Omas Sosa/Seckou Keita

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Transparent Water

(World Village/ Harmonia Mundi)

 

In a genre crowded with collaborations, a special kind of magic must occur for a recording to stand apart on the busy conveyor belt of contemporary jazz recordings.

Add too into the mix an element of timing and synchronicity, especially when the two principal participants come from backgrounds which are oceans and cultures apart.

Omar Sosa (Cuba) and Seckou Keita (Senegal) first encountered each other in London in 2012 with Marque Gilmore: a year later and they find themselves in a German studio to lay down some tracks for Transparent Water.

Fast forward a few years, an eternity in contemporary jazz, and the result of their chemistry, exploration and what underlines Sosa’s musical philosophy – a transcendent determination to see new combinations – is this wonderful 13 track opus.

From Dary to Thiossane, Transparent Water is a seamless weft of fortuitous brilliance, a flowing sense of elation and serenity which amounts to the most chilled antidote to the planet’s present obsession with chaos. Sustenance for the soul, in other words.

With other tracks (Tama-Tama and Moro Yeye) there is a manifestation of improvisatory freedom, ebullient to the core.

The recording’s patient evolution is testament to Sosa’s willingness to engage other musicians  of note, such as Gustavo Ovalles, Wu Tong and Mikeo Miyazaki, and what surfaces is a compassionate flowering of musicians engaged in a conversation which isn’t in a hurry, and is liberated from time itself.

And what better instruments to ferry the suggestions of translucence that the grand piano of Sosa and the multi-stringed kora of Keita, segued bu the bata drums and maracas of Ovalles.

Opportunities to embrace an ethereal tide from the genius of Keita and Sosa are few and far between: Transparent Water is a marriage of minds consummated by the absolute absorption of the listener. Grab a copy and never let it go.

 

Morten Schantz

 

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Godspeed

Long before there were ‘super groups’ in jazz, there were quintets and quartets who more than qualified for the encomium, but the label didn’t exist when Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie began assembling some of the best talent on the planet, particularly Gillespie, who helped organise  jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, experimenting with altered chord progressions and quick fire syncopated rhythms.

Who knows but when Gillespie branched out on his own and first started a band with bassist Oscar Pettiford, ushering in bebop, and later when he hooked up with the erratic Parker, that the era of the super group, as we know it today, truly began, climaxing some time later when Davis, John Coltrane and company  revolutionised jazz in two days of recording with Gil Evans in 1959. Here, Davis’ sextet is at its most perfect.

Increasingly so today, the spirit of the Columbia years in the late 1950’s, pure spontaneity in playing (the first complete performance of each track on a Kind of Blue was declared a take) is much in evidence in what I consider cutting edge labels, such as Edition. Improvisation is all well and good but not if it doesn’t equate with freshness, and a new composition should at the least represent a challenge. For the musician. And the listener.

Godspeed by Morten Schantz is the first blossoming of a truly Nordic super group – Marius Neset on sax and Anton Eger on drums – which hits the ground running like Usain Bolt with Silence in the Tempest (Part 1), with a fantastic and escalating groove, which demands an old fashioned pair of speakers on either side of a room to enjoy fully. Put the cat out, sit back, grab a cushion, open a bottle of wine, borrow your neighbour’s hot wife, whatever, but relax, keep up and play it loud.

The fast lane continues with the title track, one of four of the eleven compositions coming in at over seven minutes, seriously tight playing between Neset and Eger, clearing the pitch for Schantz who segues the trio. The trio can do lush and mellow (Escape Velocity), a sumptuous tete a tete between Neset and Eger, with Neset fulsome and playful, the tempo and pace alternating a la Glenn Gould.

With Eger (Phronesis), Schantz and Neset, long time collaborators, you can expect, and get, a kinetic delivery, passion and drive, but the flip side is also in evidence, such as the contemplative Cathedral, a duo for Schantz and Neset, perhaps the most emblematic of the friendship of the musicians who, with this collection, have sculpted a recording of beauty and grace. I think I have played Cathedral a dozen times now, and I am only starting.

Naturally, Edition would have expected fireworks from Eger and Neset and compositional dexterity and innovation from Scantz, and Godspeed delivers, but the lasting impression is akin to a musical ablution, a series of idiosyncratic tributaries which dovetail into a richness of sound. Will we hear from a better trio this year? Nope. When I drive around Europe in the summer, Godspeed is coming with me.

Murakami/Ozawa

 

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(Moment from the Flux by Serena Caulfield)

 

Absolutely On Music

I feared that, ten pages in, plodding through the density of detail within Absolutely On Music would be like reading back issues of Gramophone or BBC Music in my dentist’s surgery, passing time until, teeth newly glistened, I was free. And I was wrong. Not about Gramophone or BBC Music, whose terribly serious reviews can forge both a blissful euphony and a contrived spontaneity in a single sentence, but about this book, a conversation between a writer and a conductor, both Japanese, in which they are at one in their shared passion for music.

Not just any music, but classical music. And unlike the vast majority of reviews in Gramophone or BBC Music, which veer between curmudgeonliness and highfalutin post-mortems, Absolutely On Music springs from author Haruki Murakami’s long love affair with the magic which floats from the depths of an orchestral pit.

If you have little time for classical music and think it a harmless adjunct to examining French plonk in a supermarket, this book is not for you. However, if – like myself – you have hovered time after time over a scrum of tightly packed musicians in an illuminated pit, sepulchered in the darkness of a venue, with absolute fascination and no little befuddlement about how the orchestra works, this book is a must.

It is arguable that an orchestra’s raison d’etre, even its bete noire, is the conductor, who has no equal in any other form of employment, except perhaps a mechanic bent over an engine, or a surgeon tinkering with a dodgy heart, for they are responsible for extricating a rhythm you would like to hear.

And I use ‘extricating’ advisably, because the conductor – Absolutely On Music offers an eye witness exposition of maestros Karajan and Bernstein at work – must disentangle the music from both the score and the orchestra’s interpretation of it. Conductors adopt different strategies to disembarrass what the composer intended, and even today we talk of Karajan or Bernstein in reverential or hushed tones for when they struck gold and had an overwhelming sense of the composer’s concentrated aspiration.

Murakami is the reverential and star struck pupil in this series of interviews with the patient and encyclopedic conductor Seiji Ozawa, for three decades the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra  and San Francisco Symphony, among others, and who, as a young man, worked alongside geniuses like Bernstein, Karajan and Glenn Gould.

Murakami plays a cd or a vinyl recording of Brahms First Symphony or Bartok’s the First Concerto or Mahler’s First Symphony, asks Ozawa question after question, and the conductor’s replies, a brief riposte or a long dissection, a thrust following a parry, are never less in breadth and content the equal of an impeccable dissertation. ‘What’s the comma in the score for,’ asks Murakami. ‘It means, take a breath here,’ answers Ozawa.

To see a world in a grain of sand, indeed.

Aki Rissanen

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Amorandom

 

Rissanen sets out his stall from the off with Amorandom’s longest track, Pulsar, percussively driven by Teppo Makynen until Antti Lotjonen segues the beat with delicate bass: the stage is set for Rissanen’s introduction on piano, and the template of moving the composition through the gears, sustained by capricious trio playing, is repeated throughout, although you can never be too sure where Rissanen will take you.

With Pulsar, relish the playful solo by Lotjonen, until the memorable motif is revisited again by Rissanen and Makynen. The mood is far more low key with For Rainbows, a playful ballad with this trio’s imprimatur – improvisation and freshness – though the former is never indulgent.

It is somewhat remarkable that with the lightning speed of the musicians at his disposal, and Makynen and Jonen are as tight as a Swiss lending bank, the trio is disciplined with its energy and innovation. The addictive gene in Amorandom is Rissanen’s warm virtuosity, which flows like a fox across a field in Paysages Pas Sages.

Two other standout tracks are Bird Vision and Signettes: Bird Vision has Rissanen circumnavigating the bass and drums, but the effect is playfully cohesive, with a sense of galloping urgency, manifest on many of the original compositions, predominant throughout.

Signettes, before the rhythmic cross cutting, is beautifully laboured into life by Rissanen, but here the trio reminds you why its sound seems to reference a cinematic influence, which – through the prism of Rissanen  – is seen as identifying with European classical impressionism and Nordic lyricism. Certainly more illumination than eclipse.

The music on Amorandom assumes a panoramic identity, sourced within static minimal music, and Rissanen is on record as saying that the compositions are based on an animation film, for which he composed the soundtrack. Despite the metamorphosis over the years, there remains a pure cinematic resonance to Amorandom. There is a fluidity in the bold playing of Rissanen whose compositional writing and arrangement combines intelligent and intricate ideas with exciting and pungent execution.

With the superb Antti Lotjonen and Teppo Makynen, Amorandom exudes a lyrical melancholy and a distinctive rhythmical drive and finesse so that what you have in your hands is a work of immense promise from three young musicians who, with Amorandom, have made a startling and coherent statement of intent.

Wallis Bird

 

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The best artist to emerge from Enniscorthy since Eileen Gray and Colm Toibin, Galbally’s Wallis Bird unleashed the full package of her astonishing vocal range before a capacity National Opera House. A homecoming for many, the concert was a magnet for aficionados of Bird, from near and far, and for whom this marked the first opportunity to see her perform songs from her latest collection, Home.

It is a measure of the synchronicity between the singer and the songwriter that Bird remains the best interpreter of her own oeuvre, which is demonstratively superlative throughout the eleven tracks of love. And though she revisited some jewels from the past (To My Bones) the concert was bookended with two of the strongest tracks from Home, the sublime Love, and Seasons, which she dedicated to the late and lamented Barry Ennis.

Bird is nakedly forthcoming as an artist, baring her soul on the sacrificial altar of love and commitment, and you don’t have to understand English to embrace her passion and her joie de vivre. And though Home picks off where Architect in 2014 left off, celebrating her relocation to Berlin, it is – by an ocean – far removed from the decadence celebrated by others who have found solace there.

Bird has expanded her emotional repertoire (none of her previous work touches the narrative arc of the title track, sung a cappella) and spontaneously segues the heart and the voice. There is an unaffected joy to the way she makes her songs gleam, and though she has the energy of a waifish dervish and can throw caution to the wind, she always has a firm grasp of the kite. Though there is nothing half-hearted or compromised from the chanteuse and writer, Bird still manages to surprise by pushing the boundaries of her craft.

Performed live, Love acts like an overture, signposting what is to come. The by now legendary acoustics of the Opera House swooned to a full throated, nuclear dawn chorus of Bird’s voice, which can soar from a standstill with the speed of a tercel.