Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Robin Verheyen, Playing the Room, WERF Records ***1/2

Saxophonist Robin Verheyen becomes a priestly presence dispensing musical absolution at every turn here in his weighty soliloquising. He is best known in these pages for his tenure in fiery Belgian band TaxiWars. But he is just as likely to knuckle …

Published: 16 May 2023. Updated: 13 months.

Saxophonist Robin Verheyen becomes a priestly presence dispensing musical absolution at every turn here in his weighty soliloquising. He is best known in these pages for his tenure in fiery Belgian band TaxiWars. But he is just as likely to knuckle down in other contexts to tackle the baroque.

Verheyen recorded solo soprano explorations Playing the Room in two situations: the first an empty church; the second in front of an audience in a concert hall. Both locations were in Bruges. The timbre and idiom you find on a Lol Coxhill recording say on a track such as 'One to Three' on 1972's Toverbal Sweet… Plus springs to mind. And certainly this all connects with a free improv kind of sound swirl and adventures in new language that emerged in a range of places dotted around Europe notably such as in the Little Theatre Club in the London of the late-1960s and early-70s. Verheyen does become a little over-flowery on 'Walburga' but mostly it's eminently listenable, fairly serene and not-at-all complacent or laboriously indulgent. Final word 'Freight Train' forgive the hyperbole is everywhere this year after Sachal led the way on last year's Still Life with the song's revival. And Verheyen comes up with a novel interpretation neither skiffle-invoking nor a shrine to the sanctuary of balladry. It is as valid and not at all obscurantist for the sake of it as any recently.

Robin Verheyen, press

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Gretchen Parlato, Lionel Loueke, Lean In, Edition ****

Highly influential and innovative US singer Gretchen Parlato is here with long time collaborator the Herbie Hancock guitarist and singer US based Benin jazz great Lionel Loueke. Very much a close knit affair, Gretchen's husband drummer Mark …

Published: 15 May 2023. Updated: 13 months.

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Highly influential and innovative US singer Gretchen Parlato is here with long time collaborator the Herbie Hancock guitarist and singer US based Benin jazz great Lionel Loueke.

Very much a close knit affair, Gretchen's husband drummer Mark Guiliana of Mehliana fame, Guiliana and Loueke family members and close friend bassist Burniss Travis (known for his work with Common and James Francies) figure among the personnel on Lean In which was recorded in Los Angeles over three days of March last year. It is full of Brazilian music, West African sounds and more and represents the state of the art in terms of jazz vocals and also joins the dots passing the baton from singer to instrumentalism and back again in a parity of esteem and represents another peak in both Parlato and Loueke's remarkable careers.

Songs here include Loueke tune 'Akwê' and a very fine version of Lynn Malsby's 1980s song 'I Miss You'. Parlato's sound is metrically astounding and highly expert in harnessing the power of difficult syncopated runs that still retain their communicative rather than impressive-for-the-sake-of-it appeal to gain traction and a sense of rewarding release.

Among the tracks are the Carlos Pingarilho, Marcos Vasconcellos song 'Astronauta' also known as 'Samba da Pergunta' that goes back to the 1960s covered on the 1970 album João Gilberto en México.

Also here are the Loueke piece 'Painful Joy' and a Loueke arrangement of the Dave Grohl song 'Walking After You' heard on the Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape (1997) a song that the Foo Fighters later re-recorded for the soundtrack of The X-Files. 'Lean In' feat. Mark Guiliana and 'I Miss You' are streaming. Lean In is released on Friday.

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Lionel Loueke and Gretchen Parlato. Photo: Lauren Desberg