Kenneth Jimenez, Sonnet to Silence, We Jazz ***1/2

You get the sense with a lot of avant-garde music that you are heading into some kind of cul-de-sac - sure, the willingness to experiment is there but the route is not always clear or communicated well enough for complete enjoyment. Not at all here …

Published: 17 Nov 2023. Updated: 5 months.

You get the sense with a lot of avant-garde music that you are heading into some kind of cul-de-sac - sure, the willingness to experiment is there but the route is not always clear or communicated well enough for complete enjoyment. Not at all here from relative newcomer bassist Kenneth Jimenez from Costa Rica who lives in the States and whose stately riff based patterns at the beginning of this set of originals is both sure footed and resourceful. It's quite a band with pianist Angelica Sanchez' cascades of fluent lines on opener 'Dos Tazas' and tremendous sense of vitality exhibited throughout. The whole rhythmic direction is expertly steered by drummer Gerald Cleaver who leaves plenty of room for the exploratory non-standard beat of Jimenez to express itself. The group is completed by saxophonist-flautist Hery Paz. I wasn't quite so taken by the arco mayhem conjured on 'El Patio', small carp (!), but certainly the record works far more successfully when Jimenez adds an injection of speed say on Mr Shipping' and where Paz responds with detailed clusters of scalar depth and texture. A very pleasant surprise. Sanchez is ideal on piano. SG

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Nikki Iles and the NDR Big Band, Face to Face, Edition ****1/2

Big band albums are rare these days - modernistic big bands where the writing is as accomplished as the playing even rarer. Released to mark the 60th birthday of English pianist and composer Nikki Iles BEM who collaborates here with the mighty NDR …

Published: 17 Nov 2023. Updated: 26 days.

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Big band albums are rare these days - modernistic big bands where the writing is as accomplished as the playing even rarer. Released to mark the 60th birthday of English pianist and composer Nikki Iles BEM who collaborates here with the mighty NDR Big Band on an album of her own music. At times funkily flavoursome ('Red Ellen') or even nimbly laconic ('Wild Oak' - an Iles track covered on NYJO's She Said issued last year), Face to Face was recorded in Hamburg in 2021 and is a must for all big band fans and especially long time followers of this inventive composer. Pick of the whole album may well be the Kenny Wheeler-like turn the album takes on the poignant title track and the storming 'Awakening' although the Mike Gibbs-like ensemble flourishes found on 'Misfits' also light the album up a good deal. Certainly Iles finds fresh ways to breathe new life into a form that often struggles to be heard these days. UK personnel in the mix includes flautist Gareth Lockrane, trumpeter Percy Pursglove, guitarist Mike Walker and drummer Ian Thomas. A very fine album that everyone involved with should be very proud of.