Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Five to one - The best of 2019 (on the Edge of Jazz)

As I've written before, this list has nothing to do with sales, plays or bungs from record companies. It's based on tracks that I've played on the show and those that I've probably carried around for too long in the car or say in front of the sound system ingesting by listening. I've also included another two at the end of the list that in any normal year would have been there, or thereabouts. 2019 has definitely been special for jazz!

5. Nguyen Le: Overseas

Another album where it's possible to ask "Yes, but is it jazz?" The sleeve notes say it all. In France where he now lives he is ' Viet Kieu' a Frenchman from Vietnam.  and he sets out to answer the question "Am I Vietnamese?"  All the musicians are, one way or another, but they too share the experience of living somewhere else, or as the album title would have it 'overseas'. It wasn't recorded in one place, though mainly it was in Paris, but some of the musicians added their input in studio elsewhere. It's pointless me trying to explain what the music is like. It's an album that you need to listen to many times before it starts to seep into your consciousness, but thereafter it opens a new door on what is happening. An unexpected delight.

4. Julia Hulsmann Quartet: Not far from here.

Possibly having the seen the trio perform live in 2019 gave this album a boost, but it's such a well recorded, cohesive album that it's been a constant on my turntable (the CD version, as with all ECM recording is excellent but the vinyl is astounding). The fourth member of the group is Uli Kempendorff and as with all Hulsmann's side persons he is not intrusive, but weaves his way into he tunes as if  he were a normal member of the trio. All the compositions except two are Hulsmann's, with Marc Muellbauer (bass player) contributing one and there's a version of  'This is not America' that surely David Bowie would have owned up to and approved of. Classic, and very European!

3. Leo Richardson Quartet: Move.

Ubuntu, the record label, seem to have an issue with distribution. I had no idea that this album was available until I spoke to Leo at the Ashburton Arts Centre. It's a follow on from last years 'The Chase' and is e4xactly the same kind of sound with some excellent hard blowing from Richardson, who also allows space for Rick Simpson, the pianist to add some interesting counterpoints. Alex Garnett is a guest on track eight, the excellent 'Second wind'. All the tracks were written by Richardson, except for the title track for which Rick Simpson and Tim Thornton (the bass player) wrote. It's an album that repays endless playing- which it got on the show this year.

2. Quentin Collins Sextet: 'Road Warrior'.

A close run thing!  The album is all that was promised at their gig at Ashburton (although the band had a different line-up there). Leo Richardson (see above) is excellent on Tenor Sax, and Jean Toussaint sits in on a couple of the tracks. Composition duties are split between Collins and Tom Harrison, with one 'standard to round off the set. The playing is excellent throughout as is the recording standard. I wrote at the time of reviewing, "Bound to be there, or thereabouts come the listings." I'd just reiterate that British Jazz has had a great year, and I've been to some marvellous gigs, of which the one at Ashburton Arts Centre, noted above, was the one that I enjoyed the most this year. It gets my vote as venue of the year for intimacy and sheer breadth of programming (Thanks, Andy!)

1. Dave O'Higgins & Rob Luft:Play Monk and Trane.

If you look at what I've written about the distribution of  Leo Richardson's album (see 3 above) the same applies to this record on the same label. Notionally, at the time of writing it's available, but on Amazon it's a hefty 25 quid, and available as an import. They toured to promote the album, but unless you bought on at a gig it's still really difficult to obtain. Perhaps it's choice is compounded by the disappointment of the 'new' John Coltrane album released this year, which in my opinion only had one track that stood up to scrutiny as essential Coltrane. However this re-assessment of the work of the two players in question is an absolute belter of an album. It gives scope for O'Higgins (Sax) and Luft (guitar) to reinterpret, spread out and bring something new to the party. They're much helped (but never overwhelmed) by the support of Scott Flanigan on organ and US drummer Rod Youngs. The more I've listened to it the more I've liked it, and it's been on pretty much continuous play in the car. A worthy number one!

Two that nearly made the ten (and would have made a fifteen!)

Tonbruket: Masters of fog.

They've been together for ten years and most of the previous albums have had a theme. This one they described as 'genre bending' and it's all that. Martin Hederos (the keyboard, synth and violin player) and Andreas Werlin have lives outside the band, the former as a guitarist in a rock band, the latter with the former as part of a jazz/psychedelic duo. The album is not easy to get into, but gradually unfolds with repeated listens. Highly recommended.

Erik Truffaz: Lune Rouge.

Still relatively unknown in the U.K., and out on yet another label Truffaz is a trumpet/horn player who mixes straight ahead jazz with fusions and electronics.This record, like several recent ones, emanate from French labels (in this case Warner's France) and although there's an English translation of the notes, the credits are all in French. There are two guest vocalists Andrina Bollinger and Jose James. I'm fortunate enough to have seen Truffaz live, but if you are looking for an artist to explore, and with a long back catalogue, you might like his work.


Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Ten to six ( Top albums of 2019 )

In the eleven years that the Edge of Jazz has been air I can't remember a more satisfying or diverse set of albums to choose from than what's been released in 2019. I did think about extending the ten to fifteen, which I have done in the past, but I've settled for ten with four that are 'near misses' and in a less extraordinary year would be in the top ten. Some have appeared in the blog during the year, but some haven't, either because they have only recently arrived or they have seeped into my consciousness over after playing them in the car or at home. I'd reiterate that this is a personal selection and they have nothing to do with any sales chart, radio plays, steaming downloads or any other form of electronic reproduction.

10:  Kit Downes : Dreamlife of debris.

As ever, it's possible to ask the question "Is it jazz?" Is it, indeed a group effort? What does a cello player bring to the party? It's an immensely assured recording done in a couple of locations and with several different line-ups (if that's what you can call them). Downes contributes six tunes. The ones which have an organ (and understand it's a pipe organ) were recorded in Huddersfield and the rest at Snape. It doesn't swing, but as ever with ECM recordings, the recording quality is astounding. You can find out elsewhere on this website what equipment I use at home and this is best heard on the best system you can muster. It's taken multiple playing's (usually late at night) for it to start exposing itself as a work, but I would thoroughly recommend trying to listen to it in its entity.

9:  Jeff Ballard: Fairgrounds.

 I wrote about this early in the year. It a work n which drummer Ballard gathered together some excellent musicians (including guitarist Lionel Loueke) and taken them out on the road, recording as they went along. There's a mixture of both self-penned and other people's material, and the band included a couple of guest appearances by Chris Cheek and Mark Lockheart (both Tenor Sax players). Since writing about it, I've played it a lot more and come to appreciate the quality of both the writing and the arrangements. I don't want to overplay this aspect, but it's available on vinyl and gives of its best in that format.

8: Nerija: 'Blume'.

My opinion remains that other than the wonderful KoKoRoko (who spasmodically produced tracks during the year but no album yet)  very few of the emergent British/London Jazz scene artists have produced material on disc that approaches the work that they perform live, In part, I suggest that this is because they've been anxious to release any material.  I think Nerija are the exception, and though some might consider this a tad horn heavy the range of artists and their instruments and backgrounds shine through. It's a considerable improvement on their initial EP and indicates that as a band they are progressing along a very unique pathway.  In lots of ways this was the opposite of cerebral, but a great invitation to get up and move about to jazz. 

7: Patricia Barber: Higher.

Not even sure that this has been released in this Country. My copy came from a friend who saw it in Angers (France) and bought it for me. It's on the label of an artists share programme. Whatever! It's all you'd expect from a Patricia Barber album, and then some. There's a section called "Angels, birds and I" and then some covers of songs/tunes that are part of the current live set. Recorded in Chicago the production is impeccable as are the backing group. There are love songs to an un-named female, errant husbands and even some opera (a trick repeated in track 14 which is the same song sung by Katherine Webiansky). Barber really is a one-off, both in composition and performance, and this is an album that you should hear (somehow!).

6. Carmen Souza:  The Silver Messenger.

When you really like an artist it's sometime difficult to think of anybody 'tinkering' with the tunes, arrangements or settings. Horace Silver is a perennial on the Edge of Jazz, not just for his Blue Note output but for others too (Jazz has a sense of humour is a favourite) so having someone take the material and make it their own is some achievement. Souza has recorded several albums in Portuguese, but this, as far as I know, is her first in English. It helps that the arrangements don't try to ape the Silver style too much, but they emerge as something completely fresh and yet teasingly familiar. Have a listen to the version of Senor blues, and then listen to the whole album. An excellent album.

Two that were real contenders:

As I wrote elsewhere this was a superb year for new releases. Two that just missed the cut here are:

Wendy Kirkland: The music's in me.

Loved the album and she was great to interview (you can find the interview on the Edge of Jazz Mixcloud page on 5th December). The album was a great follow up to 2017's 'Piano Diva's' and in many ways more diverse. It's a great set and she had a couple of marvellous guests to supplement the work of her excellent Quartet. She's a wonderful keyboard player and the choice of material is great, especially where she's added her own lyrics to other peoples tunes. In another year this would have been in the ten. However, you should certainly listen to it (better still buy it!) because the music is great and the ethos of running your own label (Blue Quaver) is the antidote to large labels and heavy unconvincing PR campaigns.

Tom Syson: Different Coloured days.

He's a brilliant trumpet player with a band that amply reflects his technique and skill as well as hisd composing ability. Like the Wendy Kirkland this received only a very limited distribution, which is a shame because its another testimony to what is good about the diversity of the current British jazz scene Recorded at Peter Gabriel's studio it really is an under-rated (and poorly distributed) piece of magic. Stunning.






Monday, 14 October 2019

As we approach the mid point in October my thoughts inevitably turn to my top ten albums of the year. It's been a remarkable year for releases (yet again!) and I'm glad that the title of the show is 'The Edge of Jazz' because there are certainly some recordings that stretch the limits of what other might call jazz that are undoubtedly going to be contenders for the list. There's no doubt about;

Quentin Collins Sextet: 'Road Warrior'.

...being a jazz album! The album is all that was promised at their gig at Ashburton (although the band had a different line-up there). Leo Richardson (see below) is excellent on Tenor Sax, and Jean Toussaint sits in on a couple of the tracks. Composition duties are split between Collins and Tom Harrison, with one 'standard to round off the set. The playing is excellent throughout as is the recording standard. Bound to be there, or thereabouts come the listings.

Jazzmeia Horn: 'Love and Liberation'

Following on from last years effort ' A Social Call'  this album has a variety of styles and there are a variety of compositional credits from Hubert Laws and George Duke to Jazzmeia herself and Jimmy Van Heusen. Backing is from a lusty quintet, augmented with other instruments on some tracks, and vocally she really stretches herself across a range of different styles. Still an exciting prospect.

Abdullah Ibrahim: 'The Balance'

Back in a southern Africa groove after an excursion to Marseille this is Ibrahim (aka Dollar brand) in exciting form with backing from Ekaya. It all seems so effortless, though it obviously isn't. He defies his 80+ years by producing joyful and emotional township type music. His piano playing skills remain undiminished and this is a cracking album.

Leo Richardson: 'Move'

Saw Leo at the Quentin Collins gig (see above) and he told me he had a new album out. Maybe it was because I was on holiday, but I missed this when it first came out in July. It's an excellent follow up to 'The Chase'. It's hard blowing throughout, and the band is tight with Rick Simpson on piano doing an terrific job. There's a guest appearance from Alex Garnett on one track. The album is on Ubuntu (if you have difficulty in locating it you can buy it from his website).

Nguyen Le: 'Overseas'

Well, new to me, but evidently not to French audiences. Nguyen le is French Vietnamese and this is his fourth album for ACT and is based on the premise that he's looking for " the Vietnamese soul through the prism of jazz". Essentially he's a guitarist, but uses effects and pedal as well as being supported by a range of other instrumentalists all of whom appear to be of Vietnamese origins. It's almost impossible to describe the fusion that is played, but it's wonderfully expressive with a range of moods and textures. I've played it a lot.

Carmen Souza: 'The Silver Messengers'

Based around the Horace Silver songbook, Carmen is also from the Cape Verde Island, where Silver was born. It's a quartet album with guests and takes Silver's material and moulds it into something unique and expressive. She's already recorded extensively (mainly in Portuguese) but this album is well worth hunting down because the material may be Horace Silver but the performances are all her own.

Nerija: 'Blume'.

Other than the wonderful KoKoRoko very few of the emergent British/London Jazz scene artists have produced material on disc that approaches the work that they perform live, I think Nerija are the exception, and though some might consider this a tad horn heavy the range of artists and their instruments and backgrounds shine through. It;s a considerable improvement on their initial EP and indicates that as a band they are progressing along a very unique pathway.

Obviously there a lot more under consideration for the final top ten, and we have yet to have the onslaught of material launched for the 'Christmas market' (groan!), but I reckon at least half of these will be there, or thereabouts when I start making my choices in early December.



Friday, 23 August 2019

I forgot that I'd be on holiday when I promised to go and see Byron Wallen play at Ashburton Arts Centre with the Blue Vanguard House Trio. So I made the 150ish mile round trip from where I was staying in Studland, Dorset to  see and hear the gig. It was certainly worth it, and there was a good audience to take it all in. More of this later.
  Because the A30/A35/A38 trip is notoriously difficult to judge because of traffic flow I allowed myself plenty of time and managed to arrive about half an hour early. It actually gave me time to talk to the man sitting next to me. What he had to say was, I thought, quite thought provoking. He moved down from south west London about a year ago - he described it as "a lifestyle change" and one that he had welcomed. He'd bought a motor bike the better to relive all those early extinguished dreams of early twenty something or others. He then went on to tell me how much better his cultural life was in Devon than it had been for the last years of his time in London. I was slightly astounded by this assertion, but when he went on to explain why, it made me realise that we tend to take what goes on around us in Devon, rather for granted.
 He pointed out that since he moved he's seen more jazz, and usually of an excellent quality than he managed during his time in London. He'd been to see jazz in Torquay, Exeter, Crediton, Calstock and even a trip to North Devon Jazz at Appledore. He pointed out that the cost of seeing excellent quality performances was usually at least half of what it would cost in London, and also pointed out that at Ashburton Arts a flexible payment regime meant that you take a six pound punt on going to see something that you had doubts about, and he would (if he liked the performance!) pay more on the way out. He also though that the mixed age audience range that most of the venues attracted was a distinct advantage since many of the gigs that he attended in later years in London had tended to have audiences who sat back and almost challenged the performers with a "Go on then, entertain me " attitude that he hadn't found in Devon.
   It was an interesting conversation, and one I hope to extend and build upon next time he and I meet (presumably at Ashburton!)
The gig was all I hoped it would be. It helped that the Blue Vanguard Trio are so well rehearsed and empathetic to each others styles. Craig Milverton is an excellent pianist - don't suppose he would much like to be reminded that I first saw him play as a 17/18 year old with Junkyard Angels an Exeter based blues outfit - he's certainly developed and refined his technique since then. Byron Wallen went through the full range of his repertoire with some of his own material alongside that of Thelonious Monk, Clifford Davis and Charlie Parker. He also visibly relaxed into the gig and told some anecdotes and stories about some of the influences on his writing and playing. I hope that when (if?) the Jean Toussaint Band tour again that they'll come to Ashburton, hopefully this time as a sextet- Dennis Rollins missed the Ashburton gig last time round.
  Incidentally, Byron will also feature on the forthcoming Emily Saunders album, and therein  lies another whole story which will wait for a future airing.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Dr John:

The recent death of Dr John a.k.a. Malcolm John Rebennack Jnr brought back to me a memory of seeing him perform in the City where I'm based (Exeter, Devon) sometime in the 1980's. Some considerable scoffing when I said that I was certain that I'd seen him led me to go digging in the archives. My memory did not deceive me. On Monday 4th November 1985 I paid £4.50 to see him perform at what was then The Exeter and Devon Arts Centre, and in its current incarnation is Exeter Phoenix. 
    I then discovered the bi-monthly brochure that the Arts Centre produced and realised what an amazing line up November and December of that year had brought to Exeter. The same organisation that co promoted Dr John also booked Robert Cray for an appearance at Tiffany's on the Quay in Exeter, and I found a 15" reel to reel recording of an interview that I did with him that very night. Only problem is I can't listen to it , because I don't have reel to reel recorder, let alone one that plays at 15ips..
  The same venue also hosted two magnificent jazz gigs. On November 30th for £3.00 you could see Howard Riley's "Facets" with bass player Jeff Clyne and drummer Tony Levin. The same gig had a special guest appearance by Evan Parker on saxes. The following Saturday - if you had been to the Howard Riley gig you could have bought a joint ticket for both gigs for £4.50 (I did!) - Keith Tippett's Canoe. Tippett  is still out on the road playing all sorts of venues and recording. He also played on a couple of King Crimson albums. However the highlight for me was that his wife, Julie Tippetts was featured vocalist with the group. In a previous life she had been Julie Driscoll who had had a huge UK pop hit with the Brian Auger Trinity on Bob Dylan's "Wheels on fire".
It also brought home to me how active South West Jazz were at the time, and conversely how much they are missed in helping to promote the sort of gigs that would otherwise be unaffordable for a lot of south west venues.
Finally, I ought to add that at the time I was working for the ILR station DevonAir and every year we held Operation Devon Care to raise money for good causes. In the very same brochure I notice that I had presented and hosted an evening of live music with music from 'Firing on Five' (of whom I have no recollection at all -perhaps if you read this an remember them you can contact me via the Edge of Jazz website) and Sneaky Pete and the Vipers who were from somewhere in North Dorset (but again details elude me). I can't remember anything at al about the evening though whether that was through the ingestion of drink or just a failing memory I can't decide.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Halfway through 2019 already! Time to sort out a few of the albums that may make my Top 10 albums at the end of the year. Big dilemma this year is going to be whether to include any of the plethora of re-releases that are pouring forth at the time of writing, especially as Blue Note Records in their 75th year are releasing a host of vinyl albums that have long been out of print. Some of them have arrived already and are blasting through the house on a regular basis courtesy of my new (upgraded) Arcam amp. The following albums are the ones that have made an impression this year (so far);

Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret between the Shadow and the Soul. 

Marsalis plays beautifully, and the rest of the group are hugely supportive. Joey Calderazzo on piano contributes two compositions as does Eric Revis on Bass. The drummer is Justin Faulkner. Marsalsis contributes one composition and there's an Andrew Hill and Keith Jarrett tune as well. This is not heavyweight blowing, but considered and elegant and an album to be savoured with lots of listens as it has a lot to give texturally. 

Duncan Eagles: Citizen.

Saw the band play at Ashburton. Like the Marsalis album mentioned above this is a complex  album which delivers with repeated listenings. Technically this is a 2018 release, but my copy (which came from his new label Ropeadope) didn't appear until January, so I'm counting this as a 2019 release. The band are a quintet and David Preston on guitar adds a welcome dimension to the sound. Highly recommended.

Quiana Lynell: A little love.

Suddenly there has been a rush of new female artists who have something unique to offer. Quiana's album encompasses a whole range of styles from "Hip shakin' Momma" which I associate with Irma Thomas, to Donny Hathaways "Tryin' times" and George and Ira Gershwin's "They all laughed". I guess it's meant to emphasise her versatility, and I really enjoyed the album, and have played it a lot. It'll be interesting to see which of the styles she settles on for her next album.

Cyrille Aimee: Move on.

For her fourth (?) album Cyrille Aimee has abandoned her guitar trio with which she's toured for the last couple of years and moved onto something different, with a wider palette of musicians and a choice of material that she subtitles as " A Sondheim Adventure". Not all the tracks are self-evident as Sondheim material, but she has produced an album that does what it says in the title with a satisfying range of songs given her unique vocal treatment. Be not afraid of the sub-title this is a really diverse album.

Jeff Ballard: Fairgrounds.

In which drummer Ballard has gathered around himself some excellent musicians (including guitarist Lionel Loueke) and taken them out on the road, recording as they went along. There's a mixture of both self-penned and other people's material, and the band included a couple of guest appearances by Chris Cheek and Mark Lockheart (both Tenor Sax players). It's another album that I've grown into, with new depths being revealed with every listen. Recommended.

The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of deep mystery.

Received quite a lot of air play on 6 music, and the music has certainly moved on from their last outing being both 'heavier' (now there's a 60's cliché!). dynamic and based around a single developed theme. Several people who saw them at the Sea Change Festival were disappointed with the live show, but this is definitely a studio based album loosely associated with jazz and extremely percussive. If all that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not, it's a really impressive album!

There were several other albums that should probably have made the half year cut, and maybe I'll find time to mention a couple more in an upcoming blog. As to the issue of re-issues perhaps it's a topic I can also cover in another forthcoming blog. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Just before May diappears...

I've been caught up in the frantic pace of life in the last couple of months and that applies just as much to the jazz I've seen. I've just got back from a rushed trip to the Manchester Jazz Festival having completely missed everything that went on at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I also completely missed the events that took place at the local Sea Change Festival because it coincided with Manchester (see above) where I missed seeing The Comet is Coming and Szun Waves. As a result I also missed the Lyme Jazz Festival. Just at the moment there's scarcely a week goes by without a Festival taking place somewhere.
  Which, of course begets the question as to whether there are too many?
  As I write the Bristol Jazz Festival, which I've very much enjoyed when I've visited, is trying to raise funds to survive. There was also some doubt about whether the Swanage Jazz Festival would go ahead this year, but thanks to some speedy fund raising, it is. Nonetheless they are all competing with events like Love Supreme and the London Jazz Festival (as well as Cheltenham) which are well established, well funded, and are able to attract top guests (at a price!). Although British jazz is healthier than it has been for many years several of the new and rising stars find it more lucrative (and possibly warmer) to play at Continental  events that are dotted throughout the summer.
  There's also the evergreen problem of the schisms that still beset jazz, that of the factionalism. Interestingly the line up for the Swanage Jazz Festival, for example, seems to have swayed back towards 'traditional' jazz and mainstream jazz. I hate the falseness of trying to define jazz (as I say on the front page of the website!) which is why the programme is called the Edge of Jazz. I don't want to listen to a surfeit of any particular style of jazz at a festival, but would like to think that organisers could embrace a wide style of styles at a wide ranging set of venues whilst continuing to attract an audience that would recompense the outlay of the promoters.
 Looking forward I've been invited to the Ilkley Jazz Festival in August and will be interested to see what the event (and how the event) will function apparently without a major venue. Even Brecon, which I've very much enjoyed in the past has a theatre type venue to house the bigger name guests. Watch out for a report at the end of August.
 Three final thoughts relevant to the area I live in. Encouraging to note that the monthly Bridge Jazz Club in Exeter has spawned the Red Pendulum Jazz Night on the third Wednesday of the month in the same venue at the Phoenix. Also good to see Blue Vanguard attracting some excellent guests as has the Ashburton Arts Centre ( where guests are often booked at very short notice) Finally I'm hoping to go to The Calstock Arts Centre some time this summer for one of their regular jazz nights.
Next time I'll try to catch up with some of the recent releases...if my schedule permits.