Taku

Phantasm of fragmentary restraint, Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto, jostles with new modes of melodic languor on his forthcoming album, h, as well as guesting in collaboration on Bruno Duplant's forthcoming collection, Chamber and Field Works 2015-2017, both dropping imminently via the Another Timbre imprint.

Catch Sugimoto performing live with vocalist Minami Saeki and others including Ryoko Akama (sinewaves) and Ecka Mordecai (cello) on a brace of rare UK dates: Cafe OTO, London (28 March) and Over The Top, Sheffield (29 March).

– Spencer Grady

For more details visit www.anothertimbre.com

What do Swaledale in North Yorkshire and Western Ghana have in common? It's not a rejected pub quiz question – both are in fact sources of inspiration and spiritual affirmation for Vula Viel's core songwriter, Bex Burch (above). Admittedly, the sounds that this trio produce are much more Africa than Swaledale, centred as they are on the entrancing tones and rhythms of the Gyil, a Ghanaian variety of xylophone.

Burch, originally from Yorkshire, spent three years living in Ghana – a period from which she emerged as a skilled player of the Gyil, complete with a real enthusiasm for the instrument. We see this in the small bounds she performs while playing, an extra outlet for the vibrant energy that builds up during the set. For this event, in the plush Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall, Vula Viel were joined by singer Gwyneth Herbert for a preview of their upcoming album, Do Not Be Afraid.

MSJ 7970

Vula Viel have a masterful grasp of dynamics, easing from the hypnotic, harmonic bass solos of Ruth Goller into the polyrhythmic ordered chaos that defines their sound when they're in full flow. The Gyil occupies that sweet shade between tonal and percussive instrument, allowing maximum scope for kaleidoscopic interaction with both bass and drums. Jim Hart provides a poised and inventive performance on percussion, producing additional African traditional instruments that add yet more texture to these compositions.

Many of their songs are rooted in spiritual sentiment – exhortations to not be afraid of what we believe, hope and love. Elsewhere, they can be heard straying into more jagged, almost punky territory. Other compositions draw from traditional Ghanaian funeral songs and ballads, though this is the most rousing and rhythmic funeral music you're ever likely to hear. As Burch drily notes midway through the second half of the set: "you may want to close your eyes for this one, though it is mainly loud drums."

– James Rybacki - @james_rybacki
– Photos by Monika S. Jakubowska

Having blown up a storm at the inaugural 2015 Jazz For Labour event at the Barbican, leading British saxophonist Courtney Pine heads to The Leatherhead Theatre, Surrey for a second JFL fundraising night on 3 March.

Presented by Unite, the event will see Pine playing music from across his 30-year career, including his recent albums Black Notes from the Deep and House of Legends, among others. This event follows other recent Jazz For Labour nights in Brighton, which saw high-profile jazz musicians such as Claire Martin and Liane Carroll playing benefit concerts during the Labour conference.

Mike Flynn

For more info and ticket information www.theleatherheadtheatre.com/jazzforlabourur

 Graviton IMG 0641

The acoustic at Soho's iconic venue changes quite considerably according to one's position in the room. For the opening set I'm at a table within touching distance of the stage, while for the second space frees up at the bar. Back there things are more graduated, but right down front the sound explodes into earshot, underlining in no uncertain terms that Graviton is the first electric band led by pianist-composer Andrew McCormack. In the course of an eventful career he has developed an impressive modernist voice as a member of bands led by Denys Baptiste, as well as a trio leader and part of a brilliant duo with Jason Yarde. But this ensemble, which made its eponymous debut CD last year, is arguably the 'heaviest' of his career to date. In drummer Anton Eger and bass guitarist Robin Mullarkey McCormack has an outstanding anchor for his songs, with the former's propulsive patterns on the kick locking in sharply with the latter's hard-funk phrasing, which often gains added subsonic ballast by the use of a purring Moog filter. On vaulting numbers such as 'Breathe' the music freights a punchy Headhunters-like agitation-syncopation, with Mullarkey fitting the dynamic Paul Jackson role to a tee. Vocalist Noemi Nuti and tenor saxophonist Leo Richardson complete the frontline and are an assured presence, performing theme and counterpoint to enrich the overall fabric of the music. As for McCormack, he leads with aplomb and his rolling rhythmic lines, the arpeggios tinged by his grounding in classical music without being constrained by it, make for a solid harmonic pivot around which his colleagues liberally crisscross.

Graviton IMG 0447

Other highlights of the first set include the strikingly fraught 'The Waiting Game' and the bracing samba-led 'Fellowship'. One of the key marks of distinction of the band – the doubling of Nuti's vocal and Richardson's tenor – is perhaps overused at times and there are moments when the latter could play off, rather than with, the former in too uniform a way. The grace of those unison lines, an echo of Flora Purim and Joe Farrell in the first incarnation of Return to Forever, is appreciated all the more when they are not heard as often. With that in mind, the start of the second set is a fantastic curveball – a reprise of Björk's 'Army Of Me', which has a superbly eerie amount of space, a thunderous backbeat and stark, sinister chords that take the engagement with machine-based music heard in the first set to another level. In fact, McCormack's embrace of technology is impressive for its subtlety. The laptop and micro-synthesiser perched on the top of the piano are a far cry from the image of banks of keyboards hemming in a fusion head, but the moment in which he creates digital hiss and hum to blend with Nuti's own wordless distortions is powerful. Things go back uptempo on 'Escape Velocity', which is marked by all the expected polyrhythmic nouse, yet it is McCormack's solo piano piece, 'Dream Catcher', that makes the strongest case for the leader's talent. Remove the not insubstantial resources at his disposal and he still delivers something with a melodic and orchestral complexity that is not left wanting. It bodes well for his forthcoming solo album.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Carl Hyde

 Jaimie-Branch

Texan Templars of outlier audio releases, Astral Spirits, have combined forces with fellow Austinite and double-bass phenomenon Ingebrigt Håker Flaten to help him curate and orchestrate his Sonic Transmissions Festival, which this year runs as a series of monthly performances.

The five shows, which take place at Austin's Beerland, Sahara Lounge and Barracuda venues, are scheduled for 1 March, 19 April, 14 June, 16 August and 14 September and will feature touring acts alongside local musicians, with names already confirmed including Rob Mazurek, Jaimie Branch (pictured), Matthew Lux's Communication Arts Quartet, Moor Mother, Jeff Parker, Daniel Carter and Dave Rempis.

– Spencer Grady

For more details and ticket information visit www.sonictransmissions.com

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