Jazz Prog Round-up - August 2016

Sid Smith rounds up the best releases from prog’s jazzier reaches.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s Black Stabat Mater album art

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Norway’s Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s Black Stabat Mater (Rune Grammofon) is their fourth studio release since 2011 and their best yet. An incendiary, shape-shifting crossover of heavy rock and jazz, their turbulent howl is often more Merzbow than Mahavishnu. In this volatile, free-ranging environment, Mollestad’s distortion-blitzed guitar cleaves its way between Ellen Brekken’s prowling bass and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad’s furious cannonades.

These volcanic shockwaves are tempered with scythe-like harmonies that carry within them deftly articulated parts, heightening the white-knuckle ride: the vibrant sparks and shards arcing from Mollestad’s fretboard result in a near-constant wave of exultant release. It’s challenging and stunning in equal measure. A limited edition, double-vinyl live set, Evil In Oslo (Rune Grammofon), offers an impressive in-concert retrospective of the trio in no-holds-barred action. If Black Sabbath did instrumental jazz rock it’d sound a bit like this.

Trumpeter Harry Beckett’s fiery presence illuminated the UK jazz scene from the 50s until his death in 2010. Still Happy (My Only Desire Records), a lost 70s BBC Radio session, has him at his peak. With Isotope and Soft Machine members in tow, their funkish, Nucleus-like vibe produces concise but hot soloing. An absolute must-have for fans of 70s UK Brit jazz.

Propelled by Percy Jones’ supple bass playing, the self-titled debut from MJ-12(Gonzo Multimedia) contains a wealth of nimble, bopish melodies threaded between dazzling sax and some impressively fluid lead guitar, whose exchanges occasionally evoke Brand X’s early intensity. Recommended.

Led by Ex-EST bassist, Dan Berglund, Tonbruket’s Forevergreens (ACT) encompasses stately jazz rock ruminations that occasionally plug into the modal currents of psych-era Floyd. Here, flailing guitar and overdriven organ offer a savage counterpoint to the album’s otherwise graceful and impeccable poise.

Echoes of Loose Tubes and Led Bib reverberate through WorldService Project’s For King & Country (RareNoise Records). Their swaggering brassy sound has an almost brutal quality that hits hard and fast between tottering, vertiginous riffs. Glowering with a righteously punkish energy, almost every piece overflows with acidic salvos rippling alongside a slightly humorous but decidedly manic edge.

Music Of Weather Report (ECM) is original Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous’ first full-album foray into the material of the band he helped found in 1970. Centring on Vitous’ tenure, it includes the addition of an early WR composition never recorded. The agile sextet serve up genuinely inspired arrangements that breathe new life into the later repertoire. The album may well be a throwback to Vitous’ early days but it’s one completely devoid of nostalgia.

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.