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Jazzcamera CD Choice

Keth Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette: After The Fall (ECM, two discs)

Review by John Watson

This 1998 recording follows Jarrett's slow recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome, and was a brave venture for the pianist - a live performance which he describes in his sleevenote as "a scary experiment".  He chose a bebop-centred repertoire, and explains that he felt less pressure to play that complex music "hard", as his energy levels were still low.

It was recorded via the sound desk at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre in Newark, so the mix for the venue lacks the sparkle and stereophonic sense of space we normally associate with ECM recordings, but the performance is indeed extraordinary.

The bebop content is Scrapple From The Apple, Bouncin' With Bud, and Doxy, plus standard songs and ballads including The Masquerade Is Over, Old Folks, Autumn Leaves and When I Fall In Love. There are also excellent versions of Paul Desmond's Late Lament, and John Coltrane's Moment's Notice.

The trio has recorded a vast number of albums, live and in the studio, and has reached greater creative heights. But this double album is a valuable document, and there is much superb playing throughout. Certainly, it doesn't sound like Jarrett lacks energy, and this recording undoubtedly marked a turning point in his life.


Michael Wollny Trio, Norwegian Wind Ensemble: Oslo (ACT)

Michael Wollny Trio with Emile Parisen: Wartburg (ACT)

Review by John Watson

German pianist Wollny is well-established as one of the most exciting players on the international scene, and the joint release of these two outstanding albums marks another milestone in his career.

His trio - completed by bassist Christian Weber and drummer Eric Schaefer - recorded tracks with the wind ensemble at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, and then a week later travelled to perform and record live at the Rittersaal in Wartburg Castle, with the brilliant soprano saxophonist Emilie Parisien as a guest.

Both discs have many outstanding features, each beginning in an explorative mood, and building to some splendid (and typically Wollny) climaxes, where the musicians really let fly and the inspiration is in a high gear.  The wind ensemble is featured only on certain tracks, as is Parisien. But the different character of each performance makes both albums well worth having. My only reservation is over the editing of the wind ensemble's first track - its conclusion seems rather abrupt, and could have blended seamlessly, and much more effectively, with the following piano trio track. But that is a minor quibble.

Originally, ACT founder and producer Siggi Loch had intended to take the best recordings from each location and issue one album. He realised, however, that there was far too much strong material for a single disc, and rightly decided to release two. Don't miss out on these musical riches, from an artist who is currently producing some of the most satisfying music on the scene. 



John Surman : Invisible Threads (ECM)

Review by John Watson

This absorbing album is another valuable addition to the immensely rich catalogue of recordings going back 50 years, which the great reedman John Surman continues to develop. Here he is featured with pianist Nelson Ayres and vibes player Rob Waring in a distinctly folk-ish collection of compositions, all written by Surman except Summer Song by Ayres.

According to my recollection, it's the first small-group recording pairing Surman with a vibes player since the 1970 LP Where Fortune Smiles, under the leadership of John McLaughlin, and featuring vibes player Karl Berger. The new collaboration with Waring shows how well Surman's rich tone - on soprano and baritone saxophones, and bass clarinet - works excellently, with the leader taking advantage of the long sustained notes which the mallet instrument can provide, and creating extended tapestries of sound in his solos.

Waring and Ayres weave gorgeous patterns around Surman's lines, and though most of the pieces are gently atmospheric, there's also a lively spark in a tango track and in Ayres' Summer Song. A reflective, beautifully crafted album to treasure.



Joachim Kuhn New Trio : Love And Peace (ACT)

Review by John Watson

I first heard the piano mastery of German-born Joachim Kuhn on saxophone legend Joe Henderson's mavellous 1967 LP Black Narcissus (Milestone), and I've never failed to be impressed with his use of keyboard colours and his endless invention.

This latest album of relatively short, and mostly tranquil, pieces is another worthwhile addition to Kuhn's considerable catalogue of recordings. It opens with dark, quite sombre,  chords on the brief title track, composed by the pianist, before Kuhn - with bassist Chris Jennings and drummer Eric Shaefer -  explore the improvising possibilities of Mussorgsky's La Vielle Chateau. Other tracks include The Doors' The Crystal Ship, Ornette Coleman's Night Plans, and other original pieces by the pianist and his trio colleagues,  the mood livening considerably with Casbah Radio, by bassist Jennings.

Overall it's a beautiful, reflective album, and a worthwhile successor to the same trio's earlier ACT album Beauty And Truth. My own favourite Kuhn album for ACT remains the Birthday Edition, a two-disc release from 2014 featuring dynamic previously unreleased tracks, showcasing the pianist with his earlier trio - drummer Daniel Humair and bassist J F Jenny-Clark - in 1987 and 1995. The second disc comprises Europeana, Jazzphony No.1, a marvellous orchestral arrangement of folk songs by Michael Gibbs, with the pianist featured alongside such outstanding players as Albert Mangelsdorff, Klaus Doldinger, Richard Galliano, Christof Laur, Markus Stockhausen and Jon Christensen.



Julian Costello Quartet : Transitions (33 Jazz Records)

Review by John Watson

There's a sense of graceful lyricism, combined with an inner strength, in the playing of tenor and soprano saxophonist Julian Costello. This new release is much enhanced by the gorgeous fluidity of guitarist Maciek Pysz, and the quartet - completed by bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Adam Teixeira - works sympathetically as a complete unit.

All the compositions are by Costello, and the thread running through them is a sense of playfulness - one senses the joy of the group in exploring the melodic expression and rhythmic twists of these pieces. The gentle theme 'Waves' opens the disc, with the notes barely breathed by Costello before taking on more solid form as the piece develops. The catchy 'Earworm' is well named, but I enjoyed 'Walking Through The Jungle' most - with Costello letting fly on tenor with just Teixeira's drums in support. It's an all-too-brief episode, but the sense of freedom is welcome.  For the most part, Costello's improvising is carefully crafted, beauifully structured, and mellow.  Beautiful performances, and highly recommended.



Bobo Stenson Trio: Contra la indecision (ECM)

Review by John Watson

There are some gorgeous musical colours on this latest album by Swedish pianist Stenson, which overall offers a brighter tapestry of sounds than his previous trio albums in my collection. With him are bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Fait, and only one of the compositions, Alice, is by Stenson - the title track is by Silvio Rodriguez; Doubt Thou The Stars, Three Shades of A House, Alice, Stilla, Oktoberfest and Heminghway Intonations are all by by Jormin. Wedding Song From Poniky is by Bela Bartok, Elegie is by Erik Satie, and one apparently improvised track, Kalimba Impressions, is credited to the members of the trio.

The title track opens the album on a bright note, and the improvising flows beautifully throughout the subsequent tracks. There's a particulaly fine bass solo on Three Shades Of A House, but it is the consistently intriguing interplay between the three musicians that catches the ear.


Cuong Vu 4-Tet : Ballet, The Music of Michael Gibbs (Rare Noise Records)

Review by John Watson

The gorgeous playing on this release is both strongly individual, and immensely respectful, in the musicians' interpretations of five works by composer Michael Gibbs. Trumpeter Cuong Vu's group features guitarist Bill Frisell - who has been a close collaborator with Gibbs on many projects - with bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Ted Poor.  It's a live recording from a 2016 concert at the University of Washington, and its release comes as Gibbs is about to undertake a UK tour Germany and with his orchestra (plus dates in Germany and the USA). See the Jazzcamera "News & Features" page for tour details.

There's plenty of space in the group's use of interplay, with the opening title track capturing the mood of Gibbs' swirling composition, a variation on the blues structure. "Feelings And Things" is simply gorgeous - moody open horn from Vu, gentle guitar strokes from Frisell, and subtle support from Bergman and Poor. This is ballad mastery. "Blue Comedy" has some lively interchange between trumpet and guitar, though the edit which ends the track is rather sudden, as though something quickly followed which had to be lost. "And On The Third Day" - long one of my favourite Gibbs works - floats gracefully, with Frisell shadowing the main theme, before increasing electronic fuzz adds a savage edge to the tonal landscape.

The album concludes with another Gibbs classic, "Sweet Rain" (a ballad famously recorded by Stan Getz on his magnificent quartet album of the same name), with Frisell introducing the theme, before Vu's mellow open horn enters majestically to take up the lead. Absolutely beautiful.