As people always point out while doing these, it’s impossible to choose any definitive favourites, so I’ve gone for three recent albums by pianists as I’ve been transcribing lots of piano solos recently. I’ve been particularly enjoying more through-composed music and suites, so that comes up a lot, and there are lots of different partnerships between improvisers, composers and arrangers that informed the way I think about my relationship to Tom in AuB.
Brad Mehldau Highway Rider
I remember seeing this album played live at the Barbican with the Britten Sinfonia and being hit by the expansiveness of the writing. I also think it’s my favourite recording of Joshua Redman, who’s always been a saxophone hero for me. I think because their musical relationship goes back a long time, Mehldau knows how to write to Redman’s strengths, and the clarity and urgency of his tone on top of the string section is really moving. There’s a depth to the music that you don’t necessarily hear on first listen because it sounds quite ‘accessible’. There is lots of subtlety in the control over consonance and dissonance in the writing. There’s an epic storyline implied by the titles and ordering of the tracks, it starts sounding quite pastoral and folky but grows in intensity as Jeff Ballard gets unleashed more and more, especially on Into the City where he gets to let rip completely.
Guillermo Klein/Aaron Goldberg Bienestan
This is slightly different from the others on this list as the music is so eclectic. There are lots of weird rhythms and harmonies throughout, but you’re almost pulled through the album by the surprise of each track – metrically complicated reworkings of bebop standards sit alongside hypnotic minimalist through-composed pieces. Guillermo Klein is a brilliant orchestrator. (There’s an amazing live album with a larger group called Filtros – which is, incidentally, the term he uses to describe metric modulations. Apparently thinking of them as ‘filters’ rather than changes or shifts.) The musicianship is absolutely world-class, with Miguel Zenón and Eric Harland in particular sounding at home amongst some of the more chaotic moments.
Fabian Almazan Rhizome
I particularly liked that there is a ‘message’ with this album – that humanity is interconnected just like the ‘rhizome’ giant plant system of the title – but it’s integrated into the music, artwork and song titles in a totally unforced way. I often find it difficult to bridge the gap between idea and music and I think Almazan does it really successfully here; things like the combinations of Camila Meza’s wordless vocals with various different instruments express that idea of interconnectedness. I really admire Almazan’s touch on the piano – he’ll break into a triplet run over a particularly dense bit of string writing and inject a completely new colour.
There are a few others I wanted to mention briefly as extras as they’ve been sustaining me during lockdown:
Ambrose Akinmusire When The Heart Emerges Glistening
I could have gone for any of his records, especially the live one at the Village Vanguard, but this is an older band with saxophonist Walter Smith III and there some amazing trumpet/tenor moments, especially on the beautiful duo outro to Henya where they dip in and out of unison. There’s such colour in the combination of two really personal instrumental sounds.
Tineke Postma Freya
It sounds like there’s nowhere she won’t go when improvising, but with total control over the ideas. You can hear the influence of Lee Konitz but the context is totally different. Postma’s playing is difficult to transcribe because it’s so idiosyncratic, but I’ve tried! It’s a great band too with loads of abstract interplay between Postma, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Dan Weiss on drums.
Ibrahim Maalouf Kalthoum
Another tenor/trumpet combination that I really like, where Maalouf tends to play the melodies while Mark Turner swirls around in the gaps. The album is a tribute to the Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum and Maalouf has some interesting quarter-tone interpretations of her vocal style. He’s talked about the similarities between the ‘blue note’ in jazz and the ‘maqam’ in Arabic music, both rooted in Africa. The suite is an unusual combination of Middle East and New York musical languages in that neither is overwhelmed by the other, there are really distinctive elements of both.
Matt Calvert Typewritten
Recorded in 2018 but feels quite appropriate to the current situation with Coronavirus as it was recorded between London, Germany and Switzerland. There are lots of really intricate, interweaving moving parts, alternating warmth and almost brittle percussiveness, with a completely unique sound world, a bit like electronic music but made with acoustic instruments. All the odd times sound completely natural and effortless.
Vince Mendoza Epiphany
I only discovered this album fairly recently, but it has quickly become one that I know I’ll keep coming back to for years to come. This album features two tenor greats – Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano. Both have incredibly strong voices on their instruments and have influenced my improvising beyond even I know. The same can be said about Kenny Wheeler who also features on this album. In fact, every featured musician on this album has an incredibly unique, honed sound which is what makes it so great to listen to. John Taylor, Peter Erskine, John Abercrombie and not to forget the incredible compositional voice of Vince Mendoza. There are so many heroes on this album, I can’t recommend it enough. It was the cycling, unnoticed key changes and melodies that inspired me to write Valencia which features on our album. The point of Valencia was to try and hint at as much harmony as possible with only three harmonic instruments. I attempted this by using a melody, counter melody and a bass line which dipped in and out of playing static chords. I also wanted to recreate the joyous feeling I got when listening to Epiphany accompanied with the feeling I got whilst touring in Spain last year. If I were to choose a favourite track it would have to be Esperanca. This piece features an incredible Brecker solo over a perfectly crafted vamp which I can’t imagine ever getting old.
Chris Potter Follow The Red Line (Live)
I used to listen to this album every Saturday on the way up to the Royal Academy of Music’s Junior Jazz course. The premise being that it would get me psyched up for an afternoon of playing and learning with the great Gareth Lockrane. I still get the same feeling of wanting to play every time I listen to it. This album is a live follow up to Chris’s albums with his Underground band. It features some mind-blowing saxophone and some ungodly grooves. You can feel the electric atmosphere in the room with this recording due to the whoops and screams of an audience who can’t believe their ears. I’ve transcribed a lot of Potter from this record and I can honestly say they’re some of the hardest lines I’ve ever attempted to get under my fingers. Chris’s solo sax interlude on Pop Tune is a favourite moment of mine. This album is also a huge compositional influence for me in terms of textures and form.
Coltrane Live At Birdland
My love for Coltrane started with his album Blue Train, which was the first jazz album I had ever checked out. I loved the purity, technique, and gorgeous sound combination that Coltrane improvised with so effortlessly, so I worked my way through his discography to discover more about him and his recording career. It was only when I stumbled upon Live at Birdland that I knew Coltrane was going to be one of my biggest influences for many years to come. It was also my first introduction to the famous quartet – Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and John Coltrane. There was something thunderous about this quartet. The sheer power, communication, and sonic pallet of this band is nothing short of the best recorded group I have ever heard. The intensity of Afro Blue on this album demonstrates these characteristics perfectly. McCoy builds a solo to a point where you think it’s impossible for the intensity to keep soaring up but then Coltrane comes storming in with the soprano and ups the intensity to the stratosphere! This has to be in my top five albums.
AuB’s self-titled debut album ‘AuB’ is out now on Edition Records.
“The lovechild of two of London’s up-and-coming powerhouse saxophonists, AuB are a twin tenor ensemble ready to make cataclysmic waves in the sound of UK jazz” Jazzwise