Friday, 28 February 2020

James Taylor - American Standard, album review

That Kinda Fare, Fair Enough

It's not the physics of launching a rocket, nor even the extrapolation contained in that slant on the familiar: it's smooth and expected.

If a Taylor fan, what's not to like? He's done it before, maybe not as focused as this, but in his 'covers' album and across all others, here and there.

I've said it many times, really: one of my all-time favourite songs is JT's cover of Jingle Bells. It is funk-bliss. Genuinely.

None of that here though, and my favs are so because of the songs themselves. So Moon River is beautiful, God Bless the Child is soulful, and It's Only a Paper Moon just about gets in there. Also, Ol' Man River simply to hear Taylor resonate with those bass notes. His voice has sustained its tone over his wonderful time as a musician.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Nick Maclean Quartet with Brownman Ali, Exeter Phoenix, 17th February, 2020

Energetic Synergy

First this month it was Storm Ciaria, then Storm Dennis, and last night it was Storm Ali blown into Devon by buttressing gustos of piano, bass and drums.

This jazzweather report therefore begins with Blow, winds, and crack your trumpeter’s cheeks! Rage, blow! [dubious if apt quote], or as Nero expressed it more figuratively and manically [contested quote] tortamque capitibus volumine.

One of the early waves of play we heard was prompted by a ‘geographical metaphor’, as quartet lead and on-fire pianist Nick Maclean put it, about true north and magnetic north, and geography also played its more literal part in the formation of the Nick Maclean Quartet with a topographical symbiosis of three players from Canada and one from New York, or more precisely, a storm centre twin-spiralling out of Toronto and Brooklyn.

That the numbers don’t add up to symmetry is a false calculation. The balance across the playing of trumpeter Brownman Ali and Nick Maclean was dynamic, with Jesse Dietschi on upright bass and Tyler Goertzen on drums adding to the equilibrium as well as being the backbone of any great jazz collective, whatever the numbers.

A further symbiosis is in the merge of Blue Note/Herbie Hancock era jazz and Guru/Jazzmataz era jazz hip-hop. So we got standards and ballads and hip-hop inflected currents playing their varying isobars, that latter so often heavily fuelled by Latin rhythms delighting an appreciative audience in Studio 1 at the Phoenix.

This gig began with Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island with its wonderful punchy two-note bursts in its memorable melodic line. A little later, one Maclean-penned number was True North, as mentioned, and another a sweet composition titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  So in addition to Herbie, literary and literacy references informed the night’s original music, as with Ali’s Madness of Nero inspired by his readings about Rome and the Roman emperors and, one would hope, unspoken but relevant reflections on contemporary political madnesses. One particular soothe was a cover of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly from his 1974 Thrust album, and this had Ali on trumpet with echoing/repeat effects which I do particularly like, though it must be said it is still all in the playing – here in the overall beauty of it as well as the timings in and out and away from the effects-mic. It was gorgeous, a calm before further – well, you know.

At the interval my friend and I had a chance to catch up with Brownman and Nick, Nick so full of earnest as well as open welcome and appreciation [and modest for someone so demonstrably talented], clearly on a mission of spreading his exemplary jazz vision in this UK tour – ending last night, the guys flying home out of Gatwick as I write – and Brownman Ali, energy personified, still buzzing after a busy first set. His playing credits are extraordinary – he had given up playing with/for Kanye West to be on this tour – and he talked warmly about being mentored by Randy Brecker as well as his influences like Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw. He does see himself as representing an evolution of jazz – respectful of precursors, liking especially my friend’s comment about Wynton Marsalis as a curator rather than creator, that respect a part of the urge to progress and move on from the groundwork that is evolution’s platform.

The second session and night finished on Maclean’s superb Elasticity of Time and Space, a 14 minute extended jam on the band’s album track of same at 4.30 minutes, demonstrating that very pliability in our special space for the evening. That album, Rites of Ascension, which I have listened to today is excellent and, as the band’s Bandcamp site states, ‘represents Maclean's examination of the modern jazz ethos with all the intriguing challenges, opportunities and possibilities that go with it’.

Get it here.

Into the Distance Music 99

Monday, 17 February 2020

Elkhorn - The Storm Sessions, album review

Improvising Our Emotions

This isn’t how I remember Elk Horn. It was the Beach Boys in my childhood and then a little later, when things had changed, Iron Butterfly.

That’s the town in Iowa, obviously.

Elkhorn the duo – trio on this album – produces a seamless soundscape from Jess Shepherd on acoustic and Drew Gardner on electric guitars, effects on the latter adding elements of evocation, especially for the more dramatic, ably supported by Turner Williams with electric bouzouki on one side of the album and shahi baaja on the second.

Improvisation that soothes and rouses. Get it here.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Ozzy Osbourne - Ordinary Man, album review

Easily Edible

While Eat Me does chew on some meatier riff-food, this is heavy rock embroidered, Beatles-esque, life lyrically romanticised, grandiose and highly enjoyable.