Brief thoughts, album review: Francesco Lo Castro: Chasing Beauty – released Oct 2013

Chasing-BeautyThere was an aphorism from the First World War, “Don’t judge a man by his umbrella, it may not be his”.   But I think you can judge the quality of a musician’s work by the company he keeps on an album.  The guitarist and composer Francesco Lo Castro has surrounded himself with some very fine musicians on Chasing Beauty.   This heartfelt album of self compositions contains some lovely Miles-ish cameos for Fulvio Sigurta on trumpet (or flugelhorn) in As it is and for Maurizio Minardi on accordion.  The title refers to the worthwhile activity of seeking beauty in the mundane as well as the perfect. There are affectionate, jaunty, pictures of places, people and times past. It is not introspective, it demonstrates an attractive openness.  It is a perfect album for relaxation, calming and gentle.  I can easily imagine it being played in cafes in Europe.  But listen a bit deeper and you will spot gems such as Joe Fowler’s haunting flute on Nino and Dunia which paints a serene portrait of two friends, and the very lovely accordion of Maurizio Minardi on the upbeat May 2011.   There is no doubting Francesco’s prowess on both acoustic and electric guitar, the subtle shades and tempos are memorable.  His tunes, such as Sahara with its rocking motion like a camel, and Dresden with its arresting opening,  have a habit of sticking in your mind very quickly, and that’s no bad thing. 

Mary James

Album released 1 October 2013 here

Francesco Lo Castro

Festival review: Kings Place 14 Sept 2013 – a gaggle of guitarists

It wasn’t meant to be a feast of guitarists but that’s how the Saturday at the Kings Place festival turned out for me. I had intended to see only one – Maciek Pysz – but one turned into many, bringing a kaleidoscope of images, colours, shapes and sounds, and most joyous of all was the remembrance of musicians enjoying playing together, and showing it. Most vivid was the bougainvillea-coloured dress worn by Helen Sanderson of Vida Guitar Quartet, its colour and elegant drape giving a sense of occasion sometimes missing in jazz gigs! And what a treat – four classical acoustic guitarists performing recognisable orchestral works but arranged for guitars, with all the notes and sounds you’d expect from an orchestra. Thus we could hear the drums and pipes of Malcolm Arnold’s the second set of English Dances tapped out by fingernails. Rhapsody in Blue will never sound quite the same again, the wail of sirens created on strings. Two modern dancers joined the guitarists for Speed Bonnie Boat, the tumble and intertwining of the dancers’ flexing bodies making waves on the stage, always landing soundlessly, sometimes hanging in the air. A treat for all the senses.

Earlier guitarist Maciek Pysz and his Trio gathered a huge crowd near the box office. A friend was converted to jazz in just 30 minutes, so powerful and intoxicating was the short set, what captured him was the sense of pleasure communicated to us. He wanted to take it home! I looked round and people were smiling at the music. The music sounded darker than the album, the grey skies and need to fill the echoing space allowed Asaf Sirkis to pump up the volume. The sound was great, no loss of bass for Yuri Goloubev this time.

It was lovely to hear a different style of guitar just an hour later with Nicolas Meier. We headed a bit further east to the complex rhythms of Turkey. I couldn’t see how many strings Nicolas’s guitar had but it may have been a glissentar, the extra strings adding that distinctive twangy resonance and suddenly Kings Cross became Ankara. A small girl danced and whirled, unaware she reminded us of a dervish, adding to the performance.

No time for food, straight into Martin Speake’s Trio and another guitarist – Mike Outram whose quiet presence and delicate introduction to Folk song for Paul (about Paul Motian) moved me greatly, you can hear it below and enjoy this beautifully unhurried modest trio.

And finally a set I admit to being wary of but which left me reeling. No guitars this time. It was Food – Iain Ballamy on sax and Thomas Strønen on drums, Food lite, just these two artists and some electronics. Deep, deep innards-vibrating sounds which mesmerised, pinned me to my seat. Which night club had I wandered into? You didn’t experience this through your ears but your vital organs. This was a very different, daring performance, nothing sparce, just sheer enjoyment again, an experiment that worked. A whole day that worked.

Image by Joep Olthuis

Album review: Elliott: Girls with Radical Haircuts – released July 2013

Standing on the shoulders of giants. Isaac Newton sums it up so neatly. None of us creates anything without building on the legacy of those who have gone before us. But that’s how we can reach for the stars, almost touch them, using the achievements of great musicians. The young Danish band, Elliott, have just released their debut album Girls with Radical Haircuts, and in their press release they pay homage to the one hundred year old catalogue of recorded compositions that have enriched our lives. They want to stand on those shoulders. Elliott comprises Alex Jønsson, guitar, Jens Mikkel Madsen, double bass and Jakob Sørensen, trumpet. They share the 8 original compositions, all working with each other to create a very distinctive and haunting sound. All play with other bands. Alex, in particular, plays with Foyn Trio which is led by the striking vocalist Live Foyn Friis whose pretty, quirky, catchy vocals are worth exploring.

So what can we see and hear with this particular trio, Elliott? An unusual combination of instruments – trumpet, guitar and double bass – creating a cool, consistent and spacious chamber sound, inspired by their native land, with beautiful compositions that hang around in your head. Jakob Sørensen’s delicately clear trumpet tone reminds me of Ron Horton when he played with Ben Allison on Midnight Cowboy from Cowboy Justice – a trumpet which is languid yet brittle, meandering gently through a vast American landscape. In Girls we have a more intimate landscape, from the dreamy calypso of Øresund, Baby, where the rocking bass lulls us to sleep to the beautiful Detecting Turtles. Alex Jønsson, who created a magical, fairytale-like atmosphere in The Lost Moose (reviewed here), has continued this vein. His opening, signature, melancholy chord on Dark Blue sets the tone which the others catch. He creates a sound which reaches back to the time of lutes and citterns but which speaks to us. These are wistful compositions, designed to be heard in a fire-lit room with the wind howling outside.

The arresting artwork of the album cover was created by Simon Gorm Eskildsen and you can see the making of it in the video below. The mixing and mastering by Kasper Nyhus are very fine. This is a delightful album by three talented musicians and composers which deserves its place on the shoulders of giants because, quite simply, it is beautiful.

Alex Jønsson, guitar
Jens Mikkel Madsen, double bass
Jakob Sørensen, trumpet
Simon Gorm Eskildsen, artwork

Buy album here

Mary James