Review: Caught in the Light of Day by Ivo Neame (Edition Records EDN1016)

I’ve had Ivo Neame’s album Caught in the Light of Day on my shelves since late 2009.  I thought it was a gem then and I still do.  I revisited it recently because it feels like time to take a quick retrospective view of his 2009 album before he launches off into the jazz stratosphere ( I hope!) with his own bands (quintet/octet) and the other bands he plays with.  Just mentioning those other bands makes you gasp:   Phronesis, Kairos 4Tet and Josh Arcoleo, and others you can check out yourself on Ivo’s website. The members of his band on Caught in the Light of Day are Jasper Høiby on bass, Jim Hart on vibes and James Maddren on drums.

When I first heard this album, the word I used to sum it up in my mind was sparkly.  It’s bright, crisp and multifaceted like a diamond.  The album consists of seven very strong, very complex compositions. They give you a lot to think about and focus on.  They are difficult but they repay attentive listening. There are albums you need to listen to in their entirety but this is one where it appears (to me) to be advantageous to listen to each track on its own. You may concentrate on the interplay between the vibes and the piano in Free at Last (a deep partnership seen recently in an enjoyable short set at the Purcell Room) .  Or you may smile in Birdbrained at the bird you can see in your mind’s eye as the vibes run up and down, the other instruments mimicking his walk.     You may wonder, in passing, whether Quixotic is autobiographical? The delicacy of the piano, the abrupt changes of direction, never leaving you lost, all the musicians leading you through the maze of ideas, each composition is satisfying in its own right.

Stuart Nicholson recently wrote in Jazzwise (June 2012) that UK jazz musicians should abandon small gigs in the UK in favour of Europe if they want to do more than survive.  But we need both surely?  As jazz fans, we need music we can grow into, which is alive and gutsy, which stretches our minds and that’s what Ivo serves up. Highly recommended.

Review: Cathedral by Oddarrang, May 2012

Olavi Louhivuori, the Finnish drummer and composer, is not yet a household name in the UK but I hope he will be soon.  Oddarrang is Olavi’s band and they have been creating albums since 2006. I first heard Olavi at St Georges Brandon Hill on Flight with Dave Stapleton and was struck by his theatrical style and sensitive drumming.     He played with Tomasz Stanko on Dark Eyes 2009, and tours with him.  Cathedral is his latest CD and Oddarrang consists of Olavi on drums, percussion, synths and piano. Other musicians play trombone, cello, church organ, voice, electric guitar and, most intriguingly, “noise”. This interesting combination gives the album its very different feel.

It’s exquisite, spacious and beautifully recorded.  I was completely entranced on first hearing, it draws you into another world, beyond this one.  The first track is called Prayer. It sounds like morse code and the morse reads “Love, beauty, eternity. Life is a miracle.”   This is the thread running through the whole album.  The beautiful cover enforces this message, a sense of permanence for the things that matter such as beauty and love.

The track titles are sombre – Prayer, Psalm no 3, Funeral, Holy Mountain are just some of them. But it isn’t gloomy. It is very romantic album with haunting, glacial, delicate tunes which build to a climax in Holy Mountain.  There are interesting combinations of instrument  –  trombone and guitar for instance – which provide a very fresh feel to the sound. The mix of acoustic and electronic washes in and out with a dreamlike feel, the product of very painstaking mixing.

Cathedral was recorded in 2009 but only released now.  In his blog, Olavi hopes his next offering will appear before 2015. So do I!

You can buy Cathedral on iTunes.

Review: Phronesis at the Mac, Birmingham on 15 May 2012

I invited two friends to the Phronesis gig on 15 May 2012 at the MAC in Birmingham.  Both enjoyed the gig immensely (I noted they were mesmerised by Anton’s drumming) and their comments are perhaps indicative of Phronesis’ growing appeal. One friend said ” I could have listened to them all night”.    The other said, “I could hear Debussy in Ivo’s piano”.  Both are now hooked, I hope.

In view of the recent announcement that the album launch of Walking Dark at Kings Place on 26 May has been moved to Hall One from the sold-out Hall Two, I started to think about how Phronesis might sound in a larger auditorium.   And even more pertinent is the fact that they have been chosen for the International Jazz Festivals Organisation emerging talent support program, where some of the festivals are huge, with big venues.

So just what is it about a performance that gives it an intimate, personal feel and can that be transferred to bigger venues?   And is that desirable?   I have heard Phronesis in a tent (Cheltenham), a sports hall (Brecon, in the dark),  the Purcell Room (also in the dark), The Vortex and now the Mac.  All are cosy venues, lending themselves to a very intimate experience.    Just why did those gigs in the dark feel so very intimate?  It wasn’t just down to the lack of visual distractions, it was the shared experience that made it so memorable.  Would it work with 2000 people in the dark?  Maybe scale doesn’t matter after all?   Jasper likes talking to the audience, it’s a bonus for us, we feel connected with him in a very human way. Will that work with 3000 listeners?  I only have questions.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is how different the gig sounded from the album Walking Dark.   I thought I knew the album quite well – it turns out I didn’t recognise my favourite track Zieding because it opened the gig instead of occurring midway.   It was in the wrong place (in my ears)  and so it sounded different.  So my ears need training to listen and not compare what I’m hearing with what I thought I knew.   Actually it wasn’t just the order that was different, it was the improvisation from Ivo on the Bosendorfer, particularly his delicate Democracy.   They must have played all these tracks many times now, but they came out fresh.   Genius.

It was a great evening only very slightly marred by humming from a monitor, I’m sure they’ll sort that out, they’ve got everything else perfect!

There is another enthusiastic review here

5 stars for Cheltenham Jazz Festival – 5th and 6th May 2012

There have been some really great reviews of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival so I’ll confine myself to a narrow canvas.  When I booked the tickets I thought it was going to be the festival of the pianist but for me it turned out to be the festival of genuine deep emotion.  First up was a workshop with Chris Potter at the un-jazz time of 10.30am.  If Chris was still running on New York time he certainly didn’t show it as he led a small group of local young people through On Green Dolphin Street. Throughout the weekend there were tweets of  “Oh man, I can’t believe I just played with Chris Potter!” which made the weekend for me, their joy at playing with an idol was infectious.

We learned that a very young Chris was playing with Paul Motian in Switzerland in 1993 and one evening after a set he went for a long walk, feeling very down, trying to work out why he was just playing the notes.  He started to scat and that was his epiphany, the moment when he turned a corner. He knew he had to communicate more than the notes in a certain order.  People often ask him what key he plays in, to which he usually replies “I don’t know”.  He uses his ears to guide him into a piece, not written down notes.   His approach reminds me of Keats’s phrase about poetry:  If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.  Now it appears that glorious saxophone playing comes naturally to Chris. But that’s all because he spent his youth mastering standards on a piano and then working out how to get to the same place on a sax, but by one note at a time because that’s all you can do on a horn.  I loved this insight into the emotion of music – through his ears (and I’d add, probably his heart too).

Naturally-occuring emotion was what we got with Gregory Porter in the Big Top.    I loved every minute. That glorious huge voice, that child-like delight in being alive.  His jump for joy easily rivalling a Jamie Cullum leap!  No wonder his band played their socks off.   Who could not be captivated?  I hadn’t appreciated til I looked at the sleeve notes of his latest album Be Good that all the songs he sang were his own. They already sound like standards.  He’s honed his craft in Smoke in New York (one of my favourite clubs) so he manages to make a big venue feel like a small jazz club where he is singing just for you.

I was also captivated by the gentle Seb and Kit late night treat at the lovely Parabola. The Parabola is a new venue for Cheltenham Jazz Festival. It’s near-perfect  (just hope they can rectify the lack of coffee at future gigs!) , you can see/hear from every seat, it’s intimate and could (maybe should?) be used without amplification.   Kit Downes is a maverick pianist who is as comfortable in boisterous Troyka as this delicate duo with Seb Rochford.  It was a striking contrast to the somewhat patrician set by Vijay Iyer before him.  I was hoping for a Brad Mehldau intensity and perhaps that’s what we got, but I couldn’t find the emotion in his performance so it was lost on me.

My final blast of emotion at the festival was Roberto Fonseca and his extraordinary Cuban/Malian band in the Jazz Arena. Someone else has just posted that Roberto should have been in the Big Top and I agree. The sound was so huge I forgot the hard seats.  If we hadn’t been confined to tiny seats we would have got up and danced!  Roberto was barely able to sit on the piano stool, his exuberance propelling him to stand most of the time, a stunning pianist and leader.

All of the artists I have mentioned have this in common  – an innate ability not just to entertain, no, they go much deeper than that; they have the ability to convey deep emotions in a very genuine and humble way so the experience lives with you long after the festival is over.  That’s why I love jazz and already I’m looking forward to Cheltenham 2013.

Dave Stapleton: Flight – Live at St George’s Bristol, 3 May 2012

The performance by Dave Stapleton at St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol last night was the first performance of his latest album called Flight (EDN 1032.)   His band consists of a very fine jazz quartet of Marius Neset, Dave Kane and Olavi  Louhivuori, and the equally fine Browdowski String Quartet.  The fusion of two potentially different approaches to music making – jazz and classical – was beautifully, seamlessly displayed in Dave’s thoughtful, deep, through-composition which made the most of the flawless acoustic of St George’s.    It’s a bit unfair to single anything out because it was a unified, satisfying whole and Dave’s enjoyment of the Steinway was evident.  But I did particularly enjoy the joy and wonder on the faces of the members of the string quartet when Marius and Olavi enjoyed an extended duet where Marius’s saxophone filled the auditorium with  gorgeous sound (shades of Golden Xplosion) and Olavi’s drums skittered around him.  Their delight made me hear the  music afresh – living and vibrant.   I hope the quartet will continue their exploration of jazz.

The buzz in the hall at the interval and afterwards was enthusiastic. We all knew we’d had a very special evening. Five stars from me.