Category Archives: Bands/Artists I rate very highly

Bands/Artists I rate very highly

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.

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.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode (Nonesuch) March 2012

OK, I am unashamed Brad Mehldau fan. From the moment I first heard him in 2001 at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival I was caught in his spell and it has never been broken. Ode is his latest album with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. We haven’t had a trio album from him since his 2006 live sets from The Village Vanguard, New York- the album called Live was released in 2008. I know a bit about this album – I was there for two of the sets and I still remember them very clearly. There was a lively mid-week audience of students and I’ll never forget the applause when they recognised Black Hole Sun and the young man who murmurred ” Aw…..Braa..dd…..” in a quiet bit (they left that version of this track out!). From Black Hole Sun to a heart stopping The Very Thought of You, to his anagram of his name ( Buddha Realm), in all cases you get intensity. Yes, we all come for an audience with Brad and we get an almost religious, mystical experience from his dense, cerebral performances, especially in small venues like Wigmore Hall and Village Vanguard.

You do get the impression that Brad is controlling and shaping his discography as carefully as Bill Evans did before him, and I guess that is not something most musicians can afford to do? His output is prolific – albums are rarely released in chronological order – so Ode was recorded in 2008 but has only now been released.

Ode consists of eleven original compositions. Not a single Radiohead, oh well never mind. Oh please record “Jigsaw falling into place” soon Brad. So it’s actually a pleasant surprise to listen to Ode and not feel wrung out emotionally, at least on many of the tracks. And the liner notes are easy to grasp! If you know Highway Rider you will recognise echoes of it but that’s hardly surprising as both were composed at the same time. Eulogy of George Hanson is probably closest to the intense Brad we know with a shimmering trembling piano.

My favourite track is Days of Dilbert Delaney. I love its gentle roll and sway. It’s Brad at his most relaxed with his signature right and left hand playing different tempos and all the time something bubbling underneath. This is joyous music with a delicate fade out.

Dave Stapleton ‘Flight’ on Edition Records(EDN1032) release date May2012

This album was to have been called Polaroid but in the end it was named ‘Flight’  and I’m really glad that name was chosen because you are going on a journey where the sax ( in particular) soars like the bird on the cover and there is a sense of space in all the tracks.  Flight starts with the very sombre, haunting ‘Before’ played exquisitely by the Brodowski String Quartet.  Marius Neset on tenor sax enters quietly on ‘Polaroid’ then the piano mimics, like a photo coming out of a polaroid camera. The track ‘Flight’ is slightly menacing and  leads straight into ‘Henryk Part I’ – is this about Gorecki?  I detect an air of sadness.    There was nothing sad about Marius Neset’s album Golden Xplosion so it’s interesting to hear the reflective side of Marius on this album.   ‘Henryk Part II’ opens with a lovely  piano solo  from Dave and ends with a quiet partnership between piano and sax- it cries out for live performance – this track will make you want to weep, it is so tender and gentle.

‘Whisper’ sounds like waves on the shore, or the quiet breathing of someone sleeping. It’s my favourite track because it’s delicate but strong.   ‘Running East’ starts with strings again – you could be in the Purcell Room listening to classical music – at last I notice the drums played by Olavi Louhivuori from Finland and the feathery bass played by Dave Kane.  Put this track on its own and you are in ECM territory, really Northern, spacious, cool and relaxed.   ‘North Wind’ is the longest track at over 13 minutes and has three movements.  You are coming to the end of the journey with a gentle opening movement, this isn’t a cold North Wind but a healing one, then the strings judder, swoop and glide enabling the sax to pick up the tempo. Then a last blast of storm from Marius.  Finally there is peace and a return to the opening phrases. It’s very lovely and you are holding your breath in the closing moments as you don’t want to break the spell.

Sit in your favourite chair, turn off your phone and listen, several times. You will find beauty and depth of feeling in this excellent contemplative album and it will really grow on you. It’s going to be fabulous heard live and I for one am looking forward to the St George’s  Brandon Hill performance in that perfect acoustic.

You can see Dave Stapleton and his ensemble in Bristol, Cardiff and London:

3rd May 2012 – DAVE STAPLETON – St. Georges, Bristol

4th May 2012– DAVE STAPLETON – Dora Stoutzker Hall, RWCMD, Cardiff

5th May 2012– DAVE STAPLETON – Kings Place, London,  ALBUM LAUNCH

‘Flight’ is available from Edition Records: