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Music Album reviews with Steve Johnson, Ben Lunn and Chris Searle

New realeases from Dom Prag, Dejana Sekulic, Silke Eberhard Trio, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, Rebeca Omordia, Marquis Hill, Peter Knight and John Spiers, Gianluca Verlingieri and Kevin Sun

Dom Prag
Needle and Thread

DOM PRAG was steeped in the traditions of the classical guitar from childhood and later developing an interest in blues and folk. This second album of his is produced by Show of Hands’ Phil Beer who accompanies with fiddle on several tracks.

Consisting of seven traditional songs and three self-penned originals, the album has a common theme throughout of fighting against social injustice and helping people through dark times.

It starts with the rousing Van Diemen’s Land and other standout tracks include The Brisk Lad, which looks at the circumstances people find themselves in when battling to survive.

There are also two inspired renditions of songs related to miners in struggle, South Medomsley Strike and The Oakey Strike Evictions.

But the new compositions also inspire with The Shoemender, looking at deteriorating high streets and the title track dealing with mental health. We can look forward to more from this talented performer.


Dejana Sekulic
Temporality of the Impossible
Huddersfield Contemporary Records

ALBUMS like this always fascinate me, with their construction being a performer showing their full creative and performing prowess.

Dejana Sekulic’s album is a real who’s-who of contemporary music featuring a wide variety of musical giants including Clara Iannotta, Rebecca Saudners, Liza Lim, Dario Buccino, Evan Johnson, Cathy Miliken and Aaron Cassidy.

The combination of these composers makes for quite a satisfying whole, while also managing not to fall into a trap of homogeneity.

The strength and character of each composer is present and Sekulic can take full responsibility of highlighting that element, which can get neglected in recordings of the dreaded “contemporary music.”

Hauch by Rebecca Suanders and dead wasps in the jam jar (i) by Clara Iannotta both really stand out for me, though this does not diminish the quality of the other works featured.

But the overall feeling is Dejana Sekulic is simply incredible throughout. What an album.


Silke Eberhard Trio
Being The Up And Down
Intakt Records

SILKE EBERHARD is a German alto saxophonist much influenced by the great Eric Dolphy but absolutely with a sound of her own.

Her new album, Being the Up and Down, was recorded live in Jazzclub A-Trane in Berlin.

With bassist Jan Roder and drummer Kay Lubke, she creates a record of lightning sounds.

Hear her on her opener, U11, how her horn jumps between her notes creating a leaping timbral pattern with Roder and Kay with her on every levitating step.

The album radiates all the excitation of live performance. On Laika’s Descent, named after the Soviet space-dog, Lubke’s drums create an ironic grounding sound, while Roder’s bass booms out the canine heartbeat and Eberhard’s elegiac and striving notes stream  from her horn.

After the deft lyricism of Zeitlupenbossa, Eberhard’s galloping choruses in the rampaging Damensschrank hardly touches the ground in this moving album of constant change and inventiveness.



Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl
Heal and Harrow
Shadowside Records

THIS collaboration between harpist and singer Rachel Newton and fiddle player Lauren MacColl is a remarkable initiative which pays tribute to the many Scottish women persecuted as witches in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Drawing on stories commissioned by writer Mairi Kidd, this 10-track album opens with Lilias, the true tale of the only person convicted of witchcraft in Scotland to have her own grave, while Isobel is about the most famous witch trial in Scotland of Isobel Gowdie who “confessed” to having a sexual encounter with Satan.

There are haunting melodies in both English and Gaelic and while most are new compositions, penultimate track Cutty Sark is inspired by the Robert Burns’s poem Tam o’ Shanter.

In this song, however, the “witch” Nanny Dee is given a life of her own.

Relevant to current battles against misogyny and toxic masculinity, this is a bewitching album.


Rebeca Omordia
African Pianism
SOMM Recordings

CLASSICAL music from the continent of Africa is incredibly overlooked, however this convincing album by Rebeca Omordia elegantly introduces numerous composers, many of whom deserve a greater amount of time dedicated to their talents.

Personal highlights include Bankole’s Egun Variations are charming and full of character.

JH Kwabena Nketia’s African Pianism, though only showing a third of the full set, is a very unique and fun collection of etudes.

Onyeji’s Ufie is fizzing with energy from the start, and the contrasting slow movement is both dark and beautiful (my favourite from the collection).

Benabdeljalil’s Nocturnes are just wonderful for the ears and his En Attente du Primtemps is a beautiful conversation between the piano and Abdelkadaer Saadoun on the tar.

Every piece is delightful, and Rebeca Omordia shares them with the highest quality and sheer artistry. I cannot wait to see what other works she’ll share with us.


Marquis Hill
New Gospel Revisited
Edition Records

THE South Side Chicagoan trumpeter Marquis Hill first recorded the tunes of New Gospel Revisited in 2011, on his album New Gospel.

“To revisit this music with a new band has been uniquely invigorating,” he declares, and this new album, recorded live at Chicago's Constellation Club in 2019, is full of life, fire and now-times truth.

Three of his band — saxophonist Walter Smith 111, drummer Kendrick Scott and pianist James Francis — are from Houston, like the late George Floyd, and with Hill, bassist Harish Raghavan and vibist Joel Ross, their soundscape, particularly on the tracks Law and Order, and The Believer, strangely presages Floyd’s police murder and the mass indignation and resistance that followed.

Each confrere has a featured track and the band speaks as one on others, like the lucidly beautiful Autumn, where Hill’s burnished notes rise defiantly and Smith floats weightlessly over the rhythm: a powerful, memorable session.



Peter Knight and John Spiers
Both in a Tune

THIS pairing of two kingpins of folk originally took place at Britain’s most easterly folk festival FolkEast in 2016.

Six years later they have produced their second studio album inspired by a line in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Knight is renowned for his work in Steeleye Span and Gigspanner while Spiers has a brilliant reputation as a melodeon player performing with Jon Boden and Bellowhead.

This 10-track album of mainly traditional folk tunes takes on a life of its own with eclectic freeform arrangements which challenge the listener.

Starting with Scarborough Fair the combination of violin and melodeon sets the scene for what is come. Later we have the melodeon led Abbot’s Bramley Horn and Knight’s own composition La Dance de Madame Meymarie.

Ending with the more sombre Battle of the Somme, this is a valuable musical experience.



Gianluca Verlingieri
Musica Ritrovata

THE first album dedicated to the Italian composer shows a great wealth of variety and ingenuity.

All works featured are for chamber ensembles, with the largest group being Four Songs for a Mad Composer featuring a string quartet.

This does not inhibit his musical imagination, and he skilfully brings out a world of colour, character and flair with such limited forces.

The works cover a 14-year period (2004-19), and the feeling of progression is present, however this is more present in the confidence in the imagination, more than the quality of works.

Where Shift for solo accordion has a certain timidity to it, Vintage for organ is firmly true to itself.

Four Songs for a Mad Composer stands out as the most engaging work, but there are many wonderful qualities to the other works, which are well worth exploring.

A solid album from a very promising composer.



Kevin Sun
Endectomorph Music

2020 was the centenary of Charlie Parker’s birth. The New York tenor saxophonist, Kevin Sun, as an antidote to lockdown, threw himself into Parker’s music as “a guiding light for me when we were most isolated and afraid.”

The result was <3 Bird, a reinvention of Parker’s bop themes, played with dynamic zest by Sun, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, guitarist Max Light, pianist Christian Li, bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor.

They collectively transform Parker’s genius to pandemic times in a series of short tracks based on Parkeresque themes.

Innovative to the core, tracks like Dovetail, Greenlit, Composite and Salt Peanuts all have the essence of Parker, while transporting his brilliance to a contemporary soundworld.

This is definitely a 2020s bird, flying with songs of love and hope from a brother saxophonist “imagining what was happening on a given day in his life” and creating an album of sustenance and joy.



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