Monday 13 May 2024

A rather late start to this year's blogging, for which apologies. It's been a busy and productive year on many fronts and as I start this we're in the process of looking for aerial sites for a potential expansion of our DAB+ service into East Devon. The polygon advertised is quite beyond our scope to even try and fill it all, particularly as using existing aerial sites is quite beyond our budget! Stockland Hill would be ideal, but we can't affored to use an external provider, so are having to look for potential aerial sites across the area we intend to cover. At the moment it looks as though our application will be using three sites. The bids to run the service have to be submitted by mid July and I'm currently rather busy rushing around by by lanes of what is, in some areas a very sparsely populated patch. More details as it progresses (or otherwise as the case may be!)

So to the jazz. It's obvious that 'jazz' is now covering a huge range of other musical areas with some recent forays into jazz-funk, rap jazz and European free jazz. Below are the six albums that I've enjoyed most during the first four months of the year. They appear in no particular order!

John Surman: Words unspoken.

As with most of the ECM material that I get this is an album that is splendidly recorded with Surman playing a range of sax sizes as well as bass clarinet. It's a break out from the normal quartet line up with Rob Luft on guitar (he's been on about three other albums this year already), Rob Waring on Vibraphone and Thomas Stronen on drums.All the compositions are by Surman and my starting point is 'Onich celidah'  and the title track. As ever, it's not a 'one play and you're hooked' album, but rewards repeated listens.

The Jazz Defenders: Memory in Motion.

Two changes in the lin up from the last outing, and a much tighter sound. Live, the new drummer ,Ian Matthews (sometime of kasabian) and Jake McMurchie on sax have tightened up the sound considerably, and this transmits itself throughout the album. Much of the maerial is written by George Cooper, (the keyboard player, and earlier from this City!). There are acouple of vocal outings . Current favourites are 'Rolling on a high' and 'Fuffle kershuffle'. Try to see them live, they were excellent at thier Exeter gig. A leap forward in quality and strength of material. See also my final comment, below.

Julian Lage: Speak to me.

The previous album seeemedlike outtakes from another session, but guitarist Lage has spread his range and material and has produced this throroughly enjoyable album. It's less sparse than some of his previous work, with some tracks filled out to a sextet. There are also a variety of tempos with less emphasis on his solos and more emphasis on ensemble playing.Introductory tracks ought to be 'Northern Shuffle'  and '76'. A welcome return to form.

Sarah L. King: Fire Horse.

Pleased to say this was a listener recommendation! It's a good one as well.. I know practically nothing about her, except she's British and sings in a very British style of jazz. The album was produced by Claire Martin, and the band led by Jim Watson on piano and keyboards are very empathetic. The strengths are her writing (and its style) and her choice of 'other' material. Self written songs to start with  are 'Born Yesterday' and 'Black Dog', whilst her version of 'Show you the way to go' turns the Gamble & Huff into an entirely different thing. Highly recommended.

Muriel Grossman: Devotion.

I was vaguely aware of some of Grossman's previous stuff, notably her John Coltrane trubute 'Golden Rule' but that was little preparation for this double album set of extended tracks which gave space not only to her tenor playing, but also allowed the rest of the band to solo extensivey. Of particular note is the guitar work of Radomir Milojkovic, but the band themselves extend the themes into an extended series of workouts with different tempos and different influnces, much of it based around themes of Buddhist contemplation. All of which makes it sound dull, and it isn't becasue it's a joyous amalgam of a host of other influences as well. A strong contender for my 2024 Top Ten.

Charlie Pyne Quartet: Nature is a Mother.

Charlie is the bass player in this excellent set with Katie Patterson on drums, Luke Pinkstone on Tenor Sax and Liam Dunachie of keybords. The songs are all Charlie's and it's a set of reflections on humanity, the Universe and constraints on working life. It's beautifully recorded, the song writing is strong and it's a really excellent example of where (British) jazz can go. Probably the most played album on the show so far this year, but see also my footnote below.

The year of releases is now, in mid May, really getting under way, so there'll probably be another page in a month or so. In the meantime I'll end with a footnote!


What really made my pleasure in listening to two of the albums above was that I got to speak to the writers about the albums, their struggles, hopes and humanity. So thanks to Goerge Cooper from Jazz Defenders for telling me his stories about growing up in Exeter and how one of the songs on the album was about his (mis)spent? youth. Thanks to Charlie Pyne for sharing the thoughts about motherhood, playing jazz, childcare and keeping bands together whilst life flowed on. Jazz is really about all those things, and more. 

Friday 15 December 2023

Five to one - The Edge of Jazz Top 10 albums on 2023 - Part 2

5. Duncan Eagles: Narrations.

This has nagged away at my listening ears during the course of the year. Released on the Ropeadope label it's a basic quartet format that steps beyond the ordinary because of the strength of the compositions, the tightness of the unit, and some outstanding playing from Tomasz Bura on piano and synth and Duncan Eagles on Saxophone, who steps out  of his former role as excellent British musician to move towards new highs of performance.The two tracks that really drew me in are 'Surbiton' (it manages to draw up some completely erroneous ideas about what it's like as a place!) and 'Grove Park'. I'm already loooking forward to the next stage in his growth.

4. Alfredo Rodriguez: Coral Way.

Long term listeners to the show will know that I've been playing a lot of Latin/Caribbean/ Dominican type music this year. This is probably the best of a wide field. It's a quintet/sextet format with lots of percussion, several different vocalists and Rodriguez leading from the front on piano. Above all, in these rather bleak times it's joyous. There is a mix of composers, with Rodriguez himself responsible for the majority, though I fancy that Ludwig Van Beethoven might have been suprised by his contribution. Mack Avenue has produced some belting output this year, and this is amongst the best.

3. Veronica Swift; Veronica Swift.

The difficult third album? I think not. Another Mack Avenue release, Swift is backed by a wonderfully tight octet. However, what is most amazing to me (especially given the previous two albums on the same label) is the choice of material. It's almost as if she sat down, wrote a number of different styles that she'd like to attempt, chose the songs, went into the studio and produced something entirely to her own satisfaction. The selection is eclectic, bizarre and wide ranging, from Duke Ellington to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Brian May.  Did I use the word 'joyous' talking about Rodriguez (above), can't really think of a better word for this, either.

2. Jacob Young: Eventually.

ECM have several guitar players on their roster, they're usually skilled technicians, who appear in various formats. Jacob Young is amongst the most consistent, and as I noted earlier in the years review is not given to embellishment for the sake of it. This is in the trio format with Mats Eilertson on Bass and Audun Klieve on drums - but the real star is Young and his laid-back, contemplative playing. The other two are unostentatious in their support, and are never overwhelming. As I also observed earlier this is a 'sit down of an evening with a glass of wine (or other beverage of your choice)' kind of album, which has yielded more very time that I've listened to it. I've drunk a lot of wine.

1. Billy Valentine: and the Universal truth.

Completely out of the blue Acid Jazz released this earlier in the year. It's pretty much been on rotation ever since in the house (and on-air). It's a joyous, robust reworking of songs from a wide and ecelectic range of sources, from Prince and Curtis Mayfield to Pharoah Saunders and Stevie Wonder. The backing is from many different sizes of combo from trio to octet, but the reworkings whilst reminding you of the originals adds something in the luxurious smoky vocals. My own two favourites are Stevie Wonders 'You haven't done nothin'' and another take on War's 'The World is a ghetto'. If you haven't caught up with it yet you're in for a treat, ut for me, having played every track on it at least twice on the show it remains the best example of 2023 from The Edge of Jazz.

That's it for 2023. You'll note that there are no 'nearly made it's ' this year. Jazz, well my jazz anyway, continues to expand and mutate in several new directions at once as more and more influences get added to the pot-pourri. I'm really looking forward to jazz in 2024, and I hope to see you there.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Late as usual!

Despite promising that my Ten to Six of this years favourite Edge of Jazz would appear on Friday, I apologise for it being delayed by current favourite excuse 'things'. Nonetheless, here are those vital (!) first five.

10. Bebel Gilberto: Joao

In lots of ways its basic simplicity is its charm. It's Bebel Gilberto backed by a really empathetic small group playing a group of Portuguese /Brazilian tunes that are hand picked. A couple of teh trtacks are self written, but the range is wide with Antonio Carlos Jobim co writing 3 and the rest from an array of well know (and not so well known) writeers in the genre like Gilberto Gil and Newton Ferreira de Mendonca. It really is one of those albums that it's bett to play than to try and write about.

9. Wolgang Muthspiel: Dance of the Elders.

Long time listeners to the show will know my liking for Wolfgang Muthspiel as a guitar player.. This album has the same line up as his 2020 album 'Angular Blues' with Scott Coley on Double bass and Brian Blade on drums, The main difference is that this is much more, ahem. laid back, with Muthspiel playing nylon stringed guitar on several tracks. It might be possible to say that it's so laid back that it almost falls over, but letting it wash over you lets you realise how complex the playing is, and how empathetic the other players are about wat's going on. Not one to rave to, but a considerable achievement.

8. Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loeke: Lean in.

 Still finding things in this album that I like. Loueke seems to range across a whole gamut of material, and Gretchen Parlato initially seemed like an odd choice for duo material -  but a duo  fleshed out in places with sparse bass and percussion and  featuring a wide spectrum of material, mainly self written either alone or together, but also including the Dave Grohl song 'Walking after you'. Louke really is an impressive player in so many styles, and the combination of voice, guitar  and some sparse support made this really enjoyable.

7. Jonathan Blake: Passage.

I think the output from Blue Note this year has been very variable, but thought this album was an excelent example of what the label does best, which is putting its emergent talent together on each others albums. Thus Blake, the drummer is given strong support from Joel Ross on vibes, and Immanuel Wilkins on Alto sax., together with David Virelles on keyboards and Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass. The majority of the tunes are Blakes, but it contains other strong material,one of which is my favourite on the album, Virelle's 'Tiempos'. It's a great place to start on an excellent album.

6. Billy Childs: Winds of change.

Half of the backing group on this album appear in my ninth choice. Thus Scott Coley and Brian Blad e are joined by Ambrose Akinmusere on Trumpet and completed by Billy Childs on Piano. Recorded in California it emerged on the excellent Mack Avenue label (from which there is more to come on this list!) It's possible to describe it as a piano led jazz album, but it's far more than that its a series of really dtrong tunes, all written By Childs, but filled out in a totally unbusy way by the other performers. If you're looking for a track to start with, try 'The Great Western Loop' which gives an excellent sample of what follows.

Five to ten will follow next week - honest. I'd be grateful for any feedback (use and if you haven't guessed this was put together in three different locations ,on three different machines, which possibly accounts for the different typefaces. Overall I'd say its been a good year for jazz, and the diversity of what you can call jazz continues to explode in a multitude of different forms.

Saturday 25 November 2023

 The final contenders!

Just before I choose the Top 10 choice of albums for 2023 here are a few more (six to be exact) that are likely to be in contention for the (un)coveted slot in the Edge of Jazz end of year awards.

Alfredo Rodriguez: Coral Way 

A listener suggested that I might like this, and I do. It's vaguely based around music from the Caribbean, especially the Dominican Republic. Played with gusto by a basic unit of 6 players it's a mixture of vocal and instrumental outings, mainly in native tongues that somehow defies further description. Rodriguez is a piano player, and feature prominently, but it's a real group effort, and almost family like in its intensity. It's on Mack Avenue Records whose rleases this year have been consistently good.

Jonathan Suazo: Ricano

Same sort of provenance as the above, but different! A much wider sweep of musicians, with a lot of Costa Rican perccussion and a not-easy-to categorise set of tunes. Suazo is a sax player and from the Dominican U.S. diaspora. However, the album features a wide range of styles, including not only instrumental tracks, bit chants and incantations as well as vocals. It's a wonderful pot-pourri of styles, cleverly put together, and hopefully the precursor of another album in the same styles.

Bebel Gilberto: Joao

Some self written material and some familiar (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil Newton Mendoga) sungs to simple accompanyment of mainly guitar based backing. Uncluttered, well produced with vocals mixed well forward this is the antidote to some of the heavily orchestrated album that have been released this year. Her singing is (sorry!) ethereal and it's the sort of album you can sit down and play through and then play again.

Joey Alexander: Continuance

An Indonesian wonder kid. He's only 20 and this is (at least) his seventh album. I played the previous one 'Origin' for most of last year, and this, with the same trio and the added trumpet of Theo Croker is, as the name sggestes, more of the same, though it has two 'cover versions - the first 'Great is thy faithfulness' is a traditional one, but there's a wonderful trio version of 'I can't make you love me' which I alwys associate with Bonnie Raitt, but this is an equal. It leads me to wonder 'what next?'.

Rob Luft: Dahab days

Luft has appeared on several albums during the course of this year, but few have the simplicity of this one. With a basic  quartet behind him , and with added contributions from people like Byron Wallen , Alice Zawadski and Steve Buckley, it reflects a time and a place. It suggests isolation, together with reflection and a sense of place. So far I've made it sound like a hippy dream, but it's far from that and seems like another direction from which he can launch the next project.

Veronica Swift: Veronica Swift

Looking at what I wrote above about the Bebel Gilberto album this could so easily have fallen into the 'heavily orchestrated'  that I mention - but it doesn't. It's almost as if, after two previous albums for Mack Avenue she told them " I have abuch of songs that I want ro record my way". The repetoire is wide, at times suprising and throughout utterly joyous (almost despite the content of some of the songs).
Listen to her version of 'Do nothing 'til you hear from me' and she makes it her own. My other two favourites are 'Closer' and'Severed heads' but you ought to check out what she does to Antonio Carlos Jobim, and brian May. Highly recommended.

So all I have to do now is consider which I choose for the final list. It'll appear before mid December!

Saturday 11 November 2023

The erratic blog has become even more erratic over the last few months.  Here's why!

Firstly we had a hiatus around late May/early June whilst we updated studio 1. So major did the refit become that instead of two or three days of work it took longer, and even after extra time it didn't get finished. We were due for another set of 'finishing off' days when the engineer cracked two ribs and was unable to continue working on it - and it wasn't until October that he was fit enough to return - and even now it isn't finished, and we're waitng for him to return . To be fair to Tim (for it was he!) he was replacing wiring and a system that not only had been in place since 2008, but was created with no helpful wiring diagrams to aid anyone who worked on it subsequently. We have, however, bought a similar desk to update our laughingly named Studio 2. However, there's a lot of woodwork to be undertaken before that can be done, and we have to rely on our usual build up of funds before that gets done, and Studio 1 is finished.

Secondly: The Board were asked, by our partners in Exedab, whether we were interested in becoming a partner in the Plymouth DAB+ application. We were. The application went forward and it was awarded earlier this year - so now we're shareholders in Plymdab. At the same time some of our partners joined with South Devon Radio to apply for the Torbay licence, which they subsequently won. At that time, we couldn't afford to get involved, but subsequently have been asked if we'd like to broadcast on the new multiplex. We would!

So the last couple of weeks have seem frantic preparations to get ready to launch. This also required us to get a DSP licence to allow us to broadcast in other areas. Filling in forms for Ofcom (the regulator) is always a challenge, and this proved to be as challenging as any other, but was finally granted at the start of October.

Today, as I write this we've just gone on air in Plymouth with the Torbay sevice due to start on Monday. The estimated size of the two areas considerably improved our 'reach' with Torbay at about 280,000 15+  and Plymouth a whopping 400,000. There will have to be some adjustments, but the members meeting in October confirmed that we will continue to be 'Exeter's Sound Alternative', rather than changing nomenclature.

I'll update my Jazz picks next week ahead of the annual challenge of picking my Top Ten releases of 2023.
Bear with me!

Monday 3 July 2023

 Normally by this time of the year I've curated a list of albums that I've really liked so far during the course of that year. This year, so far, I haven't got around to it - and I blame being busy - and I do mean busy.

So ahead of that list, here are my excuses, in no particular order:

The weather was too hot in June

I've been on holiday

The studio has been refurbished and it took a lot of time

My book got published.

Fundamental laziness.

Jacob Young: Eventually. 

Jacob Young is not a guitar slinger. If you like reflective and introspective guitar playing then he ought to suit. The band Mats Eilertson on bass and Audun Klieve on drums are never anything except empathetic to the material, which is all written by Young himself. If this all sounds rather under-whelming, it's not. It's an end of day with a glass of wine sort of album, which I really like.

Keiko Matsui: Euphoria.

Having moved to a new label (Shanachie) pianist Matsui pursues a new direction with a newly formed more electronic feel to it. She's also recruited a cross section of class guests, some from her 'smooth jazz period' like Kirk Whalum, but pushes on with new sounds including Randy Brecker and Joel Ross, who's also truning up across a slew of other people's album.This is a highly recommened choice and change of direction.

Duncan Eagles: Narration.

Saw him when he played Ashburton Arts a couple of years ago, and he now turns up on the US based Ropeadope label, with a new band. Tomasz Bura who plays keyboard and synths adds a new dimension, but the real strength is in the self written material. I especially like 'Surbiton' (the tune not the town - I had an unfortunate happening there some years ago!), but there are some extended workouts which extend the range of his work. Sleeve notes are mimimalist though.

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loeke: Lean in.

Wasn't certain that I'd like this, but I do. Like Joel Ross, Loueke seems to crop up all over the place, but this album with mainly duo songs - fleshed out in places with sparse bass and percussion features a wide spectrum of material, mainly self written either alone or together, but also including the Dave Grohl song 'Walking after you'. He is a magnificent guitar player, and her voice is ideally suited to the material.

Eliane Elias: Quietude.

Now on Candido Records this places Elias back in her best form, and singing mainly in Portuguese a range of songs from a range of artists from A.C. Jobim to Vinicius de Moraes and beyond. She also plays some very tasty piano, mainly with just bass and drums, but in places, lots of added percussion. It actually sounds like an album she enjoyed making. Recommended.

Billy Childs: Winds of change.

I really rate the ability of Mack Avenue Records to pick up on emerging talent, and though Childs has been part of the labels house band for some time, his ability to write tunes and play them really well is fullly demonsrated on this album. Unusually he's used Ambrose Akinmusere on trumpet to complete the quartet, and it really works well. He's also ably supported by Scott Coley on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. Be interesting to see which direction he goes in next.

Billy Valentine: And the Universal truth.

This from the re-energised Acid Jazz label is a magnificent album. The choice of material is eclectic to say the least, from Price to Curtis Mayfield and Pharoah Sanders to Gil Scott Heron it's beautifully underplayed - empathetic to the originals but his voice brings something new to each of them. he's also helped along by luminary guests like Larry Goldings on keyboards and (yes!) Joel Ross on vibes. The guitar playing by Jeff Walker is pretty special through out. It's also got my favourite vocal track of the year (so far) a version of Stevie Wonder's  'You haven't done nothin'. Check this out. Very special.

More soon - perhaps (unless the weather gets hot again!)

Wednesday 19 April 2023

                                           Playlist 18th April 2023 

The saga of the website continues (though back in some form next week!), so here's the playlist for Tuesday 18th April 2023.

1. Cruise control                                  George Benson                       Standing together
2. Bossallegro                                      Toni Kofi & the Organisation Point blank
3.Imagination                                       Lizz Wright                             Fellowship
4.Clarion calls                                      Donald Byrd                           Byrd in hand
5. Master of the game                           Billy Childs                            The winds of change
6. D'un feu secret                                 Cecile McLoren Salvant          Melusine
7. Don't mess with me                         Richard 'Groove' Holmes         Comin'on home
8. Things are getting better                 Cannonball Adderely & Milt
                                                            Jackson                                      Things are getting better
9. Passage to Marseille                        Rippingtons                              Cote D'Azur
10. Blues for Pablo                              Miles Davis                              Miles ahead
11. Days                                              Emily Saunders                         Cotton skies
12 Un dia es un dia                             The Heavey Hitters                    The Heavy Hitters
13. Farafina                                         Lionel Loueke                           Heritage
14. Sign of the times                           Billy Valentine                          and the Universal Truth
15. Ebony Samba                                Stan Getz & Luis Bonfa            Jazz Samba encore
16. Woke  up in the desert                  Marcin Wasilewski Trio             Faithful
17. Samba de Stacey                           Blue Mitchell                             Down with it
18.So worn out                                   Gwyneth Herbert                       Clangers & Mash
19. Talkin' all that jazz                       Stetasonic                                   The re-birth of cool
20. Midnite soul                                Freddie Hubbard                          A soul experiment.