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!.  



Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fifteen to nine - The Edge of Jazz Top 15 albums 2017 (Part One)

These albums aren't in any particular order (although the #1 is an outstanding disc)

"Together as one" - Dinosaur.

Amazing even the band themselves,this became a Mercury Prize nomination. Although  Laura Jurd's previous work has been outstanding, this band seems to have finally given her a context in which to frame  her trumpet playing. This is not to detract from the other members of the band who play an integral part of what they set out to do. Infused with sometimes unexpected electronica this laid down a direction for what happens next.

"Meet Lionel Loueke" - Vampires.

Having been aware of what the Vampires had done in the past the band had given no indication that given the eclectic support of Lionel Loueke they would be able to produce anything so satisfying. The album fuses their antipodean roots to Loueke's African inspired playing. The result was a pot pouri of a broad series of styles and influences, and an obvious delight in each others playing. You'd never guess that this was a one-off album that you can only hope gets repeated in another outing sometime in the future.

"Isang" - Camilla George Quartet.

There seems to have been quite a number of fusion albums this year where there has bee a coming together of a whole series of different cultural reference points and some excellent composing. This is one of the best of the genre. Not only because of Camilla George's Sax playing but  also because it's
performed by a band who have bonded together to become more than the sum of their parts, especially the outstanding piano playing of Sarah Tandy.

"Stretch Music" - Christian Scott.

The re-appearance on the vinyl album. 2017 had the unexpected bonus of record companies starting to provide 12" slabs of black vinyl again. This is one of two albums that will appear in this category. It's not really clear when Scott recorded this magnificent set, but remarkable because of his delightful trumpet playing set against a range of different musical genres. I saw him play this year (jaw dropping and nothing like the Miles Davis sound-alike tag that he undeservedly picked up). A magnificent treat - especially when played loud!

"Up and coming" - John Abercrombie.

It's difficult to describe Abercrombie's style of playing, laid back hardly nails it. What marks this set out as being so good is the comfort of the group work. I can't remember whether this is the first set with Marc Copeland on piano but he adds a counterpoint to where Abercrombie wants to go. The whole album is great, but I especially like the great reading of Miles Davis's "Nardis"

"Landed in Brooklyn" - Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr.

Whoever decided to record the brothers in the US with an all star backing band provided an album that I've played an awful lot. They provide trumpet (Julian) and piano (Roman) and all the tunes, but get stellar help from their US support - especially Donny McCaslin who turned up on all sorts of albums during the course of the year (including his own solo effort). It's a rich fusion of their German roots and the influence of being in America. Some really strong tracks ( try SNCF)

"Aytche" - Joseph Shabason.

I know nothing much about Shabason - whose name I have mercilessly mis-spelt during the year. The album is a jazz ambient fusion. However, describing it thus barely does it justice. I would guess that it's minimalist sound has as much to do with scarcity of resources as anything else but its flow and nuance makes it highly listenable. In fact, now that I've sat down to write about it I can do no better than put it on the turntable and play it again. Left field and highly recommended.


The remaining eight will follow next week!




Wednesday, 29 November 2017

So suddenly it's November;

As a result I'm faced with putting together my Top 10 albums of the year. always an intimidating task to which I'll return later in this blog. However it would be remiss of me not to mention developments that are taking place 20 minutes down the road from where I live, in Ashburton. Over the last three years I've been to some of the best jazz gigs that I've ever been to at St Lawrence's Chapel. It's a small but acoustically pleasing venue that, at a pinch. could probably accommodate 80 people (quite a lot of them uncomfortably!). Now, the Town has a potentially far bigger venue in the shape of an embryonic Arts Centre. It's the old Methodist Chapel. There's a lot of work still to be done, especially with regard to complying with fire regulations, but the new owners aim to have it up and running as a serviceable venue by early 2018.


  I visited it last week and have to say that it's a beautiful and quite well maintained building with an enormous potential to support all sorts of arts events and workshops. Ashburton Arts faced a huge challenge to raise money and bid successfully at the recent auction but it's a great example of what communities pulling together can achieve and I'm certain that there'll lots more mentions of it next year in this blog (and perhaps some more photos and details)

Those albums!

As is often the case there's been a late flurry of excellent albums during November and it's added to the difficulty of choosing a Top Ten albums of the year, so I may well extend it to a Top 15. Recent albums that I've played endlessly are The Leo Richardson Quartet album "The Chase" the Pat Martino album "Formidable" (it is!) Django bates first ECM album "The study of touch" and a particular favourite "Shadow work" by Mammal Hands. However, as I write albums for consideration are still arriving on a daily basis. I'm aiming to get the full fifteen up in two parts in mid-December ( I try, I try!).




Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Somewhere along the way. I've completely forgotten to blog!
I think I plead business as the main reason for such slackness, but somehow from the haze has appeared forward progress, as outlined below.

Phonic FM will be on-air until 2023. 

We've had to reapply for our five year licence twice before, but just to make in more interesting (and therefore more difficult) OFCOM came up with an entirely different format for re-application. This required not only much more detailed financial information (which thanks to Director Paul Giblin and new Accountant Dean Barrow we managed to gather together) including the notoriously difficult question of forward financial planning , all the more difficult when you're trying to be self-sufficient.
However that paled into insignificance against the need to estimate the value of our the contributions made by volunteers. Thanks to Director John Wigzell we were able to satisfy the regulator with some probably wildly inaccurate figures. Time consuming, but ultimately worthwhile.

The treadmill of Academic Papers has re-appeared.

I thought the dash for academic papers had subsided into a slow walk, until I produced a paper which in its own sphere has gone viral. Cue pressure for more papers, short deadlines and a plethora of invitations to talk to assorted groups of academics, undergraduates and post-graduates. All very time consuming, and though not unwelcome in some ways, puts enormous pressure when you're trying to do other things that need constant attention-see above. I'd just moan that the sooner that all publishers start to use same format the better!

You haven't mentioned much jazz yet!

The thought that I'll have to start picking a top ten for the year in about six weeks time fills me with dread. Not because there hasn't been some cosmic stuff, but because there's been so much of it. I already have a fair idea of what will appear, but currently I'm casting the net pretty wide. I love the excellent Leo Richardson album "The Chase". bet then ask how do you rate it against Bugge & Company. Then again Cecile McLorin Salvant's album "Dreams and daggers" is excellent, and that's from someone who doesn't usually like 'live albums' - especially if the audience is American, they tend to whoop and holler in inappropriate places! Yet again, how do you start to try and compare Christian McBride Big Band, with Joseph Shabison, especially as I know so little about the latter.
I'm also playing the Brass Funkey's album a lot and am looking forward to ,talking to Tom Green at the end of the week. I'm sure that as the push towards the "C" period starts to get under way there'll another plethora of tracks to write about. Incidentally I claim to have seen the first "Book your Christmas event" sign of 25th July.

If all goes well (why should it?) there'll be another blog before the end of October.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Somewhat in the way that the early part of the year passed me by, so May has done the same! I'm looking forward to going to the Love Supreme Festival at the end of this month and I caught part of the Lyme Regis Festival a couple of weeks ago. So what has prevented me from keeping this blog up to date?
  Mainly it's because it's time for Phonic FM to re-apply for its licence which we have to do every five years. It ought to be a straightforward process, but because so many Community Radio Stations have been facing difficulties with funding the requirements to prove financial stability are becoming more stringent. This hasn't been helped by the fact that our financial year ends in October and the only figures we were able to produce based on our last set of accounts were deemed to have too large a gap in being able to prove that we're stable and solvent. This being the case we've had to ask our new accountant to provide meaningful figures so that we can bridge the gap. A second impediment has been that the regulator requires us to estimate how much volunteer time we use, and to cost those figures against a formula that they have laid out. I ought to add that as Director I'm deemed to be a more valuable asset than anyone else who works just as hard! So jazz, for the time being has had to take a secondary role to ensure that the station stays on air after February 2018. Incidentally, assuming we get a re-award of the licence it'll start on the tenth anniversary of it coming on air. We aim to celebrate somehow!
  I ought also to mention the pleasure I get from having listeners who get in touch and ask "Have you heard so and so, it's great?" It enables me to find out about artists and music that has either slipped past me or has such a small circulation that you have to hunt past outlets like Amazon to find a distributor. It's often only available on the artists website or from them at gigs.. However, even more frustrating is when you are recommended something that you can't find by an artist that has a quite high profile. A recent example of this is "Stretch Music" by Christian Scott whom I saw at Love Supreme a couple of years ago. He's a great trumpet player, but this album doesn't appear to have had a release as a CD or on download in Britain. I've been offered a vinyl copy (extortionate!) or a Japanese import CD (completely ridiculous), but no CD version. I live in hope that my friend Ian will be able to get a CD when he comes back from the States at the end of the month.
 Finally, there's a ridiculous amount of good new material being released so you can expect a resume of a new Ahmad Jamal album soon, as well as news of what's happening in the world of Zara McFarlane, who at the time of writing has a new single out on Brownswood, which seems to precede a potential album release later in the year. I'm also trying to fix up an overdue interview with Emily Saunders who had a knee operation on the day she was due to appear as a guest - get well soon.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

So far this year has been a blur. Not because of any of the usual stimulants but because time is rushing past and there are so many things to do and write about.
  2017 has already been a pretty eventful year in jazz. Quite often there's a short period in the late winter/early spring where recorded jazz goes through a dormant spell....but not this year! It's also been pretty eventful as far as gigs are concerned. I'm not even going to try and cover in any great depth the plethora of music that I've been playing and listening to, but instead mention some of those that have particularly appealed. Thereafter, as I seem to mention most years, I'll try keep up with events of a more regular basis. I'd also offer holidays as a reason for tardiness, but that's another set of  events altogether!
 Difficult to slim down the number of CD's to talk about, but I'll start with "Isang" by The Camilla George Quartet. Not only does her pedigree from involvement in Jazz Jamaica show through, but she also writes some mean tunes. I'd also especially mention the piano playing of Sarah Tandy. "The behemoth" by Phronesis has also been an unexpected pleasure. It features Bib Band arrangements from assorted material from their first six(?) albums, but beautifully arranged for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band by Julian Arguilles. Enjoyed it a lot. Also played a lot of tracks from "ABUC" by Roberto Fonseca whose previous albums only gave a hint of the full on nature of the Caribbean  music that is unleashed here. Be interesting to see what comes next.
  One of the great joys of compiling Tuesday's show on a Sunday night is the opportunity to play some laid back stuff late at night. Quite whether it translates into music for Tuesday afternoons is sometime debatable, but one of the great releases in this category is "Up and Coming" by John Abercrombie Quartet. Languid sometimes barely describes it, but I love his playing and the band are luminary in their own right. Mellow mood music an great jazz. Certainly NOT falling into any such category is "Cubafonia" by Dayme Arocenaan out and out energy surge from an artist much championed by Gilles Peterson. It's a joyous album with a whole range of Afro Caribbean styles that is thoroughly recommended. I've also enjoyed t " Landed in Brooklyn" by Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr. One of the other features of this year is the amount of good European Jazz that is being produced, and this (together with my next selection) exemplifies what's happening in Germany. Some great compositions and as well as the main artists on trumpet and piano respectively a welcome input from Donny McCaslin, who played sax on the last David Bowie album. Which leads on to "Sooner and Later" by Julia Hulsmann Trio. I think she's used the same trio on all her ECM recordings and the ease of playing and the quality of the compositions is an absolute delight. I'm hoping to see them play live this summer. Final European choice is "The Roc" by Daniel Herskedal. As I've written elsewhere, the Tuba may sound like an instrument with a limiting range, but Herskedal has made sure that the instrument, together with his bass trumpet forms the basis of some wonderfully composed and performed music.

  Finally Pete Canter came onto the show to talk about and play tracks from his album "Strange Bird" played by Pete Canter's Sky Ensemble. Pete has been experimenting with all sorts of instruments and this album is the fruits of his attempt to fuse elements of folk music with jazz. The recorded version has quintet playing, but recently he's expanded the group to a sextet, and seems destined to add further instruments to further enhance the high quality of what is on offer. It's an exceptional piece of work from a hard working local musician (who incidentally runs the Bridge Jazz Club on the first Wednesday of every month at the Phoenix in Exeter)

I'll have to leave  this blog at just the recordings, but next up will be some live gigs and some updates about the radio station itself.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

It's been a good, if strange year in trying to pick the whole of the Top Ten Jazz albums for 2016. It's also notable for the fact that there's hardly a saxophonist in sight! I've also cheated by including two more albums that were in the list right up until the last moment, but deserve honourable mentions!  So, in rising order I chose;

4. "Something Gold, Something Blue" -Tom Harrell

I've liked all of Harrell's recent albums  and played "Colors of a dream" a lot. This is even better, possibly because he's chose Ambrose Akinmusire as a foil for his own trumpet playing. Add in Bass, Guitar and drums to the mix (and an oud on one track) and the album deliver a delicious mixture of styles and some great trumpet playing. Recorded in just two days it's a stunning piece of improvisation and technique.

3. "Convergence"- Warren Wolf

With a band that consists of Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield and Jeff Watts provided the tunes were judiciously chosen and executed with aplomb what's not to like? In fact this third outing shows Wolf at his best, restrained when he need to be and prepared to allow the sides-men full freedom to express themselves. This is the sort of album you can safely put on 'repeat' and hear something different every time.

2. "Secular Hymns" - Madeleine Peyroux

Having left Rounder records Peyroux has hitched up with Impulse and produced an album that she should have produced several years ago. The Rounder years were often lost between trying to find a radio friendly 'hit' and a style that melded together all the genres she can do with consummate ease. Here, she's settled for a stripped down sound within a trio format, recorded mainly live in a Church with the most eclectic mix of material that she so obviously feels at ease with. Thankfully (to my ears) she's abandoned the quasi country kick and just settled down with a what is comfortable. Just try and persuade me that this isn't jazz - you won't!

1. " Rising Grace" - Wolfgang Muthspiel.

Interestingly Brad Mehldau has featured in several of the chosen Top 10, and here he appears as a sides-man on another. Ambrose Akinmusire also makes another appearance and with a rhythm section that includes Brian Blade and Larry Grenadier, Muthspiel is free to express himself, stretching out where he needs to and sitting back where he wants to. The result is an album that delivers something new with every play. It's also the first vinyl album that I have gone out an bought in about eight years, as I think it's that good. The recording of this ECM album is a real credit to Manfred Eicher, and is my album of the year.

Honourable mentions;

"Alex Munk's Flying Machine"- Alex Munk

I interviewed Alex on the show and he explained the process by which this album's material was written and produced. That it was made at all is down to a mixture of self-belief and gritty determination. Extensive (and prolonged) listens to the album reveals a range of layers and depth.

"The Darkening Blue" - Andre Canniere 

An attempt to produce an album that incorporates Canniere's great trumpet playing together with poems by Rilke and music inspired by Bukowski. It helps that the band are so empathetic to what he's trying to achieve and in Brigitte Beraha has a vocalist who draws all the nuances out of the writing. It's not easy listening on the first play, but with repeated plays gives great depth and satisfaction. An attempt to produce something different, that really works.

I'll be back in 2017 almost certainly bemoaning the fact that I left something really obvious out of the 2016 selection. However, what is certain is that it threatens to be a year with just as much good recorded jazz as 2016 has been.

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year make it enjoyable.