Album Review - Chet Baker - Salt Peanuts  

Chet Baker has become a figure of great reverence and of great tragedy. Live recordings from the latter years of his career show us why. Baker was an active participant in the European jazz scene in the 1980’s until his untimely death in 1988. Many of his great recordings were behind him, yet he was still able to produce moments of unquestionable beauty. 

Recorded in 1981 over two consecutive evenings at The Salt Peanuts Club in Germany, this unearthed live recording catches Baker with a unique small ensemble. Joined at the front of the band by Jon Eardley on flugelhorn and Bob Mover on alto saxophone, Baker is allowed to demonstrate his ability as an accompanist as well as a leader. 

Eardley has a tone and delivery which is similar to Baker’s, making it difficult to differentiate between the musicians in the ensemble passages. However, the solos are immediately identifiable as Baker. He was certainly a capable bebop trumpeter, but he was unmatched when composing an improvised sonnet. There is an undeniable, effortless beauty in Chet’s lines. One which is hard to analyse and it would feel like blasphemy to attempt it. In the accompanying booklet, it is mentioned that Lester Young was a big influence for Baker. It is easy to draw a line connecting the two men.  

The bop sax lines of Bob Mover are a nice contrast to the cooler sounds emanating from the brass. His solos stand out on mid tempo swingers such as Resonant Emotion where he pushes the limits of the instruments range and constructs long streams of semi quavers. His sharp, biting tone sets the mood of Round Midnight perfectly and follows a lineage from Bird to Cannonball. 

Baker’s vocals on My Ideal are still delivered as delicately as they were in his past. Yet he sounds fragile and older than his years. The cracks in his voice have been etched by decades of questionable treatment.   

The leader gives a unique vocal performance on My Funny Valentine, the standard with which he is most associated. He stays for longer in the higher register and sounds somewhat strained. His trumpet playing and vocalising have always been mirrors of each other. It seems that where the high notes are still comfortable on the trumpet, they are less so in the vocal chords.    

Dennis Luxion’s piano is far away in the mix but he demonstrates some fine playing. He trades confidently on Ray’s Idea and provides well spaced harmony throughout the album. All of the musicians are given a chance to stretch out on an up tempo version of If I Should Lose You which climaxes with the horns engaging in a playful battle. The drums have gone as Burkhard Ruckert was only present on the first of the two evenings. With respect to his capable drumming, he is not greatly missed. Using rhythmic skips and delicate articulation, bassist Rocky Knauer provides enough propulsion to keep the band pushing skywards.  

Salt Peanuts is a valuable document for Baker fans. It captures his playing in a unique ensemble and shows that his unparalleled skill of melodic construction never left him. His voice may have aged but he can still convey the essence of a song like few others could. 

John Marley.

Album Review - Mark Wade - Songs From Isolation  

There is no doubt that many music listeners would roll their eyes at the idea of a solo bass project. The bass guitar in particular has had its reputation tarnished by numerous albums where technique has given melody a heavy beating. However, some fine records have been produced which use the bass exclusively. Notably by Jonas Hellborg and Björn Meyer. 

Jaco Pastorius was one of the first and certainly the most influential of the solo bass guitarists. His influence is so overwhelming that hearing the first cascade of harmonics on Mark Wade’s Intents and Purposes immediately brings Jaco to mind. Even the double stops on the upright bass have a Jaco feel about them. This is no bad thing and they are executed beautifully by Wade. The composition sounds like the overture to a Film Noir. It moves through a series of dramatic sections including a chorus of lush bowed notes and a sleazy pizzicato figure. Percussive hits fire like gun shots in the distance. 

Wade explores an incredible variety of textures through the five performances. These include bowed lines, bass guitar chords, unison figures and percussion ranging from sensitive brush work to hits with the bow. Distorted electric bass sits low in the mix on A Conspiracy of Lemurs. The angular melody over a hard bop sequence wouldn’t sound out of place on a Horace Silver record. Wade trades lines with himself between the 2 basses. Musicians around the world are doing their best to create outlets for their work during the coronavirus pandemic. This brings a danger of sounding mechanical but Wade has managed to keep the music fresh and alive. 

As Wade is capable of playing across the full range of the double bass, the music never sinks into itself. Spanning over 3 octaves, the double bass is capable of great expression and can sit high above the sound of the bass guitar. On Blues In Isolation, Wade plays swinging melodic lines before introducing a bowed melody that will be familiar to most jazz fans. 

Teri Leggio Wade joins on vocals for a version of Nothing Like You which famously appeared as the finale to Miles Davis’ album Sorcerer. Hearing it in its original environment never fails to bring a smile to this reviewers face and nor does this interpretation. The husband and wife duo keep the arrangement true to the Davis recording with Wade adding bowed chordal figures. 

Do not recoil from the idea of a solo bass album. In the right hands, both of the basses can sing pretty melodies, create a dazzling array of sounds and be emotionally expressive. Fortunately, Mark Wade has the right hands. 

John Marley.

https://www.markwademusicny.com

Album Review - Miles Davis - The Lost Septet  

When writing about an album recorded in the latter part of Miles Davis’ career, it is difficult to avoid falling back on cliche’s about how he kept reinventing himself and incorporating current musical developments. That path has been well trodden and to stroll down it would seem lazy. Some degree of historical context can be useful when contextualising an album. However, an artist’s previous work can weigh on them like concrete shoes on a deep sea diver, puling them into the murky waters of comparison and disappointment. 

The Lost Septet will undoubtably find its way into the jazz section of record stores and for that matter, the jazz section of this website. It does seem absurd that this album would be sitting in the same rack as an album by Kenny Ball. The two seem so far removed from each other. Although it almost defies classification entirely, it would seem more at home under the rock heading. It is rock music played by musicians well versed in jazz language and improvisational concepts. 

To review the album on a track by track basis would seem to miss the point. The tracks are separated but flow into each other. They are smaller segments of a larger whole. Working from the ground up, drummer Leon Chancler and percussionists Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Foreman play relentlessly, serenely and hypnotically. They maintain conversational skills but their responses to musical questions are hidden in an outpouring of musical chatter. 

Michael Henderson’s electric bass appears and disappears. When present, he dominates proceedings. He arrives like a strict father who has come to control the children. As he stands firm, the others run circles around him, playing dangerously while knowing he will protect them at all times. Laced with fuzz and wah-wah, Henderson plays grooves which in the absence of any obvious melodies, become the focal point of the compositions. 

Keith Jarrett wasn’t always enamoured with the idea of playing an electric piano and he hasn’t returned to the instrument in recent years. He certainly sounds energised throughout this concert. His scuttling lines and dissonant voicings are one of the most striking features in this period of Miles Davis’ catalogue. 

Few would argue that Miles Davis was one of the most melodically inspired soloists in recorded music. It is with some restraint that he plays from an entirely different perspective in this ensemble. His affected trumpet sound comes closer to the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar than it does to any of the great horn players. His notes throb and pulsate as he bends in to sustained screams. During moments of quiet, there are traces of the Miles Davis of old. His more traditional tone is amplified with delay, allowing him to build his own harmonies. 

It is easiest to hear the jazz DNA of the ensemble through saxophonist Gary Bartz. His solo lines are rooted firmly in the bebop tradition and they often build into upper register outbursts. He even appears to quote the standard I Let a Song Go Out Of My Heart at one point. 

The whole performance has a futuristic feel. The band are exploring new musical worlds. It is hard to think of any ensembles that sound like the music presented here. Davis viewed his recordings as advertisements telling the listener to come and experience the band live. Unfortunately, the opportunity to do so has gone. Therefore we should be thankful that well recorded documents of Davis’ work are still being excavated, dusted off and presented to a new and open-minded audience. 

John Marley

https://www.sleepynight-records.com

Album Review - Weather Report - Live In London 

At a time when many of us cannot go to see musicians perform, a live album from one of the greatest jazz ensembles of all time is a welcome gift. Recorded at ‘some point in the eighties’, Live In London captures Weather Report in an exuberant and forceful mood. 

Corner Pocket bounces into action with an electronic New Orleans groove. The bass has a prominent position in the mix. Given one of the most daunting positions in jazz history, Victor Bailey’s virtuosity is of a different nature to his legendary predecessor Jaco Pastorius. Using synth effects, he lays down a formidable groove while moving with lightning speed across the full range of the bass. However, he also incorporates slap techniques of which he was a great master and through this, he finds a way of creating a separate identity to the legendary Jaco. Bailey’s playing is so dominant in the mix that Shorter’s solo seems like a call and response with the bass. 

The mastery of playing a tune with very little chord movement comes from building excitement while shying away from self indulgence. Zawinul is particularly strong in this respect. His solo is full of long deep breaths and he has a varied sonic palette. His lines erupt like animated sentences barked out in conversation with a voice that only he can hear. 

The mysteriously titled Unknown has an equally mysterious feel. It would make a great accompaniment to a futuristic take on a 50’s spy thriller. Bailey’s insistent pulse, coupled with Shorter’s crescendos and the sparse rhythm section makes the air dark and claustrophobic. If the instruments were characters in this thriller, the sax would be the central figure. Shorter plays the detective, desperately attempting to stay on top of the case. The bass throbs antagonistically and the percussionists rattle like creatures kicking cans around the city streets. Zawinul contributes industrial screams of machines tortured by oppressive heat and overwork. Wayne Shorter is a musician who is capable of playing many characters. Just compare his work with Weather Report to his highly regarded album Speak No Evil. He uses these contrasting voices to great effect on this album. He creates an audible battle between good and evil, calmness and panic. 

Weather Report are not a band known for their forays into swing. However, on the aptly titled Fast City, they flex their well honed muscles over Omar Hakim’s nuclear drumming. His playing, which almost obliterates everything in its path, continues the tradition of powerful jazz drummers from Gene Krupa to Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Bailey ramps up the tension with a series of pedal notes which lead into a drum solo. It’s the aural equivalent of watching a reactor as the needle pushed further into the red. Hakim’s extensive solo goes through a variety of stages, climaxing with an outburst from an understandably rapturous audience. 

Vocals appear from an unidentified source on Where the Moon Goes. The vocals do not stand out as a high point of the album but they do provide a welcome change of texture. Percussionists Mino Cinelu and Jose Rossy sit on a groove which contributes greatly and never dominates. The drone, which is a feature of many folk musics, coupled with the sound of Zawinul’s fiddle inspired synth solo is reminiscent of some of the Nintendo soundtracks of days gone by. Perhaps Zelda should have been given a saxophone rather than an ocarina. As the music calms down, the audience let out a roar of laughter, leaving us wondering what visuals prompted such an outburst. 

Although there is always a feeling of joy radiating from Weather Report, mainly due to their obvious enthusiasm for performing, much of the music on this album is based on darker harmonic moods. The final track is a smile-inducing return to the familiar sounds of their most highly regarded album, Heavy Weather. Closing with a short burst of joyous energy, Weather Report leave the audience cheering for more. 

John Marley

 

www.angelair.co.uk

Album Review - Tony Kofi - Another Kind Of Soul  

 

The current British jazz scene is a musically diverse environment. An environment where harmonically advanced heavyweights coexist alongside improvisers favouring a backdrop of lo-fi hip-hop. It sometimes seems that in this search for the new or the more musically challenging, the traditional hard swinging outfit has been sidelined. This makes the arrival of Tony Kofi’s new album such a welcome one. 

Paying tribute to one of the greats, Kofi has assembled a first class quintet for his homage to Cannonball Adderley. Recorded live at The Bear Club in Luton, the album could just have well been recorded at the Village Vanguard in the 1960’s. Kofi and his quintet have an impressive command of the hard bop language and feel no need to attempt to speak in any other dialect. 

Opening with an original by pianist Alex Webb, A Portrait Of Cannonball is exactly that. Featuring the kind of driving groove which characterised the hard bop sound, the piece settles into a ballad feel where Kofi takes a powerful and expressive solo. 

The set continues with a hard bop original by the band leader. The unison head makes way for a concise solo from trumpeter Andy Davies. It is refreshing to hear such restraint shown by the band with the length of solos. They choose to pack a shorter and sharper punch. 

Another Kind Of Soul is an uptempo Nat Adderley composition which gives Kofi an opportunity to showcase his muscular sound. Although this is a tribute to Cannonball Adderley, Kofi’s sound does bring to mind the playing of the late Joe Harriott. Bassist Andrew Cleyndert drives the band on with a round tone which has been well captured. He creates extra pockets of tension through the album by using brief pedal tones, allowing the soloist to explode into the next phrase. 

Kofi bookmarks each end of Stars Fell On Alabama with a solo introduction and an exuberant cadenza. Bending into notes at a delightfully tense pace, the saxophonist uses thematic development to great effect. There is just enough of those greasy blues licks that helped to separate hard bop from its musical predecessor. 

Things Are Getting Better is a harmonically simple tune that is similar to Sonny Rollins’ Doxy. In pieces such as this, you can hear a direct lineage to early new Orleans jazz. The seasoning may be a little different but the core ingredients remain the same. Kofi pushes his instrument to its limits as the audience let out a cry of enthusiasm. Webb’s piano solo shies away from bop language and follows a more soulful path, creating a pleasant contrast. Cleyndert takes a particularly impressive solo using double stops and forceful straight lines over the swinging backdrop. 

The album closes with two of Cannonball Adderley’s most well known compositions. Sack O’ Woe is an joyful blues. It adapts the Charleston rhythm which is now part of the jazz DNA. Webb carefully places stabbing piano chords between Kofi’s phrases like he is trying to lands blows against a particularly frisky opponent. Work Song comes straight out of the blues tradition and has an unstoppable swing. It is these elements that helped to make hard bop such a popular style. 

Another Kind Of Soul is a rare beast in the current jazz scene. It is a swinging and unashamedly traditional tour de force which is overflowing with joy, energy and a love for one of the genre’s greatest improvisers. 

John Marley

Album Review - Nick Lockewood - About Time  

Recorded live in 2017, About Time is the debut album by bassist and composer Nick Lockewood. The recording is the culmination of his postgraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. This academic setting has allowed the composer to write for a large ensemble, a luxury which is often financially untenable in the jazz world. 

Much of the material on the album incorporates folk music, predominantly from Latin America. The opening track Three’s a Crowd sets the tone of the album with a bubbling 12/8 rhythm. A repeated melodic guitar motif sits on a bed of warm, luscious string harmonies. The strings begin to weave a web around the leader’s bass harmonics. Building relentlessly, Lockewood breaks free of the web and launches into a melodically powerful bass solo, which is coloured with an occasional splash of non-diatonic harmony. 

On Alô Alô / On Ice, the combination of bass harmonics floating over a sea of swaying percussion brings to mind Mark Egan’s band Elements. Beyond the introductory solo, Lockewood uses his bass as a percussion instrument, striking the strings and producing growling glissandos. This is a showcase for the band leader and he never sounds troubled by the 7/4 time signature. 

John Coltrane’s seminal work Giant Steps is given the Cuban treatment. A 2-3 clave underpins a careful repositioning of the melody. There is a welcome break from the infamous harmonic density with modal vamps placed between solos in a manner similar to Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way

Armando Manzanero’s El Ciego opens with a solo bass introduction full of grand minor cadences, the kind Rubén González would improvise to set the mood of a bolero. The piano and guitar solos demonstrate great melodic maturity and are free of inappropriate technical excess. 

A tense, driving pulse throbs under the dramatic open guitar chords of The Ballad of Oisin. Calm on the surface, the piece has the searing intensity of a boxer entering the ring. Lockewood takes a cinematic approach where the piece is one long crescendo. The bass solo brings the dynamic down and is injected with a dose of melancholy by the sharply refined string line. 

Latin America makes its way to Africa on Lucky’s Strike. The bass led groove is reminiscent of the late South African low-ender Sipho Gumede. Although the piece is predominantly a joyous foray into major harmony, the strings perform a brief melancholy interlude which pulls at the hearts strings all the more because of the striking contrast. They are like a moment of grief in a children’s story. Percussionists Luigi De Gouviea, Jack McCarthy and Josh Savage get a chance to flex their well toned rhythmic muscles. Lockewood gets a final chance to demonstrate his finesse with chord melody on Pat Metheny’s Unity Village. His use of legato techniques helps the melody to sing. 

In a jazz scene obsessed with harmonic progression and complexity, it is possible for the melody, and the joy of the music to become buried. Lockewood’s fusion of jazz and folk music harks back to the eighties but sounds current and timeless. His strong melodic sense allows the band to make the complicated sound simple. About Time may be placed in the jazz section of a record store but it is more than that and it’s potential to appeal to the wider public is undeniable. 

John Marley

Album Review - Al Di Meola - Elegant Gypsy & More LIVE 

When the experiment of combining rock and jazz music originally took place, the two genres were placed in the test tube, given a stir and a violent explosion took place. One of the by-products of this controversial chemistry was the formation of harmonically advanced virtuoso guitarists who weren't afraid to stomp on the distortion pedal. Of course, there had been many technically outstanding guitarists before this point in jazz, rock, classical and other musical styles. But now the world had musicians pushing the limits of technical and harmonic capability while reaching a large audience with powerhouse riffing. One of these guitarists is Al Di Meola. 

As time has moved on, jazz has fused with new styles such as hip-hop and electronica. However, it is hard to match the visceral excitement caused by a guitarist bending, tapping, sliding and infusing our DNA with electricity. Not many guitarists on the planet can do this like Al Di Meola. 

The album kicks straight in with a driving rock riff, propelled along by the rolling snare drum. Di Meola winds fluid lines over the relaxed feel of the bass and piano. The band execute tight ensemble passages and instantly display their rhythmic confidence. Subtle details in the compositions really stand out in this live setting, such as call and response figures between the keyboard and guitar. 

Señor Mouse begins with muted funk guitar dancing playfully over a rock solid drum rhythm. Two minutes in and the band have seamlessly stitched three genres of music together. The guitar and keyboard enter a musical dialogue that, combined with the Latin feel, evokes images of a heated but amiable coffee shop debate. As the debate reaches its climax, the two musicians steam off together, still as friends but with raised blood pressure. 

Di Meola plays a sentimental melody on Adour, flowered with hints of darkness in the piano counter lines. Switching between clean and distorted sounds, Di Meola builds his solos to frantic climaxes before letting them dissolve back into moments of reflection. 

Babylon opens with atmospheric and evocative Eastern improvisations before breaking into an odd-time groove. There is increasing tension resulting from the busyness of the rhythm section. Things takes a light hearted turn when the bass takes a chordal break with the audience cheering along. The bass continues to use chords underneath Meola’s lightning fast picking and elegantly melodic legato phrases. 

On Chiquilín De Bachín, Di Meola responds to percussive hits with a thinking time that would impress a fighter pilot. The James Bond-esque chord sequence proceeds to take on a heroic metalicism that would make a rousing superhero soundtrack. 

Up to this point, each composition has contained unfathomable amounts of composed material, so it’s all the more relaxing when the band sit on a groove. Flight Over Rio is played half time by the drums until it is doubled up for the bright, restless melody line. Such is the unbridled joy of the technical virtuosity on show, we can even forgive the short Careless Whisper quote. There is a chance for the percussion to shine in a short break but frankly, the performance of the rhythm section is astounding through the album. 

Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog is given a brief outing with the vocal lines taken by the violin. However, it is often Di Meola’s guitar that uses manipulated notes to produce a singing quality. The use of extreme dynamics are a big part of the ensemble sound. Midnight Tango reduces to a whisper before landing a hammer blow to the head with an unexpected ensemble hit. 

The album concludes with the devastating riffage of Race With Devil On Spanish Highway. Semiquavers scuttle over the massive sounding rhythm section like a shoal of fish toying with a blue whale. 

Al Di Meola is a master of the guitar but he is much more than this. He is a sophisticated composer, an exciting performer and this album should not just be listened to by devoted students of the guitar. It is should be heard by anyone who wants to experience unbridled joy in audible form. 

John Marley

John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once  

The release of previously unissued John Coltrane studio recordings is met with a frenzied enthusiasm which few events in the jazz world could match. One of the great musical innovators of the twentieth century, Coltrane pushed the limits of harmonic exploration and subsequently tested the limits of his instrument, his musicians and his audience. 

On March 6th 1963, Coltrane took his most famous ensemble to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey to record before heading on to a live engagement at Birdland. The performances that resulted from the session remained in obscurity until a copy was found in the collection of Coltrane’s first wife Naima. 

The first of Coltrane’s compositions on the album Untitled Original 11383 is a variation on the standard 12-bar blues. An angular melody makes way for the band leader to launch into a soprano solo full of exploratory thematic development. McCoy Tyner chooses to lay out of the music on many occasions, loosening Coltrane’s harmonic shackles without completely taking them off. Jimmy Garrison uses his bow to build a structure of uptempo quaver lines. Occasionally playing chords, he defiantly produces his own harmonic context. Striking the strings with his fingers as he sets aside his bow, he leads back to the melody with a chorus of commanding walking bass. 

Nature boy is the first of two jazz standards on the album. Played as a mid-tempo swing, Coltrane dispenses with the recognised chord sequence. Instead, he elaborates on the melody over static harmony. Garrison plays a hypnotic 6/8 groove under Elvin Jones’ swing. The drummer shows us the blossoming American flower which grows from fertile African soil. 

Untitled Original 11386 produces one of the most memorable melodies on the album, one which reappears as an interlude between solos. The rhythm section switch from a bright latin to a hard driving swing with perceived effortlessness. Listening to Jones play is like hearing two drummers at once. The big beats are the bricks and mortar while the little beats are the fine furnishings. The independence between Tyner’s hands is breathtaking. His off-beat stabs in the left hand are a lesson in propulsion which aspiring jazz pianists should not ignore. Garrison and Jones enter a soloistic dialogue which is sharp and angular. They are like two boxers, throwing jabs while the other pauses for breath. 

Where many tracks on the album are modal in nature, Vilia moves through a series of bright harmonic pathways. This has a noticeable effect on Coltrane’s playing. He sounds perfectly happy to find the sweet melodies which float comfortably over the bubbling rhythm section. The solo’s are kept short and the whole performance nods back to the quartet’s recent past. 

On Coltrane’s most recognisable modal melody, Tyner sits out again. Coltrane was known for playing extended solos on Impressions but this one is kept relatively short. The solo has moments of melodic repetition which non-musicians can associate with, yet he flexes his muscles. He is like an escape artist becoming increasingly intense as he focuses on freeing himself. Yet it is not steel that binds him but the limitations of harmony and his own instrument. 

The appropriately titled Slow Blues has no recognisable theme. Coltrane desperately tries to extend the range available to him at the top of his tenor. Some of the soloistic devices are mathematical in nature but not in a purely academic sense. As ideas enter his consciousness, you can sense a duty to inspect them further before the moment has gone. One example of this is when he creates a melodic answer phrase to himself. The top line moves in one direction and the bottom goes the opposite way. Interestingly, Tyner waits until the end of Coltrane’s solo before he plays a note. His improvisational approach is a contrast to Coltrane’s. He lies comfortably on a bed of blues-isms and sounds content to observe Coltrane’s experiment, while keeping one hand on the fire alarm. 

One Up, One Down allows Coltrane and Jones to engage in three fierce bouts of trading where Jones’s power and fearlessness matches Coltrane’s blow for blow. Garrison keeps a driving walking line through his solo, as bass players so often do in up-tempo compositions. The amount of skips, strings pulls and accents are increased to keep the piece moving at full throttle. 

Both Directions at Once is a title which perfectly illustrates the content of the music. As Coltrane looked into expanding the limits of jazz improvisation, he was still content to produce beautiful renditions of ageing standards. This album is not only an important historical document, it is an album that demonstrates the musical empathy which a jazz ensemble is capable of. 

John Marley

Mark Wade - Moving Day  

 

New York City has long been a magnet for the world’s most capable and creative improvising musicians. The embryonic stages of jazz may have taken place in New Orleans but the music quickly migrated North East as musicians looked to find work and escape persecution. In a city bursting at the seems with outstanding musical talent, performance levels are turbo charged by an atmosphere of creativity and friendly competition. Bassist Mark Wade has already placed himself firmly on the radar with his debut album Event Horizon. Now signed by Berlin based label Edition 46 Records, Moving Day may well move him towards international recognition.  

The title track begins with the piano laying down the rhythmic groove of the piece while the double bass plays expressive melodic lines. Wade’s bass is recorded with a warm and full sound which allows the listener to see into the soul of the instrument. An incredibly capable technician on the bass, Wade’s playing covers the range of the instrument and he does not have to sacrifice tone while playing faster lines. Tim Harrison’s piano solo playfully skates over the 6/8 time signature and his lines display a heartfelt melodicism. 

It is not easy to play complicated time signatures and make them seem natural. If the musicians are stressed, this translates to the listener. On Wide Open, the trio manipulate the changing rhythmic groupings with a commanding spirit. The performance has a forceful energy but you get the sense that the musicians are revelling in the complexity rather than clinging on for dear life.  

Contrasting sections run through The Bells. Rhythmic energy is still there in abundance, but it is counterbalanced with rippling piano arpeggios and unobtrusive bowed double bass. What is so impressive about Wade’s soloing is that he avoids falling into a pit of double bass-isms. Throughout the album he solos with a horn-like agility.  

Another Night In Tunisia is an arrangement of the Dizzy Gillespie standard where phrases are expanded and contracted. The initial listen is a disorienting experience as the original is so embedded in the collective jazz psyche. When the trio move into a hard driving 4/4 swing, there is a noticeable change from cerebral pleasure to a visceral one. It is a striking example of how much has changed in jazz, yet so much remains the same.  The harmonic and melodic material has remained fairly static for 60 years, yet the rhythmic aspect of the music has developed dramatically.  

Autumn Leaves is recognisable, aside from a few subtle re-harmonisations. However, maybe ‘Autumn Voyage’ would be a more suitable title as Wade has cleverly used the chord sequence of Herbie Hancock’s modal piece Maiden Voyage in the bridge section of the arrangement. Harrison demonstrates a great level of subtlety in his solo. He uses winding enclosures and grace notes that allow the piano to sing.  

There is a calming atmosphere throughout Midnight In The Cathedral which is tastefully tested by the pent up energy of Scott Neumann’s sizzling ride cymbal. Wade’s solo could be heard as a double time walking line in the upper register. If it is Midnight In The Cathedral then the bass solo is the energetic mouse, exploring every corner of the building while no one else is around.  

Many contemporary jazz albums can lose a connection to the listening audience when the performers become too lost in their own musical ability. The Mark Wade Trio are musicians who command an advanced technical, harmonic and rhythmic capability but they keep the listener engaged through their musical maturity. This is particularly evident on the album’s closing composition In The Fading Rays Of Sunlight. There is still an abundance of instrumental virtuosity but it paints an interesting abstract picture, placed in a relatable harmonic frame.   

The core strength of the Mark Wade Trio is their ability to dive deep in the sea of jazz history and salvage great treasures. Rather than presenting their findings as museum pieces, they rearrange and redecorate, giving the artefacts a relevance in the modern world.  

John Marley 

Album Review - Al Di Meola - Opus  

Al Di Meola is unquestionably one of the great guitar innovators of his generation. His formidable technique and fluency in a number of styles has placed his name indelibly in the history of jazz and improvised music. However capable he may be at the guitar, it would be a mistake to place his music in the category of garish guitar based exoticism. Di Meola has a compositional maturity that combines his advanced knowledge with a traditional harmonic palette. 

The album begins with cascading acoustic guitar arpeggios. Textures swell underneath as string lines flow in and out, accentuating melodic lines. A conversation takes place between the guitars which is a reflection of the performers humanity. Mainly peaceful, the guitarists occasionally raise their voices as things get heated. Di Meola demonstrates his dexterity during the composition but the emphasis remains on the sharing of dialogue rather than any vulgar displays of virtuosic shouting. 

Built upon an infectious 6/8 groove, Di Meola contrasts the movement in the main riff of Broken Heart with long notes on the electric guitar. The music is like an ocean... seemingly calm while an abundance of activity is taking place below the surface. The beauty within Ava's Dream Sequence Lullaby comes from its connection to traditional harmony, the spaciousness of the instrumentation and the melodic improvised lines. When the music resolves unexpectedly to a major chord, it is a heartwarming experience. The music climaxes with a change of rhythmic feel where gentle percussion work, along with the lack of a bass instrument, produces a delicate lightness. You could almost consume the music with one deep breath. 

Di Meola talks about a Led Zeppelin influence creeping in to Notorious. There are no thundering Bonham beats or deliciously chaotic pentatonic guitar runs. The inspiration comes in the form of Led Zep’s combination of funk grooves, blues tinged harmony and Eastern scalic investigations. It becomes complicated, and unnecessary, to separate Di Meola’s improvisations from the composed melodies. Lines are constructed, which you think are spontaneous, then suddenly they sync up with another instrument. All credit to the compositional detail on the album. 

Escapado has a danceable rhythm which is a strong contrast with much of the music heard thus far. The descending chromatic line that underpins the harmony brings a sense of explosive expectation which releases as the drums switch to a half time feel. A cut of the wires before the strain becomes too much to bear. 

Rhani Krija duets with Di Meola on Pomp. The string sounds are in such subtle synchronicity with the guitar that it must be assumed they are being trigged by the instrument. It is compositional detail like this that gives the album its depth. Sophisticated and complex lines weave and dance like two intellectuals trying to outwit one another on Insieme. When chords appear they are played with flamenco-like gusto. The introduction of bass brings a textural change and gives weight to aspects of the discussion. 

The album closes with the fluid electric guitar lines which Di Meola was so celebrated for while playing with Return To Forever. Beginning as a hard driving jazz rock powerhouse, an unexpected turn is taken into a Cuban piano montuno. This links in with a bass riff which wouldn’t sound out of place on a heavy metal album. 

Di Meola presents us with one final, understated music lesson. The point of which is that music from across the world is inextricably linked. Of course each genre has its intricacies and its unique elements but perhaps a blind dedication to these traditions prevents a great deal of exciting and innovative music from being created. Di Meola is in no danger of falling in to that trap. 

John Marley