Archive for June 2017

Album review – December Avenue, Tomasz Stanko

Most of the music I pay for these days (if you don’t include Spotify) is that released on the German record label ECM.  ECM – Edition of Contemporary Music – is one of the most important labels in jazz and contemporary music.  To the best of my knowledge you won’t find any of their music on Spotify or other streaming services.  I’m unsure whether this is for commercial reasons  – to ensure their artists receive an appropriate level of income – or for that of quality, but it has had the effect of me being compelled to purchase their output.

Some of the finest jazz pianists around record exclusively for the label, including Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson, David Virelles, and Craig Taborn, while other notables including Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson feature on the label on a fairly regular basis.  So if you’re a jazz pianist, like myself, you’re likely to have come across ECM.

I think it’s fair to say that if you pay for an album, rather than have access to it via a streaming service, you are more likely to listen to that album, and more than once.  That’s certainly my experience.  It’s just as well with material released on ECM.  While there are exceptions to the rule, there is a certain ECM aesthetic.  Google ‘ECM album covers’ and you’ll see what I mean.  The album covers gives a strong hit at the music inside: spacious, ethereal, serene, edgy, etc.  You get the picture.  It’s music that needs or demands repeated listening.  That’s certainly the case with the subject of this review.

Tomasz Stanko, a polish, New York-based trumpeter has been releasing material on ECM for years.  December Avenue (2017) is his second release with his New York band:  David Virelles (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums).  These are some of the best players around and the quality shines through on the record.  The album fits the ECM mould.  This is regrettable in some sense.  For my money, the band really starts cooking on the more up-tempo tracks, which are in the minority.

Burning Hot (in the background of the video above) is reminiscent of Miles Davis’s so-called ‘second great quintet’, especially the Miles Smiles album.  David Virelles’ solo is burning and malevolent and one of the best piano solos I’ve heard in a while.  In fact, every time he touches the piano magic seems to happen.  December Avenue, a bluesey number, features another standout Virelles moment.  Of course, the bass and drums provide the foundation for this and for Stanko’s own blowing.  But it’s Virelles who is the man of the match here and for that alone the album is worth getting.

I saw Virelles play last year at London’s Kings Place and left feeling disappointed.  He was playing his own music on that occasion.  I’m seeing Stanko’s band in November – during the London Jazz Festival and am hoping that the previous disappointment was a one off.

Book review – Die Nadel and Poirot

I’ve a fondness for spy thrillers but I find there’s a balancing act being played out, between the dense and labyrinthine world of Le Carre’s Smiley and the simpler world of Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb.  I prefer some place in the middle, but probably nearer Smiley’s end.  Finding a new spy thriller which I think I’ll like therefore isn’t a simple task.  Talk about a ‘first world’ problem!  Anyway, I thought I’d go old-school and try out Ken Follett’s 1978 novel Eye of the Needle.

Set in the period just ahead of the D-Day landings in June 1944, EOTN centres on the ”Die Nadel’ or the Needle, the Reich’s top spy on British soil.  The Needle discovers the allies’ sleight of hand trick associated with the D-Day landings and is intent on informing the German high command, who have the utmost confidence in the Needle.  The Needle is pursued across the British Isles by our intrepid intelligence forces – mainly an ageing professor and a former beat cop.  The book is quite a romp and a real page turner:  I read it over a long weekend.  There weren’t as many twists and turns as I would have liked but it had certainly had me guessing throughout about where the story would go next.  I read Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra in the last year or so and EOTN felt to me to be very much within the same vein.  I’d recommend both.

Another book I read quite recently, which fell through the blogging crack is Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920).  I read Christie’s And then there were None a while ago and was very impressed.  It’d been a long time since I’d read anything as eerie and chilling as that.  I can understand why she is the world’s best-selling novelist of all time and I highly recommend it.  On that basis I thought I’d read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot book.  One of the later Poirot books was highly rated but I thought it best to start at the beginning.  Styles is the name of a country estate, the owner of which is murdered.  As ever, there are a range of suspects and our hero, Poirot, and narrator, Hastings, are on the case.  While I enjoyed the traditional country estate setting and cluedo-like characters, I wasn’t overly enamoured with the book.  The solving of the murder seemed pretty complicated and I’m not sure if many would have much chance solving the crime themselves.  Poirot also seems on the periphery for much of the novel, though I suspect he is more prominent in the following books.  I think I”ll give Poirot another go at some point in the future.

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