Friday, August 31, 2012


Pao (trio)
Pao (Shhpuma Records/Clean Feed; 2012)
Travassos (electronics)
Pedro Sousa (sax)
Tiago Sousa (keyboards, percussion)

A very interesting debut for Portuguese trio, Pao. This is a dark, experimental and at times almost spiritual session, that is more than the sum of its parts. Structured by three long pieces, Pao demonstrates an ability to both calm and intrigue through a series of improvised pieces that still remain distinct and linear.

Opening quietly with gentle chimes and eerie electronic scratches/manipulation and one tone sax chords, "Gods Wait To Do Delight In You" establishes the path in which you are about to take. There are drones and effects that are dense yet mystical. The slow climb is similar in vein to The Necks or even more recently DMP Trio. Closing out "Gods..." is P. Sousa's haunting sax and Travassos' undulating electronics which are weirdly soothing.

"Dyson Tree" for me, had an almost Sunday morning church call to it. The effects of T. Sousa's keyboard provides an organ like operatic sound. While Pedro and Travassos inject an Eastern element into the mix as the tune moves towards it's middle lyrics. Rich and creative soundscapes happen throughout.

The closing number is my favourite. "It Was All Downhill After The Sling" is rough, gritty and beauty all at once, containing improvised lines that make you feel like your listening to session with Sonic Youth. The patterns never get overly loud. Pao manages to find a way to deconstruct and reorganize in a way that resonates long after the piece is over.

Pao is an exciting and highly creative trio from the new and continually adventurous Portuguese scene that is well worth your investigation. Sometimes you like to use the phrase "this won't be everyone's cup of tea"--but every once in a while I think everyone needs to be jarred out of their seat. Go buy this record! Highly Recommended!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Branford Marsalis: Four MFs Playing Tunes

Branford Marsalis (sax)
Four MFs Playing Tunes (Marsalis Music; 2012)
Joey Calderazzo (piano)
Eric Revis (bass)
Justin Faulkner (drums)

Branford Marsalis can always be counted on for great album titles in addition to the superb quality of the music (e.g. I Heard You Twice The First Time). With his latest, Four MFs Playing Tunes, I think he might not be able to top himself this time. Yes it is a very striking title, but the music and development of the quartet is sensational.

The core of the group has remained the same for years. The difference now is the refreshing presence of Justin Faulkner. Replacing longtime bandmate, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Faulkner provides an extra boost of energy that the group just absorbs into what was already a very creative and electric force.

The new quartet also shows serious growth, and Marsalis provides the room through a number of the tunes written by Revis and Calderazzo (in addition to Marsalis). Now this isn't really anything new, but this material has a real electricity to it that shows each member's growth as composers.

The bluesy tone of "Brews" (written by Revis) has a flow that is true blues, but Calderazzo and Marsalis give it a playful nature. At the same time Revis and Faulkner provide the calm layer of seriousness to the track making it very balanced and effective. The Thelonious Monk tune "Teo" shows how fluid and instrumental Faulkner has become in an extremely short amount of time with this group. His performance in the beginning conversations with Branford is awesome and you can see Branford has an immediate connection with him. Faulkner's kit sounds almost tribal. Eric Revis and Calderazzo also have some sweet, quiet funky moments in the middle of the piece. Revis' bending of the chords like a young Paul Chambers. This is juicy stuff, folks.

"Endymion" is beautiful chaos. A tune is built around Marsalis' rolling third notes. The group improvises at every turn allowing the notes to slowly create their own melody. Marsalis has written a piece in which each member shines at their craft. Faulkner shows considerable strength and versatility as he is called upon many times throughout this number to carry and challenge his bandmates.

Four MFs Playing Tunes is a fresh new beginning for the Branford Marsalis Quartet. While it maintains the playfulness Branford carries on all his albums, his group has managed to breathe new life into their adventurous spirit. Four MFs Playing Tunes is a must own album this year.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jakob Bro: Bro/Knak

Jakob Bro (guitar, piano)
Thomas Knak (electronics)
Bro/Knak (Loveland; 2012)

Jakob Bro has matured since his first release, Daydreamer (2003). His material has spanned contemporary jazz, ensemble, quartet, trio and now an epic and audacious piece in collaboration with Thomas Knak entitled simply, Bro/Knak. And this is a sweeping work over two discs that deserves a lot of your attention.

"Colour Sample" while broad in scope shows the considerable growth Bro has achieved in just the short span of the last two years. With minimal use of electronic manipulation of vocals and the contributions of follow musicians, Wheller, Kulberg, Rehling and Hoyer, Jakob Bro creates a piece that lies somewhere between the new classical world of Stephen Micus and acoustic ambiance of Terje Rypdal or David Sylvian. It's a soothing and expansive work with multiple textures to marvel while listening.

"Izu" has an epic American film quality to it. The brushes by Hoyer and Bro's guitar and echoing vocals provide the long journey cross country in search of something new. Only fitting that the next piece featuring Bro with one of his mentors, Bill Frisell in a performance that highlights both the ambient other-worldly essence of Bro and American folk of Frisell. A luscious and elegant stroll through harmony and rhythm. 

The second disc turns this acoustic outing into a mystic electronic soundscape. "Roots Rebuild" utilizes the soft textures of Paul Bleys original from the first disc with almost Orb-like esthetics by Knak. A complete flip that is almost unrecognizable but original and astounding.

"G Minor Rebuild" also circles around the piano. This time done by David Virelles. It feels like Harold Budd blended through the ambient work of Aphex Twin. "Colour Sample Rebuild"  and "Northern Blues Variation" retain the somber elements of the originals but almost creates it's own imagery that is ghostly and spiritual.

Bro/Knak is a complete divergence from what Jakob Bro has done before that this will be a beautiful shock to the system to most people who have been a fan of his material already. But this is a diversion that is beyond worth taking. Bro/Knak displays a musician and composer who is really pushing ideas forward with a clear sense of deconstruction. Highly Recommended.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Espen Eriksen Trio: What Took You So Long

Espen Eriksen Trio
What Took You So Long (Rune Grammofon; 2012)
Espen Eriksen (piano)
Lars Tormud Jenset (bass)
Andreas Bye (drums)

So when their debut, You Had Me At Goodbye, came out in 2010, I was completely unsure what to think. In the onslaught of European trios of the last few years that possibly tried to fill the void left by E.S.T., I was skeptical. That was completely wrong-headed. This is truly, Espen Eriksen Trio--a proper dynamic and distinctive outfit.

With their sophomore effect, What Took You So Long, they seemed to have quickly vanquished all thoughts of being just another European trio distilling soft melodic story lines. Well...ok, they are soft melodic story lines--but they are finding their voice and making it very prominently heard. "Third Stop" is a journey with an uplifting tempo fueled by Eriksen and gently driven by Jenset and Bye.

The trio have added a very contemporary flavour with "On The Sea." This is where I believe they set themselves apart from their fellow European counterparts. Hand claps, hypnotic key notes, precision drumming and soft pulsating basslines will captivate your ear quickly.

"Passing By" and "Komeda" both show the refreshing quality that circles around this trio. The melodic tempo set by Jenset and Bye is injected with a joyful playfulness at the piano by Eriksen. The trio seem to really enjoy their time in the studio. "Oslo," a loving tribute to the group's homebase, closes this journey like a nighttime lullaby. Centered squarely on Eriksen's melody, this is a quiet, almost classical spirit of a performance. A sublime ending to wonderful excursion.

Espen Eriksen Trio in a similar way to the Neil Cowley Trio, don't take themselves overly serious. But they do pour every ounce of emotion into their compositions. This makes What Took You So Long refreshing and a delight to listen to--over and over. Enjoy...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Traben (quartet)
Jens Larsen (guitar)
Soren Ballegaard (sax)
Haye Jellema (drums)
Thorsten Grau (drums)*
Olaf Meijer (bass)
(photo: Eric van den Elsen)

A calm, conservative and refreshingly contemporary approach has been take by Scandinavian quartet, Traeben. They posses a quality that is laid back in the European tradition but owe a lot of melody and harmonics to the traditions of West Coast jazz of the 50s and 60s.

"Se Nu Stiger Solen" from the debut album, Nordic Project* (O.A.P. Records) is gorgeous and filled with folkish, melodic themes. While based on traditional Scandinavian tunes, you would never notice the breadth and dynamics of the musicianship. "Se Nu Stiger Solen" is cool and stoic in tone but with Ballegaard rich, angular notes. Larsen's passion-filled guitar makes the piece romantic and evocative.

At times the instrumentation reminds of the recent work from John Abercrombie and John Surman. This is magnified by excellent heart thumping performances by Meijer and Grau who are significant to each piece, especially "Skyerne Grane" which has a great groove. That's the modern side of Traben's sound; the classic or traditional sound can be felt with romantic numbers like "Det Hvidt Herude" and Grimasch Om Morgonen" that have the subtle styling of a Stan Getz. Quiet, rhythmic and personal. 

Traeben's recently released follow up, Push (Jarr Records) moves the group forward with bright ideas and an exciting new burst of energy. For Push, the quartet seamlessly adds a new drummer, Haye Jellema, who provides a little rougher edge but still paints the soft tone needed on most of the tunes. Push also features Laren and Ballegaard focusing on the group's own material. It is a stellar and more sophisticated set.

The sizzling opening "Top Dog" has Ballegaard sounding like young Dexter Gordon. Theres a rolling stream of notes in the middle of the piece that Ballegaard rips through with ease. On "Can You?" Meijer and Ballegaard provide the lines that probably would be carried out by a pianist. But in their hands they give the tune a bit more passion, soul and purpose.

Larsen and Ballegaard are a great combination. While Larsen sets the group on the path, Ballegaard seems to know exactly when the band should turn along this journey. "All It Needs" exemplifies this attitude with Larsen setting the pace. Lovely chords with an almost Spanish flavour. Jellema accompanies with a delicate combination of crashing symbols and soft brushes.

"We'll Let You Know" is where Traeben breaks from form. This is a bit of a raucous tune in comparison to anything they've done before. While still maintaining that gentle modern form, every member approaches this with a sense of fun and intensity that almost resemble a rock outfit. It's calculating at times and then bold the next. Exquisitely put together--especially the blistering notes by Larsen at the bridge of the song.

"Nothing Or Nothing At All" sees Ballegaard channel the past but infuses a real open mind of exploration for the modern European thinking. A set of staggering climbing notes which are mirrored by Larsen and handled with a steady rhthym from Meijer and Jellema. It's a fluid number with stellar dynamics at all four corners.

Traeben may be Europe's top secret weapon. But with Push, the secret is out. This is a band which should have staying power. Both Nordic Project and Push have made the revolving slot in my CD player and yes my iPod. These are two records which have to be heard by jazz fans of every genre. Traeben are the real deal. A must listen.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Francois Houle: Genera

Francois Houle (clarinet)
Genera (Songlines Recordings; 2012)
Samuel Blaser (trombone)
Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet)
Michael Bates (bass)
Benoit Delbecq (piano)

Genera is a bit of a return to the modern focus of Francois Houle's earlier '00s outings with his group +5. A group that consist of revolving musicians (including frequent collaborator Benoit Delbecq). While maintaining a clear jazz focus, Houle has deployed his usual adventure with improvised themes throughout this session.

"Essay #7" rips and rattles along with a sense of urgency and jubilation. Eisenstadt and Bates secure a pounding pace, as the horns improvise all over the scale. All this is lightly tempered by Delbecq's versatile style at the keys.

With "Guanara," Houle allows the sextet a whole lot of room to expand. Houle's tone is light, yet with multiple layers of complex changes. Conversations between Delbecq, Eisenstadt and Bates dart and jag across your senses quickly but with a real sense of grace. Houle, Bynum and Blaser return towards the end for rousing conclusion.

"Albatross" is that dark improvised piece that moves slowly with Bynum in excellent form. The horn section are the real stars on this piece, with all three men really screaming in delicate unison. Sounds contradictory but you really have to hear to understand the beauty.

On "Sulfur Dude," Houle's composition makes this sextet sound almost like a large ensemble. It starts from a very organic place and each musician adds other rhythmic element on top of lines. This in turn creates a harmonic structure that is striking as well enchanting. For me it's my favourite piece on Genera.

A return to more organic themes is the best way to describe Genera. And Francois Houle has shown once again his versatility as a composer, leader and musician. Genera is a departure from the more recent ambient/avant classical chamber material of his last outings. But its a value addition in understanding the artist. Highly Recommended.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Marek Jakubowicz: Feelings

Marek Jakubowicz (guitar)
Feelings (Multikulti; 2012)
Marcin Oles (bass)
Cecylia Matysik-Ignys (harp)
Axmo (vocal)

With a lovely and highly passionate tone, Polish guitarist, Marek Jakubowicz delivers an album of straightforward themes in Feelings.

With qualities that remind me of Martin Taylor, Ottmar Liebert, Pat Metheny and Paco De Lucia, Jakubowicz aptly moves between Brazilian, classical and light modern jazz with ease. A gentle and easy session that is enjoyable on multiple levels.

Two bewitching pieces open Feelings, "Before You Were Born" and "Behind The Scene" with colourful shades of classical and jazz introspection. "Before You Were Born" has the feel of time passing. It's a journey through the opening of life and the path we decide to choose. The piece is punctuated by Matysik-Ignys sweet exchanges with Jakubowicz. While "Behind The Scene" explores a more romantic jazz tone as the versitile Oles bends the bass and Jakubowicz find affectionate tones that transform this above just a standard piece.

The title track is perfectly executed with Oles and Axmo adding hauntingly beautiful lines and lyrics that compliment the guitarist rich notes. Axmo's voice is raspy and echoes like Enya but sits nicely among Jakubowicz's composition. "Si Ceng Xiang Shi" is a ballad with Asian Pacific character that arches high thanks to Axmo vocals. "Travel Memories" closes this session in elegant form. Very tight passages by Oles and Jakubowicz that are pristine and well focused.

Marek Jakubowicz makes a very, very surprisingly beautiful record from a diverse avenue of themes. He shows he is incredibly capable in a variety of styles. Feelings is an album that slows creeps up on you. You may not get it on the first listen but I'm pretty sure you will be enchanted by the second spin. Enjoy...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Clarino: Cookbook

Clarino (trio)
Cookbook (Red Tucan Records; 2012)
Thomas Heberer (trumpet)
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet)
Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)

Thomas Heberer's Clarino trio have quickly released another album of inspiring, improvised yet well balanced material in form of Cookbook.

Cookbook refers to the name Heberer has given to the form in which he has written the material for this trio. Cookbook fuses more structure from thin spaces Heberer, Badenhorst and Niggenkemper produce than their debut album, Klippe. As a result it is a different effort than its predecessor and even more engaging.

"Lockruf" opens with long notes that are stretched through time by Badenhorst and then joined by Heberer and Niggenkemper. Each creates a counterpoint but with lines that meet to tell the story of their journey as close to the end of the piece as you could get. A quiet and peaceful conclusion.

The multi-layered "Nomos" features a few complex lines from Niggenkemper. This is juxtaposed by ascending notes on clarinet and trumpet. Heberer has infused a number of playful notes into a delicate and complicated pattern. Very enlightening. The quiet introspection of "Bogen" with its utilization of various breathing techniques on the horns is closely matched by haunting chords resonating from the bass. This slides swiftly into a powerful recitation of repeating chords in the heavy "Deux." An intense passage of notes by Niggenkemper and rolling lines of Badenhorst make it an astounding number, albeit short.

Heberer uses long stretches of tone and color to close out this session with "Zuname." The pattern is circular and continues to build; the bassline is just audible underneath both horns. As the piece closes you hear the tones still echoing in the back of your mind.

Thomas Heberer has created a trio that seems to be as at ease within the material as it is with expanding on it. Cookbook may be just a clean slate with a few lines of direction but Clarino has made this a very exciting and creative journey to experience. Highly Recommended.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Christian Scott: aTunde Adjuah

Christian Scott (trumpet)
Christian aTunde Adjuah (Blue Note; 2012)
Lawrence Fields (piano)
Kenneth Whalum (sax)
Matthew Stevens (guitar)
Corey King (trombone)
Kris Funn (bass)
Jamire Williams (drums)

Defying convention has been Christian Scott's mantra since probably the day he picked up the trumpet. But its definitely been his motis-operandi since his first record in 2007. Each of his albums builds on different themes and moments--social, spiritual, personal and political. Scott continues this tradition with his fifth album, Christian aTunde Adjuah.

aTunde Adjuah is his newly transformed name in Ghanaian. A spiritual and personal awakening of sort. Forget about the name for a moment and focus squarely on the music. This again is another strong diverse outing for the young trumpeter. As with most Scott numbers, "New New Orleans" is large and emotional. A soulful, passionate piece that tells the story for the city in which it is named and dedicated to. Scott's lines are sharp and bold surrounded by the swirling melody of Stevens' hypnotic guitar and the funky drum kit of Williams. It's the heartbeat of the city coming back to life.

"Who They Wish I Was" is a quiet piece with epic underpinnings. The repetitive nature of the delivery from Fields and Williams has a cinematic quality to it that draws you ever closer. Scott's horn is soft and doesn't rise too far above the mix. "vs the Kleptocratic Union" and "Dred Scott" both speak to injustices of society and the worst of our human nature. Steven's versatility is on display in "...Kleptocratic Union", as he sculpts blues-like tones that are lovely at every turn. "Dred Scott" is more suspenseful, with improvised and soaring lines that crash against each other like waring factions with no end.

"I Do" develops a soulfulness and romanticism through the exchanges of Whalum and Scott which are accentuated by Williams' heavy kit. Romantic and still powerful. "Alkebu Lan" highlights the African influence upon Scott during this session. Its a nice mixture of African beats and American funk. But it's a midtempo piece that never goes over the top.

There are times when I felt Scott's boldness sounded more European than American. "The Red Rooster" and "Cara" both have a rolling melody on piano and sonic resonance of Scott's trumpet are good example of this. They're spacious and delicate with a tone is very intimate.

Many people may find the expansiveness of aTunde Adjuah a little hard to swallow. But I feel its another example of a young talent that is really exploring new ideas and trying to find different themes to push our definitions of what jazz is and can be. A great effort for most musicians. Christian Scott is certainly achieving that and continues to look upward and out.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Steve Davis: Gettin' It Done

Steve Davis (trombone)
Gettin' It Done (Posi-Tone; 2012)
Mike DiRubbo (sax)
Larry Willis (piano)
Josh Bruneau (trumpet)
Billy Williams (drums)
Nat Reeves (bass)

The interlude between One For All albums seems to be getting wider and wider lately. Steve Davis being one of the founder members of that exciting sextet. But that gaps tends to bring out the best in each members own bands in which they are the leader. Davis returns with his newest release, Gettin' It Done, a fabulous session which sees the trombonist in killer form.

Gettin' It Done features a few regulars to Davis' sessions, including Nat Reeves, Larry Willis and Mike DiRubbo. The title track fuses the best elements of Davis' arsenal, fierce commitment to each other and solid composition. It's modern hard bop at its finest. This is a cracker of piece with Willis, DiRubbo, Bruneau and Davis moving a blistering pace.

"Steppin' Easy" and "Alike" really highlight the horns with DiRubbo and Bruneau having superb exchanges with the leader. But also Davis allows them the space to solo and even more of a personality to numbers that already shine brightly. "Alike" being the loveliest and most personal.

The funky groove of "The Beacon" is something a little different from Davis' solo work. Reeves adds a catchy bassline that leads through. Meanwhile, Willis and Davis layer that groove with some rhythms that make this an irresistible number.

"Wishes" is a playful mid-tempo piece where Davis really shines and his sound fills the room like one of his mentors, Curtis Fuller. Davis' again gives the floor to DiRubbo who rattles off some soft but boldly shaped notes. After a short passage from Bruneau the rest of band return a glide the number to conclusion.

This is the first time Steve Davis has worked with all of these members as one unit. And he delivers another quality outing with Gettin' It Done. This is a solid group that hopefully they can tour together because they sound superb as a unit. And while we wait for the next One For All release, Gettin' It Done is a great waiting point. Enjoy...