Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Forthcoming attractions: Kairos 4tet and Ayanna @ The Sage...

As we move ever closer to that exciting time of the year when The Sage announce the line-up for their Spring Jazz Festival, next week brings a timely reminder of a couple of the highlights of the 2012 event.

Returning to Gateshead are cellist/vocalist Ayanna, who offered a captivating festival curtain raiser when she supported Roberto Fonseca, and messrs. Ivo Neame and Jasper Høiby, who wowed the crowd when they performed before a packed Foundation Hall with Marius Neset's 'Golden Xplosion'.

I'm particularly excited to be able to catch Høiby and Neame again, particularly as I was fortunate enough to have interviewed the bassist (along with Neset) for what subsequently became a couple of features for Jazz Journal. This time the pair appear with Adam Waldmann's 2011 Jazz MOBO winning Kairos 4tet, and we can expect intelligent but accessible contemporary jazz with with genuine cross-over potential.

Ayanna has cemented her reputation working alongside such notable artists as Courtney Pine, Nitin Sawhney, Jason Yarde and Robert Mitchell. It'll be great to hear her in the more intimate surroundings of the Foundation Hall. The even - a co-production with my old friends Jazz North East, who seem to have gone into overdrive since the alarmingly gloomy prognosis for their financial future was issued earlier this year - kicks off at 7:45.

Although I didn't expect to get to this year's London Jazz Festival, I've managed to free up some time and we'll go down to review Chick Corea with Brian Blade and Christian McBride at The Barbican. Appearing in the building during the same afternoon are Neil Cowley and Juhani Aaltonen, and the whole thing is starting to look like quite a prospect...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tim Hagans...

Two posts in one day, this time another of the old reviews from my time at Jazz Review. Tim Hagans is a trumpeter I've admired for a long time, his thoughtful and adventurous approach to improvisation never failing to hit the spot. Although they were fun at the time, his adventures in NuJaz for Blue Note haven't stood up quite so well as this beauty for Pirouet...

Beautiful Lily

Prologue; Space Dozen; Beautiful Lily; Doyle’s Foil; Interlude I; The Sun At The Zenith; Buck Eyes; Interlude II; Footprints; Emazing; Epilogue

Tim Hagans (t); Marc Copland (p); Drew Gress (b); Bill Stewart (d)
Recorded January 2005.

Whilst Nujazz has been kind to many trumpeters - Nils Petter Molvaer, Erik Truffaz and  latterly even Wallace Roney - Tim Hagans hasn’t been so lucky. Beautiful Lily marks his first release in six years since signing off from Blue Note with Re Animation: Live In Montreal. Although making several superb acoustic records for the label, his last offerings mixed drum’n’bass with vogue-ishly moody trumpet stylings, somewhat disguising the fact that here was a trumpeter comfortable in the advanced harmonic areas opened up by Woody Shaw. Beautiful Lily sees Hagans back to his best, leading a stellar quartet through a selection of music rich in suspense and drama. Copland and Stewart have worked with him many times before, including the pre-electric Blue Note album No Words, and a high level of understanding has already been built. Bassist Gress is increasingly in demand and perfectly suits Hagans’ expansive vision, flirting with freedom whilst always keeping one eye firmly on the ball. Four duet tracks featuring Hagans and Copland frame and interleave the ensemble music, exhibiting a peculiar tension as the trumpeter’s extroversion encounters the pianist’s more reflective classical muse. Even when the full quartet play, small sub-groupings of players peeling off into duos and trios are common. 

This is a recording which also seems to contain a musical narrative, an imaginary soundtrack to a sepia-toned film noir. Hagans’ duet passage with the powerful Stewart during ‘Doyle’s Foil’ is one of the few overtly brazen moments, where abstraction changes from the ellipticism to expressionism. Ambiguous harmony and free floating pulse, such as on Copland’s stark tone poem ‘The Sun at the Zenith’, is more typical. Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’, already enigmatic, gets an even more mysteriously sideways reading.  ‘Buck Eyes’ is remarkably straight-ahead swing , and Hagans’ slurs could be mistaken for Wynton. ‘Space Dozen’ is more the mazy shapeshifter you’d expect from this foursome, and some tender latin-tinged balladry on ‘Beautiful Lily’ and ‘Emazing’ rounds out a superbly balanced programme of music. The way in which Hagans’ jigsaw fits together isn’t always obvious, perhaps due to Copland’s hazy harmonic ambivalence, but there’s no doubt that the music oozes craftsmanship and class. Let’s hope Beautiful Lily serves as a springboard to a new phase in the career of one of the finest trumpeters of his generation.

Fred Grand

Marius Neset and more...

Just by way of registering my continued existence, it was really good to see my Marius Neset feature making it to the cover of September's Jazz Journal. I'm sure that Neset has a great future ahead of him and I'll be assiduously following every step, but the sudden impact of his dramatic 'arrival' makes it slightly problematic to get a balanced perspective on his importance as an artist. Certain sections of the press have inevitably let their enthusiasms run wild, but I hope that my contribution (if nothing else) takes a balanced view.

Far from provoking a 'mouldy fig' revolt amongst readers, none other than Courtney Pine felt sufficiently moved to write in to 'One Sweet Letter' to register his approval!!

Very little else in the pipeline at the moment, and it even looks as though we'll miss our annual trip to the upcoming London Jazz Festival because I'm just so busy with work and study. I did however enjoy interviewing Jacob Karlzon on the back of his superb new CD 'More' (ACT Music), and hopefully that piece should be appearing in the next edition...