Sunday, 24 March 2019

Who'd have thought it?

   I'm delighted that the last couple of years has seen an explosion of new talent onto the British "jazz scene". Not only that, but even more nature artists have been tempted into more experimental formats, and fusions with all sorts of sub genres. In fact, it's even more difficult to define "jazz" than it ever has been, something that I really appreciate. I hope that the fusion continues unabated, and "The Edge of Jazz" will be doing all that it can to help explore the fringes of what's going on out there, and encouraging it.
"Why?" you may well ask do I want to preserve this spirit of experimentation, and why is it so important?
The answer lies buried (for me) in the long ago distant past. From the earliest time that I was ever asked to play in a band I became aware that the musical scene I was about to enter was riven with a set of completely impractical rules. I was recruited because I could play the clarinet..very badly...it was, after all, my third instrument. Nor did I enjoy playing it very much, but the temptation of money loomed large, so I was asked to join a band local to where I was living at the time, and who were gigging regularly in a time frame and area that I could manage. After several moderately successful gigs I asked the leader of the band which played straight ahead new Orleans Jazz (I thought) whether I could take along one of my saxes to play on a couple of numbers. The response has stayed with me to this day " New Orleans Bands don't have saxophones" . I didn't realise just how constricted the view of what 'jazz' was for the members of the band that I was playing in, and then only became aware subsequently of the strict rules that debarred some of the local bands from having banjo's, piano players, or (and always the oddest to me) not allowing a sousaphone player to take the place of a bass player. 
  It was therefore an intense relief to be asked to sit in with a group of local muso's who didn't want to be a part of the raging trad arguments that were endemic at the time, but just wanted to be free to play what they wanted to with any line up that was available to them. Truly a dilemma. Earn money in front of a leaping crowd of young folk getting off their head in cider and be constrained within a musical framework that I didn't fancy or play for nothing within the confines of a band which I enjoyed playing with and who were kindred spirits. Regretfully money won, but I always thought that if I were starting out again I'd want to make it clear at the outset that I wasn't going to hemmed in by the constraints of playing within a format I hated. Which is, I suppose why I so readily applaud all those players who are out there, fusing together styles that deserve to be heard, and playing without the restraints of a single tradition or ethnic approach.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Ten best albums of 2018; Part 2.

There's a very good reason why this is appearing late, not just my tardiness, but also the inability of BT to provide service at some crucial times this December. However, here it is, in all it's splendour,the five to one of albums rated by Edge of Jazz in 2018.

Five: Tony Kofi; "Point blank"

Pretty straightforward blowing, but what blowing! Toni Kofi, backed by 'The Organisation" worked their way through a whole bunch of jazz standards. Kofi plays both alto and baritone sax on the album, but it's all driven along by a really tight band, with Pete Whittaker the organist propelling the whole delightful album along. I played every track on the album in one show or another and you can expect to hear it again in 2019.

Four: Jakob Bro; " Bay of Rainbows"

It always felt wrong playing tracks from this album between two and four in the afternoon. This is a real "late night listen". Bro is, to say the least, sparse in his approach and there are some solo and some group tracks on this album that was (and at times you forget this) recorded live in New York with Thomas Morgan on Bass and Joey Baron on drums. It's recorded with all the clarity you expect from ECM recordings, and this is a belting album that gives more with every listen.

Three: Various Artists; " We out there"

London continues to be melting pot of music and particularly jazz, and this album demonstrates everything that is good about the emerging scene that's been developing. It says a lot for the varied music on here that several of the bands have subsequently recorded albums, whilst others (like Kokoroko!!) are going to produce albums during 2019. What makes it especially creditable is that although the sleeve says "recorded over three days in London" you'd never have guessed with most of the tracks that there were any time constraints at all. There are errors and wrong notes but it all adds to the refreshing gust of wind blowing through British jazz.

Two: Cecile McLorin Salvant; "The Window"

After two encouraging Mack Avenue albums Cecile decided to record both in the studio and live in front of audiences an album on which she's accompanied only by a piano and organ played by Sullivan Fortner (one track has a tenor sax as well). The strength and inventiveness of what was done is staggering in its depth, choice of material and performance. She manages to perform all the songs in such a way that it's often difficult to remember that the backing is so sparse and that its only one persons voice. It's the sort of album that refreshes belief in what a solo human voice can do.

One: Jean Toussaint All Star 6tet; "Brother Raymond"

The album blew me away and then I saw the band perform it, once as a sixtet and the next time as a quintet (that was Ashburton at the start of November). The album was recorded by an ever changing rhythm section, but a constant frontline of Dennis Rollins on trombone, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Jean Toussaint on tenor sax. They are going to re-record parts of the programme as a live album, which will include new material that isn't on this album. The sense of togetherness that the band bring to the album is audible, and the ability to reproduce the sound live (even without Rollins at Ashburton) is amazing. I have a short interview with Jean, but aim to catch up with them in 2019 to turn it into a programme feature. A terrific album that you ought to own! 

Two that nearly made the top ten.

Madeleine Peyroux; "Anthem"

Madeleine Peyroux given a full band major recording label makeover. Somehow Peyroux doesn't get swamped by what is an all start band fronted by Larry Klein on keyboards, but also featuring Dean Parks and a luminary group of other Hollywood musicians. The material is strong, and so are the performances. Highly recommended.

Gwyneth Herbert; "Letters I haven't written".

I'm clearly biased as I contributed to the crowd funding that brought this album into being in mid November. It's a collection of songs that is based on the premise that everybody has letters that they could/should/would have written, but didn't. Part of the attraction of Gwyneth is that the performance is an important part of the story that the album has to tell. I believe (and hope) that she's going to tour this a bit more in 2019 and getting to a performance will enhance the strength of what is on offer in the album.



Monday, 10 December 2018

Ten best albums of 2018 (and a few more!)

  Unlike other years where I've done a top 15 albums of the year, I decided that a Top Ten would better reflect the width of material that gets played on The Edge of Jazz. It has made the selection even more difficult than it has in previous years, and at the last minute decided to add 5 albums that nearly made the cut. Three at the end of ten to six and two more at the end of five to one. Purely subjective, of course, and probably including a couple that probably will not make it anywhere else - but that's the joy of compiling your own top ten! Disagree if you must - but if you want to make it proactive. You can always voice your opinions @phonicjazz.

Ten:  John Scofield; " Combo 66"

Scofield is a long time favourite, and over his career has produced some belting albums, but recently, and particularly with the last couple of releases I began to wonder if he had anything new to say. This albums sees a real return to form. For the most part he's abandoned all the electronics and pedals that increasingly got in the way of what he was playing and just plugged the guitar straight into an amp. It helps that the trio behind him are so sympathetic, especially Bill Stewart on drums.. Difficult to pick favourite tracks, but "Can't dance" & "Uncle Southern" do it for me. A welcome return to form.

Nine:  Hugh Masakela; Masekela '66-76 

Somehow I've never really got into his later material but this triple CD set, recorded as the title suggests during a 'lost' decade is ample proof that he could not only play a mean horn, but also choose superb musicians to back him. It's a 3 CD set and contains the whole of two albums recorded in '73-'74 that have never made it onto CD before. It's joyous stuff that made me want to get up and dance a lot of the time (and that doesn't happen too often nowadays)

I didn't really think I could do anything else but cut and paste what I wrote in June about this 3 CD set, except to say that I've returned to it again and again and from each of the CD's I've found greater depths. Of course you could argue that this isn't a new release at all - and so it isn't but it presents music, the majority of which I'd never heard until 2018.

Eight: Wolfgang Muthspiel; "Where the river goes". 


A recurring factor in these lists, Wolfgang Muthspiel returned with an album with a luminary line up, a collection of varied tunes and some wonderful playing. The trumpet playing of Ambrose Akinmusere added a depth to what on any album would have been a dream team of Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on double bass and Eric Harland on drums. As usual with ECM records its impeccably recorded, and though it's not music to dance to(!) it's a really satisfying album.

Seven: Joshua Redman; "Still dreaming"

It's not really a Joshua Redman album as all the artists get credit. I particulalrly like the Ron Miles contributions on cornet, but Scott Coley on bass and Brian Blade on drums add to the overall feeling. Apart from the Redman/Coley compositions there is also a Charlie Haden and an Ornette Coleman tune. The playing is great. I'm still trying to work out the enigmatic sleeve notes penned by Redman.

Six: Lionel Loueke; "The Journey".

He made an appearance in my Top Fifteen from 2017, but this album is a series of self written songs and recorded in Paris in January 2018. You really are advised to read the sleeve notes (in both French and English) to understand something of his frame of mind and the background to the tracks.. He records with both electric and acoustic guitars and the tunes are a West African fusion of Nigerian, Senegalese and Malian music. 'is it jazz?'. Read the sleeve-notes and you'll find the answer. The vinyl version is worth getting hold of too.

 The Three that didn't make the Top Ten;

Jessica Lauren; "Almeira"  I regret that Lauren is so sparing with her recordings. This is a nod to West African/Caribbean roots with a lovingly assembled band that includes Yazz Ahmed on flugelhorn. Uniquely different.

Camilla George; "The People could fly". A wonderful set of tracks based on childhood stories. George's saxophone sound is terrific, and I particularly like the keyboard work of Sarah Tandy (and chance of an album in 2019?) and the addition of Quentin Collins on trumpet.

Toshio Matsuura Group; " Loveplaydance"

Subtitled "8 scenes from the floor" it's the kind of fusion that makes it harder and harder to define jazz. . Another left field release from the increasingly ecelectic Brownswood Recordings - see also five to one!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

All the normal sluggard excuses, but no escaping from the fact that this year has just flown by and I've been too busy to write the normal flow of observations, thoughts, reviews and general observations about what's been happening around the Edge of Jazz. Nonetheless in less than two weeks I have to produce my top ten albums of the years, several of which are unlikely to have been reviewed in the normal way as part of this blog. As has been the case over the last couple of years the choice has been incredibly difficult- the more so because it appears, as I have noted elsewhere, that British Jazz, or whatever label or guise or heading it appears under, is undergoing a huge revival of interest.
So, really this is just a warning that over the next two weeks, and starting next Tuesday 11th December I will produce Part 1 - Ten to Six - of my favourite albums of the year. It's an annual occurrence and I usually manage to include several albums that make people utter words like, "What!" "Why" and " I didn't rate that at all". In other words it a choice from the just over 1000 tracks that I've played on the show this year. (Actually there are slightly more than 1000, and Part 2 will include exactly how many for those who are complete-ists).
  I will add that the most played track, i.e. the one that I sneaked in more than once (5 times to date) is "Abusey Junction" by Kokoroko whom I'm delighted to say have signed a recording contract and will be producing a whole album of material in 2019.
  So, until next week...…..

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

June marks a half way point in the year and I've only managed one post! Of course I have excuses - mainly to do with Phonic's 10th birthday celebrations - which was great! All day live music, storytelling, art work, drama and a special 'Music is Murder' workshop as well as a conference for local Community Radio Stations. Course it helped that the weather was just right, not too hot, but balmy enough to sit around and if you so chose, talk nonsense whilst drinking with like minded people who listen to the station. If you came - thanks! If you weren't there - well we're determined to do something similar (though obviously not 10th birthday related) soon.
  In the meantime lots of great stuff that will be vying for attention at the end of year listings.
I'll mention five here, in the hope that I can post again before the end of June with some more.

Jean Toussaint All-start 6tet; Brother Raymond. 

It all sounds so effortless, but of course, it isn't. Toussaint has been able to pick a crop of particularly empathetic musicians, including one of my favourites Dennis Rollins to record a tribute recording dedicated to his late Brother Raymond. It's a good idea of where British jazz is in 2018, assured and distinctly following its own eclectic development of some very British roots. Highly recommended.

Agnes Gosling; Cacador. 
(Sorry Agnes, still not got to grips with those cedillas) A listener suggested that I listen to this album, otherwise it would have passed me by. Good shout! Songs in English and Spanish from a lady who now resides in Rotterdam ( I think). It's a well chosen, beautifully sung, collection of songs that has insinuated itself into my consciousness. Highly recommended! [as well]

Hugh Masakela: Masekela '66-76 

Somehow I've never really got into his later material but this triple CD set, recorded as the title suggests during a 'lost' decade is ample proof that he could not only play a mean horn, but also choose superb musicians to back him. It's a 3 CD set and contains the whole of two albums recorded in '73-'74 that have never made it onto CD before. It's joyous stuff that made me want to get up and dance a lot of the time (and that doesn't happen too often nowadays)

Walter Smith III; Twio

An unexpected pleasure. Mostly a simple trio setting (except when Joshua Redman leaps in on tracks 3&9) with a guest bassist on some tracks I the form of Christian McBride and with Eric Harland on drums. Tunes from a mixture of sources (Thelonious Monk to Gigi Grice) but given an individual treatment on an album that continues to impress. Relatively simple stuff brilliantly done.

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas; Scandal.

A quintet outing that gives up more with each listening. Douglas' trumpet playing is an amazing foil for Lovano's sax playing (he plays tenor and soprano saxes), but special mention for the rhythm section, especially pianist Lawrence Fields (new to me) who does an amazing job. It sounds as though the session was a thoroughly relaxed.

So those are the first five. Question is, will I manage to make good on my promise to ad more by the end of June. I have, at the time of writing just 10 days to do it!


Friday, 27 April 2018

Edge of Jazz Blog

Quite often there's a post Christmas lull as far as jazz releases are concerned, but not this year! Quite apart from that I've found myself caught up in playing tracks from albums that somehow escaped my attention in the latter part of 2017. It's also gratifying that a couple of them are recommendations from listeners that I'm sure that I'd otherwise have missed. Three that spring to mind are;

"Living in twilight" : Ariel Pocock.

I'd never heard of Pocock before a listener recommended my this album. It's not her first album that was "Touchstone" in 2015 ( I missed that one as well!). She's Canadian but now seems to live and work in the 'States'. This is a piano trio album that illustrates here strength both as a writer and a player and I'd thoroughly recommend having a listen.

"Life of sensitive creatures" : Tony Tixier.

This seems to have been released so close to Christmas that I completely missed it. It's another piano trio album, but the styling and the playing is completely different to the Aerial Pocock album I mentioned above. He includes a couple of standards as well as the majority being self compositions. Highly recommended.

"Bricks": Charles Pasi.

Blue Note France sneaked this one out. As a general rule Blue Note seem to be expanding their roster of artists to include those who are at the very "edge of jazz" (sorry!) Pasi is an American and quite how he got caught up by a French label I have no idea. He is a harmonica player as well as a piano player and singer, and the harp gives a sound that marks this out as a left of centre release.

I wrote this in late February, and meant to post it then. So apologies if it makes little sense at the end of April. Normal(ish) posts should get under way in early May, though I don't know why I keep promising and not producing! There'll be an update to new releases, an appraisal of the new Arts Centre at Ashburton and more details about Phonic's 10th Anniversary party being held at the Phoenix in Exeter.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Eight to one - The Top 15 jazz album pick from "The Edge of Jazz".

Having ravenously consumed fifteen to nine in the last post this the list from eight to one, with the proviso that with the exception of number one they appear in no particular order. I'm happy to say that my list and the one published in the December  2017 "Jazzwise Magazine" carry only a couple of similarities, which is as it should be given that the show is called Edge of Jazz!

"Far from over" - Vijay Iyer Sextet.

I've tended to find that a lot of ECM recordings are recorded to sound very clinical. This recording of pianist Vijay Iyer is the human face of the label. Not only are there a variety of tempos and arrangements, but Iyer seems to appreciate that moving from the trio format with another three instruments requires that there is a fluidity that is available. It also helps that the 'sidesmen' are of the highest quality with Mark Shim the tenor sax player being outstanding and able to empasise well with the leader. Requires several plays!

"A social call" - Jazzmeia Horn.

I didn't pick up on this until it was pointed out by a listener. As a first album for a major label, and as an award winning singer I was inclined to be sceptical. However I've worked my way into it and although in places it sounds as if the producer wanted to cover all the soul/blues/jazz corners, her voice transcends it all, and the backing sextet perform admirably. A whole page of 'thank yous' perhaps indicate that the battle between what the record company want her to be, and what she is ( a potentially great jazz singer) has ways to go/

"Formidable" - Pat Martino.

An exciting return for the sometimes troubled guitar virtuoso is summed up quite accurately by the title. The basic trio on the album (great shout for organ player Pat Bianchi) are joined on a slection of the tracks by Adam Neiwood on tenor and Adam Norris on trumpet. But the real star is Martino playing on a selection of material that allows him to stretch out. There's even a new version of El Hombre. A delight.

"Common Spaces" - New Simplicity Trio.

It's often difficult to know what a piano led trio still has to offer, but New Simplicity Trio excel with set that has compositions from each of the members, with an additional Charlie Mingus composition. Each of the players has an individualistic approach to their instrument, none more so than nominal leader Antonio Fusco whose approach to a drum kit lies outside the normal. Add Henrik Jensen (Bass) and Bruno Heinen (Piano) and trio move outside the normal expected parameters of the format.

" Circle of  Chimes" - Marius Neset.

Not the normal jazz ensemble line-up, the group have a cello player and a flute and a piccolo player in addition to Ivo Neame on piano, Jim Hart on Vibes and another appearance for Lionel Loueke., as well as Bass and drums. Neset wrote and arranged all the tracks and as well as Sax also manages to play |Melodica on one track. The result is a series of expertly crafted soundscapes that demonstrates where jazz can go in the early 21st century. Every play will reveal fresh layers.

"Marseille" - Ahmad Jamal.

Jamal continues to astound. An octogenarian he has brought new ideas to a series of albums of which Marseille, a homage to the City of the same name, is 2017's. There are three very different versions of the central theme, one an instrumental, and the other two vocals with Abd Al Malik, and an entirely different take from Mina Agossi. Probably the best way into this classic is through the track "Pots en verre", but it's an album that reveals many facets of his work.

"Time for the dancers" - Russell Malone.

Saddled with what has to be the worst jazz album cover of the year the contents prove just what a brilliant guitarist Malone is. The band, as you might expect are tight like that, with pianist Rick Germanson proving a wonderful foil for Malone's fluid guitar style. There is a wide range of styles and an interesting comparison is possible between the trio version of "Pocket Watch" from the 'Triple play' album. Aspiring guitarist could do worse that listen to the album in full to pick up on some excellent techniques from a master technician.

"The Chase" - Leo Richardson Quartet.

Can't think of another album recently that I've sequentially played every track from, and that at the time of writing I'm working my way through again. Leo Richardson and his band have produced a stunning album aided and abetted on three tracks by Quentin Collins, and another by Alan Skidmore. Throughout the album there are nods to Horace Silver, but this is a hard-bop album that proves that a sax led quartet still has new things to say when it's played by such a tightly knit ensemble. If you are encouraged by these lists to buy only one album in the remainder of 2017 make it this one, For me, the #1 album of the year by a country mile in a year that gave it lots of competition.

Hope you enjoy the choices. It would be good to receive some feedback. Positive or negative!.