Some of the 2015 CDs that nearly got away – Part 1

These are just a few of the many CDs released in 2015 that thoroughly deserved a review but didn’t get one on this site. Well, not until now, and in brief…

NYSQ – Power Of 10 (Whirlwind Recordings): saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman and drummer Gene Jackson started the New York Standards Quartet ten years ago with the intention of performing standard jazz tunes in a contemporary fashion. They celebrate this anniversary with help of bassist (and label boss) Michael Janisch. There are standards here – Gershwin’s Embraceable You, Strayhorn’s Lush Life, Burke and Van Heusen’s Polkadots And Moonbeams, for example – but much of this disc is taken up with original tunes from the band. Strong Big Apple players doing what comes naturally.

J-Sonics – Different Orbits (Lyte Records): The debut album from bassist Mike Flynn’s London jazz-funk-Latin fusion outfit opens with a tune so catchy you’d swear you’d been hearing it here and there for decades. It has the insouciance of a street call and a calf-twitching danceability which continues throughout the album. Saxophonist Matt Telfer and trumpeter Andy Davies lead from the front, while drummer Gabor Dornyei and percussionist Jon Newey join Flynn in keeping the rhythms bustling, but the crucial player of the outfit is there between them: guitarist Clement Reger. The names of Flynn and Newey will be familiar to readers of Jazzwise magazine – good to see hacks getting their hands dirty.

Eivind Aarset

Eivind Aarset

Eivind Aarset – I.E. (Jazzland): The Norwegian guitarist has one of the most identifiable sounds in jazz:  spacey, spacious, hugely atmospheric, a misty cloudbase or rain-shiney sheet of steel which he often uses to underpin the playing of others, from saxophonist Andy Sheppard to trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Left to his own devices – which comprise effects pedals, electronic sound boxes of various kinds and an electric guitar laid flat before him on a work bench – he creates richly shifting soundscapes which exist in a rock or ambient world as much as they do in a jazz one. For I.E. he is working with drummers Erland Dahlen and Wetle Holte, bassist Audun Erlien and live sampler Jan Bang, with assistance from horn players and others. It’s an entrancing disc which gently insinuates itself into the listeners’ consciousness. Aarset remains a musician it is hard to pin down – in the best sense.

Dan Kaufman – Familiar Places (Red Piano Records): This might be New York pianist/B3 organist Kaufman’s debut disc as a leader but the fact that he has worked with Miguel Zenon, Donald Harrison and Nnenna Freelon among others, and that for this recording he has Johnathan Blake on drums and Gilad Hekselman on guitar tells you all you need to know about the kind of high quality to expect. The band is completed by Matt Clohesy on bass, Sam Sadigursky on saxophones and Keita Ogawa on percussion. The music – all by Kaufman – is both lyrical and possessing a strong and tempting undertow. The opener, Windshadow, has all the beguiling mystery as well as the propulsive force that its title might suggest, all enveloped in a jazz waltz. A grower of an album which signals an especially strong composer and arranger as well as a pianist of character.


Barbara Thompson

Barbara Thompson’s Paraphenalia – The Last Fandango (Temple Music): The album title is significant. This is highly likely to be the last new recording from the British saxophonist who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1997. It’s been ten years in the making and that Thompson has been able to continue with it and complete it is testament partly to developments in medical science but most importantly to her own determination. She has her husband Jon Hiseman on drums, Peter Lemer on keyboards, Billy Thompson on violin and Dave Ball on bass with guests including the Apollo Saxophone Quartet. There is an exotic, Middle Eastern feel to some of it, especially The Magic Carpet and the title track. In some ways the jazz-rock fusion area that Thompson and Hiseman have been most productive in sounds quite contemporary again.

Medbøe/Eriksen/Halle – The Space Between (Losen Records): The space of the title is the North Sea first and foremost, that water between Norway where guitarist Haftor Medbøe, pianist Espen Eriksen and trumpeter Gunnar Halle come from, and Scotland where Medbøe now lives, where they first played together and where this album was recorded. The space between is also the clear air between the players and the activity area of their interaction. Their contributions to it are fuelled not only by themes reminscent of the traditional music of both Scotland and Norway, but also by an air of adventurousness and experimentality. And they still leave room for the music to breathe and space for the listener to draw their own conclusions. Mostly gentle and almost pretty, sometimes not. But always fresh.

Nordic Circles – Winter Rainbow (AMP Music): More from Scandinavia, this time a quintet led by drummer Anders Thorén, with Helge Lien on piano, Tore Johansen on trumpet, Per Orvang on guitar and Anders Ljunberg on bass. It was recorded in Rainbow Studios in Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug, which is a bit like the 21st century equivalent of saying it was recorded at Englewood Cliffs by Rudy Van Gelder. It’s a thoroughly charming three quarters of an hour of music that while it throws no curve balls, does everything suggested by both the band and album titles. It’s also a prime example of how the young jazz Scandinavians take on prettiness with none of the qualms of their British counterparts.

Christian Lillinger

Christian Lillinger

Christian Lillinger – Grund (Pirouet Records): The German drummer was recently heard in Birmingham as part of Amok Amor. Here he leads two saxophonists (Pierre Dorel on alto and Tobias Delius on tenor), two bassists (Robert Landfermann and Jonas Westergard), pianist Achim Kaufmann and vibraphonist Christophere Dell. The album title is crucial to Lillinger’s conception – he stresses the “ground” is that which he and his music grows from, the two basses acting as a platform. The rhythms are as complex as we might expect from this extraordinary drummer, and there appears to be considerable freedom within the music although its concentration, use of space and overall sound suggest this is a band operating within Lillinger’s clear musical/philosophical aims. Very fine indeed.

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