Album Review - Al Di Meola - Opus  

Al Di Meola is unquestionably one of the great guitar innovators of his generation. His formidable technique and fluency in a number of styles has placed his name indelibly in the history of jazz and improvised music. However capable he may be at the guitar, it would be a mistake to place his music in the category of garish guitar based exoticism. Di Meola has a compositional maturity that combines his advanced knowledge with a traditional harmonic palette.  

The album begins with cascading acoustic guitar arpeggios. Textures swell underneath as string lines flow in and out, accentuating melodic lines. A conversation takes place between the guitars which is a reflection of the performers humanity. Mainly peaceful, the guitarists occasionally raise their voices as things get heated. Di Meola demonstrates his dexterity during the composition but the emphasis remains on the sharing of dialogue rather than any vulgar displays of virtuosic shouting.  

Built upon an infectious 6/8 groove, Di Meola contrasts the movement in the main riff of Broken Heart with long notes on the electric guitar. The music is like an ocean... seemingly calm while an abundance of activity is taking place below the surface. The beauty within Ava's Dream Sequence Lullaby comes from its connection to traditional harmony, the spaciousness of the instrumentation and the melodic improvised lines. When the music resolves unexpectedly to a major chord, it is a heartwarming experience. The music climaxes with a change of rhythmic feel where gentle percussion work, along with the lack of a bass instrument, produces a delicate lightness. You could almost consume the music with one deep breath.  

Di Meola talks about a Led Zeppelin influence creeping in to Notorious. There are no thundering Bonham beats or deliciously chaotic pentatonic guitar runs. The inspiration comes in the form of Led Zep’s combination of funk grooves, blues tinged harmony and Eastern scalic investigations. It becomes complicated, and unnecessary, to separate Di Meola’s improvisations from the composed melodies. Lines are constructed, which you think are spontaneous, then suddenly they sync up with another instrument. All credit to the compositional detail on the album.  

Escapado has a danceable rhythm which is a strong contrast with much of the music heard thus far. The descending chromatic line that underpins the harmony brings a sense of explosive expectation which releases as the drums switch to a half time feel. A cut of the wires before the strain becomes too much to bear.  

Rhani Krija duets with Di Meola on Pomp. The string sounds are in such subtle synchronicity with the guitar that it must be assumed they are being trigged by the instrument. It is compositional detail like this that gives the album its depth. Sophisticated and complex lines weave and dance like two intellectuals trying to outwit one another on Insieme. When chords appear they are played with flamenco-like gusto. The introduction of bass brings a textural change and gives weight to aspects of the discussion.  

The album closes with the fluid electric guitar lines which Di Meola was so celebrated for while playing with Return To Forever. Beginning as a hard driving jazz rock powerhouse, an unexpected turn is taken into a Cuban piano montuno. This links in with a bass riff which wouldn’t sound out of place on a heavy metal album.  

Di Meola presents us with one final, understated music lesson. The point of which is that music from across the world is inextricably linked. Of course each genre has its intricacies and its unique elements but perhaps a blind dedication to these traditions prevents a great deal of exciting and innovative music from being created. Di Meola is in no danger of falling in to that trap.  

John Marley

Album Review - Tom Syson - Green  

In a jazz scene littered with creative talent, British trumpet players appear to be few and far between when compared with their woodwind playing colleagues. That is why it is all the more refreshing to hear a musician of Tom Green’s calibre release such a powerful debut album.  

Green eases in with the leader improvising lonesome lines, answered by atmospheric crashes from the rhythm section. The piece segues in to Bamberg which has an emotional melody line that manages to contain a subtle rhythmic intensity. The piano solo builds with help from the sizzling drum groove that underpins it. Taking over the lead while the intensity is peaking, Syson keeps the composition developing. The guitar and tenor sax play a subtle role, filling out textures and helping to give the piece its dynamic range.  

The band make an effective use of instrumental pairings throughout the album. Wary Warrior sees Syson and bassist Pete Hutchinson bring pastoral images to the minds eye. Hutchinson fills out the sound with chordal work while Syson utilises a Kenny Wheeler like tone.  

Far From Boundaries New has a menacing undercurrent which builds tension and releases in to a joyous melody. The guitar is integral to the dark atmospherics, using effects and extended techniques. Vittorio Mura’s sax solo moves like a bird in flight, switching between manic flutters and long bending notes. The trumpet solo settles in to a groove while the sax plays an effective counter melody underneath.  

On the title track, a beautifully light piano sequence opens proceedings and plays accompaniment to a breathy melody from the band leader. The bass rumbles underneath before creating countermelodies of his own. The whole piece is like an improvisational dialogue but one deeply rooted in tonality and melody. Each instrument appears like an animal going to investigate a loud noise. Leroy the Tiger is a wild improvisational stand off between trumpet and drums. 

Vocals are introduced on Raindrops courtesy of Lauren Kinsella. She first uses vocal sounds in a rhythmic manner before taking on a more traditional role, leading the piece with a folkish melody. Although the music on this album is anything but simplistic, it always maintains a harmonic accessibility which will be attractive to lovers of many musical genres.  

Farewell To Paradise drives along with a hypnotic bass line while the drums and tenor play staccato hits over the top. Things open up when the sax plays longer lines before the listener is returned to their state of hypnosis. The rhythmic feel evokes images of a beast lumbering along with heavy feet as the insects dance around it.  

Bluebells is a more gentle and atmospheric affair where the bass takes a lyrical solo. The sound of the instrument being captured beautifully. So often recorded double bass loses its acoustic charm but not here. The guitar takes a standout solo and is an integral part of the ensemble. Ben Lee’s playing uses a whole host of sounds and techniques without ever being intrusive. 

The album moves in a different direction on the final track. The electric keyboard and horn riff take the band towards the sound of 70’s Miles Davis. The straight groove is packed full of rhythmic interplay with the keys stabbing away under the solo. The duo between distorted guitar and drums is particularly energising. 

Green is a compositional and improvisational tour de force and it would be a crime if this young band do not receive the attention they deserve.  

John Marley 

Monk Montgomery - The First Pioneer of Electric Bass 

The Montgomery family name is well established in jazz history due to the musical accomplishments of Wes, perhaps the most influential jazz guitarist of his era. Yet the legacy of the Montgomery name stretches further. Buddy Montgomery, one of Wes’ brothers, was an accomplished pianist and vibraphonist who recorded with Johnny Griffin, George Shearing and Charlie Rouse.   

The name of Monk Montgomery may be unfamiliar to many jazz fans, yet his story is fascinating though largely untold. Monk was the first to hand his younger brother Wes a guitar when he was approximately 11 years old. Monk himself did not take up the double bass until he was 28 years old, almost unheard of for such a proficient jazz musician. After practising for a couple of years, Monk found himself in the orchestra of Lionel Hampton.   

It was Hampton who first encouraged Monk to switch to the new electric bass which was made popular by instrument maker Leo Fender. Monk told Guitar Player Magazine “Hamp handed me the Fender and told me he wanted the electric instrument sound in the band. The electric bass was considered a bastard Instrument. Conventional bass players despised it. It was new and a threat to what they new…At first I freaked out, because I was in love with my upright bass…(but) I made up my mind to do it and did it well”    

Monk Montgomery was not only one of the first to tour with the new Fender Precision bass, but he is believed by many to be the first to record with the instrument. The record date took place on July 2nd 1953 and was released as The Art Farmer Septet. All of the musicians on the date (aside from drummer Sonny Johnson) were members of Hampton’s orchestra. On this recording, Montgomery successfully eased the new instrument into jazz by emulating the sound of the double bass. Playing the instrument with his thumb, Monk produced a warm round tone which suited the cool swing and latin groove based compositions on the album.   

Being one of the first musicians to adopt the Fender bass, Monk had no influences on the instrument. This allowed him to adapt his style throughout his career. Although the use of the thumb produces an appealing sound, it can be technically limiting. Monk dealt with this problem by creating his own plectrums made of felt. This allowed a greater playing speed while maintaining the soft attack.   

Monk Montgomery would continue to have an extensive career as a sideman and bandleader, recording with his brothers, Hampton Hawes, Hugh Masekela and Kenny Burrell amongst others. Yet he continued to break new ground on a series of albums released under his own name. His first solo album entitled It’s Never Too Late was released in 1969 and features members of The Crusaders. On the album, Monk plays a style of lead bass guitar which wouldn’t achieve widespread acceptance until Jaco Pastorius burst on to the scene some 6 years later.   

Monk Montgomery came into his own as a leader on his 1971 release Bass Odyssey. Not only does he continue his vision of a lead bass sound, but he develops it even further, introducing fuzz effects and tremolo picking. The album also features double bassists Andy Simpkins & Kent Brinkley, allowing Monk to focus on his role at the forefront of the music. The music is infectious soul jazz with a notable contribution from keyboard player Joe Sample. The record, like most of Monk’s solo output, remains out of print.   

Monk Montgomery’s influence in jazz should not be underestimated. Not only did he introduce the Fender Bass to the genre, but he gave it a unique and credible voice through his sensitive accompaniments and memorable solo albums. He was also an early pioneer of playing the instrument with a plectrum, a style of playing which is still rare amongst jazz bassists (Steve Swallow and Carol Kaye being two other notable plectrum users).   

Despite this, Monk Montgomery remains largely unknown and unmentioned not just in jazz circles but also in the world of bass guitar. Many of his albums are out of print, as is his in-depth and extensive 1978 bass tuition book. In the internet age, Monk Montgomery’s playing may not contain enough fireworks to be featured on bass guitar websites but his legacy deserves acknowledgement and his music deserves to be re-examined in the modern age.   

John Marley.

 

Album Review - Morten Schantz - Godspeed - Edition Records 

Morten Schantz may be an unfamiliar name to many readers. This could soon change as the Danish pianist has put together a jazz album like no other. Many influences have crept in to jazz over the years but electronica and dance have been conspicuously absent, until now.  

The album opens with electronic ambience and haunting saxophone from Marius Neset before bursting in to life with the title track. The electronic rhythms sound modern when placed in to a jazz context, yet they have a retro feel. The rhythm is made of modular synth-like pops and clicks while the harmonic foundation comes from a delicately attacking synth. The melody darts over the top, nimble and energetic. The drums of Anton Eger don’t stray from the groove but are played in the free moving style popularised by drummers such as Mark Guiliana. The harmony and rhythm open up for the sax solo, creating an all consuming cushion of sound to play over. As the piece develops, the sounds becomes less dense, an opportunity to breathe before an outpouring of triumphant sax lines over shimmering synth.  

Escape Velocity immediately brings to mind Weather Report, largely due to the sax sound. The rhythm is driving and menacing when combined with the relentless synth bass. The piano solo’s with incredible dexterity, matching the intensity of the rhythmic foundation.  

Growing Sense is a much more laid back affair. The slow 4/4 drum groove is full of beautifully subtle breaks and tambourine hits. The sax lines are longer and more immediately melodic. Elements of dubstep bass lurk underneath the surface. Neset isn’t afraid of the occasional flirtation with blues tinged soul lines. Textural variety comes with light woodwind chords in the background. Many of the album’s climaxes are rock inspired. This one bringing to mind the moving sensation of blissed out UK rockers Jesu.  

A composition of many parts, Martial Arts incorporates head moving synth, ambient melodic lines and Latin influenced grooves. The latter of which are the foundation for a spacious and carefully constructed electric piano solo. The rhythmic clapping which is introduced towards the end of the piece is heartwarming, especially when combined with the dancing nature of the soprano sax.  

Airglow is a different beast altogether, the band dispense with melody and rhythm and embark on a journey in to electronic textures. The trio return to menacing synth lines and tightly executed drum grooves on Ceasefire. The melody has an Eastern flavour in both its delivery and content. Samples of talking and singing enter the background, drawing the listener deeper in to the piece. The band consistently keep the music interesting by varying the grooves under the soloist. On this track, the sax engages in a rhythmic and melodic dialogue with the drums, giving more impact to the reentry of the keyboards.  

Cathedral is an acoustic composition where the piano plays a sombre and moving neo-classical foundation for the delicate soprano which brings the piece to moments of climax using long high notes following nimble lines up and down the register.  

Drill takes the listener in to the world of electronic funk. The synth bass has an 8-bit quality and the off beat horn stabs have a disorientating electronic decay. The mix of the instruments creates an interesting sound world. The drums stand at the forefront, with the delay drenched keys sitting at the back. As the band move to a more traditional funk groove, the keys bring in a wha effect and Neset produces a muscular tenor sound.  

The 6/8 groove of Dark Matter remains consistent through much of the piece, giving it a dance like hypnotic quality. This breaks away for a straight groove in the middle allowing the drums to be more rhythmically playful. Moving in to 4/4 at the end of the piece, it is hard not to move to the rhythm of the music. The album closes with washes of sound which build to a dramatic climax.  

We may not be far in to 2017 but Godspeed has shot straight to the top of this reviewers 'best of' list, and it’ll take something special to displace it. Godspeed is a truly modern and engaging piece of original jazz.  

John Marley 

Album Review - Andy Nowak Trio - Sorrow and the Phoenix  




I’ll start by stating my prejudices: I’m a fan of the more experimental branches of jazz. That’ll put it concisely and I think help you approach this review with an awareness of where I’m starting.  

So, welcome alongside me as we journey into Sorrow and the Phoenix, the debut record from the Andy Nowak trio, featuring Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums.  

First impressions: it’s a nice album. 

There’s the rub. It’s nice. I wouldn’t say bad; I wouldn’t say inspiring. It is a pleasant album. 

Here’s what other people have said:  

Charley Dunlap: ‘The album ends...as it began, marked by melodicism, sublime harmony and thoughtful arrangement.’ 

Ian Mann: ‘the album … is both intelligent and highly melodic and features an unfailingly high standard of musicianship throughout.’  

Jason Rebello: ‘lovely compositions’. 

Putting aside the necessarily meaningless and subjective journalese that reviews propagate, there is a common praise throughout: impressive playing, thoughtful and lovely tunes. While these aspects are to be lauded, they are also my main problem with the record. 

Nowak – clearly a phenomenal and creative player – wears his influences too far down his sleeve. Because while Sorrow and the Phoenix is a tight, melodic and lovely record, it never really gets out of third gear. In many ways, it feels very safe. Beautiful harmonically, yet thin melodically. It feels as those Nowak is assimilating, not innovating. I can hear Evans, Mehldau, Esbjorn Svensson among others, but in this record, I can’t hear Nowak. I want him to feel emboldened to push into riskier territory. For that is the best jazz lives: in the realm of ‘almost out of control’, where reinvention and radical inspiration are necessary bedfellows with spontaneity. At the moments – and there are many – when it feels like the trio will explode into furious passion, the tension is pulled back instead of released and (usually) the song ends. Consequently, Sorrow… leaves feeling timid. Encumbered by influence, it never really gets off the ground on its own accord. The playing is solid, there are some good solos by all involved, the tunes are nice. We’re back at nice. Couple this with the very clean and nice production, and the result is a bit ‘background jazz’: it is, I shall say again, a lovely, warm record, but it doesn’t demand any attention. It feels at one remove from its own inception.   

But then what use is a record in jazz, a truly ephemeral art-form? I’m certainly keen now to see Nowak play live, ‘cause I imagine my nigglings will be washed away in a performance environment not restricted by budget restraints and limited takes.   

Reviews, though, according to all the implicit rules, require a soundbite to end. I’ll give it a go: There is rich talent and musicality here; I hope later releases give them the confidence to really push into their own voices more. I’d reserve judgement, but then the whole point of my writing this is precisely to judge, so… 

Nice. 

Andy Nowak Trio – Sorrow and the Phoenix, recorded mixed and mastered by Andrew Lawson at Fieldgate Studios. They’ll be touring in 2017. Catch them at http://www.andynowaktrio.com/ .

Review by James Wood 

Album Review - York Music Forum Jazz Orchestra - Soundwave  

Due to the hard work of the team at York Music Forum, the city now has a wealth of adult and youth big bands. The Jazz Orchestra are the audition only youth band which the other ensembles feed in to. This collection of York’s finest young jazz musicians have travelled a long way in a short time and an important step on this journey is the release of their debut album Soundwave.  

The album opens with the Strayhorn standard Take The A Train which is taken at a brisk pace. The trombone and trumpet solos have a great swing feel and show melodic maturity. Other swing standards include Just In Time and Benny Golson’s Whisper Not. The latter is a slow swing with the drums using sensitive brushwork, launching the piece with the switch to sticks. The sax solo takes a laid back melodic approach which is a contrast to the bright and bluesy trumpet offering. The solos are separated by tightly executed ensemble playing.  

Music Director Ian Chalk has contributed an original to the band entitled Signs Of Achievement. This 3/4 piece is harmonically & conceptually inspired my Miles Davis’s Milestones. The congas aid the groove of the piece. The baritone sax solo has a powerful sound. It is refreshing to hear a solo from his all too rare member of the saxophone family. The backings are sensitively performed, never pulling focus from the soloist.  

Ballad’s can be notoriously tricky to execute for young bands. This is not the case on Soundwave. In Her Family is delicately delivered. The cymbal washes bring atmosphere & the band show great dynamic control. Over The Rainbow is given a rousing treatment where the brass exchange elements of the melody, punctuated by counter lines from the woodwind. Subtle elements such as the use of the tambourine bring character to the performance. Jamie maintains a beautifully restrained tempo and isn’t afraid of space. 

There is a chance for the rhythm section to shine on Consequences which is another Ian Chalk original. The bass and drums lock in to a relaxed funk groove and the guitar produces a rich tone for a rock influenced solo.  

John Brown’s Other Body is a fun way to round up the album. The traditional melody develops in to a sleazy funk groove via a series of ensemble passages. 

It would be unfair & unproductive to compare Soundwave to the great big band recordings of master such as Basie, Ellington & Henderson. These are musicians starting out on their journey in jazz, showing performance maturity beyond their years. These musicians are the next generation of British jazz performers and with that, we can all feel confident about the future of this music in the city.  

John Marley. 


 

Album Review - Stuart McCallum & Mike Walker - The Space Between - Edition Records   



Stuart McCallum and Mike Walker are two of the most individual and prolific guitarists in British jazz. Over many years, each player has developed a sound of their own while remaining adaptable to a variety of situations and ensembles. On The Space Between, they come together to play original compositions and selected standards.  

The ironically titled opener And Finally has an accessible acoustic folk atmosphere. The entrance of the electric guitar takes the piece in a rockier direction. The distorted tone is clear and full which complements the long melodic lines. The strings bring an element of drama to proceedings, gradually building as the track progresses. The harmony isn’t complex but this shows off the strengths of the musicians, particularly McCallum’s skill at building textures. 

Two standards appear on the album, the first being Burt Bacarach’s Alfie. The piece gets a heartwarming treatment with arpeggiated chords providing a backdrop to the delicately delivered melody. The acoustic guitar solo is rich in melodic content. The second standard is My Ideal which has a country influence, emanating from the acoustic guitar slides. The electric guitar picks out chords and double stops, the simplicity providing a stirring emotional sentiment. The acoustic guitar reverb has a vocal quality, sounding like a ghostly chorus line in the background.  

Moment Us has a gentle groove which is provided by muted guitar thumps. Stylistically, the track draws influences from post-rock, jazz and electronica. The backdrop to the melody and improvisations comes from electronic vibrations and pulsating string lines, leading to the introduction of a driving beat. The strings are a defining feature of the record, beautifully arranged and superbly executed.  

Yewfield sees a return to the traditional folk style both rhythmically and harmonically. However, it sometimes moves in to contemporary jazz territory and the electric guitar sound gives the piece a modern edge. The electric guitar has a warm tone. The guitar solo builds in rhythmic intensity and shows Walker’s mastery of the instrument. The complex lines never sound in any danger of outstretching the performer.  

McCallum takes the album in a new direction with a cleverly arranged rendition of a Debussy string quartet movement. The arrangement climaxes with a rich and dramatic chord.  

Waves of ambient sound open the the title track, making the way for sheets of arpeggiated chords from the acoustic guitar. Walker provides a slow moving melody over the dense backdrop. The strings take more of a melodic role in this piece, moving forward to become the focus of much of the track.  

Sky Dancer is a piece of 2 halves. The track starts with the kind of richly accessible harmony that is prominent on much of the album before diverting to an Indian sound. The acoustic improvisation is spaced over a tabla rhythm and a sea of electronic rumbles and driving rhythmic picking. The electric guitar solo is more dissonant and aggressive. The meter of 7 beats to a bar almost passes unnoticed, such is the relaxed delivery of the groove. The duo make a smooth transition to the pastoral melody that came before. A suitable way to end an album full of melodic riches, engaging arrangements and world class guitar playing.  

John Marley 

Album Review - Tom Harrison - Unfolding In Tempo - Lyte Records  

Live albums are something of a rarity in jazz these days. Some of the great jazz releases were recorded live in concert. Think about all of the albums with the words ‘Live at The Village Vanguard’ or Live at Newport’. The live album captures an energy and a relaxed feel which doesn’t always materialise in the recording studio.  

Tom Harrison has assembled an all-star line up for this album of Duke Ellington pieces, performed at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham and the Soho Pizza Express. Vocalist Cleveland Watkiss features heavily and he opens the album by emulating train noises on the popular standard Take The A Train. Bassist Daniel Casimir introduces snapshots of the melody while the other members of the ensemble emulate the chaos of a train station at rush hour. The melody is sung with soul and a playful rhythm. Watkiss’s solo transitions between traditional wordless scatting & improvised story telling. The leader puts in a excellent solo full of bop language and bluesy glissandi.  

Things Ain’t What They Used To Be is delivered in a traditional fashion with the sax & vocals doubling the melody. The joy of the arrangement comes from the space given to the soloists. The piano sits out & Harrison solos over a backdrop of bass and subtle percussion. His extensive solo occasionally breaks outside of the harmony bringing extra tension.  

The infectious soul jazz vocal line which opens The Minor Goes Muggin’ has you moving before the rhythm section have begun. The New Orleans second line feel harks back to the early days of jazz. Watkiss’s solo is in the style of a traditional jazz trumpet and he engages in a joyous call and response with the audience. The audience break in to excited laughter as the calls become more complicated. Robert Mitchell gets his first feature, showing great dexterity on the piano and building to a frenzy with repeated motifs. The audience whoop as the climax reaches its pinnacle.  

My Little Brown Book has a slow 6/8 groove which develops in to a driving 4/4 swing after the melody. Mitchell contributes an energetic solo full of swing language while the bass solo makes the transition back in the original feel. Drummer David Lyttle occasionally plays a wonky hip hop feel which brings a modern sound to a traditional setting.  

Watkiss loops atmospheric vocal sounds to create a backdrop for Solitude. The piano colours the piece delicately while Harrison takes a much more restrained solo. The vocals take on the role of the bass while the drums flutter and rattle behind.  

Casimir opens The Intimacy Of The Blues with a lengthy and captivating bass cadenza which makes full use of the instruments range. The vocals use Indian techniques over the swinging 12 bar blues form, creating a new and unique sound world. Watkiss explains his introduction to jazz to the audience, informing how his early inspirations came from instrumentalists more than other vocalists.  

Closing the album is a solo saxophone rendition of Warm Valley. Following on in the classic bop style, Harrison occasionally pushes in to overblown harmonics. 

It’s hard not to be drawn in to the energy of Unfolding In Tempo. From start to finish, you can hear five outstanding musicians having a great time performing classic swinging standards. Something all too rare in today’s jazz scene.  

John Marley.

Album Review - Mosaic - Subterranea - Edition Records  

Subterranea is the debut album from Mosaic, the contemporary ensemble formed in 2014 by London-based vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Ralph Wyld. A graduate of the Royal Academy’s jazz course, and once the principal percussionist for the National Youth Orchestra, Wyld’s compositions for this album draw as much from contemporary classical composers such as Martland and Reich as from the jazz idiom. The result is an album full of rich rhythmic and harmonic textures, interspersed with thoughtful use of space and extended techniques. 

The combination of instruments in this ensemble (Wyld on vibraphone, James Copus on trumpet and flugel, Sam Rapley on clarinet and bass clarinet, Cecilia Bignall on cello, Misha Mullov-Abbado on double bass, and Scott Chapman on drums and percussion) provides Wyld with plenty of opportunity to explore unusual but highly colourful timbres and textures. This is a key theme of the album, and something exploited from the beginning. The opening track White Horses begins by building through chorale-like woodwind chords, and quickly juxtaposes these chords with unison arpeggiated lines that form repetitive, punchy grooves. Chapman in particular sets a tight, crisp feel in these sections, where the influence of Reich is plain. The contrast between the soft wind timbres and the brighter percussion and cello passages keeps the piece feeling constantly refreshed. 

Kaira Konko follows; a slowly unfolding piece that begins gently, growing from solo vibes through pleasing clear harmonies towards much busier, exciting solos by Copus and Wyld. Again, Chapman’s kit playing is brilliantly attentive, supporting and embellishing the solos carefully, without ever treading on anyone’s toes. 

There are two interludes on the album, either side of the title track Subterranea. They are perhaps the clearest examples of Mosaic’s contemporary classical side, using extended techniques to create subtle but complicated sound worlds. The large amounts of space and lengthy sustained notes in these tracks work very well as brief periods of release between some of the longer, heavier, and more specifically composed material on the album. 

Subterranea itself contains elements of minimalism; however, this track is perhaps also the most recognizable as a jazz tune: the driving pulse in bass and drums at times feels very much like straight-ahead jazz. On this track, Mullov-Abbado picks out gorgeous lines and crafts a lovely bass solo around the sparse accompaniment of the vibes and kit. Not to be outdone, Rapley and Wyld also take their improvisations in very different, but very appealing directions. It is a point worth making that in general, the improvisation on this album is well crafted; soloists skillfully blend clean melodic phrasing with extended harmony and vibrant rhythmic playing. 

The last two tracks, Cryptogram and Reprise work in opposite ways: Cryptogram, full of angular shapes and gestures, feels almost like free improvisation, as the musicians move into fast-moving, hard-hitting areas. Reprise, however, is very clearly organized. Wyld takes melodic and harmonic content from all the previous tracks of the album, and weaves them together into a unified work – the perfect conclusion for an album so intricately put together. 

There is a very pleasing sense of craft and care in all this music. It is clean, sharp, and bright, at the same time as being intriguing and containing layers of depth. The composed elements are strong, and draw on a wide selection of influences to make an original sound. The improvisation is equally thoughtful & intelligent, making for satisfying listening. This project could progress in any number of directions, so it will be very interesting to hear what comes next. 

Cameron Mcarthur


 

Album Review - Marlena - Springtime  

Marlena Rose will be known to many York jazz fans as vocalist with the soulful group One Foot In the Groove who play regularly at the Victoria Vaults. A larger than life character, Marlena’s infectious enthusiasm never fails to endear audiences to her.  

Her debut EP entitled Springtime is produced by another lynchpin of the York jazz scene, namely trumpeter Ian Chalk. Having worked with Ian through the York Jazz Initiative, this was a wise choice as the trumpeter is familiar with Marlena’s vocal strengths.  

The EP opens with the classic standard Come Rain or Come Shine. The piece is arranged as a slow blues number in the style of the great Etta James recordings on Chess Records. The lush string backdrop creates the perfect cushion for Marlena’s dramatic vocal delivery. The organ solo is laid back and tasteful, keeping the emphasis on the blues feel.  

The title track is a slow swinging performance with a beautifully melodic solo from Ian Chalk. His soft, flugel like delivery has an air of Chet Baker in both tone and melodic sensibility. Marlena communicates the lyrics with a delicate soulfulness which brings the song to life. The trumpeter cum producer also contributes a solo to the hard swinging version of Lullaby of Birdland. This time he uses the melody as a bouncing off point to a more energetic, hard swinging improvisation. The song opens with a short bass solo in the style of the late great Ray Brown. The introduction of the vibraphone is a subtle, yet welcome textural change.  

The EP closes with a joyous, yet little played old standard, namely I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs In One Basket. The Irving Berlin song is played in a traditional jazz style with driving guitar and clarinet weaving its way around the vocal line. This is a very apt way to end an EP from a singer filled with joy and enthusiasm.  

Springtime is a strong debut, delivered with passion and confidence. It will be interesting and enjoyable to see where this vibrant singer goes next.  

John Marley