Jazz in the UK: July 2023 Album Releases

The summer months are supposedly a quiet time for new releases, but there appears to be no sign of a let up yet, as Nick Lea – editor of UK jazz site Jazzviews.net – shows in this months round up.

Once again there has been a spate of exceptional new albums released in July, and today we take a look at six of the best from the UK.

First up are two albums by vocalists, Wilma Baan and Zoe Francis.

Both albums are based on the standards repertoire, and yet so distinctive are the voices of both women they are very different in concept and feel. 

Wilma Baan

Following on from her debut album So Nice released in 2021, Baan’s latest album Look At Me Now! is even more assured and confident.

Presenting a largely new band (only pianist and arranger Graham Harvey is constant on both recordings) the vocalist picks some real gems from the Great American Songbook and brings to each of the twelve tracks a little of her own personality.

In addition, Wilma has invited along some guest musicians to join her core trio on some of the titles.

With guitarist Nigel Price, Nat Steele on vibraphone and trumpeter James McMillan all contributing exhilarating solos and boosting the rhythm section on several selections with the excellent Tristan Banks on percussion the vocalist was in some pretty fast company. 

Needless to say, she rises to the occasion and throughout her delivery is absolutely on the money and engaging. Her reading of Michel Legrand’s ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ is spellbinding and ‘Old Devil Moon’ swings delightfully.

Zoe Francis

If its swinging jazz that you’re looking for, then look no further than Somewhere in the Night by Zoe Francis.

Using the same line up as her previous offering Blue Town with guitarist Jim Mullen and Ross Stanley on Hammond B3 organ, the music is quite different and again indicates that Zoe is entering a purple patch; this is undoubtably her finest album to date.

It was described by New York-based guitarist Peter Bernstein as “a great record that stands out in its beauty and courage.”

It also swings furiously for a trio without bass and drums!

Handling all rhythm duties as well as providing sympathetic accompaniment and outstanding solos, Jim Mullen and Ross Stanley show their impeccable good taste from start to finish, and Zoe must count herself fortunate to have these musicians on hand.

As good as Mullen and Stanley’s contributions are, it is the singer’s name on the album, and she certainly delivers the goods and then some. Like Wilma Baan she has a distinctive voice and way of phrasing that brings something fresh to each of the songs.

Her phrasing and timing on the title track and ‘When the Sun Comes Out’ is superb, and swings with real feeling. Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Skylark’ is perhaps in danger of becoming over-recorded but Zoe’s lovely take here more than justifies another version of the song.

The delicate and gently lilting performance of ‘Show Me’ is another highlight in an album that cannot fail to delight.

Zoe Rahman

Staying with the women, another album that has impressed hugely is Colour of Sound by pianist and composer Zoe Rahman.

Expanding the line up from her customary trio to include saxophone, flute, trumpet and trombone, Rahman has been able to greatly enhance her tonal palette. But what is interesting is even with the additional colours available to her, is that the music is still very much her own.

The compositions and the way that they are voiced in Zoe’s imaginative arrangements retain that thread is uniquely her own and part of her DNA, that of her English and Bengali heritage.

The music and orchestration my sound rich and full, but it is interesting to hear how Zoe directs the music from the piano, and everything seems to originate and coalesce from her contribution.

Zoe Rahman has always been a class act, but on this recording she has gone above and beyond and taken her music to another plane. 

Melodic Collective

Founded by guitarist Chris Allard, Melodic Collective is a collaborative group, and features five musicians that all have busy career’s and are strong composers in their own right too.

What could lead to a lack of any clear musical identity is certainly not in evidence on this fine release.

The compositions by all five band members have a unity of concept and sound that ensure there is a group sound present from one attractive piece to the next.

The ‘frontline’ of Chris Allard’s guitar and the trumpet of Robbie Robson provide an interesting combination that sees the guitarist fill out the melody lines and flit in-and-out between melodic duties, whilst melding with the rhythm section. This he does, it has to said, with consummate ease and good taste. 

In John Turville the quintet have a solid and harmonically-intuitive pianist who is able to fall back with bass and drums to provide a solid yet flexible accompaniment, yet also able to interact with Allard without either getting in the other’s way.  I should also mention that he is an exceptional soloist. 

Bassist Oli Hayhurst is one of the most in-demand players on UK scene, and it is difficult to think of someone who hasn’t had the benefit of his supple and solid rhythmic playing behind them.

Will Glaser’s creative drumming is a real treat here. He can drive the band hard as he does on ‘See You In Spuyten Duyvil’ or provide a spacious and sensitive accompaniment as heard on ‘Time is No Fool’.

It’s an excellent group that are forging their own sound and presenting this with a set of strong original compositions. 

Matt Carter Octet

Hardly a month goes by without the excellent Ubuntu Music releasing an album that falls under the ‘must hear’ category, and this month is no exception. Taking some time in the making, Read Between The Lines is a remarkable recording by the Matt Carter Octet.

The genesis of the album goes back to 2017 and the pianist’s days when he was studying at The Royal Academy of Music.

Since then, Carter has completed a series of compositions and arrangements for the Octet as well as having gigged extensively with the band around the UK.

This is Matt’s first studio album and a highly impressive way to make a debut. The writing for octet is extremely tasteful and full of colour and dynamics, whilst also leaving space for the soloists.

The arrangements often give the impression of a band that is bigger than just eight musicians.

Of the original compositions, ‘Fighting Talk’ is a piece that flies high with some punchy horn section riffs and passages that punctuate flautist Gareth Lockrane’s solo and with a neat drum solo from Luke Tomlinson.

Hope Song’ has a wonderfully bright and cheery disposition, including a lean and economical tenor solo from Jonny Ford, while ‘Duke’s Mood’ has a suitably pensive introduction from the pianist and a lovely opening theme statement by trombonist, Harry Maund.

If you like your jazz to swing with a big band sound and swagger, then this is for you. 

Noah Stoneman

With the last of our six releases for July we turn our attention to a smaller line-up, that of the piano trio (a phenomenal debut album) by a young pianist who is just 22 years old.

Released appropriately enough on the Fresh Sound New Talent imprint, Anyone’s Quiet: Let It Rain To You is an auspicious debut from Noah Stoneman, who on the evidence presented here is destined for a bright future.

In a programme of original compositions, the music is played with passion and no little intensity. The trio, with bassist Will Sach and Luca Caruso, have played together on a regular basis, and this empathy as can be heard in the music.

Stoneman’s compositions provide a contrasting set from the driven urgency of the opening ‘Tomas and Tereza’ to the delicate intricacy of ‘Evanesce’ with the stately bass of Sach and Caruso’s neat brushwork. 

An album that veers from the dark hue of ‘Mourndoom’, the solidarity of ‘Band of Brothers’ to the uplifting and optimistic ‘Major’, this is a compelling listen from a young artist that who I am sure will contribute much to the music. 

There you have it: 6 essential new UK Jazz releases from July 2023.

Of course, there were many others which could have been included, so please do head to your preferred listening platform (or record store) to dive deeper!

Looking for more ‘British’? Check out our round up of some of the best UK jazz blogs, or our interview with London-based broadcaster and ‘Queer Jazz’ promoter Tina Edwards.

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