Reviews of John Crawford
10/10/2013 Euan Dixon
If you’re beginning to hanker after some winter sunshine but don’t want to undergo the cost, inconvenience and indignity of travel to somewhere warm you could do worse than treat yourself to this wonderful disc which offers the musical equivalent of a double strength shot of vitamin D. Not that it is in any way mere mood music for there is some serious A* virtuosity on display from everyone concerned, all of whom are inspired by a mutual love of Latin American inflected jazz and the vision of session leader Crawford, an emerging instrumental talent of note as well as being a published authority on the art of Latin piano jazz.
Crawford lays out his musical manifesto in the opening track, a melody of Irakere and Pat Metheny tunes in which he demonstrates his avowed passion for the music of the two Americas. What follows indicates that his interests also take in the music of Spain, Mexico and the Mediterranean which make for a vibrantly rhythmic and melodic cocktail that exudes exotic fragrance.
As well as the core quintet which moves with fluid ease between the various stylistic conventions that comprise the Latin American genre and for which the leader’s piano provides an ever present jazz leitmotiv, there are two
idiomatic vocals from Emma Blackman one which is a song by Avishai Cohen sung convincing in what sounds like a Hebrew dialect and features some deliciously blousy trombone obligatti from another of Crawford’s guests, Trevor Mires. Elsewhere an alternative guitar sound by Jorge Bravo provides some tonal variation as well as another example of peerless dexterity.
As well as tunes by Jobim, Nascimento and the aforementioned Cohen, there is a stately, flamenco inspired original by Crawford which demonstrates his mastery of the idiom but my personal favourite is their version of that insinuatingly seductive classic, `Estate` which will keep me hitting the repeat button for some time to come.
24/05/2013 Bruce Lindsay
Of all nature's wonders, the river is the one that can most readily encapsulate the passage of time in very human terms. In just a few miles a river moves from the first tentative steps of childhood to the brash, energetic, movements of youth and the meanderings of middle age before it disappears in its old age into the infinity of the ocean. It's a sobering thought. Ulia River Of Time, from British pianist John Crawford, moves part of the way along that path. It sparkles, bursts with energy and calmly meanders by turns, but never sounds old.
This is Crawford's debut album under his own name but he's gained plenty of experience as a sideman and he brings all of it to bear on this recording. He's played with artists from almost every area of the music scene—a list that includes Andy Williams, Bjork, Gilad Atzmon and Billy Bang gives some idea of the breadth of Crawford's expertise.
However, it's with Latin music that he's most deeply involved, working with figures such as Airto Moreira and Jesus Alemany. He's also the author of Exploring Latin Piano (Schott Music, 2010). Ulia River Of Time is a logical extension of that experience and expertise. Originally released in early 2012, its nomination for the twelfth Independent Music Awards (interestingly, in the jazz category rather than Latin) sparked renewed interest in the album.
The musicians are more than sympathetic to Crawford's ideas, their own talents contributing strongly to the album's overall vibe. Guitarists Guille Hill and Jorge Bravo deliver particularly strong performances which are crucial to the album's Latin feel.
For the most part this is an album of strings and skins—piano, bass, guitars and percussion building layers of sound that complement each other and intensify each others sounds and moods. There's one exception and that's Trevor Mires' trombone. Mires makes just one appearance, on Avishai Cohen's "Madrid," but it's a highlight. His energetic, assertive playing and rich, rasping, tone seem to encourage all of his fellow musicians to increase their own energy levels and the result is a truly uplifting performance.
At the other end of the energy and tempo spectrum is Crawford's gentle, flowing, introduction to "Samba do Aviao." This is an exquisite performance: a beautiful three minute solo that typifies the laid-back warmth which pervades this album.
Track Listing: Irakere / Metheny Medley; Flower of The Levant; Madrid; Mi Chiquita; Anima; Cortina; Ladino Song; Samba do Aviao; Erghen Diado; Penas Luz; Estate; Rio Ancho.
29/09/2012 charlotte caird, the forge
"John Crawford has a particular talent for conveying the dynamic of flamenco and Latin music though piano keys. His amazing rhythmic sense, his knack for a beautiful strong melody and skill as a jazz improviser underpinned by a tight band delivers some of the most upbeat and positive piano music you’ll hear anywhere."
- the forge
31/01/0013 ian mann
Born in London of English/Spanish parentage pianist John Crawford has grown up with a love of Latin and South American music. He has worked with a host of leading names in the field of Latin music and was a founding member of the popular band Grupo X. A highly versatile musician Crawford has also worked with an impressive list of UK jazz musicians and has also done pop session work, most notably with Tanita Tikaram. His knowledge of Latin piano styles has led to him co-authoring the book “Exploring Latin Piano” with fellow pianist Tim Richards. Crawford is currently a member of ISQ, a new jazz quartet fronted by vocalist Irene Serra and featuring bass player Richard Sadler, once of the Neil Cowley Trio.
“Ulia River of Time” is Crawford’s recording début as a leader and is a reflection of his love of Latin and South American music. Encompassing a range of Latin and other styles the programme consists of covers of tunes by leading jazz and Latin composers with “Flower of the Levant” the sole original tune. Crawford has chosen his selection of covers well and the result is a warm, bright album with excellent playing from a core quintet consisting of Guille Hill (recently described by the London Jazz Blog as the best Uruguayan guitarist in London) , percussionist Aandres Ticino, bassist Gili Lopes and drummer Eduardo Marques. There are guest slots for vocalist Emma Blackman, guitarist Jorge Bravo and Crawford’s ex Grupo X colleague Trevor Mires on trombone.
The album commences with “Irakere/Metheny Medley”, an attractive segue of Irakere’s “Flutes Notes”, written by pianist Chucho Valdes, and guitarist Pat Metheny’s “Finding and Believing” from his “Secret Story” album. This bright and breezy opener features the authentic Latin rhythms of Ticino and Crawford and the nimble acoustic guitar picking of Hill. Crawford’s exuberant soloing displays a thorough knowledge of Latin idioms as the album gets off to a winning start.
Crawford’s own “Flower of the Levant” is more lyrical with further excellent playing from Crawford and (presumably) guest guitarist Bravo with Ticino again adding convincing percussion shadings alongside Bravo’s flamenco flavourings. It’s a piece that wouldn’t appear out of place in the repertoire of guitarist Jonny Phillips’ group Oriole, which coming from me is praise indeed.
“Madrid”, written by bassist Avishai Cohen, features the sometimes lilting, sometimes soaring voice of Emma Blackman who sings the Spanish lyrics alongside the rich, fruity trombone of fellow guest Trevor Mires. There’s also a passage of mellifluous wordless vocalising plus a good natured exchange of ideas between Crawford and Mires that can’t fail to win over the listener.
Crawford dedicates the song “Mi Chiquita”, originally recorded by Inti Illimani, to his childhood friend from Chile, Estela Espindola de Carrasco. It’s a beautiful tribute to the person who first inspired Crawford’s love of South America and its music with features for Crawford, Hill, Lopes and Ticino.
Brazilian music is prominent on Crawford’s musical radar as a joyous, lovely interpretation of Milton Nascimento’s “Anima” makes clear with Bravo, Crawford and Ticino again fulfilling key roles. The pianist and guitarist both contribute dazzling, exuberant solos.
Staying in Brazil “Cortina” (credited to Vasconcelos/Sherer, I’m assuming that’s percussionist/vocalist Nana Vasconcelos) offers a gentler but no less enjoyable look at that country’s music with Crawford and Bravo again in sparkling form with Ticino continuing to add vivid splashes of percussive colour.
“Ladino Song” was originally recorded in 2004 by KT Tunstall’s former band Oi Va Voi. Here Emma Blackman sings the mix of English and Spanish lyrics. She gives an assured performance of quiet intensity and her contribution is matched by the instrumentalists, particularly leader Crawford who delivers a beautifully constructed solo. There’s also a feature for drummer Eduardo Marques who briefly steps out of his well judged supportive role.
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Samba do Aviado” takes us back to Brazil with Crawford’s thoughtful and imaginative solo piano improvisation opening the piece. The group then breeze through the the body of the tune with a further solo from Crawford and with Hill enjoying a rare outing on electric guitar.
Crawford casts his net yet wider with a rollicking version of “Erghen Diado” by the Bulgarian songwriter Petar Lyondev. There’s some scintillating piano from the leader as the band, with Lopes on electric bass, lay down some mighty Balkan grooves culminating in a further drum feature from Marques. Invigorating stuff.
“Penas Luz” (Caravedo/Robles) lowers the temperature slightly but there’s still some sparkling player from the leader above a springy bass groove and the delicate patter of percussion.
“Estate” (Brighetti/Martino) places an even greater focus on lyricism with Hill’s gently picked acoustic guitar and Crawford’s flowing piano to the fore.
The album closes with “Rio Ancho” (“Wide River”) by the flamenco guitarist Sanchez Gomez. It represents a rousing conclusion with cajon driven solos from Hill on acoustic guitar, Lopes on acoustic bass and Crawford at the piano with the latter in particularly impressive form on a wonderfully percussive and exuberant closing statement.
“Ulia River of Time” is a hugely enjoyable album. Although Crawford contributes only one original tune his choice of material to cover is inspired, every piece is highly melodic and Crawford’s arrangements are consistently bright and inventive. In his notes Crawford thanks his band mates, referring to them as “Galacticos”, and he’s right, the quintet really do sound great together, something enhanced by the production team of engineers Jim Gross, Dick Hammett and Andy La Fone plus producer Crawford. Reports also suggest that the quintet is easily capable of carrying the qualities displayed on the album into their live performances. Perhaps the closest UK parallel to this album is bassist Alec Dankworth’s excellent Spanish Accents project, a stellar line up that also delivered the goods live and on album with a similarly inspired choice of outside material.
At around seventy minutes long the Crawford album represents great value for money. Hopefully he will be able to keep this line up together to record a second album with a greater focus on original material. I was tempted to dock half a star for a lack of original content but these performances are so appealing that I suspect this album may continue to be regular visitor to my turntable and as such can be very much recommended to other listeners.
In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing Crawford perform live tomorrow night (February 1st 2013) as part of ISQ at The Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
24/02/0012 kai hoffman
From beat one of the album-launch at the 606 last month, I couldn’t wait to hear John Crawford’s new recording. The live gig had me engrossed, and I didn’t want it to end. With "Ulía River of Time," John and his band have achieved a rare feat, and have captured the kinetic energy of their live performance.
Just as on stage, this recording immediately insists upon the listener’s complete and undivided attention. You are transported to an exotic land of delicate beauty, majestic landscapes and wild intensity.
'Rio Ancho', originally written by Flamenco guitar master Sanchez Gomez is a particularly shining example of John’s virtuosic Latin-piano expertise. With 'Erghen Diado', John masterfully translates an intricate Bulgarian choral arrangement into a vast, electrically-charged instrumental soundscape, whilst 'Mi Chiquita' is an ethereal beauty – painting evocative pictures of faraway destinations. 'Madrid', one of two vocal tracks on the album, is truly poignant, with guests Emma Blackman (vocals) and Trevor Mires (trombone) delivering heart-felt performances of this unusual tune by Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen. 'Flower of the Levant', John Crawford’s original tune on the album, showcases entrancing communication between the players, with special guest Jorge Bravo on guitar.
For those of us in desperate need of winter sun, Ulía River of Time is the next best thing to flying off on a round-the-world tour, a journey I look forward to making many more times.
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