Grimal, Konitz, Peacock and Motian – Owls Talk ★★★★

Alexandra Grimal (ts, ss), Lee Konitz (as), Gary Peacock (b), and Paul Motian (d). Rec. December 2009

Alexandra Grimal is a fine, young French saxophonist based in New York. Owls Talk finds her in the company of three elder statesmen of the music and she doesn’t seem remotely overawed by the experience. Indeed, her light, airy tone on tenor and soprano is perfectly suited to the way Konitz, Peacock and Motian approach music making themselves. The feel is not far removed from the kind of records Motian has made under his own name with its sense of relaxed, easy abstraction.

As for Konitz, he seems in his element here. But what really impresses is how Grimal engages with each of these musicians. She and Konitz interact in a way that recalls the altoist’s work with tenorist Warne Marsh and the connection she makes with Motian is equally strong. And yet the obvious empathy between Grimal and Peacock is something else again. Their partnership cries out for a duo album along similar lines to Konitz’s I Concentrate On You with Red Mitchell. For the moment, however, Owls Talk will more than suffice.

– Duncan Heining

Courtney Pine – House of Legends ★★★★

Destin-E World Records 7772 1028867 | !!!! Courtney Pine (ss), Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Mark Crown, Claude Deppa (t), Trevor Edwards, Rico Rodriguez (tb), Michael Bammi Rose (), Mario Canonge, Mervyn Africa (p), Cameron Pierre, Dominic Grant, Lucky Ranku (g), Miles Danso (b), Rod Youngs (d), Robert Fordjour (dube), Annise Hadid (pan), Ellen Blair (v), Amanda Drummond, Natalie Taylor (vla), and Jenny Adejayan (clo). Rec. May-June 2012

Unquestionably one of the most joyous albums Pine has ever made, this is music to be listened to on several levels. On the surface, it’s just brilliantly effective dance music, and it is to be hoped that when the band tours in the spring, they’ll clear the chairs and leave space for everyone to take to the floor. But underneath the carefree surface is both a living and a thoughtful exploration of the Caribbean heritage, with nods to South Africa, and towards London. One track above all typifies the record, and that is ‘Liamuiga: Cook Up’. The title is both the Kalinago Carib Indian word for ‘fertile land’ and an indication of the heady mixture of sources (or musical sauces) that have gone into the piece. The title was given to the tune as the result of a competition organised for listeners to Winn FM 96.9 on St Kitts and Nevis.

The most effective element of the record is the accomplished rhythm playing that absorbs a series of different rhythms and pulses from the islands, but never loses touch with a jazz sensibility. This gives Courtney the ideal backdrop for his personal exploration of the possibilities of the soprano saxophone, wistful and melodic on the Zouk Love pieces and aggressively involved on ‘The Tale of Stephen Lawrence’. Additionally, a real delight for fans of ska or soca is the way that guests such as Rico Rodriguez or Bammi Rose have been drawn into the album’s heady mix. Rico’s laidback behind-the-beat phrasing adds swagger and style to ‘Kingstonian Swing’ while Rose’s gently passionate flute brings sophistication and intricacy to ‘Song of the Maroons’. Plenty of review records command fine words and then get consigned to the shelves never to be played again. I can guarantee this one will be providing the backdrop to energetic extrovert dancing for years to come.

 – Alyn Shipton

Van Morrison – Born to Sing: No Plan B ★★★★

Blue Note

Van Morrison (v, p, el g, as), Paul Moran (Hammond Org, kys p, t), Alistair White (tb), Christopher White (ts, ct), Dave Keary (g), Paul Moore (b) and Jeff Lardner (d). Rec. date not stated

Van Morrison has jazz in his blood, only a fool would think otherwise, and Born to Sing is the latest proof although none is needed. His second for Blue Note, the first What’s Wrong With This Picture? was notable for the poignant ‘Little Village’, a song his fans immediately took to their hearts. Chances are the title track ‘Born to Sing’ will be joining the pantheon of his best songs of the last 25 years, up there with the wondrous ‘Fast Train’, ‘Only a Dream’, and ‘Celtic New Year’. On this, his first studio album since Keep it Simple, this time recorded unusually in his home town of Belfast, Morrison has come up with the goods once again after the commercial and critical success of Keep It Simple and the huge interest shown when he followed it by releasing a live album based on his great 1960s masterpiece, Astral Weeks.

Why he delivers here is mainly because of the anthemic title track, with its showband feel and rousing lyrics, although other tunes such as the bluesy ‘Pagan Heart’ are among a string of strong songs. ‘Close Enough For Jazz’, which adds words to an older instrumental version of the song, is a grower, with some deep-down low singing from Morrison, who turned 67 at the end of August, and a melody that recalls some of his playful work with Georgie Fame on albums such as How Long Has This Been Going On? ‘Educating Archie’ is the joker in the pack, recalling in its title, but not in its lyrics, an old radio show, later on TV, featuring a self willed ventriloquist’s dummy eventually ruling the roost. The album, which also tackles issues facing society including the relentless pursuit of money whatever the cost on the song ‘If In Money We Trust’, has a stripped down small band backing with fine trombone, good horn unisons and a stand-out electric guitar intro cutting the air like a razor on ‘Pagan Heart’.

 – Stephen Graham


Ian Shaw – A Ghost In Every Bar ★★★★

Ian Shaw (v, p), Simon Wallace (p) and Sue Richardson (flan). Rec. 2-3 April 2012

Fran Landesman (1927-2011) will forever be associated with the two songs, now standards, she penned with Tommy Wolf in the 1950s: ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad Of The Sad Young Men’. In fact, Landesman’s most fruitful creative partnership came in the latter part of her life when she joined forces with pianist and composer Simon Wallace in 1994. And it’s their songs, of which they penned over 400 in a 17-year period, that make up the meat of this 15-track anthology.

Recorded by some of the jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter, Landesman confessed towards the end of her life how tired she was of hearing ‘Spring’ until she heard Ian Shaw sing it. High praise indeed. Given that imprimatur, and with her co-writer Wallace in the piano chair (for the most part), it would be no exaggeration to say that the interpretations of A Ghost In Every Bar are definitive. Shaw is brilliantly insightful in every song, whether it’s the salutary caught-with-your-pants-down tale of ‘Feet Do Your Stuff’, the slacker anthem ‘Small Day Tomorrow’, or the confessional ‘Scars’ (the song Landesman was most proud of). The quartet of previously unrecorded songs is an unexpected treat, from the slow, slightly disquieting tread of ‘Stranger’ (‘I was never someone normal, I was always a surprise’) to the bittersweet ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, one of three tracks in which Shaw assumes piano duties. Oh, and his take on ‘Spring’, beautifully accompanied by Wallace, really is quite brilliant.

– Peter Quinn

Django Bates’ Belovèd – Confirmation ★★★★

Django Bates (p,celeste, v), Petter Eldh (b), (v), Peter Bruun (d, v) and special guest Ashley Slater (v). Rec. not stated

Try not to think of Confirmation as a sequel to this band’s extraordinary debut Belovèd Bird. Where that recording quested deep into the heart of Charlie Parker’s music, Confirmation reveals much more of Bates’ sensibility as pianist and composer. There’s only a smattering of Bird songs, and each is done reasonably straight: ‘Donna Lee’ is a song of joy and most intriguingly ‘Now’s The Time’, frenetic on Belovèd Bird, is revisited with a gentleness and good humour that surprises. But then Bates is all about surprise, not least with the closing Bacharach song, ‘A House Is Not A Home’, replete with Ashley Slater’s gorgeous vocals.

Bates’ own songs are drawn from different eras – ‘Senza Bitterness’, an intimate ballad, harks back to pre-Human Chain days while ‘Peonies As Promised’ is a song of thanks for Bates’ new post as professor of jazz in Bern. With most of this material deeply road tested before recording, and a spacious studio sound, Confirmation may surprise those who find Bates too tricksy and knotted. This is deeply considered music, played with relish for the telling detail and an emotional range that confirms, if confirmation were needed, Bates’ stature as a pianist and composer.

– Andy Robson

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