Beejazz **** RECOMMENDED
The Azerbaijani pianist is joined by bassist Nathan Peck (of the thrash metal-inclined Alex Skolnick trio) and the cultured Philly Threedom drummer, Ari Hoenig. Is Shahin the most exciting pianist to come on to the jazz scene this side of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh 25 years ago? Well yes, clearly, as Bayati marks the return of the mugham sound properly curated in jazz, that folkloric modal magic from Azerbaijan you’ll hear very occasionally, and you’ll cherish it when you chance on it. It’s mugham via strong and remarkably fluent modern mainstream piano stylings, and Shahin has a transcendentally-inclined technique which is quite beautiful to get a blast of when he hits his stride.
The Baku-born 36-year-old manages to fold in very supple fast improvising with a flexible classical technique and has a poetic side (that comes out not just on the sufi vocalising on ‘Fir & Giz’) and he knows his Chopin well from a jazz angle. The only one I can think of who knows it better is Andrzej Jagodziński.
By the time you hear Chopin’s ‘Prelude in E Minor’, the third track here, the ‘How Insensitive’ link excavated, you’re hooked. Shahin’s natural sounding born-to-play jazz chops are plain later on ‘From Mill to Station’ reminding me a bit of the late Mulgrew Miller but with some Bud Powell embedded in the sound buried deep back that beats a path back to the birth of bebop. Peck rumbles this tune along manfully and Hoenig has his skates on, never ever daring to look back.
The album, released by a French label, has its fair share of traditional Azeri music here arranged by Shahin (eg ‘Bayati Shiraz’ and ‘Elinde Sazin Qurbani’) as well as originals and the Chopin, and it’s an altogether intoxicating blend beautifully recorded in a London studio in January last year. SG
He is no longer of course the New Vibe Man in Town, to riff on the title of his 1961 debut album as leader. Regardless, the remarkable influence of Gary Burton transcends facile slogans and our thralldom to the ephemeral. In an interview in the States Burton says he is however calling it a day to retire, the long time Berklee academic and distinguished Pat Metheny and Chick Corea collaborator not to mention a noted talent spotter (Scotland's Tommy Smith among them) explaining his rationale in a revealing interview with a newspaper in his home state.
Burton who turned 74 last month speaking to the Miami Herald says that he is looking to “leave at a sensible time with dignity” and not end up playing until advanced old age. As for what the future holds he muses: “Do I serve on a Grammy committee, which I’ve done for years. Or do I continue to teach my online course for Berklee? How would I feel about that? Right now, part of me says it will become frustrating to talk about music and focus on music if I’m not able to participate in it and enjoy it myself. That may well become frustrating, so I’m kind of assuming that I’m going to move on to new interests in life. I figure I’ve got another 20, 25 years left in another phase of life. My mother's 101, so at least gene-wise, if I don't drink myself to death, I'll be living a fairly long life.”
Full interview here
‘Ugly Beauty,’ the only tune Thelonious Monk wrote in 3/4, pianist Sam Leak mused to the audience, after his quartet had played the rugged slice of bebop in all its lithe agility. Leak modestly and courteously called tunes as he went along and name checked his band a few times. Another Sam, tenor saxophonist Sam Crockatt, draws to mind the scrabbling intensity of Chris Potter a bit or even closer certainly for his bluesiness, Donny McCaslin. Crockatt has tremendous facility achieved by harnessing his lovely salt caramel expressive tone with plenty of old school Dexter-ity and even on the sumptuously slow Gordon Jenkins tearjerker ‘Goodbye’ pulled something out of his interpretative bag of tricks as Leak delivered the sensitivity required harmonically. There was a good turn out on a cold night, the jam kicking off in the second set and moving into the wee small hours of the morning. Gene Calderazzo of Partisans was the third member of the quartet and made his mark taking the tempo up in the extended version of Ornette’s ‘When Will the Blues Leave?’ the real moment to savour of what I heard of the first set.
Bassist Dave Whitford, who is on Christine Tobin’s fine new Muldoon album Pelt, and still, he told me during the break, enjoying the Riepler jam he regularly participates in on Sundays at the Vortex, loaned his bass to a player only referred to as Inga who began the jam portion of the evening. Leak has a poetic unslavishly Jarrettonian touch and his voicings show an arranger’s sensibility. He’s up there as a homegrown scene über talent whose fame ought to spread year in year out for all the right reasons. Surely we need that oblique sensibility that straddles bittersweet mastery of the ballad, terrier-like tenacity on thornier bebop and a quiet grip on the direction of the quartet sound in more abundance to offset trivial concerns however temporarily? And you know, proof be told, the audience listened however diverting their nightcaps and the endlessly fascinating Soho night proved to be. SG
Down Frith St way, above
Beginning with some polkas, the Magee Family Band from Enniskillen: Sean on fiddle, guitar, whistle and later the low whistle; the Seán Óg Graham-influenced Jamie on accordion; Conor, rhythm guitar, and main vocals; one micro theme of this fine forward looking eclectic traditional Irish band’s set was a pair of songs by Ewan MacColl, classic ‘Dirty Old Town’ early on and the powerful ‘Go Move Shift,’ the latter the opening track of the band’s album Skid Marks. A seque from Christy Moore’s marvellous ‘Ride On’ into Van Morrison’s classic ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ (serendipitously we were all ‘down in the Hollow’), marked a transitional phase in the two-hour set. Sean starred throughout, superb on fiddle. Later he did a solo guitar spot, used a pedal delay, and sang, his falsetto drawing out extra emotiveness. He rapped on Ed Sheeran’s ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,’ a hundred syllables to the minute as the number needs. Conor excelled on Pat Gallagher’s ‘Las Vegas (In the Hills of Donegal)’ and yet the easy pick of the two-hour set for me was the quiet magic of his rendition of ‘Ride On.’
Jamie, above left, Sean, and Conor, Magee, on the stand in Blakes, Enniskillen
I can understand why it happens: jazz is a serious art form that needs huge technique and skill. Does that mean, however, that it should be treated as a proxy for classical music or in the case of the long running BBC Young Musician of the Year brand a branch of it? Yes, there is a healthy chamber jazz strain in contemporary jazz; labels like ECM have produced many records over the years that have codified the style in certain respects, often built on the style of classical sound, audio perfection, discreet mastering and nods in the A&R-ing towards classical models. String quartets in jazz records are common place. Jazz musicians like Bruno Heinen (Vivaldi, Stockhausen), Uri Caine (Bach) and to look decades back to Jacques Loussier and Dave Brubeck (Bach and Milhaud) have accommodated classical music as an element of their artistry. My point is it's only one of many hybrids and often the least relevant. And it's not necessarily just about accommodations or inspirations: hip-hop, African music, flamenco, pop, show songs, tango, Brazilian music, klezmer, folk music, Indian music, chanson, Nordic strains, and so many more elements are contributing to jazz on an ongoing global basis as well as the great traditions of Western classical music. And so it does not necessarily mean what we get in the end is classical/jazz as an orthodoxy, a brand to satisfy the establishment. Maybe the process is inevitable as we now expect our future jazz stars to emerge from conservatoires, something I'm not completely comfortable with. The whole nature of the gigging discipline in jazz is different, the rites and rituals of a jam session, attitude towards the notes on the page, rhythms, technology, and of course fundamentally the presence of improvisation. Jazz in symphony halls, yes, by all means, but the halls are only venues after all. The music retains its own identity and should not, even when notions of exploring its own repertory arise, just become dull and becalmed like an orchestra trotting out a version of a Beethoven symphony just because it has to. SG