Archive for the ‘Album review: jazz’ Category

 

Daniel Susnjar’s debut album, 2014’s Su Su Nje, really peeled my ears back. The Perth (via Miami, Peru and NYC) drummer/composer’s intense playing and giddily-layered rhythms stood out in high relief from much else I heard that year in Jazz.

Susnjar’s recent release, Moth To A Flame, revisits the Peruvian-Jazz fusion flavours of his debut, and is peopled with many of the same fiery, empathic players. This time the intensity and the invention are taken up a notch, with compositions, arrangements and performances uniformly stunning.

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To listen to Moth To A Flame one would expect these eight densely arranged, complex and exceptionally recorded pieces to have taken a year or two of performance, and then recording, to get to this level. In fact, the album was done and dusted (bar a little extra later dusting in WA and Miami) in 24 short hours.

Susnjar explains: “I was on tour with the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet at the time. We did a bunch of gigs in the US and had a day-and-a-half off in the middle of the tour. I booked a studio in Brooklyn called Systems Two, rented a hotel for the guys and set up the drums while they were resting. We did a night session, then a full day session, then we went straight to a gig in Washington the next day.”

The drive to create within such a tiny time-window reflects Susnjar’s sharp-edged discipline and singular vision. It is this vision that has led to Susnjar picking up numerous awards as well as playing and record with artists as diverse as Chick Corea and Pharell Williams.

All across Moth To A Flame his vision is there: from the sharply named and conceived opener ‘Rhythm Changes Peru’, to the dense rhythm lattices of ‘Used to Be a Festejo’ (a spiky cousin to Jaco’s ‘Used To Be a Cha-Cha’?) and the joyously festive ‘Tondero’.

The two cover arrangements are great fun. The Leslie Bricusse chestnut ‘Feeling Good’ bounces on a springy Afro-Peruvian rhythm with sharp ensemble playing, a truly ‘felt’ vocal from Vivian Sessoms and Daniel’s father, Danny Susnjar channelling some Santana on a howling guitar solo.img

Susnjar’s take on the Charlie and Inez Foxx 50’s classic call-and-response tune ‘Mockingbird’ has great play with the rhythms and cross-rhythms; currents within currents that rise and fall.

The closer ‘Pius Bartosik’ is a lovely, impressionistic composition that won Daniel Susnjar the WAM 2015 Jazz Song of The Year. A tone-portrait inspired by the indomitable spirit of Auschwitz victim Pius Ludwik Bartosik, it moves through various moods showcasing a number of the exceptional soloists in Susnjar’s ensemble – standouts are tenor saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguia and Susnjar’s short drum solo which plays tag with the horns.

A fascinating release which will reignite any Jazz listener’s love affair with that most important and irresitable element of the art form – rhythm. Moth To A Flame deserves your ears. Your heart – and hips – will follow.

 

For more information visit: www.danielsusnjar.com

 

I was surprised when I put on saxophonist/compopser Andy Sugg’s new album. The last Sugg album I heard was when I (glowingly) reviewed the excellent Berlin Session album in early 2013.

That album was free and wild and had the colossal shadow of John Coltrane falling across the wonderful music made with Sugg’s daughter, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and players Jan Leipnitz and Sean Pentland.

The new one, Wednesdays at M’s, could not be more different. The focus is far more on composition, arrangement and timbral texture and has a decidedly fusion edge, complete with electric flavours.

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But then I was surprised that I was surprised – after all, Sugg is a searching, seeking, probing player. Why would he sound now as he did four years ago?

The Group is entirely different, too, apart from Kelsey-Sugg on piano (and vapour-like vocals on closer ‘Rings Around The Moon’). Made up of leading players such as drummer Nate Wood, Ben Eunson on guitar and Australian-abroad Sean Wayland, this is no ordinary Group.

And they need to be extraordinary to navigate Sugg’s remarkable compositions and bring them to vivid life – each tune is completely owned by the ensemble; the ensemble playing and solos leap from the speakers with a rush of blood and fire.sugg-wednes-2

The electric edge doesn’t become apparent until Ben Eunson’s guitar solo on opener ‘Djuna at One’. The groove is buoyant, rolling along on the tough acoustic bass of Matt Clohesy until Eunson’s electric guitar chops into it, right down to the bone. Eunson’s playing across Wednesdays at M’s is a highlight: biting here, fluid there, he plays with a wide range of textures that should be an object lesson to more than a few contemporary jazz guitarists. His tone is metallic but fleshed out with more than enough blues to make it sing beautifully.

The fusion thing is taken up a notch over the three part Suite, ‘Hemispheric’: Part 1 is swathed in Christian Almiron’s Zawinulesque synth washes. Almiron returns for Part 3, soloing and swooping across the brightly choppy rhythm.

A highlight of the album is ‘Mandela’. Built on a criss-crossing set of riffs, this groove pushes Sugg and Eunson to some spiraling highs. Sugg’s playing throughout is revelatory yet always with deep soul and humanity in his delivery. On the Berlin Session album he played only soprano; here he plays only tenor and it fits the tougher ensemble dynamic perfectly (it is particularly thrilling when in unison with Eunson’s Stratocaster).

Prior to recording, these eight pieces were worked up in a weekly workshop environment on NYC’s Lower East Side in a vacant dance studio belonging to ‘Mike’, hence the album title. You can hear the freedom and care that Sugg was allowed to lavish on their forming: nothing is rushed and there was obviously room for tints of other non-jazz genres to colour the music. In essence, the music was allowed to grow and evolve in a hothouse.

At the foot of his liner notes, Andy Sugg simply says ‘Thank you, Mike.’ I, and anyone who listens to Wednesdays at M’s will surely second that emotion.

 

For more information visit: www.andysugg.com

 

Cameron Undy’s new Twentieth Century Dog album, Bone, has left this reviewer speechless. Which is quite a feat in itself.

The only honest review I could give is “Go listen.” But my pen, once unsheathed, needs to talk, so talk it shall.

Listening to the remarkable improvisations that make up the ten tracks on Bone, I see not a group of separate musicians but a single organism – a big body with waving arms and heads – a Dog of Seven Heads. Surely this music cannot come from separate consciousnesses, even of those consciousnesses are as hyper-conscious as Simon Barker and Jamie Cameron and Ben Kidson on drums and percussion, Jeremy Rose on reeds, Greg Coffin on keys, Ben Hauptmann on guitar, and leader, composer, producer Cameron Undy on barking, growling bass.

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The presser says these pieces are made up out of long buried ideas “dug up, buried in the yard, dug up again” over the ten years that Undy focused his energies on his iconic jazz room, Surry Hills’ Venue 505. These ideas shape the grooves and basic motifs of the improvisations, and also form ensemble sections that rise out of the music and then are gone as soon as they came.

The Dog is big on rhythm too – with two drummers and a percussionist, as well as having a bass-player as leader, it is inevitable that there will be grooves of all flavours, and rhythm games running through the music like pulsing veins. Funk, Afro-beat, jazz: all booty-shaking but mind-bending at the same time.

‘Tail of the Dragon’s’ melodic pass-the-parcel leads to some big-fun messing with time, its play extending into the band comping behind Coffin’s solo, then behind, in and around Rose’s solo. ‘Dog Day’ is taut funk which Ben Hauptmann nips and tugs at until it is reshaped in his image. ‘Bone’ conjure’s the same skull-grinning space-griots as Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band. bone1

‘Broken Creak’ applies Broken-beat to some serious funk: the drummers slip in and out of sync with each other, like a musical moiré-pattern moving in and out of focus. Undy’s bass solo here is muscular and propulsive while Coffin’s soul-gospel piano passage moves against the lagging drums like a sermon that will not be denied.

Bone was recorded live at Venue 505 over two days in late 2016. The live recording brings so much out in the band (have I said before there is a strong argument at all jazz should be recorded live?), giving the album an in-the-moment electricity that charges the air.

It is not all funk and zap though; the three short interlude pieces – ‘Anagram’, ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Constellation’ – are welcome breathers from the tropical storm of Bone. Rose’s bass clarinet on the latter is particularly affecting, singing a folk-like song of universal longing.

Final track, the long workout ‘Bust Down_Parallelism’, captures everything that is good and real about Bone and Twentieth Century Dog. An almost endlessly inventive Hauptmann solo rises to a boil that bursts like a summer storm, washing away to a half-dark duskscape, only to rise through a percussion conversation into Jeremy Rose’s strutting tenor solo. Composition/improvisation. Magic While U Wait. It’s what the Dog does so well.

Ok, I will shut up now. Go listen to Bone.

 

Bone is available from Earshift Music – http://earshift

 

Published on http://jazz.org.au/ January 2017

In his between sets patter, Club MC Jeremy Sole thanks the Blue Whale audience for “not only showing up but being present“, reminding them (and us) that the two are very very different things. The same can be said of drummer Myele Manzanza and his ensemble for this electrifying live recording at the fabled LA club – OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale).

The word ‘present’ applies here in all its forms – the performances are in the present (the now), Manzanza and the band present (bestow) us with their present (gift) of this music. And what amazing music it is – a feast of jazz-fusion flavoured beauty created before us in a time and space that seems endless.

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Manzanza’s debut album, 2103’s One, was a stunning introduction to the drummer’s great creativity, spirit of adventure and grasp of contemporary urban styles. The New Zealand born son of a Congolese drum master, Manzanza’s vision is one of virtuosic precision which never enslaves the groove – a very African approach: complex yet irresistable. But where One used an array of samples and had the slightly claustrophobic headroom of electronica, OnePointOne is open and organic, using Manzanza’s trio augmented by the Quartetto Fantastico string quartet and two vocalists, Charlie K and Nia Andrews.

The difference is apparent on the live versions of two pieces which originally appeared on One – ‘7 Bar Thing’ and ‘City of Atlantis’. The former heats up under a bristling Mark de Clive-Lowe piano solo (acoustic piano is to the fore all across OnePointOne), whereas the latter, arranged by the Quartetto Fantastico’s Miguel Atwood-Ferguson becomes a languid, sun-dappled underwater cinematic experience.Microsoft Word - Myele Manzanza OnePointOne PR.doc

Jazz is also everywhere here, the spirit and the joy of it. Album opener ‘A Love Eclectic’ channels the spirit of John Coltrane with the bass of Ben Shepherd riffing a mutated version of the ‘Love Supreme’ bass hook (Shepherd’s solo, bonus track ‘Ben MF Shepherd’ is dazzling). The samba of ‘Absent Fade’ has Manzanza and de Clive-Lowe spinning each other off the dial, at one point tying the 4/4 bar into 7/8 knots.

A high-point for me is Manzanza’s drum solo ‘Circumstances’. He tells a story and paints his canvas and takes us down the roads of his choosing – yes, I am mixing metaphors but Manzanza does all this and more. He is one of those rare players than can keep you totally engaged with only a collection of percussion instruments and a fair sprinkling of his own magic.

OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale) is sprinkled all over with that magic and has made me a fan all over again of Myele Manzanza, despite his debut and this current album being remarkably different from each other in approach. And yet they are held together in style by Manzanza’s skill, vision and sense of deep beauty. I deeply recommend it.

OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale) is released 11th November 2106 through www.firstwordrecords.com

Myele Manzanza’s website is http://myelemanzanza.com

Published November 2016 on http://theorangepress.net

Guitarist Tim Rollinson‘s approach – that of taste, space and minimum waste – is one of the joys of anything he puts out into the world: whether it be the Acid-House of D.I.G. (Directions in Groove) or, more recently, the exquisitely urban-nocturnal Modern Congress, or all points between.

Rollinson’s new album – Nitty Gritty – keeps that chill ethos to the fore across ten tracks that conjure old-school/nu-school grooves paying homage to all that is  chilled and tasty. Along for the ride is probably the best band in current Australian jazz that you could dream-team for a project like this: Shannon Stitt on keys (an integral foil on Hammond and Rhodes), Alex Hewetson on Fender bass (as they used to say in the 70s where much of this music lives) and drummer Nic Cecire (who can do anything, but does this oh-so-well).

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Slinky album opener ‘Handful of Clay’ starts bluesy but slow-burns through to a sharply grinding coda – a very live sounding crescendo. The live vibe here is all across Nitty Gritty – in common with the blues and the best jazz, an album such as this dries up and dies on the vine if that in-the-moment feeling is not captured.

‘Gravity Waves’ has Rollinson bringing to mind the loose-wristed lines of Cornell Dupree over a relaxed funky bed (any reference I make to other artists from here on in is only for flavour – Rollinson is always Rollinson, without doubt).nitty-gritty-1

‘Criss Cross’ is reminiscent of The Crusaders‘ more trippy moments with Stitt sampling Joe Sample‘s soul in his beautifully shaped solo (the above referential disclaimer goes for Shannon Stitt as well). His sneaky electronics across the Skatalite-like title track, ‘Nitty Gritty’ bring the project up to date, as equally on the deep-cubby band-collaboration ‘Truce’ (which Rollinson counters with the country-clear steel of six-string banjo). His Headhunters‘ Rhodes makes the tough funk of ‘Hullaboogaloo’ totally Herbie-aceous.

Nice to see the blues here too. ‘Slow Motion’ has a beautiful singing single-pole solo, with the jazz-guitarist in Rollinson keeping the bends to a minimum while still saying everything he needs to say. Album closer, the moody minor mood ‘Snake Oil’, has a much blues as bop in Rollinson’s fluid solo – his vocabulary holds them all quite easily.

Nitty Gritty calls to mind John Scofield‘s enormously successful Scofield Au Go Go of a few years back and in many ways comes from the same place: a love of groove and the improvisational ideas which flower from the deep earth of funk. Tim Rollinson’s album is subtler and, in my opinion, wider in scope and colour than Sco and Co.’s boogaloo-fest.

I suggest, as a recent Nobel Prize winner said many years ago, that you dig its earth.

 

Tim Rollinson launches Nitty Gritty on 22 November at Foundry 616 – https://foundry616.com.au/product/22-november-tuesday-tim-rollinson-album-launch-nitty-gritty/

Tim Rollinson’s website is here – http://www.timrollinson.com

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

Back in 2013 I wrote of Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s startling debut: “The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way.

I am happy to say the new Divergence album ­– cheekily and tartly titled Fake It Until You Make It ­­– is here. And I want to shout about it.

As assured and fully-formed as The Opening Statement was, the three years between it and the new one has added an even greater depth and daring to Cave’s writing and the band’s entirely apt and sympathetic reading (in all senses) of her charts.

Other band members have contributed some gems as well, such as trombonist Luke DavisMorricone-esque opener ‘On Horseback’. Across just under nine minutes, this piece unfolds through various cinematic moods, helped by the Spanish sketches of Will Gilbert’s trumpet and a beautifully evocative tenor solo from David Reglar.

Pic by Brian Stewart

Pic by Brian Stewart

A large part of Jenna Cave’s gifts as a writer is her love for the tradition of the big band, a favourite being the masterful Basie arranger Sammy Nestico. Her ‘For Míro’ is next – a lightly swinging piece strongly evoking Nestico in her tribute to Miroslav Bukovsky, teacher and mentor. Cave’s neo-classicist chart brings out the neo-classicist in Andrew Scott whose piano solo here is pure Basie: all taste and space.

From Cave the neo-classicist to Cave the arch-modernist: ‘Fantastical Epic (Lessons in Jazz)’ is pure impressionism; a journey through the colours of the big band. This is virtuoso horn writing – as much about texture as it is about melody and narrative.

The first time I ever heard Cave’s work was a tricky African chart called ‘Odd Time in Mali’ (written for the Sirens Big Band and included on The DJO’s The Opening Statement). It showed me her deep love for rhythm and on the new one, ‘Miss Party Pants’ (funky as hell with Luke Liang’s citric blues guitar nipping at the heels of the rhythm section) and ‘Twerking it Nyabs Style’ confirm it. Both are irresistible grooves with unfussy horns never getting in the way of that killer groove; the latter bounces with a springy NOLA ‘second line’ jump that shows the deep strength of rhythm section David Groves on bass and drummer James McCaffrey.

So much good art comes from life’s rivers and roads – and sadly some of the best comes from life’s hurts and tears. Two of the album’s highlights are – to me at least – compositions that gave come from low points in Jenna Cave’s journey as a human and as an artist. Both are statements of hope and renewal and yet the maturity in the writing gives a deep sense of the aching sadness behind them. ‘Now My Sun Can Shine Again’ is lush writing perfectly framing Andrew Scott’s piano solo which lifts through the harmonies, as one’s spirit would lift to the sunlight of hope out of black despair. ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ is quietly triumphant, a little like Cave herself. diveergence-fake-2

Trombonist Brendan Champion and trumpeter Paul Murchison contribute great work here too – allowing a widening of contrasting artistic voices for the Divergence band. Champion’s ‘Tones’ grows into a New Orleans strut out of a staggered 7/4 groove – wonderful contrasts here, both between the grooves and the way Champion’s writing weighs sections of the band against each other. His title tune, ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ is sharp and innovative ensemble writing, lots of ideas but with one idea dovetailing nicely into the next.

Paul Murchison’s driving 3/4 blues ‘Trinity’ plays some cute rhythmic games with the 3/4-12/8 waltz-shuffle groove and sparkles with a sharp be-bop solo from alto Justin Buckingham. It is the toughest tune on the album: direct and based around the core of the band, the rhythm trio.

But it is Jenna Cave who shines here. Her big-hearted brass conception of Miroslav Bukovsky’s ‘Peace Piece’ gets to a place deep inside you. Her framing and emotive colouring of Bukovsky’s pleading and very human melody line is one of many high-points of Fake It Until You Make It.

Back in 2013, I, for one, was all ears for anything else The Divergence Jazz Orchestra wanted to shout my way. Now, three years later, I realise, they no longer need to shout. With a voice as assured as this stellar collection attests to, they will only now need to speak.

 

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra launches Fake It Until You Make It at Foundry 616 on Friday October 14.

The album is available here https://divergencejazzorchestra.bandcamp.com/

Website is http://jennacave.com/divergence-jazz-orchestra/

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

 

 

Tasmanian guitarist Julius Schwing has recorded a love letter to an isthmus.

The Neck is a narrow band of land on Bruny Island and Schwing has drawn on years of living with The Neck – and with all its moods ­­– to create edge2:isthmus as part of a collaboration with visual artists for MONA FOMA 2016.

He has absorbed the spirit and the magic of the Neck into his own body and released it as music using the sparest of means: the traditional jazz guitar trio of guitar, acoustic bass and drums. It needs nothing else to convey everything he needs to say.

Isthmus2Schwing writes: “When standing at the Neck I see/hear the environment along a pitch scale. Or a colour scale.”

As well as being about this unique formation specifically, edge2:isthmus seems to be about nature. It is also about man as part of nature, paradoxically fighting and hurting the thing he is has an inextricable link to.

‘From Within The Car Of A Comfortable Tourist’ bounces with a West African gait, almost comically depicting said Tourist, who I bet stays in his car, snapping away with his iPhone (great bass solo from Nick Haywood here).

‘They’re Gonna Seal The Road’ is a minor Spaghetti Western blues – an ‘agonised lament for the gravel road’, a weep for a small paradise, and its ‘prettiness’, paved over.

But, away from the anger, it is Schwing’s affirming pieces that make this album for me.

Opener ‘From Above’ ululates like wings, like a propeller as we rise into the sky and look down upon The Neck. ‘The Isthmus Exists’ is a statement of the nature of nature: change comes and goes, nature always is; The Isthmus Is.

‘Neck Nocturnal’ (based, it says here, on Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’) is Schwing painting The Neck after dark. It is lively – ‘I feel The Neck sleeps during the day and only comes alive at night’ – its guitar/bass/drums dance bringing to mind the great organic spark of John Abercrombie with Jack deJohnette and Dave Holland on ‘Gateway’ and other 70’s ECMs.Isthmus1

Last track ‘Quaternary Rage’ has the sound of anger – low growling guitar, squalling squealing bass, pulverised pulverising drums (drummer Alf Jackson, so sensitively intelligent on all other tracks, brutally storming here) – but it is not about anger, it is about natural power. It is the force of a roiling boiling storm blitzing The Neck from all sides – ‘the sand gets pushed around by all the elements’. This is nature grinding away, smashing and reshaping itself, with itself.

The most affecting piece on edge2:isthmus is ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’ – simply a restatement of the ‘Neck Nocturne’ theme played solo by Schwing. Solo, yet not solo – he is accompanied by the wind, and the soughing waves of The Neck itself. ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’ is recorded on the beach en plein air. It is a reminder that the wind of the Neck, the waves, the sand, the weeds, the millions of one-celled sand dwellers and the birds of the air are as much musical contributors to edge2:isthmus as are Schwing, Jackson and Haywood.

Listen and let The Neck surround and wash over you. You won’t hear anything like edge2:isthmus this year or any other past or future.

edge2:isthmus is available from Isthmus Music at www.isthmus-music.com