Posts Tagged ‘Jan Leipnitz’

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

 

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I love this album. I unequivocally stone motherless love it. It is the best jazz album I have heard this year. I could end this review right there, but I will expand.

Free Jazz has long divided even the most pearl-eared listeners. And with good reason – since its development in the early-1960s, its searching nature and fearless deep-end leaping has come up with mixed results. In the hands of magicians such as Pharoah Sanders and Cecil Taylor, Free Jazz can take you out to interstellar space and back; in the hands of band-wagon jumpers who shall remain nameless, the form is a turgid meander in the mire, never really getting anywhere, despite all the steam, noise and sounding brass.

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Negative critics often cite the ‘fact’ that Free Jazz has abandoned all melody, harmony and rhythm – the holy trinity of western music. But none of these have been abandoned at all; the best players are just working way out on the outer rim of these elements – sure, melody, harmony and rhythm are stretched to cracking point but they are most definitely there. And the music that the Free Jazz astronauts bring back from the edge is arguably the most ‘jazz’ Jazz you will ever hear – precisely because a big part of the Jazz mission statement has always been to stretch the music into new and wonderful shapes.

Melbourne saxophonist Andy Sugg’s latest album The Berlin Session was recorded in, inspired by and used musos based in the German arts-Mecca, but the music here takes you to many places. Places of the heart, places of the mind, place of the soul.

US sax giant Dave Liebman called Sugg “a dedicated warrior” and throughout the album his tone and lines (restricted here to only soprano sax) are heroic as he leads his band through the music. Fearless, sensitive, strong.

‘Vignette’ is a cool piece of Coltrane-spiritual worship before the rock and roil of ‘Freedom 2’ – this piece riding on the dense intensity of Berliner drummer Jan Leipnitz and bassist Sean Pentland. It is an intensity that never cloys or clogs – their playing truly swings, despite the elasticity of the pulse.

Both bass and drums shine on the pair of duets, ‘Berlin’ and ‘Teddie’s Blues’ – Pentland on the late night urban ‘Berlin’ rolls like a city subway beneath saxophonist Sugg’s sketch-etched skyline lines. On ‘Teddie’s Blues’, Suggs and drummer Leipnitz converse parti-coloured and party-hearty, full of energy but never overloading into Coltrane-Elvin Jones drumkit-demolition territory. Again, it swings.

A special mention needs to go to pianist Kate Kelsey-Sugg (Andy’s daughter) who makes this already astounding album a truly landmark one. Her comping (is there actually such a thing as prosaic as comping in this music?) is coolly considered when it needs to be – as on ‘Freedom 2’ where, towards the end, she sets up a tessellated repeat pattern that turns the whole performance into something else – and spiky and spitting where fireworks are called for, as on the Cecil Taylor hat-tip ‘Cecil T’. Kelsey-Sugg’s chord textures across the lovely ‘Pastoral’ seem to call from another age (past? future?) and give the piece a new beauty, a beauty we have never felt before.sugg

Andy Sugg’s soprano cannot help but conjure Coltrane, and the last piece ‘For Leib’ (a hi to Dave) is full of the trills and howls that made Coltrane’s last work so rivetting. In the love and joy of the band’s interplay I am reminded of Sunship, one of the first Coltrane Quartet’s last albums, before Elvin and McCoy left John to his star sailing. Sunship is free yet flowing, unfettered yet grooving, dense yet swinging. The Berlin Session is like that.

But The Berlin Session is entirely of its own wonder-full world, influences aside. Did I already say I love this album? Did I mention that I unequivocally stone motherless love it? I recommend you take a listen and get to love it too.

For more information visit: andysugg.com

 

Published December 2102 on jazz-planet.com