Selected reviews

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CONVERSATIONS (TUM CD 024-2). Aaltonen (ts); Sarmanto (p). 2010. ****

Juhani Aaltonen has long been a mainstay of the Finnish jazz scene, working with the likes of Edward Vesala and Arild Andersen. Heikki Sarmanto is a Finnish pianist and bandleader known for his large-scale orchestral projects. The two have recorded about 30 albums together, of which this double CD is the latest. The 16 improvisations here were either created spontaneously in the studio or arose out of Sarmanto’s own compositions; two are based on standards. The rasping tone and wide vibrato of Aaltonen’s tenor set against the lyrical pianism of Sarmanto brings to mind the two intense, raw sets Archie Shepp did with Horace Parlan in the late 1970s for Steeplechase, interestingly, like TUM, another Nordic label. Here, the focus on structure and melody, allied to a strong interplay of ideas, marks this set out as a fine example of exploratory improvisation.
Simon Adams


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LVIV SESSIONS (no label or number). Tanya Balakyrska (v, arr); Yuri Seredyn (kyb); Alex Maksymiw (elg); Ihor Hnydyn (d). Ukraine, 2011. ***
A young singer-songwriter's debut album as mature, distinctive and adventurous as this one is a rarity. Tanya sings accurately in clear, unaccented English with vocal flexibility to suit a broad spectrum of styles and emotions. The gently woven instrumental support from her gifted jazz-fusion trio and a couple of telling contributions by trumpeter Dmitry Bondarev add to the album's appeal. Tanya wrote and arranged all the music as well as the lyrics for three numbers. Her settings to the words of modernist poet E E Cummings and Canadian singer Sienna Dahlen are equally impressive. The gently woven instrumental support from her gifted jazz-fusion trio and a couple of telling trumpet contributions by Dmitry Bondarev add to the album's appeal. It is a professional standard indie production which can be ordered by email to
Bob Weir


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A Prolegomena; The Harrison Ford Chord; The Tailor’s Pike; Empty Hall Blues; It Never Entered; Everybody Else But Me; Farewell My Lovelies (52.43)
Tony Bevan (ss, ts, bsx); Matthew Bourne (p); Barre Phillips (b); Tony Buck (d). Oxford, 19 November 2010.
Foghorn FOGCD015

The pedant in me wants to jump on A Prolegomena and say that it should be "prolegomenon", adding some comment about the plural form suggesting this one-off didn’t quite come together on the first piece. Except that isn’t the case at all. Right from that first track, if it was indeed where they began the session, this sounds like a well-attested and profoundly communicative group, in some respects improbable on paper, but staggeringly good in execution and better with every hearing.

That opening piece seems to major at first on Bourne and Phillips, two strikingly wayward spirits who don’t seem an obvious pairing. With the possible exception of Peter Kowald and Bert Turetzky, improvising bassists tend to overdo the high harmonics when playing solo or in free company like this and Phillips has been as guilty as any in the past. Here, though, he sounds grounded and centred and as if he’s listened to as much Wilbur Ware as Heifetz. It’s intoxicating to hear him play quite simply. Likewise Bourne, the Robin Goodfellow of British improvisation, who is best when he sets aside some of his more obsessive perversities and allows spontaneous melody to emerge. Bevan is already a contemporary giant, with a full, supported tone on all his horns. His bass saxophone work is free of emphysemic grunting and his soprano sound is full and solid. On tenor, still the main horn, he is somewhat reminiscent of Frank Lowe, not so much when he overblows but the Lowe who’d audibly paid attention to Ben Webster and Chu Berry. Buck is simply amazing, a highly controlled free player whose long experience as one-third of The Necks has given him an ability to combine continuity with minute variation and steady accretion of change.

It’s an odd word to use in this context, but this is a highly elegant CD. Chris Trent does his usual fine engineering job and Oxford’s Holywell Room always sounds handsome on records. First rate.
Brian Morton


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BEFORE THE WIND CHANGES (Ogun 037). Dudu Pukwana (as), Chris McGregor (p), Johnny Dyani (b), Louis Moholo-Moholo (d). 1979. ****

The South African exiles in incandescent form, on a decent quality live recording from a Belgian club – the second on Ogun from that Low Countries tour, drawn from tour organiser Rob Sotemann's tape archive. Moholo and Pukwana especially strive to overcome their human limitations in music of overwhelming power, in the altoist’s case with squeals and overblowing. The recording quality means that McGregor’s piano playing – on a less than ideal instrument – isn’t such a powerful presence. The energy level is taken down a few notches for the beautiful ballad Lakutshona Ilanga. The band didn’t record prolifically and it’s important to have this fine example of their unique synthesis of free jazz with African styles.
Andy Hamilton


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Jumpin’ At The Woodside; A Blues; Blue & Sentimental; Doggin’ Around; Moten Swing; Travlin’ Light (34.27)
Bob Brookmeyer (vtb); Al Cohn, Paul Quinichette (ts); Nat Pierce (p); Jim Hall (elg); Addison Farmer (b); Osie Johnson (d); Big Miller (v). NYC, 1958.
Pure Pleasure PPAN UAL 4008 (vinyl)

First issued as a United Artists LP in 1958, this reissue on 180-gram audiophile vinyl uses the mono master although it was recorded in stereo originally. Maybe the stereo master tapes were considered inferior or just lost completely? The mono sound however is first-rate with every instrument clearly defined and with a natural resonance. Brookmeyer seems to have been attempting to reproduce the easy, light but compulsive swing of the old Kansas City bands and in this he succeeds.

The leader sounds a little strained on Moten Swing although he comes up with a nicely pulsating solo segment on Travlin’ Light, a track that also benefits from Big Miller’s deep, resonant voice in the old KC jazz shouter tradition. Quinichette has his moments and his Lester Young inspired sound is certainly ideally suited to this sort of reproduction music but the most consistently inspired and impressive soloist here is Cohn. Perhaps because he is not really trying his natural style seems ideally suited to the Kansas City sound and his solos on every track are successful. The rhythm team of Pierce, Farmer, Johnson and occasionally Hall come up with a flowing post Basie style which keeps everything swinging compulsively from start to finish. Hall’s sound is more grainy and cracked than is usual with him on recordings of this vintage and although he wisely avoids trying to do a Freddie Green, he helps to fill out the natural swing of the band and is also a useful soloist.
Derek Ansell


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OCCURRENCES (Whirlwind Recordings WR4621). Euan Burton (b); Will Vinson (as, ss); Mark McKnight (g); Steve Hamilton (p, elp); James Maddren (d). 2010. **

The opening track, One (they’re all numbered) sounds very smooth which I must confess is not my preferred jazz flavour, and although as things proceed, there is both divergence and diversity, the album never quite shakes off that tag. Two has a little more grit (primarily in the drumming from the talented Maddren and some of McKnight’s lines) but I’m still struggling to pay attention. Four has a promisingly funky rhythm (soon swamped by overly-saccharine melody) and Six contains a satisfyingly story-like number of moods, but we have wait until the solo sax intro to the closer for Vinson to be allowed to play anything truly interesting or intriguing.
Dave Foxall


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Tiny Capers; Joyspring/Delilah; Gerkin For Perkin; Gertrude’s Bounce; Jordu; This Is Worth Fighting For; Home Row; News From Home; Let’s Get Lost; Those Were The Days;  Junior’s Arrival; Time; Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel; Peg; Blue Evening; Discombopulated; Snowbound; Days Of Wine And Roses; Our House (139.24)
Bill Carrothers (p);  Nicolas Thys (b); Dré Pallemaerts (d). New York, 18 July 2009.
Pirouet PIT3056

Several tracks on this 2-CD live recording are reminders of one of jazz’s eternal fascinations - the performance as both reverential and revealing. One is a beautifully limpid version of Richie Powell’s Time, played in that way some musicians have of taking proprietorial control of a tune almost to the point of covetousness.

Carrothers in ruminative mood can take this to extremes,  as in a slow and sultry version of Clifford Brown’s Joyspring, here combined with Victor Young’s Delilah, which makes them almost unrecognisable, even as landmarked harmonic progressions. But memorable numbers can accommodate new slants.

For Carrothers, reportedly somewhat reclusive,  progress is signalled by a fistful of classical techniques and an often playful or nonchalant approach to length and expansion in which bass and drums have more than conventional roles, with  Thys and Pallemaerts sometimes being left to collaborate on rhythmic backdrops. Duke Jordan’s Jordu is a march, albeit richly decorated and in the end subverted by piano configurations that border on the eccentric. So there’s plenty of variation but it all sounds unforced.

The album is an overlap from Carrothers’s last, a tribute to Brownie. There are four Brown compositions here and six by the pianist himself. Some of the Carrothers tracks, such as Home Row, are effortless in their harmonic and technical daring, qualities also present on less agitated tunes.

Carrothers as a trio man steers a course between the relentless probing of a Bill Evans combo and the loose-reined freedoms of more recent unimitative piano threesomes. It’s unquestionably a broadened main route and he’s unequivocally a distinctive traveller.
Nigel Jarrett


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Little Melonae; She; Bluish Gray; Dewey Square; The Underdog; Fuego De Roberto; Love For Sale; Call It Wachawana; Clockwise; Lady Luck. (68.19)
Joe Cohn (gtr); Peter Beets (p); John Webber (b); Kenny Washington (d). New York 16th November 2010.
Criss Cross 1341

Most of my previous listening to Joe Cohn has been whilst he was part of the regular Harry Allen Quartet, a role he carried out for a number of years. I had heard his previous Criss Cross album as well as that on Arbors. However, being tasked with this review has given me the opportunity to give his playing a more studied listen. Whilst I am certainly no expert on guitar jazz and equally not a "modernist" when it comes to jazz in general I can say this album ticks all the right boxes for me.

The tune selection is pretty eclectic with compositions from Cole Porter and George Shearing to Jackie McLean and Joe’s father, Al, and all are played with enthusiasm, passion and flair and the whole 68 minutes swings heartedly throughout. Dutch musician Peter Beets’ piano complements the leader’s guitar and the extent of their common thinking is well demonstrated. The New York rhythm duo of Webber and Washington perform with their customary skill and panâche and provide exactly what is required to highlight the dueting of Cohn and Beets.

As usual with Criss Cross the recording quality is first rate with a good playing time and all in all this is a very enjoyable album.
Jerry Brown


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