Greg Spero ‘Acoustic’ 180g Vinyl (SoundScapes Media Group) 4/5

Originally recorded in 2011, keyboardist/composer Greg Spero’s “Acoustic” album has now been released on audiophile 180g vinyl. Sourced from the original master tapes, this trio album featuring Makaya McCraven on drums and Matt Ulrey on upright bass is a fine example of where Spero was, musically speaking, ten years ago. And it stands the test of time extremely well.

Since then, the pianist has been a very busy man. In 2014 Spero began performing with pop artist Halsey. He designed and performed all the synthesiser and keyboard parts for the live shows. In 2018, performing live with Halsey on Saturday Night Live, Spero announced that this was his final gig with the band, leaving to pursue projects with his own group Spirit Fingers, along with curating a video series called Tiny Room, out of his Los Angeles studio. Although predominantly a jazz musician, his varied skills and interests in other styles and genres of music have also led him to record with artists such as Ski Beatz, Shock G, and American rapper Mars. Last year he founded a start-up company called Weebid, which is a crowdfunded marketplace for artists to interact with their fans.

So, what of the “Acoustic” Greg Spero then? Well, it’s rather good actually. McCraven’s drumming and Ulrey’s bass act as the perfect foil for Spero’s often lyrical, melodic musings. The trio are extremely tight, playing intuitively with depth, feel, and pinpoint precision. There’s a lovely vibe to this album, with all three musicians adding to the quality with their inventive, stylish playing.

As a pointer, for listeners not already familiar with Spero’s music, to my ears anyway, I’d say it’s a touch reminiscent of early Esbjörn Svensson Trio recordings, with hints of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Michel Petrucciani thrown in for good measure. There’s rarely a dull moment, and yet the album also benefits from Spero’s skill in hearing and playing a simple melody with a deft touch and an inquisitively, exploratory, playful ear.

The album opener “Hills” has a lyrically romantic edge to it. It lifts me up on a spirited wave of euphoria, dancing with delight. “Latin Fusion Blues” does what it says on the tin, with more than a degree of panache. Whereas most of this album is pretty much what one might expect from a thrilling piano-led trio, the two short pieces “Interlude One” and “Interlude Two”, are interesting in that they take a more modern approach, perhaps suggesting things to come in the years ahead from Spero. “Flow” is a beautiful piece of music. The trio take their time, a spacious, elegant theme running through the first half of the tune. The trio’s superlative interplay and Spero’s energetic soling then take the track to someplace else altogether. Marvellous stuff. The sublime “Letting It Go” follows, thoughtful and contemplative, gradually building in strength of purpose. The final track “Universe” flows with its own course of history, adventurous and ultimately uplifting.

“Acoustic” is a very engaging and rewarding album from Greg Spero. Passionate, warm, and beguiling, its rich musical colours and textures could easily make for a suitably Autumnal soundtrack to our lives.

Acoustic can be sourced from the SoundScapes’ website here

Mike Gates

Guido Spannocchi ‘Perihelion’ LP/CD (Audioguido) 4/5

‘Perihelion’ is the new album from saxophonist Guido Spannocchi released through his own Audioguido Records label.

Born in Vienna but ultimately finding his passion for jazz drawing him to London, Spannocchi has since immersed himself within the UK’s revived appetite for jazz music. In the last few years, a huge amount of UK Vibe scribes – myself included – have marvelled at the incredible range of jazz artists that have sprung up within the UK and since achieved staggering amounts of success. It’s a move that’s been met with something of a fervent crowd as well keen to continually lose themselves within the next discovery.

And from within that hot-bed of London-based talent comes an artist like Spannocchi who is steadily amassing a thrilling catalogue of which his new release, ‘Perihelion’, sits incredibly high. Having studied at Conservatoire of Vienna and Université Paris VIII, much of Spannocchi’s appeal comes from his desire to continually visualise new and exciting approaches to his music – be that through a variety of varying arrangements and musicians or through inspired new concepts and inspirations…

‘Song of the Wild Chanterelle’ paired Spannocchi with drummer Aram Zarikian and spoken word artist Kevin Brophy for something of a trippy, electronica-tinged gem; ‘Terms & Conditions’ saw an awesome team assembled for the high-energy compositions brought to life by Japanese bassist Mao Yamada along with drummer Cyro Zuzi and bassist Matheus Nova from Brazil. ‘Elevated Music’ introduced pianist Rupert Cox and studio wizard Capitol K on drum machines for a rejuvenated and contemporary take on classic jazz stylings for last year’s six-track release once again highlighting Spannocchi’s desire to reposition those boundaries around him each time.

What’s instantly noticeable about ‘Perihelion’ however is the world-class talent that comprises the project’s ensemble – revered pianist Robert Mitchell, trumpeter Jay Phelps, saxophonist Sylvie Leys, bassist Michelangelo Scandroglio and drummer Tristan Banks… all with a wealth of talent, experience and accolades between them and coming together for this project to make a thrilling combination.

The sound throughout is rich and vibrant – ‘Uphill Blues’ kicks the project off with an excellent groove that is carried over brilliantly to ‘Key Drop’ and ‘Cafezinho’. Spannocchi’s penchant for capturing that unadulterated energy between himself and his fellow performers works a real treat with ‘Perihelion’ – it’s what makes a song like ‘A Walk in Yoyogi Park’ a real joy, even when it comes to one of the album’s ballads like ‘Das Ist Die Frage’ which is beautifully presented and a track that is the perfect canvas for Mitchell’s keys. It isn’t an album that outstays its welcome either – at nine tracks and clocking in at 33 minutes, you certainly would be more than happy to have squeezed another fifteen minutes or so out of it but ultimately the current runtime makes the project no less of a gem as a result.

‘Perihelion’ is not only a wonderful release from a dream line-up – dare I say it – the album is quite possibly Guido Spannocchi’s masterpiece.

Imran Mirza

Marcin Wasilewski Trio ‘En attendant’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Recorded just prior to their “Arctic Riff” collaboration with saxophonist Joe Lovano, which was released last year, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz continue their long partnership with an ever-evolving series of tunes on their latest release “En attendant”. Interestingly, I had assumed that it was recording with Lovano that had led the trio towards a more exploratory path of music-making, but discovering that this session was recorded before that collaboration suggests the trio were already discovering this road for themselves. I guess for a trio who have been together for so long, a natural evolution takes place through the years.

And so it is, in a similar vein to “Arctic Riff”, that this album blends the trio’s penchant for romantic lyricism, with a more spontaneous, exploratory feel. As one would expect, the music is thoughtful, with a lovely mix of melody and improvisation, as the band find new shapes and textures within these tunes, shaping and cultivating light and dark atmospheres in equal measure.

One thing I’ve noticed with “En attendant”, is the way it grows on me more and more as the album progresses. As I’m already familiar with most of the trio’s previous releases, it somehow feels as though I’m rediscovering the beauty of their playing all over again. There’s an obvious familiarity, some of the tunes having been recorded before, but there’s also a freshness that sparkles with beauty.

“In Motion, parts 1, 2 and 3” all employ a natural feel of new discovery. Gently inquisitive, the trio interact intelligently with one another, sensitively crafting moods and atmospheres filled with different hues and textures, as they explore, shape, and develop exquisite soundscapes. As ever with this multifaceted Polish trio, there are some lovely surprises to be enjoyed. The deceptive simplicity of Bach’s “Variation 25” from the Goldberg Variations, suits Wasilewski’s deft touch like hand-in-glove. He brings a warmth and subtle passion to this piece. Carla Bley’s “Vashkar” is a tune that gets plenty of interpretations from artists, and the trio give a wonderful rendition here. One of my own personal favourites, Wasilewski’s “Glimmer of Hope” gets a reworking, and it is just as beautiful as it ever was. Over the years the trio have become well-known for some of their interpretations of pop songs, Bjork’s “Hyperballad” and The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” being two that spring immediately to mind. The Doors’ classic “Riders on the Storm” continues that legacy, with the trio taking a laid-back approach to this old favourite. I do like the vibe on this very much, with Wasilewski refraining from using Ray Manzarek’s signature riff until the very end of the tune, but I do wonder what this could sound like, maybe in a live setting, if the trio really broke free of any shackles and really went for it on this piece.

“En attendant” can only add to the trio’s reputation for making patient, consistently brilliant and enthralling music. Undoubtedly one of the best piano-led trios in Europe for a good number of years now, where this album perhaps lacks a little fire, it smoulders beautifully, with a gorgeous, captivating glow.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Marcin Wasilewski Trio with Joe Lovano ‘Arctic Riff’ 2LP/CD (ECM) 4/5
Marcin Wasilewski Trio ‘Live’ 2LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Lucia Cadotsch ‘Speak Low II’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 5/5

Speak Low Ⅱ follows in the footsteps of Lucia Cadotsch’s 2016 debut, Speak Low. As with the 2016 album, her stripped back and haunting vocal style is juxtaposed with Avant-Garde free jazz accompaniment. Otis Sandsjö on sax and Petter Eldh on bass stalk and circle Cadotsch throughout the record building a delicious tension and counterpoint to the ghostly simplicity of Cadotsch’s vocal. Kit Downes’ organ and Lucy Railton’s cello add to the satisfying contrast of textures. The eclectic selection of songs spans a chunk of the mid-twentieth century, from jazz standards to traditional folk, as well as songs made famous by Randy Newman, Nina Simone and Johnny Mathis. The album acts like a supernatural wireless, tuning its way through the ether from one musical era to another but managing to give its song selection a seamless continuity.

Cadotsch told Arkiv Jazz in 2019 about the singers who she grew up listening to and those who influenced her once she started singing herself. At home, she delved into her Dad’s collection, Dinah Washington, Abbey Lincoln, Diane Reeves and Sarah Vaughan. It was only later that she discovered kindred spirits in Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, ‘wow she sings like I feel’ was her initial reaction to Billie Holiday. Holiday’s ‘speaking voice’ singing style made her feel like a ‘soul mate’.

Duke Ellington’s ‘Azure’ is the first selection, there’s a jabbing insistence to Otis Sandsjö’s sax and Petter Eldh’s bass theme as they try to shake Cadotsch from her ‘drifting, dreaming’. The attempt is futile as her voice continues to float on a different plane altogether. Downes’ spectral organ work very nearly sucks the air out of the room and provides a distinctively edgy undertow to the ‘drifting dreaming azure mood’.

‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ is a version of Randy Newman’s 1968 song, it’s treated like a spiritual with a soft humming intro, her voice is quite bluesy here in its inflection. Sandsjö’s sax gradually becomes more abstract, its texture like sandpaper against the skin of her voice. There’s a wonderful moment where the two are competing for space and her voice, although remaining soft, is raised an increment to show who has the authority on this song.

‘What’s New-There Comes a Time’, skillfully segues two songs, the 1939 standard ‘What’s New’ and Tony Williams’ 1971 psych jazz tune. It’s a seamless conjoining of two unlikely bedfellows. I didn’t fully appreciate the feat of ingenuity until I checked out Williams’ song which I hadn’t heard before.

The album appropriately concludes with ‘So Long’ which will be familiar to fans of Ricki Lee Jones. This version is as spare as Jones’ with a delicious bass intro which Cadotsch joins for the first verse, her voice together with the bass is a delight. The tune evolves with repressed squarks and abstract squeals from Sandsjö’s sax as Cadotsch raises her pitch before lowering it again to that gentle hum.

It’s an incredibly satisfying album to listen to and a revelation to experience these reconstructions of familiar and not so familiar tunes. In truth Cadotsch makes all of these old songs feel brand new.

James Read

Chick Corea Akoustic Band ‘Live’ 3LP/2CD (Concord Jazz) 5/5

Never let it be said that music can’t deliver pure joy. Released posthumously, it’s hard to believe that it’s already over 6 months since legendary pianist Chick Corea passed away, but this performance from his long-serving trio, with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl, recorded in January 2018 at SPS Music Hall in Florida, is a reminder of just how inspired and spirited the Akoustic Band were. In this live recording, across two CDs, the trio’s brilliance burns as brightly as it ever has done. It is a beautiful thing, music, and this album acts not only as a celebration of that fact, but also as a reminder of the genius that was Chick Corea, and the wonderful music he gave to the world.

One of the great things about this album is that I can feel, sense and hear the delight and jubilation emanating from the musicians and reverberating around the concert hall, through the audience, and out of my speakers as I listen. Corea worked had to make sure everything was just right for this first release by the trio in over two decades, and the special relationship that existed between the three musicians is clear to hear. The camaraderie is a major part of the performance, one that speaks volumes of the friendship the trio must have enjoyed. That friendship began in 1985, when Corea enlisted Patitucci and Weckl, both 25 years old and nearly 20 years younger than the renowned keyboardist, for his new project – an electric ensemble to follow on and evolve the innovations sparked by Corea’s ground-breaking Return To Forever. Two years later, the bandleader felt the itch to return to a more traditional jazz setting and surprisingly, instead of recruiting a pair of more acoustically oriented players, he simply repurposed the rhythm section for the Elektric Band – with spectacular and memorable results.

“Playing with Chick and Dave again is really a joy”, said Patitucci prior to Corea’s passing. “The connection we have is very special and stronger than ever.” And that sentiment most definitely comes across loud and clear on all of the 13 tracks recorded here. Weckl added: “To be able to sit and communicate through the music with Chick and John, is an honour and always a completely gratifying experience.” And sure enough, it’s not just the spell-binding interplay between the musicians that strikes me on this recording, it’s the genuine warmth and charm that strikes a chord in my heart, as well as in my ears. Right from the off, it’s vintage Akoustic Band, with the trio reprising Corea’s own “Morning Sprite” from the self-titled album. The musicianship, the melodies, the soloing from all three musicians right across this entire recording is stunning. It’s inventive, it’s heart-stopping, it’s such a pleasure to listen to. Another Corea original, “A Japanese Waltz” is masterful, with a shimmering take on the standard “That Old Feeling” just as incredible. With a mesmerising solo intro, Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” is more stately in tone, undoubtedly one of my favourite pieces on the album. “Rhumba Flamenco” taps into the pianist’s well-known love for Spanish music, leaving me breathless with appreciation. “Summer Night” and “Humpty Dumpty” close the first set, both tunes bursting with dynamic energy. Corea also opens the second set alone, with “On Green Dolphin Street”, captivating and alluring. The trio creates an enthralling atmosphere on the beautiful “Eternal Child”, following with the more brisk and smouldering tempo of “You and The Night and The Music”. “Monk’s Mood”, with its lush harmonies, leads into a second version of “Humpty Dumpty”, before the evening closes with a special guest appearance by the pianist’s wife, vocalist Gayle Moran Corea, for the final, vocally demanding piece “You’re Everything”, originally performed by Flora Purim with the original Return To Forever on 1973’s “Light As A Feather”.

It’s fair to say that this thrilling live recording would be a welcome addition to Chick Corea’s prodigious discography under any circumstances, but with the news of his passing still so fresh on listener’s minds, its release is a very welcome opportunity to cherish the communal energy and playful vigour that made the pianist a favourite of jazz lovers around the world for nearly 60 years.

This 2 CD set is released this month, with a 3LP set being released at the end of January 2022.

Mike Gates

Sean Gibbs ‘When Can I See You Again?’ LP/CD (Ubuntu Music) 5/5

Sean Gibbs, trumpeter, composer and arranger, hails from Scotland and after cutting his teeth with the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland, Gibbs ventured South to take up a place on the jazz course at the (now Royal) Birmingham Conservatoire. Whilst there he formed the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and released his debut album with the orchestra in 2015. During his time in the City, he studied with fellow trumpeters Percy Pursglove and Richard Iles. He left Birmingham with a first-class honours degree in 2015. Now resident in London, his star is in the ascendant. Recordings under his own name include those for small groups and orchestra.

Sean is also a prolific composer and arranger with many works for big band under his belt. Here however he has chosen to feature his quintet comprising Riley Stone-Lonergan (tenor saxophone), Rob Brockway (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass) and Jay Davis (drums) and this is their debut album. A mighty fine offering it is too!

The repertoire consists of seven original compositions from Sean and as he says, the emphasis is on “lyrical melodies, hearty grooves and a deep connection to the blues.” The album opens with ‘Internal Conflict’. Here the rhythm section sets up the theme with a certain sense of urgency before the front-line enter with the theme statement this is followed with a declamatory solo from the leader and a serpentine outing from the saxophonist, the whole piece seeming to allude to the performer’s own internal conflict.

‘Happy Hour’ follows with the rhythm team again setting the tune up. The tempo here is more relaxed, with the melody statement holding the attention. This performance reminds me of some of the music of fellow Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele, sharing a similar joyfulness. Up next is ‘Mary’ a sumptuous ballad performance. The dedicatee is one special and lucky lady. After the delicate melody statement from Gibbs, we are treated to a wonderfully thoughtful bass solo which is perfectly in keeping with the overall feel of the composition. Gibbs playing calls to mind many of the trumpet greats of the past, particularly for me, Booker Little and Clifford Brown. ‘The Grand Parade’ recalls the best of the classic Blue Note albums. This is a swinging, melodic piece where each group member plays their part to perfection including a crisp drum feature towards the end of the piece. The mood changes again for ‘That’s Your Lot’ which has a mid-tempo melody and is sure to become a most welcome earworm. ‘Camperdown’ is an inspired mid-tempo blues-inflected tune. Was this inspired by the Country Park of Gibb’s homeland? If so, it is a place well worth a visit.

The set ends with the title track and another change of pace and it’s another melody that will remain with the listener long after hearing it, simply because it’s exquisite. Gibbs is playful on this one and the saxophonist is earnest. All-in-all, this is a triumph for Sean Gibbs and his men and is sure to be another successful addition to the Ubuntu Music roster. After hearing this you too will be asking ‘When Can I See You Again’? Hopefully, this will be soon; there was an album launch in London in August. In the meantime, get your fix of the Sean Gibbs quintet by listening to this accomplished album again and again……and again.

Alan Musson

Glenn Ferris Italian Quintet ‘Animal Love’ 2x180g Vinyl (SoundScapes Media Group) 4/5

‘Animal Love’ by the Glenn Ferris Italian Quintet sees itself receive the vinyl treatment courtesy of the comparatively new record label SoundScapes Media. Founded by Paul Freudenberg, SoundScapes Media by design has geared their releases towards the ongoing rise of vinyl connoisseurs around the world and have subsequently introduced projects – or reintroduced projects in some cases – to excited new audiences. With a series of excellent releases already under their belt including the reissue of pianist Greg Spero’s ‘Acoustic’ album originally released in 2011 with drummer Makaya McCraven and bassist Matt Ulery. And from even further back is Irving Bush’s ‘Trumpet and Drum’ which is compiled from original master tapes recorded in 1975 and 1976. Each of the SoundScapes releases to date have had very distinctive and unique stories to tell which takes us to trombonist Glenn Ferris.

Born in Los Angeles in 1950, Ferris became smitten with the trombone from a very young age after seeing his uncle perform when he was eight years old. Having started playing with bands from a young age, as a session musician Ferris can cite having recorded or performed with some colossal names including Frank Zappa, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder – playing on the seminal ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ no less.

Keen to develop his sound further and commit to his long-standing affections for Europe, Ferris eventually settled in Paris in the early 1980s and continued to develop his résumé as a part of revered European artists and collectives including Youssou N’Dour and Michel Petrucciani.

‘Animal Love’ however sees Ferris taking centre stage and helming his own – Italian – quintet of celebrated musicians. Joining Ferris on trombone is Mirco Mariottini on clarinet and bass clarinet, guitarist Giulio Stracciati, bassist Franco Fabbrini and Paolo Corsi on drums.

While Ferris and company are able to create heartfelt and sublime ballads, like the Mirco Mariottini penned ‘Five in China’ or ‘When The Night Turns Into Day’ the real joy of the album is found when celebrating its liberated – dare I say, more feral – tendencies. The albums opening title track, for example, masterfully captures a real unbridled passion in its performance that is incredibly infectious. Perhaps my earlier “feral” comment is slightly inspired by the track’s opening mix of howls and barks interspersed with Ferris’ trombone before Fabbrini’s bass leads us more formally into our jungle adventure. ‘W Ernest’, the album closer, acts as the album’s book-end with another of the energetic compositions that really soars.

An artist with the musical legacy of Glenn Ferris is absolutely worthy of having his music honoured in this context. SoundScapes, so early on their own path, have already amassed a series of great projects so we look forward to the future stories they’ll continue to help share. Go check it out here

Imran Mirza

Rasmus Holm Quartet ‘Fatamorgana’ LP (Gateway Music) 4/5

There’s a stark, beguiling beauty to trombonist Rasmus Holm’s new quartet recording. It’s something of a refreshing triumph actually. Who’d have thought it, a trombone-led quartet, without a melody/chord instrument. No piano, no guitar, just Holm’s trombone, Julius Gawlik’s tenor sax and clarinet, Thorbjørn Stefansson’s double bass, and Amund Kleppan’s drums. Having performed together for several years in and around Berlin’s fertile music scene, this quartet appears to have found something elemental, something organic, something rather special in the music they’re making.

There’s an experimental edge that runs through the whole session here, that’s sure enough. But what is surprising, given the musical diversity of the band, is how melodic and oddly accessible the music is. A feeling of togetherness permeates the entire album. An organic, earthy honesty catches the imagination with every listen. Rooted in the jazz tradition, “Fatamorgana” also includes elements inspired by bands such as Beach House and Black Dub. It’s the clearly defined sound though that shines through, laid-back yet precise, with a deliciously weird mix of folklorish melancholy and joy, often at the same time.

Gleefully intertwined folk-infused jazz melodies are at the heart of this recording. Holm’s trombone and Gawlik’s sax are like twin instruments, absolutely attuned to one another. Exhilarating harmonies and criss-crossed melodies breathe life into the wonderful compositions, the two lead instruments not only weaving unified magic but also breaking out individually to solo. And how they solo. It’s such a fresh, inspiring sound, exploratory yet musical in the best sense. Also, key to the overall sound of the album are the drums and bass. Such a cool, relaxed vibe is created by Stefansson and Kleppan, that one simply has to marvel at just how influential to the feel of the music they both are.

It is, for me, the innovative sonic musicality of the trombone and sax together that are the highlight of this album. There’s diversity and freedom in the arrangements and the playing that are exceptional. Several tracks, including “Kibera” and “TIO” are brilliant tunes, with such a rich, colourful tapestry of sound as the horns intertwine and unravel so effortlessly. Bare melody lines come to the fore on “The Man Behind The Hill” and “Euphony”, while the more traditional swing tune, “Bologna Nights” really gives room for improvisation and interaction between the musicians. On three tracks the band are joined by trumpet player Jonas Scheffler who has also worked with Rasmus Holm for a good number of years. And once again, it shows, with the same energised understanding helping the band work just as well as a quintet, still with time to breathe, a harmonious balance prevailing.

Whilst “Fatamorgana” deviates somewhat from the rhythmic norms, it sounds as if it was always meant to be. The structure and harmonies of the compositions seem to reassure the listener, allowing a warm feeling of familiarity as the album progresses. The tunes evolve in a very natural way, with subtle nuances and playful moods making me smile as I allow myself to fall deeper and deeper into the band’s gentle, inventive, creative spell.

Mike Gates

Donald Edwards Quintet ‘The Color Of US Suite’ CD (Criss Cross Jazz) 4/5

‘The Color Of US Suite’ is a powerful political statement yet subtle in its presentation. It’s pitched to the ‘gutbucket enthusiast’ but also aims to be ‘intriguing for the highbrow aficionado’. Either category of listener will be able to find a way into this music as it’s beautiful enough to keep drawing you back. Drummer and composer Edwards has been making albums since the mid-nineties, originally playing on the Louisiana jazz scene he’s now New York-based.

‘Little Hopes’ is the album’s opener, it begins with the Southern tradition of the clarion drum call. Narrated by the drummer’s young daughter, Sophia Edwards or ‘uttered through the vessel of a father’s pride and joy’ as the album notes put it. She narrates the pledge of allegiance and also describes ‘a rainbow of friends’ who also make that pledge. She asks ‘I love us, does the US love me?’ As she speaks Abraham Burton’s sax repeats a four-note motif inspired by a device used by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to give cadence to his speeches. ‘Everyday we come together to unite and start each day with respect for all’ Sophia continues. I half expected the album to go on to demolish these youthful hopes and aspirations but it’s a much less cynical and more subtle record than that. The suite follows a pattern exploring the colours of the US flag in three instrumental pieces and then goes on to explore the colour of the nation in three further tracks entitled ‘Black’, ‘Brown’ and ‘Tan’. These contain a more obviously political narration but at the same time maintain a sense of optimism and hope for the future.

‘Red’ according to Edwards aims to answer the question ‘can we reimagine our world anew where the social contract is honoured and reinforced through individual expressions of freedom?’ The answer is apparently a resounding ‘yes’. The tune has an uptempo sax melody and an insistent piano phrase. Coltrane of the mid-sixties is brought to mind, the guitar sound also has echoes of that era. It’s possible to absorb the political message and simultaneously enjoy the beauty of the tune.
‘White’ follows in a similar vein, but with a more mournful melody that laments ‘the American descendants of slavery whose bodies were plundered to build the wealth of a nation.’ Abraham Burton’s sax aims to ‘explore expressions of freedom’ and he certainly builds a level of intensity into his soloing.
‘Blue’ showcases the lightness of touch and subtlety drummer Edwards is capable of. The melody momentarily quotes Parker and ‘wants to swing’. Ben Wolf’s bass is kept very busy and combined with Anthony Wonsey’s piano energises these three tunes and references jazz of the past but in a contemporary context.

Then we get onto the colours of the nation with ‘Introduction to Black’ a complex drum pattern over a melancholic sax then settles into the heavy groove of ‘Black’, there’s some strident soloing from Burton as the piece builds in intensity and his sax really takes off. It’s accompanied by some involved and rock-inflected guitar work by David Gilmore.
‘Brown’ sees Wolf’s bass offer a low key introduction before we’re treated to an innovative combination of guitar feedback from Gilmore combined with Coltrane-like soloing from Burton on tenor.
‘Tan’ is a passionate chant by Frank Lacy, ‘freedom, democracy, equality’ he repeats, it’s brief but no less powerful for that. The last couple of tunes are ‘Finding Beauty’ which is perfectly described by its title and finally, we come full circle with ‘Hurricane Sophia’ a homage to the youthful energy and vitality of Edwards’ daughter.

It would be foolish to ignore the political message in the music but it’s played in such a way as to allow us, listeners, to enjoy the sounds while absorbing it incrementally and on our own terms.

James Read

Graham Collier ‘British Conversations’ 2LP/CD (My Only Desire) 4/5

As I write this at least a third of us Brits are either talking about the weather, have already done so or are about to do so. The weather is, officially, more important to us than drinking tea, queuing or apologising unnecessarily. It’s debatable though whether the weather is more important than this Graham Collier ‘lost work’ from 1975, commissioned by Sveriges Radio and performed by their big band with trumpeter Harry Beckett and guitarist Ed Speight guesting. Released by London’s My Only Desire Records, ‘British Conversations’ focuses on our favourite, seemingly throwaway but deeply socially coded, subject matter. It’s a hippest of the hippest big band jazz, consisting of five movements that tell well-worn stories of wet dogs chasing cats as watchful shepherds delight at their tasty, mackerel topped, pea soup supper.

“Red Sky In The Morning” awakens us with only a mild portence. It’s too graceful, gliding and groovy to be doomy. The band effortlessly soars over countryside and lake, until halting for bass, drum and Beckett to get a touch funky. Speight’s viscous, gravy sound pours over the popping, prodding bass before Beckett and the band return with a moving Sketches of Northumberland bit.

The lyrical, balladic “Clear Moon” shines inspirational blue light, encouraging us to conjure stories, maybe romantic, maybe not, maybe journeys of self, maybe not. It’s a heart-touching, swelling/releasing six and a half minutes of caring about something or someone. Simple, impactful layered harmonies come and go and you feel better for having felt them.
Something’s coming and it’s coming soon warns “Halo Around The Sun”. Solo trumpet alarm is called before a Tropeau Bleu riff, hip cymbal riding and that warm big band sliding and gliding. An exuberant triple trumpet conversation warbles on as the band makes for a progressively thicker vibe.

Atmospheric and abstract, slow and considered, “Red Sky At Night” is an open space with no restricting time or structure. Silhouettes and shadows are projected as single or grouped, instruments briefly, yet persistently, visit; never staying long enough to form a pulse or pattern. Delicately naggingly memorable.

Georg Riedel’s adroit double bass leads “Mackerel Sky” into its pulsing, nodding blues. Speight stamps his overdrive and solos long time, his squared-off gravy now lumpy, giving it an incongruous psych edge as the band, seemingly unaware, undulates with an almost neck-snapping swing. A broken and loose Egil Johansen drum solo is then ended by a furiously joyous, rapid Riedel peppered bop.

‘British Conversations’ is beautiful. It’s touching and tender. There’s a British noir aesthetic; a Geordie Gil Evans-Axelrod. It gets pretty damned heavy (special shout to Stefan Brolund on bass) but there’s always a deft sensitivity. It’s hip but focuses less on the material, less on the spectacle of hip and more on atmosphere and warm emotion. And as Autumn brings its brown chill I’ll look forward to wrapping myself in that warmth. And if there’s a red sky, maybe I’ll eat some shepherd’s pie while listening.

Anyway, as I was saying, it’s been an absolutely shocking summer here in Oxon. Dismal. How’s it been with you?

Ian Ward

Astral Travelling Since 1993