Reviews Column 55: Jazz Prog

American-born/UK-based guitarist Mark Wingfield offers Proof Of Light (Moonjune), an album dominated by his elegant yet piercing fretwork.

It’s wreathed in a synth-tone that has more than a whiff of Holdsworth and Metheny, and unswerving, frequently uplifting support from Asaf Sirkis (drums) and Yaron Stavi (bass) ensures Wingfield’s beautifully turned phrases come through loud and clear. In the more turbulent throws, as on Voltaic, the resemblance to the 80s-era improvs of King Crimson is striking, though Wingfield’s compositions prevent any noodling overload.

Fans of the distinctively soft yet sometimes spiky tones of the Fender Rhodes piano will surely want to grab Marc Cary’s Rhodes Ahead Vol.2 (Motéma). Cary’s dialed down the drum’n’bass grooves that propelled the first volume back in ’99, and here his wonderfully supple runs are embedded in a more organic, straight-ahead feel. Echoing vintage Herbie Hancock or Weather Report, his melodic and harmonic grasp is old school without being backwards-looking. The incendiary Beehive hurtles forward as Cary’s glancing, syncopated jabs ricochet between startling horn lines and stinging snare.

Polar Bear have released the follow-up to their 2014 Mercury Prize nominated album In Each And Every One. Despite opening with what sounds like a life-affirming but tedious recitation by the drunk on the last bus home, Same As You (Leaf) quickly settles into an agreeably amorphous sequence of hypnotically chugging beats, across which dub-style bass and ethereal saxes undertake a discreet, restrained procession. It’s more monochrome than minimal and while fiery outbursts occasionally erupt, it’s the snoozy, chilled vibe that ultimately prevails.

That’s not something that troubles Infolding (RareNoise), the third album from the Anglo-Norwegian Spin Marvel, who proffer an electro-acoustic exploration into groove and mood that’s accessible and also strikingly engaging. Recorded live in the studio without overdubs, the quartet of drums, live electronics, bass and processed trumpet sail on modal oceans, subjected to contrasting vertiginous crests and glassy, mill pond calm. At times, it’s not unlike a cosmic jam from Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd mixed with the pensive ambience of Miles Davis’ He Loved Him Madly. Heavyweight contributions from Nils Petter Molvaer’s gloriously translucent trumpet and ex-Bruford bassist Tim Harries provide some compelling light and shade.

Although Gefion (ECM) is Danish guitarist Jakob Bro’s debut for the label, he sounds like he’s been on the top roster for decades. Bro’s music evoke sparse, wintry vistas and looming cloud. Veteran ECM star Jon Christensen’s deft cymbals conjure an impressionistic haze that Turner himself would’ve been proud of, as gossamer melodies glisten on buoyant harmonics and graceful notes sing and bend. Bassist Thomas Morgan provides the anchor that stops it all being washed away. Thoughtful and unhurried, it’s easily a contender for quite the most beautiful album you’re likely to hear this year.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.