Tony Dudley-Evans reviews the first four albums on the NEWJAiM label:
NEWJAiM (short for New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings) is a new label established in Newcastle by Wesley Stephenson who decided to move into recording as a result of the cancellation of the Newcastle Jazz and Improvised Music Festival last year caused by the coronavirus situation. He had always been keen to add a recorded strand to the festival, and the lockdown provided the incentive to take the plunge and to provide opportunities for musicians unable to play live. The project has been funded by a Crowdfunder campaign (interview about that below) and four albums are now available on Bandcamp.
Three of these feature artists and groups from the North East, but the first album on the list features an improvising trio from Denmark with alto saxophonist Laura Toxværd, a player that Wesley had heard at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival and who was due to play at the festival and other dates in UK. Wesley Stephenson is also keen to record groups from other regions and countries. There are a number of other projects in the pipeline.
NEWJAiM 1. Laura Toxværd, Maria Faust, Jacob Anderskov: Calling – Live from Winter Jazz Copenhagen
Each of the three tracks of this album, CAS, IL and ING is based on a graphic score created by Toxværd. The scores are interpreted by Toxværd and Faust, both on alto saxophone, and Anderskov on prepared piano.
There is a nice contrast between the two saxophonists: Toxværd makes extensive use of extended techniques that contrast with the straighter but still adventurous playing of Faust. Anderskov provides an additional contrast with the use of the piano as a percussive instrument. Toxværd’s playing is challenging, but brings together different influences such as Charlie Parker, grunge and electronica, to create a totally original sound and approach. The music is built around collective improvisation, but the individuals will take the floor at various points. The three graphic scores that the group reacted to are shown on the album cover, and there is an explanation of approach on her website.
NEWJAiM 2. Paul Taylor: Solo Piano
This album presents six piano improvisations by Paul Taylor, five in a series, Via 1 to Via 5, recorded at the Sage Gateshead, and one, Planare, the longest track at 17.16 mins, recorded at an earlier date, also at Sage Gateshead. Inevitably, one is reminded of Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts. In Via 1 I thought I also heard an influence from Cecil Taylor’s solo excursions. However, Paul Taylor has developed his own approach based on the language of classical music, and this results in a series of harmonically and melodically rich, compelling improvisations. The tracks were recorded during the lockdown period, and several commentators have noted a sense of urgency and anxiety in the music that reflects the mood of the times.
NEWJAiM 3. John Pope Quintet: Mixing With Glass
John Pope is the bass player with the excellent Archipelago trio and the debut album of his quintet brings five players from the North East and North West of England: Faye MacCalman on tenor sax, Jamie Stockbridge on alto sax and Graham Hardy on trumpet form the three-horn frontline, and drummer Johnny Hunter completes the group. The music is based on compositions by Pope which lead into a series of solos and collective improvisation that draw their inspiration from the music of Charles Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
NEWJAiM 4. Graeme Wilson & Andy Champion: Shoes for Losers
Shoes for Losers is a duo album with saxophonist Graeme Wilson and double bass player Andy Champion. There are ten tracks, all totally improvised and all with bizarre but fun titles, such as Raisins Hotel and Golf With Sausages. Both players have a strong sound and musically they fit together extremely well. Each track presents an attractive improvisation, and the whole album provides an excellent example of the virtues of free improvisation, i.e. two players listening intently to each other and taking the music spontaneously in different directions. Each track is quite short, and my only question is whether they might have included some longer improvisations. In a live situation it would be normal to present an extended improvisation, and one of the joys of improv is the way in which the music evolves over a period of time and the way it involves the listener in active listening. On the other hand, it can be argued that extended improvisations work less well on a recorded album.
All four albums are available on Bandcamp and CD. LINK
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LINK: Interview about the original label crowdfunder with Wesley Stephenson
Album covers of NewJaim 1 (Laura Toxværd) and 2 (Paul Taylor)