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.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

                                          Playlist 11th April 2023 

For a couple of weeks the website will be in a state of limbo as I prepare for changes to it. So for at least this week and next week the playlist will be here. Apologies!

  1. From the pulpit                         Jack McDuff                           Write on Cap'n
  2. Season for change                     Ronny Jordan                          The quiet revolution
  3. Le temps est asassin                  Cecile McLoren Salvant         Melusine
  4. Walk on                                     Horace Silver                          A prescription for the blues
  5. Nemesis                                    Kendrick Scott Oracle            A wall becomes a bridge
  6. Just like a woman                     Nina Simone                           Released
  7. Jasper                                        Bobby Hutcherson                  Dialogue
  8. Hackensack                              Thelonious Monk                    Criss cross
  9. Did we have any fun?               Nicki Leighton- Thomas        One good scandal
  10. Requien for Hertford Avenue   James Carter                           Layin' in the cut
  11. Terminal                                   James Carter                           Layin' in the cut
  12. Brigas nunch mais                    Eliane Elias                            Quietude
  13. Three o'clock blues                  Jimmy Smith                          Dor com blues
  14. New day                                   Heavy Hitters                         Heavy Hitters
  15. West Coast blues                      Claire Martin & Jim Mullen  Bumpin'
  16. Mignon und die sonne geht     Mikkel Ploug Group               Nocturnes (out 28th April)                      unter
  17. Standing tall                             Crusaders                               Standing tall
  18. What is hip?                             The Juju Orchestra                 Bossa Nova is not a crime
  19. The world is a ghetto                Billy Valentine                       andf the Universal Truth
  20. Amelia Erhart ghosted me        Walter Smith III                    Return to casual

Saturday 17 December 2022

        Top Ten Albums 2022 - Five to One (and a few more that should've made it) 

I'll try an make a few less blunders in the spelling and grammar in this one. Rushing to post 10 to 6, I seem to have omitted words and made random spelling mistakes - for which I apologise!
 To reiterate, this list has nothing to do with sales, chart positions or indeed any other considerations that might affect or be affected by other people. It's what I have enjoyed the most from this years releases, and I'm already suprised that at least one of the albums in the previous post has appeared in a couple of other favourite albums list compiled elsewhere.

5. Claudia Acuna: Duo.

Simplicity itself, but done beuatifully. The clue is the title, a series of guests performing with Acuna, but not just a random set of guests,each bringing a different facet of performance to the voice, which is absolutely peerless. There are even  a couple of solo tracks, but the ones that stand out are duets with Russel Malone, Regina Carter and Kenny Barron, but the other guests all complement both her style and her choice of material. A  good starting point for listening might be her version of Chick Corea's "Crystal Silence"

4. Julian Lage: View with a room.

It's his second outing on Blue Note, and in my view much more rounded than "Squint" his first. Perhaps this is because on several tracks the trio is enlarged to a quartet by the guest appearance of Bill Frisell, who seems to encourage Lage to sit back and expand. The othe two members of the trio are no less impressive Dave King on drums and Jorge Roeder on bass. . Nearly all the tracks are self written, except "Echo" where he shares the credits with the bass player. Overall its a fluid display of virtuosity and it'll be interesting to see him live when he plays the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2023.

3. Emmet Cohen: Uptown in orbit.

Can't help but feel that this might be the final appearance on the Mack Avenue label for Cohen, who like I opined about Samara Joy two years ago, must surely be in line for a big label deal. This album displays all the qualities that made his first album so good, and extends his writing credits across a dazzling display of piano playing, helped out by the trio that seems to have taken to the road during 2022 - and is due to visit Europe in 2023. His choice of other peoples material is equally splendid ranging from Willie 'The Lion' Smith , Gerry Mulligan and the track that you might like to start with by Duke Ellington " Braggin' in brass"

2. Nimbus Sextet: Forward Thinker.

Wouldn't have found this for myself. Thanks to the grapevine of people who correspond with each other and make suggestions about jazz nuggets they may have missed, I got turned on to this. The band work out of Glaasgow and are a brass heavy set of jazzers who put this album together over a number of sessions that stretched across Glasgow, London and Amsterdam. The album appears on the Acid Jazz label which seem to have resurrected itself and produced some stunning, if unlikely, albums that belied its name. This is an album that I have sat down and listened to in its entierity, and I'd recommend "Search for Solace" and "From the shadows" as a starting point. I sincerely hope there's going to be another album next year.

1. Camilla George: Ibio-Ibio.

If you thought 'concept' albums were a mirage from the 70's here's one that brings together all the disparate facets of jazz in Britain today. The album is dedicated to the Ibibio people of soutj east Nigeria, and is an exploration of their beliefs and customs. The fact is that George's sax playing is at the top of her game, and she's gathered around her a luminary group of ,mainly London based, jazz players who are empathetic and lend depth to her compositions. The basis of the band is a quartet, with a special mention for Sarah Tandy's piano playing throughout. It's got great depth and is an album that I'm sure I'll return to again and again. 

and then were three (that nearly made it)

O'Higgins and Luft: Pluto.

A follow up to last year's belting "Play Monk and Trane" , which contains only one eaach of compositions by the above. The rest are 5 compositions by Dave O'Higgins and two by Rob Luft. The band are really tight, and it's good to hear Ross Stanley playing only piano. Possibly, if it had arrived earlier, it would have tipped into the ten - highly recommended.

Soul Revivers: On the groove.

Another unexpected release on the revived Acid Jazz label. About the group/remixers/provenance I know nothing. It contains a number of reworked reggae tracks , including two Ernest Ranglin tracks and  two attributed to 'Ms Maurice' of Kokoroko ( and also Camilla Goerge see #1 above). I'd like to think that there'll a follow up, but even as a stand alone project this is pretty fine.

Could we be more: Kokoroko

They are peerless live. I was eagerly anticipating this album (Abusey Junction by the band is the most played track on the show over nearly 15 years - recently overtaking 'Idle Moments' by Grant Green.)
There are some belting track on this album, but it doesn't really sustain the quality throughout and its to be hoped that for the follow up they create an album's worth of really strong material, because even on disc, when they burn, it's hot. Still a great album.

Thursday 8 December 2022

Edge of Jazz Top 10 releases 2022 - Ten to Six.

It's been a strange year. A lot of delayed releases, some still to appear, and a lot of material written during the lockdown(s) and only now coming to the market. In some cases albums compiled without the musicians ever being together by electronic means. That probably means that there are esoteric items that will barely trouble other compilers, but that I've really enjoyed. As ever, therefore, this top ten has nothing to do with sales, chart placings, other peoples opinions, just my own music that I've enjoyed during the course of the year. As has been the case in the past there are a few albums (four at the time of compilation) that didn't make it into the list and I've added as 'spares' to be listened to if you have the time and/or the inclination;

10: Here and there; Kibrom Bihane.

None more esoteric than this release from an Ethiopian keyboard player on a small US label that, as far as I know hasn't has a UK release. It's fusion at its very best with influences from right across what I would describe as 'The middle east'. Sitting on top of most of the compositions is a horn section that varies in size and contribution but drives it along quite wonderfully. Whether there will ever be a follow up is  unknown, but the more I've listened to this album subsequent to obtaining it, the more I've enjoyed it.

9: Last Decade: Benjamin Lackner.

There has been a flurry of piano led recordings on ECM this year, amongst them Julia Hulsmann with an album that narrowly avoided the cut. Lackner works out of New York, but the album recorded in France and engineered by Gerard de Haro has all the hallmark attention to detail with a perfectly captured timbre and a sound that Manfred Eicher seems to capture so easily. All the tracks, but one are Lackner compositions (Jerome Regard the bass player wrote Emile) but the band complement Lackner's piano playing beautifully with some equisite trumpet playing from Mathias Eick, the unexpected drum fills by Manu Latche and Regard who locks it all together. I've really enjoyed this album a lot and there's more being revealed with every listen.

8. Linger awhile: Samara Joy.

Look at last years list. Having made #2 I hoped that her follow up album would move her a little further forward. Moving forward in this case means moving to a larger label (Verve) and having a budget that allowed the employment of a wider range of musicians, although, in the main, still sticking with the standards that made her first album so successful, and allowing her voice to be mixed well forward.
Her phrasing is amazing, and listening to "Guess who I saw today" ( I remember a Julie London version and a great one by Laura Lee) she makes it her own. Mostly it's slower standards - but she seems equally at home with a more uptempo 'Social Call'. Really enjoyable, but I'll repeat my wish that for the next album they allow her to stretch out across a few more 'contemporary' songs.

7. King Phoenix: Jazz Defenders.

What continues to shine throuhout this album is joyousness. There's an exuberance that certainly manifested itself in their gig here in Exeter earlier in 2022, and the creative juices are evident throughout this their second album. George Cooper's tunes are redolent of a certain Blue Note period of jazz, and the horn arrangements certainly enhance that suggestion. New on this second album are a couple of vocal tracks. It's a delight to be able to recommend an album by a band that can recreate live what they put down in a studio, and I look forward to another release in 2023.

6. Hearts full of grace: Al Swaingers Pointless Beauty.

"An album about states of mind, written in strange and unusual times" writes Al Swainger in the sleeve notes of the album that he brought out  in 2022. He's Bass Player, with strong local connections to Exeter through his work as part of the House Band at the Blue Vanguard Jazz Club. This is so much more than an  album by a good bass player, and he assembled an excelllent band to support him including one George Cooper (See #7 above). Ant Law on guitar, Jon Clarke on drums, an, ethereally
throughout some stunning trumpet/flugel by Gary Alesbrook. Swainger further describes this as " an oveture to nothing". It's so much more!

..and those that didn't quite make it (but that I thoroughly recommend). Just one here, and three to come next time;

Only a Year: Alex Clarke Quartet.

Had this arrived earlier in the year it might well have figured in the 10. As has so often been the case this year  (see also #10 above) this was recommended by one of the small coterie of people that I correspond with who seek out jazz that think deserves a wider audience. This album has a luminary  [a word I overuse] band; David Newton on piano, Dave Green on Double Bass and Clarke Tracey on drums. It belong the Alex about whom I know little (she hasn't yet answered my e mail to her website) but she plays beautifully on alto and tenor sax on an album of mainly standards, with two of her own compositions, the title track, and the wonderfully titled "Betroots Burn". The label in Stray Horn Records and it well worth seeeking out.