July/August CD releases in brief

Here are paragraphs about some of the music I was listening to these past two months which I couldn’t devote full reviews to:

strandebarmStein Urheim – Strandebarm (Hubro): The third release on the excellent Norwegian label from the guitarist/multi-instrumentalist and largely solo performer (there is some additional synth work from Jørgen Træen) has a strong sense of place. Urheim was living in the former shipbuilding town of the title, beside the clear, fish-filled fjord with clean air and unhindered nature all around, and that sense of natural clarity enriches his hugely eclectic music which reminds of Leo Kotke, John Fahey and Ry Cooder as much as it does of Ragtime and Norwegian folk music. A fine example of unclassifiable Norwegian musical originality.

all la bandBob Mintzer – All L.A. Band (Fuzzy Music): The Yellowjackets saxophonist adapts his music for big band and, crucially, has drummer Peter Erskine as a linchpin. His fellow ‘jacket Russ Ferrante is on piano. El Caborojeño opens the album in fine Afro-Cuban style, and other tracks include a Basie meets R&B groover called Home Basie and some reggae/swing called Original People. Yellowjackets fans will also enjoy hearing Runferyerlife given an expanded brass treatment. Mintzer is an exceptionally fine writer and arranger and on top of that he has one of the finest tenor styles I know (as an extremely amateurish tenor player myself he is for me the acme, how in my dreams I would like to sound). Which means I’m delighted that in addition to spreading the solos around the band he also takes quite a few himself.

on songNew Focus – On Song (Whirlwind Recordings): The Scots New Focus is pianist Euan Stevenson and saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski, and the duo’s new album continues the idea of their first back in 2012: a very attractive and easy on the ear mix of jazz with classical and folk influences. Their instruments are supported by bass and drums with string quartet and some additional woodwinds and harp. It means that Stevenson can explore his more expansive arrangments and enhanced moods. Both main players are fine musicians, and Wiszniewski has been a firm personal favourite ever since I first heard him beside Tommy Smith in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and in that lively SNJO offshoot Brass Jaw. On Song can get a little over-pretty at times, but that is surely not a serious offence.

into the mysticDavid Helbock Trio – Into The Mystic (ACT): It’s not the Van Morrison tune that forms the title track of this ACT label debut by the Austrian pianist but an original piece, richly atmospheric with left-hand rumbles, shimmering cymbals from Reinhold Schmölzer and the slightly deadened acoustic piano tone that Helbock favours. The bass tone on the album is slightly different from your usual double bass, too, because Raphael Preuschi uses bass ukulele throughout. In addition to the mystical originals, we get some Beethoven and music from Star Wars is heard off and on throughout. Thad Jones A Child Is Born gets a dramatic treatment which adds darker hues to its familiar lyrical theme. A strong start from a trio with real character and originality. The band is playing dates in Cardiff and London in October.

true storiesJazz Bigband Graz – True Stories (Natango Music): What I like about this European big band, co-led by German saxophonist/flautist Heinrich von Kalnein and Austrian trumpeter Horst-Michael Schaffer is its adventurous spirit. It rarely sounds like a conventional jazz big band (whatever that is…) and this time around Schaffer, the primary composer here, has chosen to focus on his affection for pop music. That doesn’t mean we get orchestrated Abba or anything like that, it just means that there is a catchiness about the original music and attention given to easily accessible grooves and surface glitz. There are electronic touches, Schaffer sings a Shakespeare sonnet and the band sounds great. Delayed features a fine solo from guest trumpeter Sebastian Studnitzky.

el barrancoTori Freestone – El Barranco (Whirlwind Recordings): The British tenor saxophonist continues her exploration of the saxophone trio in the company of double bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles. The title track acts as a gentle introduction, slowly building its momentum and intensity. It’s a conversational set, the three players clearly comfortable with exchanging musical ideas in a generous manner. The writing (most of the tunes are Freestone’s or Manington’s) are varied in mood and tempo so the interest is easily held throughout. This trio is currently touring the UK so look out for a gig near you.

silent stormKristian Borring – Silent Storm (Jellymould): The Danish-born, UK-resident guitarist has made two previous albums with pianist Arthur Lea, bassist Mick Coady and drummer Jon Scott, and the lines of interaction are clearly nicely honed. For the most part this is straight-ahead contemporary jazz but there is some rock-fusion tang added in places. Borring says he came to the guitar through blues and hard rock. That led on to Satriani which led on to Metheny and bebop: “I guess the whole fusion genre helped me explore new ground while using my more advanced rock ‘chops’.” A tidy album packed with lively playing from a close-knit band. The Borring quartet is also in the middle of a UK tour.

the rose windowArild Andersen – The Rose Window (Intuition/European Jazz Legends): This is the sixth in the excellent series of live recordings from the Theater Gütersloh in Germany. The legendary Norwegian master bassist has young colleagues Helge Lien on piano and Gard Nielssen on drums. Andersen uses some electronics to create subtle backdrop “curtains” of sound for the trio, the material a gorgeous selection of his compositions, graceful and sedate one minute, excited and driving the next, and all packed with great playing, especially from the leader. The recording sound is excellent and there is an interview with Andersen as the final track.



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