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CD REVIEWS ARCHIVE

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All reviews by John Watson

 

CD REVIEW     Peter Ehwald : Double Trouble Live (Jazzwerkstatt Records)

Fans who appreciate forthright, passionately-played and imaginative free-form jazz will find this new issue from German tenor saxophonist Peter Ehwald and his quartet truly compelling. It's an electrifying follow-up, a storm of sound recorded at three locations, to Ehwald's 2013 album 'Double Trouble', featuring tracks from concert performances in Munich, Dusseldorf and Potsdam. 

As with the studio album, the line-up is completed by double bassists Robert Landfermann and Andreas Lang, plus the superb drummer Jonas Burgwinkel. I've seen Burgwinkel live at two festivals, on both occasions as a member of the Pablo Held Trio, and he is a hugely impressive, dynamic player. Landfermann is also a regular Held Trio member, though it is - of course - impossible to tell on this disc which bass parts are being played by him and which by Andreas Lang. However, the whole group works excellently together as a dynamic, driving unit, and the nine tracks here are impressively cohesive. Ehwald's tonal palette is broad - he is often wild and intense, but can also tender in his improvising. All the compositions with the exception of a traditional piece, 'Mimouna', are by the saxophonist, and all have an assertive edge. 

Freewheeling music like Ehwald's is not to everyone's taste, of course, and the intensity can be almost too much at times, but I'm looking forward to hearing the group live. You can do so, too, when they appear on November 18 at The Vortex as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

CD REVIEW  Hashima : Tideland (Own Label)

Elements of the exotic East have brought much marvellous music to the jazz world, and this CD shows how powerful those scales, modes and rhythms can be. Hashima is a group based in Serbia, and their new disc offers a captivating mixture of Balkans traditional folk music, swirling rhythms, enticing melodies and very fine jazz improvising. The group is led by guitarist Igor Miskovic, and features Srdan Mijalkovic on saxophone, Vanja Todorovic on double bass, and Aleksandar Hristic on drums. All the compositions on 'Tideland' are by Miskovic, opening gentle arpeggios on 'Dance No.2' and building that piece into a vibrant, driving 5/4, with Mijalkovic's tenor swooping and diving over the chords. The track '2pm' develops many moods and its movements include pounding rhythms, but also many moment of stillness. The title track opens with a swirl of cymbals, reintroducing a noble motif stated on tenor, then a floating, melodic theme. 'Muted' has a simple, slow figure on bass as its introduction, with the saxophone adding eletronically-filtered flutters, developing into a melodic theme with a hint of menace. Miskovic's guitar introduces 'Release', a modal piece in triple time featuring a dream-like melody, the rhythm building to a pounding climax driven by Hristic's drums. The imaginative concluding track, 'Harness', has a furiously fast guitar figure as its introduction, with a slower theme and funky percussion edging into a punchy reworking of  'Over The Rainbow'.  For more infomation, and to order the disc, visit: www.thehashima.com.

CD REVIEW    Tigran Hamasyan/Yerevan State Chamber Choir : Luys i Luso (ECM) 

Piano virtuoso Tigran has created an overwhelmingly beautiful work here, combining delicate keyboard improvising with Armenian sacred music performed by the Yerevan State Chamber Choir. To quote from his booklet note on the challenge of creating this recording: 'Luys i Luso [Light From Light] is a musical world for me in which Armenian sacred music tradition, contemporary classical composition and improvisation come together. The repertoire ranges from 5th Century "sharakans" to early 20th Century music of Komitas through diverse compositional approaches and arrangements.' 

It's a challenge perfectly met, blending his sensitivity and imagination as an improviser with absorbing, moving and immensely profound works. When I've heard him perform live in concert, he has been powerfully dynamic and often tremendously exciting, but his delicate touch on this recording reveals the breadth of his concept as an improviser. The choir, conducted by Harutyan Topikyan, creates a glorious sound, from deep, meditative drones to thrilling soprano solo passages. 

CD REVIEW : John Scofield : Past Present (Impulse!)

I've been a great admirer of guitarist John Scofield for many years, after first seeing him with Miles Davis's band. I must admit to failing to connect with many of the heavy rhythm-and-blues influenced performances he has subsequently recorded, but hearing him perform live at festivals over the last couple of years has restored my faith in the breadth and depth of his creativity.  This new album - with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart - is a milesstone, marking Scofield's real return to outstanding creative form.

The line-up revives the marvellously inventive group Scofield led in the 1990s, but with Grenadier subsituted here  for Marc Johnson. The opening track, 'Slinky', is well titled, with Lovano's saxophone snaking over the rhythm section in a gorgeously bluesy style, and other outstanding tracks including the lively 'Chap Dance' - with a country music tinge - the ballad 'Hangover', and the title track. This really would be a band to catch live if you get the chance, but in the meantime enjoy the joyful playing on this disc.

Mette Henriette (ECM, two discs)

Ice and fire can be compelling elements in jazz performances, and both are strongly in evidence on this impressive ECM debut double album from the young Norwegian saxophonist. The first disc features Mette in a trio setting, with pianist Johan Lindvall and cellist Katrine Schiott - here icy tones dominate, creating mysterious but peaceful musical landscapes, spacious, tranquil and immensely sensitive. The second disc - which features a large ensemble consisting mainly of strings, but also with bandoneon and drums - begins and concludes icily enough, but a truly fiery edge to Mette's tenor tone eventually emerges - blazing passionately on the track 'Wildheart', a pivotal moment of tremendous intensity. In fact Mette's tone on this track reminded me of the great Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri, whose wild cries graced many excellent albums in the 1960s and 70s. In all, an interesting beginning, promising much stimulating music in the future.

Stefano Bollani : Arrivano Gli Alieni (Universal Jazz Italy)

Italian pianist Bollani has long been one of my favourite keyboard players on the international scene, for he blends immaculate classically-trained technique with dazzling improvising and a great sense of humour.  On this new album he mainly sticks to Fender Rhodes electric piano - unusual for Bollani in my experience - and also makes his recorded debut as a singer and a singer-songwriter on a couple of tracks. 

The whole album has an exuberant, joyful feel, whether in original pieces, jazz standards including 'You Don't Know What Love Is' and 'The Preacher, and even the classic Italian pop song 'Quando, Quando, Quando.' The title track, which he sings in Italian, means 'The Aliens Are Coming'. A delightful disc.

Enrico Rava Quartet with Gianluca Petrella : Wild Dance (ECM)

The style of Italian trumpet maestro Enrico Rava - blending mellowness and fireworks in equal measure -works wonderfully well with the mellow sound of trombonist Gianluca Petrella, and they have made three excellent albums together for ECM in the past: Tribe, The Worlds And The Days, and Easy Living. 

Here's another excellent additon to the catalogue. Wild Dance both extends and cements the musical relationship, and there's a huge amount of thoroughly satisfying music on these tracks. Curiously, the title track is less wild than you would perhaps imagine - against expectations, it has a mellow character. There's plenty of up-tempo excitement, though (almost frantic at times), but much thoughtful and lovely improvising. Completing the line-up are guitarist Francesco Diodati, bassist Gabriele Evangelista (the only musician who was also a member of Rava's earlier quartet), and drummer Enrico Morello. They work excellently as a group, and apparently most of the tracks on this album were first takes. Well worth a hearing.

Sullivan Fortner : Aria (Impulse!)

Pianist Sullivan Fortner,  a 28-year-old native of New Orleans, has developed from being a child prodigy to one of the most impressive new stars on the scene, working with major artists including Roy Hargrove and Christian Scott. 

'Aria' is his debut album on a major label, demonstrates his delicate touch yet his firm sense of swing. With a line-up including saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, Aidan Carroll on bass and drummer Joe Dyson Jnr, Fortner breezes his way through original pieces and standars including 'I Mean You', 'All The Things You Are', and 'For All We Know'. There are many highlights, but one that appealed to me in particular was the closing track, 'Finale', starting with solo piano played exceptionally delicately but driven into a new area by a powerful bassline. A name to watch, for sure.

Kendrick Scott Oracle : We Are The Drum (Blue Note)

Despite its title, this is an album driven by the drums rather than being dominated by them. Many fans will be familiar with the name of Kendrick Scoitt, whose playing has been heard in many outstanding U.S. bands, and some will be familiar with his critically-accliamed earlier Concord album 'Conviction'. With 'We Are The Drum', Scott makes his debut on the Blue Note label, and an exceptionally fine debut it is.  Oracle has been in existence since 2006, and the line-up on the new disc is completed by saxophonist and bass clarinettist John Ellis, pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Michael Moreno, and bassist Joe Sanders. Singing star Lizz Wright is a welcome guest on one track, the soulful 'This Song In Me'.  

Scott often uses the kit to introduce the themes, or to weave percussive interludes into his works.  The tonal palette is broad, and the group blends complex lines and communicative grooves with perfect balance. Excelllent.

Jeff Herr Corporation : Layer Cake (Igloo Records)

Luxembourg drummer Jeff Herr has led his Corporation group since 2003, originally with a keyboard player and a trumpeter in the line-up. But the current group is a free-wheeling, powerfully-driven trio, with saxophonist Maxime Bender and bassist Laurent Payfert. I must admit to having reservations about many pianoless (or guitarless) groups, but that's a very personal view, and the music on Layer Cake is constantly exciting, with strong percussion from the leader and tight, thoughtful arrangements. 

Most of the tracks are originals by Herr or by all three members of the group, but there's also an engaging version of David Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World'. 

Various artists including Pat Metheny, Gary Burton and Jan Garbarek : Hommage a Eberhard Weber (ECM)

The music of the wonderfully original bassist Eberhard Weber was celebrated by all-star jubilee concerts in Stuttgart last January to mark his 75th birthday. The featured artists on this compelling disc are Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Paul McCandless, Scott Colley and Danny Gottlieb, with the SWR Big Band conducted by Michael Gibbs (who wrote two of the arrangements) and by Helge Sunde. Weber himself is unfortunately unable to perform in concerts following a reported stroke, but recordings of his playing were seamlessly incorporated into the arrangements for the concerts.

The disc opens with plaintive improvising by Jan Garbarek (on soprano saxophone) over Weber's taped instrument, on the bassist's compositon 'Resume Variations'.  Weber's recorded bowed bass - enhanced by his characteristic electronic effects - introduces a magnificent 34-minute compositon by Pat Metheny (the title track of the album), and featuring the guitarist and Gary Burton's vibes (as well as some plucked bass from Weber). The writing for brass is lovely here, and the music glides gracefully over Danny Gottlieb's cymbal work. Weber's tune 'Touch', arranged by Ralf Schmid, features Gary Burton's vibes as well as SWR Big Band member Ernst Hutter's euphonium.  Three more Weber compositions - 'Maurizius' (from the album Later That Evening, and arranged here by Gibbs), 'Tubingen' (arranged by Rainer Tempel) and 'Notes After An Evening' (arranged by Libor Sima)- make up the rest of the album, and all feature Burton's vibes and the soprano sax and cor anglais of Paul McCandless,  with much marvellous improvising over the rich-textured arrangements. 

In all, a tremendously satisfying issue, and an absolute must for all those who have found Weber's huge  body of work - as a bandleader and also in many significant musical partnerships - so appealing.

Michael Gibbs and the NDR Big Band Play A Bill Frisell Set List (Cuneiform)

Michael Gibbs and the NDR Big Band : In My View (Cuneiform)

Two absolute gems here from the great composer Michael Gibbs with Germany's magnificent NDR Big Band. The first disc features Bill Frisell soloing in Gibbs' masterly arrangements of pieces from the guitar master's repertoire, and the second the band playing Gibbs' arrangements of his own compositions, plus works by Ron Carter, Carla Bley, Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk. 

The disc with Frisell was recorded at the Uberjazz Festival in 2013, one of several collaborations between the composer and the guitarist over the years (I was lucky enough to be at their appearances with Gibbs' own orchestra at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham, and later at the Barbican in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra - even luckier to be invited to photograph rehearsals for those concerts).

The performance in Germany opens gently, with Frisell's own tune 'Throughout', climaxing in a fiery tenor solo from Christof Lauer, before pianist Vladyslav Sendeciki's solo leads seamlessly into Gil Evans' hypnotic 'Las Vegas Tango'. Frisell solos with speedy articulation in Lee Konitz's classic 'Subconscious Lee', and Jeff Ballard's drum solo on this track shows what a valuable additon he was to the orchestra for this concert. Other highlights include an entertaining version of Lennon-McCartney's 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away', and a romping 'Benny's Bugle', composed by Goodman and Count Basie. A triumphant conclusion is Frisell's spiky theme 'Freddy's Step', with superb drumming by Ballard and splendid ensemble work from the NDR brass and saxes. Glorious.

The second disc, 'In My View', is Gibbs' latest collaboration with the NDR Band, and - as with  the Frisell disc - the tracks abound in Gibb's rich harmonic textures and magnificent use of orchestra colour. The opening track, 'Tis As It Should Be', absolutely glows with musical warmth, and there's a lovely flugelhorn solo from Claus Stother. Tenor saxophonist Chrisof Lauer and Ingolf Burkhardt are strong soloists on another Gibbs' composition, 'As A Matter Of Fact (for my dear Louise)', followed by his arrangement of Carla Bley's engaging 'Ida Lupino'. Gibbs' own 'Spanish Sketch' hots up the tempo, wih Lauer on soprano, the saxophonist switching to tenor for a sumptuous arrangement of Ron Carter's triple-time piece 'Mood' (written by the bassist for the Miles Davis Quintet).  There's a bouncy version of Ornette Coleman's 'Ramblin', and a trio of tenor saxophonists - Lauer, Lutz Buchner and Frank Delle - are featured on Gibbs' 'So That's That'. This immensely satisfying album wraps up with Michael's arrangement of the Gordon Jenkins ballad 'Goodbye'. 

Congratulations to the excellent USA label Cuneiform for making these two outstanding examples of Gibbs' mastery available. For more information visit www.cuneiformrecords.com.

Stefano Battaglia Trio : In The Morning (ECM)

 

Italian pianist Battaglia presents his interpretations of the music of Alec Wilder on this, his sixth album for ECM. With bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani, he creates delicate and touching improvisations on songs including 'Moon And Sand' (many listeners will be familiar with Keith Jarrett's versions of this theme), but excluding Wilder's best known song 'While We're Young'. Battaglia is skilled in classical music as well as jazz, and brings the breadth of his talents here on these four Wilder songs and three settings of poems. Gentle, evocative and appealing.

Caecilie Norby and Lars Danielsson: Just The Two Of Us (ACT)

Bass master Lars Danielsson never fails to surprise and delight, whether in concert or on recordings, but it's quite a while since I've heard a performance by his singer wife Caecilie Norby.  This duet album, therefore, is especially welcome, and it features Danielsson on guitar and cello as well as bass. The repertoire is immensely varied, from songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Abbey Lincoln, to original pieces by Norby and Danielsson.

Ironically, the opening track - Mitchell's hit 'Both Sides Now' - is to my ears the least successful on an otherwise superb album. Perhaps, as a Joni fanatic, I'm biased too much in favour of the original. However, the duo's own composition 'Double Dance' quickly engages the ear, followed by more originals - 'Liberetto Cantabile, 'Sad Sunday' and 'Cherry Tree - before a moving version of Lincoln's 'And It's Supposed To Be Love'. Other highlights include the original compositions 'Toccata' and 'Ghost Lullabye', and this hugely enjoyable disc concludes with Leonard Cohen's celebrated 'Hallelujah' (and I much prefer Norby and Danielsson's version to Cohen's).

Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring : Postcard To Bill Evans (Babel Label)

Anyone who loved the classic collaborations between the great pianist Bill Evans and guitar master Jim Hall - and who could not? - will certainly warm to this gorgeous tribute from London-based pianist Bruno Heinen and Danish guitarist Kristian Borring. Their empathy with the music of Evans is engaging, and these ten tracks - mostly compositions by Evans - are played with great sensitivity as well as impressive technical accomplishment.

The classics include 'Time Remembered', 'Peri's Scope', '34 Skidoo' (given ballad treatment here) and 'Show Type Tune'. The sixth track combines a lovely solo piano performance of Evans' 'Epilogue' with Leonard Bernstein's 'Some Other Time' (from the musical 'On The Town', and which Evans recorded with Tony Bennett), with Borring's subtle guitar leading the melody. Borring also leads the tender introduction to the one original compositon on the disc, Heinen's 'Postcard To Bill', a mellow piece which picks up into a gentle swinger as the pianist takes up the theme.  The album closes with a sprightly uptempo workhout on Jerome Kern's 'All The Things You Are', recorded live at The Vortex in London.

A really satisfying album, and fans can catch the duo live at venues including tonight (September 4th) at the Con Cellar Bar, Constitution Pub, Camden, London; Sheffileld Firth Hall on October 24; at The Vortex as part of the London Jazz Festival on November 14; and at the Royal Festival Hall Foyer in London on January 22 next year. 

For more information on the disc, and other releases on the excellent Babel Label, visit: www.babellabel.co.uk.

Jazz At Berlin Philharmonic IV : Accordion Night (ACT)

It seems remarkable that the accordion - an instrument with so much expressive power in the right hands - has played so small a role throughout the history of jazz. In recent years, some brilliant accordionists have emerged, and this new release from ACT shows what stupendous music can be created, particularly in duets with a sympathetic partner. 

The album opens in dynamic style with Klaus Paier and cellist Asja Valcic playing Paier's compositon 'Tango Loco', followed by Regis Gizavo with guitarist Nguyen Le on two Gizavo originals, 'South Africa' and 'Love'. Norwegian Stian Cartensen plays an earthy traditional folk tune, 'Horgalaten', beautifully as a solo piece, before storming into a glorious 'Oriental Hoedown' with violinist Adam Baldych. The highlight, for me, are three stunning tracks with Vincent Peirani and soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien: the Sidney Bechet tunes 'Egyptian Fantasy' and 'Song of Medina',  and Peirani's own 'Three Temps pour Michel P'. The finale, perhaps inevitably, is Piazzolla's 'Libertango', featuring all the musicians.

Dino Saluzzi : Imagenes - Music for Piano (ECM New Series)

A sense of surprise here - compositions by bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi, but played on the piano rather than his traditional instrument. The pianist is a very capable young fellow-Argentinian Horacio Lavandera, and though Saluzzi does not play on the recording the booklet pictures him by Lavandera's side at the keyboard in a supervising role. How daunting that must have been.

The music flows effortlessly, mixing romantic moods with moments of drama and poise. The longest of the 10 tracks is the title track at 10 minutes, and the shortest 'Moto Perpetuo' runs for just over one minute. In all, a worthwhile exploration of an unusual aspect of the work of one of the world's most distinctive musicians.

Lizz Wright : Freedom And Surrender (Concord)

A very commercial offering from Georgia-born singer Lizz Wright, produced by Larry Klein and featuring some collaborations with - among others - Gregory Porter. The album was apparently conceived as a project of covers, but original songs took over and the creative juices flowed.  A couple of covers are featured - 'To Love Somebody' and 'River Man'. The outstanding track is without doubt 'Right Where You Are', a beautifully harmonised duet with Porter. As always, Wright's voice is deliciously smoky, and rich with the soulful feel of gospel music.

Yaron Herman : Everyday (Blue Note)

Pianist Yaron Herman is an immensely strong player - physically, and conveying a sense of total commitment to each track on this, his seventh album and his first for Blue Note. Herman, born in Tel Aviv and based in France, has a tremendously wide musical palette - driving rhythms, chunky chords, but balanced by a sense of flow, and with many sensitive moments. The album, says Blue Note, was conceived with drummer Ziv Ravitz, and most tracks feature them in engaging duets. There's also an absorbing track with Icelandic singer Helgi Jonsson, 'Volcano'. There's a spontaneous feel to the whole album, which should appeal to a wide audience.

Stephan Micus : Nomad Songs (ECM)

David Torn : only sky (ECM)

Solo projects are among the most difficult challenge for improvisers, even for talented multi-tracking instrumentalists like Micus and Torn.  Both these albums feature a great deal of strong music, but with some weaker moments. On 'only sky', Torn plays guitar and electric oud, with nine tracks of improvised works moving through many moods, and building absorbing textures, with the closing track 'a goddamned specific unbalance' the most impressive selection. Micus uses a vast range of instruments, ranging from 14-string guitar to tin whisltes, shakuachi and various other world music instruments - plus his voice. There's much beautiful music, and while every multi-tracked improvisation doesn't quite convince, it's an album well worth hearing.

Gerardo Nunez and Ulf Wakenius : Jazzpana Live (ACT)

Spanish guitar virtuoso Gerardo Nunez combines with the masterly Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius for a performance of immense passion, brilliantly controlled power and strong melodic appeal. On seven tracks featuring various other fine performers including Cuban pianist Ramon Valle and German saxophonist Christof Lauer, their creations were recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie in October last year and at the WDR 3 Jazz Fest in Domicil Dortmund in January this year.. 

The emphasis is, as implied by the album title, firmly on Spain and its flamenco tradition. Opening with a stunning guitar duet - plus percussion - entitled 'Camina' (composed by Nunez), the concert continues in a more mellow mood with pianist Chano Dominguez added for his own composition 'Alma De Mujer' (including a brief quote from Chick Corea's 'Spain' in his solo,  followed by a spirited piece by Domininguez, 'Para Chick'. 

Gil Evans' 'Blues For Pablo' - with excellent soloing by Lauer -  is another highlight, and the concert concludes in spectactular style with an encore group version of 'Calima' .

Tim Berne's Snakeoil : You've Been Watching Me (ECM)

Alto saxophonist Berne has added an extra musician, guitarist Ryan Ferreira, to his band Snakeoil for his third CD for the ECM label. Following his critically-acclaimed album 'Shadow Man' (2013), Berne returned to the studio with Ferreira and clarinettist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith for this new recording. On 'You've Been Watching Me', Mitchell also adds electronics to his piano contribution, and Smith is heard extensively on vibes as well as the drumkit and other percussion.

As usual, there's plenty of harmonic and rhythmic complexity to Berne's compositions - he wrote all the tracks on the disc - and plenty of forthright improvising. However, as on his previous ECM albums, there's also a more mellow and thoughtful dimension to his creations, extending his music's appeal to those listeners who prefer a less aggressive approach. There's passion, but the structure to the music is both strong and clear. 

Kurt Elling : Passion World (Concord)

I've been lucky enough to hear many performances by the great singer Kurt Elling, ranging from big band settings (most recently at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Barker Big Band), to small group performances, including a very fine show with saxophonist Ernie Watts at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London. I've yet to feel even the slightest disappointment with an Elling performance - if sound can be described as glowing, that's the impression I have of his rich-textured voice. He uses harmonic structure brilliantly, always conveys tremendous enthusiasm, and projects lyrics with evident sincerity.

This latest offering - his 11th album - is a real gem. It features Kurt with a host of superb players, including trumpeters Arturo Sandoval and Till Bronner, accordionist Richard Galliano, and two magnificent large ensembles: The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the WDR Big Band. The repertoire has considerable variety, from U2's 'Where The Streets Have No Name', to classics like 'La Vie En Rose' and folk songs 'Loch Tay Boat Song' and 'Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht". Other highlights include a vocal adaptation of Pat Metheny's 'Another Life' (renamed 'After The Door' here, which Elling heard sung by Polish vocalist Anna Marie Jopek), and 'Where Love Is', a James Joyce poem set to music by Irish composer Brian Byrne. Overall, 'Passion World' is a must for all Elling fans. 

Terri Lyne Carrington : The ACT Years (ACT)

Terri Lyne Carrington has given acclaimed performances with many of the giants of jazz, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Clark Terry, though my own favourite Carrington performances came with her work with Stan Getz towards the end of the great tenorist's life. I heard her in concert with her own band in concert at the Skopje Jazz Festival last year, and - surprisingly - it was a lacklustre, pedestrian performance. Perhaps she and the band were simply tired during a long international tour.

However, there is much fine music to enjoy on this retrospective from the ACT label, featuring the drummer in performances with artists inlcuding alto saxophonist Greg Osby, pianist Hancock, guitarists Ngyuen Le, Kevin Eubanks, and Adam Rogers, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Wallace Roney. The three tracks with Osby - 'Manic Depression', 'Omega' and 'Mindful Intent' - are outstanding, but there is plenty of hugely enjoyable playing throughout all these twelve tracks. 

Paolo Fresu and Daniele di Bonaventura : In Maggiore (ECM)

It's interesting to contrast this new release from ECM, featuring the magnificent Italian trumpeter Paolo Frescu and bandoneon master Daniele di Bonaventura, with Fresu's 2013 album 'Mare Nostrum' for the ACT label. On the latter disc (which I have on an excellent vinyl double LP pressing), Fresu's sublimely lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn combines with accordionist Richard Galliano and pianist Jan Lungren in original pieces and works by composers as varied as Ravel and Jobim. The playing by all three musicians flows gloriously throughout the recording, though Fresu is a little more restrained - less fiery - than he can be in live concerts with his own band.

'In Maggiore', by contrast, has a slightly choppier feel. At times, it seems that di Bonaventura is doing a little too much, and that fewer notes would have created a smoother impression.  The bandoneon, being a button instrument rather than a keyed one, also creates its usual noisy distraction of clicking from the mechanisms - barely noticeable in concerts, perhaps, but intrusive on recordings. With those reservations, however, there is a huge amount of thoroughly enjoyable music on the duet's disc. The two musicians first collaborated in the concert series Misico Mediterraneo, with the Corsican vocal ensemble A Filetta, but 'In Maggiore' is their first album of duets. There are originals by Fresu - including 'Ton Kozh', 'Apnea', 'Caimo' and the title track, and by di Bonaventura, including 'Da Capo Cadenza', 'La Mia terra' and 'Kyrie Eleison', plus a piece jointly composed by the players, 'Sketches'.  Particularly touching is the song 'Te Recuerdo Amanda', written by Chilean singer Victor Jara (later a victim of murder). Overall, an album offering much to enjoy.

Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective : Breathless (Blue Note)

I first heard New Orleans-born Terence Blanchard live in concert with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, shortly after he took over the trumpet chair from Wynton Marsalis, and I've enjoyed his forthright, articulate playing many times since. 'Breathless' comes as something of a surprise, however, for it's an unashamedly commercial soul-funk offering, with vocals dominating and Blanchard's trumpet processed electronically on most tracks.

However, there seems to be a socio-political point to the trumpeter's sudden change of artistic tack: the title track refers to 'I Can't Breathe', the tragic last words of NYPD chokehold victim Eric Garner. Perhaps Blanchard decided to team up with the E-Collective group in order to make his point to a much wider audience than is generally reached by jazz musicians. The album is slickly produced by Blanchard and his manager Robin Burgess, with Blue Note president Don Was as executive producer, and its 13 tracks are all strong on groove appeal. Many of the pieces are Blanchard originals, plus covers including 'Compared To What' (famously associated with Les McCann and Eddie Harris), and Hank Williams' song 'Ain't Got Nothin' But Time'. Blanchard and the E-Collective will be on tour this summer, including a UK date at The Love Supreme Jazz Festival on July 5.

Gary Peacock Trio : Now This (ECM)

Giovanni Guidi Trio : This Is The Day (ECM)

It's fascinating to contrast this two piano trio albums from the ECM label. 'Now This' is under the leadership of one of the greatest bass players in jazz, Gary Peacock, and is released to mark his 80th birthday.  Italian pianist Giovanni Guidi is at the other end of the age spectrum, born in 1985, and 'This Is The Day' is his second album as a leader for ECM. 

Peacock has two exceptional musicians with him: pianist Marc Copland, and drummer Joey Baron. At times they sound a little too hesitant, almost afraid to step on each other's toes, so the music on some tracks has a slightly fragmented feel. The playing, though, is beautiful throughout, and all the players dig in much more deeply on the Baron composition 'Espirit de Muse'. To my ears, the outstanding track is Scott La Faro's 'Gloria's Step', made famous by La Faro's performances with the great pianist Bill Evans. The Peacock trio's version is delicate, swirling as though in a mist - gorgeous.

Guidi's album - featuring American bassist Thomas Morgan  and Portuguese drummer Joao Lobo - comprises mostly the pianist's own compositions, opening with the folk-ish 'Trilly', which sounds almost like one of the strong melodies which emerge from the free improvistions of Keith Jarrett.  Although the playing is delicate and restrained throughout almost all the tracks, there's a sense of space and continuity throughout the disc.  An exception to the meditative mood is the Monk-like piece 'The Debate', with an open, free-form approach, gathering intensity after an abstract introduction. There's also a beautifully-played standard song, 'I'm Through With Love', popularly associated with Mildred Bailey.

Mathias Eick : Midwest (ECM)

Norwegian trumpeter Eick was on a long tour of the USA and Canada when he began to feel homesick. When he reached the rural Midwest, he said, "I suddenly had the strange feeling that I was home. It occurred to me that some of the early settlers must have felt this way, when they looked at the rich soils of the plains and saw that this was a wonderful land for farming. Parts of the Midwest remind me strongly of parts of Norway, including the southeast where I grew up."

'Midwest' is the resuilt of Eick's experiences, describing in music an imaginary voyage from his tiny home village of Hem to the birthplace of jazz, America. And the result is a compelling, hugely enjoyable album which can be recommended highly.

With Eick on these tracks are violinist Gjermund Larsen, pianist Jon Balke (an ECM star in his own right), bassist Mats Eilertsen, and percussionist Helge Norbakken. They work superbly as a tight musical uinit, but perhaps the strongest element is Larsen's brilliant shading of Eick's trumpet on the themes of 'Midwest' - at times making the two instruments almost like a single voice.  There are elements of Norwegian folk music (impressionistic rather than authentic, for Eick says he has never studied the various traditional styles of his country) and, of course, elements of American country music. All the compositions are by Eick, and the album was recorded in Oslo's Rainbow Studio by the great engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, expertly as ever. 

So many key elements in ECM cuiture are drawn together on 'Midwest': the culture of Scandinavia and the spirit of the North, the love of American music, the production values at which the German company excels. An album to treasure.

Eyal Vilner Big Band : Almost Sunrise (Gut String Records)

Saxophonist, clarinettist and flautist Vilner made a really good impression with the debut album by his big band ('Introducing The Eyal Vilner Big Band').  'Almost Sunrise' will win him many more fans, especially those with a taste for classic jazz orchestra styles, for on this disc he mixes original pieces with some of the most popular selections from the great swing repertoire. The big band include some of New York's finest ensemble players, among them trombonist John Mosca (of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), saxophonist Don Block, trumpeter Greg Gilbert and drummer Joe Strasser.

Vilner's own composition 'The Rabbit' kicks off the album in truly dynamic style, with a brilliant flourish of brass heralding the fast-paced theme.  The title track is another Vilner original, with the theme spelled out by the leader's clarinet in a duet with pianist Tadataka Unno, before many new strands arre drawn together - bass, flute, clarinet and then brass - leading to a solo from saxophonist Asaf Yuria. It's a masterly arrangement.

Vilner's arranging skills are also strongly evident on his reworking of many big band favourites and jazz standards, including Benny Goison's 'Stablesmates', Duke Ellington's 'It Don't Mean A Thing', Billy Strayhorn's 'Lush Life', Clark Terry's 'Tee Pee Time', and two versions of the song 'Centrepiece'. Appealing vocals are provided by Charenee Wade, Nadia Washington and Charles Turner. All in all, a big band feast - and the band's bright, lively approach and impeccable musicianship will appeal to a huge number of fans. More details: www.eyalvilner.com.

Andy Sheppard Quartet : Surrounded By Sea (ECM)

The new quartet of saxophonist Andy Sheppard has been formed by adding Norwegian guitarist and electronics wizard Eivind Aarset to the highly successful Trio Libero, an improvising group which Andy shared with bassist Michel Benita and drummer Seb Rochford. It's a tremendously succesful move,  for Aarset's imaginative use of electronics creates a tremendous landscape as an engaging backdrop to the music. 

Opening brightly with 'Tipping Point', composed by Sheppard and Benita, the tenor saxophone floats over the music, assertive but sensitive. Elvis Costello's melancholic 'I Want To Vanish' follows, with Sheppard on soprano, and then the first part of the Gaelic traditional song 'Aiodh, No Dean Cadel Idir. Parts two and three of this lovely piece follow later in the album. 

Other highlights include Rochford's 'They Aren't Perfect And Neither Am I', with a rhythmically loose  and improvised feel, and Sheppard's 'The Impossibility Of Silence', with a soft, almost organ-like chord spread electronically by Aarset. 'I See Your Eyes Before Me' is more assertive, opening with a bold statement on tenor which evokes echoes of John Coltrane, evolving into a lighter, drifting theme. 'Looking For Ornette', which closes the album, opens with simple figures on snare and cymbals from Rochford, as Aarset's guitar shadows the theme played on tenor by Sheppard, underpinned by Benita's bass. 

Fulvio Sigurta with Steve Swallow and Federico Casagrande : The Oldest Living Thing (Camjazz)

Trumpeter Sigurta's new album is his fourth for the Camjazz label, and he once again includes his regular musical companion Casagrande on acoustic guitar - plus the distinguished presence of U.S. bass guitar legend Steve Swallow. They form a delightful unit, for Swallow is one of the most sympathetic players on his instrument. His solo on Casagrande's tune 'Marmotte' is a gem, but throughout the album his note placement is perfect. Sigura, born in Brescia and classically trained, has worked with plenty of distinguished players in the past, including such diverse talents Giovanni Guidi, Jamie Cullum and John Taylor with the The Guildhall Big Band. It was at London's Guildhall that he gained his Masters with Distinction, but he has also studied at the Conservatorio Luca Marenzio in Brescia and at Berklee, Boston. 

All this preparation has paid off tremendously, and he is surely poised to gain a worldwide reputation among listeners as well as musicians. Paris-based Casagrande is considerable guitarist, too, often subtle but unafraid to really attack the strings effectively (as on his tune 'Sunday Snow Flakes' here).  All the tracks are originals by the trumpeter and the guitarist, with the exception of their duet on Morricone's 'Nuovo Cinema Paradiso', with lovely soft tones from Sigurta and 12 shimmering steel strings from Casagrande.  Sigurta and Casagrande launch 'The Oldest Living Thing' on May 5 at the Vortex in London, with the excellent UK bassist Kevin Glasgow substituted for Swallow. More information from www.CamJazz.com and www.fulviosigurta.com.

Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleekman : A Clear Midnight - Kurt Weill in America (ECM) 

'A Clear Midnight' is pianist Hulsmann's first recorded collaboration with singer Theo Bleekman, and as an interpretation of the music of Kurt Weill it will surely be considered among the most stimulating. The title is actually that of an original composition by Hulsmann, and there are two more of her pieces on the disc: 'A Noiseless Patient Spider' and 'Beat! Beat! Drums!' - all three featuring words by Walt Whitman. But Weill's music dominates the disc, with 'Mack The Knife' opening the recording and 'Great Big Sky' (with words by Langston Hughes) as a closer. Familiar Weill works represented here include 'Speak Low' and 'September Song', but there are rarities too.

With Hulsmann are bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Kobberling, and once again UK trumpeter Tom Arthurs proves to be the ideal contributor to a Hulsmann recording: confident, but subtle, and a valuable additonal voice on these tracks.  Bleekman is a tremendously accomplished singer, who has proved outstanding in such diverse repertoire as that of composer Meredith Monk (with whose ensemble he has recorded in the past for ECM), and pop singer Kate Bush. 'A Clear Midnight' is another considerable success for him, as well as for the pianist.

The Ben Cox Band : This Waiting Game (Absolute)

I hate to use cliched 'pigeonholes' for styles of music, but once upon a time there was a category known as 'jazz fringe', encompassing artists as disparate as Buddy Greco, Frank Sinatra and Julie London.  In current times, you could subsitute those names with Jamie Cullum, Jools Holland and Diana Krall. Happily though, such labels are history, for all that really matters is whether music, in the opinion of the listener, is good or bad.  Whether or not commercially successful styles are considered to be pure jazz is beside the point.  Styles which leans towards popular music, soul or other genres, can draw in whole new broadminded audiences, act as a bridge to more adventurous music, and help to keep the 'pure jazz' world spinning round.   

So I very much welcome this soulful and swinging new release from rising-star singer Ben Cox, who is just 21-years-old and is due to graduate from the Guildhall School Of Music. This is a thoroughly enjoyable debut album, produced by the acclaimed singer Ian Shaw, with guest vocalists including Claire Martin and Emily Dankworth. The arrangements are credited to Shaw and to Cox's co-writer and pianist Jamie Saffirudin, and as well as many enjoyable original tracks there's a lovely version of the ballad 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square', with Martin guesting on vocals. All in all, a delightful debut disc - with the promise of great things to come.

Anders Jormin/Lene Willemark/Karin Nakagawa : Trees Of Light (ECM)

I have to confess to a special interest in this new release: Swedish vocalist and fiddler Lena Willemark - a key figure in this trio - has long been my favourite folk singer. In fact, she is much more than a folk singer, for her improvising skills are considerable and - as with this album, under the leadership of bassist Jormin - she has performed and recorded extensively with jazz musicians. Her voice - earthy, intimate, passionate - is always captivating, and her skills with the violin and viola are well established.

But this an album in which three cultures meet: the jazz improvising of leader Jormin, Willenmark's folk background, and the ancient tradition of the Japanese koto, played here with tremendous spirit and immaculate technique by Karin Nakagawa. The result is a recording full of mystery, unexpected twists, and powerful musical focus. Opening with 'If You Listen', ushered in by a long koto introduction (the slowly plucked notes reminding me of the work of Japanese classical composer Toru Takemitsu, the disc moves through many moods and textures, from Willemark's solo song 'Minni' ('Memories), to intense trio improvising on 'Jag Star Kvar' ('I Have Loved'), which builds from simple bass and voice to a thrilling climax as the kyoto enters with fierce determination. There's a full translation of all the Swedish words in the booklet.  The recording quality is exceptionally fine, even by ECM's high standards. As a meeting of cultures this is a tremendous success, and I can recommend it highly.

Kyle Eastwood : Timepieces (Jazz Village)

Bassist Eastwood's quintet plays with compelling spirit on this enjoyable new recording, and there have been a few changes in the line-up since I last saw them live in concert: pianist Andrew McCormack and trumpeter Quentin Collins remain the group, while the new boys are saxophonist Brandon Allen and drummeer Ernesto Simpson. The emphasis is on hard bop, a style at which the bassist excels, and while  most of the pieces are originals, there are also admirable versions of Herbie Hancock's 'Dolphin Dance' (with Eastwood playing the lead high up the neck on bass guitar) and Horace Silver's 'Blowin The Blues Away'. 'Letters From Iwo Jima' is a delicate duet ballad, with McCormack's piano picking out the theme, to be joined by Eastwood on bass guitar. The concluding track, 'Bullet Train', has marvellous echoes of the hey-day of Blue Note - you could imagine this piece being played by Hanock, Freddie Hubbard or Wayne Shorter. There's some lovely soprano soloing by Allen in sparkling interchanges with Collins' trumpet on this track, as well as a strong solo by McCormack, firmly underpinned by bass and Simpson's drums. A fine album indeed, which Eastwood is promoting with a national tour in April and May including a four-night residency at Ronnie Scott's in London.

Marius Neset : Pinball (ACT, also available on 180g vinyl)

'Pinball' is Norwegian saxophone virtuoso Marius Neset's third album as a leader, following his 2011 debut 'Golden Explosion', followed by 'Birds' (both on Edition Records), and last year's vibrant big band album 'Lion', his debut for the ACT label.  Add to those albums his joint leadership with the remarkable tuba player Daniel Herskedal on 'Neck Of The Woods' (released on Edition in 2012), and it is clear that Marius has quickly created an exceptional library of superb recordings. 

Excellent though the earlier recordings were, 'Pinball ' is even better, a dynamic roller coaster of finely controlled energy, technical wizardry and - above all - great musical spirit. He's back to a smaller group here, and - though there are additional instruments on many tracks - the focus is strongly on his exuberant saxophone soloing. Pianist/organist Ivo Neame, drummer Anton Eger and bassist Petter Eldh once again form the cornerstone of the group, with Jim Hart joining on vibraphone and marimba. Additonally, cellist Andreas Brantelid is heard on four tracks, Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen on violin on two tracks, Marius's sister Ingrid on flute on three tracks, and August Wanngren on tamborine on one selection.

When I first heard Marius, the influences on his punchy, staccato playing on both tenor and soprano were immediately clear: saxophone legends Michael Brecker and Charlie Parker, plus minimalist composers such as John Adams and Steve Reich. The Reich influence immediately stands out on the first track on the new album, 'World Song Part 1', which opens with the group clapping multiple layers of rhythms - presumably inspired by  the American composer's 'Clapping Music' - before Neset's tenor makes a gentle entrance with fluttering long notes, and Hart's marimba brings African tonal colourings to the soundscape. 'World Song Part 2' opens with simple arpeggio figures from Neame's piano, and lovely long notes on cello from Brantelid, with Hart switching to vibes as Marius introduces the gently flowing main theme on tenor.

The title track follows, and here Neset is really into his stride, with those fast-tongued arpeggios punching out the spiky theme to tremendous effect, underpinned superbly by Eger's snappy drum work. 'Police' is similarly punchy, with a fast-flowing theme on tenor. Other highlights include the darkly tense 'Aberhonddu', and another snappy track 'Jaguar'.  Lovely playing by the whole group, but the 11th track 'Summer Dance' is simply sensational - gloriously wild and joyful, opening with Neset using swiftly-executed 'false fingerings' on the tenor to create true notes and overtone-laden 'shadow notes' - a rapidly spun tapestry of gorgeous sound. Masterly technique used to powerful emotional effect.

'Pinball' is an album which I can recommend without hesitation. Early days, but it's my album of the year so far.

Sinikka Langeland : The Half Finished Heaven (ECM)

The earlier ECM release by Norwegian-Finnish kantele player and singer Sinikka Langeland, 'Starflowers' and 'The Land That Is Not', are ones that I have returned to frequently, to enjoy the wonderful earthiness of her style and her skillful integration of folk and improvised music, and particularly the contributions by the strongly original Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen.

'The Half Finished Heaven' takes her into fresh territory, with a line-up of viola virtuoso Lars Anders Tomter, tenor saxophonist Trygve Seim, and percussionist Markku Ounaskari. Once again, it's an absolute gem. Langeland, who hails from Finnskogen (literally, Finns' forest) in south-eastern Norway, has set four texts by Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer to music, in a work which celebrates the natural world, and particularly the animals in it. Opening with a hypnotic instrumental, 'Hare Rune', the brilliant notes of the kantele (a dulcimer which can be hammered or plucked), Seim's gorgeously breathy long notes evoke a sense of magic and mystery. Langeland uses various kanteles thoughout the album, from a 39 string concert instrument to 10 and 15 string folk kanteles. On the second track, 'The Light Streams In', one of the smaller instruments seems to be in use, and her voice evokes Transtromer's poetry beautifully (full translations are in the booklet). The title track has some lovely viola playing, in unison with Seim's tenor, and the viola takes full romantic flight on 'The Tree And The Sky' (shades of Tolkien in the lyrics, about a tree walking round in the rain). Seim's tenor accelerates 'The Magical Bird' (a traditional polsdans from Finnskogen) into a brisk tempo - his tonal range is considerable, from feathery to richly metallic, and he is a thoughtful, inventive improviser. The final track, 'Animal Moment', is a rush of softened kantele tones, lasting only a few seconds . . . a brief glimpse of a creature in the undergrowth, perhaps. Overall, a gorgeous album, and another Sinikka Langeland recording to treasure. 

Jakob Bro : Gefion (ECM)

Danish guitarist Jakob Bro is best known for his work with Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and was also a member of Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band. Bro has also worked with a host of other outstanding players, including Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Mark Turner and Paul Bley. His previous ECM recordings as a sideman are Stanko's 'Dark Eyes' (2009) and Motian's 'Garden Of Eden' (2004), but this is his debut for the label as a leader.

For 'Gefion' (the Norse goddess of ploughing, prophecy and premonition), he is joined by US bassist Thomas Morgan and the great Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. There are no displays of flashy technique from Bro on this recording - his playing is restrained, thoughtful, spacious. But the underlying atmosphere is absorbing, and Morgan and Christensen are at one here with the guitarist's mellow concept, which is clearly influenced by Frisell. Bro's debut as a leader on ECM has been a long time coming, but the association promises to be a fruitful one.

VINYL REVIEW   Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble : Officium (ECM New Series, two LPs, 180g vinyl)

When I first heard 'Officium' on CD I was beguiled by the beauty of the performance, but not completely convinced by the musical concept. Jan Garbarek's improvising on tenor and soprano saxophone over the singing of the Hilliard Ensemble, with a repertoire drawing on compositions ranging from the 13th to the 16th centuries, was impressive, but did it really transform historic music that was already complete in itself? On hearing the CD, I felt not. However, 'Officium' captured the ears of countless thousands of listeners, and sold in vast numbers to an audience way beyond the boundaries of all musical categories.

When I later reviewed a live performance by Jan and the Hilliards at Symphony Hall in Birmingham I was much more engaged by the concept of 'Officium', and the subsequent work 'Mnemosyne'. But a greater revelation was to come: hearing the saxophonist and the singers last year at Lichfield Cathedral, performing 'Officium Novum' as part of the Lichfield Festival, was an enlightening and transformative experience. In the reverberant acoustic of the cathedral, the whole concept at last made complete sense, enveloping the listener in a spiritual sound world which was completely captivating. 

This new double LP release of the original 1993 recording, on 180g vinyl, mastered magnificently and pressed with near-silent surfaces, closely reflects those perfect acoustic conditions, which - to my ears - transformed the work. The music comes alive in the room, with every nuance of Garbarek's phrasing and the gorgeous voices of the Hilliards resonating in a way that was not fully conveyed by the original CD, despite ECM's CD productions being among the finest available. What wonderful music this is, opening with the rich harmony of the singers  in Christobal de Morales'  "Parce mihi domine" (a work which also closes 'Officium'), Garbarek's soprano making a gentle entrance that soon blazes strongly. There are too many highlights to list in the space available for this review, but among them are Garbarek's restrained tenor drone on "Primo tempore", the thrilling counter tenor voice of David James leading "Pulcherrima rosa", and the purity of the voices of James, tenor Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor John Potter and baritone Gordon Jones on "Virgo flagellatur" and "Oratio leremiae".

The absolute highlight, for me, is the piercing cry of Garbarek's soprano saxophone on "Regnantem sempiterna", his sound surely inspired by the Scandinavian cattle-call vocalising known as kaukning in Norway and kulning in Sweden (Swedish singer Lena Willemark has recorded some marvellous examples of this powerful style on ECM recordings with multi-instrumentalist Ale Moller).  The saxophonist is absolutely stunning on this track, soaring over the voices with immense passion. 

The accompanying 12-page LP-size booklet - with notes by producer Manfred Eicher and Hilliard member John Potter, and with the full Latin text of the works - is a valuable bonus. Anyone with good sound equipment should seriously consider this revelatory vinyl release.  The association of Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble has run its course, with their final concerts taking place towards the end of 2014, but on this recording the full sonic and musical richness of their mastery lives on for ever.

Spin Marvel : Infolding (RareNoiseRecords)

Drummer Martin France's Spin Marvel is perhaps the most compelling group blending electronics with conventional instruments, and their third album 'Infolding' - a debut on RareNoiseRecords - is surely their most successful. The line-up comprises France with the great Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer (himself a pioneer in the use of of electronics in adventurous jazz), bassist Tim Harries, Terje Evensen on live electronics and Emre Ramazanoglu, who remixed the original recording and also appears on drums on the final track, 'Minus Two'.

The music is absolutely confident and forthright, right from the opening track 'Canonical', with Molvaer's multi-tracked trumpet punching out a staccato phrase with a soft electronic edge, before the heartbeat of France's drums joins in and the electronic chorus slowly develops It's entrancing. 'Tuesday's Blues' has a bottleneck blues opening from Harries, with Molvaer's trumpet played straight and electronics-free at first, before developing a soft echo as the electonic colours begin to glow.  'Two Hill Town' opens with some fiercely fizzing sounds from Evensen, as Harries' bass and France's drums develop a strong rhythmic pulse, becoming more abstract and unpredictable rhythmically and being joined by long notes from Molvaer as the music streams forward. 'Leap Second' features sparse and atmospheric trumpet improvising, while the curiously titled 'Same Hand Swiss Double Pug' has some spectacular snare work from France. The closer 'Minus Two' has Molvaer's trumpet drifting over an intense percussive backdrop, the electronics enveloping the improvisations in clouds of echo-laden sound. This absorbing CD is also being made available as a double LP on vinyl, as well as a download.

Kenny Wheeler : Songs For Quintet (ECM)

The jazz world lost one of its finest-ever improvisers and composers with the death of trumpeter/flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler late last year. This album is his final recording, made at Abbey Road Studios in London in December 2013, and issued on what would have been Wheeler's 85th birthday.

Toronto-born Kenny, who moved to the UK in 1952, recorded a vast number of magnificent albums, from his early work with saxophonist/composer John Dankworth to his own ensembles, ranging from big bands to brass ensembles and small groups. As a composer he was extraordinarily prolific, and his distinctive style both as a writer and soloist made him one of the great jazz originals. 

The rich character of his distinctive compositional style is well in evidence on this final recording, which features Kenny on flugelhorn with some of his regular companions: tenor saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, guitarist John Parricelli, bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Martin France. There's a sense of tension, restraint and melancholy throughout the performance, and that is entirely understandable in the circumstances. It would be ridiculous to expect Kenny's own performance as a soloist on these tracks to approach his own highest standards - his intonation is inevitably uncertain - but