Carlos Lopez-Real's Mandorla

Artist: Carlos Lopez-Real

Date of Release: 04/05/2009

Catalogue no: FIRE CD 25

Label: F-IRE

Price: £10

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Track Listing















Amelie Moments








Sleep On It












Kitchen Dance












Fireflies (4:30am)






Appearances by

Ben Davis, Justin Quinn, Tom Arthurs

Carlos Lopez-Real sax
Justin Quinn guitar
Oli Hayhurst bass
Simon Colam piano/rhodes
Ben Reynolds drums

Tom Arthurs trumpet
Ben Davis cello
Fini Bearman voice

‘Carlos plays with a sound that comes from his soul’ Dave Liebman

The eponymously titled album Mandorla is Carlos Lopez-Real’s debut as a leader, having been a quiet force at the cutting edge of the UK jazz scene for some years. In it he displays an adventurous eclecticism and produces an album of massive dynamic and emotional range, drawing on a diverse pool of influences including Steve Reich, Bjork, Bheki Mseleku and John McLaughlin. Settings of two poems by Carol Ann Duffy further add to the broad scope of the album.

Mandorla showcases Lopez-Real’s skills as an outstanding composer, saxophonist and improviser, featuring him on alto and soprano saxes alongside a group of his long-term musical collaborators. He tailors his writing to his band, making the most of each player’s unique sound. Witness Justin Quinn’s exquisitely poised classical guitar on the middle section of the title track, or his roaring Wayne Krantz-influenced electric solo on JK; Simon Colam’s hip rhodes soloing on the tricksy Kitchen Dance or Oli Hayhurst’s lyrical outing on the hauntingly sublime Jyoti.

Whilst displaying virtuosic jazz chops where appropriate (his soprano solo on Amelie Moments or his alto on Mandorla), Lopez-Real is equally happy to take a back seat if the music warrants it: indeed there’s no saxophone at all on two tunes. “I wanted to create an album which takes you on a musical journey, through different textures and colours, and there were points along the way where I simply didn’t hear a sax; sometimes less is more.”

He further broadens the emotional palate with his setting of two poems by Carol Ann Duffy, the stand-out tracks Valentine and Prayer, enlisting the muscular cello of Mercury Music Prize-nominated Ben Davis and the arresting voice of young vocalist Fini Bearman. Old friend Tom Arthurs joyfully spars with Lopez-Real’s soprano on the playful Sleep On It, and impresses on final track Fireflies.




17/05/2009 Ian Mann, www.jazzmann.com

**** 4 star review

This latest release on the F-ire Presents imprint is the eponymous début by Mandorla, the band led by saxophonist Carlos Lopez- Real. It’s a varied collection showcasing Lopez- Real’s versatility as a writer and features a high quality core group plus a smattering of distinguished guests.

Joining the leader, who features here on both alto and soprano, are guitarist Justin Quinn (Bakehouse, The Teak Project), bassist Oli Hayhurst (Zoe Rahman, Gilad Atzmon), pianist Simon Colam and Fraud drummer Ben Reynolds. It’s an impressive line up and guests include F-ire luminaries Ben Davis, cellist and leader of Basquiat Strings and the prolific trumpeter Tom Arthurs, currently the BBC’s New Jazz Generation Artist. The young Berlin based singer Fini Bearman appears on two tracks featuring Lopez- Real’s setting of two poems by the recently appointed Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy- though I suspect Lopez- Real had chosen Duffy’s work( the poems were first published in 1993) long before her appointment.

The music on “Mandorla” is culturally diverse and draws on a number of sources for inspiration. Lopez-Real has played with John Mayer’s Indo Jazz Fusions, explored Latin music with Roberto Pla and Toto Puente as well as working on more obviously jazz orientated projects, among them Quinn’s Bakehouse group. He cites Steve Reich, Bjork, Bheki Mseleku and John McLaughlin as influences. In other words “Mandorla” fits well into the F-ire aesthetic, open minded and culturally aware but delivered with a spirit of adventure and considerable technical skill.

Aside from Duffy’s words “Mandorla” is comprised of wholly original material by Lopez-Real. The album commences with the title track, played by the core group with features for Lopez-Real’s alto, Colam’s tumbling piano and Quinn’s delicate acoustic guitar. It’s a highly inventive composition full of changing dynamics and unusual instrumental voicings. An intriguing start.

“Valentine” is the first of the vocal pieces with singer Bearman and cellist Davis augmenting the group. Davis’ melancholy cello is prominent in the arrangement with Bearman’s vocals coming from the Norma Winstone school. Indeed Winstone is one of several seasoned jazz performers who have expressed their approval of the album.

“Amelie Moments” begins as a bright and breezy outing for Lopez-Real on soprano in which he proves himself to be a talented, highly melodic improviser. Colam shares the instrumental honours with a flowing solo but once again the piece has a twist in the tail as it enters more abstract territory in it’s later stages before seguing into the beautiful slow ballad “Jyoti”. Hayhurst’s rich lyrical bass tones are featured here together with uncredited wordless vocals presumably by Bearman. The whole piece has a floating, ethereal quality about it; light as a feather.

The next two pieces add trumpeter Tom Arthurs to the front line with “Sleep On It” featuring some sparkling dialogue between the leader and his guest. The brief but joyous “Rageshri” is just as fine driven by an infectious township groove. It’s all over far too quickly I could quite gladly have listened to some more of this.

Next up is “JK” with Colam on Rhodes but the piece is mainly a vehicle for Lopez-Real’s biting alto and Quinn’s stinging Wayne Krantz influenced solo. The piece seems to blend consciously retro 70’s fusion with contemporary influences to produce highly satisfactory results.

The lengthy “Kitchen Dance” explores similar territory, reminiscent sometimes of Weather Report. Lopez-Real’s playing is assured and fluent with Colam soloing imaginatively on Rhodes as the tune shifts gear part way through.

“Prayer” is the second setting of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry and once again Davis’ brooding cello is prominent in the arrangement. Jazz musicians seem to have a particular affinity for Duffy’s work. In 1996 the singer Eliana Tomkins issued “Rapture” ,an entire album of interpretations of Duffy’s words adapted from the poet’s book of the same name. Among the musicians appearing on the project (which is reviewed elsewhere on this site) is one Ben Davis on cello. Incidentally the two pieces on “Mandorla” do not overlap with the Tomkins album. They are drawn from a different collection, 1993’s “Mean Time”-a title that may account for the subliminal spoken word voice

reading the shipping forecast that permeates the arrangement on this track. A word of praise here for singer Bearman who adds both gravitas and emotion to the piece whilst dealing with what must be some pretty difficult stuff technically and Lopez-Real who selflessly sits out his own arrangement. The overall effect is bleak but moving.

The brief “Aries” continues the subdued mood with Arthurs’ velvety tones now the dominant voice duetting with the leader’s delicate soprano. This segues into “Fireflies (4.30 am.), a wonderfully atmospheric piece with a real pictorial quality. Colam’s shimmering Rhodes and Reynold’s deft percussion shadings add to the air of fragile beauty. Arthurs is sometimes spoken of as being influenced by Kenny Wheeler and certainly there is something reminiscent of Azimuth’s gentle lyricism here.

“Mandorla” is an excellent début from Lopez-Real and one that demonstrates his skills as a player, writer and arranger. He covers an impressive range of moods and styles but does so in a wholly organic way, nothing sounds forced or wilfully eclectic. The playing from all concerned is highly proficient and a relaxed, quietly adventurous quality permeates the music. Lopez-Real exhibits a real melodic sense and there are many moments of real beauty here. The album and band are aptly named; the “Mandorla” on the cover is an ancient symbol denoting the interaction between two superficially different worlds something this group and the F-ire collective as a whole are particularly adept at. The only minor quibble is that Duffy’s words are not reproduced on the album cover but ,as with Tomkins previously, I suspect copyright issues may be involved here.

Lopez-Real is also the founder of the new e17 Jazz Collective ( the membership intersects with both the Loop and F-ire collectives), a group of musicians whose members appear regularly at The Rose and Crown pub in Walthamstow. The “Mandorla” album will be launched there on 21st May (Jon Scott replaces Reynolds on drums) with further dates around the country to follow. To buy the album and to check out tour dates visit http://www.carloslopez-real.co.uk


01/05/2009 Selwyn Harris - Jazzwise

Up until now London-based saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real has been doing his bit behind the scenes. He runs the up-and-coming E17 Jazz Collective, is a keen educator and has been, among other things, involved in F-IRE projects such as Barak Schmool’s Meta Meta, the Collective big band and guitarist Justin Quinn’s Bakehouse (the guitarist returns the favour here).

Things could be about to change though with this very impressive new debut for the F-IRE label. A former Oxford university student and Guildhall post-graduate who has also benefited from the tuition of reeds guru Dave Liebman, Lopez-Real is a jazz musician interested in the bigger picture.

Global dance rhythms are integral to his writing and are also a part of his engaging alto/soprano sax playing that sounds at times like a breezy variation of the vocabulary of Steve Coleman/Greg Osby, and occasionally reminiscent of contemporary, and similarly musical globetrotting, reedsman Finn Peters. Lopez-Real, though, has absorbed Indian classical music having studied and recorded with John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions.

Tracks otherwise veer from easy-going Weather Report-ish funk through to a pair of vocal tracks revealing the influence of Bjork, featuring Fini Bearman (with strings backing) who makes a more than decent job of executing some fairly awkward leaps in the melody line singing the lyrics of acclaimed poet Carol Ann Duffy. But in spite of the eclecticism on show, this appealing set of originals always retains a tight focus.


27/04/2009 Chris May - All About Jazz

Playfulness is present in abundance on Mandorla, the debut album from saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real's eponymous band, released on the "F-IRE Presents" series on which the collective gives a platform to up and coming friends and fellow travelers. Not roll around on the floor, Frank Zappa burlesque, but an underlying, almost childlike joy in making music: an innocence, enthusiasm and creativity which touches the heart.

Lopez-Real, who, like Laubrock before him, has studied with the American saxophonist Dave Liebman, is also a paid-up subscriber to another defining F-IRE characteristic: a culturally inclusive rather than exclusive understanding of jazz. He has studied Indian music, held the sax chair in John Mayer's genre-mashing Indo-Jazz Fusions, and is featured with salsero Roberta Pla and the Tito Puente orchestra. These diverse interests and influences are to be heard around the edges of Mandorla (the title is taken from the ancient symbol of two overlapping circles, representing the interaction and interdependence of supposedly opposite worlds).

For the album, Mandorla's core quintet—Lopez-Real, guitarist Justin Quinn, keyboard player Simon Colam, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Ben Reynolds—are joined by guests Tom Arthurs, Ben Davis and the emergent young vocalist Fini Bearman. Arthurs is featured on four tracks, Davis and Bearman on two. It's a stellar lineup and it totally lives up to expectations.

All eleven tunes are Lopez-Real originals and the disc reveals the saxophonist, heard on soprano and alto, to be not only a vibrant improviser, but also a composer and arranger of substance, adept at writing to his colleagues' singularities. Quinn's acoustic guitar is showcased exquisitely on the sprightly "Mandorla," while his Wayne Krantz-informed electric is given a loose rein on the fiery "JK." Davis' layered cellos are absorbingly to the fore on "Valentine" and "Prayer," settings of poems by Carol Ann Duffy, well sung by Bearman (who also contributes, wordlessly, to the pretty "Jyoti"). Colam's gritty Rhodes shines on the serpentine funk of "Kitchen Dance." The famously playful Arthurs fits the calypso-esque "Rageshri" like a warm glove, while his trademark, delicately wrought intimacies make "Fireflies (4:30am)" a lovely, peaceful closer.

The fun Mandorla had making this album practically jumps out of the speakers. Gorgeously lyrical and infectiously rhythmic, the disc is a perfect springtime release, full of light, warmth and color.


17/04/2009 Chris Parker

All the members of saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real's Mandorla will be relatively familiar to Vortex regulars: guitarist Justin Quinn (Teak Project), bassist Oli Hayhurst (Zoe Rahman, Gilad Atzmon), keyboard player Simon Colam (Theo Travis etc.), drummer Ben Reynolds (Fraud); his guests, trumpeter Tom Arthurs, cellist Ben Davis and singer Fini Bearman, have also played and sung quite frequently at the club.

There is, consequently, a pleasing air of familiarity about this album, despite the fact that it casts its stylistic net pretty widely, embracing everything from the subtly shifting, slippery rhythms of the title track (which tellingly features Quinn on acoustic guitar) and the tastefully restrained but punchy sound of 'JK' (Quinn just as effective on electric guitar) to the dreamily meditative 'Valentine' (a setting of a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, sung with elegant assurance by Bearman) and the absorbing closing Tom Arthur feature 'Fireflies'.

Hayhurst, Colam and Reynolds mesh well throughout, whatever the musical mode, and the album as a whole has a bright, optimistic, fresh feel to it, attributable not only to Lopez-Real's skill and versatility as a composer, but also to his saxophone sound, which while it is used quite sparingly (two pieces, indeed, have no saxophone on them at all), is always cogent, his choice of texture and use of the full dynamic range of his instruments impressive throughout.

He himself says his aim was 'to create an album which takes you on a musical journey, through different textures and colours' – with this recording, his debut as a leader, he has done just that.


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