Jazz Thoughts #001

It only seems sensible to concentrate some of these blogs on jazz given it forms a good third of my podcast output (and sometimes 50% when doing the Band on the Wall playlist). So here is the first of a series of semi-regular set of thoughts on current jazz.

It was interesting to note the backing band David Bowie used for his swansong album was exclusively people normally associated with jazz. Donny McCaslin (flute, saxophone, woodwinds) Ben Monder (guitar) Jason Lindner (piano, organ, keyboards) Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Mark Guiliana (drums, percussion) all have existing impressive jazz CVs. I mention this only because so many of my chums who cannot abide jazz are avid Bowie fans. Hopefully this revelation will spur them to open their ears to the music. But I doubt it.

I finally got around to acquiring the latest John Scofield, his first on the famous Impulse! label.  Called “Past Present”, the line-up is impressive  Scofield on guitar, of course, Joe Lovano on tenor sax and the rhythm section of Larry Grenadier on double bass and long standing associate Bill Stewart on drums. First listens felt somewhat disappointing but I persevered and started to really appreciate where Sco was going with this latest set. There’s a good mix of funky blues licks, hard-bop, and post-bop with both leaders showing inventiveness. Along with Bill Frisell, Scofield is still one of the current leaders on jazz guitar.

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There are a handful of new releases on the Whirlwind label coming soon which are worth checking out when released.

Russian-born, London-based alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev has followed up his 2015 sextet release “Robin Goodie “with his new trio project “Never Group”. Recorded over two days in Berlin with the rhythm section of electric bassist Tim Lefebvre (him again) and drummer Eric Harland, the album features  guest appearances from keyboardist John Escreet, double bassist Matt Penman, vocalist Charles Armstrong and trumpeter Alex Bonney. The music consists of original compositions and the contributions of respected Austrian electronics composer/musician Bruno Liberda (who also appears on the recording). Starting with a tongue in cheek “Radio 4” style band intro, and then some wacky free form stuff the band soon launches into an excellent  funky trio workout. Over twenty tracks which includes a series of codas which intersperse the main compositions, the band is on fire with Harland particularly playing his socks off. This is powerful improvised music with the three main players all showing excellent technique and the desire to incorporate new sonic elements into the mix, the bass/drum combination on “Strange Party” in particular wanders into  grunge/post-punk territory! A highly enjoyable al bum, which is released on April 1st.

Released on 11th March Jeff Williams album “Outlier” features Josh Arcoleo (tenor saxophone), Phil Robson (guitar), Kit Downes (keys) and Sam Lasserson (basses). Drummer Williams has an impressive jazz history and his decades spanning experience with some of the giants of the jazz world translates into a mix of modern jazz, fusion and south american rhythms. Robson, in particular, shines with a lyrical approach and a great tone.  I have not crossed paths with Arcoleo before but I am impressed by his playing which has a breathless urgency at times. Williams is an excellent drummer leading a fine quintet and the albums comes with a strong recommendation from this listener.

Bass player Matt Ridley’s second album on Whirlwind “Mettã” is released on 26th February and is a far more relaxed affair than the other two Whirlwind releases reviewed above. Almost straying into ECM territory the quartet of Ridley, pianist John Turville, drummer George Hart, and soprano saxophonist Jason Yarde, offer an introspective, reflective journey of listening. The playing is understated, mellow, and engaging. The music is delivered as rolling expressive extemporisation, soloing feels part of an organic whole, rather than as adjunct to a specific melody. Yarde is impressive throughout and needs to be investigated further. Ridley can deliver a solo passage without overplaying, indeed his ear for melody is excellent and unlike a lot of bass players who attempt to impress through technique rather than content he does deliver strong solo work which fits perfectly with the music. This album is my favourite of the three Whirlwind releases and comes with a very strong recommendation.

2015 was a busy year for Dave Douglas and he concluded it with an interesting album with the Melbourne based Monash Art Ensemble, which in typical fashion is a long way off musically from the other releases preceding it in the year. It’s been a while since we have had something from Dave with a larger ensemble, in this case a fifteen strong team. The music is reminiscent of the Third Stream jazz/classical movement. Essentially you have an improvising chamber orchestra which is described as drawing inspiration from composers of the early 14th century French Ars Nova, most notably Guillaume De Machaut. The compositions utilise techniques such as hocket (a single melody is shared between two or  more voices so that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests), isorhythm, and modal counterpoint to create a dizzing array of sounds, moving from medieval to modern with little regard for convention. Entitled “Fabliaux” I guess this one will divide the jazz crowd somewhat. I found it most entertaining, not as good as “High Risk” or “Brazen Heart” but as part of a trio of 2015 offerings from Douglas an impressive indication that he is still up there as one of the best current jazz musicians.

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