Category Archives: Blacktop

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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#One: Black Top

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As part of my mission to write about some new ‘jazz’ here at downwithit.info I was delighted to obtain this new live recording from Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas who feature Steve Williamson as a guest on tenor and soprano saxophones.

#One is the first CD release from a series of live performances featuring a changing cast of collaborators.

The CD sleeve says: ‘Black Top. Utilising music and sounds influenced by the African diaspora providing a platform where experimental acoustic dexterity meets spontaneous technological soundscapes.’ Well worth a listen then!

It’s not easy listening though. Orphy’s marimbas run throughout and Pat Thomas is ever present with piano keyboards and beats. There are no immediate and obvious reference points after a couple of plays, other than a hint of Eric Dolphy’ Out To Lunch that I latched onto

I could spend the next three weeks listening to and then listening again in an effort to try to explain the three tracks here- but I won’t. I know this is a CD that I’ll return to, as it’s interesting and complex and when I do, I’ll add some more here. It’s a bit of a cop out but I don’t think Black Top deserve to be rushed at because it is to be hoped that this project will endure and go from this strength to future glory.

The set consists of three tracks:- There Goes The Neighbourhood; Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Archaic Nubian Step Dub.

You can get a flavour from the YouTube film of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which captures the musicians performing this piece at their live recording at London’s Cockpit Theatre.

To watch, click or touch the arrow.

Archaic Nubian Step Dub closes the CD. Williamson stretches out and is at his most inventive on the shortest track.

My personal jury is still out on Black Top. That said, I am looking forward to seeing them live and hearing what they choose to release next.

On a revisit in late-August 2014, listening through headphones as background to some work, the final track was compelling, grabbed my attention and I went back to play it again.

You can visit Black Top’s website here

The band etc:- Orphy Robinson (marimba); Pat Thomas (piano, keys, computer beats); Special Guest: Steve Williamson (tenor & soprano sax). Live recording engineer: Steve Lowe. Recorded 31 January 2012.  Jazz In The Round, The Cockpit Theatre, London.  Sleeve: Ian Swifty Swift.  Label: Babel Label. Issued 2014.

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