Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist with the Umo Jazz Orchestra Together ★★★

MAA 1056Together
MAMA MAA1056
Randy Brecker (t, flhn) and Mats Holmquist (arr, comp), with the Umo Jazz Orchestra featuring Max Zenger (ts), Ville Vannemaa (ss), Mikko Pettinen (t), Heikki Thuhanene (tb), Seppo Kantonen (p) and Mikel Ullberg (g). Rec. 15-16 March 2018 

Brecker, of course, has the stellar guest appearance thing totally down: crystal sharp solos drop perfectly into what ever context is created around him. He lends superstar endorsement while the hosts walk tall. You really can’t see the joins. Holmquist’s arrangements are lucid, light and give ample room for soloists to lean on a warm mattress of sound.

Most songs are re-workings of ‘standards’: ‘Stellar by Starlight’ grows into ‘My Stellar’, ‘All the Things You Are’ is morphed into ‘All My Things.’ A gang of Corea songs is also visited, be it a gently swinging ‘Window’, over which Brecker glides all glisterry, or, more angular and testing, a complex re-work of ‘Humpty Dumpty’. The Finnish orchestra keep it all tight, whether on the chiming fanfares of ‘One Million Circumstances’, quite Gibbsian with all that sonorous brass, or understandably bluesier on ‘Never Let Me Go’, with Brecker’s flugelhorn mellifluous as ever.

Andy Robson

Experiencing Big Band Jazz: A Listener’s Companion by Jeff Sultanof

Rowman and Littlefield $38
In a series of nearly two dozen books on Experiencing different kinds of music, whether Beethoven or Bowie, this volume clearly has the right author for the job. Sultanof is an experienced composer-arranger who has also edited numerous big-band scores for the educational market. His impressive work here comes over as somewhere between a reference guide and a textbook for the musically unlettered but discerning fan, and incorporates the best of both those worlds.

His wide-ranging taste enables him to cover the music chronologically from James Reese Europe to Kenny Wheeler and Kamasi Washington, in a manner not dissimilar from this periodical's occasional series Across The Tracks. For no fewer than 158 recordings, he gives background information and a quick guide to what the listener is actually hearing, with comments (and timings) that might help one hear better. The selection of artists and individual tracks is for the most part obvious, though Sultanof also makes some quirky choices.

Ellington gets 15 listings, including a couple of surprises, while a few things I'd consider essential by other artists are relegated to the Further Listening section. Inevitably, some of the descriptions are more detailed than others, but this usually reflects the amount of intrinsic interest in the actual chart, whereas the performances (which are all referenced to their availability on the internet) are uniformly excellent. The book has a rather bread-and-butter approach to presentation, with no pictures and slightly unhelpful layout, but this barely detracts from the mass of hard information and stimulating insights.

– Brian Priestley

Sonny Rollins Trio – Complete 1957-62 Studio Recordings ★★★★

rollins-CDEssential Jazz Classics EJC55704 2CD
Sonny Rollins (ts), with (collective personnel) Ray Brown, Oscar Pettiford, Henry Grimes, Paul Chambers, Bob Cranshaw (bs), Shelly Manne, Max Roach, Specs Wright, Roy Haynes (d) and Candido Camero (cga, bgo). Rec. 7 March 1957-14 May 1962

Talk about essential... This certainly makes the grade, being basically an excuse to reissue the albums Way Out West and Freedom Suite (done for different labels originally) in a single package, with their few available alternate takes – one of those for Way Out not having made it on to the original CD edition by OJC. These classics should require no further recommendation, and the bonus material (the trio side of Big Brass and the no-piano-no-guitar tracks from The Sound Of Sonny and What's New?) isn't shabby either. Those last two tracks, with Candido instead of a kit drummer, might seem out of context with the 1957-58 majority, but in fact Rollins merely sounds the same, only more so. Taken alongside 1956 material such as Saxophone Colossus and 1957's Night At The Village Vanguard (reviewed in Jazzwise 209), the two featured albums here represent the high-water mark(s) of Sonny's early career and, as such, need to be investigated by anyone who doesn't already know them backwards.

– Brian Priestley

Flying Machines - Flying Machines – ★★★★

Pictor Records Pic 001

Alex Munk (g), Matt Robinson (p, syn, Fender Rhodes), Conor Chaplin (b) and Dave Hamblett (d). Rec. August/October 2015

You might have noticed the name of Alex Munk cropping up on recent CDs by quite a few of the upcoming generation of young jazz artists. He's been the first choice guitar sideman for an impressive selection of recent British recordings by Trish Clowes, Ivo Neame, Reuben Fowler and Matt Anderson among others. His first recording as leader for his electric quartet Flying Machines that formed in 2014 shows great promise. He gets to flex his muscles both as improviser and composer drawing on the epic jazz-pop lyricism of Pat Metheny through to the more avant-rock of Wayne Krantz, the piano riffy Neil Cowley Trio and feverish rhythms that are occasionally reminiscent of the unique nu-prog outfit Troyka, if a less quirky alternative in this band. Munk's music is deceptively simple, assertive and direct with plenty of stimulating twists and turns. Things that make it well worth catching Flying Machines when they tour in February next year.

– Selwyn Harris

Tom Harrison Quintet – Unfolding In Tempo ★★★

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Tom Harrison (as), Cleveland Watkiss (v), Robert Mitchell (p), Daniel Casimir (b) and David Lyttle (d). Rec. 2016

These live recordings of compositions associated with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn begin with 'Take the A Train' and while firmly in the spirit of the Duke, the players impose their own individuality on the material. Cleveland Watkiss, well-known for his wide range of vocal references and styles, introduces it with steam train noises before going into scat, although closer to Slim Gaillard than Betty Roche. Daniel Casimir's walking bass and pianist Robert Mitchell's firmly underpinned melody enable the others to stretch; David Lyttle's drums especially busy. Harrison's solos give a relaxed feel, hard edged at times.

The rest is a mixture of the familiar and lesser known. Watkiss' easy rapport with the audience comes over; on Sy Oliver's 'The Minor Goes Muggin'' a call and response interlude is interspersed with muted trumpet impersonation. Harrison's horn slips into a soul groove, Mitchell's vamps and runs on piano leading the rhythm section. Good straight ahead playing.

Lyttle's drums alternately give an urgency, fragmentation and lay down a solid rhythm. Casimir's bass a reliable bedrock with which the soloists can work, glimpses of virtuosity in his solos, especially on 'Intimacy of the Blues'; Harrison's forthright blowing is featured and Watkiss engages the audience in more Gaillardese vout. The band continues its varied approach through 'Solitude' and 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be' and recollections of the Duke/Coltrane session surface in 'My Little Brown Book'; Harrison an attentive accompanist then assuming command, pushing and probing, before Mitchell shows what an expressive player he is. The final track, 'Warm Valley', an unaccompanied solo by Harrison, underlines his Ducal appreciation.

– Matthew Wright

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