Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Review: Tomasz Stanko - The Soul Of Things

Tomasz Stanko is the greatest living trumpet player of the moment. Fact.

Tomasz Stanko is a stand-out example of the artist, jazz or otherwise, who gets better with age. At sixty-years old and having had to re-learn the playing of the trumpet due to the loss of his natural teeth, Stanko developed a new darker yet rich tone that has drawn inevitable comparisons with the great masters, including the often (over) referenced Miles Davis. Like Davis, he is not one to rest on his past accomplishments and he continues to drive forward and progress with a passionate yet graceful fire in his playing.

‘The Soul Of Things’, featuring a young backing trio that Stanko has chosen to play with for many years – since they were teenagers in fact – truly is a work of both skill and art. Taking a single theme, Stanko and his extremely gifted musicians play out thirteen variations, creating a kind of jazz ‘suite’. Musically it is largely unhurried and sparse, but full of soulful variety, boasting broodiness one minute, sereness the next, we also get genuine power and bop as well.

As with all Stanko albums we get some free improvisation, but not at the expense of melody, most of which here has a languid and yearning feel to it. The trumpets tone too perfectly suits the the other instruments and the music laid down by the backing group. But what really strikes you is the perfection in the recording of this album – every cymbal brush, subtle piano chord, rumble of the bass and breath of the trumpet comes across with crystal clear clarity, almost as if you are in the same room as the quartet.

Nothing truly groundbreaking exists about the album, but the compositions and the variations are all done with such style, and restrained passion, that it has a charm all its own. A true album recording that needs to be played in its entirety to be fully-appreciated, this is complex music played with soul by exceptional and young musicians, the cohesive playing of the band evident everywhere throughout. Full of melody and soul, this is timeless, mood filled music that simply comes highly recommended.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review: Stanley Turrentine - Salt Song

Stanley Turrentine became a mega-star off the back of 'Sugar'. And he simultaneously was able to keep the momentum going on it's follow-up 'Salt Song' and yet still keep his artist energies in full swing.

A successful tenure on Creed Taylors CTI label rewarded Stanley Turrentine with enviable artistic and commercial highs; his work with Taylor reportedly selling close to ten times more than he ever had with Alfred Lion’s Blue Note. Taking elements of fusion, without ever becoming fully affiliated with the movement, his recordings are consistent and hugely accessible for both new and old listeners alike.

After the massive success of ‘Sugar’ – which would later lead to one of his two nicknames, ‘The Sugar Man’ – Turrentine recorded ‘Salt Song’, and though not as strong a record as his brilliant new label debut, it is only just a small fraction behind. Eumir Deodato is the man to thank for the compelling sound of the record, with subtle and lightly funky arrangements creating a smooth lightness of touch, and some great percussive flair from the rhythm man of the decade, Mr Airto Moreira.

Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Gibraltar’ leads, with its fun time shifts and highly distinctive theme suited well to the slight fusion funk. Turrentines solos are up there with his very best and hugely under-rated guitarist Eric Gale shows why he was in such demand throughout CTI’s lifespan, with both some sterling rhythm and lead work. ‘I Told Jesus’ then changes pace for a full-on gospel outing, replete with prominent choir vocals. It’s a strong tune, with the tenor man sounding highly soulful and suitably bluesy, but it does feel just a bit out of place, especially when sandwiched between the more energised ‘Gibraltar’ and the stellar title track that follows immediately after.

‘Salt Song’, by Milton Nascimento is aptly the most Brazillian sounding track here, and one of the best; moving between standard and double time, the whole band follow skilfully with Moreira displaying some incredible and fast playing. ‘I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do’ slows things down again for a blues and some more gospel strings, before ‘Storm’ finishes on a highly funky and rhythmic showcase for the whole band, with appropriately Turrentine taking the main honours.

It has to be said that ‘Salt Song’ is not ‘Sugar Part 2’. The groove is different and with a definite look to gospel and blues more than the R&B and funk of before. That said, for any fans of the first record, they will definitely find listening satisfaction here. All strong tunes, the slower pacing of two of the numbers might put some off, but the faster uptempo numbers are just exceptional. As always though, it’s ‘The Sugar Man’s’ show and his playing, as it always was, is bluesy, soulful and magnificent.