Arriazu, and this set of solo guitar pieces from guitarist Daniel Murray.

As the title suggests, this is an album comprised entirely of Egberto Gismonti compositions. And so fitting it is that it is released on the legendary musician’s own label. There are 13 tracks on the album and all arrangements (except for 2 which were originally written for solo guitar by Gismonti himself), are lovingly crafted by Murray. The guitarist plays classical 6 string guitars and a classical 10 string guitar.

Born in 1981, from an early age Murray has dedicated himself to the classical guitar. He plays with a crisp, precise style, with a flare and intuitive understanding of the music he performs that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. Most evident on tunes such as ‘Água e vinho’, ‘Carmen’, ‘Sete anéis’, ‘A fala da paixão’ and ‘Choro’, his evocative playing is a joy to behold. Touches of sentimentality blend beautifully with Brazilian effervescence. Occasional bursts of the avant-garde on ‘Maracatu’, ‘Baião Malandro’ and ‘Saudações’ add a wonderful sense of adventure and playfulness to the proceedings.

Fans of Gismonti’s music, and indeed fans of classical guitar music in general, will love this album. Performed with style and panache, Daniel Murray takes the listener on a journey that truly gets to the heart of the composer’s music, and whilst there is the occasional challenging piece, it is always listenable and highly enjoyable, with a depth and sincerity to it that is both refreshing and respectful. A delightful album.

Mike Gates

Enrico Rava / Joe Lovano ‘Roma’ CD (ECM) 5/5

Recorded live at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica in November 2018, “Roma” documents the meeting of the doyen of Italian jazz, Enrico Rava, with masterful US tenorist Joe Lovano. Together they front a spirited and lyrical quintet that includes the brilliant pianist Giovanni Guidi, the dynamic drummer Gerald Cleaver and rising star bassist Dezron Douglas. A quite formidable five-piece one might venture to suggest, and they certainly don’t disappoint.

Well-loved tunes by the two bandleaders form the core of the programme, including Rava’s intricate “Interiors” and “Secrets”, along with Lovano’s vigorous Texas blues “Fort Worth”. Another Lovano original, “Divine Timing”, was written especially for this ensemble. One of the many highlights of the album is the concluding melody that roams freely across the history of modern jazz, gathering together “Lovano’s “Drum Song”, John Coltrane’s “Spiritual”, and the standard (although there’s nothing standard about this performance), “Over The Rainbow”.

More than twenty years ago a handful of shared gigs with Miroslav Vitous and Tony Oxley gave a hint of potential to be explored, but the 2018 tour that this recording is taken from, marked the first time that the two bandleaders shaped a repertoire together. And although Rava and Lovano inevitably and correctly take the headline, it is, in fact, the beauty of the quintet as a whole that also makes this album stand out. Bassist Douglas and drummer Cleaver work particularly well together, and pianist Guidi once more proves what a thoughtful, intuitive player his is, often taking the solos into a different dimension that sees the two bandleaders supporting before gifting the audience with their own inimitably stylistic soloing.

All of the two leader’s experience comes together throughout this wonderful album. One might have thought the pair may not sit that comfortably together in a musical sense, historically speaking, yet it would seem that as they have both matured in years, so has their musical approach, moving ever closer. Perhaps some collaborations rely on a certain sense of timing, and with this one, it would appear to have been the perfect time for the two masters of jazz to work together.

The music is at times intense, but the nature is relaxed and I certainly get the impression that there’s a lovely openness and freedom of expression throughout the entire set. The opening piece “interiors” simmers gently with conversational aplomb, whilst the spirited “Secrets” positively burns with a spellbinding iridescence. The hard-driving post-bop of “Fort Worth” gives way to some stunning improv on “Divine Timing”. Cleaver’s spotlight moment leads the listener into the engaging “Drum Song”, with some focussed interplay from the two band-leaders catching the imagination on Coltrane’s classic “Spiritual”. The album closes with an incredible piece of virtuosity from pianist Guidi, as his beautiful and ethereal take on “Over The Rainbow” brings the set to an enchanting close.

As ECM celebrates its 50th year, “Roma” is yet another example of what makes this label so special. Wonderful, captivating jazz from a very special quintet of musicians.

Mike Gates

Various ‘The Jazz Room compiled by Paul Murphy’ 2LP (BBE Music) 4/5

UK jazz dance hero, Paul Murphy, teams up with BBE Music to deliver his first compilation on the label: a blazing selection of up-tempo jazz titled ‘The Jazz Room’. It’s an essential selection of both contemporary and personal favourites which represent the diverse range of under the radar jazz that Paul Murphy continues to champion. Many of the tracks from the contemporary artists pay tribute to earlier protagonists and as such there’s a real cohesive quality running throughout the compilation.

As well as Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s brilliant 1987 avant-garde interpretation of Fela Kuti’s ‘Zombie’, Jazz Room features the definitive version of Art Pepper’s ‘Mambo De La Pinta’, an 11 minute frenetic up-tempo excursion recorded in Tokyo 1979 featuring drummer Billy Higgins, pianist George Cables and bassist Tony Dumas.

Estonian vibraphonist Terje Terasmaa delivers a superb instrumental rendition of Tania Maria’s fusion classic ‘Yatra-Ta’. The track is taken from her 2009 album Hõbehelid. She follows in the footsteps of her esteemed father, Kalju Terasmaa; a vibraphonist who was an honorary artist in Estonia for cultural services.

Following on from his heavy tribute to Gil Scott-Heron back in 2012, French producer, Bruno “Patchworks” Hovart, turned his attention towards the music by Ethiopian master musician Mulatu, with this timeless tribute featuring Guillaume Clary on flute. The modern modal styled ‘Tribute To Mulatu’ shows restraint and depth with real respect for Mulatu Astatke’s unique blend of Latin jazz and traditional Ethiopian music. It shows the continuing passion that “Patchworks” continues to imbue on his progressive releases and his work on forgotten works such as through the French ‘Favorite’ label.

Staying within the Ethiopian tradition, Raphael Anker and his Swiss-based Imperial Tiger Orchestra continue their exploration of music from the golden age of Ethiopian music with this excellent live tribute of Mulatu Astatke’s composition, ‘Emnete’. The striking thing about this release is that part of their ‘Addis Abeba’ album, released in 2010, was actually recorded in Ethiopia at Addis Abeba’s cultural hub, Club Alizé, including this tribute. The combination of both trumpeter Raphael Anker and John Menoud on baritone sax bring out something special on this track, and the inclusion of traditional Ethiopian instruments adds towards the authenticity.

The New York Ska Ensemble meets Charlie Mingus for this infectious uptempo ska jazz rendition of the classic jazz standard from the legendary composer. ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ features legendary Skatalites bassist Val Douglas alongside Fred Reiter-saxophones and flute, guitars, Alberto Tarin, Yao Dinizulu on drums and percussion, Earl Appleton on piano and organ, Mark Paquin playing trombone and bassist Kevin Batchelor. The ensemble embraces the music with a larger than life approach adding the trademark shifting patterns and tempos which really suits the New York Ska Ensemble’s character.

Vocalist Shola Adisa-Farrar adds a welcome soulful sound to Fela Kuti’s ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ alongside the Florian Pellissier Quintet. Based in Paris but from Oakland, California, Shola teamed up with Parisian pianist and composer Florian Pellissier for the Quintet’s debut album ‘Lost Myself’ featuring this classic Lagos anthem.

Back in 1985 Paul Murphy launched his label Paladin and the first release was a three-track 12″ by Onward International featuring ‘Foot In The Door’; a timeless brassy uptempo jazz-funk track with great energy and a timeless appeal. It’s a track that seems to have eluded many and the prices for the original are high. The bands one and only release features Roberta Pla on timbales/percussion and Guy Barker on trumpet as well as a stellar group of UK jazz musicians. The label went on to release albums by Paz, Tommy Chase and Working Week, including the track ‘Venceremos (We Will Win)’.

This excellent compilation brings together a number of styles which complement each other as a whole and it’s tracks like Lucas Van Merwijk & his Cubop City Big Band’s ‘4 Beat Cha Cha Cha’ which add a more nuanced Latin jazz vibe to the album. Tito Puente’s original gets a big band overhaul and it’s slightly reminiscent of the Mongo Santamaria track ‘Mazacote’, albeit in signature not tempo. The Dutch-based band includes an international cast of established musicians who lead the way in Europe, with their music finding a large fan base in not just Europe but in South America. A track which emphasises the band’s effervescent style.

Lauded by none other than Gilles Peterson as “the original messenger of jazz who found almost every dancefloor classic”, Paul began DJing in 1970s London. His passion and unique playing style placed him at the epicentre of an emerging jazz-dance scene in the city, popping off in spots like The Horseshoe (aka Jaffas), The Wag, The 100 Club, The Blue Note and The Electric Ballroom, where he founded the now famous ‘Jazz Room’, after which this album is named.

Jazz Room features tracks by acclaimed jazz producer Benedic Lamdin – aka Nostalgia 77 and also Chip Wickham who alongside his Blue Mode band adds a soulful organ jazz interpretation to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like A Teen Spirit’ original; check out Chip Wickham’s ‘La Sombra’ album. The Mamelon group bring an exciting blend of electronic meets traditional music from Mali, with their captivating uptempo ‘Koumba Fri Fri’.

This welcome compilation will open doors to the wealth of great music across Europe or tucked away in places you usually wouldn’t look. A solid collection of contemporary tributes and past works of importance.

Mark Jones

John Ghost ‘Airships Are Organisms’ LP/CD (Sdban Ultra) 4/5

Who is John Ghost, you ask?
John Ghost is six Belgian musicians, led by guitarist/composer Jo De Geest. ‘Airships Are Organisms’ is their 2nd album following the 2016 debut, ‘For A Year They Slept’. The rest of the band is made up of Rob Banken (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute), Wim Segers (vibraphone, marimba, percussion), Karel Cuelenaere (piano, Fender Rhodes, synth), Lieven Van Pee (bass) and Elias Devoldere (drums, percussion). They are “often described as a symbiosis between the sounds of Steve Reich, John Hollenbeck, Nils Frahm and Jaga Jazzist”. Wow.
There you are. Reader meet John. John meet the reader *nods*. Introductions over. So, the music then?

13-minute opener, ‘Deconstructing Hymns’, ushers in the minimal with an atmospheric scene-swelling synth wash that leads into a pulsing marimba repeated motif, while the odd sparkling percussive star and celestial sonic offer a momentary, calming, universal perspective. It shifts gear after approx 6 and a half minutes as Devoldere picks up a gorgeous syncopation-energised rhythm that the band happily riff on and bounce off, including some slightly-distorted guitar(!) from De Geest. It ends with a playful, angular, percussive dance; Banken floats alto feelings and thoughts as vocal swells bring the drama.

The title track is a breathy, optimistic jaunt. It’s self-propelled, wind-assisted with a foot lightly on the brakes. Devoldere is the metronome as bursts of sax, Rhodes and others work to incrementally elevate. Iterations of the proggy, the jazzy and the fusiony are input; all Egg-ing each other on.

‘Disfunctional Rabbits’ is a two-parter with the wonderfully pragmatic titles of ‘Disfunctional Rabbits: The Disfunction’ and ‘Disfunctional Rabbits: The Rabbits’. ‘The Disfunction’ is tenderly heady; a gliding soundscape that effortlessly flows downhill with alto, idiophone and keys charting its direction and a jaunty prog-riff to top and tail it. ‘The Rabbits’ throbs hard and threatens to groove hard too but, wisely, just manages to hold back. Its wisdom results in a gratifying, reserved menace; a thrilling tension which never relents as layers of sound incrementally add to it. Bound power.

‘The Fallen Colony’ is initially broken and wide open as Devoldere prods and Segers and Cuelenaere create some cosmic enchantment. It then heads off into impish prog time signature land, feeling the groovey, fusion of John Squire’s ‘Lucky Seven’ before halting and stuttering to a vibes-lush patterned end. ‘Time//Traveler’ extends its preceding track with some introductory interstellar exploration before a fat beat is laid down and John Ghost do their thing they do so well; a thing of short bursts and motifs by each musician (over an anchored rhythm) that don’t ever become “a thing” at the time, but are undeniably related musically, themically and emotionally to ensure a continued growth, an accretion, cumulatively achieving one hell of “a thing”.

Some overt drone in the final track, ‘Drones For a Sunken Mothership’, reminding us of how cinematic this album is at times. It’s another big swelling, builder of a track with grand, soaring strings and a driving, thriving pedal that Devoldere energetically underlines with some seriously busy kit action. Its an aptly heroic, atmospheric, pulsating end to this stunning album.

“So, the music then?” we asked earlier. John Ghost’s music is exploratory, intellectual and both minimal & maximal when the mood takes it. It is friendly, contemporary, idiosyncratic and elevated by its wide range of musical influence/styles (prog, contemporary classical, jazz, post-rock, drone). It wears all of its serious musical weight incredibly lightly; never getting clogged down in self-importance, histrionics or humour-free earnestness. John Ghost’s music is, well, kinda wow.

Ian Ward

Ebo Taylor ‘Palaver’ LP/CD (BBE Music) 3/5

Living legend of Ghanaian music, guitarist and songwriter Ebo Taylor has a new album out, well this one is not exactly new as it dates from 1980. It is however new to the wider world as it has been lying dormant in the vaults of Nigeria’s Tabansi records since recorded by Taylor all those years ago. It’s a bit of a mystery to Taylor himself how this recording evaded release at the time though he thinks it got overlooked while he was touring Nigeria after the recording took place. It’s fortunate for fans of Ghanaian highlife music that this time capsule finally sees the light of day. We can thank Peter Adarkwah of BBE Music for his detective work in discovering this and other gems buried in those Tabansi vaults.

Ebo Taylor, born 1936 became an active musician in the late ’50s. He later took his own Black Star Highlife Band to London in the ’60s where he met and collaborated with the likes of Fela Kuti. Still working today it’s interesting to note his music has been sampled by contemporary artists like Usher who sampled Taylor’s song ‘Heaven’ for his track ‘She Don’t Know’. Taylor explains his blend of highlife and Afro-beat was a way to develop African music and gain a global audience.

The title track of the album, ‘Palaver’ or talk as the Portuguese slang translates, apparently documents the habit of a friend or acquaintance of poking his nose into the singer’s business, much to his annoyance. Where he goes and the women he follows it’s all “talk talk talk”. Delivered in a mellow style with a gentle but persistently undulating beat the song has a funky horn riff and sonorous bass tone. Following a jazzy flute solo the song’s little twist reveals the identity of the Palaver, once you know who it is you may think perhaps the attention was justified after all.

‘Make You No Mind’ offers the listener some words of advice, “rich man he hustle for money, poor man he hustle for money, everyone he hustle for money, make you no mind” which I take to mean don’t worry about it as that’s the way it is. Words of resignation sung in a low key voice with a fragility and world weariness about them, Taylor sounded quite old even back in 1980.

‘Help Africa’ is a plea to free Africa but at the same time a lament at the state of warring nations. It begins with Taylor yelping “help!” with great urgency. The influence of Fela Kuti is present in the trance-like rhythms that keep the song rooted in the groove. There’s a real focus on the interplay between the horn riffs and guitar part which is easy on the ears thanks to the paired down directness of the mix, congas and sax add more flavour and keep up the intensity.

The album is pretty short in duration by today’s standards, or even by yesterday’s for that matter, it feels incomplete as a consequence. With five tracks and at just under half an hour running time it makes me wonder if the rest of the session is still lurking in the Tabansi basement somewhere. But never mind the length, it’s the quality that counts and these finely recorded Afro-beats certainly have that.

James Read

Carmen Souza ‘The Silver Messengers’ CD (Galileo) 4/5

“Musical composition should bring happiness and joy to people and make them forget their troubles.”

With such a positive and affirmative life perspective, it’s easy to see why the music of legendary jazz pianist and composer, Horace Silver, resonated with so many people as deeply as it did. As a pioneer of the hard bop style, much of Silver’s legacy rests in not only his innumerable recordings but the impact his teachings had on artists he nurtured through his bands for decades.

And for singer, songwriter, musician and composer, Carmen Souza, ‘The Silver Messengers’ is very much a celebration of Silver’s music and the indelible impact his compositions and projects have gone on to inspire within her own affections for jazz.

Souza’s career in of itself has been a remarkable one thus far. With this album serving as her ninth album release, the Lisbon, Portuguese-born artist actually shares her Cape Verdean heritage with Horace Silver, whose father, John Tavares Silver, was born in Maio, Cape Verde. Throughout Souza’s career, hers has really proved to boast an inimitable style – a fusion of genres and styles including contemporary jazz, Cape Verdean rhythms and Creole-written lyrics delivered through a dynamic vocal style, and all developed with the assistance of bass player and long-standing musical collaborator, Theo Pascal.

Of the eleven tracks presented on ‘The Silver Messengers’, while several of the songs contain lyrics penned by Souza over Horace’s compositions, Souza and Pascal have lovingly included two original non-Horace Silver tracks which were created in tribute to their subject, ‘Lady Musika’ and ‘Silver Blues’. The latter of which makes a nice album closer as the Souza-penned lyrics surmise her own affections for Silver’s music. Although a song that had been recorded and released some years prior, the reworked ‘Song For My Father’ is probably the number that would generate the most interest amongst fans – a song covered by Madlib and Leon Thomas, sampled by Steely Dan and Us3 – the result is nothing short of the album’s highlight.

Often noted for paying respects to musical heroes through her own recordings like in 2014’s ‘Live at Lagny Jazz Festival’, which saw Carmen tackle songs by Charlie Parker and Yves Montand, ‘The Silver Messengers’ delivers as the ultimate tribute. The album’s title itself serves very much as a call back to the seminal 1956 Blue Note Records release pairing Silver with drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and, here, Souza and her musicians including Pascal on bass, Benjamin Burrell on piano and Elias Kacomanolis on drums, openly declare to carrying the torch as the new Messengers and purveyors of Silver’s legacy, spreading the word far and wide, and also bringing it back to its Cape Verdean roots.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Carmen Souza ‘Live at Lagny Jazz Festival’ CD + DVD (Galileo/Jazz Pilon) 4/5
Carmen Souza ‘Kachupada’ CD (Galileo) 4/5

Bill Frisell ‘Harmony’ LP/CD (Blue Note) 2/5

Somewhat surprisingly, this is, in fact, Bill Frisell’s Blue Note debut in his own right. Having had an association with various artists on the label, stretching back as far as his appearance on John Scofield’s 1992 release Grace Under Pressure, the acclaimed guitarist hadn’t previously released an album of his own for jazz’s most famous label, until now that is.

“Harmony” brings together long-time collaborators Petra Haden on vocals, and Hank Roberts on cello and vocals, along with relative newcomer Luke Bergman, on acoustic guitar, baritone guitar, bass and vocals. It is, of course, Frisell’s own evocative guitar playing that leads the way throughout the recording, but it is very much a group effort, with the quartet working their way, quite eloquently it has to be said, through the great American songbook and beyond.

Those who have followed Frisell’s career will know that he’s not averse to trying something new. He is, without doubt, one of the most innovative and imitated guitarists around, his distinctive sound copied my many, but surpassed by none.
His choice of music, be it via original composition or covering standards, has often showcased his talents in many different ways. Whether it be edgy, innovative jazz, reflective ambience, or country-tinged Americana, he has managed to stay true to his own, unique voice.

And so, some might have thought, Blue Note? Bill Frisell? … surely a match made in Heaven? Well, and I do say this with a disappointed sigh, to my mind this coming together of great label and great artist has actually brought out the worse in both of them. Let me ask a question: when was the last time Blue Note released a truly great jazz album? An original album that is… not a reissue or previously unreleased recording. The label was indeed the most iconic of jazz record labels, and still benefits from its truly wonderful history, but I’m sure it must be well documented elsewhere that its output these days relies heavily on a commercially acceptable aspect that many labels need to live by in order to survive.

And so it is with “Harmony”. Yes, there is a thoughtful, intelligent patience in the music recorded here, but to be honest my patience wears thin. As an album it doesn’t really go anywhere, with its twee versions of American folk and Country tunes such as “Hard Times”, “Red River Valley”, “Lonesome” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, barely breaking sweat or raising an eyebrow. Haden’s often wordless voice just doesn’t inspire any kind of connection with the listener, despite the obvious fact that she has a lovely voice. The interplay between the two guitarists is the best thing about the album, with Frisell and Bergman bringing a natural warmth to the proceedings. But overall, as much as I try, especially being a big Frisell admirer, I just can’t find much to like here.

For me, Bill Frisell has always pushed the boundaries. Regardless of whether I’ve felt any particular release of his was awesome, or just not my cup of tea, I never thought I’d ever call his music mediocre…

Mike Gates

Read also:
Bill Frisell ‘Music Is’ 2LP/CD (OKeh/Music On Vinyl) 4/5

Various ‘The Is Mainstream!’ 2LP/CD (WeWantSounds) 3/5

“This is Mainstream!” is a compilation of recordings from the early 70s originally released on Mainstream Records, an independent U.S. label active in the 60s and 70s. The compilation taps into the funk, soul and jazz output rather than its psychedelic/blues rock back catalogue. Some of the tracks listed here haven’t been re-issued on vinyl since their original release.

“Miss Fatback”: Saundra Phillips kicks off the comp in style with some raunchy greasy funk. ‘Don’t nobody wanna a bone but a dog!’. A cover of Bill Wither’s ‘Kissing My Love’ follows by Afrique. It’s a 12 bar groover with mono-synth melody lines on a bed of scratchy wah wah guitars. Hal Galper’s “This Moment” is blissful electric jazz featuring solos from the Brecker Brothers. December’s Children’s “Livin’ (Way Too Fast)” has a strutting distorted guitar riff and strained slightly shrill vocals which soon diminish the warm feeling from the previous track. A proficient but pedestrian example of the socially conscious rock-soul of the time. Back to the dance floor with the soul-jazz of Blue Mitchell’s “Blues’ Blues”. Next is a slightly jazzier version of Bread’s “Make It With You”. Maxine Weldon’s enunciation and phrasing is a bit Dame Shirley when she’s belting it out. Overall though, you get the same disappointed feeling you get when you hear Curtis Mayfield play “We’ve Only Just Begun” on ‘Curtis/Live!’. Reggie Moore’s piano led “Mother McCree” is a welcome return to funky jazz.

Jay Berliner’s instrumental cover of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” retains the dominant bass and neat wah-wah rhythm of the original but with Berliner’s heavily affected guitar laying down the vocal line. Smooth Latin grooves with Rhodes piano and flute are to the fore on Dave Hubbard’s “T.B.’s Delight”. Almeta Lattimore’s “These Memories” is an un-apologetic soul ballad with a proto-disco swooping string section. Next up is “Lean On Me (Lean On Him)” by Buddy Terry. From the title, you can probably guess its a gospel re-working of the Bill Withers tune. Although there’s a nice flute solo and superb driving bass guitar, the concept is clunky and feels shoe-horned into the original. A highpoint of the album is “Bird And The Ouija Board” from Pete Yellin’s ‘Dance of Allegra’. An epic fusion delight with soaring improvised horns and Stanley Clarke’s manic electric bass bubbling beneath which locks into an uptempo groove with exciting solos. It’s a pleasing juxtaposition of funky fusion and free jazz. “Just A Little Lovin’” is the quieter conclusion to the release. It is a delicate and precise performance from Sarah Vaughan but is typical of big band jazz-pop of the time.

I have to admit I’m not a big fan of compilation albums. I’m old enough to remember K-Tel and Ronco! With very few exceptions, they are best served as samplers for listeners seeking new tunes. The tracklisting is well constructed but ultimately this is an example of the above. It’s difficult to cater for an individual’s taste with such varied musical styles on show so there’s bound to be an element of hit and miss. However, there is plenty to like here, particularly the excellent soul-jazz and fusion tracks. To own some of these tracks would require a bit of crate-digging so it may be worth getting a copy for that reason alone. Either way, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Kevin Ward

Terkel Nørgaard ‘With Ralph Alessi’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 4/5

Terkel Nørgaard unveils his new project released through Helsinki’s We Jazz Records which sees him partner with revered trumpeter and educator Ralph Alessi on the aptly titled album, ‘With Ralph Alessi’.

Born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, drummer Nørgaard can boast having served as a part of performances and projects by Billy Hart, Palle Mikkelborg, Jeff Ballard and Ed Thigpen, all the while managing to display a virtuosic level of skill throughout his music even through ‘out of the box’ collaborations like Nørgaard’s work with Swedish electronic producer and musician, Olof Melander.

And since the inception of Nørgaard’s jazz trio Reverse in 2012, which pairs the drummer with bassist Jesper Thorn and pianist Søren Gemmer (a solo artist in his own right), the auspicious outfit established themselves with albums ‘Awakening’ (Blackout, 2014) and ‘Museum’ (DME, 2017) along with having toured and performed with Jørgen Leth, Palle Mikkelborg and Nicolaj Stockholm. US trumpeter, Ralph Alessi, from San Francisco, California, has also been something of a frequent collaborator with Nørgaard and Reverse, and with innumerable accolades and achievements under his own belt including notable collaborations with Uri Caine, Ravi Coltrane and Steve Coleman; serving as the Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at University of Nevado-Reno and the Director of the School for Improvisational Music. It all makes the Nørgaard/Alessi union for this album all the more alluring.

There’s a hint of another We Jazz Records drums/brass combination from earlier this year which paired drummer Teppo Mäkynen with saxophonist Timo Lassy for their similarly titled album, ‘Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen’. That imaginative project presented 13 tracks featuring the exclusivity of just their respective drum-kit and horn, and while ‘With Ralph Alessi’ benefits from the inclusion of Thorn and Gemmer, ‘thirteen’ serves as a strong album highlight as we see the dynamic relationship between Nørgaard and Alessi on full display, The interaction between the two goes uninterrupted for nearly three minutes before they’re once again joined by Thorn and Gemmer who collectively usher in the song’s thrilling crescendo marking it as one of the project’s genuinely standout moments.

While ‘thirteen’ is in itself a fantastic advertisement for the album as a whole, each of the Nørgaard compositions reflect the refined and effortless chemistry between the four players which are reflective of the years of prior performances together. Over the course of the seven original tracks presented here – interestingly all named as non-sequential numbers which perhaps relate to the 21 songs that were initially recorded for this album – the high quality level of interplay and musicianship is displayed throughout marking ‘With Ralph Alessi’ as an absolute joy and another solid addition within the Nørgaard and Reverse catalogue.

Imran Mirza

Neue Grafik Ensemble ‘Foulden Road’ LP (Total Refreshment Centre) 4/5

Neue Grafik Ensemble is a collaboration between French producer/DJ Neue Grafik and the Hackney based Total Refreshment Centre. The ensemble’s core is a quartet of saxophone, bass, drums with Neue Grafik on keyboards augmented by other musicians on a track by track basis. The mini-LP, “Foulden Road” is the ensemble’s debut.

The title track, which opens the set, however, is performed by a trio comprising of drums, bass and keys. It’s a kind of jazzy drum and bass with its urgent broken beat style drum patterns. The chorused slidey bass, while maybe a little polite in the mix, also emphasises the staccato keyboard stabs. Next, it’s south to “Dalston Junction”. The pace is slackened to swaggering gooey hip-hop. The rhythm section drops out; in comes dreamlike solo flute and a brief spoken word part from Brother Portrait, who appears on several tracks in this release. “Voodoo Rain”, with its light percussive introduction, is progressively embellished with sweeping saxophone and squiggly Worrellian synth noodling, the strutting bass line bringing forward momentum. “Something is missing” follows. Dual saxophones harmonise over the urgent, repetitive, stuttering rhythm section and swinging keys. The drum and bass slow build gives a platform for the pleasing sax solos.

“Hotel Laplace” is recorded from live, as is the previous track. A Rhodes piano led soulful ballad and a beautiful vehicle for Melbourne based (not Derbyshire) Allysha Joy, whose smoky, soulful and yet fragile voice is enchanting. As the verses trail off, the track continues to very slow fade with simple sax and key melodies. The tempo is raised on “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” with it’s driving tight rhythmic pattern and brief but expansive sax-led melody, topped with manic rhymes from Brother Portrait. The album’s closer “Dedicated To Marie Paule” is jazzy hip-hop reminiscent of the early 90s with vocals, again, from Brother Portrait. The smooth, floating, envelope filter washed backing gives way to a simple and cute solo piano melody.

“Foulden Road” is an exciting and enjoyable album. It is musically not particularly innovative or unique but has plenty of energy and joyfulness which rubs off on the listener. While the most successful tracks are the harder, more uptempo tunes such as the dynamic “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” and the title track, there’s also some moments of quiet delicacy, which may reward repeated listens.

Kevin Ward