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Purcell: Music for a While
Purcell: Music for a While
Price: 12.69

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed reviews elsewehere – but I love it!, 17 April 2014
JUST AS A LOVER of a much-treasured novel approaches a big screen adaptation with a combination of nervousness and excitement, so it was for me with this fascinating new release of Henry Purcell interpretations and improvisations. For many years, it has intrigued me how the works of a celebrated English composer active some three hundred years ago can, today, maintain their resonance and their power to move – and this is exactly the approach taken here in this new release, ‘Music for a while’, by Christina Pluhar’s L’Arpeggiata.

As a keen ‘Purcellian’, then – owning many fine recordings by such consummate performers as The King’s Consort with James Bowman, Susan Gritton et al (Hyperion), and William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants (Erato) – I was keen to discover these cross-genre re-imaginings of familiar classical pieces… and what a revelation!

Amongst Mr Purcell’s many compositional techniques was the ‘ground bass’ – a repeating bass structure over which he magically wove the most beautiful and varied melodies (often requiring detailed examination to believe that the same, recurring bass line is employed throughout). For instance (although not from this collection), the countertenor solo of Be welcome then, great Sir (from Purcell’s welcome song for Charles II, Fly, bold rebellion) is later elaborated, at length, over the same three-bar ground bass with the most ravishing orchestral ritornello. It would therefore, I suggest, be perfectly possible that this composer of great choral and theatrical masterpieces (as well as secular and even bawdy drinking songs) might be enthusiastically open to such improvisation and invention. So, with theorbo, archlute and cornet à bouquet, amongst many others, and a fine ensemble of players and choral soloists (whose styles range from period to contemporary), L’Arpeggiata set out to interpret Purcell with inflections of jazz, world and even pop, but with remarkable integrity.

A perfect example of the success of this project is 'Strike the viol' (from the 'Birthday Ode for Queen Mary', 'Come ye sons of art away'). The already melodious and dance-like brilliance of Purcell’s original, illustrating the soprano’s words ‘Strike the viol, touch the lute, wake the harp, inspire the flute’, are given the most glorious, rhythmic guitar and percussion treatment, along with the excitement of trumpet, electric guitar, wailing clarinet and ’60s ‘light my fire’ organ! The transcendent 'Evening hymn' is inventively transformed into a soft ballad with limpid piano over homely guitar and shimmering percussion – and whilst the crescendoing instrumental doesn’t quite hold the simple sacred reverence that Purcell intended, the bluesy piano and guitar here pleasingly demonstrate the improvisatory possibilities of these 17th/18th Century gems. ‘Twas within a furlong takes on a folksy, bluegrass feel, the animated words illuminated by shuffling percussion and mellow-but-lithe electric guitar; and the rhythmic vocal of 'Wondrous machine' (from Hail! bright Cecilia) sounds positively contemporary alongside pulsating tom-toms and jazz-infused bass, guitar, trumpet and clarinet.

The sublime and perhaps more well-known character of Purcell’s output is sensitively portrayed in delicate, yet modern readings of 'Music for a while' (a beautifully constructed jazz clarinet-led version with walking bass) and 'When I am laid in earth', which maintains its irrefutable and poignant beauty via weightless percussion, piano and guitar supporting a beauteous soprano voice (I recall Sir Michael Tippett being so affected with Purcell’s musical longing of “ReMEMber me”). And so the album continues, with attractive and often surprising reworkings of these great compositions.

Bonus track, Leonard Cohen’s 'Hallelujah', seems a little incongruous (unless it’s because I have never connected with this much-covered song, or don’t understand its relevance here). Perhaps I anticipated a ‘reversal’, with a very tight Purcellian treatment of this familiar late 20th Century hit – however, it is executed with the same attention to detail as the other sixteen tracks, and it could never detract from the overall ingenuity of this release.

It is difficult to second-guess the audience for Christina Pluhar’s visionary project – but, as a confirmed ‘Purcell purist’, I am suitably impressed, finding myself listening over and over to its intelligent, compelling beauty.


Reverie at Schloss Elmau
Reverie at Schloss Elmau
Price: 15.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty and majesty..., 17 April 2014
PART OF ACT’S ‘DUO ART’ SERIES, ‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ brings together two good friends from the contemporary jazz world – British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Russian (Milan-resident) double bassist Yuri Goloubev – for a programme of gloriously poetic brilliance.

Situated in Germany, towards the Austrian border, Elmau is a favoured stomping ground for Simcock – a recording retreat of creative calm, and the location for his solo piano album, ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’ (ACT, 2011). In this same environment, the pianist and bassist have woven together a sumptuous tapestry of co-written originals, drawn from their illustrious classical and jazz experiences – the appeal of this crossover confirmed by their recent, well-received live performance on BBC Radio 3′s established, chamber-focused Lunchtime Concert slot, as well as many international stage appearances.

Recording together previously (on ‘Blues Vignette’, as a trio with James Maddren – Basho, 2009), it’s clear that Simcock and Goloubev have developed a strong telepathic communication, their compositions leaping to the vibrant rhythms of jazz, as well as incorporating the grace and complex harmonic language of (amongst others I hear) Debussy, Ravel, Brahms and perhaps even Gershwin. Both musicians approach their craft with exacting precision, each able to ‘turn on a sixpence’ from emotional yearning – often characterised by Goloubev’s sustained, rhapsodic arco – to the tumbling, overflowing joy of Simcock’s dazzling piano.

'Pastoral' begins the journey with a pellucid, spacial simplicity which resembles Scandinavian folksong, pictorialised by droplet- and icicle-suggested effects before gaining gently-paced momentum – the first indication of the extraordinarily sensitive interaction that permeates the entire album. Also, it soon becomes apparent that these nine pieces are not for the background but, rather, demand close attention to fully appreciate the detail – indeed, importantly, at louder volumes the physical resonance is such that it’s easy to become involved at a much more intimate level. As an illustration, in 'Lost Romance', Goloubev’s lithe fingerwork annunciates every passage with such amazing depth, melodic accuracy, ringing harmonics and vibrato… it really is breathtaking, especially for an instrument so often consigned to plodding support! 'Shades of Pleasure' explores major and minor keys with a luscious intertwining of piano and bass between its gently jarring main theme, set against a smoothly-ebbing piano ostinato, Goloubev again demonstrating his considerable dexterity.

In contrast to the duo’s quieter moments, 'Antics' is a wondrously frolicking episode based around a familiar ‘playground jibe’ motif which the pair gladly tease each other with. Simcock seems to be establishing an upbeat pianistic style all of his own, featuring heavily accented chords and bounding baselines, best described as a ‘breakneck blues’ – such a compelling listen; and Yuri does well to chase him closely into every corner of these brisk four minutes. 'A Joy Forever' tugs at the heartstrings, a beautifully emotive tune from the exquisite, cello-like fluidity of Goloubev, his switch from arco to fingered bass no less sublime (I recall seeing a young Gwilym Simcock playing many years ago with legendary drummer Bill Bruford – Earthworks, with Tim Garland – and the loftiness of this piece brings to mind Bruford’s own piano and bass gem, ‘Palewell Park’).

'Non-Schumann Lied' might be seen as reference to the artists’ classical beginnings, its songlike impressions maybe more elegantly Brahmsian in flavour; and 'Flow' eddies and skips along to the lucid, colourful melodies that both instrumentalists share so keenly. The leggero ‘song without words’ feel of 'Vain Song' finds Goloubev once again displaying a remarkable lightness of touch, Simcock hitting the heights of jazz soloing finesse (listen closely – this is a real treasure). And finally, an almost Elgarian 'Reverie' (from the pen of 19th Century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini) – its subtle Victorian shades, reminiscent of Chanson de Nuit, find Yuri Goloubev at his most classically lyrical (though not without idiosyncratic improvisatory interlude) against the restrained romantic piano of Simcock.

Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev are, separately, to be found in many different guises in a currently buzzing contemporary jazz scene. But here, they pause to forge beauty and majesty in this coming together of two acoustic instruments – illuminated, of course, by their combined musical genius.


Soho Live
Soho Live
Price: 13.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic jazz/funk, from start to finish!…, 17 April 2014
This review is from: Soho Live (Audio CD)
IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE JAZZ/FUNK on the current scene with quite such the invigorating edge and retro passion of the Shez Raja Collective. Captured live, and drawing material from studio albums 'Magica' (2007) and 'Mystic Radikal' (2010), ultra-dynamic electric bassist Shez Raja and his augmented personnel serve up a decidedly high-powered performance in this new release.

Raja’s no-holds-barred grooving is redolent of the seminal and psychedelic jazz/rock fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, the hypnotic energy of the Zawinul Syndicate and legendary bass genius of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller – but there is bite and electricity here which demonstrates the genre’s ongoing relevance and explains Raja’s own fervent following, especially when guests Gilad Atzmon, Soweto Kinch, Shabaka Hutchings, Jay Phelps and vocalist Monika Lidke leap on board for what was evidently an unforgettably vibrant gig.

The core line-up steams through this 55-minute set with quite breathtaking verve – Aaron Liddard on alto and tenor saxes, electric violinist Pascal Roggen, Alex Stanford on keys and Chris Nickolls on drums. Adding Shabaka Hutchings into the mix, as clarinettist on opening number Adrenalize, simply revs up the excitement as his improvisations spiral unfalteringly. Electronics are a significant part of the band’s make-up and, with Stanford able to maintain the bass ‘raga’, Raja is free to solo extensively and colourfully.

'Karmic Flow‘s deep bass riff against the mesmeric soundmix of tanpura, violin, saxes, drums and wordless vocals sets the tone for Soweto Kinch’s freestyling rap, much to the delight of the Pizza Express audience. And if ever there was a saxophonist whose instrument appeared to be simply an extension of their creative being, it must surely be Gilad Atzmon. In upbeat mid-groove 'FNUK' – which finds Shez Raja soloing so fluidly, high on the fretboard, to infectious wah-wah keys and unified horn section – Atzmon grabs the the opportunity to wind up his tenor soloing from initial placidity to identifiable and outrageously rapid in-and-out-of-key brilliance – a joy to hear.

Taking on a Mahavishnu feel, thanks to the band’s unison melodies led by Pascal Roggen’s electric violin, 'Quiverwish' bubbles to the slap’n’pop of Shez’s bass, Atzmon again in the midst; and 'Eastern Revolution' melds violin and sitar sounds to great effect over whizzing electronics and Chris Nickolls’ high-impetus drums. Chirpy 'Chakras On The Wall' features the lissome, scat-like vocals of Monika Lidke coupled with purposeful violin; South African in flavour, it includes, from Raja, a notable reverse-bass simulation (Paul Simon’s 'You Can Call Me Al', anybody?!).

Announced as “our funkiest track”, 'Junk Culture' summons for me the memory of Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer classic 'You Never Know' ('There and Back', 1980) – certainly an infectious dazzler from this band’s nucleus involving a frothy keyboard frenzy from Alex Stanford. Finally, 'Freedom' offers more of that African sunshine, courtesy of gyrating brass and clav over Raja’s swirling bass, Jay Phelps’ trumpet and Soweto Kinch’s alto determined to keep this party bouncing!


Lunaris
Lunaris
Offered by Birnam CD Ltd.
Price: 11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, shimmering, beautiful…, 17 April 2014
This review is from: Lunaris (Audio CD)
MANY MOONS AGO, Frank Harrison’s pianistic virtuosity and compositional brilliance first captured my imagination. As a cornerstone of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and then with his own piano trios, it was Harrison’s perfect marriage of creative rebellion and heart-on-sleeve sensitivity which stood out from the crowd. So, following up 2012′s excellent 'Sideways' (Linus Records), it’s a real pleasure to discover this new trio release which refines those attributes.

There’s a change of line-up as the pianist welcomes the prodigious talents of double bassist Dave Whitford and, on drums, Enzo Zirilli. Between them, they spark something fresh – an approach which includes recurring celestial and planetary themes, as well as references to English landscape and folksong. Individually, the twelve pieces – Harrison originals and interpretations of standards, plus collaborative freestyle improvisations – are attractively constructed mini-masterpieces. Collectively, they form a well-balanced fifty-minute anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, an overriding sense of equanimity.

A typically pellucid reading of the classic David Raksin number, 'My Love and I', opens the album – dreamy and unhurried, Frank Harrison keeps its deep, recognisable melody aloft, bass and brushed drums caressing every nuance. The delicate geniality of Jerome Kern’s 'I’m Old Fashioned' is a joy, ringing to Enzo Zirilli’s precise yet enquiring percussion which varicolours this bright interpretation, Harrison’s customary keyboard poise so tangible.

From this opening familiarity of melody, a panoply of astral discovery is unveiled with the first of two miniatures – 'Stars' – its spacial, searching piano chords subtly enhanced by synthesiser twinklings. Continuing the night sky observation, 'An Evening of Spaceships and UFOs' is a remarkable group improvisation which confirms this trio’s new-found empathy. A mysterious deep bass rhythm set up by Dave Whitford has a sonority and momentum reminiscent of Dan Berglund’s work with e.s.t., intertwining with Harrison’s supple, measured chord progressions and solo lines; and, around all this, Zirilli percussively paints vivid streaks of asteroids and shooting stars. Following on, the weightlessness of 'Io' – one of Jupiter’s four moons – is softly imagined via a restrained piano/synth and bass ostinato, shimmering all the while with ethereal and atmospheric beauty (I intend taking these tracks to a dark-sky zone!).

'Sunrise (Port Meadow)' announces daylight with a lilting 6/8 melody which racks the mind, searching for the title of a much-loved standard – but this is another from Harrison’s pen, evoking the natural beauty of Oxford’s ancient riverside pasturelands. The new compositions continue with 'Ascent', climbing apace and displaying lively interaction within the trio, maybe providing a glimpse of extended development in a live setting; and, at the summit, there are the ominous soarings of 'The Bird', conveyed by the pianist’s shapeshifting chordal tracery and dark bass octaves. 'BoRG-58', another group improvisation (its title referencing far-flung galaxies), brings arresting open fifths grooving from Whitford and Harrison (a hint of Esbjörn) and broad, cross-patterned drumming from Zirilli – with understated synth infusions, its a winning combination.

The emotion of Frank Harrison’s solo discipline is to be found in a wistful rendition of traditional North East English folk tune 'The Recruited Collier' – assured and clean, with the most sumptuous harmonies, time momentarily stands still. Johnny Mandel’s late ’50s song 'Emily' (a favourite of Bill Evans) waltzes through its several minutes, Harrison and Whitford soloing radiantly to Zirilli’s gently sifting rhythm; and to close, the brief, sustained, Debussy-like 'Stars II' suggests upward-looking wonderment towards an endless universe.

Finally, acknowledgement must be made to landscape painter Andrew Walton, whose cover and booklet art so beautifully reflects an album of exquisite musical imagery.


Big Ship
Big Ship
Price: 13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars STEAMING FULL AHEAD, 17 Mar 2014
This review is from: Big Ship (Audio CD)
Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel and his colleagues steer a different directional course with a second UK trio release, ‘Big Ship’ – following the isorhythmic emphasis of 2012’s ‘Live!’ album – on a journey of deeper and more melodic jazz exploration.

Stiefel’s compositional and pianistic range is impressive – often full-on-energetic and infectiously rhythmic; at other times, finding delicately reflective backwaters. And in bassist Arne Huber and drummer Kevin Chesham, he has discovered two empathetic musicians who bring their own particular expertise, sophistication and spark to these eleven originals.

Setting sail, 'Thalatta' instantly demonstrates the Inner Language Trio’s intent – piano, bass and drums propelling forward positively with velocity and verve. Although the piece is characterised by Cristoph Stiefel’s lush chordal textures and driving momentum, he also clearly relishes the opportunity to produce high, rapid solo runs which veer into alternative keys to create a delightfully acidic edge. 'Attitudes’ piano voice possesses similar wayward impudence over a jaunty 5/4 +7/4 left-hand ostinato; playful bass and crashing percussion happily implicated in the lively cheekiness of it all.

Contrasting well, the quietly shifting major/minor beauty of 'Elegy' is emphasised by Arne Huber’s rounded bass sonority and Kevin Chesham’s subtle perpetual-motion brushed snare and soft cymbals – all so perfectly poised. 'Pyramid' is a stand-out, Stiefel’s array of arpeggioed, jagged and clear solo lines dancing prominently over subtly-muted left-hand piano chords, and a swift, bubbling tempo maintained by Huber and Chesham.

Full of lyrical finesse and measured intensity, 'New May' is defined as much by space as by sound – eight minutes of melodic tenderness, paring down to Stiefel’s blues-grooved solo conclusion (fading all too soon). Title number 'Big Ship' cruises at a fairly brisk rate of knots, Huber quietly vocalising his scampering bass. Stiefel’s sprightly contrapuntal and chordal display eventually invites bass and drums to intensify the pace, Chesham adding clangs, chimes and fizz throughout to great effect. 'First Blossom‘s charming solo piano brevity leads to the gyrations of 'The Dance' – highly charged, yet never boiling over, it’s a particularly compelling performance incorporating prepared/muted piano strings, bells and handclaps.

The tuneful simplicity of 'South' is followed by 'Angel Falls', a combination of tumbling energy and shimmering piano-led eddies amid suggestions of Stiefel’s familiar isorhythmic style. Vividly-painted 'Solar Glider', from tense take-off to free-flight, is a graceful album closer, the trio swirling both elatedly and calmly (with occasional buffeting) before disappearing into the blue yonder.

All this amounts to an excellent hour of jazz creativity and originality. For those who love the unpredictable excitement and invention of, say, the Alboran, Avishai Cohen or Baptiste Trotignon trios, ‘Big Ship’ (with its striking, bold cover art) is to be highly recommended.


Anyone With A Heart
Anyone With A Heart
Price: 15.90

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful…, 17 Mar 2014
This review is from: Anyone With A Heart (Audio CD)
THE CLASSICAL FORM of piano trio is unfamiliar in jazz spheres – but, for Finnish pianist/composer Iiro Rantala, Polish violinist Adam Baldych and Austrian cellist Asja Valcic (all classically trained), it seems the perfect grouping to animate these jazz originals from Rantala.

The compositional approach stems from a desire to champion melodies – as Rantala says: “…in today’s jazz, most people try to get by without them… and if they don’t, they play standards.” And much of the sequence is tightly arranged in three parts, beautifully balanced with the freedom to improvise, and frequently sails close to ‘light music’. But it also has a depth of integrity which is both charming and inviting, due in part to the multifarious timbres the ‘string trio’ members achieve between them, as well as their undoubted shared discipline and musicianship. The music feels close and personal, conveying a variety of emotions – from heart-rending romanticism, through gritty chasing momentum or devotional simplicity, to unalloyed and overflowing joy.

Iiro Rantala’s pianistic style is noteable for its precision and clarity, but also for its ‘prepared/muted’ technique which complements the strings of violin and cello, used to great effect in 'Freedom' (at times, its bounciness mimics a synthesised approach 'reminiscent of Vangelis). In contrast, there are echoes of Asja Valcic’s own Radio String Quartet Vienna in the pulsating 'Hard Score', driven by cello and violin, Rantala’s piano running with the heightened intensity and contributing muted bass, whilst the gypsy-jazz violin is phenomenal both in raciness and fluidity. 'A Gift' is easy-going and entirely accessible, Baldych’s agile plucked melody preceding a lush, homely trio arrangement which glistens with top-end piano runs; and the delicate musical box introduction to 'Prayer' builds into an impassioned love song, with the individual violin and cello melodies so yearningly lyrical.

Title track 'Anyone With A Heart' expresses all the warm affection of a Sunday evening’s soft TV drama, its bright, memorable melodies evoking rolling Yorkshire Dales landscapes or stately country houses. And, just as irresistible, is 'A Little Jazz Tune' which, as its name implies, provides a jaunty ‘life’s good’ interlude with Grappelli-style portamento fiddle improvisations over Rantala’s unashamedly cheerful piano. Alone switches to a minor key of sorrowful longing, Valcic’s cello singing so eloquently and movingly; and Rantala’s brief, gentle arrangement of Harold Arlen’s 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' offers the subtlest of silver linings, before heading into the convivial, showy curtain call, er… 'Happy Hippo'!

Those looking for hard-edged, challenging jazz are likely to find this release a touch too light. But it exudes a warmth and a sincerity which is difficult to ignore, such is the charm and openness of Iiro Rantala’s writing and the conviction of his players.


v2.0
v2.0
Price: 9.37

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GoGo… go… GET IT!, 17 Mar 2014
This review is from: v2.0 (Audio CD)
THESE ARE EXCITING TIMES for the jazz piano trio – and Manchester-based GoGoPenguin are key movers in a current new wave of line-ups that eschew the traditional idea of pianist leader and supporting rhythmic duo for a totally democratic and, therefore, absorbing concept in sound.

The band’s debut release, ‘Fanfares’ (2012), created considerable ripples of interest on the British scene, as well as much further afield, with their obvious e.s.t.-influenced grooves (confirmed, as Svensson fans would recognise, by the opening track title, ‘Seven Sons of Bjorn’). That tantalising 35-minute recording, hailed by critics, no doubt found a quickly-gathering fan base clamouring for the next chapter, whilst finding the subsequent live experiences every bit as engaging – those present at the band’s hometown gigs at Band On The Wall (that I, too, witnessed) would, I’m sure, be happy to concur.

It’s important to recognise now, though, that GoGo Penguin are not “the next Esbjörn Svensson Trio” (nor could they be, given the Swedish band’s untouchable seminal status) – and I hazard a guess that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) would see it that way, too. So, what is both gratifying and thrilling about this new follow-up release, ‘v2.0′, is that the trio are already clearly honing a sound which appears to be uniquely theirs, Blacka and Turner providing the distinctive and frequently blistering up-front dance-groove edge. The resultant effect is mesmeric and trance-like (think ‘Aphex Twin’), with such breathtaking precision of metre to almost sound electronic… but with the satisfaction that it’s not! Illingworth, too, displays great mastery of his instrument, exploring the gamut of techniques and expression as well as, at times, seemingly employing Roland Kirk’s ability to ‘split his brain in two’ to state one melody with his right hand and another with his left – rapid electronica or anthemic breadth, his grand piano offers it all.

What better illustration of the band’s sparky originality than 'Garden Dog Barbecue'? – Chris Illingworth’s zippy right-hand piano melodies over grungy, leaping left-hand fifths chords shared with buzzing bass, and all sped along by breakneck skittering drums, plus some terrific rhythmic and tempo changes. Opening track, 'Murmuration', reveals the trio’s alter ego – beautifully-considered, sustained and repetitive piano against bubbling bass and drums, intensifying in stature with electronically-echoic arco bass until the flocking avian display it suggests disperses to nothingness. 'Kamaloka' brings to the fore Turner’s extraordinarily complex electro/techno drum likeness which drives a bright, arpeggio-accompanied piano tune, as does the following 'Fort', Blacka’s rasping bass combining so well with drums to its abrupt close. Not sinc'e Stefano Bollani’s live solo piano interpretation of a scratched vinyl LP have I heard the skills that are to be found in 'One Percent; already a compelling, bustling and highly-charged number, the final 45 seconds convincingly simulate, through a variety of closely-timed rhythms, a skipping CD – from an acoustic trio, this is something which has to be heard to be believed, and raises a smile with me every time!

'Home's infectious groove is again down to the brilliant interaction between Blacka and Turner, laying down a relentless and very listenable ground for Illingworth’s strong piano melodies, and Blacka’s big, scampering bass sound resonating clearly at the close. Recorded in total darkness, 'The Letter' is characterised by a heavy, sprawling and perhaps menacing pulse. 'To Drown In You' continues the darker feel with its hint of Philip Glass piano and ethereal bowed bass… and with what is becoming Turner’s trademark percussive sound, his staccatoed rhythms shared with Blacka’s bass, and the huge energy of Illingworth’s ‘split piano’, this is a standout. The brief, spacial 'Shock and Awe', against a tense metronome-like tick, carries a palpable weight of emotion and presents another side to the trio – perhaps something for future concepts. Lucid and vibrant, 'Hopopono' closes the album with an impressive summing-up of this band’s evident empathy and, perhaps even, telepathy.

Credit to sound engineers Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams for clarity of production, this release resembles a huge step forward in GoGo Penguin’s development – and the next gig will certainly be something to look forward to.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2014 8:39 PM BST


Tower Casa
Tower Casa
Price: 12.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Bring on the Summer!, 17 Mar 2014
This review is from: Tower Casa (Audio CD)
DRIPPING WITH WARMTH, Afro-Cuban rhythms and sprightly melodies, Nick Smart’s Trogon* presents a lively, listenable programme of originals and arrangements, all led by the crisp, agile tone of Smart’s trumpet and flugel.

I’ve been listening to this debut release for some time, its resolute, upbeat spark – both in terms of writing and playing – gradually seeping into my consciousness… and possibly helping to drag me through the final throes of a messy winter! There’s an appealing depth and range to this sextet’s collaborative sound – hardly surprising, given the stature of the personnel. Much-in-demand, versatile electric guitarist Chris Montague reveals his mellower side (away from the punky crackles of Troyka); electric bassist Denny Martinez supplies a fabulously deep, resonant groove to combine well with the sunshine-laden piano of Kishon Khan; and the drums and percussion of Dave Hamblett and Pete Eckford ensure these seven tracks shimmer and glisten with a palpable joy.

Nick Smart is renowned in UK big band circles as player and director (Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann, Troyk-estra), alongside his role as Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, and brings his considerable experience to this vibrant outing. His own title composition, 'Tower Casa', revels in its obvious Latin flavour, Khan’s characteristic octaves and chords and Eckford’s embellishments colouring Smart’s trumpet improvisations. A particularly buoyant arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s familiar 'Kind Folk' finds guitar and trumpet intertwining with remarkably similar timbre, Montague’s typically fluent chordal and solo extemporisations also impressing. Kishon Khan’s writing adds a considerably funky edge to this recording, bass and percussion clearly savouring the piano rhythm of the tambura-introduced 'Todi or Not Todi'; and Smart’s ebullient, gritty trumpet lead encourages the wiry, playful side of Montague’s nature, the whole number just teeming with light and vivacity.

Traditional tune, 'Candela', is arranged as a wistful, delightfully-measured flugel ballad; and Stan Sulzmann’s 'Round the Round It All' (sounding quite different to Sulzmann’s sax-led Neon Quartet version) dances excitedly to Smart’s tune, thanks to Dave Hamblett’s and Denny Martinez’s determined pulse, decorated variously by Pete Eckford’s percussive brightness. 'Everybody Else’s Song' (Wheeler/Smart) shuffles amiably, guitar and trumpet again accurately doubling as front line, as well as displaying their individual melodic capabilities. Finally, Kishon teams up with the leader in penning 'Mo Tilda', an insouciant carnival sundown tune (featuring some great guitar and piano gyrations) which might well party long into the night.

The rich, eclectic and international feel of ‘Tower Casa’ ensures a brisk, accessible forty minutes’ worth of sun-kissed splendour in the company of six accomplished jazz musicians. So… bring on the Summer!

*Trogon (as illustrated on the album art) is the national bird of Cuba.


Trio Riot
Trio Riot
Price: 13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TRIO!… RIOT!… PUNK!… JAZZ!… BOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!, 17 Mar 2014
This review is from: Trio Riot (Audio CD)
……It’s OK – I haven’t ‘lost it’ (as they say)… but this saxophone/drum trio is perhaps as hard-hitting and as ‘in your face’ as they come.

Released on the Efpi label, already renowned for blazing a trail of alternative improvisatory forms, Trio Riot bring us an eponymous album of honest, edgy, brash, chordless energy. With a sound that might encompass the ’60s jazz innovation of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, the gritty North-Eastern blues of Back Door and the anarchy of mid-’70s British punk, Anglo/Danish/Swiss band Trio Riot brandish an extreme vitality rarely heard on the current contemporary jazz scene.

Formed in Helsinki in 2009, the trio comprises Danish alto player Mette Rasmussen, Swiss tenorist Sam Andreae and, from the quintessentially northern UK oasis of Bollington (famous not least for its fine ales), drummer David Meier. Taking, as a musical parallel, the vast industrial heritage of Manchester, together these three instrumentalists creatively forge a feral, punchy and straight-down-the-line concoction of original, improvisatory, yet well-structured compositions which ‘take no prisoners’ when it comes to openness of heart and raw musical passion. You’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’ (‘Marmite’-style) – but I defy you not to be impressed (as I am) with the conviction of Mette, Sam and David.

Opening number, '3', fanfares the trio’s intent – grating, trilled sax solos interspersed with heavy drum responses; squawking, guttural tenor lines and shrill alto shrieks against fast-paced rhythms (those of a nervous disposition, please alight here!). 'Lala-lala' (an onomatapaeic title) provides a percussive canvas over which Rasmussen and Andreae duel with increasing fervour; and 'Rondeau' finds both sax players in a less confrontational frame of mind – indeed, they’re maybe of a more cheeky mindset, challenging drummer Meier to play their rasping and fun-filled game. 'I’m So Glad It Wasn’t Me' sputters and sparks with atonal brashness; and 'Candid' is just that – outspoken, with almost timpani-like heaviness… all good stuff!

'Bartstock' opens (and closes) with contrapuntal vigour, Rasmussen and Andreae chirping wildly in-between, against the rapid complexity of Meier’s percussion. 'Duo' is a tense conversation between alto and tenor, though not without the suggested unwanted interjection of Meier’s ‘nails on blackboard’ cymbal-screeching; and 'Guru' is an all-out rumpus, with impressively anarchic, tremulant, harmonic tenor whinings.

Unsurprisingly, 'Dadadadadadadada' (is that enough ‘da’s?) is an intense three-minute celebration of all things reed and percussion – love it or hate it, it’s simply (for me, at least) sheer, unalloyed madness… but all in the best possible taste! '31' is sparky, blistering, riotous and altogether… well, wonderful. And 'Disorder' (Joy Division) just revels in the relentless punky/’discoey’ groove laid down by David Meier, Andreae’s tenor improvising against Rasmussen’s quirky, repetitious and percussive alto. Drawing breath, closing number 'The Last Hurrah' finds a corrupted solace in the searing, sinewy combination of cymbals and reedy harmonics, until alto and tenor find a mutually common ground and, finally, real beauty in their partnership – a mutual coming-together.

Recorded in just two days, mixed by Alex Bonney and packaged in Efpi’s ever-distinctive screenprinted sumptuousness (courtesy of designer Simen Engen Larsen).


Slowly Rolling Camera
Slowly Rolling Camera
Price: 12.02

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Widescreen wonder, 5 Mar 2014
This review is from: Slowly Rolling Camera (Audio CD)
IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.

There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Hiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.

The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track 'Protagonist' which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Hiby’s pliant opening bass riff, 'Dream a Life' inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and 'Rain That Falls' conjures ’007′ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. 'Bridge' is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.

'Fragile Ground' is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat 'Two Roads'; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into 'Rolling Clouds', an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.

Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).


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