Yes folks, even with so much activity keeping yours truly occupied there is still time for other listening pleasures, so here is a round up of a few of the things your editor has been listening to when not slogging away over a hot edition of TWR…
First up are a brace of albums by Jethro Tull. You know, that band whom I like more than Genesis?!
First up is the recently released Jethro Tull The String Quartets album. Now Tull are no strangers to working with the orchestra, David (now Dee ) Palmer was orchestrating material for the band as far back as 1969 and so this project is not as strange as it may sound. However, taking established songs much loved by fans can be a risky business as some of the string of orchestral reinterpretations of the catalogues of such artists as Genesis, Queen, Pink Floyd and Tull themselves, has shown. And, as usual, the result here is a mixed bag. Opening with In The Past (Living In The Past) which just so happens to be my all time favourite song by any band/artist, could have put me right off but no, the version here is tasteful and melodic even if it is odd hearing violins in 5/4 time! Sossity Waiting (Sossity You’re A Woman) also works equally well.
Others however do not work quite as well but the end result is never anything other than an intriguing look at an alternative version of Tull’s wonderful legacy and that is no bad thing in my book!
Jethro Tull: The String Quartets. BMG Music 538257472.
And more recently still, we have the 40th anniversary re-issue of my all time favourite album by ANY band… Tull’s mighty Songs From The Wood. I simply don’t really have the words to describe this album and its place in my life bu I will give it a go.
Imagine that Wind & Wuthering and Seconds Out have been re-issued in one super sized package with live audio/visual material to boot. Well, that is precisely what has happened here. Not only do we have the usual excellent sonic remastering work of Steven Wilson on the album itself, but a plethora of unreleased tracks, alternative takes and mixes. Some of these, such as Old Aces Die Hard and Working John, Working Joe go to show how much musicians can sometimes revisit earlier themes/lyrics at a later date and make them into something more consistent.
However, where this release really scores is in the additional bonus of previously unheard (and unseen) live material. Now, for me the line up of Tull that is on this album is without doubt there finest, and at last to have a complete warts and all recording from this most wonderful of tours in both sound AND vision, is a dream come true for me. Jakko Jakszyk has performed a miracle with this and the end result is one of the most satisfying things I have seen in a long time. All of the Tull re-issues have been of a uniformly excellent standard, but with this one, the bar has been set incredibly high … other bands take note, this is how to do it!
Jethro Tull: Songs From The Wood - The Country Set. Chrysalis Records 0190295847876.
Next up something entirely different. You may recall a feature in a previous edition of TWR about local musician Neil Campbell? Well, Neil and his partner Perri Alleyne-Hughes have collaborated with poet Sean Street on a new project entitled Estuary. Describing in words and music (and visuals too at the album launch) the associations this country has with the sea this is an unusual and highly evocative suite of pieces in which the sea in all its shades and moods is vividly brought to life - excellent stuff!
Street/Campbell/Alleyne-Hughes: Estuary ESTCD001.
And bringing up the rear for this edition is the latest release by Hungarian Jazzers, Djabe. Summer Storms & Rocking Rivers. Many of you will know that he band have had a lengthy association with young Mr Hackett and so it will come as no surprise that this one also features him extensively on both the CD and DVD parts of the package.
Jazz has never been my forte, but Djabe certainly might be about to change my mind on that score. From the marvellously atmospheric opener, City Of Habi this is music of the highest quality performed by musicians who are true craftsmen. Mr Hackett blends his music into that of the band seamlessly, watch the DVD to see Ferenc Kovacs’s violin replace the flute to usher in The Steppes for instance. This will take many by surprise, but I assure you, it is every bit as dramatic! Speaking of dramatic, the absolute standout track from the Hackett material is the awesome Last Train To Istanbul. Here Steve is joined by Attila Egerhazi and Ferenc Kovacs in a truly remarkable performance of this latter day Hackett classic
But it isn’t all about Hackett’s participation, as the band’s own compositions are every bit as magical. For me, Dark Soup , a middle eastern tinged jazz classic is a joy to behold and there are so many others too that you will surely find something to enjoy on this superb package of musical magic. The DVD is worth the viewing alone to see Steve along with the other members performing on the strange instrument the Anklung on Summer Storms… something you don’t see every day I can tell you!
Djabe: Summer Storms & Rocking Rivers. Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 21065.
And to accompany this review, Djabe founder, Attila Egerhazi has found time to answer a few questions about the band. Over to you, Attila….
TWR: Djabe have been going for quite some time now, tell us a little about how the group came to be set up and about the members…
AE: I started my first “serious” band in 1983 under the name Novus Jam. It consisted of two acoustic guitarists, flue and violin. Our main influence was the ECM ethno jazzz line, bands and musicians such as Oregon, Colin Wallcott, Ralph Towner, Nana Vasconcelos, Egberto Gimonti, Jan Gabareck and Pat Metheney. The band worked on and off for a while and in 1994 it was reduced to a trio of flute, guitar and percussion. With the percussionist Andras Sipos and we decided to form a new group to explore a new musical direction. We wanted to play a more understandable and easier listening music. During the recording sessions Djabe was born . The guitar and the African and Arabic and Indonesian percussion instruments provided the basic groove, harmonies and melody lines. We then invited creative jazz musicians to play on top of that to expand the music and its limits. There was no specific genre, we played whatever we liked and this is why the band was called Djabe, which means “ Freedom” Freedom in terms of playing, style and musicians a new concept of music as Steve Hackett would describe it a few years ago,
The band worked as a quartet between 1997 and 2008. Andras Sipos on percussion, Tamas Barabas on bass guitar, myself on guitar and Ferenc Muck on saxophone. After the first three Djabe albums, Tamas Barabas took over as musical director from me and developed the Djabve “sound” further. In 2002 the band upgraded to a sextet plus a guest saxophone player, Ben Castle who had just recently performed with Steve’s band. He called Djabe’s music “Jazz/World Fusion”. Re replaced Ferenc Muck for several live tours and studio recordings. The other new comers were Ferenc Kovacs ( violin, trumpet and vocals), Zoltan Kovacs ( keyboards) and Szilard Banai (drums)..
The music became more structured and more jazzy and with Ferenc Kovacs on board, the Hungarian folk elements started to integrate themselves into Djabe’s music - Dark Soup is a good example of this.
We started touring internationally and played in forty two countries around the world. In 2007 Andras Sipos passed away and Steve came over to perform with us at the concert which was organised as a charitable benefit for Andras’s wife and family.
Since that concert we play together one or two weeks every year and we often play on each other’s albums and we have released three live albums which feature Steve. The Bratislava show from 2011 came out this year on Esoteric Records (see review above - AH) . Last summer we changed the line up again and we have a new drummer, Peter Kaszas, who has worked with Al di Meola in his World Sinfonia Band. There is also a new keyboard player, Janos Nagy who is a multi award winning musician. The new trumpet player is Aron Koos-Hutas who had already worked with us between 2008-10 but he has now become a full time member. This summer, this line up, plus another regular guest musician, Gulli Briem from Mezzoforte toured together with Steve.
TWR: How did Steve come to be involved with the band?
AE: My record label, Gramy started marketing the Camino Records catalogue in Hungary back in 1999. I came into contact with Steve as a record label manager. I did some promotional interviews with him when we started to talk about other issues including my band. The first CD which I gave him was the Witchi Tai To album which he liked very much.
In 2002 I was the promoter for the acoustic trio gig he did in Budapest I recorded and filmed it and it was released as the Hungarian Horizons package. In 2004 I promoted his electric band once again in Budapest and this was released as Once Above A Time. In 2003 Djabe released the Sheafs Are Dancing album. This is a special concept album. My father was a world class painter. Unfortunately he passed away in 2001 and we decided to record an album about his paintings in a one painting, one track concept. I asked Steve to play on it as I thought the concept might interest him and he liked my father’s paintings and his father was a painter as was his then wife (Kim Poor) . Steve called me just before Christmas and said yes. It was one of the most touching moments of my life. My hero is calling me to say he will play on my album!
The rest is history. The gig we had in London at the Spitz in 2004, the Sipi charity concert in in 2007, the tours around the world and the Djabe albums with him, and our appearances on his solo stuff.
TWR: How does working with Steve compare with other musicians you have worked with?
AE: Steve is a fantastic, extraordinary musician with a unique sound on electric and acoustic guitar as well. It is very easy and a joy to work together. He can always add something to the Djabe tracks. He is so creative and has the capacity to ex-and the Djabe musical objective. In addition, he is a very nice person. My dream came true as I get to work with one of my guitar heroes.
TWR: Tears for Peace features Steve’s wife, Jo. Tell us about this track and how it was put together…?
AE: The music was composed by Tamas, our bass player and musical director/arranger. He showed the demo to Jo and Steve during our 2012 spring tour. Tears For Peace was a working title but Jo liked it very much and when we asked her to write a lyric for it and first we s asked Steve to make a demo vocal because of getting the correct English but as it turned out, he was the right person to sing it . I hope you have some déjà vu here.
TWR: Steve has guested on several Djabe albums now. How does this work with the band being in Hungary and Steve in London or wherever he is on his travels…?
AE: We work in different ways. Most of the studio recording we released which feature him, he recorded on his own in his own studio but a few times he also recorded with us in our studio in Budapest. And we have recorded a lot of live shows together on the road.
TWR: You have another album ready for release layer this year, The Sardinia Tapes. Tell us a little about that…
AE: Yes, this was a special recording set up as a I moved my analogue equipment to Sardinia and built a temporary studio in Tergu at the monastery.
The line up was a mix between the old and the new Djabe line ups. Tamas and I represented the core members, Aron Koos-Hutas as a new member. We had no new drummer and keyboard player at that time and so I asked my great musician friend Gulli Briem to take over the drum seat. This was easy for him as he has already toured several times with us as a special guest at gigs when Steve was present too. The album comes out in October on the Esoteric Antenna label on CD and DVD. The DVD includes a 5.1 mix and extra video footage from the 2017 tour. It will also be available as a two LP set via my own Gramy H Ltd record label.
Our thanks to Attila for taking the time to answer these questions. NOTE: Photographs included here are courtesy of Gramy H Ltd and all copyrights are retained.