Posts Tagged ‘Zawinul’

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.


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.


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In the crystalline world of Casey Golden‘s music, evolution has been at work, as it inevitably must in any viable ecosystem.

The new work, an EP made of the four-part Miniature has built on Golden’s previous work, markedly 2105’s Outliers, which consolidated the Trio’s sound, vision and mission statement brilliantly. (Check also Outliers’ little sister album Live at Bennett’s Lane).

Golden Trio Miniature 2

Everything good and great about the Trio is still there. Golden’s compositions still blur beautifully between ensemble and improvisation, a vision virtually impossible to achieve without more than a touch of telepathy and players as empathic and creative as Ed Rodrigues on drums and bassist Bill Williams. The writing has not lost its nods to minimalism, Prog rock, post-rock and European classical flavours (contrapuntal bebop anyone?).

It sounds odd, and yet one of the most attractive attributes of Golden’s music is its un-jazzness. And the new work takes this further into new timbres.

Golden Trio Miniature 1

Miniature cover art by Glenn Smith

Miniature brings in the new sounds of synth and guitar (courtesy of guest Daniel Walsh). They are used sparingly and to great effect – the ‘classic/classical’ spine of the band’s piano trio character is not bruised at all, just gently shaded here, lit with a little rose or green there.

Opening movement of the Miniature suite – ‘I’ – has guitar over its tricksy timing, rising and falling  and oddly bringing to mind ‘acoustic electronica’. Its synth coda does not jar at all, but seems to be as logical as anything else in this movement.

‘II’ begins with an echo of one of the themes heard intertwining through the suite, before a completely absorbing (how rare they are) Bill Williams bass solo.

The third movement is ‘Interlude’. It takes another tack on timbre – the Bach-like piano lines sound dried-out, as if coming from a phone recording. This moves into a watery synth passage – as if listened to under water. The effect is magical – as if this ‘Interlude’ between the first two and the final movements has truly suspended time.

‘III’, the final movement of  Miniature has all the drama of a finale – except that drama is shaped through the lens of Golden’s compositional vision: so it has twists, turns, Zawinul-like suggestions of melody and then bursts of epic melody. The epic and the miniature, side by side, often one seen through the mirror of the other.

This is what sets Golden’s music apart from anything I can think of today. In my earlier review of Outliers I wrote “It is rare that a musical vision is so complete, and completely of its own world.” We are now seeing that world evolve – long may it do so.


Published June 2016 on