Reviews

REVIEWS

Iles is one of the most refreshing figures to have emerged in the UK in recent times with a liquid sound and supple, obliquely resolved phrasing as an improviser…. (The Guardian)

Iles is a skillful improviser and at London’s Vortex on the opening show of a 14 date tour, displayed the rhythmic surprises, shape shifting phrases, playful dialogue with partners and a mix of ruggedness and reflection that at times make her comparable with the great John Taylor. (The Guardian)

An intriguingly varied and very original program and one which marked Iles as an arranger of considerable talent and as a gifted composer. (The Times-review from the Purcell Room)

Nikki Iles is a pianist of extraordinary imagination who thrives on fugitive melodies.(The Observer )

WESTERLY –THE PRINTMAKERS – Basho Records

Adrian Pallant  (review extract)

An exemplary and eagerly anticipated debut release from six leading lights of British contemporary jazz, collectively known as The Printmakers.

Imagine the perfect vocal/instrumental sextet, and it might easily comprise Nikki Iles, Norma Winstone, Mike Walker, Mark Lockheart, Steve Watts, and James Maddren. Indeed, with a band name explained as a metaphor for the subtle variances in handmade printmaking, the combined artistry revealed in new album Westerly is as satisfying – in light, shade and hue – as any wander through a gallery of fine impressionism. Recorded amidst the painterly charm of the English Lake District, the compositional palette is beautifully balanced, and includes a trio of numbers by leader Iles with Norma Winstone as lyricist (a remarkable partnership).

This, unquestionably, is jazz whose elegance has to be heard to be believed, such a shared empathy and depth of musical experience on show, all realised in a musical landscape that feels as magical as it is peerless.

THE OBSERVER   DAVE GELLY 4 stars****

In the old days, this band, under the joint leadership of pianist Nikki Iles and singer Norma Winstone, would have had the words “All-Stars” in their name. Every one of them is a leading figure in British contemporary jazz. Together they create 10 evocative sound-pictures of places and times. It’s remarkable how just five instruments and voice can suggest space and depth as they do.

THE MAC BIRMINGHAM                                                                                                                                                      “Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s pretty much the line-up of your dreams, and a band that sums up all that is finest in British jazz in 2015. A life-enriching album for sure, and an unmissable gig.”

REVIEW PIZZA EXPRESS, LONDON
‘… one can hear wonderful playing from some of Britain’s best jazz artists, not to mention a deeply creative, almost orchestral approach to the collective sound that totally serves the music, or more accurately, serves the song.’    Marlowe Heywood-Thornes

IAN MANN, THE JAZZMANN
The album has already attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and its release ranks as one of the most significant jazz events of 2015. It’s an essential purchase for anyone who has ever attended a Printmakers show and for anybody with an interest in contemporary UK jazz.

PETER BACON, THE JAZZ BREAKFAST (review extract)
It struck me, listening to Nikki Iles’ Printmakers band that if the British Council or whoever wanted to share with the world the jazz of this country, then this would be the ideal band. If feels like the most modern and vital vehicle for all those essential core qualities of the best British jazz.

It made for a rich two hours of music, conveyed with a great deal of warmth as well as, of course, the combined art and skill of six superlative musicians. The arrangements have a flow that rises and falls, breaths in and out, and the tunes fill out like landscapes in four dimensions. Winstone is not only a marvel when blending wordlessly with the other melody instruments, but she is the most subtle of interpreters of a lyric. There is no broad over-emoting here, and it is so much more effective as a result. Let’s hope we get to hear them in concert again soon – but not before they have toured the globe, letting everyone out there know just how good British jazz can be.

MIKE COLLINS FOR LONDON JAZZ                                                                                                                              …. Five years ago they were nominated for best band in the Parliamentary Jazz awards. Now, eighteen months after they recorded this set live in a Lake District hideaway, their debut album Westerly is released and what a treat it is.

Pianist and composer Nikki  Iles and national treasure and ECM recording artist Norma Winstone are the heart of this band that blends the prodigious creative energies of guitarists Mike Walker, saxophonist Mark Lockheart, the bass playing of Steve Watts and drummer James Maddren. Each piece is allowed to gather momentum and thicken in intensity, the development beautifully weighted, improvisations bubbling up out of the mix. Whether it’s the awkward interval leaps and spiky theme of John Taylor’s O or the languorous lope of Westerly there’s a perfect blend and balance to this band which comes surely from familiarity with each other but also from individuals who seem at the peak of their powers, doing just what’s needed to make the music glow. Iles unfurls typically lyrical and constantly inventive solos, but also sits back and adds to the groove; Walker rocks out on High Lands, but equally threads the subtlest of lines into the mix in other places; Watts and Maddren are fizzingly propulsive throughout; the blend of Lockheart’s sax and Winstone’s voice is uncanny at times sounding like a single new sound. This is quietly energetic, joyous music. The Printmakers have given us a print that will last.


STARDUST – Jellymould Records

With Stan Sulzmann

Dave Gelly The Observer 4****

“Verging on the stupendous “

“…. As a display of technical and mental agility, these nine pieces verge on the stupendous, but they also have great charm. Mainly improvisations on elegant old standards, they overflow with melody and a kind of cheeky good nature. In the notes, Sulzmann describes one of them, Nobody Else But Me, as “a great tune with a few fun twists” – which just about sums it up. “

Extract review Adrian Pallant

IN MANY WAYS …the carefree eloquence and clear conversational flow of new duo album Stardust speaks volumes about the absolute empathy and trust shared by two stellar British jazz performers. Career highlights, to date, of saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and longtime friend, pianist Nikki Iles might keep you Googling and scrolling for some time. But here, all of that glittering experience is channeled into the most intimate of musical environments – an unadorned, hour-plus dialogue between tenor sax and piano. And it’s beautiful….a crystal-encrusted, dark-sky panoply. As you fix your attention, it magically reveals subtler, coruscating constellations.


MIRRORS-Edition Records

‘A BREATH of fresh air, a change for you’, and a remarkable new jazz release featuring an extraordinary breadth of experience, musicianship and creativity.

‘Mirrors’ brings together the legendary Kenny Wheeler (flugelhorn) and Norma Winstone (vocals) in an exceptional collaboration with the 25-strong London Vocal Project directed by Pete Churchill, the brilliant Mark Lockheart (saxes), and the quite superb rhythm section of Nikki Iles (piano), Steve Watts (bass) and James Maddren (drums). This original suite of beautiful music by Wheeler is built around texts from Lewis Carroll, Stevie Smith and W B Yeats, creating what feels like a unique palette of vocal and instrumental colour. Originally a commission for five solo voices, it has evolved into something far more expansive, and is very special indeed.

The LVP’s singing is glorious, and wonderfully attentive. The instantly- recognisable depth and expression of Norma Winstone’s voice compels us, as always, to hang on every word. The buoyant ‘Breughel’; the downbeat mood of ‘The Lover Mourns’ and ‘The Bereaved Swan’; the whimsical, playful ‘The Hat’; the marvellously ‘swung’ vocal of ‘Tweedledum’ – all delivered with compelling authority and assurance. Combined with Kenny Wheeler’s characteristic flugel mellowness and reaching runs, this is stimulating contemporary jazz which demands both attention and exploration.

 Mark Lockheart’s playing is warm, assured and always appealing, offering some great-interspersed tenor lines on the lively, opening ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and later on with ‘The Deathly Child’. ‘Black March’ is an instant favourite with its bright lyric, an irresistible groove from Iles, Watts and Maddren, and infectious vocals from LVP. Here, and throughout this whole album, Nikki Iles’ playing is outstanding, showcasing her many pianistic attributes – the lightness of touch, dexterity and inventiveness are a joy to hear .This is a significant release from Edition Records which, in terms of personnel, performance and production, they have achieved magnificently… and one which I cannot recommend highly enough .                                             Ian Patterson All About Jazz

Following closely on from the big band project conducted by Pete Churchill The Long Waiting we now have this album of music written by Kenny Wheeler, again strongly featuring Pete Churchill, leading his London Vocal Project… While the mood is set by the poems, this is still recognisably Kenny Wheeler’s music and is reminiscent of his work with Norma Winstone who is featured here as an occasional soloist.The sound quality is excellent throughout, with the rhythm section providing great support and Nikki Iles’ piano sounding wonderful – equally at home in a contemporary classical feel and swinging Jazz improvisation. …This is beautiful music, but it doesn’t veer into “easy listening” territory. This is almost a new form in music and I can’t think of many recorded examples of anything like it. Closest is the work of Azimuth – but that was for a smaller group and more free form. It’s certainly worth a listen and I recommend it highly.

JAZZ TIMES USA

 … “11 tracks of sheer beauty and perfection that throws up images of almost religious stature whilst letting you know that this is jazz pure and simple.”

CANADIAN JAZZ TIMES

.. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll is absolutely perfect. Norma’s wistful, fragile voice perfectly captures a lazy July evening in a boat, you are lulled into a doze. But wait, what is coming?  A sense of anxiety in the fading notes then Kenny’s brittle flugelhorn and a beautiful solo by Mark Lockheart on sax. Discordant voices lead us forward in time and we realise we have been dreaming.  It’s magical. Death and bereavement stalk these poems but so gently. I particularly love Nikki’s piano on The Bereaved Swan, it is so delicate. It goes without saying that every note of Kenny’s is inspired and haunting. This perfect album is the jewel in the crown for Edition Records.

Adrian Pallant                                                                            …. The inimitable Winstone’s strength and nuanced delivery belie her 70 years. Hers is a remarkable performance, though the balance struck between all the voices makes Mirrors a truly collaborative success. Bassist Watts, drummer  Maddren and pianist Iles engender a swinging undercurrent, breezy and understated, that’s irrevocably felt throughout. These musicians enjoy tremendous understanding; the evident chemistry seems so effortless and joyfully intuitive.

Marlbank  Stephen Graham … “A remarkable album “

Garry Booth Classical music… “Sublime “

Kenny Mathieson, The Scotsman  “A classy addition to the already lustrous careers of all concerned “


HUSH-Basho Records 

Dave Gelly the Observer 4 stars ****

Nikki Iles is a pianist of extraordinary imagination who thrives on fugitive melodies…. ..

Chris Parker The Times
‘Unforced interaction and intimacy […] which allows for a continuous free flow of ideas’ is pianist/composer Nikki Iles’s description of the ideal modus operandi for a jazz group , and in bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Jeff Williams she has found the perfect partners to realise her dream.

Despite being one of the most accomplished of UK pianists – her tone is ravishing, her dynamic control exemplary and her solos consistently subtle and satisfying – Iles has not made a trio album since Everything I Love with the Canadian rhythm section Duncan Hopkins and Anthony Michelli (Basho, 2002); this one is well worth the decade’s wait.

Lyricism and mellifluousness rank high among Iles’s great strengths, so it is no surprise to find her choosing compositions by Kenny Wheeler (‘Everybody’s Song but My Own’), Ralph Towner (‘The Glide’), Michel Legrand (‘You Must Believe in Spring’) and Julian Argüelles (‘Hi Steve’) alongside her own pieces, a standard and a couple of modern jazz classics (Miles Davis’s ‘Nardis’, Dave Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’) as the set for this album, and she approaches everything she plays with genuine respect, her love and knowledge of the compositions imbuing her interpretations of them with intimacy and reverence, liberally laced with musical wit, elegance and grace. Reid and Williams are a dream team, despite never having played together before, subtly probing, filling and generally embellishing an unequivocally enjoyable album, packed with delicate felicities and considered inventiveness.

The Financial Times 4 stars ****
Nikki Iles captures the light touch, ironic logic and irresistible pulse of an in-his- prime Bill Evans.The late pianists impressionism has been much imitated but it has rarely been mastered with the freshness and composure that Iles and her close-knit piano trio deliver.

Peter Bacon The Jazz Breakfast  (extract )
This album is glorious . A fine Basho Records release, which should bring Nikki Iles the far wider recognition, she so richly deserves.


BLOOR ST-Edition Records

“It has been almost a decade since the Secret Quartet made their first recording, but they have reconvened in glorious fashion on this intelligent, beautifully crafted follow-up. Speake’s purity of tone and fertile invention on alto is a constant pleasure, and Iles is equally resourceful in her lyrical but tough-minded explorations at the keyboard. Edition Records are making a serious impact on UK jazz, and their studio recording here is exceptionally vivid”. SCOTSMAN ****


Everything I Love-Basho

….this trio disc, under her leadership, represents the clearest opportunity yet to hear her musicality in full flow. 
It’s largely an acoustic jazz piano set, recorded with Canadians Duncan Hopkins (bass) and Anthony Michelli (drums) recorded in Toronto. The relationships within the trio are fluid and extremely alert – at times the band suggests a more swinging version of Brad Mehldau approach. The context may be familiar, but the sharpness of the execution and the sense of purpose certainly aren’t. Hear Iles’s ringing, Paul Bley-like chords on her thundering original Fly’s Dilemma, the rhythm section’s urgent insistence under the title track, the pianist’s mesmerizing riff-dance on John Taylor’s Ambleside Days, or the tender overlaying of harmonies and chord voicings on Bill Evans’s Your Story. A formidable UK jazz presence rising to her full height” John, Fordham, The Guardian 4****


A Wing And a Prayer -33 Records

Dave Gelly The Observer 4****
Nikki Iles’s piano is full of rich implications, subtle turns and mellow harmonies, and it’s beautifully recorded: the deep resonances seem to come up through the floor. Iles slyly boogies alongside May on Who Can I Turn To?, while, on Black Narcissus, the pair are tied so close together that they sound like one instrument. But for fans of the orthodox romantic ballad, meticulously but freshly performed, it’s a state-of-the-art exercise.


More Than You Know-33 Records

Dave Gelly the Observer 4****
Voice, piano and tenor saxophone or clarinet; with an odd setup like that, you just don’t know what to expect. In the case of these three, however, the chances are that it will turn out to be an interesting, quirky and, above all, enjoyable hour’s music. And it is. In the first place, they have performed together so much that they must enjoy each other’s company. That enjoyment includes a shared sense of what is possible with this tiny format and complete trust in one another’s musical instincts. Tina May has a fine, expressive voice, with immaculate pitch, clear diction and no annoying mannerisms. Nikki Iles plays the piano with a crystalline touch and a technique that enables her to cover for the missing double bass when necessary. Coe is one of today’s best clarinetists, in any idiom, with an inquisitive, slightly irascible saxophone style that is quite inimitable. The result is like overhearing an intelligent, often witty three-way conversation.


Treasure Trove-ASC

“For me, this is one of the albums of the year” (John Critchinson Music Magazine)

Veteran British reedman Stan Sulzmann teams here with pianist Nikki Iles to offer a set of dulcet duets. Sulzmann’s main horn is tenor, and his sweet melancholy sound meshes well with Iles’ very personal, ringing tone. The duo sounds free and experienced with each other, engaging in near unison playing in parts. The music’s center is the lyrical saxophone/piano conversations between Sulzmann and Iles, which the closing MTL is an unsurpassed example. They offer music that has both depth and beauty, but never syrupy, cloying or sentimental. (Crescendo Magazine USA)

Treasure Trove, a duet with master saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and pianist Nikki Iles – a marvelous meeting of musical minds. There can be few recordings that capture so well Stan Sulzmann’s ability to conjure up long, sinuous melodic lines, and Nikki Iles contributes immensely to the process as accompanist, composer and compelling soloist in her own right. (Jazz UK Magazine)

This is a quiet, exquisite duo album. Three of the compositions are by Iles and reveal her great melodic gifts and the singing subtlety of her fine touch, the sonorities and her flow. Five of the compositions are by Sulzmann, and as a player and composer he has similar poetic qualities to Iles, which is why the music they make together is so ecstatic. (The Rough Guide To Jazz)


Snap

Foolish Hearts with Steve Berry, Paul Clarvis and Anthony Kerr.
There’s a strong pianistic presence here in the latest edition of Steve Berry’s Foolish Hearts. Their latest CD is “Snap” and is mainly an exploration of several of Steve’s engrossing compositions. Some wonderful playing here, with the interplay between the musicians a constant delight. (Jazz UK Magazine)


Change of sky-33 Jazz

Change of Sky, a cloistered sequence of duets with pianist Nikki Iles, marks another step into the unknown, prompting May’s most mature singing so far. Iles is a very impressive accompanist, her haunting chords helping to turn Come Rain or Come Shine a darker shade of blue. (The Times)

Iles and May were the highlight of the Brecon Jazz Festival.(Jazz UK Magazine)


Don’t Ask-Symbol

The Geoff Simkins quartet with Simon Woolf and Martin France
..lovely, well constructed interplay between Simkins and the Bill Evans-like piano of Nikki Iles resulting in a peek of what a Bill Evans , rather than a Dave Brubeck quartet featuring Paul Desmond would have sounded like: even more thoughtful than the Brubeck group.This album is highly recommended. (The All Music Guide)


One Fine Day-33Jazz

…Iles, who often performs in duet with May, is a superb accompanist-sensitive to dynamics, developing the undercurrents of a harmony with unobtrusive audacity, prodding rhythmically where the absent drummer might, and soloing out of the immediate context rather than dumping her personal statement on the landscape. (The Guardian)


Secret-Basho

…”its acoustic quartet playing a very long way up the league. “ (The Guardian)

“When four jazz musicians manage to record almost 80 minutes of memorable music in five hours straight, it’s likely that magic was in the air. This set was put together in October 2000 at the end of a UK tour for the quartet led by alto saxophonist Martin Speake and pianist Nikki Iles, and it has precisely the open fluency you might expect when four sophisticated improvisers have had plenty of chances to figure out how their partners tick. Speake, the UK’s Lee Konitz in his bop-rooted expressiveness, and the formidably creative Iles are joined by Canadians Duncan Hopkins on bass and Anthony Michelli on drums. Most of the compositions are originals, with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Luiza and the standard The Thrill Is Gone, on which Speake plays with a resigned spaciousness and haunting evocativeness of tone. But for all its coolness, this set doesn’t lack strength or vigour – as you can hear on Hopkins’ cool-boppish Oncology and on Iles’s cop-show groover Fly’s Dilemma. Not music to blow you out of your socks, nor intended to – but very intelligent, sharp and very musical”. John Fordham, The Guardian.

“Secret is an album of jazz of a very high order from a group that puts to shame many much-hyped American bands.” Andrew Vine, Yorkshire Post.

The Observer March 2002 (album of the week March 2002)
” An album equally strong on melody and harmony, rhythmic intricacies and broadly phrased beautifully “breathing” passages together, spacious cross-rhythms and purposive drive, distilled reflection and cooking swing distinguish this excellent, superbly recorded release.” Michael Tucker. Jazz Journal Dec 2002


I’ll Take Romance-Linn Records

Scott Hamilton with Tina May
It is difficult to know where to start with this beautiful piece of work. Everything about it is so well conceived that the result is quite outstanding… (CD of the week, The Observer) (CD of the week ,The Evening Standard)