Anything “solo” is a scary discipline. You are on your own. No excuses.
Solo piano as a musical art form is overshadowed by its classical tradition, although throughout jazz history there have been numerous productions that come to mind as advocates of the “Solo Tradition”. Jarret’s Cologne Concert would probably be on top of that list.
Laurent Nicoud is a young swiss pianist-composer who recorded his solo debut in New York, with support by jazz prodigy Shai Maestro. Nicoud comes from a classical background and although this production is filed as jazz, I would rather like to understand it as part of the “Solo Piano Music Tradition”.
Nicoud’s pieces are straightforward and beautiful. His touch is unique, his technique flawless, his vocabulary eloquent. There is a lyrical quality to all his musical ideas and a flattering familiarity to the sound of a young Keith Jarret. Nicoud’s dynamic approach to marking a melodic statement is stunning. His quality of sound is one of a kind. Outline marks the beginning of a very promising young artist’s recording career. I can’t wait to hear more!
Voice for Ages, Bird’s Levitation, Ostinato #3, In front of a tree and a light, Louffoque, Far Ahead, Outline, Weird Spaces, Ocean, Groove in E-Flat, One in E major
‘Sketching the Unknown’ is the debut album from the Sokratis Votskos Quartet released through the UK’s Jazzman Records.
Much of Sokratis Votskos’s music has been defined by his desire to use it as a means of exploring his own past and his own heritage while intertwining it with contemporary styles and compositions seeking to carve his own new path as a result.
Votskos’s explorations have continued through further projects, most notably through his collaboration with Harris P and their Kolida Babo two-man outfit that is immersed within the ancient music of Armenia and the folk aesthetic of northern Greece interspersed with subtle twinges of electronica which pulls the music into a contemporary setting. Released in 2019 to tremendous praise and plaudits, their experiment was later aided by remixers including London’s Coby Sey and Ireland’s Who’s The Technician? who each tackled ‘Exodus’ from Kolida Babo’s self-titled debut taking the music even further into these disparate musical realms.
Votskos’s ability to transcend his message and his music through these various genres and styles is an incredibly inspiring trait – in the same year that Kolida Babo is introduced to the world, Votskos also played a key role as part of an ensemble recruited for Serafim Tsotsonis’s electronic and alternative pop project, ‘Believers’ before later that year unveiling the first single from the Sokratis Votskos Quartet.
For ‘Sketching the Unknown’, Votskos’s quest has found the perfect home under the banner of Jazzman Records. With their own ethos of scouring the world looking for innovative soul, jazz and funk music, the Jazzman catalogue grows with indelible strength with each passing year let alone the awesome run they seem to be having for subsequent 2020 projects including the fantastic new release from saxophonist Muriel Grossmann, ‘Elevation’, and the upcoming Vibration Black Finger project, ‘Can You See What I’m Trying to Say’.
With Votskos leading on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, the album’s quartet is rounded out by pianist Leandros Pasias (Yako Trio), bassist Evangelos Vrachnos and drummer Kostas Anastasiadis (Xaxakes, Esy Tha Metanioseis), along with Votskos’ Kolida Babo partner Harris P enlisted for the album’s mixing duties as well. As a collective, the musicians here are unified in their vision of creating a canvas to bridge these two eras of jazz and music-making, in many ways, through stories within stories. And the clues are easy to find even from the glorious near twelve-minute album opener ‘Almopian Etude’ – a blissful track in its own pace and composition and a reference to the Greek mythological giant, Almops, who famously waged a war on Zeus and the gods of Olympus and went on to found the Almopian tribe.
So much of the music on ‘Sketching the Unknown’ is such a joy and as confident and self-assured as it appears when listening to it, the music by its very nature is perhaps more exploratory than anything else. The album’s Bandcamp page refers to the project as a “fusion album” but less a fusion of styles and more so of actual eras. Sokratis Votskos has set himself an incredible quest and whether or not he’ll ever truly find the answers he seeks, as listeners, we’re fortunate enough to at least bask in the result of his questions.
“Totem” is the first album as leader from award-winning Italian bassist Ferdinando Romano. Alongside ECM trumpeter Ralph Alessi, the session features some of the most interesting new improvisers on the Italian scene; Simone Alessandrini (alto & soprano sax), Manuel Magrini (piano), Tommaso Iacoviello (flugelhorn), Nazareno Caputo (vibraphone / marimba) & Giovanni Paolo Liguori (drums).
Explaining the title of the album, Romano says: “In an artistic sense each of us has his own Totems; they are our references, the people that we met and with whom we shared musical and artistic experiences. But the single Totems can give life to a much bigger one, something that is much more than the sum of the parts and that represents the creative synthesis of our musical personality.” Romano draws from a varied musical background for this recording, the resulting music taking in a collective spirit that gives life to the bassist’s own compositions.
As one might expect from a recording featuring a “star guest” musician, trumpeter Alessi takes the lead on many of the tunes, bringing his own inimitable style to the proceedings. It is, however, for me, the nature of the compositions and the collective unity of the Italian group that is most impressive. Romano’s writing has a keen edge to it. Confident licks and melodies merge seamlessly with exquisite atmospheres to create an album that is high in quality and benefitting from that musical sweet spot between challenging and accessible listening.
The album opens with “The Gecko”, starting with a repeating bass riff on top of which some lovely chordal piano harmonies flow. Alessi provides an evocative solo as the tune develops with subtle sax tones working well alongside the trumpet. “Evocation” is a stylish, short solo bass piece, and “Wolf Totem”, inspired by the book “Wolf Totem”, by Jiang Rong, evokes a gorgeous soundscape with bass, piano and sax sounding very harmonious together. The lush “Curly” is a lovely ballad featuring some very sensitive playing from the muted trumpet of Alessi, with wonderful arrangements once more being most notable from the composer. “Sea Crossing” (Part 1 and Part 2) is more like a suite. The music flows with a more improvisational feel, exciting and thoughtful in turns, the soloing from all the musicians strong and engaging. One of the highlights of the album is definitely the wonderful piece “Memories Reprise”. The tune has a more orchestral conception, connecting with the Italian sound of the Mediterranean melodies. Both in composition and performance, this track epitomises everything that is so promising about Romano as a band-leader. The closing track “Mirrors” features a cool vibes intro, before the tune itself develops in fascinating style, being more experimental than the rest of the album, with different timbres and sound effects dancing in and out of harmony and improvisational melody.
“Totem” is a promising debut from Ferdinando Romano. On the strength of this recording, I think we can look forward to many more projects in the future from this exciting Italian bassist.
Juan Saiz Trio’s Dr. BOBÔ project is an extension of the collaborative work of fellow Cantabrians; flautist/saxophonist Juan Saiz and percussionist Pedro Terán serving as what appears to be an outlet for their fusion, electronic and experimental explorations. The duo is joined by Antony da Cruz on electric bass.
The album starts with “Obertura Dr. Bobô”, its slow bluesy grandeur combines full-throated saxophone with very busy percussion. There’s a Middle Eastern flavour to the concise sax playing in “El Impostor” underpinned by the repetitive but punchy bass line. The bass is also the solid foundation for the slow burner, “Egeo: Conflictos XY”. The slinky slide bass line stays rigidly on course while percussion and flute interconnect, exploring the space. Later there’s a neat drum solo and the fretless, chorus affected bass solo hints at a Jacolyte. “El Falso Amor” is an uptempo sax and drum attack, smoothed with bass chords and a slight walk on the wild side in the last few bars.
The abstract but mesmerising, “No Me Dejéis Solo”, uses electric and electronic effects such as delay and feedback. Angular riffing from flute on “Urgrund, El Abismo Sin Fondo” cuts through the rock-ist rhythm of disciplined drums and crunchy bass. Sparse percussion and reverberated flute adorn the first half of “El Koko”. The intervention of bass harmonics and chords builds forward momentum to the melodic flute conclusion as the group unusually goes for pretty. On the closer, “Bebê (La Sangre Continua)”, flutey meandering gives in to the hard-hitting beats and frantic walking bass whilst sax maintains grace under pressure
The album is enjoyable though much of the music here doesn’t really have the feel of a trio. There is a lot of sax/flute and percussion explorations with the bass almost as colour; another sonic texture. Without intending to dismiss the exuberant and precise contributions of da Cruz, it seems clear that the foundations of most of these tracks is built on a rapport between Saiz and Terán, probably from earlier work. If you understand that the music here does not absolutely follow rhythm section convention, you may find you’ll succumb to the charms of the doctor. Quirky and captivating.
Multi-percussionist, vocalist & composer, Kahil El’Zabar, has achieved much.
He’s performed with musical greats (Pharoah Sanders, Lester Bowie, Archie Shepp, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Nona Hendryx etc.), headed-up the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, chaired the AACM, scored music for feature films, was knighted by the Council General of France (oooh Chevalier), and is also a published poet and painter. His partner in crime, here, is the circular breathing, legendary tenor sax colossus, David Murray. They first recorded together in ’89, now having an impressive a 4-decade span of collaborative spiritual jazz exploration. Between them, and together, they have irrefutably earned the right to title an album “Spirit Groove”.
“Spirit Groove” is a blend of live and studio recordings from June 2019, Chicago with El’Zabar and Murray accompanied by Emma Dayhuff (Herbie Hancock) on acoustic bass and Justin Dillard (Junius Paul Qt) on synth, organ & piano.
“In My House” is a new track. It’s a 20-minute communion; a live spiritual meditation; an evolving mantra where El’Zabar delivers a menu of physical and metaphysical house can-do’s over finger-clicking percussion before Murray, Dayhuff and Dillard modally invite him to explore his spirit scat. El’Zabar’s voice is rich here; big and expressive with touches of Don Thomas around and about. Murray is mainly sympathetic, sitting back in the mix, with occasionally excitingly explosive, lengthy phrases.
Murray’s love song to his wife, “Nektar”, highlights an El’Zabar/Murray, Scott-Heronesque, “Open Up The Door” motif that Dayhuff and Dillard expertly comp around, keeping it vital and securing its infectious hook for days to come. Murray’s tone is lovely and his playing enamouringly graceful.
“Songs Of Myself” stutters along with an impossibly indolent El’Zabar kit wash which Dayhuff tries her damnedest to drop further behind and make even more slothful. Dillard goes for a gentle stroll, as do El’Zabar and Murray, but they all conscientiously return to yet another deeply contagious (5 note) riff that’s so infectious it implausibly makes you forget to “Open Up The Door”.
Afro-centric percussion introduces “Katon” into a wide North European space loosely braced by a bassline that reminds of Dan Berglund. It’s lethargic and atmospheric; more narcotic than hypnotic and Murray eloquently and connectedly explores its barely interrupted soporific vista, bringing warranted applause from the live audience.
“In The Spirit” brings forth the titular groove and highlights both El’Zabar’s and Murray’s soulful, communicative voices as they play a spiritual ‘Yes and’ game together. “Trane In Mind” definitely does have him in mind; not only him but his quartet too. It’s a big swinging Tyner-esque modal comper with an optimal bass strut; there’s five minutes I’m happy to have ‘wasted’ today. “One World Family” wraps things up with easy-going, lightish touch, soulful optimism aided by a sweet bassline and a liberated sax to aptly fit El’Zabar’s loved-up future view. Hard not to feel hopeful with him.
Although the tracks were written at different times “Spirit Groove” works incredibly well as an album. It’s a meaningful and coherent, groove-propelled, evolving spiritual riff where each track is compelling and engenders a wish that it will go on forever until you hear the next track and then you wish the same for that one too. The musicianship is faultless throughout and Murray and El’Zabar’s communication is so fluid and deeply empathic; a testament to their long relationship and a true joy to hear.
I’ll leave El’Zabar to succinctly sum it all up, while I, excuse me, spiritually cavort in the buff: “‘Spirit Groove’ intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level”. Intention fulfilled, I think you’d agree.
So, this is the third release from Night Dreamer’s “Direct-to-Disc” sessions. Following their stage-sharing at the We Out Here festival and a European tour, it reunites those playful UK spiritual jazzists, Maisha, and the legend that is Gary Bartz. It’s two parts Bartz penned and three parts writing collaboration.
Jake Long (drums) and Tim Doyle (percussion) kick “Harlem to Haarlem” off with some nailed-down batterie before the rest of the band sequentially add all the essential ingredients to bake one delicious jazz-funk layer cake: Doyle’s percussive break is the icing, Bartz’s riffing is the fruit-packed jam, Axel Kaner-Lidstrom trumpet solo is the…errr…walnuts…this is one stylish, hot-out-of-the-oven stank-facer.
Talking of stank, “The Stank” is up next. It’s a sun-blessed, breezy, gliding soul-jazz jig about that pushes and retreats, dragging you in and letting you go in a polished ebb and flow that ‘s further blessed by Bartz’s upbeat blues and Shirly Tetteh’s grinning, southern soul exuding guitar; also, I swear there’s cowbell. The standout “Leta’s Dance” brings a soothing spiritual glow; it lifts aloft Bartz’s gorgeous, affirming sax higher and higher where it patiently, wisely breathes out many colours and experiences; Al MacSween’s keys deftly augment the affirmation before the band depart leaving us with a brief, emotive solo master’s coda.
The final two tracks are sprightly, vocal-free reinventions of the classic Bartz Ntu Troop compositions “Uhuru Sasa” and “Dr Follows Dance”. “Uhuru Sasa” is a perky, close to breathless, extended jam propelled by Twm Dylan’s compelling bass; the feet won’t stop. “Dr Follows Dance” unleashes some cacophony before Long & Doyle (ITV’s new TV Cop drama?) lay down much tidiness underpinning the smooth jazz riffing and diggable guitar lines that create a classy, late-night with Letterman, soul-jazz whole.
This album is FUN. It makes my face and body smile; leaving the worries elsewhere for a moment. It was clearly a gas to play on too; you can feel the warm bonhomie and mutual respect these musicians feel for each other. It’s the sound of wide grins and shared knowing winks. And, yet, it’s no raw, free-for-all jam; it’s sophisticated, uncomplicated; no overplaying, everything in its right place. And, y’know what, for this moment, with the sun on my back, earbuds in, it’s encouraging me to consider that music could well be my sanctuary too.
Accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier has long been a creative presence on ECM recordings, heard with the groups of Anouar Brahem, Louis Sclavis, François Couturier, as well as in duo with Marco Ambrosini. “Rivages” is the first documentation of a new endeavour, with guitarist and ECM debutante Kevin Seddiki, whose far-reaching musical imagination matches Matinier’s own.
The accordionist and guitarist first met almost a decade ago at France’s Royaumont Abbey, long a centre for intercultural exchange and study. Jean-Louis Matinier was subsequently part of a group Kevin Seddiki assembled with percussionist Bijan Chemirani, vocalist Maria Simoglou and viola da gamba player Paolo Pandolfo. Later, Matinier and Seddiki performed in trio with Chemirani. “The more we played together the clearer it became that we had to go into a deeper musical conversation in duo, exploring sounds and colours and orchestral possibilities of our instruments.”
The concept they have since described as “chamber music open to the world” flowered naturally over the course of several years. Seddiki: “We would meet regularly to play, in France or in Germany. Taking time to work on the music. Bringing up ideas, and focussing on space, textures, balance.” In a similar manner, the repertoire for “Rivages” came together gradually. The eleven tracks feature collaborative efforts, individually composed originals, and pieces from Philippe Sarde and Gabriel Faure, together with the duo’s reinterpretation of the traditional tune ‘Greensleeves’.
Listening to this wonderful music, there’s an obvious affinity between the two musicians that simply sparkles with glorious rays of light. Refreshing and engaging, the duo have undoubtedly honed their skills and ideas over the years, the resulting music recorded here sounding resplendent and complete. The textures, musical intuition, balance, breathing spaces, interplay and mutual respect all make for a rare togetherness as the two instruments combine in a spellbinding way. Beautiful, sensitive, engaging and exciting, there’s an intoxicating lure to their music that keeps me coming back for more.
There is also a very strong sense of sharing between the duo. Beautiful, intimate music such as this can only be built on trust and an intuitive understanding. Each person must complement one another, nurturing fresh ideas and a collective spirit. And stylistically, the two are a perfect match. Seddiki’s approach to rhythm – and the sometimes percussive nature of his guitar work – sits perfectly alongside, and is effortlessly integrated with, Matinier’s stunning accordion playing. With all its subtleties, delicacies, and nuances, the accordion is brought to life in such a wondrous way that one could be forgiven for thinking we’re listening to a small ensemble, rather than the two instruments before us. “We share really specific ideas about sound and rhythm.” says Seddiki, “It’s very rare, to meet at this place in between written music, improvised, older and new music…but with a lot of common vocabulary.”
“Rivages” is a very pleasant listening experience indeed. Not just as a healthy distraction from life’s current testing times, but as a musical partnership between two skilful instrumentalists, it’s difficult to imagine a better musical combination than the one we have here.
In some ways, listening to a Muriel Grossmann album is like stepping back in time. Reflections of Coltrane, Dolphy and Sanders catch the light in my mind’s eye, dancing spirits infused with the power of discovery and inner healing. But it’s so much more than that. Embodying the borderless, fearless, pan-continental energies of contemporary modern jazz, Grossmann’s playing truly embodies the directness and eloquence of the older generation whilst capturing a new, fresh and inspiring virtuosity that leaves me breathless with admiration.
Born in Paris, raised in Vienna, resident in Ibiza, saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann has released a dozen albums as leader, going back to the early 2000s. Featuring sounds ranging from hard-swinging modernist jams to free improvisation, expansive spiritual work to rhythm-focussed Afrocentrism, there has always been a distinctive thread of pure and heartfelt spiritual music at the centre of her work. You can’t play this music successfully if you don’t mean it – like the music of her contemporary Nat Birchall, Grossmann’s engagement with the Coltrane tradition is sincere and deep. Her music resonates within the tradition, adding her own innovative voice to the story of modal and spiritual jazz in Europe.
“Elevation” is a vinyl only release from Jazzman, and draws on a selection from her 2016 CD album Natural Time (‘Your Pace’, ‘Peace For All’) and from 2017’s CD Momentum (‘Elevation’, ‘Chant’ and ‘Rising’). I discovered Grossman’s music relatively recently, through her two more recent albums, Reverence, and Golden Rule, both released on the RR Gems label. I instantly fell in love with her sound. Featuring her regular quartet of Radomir Milojkovic (guitar) Uros Stamenkovic (drums) and Gina Schwarz (bass), the music chosen for this album has the same feel and vibe to it as her more recent releases, encompassing all that is bold and beautiful about the way she and her band bring together a captivating sense of intimacy, joy and freedom from the glorious music they are performing.
Side A kicks off with a sense of urgency. The retro-feel to Grossmann’s music just adds to the vitality of it all. Crisp, sparkling, melodic invention mixes seamlessly with the deep grooves that arrive quickly, staying present for the tune’s duration, allowing for the gloriously spontaneous soloing to drift in and out of the title track. ‘Rising’ continues in a similar vein, the quartet creating a luxurious atmosphere that floats and slowly spills its gifts of life into the welcoming consciousness. As with all of the tunes here, the solid link between drums and bass, and sax and guitar, leaves a lasting impression, not unlike a late ’60s early ’70s improvisational Jan Garbarek/Terje Rypdal Quartet. Side B has a slightly less raw edge to it, with the sublime ‘Chant’ speaking volumes in a subtle, unhurried way. Alluring and timeless, ‘Your Pace’ is soulful and beguiling, it’s meditative melody enriched by the undoubted connection this group of musicians share. The closing piece ‘Peace For All’ features Grossmann at her best, her sax soulful and contemplative, before reaching out and soaring like a beautiful eagle flying over the most incredibly stunning mountain scenery. Emotive and strikingly innovative, this music is just so inspiring.
Under the guise of Awkward Corners, Chris Menist releases his new project ‘Dislocation Songs’ through London’s Shapes of Rhythm record label, founded by Tom Central and BodyMoves, the comparatively young label has set out to become something of an all-encompassing musical hub for great music unbound by any genre restrictions. Releases from artists including Polish duo and Japanese gaming and culture enthusiasts Gaijin Blues, the multi-faceted German DJ and producer David Hanke and French producer and musician D. Lynnwood have all released projects that typify the Shapes of Rhythm musical motivation as does Chris Menist’s bold new project, ‘Dislocation Songs’.
The Londoner, who now resides in Bangkok, built his reputation as a freelance writer, DJ and musician having contributed percussion (conga and djembe) for London’s contemporary dance school, the Laban Centre, as well as the English National Ballet. Menist’s credentials extend even further to having collaborated on projects for a variety of artists, including fellow percussionist and drummer, Emanative, providing percussion for his ‘Earth’ album and ‘Planet B’ tracks. Currently a member of The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band, with releases thus far including ‘Planet Lam’ (2016) and ’21st Century Molam’ (2014), Menist is also the co-founder of the Paradise Bangkok record label.
Spearheaded by the project’s lead single, ‘Just Around The Corner’, the album sees Menist tackle all instruments and production with the welcome inclusion of Sarathy Korwar (Binker & Moses, Alabaster DePlume) who contributes Tablas to ‘Just Around The Corner’ and two further tracks from the album. The lead single is exemplary of the sonic excursions the album takes listeners on – with sparse production which really allows the percussive elements of the tracks to come to the forefront and also allows for Korwar to further excel within the space he’s been gifted. The album’s closer, ‘John Dillinger’s Death Mask Parts 1 and 2’, showcases Menist’s chemistry with Korwar over the course of nearly ten blissful minutes.
This phase in Menist’s musical evolution was inspired by the perhaps uncertain future that faces Britain following the country’s vote to leave the EU and the subsequent remoteness that many felt at the decision. When sitting with ‘Dislocation Songs’ however, what’s interesting to note is that these compositions don’t appear to have been born of anger or as a vehicle for a protest at all – the tracks seem to really encapsulate that idea of feeling lost or even, at times, defeated. Conversely though, while the album could be described as charting a course into a state of isolation… it could also be seen to be about steering your way out of it albeit towards an uncertain future, but still, an outlook rooted in hope.
Headed up by saxophonist Josh Kelly, the JK Group release their debut project through La Sape Records entitled ‘The Young Ones’.
While names like Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and Ashley Henry have become synonymous with spearheading a wave of young and innovative jazz music in the UK, Australia – and specifically Melbourne – have generated that same level of buzz and excitement when it comes to the wave of progressive, neo-soul and nu-jazz-inspired projects that they have been releasing over the past few years; namely, bands like Hiatus Kaiyote and Cacartu are cited along with the efforts of the 30/70 Collective. Having released their third album last year, ‘Fluid Motion’, the band have not only solidified their name amidst this thriving hub of talent as a collective, but also as individual talents as well. 30/70 bassist and producer, Horatio Luna, has gone on to establish himself as an artist in his own right with a slew of albums and remixes; powerhouse lead vocalist Allysha Joy released her own solo project ‘Acadie: Raw’ through Gondwana Records in 2018, and now band saxophonist, Josh Kelly, steps outside of the fold to expand the 30/70 dynasty even further.
To explore Kelly’s output up to this point really demonstrates his indelible ability to adapt to almost any sound – 30/70 music aside, his contribution to the deep house aesthetic on Citizen Maze’s EP ‘Serenity in the Woods’ (2018) seems worlds apart from the more traditional jazz of trumpeter Enrico Rava’s ‘The Monash Sessions’ (2014) which sees Kelly collaborate on a handful of tracks throughout the album. ‘The Young Ones’ serves as not so much a middle ground for these past projects, but as a bold reinterpretation of these experiences forging ahead with his own awe-inspiring new sound. Part synth-inspired, part spiritual jazz-inspired, there’s really very little else to compare this progressive and bold sonic soundscape with.
Recruited for Kelly’s adventure is long-time collaborator, drummer Ziggy Zeitgeist who not only doubles as the drummer for the 30/70 Collective but also fronts his own Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange ensemble as well as being one half of Hayes and Zeitgeist with bassist Matt Hayes, also recruited for ‘The Young Ones’. The project’s core quartet is rounded out with the inclusion of pianist Lewis Moody, another stalwart on Melbourne’s future soul scene.
The album kicks off strong with the fast-paced ‘Seeds’, aided by percussionist Javier Fredes, with that energy carrying over to ‘Jazz Muggle’ and one of the strongest album highlights in ‘Nutha One’ which is exemplary of the aforementioned bold sonic soundscape being pursued.
La Sape, who can also boast releases from Horatio Luna, Antiphon and Godtet feature a tagline on their Bandcamp page which humbly reads “it ain’t jazz”. I’d argue though that an album this eclectic and adventurous could only be jazz.