CD reviews: 09-03-09

Paul Clarvis/Liam Noble: Starry Starry Night (Village Life)
We accept that the piano is a percussion instrument with a lot of tunes in it; what is less accepted is that the drums can be melodic too.

And no one puts that point across more forcefully than Paul Clarvis – an extraordinarily original player in an age when original sounding drummers are not exactly your hen’s teeth.

So, a drums-piano duo when the players are Clarvis and the equally inventive and original Liam Noble is unlikely to miss a bass or a trumpet or a saxophone.

The programme mixes well-known tunes from a wide range of sources, from early jazz (Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans and Maple Leaf Rag) to more recent singer/songwriter gems (Don Maclean’s Vincent, Paul Simon’s So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gillian Welch’s Dear Someone) and jazz standards like Mood Indigo and Embraceable You. It ends with the unclassifiable Paris, from the man on whose recording session Clarvis and Noble first met, Moondog.

Clarvis concentrates on brushwork much of the time, and in his hands that stirring on the snare and those strokes of the cymbals can take on an almost vocal quality. It’s no surprise to find the songs’ lyrics in the cover of this disc.

Noble’s chord voicings, his lovely contrapuntal lines, Clarvis’s nuanced beats and wide palette of sounds, and the pair’s clear affection for this music makes this a magical hour.

There is more here the more you listen, more depth, new discoveries… a bit like that starry sky. 


Gilad Atzmon: In Loving Memory of America (Enja)
The inspiration is Charlie Parker’s Bird With Strings album, and there are certainly the sweet and sour, sugar and spice contrasts here that you find on the Parker masterpiece.

Atzmon doesn’t do slush, his tone is urgent, his decoration blister-quick, though some of the curlicues are a little too often repeated. Overall it’s not Atzmon I have a problem with.

In place of the string section that Parker had, here it’s a modest string quartet, which is OK but feels not quite lush enough for the fully effective contrast. And then there are the arrangements, which are simply not inventive enough.

It all works better on Atzmon’s own tunes – musiK, In The Small Hours, the excellently titled Call Me Stupid, Ungrateful, Vicious & Insatiable – perhaps because we haven’t heard string arrangements on those before.

There is also the feeling that, while a few years back (any time in the last eight!) a slightly bitter farewell to the idea of America as a land of liberty would have been appropriate, in the Obama dawn it feels a little out of date.

Having carped on, though, overall this is, of course, an intriguing album from an intriguing artist, and the title track is good fun, and the final, Refuge, finds the band in far more satisfying territory.

Categories: CD review

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