Tuesday, 18 December 2012

JAZZ VIEWS is now back online as website.

Visit us at www.jazzviews.net  



Friday, 7 December 2012



Self Released
Robin Robertson (g); Colin Train (kybds, voc); Colin Cunningham (b); Jim Drummond, Al Pugh (d)
Recorded: n.d
The Jazz Tigers are broadly speaking a jazz fusion outfit, who to these ears, tilt slightly more to the rock side than the jazz. As one would expect from such an aggregation the arrangements and rhythm section are tight, yet retain a lightness of delivery that prevents the music getting bogged down, and give proceedings a relaxed and enjoyable lilt.
All the tracks, with the exception of Sam Cooke’s ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, are originals penned by the band’s nominal leader, Robin Robertson. A quick resume for the guitarist show that he appears to be equally at home in rock, jazz, blues and indeed classical music, and this quiet confidence and sure-footedness is apparent in this current offering.
All the material is muscular yet lean without being overpowering, with Robertson’s themes getting the point across succinctly. ‘Bros’ has particularly taut groove that gives way to a straight 4/4 swing section that gives ample opportunity for Roberson to display his jazz chops to good advantage.
The aforementioned ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ has a vocal from Colin Train that adds variety and breaks up the set nicely, whilst the ballad is neatly handled by Robertson’s solo guitar feature ‘My View’, which is far too short at a mere 2 minutes 28 seconds, and has an endearing quality that would be nice to hear as full arrangement for the whole band.     
An enjoyable set, that presents a band with some interesting things to say in their chosen genre, and  who play for the music without sacrificing content and quality over displays of instrumental virtuosity.
For more information, and to buy the album check out www.robin-robertson.co.uk.

Monday, 3 December 2012


MALCOM MACFARLANE - Winter's Journey

Muzone Records 1001
Malcolm MacFarlane – all instruments, programming & samples; with special guest John Burgess (clarinet)
Recorded Winter 2011-12
Previous encounters with guitarist MacFarlane have come from hearing his work with the Scottish Guitar Quartet, but this first release on his own Muzone Records imprint is an altogether different animal.
This all new project finds MacFarlane in the sometimes solitary world of the solo recording, electing to play or sample (nearly) all of the instruments himself, creating an electronic soundscape of some ingenuity.
Eschewing all displays of instrumental virtuosity, the guitarist has created a musical journey that unfolds slowly and patiently over the albums duration. Attention to the most miniscule detail is the thing here, as the music takes the listener along in its wake, as new ideas are subtly introduced.  
The technical skill and patience, and according to MacFarlane, the sheer endurance and time required in such a project is immediately apparent, but at the end of the day it is the music itself that must speak most clearly and ensures the success of the venture as a whole.
It is with this in mind that MacFarlane has succeeded in creating a wholly satisfying set that, despite some fairly long tracks, in excess of the 12 minute mark, is curiously absorbing. Each musical idea is examined in the cold ‘winter’s’ light and allowed to develop to a logical conclusion without over  overstaying its welcome, gently moving on and incorporating new themes and ideas. At times seemingly static passages move into a rhythmic groove that tugs at the ear before calm and serenity once again prevail.   
This is a beautiful and absorbing disc that, by the guitarists own admission, is not jazz but will appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners.
Check it out at www.malcolmacfarlane.com.
You can purchase the album form iTunes and Amazon.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


Christine Tobin's Romance & Revolution

Babel BDV2455

Christine Tobin (v, p); Phil Robson (g); Dave Whitford (b); Thebe Lipere (perc); Steve Arguelles (d)
Recorded - no dates given

Tobin's development as an artist as has been quite remarkable in its speed and in consistency. Consistency both in terms of the rate of development, and in the quality and production of her albums. There is no striving for something new for the sake of it, and the six recordings made under her own name all run sequentially to show a logical development from the previous with no sudden departures that makes you wonder where or why the change, and where she is trying to lead the listener.

This latest release very much confirms this, although according to Tobin there were no immediate plans for an album at this stage; no grand plan or concept behind the project, just that the band had been gigging and were well played in and there was some studio time available so let's go in and play...And the freshness of the approach pays off handsomely. With much of the material having been tried and tested, the musician's take a relaxed and familiar route through the singer's repertoire and the delivery and arrangements are in Tobin's usual unfussy style. Succinct and direct, this album really communicates in the unique way that Christine has made her own, and the choice of material, again mixing originals with some contemporary songs works well.

The band drive along Bob Dylan's 'Shelter From The Storm' in a most satisfactory way, with Tobin able to ride convincingly a top the propulsive groove laid down by bass and percussion. Throughout the relationship between Arguelles and percussionist Lipere is secure, each contributing and yet complimenting each other to perfection and manage not  just to stay out of each other way but also to allow each other plenty of space. John Martyn's 'Go Down Easy' does just that, bringing the tempo and mood down several notches, but retaining a relaxed and lazy feel. Robson's guitar solo is a model of gentle lyricism and his playing on any cut confirms his stature as a major player.

Surprising choice of material abounds with Tobin's rendition of Bessie Smith's 'Young Woman's Blues'. A neat update that brings the composition right into the present day, and proves the point that you just can’tkeep a good tune down. Christine's acknowledgement of the standard repertoire, so devastatingly stated in her Deep Song set of a couple of years ago, is again on display in a beautiful rendition of Hammerstein/Kern's 'Can't Help Lovin' That Man'.

Christine's own compositions also feature strongly and show her continuing progress as a composer of real stature, with the superb 'Brandy and Scars' and He's Not Anyone'; along with the Tobin's slight shift of emphasis in putting music to the poems of Paul Muldoon ('Horses') and Eva Sulzman in a poignantly delivered 'Muse Of Blues'. This challenge of setting somebody else's text and thoughts to music is one that the singer has not undertaken lightly and gives these poems an additional dimension with her sympathetic compositions and arrangements.

The album closes in a wholly satisfying manner with a simply stated 'Fragile Dance' in which we hear Tobin accompany herself on piano. Whether this will be something that she introduces in live performances or is a one off for the album, it does however give an insight into the creative process and perhaps a hint of how the origins of the arrangements for the other tracks have been developed from the piano stool.

As with Christine's other albums, recommended without reservation.

Friday, 2 November 2012


John Surman - Saltash Bells

ECM 2266/279 8108
John Surman (ss, ts, bs, alt-cl, bcl, contra-bcl, hca, synth)
Recorded June 2009
Any new release from saxophonist John Surman is something of an event to look forward to, but with the release of Saltash Bells, his first ‘solo’ album in 18 years we have something to cherish.
Surman’s all solo, multi tracked performances have developed over the years, from Upon Refleection in 1979 to the last solo disc from 1994, A Biography of the Rev. Absolam Dawe, in which Surman has continued to refine this difficult balancing act between composition, improvisation and technology, and with Saltash Bells he has taken the format to another level and transformed into it into a wholly satisfying ‘suite’.
As is his wont, the saxophonist has once again taken us back to his West Country roots, basing the compositions on his recollections and childhood memories from hearing the bells of Saltash church when out sailing with his father.
This very personal vision has resulted music of exquisite beauty, from the opening ‘Whistleman’s Wood’ and the dancing soprano heard on ‘On Staddon Heights’.  Indeed, it can be said that the longer compositions serve as the main events in the ‘suite’ with shorter pieces such as the solo bass clarinet ‘Glass Flower’ and the skittering over dubbed soprano saxophone heard on ‘Dark Reflections’ acting as perfect interludes.     
Surman has continued to embrace electronics, this time handing over some of the programming of the synthesizers to his son, Ben, but the electronic soundscapes always remain subservient to the real time (and human) aspect of the music that is John’s saxophone and clarinet playing.  
Saltash Bells is quite simply a beautiful album in which strong melodies and the joy of making music prevail.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012



“The potential for the saxophone is unlimited.”
The above quote from saxophonist Steve Lacy has proven itself time and time again throughout the history of jazz, with its practitioners constantly pushing themselves and their instruments. From Lester Young ‘s use of alternate fingerings to subtly vary the pitch of a note, to circular breathing, multiphonics and complex cross fingering techniques employed by many of today’s contemporary players. And perhaps this dictum plays an even larger part in the development of the soprano saxophone.      
The soprano saxophone has held a peculiar fascination for many, but few have chosen to focus their energies primarily through the straight horn. A quick head count of those that have will start with Sidney Bechet and then jumping ahead a few decades to Steve Lacy, with other significant voices including Wayne Shorter, Jane Ira Bloom, Jane Bunnett, Dave Liebman and Brits Lol Coxhill and Evan Parker. And added to this list, with a major new statement under his belt, is Sam Newsome.
After garnering a formidable reputation in the early nineties as a tenor saxophonist, Newsome became dissatisfied with his playing. Finding it increasingly difficult to find his own place in the music, and searching for his own concept and that ever illusive personal sound on the instrument, he eschewed the tenor and instead took the decision to make the soprano not just his principle instrument, but his only instrument.
With the release of his new solo soprano album, The Art of the Soprano, Vol.1, his third such  project, not only has he shown himself to have a highly developed personal vision, but has also pushed the envelope with respect to utilizing extended techniques to such completely satisfying musical ends.
Interviewing Sam Newsome shortly after the release of The Art of the Soprano, Vol.1, I began by asking if after deciding to switch to soprano was there any change in how he approached his music, or if the stylistic nature of his playing was affected?  “It was the way that I was able to approach the music that led me to become exclusively a soprano player.  When I played the soprano I felt like I was able to tell a story with only my sound. So my playing, as a result, became more lyrical, organic, and more emotional. It was less about licks, and more about making music in the purest sense”   explained Sam.  “Also, as a soprano specialist, and putting the whole intonation thing aside for a moment, the biggest challenge I had was learning how to play the instrument at different dynamic levels and levels of intensity. When Coltrane came along, he popularized the soprano as the energy saxophone - which was good in that he inspired more saxophonists to want to play it. However, it hurt the instrument in that people didn’t always associate it with warmth and beauty, only something that was played loudly and intensely. When Wayne Shorter came along, he was instrumental in showing the instrument’s more subtle and vulnerable side.”
As far as direct influences on his playing are concerned, Newsome acknowledges a debt to players such as Sonny Rollins, Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker, and inevitably Steve Lacy. “Yes, Lacy was a big influence. But not in the conventional way of having been influential on my sound and musical vocabulary, but influential in teaching me that as a soprano player you have to create your own world. It’s not a follow the pack kind of instrument. The soprano is an ugly duckling belonging to a very small family of beautiful swans.”
As with each of his solo albums, Newsome has thought long and hard about the concept of his music and the preparation of the chosen material. So I asked how he went about deciding upon the overall theme of the album and choosing the individual pieces. “The concept of the CD was to feature three suites” said Sam,” which is usually how I play my live solo shows. Focusing on the work of a specific composer inspires ideas that are specific to his or her style of writing. An Ellington piece is going to inspire you to hear things that you wouldn’t on a Coltrane piece, or at least the Coltrane pieces I recorded. However, after I recorded the three suites, I decided to shuffle the pieces around instead of playing the movements of the suites in succession, in this way the uniqueness of each suite is heard throughout the entire CD, instead of only appearing in one small section of the recording.”
 It is a huge undertaking to tackle any of Coltrane’s compositions, especially from A Love Supreme. Why did you decide to play these particular pieces, and how did you arrive at the finished versions presented on The Art of the Soprano?  “ I first heard soprano saxophonist Joe Giardullo play it on his CD, Weather. He played ‘Acknowledgement’, the first movement of the suite” replied Newsome. “Hearing how he played it slow and reflective, gave me many ideas on how the entire suite could be adapted to the solo saxophone format. I basically tackled each piece one by one, trying to find something new and interesting I could bring to each movement. I didn’t want it to sound like the original without a rhythm section. If that were the goal, why bother.”
With this in mind, and conscious of the fact that the standard repertoire has been represented in many different formats, I asked how he would ‘shape a composition for a performance or recording? “When creating pieces to be performed solo, I tend to think more like a visual artist than a composer”, he replied. “Instead of using brushes and paint I use sound and texture. So when working on a new solo piece, whether it’s a solo saxophone arrangement of a standard or an original composition, I tend to think of the melody as a canvas and I use various sounds and extended techniques I’ve developed to paint a sonic picture. And I’m finding that the more developed my concept becomes, the more I’m able to apply my ideas to almost any tune, whether it’s as harmonically sparse as Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’ or as harmonically dense as John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’.
The Art of the Soprano is your third solo soprano saxophone recording, having previously presented a programme of music by Thelonious Monk on the 2007 album Monk Abstractions and the more recent   Blue Soliloquy. How would you say the three solo discs differ?  “I feel that my three CDs differ from the simple fact that I increasingly become more comfortable playing in the solo saxophone format with each one. Whether or not the listener hears it that way, I’m not sure. For example when I recorded Monk Abstractions, there were probably two songs that were usable from the first day of recording. When I first heard the tracks played back in the studio, it became pretty obvious whether or not what I just recorded could withstand the test of repeated listening. And I actually canned a lot of those takes. When I recorded Blue Soliloquy, however, there were more usable things from the first day. Subsequently by the time I got to The Art of the Soprano, Vol.1, it was less of a guessing game. I felt like I knew what I was doing. If something didn’t work, it was because I didn’t play it very well, not that the concept didn’t work. So I would like to think that the main way in which my solo CDs differ is that my concept becomes clearer and more defined with each one.”
Apart from your solo performances, what other contexts do you find yourself playing in? I know you co-lead a two soprano frontline quartet with Dave Liebman, how did this particular partnership come about? “Yes, I do play in contexts other than solo saxophone. To me, the solo format is where I refuel, where I go deeper in search of my own unique artistic voice. And after honing the things that I discover in that deep and sometimes lonely place, I’m able to apply them in almost any context, whether it’s solo, duo, trio, or quartet.  The solo format happens to be the place where I feel I’m able to make the biggest impact, musically. Not to mention it’s the least historically codified of the aforementioned, so I feel freer to push the envelope.”
Continuing, Newsome said “My relationship with Dave Liebman began almost 5 years ago after I had contacted him about doing a double-bill solo-saxophone concert, which I ended up cancelling because I felt I wasn’t ready. I had just started my full-time teaching position at Long Island University, and I didn't have much time to practice nor think about my own music. So I was feeling very insecure during that period. 
“However, a couple years later, we ended up sharing the bill for a concert at the music series curated by Roberto Romeo in the restaurant downstairs from his shop on W. 46th Street in Manhattan. I was playing with my trio and Dave was there with his quartet. After I finished my set, Liebman stood up and applauded, which was a great surprise. At best, I had hoped that he didn’t hate it. Then he came up to me and said that Steve Lacy was probably looking down on me right at that moment, smiling. Which meant the world coming from Dave Liebman. I knew of his reputation of breaking musicians down, letting them know what they needed to work on. So as you can imagine, I was happy he didn’t ream into me after my set. After that night, we decided to seriously think about trying to do something together; whether it was just two sopranos, or with an entire band. And after several months or so of tossing around ideas, he decided to book a gig at Cornelia Street CafĂ© just to get the ball rolling.  It was a quartet with two sopranos, bass and drums. And we’ve been playing together ever since.”
A mouth watering prospect indeed, and for those of us not fortunate to be in New York, is there plans to record the quartet I enquired?  I’m not sure if the quartet is something that will get recorded. Dave and I are both taking it one gig at a time. Right now, it’s just something that’s fun to do.”
Looking at another context, you also have a duo with pianist, Ethan Iverson, how did that come about? Was it just a one of a gig or is it going to be a long term partnership? “Ethan and I first started hanging out in 2010. He contacted me after he heard my CD, Blue Soliloquy. I was very happy that someone of his stature had even known about it, never mind actually digging it enough to tell other people. So I was very grateful for that. So we got together to play soon after, and we’ve been playing or at least talking about playing ever since. And our duo is a little different from the quartet I have with Liebman. We’re definitely thinking long term, which is rare. People don’t usually say, ‘Let’s form a duo.’ It’s usually something along the lines of, ‘Would you like to play a duo gig?’ We’re actually looking to record in early February or March. So you’ll hear more about our project sooner rather than later.”
And finally Sam, what long-term goals do you have for the future? “My goal will be just as it has always been. I’ll continue my ongoing research of exploring both the under explored and unexplored sonic terrains of the soprano. And this will be done, not only through solo playing, but various collaborations - duos, trios, all soprano groups, you name it. My solo CDs are merely the seeds I’m using to grow what I hope will prosper into a field of soprano saxophone-centered music. I have always said that my mission is that the soprano will someday be on top, not just in terms of range, but reverence. I named my latest CD The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 just to send the message that I’m just starting to hit my stride.”
You can buy The Art of the Soprano: Vol. 1 by Sam Newsome from www.cdbaby.com
For more information visit www.samnewsome.com or read Sam’s blog at www.sopranosaxtalk.blogspot.com


Friday, 5 October 2012


SAM NEWSOME - The Art of the Soprano, Vol.1 

Self Release

Sam Newsome (ss)
Recorded June 2011
Since Anthony Braxton’s groundbreaking For Alto there has been no shortage of solo saxophone recordings, and with many of its most ardent practitioners conceding that it is a challenging format that can be somewhat daunting for the listener as well. This, however, appears not to be the case for soprano saxophonist, Sam Newsome, as this is his third consecutive solo recording.
With many horn players regarding the solo performance as a musical situation to be savoured on a casual basis, but requiring the interaction of other musicians to feel their most creative, Newsome differs in that he finds that solo playing allows him to ‘refuel’ and refine his concept which he can then contribute to group collaborations.
With this latest self released offering the saxophonist continues to refine his concept, exploring the sonic, textural and rhythmic possibilities of the soprano to an astonishing level. With his use of extended techniques such as slap tonguing, multiphonics and circular breathing it would be forgivable to think that such a work would produce an album of enviable technique that outstrips creativity. This could not be further from the truth.
The music on this disc contains familiar pieces from the Ellington repertoire, an examination of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and a four part original composition Soprano De Africana. Newsome has cleverly programmed the disc so that none of the ‘suites’ play in their entirety, but allows the variety and scope of the music to reveal itself as the album progresses.
The Ellington ‘medley’ is handled with great subtlety and reverence, with Newsome’s slap tonguing and multiphonics filling out the rhythmic and harmonic movement as intended by the composer, with the saxophonist never straying far from the melody. This maybe high quality and advanced playing but this is never allowed to get in the way of the original source material.
This is also true of Coltrane’s masterpiece. A foolhardy undertaking to tackle such material, but Newsome has done his homework and reminds us of just how many other respected figures have done just that, and put numerous ‘covers’ of these compositions out there.
Newsome gives Coltrane’s pieces an ethereal sheen by playing his horn over the strings of the piano, whilst holding down the damper pedal. This gives an array of harmonics and overtones as the sound of the soprano vibrates the strings, adding a palpable depth to these classic themes.
The saxophonist’s own composition Soprano De Africana brings an ethnic feel to the fore with a variety of African folk instruments, such as the mbira and thumb piano along with numerous flutes, providing the inspiration for the album's most joyously rhythmic pieces.
This remarkable disc closes fittingly with a beautifully tender and lyrical reading of ‘Psalm’ the concluding segment of Coltrane’s prayer that will linger in the memory long after the last notes of the soprano have faded.
The album is dedicated to fellow soprano saxophonist, Lol Coxhill, who passed away in July.
The Art of the Soprano: Vol.1 is available from www.cdbaby.com