Howl Quartet ‘Life As We See It’ LP/CD (Boathorse) 4/5

Howl Quartet is a London-based four-piece group featuring the twin saxes of Dan Smith (alto) and Harry Brunt (tenor) with Pete Komor on double bass and drummer Matt Parkinson. ‘Life As We See It’ is their debut and they seek to “joyfully tie their passion for jazz with folk music, contemporary grooves and free improvisation”. The album also has a striking colourful sleeve design by Hannah-May Smith that the teenage me would definitely have blue-tacked to my bedroom wall!

“Woof” starts the proceedings and zips along at a very brisk pace. It has a late 1950s/early 60s free vibe and is propelled by breezy bustling double bass with great statement solo work all around. “Nobody. Nowhere” is slower and less immediate but much more satisfying listening after latching on to its fascinating fluid structure. Direct and hard-hitting bass riffing initiates “Dutch Courage” drives the bold motif and is the backdrop for the boisterous sax solos. “One for the Hedge” is a brief saxophone duet and has a playful, light feel. On “Benoit’s Reprise”, the snappy labyrinthine sax/bass leads into a fresh bouncy rhythm and joyful, exuberant playing.

The other side starts with another sax duet where Smith and Brunt skilfully negotiate through an impressive but maybe slightly purposeless version of Bach’s “Invention No. 13”. The graceful, melancholic bass line introduces the standout track, “Back to Basics” soon joined by the lush, low-key harmonising and tasteful bluesy soloing of the saxes. The melody lines of “Badger” throw angular shapes over relentlessly driving drums and slidey, agile bass. “Chew Bamboo” has a loose improvisational feel and provides, as with most of the tracks here, an opportunity to enjoy some quality solos. “Fairfield” combines full-on folk melodies with atmospheric ride cymbals and bowed bass drones adding a meditative, almost raga aesthetic.

“Life As We See It” is a collection of compact and direct tracks, usually two to three minutes long, but chock full of invention and ideas and including some top solos. The individual musicianship is excellent but more importantly, there appears to be a strong rapport and camaraderie between the players, which adds vibrancy and focus to the mix. As with many first albums, there are elements of experimentation and it will be interesting which of these paths the group will pursue in the future. This is an enjoyable and riveting introduction to a promising new group and well worth a listen for “Back to Basics” alone.

Kevin Ward

Nigel Price Organ Trio ‘Wes Reimagined’ 2LP/CD (Ubuntu Music) 5/5

Guitarist Nigel Price has been an important part of the British jazz scene for more than twenty-five years. His guitar style draws upon the blues and bebop. He cites Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery as important influences. He appears on an impressive 50 plus albums including nine as leader or co-leader. He is also an acknowledged educator.

This most recent release from Price’s organ trio is indeed a reimagination of the music of his hero Wes Montgomery. Not a slavish copy but a new conception; the originating of something that had been running around in Price’s mind for some time. Here we have a choice selection of music from the Montgomery catalogue and what better vehicle for such a project than the Organ Trio, a formation that Montgomery adopted himself with great success. The album could not fail with Ross Stanley on Hammond Organ and Joel Barford at the drums. But added to this potent mix are guests Vasilis Xenopoulos on tenor saxophone, Tony Kofi on alto saxophone and Snowboy providing additional percussion. The icing on this most musical cake is the Phonograph Effect Strings conducted by Callum Au who provides subtle ornamentation on several tracks.

The album pays homage to the recordings that Montgomery released prior to 1965. After this point, he moved from hard bop and soul-jazz to a more pop-oriented style. Of the ten tracks, eight are from Wes’ pen with one from his brother Monk and the set culminates with a composition from the 1956 musical My Fair Lady which Montgomery recorded in 1962 and which can be heard on his album ‘Full House’.

‘Cariba!’ makes for a wonderful funky opener with a fine unison theme statement and tenor saxophone reminiscent of Stanley Turrentine plus the eloquent strings and searing alto saxophone solo, what’s not to like. Price nails the Montgomery ‘sound’. Perfection. Lovely brushwork opens ‘Leila’, a swinger, giving us chance to hear Ross Stanley at length, bringing to my mind memories of the great Mike Carr.

Percussion is to the fore on ‘Jingles’ with more guitar and tenor sax unison lines. Fluid guitar lines are the hallmark of this piece and there is more Hammond artistry from Ross Stanley. ‘Far Wes’ is a particular favourite, relaxed yet swinging in waltz time. The strings return for ‘So Do It’, a beguiling bolero-styled piece.

The funk returns for ‘Movin’ Along’, an attractive bluesy tune. In fact, the blues are omnipresent throughout this fine album in one form or another.

Almost as an antidote to the music that has gone before, the last piece on the album sees this jazz guitar Professor performing a sensitive, virtuoso rendition of ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face’. Accompaniment is provided by the strings once again and Ross Stanley performs at his melodic best turning in perhaps his best solo of the album.
The performances are immaculate in conception and performance and the whole album provides a joyous reinterpretation of the music of a past jazz master. As great as the album is, however, I think this music would be best enjoyed in a live setting. Let’s hope that it’s not too long before we get the chance to do this.

In the meantime, buy the album. It’s available on CD, double vinyl album and download. More information can be found here:

Alan Musson

Slowly Rolling Camera ‘Where the Streets Lead’ LP/CD (Edition) 4/5

Colliding the worlds of jazz, ambient, trip-hop and cinematic soundscapes, “Where the streets lead” is Slowly Rolling Camera’s follow-up to their 2018 release “Juniper”. The core of the band; Dave Stapleton on Fender Rhodes, Piano and Moog, Deri Roberts on electronics and Elliot Bennett on drums, are joined by some of Edition’s A-Listers for this recording; regular collaborator, guitarist Stuart McCallum, alongside saxophonists Chris Potter and Mark Lockheart, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, bassist Jasper Hoiby and vocalist Sachai Vasandani. There’s also an eight-piece string section, just to add to the ambition of this project.

Naturally and organically progressing on from the band’s “Juniper” album, there’s a sharp focus to the new compositions, whilst still benefiting from an ‘open’ feel, mindfully leaving time and space for the guest musicians to make their mark. This is an album about opportunity, about embracing unknowns and seeing what life throws at you. It’s a reflection on searching for balance, a sense of purpose and identity in everyday life. For the core group of Dave Stapleton, Deri Roberts and Elliot Bennett, it’s a unified take on the journey and the influences that have shaped them all individually and as a collective.

The exploration of sonic soundscapes, through melody, layered colour and texture, and the intelligent mix of instrumentation and production, is not that unusual these days. Slowly Rolling Camera, and to a larger extent The Cinematic Orchestra, have journeyed out on their own adventurous musical paths for years now., paving the way for others to follow. Floating Points’ recent album “Promises”, featuring the legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, is one of the best examples of how the fusing of styles and genres can work so well in the right hands. What I like about “Where the streets lead” is its unlimited scope and unbridled ambition. There’s an obvious emphasis on collaboration, creating an involving atmosphere for the listener to tune in to.

The eight tunes on this recording flow effortlessly from one to another, the coolest of vibes prevalent throughout the whole album. The title track grabs my attention immediately, its warm, hazy atmosphere infused with rich melodies as the tune builds with the gorgeous strings adding a depth of passion that works particularly well with the soprano sax and guitar eventually taking this piece into its exciting finale. “The Afternoon of Human Life” weaves its own magical journey, with tenor sax lifting the tune to higher plains of existence. “Widest Possible Aperture” toys with its ambient beginning, before exploding into full and joyous life. The power of the emotive strings burns brightly on the excellent “Feels Like Fiction”, a mesmerising cinematic adventure that cajoles with intent. The band have perhaps saved the best til last though, “A Force For Good” revelling in an almost Nordic atmospheric beauty, with Phojola’s intimate style of trumpet playing adding such an emotive depth of beauty that one just can’t fail to be drawn in by this stunning piece of music.

If you’re going to buy this album, I would imagine it’s well worth investing in the limited edition 180g vinyl, each copy with foil stamped limited edition numbering, signed postcard and 12-page booklet of photography, with commissioned poetry by Antony Dunn accompanying the photographs. A quality package, to sit nicely alongside some very good music.

Mike Gates

ATA Records ‘The Library Archive Vol. 2’ LP/CD (ATA) 4/5

Acting as something of a swift follow-up to last year’s highly successful ‘The Library Archive Vol. 1’, this year sees the ATA team return to helm their latest series of recordings unveiled through ‘The Library Archive Vol. 2’.

Founded in Leeds in 2014 by bassist Neil Innes and percussionist Pete Williams, so much of ATA’s make-up since its inception has been rooted in an affectionate celebration. A celebration of not just the soul music genre but also a celebration of how their music is created – friends and musicians absolutely remaining steadfast in their commitment to creating authentic recordings that pay homage to an era of music-making founded before the digital revolution changed the industry.

It’s an aesthetic that ATA Records are building their legacy upon and the ever-expanding line-up of releases bearing the ATA name continues to exemplify these traits through each outing.

As with most ATA releases, ‘Volume 2’ is comprised of a close-knit team of musicians who have each graced a variety of past ATA projects including albums by The Sorcerers, Work Money Death and The Lewis Express. With ‘The Library Archive’ affording them the opportunity to delve into new musical facets, the twelve tracks presented here feature a nice variety of upbeat, funk-inspired numbers like ‘Windie Man’, ‘Cleared For Launch’ and ‘Push And Go’ but then offer up tracks on the opposite end of the scale like the ominous and at times eerie compositions of tracks like ‘Mysterious Manor’ and ‘Sensed Prescence’. That “opposite end of the scale” motif is also incredibly apt when comparing the album’s opening and closing numbers – ‘The Glass Eye’ kicks off proceedings here conjuring up images of a hard-boiled detective trawling through the city streets at night while by the album’s closer, ‘Going Galactic’, we’ve been whisked off of those streets into the limitless possibilities of the starry night sky and beyond.

Earlier I touched upon the notion of the label continually paying homage which has also become a characteristic that has endeared the label to fans. Whether those inspirations come from ATA’s Lewis Express paying tribute to the 1950s/60s legendary soul and jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis (‘Clap Your Hands’), saxophonist Tony Burkill celebrating the music of 60s/70s saxophonists including John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders (‘Work Money Death’) or the pioneering hip-hop productions of Dilla and Madlib whose seminal offerings were lovingly recreated by the Abstract Orchestra for a series of albums (‘Dilla’, ‘Madvillain Volumes 1 and 2’), ATA pay their respects to those sources of boundless inspiration through so many of their record releases.

Imran Mirza

Nicolai Majland Trio ‘Welcome’ LP/CD (AMP Music & Records) 3/5

Welcome is Danish pianist Nicolai Majland’s first release for Oslo based label AMP; it follows his 2015 GTW debut, Leaving and Believing. He is a musician very much focused on melody which he describes as his ‘north star’. The framework for this album was put together in just a week on a summer vacation in Sutri, Italy on an old piano located in the apartment in which he stayed. The ethos of the recording developed out of a sense of gratitude and joy in life, Majland is not afraid to admit that his approach to the music is shamelessly sentimental. The other members of the trio are Thomas Fonnesbæk (bass) and Morten Lund (drums). Both Lund and Fonnesbæk are of an earlier vintage to Majland; they were born in the 70s and have more extensive back catalogues to their names. Lund co-leads a trio with pianist Stefano Bollani and bassist Jesper Bodilsen. And anyone who can make an album entitled Groovements as Fonnesbæk did in 2015 with Aaron Parks and Karsten Bagge must be okay in my book.

Incidentally, the label’s name has a dual meaning, AMP stands for Ambitious Mindful Projects but was also chosen as an abbreviation of the word AMPlify. The commitment is to bring ambition and mindfulness to all projects in the expectation that this will amplify the whole process. Majland studied at Vestjyksk Musikkonservatoriam and lives and works in Copenhagen. I suspect he casts his net wide as far as influences go, elements of Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Vince Guraldi, Tord Gustavsen are apparent. One less obvious one is Joni Mitchell – he does a great interpretation of her song ‘Both Sides Now’ which features on his YouTube channel.

‘Sutri’, the album’s opener, is as light as a feather and its melodious heart is very easy on the ear. As it becomes more involved there’s some fabulous interplay from drummer Morten Lund. He and Majland flow around each other with great sensitivity and empathy, it’s so light yet so taut. The second track, ‘Welcome’ delivers a little piece of the sentimentality promised in the publicity material, it treads a fine line but manages to remain engaging with a few surprises. The song celebrates the arrival of a child into the world and exudes a contemplative small hours calmness. The early year’s theme is followed through on the much more uptempo ‘What’s Your Name?’ It’s got a sublime groove with a 60s vibe to it. Thomas Fonnesbæk’s bass is very lively on this tune and it’s his turn to provide satisfying tension and interplay with Majland’s piano. It’s definitely a contender for the strongest track on the record.

The pace slows down again for some ‘Gratitude’, in a similar vein to ‘Welcome’ though in my opinion the sentimentality is signposted just a bit too clearly, I’ve no objection to experiencing sentimental feelings towards a piece of music though I’d prefer it not to have this as such an obvious goal. Next up is ‘Who Cares?’ which is made of much funkier stuff. The tonal undercurrents offer a satisfying contrast to the lightness of touch which is so prominent on the rest of the record. ‘Minor Minutes’ is exploratory with a certain mystery, there’s a bluesy swing to it recalling an earlier jazz era. Another highlight is ‘Off Road Blues’ with its clean, fresh and sharp sense of precision.

This album has drawn me back quite a few times, I’m not sure I’ve fully understood it yet, there’s plenty going on underneath its lightweight hood and the agility of the playing is marvellous.

James Read

Manzanita y Su Conjunto ‘Trujillo, Perú 1971 – 1974’ LP (Analog Africa) 5/5

The 1960s saw a merging of two very different styles of music in Peru. Cumbia had been snaking its way from Colombia across Latin America for decades while American rock was carving a similar path. When they met on the Peruvian coast the two sounds merged with local traditions like the highland huayno and created a musical craze that swept the nation-Peruvian cumbia was born. This movement gave rise to many incredible musicians like Juaneco y su Combo, Los Destellos, and Manzanita y su Conjunto.

Bernardo Hernández aka Manzanita is one of Peru’s undisputed masters of the electric guitar. In the 1960s and 70s Manzanita y Su Conjunto put out a steady stream of Peruvian cumbias that prance along Cuban guaracha rhythms, serving as the foundation for his brilliant guitar work. Analog Africa takes us back to that golden era of Manzanita and Peruvian cumbia with a new compilation, “Manzanita y Su Conjunto: Trujillo, Peru 1971-1974”. This album is 14 mostly instrumental compositions of electrifying Peruvian cumbia and guaracha that will transport you to a surfside patio, all tan skin and salty hair.

The album, as with much of Manzanita’s music, is a reflection on “home”. Trujillo, where his own roots lay, is ever-present in his music. “Mi Pueblito” reflects Manzanita’s love for his hometown, as well as his extraordinary guitar skill. Manzanita even turns taste into sound, a good reminder that the best meals make you want to dance. The opening “Shambar” is named after a traditional Peruvian soup from Trujillo that blends both coastal and Andean ingredients, not different from the musicians themselves. But, beyond his own home, Manzanita y Su Conjunto often played for the Andean migrant workers living in Lima. The band would play the traditional huaynos and molizas rhythms that reminded them of their own homes connecting a musician who travels far from home to work with the migrants who must do the same.

“Manzanita y Su Conjunto: Trujillo, Peru 1971-1974” is not just some vanity project. Though, with a musician such as Hernández it would almost be understandable. Instead, each song gives all band members the chance to shine. “Manzaneando” is a display of Hernández’s genius but it also gives the space for the talent of each musician to come through. The percussion is multifaceted and interesting to listen to. The best part is hearing the musicians interact with each other and cheer each other on, this is a theme throughout the album. “Lamento de la Puna” lets the guitar shine but it can only do so because of the foundation the percussion provides. This is one of the few songs with vocals, they are few but the vocalists are also providing the support that the instruments require to drive the point deeper into the listener.

“Manzanita y Su Conjunto: Trujillo, Peru 1971-1974” is a balmy breeze for this summer’s heat. The album showcases a musician at the top of his game surrounded by other musicians of equal talent and creativity. In 1969 Manzanita sent shockwaves through Lima’s music scene that, with this album, have reverberated into 2021.

Molly Gallegos

Devin Drobka Trio ‘Resorts’ 2LP (Shifting Paradigm) 3/5

Avant-garde composer and percussionist Devin Drobka’s latest release, “Resorts”, is in essence as much an ambient record as it is a jazz record. Written over two years, during a tumultuous period in the composer’s life, the whole album sounds very personal, transient even. The music seems to reflect a moment in time for Drobka, closely linked to the unfolding events in his life, which resulted in the end of his relationship.

Drobka enlisted longtime friends, pianist Matt Blair and bassist Aaron Darrell, to help create music out of what he was feeling. Through this cathartic collaboration, the three musicians built from the space they shared and “Resorts” came to life. Listening to this album, it’s obvious to me that the trio share an empathetic relationship. This comes over very clearly on the recording, with an intuitive and organic feel emanating from the three friends and musicians. A fruitful relationship all-round one would surmise.

It’s refreshing to hear a trio unafraid of taking a few risks. Some tracks on the album sound measured, others freer, yet there are always points of interest and exploration as the threesome fearlessly inquire and probe, plucking the meat off the bones of emotions that surface naturally, linking the eight tracks together. There’s also a keen duality exhibited in the trio’s music, mirroring human life itself; patience/ impatience, permanence/ impermanence, complete/incomplete, secure/ insecure… and endlessly so on and so on.

Originally involved in Milwaukee’s punk and metal scenes, Drobka’s desire to regularly venture into the unknown developed his fascination for jazz and improvised music. He’s worked with visual artists and dancers as well as musicians from different styles ranging from hip hop to noise to folk to indie pop. His varied musical background is not a surprise, if like me, you are listening to his music for the first time through this album. There’s a sense that his musical creations are going to be a part of him regardless of any genre or style that people might expect to hear, and I like that very much. Surely that’s the nature of a true artist. “I create in order to connect us all and remind us that we are here,” Drobka says. “Nothing more and nothing less – just the chance to be really aware of what we are engaging in by entering a space together and truly listening to one another. This album and set of songs is about the deep change and joy we can experience every day, and the resorts we take refuge in order to grow and become loving beings”.

Drobka’s compositions for “Resorts” began as voice memo sketches, alone, at home, as home was being redefined. And while the gorgeous sound of the album will delight audiophiles, the spirit of the record is still very much in line with those first demos. Intimate moments are captured perfectly, involving the listener in the atmosphere and feeling of the music. “Rims” is dark, deep, foreboding and contemplative. The piano motif repeats (a common theme throughout the album), conversational, questioning, imploring the drums and bass to answer. “Teeter” (on the brink maybe?), quietly consumes an air of quiet edginess, surrounding itself with a soft blanket of cosiness that one dare not disturb. The more ambient “Bounce”, awash with cymbal roles and bowed bass, continues in the same vein, with “Soon” suggesting an uplift in the mood as the writer peeks out from beneath his blanket to face the world around him. “1000” is like the nervous start of a brand new journey, hesitant yet resolute. “Box Invention, Parts 1, 2 & 3) detail the unabashed exhilarance of venturing out into a brave new world. The dance of passion for life and new experience in an almost uncontrollably childlike journey of discovery. And what the listener does get from this album, is a sense of total involvement, as I find myself, willing or not, immersed in the musical story-telling of Drobka and co.

Mike Gates

Marc Crofts Nomadim Trio ‘NOMADIM’ CD (Unit) 4/5

In a conversation I once had with Molly Gallegos – fellow UK Vibe scribe – I once described the fact that I was the product of divorced parents, each from vastly different heritages, as something that presented its own challenges. With neither parent instilling any of their own culture and background into me from a young age, I likened the experience to feeling like a ghost in that you don’t rightfully belong to either culture despite it forming a significant part of my make-up.

I feel like if Marc Crofts felt like that then we’d potentially have a very different album than the one we have in ‘Nomadim’.

Released through Unit Records, violinist and composer, Crofts, has clearly presented a deeply personal project but one that acts as a window into how he sees the world around him. And, frankly, it seems like it’s a really nice place. Coming from mixed origins himself, so much of ‘Nomadim’ is a tribute to his family, his background, his extensive travels including to Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania, but everything about it is celebratory – you can almost see the smile beaming from his face as if he were standing in front of you while he masterfully composes these odes to his experiences and plays beautifully to honour them.

Apologies, I may very well have begun this review as it should have ended. Let’s back-track a little…

A former student of jazz studies at the Lausanne Conservatoire, Marc Crofts has embraced a wide variety of musical styles in the years since, either forming or contributing to numerous collectives including the Balkan stylings of the band Gilgul, the Yolanda Almodovar Flamenco Band, Swing High, Gypson 5ive and Hotegezugt.

For his ‘Nomadim’ project, Crofts partners with bassist Blaise Hommage and guitarist Raïlo Helmstetter for a wonderful series of embedded narratives – stories within stories – that are nicely teased within the album’s inlay card. ‘Portakali’ for instance works as a great allegory when dissecting the nature of mixed backgrounds and how seemingly disparate elements can still find their interconnecting links. ‘Eastern Road Trip’ delivers as one of the strong album highlights – through its changing pace and tone, it’s as if the intention was to capture the complete range of emotions one would experience across an extensive road trip and brilliantly cram them into the song’s six-minute running time. A final mention would have to go to the lush performance put forward for ‘Our Secret Room’ – the unmistakable love letter of the whole album, it’s beautifully put together and another in the album’s long list of highlights.

While a perspective of a nomadic culture or lifestyle may seem somewhat lonely, it’s actually something – certainly within his music at least – that Crofts fully embraces. He’s captured the freedom in it and it’s an inspiring and life-affirming perspective.

Imran Mirza

Tour dates:
25/6 – Nomadim Feat. Marcel Loeffler – Chorus Jazz Club – LAUSANNE : Album launch / Vernissage
26/6 – Nomadim Feat. Marcel Loeffler – Auberge des Vergers – GENEVA
27/7 – Nomadim Feat. Marcel Loeffler – KVO – NEUCHÀTEL
02/7 – Nomadim Feat. Marcel Loeffler – Chapelle St Erhard – STRASBOURG : Also streaming
03/7 – Nomadim – Auberge du Moenkalb – BARR
09/7 – Nomadim – Literaturcafé – BIEL
10/8 – Nomadim Feat. Marcel Loeffler – Festival Au Gré du Jazz – CHATEAU DE LICHTENBERG

Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra ‘Tales From The Jacquard’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Best known for his high-energy quartet Partisans, alongside Phil Robson, Thad Kelly and Gene Calderazzo, it’s great to hear saxophonist/composer Julian Siegel venturing out into the big-band arena with his excellent new release “Tales from the Jacquard”. One thing that’s constant with Siegel’s music, is that it’s always firmly anchored in the acoustic tradition, and this foray into the world of the big-band pleasingly follows suit. There’s a genuine authenticity that runs through much of the saxophonist’s musical output, and this new album continues that deeply respected heritage.

Recorded live for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2017, the 18-piece line-up includes a whole host of established players, including Stan Sulzmann, Jason Yarde, Henry Lowther, Liam Noble, Gene Calderazzo, Oli Hayhurst and Mark Nightingale, to name but a few. Originally commissioned by Derby Jazz, and recorded at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham, there’s particular relevance to the area, with the album title and inspiration coming from Siegel’s parents who owned a lace-making factory in the East Midlands. “I have clear memories of trips to the lace factory with my dad in the 70s,” Siegel explains, “And hearing the sound of the machines – he wanted to conduct them! My dad always had a great love for music and after work at home in Nottingham, Ellington, Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Lockjaw Davis, Paul Gonsalves and Ben Webster would be on the turntable as well as a lot of classical music. It seemed like a natural thing to try and explore the lace-making process and use this research to inspire new music.”

The lace-making process and the Jacquard cards, which controlled the lace knitting machines, act as the introduction to the three-part central piece of the album, “Tales from the Jacquard, Parts 1 to 3.” The heart-beat of the machinery opens the proceedings, before Liam Nobel’s gentle yet focussed piano leads the listener into an ever-changing, expansive musical journey fuelled by intrepid melodies and charismatic playing. Rhythmic, stylish and exciting, there’s a distinctive feel to the music that centres on the history and tradition, whilst plotting a course of refreshing originality throughout the whole of the suite. For much of its thirty-minute running time, there’s an intense, fast-moving pace that reflects the looms themselves, with their driving rhythms, pausing only occasionally for some minimalist respite.

A similar vibe continues with the rest of the album, with five further tracks offering a great mix of intelligent writing and arranging and wonderful soloing, making for a highly enjoyable and entertaining listen. “Blues” does what it says on the tin, a darker, somewhat apocalyptic feel punctuated by Jason Yarde’s fabulously turgid yet effervescent alto sax. “Song” is an expanded version of the track that appeared on Siegel’s excellent quartet album “Vista”. A much lighter piece, with some beautiful touches, solos from Mark Nightingale and Percy Pursglove add to the overall warmth and subtlety of the tune. Siegel utilises his orchestra to the full on the wonderful “The Missing Link” with captivating, energetic solos from trumpeter Claus Stotter and Siegel himself. Another tune originally featured on “Vista” is the angular, radiant “The Goose”. Great solos feature, but it’s that old-school big band punchy sound that’s the killer. Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy In D” closes the set, with its brisk, sunny sound bringing joy and sunshine even on a gloomy, dismal day. This whole album raises the spirits. An excellent recording with a great atmosphere, exactly as a live album should be.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Julian Siegel Quartet ‘Vista’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Bram Weijters’ Crazy Men ‘The Return’ LP/CD (Sdban Ultra) 4/5

Led by Antwerp based keys man Bram Weijters, The Crazy Men are a hot mess of talent from the vibrant Belgian jazz scene, known for their work with STUFF, Dans Dans, Cargo Mas and Lucid Lucia (ex BRZZVLL). Their 2019 debut, “Here They Come” was focused on 70s Belgian jazz-rock and fusion and “The Return” continues in that vein with fourteen adventurous reworkings of compositions from artists like Philip Catherine, Placebo, Palle Mikelborg Ensemble, Bob Porter, Cos and the original Crazy Man, Koen de Bruyne.

A cleansing, percussion and piano showered, spiritual wash expresses “The Beginning” of things before a tight and loose, pulsing, deliciously sleazy, dimly lit rework of Catherine’s “Nineteen Seventy Fourths” fusion awakens and continues.

The next three bits are de Bruyne. Firstly the gently-rendered “The Silver Eye” is a gorgeous, lush piano soother; “Pathetic Sounds” is a futuristic fusion belcher with well-honed Mwandishi meets Roni Size layers and a DnB-busy Steve Cassiers drum energy; and “The Silver End” ends thrillingly unresolved with its noir filmic tension.

Placebo’s “Planes” is separated into a trop hip, smoky intro and a main funky organ vs horn standoff; its rolling energy throwing out the back-n-forth rough-n-tumble of a pair of flick-haired, Trimm Trab-donning football firms on a spring Saturday afternoon. The two Planes sandwich Jack Van Poll’s word and piano-intro’d “Objíždka” that builds to a swinging, undulating rhythm, caressing horns and sax expression in a less big Kamasi style.

“Carol” is just lovely. Refreshing, it romantically speaks of mornings when awareness of the hum of activity through chiffon voiled open windows only highlights the beauty of that moment you’re fortunate to share with Carol. “Nasca” benefits from both its lack of Kyle Busch and its confident ability to agilely shift from laid back cool into a tighter driven, tumbling exploration and then a bring-it-down-let-the-sax-speak break with effortless concord.

The happily self-aware titled “Transvested Express Postaeolian Train Robbery” brings a bit of Cos prog-jazz to proceedings. After the initial time sig porn there’s a satisfyingly twilight 70s urban vibe – a no brain score for one of those Columbo in-contemplation motel moments prior to the stuntman-swapped fire escape stair chase.

“Chiang Mai” is gently fragranced in the east, allowing momentary synthy reflective meditation. “Chief of Freen Bean Oh Boy” is a fun fusion in the style of the less out there 70s players. Although it has little edge it does still rock and charm. “Reine De La Vallée” is a smooth, bluesy, soulful wrap-up – like an instrumental, much more agreeable Van Morrisson.

There’s so much to like here. Something about it reminds me of the charm of the early 90’s DJ + musician exploration into hip jazz – people like United Future Organization. It’s a very different aesthetic, sure, and a higher level of musicianship, but what I enjoyed so much about that stuff I enjoy about this too. It feels easily hip and hopefully romantic, it has an authenticity of purpose, a palpable love of the music it takes as inspiration. And it has a coherence; the Crazy Men inherently know how to keep the musical ball rolling, with their own voice, creating a compelling, varied story without any indulgence unfitting to the inclusive vibe. Give it a spin, you’d be crazy not to.

Ian Ward

Astral Travelling Since 1993