Télémaque – ‘The King’s Hall Concert’ (NEWJAiM5) ♦♦♦♦
This concert recording – originally billed as the Joe McPhee Trio – from an afternoon performance at the 2018 Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music features McPhee on tenor saxophone, trumpet and voice, joined by English musicians John Pope on bass and Paul Hession on percussion. The performance is very much a collaborative event, with McPhee allowing Pope and Hession their own space to extemporise and guide the direction and flow of the music.
The album’s two tracks, St.Elmo’s Fire Parts 1 & 2, show three musicians who, despite having not performed together as a trio before, have a great understanding of each other’s capabilities. Part 1 opens with McPhee’s tenor, combining harmonics and vocalising before being joined by Pope’s fluid bow-work’ pope and Hession then take the improvisation into it’s next phase before McPhee returns, blowing freely and creating a dynamic 3 way collaboration. This gives way to a short solo from Hession who makes impressive use of his kit to initiate the final phase of the first half.
Part 2 commences with a long solo from Pope with percussion gradually appearing after 3 minutes and McPhee’s voice and sax following a couple of minutes later. This develops until the improvisation reaches it’s full intensity at around the half way point with all three musicians giving full vent to their playing.
All in all this is a superb example of a trio reading each other’s emotions and abilities and producing a fine addition to this new label’s already impressive catalogue. The only down side is that, sadly, it only lasts just over 36 minutes in total. I would love to have heard more.
Johnny Richards – ‘Build A Friend’ (NEWJAiM6) ♦♦♦
Having already issued Paul Taylor’s languorously beautiful ‘Via’ as the label’s second release, some might have been surprised to find another solo piano album following so soon; however, Johnny Richards’ Build A Friend is a different animal altogether.
Recorded over two sessions in the autumn and winter of 2018, the album consists of 15 short improvisations with only 2 pieces breaking the 4 minute mark.
The album’s first two tracks both employ prepared piano; Farewell To Calm is slow, contemplative and an indicator of things to come, and is followed by The Moths which, as the title suggests, brings forth images of desperate wings fluttering against a bare light bulb. Inside Out Thought is quietly contemplative and again very aptly titled. Acrobat Grin (which I initially mis-read as Acrobat Gin - an interesting thought) I found to be a little bit noodly and directionless. Darts is a return to form with Richards making full use of the keyboard in a frenetic opening two minutes before calmer close to the piece.
The album follows a similar pattern throughout and I found many of the pieces to be quite ruminative and felt that at times I was waiting for an explosion of some sort to happen and being faintly disappointed when this doesn’t arrive. The exception however is Hell Is Rehydrating which bursts with menace, as the title suggests and is definitely the stand-out track on the album. Darts II follows a similar route Darts and is also very entertaining.
All in all Build A Friend is a good record, well performed and with interesting piano preparation, but if I had to make a choice between the two I would definitely go for the Télémaque album every time.
Project leader at New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings Wesley Stephenson deserves great credit for creating this new label and for his policy of ensuring that all the CDs in the catalogue are manufactured with an eye to having as minimal an impact on the planet as possible without sacrificing on the quality of the design. With more titles in the pipeline I look forward to their future releases.