Review roundup - the best new jazz prog releases

Sid Smith rounds up the best releases from prog’s jazzier reaches, including Tohpati, Megladon Collective, Trichotomy, Alice Coltrane, Cuong Vu, Arve Henriksen and Yazz Ahmed

Tohpati’s Mata Hati album artwork

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Indonesian guitarist Tohpati’s Mata Hati (Moonjune) continues a remarkably strong run of releases in recent years.

His supple yet stinging solos are housed in sleek, nimble tunes that co-opt traditional melodies and muscular Western-style fusion. Without a second of empty noodling, the focus is on tightly-packed tunes bristling with harmonic and rhythmic content. Snarky Puppy fans wouldn’t feel out of place grooving to some of its smoother content.

Animals (Jazzland) from Trondheim’s Megladon Collective has an almost reckless quality to the manner in which they bolt together elements of free jazz, funk, abrasive soloing and blistering industrial sonics. The showboating is occasionally overwhelming but the combination, though bracing, is impressive.

Known/Unknown (Challenge Records), the fifth album from Australia’s Trichotomy provides smartly interlocking piano, bass and drums with some synth-extended sonics broadening the timbre. Occasionally echoes of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio resonate but there’s a lively invention at work here that makes it worth getting to know this group a little better.

The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop) occupies a haunting point between spiritual and ambient drift. Originally released via private label cassette in the 80s and 90s they feature choirs garnered from her Ashram community blended with synths, harp and slow-burn trance grooves. Oddly compelling and captivating, Alice Coltrane’s visionary work continues to dazzle.

Trumpeter Cuong Vu’s Ballet: The Music Of Mike Gibbs (Rarenoise) features guitarist Bill Frisell, alongside drums and bass. There’s a restrained but intense quality to these frequently sublime renditions of Gibbs’ attractive compositions. With Vu’s notes drifting smokily through Frisell’s shimmering chords, the quartet move seamlessly between vague abstractions into intricate detail. It’s a blessing for the ears.

Arve Henriksen’s Towards Language (Rune Grammofon) takes the trumpet into a different kind of territory. His method of half-singing/playing notes gives the instrument a plaintive expressiveness that sits somewhere between folk-like playfulness and yearning melancholia. Set in a sea of pulsating electronica via Jan Bang and the blooming soundscapes of guitarist Eivind Aarset, Henriksen’s lyrical work continues to beguile.

Brass player Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse (Naim) proffers a vibrant set that sways and shimmies with Middle Eastern atmospherics and some stunning performances from Shabaka Hutchings’ caustic bass clarinet and Isildurs Bane guitarist, Samuel Hällkvist scurrying runs. Ahmed’s work has graced luminaries such as Radiohead, and her second solo album has the feel of a consummate composer ready to make space for others while leading all the way. It’s a neat trick which Ahmed succeeds at brilliantly with her sinuous playing. Naadia Sheriff’s sprightly electric piano work throughout also provides additional uplift.

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.