The first in a two-part roundup of Babel Label album releases. For reviews of albums from Gannets, Bilbao Syndrome, Glockenspiel, Indigo Kid, see part 2.
The Babel Label
The Babel Label is intimately associated with The Vortex, London’s leading jazz venue. It is run by one of the club’s co-directors, Oliver Weindling, and its offices are housed in the same complex. Founded in 1994, the label soon came to represent artists as diverse as Partisans, Billy Jenkins, Christine Tobin and Acoustic Ladyland, but the eight recent releases reviewed here are among its strongest and most diverse to date.
Ingrid Laubrock, Olie Brice, Javier Carmona
It’s only fitting to begin this roundup with an album recorded at The Vortex by an artist who came up there: the German-born, now Brooklyn-based tenor/soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. Catatumbo are just one of Laubrock’s ongoing projects, a trio with young Barcelona-based drummer/percussionist Javier Carmona and double bassist Olie Brice.
It’s a thoughtful, occasionally pensive yet powerful set, on which Laubrock begins by worrying fitfully in Ayler-esque intonation at melodic fragments suggested by Brice and Carmona’s cross-cut rhythms. Later she’s more reserved, and adopts a cleaner intonation.
Carmona apparently came up playing with rock bands in Madrid, but has an exceedingly light and precise touch on percussion, while Brice alternately plucks ruminant bass lines that hang resonant in silence or favors the textural, non-rhythmic potential of the bow (witness “Cucoyos”). The sound of this absorbing, meditative set was beautifully captured by Alex Bonney, and it repays deep, wakeful listening.
Mark Hanslip + Javier Carmona
In conversation with tenor saxophonist Hanslip on Dosados, Carmona slips into a more relaxed and immediately spontaneous relationship. This engaging, free-ranging dialogue sounds like a neatly-encapsulated episode in a long-running disquisition on commonly-held enthusiasms.
There’s a vivid sense of humor at work, with the duo bouncing inspirations off one another and completing each other’s thoughts-in-sound. A take on Steve Lacy’s “Deadline” is the only (brief) cover in a set of originals that range from the purely notional (the 0:19 of “O Pointy Pointy”) to the fully persuasive (“[the filler]” or “Jowls, and a Beard”). The urbane intelligence at work here makes Dosados a cut above the usual macho sax/drum duet bluster.
Dialogues Trio with Julian Siegel
Two other connected releases here, with Oltremare Quartet’s bassist and bandleader Andrea Di Biase and drummer Jon Scott (of Kairos 4tet) also playing under pianist Bruno Heinen’s leadership in Dialogues Trio.
While Di Biase’s group is completed by fellow Milanese pianist/composer Antonio Zambrini and saxophonist Michael Chillingworth, Heinen’s trio becomes a quartet with the addition of Partisans’ reeds player Julian Siegel.
Heinen’s album explores a range of moods, from the lucidity of the reeds-free “Nocturne” via the rhapsodic lyricism of “Sylvia’s Lament” and the tougher, more improvisational “East and Rising” and “Brigante” (on which, respectively, Siegel evokes John Coltrane’s throaty intonation and Albert Ayler’s blistered timbre), to the delicate introspection of the closing “Night Hue”.
Fragments of the titular nursery rhyme’s melody surface throughout, mostly by allusion but sometimes in quotation. Di Biase plays it straight during “Jumping Rocks”, while Heinen takes off on a sprightly tangential solo.
The Oltremare album is a more straightforward proposition, on which Di Biase’s quartet mull over the harmonic innovations of his sometime employer Kenny Wheeler and, as directly evoked by Chillingworth’s sax, the great Wayne Shorter. Nino Rota’s supposed influence is something I only wish I could hear, since the material here is neither as original nor as adventurous as on Twinkle Twinkle, and doesn’t hold my attention for all of 75+ slow-building minutes. Still, it’s nicely played, and should appeal more to mainstream jazz fans.
Those titles marked with an asterisk* are available either as download-only, or as limited-edition vinyl + glass-mastered CD + digital editions; the others are available as either standard CD or digital releases. Albums can be bought, and individual tracks streamed, shared and/or downloaded, direct from http://babel-label.bandcamp.com