Monthly Archives: November 2014

downwithit.info Contemporary Set of The Year 2014

Occasionally, opinionated people come out with ill-formed assertions. They say: ‘Jazz is dead’, or ‘There’s nothing new to hear’. The downwithit.info party line on this is that they are not trying hard enough. They might be too scared or blinkered but one way or another they need to do a bit of work and, at the very least test their opinion against the market. That’s what I did this year, after listening to an excellent recent set from 2012 by RipRap, and I’m delighted to present our first album of the year, from a truncated crop of eight new sets.

These are the new recordings I wrote about. Each of them was issued in 2014 for the first time and all were recorded, either this year or in 2013. You can visit my review by clicking on the red titles.

Robin McKelle- Heart Of Memphis. March 2014. The only vocal set in this list- but what a wonderful soul voice she has. She has been concentrating on the French market in 2014 and I hope we will get to see her in London again sometime soon.

Polar Bear- In Each And Every One. May 2014. Electronica infused jazz. A brave set, justifiably on the Mercury Awards list.

Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard. June 2014. This trio led by guitar virtuoso Ribot go intense and free on a set featuring Coltrane and Albert Ayler tunes, but with a couple of ballads as respite.

Dylan Howe- Subterranean, New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin. July 2014. A labour of love brought to us via Kickstarter crowdfunding. Bowie’s instrumentals sound wonderful in this context. An unrushed, wonderfully executed set featuring some excellent musicianship and arrangements.

Blacktop- #One. August 2014. Disappointing Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas project featuring Steve Williamson on sax. Hopefully there’s better to come from this source next year.

Pharaoh Sanders- Spiral Mercury. October 2014 (1). More of an ensemble piece than an album dominated by Pharoah but it brought a taste of a hot night in Lisbon and is worth seeking out if you like this great saxophonist.

GoGo Penguin- V2.0 October 2014 (2). A light piano led set which was also on the Mercury shortlist but was slighter and less adventurous than Polar Bear.

Neil Cowley Trio- Touch And Flee. November 2014. Enjoyable piano trio- a good listen from a band to watch, with even better things expected.

And the first downwithit.info Contemporary Set Of The Year 2014 is…

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…Dylan Howe- Subterranean.

If I could only grab two others from a burning room they would be-
Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard
And
Polar Bear- In Each And Every One

I’m delighted with this crop of releases from artists, many of whom were new to me at the start of 2014.

Before Christmas 2014, I will be looking back over the older sets that I’ve brought to you this year in an on the shoulders of giants / dead Jazzer’s shoes posting. I’ll also be reflecting on the handful of gigs that I’ve attended- not such a bad list, come to think of it! In the meantime, why not use the comments section to tell us about your new album of the year, especially if it is one of the many that I’ve overlooked.

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Touch And Flee: Neil Cowley Trio

Neil Cowley Trio Cover

Piano trios often struggle to offer much that is new and exciting and there’s a great deal of competition. Touch And Flee endeavours to stand out from the crowd. Here, pianist and broadcaster (and onetime Brand New Heavy and Green Nuns Of The Revolution member), Neil Cowley presents nine of his own tunes. What is on offer is a very strong understanding between piano, drum and bass, which is exceptionally well recorded. The challenge with the tunes is whether they will be played enough to become familiar. Whether this will become a ‘go to’ recording will only become clear over time.

Pushed for time, my brief, track by track listening notes follow:-

Kneel Down– percussion to the fore and bass mixed back a bit and ending with a sense of optimism from the keyboards.
Winterlude– a jagged jangly start and very jazzy chords
Sparkling possibly relates to the piano playing in the opening and closing sections.
Gang of One– punchy and percussive with a relentless tension and drive about it
Couch Slouch opens with a lively, rocky drum pattern with Cowley improvising around it. Rex Horan’s bass playing is deft and subtle and all the better for that.
Bryce has a sense of drama and wistfulness about it.
Mission is supplemented by an extra element of electronic keyboards,
Queen the tune I enjoy most at present- possibly because it is in an uplifting major key?
The Art– wistful and plaintiff without really going anywhere. A subdued ending to the set.

For a taster, either visit YouTube or the band’s own website, which is here.

My overall verdict is that there is much to enjoy and nothing to annoy here. Touch And Flee is a good soundtrack to accompany quiet reflection by the listener, although whether any of the nine short tunes have what it takes to become memorable remains to be seen.

The band etc:- Neil Cowley (piano); Evan Jenkins (drums); Rex Horan (bass). Produced: Dom Monks. Recorded: RAK Studios, London. Released June 2014. Naim Jazz 206.
Thanks to Chris for the review copy.

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Abdullah Ibrahim with his New Trio & Ekaya: Royal Festival Hall. 15 November 2014

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One of the highlights of this year’s London Jazz Festival was a rare opportunity to attend a performance by Abdullah Ibrahim at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

I last saw him play in the 90’s, when a solo concert was part of the Greenwich Jazz Festival programme and I was relishing a chance to see him at work with other instrumentalists, as the gig promised solo piano, work as part of a trio and in a septet.

The radio presenter who introduced the evening assured us, incorrectly as it turned out, that we would be begging the pardon of those seated next to us as we would be needing to move our bodies when the band played Township tunes.

What we actually got was an evening where subtlety and virtuosity were the keywords rather than funk and energy. The expected exhuberance was present but it was a delicately weighted concert hall set, rather than a dance set that we received.

While listening, I thought of a young Dollar Brand impressing the Duke Ellington, to the extent that the older genius became a mentor. The evening commenced with Ibrahim alone on stage, in absolute command of the RFH’s mighty concert grand piano for an extended solo piece that took me to the good place that only the best pianists can reach. On its conclusion he introduced Noah Jackson, who played cello in this segment and Cleave Guyton doubling on flute and clarinet. They took us through about six short pieces that reminded me of the Duet set that Abdullah Ibrahim recorded as Dollar Brand with Archie Shepp, which I took a look at here.

After an intermission, the full septet added tenor and baritone saxophone, drums and trombone. The set was made up of mature and exquisite arrangements with Abdullah Ibrahim sitting out for long periods, seemingly to enjoy and absorb the voicings that he had written and which were being played out for him by the accompanying ensemble.

Overall, the performance was very easy on the ear but seemed to lack a certain spark. There was no sense of musical risk-taking and the accompanists seemed to have been offered little scope to add their own contributions in their short solos. They were more the well-drilled back line rather than contributors with freedom to improvise.

What the audience got was an evening of refined concert hall Jazz from a great musician who is now 80 years old. There were only the slightest nods to the Township sound and definitely no dancing in the aisles. I wasn’t disappointed as the opportunity to see Abdullah Ibrahim playing what he wanted to play in the way he wanted his music to be heard was too good to miss. We were, after all being treated to an evening with a musical genius.

As I close in on completing this review I’m listening to Voice Of Africa, a recording made in 1974 in Cape Town. It has something in abundance that last Saturday’s RFH concert lacked (as well as the great anthem Mannenberg that you can hear on this post from last year here). The recording clarfies that the qualities that were missing from this London concert were exhuberent inventiveness and soul. Saturday’s cool proficiency can go a long way but music that comes from both the head and the heart is what really moves me. It seems almost mean to rate this as a 6/10 performance- but that is what the great Man is getting.

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Flying The Jazz Flag at Macc Record Club. November 2014

Macclesfield Record Club was in session for its third meet-up last night. Held in the upstairs bar of Mash, a stylish, quirky bar that would not be out of place in Shoreditch or Manchester’s Northern Quarter, the second Wednesday of each month offers a cornucopia of vinyl.

You know how it is. You may just have bought an amazing box set reissue of the life’s work of a critically acclaimed African musician and producer, William Onyeabor; you may select a couple of favourites from Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson; movie soundtracks might be your thing; you are a DJ who wants people to hear a potential floor filler; you might want to put metal against your fellow listeners mettle with some light satanic death thrash, while the deservedly obscure Flexi Sex might be something that just has to be played. All of these things and more were there last night.

The album of the evening, chosen through a pre-meet internet ballot and played in full was Bowie’s Hunky Dory. Discussion ranged widely over what were considered by those present to be his best recordings, without any final consensus. I’m not sure if it was the first pressing on UK RCA that was lacking in a bit of punch or whether the volume was a bit low, but after a while, it did start to sound a bit backgroundy in this context (although it’s up there with Bowie’s best for my money).

As for me, I’m the guy who fights from the Jazz corner. So much to choose from, so many potential barriers to overcome. Although there was a temptation to turn up with Albert Ayler’s Truth Is Marching In, I resisted exposing my fellow listeners to the glories of the free extremes of the Impulse label.

My first track was designed to grab the attention with some hard-edged, soul flavoured saxophone and guitar. Don Wilkerson was called on and you can hear Camp Meeting right here.

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

My own copy isn’t a brilliant pressing (French Liberty) but it still sounded OK. I expect near-mint original first pressings are rare and extremely expensive, but I live in hope.

Attendees like to hear a little about the recording before the stylus graces the groove and my temptation to say a little about Freddie Roach accompanied the title track from his Brown Sugar, presented here for your delectation:

Freddie Roach wrote in 1964, in his self-penned sleevenotes:

I decided to do show soul tunes: Brown Sugar was written with this in mind. I really pictured the dancers in my head. I saw them as they danced the twist to the first twelve bars. Then switching to the Bop for the second twelve and eight bar turnback. Then back to the twist. I could see them so plainly that instead of saying ‘One More Time” at the end, I say “Now where you think you’re going girl” because I can see the girls heading back to their seats.”

I took a look at Brown Sugar here in December 2013. Joe Henderson on tenor sax and the great Grant Green on guitar really soar. My own copy is the Blue Note mono first pressing and a beast with great presence it is too, standing sonically alongside the punchiest 12 inch singles that were played tonight. Hats off to Rudy Van Gelder at the controls. I’m confident that my excursion to the Boogaloo Baptist part of the Blue Note spectrum won the label several new friends in the Castle Quarter of Macclesfield.

I can’t praise Macc Record Club too highly, offering as it does, the opportunity to listen to music that perhaps you wouldn’t normally consider listening to. Hosts Nick and Simon have wisely, in my view, limited themselves to an entry level music system, as they don’t want to introduce hifi eliteism. However, their move from a Rega RP1 turntable with basic cartridge to a more advanced Project / Ortofon Red cartridge arrangement next month will be interesting. Those Christmas carols and festive beats will be displayed at great advantage.

If you like the concept of what you just read about, why not do it yourself and start your own Record Club right there in your own locality. You can visit Macclesfield Record Club’s Facebook pages here.

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