Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Ken Hyder & Vladimir Miller...

This page seems to be developing a bit of a British Jazz thread, what with Keith Tippett, Trevor Watts and some vintage Howard Riley all being posted recently. A perfect excuse for yet another link to the hideous cover art from the Esmond Selwyn disc that is such a favourite on these pages!!

As my anticipation of next week's Mujician gig continues to build, I'm currently working on reviews of CDs by Brits Stan Tracey and John Butcher. I'll try to post some more reviews of home-grown talent over the coming weeks.

Those who know their Matching Mole from their Henry Cow from their Hatfield & The North should also know that Ken Hyder's group Talisker made some impressive discs during the same period.

Although this review shows that I'm not prepared to name the disc as an instant classic, there is nevertheless a lot to recommend it. An excerpt from the review appears on Hyder's website amongst comments from an illustrious roll call of reviewers, proving that people DO pay attention to what I write, at least some of the time...

Counting On Angels
SLAM (CD 251)

Hear The Fear In The Dark Forest; Angel’s Son; Siege Of Leningrad; Russian Dolls; Sayan Flying; Russian Rivers; Obshennia.

Vladimir Miller (p); Ken Hyder (d).
Recorded 2003.

Anglo-Russian pianist Vladimir Miller came to prominence almost a decade ago with a string of consistently inventive recordings for Leo Records by his large ensemble The Moscow Composers Orchestra. Combining abstraction with discipline, structure and melody, the MCO seemed natural heirs to the Ganelin Trio’s legacy. Scottish percussionist Ken Hyder has long been interested in combining folk forms with improvisation, and nowadays he splits his time between his native Scotland and the even colder climes of Siberia. As a duo they’ve performed together extensively in Russia during the last dozen or so years, and this recording, dedicated to the late Vladimir Rezitsky, is inspired by those experiences.

To me, Russian improvisation often seems to be characterised by the way in which it manages to combine classical music’s gravitas with folk music’s simplicity and a puckish native wit. The seven improvisations here largely continue that tradition, though the darkness of much of the material makes me pine for slightly more of the wit. Hyder’s unusual pairing of shamanic beats with delicate percussion filigrees meshes so completely with Miller’s tightly-drawn harmonic repetitions that you forget there’s no bass player fleshing out the sound. Using the repetitively hypnotic left-hand vamps of Mal Waldron and the forceful atonal right-hand jabs of Cecil Taylor, Miller is both rooted and free, at once inviting us into his music whilst also throwing down the shutters should we get too cosy.

Less forbidding than a typical piano/drums duet involving Borah Bergman, for example, Miller and Hyder nevertheless share a tendency to run parallel discourses rather than engaging in real musical dialogue. Each piece feels curiously unresolved, as if a fragment of a whole. Whilst I’m sure that deeper structures may be revealed with long-term listening, ‘Counting On Angels’ contains great moments yet for long periods seems merely to tread water.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2004)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Keith Tippett...

I'm finding myself feeling pretty excited about the upcoming gig by Keith Tippets's Mujician, even though it's almost two weeks away. This surprises me. I've seen them at least half a dozen times before, and Tippett many times solo, but I'd never really regarded myself as a devoted fan. Yet this review, written at a time when I was generally out of sympathy with a lot of the European avant-garde, clearly shows that I find him a bit of a special case.

His performances have something magical and ritualistic about them, and the music is never less than inspiring. I always come away feeling as though I've witnessed something powerful and heartfelt.

It's common to talk about the 'x factor' these days, a pretty meaningless concept as it's so subjective. Beyond the world where people are spoon-fed their culture, it may have some meaning. For me, Tippett, has it in spades...


Song; Dance; Glimpse; Blues I; Woodcut; Blues II.

Keith Tippett (p); Julie Tippetts (voc, g, mand, rec); Ray Babbington (b); Keith Bailey (perc); Frank Perry (perc)
Recorded 1972.

From introspective solo piano improvisations and the behemoth 50-piece Centipede Orchestra to a composition for piano and string quartet, pianist Keith Tippett has never lacked in ambition. His recordings have spanned jazz, prog-rock, free improvisation and avant garde composition with equal alacrity. A singular figure in English contemporary music, his music has always been characterised by an unashamedly melodic focus, no matter how ‘difficult’ it sometimes becomes.

This recording, originally released by major label RCA in 1972, is considered by many to be one of his finest. It may also be one of the most accessible, predicting the directions later taken with Ovary Lodge. Produced by King Crimson collaborator Robert Fripp, Blueprint is an austere collection of improvised but architecturally intact pieces. From the opening bars of ‘Song’ a pervasive sense of calm, rarely giving way to anything overtly threatening, is established. Tippett’s rhapsodic piano and Babbington’s LaFaro-esque bass circle their way through a steadily intensifying field of percussive coloration, building and releasing tension in much the same way as Keith Jarrett’s contemporaneous formations.

‘Dance’ is the first we hear of wife Julie’s peculiar wordless vocals, and her abstract feedback tinged guitar lends the piece an unusual air. The two ‘Blues’ are a long way from any conventional understanding of the form that you may hold, the strict rules of tradition observed more in the breech. ‘Woodcut’ is the disc’s longest and most claustrophobically introspective improvisation. Opening with a dramatically struck piano arpeggio, Julie Tippetts then plays some decidedly atonal recorder before the piece moves into a relatively static four-way exchange, eventually reaching kind of violent climax that fans of Mujician’s torrential lava flow will know and love.

The closing ‘Blues II’ features some remarkably Japanese sounding mandolin, establishing a suitably zen-like tranquility. ‘Blueprint’ has aged well and is both a reminder of a time when improvised music had something fresh and eloquent to say and also an era when a major record label was prepared to back it. Times may have changed on both counts, but documents such as this deserve their reissue.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, November 2004)

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

David Murray's Black Saint Quartet...

Almost 20 years since I first saw Murray play live, I've just been to an inspired gig by his newly named Black Saint Quartet. The first time I saw the great saxophonist play was in Birmingham when I was a student. I hadn't even heard of Murray at the time and was still feeling my way into jazz. I liked the sound of the blurb on the poster, placing him on a par and in the direct lineage of the great saxophone masters, so I took a chance and bought a ticket. Fronting a trio with Ray Drummond and Ralph Peterson Jnr., Murray turned my head upside down and changed the way I listened to jazz forever.

Since then I've formed a fuller appreciation of Murray and seen him play in everything from trio to octet formations on many more occasions. Whilst I find that his recordings will often disappoint, I've never seen a duff live show. Once again he and the band rose to incredible heights, reminding me of the core values of jazz as a spontaneous and highly narrative form of music.

The Black Saint Quartet, consisting of Murray with pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, newly inaugurated Art Ensemble bassist Jaribu Shahid and über-drummer Hamid Drake, were known as the Power Quartet last time they visited. Their music is loose but very much of the tradition, and they're one of Murray's strongest units for many years. Almost certainly one of Drake's straighter gigs, the group shift at will through many decades of jazz evolution, though a good deal of time they're in the realms of late 'trane and early Ayler.

For tonight's performance their material ranged from classic warhorses such as 'Body & Soul' to Monk's relatively obscure 'Let's Cool One', as well as newish Murray originals including 'Transitions' and 'Banished'. The latter was a stirring meditation played on bass clarinet, and was composed by Murray for a documentary on racism in the USA. Coltrane's 'Alabama' came to mind, and the quartet impressively sustained a brooding tension and violent undertow to make it my personal highlight of the night. Interestingly, Murray spoke beforehand of how he'd shattered his bass clarinet mouthpiece at a gig in Mannheim several nights earlier. For this evening's show he was using a borrowed replacement, and with Murray's hyper-kineticism it's not hard to imagine a mouthpiece shattering under the force. During the many long periods that he spent in the 'false' upper register, I really thought that my ear drums would go the same way, something not helped by needless overkill with the PA.

This must be the first time I've seen a Murray gig where he didn't play 'Dewey's Circle' or 'Hope/Scope', something which perhaps reflects just how much this new group pushes him away from the safety of familiar repertoire. That said, his deconstruction of 'Body & Soul', played almost entirely within the changes, reminded us of his connection to Hawk and Gonsalves and left no doubts as to what a virtuoso he is.

Even with familiar material, Murray brings a unique and instantly recognisable style, but I detect that a lot of genuine reverence is being expressed too. His interpretation of Hawk's jazz monument was perhaps even more heartfelt than usual, as Murray obviously took great pleasure from the presence in the room of the legendary Jamaican-born pre-bop saxophonist Andy Hamilton. Now over 90 years old, Hamilton is a long-time friend of Murray, and he'd travelled up from Birmingham just to be at the gig.

Hamilton's presence was for me the final ingredient in an evening of pretty neat full-circles on a personal level too. I often went to hear him with his band The Blue Notes playing their regular Sunday night gigs at The Bear while I was living and studying in the Midlands. He always had an amazing array of special guests dropping by to join him for those sessions, and I recall Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Al Casey and Benny Waters as three of the most memorable. The most sobering thought in all of this to have crossed my mind was that Murray looked no older than he did when I first saw him in 1989. I doubt that he could say the same about me, but it's reassuring to know that his music is as exciting today as it ever was. If only everything in life were so reliable!!

Fred Grand.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Christian McBride New York Time Quartet..

This disappointing record comes from the same series as the John Abercrombie CD reviewed below. I sometimes wonder why anybody bothers to make lukewarm and mediocre records of this type anymore, but clearly there's still a market for jazz nostalgia, and it can sometimes turn in a few surprises.

No surprises here, just another mainstream session that adds little, if anything, to the jazz legacy. The kind of record that is jazz's equivalent to a Hollywood re-make of a classic (or sometimes not even classic!) film, it just leaves me wanting to listen to the wonderful music that Walton and Cobb made 40 years ago.

That can't have been Chesky Records' intention, but they surely couldn't honestly have thought that New York Time would re-write history, could they...?

CHRISTIAN McBRIDE with Javon Jackson, Cedar Walton and Jimmy Cobb

Newest Blues; Sixth Ave; My Shining Hour; Notes In Three; In The Kitchen; Naima; Grove; Whisper Not; Diane; Mode For Joe.

Javon Jackson (ts); Cedar Walton (p); Christian McBride (b); Jimmy Cobb (d)
Recorded January 2006.

Part of the same ‘New York Sessions’ series as John Abercrombie’s recent Structures, the New York Time Quartet unashamedly evoke the days when the famous city was the undisputed jazz centre of the world. Both Jackson and McBride may surprise listeners familiar with their recent excursions into fusion and jam-band turf, but placed alongside two of hard bop’s greatest survivors they find themselves rooted considerably further back in time. Using Chesky’s ‘one-mic’ recording technique and the spacious acoustics of St Peter’s Episcopal Church, NYC, the sound is as warm and as well balanced as the carefully selected programme of material.

Anything presented here, even the pieces penned by McBride and Jackson, would sound at home on one of the great Blue Note or Prestige recordings of the early ‘60s. Over the course of a pleasantly good-natured hour there’s no doubt that the group’s two elder statesmen are calling the shots, and with the last living link to Kind Of Blue at the traps, who could argue?

Walton’s ‘Newest Blues’ is a jaunty, upbeat opener and immediately gets the good times rolling. The Latin-tinged ‘Sixth Ave’ develops from a gospel-tinged intro and again avoids any undertow or tension. The temperature rises slightly for a spirited romp through ‘My Shining Hour’, but it’s not really until Jackson’s tricky ‘Notes In Three’, a fetching 3/4 head, that that the group seem to be stretching. The blues drenched ‘In The Kitchen’ restores the feelgood factor, and although the reading of Coltrane’s ‘Naima’ is very literal, Jackson’s heartfelt playing, which swaps his usual cloak for that of the composer, impresses.

Benny Golson’s ‘Whisper Not’ gets an elegant and dignified treatment, though Jackson’s real identity is even harder to pin down here. His playing on the self-penned ballad ‘Diane’ is very personal, however, and one of the high-spots of the disc. ‘Mode For Joe’ is an invitation to the saxophonist to pay homage to his major influence, Joe Henderson, and that’s exactly what he does. Walton’s fluid solo is crisply underpinned by Cobb’s trademark snare accents, perfectly setting the stage for the saxophonist’s entry. Sounding more like the player that fans of his promising Blue Note outings of more than a decade ago will remember, he doesn’t disappoint.

Undeniably a session more characterised by relaxed swing than the sound of surprise, Cobb and Walton are however in cracking form throughout. McBride and Jackson do nothing to rock a very harmonious boat, but if you’re after something with a more contemporary edge, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, May 2007)

Friday, 19 October 2007

New bike - what have I done...!!!

In an act of insanity that I'm quite proud of, I traded my beloved Cannondale 'Black Lightning' road bike for an almost as beautiful Litespeed titanium Mountain Bike. A rash act, and a very hard decision to make, but in the end I think it will prove to be the right one. Not only does the new bike balance out the collection nicely, it gives me far more options and I now have a bike for all occasions.

The Cannondale was old, never a good thing with thin walled aluminium, and I certainly hammered it while I had it. It was a magnificent luxury, but as I already have a Merlin Works CR 6/4 with full Dura Ace and recently acquired a Ridley Eos as an all out winter trainer with full mudguards (I've named it Battleship Potemkin because of its colour and weight!), I was tripping over my roadbikes.

I got a good part-ex deal on a new Litespeed Obed, and to make it more of a challenge to ride I've stuck a rigid fork on it. For the time being it is geared, but I may well make it single-speed soon.

I can think of quite a few farm tracks that I just can't wait to let her loose on, and with the weekend ahead, no prizes for guessing what I'll be doing. Does it sound like I'm still trying to justify this deal to myself?

Here are a few pics of her before the first ride - if I find some decent mud I may even take some more when I get home...!!!

John Abercrombie...

Abercrombie crops up on many of my favourite records, yet I'd hardly call him my favourite guitarist. It can't though be any coincidence that he's so omni-present in the music that I choose to listen to for relaxation and/or stimulation.

This recent trio disc didn't really make the cut with me - a fine piece of work but too self-consciously trying to be different in his ouevre. Rather like Jarrett's 'Standards' trio, there's much to admire in terms of the artistry, but not enough grit to to really turn my head.

I'm hard to please, perhaps, and I even felt a tinge of disappointment with the reformed Gateway Trio. Nevertheless, I remain sympathetic to Abercrombie's music...


Jazz Folk; The Touch Of Your Lips; Moon And Sand; Walter Pigeon; Everything I Love; Embraceable You; 3 For Three; Turn Out The Stars; Missing You; How Deep Is The Ocean.

John Abercrombie (g); Eddie Gomez (b); Gene Jackson (d).
Recorded March 2006.

This trio was so newly formed that drummer Gene Jackson hadn’t even played with Abercrombie before he walked into St Peter’s Episcopal Church, the unusual downtown Manhattan location for the recording. Both Gomez and Abercrombie have a long association stretching back to the 1970s, and Jackson is known for his ability to blend with any surroundings.

On listening to Structures, you could be forgiven for thinking they’d been together for years, and in a sense of course they have. Playing jazz full-time at the very highest level and interpreting many of the standards found here numerous times, such forms of expression become an integral part of each musician’s make-up, almost coming as naturally as breathing. Abercrombie’s aim was a back-to-basics approach, dispensing with his solid bodied guitar and effects rack to play a jazz arch-top, choosing classic material with minimal arrangement, and launching into improvisations that cling to their melodic starting points as moths to light.

The presence of Gomez inevitably conjures Bill Evans to mind, and this trio shares a great affinity with the pianist with whom he worked for over a decade. Jackson rarely picks up sticks, preferring to caress with brushes. Even the non-standard material sounds like it’s been around for years, so totally classical is the trio’s outlook. Abercrombie, despite this toning-down, is nevertheless recognisable through the Metheny-esque reverb, and his clean articulation and distinctively oblique phrasing are very familiar. It is only on ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’ that the trio really hit the outer limits of form, but their ‘less is more’ approach is surprisingly refreshing.

Other highlights include a latin tinged ‘Everything I Love’, the swinging opener ‘Jazz Folk’, and a tender reading of Evans’ ‘Turn Out The Stars’, where Gomez’ pedigree is very much in plain view. Presented by audiophile label Chesky in Super Audio CD format, and recorded with a single microphone, you can safely turn up the volume and imagine you were there. Abercrombie’s introspective side has surfaced numerous times on past ECM dates, but it has never been more pronounced than on the absorbing and relaxing hour that is Structures.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2007)

Friday, 12 October 2007

Trevor Watts with Amalgam...

Another slice of British jazz from the 70s, this time with proggy leanings that may even be dated enough to turn Rick Wakeman's finely tuned ears...

FMR (CD 125-LO503)

Samanna; Maas; Unity; Berlin Wall.

Trevor Watts (as); Dave Cole (g); Colin McKenzie, Pete Cowling (b); Liam Genockey (d).
Recorded January 1977.

My first impression of this reissue was just how far the influence of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, a band I have particular fondness for, could be felt. That impression largely derives from the towering presence of Watts’ bittersweet alto, placed against a similar instrumental configuration, and the harmolodic webs which form part of the lengthy opener are certainly are conscious part of the group’s musical horizons. As the disc unravels however, greater space and a broader range of references place the set firmly in the mainstream of 70s European fusion. Just as informed by Ray Russell or Soft Machine, the members of ‘Amalgam’ leave their individual, and sometimes dated, stamp on the work.

For this 1977 date Watts’ basic trio had been expanded to include two former members, Cole and Cowling. The lengthy opener ‘Samanna’ is a five-part suite providing interesting rotating backdrops for Watts’ explorations. Cole’s rather dated guitar tone is glaringly at odds with the roughly contemporary but strangely timeless Prime Time discs like ‘Dancing In Your Head’ or ‘Body Meta’. Watts’ own processed alto saxophone on the closing ‘Berlin Wall’ also draws attention to the music’s sell-by date, but nevertheless it all represents an exploratory facet of Watts’ work that is far more appealing than some of his recent excursions into bland world-jazz territory. The twin-bass feature ‘Maas’ is a pleasant slice of 70s fusion, whilst ‘Unity’ is a typically relaxed and introspective piece of Eurojazz.

I suspect that ultimately this this reissue will appeal more to those who owned and wore out the original vinyl than newer listeners with a curiosity for the sounds of the 70s. It’s not that the music is poor, it just hasn’t aged as gracefully as it might. Trevor Taylor’s FMR operation has once again provided some valuable archiving of neglected British jazz, just as it did with the Mike Osborne reissues, and I know that many will be happy to see that work continue.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, February 2004)

Howard Riley...

I was looking for a special review to post for the weekend but couldn't really find one that appealed. Then I remembered I'd name-checked Rick Wakeman in this Howard Riley two-fer.

Rick Wakeman always brings a smile to the face...

At Lincoln Cathedral
Heliopause (HPVP 105CD)
Upon Arrival; Timeless; Round Midnight; High Lights; Only; Soundings; Ocean Walk.

Howard Riley (p) (25th September 2001).

33 Jazz Records (33Jazz 126)
Consequences; Feelgood; Old Times; Nobility; Enabling; Chance Encounter; Last Night; Spring Fling; Rituals; Thinking of Then; Trinkling; Further Consequences.

Howard Riley (p) (6th May 2003).

If I were to mention Britain’s pre-eminent jazz pianist, a man with a fondness for Ellington and Monk yet with a doggedly individual streak, I bet you’d be thinking of Stan Tracey. Let’s consider for a moment a less fashionable alternative, who, were it not for an excursion into the stormy waters of free jazz and improvised music in the 1970s, may well be enjoying such recognition. Even in the wildest trios with Barry Guy and Tony Oxley, Huddersfield born Riley’s jazz roots were clear. As the years have passed his style has mellowed to the point now where it must now be considered universally accessible. Years of exploring his limits have left Riley with a creative reservoir that few can match, and these very different examples of the challenging discipline of solo performance offer welcome glimpses of his talents.

Although actually a studio session, Consequences was conceived as as a live-in-the-studio performance. There may have been no audience, but neither are there any alternate takes - this is the music as it happened. Many of the earlier studio solos had an almost miniaturesque quality, offering short but intense musical statements. With an average performance length of over five minutes, this session is relatively looser, though each piece remains tightly focused. Styles range from the darkly claustrophobic bookends, ‘Consequences’ and ‘Further Consequences’ (which suggest shared ground with Paul Bley), to bebop (‘Last Night’), angular abstraction (‘Enabling’), Monk (‘Chance Encounter’) and even blues drenched boogie-woogie (‘Spring Fling’). Very up front studio engineering brings a rawness that keeps you riveted for an unflagging sixty minutes. A superb document of Riley at his best, Consequences also makes a perfect introduction for any newcomer.

The Lincoln Cathedral performance suggests that Riley may now be enjoying increasing parity with Tracey, himself no stranger to performing in these vast and ancient spaces. It is good that Riley should be receiving such recognition, though less flattering that the release is part of a series that includes the visit to Lincoln of one Rick Wakeman. Recorded in 2001 on the Local Authority’s Steinway Grand, Lincoln is a more sombre, contemplative and even compromised disc than Consequences. Unlike that recording, where the listener was placed underneath the instrument’s hammers, this sound recording places the listener very much outside of the piano.

The opening ‘Upon Arrival’ sees Riley exploring a simple motif from many different angles. ‘Timeless’ and a pretty straight version of ‘Round Midnight’ continue the relatively low key approach. It is clear that Riley is cleverly exploring the acoustics of the space, letting overtones ring for maximum impact. Only on ‘Soundings’ does anything more muscular emerge, and the closing ‘Ocean Walk’, with its strong left hand walking bassline, has the first inkling of a rhythmic feel. Clearly context is everything, and the sense of restraint produced by the occasion is in marked contrast to the incendiary charge of Consequences. An ‘enhanced’ CD comes with the package, offering binaural surround sound recordings of a selection of performances and an MPG video of ‘High Lights’. A nice document of a special day, but given a choice, the incendiary Consequences is the disc to go for.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2006)

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Happily ever after...

I happened to find myself at a wedding last Saturday, or should say that I was lucky enough to be invited to attend such a special occasion. Normally I avoid these events like the plague, but this was Johnny, my old training partner, the lad I cycled with several times a week come rain or come shine, 52 weeks in the year, keeping each other motivated over thousands of miles with a bit of healthy competition.

The wedding was in a beautiful setting, Chillingham Castle in the border region of Northumberland. The castle its self is said to be haunted, and certainly after the sun had gone down it had a slightly spooky feel to it.

The ceremony its self avoided any religious content, offering a nicely chosen reading from Plato and some sincere and realistic vows. The gentle background music provided by a lone Northumbrian Piper set just the right tone, and proved that bagpipes needn't always grate on the ears.

Largely bored with mingling, I took the opportunity to get some unofficial wedding photographs using my trusty 'phone. Not the usual photo album-type shots, they nevertheless give me quite a strong impression of the day when I look at them now. Good luck to Johnny and Gill, and I hope to see them both out on the roads riding a tandem before too long...

Monday, 8 October 2007

Gaël Mevel...

Just to show that I'm not completely 'anti' European Improvised music, here's a review from a few years ago of a fascinating CD by French pianist Mevel.

Now seems to be a good time to post the review, given the nature of the 'Artificial Amnesia' piece I've done for Lift The Bandstand.

If there are any internal inconsistencies within my point of view, and I suspect there may be given my often emotional response to this peculiar musical process, then I'm more than happy for people to put me 'right'. Who knows, with your collective help I may even be open to a bit of Country & Western one of these days...

Danses Parallèles

Un Oiseaux Sur L’Epaule; Le Pencheur De Balance; La Marchands Speculoos; Valse Soudaine; Judex; La Valse Naturelle; Perlude; Le Temps Est L’Orange; Un Autre Oiseaux

Gaël Mevel (p); Jean-Jacques Avenel (b); Thierry Waziniak (d).
No recording date provided.

In the last issue of JR Andy Hamilton spoke of ‘classical’, as opposed to ‘jazz’ or ‘improv’ style of improvisation, when describing a new disc by Sylvie Courvoisier. I haven’t heard that recording, but I suspect that the same distinction could equally apply to this recording. All but Steve Lacy stalwart Jean-Jacques Avenel were previously unknown to me, and although a cursory airing slots Danses Parallèles into an obvious niche, that is really only just the beginning.

This is a highly enigmatic, even bewildering, recording that works on many planes simultaneously. Delicately spun musical circles hang in free time and for much of the way the music of the three players seems to exist in isolation. Moments of overlap, when the circles intersect, assume great drama and caused this listener to speculate just how much of this music is really driven by chance.

Some may ask, ‘what’s new?’ Isn’t all European improv supposed to be about individuals doing their own thing whilst hoping for felicitous moments where everything seems to connect? Perhaps the ambiguous nature of this trio’s freedom, a feeling that they know exactly where each other are even when obscured from view, is the difference. The individual parts make so much sense when listened to in isolation that you feel as though a composerly guiding hand renders the apparent separation of the trio as illusory. Only the very short ‘Judex’ has any unison playing in the conventional sense, and Mevel explains his thoughts in a slightly cryptic sleeve-note. From any three points a circle can be drawn, he states.

It follows that however close or distant the three men appear to be, they’ll always be somehow connected and nothing can ever separate them while they’re playing together. The game is to see how far these parallel dances can be pushed whilst still making musical sense. Danses Parallèles can thus become either a fascinating musical kaleidoscope or a nauseating headache, depending on how hard you, the listener, are prepared to work.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, December 2003)

Friday, 5 October 2007

Lift The Bandstand...

Not satisfied with running Afric Pepperbird, I'm also happy to now be a contributor at Lift The Bandstand, a blog with a difference.

The page aims to keep a number of active threads on the go simultaneously. Each will pose sometimes controversial questions about music in the hope of provoking debate and discussion. More like a forum than a conventional blog, and in my case at least the views I express don't always represent those of...myself!

Currently posted are threads on free improvisation, John Zorn and Bill Frisell. A look at the comments should tell you how short of readers we are, and also show that many of the opinions are deliberately provocative and lead the discussions off into unexpected areas.

Feel free to join in...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Bettini takes the spoils...

Well, after my trailer for the World Championship Men's Road Race last week in which I made a lot out of the exclusions of Paolo Bettini and Danilo Di Luca, 'Il Grillo' (The Cricket) got a late reprieve and won the damn thing!!

His victory salute as he crossed the line was one of the strangest ever seen - he apparently took aim with a rifle and fired, later explaining " many people shot at me this week, so I wanted to do the same when I crossed the line. The gun was not fired at someone in particular. If someone felt it, then, they know who they are. It was directed at those outside of cycling, who makes statements and know nothing about cycling..."

Whether people are as happy for Paolo this year as when he won it in 2006, I'm not so sure. He's a gutsy rider who makes an impact in every race he rides, but his refusal to play ball with the sport's anti-doping movement casts him under suspicion. I hope he's not shown at a later date to be another sporting fraud.

Di Luca wasn't so lucky and didn't get to ride. The Giro winner was spotted handing out water bottles to his team mates in the feedzone. Home favourite Stefan Schumacher, another rider in the Bettini mould, made the podium despite some blood irregularites. The German Federation had tested him a few days before the race and found that he had 'irregularities in various parameters'. The UCI conducted their own test on race day which showed the same inconsistencies. Next thing we know, the Authorities are presenting a united front in announcing that Schumacher's results were the result of nothing more sinister than an upset stomach.

Given the German Federation's acceptance of confessed doper Erik Zabel into the race and their polite request to the great Eddy Merckx not to attend after he'd branded them as 'idiots', you could be forgiven for thinking that the world had gone mad for a day. Cycling's Lewis Carroll logic is a peculiar beast. Wrong is right, and vice versa. The worst thing is, I still love it!!

Rigmor Gustafsson with Jacky Terrasson...

Time for another post, and out of all of the reviews still waiting to appear I've absolutely no idea why I chose this one. Perhaps I like the way I set the album up to fail in the first half?

Anyway, if you get nothing else from it, at least you'll find out what Evan Parker listens to when he's not playing 50 minute soprano sax solos without pausing for breath...

Close To You
ACT (9703 2)

Close To You; Walk On By; Move Me No Mountain; So Amazing; I’ll Never Fall In Love Again; Much Too Much; Odds & Ends; Alfie; What The World Needs Now; Always Something There To Remind Me; Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head; I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself; World Of My Dreams.

Nils Landgren (tb); Jacky Terrasson (p/elp); Sean Smith (b); Eric Harland (d); Rigmor Gustafsson (voc).
Recorded July 2004.

A celebration of Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Dionne Warwick with jazz sensibilities may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but few could deny the importance of this triumvirate in the popular music explosion of the 1960s. I remember a conversation I once had with Evan Parker, who quite sincerely and without any prompting spoke of his admiration for their work. There have been a lot of memorable jazz interpretations of this music, but whether a vocalist should be dancing on such hallowed ground without bringing a markedly personal slant is a thorny question. Put simply, how can another vocalist hope to improve on perfection?

To succeed, something distinctly different is called for, and a jazz vocalist, with the scope to improvise and interpret should be well equipped to rise to the challenge. In enlisting pianist Jacky Terrasson’s trio, producer Nils Landgren certainly gave Gustafsson every advantage. Sadly it is only really on pieces such as ‘Much Too Much’ and ‘Move Me No Mountain’, where Terrasson switches to Rhodes, Smith and Harland lay down some tight and funky back beats and Landgren the soloist in unleashed, that anything unexpected happens.

Elsewhere, only the slightly schmaltzy ‘Odds And Ends’, with ensemble whistling and finger clicking, even attempts anything unusual. Gustafsson has a pleasingly husky voice, but her distinctly Scandinavian enunciation unintentionally makes her sound closer to Bjork than to Dionne Warwick. A more welcome distraction would have been for Terrasson to step out of the shadows with greater regularity to inject some much needed jazz substance, as opposed to style.

Three pieces from outside the Bacharach/David cannon are selected, the worst being Luther Vandross’ ‘So Amazing’, and none of the three are up to the standard of any of the 60s classics. If you already own the original Warwick versions and want to hear a different approach, I’d suggest you pick up the recent Blue Note Plays Bacharach compilation instead. Rather like another pianist playing Monk, Bacharach is best left untouched unless approached from a completely different angle. Gustafsson doesn’t seem to have that angle, but may nevertheless score a crossover hit.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2005)