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Rejected Scripts

3 May 2016
M.A Bakker
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www.mabakker.com

How do you pay the ultimate homage to a musician you love? Do you start a tribute band that imitates the artist’s original work, or do you create an inspired semi facsimile that is distinctive in its own right? M.A Bakker and his large band appear to have taken the latter approach with Rejected Scripts.
I have been a Steely Dan devotee for give or take 40 years so I can say that this is not a pastiche to the venerable duo behind that band, instead it pays homage to Donald Fagen. For those who fondly remember Nightfly this album will feel like an exceedingly comfortable pair of slippers. The milieu and even some of the scenes described are all familiar, the slightly sneering observations, the details that paint an era and its icons, it is Fagen down to the Chesterfield cigarettes. Nothing is identical yet everything is eerily familiar.
The tunes are funky in a charming mid nineties kind of a way. M.A Bakker is accompanied by a bunch of musicians who contribute to the merry Danospherics, the sound is tight and bright (very) it’s not a small band and includes:

Maarten Bakker - all music & lyrics, arrangements, bass guitar, guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (track 2 & 8), mixing & editing, recording engineer, artwork, catering
Warren Byrd - lead vocals
Peter Weissink - drums
Natasja den Toom - backing vocals (track 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 10)
Simon Feenstra - backing vocals (track 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Anna Zeijlemaker - flute (track 5 & 9), piccolo (track 5)
Hans van Wingerden - trumpet (track 1, 6, 7, 8)
David Wilschut - tenor saxophone (track 1, 6, 7, 8)
Jos van den Heuvel - trombone (track 1, 6, 7, 8)

The recording is exact rather than sumptuous. It’s an enjoyable and very sophisticated tribute made by a talented bunch of musicians.
Rejected Scripst can be downloaded directly from the Bakker’s own very stylish site.
Favourite Track-Ming Zhao Paradise

Reuben Klein

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Black Light

3 Nov 2015
Sonar
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Cuneiform

This album has many intriguing qualities; it is the most listenable avant garde music I’ve heard all year. Sonar have an expressive sound that is rhythmic and almost funky in places, but all in a prog-Sufi kind of a way. It is so precise it makes Steely Dan sound positively clumsy. Fans of King Crimson will find much to love about it and some have suggested it is album that they never made. It is rock jazz as opposed to the other way round, the sort of sound that fans of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree will cherish. It is also the best prog rock I have ever heard (not that I’m a big fan of the genre ) and it’s a wall of sound that makes you feel as if you are watching a giant wave rolling endlessly towards the shore.

The band of sound alchemists called Sonar are largely from Switzerland, they are Stefan Thelen (electric guitar), Bernhard Wagner (electric guitar), Christian Kuntner (electric bass) and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. These guys are a breed apart, founder Stefan Thelen has a PhD in mathematics and studied with Robert Fripp, the other guitar player Bernard Wagner is a software engineer involved in Nik Bärtsch’s various ensembles.

The six pieces this album contains form a long'ish album of almost 50 minutes. It doesn't have a theme but does have a very distinctive and addictive sound. It has enough energy stored in it to power a small Midwestern town for the foreseeable and isn't easy to categorise, but it’s hard to turn off. For the audiophile it will sound a bit artificial but all in all it’s not a bad recording given the nature of the instrumentation. It’s hard to pick an ultimate single track that is better than the rest, for me it's a toss up between ‘Enneagram’ and ‘Angular Momentum’, but every track is a small masterpiece. As you can probably tell I was quite taken by its hypnotic presentation.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
CD, double vinyl

Trialogue

31 Oct 2014
Wesseltoft Schwarz Berglund
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Jazzland

If you crave musical experiences that intrigue the ears and create emotional memories the name Bugge Wesseltoft should be very high on your list of must hear artists. Although his name may resemble a medical condition he is quite the opposite of being harmful to your health. This album is the latest of Wesseltoft’s masterful creations, he has about 15 albums to his credit and more that he has been a collaborator on, long may his creativity continue. Sadly, like most artists of his ilk he is bound to remain unknown to most of those who might enjoy his work. Which is not only a shame but verging on the criminal as Wesseltoft is one of the most inspiring instrumentalists (piano, synthesizers, percussion) currently producing music in Europe. A Norwegian, he belongs to a breed that are generally considered to be jazz musicians, but his prowess stretches (much like many of his scandiwegian peers) far beyond the confines of jazz. Wesseltoft is a musical power station who is not confined to any genre, he seamlessly mixes styles and rhythms in a fashion that at times can only be described as magical. Case in point is this album, a collaboration with Henrik Schwarz (computer, small percussion) who made the album Duo with Wesseltoft in 2011, and Dan Berglund (double bass) of Tonbruket and formerly est.

The trio use their instruments with great creativity. The music is flowing and melodious, in parts hypnotic, in part dance inducing. Wesseltoft's piano is sampled and treated and accompanied by computerized percussive and distorted sounds as well as plucked and bowed double bass. It may sound like an attempt to reinvent cacophony but the end result is a coherent wall of innovative sound spread across eight short tracks. The album offers a set of elaborate soundscapes that veer from the majestic to the rhythmic. The sound is rich but is not particularly transparent, a result of the electronic and digital elements introduced by Schwarz on his computer and by Wesseltoft sampling the piano. The album starts slowly and picks up pace to end up in an expressive and haunting version of Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight. Not for the first time Wesseltoft demonstrates his skill at breathing magic into well known pieces; this is one of the most original renditions I have ever heard. It is equaled and possibly bettered by Valiant, the second track on the album. Rumours abound at The Ear that some of the qualities found on this album relate to the fact that after years of head shaving Bugge is sporting curls. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt.
I am currently compiling my list of the best five albums of the year, a list I thought I had sorted but this has thrown a spanner in the works, it stands a very good chance of being included.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

Touch and Flee

21 Oct 2014
Neil Cowley Trio
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www.naimlabel.com

The Neil Cowley Trio is made up of musicians who, although they claim to be British, sound distinctly Scandinavian. This is not just an observation but high praise as well. Anybody who has listened to Scandinavian jazz will realise that it means this album will be a treat and a delight to listen to. For those looking for a new interpretation of jazz that’s not based on the macho, play- ever-faster American model Touch and Flee will serve as a mighty fine starting point.
The album comes from the Naim Label and is by far the best recording I have heard this year. It was supplied in the guise of a 24/96 FLAC download, but even when burned to CD it continues to impress. In my system at least the quality of low notes was a revelation, I suspect that many will be surprised at how good bass can sound when it’s properly recorded. But the recording mastery doesn't stop there, the instruments are placed naturally in a soundstage that is deep and wide, creating a beguiling three dimensional presence behind and ahead of the speakers.
The music is made from more rhythm than melody and more syncopation than harmony. But the overall result is captivating, innovative and appeals to ears, brain and heart. Cowley's playing style offers listeners the opportunity to hear a piano in all its moods, from tinkling to positively banging. In parts delicate in parts mighty energetic, but always musical. There is as mentioned a strong whiff of Scandinavian innovation, his style is more Wesseltoft than Gustavsen but can also be likened to that of the late Esbjorn Svensson. To my ears there are three tracks that are the equal to the best of the Nordic competition: Kneel down, Sparkling and Queen.
Cowley is not the only musician that shines on this album, the bass player Rex Horan and drummer Evan Jenkins are able to offer virtuosity that equals Cowley's abilities. This is a refreshingly different and superbly recorded album, it’s exceedingly highly recommended for those who looking for the music that one rarely has the opportunity to hear on the radio. Lamentably this trio is not able to fill halls in the UK and, much like very many other talented musicians who are able to find eager ears east of Dover, it can be found touring in Europe a lot of the time.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
24/96 FLAC, WAV

Blue Skies

13 Jun 2014
InDuologue
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SnipRecords

InDuologue is a young Greek duo Alexandra Lerta and Vasilis Stefanopoulos’s voice and double bass jazz project. When I heard this music for the very first time it reminded me Sheila Jordan’s projects with her long term bass partners Harvie Swartz and Cameron Brown. Or the one off simply titled Sheila, with Arild Andersen in 1975 when it all started. Later on I learned that she was their inspiration, so the smile she added under my post made sense. The concept is not new, but only a few have really managed to perfect it. The reason for that is simple, it is not about two musicians together. This kind of interaction requires a special, very intimate relationship and that particular blend of personalities just doesn't happen too often. Except Alexandra’s muse Sheila, whom I love deeply, my only another favourites are Nancy King’s recordings with Glen Moore from early nineties and Caecilie Norby’s with her husband Lars Danielsson, the great bassist himself.

Since then only a couple of young pretenders have managed to turn my head, like Larry Bjornson with Jessie Brown or Adam Oscar Storey and Kristen Haynes. And now Alexandra and Vasilis. All this happened over the last three years so it looks like we have an Impending Bloom, to paraphrase one of my most beloved titles. After this extended introduction you’re probably wondering what this music is like. Long story short: brilliant, just that. But it is so fantastic that it deserves further explanation. The way the duo works indicates clearly that they belong to Jordan’s school. But what they do is strictly their own. What always concerns me is the choice of lyrics. They are purely about sensitivity; how the artist identifies herself, what she wants to say, to whom she refers her reflection. And consequently to whom they are addressed.  It is a kind of personal PR or personality portrait. It becomes even more significant when it comes to the bass/voice duet or acapella. The song selection varies from jazz milestones to Irving Berlin’s title track, through Tum Drum Blues by Oscar Brown Jr, the man who put the words to Davis’ All Blues. We have Mort Dixon’s Bye Bye Blackbird, probably the most personal and important song in Sheila’s repertoire and to me Alexandra’s beautiful tribute to her. Nat King Cole’s Calypso Blues and Rogers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine, who doesn’t know those? As more modest examples we have Mark Knopffler’s Why Worry, a very original Dire Straights tune, Tierney Sutton’s Joy Spring written to Clifford Brown’s music and Jimmy Webb’s The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress. And most important I believe, Alexandra’s own poems and lyrics sung in open tuning.

The first is a dialogue in which her poem Lovejoy is used as a counterpoint to lyrics grouped under title Little Suede Shoes/Day by Day. This is a very touching contemporary response to songs from the past which are also true and do nothing but describe eternal longings and desires. Following another original song Tin Tin Deo continues to communicate with the listener on the very intimate edge, showing clearly how talented a songwriter/poet she is herself, not just a great and sensual interpreter. Give this album a serious listen, it is definitely going to be one of the best things that happen in music this year. As to Vasilis I apologise I didn’t have enough space to talk about his mastery and focus on the project and the voice, but he is the bassist, so I am sure he understands that. He also is an excellent player, in the same league as his predecessors and colleagues that are mentioned above.

Greg Drygala

Formats also available: 
CD, FLAC DL

Guzo

21 Oct 2013
Samuel Yirga
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Real World/Society of Sound

Ethiopian pianist Samuel Yirga is the jewel in the Real World crown. He's not as famous as some of the artists on Peter Garbriel's label but he's equally as talented. I spotted him because the six track download only Habasha Sessions came out on Bowers & Wilkins' Society of Sound, a release that should by all rights have earned him worldwide acclaim, but his direction at the time was pretty straight ahead jazz, no bad thing of course but not commercial. For 2012's Guzo he broadened his range with a mix of solo piano pieces and songs with a full band, the highlight of the latter being a fine version of the Black Gold of the Sun, it's great to hear a really good recording of this tune even if Minnie Riperton isn't on the mic.
The opening track Abet Abet (Punt mix) is an instrumental band number with big dynamics and is like the rest of the album a superb recording, as a result of this, and the fact that it's rather good, it has becoming a staple test track for me. The real highlights are those pieces where it's just Yirga on the piano, several of which had versions on Habasha Sessions. He has absorbed rhythmic skills from Mulato Astatke and subtlety from Abdullah Ibrahim and really deserves a far wider audience than this fine but low profile label can provide.
I listened to the 24/48 studio quality download of Guzo from Bowers & Wilkins' Society of Sound site. It has a good variety of excellent recordings from Real World and the London Symphony Orchestra available on subscription, there's a free trial option for newcomers which may include something by Yirga.

Formats also available: 
CD, Apple Lossless download

Solo, Volume 1

19 Jan 2013
Ryan Blotnick
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ryanblotnick.bandcamp.com

Ryan Blotnick's first solo release starts out pretty angular and clearly electric but it's not long before Blotnick gets into a less aggressive acoustic style that's strong on innovation and had me hooked. I got the impression that he'd listened to plenty of John Fahey but reading some background it seem that's almost a coincidence because he cites Leo Kottke among others as being influential and Kottke was a fan of Fahey so the wheel keeps turning. There's clearly a folk/blues background to some of the work but although it veers close to familiar tunes there's always something unexpected around the corner. If you read about Blotnick's regular line of work you will discover that he usually plays jazz with a variety of bands in New York, this is not something that is obvious here, that could be because solo acoustic jazz guitar is a pretty rare thing but few would identify the finger picking on here that way. The work is at times complex enough to be considered jazz and has the sense of adventure that one associates with the form but at its best it transcends styles and stands on its own.
This is a gritty and apparently unpolished but clean sounding FLAC release with no heavy reverb or studio tweakery, it's refreshingly honest sounding, a state of affairs that reflects the music well. The guitar Blotnick used on all but one piece was a 1959 Martin 00-18e with a single coil pick-up, he played it through an amp and was able to experiment with different effects which probably explains why it has a more powerful sound than a regular steel string guitar but not the room acoustic associated with a mic. The only fault I find with this album is that it's only 34 minutes long, but that's not a complaint, after all it's about the length of many great albums from the vinyl era and is clearly a case of all wheat no chaff. It's dubbed Volume 1 because he plans further cross genre solo improvisational albums for the future. I for one will be looking forward to them.

ryanblotnick.bandcamp.com

Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet

14 Dec 2012
FInk
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Ninja Tune

Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet is presumably a reference to the time that Fin ‘Fink’ Greenall has been spending on the road over the past couple of years. Like many musicians these days he can no longer rely on album sales for an income and has to put in the miles if he's going to make a living. The extent of music piracy on the web is so great that it appears to have affected even those right at the top of the tree, there seem to an awful lot of big names (past and present) on tour these days, which is no bad thing, it means that there is a stronger link with the audience and they get to earn a living in an honest fashion. You get a strong sense of honesty with Fink's work, he sings about the stuff he knows, about London, about living the not so high life and about the vulnerability of others. It makes a refreshing change from the average singer/songwriter and explains his international appeal.

Wheels Beneath My Feet was recorded in Europe on the Perfect Darkness tour in 2011-12 and it was recorded rather well. Fink's albums have always sounded good, some more so than others - Biscuits for Breakfast being the highlight - but the live setting adds an immediacy and energy that is uncommon in the studio work.

The experience he has gained on the road have turned him into a strong act, Fink is a confident musician who's capable of immersing himself in the work and bringing greater vibrancy to familiar numbers. Many of the songs on here reveal more colour and depth than you find on the records, some of them even sound better because of the live, in-the-moment nature of the performance.

The WAV download is clearly superior to the 320kbps MP3 version because the recording has plenty of scale and decent bandwidth and dynamics for the uncompressed format to work with, there's plenty of power in the kick drum and nice meaty bass guitar when it's let loose. You also get some crowd noise which adds real atmosphere to the performance even if the crowd seems to be standing behind the artist in the soundscape, I guess it would be tricky to have that noise behind the listener in a stereo mix like this. The important thing is that he responds to the crowd's energy and puts more into the performance, the result is a powerful and compelling album that is in many ways a a Best of for an artist who deserves more attention.

Jason Kennedy

Fink. Image by Christine van der Merwe

Tracklisting:

Biscuits (live from Amager Bio, Copenhagen)

Perfect Darkness (live from Union Chapel, London)

Fear Is Like Fire (live from Koko, London)

Yesterday Was Hard On All Of Us (live from Paradiso, Amsterdam)

Blueberry Pancakes (live from WUK, Vienna)

Trouble's What You're In (live from Union Chapel, London)

Berlin Sunrise (live from La Cigale, Paris)

Warm Shadow (live from Epicerie Moderne, Lyon)

Honesty (live from La Cigale, Paris)

Wheels (live from Paradiso, Amsterdam)

This Is The Thing (live from Paradiso, Amsterdam)

Sort Of Revolution (live from La Cigale, Paris)

Pretty Little Thing (live from Meetfactory, Prague)

 

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

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