A nearly new regular column in which freaky Peter Kearns casts a spell on a bunch of new album releases! You’ll wake up screaming!
THIS WEEK WE bring you a jazz special, in the spirit of AAFNRAA. (Anything anytime for no reason at all.) Some of this stuff will expand your mind without the need for drugs. (Extends bony finger) Follow me….
PRISM QUARTET – Heritage/Evolution, Vol. 1 (Chamber jazz/USA) (Innova)
I’ve never been that big on saxophone outside of the obvious names like David Sanborn and Michael Brecker. Prism Quartet’s four saxes are in this case often accompanied by the composer of a specific commissioned piece playing the lead role. That’s five saxes all playing at once. Seriously though, the opening track here is ‘I Will Not Apologise For My Tone Tonight’, so I shut up and listened. Its sixteen-minutes was an experience. The intro’s initial Ornette Coleman-like bursts of solo melody soon developed into dynamically rich modal tapestries, and that vibrato on the low notes around 1m:30s was gorgeous. What lay underneath this top line and could’ve passed as a soft harmonium pedal was, of course, the other saxes, which I’d failed to recognise. The album continues to a vast display of what the sax is capable of, within a collection of beautifully conceived and very listenable compositions that still test the ear. There are no squawks, grunts or sound effects for the sake of it here. Essential listening for any fan or student of the instrument. A
LAURA JURD – Human Spirit (Jazz/England) (Chaos Collective)
Don’t let the album cover put you off what’s hiding on this release from the London-based modern jazz composer. Indeed, who has time for imagery when propelled by a spirit of experimental composition such as that of Laura Jurd. Her music blurs the boundaries between jazz, rock, Latin and reggae. Sadly, the vocals sometimes lack clear diction and strength, but the vocal tone is very nice and at times puts me in the mind of Bjork or even that American jazz goddess, Esperanza Spalding. Over-all the product lacks the finesse of a Spalding record, but let’s face it, how many others in jazz these days really meet that standard? It’s a small number and a tall order, and it’s probably unfair of me to make the comparison anyway. Human Spirit sounds like it was recorded for the most part live in the studio, quickly, but the band are accomplished and very well-rehearsed indeed. It’s adventurous for someone so young, but Laura Jurd is giving this field a real nudge, and more power to her. If it doesn’t work, she’s always got her superlative trumpet-playing. B+
ACCENT – Here We Are (Vocal/Global) (Accent)
Initially formed from two globally distant pairs of friends swapping files on the internet, vocal group Accent soon grew to six after meeting at a Swedish choral festival. The obvious comparison is American gospel sextet Take 6, but Accent present as a less glossy vehicle, concentrating here on mostly secular material. The cover illustration sketches them like a group of Mad Magazine street urchins, as if to underplay their obvious artistry. Though all are sterling singers with more than one extremely talented arranger amongst them, the virtually perfect Accent lack that one unique character voice that would really make them stand out from competitors. In a couple of spots, one of the tenor soloists even appears to strain, but hey, this stuff isn’t easy. I can live with it. The arrangements are stunning, showing tricks such as the uncanny ability to change key in the middle of a line. In ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ they even change for the words ‘sing out of key’, only to jump immediately back to their original key. Snazzy stuff. A-
REDTENBACHER’S FUNKESTRA – Dr Hypenstein (Funk-soul/England) (Wooden Hat)
After hearing these perfectly squared-off rhythms, I passed a mirror and noticed I was shaped like a rectangle. After a while I levelled back out and was all convex again. But lovers of pure instrumental funk/soul jamming can indulge themselves in bassist Stefan Redtenbacher’s Funkestra. With a bass player this steeped in funk, it’s a shame the drums seem over-processed and even sample-like half the time. But it’s more than made up for by the overall tightness. Additionally, the brass section is a thrill. It’s no surprise they have regular guest players from Tower Of Power and Brand New Heavies amongst others. After a few songs though, it all became a bit manic, veering towards party music, and the slower numbers retreat to a more strident Lenny Kravitz rock sound which doesn’t really sit with the earlier material. However, I highly recommend Dr Hypenstein to lovers of this flavour. Just don’t let it turn you into a rectangle. It hurts. A-
JACKY TERRASSON – Take This (Jazz/Germany-USA) (Impulse)
Take This is no less than German-born pianist Jacky Terrasson’s eighteenth album. Here he crosses all kinds of lines back and forth between jazz and Cuban rhythms thanks to his international combo. The production is minimalistic but highlights human beat-box and Afro-French vocalist Sly Johnson on the original ‘Kiff’ and a percussive rendition of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ taken largely in the time signature 9/8. There are two partially improvised variations on the Paul Desmond standard ‘Take Five’, and even a basic take on Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ that sounds like a spur of the moment idea. The whole album sounds as if recorded quickly but doesn’t lose an ounce of merit for it. These are strong players not out to blind us with science when not necessary. There’s much more to this than meets the ear. It would be well worth going back through Jacky’s expansive discography. A-
JUSTIN KAUFLIN – Dedication (Jazz/USA) (Qwest)
Quincy Jones protégé, blind pianist Justin Kauflin, leads his band through his often guitar-lead compositions on his second album, Dedication. The taut drumming of Billy Williams the the most compelling aspect underneath heads and piano solos that both often lack spark. Some attractive progressions such as ‘Tempest’ and ‘Lasting Impression’ provided substantial foundations for magnificent solos that stopped just short of appearing. But the recording is beautiful and will give the air around your hi-fi a lustrous finish. Ultimately, Dedication is for jazz buffs that don’t crave too much adventure or surprise, and are happy in the fallout of dry jazz guitar flutters. But those soft guitar tones can taint and weigh these sometimes beautiful melodies down in a bog of flurries, the kind of which you mostly ignore when your head is buried in the restaurant menu. B- PETER KEARNS