Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lyle Mays, soundpainter

As Falls Wichita

This September it will be 40 years since Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny went into a studio with the producer Manfred Eicher to piece together the 20-minute work that gave its name to an album: “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls”. A sidebar to their work together as members of the Pat Metheny Group, it soon became recognised as a remarkable free-standing piece of work.

Crudely put, it functions as the soundtrack to an imaginary film: starting with the babble of voices — a sports crowd? a street market? a political demonstration? — and the thrumming of a bass guitar, evolving into gorgeous tunes built sometimes simply of chords, sometimes of melodies whistled or played on a berimbau (a heartbreaking twang). All sorts of soundscapes are evoked, and all sorts of weather, through textures that are constantly shifting and blending. The sound of Metheny’s various guitars and Mays’s keyboards and synths is of its time, but timeless, too. The berimbau is played by Nana Vasconcelos, who also contributes percussion and is the only other musician present.

It’s a beautiful American tone poem, epic in its sweep but also intimate in its approach to the listener. Later in the decade Metheny’s group would record the great “Last Train Home”, which felt then, and still feels, like a coda to the longer piece.

Lyle Mays died on February 10, aged 66, after a long illness. “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” is likely to live as long as people are still listening to the recorded music of the twentieth century.

* The album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls was released in 1981 on the ECM label. The photograph, taken by Klaus Frahm (father of Nils), is from the cover.

The Henrys’ ‘Paydirt’

90585149_640

It’s my theory that Meghan and Harry haven’t fled the UK for Canada to get away from the red-tops. I think it’s because they know that the Henrys and the Weather Station have new albums out this year, and they’ll get more chances to see these great Canadian musicians playing gigs in actual Canada.

I don’t know when Tamara Lindeman intends to put out the new Weather Station album, but the Henrys released theirs this week. It’s their sixth, it’s called Paydirt, and it’s another one guaranteed to delight those who’ve acquired a taste for the understated, beautifully shaped music of the band led by the guitarist Don Rooke, who is probably best known outside his homeland as a key contributor to Mary Margaret O’Hara’s small but bejewelled discography.

When Rooke visited the UK before Christmas, we took a train journey to Nottingham together, during which I asked him which, out of all his collection of guitars, was the one he’d be most reluctant to lose. Unsurprisingly he nominated his original Weissenborn, a soft-shouldered Hawaiian lap steel made in Los Angeles before the second world war. Don plays all sorts of guitars, but the mellow, unhurried twang of this one makes it the best-suited to his particular form of self-expression .

Unlike its predecessors, Paydirt is not available on CD. Sixteen tracks can be downloaded, 11 of which are also available on a vinyl disc. Whichever you choose, you’ll get a quietly eventful ramble through a landscape in which folk, country and blues meet and mingle, the conversation varying in stylistic emphasis but held together by a firm sense of collective understanding. To apply familiar terms like “backwoods” or “backporch” would not be entirely inappropriate, although it would probably overemphasise the bucolic nature of music that feels no need to advertise its sophistication.

Alongside Rooke are Davide DiRenzo on drums, Joseph Phillips on acoustic bass, John Dymond and Paul Pasmore on bass guitars, Jonathan Goldsmith on piano and pump organ, Joey Wright on guitar and mandocello, John Sheard on organ and pump organ and Hugh Marsh on violin. That sounds like a lot of musicians, but they share the work around and the sound is always spare and intimate. There are no guest singers this time, but every track sounds like a song.

The tunes are all Rooke’s. You might feel as though you’ve known them your entire life. You haven’t. If I had to pick a favourite, it would probably be “Ruby I Realize”, a relaxed shuffle in which the infiltration of Sheard’s light-fingered organ makes them sound like a chilled-out Booker T and the MGs, in the best possible way. Or the hymn-like dignity of “Stolen Border”. Or the blithe, skipping tune of “Bounty Jumpers”. Or the yearning lyricism of “It Was Old But We Knew”. Or the dobro and pump organ of “The Church Picnic”. Or the lightly funky second-line rhythm of “His Weakness Was Slender Arms”. Like just about every note I’ve ever heard from this source, Paydirt is highly recommended.

* Paydirt can be acquired via Bandcamp: https://thehenrys.bandcamp.com/album/paydirt

ECM at 50

manfred-eicher

By the end of the 1960s, jazz had gone right out of fashion. If it was by no means dead in creative terms, it was no longer good business for the music industry. So the arrival of a new jazz record label was quite an event, which is why I can remember quite clearly the first package from ECM arriving on my desk at the Melody Maker‘s offices in Fleet Street, and opening it to extract Mal Waldron’s Free at Last. I knew about Waldron from his work with Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and others. But an album from the pianist, recorded in Europe and packaged with unusual care on an unfamiliar label based in Munich, came as a surprise.

Pretty soon it was followed by Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, and then by Marion Brown’s Afternoon of a Georgia Faun. Before 1970 was out further packages had included an album by the Music Improvisation Company (with Evan Parker and Hugh Davies) and Jan Garbarek (Afric Pepperbird). It became obvious that something special was happening under the aegis of ECM’s founder, Manfred Eicher.

I guess it was in 1971, with solo piano albums from Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, Terje Rypdal’s first album and two albums of duos teaming Dave Holland with Barre Phillips and Derek Bailey, that the label’s character really became clear. Eicher stood for jazz with a high intellectual content, saw no reason to privilege American musicians over their European counterparts, and set his own high standards in studio production and album artwork. All these things — particularly his fondness for adding a halo of reverb to the sound of acoustic instruments, inspired by how music sounded in churches and cathedrals — were eventually turned against him by the label’s critics. The sheer volume of great music produced over the past 50 years is the only counter-argument he ever needed. His greatest achievement has been to make us listen harder, deeper and wider.

ECM’s golden jubilee is being marked by events around the world. On January 30 and February 1 there will be a celebration over two nights at the Royal Academy of Music in London, featuring the pianists Craig Taborn and Kit Downes, the bassist and composer Anders Jormin and the Academy’s big band playing the music of Kenny Wheeler with guests Norma Winstone, Evan Parker and Stan Sulzmann. I thought I’d add to the festivities by choosing 20 ECM albums that have made a particularly strong impression on me since that first package dropped on my desk half a century ago; they’re listed in chronological order. Although there are many other contenders, I stopped at 19; the 20th is for you to nominate.

1 Terje Rypdal: Terje Rypdal (1971) The guitarist’s debut was an early sign of Eicher’s determination to capture and promote the new sounds coming from northern Europe, and from Norway in particular. Rypdal was one of the first to present himself as a wholly original voice.

2 Paul Bley: Open, to Love (1972) For my money, the finest of ECM’s early solo piano recitals, with Bley examining compositions by Carla Bley (“Ida Lupino”), Annette Peacock (“Nothing Ever Was, Anyway”) and himself.

3 Old and New Dreams: Old and New Dreams (1979) Don Cherry, one of Eicher’s favourites, is joined by Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell in this homage to the music of their former colleague, Ornette Coleman. The 12-minute “Lonely Woman” is astonishingly lovely.

4 Leo Smith: Divine Love (1979) The trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith was among the squadron of American innovators who arrived in Europe at the end of the ’60s and whose influence gradually became apparent in the ECM catalogue. Divine Love is a classic.

5 Bengt Berger: Bitter Funeral Beer (1981) A Swedish ethnomusicologist, composer and percussionist, Berger put together a 13-piece band — Don Cherry being the only famous name — to record this strange and compelling multicultural mixture of jazz and ritual music.

6 Charlie Haden / Carla Bley: Ballad of the Fallen (1983) Fourteen years after the historic Liberation Music Orchestra, Haden and Bley reunited for a second studio album featuring music of resistance.

7 John Surman: Withholding Pattern (1985) A solo album in which Surman developed his skill at overdubbing soprano and baritone saxophones, piano and synths, this opens with “Doxology”, in which Oslo’s Rainbow studio is turned into an English church.

8 Bill Frisell: Lookout for Hope (1988) One of several guitarists whose careers were nurtured at ECM, Frisell recorded this with a lovely quartet — Hank Roberts (cello), Kermit Driscoll (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) — before moving on.

9 Keith Jarrett Trio: The Cure (1991) Includes an eight-minute version of “Blame It on My Youth” in which Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette achieve perfection, no matter how many times I listen to it in search of flaws.

10 Kenny Wheeler: Angel Song (1996) In a dream line-up, the Canadian trumpeter is joined by the alto of Lee Konitz, the guitar of Bill Frisell and the bass of Dave Holland.

11 Tomasz Stanko: Litania (1997) The Polish trumpeter interprets the compositions of his compatriot and sometime colleague Krzysztof Komeda. A wonderful group features the saxophonists Joakim Milder and Bernt Rosengren, with a core ECM trio — Bobo Stenson (piano), Palle Danielsen (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) — as the rhythm section plus Terje Rypdal’s guitar on two of the tunes.

12 Trygve Seim: Different Rivers (2000) Most ECM music is for small groups, but here the Norwegian saxophonist and composer permutates 13 musicians in an exploration of subtle textures and gestures. The great trumpeter Arve Henriksen is among the soloists.

13 Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (2005) Ever listened to Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and wished there had been more post-bop jazz with that kind of relaxed intensity and melodic richness? Here it is. Tomasz Stanko and Jan Garbarek are the horns, Marcin Wasilewski and Slawomir Kurkiewicz the pianist and bassist.

14 Masabumi Kikuchi: Sunrise (2012) Kikuchi, who was born in Tokyo in 1939 and died in upstate New York in 2015, was a pianist of exquisite touch, great sensitivity and real  originality: a natural fit with Eicher, who recorded him with the veteran drummer Paul Motian and the quietly astounding bassist Thomas Morgan.

15 Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Live (2012) The label that released Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians in 1978 is the perfect home for the group led by the Swiss pianist and composer, who explores the spaces between minimalist repetition and ecstatic groove, between gridlike structures and joyful improvisation.

16 Giovanni Guidi: This Is the Day (2015) With equal creative contributions from Thomas Morgan and the drummer João Lobo, the young Italian master leads a piano trio for the 21st century: always demanding close attention but never short of refined lyricism.

17 Michel Benita + Ethics: River Silver (2016) Led by an Algerian bassist, a quintet including a Japanese koto player (Mieko Miyazaki), a Swiss flugelhornist (Matthieu Michel), a Norwegian guitarist (Eivind Aarset) and a French drummer (Philippe Garcia) create music that incarnates the ECM ideal of reflective, frontierless beauty.

18 Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2017) A double album recorded live in Chicago in 2015, featuring Mitchell with four trios — including the trumpeter Hugh Ragin and the percussionist Tyshawn Sorey — who finally come together in a memorable celebration of the legacy of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

19 Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017) Knotty but exhilarating compositions, solos packed with substance from Graham Haynes (cornet), Steve Lehman (alto) and Mark Shim (tenor): a statement of the art as it moves forward today.

20

* The photograph is a still from the 2011 film Sounds and Silence: Travels with Manfred Eicher, by Peter Guyer and Norbert Wiedmer. There’s a chapter containing further thoughts on ECM’s place in the evolution of modern music in my book The Blue Moment: Miles Davis and the Remaking of Modern Music, published in 2009 by Faber & Faber.

Flutter and wow

toop-guitar.b66383ff

After several books in which he perceptively explored the place and meaning of sound in our lives — including Oceans of Sound, Exotica, Haunted Weather, Sinister Resonance and Into the Maelstrom — now David Toop tells us how he came by his deep love and remarkable understanding of music. Flutter Echo: Living Within Sound, first published two years ago in Japan, where he has a devoted following, is now available in an English edition, and will provide valuable reading for anyone interested in the breadth of Toop’s interests.

That certainly includes me. If Toop is interested in something, the chances are that I will be, too. As signposts to the journey he describes, he appends a list of stuff he liked at the time. The period 1967-70, for instance, when he was in his late teens, includes Junior Wells’s Hoodoo Man Blues, Nico’s The Marble Index, the SME’s Karyobin, and Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Ten years later he was listening to Little Beaver’s “Party Down”, Cachao y su Descarga, Dr Alimentado’s “Ride on Brother”, Walt Dickerson’s Peace and Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame”. And so on. Our kind of person, I think.

His book is the story of how a boy from London’s northern suburbs found the music that gave volume, depth and direction to his life. Because his story parallels the experience of so many, and because Toop writes equally well about epiphanies and tragedies, it invites and secures the reader’s empathy.

As a journalist, Toop wrote for many publications (The Face, The Wire and others) and was heavily involved in two magazines, Musics and Collusion, that — among other things — chronicled the activities in the 1970s and early ’80s of the “second generation” of British free improvisers, of whom he was a prominent member, along with his frequent collaborators Steve Beresford, Paul Burwell, Max Eastley, Peter Cusack and others.

Their work is featured in Further Perspectives and Distortions, an excellent three-CD box subtitled “An Encyclopedia of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music 1976-1984”. Its time-frame means that it includes the wilder work of people associated with jazz-rooted free improvisation, contemporary classical, punk rock and post-punk, from AMM through Gavin Bryars and Alternative TV to This Heat, the Pop Group and Henry Cow. Other mavericks include the Roberts Wyatt and Fripp, Bob Cobbing, Ron Geesin, David Cunningham and Fred Frith.

The way I’ve listened to it is mostly to let each disc run — the tracks are sequenced alphabetically, by artist — and not to bother with checking the origin of each item. Sometimes I couldn’t help myself from wanting to know that a brilliant drum solo was from a Soft Machine track (John Marshall, presumably), or that an irresistible electro-groove was This Hear’s “24 Track Loop”. I enjoyed the 4min 28sec of silence halfway through the second disc, titled “(Extract from) The Compassion and Humanity of Margaret Thatcher” and credited to No Artist.

Those highlights aside (and there are, of course, others), the way I’ve chosen to listen means that the rustlings and bangings and jagged guitars and squeals and howls and pneumatic drilling and rantings and mutterings blend into each other like a mosaic-portrait of an edgy, difficult and often stimulating time, when almost everything was political. Maybe we’re heading that way again.

* The photograph of David Toop is by Fabio Lugaro, and is on the cover of Flutter Echo, which is published by Ecstatic Peace Library. The box set Further Perspectives and Distortions is on the Cherry Red label.

2019: The best bits

Osipova

It’s a source of lingering personal regret that I haven’t spent more time at the ballet. Over the years, rare outings to see the Nederlands Dans Theater performing Twice (Sock It to Me) to James Brown’s music at Sadler’s Wells in 1970, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland with American Ballet Theatre at the Coliseum in 1977, Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs at the Riverside Studios in 1994 and Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells in 1996 felt like journeys into a universe where the air was very different. This year’s adventure was another visit to Sadler’s Wells to see Natalia Osipova, the Bolshoi-trained principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, presenting Pure Dance, a programme of seven short pieces from different choreographers.

Among them was Six Years Later, created by Roy Assaf and danced by Osipova with Jason Kittelberger. Over the course of 22 minutes, it depicted the moods and responses of two people meeting after a lengthy estrangement: the range of gestures was considerable, from fond touches and entwinings to pushing, slapping and shoulder-barging. The first music was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, played straight but eventually treated (with great subtlety) by Deefly, twisting into a brief electronic episode that led to a big surprise: the strummed intro to “Reflections of My Life”, the 1969 hit by the Marmalade, the Scottish pop band who loitered successfully on the fringes of psychedelia. That in turn gave way to the final section and a third piece of music: Handel’s Dove Sei, Amato Bene? sung by Marilyn Horne. I found the emotional arc engrossing and the understated fluidity of the dancers’ movements compelling in their fluctuations between intimacy and distance. The real ballet critics were indifferent, so what do I know?

Beyond category

Amazing Grace: Aretha Franklin with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir (dir. Sidney Pollack & Alan Elliott)

Live performances

1 Rhiannon Giddens / The Ensemble (HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, Nov)

2 Royal Academy of Music alumni & soloists: Gil Evans’s Porgy & Bess (St John, Smith Square, Nov)

3 Binker Golding Quartet (Cockpit Theatre, Oct)

4 Nik Bärtsch / Sophie Clements (Barbican, Nov)

5 Soweto Kinch’s The Black Peril (Hackney EartH, Nov)

6 Bill Frisell + Harmony (Cadogan Hall, Oct)

7 Julia Hülsmann Quartet (Purcell Room, Nov)

8 Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Vortex, Oct)

9 The Necks (Hackney EartH, May; St John, Bethnal Green, Oct)

10 Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes (Cafe Oto, Aug)

11 Lucia Cadotsch’s Speak Low (Purcell Room, Nov)

12 Kim Myhr (Kilden, Oslo, Sept)

13 Zbigniew Namysłowski (JazzCafé POSK, Dec)

14 Thurston Moore (Kick Scene, Oslo, Sept)

15 Erland Apneseth Trio (Spice of Life, Nov)

New albums

1 Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science: Waiting Game (Motéma)

2 Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter 4: Memphis (Constellation)

3 Tyshawn Sorey + Marilyn Crispell: The Adornment of Time (Pi)

4 SEED Ensemble: Driftglass (jazz:refreshed)

5 Christian Lillinger: Open Form for Society (Plaist Music)

6 Kronos Quartet / Terry Riley: Sun Rings (Nonesuch)

7 Solange: When I Get Home (Columbia)

8 Arve Henriksen: The Timeless Nowhere (Rune Grammofon)

9 Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos: Cristal (Sunnyside)

10 Isildurs Bane & Peter Hammill: In Amazonia (Ataraxia)

11 Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor)

12 Giovanni Guidi: Avec le temps (ECM)

13 P. P. Arnold: The New Adventures of P. P. Arnold (e*a*r)

14 Laura Jurd: Stepping Back, Jumping In (Edition)

15 Angélique Kidjo: Celia (Verve)

16 Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are on the Edge (Pi)

17 Que Vola?: Que Vola? (Nø Førmat)

18 Beth Gibbons / Polish NRO / Penderecki: Górecki’s Symphony No 3 (Domino)

19 Allison Moorer: Blood (Autotelic)

20 Gebhard Ullmann’s Basement Research: Impromptus & Other Short Works (WhyPlayJazz)

21 Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks / Pure Love (TUM)

22 Nérija: Blume (Domino)

23 Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)

24 Lana Del Rey: NFR! (Interscope)

25 Corey Mwamba: Nth (Discus)

Archive & reissue albums

1 Various: This is Lowrider Soul (Kent)

2 John Coltrane: Blue World (Impulse)

3 Various: Further Perspectives & Distortions: An Encyclopedia of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music 1976-84 (Cherry Red)

4 Wes Montgomery: Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance)

5 John Coltrane: Impressions / Graz 1962 (ezz-thetic)

6 Anne Briggs: Anne Briggs (Topic Treasures)

7 Jan Garbarek / Bobo Stenson Quartet: Witchi-Tai-To (ECM)

8 Various: Yesterday Has Gone: The Songs of Teddy Randazzo (Ace)

9 Bob Dylan: The Rolling Thunder Review / The 1975 Live Recordings (CBS Legacy)

10 Various: Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 5 (Kent)

11 Johnny Burch Octet: Jazz Beat (Rhythm and Blues)

12 Nat King Cole: Hittin’ the Ramp (Resonance)

13 Various: Sacred Sounds: Dave Hamilton’s Raw Detroit Gospel 1969-74 (Kent)

14 Bob Dylan: Travelin’ Thru 1967-69 (CBS Legacy)

15 Don Cherry / Ed Blackwell:  El Corazón (ECM)

Films

1 Varda by Agnès (dir. Agnès Varda)

2 The Image Book (dir. Jean Luc Godard)

3 The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Music documentaries

1 Country Music (dir. Ken Burns)

2 Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (dir. Stanley Nelson)

3 Hitsville: The Making of Motown (dir. Benjamin Turner & Gabe Turner)

Books about music

1 Booker T. Jones: Time Is Tight (Omnibus)

2 David Toop: Flutter Echo (Ecstatic Peace Library)

3 Emma John: Wayfaring Stranger (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

4 James Pettifer: Meet You in Atlantic City (Signal)

5= Will Birch: Cruel to Be Kind: The Life & Music of Nick Lowe (Constable)

5= Ian Penman: It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Exhibitions

1 Ivon Hitchens (Garden Museum, London & Pallant House, Chichester)

2 Lee Krasner: Living Colour (Barbican)

3 Natalie Daoust: Korean Dreams (Beecroft Gallery, Southend)

4 Ed Ruscha (Tate Modern)

5 Various: Another Me (South Bank Arts Centre)

Nik Bärtsch at the Barbican

Nik Bartsch Barbican

This is how is began, with a seven-foot Steinway marooned on a dais in a lagoon of water installed on an enlarged stage at the Barbican Hall, silhouetted against a rhombus of light projected on to the back wall. As the house lights dimmed to blackness, the Swiss pianist and composer Nik Bärtsch, as usual shaven-headed and dressed in the black robes of a ninja monk, emerged from the wings and made his way to the instrument across a causeway which was then removed by stagehands. Bärtsch settled himself before launching into an hour-long piece called When the Clouds Clear, a “light and sound poem” created in conjunction the London-based visual artist Sophie Clements.

Bärtsch’s music is utterly sui generis: a highly personal version of minimalism that is most often expressed with the other musicians of his quintet Ronin, a project developed over almost 20 years at weekly sessions in a Zurich club that he co-owns. Each of his compositions is titled “Modul” and given a number. This mirrors the seemingly industrial precision with which they are conceived and performed, based on small melodic cells and exacting rhythmic overlays whose teasing syncopations generate tension, but it gives no idea of the emotion generated when, on a sudden shouted cue, one locked groove instantly gives way to another, the intensity rising exponentially.

All this was reflected in his unaccompanied playing last night, opening with a single repeated note tested for overtones and modified for attack and decay before evolving through an hour of contrasting moods and densities, often displaying his highly personal use of the prepared-piano techniques now common among those of his and subsequent generations of acoustic keyboard improvisers. Bärtsch can stun a note so that it acts like a rimshot from Philly Joe Jones or Clyde Stubblefield, laying it against a frantic weave of arpeggiation or letting it punctuate in a moment of silence. Sometimes he reached inside the instrument to make it hiss or growl, before building fantastic cataracts of sound that forfeited all note-definition and seemed about to burst the walls of the auditorium.

Sophie Clements’ lighting and projections began with minimalistic monochrome geometries creeping across the set before she introduced backdrops of waves and skies, washed in blue or grey. This seemed worryingly literal — waves of water, waves of sound — but only for the briefest moment until it became apparent how beautifully the visuals and the music were creating (to paraphrase Wallace Stevens) something beyond them, but themselves. Towards the end, drops of water began to fall from the roof into the lagoon: an illusion of the elements invading the music. (There was some wry amusement about this afterwards, given that parts of Britain had spent the week battling floods.)

The  austere, almost hieratic air of Bärtsch’s music and self-presentation is utterly deceptive; its end product is human warmth, and the prolonged ovation he shared with Clements was generated by art that, for all its refinement of technique and conception, communicated on the most immediate level. I’d be surprised if there were a soul in the hall who, having absorbed a genuinely extraordinary experience, wouldn’t have been happy to sit through it all again straight away.

* Nik Bärtsch and Sophie Clements were appearing on the first night of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. This was the second performance of When the Clouds Clear, which was co-commissioned by the Enjoy Jazz Festival and the Barbican and received its première in Mannheim earlier this year.

A Nordic Sunday

Hubro 1

Why, I asked Andreas Mæland today, did he call his record label Hubro? “It’s a North European eagle owl,” he said. “I thought we should name it after an endangered species, because this is endangered music.”

Mæland was in London to celebrate Hubro’s 10th anniversary, bringing with him from Norway three of the label’s groups. For members of an endangered species, they sounded in pretty good condition as they played short sets at the Spice of Life, a Soho pub whose basement is a regular venue for jazz.

Like his compatriot Rune Kristofferson, the founder of Rune Grammofon, Seth Rosner of Pi in New York and Patrik Landolt of Intakt in Zurich, Mæland has succeeded in demonstrating that record labels still have a significant role to play in documenting important music, building trust with listeners along the way through the taste of their producers. Kristoffersen and Mæland both served an apprenticeship working for Manfred Eicher’s ECM company: in fact Mæland succeeded Kristoffersen as ECM’s label manager in Norway, whose music Eicher has done much to promote. Eventually Mæland wanted to start his own label. “I released Christian Wallumrød’s first solo album,” he told me between sets. “And then it wasn’t possible to be ECM’s label manager any more.” Over the past decade he has released 120 albums by artists such as the percussionist Håkon Stene, the harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland, the bassist Mats Eilertsen, the trio Moskus, the multi-instrumentalist Geir Sunstøl and the mixologist Erik Honoré.

The first of the three bands — all trios — to perform at the Spice of Life was led by Erland Apneseth, a specialist in the Hardanger fiddle, accompanied by the bass guitarist Stephan Meidell and the drummer Øyvind Hegg-Lunde. As is usual with this generation of Norwegian musicians, the music floated free of genre but was strongly rooted in the cadences and modes of folk music. It was delicate but adventurous: in one passage all three musicians were bowing something — a violin, a bell, the bass guitar — to create an texture that seemed somehow appropriately early-Novemberish The closing section of an absorbing set was underpinned by Meidell’s use of a handheld single-bladed electric propeller to strike the strings in rapid succession, controlling the rate and weight of the notes with precision.

Building Instrument featured Mari Kvien Brunvoll on voice, zither and sampler, Åsmund Weltzien on keyboards and Hegg-Lunde on drums. Brunvoll is an intriguing singer, the purity and flexibility of her voice particularly well suited suited to a long passage in which her zither and Weltzien’s ability to reproduce the sound of Mellotron flutes evoked the baroque-psychedelic phase of British pop circa 1968. At times the whole trio sounded appealingly like a melting Chinese musical box.

Last came Bushman’s Revenge, a sort of power trio fronted by the guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, with the noisest and most assertive music of the afternoon. Their regular bassist is recovering from a broken arm, so Meidell stepped into the breach; there were times when the music made me think of how I’d like Cream to have turned out, freed from the thumping repetition of witless blues clichés. The group’s most recent album, Et Hån Mot Overklassen, is more of an essay in resraint and texture: lots of heavily reverbed Stratocaster with rolling tom-toms, that kind of thing (and it includes a track titled “Ladies Night at the Jazz Fusion Disco”).

The little woodcut of a flying owl on the album jackets, the naïve hand-lettering and the snapshot photography of the covers give Hubro albums a visual signature as distinctive as, but quite distinct from, ECM and Rune Grammofon. What the signature says is that the contents are likely to be worth hearing, as today’s showcase amply demonstrated.

* The photograph shows (from left) Stephan Meidell, Øyvind Hegg-Lunde and Erland Apneseth.

Binker in the Round

Binker in the Round 1

It takes a brave bandleader to offer Sarah Tandy the first solo of the set. And when the pianist was presented with that opportunity while depping for Joe Armon-Jones in Binker Golding’s quartet at Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre on Monday night, she made the most of it. As she can do, she simply took flight, pulling together the strands of the opening theme, focusing the efforts of the whole band and raising the intensity to a level sustained for the next 40 minutes.

It took four of them to bring that off, of course. Not just Tandy or Golding, whose playing seems to have reached a new level of authority in the past year, but the band’s bassist, Dan Casimir, who deploys a huge tone and a massive drive, and its drummer, Sam Jones, who is loose and sharp at the sane time and has a lovely way of infusing eights with a triplet-based feel (and who managed to make an adroit recovery when his bass-drum pedal flew off just as Golding’s tenor solo was building in the climactic “Fluorescent Black”).

They played tunes from Golding’s new album, Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers, whose delightful title owed something, he said, to the poet Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers — That perches in the soul — And sings the tune without the words — And never stops — at all — ” It was, he added, the result of his desire to make something more melodic than the music he created in his duo with the drummer Moses Boyd and its various extensions.

How well he has succeeded. The album is like a modern version of a tenor-and-rhythm session by someone such as George Coleman or James Clay at the zenith of the hard-bop era: original themes that are strong and complex, full of immediately attractive twists and turns, blowing that is fierce but constantly aware of the need to build a narrative. Occasionally, as in “Exquisite She-Green”, there is a Monkish angularity that seeps into the solos. A ballad like “You, That Place, That Time” is not afraid to explore a glowing but always alert lyricism. Others, like “Fluorescent Black” and the Latin-inflected “I Forgot Santa Monica”, have a built-in swing that allows the musicians to take off and show us the extent of their old-school chops while making it clear that they have new things to say.

Tandy on the live gig provided a rewarding contrast with Armon-Jones’s work on the album: the former constantly launching her combination of soulfulness and rhapsody, fingers flying as she goes deeper and deeper, the latter a virtuoso of funky feeling, with a surprise in every bar and making each one count towards the whole.

The gig had the Cockpit audience roaring its approval. The album is a beautiful (and very beautifully recorded) document capturing a young London musician’s discovery that there’s more than one way for his generation to wreck the house. Most highly recommended.

* Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers is out now on the Gearbox label.

Terry Riley’s ‘Sun Rings’

Kronos Sun Rings

Back in 2002 I was fortunate enough to be present when Sun Rings, an extended composition written by Terry Riley for the Kronos Quartet and a 60-voice choir, was given its world premiere in the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium. The partnership between the composer and the quartet celebrates its fortieth anniversary next year; among Riley’s works premiered and recorded by the group have been Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector, Cadenza on the Night Plain, Salome Dances for Peace, The Cusp of Magic and Requiem for Adam. But Sun Rings was something different: the musicians and singers were accompanied by sounds harvested from space by the scientists at NASA as their Voyager probes hurtled past Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The sounds of space — strange chattering, howling and chirruping — was originally captured by Don Gurnett, a research scientist at the university in Iowa City who designed the plasma-wave equipment carried by the probes to record the noises — called “whistlers” — made by electrons whizzing about in the magnetic fields surrounding the planets. Gurnett told me that while their existence had been detected by a German scientist during the First World War, he was the first person to retrieve them from space and to turn the signals into sound.

He had given cassettes of the recordings to Riley, divided under headings like “auroral hiss”, “electron plasma oscillation” and “electron cyclotron harmonic emissions”. The composer chose the ones he liked and made them an integral part of the piece, triggered in real time by the four members of Kronos using fibre-optic wands. The hour-long work, commissioned as part of NASA’s long-standing arts programme, featured lighting and back-projections created by Willie Williams, a Yorkshireman who worked with Deaf School, Stiff Little Fingers and others before joining U2 for the Zoo TV tour and then moving on to collaborate with the Stones and Bowie.

After the Iowa concert, which was quite an experience, the work was given its European premiere at the Barbican. Now an album, recorded in a studio in 2017, makes the piece available to everyone.

Here’s what David Harrington, Kronos’s leader, has to say about Riley in the notes to Sun Rings: “There is no other composer who has added so many new musical words to our vocabulary, words from many corners of the musical world. Terry introduced Kronos to Pandit Pran Nath, Zakir Hussein, Bruce Connor, La Monte Young, Anna Halprin, Hamza El Din, Jon Hassell, Gil Evans… I have never once heard him say an unkind word about another musician. In a crazed world laced with violence and destruction, he has consistently been a force for peace. Through his gentle leadership, a path has emerged. Terry sets the standard for what it means to be a musician in our time.”

All that is apparent in the 10th and final section of Sun Rings, titled “One Earth, One People, One Love”. Those words belong to the writer Alice Walker, and a recording of her voice intoning them is the leitmotif of a piece which begins with a description of the astronaut’s experience of looking at Earth from space by Eugene Cernan, the commander of the Apollo 17 mission. This extraordinarily beautiful nine-minute piece is slow-paced, the strings moving gently through the sounds of space, with Sunny Yang’s lyrical cello prominent as the passing of time is marked by what might be a tuned drum and a damped bell. Bringing us back home, this is music that speaks to everyone.

* Sun Rings is out now on the Nonesuch label. The photograph of the Kronos Quartet performing the piece in Krakow in 2014 is from the accompanying booklet and was taken by Wojciech Wandzel.

Steve Howe’s ‘New Frontier’

A-2136670-1486326162-2636.jpeg

I hadn’t heard any of the Steve Howe Trio’s previous albums, so New Frontier, their third release, came as a pleasant surprise. I knew of Steve as the guitarist who took over from Peter Banks in Yes — a band in which my interest diminished as their songs got longer — in 1970, and I knew the trio’s drummer, Dylan Howe, who is Steve’s son and whose album of instrumental versions of David Bowie’s Berlin compositions, Subterranean, I liked a lot on its release five years ago.

The trio is completed by Ross Stanley, a fine keyboards player who is heard here on organ. Guitar-organ-drums trios were a thing in the ’60s: Jimmy Smith, Baby Face Willette, John Patton, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Larry Young were among the organists who made that line-up a favourite format. The guitarist on such albums was often Grant Green, and it’s interesting to discover that a prog-rock guitarist can absorb Green’s spare, bluesy style into his own approach, as he does here on several tracks. There are hints of Wes Montgomery, too, in the occasional burst of octave picking (and Montgomery led a fine organ trio of his own on a couple of Riverside albums).

The result isn’t as heavy and bluesy as some of that music. Stanley doesn’t go for the full Leslie-speaker throb and stays away from the bass pedals, so there’s an airness about the sound, while Dylan Howe has a light, deft touch. Steve Howe varies his tone and effects pleasantly without overdoing it, and uses an acoustic guitar on a couple of tracks. All three contribute compositions, as does Bill Bruford, another former Yes man and Dylan Howe’s one-time drum tutor. Sometimes it’s a little bit like early-’70s Santana without the percussion, or Danny Gatton without the absolute authority. But it’s an extremely nice album, and occasionally — as on the lyrical “Western Sun”, co-written by both Howes — rather more than that.

* The Steve Howe Trio’s New Frontier is out now on the Esoteric Antenna label.