John O’Gallagher, The Anton Webern Project, Whirlwind

First published in 2013. There’s something about the word ‘project’, isn’t there, that acts like a traffic light in an album title. Usually it’s red for stop. The sometimes wildly atonal aesthetic of Anton Webern (1883-1945) though is green for go …

Published: 15 Dec 2019. Updated: 11 months.

First published in 2013. There’s something about the word ‘project’, isn’t there, that acts like a traffic light in an album title. Usually it’s red for stop. The sometimes wildly atonal aesthetic of Anton Webern (1883-1945) though is green for go as an inspiration on an album that John O’Gallagher has long cherished making.

The alto saxophonist, who hails from California, and is best known in the UK for his work with Hans Koller and Jeff Williams, first heard Webern’s music when he studied at Berklee college of music in Boston in the late-1980s. And here he has taken eight Webern pieces to base new arrangements on.

Joined by vibraphone player Matt Moran, guitarist Pete McCann, Hammond organist/keyboardist Russ Lossing, double bassist Johannes Weidenmuller, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and singer Margret Grebowicz on the album, it’s a thrilling ride. I guess most jazz fans listening blind wouldn’t realise unless they were told that the new music here is based on Webern compositions (it’s hardly as if ‘Three lieder for voice and piano based on poems by Hildegard Jone’ is as familiar as ‘Round Midnight’) it’s fair to say. Yet it’s surprising how much parallel styles popular at the moment such as M-BASE and “maths jazz” owe to the second Viennese school. In this regard O’Gallagher’s approach here would complete the sentence of a Steve Coleman line without Coleman even having to mouth a syllable.

Weidenmuller’s bass contribution on ‘Quartet (after op 22)’ bears comparison to say Anthony Tidd’s work with Coleman even if Tidd is playing electric bass: it’s that kind of sound. The vibes solos propel the band into another space, into the sort of musical situation Dave Holland has pursued at times with Steve Nelson, but the chattering very involving O’Gallagher lead makes the music sufficiently distinctive, and on ‘The Secret Code’ he improvises superbly in one of his best solos of a fascinating and involving album.

Grebowicz’s vocals have a stark stillness (for instance at the beginning of ‘Seventh Ring’ that adds a much more direct contemporary classical music inflection) yet very occasionally the album can be seen labouring as a chamber jazz work. Classical music writers might well be a bit sniffy about the temerity of O’Gallagher’s approach with its subtle crypto-funk rhythms and swing proudly on display. But it’s to the saxophonist’s credit that he hasn’t jazzed Webern in a cocktail manner or worse: thrown out all the jazz to please the classical bods, which is usually fatal. SG

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Christmas album pick

The star studded Dionne Warwick & The Voices of Christmas is a marlbank pick of the 2019 holiday albums. We look at it a little and add classic seasonal playlist choices. Johnny Mathis whose voice descends directly from Nat King Cole guests …

Published: 15 Dec 2019. Updated: 11 months.

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The star studded Dionne Warwick & The Voices of Christmas is a marlbank pick of the 2019 holiday albums. We look at it a little and add classic seasonal playlist choices.

Johnny Mathis whose voice descends directly from Nat King Cole guests with Dionne Warwick on the awkwardly titled & The Voices of Christmas making the star indispensable regardless of the generous stock of guests and whether or probably not you add an ellipsis before the ampersand, new for 2019. It is not the best track however much you will it to be. Check out the track with Dianne Reeves that is much more of a contender for pick of the tracks and Warwick herself delivers a particularly classy effortlessly captured version of Mel Tormé's 'The Christmas Song' itself, intrusive click-track or what sounds like one notwithstanding – and then duets delightfully with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men to complete the circle. SG

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