Reviews Column 64: Jazz Prog

The latest project from Philadelphia-based guitarist Tim Motzer, Orion Tango (1k Recordings) teams him up with ex-Base3 bassist Barry Meehan and drummer Jeremy Carlstedt.

The latter frequently drive the direction of these committed and forthright improvisations, with Motzer scattering pin-pricks of stardust or hurling down explosive fireballs from on high. Their preternatural approach to space and time leaves room for everyone to go exploring. Spacey and psychedelic it may be, but breathtaking points of convergence and a gutsy fortitude to see what might happen next deliver consistently mesmeric and striking results.

Fans of Third-era Soft Machine and RIO chamber ensembles should beat a path to the door of Italian outfit Démodé. On their debut Ison (Birdland Sounds) La Fuga’s sleek clarinet, violin and sax lines skip across choppy piano and cross-cutting rhythms. This is no Softs knock-off – the band’s elegantly structured compositions display a highly detailed vision that’s all their own.

Kimmo Pohjonen’s Sensitive Skin (Octopus) is perhaps the Finnish accordionist’s finest hour. Via an array of FX and real-time processing his instrument speaks with many voices. Short but blistering tunes – featuring classy guests such as the Kronos Quartet – bubble together in a melting pot of traditional folk, fusion and contemporary classical styles. It could well be that Kimmo is crossing over into something approaching the mainstream here, but like everything he produces it’s defiantly on his own terms.

Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset is a master at sculpting beguiling, shimmering soundscapes. Though these are present on I.E. (Jazzland) they’re tempered by assertive, jazz rock tinged themes, fleshed out by a dynamic team of players entirely comfortable with a prevailing rockish groove. His provocative soloing marshals dazzling colours and quirky shapes but neatly avoid any excessive introspection. It’s arguably Aarset’s strongest, most accessible release to date – anyone curious about this man’s jaw-dropping abilities should start here.

Echo (Ronin Rhythm) is the debut from Zurich’s Ikarus. Led by drummer Ramón Oliveras, they share the Swiss school of zen-funk’s taste for cat-and-mouse games with tension and release. Two instrumental vocalists add an intriguing harmonic dimension to the bass, drums and piano set-up and, aside from their punchy, motorik episodes, there are Pärt-like reveries on simple but startlingly effective themes. It’s also insanely catchy!

Finally, the eight-disc Miles Davis: The Last Word (Warner) gathers most but not all the trumpeter’s recordings for the label in the mid-80s though to 1992’s Doo-Bop. Completists will be rightly irked at the absence of some important tracks known to be still languishing in Warner’s vault. Though often overlooked, this period shows Davis retaining his bite on Tutu and Amandala, while Live Around The World and Live At Nice finds his his waspish notes darting between the keyboards on one Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson Band) to most impressive effect.

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.