Some of the 2015 CDs that nearly got away – Part 2

The final batch of just some of the CDs released last year that deserved a review – and get one here, albeit in brief:

Alex Merritt

Alex Merritt

Alex Merritt Quartet – Anatta (F-IRE): The Birmingham Conservatoire-trained tenor saxophonist has Sam Lasserson on bass, John Turville on piano and Jeff Williams on drums. The programme is a mix of originals with a couple of Monks (Ugly Beauty and Pannonica) and Eubie Blake’s Memories Of You. Some of the originals are based on the progressions of pre-existing standards – so we get the wittily-titled Justin Time-berlake. The whole thing is overlaid with the Buddhist concept of the album title – the aim of “no self” and existing fully in the present. It’s the best place to be when creating spontaneously, and this CD contains spontaneous creations of a very high standard. All four players are in great form and it’s also a prime example of how age can be meaningless in jazz, the young Merritt and Lasserson very much on the same wavelength as the slightly more mature Turville and the much older Williams.  Special mention for Merritt’s exquisite tone – dry and direct, subtly nuanced, containing traces of Warne Marsh and Mark Turner, but very much Alex’s own.

Terje Isungset – Meditations (All Ice Records): Back to Norway and the man who has played a 2,500-year-old instrument: the Svartisen glacier. Isungset, the creator of an ice festival in Geilo, here plays icehorns, ice percussion, iceofon, crushed ice and icedrums. With him are Lena Nymark on vocals, Arve Henriksen on trumpet and vocals, Anders Jormin on double bass, Mats Eden on viola d’amore, Svante Henryson on ice cello and Reidar Skår on keyboards and electronics. The music is far more varied than the novice ice listener might expect, and less frosty too. An album that is many things – rich, resonant, eerie, strange, graceful, elemental, attractive and alienating by turns – but mostly just gorgeous. Isungset manages to exploit the sound potential of nature without diminishing it. In Luca Vitali’s book The Sound Of The North (published by Auditorium) he is quoted: “… ice music has taught me a great deal. Most of all, it has taught me to be small.”

Svein Rikard Mathisen – Copenhagen Diaries (Curling Legs): Continuing with Norwegian musicians. Yep, Mathisen is also from there, though as this album title suggests it was composed and recorded – presumably while Mathisen was studying with Django Bates and Lage Lund among others at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory – in the Danish capital. A guitarist with a clear, classic jazz tone and remarkable fluency of improvisation, he is joined by two Swedes, William Larsson on piano and Paul Hinz on bass, and one Dane, Andreas Fryland on drums. There is also some alto from Aske Drasbæk on a few tracks and vocals from Maylen Rusti on two. The compositions are, as one might expect, complex both harmonically and rhythmically, but the players sound so comfortable in this tricky territory that it never sounds “difficult”, nor does it every feel self-indulgent. There is a strong melodic line through most of what Mathisen does, and Larsson is also a most attractive soloist.

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens – Woodwork (Whirlwind Recordings): A similar line-up from New York guitarist Stevens who has much-lauded pianist Gerald Clayton along with bassist Vincente Archer, drummer Eric Doob and added percussive fire power in the form of Paulo Stagnaro. The music is in that thoroughly rewarding area between acoustic jazz and electric fusion which bands like Impossible Gentlemen mine so well. There is great energy about this album and some terrific interplay, especially between Stevens and Clayton (try the track Star L.A.). The rhythm team is constantly pushing and the soloists often soar, seemingly effortlessly. All the tunes are muscular affairs from the leader, the only cover being David Bowie’s Sunday. The title track is a particular peach of a theme – an apparently simple call and answer thing which rocks back and forth with subtle changes of chord – and it stays in the memory long after its finished.

Nick Hempton – Catch And Release (Triple-Distilled Records): This might look and sound like a fairly conventional acoustic jazz release from a small combo, usually a quartet, led by saxophonist Hempton, but its conception was a little more complex. One track was composed and rehearsed, recorded on its own in a pop-up studio at Smalls in New York and then mixed, mastered and released, every step documented via blog posts, videos, etc. Then the process would be repeated every six weeks or so through the year. If the process is new, the style of the music isn’t – it’s regular swinging hard bop, or sometimes swinging not so hard bop. It all makes for a satisfying listen, but the process is really a little by the by when it’s all come together at the end like this.

Thomas Maintz & Aaron Parks – Duets In June (Beach Farm): Danish guitarist Maintz’s last album was recorded in New York with Scott Colley on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums; this one was recorded back in Copenhagen with just pianist Parks for company. The opening improvisation includes tempting little touches that could be quotes from The Windmills Of Your Mind, but the rest of the album is definitely from the whirling minds of the two players. Like all the best duet albums, it has the feeling of a conversation between friends, each as interested in what the other has to say as in their own contribution to the discussion. Occasionally the timbres change, Maintz using baritone guitar, Parks a bit of melodica. A pleasant reminder of warmer times in the far-from-dog-days of the year.

Norbert Kögging

Norbert Kögging

Kögging – Sketches Of Ordinary Life (Kögging Records): Singer and songwriter Norbert Kögging creates a picture of his “ordinary life” as a musician in Amsterdam, and has help from a trio of pianist Folkert Oosterbreek, bassist Tobias Nijboer and drummer Felix Schlarman, plus special guest Michael Moore on saxophone and clarinets. The songs often take tricky melodic and harmonic turns but the singer always sounds very much on top of things. A thoroughly refreshing example of modern song writing that manages not to dilute the jazziness of the music. Fly Out, with some lovely clarinet from Moore and Kogging sounding like a more muscular Nick Drake, is very much like the kind of jazz country thing Brad Mehldau or Kit Downes might write.

Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen – Kind Of New (Whaling City Sound): The spirit of Miles Davis lives on, especially when keyboardist Jason Miles, who played on albums like Tutu and Amandla, is involved. Here he has former Maria Schneider trumpeter Jensen as his featured horn voice and there is a long list of support players including James Genus on bass on one track, Nir Felder on guitar on another, and Cyro Baptista as percussionist on a third. Mainly this is a groove album of keyboards and trumpet with rhythm, and it’s undeniably pleasant if, on extended listening, a little underwhelming. Jensen is always great but sounds a little like she is coasting here.

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