Claus Waidtløw with Aarhus Jazz Orchestra Feat. Jorge Rossy ‘The Seasons’ LP (Jaeger Community Music) 5/5

In recent years, saxophonist/composer Claus Waidtløw has established himself as one of Denmark’s leading composers in jazz. As one of the most sought after saxophonists in Denmark he has appeared on 60-plus albums and has performed with a whole host of jazz stars, including John Scofield, Carla Bley, Christian McBride, Kurt Elling and Bill Stewart, to name just a few. For this new release, Waidtløw collaborates with renowned drummer Jorge Rossy, bassist Daniel Franck, and big band Aarhus Jazz Orchestra (AJO), who have now been a solid component of the big band scene in Denmark for over 40 years.

As with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Waidtløw’s “Seasons” is inspired by nature’s cycle and consists of four movements. Each movement relates to one season and strives to capture the mood relevant to that particular time of year. The composer says; “Many are inspired by nature and composers from the classical world have written large works around the seasons, but within the rhythmic world, to my knowledge, not many have taken this theme on a larger orchestral context.” Each movement also features one of AJO’s strong soloists. Waidtløw, who was a member of the AJO for several years, focuses in this way on some of the excellent soloists from the orchestra.

Movement 1; “Spring” begins with lovely, uplifting brass, heralding the new life and growth that follows. A delicate piano segment leads us into the luscious orchestrations that cast their glorious spell; rich, melodic horns combining beautifully to create a life-affirming soundscape. A compelling, spellbinding piano solo encourages the bass and drums to join in, with the full orchestra eventually adding to the trio’s generous positivity.

Movement 2; “Summer” has an expectant air to the opening, with the soft and thoughtful atmosphere lightening up as the brass combine with an almost care-free realisation that summer is upon us. Shafts of sunshine intertwine as we enjoy a warm yet rousing sax solo over the heat of the glorious arrangements. Trombone and soprano sax continue the journey with soft horns floating on the gentle summer breeze.

“September”, a short bass interlude, walks us gently into Movement 3; “Autumn”. Discordant trumpets leave us in no doubt that summer has passed, and the nights are drawing in. More conversational in nature, it’s as if the music is questioning, asking us where we’re going, how do we feel, is this a foreboding, darker time we are entering? There’s a sadness here, a longing for former glories perhaps, before the mood lifts with the realisation that the early morning mist is clearing, paving way for a beautiful menagerie of rustic leaves, dancing light, and an enthralling trumpet solo offering new pathways to be explored.

“December”, interlude 2, thoughtfully meanders its way with expressive sax, bass and drums into Movement 4; “Winter”. The sumptuous horns offer a backdrop to a beautiful saxophone solo; a sax that soulfully sings its song of sympathy, with a sense of empathy offering spiritual guidance to the whole of mankind. And then life bursts forth once more, with excitement and glee, with a brazenly strong attitude that sparks fires of hope and joy in the heart.

Brilliant writing, wonderful arrangements and fabulous performances mark this album out as something special. Move over Vivaldi, there’s a Danish jazz master called Claus Waidtløw waiting to take your crown.

Mike Gates

Kaidi Tatham ‘An Insight To All Minds’ 2LP (First Word) 5/5

So, as Elon Musk invests in going to Mars… The cosmos sends us a genius from the outer galaxies to the music lovers of the earth. In the guise of a musical traveller of exceptional talent.

Kaidi Tatham!

Having cut his teeth in the early ’90s with Hip Hop/Jazz outfit The Herbaliser, Neon Phusion, the mighty Bugs In The Attic, DKD – with another musical luminaire Daz I KUE, British music’s genius, I G Culture, and Dego of 4 Hero fame, with whom he has unleashed some stunning 12s on the 2000 Black label, which demand is always anticipated by music lovers and DJs.
An extraordinarily gifted multi-instrumentalist known for his take on jazz, hip hop, soul, funk and of course broken beat, having sessioned with Amy Winehouse, Soul II Soul, Slum Village etc. Kaidi Tatham is a highly respected musician, being compared to the likes of Herbie Hancock by tastemakers such as Benji B.

Here, ‘An Insight To All Minds’, his 3rd solo studio album after ‘In Search for Hope’ and ‘In a World Before You’, comes further excitement and without doubt, one of the most anticipated albums to come out of the UK in recent years from the jazz dance and soul music scene.

Laced with elements of George Duke, Lonnie Liston, Jeff Lorber and the ilk, however, all Kaidi Tatham without imitation but rather standing shoulder to shoulder with such Legends – a kind of Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci, learning from them and moving forward whilst inventing his own style.

And here it is evident this 15-track masterpiece from the infinity of space and mind from beginning to end!

Intermingled with beautifully crafted interludes, the album kicks off with a thunderous intro literally and then straight into some uber slick beats on ‘Try N Follow’ – one for the Duke fans albeit short. ‘Intergalactic Relations’ is exactly that. An astral journey into 80’s future electro-funk, with a twist… just MWAH! ‘Carry’, a stunning slab of jazz-funk fusion, reminiscent of Chick Corea and Jeff Lorber Fusion…but not, will see much support from the jazz heads and dancers. ‘Chungo’ feat. son of DJ Jazzy jeff, Uhmeer, a hypnotic and beautifully crafted slab of soulful hip hop.

The Title track is a true work of art and joy, like I’ve already mentioned, there are so many reminders of different artist here, that grabs your imagination and certainly reminds me of so many legendary musicians and pieces of music, but as soon as you nearly have that ‘aha, I know where I know that from moment’, Kaidi slips in and out from what you recognise and navigates you to new and unknown territory. ‘DSXSWC’ is as raw and fresh as it is intense, yet melodic, which definitely warrants listening for its intricacies and musical flex. And then, of course, one of my favourites ‘Rodney’ – that’s a tall ask as I cannot find fault in this album – a crepuscular dancefloor cut of epic broken beat proportions which glides in and out of heavy slick beats with classic Kaidi keyboard gymnastics. ‘Rain’ is another great piece gliding vibes, weaving rhythms through an almost melancholy groove cooked to perfection. ‘Could It Be’ interestingly kicks off with elements of mystery and of a 60’s drama before it flips and builds into a fusion dream, echoing everything from Weather Report to disco-funk band Kleeer and back to the future. Intentionally or not.

It’s Kaidi’s kaleidoscopic vision at the helm of this anamorphic audio soundscape for those who know and are adventurous enough to get on board his space ship of heavenly delights as with another killer ‘Tek Care’. This is not only one of the best albums of the year, it is, without doubt, an album that is a classic in its own right, standing alongside comfortably must-have LPs of the past. But do not be fooled, it’s not a rehashing of jazz, disco, funk and soul of the past, but rather a brand new take on all the above and re-imagining of the said music and then some. In my humble opinion, Kaidi Tatham is one of the most exciting players representing the very best of British music, innovating, experimenting and above all captivating. It’s above all passionate and sincere without bells and whistles.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get to go astral travelling and get to see all the heavenly delights, but Kaidi Tatham has a telescope of incredible resolution, and has given our ears and minds to have a little peek through it and see what he sees.

It’s called ‘An Insight To All Minds’.

Bruce Q

Daniel Thatcher ‘Waterwheel’ LP/CD (Shifting Paradigm) 3/5

For his debut recording as a bandleader, Chicago bassist and composer Daniel Thatcher teams up with guitarists John Kregor and Matt Gold, and drummer Devin Drobka. Over the past couple of decades, Thatcher has quietly served as a backbone to numerous Chicago based projects. First and foremost a jazz and improvising musician, he has also ventured out into the world of contemporary chamber music and experimental rock; a good all-rounder then, more than ready to make his mark with his own quartet.

The band derives its name from a reference to the Microcosmic Orbit, a pair of meridians or energy lines that store Qi, relevant to Tai Chi and traditional Chinese medicine. Thatcher’s study of Tai Chi is reflected in his music, coming across as open natured, harmonious and balanced. There’s also a kinetic energy running through the album that suggests a freedom and positive attitude in the collaborative efforts of all four musicians.

The quartet itself works really well together. The two guitarists enjoy a keen, intuitive understanding, taking the bassist’s compositions in different directions, with Thatcher himself not only providing the source from which the other musicians take nourishment but also refreshingly taking the lead at times, his lovely bowed bass working extremely well on more than one occasion. I’m also particularly fond of Devin Drobka’s drumming. His overall contribution provides an intelligent and thoughtful range of texture and colour, adding well thought-out shades of light and dark to supplement the characterful music.

Given the fact that there are two guitarists here, and the style of music moving somewhere between Jazz and Americana, obvious comparisons can be made to the likes of Bill Frisell and John Scofield. It was in fact a collaboration between Thatcher and guitarist Kregor, and meeting guitarist Gold and drummer Nate Friedman leading a performance of Scofield and Frisell’s album ‘Grace Under Fire’ that gave the bassist the inspiration to form this quartet. “I had been writing for various configurations but knew immediately that this was the sound I was looking for in my music. What I love most about what these guys bring to the music is not only the unassuming nature of their virtuosity, but their ability to blend with, and elevate any musical moment.”

“Odds Are Even” kicks off the session with its welcoming warm sound, very similar in vein to a lovely album by bassist Marc Johnson, ‘Summer Running’ which also featured two guitarists; Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. In fact, ‘Waterwheel’ reminds me a lot of that 1998 outing (crikey was it really that long ago!) with its breezy, easy-going yet contemporary feel. It’s noticeable throughout how the two guitarists complement one another, rather than competing for the limelight. This is key on tunes such as ‘Three Sages’ and ‘Big Ben’ where the lead instruments stretch out a bit. There’s also some nice variation on the highly original, much darker ‘Vicious’ and the softer, muse-like ‘The Lady of The Lake’.

All-in-all, “Waterwheel” is an engaging and likeable debut from Thatcher’s quartet. Consummate musicianship mixed with some fine compositions. Well worth checking out for those relaxing, cool-as-the-sun-goes-down late summer evenings ahead.

Mike Gates

Kjetil Mulelid ‘Piano’ LP/CD (Rune Grammofon) 5/5

As lockdown begins to ease and I’m jolted by the reality of frenetic springtime activity, the quiet order of this solo piano recording by Kjetil André Mulelid is the perfect antidote to it all. It’s a real help with the transition back to normal life. Lacking a percussive element is certainly working in its favour, somehow eking out the quietness of lockdown for just a little longer.

Norwegian pianist Kjetil Mulelid also leads a trio with Bjørn Marius Hegge (bass) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums). They’ve released a couple of well-received albums: Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House (Rune Grammofon 2017) and 2019’s ‘What You Thought Was Home’. Mulelid describes his approach to Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House as ‘playful, curious, energetic’. He had been a little sceptical regarding the idea of recording a solo piano album but as with so many things in life, the timing was key. As the pandemic hit other plans had to be abandoned allowing enough uncluttered time to realise the project. It was recorded at Athletic Sound, Halden, Norway in June last year on the studio’s 1919 Bösendorfer grand piano. The album’s eleven tracks are originals by Mulelid written in the earlier period of lockdown.

In 2018 Mulelid gave Jazz Espresso magazine an insight into his thought processes, “if you play with an open thought and you’re ready for something that will change the musical direction in some way then I think you’re into some kind of jazz thought”. Prior to recording the album, Mulelid was listening to the likes of Christian Wallumrød, Shai Maestro, Paul Bley and Craig Taborn. When asked where he would take a trip in a time machine his answer gives a clue to one of his most obvious influences; that answer being: “the Opera House Cologne, January 24th 1975”. His choice of a Bösendorfer grand piano also perhaps a homage to that concert of Jarrett’s, though the instrument used by Mulelid sounds in much better shape than the notoriously thin sound of the Bösendorfer baby grand used by Jarrett that day.

The album has quite a contemplative sense about it, Mulelid says he often tries to imitate a feeling whether it be: “chaotic, romantic or longing”. There’s little chaos evident on this record but the other two adjectives describe the feeling of the album pretty accurately.

The album’s opening tune, ‘Beginning’, shows the influence of the melodic classics by Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy that made an impact on the younger Mulelid. It develops incrementally and explores the full dynamic range of the instrument; it’s so beautifully recorded by Dag Erik Johansen, I felt I was actually in there with the Bösendorfer. The sense of longing is explored on a trio of tunes: ‘Love Story’, ‘For You I’ll Do Anything’ and ‘A Sailors’ Song’. Really, this album gets better the more you listen to it. There are some intensely vibrant passages that travel from darkness to light and back as well as those with a turbulence and a dangerous undercurrent. In places, the journey is more restrained but always soulful and eloquent.

Probably the best way to approach this album is to find a quiet room, turn up the volume and simply be engulfed by the wonderful dynamics of this recording. That’s how I’ve spent my evenings this week anyway.

James Read

Read also:
Wako ‘Wako’ LP/CD (Øra Fonogram) 4/5

The Isley Brothers ‘At Their Very Best’ 2LP (United Souls) 4/5 / The O’Jays ‘Best Of The O’Jays: Philly Chartbusters’ 2LP (United Souls) 3/5

United Souls have released a batch of 70s soul compilations including these two of The Isley Brothers and The O’Jays. There’s some parallels between the two acts. Both have their beginnings in the 1950s and while there’s good recordings at various other points in their careers, they reached their peak both artistically and commercially in the early and mid-1970s. Also, both are still around (in some form) today! These releases cover their golden periods extensively and in detail so there’s plenty of their juicy hits on show. Both albums pretty much span from the turn of the 1970s to trail off sometime in the ‘80s and are track-listed in vague chronological order.

“At Their Very Best” picks up just after The Isley Brothers’ decent tenure at Motown comes to an end and they head into a new musical direction: a groovy mix of righteous funk, soul balladry and idealistic, smooth, sometimes folky, rock; beginning with ‘It’s Your Thing’ from 1969. The album primarily mines singles and tracks from the string of classic records in the four year period from ‘3+3’ in 1973 to ‘Go For Your Guns’. So, the big ones are all here: ‘Summer Breeze’, ‘That Lady’, ‘Harvest For The World’, etc. However, it would be impossible to maintain this gold standard forever and towards the end of this release, as we edge towards the 80s, we get the so-so ‘It’s a Disco Night (Rock Don’t Stop)’ for example, which is perhaps a little lightweight and bland when compared to contemporaries like Funkadelic’s Uncle Jam or Rick James’s punk-funk.

The O’Jays career really took off when they signed to Philadelphia International by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in 1972 and became one of the prime movers of the emerging Philly Soul sound. The first albums from the deal, ‘Back Stabbers’ and ‘Ship Ahoy’ (their masterpiece, in my opinion) are their finest moments, delivering singles such as ‘For The Love Of Money’, ’Love Train’ and ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’. Unsurprisingly, they are heavily featured on “The Best Of The O’Jays” and are the focus for much of the first disc. I would have preferred to have even more album tracks from those two records included, particularly the epic title track from ‘Ship Ahoy’. Although there’s some great tracks and albums afterwards, the second disc, which covers the mid-70s through to 1984, doesn’t really get close to the heights of the first.

Whilst there’s plenty of tunes to keep me entertained, I have to admit, as someone who owns a few of the original records these tracks are culled from, that I’m not that excited either. Maybe some rarer or out-take recordings would have made it more appealing. However, I do accept that these records are not exactly intended for a soul connoisseur or completist (or me!).

The titles do say it all, though. For the most part, they are the ‘best’. If you just want to hear all the hits together in one collection then this is for you! Or, if you’ve never heard them (or heard of either group), both albums serve as an excellent introduction with detailed liner notes and expert curation.

Kevin Ward

Brotherly ‘Analects’ 180g 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

‘Analects’ is the new compilation project from musical duo, Brotherly, which both celebrates their past releases as well as their new partnership with the UK’s Whirlwind Recordings.

Comprised of vocalist Anna Stubbs and multi-instrumentalist Rob Mullarkey, ‘Analects’ provides something of a welcome retrospective of the eclectic and dynamic releases that were famed for drawing heavy inspiration from the broken beat culture the duo were immersed in. With broken beat really rising to prominence in the 1990s and spearheaded by pioneering names like 4hero, Bugz in the Attic and IG Culture, both Stubbs and Mullarkey, although coming from a jazz studies background, were very much taken by the genre-fusing elements of their two respective worlds into what would ultimately become Brotherly.

With their first single released in 2005 through Bitasweet – featuring additional vocals from ESKA and an accompanying remix from Bugz in the Attic – the broken beat bounce of ‘Put It Out’ served as an excellent introduction to Brotherly’s free-flowing musical intentions. Second single ‘Searching’, a brilliantly diverse track that typified their various fusion of styles, followed in 2007 which was swiftly followed by their debut full-length effort ‘One Sweet Life’.

Although Brotherly’s last album was actually released in 2010 (‘Find First Light’), Stubbs and Mullarkey have both continued to make music through various projects since that time. While Stubbs can cite having provided vocals for albums by Feeder and Grant Nicholas, Mullarkey’s extensive credentials have seen him provide production and session work for artists ranging from Richard Spaven to Andrew McCormack and Jordan Rakei.

So, yes, it’s a natural question to ask about what new Brotherly music would sound like now after all this time and the life experiences accumulated for each since. While the new association with Whirlwind issues a level of hope that we’ll receive a definitive answer to that question in due time, there’s more than enough teasers on ‘Analects’ to strongly indicate what we could expect. Firstly, there’s the inclusion of the previously unreleased track, ‘The Code’ – an excellent inclusion, as are the reworks of three tracks each featuring a series of guests that exemplify the varied styles and approaches that have always been a part of Brotherly’s music. The tirelessly prolific Kaidi Tatham – himself an artist that comfortably straddles that line between broken beat and jazz – guests on ‘Raindown’ layering the track with synths and flute; jazz pianist Jason Rebello jumps in for the predominately instrumental rendition of the sublime ‘World in a World’ and Motema Records recording artist, Donny McCaslin, provides saxophone for the gem that is ‘DTs’.

While there are certainly songs that unapologetically epitomise the broken beat influences they were inspired by, more of the tracks here highlight that exciting mish-mash of styles that Brotherly brought to the table from 2005 and which still sound as innovative now as they did upon initial release. Again, that nagging question lingers about ‘what would new Brotherly music sound like today?’. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer to find out.

Imran Mirza

Rebecca Vasmant ‘With Love, From Glasgow’ LP (Rebecca’s) 4/5

Not surprisingly, given the title, musician, producer, DJ and curator Rebecca Vasmant hails from Glasgow. What is a little more surprising is the nature of this, her debut album. While promoting and touring in over 22 countries constantly over the last 5 years, Vasmant returns to her native city to produce what is a rather compelling and refreshing recording… an emotive, jazzy, almost ambient, reflective album filled with textural and colourful soundscapes.

Vasmant has honed her craft on production projects which feature world-class musicians from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and more, her talents not only in spinning records, but in composing, producing and performing. And make no mistake, on this evidence her music is a force to be reckoned with. Her compositions sound very personal, and have plenty to say, not just musically, but lyrically too. As the composer says: “They tell stories of life, of the thoughts that exist inside my head. I hope they resonate with those who hear them. The record is a jigsaw that brought us together as a catalyst in forming so many lifelong friendships.”

Right from the off I’m drawn in. The lush, ethereal textures of those gorgeously intertwined horns would be enough on their own. But then the floating, hushed vocals hover enigmatically, creating a wonderful atmosphere. “Timing’s End” combines brassy elegance with mesmeric keys, and the evocative vocals from Nadya Albertsson on “Freefall” are simply stunning. Harry Weir takes on the Pharoah Sanders role on the enigmatic “Jewels of Thought”… no Hum Allah Hum Allah jazz yodelling to be heard here though… just the gentle, breezy, jazzy female vocals mixed among the sax and trumpet solos. If you can picture the kind of music you might hear released on the Tru Thoughts or Ninja Tune labels, you wouldn’t be far off the mark when listening to Emilie Boyd on a modern interpretation of “Autumn Leaves”. The reflective, contemplative “Morning (Mourning)” is an exquisite slice of introspection which I really like. “Pride of Winter” has a lovely, cool, late-night jazz club vibe to it, before moving effortlessly into Brodie Jarie’s groove-fuelled bass riff on “Start of Time”, with its storytelling vocals bordering on something we might expect to hear from Lauren Kinsella aka Snowpoet. “Universal Code” sounds rich with the sounds of the city, and I just love the industrial, edgy feel to the wonderful “Revolution” which appears to bring out all of Glasgow’s darker secrets.

With production values that Nitin Sawhney would be proud of, the combination of intelligent compositions and a whole host of Scotland’s finest musicians makes for a very compelling album. “With Love, From Glasgow” is a crucial insight into the modern-day sounds of a city, with Rebecca Vasmant successfully harnessing all of the gifted natural resources around her, creating an album fuelled with mesmeric, kinetic energy.

Mike Gates

James Lindsay ‘Torus’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

A good few years ago, I’m guessing mid 90s, I remember being totally enthralled by the folk/jazz crossover group Lammas. Headed up by saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Don Paterson and vocalist Christine Tobin, they made music that successfully blended together the two different genres with consummate ease, creating a hybrid genre all of their own. It’s only now, looking back, that it dawns on me how few and far between such acts actually are. Good ones anyway. And so we come to “Torus”, a new release from Scottish guitarist and composer James Lindsay. A little more rockier in nature than Lammas ever were, Lindsay also brings together the disparate elements of traditional folk music and contemporary jazz, adding a wealth of oomph along the way, creating a free-flowing intelligent and unquestionably joyful album.

Written over a period of two years and completed in lockdown, “Torus” takes a kaleidoscopic look at contemporary Scottish Folk, with the resulting music being intense and expansive, darkly atmospheric and yet ultimately uplifting. The album title reflects the cyclical interactions of humans with nature as the music traces revolving tensions between things ancient and modern, places wild and urban. “Torus” is an exploration of the flows which connect us to our world and a reminder that change is our only constant. Recorded at Glasgow’s GlowWorm recording studios with acclaimed producer Euan Burton and a group of Scotland’s finest cross-genre musicians, the album breathes in its vast array of musical influences and exhales a magical menagerie of enthralling melodies and expressive improvisation.

Nine original tunes, often deceptively complex in nature, weave their own merry way across this session. Lindsay has a habit of surprising the listener, whether it be through choice of instrumentation, changes of pace mid tune, or blazing a trail with an adventurous solo, there’s always something refreshingly inventive going on. Angus Lyon’s mesmerising accordion-playing leads the way on the delicious opener “Lateral Roots”. Sympathetic keys, guitars and sax all combine infectiously with drums and bass, setting the scene for a luscious guitar solo. The atmospheric “Observatory” is warm and comforting, with Jack Smedley’s fiddle providing the rousing melody that follows. “Electroreceptor” has that analogue sound that breathes new life from an old favourite instrument, and the slow-burner “Lewisian Complex” eventually catches fire with some extravagant guitar pyrotechnics. The more reflective tunes on the album have a lovely feel to them, “Cycles” being the prime example. A jazzier vibe is at the helm for “Skekler” and “The Smiddy” surely has to be used somewhere, somewhen, for a TV drama with its soaring filmic quality. “Jinibara” takes me by surprise, taking my breath away in the process, with Norman Wilmore’s gorgeous alto sax setting the scene for some delicate guitar and fiddle playing. The closing piece “Holon” uses a combination of interwoven bass and guitars to create an enticing soundscape for the rest of the band to work with.

The writing and performances throughout “Torus” are a joy to behold. For me though, it’s the instrumentation and wonderful arrangements that raise it up to something way above the sum of its parts. It’s one of those albums you could put on the stereo with anyone around, under any circumstances, and whoever you’re with will be distracted enough from your conversation to say “Sorry, who’s this? This music sounds great.”

Mike Gates

Little North ‘Finding Seagulls’ LP/CD (April) 4/5

Little North is a young Danish piano/bass/drums trio featuring Norholm Jacobsen on piano, Lasse Jacobsen on drums, and Martin Brunbjerg Rasmussen on bass. Together they offer a captivating musical voyage, steeped in the lineage of Scandinavian music, combining melancholic Nordic soundscapes with a deep tradition of jazz.

Already highly acclaimed in their home country, the group spent their formative years playing and composing together, developing a chemistry which belies their youth. The intuitive way they work together can be heard time and time again throughout this album, their poetic, melodic music inspiring thoughts of Danish fjords and beautiful, sparse, open landscapes.

“Finding Seagulls is a metaphor for the search for land in an ocean of endless possibilities. When a seagull appears on the open sea, you know land is nearby. As a trio, we are constantly in search of new sounds and stories. This album is a representation of that search”. say the trio. And to my mind, this inquisitive, open attitude is certainly reflected in their music. The trio aren’t afraid to set sail and explore new ideas here, knowing that the safety of dry land is never that far away.

The album opens with the sparse yet compelling “Two and Three”, with its invitingly warm melancholia. The dark, intriguing “Ode til Skyer” gradually casts light like a lighthouse searching for a lost ship at sea, a sense of hope amidst the gloom. There’s more than a nod to the influence of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio on the lively “The Kite”, a rousingly satisfying piece. The natural flow continues with “And Daughter” and the deliciously inventive “Horses”. The short but very sweet “Enora” is followed by the achingly beautiful “Anna”, a gorgeously emotive tune that softly pulls at the heartstrings. “Freyu” is a great example of how the trio interact. If I didn’t know better I’d say they’d been writing and performing together for decades, the interplay and musicianship is that good. “Invoke” is particularly adventurous, melodies bouncing around and cascading like the echoes of the sea washing onto a distant shore. The contemplative “Cold Hawaii” is one of those tunes you just don’t want to end, as it builds towards the sound of an old piano, questioning, longingly looking out to sea once more; the closing piece “Kite Reprise”.

Make no mistake, “Finding Seagulls” is a very assured album from Little North. Fascinating and rewarding, it takes the listener to their own little north, a place where dreamy, forgotten landscapes combine perfectly with the essence of a shimmering, foreboding yet strangely hopeful Nordic sound.

Mike Gates

Wes Montgomery ‘The NDR Hamburg Studio Recordings’ 180g LP+Blu-Ray/CD+Blu-Ray (Jazzline Classics) 5/5

During the last few years of John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery’s life, he had climbed to the very top, with a Grammy Award for the Creed Taylor produced “Goin’ Out Of My Head” in 1966, which not only sat at no.1 on the Jazz charts but also flew up what we would now term pop charts. In 1967 “A Day in the Life” topped the Billboard Jazz charts and reached no.2 on the ‘pop’ charts. These ‘pop’ successes were not his preferred choices it would seem, as much is documented of his avoidance to play these songs live. Wes had switched to playing electric guitar at the age of 20 on hearing recordings of Charlie Christian – Jazz critic Ralph Gleason would later write “Wes Montgomery is the best thing to happen to the guitar since Charlie Christian” – moving away from the use of the customary pick, which had enraged the domestic authorities, for a subtle revolutionary thumb technique that would prove to garner the reputation and public appreciation firmly stamped in jazz history. Wes Montgomery was praised for mastering his octaves and harmonies with some 20+ albums as leader and is quite possibly the most recognised modern jazz guitarist of all time. Down Beat Poll Winner for consecutive years and a no.1 slot in Billboard for ‘California Dreaming’ in August 1967.

Just prior to those accolades these 1965 NDR Hamburg Studio Recordings are presented here with 10 songs before a live audience on April 30, and a further 5 during rehearsals filmed on April 28, featured on the enclosed 34min Blu-Ray disc – an insightful snapshot of interplay during band rehearsals at a key moment in their respective careers. The line-up consists of American’s Wes Montgomery (g) and Johnny Griffin – Griffin (ts) had previously worked with Wes and his brothers Monk and Buddy – Britain’s Ronnie Stephenson (ds), Ronnie Ross (bs) and Ronnie Scott (ts) – Michael Laages’ sleeve notes nod to the highly likely chance that these four may have travelled together after performing at Soho’s Ronnie Scott’s club, Austrian saxophonist Hans Koller – who had previously worked with Ronnie Ross and here featured on alto, not tenor (unlike the ‘Live In Europe’ recording from the same period), pianist Martial Solal and bassman Michel Gaudry (of Serge Gainsbourg fame) from France.

Proceedings swing in with Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues”, a no-frills jaunt full of European nuances. It’s short and the audience is responsive. “Four On Six” settles in with strong rhythms by the leader out front with little notable excitement from the band until pianist Martial Solal takes flight. There’s a bass solo by Michel Gaudry with warm reception before Wes resumes control atop Ronnie Stephenson’s drum work. Early on in this set, you are aware of the superb quality of the recording and faultless dynamics. “Last Of The Wine” permits Ronnie Ross space to fly on baritone – this is mind-blowing stuff – as the leader sits back ahead of his solo. This is now proving to be an illuminating set even before Johnny Griffin charges forward on his tenor saxophone but to these ears, it is Solal’s fingers that reign supreme. The longest piece, “Heres That Rainy Day”, strolls along with little excitement and is disappointing by comparison.
“Opening 2”, by contrast, is a frolicking bop explosion of brass section and energy that ignites side B. Penned by Martial Solal this has a very different feel to the Montgomery compositions with its feel-good swing being a hard to fault piece – not a lot of Wes going on though! “Blue Grass” readdresses with more Wes (on Gibson?) in the frame as saxes compete for the podium. What a joy the ears of German radio would have first delighted in 1965 as the energy throughout is compelling. Remember, Montgomery’s “The Paris Session” had only been recorded the month before. He was prolific and even when working with unfamiliar musicians does not flinch or hinder the musical outcome. “Blue Monk” is 7th on the set-list and, dare I say it, those Martial Solal chords are out-there with more spontaneity through the piece. Cue applause. “The Leopard Walks” with its big band feel, drifts off soulfully and ‘safe’ with Johnny Griffin leading his own tune throughout before “Twisted Blues” by Montgomery picks up the six-string pace, rubber-stamping the Wes Montgomery ‘sound’ as the end is almost upon us. The energy is at full-pelt before we close with “West Coast Blues (Encore)”.

There is everything here one would need from a Wes Montgomery album. The addition of these specific band members is further rewarding and continues to support the importance of the NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) studios and their remit, which records show recorded between 1958-1988. “The strategy was to bring together musicians, who usually did not – or only rarely – perform together and to broadcast the results” through organiser/producer Hans Gertberg and engineer Hans-Heinrich Breitkreuz is as important to the story of jazz as any American label. In fact, NDR regular Hans Koller would join Ronnie Ross and Ronnie Stephenson for a return to the NDR studios in July with Tubby Hayes. The quality of this mastering is wonderfully evident on the 180g disc resulting in a quality 1965 recording sounding crisp and exciting in 2021.

Deliberately setting aside the additional Blu-Ray disc, as not to confuse first impressions, it now provides further delight watching the rehearsal. With a combination of cigarette smoking, Ronnie Scott’s beacon of enthusiasm, a perched Wes and pure fire from Martial Solal, we are centre-stage at history being made, and with vibraphone pushed to one side, I can’t help but grin at the idea that very soon Tubby Hayes could be mallets in hand. The inclusion of the footage for this release is priceless.

On May 22, 1968, Wes would perform with his quintet at the Coliseum in his home town of Indianapolis and would soon die at home of a sudden heart attack. His funeral service was conducted three days later by Rev. John J. Crook. His “Down Here On The Ground” would top the best selling Jazz LP chart at Billboard in August and would posthumously win a further Grammy Award in 1969 for “Willow Weep For Me” and be responsible for recording sufficient music to see a further string of wonderful releases via the Milestone, Capitol, Resonance and now Jazzline Classics labels, a clear indication of the demand still for his music, “after all, Wes is the hero of the day on guitar” wrote Record World’s Ted Williams in March 1968, “And the Wes Montgomery story is just beginning.” A sad note to end on…

Steve Williams

Read also:
Wes Montgomery ‘Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings’ 2LP-RSD/2CD (Resonance) 4/5
Wes Montgomery ‘In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording’ 2CD (Resonance) 5/5
Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery ‘Smokin’ in Seattle’ 180g LP/CD (Resonance) 4/5

Astral Travelling Since 1993