“Israeli Mingus” bassist Omer Avital, to use Vincent Bessières’ phrase, of Yemenite/Moroccan heritage, was a part of the strong Smalls scene in the 1990s in New York and is found here with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist Yonathan Avishai, and drummer Daniel Freedman joining him on an album full of original Avital material. Opening with the jaunty ‘Hafla’ pianist Yonathan Avishai setting the album up and Freedman cantering along before the horns repeat the heavily accented piano theme Avital riffing off the strong tide of the tune. Title track ‘New Song’ next has a joyous bass figure with some very 1960s tenor and trumpet pairings painting a tantalising sound picture without being too retro.
Recorded in France in July and August last year it’s immediately likeable modern-mainstream jazz built from the ground up from the Blue Note sound but with a certain imaginative middle eastern and north African variety added in, for instance on ‘Tsafdina’ with vocals from Mehdi Chaib who also features on later track ‘Maroc’, drawing out new flavours. Avital’s big solo well-in on ‘Avishkes’ has a gloriously gritty texture to it that tugs at the heartstrings and drummer Daniel Freedman knows how to up the ante adding a bit of drama for trumpeter Avishai Cohen to respond to.
‘Sabah El-Kheir (Good Morning)’ has a compelling duo routine between Avital and the pianist at the beginning, a nice touch at this point of the album, and Joel Frahm opens out into a sunny Joshua Redman-like soundspace on the ensuing solo. ‘New Middle East’ has a strongly folkloric strand, again with a handsome if slightly cheesy melody and indeed New Song has so much melodic resource it’s easy to land on a great tune at any given point. ‘Maroc’ opens with Avital setting the pace and trumpet pitted against drums and the leader’s bass moving on to inject some zip. By contrast ‘Ballad For A Friend’ has a liquid very beautiful piano-led intro and main theme that makes it the real highlight of the album in terms of the tunes based on strong emotion-laden material with a slight nostalgia to it that isn’t at all grating. ‘Bedouin Roots’ is a real dig-deep hard-riffing shoulder-swinger, again the rhythm section and horns knowing how to integrate well together and there is a band rapport that’s discernible throughout but especially here. ‘Yemen Suite’ is much more melancholic at first while the soulful ‘Small Time Shit’ at the end again has a great sense of unforced swing, Avital’s riff-making knack here shown at its best. Out now
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Mon 10th Mar 2014 10:55:54
There has been a renewed interest in the Cool school in the last year or two with notable records in the idiom including December Song and The Listener. The effect will be underlined later this year, going back to one of the sources, with the release of a new Lee Konitz live album. Moscow-born tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch was mentored by Konitz, and names the opener of her debut here the laconic swinger ‘Hi-Lee’, also reprised at the end, in his honour. She’s joined by guitarist Dave Miller who contributes the tune ‘Rubato’, bassist Cameron Brown whose tune ‘Baby Suite’ also makes it in, and drummer Billy Mintz who has composed ‘Beautiful You’. Everything is cool in more ways than just an appreciation of Konitz, Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano on Feathery recorded in May 2012 in New Jersey. I like the fragile nature of the Cool sound that’s part of its signature effect and the way Bloch strips away excess scalar development and avoids pointless runs to reach the interesting stuff in her heart-felt improvisations is striking. The reharmonising of Gene de Paul’s ‘Star Eyes’ comes across tenderly and Warne Marsh’s tricksy ‘Marshmallow’ done just for kicks is a strong highlight. SG
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Sat 8th Mar 2014 09:16:31
On extraordinary form once more trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire with his longstanding quintet here extended on a perplexingly-titled album by a string quartet, plus The Vigil guitarist Charles Altura, and singers Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckmann (who features on the new Michael Wollny record Weltentraum) and the startling Canadian singer/songwriter Cold Specks.
Apocalyptic in mood, with a strong socially conscious side to it, the album opens with ‘Marie Christie’, pianist Sam Harris’ babbling brook-like accompaniment behind Akinmusire’s moody flurry of an exposition. Harris sets up ‘As We Fight (Willie Penrose)’ in a different, more narratively-inclined way, placed against snare drum patterns, and Altura’s guitar fits in snugly behind the horns, Justin Brown’s martial beat urgent and vital.
‘Our Basement’ next brings in the voice and lyrics of Becca Stevens and it’s a dramatic moment at this stage of the album, the voice very moody and engagingly strained, the OSSO String Quartet, who have already worked with Jay-Z, Ravi Coltrane, and The National among others, adding a new dimension that expand the range and ambition of the music.
‘Vartha’ has a guitar opening from Altura with a lovely Harish Raghavan bass figure the response and fleeting tambourine rhythm and then a very different aspect to Akinmusire’s tone, a little Thad Jones-like, as the melody of the ballad snakes around a ‘Footprints’-like sequence of notes momentarily to open out.
‘Memo (G. Learson)’ begun by a sinewy Brown drum solo leaning into a finely honed arrangement that blends Walter Smith III’s tenor with Akinmusire’s trumpet a little like the way Terence Blanchard and Brice Winston work together and Smith’s solo draws out the band, its open spirit enabling Harris to find a new space and then Akinmusire flies, the fluttery rapid fire almost Dizzy-like flavour to his style here quite striking.
The violins opening ‘The Beauty of Dissolving Portraits’ catch you off balance transporting you back in time to an historic long-gone America momentarily, then the flute and a plangent wash of textures develop as Akinmusire joins. Akinmusire’s writing is very original throughout and I think it’s a more confident album than 2011’s highly acclaimed album When The Heart Emerges Glistening and more experimental then both that record and the earlier Prelude: to Cora.
Bleckmann’s velvety opening to ‘Asiam (Joan)’ is the male vocal match to the earlier Stevens track, a fine balancing touch, and this song is more impressionistic as it turns out regardless of the classic balladic opening verse with the singer and the ensemble closely united experimentally as the song unfolds.
The highly rhythmic ‘Bubbles (John William Sublett)’ dedicated to the tap dancer and entertainer who played Sportin’ Life in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, gives bassist Raghavan plenty of room to manoeuvre in a composition that builds on repetitive devices, while ‘Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child (Cyntoia Brown)’ has an achingly tender beginning and an unforgettable vocal on this modern day spiritual from Cold Specks singing her own words on a song whose dedicatee is a tragic 16-year-old who killed.
‘Rollcall For Those Absent’ with the voice of a little child reciting a list of names familiar from news reports including Timothy Stansbury, Amadou Diallo, and Trayvon Martin’s, victims of racism in America, builds on the social commentary while the liturgical aspect of Akinmusire’s work beyond the oblique reference in the album’s title surfaces explicitly and in a spirit of humility on the increasingly free-form ‘J E Nilmah (Ecclesiastes 6:10)’, the biblical text referred to in the tune's title, ‘Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger.’
‘Inflatedbyspinning’ has an almost 18th century-like chamber dimension to it led off by the strings, while ‘Richard (Conduit)’ has a rolling free anarchic energy where Walter Smith III excels to complete an absorbing and rewarding album that strengthens further Akinmusire’s reputation as an improviser and composer of considerable clout. Stephen Graham
Released on 11 March
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Sun 23rd Feb 2014 11:26:53
One of the mainstays of the Belfast modern jazz scene is the McHughs Saturday afternoon session taking place in the basement bar of the Queen’s Square pub a stone’s throw from the river Lagan. As you approach from the city centre the cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard are gigantic in the distance, the nearby 19th century Albert clock a short stroll away chiming three o’clock as the session began. Upstairs big screen TVs had Ireland playing Italy at rugby but regulars for the jazz session preferred to move downstairs to provide a healthy turn-out at the session led by the trumpeter Linley Hamilton a set stocked with plenty of standards and the “Golden Age” of the Blue Note years at its heart with Wayne Shorter’s ‘JuJu’ the highlight.
Hamilton was joined by nimble bassist Alan Shields, Scott Flanigan on keys, and relative newcomer drummer Tim Rooney who made a big impression here with his expansive Tony Williams-like approach.
After the session ended there was just enough time to catch a few numbers over at Cafe Vaudeville on Arthur Street (a beautifully converted former bank, now a “luxebar and dining establishment”), of singer Ken Haddock’s set. Haddock, a jazz singer at heart, who took part in the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman-themed concert at Belfast’s Strand before Christmas was here in troubadour mode with his band, guitar in hand, his strong baritone voice ringing out across the Vaudeville’s vast spaces on numbers including Van Morrison’s ‘Sweet Thing’ and Marc Cohn’s ‘Walking in Memphis.’
Later in the evening Hamilton and Flanigan played at Berts jazz bar in the Merchant Hotel as part of a quintet featuring guest guitarist Nigel Mooney. Mooney’s 2013 album The Bohemian Mooney was named Irish Times jazz album of the year, a great boost for this sophisticated Wes Montgomery-rooted player who also sings with a soft Chet Baker-like style displaying consummate artistry in the process, a fine way to bring a busy day on the Belfast jazz scene to a close.
Scott Flanigan and Alan Shields top rehearsing at McHughs before Saturday’s set; the Hamilton quartet in action; Cafe Vaudeville dome and lights; and the Berts sign
- Category: News
- Published: Sun 9th Mar 2014 13:57:25
I’m always intrigued when there are little extras in CD packaging. Circularity I reviewed yesterday came with stickers. Revolution has a 12-panel fold out poster with a big R complete with a tasteful drop shadow and splodges of paint on one side; and a picture of the band on the other. So full marks for presentation, the slip cover in a tasteful complementary shade of light green completing the effect. As for the music the ‘little extras’ are the fed-in voice effects, distortion and feedback that enhance the sound of pianist Stefan Rusconi, double bassist Fabian Gisler, and drummer Claudio Strüby.
Rusconi have been around for ages and this record came out two years ago but is now getting UK distribution. Emerging now for a new territory it’s also a marketing spear-carrier for the release of brand new album History Sugar Dream released in the band’s native Switzerland on 21 March and in this country next month, and which I’ll review soon.
As regular readers of Marlbank well know jazz piano trios come in all shapes and forms even within Switzerland and this one is where EST left off and where the Neil Cowley trio picked up the baton. How Rusconi differ is the squally tech-driven serrated edge and prog-jazz touches. Power chords, poppy hooks, and some pretty good tunes they’re all effortlessly moody and quite compelling at times. Improvisation though is carefully controlled with most of the material band-written all extensively revved-up plus a few Sonic Youth covers done live. Henry Cow legend Fred Frith guests on the exhilarating ‘Alice in the Sky.’ SG
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Mon 10th Mar 2014 08:25:30
The career of Joel Harrison has often proved an exasperating one to follow, the American guitarist as capable of exploring the music of Paul Motian on the one hand as he is the music of the Beatle George Harrison on the other, and as happy in Americana-type situations as he is to be found in more recognisably contemporary jazz ones. On this latest work the guitarist has decided to investigate North Indian music in the company of “non-western ally” sarodist Anupam Shobhakar, framing it within jazz and American folk stylings in the company of a band bristling with talent including pianist Gary Versace, prolific expatriate Austrian bassist Hans Glawischnig, drummer/tabla player Dan Weiss plus guests notably alto saxophonist David Binney and Indian vocalists. The album takes its time to reveal itself. Yet even so Harrison and Shobhakar blend more than well, and they produce a nuanced meshing of ancient and modern musical styles that include the inclusion of traditional Bengali music and an African-American spiritual harnessing incendiary improvisational resources to spectacular effect at certain points especially when David Binney breaks clear. I liked the version of Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’ best, a song held dear in the 1960s and since by fans of Cream. Here the song is rootsy and elaborately laid back, and Leave the Door Open works best when it’s at its most relaxed and able to steer away from the overly technical.
Released on 10 March
Joel Harrison, above left, and Anupam Shobhakar
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Sun 26th Jan 2014 17:13:56