This week sees new releases from Sam Lee, Eve Selis, Steve Thompson (aka Blabbermouth) and a 3-CD box set reissue of Jan Garbarek‘s classic collaborations with Bobo Stenson.
Sam Lee – Ground Of Its Own (Nest Collective)
Befitting a man whose Nest Collective agenda seems keen to beat the bounds of folk music, Ground Of Its Own is an adventurous record brim full of striking, inventive, unusual arrangements of traditional folk songs. It fits the idea of revival to a tee, as despite their settings and subjects of wild woods, northlands, hare hunting and water sprites, the songs sound fresh and powerful, like newly minted guineas.
The use of Jew’s harp adds a surprising rhythmic drive to the Ballad Of George Collins, the tuned tank drum and trumpet (of the appropriately named Tank & Trumpet) give a mournful grace to On Yonder Hill. The sample used in Wild Wood Amber is like a found fragment that echoes the song’s somewhat slippery origin as a composite. The song of a nightingale and the urgent pulse of a shruti box contrast with Sam’s expansive, romantic take on Tan Yard Side.
As striking as it all sounds, you have to wonder at Sam’s dedication to learn these songs and he credits the Gypsies and Travellers who have fuelled his quest, indeed all singers are credited in his promise to keep listening. With people like Sam carrying the torch, so should you. [Reviewed by Simon Holland]
The latest three-album box set in ECM’s Old & New Masters series brings together all of Jan Garbarek’s collaborations with Bobo Stenson for the label, thus Sart from 1971, Witchi-Tai-To from 1973 and Dansere from 1975 make a welcome return to the catalogue, having been out of print in recent years. The perspective that some 40 years permits, might allow rationalisation to temper these albums’ significance, but the passage of time has done little to dim their lustre; they are bona fide classics, not just of European jazz, but of jazz itself.
All the musicians were well known to one another through a variety of associations, thus Garbarek, Stenson, Rypdal, Andersen and Christensen stepped into the recording studio for the 1971 Sart session confident their sympathetic interaction would carry the day – which it did. Here is creative music-making in the moment; musicians embracing the burden of creativity with the licence that free-flowing expressionism brings.
The Garbarek-Stenson quartet present a more formal approach to improvisation, using song forms – not least the classic Witchi-Tai-To – to underpin their improvisations, which are models of lucid melodicism and an ability to “play silence” – a technique that may be Miles Davis’ most enduring legacy – in a way that their improvisations assumed greater clarity and resonance. This quartet, with Danielsson and Christensen, had it in their gift to make music that was timeless. Perhaps the only regret is they did not record more often. [Reviewed by Stuart Nicholson]
Eve Selis – Family Tree (Hippy Chick Twang)
Selis is both an excellent interpreter of songs and an experienced songwriter and this album is a mixture of original material and covers (in a similar vein to her previous releases), financed by donations from her fans. Her distinctive voice has effortless, natural power (apparent on the barnstorming opener Rubber And Glue), but she’s also capable of sensitive and subtle singing (Any Day).
Selis writes with a variety of different songwriters and often with her guitarist and long-standing collaborator Marc Intravaia. Most of the rest of her band have also been with Selis for some time. Among their ranks is veteran guitarist “Cactus” Jim Soldi who’s played with many of the greats including Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Ricky Skaggs. There are also a handful of guest musicians including legendary guitarist Albert Lee.
The varied bunch of songs on Family Tree cover a rich variety of subjects that include a pondering of the nature of destiny on All Roads Lead To Here, musings on the superficial pleasure of material possessions on When Is Everything Enough and a desire to flee the rat race on Stop The Train. Stylistically, the album combines helpings of blues, rock, country, folk and a touch of soul into an engaging concoction.
Selis closes the album with an ambitious rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a brave choice given the number of high profile versions recently, but it’s a fitting conclusion to the album and the perfect vehicle to highlight the dynamic and emotional range of her voice. [Reviewed by Michael Hingston]
(Steve Thompson) aka Blabbermouth – Ramble (Blabbermouth Records)
After two increasingly listener-friendly albums on which he purveyed his own special brand of “charming songs about mortality”, Steve now unveils a brand new collection that does what it says on the tin: “ramble”, but in the nicest possible way. That means it starts more like a travelogue, through the locales of which Steve visits his own tellingly simple, if mildly enigmatic observations on the human condition couched in loving, wistful reminiscence.
The parade of place names (New York, London, Amsterdam, Littlehampton, Arundel Castle) is interspersed with appealing little reflections on matters metaphysical (360), purely romantic (The Farm We’ll Never Have) or mundanely everyday (Dust) – often with a genial wit. Steve’s musical styling is perhaps best described as delicately retro; for as ever, his songs are attractively delivered, the pleasingly accessible settings making the best of his own gentle, understated guitar and the judicious use of additional instrumentation and programming from producer Ian Faragher.
Steve’s humble position, as “just a man with no place for these crazy thoughts to hide”, is surely unassailable; you’re certain to identify closely with him there. [Reviewed by David Kidman]