Five Recent Albums

Here I intend to write briefly about four albums and one filmed concert that I have enjoyed listening to, but which may not have received much attention in the national or music press.  

Steve Tromans: The Way

This is a brilliant solo piano album available on Bandcamp performed by Steve Tromans or Dr. Stephen Tromans as we should call him now that he has successfully completed his PhD.  The Way refers to a walk to the station or to the recording studio which takes 40 minutes, the length of the recording.  There are five tracks, two quite long and three relatively short.  There is a wide range of moods in the music, which range from the gentle and exquisite feel of Track 1, Seeking – Finding – A Way, to the more abstract approach of Track 2, Manifest, the mysterious atmosphere of Track 3, Visitation, the initially joyful mood followed by a more determined journey of Track 4, The Way, leading up to the nicely elegant Epilogue of Track 5.  Find this on Bandcamp under Doctor Stephen Tromans

Bowrain: 2020 Seconds Alive

Bowrain’s solo piano set in the Jazzlines showcase during the Birmingham Jazz Connective event in March this year was one of the highlights of that three day event.  So I was interested to hear an extended work of his recorded in concert in his home country Slovenia; this is 2020 Seconds Alive, a piece written for a 13-piece ensemble.  The concert begins with a separate solo piano piece with the title 10 Minutes of Happiness played by Drago IvanušaThis is performed with a clock on screen counting down the 10 minutes until the ensemble enters.  Ivanuša’s set is largely improvised with a minimalist feel, but there are a number of more intense frenetic passages which remind me of the playing of Cecil Taylor.  This opening piece leads into a highly original composition which initially builds on the minimalist mood of the solo piano piece, but adds interesting textures from the brass section and the double bass.  The track Exit The Wrong Way has a kind of funky minimalism that draws on African rhythms. This minimalist mood continues until about half through and the track Back to (the) Nature where the focus moves to more of a jazz feel and improvisation, and a series of vocal numbers.  Again, the writing takes advantage of the instrumentation of the ensemble to create a range of moods and textures, and to allow room for solos on the flugelhorn, the trombone and the violin and Bowrain himself on piano and keys.  It’s a long piece at nearly two hours of music, but it is a fascinating composition well worth making the effort to listen to in its entirety.  The concert was performed without an interval, but for the TV programme it was divided into two parts; Part 1 can be accessed here and Part 2 is here.  Click bottom right to get rid off the adverts! The track I Don’t Believe is available here.

Golden Age of Steam: Tomato Brain

This is the first album since 2012 by James Allsopp’s Golden Age of Steam with the original trio of Allsopp with Kit Downes on Hammond Organ and Tim Giles on drums increased to a quintet with Ruth Goller on electric bass and Alex Bonney on electronics.  I recently reviewed the album on London Jazz News and you can read that here.  I make the point there that the group’s music has become much more focussed on electronics compared with their earlier albums, but I believe that it retains its jazz quality in its spontaneity and in the way the music develops through a series of arcs which build up in intensity.  The album is available on Bandcamp and Noise Records.

Lucia Cadotsch: Speak Low II

This second album picks up from where the first Speak Low album left off, but the original trio of Lucia Cadotsch on vocals, Petter Eldh on double bass and Otis Sandsjö is increased to a quintet with Kit Downes on Hammond Organ and Lucy Railton on cello.   The basis of the music, however, remains the same as on the first album, and comes from the interaction and contrast between Cadotsch’s beautiful renditions of well-known songs and the high energy improvisations of Eldh and Sandsjö that weave around the songs.  I find that contrast both mesmerising and totally absorbing.  On the album the group tackles songs such as I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, Wild Is The River, Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair and Speak Low.

Orchestre National de Jazz: Dancing in Your Head(s)

This album features a live recording from the 2019 Jazz D’Or Festival in Strasbourg by the French Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) performing a project based on the music of various musicians who brought about major changes in jazz in the late 1950s and 1960s: Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill and Eric Dolphy.  The ONJ was first formed by the French Ministry of Culture in 1986; it works on a three or four year cycle with an Artistic Director appointed for the period and who then chooses the new line up.  Composer and guitarist Frédéric Maurin was appointed as the 12th Artistic Director in January 2019, and the Coleman Hemphill Dolphy project was his first with the new line up.  The various pieces, originally written for small groups, were arranged for the band by Fred Pallem, and it is wonderful to hear tunes one is familiar with transformed into very exciting big band pieces.  For me the highlight of an excellent album comes in the three tracks that feature Tim Berne as soloist on alto saxophone; it is a revelation to hear Berne’s playing backed by a big band.  The three tracks are Hemphill’s Dogon A.D. (Hemphill was Berne’s teacher and mentor), Coleman’s Lonely Woman and Kathelin Gray.

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