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Album reviews by Kevin Bryan, Ben Lunn and Chris Searle

New releases from Beans on Toast, Martin Suckling, Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener, Bobby Allison and Gerry Spehar, Kristina Arakelya/Anna Disley-Simpson/Alexander Ho/Derri Joseph Lewis, Will Glaser/Matthew Herd/Liam Noble, Linda Moylan, Klein, Eyolf Dale

Beans on Toast
Survival of the Friendiiest
(Self Released)
★★★★

NEW albums from Jay McAllister’s affectingly uplifting alter ego appear on the market each December with the reguarity of clockwork to comfort his fans as winter approaches, and I’m pleased to be able to report that the great man’s latest long-playing extravaganza is a particularly warm and life-enhancing piece of work.

Survival of the Friendliest finds McAllister taking such obvious delight in the joy of simply being alive that you can’t help but succumb to the appeal of his unashamedly optimistic worldview.

Beans has assembled a familiar band of like-minded musical cohorts to underpin his sterling efforts here, with Blaine Harrison and Jack Flanagan of The Mystery Jets making telling contributions to the proceedings as the folksy troubadour unveils some fine additions to his illustrious back-catalogue such as Humans, A Beautiful Place and Not Everybody Thinks We’re Doomed.

Kevin Bryan

 

Martin Suckling
The Tuning
Delphian
★★★★★

MARTIN SUCKLING’S music is both expansive and intimate, and this new release from Delphian truly exploits this nature of his music.

The opening song cycle, which gives the album its name, based on texts by Michael Donaghy opens a vast colourful world.

Marta Fontanais-Simmons handles the lyrical lines with delicacy and care and underlines the beautiful distinction and interaction between the piano and singer.

Both Her Lullaby and Nocturne, work as wonderful palate-cleansers which contrast greatly from the larger works The Tuning and the string quintet Emily’s Electrical Absence.

Emily’s Electrical Absence is introduced by spoken recitation of the inspiring texts by the poet Frances Leviston and give a wonderful context for the purely instrumental quintet.

Overall, the album manages to condense a lot of the wonderful qualities of Suckling’s works and leaves me wanting more.

Hopefully this Scottish composer can follow this success with new albums.

Ben Lunn

 

Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener
Auge
Intakt Records
★★★★★

THE threesome of Japanese pianist Aki Takase, Swiss bassist Christian Weber and German drummer Michael Griener has no leader.

“It is not the old idea, where the pianist is king and the bassist and drummer are sidemen. We are equal,” says Takase.

Their debut album Auge, is a listener’s wonder. Hear Takase’s rampages up and down her keys on Drops of Light or the tranquillity of No Tears, with Weber’s compelling virtuosity and Griener’s rattling snares. Three musicians here playing as much for each other as those lucky enough to hear.

Superbly recorded in Berlin, the lucidity of each note strikes bell-like, as in the crystalline and unified sound of The Pillow Book, Takase’s composition Calcagno or Weber’s extended solo moment on The Face of the Bass.

Among the sharpest tracks is Out of Sight: an apt summation of the entire album.

Chris Searle

Bobby Allison and Gerry Spehar
Delta Man
(Self-released)
★★★

THIS easy-on-the-ear CD retrospective shines a welcome and long overdue spotlight on the collected works of Bobby Allison and  Gerry Spehar, two unusually gifted musical soulmates who’ve been plying their trade together on an intermittent basis since  they both found themselves at a loose end after the sad demise of their former bands long long ago in 1981.

Delta Man could be loosely pigeonholed in the roots music category but the contents are actually much more closely aligned to orthodox country and western music than pure Americana.

With the duo revelling in their innate ability to conjure up memorable melodic hooks as they serve up effortlessly tuneful  reflections on the human condition such as River, 25 Miles To Brady and Rockin’ On A Country Dance Floor for your listening pleasure. Lend them an ear and enrich your life a little.

KB

 

Young Composers 3
National Youth Chorus Great Britain (NYCGB)
NMC Recordings
★★★

FOLLOWING a year-long scheme helping develop young composers, this album celebrates works by the four young composers.

The support granted to these young composers is incredible, and a way for musical institutions could treat living composers, sadly this isn’t common.

The chorus give genuinely heartfelt renditions of these new works.

Ben Parry, the director, is to be commended greatly for having brought the best of the young singers, who I hope have a rich musical life ahead of them.

Without wanting to jinx the prospects of these composers, or try to doom them, my feelings on the works are varied.

Some works I feel were extremely twee, and others felt like they needed a bit more time in the oven, however Hush by Alex Ho and I wandered lonely as a cloud by Kristina Arakelyan stood out for me.

The album is quite the achievement and the NYCGB excelled throughout.

BL

 

Will Glaser/Matthew Herd/Liam Noble
Climbing In Circles
Ubuntu Music
★★★★

CLIMBING in Circles is a constantly surprising album incorporating the powerful British talents of drummer Will Glaser, saxophonist Matthew Herd and protean pianist Liam Noble.

From the excitation of open improvisation of its first track Pre Lewd, it moves to the much more solidly predictable Ellington tune, Mood Indigo, before Herd’s howling and whirling opening to Don Cherry’s Mopti.

Throughout, Glaser’s many-surfaced, inventive percussion constantly changes and impresses; Herd is audacious and fearless in his soundmaking, and Noble’s astonishing sonic scope makes him sound like a different pianist on every track.

The trio clip their way through I’m an Old Cowhand, Glaser’s rhythmic complexity shines through Paul Motian’s Mumbo Jumbo and Herd’s reflective sadness peals out achingly for human solidarity through Trevor Watts’s Lonely.

This is a record of many vistas and soundscapes, beautifully and movingly played, recorded defiantly in May 2020 in the very gut of the pandemic.

CS

 

Linda Moylan
The Merchant
(Talking Elephant)
★★★★

IRISH-BORN singer-songwriter Linda Moylan happily cites such  impeccable musical influences as Leonard Cohen, Sandy Denny and Nina Simone, and her second album for the Talking Elephant label is a typically beguiling affair.

Blending freshly minted new material and fine interpretations of much-loved traditional ditties such as Black is the Colour and Star of the County Down to excellent effect.

Phil Beer of Show of Hands fame handles the production duties as well as chipping in on fiddle and guitar on many of the tracks in a telling contribution to one of the finest roots music collections that you’ll be likely to come across in this or any other year.

Lend an  inquisitive ear to stand-out tracks such as Old Black Boots, Sugar Water or Glistening Gold and I predict that you’ll succumb to  the subtly woven spell of Linda’s lyrical narratives too.

KB

 

Harmattan
Klein
Pentatone
★★★★

DESCRIBED as a foray in a more “western classical” world, Harmattan by the British-Nigerian artist Klein, is an interesting and anarchic blend.

When artists talk about “crossing-over” into classical, there is often a shudder down my spine, as the qualities that make certain forms of music are harder to translate to, say, an orchestra, or the feeling is the artist’s ego feels like anything they touch turns to gold.

Thankfully with Harmattan this is far from the truth. The shape of the album was impacted heavily by the pandemic, meaning instead of getting an orchestra, access to instruments was varied, which I often find is a predicament which often benefits experimental music-makers — as artists who can make music out of anything, most musicians would quiver with few resources, however Klein, like many experimentalists before them thrives.

The use of glitches, loops, and other distortions makes this a real smorgasbord for the ears.

BL

 

Eyolf Dale
Being
Edition Records
★★★★

IN THE sleeve photograph of pianist Eyolf Dale’s new album Being, a blond-haired young boy is clambering up a lilac bush, his mouth agape. It somehow emblematises the music of the album: youthful, sprightly, audacious and carefree.

Dale, born in Skien, Norway, in 1985, is in prime fettle with trio confreres drummer Audan Kleive and Per Zanussi on bass and saw.

During the last decade Dale has cut several albums and toured the world, yet Being seems a very local, home-loving record, and all the tunes are his.

On Forward from Here Kleive’s snares vibrate with life beside Dale’s tolling notes. The Pondering, slow and ruminative, has a darksome melody, edged by Zanussi’s earthen bass.

Dale’s tunes echo in the listener’s brain and imagination as if they belong there, making the music a human starting point, provoking patterns of beauty and thoughts and solutions to everyday life.

CS

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