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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Album review : Misha Mullov-Abbado - DREAM CIRCUS

Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass), James Davison (trumpet, flugelhorn), Matthew Herd (alto),  Sam Rapley (tenor), Liam Dunachie (piano, Hammond organ), Scott Chapman (drums)

My album of the year so far. Cleverly written and played, but also beautiful, musical and although “classically” inflected in places, definitely jazz:  distinctly modern but with mainstream and lyrical roots.  This third outing by London based double bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado confirms a new and substantial British ensemble composing voice, joining the tradition of Kenny Wheeler, Mike Gibbs and Issie Barratt.  


Misha Mullov-Abbado  (shall I just call him MMA?!), son of music royalty Viktoria Mullova and Claudio Abbado, comes to us via training at Cambridge and the Royal Academy. He inevitably attracts oodles of media attention, and his parentage must bring pressure as well as a stellar musical head start. (I apologise to my sons that they don’t have parents like this!).  His interviews reveal an unpretentious and grounded individual, who “didn’t think of himself as a jazz musician because after all it is all just music”.  MMA is clearly a top bass player with a full range of chops, who drives the show powerfully though unobtrusively: but it is his compositional skills that are to the fore here.  

While the production line of UK conservatoires has generated astonishing technical power and musicianship in recent years,  full of innovation, new influences, artifice and impact, I am less convinced of the enduring nature of the output compositionally.   This is different! A serious statement yes, sophisticated and complex in places, but also with infectious enthusiasm and fun, with wholesome, catchy tunes and grooves abounding.

The sextet format is brilliantly exploited both for solo blowing as well as the best of ensemble playing. The writing and arrangements are reminiscent at times of Kenny Wheeler’s bands at their best, not as gloriously quirky perhaps, but fresh with unexpected twists and turns, and often hitting a purposeful and breathtaking stride. Even the inevitable time signature games keep a firm grip on groove.

Needless to say this is all executed with fabulous and characterful playing by the array of young superstars in the making. The superb twin saxes of Herd and Rapley slide from smooth to skronky, and Davison’s trumpet soars between powerful melodic lines (reminiscent of Andre Canniere’ recent Ghost Days) and Wheeler-esque forays into the stratosphere.  Chapman’s drumming is perfectly matched to the setting – not so much the skittering impressionism of some current UK players, but precise, confident and varied.

There are several stand out tracks, with the lively Infamous Grouse bewitching with repeats, changes in tempo and time, and reassuring with a rollicking groove in between.  Blue Deer evolves from a slow and stately intro, through a loose section, resolving to a glorious soaring melody swapped between horns, over a complex but driving pulse, recalling (bass player) Avishai Cohen’s band at their best.  

Equinox shows MMA’s more classical leaning, with polyphonic interlocking giving way to a range of solos,  lovingly handing the tune round.  Astronaut shows MMA’s fun side, as a cheeky stop/start waltz, with old time vibes.

A monster of a tenor solo is matched by a classy trumpet outing on the superb 11 minute long Seven Colours.  A sonorous repeated bass drone in 5, driven by mallets on drums, conjures a dreamy eastern trance for Bear, embellished by breathy horns. Little Vision showcases Dunachie on piano, with a fluent and agile solo to match delightful comping elsewhere.

All in all, highly recommended, with something for everybody in a classy and substantial outing, with compositions to match the superb playing, all superbly produced by Jasper Høiby, bassist with Phronesis.
Chris K

Released June 12, 2020.  Recorded at The Village Recording in Copenhagen, September 2019. Format: CD & DN   Buy here.

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