New Jersey-born pianist George Colligan was a familiar face in Scotland back when Henry’s Cellar Bar in Edinburgh hosted jazz almost every night of the week, and on the evidence of this album with his current quartet, it’s time he returned.
Composition was always as strong a part of Colligan’s armoury as onstage spontaneity and his writing here, especially on the trio tracks, continues to showcase a talent for clean, clear melodies that stay with the listener long after the album’s finished and develop into full-on dramas.
Add tenor and soprano saxophonist Nicole Glover to a group that comprises the steadfast and pliable Linda May Han Ho and the brilliantly effervescent Rudy Royston on drums alongside Colligan, and the drama increases exponentially in teethy quartet pieces such as More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine and the initially bold, strong statement of Empty that grows more excitingly fractious with every minute.
Colligan’s playing is always supremely confident and unfailingly fluent, with ideas tumbling forth on the flying opener, Whiffle Ball, and he’s sufficiently generous as a bandleader to let Glover, on soprano, and Royston go toe to toe in a marvellous sax-drums throwdown on The Nash.
From The Herald, July 7, 2017
Theo Croker, St Luke’s
If Theo Croker thinks jazz is a dying art form he should listen to his band. The trumpeter made this pessimistic observation, perhaps with tongue in cheek, one number into a gig that must have been akin to what journalist-turned-manager Jon Landau heard in Bruce Springsteen before making his famous “the future” statement.
It might be placing an unfair burden to confer similar status on Croker & Co but they justified it here.
This was a prime example of learning from the past and taking the lessons forward, an utterly invigorating and life-affirming performance from musicians who individually had the power to enthral and collectively the talent to captivate.
In Michael King, Croker has a pianist of breath-taking skill. His every contribution was immense: improvisations that combined conservatoire-level chops with mastery of jazz language and inventiveness; accompaniments full of drive, ideas and variety. And the sense he gave that every number should be a gripping adventure, at the very least, permeated the quintet.
Croker himself is a multi-faceted player, now coolly considered, now playing on the edge of his emotions, and his frontline partner, Anthony Ware added a big tenor saxophone personality and the ability to form rhythmical phrases consistently into a cogent, fascinating narrative.
With bassist Ameen Saleem and drummer Francesco Ciniglio joining King in adding muscle, crisply-executed intricacy, sensitivity and sheer fizz to make Joe Henderson’s A Shade of Jade swing improbably hard, fast and excitingly and allow Croker’s feature of My Funny Valentine to sing a very personal blues, this was a night that people will look back on and say, “I was there” – possibly whether they were there or not!
Jay Phelps, City of Music Studio
Canadian trumpeter Jay Phelps brings a world of influences and a catalogue of tales to life in his current set list. From Stratford upon Avon, where he suffered a broken rib while rescuing his mum’s dog from a canal, to Barcelona, Thailand and Brazil, Phelps relayed the music that came from an enforced lay-off and extensive travels through work with a celebratory spirit alongside some social comment and a positive spin on a love song whose inspiration no longer deserves his poetic affection.
Angel, or possibly ex-Angel to be more accurate, was one of several instances that showed Phelps as a capable, smooth soul singer as well as a trumpeter with a strong, firm tone and a sure talent for building expressive, exploratory and satisfying solos from simple, direct phrases.
In a set that majored on upbeat forward motion, Phelps used a variety of rhythms that projected a feel-good vibe and showcased his band’s copious talents. Pianist Rick Simpson, who could be heard rattling through Chopin-esque exercises with apparent ease during the soundcheck, produced a fund of ideas, all played with vigour, poise, precision and great feeling, and engaged in a series of clearly mutually inspiring trading sequences with Phelps.
Their understanding and ability to drive one another forward was particularly noticeable on Everybody’s Ethnic, Phelps’ statement on racial equality, whose Latin American groove allowed bassist Mark Lewandowski to demonstrate his muscular sureness and the splendid drummer Will Glaser to show his very musical approach while propelling the piece with detail and heft. All in all, an excellent opening night session from a band of superbly matched and warmly communicative talents.
Neil Cowley Trio, St Luke’s
It is easy to understand why Neil Cowley’s piano skills have been sought by pop singers including Adele and Emeli Sande. Cowley’s own music may be about as far away from mass market acceptance as his group is from the conventional jazz piano trio, yet underneath the knotty motifs and aggressive minimalism there is a pop sensibility and the kind of digging into the rhythm elbow grease that gave birth to Rolling in the Deep’s essential groove.
NCT’s latest work takes them further into prog rock territory, especially with computer-driven chords that sound a bit 1970s despite the involvement of state of the art software and bassist Rex Horan’s doubling as rather grandiose and endearingly theatrical keyboard lick provider. With his bearded boffin mien, he surely missed a trick with early Supertramp or Van der Graaf Generator.
This is all part of the wacky charm, though, not to mention part of a masterly dynamic plan. If ever a band knew what it was doing, down to the very demisemiquaver, it’s NCT. Where a conventional piano trio might improvise, NCT introduces pin-sharp variety of colour or abrupt and brilliantly choreographed changes of mood, and in The City and the Stars, even allowing for a very NCT-like stop-start figure, it has a pop song working its way through the arrangement.
They stand accused – and may plead guilty – of using repetitiveness for effect and of bombast, although these are contrasted with prayerfully sensitive solo piano passages or downright lovely tender, bowed bass reflection. The most repeated phrase, though, with the exacting drummer Evan Jenkins somehow finding added layers of intensity, produced undeniable, audience-lifted-from-seats excitement.
Tony Allen: Tribute to Art Blakey, Old Fruitmarket
Art Blakey never played at Glasgow Jazz Festival. The hard bop pioneering drummer and serial talent scout, having died three or four years into its thirty-one year lifespan, remains one of just a few of the music’s real heavy hitters to have evaded the festival’s programmers. His spirit was present in this tribute by Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, though, especially through the tunes arguably most associated with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers: A Night in Tunisia and Bobby Timmons’ gospel-flavoured Moanin’.
Not that Allen adhered to any kind of Blakey script or formula. He did it his way, working in a quartet, rather than in a sextet or septet as were Blakey’s chosen formats, and substituting his super-relaxed, lightly applied Afro-beat for Blakey’s hard swinging, propulsive approach.
Bronislau Kaper’s Invitation, the first of half-a-dozen tunes that illustrated Blakey’s ability to spot compositional talent as well as outstanding musicianship in his charges, was a persuasive opener, played at quite a reduced pace compared to the one another jazz icon, Jaco Pastorius, used in making his rollicking version the industry standard. All four musicians took a solo, serving notice that each had chops enough to spare.
While there was ample room for self-expression, however, with Cuban saxophonist Irving Acao displaying an unhurried but still hot style, bassist Mathias Allamane exuding strong presence and a sumptuous tone and pianist Jean Phi Dary adding Rhodes piano licks and spiritual-sounding scat vocals on Tunisia, the music was really about the feeling of well-being and the pulse that Allen’s immaculate drumming generates.
As his one rather rambling chat suggested, Allen prefers to let his playing do his talking for him and it’s a very musical form of conversation. He has a fabulously understated touch, stroking hi hat and snare drum with quiet precision, highlighting the melody with beautifully placed accents and producing a singing tone from the toms.
The evening ended with the space in front of the stage filling up with dancers, no surprise really considering the rhythm that flows from Allen’s sticks and limbs.
An Evening with Ginger Baker, Old Fruitmarket
An Evening with Ginger Baker was indeed what the legendary drummer with Cream delivered. Despite health issues, which he went into in some detail, Baker still drums and leads his current band, Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, with authority if without quite the stamina of yore. His quartet played just the four numbers, beginning with Wayne Shorter’s Footprints and continuing in similar modal style with increasingly African flavours.
What the evening lacked in musical duration, however, it made up for in Baker’s willingness to engage with his audience. Each number was prefixed or suffixed with either a health update or a ruefully wry recollection, such as the time Baker drove his car off the Atlas mountains and landed in an olive tree, and in the Q & A session that opened the second half, he was good value, giving by turns generous, entertaining and often insightful responses or amusingly short shrift.
Baker’s is a life that has ranged from trad jazz to hard rock and from being welcomed into the inner sanctum of African superstars to playing polo, and he covered quite a lot of it.
His parting shot, Why? – complete with audience participation and a smoothly executed detour into Wade in the Water – is Baker’s rage against ill-fortune. Everything happens to him, and at seventy-seven, he’s still being ripped off by record companies. It’s a more jovial tune than its context would suggest, though, and with double bassist Alec Dankworth switching to bass guitar and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis ruminating over Baker and percussionist Abass Dodoo’s forthright drum patterns it closed the evening with a mood of celebratory defiance.
From The Herald, June 26, 2017
A new, beautifully reappointed venue and a morning slot in Perth Festival of the Arts’ programme gave two of Scotland’s leading young jazz players a platform for their talents.
Perth-born saxophonist Helena Kay and pianist Peter Johnstone are both past holders of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title and as befits their status, they produced a concert of high class, intimately played music. Both musicians are composers and their original pieces reinforced particularly the wit and imagination, in Kay’s case, and the harmonic awareness, in Johnstone’s, that they also brought to the more familiar numbers they included.
Kay produces a beautiful tone on tenor with occasional hints of her early alto-playing heroes, such as Art Pepper, in the higher register and a full, rounded, burnished sound elsewhere. Her improvisations are superbly well constructed, always keeping the original theme within touching distance, and her use of pauses and space adds both to the overall beguiling effect and the sense of genuine instant composition.
She and Johnstone, despite not having worked in a duo together much at all previously, showed a great rapport, sometimes switching soloist and accompanist roles and each responding to the other’s ideas and phrasing. Their take on Bill Evans’ Very Early swung with marvellous subtlety as Johnstone, who has a veritable rhythm section in his left hand, injected measured urgency, and the enjoyment they find in working together was clearly audible on Kay’s favourite standard, I’m in the Mood for Love as Kay revelled in Johnstone’s cheeky variations. Kay’s own pert and swinging Mini Max V also emphasised the duo’s good-natured mutual understanding.
From The Herald, May 22, 2017
There are quite a few Ella Fitzgerald tribute shows doing the rounds in this, arguably the greatest jazz singer of all’s centenary year, each of them focusing on different aspects of Fitzgerald’s long career. This one surveys and cherry picks from her association with the guitar marvel, Joe Pass. In doing so, it features familiar, evergreen songs including You Took Advantage of Me and They Can’t Take That Away from Me. It also has the added bonus of offering a guitar master class.
It’s a family affair: Dundonian Alison Burns sings the songs, sedately and without over-elaboration, and her father-in-law, Martin Taylor frames them with exquisite guitar accompaniments. He also takes on much of the audience communication, going off-piste slightly to recollect past Perth gigs with violinist Stephane Grappelli and giving entertaining insights into what it’s like to give guitar lessons in Folsom Prison.
We could have done with hearing more about his experiences with Pass in America, because he’s such a good raconteur, and getting more background to the songs from Burns. Taylor’s two golden solo spots were worth turning up to hear in themselves, however.
His ability to summon up interlocking melody, rhythm and bass parts is no longer a novelty but there are times, as on I Got Rhythm here, when he sets off at such a sprint on the lower strings that it seems unlikely that the rest of the arrangement can possibly fall into place. It does, and exhilaratingly so. He can make fewer notes count, too, though, and his blues-drenched, teased-out intro to Burns’ singing of I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So was pure string-picking poetry.
From The Herald, May 19, 2017
There will be jazz orchestra concerts that create much bigger musical storms and specifically Scottish National Jazz Orchestra concerts that feature more familiar instrumentation. This one, though, has to go down as particularly special. It was the sort of occasion that illustrates how there’s no substitute for being in the room where and when the music is being played, even when that music features on iconic recordings.
SNJO director Tommy Smith, who cast himself in the unusual role as conductor, had worked on the original scores of Gil Evans’s arrangements of Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess and expanded the woodwind section, and the result was gorgeously defined, beautifully dynamic settings for the soloists, trumpeters Laura Jurd and Tom MacNiven, who were filling Miles Davis’s shoes.
These are entirely different players and yet they both managed to inhabit the Miles zone while bringing their own personalities to the music. Jurd was measured, playing themes with delicate poise and improvising with a relaxed certainty as an ensemble including French horns, oboe, bassoon, trumpets and trombone produced light, pastel colours and swelled with immaculate pacing on Sketches’ lovely Saeta.
MacNiven, meanwhile is a SNJO treasure, next to Smith its longest serving player. Usually to be found in the trumpet section or introducing an element of mischief into the soloing order, in Porgy & Bess he was the trumpet playing equivalent of an understated star tenor in an opera. His flugelhorn brought soulful weight to the more solemn melodies and his muted trumpet take on Here Come De Honey Man, particularly, demonstrated his mastery at producing jazz with an unquenchable inner gleam.
From The Herald, May 1, 2017
The colour and movement mentioned in the title are articulated in twelve tracks embracing twelve different keys and a variety of time signatures but forget technical detail, this is music that communicates through its sheer attractiveness.
Saxophonist Brian Molley came late to recording, releasing his first album, Clock, in 2013 after many years of concerts, sessions and theatre work, and this second instalment from his quartet finds him creating similarly luxuriant melodies, dancing metres and warm atmospheres with the benefit of the group’s foreign travels and gigging experience as a unit.
The Pushkar Push evokes a camel festival they encountered in India with its slow, relaxed rhythm. Picayne Slinky has drummer Stuart Brown fashioning a crisp New Orleans accent and features a typically creative piano solo from the increasingly impressive Tom Gibbs, and bassist Mario Caribe switches to guitar for the flute-led Brazilian sashay of A Borboleta.
Molley himself is marvellous, always expressive and absolutely sure-footed. Superb readings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ballad, Cheer Up Charlie, a disguised That Old Black Magic and a reed chorale take on Ellington’s Solitude offer known quantities but Molley’s brilliantly written originals will quickly become just as familiar.
From The Herald, April 28, 2017
For a song dealing with inspiration’s failure to materialise, Fini Bearman’s The Idea doesn’t half blossom in performance. London-based Bearman is more of a singer-songwriter than a conventional jazz singer and as a performer she’s very much part of a five-piece band rather than a singer with a rhythm section, a point that comes across particularly when she uses rhythmical vocal lines to build the mood alongside finely judged guitar vamps from the subtly impressive Nick Costley-White.
Bearman’s own lyrics may often address timeless issues such as broken romances but she lives in a modern world where screensavers, for example, enter her muse unselfconsciously and with a warm, clear and expressive voice she brings a sense of realism and even practicality to her storytelling style.
She’s helped demonstrably in putting this across by tightly executed group arrangements, with a leaning towards art-rock in the bass lines and grooves, and superb individual playing from Matt Robinson on keyboards, who traded keen, incisive lines with Costley-White before Bearman brought Maybe Next Year to a strikingly effective voice-led conclusion.
I Know I Alone and Such a Fool illustrated Bearman’s ability to adapt poems – from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and e. e. cummings respectively – into natural-sounding songs and her encore took the wise words of thirteenth century Sufi mystic Rumi further into the realm of Brazilian carnivals than they possibly have been before.
Much of this music comes from Bearman’s latest album, Burn the Boat, released last year, but Endless Clouds, written in the wake of the American presidential election result, shows that she’s already producing material of a similarly fine quality in readiness for the follow-up.
From The Herald, April 19, 2017
Originally a saxophone, bass and drums trio – and they may well return to this format – London-based Partikel have been expanding their sound and line-up over the past two or three years with fascinating results.
They’ve worked with a string quartet and their most recent trip to Scotland featured violinist Benet McLean, who joins the brilliant guitarist Ant Law, cellist Matthew Sharp, flautist and baritone saxophonist Anna Cooper and electronics artist Sisi Lu in enhancing the core trio on this superbly adventurous and restlessly investigative third album.
There’s no sense of a group working with guests; all the cast are fully integrated when called upon into music that can turn on a knife-edge from winsome, atmospheric melody making to dark, hard riffing.
Most of the compositions are by saxophonist Duncan Eagles who writes strong themes and forms a close partnership with McLean, notably on the initially melancholic Lanterns and over Law’s insistent guitar figure on Moving Fields before the guitarist demonstrates his marvellously fluent improvising.
Bolden Days, in tribute to jazz trumpet pioneer Buddy Bolden, stirs in New Orleans influences and a bamboo flute interlude to further illustrate the contrasts and detail at work in this constantly stimulating music.
From The Herald, April 14, 2017
There’s a prevailing optimism about Colin Steele’s first quintet recording since Through the Waves marked the trumpeter’s signing with one of Europe’s leading jazz labels, Act in 2005.
Steele has been in some pretty dark places since then, as the title of this new album suggests, much of the problem stemming from bad advice regarding improvements to his playing technique and the work he had to do to get back on track.
This hasn’t affected his ability to come up with earworm-like melodies such as the one that propels There Are Angels or let his band loose on waltzing rhythmical progressions as exemplified by Robin Song.
As with previous Steele quintet albums, the trumpeter is indebted to pianist Dave Milligan’s inspirational arrangements, which underline Steele’s Scottish folk tendencies and give the music a gospel-flavoured groove and forward motion.
Milligan’s soloing is also an uplifting presence, not least on the Scottish hard bop-styled final section of Down to the Wire, and while Steele’s own improvising often takes on a confiding tone, saxophonist Michael Buckley probes every neuk and cranny on tenor and soprano and adds to the gallus swagger of Looking for Nessie.
From The Herald, March 24, 2017
Music technology and the jazz big band tradition came together very effectively here in Jazz Jigsaw, the successor to Wagner’s School of Cool, which won the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Community / Education Project at the New Music Scotland Awards 2017.
Composer of Wagner’s School of Cool, Lewis Forbes created Jazz Jigsaw in four movements, each involving students from Braidburn and Pilrig Park Special Schools interacting with their contemporaries in Edinburgh Schools Jazz Orchestra.
Forbes’s writing is easily accessible, using simple but strong themes and rhythmical grooves that stay with the listener after the music stops. The opening movement, Firework Fusion, wouldn’t have sounded out of place as the theme tune to an American television crime drama and its warm brass and horn harmonies showcased the ESJO’s tight ensemble playing alongside its crisp rhythm section.
Submarine Scene and Cityscape Strut both conveyed readily imaginable visual scenes in the writing, the latter kicking along on a well-executed keyboard-driven boogaloo, and invited accomplished trombone and saxophone solos and impromptu interaction through electronic technology, including splendid use of the soundbeam to construct a synth-like solo that had impressive shape, imagination and stop-on-the-beat discipline.
What came across most forcibly was the enthusiasm and sense of involvement from everyone on the stage, with accordion and percussion fills adding to the freedom of expression and slap bass guitar lines propelling the eponymous final movement, Jazz Jigsaw, in its able drawing together of all the suite’s components to create a satisfying resolution.
An excellent, uplifting showcase, overall, for the great pioneering work being done by Drake Music Scotland and for the dedication of everyone involved in presenting a musical experience enhanced by back-projected images and filmed action sequences.
You’d never know that Corrie Dick is a recent arrival into pianist Elliot Galvin’s trio. The Glasgow-born, London-based Dick, who won the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title in 2013, wasn’t the drummer on the album that Galvin is touring to promote, Punch, but he has assimilated himself into the twists, turns and idiosyncrasies of Galvin’s music so well that it seemed as if he’d been involved in its conception.
Galvin presents a deeply involved and thoroughly evolved musical experience. There are pieces that sound as if drawn from the soul of Eastern European folk melodies. Others touch on African folklore and instrumentation in the shape of a thumb piano or completely reinvent items from the standards repertoire. Still others take an original theme and develop it through a multitude of variations, and that’s before we get to the sheer theatre of the trio interacting with a Punch & Judy soundtrack or Galvin’s virtuosic extemporising on a melodica.
A particular favourite involved Galvin literally tearing strips off a roll of gaffer tape into the microphone as Tom McCredie played a muscular bassline and then improvising with jaw-dropping facility on piano keys whose strings were dampened with said strips of tape. Lulu’s Back in Town featured similar keyboard brilliance, sounding like the product of a liaison between Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Cecil Taylor and Scott Joplin, and Mack the Knife, with its familiar melody whistled over a juddering, reconfigured rhythm, took an engaging walk on the wild side. That all this passes to the listener so easily, and often so entertainingly, is a tribute to Galvin’s wit, wisdom and inclusive musicality.
From The Herald, March 20, 2017
The opening statement on Henry Spencer’s debut album may come from the trumpeter alone, as he plays an introduction that has a certain New Orleans bluesy swagger, but the ten tracks herein as a whole demonstrate this exciting recent arrival on the British jazz scene’s abilities as a bandleader and composer-orchestrator as much as his prodigious trumpet and flugelhorn talent.
A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and recipient of Help Musicians UK’s Emerging Excellence Award, Spencer is a technically assured player who conceives music in song form and arranges with a strong sense of structure while also giving his musicians room to open up and express themselves. His close partnership with guitarist Nick Costley-White results in variously gentle ballad playing and urgent, bravura lines from both musicians and his excellent rhythm section are keenly tuned in to his melodic ideas and dynamic variations.
The sheer attack of Still Open to Confusion contrasts with Eulogy (Goodbye Old Chap)’s gentle lyricism and on the final two tracks, as quintet becomes nonet with the arrival of a string section, Spencer’s clear focus produces music that’s strong, direct, dramatic and emotionally involving.
From The Herald, March 3, 2017
Joe Locke didn’t need to confess to being an emotional sort of guy as he composed himself to give his thanks at the end of this concert. The vibraphonist had, by then, already been singing the blues for a couple of hours on an instrument that doesn’t always lend itself to such frank expression, his four pink-topped mallets landing meaningful affectionate blows on the chime bars with unerring certainty.
Locke and his discovery, California-based singer Kenny Washington were the focus of this celebration of two great songwriters whose work is readily familiar but was here given smart new arrangements as typified by the sumptuous orchestral voicings and kicking energy with which Locke himself revitalised Johnny Mandel’s The Shadow of Your Smile.
They make a contrasting pair, these two Americans. While Locke is outgoing to the point of flamboyance as he transfers the phrases in his head to his instrument with lightning reflexes, Washington is physically undemonstrative and self-contained, his immaculate clarity borne on a beautifully warm tone that paints pictures with words.
On one detour from the Mancini & Mandel script that included a superbly paced Moon River and a romping Pink Panther, Locke recalled the late saxophonist Bob Berg and not only did Washington capture the feelings and scene that Locke had described in introducing Verrazano Moon, but you could just imagine Berg emoting on its evocative melody.
In a nice touch, the guests were given the encore to themselves and sent the audience home with a vocal and vibraphone duet of Locke’s Available in Blue that provided a perfectly poised soulful coda.
From The Herald, February 28, 2017
It almost goes without saying that jazz musicians are composers. Their music, at its best, is in a constant state of recreation and ideas happened upon while exploring one piece might well reappear in some form as another composition entirely.
Even so, Polish guitarist Szymon Mika and his group take an approach to performance that’s composer-like in the extreme. Without giving any impression of repeating a previous gig, Mika, bassist Max Mucha and the wonderful New York-based drummer Ziv Ravitz played two sets here that were carefully structured and beautifully balanced.
Mika’s improvisations are thoughtful explorations that contain little hint of displaying chops, although he clearly has the jazz guitar vocabulary at his disposal. He’s all about creating fluent variations and diversions that have a logical, always melodic thread. Storytelling is the useful shorthand and he uses his technique – a combination of fingerstyle and plat-picking – in a sort of conversation with himself that he projects easily to the listener.
With an attentive audience the trio rewarded concentration with subtle interplay, painstaking detail and a huge range of colours. Mika can play with crunch as well as gentleness and Ravitz, who can motor very intensely at low volume, injected an indie rock-like urgency on occasion to great effect.
As is composers’ wont, Mika also occasionally integrates existing melodies into his own style. His reading of Sleep Safe and Warm, Krzysztof Komeda’s lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby became a soul ballad that sang directly through his warm tone and expressive extemporising, and his own opening number reappeared in a different guise at the end to give a satisfying feeling of resolution to a thoroughly involving group performance.
From The Herald, February 27, 2017
There’s possibly an underlying justification in saxophonist Trish Clowes being a BASCA award winner. BASCA is the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and Clowes is all of these things on this album, recorded with three outstandingly sympathetic musicians.
Storyteller might be more apt than author, as each piece has a narrative behind it, and there’s certainly a songlike quality to much of Clowes’ writing, which in the case of Tap Dance (For Baby Dodds) couches a serious point about the Atlantic slave trade in an addictive groove.
As both a composer and an improviser Clowes has a lovely melodic turn of phrase, especially on soprano where she sounds a little like Wayne Shorter at times, and as well as being happy to become part of a sometimes knotty rhythm section she gives her musicians, especially the wonderful Ross Stanley (on piano and organ), plenty of room in which to express themselves.
Chris Montague’s guitar stings and rumbles admirably and James Maddren drums with his customary thoughtful assertiveness as the quartet collectively probes pieces that incorporate space, momentum, proggy riffing and the quietly affecting atmosphere of guest singer-composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian’s Muted Lines with consistently fascinating results.
From The Herald, February 10, 2017
Christine Tobin relocated to Brooklyn shortly after recording this latest album so we’ve still to hear what effect her new surroundings will have on the Dubliner’s music.
Chances are she’ll always sound like herself anyway as these settings of poems and lyrics by Paul Muldoon use a wide variety of arrangements and give hints of influences from the Beatles to John Martyn and Tom Waits yet could only be Tobin’s creations.
She has long had a way of appropriating other people’s words and giving them her unique storytelling spin with a voice that can be dreamy, mischievous, sultry and forthright.
To that talent she’s added composing and arranging gifts that have taken her far beyond any perceived confines of the jazz singer’s milieu, although jazz-friendly ears will enjoy the occasional piano, flute and guitar solos here.
Opening track Zoological Positivism Blues inhabits a junkyard groove. Promises, Promises is a complete contrast with its exquisite strings but all of Pelt combines to make an assured, wonderfully imaginative work.
From The Herald, January 6, 2017
Clackmannanshire-born drummer Jonathan Silk won the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title in 2014, by which time he was already making his presence felt on the jazz scene in Birmingham where he graduated from the conservatoire three years earlier.
Fragment is his second album and it showcases his talents not just as a drummer but as a composer and orchestrator. Scored for a nineteen-piece big band supplemented by a thirteen-strong string section, it’s ambitious in scale and adventurous in its approach, drawing together brassy power, a crisp, dynamic rhythm section and the strings’ gracefulness and colour with skill, sensitivity, urgency, and descriptiveness.
Silk studied with top American composer-arrangers Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider and while their influence is audible there are Scottish tones too, notably on Buchaille, and a loose-limbed African quality to Barefeet. At nearly eleven minutes, Fool’s Paradise is quite the epic, swirling keyboards, riffing guitar and whipcrack drums leading to an intimate horn and piano duet before the full ensemble gathers momentum. Impressive stuff.
From The Herald, December 23, 2016
Steps Ahead founder Mike Mainieri has been enjoying expanding the long-running fusion outfit’s music lately.
In June the vibraphonist joined the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra for a Steps Ahead celebration and here he leads another one with a group of Steps Ahead alumni at the heart of a big band arranged by regular SNJO collaborator Michael Abene.
It’s by no means the small band with added horns affair it might appear on paper as Abene involves the WDR players thoroughly, adding richness and colour but also bringing clear focus to music that’s variously intense, atmospheric, relaxed and pop hook-like in its simplicity as well as intricate and sophisticated.
The WDR players also go toe to toe with Mainieri & co on solos, with trombonist Shannon Barnett igniting the swinging Steppish and Paul Heller trading hot tenor lines with Bill Evans on Oops.
Essentially joyful, Steppin’ Out can also surprise, as witness drummer Steve Smith integrating Indian vocables into his solo on the dizzying Beirut.
From The Herald, November 18, 2016
Preservation and renewal were at the heart of this excellent celebration of one of jazz’s major pioneering figures. In the sixty-one years since his death, many have sought to capture Charlie Parker’s spirit. His tunes are still rites of passage for jazz players, and not just for those who take up his chosen instrument, the alto saxophone.
The exhilarating thing about Parker’s music for the listener, as well as his disciples, is the sheer flow of his creativity, often on melodies he superimposed onto existing chord sequences, and there were some marvellous examples here of giving his ideas new forms while maintaining something of the original.
Moose the Mooche opened the concert by letting the entire Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, certainly in ensemble and more or less individually, pick up Parker’s baton. The pace was bebop brisk, the section work crisp, tight and precise as the horns negotiated the melody’s hair-pin bends before a team of soloists queued up to take a chorus.
If this was from the text book, elsewhere the arrangements became more expansive, more enquiring. Julian Arguelles’ take on My Little Suede Shoes and Martin Kershaw’s on Anthropology made particularly imaginative use of both Parker’s ideas and the orchestral colour available, with flutes and mutes and clarinets being key features.
As well as emphasising SNJO’s high collective sound quality, these re-imaginings – the young trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ adaptation of Drifting on a Reed was another example – spurred the soloists’ creativity. Recent recruit Peter Johnstone’s encapsulation of keyboard power and subtlety on Anthropology was quite the tour de force and another indicator of the orchestra’s own propensity for regeneration.
From The Herald, November 14, 2016
Thomas Stronen’s Time is a Blind Guide is a group, he says, made up of three trios yet only five musicians. The Norwegian drummer and percussionist’s description might seem like a conundrum on paper but onstage it makes perfect sense.
There are passages for piano, double bass and drums, others for violin, cello and bass and still more for a percussion trio, which in the absence of the two percussionists from the group’s recent, self-titled ECM Records debut, comprises Stronen himself, violinist Hakon Aase on tambour and bassist Ole Morten Vagan drumming on his instrument.
All five musicians also play at once and in other combinations as the music develops, often from loose, abstract beginnings but with a gradual certainty into beautifully realised melodic statements that are as compelling as they are instantly familiar.
Perched on an unusually high drum stool and incorporating gongs and a marching band bass drum, Stronen has a physically commanding presence but is as subtle an embodiment of perpetual motion as you’re likely to see. His kit provides colour and definition as much as rhythm and his just-so interactions with pianist Kit Downes add to the music’s airy sense of atmosphere and processional nature.
It’s clearly an ongoing band as there were new pieces, such as the painterly Fugitive Pieces and Bella, with its dancing Eurasian melody given a thoroughly involving ensemble surge, as well as the Chinese-influenced Pipa, from the album, where Aase’s pizzicato violin took on a definite Oriental accent as Vagan and cellist Lucy Railton gently but intently strummed. Delightfully understated, careful music overall but played with conviction and an absolute sureness of touch.
The young musicians in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland’s Futures ensemble are collectively quite a resource. This latest project aligned them with saxophonist Mark Lockheart, an experienced presence on the London scene since the 1980s whose very individual vision of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s repertoire called for much detail, precision and colour - and the Futures team carried it off like seasoned professionals.
Lockheart’s Ellington in Anticipation takes pieces including Mood Indigo, Caravan and Creole Love Call and gives them often provocative new settings. For instance, the familiar theme only emerges late in Lockheart’s My Caravan, but using violins, cello, French horns, flute, clarinets, alto sax, bass trombone and a beautifully understated rhythm section these arrangements created an atmosphere that was at once bold and empathetic.
It Don’t Mean a Thing danced with sophistication. Lockheart’s own Uptown, inspired by Ellington’s routine train journeying, conjured up a 1920s elegance that easily accommodated some bang up to date improvising from the warm-toned Lockheart on tenor and Angus Morton on alto, and Come Sunday, with its tick-tock snare drum and ensemble swell gave off a vivid sense of anticipation.
Some of the wind instrument voicings reminded me at times of Lockheart’s alma mater, Loose Tubes, a by no means unwelcome addition to the music’s character, and something of that big band’s fearlessness shone through in improvisations both from those less used to jazz soloing (take a bow, the violin section) and NYOS’s experienced jazz director, pianist Malcolm Edmonstone. What characterised the evening overall, though, was the integration of soloists and ensemble arrangements so that the music consistently moved forward, subtly, purposefully and with confidence.
From The Herald, October 24, 2016
Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim has a remarkable talent for creating music that gets under the listener’s skin with albums such as the magisterial Sangam and a superb collection of duets with accordionist Frode Haltli, Yeraz.
He’s done it again with these settings of poems by the thirteenth century Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi on which he’s joined again by Haltli and another past collaborator, cellist Svante Henryson in a quartet with Norwegian mezzo-soprano Tora Augestad.
Not your average jazz ensemble, for sure, and yet among songs that range in mood from meditative to nursery rhyme-like are some that sound like distant relatives of jazz ballads. Like Every Other Day is a good example, with Haltli’s undulating accordion the perfect foil for Augestad’s exquisite phrasing and Seim’s searching tenor.
Seim has spent much time in Egypt and his playing on both tenor and soprano is soulfully enriched by middle eastern voicings. There are also flavours from India and, less predictably, Argentina, as cello, sax and accordion dance something close to a tango.
From The Herald, October 14, 2016
Of all the many hours of music that the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra has played and shared over the past twenty-one years it’s the ensemble’s affinity with Charles Mingus that’s the most striking. The orchestra celebrated this most characterful of jazzmen’s work in the early years of this century with a firecracker of a concert and here it was again, with its distinguished guest, Norwegian double bass master Arild Andersen, metaphorically brawling, reeling and positively rocking in rhythm ’n’ hymns.
Mingus was a jazz historian. He championed the music that had gone before, celebrating Jellyroll Morton’s New Orleans spirit, Duke Ellington’s eloquence and Charlie Parker’s fluency in his own compositions and all the time, as illustrated fully here, infusing them with his own blood and guts, blues and gospel, belligerence and gumption. It was soul food when he wrote it and like Thelonious Monk’s music it has become more current with every passing year.
Though slimmed down to three in the trumpet and trombone sections, the orchestra still packed sonic power and colour. And with Andersen, who studied Mingus’s rhythm work closely, pianist Brian Kellock and drummer Alyn Cosker forming an engine room that could change gear and direction with Mingusian devilment, this was jazz with massive personality.
Andersen’s fabulous propulsion drove Haitian Fight Song with an intoxicating groove. Allon Beauvoisin’s baritone gave Moanin’ appropriate filth and force and uniformly keen soloing brought out all Mingus’ uptempo churchy jubilation and bruised ballad romance before the glorious Ecclusiastics, with Tommy Smith and Konrad Wiszniewski trading tenor saxophone phrases imbued with wit and fervour, completed the whole fabulously exhilarating shebang.
From The Herald, September 26, 2016
Ryan Quigley might have to put any plans to stop touring on hold for a while. The trumpeter has just released a new album, What Doesn’t Kill You, that includes the track The Long Journey Home, a musical articulation of his yearning for kith, kin and familiar surroundings in Scotland. He’s also put a band together to promote it, with just one change in personnel from the recording, and he might find that people want to hear what they’re doing. A lot.
It’s a band – and a repertoire – that takes its inspiration from a bygone era, the days of great direct communicators like Freddie Hubbard and Cannonball Adderley, and brings its virtues right into the here and now. Quigley’s recent years of hard travelling have given his playing and compositions added depth and authority and as well as soloing with superb confidence, especially on the album’s title track where he created fabulous tension and release with slight, repeated variations of a choice, bravura phrase, he’s leading this ultra-high class band with assurance and clear enthusiasm.
His frontline partner, tenor saxophonist Paul Booth, is a player of tremendous fertility, consistently building ecstatic, brilliantly sustained improvisations, and the American rhythm section gives a master class in taking the basic shape of a song and re-fashioning it almost wholesale spontaneously. The result is a collective that’s high on energy but also alive to changes of tempo, direction and emotion, with the push-pull partnership of the muscular bassist Michael Janisch and snap-crackle-popping drummer Clarence Penn rolling with all the soloists’ punches while also playing off the exuberant Cuban-to-gospel probings of the marvellous pianist Geoffrey Keezer.
From The Herald, September 13, 2016
Subtitled ‘The Music of Giannis Konstantinidis & Other Improvisations’ this fifth album from one of the Scottish jazz scene’s most enduring partnerships finds Rob Hall forsaking the saxophone family in favour of E flat, B flat and bass clarinets in a series of miniatures that draw on Greek mythology as well as the Turkish-born Konstantinidis’ concisely expressive melodies for inspiration.
The opening, improvised Three Views of Hades duets are by no means always as dark as the generic title might suggest, with Lyall’s bright sense of enquiry and often percussive touch at the piano bringing out the humour in Hall’s playing, and Hall’s solo bass clarinet improvisations capture gently mirthful, suitably equine characteristics in The Horses of Helios.
Konstantinidis’ writing is at the album’s heart, however, forming a twelve-part central suite that roams from the plaintive and solemn to the soulfully vivacious and finds Lyall at his expansive, exploratory best as both accompanist and improviser on Miniature No XLll with its beautifully yearning melody.
From The Herald, September 2, 2016
Ypsilanti, Michigan’s greatest gift to the blues and jazz world, Barbara Morrison is so convincing in portraying the queen of the blues, Dinah Washington that sometimes you have to remind yourself that it’s not her own seventh husband she’s talking about or her own gun she pulled on an untrustworthy agent.
Morrison sings as herself, using lived-in and elastically expressed songs from Washington’s eventful and majorly successful career to thread “The Queen’s” story together from church choir to stardom through hardship, mischief, husbands (they all “Had. To. Go”), road tales, and helpful professional advice from jazz and blues masters including Lionel Hampton and Joe Williams.
With a deferential band comprising local players Jimmy Taylor (bass), Bobby Stewart (drums), Phil Adams (guitar), and Tom Finlay (keyboard), Morrison delivered Come Rain or Come Shine with mostly the latter, had everyone on their feet for Every Day I Have the Blues and localised Ain’t Nobody’s Business with some, hopefully unfulfilled, promises of misbehaviour. A fun and very real session with a singer who quickly and emphatically got the show’s titular wish.
Run ends August 10.
From The Herald, August 8, 2016
Joe Stilgoe appears not to have had a misspent youth. Judging from this latest instalment of his survey of songs and related films – and its predecessors – every waking hour that led up to the suave, effortlessly entertaining Mr S becoming a jazz musician was devoted to accruing knowledge of the cinema and ingesting soundtracks.
The overture here, with Stilgoe alone at the piano in a Darth Vader mask, was a superb appetiser with an, at first, apparently random but presently wittily assembled running order establishing a connection with the audience that grew as he was joined by bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Ben Reynolds.
They’re more than his rhythm section; they’re essential parts of the choir-cum song and dance act-cum-sound effects unit that delivers Stilgoe’s own cineaste’s catchy boogaloo What’s On, investigates Tom & Jerry-esque slapstick and visits Sweet Charity with impressively smooth voice and double bass aplomb.
Heaven knows how many songs and tunes, not to mention films, are referenced in an hour that’s quickfire and yet somehow remarkably detailed, including the suitably eerie, torch-lit finale to the Doors’ People Are Strange during the horror section. It’s probably best not keep the score – no pun intended - and just go with the flow of an involving, smartly turned and variously rocking, swinging and casually informative presentation.
Run ends August 27.
From The Herald, August 5, 2016
David Patrick might not thank me for saying this right at this moment but the Edinburgh-based pianist should have a look and see if there are any more orchestral works that were premiered in 1913 that might have second lives as jazz pieces.
Following on from his excellent adaptation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which he has now recorded and which was reprised as an unlikely appetiser here, Patrick has tackled the Rite’s almost exact contemporary, Debussy’s Jeux, and recast it as a splendid, if anything more natural, swinging jazz ballet.
Adding two German musicians, violinist Max Grosch and Mark Lotz on flutes and piccolo, to the Scottish-German octet that performed the Rite, Patrick skilfully created an impression of greater instrument numbers and gave the piece a strong sense of storyline and momentum through both orchestration and the musicians’ soloing opportunities.
It’s a band replete with personalities, with Lotz providing forceful piccolo in the initial waltz and later taking a marvellously expressive wooden flute solo and the more familiar Tom MacNiven effervescing on trumpet and saxophonist Stewart Forbes, deputising admirably for the indisposed Brian Molley, making every softly singing note count in his tenor ballad sequence.
Being more of an extended waltz, Jeux doesn’t have quite the same attention-grabbing rhythmical bumps as the Rite, but it has much affecting writing, such as the descending figure that Grosch played with beautiful finesse before passing it on to Lotz on piccolo, and its ending, witty and piquant, may not provide the kind of blasting finale favoured by big bands but it was all the more refreshing for that.
From The Herald, July 28, 2016
It must have been something to be Jan Garbarek these past forty years and more: getting up in the morning, knowing that when you blow into your instrument you’re creating one of the most beguiling, instantly recognisable sounds in jazz. The Norwegian saxophonist hasn’t always appeared to revel in such fortune. He can seem quite severe, which he’s not, and there’s an austere beauty in some of his music.
As with his previous visit to Scotland in 2010 only more so, however, there was lightness and buoyancy and fun at work here. Bass guitarist Yuri Daniel and percussionist Trilok Gurtu laid a springy undercurrent, as well as much musical colour beneath Garbarek’s marvellously burnished tone on tenor and soprano and even the often inscrutable Rainer Bruninghaus got involved in keyboard frolics in his solo feature and duet with Daniel.
If I had a reservation about a concert that produced entrancing, dancing folk themes, magnificent tenor ballad playing and a further engrossing example of Gurtu’s inimitable water music – he even made the bucket containing the water a musical instrument – it was that the lengthy solo features sometimes interrupted the flow of a fabulous, and fabulous sounding, ensemble.
That said, the playfulness that Garbarek showed, especially in his duet on selje flute with Gurtu’s frankly amazing tabla fingering combined with an, as always, beautifully tuned, singing drum kit, and his digging in on Herman and Gurtu’s funk groove were worth turning up for in themselves. So too the encore, complete with handclaps and audience participation, of Steve Winwood’s Had to Cry Today from the Blind Faith album. Nobody, surely, saw that gem coming.
From The Herald, July 22, 2016
Emmet Cohen arrived on the jazz scene a generation or two too late to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers but the Miami-born pianist is just the kind of youthful talent that Blakey thrived on having alongside him. Cohen also has the jazz message and is a fine evangelist for the music, having its history on the tip of his tongue as well as in his very accomplished fingers.
His concert on Tuesday was one of a number he’s involved in this festival and in a young professorial way he took his subject as the piano greats and imparted informed observations ahead of pieces illustrating the legacies of such masters as Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and the undersung Cedar Walton.
In Cohen’s eyes, jazz is street music and his playing, though virtuosic, is very clear, direct and communicative. He swung Bud-hard on Powell’s Celia, played cultured blues on Walton’s Hindsight and took Monk’s Round Midnight into a compendium of dance metres, all the time working closely with and testing the fortunately highly tuned anticipatory skills of his superb drummer, Bryan Carter and Glasgow-born, now New York-based double bassist, Aidan O’Donnell.
This year’s festival cover star, Carter also sang The Nearness of You beautifully and with great soulful poise in a detour between Cohen showcasing his own compositional talent on Distant Hallow, on which his right hand improvised melodically while his left dampened and plucked the strings effectively, and celebrating Fats Waller with a slightly over-extended medley that nonetheless underlined again this still only twentysomething musician’s grasp of where jazz has been and where it might be going.
From The Herald, July 21, 2016
Ellen Andrea Wang is not the first Scandinavian woman to make currency from the line “I want to be alone”. It’s unlikely, however, that the supposed originator of the quote, Greta Garbo, who later denied that’s what she said, would have been playing a big, loping double bass figure at the time in a band that marries the spirit of free jazz with a pop sensibility and has a liking for inserting spot-on, three- and four-part vocal harmonies into a tousy blast of trumpet and tenor sax duetting.
This is Pixel, four Norwegians who are making some of the most refreshing, uninhibited, searching and accessible music on the world jazz scene at the moment. And they’re doing it on their own terms. If they want to sing about having the right to go to the generic place where Norwegians go to catch the sun, Syden, they will, and if the result sounds like Don Cherry meets the Andrews Sisters with lyrics by Quantum Jump, that’s our good fortune.
Much of this concert was simply lovely. Wang and her colleagues, trumpeter Jonas Kilmork Vemoy, saxophonist Harald Lassen and drummer Jon Audun Baar, have a wonderful way of pacing their notes, sounds and rhythms, with Vemoy using judicious, subtly enhancing electronic effects.
They can be attractively broody, as is the Nordic way, but there’s also free-flowing energy at play, not least in Call Me, where Wang gets close to frantic in a twisting, intricate vocal line that’s underpinned by an assertive, muscular bassline, chorusing horns and Baar’s relaxed urgency. They’re back in Scotland in September; try to see them if you can.
From The Herald, July 20, 2016
It’s now eight years since Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson, leader of the trio known as e.s.t., died in a diving accident, aged just forty-four. The final project discussed by Svensson and his group, a collaboration with a symphony orchestra, will be released later this year. Meanwhile, the surviving members are leading their own bands and forging their own styles.
While e.s.t. took jazz from the Thelonious Monk era as an inspiration to point towards the future, drummer Magnus Öström is creating music that’s evocative of prog rock’s 1970s heyday with the added penchant for repetition for effect that’s drawing listeners towards bands currently on the fringes of jazz such as GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands.
Öström seems quite open about finding comfort in the music and places he visited in his youth, recalling with fondness The Green Man and the French Horn, a pub he frequented while living in London in his early twenties that is now celebrated in the ballad of the same name that features on his latest album, Parachute.
His prog-rock muse has been apparent for some time. Longing, a track from an earlier album that featured in the second set, was reminiscent of prog heroes Camel and achieved more of a natural flow than the newer pieces where the interlocking of guitar, bass, keyboards and Öström’s determined drumming often produced an effect that was more easily admired than loved.
He’s an engaging host, making entertainingly droll introductions, and his drum solo was pure theatre, leading to a finale and encore that trod a fine line but ultimately succeeded in being powerfully hypnotic.
From The Herald, July 19, 2016
John McLaughlin began by expressing the hope that as many years wouldn’t pass before his next appearance in these parts as passed between this concert and the previous one, and by the time he and the 4th Dimension departed, there was a general consensus that the next time couldn’t arrive too soon.
The guitarist’s current group has been acclaimed as his best ever. That’s quite an assessment. He’s had a few contenders but there’s something about the chemistry between this quartet, a gathering from three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe - with influences from a fourth - America, that’s special.
Sure, there’s the expected virtuosity, the quick-fire phrases played with intensity and picked up in ensembles as if by telepathy. But there’s also directness, communication, excitement, beauty, and tenderness. To all intents and purposes, this is a blues band, if one operating at a rarefied level and with ‘Indo-bebop’ as the blues’ prefix.
Homages to absent friends appeared throughout the set: to Jaco Pastorius, briefly in the encore; to Carlos Santana, in a marvellous ballad duet of CS between McLaughlin and Gary Husband on keys and in the guitar tone and phrasing on Pharoah Sanders’ lovely Light at the Edge of the World; and to Paco de Lucia in the soulfully delivered El Hombre que Sabia.
The unstated absentee was Miles Davis. There weren’t many occasions when McLaughlin’s mentor’s trumpet couldn’t have slotted in and he’d surely have approved of Ranjit Barot’s vocalised rhythms and ultra-dynamic drum conversations with Husband, of Etienne M’Bappe’s extraordinary, meaningful bass guitar facility, and of McLaughlin’s own apparently undimmable passion, grace and fire.
From The Herald, July 18, 2016
Message in a Bottle was a game changer. The Police hit, as played by Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewsky’s trio in this opening night concert, may have simply continued jazz’s long tradition of appropriating pop songs but it also illustrated how this group can take material from other sources and render it almost as if they’d composed it themselves.
With Wasilewsky’s powerful left hand attack pushing it purposefully along, the song also brought the concert out of an initially contemplative, careful mood, with the opening ballad giving an impression of this world travelling group casting thoughts towards more troubled parts, into the joyous, clear, precise and spring-heeled music-making at which it excels.
Wasilewsky, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewic have been working together for over half of their lifetimes, and they’re not exactly greybeards. Their twenty-plus years’ partnership shows, though, in their mutual understanding with Miskiewicz’s choices of patterns and strokes especially underlining the feeling of a common artistic endeavour. He might tap sticks on drum shells or fingertips on snare skin or use an altogether less gentle whack on the crash cymbal on an emphatic beat but what he plays is always what the moment requires. So too with double bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, who projects a muscular yet melodic, reassuring constancy.
Herbie Hancock’s idiosyncratic Actual Proof was another cover version taken convincingly into the group’s style, with only its familiar refrain giving its origins away, and of their own compositions, with Wasilewsky’s keen improvising richly embellishing a knack for strong themes and pedalling momentum, the beautiful Austin, Wasilewsky’s heartfelt dedication to tragic young pianist Austin Peralta, particularly stood out.
From The Herald, July 18, 2016
Despite a considerable pedigree, being the sort of player such revered jazz figures as composer-bandleaders George Russell and Carla Bley have employed profitably, London-based saxophonist Pete Hurt has remained largely in the music’s shadows over the past four decades.
This is his first release since 1994 and while he’s been busy elsewhere, including writing arrangements for West End musicals, its quality makes one wish he might issue more regular bulletins.
He writes strong, quickly memorable, optimistic melodies, often using simple, very effective ideas such as having different instruments and contrasting ensembles playing them as if in conversation, and his orchestra, which includes French horn and tuba alongside four saxes, three trumpets, three trombones and rhythm section, strikes a marvellous balance between light mobility and bustling power.
It’s all beautifully voiced, whether the mood is tender, prowling (as on Blues in the Dark’s insistent groove) or suggestive of ordered mutiny (Forbidden Fruit), and it’s delivered with warm, sumptuous accomplishment contrasted at times with raw soulfulness.
From The Herald, July 15, 2016
Clearly Stu Brown’s previous album of cartoon music wasn’t a case of that’s all folks, and thank heavens too because this second volume, in which the drummer and his merry band reproduce entire scores from Tom & Jerry, Roadrunner, Droopy and Porky Pig adventures, as well as covering Bill Frisell’s work for Gary Larsen’s Tales from the Far Side, is a belter.
Resist smiling if you can as Brown’s meticulous arrangements merge menace with carefree jollity and mix seriously detailed precision with spontaneous creativity and downright brilliant impudence.
Every track is a gem of painstaking orchestration but the slaloming Powerhouse is frankly exhilarating, Goblins in the Steeple a marvellous collision of society ball breeziness and measured spookiness and the jazz-reggae treatment of Carl Stalling’s Screwball Wabbit Theme an absolute delight.
What’s especially pleasing is having players including trumpeter Tom MacNiven, keyboardist Paul Harrison and saxophonist Brian Molley both carry out minute instructions and express themselves so openly.
From The Herald, July 1, 2016