Category Archives: Albums I really like

Albums I really like

Album review: Roller Trio: Fracture (released December 2014)

Roller_Trio_FractureJust three words will do – stonking unforgettable tunes! But more than that – the long-awaited second album, Fracture, from Mercury Prize and MOBO nominated Roller Trio was worth the wait and the band can be rightly very proud of it.  The album is beautifully structured, with early tracks sounding like Roller Trio of old (cracking good tunes, lightning riffs, snappy changes of tempo, crashes and growls, that unmistakable warm sound) moving on to some more abstract pieces which have a serenity of mood and togetherness at their core that is very beautiful.  The ghostly and menacing  Low Tide  is surely destined to be expanded into a movie soundtrack?   They can slow it right down as in the pulsating, shimmering Tracer where the space allows you to savour each instrument and sound effect.

Roller_Trio_by_Tom_Thiel1Play this album loud! And see them live, like Portico before them, they are made for large venues – we probably won’t ever again see Saturn V rocket take-offs  for the moon – but Roller Trio are the next best thing for sending a shiver down your spine!

★★★★★

Mary James 12 January 2015

Album review: Jef Neve: One (released October 2014)

Jef_Neve_OneSolo piano albums are precious and a landmark for the artist.  And this one, One by Jef Neve is no exception, with seven impassioned own compositions and fresh interpretations of well known material such as Lush Life.

Jef Neve took master classes with Brad Mehldau, and there is something of Brad Mehldau’s emotional intensity to this beautiful album, just as there is in Jef’s live performance as I noted in my gigs of 2014, where the joy of performance and communication was very moving and direct. Jef creates walls of dense shimmering sound that do not overwhelm, as in his exciting interpretation of Lush Life.  There are compositions which move for their lovely melodies such as Solitude and Could It Be True.  And as for Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You – it is quite heartbreakingly beautiful, sensitive and delicate.

It is no surprise to learn that Jef has written for several films – there is a cinematic feel to the unfolding of each composition.  Solitude, originally written for performance with 2 dancers, tells the story of a father-son relationship, of the son yearning to break away, and finally caring for his Dad. The pianos (3 different ones across 2 continents, with most tracks recorded on a Yamaha CFX Concert Grand at Abbey Road Studios) all sound amazing.  Jef Neve deserves to be heard more frequently in the UK, but as he embarks on a world tour in January 2015, the UK is probably off the map for a while.  I am glad I saw him when I did and I will enjoy this album for a very long time.

Album review: John Law: These Skies In Which We Rust (released Dec 2014)

JohnLawJohn Law’s latest New Congregation double CD release These Skies In Which We Rust certainly fulfills the promise heard earlier this year at The Forge and in John’s electronic project Boink!   The New Congregation members may have changed, Laurie Lowe takes Asaf Sirkis’ place, Josh Arcoleo joins on sax but thankfully Yuri Goloubev remains. In short, dizzyingly beautiful tunes, magical effects and perfect playing make this my runner-up for Album of 2014.   

Ambitious in scope – 11 own compositions with inspiration from his daughter’s poetry, elements of Brahms’ Requiem, tricky time signatures and electromagnetic pulses from outer space – individually the pieces can make your blood run cold (just let your mind go back to how you felt on 9/11 when you listen to Incarnadine Day inspired by the poem of that name by John’s daughter Holly) or transport you to a magical place with just one note of the glockenspiel.  As always with John Law, there is breathtaking piano, he’s our 21st century Bach, cinematic tunes that grab you instantly, lyricism propelled by the lightning fast fingering and sublime sense of romance of Goloubev, the controlled seething, fizzing drums of Lowe.  A fresh sound in the New Congregation is Josh Arcoleo whose sax adds coolness and irony in Music of the Night.  The final track I Hold My Soul To The Wind features lovely wordless vocals from Holly Law (whose poem may have the voice of a teenager but has universal poignancy) and heartbreaking bass. The sound and mixing from Curtis Schwartz at Berry House Studios, Ardingly is perfect.

Album available from John

★★★★★

Mary James   28 December 2014

Album review: Majamisty TriO: Love

Majamisty TrioThe cover of Majamisty Trio’s Love shows two sisters standing side by side, smiling at the photographer.  I assume they are sisters and one of them is probably the pianist Maja Alvanović.  Their formal pose, their uprightness, their shyness contrasts so gently with the supple, graceful, confident music of Love.   Yet childish things are close here too – do you remember twirling round and round  til you were dizzy, playing hopscotch and never stepping on the cracks and best of all, jumping in puddles and whooping with joy as you splashed the grownups?   Such memories subtly creep into the rhythms and tempo of this elegant album by Majamisty Trio from Novi Sad, Serbia.  Love is an album as intoxicating, heady and bewitching as a shot of plum rakija,  its many influences  from Balkan folk to classical to Scandinavian (with every kind of dance in between) combining to create a ravishing album. An album which puts this piano Trio very firmly on the map for those of us who are new to them, although they were already there with their debut album Mistyland.

Each composition (all by Maja, with some collaboration with her band) is a painting, telling a story, as complete as a symphony.    Take Rain Dots, the piano as delicate as mist, Aleksandra Drobac’s vocals flute like an exotic bird, strings and percussion mimic other birds in the forest.   The title track Love makes a very grand statement, its mournful billowing trumpet striking and moving.   There is a lightness and delicacy about every instrument and voice as if everyone has been told to imagine their instruments are made of glass.  A simply beautiful album of glorious melodies, haunting wordless vocals, and delicious edgy cameos blending effortlessly with a perfect trio.  It will be on my list of Albums of 2014.

  • Maja Alvanovic, piano, vocals
  • Ervin Malina, double bass, vocals
  • Istvan Cik, drums, vocals

and guests

  • Aleksandra Drobac, vocals
  • Damir Bacikin, trumpet
  • Gisle Torvik, guitar
  • Bunford Gabor, tenor and soprano saxophones
  • Uros Secerov, percussion

http://majamisty.com/

Album available here

Mary James 25 November 2014

Album review: Nick Mulvey: First Mind (released May 2014)

Nick MulveyJust a few weeks ago at Cheltenham Jazz Festival I held my breath as Nick Mulvey stood at the edge of stage, hesitating for what seemed like ages, gazing out at the packed Arena, before giving us a heartfelt performance, one of the highlights of my festival.   Was he remembering his last visit to Cheltenham, his final performance with Portico Quartet when we gasped, convulsed in sadness, as we learned he was leaving the band?   Or was it simply that the beautiful personal lyrics he was about to sing required stillness?

In this stunning debut album, First Mind,  the gentle hang player of Portico has emerged out of his chrysalis, a fully fledged troubadour with a pleasing, light, unforced voice and a rich song book.  Add to this his breathtaking guitar and layers of delicate instrumentation with synths and mellotrons and you have perfection. There is nothing showy here,  the beauty of each composition requiring you to reflect on it, like a poem.  So many influences crowd in, but never overwhelming each composition – take the subtle Beach Boy /Brian Wilson/God Only Knows feel to the title track First Mind.   And English folk song in  Ailsa Craig,  with shades of Nick Drake.  A chill goes through me when I hear the line in Venus:

To the calling of the morning,  yes, the falling lovers leap

A nine-eleven reference?  A searing image.  An outstanding track with its Botticelli image, sadness and heartbeat.

This album touches me deeply with its maturity, dreaminess and gentleness.  See Nick in performance if you can, but savour the album quietly on your own too, and discover its depth.

★★★★★

All songs written by Nick Mulvey

Nick Mulvey

Mary James 26 May 2014