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Distilled
Distilled
Price: 23.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Warmth and colour - a piano trio 'MUST-HAVE', 12 Aug 2013
This review is from: Distilled (Audio CD)
SOME THOUSAND MILES in a South-Easterly direction, Sunna Gunnlaugs' latest release took its journey to my door (Reykjavik, or thereabouts, to North West England)... and to my heart. The pianist's new trio album, `Distilled' - with orgrímur Jónsson (double bass) and Scott McLemore (drums) - is a masterclass in how to achieve the tricky balance between accessibility and invention; melody and the unexpected; feel-good and mystery.

Hailing from Iceland - but also having spent a number of years in the USA and touring worldwide - Gunnlaugs has a catalogue of recordings to her name, the more recent being `The Dream' and `Long Pair Bond'. But I am in that happy, exciting position of only now discovering the treasures out there - and this new album, with all but one of the compositions written by the trio's members, is a great starting point.

`Momento' is a lively, brash and bluesy opener - right from the hard-edged drum introduction of McLemore, it promises a satisfaction which Gunnlaugs' bright piano style confirms, bass adding the bounce. Title track, `Distilled', presents a homely, melodic piano line and the shared trio aim of creating an easy-going countrified appeal, whilst also possessing an agreeable edge of uncertainty. The anarchic swagger of miniature `Switcheroo', with its slightly inebriated manner, is a delight, the rhythm intentionally taking its time to find its feet, but building towards a more steered, octave-driven (cheeky, even) piano lead... before dissolving once more into further random acts of brilliance.

`Smiling Face' is aptly titled - a sweet, unpretentious piano tune (shades of Bill Evans) in which Jónsson takes up an articulate bass solo, McLemore fluttering delicately through a battery of cymbals and brushed snare. Cantering steadily in, and gradually picking up the pace, is one of the album's real gems - `Gallop'. It has an affable air which then develops the same kind of abandon that characterised the more playful pieces of the late, great Esbjörn Svensson. Very attractive indeed.

The two short, freely-improvised numbers, `Spin 6′ and `Spin 7′, reveal the band members' empathy with each other, the latter's sensitivity suggesting (to me) an early-morning creaking `frostscape', sun rising to wake the day. `The New Now' is so `together', Gunnlaugs' delicately propelled soloing shining above the equally sprightly rhythms of drums and bass, leading to the sonorous, meandering bass introduction of '24H Trip'. This exquisite seven-minute jewel, with a gentle Bachian feel reminiscent of John Lewis's renowned MJQ recordings, finds writer Jónsson in great form, creating a slightly disquieting undercurrent, and McLemore contributing atmospheric rumbles and shimmers.

Based on an old Icelandic melody (`Lóan er komin'), Scott McLemore's `Things You Should Know' provides the pianist the space to state and then expand lucidly on the folksong charm, its simplicity never overblown by her colleagues. Paul Motian's `From Time to Time' is a brief yet alluring rendition, the expressive openness of the interpretation a real pleasure. Equally spacial is `Opposite Side' - one of Gunnlaugs' four compositions here - its late-night mellowness and inquiring bass suggesting the merest hint of melancholy.

With so much warmth and colour emanating from this beautiful production, `Distilled' is certainly much more a case of Aurora Borealis than Icelandic Low. Since its arrival, the CD has barely left my player, such is its charm and breadth of interest - and I sense it will remain close for a long time to come.


Shepherd's Stories
Shepherd's Stories
Price: 5.52

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't hesitate - excellent, original jazz (jazz/rock), 17 July 2013
This review is from: Shepherd's Stories (MP3 Download)
ISRAELI-BORN DRUMMER and percussionist Asaf Sirkis has firmly established himself as a highly individual and treasured mainstay of the buzzing British and international jazz scene. For many years the rhythmic backbone of Gilad Atzmon's amazing Orient House Ensemble, also to be found within John Law's and Alex Hutton's piano trios with bassist Yuri Goloubev, and alongside Gwilym Simcock in Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio (to name but a few!), his precise, sensitive and versatile approach to jazz is both refreshing and unfailingly compelling.

For his own current trio project, his compositions and performances are fascinatingly redolent of the jazz-rock/'Canterbury' period of the mid to late '70s and early '80s (I'm thinking maybe `National Health', `Colosseum II', `Bruford'... even `Camel') - but the music is very much of the present, Sirkis's many influences crystallising into this distinctive sound. Teaming up again with guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and bassist and fellow `Orient Householder' Yaron Stavi (following on from their 2010 album, `Letting Go'), they present this new collection, `Shepherd's Stories'. Sirkis explains the album title as the `déja vu' effect we can experience when hearing a melody; familiar yet unable to place, but reminding us of times past and "where we have come from" - perhaps another suggestion of the richness and vision of Sirkis's creativity.

As before, the extended tracks feature Spiliotopoulos who creates a clear, sustained lead guitar tone and technique often reminiscent of the great Allan Holdsworth. Considerable melodic interventions are also made by the accomplished Stavi on bass, leaving the guitar free to then create complex and varied backdrops of electric or acoustic chordal textures and washes.

Sirkis, himself, displays all of his customary panache throughout - yes, the leader and writer, but never dominating proceedings. He is one of those musicians who, in concert, completely captivates with his confidence, meticulousness and (very clearly) the enjoyment of all he is sharing with colleagues and audience alike. Here, `Meditation' exemplifies his method, with bassist and guitarist combining to create a mysterious, anticipatory opening through which Sirkis gradually joins to reveal his mastery - subtle at first, then joyously abundant (check out the title track, too, for Asaf at glorious jazz/rock full tilt!).

For this release, three guests are welcomed into the fold, each of whom colour the trio's sound in an interesting and different way. The Fender Rhodes of John Turville introduces an exciting new dynamic, with a deft display in the opening '1801′, and then later on in `Dream Sister'. In-demand flautist Gareth Lockrane also augments well the trio's sound, presenting a beautifully restrained yet lithe improvisation in `Together'; and the charming, layered, wordless vocals of Sylwia Bialas on the gentle `Traveller' further enhance the trio (for me, pleasingly reminiscent of the `new age' vocals of Mike Oldfield's early catalogue). These contributions certainly whet the appetite for, I hope, future collaborations.

I have been listening for a number of weeks now and have gradually become enchanted by this album's feel-good ambience - another of those very welcome `slow burners' that can be returned to again and again to reveal hidden delights.`Shepherd's Stories' is launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, on 17 July, 2013, followed by a number of UK tour dates.


Between Shadows
Between Shadows
Price: 14.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing stuff - BUY it!, 17 July 2013
This review is from: Between Shadows (Audio CD)
FROM THE very first horns entry, this debut album from Kenny Wheeler Prize-winning trumpeter/composer Reuben Fowler announces its clear intent - contemporary big band artistry of significant stature! Only a short time since graduation from the Royal Academy of Music, and just a handful of years from picking up his instrument as a teenager, Fowler has mustered an incredible line-up of musicians to play out the creativity that seemingly gushes from his passion for this field of jazz! The personnel is on outstanding form, boasting such names as Stan Sulzmann, Jim Hart, Tom Harrell, George Crowley, with Dave Hamblett (drums) and Matt Robinson (piano and Rhodes).

Opening number `Too Minor' (written by the late Richard Turner) is an absolute tour de force, brimming with confidence and impetus, building in energy and complexity as it progresses. The mellow `Holness', with George Crowley leading both smoothly and lithely on clarinet, is introduced with tight brass harmonies which then extend out into lush scoring for the whole band. Indeed, the writing is exceptional throughout this album - accessible, yet overflowing with ideas which twist and turn away from the conventional (not unlike Dave Holland's large-scale projects).

`Dundry (for JGB)', written for alto sax soloist James Gardiner-Bateman and referencing his south-of-Bristol residence, presents a ten-minute groove-driven stand-out track, with Hart's vibes and Alex Munk's guitar suggesting a landscape more Manhattan than Somerset (Fowler & Hutch, maybe?!), complete with brassy crescendos. It just pulls you under its spell, with Tom Harrell's flugelhorn the perfect Hubbard-like lead, and Gardiner-Bateman providing a wonderfully jarring sax line - magnificent right through to its TV theme tune close!

The five-part suite `Beyond Shadows' neatly incorporates an exquisite arrangement of `A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square', the tempo eventually changing up a gear to showcase ravishing improvisations including that of trombonist, Robbie Harvey, backed by Jim Hart. Voices add another dimension to `The Lost' and `The Lost and the Found' (gorgeous tone from Brigitte Beraha), with Stan Sulzmann embellishing brightly on soprano - and Fowler plays flugel so assuredly and sensitively beyond his years. Tenor player Joe Wright features on `Ending', drawing this generous release (recorded in just two days) to a close.

We are told that the pieces in the suite `Beyond Shadows' are a response to poetry which suggests `something special, to cherish'. That is certainly the case here, and Reuben Fowler deserves all the accolades that are sure to come his way - firstly, for his compositional maturity, and then for the achievement of masterminding such an accomplished and illustrious group of musicians to breathe life into his music.

As is the Edition Records way, the production is crystal clear, capturing the detail from the full range of dynamics to present this big band in all its glory. A real winner of an album - and fingers crossed for a live performance somewhere along the line!


Alex Wilson Trio
Alex Wilson Trio
Price: 11.42

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't expect to sit still!, 31 May 2013
This review is from: Alex Wilson Trio (Audio CD)
Zurich-based pianist Alex Wilson has waited until his ninth album to release a purely acoustic trio set - a combination of studio and live recordings. This is jazz... but infused deeply with Wilson's broad experience of so many world music strands, creating a lively and distinctive sound palette - Caribbean, Latin and West African flavours clearly inhabit this varied selection of interpretations and new compositions. Alex Wilson is joined by the always-entertaining Davide Mantovani on bass, whilst drum credits are shared between Frank Tontoh and Tristan Banks (both well-versed in the complexities of world music rhythms).

The selection of these nine extended titles is fascinating, and certainly eclectic. Steve Winwood's `Fly' and Sting's `We work the black seam together' are transformed from their rock origins - a Winwood rumba (he would approve!), and a marvellously driving - almost electric - bass in the latter. Wilson's writing here states or implies the familiar melodies, and then takes them in unlikely, and refreshing, improvised new directions.

Miles Davis and Cole Porter are also given a new outlook. The initially understated and delicate `Solar' builds gradually into an exciting Cuban celebration, conga effect to the fore, held in check only briefly by Mantovani's accomplished bass solo. `What is this thing called love?', another live recording, really swings to Banks' fine drumming; terrific soloing all round.

But it is possibly in the originals by Alex Wilson, Davide Mantovani and Frank Tontoh that the trio shines brightest. Wilson's piano technique is, frequently, breathtaking - the sheer rapidity of his runs perhaps comparable to those of Oscar Peterson, but sounding highly original in this jazz/world fusion setting. The kora imitation in `Remercier les travellers' (based on a Malian melody taught to Wilson by Mamou Sidiki Diabeté) is remarkably and accurately observed for piano! `Kalisz' provides another energetic display, whilst Tontoh's African-imbued `Jasmina' dances relentlessly, eventually heading into the distance (perhaps still going!). `The Quest', in contrast, is a beautifully subtle and tantalising Wilson original, drawing us in to hear every nuance (deliciously resonant bass and characteristic descending Latin piano chromatics). Mantovani's `Arab Spring' then picks up the pace again with unstoppable momentum, both he and Wilson gyrating and whirling around impressive drum skills from Tontoh.

For piano trio jazz that sparkles with influences drawn from different continents and cultures, and from personnel who clearly relish bouncing rhythms and patterns off each other, this self-titled album delivers an infectious and exuberant show - just don't expect to sit still for long!


Entertaining Tyrants
Entertaining Tyrants
Price: 12.38

5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be entertained..., 29 April 2013
This review is from: Entertaining Tyrants (Audio CD)
Compassionate Dictatorship have been playing together for around six years, recording twice before (`Coup d'Etat' and `Cash Cows'). `Entertaining Tyrants', however, is the quartet's first release with progressive young British label, Jellymould Jazz, consolidating their already distinctive sound. The personnel is outstanding - Tori Freestone (tenor sax), Jez Franks (guitar), Jasper Hiby (double bass), James Maddren (drums) - and, between them, this esteemed line-up create a powerful yet beautifully crafted set of nine Franks and/or Freestone compositions, all presented with an impressive display of mutual understanding, collaboration and musicianship. The melodic pairing is excellent: Freestone's characteristic tenor delivery, in turns both mellifluous and gritty; Franks slickly switching from bright solo cadences to lush chord progressions.

Having listened over and over to `Tyrants' (released 29 April 2013), this is a classic example of what I happily refer to as a `jazz treasure chest'. Opening the lid, it's obvious straightaway that there is much inside to delight - deeper inspection, though, fascinatingly reveals greater `jewels' as they very gradually come to the surface. And what a hoard!...

`Anger Management', with its sarcastic opening tenor call and sneering guitar replies, immediately provides a curiously-appealing, edgy tension. The energy here is wonderful, as is the terrific interplay between these close musical minds - and what sounds like a free-for-all is, in fact, a masterclass in control and shared voice. `In the Chophouse' displays smart improvisation, as well as delicate guitar washes. `Bubble and Squeak's momentum is skilfully carried by Jasper Hiby's fluent bass and James Maddren's incisive rhythm; calm is briefly restored with the lofty `Sit Tight'.

Changing tempi and close sax/guitar work are a feature of the attractive `Universal 4′, with Hiby's recognisably colourful lines breaking through and Maddren setting an intricately shimmering pace. On `Ratios', the guitar lays down a gentler pulse for Freestone to solo over, with Franks also contributing flowing improvisation. 'Pottering Around' is a standout, the tenor's initial plaintive sound encouraging the group to freely exchange ideas (it's lovely stuff) before gleefully breaking into a great guitar-driven groove with a mischievous ascending, spiralling tenor catch, Hiby and Maddren again a class act with their tight rhythmic contribution. A sense of anarchy (and fun!) pervades `Precious', Freestone contrasting hard-pushing screeches with beautifully sonorous low-register passages, whilst `Loop' closes the album with a mellow, perhaps slightly dark, serenity.

The quartet's recorded sound, thanks to Nic Taylor and Dominic Sales, is crisp and clean, giving the listener a satisfyingly close experience, as well as a longing to witness, first hand, their exciting live chemistry! Good to see, then, that the Dictatorship have issued an accompanying tour schedule (with more dates to be added):

11 May 2013: Skein Jazz, Norway
23 May 2013: Hebden Bridge, UK
2 June 2013: Colchester Arts, UK
3 June 2013: Sela Bar, Leeds, UK
11 June: The Spin, Oxford, UK
1 September 2013: Milestones Jazz Club, Lowestoft, UK
17 November 2013: Teignmouth Jazz Festival, UK

A great album to get inside - highly recommended.


Birds - Marius Neset
Birds - Marius Neset
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 10.77

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Into the stratosphere... with 5 stars and more!, 25 Mar 2013
This review is from: Birds - Marius Neset (Audio CD)
WHOEVER adheres to the 5-star rating system for music reviews may need to begin to think again with the likes of Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset and his contemporaries on the current jazz circuit! The last couple of years have seen Neset's career advance rapidly, with everything he touches turning to gold. In 2011, he wowed jazz fans and critics alike with his Edition Records debut, `Golden Xplosion', revealing an astounding mastery of composition and sax-playing, his distinctive `self-accompanied soloing' technique leaving eyes and ears pleasantly smarting from his apparently inexhaustible displays of melody, pace and complex rhythm (and how dare he appear so cool, post-gig?!).

It's evident that Neset's roots lie in the folksong and atmospheres of his homeland, imbuing both his playing and writing with contrasts - sometimes heady and exhilarating; then shifting to an other-worldly paradise, musically capturing vast landscapes and a sense of time standing still. His recent duo recording with tuba player, Daniel Herskedal (`Neck of the Woods') sumptuously revealed much of the latter.

For his new release, `Birds', Marius Neset has surrounded himself with jazz's finest - Ivo Neame (piano/keyboards); Jim Hart (vibes); Jasper Hiby (bass) and Anton Eger (drums). Add to this an accomplished gathering of brass players - along with Bjarke Mogensen on accordion, and sister, Ingrid, on flutes - and one begins to understand the scale of this project. Neset takes compositional credits throughout an album of extraordinary variety, complexity and maturity - one which is exceptionally well balanced and produced.

The title track implies an energetic, `avian conversation' of squawks, chirps, tweets and calls, all building from a single note beginning. As this near-eleven-minute opener establishes itself, the saxophone comparisons with Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker become clear, as do the creative and rhythmic influences of Neset's legendary mentor, Django Bates. It's elaborate stuff, demanding much from each musician, before concluding with a lyrical flute coda which then merges into the marvellously distant, brass-sustained `Reprise'.

`Boxing', complete with commentator, crowd and `seconds out' bell, has the quintet bounding around the canvas, none of the players pulling any punches. Jim Hart's vibes shine, in conjunction with the always excellent piano of Ivo Neame, whilst Hiby and Eger thrash things out as only they can! Melodically and rhythmically, it's a tour de force (with a cheeky `knockout' finish!).

That contrast mentioned earlier is typified by an elegant transition into `Portuguese Windmill', Marius then picking up the tempo on soprano, eventually leading into a beautiful, lyrical interlude from Neame. The appropriately-named `Spring Dance' follows as a spritely tenor and flute duet - to my ears, evoking Milhaud or Poulenc - and given a characteristically precise, percussive edge by Anton Eger.

The Brecker-like `Field of Clubs' drives along with a bright demeanour, suggesting all the memorability of a TV theme tune, before free-falling into the dreamy `The Place of Welcome'. Neset deftly displays, in writing and playing, his understanding of light and shade with this calming episode: Hiby's recognisable and appealing bass to the fore; vibes and keyboards adding to the feel-good.

`Sacred Universe' and `Math of Mars' take us up into the stratosphere - and what a place to inhabit! Neset floating above piano and vibes, the next minute an engaging piano trio (intruigingly not sounding like their usual partnership, Phronesis!); and then Ivo Neame's keyboard-painted galaxy providing a magical basis for the ethereal tuba and tenor of Herskedal and Neset; sublime drums, whispers and soprano sax overlays integrated with brass take us out into the unknown...

Finally, a rallying curtain call from `the Birds', heralded and maintained by Eger's snare: `Fanfare', a triumphant, upbeat and folksy closing number from an extraordinary collective. All that's missing, after the big finish, is your applause!

Another superbly-produced masterpiece from pioneering British label, Edition Records, proclaiming as always the creativity, originality and energy bursting out of the current contemporary jazz scene.


The Glimpse
The Glimpse
Price: 13.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So, the weaker left hand, eh?! I think not!, 13 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Glimpse (Audio CD)
With his latest release, Robert Mitchell has delved into 'another world' - a place where Maurice Ravel, Bill Evans and others have gone before, but perhaps not with such solitary exposure! 'The Glimpse' is an album of entirely 'left hand only' works for solo piano, the majority crafted by Mitchell himself, but also with offerings from Fred Hersch and Federico Mompou.

As many a player would testify, the left is often recognised as the less dominant hand at the piano, acting as support (chordal or otherwise) to the more melodic right. To showcase it alone, then, across the whole range of a Steinway D Grand is something of a challenge, to say the least! Robert Mitchell, however, has clearly explored and researched how to achieve connected and engaging performances of these sinistral pieces with great attention to variance of dynamics and sensitive and judicious use of the sustain pedal.

It is difficult to categorise the genre to which this collection belongs - perhaps classical, maybe chamber jazz - yet it doesn't actually matter. It's a diverse soundworld, with a number of the twelve compositions being beautifully spacial and lyrical, whilst others with complex patterns and keen tempi are staggering in their precision, range and (no doubt) muscular strength!

The flamboyant 'A Confession' is strikingly animated and spiky, with a strong, pacey rhythm and repeated phrases, making it difficult to become convinced it is the so-called 'weaker hand' presenting this elaborate display! Repeated, close listening does little to dispel such disbelief, the technique being so remarkably fluent. 'The Re-Emergent' is similarly demanding, relentless in its pulsating journey across the piano's vast range.

Hersch's 'Nocturne for Left Hand Alone' is just that, with a yearning, romantic melody and an accompanying arpeggioed lower part, suggesting maybe Chopin, Field and Rachmaninov all at once. 'The Sage' is another masterful exercise in melody and searching accompaniment "to integrative thinkers/intuits everywhere", whilst the closing 'Alice's Touch' provides an elegant and thoughtful response to its dedicatee.

Whirlwind's clear engineered sound, recorded in the excellent acoustic of Liverpool's modern Capstone Theatre, takes the listener right there, to hear every nuance of these remarkable written and improvised works. One can imagine the live experience to be both audibly and visually rewarding, particularly in satisfying curiosity that 'the left' can, indeed, single-handedly put on such an assured display!


Places - Aquarium
Places - Aquarium
Price: 12.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful second album from a classy quartet, 11 Mar 2013
This review is from: Places - Aquarium (Audio CD)
WITH their eponymous album (Babel Label, 2011), Aquarium presented a mature and distinctive debut on the UK's vibrant contemporary jazz scene. `Places', their much-anticipated follow-up on Jellymould Jazz, confirms that this quartet of creative, hard-working musicians, led by pianist and composer Sam Leak, is continuing to develop a very special and captivating sound. Leak clearly puts heart and soul into his writing, as well as his playing; the emotion and conviction are there for all to hear across these eight originals - from the dark openings of `Milan', through the almost anarchic `Scribbles and Scrawls', to the feel-good of `Daybreak'.

James Allsopp gives an assured lead on tenor, offering rich tone and beautifully fluent melodies, as well as wonderfully screeching episodes! When Allsopp introduces another angle - bass clarinet - it hints at English folksong (I'm thinking 'Finzi, Vaughan Williams') creating a mood sometimes mysterious, but always delightful. Calum Gourlay (bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums), now both familiar names on the circuit, must be a dream to work with - close-knit yet adventurous, and evidently `in tune' with the many melodic and rhythmic twists and turns that are conjured by Leak and Allsopp. Some may call this `chamber' jazz, but that perhaps belies the fact that this is inspired and stimulating original music of the highest calibre.

The opening title track, `Places', initially suggests (as does `Marrakech') an old standard favourite, with Allsopp providing its lyrical melody, but soon growing into something more complex and pacey. `Milan' builds with a troubled undercurrent, eventually transforming into a second section of delicate, piano-led positivity. `Scribbles and Scrawls' barges in abruptly, with a terrific free and lively swagger (reminiscent of the superb `Evensong' on their debut album, with similar abandon over hymn-like piano sequences!). `February' steals in, bringing with it the most luxurious bass clarinet soloing (Maurice Jarre's `Lara's Theme' comes to mind in places!) against Blackmore's impressive, feathery and persistent brushwork. `Clutter' is infectious, Gourlay scampering all over it, before `Catherine Grove' agitatedly bursts through (Leak reveals an unpleasant back-story to this, when he was attacked at knife-point in this area of London). Nevertheless, it provides a piece characterised by a relentless momentum, with excellent piano improvisation from Leak, and the whole quartet providing an exciting urgency. This studio recording ends on an even keel with the bright and breezy `Daybreak'.

Concluding the album is a bonus track - a great live broadcast of `Milan' from London Jazz Festival, courtesy of BBC Radio 3's `Jazz Line-Up', prompting us (as if needed) to catch this quartet on their UK tour which accompanies this album release.

Very highly recommended.


Mirrors - Kenny Wheeler & Norma Winstone
Mirrors - Kenny Wheeler & Norma Winstone
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 11.17

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stellar line-up, stellar jazz, stellar production... BUY IT!!!, 25 Feb 2013
'A BREATH of fresh air, a change for you', and a remarkable new jazz release featuring an extraordinary breadth of experience, musicianship and creativity.

'Mirrors' brings together the legendary Kenny Wheeler (flugelhorn) and Norma Winstone (vocals) in an exceptional collaboration with the 25-strong London Vocal Project directed by Pete Churchill, the brilliant Mark Lockheart (saxes), and the quite superb rhythm section of Nikki Iles (piano), Steve Watts (bass) and James Maddren (drums). This original suite of beautiful music by Wheeler is built around texts from Lewis Carroll, Stevie Smith and W B Yeats, creating what feels like a unique palette of vocal and instrumental colour. Originally a commission for five solo voices, it has evolved into something far more expansive, and is very special indeed.

The poetry heard can be curious, intruiging, melancholy, and even perplexing! But, above all, this is a joyous recording, and one which soon encourages the listener to participate in the words, melodies and the whole fascinating experience (I certainly have done!). This has to be due to the empathy these accomplished musicians have - it's tangible. And if one applies a 'player cam' observation to any of the artists here, it is both rewarding and breathtaking!

The LVP's singing is glorious, and wonderfully attentive. This is a huge and challenging project for combined voices, and the range of moods and expression these young singers create is so impressive. Sometimes whisperingly smooth, on other occasions bright and jaunty, their clear sound might be described as 'retro' (perhaps reminiscent of Sixties vocal jazz) - but it is much more than that. Taking the marvellous 'Breughel' as just one example - the chord sequences of the opening three stanzas are spine-tinglingly luscious, yet their immediate choral restatement enhances this still further, far from the 'meaningless sound' of which they sing. Priceless!

The instantly-recognisable depth and expression of Norma Winstone's voice compels us, as always, to hang on every word. The buoyant 'Breughel' already mentioned; the downbeat mood of 'The Lover Mourns' and 'The Bereaved Swan'; the whimsical, playful 'The Hat'; the marvellously 'swung' vocal of 'Tweedledum' - all delivered with compelling authority and assurance. Combined with Kenny Wheeler's characteristic flugel mellowness and reaching runs, this is stimulating contemporary jazz which demands both attention and exploration.

Mark Lockheart's playing is warm, assured and always appealing, offering some great interspersed tenor lines on the lively, opening 'Humpty Dumpty' and later on with 'The Deathly Child'. Soprano on 'The Broken Heart' gives the 'withered roses' tale an appropriate, even mocking, edge.

'Black March' is an instant favourite with its bright lyric, an irresistible groove from Iles, Watts and Maddren, and infectious vocals from LVP. Here, and throughout this whole album, Nikki Iles' playing is outstanding, showcasing her many pianistic attributes - the lightness of touch, dexterity and inventiveness are a joy to hear (with excellently engineered piano sound), frequently raising a smile with this reviewer!

A significant release from Edition Records which, in terms of personnel, performance and production, they have achieved magnificently... and one which I cannot recommend highly enough.


Yatra - Ivo Neame
Yatra - Ivo Neame
Price: 14.67

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The state of British contemporary jazz... SUPERB!, 8 Oct 2012
This review is from: Yatra - Ivo Neame (Audio CD)
SINCE the release of this outstanding album a couple of weeks ago, I have purposely held back (until now) from publishing any kind of review - indeed, this may not be what I would write a month, or even a year, from now! Why? Because `Yatra', translated as `journey', is very much that - a fascinating and varied sequence of originals which gradually, on closer examination and repeated listening, reveals the intricacies and ingenuity of its writing, arranging and playing.

Ivo Neame's profile and reputation has undoubtedly and unsurprisingly risen to great heights - now firmly established as a leading pianist on the UK contemporary jazz circuit with his distinctive, individual voice being a key element in the sound of Phronesis, Kairos 4tet and many others. This third album of Neame's demonstrates his skill as leader, and in writing for eight parts, with a star-studded line-up which includes the superb bassist Jasper Hiby, much-in-demand Jim Hart on vibes, and a dazzling quartet of free-thinking reeds players including the talented Jason Yarde and Shabaka Hutchings. The diversity possible within this collective takes us from jazz quartet almost to big band, with some superlative soloing, too - and, seeing them perform numbers from this album recently, at Kings Place, London, confirms the live experience to be at least, if not more, as enthralling.

The title track sets the pace for the album's intoxicating energy and bustle, with its complex rhythms, led by Neame's always-authoritative piano style, plus characteristic sparkle from Hart's vibes. Halfway through, the wind quartet breaks off for a great `conversation' of their own - written or improvised, it's lovely stuff! Two pieces from Phronesis' latest album `Walking Dark' (Edition EDN1031) - `Charm Defensive' and `American Jesus' - are given the octet treatment, the latter displaying a wonderful restlessness, with Neame's accordion and the flute of Tori Freestone providing great energy. `That Syncing Feeling' changes the mood with beautifully measured pace and depth, before `Owl of Me' crazily bursts in with mocking, anarchic brilliance, courtesy of Jon Shenoy's clarinet and the ever-present colourful drumming of Dave Hamblett.

And so `Yatra' continues with increasing inventiveness, and accomplished soloing always supported by integral ensemble playing. A distinguished production from Neame, bringing something new to the current wave of homegrown jazz excellence, and leaving us with the intruiging prospect of which creative direction he will take us in next time!

Beautifully recorded and produced, as ever, by Edition Records.


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