The Jazz Mann | New Generation Jazz - ‘Showcase Wales’, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/07/2018.Emulsion Festival VI, Day Two, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 16/06/2018.‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’, University of Reading London Road Campus, 11/05/2018Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 06/05/2018.Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 05/05/2018.Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2018.Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 03/05/2018.Purdy’s Pop-Up Jazz Club w Rebecca Poole & Fleur Stevenson, HAODS Studio, Henley on Thames, 03/02/EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 19th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 18th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday November 17th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Thursday November 16th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Wednesday November 15th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Tuesday November 14th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Monday November 13th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 12th 2017.EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017 - Part TwoEFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017.‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’,Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival,Market Hall,Abergavenny, 03/09/2017Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 02/09/2017.Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 31st August and 1st September 2017.“Jazz Futures” in Brecon and Reading.Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2017.Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2017.Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29/04/2017.Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 28/04/2017.Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 27/04/2017.Surge In Spring Festival, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 08/04/2017.‘Jazz on a Winter’s Day’ -  Scott Willcox Big Band recording session, 18/02/2017.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Ten, Sunday 20th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Nine, Saturday 19th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Eight, Friday 18th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Seven, Thursday 17th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Six, Wednesday 16th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Five, Tuesday 15th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Four, Monday 14th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Three Sunday 13th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Two, Saturday 12th November 2016.EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day One, Friday 11th November 2016.‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’, Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Market Hall, Abergavenny, 04/09/2016.Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 03/09/2016.Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 1st and 2nd September 2016.Sunday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 14/08/2016.Saturday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 13/08/2016.Friday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 12/08/2016.Jazz Corner - ‘All Those Cultural Links’.Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 02/05/2016.Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2016.Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2016.Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 28/04/2016.‘A Journey Into Deep, Deep Peace’ - the music of Johnty Wilks.From the Archives - Dorian Ford.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, second Sunday, 22/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, second Saturday, 21/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, second Friday, 20/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, Thursday, 19/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, Wednesday, 18/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, Tuesday, 17/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, Monday, 16/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, first Sunday, 15/11/2015.EFG London Jazz Festival 2015, first Saturday, 14/11/2015.Ray Warleigh (1938-2015).Sunday at wall2wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 06/09/2015.Friday and Saturday at wall2wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 4th and 5th September 2015.Music and ... the Theremin, The Left Bank, Hereford, 30/07/2015 (part of the Three Choirs Festival).R.I.P.  John Taylor (1942-2015)Sunday at Swansea International Jazz Festival, 14/06/2015.Saturday at Swansea International Jazz Festival, 13/06/2015.Friday at Swansea International Jazz Festival, 12/06/2015.Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2015.Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 03/05/2015.Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 02/05/2015.Way in to the Way Out: Arun Ghosh and Zoe Rahman, EFG London Jazz Festival, 15th, 16th November 2014Book Review; Different Every Time The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt by Marcus O’ Dair.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Ten, 23/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Nine, 22/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Eight, 21/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Seven, 20/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Six, 19/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Five, 18/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Four, 17/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Three, 16/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Two, 15/11/2014.EFG London Jazz Festival, Day One, 14/11/2014.Sunday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 31/08/2014.Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 30/08/2014.Book Review ; Free Jazz And Improvisation On Vinyl 1965-1985 by Johannes Rd .Sunday at Brecon Jazz, 10/08/2014.Saturday at Brecon Jazz, 09/08/2014.Friday at Brecon Jazz, 08/08/2014.Sunday at Titley Jazz, 27/07/2014.Saturday at Titley Jazz, 26/07/2014.Friday at Titley Jazz, 25/07/2014.Michael Wollny “Wunderkammer XXL” and “Weltentraum”.An evening at Cheltenham Music Festival, Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham, 04/07/2014.Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 05/05/2014.Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2014.Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 03/05/2014.Alex Ward;  Predicate “Nails” and Forebrace “Bad Folds”.Geoff Eales ; 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New Generation Jazz - ‘Showcase Wales’, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/07/2018.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New Generation Jazz - ‘Showcase Wales’, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/07/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys an evening of original music played by students of the RWCMD in Cardiff with sets from Josh Heaton's Mouth of Words, Skeleton Leaf and the Norman Willmore Quintet.

New Generation Jazz - ‘Showcase Wales’

Josh Heaton’s Mouth of Words

Skeleton Leaf

Norman Willmore Quintet

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/07/2018

In August 2017 the Midlands based singer Annette Gregory played a successful show at The Muse as part of that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival. Gregory and her pianist and musical director John McDonald were accompanied by three students from the acclaimed Jazz Performance course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD).

Tenor saxophonist Tom Newitt, bassist Matheus Prado and drummer Zach Breskal all acquitted themselves superbly as part of the kind of one-off collaboration that Brecon Jazz Club organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon regularly bring together and make work. As musical facilitators Lynne and Roger have developed an uncanny knack of bringing together musicians who have never played together before but who instinctively combine into admirably cohesive units on the concert stage. Many of these collaborations have featured musicians from different generations or even different countries and it’s to the credit of Lynne and Roger that they have developed such a keen eye and ear for knowing who will hit it off with who.

The Gregory performance struck a good balance between vocal and instrumental jazz with the young musicians from RWCMD given plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. In my review of the show I remarked;
“Newitt came close to stealing the show with his versatile and highly accomplished sax soloing which was consistently assured, mature and fluent. I’d like to see him returning to Brecon and leading his own band at a regular Jazz Club event, preferably with the similarly impressive Breskal at the drums. How about it, Lynne and Roger?”
My full review of that Festival performance can be read here;
  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/annette-gregory-friends-brecon-jazz-festival-2017-the-muse-arts-centre-brec/

My comments resonated with Lynne and Roger who were keen to invite both Newitt and Breskal back to Brecon. They were also keen to involve the Brazilian born Prado, a good friend of Brecon Jazz Club who had previously visited The Muse with the bossa nova quartet Ocasa, with Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada, and as part of a trio with guitarists Maciek Pysz and Jean Guyomarc’h.

Brecon Jazz Club has always enjoyed a good relationship with the RWCMD and both club and festival events have regularly included College students and alumni with student ensembles frequently featuring at Brecon Jazz Festival.

Thus Lynne and Roger took my suggestion several stages further and conceived a showcase event highlighting the abilities of the current crop of undergraduates. They invited Tom Newitt to curate the event and secured financial support from the Arts Council of Wales’ ‘Night Out’ or ‘Noson Allan’ scheme.

Dubbed ‘New Generation Jazz – Showcase Wales’ this eagerly awaited event featured three different ensembles and a total of eleven musicians with a degree of ‘doubling up’ going on, something that served to demonstrate the adaptability and versatility of these already highly accomplished young musicians.

On a sweltering July evening a pleasingly large audience made their way to the Muse, undeterred by the heat, the World Cup and the early start time of 7.15, the latter to help facilitate the change overs between the three performances.

On now to the music which began with;

JOSH HEATON’S ‘MOUTH of WORDS’

The first group to take to the stage was the quintet Mouth of Words, led by tenor saxophonist and composer Josh Heaton. The group also included Prado on double bass, Rachel Head on alto sax, Kumar Chopra on guitar and ‘returning hero’ (Heaton’s words) Breskal at the drums.

I’d previously been impressed with Heaton’s playing when I saw him perform at Café Jazz in Cardiff in October 2017 as part of a quintet led by drummer and composer Max Wright, another RWCMD student. That group had also included Prado plus alto saxophonist Norman Willmore, who was to lead his own band later this evening. Wright’s group had been supporting pianist Tom Millar’s quartet who were touring the UK at the time. My account of that night’s performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/max-wright-quintet-tom-millar-quartet-cafe-jazz-cardiff-05-10-2017/

The performance by Mouth of Words set the tone for the evening. The Annette Gregory & Friends performance that had helped to inspire tonight’s event concentrated on standard material, but this evening the focus was wholly on new music with all three groups performing programmes comprised of original compositions by the band members.

Mouth of Words adopted a particularly eclectic approach with their blend of jazz and poetry, admittedly not a new concept (think Michael Garrick, Mike Westbrook etc) but still unusual enough. In any event the Heaton group brought a modern and original slant to the genre by using their own words, mostly Heaton’s, rather than ‘setting’ those of other, more established poets.

For all this the quintet began with an instrumental, which Heaton announced as “Halesowen”, though quite why a Lancastrian studying in Wales should name a tune after an industrial town in the West Midlands escapes me. This atmospheric piece had something of the feel of an ‘overture’ about it with an opening twin sax chorale featuring the intertwining of Heaton’s tenor and Head’s alto, later augmented by Breskal’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles.

“Globes” was the first piece to feature poetry and saw Heaton reciting his words in a deadpan Lancashire accent; throughout the performance the lyrics were spoken rather than sung. Heaton’s words proved to be wry and observational, rooted in everyday experiences and often downright funny, but with the humour laced with pathos. “Globes”, he told us, was all about “eyes – and what they have seen”. The quirkiness of Heaton’s words sometimes reminded me of Django Bates whose music has relied increasingly on vocals and lyrics in recent years, an influence that Heaton was prepared to acknowledge. I was also reminded of the Liverpudlian band The Weave who also incorporate quirkiness and poetry into their music, although Heaton had never actually heard of them. Meanwhile the music incorporated full length solos from Heaton on tenor and Head on alto with Chopra’s distinctive, stabbing guitar chording serving to prompt the soloists.

“Happiness” featured words and music by Head, the former still being recited by Heaton and concluding “a life without happiness, there is no lonelier thing”. The more vibrant second section with its guitar driven groove featured some sparkling interplay between the two saxophonists, their dovetailing and use of counterpoint amounting to far more than just a series of exchanges. The piece also included a drum feature from the excellent Breskal, whose roaming of the kit was underpinned by an ongoing groove generated by Prado and Chopra.

“Celtic Complexion”  adopted a contemporary jazz feel that suggested the influence of the New York ‘Downtown’ scene and included instrumental features for Prado, Heaton and Head.

Mouth of Words completed their set with a segue of two poems/pieces, “Mirror Face” and “Sunset Song”, the first including further recitative from Heaton. Meanwhile Chopra had been biding his time and was finally given his opportunity to deliver his only solo of the night, cutting loose with an impressive display of fleet and fluent fretboard work which exhibited a strong rock influence. The twin saxes then combined on some powerful ensemble playing before Heaton recited his second poem, this followed by a brief group outro.

Overall I was impressed by the quintet’s original approach and by the standard of the playing from all concerned. Some audience members expressed misgivings about the poetry aspect of the performance but, for me, this was what helped to make the set so distinctive. It also avoided the usual ‘jazz and poetry’ clichés, instead adopting an irreverent and thoroughly contemporary approach to the subject. Heaton’s cleverly named Mouth of Words project has considerable potential, expect to hear from this quintet in the future.

SKELETON LEAF

The changeovers at tonight’s event were commendably swift and efficient and next to take to the stage were Skeleton Leaf, a quartet led from the kit by drummer and composer Eddie Jones West. In fact this turned out to be a highly democratic unit with the other members of the band also contributing material and with tenor saxophonist Dave Bush also handling the announcements from his centre stage position.

Jones West and Bush were joined by Ben Manning on five string electric bass and Frazer McIntosh at a Korg keyboard played with a classic electric piano sound. Inspired by contemporary jazz and ‘math rock’ Skeleton Leaf play in a broadly fusion-esque style with the focus on fluid but powerful grooves and strong melodic themes.

The quartet commenced with “Herons”, written by Bush, which commenced with an impressive passage of unaccompanied tenor sax with the composer subsequently joined by electric bass, keyboards and, finally, the leader’s drums. Bush continued to solo in more conventional jazz fashion, wispily and ethereally at first before a sudden shift to a harder, funkier groove brought out the more forceful aspects of his playing. The saxophonist was followed by further features for keyboards and electric bass on this lengthy, but undeniably impressive opening piece.

The writing duties passed to McIntosh for “Light Beams” which combined vibrant grooves with an arresting melodic theme with the composer leading off the solos at the keyboard before exchanging phrases with Manning on electric bass to the accompaniment of Jones West’s skittering drum grooves. The drummer later exchanged ideas with Bush, their dialogue underpinned by Manning’s propulsive electric bass grooves.

The leader’s own “Achroous” was introduced by Manning’s electric bass and initially presented a softer sound before gradually ramping up the tension via Bush’s tenor sax solo to embrace something more anthemic and rock influenced with McIntosh also featuring on electric piano.

Skeleton Leaf concluded their set with “Cosmic Dolphin”, presumably also written by Jones West. The quirkiness of the title was reflected in the cerebrally funky, odd meter interlocking grooves generated by bass, keys and drums as Bush soloed above on tenor. Subsequently tricky, complex unison passages were punctuated by a series of fiery drum breaks from Jones West that finally asserted his leadership.

Again this was a highly enjoyable set that featured some engaging writing and excellent playing. The tunes were lengthy and arguably meandered a little at times but the potential of this group was again glaringly obvious. A glance at youtube suggests that these are pieces that routinely mutate in live performance. However it would be good to hear them documented in the more disciplined environment of the studio. Indeed all of tonight’s original music from all three groups will hopefully be documented on CD at some point. Well, we can dream, can’t we?

NORMAN WILLMORE QUINTET

The evening concluded with a blistering set from the quintet led by alto saxophonist Norman Willmore. He was joined in the front line by event curator Tom Newitt on his trademark tenor in a line up that saw McIntosh and Manning returning immediately to the stage with Breskal also playing his second set of the night.

This time round Manning was playing acoustic bass but there was no let up in the funk quotient as his propulsive grooves helped to fuel “Azure”, a composition brought to the group by Newitt. Nevertheless there was a more orthodox jazz feel about the music of this quintet as Newitt and Willmore doubled up on the theme before breaking up to deliver fluent, inventive individual solos, the composer going first on tenor.

The remainder of the music came from the pen of Willmore, beginning with “A Local Shop For Local People” with its unison horn theme statement and odd meter grooves. Willmore’s alto solo embraced a degree of wilful dissonance while Newitt also shone with a powerful tenor solo that impressed in terms of both its power and fluency. If the tenor man’s performance with Gregory had evoked memories of old masters such as Young, Hawkins, Webster and Getz here he came over more like Michael Brecker.

Newitt was at it again on the gospel flavoured “Till The Wheels Fall Off” - “tearing it up on tenor” as Willmore put it. Meanwhile the composer also demonstrated an impressive power on alto during the course of his own solo as McIntosh added the sound of clangorous keyboards.

“Flit”, a tune written about moving house, was driven by muscular bass lines and briskly brushed drum grooves and incorporated solos from Willmore on incisive alto plus McIntosh at the keyboard and Manning on double bass.

Announcing the final number, “The Finishing Set”, Willmore described the piece as a “set of tunes” suggesting a folk influence, something that had also been hinted at in the earlier “Local Shop…”.
Here the Celtic folk influence was more overt, reminiscent at times of the work of Scottish trumpeter Colon Steele. Breskal’s precise but powerful drumming drove this rousing piece with the twin saxes complementing each other on the folk inspired melodies. Subsequent research has revealed that Willmore originates from Shetland, an area with a particularly strong folk tradition (think fiddler Aly Bain of Boys of the Lough), so it’s perhaps not so surprising that his heritage is reflected in his writing and playing.

Willmore’s group was the most cohesive of the three and, despite the folk influences, the one with the most conventional jazz feel about it. Nevertheless I was also impressed by both Mouth of Words and Skeleton Leaf and it was also heart warming to see how positively the Brecon audience responded to all three bands, despite the total absence of any standard material whatsoever. I found it particularly pleasing to see how warmly people reacted to this new music, the response reflecting both the quality of the original writing and the skill of the playing from all the musicians involved.

This was a good gig for these young players, one that will help to put them on the musical map, and I’m sure that some of them will be making a return to visit to Brecon at some point in the future. Congratulations are due to Lynne Gornall, Roger Cannon, Tom Newitt and all the musicians for such a successful evening of new, original music.

In the meantime the quintet Hillmore, yet another variant featuring some of tonight’s musicians performs at Tiny Rebel Jazz in Cardiff on the evening of Thursday July 12th 2018 featuring the twin alto front line of Head and Willmore plus McIntosh, Manning and Breskal.

Emulsion Festival VI, Day Two, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 16/06/2018.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Emulsion Festival VI, Day Two, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 16/06/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys this cross genre Festival founded by saxophonist Trish Clowes and featuring newly commissioned music from Nikki Iles and Robert Mitchell.

Day Two, Emulsion VI Festival, The Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 16/06/2018.

Now in its sixth year the Emulsion Festival is the brainchild of London based saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes.

As befits a former BBC Radio 3 New Generations Artist Clowes is a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical music camps. During her studies on the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music she regularly associated and played with students on the classical courses. Her recordings, “Tangent” (2010), “and in the night time she is there (2012), “Pocket Compass” (2014) and “My Iris” (2017) have all contained elements of both genres, with Clowes collaborating with a range of musicians drawn from both the jazz and classical fields.

Clowes conceived the Emulsion project as a means of bringing adventurous musicians from the jazz and classical worlds together in a spirit of mutual collaboration. She describes it as “a new music Festival that celebrates the adventurous spirit and the open mind”, and “an experiment featuring a group of like-minded musicians”. She emphasises the cross-genre nature of the Festival and its role as “a platform for new music and improvisation”.

The First Emulsion Festival took place at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston before moving on to two other London venues, Kings Place and the Village Underground. In 2017 Clowes took the Festival on the road, moving to the Midlands Arts Centre (mac) in Birmingham. 2018 saw a further change of location with Clowes bringing the Festival to her original home town of Shrewsbury, and to a venue where she has performed several times before with her jazz quartet.

Emulsion is more than just a series of festivals. Clowes has described it as “an evolving concept”, a movement if you will, which actively encourages and commissions new music from both jazz and contemporary classical composers. The outlet for these works is the Emulsion Sinfonietta, an ensemble featuring a mix of jazz and classical musicians assembled by Clowes.

In 2015 I witnessed a performance by the Sinfonietta at the 2015 Cheltenham Music Festival. The core ensemble was augmented by the celebrated Anglo-Norwegian duo Food, consisting of saxophonist Iain Ballamy and drummer/percussionist Thomas Stronen. The programme at Cheltenham included new pieces by both Ballamy and Stronen in addition to new commissions from the contemporary classical composers Luke Styles, Joe Cutler and Christopher Mayo. Compositions from Clowes and from bassist Calum Gourlay were also featured. My review of that performance can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/emulsion-sinfonietta-featuring-food-parabola-arts-centre-cheltenham-04-07-2/

The 2018 Emulsion Festival was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and also received support from Birmingham City University, where Clowes holds a part time teaching post.  In previous years the Festival has received assistance from other bodies including the PRS for Music Foundation, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Arts Council England.

Emulsion VI took place over the course of two evenings at the Gateway Arts & Education Centre and featured new commissions from two celebrated jazz composers, the pianists Robert Mitchell and Nikki Iles.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the second of the two nights. The Friday evening had featured a solo piano performance by Mitchell that included material from his 2013 solo piano album “The Glimpse”, a series of compositions for the pianist’s left hand only. My review of that recording can be read here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/robert-mitchell-the-glimpse/
Laurie Grey of Shrewsbury Jazz Network, who had attended on the Friday evening, described Mitchell’s performance as being “intense but brilliant”, everything that you would expect from one of the UK’s most intelligent and inventive pianists.

Mitchell’s solo recital was preceded by a series of “Emulsion Miniatures”, a series of improvised duets featuring members of the Emulsion Sinfonietta and their guests these featuring;
Melinda Maxwell (oboe) and Percy Pursglove (trumpet)
Trish Clowes (saxophone) and Ross Stanley (keyboards)
Robert Mitchell (piano) and Tom Harrison (alto sax)
James Maddren (drums) and Chris Montague (guitar)
I was sorry to have missed this intriguing series of musical conversations.

The Friday evening concluded with “Emulsify”, an interactive piece by Clowes featuring the members of the Sinfonietta with a graphic score that invited the active participation of the audience members. Reports and photographs suggest that this part of the event was great fun and a welcome contrast to the seriousness of some of the earlier music making.

Saturday’s programme varied from the one published on the Festival website http://www.emulsionmusic.org but still featured an absorbing selection of eclectic and adventurous music performed over the course of two sets. The repertoire included new commissions from Mitchell and Iles with the latter also performing alongside the Sinfonietta whose line up tonight featured;

Trish Clowes – tenor & soprano saxophones
Mandhira de Saram – violin
Louise McMonagle – cello
Catriona McDermid - bassoon
Melinda Maxwell – oboe, cor anglais
Max Welford – clarinet, bass clarinet
Tom Harrison – alto saxophone
Freddie Gavita – trumpet
Chris Montague – guitar
Ross Stanley – piano, Hammond organ
Calum Gourlay – double bass
James Maddren – drums

I have to confess that at the 2015 Cheltenham performance I found the mix of jazz and contemporary classical music somewhat difficult and hard to digest. This time round I found the music much more to my taste and was consistently absorbed by the richly varied musical fare on offer. There was even an Emulsion festival beer brewed by the local Chapel Brewery to wash it down – and very good it was too!

Perhaps the beer helped, but so did the more intimate location, the atmosphere of the whole event was much more relaxed and informal than it had been in the theatre setting at Cheltenham. It also helped that in one of several changes to the printed programme Clowes decided to kick things off with a jazz piece, her own “Sister Bernadette”, an accessible, swinging item that saw the composer stating the theme on tenor sax and later soloing at length in between similarly engaging excursions from Stanley on organ and Montague on guitar. These two, together with Maddren, form part of the core quartet on Clowes’ most recent (and, arguably, best to date) album “My Iris”. It was particularly pleasing to see Stanley deploying “the Beast”, an original Hammond B3 complete with Leslie speaker cabinet. This, combined, with the quality of Clowes’ writing and the skills of the other musicians, was guaranteed to get me onside from the start. Suitably enlivened by the invigorating opener (and maybe also the Emulsion ale) I was now fully receptive to the more challenging music that was to follow and found myself wholly engaged throughout.

By way of contrast the next performance was a display of improvised solo violin from de Saram that saw her coaxing a stunning array of noises from her instrument, ranging from high pitched, birdsong like sounds to harsh, aggressive scraping of the strings. Here was a young, classically trained musician deploying extended techniques and improvising with the skill and fearlessness of a seasoned free jazzer. It was totally spell binding and very impressive but in retrospect not as surprising as it first appeared. A brief internet search revealed that as well as being a founder member of the Ligeti String Quartet de Saram has quite a pedigree in the field of experimental and improvised music and that among her many collaborators are pianists Steve Beresford and Benoit Dalbecq plus the venerable trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, all names that will be familiar to adventurous listeners of jazz and improvised music. With a pedigree like that de Saram is a perfect fit for the genre stretching Emulsion project.

The 2016 Emulsion Festival commissioned a piece from the contemporary classical composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian. Based in Suffolk the Anglo-Armenian composer’s work was inspired by the flight of her own family from eastern Turkey a century ago during the genocide that saw the murder of 1.5 million Armenians..  The resultant piece, “Muted Lines”, was subsequently recorded by Clowes for the “My Iris” release.

In her album notes Clowes explains the inspiration behind the piece as follows;
“When trying to express this with sound all she could think of was silence. The silence of generations unable to speak of the death marches, the slavery and beheadings because they were silenced by political pressure, or by the sheer horror. This silence grows louder as it is passed down family lines, leaving a void in cultures, in language, in relationships” 

Horrocks-Hopayian took inspiration from the words of the poet Nahapet Kuchak “Sing, although the exile’s heart fills with such unsingable songs” and explored this as a reductive exercise asking the question; “how does the meaning of a sentence change, when, bit by bit, its words are forgotten?”.  By omitting words she arrived at the song’s lyric;

Sing, although the exile’s heart fills with such unsingable songs,
Sing! The exile’s heart fills with unsingable songs,
Sing the exile’s heart with unsingable songs,
Sing the exile’s unsingable songs,
Sing the exile’s songs,
Sing unsingable songs,
Sing songs.

Clowes continues;
“While much was lost, the feeling remained, and by setting this line to music the silence could be filled with new meaning. The melody repeats because history repeats. The 16th century text shows how the experience is universal, across time and geography.”
The song is dedicated to “all exiles and their descendants, 100 years from now”.

The album version was recorded by the quartet of Clowes, Montague, Stanley and Maddren who all played tonight alongside additional strings (de Saram, McMonagle)  and reeds (McDermid, Maxwell, Whitlock) with Clowes singing/reciting the words before soloing briefly on tenor sax as part of an arrangement in which Montague’s guitar was particularly prominent. Compared to much of the other material heard this evening the piece was almost disarmingly simple but its theme of forced migration ensured that it packed a powerful emotional impact.

The second of this evening’s “Miniatures” featured a duet between bassoonist McDermid and cellist McMonagle, a deeply sonorous but pleasingly sprightly dialogue inspired by the “notes inégales” ( unequal notes) of the French Baroque. Announcing the piece McDermid explained the similarities between this style and the jazz of later centuries – and for me the name of that club in Euston too!

Tom Harrison, Clowes’ fellow co-ordinator of the Emulsion project, took over the announcer’s mic to introduce “Elegy For The Unknown Leader”, Mitchell’s Festival commission. The piece takes as its theme the subject of unlocking potential with Mitchell explaining; “We have great leaders walking among us who have never been given the chance to develop their talents to the fullest”. In his programme notes he goes on to criticise career politicians and to question the democratic process itself, suggesting the little known Greek practice of “sortition” as an alternative, the selection of political officials at random which would allow some to realise their hitherto untapped potential. He goes on to praise Clowes, Harrison and the Sinfonietta for their work while questioning the ongoing reduction of funding for the arts.
The music itself appeared to be inspired by minimalism with Stanley’s recurring piano motif a constant almost throughout the piece, silenced only by a double bass feature from Gourlay. Elsewhere Stanley’s piano was augmented by the muted textures of strings and reeds and the shimmering of Maddren’s brushed cymbals in a nonet performance that saw co-ordinators Clowes and Harrison sitting out. de Saram’s use of pizzicato strings provided a counterpoint to Stanley’s piano motif and added a second ‘minimalistic’ layer in a piece that unfolded gradually and organically while continuing to maintain the listener’s attention. It was altogether less busy than much of Mitchell’s other work but was still possessed of a quiet, simmering intensity.

Clowes then welcomed composer Nikki Iles to the stage to introduce her piece “Negomi”. This wasn’t actually the Festival commission but instead a piece written for Issie Barratt’s Interchange project, a celebration of female jazz musicians and composers that was recently premièred at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The piece was performed there with a very different, all female, line up.
Iles explained that the piece was inspired by the plight of refugee children in the camps at Calais (that theme of forced migration again) but that the title was derived from the name of her own daughter, Imogen. “Negomi” was what the late, great Kenny Wheeler used to call the little girl in a typical piece of Wheeler wordplay. Moving to the piano Iles introduced the piece with a passage of unaccompanied playing, this leading into a ballad section featuring the trio of the composer with Gourlay on double bass and Maddren on brushed drums. These two later combined to create a powerful groove as the music gained momentum and a more obvious jazz feel with cogent solos coming from Iles on piano,  Montague on guitar, Clowes on tenor and Gavita on trumpet, the last named impressing on his first solo excursion through the incisive purity of his tone and the fluency of his improvising.

With the World Cup currently in full swing it was highly appropriate that the second half should kick off with composer Joe Cutler’s piece “Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder”. This work was originally commissioned by Cheltenham Music Festival in conjunction with the Norwegian Embassy and was first performed at Cheltenham in 2015.

Cutler is a composer with the kind of broad outlook that is right in tune with the Emulsion aesthetic and he has written music across a variety of genres. He is currently Head of Composition at Birmingham Conservatoire where Clowes also has a part time teaching post. Cutler is also part of Nozferatu, a contemporary music collective that includes jazz saxophonist Finn Peters and percussionist Dave Price.

“Karembeu’s Guide To The Complete Defensive Midfielder” references the former Real Madrid and France midfielder Christian Karembeu and his feature of the same name on the UEFA coaching website. Cutler, also a table tennis fanatic, likens the roles of players in a football team with musicians in an orchestra.

Tonight’s performance commenced with the spacey drone of Stanley’s Hammond allied to Maddren’s eerie cymbal scrapes. The piece developed to incorporate the whole ensemble (other than Harrison, who was sitting out) and included features for Clowes on soprano sax, Gavita on trumpet and Welford on bass clarinet. Although essentially playful the piece incorporated an element of wilful dissonance that hinted at the ugly side of the beautiful game, the kind of unseen and often uncredited ‘nuts and bolts’ of the game routinely undertaken by hard grafting ‘holding midfielders’ such as Karambeu. The piece resolved itself with the deep sonics of Stanley’s Hammond and Gourlay’s bowed bass, an extended musical final whistle at which point Cutler, who was present in the audience, acknowledged the applause of the crowd.

A second “Miniature” then featured a solo oboe performance from Maxwell, whose improvisation was based on a movement from “Octandre”,  Edgar Varese’s three part composition for small orchestra, written in 1923. The piece allowed Maxwell to demonstrate her versatility on her chosen instrument. Elsewhere during the concert she also impressed on the larger cor anglais.

The final “Miniature” featured McMonagle who performed “Sol-itude”, a composition for solo cello written by the Tokyo born, Paris based composer Noriko Baba. One of the most notable aspects of this evening’s event was the humour that Clowes and her colleagues brought to it, a very real sense of fun contrasting well with the seriousness of some of the music. Not that the music itself lacked humour with “Sol-itude” proving to be a particularly playful piece with McMonagle deploying extended techniques on her cello, striking the strings with the bow and inserting what looked like knitting needles between the strings to alter the pitch, the kind of methods normally associated with free jazz bassists. She also sang along wordlessly with the melodies she played, adding an impish, childlike charm to the proceedings. The audience loved it.

Nikki Iles returned to the stage to play piano as the ensemble performed her composition “Awakening”, the piece commissioned for Emulsion VI. Introducing Iles Clowes recalled seeing the pianist at the Gateway fifteen years previously, leading a trio featuring former Loose Tubes bassist Steve Berry. Iles then explained that her piece was inspired by the theme of renewal and “the first eagerly awaited spring day after a never ending winter – an annual miracle that, more then ever this year, has inspired me”. The piece was divided into three sections, the first depicting “the bleakness of winter” before moving into the “inevitable Awakening of spring” and culminating in a ritualistic or “mating” dance.

The first (winter) movement featured chilly, but still surprisingly lush, textures featuring strings, reeds and brass before Maddren established a drum groove that ushered in the brighter sounds of spring with its soaring melodies and forceful, rock influenced rhythms. Clowes’ tenor and Montague’s guitar were particularly prominent in the arrangement with the latter sharing soloing duties alongside Gavita’s trumpet before the music morphed into the final ‘dance’ section, featuring the entire ensemble.

Things got a little confusing when Clowes and Harrison attempted to reprise the previous evening’s “Emulsify” piece with graphic scores and placards exhorting audience members to make vocal noises (whistling, hissing) etc. given out to members of the crowd. As the Sinfonietta improvised we were encouraged to dance, sing and generally join in but this was only a partial success; this turn of events had been totally unexpected and most people didn’t seem to have a clue what was going on. All good fun though and very much in keeping with the overall spirit of the event.

Following on from this, in another change from the published programme, we heard Clowes’ composition “Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds”. This piece was written as a response to the earlier “Muted Lines”  and addresses the theme of jazz, the music that Clowes loves, and her guilt in the knowledge that the music owes its very existence to the brutal horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade that “enslaved, transported and killed many millions of African people”. While reflecting on this Clowes decided to celebrate the evolution of the drum kit and the role that it still plays in the music of the African diaspora. One of the pioneers of early jazz drumming was Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds (1898 - 1959) and this piece has its origins in Clowes’ transcription of a Baby Dodds drum solo, a “Tap Dance”. Clowes took fragments of Dodds’ rhythms and implied pitches from his cow bell sounds to create a composition of her own.

Tonight’s performance commenced with a solo drum introduction from Maddren, who was clearly relishing the opportunity to put a contemporary slant on Dodds’ New Orleans rhythms as de Saram and McMonagle struck the strings of their instruments in highly percussive fashion with their bows. Stanley’s rollicking, ‘Nawlins’ style piano solo was technically brilliant and terrific fun, as was Harrison’s exuberant alto solo. Members of the audience continued to dance, sing and generally make a noise as Emulsion VI ended on a pleasingly upbeat note.

I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this evening of contemporary music making. Humorous at times, but emotive and thought provoking at others, the performances covered a wide stylistic range, juxtaposing genres with a will and embracing elements of jazz, classical, rock, improv and poetry. The playing from a supremely flexible ensemble of musicians was uniformly excellent throughout with the jazz and classical players interacting seamlessly.

Inevitably it was Clowes herself who emerged as the star of the show, hosting the evening with wit and charm and contributing several excellent solos on tenor and soprano saxes. Iles also made a huge contribution via her compositional and pianistic skills and the individual members of the Sinfonietta all impressed with their individual solos and set pieces. The ensemble playing was equally convincing and overall the event represented something of a triumph for Clowes and Harrison and their colleagues.

This was my first visit to an Emulsion Festival, mainly thanks to the move to Shrewsbury, but it’s an event that I’d be very keen to attend again in subsequent years, location permitting.

‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’, University of Reading London Road Campus, 11/05/2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’, University of Reading London Road Campus, 11/05/2018

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister's thoughts on a night of jazz & film to celebrate Tubby Hayes with the Simon Spillett Quartet and the acclaimed film documentary "‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry".

Photo montage by Zoë White.


Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’

A Night of Jazz & Film to celebrate Tubby Hayes with the Simon Spillett Quartet and the acclaimed film documentary ‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’

Friday 11 May 2018, University of Reading London Road Campus

The young boy stood with his father and gazed in wonder at the gleaming family of three saxophones displayed in the window of the music shop local to his home in south London. He pointed to the middle-sized instrument, a tenor saxophone, and announced, ‘That is what I want to play’.

His father, a professional dance musician himself, agreed to the request but added the caveat that as his son was already learning to play the piano and violin he would have to wait until his twelfth birthday. True to his word he handed the instrument to his son on the due date and so, began the legend of Edward Brian – ‘Tubby’ Hayes.

On Friday 11th May, Jazz in Reading, in collaboration with Music at Reading, celebrated the music and life of Tubby Hayes in the lovely setting of the University of Reading London Road Campus, with live jazz from the Simon Spillett Quartet followed by Mark Baxter’s remarkable documentary film ‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’; a format guaranteed to ensure that the flame of Tubby’s spirit and musical legacy continues to shine brightly.

Born on 30th January 1935, and a professional musician by the age of fifteen, ‘Tubby’ Hayes is arguably the most complete jazz musician ever to emerge from these shores. His tragically brief career ended on Friday 8th June 1973 when he died following heart surgery. He was thirty-eight years old.

The five carefully selected numbers by the Simon Spillett cast their own distinctive light on Hayes’ career. ‘Royal Ascot’, an early Hayes composition dedicated to the horse-racing proclivities of Ronnie Scott, opened the evening with the authoritative tenor sound and breakneck tempo that used to cast fear into rhythm sections whenever he played at provincial jazz clubs.

No such hesitancy here. Spillett’s quartet, world-class musicians all, handled the challenge with consummate ease. And no wonder. Pianist John Horler and drummer Spike Wells each played with Tubby in their early careers; Wells as a regular member of both Tubby’s quartet and big band in the late-1960s. Alec Dankworth, a brilliant bassist, is linked to Hayes via the association between Tubby and Alec’s father, the late Sir John Dankworth.

‘The Serpent’, another dedication, this time to Bix Curtis, a promoter and MC with whom Tubby toured with ‘Jazz in London’ in 1956, captured the barn-storming days of the Jazz Couriers, the band Hayes co-led with Ronnie Scott between 1957 and 1959. By this time Tubby’s reputation had found its way to the States where musicians were beginning to sit up and take notice of the young ‘upstart’ from Britain.

In 1961 he was invited to play at New York’s famous Half Note Club. He also recorded with Clark Terry and an American rhythm section. Spillett’s interpretation of the gorgeously bluesy ‘A Pint of Bitter’, the best-known number from that session, bore the distinctive imprint of its composer Clark Terry and served as an effective reminder of how Hayes could stretch-out at medium-tempo.

Hayes was a great ballad player and Spillett expressed the lyrical beauty of ‘Souriya’ to perfection, with an exquisite solo from John Horler and sensitive support from Dankworth and Wells. ‘Off the Wagon’ brought the set to a close. A highlight track on Tubby’s landmark album ‘Mexican Green’, and once described as representing “the strength, vitality and invention of Tubbs at his best” , it featured a brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed drum solo from Spike Wells. The generous applause which followed spoke volumes for the appreciation of the audience

Simon Spillett remained on hand to introduce ‘Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry’. This remarkable documentary film, produced by Mark Baxter, directed by Lee Cogswell and released in 2015 to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of Tubby’s birth, catches the energetic force of Hayes’ personality and as the title implies, the relentless pace of his career. Narrated by Hayes devotee Martin Freeman it charts Tubby’s life and times through interviews, archive photographs and rare movie footage. He lived enough during his thirty-eight years to fill several lifetimes. That such a life style extracted its inevitable toll is more than evident in the stark contrast between the buoyant, ever-smiling persona of Tubby in his heyday, and the harrowing, almost unrecognisable shots of him awaiting a court judgement following a drugs’ bust towards the end of his life.

Baxter and his production team avoided the temptation to either over-eulogise Tubby’s life or to portray him as the victim of an unsympathetic society. Nevertheless, the film leaves no doubt whatsoever that his arrest and subsequent conviction in 1968 for possession of diamorphine, incurring a fine of £50 with costs of £5.5s, tells us as much about the publicity seeking zeal of the notorious Det/S Norman “Nobby” Pilcher of Scotland Yard as Tubby’s wayward habits. Tubby, I feel sure, took responsibility for his own destiny, and the film holds faith with that honesty.

At times the film has the comforting feel of a long-forgotten family photograph album opening-up a world otherwise lost for ever; the percussionist humping an enormous kettle drum on his back as he joined the crowded open-air musicians’ labour-exchange on a Monday morning in Archer Street; the dowdy interior of Ronnie Scott’s original club in Gerrard Street and scores and scores of sharply dressed musicians, their hair stylishly cut and held in place by oodles of Brylcreem. Until prompted by an observation in the film I had never considered the sartorial elegance of modern jazz musicians in the 1950s and 60s, but as several interviewees testified, ‘looking the part’ was an essential part of the jazz scene and indeed gave birth to the ‘mod’ culture we associate with images of ‘Swinging London’. Not everyone could play like Tubby Hayes, but anyone could live the dream and dress like him!

Mouth-watering extracts from Tubby’s big band broadcasts for BBC 2’s ‘Jazz 625’ and appearances as a featured artist on TV spectaculars with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Henry Mancini, reminded us that Tubby was a well-known personality within the mainstream of entertainment. His on-screen film credits include the Hammer classic ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’, and it’s Tubby’s tenor which adds mounting tension to the closing scenes of ‘The Italian Job’.

An inevitable weakness of the film is that so few of Tubby’s contemporaries are still with us. Fascinating as they are, most of the ‘talking heads’ were drawn from a younger generation, like the producer Mark Baxter, who discovered Tubby via his recordings. This makes the contributions of those from who knew Tubby personally, like poet Michael Horowtiz and fellow musicians Spike Wells and Cliff Hardie doubly valuable. None more so than Tubby’s eldest son Richard. He described his father as having a rather vague and distant place in his life. “I didn’t have time to be a father”, Tubby confessed in a brief but telling interview clip.

Perhaps that statement encapsulates the ultimate tragedy of Tubby Hayes. Thrust too early into an adult world and living with the intensity of a Roman candle, he was in too much of a hurry to lay down the emotional foundations that would have given his life stability and longevity. There again, would he have produced the canon of incredible music that is his enduring legacy? Probably not.

Simon Spillett and Mark Baxter joined forces to round off the evening with a fascinating ‘’Q & A’ session. Spillett’s encyclopaedic knowledge of every minute detail of Tubby’s life never fails to impress. However, as with Baxter, it is his love of Tubby Hayes that truly shines through. Edward Brian ‘Tubby’ Hayes, a flawed human being, but what a player!

TREVOR BANNISTER

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 06/05/2018.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 06/05/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys the penultimate day at Cheltenham and performances by Wolves Are People Too, China Moses, Issie Barratt, Christian McBride, Kamasi Washington, Arun Ghosh and Vein with Stan Sulzmann.

Photograph of Arun Ghosh by Tim Dickeson


SUNDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL 06/05/2018

WOLVES ARE PEOPLE TOO, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

Sunday’s programme commenced with this innovative project led by Birmingham born pianist and composer David Austin Grey.

Grey is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Conservatoire in his home city and subsequently formed his own band, Greyish Quartet, releasing the album “The Dark Red Room” in 2012. In time the quartet metamorphosed and expanded into Grey’s current group Hansu-Tori with whom he released the excellent “An Improvised Escape” in 2014.

As his band’s name suggests Grey is strongly influenced by the culture of the Far East and particularly martial arts and Japanese cinema. “Wolves Are People Too” was inspired by the 2013 Japanese animation film “The Wolf Children”, directed by Mamoru Hosada, and finds Hansu-Tori working together in a multi-media project with dancers from the Royal Birmingham Ballet choreographed by Kit Holman.

The story follow the paths of two half-wolf, half-human children as they mature into society and the project was premièred at the Hippodrome and Symphony Hall, Birmingham and the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton before coming to Cheltenham. Earlier performances have also incorporated the work of artist and illustrator Nicholas Robertson

Today’s performance was slightly shortened to accommodate the hour long Festival slot but there was still much to enjoy from both the musicians and the dancers. Hansu-Tori were set up at the back of the PAC stage to allow the dancers room to express themselves at the front.

The band lined up with Grey on piano and electric keyboards, Eliza Shaddad on vocals, Chris Young on alto sax, Lluis Mather on tenor sax and flute, Nick Jurd on acoustic and electric bass and Euan Palmer at the drum kit.

The five dancers were Laura Day, Ruth Brill, Lewis Turner, Max Maslan and Lachlan Monaghan.

The performance began with the band playing “Ame’s Lesson”,  essentially an instrumental piece with Shaddad singing wordlessly and with Grey delivering an impressive acoustic piano solo with empathic support from Jurd on double bass and Palmer at the drums. 

Next we heard “How Wolves Change Rivers” a song with English lyrics sung by Shaddad which introduced the dancers with Brill and Monaghan as the ‘wolf parents’ seeing their children off to school before performing their own sensuous dance, which involved some impressive lifting of the ‘wolf wife’. Musically the piece saw Mather switching from tenor to flute and Young, on alto delivering the major instrumental solo.

The song “Two Empty Houses”, featuring solos Mather on flute and Grey on acoustic piano, was punctuated by a musical ‘knock on the door’ as the death of the ‘wolf father’ was announced, with Grey moving to electric keyboards while Brill danced a dance of grief using as a prop the fur trimmed parka coat that represented her late wolf husband’ body. A simple concept but moving, effective and expertly choreographed.

But I’m no dance critic so for much of the time I was more interested in what was going on instrumentally. Over the course of the performance Grey delivered several sparkling acoustic piano solos with excellent support coming from Jurd and Palmer. I know that Grey likes to work on a broader, conceptual canvas but nevertheless I’d like to see these three record a conventional piano trio album. That could be quite something.

Also impressing from a musical point of view was Mather who produced one particularly outstanding solo on tenor and doubled effectively on flute. Meanwhile Young, on alto, was both fluent and incisive in his solos. Jurd too impressed with his occasional solo excursions on acoustic and electric bass.

The story continued with the three ‘wolf children’ in school using chairs as props and with vocalist Shaddad acting as the teacher. After the harrowing death dance this was a more lighted hearted item with ‘wolf child’ Yuki (Day) flirting with classmate Sohei while arguing with brother Ame (Turner), the latter wearing a wolf head to emphasise his lupine identity. Later we witnessed a charming dance of love between Sohei and the coquettish Yuki, all this skilfully accompanied by the musicians.

Overall I enjoyed this multi-media performance rather more than I expected. A close up view from Row B allowed me to appreciate the skills of the dancers whilst also enjoying the contributions of the musicians. Having heard Hansu-Tori before I was pretty sure that I’d enjoy the music but “Wolves Are People Too” worked well as a complete event.

Musically the band were tight and well drilled with Grey, Jurd and the two saxophonists all delivering impressive solos. Shaddad also performed well but her vocals were sometimes a little too low in the mix, the only minor quibble about an otherwise excellent performance.

Grey impressed with both his writing and playing, moving expertly between acoustic and electric keyboards, making effective use of the latter as a source of orchestration.

The limited edition CD recorded to accompany the project works well in the home listening environment, although the running order of the recording does seem to vary a little from today’s production.

Nevertheless today’s performance was something of a triumph for Austin Grey and for his proud father, who I had the pleasure of speaking with beforehand and who was seated in the audience.

CHINA MOSES, JAZZ ARENA

At the 2017 Cheltenham Jazz Festival I witnessed a dynamic performance by Moses’ mother Dee Dee Bridgewater at Cheltenham Town Hall. Hoping that Bridgewater’s daughter would be a ‘chip off the old block’ I decided to investigate this performance in the Jazz Arena despite having no real prior knowledge of Moses’ music.

I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed. Moses, whose father is the film director Gilbert Moses, has inherited something of her mother’s powerful jazz/soul voice and also something of her on-stage charisma and joie de vivre. Moses describes herself as a ‘soul jazz singer’ but I was pleased to discover a real talent for jazz phrasing within her sound and the fact that she was today accompanied by a terrific, all star, mainly British, band was a considerable bonus. On piano was rising star Ashley Henry, on acoustic and electric bass Neil Charles and at the drums the splendidly named Dexter Hercules. Doubling on alto and baritone saxes plus electric keyboards was the Naples born Luigi Grasso, Moses’ musical director.

As a performer Moses exudes charm, sass and charisma but behind the big personality lies an accomplished, talented and supremely musical vocalist. She’s more than capable of satisfying those audience members who just want to be entertained as well as appealing to those who listen with a more critical musical ear. This was emphatically a ‘jazz’ rather than a ‘soul’ performance and to these ‘critical’ ears was all the better for it.

The band kicked off with “This Is Me Jammin’ At Home” with Moses singing her own sassy, streetwise lyrics. Another huge plus point about Moses is that she writes all her own material, albeit in conjunction with her producer Anthony Marshall. With Grasso on alto sax and Charles laying down the groove on electric bass there was a genuine jazz feel about the music, even when it sided off into Bob Marley’s reggae classic “Jammin’”.

The funky grooves of “Disconnected” were accompanied by some pertinent and witty lyrics about the perils of social media and included a virtuoso bass solo from the versatile Charles.

Moses worked the crowd, deploying a series of charismatic hand gestures, and was at her most lascivious on the acoustic bass and baritone sax led “Put It On The Line”.

“Breaking Point” introduced more of a soul and r’n’b feel with Moses delivering her typically articulate lyrics with a glass of wine in her hand. The piece also included a dazzling piano solo from Henry as Moses put down her drink and rattled a tambourine. Henry, the leader of his own trio has attracted a considerable amount of critical acclaim on his own account and on this evidence it was easy to see why. Note to self, check out this guy’s solo recordings, he’s clearly an enormous talent. As is the versatile Grasso who also featured as a soloist on alto sax.

“Whatever”, described by Moses as a “post argument song” was more introspective, performed largely acoustically and with a distinctly blues inflected after hours feel. Solos here came from Grasso, this time on baritone sax, and Henry at the piano.

“My Part Of Town” introduced a political element to the proceedings. Moses’ mother, Bridgewater, was born in Memphis but raised in Flint, Michigan, a once proud industrial town that is now the centre of America’s ‘Rust Belt’. The singer raged about the situation in Flint before singing a hard edged slice of political soul music with Grasso on organ and Charles on electric bass. The piece included solos from Henry on piano and Charles on electric bass, the latter in a spirited dialogue with Hercules at the drums.

Due to the vagaries of Festival scheduling I had to leave the performance at this point to ensure that I didn’t arrive late for the performance by Issie Barratt’s all female ensemble, Interchange, at the PAC, due to start at 1.45.

I was sorry to leave Moses and her band behind. I had thoroughly enjoyed what I had heard and was highly impressed by both the singer and her terrific band. On the evidence of today’s performance she should be well worth checking out on CD.

ISSIE BARRATT’S INTERCHANGE, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

The premise of saxophonist Issie Barratt’s ten strong all woman ensemble Interchange was to highlight the work of ten of Britain’s most accomplished female composers. Each composer had been commissioned to write a ten minute piece of music for performance by the band. Due to Festival time restraints we were only able to hear half of these today but the performance whetted the appetite for the release of the forthcoming album “Donna’s Secret” which will feature all ten works.

A number of the featured composers appeared on stage today in a line up that comprised of;

Issie Barratt – baritone saxophone
Tori Freestone -  tenor sax, flute
Helena Kay – alto saxophone, clarinet
Yazz Ahmed – trumpet, flugelhorn, electronics
Brigitte Beraha – vocals
Karen Street – accordion
Shirley Smart – cello
Charlie Pyne – double bass, vocals
Katy Patterson – drums, percussion
Emma Bassett – trombone

The ensemble commenced with the folk influenced “Still Here” written by Street and ushered in by the composer’s accordion. A skilful arrangement full of big band style sonorities included solos from Ahmed on flugel and saxophonists Kay and Freestone plus the Norma Winstone influenced wordless vocals of Beraha.

Freestone’s “Spontaneous Symmetry” represented a musical response to the patterns found in nature and again incorporated Beraha’s wordless vocals with instrumental solos coming from Ahmed on flugel and the composer on tenor sax.

Beraha’s “Donna’s Secret” was inspired by the writings of the American author Donna Tartt and was the first piece to feature lyrics. This ambitious and complex piece was introduced by the pizzicato sounds of Smart’s cello and included a vocal duet between Beraha and Pyne, the composer singing in French, the bassist in English, her lines translations of Beraha’s words. The sight of Pyne singing and playing brought Esperanza Spalding to mind. The piece also included a further tenor solo from the consistently impressive Freestone.

Among the female composers commissioned for this project was the pianist Nikki Iles, the title of whose “Negomi” was the name of the composer’s young daughter, Imogen, spelt backwards. “Negomi” was how the late Kenny Wheeler always used to refer to the young Imogen and there was something of Wheeler’s influence in Iles’ writing and in Ahmed’s beautiful muted trumpet solo.

Other composers commissioned to write for the project include Ahmed, Smart, pianist Nikki Yeoh, Nerija saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi and Interchange’s regular trombonist Carol Jarvis. The latter is currently unwell but her place was ably filled by former NYJO trombonist Emma Bassett.

When present the composer of each tune announced their own pieces and only now, at the end of the set, did Barratt address the crowd. As well as her skills as a saxophonist, composer and arranger Barratt is also a great educator and is the founder of the Jazz Course at London’s Trinity College of Music. However as she pointed out the Interchange project is the only time during thirty years in the music business that she has led an all female band.

Barratt’s own “Samla Korna Med Kulning”, a piece based on a traditional Swedish cattle calling song, ended the proceedings and commenced in atmospheric fashion with the sound of sampled birdsong, cowbells (how appropriate) and rain stick. It was good to see Smart take her only solo of the set on cello, she’s one of the UK’s most accomplished players of the instrument in a jazz context, and fascinating to see her and Pyne playing arco simultaneously. Kay demonstrated her versatility with a clarinet solo with Ahmed again impressing on trumpet. Barratt’s skills as a composer and arranger found expression in the masterful orchestration.

Today’s performance was a successful and enjoyable event in its own right but also acted as a tantalising appetiser for the yet to be recorded album which will be eagerly anticipated   and will hopefully appear in 2019, presumably on Barratt’s own Fuzzy Moon record label.

CHRISTIAN McBRIDE BIG BAND, CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL

One of THE events of the Festival was this appearance of the Big Band led by bassist and composer Christian McBride at the Town Hall. The magnificent Victorian edifice was packed t the rafters for the CMBB’s only British date on their European tour.

Born in Philadelphia in 1972 McBride was something of a child prodigy who first came to public attention as a seventeen year old in saxophonist Bobby Watson’s group. He later joined Joshua Redman’s band and released his début album as a leader in 1994.

Since then McBride has continued to record in a variety of contexts from trio to big band and has also been a prolific sideman. His music has consistently straddled jazz genres and eras and the personable and highly professional McBride has been a great ambassador for the music.

Bringing a seventeen piece big band over from the US is no small financial undertaking and it represented a considerable coup for the Festival organisers to bring the McBride Big Band to Cheltenham.

In the main the music was drawn from the CMBB’s second album “Bringin’ It” released in 2017. The band filed onto the stage first, introduced by Festival Director Ian George, and began playing with a youthful stand in bass player as McBride effected the great entrance with his young dep dutifully handing over the double bass.

Then it was ‘down to business’ with an arrangement of “Getting To it”, the title track of McBride’s 1994 début. It was immediately apparent that this was a juggernaut of a band, capable of a huge and authentic big band sound and a prodigious sense of swing, thanks in no small part to the leader on bass. This first item included a number of virtuoso bass breaks as McBride confirmed his leadership credentials and demonstrated his considerable chops. But McBride wasn’t the only star in this band, a glimpse at the line up reveals a number of other great soloists, some of them leaders in their own right. Here we heard the strident trumpet of Benny Burnett, the powerful tenor of Marcus Strickland and the fluent, agile trombone of Michael Dease as McBride urged the audience to clap along. Later the bassist revealed that this rousing opener was based on the groove to James Brown’s “Get It Together”.

McBride’s “Youthful Bliss” was more colourful and subtle, but no less powerful, and included solos from Todd Bashore on incisive, serpentine soprano sax and McBride again at the bass.

The leader’s arrangement of “I Thought About You” represented the first dip into the standards repertoire and was performed as a melancholy ballad with trumpeter Brandon Lee, originally from Houston, Texas providing a sumptuous trumpet solo that was fluent, thoughtful and subtly infused with the blues.

McBride’s bright arrangement of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Thermo” picked the pace up again with pianist Xavier Davis - “ the X Man” - prominent in the arrangement and with solos coming from Strickland, who brought his own Twi-Life band to Cheltenham in 2016, on tenor sax and McBride on double bass.

At this point McBride introduced his wife, the singer Melissa Walker, to the stage to perform the song “A Taste Of Honey”. Her voice was soulful and powerful but I’d suggest that this song wasn’t the best vehicle for her talents with only Gabrielle Garbo’s alto solo providing temporary relief.

Likewise the following “Mr. Bojangles”, although this was was at least enlivened by a trombone solo from the excellent Steve Davis and a skilful and entertaining feature for drummer / percussionist Quincy Phillips.

These are not favourite songs of mine and I didn’t find either of them particularly convincing as jazz pieces and was relieved when Walker left the stage and the band got back to instrumentals once more. A lovely ballad arrangement of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” featured the leader playing the melody on beautifully controlled and articulated bowed bass before handing over to the warm toned tenor sax of Dan Pratt.

Energy levels were raised again with a gloriously funky arrangement of George Duke’s “The Black Messiah”, a tune originally written for Cannonball Adderley. This was to feature the dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics of pianist Xavier Davis and the raunchy, gritty baritone sax of the Canadian born Carl Maraghi. “Get some grease on it!” exhorted McBride as he and Phillips laid down a muscular groove with the drummer providing a powerful back beat.

Walker returned to the stage to sing the standard “The More I See You” with the ensemble now playing old fashioned 30s/40s big band swing.

This was my cue to exit the venue, anxious not to be late for the performance by Kamasi Washington in the Big Top.

In the main I had enjoyed this performance by the Christian McBride Big Band and particularly the attempts to bring the formula up to date. There were some imaginative compositions and arrangements here, supremely accomplished ensemble playing and some intelligent and frequently powerful solos. The instrumental sections of the programme were highly rewarding but I’m afraid Walker’s singing did little for me, too old fashioned, too retro and often the wrong choice of songs.
But I’d listen to the instrumentalists any day of the week.

KAMASI WASHINGTON, HENRY WESTON’S BIG TOP

Los Angeles born tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington (born 1981) seemed to emerge fully formed in 2015 with the release of “The Epic”, an ambitious, sprawling triple album that included a diverse range of musical styles ranging through jazz, rock and hip hop to classical. It was a work on a grand scale that more than justified its title and took Washington to the top of the jazz charts.

But Washington, who has also worked with rapper Kendrick Lamar, found that his music reached out to a wider constituency and “The Epic” turned him into a comparative superstar, as evidenced by this sold out show in a sweltering Big Top.

Washington has since released the mini album “Harmony Of Difference” (the artist actually refers to it as an EP), another ambitious and impressive piece of work that channels the spirit of John Coltrane for the 21st century.

A new full length album to be titled “Heaven and Earth” is due for release on 22nd June 2018 with items from that recording finding their way into today’s set.

Both “The Epic” and “Harmony And Difference” featured at their core Washington’s regular working band The Next Step, a collective featuring some of LA’s most in demand musicians.

At Cheltenham TNS lined up as follows;

Kamasi Washington – tenor saxophone
Rickey Washington – soprano saxophone, flute
Ryan Porter – trombone
Miles Mosley- double bass
Brandon Coleman – keyboards
Tony Austin – drums, percussion
Robert Miller – drums, percussion,
Patrice Quinn – vocals, dance

This was a show that divided critical opinion. I’ve enjoyed and been impressed by both of Washington’s releases thus far and was very much looking forward to this show but in some respects I was disappointed.

In a sense Washington has become a victim of his own success. The size of his following has necessitated a move into larger and larger venues with an attendant increase in volume and a corresponding decline in subtlety. This was a gig that was played at a rock band volume level and as a result the sound was muddy and the separation between the instruments indistinct. The use of two drum kits was a contributory factor with regard to this. Washingtom deploys two drummers on both recordings but live this appeared to be something of an unnecessary luxury. There seemed to be a lot of ‘doubling up’ going on rather than the inter-weaving, interlocking patterns characteristic of the UK’s own Sons of Kemet. As a result the volume of all the other instruments was increased accordingly. 

“Change Of The Guard”, also the opening number on “The Epic” announced itself with military style drums and a rousing theme allied to an almost bludgeoning power. Coleman, surrounded by a bank of keyboards, contributed the first solo, fiery, bright and imaginative and deploying a variety of keyboard sounds. Kamasi’s tenor feature saw him moving up through the gears on a marathon solo of gathering intensity. Drummer Miller then featured above a funky, clavinet like groove generated by Coleman.

From the forthcoming album “Heaven and Earth” came “Fist of Fury”, a radical re-working of the theme tune from a Bruce Lee kung fu movie dating back to June, 1972. This was ushered in by Kamasi’s unaccompanied tenor sax intro and featured Coleman’s funky keyboards, Quinn’s spacey, soaring vocals and a flute solo courtesy of Rickey Washington, Kamasi’s father. Next up was acclaimed bassist Mosley, a composer, band-leader and recording artist in his own right. “He plays the upright bass like no-one else on the entire planet” declared Kamasi as he introduced him. Mosley responded with a stunning display of virtuosity, both with and without the bow, as he attacked his instrument with an angry vigour, sounding like Dan Berglund on steroids. But the sound was thick and distorted and partly disguised the full extent of Mosley’s abilities. The band’s other drummer Tony Austin, “our big homey” was also featured, furiously attacking his drums, his wandering of his kit bolstered by Coleman’s underpinning keyboard riffs.

A new Washington original, “Space Traveller’s Lullaby”, calmed things down a little with solos from Porter on trombone and Coleman on acoustic piano.

The set concluded with “Truth”, a piece sourced from “Harmony Of Difference”, a hugely ambitious composition that includes strings, a choir and a host of guest musicians on the recorded version. Featuring five intertwining melodies the piece represents a celebration of diversity - “It’s a metaphor for how beautiful the world can be” Kamasi declared, “our diversity is not something to be tolerated, but to be celebrated”. Like much of the rest of the EP with its one word titles the music represented an updating of the spiritual jazz of John and Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders for the current era and featured powerful solos from Kamasi and a strong vocal performance from Quinn who had caught the eye with her dancing but was at last given the opportunity to reveal her true abilities as a singer.

The majority of the audience rose to their feet to give the band a standing ovation and there was no denying that this was a very exciting and highly entertaining show. Any reservations seem to be the property of the critical fraternity but ultimately I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Somehow I was expecting just a bit more and the poor sound quality lessened this as an experience for me. Fellow crits aside I was probably in a minority and I still class myself as a fan of Washington and his admirably ambitious and far reaching music. I’d certainly be prepared to give him another chance live, he’s clearly a very significant artist, but I was still left with the feeling that today’s event, though enjoyable enough, wasn’t as good as it could have been.

ARUN GHOSH, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

If Washington had been somewhat disappointing my next event, a performance by the British-Asian clarinettist Arun Ghosh was an unexpected triumph.

Born in Bolton of Indian heritage Ghosh has become a popular and important presence on The UK jazz scene and has begun to explore his Indian musical roots on a series of acclaimed albums including “Northern Namaste” (2008), “Primal Odyssey” (2011) and “A South Asian Suite” (2014). His latest release “But Where Are You Really From” explores issues of race and cultural identity in music and is arguably his best album yet.

I’ve seen Ghosh playing live on a couple of previous occasions and always enjoyed his performances which combine a refreshing enthusiasm and energy with great musicality. Tonight though was something else again, in front of the largest crowd seen at the PAC all weekend there really was a sense of Ghosh and his new look band ‘going for it’.

Of the six musicians on stage only alto saxophonist Chris Williams, of Led Bib, Metamorphic and Let Spin fame, remained from previous incarnations. A very young, but highly accomplished, line up also included Chelsea Carmichael on tenor sax, Jessica Lauren on electric keyboards, Marli Wren on electric bass and Tansay Omar at the drums.

The majority of the programme was sourced from the new album and commenced with “Snakebite” , the recording’s opening track. Following the Washington show it was immediately apparent that the volume was much more modest. The sound balance at the PAC had been excellent all weekend (take a bow you sound engineers) and it was far more easy to distinguish the individual instruments in this particular three horn front line. Solos her came from the leader on clarinet and a nervous looking Carmichael, depping for Idris Rahman, on tenor. But Carmichael needn’t have worried, her playing was excellent throughout and she slotted into the Ghosh sextet seamlessly.

Also from the new album and based on Hindu mythology “Nataraja” was next, a modally based piece paced by a sitar like drone generated by a kind of electronic tambura cum shruti box operated by Ghosh. The piece was distinguished by the seductive blending of the horns and solos from Lauren at the keyboards and Williams on blistering alto sax, playing with the same intensity as he does with Led Bib, but in a very different musical context.

“Made In England (for Parv) honoured the Bengali film maker Parv Bancil who died during 2017. This began with a dazzling passage of unaccompanied clarinet from Ghosh as he skipped around the stage, his energy and enthusiasm boundless. The piece was later distinguished by its intertwining horn lines and another strong solo outing from Carmichael.

“Smash Through The Gates Of Thought” found Ghosh aiming for something more “astral” and was introduced by an opening horn fanfare before Wren established a propulsive electric bass line which proved to be the foundation for a theme with a definite TV cop show feel as Carmichael delivered her most assured solo yet, closely followed by Williams and Ghosh.

“Pastoral Sympathy”, subtitled “This Land Is Mine” was inspired by the beauty of the English landscape with Ghosh enthusing about the loveliness of the countryside during the drive to the venue. The piece had a suitably bucolic feel and a folk melody that was simple but peaceful, memorable and uplifting with Williams’ alto prominent in the arrangement.

Ghosh and his colleagues raised the temperature again with “Dagger Dance”, a brief but invigorating burst of energy with a heavy bass, drum and keyboard groove underpinning staccato horn riffs.

Finally we heard “Punjabi Girl”, a composition based upon a traditional wedding song with a feel good vibe and a uniquely Indian rhythm which underpinned a final mercurial clarinet solo from the leader.

At the end of this a packed house at the PAC rose to their feet to cheer Ghosh and his band. This was a standing ovation that felt far more spontaneous than those given to some of the bigger names on the Festival bill.

And make no mistake this band had earned it through their energetic, enthusiastic and welcoming display of musical skill. Ghosh himself charmed the audience with his relentless cheeriness and enthusiasm, which almost got a bit too much at times. But at the end of the day t was the quality of the writing and playing that counted. Ghosh has established his own unique Indo-Jazz sound and it’s a sound for the 21st century.

After the show the line for the merch desk to buy a copy of “But Where Are You Really From” was immense, the longest seen at the PAC all weekend. At one point Ghosh had to take a head count of the queue to make sure that he had enough CDs left. As I said, a total triumph.

I had hoped to speak to Arun afterwards but in these circumstances it was impossible, it took over half an hour for the venue to clear.  I did however have along and illuminating chat with Chris Williams about the future plans of Led Bib and Let Spin and more, so my thanks to him for that. All will be revealed at a later date.

In the meantime this was an unexpected contender for “Gig of the Festival”.

VEIN with STAN SULZMANN, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

The final gig of the 2018 Festival programme at the PAC featured this collaboration between the Swiss piano trio Vein and the venerable British saxophonist Stan Sulzmann.

Formed in 2006 by brothers Michael Arbenz (piano) and Florian Arbenz (drums) plus bassist Thomas Lahns Vein have recorded several albums as a self contained unit with all three members contributing compositions. But they also welcome collaboration and have recorded and toured with several well known guest American musicians including saxophonists Greg Osby and Dave Liebman and trombonist Glenn Ferris.

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to witness an excellent performance by the trio with guest Dave Liebman in Birmingham and was keen to see how this collaboration with the versatile and imaginative Sulzmann would compare.

It’s probably fair to say that Vein select their guests wisely and Sulzmann’s playing fitted their music like a glove. The quartet, specifically assembled for the Festival, even began with one of Sulzmann’s tunes, the beguiling “Lake Song” featuring the composer’s fluent tenor soloing followed by Michael on piano.

The writing skills of drummer Florian Arbenz were demonstrated on the next two pieces. “Jammin’ In The Children’s Corner” was appropriately playful with its jagged, angular riffs and Monk-ish piano. Lahns flourished the bow on an attention grabbing arco bass solo while Sulzmann’s tenor work out, accompanied only by the composer’s drums, was equally captivating.
Sulzmann sat out as “Hoarding The Beat” featured Michael’s unaccompanied intro and feverish soloing in a fast and furious trio performance that matched Phronesis at their best.

Vein’s most recent album saw them interpreting the music of the French classical composer Maurice Ravel in a jazz context. It was a recording that included a guest appearance by the British saxophonist Andy Sheppard and Sulzmann stepped into the breach here, stating the theme to “Mouvement de Menuet” and taking the first solo followed by Michael’s thoughtful and leisurely outing at the piano.

Michael’s writing was featured on the boppish “No Change Is Strange”, the use of rhyming couplets in tune titles is something of a Vein trademark. Sulzmann took the first solo on tenor and he was followed by a jaw dropping drum solo from Florian that was both artfully constructed and almost frighteningly intense. It was undeniably impressive.

The quartet returned to the Ravel repertoire for “Pavane” with Michael working under the lid to produce a sound reminiscent of an African thumb piano on the intro before demonstrating his classically honed lightness of touch on a more conventional piano solo. A dialogue between Michael’s piano and Lahns’ bass then paved the way for Sulzmann’s lyrical tenor solo.

The performance concluded with Michael’s composition “Under Construction” which was ushered in by an extended passage on unaccompanied pizzicato bass by the impressive Lahns, followed by a muscular tenor solo from Sulzmann and a closing drum feature from Arbenz that made effective use of cowbell, a knowing nod to the trio’s Swiss origins.

This was an excellent way to close the Festival programme at the PAC and brought down the curtain on what had been arguably the best series ever at this venue. The PAC programme has been described as “a Festival within a Festival” and there are many audience members who attend every event here and rarely venture to the main Festival site.

I saw more concerts at the PAC than at any other venue and extend my congratulations to the sound engineers for a consistently excellent sound, whatever the instrumental line up, and to the highly efficient stage management team who ensured that every event ran to time and effected any in performance turnarounds quickly and efficiently. The stewarding was efficient and courteous and my only minor quibble would be the lack of tea and coffee making facilities at the bar and the non provision of snacks like chocolate or crisps.

I love the PAC and the consistently creative and cutting edge music that it hosts during the Festival with congratulations also going to programmers Emily Jones and Tony Dudley-Evans. The PAC is owned by Cheltenham Ladies’ College and it’s just a shame that the venue isn’t available to the Festival on the final Monday.

Helped by marvellous weather, it was almost TOO hot at times, the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival has been acclaimed as the best yet and I was certainly impressed by both the variety and quality of the performances. Founded in 1996 Cheltenham has become a major event on the UK jazz calendar, long may it continue to be so.

 

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 05/05/2018.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 05/05/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys a varied day of music with performances by Trondheim Jazz Exchange, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, Seun Kuti, Jason Moran, Beth Hart, Jim Black and Evan Parker.

Photograph of Jim Black by Tim Dickeson


SATURDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL, 05/05/2018

JAZZ EXCHANGE: TRONDHEIM & BIRMINGHAM, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

The popular Jazz Exchange project features the playing and writing of students from two of Europe’s leading music education establishments. The Jazz Courses at the Trondheim and Birmingham Conservatories have both acquired substantial reputations and many graduates from both institutions have gone on to become respected professional jazz musicians.

Annual exchange visits are arranged between the two institutions with the students subsequently showcasing their work at the Cheltenham, Trondheim and Molde Jazz Festivals. Each year six students from each establishment pool their resources to form three quartets with each band containing two members from their respective countries. Prior to this performance at the Parabola the students had spent two days in intensive wood-shedding and rehearsals as they worked out their ideas. The three ensembles had also performed in public in Birmingham at the free early evening session held on the evening of Friday May 4th at the Café Bar in the foyer of Symphony Hall.

2018 marked the tenth anniversary of the project and it was therefore appropriate that this year’s event was arguably the best and most consistent to date with all three ensembles delivering excellent performances.

Ensemble One featured the Norwegian musicians Vilde Aakre Lie (vocals) and Havard Aufles (piano) together with Birmingham’s Harry Weir (tenor sax) and Shivraj Singh Matwala (double bass).

They commenced with “Cycles” a song written by vocalist Lie with evocative English lyrics relating to the subject of “taking things for granted – or not”. Lie delivered her words in a fragile vocal style sometimes reminiscent of other Scandi singers such as Bjork or Solveig Slettahjell with Weir providing the instrumental solo and revealing his skills as a tenor sax balladeer.

Nest we heard a two part composition by Matwala on the themes of “frustration” and “action without words”, the work introduced by the composer’s unaccompanied bass. Lie played a more peripheral role adding wordless vocal melody lines to what was essentially an instrumental piece. Weir demonstrated his versatility with a very different solo, the ‘cry’ in his tone supplemented by some avant garde style harmolodics and pecking in a freely structured section. More conventional jazz solos came from Aufles at the piano and Weir again on tenor as the piece progressed. Meanwhile Matwala himself impressed both with his composing and his assured and fluent bass playing.

The final piece, “Money”, was composed by pianist Aufles but was again introduced by a passage of solo bass from the excellent Matwala. The composer then added rippling piano arpeggios as Lie provided a wordless vocal melody. But ultimately it was Aufles himself who stole the show with a thrillingly idiosyncratic solo that borrowed from Thelonious Monk while alluding to stride elements from an even earlier jazz vintage. The piece resolved itself with a closing passage featuring Weir’s tenor sax and Lie’s wordless vocals doubling up on Aufles’ melodic theme.

Overall I was highly impressed with this ‘chamber jazz’ ensemble whose music contained plenty of interesting ideas and aimed, and succeeded, at presenting more than mere ‘prettiness’.

Ensemble Two presented a more conventional instrumental configuration with the line up featuring the Norwegian musicians Ask Morris Rasmussen (tenor sax) and Georgia Wartel Collins (double bass) plus the Midlands pair of guitarist Aidan Pope and drummer Charlie Johnson.

Collins’ bass introduced her own tune “Mania”, setting up a motif cum groove which was augmented by the chatter of Johnson’s sticks on rims. Next Pope’s pure toned guitar was added to the equation and finally the edgier sound of Rasmussen’s tenor.  The collective group sound suggested the influence of the New York Downtown scene as the quartet progressed through a freely structured passage, with Rasmussen’s tenor prominent, into a closing section incorporating a chunky, riff based theme.

Pope handled this group’s announcements and his own tune, called, I think, “Gazza” was up next. This featured an unaccompanied guitar introduction with Pope deploying his FX pedals in atmospheric fashion. Next breathy tenor sax entered the equation with Johnson adding to the ethereal atmosphere by wielding shakers. Rasmussen’s subsequent tenor solo was Garbarek like in tone as the tune took on an anthemic quality, a property encouraged by the plaintive cry of the sax.

Rasmussen’s own “Grasshopper” closed the set with the composer stating the theme on tenor prior to Pope’s coolly elegant guitar solo, this complemented by Johnson’s exquisite cymbal accompaniment. Collins impressed with a melodic bass solo, underscored by Johnson’s brushes, prior to a final theme statement and solo from Rasmussen on tenor.

This was another strong set with the musicians again impressing with both their writing and their playing.

But it’s probably fair to say that the best was still to come. The third ensemble was actually a five piece with three Birmingham based musicians, trumpeter Christos Stylianides, alto / soprano saxophonist Lewis Sallows and tenor saxophonist Ollie Stanton forming a mini horn section. They were joined by the Norwegian pair of Magnus Skaug (guitar) and Elias Ostrem Tafjord (drums). Stanton had been added to the group as Sallows will be unable to make the return visit to Trondheim due to prior gigging commitments. Thus Stanton was brought into the fold and will go to Norway.

It’s normal for all the groups at this event to be quartets but the addition of an extra instrumental voice to this ensemble really worked and Stanton fitted in superbly. It sounded as if the quintet had been playing together for years and as Peter Slavid, reviewing the event for London Jazz News, commented after the show “I’d pay good money to see that band!”

The extra saxophone added weight to the ensemble’s sound and the three horns worked effectively together throughout. They were complemented by two highly imaginative and inventive players in Skaug and Tafjord.

Indeed Skaug introduced the first piece with a highly individual passage of solo guitar packed with choppy chords and abrasive scratching, entering into dialogue with his compatriot at the drums before engaging in a further duet with trumpeter Stylianides. Stanton and Sallows (on alto) were later added to the equation with the three horns blowing full on skronk over Skaug’s angular guitar chording and Tafjord’s hypnotic drum grooves. A solo trumpet cadenza from Stylianedes was followed by a powerful solo in more conventional fashion before the piece resolved itself with Skaug again playing solo electric guitar. The tune was Skaug’s but I missed the Norwegian title.

Not that the Lanarkshire born Stylianides was any easier to understand as he announced a segue of two tunes, the second of which I’m fairly sure was entitled “Dell”. In any event this was another musical tour de force ushered in by Stylianides’ breathy, unaccompanied trumpet, his sound electronically treated by a range of pedal generated FX.  Skaug also made effective use of electronics as he added atmospheric ‘Twin Peaks’ style guitar. The first orthodox solo came from Sallows on soprano who danced lightly above the sound of Skaug’s FX laden guitar scratchings. The clarion call of Stanton’s tenor seemed to usher in the next section, his horn sound underpinned by an organ like drone generated by Stylianides’ pedals and the rustle and rattle of small percussion from Tafjord. The music continued to unfold via some chunky, math rock style riffing featuring Skaug’s guitar and the three pronged attack of soprano, tenor and trumpet with Stanton subsequently launching into a powerful, increasingly guttural tenor solo. The riff subsequently returned before Tafjord rounded things off with a dynamic drum solo.

This ensemble’s music was powerful and arresting and owed much to the cutting edge jazz scenes in London, Oslo and New York. Often complex and continually evolving this was challenging but vital music and the quintet’s combination of power and precision was remarkable considering that they’d only been playing together as a band for a few days.

I was impressed with all three ensembles today but the third group moved things on to another level. I assume that this was the oldest group of the three, possibly final year students, and I suspect that we’ll be hearing a lot more from the individuals concerned.

It almost seems invidious to single musicians out but this event usually throws up names that have gone on to bigger things. Stylianides and Skaug certainly caught the eye in the final group while Aufles and Matwala impressed earlier on, as did many others. Well done to all the musicians involved and to the tutors at both the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires.

BILL FRISELL & THOMAS MORGAN, CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL

The remarkably quick and efficient changeovers at the PAC meant that I was able to see all of the Jazz Exchange event and still be at the Town Hall in plenty of time for this duo performance by guitarist Bill Frisell and double bassist Thomas Morgan at Cheltenham Town Hall.

Frisell, born in Baltimore in 1951, has been recording as a leader since 1983, initially with ECM but latterly with other labels including Nonesuch and Okeh. As well as recording nearly forty albums under his own name he has also been a prolific collaborator with both jazz artists (Paul Motian, Mike Gibbs, Charles Lloyd) and more mainstream figures such as Paul Simon and Elvis Costello.

Along the way he has created a unique guitar style that draws on elements of jazz, rock, ambient and Americana. Frisell’s sound, with its distinctive guitar ‘twang’ is instantly identifiable, making him one of the most recognisable instrumentalists around.

Frisell recently returned to ECM to record the duo album “Small Town” with bassist Thomas Morgan, one of the rising stars of the jazz firmament.

Morgan, born in 1981, has also recorded prolifically across a variety of jazz genres with a ride range of American and European musicians. He has established a healthy relationship with ECM thanks to his appearances on the label on albums by trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, guitarist Jakob Bro and pianists Craig Taborn and Giovanni Guido among others. He has worked on Frisell’s solo albums and is currently a member of the guitarist’s trio, alongside drummer Rudy Royston.

Given Morgan’s familiarity with Frisell and his work it is not surprising that the pair were able to record successfully as a duo with ECM releasing “Small Town” in 2017. Some of today’s material was sourced from the album but one suspects that much of the duo’s performance was entirely improvised.

A large audience packed into the Town Hall to hear this most intimate of duo performances. Hardly a word was spoken by the pair, either to the audience or each other, as the duo let their playing do the talking in an unbroken musical conversation lasting some seventy five minutes.

Frisell has always maintained a fascination for pop songs and his lengthy career has seen many distinctive interpretations of such material. Today’s performance began with the familiar melody of “Moon River” with the duo subtly exploring and subverting the theme. Frisell’s playing was typically succinct and unhurried, he seems to understand and utilise the spaces between the notes so well and like nobody else - and when he did utilise his various effects, including live looping the process seemed wholly natural and organic, almost inevitable.

Morgan proved to be the perfect foil, responding quickly and sympathetically to Frisell’s every move as the conversation unfolded and displaying an impressive technique of his own with much of his best and most melodic work being done up around the bridge of the instrument. Neither should one underestimate the physical and mental demands of playing double bass non-stop for seventy five minutes in a performance with no breaks for tune announcements.

The audience were totally immersed in the duo’s ongoing dialogue, their silence only disturbed by the hum of the venue’s air conditioning. The performance included most of Frisell’s trademarks, the ‘twangy’ Americana guitar sound, ambient live looping, the occasional excursions into darker fuzz toned territory with Morgan responding to his partner’s every move with taste and acumen.

Every now again a familiar tune hove into view including Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” and the closing “Goldfinger”, a tune from the “Small Town” album. Here the guitarist gave the bombastic Bond theme tune the classic Frisell treatment, transforming it into something melancholy, mysterious and beautiful.

This represented the end of the scheduled performance with Frisell speaking only to introduce the even more self effacing Morgan. The duo exited the stage only to be called back by the highly appreciative audience. The deserved encore was a take on the old Petula Clark hit “Downtown”  with Frisell embellishing the familiar melody accompanied by Morgan’s underpinning bass. The performance brought out the full sadness of the lyrics but contained an element of humour too. I recall drummer Bill Bruford’s band Earthworks (the edition with Iain Ballamy and Django Bates) recording a slowed down version of this tune many years ago and achieving a similar effect. However, I digress.

This was one of the most spellbinding jazz duo performances that I’ve seen, bettered only by pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton at the Barbican back in 2007. It was in no way soporific with Frisell keeping any potential longueurs at bay with his characteristic changes of direction and the intelligent and timely use of his various effects. Not that the contribution of Morgan should be overlooked, this genuinely was a conversation of equals.

I appreciate that this performance may not have been to everybody’s taste. There are some who would dismiss Frisell’s playing as ‘clichéd’, but his is a style that he has developed entirely by himself and is much imitated. At the age of 67 one can forgive him for any mannerism that might have crept in.

For myself and many others this intimate performance represented something of a Festival highlight.

SEUN KUTI & EGYPT 80, HENRY WESTON’S BIG TOP

Following the quiet eloquence of Morgan and Frisell this colourful, exuberant, high energy show in the Weston’s Cider sponsored Big Top couldn’t have been more different.

Thirty five year old Seun Kuti is the youngest son of the Nigerian afrobeat pioneer and political activist Fela Kuti and has inherited the leadership of his father’s band, Egypt 80. Kuti and his band are currently touring in support of their latest album “Black Times” which mixes fiery afrobeat music with similarly incendiary political commentary. Seun has inherited both his father’s talent and political activism. The album includes guest appearances from jazz and rock luminaries including pianist Robert Glasper and guitarist Carlos Santana.

This show saw Kuti fronting a large ensemble featuring lead and rhythm guitars, electric bass, drum kit, two percussionists, two trumpets, tenor sax, baritone sax and two female backing vocalists/dancers. Kuti himself sang lead vocals and played alto sax and occasional keyboards.
Kuti did introduce his bandmates but the names were impossible to pick up and aren’t available from the Festival website.

The band took to the stage first with one of the trumpeters handling the vocals and one of the percussionists acting as MC as Kuti made the grand entrance toting his alto and clad in a loose fitting ensemble emblazoned with images of saxophones. He certainly proved to be an energetic and charismatic performer who was given excellent support by a tight, highly rhythmic and well drilled band.

But ultimately it was all about the leader who sang with power and authority, soloed forcefully and effectively on alto sax and generally exuded an air of confidence mixed with defiance. The early Saturday afternoon world music show seems to have become something of a staple at Cheltenham in recent years but most of these have been ‘get up and party’ sort of affairs. For all his energy (and that of his band) Kuti had more important things on his mind and bigger fish to fry.

Kuti sings in English, which makes it all the easier to get his message across to international audiences. “Africa – no freedom, Africa don’t unite” he sang during “Basa Masa” before extolling the virtues of pidgin English - “proper English is VERY expensive”.

The deep grooves of “African Dreams”, which almost crossed over into Jamaican dub, dismissed the ‘American Dream’ and the way in which the US and the former European colonial powers have tried to enforce their economic model upon Africa. “The African Dream is to build our own communities” declared Kuti.

“Struggle Sounds” posited that Africa was involved in a class war rather than a racial war as Kuti debunked the ‘elitist narrative’ of the Western powers and expressed his solidarity with other minorities including the gay community, all this to the accompaniment of a rasping baritone sax riff.

The rhetoric continued with Kuti declaiming that the African people had been fed ‘fake news’ for over 400 years. Even as a schoolboy in Lagos Kuti had been taught that the Scottish explorer Mungo Park had ‘discovered’  the River Niger, despite Kuti’s ancestors living on its banks for thousands of years.

The closing song “Rise To Be Free” epitomised Kuti’s message as the singer stripped of his shirt to reveal his rangy tattooed torso – for all the political content he’s still a showman at heart.

Although not previously particularly familiar with Kuti’s work I rather enjoyed this passionate and energetic set and positively welcomed the highly salient political content. Music should be capable of making you think as well as dance and for me Kuti’s polemic made a welcome change from the usual “get up and party” fluff. In fact Kuti didn’t encourage the crowd to get to their feet at all, which was actually rather disappointing as I was jigging around in my seat to this powerful and highly rhythmic music – and I’m usually a very reluctant dancer.

The leader was undoubtedly the star of the show and most of the instrumental solos came from him but essentially this was a collective effort musically with every member of the thirteen piece ensemble carrying out their jobs effectively. This was energetic, powerful music with a very pertinent political message.

JASON MORAN and the BANDWAGON, CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL

Following Frisell and Morgan the Town Hall hosted another big American name in the shape of pianist and composer Jason Moran and his trio the Bandwagon.

Born in Houston in 1975 Moran first came to prominence in 1997 as part of a band led by alto saxophonist Greg Osby. He made his leadership début in 1999 and has recorded consistently since, currently for the prodigious Blue Note label. Also a prolific sideman he has performed and recorded with many other leading jazz artists and had previously visited Cheltenham as a member of the all star Overtone Quartet featuring bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland back in 2011.

Today’s performance saw Moran accompanied by Tarus Mateen on electric bass and the brilliant Nasheet Waits, one of my favourite drummers, at the kit. Introducing his colleagues Moran informed us that they had spent nineteen years together as a band and rhythm section for hire.

The trio kicked off with Mateen’s “Another One”, a busy, energetic Thelonious Monk inspired piece that saw Moran swarming all over the keyboard of the Town Hall’s grand piano during a dazzling opening solo. Mateen was playing an electric contrabass and the instrument was sometimes buried a little too deep in the mix,  truly only emerging from the mud during the composer’s solo.

Next up was a ballad, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano that was sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett. Waits deployed brushes as Mateen took a solo on electric bass, his highly individual sound on the instrument vaguely reminiscent of that of Anthony Jackson or Steve Swallow. Moran’s piano solo introduced a subtle gospel element to the proceedings.

Announcements were kept to a minimum as the quartet concentrated on playing. As with Enemy the previous evening there was a real sense of the band moving up and down the gears.
The next piece was introduced by a dramatic passage of solo piano that alluded both to Monk and earlier jazz piano developments and was packed with dramatic dynamic contrasts, these being a feature of the set as a whole with Waits moving between brushes and sticks.

The drummer was excellent throughout and his solo features little short of stunning - artfully constructed and ranging from the delicate to the thunderous,  but always imbued with an essential musicality.  Meanwhile Moran’s piano solos were positively turbo charged as Mateen and Waits laid down the grooves.

It was only towards the set that Moran revealed that much of the music the trio had played had been written by his mentor Jaki Byard (1922 -99 ), Byard himself having played with the late, great Eric Dolphy.

Waits introduced the final number of the set at the kit with a typically intelligent and virtuosic piece of solo drumming encompassing sounds ranging from delicately shimmering cymbals to brutally struck toms. Moran’s piano initially offered something more reflective before leading up to a final tumultuous dialogue between pianist and drummer underscored by Mateen’s electric bass groove.

As with Frisell and Morgan this set delivered a lot of music and precious little talking but was none the worse for that. Despite the occasionally indistinct bass sound there was much to enjoy here and from the reaction of the Town Hall audience this performance will also represent a Festival highlight for many.

Like the earlier Frisell and Morgan concert this performance was recorded for future transmission on BBC Radio 3’s flagship jazz programme ‘Jazz Now’. Both of these Town Hall
performances are going to be well worth hearing again.

BETH HART, HENRY WESTON’S BIG TOP

An unfortunate piece of scheduling saw the Moran group performing at the same time as two of my favourite contemporary British jazz acts, Portico Quartet in the Jazz Arena and the revamped Roller Trio, with new guitarist Chris Sharkey, at the PAC. I could quite gladly have been in three places at once.

I chose the American option in the hope that I’ll get other opportunities to see the other two, particularly as Roller Trio are due to release a new album on Edition Records in the summer and will hopefully be touring it in the autumn. From what I’ve heard their performance at the PAC was brilliant with the restlessly inventive Sharkey breathing fresh life into the band.

I’ve no regrets about choosing Moran, particularly as this also gave me the opportunity to witness another energetic and highly entertaining performance by the American blues singer, instrumentalist and songwriter Beth Hart and her band in the Big Top.

Hart’s music has been highly recommended to me by a blues loving friend and this represented my first chance to check her out, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Born in Los Angeles in 1972 Hart commenced her solo career in 1993 but she is also well known for her high profile collaborations with guitarists Joe Bonnamassa, Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck, not to mention Slash of Guns’n’Roses fame.

But Hart is more than just a voice, she writes virtually all of her material and also plays piano and occasional guitar. This Festival date was just the second of a mammoth world tour in support of her latest album “Fire On The Floor” released on the Dutch Provogue label.

She brought with her her regular touring band featuring guitarist Jon Nichols, bassist Bob Marinelli and drummer Bill Ransom, a tight, road hardened unit, although the album was actually recorded with the cream of LA’s session musicians including some familiar names to those of us who are habitual close readers of album credits, think of guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Dean Parks and drummer Rick Marotta among others.

Hart has a powerful and effective white blues voice and is a talented songwriter whose evocative lyrics embrace both a streetwise toughness and a highly personalised vulnerability. Like Eric Gales, who had played the Festival two days previously she has had her issues with drinks and drugs but doesn’t shy away from talking about them. Again like Gales she was totally candid with her audience about these matters and it’s this openness that makes her such a great communicator. Her fan-base can identify with her and many of them were amongst the audience this afternoon, alongside neophytes such as myself.

Hart quickly got her audience onside courtesy of both the quality her songs and her inclusive on stage banter. “I Can’t Let It Get Me Down” extolled the power of positive thinking while “Love Gangster” honoured Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits and added a dash of warped cabaret to her sound. Both songs included concise and fluent guitar solos from Nichols, with whom Hart has worked for twenty odd years.

Hart moved to the piano for the dramatic slow blues “Take Care Of You” with Nichols again impressing on guitar. The powerful and effective “Bottle Of Jesus” addressed Hart’s alcohol problems and subsequent salvation via her Christian faith. “Putting My Foot Down” embraced old school boogie with Hart still at the piano.

Hart dedicated “Falling In Love With You More Every Day” to her husband, the song another slow blues with a distinct gospel undertow and which saw Hart adopting an organ sound on her electric keyboard.

Another highly personal song, “Sister Heroine”, was dedicated to the memory of Hart’s late sister Sharon, who succumbed to the same drug and alcohol problems that almost claimed Beth. Nichols’ searing guitar solo helped to complement the very real pain in Hart’s vocal.

Hart then returned to centre stage for a further batch of songs including the upbeat “Delicious Surprise”, another song placing the emphasis on accentuating the positive and another composition inspired by a family member, this time her other sister, Susan. Hart’s voice has routinely been compared to that of Janis Joplin and here she was at her most Joplin-esque here, the metallic power of the song hammered home by the band as Hart cavorted around the stage engaging the crowd in a little audience participation.

Hart sat to perform the slow blues “Tell Her You Belong To Me” , a song addressed to her estranged father’s lover and sung from the point of view of an abandoned daughter. Like Gales Hart puts a lot of self into her material.

Hart picked up a guitar for the only time to join with Nichols in a duet embracing elements of rockabilly and the swamp rock of Credence Clearwater Revival with Marinelli and Ransom kicking in midway though the song.

As her band left the stage Hart closed the set seated alone at the piano to deliver an emotive reading of “Leave The Light On”, one of her oldest and best loved songs.

As somebody totally new to Hart’s music I was highly impressed with both her singing (and to a lesser degree her playing) and also the quality of her often highly personal writing. Her band offered solid support with Nichols, who also added backing vocals, the outstanding instrumentalist and very much her ‘right hand man’ in this context. But it wasn’t just the music, Hart is a gritty and charismatic performer who knows how to work an audience.

If I’ve got any of the song titles wrong then I apologise to the Hart faithful, but I can promise that she’s an artist whose work I will most certainly be exploring further. This was an event that turned out to be an unexpected Festival highlight.

JIM BLACK’S MALAMUTE, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE
Originally from Seattle the drummer and composer Jim Black lived for many years in Brooklyn where he became a vital presence and a key player on the New York jazz and experimental scene.

In recent years he has moved to Berlin, another city with a cutting edge music scene. Malamute is his new group and features musicians from both sides of the Atlantic including the Icelandic saxophonist Oskar Gudjonsson, German keyboard player Elias Stemeseder and electric bassist Chris Tordini, Black’s old mate from Brooklyn.

The group’s eponymous début album appears on the Zurich based Intakt record label and features thirteen comparatively brief Black compositions that switch mood and style abruptly in an attempt to replicate something of the restlessness of modern life. It’s an aesthetic that ties in with the concept of playlists and mixtapes with Black commenting;
“the band simply hears music unfolding this way, our generation raised on so many different types of equally moving music and sound”.

Black has always incorporated elements of rock and other contemporary musics in his projects and Malamute is no exception with electronics playing an important role in the group’s sound. Stemesder’s keyboard set up was entirely electronic while Black deployed a tiny, highly touch sensitive Roli Seabord sound machine which he kept mounted on his floor tom. It was the kind of electronic advice that one could imagine Leafcutter John deploying with Polar Bear.

Tordini proved to be an adaptable and sometimes forceful presence on electric bass while Gudjonsson was the melodic foil, roaming around the stage with his hooked up tenor sax and cutting an impish figure that sometimes reminded me of Van Der Graaf Generator’s David Jackson.

It’s quite possible that Malamute played their way through their début album, sheet music was in evidence, but I suspect that there was rather too much ‘ in the moment’ improvisation for that. The set was divided up into two lengthy segues with the music ranging from the gently atmospheric to the loud, brash and abrasive with Black and Tordini laying down some muscular but elastic grooves while Stemeseder provided dark and unsettling keyboard textures and Gudjonsson added snatches of melody.

Black was a restless, puckish figure behind the traps, hammering the hell out of his kit in a virtuoso drumming display that embraced jazz and rock rhythms and a dizzying array of time signatures.

The lengthier second segue embraced typically frenetic drumming and tenor sax freak outs with more reflective passages. Some of the more energetic sections embraced rock rhythms and song like structures, but these were from the more complex end of that spectrum, reminiscent of King Crimson or VDGG.

This part of the performance included major features for Gudjonsson, Tordini and Stemeseder,  the keyboard player entering into an enthralling dialogue with the leader’s drums as Tordini underpinned everything from the bass. Finally the four musicians coalesced for an anthemic closing section that left a rapturous PAC audience baying for more. It wasn’t to be but the affable Black was more than happy to chat with fans in the foyer after the event.

I’ve been a fan of Black’s playing since his involvement with the trans-Atlantic Big Air project back in 2009, an Anglo-American quintet featuring British musicians Chris Bachelor (trumpet), Steve Buckley (saxes) and Oren Marshall (tuba) together with the Americans Black and Myra Melford. This line up subsequently played at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Black was back in the UK again in 2013 for a one off collaboration with the Welsh musicians Huw Warren (piano) and Huw V Williams (bass) at Brecon Jazz Festival. Billed as ‘Wales Meets Brooklyn” this event was arguably the best gig of the entire weekend.

With all this in mind it was great to see Black play again and it was almost impossible to divert one’s eyes away from his performance, his drumming was a daring and compulsive blend of power, intelligence and musicality.

For me this was again one of the gigs of the Festival, the only downside being that Gudjonsson’s tenor sax seemed to be too low in the mix. Several other commentators have remarked on this, some suggesting that the Icelander’s style isn’t the right fit for this group and suggesting that Malamute needs a more forceful and powerful saxophonist in the mould of Donny McCaslin.

But could it be that Gudjonsson’s sometimes diffident approach is just what Black is looking for, a contrast to his own dynamic playing and a humanising voice amidst all the electronics.
On Friday night it was the contrast between Lydia Cadotsch’s relatively straight forward singing and the avant garde explorations of bassist Petter Eldh and saxophonist Otis Sandsjo that gave the Speak Low trio their unique appeal. Maybe Black is after something similar but the jury is still out on Gudjonsson’s contribution. A storming gig though, nevertheless.

EVAN PARKER’S TRANCE MAP +, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

After a busy and intense day of music the interim between the last two performances of the day at the PAC finally allowed me the chance to grab something to eat courtesy of a quick visit to the chippy near the bus station. I know how to live.

Suitably fortified I settled back in my seat to enjoy this fascinating wholly improvised set from free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker and his Trance Map + project.

Born in Bristol in 1944 Parker has been recording albums since 1970 and has amassed an enormous discography of mainly improvised recordings. He is a musician with an international reputation and has recorded for ECM and other leading European labels. He also runs his own imprint, Psi.

In recent years Parker has increasingly collaborated with electronic musicians and in 2011 released the album “Trance Map”, a duo recording made with electronic musician and turntablist Matthew Wright.

Some years prior to this, 1999 to be precise, Parker had also collaborated with the electronic musicians John Coxon and Ashley Wales, collectively known as Spring Heel Jack. This evening’s project brought Coxon and Wales together with Wright to form Trance Map + with the ensemble further boasted by double bass player Adam Linson.

The stage at the PAC contained three tables groaning under the weight of a sea of electronic equipment with both Wright and Coxon equipped with turntables and Wales a more modern CD sampler in addition to numerous other pieces of sonic gadgetry. Parker sat gnomically centre stage, specialising exclusively on soprano sax on this occasion, with Linson and his bass hovering just behind his shoulder.

The Trance Map + project developed out of a weekend festival held in 2017 in Hull celebrating the life and work of the British drummer and composer Basil Kirchin (1927-2005) with whom Parker once worked.

Tonight’s uninterrupted performance developed from a pre-recorded sample of birdsong but was otherwise comprised solely of real time acoustic and electronic improvisation. As befitted the late night setting the music was suitably atmospheric and, indeed, trance like with Parker’s bird like piping on soprano neatly complementing the sampled avian noises and other ambient sounds.

Parker is renowned for his phenomenal circular breathing technique and there were several examples of this throughout the set together with pecked sounds and layered multiphonics that threatened to envelop the listener.

For all this Parker is also a master of restraint and there were lengthy periods where he simply sat, eyes closed in reverie,  listening intently to his colleagues. The contributions of the three electronic musicians were harder to pigeon-hole but between them they generated sounds ranging from ambient ‘deep sea’ noises to edgy, glitchy electronica to sampled church bells, strings and choirs as the initial bird song samples faded as a reference point.

Meanwhile Lister proved to be a perfect foil for both Parker and the electronic artists, subtly shadowing the saxophonist and providing a counterpoint to the multifarious electronically generated sounds as he switched seamlessly between pizzicato and arco techniques. The combination of grainy arco bass with a particularly glitchy passage of electronica from Wright was particularly effective.

Much of the time it it was difficult to pinpoint where any specific sound was coming from, other than the easily identifiable soprano sax or double bass, but this was part of the fun and helped to keep the audience engaged. This was the most challenging, ‘out there’ music of the day but as a live performance it was oddly compelling and strangely beautiful.

But having said even though the programme was being recorded by Radio 3 for the Jazz Now programme due to be broadcast on the 25th June 2018 it’s still not necessarily something I’d choose to listen to in the home environment, an observation that I’d make about most ‘free music’.

Nevertheless after only having previously seen Evan Parker guesting with others, notably on tenor with Dedication Orchestra, it was good to see him leading his own project at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2018.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2018.

Ian Mann on a series of performances from British and European musicians including sets from the bands Empirical, Speak Low, Enemy and Dinosaur plus sound artists Dan Nicholls and Iain Chambers.

Photograph of Dinosaur by Tim Dickeson

FRIDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL, 04/05/2018

EMPIRICAL POP UP JAZZ LOUNGE

In addition to the to the ticketed events at numerous venues within the town Cheltenham also boasts a busy fringe programme at a variety of other locations.

One of the stand out aspects of this year’s free “Around Town” programme was the Empirical Pop Up Jazz Lounge which took place in vacant shop unit in the Montpellier Shopping Centre. The British quartet Empirical, who were due to perform a concert set in the Jazz Arena on the final day of the Festival, also delivered a number of less formal appearances in their temporary HQ over the course of the Festival weekend.

Empirical have been an important presence on the UK jazz scene for the best part of a decade with the current line up coming together in 2009. Always keen to bring their music to the people Empirical have staged successful ‘pop up’ events before, playing in public spaces such as Old Street Underground Station in London and New Street Station in Birmingham.  They also played a ‘pop up’ residency at Berlin Jazz Festival. This despite the band not having the most portable of instrumental configurations with double bass (Tom Farmer), vibraphone (Lewis Wright) and drum kit (Shane Forbes). Only alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey has a comparatively easy time of it in the transportation stakes.

Empirical’s temporary home was tastefully furnished with framed reproductions of the current line up’s four albums “Out ‘n’ In” (2009), “Elements of Truth (2012), the double set “Tabula Rasa” (2013) and “Connection” (2016) with all four available at the well presented merch desk.

Initially inspired by the music of Eric Dolphy, and particularly the classic “Out to Lunch” album, Empirical’s music is as sharp and angular as their trademark suits. The band have developed a distinctive identity, a key factor of which is their rigorous application of band democracy, they all write for the group and divide announcing duties up equally.

I caught the band’s early evening set at 5.00 pm, the classic ‘commuter jazz’ time, before going on to ticketed events at the nearby Parabola Arts Centre later on. With their chops honed by regular performance it was no surprise to find the band in excellent form as they presented their music, largely drawn from their most recent album “Connection”, over the course of two relatively concise sets, the whole event lasting around an hour.

First up was Facey’s “Stay The Course”, an agile, bebop flavoured piece that acted as the jumping off point for dazzling solos from the composer on alto and Wright on vibes, the latter deploying a mesmerising four mallet technique.

Empirical also used this residency as an opportunity to ‘road test’ new material including Wright’s “Persephone”, a richly atmospheric piece featuring Farmer’s bowed bass and Forbes’ mallet rumbles in its impressionistic early stages before gaining momentum and becoming truly anthemic thanks to Facey’s searing alto solo.

Forbes announced his own “Celestial Being”, a Coltrane-esque piece featuring Facey’s intense alto soloing and Wright’s vigorous vibes attack.

The first set concluded with another new tune, Farmer’s “Indifference Culture”, a kind of abstract ballad that was ushered in by a combination of bowed bass, shimmering vibes and gently piping alto with Forbes later joining in with softly brushed drums. The featured soloist was Facey, who probed gently, but purposefully.

Following a short break, during which they mingled with members of their appreciative audience, the quartet returned with Farmer’s “Card Clash”, a tune from the “Connection” album with something of an Ornette Coleman feel about it and the vehicle for powerful and fluent solos from Wright and Facey.

Also by Farmer, and from the same album, “Driving Force” was introduced by a passage of solo vibraphone from Wright, his ringing overtones subsequently complemented by pizzicato bass, brushed drums and reedy, oboe like alto. Facey’s subsequent solo included avant garde style atmospherics, the saxophonist digging deep before handing the soloist’s reins over to Wright.

Finally we heard Facey’s “Two Edged Sword”, a third selection from “Connection”. This offered a tricky, boppish theme with short, stop/start staccato passages, this providing the jumping off point for a mercurial solo from Wright, his mallets dancing across the bars in a blur of motion. The piece is one of the shortest on the album but was radically extended here as Facey launched into an intense, biting solo with only Forbes for company in a passage that rivalled the trademark energy of the youthful up and coming sax and drums duo Binker and Moses. Finally Forbes was left alone for a volcanic solo drum workout that helped to end a short, but dynamic, second set on a high note.

The audience had thinned out a little at half time as people moved on to other events but those who remained were delighted with this second taste of the Empirical sound.

My thanks to Lewis Wright for taking the time to speak with me afterwards. He has recently released his own album “Duets”, a series of musical dialogues with pianist Kit Downes and I hope to take a look at this recording shortly. In the meantime Downes was scheduled to be part of my next event at the Parabola Arts Centre, a double bill featuring Speak Low, the trio led by vocalist Lucia Cadotsch and Enemy, a collaborative piano trio featuring Downes.

LUCIA CADOTSCH SPEAK LOW / ENEMY, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

An innovative and high quality programme at the PAC commenced with this double bill featuring two international collaborations involving British and European musicians. Central to both groups was bassist and composer Petter Eldh, a Swedish musician now based in Berlin and a highly creative band leader and collaborator.

SPEAK LOW

First to take to the stage were Speak Low, a trio named after the Kurt Weill song, led by the Zurich born vocalist and songwriter Lydia Cadotsch. The singer is also part of the groups Yellow Bird and Schneeweiss, the latter also including Eldh, but it’s the critically acclaimed “Speak Low” album, released in 2016, that has brought her to the attention of British jazz audiences.

Cadotsch has been championed by Cheltenham’s Programme Advisor Tony Dudley-Evans who brought her to the UK in November 2016 and introduced tonight’s performance. The members of the trio first came together when they were studying at the Rhythmic Music Conservatoire in Copenhagen, where  Django Bates was once a professor.

Joining Cadotsch and Eldh was the Swedish tenor saxophonist Otis Sandsjo with Cadotsch promising us a programme of “standards and folk songs”. Many of these were extremely well known, but it was the way in which the trio approached them that was so interesting and innovative.

Essentially the trio approach these songs by placing them into an avant garde context. Eldh and Sandsjo are improvising musicians who adopt an adventurous uncompromising approach to their playing. It was the contrast with Cadotsch’s cool, elegant vocals that was so interesting and compelling. The singer isn’t an improviser in the way that Lauren Kinsella, Maggie Nicols, Julie Tippetts or even Norma Winstone are improvisers. There were none of the extended vocal techniques that these singers sometimes deploy and it was the contrast between Cadotsch’s straightforward treatment of the melodies and the instrumentalists’ relentless probing around that proved to be so fascinating. In the event the juxtaposition produced something that was consistently intriguing and compelling and often strangely beautiful.

This was evidenced by the trio’s opening song, “Wild Is The Wind” (sourced from the film) as the purity of Cadotsch’s was offset by Sandsjo’s guttural probings on tenor and his remarkable deployment of circular breathing techniques.

The threesome’s interpretation of the jazz standard “What’s New” was inspired by the instrumental version recorded by pianist Ahmad Jamal’s trio while their arrangement of “Don’t Explain”, a song indelibly associated with Billie Holiday brought out the full darkness of the lyrics. Introduced by a dialogue between Cadotsch’s voice and Eldh’s bass, with the latter adding percussive effects, the piece also included a breathy, plaintive tenor solo from Sandsjo, some his most emotive and affecting playing of the set.

The saxophonist also impressed on the trio’s arrangement of their signature song “Speak Low” before making a distinctive contribution to a rendition of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”, his layered harmolodics and the use of the tenor’s keypads as percussion giving the music a dark, unsettling eerie quality.

Downes was added on piano for the closing “Lilac Wine”, a song written in 1950 and much later a hit for Elkie Brooks who performed the song in the Big Top at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I suspect that Speak Low’s arrangement was more likely inspired by Jeff Buckley’s 1994 version and it was certainly closer to Buckley than Brooks in spirit with Downes piano adding a welcome instrumental voice to the proceedings.

That said the addition of a piano on a permanent basis would perhaps destroy the very thing that makes Speak Low so unique, that mix of reserved art song vocals, restless, hectoring bass and needling avant garde sax. It’s a highly effective combination and the trio’s adventurous, noirish treatment of such familiar and popular material has cast many of their chosen songs in a whole new light.

ENEMY

After Speak Low had taken their bows Eldh and Downes rapidly returned to the boards as the stage crew effected a particularly rapid turnover. With James Maddren’s drum kit already set up Enemy were ready to go in almost no time at all as they delivered a selection of material from their forthcoming début album, due for release on Edition Records on May 25th 2018.

With time in short supply the trio didn’t waste too much time on tune announcements but just got on with playing the material, all of which was presumably sourced from their impending début.

The music was everything we have come to expect from musicians of this calibre, complex, dynamic and highly rhythmic but with plenty of light and shade as the trio moved up and down the gears guided by an increasingly animated Eldh.

Surprisingly Downes, at the keyboard of the venue’s splendid Fazioli grand piano, had his back to his bandmates but this didn’t prevent the trio from being a fiercely interactive and democratic unit. The trio’s second piece was introduced by a lyrical passage of solo piano from Downes, subsequently joined by Maddren wielding brushes, while the hitherto pugnacious Eldh delivered an unexpectedly melodic bass solo. However when Maddren finally picked up the sticks the music quickly segued into something far more aggressive and confrontational.

Eldh took up the mic to give a plug to the new album (available pre-release in the foyer, naturally) and announce the next tune “Faster Than Light”. This proved to be an appropriate title as the band delivered a performance that was reminiscent of label mates Phronesis with turn on a time dynamic changes that Jasper Hoiby and his crew would have been proud of. A series of rousing collective passages culminated in a colourful Maddren drum solo before slowing down to embrace a more reflective bass and piano duet.

The next item saw no let up in the complexity and intensity with Eldh’a busy bass in dialogue with Maddren’s sticks on rims and with Downes delivering arguably his best solo of the set, a dynamic and expansive excursion that prompted a terrific reception from the audience.

The pianist then took up the mic to inform us that he was playing his eighth Cheltenham Festival in a row, an impressive achievement and one that entails that this Festival is very special to him. I think they’ve all been indifferent line ups and I’ve probably seen and reviewed most of them. Let’s hope he’s back again next year.

Downes also announced “Children with Torches”, the last number of an all too short set. This saw Sandsjo returning to the stage to guest with the trio and soloing above Maddren’s skittering drum grooves as the saxophonist delivered some of his most straight-ahead playing of the evening.

Enemy were also very well received by the Festival audience and that début album will be very keenly anticipated. I hope to be able to take a fuller look at that in due course and would also like to witness a fuller performance from the trio. As a showcase this double bill format was fine but there’s nothing like getting to know a band over the course of two full length sets in a regular club environment.

RECOMPOSED – DAN NICHOLLS and IAIN CHAMBERS

In 2017 Cadotsch produced an alternative version of the Speak Low album entitled “Renditions” in which she invited musicians from all over Europe to remix the songs. Among those taking part was the British multi-instrumentalist and sound artist Dan Nicholls who together with electronic musician Iain Chambers was present tonight to present a remix of the performances by Speak Low and Enemy in the immediate aftermath of the event.

I believe that this concept of immediately presenting an alternative version of what the audience has just heard was pioneered at the Punkt Festival in Norway but it’s something that has also come into the Cheltenham programme on a regular basis in recent years.

Nicholls and Chambers commenced their performance in the PAC bar almost as soon as the audience had exited the theatre following Enemy’s set. Deploying lap tops and sundry other electronic devices plus a small Roland keyboard to provide additional colour and texture to the sampled soundcscapes.

I’ll admit to not listening attentively to the whole forty five minute performance (which was free to anybody wandering in off the street, not just the audience from the concert) but instead dipped in and out, noting how Nicholls and Chambers had brought both bands together to create a virtual ‘supergroup’ as Cadotsch’s voice was paired with Maddren’s drums despite the fact that the two hadn’t actually played on stage together.

Inevitably once the performances of both Speak Low and Enemy had been filtered through the various devices manipulated by Nicholls and Chambers the music sounded entirely different and totally new. This was genuinely creative new work, transformed from acoustic building blocks into almost ‘pure electronica’ at times - a genre in which I have only a passing interest but one which is part of the fabric of life for young contemporary jazz musicians, including both Nicholls and Chambers plus the five performers who actually trod the boards.

Recomposed was all a little outside my musical comfort zone but this was still an interesting and worthwhile project and in no way do I question its validity.

DINOSAUR

Electronics were also to play a major role in the music of Dinosaur, the quartet led by trumpeter, composer and occasional keyboard player Laura Jurd. Also featuring Elliot Galvin on keyboards, Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Corrie Dick at the drums the group started out as the Laura Jurd Quartet before adopting the band name Dinosaur just prior to the release of their 2016 début album “Together As One” (Edition Records).

That album attracted a good deal of critical acclaim and a Mercury Music Prize nomination. The ‘token’ jazz acts never actually win but every band that has ever been nominated has received an enormous publicity boost and Dinosaur were no exception. This event was only the second to sell out following soul singer Randy Crawford’s performance in the Big Top on the opening day of the Festival.

Dinosaur’s performance came on the very day of the release of their second album for Edition, “Wonder Trail”, which has also been very well received by the critics. Label owner Dave Stapleton was in the audience as the band gave us a run through the new album, filing onto the stage to the sound of sampled announcements and straight into their first number.

Dinosaur’s music is primarily influenced by “Bitches Brew” era Miles Davis, a sound that informs much of “Together As One”. With “Wonder Trail” the band broaden their reference points to include British folk, Canterbury style prog rock whimsy, 80s synth pop and contemporary indie and electronic music with the indie band Broen named as a particular reference point. It’s a more varied collection and even finds the band making their first foray into vocalising, the singing on two songs coming from Jurd and Dick.

As far as I could tell tonight’s performance represented a straight run through the new album, which had been officially launched the previous evening with a performance at Kings Place in London. With Jurd contributing additional keyboards as well as leading the band from the trumpet the opening segue of “Renewal (Part 1)” and “Quiet Thunder” embraced electronic synth-scapes, muscular electric bass grooves, stentorian trumpeting and dynamic drumming. But in a constantly evolving soundscape there was plenty of light and shade with Galvin’s brooding, Blade Runner like synth episodes punctuating the more combustible moments.

Galvin produced a variety of keyboard sounds on “Shine Your Light”, these ranging from trebly organ to rumbling synth, the music gradually gaining momentum courtesy of Dick’s martial style drums as Jurd soloed on breathy, echoed trumpet. The whole piece embraced a glitchy, spacey atmosphere, somewhere between Pink Floyd and contemporary electronica.

“Forgive And Forget” and “Old Times’ Sake” were segued together, the former commencing with a dialogue between Jurd’s trumpet and Dick’s drums, the trumpeter deploying a plunger mute to produce sounds reminiscent of an earlier jazz age, this contrasting with the bright melodies from Galvin’s keyboards that recalled the era of 80s synth pop. Galvin, also the leader of his own trio, is something of a maverick, a mad professor delivering a diverse range of quirky sounds from behind his bank of synths.

Jurd and Dick lifted their voices on “Set Free”, blending folk elements with avant pop in a way that harked back to the methodology of the Canterbury prog bands such as Soft Machine and Caravan who also blended quirkily eccentric – and very English – pop songs with extended instrumental work outs. It’s not the first time that Jurd has worked with words and music, the now seemingly sadly defunct, but very good, quartet Blue-Eyed Hawk teamed Jurd and Dick with vocalist Lauren Kinsella and guitarist Alex Roth. Besides the vocal section “Set Free” also embraced robust contemporary grooves plus a rousing trumpet solo from the leader.

The instrumental “Swimming” juxtaposed ethereal synth passages with punchy funk grooves and incorporated a first solo from the excellent Chaplin who had been a significant presence all night, his fluid, intuitive bass lines supporting the music well as he formed an excellent rhythmic alliance with the consistently inventive Dick.

Finally we heard the album’s second vocal item “And Still We Wonder” with Jurd and Dick again providing the singing – the drummer runs his own jazz/folk ensemble Impossible Things. With its optimistic message this was an excellent way to close both the album and the concert, a piece that drew many of Dinosaur’s influences together, Miles-ian trumpet, folk inspired melodies and exotic rhythms.

I’ve not always been 100% convinced by Dinosaur on disc but this performance was undeniably impressive and inventive and, above all, highly enjoyable. I’ve also heard “Wonder Trail” on CD and early listenings suggest that it’s a clear progression from the highly touted début.

Tonight’s performance was very well received by the Cheltenham audience. although one or two were not so convinced and there were a few dissenting voices afterwards. But on this evidence the quartet’s stock should continue to grow. Jurd and her fellow musicians have been working together for years since meeting at Trinity Laban College of Music and there’s a clear chemistry between them that continues to develop. These guys are skilled enough to cope with any musical challenge that Jurd throws at them.

And it’s not often at a jazz gig that you witness what is known in the trade as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Towards the end of the set Jurd jammed her trumpet between her knees as she played keyboards, only for the instrument to become snagged on her clothing. Clearly embarrassed she struggled for a couple of minutes to free it, eventually succeeding and avoiding having to leave the stage altogether. She remained admirably unphased, even joking about taking up an alternative career in comedy. The gig lost a bit of momentum as a result as band and audience were inevitably distracted but this hardly mattered in a performance of such quality and inventiveness.

Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 03/05/2018.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 03/05/2018.

Ian Mann compares and contrasts two very different performances by blues rock guitarist Eric Gales and his band and classical violinist Nigel Kennedy with his jazz/classical crossover ensemble.

Photograph of Nigel Kennedy by Tim Dickeson


THURSDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL, 03/05/2018.

One of the advantages of attending festivals as a journalist is the opportunity to enjoy performances by artists outside my usual listening zone. This was epitomised on the second night of the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by the contrasting shows given by the American blues rock guitarist Eric Gales and the English classical violinist Nigel Kennedy.

In the event both performances contained enough jazz and improvisatory elements to fully validate the presence of both these artists at what is still, essentially, a jazz festival.

ERIC GALES, JAZZ ARENA

It’s become something of a Cheltenham tradition to present an early evening blues performance in the Jazz Arena on the Thursday of the Festival. Following successful shows in recent years by Joanne Shaw Taylor and Marcus King it was the turn of Memphis born guitarist, vocalist and band leader Eric Gales.

Born in 1974 Gales has been recording since 1991, appearing on eighteen albums as a leader and guesting on countless others. Despite battles with drug and alcohol dependency his career has been prolific and he is very much blues rock ‘royalty’ with a large and devoted following. The Jazz Arena was a virtual sell out for this rare UK performance.

Gales cuts a distinctive figure, he plays guitar left handed and upside down, having learned from his left handed elder brother, beginning at the age of four. Although naturally right handed Gales has never changed his technique and his style has helped to make him one of the most original blues guitarist around. As a ‘lefty’ Gales is routinely compared with Jimi Hendrix but he’s also absorbed the influence of other blues masters such as Buddy Guy and the ‘Three Kings’, BB, Albert and Freddie. And, as if to validate his presence here, he also cites the influence of jazz-rock guitarist Frank Gambale (of Chick Corea’s Elektrik Band).

Gales is a great showman and his shows are high energy affairs that see him fully engaging his audience. At Cheltenham he was backed by a four piece band featuring Cody Wright on electric bass and keyboards, Nick Hayes on kit drums and LaDonna Gales (Eric’s wife) on percussion and backing vocals.

The three backing musicians took to the stage first, creating a thunderous sound via keyboards and crashing cymbals as Gales made his entrance, milking the applause. His shows have been described as a religious experience and there was something of the Southern preacher about Eric’s style as he talked to his adoring flock. He was totally open with the audience, talking about his drug and alcohol addictions and the transforming power of music. “I’ve been clean and sober for two years!” he informed us to a great roar of approval.

Having introduced himself to us with this news the first actual song of the set was a solo vocal and guitar number that harked back to the early days of the delta blues, the lyrics firmly in ‘baby done me wrong’ territory.

After this it was high octane stuff all the way with the band joining Gales for a blistering instrumental slice of blues boogie, the driving four square twin drum rhythms fuelling the leader’s guitar pyrotechnics, his extraordinary playing sometimes reminding me of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Gales is evangelical about the musicians who inspired and his latest album “Middle Of The Road” (which, one suspects, is anything but) contains a version of “Boogie Man”, a song made famous by Freddie King. The recorded version features Gales trading licks with fellow guitarist Gary Clark Jr. but tonight the piece was a one axe tour de force with Gales bringing a Hendrix style heaviness to some of the passages in an extended workout that also featured his authoritative vocals, his singing backed up by the voice of wife LaDonna. This searing version provoked a wildly enthusiastic response from the audience, with several members getting to their feet to applaud the band.

For his take on Buddy Guy’s “Baby Please Don’t Leave Me” Gales commenced by singing off mic, a technique designed to highlight the contrast in dynamics when the band kicked in and the performance became fully electric. Unfortunately there was some sound seepage from the free stage, which was also noticeable when Gales is talking to his audience. It’s a problem that has effected gigs in the Jazz Arena for years, and one that really should be addressed. Back to the music and once the band hit their stride there was no let up in the intensity.

The relaxed Gales enjoyed a bit of banter with the crowd before handing over to Wright and Hayes for a jazz fusion style bass and drum workout with the bassist’s virtuoso playing influenced by the likes of Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke and these days probably Thundercat. Meanwhile Hayes delivered an explosive drum solo that amply demonstrated his astonishing technique.

When Eric and LaDonna returned to the stage Gales revealed the breadth of his influences with a storming version of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” complete with an excoriating guitar solo and a generous amount of showmanship.

From the new album “Swamp” was a propulsive funk strut featuring Eric’s chicken scratch guitar and LaDonna’s highly competent percussive skills. It was the kind of jam that lent itself to improvisation and the band stretched out to highly exciting effect with Wright doubling on bass and keyboards and producing some almost animalistic noises from the latter. At the end of the tune Gales, in preacher mode, revelled in the “second chance” he’s been given in life, following this speech with an even more combustible reprise of “Swamp”.

The Hendrix comparisons are inevitable and finally we heard a swaggering, funked up version of “Voo Doo Chile” with Gales promising that the song was delivered straight “from my heart to yours”.There were plenty of detours along the way with Gales digging deep into his bag of tricks and borrowing from a range of sources ranging from the classics to Led Zeppelin. It was a thrilling way to end a hugely exciting and entertaining show that brought the expected standing ovation from the crowd.

I have to admit that Gales was essentially a new name to me but I enjoyed this high energy and highly entertaining show and I can readily see why Gales has accrued such a strong following among the blues community. He’s a skilled and highly original guitarist (in blues terms, at least) and a more than competent vocalist. He’s also a showman and a real force of nature and audiences respond well to his energy, enthusiasm, openness and honesty.

Also he’s not prepared to just stick to the usual blues rock clichés, we also enjoyed a little rock, jazz and funk which provided more variety than most shows packaged in the electric blues bag. He’s certainly an artist I’d be more than happy to listen to again.

NIGEL KENNEDY, CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL

Violinist Nigel Kennedy has long been known as the ‘enfant terrible’ of British classical music. He may not be so young any more but he’s retained the punk haircut and general air of irreverence that has ruffled the feathers of the classical establishment.

Kennedy still makes classical recordings but has always had a love of jazz. Mentored by Stephane Grappelli as well as Yehudi Menuhin he has played electric violin with a group of Polish jazz musicians and performed at Cheltenham Jazz Festival with this line up several years ago. His perceived gate crashing of the jazz world hasn’t always pleased the jazz police either.

Originally tonight’s performance was billed as “Nigel Kennedy plays Jimi Hendrix”, which would’ve been interesting and would have made a neat tie in with the Eric Gales show. Instead we got a programme of Bach, Gershwin and Kennedy originals, the change presumably made in order to promote the violinist’s latest album release “Kennedy Meets Gershwin”, a recording made to coincide with the 120th anniversary of Gershwin’s death.

Initially I was a little disappointed as I was looking forward to hearing Kennedy’s take on Hendrix, presumably playing Jimi’s tunes on electric violin. However there was still much to enjoy in the programme that was presented with Kennedy largely playing acoustically accompanied by a kind of ‘chamber’ jazz group that included one or two familiar faces.

On acoustic guitars were the German Rolf Bassalb and the versatile Doug Boyle, once a member of prog rock group Caravan, albeit on bass. On cello was the classical musician Peter Adams and holding it all together on double bass was the imposing figure of Yaron Stavi, well known to jazz audiences thanks to his work with saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and vocalist Sarah Gillespie, among many others.

Kennedy actually started on electric violin, using the instrument in conjunction with a set of pedals to create a drone using the wonders of live looping. He then switched to acoustic violin to deliver a solo version of J.S. Bach’s “Sonata No. 1 in G-minor, BWV 1001 Fuga (Allegro)”  which gave ample notice of his advanced classical technique. The looped drone faded out about half way through, and in truth seemed rather unnecessary, gimmicky and cosmetic. There was no disputing the quality of the playing, however.

The violinist has spent time living in Poland and clearly has a great empathy with the Polish people, His own three part composition “The Magician of Lublin” was dedicated to the Polish Jewish community and was inspired by the memories of victims of the Holocaust.
The opening movement “Yasha & Zeftel” introduced klezmer stylings during Kennedy’s opening dialogue with cellist Adams, the violinist subsequently soloing above a backdrop of rhythm guitars, struck cello and underpinning double bass. Boyle also featured as a soloist prior to the second movement “Elzbiata & Magda”, a kind of lament featuring quietly fluttering violin, melancholy cello and grainy, grounding double bass.
Stavi put down the bow for the third movement, “Ameilia” as both guitarists took solos, Bassalb going first followed by Boyle, the latter’s contribution imbued by subtle blues inflections. Then it was the turn of the leader, his violin soaring, his foot stamping as the energy levels were raised, Kennedy’s dazzling soling was accompanied by a combination of taut rhythm guitars and the underpinning growl of cello and bass.
Stavi’s bass then provided the link into the fourth movement “The Cell” which commenced with a dialogue between Kennedy’s violin and Boyle’s guitar, the latter deploying a finger slide, bottle neck style. A passage of wilful dissonance saw Boyle deploying extended techniques on his guitar before the piece was transformed with an outbreak of swirling gypsy style music with Kennedy deploying the pizzicato technique during closing features for Bassalb and Stavi.
Kennedy’s extended piece formed the backbone of this first set and the work was both convincing and impressive, embracing a variety of musical styles and including some excellent playing from all involved.

Kennedy signed off the first half by moving to the piano for the first Gershwin tune of the evening, a performance of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. Ushered in by piano, cello and bass the piece contained an engaging duet between Kennedy on piano and Stavi on plucked double bass followed by a solo from Bassalb as Kennedy locked in with Stavi to provide the underpinning groove. Further solos came from Boyle and Adams, the latter delivering a series of quirky variations around Gershwin’s melody. Kennedy’s solo at the keyboard highlighted his not inconsiderable skills as a pianist while a second outing from Bassalb provided the opportunity for the leader to move from keyboard to violin and round off the solos on his principal instrument. It had been an intriguing first half which was very well received by a packed audience at the Town Hall.

The second set was given over almost entirely to Gershwin and tunes from Kennedy’s latest album.
These were delivered not in the “Hot Club” fashion that the instrumental configuration might have suggested but in a kind of chamber jazz style, a kind of jazz-classical crossover that proved to be both innovative and unexpected.

First up was “Rhapsody in Claret and Blue” with Gershwin’s title none too subtly adapted to honour Aston Villa, famously Kennedy’s favourite football team, despite the fact that the violinist was born in Brighton! An introductory duet between violin and cello saw Kennedy and Adams approximating the famous clarinet melody lines of Gershwin’s original.

A passage of solo guitar from Boyle then led to a dramatic statement from Kennedy of the main theme from “Porgy and Bess”, with the violinist later engaging in an absorbing dialogue with Stavi, the bassist proving in many ways to be the bedrock of the ensemble.

“The Man I Love” featured Kennedy with the two guitars and introduced the first Hot Club stylings of the set with both guitarists impressing with rapidly picked guitar solos, Bassalb going first. Kennedy followed in Grappelli mode, his solo propelled by Stavi’s fast paced bass walk.

Next came a stunning slowed down arrangement of “Summertime”, perhaps Gershwin’s most famous, and most certainly over exposed tune. This version cast the old chestnut in a new light though Kennedy’s melancholic violin lines and Boyle’s spare guitar solo, the latter making effective use of the spaces between the notes. These excursions were followed by an unexpectedly violent coda featuring slashing guitar and sawing violin. This daring treatment of a previously overly familiar piece provoked one of the most enthusiastic receptions of the night from a discerning Cheltenham audience.

Almost as remarkable was the ensemble’s take on “How Long Has This Been Going On”, an almost courtly ballad arrangement featuring tripartite bowed strings (Kennedy, Adams, Stavi) on the intro followed by Kennedy’s mournful violin solo above sparse guitar chording and underlying bass. Bassalb was also featured with a succinct guitar solo.

Finally we heard a rousing “Lady Be Good” which the ensemble raced through in breakneck Hot Club style with virtuoso solos from Kennedy, plus both guitarists, with Boyle again deploying a finger slide.

Called back for a deserved encore the ensemble repeated the dose with a full throttle romp through the Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grapelli Hot Club number “Swing ‘39” with further guitar pyrotechnics from both Bassalb and Boyle and a thrilling set of exchanges between Kennedy and Stavi, plus an extended solo from the leader.

A second, unscripted, encore saw Kennedy changing musical direction once more on a segue of tunes embracing both the South and North of Ireland. Kennedy first unleashed his inner folk fiddler on a frantic tune by the band Planxty with the audience enthusiastically clapping along. Then he reeled it all back in again with a predictable, but still emotive, version of “The Londonderry Air” aka “Danny Boy”. As he sashayed off towards the wings Kennedy taunted us with a fleeting rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night”. Great stuff.

I will admit to being a little unsure at first, particularly given the change of programme, but Kennedy and his colleagues quickly won me over. Kennedy himself is obviously a great technician and he was well supported by an excellent band with Stavi as its rock. The two guitarists both made significant individual contributions and also functioned well as a team. Arguably they were a little too low in the mix but in an essentially acoustic context this wasn’t too much of an issue. Adams performed well but appeared to be primarily a classical player, though present on stage he didn’t appear to get too involved in the latter stages of the concert, particularly the encores which didn’t appear to be pre-planned. One sensed that he wasn’t altogether comfortable with the improvisational process.

This raises an interesting point, Kennedy has sometimes been criticised in the jazz press for not being a natural improviser but tonight he was the only member of the ensemble NOT reading sheet music. To these ears his playing but assured and fluent throughout, soloing convincingly and coherently throughout – without resorting to the dots. His performance was undeniably impressive and thoroughly convincing.

And in his own way Kennedy was just as much a showman as Gales had been – it was just that his exhibitionist streak embodied itself differently. The elaborate bowing to the audience stemmed from the classical world, the fist pumping with colleagues after virtually every number from somewhere else entirely. Then there was the punk haircut and the general air of English eccentricity, the whimsicality punctuated by the occasional, somewhat mannered, profanity. Meanwhile the brief interval, as well as boosting the Town Hall’s bar takings, seemed designed to allow Kennedy to affect a half time costume change, from a Mike Tyson T shirt beneath his jacket in the first half to a Villa home shirt in the second. He even managed to mention Jack Grealish in his banter.

Like Gales Kennedy has become something of a caricature of himself, one doesn’t doubt that each artist has arrived at their stage persona independently and that in each case it’s essentially a true depiction of their personality. Yet in each case it’s become a role that both musicians are obliged to play, Eric the bad-ass cum preacher and Nigel the irreverent eccentric. It’s all part of an act that their substantial fan-bases take great delight in.

Two very different artists, yet with so much in common, despite their obvious stylistic differences. But at the end of the day it’s the music that counts and both proved to superb musicians, among the finest in their respective fields, and great crowd pleasers to boot. And in this festival scenario I don’t think I was the only one that enjoyed both performances pretty much equally.

Purdy’s Pop-Up Jazz Club w Rebecca Poole & Fleur Stevenson, HAODS Studio, Henley on Thames, 03/02/

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Purdy’s Pop-Up Jazz Club w Rebecca Poole & Fleur Stevenson, HAODS Studio, Henley on Thames, 03/02/

"Jazz club take on Bowie transmits all his wistfulness." Guest contributor Marc Edwards enjoys a party night featuring the contrasting styles of vocalists Rebecca Poole and Fleur Stevenson.

Photograph of Fleur Stevenson used by permission of Marc Edwards and sourced from the Henley Standard http://www.henleystandard.co.uk


Jazz club take on Bowie transmits all his wistfulness

Purdy’s Pop-Up Jazz Club with Rebecca Poole and Fleur Stevenson, HAODS Studio, Henley- on- Thames, Saturday, February 3rd 2018


With a hum of eager anticipation, in a pine-vaulted chalet, the packed house of party-goers sat around candle-lit tables, almost rubbing shoulders with the three-man band when it appeared on stage.

A rousing welcome was offered up to hostess Rebecca Poole (aka Purdy), who immediately filled the room with her larger-than-life presence, completely the ‘Master’ of Ceremonies.

She briskly delivered a couple of songs, the first ‘Put the Blue on Me’, the second a blue-grass ballad. Her famously low, bold and sassy voice is immediately striking, to those unused to hearing ‘Purdy’ live.

The zany tone was set for the ‘party night’, launching an avalanche of music, surreal antics and a plastic lobster, with wisecracks that had the audience raucously shouting their approval throughout the evening.

“Playlist? What playlist?” Rebecca told us of a prep meeting with special guest Fleur Stevenson, where the decision was to ‘wing it’!

Fleur was spotted in the kitchen by Rebecca; she arrived on stage like the English Rose to Rebecca’s Southern Belle. Purdy is well-known for her ‘so slinky, it shouldn’t be allowed’ vocal powers, with a wonderfully natural theatricality, while Fleur’s subtly expressive jazz and scat technique reveals not only her 12 years in this idiom, but also her early choral background, with a wealth of experience in the classical repertoire.

Contrasts in tone, style and presentation add richness and interest to any concert, and this was no exception. Both singers had the distinct ability to entertain and move their audiences, and it was engaging to see how each tackled the multiplicity of different moods across this stylistically varied, but principally retrospective programme.

Space hardly permits a full report of every song. So these observations will have to remain in my notebook, but a direct ‘lift’ of the words I scribbled down at my secret table would look like this:

“Manha da Carnaval” — ‘shaky eggs out’!

  “A Day in the life of a Fool” – Raph Mizraki on melodica, bringing gypsy colours from behind the curtain…

Etta James – ‘At Last’: Fleur had not quite the ‘roar’ of the more typical Etta, the tonsil-bursting shouts of indignation, but had allowed a very different aspect of Etta’s turbulent life to emerge, leaving echoes of the ‘raw’ and outrageous Etta to the late, extra ‘edge’ from guitar, to remind us of who she was.

Purdy was keen to tell us where first influences had come from, some surprising: Doris Day singing “Secret Love”; “Wild is the Wind” - sung by David Bowie, then Shirley Horn; “Give Me Fever?”. 

“Narcissist”, by Rebecca herself, with the words ‘Look into Your Mirror’; a short tale of love not intended, but experienced anyway .

‘How did you do That?’’ ‘Here Comes Love’, heard from Ella Fitzgerald, “Blame it on my Youth”, and a classic song ‘for the indecisive’ now sung by Fleur: ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’.

Mañana – Peggy Lee.

The David Bowie connection, ‘Wild is the Wind’ was perhaps Fleur’s most revealing performance of the evening, with beautiful lyrics such as ‘like a leaf clings to the tree, cling to me, wild is the wind’…in a perfect impression of real loneliness and wistfulness.

The minimal three-man band used all of nine different instruments plus a huge range of gorgeous pedal-board guitar sounds to punch well over its weight throughout the evening.

From heavy blues and rock to the most mellifluous, expressive and sensitive lyricism, music of high quality and engaging intricacy was made, whether as accompaniment to the two vocalists or drivers of the tempos of the big dance numbers.

Playing the only ‘horn’ in a band can be a lonely experience, but Stuart Henderson used every trick in the book to give the illusion that there were more trumpets than it appeared. Harmon mute, wah-wah hand-stopping, flutter tongue, growls, glissando falls, tone and dynamic changes combined with rapid-fire virtuosity, mingled with melodic sweetness.

The combination of formidably accomplished Raph Mizraki’s fluid, apparently effortless and propelling bass lines and guitarist Hugh Turner’s infinite variety of powerful, assured articulation and finger-work, backed by that effects pedal, produced a body of sound that thrilled, excited or simply melted into the textures.

This was truly impressive versatility from a band that spoke volumes in terms of sheer hard-graft, musicianship and years of high-level experience.

As the party came to its end, anarchic and noisy scenes, with plenty of laughter and Henley ‘hoorays’ filling the air, Purdy’s announcement of ‘Rule Britannia’ nearly split the band on party lines.

But a rumbustious rendition of ‘O When the Saints’, in which a double-B flat bass tuba was miraculously deployed, brought the house down and sent a happy — and clapping — crowd out into the night.

Review: Marc Edwards

This review was first published in the Henley Standard on 9th February 2018. Reproduced here with the author’s permission.

EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 19th 2017.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 19th 2017.

Ian Mann witnesses the future of British jazz at the NYJO Jazz Jam and the JazzNewBlood showcase and loses himself in a spectacular Norwegian double bill featuring Sinikka Langeland and Jaga Jazzist.

Painting of the Peter Wilson Trio by Gina Southgate


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SUNDAY NOVEMBER 19th 2017

NYJO JAZZ JAM, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

The last Festival event at Foyle’s was a special Festival edition of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s monthly jam sessions.

The first half of the event was dedicated to a performance by the NYJO Jazz Messengers led by tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael and featuring Sheila Maurice Grey on trumpet, Ed Rice on piano, Joe Bristow on trombone, Arthur O’Hara on electric bass and Benjamin Appiah at the drums.
I’d previously seem most of the performers playing with other bands during the Festival period.

The Messengers name isn’t just inspired by Art Blakey, they go out and perform at schools and colleges all over the country, introducing the music of jazz to young people far and wide.

Today’s performance attracted a sizeable audience to Foyle’s for this free Sunday lunchtime event and the sextet commenced with a Freddie Hubbard tune, “Red Clay”, if I remember correctly, with Carmichael, Maurice Grey, Bristow, O’Hara and Appiah all featuring as soloists.

Carmichael’s own “Calm After The Storm” was an impressive piece of writing that was introduced by a dialogue between the composer on tenor and Rice at the piano. Further solos came from Carmichael on tenor and Bristow on trombone, with the sophisticated blending of the horns during the ensemble passages offering a good example of Carmichael’s composing and arranging skills.

Victor Feldman’s “Seven Steps To Heaven”, made famous by Miles Davis, then featured Rice at the piano alongside Carmichael and Bristow.

The final tune of this section was unannounced but commenced with an unaccompanied passage from O’Hara on five string electric bass and included an exceptional trumpet solo from Maurice Grey plus a slow burning tenor solo from Carmichael and a final drum feature from Appiah.

After the interval proceedings became less formal as saxophonist Phil Meadows, seen earlier in the week at Foyle’s with his own trio Skint, co-ordinated and MC’d a jazz jam that saw a number of musicians calling tunes which were performed by an ever changing cast of young performers from the NYJO Academy or from local youth jazz orchestras such as the Croydon YJO. These ad hoc groups would typically included a couple of Messengers, mostly in their early twenties, plus three or four younger players ranging in age between nine and eighteen.

The tunes played were mainly jazz and bebop standards and included “Summertime”, “Have You Met Miss Jones”  Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” and the Miles Davis classics “Mr P.C.” and “So What”. Kasia Kawalek, who had impressed at Iklectik the previous day fronting her own band and playing her own music turned up to sing the Duke Ellington composition “In A Sentimental Mood”.

With the constantly rotating cast of musicians it was impossible to keep track of the various combinations and of the individual soloists, all of whom were very impressive. With this in mind Phil Meadows (who at one point got up to play himself) announced my presence in the house and suggested that the young musicians introduce themselves to me after the show so I could get all their names and give them a mention in my review.

I decided that the best way of doing this would be to pass my notebook round and for the youngsters to jot down their names and the instrument they played. “Think of it as signing your autograph” I told them, “it’s something you’ll have to get used to when you’re rich and famous” - although this is jazz so I’m not sure about the “rich” bit!

So here is the cast of young musicians at the NYJO Jazz Jam at Foyle’s on 19th November 2017, in no particular order other than that in which they signed my notebook;

Will Wood – saxophone
Matthew Richardson – alto saxophone
Klara Devlin – trumpet
Nathan Oriaki – drums
Sarah Wald – trumpet
Kai MacRae – drums
Finn Genockey – drums
Dylan Holmes-Conan – guitar
Jedd Bailey-Smith – double bass
Jacob Murphy – guitar
Max Florez – saxophone, piano
Gabrielle Carberry – double bass
Kasia Kawalek- vocals

Remember those names, you’ll be hearing them in the future.

If it doesn’t seem too invidious I’d like to single two individuals out from that list. Nine year old drummer Nathan Oriaki charmed everybody and is already a highly competent musician. He even insisted on having his photograph taken with me! For a minute I almost felt famous myself, but suspect that ultimately it’s going to be the other way round!

Alto saxophonist Matthew Richardson is older and is currently studying at Leeds College of Music. A highly accomplished soloist he is well on his way to becoming a professional musician but loves to come back and participate in these jams. He’s a great advertisement for the NYJO spirit and an excellent example of what these sessions can lead to.

Well done also to Phil Meadows, a busy musician and bandleader in his own right for coming to conduct these sessions. One feels that the future of British jazz is in good hands.

It was left to the NYJO Messengers sextet to close the proceedings in barnstorming fashion. A splendid and thoroughly rewarding afternoon all round.

SAM BARNETT QUINTET / ZOE PASCAL 4tet/ PETER WILSON TRIO, IKLECTIK ART LAB, WATERLOO

The second JazzNewBlood event of the weekend featured a further three young up and coming bands at the Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo.

SAM BARNETT QUINTET

The length of the NYJO Jazz Jam and my subsequent meeting with its young participants meant that I was rather late getting to Iklectik and unfortunately I missed most of the performance by the Sam Barnett Quintet. They were literally on their last number when I got there. I managed to catch solos from Barnett on alto sax, Laurence Wilkins on trumpet and Alberto Garcera on piano, the line up being completed on this occasion by Seth Tackaberry on double bass and Zoe Pascal at the drums.

Although I was disappointed to miss the bulk of Barnett’s set I was fortunate enough to review his début album “New York – London Suite” released in February 2017. Featuring Barnett, Wilkins and Pascal plus pianist Timur Pak and bassist Michele Montolli the album was released when Barnett was just sixteen and is an astonishingly mature piece of work that has attracted many plaudits. Incredibly much of the music was written when Barnett was only fourteen.

I can’t supply too much information about today’s performance but readers can find out more about Sam Barnett and his colleagues in my review of “New York – London Suite” here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sam-barnett-quintet-new-york-london-suite/

ZOE PASCAL 4tet

Drummer, composer and bandleader Zoe Pascal appeared at the 2016 JazzNewBlood showcase as a member of the trio Zenel, also featuring Laurence Wilkins on trumpet and electronics and Noah Stoneman on piano and keyboards. Zenel continues to perform and recently appeared in front of large crowds and to great acclaim at the 2017 Love Supreme Festival.

This year Pascal, son of JazzNewBlood founder Patricia Pascal, returned to Iklectik with a new four piece group featuring saxophonist Quinn Oulton, pianist Jonah Grimbly-Larrington and bassist Hamish Nockalls-More, the last named recently seen performing with acclaimed saxophonist Steve Williamson at Foyle’s as part of the Festival.

The first piece was a yet untitled original composition by Pascal, a highly melodic tune that saw Oulton stating the theme on tenor before sharing the solos with Grimbly.

Like the Mike Stern / Dave Weckl Quartet the previous evening they included “Nothing Personal”, a tune written by Don Grolnick but indelibly associated with Michael Brecker. Pascal’s urgent drum grooves helped to give the piece a contemporary sound, something heightened by Oulton’s restless, darting sax phrases.  Grimbly’s percussive piano solo presaged a powerful outing on tenor from Oulton, powered by Pascal’s explosive drumming. The piece was crowned by the leader’s dynamic drum feature.

Pascal invited Laurence Wilkins to guest with the group on Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” which was introduced by Grimbly at the piano and featured solos from Oulton and Wilkins. Grimbly and Nockalls-More were also featured as soloists with Pascal subsequently trading fours with the rest of the group.

Still only sixteen Zoe Pascal continues to impress as both a drummer and composer and already has two recordings under his belt with Barnett and with Portuguese vocalist / guitarist Carmen Souza. His musical future looks very bright indeed, as do those of his highly accomplished bandmates.

PETER WILSON TRIO

Peter Wilson is young guitarist and composer with a burgeoning reputation. His Iklectik performance teamed him with Seth Tackaberry, seen earlier with the Sam Barnett Quintet, and drummer Luca Caruso.

With Tackaberry now concentrating on electric bass the trio commenced with Wilson’s original “No, I Know” - or “Know I Know”, take you pick, which included solos from Wilson and Tackaberry and a series of drum breaks and Caruso. The trio impressed with their cohesiveness and togetherness with Wilson adopting a pure, clean jazz guitar tone and proving to be a highly fluent soloist.

These virtues also continued into “Clear To See” with Wilson and Tackaberry taking introductory solos. However a change of pace mid tune saw Wilson upping the wattage and soloing powerfully in a manner that reminded me of the great John Scofield. The impressive Caruso closed the piece out with a correspondingly energetic drum feature.

Wilson explained that “Stand By” had emerged out of a bass and drum groove formulated by Tackaberry and Caruso at a rehearsal jam and the piece was appropriately rhythmic, gradually building momentum and positively soaring by the close with Wilson’s solo suggesting the possibility of an alternative career as a rock lead guitarist.
A bass solo from Takaberry and an unaccompanied guitar cadenza from Wilson signalled a segue into Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” and a return to more conventional jazz virtues. Wilson’s treatment of the tricky theme was sometimes reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s “Bright Size Life” but things took more of a jazz rock turn later in the piece with another diversion into high octane, fusion type territory crowned by a drum feature from Caruso.

For the well deserved encore Wilson invited Quinn Oulton, Laurence Wilkins and Sam Barnett onto the stage to jam on “Take The Coltrane” with Wilkins taking the first solo on trumpet followed by Oulton on tenor and Barnett on alto, the latter in dialogue with Tackaberry’s electric bass. As the tune gathered momentum Wilson took over on guitar with the rhythm section rounding things off with a series of electric bass and drum exchanges.

This was a good natured but highly accomplished display of music making that rounded off this year’s JazzNewBlood programme on a very positive note. My thanks to Patricia Pascal and all at Iklectik for again making me so welcome. Gina Southgate was painting again and it’s her illustration of the Peter Wilson Trio that accompanies this review.

Also adding interest to the events at Iklectik was the exhibition of jazz photography by Patricia Pascal and Steve of Funkyfeet Photography which included one particularly striking image of Zoe Pascal and Zenel playing to the huge audience at Love Supreme.

SINIKKA LANGELAND / JAGA JAZZIST, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, SOUTH BANK

Incredibly this was my first visit to the South Bank, notionally the Festival hub for the whole ten days of EFG LJF. But here I was on the last night for this Norwegian double bill, part of an entire day at the RFH featuring Scandinavian artists and billed collectively as “Nordic Matters”.

Earlier in the Clore Ballroom audiences had seen the Tolvan Big Band from Sweden, Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and his quartet and Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur leading her all female eleven piece band Shamania.

I love Pohjola’s music but I didn’t relish seeing him in the vast public space of the Clore with all of its attendant hubbub and distractions. It’s the second time he’s performed for free in similar circumstances at EFG LJF. I know these gigs play to large crowds but come on Serious, a musician of this stature deserves a proper concert slot with a listening audience.  The Purcell Room, Hall 2 at Kings Place or maybe even at one of the clubs, perhaps?

I had hoped to catch something of Maralyn Mazur but spent rather too long socialising at Iklectik even after the music had finished so mea culpa I’m afraid, although I did think I’d catch the last fifteen minutes at least. I’m doubly disappointed as by all accounts it was a very exciting performance.

SINIKKA LANGELAND GROUP

Sinikka Langeland has been recording since 1994 and began an association with the German ECM label in 2009 with the release of the album “Maria’s Song”.

She has since issued three more items for the label, “The Land That Is Not” (2011), “The Half Finished Heaven” (2015) and her most recent offering “The Magical Forest” (2016).

It was the latter that formed the basis for tonight’s performance with Langeland joined by album personnel Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Trygve Seim (tenor & soprano saxes), Markku Ounaskari (drums, percussion) and the voices of Trio Medieval ( Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Torun Ostrem Ossum, Anna Maria Friman). Mats Eilersen replaced Anders Jormin on double bass to complete the line up.

Langeland sings and plays the kantele, a zither like instrument that is actually Finnish in origin but has spread throughout the rest of Scandinavia. With the Finnish born Ounaskari behind the kit and the Swedish born Friman forming part of Trio Medieval this was a truly Nordic band, one that mattered.

Langeland’s music is inspired by the folklore of Norway and beyond with “The Magical Forest”, as its title suggests, concentrating on songs with a ‘trees’ theme. Her blend of folk and jazz seems particularly well suited to the ECM aesthetic with the arrangements concentrating on colour, texture and atmosphere in a manner that is inescapably ‘Nordic’.

Langeland’s music is slow and unhurried and she is adept at building moods and atmospheres, her arrangements enhanced by the contributions of some of Scandinavia’s finest jazz musicians.

The performance began with the twinkling, ethereal sound of Langeland’s kantele, an instrument guaranteed to evoke images of snow glistening on the boughs of trees in the Nordic forests. Trio Medieval added their voices, bringing an almost liturgical feel to the music while Eilertsen and Ounaskari provided almost subliminal bass and drums. Langeland sang the lead vocal, blending well with Seim on tenor and Henriksen on trumpet. During what was essentially a totally acoustic performance it was interesting to see Henriksen playing almost ‘straightahead’, without any of the electronic enhancements or extended techniques he deploys in other contexts, including his acclaimed solo performances.

“Jacob’s Dream” was based on the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder and featured the atmospheric blending of Langeland’s lead voice with the choral vocals of Trio Medieval allied to Eilertsen’s arco bass drone. Henriksen’s trumpet solo then demonstrated his fluency and purity of tone in this acoustic context.

Based on a tale from Norwegian folklore “The Wolfman”, with its “jumping around like a wolf” refrain offered something more vigorous with its trumpet and tenor sax exchanges complementing the story told by the singers.

The next piece featured the magical combination of the sounds of Seim’s Garbarek-like curved soprano and the delicate, harp like timbres of the leader’s kantele. Bowed bass and a solo on pocket trumpet from Henriksen subsequently added to the magic.

A lengthy solo passage from Langeland explored the full sonic possibilities of the kantele as she played it not only with her fingers but also with hammers, in the manner of a dulcimer and even dragged a bow across the strings at one juncture. In time she was joined by Eilertsen’s bass and the gently martial tapping of Ounaskar’s snare plus the sacred sounds of the voices of Trio Medieval. Finally the sounds of Seim’s soprano and Henriksen’s muted trumpet were added to the agenda.

Langeland drew the audience deep into her very personal sound-world of myth and magic. This was a compelling and absorbing performance, even when the subject matter was at its darkest, as on “Kamui” a song sourced from Japanese Ainu folk tradition that told the grisly tale of the sacrifice of a young bear cub. This featured some of Langeland’s most powerful singing as she delivered an impassioned lead vocal, aided by the sounds of kantele, bowed bass, trumpet and soprano sax. Having reached a peak the piece resolved itself with Langeland’s whispered vocals and the almost subliminal sounds of the instrumentalists.

“Karsikko” told of the Norwegian folk custom of the “memory tree” on which the names of those that have passed away are carved. Langeland’s accapella vocals were straight out of the folk tradition, these later augmented by the sounds of the leader’s kantele and Henriksen’s softly mournful trumpet.

The instrumental “Pillar To Heaven” gave the core quartet of Henriksen, Seim, Eilertsen and Ounaskari the opportunity to demonstrate their considerable chops, commencing with an engaging bass and drum dialogue followed by a series of exchanges between Seim on tenor and Henriksen on trumpet, the latter producing some astonishing sounds. A closing free jazz episode included the adoption of extended techniques, particularly from bass and drums.

Langeland began the final piece solo, subsequently joined by Trio Medieval and the jazz quartet with Seim soloing on tenor prior to a closing section featuring Trio Medieval incanting the hymn “Gloria In Excelsis Deo”.

This quiet, thoughtful, melancholy music was listened to with rapt attention by a sell out crowd at the Royal Festival Hall. Sometimes bleak, but always beautiful, Langeland’s richly nuanced music and story telling seemed to resonate with the audience and you could hear the proverbial pin drop. It was so different to what was to follow.

JAGA JAZZIST

First formed back in 1994 Jaga Jazzist is one of Norway’s best known musical exports, a genre straddling band that embraces elements of jazz, rock, electronic and dance music in a thrilling, multi-faceted melange.

At its core Jaga is a family band centred around brothers Lars Horntveth (saxes, clarinets, guitars, keyboards) and Martin Horntveth (drums) and their multi-instrumentalist sister Line Horttveth (flute, tuba, euphonium, keyboards, voice). The band’s line up has been fluid and at various times has included such well known Norwegian musicians as trumpeter Mathias Eick, guitarist Stian Westerhus and keyboard player Morten Qvenild.

Currently an octet the band’s current line up includes the three Hortveth siblings plus Marcus Forsgren (guitars, keyboards) Even Ormestad (bass, keyboards), Erik Johannsen (trombone), Oystein Moen (keyboards) and Andreas Mjos (vibraphone, guitar, keyboards).

Electronics are a vital part of the band’s music making and they frequently play at rock venues and at a volume to match. I first saw Jaga Jazzist (as a ‘punter’) at the Academy in Islington in 2010 around the time of their “One Armed Bandit” album, a performance marred by a muddy sound mix. That was primarily a rock performance at a rock venue and at the time I was slightly disappointed.

I’d first been attracted to the group’s music after hearing them on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” programme where they were great favourites around that time. Jaga’s 2002 album “A Livingroom Hush” was named “best jazz album of the year” by the BBC and this also helped to bring the band a lot of attention in the UK. They have visited London frequently, tonight representing their fifteenth performance in the city.

Jaga are a band with a large cult following, something encouraged by their exciting live performances which always contain a strong visual element. The band members themselves are content to remain fairly anonymous, only drummer Martin Horntveth was to engage with the audience tonight, but their light-shows are spectacular. This evening the band were surrounded by a forest of LED batons that looked vaguely light sabres and which pulsed and changed colour along with the music. Projected behind the band was the Bridget Riley like spiral that adorns the cover of their latest album “Starfire”. Those of us of a certain age were reminded of the dizzying graphics of the fondly remembered Vertigo record label.

Seeing the band at the all seated Festival Hall was very different to seeing them at the Academy. I, for one enjoyed it better, the more comfortable surroundings allowing one to appreciate the subtleties of their music, despite the seeming relentlessness of their attack.

Besides the myriad of LEDs the stage was also a forest of musical instruments, vibes, drums, guitars, saxes and racks of keyboards. Instrument swappage was widespread and frequent, with virtually everybody doubling up in one way or another. Meanwhile the light-show was probably the most exciting I’ve seen since Hawkwind in their 70s heyday, I was never so much into rave or contemporary club culture so I can’t make comparisons from that angle, despite its obvious influence on Jaga’s music. “Hawkwind, but with jazz chops” I scribbled down at one point.

And make no mistake Jaga can play, rhythmic changes were handled with crisp precision as the group moved between genres and influences at the turn of a dime. Although there were moments of individual brilliance this wasn’t about orthodox jazz soloing, the many headed, multi-limbed instrument juggling Jaga Jazzist is all about the overall ensemble sound.

Amidst the flashing lights this wasn’t really music to be making notes about, it was far more satisfying to absorb oneself in the audio-visual extravaganza that is Jaga Jazzist. The mimimalism of Reich, Glass and Riley was transposed with chunky, complex prog rock riffing and exuberant dance floor flavoured beats. Dynamic variations were both frequent and extreme as typified by Line Horntveth alternating between flute and tuba. Wordless vocal chanting was deployed effectively to create an atmosphere of grandeur, while Lars Horntveth emerged as the most distinctive instrumentalist with solos on both guitar and saxophone.

Aside from geography the music of Jaga Jazzist might, at first sight, appear to have little in common with that of Sinikka Langeland, the sound and presentation of the two acts being so different. Yet the RFH audience loved them both and in Arve Henriksen they have a common link.
The innovative trumpeter is an acknowledged influence on Jaga Jazzist and his guest appearance with the group generated a huge cheer from the London crowd. A rare acoustic episode saw the little wizard soloing on trumpet accompanied by bass clarinet, trombone and tuba as part of an an unlikely wind quartet. Henriksen’s playing here was more reminiscent of his own solo work, his feature including flute like trumpet whispering but also including his distinctive vocalising, inspired by the nomadic Sami people of northern Norway.

Much of tonight’s performance was sourced from the recent “Starfire” album with the announcement of “Big City Music” eliciting a spontaneous round of applause from the audience for a piece that is clearly already a big crowd favourite with its blend of Middle Eastern influences, shamanistic vocalising and electronica.

“We are from Norway – let’s have a party!” shouted Martin Horntveth from behind the kit, encouraging the small but enthusiastic knot of dancers in the balcony who were joyously throwing shapes in time to the group’s extraordinary music. Indeed even in the more sedate stalls it was hard to keep still, I was almost tempted to get up and join them. One suspects the band would have approved, the people seated immediately behind probably not.

Although the majority of the audience remained seated there was no doubting their love for this band, calling them back for an encore that was almost metallic in its intensity.

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

This was a hugely exciting way to end an excellent EFG LJF that had once again produced some superb music at venues large and small across the city. I loved every minute of it and as usual would like to thank Sally Reeves of Serious for organising press tickets for myself and my wife. Huge thanks are also due to our hosts Paul and Richard for putting us up for over a week. I couldn’t even think of coming to EFG LJF without the generosity of these guys.Over the course of the ten days I saw over forty different performances at venues large and small, admittedly some of them part of double or even triple bills.

And thanks to all the friends I met along the way, musicians, photographers, artists, fellow journalists, club owners, promoters, publicists, fellow fans etc. Jazz engenders a real spirit of community and it’s good to feel a part of it.

Writing for London Jazz News about the JazzNewBlood showcase on Saturday 18th November Joseph Paice noted that all three bands were female led and this was a trend that I noticed throughout the Festival.
More significantly these leaders were more often instrumentalists than singers. Personally I witnessed and enjoyed performances by the following female bandleaders;
Zoe Rahman, Dee Byrne, Sarah Tandy, Kate Williams, Cassie Kinoshi, Kasia Kawalek, Romarna Campbell, Saskia Horton, Sinikka Langeland and Chelsea Carmichael with Ranjana Ghatek a co-leader and Mary Halvorson representing a key and equal part of the collaborative Illegal Crowns quartet.

I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing to highlight this or not, but to my mind it’s a good sign that the music is moving in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 18th 2017.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 18th 2017.

Eclectic, Iklectik, Elektrik - Ian Mann on the penultimate day of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Painting of Nihilism by Gina Southgate


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SATURDAY NOVEMBER 18th 2017

DAYLIGHT MUSIC – HERMES EXPERIMENT / NIK BARTSCH / KIT DOWNES & MATTHEW BOURNE / PAUL REYNOLDS , UNION CHAPEL ISLINGTON

For thirty Saturdays of the year the Daylight Music organisation stages lunchtime events at the Union Chapel in Islington. These pay what you can events (suggested donation a mere fiver) present an eclectic mix of music across a range of genres ranging from jazz to folk to classical.

This London Jazz Festival special saw performances from the jazz/chamber music ensemble Hermes Experiment, a solo piano performance from ECM recording artist Nik Bartsch and a duo collaboration between Kit Downes playing the chapel organ and Matthew Bourne on grand piano.

I’ve always had a hankering to attend a performance at Union Chapel after hearing a live album recorded there in 1996 by two of my prog rock heroes, Guy Evans and Peter Hammill of the group Van Der Graaf Generator.  I was actually due to attend that gig but was prevented from doing so by a serious sports injury sustained a month or so before the event. I was bitterly disappointed at the time, not least because the gig involved what at the time seemed like a one off re-union of VDGG, but that sense of loss has been tempered with the passing of the years and VDGG’s subsequent reformation on a semi-permanent basis in 2005.

That Union Chapel show included a section featuring VDGG keyboard player Hugh Banton playing the Chapel’s splendid Father Willis organ and more than twenty years on the prospect of hearing Kit Downes performing on the same instrument was too good to miss. And so I found myself on a cold winter’s morning walking up Upper Street in the drizzle to finally take my place in the Union Chapel pews.

What a terrific venue – beautiful, spacious, superb acoustics and incredibly warm and comfortable for a church in the middle of winter. It’s a huge building but with no pillars to spoil the sight lines, making it an ideal space in which to enjoy live music. It had been a long wait but I absolutely loved it! The tea and cakes being offered for sale by the Margins Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping the homeless and the isolated of London represented a delicious bonus. 

HERMES EXPERIMENT

And so we settled down to enjoy the performances commencing with Hermes Experiment, a young quartet performing an eclectic mixture of material. Featuring Heloise Werner (vocals), Anne Denholm (harp), Marianne Schofield (double bass) and Oliver Pashley (clarinets) the ensemble commenced with an idiosyncratic arrangement of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” featuring Werner’s flexible soprano voice as Schofield deployed both arco and pizzicato techniques on her double bass, which she played seated, almost like a cello.

Hermes Experiment have collaborated with visual artists such as photographers and with theatre and film directors. They also commission composers and songwriters to provide material for them and next up were two songs written specifically for them by Emily Hall, “I’m Happy Living Simply” with its “like a clock or a calendar” refrain and “The End Of The Ending”. These were two splendidly quirky but highly perceptive items that suited the ensemble perfectly.

The quartet have also established strong links with the composer Richard Rodney Bennett, who is well known to jazz audiences thanks to his collaborations with vocalist Claire Martin. RRB’s “Slow Foxtrot” was one of three pieces inspired by photographs of the composer’s parents taken in the 1920s and featured the combination of 20s dance rhythms with Werner’s semi-operatic vocals.

Pashley’s imaginative and inventive adaptation of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” saw him moving to bass clarinet with the slowed down arrangement serving the song well and bringing out the full impact of its environmental message.

Hermes Experiment concluded their well received set with an arrangement of the folk song “The Linden Tree” written by jazz bassist and bandleader Misha Mullov Abbado with Pashley soloing on clarinet.

With their broad range of influences Hermes Experiment seemed to encapsulate the spirit of Daylight Music, whose ethos seems to echo that of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ programme with regard to its diversity and willingness to embrace the exotic, innovative and unusual. Eclectic is the word.

PAUL REYNOLDS

I had noted that there were two pianos on the stage, a grand and an upright. During the intervals between the main acts the upright was played by Paul Reynolds, a bassist and pianist on the London session scene playing jazz, pop, rock and theatre music. A regular contributor to Daylight Music he also leads his own band Vespers. Today Reynolds’ playing was essentially used as background music as the audience refilled their coffee cups and generally relaxed. He may have been largely ignored but his contribution was never less then enjoyable and always welcome.

NIK BARTSCH

Next up, playing the grand piano, was the Swiss pianist and composer Nil Bartsch, a late addition to the Daylight Music programme. Bartsch’s presence represented a very considerable and very welcome bonus. As an ECM recording artist he is a musician with an international reputation and a unique approach to music making that he describes as “zen-funk” or “ritual groove music”. Leader of the “zen-funk” quartet Ronin and the larger ensemble Mobile he has also recorded the solo piano album “Modular Movement” for ECM. The previous day he had appeared at EFG LJF at a lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall, a collaboration with the Britten Sinfonia.

Today Bartsch performed a solo piano set lasting around half an hour, presumably sourced from the “Modular Movement” album. A striking, shaven headed figure his monk like appearance and the zen like calmness of his demeanour was wholly in keeping with the music which was heavily influenced by the methods of minimalists such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

I’ll admit that I’ve not always found the Zurich based Bartsch totally convincing on record but within the environs of this atmospheric venue his performance was utterly compelling with its layered arpeggios and inventive use of the interior of the instrument including the striking, scraping and dampening of the strings. Even his use of the sustain pedal was imaginative in a performance that sometimes reminded me of the open ended improvisations of cult Australian trio The Necks, a band whose music would be absolutely ideal for Union Chapel – they might even make use of the organ too.

At the close Bartsch received a tremendous ovation from the crowd, acknowledging the applause with a bow of the head and with hands clasped as if in prayer. Whatever your faith this performance represented something of a spiritual experience.

KIT DOWNES & MATTHEW BOURNE DUO

Pianist and organist Kit Downes is one of the brightest stars to have emerged on the British jazz scene in the past decade or so. A leader of his own piano based groups Downes is also an in demand sideman who has worked with saxophonists Julian Arguelles and Stan Sulzmann and drummer Jeff Williams among others.

A surprise success in recent years has been Vyamanikal, Downes’ improvising duo with saxophonist Tom Challenger which features Downes on church organ. Two albums on the Suffolk based boutique label Slip and a number of successful concert and festival appearances have enhanced the duo’s reputation and it looks as if Downes and Challenger will continue to collaborate for a while yet.

Today Downes was given the opportunity to play on Union Chapel’s splendid three manual Father Willis organ, built in 1877. Unfortunately the console was hidden behind the pulpit and Downes was almost invisible to the audience. Perhaps modern video technology could have been deployed with a screen set up so the audience could have seen what Downes was doing.

But we could hear him, and he sounded wonderful generating music that varied from flute like whisperings to grand gothic thunder, the sound seeming to surround and envelop the listener.

We could however see Bourne, whose contribution here was very different to when I last saw him play live at a sweltering Vortex in the summer of 2006. There he was in full maverick mode, triggering samples and other electronic effects in one of the most remarkable solo piano performances I’ve ever seen. Today he was far more thoughtful, positively lyrical at times and with his occasional forays inside the lid atmospheric rather than iconoclastic.

At first Downes and Bourne played alternating passages but the best and most dramatic moments came when they played together as when Bourne’s rumbling, low end left hand sonics combined with Downe’s Messiaen like organ dissonance. In turn this led to flashes of the old Bourne, his staccato attack of the piano keyboard reminiscent of the great Cecil Taylor and eliciting a roar of approval from the crowd. This contrasted well with the liturgical cadences created by Downes at the organ as the duo’s performance, again clocking in at around the half hour mark drew to a close with a gentle, more impressionistic coda with the duo again being accorded a great reception from the audience.

This was a superb performance from two of the UK’s most adventurous and inventive keyboard instrumentalists with Downes really bringing out the orchestral capabilities and possibilities of that magnificent Father Willis organ.

This event proved to be a genuine Festival highlight and was a fiver very well spent. If I lived in Islington all year round I think I’d make a point of going to Daylight Music every week!


JAZZ NEWBLOOD SHOWCASE – KASIA KAWALEK 5TET / ROMARNA CAMPBELL’S BLAN(C)ANVAS / NIHILISM – IKLECTIK ART LAB, WATERLOO

We managed to reach Highbury & Islington station just before the hordes spilled out of the Arsenal / Spurs derby at the Emirates and so we high tailed it to Waterloo.

I discovered the Ikaectik venue at the 2016 EFG LJF and immediately warmed to it. Founded in 2014 Iklectik is a haven for jazz and improvised music plus other branches of the arts and is the home of several jazz organisations including Jazz Nursery, LUME and Jazz NewBlood, all of whom hosted events at the venue during the Festival period.

Located in a building that looks as if it may once have been a school Iklectik is a pleasingly Bohemian looking space furnished with an appropriately eclectic selection of chairs, benches and sofas. It serves beer, wine, coffee and snacks and even on a chilly November day was warm and welcoming. It may be a home for artistic outsiders but it’s certainly not exclusive and I was made to feel very welcome by proprietor Edward and by Patricia Pascal of JazzNewblood,  an organisation who describe their mission as being “nurturing youth jazz talent”. 

As in 2016 JazzNewBlood hosted two showcase events, each one presenting the work of three different bands. Today’s featured a quintet led by the young vocalist, flautist and songwriter Kasia Kawalek, Blan(C)anvas led by drummer and composer Romarna Campbell and the dynamic collaborative five piece Nihilism.

KASIA KAWALEK 5TET

Twenty year old Kasia Kawalek is a singer, flautist and songwriter based in London. A music business student at Middlesex University she works in an administrative capacity for Pizza Express Jazz Club as well as studying and performing.

Today’s show saw Kawalek and her five piece band presenting a programme of four original songs penned by the young singer. Kawalek was joined by Lorenz Okello-Oengor on keyboards, Izzy Stephens on guitar, Mark Mollison on bass and Benjamin Appiah at the drums. The quintet is due to issue an EP of its original material in 2018.

Combining jazz with pop r’n’b and rock sensibilities the group opened with “Don’t Know Where Your Life Is Going”. Kawalek then doubled on vocals and flute, combining well with Stephens’ guitar on “I Scream When I’m Sleeping”.

Kawalek writes from personal experience, as exemplified by “N41”, written on the night bus on the way home after a gig and featuring Okello-Ossengor’s keyboards prominently in the arrangement.

The new song “Free From Feelings” suggested the inspiration of Amy Winehouse in addition to Kawalek’s publicly acknowledged influences of Erykah Badou and Blossom Dearie.

I was impressed by Kawalek’s singing and playing and also by the quality of her songwriting. These were intelligent, mature evocative songs and the vocalist was given good support by her band, all students or former students at Middlesex University. The 5tet were well received by a supportive crowd at Iklectik and the release of their EP in the New Year will be keenly anticipated.

The Polish born Kowalek is also a singer of jazz standards and was to turn up in that capacity later on in the weekend. But more on that later. My thanks to her for speaking with me and providing me with details of her fellow musicians plus a set list.

ROMARNA CAMPBELL BLAN(C)ANVAS

Twenty one year old drummer and composer Romarna Campbell hails from Birmingham and studied jazz at the Conservatoire in her home city. She is currently furthering her studies at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston where she is in her first year.

I first became aware of Campbell’s playing thanks to her links with Brecon Jazz Club. In August 2016 she was invited to play with pianist Geoff Eales at Brecon Jazz Festival before returning in January 2017 to perform with a one off quartet led by pianist and composer Philip Clouts.

Blan(C)anvas is Campbell’s UK based band and features Sahvannah Amoka on tenor sax, Richie Seivwright on trombone, Deschanel Gordon on piano and Mutale Chashi on electric bass. Earlier this year the quintet supported one of Campbell’s heroines, the US drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Meanwhile Campbell is establishing herself on the Boston jazz scene and has already played in many of that city’s leading jazz clubs

Today’s set featured a mix of Campbell originals and arrangements of pieces by other contemporary jazz composers. The band commenced with Campbell’s own “Anxiety”, written on a Trans-Atlantic flight and with the urgent, staccato horn phrases expressing the emotions expressed in the title. Drawing on the bebop and hard bop traditions the tune also included solos from Gordon on piano and Chashi on electric bass with Campbell’s crisp drumming driving the band. The piece was crowned with a drum feature from the leader as things got off to a promising start.

Another original, “Limitations Of Our Imaginations” was segued with “Black Superhero Theme” by the band Erimaj, led by drummer Jamire Williams, another of Campbell’s drum idols. Gordon and Chashi again made important contributions as did horn soloists Seivwright and Amoka with the leader again rounding off the performance with a drum feature.

The leader’s own “Righteous Vibrations” concluded the performance, introduced by Chashi at the bass, this leading into a spirited trio passage featuring Gordon’s skipping piano phrases and Campbell’s skittering drum grooves. The addition of the horns eventually triggered individual solos from Amoka on tenor, Gordon on piano and Seivwright on trombone with Campbell again wrapping things up with a closing drum feature.

This was a performance of much promise with Campbell impressing both with her own writing and her imaginative use of outside material. Any subsequent recordings of this material would be eagerly anticipated.

My only quibble was that from my vantage point Campbell’s drums were too dominant with the sound of the horns buried too deeply in the mix. I suspect that this was less to do with the actual playing than with the miking for the horns. A better balanced sound would have made for a more satisfying performance but nevertheless there was much to enjoy here in a performance that augured well for Campbell’s future.

It was good to speak with Romarna again after previously meeting with her at Brecon and I’m grateful to her for providing me with some background info on her band and her choice of material. And it was also good to speak with Romarna’s mum, who had caught the train down from Birmingham specifically for this event.

NIHILISM

Next up was the exciting young quintet Nihilism, fronted by violinist and vocalist Saskia Horton. She was joined in the front line by soprano sax specialist Shango Ljihakin in a line up that saw Lorenz Okello-Osengor and Benjamin Appiah return to the stage on keyboards and drums respectively. I recall the busy Appiah also impressing in 2016 as part of the group Triforce. The Nihilism line up was completed by Christopher Luu on electric bass.

From the gig publicity I’d expected something more obviously hip hop influenced, but although Nihilism’s music was groove driven and packed a considerable punch it seemed to owe more to old fashioned fusion. The unusual violin and soprano sax front line played with great verve on the opening “Dissonance”, cutting a swathe through the heavy grooves generated by electric bass, drums and keys. Horton undertook a flamboyant solo on violin followed by Ljihakin on rapier like soprano and finally Okello-Osengor on synth, his sound alternating between the ethereal and the downright dirty.

A segue of “Lunar’s Travels” and “In Motion” saw Horton playing pizzicato as Ljihakin played the melody of the first piece before embarking on an incisive solo. Okello-Osongor adopted an electric piano sound for his keyboard solo before Ljihakin’s second outing on soprano formed the bridge into “In Motion”. Solos here came from Horton on violin and Luu on electric bass with Appiah rounding things off with a hard hitting drum feature.

“Yoda” featured a funky electric bass groove and included another fiery violin solo from Horton and a stunning electric bass feature from Luu.
As part of a second segue the music evolved into the harder edged “Beast Mode” which saw the group’s hip-hop influences finally coming out courtesy of the grooves generated by bass, drums and keys and with Horton and Ljihakin both contributing rap style vocal episodes. With its staccato instrumental phrases this was music that combined the urgency of hip hop with the complexity of prog rock. I don’t know who Horton’s violin heroes are but I was reminded of Jean Luc Ponty, or closer to home Christian Garrick in his jazz rock / electric violin guise.

This was a hugely exciting performance from a very well drilled young band who played with skill, passion and urgency, occasionally hinting at the past but very much of the present. I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed them. Once again let’s hope they can get their music out there on disc.

Thanks to Saskia for talking with me afterwards and providing me with lots of relevant background information.

It was also good to meet up again with Gina Southgate, who painted all three bands and whose image of Nihilism illustrates this article.

LAURENCE COTTLE BAND / MIKE STERN / DAVE WECKL QUARTET, RONNIE SCOTT’S JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

A short tube ride to Ronnie’s for this sold out performance featuring an all star American quartet co-led by guitarist Mike Stern and drummer Dave Weckl, two of the most revered instrumentalists in contemporary US jazz.

LAURENCE COTTLE BAND

Opening the proceedings was a quartet led by Swansea born Laurence Cottle, a virtuoso exponent of the electric bass and a leading figure on both the jazz and session scenes, with a lengthy list of pop and rock credits.

The funky four piece that Cottle brought to Ronnie’s included pianist Tim Lapthorn, drummer Frank Tontoh and saxophonist Dan Reinstein, the latter also an acclaimed eye surgeon who divides his time between the UK and the US. The characterful Reinstein actually acted as MC with Cottle happy to remain in the background. “The Welsh are funkier than the English” declared Reinstein, which raised a cheer in certain quarters, not least from my other half.

By the time I arrived the quartet were already under way but I was able to enjoy a version of Freddie Hubbard’s funky but melodic 70s classic “Little Sunflower” with solos coming from Lapthorn on piano and Reinstein on tenor sax.


From the same era came “Watermelon Man” from Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” album in a slowed down, slyly funky arrangement featuring Reinstein on curved soprano sax and Cottle on electric bass, his solo including a quite from The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”.

Best of all was a spirited group workout on Kenny Garrett’s composition “Wayne’s Thang”, the composer’s dedication to Wayne Shorter. Here Reinstein adopted a harder edged tone on tenor as he shared the solos with Lapthorn. The piece also included an absorbing and entertaining dialogue between Cottle and Tontoh, the drummer clearly relishing every moment of it.

This was an enjoyable and entertaining set, packed with fine playing from four very experienced musicians, that set the evening up nicely for the stellar American main act.

MIKE STERN / DAVE WECKL QUARTET

I’ve seen Weckl perform, most impressivel,y with Chick Corea’s Elektrik Band, but I have to admit that the main attraction here was the guitar playing of Mike Stern. I’d enjoyed a performance by Stern’s own group many years ago at the sadly now long defunct branch of Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham. It was a great show and I’ve enjoyed hearing Stern on album since, not forgetting his contributions to the Miles Davis bands of yore.

There was also a certain morbid fascination about this performance. Eighteen months ago Stern was running for a cab in New York City when he tripped and fell. As a guitarist his first instinct, understandably, was to protect his hands. As a result he ended up breaking both elbows, which was possibly worse. He was forced to cancel a tour with saxophonist Bill Evans and faced a lengthy period of surgery and rehabilitation. But, now, thankfully Stern is back on the stand, with a new solo album titled “Trip”, a humorous nod in the direction of his horrific experience.  Of course “Trip” could have a second connotation, Stern was once a drug buddy of the late, great Jaco Pastorius. But Stern lived to tell the tale, he’s one of the great survivors and has got through so many scrapes that it’s tempting to think of him as jazz’s equivalent to Ozzy Osbourne.

Despite everything he’s been through Stern exudes an ‘aw shucks’ bonhomie both on and off stage, conducting a workshop with young musicians during the afternoon and chatting graciously to fans after the gig. I remember meeting him in Birmingham and finding him a thoroughly decent bloke.

The music from “Trip” formed part of this show but there plenty of surprises too as the quartet opened with the late Don Grolnick’s “Nothing Personal”, a tune written for the Brecker Brothers band of which Stern and Grolnick were members. Arranged by Weckl this allowed each member of the band to introduce themselves with a solo, Stern going first, followed by Bob Malach on tenor sax, Tom Kennedy on five string electric bass, and, of course, Weckl at the drums.

As a soloist Stern rivals Pat Metheny for fluency and melodiousness but his playing, like that of John Scofield, is more rooted in the blues. We were to hear this on his own “Avenue B” (from the 2004 album “These Times”) which was by turns, balladic, bluesy and anthemic as Stern shared the solos with Malach on tenor and Weckl at the kit.

Stern has added singing to his armoury and his credible wordless vocals sometimes evoked memories of Pat Metheny’s voice featuring ensembles. The African tinged “Emilia” and the ballad “I Believe You” from the new album “Trip” were particularly effective in this regard.

But it wasn’t all about Stern, Malach contributed several solos that effectively combined muscularity with soulfulness improvisational fluency, although he was content to sit quietly at the edge of the stage when not actually playing.

Meanwhile Kennedy provided propulsive funk flavoured electric bass grooves and on one occasion took centre stage with a virtuoso solo bass feature that brought back memories of Pastorius. Technically dazzling with its slippery fingered runs Kennedy’s feature also featured the effective use of wah wah FX while the liberal insertion of quotes such as “Salt Peanuts” elicited laughter from both the audience and his band-mates alike.

Then there was Weckl who drummed with power and precision, but with plenty of subtlety among all the chops. One dialogue with Stern saw him playing his kit with bare hands, gently at first before building up to a bruising power.

The set highlight had to be the title track from “Trip”, which threatened to close the show. This high octane piece with its tricky unison guitar and sax riffs seemed to embody the kind of headlong rush that contributed to Stern’s misfortune. And, of course, the solos were spectacular with Stern’s turbo-charged guitar taking flight first, followed by Malach’s earthy double sax and finally Weckl’s dynamic drumming in a final explosive percussion feature.

The deserved encore threw up something totally unexpected, with Stern acknowledging his blues roots by singing a version Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House”, which also featured his high speed guitar shredding in conjunction with Malach’s earthy tenor sax and the driving rhythms generated by Kennedy and Weckl. This was the classiest blues cover you’re ever likely to hear.

This was a hugely exciting show, presided over by Stern with charm and good humour and with a relaxed Weckl chipping in every now and again. It wasn’t all hammer and tongs and pure technique, there were also moments of subtlety and humour plus the unexpected bonus of Stern’s surprisingly accomplished vocalising. A sold out crowd loved it and the band were due to play a second house later on.

Meanwhile all Stern fans will want to hear “Trip”, a highly accomplished album that celebrates one man’s triumph over adversity in highly convincing and entertaining fashion. A recent interview in Jazzwise explains what Stern had to go through in order to return to the scene. It was incredibly tough going, but it’s good to have him back and he’s clearly a musician determined to make the most of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday November 17th 2017.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday November 17th 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Trio Elf, Cassie Kinoshi's Seed Ensemble, Henri Texier's Hope Quartet and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.

Photograph of Henri Texier by Tim Dickeson


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, FRIDAY NOVEMBER 17th 2017

TRIO ELF, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

The final free lunchtime showcase saw Trio Elf jetting in from Germany to perform. Although relatively little known in the UK this is an experienced group of ten years standing with an international reputation. They are signed to the prestigious German label ENJA for whom they have recorded four albums, the latest being “Music Box Music”, released in 2016

Best described as a “post E.S.T. piano trio” pianist Walter Lang, drummer Gerwin Eisenhauer and bassist Peter Cudek all contribute tunes to the group’s repertoire. The trio’s music is at times reminiscent of E.S.T., The Bad Plus, Neil Cowley Trio and all the usual reference points. Eisenhauer’s love and knowledge of contemporary electronic dance rhythms also informs the trio and parallels can also be drawn with the Swiss piano trio Plaistow, who played a successful lunchtime show at this venue back in 2014, plus the UK’s own GoGo Penguin, two other bands who incorporate contemporary beats and rhythms into their essentially acoustic performances. When I spoke to Lang after the show he acknowledged the influence of E.S.T., The Bad Plus and Cowley but suggested “I think GoGo Penguin probably listened to US”. From the stage Eisenhauer also revealed that the trio had worked with contemporary British acts such as London Electrical and MC Reck.

With this in mind it came as no surprise to find that Trio Elf’s music was both highly rhythmic and hugely exciting with Lang sometimes manipulating the sound of the piano electronically by means of a Kaoss pad hidden within the lid, the same device that Anglo-Bahrainian trumpeter Yazz Ahmed uses to treat the sound of her instrument.

They opened with “Arearea”, written by former bassist Sven Faller who appeared on the trio’s first three albums. Pieces such as this and Cudek’s “Danca Da Fita” found Eisenhauer replicating the sounds of electronic beats in highly convincing fashion, the latter exuding a Cowley-esque energy with the composer singing along to his bass solo.

Lang’s “Tripolis” commenced with a passage of unaccompanied drums and also featured Cudek flourishing his bow on a piece inspired by UK rap artist The Streets and the worlds of garage and dubstep.

Eisenhauer’s “Ocean 11” was inspired by the drummer’s love of Brazilian music and rhythms and saw Lang doubling on small percussion on a piece that was both highly rhythmic and highly melodic. There was humour too, as Cudek again sang along with his bass solo and Eisenhauer and Lang enjoyed a final percussion battle.

Lang’s “746”, the title track of the trio’s 2008 album was something of a feature for Cudek and also featured the composer playing “inside the lid” on a piece of wide ranging dynamic contrasts that again suggested the influence of Neil Cowley.

Meanwhile Hammer Baby Hammer” from the trio’s 2010 album “Elfland” was rather more subtle than its title might suggest with Lang processing the sound of his piano to create a kind of electronic echo while Cudek contributed arco bass that was vaguely reminiscent of E.S.T’s Dan Berglund. Again this was a piece that embraced sudden changes of dynamics and tempi; the main memory of this gig is of the trio really “going for it”, but as the Music Box Music” album reveals there’s also a high degree of subtlety about their writing and playing.

Like The Bad Plus Elf Trio are not afraid to throw a couple of inspired covers into their repertoire.  Eisenhauer’s choice was “Down”, a song by the Californian punk band Blink 182, that was introduced to him by his young son and which Trio Elf recorded on the “Elfland” album. Introduced by a passage of bowed bass and featuring the sounds of processed piano the trio brought their own energy to the pop/punk melody.

They closed with their interpretation of “The Man Machine” by Kraftwerk, arguably the most influential of all German bands. Trio Elf recorded the song for their “746” album and their performance again demonstrated Eisenhauer’s mastery of the humanised electronic rhythm. Naturally this proved to be a big crowd pleaser and the audience at a packed out Pizza gave the band a terrific reception. Like Plaistow and Girls In Airports, who both played this slot in 2014, Trio Elf had delivered a triumphant performance of contemporary European jazz. They’re another band that you can see being invited back in subsequent years.

This was one of the most viscerally exciting performances of the Festival period but the group’s albums reveal hidden depths and subtleties. Trio Elf are right up there with the best of the current crop of rock and electronica informed jazz piano trios. They’re a group that I’d relish the opportunity of seeing again.  With their substantial back catalogue one suspects that each individual performance will be significantly different. Definitely a band to look out for if they return to the UK.

SEED ENSEMBLE, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

Commitments later in the evening meant that I could only pay a flying visit to Foyle’s to catch something of this performance by Seed Ensemble in the daily six o’clock slot. I was determined to check out this ten piece band led by alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, best known as a member of the all female septet Nerija and of the Afro-beat outfit Kokoroko . 

Seed Ensemble have worked with poets, cinematographers and choreographers and Kinoshi’s writing is informed by her experiences growing up as an English born woman of African origins..

The line up featured the leader’s alto plus tenor sax, two trumpets, trombone, tuba, piano, guitar, double bass and drums. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to hang around long enough for the musicians to be introduced but as Kinoshi seems to deploy a pool of musicians for this project I’m not going to speculate about the exact personnel.

However I did learn that the band are due to release their début album, which will be produced by Jason Yarde on the Jazz Refreshed imprint in 2018. On the brief evidence of what I heard today it’s a release that should be well worth waiting for.

With the performance starting around ten minutes late I was only able to stick around for the first two numbers of Seed Ensemble’s set, What immediately became apparent was that this band are capable of generating a highly convincing big band sound.

The opening piece, “Griot’s Dance” included solos for tuba and trombone plus a closing drum feature.

“The Darkies”, written about Kinoshi’s experiences of racism growing up in rural Hertfordshire commenced with a solo bass introduction and included a trumpet solo, which may well have been by Kinoshi’s Nerija bandmate Sheila Maurice-Grey. Tuba, possibly played by Theon Cross, also featured prominently with another solo while the guitarist and the dynamic drummer also made significant contributions.

I had to slip away at this point but look forward to the release of Seed Ensemble’s début album in 2018.

HENRI TEXIER HOPE QUARTET, HALL ONE, KINGS PLACE

Bassist and composer Henri Texier is one of the most significant and respected musicians to have emerged from the jazz scene in France. He has played and recorded with a string of famous Americans going back to Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon and also including Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, John Abercrombie and many more. Yet Texier’s music remains intrinsically French and intrinsically his own.

At the 2012 EFG LJF he performed in this same hall, leading his trio in the first set and an international octet, assembled specially for the Festival and including the UK’s own Julian Arguelles in the second. That event delivered some excellent music but was sparsely attended, the lack of audience numbers leading to a disappointing lack of atmosphere with the performance not really taking off as an EVENT.

Fast forward to 2017 and this time round Hall One was jam packed, the sold out status of the concert signifying Texier’s continuing growth in status as a true legend  of French jazz. There was large Gallic presence in the audience which helped to create a much better atmosphere this time round.

Texier’s quartet included the two musicians who accompanied him in his trio of 2012, his son Sebastien on alto sax and clarinets and Louis Moutin at the drums. The addition of Francois Courneloup on baritone sax has seen Texier’s group re-launched as the Hope Quartet.

Much of this evening’s music was inspired by the names of native tribes from both North and South America. “Jazz men are like Indians” explained Texier enigmatically, I assume he was referring to jazz’s outsider status, the idea of the music existing outside the usual musical and societal rules and boundaries.

Opener “Mic Mac” was ushered in by the leader’s bass, his huge tone guiding the unison horn lines of Courneloup and Texier Jr. in a piece with an almost boppish feel. Solos followed from Courneloup on baritone and Texier Jr. on alto, sounding almost Coleman-esque, and the leader on bass with Moutin enjoying a series of brushed drum breaks.

Texier dedicated “He Was Just Shining” to the memory of Paul Motian, the piece again introduced by the leader’s bass, his languorous grooves underpinning solos from the younger Texier on alto and Courneloup on baritone, the latter demonstrating a remarkable fluency and lyricism on the larger horn. The leader also impressed with his bass solo on this heartfelt homage to a highly influential musician and composer.

“Dakota Mab” was driven by the combination of a double bass and brushed drum groove with Sebastien taking the first solo followed by an altogether raunchier contribution from Courneloup on baritone as he demonstrated his versatility on the instrument. A bass and drum dialogue, followed by a further passage of unaccompanied bass, formed a bridge as the piece segued into “Hopi” with Sebastien Texier moving to clarinet and sharing the solos with Courneloup and Texier Sr. on a softer, more melodic piece that also included a subtly constructed brushed drum feature from Moutin.

A lengthy segue of “Navajo Dream” and “Sacrifice” commenced with a passage of solo bass from Texier, the expressiveness and virtuosity of his playing sometimes reminiscent of the great Eberhard Weber – but without recourse to electricity. Eventually Moutin’s drums crashed in, prompting an urgent, whinnying solo from Sebastien Texier in a free-wheeling saxophone trio episode that recalled the recent live recording by John O’Gallagher’s trio. Texier briefly added a wordless vocal to the proceedings before a passage of unaccompanied baritone sax seemed to act as the bridge into the second half of the “Sacrifice Suite” with Sebastien Texier now soloing on alto clarinet. An epic group performance was crowned by a stunning drum feature from the excellent Moutin that began with delicate hand drumming before building up to a furious, polyrhythmic, stick driven climax as Courneloup and Texier Jr. delivered a final double sax blast.

The capacity audience loved this and the quartet returned to play a brief “Encore” introduced by the leader’s solo bass glissandi and the seductive combination of clarinet and baritone sax with Moutin’s subtle hand drumming under pinning the piece. Fittingly the last word went to Texier Sr. with a final passage of unaccompanied bass, a last reminder of his distinctive tone and improvisational fluency.

This concert was both filmed and recorded and the music has subsequently been broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme, transmitted on Monday 27th November 2017 and sounding just as good second time around.

This concert featured some excellent music with the supportive crowd helping to turn it into a more satisfying EVENT than Texier’s previous visit. And it was good to relive the experience via the medium of radio.

DARCY JAMES ARGUE’S SECRET SOCIETY, HALL ONE, KINGS PLACE

Following Texier in Hall One was this late night performance by Secret Society, the jazz orchestra led by Vancouver born, Brooklyn based composer and conductor Darcy James Argue. Thanks to the support of the Canadian Embassy and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Argue was able to bring his full band, he refers to them as his “co-conspirators”, over to the UK to perform music from his most recent album, the thirteen piece suite “Real Enemies”.

Argue is an artist with something of a cult following and I was excited at the prospect of this performance after previously hearing the music of Secret Society on Radio 3. It was his first performance in the UK for seven years.

Argue is a politically aware artist and as a Canadian citizen living the US he feels something of a disconnect from both countries, feeling that he doesn’t truly belong in either. It’s a status that informs his music making, “Real Enemies” explores the worlds of conspiracy theories and paranoia. Originally conceived and performed as a multi-media work with visuals (Argue collaborated on the project with writer Isaac Butler and film maker Peter Nigrini) it’s nevertheless a compelling piece of music in its own right.  Although it received its première in 2015, pre Trump, its themes of paranoia and alienation now seem even more relevant in this era of ‘fake news’.

At Kings Place the music was punctuated by snippets of sampled speech from politicians ranging from JFK to Dick Cheyney and also included narrative passages from the 1964 work “The Paranoid style in American Politics” by Richard Hofstadter.

The music itself was often dark and threatening but was full of sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic ideas and was richly nuanced and textured. Darker in tone than the music of Maria Schneider, with whom Argue is sometimes compared, I also detected elements of Carla Bley, Mike Gibbs, Gil Evans and even Frank Zappa in Argue’s writing but ultimately the sound of Secret Society is very much its leaders own.

The Society boasts a huge line up, and on this occasion, as far as I could ascertain, the personnel comprised of;

COMPOSER / CONDUCTOR
Darcy James Argue

REEDS
Dave Pietro
Rob Wilkerson
Sam Sadigursky
John Ellis
Carl Maraghi

TRUMPETS
Seneca Black
Josh Deutsch
Matt Holman
Nadje Noordhuis
Sam Hoyt

TROMBONES
Mike Fahie
Ryan Keberle
Jacob Garchik
Jennifer Wharton

RHYTHM
Sebastian Noelle, guitar
Adam Birnbaum, piano
Matt Clohesy, bass
Jon Wikan, drums

Like Argue himself the musicians were clad in uniform dark suits and ties, their appearance suitably sinister and totally in accord with both the band name and the dark emotional content of the music. Even without Nigrini’s film images this was still a visual show with the trumpet section periodically turning their backs on the audience to blow their horns into the open lid of the grand piano. Meanwhile at one juncture Argue turned his back on the orchestra and stood stock still on the podium and fixed the crowd with a chilling, glass eyed stare, again totally in keeping with the unsettling themes explored in the music.

Although subdivided into thirteen sections the music of “Real Enemies” was performed as a single entity in a performance lasting almost an hour and a half. At times it represented hard going but the many rewards were well worth it and at the end the band received a standing ovation. The late start meant that the attendance was well down on that of the Texier gig but those that were there loved it – that cult status again.

Solos came and went with the featured players coming to the front of the stage but in this consummate ensemble performance it seems a little invidious to single out individual performers. Musical styles ranged from jazz to rock to the twelve tone methods of the serialists, themselves once the subject of a conspiracy theory. Not always an easy listen then, but ultimately a very rewarding one.

As an album “Real Enemies” holds up well in the home listening environment but seeing the music performed live took it into a whole other dimension.

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Thursday November 16th 2017.

Friday, December 01, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Thursday November 16th 2017.

Ian Mann on a long but satisfying day of jazz including performances by Ranjana Ghatek & Liran Donin, Sarah Tandy, Kate Williams, Steve Williamson, Sam Leak and Illegal Crowns.

Photograph of Taylor Ho Bynum of Illegal Crowns by Tim Dickeson


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, THURSDAY NOVEMBER 16th 2017

RANJANA GHATAK /LIRAN DONIN / JACK ROSS, WIGMORE HALL

This early morning concert began twelve hours of music on what, for me, was the longest day of the Festival. Billed as “Jazz Around the World” this performance was actually a schools concert with the audience mainly comprised of Key Stage 3 students from local schools. Curious jazz fans such as myself were admitted free of charge.

I’ve attended similar events before at EFG LJF and there’s always some good music played by musicians who I’m normally used to seeing in very different contexts. In previous years I’ve enjoyed similar educational performances given by the percussionist and vocalist Adriano Adewale.

I was also keen to visit Wigmore Hall, a famous classical music venue but one that I’d never previously visited. Built in 1901 by the Bechstein piano company to showcase their products the Hall is a splendidly elegant Edwardian building with superb acoustics. Initially used for classical music performances only it has hosted jazz events in more recent years with the Justin Kauflin Trio set to play the venue later in the day as part of EFG LJF. Carla Bley has previously played a sell out Festival show at this magnificent and impressive venue.

This morning’s show featured music by vocalist Ranjana Ghatek, who has previously worked with drummer Sebastian Rochford, and bassist Liran Donin, best known as a member of the band Led Bib and for his work with clarinettist Arun Ghosh. These two were joined by composer, educator and guitarist Jack Ross who hosted the show and made occasional musical contributions.

Born in London of Indian descent Ghatak is a pianist and vocalist with a thorough grounding in Indian classical music as well as Western forms, including jazz. Donin, originally from Israel, studied jazz at Middlesex University where he met the other members of Led Bib.

The first piece of music was drawn from Ghatak’s classical Indian background and featured her on voice and shaker as Donin utilised the body of his bass as auxiliary percussion. This opening exercise in rhythm was followed by an exploration of the concept of the drone, an important concept and factor in Indian music. Surprisingly it was a song by a Western composer that was chosen to illustrate the precept with Ghatak singing and playing harmonium as she delivered the English lyrics of David Byrne’s “Glass, Concrete and Stone”.

Returning to the concept of rhythm Ross led the children in clapping exercises involving different beats, rhythms and time signatures as Ghatak and Donin supplied the necessary melodic content on a performance of a dance tune from the North Indian classical tradition, originally written for the tabla.

Ghatak then introduced a song from her Bengali heritage with a “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” theme with Ross on acoustic guitar and Donin on bass, shaker and backing vocal.

The concert concluded with the performance of a Hindi raga of the type normally sung at the end of an Indian classical music concert, the vocal refrain, which the students were encouraged to sing along with, translating as “following the path of light, following the path of love”.

Although not quite living up to its “Jazz Around The World” tag thanks to the almost universal focus on Indian music this was still an enjoyable performance for the adults watching with a detached eye from the back of the hall. The children seemed to enjoy it too, the majority wilfully participating thanks to Ross’ enthusiastic, easy going presenting style.

Ghatak and Donin both performed well, as one would expect. I was previously familiar with Donin’s work but this was the first time that I had heard Ghatak and I’d be more than happy to see her again in a more conventional performance situation.

The combination of the music and the sumptuousness of the surroundings made this an event well worth getting into town early for.

SARAH TANDY TRIO, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

There’s currently something of a buzz on the London jazz scene about the young pianist and composer Sarah Tandy. Currently best known as the pianist with alto saxophonist Camilla George’s quartet Tandy is also the leader of her own trio featuring bassist Daniel Casimir and sharp suited Italian drummer Alfonso Vitale.

Today’s show at the Pizza represented a late change to the programme with Tandy’s trio replacing the advertised show by tap dancer and vocalist Michela Marino Lerman. Tandy’s brand of contemporary piano jazz was far more to my liking so even though we hadn’t booked, as we weren’t sure how long the schools concert would run for, we turned up ‘on spec’ and managed to secure a table at the front with a great view of the trio.

I’d seen Tandy perform before with the George quartet at a gig at Kenilworth Jazz Club in Warwickshire and also the night before at the Electric Ballroom in Camden when drummer Jake Long’s band Maisha supported Christian Scott. On both those occasions Tandy had played an electric keyboard and it was only today when she played the Pizza’s magnificent Steinway grand that I finally got to appreciate the enormity of her talent as a pianist.

Although today’s set list was mainly comprised of items from the standards repertoire Tandy’s approach to her chosen material was consistently bright, adventurous and inventive, something that immediately became apparent as her hands swarmed all over the keyboard during her vivacious solo on the opening number, an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo”.

The Tandy contrafact “It’s Not Right With Me” was based on the chords of a well known jazz standard with a vaguely similar title with the pianist’s mercurial right hand runs complemented by her sturdily rhythmic left hand comping. This piece also included features for rising star bassist Casimir and drummer Vitale, both of whom provided excellent support throughout.

Next came “Temperance”, a tune written by one time Miles Davis pianist Wynton Kelly. “It’s an ironic title really” mused Tandy, “considering he died of alcoholic poisoning”. Swinging and bluesy Kelly’s gospel tinged tune proved to be an excellent vehicle for Tandy who delivered a barnstorming solo. She was followed by the highly dexterous Casimir while Vitale enjoyed a series of drum breaks in a set of vigorous exchanges with the pianist.

Tandy’s own “Kaleidoscope”, which she admitted to basing on the theme of the “Fireman Sam” children’s TV series, saw the trio adopting a cooler, more melodic approach. In a truly kaleidoscopic performance the piece opened with a passage of solo piano from Tandy followed by a melodic bass solo from Casimir and a more conventional jazz piano solo from Tandy. Vitale delivered a neatly constructed drum feature before a gentler, more subdued group finale.

“Everything Happens To Me” was performed as a true ballad, again commencing with a passage of unaccompanied piano with Tandy subsequently joined by sympathetic and responsive double bass and delicately brushed drums. This was a beautifully mature and lyrical performance that showcased the subtlety of the trio.

An excellent set concluded with the trio stretching out imaginatively on Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile” with an expansive solo from Tandy and a final drum feature from Vitale.

This was a hugely enjoyable performance that was again enthusiastically received by another large audience at the Pizza. Tandy’s adventurous approach to the piano and to her chosen material sometimes reminded me of Zoe Rahman who had given a solo piano performance at the Pizza earlier in the week. Like Rahman Tandy trained as a classical pianist before turning to jazz and both musicians have technique to burn, plus the imagination to channel it into something really exciting. It may well be the case that Tandy has studied with the more established pianist.

I’d like to hear more original material from Tandy, and also a full length album under her own name at some point in the future.

In the meantime this performance was an excellent event in its own right and helped to maintain the high standard of the lunchtime performances at the Pizza in a series that goes from strength to strength.

Later that evening Tandy was due to perform with the Camilla George Quartet supporting Dee Dee Bridgewater at Cadogan Hall. Good reports subsequently reached me about this performance, and Tandy’s contribution in particular.

KATE WILLIAMS ; FOUR PLUS THREE, THE FOYER, CADOGAN HALL

As the Sarah Tandy gig finished relatively early we headed across town hoping to catch something of a performance in Cadogan Hall’s “Round About Two-Thirty Series”. These free events take place in the foyer during the Festival period and feature some of the leading names in British jazz.

Today it was the turn of pianist and composer Kate Williams, an established and popular figure on the London jazz scene who presented a performance featuring her regular trio of bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer David Ingamells plus the Anglo-Italian Guastalla String Quartet comprised of John Garner and Julian Fish on violins, Miguel Rodriguez on viola and Sergio Serra on cello.

Williams also leads her own jazz quartet and septet as well as being a prolific sidewoman. She also has a number of recordings as a leader to her credit including the 2016 release “Four Plus Three” featuring this project. The seven piece ensemble has also toured the UK with financial support from the Arts Council.

Four Plus Three’s repertoire includes arrangements of pieces by Cole Porter, Bill Evans and A.C. Jobim alongside Williams’ original compositions.

We arrived towards the end of the first set to find the foyer space at Cadogan packed out and with no seating available – other than the floor, of course. The core trio were playing the standard “How Deep Is The Ocean?” and were then joined by the string quartet for Williams’ own “Big Shoes” which closed the first half and featured violinists Garner and Fish in prominent roles.

CD sales during the interval were brisk with the personable Williams happily chatting to fans. The audience had evidently enjoyed the first set and stayed on in their numbers for the second which commenced with Williams’ own “Seven Across” played by the core trio.

The strings played an essentially textural role on the lyrical and evocative original “Twilight’s Last Blink” which featured Chaplin both with and without the bow plus a sensitive brushed drum performance from Ingamells.

An imaginative Williams arrangement of Jobim’s “Triste” featured the sound of bows striking strings as lead violinist Garner played the melody, eventually handing over to Williams for a piano solo.

The ballad “You Know I Care”, written by Duke Pearson, featured some of Williams’ most lyrical playing with the melancholy sound of Serra’s cello also prominent in the arrangement.

“Walkin’ Up”, one of Bill Evans’ liveliest pieces, featured a briskly brushed drum intro and jaunty pizzicato strings.

The set closed with Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” which Williams dedicated to the memory of the late saxophonist Bobby Wellins, a musician with whom Williams had played and recorded.

The majority of the audience seemed to enjoy this set very much but after the exuberance of Tandy’s performance it all felt a little bit too polite to me, with the string quartet sometimes feeling like a bit of an ‘add on’.

Admittedly arriving late may not have helped, standing for the performance in a very hot space wasn’t particularly comfortable and I found it difficult to engage and immerse myself fully in the music. However I wasn’t the only member of the audience to regard the performance as being a little bloodless as subsequent conversations revealed.

Despite my personal misgivings this was a successful performance for Williams and the ensemble with the septet getting an excellent reception from the audience and with post gig CD sales again correspondingly busy.

STEVE WILLIAMSON TRIO, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

Tonight’s early evening performance at Foyle’s was a late addition to the programme and featured a very welcome appearance from British sax legend Steve Williamson.

Emerging as a member of Jazz Warriors in the British jazz boom of the 1980s Williamson also played with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath, Louis Moholo’s Viva La Black and the reggae outfit Misty In Roots.

Signing to Verve he released a series of solo albums in the early 1990s, these featuring high profile guests such as vocalists Abbey Lincoln and Cassandra Wilson, before fading off the scene.

He returned to active jazz service in 2014 and I recently witnessed him guesting with fellow saxophonist Denys Baptiste ‘s Late Trane project at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

It’s good to have Williamson back and the prospect of seeing him leading his own trio at Foyle’s was too good to miss. Originally best known as an alto saxophonist Williamson has now become something of a tenor specialist, thanks in no small part to the enduring influence of John Coltrane.

This free-wheeling set in the classic saxophone trio format saw Williamson joined by drummer Eddie Hick, once of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and the young bassist Hamish Nockalls-Moore. These two proved to be excellent foils for Williamson, with Hick’s crisp, powerful drumming and Nockalls-Moore’s muscular bass lines fuelling the saxophonist’s improvisatory flights of fancy on tenor in an energetic group performance.

Coltrane may be Williamson’s main source of inspiration but the free-wheeling take on Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice” that opened the set was also reminiscent of the classic saxophone trios of the great Sonny Rollins. Nockalls-Moore, who impressed throughout with his stamina and propulsiveness also featured as a soloist.

The next piece, an unannounced ballad, cooled things down a little with Williamson adopting a softer tone on tenor and Hick switching to brushes while Nockalls-Moore sung along Jarrett style to his bass solo.

An unaccompanied tenor sax cadenza introduced “Hummingbird”, a Williamson composition dating back to 1988. Like the other Festival events at Foyle’s this concert was performed ‘in the round’ and Williamson ensured that he ‘worked the room’ as he soloed, ensuring that everybody in the audience got a good look at his playing. His performance was powerful and was backed by a similarly muscular groove that veered close to funk. Williamson took a well deserved swig of water as Hick rounded off the piece with a dynamic drum feature.

“This is a language that took me thirty years to learn” said Williamson as he name checked some of his bebop heroes. Elsewhere his between song chatter was positively surreal, streams of consciousness ramblings about cycling to the venue with his tenor and soprano dangling around his neck and complaining about the price of reeds in nearby Denmark Street.

The last piece saw him switching between tenor and soprano on a final free-wheeling excursion with solos stuffed full of quotes as the tireless Hick and Nockalls-Moore continued to offer unstinting support.

Five tunes might not sound like much but this was a gig that lasted nearly an hour and a half as Williamson stretched out boldly, imaginatively and joyously on his chosen material in the company of his young, indefatigable sidemen. This was a performance notable for its energy and inventiveness with Williamson’s newly rekindled love of jazz shining through.

SAM LEAK TRIO / ILLEGAL CROWNS, THE VORTEX

My second visit of the week to The Vortex was prompted by the prospect of seeing Illegal Crowns, an avant garde ‘supergroup’  featuring the talents of New York based musicians Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Tomas Fujiwara at the drums. They were joined by the French pianist Benoit Delbecq, a musician the New Yorkers had long admired.

The group’s début album was recorded in 2014 in France with the band name coming from the Halvorson composition “Illegal Crown”. All four musicians brought compositions to the table and the Illegal Crowns sound sits nicely on the cusp between composition and improvisation. Indeed this band places a greater emphasis on the writing than some of its individual members’ projects elsewhere. The group are currently in the process of recording a second album and most of tonight’s material was sourced from the forthcoming record, but more on that later.

SAM LEAK TRIO

Filling what was essentially the ‘support slot’ was a trio led by the British pianist and composer Sam Leak, a prolific figure on the London jazz scene. Leak was joined by bassist Simon Reed and drummer Dave Storey in a set that mixed Leak originals with compositions by other pianists that the leader admires.

They commenced with “A Dance Took Place” written by Leak’s contemporary, the British pianist Kit Downes. The tune served notice of the trio’s skills with solos from the leader and the first of several impressive excursions on the bass from Reed.

This was followed by Keith Jarrett’s ballad “Love No. 1” from the pianist’s “Life Between The Exit Signs” album, the lyrical, melodic composition facilitating similarly inclined solos from Leak and Reed as Storey supplied sensitively brushed drum accompaniment.

“This is one of mine” said Leak as he announced his own composition “Scribbles and Scrawls” which included a freely structured group intro, a right hand only piano solo from Leak and a carefully constructed drum feature from Storey in which he concentrated on his role as a colourist.
The piece resolved itself with a closing passage of unaccompanied piano from Leak.

The trio’s version of the Phronesis tune “Eight Hours” concentrated on the lyrical side of the composition but rather lacked the snap and crackle of the original.

Leak’s own “Treasure Chest”, a tune originally written for his Aquarium quartet was rather more successful with fluent solos from the composer on piano and Reed on double bass.

“I’m an atheist agnostic” declared Leak “ But I’m going to end with a hymn because it’s such a great tune”. This proved to be an arrangement of “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”, which was addressed by the trio with due reverence with a solo piano introduction from the leader before Reed picked out the melody on the bass. This was followed by a lyrical piano solo from Leak with Storey providing delightful filigree cymbal accompaniment. This was a delightful way to end the set with the Vortex falling silent as Leak and his colleagues proved that the devil doesn’t necessarily have all the best tunes.

This was a pleasant, if rather inconsequential, set with Leak’s own tunes the most convincing items, apart from the inspired choice of the hymn at the end.

ILLEGAL CROWNS

Welcomed to the stage by Oliver Weindling of the Vortex Illegal Crowns commenced their performance with Delbecq’s composition “Two Blue Circles”. From the outset it was apparent just how finely attuned this group was with even the smallest of musical gestures being thrown into sharp relief in a performance that was all about intense listening and finely calibrated group interaction. The group’s compositions act as skeletal but sturdy frameworks on which the quartet hangs their improvisations and there was sufficient structure for listeners to engage with. This was a surprisingly lyrical, and often beautiful performance that was far removed from a typical free jazz gig.

However I don’t want to give the impression that Illegal Crowns’ performance was bloodless as it was far from it with plenty of improvisational grit and gristle being thrown into the mix. The four members of Illegal Crowns have highly distinctive individual instrumental voices and there plenty of stand out moments from all of them, but more importantly they were totally convincing as a BAND.

Delbecq’s opener contained some striking individual moments with Ho Bynum muting the sound of his cornet with a felt hat as he produced vocalised slurs and smears. Fujiwara borrowed an empty beer bottle from a table near the stage, deploying it as an auxiliary percussion device before returning it to its owner with a flourish.

The drummer’s own “The Wonder Puppet” saw the quartet initially adopting a more conventional jazz sound with Ho Bynum now blowing through the open bell. Halvorson’s guitar solo deployed the inventive use of electronics including live looping techniques. Ho Bynum then soloed on cornet, playing first with a mute and then switching to the open horn, his sound now packing a real punch, his attack buoyed by the almost danceable rhythms of Fujiwara. After a final vocalised, avant garde flourish from Ho Bynum the piece resolved itself with a passage of unaccompanied piano from Delbecq.

Acting as group spokesman Ho Bynum announced the new Halvorson composition “Blood And Sand”, a surprisingly gentle and melodic piece that featured Ho Bynum on both muted cornet and flugel horn.

“Rushes” then featured an engaging opening dialogue between Delbecq and the consistently inventive and distinctive Fujiwara before Ho Bynum delivered a stunning, heavily vocalised cornet solo that saw him coming across like a 21st century Bubber Miley.

Announcing his own “Extemporisations” Ho Bynum informed the audience “ the sharp eared amongst you might detect elements of themes by Ellington and Messiaen”. As one would expect these proved rather difficult to trace but one could still enjoy the absorbing dialogues between Halvorson and Delbecq and Ho Bynum and Fujiwara with the latter also impressing with a highly inventive solo drum feature.

Hlavorson’s “The Niece Knows” was also notable for the interplay between her guitar and Delbecq’s piano on a gentle concluding piece that also featured the whispering of Ho Bynum’s muted cornet and the sensitive brushwork of Fujiwara.

The deserved encore was Halvorson’s “Illegal Crown”, the composition that gave its name to the group. Described by Ho Bynum as “very angular” this proved to be a slow burner of a piece that included a solo from Ho Bynum on open horn cornet and another remarkable dialogue between Halvorson’s distinctive guitar and Delbecq’s piano.

I was hugely impressed with Illegal Crowns’ performance. For me their music achieved a perfect balance between composition and improvisation and was thoroughly absorbing throughout. The group’s début album achieves a similar synthesis and is thoroughly recommended. Only the title track was played tonight and on the evidence of the new material we heard tonight the group’s second album is going to be well worth waiting for.

Of the individual members Ho Bynum was the only one whose playing I was really familiar with thanks to his work with the Trans-Atlantic group Convergence Quartet featuring him with British musicians Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Dominic Lash (double bass) plus Canadian drummer Harris Eisenstadt. Convergence Quartet achieve a similar balance between the written and the improvised and their recorded output is also highly recommended. I’ve heard Halvorson on album and on the radio too, but not to the same extent.

“ Art music with enough mainstream signifiers to satisfy any culturally aware audience” wrote Tim Owen when reviewing Convergence Quartet for The Jazzmann at this same venue back in 2009. It’s a quote that thoroughly applies to Illegal Crowns too.

It almost seems invidious to single out individual musicians in such a complete group performance but Ho Bynum’s playing really stood out and was frequently quite astonishing.
I don’t think I’ve seen such a display of technique from a trumpeter since the great Peter Evans visited the Vortex with Mostly Other People Do The Killing back in 2011 (for the sake of argument let’s assume the cornet and the trumpet are essentially the same instrument, OK?).

Illegal Crowns were hugely impressive as an ensemble but Ho Bynum’s contribution represented one of the most outstanding individual performances of the entire Festival.

EFG London Jazz Festival, Wednesday November 15th 2017.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Wednesday November 15th 2017.

Ian Mann on musical performances by Entropi, Maisha and the Christian Scott Band. Painting of Entropi by Gina Southgate.

EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 15th 2017.

ENTROPI, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

Today’s lunchtime showcase featured the music of Entropi, the quintet led by alto saxophonist, composer, improviser and all round mover and shaker Dee Byrne. Co-founder, with fellow saxophonist Cath Roberts, of the LUME organisation and the associated Luminous record label Byrne is becoming an increasingly influential presence on the London jazz scene.

Byrne is a member of several ensembles, collaborating with Roberts in the bands Word Of Moth and Favourite Animals and with electronic musician Merijn Rooyards in the improvising duo Deemer. She also leads her own jazz quartet, plays in the Madwort Saxophone Quartet (led by Tom Ward) and in the eight piece saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus, which also features Roberts.

However Entropi is her main creative outlet as a composer and is a group that strikes a perfect balance between the written and the improvised, structure and freedom. Featuring Byrne on alto sax, Andre Canniere on trumpet, Rebecca Nash on piano and keyboards, Olie Brice on double bass and Matt Fisher at the drums.

The quintet’s well received début album, “New Era”, was released in 2015 on the F-ire Presents imprint and was followed in 2017 by “Moment Frozen” which appeared on the Whirlwind Recordings label, again to universally favourable reviews.

I first saw Entropi perform live at the 2014 EFG LJF at the tiny Long White Cloud venue in Hoxton. Today’s performance at a packed out Pizza, plus the recorded evidence of “Moment Frozen”, is indicative of the progress the group has made in the last three years.  As I wrote in my review of the new album “Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing”.
The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/entropi-moment-frozen/


Byrne is something of a polymath and both albums reflect on her fascination with the cosmos and space travel and the themes of  of chance and fate and the  macrocosmic concept of ‘order, unpredictability, then descent into disorder’. These are qualities that are reflected in the music with densely written passages and themes alternating with bouts of freer playing with the emphasis firmly on improvisation.


Fittingly all of today’s repertoire was sourced from the new album with the band opening with a segue of the title track and “Interloper”, the horn fanfares and roaming percussion of “Moment Frozen”  leading into what Byrne describes as a “dark aggressive tune about an unwanted intruder”.  With Nash featuring on electric piano passages of squalling free improvisation alternated with edgy, urgent riff based written passages as the quintet created a suitably claustrophobic, threatening atmosphere. Crucial to the success of the music was the interplay between Byrne on alto and Canniere on trumpet, the latter a successful band-leader and composer in his own right.

As Byrne explained to Thomas Rees in a recent interview for Jazzwise magazine “Andre is more ‘inside’ and melodic, more towards the jazz tradition, I like playing freer stuff AND traditional stuff”. There’s a certain creative tension there, but this helps to make them a powerful and effective team and the blend of the horns and the interaction between them was a constant source of fascination throughout the gig.

But Entropi isn’t just about Byrne and Canniere. “In The Cold Light Of Day” commenced with a passage of unaccompanied bass playing from Olie Brice, also the leader of his own quintet and a musician whose best work exists on the cusp between freedom and structure. This piece incorporated (relatively) more conventional jazz soloing with Canniere’s lyrical trumpet solo contrasting well with Byrne’s scorching alto , the latter powered along by the power and precision of Fisher’s energetic drumming. Finally we heard from Nash on the Pizza’s Steinway grand piano, the pianist more than holding her own in comparison with the horns.

“Stelliferous Era”, a piece about “the five stages of the universe” opens the “Moment Frozen” album and commenced here with Nash’s unaccompanied electric piano intro evoking images of the twinkling firmament. Subsequent solos came from the contrasting horns of Canniere and Byrne with the piece climaxing with a dynamic drum feature from the ebullient Fisher.


“Elst Pizzaro” followed, named for an unclassifiable space object circulating in the asteroid belt. Introduced by Fisher at the drums the main theme of the piece, with its unison horn lines, attempted to recreate something of the “circular motion of the asteroid belt” - as did the earlier “Moment Frozen”. Canniere took the first solo on trumpet, his trademark lyricism again contrasting well with the visceral power of Byrne’s shredding alto. Meanwhile Brice’s spectacular unaccompanied bass feature exuded physicality with dramatic flamenco style strumming and the judicious use of extended techniques from a musician who is thoroughly at home in a free jazz context.

The performance concluded with “Leap Of Faith”, which also closes the “Moment Frozen” album. “It’s a tune about new beginnings and optimism, a good way to end a gig” explained Byrne on a piece introduced by Fisher at the drums and featuring Nash on electric piano. Essentially this was an ensemble piece that saw Entropi restoring order and ending a frequently fiery performance on a gentle, reconciliatory note.


Byrne has said of Entropi;
I was always looking for the intensity of John Coltrane’s quartet and the later Miles Davis groups, taking forward something of their 1960s spiritual depth and energy into our own, progressive experience”. 


Today’s performance revealed that she has succeeded brilliantly. This was an excellent collective performance that excited and intrigued in equal measure with the quintet enjoying an excellent reception from the large audience at the Pizza.

My thanks to Dee Byrne, Olie Brice and Andre Canniere for speaking with me afterwards. I will be taking a look at Olie’s new quintet album “Day After Day” in due course.

It was also good to meet up with painter Gina Southgate again as she documented today’s performance with the image illustrating this article. Dee was delighted with it and I’m grateful to Gina for her permission to reproduce her work here.


MAISHA / CHRISTIAN SCOTT BAND, ELECTRIC BALLROOM, CAMDEN

New Orleans born trumpeter Christian Scott has been at the forefront of the American jazz scene for a decade now yet is still only in his early thirties. I first heard him on his ground breaking “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” album back in 2010 and have monitored his progress ever since.

I’ve enjoyed seeing him perform live at the Cheltenham and London Jazz Festivals including a 2016 EFG LJF performance at the Scala near King’s Cross. This proved to be one of the most exciting gigs of the Festival with Scott and his band performing to a sold out crowd in the kind of rock venue that he now likes to play. The charismatic Scott has reached out to a young, hip crowd well beyond the usual jazz demographic, yet has done so without any apparent artistic or political compromise. Christian Scott is hip, savvy, and politically engaged, a bona fide jazz superstar for the modern world. 


2017 saw him returning to London at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, a legendary rock venue but a new one to me. Once again the show was sold out, Scott has accrued a loyal following, but more importantly there was the promise of new music following a trilogy of album releases in 2017, “Ruler Rebel”, “Diaspora” and “The Emancipation Procrastination”, all appearing on Scott’s own Stretch Music imprint and intended to honour the anniversary of the release of the first ever jazz recording in 1917.

MAISHA

Before Scott brought his band to the stage the Camden crowd enjoyed a high energy set by Maisha, a new band led by drummer and composer Jake Long. Long, plus one of Maisha’s two percussionists, Tim Doyle, had been part of bassist Huw Bennett’s sextet at Foyle’s the previous evening and Maisha’s music drew on many of the same musical components, particularly the Afro-beat and West African elements.

Long has also depped for Lizzy Exell in the band Nerija and Maisha was fronted by that group’s Nubya Garcia on tenor sax and flute with the personnel also including Sarah Tandy on keyboards, Tal James on guitar, Twm Dylan on bass and Yahael Camara-Onono on djembe and percussion.

None of the tunes were announced but the audience enjoyed the infectious rhythms generated by the three percussionists and the powerful soloing of the other instrumentalists, particularly the excellent Garcia whose tenor combined well with James’ rock influenced guitar.

Tandy’s role was essentially textural but she finally got the opportunity to solo on the final piece as did bassist Dylan but his feature was rather swallowed up in the hubbub of what was, after all a rock venue.

More successful in making themselves heard were the three man percussion section who all enjoyed individual features at various points in the programme plus a number of percussion ‘battles’. Such was the rhythmic drive that they imparted that I was sometimes reminded of British Afro-beat pioneers Osibisa.

Long has also cited the spiritual jazz of Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane as an influence and the set also included some more reflective moments with Garcia moving to flute for one piece and providing softly soulful tenor on another.

Despite the background chatter Maisha were afforded a very generous reception by the large crowd at the Electric Ballroom and this gig represented a good shop window for their music. The band have already recorded a live EP “Welcome To The New Welcome”. It is to be hoped that they get the opportunity to record a full length album at some point in the future.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT

Scott’s band featured himself on trumpet alongside long term associates Logan Richardson (alto sax), Kris Funn (electric bass), Lawrence Fields (keyboards) and Corey Fonville (drums).

Scott, the nephew of alto sax great Donald Harrison, is a charismatic performer who stalks the stage like a young Miles Davis and plays a custom built trumpet with an up-tilted bell reminiscent of the horn used by Dizzy Gillespie.

Politically engaged and fully aware of the musical and social implications of the African diaspora Scott is proud of his New Orleans heritage and fully conversant with all the developments of Afro-American music. Although few tunes were actually announced the listener was fully aware of the inspirations behind them with the first item combining hip hop inspired grooves with the clarion call of Scott’s trumpet, his piercing tone cutting like a knife.

Addressing the audience for the first time Scott made reference to the new trio of albums declaring them to be “a re-evaluation of our relationship with jazz”. “West of The West”, described by Scott as “a song about how much I fuckin’ hate LA” saw him calling Nubya Garcia to the stage to play with the band, a nice touch. The young Londoner responded with a fluent, powerful tenor solo, really going for it and earning a roar of approval from her hometown crowd. Scott also introduced Braxton Cook on second alto at this point who traded solos with Garcia but remained on stage for the rest of the set – Garcia’s appearance was just a pleasing cameo. The temporary four horn front line made an impressive noise on this piece and Fields also impressed with his Lonnie Liston-Smith style keyboard soloing. A rousing drum feature at the close helped to ensure that Scott very much had the crowd very much on his side.

The core quintet plus Cook delivered the next piece with Fonville slamming out broken beats as Scott rattled a tambourine and Richardson impressed as the featured soloist.

Scott’s Uncle Donald famously played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and a version of the Messengers classic “Moanin’”, written by pianist Bobby Timmons brought the house down, the familiar tune acting as the springboard for solos from Cook on alto, Scott on trumpet and Funn on double bass plus a closing solo sax cadenza from Richardson. Scott’s strident, high register soloing was particularly spectacular and this guaranteed crowd pleaser earned the biggest cheer of the night.

Having done so much to develop a seemingly unstoppable momentum and with the crowd totally onside Scott now determined to interrupt the flow with his unnecessarily convoluted and long winded band introductions. I appreciate how much he clearly loves and respects his colleagues but I’d heard these same anecdotes at Cheltenham and at Scala, surely even his bandmates must be bored with hearing them now. To paraphraes the late, great Frank Zappa the words “shut up and play your trumpet” flashed across my mind.

This excessive verbiage was something of a minor quibble of mine at the Scala show but this time I found it more intrusive, the novelty having worn off. It also backfired when Scott came to deliver a more important message of tolerance, diversity and reconciliation later on, wholly salient and significant points that the crowd were less inclined to listen to thanks to all the goofing around and in-joking earlier on. If Scott genuinely wants to get his music and his message across he needs to pare down the band introductions, sometimes less is more.

Back to the music which saw Joe Dyson taking over from Fonville at the drums for a couple of pieces, the first featuring hip hop grooves, arpeggiated keyboards and a tripartite horn attack with solos coming from Fields on keyboards and Cook on alto.

Next came an item embracing more obviously African rhythms and with a ferocious twin alto attack that recalled the UK’s own Led Bib before Richardson cut loose with an incisive solo.

Scott’s ‘tolerance’ speech came next before a closing piece of elemental power, again featuring that triple horn front line and with solo outings for Richardson and Fields prior to a final trumpet feature for the imperious Scott.

As ever this was very exciting and entertaining performance from Scott with some excellent music from a highly accomplished band. Adventurous but accessible Scott is a commanding and charismatic live performer but on this occasion the proceedings did begin to flag and lose momentum due to the excessive talking.

Scott remains a vital presence on the global jazz scene, his music combining urgency, intelligence and radical politics with a rare accessibility and across the board appeal. He has assembled an exceptional band featuring some outstanding soloists and it was good to see Nubya Garcia acquitting herself so well with them.

That said Scott really does need to contain himself and to streamline his live shows if his music and his message are to make their maximum impact.

A thoroughly enjoyable event, nevertheless.

EFG London Jazz Festival, Tuesday November 14th 2017.

Monday, November 27, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Tuesday November 14th 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Glasshopper, Huw Bennett Sextet, Ronnie Scott's Allstars and the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet.

Photograph of Mark Guiliana by Shervin Lainez


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, TUESDAY NOVEMBER 14th 2017

GLASSHOPPER, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

Today’s lunchtime performance at Pizza Express featured Glasshopper, a young British trio led by saxophonist and composer Jonathan Chung. The group was a replacement for the advertised performance by New York based pianist Mathis Picard and his trio.

Chung and his colleagues, guitarist James Kitchman and drummer Corrie Dick stepped into the breach brilliantly with an intriguing set of Chung originals that included two songs sung by guest vocalist Ed Begley.

Originally from Scotland Chung is now based in London following his studies at the Royal Academy of Music. In 2016 Glasshopper released a three track EP and it is to be hoped that they get the opportunity to record a full length album at some point in the future.

Specialising on tenor sax Chung proved to be an evocative writer whose tunes blended traditional jazz virtues with more modern developments including the subtle and effective use of electronics Kitchman frequently deployed his guitar as a textural device, skilfully making use of his FX pedals.
Meanwhile Dick’s drumming was consistently colourful and inventive as he gave a compelling performance behind the kit. As the drummer with Laura Jurd’s Mercury award nominated Dinosaur and also the leader of his own group Dick was probably the best known musician of the three. But this was unmistakably Chung’s group with the saxophonist taking the lion’s share of the solos.

Opener “Fortune Rules” was a good demonstration of the group’s virtues with Chung’s authoritative sax soloing allied to Kitchman’s sophisticated guitar chording and sound-washes and Dick’s bright, neatly detailed drumming.

An atmospheric segue of “Sky Circle” and “Letters”, the latter tune featuring on the trio’s EP followed. A quiet, atmospheric intro featured Chung’s brooding tenor complemented by Dick’s percussion shadings, including the evocative use of finger cymbals, and Kitchman’s ambient, echoed guitar washes. As the segue gathered momentum Kitchman’s guitar solo was complemented by Dick’s nimble drumming before Chung’s tenor took over, gradually building on what had gone before.

Chung spoke of how the tunes he was writing found him imagining “words and meanings in my head”. These were given voice by Ed Begley, best known for his collaborations with trumpeter and composer Rory Simmons on the projects Archivist and Monocled Man. Indeed Begley had guested at Monocled Man’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival performance earlier in 2017.

Here he performed with a quiet dignity, adding gravitas to Chung’s lyrics with their bridge building building imagery and associated wordplay - “build a bridge and get over it” Begley chorused. Instrumental solos came from Chung on tenor and Kitchman on a guitar on a piece that its composer described as being “Jobim meets Radiohead”.

Begley added a second vocal on the song “Ember”, combining effectively with Kitchman’s guitar and Dick’s drum groove as Chung took the instrumental honours with a tenor sax solo.

Trumpeter, sound artist, recording engineer and producer Alex Bonney is one of the unsung heroes of British jazz. Chung now called him to the stage to add his electronic wizardry to “Bird Wing” which also featured Begley playing the Pizza’s grand piano. This powerful item featured Chung’s Acoustic Ladyland style sax riffing and the whistle of Bonney’s Hawkwind like electronics over an intense groove powered by Dick’s dynamic drumming.

By way of contrast “The Clydesdale”, a tune from the group’s EP was suitably lyrical and pastoral with versatile Dick now cast in the role of sensitive colourist.

The performance closed with the group’s signature tune “Glasshopper”, which saw them upping the wattage once more for a parting blast featuring Chung’s sax barrage allied to the whoosh of electronics and Dick’s kinetic drumming.

Coming on as comparatively late subs Glasshopper gave a triumphant performance and were well supported by another large crowd at the Pizza, who I suspect were mainly there to see them. I didn’t hear anybody expressing disappointment about the non-appearance of the Picard trio, which, to be fair, had been properly publicised by the venue.

My thanks to Jonathan Chung for speaking with me afterwards. Let’s hope that the reputation of this impressive young trio continues to grow and that they will be able to record a full length album at some point in the future.

HUW BENNETT SEXTET, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

The early evening show at Foyle’s featured a sextet led by bassist, composer and producer Huw Bennett. Bassist and producer of the popular West African ensemble Susso and a member of the electro-jazz outfit Saltwater Samurai tonight’s show saw Bennett introducing a new sextet featuring himself on electric bass alongside tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael, trombonist Rosie Turton, guitarist Shirley Tetteh and the twin sticks attack of drummer Jake Long and percussionist Tim Doyle.

As the line up suggests this was a highly rhythmic unit that drew on African and Latin sounds laced with healthy doses of jazz and funk. No tune titles were announced but I was more than happy to immerse myself in the infectious rhythms and strong solos as the ensemble delivered an energetic set featuring six pieces over the course of about an hour.

Playing ‘in the round’, the format favoured at Foyle’s, the sextet hit the ground running with the rich blend of Carmichael’s tenor and Turton’s trombone propelled by the Afro-beat rhythms of their colleagues.

Tetteh’s guitar brought a genuine West African feel to the next piece which included a fruity trombone solo from Turton and a full blooded excursion on tenor from Carmichael.

Bennett’s bass motifs were frequently picked up by the horns with Turton and Carmichael making a great team. These two were also happy to adopt a more supportive role during solos from the inventive Tetteh, whose guitar playing was at the very heart of the ensemble. With Tetteh and Turton in the band’s ranks there were strong links to the all female band Nerija who performed so memorably at Foyle’s in 2016.

Although this was largely a high energy performance there were also more impressionistic moments such as the electric bass / guitar duet that opened the fourth piece, plus Bennett’s subsequent electric bass feature. But in the main it was the impressive and powerful horns of Carmichael and Turton that made the biggest impression as solo instruments.

Long introduced the fifth piece from the drum kit with a well constructed solo that led the music into more obviously Caribbean territory with further solos coming from Tetteh and Carmichael.

The final piece combined rousing horn charts with an absorbing guitar and percussion dialogue as Doyle finally got his chance to shine on a set up including three conga drums plus all manner of shakers and items of small percussion. Further solos came from Tetteh on guitar and Carmichael on tenor as a vibrant, energetic and hugely enjoyable set drew to a close.

Bennett said little, other than introducing the band, but he did provide the key information that the group currently have an album recording in progress which should see the light of day in 2018. On this evidence it will be a release that will be worth hearing.

Drummer Long’s own band, Maisha, also featuring Doyle were due to support American trumpeter Christian Scott the following evening at the Electric Ballroom, Camden. More on that in that day’s feature.

RONNIE SCOTT’S ALL STARS / MARK GUILIANA JAZZ QUARTET, RONNIE SCOTT’S JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

Immediately after the Huw Bennett performance I headed straight to nearby Frith Street where American drum hero Mark Guiliana was playing his second sold out night at Ronnie Scott’s. Already a legend among fellow drummers Guiliana came to the attention of a whole new audience when he played on David Bowie’s final album, the excellent “Blackstar”.

As well as leading his own bands Guiliana has also collaborated with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Avishai Cohen and pianist Brad Mehldau with British audiences also recalling his short guest stint as a member of Phronesis, as documented on that group’s breakthrough album “Alive”.

RONNIE SCOTT’S ALL STARS

Before the main event the audience at Ronnie’s enjoyed a performance by the resident house group featuring pianist James Pearson, bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Chris Higginbottom together with vocalist Natalie Williams.

I arrived part way through a performance comprised of mainly standards fare including “Blue Skies” and “ They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. Williams was suffering with a cold and wasn’t at her best but I enjoyed the instrumental solos from Pearson and Burgess.

“Dat Dere” by Bobby Timmons and “James” by Pat Metheny represented more adventurous fare and I found myself warming to Williams on these two incentive ‘vocalese’ numbers. The Timmons piece featured a playful lyric written from the point of view of a five year old which gave Williams the opportunity to interact with the audience. The Metheny tune, with a lyric by Sue Shattock is just a gloriously melodic piece of music that has become something of a modern standard. Here it incorporated a scat vocal episode from Williams and a piano solo from Pearson.

“Stolen Moments”, written by Oliver Nelson and with a lyric written by singer Mark Murphy was another winning example of ‘vocalese’ which Williams dedicated to the memory of Murphy (1932 -2015). Tonight’s version also included features for Pearson at the piano and Higginbottom at the drums.

A lively “Bye Bye Blackbird” rounded off this short support set building from a voice and piano duo introduction to embrace solos from Pearson and Burgess plus a further outbreak of scatting from Williams.

This was all pleasant enough fare but it rather paled into insignificance in the light of what was to follow.

MARK GUILIANA JAZZ QUARTET

Guiliana is perhaps best known for working in an electro-jazz environment but his latest project has seen him returning to his acoustic jazz roots. In 2015 his Jazz Quartet recorded the album “Family First” for the Motema imprint and he has recently followed this with “Jersey”, released on the same label, an album named for his home state of New Jersey.

Tonight’s performance, spread over two sets, was mainly sourced from the new record and featured album personnel Jason Rigby (tenor sax), Chris Morrissey (double bass) and the young Cuban born pianist Fabian Almazan.

For those of us who witnessed Guiliana’s hyperactive performance with McCaslin’s band at Rich Mix during the 2016 EFG LJF this essentially acoustic performance took a little getting used to. It all seemed a little low key at first but as one gradually immersed oneself in the music one found it taking on hidden depths.

Guiliana’s technique is unquestionable but this emphatically wasn’t a ‘drummer’s gig’ with the leader seeking to show off his considerable percussive chops. This was a performance with the focus on the writing and on the overall ensemble. This was nothing like the supercharged McCaslin band and Rigby turned out to be a totally different kind of saxophonist, his undemonstrative playing and lightness of tone sometimes reminding me of Hank Mobley, a compliment indeed.

Guiliana’s tunes often deploy song-like structures derived from rock music rather than jazz, giving his pieces a certain distinctiveness in this acoustic context. The first piece began with a tenor sax fanfare and included solos from Rigby and Almazan as Guiliana maintained a relatively low profile. Nevertheless his subtle polyrhythmic flow remained at the heart of the music.

The next item saw Guiliana cast in the role of sensitive colourist as he accompanied the excellent Almazan, but as the pianist become more expansive the trio of Almazan, Guiliana and Morrisey become engaged in the kind of fierce interaction that recalled the drummer’s days with Phronesis.

Guiliana actually left his kit at the start of the third piece, sitting quietly at the back of the stage in quiet contemplation as Rigby blew a delicate tenor sax melody above the drone of Morrissey’s bowed bass and the low end piano rumblings of Amazan. The remaining trio delivered a beautiful meditation that to these ears sounds European rather than American.

The leader was back behind the kit for a piece with a ¾ drum and bass groove that facilitated a fluent subtly probing solo from Rigby on a tune with plenty of dynamic variation that also included a pizzicato bass solo from Morrissey and a passage of unaccompanied piano from the hugely impressive Almazan that drew on the influences of both Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor.

The title track of the “Jersey” album closed an excellent first set, ushered in by Morrissey’s unaccompanied bass before Rigby’s warm statement of the nostalgic sounding melodic theme.
Morrissey’s melodic bass solo was accompanied by the patter of Guiliana’s bare hands on skins before Rigby opened out with a gently exploratory tenor solo. In some ways this was a low key way to end the first set yet it was totally in keeping with the aesthetic of this superbly balanced quartet.

Set two began with a passage of unaccompanied piano from Almazan before Rigby picked out the theme. The saxophonist’s subsequent solo was more forceful and aggressive than his playing in the first set with further solos coming from Morrissey and Alamazan. Guiliana explained that this was a new tune, as yet unrecorded, and that this was only the second time the quartet had played it live (the first being the previous night, one presumes).

Next up was Morrissey’s composition “The Mayor Of Rotterdam”, a tune from the “Jersey” album. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano the piece that briefly featured the composer’s bowed bass as he accompanied Rigby’s opening melodic statement.  Arpeggiated piano and a hip hop style groove from the leader inspired inventive solos from Rigby and Almazan, the latter again impressing with his outpouring of ideas.

Guiliana’s drums introduced his own composition “Long Branch”, named after a New Jersey town, which evolved into another passage of stunning piano trio interplay with Almazan swarming all over the keyboard. Finally Guiliana unleashed the kind of fireworks everybody had been waiting for with an explosive drum feature underscored by a rolling piano vamp and a needling tenor sax motif. In this case it proves to be “the storm before the calm” as the piece resolved itself with a passage featuring a gentle tenor sax melody.

Finally we heard a version of David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now”, the tune that closes the “Jersey” album. Arranged as a jazz ballad the piece featured Rigby’s tender, warm toned tenor sax and Guiliana’s wonderfully subtle drum colourations. This was a fitting and heart warming tribute to Guiliana’s former colleague and ended the evening on an elegaic and ultimately uplifting note. 

Although I was already familiar with some aspects of Guiliana’s work his three colleagues were previously unknown to me. All are bandleaders in their own right as well as being prolific sidemen and I was impressed with all of them and particularly Alzaman who represented a particularly exciting new discovery. However I’d be interested in hearing the solo recordings of all three of them. In the meantime the album “Jersey” is highly recommended.

My thanks to my fellow writers in “scribbler’s corner”,  Eddie Myer of the Jazz Views website and Francis Graham-Dixon of Jazz Journal who both reviewed the performance with far more technical insight than I can provide. Thank you for your company gentlemen, and it says much for the quality of the performance that after the show all three of us were anxious to get our hands on a copy of the excellent “Jersey” CD. By common consensus these shows by Mark Guiliana and his Jazz Quartet represented a real Festival highlight. 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Monday November 13th 2017.

Monday, November 27, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Monday November 13th 2017.

Ian Mann on musical performances by Zoe Rahman, Skint, Phelan Burgoyne and Devin Gray plus the jazz art of Gina Southgate.

Illustration of Skint by Gina Southgate


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, MONDAY NOVEMBER 13th 2017


ZOE RAHMAN, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO


For the past few years the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street has hosted lunchtime jazz events during the Festival period. Although free of admission preference is given to diners and we’ve got used to eating our way through the Pizza Express menu during our annual Festival pilgrimage.

You have to hand it to Joseph Paice who programmes the jazz events at the Pizza, the quality of the performances is consistently excellent and unfailingly interesting. These free lunchtime shows typically feature a mix of British and European jazz artists and are invariably fully booked. They represent a valuable showcase, particularly for European acts and emerging British performers. In recent years Swiss band Plaistow and the Danish group Girls In Airports have gone on to bigger things since making their UK débuts at the Pizza lunchtime series in 2014.

For the lunchtime slot the venue is not afraid to present cutting edge artists, these are no cosy ‘jazz as background music’ events. This is a series of performances that attracts serious listeners and seriously good musicians.

Even so it still came as something of a surprise to see such an established performer as pianist and composer Zoe Rahman appearing in the Monday lunchtime slot. Understandably this was an event that was fully booked up a long way in advance, particularly as it represented a rare opportunity to see Rahman present a solo piano performance in support of “Dreamland”, her most recent album and her first in the solo piano format. Rahman is now the mother of young children and has cut back on her touring schedule so this lunchtime concert may have been ideal for her in her current circumstances.

I’ve seen Rahaman in concert many times, usually leading her fiercely interactive trio featuring bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo. Sometimes the band has been expanded to a quartet with the addition of Zoe’s brother Idris on saxophones and clarinets. I’ve also witnessed her playing in a duo with multi reed player Courtney Pine, which featured rather too much Courtney and not enough Zoe in my opinion, but I digress.

This opportunity to see Rahman as a solo pianist was simply too good to miss, particularly as she was playing the Pizza’s wonderful Steinway grand piano. The Rahman family were out in force with brother Idris in the audience along with sister Sophia, a classical pianist with several recordings to her credit, and the siblings’ mother, who was celebrating her birthday, as coincidentally was my wife. A chorus of “Happy Birthday”, led by Zoe from the piano was inevitable, and represented a nice touch from this most charming of artists. Rahman was introduced as “a legend of the piano and a wonderful human being” which summed things up rather nicely.

It almost goes without saying that Rahman was totally convincing as a solo pianist, treating the instrument as on orchestra and exploring wide ranges of musical styles that borrowed from jazz, the classical music of her youth and the music of her Bengali heritage. Her classical honed lightness of touch was apparent from the outset but she wasn’t afraid to introduce elements of dissonance, sounding almost Cecil Taylor-ish at times, in an adventurous programme that featured startling dynamic contrasts, a broad range of colour and texture and considerable emotional depths.

The programme included Rahman originals alongside compositions by other musicians and writers who have inspired her. The gentle, simple lyricism of Rahman’s own “Fast Asleep”, a delightful lullaby written for her young son contrasted well with the complexities of Jessica Williams’ spiky “Ashake” with its interior scrapings and vaguely Monk-ish passages.

The slow, elegant progress of a composition written by the poet Rabindranath Tagore dipped into Rahman’s Bengali heritage, a subject explored by the pianist in conjunction with brother Idris on the 2008 album “Where Rivers Meet”. It was a delightful piece of music, but even Zoe couldn’t remember what it was actually called!

From the “Dreamland” album the lively “Zantastic” incorporated darting, scurrying right hand runs above a Jarrett like gospel vamp. Rahman’s music is always intensely rhythmic, but without resorting to the obvious patterns - there’s always a sense of fun, adventure and daring in her playing.

“This gig is in a jazz club at a jazz festival, so I guess I’d better play a jazz standard” said Rahman as she announced an ornately decorated version of “My Foolish Things”.

Global sounds were again explored in a segue incorporating Rahman’s own “J’Berg” with Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Sunset In Blue” and Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal Of A Rose”. Idris Rahman could be seen rocking in his seat as his sister played the infectious township rhythms. Incidentally Abdullah Ibrahim was scheduled to play the Festival himself at the Royal Festival Hall the following evening.

After name-checking her family and making particular reference to Idris’ Youthsayers project Rahman rounded off her performance with two final unannounced items. I’d stopped making notes by now and was happy just to absorb myself in some wonderful music making.  The capacity audience at the Pizza gave Rahman a great reception, even if one or two were disappointed that Idris hadn’t brought his horns along for a surprise duo performance.

That might have been nice but this was still a brilliant solo recital from one of the UK’s most talented and popular jazz musicians, delivered by Rahman with characteristic skill and charm. My thanks to Zoe for speaking me with afterwards and also to Sophia Rahman who told me something about her involvement with the London based Jigsaw Players project which stages concerts at various venues in South West London. The programme, which, includes a performance by Zoe Rahman at Christ Church, West Wimbledon on 2nd February 2018 can be viewed here http://www.jigsawplayers.co.uk


SKINT, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

The first of a series of excellent early evening shows in the performance space at Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road featured the young trio Skint, led by alto saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows.

This high energy three piece opened for Donny McCaslin at Rich Mix at the 2016 EFG LJF and impressed with their boisterous blend of ‘punk jazz’. Today’s show featured a slightly different line up but the trio’s MO remained the same as they clattered their way through six pieces inspired by “dance music across the globe”. Meadows featured on alto and soprano saxes plus keyboards and drummer Harry Pope also augmented his kit with various items of electronic percussion as the trio augmented their core sound with imaginative splashes of electronica. Arthur O’Hara, Pope’s colleague in the rhythm section of Worldservice Project, came into the band, replacing Joe Downard who had appeared at Rich Mix.

With all three members of the group sporting baseball caps to emphasise the urban origins of their music they kicked off with the urgent “Bleep”, a piece featuring real time and pre-programmed beats as Meadows augmented his alto with keyboards and Pope deployed various items of electric percussion as O’Hara ground out funky, muscular electric bass grooves.  O’Hara took the first solo and this was followed by a drum feature from Pope against a backdrop of layered keyboards. Finally there was a powerful alto solo from Meadows as the trio swiftly blew any early evening cobwebs away on a piece so called because “it has a lot of bleeps”.

Elements of drum ‘n’ bass, afro-beat and hip hop informed “Metropolis” which featured a similar mix of electro-acoustic sounds on a piece introduced by Pope’s drums and featuring the raunchy, treated sound of Meadows’ alto sax. O’Hara’s electric bass solo incorporated guitar like sounds that made him sound like a punk Steve Swallow while Pope’s drum feature evolved into a spiky dialogue with his leader’s alto.

“Kraken” saw Meadows moving to soprano to deliver one of his most incisive solos of the night, his piercing sax sound augmented by a touch of echo as Pope and O’Hara complemented his fiery playing with a propulsive hip hop style groove.

The next piece was unannounced but saw Meadows returning to the alto, his unaccompanied sax intro leading into a punchy, riff based number that kept the energy levels bubbling.

There was no let up with the next item which introduced dub elements to the alto sax and drum exchanges and culminated in an energetic drum feature from the dynamic young Mr. Pope.

The drummer’s own “Which Is Bitch” - or even “Witches’ Bitch” concluded the performance and even introduced a more impressionistic element on the intro with keyboards, electronics and treated sax presaging a final explosion of energy with Meadows’ searing alto solo augmented by O’Hara’s hypnotic bass groove and Pope’s dynamic drumming.

As I remarked when reviewing the trio’s 2016 performance at Rich Mix the trio’s energetic blend of punk jazz is reminiscent of Acoustic Ladyland in their heyday with traces of Led Bib thrown in for good measure. Meadows is engaged in more thoughtful projects elsewhere including the Phil Meadows Project and Engines Orchestra, the latter playing a sold out Festival show at Milton Court in a collaboration with the mighty Phronesis. However it’s clear that he has great fun playing with this trio and Skint’s rowdy, irreverent approach communicates well with audiences with the group enjoying a great reception for this barnstorming early evening set. They’re yet to record, let’s hope they get the opportunity to do so soon.

My enjoyment of the performance was enhanced by having the opportunity of watching music painter Gina Southgate in action as she illustrated the band. Southgate is a popular and well known figure on the London jazz scene as she paints her large scale canvases of musicians as they perform. She’s an improviser too, but with brushes and paints rather than with horns, pianos , drums etc. and her impressionistic images capture the spirit and energy of her subjects. It was fascinating to see her work take shape as Skint played and to see the finished image at the end of the performance.

I also took the opportunity of chatting with her and we were to meet Southgate again several more times during the Festival week at a variety of venues. I’m indebted to her for giving me permission to utilise her images to illustrate my articles, such as the image of Skint presented here.

Further examples of Southgate’s work can be seen at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston and on her website http://www.artistginasouthgate.weebly.com and Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/gina.southgate.5

PHELAN BURGOYNE QUARTET / DEVIN GRAY TRIO, THE VORTEX

My first visit to the Vortex during the 2017 Festival found me witnessing two performances by groups led by drummer/composers.

PHELAN BURGOYNE QUARTET

In a genuine double bill the young Briton Phelan Burgoyne appeared first leading a quartet featuring alto saxophonist Martin Speake, guitarist Rob Luft and guest bassist Anders Christiansen. Burgoyne’s début album “Unquiet Quiet”, featuring the trio of himself, Speake and Luft was released in 2016 on Speake’s own Pumpkin record label.

Like Luft Burgoyne is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music where Speake is a professor and it was at the Academy that the trio was first formed in 2014. Burgoyne now divides his time between London and Basel, Switzerland where he also studied. He is involved with a number of projects featuring both British and Swiss musicians including a quintet led by acclaimed vibraphonist and drummer Jorge Rossy. Further details of Burgoyne’s various musical activities can be found at his website http://www.phelanburgoynemusic.com

Prior to this evening I’d not actually seen Burgoyne play but had been sufficiently impressed by numerous youtube clips to investigate his contribution to this intriguing double bill.

“Unquiet Quiet”, allied to the evidence of this evening’s performance, reveals that Burgoyne is not only a talented drummer but also a highly proficient and individual composer. As a writer he is more concerned with creating colour, atmosphere and texture, his thoughtful and evocative compositions aspiring to be far more than vehicles designed to showcase his drumming technique.

Few of the pieces were announced by name, and although some may have been sourced from the album I suspect that most of the original material was more recent, as is often the jazz way. The first item featured a keening alto sax melody from Speake underpinned by Luft’s atmospheric guitar sound-washes and Burgoyne’s delicately brushed cymbal work. Although Speake’s alto was the lead instrument his contribution wasn’t a jazz solo in the conventional sense, this was music more concerned with the overall ensemble sound, one distinguished by Luft’s textured guitar work and Burgoyne’s deft colorations with Christiansen’s bass filling out the sound.

The Danish bassist composed the following piece, “Roskilde”, which was named after a major music festival held annually in his homeland. Here the bassist came more into his own as the tune was introduced by a duet between himself and rising star guitarist Luft. Speake’s alto subsequently picked out a folkish melody which was underscored by Burgoyne’s delicate bare hand drumming, the patter of toms and shimmer of cymbals reminding me of the work of great colourist drummers such as Jon Christensen and Paul Motian. Luft’s playing then came to the fore with the guitarist making effective and atmospheric use of his FX pedals before Speake’s pure toned alto returned for a final theme statement.

Ironically I’d just written Motian’s name down in my notebook when Burgoyne called a Motian tune with the quartet delivering a beautifully delicate reading of the late, great drummer/composer’s “Once Around The Park”.

The next piece saw the quartet exploring more orthodox jazz territory with a bebop flavoured piece that may well have been a standard even though I couldn’t identify it. It certainly presented a different angle of the group with Luft adopting a more orthodox jazz guitar sound, albeit with a degree of reverb, as he shared the opening solos with Speake. Burgoyne brought things to boiling point with a closing solo that really rattled the tubs and proved that he can play with great fire and power when he wants to. As both a drummer and composer he reminds me a little of a young Seb Rochford.

This excellent set ended with a new Burgoyne original called “Chaos”, a title that totally belied the beauty and intelligence of the music. Introduced by Luft’s guitar and featuring Christiansen’s melodic bass allied once more to the patter of Burgoyne’s hand drumming this was a piece that developed slowly and organically. Speake, who had shone with Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon band at the Pizza the previous day continued to impress in this very different context with a solo underpinned by the fluid rhythmic flow of Burgoyne’s drumming - shades here perhaps of Jon Christensen again, or even Jeff Williams. Burgoyne and Luft then provided appropriate commentary during Christiansen’s bass solo before the guitarist took over with a solo reminiscent of the great Bill Frisell. An anthemic closing section featuring Speake’s soaring alto over a strong rock rhythm evoked a highly positive response from a listening Vortex audience.

I was highly impressed with Burgoyne as both a drummer and a writer. This was a highly mature young musician and composer who has already fashioned a highly distinctive style of writing and playing. He was well served by an excellent band with Christiansen adding weight and depth to the sound of an already well balanced trio.

At 34 minutes in length “Unquiet Quiet” represents a promising début and is good calling card for Burgoyne. A more substantial second album is hopefully somewhere in the pipeline and should help to enhance this highly promising young musician’s reputation yet further.


DEVIN GRAY TRIO

On the other side of the Atlantic another young drummer and composer is steadily making a name for himself. Originally from Maine Devin Gray is now based in New York and is an increasingly influential figure on that city’s ‘Downtown Scene’.

The trio that he brought to London featured two highly experienced campaigners in Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) and Drew Gress (double bass), both well known as members of the Claudia Quintet but also bandleaders in their own right as well as being in demand sidemen with dozens of recordings to their collective credit.

Gray’s approach was more dynamic and free-wheeling than Burgoyne’s had been, less pastoral and more urban, more ‘American’ if you will. Although the musicians were playing from sheet music the actual sound suggested that much of the music was freely improvised.

The first piece, “Transatlantic Transitions” sought to illustrate the perils of jet-lag with hard blowing passages featuring solos from Speed and Gress alternating with more impressionistic interludes incorporating breathy tenor, extended bass techniques and cymbal scrapes.

The next item was unannounced but saw Speed moving to clarinet to solo above Gress’ rapid, muscular bass walk and Gray’s skittering drum grooves as the trio generated a considerable head of steam. This was followed by a more impressionistic episode featuring Speed’s clarinet murmurs and Gray’s brushed drum commentary.

“Microdose”  found Speed moving back to tenor on a quiet intro that found his sax in dialogue with Gray’s drums as Gress’ bass provided the necessary punctuation. Speed then embarked on a more conventional tenor solo, his playing becoming increasingly garrulous while Gray’s busy drumming
positively bristled with power. A muscular, written, riff based climax brought a roar of approval from the Vortex audience.

Next up was “RelativE ResonancE”, the title track from the 2015 recorded by Gray, Speed, bassist Chris Tordini and pianist Kris Davis and sometimes also used as a band name. It would seem that Davis is a reluctant tourer who has rarely performed in the UK, her presence at the Vortex would have represented a considerable bonus. Nevertheless the trio more than did justice to a more obviously written piece that featured Speed soloing above a backdrop of busy bass and simmering drums.

Gress introduced the next piece on double bass as Gray added commentary via the deployment of a number of small percussive devices. Initially this was a more atmospheric offering featuring Speed’s long mournful tenor melody lines before the momentum began to build with the saxophonist soloing more forcefully against a backdrop of Gress’s mesmeric bass groove and Gray’s sizzling cymbals as the trio moved up and down the dynamics.

The evening concluded with Speed’s tune “Ain’t That Cunning” featuring the composer’s slow burning tenor above Gress’ muscular groove while Gray continued to deliver an impressive array of sounds from his drum kit, his playing as distinctive in its own way as Burgoyne’s had been.

The different approaches adopted by these two drummer led bands made for an interesting, stimulating and enjoyable evening of music making.

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 12th 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 12th 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Jim Rattigan's Pavillon and Matthew Stevens Trio plus the opening event of the 'Expect the Unexpected' series at Club Inegales.

Photograph of Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12th 2017


JIM RATTIGAN’S PAVILLON, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO


This lunchtime performance in the famous Dean Street basement featured the twelve piece ensemble Pavillon, led by French horn virtuoso Jim Rattigan.


Rattigan is a busy musician who is the first call on his instrument across a variety of genres including jazz, folk, pop, classical and film and TV soundtracks. The latter include the James Bond and Lord of the Rings film series.

His list of credits is mind boggling, far too lengthy to list in full here, but includes six years with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and session work with some of the biggest names in rock and pop, among them Paul McCartney, George Michael and Adele. I know his playing best best from his work in jazz ensembles including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, Mark Lockheart, Carla Bley, Percy Pursglove and the late, great Charlie Haden. And as he proved with Pursglove’s “Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls” ensemble he’s also a skilled accordionist.

In his capacity as a jazz musician Rattigan has released a number of albums under his own name including “Unfamiliar Guise” (2000), “Jazz French Horn” (2004), and“ Shuzzed” (2010).

In 2014 I reviewed his excellent trio set “Triplicity” which teamed him with the classical violinist Thomas Gould and the acclaimed jazz pianist Liam Noble. This was a chamber jazz recording that combined moments of pure beauty with an admirable improvisational rigour.  The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-thomas-gould-liam-noble-triplicity/

It was his work with Mike Gibbs that inspired Rattigan to form his own twelve piece band, Pavillon. The group name comes from ‘pavillon’, the French word for the bell of the French horn.  The album “Strong Tea” was originally recorded in 2011 and was re-launched in 2016 to coincide with a national tour by Pavillon together with a London Jazz Festival appearance at The Vortex. My review of the “Strong Tea” album can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-pavillon-strong-tea/

Rattigan has said of Pavillon and the “Strong Tea” album;
“ I formed Pavillon with these wonderful musicians to perform my music and recorded the album “Strong Tea” as a 50th birthday present to myself in 2011. The compositions are very much interwoven with the personalities of the band and their musical styles. As I write I hear them playing certain themes and solo sections. I incorporate as much freedom in the music as is possible, leaving them space to express themselves”.

The line-up that Rattigan brought to the Pizza differed slightly from the album personnel and comprised of;

Jim Rattigan – French horn
Martin Speake – alto sax
Andy Panayi – tenor sax
Mick Foster – baritone sax
Percy Pursglove – trumpet & flugel horn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet
Robbie Robson – trumpet
Trevor Mires – trombone
Sarah Williams – bass trombone
Hans Koller – piano
Dave Whitford – bass
Martin France – drums

The repertoire was mainly drawn from the “Strong Tea” album but the programme also included a number of newer pieces written specifically for the band plus new arrangements of a couple of tunes from the “Shuzzed” album.

The first item was unannounced but proved to be a punchy and rousing opener driven by France’s skittering drum grooves and the propulsive bass lines of Dave Whitford, almost hidden at the back of the stage among a veritable forest of musicians and instruments. The piece was a feature for the leader whose solo on the French horn, an instrument rarely heard in jazz circles was stunning. Rattigan is a supremely fluent soloist whose sound combines the agility of a jazz trumpet improviser with the pure technique of a classically trained musician. In Rattigan’s hands the instrument, with a tone pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone, is utterly convincing as a jazz solo instrument.

The title track of “Strong Tea” was introduced by Koller, Whitford and France in piano trio mode before the advent of the horns paired the clarion call of Rattigan’s French horn with the rasp of Foster’s baritone sax. Rattigan is a skilled composer and arranger and his deployment of the instruments available to him was consistently impressive; this was a rich blend of tea, full of interesting colours and textures. But for all the excellence of the ensemble passages Pavillon is also a hard swinging blowing band with plenty of opportunities for the excellent soloists within its ranks. Here we heard from Fishwick on trumpet, Speake on alto and the impressive Mires on trombone.

The ballad “Rose”, a comparatively new piece, featured the sounds of muted trumpets and included melodic, lyrical solos from Whitford on the bass and Koller at the piano, sensitively supported by France’s brushed accompaniment. Rattigan’s own solo combined his customary fluency and agility with an admirable expressiveness.

Whitford’s bass ushered in “Parkwood Fair”, another track from the “Strong Tea” album. Rattigan has also recorded in a quartet format and this piece featured his remarkable playing in conjunction with the piano trio, the other horns only being used to add colour and punctuation to the arrangement.

The new tune, “Henbo Waltz”, written as a paean to the London street where Rattigan resides, introduced a fresh crop of soloists with Mires’ opening trombone feature followed by solos from Foster on baritone sax and Robson on trumpet with France also featuring at the drums.

An excellent first set ended with the new tune “Blue”, a blues that managed to include some syncopated Loose Tubes style riffing in addition to solos from Pursglove on trumpet, Speake on alto and Williams on bass trombone. I’ve seen Williams perform many times on bass trombone with a variety of ensembles but I think this was the first time that I’ve ever seen her take a solo. Rattigan certainly likes to give the “minority” or “Cinderella” instruments a chance.

The second half opened in a similar manner to the first with the punchy but quirky big band swing of “Dulwich Park”, another piece from the “Strong Tea” recording that featured solos from Panayi on tenor sax and Pursglove on flugelhorn.

“Forever” included an extended unaccompanied piano introduction from Koller plus further solos from Foster on baritone and Robson on trumpet.

Based on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” the title track from “Shuzzed” was originally recorded by a quartet featuring guitarist Phil Robson, bassist Phil Donkin and regular Pavillon
drummer Gene Calderazzo. Scaled up for big band the first solo went to Sarah Williams on bass trombone who again impressed with the warmth, fluency and agility of her playing. Speake, Mires, Fishwick and Rattigan also featured as soloists, all delivering cogent statements of their own.

The performance was introduced by Rattigan with good humour and a ready and salty wit, the title of “The Freedom Of Movement” producing much ribaldry as the band bantered amongst themselves. The piece itself was notable for the intelligent dialogue between the leader’s French horn and France’s brushed drums.

“Ballad” featured lush, warm horn voicings with solos coming from Speake on alto, Koller at the piano and Robson on trumpet, the latter building up quite a head of steam despite the title of the tune. Having peaked the trumpeter eventually handed over to Rattigan whose feature helped to resolve the piece.

The afternoon ended with the exciting “24/7” from the “Strong Tea” album which was driven by the powerful combination of baritone sax and bass trombone in addition to bass and drums. The propulsive rhythms fuelled solos from Foster on baritone, Panayi on tenor and Robson on trumpet with drummer France also featuring.

The deserved encore found Rattigan returning to the “Shuzzed” album for an arrangement of the tune “Mung Beans” with trombonists Williams and Mires trading solos before handing over to Williams. Rattigan’s solo included a quote from Mozart’s horn concerto ( I think), but for me it just raised a smile and memories of Flanders & Swann.  Foster, Panayi and Speake enjoyed a series of sax exchanges with the three trumpeters eventually following suit on a barnstorming closer that featured virtually every member of the band.

Tucked away on a Sunday lunchtime this wasn’t one of the Festival’s most high profile gigs but for me it was undoubtedly one of the best.  I had enjoyed the “Strong Tea” album release and had been disappointed not to be able to catch Pavillon anywhere on their fairly recent tour. This more than made up for that and the long wait to see this stellar band was well worth it. Rattigan himself was brilliant and he was given superb support by a stellar band who brought the best out of his considerable compositional and arranging gifts. A low key performance then, but right up there as one of the highlights of the Festival.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED – PART ONE – CLUB INEGALES, EUSTON

I moved on to a new venue for me, Club Inegales, another basement performance space, this time beneath an office block in the Euston area of London.

During the Festival the club was the venue for “Expect The Unexpected”, a series of events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Festival. As part of the Serious Talent Development programme the Festival had commissioned 25 composers from different generations and different genres of music to submit pieces to be played by the resident house band, conducted by Peter Wiegold, and their guests. The only stipulation was that the piece had to fit onto one page of Manuscript paper, thereby by leaving plenty of room for interpretation and improvisation.

The performances were spread over both weekends of the Festival and I was to see the very first session which saw Wiegold conducting Notes Inegales, the house band that included Hyelim Kim on the Korean taegum flute, Christian Forshaw on alto and soprano saxes, Jon Banks on accordion, Joel Bell on guitar, Ben Markland on acoustic & electric bass, Simon Limbrick on percussion and Martin Butler on piano.

Guests at this first session included contributing composers and performers Cath Roberts (baritone sax), Olie Brice (double bass), Anton Hunter and Ant Law (guitars) who all formed part of the ensemble alongside the House Band.  The duo of vocalist Heidi Heidelberg and flautist Mauricio Velasierra also brought compositions to the table and performed with the ensemble.

With no prior rehearsals having taken place each new piece was seen for the first time on the day with the score being illuminated on overhead projectors for the benefit of the audience. First up was Roberts’ “Octopus”, the notated score little more than a sketch and with more than ample room allotted for improvisation. It’s a method that Roberts also deploys with her quintet Sloth Racket and large ensemble Favourite Animals. Introduced by the guitars of Hunter and Law, the latter playing acoustic 12 string , the music also featured the distinctive and haunting sounds of Kim’s Korean flute. Veering towards the freer end of the jazz spectrum the piece moved through a number of different phases with the composer soloing on baritone sax and also entering into a dialogue with Forshaw on alto. Roberts’ solo was underscored by a wall of sound including the drones of accordion, bowed cymbals and arco bass before Limbrick’s cymbal crashes ushered in a powerful closing written riff.

Following Rattigan’s rather more conventional performance at the Pizza it took my ears a little while to adjust to the less structured feel of the music at Inegales but gradually I became acclimatised and began to enjoy myself. Hunter’s “Bits Of A Piece” embraced elements of minimalism with its sussurating melodies, arpeggiated guitars and vibraphone embellishments. Solos came from Roberts on baritone and Forshaw on alto and Kim on flute, the three taking flight against a backdrop of chunky, angular riffing.

The first set closed with Law’s “Her Majesty”, written about “a freaky queen from another planet” according to its composer.  Electric bass and tuned percussion combined to state the melody with the vibraphone providing a constant thread throughout the piece, again suggesting a minimalist influence. Solos came from Roberts on baritone, Brice on muscular pizzicato double bass and finally Law on twelve string guitar.

It had been an intriguing first set of absorbing experimental music in a relaxed and informal setting with acclaimed composer and educator Wiegold conducting the ensemble with a practised ease.

During the interval Festival Director John Cumming of the Serious organisation spoke briefly to the audience detailing the growth of the event over the past twenty five years from its origins in the now defunct Camden Jazz Week. The 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival was to present 360 gigs in 60 different venues.

Set two saw Heidelberg and Velasierra joining the ensemble to present their piece. Although more obviously structured and through composed than the items in the first half the piece still adhered to the ‘one page’ rule. “Raven King” was inspired by the tapping of ravens’ beaks on the guttering of the couple’s house. Heidelberg’s wordless vocals proved to be a supremely flexible instrument and the piece was also distinguished by a mesmerising duet between the different flutes of Velesierra and Kim.  Guitarists Hunter and Bell then combined to create a bridge into a section that combined suitably bird like flute sounds with percussive noises depicting the tapping of the ravens, these including pecked saxes in addition to Limbrick’s percussion and Heidelberg’s repeated vocal refrain “out of rain”. A final passage of ensemble playing included a powerful alto solo from Forshaw.

Heidelberg and Velasierra stuck around for Brice’s piece, named for the event for which it was composed. “Expect The Unexpected” included snippets of Jewish liturgical tunes, the music of Brice’s childhood. The graphic notation encouraged the improvisatory process with the composer’s double bass,  Banks’ accordion and Heidelberg’s voice all playing key roles with the singer sounding authentically Yiddish. Hunter’s scabrous guitar and Roberts’ towering baritone added depth and power to the music.

This had been an absorbing afternoon of adventurous and experimental music making, spontaneous and inevitably a little ragged at times but ultimately both interesting and satisfying. In many ways I was reluctant to move on to my next planned event.

Following Brice’s piece there was an extended interval which saw the local curry house Taste of India supplying food, a regular occurrence at Inegales it seems. It looked and smelt good but we’d already eaten at the Pizza before the Rattigan performance.

After the break a different series of guests joined Notes Inegales including percussionist Kuljit Bhamra, guitarist Rob Luft, trumpeter Kim Macari and alto saxophonist Raymond MacDonald.

The following week the line up was set to include Byron Wallen (trumpet), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Jaak Sooäär (guitar), Chris Sharkey (guitar), Alice Zawadzki (voice/violin), Matthew Bourne, (piano),  Mark Sanders (drums), Orphy Robinson (steel pans), Pat Thomas(keys) and James Mainwaring (sax).

The shows were also due to feature new scores by Hermeto Pascoal (Hermatoids), Alex Roth, Helen Papaioannou, and Corrie Dick.

I enjoyed my first visit to the friendly and welcoming Club Inegales and approved of the club’s adventurous music policy, masterminded by Peter Wiegold. My thanks to Peter, Cath Roberts, Olie Brice, Anton Hunter and members of the Inegales staff for speaking with me afterwards and I hope the rest of the Expect The Unexpected programme went well. This is a venue I’d like to return to at the 2018 Festival.

MATTHEW STEVENS TRIO, RONNIE SCOTT’S JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

I first encountered the playing of Canadian born guitarist Matthew Stevens in 2010 when he appeared on trumpeter Christian Scott’s album “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow”. Then a regular member of Scott’s band the guitarist appeared at that year’s London Jazz Festival when Scott, then an emerging talent, supported Courtney Pine at the Royal Festival Hall. Scott has come along way since those days, but more on that in a later article.

Stevens went on to perform with saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Jacky Terrasson and drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Harvey Mason among others. In 2015 he recorded his début album as a leader, the excellent “Woodwork” which appeared on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings imprint and featured a line up of bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Eric Doob, pianist Gerald Clayton and percussionist Paulo Stagnaro. My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matthew-stevens-woodwork/

However Stevens is probably best known for his role as guitarist and producer for the American bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, notably on her album “Emily’s D + Evolution”. He subsequently toured the world as part of Spalding’s trio.

Stevens has also recorded a second album, “Preverbal”, which was released in March 2017 on the Ropeadope imprint. The album features a pared down power trio including Archer and Doob and with a guest vocal by Spalding on the final track “Our Reunion”.

Thanks in part to the Spalding connection a large crowd turned out at Ronnie’s on a Sunday night to witness Stevens’ first performance as a headliner at EFG LJF. Doob was present and correct but Archer was replaced on electric bass by Zach Brown, a musician who receives an engineering credit on the “Preverbal” album. Of Spalding there was, unsurprisingly, no sign.

A man of few words Stevens, modishly sporting a baseball cap, preferred to let his music do the talking. This was a power trio that combined the virtues of old fashioned jazz rock fusion with a more contemporary approach with both Stevens and Doob, the latter credited as co-producer on the “Preverbal” album, both mutating the sound of the trio via the use of electronics.

With no support act the trio hit the stage at around the scheduled 8.15 start time and played straight through an eight tune set that comprised of most of the new album plus the occasional selection from “Woodwork”.

Few of the tunes were announced and the trio began with a piece that commenced with an ambient wash of looped and layered guitars before striking out with a muscular but melodic groove embracing a strong rock influence. Brown’s role was strictly rhythmic, he didn’t take a solo all night, so the emphasis was very much on Stevens, a player with technique to burn and a fluent improviser’s instinct.

The second piece saw Doob combining electronic beats with real time drum rhythms as Brown laid down a fat, meaty electric bass groove. Stevens soloed powerfully above this propulsive backdrop, his playing referencing the fusion heroes of the past. However the music then took an unexpected turn into more ambient and minimalistic territory.

Stevens remained the focus of attention, soloing over a busy bass and hi-hat groove on the next
item.

The fourth piece then opened with an engaging dialogue between Steven and the impressive Doob, the pair creating mesmeric rhythmic patterns that later opened out to embrace some chunky, hooky riffing and more virtuoso guitar soloing. This, in turn, led to a slowed down groove with the music taking on more of a spacious, impressionistic feel before gathering momentum once more to peak with a drum and electronics feature from Doob underscored by Stevens’ chiming guitar. A further ambient passage then concluded the lengthiest item of the evening thus far, possibly a segue of two different pieces.

Stevens now spoke for the first time, informing the audience that his father had been born in Liverpool before emigrating to Toronto, Stevens’ home town although the guitarist is now based in New York. There was a sizeable Canadian presence in the audience at Ronnie’s with Stevens name-checking one Ross Porter.

“Reservoir” was one piece that Stevens did introduce by name, another piece to include both real time and pre-programmed drums plus the now familiar chunky and angular guitar riffing.

A solo guitar excursion into Bill Frisell territory was hampered by a temporary electronic problem but Stevens and the trio quickly recovered their poise.

Brown briefly came to the fore as he and Stevens duetted on the opening to the penultimate piece before stepping back into the shadows as Stevens soloed.

The performance concluded with the song “Our Reunion”, a piece inspired by David Bowie and written by Stevens and Spalding. Performed here as an instrumental it sounded very different to the recording but was undeniably melodic in a rock influenced way and ended the evening on a positive, anthemic note. 

I was intrigued enough to invest in a copy of the “Preverbal” recording but ultimately felt a little bit underwhelmed by the evening as an ‘event’. Without the presence of Clayton’s piano the music felt a little one dimensional after “Woodwork” despite the presence of the electronic components, There was insufficient variation and a distinct lack of light and shade. I’d like to have heard something from Brown as a soloist, although it has to be said that Archer is not widely featured on the album. Maybe that’s the way Stevens likes it but there did seem to be too much of a disproportionate emphasis on his own playing, impressive as it undoubtedly was.

Writing for London Jazz News my fellow scribe Rob Mallows (good to meet you Rob) obviously enjoyed this performance rather more than I did. Maybe Stevens just suffered in comparison with Pat Metheny whose performance I’d witnessed (strictly as a ‘punter’) at the Barbican a couple of nights previously.

Having put a 21st century twist on the concept of the jazz power trio it will be interesting to see which direction Stevens’ solo career takes next. He’s obviously a highly accomplished and versatile musician with the ability to explore other musical areas.

 

 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017 - Part Two

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017 - Part Two

Ian Mann enjoys the ACT label 25th Birthday Celebration at Cadogan Hall with performances from Adam Baldych with the Helge Lien Trio and the European supergroup Out Of Land.

Photograph of Adam Baldych by Tim Dickeson


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SATURDAY NOVEMBER 11th 2017

ADAM BALDYCH with the HELGE LIEN TRIO / OUT OF LAND, CADOGAN HALL

This unique double bill at a sold out Cadogan Hall represented a momentous double celebration. 2017 represents both the 25th anniversary of the London Jazz Festival in its current format and the 25th birthday of the Munich based ACT record label founded by music manager and producer Siggi Loch. Two of the label’s most acclaimed and successful groups made rare UK appearances with both bands receiving rapturous receptions from a capacity crowd comprised of many nationalities.

Both acts represented international collaborations with the Polish violinist Adam Baldych joined by a Norwegian trio led by pianist Helge Lien.

Meanwhile Out Of Land is the band name adopted by the European ‘supergroup’ of ACT artists comprised of Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer, German pianist Michael Wollny and French musicians Emile Parisien (soprano sax) and Vincent Peirani (accordion).

ADAM BALDYCH with the HELGE LIEN TRIO

The evening commenced with the young lady who was introducing the proceedings leading the audience in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” in honour of the ACT label. Following this she welcomed the Baldych / Lien quartet to the stage to deliver a set of sublime music.

Baldych, born in 1986, first came to the attention of the ACT audience in 2013 with his label début “Imaginary Room” (actually his fourth album) recorded by an international ACT all star band dubbed The Baltic Gang and featuring saxophonist Marius Neset, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, pianist Jacob Karlzon, bassist Lars Danielsson and drummer Morten Lund. He later released “ The New Tradition”, an intimate set with pianist Yaron Herman as part of ACT’s “Duo Art” series.

Since 2015 Baldych has forged a highly successful creative alliance with pianist Helge Lien and his trio featuring bassist Frode Berg and Per Oddvar Johansen. Together they have delivered two excellent albums, 2015’s “Bridges” and the recent “Brothers”, the latter also including contributions from the Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg. However it should be noted that the Lien Trio is a successful entity in its own right and has released a total of nine albums in the piano trio format.

Tonight’s performance was supported by the Norwegian Embassy and the Polish Cultural Institute and featured music sourced from the “Bridges” and “Brothers” albums. The bulk of the compositions were by Baldych and the quartet began with “Polesie” from the “Bridges” album.
Baldych’s writing embraces elements of jazz, classical and folk music and his abilities as both a player and a composer were apparent from the outset.  Once considered to be something of a child prodigy in his native Poland Baldych honed his technique at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and his playing, both with the bow and pizzicato was flawless and seemingly effortless. His fluency and purity of tone were stunning. Named after a region of Poland this opening piece embraced folk melodies and cadences and also included a significant contribution from Lien at the piano, who was also featured as a soloist. Meanwhile Johansen’s richly detailed, neatly energetic drumming helped to push the music forward.

The majority of the music came from the “Brothers” album, a highly personal work for Baldych which was written and recorded following the untimely passing of his own brother Grzegorz. The album’s tracks all have one word titles and next we heard “Faith” with its melancholic violin melody above a sparse piano vamp and filigree percussion. As the piece developed Lien added his own lyrical piano solo to Baldych’s mournful fluency.

Unaccompanied violin introduced introduced the next piece, which was unannounced. Again the music was thoughtful, melodic and often downright beautiful and included a melodic double bass solo from Berg and a typically lyrical contribution from Lien as Baldych alternated between arco and pizzicato techniques.

Ushered in by Berg’s unaccompanied bass the title track of “Brothers” introduced a spikier, more aggressive approach from the quartet with Baldych’s violin soaring above the muscular grooves laid down by Berg and Johansen with fiercely plucked bass augmented by some busy and dynamic drumming. With its avant garde flourishes this was a piece that epitomised Baldych’s album liner note explaining “our new music is more dirty and wild than on the previous album, balancing on the border between scream and silence; as does today’s world, where joy and suffering coexist side by side”

By way of contrast “One” proved to be a delightfully delicate and emotive duet between Lien and Baldych with the violinist again deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques on the larger renaissance violin.

Johansen, a skilled and highly distinctive presence at the drums, ushered in the next (unannounced) piece in conjunction with Baldych’s pizzicato violin and Lien’s dampened piano strings. As the rhythm section established a groove Baldych picked up his bow to stretch out and soar before handing over to the Norwegian trio to generate an impressively big group sound on their own account.

The set concluded with “Love”, a piece played by Baldych using the pizzicato technique exclusively. This proved to be stunningly effective on a beautiful piece that demonstrated the violinist’s remarkable gift for melody, on this showing almost on a par with Pat Metheny’s. What could have been a mere novelty proved to be a moving and brilliantly realised piece of music.

The Cadogan Hall crowd gave the quartet a terrific reception and on this genuine double bill Baldych and Lien returned to the stage for a deserved encore. Their second duo performance of the evening proved to be an inspired instrumental interpretation of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” that combined great beauty with a solemn gravitas. The “Brothers” album features an equally effective duo arrangement.

During the interval business at the ACT record stall in the foyer was brisk with copies of the “Brothers” album quickly selling out.

“I wish for my music to carry the message of Love and Beauty” Baldych has declared. This concert fully delivered on that promise and with his flawless technique and remarkable compositional gift Baldych is arguably the world’s leading jazz violinist right now. The members of the Lien trio, of which I’m a fan in their own right, played their part but ultimately this was Baldych’s show. It was my first live sighting of him and I was extremely impressed with all aspects of his music making.


MICHAEL WOLLNY / EMILE PARISIEN / ANDREAS SCHAERER / VINCENT PEIRANI – OUT OF LAND

The four members of this ACT ‘supergroup’ are all band leaders in their own right and each has recorded solo albums for the label. Originally brought together by Schaerer for a one off club engagement in Budapest the four musicians had never played together as a unit before despite the fact that there had been other collaborations between various members of the group, all of them part of the wider ‘ACT family’.

Originally intended to be a trio featuring Schaerer, Parisien and Peirani it was the accordionist’s idea to bring Wollny on board, the pair having toured and recorded frequently as a duo.

Following the Budapest club date the new quartet went on to play a theatre show in Berne, the results of which were recorded and subsequently released on ACT under the title “Out Of Land”, this subsequently becoming the name of the band. Rather like the Anglo-American alliance The Impossible Gentlemen a seemingly one off collaboration has evolved into a semi-regular working band.

There was a palpable air of expectation at the Cadogan about the appearance of this European ‘supergroup’. They commenced with an opening segue of Schaerer’s “Air Song” and Wollny’s “Kabinett V” that combined individual brilliance with a strong group aesthetic. With no bass or drums the group shared rhythmic responsibilities between them with Wollny and Peirani inevitably taking on much of the work, even after making allowances for Schaerer’s vocal percussion effects.
The singer’s voice proved to be a wonderfully flexible instrument, predominately deployed wordlessly and forming an essential component of the music. There was a vitality and playfulness about the group’s music making with the quartet often breaking down into smaller units, invariably duos. Thus this lengthy opening segue included Parisien’s soprano solo dancing above Schaerer’s vocal percussion, or beat boxing if you will. Then there was the impish duet between Parisien and Peirani, both previously familiar with each other’s playing after years on the Paris jazz scene. Peirani then duetted with his old sparring partner Wollny, the latter adding prepared piano effects to an already heady mix, Parisien eventually added searingly incisive soprano sax to the mix as he danced around the stage. This was music that was constantly evolving, shifting from one point to another at the drop of a hat in a fast moving roller coaster ride that demanded lightning reactions from the players. With no anchoring rhythm section this was very much music without a safety net.

The next piece was unannounced but explored similar territory with Schaerer entering into extended dialogues, firstly with Parisien and then with Peirani, the accordionist’s playing taking the music in the direction of a kind of twisted cabaret. Humour was an essential ingredient of the quartet’s performance.

Schaerer’s lengthy “Playing With Fire” concluded the performance, the piece beginning with the organ like sonorities of Peirani’s accordion, this joined by Schaerer’s haunting wordless vocal. Wollny then delivered a typically bravura passage of unaccompanied piano imbued with the dramatic gothic flourishes that characterise his work as a solo artist. Parisien’s soprano sax feature borrowed from both North African music and the blues while Schaerer’s vocal solo included a stunning display of beat boxing that mimicked the beats of electronic music without resorting to any form of electronic manipulation as he encouraged the audience to clap along.

The Cadogan crowd loved Out Of Land’s spirited display of musical virtuosity and gave the group a standing ovation. They returned for a deserved encore that saw the musicians finally coalescing on a unison theme statement but with Schaerer eventually taking the individual honours with a display of quasi-operatic vocalising followed by a passage featuring his voice approximating the sound of a trumpet soloist. He’s clearly a remarkable talent – and the formation of the group was his idea so it was perhaps appropriate that he had the final word.

The audience clearly loved this performance by Out Of Land and the group were practically overwhelmed at the subsequent ‘meet and greet’ at the ACT stall in the foyer. Subsequent reviews have been favourable but for all this I found myself harbouring doubts.

For all his skill and adventurousness Schaerer’s style of vocalising doesn’t always do it for me, but I guess that’s just a personal thing. More pertinently I didn’t feel that Out Of Land genuinely cohered as a band in the way the Baldych / Lien group had done. For all the individual brilliance the music too often seemed to represent a series of ‘set pieces’, full of virtuosity and stunning technique and undeniably delivered with good humour and a sense of both fun and daring. Yet ultimately this was music that lacked the emotional impact that Baldych’s had done and, for me, it was less satisfying overall. I don’t deny that it was spectacular and I’m sure that there are many who will disagree with me but I didn’t want to take the Out Of Land CD home with me in the same way as I did the Baldych one.

I remain a fan of the individual members of Out Of Land, particularly Wollny and Parisien, whose output as leaders is strongly recommended. Despite my personal reservations this was an excellent celebration of one of the most enterprising and distinctive labels in European jazz.

 

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by the Kadri Voorand / Mikhel Malgand Duo and the Andy Sheppard Quartet at Kings Place.

Photograph of Andy Sheppard by Tim Dickeson.


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SATURDAY 11th NOVEMBER 2017.


My first full day at the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival began in (for me) a moderately quiet fashion. In the morning I viewed the superb Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, “Boom for Real”, at the Barbican, not part of the Festival itself but closely linked thanks to the influence of jazz on Basquiat’s work. The artist numbered Louis Armstrong, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk among his musical and cultural heroes.

KADRI VOORAND / MIKHEL MALGAND DUO / ANDY SHEPPARD QUARTET, KINGS PLACE

The 2017 EFG LJF included a series of events presenting the music of Estonian jazz musicians to British audiences. The Weekend Guitar Trio had played on the Freestage at the Barbican the previous evening as a prelude to the concert in the main hall by Pat Metheny.

Today it was the turn of the idiosyncratic duo of pianist/vocalist/violinist Kadri Voorand and bassist Mikhel Malgand who opened for the Andy Sheppard Quartet at Kings Place. The bald description hardly does the pair justice, particularly when Voorand manipulates her already distinctive voice with the aid of live looping and other electronic techniques. Meanwhile Malgand provides both rhythmic propulsion plus additional colour and texture as he deploys both pizzicato and arco techniques on his double bass.

The opening piece, “Circle Dance” commenced with the drone of Malgand’s bowed bass, the sound soon augmented by Voorand’s violin and vocals, the former played pizzicato and the latter electronically manipulated by live looping as Voorand sang in English with the pointed chorus “Where would you be without me?” lingering in the memory. Voorand then switched to piano and delivered an impressive passage of scat vocalising as Magland used the body of his double bass as a type of percussion.

Still at the piano Voorand sang the words of a poem in her native Estonian before standing to sing, in English, the words of the poet Emily Dickinson with Malgand’s double bass as the sole accompaniment. As the Dickinson piece developed Voorand struck out into more obviously improvised territory with another scat episode that also involved further electronic manipulation of her voice.

If the settings of poetry suggest that the duo were adopting an overly serious or intellectual approach nothing could have been further from the truth. Humour and theatricality were both essential components of the duo’s music as Voorand’s improvised singing, in English, proved at various points in the programme. The tongue twisting lyrics of “They Don’t Really Care About Us” delighted the audience on a piece that included elements of soul, r’n’b and hip hop.

“Divided Into Three” was a haunting Garden of Eden allegory for piano, voice and arco bass while a song with the chorus “I’m Not In Love With You” presented a kind of feminised 10 CC delivered via electronically treated voice and acoustic five string bass guitar, the latter played by Malgand.

The duo signed off in theatrical fashion with Voorand deploying two vocal mics to loop and layer her voice on a piece which saw her encouraging the audience to clap along, which they did enthusiastically as the singer worked the words “Thank you London” into this vocal extravaganza.

With their eclectic blend of poetry, cabaret, pop and electronica the duo of Voorand and Malgand clearly delighted the audience and , rare for a ‘support act’ , were even allowed back on stage to deliver a swift encore.

Online research reveals that Voorand is a highly accomplished straight ahead jazz singer but her interests clearly extend into other areas and she’s a highly adventurous and charismatic performer with a highly flexible voice which she pushes even further via the inventive use of real time electronics. Also the leader of her own trio and quartet Voorand is a name to watch out for.

I’ll admit that today’s performance wasn’t totally my cup of tea but Voorand’s talent was immediately apparent and I welcome the breadth and adventurousness of her music making. She is the kind of artist who attracts a cult following and today’s show will no doubt have attracted new followers to the fold. Voorand’s international reputation seems destined to grow, and stardom, of a sort, undoubtedly awaits.

Despite the success of the opening act I suspect that the majority of the audience at a sold out Kings Place were there to see saxophonist and composer Andy Sheppard, a British musician with a truly international reputation, thanks in no small part to his work with Carla Bley and his record deal with ECM.

The international quartet that Sheppard brought to Kings Place was the same band that appeared on his 2015 ECM release “Surrounded by Sea” and featured French bass player Michel Benita, British drummer Sebastian Rochford and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset. Benita and Rochford had previously worked with Sheppard as Trio Libero, Aarset had been part of the all star Anglo/Norwegian quintet that recorded the 2008 ECM album “Movements In Colour”. The current quartet are currently in the process of recording a new album for ECM which is due for release in 2018.

Sheppard is a versatile saxophonist who is capable of playing very differently in other contexts but his music with this quartet is highly representative of what has come to be called ‘the ECM sound’ with a soft melodic focus and with great emphasis placed on ambience, colour and texture. These qualities were apparent on the opening piece with its soft, breathy tenor sax, melodic double bass, delicately brushed drums and ambient guitar washes. Sheppard then switched to soprano as the quartet adopted a fuller sound with Benita now playing with greater muscularity and Rochford offering occasional glimpses of his nascent power behind the kit as they supported Sheppard’s solo.

Folk elements have always been part of Sheppard’s repertoire as emphasised by the melody of “Forever And A Day” with the softly spoken, self deprecating Sheppard joking “it takes that long for a bar to go by”. This featured Sheppard’s plaintive sounding tenor and Benita’s melodic but resonant bass soloing as Rochford provided the subtlest of drum colourations, predominately deploying mallets.

Unaccompanied bass introduced the next piece with Aarset’s Frisell like guitar twang complemented by Sheppard’s keening tenor sax, the saxophonist sounding at his most Garbarek-like. Sheppard’s solo was underpinned by Benita’s melodic bass motif, with the latter eventually taking over for a solo of his own underpinned by the soft, subtle patter of Rochford’s hands on skins and cymbals.

An as yet untitled new piece based on the melody of a bird song commenced with Sheppard on tenor trading phrases with Aarset’s treated guitar. Subsequently the saxophonist soloed in more conventional fashion supported by Benita’s bass and the muted march of Rochford’s drums.

Besides his guitar Aarset’s set up included a lap top and a table full of electronic devices. The Norwegian introduced the next section unaccompanied, deploying his arsenal of equipment in a manner reminiscent of Robert Fripp as he sculpted and layered his sound in quasi-orchestral manner in conjunction with Sheppard’s soprano and the undulating grooves eventually laid down by Benita and Rochford.
As the piece developed Rochford delivered a brilliantly constructed drum solo that developed from quiet, almost subliminal beginnings via some exquisite cymbal work to a final explosion of almost elemental power. The famous barnet may have gone but the man is still the complete drummer and musician.
Moving on Sheppard reverted to tenor to deliver a majestic solo that again evoked the sound of Jan Garbarek before Aarset’s guitar soundscaping was featured once more, this time accompanied by the rustle of Rochford’s percussion, featuring shakers in addition to the conventional drum kit.
A final salvo from Sheppard featured his most full blooded and abrasive playing of the set before the quartet rounded off the performance in almost anthemic fashion with a lovely, flowing, soaring melody.

The crowd rose to their feet to applaud the band and were rewarded with an encore, Sheppard announcing the piece as being something “to make you feel eighteen again”. This proved to be a gorgeous, slowed down arrangement of the Lennon & McCartney song “And I Love Her” with Aarset laying down the familiar chord pattern as Sheppard soloed tenderly on smoky sounding tenor above Benita’s grounding bass and the patter of Rochford’s drums, played with a combination of mallets and bare hands. Aarset’s guitar then took The Beatles to outer space in an innovative interpretation of a much loved song that delighted the audience and sent everyone on their way feeling uplifted by the skill, grace and beauty of it all.

Sheppard remains one of the best loved and most consistently interesting of British jazz musicians. The impending album release by this quartet will be one of the most keenly awaited album releases of 2018.

 

‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’,Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival,Market Hall,Abergavenny, 03/09/2017

Friday, September 08, 2017

‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’,Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival,Market Hall,Abergavenny, 03/09/2017

Ian Mann on the final, family friendly day of the Festival with performances by Samba Galez, Budapest Ragtime Band, Chris Moreton, Kitty & The Purramours and the Red Stripe Band.

Photograph of Neil Drinkwater of the Red Stripe Band sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk


JAZZ ALLEY & BOOGIE PARTY

SUNDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 03/09/2017.

The final day of the wall2wall Jazz Festival has settled into a well established format. Today was the third annual edition of “Jazz Alley”, the family friendly event held in Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall featuring free musical performances, food stalls and a licensed bar.

Jazz Alley has proved to be a popular event with the people of Abergavenny and even an unseasonably cold and wet September day didn’t deter the crowd and audience numbers were actually up on the previous year.

Jazz Alley featured enjoyable performances from Samba Galez, The Budapest Ragtime Band, Chris Moreton and Kitty & the Purramours before the venue was cleared at 6.00 pm in readiness for the evening’s “Boogie Party”, a modestly priced ticketed event featuring the music and showmanship of the Red Stripe Band, back by popular demand following their successful performance in the same time slot in 2016.

Before turning my attention to the Red Stripe Band I’ll take a quick look at the free performances by the four acts featured at Jazz Alley. Although very different in musical style all four bands were readily accessible and highly energetic with the focus very much on entertainment of the kind that virtually everybody could relate to. The emphasis was on fun rather than profundity.

SAMBA GALEZ

Formed in 1990, initially as a youth project, Samba Galez is a community band from Cardiff boasting over ninety members. Many of these made the short trip to Abergavenny for today’s performance.

Samba Galez play around forty gigs a year including festivals, parades, sporting events and even village fêtes and hold regular samba workshops. Led by Simon Preston their musical remit has expanded to include Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and reggae rhythms and even traditional Welsh folk tunes. They have also recorded two albums, including a live set from Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach.

I’ve seen the band previously at Brecon Jazz Festival and when I arrived at the Market Hall in the afternoon they were already in full swing as they got this year’s Jazz Alley event off to a rousing start.

The first thing that strikes one about the massed ranks of Samba Galez is just how loud they can be with their veritable battery of percussion instruments, including some enormous, and seriously impressive, parade drums.

In their colourful and well designed band uniform of red T shirts featuring the band motif they are visually arresting too, especially when choreographer Sallie MacLennan (wasn’t she a character in a Pogues song?) puts the group’s dancers through their paces.

Loud, brash, colourful and vibrant - performances by Samba Galez are always great fun, for the band and audiences alike. Today was to be no exception with Samba Galez enjoying a warm reception from the Jazz Alley crowd.

BUDAPEST RAGTIME BAND

Next to take to the stage were the seven piece Budapest Ragtime Band led by bassist Ferenc Gayer. The band are regular and popular visitors to the UK and have toured all over the country.

The line up also includes Tibor Antal (violin), Ferenc Stein (keyboard), Balint Kiss (trombone), Sandor Csarics (trumpet), Janos Weszely (drums) and Laszlo Forgacs aka Papa Flight on lead vocals and pocket trumpet.

The group’s repertoire features staples from the ragtime and Dixieland jazz eras but has also expanded to include Dixie style arrangements of popular classical and operatic works. To some it might all be a bit too much of a novelty but these gentlemen can play (and sing) and they are also great entertainers, and as such were perfectly suited to a family event such as this. Energy and good humour characterise their performances, with a variety of props being deployed to often hilarious effect.

Most of the songs were well known favourites and included “Sunny Side Of The Street”, “Dark Town Strutters Ball”, “The Sheikh Of Araby” “Blueberry Hill” “When You’re Smiling” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” ,“Bill Bailey” and the closing “Wonderful World”.

The spirit of the earlier ragtime era was expressed via two of Scott Joplin’s most famous compositions, “Black & White Rag” and “Maple Leaf Rag”.

A kind of Spike Jones / Bonzo Dog Band humour came out in the group’s good humoured but musically sophisticated set of arrangements of popular classics including a sequence from Bizet’s “Carmen”, Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”. The latter saw trumpeter Csarics apparently with an arrow through his head! Earlier in the set a “Shoe Shining Song” had seen the frontliners polishing their footwear as piano, bass and drums played on.

For all the goofing around these guys were seriously talented musicians with Antal and Stein both proving to be accomplished soloists, as did trumpeter Csarics. The diminutive Flight sung with great assurance and no little wit and also proved to be a highly competent instrumentalist on his equally diminutive pocket trumpet.

After a while the appeal of the band’s good natured trad revivalism began to fade and I wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to them at home but they were ideal for this early afternoon slot in front of a family audience. The Market Hall crowd loved them.

CHRIS MORETON

Locally based bluegrass musician Chris Moreton played a successful club night at BMJ in May 2017 when he opened for the FB Pocket Orchestra, themselves veterans of a previous Jazz Alley.

Invited back the guitarist/banjoist/harpist/vocalist was again accompanied by his wife Wendy on double bass. The duo often bill themselves as ‘The Moreton Roadshow’.

Unfortunately today’s shortened set was rather less successful than the earlier club appearance, mainly because of mixing desk problems with regard to Wendy’s bass, which was frequently inaudible.

Nevertheless Chris battled on regardless beginning with “California Blues” which featured guitar, harmonica and vocals – including a bout of yodelling.

Next came “San Francisco Bay Blues” followed by Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” which featured the home made “cymbal bashing machine” aka “Phantom” , a foot operated device.  You can probably imagine how this fitted into the bluegrass style arrangement of this well known and popular piece.

The guitar instrumental “Limerock”, a tune from the Texas tradition was an excellent example of Moreton’s fretboard skills.

“Rock Island Line”, made famous by Lonnie Donegan, never fails to amuse and entertain and for the “Sheikh of Araby” Moreton took a leaf out of the Hungarians’ book when he rummaged in his bag and dug out an Arab headdress!

“King Of The Swingers” (from “Jungle Book”) kept the fun quotient up as Moreton delivered for a non specialist audience. The closing “Black Mountain Rag” delivered a final dose of fretboard wizardry.

The audience seemed to enjoy it all well enough but Moreton’s club appearance had been more satisfying musically and a better demonstration of his all round skills. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/chris-moreton-duo-fb-pocket-orchestra-black-mountain-jazz-abergavenny-21-05/


KITTY & THE PURRAMOURS

“Miss Kitty” or “Kitty Bevan” appears to be the alias of South Wales based vocalist Bev Gough. Formerly known as the Kitty Bevan Quartet her current band has mutated into Kitty & The Purramours, a quintet containing some of South Wales’ finest jazz musicians including Jim Barber on keyboard, Glen Manby on tenor sax, Donnie Joe Sweeney on bass and vocals and Greg Evans at the drums.

The instrumentalists took to the stage first with Sweeney announcing the arrival of Kitty as the group romped through a jazzed up version of the Steve Miller pop hit “Abracadabra” with solos from Manby on tenor, Kitty on alto sax and Barber at the keyboard.

The rarely heard Billie Holiday song “Spreading Rhythm Around” followed and was suitably bouncy and rhythmic with Sweeney enjoying a double bass feature.

Kitty’s original song “Dog In My Bag”, a swinging prohibition era pastiche, attracted a number of dancers onto the floor. Members of a local dance club they looked very stylish and professional and were undeniably impressive.

I’m used to seeing Manby playing alto sax and today’s outing on tenor was a very unusual occurrence for him. So unusual in fact that he was experiencing technical problems with his instrument and could be seen at the back of the stage frantically trying to fix it. Enter Lyndon Owen, an interested spectator today who lent Manby his own tenor, saving the day yet again! The new horn was heard to good effect on a bluesy “Swing Me Daddy”.

Now back at full strength Kitty & The Purramours proceeded to canter through swinging versions of “Cheek To Cheek” and “Accentuate The Positive” plus Kitty’s flirtatious, self penned “Captain Sugar”.

I’m used to seeing these musicians playing more obviously ‘serious’ forms of jazz and bebop but they seemed to be having a ball playing in this band and there were plenty of good solos to enjoy from Manby (such a rarity to see him on tenor) and Barber plus Kitty herself on alto. However I ultimately found Gough’s contrived “Miss Kitty” persona a bit too shrill and grating. I’ve enjoyed the playing of most of these musicians more in other jazz contexts and the Purramours band isn’t necessarily one I’d wish to listen to at home.

Nevertheless these musicians are highly popular figures with South Wales jazz audiences and Gough’s “Miss Kitty” persona communicated itself well to the non specialist audience. Personal misgivings aside this was another set that was very well received.


BOOGIE PARTY – THE RED STRIPE BAND

Founded by pianist and vocalist Neil Drinkwater (aka ‘Red Stripe’) back in 1994 the seven piece Red Stripe Band has recorded four albums and played hundreds of live shows, including many prestigious festival dates, often supporting some of the biggest names in the music business.

As far as I could ascertain the line up was the same as last year with Drinkwater joined by vocalist Helena May, the horn section of Lee Vivian (trumpet), John O’ Neill (tenor sax) and Erica Clarke (baritone sax) and the rhythm team of bassist Costa Tancredi and drummer Ed Williams.

Om a particularly cold, damp and dismal night audience numbers were down on last year and it took the band considerably longer to warm up the crowd. The dance floor didn’t really become full until the second set, by which time the alcohol was probably taking hold!

The Red Stripe Band’s repertoire includes boogie woogie, rock ‘n’roll and jump jive staples as well as a number of original songs written in broadly the same styles, including the infectious “My Brazilian Neighbour”, which proved to be a first half highlight.

More familiar material included “Blueberry Hill”, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” a speeded up “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)”.

The second set encouraged more dancers onto the floor including some of the dance club members who’d performed during the Purramours set. Saxophonist Martha Skilton, more used to being up on stage and making others dance could be seen throwing a few shapes as she danced with friends and family. One of the lads in her group impressed with a dizzying display of break dancing! I felt tired, and very old, just watching him!

The music included familiar Red Stripe favourites such as Booker T’s “Soul Limbo”, “Route 66” and a speeded up version of the “Pink Panther Theme”. Less predictable was a version of the Lily Allen hit “Scream” - “ I bet you weren’t expecting that one”, teased May.

By now even the most recalcitrant dancers were on their feet, even me, as the band paraded around the audience while they encored with their signature tune “Red Stripe Boogie”. Even Williams had strapped on a snare drum, tenor man O’ Neill, the group’s most distinctive soloist, was the only musician left on stage.

Once again the Red Stripe Band had delivered the goods, although they’d had to work a little harder than next year. If the Jazz Alley / Boogie Party event is going to be repeated then it might be worth thinking about a change of headliner next time round.

Although the music performed today isn’t what I’d choose for home listening it works very well in the family friendly atmosphere of Jazz Alley and the Boogie Party and helps to bring wall2wall and Black Mountain Jazz into the consciousness of the townspeople of Abergavenny. It remains a highly popular event and one that looks certain to be repeated.

Meanwhile the Friday and Saturday of the Festival, the two ‘serious jazz’ days, threw up some excellent music at the Melville Centre with Ian Shaw, Gilad Atzmon and Shez Raja all delivering memorable performances. There was some great music from the various duo combinations in the bar, too.

The Friday evening review, “1917 And All That Jazz”, complete with Prohibition Bar, also worked very well and another jazz “theme evening” must surely be another possibility.

Congratulations to Mike Skilton, Debs Hancock and the rest of the BMJ / wall2wall team on another successful Festival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 02/09/2017.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 02/09/2017.

Ian Mann enjoys a day of wall to music including performances by three of the great entertainers of British jazz, vocalist Ian Shaw, saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and electric bass specialist Shez Raja.

Photograph of Shez Raja Collective courtesy of Abergavenny Camera Club

SATURDAY AT WALL2WALL FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 02/09/2017.

The third day of the wall2wall Jazz Festival was centred exclusively at the Melville Centre, a former grammar school now converted into a community centre with a particularly strong focus on the performing arts.

Five concert performances were scheduled for the main stage in the Theatre with a series of more intimate duo performances taking place in the more informal bar area. With the duo performances commencing immediately after the concert events had finished this literally was the wall to wall jazz promised by the title of the Festival. 


OLLIE WEST BAND + STRING QUARTET, MELVILLE THEATRE

The wall2wall Festival has always prided itself on supporting and encouraged young musicians and 2017 was to be no exception. The first concert performance of the day featured twenty year old pianist, vocalist and songwriter Ollie West, currently a student at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

West’s influences include songwriters Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Dean Friedman, Sting and Prince, Snarky Puppy keyboard player Bill Laurance, and the band Elbow. Although not exactly jazz the music created by him and his band was well received by the lunchtime audience at wall2wall, an impressive feat considering that the ensemble performed a virtually all original programme with just the one cover – of which, more later.

Joining West were his regular band consisting of George Nicola (guitar), Ashley Garrod (electric bass) and Pete Leaver (drums), plus a string section led by violinist Jody Smith and also featuring Raye Harvey (violin), Matt Chadbond (violin) and Elliot Bailey (cello), the last named making his début with the band. The majority of the string players had also been part of the twenty four piece ensemble that recorded the album “Live From The RNCM Theatre” in June 2017.

Most of today’s material was sourced from the album and today’s performance kicked off with the lively, up-tempo “Say No More” which featured funky electric bass, choppy guitar and the staccato patterns and harmonic swells of the strings. West delivered a confident vocal and Garrod was the featured soloist on electric bass.

“Summer Rain”, the B side of the 2016 single “So Far Away”, saw the strings combining with West’s piano on the intro and generally fulfilling a greater role on a more reflective song that also featured Nicola’s melodic guitar work.

“Portraits” features on the live recording and is also due to be recorded for a forthcoming EP at the Blueprint Studios in Manchester. Paced by West’s piano and with the strings adding colour and texture this was the most distinctive offering thus far, a mature and evocative song with something of Coldplay’s plaintive but anthemic lilt about it.

The breezy pop of “So Far Away” itself saw West doubling on synth and soloing briefly on the instrument as the rhythm section laid down a relaxed, subtly funky groove.

The set’s only cover was the Jimmy Webb song “Wichita Lineman” which West dedicated to the memory of the recently departed Glen Campbell. This proved to be surprisingly effective, the song proved to be particularly well suited to West’s voice and the presence of the string players added greatly to an arrangement that also included the sound of Garrod’s languid electric bass.

“Let Me Be”, the song that opens the live album, proved to be something a feature for the string quartet who brought a majestic sweep to the music as they combined effectively with the electric instruments.

The song “Only Love Can Keep Us Together” was written when was only sixteen but is a remarkably mature work that still remains relevant to its composer. The arrangement included the twin violins of Smith and Harvey plus a guitar solo from Nicola.

West readily admitted the influence of Elbow on the song “In Your Eyes” stating that he’d love to hear Guy Garvey sing it. Paced by the composer’s own piano and vocals the arrangement included a violin solo from Smith and the subtle drum colourations of Leaver.

Appropriately the set concluded with West’s “Thank You, And Goodbye”, a gentle valediction featuring just voice, piano and strings.

Although all a little bit too “poppy” for my personal tastes I generally enjoyed this performance from the Ollie West Ensemble which combined youthful enthusiasm with a commendable songwriting maturity and a high standard of musicianship from everybody concerned.

On occasions there seemed to be almost too much going on with West’s voice almost being drowned out at times and it was difficult to derive too much meaning from the lyrics. Ironically the most effective moments were often the quietest ones, featuring just voice and piano and perhaps a little colouration from the strings.

However personal misgivings aside the Ollie West Band + Strings were very well received by the wall2wall audience with a number of copies of the live album being sold. These are talented young musicians who will hopefully have a bright future within the industry. It may well be that we will get to hear a lot more from Ollie West and his friends in the coming years, albeit probably not in a jazz context.

I hear that the band’s transport broke down on the way back to Manchester sparking an impromptu string quartet performance in a picnic area on the A5 while waiting for the RAC came to the rescue. Tough luck guys, but glad you got back safely in the end. Such are the joys and perils of the touring life.


EIRA/SNOW, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR

Eira/Snow is a duo featuring the Monmouth based musicians Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes. 

Initially inspired by the music of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek,  particularly those classic ECM recordings on which Garbarek fused jazz with various folk and world music elements Owen and Downes took their band name from the Welsh word for snow, thereby acknowledging both their own roots and that original Scandinavian inspiration. The band has been in existence for a number of years now and has extended its sphere of influence to encompass the music of Wales, the Mediterranean and the Middle East with Owen playing a variety of reed instruments while Downes lays down the groove on double bass.

In January 2017 Eira/Snow played in the Melville Theatre as part of a double bill with the young Birmingham based organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir and that rather truncated set, enjoyable as it was, represented something of a taster for today.

The January show saw Eira/Snow going back to basics with Downes sticking to double bass throughout and Owen limiting himself to tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. Ordinarily he brings along more exotic instruments as well, such as the Hungarian taragato and the Armenian duduk, while Downes will also pick up his baritone to end the concert with a double sax barrage.

I’ve witnessed Eira/Snow perform at a variety of locations and the duo have established an impressive reputation for their appearances in sacred buildings and have appeared in many churches, often in remote locations, throughout the Welsh Marches. Eira/Snow’s music is particularly suited to church acoustics and the fact that some of these performances have been held by candlelight has also added to the atmosphere. Prior to today’s appearance they had recently enjoyed a successful performance in the church at nearby Grosmont.

We didn’t get the church ambience today but we did enjoy a complete Eira/Snow performance with Owen performing on his full coterie of reed instruments and also adding a little judicious electronica and percussion.

The duo had already commenced their first tune when we got in from the theatre. As I recall it was the Welsh folk tune “Brodyr pob cerddorion” a title translating as “All Musicians Are Brothers”.  An electronically generated tanpura like drone  provided the backdrop for Owen’s dancing tenor sax melodies and Downes’ deep, propulsive bass grooves.

The supremely catchy “Astrakhan Café” featured Owen on soprano saxophone.  In general  Eira/Snow’s pieces are primarily folk tunes with infectious melodies and strong grooves and an essential simplicity that ensures that they remain accessible, no matter how far the band may push them. 

The next piece, translated from Farsi as “New Year” featured Owen on the distinctive Armenian duduk, a notoriously difficult instrument to play effectively - “always a hard blow” as Owen puts it.

An arrangement of the Welsh folk tune “Pontypridd” found Owen back on the more familiar tenor sax , but treated with a dash of echo to simulate something of the church acoustic so loved by the duo.

The next piece featured Owen playing Arabic music on the Hungarian taragato, an instrument with a particularly distinctive sound and one also played by one of Owen’s great musical heroes, the highly respected German free jazz saxophonist Peter Brotzmann.

An Eira/Snow gig always represents something of a musical ‘world tour’ and “Manteca Araba” saw the duo relocating to Spain, albeit a Spain still under the influence of the Moors as Owen moved back to soprano saxophone.

As is usual with an Eira/Snow performance not all the titles were announced. The next piece found Owen treating his clarinet with live looping techniques before improvising over the melodic patterns he had generated.

The following item began with a passage of solo bass from Downes with Owen adding percussive effects by means of a rain stick and other devices, live looping these before probing deeply on tenor sax.

“Thalij”, the Arabic word for “Snow” found Owen playing his alto sax as Downes used the body of his bass to provide percussive accompaniment. Of the alto Owen informed us “she’s an old lady of 1928, but she barks like a dog”. The “old lady” is due to emerge again in 2018 as part of an Ornette Coleman inspired project that Owen is putting together.

“In Praise Of Dreams”, the Jan Garbarek piece that initially inspired the Eira/Snow project found Owen moving back to tenor for a convincing performance of this much loved ECM classic.

One suspected that this was scheduled to be the end of the performance but the duo found time for one final tune, a clarinet item that again included the use of live looping techniques, the electronics enhancing the sound of an instrument that Owen had “bought for ten quid in a charity shop” adding “it’s a good clarinet though”.

Although I’ve seen Eira/Snow perform this music on a number of occasions I don’t find myself tiring of their distinctive blend of world jazz and I found today’s show as absorbing as ever. In general audiences are always appreciative of their music and today was no exception.

Some of today’’s pieces can be heard on the duo’s website http://www.eirasnow.co.uk but they’ve been around as a band for a long time and it really is time that they committed their music to disc. I’d certainly appreciate having a permanent record of this music and I’m sure that any CD release would sell well at gigs. 


BMJ ENSEMBLE, MELVILLE THEATRE

The mysterious non appearance of the South African accapella quintet Africa Entsha created something of a crisis for the Festival organisers. Apparently the group had cancelled other shows earlier in the week, including one in Edinburgh but no official communication had been received explaining their absence.

The trio quickly dubbed ‘The BMJ Ensemble’ was comprised of the only three musicians present on the premises, Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes of Eira Snow and bassist Erica Lyons who was scheduled to play a duo set later in the bar with keyboard player John paul Gard.

The unusual configuration of reeds plus two double basses assembled in the Theatre to play an impromptu gig comprised mainly of jazz standards. Despite being so hastily convened the three musicians performed a consistently interesting set that saw an intriguing tension develop between Owen’s avant garde leanings and Lyon’s more straight ahead inclinations. The discussions between tunes were an entertainment in themselves and the interplay between the two basses was a consistent source of fascination with Lyons often making effective use of the bow.

Owen largely stuck to tenor sax throughout, the constant instrument swappage of Eira/Snow would not have been appropriate in this context. Nevertheless he probed extremely deeply, taking the music right out there in a programme that included Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and the ballad “Weaver Of Dreams”, in a version inspired by Dexter Gordon. Suitably emboldened they even tackled the Eira/Snow tune “Mutiny In Elsinor”. Some of the interplay between Owen’s tenor, Downes’ pizzicato bass and Lyon’s bowed bass was reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s groups featuring arco specialist David Izenzon, a direction that Owen, in particular, was keen to explore.

In this impromptu setting few of the tunes were actually announced and much of what was played was wholly improvised. Owen picked up his alto for one number, which also included another of those absorbing bass duets. The sound of two double basses working together is something that is rarely heard and it made a refreshing change.

Another item saw Downes finally picking up his baritone for a blues infused double sax workout that featured Lyons on arco bass and a solo from Downes on the big horn.

Despite its looseness I rather enjoyed this set which skirted lightly around the boundaries of straight ahead and free jazz and included some excellent interactive playing between all three musicians. The fact that such an interesting and engaging performance could be put together ‘on the fly’ was a good illustration of what jazz is all about.

It was all very different from the advertised event but I suspect that I probably enjoyed this absorbing session rather more than I would the more obviously theatrical Africa Entsha. Hats off to Lyndon, Crac and Erica for stepping into the breach so brilliantly.


ERICA LYONS / JOHN PAUL GARD DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR

If Saturday was turning out to be an unexpectedly busy day for Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes the same applied to Erica Lyons. Following her impromptu set with the BMJ Ensemble she carted her bass into the bar to perform her scheduled duo set with the Bristol based keyboard player John paul Gard.

Best known as a highly talented organist today’s set represented a rare outing from Gard on electric piano, a Roland RD 64. “Erica’s my left leg” explained Gard, “I usually play the organ and play the bass lines on the pedals”.

As an organist Gard is a highly popular artist with jazz audiences and has previously visited wall2wall in this context when he led his trio in a concert performance at the inaugural Festival back in 2013.

Today’s set was comprised of a selection of familiar jazz standards and Lyons seemed happier in this more straightforward context, although she admitted to enjoying the challenge of playing that earlier, less structured set with Downes and Owen.

In the less formal setting of the bar she delighted in a series of playful instrumental exchanges with Gard on a series of standards including such well known tunes as “A Night In Tunisia”, “Take The A Train” and “Take Five”, all tunes that received more than one airing over the course of the Festival weekend.

Lyons has always been a highly accomplished bass player and a consistently engaging soloist and prior to her move to the Welsh Borders was a professional musician on the London scene. She also spent some time in New York studying bass with the great Ray Brown. I’ve seen her perform many times and have always enjoyed her playing.

I was also impressed with Gard as a pianist after witnessing several shows featuring him in his more familiar guise as an organist.

This short, but hugely enjoyable, set from two highly popular musicians was warmly appreciated by the Festival audience.


IAN SHAW / BARRY GREEN DUO, MELVILLE THEATRE

Ian Shaw is one of Britain’s most respected jazz vocalists, but his talent doesn’t stop there, he is also an accomplished pianist and songwriter and a raconteur with a ready, and often salty wit. In other words Ian Shaw is an entertainer – but having said that he’s emphatically not “show business”.

I recall enjoying a solo performance by Shaw at the Lichfield Real Ale Jazz & Blues Festival back in 2011 and being impressed by both his singing and his dazzling repartee. As a vocalist Shaw has a stunning technical facility allied to a jazz improviser’s sensibility, it’s an undeniably impressive combination, but ironically one that may have prevented him from coming to the attention of a broader, non specialist audience. “Of course if I owned some suits and was thin I’d be hugely famous”  he has been known to remark, with more than a little justification.

For today’s performance Shaw was joined by the excellent pianist Barry Green, a supremely versatile player who remains somewhat underrated in the UK despite having recorded with a number of leading American musicians.  The pianist had previously visited BMJ back in 2009 as a member of saxophonist Martin Speake’s ‘Generations’ quartet.

A superb accompanist Green works frequently with singers, including another one time BMJ visitor, Georgia Mancio. Technically gifted and supremely adaptable Green was the perfect foil for Shaw and also helped to keep a check on the singer’s verbal ramblings during this relatively short Festival set.

Like many jazz artists Shaw has a love of the music of Joni Mitchell and the performance began with a rendition of her “In France They Kiss On Main Street” which demonstrated Shaw’s awesome technique, but with the vocal gymnastics never obscuring the brilliant imagery of Mitchell’s lyrics. The faithful Green also impressed with his solo at the piano.

Shaw demonstrated his supremely flexible phrasing on the hipster lyrics of “Small Today Tomorrow” Bob Dorough’s paean to laziness and hedonism. The piece also featured an excellent solo from the impressive Green.

Shaw’s new album, to be released in November 2017 will be called “Shine, Sister, Shine” and will be dedicated to the women who have influenced his life and career.  It will include “All The Days” by the Welsh born singer-songwriter Judith Owen, with whom Shaw, himself a native of North Wales, has performed.

“Dance Me To The End Of Love” came from the pen of another, more famous, songwriter the late, great Leonard Cohen. The song had also been tackled, in a rather different manner, by the band Moscow Drug Club at the Festival Dinner at the Angel Hotel on Thursday evening.

We were also to hear “Wichita Lineman” again, but in an innovative, slowed down arrangement that was very different to the version performed earlier in the day by the Ollie West Ensemble. It’s been surprising to find just how big an influence Glen Campbell has been on jazz artists with Shaw praising him as a vocalist and singling out the clarity of his diction.

Shaw is an artist who looks forward as well as backwards. Acknowledging the influence of Mel Torme “Born To Be Blue” included an example of Shaw’s superior scatting technique as he exchanged phrases with Green at the piano.
Meanwhile his cover of Alicia Keys’ “New York (Empire State of Mind)” showed how up to date he can be. The latter song is to be included on the forthcoming “Shine, Sister, Shine” album.

Humour and tenderness then combined on Shaw’s interpretation of Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?”.

“Carry On World” included a cast of colourful characters and a world weary black humour, plus a dazzling solo from the excellent Barry Green.

Politically active Shaw is an active fund raiser for the charity Side By Side With Refugees and has been a volunteer worker at the detention camps in Calais. After today’s show a bucket collection was held in support of the charity while Shaw’s emotive, self penned song “Keep Walking” addressed the subject with music, the lyrics telling the tale of Sara, an Eritrean refugee currently stranded in Calais. The song will be included on the forthcoming album.

“The Beautiful Life” ended the show on a more optimistic note and the warmth of the audience reaction saw the duo returning for a brief encore of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”.

In between the songs Shaw charmed the audience with his relaxed but streetwise banter,  including details of his Welsh Presbyterian upbringing, the differences in the Welsh language between the North and South of the country – and the time he was employed to play piano in an Amsterdam brothel.

This was an excellent performance from two highly talented musicians and the standard of the singing and playing was exceptional. And like all Ian Shaw shows it was also highly entertaining as well as being musically satisfying. Shaw doesn’t pander to a mass audience but nevertheless he deserves to be far better known to the wider public than he actually is.

After the show I treated myself to two albums recorded by Barry Green in Brooklyn on a visit to New York in January 2014.  Recorded with two separate trios “Great News” features Green with saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver while “Almost There” features a more conventional piano trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey. Both sets feature a combination of Green originals and a mix of inspired covers ranging from jazz and bebop standards to pop tunes. All are given innovative, sometimes quirky arrangements and a wry musical wit is inherent throughout both recordings with the spirit of Thelonious Monk never too far away. As one would expect from musicians of this quality the playing is excellent throughout and Green more than holds his own in such illustrious company. Both releases are highly recommended and appear on Green’s own Moletone record label.
 

SARAH MEEK / GUY SHOTTON DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR

The duo of vocalist Sarah Meek and pianist Guy Shotton played a successful club date at BMJ in March 2017 when the pair opened for Shotton’s own instrumental trio featuring bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Bob Richards.

That evening came about as the result of a duo performance by Shotton and vocalist Debs Hancock in the Melville Theatre Bar at the 2016 wall2wall Jazz Festival.

Today’s enjoyable standards set included classy interpretations of “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” plus the Duke Ellington tunes “Take The A Train” and “In A Mellow Tone”.

Arguably the most impressive item was the duo’s adaptation of a tune by Ravel, with lyrics presumably added by Meek.

The qualities that made the duo’s first BMJ performance such a success were evident again with Meek demonstrating an impressive technical facility and a real talent for jazz phrasing. Like her musical partner the singer is a graduate of the RWCMD Jazz Course.

Shotton again impressed as a highly capable piano soloist and as an inventive and imaginative arranger.

This good natured set from a pair of very personable performers was again very well received by the audience in the Melville Centre’s bar area.

To read more about Sarah Meek and Guy Shotton and their previous BMJ visit please go to;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sarah-meek-guy-shotton-trio-black-mountain-jazz-the-melville-centre-abergav/


GILAD ATZMON & THE ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE, MELVILLE THEATRE

A regular visitor to BMJ Gilad Atzmon drew the largest concert audience of the Festival for this performance featuring his regular working band the Orient House Ensemble comprised of pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Enzo Zirilli.

The quartet were presenting music from their forthcoming album “The Spirit Of Trane”, a celebration of the music and spirit of John Coltrane, the great saxophonist, composer and improviser who died in 1967 but remains a towering influence on contemporary jazz musicians.

The band played next to a panel dedicated to John Coltrane that had been moved into the Theatre from the informative exhibition curated by the National Jazz Archive that had been set up in the foyer for the duration of the Festival.

The album repertoire includes outside material played by Coltrane as well as music actually composed by him. In a neat twist of musical fate Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone”, which concluded the set by Sarah Meek and Guy Shotton was followed by the same composer’s “In A Sentimental Mood”,  which opened the proceedings here. It was introduced by the duo of Harrison on piano and Atzmon on soprano sax but the first real solo of the piece featured Stavi’s melodic and resonant double bass. The recorded version also features the Sigamos String Quartet led by violinist Ros Stephen but in the absence of the additional instrumentation Atzmon was able to stretch out on the soprano, sounding authentically ‘Trane-like’ and inserting a quote from “Resolution” (from Coltrane’s most famous recording “A Love Supreme”) into his solo.

“Invitation”, written by Bronislaw Kaper but indelibly associated with Coltrane, followed. Given a kind of tango arrangement the piece saw Atzmon switching to tenor sax, an instrument not normally associated with him. But as Atzmon explains in his notes to the forthcoming album the tenor was his first horn and it was Coltrane who inspired him to play it. It was the difficulty of transporting the instrument on budget airlines that led to him abandoning the tenor and taking up the smaller alto sax, the instrument with which he is now most commonly associated. It was this recording that saw the saxophonist getting his tenor “out of the closet” but his playing here as he shared the solos with pianist Harrison sounded as if he’d been playing the instrument all his life.

This was even more pronounced on the Atzmon original “Minor Thing”, a tune written in a Coltrane-esque idiom that included a marathon tenor solo that sounded for all the world like prime time, “sheets of sound” era Coltrane, such was the flawless intensity of the playing, with drummer Zirilli responding in a manner that was reminiscent of the great Elvin Jones.
When Atzmon had finally blown himself out Harrison responded with a slow burning piano solo , gradually ramping up the intensity with the aid of Stavi’s omnipresent bass growl and Zirilli’s colourful and increasingly forceful snare and cymbal decorations. 

The ballad “Central Park West” presented the gentler side of Coltrane’s spirit with Atzmon adopting a softer tone on tenor, Harrison providing a lyrical piano solo and Zirilli turning in some suitably sensitive and sympathetic brush work.

Solo soprano sax introduced the next item which was unannounced, but which proved to be “Blue Train” if memory serves. After progressing through a brief duo dialogue with Harrison Atzmon launched into an intense, powerful solo, often with the group in sax trio mode as Harrison sat back before delivering his own sparkling solo.

Introduced by Atzmon as “John Coltrane’s take on Brexit” the OHE’s modal, Coltrane-esque version of the folk tune “Scarborough Fair” originally appeared on the 2013 OHE album “Songs of the Metropolis” . Tonight’s version commenced with Atzmon blowing his soprano directly into the strings of the piano to create a kind of echo effect, the atmospherics enhanced by Zirilli’s cymbal scrapes.  Harrison took the first solo, his expansive wanderings gradually gathering intensity , powered along by Zirilli’s increasingly dynamic drumming. Atzmon then switched to tenor, soloing with a simmering intensity.

All too soon we had come to the final number, another delightful ballad performance that featured the warm, soulful sound of Atzmon’s tenor.  The tune was unannounced but was probably Jimmy McHugh’s “Say It (Over And Over Again” which closes the “Spirit of Trane” album.

Rewarded with shouts for “more!” from a highly appreciative audience the quartet returned for a blistering, free-wheeling, quote stuffed, bop inspired work out briskly ushered in by Zirilli’s drums and featuring some robust tenor and drum exchanges, more dazzling pianistics from Harrison and a final series of volcanic drum breaks from Zirilli.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to see the tunes from the “Spirit of Trane” album performed by the core of the Orient House Ensemble. The album itself sounds very different thanks to Ros Stephen’s magnificent string arrangements. Today’s performance was much more raw and direct and, arguably, closer to the true spirit of Coltrane himself.

Atzmon’s dynamic performances and extraordinary musicianship have made him a hugely popular figure with BMJ audiences and his three band mates in a long running and highly cohesive ensemble are also supremely accomplished musicians and consistently exciting and entertaining performers. In this relatively brief festival slot Atzmon kept the verbals to a minimum, something of a first for him, and let the music do the talking. It spoke with eloquence and conviction, channelling the “Spirit of Trane” to a 21st century audience.


GETHIN LIDDINGTON / DAVE JONES DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR

The final duo performance of the Festival featured two more of South Wales’ finest musicians, Gethin Liddington on trumpet and flugelhorn and Dave Jones at the piano. Both are highly accomplished soloists and both have featured regularly on the Jazzmann web pages.

I didn’t get to see as much of this set as I would have liked after being whisked away in the middle to be interviewed about my thoughts on the Festival by Mike Skilton for the wall2wall live-stream broadcast. Frankly I found it a highly discomforting experience, as a journalist I’d far rather be behind a typewriter than in front of a camera!

Getting back to the bar and in severe need of a drink I managed to catch the end of Dave and Geth’s standards based set and remember enjoying their interpretation of “All The Things You Are”, which featured Liddington’s distinctive four valve flugel.

As one would expect from these two vastly experienced musicians this was a very classy set that was correspondingly well received. I just wish I’d managed to hear a bit more of it.


SHEZ RAJA COLLECTIVE with DENNIS ROLLINS, MELVILLE THEATRE

Trombonist Dennis Rollins appeared at the 2016 wall2wall Festival with his own Velocity Trio and enjoyed the experience so much that he wanted to be involved again.

This year he was back as a guest soloist with the Collective, the band led by electric bass specialist Shez Raja. The line up of the Collective has always been fluid and Raja positively encourages the involvement of prominent guest soloists, Indeed Gilad Atzmon has collaborated with the group in the past, both live and on record.  Meanwhile Raja’s most recent album, “Gurutopia” features contributions from big name Americans Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Mike Stern (guitar).

Raja is a British-Asian bass player and composer, originally from the Wirral but now based in London.   He  formed his Collective in 2007 and subsequently released three studio albums, “Magica” (2007) “Ten Of Wands” (2008) and Mystic Radikal” (2010).  In 2014 the album “Soho Live” captured something of the energy of a Collective live performance and this was followed by the studio set “Gurutopia” in 2016.

For today’s performance Raja and Rollins were joined by two of the Collective’s core members, New Zealand born Pascal Roggen on electric violin and Alex Stanford on keyboards. The drum stool was occupied by Sophie Alloway, perhaps best known as the drummer with the trio Wild Card, led by guitarist Clement Regert.

Raja lists his key influences on electric bass as being Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke and Weather Report era Jaco Pastorius so it’s perhaps not too surprising to discover that much of his music is full of strong, funky grooves that pack a mighty rhythmic punch. But there’s also a degree of subtlety about Raja’s music and an increasingly important element reflecting his Asian heritage.

Like his hero Miller the bassist is a great showman and his live shows are energetic, entertaining affairs with the instrumental virtuosity of the group members balanced by an underlying good humour and sense of fun.

Described by its composer as “a trip to the Punjab” the opening segue of “Shambala”, “Epiphany” and “Get Cosmic” incorporated funky electric bass, and hard driving drumming but also included imaginative solos from Rollins and Roggen plus the leader on his five string bass. In this electric setting the sounds of the instruments were often heavily treated, particularly Roggen’s violin and the leader’s bass. Raja’s second solo of this sequence featured the distinctive sound of the wah wah pedal, just one of Raja’s range of electronic effects. These new tunes are likely to be featured on Raja’s next recording.

From the “Gurutopia” album the frenetic “Maharajah” kept the pot bubbling with its infectious mix of funk grooves and Indian timbres and melodies. Introduced by Raja’s heavily distorted electric bass the piece included solos from the always inventive Rollins and from Stanford on his rack of keyboards (a Prophet synth and a Nord Electro 2), sounding more than a little like the great Bernie Worrall.

From the same album “Song For John” added a folkish lilt via Roggen’s violin solo which floated above the leader’s languorous electric bass groove. Meanwhile Rollins adopted a warm, rounded sound for his trombone solo.

Inspired by Raja’s love of the films of Guy Ritchie “RocknRolla” raised the energy levels once more. Ushered in by Alloway at the drums the piece found Stanford adopting a Hammond organ sound while Raja’s wah wah inflected bass solo and Stanford’s subsequent synth excursion attempted to capture something of the essence of Stern’s high octane guitar work on the recorded version.

Still focussing on the “Gurutopia” material “Sketches Of Space” (great title!) was a feature for the versatile Roggen, a musician capable of playing all styles of music from classical to folk, on either electric or acoustic violin.  He clearly relishes playing in this band and was a good humoured, energetic presence throughout, the perfect foil for his similarly inclined leader.

The dynamic variations of “Rabbits”, the opening track on “Gurutopia” offered Rollins the opportunity to express himself on trombone before Raja, ever the showman, encouraged the audience to clap along to the funky grooves generated by himself and Alloway. With the crowd fully on board the Collective unleashed further solos from Stanford on electric piano, Raja and his ‘mutant thumb’ on virtuosic electric bass, and finally the excellent Alloway at the drums. She had played with power and precision all night – on the evening of her birthday. Her contribution was rewarded by the presentation of a cake from Raja and the rest of the band and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” from both band and audience – she still had to provide her own drum accompaniment though!

Alloway was to feature again on the encore “Freedom”, a tune sourced from the “Magika” album and tonight given a Township Jazz feel as Rollins, Roggen and Raja ventured into the crowd to deliver their solos. The audience loved and this was a great way to bring the curtain down on an excellent days music that had seen wall2wall hosting three of the great entertainers of the British jazz scene, Ian Shaw, Gilad Atzmon and Shez Raja.

Entertainers they may be but they are musicians first and foremost and it was the excellence of their singing and playing that stood out most of all – the rest was just a bonus. For me Atzmon took the award for gig of the day by a very short head, partially because it was such a novelty to see him playing tenor with such brilliance. The only disappointment was that he didn’t get up to jam with the Raja Collective.

Elsewhere the Ollie West Band offered plenty of youthful promise in a set that was eminently enjoyable, if a little outside my current listening zone. The duos in the bar all contributed worthwhile performances that included some first class playing and singing.

Lyndon Owen and Crac Downes emerged as the unexpected heroes of the day, playing a hugely successful Eira/Snow show in the bar before stepping into the breach (together with Erica Lyons) to provide a much needed rescue act following the non appearance of Africa Entsha.

And Lyndon was to save the day again on Sunday – but more of that in that day’s coverage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 31st August and 1st September 2017.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 31st August and 1st September 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys the first two days of the festival and performances by Moscow Drug Club, the Gareth Roberts / Dave Jones Duo, and the musical celebration 1917 & All That Jazz.

Photograph of Liam Dunachie sourced from http://www.liamdunachie.co.uk

THURSDAY AND FRIDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 31/08/2017 and 01/09/2017.

Now in its fifth year and established into a settled format the wall2wall Jazz Festival, organised by Black Mountain Jazz Club, continues to deliver its aims of bringing top class jazz to Abergavenny, delighting the aficionados while also bringing the music to the attention of a wider constituency and putting the town itself on the global musical map.

An innovative initiative for 2017 saw six of the headline concert performances at the Theatre in the Melville Centre being live streamed across the internet with Friday evening’s performance attracting over 1000 viewers worldwide, with one fan watching on from Adelaide, Australia.

The Festival commenced on the Thursday evening with the Festival Dinner, held for the second successive year in the ballroom of the splendidly refurbished Angel Hotel,  before moving on for a series of concerts and fringe events at the Melville Centre on the Friday night and all day Saturday.

Sunday saw the third edition of the popular ‘Jazz Alley’, a free family friendly event held within the confines of Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall. With food stalls, a licensed bar and a series of free live performances this well attended event has been successful in raising the profile of Black Mountain Jazz within the town.

On Sunday night the closing “Boogie Party”, a highly popular and successful event in 2016, saw the return of Red Stripe Band to the Market Hall with their dance floor friendly blend of jazz, boogie woogie, jump jive, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and more.

FESTIVAL DINNER feat. MOSCOW DRUG CLUB, THE ANGEL HOTEL, 31/08/2017

The Festival began on Thursday evening with the third annual Festival Dinner. This year’s sell out event saw over 100 diners enjoy a two course meal followed by musical entertainment from Moscow Drug Club, the popular Bristol based band who had previously played two successful concert performances at previous editions of wall2wall.

The Festival Dinner was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Abergavenny and has become something of a civic event, a popular occasion that has done much to increase the awareness of jazz in general, and BMJ in particular, within Abergavenny and its environs. 

As I attended this event as a paying customer I don’t intend to give my usual song by song account of the performance by Moscow Drug Club. The Bristol based band describe their sound as coming from “a curious musical place where certain elements of 1930’s Berlin Cabaret, Hot Club de France, Nuevo Tango & Gypsy Campfire meet, have a few to drink and stagger arm in arm into the darkness of some eastern European cobbled street on a mission to find the bar where Django Reinhardt & Tom Waits are having an after hours jam with the local Tziganes”
which sums it all up nicely.

Fronted by singer, and occasional percussionist, Katya Gorrie the group also included accordionist Mirek Salmon, trumpeter Jonny Bruce, bassist Andy Crowdy and guitarist Will Gibbons. The band had performed at the 2014 and 2015 wall2walls at the Festival’s previous home at the Kings Arms.

Their approach remains essentially the same and tonight’s set included many songs that had featured in the group’s earlier performances with tonight’s set including such favourites as “When I Get Low I Get High”, “The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”, Strip Polka” “The Gypsy With The Fire In his Shoes”, Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love”, and an effective and evocative slowed down arrangement of “Besame Mucho”. As popular with the Abergavenny audience as ever they encored with their signature tune “Moscow Drug Club” with its cold war imagery and witty hook line “Where the Reds play the Blues”.

While Gorrie played the provocative chanteuse the instrumentalists impressed with some quality instrumental cameos with Bruce’s strident trumpet solos threatening to raise the Angel’s exquisitely decorated roof. The trumpeter was to return the following night as part of the ensemble that presented the show “1917 & All That Jazz” at the Melville Theatre.

For more on Moscow Drug Club my review of the group’s 2014 wall2wall appearance can be found in my Festival coverage for that year here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-31-08-2014/

For 2015 please visit here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/friday-and-saturday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-4th-and-5th-sept/

Meanwhile guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed a more recent performance by Moscow Drug Club at the Progress Theatre, Reading on 29th January 2016. Trevor’s account can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/moscow-drug-club-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-29-01-2016/


1917 & ALL THAT JAZZ feat. LIAM DUNACHIE TRIO, JONNY BRUCE, BEN WAGHORN, DEBS HANCOCK, MEGAN THOMAS and NIGEL JARRETT,  MELVILLE THEATRE, 01/09/2017

2017 has been designated as the official centenary of the birth of jazz with “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, originally released in 1917, generally considered to be the first ever jazz recording.

1917 was also the birth date of three of the giants of the music, vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Events have been taking place in jazz clubs throughout the British Isles celebrating Ella, Diz and Monk and earlier in 2017 vocalist Debs Hancock, a BMJ stalwart and one of the forces behind the wall2wall Festival, presented her own “Ella at 100” show which toured in Wales and the West Country and which included a performance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

The success of that tour, which also included a club date at BMJ, prompted Hancock to put a show together celebrating the centenary of jazz itself. The performance was based around a trio of talented young London based musicians led by Shropshire born pianist Liam Dunachie and featuring rising star bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer David Ingamells. Dunachie had made a big impression at the 2016 wall2wall when he performed on organ with trombonist Dennis Rollins’ Velocity Trio, deputising brilliantly for the regular incumbent, Ross Stanley.

The core trio were joined for tonight’s performance by two vocalists, Debs Hancock and Megan Thomas, the latter a recent graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. Thomas had previously impressed at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Festival where she had appeared as part of a quartet led by guitarist Trefor Owen.

Also present and correct were two horn soloists, trumpeter Jonny Bruce of Moscow Drug Club fame and tenor saxophonist Ben Waghorn who had previously visited BMJ in February 2017 as part of pianist Dave Jones’ quartet. Bristol based Waghorn has also played with bands led by trumpeter Andy Hague and has a long term association with pianist Geoff Eales. He and Bruce played together as part of DSQ, the quintet led by pianist, composer and record label proprietor Dave Stapleton. Waghorn has also been part of Stapleton’s more recent project, the group Slowly Rolling Camera.

Hancock later explained to me that she had structured tonight’s one off collaboration around two strong, already existing units, the Dunachie trio and the long running partnership of Waghorn and Bruce. This proved to be an inspired choice as the whole evening ran very smoothly with the musical performances linked by a narrative written and spoken by jazz journalist Nigel Jarrett.

“We are not looking to create a stuffy ‘history of jazz’ lesson, just a celebration of iconic moments, players and collaborations and the influences that they may have had” declared the BMJ website and on an evening that was both relaxed and informative, and packed with great music, this was pretty much what we got.

And before we even got to the performance there were the delights of the “Prohibition Bar” in the Melville’s hospitality area to consider. Here BMJ stalwart Patricia, splendidly and glamorously dressed in 1920’s ‘flapper’ attire dispensed gin and tonics from a teapot into china cups, something that helped to create an authentic period atmosphere and which proved to be enormously popular. There was to be no beer for me tonight as I was driving home while my other half indulged her recently discovered passion for gin!

I was quite happy just to get intoxicated on the music as Jarrett introduced an opening batch of four tunes beginning with George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” which featured the Fitzgerald inspired vocals of Hancock and the piano soloing of Dunachie on an acoustic upright hired for the Festival.

Mullov-Abbado’s bass introduced a modal style interpretation of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” which featured an adventurous and flexible vocal performance from Thomas. On a piece these days more frequently heard as an instrumental the young singer brought an emotional charge to the rarely heard lyrics while also skilfully negotiating the technical demands of the piece.

Bruce and Waghorn then came to the front of the stage to dovetail neatly on the opening of Dizzy Gillespie’s enduring “A Night In Tunisia” before getting the chance to demonstrate their impressive individual ‘chops’. Bruce’s blazing trumpet solo saw him carrying on where he’d left off with Moscow Drug Club. Waghorn, a powerful but fluent saxophonist, was no less impressive and a high energy performance also included a drum feature from Ingamells before the two horns linked up again for a restatement of the familiar theme.

Having paid homage to Diz the ensemble now tipped their collective hats towards Thelonious Monk with a performance of the pianist’s “Well You Needn’t”  which offered a further demonstration of Waghorn’s abilities alongside further solos from Dunachie on the piano, and Mullov-Abbado, a successful composer and band leader in his own right, on the bass.

Jarrett then returned to introduce the next crop of tunes which commenced with the New Orleans stylings of “St. James Infirmary Blues” which began in funereal style with Ingamells’ martial style drums and the dolorous wail of Bruce’s trumpet teamed with Waghorn’s tenor. But in true New Orleans fashion the music soon turned into a celebration with Bruce’s strident, vocalised trumpet solo followed by Dunachie’s honky-tonk style piano solo, accompanied by the clatter of Ingamells’ sticks on rims. Mullov-Abbado again illustrated his virtuosity on the bass prior to another raucously vocalised passage from Bruce on trumpet.

Atmospheric low end piano and Thomas’ wordless vocals ushered in the ballad “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning”, an unscheduled delight that even took Jarrett by surprise which featured the singer’s flexible phrasing on another impressive rendition of the lyric. The tune was adventurously combined with a reading of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (the first recording to feature a Hammond organ as Jarrett informed us) that featured some adventurous scatting from Thomas and a sparkling solo from Dunachie.

Hancocks returned to sing a swinging version of “Take The A Train” in which she demonstrated her own scatting abilities alongside some lively trumpet and tenor exchanges plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Ingamells.

Unaccompanied drums then introduced a frantic version of Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Confirmation”  which saw Bruce on muted trumpet and Waghorn on tenor combining effectively on the complex harmonies and slippery, darting melodic phrases. Waghorn took the first solo followed by Bruce and Dunachie before the horns wrapped up an excellent first half by trading fours with Ingamells.

Set two began with Hancock giving an assured and emotive performance of Monk’s “Round Midnight” in a pared down setting featuring just voice, piano and bass.

Jarrett then told us something of the history of jazz recording and of the racial prejudice the music’s black performers suffered during the early days before touching on the ‘Great American Songbook’ and the later attempts to break away from this by adventurous musicians such as Parker, Gillespie, Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

The next selection of tunes began with Miles Davis’ “So What” which commenced with Mullov-Abbado playing Paul Chambers’ famous bass motif and saw Bruce approximating the sound of Davis’ equally famous trumpet solo. Dunachie’s piano solo saw him singing along with his own melody lines and Mullov-Abbado’s bass feature included some stunning work up around the bridge of the instrument.

Horace Silver’s most famous composition “Song For My Father” included some muscular tenor soloing from Waghorn while Bruce adopted a cooler sound on muted trumpet, but still generating an impressive degree of nascent power. Dunachie’s piano solo offered a more reflective interlude, appropriate perhaps to the song’s title.

Dunachie teased with the infamous “Smoke On The Water” riff when introducing Jobim’s “Triste” which featured another adventurous performance from Megan Thomas who sang the English lyric and added a scat vocal passage that effectively shared the soloing with Dunachie’s piano.

Waghorn featured strongly on John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”, a tune from the classic “Blue Train” album. His opening solo was fluent and well constructed, steadily building in intensity while propelled by Mullov-Abbado’s rapid bass walk and Ingamells’ crisp, propulsive drumming. Dunachie’s expansive solo then saw the pianist responding in kind.

Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, written by saxophonist Paul Desmond and sourced from another landmark album, “Time Out” followed.  This was a vehicle for Dunachie who played the famous melody on piano before stretching out and sharing the solos with Mullov-Abbado on a piece played by just the core trio.

Jarrett then returned to introduce a sequence of vocal performances, two of them sourced from the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess”.

But first we heard Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”, selected because the composer himself lived to be more than one hundred. Here Hancock and Thomas shared the vocals, singing alternate lines and stretching the fabric of the song prior to a dazzling solo from Dunachie, arguably his best of the night.
This segued directly into Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy”, this time with the singers sharing verses, and finally into “Summertime” with a jaunty but innovative arrangement featuring Thomas’s vocals and Bruce’s vocalised, plunger muted solo which saw the trumpeter really letting rip. He was followed by Waghorn on tenor sax before Hancock returned to sing the final verse.

Dunachie introduced his own tune “The Elite Pie Land”, the unusual name actually proving to be an anagram for “Help, I Need A Title!”, Played by the core trio the quirkiness of the title was undermined by the gentle lyricism of the performance with the composer’s limpid piano shadowed by Mullov-Abbado’s warm bass purr and the delicate shadings of Ingamells’ brushed drums.

Finally Jarrett returned to introduce the ensemble’s own version of “Livery Stable Blues” which saw them kicking off in the original Dixieland collective polyphonic style before stretching out with the kind of extended solos that developed later in the history of jazz. Jarrett emphasised the importance of the blues in the development of the music, and this was emphasised in the solos of Waghorn and Bruce, the trumpeter first playing with a bucket mute before removing it and emoting more powerfully through the open horn. The solos from the horn men were preceded by a spirited excursion from Dunachie himself.

This opening performance at the Melville Centre was something of a triumph and a vindication of the hard work put in by Debs Hancock and others to organise the event. Despite the familiarity of the material the arrangements and performances were fresh and adventurous and the standard of the singing and playing first rate. Nigel Jarrett did a good job as narrator with a well researched and sometimes humorous script.

GARETH ROBERTS / DAVE JONES DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR, 01/09/2017.

Wall2Wall Jazz has always lived up to its name and during the interval we were entertained by a good natured standards set in the bar area by two of South Wales’ finest jazz musicians, trombonist Gareth Roberts and pianist Dave Jones. Their set included well known tunes such as “Just Squeeze Me”, “In A Mellow Tone” and “Stella By Starlight”, but just like the main event in the theatre these benefited from the freshness and inventiveness of the playing. Both musicians are highly accomplished soloists and composers and bandleaders in their own right. It’s always a pleasure to see both of them play, whether individually or together, and in whatever musical contexts they find themselves.

Roberts regularly plays his trombone at sporting events, hired to encourage and galvanise the crowd. Torn between Glamorgan in the 20/20 cricket finals in Birmingham and the Wales v Austria World Cup qualifier in Cardiff he decided on the local option and the football. A good move as it turned out with Glamorgan bowing out in the semis but the Welsh football team triumphing with a late wonder strike from young Ben Woodburn. I’d like to think that Gareth’s playing contributed in some small way to this vital victory.

 

 

“Jazz Futures” in Brecon and Reading.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

“Jazz Futures” in Brecon and Reading.

Jazz educator Marc Edwards, creator of the "Brecon Jazz Futures" programme at Brecon Jazz Festival, writes about his work promoting the music of young jazz musicians at events in Brecon and Reading.

The following feature was co-authored by Marc Edwards of Brecon Jazz Futures and Trevor Bannister of Jazz in Reading.


About Brecon Jazz Futures.


In August 2016, the long-established and prestigious Brecon Jazz Festival faced closure through dwindling grant aid and funding. The Friends of Brecon Jazz responded to this crisis with the decision to give greater support than ever before, offering voluntary service as first-time promoters in producing the ‘pilot’ Brecon Jazz Futures project, with the full support of the CEO of Theatr Brycheiniog, its staff and all facilities.

Young emerging bands would be selected and booked to mount a series of concerts at the Brecon Theatre (Brycheiniog), to run alongside and to complement simultaneously the newly re-formed Brecon Jazz Festival, as presented in other central Brecon venues by the long-established and very hard-working Brecon Jazz Club.

Reading based Marc Edwards, with a lifetime career in instrumental music education, was appointed curator of the new Futures programme series. He sourced nine bands, mostly from the Royal Academy, London and the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, (plus five locally-based groups commissioned by by the team at Theatr Brycheiniog), to fill the weekend with a series of extraordinarily inspiring and high-quality concerts, headlined by leading trombonist Dennis Rollins with his trio Velocity.

‘We were looking to help to keep the flame of jazz in Brecon alive,’ Marc has remarked, ‘firstly in providing a public platform for young emerging bands, and secondly with the intention of appealing to a broader, more youthful audience.’

The success of both the Brecon Jazz Futures event and that organised by Brecon Jazz Club offered encouragement to suggest that Brecon Jazz could survive well beyond expectation. This year, though small in scale, and in spite of the temporary hiatus and loss of momentum in Futures’ progress, the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival proved to be a ‘small, but beautifully formed’ delight.

**** **** **** **** ****

Meanwhile, Jazz in Reading was making its own strides towards presenting young and emerging jazz talent, with the booking of the Alex Hitchcock Quintet who will play at the Progress Theatre, Reading on 22nd September 2017. Why should they and Brecon Jazz Futures not join forces? It seemed a natural and obvious alliance. With but a few weeks notice, the generous provision of time and support from Marc Edwards and the Jazz in Reading team, and the cooperation of the Progress Theatre, a concert was organised to present the Tom Smith Septet on 18 August 2017.

The rapturous applause of the sell-out audience and cries of ‘MORE’ that greeted the band speak for themselves; this was a memorable and truly successful event. As one member of the audience said, ‘This was the best jazz I’ve heard this year!’
Trevor Bannister’s review of this event can be read in full here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tom-smith-septet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-18-08-2017/

All this bodes well for the future, not just for Brecon, but for UK jazz in general. Marc’s ‘recommended/approved’ list now holds twenty-six bands, based across the country in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Leeds, eager for the opportunity to express themselves in club and concert dates. Brecon and Reading have shown that it can work.

Why not contact Marc at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to find out more?

Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2017.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2017.

Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by Hot 8 Brass Band, Sarah Munro, Mode9, Paul Carrack and Denys Baptiste.

Photograph of Denys Baptiste by Tim Dickeson


Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2017.

HOT 8 BRASS BAND

The final day of the Festival offered little in the way of cutting edge or even straight-ahead jazz with saxophonist Denys Baptiste and vocalist Gregory Porter the only recognised jazz performers.

However given their New Orleans roots the Hot 8 Brass Band, who opened the concert programme in the Big Top, still have close ties to the jazz tradition even though their music has moved on to embrace other genres of Afro-American music including soul, funk, r’n’b and hip hop. 

The high octane quartet emerged directly from the New Orleans marching band tradition and boast a line up of two trumpets, two trombones, tenor sax, sousaphone and two percussionists. And Hot 8 is still a genuine marching band,  the two percussionists played standing up, with snare and bass drums their principal instruments, neither sat down at a drum kit and the relentless rhythmic drive that they provided throughout this high energy show was astonishing. These guys made the Duracell Bunny look like a slouch.

Hot 8 are the real deal, survivors of Hurricane Katrina and with a chequered history that has seen the early deaths of several former members of the band as a result of New Orleans’ notorious gang violence. This is a band of brothers who have endured their share of tragedy and more than live up to their group motto “We Brass Hard”.

Led from the back by sousaphone player Bennie Pete and fronted by trumpeter/vocalist B.I.G. Al Huntley Hot 8 proved to be supreme entertainers. They had the almost capacity audience in the capacious Big Top on their feet from the off. Maybe this wasn’t so surprising, when a guy the size of B.I.G. Al tells you to “get on yo’ feet’ you don’t stay sitting down.

Hot 8’s music exploded out of the blocks and they kept the pot bubbling throughout an opening half hour segue showcasing tunes from their latest album “On The Spot”. With lyrics celebrating Mardi Gras and other cultural aspects of their home city Hot 8 delivered a constantly unfolding hymn of praise to the ‘Big Easy’ with the music embracing everything from early field hollers to contemporary hip hop and everything in between.

Having got us on our feet Huntley and the gang kept us there courtesy of their infectious rhythms and regular call and response routines that had the audience singing and lapping along. This wasn’t a show for me to be taking notes, instead I just entered into the whole spirit of the thing, which was essentially just one big party celebrating the music and culture of the ‘Crescent City’.

Pete’s pumping sousaphone bass lines were a marvel and there were individual instrumental cameos for tenor sax plus the trumpets and trombones. The standard of musicianship was uniformly high, but instrumental virtuosity wasn’t really the point. Nevertheless a high standard of technical ability, not to mention extraordinary stamina, must be a prerequisite for acceptance into Hot 8’s pool of players.

Although the focus was on original material the band still played a series of memorable covers including Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Joy Division’s seemingly ineffably bleak “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which the Hot 8 managed to transform into a raucous sing-along party anthem. If Ian Curtis was spinning in his grave nobody would have been able to hear him.

The encore was a splendidly funky arrangement of the most famous New Orleans anthem of them all, “When The Saints”. The only disappointment was that the band didn’t actually parade around the venue.

This was a terrific show and although I wouldn’t necessarily wish to listen to Hot 8’s music at home there was no denying their crowd pleasing energy, attitude and musicianship. These guys are genuine showmen who really know how to work a crowd.

The early afternoon ‘party show’ in the Big Top has become a bit of a Cheltenham tradition and this was the most exuberant yet following previous successful appearances by London based outfits Hackney Colliery Band and Ibibio Sound Machine. Incidentally Hackney Colliery Band are supporting Hot 8 on some dates of the current UK tour.

SARAH MUNRO / MODE9

Another recent Cheltenham tradition is the Bank Holiday Afternoon Showcase event sponsored by the Oldham Foundation. Hosted by John Oldham this always showcases a double bill of emerging local talent with the acts selected having impressed the previous year as part of the Freestage programme. Previous artists who have appeared in this slot and gone on to bigger things include gypsy jazz guitarist Remi Harris and singer/songwriters Hattie Briggs and George Montague.

This year’s artists were Hertfordshire based singer/songwriter Sarah Munro and the six piece Cambridge/London jazz/funk/soul band Mode9. Previously the Showcase has featured locally based artists from the Midlands and the West Country but 2017 saw the performers coming from further afield.

First to appear was twenty year old Sarah Munro who has recently released her début album “Say Hello To You”. Her music has been played on BBC Radio 2, notably by Jamie Cullum, and she has also supported a diverse and impressive range of big names in the live environment, among them Jimmy Webb, Clare Teal and Festival artist Paul Carrack. 

Singing and playing acoustic guitar on the dimly lit stage Munro was accompanied by her sister Alison on keyboards and electronics. Sampled sounds, triggered by Alison attempted to create the impression of a full ban but, for me, this didn’t really work and the performance too often threatened to descend into glorified karaoke.

Nonetheless Munro had a number of fans and supporters in the Live Arena who would doubtless have disagreed with me as Munro opened her set with “I Don’t Know How To Say It Better” before moving on to the acoustic love song “The One”, sourced from her début album.

The breezy “Paint The World” was inspired by the MGM musical “An American In Paris” and featured the sounds of keyboards and sampled brushed drum beats in the arrangement.

Munro’s latest single, “For Eternity”, was written in the style of a jazz standard and has received Radio 2 airplay from Cullum, Jo Whiley and Michael Ball.

The folk tinged “Say Hello To You” featured Alison’s keyboards plus sampled woodwind sounds while “Goodbye Mr. Sunshine” saw Sarah moving temporarily to electric guitar.

The literate pop of “Little Sister” struck a chord with the female members of the audience and would make an excellent second single.

Munro put down her guitar and just sang on the torch song “No One Smiles Like You” as Alison fashioned a musical cloak around her via keyboards and samples but this only reinforced my ‘karaoke’ misgivings.

A cover of Blossom Dearie’s 1959 song “You Fascinate Me So” with its fabulously witty lyrics was much more fun with an increasingly confident Munro delivering a vivacious vocal performance.

Munro concluded her set with a beautiful version of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” performed on just voice and acoustic guitar. For me it was the purely acoustic numbers such as this and “The One” that worked best, bringing out the cool fragile beauty of Munro’s voice plus the full poignancy of the lyrics.

Overall I found the music a little too twee and I missed the presence of a live band. Stroud based guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Hattie Briggs brought along her full cast of backing musicians a couple of years ago and her performance was far more convincing and ultimately far more enjoyable.

I don’t deny that Munro has talent and she will surely continue to develop and improve and continue to build a following. Today’s performance didn’t quite work for me but I’d welcome the opportunity of seeing a purely solo show or a full band show rather than this rather unsatisfying halfway house, a real ‘curate’s egg’ of a show that was undeniably ‘good in parts’.

Munro was followed by Mode9, a six piece jazz/soul/funk combo fronted by keyboard player and vocalist Oliie Lepage- Dean. The band also featured trumpet, tenor sax, guitar, electric bass and drums with trumpeter James Brady responsible for the horn arrangements.

Mode9 cite Erykah Badou and Steely Dan as sources of inspiration but Lepage-Dean’s main influence seems to be Jamie Cullum and the band’s set was infused with a surfeit of sub-Cullum vocalising.

“The Play” from the band’s début EP “The Standby” introduced their MO of smooth, Cullum style vocals and funk grooves with the instrumental flourishes coming from tenor sax and echoed trumpet.

Elsewhere we heard many staples of the neo-soul repertoire including “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” (segued here with Gershwin’s “Summertime”), Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Most offered pithy instrumental solos for trumpet, tenor or a guitar that was too low in the mix.

Lepage-Dean’s arrangements of “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” were more inventive and less predictable with “Raindrops” getting a particularly favourable reaction from a crowd that clearly also contained a number of this group’s performers.

There were also a couple of items that I took to be original songs with the moody “Other Side Of The City” the pick of these.

I‘m afraid That I found Mode9’s brand of neo-soul to be far too slick and predictable with Lepage-Dean an over-dominant presence. His kind of vocalising doesn’t do much for me and personally I’d like to have heard more from the instrumentalists. The musicians all impressed sporadically but weren’t given enough space to really express themselves. It would be interesting to hear some of them in a more obviously jazz context.

Despite his dominance centre stage I also felt that Lepage-Dean needed to work on his presentation. He didn’t name check his colleagues once and even omitted to introduce himself, which I thought rather perverse.

It pains me say it but this was poorest Showcase event that I’ve seen after having been enjoyably impressed by most of the acts in previous years. Perhaps today’s performers were a little bit too far removed from jazz for my personal tastes. Hopefully next year’s event will be more to my liking.

PAUL CARRACK BAND

From the young hopefuls in the Live Arena to a seasoned veteran in the Big Top.

Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Paul Carrack has enjoyed a long and successful career as a member of the bands Ace, Squeeze and Mike & The Mechanics as well as being a significant solo artist with a substantial back catalogue of his own.

Friends have always touted Carrack as a top live attraction and today was my chance to put their recommendations to the test. To be honest I’ve always found his albums rather too slick and over-produced but today’s highly enjoyable performance did indeed confirm that Carrack is a hugely talented and highly professional live performer.

In the live environment the rough edges remain and Sheffield born Carrack projects a suitably down to earth, journeyman persona. He comes across like an ordinary bloke with an extraordinary talent. 

Of course it helped that Carrack was backed by a crack band including Andy Staves (guitar), Jeremy Meek (electric bass and twin drummers Dean Duke and Jack Carrack (Paul’s son). But perhaps the most distinctive instrumentalist (other than Paul Carrack himself) was Steve Beighton (saxophone, keyboards), whose raunchy r’n’b flavoured tenor sax solos added a genuine element of jazz to the performance.

Carrack and his colleagues kicked off with “Too Good To Be True”, a good showcase for the leader’s white soul vocals and Beighton’s searing tenor.

“Satisfy My Soul” saw Carrack moving from guitar to Hammond organ and diving ever deeper into soul and gospel territory. Carrack also took the instrumental honours with a soulful organ solo. It was great to see areal Hammond being used rather then a modern substitute.

“Late At Night” saw Carrack back on guitar on a tenor enlivened excursion into funk territory. By way of contrast the semi- acoustic “Watching Over Me” featured confessional, autobiographical lyrics and Carrack playing a harmonica suspended in a neck brace.

A move to the piano signalled cheers of recognition from another large crowd in the Big Top as Carrack played the opening chords of “Eyes of Blue” as swirling dry ice complemented this much loved slice of blue eyed soul.

“Better Than Nothing” was a blistering work out that featured extended solos from Carrack on electric guitar, piano and organ together with further features from Meek on electric bass, Beighton on scorching tenor and Staves on equally molten guitar. The sheer length of the solos suggested that they were tailored specifically for a jazz festival audience.

After this both band and audience were in a need of a breather and a brief acoustic set featured Paul Carrack on acoustic guitar and harmonica, Jack on small percussion and Meek on semi-acoustic upright bass. “Borderline” contained evocative Western imagery with its references to the Rio Grande and the “broken promised land”.
Meanwhile “Life’s Too Short” with its message of hope, positivism and living for the moment packed a greater rhythmic drive.

With the full band back on stage Carrack launched into “Tempted”, written by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford and sung by Carrack during his tenure with Squeeze. This was a huge hit back in the day and was still clearly fondly remembered by the Cheltenham crowd. Carrack joined Squeeze as a replacement for Jools Holland and his Hammond playing here would surely have won the approval of his predecessor.

“Bet Your Life” saw Carrack moving between piano and organ and also included instrumental solos from Beighton and Staves.

Carrack’s song “Love Will Keep Us Alive” was recorded by The Eagles and was tonight dedicated by the composer to the memory of the late Glenn Frey, much to the approval of the Cheltenham audience.

The Mike & The Mechanics hit “The Living Years” was greeted with a huge cheer of recognition and seemed to signal the ‘final lap’ and a romp through some of the biggest hits with which Carrack has been associated.

I’ve still got an old vinyl copy of the Ace album “Five A Side” somewhere so “How Long” was much appreciated not only by me but by the entire audience who sang along gleefully with Carrack’s first hit as the man himself provided authoritative white soul vocals and churning Hammond organ.

At this juncture the band left the stage but I was fully expecting them to return to run through the old Mechanics hit “Over My Shoulder” but sadly this didn’t happen, probably because of the demands of Festival scheduling. The advertised 75 minutes was up by then and the crowd accepted the lack of an encore without any real complaint.

Interestingly the set list that I was able to procure from a kindly (and highly efficient) sound engineer suggested that we’d missed out on “Over My Shoulder”, the last scheduled song of the main set, plus an encore of “What’s Going On” and “Make Your Mind Up”. Up until “How Long” Carrack and the band had followed the set list to the letter. Maybe they overdid the solos on “Better Than Nothing”.

It was a little disappointing not to hear the missing items but overall this was a hugely enjoyable show from a highly talented musician and a hugely accomplished band. Next time my friends suggest going to see Paul Carrack I might just tag along.

DENYS BAPTISTE presents THE LATE TRANE

Saxophonist Denys Baptiste has been a frequent visitor to Cheltenham Jazz Festival and his appearances have included the commissions “Let Freedom Ring” and “Now Is The Time”, extended works inspired by the life and works of Martin Luther King that were premièred in 2003 and 2014 respectively. More than a decade on “Let Freedom Ring” is still performed frequently.

Baptiste’s latest project is “The Late Trane”, an examination and re-invention of music from Coltrane’s later albums, post “A Love Supreme”.

I’d had something of a sneak preview the previous November when Baptiste and his quartet performed some of the pieces at Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s as part of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. Unfortunately I had to cut that visit short in order to move on to another Festival event so I was very much looking forward to seeing a full length performance from Baptiste and his band.

The group that Baptiste brought to Cheltenham was essentially the same one that appeared in London and the one that appears on the recently released “The Late Trane” CD. The saxophonist was joined by pianist Nikki Yeoh and drummer Rod Youngs with bassist Neil Charles replacing Gary Crosby. Charles and Crosby share bass duties on the recording.

For this project Baptiste has re-arranged Coltrane’s compositions adding contemporary bass and drum plus elements of electronica with Baptiste sometimes manipulating the sound of his horn.

Today’s performance began with the title track of the Coltrane album “Living Space”  and was an eerily spiritual tour de force featuring the leader’s breathy, echoed tenor, Youngs’ mallet rumbles and small percussive details and Charles’ evocative arco bass.

Charles flourished the bow once more on the introduction to “Dusk Dawn” in partnership with the patter of Youngs’ hand drumming. But ultimately this was a far more explosive affair with the clarion call of Baptiste’s strident tenor combining with Yeoh’s Tyner-esque piano playing, which was so intense that it almost strayed into Cecil Taylor territory at times. Yeoh recently the award for “Best Instrumentalist” at the 2017 Jazz FM awards and found herself hanging out with the stars at the awards ceremony, including members of the Rolling Stones. 

Baptiste’s approach to Coltrane’s material was perhaps best epitomised by “Ascent” which infused the piece with hip hop and drum’n’bass grooves with Yeoh playing electric keyboards in addition to utilising a laptop. Baptiste’s own solo was suitably intense and he was complemented by the power of Youngs’ dynamic drumming.

“Peace On Earth”  was a duo performance of quiet intensity with Yeoh deploying both acoustic and electric keyboards in conjunction with the leader’s tenor.

Baptiste’s subtle updating of the Coltrane ballad “After The Rain” included Yeoh’s most lyrical acoustic piano solo of the set as she stretched out alongside Baptiste’s equally expansive tenor.

At this juncture Baptiste introduced fellow saxophonist Steve Williamson to the stage. Williamson appears on the “Late Trane” album but I don’t think anybody expected to see him here so this unscheduled guest appearance represented a very welcome bonus. The two tenors evoked memories of Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders on the title track of Trane’s “Transition” album. Following a freely structured intro featuring Youngs’ mallet rumbles Charles’ bass motif formed the jumping off point for a deeply probing tenor solo from Williamson. Yeoh’s piano feature mimicked the cadences of a passing ambulance as well as demonstrating the full range of the instrument and she was followed by a monster tenor solo from Baptiste who dug in deeply.

The next piece was unannounced but again featured the two tenors working in tandem and the performance concluded with “Vigil” which featured powerful solos from both saxophonists, a final synth feature from Yeoh, muscular bass lines from Charles and some powerhouse drumming from the excellent Youngs, including an extended solo feature.

The positive audience reaction encouraged Baptiste to perform an encore but this was quashed by Tony Dudley-Evans due to the fact that many audience members also had tickets for Gregory Porter’s impending performance in the Big Top. In retrospect maybe those people should have been allowed to leave and then Denys could have played some more for those of that were left. He certainly seemed keen enough.

Overall I enjoyed this performance but I’m always a little wary of these ‘tribute’ projects that treat jazz as some kind of heritage industry, no matter how inventive the homages and re-imaginings might be. Would you really go out and buy “The Late Trane” when you can listen to the original recordings instead? Good stuff nevertheless, even if I’d really preferred to have heard some more of Baptiste’s original material. His earlier Luther King related commissions have already demonstrated his abilities as a composer of new music. 

But there were more positives than negatives. The appearance of a remarkably youthful looking Williamson was a welcome and unexpected bonus and the playing from everybody in the band was first rate throughout with Youngs impressing with his crisp, agile, powerful drumming.   

FESTIVAL OVERVIEW

Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2017 was a hugely successful event with pleasingly good attendances for virtually every ticketed performance. Audience figures held up remarkably well in these troubled times and the Festival was also a considerable artistic success with Cheltenham’s customary blend of the commercial and the cutting edge. It was a year when the big name Americans really delivered with Chick Corea, Chris Potter, Logan Richardson and Steve Gadd all really doing the business.

The programme at the Parabola was particularly strong this year and audience numbers reflected this. Top quality jazz also figured in the Live Arena and Big Top programmes alongside the more mainstream entertainment attractions.

My personal highlights included the saxophone trinity of Chris Potter, Marius Neset and Logan Richardson who all delivered brilliant performances. I was also impressed by drum legend Steve Gadd and his stellar band and by the spirited prog jazz of Swiss trio Schnellertollermeier.

Veteran pianist Chick Corea twinkled in the Big Top and Yazz Ahmed, Hans Koller and Denys Baptiste delivered strong home grown performances.

Of the more mainstream entertainment events I loved dee Dee Bridgewater’s homage to Memphis, Tennessee, the city of her birth, and also enjoyed the unassuming vocal and instrumental virtuosity of Paul Carrack.

Cheltenham prides itself on delivering ‘something for everyone’ and on the whole the 2017 programme succeeded admirably in this regard. My only reservation would be the lack of genuine cutting edge jazz on the final day, a consequence of the unavailability of the Parabola on the Bank Holiday Monday. Perhaps an alternative venue such as the Playhouse, which has been used in the past, could be considered for the last day of the Festival. 

And, finally, many thanks to Tim Dickeson for giving me his permission to use his excellent photographs to illustrate these articles.

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2017.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2017.

Ian Mann on performances by Monocled Man, Schnellertollermeier, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chick Corea, Chris Potter and Yazz Ahmed.

Photograph of the Chris Potter Quartet by Tim Dickeson


Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2017

MONOCLED MAN

Another early start at the Parabola Arts Centre saw the day’s music begin with a performance by trumpeter and composer Rory Simmons and his group Monocled Man.

As trumpeter of choice for Jamie Cullum Simmons has been a frequent visitor to Cheltenham, both as a sideman and as a leader of his own projects.  In 2010 he appeared with his now sadly defunct large ensemble Fringe Magnetic.

Among Simmons’ latest projects are the trios Monocled Man and the more song orientated Eyes of a Blue Dog, the latter featuring vocalist Elisabeth Nygaard and Norwegian drummer and sound artist Terje Evensen.

Monocled Man features Simmons on trumpet, flugel, keyboards and electronics alongside Troyka guitarist Chris Montague and in demand drummer Jon Scott. Their 2014 début for Whirlwind Recordings “Southern Drawl” was an all instrumental affair, a powerful collection of material inspired by electric era Miles Davis and by the music of more contemporary trumpeter/composers such as Dave Douglas, Cuong Vu and Arve Henriksen.

2016’s “We Drift Meridian” proved to be a conceptual album  inspired by the German author Judith Shcalansky and her tome “Pocket Book of Remote Islands”, a non fiction work written in the style of a novel and featuring tales of far flung islands and their current or former inhabitants. A number of these stories sparked Simmons’ imagination and an idea for an album began to emerge. 

Simmons has described the concept behind the album thus;
‘We Drift Meridian’ is inspired by the stories of real people who have lived on remote islands across the world. In a broad sense the lyrics, sound world and artwork draws from this narrative of isolation, solitude and landscape of these archipelagos”.
He continues;
“The history of these people and the islands where they lived is alluded to in an abstract and ambiguous way in the music and lyrics of ‘We Drift Meridian’. The stories have many dimensions and are both folkloric and historical in content. They are stories which resonate with social, political and geographical context”.
“We Drift Meridian” is very different to its predecessor and features the singing of guest vocalists Emilia Martensson and Ed Begley. Simmons has a particular affinity for the sound of the human voice and Nygaard has been a part of both the Fringe Magnetic and Eyes of a Blue Dog projects.
Indeed the music to be heard on “We Drift Meridian” is often more reminiscent of that of Eyes of a Blue Dog than it is of “Southern Drawl”.

Today’s performance included guest appearances from both Nygaard and Begley and featured Peter Ibbotson in the drum chair replacing the unavailable Jon Scott. The young drummer had only had a couple of days to learn the group’s music but acquitted himself superbly.

The musical performance was accompanied by a film collated by Simmons depicting life on remote islands, some them tropical, some of them polar, much of it grainy but atmospheric archive footage shot mainly in black and white. The film contained many interesting and evocative images but didn’t relate directly to the music that was being played. In this respect it was somewhat distracting and therefore only partially successful. Nonetheless there was one moment of perfect synchronicity where black and white footage of nuclear testing on a remote atoll combined perfectly with a suitably incendiary Montague guitar solo.

The music itself placed a heavy reliance on electronics with Simmons playing keyboards in addition to his customary trumpet and with Ibbotson deploying sampled beats alongside more conventional humanised drumming. Montague’s guitar was employed as much as a textural device as a lead instrument as he produced deep layers and washes of multi-textural sounds, sometimes ethereal, sometimes threatening, but always deeply atmospheric. That said he was sometimes a little too low in the mix as Simmons amplified trumpet and electronica dominated the group sound with the leader emerging as the principal soloist.

Nygaard was the first of the singers to appear, her voice first employed wordlessly to add greater colour and texture to the music before singing the words of the album title track. Begley joined her for the song “Fiction Afloat” which also featured the sounds of Simmons on flugelhorn. To be honest it wasn’t easy to pick up on the lyrical subtleties in the live environment but this may prove easier when the concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s “Jazz Now” programme later in the year.

That said Begley’s rendition of the words to “Fantasy Will Flourish”, a new song inspired the life and work of the eccentric German adventurer and treasure hunter August Gissler, was easier to understand as the trio provided gentle but atmospheric accompaniment. In the second half of the piece the music became more dramatic as Montague erupted into pedal driven guitar meltdown, accompanied by the images of those billowing mushroom clouds.

Nygaard returned to vocalise in wordlessly ethereal fashion on the closing “Scott Moorman Adrift”  which was performed in front of a blank screen, presumably to emphasise Moorman’s isolation. The song’s subject was lost off the coast of Hawaii and his jawbone subsequently found on the uninhabited island of Taongi several years later. As with all the pieces forming part of the “We Drift Meridian” project the music was inspired by a true story.

Simmons, his band mates and guests were treated to a warm reception by a knowledgeable and pleasingly populous Cheltenham crowd. The performance was never less then interesting and the playing and the singing first rate but as a complete multi-media event it was, in truth, only partially successful, enjoyable as the film with its images of people, wildlife and topography was.
It will be interesting to listen back to the music exclusively when the BBC broadcast is made.

On International Jazz Day Monocled Man’s performance was one of five at the Parabola – the others were by Schnellertollermeier, Amok Amor, Julian Sartorius and Mark Sanders/John Butcher – to be recorded by sound artists Iain Chambers and Pascal Wyse for their “Recomposed” project, the results of their remixing later aired in the foyer area at the Parabola prior to the final performance of the day by trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and her group. 

SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER

Next up at the Parabola were the young Swiss jazz power trio Schnellertollermeier. The jazz scene in Switzerland is particularly vibrant at present and has spawned a number of innovative single name bands including Rusconi, Plaistow and Vein.

Signed to Cuneiform Records Schnellertollermeier’s uncompromising attitude is reflected in their tongue twisting name. Their first album for the label, simply titled “X”, released in 2015 has attracted a compelling amount of crtitical acclaim and followed their début  “Zorn einen ehmer üttert stem!!”.

Today’s performance was supported by the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia, but nearly didn’t happen. An airline mix up found the band in Birmingham and their equipment in Amsterdam and it was only thanks to a superb effort by the staff of Cheltenham Jazz Festival that the trio were able to appear at all, playing on a collection of hastily assembled hired gear.    

Nevertheless there was still a substantial array of Vox and Ampeg amps on the stage, and if the band’s performance didn’t sound quite as they themselves would have liked it was still pretty damn impressive.

Bass guitarist Andi Schnellman, guitarist Manuel Troller and drummer David Meier played with skill, flair and attitude on the hired kit, their music a convincing amalgam of jazz, rock, electronica and contemporary classical music influences. Today’s set included selections from “X”, among them “Massacre du Printemps” with its implied nod to Stravinsky, plus new material from the band’s forthcoming album. Tune announcements were scant, but really this was all about the music.

The repeated figures and interlocking rhythms of the lengthy opening piece suggested the inspiration of both the minimalism of Steve Reich and the beats of contemporary electronic dance music. It was a quiet start, but a hypnotic one, as the music gradually became more layered and complex, the interlocking rhyhtmic and melodic patterns sometimes recalling “Discipline” era King Crimson, something emphasised by the periodic squalls of rock power and math rock riffage that inspired something close to head banging among some members of the audience. The group have toured widely and have appeared in the UK and Ireland before so it’s quite possible that they’ve already acquired something of a cult following on these shores.

Orthodox soloing in the jazz tradition isn’t what Schnellertollermeier are about. Instead the trio comes over as a single conjoined entity, a textural and rhythmic juggernaut. This was epitomised by the second piece which combined Troller’s chiming guitar riffs with the crisp sound of Meier’s sticks on rims. But for all their abrasiveness Scnellertollermeier can also be highly atmospheric, suggesting further influences from the world of ambient or film soundtrack music, as evidenced by Schnellman’s eerily bowed electric bass. Elsewhere there were the now familiar bursts of dynamic drumming and jagged guitar riffing in the style of Crimson or Frank Zappa, with Troller even contriving to throw a few shapes.

The third piece began almost subliminally and featured Troller making use of e-bow alongside Meier’s ethereal cymbal shimmers. Gradually the music began to build in ever accreting layers of sound developing into chunky math rock riffing and an angry, shredding climax.

The well deserved encore was a shorter excursion into the trio’s unique world of prog rock precision and punk rock attitude.

Although one or two jazz purists were less than convinced the general reaction to
Schnellertollermeier was overwhelmingly positive. I was certainly extremely impressed and would love to hear more of this band – sadly no CDS were made available for sale at the Festival. If the trio could sound this good on hired equipment what would they be like utilising their own gear? 
In any event they were definitely one of my Festival highlights.

MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO

I was tempted to remain at the Parabola for the performance by Amok Amor, the international quartet led by bassist Petter Eldh and featuring virtuoso American trumpeter Peter Evans.

However having reviewed the band’s performance at the Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival I decided to try something else, bassist and vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello’s group at the Pizza Express Live Arena.

I’ll admit to being less than familiar with Ndegeocello’s work but my interest had been piqued by the fact that she was credited as producer on the album “Nihil Novi” by saxophonist Marcus Strickland whose Twi-Life group who had performed an excellent set in the same venue at Cheltenham 2016.

Ndegeocello’s own material turned out to be far more song orientated and her performance was a lot less “jazz” than Strickland’s had been. Playing electric bass and singing she fronted a four piece band featuring guitarist Christopher Bruce, drummer Abraham Rounds and keyboard player Jebin Bruni.

Ndegeocello delivered a mix of original songs and inspired covers, the latter including a radically altered, but very effective, “Suzanne” in which she altered the meter of Leonard Cohen’s song and ended up sounding more like Joni Mitchell in the process. This after the show had opened with a vaguely threatening interpretation of the Maggie Jaffe poem “Continuous Performance”

A funky, soulful interpretation of Nina Simone’s “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” also worked but in the main I found her original material less convincing.

Ndegeocello is a politicised writer and promised that her band’s music would be “representative of what it’s like to be of colour today in America, we’re going to be loud, we’re going to be brash”. As she spoke the sound of music being played on the free stage leaked yet again into the Live Arena - “let’s drown that out!” exclaimed Ndegeocello.

And to a degree they did but for me the music of the quartet wasn’t actually loud or brash enough as Bruni’s gloopy, glutinous,s syrupy synth sounds too often threatened to overwhelm the music. Bruce and Rounds, who both also contributed backing vocals, performed well enough, as did the leader with some powerful electric bass lines, but too often their efforts were undermined by the sound of the keyboards. Personally I couldn’t get on with Bruni’s playing at all, and judging by the number of early departures I got the impression that I probably wasn’t alone. Not all of the walk outs were due to Festival scheduling and the need to get to the next event.

And despite the promises I found Ndegeocello’s own performance disappointingly low key. The band had flown in from Eastern Europe that morning and had obviously experienced a degree of racism in that part of the world. But their anger at this treatment wasn’t truly expressed in the music, they certainly didn’t react to adversity in the spirited way that Scnellertollermeier had done. This was a decidedly perfunctory performance from Ndegeocello and her band ,one sensed that they didn’t really want to be there.

The self penned material included “Rapid Fire” with its semi-spoken lyrics, plus “Forget My Name” and the closing “Good Day Bad”, both sourced from Ndegeocello’s latest album “Comet, Come To Me”.

There were some who clearly loved this set, but many like me, who were less impressed and an encore was not forthcomimg. Given Ndegeocello’s reputation and her associations with some of the biggest names in music across a variety of genres I was expecting something more from this set and I sensed that the leader has given far better shows than this and that she is an artist with many relevant things to say, but today her ideas didn’t get across, certainly not to me at any rate. Perhaps I should have done more research before committing myself to something different, but sometimes, and particularly at festivals, it’s nice to be surprised by the unexpected.

But if I had my time again I’d have stuck with Amok Amor, who apparently gave a powerful and uncompromising performance at the Parabola during which they also managed to alienate a few listeners of their own. That said I think I’ve had enjoyed them a lot more than this - even now I can’t quite believe that I passed up a chance to see the great Peter Evans in action.

CHICK COREA TRIO

Many of Ndegeocello’s audience had left early in order to catch this much anticipated performance by pianist and composer Chick Corea, at seventy five years old now officially acknowledged as one of the legends of the music.

Corea has amassed a vast back catalogue embracing all genres of jazz from straight-ahead to jazz-rock fusion to breezy Latin to full on free improvisation. It hasn’t always worked but the hits have largely outnumbered the misses and many of Corea’s tunes have become modern day standards. One of the best gigs that I’ve ever seen was his 2007 duo performance with vibraphonist Gary Burton which held a capacity audience at the Barbican totally spellbound for the best part of two hours.

Today’s performance was a celebration of Corea’s back catalogue delivered with great élan by the man himself in the company of a stellar trio featuring Eddie Gomez on double bass and Brian Blade at the drums. Looking at least twenty years younger than his actual age Corea was a sprightly, vivacious presence on the bandstand and immediately engaged the audience as he and the trio tuned up - “give us an A” etc.

The first tune was the enduringly popular Corea classic “500 Miles High” which still sounded as fresh as a daisy. The sound in the Big Top venue was remarkably good with the piano particularly well defined. This first item featured solos from all three protagonists, something that set the template for much of the remainder of the set.

“Alice In Wonderland” acknowledged the influence on virtually all jazz piano players, and specifically on Corea, of the great Bill Evans, with whom Gomez once played. This was introduced by a passage of solo piano that demonstrated Corea’s supreme lightness of touch on the instrument. Corea sounded suitably Evans-like and once more there were features for Gomez and Blade.

Gomez announced the performance of “Work”, a little known Thelonious Monk tune that was played in honour of the centenary of its composer’s birth. This was a playful, splendidly swinging interpretation that included a solo from Gomez and a spirited dialogue between Corea and Blade.

Corea revealed that his own “A Spanish Song” had been written remarkably quickly and there was a similar spontaneity about the instinctive trio interplay and the more expansive individual features, something that continued into the final (unannounced) number.

The encore was a segue of Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez” (famously adapted by Miles Davis and Gil Evans for “Sketches of Spain”) and Corea’s own early Return To Forever classic “Spain”. Gomez picked out the familiar concerto melody with the bow to great applause, and Corea, ever the crowd pleaser, had the audience singing along to the complex but familiar melodic lines of “Spain”. Gomez also impressed with some agile pizzicato soloing, as he had done throughout, although I have admit that I found his Jarrett like habit of singing along to his solos highly distracting.  Meanwhile Blade’s contribution was widely praised and his playing was superb throughout.

I wasn’t sure whether Corea’s acoustic music would work in such a vast venue as the Big Top but he succeeded admirably thanks to a combination of warmth, wit, excellent material and great musicianship. Sure there was nothing particularly new here but to be in the presence of one of the giants of the music, and one still capable of playing brilliantly, seemed to be enough for most people.

CHRIS POTTER QUARTET

Over at the Pizza Express Live Arena another American musician was to deliver the goods in style in what, for me, was THE gig of the festival.

Saxophonist Chris Potter has quietly developed a hugely impressive reputation, first as in demand sideman and latterly as a leader of his own projects. Also an acclaimed educator Potter performed at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival leading an ensemble of students from Birmingham Conservatoire on a series of performances of pieces sourced from his 2007 album “A Song For Anyone”.

Now signed to ECM Potter has made a series of acclaimed albums for the label including 2012’s excellent “The Sirens”, a semi-conceptual work and his label début. Fast forward to 2017 and Potter has just released another superb ECM record, “The Dreamer Is The Dream”, from which most of today’s material was sourced. 

Joining Potter at Cheltenham were album personnel David Virelles (piano) and Joe Martin (double bass) plus the superb drummer Nasheet Waits, a more than adequate replacement for the album’s Marcus Gilmore.

Potter enjoyed a lengthy stint with guitarist Pat Metheny’s all star Unity Band on on the evidence of the new album something of Metheny’s melodic gift seems to have rubbed off on the saxophonist. Potter’s themes are complex but arresting as typified by the opening “Yasodhara”, a tune sourced from the new record. Introduced by Waits at the drums the piece provided the ideal framework for Potter to demonstrate his remarkable technical prowess and total fluency as a soloist. This was a musician totally on top of his game and in setting the bar high he inspired great things from his colleagues as Virelles responded with a correspondingly imaginative piano solo. Meanwhile Waits’ playing was a consistently rich source of inventiveness throughout the set, his virtuoso drumming performance ensuring that the band remained fired up throughout the performance.

Also sourced from the new album “Memory And Desire” was more relaxed but no less impressive as Potter and Virelles again shared the solos. The Cuban born pianist also appeared on “The Sirens”, sharing keyboard duties with Craig Taborn. He also leads his own groups but for me the most enjoyable sightings of him have been as a sideman, first with Ravi Coltrane back in 2012 and now with Potter.

“Ilimba” opened with the sampled sounds of that instrument, as originally played by Potter. Piano, bass and drums were subtly added before Potter picked out the melodic theme on tenor before embarking on a lengthy solo as the music gathered momentum. He was followed by the excellent Virelles and finally the brilliant Waits with an extended drum feature.

Some of Potter’s solos had been truly epic affairs, but these were marathons that were rich in colour and invention, constantly unfolding and consistently engaging, a true master-class of the improviser’s art. And so, seemingly in a flash, we found ourselves coming towards the end of the performance as Potter announced the title track of the new album before adding “Then we’ll finish with a blues”.

This brilliant segue began with Potter on soprano sax for the beautiful, folk tinged “The Dreamer Is The Dream”. A passage of solo double bass from Martin, previously seen on UK shores as part of a trio led by guitarist Gilead Hekselman, acted as the segue into the blues with Potter now switching to tenor sax. Here the playing of the whole group was a tour de force as both Virelles and Potter stretched out at length with the leader’s barnstorming, free-wheeling tenor solo evoking a suitably volcanic response from the restlessly dynamic Waits.

This was a brilliant, spirited performance, not just from the leader but from the entire band, that, for me, ranked as the best of the whole Festival. Potter is the natural heir of John Coltrane and Michael Brecker and is arguably the best jazz saxophonist in the world right now.

Let’s hope that this event, which was sponsored by Jazzwise Magazine, was also recorded for radio broadcast. If not there’s always Potter’s splendid new ECM album to enjoy. The record offers many moments of beauty but there’s a warmth and vitality about it that transcends the label’s reputation for chilly abstraction.  Thanks to Chris for signing a copy for your rather star struck reporter in the record store after the show.

YAZZ AHMED HAFLA BAND

Back at the Parabola a pleasingly large crowd assembled to see and hear the last Festival gig at the venue for 2017. Trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed appeared with her seven piece Hafla Band, the group named after an Arabic word meaning “a friendly social gathering”.

British born of Bahraini heritage Ahmed has been honing the music of this septet for a number of years and is due to release her new album “La Saboteuse” in May 2017, the long awaited follow up to her 2012 début “Finding My Way Home”.

Although largely raised in The UK Ahmed has spent time researching her Bahraini heritage and her growing fascination with Arabic sounds has been finding its way into her music. Today’s set included material that has been in the Hafla Band’s set lists for some time in addition to pieces sourced from her suite “Alhaan Al Siduri” which was commissioned by the Birmingham based Jazzlines organisation in 2015.

The regular line up of the Hafla Band features Ahmed on trumpet, flugel and electronics, George Crowley on bass clarinet, Ralph Wyld on vibes, Dudley Phillips on electric bass, Naadia Sheriff on piano and keyboards, Martin France at the drums and Corinne Sylvester on a variety of percussion instruments. It’s a stable line up and consists of musicians drawn from Ahmed’s smaller four and five piece groups.   

The performance commenced with “Jamil Jimal”, a piece that has been in the Hafla Band’s repertoire since at least 2014 when I caught them at The Vortex in Dalston as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. This introduced the group’s sound, intricate but melodic and underscored by a lattice of underlying rhythms. Hafla is a highly rhythmic band but in very subtle and consistently interesting ways and certainly not at all ‘in your face’. As a percussionist Sylvester is particularly understated, yet still makes a hugely significant contribution to the band sound, for Ahmed the ensemble is paramount.

In 2014 Ahmed was selected as a “Jazzlines Fellow” and her Fellowship commission, Alhaan Al Siduri” was premièred at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham in 2015. Based on the work songs of the Bahraini pearl divers the suite included the piece “Parading In” which was featured here with sampled sounds complementing the playing of the ensemble. Here Ahmed gave her musicians more room to stretch out and the piece included solos from Ahmed on trumpet and the impressive Crowley on evocative bass clarinet. Wyld dazzled at the vibes with his four mallet technique and Phillips underpinned an absorbing dialogue between France on kit drums and Sylvester on percussion.

“La Saboteuse”, the title track of the forthcoming album emerged from a freely structured intro featuring Sheriff on grand piano and progressed via solos from Crowley and Ahmed. Crowley’s bass clarinet playing helped to give the music an authentically Arabic feel and he was followed by Ahmed on flugel horn who manipulated her sound electronically by means of her Kaoss Pad, a device described as “ a touchpad sampler, controller and effects unit”.

“Her Light” from the “Alhaan Al Siduri” suite was segued with “2857”, a piece written in honour of Rosa Parks’ historic bus protest. Densely written but eminently melodic the performance included features from Ahmed on trumpet, Wyld on vibes and Phillips on six string electric bass, the latter’s feature acting as the link between the two pieces. Now we heard again from Ahmed and from Crowley on bass clarinet above the busy rhythms generated by France and Sylvester.

Ahmed has worked closely with rock bands such as Radiohead and the Manic Street Preachers and has enjoyed a particularly fruitful partnership with the group These New Puritans. Ahmed’s arrangement of their song “Organ Eternal” closed the set with the interlocking flugel and bass clarinet lines of Ahmed and Crowley a consistent source of interest alongside Wyld’s lyricism on the vibes.

An unexpected encore, well it was the last gig of the Festival at this venue, came as a considerable bonus. Unannounced it was ushered in France’s drums and again featured the Ahmed / Crowley combination with Ahmed again using electronics to manipulate the sound of her solo. Sheriff impressed with her keyboard solo but her role as a colourist and texturalist throughout was also essential to the success of the music. Finally Phillips underpinned a further dialogue between France and Sylvester prior to a closing ensemble theme statement.

This was an excellent performance from Ahmed and the Hafla Band that was warmly appreciated by the Cheltenham crowd. This is now a highly accomplished ensemble and it’s a shame that advance copies of the new album were not available on the night. Judging by the enthusiasm of the audience reaction they would surely have flown off the shelves.

I’m very much looking forward to the release of “La Saboteuse” and hope to bring you a review of the album at some point in the future. 



 


    

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29/04/2017.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29/04/2017.

Ian Mann on a full and varied day of music including performances by Trondheim Jazz Exchange, Phronesis, Orchestra Baobab, Lionel Loueke, Logan Richardson, Steve Gadd and Hans Koller.

Photograph of Steve Gadd by Tim Dickeson


Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29/05/2017.

TRONDHEIM JAZZ EXCHANGE

A very full day of music began at the decidedly un-jazzlike hour of 11.00 am at the Parabola Arts Centre with the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange concert, sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy. Introducing the proceedings Tony Dudley Evans informed us that this was the ninth such event and that he very much hoped to be hosting the tenth anniversary in 2018.

The popular Jazz Exchange project features the playing and writing of students from two of Europe’s leading music education establishments. The Jazz Courses at the Trondheim and Birmingham Conservatories have both acquired substantial reputations and many graduates from both institutions have gone on to become respected professional jazz musicians.

Annual exchange visits are arranged between the two institutions with the students subsequently showcasing their work at the Cheltenham and Molde Jazz Festivals. Each year six students from each establishment pool their resources to form three quartets with each band containing two members from their respective countries. Prior to this performance at the Parabola the students had spent two days in intensive wood-shedding and rehearsals as they worked out their ideas. The three quartets also performed in public in Birmingham at the free early evening session held on the evening of Friday April 28th at the Café Bar in the foyer of Symphony Hall.

The first band to appear featured the Norwegian musicians Tore Hodneland (guitar) and Simen Bjorkhaug (tenor sax) together with the Birmingham based rhythm team of Alex Liebek (double bass) and Robert Harper-Charles (drums). They began with the jazz standard “I Love You” which featured the slightly acerbic tone of Bjorkhaug’s probing tenor sax and the elegant runs and sophisticated chording of Hodneland’s guitar.

This was followed by an untitled original from the pen of Hodneland. This was an impressive piece of writing possessed of a decidedly episodic quality. Building from a simple introduction featuring the composer’s guitar accompanied by the hand-claps of his colleagues the piece went through several different phases as Bjorkhaug’s sax picked out the theme before handing over to Hodneland whose dialogue with Harper-Charles’ cymbals led into a melodic but richly atmospheric guitar solo. Liebeck’s bass feature exhibited similar qualities but Bjorkhaug’s powerful tenor sax solo increased the energy levels prior to a closing drum feature from Harper-Charles.

This was an auspicious start with Hodneland’s piece by far the most satisfying of the two items that the quartet played. The guitarist emerged as the most distinctive instrumentalist of the group and his compositional skills also impressed. The Jazz Exchange event always throws up new names to look out for and Hodneland’s is one to add to that list.

It was the general opinion of most of the attendees at this year’s event that Group Two was the pick of the three bands. This quartet featured the Norwegian musicians Agata Ciurkot (piano) and Vetle Larsen (drums) together with their Birmingham counterparts Nick Brown (tenor sax) and James Owston (double bass).

They began with a storming version of McCoy Tyner’s ever popular “Passion Dance” with the impressive Ciurkot suitably ‘Tyner-esque’ and with Brown really digging in on tenor accompanied by busy bass and drums. Larsen enjoyed a closing drum feature before the piece segued via a passage of unaccompanied piano into an original composition by Ciurkot.

This exhibited similar narrative qualities to Hodneland’s piece for the first band as Brown, sounding more than a little like Jan Garbarek, joined Ciurkot for an absorbing piano / tenor sax duet. Owston’s bowed bass and the shimmer of Larsen’s cymbals added an appealing melancholic edge prior to expansive, but consistently melodic and absorbing, features for piano, saxophone and bass. If anything this was even more impressive than Hodneland’s original had been with most listeners picking out Ciurkot, the only female musician to feature, as the star of the entire event.

Band Two completed their impressive set with “Pier 39”, an original by Brown written in a broadly bebop style and featuring further excellent solos from both the composer and Ciurkot.

The third and final group featured Birmingham musicians Alex Stride (trumpet, flugel) and Noah Stone (drums) together with the Norwegians Vegard Bjerkan (piano) and Bjorn Petersson (double bass).

This group’s style was more firmly rooted in the bebop tradition although they began with Bjerkan’s original “New Boat”, a quasi-ballad featuring solos from Stride on flugel, the composer on piano and Ptersson at the bass.

“Tadd’s Delight”, presumably written by Tadd Dameron but played by both Miles Davis and Chet Baker, gave Stride the chance to demonstrate his bop chops on trumpet following Stone’s introduction on the drum kit. Stone was to feature again towards the end of the piece following the piano solo from Bjerkan.

As so often happens the event overran, no surprise really with the changeovers that have to be made, and I made my exit as the band prepared to play an original piece by Petersson segued with Kenny Wheeler’s “We Salute The Sun”.

Reviewing the event for London Jazz News Peter Slavid lamented the preponderance of material rooted in the bebop area and he certainly makes a valid point. The playing was excellent throughout, the students at both institutions are taught to an astonishingly high technical standard, but for me the most interesting pieces were the lengthy, almost cinematic compositions by Hodneland and Ciurkot which really saw the musicians, and the composers in particular, expressing themselves.

Minor quibbles aside the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange is a great event and one that has become a regular fixture on many people’s Festival calendars. 

DECADE ZERO;
DAVE MARIC, PHRONESIS, & ENGINES ORCHESTRA

Led by the Danish bassist and composer Jasper Hoiby Phronesis recently celebrated ten years as one of the world’s leading jazz trios. Hoiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger have developed a phenomenal rapport over a series of acclaimed studio and live recordings and in 2017 their playing remains as sharp and distinctive as ever.

Initially a vehicle for Hoiby’s compositions the band has become a more democratic unit over the course of its development with Neame and Eger also now bringing compositions to the table. Never afraid to experiment Phronesis have also enjoyed a hugely successful collaboration with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band which saw saxophonist Julian Arguelles arranging a selection of the trio’s compositions for performance by Phronesis and the FRBB conducted by Arguelles. In 2015 the project made its British première at a highly successful show at the Milton Court Concert Hall as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. An earlier performance in Frankfurt was recorded and recently released as the album “The Behemoth”.

Today’s performance represented Phronesis’ latest alliance with a larger ensemble. Hoiby and the contemporary classical composer Dave Maric have been friends for a number of years and Maric was jointly commissioned to write a piece for performance at the Cheltenham, Manchester and London jazz festivals with financial support coming from the PRS Foundation.

The resultant work, “Decade Zero”, was written in response to the challenges of the current political landscape for an ensemble featuring the three members of Phronesis plus eight musicians drawn from the ranks of the Engines Orchestra under the baton of conductor Phil Meadows. Rosanna Te Berg (flute), Katie Bennington (oboe), Gennie Joy (clarinet, bass clarinet) and Lois Au (bassoon) formed the woodwind section while the strings consisted of Katherine Waller (first violin), Scott Lowry (second violin), Alison De Souza (viola) and Zosia Jagodzinska (cello).

There were even band uniforms of a sort with Phronesis dressed all in white and members of the Engines Orchestra clad in band T shirts with an attractive Bridget Riley type design. These were also on sale to the public, so guess who just had to have one.

The first part of the concert featured performances of four items from the Phronesis back catalogue, each one presaged by a short orchestral introduction, each little more than a minute long, written by Maric.

The trio performances by Phronesis were typically excellent with the group exhibiting their tight and instinctive group interplay with Hoiby’s muscular but astonishingly agile bass playing driving the music alongside Eger’s dynamic, extrovert drumming. The group’s music is highly rhythmic with pianist Neame also getting in on the act as well as dealing with the harmonic complexities of the group’s tunes. I’ve written extensively about Phronesis’ recordings and live shows before so I don’t intend to give a blow by blow account of their set here except to say that it’s always a thrill to see the brilliant Phronesis perform and today was no exception, the only quibble being that the sound of Hoiby’s bass was rather muddy as it bounced around the walls of the cavernous Cheltenham Town Hall.The four Phronesis compositions that were played were “67000 MPH”, “A Silver Moon”, “OK Chorale” and “Rabat” with all the pieces sourced from the trio’s most recent studio recording, 2016’s “Parallax”. .

As enjoyable as all this was the two ensembles were acting as separate entities with Meadows actually departing the stage as Phronesis did their thing. The denizens of ‘scribblers row’ gazed bemusedly at each other thinking “is this it?” and wondered why the trio had bothered inviting along the orchestral players just to play a series of very brief introductions, ‘overtures’ would be pushing it, that functioned as little more than sketches.

However all became clear when Hoiby eventually picked up the vocal mic to introduce the five movement work “Decade Zero” which comprised the second half of the performance, clocking in at around the thirty five minute mark. It was only now that the jazz trio and classical octet became truly integrated with the string players deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques as Meadows and the eleven musicians constructed a complex web of interlocking rhythms, colours and textures.

There were moments when the orchestral players took the lead, with Phronesis effectively becoming ‘the rhythm section’. Elsewhere Hoiby’s arco bass joined with the other string players to form a ‘string quintet’.

Maric’s writing was dense but interesting with a strong focus on both melody and rhythm and despite the chamber music elements it certainly wasn’t lacking in energy with Eger’s drums coming to the heart of the music in the final movement as the music built to a climax prior to an unexpectedly sombre coda. 

The piece received a great reception from the audience and Dave Maric came onto the stage to accept the acclaim alongside conductor Meadows and the musicians.

In truth this was a performance that was only a partial success. I suspect that the audience would have got more out of the show if the format had been explained to them at the beginning i.e that there would be a set of Phronesis tunes followed by the Festival commission.

It’s always a treat to see Phronesis play but the real highlight was “Decade Zero” itself which offered something radically different and was never less than interesting. Overall it was less successful than the collaboration with the FRBB and there was very much a ‘first performance’ feel about the whole event. I suspect that by the time of the Manchester and London appearances any teething problems will have been sorted out and that these shows will be even more successful.

However there was still much to enjoy about today’s event and it will be fascinating to hear this music again when the concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s “Jazz Now” programme at 11.00 pm on Monday 8th May 2017.


ORCHESTRA BAOBAB

The next obvious jazz choice would have been the performance by pianist Elliot Galvin and his trio at the Parabola Arts Centre. However as much as I love Galvin’s music I’ve written extensively about his recordings and live performances before and therefore knew roughly what to expect, so I thought I’d try something completely different. The opportunity to experiment is one of the benefits of being part of the aforementioned ‘scribbler’s union’.

Thus it was that I found myself inside the Big Top for the first time at this Festival to see and hear the music of the nine piece Orchestra Baobab. Instigated in 1970 and reformed in 2001 the Senegalese band are a world music institution for their blend of various African musics with the sounds of Cuba and even Portugal.

Boasting a line up of lead and rhythm guitars, electric bass, tenor and alto saxophones, plus the West African kora the band also features two percussionists and a lead vocalist. The Orchestra’s music is colourful and highly rhythmic with the exuberant singers and musicians encouraging the audience to participate in a highly energetic show. These WOMAD regulars are great crowd pleasers and had the audience onside from the off.

Alongside the showmanship there were plenty of fine moments from the instrumentalists with plenty of solos for the more jazz orientated listener to enjoy from the twin saxophonists and from the Orchestra’s kora specialist, his amplified instrument imbued with a particularly percussive sound. However my favourite soloist was the lead guitarist whose spiralling West African flavoured melodic inventions were a source consistent delight. For me he was by far the most imaginative musician in the group’s ranks.

But this was a show to enjoy rather than analyse, even in an unpromising early afternoon slot. One suspects that Baobab’s natural home is the late night ‘party slot’ at WOMAD. The group’s percussionists, including the impressive conganista doubling on drum kit, helped to give the music a formidable rhythmic drive as the hyperactive French speaking vocalist exhorted the crowd to “chant avec moi”. 

The music took in a variety of African styles from Senegal to the Congo but the influence of the sounds of Cuba was particularly strong, as the presence of a specialist conganista might suggest.
The Orchestra’s high energy, exuberant performance, which included an impressive display of dancing from the tenor player, went down a storm with a large and enthusiastic audience in the Big Top and although the music was well outside my usual listening zone I rather enjoyed it. It was hard not to be swept along by the energy of the performance and the enthusiasm of the audience response. 

Orchestra Baobab are currently still on tour in the UK and will appear on the BBC’s “Later with Jools Holland” on Friday May 5th 2017.

LIONEL LOUEKE TRIO

More music from West Africa in the Pizza Express Live Arena where Benin born guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke appeared with his long running trio featuring bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth.

Now based in the USA Loueke studied at the famous Berklee College of Music in the late 1990s where he first met Biolcati and Nemeth. Since settling in the US Loueke has enjoyed a successful solo career and a long association with Blue Note Records, for whom he has recorded several albums. But he is perhaps best known for his sideman credits with artists such as Herbie Hancock and for his membership of the ‘supergroup’ Aziza led by bassist Dave Holland and also featuring drummer Eric Harland and Festival artist Chris Potter.

Loueke’s trio with Biocati and Nemeth is essentially a ‘fusion’ band with a mix of jazz and rock plus the sounds of the leader’s native West Africa. Their most recent recording is the ‘live in the studio’ session “Gaia”, Loueke’s fourth release for Blue Note Records and the source of much of today’s material.

The opening “Dreams” set the trio’s stall out with its mix of tender African vocals and rock influenced effects, the gentleness of the singing contrasting neatly with the ferocity of some of the playing as Loueke cranked up the volume for his guitar solo while deploying a range of effects more commonly associated with the sound of rock.

“Broken”, the opening track on the “Gaia” album juxtaposed contemporary odd meter rhythms with the sound of vintage fusion with Loueke adopting a guitar synth sound.

The plaintive “Veuve Malienee” featured a vocal representing a widow crying for the loss of her husband. Introduced by a passage of liquid solo electric bass from Biolcati the poignancy of the performance was spoiled by the leakage of sound from the Free Stage, a problem that has occurred in previous years but which seemed to be worse than ever this time round. It was a problem that recurred at the Live Arena throughout the weekend and is an issue that really does need to be addressed.

The trio turned up the volume for the rest of the set with Loueke continuing to deploy an array of rock inspired guitar effects. Nemeth’s solo drum introduction to the closing “Even Teens” was particularly impressive, a rousing introduction to a piece in a mind boggling 17/4 time signature that still produced some of the most incendiary playing of the set as Loueke’s guitar went toe to toe with Nemeth’s drums, the leader combining old fashioned bluesiness with futuristic guitar effects. 

Overall I was very impressed with Loueke’s set. He has a well developed understanding with the members of his trio and collectively they negotiated the considerable challenges and complexities of his compositions with ease. The leader’s vocals and West African heritage makes his trio stand out from similarly configured ‘fusion’ bands. Loueke has adopted a highly personalised approach to the music and his unique range of influences virtually establishes him as a sub-genre in his own right.

LOGAN RICHARDSON and SHIFT

Back to the Parabola for this hotly anticipated performance by the American alto saxophonist and composer Logan Richardson and his quartet. The Kansas City born musician had made a big impression at Cheltenham twelve months previously as a member of trumpeter Christian Scott’s group. That was Richardson’s first gig with the Scott band but by November and a sold out London Jazz Festival performance at the Scala venue Richardson was an even more integral part of the Scott ensemble.

Richardson’s work with Scott ensured that there was another full house at the Parabola to see him leading his own band, a quartet that he calls Shift, also the title of his latest album, a record that features the talents of superstar guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Jason Moran and drummer Nasheet Waits.

Metheny & co weren’t present of course but Richardson still brought along a terrific band featuring the talents of guitarist Igor Osypov, drummer Ryan Lee and Max Mucha on electric bass.

The quartet commenced with an extended passage of uninterrupted playing and appeared to be a selection of tunes segued together and linked by solo instrumental passages. Richardson achieved a remarkably pure, but still innately powerful, sound on the alto, his lines consistently melodic but never bland. At times Richardson sounded like a 21st century Paul Desmond but this was music that had an unmistakably contemporary, hip hop influenced edge thanks to the efforts of a tightly focussed rhythm section who gave the music an urgent, urban feel with Mucha moving between electric and acoustic bass.

Richardson had an excellent foil in Osypov who undertook several excellent solos of his own and used his range of effects wisely as he complemented the sound of the leader with acumen and imagination. Meanwhile Lee’s drumming was crisp and razor sharp as he negotiated the contours of Richardson’s often complex composition with considerable aplomb. This was one tight band.

The opening segue came to a furious climax via Mucha’s monstrous electric bass groove, Lee’s dynamic drumming and the scorching dialogue between Richardson and Osypov. Only now, more than half an hour into the performance did Richardson speak, his good natured ramblings including a plug for Blue Note recording “Shift”, an introduction of the band members, the influence of Ornette Coleman, and a mention of a recent visit to the Congo that inspired the closing “Pygmy People”. This began in guitar trio mode with Osypov taking the first solo before Richardson cut loose on alto, his most impassioned playing of the set fuelled by the dynamic performances of his band mates. 

Following on from his impressive appearances with Scott this was an excellent performance from Richardson and his colleagues. The stellar line up on “Shift” suggests that Richardson is a talent to watch out for and today’s show more than confirmed that potential. Richardson is currently working on a new album with the putative title “Blues People” from which much of today’s material was sourced. On the evidence of today’s performance this should be a recording well worth looking out for.

Richardson and his band got a great reception from another large crowd at the Parabola and today’s performance was also recorded by BBC Radio 3 for transmission on the ‘Jazz Now’ programme at some point in the future. Keep an eye, and ear, open for that.

STEVE GADD BAND

If Richardson’s performance had been something of a Festival highlight it was rapidly followed by another as drum legend Steve Gadd appeared with his stellar five piece band at the Pizza Express Live Arena.

Revered by fellow drummers for his technique, groove and tastefulness Gadd is one of the most recorded musicians in history, a hugely respected session player who has played a myriad of jazz, rock and pop sessions with some of the biggest names in the business including Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones,Chick Corea, George Benson, Eric Clapton and Paul Simon. My own personal favourite Gadd moment is his explosive performance on the title track of the Steely Dan album “Aja”, which teamed him with the equally venerable Wayne Shorter. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker always did have impeccable taste when it came to sidemen.

Besides his no doubt lucrative session career Gadd has always led his own projects and the superb quintet that he brought to Cheltenham included some of the best musicians on the Los Angeles music scene. This was Gadd’s regular working band and included Michael Landau (guitar), Jimmy Johnson (electric bass), Walt Fowler (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Kevin Hays on piano and keyboards, the latter in a role sometimes fulfilled by Larry Goldings.

My thanks go to Cheltenham Festivals’ press officer Bairbre Lloyd for squeezing me into this sold out gig. A show of hands before the show revealed a high preponderance of aspiring drummers in the audience and they weren’t to be disappointed as Gadd turned in a master-class of the percussive arts. He was greatly assisted by a terrific band and this show was even better than I might have anticipated.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting too much, the kind of fusion that Gadd purveys can sound too slick and over-produced on record but live it was a very different proposition as the legend and his band delivered the goods in spades.

From the outset there was the feeling that this was a real band, not just an all star aggregation of studio whiz kids. Composition were spread around the group with both Landau and Fowler contributing to the writing process.

However Gadd wasn’t afraid to make judicious use of outside material and the band kicked off with a joyous rendition of Keith Jarrett’s country-blues composition “The Wind Up”, using the piece as an introduction to the individual voices of the band with features for guitar, electric piano, flugel, and, of course, drums.

That said Gadd isn’t an egotistical drummer in the style of Buddy Rich. He’s more about groove and feel rather than sheer technique, although he clearly has the latter in shed-loads. Thus Gadd’s playing, impressive as it was, served the tunes and his solo features were concise and succinct, never overstaying their welcome, even though some of the other drummers in the audience might have welcomed more.

Landau’s atmospheric “The Long Way Home” was a subtle blend of funk and Americana with the composer’s Frisell like guitar combining with the subtle funk inspired grooves of Johnson and Gadd. The shades wearing Fowler began on muted trumpet before moving on to solo on flugel with Hays also featuring on electric piano.

Gadd’s own “Green Foam” honoured the material used to muffle the composer’s bass drum at a recording session, allowing him to get the all important sound ‘ just so’. The avuncular Gadd proved to be a pithy and witty between tunes interlocutor. The tune itself was perhaps the most demanding thus far as it moved through several tempo changes while encompassing solos from Hays on electric piano, Landau on blues drenched guitar and Fowler on trumpet as Gadd drummed up a storm behind them, driving each on to fresh heights of inspiration.

The leader’s drums introduced Wilton Felder’s “Way Back Home”, his seductive, insistent brushed grooves subsequently underpinning the solos from Fowler on flugel, Johnson on bass, Landau on guitar and Hays on acoustic piano. The piece ended as it began with a further solo feature from Gadd himself.

Fowler once worked with the late Frank Zappa and the trumpeter introduced his own “Duke’s Anthem”, a hymn not to Duke Ellington but to the recently departed George Duke, another Zappa alumnus with whom Fowler had once worked. This heartfelt ballad featured the warm tones of the composer’s flugel alongside Landau’s blues tinged guitar and Hays’ keyboards.

“Sly Boots” was written by the band’s sometime keyboard player Larry Goldings. This was a complex, angular, very contemporary composition that doubtless offered many technical challenges, which the musicians naturally tackled with ease with features from Fowler on trumpet, Hays on electric piano and Gadd at the drums. Goldings seems to inspire the same awe amongst organists (Ross Stanley is a massive fan) as Gadd does among drummers and Landau among guitarists.

“Blues For ...” was a vehicle for Landau’s expressive bluesiness on guitar as Gadd deliberately played it simple, serving the tune as ever. Hays also featured, this time on acoustic piano.

“We’re too old to walk off and walk back on again” quipped the 72 year old Gadd so the band’s last piece was an effectively an encore. This was something of a surprise, an arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow” which saw the song given a funk / shuffle treatment and featuring a vocal from Hays, who wisely avoided sounding anything like His Bobness. Hays also soloed on keyboards, sharing the honours with Landau’s blues drenched guitar.

Naturally the audience loved it all, especially the drummers, and overall the show was another definite Festival highlight. The playing was impeccable, and frequently inspired, the original writing good and the covers well chosen. And Gadd came across as genuinely nice guy, pleasingly unaffected by all the adulation that his talent has generated. I was encouraged to check out his solo back catalogue and would be more than happy to see this, or any other version, of the Gadd group perform again.

The only quibbles were that some listeners might to have liked to have heard rather more of Fowler as Landau emerged as the most prominent of the front line soloists.


HANS KOLLER QUARTET

Back at the Parabola the last gig of the day saw the German born pianist and composer Hans Koller leading his quartet. Long settled in the UK Koller divides his time between London and Birmingham and holds a teaching post at the latter’s Conservatoire.

Koller was leading a quartet of musicians with strong Birmingham connections featuring Percy Pursglove on double bass, John O’Gallagher on alto sax and Jeff Williams at the drums. Americans O’Gallagher and Williams have strong UK connections and both divide their time between the two countries.

2017 marks the centenary of the birth of Thelonious Monk and Koller’s set saw him honouring the memory of the great pianist and composer. However this was to be more than a mere run through the Monk repertoire as Koller performed his own Thelonious inspired compositions, pieces that he described as “Re-inventions”.

Beginning with a segue of “Re-inventions One and Two” Koller introduced us to the individual voices of the band as the leader shared the solos with the relentlessly inventive O’Gallagher.

Pursglove impressed with his melodic bass feature on “Re-Invention Five” as he followed Koller’s piano solo. Pursglove is also a highly talented trumpeter and has arguably become better known for his playing on this instrument in recent years. It was good to see him back on bass again.
Meanwhile Koller himself is also a multi- instrumentalist, playing valve trombone in the group Thelonious, a London based group also dedicated to exploring the Monk legacy.

“The Wheel” saw Koller duetting elegantly with O’Gallagher as Williams provided the subtlest of commentaries.

“Sixteen”, titled in honour of the Monk piece of the same name was perhaps the most obvious homage of the set with some typically “Monk-ish” piano. It was also the most energetic item in the repertoire and culminated in a blistering alto solo from O’Gallagher with the saxophonist accompanied only by the sounds of Williams’ now volcanic drumming.

“Lou Lou’s Birthday” represented Koller’s dedication to his young son, the piece based on the chord sequence of Monk’s own “Bo Bo’s Birthday”, Thelonious’ own dedication to his then infant daughter. Koller took the first solo followed by another powerful outing from O’Gallagher with Williams again providing vital support. By way of contrast Pursglove’s subsequent bass solo was accompanied by the patter of Williams’ bare hands on the drum kit.

On “Nedin”, a piece inspired by a Turkish poem, the composer’s lyricism at the piano contrasted well with O’Gallagher’s more robust approach on alto.

Also inspired by poetry the brief “Little Knowledge” had something of a valedictory feel but the favorable audience response saw the quartet return to play a tune with a German title translating as “1, 2, 3, 4, Animal”, based on a children’s song and featuring final solos from Koller and O’Gallagher with Pursglove and Williams offering vital support.

This was an enjoyable if rather low key set, arguably a little too academic at times, that included some excellent playing all round with several commentators singling out O’Gallagher’s contribution.

Overall the Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival contained a rich variety of enjoyable and often brilliant music making with my personal highlights the performances by the bands led by Steve Gadd and Logan Richardson. 

 

   

Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 28/04/2017.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 28/04/2017.

Ian Mann on two very different performances at the Parabola Arts Centre by bands led by saxophonist Marius Neset and drummer Seb Rochford.

Photograph of Marius Neset by Tim Dickeson

Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 28/04/2017

The Parabola Arts Centre, part of Cheltenham Ladies College, has become an integral part of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival experience. This intimate venue hosts the more contemporary or ‘cutting edge’ aspect of the Festival programme and 2017 saw the venue hosting a typically diverse and interesting line up featuring musicians hailing from several different countries.

First utilised by the Festival in 2012 the Parabola, is an intimate, but surprisingly capacious, performance space that is ideally suited for contemporary small group jazz, although larger ensembles, such as the Paris based Surnatural Orchestra at the 2015 Festival, have also graced the venue’s stage.

With its excellent acoustics the Parabola has become a favourite with musicians and audiences alike with many fans concentrating their Festival experience at the venue. In short the place has acquired something of a cult following, as Tony Dudley Evans, who both curated and presented the venue’s Festival programme pointed out.

The first two events of the 2017 programme at the Parabola featured groups led by musicians who have enjoyed previous appearances at the venue, Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset and British drummer Seb Rochford.

MARIUS NESET QUINTET

First to appear was Neset who had played a triumphant quartet gig here back in 2013 in the company of pianist Ivo Neame, drummer Anton Eger and bassist Petter Eldh.  I had been expecting Neame and Eger to be part of tonight’s line up but with the pair busy rehearsing for their own event with Phronesis the following day Neset presented a new all British quintet featuring the talents of vibraphonist Jim Hart, pianist Dan Nicholls, bassist Phil Donkin and drummer Joshua Blackmore - still a pretty phenomenal line up and one that responded brilliantly to the complexities of Neset’s music.

Neset made his international début, the aptly named “Golden Xplosion”, on the UK based Edition label before moving on to the Munich based ACT. He’s always worked with British musicians, among them Django Bates, and has also established a strong following in this country. The Parabola was therefore full to capacity as Neset sought to repeat his triumph of 2013.

Now based in Copenhagen Neset is a musician who just likes to play, tune announcements were therefore scarce, but I’m fairly certain that the majority of the material was sourced from his 2015 ACT release “Pinball”, which featured a quintet line up including Hart alongside Neame, Eger and Eldh.

The dense contours of Neset’s writing were evidenced not just by the playing but also by the screeds of sheet music that Nicholls’ unfolded and eventually managed to prop up on the piano. And it was the appositely named title track from “Pinball” that opened the show with the newcomers dealing admirably with the myriad twists and turns of Neset’s music with Hart alternating between vibes and marimba on a piece that juxtaposed a bustling quirkiness with passages of surprising lyricism. The versatile Nicholls, a musician equally at home in the world of electronic music, impressed with his opening solo on piano as Donkin and Blackmore grappled successfully with the dizzying rhythmic challenges of Neset’s writing.  Meanwhile the leader moved between tenor and soprano saxes as the music demanded.

From the same album “Theatre of Magic”, co-written by Neset and Eger, celebrated the long established musical bond between Neset and Hart in a series of dazzling soprano sax and vibes exchanges as Donkin and Blackmore navigated the complexities of the odd meter rhythms. 

After this tune announcements became more sporadic as Neset and his colleagues warmed to their task, the three British newcomers becoming increasingly more assured as the evening wore on. The next, brief, piece offered something of a pause for breath and was positively gentle by Neset’s standards with its soft piano arpeggios, warm toned tenor sax and shimmering vibes.

Hart introduced the next item with a passage of solo marimba before he and the rhythm section introduced something of a world music feel to the piece. Neset’s subsequent tenor solo brought a Coltrane-esque joyousness and intensity to the music as he delivered a powerful solo in sax trio mode accompanied by churning drums and bass. A passage of unaccompanied cymbal work from Blackmore seemed to offer a segue into another piece as the music continued to unfold and develop at an astonishing rate. This time it was Hart who was the featured soloist, swarming all over the vibraphone with four mallets a blur. The piece concluded with the sound of marimba and handclaps, suggesting that this had been a version of “World Song”, the piece that opens the “Pinball” album.

Neset has worked with large ensembles, including the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, and was recently commissioned to write for the Cologne Philharmonie, the subsequent work later being performed in New York. “Prag Ballet” appeared on the recent compilation album celebrating ACT’s silver jubilee and received an airing here. Unsurprisingly the piece had something of a semi classical, chamber jazz feel and was delightfully melodic. One could hear the proverbial pin drop in the Parabola as the audience delighted in a beautifully restrained performance, the very opposite to the harmonic and rhythmic ferment of much of Neset’s other music. The saxophonist himself, playing soprano, sounded at his most Garbarek-like on a piece that was performed in trio format with the leader accompanied only by Nicholls and Hart. At the end Donkin’s spontaneous applause said it all – and the audience absolutely loved it too.

The final item saw the quintet upping the energy levels once more and the piece began with a tour de force passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone from Neset during which he demonstrated his virtuoso circular breathing technique. Marimba, drums, bass and piano eventually entered the fray to establish a vibrant mesh of interlocking rhythms behind the leader. A more impressionistic interlude mid tune featured the leader’s sax teamed with Donkin’s melodic bass followed by the sound of sparse, lyrical piano and bowed vibes. But this was just a breather, soon the momentum was building again and Nerset’s subsequent solo culminated in a jaw dropping sax and drum barrage.

As happened four years earlier the house at the Parabola rose as one to give the Neset band a standing ovation at this early contender for ‘Gig of the Festival’.  It’s not always easy to find words to capture the energy and brilliance of a Marius Neset performance. His music may be busy and complex but the sheer chutzpah and virtuosity of the man’s playing ensures that he is a huge favourite with audiences.

Neset remains a key figure on the European jazz scene and we in Britain are lucky that he seems to have such a strong affinity for the UK and for British musicians.

A great start to the Festival programme at the Parabola.


SEB ROCHFORD / NICOLE MITCHELL / NEIL CHARLES

Drummer and composer Seb Rochford has been a frequent visitor to Cheltenham and I recall memorable Festival performances by the then astonishingly hirsute musician with the bands Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland and Fulborn Teversham and in a wonderful, but sadly never to be recorded duo, with pianist Kit Downes.

Now married to the American saxophonist Matana Roberts Rochford now spends an increasing amount of time in the US so his return to the UK with a new band was an event not to be missed.

Rochford is best known as the leader of Polar Bear, a wonderfully innovative group that remained at the forefront of British jazz for over a decade, continually developing artistically whilst building a genre defying cult following in the process. But, as Tony Dudley Evans informed us, Polar Bear is no more – sad news indeed , although the band have left a particularly rich back catalogue of recordings to dig into, along with a treasure trove of memories of wonderful gigs.

Fast forward to 2017 and Rochford’s famous barnet is also gone and for the Festival the newly shaven headed drummer had assembled a trio featuring British bassist Neil Charles and the American flautist Nicole Mitchell, a solo artist in her own right and a former member of the innovative Chicago based organisation AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). 

Even the mighty Polar Bear would have had their work cut out following Neset’s earlier pyrotechnics and this low key performance by the new trio was one that divided opinion. 
 
For me pretty much everything that Rochford gets involved with is going to be interesting, whether it be his work in a jazz or improvised music context or with more mainstream artists such as Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Beck, Pete Doherty and Brett Anderson.

But on the evidence of tonight’s performance this current trio is still something of a work in progress. Playing on a very dimly lit stage the threesome delivered an hour of uninterrupted music that included passages of written material interspersed with lengthy passages of free improvisation.

The brightest light on the stage was from Mitchell’s music stand and while the subdued lighting may have lent an air of atmosphere and mystery to the proceedings it did make it very difficult to see what was going on – and made it even more of a nightmare for my photographer friends TimDickeson and John Watson.

The performance began with an appealing written melody played by Mitchell on flute and underscored by Charles’ bowed bass and the patter of Rochford’s bare hands on the drums as he fulfilled the role of colourist, something that he continued to do almost throughout.  Only very sporadically did we glimpse a spark of Rochford’s nascent power.

The continuous, low key nature of the performance was superficially similar to The Necks, who were due to appear at the Festival the following day. However the subtle use of live looping and the periodic written interludes were significantly different. Nevertheless the overall feel was similar, this was a performance that was unhurried in nature with the smallest of gestures imbued with great significance.

Mitchell deployed a variety of flutes, with alto and bass presumably among them, but in the semi darkness it was frankly rather difficult to know exactly what was being played and what going on. She linked up particularly effectively with Charles who used the bow almost throughout, making judicious use of electronics to layer his sound in a spacey passage of solo bass. I was particularly impressed with Charles’ arco work, having previously thought of him as something of an electric bass specialist thanks to his work with the trio Zed U.  At times this evening his use of the bow and later deployment of extended techniques was reminiscent of the great Henry Grimes.


Rochford’s drumming was minimal, mostly combined to hand pattering and almost subliminal mallet rumbles, frequently he seemed happy to sit back and listen to the unfolding dialogue between Mitchell and Charles.  The music was highly atmospheric and impressionistic with a noirish, filmic quality. One could readily imagine it finding favour with the Late Junction audience. Interestingly the crowd at the Parabola included Kit Downes and Tom Challenger of the organ/sax duo Vyamanikal who were due to play the Festival the following day and who explore superficially similar musical areas.
An unaccompanied drum passage from Rochford combined atmospherics with glimpses of his latent power but only towards the end of the performance and a return to the written score did he finally cut loose.

This was a performance that divided opinion. I certainly found it interesting and absorbing in a ‘Necks’ like type of way but felt that the music could have used a greater degree of dynamic contrast. The lack of lighting also diminished my enjoyment of the music, it was very difficult to see what was happening on stage.  Reviewing the performance for London Jazz News Jon Turney described both the lighting and the music as ‘crepescular’, an adjective that perfectly encapsulated the performance. It’s perfectly understandable that some of the audience (not myself I should add) drifted off to sleep.

Anything that Seb Rochford get involved in with is going to be interesting, almost by definition, and I’m sure that there’s the potential for better things to come from this trio, assuming it’s not a purely one-off arrangement. That said I can’t deny that I was somewhat disappointed by tonight’s performance, I didn’t hate it, as some probably did, but given Rochford’s illustrious track record I was still expecting something more. Nevertheless Rochford is a musician who is never afraid to experiment, and as any scientist -or musician – will probably tell you experiments don’t always work, especially first time.

The trio also suffered by going on after Neset. Many of the people in another pleasingly large crowd had also been to the earlier gig and comparisons were inevitable. Rochford’s chilled out set might have been better appreciated if it hadn’t had to follow Neset’s incandescent fireworks. In retrospect it might have been better if this evening’s programme at the Parabola had been scheduled the other way round.

 

Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 27/04/2017.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 27/04/2017.

Ian Mann enjoys two performances by artists from the Southern States of the USA, the Marcus King Band and the great Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Photograph of Dee dee Bridgewater by Tim Dickeson


Thursday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 27/04/2017.

My first visit to the 2017 Cheltenham Jazz Festival found me enjoying two performances by artists celebrating the music of the American South.

First guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Marcus King appeared with his six piece band in the Jazz Arena, the venue sponsored this year for the first time by Pizza Express.

Later vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater transported us from the Victorian splendour of Cheltenham Town Hall to the mean streets of Memphis, Tennessee in a glorious celebration of that city’s unique musical heritage.

MARCUS KING BAND

First up was the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Marcus King, a young musician who has already made a big impression on the American music scene. Still only twenty years of age King already has two albums under his belt, 2014’s self released “Soul Insight” and the following year’s “Marcus King Band”, released on major label Fantasy Records. The second album reached no. 2 on the Billboard blues chart and established King as a rising star with a rapidly growing following.

I’ll admit to not having heard him before tonight’s performance but it was immediately obvious from a near capacity Jazz Arena audience that he has already established something of a cult following in the UK. 

If the King band hailed from New Orleans their music could be described as a ‘gumbo’, such is their range of influences which embrace virtually every genre of American popular music, and particularly those of the South. Instead King comes from Greenville, South Carolina and is the son of blues guitarist Marvin King.

Steeped in music from an early age Marcus King’s influences include the Southern Rock of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Texas blues of Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Added to this is a jazz/fusion influence, tonight’s set included a couple of instrumental tunes which allowed King’s band mates to demonstrate their considerable chops. On the brief “The Man You Didn’t Know” the sounds of country, or perhaps more accurately Americana, found their way into an already heady mix. 

A stocky figure wearing a trademark hat King bears a striking physical resemblance to the late Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant. But King doesn’t just sing with a hoarsely expressive voice he also plays guitar in the spirit of Van Zant’s colleagues Gary Rossington and Allen Collins.

He fronts a tight band featuring keyboardist Matt Jennings, bass guitarist Stephen Campbell, drummer Jack Ryan and hornmen Justin Johnson (trombone, trumpet, tambourine) and Dean Mitchell (tenor sax, flute).

Tune announcements were rare so I don’t intend to give a song by song account but instead to give an overall impression of the performance. First impressions of King were those of a white bluesman in the tradition of Winter and Vaughan, a skilled guitar soloist, though as yet less inspired as his mentors, but arguably a more distinctive and emotive vocalist than either of these.

But soon King was tossing other elements into the mix - soul, funk and even jazz. The second song combined funk rhythms with a Stax inspired soulfulness that recalled Otis Redding. Then there was that short diversion into country with the “The Man You Didn’t Know”.

Next another about face with an extended instrumental piece from the band’s first album that saw the horn players come into their own. Initially Johnson and Mitchell just seemed to be there to provide extra colour, punch and punctuation but Johnson now impressed with a fluent trumpet solo, the most obvious ‘jazz’ moment of the set thus far. He shared the solos with King on guitar and Jennings on organ. The keyboard man was very much King’s right hand man, filling out the group sound with a variety of sounds ranging through Rhodes, clavinet and Hammond while also relishing his opportunities as a soloist. Some of the sounds that he delivered on his solos were deliciously filthy.

King continued to jump around the genres with the next piece featuring a honking r’n’b styled tenor solo from Mitchell before metamorphosing into a slow blues arrangement of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” featuring a soulful and emotive vocal from King who really made the song his own.

And so it continued with stratospheric blues guitar soloing juxtaposed with Stax style horns. The jazz quotient was realised with another instrumental piece that included an impressive electric bass feature from Campbell, his melodic playing making use of full chording in the manner of Back Door’s Colin Hodgkinson.

The single from the new album included an unexpected Mitchell flute solo alongside a typically soulful King vocal and the show concluded with an extended workout featuring funk rhythms and raunchy blues vocals and which also gave the mountainous and splendidly hirsute drummer Ryan the opportunity to pummel his kit.

Overall I enjoyed this first exposure to the music of the Marcus King Band, although his style now lies a little outside my usual current listening zone. This young and highly talented musician has already carved out a distinctive niche for himself as he explores a colourful spectrum of Southern sounds. A powerful and soulful vocalist he’s also a highly capable guitar soloist and an increasingly mature and accomplished songwriter. King has absorbed his influences well but has rapidly established his own identity, one that sits neatly in the lineage of Southern Rock.

In many respects King has it all, expect to hear a lot more from this multi-talented young musician.


DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER

Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater has enjoyed a long and illustrious career and is something of a jazz legend. However Bridgewater is a musician who has always been reluctant to be pigeon-holed and her CV includes forays into other area of music including pop, disco and Broadway musicals.

Tonight’s performance offered another example of Bridgewater stepping out of her jazz comfort zone. Her latest project is a celebration of, and homage to, the music of the city of her birth, Memphis, Tennessee.

Born in the city in 1950 Bridgewater’s family moved north when she was three years of age and the singer was raised in Flint, Michigan. But Bridgewater never lost touch with the music of her original home town and she grew up listening (under the bedclothes - natch) to the music of Memphis on the radio station WDIA, the first station to be programmed exclusively for Afro-Americans. Here she first heard many of the artists whose music was celebrated tonight.

Bridgewater has recorded an album of this music which is due for release in September 2017 and tonight she was joined by a well drilled group that she referred to as the Memphis Soul Band. The core of the group comprised of drummer, backing vocalist and musical director James Sexton, guitarist Charlton ‘CJ’ Johnson, keyboardist Dell Smith and bassist Barry Campbell.  The sound was sometimes enhanced by the horns of Arthur Edmaiston (tenor sax) and Marc Franklin (trumpet, flugelhorn) with backing vocals provided by sisters Shontelle Norman-Beatty and Sharrise Norman.

The evening began with the instrumental “Burnt Biscuits”, originally recorded by Booker T & The MGs and here a vehicle for organist Dell Smith who also acted as MC as he introduced this “Celebration of Memphis” and welcomed Bridgewater to the stage.

The singer bounded on on a pair of crutches, her injuries the result of a backstage fall while on tour in Indonesia. Although she was obliged to remain seated for the performance nothing fazed the energetic and charismatic Bridgewater as she and her band put on a hugely entertaining two hour show featuring a whole raft of classics from Memphis’ rich musical heritage.

The initial vocal number was Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s “Goin’ Slow” which immediately revealed that Bridgewater, that most versatile of singers, is blessed with a terrific blues voice. Backed by the core quartet her powerful and emotive vocal was complemented by a keyboard solo that saw Smith deploying both electric piano and organ sounds.

The Norman sisters came on to the stage to accompany Bridgewater on her rootsy and soulful rendition of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Givin’ Up”, a song also covered by Luther Vandross. The use of gospel style backing vocals, periodically throughout the set, proved to be highly effective.

The song “I Can’t Get Next To You” was originally recorded by The Temptations but Bridgewater’s interpretation took inspiration from the more rough edged performance recorded by Al Green.  Bridgewater’s between songs narrative ranged from flirtatious banter to autobiography to serious historical fact. Here we learnt that Green’s take on the song was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, owned by producer Willie Mitchell. In a nice touch of serendipity Mitchell’s son Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell worked on Bridgewater’s impending Memphis album which was recorded at the same venue. Tonight’s performance of the song featured the entire ensemble including horns and backing vocalists and with a searing guitar solo coming from Johnson.

The only song not directly related to Memphis was “Yes I’m Ready”, an enjoyable slice of soul originally recorded in 1965 by the Philadelphia based singer Barbara Mason.

Gospel music and political comment merged on “Why”, a song written by Pops Staples with a lyric part inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the shameful episode of the “Little Rock Nine”. Bridgewater was quick to condemn the present political situation in the US under the Trump administration but equally quick to praise the work of the charitable Stax Foundation and its work with underprivileged Afro-American youngsters.

A horn enlivened take on the old Carla Thomas hit “B-A-B-Y”, written by the prolific Isaac Hayes, proved to be one of the most popular items of the set with Bridgewater encouraging the audience to clap along to this joyous homage to the classic Stax sound.

The singer then took a well earned breather as the core quartet romped through another instrumental, “Chicken Pox”, presumably another Booker T tune, with solos from Smith on organ and Johnson on guitar.

No homage to Memphis would be complete without a tune associated with Elvis Presley. Bridgewater’s arrangement of “Don’t Be Cruel” brought a welcome blues/soul grittiness to the piece and saw the singer trading phrases with saxophonist Anderson above Sexton’s loose limbed drum grooves.

Another hugely popular item was “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, originally recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis in 1974 by Ann Peebles and later an even bigger hit for Tina Turner, effectively relaunching the latter’s career. But it was the Peebles version that was Bridgewater’s blueprint and the performance even included a sample of the electronic timbales that appeared on the original Peebles recording.

Blues icon BB King, another musician indelibly associated with Memphis, was celebrated with arguably his most famous song, “The Thrill Is Gone” with Johnson excelling on guitar and Smith again weighing in on keyboards.

Encouraged by Bridgewater the Norman sisters enjoyed lead vocal cameos on a segue of blues classics with Shontelle singing “Stormy Monday” and Sharrise “All Night Long”.

Bridgewater reclaimed Lieber & Stoller’s “Hound Dog” from Presley and treated it to a far earthier rendition in the style of Big Mama Thornton, by whom it was first recorded. A vicious ‘put down’ of a song Bridgewater recaptured something of the bitterness of the lyrics – alongside some rather theatrical dog like howling.

Equally bitter-sweet was the version of the now little remembered hit Soul Children hit “The Sweeter He Is (The Harder The Pain)”, written by Hayes and David Porter.

The entertainment closed with a stunning version of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness”. By this time the enormous personality that is Dee Dee Bridgewater had the audience eating out of her hand and the inevitable encore was the gospel song “Take My Hand Precious Lord”, originally recorded by the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson.

I have to say that I was extremely impressed by this hugely enjoyable performance by Bridgewater and her band as she stamped her own personality on these bona fide blues, soul and gospel classics, in much the same way as she does with her more familiar jazz material.

With her astonishingly flexible, expressive and versatile voice and vivacious, extrovert personality she’s a genuine star and the audience absolutely loved this show which maintained the spirit of the original songs but never tipped over into ‘tribute’ slickness or mawkishness. This was a celebration that managed to retain the spirit of the originals, including an essential rawness, but still found something fresh to say about them. Even being on crutches and joking about her ‘bionic leg’ couldn’t detract from Bridgewater’s appeal. I’d guess that plenty of people are going to be looking out for the “Memphis” album when it appears in September.

This was an evening that offered that some great music, even it wasn’t strictly ‘jazz’. Nevertheless an excellent start to this year’s Festival.

   

Surge In Spring Festival, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 08/04/2017.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Surge In Spring Festival, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 08/04/2017.

It's good to see a “cutting edge” festival returning to Birmingham again, especially one that is so supportive of young, up and coming musicians.

Surge In Spring Festival, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 08/04/2017.

The all day Surge In Spring Festival is the brainchild of musician, composer, band-leader, vocalist, poet and educator Sid Peacock, a key figure on the Birmingham music scene.

Originally from Bangor in Northern Ireland Peacock has been resident in Birmingham since the late 1990s following his graduation from the city’s Conservatoire, an organisation with whom he maintains close links.

Peacock also has close ties with the mac and has performed at the venue many times, often in the company of his brilliant jazz/folk big band the Surge Orchestra, of whom much more later.

A particularly open minded musician Peacock is dismissive of genre boundaries and is active across a broad range of musical and other artistic disciplines. Surge In Spring was conceived as a celebration of the Birmingham artistic scene and included four ticketed concerts in mac’s main theatre space plus free performances in the smaller Hexagon Theatre and in the venue’s bar areas. The sounds heard embraced jazz, improv, folk, world, gospel, electronica and more, with the Surge Orchestra seemingly tackling all of them at once!

Surge In Spring was part of a wider movement, Grow Your Own, an initiative of the Cultural Heritage and Improvised Music in European Festivals (CHIME) research project which has helped to instigate similar events in Sweden and The Netherlands. Peacock was quick to acknowledge the support of CHIME, the Arts Council of England, Birmingham City University and the mac venue.

On one of the sunniest days of the year the weather was perfect for the festival. Although the events were all held indoors neighbouring Cannon Hill Park was full of families of all ethnicities enjoying the unseasonably warm spring weather and that ‘feel good’ factor transmitted itself to the festival itself with almost all of the events being reasonably well attended and with a warmly supportive atmosphere prevailing throughout. The only downside was that the sun had tempted people out in such large numbers that car parking was at a premium – again more on that later!

GOSPEL REVISITED PROJECT with SURGE

Having got lucky in the car parking lottery I was in plenty of time to witness the first ticketed event of the day, a collaboration between Peacock and members of the Surge Orchestra with the Gospel Revisited Project led by Birmingham based drummer and band-leader Ray Prince.

Peacock and Prince have often worked together on community music projects over the years and today’s Festival offered Peacock to realise his long held ambition for Prince’s gospel singers and musicians to collaborate with members of the Surge Orchestra. 

Prince’s band featured himself at the drum kit, his older brother Trevor on guitar, Justin on bass guitar, the enigmatically named CJ on keyboards and twin vocalists Claudia Prince and Deborah Brown. This line up delivered the opening number “God Has A Way Of Working Things Out”, the positivism of the lyrics given a strident and soulful emphasis by the voices of the two singers.

But the music sounded even better with the addition of many of the members of the Surge Orchestra. “Somebody Told Me” benefited greatly from the big band punch provided by the reinforcements in an arrangement by trombonist Richard Foote, during which saxophonist Huw Morgan took the instrumental honours with a Sanborn-esque alto solo.

As if to prove that this was a genuine collaboration Ray and Sid shared the announcing duties and the next song, “Don’t Pass Me By” was a joyously grooving arrangement by Surge guitarist Simon King powered by the organ sounds generated by CJ. King, still sounding remarkably fluent despite a damaged and bandaged right hand shared the solos with the New Orleans flavoured trumpet of Mike Adlington.

“I Just Want To Know You” was introduced by the Surge string section led by violinist Kiki Chen and featured soaring strings and soulful vocals floating above Ray Prince’s solid back beat in a joint arrangement by Chen and Peacock, the violinist dealing with the strings and Peacock the brass and other parts.

Steve Tromans was invited onto the stage to play the venue’s grand piano in an intimate arrangement of “Amazing Grace” featuring just the Surge pianist and the shared vocals of Claudia Prince and Deborah Brown.

Finally we heard another joint arrangement, this time by Peacock with the string parts written by violinist Ruth Angell, of the song “You Are My Saviour” with Angell’s violin and Max Gittings’ flute bringing a hint of Irish folk to the music.

I have to admit to not being particularly familiar with the world of gospel music but I rather enjoyed this, particularly with the additional heft of members of the Surge Orchestra behind the music.  A supportive crowd, including many members of Birmingham’s gospel community gave the ensemble a great reception and one sensed that it was only time constraints that prevented a deserved encore.

CHARCOLE COLLECTIVE

With more than one interim event taking place simultaneously it wasn’t possible to enjoy all of the music on offer. I heard a brief snippet of the CharCole Collective, a young quartet led by saxophonist/flautist Xhosa Cole and featuring keyboardist Tom Harris, bassist Shirjav Singh and drummer Izzy Shibani. What I heard seemed to owe something to the classic Blue note sound but Cole has also stated that his band’s influences also include folk melodies, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian rhythms plus more contemporary urban genres. In retrospect I wished I’d stuck around to hear a bit more of this, but at least I was to witness Cole again later in the day when this talented and versatile young musician performed as part of a group paying homage to the Indo-Jazz Fusions of the late John Mayer. 

SEIKOU SUSSO

Not finding the bar the most conducive space to listen to music I headed into the Hexagon for what was billed as a duo performance by the Gambian born, Birmingham based kora player Seikou Susso and his protégé Dan Wilkins.

I got there to find Susso playing solo and clearly filling in time until Wilkins arrived, singing improvised lyrics and ill-advisedly trying to jolly along a pitifully sparse crowd. As you may have suspected Wilkins had encountered difficulty in parking but eventually arrived and started setting himself up as Susso continued to play.

It was all rather distracting but eventually the duo got to perform a couple of numbers with Susso on kora and Wilkins on guitar. But Wilkins also plays the kora, and I recall seeing him give an impressive solo performance on this instrument at the Hare & Hounds in nearby Kings Heath in 2016 when he supported the group Vula Viel, led by percussionist Bex Burch. Wilkins is a pupil of Susso’s and today’s rather ragged performance concluded with a kora duet, the most satisfying item in a set that had to be truncated at this point to accommodate the next item on the festival programme.

Circumstances had combined to render this a rather disappointing event and all in all I found myself wishing that I’d hung around to hear more of the CharCole Collective, but such are the vagaries of festival life.

At this juncture I took a short break for food and conversation before making my way to the next ticketed event.

FREE JAZZ IMPROV with SID PEACOCK, PAUL DUNMALL, JOHN O’ GALLAGHER, MARK SANDERS, COREY MWAMBA

Birmingham has always harboured a thriving free jazz scene and this was celebrated in this concert featuring four different instrumental collaborations.

The event was introduced by Tony Dudley Evans, who continues to keep the free jazz flame burning in the city through his own TDE Promotions which hosts regular events at the Hexagon. Tony also offers support to the Fizzle series of improvised events curated by pianist Andy Woodhead at the Lamp Tavern in Digbeth.

Today’s event differed from the usual free jazz session not only due to its deployment of a variety of different line ups but also because of the use of spoken word, courtesy of Peacock, during the performances. This idea of combining poetry with freely improvised music had originally been explored by Peacock and pianist Steve Tromans in their “Hydrogen Jukebox” project.   

The first of the four improvisations featured Surge String players Sarah Farmer (violin) and Richard Scott (viola) together with Peacock and drummer Mark Sanders. The eerie timbres of the droning strings were allied to Sanders’ mallet rumbles and cymbal scrapes to create an atmospheric backdrop for Peacock’s poetic incantations, which even included a touch of humour as he concluded his recitation by expressing a wish to “go to the moon in a fucking balloon”.

Peacock is a poet but I’m not certain if those words had been his, I thought I detected something of Charles Bukowski about them, but I may well be wrong. However the poem in the second improvisation featuring Sanders, Tromans, Nick Jurd on bass and Corey Mwamba at the marimba definitely featured the words of Allen Ginsburg as the music entered stormier free jazz waters. Mwamba struggled to make himself heard as he soloed on Surge member Jason Huxtable’s marimba rather than his own customary vibraphone. Meanwhile Tromans came over more strongly as he channelled his inner Cecil Taylor with a torrential, virtuoso outpouring at the piano.

The third improvisation featured the closing stanzas of Jack Kerouac’s classic beat novel “On The Road”, atmospherically intoned by Peacock to a musical backdrop featuring the twin saxes of Dunmall and O’Gallagher, later joined by Sanders at the drums plus the layered, textured strings of Farmer and Scott.

The final – and lengthiest – improvisation featured the quartet of Dunmall, O’Gallagher, Sanders and Jurd with the latter introducing the piece on dramatic unaccompanied arco bass. When Sanders subsequently joined the fray Jurd reverted to the pizzicato technique, combining with the drummer to create the framework for the ferociously intertwined saxophone improvisations and subsequent individual solos of Dunmall and O’Gallagher. The latter, American born, is a frequent visitor to UK and to Birmingham in particular thanks to a part time teaching post at the Conservatoire. A prolific improviser and composer O’Gallagher has also appeared on a number of albums on the Whirlwind record label. Propelled by Jurd’s muscular bass grooves and the relentlessly colourful polyrhythmic flow of Sanders’ drumming both saxophonists made distinctive and authoritative individual statements before coalescing again in garrulous fashion. Sanders then enjoyed an imaginative solo drum feature which saw him making inventive use of the numerous small percussive devices with which he habitually augments his drum kit. A short passage featuring the two unaccompanied saxes then ushered in a final group resolution featuring Dunmall’s guttural tenor, O’Gallagher’s high register alto screeches and squawks and finally the sound of Jurd with the bow as the piece almost came full circle.

Freely improvised music can sometimes represent a daunting proposition but I rather enjoyed this and the rest of the audience also responded with great positivity. The use of voice and words in the opening stages of the event made this performance stand out from the usual improv session and provided considerable additional interest with Peacock playing an unexpected but highly effective role in the process. And, of course, the longer final section incorporated many of the ingredients of classic improv. A highly worthwhile exercise that many people probably enjoyed far more than they might have anticipated .

THE FROE

Once again I made my way to the intimate environs of the Hexagon for an interim concert that proved to be far more successful than the earlier performance by Susso and Wilkins had been.

First to appear on an intriguing double bill were the all female quartet The Froe featuring three members of Surge Orchestra’s string section. This young quartet combined elements of folk, jazz and chamber music and a pleasingly substantial audience at the Hexagon responded well to both the beauty and intelligence of this consistently delightful music.

The Froe featured the voice and violin of Ruth Angell together with Charlie Heys on violin, Helen Lancaster on viola and Emma Capp on cello. The quartet recently released their eponymous début EP on Transition Records, from which much of today’s material was drawn.

I arrived during the course of the first song with Angell’s fragile but pure voice singing the shepherd’s ballad “I’d Rather Be Tending My Sheep” accompanied by the sounds of pizzicato violin and viola and the richly melancholic arco sounds of Capp’s cello.

Heys’ tune “Wolf And The Woodpecker” opens the EP and is essentially its title track.  Here the four strings coalesced to deliver a beautiful blend of folk melody and chamber music dynamics, the music accelerating and adopting a more obviously folk direction in the lengthier second stage of the tune.

“The Four Angels”, the second song to feature Angell’s vocals boasted words by none other than Rudyard Kipling set to a folk melody composed by the guitarist, singer and songwriter Martin Simpson. This allegory, based on the Garden of Eden myth was both beautiful and highly effective and demonstrated the quartet’s mastery of both words and music.

Finally we heard a set of tunes incorporating Heys’ “Phoebe’s Return”, written for the return of a prodigal pet hamster, once missing and presumed dead.  Here Froe delivered an impressive array of sounds from just four stringed instruments as they mixed arco and pizzicato techniques and occasionally deployed the bodies of their instruments as auxiliary percussion. The EP also deploys guitar, harmonium and percussion but essentially The Froe remains a contemporary, genre bending string quartet. I was very impressed with the controlled beauty and delicacy of this performance which worked very well in the context of the Hexagon and which clearly delighted a highly supportive audience.
DRAWLIGHT

The Froe were followed by another unusual quartet led by Aaron Diaz, one of the Surge Orchestra’s twin trumpeters. Performing under the group name Drawlight Diaz’s quartet boasted a highly distinctive instrumental configuration with Esther Swift on harp, Jim Molyneux on accordion and Jack McNeill on clarinet and bass clarinet.

The folk / chamber jazz aesthetic of the music, plus the unusual combination of trumpet, clarinet and accordion, reminded me of the quartet Flea Circus led by London based trumpeter Jack Davies who released their eponymous début album back in 2012. However where Davies made use of double bass Diaz features the even more distinctive timbres of Swift’s harp.

The quartet’s short set first featured their unique ensemble sound on Diaz’s Charlie Parker inspired “The Professional Composer Arranger” followed by a tune with a Swedish title meaning “The Lakes Are Singing”, a piece inspired by the composer’s time spent studying in Sweden. Finally we heard a tune inspired by the rhythms of dripping water in a cistern at a public lavatory in Sandwell!
Eclectic or what?

In Drawlight’s unique sound-world the ensemble sound is key but there were still moments of individual brilliance to enjoy such as the distinctive sound of the leader’s trumpet ‘whisper’, the dialogue between harp and bass clarinet and Swift’s unusual use of the strings of the harp as a kind of percussion. Besides the folk and jazz influences Diaz and Drawlight displayed an obvious love of the avant garde, appropriate perhaps for a man who once led a band called Moon Unit, named in honour of the late, great Frank Zappa.

Drawlight is still very much a work in progress but this short set was unusual and distinctive and exhibited considerable potential for future development. Once again it was well received by the Hexagon audience who had all stuck around for the second part of this intriguing double bill.

JOHN MAYER’S INDO-JAZZ FUSIONS

In the late 1960s the late Anglo-Indian violinist and composer John Mayer (1930-2004) pioneered a then unique fusion of jazz and Indian music featuring a ten piece band, described as a ‘double quintet’, which included musicians from both disciplines. 

This exotic ensemble was co-led by the Jamaican born saxophonist Joe Harriott (1928-73) and the group’s two sixties albums have acquired a cult status. Original copies are worth hundreds of pounds but, of course, the material has been re-issued on both vinyl and CD in a number of different packages over the years.

Following Harriott’s tragically early death from cancer Mayer disbanded the group, only to reform it more than twenty years later, often deploying Birmingham based musicians, recruited as a result of Mayer’s tenure as a teacher at Birmingham Conservatoire. A series of later albums followed and in 2017 Indo-Jazz Fusions is led by John Mayer’s son, the sitar player Jonathan Mayer.

Today’s performance was given by an octet featuring Birmingham based pianist Steve Tromans, a member of John Mayer’s 1990s group and with Mayer Jr. a keystone of the current line up. Other members of the 2017 line up include Mohinder Singh (tabla), Xhosa Cole (flute, tenor sax), Mike Adlington (trumpet), Nick Jurd (double bass), Richard Scott (violin) and Tymoteusz Jozwiak (drums).

The performance began with a Tromans arrangement of “Chhota Mitha”, a John Mayer tune from the 1998 album “Ragatal” on which the pianist played. One was immediately impressed by the breadth of colour of the ensemble sound with regard to both texture and rhythm. Equally impressive were the individual features including solos from Mayer on sitar, Singh on tablas and Cole on flute in addition to the exchanges between Mayer and trumpeter Adlington plus the three-way discussion between Scott, Adlington and Cole. This represented a compelling and enjoyable introduction to the Indo-Jazz fusions sound of 2017.

IJF 2017 is more than just a ‘tribute’ band with members of the ensemble positively encouraged to bring something of themselves to the table. “Mela Mela” represented Cole’s ingenious bringing together of John Mayer’s “Mela Kiravani” from 2001 and Esperanza Spalding’s tune “Mela”. The arranger switched to tenor sax and shared the solos with Mayer Jr.‘s sitar as Adlington deployed the more rounded tone of the flugel horn. Singh’s mesmerising tabla feature acted as the segue between the two segments with Cole making the move back to flute and Tromans emerging as the featured soloist in the second section.

The closing “Multani Thirteens” represented an updating of John Mayer’s tune “Multani” from the 1967 début album featuring Harriott. Revived in the 1990s this complex but hypnotic raga based tune now deploys a thirteen beat cycle and included a compelling star solo from Jonathan Mayer plus a series of captivating exchanges between Mayer and Tromans. Also taking the opportunity of engaging in musical dialogue were Adlington, Scott and Singh with a triple discussion involving trumpet, violin and tabla.

There may only have been three numbers played but these lengthy, multi-faceted musical explorations represented rewarding and highly compulsive listening. Those who had been lucky enough to see the Harriott edition of the group in its 60s heyday (notably Peter Slavid who was reviewing the Festival for London Jazz News) were inevitably disappointed but for first timers like myself this was a fascinating aural experience and something of a festival highlight.

DAN SPIRRETT TRIO

In the bar area I caught a snippet of the trio set performed by the young saxophonist Dan Spirrett, a fourth year student on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire. I remember being very impressed with Spirrett when he performed at the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the annual “Trondheim Jazz Exchange” event.

A prolific composer Spirrett also leads his own quintet and nonet. I suspect that his colleagues today were bassist Sam Ingvorsen and drummer Gwilym Jones, who also constitute the rhythm team in Spirrett’s larger ensembles.

The mac bar represented a less sympathetic listening environment than the Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham and to be honest I treated the trio’s efforts as background music as I grabbed a much needed sandwich. Nevertheless Spirrett, aged twenty two, still looks like a name well worth looking out for in the future.

JUGGENAUGHT

The next act to appear in the bar area was the young piano trio JuggeNaught led by pianist and composer Piera Onacko, a recent graduate from Birmingham Conservatoire. Deploying an electric keyboard Onacko was joined by bassist Ben Muirhead and drummer Max Tomlinson for a short set that drew on the E.S.T. / Neil Cowley / GoGo Penguin school of contemporary jazz pianism.

It would be good to hear the trio again in a more sympathetic context and with an acoustic piano. Their Soundcloud page features three tracks, including an instrumental interpretation of David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane”,  and suggests that this a group with considerable promise.

SURGE ORCHESTRA

The largest audience of the day was reserved for the final ticketed event, a performance by the mighty Surge Orchestra led and conducted by Festival curator Sid Peacock. The mac Theatre was almost full and the audience were hugely supportive of one of Birmingham’s favourite adopted sons.

For the record the Orchestra lined up as follows;

Sid Peacock – conductor, voice

Kiki Chen, Sarah Farmer – violins

Ruth Angell – violin, voice

Helen Lancaster, Richard Scott – violas

Emma Capp – cello

Max Gittings – flutes & whistles

Lluis Mather – alto sax, bass clarinet

Huw Morgan – alto sax

Chris Morgan – tenor sax

Nick Rundle – baritone sax

Mike Adlington – trumpet

Aaron Diaz – trumpet, electronics

Richard Foote – trombone

Steve Tromans - piano

Simon King – guitar

Nick Jurd – acoustic & electric bass

Jason Huxtable – tuned percussion

Alpahdino Elema, Mark Sanders – percussionist

Tymoteusz Jozwiak – drum kit      

Surge, standing for Sidist Utopian Revolutionary Groove Ensemble, was formed in 2004 to perform a commission for Birmingham’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. This saw Peacock working with the recently deceased Paul Murphy, poet, activist and leader and vocalist of the eclectic Birmingham based band The Destroyers, a group that includes numerous members of the Surge line up.

Peacock dedicated today’s performance to Murphy’s memory and the band responded with some terrific playing as they tackled the complexities of Peacock’s material with aplomb and a great sense of fun.

Peacock has publicly acknowledged the influence of Django Bates on his composing and a similar sense of the absurd informs his writing, albeit one filtered through a unique Belfast/Birmingham prism. In 2011 Surge Orchestra released the excellent album “La Fête” which was launched by a memorable performance at the mac featuring Bates as a guest soloist.

The album still stands up well six years later and formed the basis for much of today’s set, beginning with “Hallucinogenic Garden” which combined well drilled ensemble playing with a Loose Tubes like sense of abandon, particularly on the solos, Chris Morgan here taking the honours on tenor. I love the fine line between order and chaos in the Surge sound, something that led to this quote from my review of a 2015 performance by the band at the same venue that seems to encapsulate Peacock’s approach quite neatly;
“Peacock celebrates life and all its absurdities and somehow channels that into music that is both chaotic and disciplined, rowdy but thought provoking, and on occasion capable of great beauty”.

Peacock is a great front man for the band, that sense of the absurd peppering his between tunes anecdotes and bantering, the humour balanced by a more serious political agenda celebrating cultural and musical diversity and the leader’s own left wing roots.

“Molly’s Disco Biscuit” has always included a vocal section and today Peacock incorporated the lyrics of Murphy’s “Shoplifter’s Talking Blues”, a plea on behalf of the downtrodden and oppressed,  juxtaposed with joyously buoyant rhythms and invigorating folk melodies courtesy of the massed strings plus Gittings’ flutes and whistles.

“La Fête” itself was a marvellous piece of Bates inspired writing, full of stylistic and dynamic twists and turns and a general air of barely controlled chaos. Along the way we enjoyed solos from Huw Morgan on alto and the injured but still impressive Simon King on guitar.

In 2008 Peacock travelled to Chongquin in China to work with members of the Sichuan Opera. This visit inspired “Chinese Flowers”, one of the gentler and more reflective items in the Surge Orchestra repertoire with pianist Tromans making a particularly beautiful contribution.

By way of contrast “Pixel Carnage” more than lived up to its title with a ferocious electric bass groove courtesy of Jurd and blistering solos from Adlington on trumpet and Tromans on piano, again in Cecil Taylor / Myra Melford mode.

The deserved encore, which in truth was probably less spontaneous than Peacock would have had us believe, was “Bronze Bling”, another composition inspired by that trip to China but very different in mood to the earlier piece and generally more typical of Surge’s wacky output. Gittings soloed on some kind of Chinese flute, Diaz delivered an electronically enhanced trumpet solo (his use of electronics is a particularly distinctive element of the Surge sound) and Sanders, Elema and Jozwiak enjoyed an extended drum / percussion work out, aided and abetted by Tromans’ ominous low end piano rumblings. The piece closed with Peacock, Gittings and members of the string section all blowing Chinese flutes, a typically surreal end to a performance that exhibited all the Surge hallmarks of energy, excitement and eclecticism. It’s high time Peacock got this highly talented combo back into the studio to record another album.

FESTIVAL OVERVIEW

Peacock must have been delighted with this final performance by his own band and by the success of the day as a whole. The majority of the events were well attended (by jazz standards) and the atmosphere was warmly supportive throughout.

Despite the often shared personnel the musical agenda was particularly wide ranging and creative   and every performance that I witnessed offered something of interest. In many ways the Festival reminded me of the similarly structured Harmonic Festival curated by musicians Chris Mapp and Percy Pursglove that was last held at the mac back in 2011. I’ve missed Harmonic and it’s good to see a “cutting edge” festival returning to Birmingham again, especially one that is so supportive of young, up and coming musicians.

Funding permitting it’s intended that Surge In Spring will become an annual event. With a Harmonic shaped hole to fill let’s hope that that dream will become a reality. This inaugural event certainly got things off to a great start and I’d like nothing more than to be coming back to this venue at the same time next year for the second genre bending Surge In Spring festival.

Congratulations to Sid Peacock and his team for putting on such a successful and rewarding first event.     



   

‘Jazz on a Winter’s Day’ -  Scott Willcox Big Band recording session, 18/02/2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

‘Jazz on a Winter’s Day’ -  Scott Willcox Big Band recording session, 18/02/2017.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister on a "a fascinating day spent at a church near Shepperton, where producer Andy Cleyndert was recording Scott Willcox's ten-piece big band for his Trio label".

JAZZ ON A WINTER’S DAY

SATURDAY 18th FEBRUARY 2017

Photograph of Scott Willcox Big Band courtesy of Lee Alexander Brown Photography

St Andrew’s Baptist Church, a late-Victorian red brick building, is set back from the road through the village of Upper Halliford, amid a beautifully tended garden, where a spread of snowdrops suggested that winter was finally in retreat. However idyllic this setting might seem, it was hard to picture how the ten-musicians of Scott Willcox’s jazz ensemble, their music stands and instrument cases plus microphones and control desk, might fit into the tiny structure for the day’s recording session. The answer was to be found by following a neat pathway to a recently constructed octagonal structure appended to the original church. Modern, sun-lit, and spacious and with an excellent acoustic, this would serve as a recording studio under the guiding hand of Andy Cleyndert, well known as a world class bass player but, on this occasion, the producer for his Trio record label.

This would be quite unlike my only other experience of a recording session. There I had viewed proceedings through a glass panel, as if watching marine life at an aquarium – the musicians tightly squeezed into a bare cell-like room, with the bass player and drummer tucked away in their own separate booths. The music played through speakers. It could have been coming directly from a CD; there was no sense of a live band playing at full-flight.

No such detachment here. Clearly producer Andy Cleyndert intends to capture the sound as if on a live gig. The centrally placed control desk lies only feet away from the musicians. Cables snaked away from the desk to the microphones, set up and ready for the musicians to shortly take their places once fortified by the hospitality of Scott and his wife Anne. ‘Scott takes care of the music,’ Anne remarked. ‘I look after other, more important details, like a steady supply of tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits.’

While Cleyndert attends to the final details of his recording equipment, the musicians amble into the space. Attired in a variety of outfits, ranging from shirtsleeves to padded coats and woollen hats designed to ward off Arctic cold, they take their seats.

Sited to the far left as I view the ensemble from the back of the church, Dave Frankel nods approvingly at the piano; it’s a fine instrument. Bass guitarist Ben Hazelton, stands next to him, barely visible behind the vast grey sheet that shrouds the piano. Gary Willcox cuts an authoritative figure behind his drum kit - he checks his charts and runs through various rhythms on his kit as everyone settles. Martin Gladdish, a one-man trombone section, is sited centre-stage; quiet and thoughtful. Gabriel Garrick and Andy Gibson are seated to his left; a powerhouse trumpet section, which literally heralds the arrival of Julian Costello with a timely fanfare. 

The saxophone section is set up at a right-angle to the brass instruments. Duncan Eagles on tenor, glowing with good health after recent work in Dubai, Julian Costello joins him, also on tenor; Bob McKay and Chris Biscoe are surrounded by an array of instruments: flute, soprano and alto saxophones. Together this formidable line-up comprises the Scott Willcox Big Band.

Scott’s quiet and self-effacing direction leads the band into a run-through of  ‘Rondosonu’. It’s a demanding chart, that maintains a complex West African drum pattern throughout; the sort of thing, as a band member once observed, that might emerge from “a meeting between Stravinsky and George Russell”. It takes time to nail the groove, but once achieved, the explosive force of the band in full flight fills the church with energy and musical colour. “We’ve got the feeling in the room. Let’s go for it. Let’s record it!” Gabriel Garrick declares with excited determination.

As Andy Cleyndert moves quietly about his job, adjusting microphones and setting things up in readiness for the first take, Scott issues instructions; directing Dave Frankel to hold a particular chord for a little longer and asking McKay and Biscoe to run through their parts again so that the sound of the alto and soprano saxes is separated more clearly. Meanwhile, Andy Gibson discovers that he’s got one more bar to everyone else. “That’s because you’re special,” remarks Martin Gladdish jokingly.

To my amazed observer’s senses, the musicians take the glitches of a recording session completely in their stride and after a couple of false starts, come close to producing the “joyous, generous, singing sound” that Scott is seeking. But ‘Rondosonu’ is not quite in the bag.

By now the temperature in the church has dropped noticeably, in line with the energy levels of the musicians; the charts are tricky and demand the utmost concentration. Another take might be a step too far. “How about doing a drop-in?” suggests Gary Willcox. It’s a welcome idea, eagerly taken up. A four bar introduction leads the band into the offending section and this time it’s played to perfection. There’s a moment of silence and audible relief before Scott and his musicians dare to smile.  Yes, ‘Rondosonu’ is in the can. It’s time to move on.

In contrast to the helter-skelter pace of ‘Rondosonu’ with its startling sounds and switches in time and rhythm, ‘Slane’, an interpretation of a traditional Irish melody, is a vision of Celtic beauty. Muted brass, blending with the reeds, and the gentle Latin breeze of Gary Willcox’s brushes provide the background to Bob McKay’s impassioned solo on alto sax, which grows in emotional depth with each take.

The ferocious ‘Bouncing Back’ is another piece full of challenges and potential pitfalls. Numerous takes and the sustaining effects of a splendid buffet lunch are needed before they are all successfully overcome. “It won’t get any better.” declared Gabriel Garrick with absolute finality. “This,” he continued, rubbing his forehead, “is knackered. It’s the counting.”

Scott expressed his delight at the close of ‘Where Next?’ which ran through seamlessly in one take. “That was great!” he said. “We captured the voicings perfectly.” A haunting lamentation, the number opened with the questioning piano of Dave Frankel and provided a platform for an achingly beautiful solo played by Martin Gladdish on trombone.

With Gary Willcox stoking the boiler, the band immediately responded to Scott’s call for ‘heat’ and set ‘All Change’ in motion at blistering pace. Exultant solos from Gibson, Biscoe and Costello, and firm bass lines from Ben Hazelton, added further fuel to the fire. With everyone thinking that the piece was ‘in the sack’, Gary Willcox suddenly confessed that “my part fell on the floor at bar 100 and from then on I was flying blind”. It was one of those moments; another would crop up before the end of the day’s recording at the end of ‘Listen Up’: should you go with what sounded ‘right’, and my ears told me that this did, or should you go with what WAS right i.e. the written score. Scott decided to go with the latter; a four bar intro led into a successful re-take and a thumbs up from Andy Cleyndert.

‘Mixed Feelings’ returned to the enigmatic territory explored earlier in ‘Where Next?’ Tempo was all important; at first it was too slow. “Run it again,” insisted Scott, and sure enough, the almost imperceptible difference in speed, brought the number together, only to fall apart, perhaps understandably, following the second of two totally free passages. Another ‘dovetail’ solved the problem perfectly.

It was a timely moment to take a break for tea. As I studied the clock and wondered how the session could possibly be completed by the deadline of 4 o’clock, Duncan Eagles confidently reassured me that, “It’s usually like this at recording sessions. Actually, we’re doing quite well.”

When recording resumed, two takes safely secured ‘Can’t Complain’, a fascinating piece featuring the trombones of Martin Gladdish, Gabriel Garrick (making his recording début on his second instrument) and guest Dave Horden, with the rhythm section.

‘Listen Up’, a gentle, slightly melancholic ballad, drawing on muted brass and Bob McKay’s expressive flute was also wrapped up in two takes.

I checked my watch again, four-fifteen. As the band launched into the first run-through of ‘African Dance’, I reluctantly took my leave. Over the course of six hours, a dynamic combination of energy, hard earned experience and technical brilliance, seasoned by the remarkable gift of jazz improvisation, had brought the compositions of Scott Willcox vividly to life in wonderful musical colours.

My thanks to Scott and Anne Willcox, the members of his Big Band and Andy Cleyndert.  I can’t wait to hear the finished result ‘on disc’, especially with the addition of Georgia Mancio’s gorgeous voice on ‘Listen Up’ and ‘Don’t Read My Lips’.


TREVOR BANNISTER

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Ten, Sunday 20th November 2016.

Monday, December 12, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Ten, Sunday 20th November 2016.

Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by the JD Allen Trio, Triforce and Friends, Zenel, Kokoroko and the Liberation Music Orchestra directed by Carla Bley.

Photograph of Carla Bley by Tim Dickeson


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Ten, Sunday 20th November 2016

J D ALLEN TRIO, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

The final day of the Festival found me at the Pizza for the last time this year for a ticketed event featuring the American tenor saxophonist J D Allen and his trio. I recalled seeing Allen at the 2013 Festival when he played at Xoyo as part of the electro-acoustic trio led by drummer and composer Jaimeo Brown, a very different kind of gig that featured the use of electronica and samples, these courtesy of Chris Sholar.

But there were many similarities too with both shows having their roots in the blues. Brown’s project, “Transcendence”, incorporated samples of female textile workers singing in Gee’s Bend Alabama, these skilfully woven into the electro-acoustic fabric of the music. Meanwhile Allen’s latest album, “Americana” (Savant Records), featuring today’s trio with Gregg August on double bass and Rudy Royston on drums, is subtitled “Musings on Jazz and Blues” as it, too, takes the blues as the root for the trio’s subsequent improvisations. 

This lunchtime show saw Allen and his colleagues deliver an absolute fire-storm of a performance. An explosive opening featured Allen’s free-wheeling tenor sax improvisations fuelled by August’s busy bass and Royston’s turbo charged drumming. As the trio blazed away and showed no signs of letting up I thought we might be in for a single forty five minute improvisation but a fiery series of exchanges between Allen and Royston finally brought this first piece to a close.

The most obvious reference point for Allen’s playing was John Coltrane, a comparison that had already been made at that Xoyo show. The second piece (no tunes were announced) saw Allen playing in the meditative, spiritual style of the latter day Coltrane but the music was scarcely less intense and featured some dark, but impressive, arco work from August that was reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison.

The next two pieces upped the energy levels again with Allen continuing to channel the spirit of Coltrane. The first of these featured a pizzicato solo from the impressive August, the second a volcanic drum feature from the brilliant Royston. I’d been lucky enough to see Royston play live before in bands led by Bill Frisell and Michael Janisch / Aruan Ortiz, but never quite as hyper-actively as here. Keeping pace with the relentless Allen demanded an enormous degree of dexterity and stamina from his colleagues. Perhaps Royston was merely making up for lost time. He had missed the trio’s late night performance the day before as his flight had been delayed, his place being taken by the London based drummer Sebastiaan de Krom.

As the set progressed, rarely letting up in intensity and with Allen’s off mic wanderings lending a curiously human warmth to the proceedings, the music dug even deeper into the wellspring of the blues. There were further features for both August and Royston and the final piece even saw Allen injecting a little light relief in the form of a quote from “When The Saints Go Marching In”.

But overall this was far from cosy lunchtime jazz as Allen blew away any cobwebs with an uncompromising performance that acquired a sense of spirituality through it’s sheer dynamism. One could argue that it was a little derivative but nobody could deny its raw, elemental power. In his way Allen is the natural heir of John Coltrane, himself a musician steeped in the blues. 

After the 75 minute performance I treated myself to a copy of “Americana”, the source of much of this material. The album performances are more considered but just as impressive in their own way with hidden subtleties that were not quite as apparent in the heat of the moment during the course of a truly blistering set.

Despite the intensity of the music the trio were very well received by a discerning crowd and as I left Allen was debating whether to call his bandmates back for a second set – Royston had already packed his cymbals away at this point. I did consider sticking around but had another event at 4.00pm and also doubted whether the trio could reach such incendiary heights again after such a lengthy break so I decided to move on. A galvanising start to the last day nevertheless. 


TRIFORCE / ZENEL / KOKOROKO, IKLECTIK ART LAB, WATERLOO

My second visit to Iklectik was for this three band showcase presented by JazzNewBlood, an organisation who describe their mission as being “nurturing youth jazz talent”.

It would seem that they are doing a fine job as during EFG LJF they presented no fewer than ten bands and forty two musicians at Iklectik while making audio and visual recordings of all the performances.

The first band to appear were Triforce, a young group with an average age of nineteen featuring Dominic Canning (keyboards), Ricco Komolafe (electric bass) and Benjamin Appiah (drums). These three are students on the Jazz Course at Middlesex University, a hotbed of young jazz talent which has spawned Led Bib among others. These three are normally joined by guitarist Mansur Brown, who was unfortunately absent today but appears on the group’s début EP “Triforce 5ive”.

Triforce may seem an inappropriate name for a four piece band but as Canning informed us the name comes not from the size of the line up but from the band’s shared goals of “creativity, innovation and empowerment” - all lofty and admirable ideals. The band cite the various influences of Thundercat, J Dilla, Austin Peralta and Funky Knuckles as inspirations, which may give you some idea of where they’re coming from.

In truth with Brown absent things didn’t start well as Triforce took to the stage as a trio. The first number, “Banta” was a bit of a mess with a muddy sound and a lack of focus, it felt like a rather lacklustre jam. The lads were clearly missing Brown and the absence of a centre stage presence was all too noticeable.

However salvation was at hand in the shape of guest trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi who gave the band a visual focus and expanded the sound, giving the music fresh colour and impetus. His initial solo began a little tentatively but he soon gained confidence, becoming more and more impressive as his solo evolved. The tune was “Elijah’s Remedy”, a tune from the EP that features a guest appearance by tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi.

Indeed Akinnibi himself joined the band for the next number, an infectious piece titled “Orion” with a rapid funk groove that saw band spokesman Canning encouraging the audience to clap along, which they did enthusiastically. The core trio had clearly gained confidence and inspiration from the presence of the two young horn men and now seemed to be really enjoying themselves. And they weren’t the only ones, I found myself responding more and more warmly to Triforce’s mix of jazz, funk, soul and hip hop. 

Ogunjobi sat out the next piece which was a feature for Akinnibi and saw the talented young saxophonist soloing fluently accompanied by Appiah’s hip hop grooves. There was also a thrilling set of exchanges between the saxophonist and drummer that recalled those of Allen and Royston earlier in the day.
The final piece saw Ogunjobi returning to the stage and impressing with some brassy, high register trumpeting as he shared the solos with Akinnibi. Appiah also impressed with a series of fiery drum breaks and Komolafe laid down some thunderous bass grooves. And although he rarely featured as a soloist it was Canning’s keyboards that were at the heart of the band’s sound with an impressive, and always apposite, range of Rhodes and synth grooves and textures.   

After a shaky start this gig turned out to be a triumph for “Triforce and Friends” as a beaming Canning described them. Triforce seem to be becoming an increasingly ubiquitous presence on the London jazz scene. I was impressed enough to invest in a copy of the EP and can report that it stands up very well in the home listening environment. Triforce and their friends should become increasingly important presences on the London and national music scenes in the years to come.

The next band proved to be even younger, all aged fifteen or sixteen. Zenel is one of those composite band names and the trio consists of Zoe Pascal (drums), Noah Stoneman (keyboards)  and Laurence Wilkins (trumpet, electronics). Zoe is the son of Patricia Pascal of JazzNewBlood, the organiser of today’s and other Festival events.

Like Triforce before them they write all of their own material and also played a five song set beginning with “Ewok Dance” which introduced the evocative blend of Wilkins’ trumpet and Stoneman’s various keyboard sounds with Pascal’s neatly energetic drumming helping to drive the music. Stoneman was the one musician I’d seen before, he had been a finalist in the BBC Young Musician Of The Year, a competition won by trumpeter Alexandra Ridout who had earlier played at Iklectik under the JazzNewBlood scheme. I was particularly taken by Stoneman’s ability to play steady and sturdy bass lines with his left hand while soloing inventively on Rhodes with his right, an impressive feat of musicianship.

“You Could Like Me If You Tried”, with its clipped rhythms added an appealing Canterbury like quirkiness that suggested that these young musicians may have listened to the kind of old school prog that I grew up with. Wilkins impressed here with his authoritative trumpet playing as he shared the solos with Stoneman’s keyboards.

There was more decidedly British quirkiness on “Bubble Leaves” with its odd meter grooves allied to Stoneman’s Django Bates styled keyboard soloing.

The rapid synth pulses and drones of the next piece, allied to Pascal’s skittering drum grooves, suggested the influence of more contemporary electronica as Wilkins’ trumpet cut a swathe through the rhythmic forest created by his colleagues. 

The closing piece included features for all three musicians with Pascal going first followed by Stoneman on Rhodes and Wilkins with a particularly powerful contribution on trumpet.

It’s also been a bonus to listen to the performances by Triforce and Zenel again via the JazzNewBlood website http://www.jazznewblood.org. Only the first three tunes of each set feature, hence the abandonment of titles half way through the reviews! But the music sounds great, and is even more impressive second time round, especially in Zenel’s case. Let’s hope they (Zenel) can get something out there on disc too. A bright future awaits these talented young musicians.

The final band to appear were Kokoroko, a seven piece London based Afrobeat Collective formed in 2014 and with a band name meaning “be strong” in the Urhobo language. The most senior of today’s groups their line up included Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet) and Cassie Kinoshi (alto sax), both of the band Nerija, plus Richie Seivwright (trombone), Oscar Laurence (guitar), Mutale Chashi (electric bass), Onome Edgeworth (percussion, congas) and Israel Shibani (kit drums).

In true festival fashion I had to leave just as they were starting to make my way over to Cadogan Hall for the early evening performance by the Liberation Music Orchestra. Thus I only caught a fraction of the first number, a piece that evidenced the obvious influences of Fela and Femi Kuti but also seemed to have something of a Sun Ra feel thanks to Laurence’s spacey guitar FX.

What I heard sounded very promising and I was hoping to catch a bit more of the show retrospectively via the JazzNewBlood website. Unfortunately at the time of writing there’s still no footage of the Kokoroko performance so I guess I’ll just have to catch them somewhere else at another time.

My thanks to Benjamin Appiah, Ife Ogunjobi, Kaidi Akinnibi and Patricia Pascal for speaking with me and congratulations to JazzNewBlood for the sterling work they are doing to promote and encourage emerging jazz talent.

I have to say that I very much enjoyed both my visits to Iklectik Art Lab. Despite its out of the way location behind Waterloo Station the venue itself is warm and welcoming and there’s a real community/family feel about the place and the sense that this is a space run by music lovers for music lovers. Hopefully Iklectik - and the institutions that use it such as JazzNewBlood, Jazz Nursery and LUME – will continue to thrive. It’s a venue that I would very much like to return to next year.


LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA directed by CARLA BLEY, CADOGAN HALL

The first incarnation of the Liberation Music Orchestra emerged in 1969 under the leadership of the late bassist and composer Charlie Haden (1937-2014). Conceived as a response to the then ongoing Vietnam War the eponymous début LMO album featured folk/protest songs from the Spanish Civil War and presented them to a new audience via a set of arrangements by the group’s pianist Carla Bley.

That first album was heavily influenced by the free jazz of the 1960s and is an often challenging listen with Bley’s arrangements punctuated by bouts of raucous free jazz improvising by, among others, trumpeter Don Cherry, trombonist Roswell Rudd and saxophonists Gato Barbieri and Dewey Redman, many of those names no longer with us. But there’s an energy, vibrancy and righteous anger about the music that renders the record both unmistakably of its time yet simultaneously timeless. Either way it remains essential listening.

Haden was a busy musician who performed in a variety of contexts and formats ranging from duo to big band. However the LMO name was never formally retired and further albums appeared periodically including “Ballad Of The Fallen” (1982), “Dream Keeper” (1990) and “Liberation Music Orchestra” (1999). In 2005 a new edition of the band recorded “Not In Our Name”, a protest about America’s involvement in the war in Iraq.

At the time of his death Haden had been working on an album addressing environmental concerns, a project he had been incubating for many years. Encouraged by Haden’s widow Ruth Cameron Bley continued Haden’s work, completing the project and releasing the album “Time/Life; Song For The Whales And Other Beings” under the LMO name in 2016.

“Song For The Whales” features performances by many of the musicians present in tonight’s line
up which was introduced with great dignity by Ruth Cameron.

For the record the roll call was;

Carla Bley – piano, director

Michael Rodriguez, Seneca Black – trumpets

Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby – tenor saxophones

Laurence Stillman – alto saxophone

Marshall Gilkes – trombone

Vincent Chancey – french horn

Earl McIntyre – tuba

Steve Cardenas – guitar

Darek Oles – double bass

Matt Wilson – drums

Many of these musicians were familiar faces and several had featured in Bley’s own bands over the years.

Under Bley’s leadership the music of the LMO is more considered and less abandoned than it was in 1969. But it is no less wonderful – or indeed relevant - for that, with Bley’s arrangements stunning in terms of both their inventiveness and their beauty.

The performance began with an arrangement of “Blue In Green” the Miles Davis / Bill Evans classic. Bley’s lush, colourful arrangement included solos for Rodriguez and Cheek plus a melodic bass feature for Oles, a former Haden protege now stepping into the shoes of his mentor. The sound was a little indistinct to start but improved considerably as the concert progressed.

Bley’s unaccompanied piano introduced “Not In Our Name” which included further features for Stillman, Cardenas and Bley in an arrangement that managed to sound both angry and uplifting.

The lengthy “Time/Life”, written by Bley, began with the band pared down to a nonet with the temporary withdrawal of Cheek, Stillman and Cardenas. When Malaby commenced his brilliantly fluent and emotive solo the group was reduced even further, operating in quartet mode for a while.  Wilson’s brushed drums then introduced the second half of the piece as the LMO returned to full strength with Cheek, Rodriguez, Black and Malaby making pithy solo statements amid a rousing horn arrangement.

The Bley composition “Silent Spring” also addresses environmental concerns and was inspired by Rachel Carson’s book of the same name. It’s one of Bley’s most enduring compositions and has been recorded by several editions of her band and also by vibraphonist Gary Burton on his 1974 quintet album “Ring”. The stark beauty of the piece was epitomised by an ethereal introduction featuring Oles and Cardenas with the anger coming later via a powerful collective groove and the incisive soloing of Cheek and Rodriguez.

Bley’s arrangement of “America The Beautiful” came closest to the spirit of the original LMO as it mixed solemnity and humour in a free-wheeling arrangement jam packed with brilliant individual solos with Rodriguez, Stillman, McIntyre, Cheek and Wilson all featuring. The final pastiche like section was climaxed by a piercing high register trumpet note from Black as the piece drew the loudest applause of the night.

The momentum was maintained through a similarly rousing, gospel tinged arrangement of “Amazing Grace” with the spirit of the American marching band tradition never far away. Soloists here included Gilkes, Malaby, Oles and a bluesy Cardenas.

The performance concluded with Haden’s “Song For The Whales” with the sound of arco bass, cymbal scrapes and guitar scratchings approximating the sound of whale-song on the intro. Malaby, alongside Rodriguez arguably the night’s most impressive soloist, blew passionately, underscored by Wilson’s relentless drum barrage, on the only true solo in the most open and freely structured arrangement of the evening. The piece ended as it began with bowed bass, guitar and drums as the disembodied voice of Ruth Cameron introduced the band for a final time.

This was a superb performance from a stellar band and a capacity audience at Cadogan Hall were clearly delighted with what they’d heard. The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and broadcast on the Jazz Now programme on the night of 5th December 2016 and sounded just as good second time around. At the time of writing it is still available to hear at;
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b084cztc

For me, the most outstanding performer was Bley herself. Now approaching eighty she’s arguably playing better then ever and her composing and arranging gifts remained undimmed. Intelligence, imagination and integrity remain at the heart of everything she does. Let us hope that she can continue to make music for many more years to come. 


FESTIVAL OVERVIEW

The EFG LJF continues to be a highlight of my personal musical calendar. For me it’s like Christmas come early.

It’s also a hugely significant cultural event that raises the profile of jazz in the city and demonstrates just how vibrant the music can be as it reaches out to an increasingly broad listenership.

The sheer variety of the festival is impressive, both in terms of the musical styles on offer and the venues in which it is played, from imposing concert halls to tiny clubs to suburban high streets.

I saw around forty different performances in a broad range of venues and enjoyed almost all of them, from jazz legends like Carla Bley to emerging talents such as Triforce, Zenel and Kokoroko.

2016 saw me expanding my horizons and visiting new venues around the city. Jazz Cafe POSK, Iklectik Art Lab and the 606 Club all became instant favourites, great places to listen to music that I hope to return to again next year, along with all the other wonderful jazz venues that London has to offer of course.

The EFG LJF is an enormous operation and despite a couple of minor organisational glitches it all ran remarkably smoothly and I was very well looked after everywhere I went. My thanks to Sally Reeves and the rest of the Serious team and also to the owners and promoters at the individual club venues.

Thanks also to photographer Tim Dickeson for allowing me to use his wonderful images to illustrate my Festival coverage. 

Finally in this year of Brexit it was heartening to see the spirit of international co-operation within the music. I estimated that I witnessed performers from at least eighteen different countries during the course of the Festival, proof that music, and jazz in particular, is a truly international language.

 

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Nine, Saturday 19th November 2016.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Nine, Saturday 19th November 2016.

Ian Mann enjoys very different performances by the Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett Quartet, Dinosaur, Daniel Herskedal, The BBC Concert Orchestra, Chris Sharkey and the Charlie Hunter Band.

Photograph of the Daniel Herskedal Trio by Tim Dickeson


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Nine, Saturday 19th November 2016

STEVE FISHWCK / ALEX GARNETT QUARTET, THE ELGIN, LADBROKE GROVE

Saturday lunchtime found me a visiting another new venue, The Elgin, a Victorian pub in Ladbroke Grove. The Elgin has a designated music room and a distinguished musical history with a particularly strong punk pedigree.

It still hosts regular musical performances but isn’t part of the established London jazz circuit. However once a year it hosts BopFest, a strand of the EFG LJF co-ordinated by the vibraphonist Nat Steele and featuring leading British bebop and mainstream musicians.

I think I noticed that the Elgin has its own grand piano but that wasn’t needed today as trumpeter Steve Fishwick and saxophonist Alex Garnett co-led a chordless quartet featuring the New York based musician Mick Karn on double bass and Steve’s brother, Matt Fishwick, at the drums.

However things didn’t start well. The EFG LJF brochure advertised the gig as starting at 1.00 pm, the BopFest leaflet listed it as beginning at 2.00 pm. In order to give ourselves time to eat before the band started playing we arrived shortly after noon and unexpectedly found ourselves with a lot of time to kill. Still it could have been much worse, we enjoyed our food and then whiled away the time enjoying a pint and watching the Man Utd. V Arsenal match on the telly with the locals. As my other obsessions are beer and football I wasn’t too disgruntled about the confusion over the gig scheduling, although it did mean that we could now only stay for the first set. Also with the combined football and jazz crowds the Elgin staff struggled to cope and the service was slow to say the least. 

The BopFest promotional leaflet promised music inspired by the now little known hard bop pioneers Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and Ernie Henry (alto sax). The gig was a run up to a planned recording by the quartet at a London studio a few days later. The majority of the material consisted of originals by Steve and Alex in the hard bop style and the first set kicked off with Steve’s “It’s The Middle Of The Night For Some Of Us”, the title acknowledging the irregular working hours of the jazz musician. The piece was a blues in the classic hard bop style with hard hitting solos by Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Garnett on alto with further features for Karn on bass and Matt Fishwick with a series of fiery drum breaks. It was particularly interesting to watch Garnett performing on alto rather than his customary tenor.

Garnett demonstrated his ability on the smaller horn again as he led off his own Latin flavoured “Rio de Rum” with Steve Fishwick following him on trumpet and Karn on the bass. Matt Fishwick enjoyed a further series of drum breaks and we were also treated to a series of fluent exchanges between the co-leaders.

Garnett dedicated his ballad “52nd Street Dream” to the memory of Ronnie Scott, informing us of how of Scott was so inspired by Art Pepper’s playing at the 100 Club that he took himself off to New York to witness Charlie Parker in the flesh on 52nd Street. On returning to the UK Scott set up his own modern jazz club with the modern Frith Street premises, where Garnett is a regular performer, becoming his towering legacy. This piece featured the lyrical trumpet playing of Steve Fishwick, sensitively accompanied by brother Matt’s brushed drums.

The next piece was unannounced but included a lengthy feature for Karn alongside further solos from Garnett and Steve Fishwick. The quartet then rounded off the first half with the lively “Lickeroo”, a contrafact that saw the two horns working both in tandem and separately as they diverged to take their individual solos.

This was an enjoyable set of hard bop featuring some top quality playing from all four musicians although the familiar head/solos/head format did tend to become a little too familiar after a while. In many respects it was the kind of ‘meat and potatoes’ performance that was perfectly suited to the back room of a pub, even one as elegant and opulent as the Elgin. However the chordless instrumental configuration and the high standard of the musicianship helped to sustain the listener’s interest and any subsequent album by this quartet should be well worth hearing. The performance also demonstrated what a fine all round saxophonist Garnett is, as well as being a salty and witty verbal presence on the bandstand.

Before leaving I was honoured to speak briefly with Nat Steele who was to perform at the Elgin with his own sextet (featuring Steve Fishwick and Karn) in the evening.


BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA with LAURA JURD and DANIEL HERSKEDAL, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL

The EFG LJF is all about contrasts and I made my way from the backroom of the Elgin to the rather more refined surroundings of the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall.

The music was to be different too, instead of fiery hard bop we were to hear two new commissions, one by the young British trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd, the other by the Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal, performed by the composers and their groups in conjunction with the BBC Concert Orchestra under the baton of conductor Keith Lockhart and led by Michael Anderson Frank.

As a BBC New Generation Artist it was perhaps not surprising that Jurd was commissioned to write a work for jazz group and orchestra. Introducing her piece “Alt. Punk” she described it as being for “Dinosaur and Orchestra”, the quartet Dinosaur also featuring Elliot Galvin (keyboards), Conor Chaplin (electric bass) and Corrie Dick (drums).

Effectively the work resembled a trumpet concerto with Jurd the featured soloist as her group provided rhythmic impetus and the orchestra context, colour and texture. Performed in two movements the piece featured Jurd’s clear, fluent, precise trumpet soloing, her playing clearly audible above a rich orchestral arrangement that made particularly effective use of strings and woodwind. Galvin, a band-leader in his own right, was also featured as a soloist on his Nord Electro 3 keyboard.

Dinosaur also got to play a piece on their own, presumably one of the tracks from their acclaimed recent album “Together, As One” (I suspect that it may have been “Living, Breathing”). With Jurd also playing synthesiser the group set up a busy groove featuring sequenced synth plus bass and drums above which Jurd and Galvin executed some dazzling, lightning fast unison melodic phrases. Chaplin was given the chance to shine with a liquid electric bass solo and Dick also impressed with his agile and nimble drumming throughout. This was more reminiscent of the last time that I’d seen Dinosaur – in the backroom of the Spotted Dog pub in Digbeth, Birmingham. Oh yes, it’s those contrasts again! 

The American born Lockhart (he’s also the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra), hosted the performance with a confident warmth and a wry wit as he conducted introductory interviews with both Jurd and Heskedal immediately before premièring the new works.

He also put the Orchestra through their paces with renditions of three dance episodes , The Great Lover”, “Lonely Town” and “Times Square Ballet” by Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) sourced from the musical “On The Town”, Bernstein’s collaboration with the choreographer Jerome Roberts.

Reviewing this event for London Jazz News Jon Turney found these Orchestra only pieces decidedly underwhelming citing the Orchestra’s inability to ‘swing’ in the jazz sense. Personally I enjoyed them rather more, finding the first and third pieces to be lively and invigorating and contrasting well with the lush and more reflective mood of the second, which also featured a trumpet soloist from within the ranks of the Orchestra. 

Like the previous evening’s event at Rich Mix featuring Oddarrang and Slowly Rolling Camera this was effectively another Edition Records double bill with both Dinosaur and Daniel Herskedal also part of the label’s roster.

Herskedal is a remarkable musician, a true virtuoso on the tuba, an instrument to which he brings an astonishing range of sounds and an even more amazing emotional depth. He’s also a highly skilled composer as evidenced by his two releases for Edition “Neck Of The Woods”, an intimate duo set with saxophonist Marius Neset, and the more expansive “Slow East Bound Train”.

Herskedal’s trio featuring pianist Eyolf Dale and drummer Gerd Nilsson entered the stage suited and booted, fully buying into the classical ethos. The began by plating without the accompaniment of the Orchestra as Herskedal demonstrated his astonishing technique on the tuba producing sounds ranging from deep sonorities to vocalised, multiphonic effects. And if anybody can be said to ‘whisper’ on such a large and lugubrious instrument it has to be Herskedal. Dale also impressed with a sparkling piano solo underscored by the interlocking rhythms of Nilsson’s drums and Herskedal’s tuba bass lines.

In his discussion with Lockhart Herskedal informed us that his commission was a piece in four movements and also expressed his love of oriental music, something already made manifest by the album “Slow Eastbound Train”. He also explained that he had begun as a classical musician and had played with orchestras before although this was the first time that he had actually written for one.

Again Jon Turney was less than impressed with this section of the concert, but for me Herskedal and his colleagues seemed to integrate more fully with the Orchestra than Dinosaur had done, and not just in the visual sense. That said I’m no expert on classical music – despite the presence of a classical conductor in the family!

Herskedal’s new work was untitled, other than “Four Pieces” and the first movement began with a dramatic orchestral intro that included the effective use of dynamic contrasts. Herskedal himself featured on his ‘second instrument’, the rarely seen bass trumpet and Nilssen’s kit drums were supplemented by the sounds of orchestral percussion. An equally dramatic conclusion that replicated the sound of ringing bells which elicited a spontaneous round of applause from what was obviously a predominately jazz audience. Applause at the end of the first movement – shock, horror! It left me musing on the etiquette of clapping and the way it has become so polarised in the classical and jazz traditions.

The second movement featured Dale’s flowingly lyrical pianism cushioned by rich, lush orchestral textures. Herskedal’s contribution on tuba helped to bring a sense of grandeur to the music before the piece concluded with the same air of lyricism with which it had begun.


The third and fourth movements demonstrated something of the Oriental influence that had informed “Slow Eastbound Train”.

Movement three began with a fanfare of brass with Herskedal’s tuba augmented by the orchestral brass players. The use of tuned percussion helped to create that Oriental feel before a final section featuring the trio only with Dale soloing to the accompaniment of Herskedal’s agile tuba bass lines and Nilsson’s crisp drumming. The final movement utilised both pizzicato strings to achieve that Oriental effect.

Once again I had been extremely impressed with Herskedal, as I had been when he led a seven piece ensemble (jazz trio plus string quartet) in a performance of the “Slow Eastbound Train” material at Kings Place as part of the 2015 EFG LJF.

And although it was far from flawless I also enjoyed this afternoon’s event and felt that the positives far outweighed the negatives. I certainly seemed to get far more out of it than Jon Turney did and certainly wouldn’t be averse to hearing Jurd’s and Herskedal’s new works again should they ever get to the recording stage.


CHRIS SHARKEY’S MAKE IT / BREAK IT ENSEMBLE, CLORE BALLROOM, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL

There was more music to be heard in the public space of the Clore Ballroom at the RFH.

As part of the Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme the professional musician Chris Sharkey had been charged with creating a new work to be performed by a large ensemble amateur musicians and singers of all ages, ethnicities and abilities.

The ensemble had only convened that morning and had spent the whole day workshopping prior to this early evening performance.

Sharkey is best known as the guitarist with the bands Trio VD, Acoustic Ladyland, Shiver and others but tonight he largely featured in the conductor’s role as he guided his charges through a near 90 minute piece with a theme of tolerance, healing and integration which made effective use of massed vocal chants alongside the ensemble instrumental passages and individual instrumental solos.

Considering the short amount of rehearsal time the performance was admirably cohesive while simultaneously being heart-warming and uplifting. Some of the more experienced protagonists helped Sharkey along the way but overall this event was a triumph for both the composer and his willing band of musicians and vocalists.

At the end it was clear that Sharkey and the Ensemble had definitely “made it” as they got a great reception from a highly supportive audience.


CHARLIE HUNTER BAND,  RONNIE SCOTT’S

I have to admit that before witnessing this performance I knew precious little about the American guitarist Charlie Hunter other than that he played unorthodox guitars with either seven or eight strings. However I had heard him on the radio and this was enough to whet my appetite.

Arriving at Ronnie’s around 8.00 pm after travelling up from the South Bank I was mildly annoyed to find that I’d missed a support set by a quartet led by British drummer Mark Fletcher and featuring saxophonist Mornington Lockett. I literally caught the last few bars but it did sound good.

However this was quickly forgotten when Hunter and his colleagues took to the stage. Tonight’s gig was part of a short British tour promoting Hunter’s latest album, the provocatively titled “Everyone Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth”, a Mike Tyson quote apparently.

The album deploys an unusual instrumental configuration with Hunter specialising on seven string guitar alongside his long term sparring partner Bobby Previte at the drums. It also features a two man horn section with Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Curtis Fowkes on trombone. Tonight Hunter and Previte were joined by the young British pairing of Yelfris Valdes (trumpet) and Kieran McLeod (trombone). Hunter and Previte had never met their young colleagues prior to this tour but Valdes and McLeod immediately got into the spirit of the music and both acquitted themselves brilliantly.

Hunter’s sound is like a history of 20th century American music with elements of jazz, blues, rock , funk and soul. With Hunter handling the bass functions on his top strings the opening number embraced taut funkiness and blues harmonies while the twin horns added New Orleans jazz flavourings. Hunter shared the solos with the excellent Valdes but it was the leader’s chemistry with Previte that was the most striking aspect of this first number. Set up on stage to face other they were exchanging ideas all night, challenging each other to come up with a response and encouraging Valdes and McLeod to join in the fun. And fun it most certainly was, for all the brilliance of their individual ‘chops’ Hunter and Previte played with smiles on their faces throughout. Indeed the pair were enjoying themselves so much that tune announcements were rather scant, playing with the enthusiasm of children these two just wanted to get on with making music.

We did get the title of the next piece, “We Don’t Want Nobody Sent” which saw McLeod stepping up to the plate alongside Hunter and Previte, his trombone solo packed with bluesy slurs and vocalisations. Hunter sees the current album as being one on which the musicians improvise blues and r’n'b elements rather than jazz harmonies.

Nevertheless there’s still plenty of jazz in Hunter’s music as was typified by the New Orleans flavourings of the next piece which saw Valdes on stunning high register sharing the solos with McLeod.

Hunter’s solo guitar intro to the next piece saw him playing multiple melodic and rhythmic lines in a transfixing display of virtuosity. Valdes and McLeod then added some powerful unison horn lines prior to another bravura solo from Valdes. Hunter’s guitar then took flight again, fuelled by the wiry Previte’s whip smart drumming.

Next up a slow funk groove with Previte achieving considerable power even with brushes as Hunter added a brief vocal before the music took a bluesier turn with Hunter’s guitar heroics matched by the squalling horns in a kind of duel.

Hunter encouraged McLeod to an improvise an intro to the next tune and he responded with some fruity, low register rasping which seemed to satisfy the leader before Hunter and Previte set up a supple funk groove that framed a solo from Valdes that set up a barnstorming solo finale from Previte that featured him on drum kit and tambourine. It was brilliant and totally enthralling and when it was over Hunter made a show of cooling his old friend down by waving a towel at him.

The concluding piece was pure blues and a final demonstration of Hunter’s virtuosity. Yet for me, and probably many others, it was Previte who almost stole the show with a brilliant drumming display that mixed power and precision with an impish improviser’s instinct and a childlike joy in music making. When they’re not on the stand Hunter and Previte spend hours jamming together and their easy but high level rapport was apparent throughout this set. They’ve just released an album of them jamming around a collection of Christmas songs, I haven’t heard it but you just know it’s going to be the coolest Yuletide record ever.

Sadly the set was over far too quickly although the band were due to play to the second house later on. But I was hugely impressed by Charlie Hunter, and also by Previte who I saw play an outstanding but more cutting edge set at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2008 with his New Bump band. And it was great to see Valdes and McLeod in such great form too, it was an important and hugely successful gig for these two guys who will surely impress a lot of people on this tour.

I watched the show from the bar alongside others on the guest list including the British musician and composer Pete M. Wyer, a personal friend of Bobby Previte. My thanks to Pete and his girlfriend for their company and also for introducing me to Bobby who turned about to be a great guy as well as a phenomenal drummer. And make no mistake in a week of brilliant drum performances – Jeff Williams, Mark Guiliana etc. - this was arguably the best.

It was just a shame that there weren’t any copies of “Everybody Has A Plan…” available afterwards.   

   

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Eight, Friday 18th November 2016.

Monday, December 05, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Eight, Friday 18th November 2016.

Ian Mann on performances by the Elchin Shirinov Trio, Denys Baptiste, Oddarrang and Slowly Rolling Camera. Photograph by Tim Dickeson.

Photograph of Dionne Bennett (Slowly Rolling Camera) by Tim Dickeson.


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Eight, Friday 18th November 2016


ELCHIN SHIRINOV TRIO, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

Friday lunchtime found me back at the Pizza to witness two delightful sets of music from the young pianist and composer Elchin Shirinov and his trio. Originally from Azerbaijan Shirinov is now based in London where he leads a trio featuring the English drummer Dave Hamblett and the Italian born bassist Andrea Di Biase.

Shirinov is influenced not only by the American jazz tradition but also the folk music of his native land. The trio’s recently released eponymous début album features a mix of Shirinov originals plus a selection of traditional folk songs and tunes by Azerbaijani composers. The album has won the approval of Brad Mehldau, one of Shirinov’s many influences.

Shirinov’s trio has toured internationally and has played at many prestigious festivals and he has performed with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic including bassists Ben Street and Linley Marthe and drummers Jeff Ballard and Eric Harland. Shirinov’s full biography can be found at http://www.elchinshirinov.com

Today’s show did not begin well with the start delayed due to an organisational error that saw the event originally being advertised as being at The Pheasantry in Chelsea, another venue run by the Pizza Express chain. It was decided to give audience members who had turned up at the wrong venue time to come across town but inevitably some decided not to undertake the journey. By the time the music began there was a respectably sized crowd in but the attendance was nowhere near as much as it had been for events earlier in the week, including the trio led by Danish pianist Soren Bebe. This was a shame for Shirinov and his colleagues whose music definitely deserved a larger audience. It may have been that British vibraphonist Ralph Wylde was the beneficiary, his band Mosaic were performing a free show at the Cadogan Hall, not too far from the Pheasantry, and some fans may have opted for that instead. 

However those of us at the Pizza were delighted by the Shirinov trio’s performance which began with “Not That One”, a tune that mixed beguiling folk motifs with more complex rhythmic figures with Shirinov’s left hand working overtime. The tune proved to be a re-working of a folk melody that Shirinov had learned as a child and which had been used as the theme tune for a comedy programme on Azerbaijani TV.

Shirinov informed us that this current trio had been together for two years and that this was the first time that he had played at the Pizza, despite visiting the venue previously as a fan. Di Biase’s bass introduced the Shirinov original “Muse” which saw the pianist soloing in feverish fashion, combining a classically honed lightness of touch with a true improviser’s imagination. Di Biase also impressed on this piece with the kind of articulate bass soloing that some have likened to the late, great Scott La Faro.

Di Biase was also to the fore on the Shirinov original “Waiting” with its strong melody, dynamic contrasts and folk and classical flourishes. The next piece was named for Shirinov’s home town in Azerbaijan and the trio rounded off an excellent set with the lively “Chica Chica” with its mix of different meters plus a rousing drum feature from the impressive Hamblett. 

A shorter second set placed a greater emphasis on folk material with the opening piece seguing from an abstract opening featuring arco bass, mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers into a more groove orientated arrangement of an Azerbaijani folk tune with a title meaning “Blossom Flower”. This included some inventive soloing from the leader plus a further drum feature from Hamblett underpinned by Shirinov’s insistent piano arpeggios.

Another folk song, with a title translating as “I’m A Mother”, embraced a variety of meters, tempos and colours with Shirinov’s left hand again playing a pivotal role and with features for piano and double bass.

The final piece featured this tight, well integrated trio at their most energetic with features for all three musicians. I suspect that this may have been Shirinov’s arrangement of the Azerbaijani folk song “Durna”.

Ironically I’d seen both Hamblett and Di Biase perform live before but never Shirinov himself. I was hugely impressed by him and he represents an exciting new jazz discovery as far as I’m concerned. The album sounds superb in the home listening environment and is destined for a good deal of airtime in the Jazzmann household. The mix of original and traditional material works extremely well with Shirinov and his colleagues applying a convincing contemporary touch to the folk melodies.

I’ll leave the last word to American bassist Larry Grenadier who offers his endorsement on the album cover alongside band-mates Brad Mehldau and Jeff Ballard;
“Elchin Shirinov has developed a sound and approach all his own. His writing and piano playing echo another time yet resonate with a modernity that is striking. He really pulls a sound out of the piano making possible a whole pallet of sonic colour. It is music worth exploring deeply”.

Quite, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Thanks to Elchin and Andrea for speaking with me afterwards. This is a trio that I’d very much like to see again and I’d urge anyone likely to be reading this to keep an eye open for the highly talented Elchin Shirinov. 


DENYS BAPTISTE & TOMORROW’S WARRIORS – THE LATE TRANE, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

Tonight’s early evening show at Foyle’s was part of the monthly Jazz Salon series, a joint initiative between Foyles and youth jazz organisation Tomorrow’s Warriors. These events combine talk and music in an examination of jazz culture and its implications with guest speakers and musicians augmenting the Jazz Salon house band led by bassist Gary Crosby.

This evening’s event was hosted by journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre and featured guest saxophonist Denys Baptise talking about, and playing, the latter day music of John Coltrane who died of liver cancer in 1967 aged just forty.

Although mainly discussing the period 1963-67 Le Gendre and Baptiste also charted Coltrane’s earlier development as documented on the labels Prestige, Atlantic and Blue Note and such classic albums as “Blue Train” and “Giant Steps”. The latter saw Coltrane exploring complex chord sequences but his move to the Impulse! label saw him experimenting with modal jazz, plus Indian and African elements as he used simpler structures to find “freedom within the space”. Among the examples quoted as representing this were the composition “Impressions” which was constructed around just two chords and the famous thirty five minute version of “My Favourite Things” which featured the refrain only once.

Coltrane’s spirituality and personality were discussed and Le Gendre and Baptiste also speculated as to whether Coltrane would have embraced electric jazz, or ‘fusion’ as it later came to be known. On a lighter note both men remembered first hearing Coltrane on LPs borrowed from their local libraries, an almost alien concept to younger audiences in this digital age. Baptiste also recalled that he had found the music difficult at first and had to work hard to get into it. 

Baptiste offered musical illustrations of these points in the company of a stellar quartet featuring Crosby on bass plus pianist Nikki Yeoh and drummer Rod Youngs.  Baptiste began on soprano saxophone, an instrument that Coltrane embraced in his later years, for a version of “Living Space”, a piece that Baptiste described as a ‘meditation’. The piece began in impressionistic fashion with breathy soprano, the interior scraping of piano strings and the rumble of mallets and rustle of shakers. Yeoh was cast in the role of Alice Coltrane for the opening solo with Baptiste switching to tenor for his own extended feature in an absorbing interpretation of Coltrane’s ‘spiritual jazz’ style.

“Dusk Dawn” was introduced by Crosby’s bass and featured Baptiste digging in on tenor and probing deeply powered by the relentless drive of Youngs’  powerful, Elvin Jones style drums and Crosby’s grounding bass with Yeoh filling in any gaps. The pianist’s own torrential solo channelled the spirit of McCoy Tyner with its left hand rumbles and wilful dissonance. Meanwhile Crosby’s unaccompanied bass feature saw a reduction in volume, but not in intensity.

Again, as on some of the other nights, I had to leave early to get across town for another event. Again I was reluctant leave this mix of stimulating conversation and absorbing, hugely enjoyable music – but needs must.

The event had started late, for the third time this week I think. These early evening shows are great value for money and an important part of the Festival programme but 2017 does need to see a tightening up on the timing. A prompt start is essential given the tightness of the Festival schedule - it wasn’t just journalists like myself who were having to dash off to other things.


ODDARRANG / SLOWLY ROLLING CAMERA, RICH MIX

This Edition Records double bill featured two of the most adventurous acts on the label. The Finnish instrumental quintet and the British nu jazz/soul act Slowly Rolling Camera both make extensive use of electronics in their music and this standing gig in the club environment of Rich Mix represented the perfect venue for both bands.

Oddarrang, led by drummer and composer Olavi Louhivuori released their début album “Music Illustrated” on the Finnish Texicalli label back in 2006. There then followed something of a hiatus as Louhivuori toured the world as part of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s ‘Dark Eyes’ quintet, the context in which I first heard the drummer’s playing. Others with whom Louhivuori has collaborated include his countrymen Alexi Tuomarila (piano) and Verneri Pohjola (trumpet)  plus Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen.

In 2011 Oddarrang returned with “Cathedral”, their second album for Texicalli and a recording that attracted the attention of Edition label boss Dave Stapleton. The band moved to Edition for the release of the excellent “In Cinema” in 2013 and followed this with the recent “Agartha” (2016).

I was particularly looking forward to witnessing Oddarrang performing live at last after frustratingly being robbed of the opportunity of seeing their show at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in 2013 due to the illness of my late father. Friends that attended subsequently told me that I’d missed something very special.

Oddarrang’s line up has remained constant throughout the band’s career and includes Lasse Sikara on guitar, Lasse Lindgren on bass and keyboards, Ilmari Pohjola on trombone and keyboards and Osmo Ikonen on cello and vocals. Tonight there was at least one change in the line up with a female cellist/vocalist replacing Ikonen who is also an in demand classical musician. I didn’t catch the young lady’s (presumably Finnish) name, and probably couldn’t have spelt it anyway,  but I was told that she is Louhivuori’s cousin.

The stage was a jumble of wires, pedals, effects units and other electronic devices with the 2016 edition of Oddarrang placing an even greater emphasis on electronic sounds and textures than before. These elements, allied to an already unconventional instrumental line up featuring the unusual combination of cello and trombone ensures that Oddarrang’s sound is very much ‘sui generis’ with the adjective ‘post rock’ routinely being used to describe their music with comparisons to the Icelandic band Sigur Ros already fairly frequent. I’d also compare them with the Norwegian outfit Jaga Jazzist and with the British band Polar Bear led by Sebastian Rochford. For me Louhivuori is very much the Finnish equivalent to Rochford, a gifted drummer/composer leading a unique band with an other worldly sound that is very much the product of the leader’s personality and highly individual musical vision.

It’s no co-incidence that Oddarrang’s oeuvre includes albums with titles such as “Music Illustrated” and “In Cinema”, there’s a strong pictorial and filmic quality to their work with its wide-screen instrumental washes and epic themes. Tonight there was an added abrasive quality thanks to the sometimes harsh electronic textures that permeated the band’s music during the course of four lengthy largely instrumental sequences of music presumably comprised of material from “Agartha” but also containing tunes from the “In Cinema” repertoire.

This was music that evolved constantly, deploying a combination of rock rhythms, heavy grooves, ambient electronica and grandiose anthemic passages incorporating acoustic and electronic instruments plus the effective use of soaring wordless vocals. It was a combination that even provoked bouts of spontaneous dancing in the club environment of Rich Mix.

The use of the human voice among the many electronic elements is a particularly distinctive characteristic of Oddarrang’s music and helps to bring a welcome warmth to their sometimes chilly and forbidding musical soundscapes. The cellist even sang what sounded like English language lyrics on one particularly song like passage. Elsewhere she and her colleagues were screaming fit to bust at the climax of the epic slow-burner “The Sage”, a piece I recognised from the “In Cinema” album.  With several of the group’s members playing keyboards in addition to their regular instruments the sound palette was particularly broad and was further widened by the deployment of voices, including that of Louhivuori himself.

The sounds ranged from wispy guitar impressionism and alternately ambient and abrasive synth   textures through deep cello and trombone sonorities, monstrous bass grooves and full on rock guitar soloing, all of them guided by the drums Louhivuori who sat smiling in paternalistic fashion behind his kit, obviously delighted with the sounds that his colleagues were creating. I’d surmise that Oddarrang’s live shows probably place a greater emphasis on improvisation than the albums.

I very much enjoyed Oddarrang’s performance even though the extensive use of synths and other electronica meant that it was substantially different to what I’d been expecting. Oddarrang created a unique group identity as far back as their début album but its one that is still evolving as they continue to push at and blur the musical boundaries with their kaleidoscopic music.

Louhivuori has also worked with pianist/keyboard player Dave Stapleton, co-founder of Edition Records and co-leader, with vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett, of Slowly Rolling Camera. Stapleton studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and following graduation made a substantial impact on the South Wales jazz scene and beyond with his punchy jazz quintet DSQ. Something of a musical polymath Stapleton also experimented with free improvisation plus a rather more formal jazz/classical crossover project as well as founding the hugely successful Edition, now one of the UK’s most respected record labels.

The eponymous début album by Slowly Rolling Camera (SRC) revealed yet another side to Stapleton’s talent, that of songwriter, as he and Bennett collaborated to deliver a collection of songs that borrowed from jazz, soul and electronica, sounding a little like a jazzier version of trip-hop pioneers Portishead. The core of the band also includes drummer Elliot Bennett and sound artist Deri Roberts on electronics. For live work the group expands to a septet with the addition of Ben Waghorn (tenor & soprano saxes), Stuart McCallum (guitar) and Aidan Thorne (electric bass), all of whom make guest contributions to the band’s albums including the recently released “All Things”.

I witnessed an enjoyable performance by SRC at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton in May 2014 but the band’s music worked even better in this club setting where listeners could react physically to the tight grooves, immersive electronics and the soulful vocals of the tall, charismatic Dionne Bennett. Evidence of the breadth of the group’s appeal was demonstrated by the youthfulness of some members of the audience (and no, I don’t think they were music students) this wasn’t a typical jazz crowd by any stretch of the imagination.

This was a set to get absorbed in and dance to so I once more immersed myself in the music and the moment rather than taking copious notes. The bulk of the material was sourced from the recently released “All Things” although the band also dipped into the archives with the songs “Protagonist” and “Two Roads” from their début album and “Into The Shadow”, the title track of their 2015 EP.

Despite her outgoing on stage personality Dionne Bennett’s lyrics, mostly charting the vicissitudes of human relationships, are more introspective and add an agreeably dark and intelligent edge to the band’s music, reinforcing those comparisons with Portishead and Massive Attack. 

Although Dionne Bennett, with her striking looks and powerful voice, was the band’s focal point the instrumentalists also acquitted themselves well as they brought a jazz honed skill and precision to the music. There were no conventional jazz solos as such but there were some dazzling instrumental moments from Stapleton, McCallum and Waghorn. SRC are a highly cohesive unit with all of the musicians long term associates of co-leader Stapleton. Elliot Bennett’s powerful rock beats and hip hop grooves, underscored by Thorne’s electric bass, gave the music an impressive momentum as Roberts combined effectively with Stapleton’s keyboards to give the band an authentically gritty and glitchy urban edge. A light show, almost unheard of at what was nominally a jazz gig, also added greatly to the atmosphere and the band even took to the stage to the sound of the sampled voice of Dee Dee Bridgewater intoning the words “Slowly Rolling Camera”. Recorded at a festival in Poland the sample also graces the group’s latest album.

“All Things” sees the group moving further away from their jazz roots and adopting a harder, more urban edge on songs such as “High Praise”, “The Fix” , “Oblivion” and the haunting title track, featuring the Bridgewater sample, that closed the show. 

This was a hugely impressive performance from SRC, one that got an excellent reception from an appreciative, excited and animated crowd. The seven piece version of the group has developed into a formidable live act and it’s likely that they gathered many new fans here. Their exciting performance certainly justified their decision to go on second. I must admit that in the home listening environment I’d probably find more enjoyment in Oddarrang’s distinctive and essentially instrumental music, but live performance is a very different matter as SRC demonstrated brilliantly here. On the evidence of this show and with the right amount of exposure an increasing degree of mainstream success is a distinct possibility. They are certainly a band I’d be more than happy to see again and to recommend to non jazz listeners, particularly if playing in a club environment such as this.

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Seven, Thursday 17th November 2016.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Seven, Thursday 17th November 2016.

Ian Mann on a day of words of music featuring contributions from Professor Mark Smith, the Mike Fletcher Trio, Nerija, Chico Freeman Quartet and The Cookers.

Photograph of Cassie Kinoshi and Nubya Garcia of Nerija by Tim Dickeson


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Seven, Thursday November 17th 2016

PROFESSOR MARK SMITH / MIKE FLETCHER TRIO, UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER

It had initially been my intention to visit yet another of the free lunchtime shows at the Pizza Express Jazz Club where the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Alexandra Ridout had been due to appear with her quintet. However this performance was cancelled and Ridout appeared at a ticketed event on a different day at Iklectik Art Lab instead.

Casting around for a suitable alternative my eyes alighted on the unusual combination of a lecture and a musical performance featuring the academic Professor Mark Smith and the saxophone trio led by the Birmingham based musician Mike Fletcher featuring the exceptional rhythm pairing of Olie Brice (double bass) and Jeff Williams (drums).

The event, which had the strapline “Jazz and Everday Aesthetics”, had been due to take place in the Regent Street Cinema but was moved next door to the board room in the University of Westminster. 

I had been expecting Prof. Smith to talk and the Fletcher trio to illustrate his precepts musically. Instead the Professor spoke first with his lecture being titled “Learning to Listen; Lessons From The American Past”.

Smith is a Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and describes himself as a “sound historian”. Despite his close links with jazz critic and fellow academic Stanley Crouch Smith is, by his own admission, not particularly conversant with jazz, a fact the probably disappointed some members of his audience.

Instead he addressed the subject of “historians and sound” and the concept of the “Sensory Turn” with the use of the phrase “seeing is believing but faith cometh through hearing”.

Of course there is no way of replicating historical sounds and the sound historian has to be able to imagine and project, often using written documents as an aid in the attempt to recapture what historical characters must have heard.

Professor Smith cited the works of fellow academics such as Richard Roth and his book “How Early America Sounded”. Roth speaks of “sonic architecture”, noting that early Episcopalian churches deployed sounding boards to ensure that the wealthy and well off could hear the preacher clearly, while the peasantry at the rear of the church could not. However contemporaneous Quaker churches with their hexagonal design emphasised a greater democracy with the Word of God being made audible for all. Sound can therefore be used as a political tool and a form of auditory control, with church bells often being used for this purpose as explored by Alain Corbin in his 1998 work “Village Bells; The Culture Of The Senses In The 19th Century French Countryside”.

Another specifically American work that the professor referred to was Sarah Keyes’ “Like A Roaring Lion; The Overland Trail As a Sonic Conquest” which imagines the sounds heard by the American pioneers in their wagon trains on the Oregon Trail. The proliferation of place names derived from sounds such as “Echo Valley” and “Steamboat Springs” serves to emphasise the importance of sound to these early pioneers. As a sound historian Prof Smith seemed less than impressed with the usual hierarchy of senses that rates sight as the most important.

The origins of jazz got a mention when the Professor discussed the 2005 work “The Sounds Of Slavery” by Shane and Graham White which emphasises the importance of music in everyday Afro-American culture and the collision and fusion of African and European musical elements in the shaping of jazz and blues. The book also references the famous recordings collected by Alan Lomax in the American Deep South in the 1920s and 30s. Arguably Lomax, and in the UK Cecil Sharp, were among the first ‘sound historians’.

Other subjects raised were the veracity – or otherwise- of sounds used in conjunction with the heritage industry at sites such as colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, a huge tourist attraction in the US where, as here, the past is big business. In this context the sense of smell was also evoked,Prof Smith opining that historic battle re-enactments such as Gettysburg and Vicksburg are always doomed to failure in terms of authenticity as the smell of death can never be artificially recreated.

When the Professor asked for questions and opened up the debate some members of the audience tried to steer the conversation more firmly in the direction of jazz with the subject of recording techniques a popular topic, but the music really wasn’t Prof Smith’s forte as he readily admitted.

The points that I managed to scribble down were only a small part of a lecture that although not specifically about jazz was interesting and thought provoking, if occasionally a little too dry and academic at times. A rewarding way to spend an afternoon nevertheless.

The musical performance that followed was essentially totally unconnected to the subject of the lecture. Nevertheless Fletcher maintained the air of academia by discussing his trio’s music between tunes and inviting questions from the audience.

Musically the material was sourced from the trio’s album “Vuelta” which was recorded in 2014 for the Birmingham based Stoney Lane record label. Fletcher plays the rarely heard C melody saxophone and deliberately keeps his writing open and his themes simple, positively seeking group interaction and encouraging his colleagues to engage in the improvisation process. The trio is not a regular working group so when they do meet up to play they always find something fresh and interesting to explore within Fletcher’s compositions.

In Brice and Williams he has the perfect partners for this, both musicians are at their best operating in the mystical musical hinterland where composition and improvisation meet. Williams has developed his own unique style of drumming, a trademark “polyrhytmic flow” that shapes and guides the music but never sounds cluttered or overly busy.

The trio opened with the evocative “Aire”, inspired by the light on the Spanish coast, a country where the well travelled Fletcher has sent a lot of time. Introduced by Brice at the bass and featuring Williams’ distinctive cymbal work the tune’s wispy melody positively encouraged the tightly focussed but agreeably open trio interplay that is this group’s hallmark as they swung in a joyous but decidedly odd meter way. A comment from the floor suggested that naming a tune after a specific location was, in its way, a kind of sound history, which tied in with the earlier lecture and raised an interesting point in its own right.

“Her Grace” honoured Alice Coltrane with its solo sax intro later augmented by Williams’ mallet rumbles and hand drumming and Brice’s dark grainy arco bass. Williams’ subsequent drum solo incorporating his ringing cymbal work was the first time that a drum feature had formed part of a performance of this piece. Evidence again of the trio’s commitment to the art of improvisation.

“Fletcher’s Walk”, named for a location in Birmingham was more overtly boppish and featured Fletcher’s inventive sax soloing accompanied by busy bass and volcanic drums.

“Perhaps Sing a Song” was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied bass that saw Brice striking the strings, strumming the instrument flamenco style and deploying various extended techniques. Eventually he set up a motif that formed the backbone of the piece, anchoring it as Fletcher and Williams enjoyed their own features. Fletcher revealed that the tune was inspired by the pace of London life and extolled the healing power of music. This gave Williams the opportunity to quote fellow drummer Art Blakey’s much loved remark “Music washes away the dust of everyday life”.

The set ended with a performance of “In Memoriam”, a piece inspired by the work of the Scottish poet Norman MacCaig (1910-96) and featuring Fletcher’s playing at its most Coltrane-like plus a final Williams drum feature.

My thanks to Mike, Jeff and Olie for speaking with me afterwards and to Olie for the review copy of his latest album “Of Tides”, a live improvised duo recording captured at The Vortex featuring the German pianist Achim Kaufmann. I intend to take a fuller look at this shortly.

Interestingly Fletcher informed me that one of his favourite saxophonists is the American tenor player and composer Billy Harper. Like me Fletcher was due at Cadogan Hall later that evening to witness Harper performing with the all star septet The Cookers, but more on that later.


NERIJA, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

There is currently a bit of a buzz about Nerija, the young all female band that emerged out of the Jazz Warriors programme. I recall seeing some members of the septet at the Front Room at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the 2013 EFG LJF as part of a Tomorrow’s Warriors showcase.

Since then the group have come on in leaps and bounds and at the 2015 Festival I covered their excellent performance at The Green Note in Camden. I was then to see them again when they played at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Weekend supporting Dennis Rollins’ Velocity Trio at Theatr Brycheinog.

Tonight at Foyle’s a sell out crowd turned out for a performance that also represented the official launch of group’s début EP, an excellent recording five compositions by five different members of the band. Like their male counterparts Ezra Collective they have clearly accrued something of a cult following and a highly supportive crowd gave them a great reception.

The mature Nerija are a force to be reckoned with and tonight’s show featured the first choice line-up with the full EP personnel all present and correct. An impressive and powerful four horn front line featured trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi (alto) and Nubya Garcia (tenor) and trombonist Rosie Turton. Guitarist Shirley Tetteh played a key role as did the rhythm team of bassist Inga Eichler and drummer Lizy Exell. Tonight was my first sighting of the impressive Exell, the previous shows that I’ve seen have featured male ‘deps’.

The five tunes on the band’s EP have been in their set list for some time and have been thoroughly played in. Playing “in the round” and buoyed by the support of the crowd Nerija hit the ground running with “Pinkham V”, the Tetteh tune that kicks off the EP. Grounded by Eicher’s sturdy bass and propelled by Exell’s dynamic drumming this rousing opener included fluent, fiery solos from Maurice-Grey and Kinoshi plus the composer on guitar.

Nerija’s music combines jazz with other musical influences from Africa and the Caribbean. Eicher’s “Valleys” introduced an element of South African ‘Township Jazz’ with its infectious horn chorales, African guitar cadences and a joyously barnstorming solo from Turton on trombone.

Kinoshi’s “Redamancy” was more reflective but still innately powerful with solos coming from Tetteh on guitar, Eichler on double bass and the hitherto little heard Garcia with an excellent outing on tenor.

Festival scheduling meant that I missed the beginning of Nerija’s show at Brecon. Here I had to leave before the end, exiting to the sounds of Garcia’s composition “For You”. I was extremely sorry to have to leave as the band were in terrific form, both individually and collectively, playing with skill, verve and confidence. Writing for London Jazz News Geoff Winston, who presumably saw the whole show, was particularly fulsome in his praise for the group.

From Geoff’s review I gather that the group also performed Turton’s “The Fisherman”, thus playing every piece on the EP. It was essentially the same set that I saw at the Green Note last year but with writing and playing of this quality nobody was complaining. The Brecon appearance also revealed that the group also have a number of newer tunes in their locker. Later in the week they were due to support the trio of David Murray, Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington at Cadogan Hall, another triumph for the band I suspect.

Nerija are clearly a band on the crest of a wave and whose star can only continue to rise. Their début EP represents highly recommended listening.


CHICO FREEMAN QUARTET / THE COOKERS, CADOGAN HALL

On the face of it this was an intriguing double bill at Cadogan Hall with the Chicago born saxophonist Chico Freeman making a rare British appearance leading his latest group, the Chico Freeman Plus + tet.

Freeman was opposite The Cookers, a stellar line up of hard bop veterans who have recently attracted considerable acclaim for their fifth album together, “The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart”.

Freeman, now sixty seven, has played both avant garde and more straight ahead jazz. I recall seeing him at an early edition of Cheltenham Jazz Festival, probably some time in the late 1990s so it was good to catch up with him again after all this time.

Journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre introduced the quartet which featured Freeman specialising on tenor saxophone alongside pianist Luke Carlos O’Reilly, bassist Kenny Davis and the impressive young drummer Michael Baker.

Now a comparative elder statesman Freeman epitomised gravitas on the lengthy Coltrane-esque opener, a Freeman original simply titled “Elvin” in honour of Coltrane’s drummer Elvin Jones, with whom Freeman himself also worked . An opening horn chorale led immediately to a drum feature as the dynamic Baker immediately imposed himself upon the proceedings. Freeman’s own solo probed deeply but it was noticeable that he took a seat when his colleagues were soloing, his bearing initially composed and regal but then becoming more animated as he got deeper into O’Reilly’s expansive and imaginative piano explorations.

“Erica’s Reverie”, a dedication to one of Freeman’s five daughters introduced a more lyrical and reflective atmosphere and featured some engaging interplay between Freeman and Davis and a melodic solo from O’Reilly at the piano. Unfortunately Freeman suffered from a coughing fit during his own solo, turning it into part of the performance as the band laughed. Unfortunately it did somewhat puncture the mood he had created.

The cough didn’t entirely go away during the latin tinged item that followed but Freeman wisely handed over the reins to Davis and O’Reilly with the experienced bassist turning in a delightful solo, one of the highlights of the set.

Freeman recovered his poise on his ballad “To Hear A Teardrop In The Rain” which also included a flowingly lyrical, gospel tinged solo from O’Reilly plus the leader’s anthemic tenor in the closing stages. A word, too, for Baker’s performance, his assured brushwork revealing that he can be delicate as well as dramatic.

The set closed as it began in Coltrane-esque territory with Freeman’s tenor probing incisively in a modal context with Davis again also impressing as a soloist.

There was enough here to suggest that Freeman is a still a presence to be reckoned with and I was highly impressed with all three of his sidemen, names to watch out for in the future. 

Introducing The Cookers Kevin Le Gendre alluded to the illustrious individual histories of the players whose list of credits included collaborations with such departed jazz legends as trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan and drummer Max Roach.

But for me The Cookers failed to live up to their billing, although to be fair there were mitigating circumstances. This was my first visit to the Cadogan Hall when it wasn’t sold out (James Farm and the Maria Schneider Orchestra in 2015, The Liberation Music Orchestra in 2016) and both the atmosphere and the sound suffered accordingly in a hall that was maybe 60% full.

The band boasts a stellar line up with David Weiss and Eddie Henderson on trumpets, Billy Harper on tenor sax, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart at the drums. For this performance album personnel George Cables (piano) and Donald Harrison (alto sax) were replaced by Danny Grissett and Craig Handy respectively.

Things didn’t get off to a good start as a problem with McBee’s bass amp held things up for a good five minutes. As the veteran bassist and the Cadogan’s stage crew struggled to fix the problem the rest of the band stood around nervously and chatted amongst themselves. You would have thought that performers with The Cookers’ amount of collective experience would have done something to engage a restless crowd but, other than McBee’s ironic bow, nobody seemed willing to take charge, not even Weiss who handled the tune announcements when the show finally got under way. 

With the problem finally remedied the band opened with the title track of their most recent album, an episodic piece of writing from Harper that featured a marathon solo from the composer in which he impressed with his Coltrane-esque power, stamina and invention. Weiss added a similarly blistering trumpet solo and the young piano ‘dep’ Grisset also impressed. There were also moments featuring the four horns working in unison that were reminiscent of the power of a big band while Hart’s relentless drumming was a rhythmic juggernaut that fuelled the whole group. I’ve been critical of Hart’s playing in the past, his overly loud drumming too often drowned out the talented young pianist Aaron Parks at a trio gig in Bristol in 2015, but his consistently robust approach, remarkable for a man of his age, was just right for a band like The Cookers.

I’ve long admired the playing of the now eighty year old Cecil McBee on classic recordings featuring Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett and, indeed Chico Freeman. McBee’s “Peacemaker”, a tune that was one recorded by Freeman, proved to be a set highlight with this enduring composition featuring engaging solos by Henderson on trumpet, Handy on alto and McBee himself on double bass, still playing with remarkable dexterity and fluency allied to a huge, rounded tone.

Harper originally wrote “Croquet Ballet” for a 1971 album by Lee Morgan that turned out to be the trumpeter’s last. After the four horn front line had stated the theme Harper shared the solos with Weiss who seemed to relish playing the Morgan role. A tightly arranged outro for the horns only also grabbed the attention.

The underrated Harper has been a prolific writer over the years and his ballad “If One Can Only See” was arranged here as a feature for trumpeter Eddie Henderson. Introduced by a passage of solo piano from Grissett the piece featured the rich blend of Henderson’s trumpet with the other horns as he played with great control and fluency while remaining incisive enough to get to the heart of the music, even introducing a few avant garde flourishes. Grissett also impressed in a dialogue with McBee as Hart put down his sticks and provided sensitive brushed accompaniment.

The set closed with a rendition of the Freddie Hubbard tune “The Corner”, introduced by McBee’s solo bass before he and Hart laid down a scalding beat that framed solos from Henderson and Harper plus an explosive solo feature from the drummer. After the groove was re-established we heard from Weiss who also took the opportunity of announcing the band members for a final time.

The Cookers returned to play yet another Harper composition as an encore with solos coming from Grissett, Harper and Weiss but many members had left by then, a telling comment on what, in truth had been a rather lacklustre and disappointing set. Too often the compositions had become just a string of solos, impressive at first, as one expect from musicians of this calibre, but ultimately a little too predictable. One began to form the opinion that the band members were rather ‘going through the motions’ as the appeal of the ‘head/solos/head’ format began to pall.

In truth The Cookers never really recovered from that false start and the relatively poor attendance and muddy sound balance didn’t help either. Neither did the fact that the air conditioning was turned on for The Cookers’ set, towards the close it was like sitting in an ice box, not a problem that I’ve encountered at any of my other visits to this venue.

I’m told that the “Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart” album is far better than tonight’s performance might suggest, but I have to admit that for me The Cookers never quite reached boiling point and in the end left me feeling distinctly lukewarm at best. 

I wonder what Mike Fletcher thought of it all. 

 

 

 

     

 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Six, Wednesday 16th November 2016.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Six, Wednesday 16th November 2016.

Ian Mann on performanecs by Adam Ben Ezra, Maria Chiara Argiro Group, Mammal Hands and Christian Scott.

Photograph of Christian Scott by Tim Dickeson


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Six, Wednesday 16th November 2016


ADAM BEN EZRA, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB

Today’s lunchtime event at the Pizza featured a one man show by the bass player, multi instrumentalist and occasional vocalist Adam Ben Ezra, the man described as a “you tube sensation”.

I have to confess that the prospect of a solo double bass performance didn’t exactly set the pulses racing (had it been Dave Holland or Eberhard Weber it might have been different), but of course Ben Ezra turned out to be far more than “just a bass player”. His one man performance was full of interest and variety and was delivered with charm and a huge degree of musical skill. It was a show that was delivered several times over the course of the Festival at various locations as ABE (as he likes to describe himself) revived the spirit of EFG LJF’s now discontinued “Festival On The Move” strand. 

Born in Israel but raised in the US ABE has now settled in London after marrying an English girl he met on a trip to the UK some six years ago. He also leads a trio featuring percussionist Gilad Dobrecky and guitarist Adam Ben Amitai, both of whom appear on his début album “Can’t Stop Running”. He also performs as one half of Loco Strings, a duo with guitarist Daniel Casares. But it’s Ben Ezra’s remarkable solo shows that seem to have garnered most of the attention and which have earned him an international following.

ABE took to the stage at the Pizza, picked up his bass and introduced himself with a dramatic passage of flamenco style strumming while also using the body of the instrument as percussion, something augmented by the “morris dancer” style bells around his right ankle as he stamped his foot in time with the beat that he had created. It was an arresting beginning.

Rhythm is an integral part of ABE’s performance and the second of a baker’s dozen of short pieces began with the sound of vocal percussion -or beat-boxing if you will- live looped and augmented with the sound of further ‘bass percussion’ as ABE turned himself into a one man rhythm machine. Above this busy rhythmic barrage he delivered bass solos with and without the bow, cherry picking motifs from these and adding further layers to his self created ‘wall of sound’ and climaxing with a squall of angry fuzz bass. This astonishing performance was dramatic and hugely effective.

“India Time” was the first demonstration of the well travelled ABE’s fascination with world music styles as his arco bass intro was live looped to create an authentic sounding drone with the plucked strings of his bass later creating an uncannily sitar like sound. And if all that wasn’t enough he also added konnakol style Indian voice percussion.

ABE’s love of flamenco had been obvious from the very first number and he informed us that he had played both flamenco and bass festivals in London. The piece simply titled “Flamenco” was a further demonstration of his impressive ‘flamenco bass’ technique.

ABE introduced the next item as “my favourite song”. This turned out to be a haunting version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” played with something of an indie rock sensibility. He accompanied himself with sawing arco bass above a sophisticated layer of looped and layered rhythms, some of them pre-programmed. The song also introduced ABE’s impressive singing voice and featured a guitar like pizzicato bass solo.

Having set up a beat-boxing loop ABE moved to the Pizza’s grand piano for a further demonstration of his skills as a multi-instrumentalist over the course of two numbers, the first lively, the second, a solo piece, initially more lyrical and reflective but later becoming more dramatic with the introduction of some powerful left hand figures. ABE subsequently informed us that he had studied classical violin since the age of five, later moving to piano under the influence of Bach and Debussy and then on to guitar and finally double bass, at which point he began to immerse himself in jazz.

Despite his love of the double bass ABE is still irresistibly drawn to other musical instruments including the oud, which he also plays. The next piece, with a Hebrew title meaning “Prayer” saw him using his bass to replicate the timbres of the oud while again using the body of the instrument as percussion and adding wordless devotional vocals. Again the result was dramatic and effective..

Another flamenco style piece followed before ABE put his gear through its paces as he constructed an edifice of looping featuring the varied sounds of plucked and bowed bass, finger snaps and vocal phrases.

After thanking his regular sound man Luke plus the London Jazz festival and Pizza Express, all this done to a self played musical accompaniment, ABE concluded his show with “Sunshades”, another multi layered piece featuring Indian elements that saw him adding the sounds of flute to the already familiar timbres of bass and voice.

The deserved encore was a tune from the Jewish tradition that introduced yet another instrument as ABE’s clarinet danced above the breakneck rhythms generated by looped pizzicato and arco bass in conjunction with a smattering of pre-programmed beats. Stunning stuff and a great way to end this highly exciting and slickly presented one man show.

I’m not sure if this music would function quite as well in the home listening environment but as a live event it worked brilliantly. This was a hugely enjoyable way to kick off the sixth day of the Festival.


MARIA CHIARA ARGIRO GROUP, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

The early evening event at Foyle’s featured a six piece group led by the Italian born composer Maria Chiara Argiro. Born in Rome Argiro is now based in London following the completion of her studies at the London Centre of Contemporary Music and the jazz course at Middlesex University.

Argiro’s London based band features a mix of British and Italian musicians with Leila Martial on vocals, Sam Rapley on tenor sax & clarinet, Tal Janes on guitar, Andrea Di Biase on double bass and Gaspar Sena at the drums. The group have just released their début album “The Fall Dance” which will be officially launched at a performance at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on the evening of 11th December 2016.

Tonight’s performance was witnessed by a substantial audience seated “in the round” - “a circle of love”, as Argiro charmingly described it.

Mixing jazz and classical elements Argiro’s compositions are nuanced and complex and feature Martial treating her voice as an instrument, often with a little discrete electronic embellishment. The opening piece was introduced by Sena’s brushed drums and was notable for the composer’s piano solo plus the engaging dialogue between Martial’s voice and electronics and Rapley’s clarinet. With respect Argiro’s English still isn’t the best and my Italian is non-existent so I missed some tune titles along the way.

I did however pick up “Dream R” which introduced an angrier side of the band through Martial’s impassioned vocals and forceful solos from Argiro on piano and Rapley on tenor sax.

“Every Now And Then” featured soaring wordless vocal melodies that reminded me of Norma Winstone, and even of Amanda Parsons during her tenure with the ‘Canterbury’ band National Health. At other times Martial’s voice explored more adventurous, experimental areas, think Julie Tippetts, Maggie Nichols etc., or for more contemporary examples Lauren Kinsella or Kerry Andrew. Instrumentally saxophonist Rapley impressed again, both with his tenor solo and his dialogue with guitarist Janes as their instruments intertwined.

“Song For The Silver Family” introduced elements of church and folk music with its hymnal melodies, but also a bout of dissonance with Janes’ clangorous guitar and Di Biase’s dark, grainy arco bass as Rapley moved between clarinet and tenor sax.

The title track of the “Fall Dance” album combined choppy time signatures and passionate, adventurous vocalising with an extended piano trio interlude as Argiro took the opportunity to demonstrate her highly accomplished keyboard skills.

As at some of the other early evening events at Foyle’s I had to leave shortly before the end to make my way to my next ticketed gig. The performance had started slightly late and as I left I’m fairly certain the band were playing their last number, “When the Sea”.

Although it took me a little time to adjust to the distinctive sound of the Maria Chiara Argiro Group, particularly the unusual use of voice and electronics, I soon found myself warming to the band and their adventurous, carefully constructed music. I’ve yet to hear the new album but on the evidence of this performance it should be well worth a listen.


MAMMAL HANDS /  CHRISTIAN SCOTT BAND, SCALA

The Scala on Pentonville Road represented another new venue. A rock venue in a converted cinema it was used at this year’s EFG LJF to host some of the more contemporary ‘club style’ events including tonight’s show headlined by the New Orleans born trumpeter Christian Scott and his band.

The Scala had an authentic rock venue ambience complete with menacing looking doormen, subdued lighting, sticky floor surfaces and fizzy overpriced beer in flimsy plastic glasses but with state of the art sound and lighting systems it worked particularly well for these two bands. I was lucky to get there early enough at this standing venue to get a place on the lower balcony rail and a great view of the stage. I was certainly more fortunate than Rob Mallows who reviewed the show for London Jazz News and couldn’t see a thing. 

First to take to the stage were the British trio Mammal Hands, originally From Norwich but indelibly associated with Manchester thanks their adoption by Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana label. Does that make them jazz’s answer to the Charlatans?

Often compared with label mates GoGo Penguin the trio perform melodic contemporary jazz that draws inspiration from rock, electronica, dance music and more. Brothers Jordan Smart (saxes) and Nick Smart (keyboards) first linked up with Jesse Barrett (drums, tabla) busking on the streets of Norwich before they were spotted by GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka and subsequently signed to Gondwana. They have since released two acclaimed albums for the label, “Animalia” (2014) and “Floa” (2016).

I’d seen the trio play live around eighteen months earlier to an audience of around twenty in a draughty tent in Hay on Wye (come to think of it, it may even have been a yurt) as part of the annual How The Light Gets In festival. Their hour long set was enjoyable enough but the lack of atmosphere rather diminished the occasion as an ‘event’.

Tonight at a jam packed Scala the atmosphere was very different. Mammal Hands played with the verve of a band who were clearly ‘up for it’ with Jordan Smart’s tenor and soprano saxes riding the vibrant grooves laid down by Barrett’s drums and brother Nick’s underpinning keyboards. For a bass-less band Mammal Hands are a surprisingly rhythmic unit and the audience responded well to their soaring, Portico style sax melodies and rousing rock and electronica inspired grooves. There was even a little world music inspired exotica when Barrett temporarily switched to tabla.

I suspect that most of the material was sourced from the album “Floa” but tune announcements were at a premium with the band determined to fit as much music as possible into their brief forty five minute support slot. In any event note taking in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Scala was a physical possibility so I just let myself become immersed in the moment and the music. I did fancy that I recognised the “Floa” album opener “Quiet Fire” though.

Despite the lack of detail from me this was a great gig for the Mammal Hands guys who played their proverbial asses off and went down a storm with the crowd. Performing with such skill and passion to a crowd of this size will surely have enhanced their rapidly expanding fan base. 

New Orleans born trumpeter Christian Scott has been at the forefront of the American jazz scene for a decade now yet is still only in his early thirties. I first heard him on his ground breaking “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” album back in 2010 and have monitored his progress ever since.

I also Scott live for the first time in 2010 when he played a brief support slot opening for Courtney Pine at that year’s LJF. I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed at the time but Scott has honed his stage craft since then and is now one of the most exciting and in demand draws on the international jazz circuit.

A frequent visitor to the UK his 2015 EFG LJF show at Rich Mix was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and sounded absolutely terrific. Hearing it prompted me to attend (as a ‘punter’) his gig at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, a performance that proved to be one of the best of the entire Festival.

That Cheltenham gig was one of the first by Scott’s current band featuring the American musicians Logan Richardson (alto sax), Luques Curtis (bass) and Corey Fonville (drums) plus the Martinique born keyboard player Tony Tixier. The Scala show also featured the talents of the gifted young rising star Elena Pinderhughes, here playing flute – she is also an accomplished vocalist and songwriter.

The sextet were playing material from Scott’s latest album “Stretch Music”, so called because Scott likes to ‘stretch’ the boundaries of jazz, weaving into it other elements of Afro-American music, notably hip-hop. In many ways the trumpeter’s music is highly futuristic but he never forgets his New Orleans roots and the material also embraces a personalised political agenda with roots in the Civil Rights movement and other aspects of black activism and empowerment.

It’s a heady cocktail that makes for a highly exciting live act. The charismatic Scott stalks the stage with his distinctive Dizzy Gillespie styled trumpet with its elevated bell and although there’s no doubt that it’s his gig he also allows his fellow musicians plenty of room in which to express themselves.

Surprisingly there were similarities between this and the Jan Garbarek show at the Royal Festival Hall the previous Sunday. Both performances featured brilliant playing by musicians who were right at the top of their game with lengthy compositional segues punctuated by brilliant solos and set pieces. And as with the Garbarek group the sheer joy that the musicians took in playing together was palpable with Scott clearly taking great pride in the contributions of his colleagues.

Scott, Richardson and Pinderhughes all impressed as fluent, inventive and often fiery soloists. Tixier’s effective use of a variety of keyboard instruments produced a raft of interesting sounds, colours and textures as Curtis and the consistently impressive Fonville laid down some mammoth grooves that pushed the soloists to even greater heights. And the explosive virtuosity of Fonville’s extended drum feature elicited the loudest cheers of the night. 

Unlike Garbarek Scott had plenty to say, arguably too much at times. His extended band introductions contained the same anecdotes that he’d used at Cheltenham and felt unnecessarily long winded. He’s a great communicator but sometimes it would be best if he just let his music do the talking. However we did get to learn that he plans to issue a trilogy of albums in 2017 in honour of the centenary of the first acknowledged jazz recording. Scott promised us jazz past, present and future – a prospect to look forward to.

The minor quibble of the excess verbiage aside this was a terrific gig and the audience in a hot, sweaty Scala absolutely loved it. A superb set ended with Scott paying tribute to New Orleans culture with the superb “The Last Chieftain”, about the only tune title that was actually announced despite all the other chit chat.

In addition to be being a brilliant musician, composer and band-leader Christian Scott is hip, savvy, charismatic and politically engaged, a bona fide jazz superstar for the modern world. Ably supported by a highly competent band he’s a talent to watch out for and looks set for a long and glittering boundary pushing career. 
   

   

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Five, Tuesday 15th November 2016.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Five, Tuesday 15th November 2016.

Ian Mann enjoys four brilliant performances from the Soren Bebe Trio, Ezra Collective, Skint and the Donny McCaslin Band.

Photograph of Donny McCaslin sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website
http://www.efglondonjazz festival.org.uk


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Five, Tuesday 15th November 2016

SOREN BEBE TRIO, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB

In 2014 the famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street began hosting free lunchtime jazz events on week days during the Festival period. Obviously there’s an obligation to eat but these performances have proved to be extremely popular and the music has generally been of a very high standard.

The acts presented have encompassed a variety of jazz genres and nationalities and the series has proved to be a particularly good showcase for up and coming European bands hoping to introduce themselves to UK audiences. The Swiss piano trio Plaistow, who made a big impact in 2014 returned to London this year on the concert programme while the Danish quintet Girls In Airports who also appeared in 2014 have accrued something of a cult following plus a recording contract with the British label Edition Records.

The 2016 programme saw Sue Edwards, manager of Phronesis and a champion for Danish jazz in general, bringing the Copenhagen based Soren Bebe Trio to the Pizza. Pianist and composer Bebe is a well established figure on the Danish jazz scene with several recordings to his credit and has also made inroads in the US where he and his long standing drummer Anders Mogensen recorded the trio album “Eva” with the great American bassist Marc Johnson.

Bebe, now aged forty, is still relatively little known in the UK and this first ever London performance turned out to be a triumph for the likeable Dane and his trio. The majority of the material was sourced from the group’s recent album release “Home”, a collection of Bebe originals initially recorded in Copenhagen before being mixed and mastered by the great recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug at the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo.

Bebe, Mogensen and double bassist Kasper Tagel, who joined the trio in 2014, commenced their performance with “The Path to Somewhere”, the opening track from the new album. Bebe’s tentative, searching melodic snippets were augmented by Mogensen’s mallet rumbles and Tagel’s almost subliminal bass pulse. On the Pizza’s Steinway grand Bebe’s classically honed lightness of touch was immediately apparent, he’s a supreme technician who cites ECM label artists Keith Jarrett and Tord Gustavsen as key musical influences. It therefore comes as no surprise that Bebe asked Kongshaug to master his album.
Meanwhile I was also impressed with Bebe’s improvisational fluency as the opening tune segued via an unaccompanied bass passage into the Jarrett inspired blues of “Country Road”, a tune sourced from the 2012 trio album “A Song For You”.

Returning to the “Home” repertoire the trio next performed the delightfully melodic “Tango for T”, a dedication to Tord Gustavsen. Not a true tango but a lovely composition and performance featuring Bebe’s limpid and lyrical piano and Mogensen’s delicately brushed drums.

The piece “Heading North” was originally written for the trio album with Marc Johnson but its melodic beauty ensured that it was a perfect fit with the “Home” material, including the lovely title track with its folk inspired melody, which again featured Bebe at his most Gustavsen like.

Until now the trio’s performance had largely been notable for its pensive, fragile lyrical beauty, qualities that were greatly appreciated by a commendably attentive audience. Bebe and the trio decided to lighten up and increase the energy levels as they concluded an excellent first set with a playful take on a standard (“How About You”), if memory serves, which included latin and gospel flourishes plus extended features for both bass and drums.

The second set maintained the same high standards and commenced with “Haarlem Landscape”, inspired by a Dutch ‘Old Master’ in the Danish National Gallery rather than the New York skyline as a verbal rendition of the title might suggest. Although lyrical and impressionistic at first the piece later gained greater muscularity thanks to the contributions of bass and drums with Tagel featuring as a soloist.

Mogensen’s contribution with the pen was the beautiful ballad “For L.R.P.” which was written for the “Eva” album. Here Tagel took the role of Marc Johnson with a wonderfully melodic bass solo accompanied by the gentle rustle of the composer’s brushes. It’s perhaps no surprise that Bebe chose to record with Johnson, a musician who once worked with the great Bill Evans, surely another profound influence on the Bebe trio and their music.

The melodic and impressionistic “Trieste” was written by Bebe following a successful appearance at a festival in the city two years ago. It’s a particularly delightful homage to the place and its people.

Bebe informed us that the Keith Jarrett version of “The Old Country”, a composition by Nat Adderley, is hugely popular in Denmark following its use in a TV advertisement. Fat chance of anything like that happening here I suspect, but we can always hope. The trio had fun here with Bebe stretching out in lively fashion buoyed by Mogensen’s crisply brushed grooves and with additional features for bass and drums.

The trio kept things up tempo with “Remembering B”, Bebe’s homage to the late, great American saxophonist Michael Brecker. With its blues and gospel inflections the piece had the feel of a modern day standard and featured Bebe soling expansively above Tagel’s walking bass lines.

The performance ended with “Tak”, meaning “Thank You” and probably the one word of Danish that the average British person knows thanks to ‘Scandi-Noir’ programmes like “The Bridge”.  Lyrical and hymn like the piece had an unmistakably valedictory feel and ended an excellent trio performance on an elegiac note.

Bebe and his colleagues got a terrific reception from a rapt, and pleasingly substantial audience. CD sales were correspondingly brisk and this lunchtime show represented a hugely successful gig for Bebe and his trio. It may well be that they, too, will return on the full concert programme at a future EFG LJF.

My thanks to Soren Bebe, Anders Mogensen and Sue Edwards for speaking with me afterwards and to Soren for the gifts of both the “Home” and “Eva”  CDs. Both albums are highly recommended and “Home” was recently the subject of a highly favourable review by Adrian Pallant on his AP Reviews website https://ap-reviews.com/tag/soren-bebe/

The Pizza Express free lunchtime programme continues to deliver delightful musical surprises with this gig representing a genuine Festival highlight.


EZRA COLLECTIVE, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

Ezra Collective are a young mixed race quintet who emerged out of the Tomorrow’s Warriors scheme. At the 2013 EFG LJF, while still in their teens, they played an excellent set in the Café at the old Foyle’s store. Tonight in the new performance space at Foyle’s new Charing Cross Road location they gave notice that they’ve really come of age as they played a barnstorming set to a sell out audience. This is a band that has clearly accrued a loyal following, and on the evidence of this highly skilled and thrillingly energetic show I’m not surprised.

The line-up of Ezra Collective has remained stable since 2013 and still features the brothers Femi Koleoso (drums) and T J Koleoso (electric bass) in the engine room with front line duties shared between saxophonist James Mollison and trumpeter Dylan Jones with pianist Joe Armon Jones filling all spaces in between. The group’s influences include jazz, reggae, afro-beat and hip-hop and their music is a wildly exciting collision of all these styles and more.

In the three years since I last saw them the members of Ezra Collective have matured both individually and collectively. They were good then but in the intervening years they’ve honed their chops and now play with an impressive confidence and swagger. This is a group that has grown up together and now have the assurance of a band that ‘know that they are good’.

A loud reggae soundtrack had already got the audience in the mood even before T J Koleoso picked out the opening grooves of “The Philosopher” on electric bass, subsequently joined by piano and drums as the group constructed a propulsive rhythmic framework to fuel the fluent and fiery solos of horn men Mollison and Jones plus Armon Jones’ latin flourishes on an equally lively piano solo. There were even outbreaks of spontaneous dancing within the highly supportive audience.

“Enter The Jungle” was introduced by Femi Koleoso’s implacable drum grooves and again featured Mollison and Jones soloing with youthful brio. Armon Jones had switched to funky Fender Rhodes and managed to squeeze a quote from Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” into his solo. Mollison then entered fiery dialogue with Femi’s drums, the piece concluded with an explosive percussion feature which further delighted the partisan crowd.

Armon Jones introduced “Chasing The Square” at the piano, a piece that saw staccato unison riffing punctuated by more soulful, lyrical passages. The first solo came from the pianist prior to a series of thrilling trumpet and tenor exchanges propelled by the driving beats of the Koleoso siblings.

With Femi Koleoso handling the announcements the title of “People In Trouble” hinted at the Collective’s political sympathies. A spacey solo trumpet intro, subsequently augmented by shimmering Rhodes and mallet rumbles eventually morphed into an electric bass groove that coaxed powerful solos from Jones and Mollison prior to a virtuoso passage of solo piano from the talented Armon Jones. The piece then ended as subtly as it had begun with a soft and gentle horn chorale.

Unfortunately I had to leave at this point as I had to make way across town to East London to see the Donny McCaslin Band at Rich Mix. As I descended to Charing Cross in the Foyle’s lift I could hear the Ezra lads tearing into a Sun Ra tune and more than doing it justice.

This event was the launch of Ezra Collective’s debut EP “Chapter 7” but due to my early departure I was unable to get hold of a copy. If you want it reviewed lads you know where to send it, hint, hint.


SKINT / DONNY McCASLIN BAND, RICH MIX

It’s been well documented by now that the quartet led by New York based saxophonist Donny McCaslin appeared on the final David Bowie album “Black Star” after Bowie saw them playing at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village.

The Bowie connection ensured that this was one of the hottest tickets of the festival and a sold out Rich Mix was absolutely rammed for this performance. The appearance on “Black Star” has brought McCaslin’s music to a whole new demographic and here dyed in the wool jazz fans rubbed shoulders with adventurous rock listeners in a crowd with an appropriately broad age range.

I first encountered McCaslin’s playing in 2009 when he appeared as part of trumpeter Dave Douglas’ band at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I’ve subsequently seen him in the international City Of Poets Quintet co-led by American trumpeter Jason Palmer and French pianist Cedric Hanriot and also as one of the star soloists in the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Indeed it was the Schneider connection that first led Bowie to McCaslin following Schneider’s collaboration with the Thin White Duke on “Sue”, one of the first pieces to be recorded for the “Black Star” album.

Obviously McCaslin’s involvement with Bowie helped to pique my interest with regard to tonight’s show but as a long term admirer of his playing in a more obvious jazz context I was more excited at the prospect of him leading a band of his own for the first time – particularly as it was the band that appeared on the excellent 2012 release “Casting For Gravity”. Since then the same quartet have released the new albums “Fast Future” (2015) and “Beyond Now” (2016),  recordings I have yet to hear. 

But before McCaslin and his colleagues hit the stage the Rich Mix audience had the chance to enjoy a short but dynamic set from the young British trio Skint led by saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows. It was my second sighting of Meadows in two days having already enjoyed a performance by his new four piece Project earlier in the week at Foyle’s.

Where the Project played thoughtful, melodic contemporary jazz Skint was much more about ‘in your face’ aggression as the trio presented their take on ‘dance music from across the globe’. If this phrase implied a kind of world music dilettantism the reality was very different. Yes, the music was loud and highly rhythmic but the trio’s approach owed more to the ‘punk jazz’ movement and bands like Acoustic Ladyland, Melt Yourself Down and The Comet Is Coming with the focus very much on energy. There were also moments when the combination of Meadows’ barking alto, Harry Pope’s pummelling drums and Joe Downand’s churning electric bass reminded me of Led Bib.

With Meadows also deploying keyboards and electronics the trio augmented their core sound with pre-programmed beats, Hammond and Rhodes sounds and various electronic effects. In this kind of club environment tune announcements were at a premium (although in other contexts Meadows can be an articulate, witty and informative interlocutor) as the trio tore through four fairly brief, tightly focussed pieces during their short forty minutes or so support slot.

The hard hitting opener featured Meadows on keyboards as well as alto and culminated in a hard hitting drum feature from the hyper active Pope, also the current drummer for WorldService Project.

Elsewhere Meadows featured on soprano, Pope augmented his arsenal with a smattering of electronic percussion and Downand ground out some truly filthy sounding electric bass. The focus was consistently on bludgeoning riffs, hard hitting grooves and surging beats with Meadows’ alto honking and blasting away in a manner that was often reminiscent of punk jazz pioneer Pete Wareham.

Skint invested their performance with passion, energy and no little skill and their performance was very well received by a capacity Rich Mix crowd. I think I’m correct in saying that the band have yet to record but this gig was a good one for them and will have introduced their name to a whole raft of new listeners as they acquitted themselves admirably.

The versatile and likeable Meadows is one of the most promising emerging jazz talents that we have and is surely a musician worthy of greater recognition. He later told me just how much he and the band had enjoyed this set at Rich Mix saying; “it was a complete fan boy gig for us. Donny McCaslin is my favourite saxophonist and Mark Guiliana is Harry’s favourite drummer. I still can’t believe that we were lucky enough to get the chance to open for them”.

After a short break the McCaslin quartet took to the stage to deliver an even more blistering set.  The leader on tenor sax was joined by what has come to be known as the ‘Black Star Band’ with Guiliana on drums, Jason Lindner on keyboards & electronics and Tim Lefebvre on electric bass.

McCaslin has cited the influence of electronic artists such as Aphex Twin on his current music and this was immediately apparent on the commencing piece “Shake Loose”, the opening track on the recent “Beyond Now”. If Lindner’s banks of keyboards and other devices brought an element of electronica to the group’s music the overall sound was still rooted in jazz as McCaslin demonstrated with a barnstorming solo that embraced the full range of the tenor saxophone from baleful low register growls to startling high register shrieks.

This was a band that exuded confidence and were clearly on top of their game. Almost overnight the tall, gawky fifty year old McCaslin has suddenly emerged as the coolest saxophonist on the planet and he and his band have adopted a corresponding swagger accordingly. But in his between tunes announcements McCaslin still exhibited the kind of all American ‘aw shucks’ charm as that other famous jazz Bowie collaborator, Pat Metheny.

With Lefebvre holding down the groove on the title track from “Beyond Now” outbreaks of dancing could be detected in the audience and the roars of approval that greeted the brilliant drum feature from Mr. Perpetual Motion Mark Guiliana were almost as deafening as the music. Guiliana, who once guested and recorded with Phronesis, is regarded as one of the best drummers in the world right now, and like McCaslin draws considerable inspiration from contemporary electronic and dance rhythms.

In a hot, sweaty club atmosphere this was a gig to enjoy as much as to analyse and When McCaslin paused to pay verbal tribute to Bowie the place just erupted. This was followed up by a stunning instrumental version of “Lazarus” from the “Black Star” album with McCaslin’s tenor sax replicating Bowie’s vocal melody and with Lefebvre’s bass feature presaging an incendiary and anthemic finale. From the same album came “I Can’t Give Everything Away” with McCaslin and Lindner shouting the final eponymous refrain above Guiliana’s motorik style drum grooves. A superb interpretation of “Warszawa”, recorded by the quartet for the “Beyond Now” completed a brilliant Bowie trilogy.

Elsewhere “The Word” was a feature for Lindner, a more reflective offering incorporating dense, chiming layered keyboard textures.

But despite the undoubted excellence of the other musicians it was ultimately very much McCaslin’s show as he soloed with a restless inventiveness and fluency and an astonishing degree of physical stamina, other than for the carefully delineated set pieces from his colleagues he was playing all the time with fire, skill and unbounded imagination. This was embodied by his soloing on the title track from “Fast Future” which closed a brilliant, largely high energy set and also included another dazzling drum feature from the equally astonishing Guiliana.

The drummer sat out the first part of the deserved encore as he recovered from his exertions. This began with the eerie electronic textures generated by Lindner and Le Febvre, the latter utilising a floor mounted effects unit, as McCaslin played long, mournful melody lines. When Guiliana finally returned to the fray the music soared to an anthemic magnificence to send the crowd home uplifted and enraptured at an event that very much had the feel of a rock gig – but with some of the best jazz ‘chops’ that you’ll see just about anywhere. 

Afterwards there was a mass scrum at the merch stand as McCaslin greeted his adoring public.  I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Donny on a couple of occasions, he’s a genuinely nice guy who even gifted me my copy of “Casting For Gravity”. Tonight I stayed well out of it to let others take their turn, although it did mean I missed out on getting hold of copies of “Fast Future” and “Beyond Now”, a situation that I must correct very soon. 

This was a magnificent and hugely exciting gig and a definite Festival highlight. It rounded off a day of exceptional music, arguably the most consistently successful day of the festival with all four of the bands that I saw really delivering the goods.     
   
         

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Four, Monday 14th November 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Four, Monday 14th November 2016.

Ian Mann on the fourth day of the Festival and performances by the Phil Meadows Project, Mark Lewandowski Trio's tribute to Fats Waller and the international sextet Bureau Of Atomic Tourism.

Photograph of Jon Irabagon (Bureau Of Atomic Tourism) by Martin Healey

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Four, Monday 14th November 2016

PHIL MEADOWS PROJECT, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLES

The programme of early evening Festival concerts in the new performance space at Foyle’s Bookshop on Charing Cross Road continues to go from strength to strength.

This year’s series commenced with a performance by a new quartet led by the young saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows. Born in Bolton Meadows attended the Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester then Leeds College of Music before moving south to complete his studies at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Settling in London Meadows swiftly became a regular presence on the capital’s jazz scene and formed a quintet featuring the talents of fellow rising stars Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (keyboards), Conor Chaplin (basses) and Simon Roth (drums, percussion). This line up released the excellent album “Engines Of Creation” in 2013.

A frequent award winner Meadows has been been voted “best newcomer” at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and was also the winner of the 2013 Peter Whittingham Award which, along with support from Arts Council England, helped to finance the recording of “Lifecycles” (2014),  an ambitious and totally convincing suite/song cycle embracing both the jazz and classical traditions. The album featured Meadows’ core quintet alongside the twenty strong Engines Orchestra conducted by Matt Roberts. The 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival saw Meadows première the work at a sold out concert at Kings Place featuring both his quintet and the Engines Orchestra, a performance that I was fortunate enough to witness and review as part of my Festival coverage for that year. 

Tonight was the first appearance by Meadows’ latest Project, a quartet featuring Flo Moore on double bass, Alex Munk on guitar and Will Glaser at the drums. During the course of a remarkably assured début performance the new group played four new compositions written by Meadows specifically for this line up plus new arrangements of a couple of pieces from his earlier albums. It is intended that the new group will record an album and undertake a comprehensive UK tour during 2017.

This evening’s performance kicked off with Meadows’ traditional opener “Fin”, a dedication to Finley Panter, drummer with Beats & Pieces Big Band and the small group Let Spin who is now resident in Berlin. The tune moves through several distinct phases as it attempts to summarise Panter’s complex character and tonight’s performance was linked together by unaccompanied alto sax interludes from Meadows alongside more orthodox jazz solos from Moore, Munk and the composer.

The jagged, angular, occasionally abstract “Fin” contrasted well with the new piece “Five More Minutes”, a paean to the snooze button on the radio alarm. The tune began with the gentle chiming of Munk’s guitar allied to the delightfully delicate filigree of Glaser’s cymbal work. Meadows, now performing on soprano, began his solo in gently melodic fashion, his tone later becoming darker and almost Garbarek-like as the music gradually increased in intensity. Finally Munk’s guitar took flight, his soaring solo a welcome reminder of the talent behind the recent eponymous début album by the guitarist’s band Flying Machines.

Meadows was back on alto for “Thrower”, a composition written in praise of the work of the potter or ceramicist. An atmospheric intro featuring shadowy guitar plus mallet rumbles saw Meadows’ writing making effective use of space with solos coming from Munk on guitar and the composer on alto sax, the latter making judicious use of echo effects. A word too for Glaser’s contribution to the success of the piece with a highly sensitive performance behind the drum kit.

From the “Lifecycles” album “Twice The Man” featured Meadows’ folk inflected soprano plus a delightfully melodic solo from Moore on double bass, her feature accompanied by Munk’s sparse guitar chording and Glaser’s subtle and delicate brushwork. Munk’s subsequent solo saw the music develop in intensity on an arrangement that was, by necessity, substantially different from the recorded version.

A new tune currently named “Untitled No. 1” saw Meadows moving back to alto and enhancing his sound with a degree of subtle electronica courtesy of a floor mounted effects unit. Meanwhile Moore struck up an infectious, almost reggae like, bass groove as she continued to form an effective rhythmic unit with Glaser. Munk’s impressive solo revealed a strong rock influence and worked well but I found the electronic elements distracting when it came to Moore’s acoustic bass feature.

An all too brief set of around an hour concluded with the new tune “Trashlantis”, a title inspired by an art installation fabricated from reclaimed marine detritus on the harbour front in Helsinki, a city visited by Meadows on a recent European tour. This proved to a catchy, groove based piece featuring Meadows’ soprano dancing airily above Munk’s circling guitar motif and Glaser’s busily brushed drum grooves.

It wasn’t the biggest Foyle’s audience of the week but the hundred or so audience members gave the young quartet an excellent reception on what proved to be a very convincing first gig from them and an excellent start to the programme at this increasingly popular venue.

I was to see Meadows play again the following night with his trio Skint, a more rock and dance orientated trio outfit featuring the talents of Joe Downard on electric bass and Harry Pope at the drums. Another recently formed band these three supported the New York based Donny McCaslin Band at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. But more on that later.

In the meantime the Phil Meadows Project is a success in its own right and promises much for the future with a team of skilled players bringing the best out of Meadows’ consistently interesting and engaging compositions.

MARK LEWANDOWSKI TRIO /  BUREAU OF ATOMIC TOURISM, THE VORTEX

Bassist Mark Lewndowski was another musician that I was to see twice in very different contexts during the Festival. At the Iklectik Art Lab on Saturday afternoon he had led a stellar quartet featuring pianist Liam Noble, saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Jeff Williams through a challenging, but ultimately rewarding and highly enjoyable, series of explorations of tunes associated with the late Paul Bley.

Tonight Lewandowski was to pay homage to a very different type of piano legend, the celebrated pianist, composer, vocalist and all round entertainer Fats Waller. Noble remained from the previous group with the drum chair going to the versatile drummer and percussionist Paul Clarvis.

On the face of it a double bill featuring the music of Waller opposite the more experimental sounds of the international sextet Bureau Of Atomic Tourism (B.O.A.T), led by the Belgian drummer and composer Teun Verbruggen seemed like an odd pairing but in effect it worked very well with the contrasts in styles between the two bands having a positively therapeutic effect upon the listener. And if anything it was Lewandowski’s trio, appearing first and notionally the ‘support act’ who drew the largest audience.

Introducing the evening’s events Oliver Weindling of The Vortex informed us that the performance by the Lewnadowski trio was being recorded with the view to an album release, simply entitled “Waller”, on the Whirlwind Recordings label in 2017.

With the indefatigable Alex Bonney at the recording desk the trio commenced with their version of the Waller classic “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. I have to say that I was a little surprised by how reverently the trio treated Wallers’ music, especially bearing in mind that Noble is also a member of trumpeter Chris Batchelor’s quartet Pigfoot, a band that puts a decidedly different and often highly subversive slant on traditional jazz, although even here their genuine love and respect for their source material is never in question. Nevertheless Lewandowski’s trio played the music of Waller in a far more straight-ahead manner than I had anticipated.

Next up was an exploration of “Jitterbug Waltz”, one of Waller’s most interesting tunes, and one regularly explored by successive generations of jazz musicians. The highly developed interplay between the trio members was particularly well illustrated here and Lewandowski also impressed with one of his many excellent solos. The tune was introduced by a solo drum passage from Clarvis who interestingly deployed brushes almost exclusively throughout the entire set.

Clarvis again impressed with his lively brushed drum breaks on the lesser known Waller tune “Blue Because Of You” as he shared the spotlight with the leader’s bass.

The ballad “Fair And Square” was treated to a quiet, spacious interpretation that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an ECM recording. Even Clarvis’ eerie wordless singing of the melody enhanced rather than fractured the air of atmospheric fragility.  And credit to the clearly enraptured Vortex jazz public who maintained an immaculate silence throughout, proof if any were needed, that this is a club with a truly listening audience.

As others had pointed out to Lewandowski if he wished to perform a tribute to Waller it really had to include vocals, after all Fats was a wit, bon viveur and genuine all round entertainer. I don’t think Lewandowski will mind me saying that he’s a better bass player than he is a singer. Indeed he initially chose not to tackle a Waller song at all but “Why” by Jelly Roll Morton, a musician that Fats doubtless regarded as a kindred spirit and a key influence. It has to be said that once Lewandowski had manfully tackled the verses of Morton’s song he attacked his bass solo with the air of a man who was glad that his vocal contribution was over.

However he was game enough to have another go on the closing segue of “I’ll Be Glad You’re Dead You Rascal You” and “Susannah Dust Off your Piano” but here he was upstaged by Clarvis who tapped out a solo on the rim of his bass drum using the tap shoes he used to deploy in the pit band for “Riverdance”. At the other end of the musical scale Clarvis is also a trained orchestral percussionist, a brilliant and versatile performer who seems to be able to turn his hand to anything.
I suspect that Clarvis may also have played in the Orchestra on “Strictly” for present in the audience was Ed Balls, a personal friend of Clarvis apparently. I don’t know if Ed stuck around for B.O.A.T but his mere presence at The Vortex certainly put him up in my estimation.

Overall I enjoyed this interesting and entertaining contemporary examination of the Fats Waller songbook and it’s always a pleasure to see the relentlessly inventive Liam Noble play. However if pushed I probably preferred the knottier Paul Bley set on the Saturday, but, as they say, variety is the spice of life.

Whether there was quite enough material in this relatively short set for a full length album is probably debatable. Perhaps Lewandowski and his colleagues will augment it with some studio recordings, perhaps featuring a guest vocalist or two (sorry Mark). I’m certain that despite one or two reservations the finished album will be well worth hearing. 

Bureau Of Atomic Tourism is a sextet led by the Belgian drummer, composer and bandleader Teun Verbruggen, a musician perhaps best known to UK audiences as the leader of the Zappa-esque large ensemble Flat Earth Society. He has also worked extensively with the Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila, both in Tuomarila’s trio and as member of the collaborative quartet Flow.

A visit to Verbruggen’s website http://www.teunverbruggen.com will also reveal that he has a whole plethora of other projects on the go including the bands Chaos Of The Haunted Spire and Too Noisy Fish.  He also runs his own record label Rat Records as an outlet for his material.

Both Flow and the Tuomarila trio have released albums of melodic contemporary jazz on the UK based Edition label. However B.O.A.T, another international collaboration, sees Verbruggen pushing more firmly into avant garde territory. B.O.A.T’s latest album “Hapax Legomena” was recorded in New York and features Verbruggen and his compatriot Jozef Demoulin alongside New York based musicians Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Andrew d’Angelo (reeds) and Tim Dahl (bass). Featuring seven compositions sourced from within the group the record is an uncompromising, high energy meld of jazz, improvisation and avant rock. 

For this London appearance Verbruggen, Dumoulin and the Icelandic born Jensson were joined by the Scandinavian pairing of Magnus Broo ( Sweden, trumpet) and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (Norway, electric bass) plus the American Jon Irabagon, here specialising on tenor sax.

Many of these musicians have graced the Vortex stage before whether with previous editions of B.O.A.T or with other bands e.g Irabagon with Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Haker Flaten with The Thing and Scorch Trio and both Haker Flaten and Broo with Atomic. Jensson meanwhile has performed with US drummer Jim Black’s quartet AlasNoAxis and guested with the British quartet Outhouse, led by drummer/percussionist Dave Smith. 

This latest edition of B.O.A.T didn’t pull any punches with the incendiary front line of Broo and Irabagon periodically augmented by Jensson’s guitar and Dumoulin’s keyboards as Verbruggen and Haker Flaten toiled in the engine room churning out an unstoppable rhythmic flow of pounding polyrhymic drums and grinding electric bass. Electronics are also a vital part of the Bureau’s sonic arsenal with Dumoulin’s keyboard set up augmented by a variety of electronic devices in addition to Jensson’s array of guitar effects. The harsh electronic textures that augmented the clangorous guitar and hyperactive rhythms of the opening number were proof enough of this. Indeed, in many ways Dumoulin proved to be the group’s most distinctive instrumental component.

Not that the horn men were going to be upstaged, Broo’s trumpet solo on the Jensson composition “Hilsnur” culminated in an ear splitting climax in the instrument’s upper register.

Complex written sections, including some ferocious, turn on a dime, unison avant rock riffing alternated with free wheeling fully improvised sections. Much of the material seemed to be new including an Irabagon composition that saw him take off on a raucous, exploratory solo before reeling the band back in with a shout of “1, 2, 3, 4”, this signalling a shift into a rock influenced Jensson solo over odd meter prog rock grooves culminating in a squall of electronics and the squeal of duelling horns.

Elsewhere Dumoulin’s scheming, textured keyboards provided more impressionistic moments but essentially this was a high octane performance with the interplay between Irabagon and Broo scarcely any less incandescent than the saxophonist’s fiery exchanges with the brilliant Peter Evans at a memorable MOPDTK show at The Vortex some five years back, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The last piece featured some furious unison horn riffs and a sustain heavy Jensson solo as B.O.A.T made one final frenzied investigation of the hinterland where composition and improvisation and jazz and math rock meet.

I rather enjoyed this relatively short but blisteringly intense set and the album “Hapax Legomena” also stands up well to home listening. On this evidence the current crew of B.O.A.T have much to offer and with a wealth of new material already in the live set a new album is surely set to follow in the not too distant future.


   

 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Three Sunday 13th November 2016.

Friday, November 25, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Three Sunday 13th November 2016.

Ian Mann enjoys lunchtime jazz at the 606 Club and a personal Festival highlight at the Royal Festival Hall. Performers include the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, Mark Lockheart and the Jan Garbarek Group

Photograph of Jan Garbarek by Tim Dickeson

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Three, Sunday 13th November 2016

PATCHWORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA, 606 CLUB, CHELSEA

Lunchtime saw us venturing into new territory with a visit to the 606 Club in Chelsea. It’s a venue that I’ve been wanting to check out for a long time having had good reports from friends about the music, food and ambience at this well regarded jazz bastion. Unfortunately SW10 is a long way from our base in Islington but with our hosts otherwise engaged on this particular weekend a lunchtime show seemed to offer the ideal opportunity to finally find out just what “The Six” is all about.

The 606 is a musician owned establishment with proprietor Steve Rubie combining his career as a restaurateur with that of a professional jazz flautist. The club’s name comes from its original address in the Kings Road but it is has been located in the basement of its current premises in Lots Road since 1988 in a former industrial building close to the old Lots Road power station. The area is undergoing extensive modern development with the exclusive Chelsea Harbour complex just a short walk away.

The 606 has always had a policy of booking British or UK based musicians exclusively and today was no exception with a Festival visit from the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a large ensemble featuring some of the UK’s most talented young musicians playing an all original programme of compositions sourced almost entirely from within the group.

As the band set up we enjoyed a well cooked Sunday lunch and soaked up the atmosphere of the place. The reports were accurate, the 606 has a great ambience and the food was excellent. It’s a highly convivial place to enjoy good, live British jazz.

Many, but by no means all, of the PJO members studied at the Royal Academy of Music and several of them were familiar to me from their work with that institution’s Big Band, an aggregation that also proved to be the basis for the acclaimed Troykestra. Although less zany than the Loose Tubes in their youthful heyday the PJO’s brightly coloured “patchwork” shirts, all of them different, gave the band a distinctive visual identity.

With a classic big band line up of five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, guitar, bass and drums the PJO lined up;

Matthew Herd, Alex Hitchcock, Sam Rapley, Sam Glaser, George Millard – reeds

James Davison, James Copus, Adam Chatterton, Miguel Girody – trumpets & flugels

Tom Green, Tom Dunnett, Jamie Pimenta – trombones

Yusuf Narcin- bass trombone

Rob Luft – guitar

Liam Dunachie – piano

Misha Mullov Abbado – double bass

Scott Chapman – drums

Introduced by Steve Rubie the PJO commenced with Scott Chapman’s tune “Barcarole”, an excellent piece of contemporary large ensemble writing with its colourful textures and rich horn voicings plus a series of compelling solos from (among others) Copus on flugel, Luft on guitar, Rapley on tenor and Millard on baritone.

Mullov Abbado’s enigmatically titled “Hi Rigley” delighted in deep sonorities with the sound of muted trumpets and an inspired dialogue between trumpeter Davison and bass trombonist Narcin.

Herd’s “Complete Short Stories” then featured the stately clarinet of Sam Rapley alongside the trombone of Tom Dunnett plus the composer’s soprano sax. A five man unaccompanied reed chorale also focussed the listener’s attention.

The first ‘outside’ item was trombonist Green’s arrangement of “Endless Stars”, a composition by the American pianist Fred Hersch that was subsequently given a lyric by the English vocalist Norma Winstone. Here complex, interlocking horn lines suddenly burst forth into old style big band lushness prior to solos from Rapley on tenor, Green on trombone and Girody on trumpet.

The first set closed with the prolific Chapman’s Sherlock Holmes inspired “Mind Palace”, a composition loaded with rousing big band charts and a series of fiery solos from Green on trombone, Hitchcock on tenor and Dunachie on piano plus a closing drum feature from the composer. This was potent, intoxicating stuff and ensured that the first half finished on a high note.

There was little let up in the energy levels at the start of the second set with the boisterous New Orleans flavourings of “The Boy Roy” with its vocalised, plunger muted trumpet and trombone sounds. The solos included a rumbustious outing on baritone by Millard plus further features for Chatterton on trumpet plus Hitchcock on tenor.

Dunachie’s “Mr Potter Cakes” was more complex, almost Loose Tubes like at times, and included solos from Herd on alto and Luft, the band’s spokesman, on guitar.

Rapley’s “Promises, Promises” was more reflective, or even ‘serious’ as Luft put it. Herd on alto and Dunnett on trombone were the featured soloists and the piece also featured a more freely structured ‘avant garde’ section incorporating the squalling saxes of Herd and Rapley.

Introducing Mullov Abbado’s “Cross Platform Interchange” Luft revealed that several members of the band were dedicated rail enthusiasts. He rather got derailed with a series of musings on the delights of London transport but the music got the performance back on track with solos from Dunachie at the piano, Glaser on alto sax, Green on trombone and Luft himself on guitar.

The set concluded with an arrangement by absent trombonist Kieran McLeod of the Frank Loesser song “If I Were A Bell” with suitably rousing and exultant solos from Copus, Narcin, Pimenta , Luft and Millard, the last named also entering into a series of exciting exchanges with Copus’ dramatic high register trumpet. The band even threw some Loose Tubes style dance moves into the mix too.

I thoroughly enjoyed the music of the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. It’s a shame that they haven’t made a recording as yet as this music very much deserves to be documented on disc. In the meantime audiences can check the band out live when they play their next gig at Styx in Tottenham Hale on Saturday 3rd December 2016. Check the band’s website http://www.patchworkjazzorchestra.com for full details.

In closing I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the entire 606 Club experience with the venue scoring highly in terms of food, music and atmosphere. It’s not cheap but it represents good quality and value and overall the venue is a delightful place to listen to jazz. I very much hope to return again next year.

Finally, my thanks to Steve Rubie for the gift of a 606 Club T shirt which will bring back good memories and be worn with much pride. 


MARK LOCKHEART, CLORE BALLROOM. SOUTHBANK CENTRE


Returning to the Southbank Centre we managed to catch the last knockings of a performance on the Clore Ballroom Freestage by the youth band (Im)Possibilities and their guest soloist vibraphonist Orphy Robinson. It’s always a pleasure to see Orphy play, if only very briefly.

(Im)Possibilities were followed on the Clore stage by a performance of a major new jazz and orchestral work by saxophonist and composer Mark Lockheart. Titled “Brave World” this six movement suite was performed by musicians of the Trinity Laban Shapeshifter Ensemble, a mix of jazz and classical players, alongside a stellar jazz quintet featuring Lockheart on tenor & soprano saxes, Liam Noble on piano, John Parricelli on guitar and Lockheart’s colleagues from Polar Bear, Tom Herbert (double bass) and a newly shorn Sebastian Rochford (drums). There was also a female alto sax soloist, presumably a Shapeshifter member, whose name I didn’t catch.

The Clore was packed for this performance and there was a palpable sense that this was something of a special ‘event’. The audience was far more attentive than usual in this public space and although I was seated quite a long way from the stage I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail I was able to appreciate in the music. Interested onlookers included musicians Jasper Hoiby, Adam Waldmann, Anton Eger and Emilia Martensson. 

With the ensemble under the baton of conductor John Ashton Thomas the music was an effective mix of jazz and classical elements and was inspired by Lockheart’s very valid concerns about the state of the modern world. The composer moved freely between tenor and soprano sax and contributed some telling solos as did both Noble and Parricelli plus the mystery alto player who proved to be a good foil for Lockheart. Young trumpeter Louis Dowdeswell plus one of the trombonists also impressed during the second movement.

Each movement had its own distinctive character, the third being relatively freely structured but acquiring a greater formality in the wake of Lockheart’s tenor solo. The fourth was darker and more riff based with Parricelli adding a sustain heavy solo alongside the features for alto and soprano saxes.

The fifth movement placed a greater emphasis on the classical musicians in an ensemble that included a harp and two french horns.

Rochford and Herbert ushered in the final movement whose elegiac, folk tinged melody suggested the influence of Polar Bear. Lockheart has also cited Claus Ogerman, Gil Evans and John Zorn as further sources of inspiration.

I was impressed by Lockheart’s writing and playing and the way in which he merged the various jazz and classical elements. Given the setting in which it was performed I found the whole suite very enjoyable but surely a major work of this magnitude and gravitas should have been premièred in a concert hall and not a foyer. This was music that deserved better.

On a more positive note Lockheart hopes to document “Brave World” on disc in 2017. This is an album release that will be well worth waiting for.


JAN GARBAREK QUARTET, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL

In a packed out main hall at the Southbank we were treated to a superb performance by the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and his quartet.

Garbarek (born 1947) has one of the most distinctive saxophone sounds in jazz and these days is one of the comparative elder statesmen of the music. It’s been a full eight years since I last saw him in concert (as a ‘punter’ at Warwick Arts Centre) and I’d almost forgotten just how exciting his live shows can be. The live album “Dresden”, recorded in 2007 and released by ECM in 2009, offers excellent recorded evidence of this.

Since those days drummer Manu Katche has been replaced by the Indian drummer/percussionist Trilok Gurtu but electric bass specialist Yuri Daniel remains in place alongside long term Garbarek associate Rainer Bruninghaus on piano and keyboards.

Introduced by pianist and broadcaster Julian Joseph the quartet delivered a near two hour show of almost continuous music. I first saw Garbarek perform live in the 1980s but in all that time I’ve never heard him actually speak to an audience. It’s not that he can’t speak the language – I’ve heard him interviewed by Fiona Talkington on Radio 3 and his English is impeccable- but his reticence has somehow become part of his mystique, reinforcing the popular image of the glacial iceman from the Norwegian fjords.

Coldness is a criticism that has been levelled at Garbarek both live and on record fairly consistently over the years but in recent times it’s a complaint that has become less and less relevant. There was a warmth and humanity about tonight’s performance that hasn’t always been associated with Garbarek. As the leader happily clapped along to the infectious grooves laid down by Daniel and Gurtu there was a real joyousness about his demeanour. Hell, he even cracked a smile.

The performance itself consisted of around five lengthy ensemble passages, these including “Molde Canticle”, “Mediaeval” and Garbarek’s arrangement of Steve Winwood’s “Had To Cry Today”,  punctuated by a series of dazzling solos and individual set pieces. There are doubtless those that would claim that it was all a bit too superficial and and overly reliant on ‘smoke and mirrors’ but the sheer joyousness of the performances and the utter brilliance of the playing ultimately undermined such cavils.

I didn’t recognise every piece that was played but Garbarek started out in familiar territory with the enduring “Molde Canticle” from his classic 1990 album “I Took Up The Runes”. The memorable melody showcased the echoed ‘cry’ of Garbarek’s soprano and the Eberhard Weber like tones of Daniel’s bass as the Brazilian born musician approximated the distinctive sound of his predecessor in a duet with the leader. Bruninghaus then moved from electric to grand piano for his solo but the music was soon to take a different turn as Daniel and Gurtu, now playing kit drums, set up a surprisingly funky groove that elicited a similarly surprising response from Garbarek on powerfully earthy tenor. Gurtu then undertook a dazzling circumnavigation of his vast percussive set up, gravitating from kit drums to tabla before a final group collective statement of the grand theme.

The second section began with the shimmer of Bruninghaus’ keyboards but was most notable for Daniel’s bravura bass feature, the other musicians leaving the stage during a virtuoso display that included slap bass techniques as Daniel stamped his own musical personality on the proceedings. Garbarek’s tone on soprano combined North African influences with Western style lyricism but Gurtu’s stunning tabla feature uprooted the music and transported it to the Indian sub continent as he combined phenomenal finger strength, flexibility and stamina with an innate musicality. Garbarek responded to this with a soprano feature that combined the familiar Nordic cry with more obvious Indian elements in an echo of his “Ragas and Sagas” album.

Bruninghaus’ piano solo formed a link into the next section which began in almost ballad mode with Garbarek’s warm toned tenor sax. But in this glittering musical mosaic no mood remained fixed for long and another piano passage from Bruninghaus provided the segue into some furious unison riffing followed by the urgent whinny of Garbarek’s soprano above Daniel’s buoyant bass rhythms. 
Then it was the turn of Daniel and Bruninghaus to exchange ideas, the pair throwing a surprising amount of humour into the process with their staccato motifs. Gurtu than took over the reins with a further drum feature before the section climaxed with a stunning solo piano extravaganza from Bruninghaus that combined classical precision with an improviser’s instinct. It was uncharacteristically percussive and vibrant and included a kind of stride piano pastiche plus a dazzling hammered climax including some ‘under the lid’ plucking and scraping. The audience gave him an equally thunderous reception. It was almost a case of “Rainer steals the show”.

The gentle sound of Garbarek’s breathy tenor sax brought things back down to earth before he stepped back and passed the baton to Bruninghaus and Daniel, the leader clearly enjoying their intimate electric bass and electric piano interplay as much as the audience did.

Following this gentle interlude we went into the final stretch with a solo piano introduction leading to Garbarek’s haunting theme statement on tenor sax, his playing brooding but melodic as he began to to dig deeper, exposing his Coltrane-esque roots with Gurtu on kit drums cast in the role of Elvin Jones. This was followed by an astonishing drum and percussion feature from the irrepressible Gurtu that utilised virtually all of the implements in his vast percussive arsenal in addition to his distinctive ‘konnakol’ vocal percussion. We heard tablas, shakers, bird calls, found percussive items such as a hub cap, the sound of a cymbal absorbed in a water bucket and more. The flamboyance and showmanship plus some of the techniques deployed reminded me of the late Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Nana Vasconcelos whose playing once graced earlier editions of the Garbarek group. But Gurtu brought a distinct Indian presence to the music with tablas replacing Vasconcelos’  berimbau and if anything he proved to be even more of a showman as he encouraged the audience to clap along. I’ve never seen that before at a Garbarek show and Jan himself seemed to revel in it, eventually returning to the mic himself wielding a wooden flute to play an enchanting duet with Gurtu. There was humour too with Gurtu slapping his head in time with the rhythms that he had created. Garbarek’s never been exactly noted for being a barrel of laughs but with this group he seems to have finally learned how to have fun, and in a highly democratic, and often fiercely interactive unit, positively encourages his colleagues to do the same.

The reward for this marathon display of outstanding individual and collective musicianship was a 100% standing ovation from a delighted capacity audience and a deserved encore with Garbarek again toting his tenor. This was a bonus to simply enjoy rather than attempting to take comprehensive notes. So I can’t tell you much about the encore, other than it was at least the equal of what had gone before.

I enjoyed this performance just as much as I did that Warwick show back in 2008 and for me it was a personal Festival highlight and despite the occasional dissenting voice I’m certain that a large percentage of the huge Festival Hall audience felt exactly the same way. As he approaches three score years and ten Jan Garbarek is still a musical force to be reckoned with.         

   

 

 
 

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Two, Saturday 12th November 2016.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Two, Saturday 12th November 2016.

Ian Mann visits another new venue and witnesses performances by the Nick Costley-White Trio, Mark Lewandowski Quartet, Shez Raja Collective, Plaistow and Vyamanikal.

Photograph of Shez Raja by Tim Dickeson


EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Two, Saturday 12th November 2016

NICK COSTLEY-WHITE TRIO / MARK LEWANDOWSKI QUARTET, IKLECTIK ART LAB, WATERLOO

Saturday afternoon found me at another venue that was new to me, Iklectik Art Lab tucked away behind Waterloo Station. Founded in 2014 Iklectik is a haven for jazz and improvised music plus other branches of the arts and is the home of several jazz organisations including Jazz Nursery, LUME and Jazz New Blood, all of whom hosted events at the venue during the Festival period. Like Jazz Café POSK it also has its own grand piano, having acquired the old instrument from Café Oto when the Dalston venue took the decision to upgrade.

Located in a building that looks as if it may once have been a school Iklectik is a pleasingly Bohemian looking space furnished with an appropriately eclectic selection of chairs, benches and sofas. It serves beer, wine, coffee and snacks and even on a chilly November day was warm and welcoming. It may be a home for artistic outsiders but it’s certainly not exclusive and I was made to feel very welcome by proprietor Edward and by Dom James of Jazz Nursery, the latter also the clarinettist with the Dixie Ticklers, a young sextet who put a modern twist on classic trad jazz and New Orleans material (as heard on the 2013 album “Standing Pat”, reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann).

Today’s Jazz Nursery double bill began with a trio led by the guitarist Nick Costley-White, also a member of the Dixie Ticklers. Costley-White has been heard in more modern contexts too including saxophonist Tommy Andrews’ Quintet and the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra. Today he was focussing on the music of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter in the company of bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Dave Ingamells with the performance being recorded by Alex Bonney with a view towards a possible future album release.

An introductory passage of unaccompanied guitar ushered in Porter’s “I Love You” with Chaplin also impressing with an articulate double bass solo as Ingamells provided subtly brushed drum commentary. The event was also being filmed and Costley-White wore a hooped Breton shirt of the type once favoured by Pat Metheny, almost certainly an influence on the young guitarist I’d say. Meanwhile Chaplin and Ingamells preferred more traditional ‘young fogey’ attire.

“The Last Time I Saw Paris” represented the first of two Jerome Kern tunes with Costley-White and Chaplin sharing the solos. The guitarist then stretched out further on “Yesterdays” and also entered into an engaging dialogue with fellow soloist Chaplin. Ingamells was also featured at the kit as this second Kern piece drew to a close.

The Porter ballad “I Concentrate On You” was given a particularly beautiful and carefully controlled reading with the combination of cleanly picked guitar, melodic double bass and delicately brushed drums earning a particularly warm reception from the small but discerning audience.

Next up was a change of pace and a ‘contrafact’, an original by Costley-White based upon the chords of Porter’s “All The Things You Are” and retitled “Apparition”. Despite an initial false start this was arguably the most exciting performance of the set with its tricky, boppish theme and Costley-White’s agile, fleet fingered soloing as he tackled the slippery bebop lines accompanied by Chaplin’s fast paced bass walk and Ingamells’ rapidly brushed drums, the latter subsequently reverting to sticks as the music continued to gather momentum before decelerating again for Chaplin’s bass solo.

The trio concluded their set with a straight ahead rendition of Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things”  with features for all three musicians.

This was an enjoyable, if slightly low key set. The premise had been that the trio would explore some of the lesser known compositions of Kern and Porter and somehow I’d been expecting something a bit more subversive or radical. With the exception of the contrafact “Apparition” the trio played things pretty straight ahead throughout. Nothing wrong with that and I’m certainly not casting aspersions on the musicianship but it’s nonetheless true that I’ve seen and heard all three of these musicians playing more adventurous material elsewhere.

The young trio were followed by a more experienced quartet assembled by double bassist Mark Lewandowski. Joining the leader were pianist Liam Noble, tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Jeff Williams, the latter replacing the advertised Gene Calderazzo who was playing elsewhere later that evening with Partisans.

Lewandowski’s group chose to explore a series of compositions inspired by or associated with the late pianist Paul Bley (1932-2016) who died in January, his passing rather undermined by that of David Bowie.

Challenger’s whinnying tenor sax fanfare introduced Lewandowski’s Bley inspired “Breathing Space”, a piece that toyed with freedom and structure and saw the quartet immerse themselves in some knotty collective improvising punctuated by solo and duo features such as a passage of unaccompanied piano from Noble followed by his absorbing dialogue with drummer Williams. Following his initial salvo Challenger seemed happy to take a back seat, returning only towards the end following some pretty rigorous trio improvisations.

Bley’s 1965 album “Closer”, a trio set recorded with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer/percussionist Barry Altschul proved to be something of a touchstone for Lewandowski.
This ground-breaking album was comprised primarily of compositions by Bley’s ex-wife Carla Bley and we were to hear two of these in close succession.

First up was “And Now The Queen” which was introduced by Lewandowski’s unaccompanied arco bass which featured dramatic bowing in both the instrument’s upper and lower registers When the bassist eventually picked out the distinctive melody Challenger doubled it on tenor to the accompaniment of Williams’ mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. In time Noble took over from Challenger and the saxophonist seemed lost in poetic reverie as the trio probed deeply into the contours of Carla’s melody. When Challenger returned he released his pent up energy with a full blooded tenor solo accompanied by the powerful drumming of Williams who had, by now, traded mallets for sticks.

Also from “Closer” came “Batterie”, a piece that has also been performed by Carla’s various large ensembles. Ushered in by Challenger’s tenor the initial collective improvisations gave way first to further dialogue between Lewandowski and Williams and later to another intense solo from Challenger, again fuelled by Williams’ explosive drumming plus Noble’s thunderous block chords. There was little respite in Noble’s extraordinarily percussive piano solo that was reminiscent of first Thelonious Monk and then Cecil Taylor. While this was going on Challenger sipped a coffee, returning only for the final theme restatement.

The set closed with another Lewandowski original “Nina At Monterey”, a piece inspired by Nina Simone’s legendary appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Nominally this was a ballad and although Challenger adopted a softer tone than previously during the opening stages he was to
re-emerge later on in the piece with a declamatory solo that seemed to signify Simone’s inner strength. Elsewhere Lewandowski’s plucked bass solo was given only the sparsest of accompaniment but Noble’s piano feature saw him making extensive use of the instrument’s innards and treating it like a complete entity.

This was an intense, adventurous and often challenging set but it was one that was ultimately highly rewarding and one that I very much enjoyed as the quartet got right inside the material and stamped their collective personality upon the music.

It’s always a pleasure to watch these four musicians perform, whether individually or collectively, and I was to catch up with all of them again in different contexts later in the Festival period. In the meantime this was an excellent start to the day at another excellent new venue.


SHAZ RAJA COLLECTIVE, CLORE BALLROOM, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL

After wending our way back to the Southbank via the back streets of Waterloo we timed our arrival perfectly to catch a performance on the Clore Ballroom free-stage by the Shez Raja Collective, part of BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line Up programme which had earlier featured music from bassist Misha Mullov Abbado, tuba player Oren Marshall and rising star pianist/vocalist Kandace Springs. As far as I’m aware at the time of writing it’s not yet been broadcast, but should be well worth hearing when it is. 

Raja is a British Asian electric bass specialist, originally from the Wirrall but now based in London. He formed his Collective in 2007 and has released a total of five albums, two of which “Soho Live” (2014) and “Gurutopia” (2016), have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. 

The albums have featured appearances by illustrious guests such as Andy Sheppard, Gilad Atzmon, Shabaka Hutchings, Denys Baptiste, John Etheridge, Oren Marshall, Claude Deppa, Jay Phelps and Soweto Kinch. “Gurutopia” even found him collaborating with the leading Americans Mike Stern (guitar) and Randy Brecker (trumpet).

However today’s performance saw Raja fronting his core band comprising of violinist Pascal Roggen, keyboard player Alex Stanford, drummer Chris Nickolls and saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos. Polish born vocalist Monika Lidke also added her soaring wordless vocals to a couple of numbers.

Although I’ve enjoyed Raja’s albums I’ve always felt that the live environment would be the best place to appreciate his band. This high octane, crowd pleasing performance certainly confirmed that hypothesis as the charismatic, white clad leader guided his band through an energetic set combining elements of jazz, funk, Indian music and more with the emphasis firmly on the groove. Raja’s own playing combines an enormous technical accomplishment with a sense of showmanship and is clearly inspired by such electric bass giants as Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke and the late, great Jaco Pastorius. Constantly whipping up the crowd he’s a charismatic front man and an absolute nightmare to photograph - “he never stands still” complained respected professional snapper Tim Dickeson, although he did manage to capture the rather fine image that illustrates this feature.

With Raja at the helm his band are a well drilled unit and the set included inspired solos from Roggen, Xenopoulos and Stanford as well as the leader with Nickolls laying down some tight and tasty grooves from the kit, aided and abetted by Raja and Stanford.

The combination of infectious grooves and mercurial solos ensured that this was a gig for letting oneself get absorbed in the moment and simply enjoying the music rather than aiming for some sort of detailed analysis. Young children were dancing to the music, adults were swaying, hand clapping and foot tapping and everybody seemed to get swept away by the energy of it all. Highlights included the driving Indo-Funk of “Maharajah” with its combination of seductive Indian melodies and ferocious funk grooves and the Caribbean flavoured “Freedom” with its utopian message.

Having enjoyed covering two of Raja’s albums it was a real bonus to get the opportunity to witness the man strutting his funky stuff in front of a live audience, a performance that was followed later in the week by a ticketed show at The Forge in Camden Town.


PLAISTOW / VYAMANIKAL, HALL TWO, KINGS PLACE

The second double bill of the day was a Match & Fuse presentation featuring the Swiss piano trio Plaistow teamed with the British duo Vyamanikal featuring Kit Downes and Tom Challenger, the latter playing his second gig of the day.

In 2014 Plaistow gave a hugely impressive EFG LJF performance at one of the free lunchtime showcase events at the Pizza Express Jazz Club and it came as no surprise to see them invited back on the more formal concert programme.

I covered that show at the Pizza and was thoroughly blown away by the trio’s performance and their distinctive take on the art of the piano trio. Named after the Squarepusher track “Plaistow Flex” the band blur the boundaries between electronic and acoustic music more effectively than just about anybody else. This is still acoustic music but its heart and key influences have their roots entirely in electronica. Darker and heavier than the UK’s own much vaunted (and very good) GoGo Penguin there’s a vague air of menace about Plaistow’s music that ensures that despite their similarities both bands sound very different. Plaistow have carved out their own unique niche in the overcrowded world of the piano trio.

Meanwhile Vyamanikal is the successor of Wedding Music, the duo featuring Downes and Challenger that teams the sound of church organ with Challenger’s tenor and soprano saxes. Released earlier in 2016 on the new Suffolk based boutique label Slip the Vyamanikal album featured a series of organ and saxophone duets recorded in a variety of Suffolk churches as part of an Aldeburgh Festival “Open Spaces” commission. There’s a strangely calming and timeless quality about the music on this oddly compelling and often very beautiful album. 

Tonight’s event was introduced by the irrepressible Debra Richards, a long term champion of the jazz scene in Switzerand through her involvement with the Swiss Vibes website http://www.swissvibes.org.
It was Richards who compiled the recent excellent Swiss Jazz compilation CD given away with the November Jazzwise magazine featuring tracks by Plaistow, Vein and many others. More recently she has been involved with publicising the Match & Fuse movement and its spirit of international co-operation, something that’s even more desperately needed in this post referendum era. 

Richards informed us that on the afternoon of the gig she’d taken Plaistow, the band, on a pilgrimage to Plaistow, the place. Richards was actually born in Plaistow but hadn’t returned for many years, the Swiss trio had never previously been to the place after which they were named. One got the impression that the visit represented something of an education all round for everybody concerned.

And so to the music with Plaistow taking to the stage first to perform music mainly sourced from their most recent album “Titan”, a semi-conceptual affair with all fourteen of the relatively short pieces named after the moons of Saturn.

The Geneva based group features pianist Johann Bourquenez, double bassist Vincent Ruiz and drummer Cyril Bondi. Bourquenez has said of their music “lets pretend we are just a jazz trio, but we are actually filled with techno and noise walls, let’s make that music but with acoustic instruments”. It’s a quote that sums up their approach particularly appositely. 

Tonight’s performance obviously lacked the shock factor that accompanied my first sighting of them at the Pizza two years ago. Nevertheless although I now had some idea of what to expect their all too brief set still proved to be totally immersive, in both auditory and visual terms.

The first thing that struck me at the Pizza was the way in which Bourquenez approached the piano as an ‘entire instrument’ making extensive use of prepared piano and other ‘under the lid’ techniques in one of the most comprehensive displays of its type that I have seen. His approach is far more than just a token rummage around the instrument’s innards.

Such had been Bourquenez’s dominance at the Pizza that I’d assumed him to be the group’s leader. However the Plaistow of 2016 seemed to be a far more democratic unit (all the pieces on “Titan” are jointly credited to the whole group) with the dread-locked drummer Bondi an increasingly musically important and visually compelling presence.

As well as their acknowledged electronic and dance music inspirations Plaistow also draw on the influence of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich. The trio are not afraid of repetition and use it as a particularly successful arranging tool with Bourquenez’s rumbling piano arpeggios a key component in the group’s distinctive sound.  Meanwhile Bondi sometimes resembled a human metronome with his implacable drum grooves, shades of a Klaus Dinger or Jaki Liebezeit.

One of the most distinctive facets about Plaistow’s music is that they’re not afraid to slow things down. They largely eschew the frantic rhythms of most electronic dance music and at times decelerate almost to a crawl, the resultant effect is dark, brooding and hypnotic with the smallest of musical gestures speaking volumes.

They are also masters of tempo and dynamics, effectively contrasting busy hip hop rhythms and industrial strength grooves with more impressionistic passages featuring eerie bowed bass, scraped cymbals and sepulchral interior piano rumblings.

Plaistow played uninterrupted for around forty minutes, linking together themes from the “Titan” album, some of which I recognised but don’t intend to try naming here. My review of the album can be read at;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/plaistow-titan/

At the close the audience, who had been totally absorbed throughout, erupted in rapturous applause prompting Debra Richards to call the band back for a deserved encore. Here the band upped the energy levels with a rapid, ferocious groove as Bondi let slip the ghosts of Dinger and Liebezeit to release his inner Billy Cobham. The audience loved it and the band seemed to find it positively therapeutic following the tightly focussed dynamism of the first forty minutes. I’m fairly certain that this final piece was “Kari”, the twelfth track on “Titan” and the album’s most extrovert offering.

Plaistow were followed by Vyamanikal whose set proved to be equally absorbing albeit in a very different way. I think I’m right in believing that tonight’s set represented something of a first for this duo and was the first time that they’d performed with Downes utilising the sound of two Indian classical harmoniums to replicate the organ drones and sonorities that characterise the “Vyamanikal” album. Given that the album title, plus the names of some of the individual tracks, are sourced from Sanskrit mythology this seemed somehow appropriate.

Like Plaistow the duo played without tune announcements, again linking several distinct segments together to create an equally immersive all round experience. Vyamanikal’s music was less dynamic and more fragile than Plaistow’s had been but was no less absorbing. This time there was little that I recognised directly from the album but I suspect that it’s in the nature of Vyamanikal’s music for it to be more fully improvised.

Whether deploying church organ or harmonium Vyamanikal’s music is highly distinctive. Speaking to Downes afterwards he told me that although the combination of church organ and saxophone is still comparatively rare they’d deliberately avoided listening to other exponents of the format such as the albums “Aftenland” by Jan Garbarek and Kjel Johnsen or the less well known “Conway Suite” by Dave Stapleton and Deri Roberts. And my old favourites Hugh Banton and David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator who first piqued my interest in the organ/sax pairing many years ago weren’t even in their frame of reference.

With the focus of this half of the event stated to be on “atmosphere” the lights were discretely dimmed as Downes and Challenger commenced their performance with the other-worldly drone of the harmoniums punctuated by the breathy whisper of Challenger’s tenor.

Elsewhere Challenger deployed a more piercing sound, sometimes reminiscent of the famed Nordic saxophonic ‘cry’ pioneered by Garbarek, at other times the music took on the meditative qualities of plainsong or Gregorian chant.

The strangely relaxing qualities of the music meant that this was a sound to immerse oneself in, albeit in a different way to some of the other performances during the Festival period. The ethereal qualities of Downes’ layered harmonium drones promised to transport the listener to deep space or certainly to a parallel universe. The deployment of the two instruments represented a considerable technical challenge to Downes but it was one that he rose to with typical confidence and aplomb. 

It was perhaps the closing sequence that best epitomised Vyamanikal’s approach with Challenger’s tenor whispering plaintively above a cavernous harmonium drone that sounded authentically church like. As the final echoes died away the duo received a similarly exultant reaction to Plaistow from an audience that had evidently been totally transported by this strange, unorthodox and hauntingly beautiful music.

Debra Richards returned briefly to the stage to introduce the “Fuse” element of the evening as the members of Plaistow returned to the stage to perform in conjunction with Vyamanikal. Often at
M & F events the resultant ‘mash up’ is little more than a glorified jam but this collective improvisation proved to be very different, as once again “atmosphere” seemed to be the primary focus.

Things began in appropriately sensitive fashion with the sounds of Bourqenez’s dampened strings and the tentative scraping of Bondi’s snare as Downes added an underpinning harmonium drone. Gradually the newly convened quintet developed a cohesive and compelling group improvisation as Bondi added cymbal shimmers and delicate hand drum patterns, these picked up on by Ruiz who utilised them as the basis for an insistent plucked bass motif, this in turn providing the platform for a powerful Challenger tenor solo. Once the saxophonist had developed his ideas to a peak the piece resolved itself as Bourquenez and Bondi wound things down with some archetypal Plaistow arpeggiated patterns. Despite being entirely improvised the piece had a strong narrative arc and unfolded logically and organically. It almost felt as if it could have been pre-composed but instead was the sound of five outstanding musicians creating beauty in the moment.

My thanks to Debra Richards, Kit Downes and Tom of the Slip record label for speaking with me after the gig. Downes and Challenger have recently issued a new recording for the label, “Black Shuck”, a release available only on cassette and download. The new work features one side by the Vyamanikal duo and one by a septet featuring Downes (on piano) and Challenger plus Emma Smith (violin), Liam Byrne (viol), Lucy Railton (cello), Daniel Bradley (percussion) and Alex Bonney (electronics). This promises to be a fascinating listen and I hope to take a look at this in the near future.

Tonight’s double bill was an enjoyable and fascinating event with both groups acquitting themselves well both individually and collectively. Initially I was more than a little surprised to find the two acts pitted against a similarly attractive double bill in Hall One where the British pianist Andrew McCormack played a solo set opening for the Michael Wollny Trio. I could just as gladly have gone to this and it did seem a little perverse to have two of Europe’s leading piano trios in a ‘fixture clash’ within the same building. However a subsequent perusal of the Kings Place brochure suggested that the Plaistow/Vyamanikal show was a late addition to the programme. I suspect that it was initially intended that this event should have taken place in a church but that no suitable sacred space was available, hence the harmoniums and the move to Kings Place. The decision was certainly justified by an evening of fascinating and enjoyable music. But I’d have loved to have seen Wollny and McCormack too.   

   

 

 

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day One, Friday 11th November 2016.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day One, Friday 11th November 2016.

Ian Mann on the first day of the Festival as he visits a new jazz venue and enjoys performances by -isq and the all star Maciej Sikala Quartet.

Photograph of Maciej Sikala Quartet sourced from the Jazz Cafe POSK website http://www.jazzcafeposk.org

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day One, Friday 11th November 2016

It has become something of a tradition to commence my annual Festival coverage with a few ‘thank yous’, so here goes. First of all to our long standing hosts Paul and Richard, without their generous offer of free accommodation I wouldn’t be able to even contemplate covering the Festival at all.
Also, as ever, many, many thanks to the always courteous and efficient Sally Reeves for the provision of press tickets for myself and my wife.

It’s always been my aim to see and report on as much music as possible, covering a wide range of jazz genres and an equally broad range of venues, from tiny clubs to prestigious concert halls. 2016 was no different and over the ten days of the Festival I was able to enjoy the music (and words) of nearly forty acts at locations right across the city, beginning with;


-isq, CENTRAL BAR, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, SOUTHBANK CENTRE

After travelling down to London in the morning and checking in to our accommodation during early afternoon our first musical port of call was the Freestage at the Central Bar in the Royal Festival Hall complex.

Every Friday at 5.30 pm the RFH hosts a free ‘commuter jazz’ performance in the Central Bar area under the series title “The Friday Tonic”. Tonight’s event was brought under the EFG London Jazz Festival umbrella and featured the talents of the quartet -isq fronted by the Anglo-Italian vocalist, songwriter and lyricist Irene Serra.

Formed in 2012 -isq have maintained a stable line up with Serra joined by bassist Richard Sadler, pianist John Crawford and drummer Chris Nickolls. The group’s eponymous début album appeared in 2013 and was followed by “Too” in 2015.

-isq specialise in original songs, mainly written by Serra and Sadler, and their music incorporates elements of jazz, folk and pop. Serra is an assured and confident vocalist, well enunciated and highly technically adept. She is an effective and glamorous focus for the band and her lyrics are both intelligent and highly personalised, largely dealing in relationship matters but pleasingly free from cliché and over sentimentality.

The singer is well supported by a highly cohesive band that plays with a relaxed tightness honed over four years as a semi-regular working unit. Sadler, once of the Neil Cowley Trio, is the backbone of the group, providing a solid foundation but also acting as a highly effective bass soloist with a big, resonant tone allied to an impressive dexterity and a highly developed melodic sensibility.

Sadler shared the instrumental soloing responsibilities with Crawford, a highly versatile pianist with a thorough knowledge of jazz, Latin and world music styles. Meanwhile Nickolls, a similarly versatile musician who also performs with a number of other groups, provided subtly propulsive drumming, helping to form a highly effective unit in conjunction with his instrumental colleagues.

Amidst the hubbub in the foyer space in the RFH it was difficult to pick up on the lyrical content of the songs and even hearing the tune announcements was problematical. Among the songs performed were “Pictures On My Mind” from the group’s début album and a new arrangement of “Purple Rain”, a tribute to Prince that rather ironically came on the day that Leonard Cohen’s death was announced. Despite the distractions today’s show was an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable performance that was well received by a large congregation of listeners.

Today was the first time that I’d seen -isq perform since February 2013 when they played one of the last jazz concerts to be staged at the Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. For a fuller account of the -isq live experience please visit   http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/isq-the-edge-arts-centre-much-wenlock-shropshire-01-02-2013/

Looking forward -isq are due to release their third full length album in 2017 with a number of singles scheduled in the meantime. This is a group with the potential to reach beyond the usual jazz constituency, a quality emphasised by the impressive pop session credentials of the individual members.

My thanks to Irene Serra and John Crawford for speaking with me during the interval. I intend to take a look at John’s latest solo album “Times and Tides” once my Festival coverage is completed.

Expect to hear a lot more from the talented -isq in 2017.


MACIEJ SIKALA QUARTET, JAZZ CAFE POSK

Tonight was my first visit to Jazz Café POSK which is situated in the basement at the Polish Cultural Institute in Hammersmith. Naturally the venue places a strong emphasis on the music of Polish born musicians but not exclusively so, POSK is also a staunch supporter of British jazz.

I’ve been in fairly regular email and Facebook contact with Peter Kaczmarski who co-ordinates the jazz programme at POSK and it was good for both of us to put a face to the name. Peter and his staff were very friendly and welcoming and I immediately felt at home in this spacious and comfortable venue. Peter informed me that the performance area has recently been extended thanks to the acquisition of the basement space of the former bookshop next door and that the Institute itself, which acts as a focus for the Polish community right across London, also has 300 seat theatre plus a restaurant serving mainly Polish food upstairs. It’s an impressive operation.

Meanwhile the jazz venue, which is staffed by volunteers, sits audiences cabaret style and offers a limited but good value menu. However the primary emphasis is not on food - this is not a supper club like Ronnie Scott’s, Pizza Express or even the 606,- but on the music. POSK is a great place to listen to jazz. The bar is situated at the rear of the club up a short but broad flight of steps and the venue even provides cushions for people to sit on the stairs at busy events, a nice touch. I was also impressed by the décor of the club, particularly the set of framed posters from the Museum Jazz Festival and other jazz events in Poland, all of them highly artistic and excellent examples of contemporary graphic design. But the biggest plus of all is the presence of the club’s own grand piano, an instrument put to excellent use tonight by Frank Harrison.

For their first event of the EFG London Jazz Festival POSK had invited the saxophonist Maciej Sikala over from Poland to play with a stellar quartet of London based musicians. The result was a truly international ‘supergroup’ with Sikala joined by British pianist Harrison, Russian bassist Yuri Golubev and Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis. It was heartening to witness such a spirit of international co-operation post Trump and post Brexit, particularly in the light of the vile racist graffiti, now thankfully removed,  that was sprayed onto the doors of the PCI on the day following the EU referendum result.

Sikala is a highly respected figure on the Polish jazz scene, a prolific sideman who has appeared on more than fifty albums as well as recording five as a leader. He has worked with Polish jazz superstar Leszek Modzder and also with leading Americans such as saxophonists Dave Liebman and Billy Harper, pianist David Kikoski and trumpeters Eddie Henderson and Lester Bowie. Sikala has also collaborated with our own late, great Kenny Wheeler. 

Tonight’s programme could perhaps be best described as ‘modern mainstream’ as the quartet played a selection of Sikala’s tunes interspersed with a number of jazz standards. Sikala’s own writing was very much ‘in the tradition’ and rooted in mainstream and bebop virtues. Specialising on tenor sax it was immediately apparent that the leader was possessed of a big, but warm, tone and that he was an assured and highly fluent soloist. Ironically I was more familiar with the playing of the three sidemen than I was with that of Sikala having seen all of them perform many times in a variety of different contexts. Indeed it was interesting to hear the three of them in a far more straight-ahead context than usual.

Sikala immediately set his stall out with a marathon solo on his own composition “Like Joe”, which I took to be a dedication to Joe Henderson, although this wasn’t actually stated. The leader played with great imagination and authority and he was matched by the feverish inventiveness of Harrison and the stunning virtuosity of Golubev as they took their solos. Many of the pieces were played in the orthodox head/solos/head pattern but with playing of this quality the format never became wearing.

It was the first time that this actual quartet had played together despite the fact that Harrison, Golubev and Sirkis had all worked together before in various combinations. Frantic stage whispering presaged the rendition of Sikala’s tune “Platino” but with sight readers and improvisers of this quality the success of the performance was never in question with Sikala and Golubev again impressing as soloists. A bass feature by the brilliant Yuri Golubev is never, ever boring.

The quartet then undertook a searching examination of the Bill Evans tune “Very Early” with solos for tenor, piano and bass developing organically out of Sikala’s opening theme statement.

Sikala’s original “Little Suzanna”, dedicated to his youngest daughter, was a genuine ballad and included some of the composer’s warmest, most tender playing. There were also delightful contributions from Golubev and Harrison that featured both at their most melodic and lyrical.

The first set concluded with another family dedication, the celebratory and uplifting “Thanks Daddy”, Sikala’s homage to his father, also a musician, who first introduced the young Maciej to jazz. The boppish theme led first to a sparkling, Latin tinged solo from Harrison as Sirkis dropped percussive ‘bombs’ around him. Sikala himself then dug in on tenor before Sirkis finally slipped the leash completely with an explosive drum feature that energised the audience and sent everybody into the break feeling very happy.

The second half commenced with the appropriately titled Sikala original “Autumn Gifts” which saw the tenor man demonstrating a mellow strength on both his theme statement and his later solo. Once again there were also absorbing solo contributions from both Golubev and Harrison.

The quartet flirted with modality on a version of Jerry Bergonzi’s composition “Loud Zee”. The Boston MA based Bergonzi is an acclaimed educator and has had a profound influence on many other saxophone players. He’s certainly one of Sikala’s favourites and the Pole served his mentor’s tune well with some fiery and impassioned tenor soloing either side of the contributions by Harrison and Golubev.

An adventurous exploration of the standard “Body And Soul” included solos from Harrison, Sikala and Golubev plus a series of brushed drum breaks from Sirkis. The piece concluded with an absorbing unaccompanied tenor sax cadenza from Sikala.

Golubev’s bass ushered in another standard, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, during which both Sikala and Harrison featured prominently.

Sikala handled the announcing duties in halting, heavily accented English and his efforts were warmly appreciated by the audience. However I missed the title of the final piece, another original I believe, which saw the saxophonist moving into Coltrane-esque territory as he soloed powerfully with just Sirkis’ drums for company at one juncture. If Sirkis was playing the role of Elvin Jones then it was left to Harrison to play the part of McCoy Tyner with a dazzling, mercurial piano solo. 

The deserved encore was a version of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” with Golubev opening the soloing followed by Sikala and Harrison and with the saxophonist and pianist also trading fours with drummer Sirkis. A great way to end an evening of superior straight ahead jazz.

A number of the pieces played tonight appear on the quartet album that Sikala was selling at the gig, namely “Very Early”, “Thanks Daddy”, “Like Joe” and “Loud Zee”. The album was recorded at a session for Polish radio in 2011 and features an excellent band of Sikala’s fellow countrymen with Michal Wierba on piano, Mikolaj Budniak on double bass and Sebastian Kuchczynski at the drums. I treated myself to a copy and can reveal that it’s a hugely enjoyable album in its own right as well as a great souvenir if my inaugural visit to Jazz Café POSK.

Interestingly the other album that Sikala had with him was a recording of saxophone and church organ duets which featured the saxophonist playing both tenor and soprano and which suggested a more experimental side to his musical persona.

Sikala and his all star quartet were given a great reception by a sizeable audience and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to POSK. However Peter Kaczmarski did tell me that the club sometimes has a problem attracting large enough crowds, a difficulty that I thought only affected provincial jazz clubs; I certainly didn’t expect there to be problem getting the proverbial ‘bums on seats’ in London. However speaking to jazz fans in Central London later in the Festival week it turned out that very few had found their way out to POSK, but it’s hardly as if its location is remote, the venue is a two minute walk (if that) from Ravenscourt Park tube on the District Line. So come on London jazz fans, support the good people at Jazz Café POSK, it’s a great place to listen to music, and eminently affordable with it. I certainly hope to be able to return again around the same time next year.     

       

‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’, Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Market Hall, Abergavenny, 04/09/2016.

Friday, September 09, 2016

‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’, Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Market Hall, Abergavenny, 04/09/2016.

Ian Mann on the final day of the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival featuring performances by KoGo Project, The Singing Club, Baraka and the Red Stripe Band.

Photograph of the Red Stripe Band sourced from http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk


JAZZ ALLEY and BOOGIE PARTY - SUNDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, MARKET HALL, ABERGAVENNY, 04/09/2016.

The final day of the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival took place in Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall, dubbed ‘Jazz Alley’ for the day.

This was a repeat of the successful strand first staged in 2015 which saw the Festival reaching out to the townspeople with a series of free live musical performances augmented by a licensed bar, a variety of food outlets and a number of other retail outlets including a record stall and a musical instrument shop. Billed as a family event Jazz Alley was a big success in 2015 and helped to bring jazz to an audience who might otherwise not get to hear it while simultaneously raising the profile of Black Mountain Jazz and Wall2Wall within the town.

2016 saw a change of format with events at the Market Hall now forming the sole focus of the Festival’s Sunday programme. In 2015 Jazz Alley had run concurrently with a series of ticketed events at BMJ’s former HQ the King’s Arms. However 2016 saw just one final ticketed event when the Market Hall hosted the final Festival event, a well attended ‘Boogie Party’ featuring the music of the Red Stripe Band. More on that later.

KoGo PROJECT, JAZZ ALLEY

The Jazz Alley event kicked off at twelve noon and I suspect that I may have missed a couple of performances before my 2.00 pm arrival. However I was just in time to enjoy the first ‘main act’ of the Jazz Alley programme, a highly enjoyable performance by the jazz/funk/soul quartet KoGo Project.

As the musicians were setting up I had the vague idea that I recognised some of them but couldn’t quite remember where I might have seen them before. Eventually I twigged that the co-leaders were husband and wife team Kate Ockenden (keyboards, vocals) and Geoff Ockenden (six string electric bass – yet another one!), from just up the road from me in Ludlow Shropshire. I’d previously seen these two playing more of a jazz standards set at one of the Saturday lunchtime ‘Jazz Cafés’ at the Courtyard Arts Centre in Hereford billed as the Kate Ockenden Band. I seem to recall that on that occasion they’d been joined by guitarist Lee Jones and local drummer John Cutler.

Trading under the KoGo Project name, an appellation derived from their initials, the Ockendens today gave full rein to their love of 70s soul, funk and fusion on what was actually their first ever gig in this incarnation. Joining them were saxophonist Chris ‘Beebe’ Aldridge, a stalwart of the Birmingham jazz scene, on both alto and tenor saxes and Julian Chambers at the drums. Despite this being the band’s live début Kogo Project has been several months in the planning and the quartet have already released their début album “Do It”.

Mixing jazz, funk and soul classics with original songs in the same vein Kogo Project were well received by a sizeable Jazz Alley crowd. I’d already made a note about Aldridge’s ‘Sanborn style alto’ even before the band tackled David’s “Full House”. As the set progressed Aldridge also proved to be equally adept on tenor.

The other comparison that I jotted down was between Geoff Ockenden and Level 42’s Mark King as Geoff launched into a thumb driven, slapped bass feature which saw him sinking to his knees in a display of unashamed showmanship. Geoff formed a funky and propulsive rhythm team with drummer Julian Chambers who laid down some commendably tight and ‘in the pocket’ grooves.

Kate Ockenden delivered soulful vocals and funky Rhodes on original songs such as “Do It” and “Give And Take”, the latter segued with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.  However the love song “In My Heart”, performed solo by Kate and dedicated to husband Geoff seemed a little out of context with the other material which included the blue eyed soul of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting”.

We also heard Shakatak’s “Invitations”, it turns out that keyboard player Bill Sharp is a personal friend of the Ockendens, plus the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces” which concluded an energetic and highly enjoyable set which saw some people getting to their feet to dance. The band’s Facebook page pronounces them to be well pleased with this inaugural gig and rightly so. The standard of playing was excellent throughout and their infectious mix of jazz, funk and soul drew a highly positive reaction from the Festival audience.

THE SINGING CLUB

The next performers to take to the floor were the massed, white clad, hordes of the Singing Club,  an amalgamation of four community choirs from Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean conducted from the keyboard by a former opera singer operating under the single name of Karl.

There were so many singers, both male and female, that I couldn’t count them all but they must have numbered in excess of fifty - although I was later informed that some of the Singing Club’s gigs have featured more than a hundred participants. 

Among the members of the choir was jazz vocalist Debs Hancock, an increasingly in demand performer who had played two small group concerts as part of the festival the previous day. Despite carving out an increasingly successful solo career as a jazz singer Hancock credits the choir with helping her to find her voice and remains fiercely loyal to the institution that gave her her start.

With so many performers it’s not surprising that the choir make a big sound and their voices filled the Market Hall with song as they delivered a good humoured show that warmed the hearts of their audience. No previous singing experience or innate musical skill is needed to join the choir, it’s a true community project, but some of the more musically gifted members of the choir also provided instrumental cameos. Among these we heard a harmonica driven “The Green, Green Grass Of Home” , kazoos on “Bring Me Sunshine” and massed percussion, including saucepans (natch) on the opening “Sospan Fach”.

The rest of the programme included the rousing sea shanty “South Australia” the gospel tune “O Happy Day” sung in the Welsh language, and an arrangement of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. Initially the latter seemed something of an unlikely choice but then I seemed to remember that Procol Harum performed alongside the Swingle Singers on one of the songs from their “Grand Hotel” album.

We also heard a couple of choir staples in Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and Labi Siffre’s “Something Inside So Strong”, which closed the set. 

Karl presented the performance with a diffident charm and it would take a real churl not to respond to the sheer joy and enthusiasm radiated by the massed performers. Hancock and her friends sang with gusto and no little skill and their efforts were warmly appreciated by both the audience and members of the band Baraka who were setting up behind them. All in all a pleasing and unexpectedly enjoyable event.

BARAKA

Based in Bristol Baraka is a mixed race ‘world music’ band that performs in a variety of musical styles stemming from the African diaspora. The band is fronted by Ghanaian percussionist and vocalist Ben Baddoo and the group also features his countryman Chris Cobbson on guitar. The Caribbean is represented by bassist/vocalist Royston Gage from Dominica who is joined in the rhythm section by Trinidadian drummer Tony Bailey. The Irishman Brendan Whitmore acts as the band’s spokesman and adds a jazz and blues element on a range of saxophones plus flute and harmonica. They have recorded two albums to date, “Poor Man” and “Arms Around Me”, from which I assume the majority of their material was sourced.

Baraka describe their music as “a high energy mix of Hi-Life, Township, Soca, Calypso and Reggae” and it’s hard to disagree with their self appraisal. Like the Kogo Project they also managed to tempt a small group of dancers onto the floor, this time via African and Caribbean grooves. Vocal duties were shared between Badoo and Gage, the latter taking over for reggae flavoured songs such as “Roots” and “Arms Around Me”, the latter not a love song as the title might suggest but a sharp piece of social commentary lambasting the global arms trade.

I rather enjoyed Baraka’s colourful, insightful and highly rhythmic music. There seems to be something of a plethora of this type of band in Bristol, Jazz Alley 2015 had featured the similarly inclined Mankala, a nine piece band featuring two vocalists with its membership drawn from all corners of the globe. I also recall enjoying the music of the Bristol Afrobeat Collective at the Sheep Music Festival in Presteigne a few years back. Let’s hope that the Sunday afternoon ‘world music’ slot remains a Wall2Wall fixture in the years to come.

BOOGIE PARTY – THE RED STRIPE BAND

The afternoon crowd dispersed during the hour and a half hiatus between the end of Jazz Alley and the beginning of the ticketed evening Boogie Party. A pleasingly large crowd of around one hundred turned up for the evening show which featured another high energy performance, this time from the London based Red Stripe Band. 

Founded by pianist and vocalist Neil Drinkwater (aka ‘Red Stripe’) back in 1994 this seven piece band has recorded four albums and played hundreds of live shows, including mant prestigious festival dates, often supporting some of the biggest names in the music business.

Drinkwater has a pool of musicians upon which he can draw and the line up tonight included Cardiff based vocalist Helena May who had appeared at the 2014 Wall2Wall Festival guesting with Tony O’ Malley’s band. Red Stripe also boasts a punchy horn section featuring Lee Vivian (trumpet), John O’ Neill (tenor sax) and Erica Clarke (baritone sax). The line up was completed by bassist Costa Tancredi and drummer Ed Williams.

The Red Stripe Band’s repertoire includes boogie woogie, rock ‘n’roll and jump jive staples as well as a number of original songs written in broadly the same styles. After all these years of performing they’ve delivered a slick, energetic show which never fails to get audiences to their feet. Even I was seen to eventually venture out onto the dance floor, shamed into it by Debs Hancock who was having the time of her life dancing with some of her fellow Singing Club members. 

Over the course of two sets many, many songs were played including original tunes “Be My Guest” and “She’s A Mermaid” among others. May and Drinkwater shared the lead vocals around with the former delivering a particularly powerful performance.

Instrumentally the horn section also impressed with Vivian contributing some dramatic high register trumpeting and a heavily pregnant Clarke blasting away on baritone with remarkable stamina. O’Neill blew some gutsy tenor on “Caldonia” and all three seemed to be having a ball as they goofed around while Drinkwater and May were handling the announcements. Tancredi and Williams kept a lower profile but ensured that the grooves were tight and tasty at all times.

Some of the songs played were very well known and worked very effectively in the Red Stripe style, among them Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”  Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright” plus the instrumental “Soul Samba”, originally recorded by Booker T & The MGs and made famous by Test Match Special.

In addition to these sure fire favourites the band also had plenty of floor fillers of their own including Shake, Shake, Boom, Boom” and their signature tune “Red Stripe Boogie”, an energetic call and response piece that had the audience singing along.

At one point Drinkwater strapped on a synth-axe and joined the rest of the band as they paraded around the audience, Clarke’s rasping baritone leading the way.

This wasn’t the kind of gig that lent itself to a song by song, solo by solo analysis and I appreciate that I’ve omitted to mention several of the pieces that were played. But I guess you don’t really need me tell you how the Red Stripe Band sounded, you can probably work that out for yourselves from the above. I can’t say that Red Stripe’s brand of party music is something that I’d particularly want to listen to at home but their energetic and polished performance worked just fine in this context.

The general consensus was that this had been a great way to end what had been a very successful Festival with both the band members and their audience thoroughly enjoying this ‘Boogie Party’.

Well done to Festival organiser Mike Skilton and his team for another successful Festival, one which will hopefully return in much the same format in 2017. In the meantime I’d urge the jazz public of South Wales and the Borders to continue supporting Black Mountain Jazz’s regular Sunday night club events at the Melville Centre. Please visit http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk for further information.

COMMENTS:

From Debs Hancock via Facebook;

“This was a really fun final day of the wall2wall festival.
Thank you Ian Mann”.


From Mike Skilton via email;

“Thanks Ian - three great reviews.
Best
Mike”


 

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 03/09/2016.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 03/09/2016.

Ian Mann enjoys a day of 'Wall2Wall' jazz with nine different performances including five ticketed concert events.

Photograph of Tango Jazz Quartet by Conal Dunn


SATURDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, THE MELVILLE CENTRE, ABERGAVENNY, 03/09/2016.

The ‘main’ day of the Festival saw five ticketed concerts taking place in the Theatre space of the Melville Centre with another four interim performances by either duos or solo artists taking place in the bar. This was a format that worked extremely well as the Festival literally delivered the ‘Wall2Wall’ jazz promised by its title.

The programme was richly varied, diversity has always been one of the key strengths of this Festival, and also included performances by emerging young musicians. Education and outreach has always been an important part of Wall2Wall as was exemplified by the contemporaneous workshops taking place at the nearby St. Michael’s Centre, some of them hosted by Festival artists notably vocalist Lee Gibson and trombonist Dennis Rollins.

TMC GOSPEL CHOIR

Wall2Wall’s youth friendly policies were epitomised by the opening concert performance of the day featuring the TMC Gospel Choir. This youth choir was established in 2005 under the auspices of Gwent Music and is based at Torfaen Music Centre. Originally conducted by Susie Webb, the vocalist known to local jazz audiences as Bluesy Susie, the Choir has recently come under the baton of the young conductor and musical director Alex Davis and today was their first performance under his stewardship. Rehearsal time had been limited but Davis and the Choir still produced a well drilled performance that was good natured, often humorous and, most important of all, tremendous fun. A supportive audience, including many parents, got right behind the Choir and encouraged them to give of their best.

Over the years the Choir has contained youngsters ranging in age from six to nineteen but I don’t think there was anyone quite as young as six today. Consisting of nine girls and five boys the Choir was directed by Davis from the keyboards and the quality of the both the singing and the arrangements were obvious from the very beginning and the Choir’s take on the Toto song “Africa” with its rich and often complex vocal harmonies.

Next came a medley of tunes from the “Hairspray” film / musical beginning with “Welcome To The Sixties” which saw Choir members Harry, Beth and Alex making brief solo cameos. The tongue twisting lyrics of “You Can’t Stop The Beat” then tested the Choir’s technique to its limits – they weren’t found wanting.

“Joyful, Joyful” saw soloist Molly Pugh in the spotlight while Bill Withers’ choir staple “Lean On Me” saw Alex Courtney again stepping forward before the boys in the band took over with a spot of deep voiced accapella.

The TMC Gospel Choir have performed at a number of prestigious, including the Royal Albert Hall as part of the 2014 Music for Youth School Proms. They have also sung at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff where they performed an arrangement of the Tim Minchin song “Revolting Children” which was written for the musical version of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”. This was reprised here with the Choir having great fun as they tackled Minchin’s witty and amusing lyrics.

An impressively tender rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” varied the mood but the sound of such young voices (including soloists Jamie and Bethan) addressing the adult themed lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, even in an arrangement inspired by the Jeff Buckley version of the song, seemed a little incongruous. 

Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” seemed a much more appropriate choice and Davis encouraged the members of the audience to clap along with the choir – they needed little second bidding.

Alex Courtney provided the hand-claps and ‘cuppertronics’ for the splendid accapella version of “When I’m Gone” the “Cups” song from the film “Pitch Perfect”.

The Choir were clearly loving it by now, the nerves banished as the members began to revel in a bit of showmanship. This was exemplified by the five lads in the group plus conductor Alex Davis as they breezed their way through an unmiked accapella segue of the Billy Joel songs “The Longest Time” and “Uptown Girl” with all the dance moves down pat.

The choir staple “Higher And Higher” featured soloists Bethan, Chris and Daniel, Chris also having been the most eye catching performer in the Billy Joel sequence as he strutted his stuff.

To close the show all of the choir members were involved in a carefully choreographed version of “Brand New You” from the musical “13”, the hand movements complementing the joyful singing. This went down a storm with the crowd and Davis got the choir to sing it once more, albeit with a slight twist to the arrangement, as part of a deserved encore.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this performance. It wasn’t strictly jazz, it wasn’t strictly gospel but it was great fun with the youthful exuberance of both the singers and their conductor, who didn’t look much older than some of the Choir members, shining through. I’d guess that Davis was probably part of the Choir himself before taking over as leader.

Obviously the parents and other family members in the audience loved it but there was also much for the more detached listener to enjoy as the young singers tackled the technical challenges of the arrangements with considerable aplomb, while still finding time to charm and entertain their audience along the way. Yes, there were the occasional mistakes and the feeling that it might all fall apart at any moment was omnipresent throughout, yet somehow this all added to the excitement and enjoyment.

However the abiding impression was that this was a fine first performance under the baton of the new conductor with Davis singling out new member Megan for special praise on what was her very first performance with the Choir. However it’s invidious to single out individual members too much, this was a great collective performance by a group of young people who were genuinely “all in it together”.

MORLEY & SITHERS JAZZ DUO

The first session in the bar saw the return of young Coren Sithers who had played piano the previous evening as part of a duo led by tenor saxophonist Olly Jenkins.

Today Sithers was playing alto sax alongside pianist Tom Morley who had previously appeared at Wall2Wall in 2014 and 2015 playing keyboards with the five piece RedRug Jazz Band. Meanwhile the seventeen year old Sithers is one of the principal soloists in the Greater Gwent Youth Jazz Orchestra.

An attentive and appreciative audience in the bar enjoyed hearing these two talented young musicians deliver a set of ‘real book’ jazz and bebop standards comprised mainly of familiar tunes.

GARETH HALL & MARTHA SKILTON with guest DEBS HANCOCK

Over in the theatre the next ticketed event featured three prominent local musicians. Cardiff based pianist Gareth Hall is a stalwart of the South Wales jazz scene, a prolific sideman who has performed with a wide variety of instrumentalists and vocalists and appeared several times at Black Mountain Jazz events.

Saxophonist Martha Skilton is the daughter of BMJ and Wall2Wall promoter Mike Skilton. A graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff she has also been a BMJ and Wall2Wall regular and sometimes ventures outside the boundaries of jazz to perform other genres of music.

Billed as Gareth & Martha it was the intention of the pair to play a set of tunes “Reflecting the 40s” as they investigated the music of the war years and beyond. However their plans were nearly scuppered when their guest vocalist Naomi Rae, Skilton’s colleague in the Colibri Soul Band, declared herself unavailable due to a cruise ship booking. Into the breach stepped singer Debs Hancock, already a vital presence at Wall2Wall thanks to her organisational and stewarding skills but now stepping up to the plate as a performer. Hall regularly plays piano in Hancock’s Jazz Dragons group and this ongoing musical relationship was hugely beneficial as the programme that Hall and Skilton had prepared entailed Hancock learning at least six songs that she had never performed previously. As it was the singer rose magnificently to the challenge as the trio delivered an excellent set that came across as extremely well drilled and professional despite the lack of rehearsal time.

Of course the familiarity of the material probably helped as the duo of Hall and Skilton kicked off with instrumental versions of “Take The A Train” and “Lover Man” with Skilton featuring on soprano on the first and alto on the latter.

Hancock joined the pair to add her sassy vocals plus a chorus of whistling to a jovial arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehaving”, sharing the solos with Hall’s keyboard and Skilton’s soprano.

The saxophonist stayed with the straight horn as the trio breezed through a lively“Fly Me To The Moon” before altering the mood with a slow blues arrangement of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” featuring the breathy sound of Skilton’s tenor sax.

An instrumental version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” saw Skilton playing both soprano and tenor either side of Hall’s piano solo.

Hall shared the announcing duties with Hancock and in introducing Leeds based classical composer Bill Kinghorn’s arrangement of the jazz standard “Everything Happens To Me” he suggested that some classic jazz solos were perhaps not quite as spontaneous as listeners have been led to believe - as he demonstrated with this piece for solo piano.

Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” saw the pianist joined by Skilton on soprano with the saxophonist then moving to tenor for a Chet Baker inspired arrangement of “Time After Time”.

Skilton sat out as Hancock joined Hall on a version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, a song that the duo had performed on Jamie Owen’s show on Radio Wales to publicise the Wall2Wall Festival. 

Skilton returned to wail gracefully on tenor on a trio version of Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and the set concluded with an effervescent “Blue Skies” sung by a confident, finger snapping Hancock as Skilton again soloed on tenor alongside Hall’s keyboard.

The trio were well received by a supportive local crowd and returned for a deserved encore of “Sunny Side Of The Street”, an ironic choice given the appalling weather in South Wales this afternoon, the rain so heavy that Newport County’s football match just down the road had to be abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch! However the sun was shining indoors at the Melville Centre thanks to the combination of Hall’s piano, Skilton’s clarinet like soprano and Hancock’s playful improvised lyrics.

This was a vivacious performance from the three protagonists that included some fine singing and playing. I’d feared that a whole set of familiar standards might prove to be a bit too predictable but the quality of the arrangements and the brightness of the performances soon banished these concerns. Hall proved to be an excellent accompanist and a highly capable soloist and it was a delight to watch Martha Skilton perform again at a Black Mountain Jazz event. I was pleased to see her feature three different horns which added spice and variety to the arrangements. I think it was the first time that I’d seen her play alto, “I usually just use it as my teaching horn” she later explained, and it was good to be reminded of just how accomplished a saxophonist she is. Meanwhile Debs Hancock did a fine job of slotting into the breach at relatively short notice, her increasing vocal prowess and ‘can do’ spirit very much carrying the day.

LOST LUGGAGE

The next performance in the bar was billed as being by ‘Stainless Steve’. I was expecting another Seasick Steve imitator, Wall2Wall hosted Sicknote Steve last year, but instead we got a highly enjoyable duo featuring ‘Stainless’ Steve Garrett on mandola, mandocello and vocals and Christine Heath on soprano saxophone.

Trading under the band name Lost Luggage the pair performed an engaging series of instrumentals and original songs in a kind of folk/jazz/roots crossover. The original songs tended to have geographically inspired title such as “Paris” or “Moscow Dawn” and one sensed that Garrett’s music has allowed him to travel far and wide.

Garrett normally plays guitar and also has the blues as part of his repertoire and one sensed that today’s performance was specifically tailored for this festival with Heath’s soprano adding an authentic jazz presence to the proceedings.

The standard of musicianship from both players was consistently high throughout and Garrett also impressed with his confident but undemonstrative vocals. All in all a very pleasant surprise from two performers who should be well worth keeping a future eye on , irrespective of the musical context.

CHRISTIAN GARRICK and DAVID GORDON

Christian Garrick is arguably the UK’s foremost jazz violinist, a highly versatile musician capable of playing in a variety of jazz styles, both acoustic and electric. Garrick covers territory ranging from the Hot Club stylings of Stephane Grappelli to the wigged out fusioneering of Jean Luc Ponty – and all points in between, with influences ranging from jazz, folk, pop and classical music.

David Gordon, who plays keyboards with Garrick’s electro-acoustic quartet is a similarly broad minded musician. He also leads his own piano trio, a group that reflects his thorough knowledge of jazz and world music styles, plays accordion with the tango group Zum, and is an acclaimed classical harpsichordist.

The duo’s musical relationship has been forged over a decade or more of performing together although they have yet to record in the two piece format. Garrick has however released duo albums with the guitarist John Etheridge and today’s performance with Gordon captured something of the wide ranging eclecticism of those records. Garrick has always had an ear for a good tune, regardless of its origins or genre, and the music of both the Etheridge and Gordon duos reflects this with both units drawing on a rich well of tradition spanning the various musical boundaries. Perhaps Garrick’s ‘Biffy Clyro’ T shirt should have given us some idea of the duo’s eclectic range of influences.

The pair’s love of classical music was expressed by their performance of Sir William Walton’s “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part” which opened the proceedings., but with the duo tackling it in an emphatically jazz like manner with plenty of room being allowed for collaborative improvisation.

A lively “Afternoon in Paris”, written by pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) took the music into more overtly jazz territory with the duo trading solos with good humour and great virtuosity. With his almost prehensile fingers Gordon rose admirably to the technical challenges thrown down by Garrick.

Even more complex and demanding was “Coffee Time”, written by the late, great pianist John Taylor for the group Azimuth. With trumpeter Kenny Wheeler also gone it’s difficult for jazz fans to reconcile themselves to the fact that vocalist Norma Winstone is the only surviving member of that influential trio. I’ve always loved this tune and I relished the way in which the pair tackled its percolating rhythms and complex but accessible and invigorating melody lines.  Garrick made frequent use of pizzicato techniques throughout the concert but here he played the instrument almost like a guitar, or perhaps more accurately a ukulele as Gordon soled on his Technics P30 keyboard.

The duo continued to range far and wide as Gordon’s arrangement of a piece by C.P.E Bach (son of J.S.) that primarily featured his own keyboards was followed by the Stevie Wonder song “Isn’t She Lovely”. Here Garrick’s violin pyrotechnics were underscored by Gordon’s funky, clavinet like keyboard bass lines – I told you this guy was versatile! 

It was back to more orthodox jazz territory as the duo paid homage to Bud Powell by playing the ill fated pianist’s “Celia” with Garrick improvising with an almost horn like sensibility on violin. This was followed by the Powell inspired original “Last Twelve” which featured the distinctive sound of Garrick’s five string violin alongside Gordon’s piano.

Gordon’s original piece “English Isobars” saw him sketching folk like melodies on the piano as Garrick’s pizzicato strings mimicked the sound of the rain that had been falling on Abergavenny practically all day. When the violinist finally picked up his bow he and Gordon combined to crown the tune with a soaring, anthemic magnificence.

A solo violin introduction paved the way for a very open version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” before the pair tackled the complexities of Chick Corea’s “Spain” with virtuosic gusto as Garrick deployed both pizzicato and arco techniques.

The performance concluded with the duo playing a composition written by Abdullah Ibrahim dating from the time that the pianist was known as ‘Dollar Brand’. I believe it was the song “M’Sanduza”, the township tune often played by John Etheridge as a solo guitar piece. Here Garrick’s pizzicato plucking helped to give the music an authentically African flavour as he mimicked the sounds of a kalimba or mbira.

This had been a hugely enjoyable and entertaining performance that combined superb musicianship with a stimulating and varied programme of music, cherry picked from a wide variety of sources. There was a obviously a great sense of rapport between two players who were prepared to take musical risks and enjoy some real musical fun. Garrick’s humorous presenting style also helped to make this essentially acoustic show a genuine ‘event’. 

BEN CREIGHTON GRIFFITHS

In the bar area Festival goers were entertained by the young local musician Ben Creighton Griffiths who is one of the few musicians to play jazz on the Welsh harp. He also had a keyboard with him and was, at one point, seen to be playing both instruments at once, a feat that impressed both Garrick and Gordon who came in to check him out.

I didn’t see a lot of this set as I had to brave the rain and venture into the town centre in search of something to eat (i.e. the local chippy). However there was method in my madness as Creighton Griffiths will be returning to the Melville Centre on November 27th 2016 when he shares the bill with bassist Aidan Thorne’s group Duski at a Black Mountain Jazz club night - so I’ll get the chance to cover his performance more fully then. In the meantime everybody at Wall2Wall seemed to be impressed with his virtuosity so this bodes well for November.

DENNIS ROLLINS’ VELOCITY TRIO

Trombonist, composer and educator Dennis Rollins first formed his Velocity Trio in 2009 and has gradually developed the group into the highly distinctive and effective unit that it is today. The combination of trombone, Hammond organ and drums is pretty much unique and the line up has stabilised at Rollins, organist Ross Stanley and drummer/percussionist Pedro Segundo, this being the personnel on the trio’s two albums to date, “The Eleventh Gate” from 2011 and 2014’s “Symbiosis”.

Rollins and Velocity played a fondly remembered show at BMJ’s former HQ the Swan Hotel back in 2013. More recently they played at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Weekend with drummer Tim Carter standing in for Segundo. Today it was Stanley who was unavailable and his place was brilliantly and flawlessly filled by Liam Dunachie whose advanced sight reading skills allowed him to tackle Rollins’ often complex music without a single glitch. Some commentators remarked that his performance was probably the most remarkable one of the entire Festival.

Essentially Velocity’s set was the same one that they had delivered in Brecon as they kicked off with the rousing “Utopia” which saw Dunachie immediately impressing as he shared the soloing with Rollins. Meanwhile Segundo, a hugely talented and flamboyant drummer/percussionist also began to impose his own unique stamp on the proceedings.

“Emergence” was inspired by the classic Larry Young album “Unity”, released on Blue Note Records in 1965.  Dunachie continued to make the Hammond chair his own as he channelled the spirit of Young in his fiery exchanges with Rollins. Meanwhile the effervescent Segundo, ever the showman, brought auxiliary elements, such as the legs of an adjacent table, into his sparky drum feature.

During the lifetime of the Velocity Trio Rollins has made increasingly sophisticated use of electronic effects, convincingly adding these elements to his trombone playing. There was evidence of this on his unaccompanied intro to the Bob Marley inspired “Ujamma” with its effective mix of jazz and reggae. Indeed Rollins, a great educator had previously conducted a festival workshop entitled “The Marriage Between Acoustic and Electronic Instruments”.

Perhaps an even better example of Rollins’ use of electronic components was to be heard on the atmospheric “The Other Side” which saw the trombonist live sampling elements of Segundo’s solo drum introduction to create a multi layered rhythmic backdrop , a combination of electronic and acoustic grooves that buoyed Dunachie’s gothic, church like Hammond and Rollins’ anthemic trombone as the piece unfolded mesmerically and with no little grandeur. Inspired by the notion of a plane between life and the afterlife -purgatory, if you will - “The Other Side” is one of Rollins’ most atmospheric and effective compositions, a corner stone of any Velocity Trio set.

Next came the hard hitting “Symbiosis” with its walloping grooves and a further feature from Segundo, the one man rhythm machine with his dizzying array of percussive devices including thunder sheets and rain sticks and a variety of shakers.

Segundo may be something of a showman but so is his leader, as Rollins demonstrated on the now familiar stop-start arrangement of Pink Floyd’s “Money” with Dunachie’s left hand bass lines helping to fuel Rollins’ trombone solo before the dep took over to explore the full scope of his two manual keyboard.

Having got a large and appreciative audience in the palm of his hand Rollins had the crowd clapping along to his arrangement of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance”. Another Velocity ‘set piece’ this saw the trio shooting off on improvised tangents but always returning to the same core beat, the cue for those of us in the cheap seats to start putting our hands together again.

The deserved encore was Rollins’ arrangement of the Amanda McBroom song “The Rose”,  variously a hit for Bette Midler, Elaine Paige and Westlife. With Segundo hanging back on brushes Rollins’ version was gospel tinged and anthemic, the perfect way to close a typically polished show that boasted an exceptional sound thanks to Rollins’ travelling sound engineer.

But of course the music and the playing was terrific too with Dunachie doing a superb job as a dep alongside the extrovert presences of Rollins and Segundo. I’ve seen Rollins deliver the same basic set on a number of occasions but the combination of his irrepressible enthusiasm plus the sheer quality of the music has ensured that I’ve never begun to tire of it. I may have heard it all before but this was still an undeniable Festival highlight.

DEBS HANCOCK and GUY SHOTTON

In the bar the similarly irrepressible Debs Hancock performed her second set of the day, this time accompanied by pianist Guy Shotton, a replacement for the advertised Julian Martin. 

Based in Cardiff Shotton is a fairly new presence on the South Wales music scene having graduated from Cardiff University in 2013.  He is a skilled accompanist and although it was the first time that Hancock had worked with him she was very impressed, as were the audience members who enjoyed this well executed selection songs from the Great American Songbook, including a return visit by Hancock to “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.  It seems likely that the pair may work together again and with Shotton having made many new friends tonight it’s equally possible that he’ll soon be making a return visit to Abergavenny as part of the BMJ club programme.

TANGO JAZZ QUARTET

The final act of the day were Tango Jazz Quartet, a group of musicians from Argentina currently in the midst of an exhaustive European tour, their sixth, that will take them to ten countries.

Formed in 2008 and led by tenor saxophonist/clarinettist Gustavo Firmenich and featuring pianist Horacio Acosta, bassist Federico Hilal and drummer Alejandro Beelmann the group have recorded four albums to date and have been critically acclaimed both in their native Argentina and internationally for their interesting and innovative blend of tango rhythms and structures and jazz improvisation. 

Getting the band to Abergavenny represented something of a triumph for Wall2Wall promoter and ultimately the quartet didn’t disappoint as they delivered a performance that intrigued and excited in equal measure.

Firmenich’s English wasn’t the best and my Spanish is non existent so I’m not going to try and give a tune by tune account of the set which started with a characteristic merging of jazz and tango elements. TJQ have also established something of a presence in the USA and I felt that there was a definite hint of a New York attitude about the opener as Firmenich’s muscular tenor sax shared the solos with Hilal’s six string electric bass and Acosta’s electric piano. You don’t see a six string bass for months then two come along at once, Dudley Phillips had played one with Huw Warren’s Trio Brasil the night before, maybe it’s an instrument that’s particularly suited to South American music.

I have to admit that it took me some time to acclimatise to the tango patterns and rhythms plus the robust, buzzy, sound of Firmenich’s tenor but once I did I soon found myself becoming more and more absorbed by this initially unfamiliar music. 

TJQ don’t feature original tunes but source their repertoire from the tango tradition with that giant of the music, Astor Piazzolla ranking prominently among the featured composers. Others upon whom the group drew were the Piana/Castillo writing team who provided “Tinta Roja”, a piece on which TJQ offered their jazz variations on traditional tango.

The similarly named Leguizamon and Castilla contributed “Balderrama”, a tune that featured Fiemenich deploying a softer tenor sax sound as he shared the solos with Acosta’s piano and Hilal’s lovely, liquid electric bass. 

Periodically Firmenich would set down his tenor and take up the clarinet as the group performed a series of traditional ‘milongas’,  these mainly being short performances without the jazz extrapolations of the longer saxophone led tunes. They provided excellent punctuation and served as brief, tasty ‘palette cleansers’ between the heavier, meatier fare of the jazz/tango crossover pieces.

On seeing my press pass the band were keen to provide me with a copy of their live recording “Tango Jazz Quartet On Tour” PLUS one of their European Tour T shirts, the gift of the latter definitely generosity ‘above and beyond’ – so thank you guys.

The album represents an absorbing listen, as well as being a great souvenir of tonight’s concert it also represents a successful artistic statement in its own right. Plus it gave me some valuable information that I’ve been able to weave into tonight’s review. Most of the pieces on the album I’m fairly sure got played tonight including the lengthy and richly varied exploration of Piazzolla’s “Invierno Porteno”.

There was a good deal of variety within the tango template with some of the gentler, more lyrical pieces representing the equivalents of jazz ballads. But there was plenty of energy too, with the soloing becoming more unfettered as the evening progressed, particularly from pianist Acosta who began to play with increased fluency and improvisational abandon as the set gathered momentum and the audience got more and more behind the band. Meanwhile Hilal’s fluid solos on six string bass seemed to meld together guitar and bass techniques in a style broadly similar to that of the UK’s own Kevin Glasgow.

The evening concluded with a performance of “Libertango”, one of Piazzolla’s most famous compositions and a piece covered by a number of European and American jazz musicians, among them US vibraphonist Gary Burton. Called back by an appreciative audience for a deserved encore TJQ sent us on our way with a final clarinet led milonga.

This wasn’t easy music to describe for a European listener unfamiliar with the nuances of tango but the TJQ sound was one that I found myself more and more drawn into and the audience reaction at the end suggested that many other listeners had undergone the same journey. The “On Tour” album also convinces in the home listening environment and TJQ are certainly a group whose music I’d like to explore further and would certainly go to see again should the opportunity arise.

OVERVIEW

This ‘main day’ of the Festival was an excellent musical experience with all of the concert performers ‘delivering the goods’ in their various different ways in a rich, varied, absorbing, educational and entertaining programme.

The artists in the bar also impressed with audiences showing admirable levels of concentration and restraint in this more informal environment.

Focussing all the events in a single location worked extremely well, particularly on a filthy day weather wise, and I can only agree with Mike Skilton’s assessment that the 2016 event has been the most successful Wall2Wall Jazz Festival to date.

 

Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 1st and 2nd September 2016.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 1st and 2nd September 2016.

Ian Mann on the first two days of the festival and performances by Lee Gibson and the Dave Cottle Trio, Kevin Fitzsimmons Quartet, Olly Jenkins Duo and Huw Warren's Trio Brasil plus Iain Ballamy.

Photograph of Trio Brasil with Iain Ballamy by Conal Dunn

THURSDAY AND FRIDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL ABERGAVENNY, 1st and 2nd SEPTEMBER 2016.

For the fourth annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival promoter and chief organiser Mike Skilton of Black Mountain Jazz retained the same essential format that had made the 2015 event such a success.

The weekend commenced with the Festival Dinner, this time held in the ballroom of the splendidly refurbished Angel Hotel before the Festival moved on for a series of concerts and fringe events at the Melville Centre on The Friday night and all day Saturday.

Sunday saw the return of the popular ‘Jazz Alley’, a free family event held within the confines of Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall. With food stalls, a licensed bar and a series of free live performances this well attended event has been successful in raising the profile of Black Mountain Jazz within the town. In a slight departure from last year’s model the Market Hall was then used to host a successful ticketed evening event, the ‘Boogie Party’, with music coming from the spirited and entertaining Red Stripe Band.

THURSDAY 01/09/2014, FESTIVAL DINNER, ANGEL HOTEL
LEE GIBSON with the DAVE COTTLE TRIO

The opening event on Thursday evening saw a sell out crowd of 108 people, including the mayor and mayoress of the town, attend the Festival Dinner in the ballroom at the Angel Hotel. Fans enjoyed a two course meal in beautiful surroundings and enjoyed two sets of music from the classy vocalist Lee Gibson, one of the UK’s most accomplished and in demand jazz singers. She was accompanied by Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle and his trio consisting of Alun Vaughan on electric bass and Paul Smith at the drums.

As I was attending this event as a paying customer I don’t intend to give my usual song by song account but essentially it was a set of performances drawn from what has come to be known as the ‘Great American Songbook’ with Gibson displaying the full range of her considerable vocal talents. There were some excellent instrumental moments too, particularly from the impressive Cottle, best known as a pianist but also a talented trumpeter. I also enjoyed the contributions of electric bass specialist Vaughan, a musician whose playing I have always admired.

I’d previously seen Gibson perform at the 2015 Swansea Jazz Festival, an event organised by Dave Cottle, when she fronted the Capital City Jazz Orchestra. That performance demonstrated the astonishing power of her voice so today it was interesting to see her singing in a more intimate context. Yes, there were moments where she really let rip, but there was nuance and subtlety too. Like I said, a class act, and with accompanists to match. The performance was greatly appreciated by the sell out crowd, not all of them necessarily committed jazz fans at what was also something of a ‘civic event’. 

The personable Gibson was to remain in Abergavenny over the course of the weekend checking out the other acts and also conducting a vocal workshop on the Saturday at the St. Michael’s Centre in the town.

Meanwhile the Cottle Trio will return to Abergavenny on September 25th 2016 when they accompany the South African born vocalist Amy Walton at the next BMJ club event at the Melville Centre.

FRIDAY, 02/09/2016, THE MELVILLE CENTRE

KEVIN FITZSIMMONS QUARTET

The first ticketed event at the Melville Centre was a performance by the Essex based vocalist Kevin Fitzsimmons. Billed as “The ‘In’ Crowd; Jazz in the Swinging 60s” this was a selection of arrangements of jazz tunes and other music from the 1960s, including a number of songs from movie soundtracks of the time.

With his cheerful Essex boy wit Fitzsimmons proved to be an engaging stage presence and he was supported by a very classy trio including Leon Greening on piano and Matt Fishwick at the drums with ‘supersub’ Alec Dankworth deputising on double bass for the advertised Adam King. It’s always a delight to see Dankworth play so nobody was complaining too much.

I’ll admit up front that Fitzsimmons’ style of singing isn’t really my favourite genre of jazz but the class of musical company that he keeps speaks volumes for his vocal talents. Greening was very much the singer’s right hand man and I assume that he had a hand in the arrangements and was also acting as musical director. His piano solos on a Roland electric keyboard were consistently engaging and prompted one impressed audience member to comment “he must have lightning in his fingers!”. Meanwhile Fishwick kept the grooves tight and tasty and Dankworth stepped into the breach with his usual aplomb, combining his customary immaculate time keeping with some melodic and highly dexterous soloing.

Introduced by fellow vocalist Debs Hancock the quartet kicked off with a version of “All That Jazz” in an arrangement inspired by Mel Torme. A microphone problem which was mercifully quickly sorted out, hindered Fitzsimmons’ performance but Greening stepped in to save the day with the first of many sparkling piano solos.

“Autumn In New York” was another Torme inspired piece, this one the title track of the ‘Velvet Fog’s’ 1963 album for Atlantic Records. Here Fitzsimmons demonstrated his ability for jazz phrasing alongside a typically assured contribution from Greening on piano.

Fitzsimmons’ elastic phrasing characterised a playful version of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David classic “This Guy’s In Love With You” in an arrangement inspired by Herb Alpert as he interpreted the lyric alongside Fishwick’s brushed drum grooves and Greening’s customary solo.

The singer handed over to Greening and the trio for “The ‘In’ Crowd”, a huge instrumental hit for pianist Ramsey Lewis in the 1960s. Here we heard Dankworth as a soloist for the first time, the ‘dep’ immediately impressing as he shared the limelight with Greening, the whole thing energetically driven by Fishwick’s crisp, swinging drumming. 

60s movie soundtracks proved to be a rich source of inspiration for the quartet with Fitzsimmons returning to sing a ballad interpretation of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” from the film “My Fair Lady”. He also injected an unexpected dash of humour into the proceedings with some improvised lyrics while the instrumental plaudits went to lyrical and melodic solos from both Greening and Dankworth, both of them accompanied by Fishwick’s subtle brush work.

There were more improvised lyrics plus a passage of scat vocalising on a Latin-esque arrangement of “ On Days Like These”, written by Quincy Jones and lyricist Don Black and sourced from the soundtrack of “The Italian Job”.

The Brazilian music boom in the 60s was explored with a blend of jazz and samba on “Desafinado” with Fitzsimmons singing the English lyric and Greening taking the instrumental honours. The trio then took over for “Groovy Samba”, originally written for a New York based collaboration between Antonio Carlos Jobim and saxophonist Julian ‘Cannonball’  Adderley for the 1962 album “Cannonball’s Bossa Nova”. Here Greening’s feverishly percussive piano solo was followed by an extended drum feature from the impressive Fishwick.

It was Adderley’s version of the Rodgers & Hart song that also provided the inspiration for the quartet’s arrangement of “Little Girl Blue” with Greening’s piano approximating the sound of the raindrops mentioned in the lyrics and embellishing Fitzsimmons’ tender interpretation of the words.
Dankworth’s melodic bass solo was also a highlight with Fishwick providing subtly brushed
accompaniment.

A bossa arrangement of Michel Le Grand’s “Watch What Happens” continued the vaguely Brazilian theme with Fitzsimmons relishing the slightly risqué lyric as Greening tossed in a quote from the inevitable and ubiquitous “Girl From Ipanema” into his piano solo.

The influence of Tamla Motown was acknowledged with an arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Working Day & Night” from the “Off The Wall” album. Although not strictly a 60s tune it remained true to the spirit of the project and was given a jazz/blues treatment that worked well with Fitzsimmon’s vocals augmented by a vivacious Greening piano solo.

The influence of The Beatles on the quartet’s chosen decade was too big to ignore and this found expression in the closing number, a jazz arrangement of “Norwegian Wood” which found Fitzsimmons enjoying himself as he stretched the phrasing of the lyrics out of shape and scatted joyously alongside Greening’s final piano solo.

While this wasn’t entirely my personal cup of tea there was certainly much to here enjoy with Fitzsimmons smooth, but often adventurous, vocalising plus his Essex ‘cheeky chappie’ persona endearing him to some of the ladies in the audience. He and the quartet were generally well received even though the early 6.15 pm start meant that this was the lowest concert attendance of the Festival.

My personal highlights were mainly instrumental, there were several enthralling Greening piano solos to relish and it’s always a pleasure to watch Alec Dankworth perform, whatever the context may be.

OLLY JENKINS DUO

Punctuating the main concert events in the Melville Centre’s theatre space were a number of performances in the bar area, thereby ensuring the “wall to wall jazz” promised by the festival’s title. The first of these featured the young tenor saxophonist Olly Jenkins who performed a number of ‘real book’ standards alongside the equally youthful pianist Coren Sithers.

Originally from Chepstow Jenkins is about to embark on a four year Bachelor of Music course at the Royal Welsh Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. Already an accomplished soloist he and Sithers performed an enjoyable set that included such staples as “Misty”, “The Girl From Ipanema” “Autumn Leaves”, “All The Things You Are” and Miles Davis’ “So What”. The playing of the young duo was warmly appreciated by a supportive and listening audience.


HUW WARREN’S TRIO BRASIL plus IAIN BALLAMY

The Welsh born pianist and composer Huw Warren is one of the UK’s most respected musicians. He has worked across a variety of musical genres including jazz, folk and classical. In addition to releasing a diverse range of solo recordings he has also been a member of the fondly remembered group Perfect Houseplants and currently works alongside saxophonist Iain Ballamy and vocalist June Tabor in the folk/jazz hybrid trio Quercus.

In 2009 Warren released the album “Hermeto +” which he described as “a celebration, tribute and musical thank you” to the great Brazilian musician and composer Hermeto Pascoal. The album featured Warren alongside the Austrian bassist Peter Herbert and the phenomenally in demand drummer Martin France on a mixture of Pascoal tunes and Heremeto inspired Warren originals.

More than just a tribute recording it was a successful work of art in its own right and the project proved to be the inspiration for Warren’s ongoing Trio Brasil featuring former Perfect Houseplant Dudley Phillips on six string electric bass and Warren’s son Zoot at the drum kit. Tonight they were joined by Iain Ballamy on tenor saxophone for a thrilling exploration of the music of Heremeto Pascoal and other Brazilian composers.

Although obviously Brazilian in origin Pascoal’s music is very different to the bossa and samba popularised by Jobim and others. Famously eccentric Pascoal has developed an individual sound world that has proved to be incredibly influential to other musicians, among them British bands such as Perfect Houseplants and Loose Tubes, the idiosyncratic large ensemble in which Ballamy first made his name.

That influence could be heard on the opening piece, the title roughly translating as “The Lighthouse”, a composition that Warren described as being “one of Pascoal’s most beautiful melodies”. Introduced by Warren at the keyboard the piece featured Phillips playing the melody on electric bass with Ballamy eventually joining the trio on saxophone. All the elements of Pascoal’s music were here, the beautiful melodies, extreme dynamic contrasts and avant garde flourishes such as competing counter melodies. As well as some stunning unison ensemble passages the solos here came from Ballamy on tenor and Huw at the piano, these fuelled by Phillips’ springy electric bass grooves and Zoot’s crisp, economical drumming. Lee Gibson, who had introduced the band, told us of how she’d spotted young Zoot’s abilities at an early age telling Huw “your boy’s got great time, buy him a drum kit!”. 

I don’t speak Portuguese, even Huw had trouble with it at times, so I didn’t get all of Hermeto’s tune titles but at the end of the day it was the quality of the music and the playing that counted – and both were exceptional. The next piece featured some wonderfully vivacious melodic exchanges between Huw, Ballamy and Phillips as Zoot sparked the playing of his older bandmates with some colourful grooves from behind the kit.

The Afro-Brazilian grooves of the highly rhythmic “Maracatu”, played by the core trio, inspired some more great soloing with Huw and Phillips going first followed by a colourful drum feature from Zoot accompanied by dad Huw’s vigorous comping on piano.

Ballamy returned to duet with Huw on a piece that the pianist described as illustrating the “lush and romantic” side of Pascoal’s writing, the saxophonist soloing with an easy fluency as Huw accompanied him with delightful, bird like keyboard trills.

Huw introduced the next piece with a virtuosic and highly rhythmic piece of solo piano before entering into a series of melodic exchanges with Phillips’ bass. Ballamy’s tenor then picked up the melody and incorporated it into his solo before handing the baton over the trio for Huw’s second excursion.

Next up was a vibrant and colourful tune by the percussionist Joao Bosco played by the trio, although Ballamy couldn’t restrain himself and was clapping along happily by the side of the stage as Phillips and Huw stretched out on bass and piano respectively. I’ve seen Phillips perform on both acoustic and electric bass on a number of occasions, including with Perfect Houseplants, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him solo so frequently and expansively as he did in this set. It was hugely impressive and a delight to see and hear.

The title of “Ginga Carioca” refers to the easy way in which the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro move, the reference to the Olympic City giving Ballamy the opportunity to give a name check to Abergavenny’s Olympic cycling silver medallist Becky James. He also cited the tune’s “bizarre time signatures” while adding that it had a “certain lilt”, the ‘ginga carioca’ of the title presumably. As Phillips and Zoot dealt admirably with the rhythmic complexities of the piece Ballamy and Huw soloed powerfully but fluently on saxophone and keyboard respectively.

Pascoal’s “Santa Katerina” was sourced from Huw’s “Hermeto +” album and was played here by Phillips on solo electric bass, the tune teamed with another piece from Phillips’ forthcoming solo album. Using live looping technology he created an overlapping , multi layered sound, making maximum use of the effects available to him but exhibiting a strong melodic quality and retaining a pleasing degree of human warmth. The new record should be well worth looking out for.

Now it was the turn of Huw Warren to take the solo route as he gave a virtuoso performance of the 1930 choro “Uno Cero” written in honour of a famous Brazilian football victory -something that gave the pianist the chance to reference Wales’ football success in the recent European football championships. Following Greening’s earlier keyboard pyrotechnics here was another pianist ‘on fire’ as Huw dazzled with a dizzying display of melody and rhythm.

The quartet concluded a superb performance with a Brazilian dance tune introduced by Phillips melodic bass solo over Huw’s piano comping and Zoot’s rapidly brushed grooves. Further solos followed from both Ballamy and Huw and there were also a series of engaging drum and bass exchanges with occasional sax and keyboard interjections.

This was a memorable way to close an excellent performances from four brilliant musicians who impressed both individually and collectively and who had made Pascoal’s music very much their own through a combination of adventurousness and sheer virtuosity. This was a highly interactive group that was right at the top of its game, extracting the maximum from its chosen material. They were given a great reception by a knowledgeable and appreciative audiences. Terrific stuff and a definite Festival highlight.

 

Sunday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 14/08/2016.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 14/08/2016.

The final day of the Weekend and performances by Dani Sicari & The Easy Rollers, Lieko Quintet, Bahla, Brownfield Byrne with guest Trish Clowes and Celtic Jazz Sounds. Photography by Bob Meyrick.

Photograph of Jamie Brownfield by Bob Meyrick.

Sunday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 14/08/2016.

On the last day of the inaugural Brecon Jazz Weekend the Brecon Jazz Futures programme at Theatr Brycheiniog revolved around a nucleus of students from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. These talented young musicians performed in a variety of permutations across a wide range of jazz genres, impressing audiences with their skill and versatility and winning themselves many new friends in the process. 

Elsewhere Brecon Jazz Club hosted a further series of successful events at the Guildhall and at the new Muse venue and Brecon Cathedral presented a prestigious evening concert by vocalist Jacqui Dankworth and her quintet as well as staging the now traditional annual Jazz Service during the morning.

DANI SICARI & THE EASY ROLLERS

My day began in the Main House at the Theatr with this performance by young vocalist Dani Sicari and her band The Easy Rollers. This group of RNCM students specialise in the music of the 1920s and present the music of their chosen era with verve, showmanship and great technical skill.

There seems to be something of a new ‘trad revival’ at the moment with young musicians such as these and the Old Hat Jazz Band (featuring Nerija’s regular drummer Lizy Exall) embracing the music of the ‘Prohibition Era’ on its own merits, looking at it with a fresh eye unencumbered by the ‘mod v trad’ jazz snobberies of the 50s and 60s. Plus most of them are far better trained than the trad revivalists of those times and the levels of musicianship are considerably higher. As regular readers of this site will know I’m not really a trad enthusiast but when the music is played well it can be both aesthetically pleasing and highly exciting.

Today’s show began with a rousing and lively New Orleans style instrumental as the boys in the band, variously clad in hats, waistcoats and braces reminiscent of the era demonstrated their considerable instrumental skills with Jamie Stockbridge (clarinet) and Aaron Wood (trumpet) showcasing their chops as the featured soloists. The group also included pianist Alex Hill,  guitarist James Girling, bassist Alasdair Simpson and drummer Matt Brown.

Vocalist Sicari, radiant in a white 20’s style flapper dress, now took to the stage to add her sassy vocals to the song “Butter And Egg Man”, which again featured Stockbridge and Wood as the instrumental soloists. Sicari is an interesting character, born in Perth, Australia she is a trained operatic soprano who is currently completing her Masters at the RNCM where she fell in with some of the students on the jazz course to form the Easy Rollers. Her gigging schedule includes operatic, jazz and folk performances. She’s clearly a precocious and highly versatile talent and impressed today with her technical facility, clear diction and confident stage persona while still leaving plenty of space for the instrumentalists to shine.

“Bei Mir Bist Du Shein has become something of a signature tune for the band and saw Sicari’s confident vocals augmented by solos from Wood on muted trumpet, Stockbridge on clarinet and Cox at the piano.

Introduced by the a voice/piano duet a clever arrangement of the slow blues “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” featured Girling’s guitar imitating the sound of a mobile ringtone. Girling, together with Simpson and Brown is also part of the quintet Artephis who recently impressed at a show at a Black Mountain Jazz Club event in Abergavenny and who were also scheduled to perform later on in the day on the Brecon Jazz Futures programme.

The lively “Jack O’ Mellow” featured Sicari’s vivacious vocals alongside a ‘hot’ clarinet solo from Stockbridge, a rollicking piano excursion from Cox and a closing drum feature from the Welsh born Brown.

A slowed down arrangement of “Honeysuckle Rose” saw Sicari seductively emphasising the lascivious nuances of Fat’s Waller’s lyrics on a vocal / bass introduction with later solos coming from Girling and Hill.

Girling also impressed as the band upped the energy levels once more with an effervescent rendering of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing”.  Audience participation was positively encouraged on Waller’s “Flat Foot Floogie”, the nonsense lyrics reminding some listeners of Slim Gaillard’s regular visits to Brecon during the Festival’s early days.

“Don’t Wait Too Long” calmed things down again and even introduced a touch of lyricism thanks to solos from Hill on piano and Webb on trumpet.

A jaunty “All Of Me” featured Sicari’s breezy vocals alongside solos from Stockbridge and Wood and the performance concluded with the inspired silliness of “I Like Pie” with the band turning in a splendidly spirited performance.

A thoroughly deserved encore took us back to New Orleans and the inevitable “When The Saints”. Hill and Girling took care of the solos as Stockbridge and Wood paraded through the audience and Sicari shook a shapely tail-feather.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this performance by Dani Sicari and The Easy Rollers.  The amount of energy that the group delivered at this 11.00 am performance was impressive and quickly blew away any Saturday night cobwebs. The playing was sharp and invigorating with all of the instrumentalists impressing as did the sassy and vivacious Sicari who fronted the band with confidence and good humour and sang with great technical facility.

Later in the afternoon the group reprised much of this material outside the Theatr on the Busker’s Stage with the versatile Hill switching to accordion. They went down a storm there too.

LIEKO QUINTET

Half an hour after that rousing rendition of “When The Saints” five members of the Easy Rollers were back on stage in the very different guise of the Lieko Quintet.

By now they’d ditched the twenties clobber and were back in something more everyday and contemporary, something that reflected the music which was very, very different to what they had just been playing just before.

Led by Hill and featuring Girling, Stockbridge, Simpson and Brown the group features Hill’s original contemporary jazz compositions alongside his intriguing and intelligent arrangements of jazz standards and pieces by composers such as Thelonious Monk. Most of today’s material was sourced from the band’s début recording “Deja Vu”, cut as recently as March 2016 and engineered by the versatile Brown.

The performance commenced with Hill’s stop-start arrangement of Monk’s “Think As One”, the ensemble having fun with the staccato patterns prior to solos from Hill on piano followed by Stockbridge, specialising on tenor sax in this band, and Girling on guitar. 

Hill’s own “Scooch” temporarily revisited the New Orleans flavourings of the Easy Rollers before shading off into something more contemporary with Stockbridge’s plangent tenor leading off the solos followed by Hill on piano and Girling on guitar.

A group arrangement of the Miles Davis / Bill Evans classic “Blue In Green” managed to find something fresh and new to say about a much covered composition. Girling’s elegant unaccompanied guitar bookended the piece with Stockbridge stating the theme on tenor and Hill acting as the other featured soloist. 

“Chang Thang” referenced the Afro-Beat that Hill and the others have played elsewhere with its vibrant grooves and powerful tenor sax soloing as Stockbridge dug in in muscular fashion, powered by Brown’s insistent drumming.

“Deja Vu” put a greater emphasis on melody and lyricism but without sacrificing anything of the band’s adventurous spirit. Indeed the piece gathered considerable momentum as it progressed, its odd meter grooves providing the basis for increasingly intense solos from Girling on guitar and Stockbridge on tenor sax, the latter contributing some characteristically full on and earthy playing as the music built to a climax.

Stockbridge’s tenor also featured prominently, this time in ballad mode, on Hill’s arrangement of the Victor Young composed standard “Stella By Starlight” as he shared the solos with Hill.

Hill invited Sicari back to the stage to perform the song “Life As it Is”, the young vocalist again demonstrating her versatility by singing in a totally different and far more contemporary style to the Easy Rollers output. Here she shared the spotlight with Hill’s piano and Girling’s guitar.

“Jacky” was Hill’s homage to the French born , US based pianist and composer Jacky Terrasson and the composition reflected Terrasson’s own broad sphere of musical influences as Girling’s guitar exhibited a strong rock aspect as he shared the solos with Stockbridge’s tenor and Hill’s piano.

The album closer “Say When” also concluded the performance here with Hill’s funky, fusion-esque original sparking high octane solos from the always elegant and fluent Girling and the more direct and raunchy Stockbridge. 

Although less obviously crowd pleasing than the Easy Rollers there was much to enjoy about Lieko’s Quintet’s set. Once again the playing was top quality and I also found Hill’s compositional output to be both interesting and varied. His arrangements of outside material were also intelligent, inventive and imaginative as he and his bandmates found fresh things to say about even the most familiar of material. The group’s album also stands up very well in the home listening environment.

Girling, Simpson and Brown were also due to appear with Artephis later in the day, this after that visit to the busking stage with the Easy Rollers. These guys were clearly earning their money today having got up at some unearthly hour to drive from Manchester to Brecon.

I predict a bright future for all of this current crop of RNCM jazz students. They’re doing great things already and are only going to get better.

BAHLA

At 4.00 pm I was faced with a difficult choice. The Jazz Weekend programme at Theatr Brycheiniog also incorporated a number of events that did not form part of the Jazz Futures strand. Among them was a performance in the main house by old Brecon Jazz Festival favourites Wonderbrass, the ever popular community band from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys.

I love Wonderbrass and I’ve written about them before, both live and record, so I know exactly what they do. With this in mind and in in deference to jazz being the ‘sound of surprise’ I decided to take a chance with Bahla in the Theatr’s studio space.

I was intrigued by the write up for Bahla which spoke of the group “sonically painting a picture from the broad spectrum of Jewish music traditions, drawing inspiration for new compositions from liturgical melodies, North African rhythms and Yiddish artsongs”. I think I was expecting some kind of contemporary klezmer with fiddles, clarinets and accordions. The reality was very different.

Led by London guitarist Tal James the quartet also featured Venezuelan born pianist Joseph Costi plus drummer Ben Brown, both of whom had performed the previous day as part of the group Caravela playing the music of the Portuguese diaspora. The presence of Costi and Brown just went to emphasise the sheer versatility of the modern jazz musician. Here they were twenty four hours later playing music from a different tradition totally convincingly and without dropping a stitch. Similar qualities were exhibited by Bristolian bassist Will Harris, deputising for regular bassist Greg Gottlieb and again doing a terrific job. Harris had performed a similar function for the contemporary jazz quartet Asterope the previous day and seemed to be relishing his role as a ‘supersub’.

Another recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Music James first formed the group in 2014, initially performing as a duo with Costi before deciding to add bass and drums to the group’s sound.
The co-founders cite John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Bill Frisell as influences on the band’s sound but it’s their absorption of Jewish musical culture that makes their sound so distinctive.

Bahla’s music is harder edged and more urban sounding than I’d first imagined with contemporary rock music also bearing an influence. Their sound is intense, urgent and complex and reminded me of the work of New York based Jewish / Israeli musicians such as John Zorn and guitarists Eyal Maoz and Gilad Hekselman. There’s definitely something of that ‘Downtown’ vibe about it and I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer power of the group’s music.

I didn’t get all the Hebrew titles but one piece that translated as “Little Monster” seemed to encapsulate their approach with its fiery guitar and piano solos, including Costi’s use of dampened strings, and powerful, but flexible, rhythmic accompaniment. Incredibly this was Harris’ first ever gig with the band but he seemed totally attuned to this often complex music, rising to the challenge with considerable aplomb.

I don’t want to give the impression that this set was just about sound and fury.  Both James’ and Costi’s originals and their arrangements of traditional Jewish tunes possessed plenty of light and shade and dynamic contrast. The solos by James and Costi, the latter on acoustic upright piano, were imaginative and inventive with the guitarist making judicious use of his range of effects, his spiralling inventions drawing on Jewish traditions and avoiding all the jazz and rock guitar clichés. This was music that sounded refreshingly exotic, vital and original but always retained a strong sense of melody. Some of the traditional tunes upon which the band based their improvisations were downright beautiful. 

I seem to recall that we heard “Yud Beis Bud”, the subject of an excellent video on the band’s website http://www.bahla.co.uk with its brushed drum feature for the excellent Ben Brown. Also the tune “Bahla”, the piece after which the band is named and also a city in Oman.

It’s not easy music to describe but I thoroughly enjoyed this set from this exciting new band who mix elements of jazz, rock and traditional Jewish music together to create something truly distinctive and original. Bahla have yet to record but their début album is one that will be very keenly awaited and one that should make considerable waves on the UK music scene. Others present today at Theatr Brycheiniog seemed to share my opinions and the group were accorded an excellent reception for music that was probably new to most members of the audience and was also well outside the jazz mainstream.

This was the final event that I was able to see on the Jazz Futures programme and I’d like to thank programme curator Marc Edwards for bringing so many excellent new bands to my attention. All in all the programme was a great success with the groups involved all raising their profile as the Brecon jazz public made some exciting new discoveries. Considering that most audience members were probably taking a punt on hitherto unknown talents the attendances were pretty respectable and the audience reactions overwhelmingly positive. Should the exercise be repeated next year word of mouth reactions plus a more co-ordinated publicity campaign should result in larger crowds. I thoroughly enjoyed everything on the Brecon Jazz Futures programme and its success in purely artistic terms was undeniable. Hopefully it broke even financially and will be able to be repeated next year with other music colleges also becoming involved.

BROWNFIELD BYRNE QUINTET with TRISH CLOWES

The young North Wales based duo of Jamie Brownfield (trumpet) and Liam Byrne (quintet) co-lead a quintet steeped in 50s and 60s bebop and hard bop but given a contemporary edge by Byrne’s considerable arranging skills. Both musicians are highly accomplished soloists on their respective instruments and their band, sometimes referred to as B.B.Q. has amassed a considerable following in the North of England, the Midlands, the Welsh Marches and beyond. They are also a particularly popular act at festivals.

The quintet released their début album “B.B.Q.” in 2014, featuring a line up including GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka. The current edition of the band includes long serving guitarist Andy Hulme plus bassist Ed Harrison and drummer Jack Cotterill.   

For this Brecon Jazz Club co-ordinated event at an again sold out Guildhall the core quintet was augmented by guest saxophonist Trish Clowes, now London based but originally from Shrewsbury,  who may well have known Brownfield and Byrne even before the invitation to appear was extended by Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall. 

The presence of the classically trained Clowes ensured that the ‘Women in Jazz’ theme of the festival was maintained and it was also interesting to compare the approaches of the two saxophonists in the twin tenor plus trumpet front line.

Apart from a couple of Clowes originals the majority of the material was drawn from the jazz and bebop canon beginning with Gigi Gryce’s “Blue Lights” followed by Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low”. The two tenors blended particularly well on the ensemble passages and both players excelled on the lengthy solo passages with Brownfield, Hulme and Harrison also enjoying their own features as the reliable Cotterill anchored the band.

Byrne’s arrangement of “Mine Or Yours” from the aptly titled Chet Baker / Art Pepper album “The Jazz Playboys” featured his own tenor plus Brownfield’s trumpet prior to further solos from Hulme and Clowes before the whole band traded phrases with Cotterill.

The co-leaders left he stage as Clowes and the trio played two of her original compositions. Clowes recorded output has featured an ambitious mix of jazz and classical styles but for this performance she selected two pieces that she felt would fit well into the format of the evening.

The first of these was “Little Tune” which closes Clowes’s second album “and in the night time she is there” (Basho Records, 2012). Deliberately written in the style of a jazz standard it’s one of Clowes’ simpler pieces and its attractive melody has made it a popular live performance item. Here Clowes introduced the piece in a duo with guitarist Hulme, who had also impressed audiences the previous day when he appeared at the same venue alongside fellow guitarist Trefor Owen. Gently prompted by Cotterill’s brushed drums the piece featured further solos from Clowes, Hulme and Harrison.

Inspired by the lyrics of “Bye Bye Blackbird” Clowes’ second piece, “Pack Up All You Cares And Woes” had a more contemporary feel with the composer probing gently on tenor and sharing the solos with Hulme on guitar.

Brownfield and Byrne returned as the full ensemble played a new Byrne arrangement of “Early Autumn”, a tune made famous by Stan Getz. Described by the arranger a as “Brecon exclusive” the piece featured his breathy ballad playing alongside further solos from Clowes and Hulme.

Energy levels were raised on a high speed romp through Slide Hampton’s “My Blues” with Byrne and Clowes trading solos before a high octane trumpet feature from Brownfield plus a further solo from Hulme.

A well received set concluded with a Jimmy Van Heusen tune (“The Second Time Around”, I think) with features for Brownfield, Byrne,  Clowes and Hulme plus cameos for bass and drums. The well deserved encore was “East Of The Sun , West Of The Moon” with Brownfield and Hulme both featuring strongly.

Although there were no great surprises here, apart from the two Clowes originals mid set, this was still a very enjoyable performance and one that was greatly appreciated by the Brecon Jazz Club crowd. The format and the material may have been a little predictable but there was no denying the quality of the playing from all six musicians. Brownfield and Byrne are admirably fluent soloists and they do what they do extremely well – which is why audiences love them.

Nevertheless it was good to have Clowes around to bring something a little different to the well established BBQ template, her two original pieces were a breath of fresh air and were very well received while her tenor soloing probed deeply and explored some interesting angles within the broadly bop based context. I would imagine that she also relished the opportunity to participate in a good old fashion ‘blowing session’ as a change from some of her more classically orientated ‘chamber jazz’ projects. As for BBQ I’d still like to see them adding some more original material to their repertoire, for variety as much as anything else. All in all though a hugely successful and enjoyable event courtesy of Brecon Jazz Club.

CELTIC JAZZ SOUNDS – MARIA WALSH / CAROLE NELSON / IAN COOPER / HEULWEN THOMAS

The final Brecon Jazz Club event took place at The Muse, the bohemian style arts space created at the town’s old museum. Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club likes to bring together musicians who have never worked with each other before to create new, exciting, but ultimately successful collaborations. Friday night’s trio featuring pianist Geoff Eales, bassist Erika Lyons and drummer Romarna Campbell represents an excellent case in point.

Celtic Jazz Sounds fulfilled this remit and also stayed true to the ‘Women in Jazz’ theme of the Weekend with the Dublin based songwriting duo of Maria Walsh (lead vocals, percussion) and Carole Nelson (piano, whistle, vocals) teamed with locally based musicians Heulwen Thomas (violin) and ‘token bloke’ Ian Cooper (electric and acoustic bass).

Under the group name Zrazy Walsh and Nelson have recorded a series of albums embracing both jazz and folk as well as electronica. Openly lesbian many of their songs embrace feminist and political issues but there was little proselytising at tonight’s performance which saw the Anglo-Irish duo (Nelson was born in London) teaming up with violinist Heulwen Thomas and Brecon based musician Ian Cooper.

In deference to this being a jazz audience the material consisted of a mix of original songs penned by Walsh and Nelson interspersed with interpretations of well known jazz standards. Nelson played both piano and penny whistle on the opening song “Amen” with its evocative sea imagery conveyed by the voice of Walsh who also played bodhran.

Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” found Cooper moving from electric to acoustic bass with Walsh now singing and providing additional rhythmic impetus on brushed snare drum. Thomas’ jazz violin solo was reminiscent of her work with the Hot Club influenced quintet 5 Go Swing who I recall seeing at a club date at Black Mountain Jazz in nearby Abergavenny back in 2009. She shared the solos with Nelson, an accomplished jazz soloist here playing an electric keyboard.

Nelson and Thomas also shared the solos on the original song “Rain”, a topical choice given the horrendous flooding that had occurred in Louisiana and Mississippi over the weekend of the Festival, but which had in fact been inspired by an earlier incident in Cincinnati.

“Why Don’t You Do Right” was covered by both Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee and offered further opportunities for Thomas and Nelson to demonstrate their instrumental abilities. This was followed by the original “Private Wars”, another melancholic look at human relationships and a tune that once won a Walsh and Nelson a Billboard songwriting award.

The Zrazy duo clearly have a great love for the songs of Cole Porter and his witty but disturbing tale of romantic obsession, “Night And Day” was up next, introduced by the Dublin duo on voice and piano prior to instrumental solos by Thomas and Nelson and a series of scat vocal / double bass exchanges between Walsh and Cooper.

Another jazz standard, “Autumn Leaves” was given a Latin-esque treatment with Walsh singing and playing cowbell as solos came from Thomas and Nelson with Walsh also adding a scat vocal episode.

At this juncture the fantastically busy Thomas left the stage to play another gig, presumably somewhere on the Fringe Festival circuit. Walsh, Nelson and Cooper continued as a trio with the focus now more firmly on Zrazy’s original material. This included the introspective but ultimately triumphant “Waiting For Me” featuring Walsh’s lyrics about struggling to find her true identity in a repressive Ireland. Many of the duo’s songs are intensely personal and next up was a Nelson song dedicated to the memory of her late father.

Cooper switched back to electric bass for the rather more uplifting “Dream On”, its lyrics about “dancing in the rain” and “going against the grain” representing a hymn to non-conformity.

The closing “Drive” saw Cooper getting his first real solo of the night, sharing the instrumental plaudits with Nelson on piano as Walsh performed on both voice and bodhran.

The deserved encore was a wonderfully emotive version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child”. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

At a packed out Muse the Celtic Jazz Sounds project proved to be another big success for Brecon Jazz Club with the audience members responding positively to a somewhat eclectic mix of music. The demand for Zrazy CDs after the show was correspondingly brisk. 

If I’m honest the standard of musicianship wasn’t as technically precise as we’d seen earlier in the Weekend with occasional rough vocals and missed instrumental cues but this was genuinely a first meeting between the players and the good natured audience didn’t seem to mind too much. Indeed there was a feel good factor about the whole event, despite the occasional darkness of the subject matter. And technical gripes aside it was the quality of the song writing that counted. Walsh and Nelson have written some very good, if very personal songs. Their lyrics are perceptive, intelligent, sharply observed and genuinely involving. Theirs is a very distinctive world view and one that also embraces an impressively broad range of musical styles.

WEEKEND OVERVIEW

Brecon Weekend represented a very commendable first attempt to rescue something from the ashes of Brecon Jazz Festival. Despite the absence of big international names and a relative lack of nationally known British musicians there was still some excellent music to be seen and heard, not least from the phenomenally talented young musicians on the Brecon Jazz Futures programme. I think it’s fair to say that we were lucky enough to have seen some of the jazz stars of the future over the course of the Weekend.

From an artistic perspective the Weekend was a triumph, and assuming no knight in shining armour rides over the horizon to rescue the Festival in its previous format it’s something I’d love to see taking place again next year.

That said there’s still plenty of room for improvement. More effective advertising and publicity is needed, although I will concede that Orchard’s withdrawal left precious little time for the organisers to co-ordinate their events. Brecon Jazz Club were the first to announce their programme and were rewarded with near capacity audiences for all of their events. Their year round presence in the town no doubt helped with this, Lynne Gornall team have instilled a great sense of loyalty and trust among their supporters with their successful regular club nights throughout the year.

The Theatr programme was consistently interesting but was announced rather late and suffered accordingly with respect to crowd numbers. However I suspect that the positive feedback generated by the audience reactions to some exceptional performances, allied to better advertising and publicity, will lead to increased turnouts next year as the Brecon Jazz Futures programme (and related events) starts to gain a reputation.

The only event I saw at the Cathedral was shamefully poorly attended, scant reward for an excellent performance by the Andy Nowak Trio. The Cathedral’s publicity only advertised the flagship Jacqui Dankworth and Ellington tribute events (both part funded by the Arts Council of Wales),  these presumably drawing larger numbers. The concerts by Nowak and fellow pianist Simon Deeley received precious little publicity and consequently both were very sparsely attended.

If Brecon Jazz Weekend is to flourish in the future there needs to be more co-ordination between the three strands in terms of both publicity and scheduling. There was no unified Festival brochure meaning that it was difficult to establish who was playing when and where. There were also some unfortunate scheduling overlaps, notably with the Tina May and Nerija/Dennis Rollins events on the Saturday with each gig organised by a different promoter. There was a mass exodus of Dennis fans before the end of Tina’s show, while those with tickets to both events who chose to stay missed around twenty minutes of the excellent Nerija. There was certainly scope for Tina’s gig to have started thirty or even forty five minutes earlier, thus eradicating the problem. One got the sense that each body was fighting its own corner, very successfully in Brecon Jazz Club’s case, but some sense of the bigger picture and a spirit of mutual co-operation and co-ordination is needed if Brecon Jazz Weekend is going to succeed as a whole. 

I appreciate that some kind of teething problems were inevitable in this first year, especially given the time constraints the organisers were working under. Overall it was a pleasure and a privilege to be there and I’m already looking forward to a similar, more unified, better co-ordinated event next year. 

   

   

 

Saturday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 13/08/2016.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Saturday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 13/08/2016.

Ian Mann on Day 2 of the weekend and performances by Dowally, GSD Ensemble, Trefor Owen, Asterope, Caravela, Tina May, Nerija and Dennis Rollins' Velocity Trio. Photography by Bob Meyrick.

Photograph of Tina May by Bob Meyrick

Saturday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 13/08/2016

The Saturday of the Brecon Jazz Weekend incorporated performances co-ordinated by the three organisers of the event, Brecon Jazz Club, Theatr Brycheiniog and Brecon Cathedral.

I began my day at the Theatr where there was an all day schedule of concerts, most of them taking place under the “Brecon Jazz Futures” banner, a programme of events featuring talented young musicians curated by music educator and long time Brecon visitor Marc Edwards. 

Edwards had used his contacts at Britain’s leading music colleges and many of the performers were either students or recent graduates of the jazz course at these institutions. Others had been talent spotted by Edwards, often on line, and the result was a richly varied programme encompassing a variety of music styles but with the standard of musicianship universally high. The skills of these young musicians were a credit to their tutors and on the evidence of the Brecon Jazz Futures programme the future of British jazz will remain in safe hands for many years to come.

DOWALLY

The first show of the day began at the early hour of 11.00 am in the Studio suite at Theatr Brycheiniog and featured the young Scottish folk trio Dowally, one of those groups that Edwards had located on line.

Comprised of violinist/vocalist Rachel Walker, guitarist Dan Abrahams and accordionist Phil Alexander the trio presented a mix of songs and instrumentals in a broadly similar format to that adopted by the Anglo-Scottish trio Lau, with whom they share an identical instrumental configuration. I’d wager that Dowally have almost certainly listened to Lau and would very likely cite them as an influence.

The majority of the group’s material is written by Walker and Abrahams and much of today’s set was sourced from the trio’s 2015 eponymous début album which also features the cello of guest musician Graham Coe, unfortunately not present today.

This was essentially a pure folk performance but it was well received by an open minded crowd who appreciated both the band’s instrumental ability and their affable and good humoured presenting style. After opening with a set of traditional sounding folk melodies written by Walker the group stretched out on the curiously titled group original “Horny Turkish Zebra in Croatia”.
Here the Lau influence was most pronounced with Alexander using the body of his piano accordion as an auxiliary percussion instrument while Abrahams’ guitar solo, played over an insistent accordion/fiddle drone exhibited a subtle blues influence. 

“Hear It Ring”, written by the American banjo player Abigail Washburn, was a kind of contemporary spiritual, confidently sung by Walker with the lads joining in on the harmonies.  Despite the earliness of the hour Walker also had the audience singing along with Abrahams and Alexander - “Hear it ring, God’s Great Divine Bell!”.

The original tune “Cosy House” possessed an ethereal beauty that was sometimes reminiscent of an Irish air and was a piece that celebrated the simple joy of being inside in front of a roaring fire on a cold, wet, winter’s day. Lively album opener “Wally Pumpkin” featured Walker’s violin virtuosity alongside some tightly focussed ensemble playing.

Walker had the audience singing along again on the traditional Scottish song “Cold, Haily, Windy Night”, one of those “lover at the window” songs that exist in various incarnations within the Celtic folk music tradition. This was teamed with the traditional instrumental “The King’s Bangs”.

Walker moved to the whistle for an as yet untitled instrumental and asked the audience to name it.  This seems to be something that happens at every gig and despite some good suggestions I get the impression that they’re still looking for a title!

Besides their love of traditional Celtic music Dowally also have a fondness for old time Americana and they included two such pieces, “Sandy River Bell” and Sal’s Got sand Between Her Toes” in a lively set of tunes that also included the original “Chris and Emily’s”. 

A further slice of Americana followed as Walker led the audience through the traditional song “Cluck Old Hen”, which was refreshing in its nursery rhyme like innocence and period rustic charm. Great fun for all.

The trio finished the set with an invigorating instrumental that featured fiddle and accordion simulating the sound of trains, another import from across the Atlantic perhaps? 

I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Dowally’s set with the trio impressing both individually and collectively on an eclectic mix of folk related material. It’s probably fair to say that most jazz listeners, having progressed thus far, are also receptive to other musical styles and this proved to be a successful gig for both the band and the audience. An unexpectedly enjoyable start to the day.

GSD ENSEMBLE

There were more crossover sounds at the next Jazz Futures performance which took place in the main house at Theatr Brycheiniog.

GSD Ensemble are an eight piece aggregation combing a jazz quartet (piano, tenor sax, electric bass, drums) with a classical string quartet. Led by pianist Sam Davies the group also featured bassist Dan Peate, drummer Jon Needham and saxophonist Caitlin Lang plus the string quartet of Beka Reid and Abi Hammett (violins), Will Chadwick (viola) and Polly Virr (cello). 

Like many of the other performers on the Jazz Futures programme the ensemble originated at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music with members of the jazz and classical course coming together to create GSD. The four string players also perform as a self contained entity as the GSD Quartet and were to appear in this format later on in the day, but unfortunately I had to miss that concert. Indeed, due to other commitments I was only able to see around half of the octet’s performance but this was enough to give a feel for their music which is also influenced by the music of the cinema, as evidenced by the nature of the original writing and also by the inclusion in the programme of “Pure Imagination” from the film “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory”.

In 2015 GSD released the EP “Golden Rule” and have recently recorded a full length album, “Wildfire”, which is due for imminent release. I assume that most of today’s music was sourced from there.

GSD’s blend of different strands of music was very much in the ethos of the Jazz Futures programme as a whole. Anchored by Davies’ piano, which often introduced the pieces, the ensemble’s music embraced jazz, classical and folk influences with the band sometimes breaking down into its two component quartets, particularly for jazz solos from Davies and tenor saxophonist Lang. Elsewhere we heard folk style fiddling from the violinists and melancholy, classically inspired cello from Virr.

But mostly the ensemble worked together, often using Davies’ solo piano introductions as the basis for a gradual layering of instruments, the resultant music often taking on a cinematic or anthemic quality. Among the pieces played was “This Way Home”, a tune sourced from the Ensemble’s “Golden Rule” EP.

Although I had to leave early I was impressed with GSD for both the quality of the musicianship and the high level of integration between the jazz and classical players. The group is still a work in progress but they seem to be very much on the right lines. Jazz / classical crossovers are both more common and more successful than they once were with the current crop of string players more versatile, adaptable and open to the process of improvisation than previous generations. I’m informed that the concert by GSD’s string quartet was also excellent with much to engage the jazz audience.

Despite my early departure this is a project that I’ll be continuing to keep an eye on.

TREFOR OWEN QUARTET with MEGAN THOMAS

The second Brecon Jazz Club event was at a sold out Guildhall for a performance by a quartet led by guitarist Trefor Owen. A highly experienced musician Owen also runs North Wales Jazz and today’s concert was a collaboration between this body and Brecon Jazz Club. It’s become something of a tradition for Owen to introduce BJC’ s festival concerts in Welsh, the honour for this falling today to violinist Heulwen Thomas who was to perform with another line up later on in the weekend. 

In some respects this concert was a continuation of BJC’s 2015 Festival programme at the Guildhall which was a celebration of the jazz guitar featuring artists such as Remi Harris, Deirdre Cartwright, Will Barnes and Martin Taylor.

Owen took to the stage with fellow guitarist Andy Hulme and the pair duetted on the standard “Alone Together”, alternating the solos and sharing the rhythm duties between them. This was very much a partnership of equals.

In 2015 Martin Taylor had held a capacity audience at the Guildhall spellbound with a masterful solo guitar performance. Owen and Hulme had a similar effect upon their listeners as you could hear a pin drop during the duo’s elegant renditions of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” and Burt Bacharach’s “Wives And Lovers”, both tunes chosen by Owen for the beauty of their melodies. 

In November 2014 I enjoyed a performance by Owen and his Shades Of Shearing group, also featuring Hulme, at a Black Mountain Jazz club night in Abergavenny. The popular local double bass player (and sometime vocalist) Ruth Bowen now joined the ranks for two tunes from Owen’s Shearing repertoire, the jazz standard “East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon” and the little heard Henry Mancini song “Dreamsville”. The grounding presence of Bowen’s bass gave the guitar duo even greater scope for their compelling six string interplay as they continued to exchange fruitful ideas.

The group was now expanded to a quartet with the addition of classy vocalist Megan Thomas, a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. It was the first time that I had seen Thomas perform and I was impressed with her poise, technique and versatility on standards such as “A Foggy Day In London Town” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”, which saw her yearning vocal bringing out the full beauty of the rarely heard lyric.

Jobim’s “Triste” found her singing in both English and Portuguese and a lively “Caravan” saw her trading solos with the two guitarists. A hugely successful concert concluded with Thomas singing the standard “I’ll Be seeing You” before a well deserved encore saw the vocalist demonstrating her scatting abilities on an upbeat version of “All Of Me” which also gave Owen and Hulme a final opportunity to display their impressive six string skills.

This was a well paced performance that provided good exposure for young vocalist Thomas and enhanced the already impressive reputations of the other performers. Although there were no real surprises the quality of the performances delighted the capacity crowd at a concert that represented another triumph for organisers Brecon Jazz Club. 

ASTEROPE

Back at the Theatr the next band to perform on the Jazz Futures programme was Asterope, a new quintet comprised of student/graduates from London’s Royal Academy of Music led by saxophonist and composer Tom Barford. The band also featured guitarist Billy Marrows, pianist Rupert Cox and drummer Dave Storey with the experienced Bristolian bassist Will Harris (Moonlight Saving Time, Michelson Morley etc.) deputising for regular incumbent Flo Moore.

The band’s set was formed entirely of Barford’s original compositions and commenced with “Matterhorn” which was centred around a Tyner-esque piano motif and featured Barford and Marrows doubling up on the melody with solos coming from Cox on piano, Barford on tenor and Marrows on guitar.

“Cardio” found Barford’s tenor stating the theme prior to a fluent, spiralling guitar solo from the impressive Marrows. Meanwhile Barford’s own solo included some incisive probing in the tenor’s upper register.

“Malicious Meg” incorporated some appropriately malevolent guitar riffing from Marrows followed by a powerful solo from Cox that featured some mercurial right hand runs and insistent left hand comping. Barford maintained the energy levels on tenor prior to a closing drum feature from Storey above the relentless chime of Cox’s piano figures.

Barford explained that “Real One” was inspired by a friend who was going through rough times. Attractively melodic the piece included a sustain rich solo from Marrows followed by the composer’s mellifluous tenor. But the loudest applause was saved for Harris’ melodic bass solo, being based fairly locally he was probably the only musician in the quintet with whom the audience was previously familiar.

The next piece was unannounced but was introduced by the trio of Cox, Harris and Storey with the drummer initially deploying brushes. However the intensity levels began to build during Cox’s highly percussive piano solo and Barford’s subsequent tenor excursion before Storey, now wielding sticks rounded things off with a powerful drum feature.

Asterope concluded their set with the boppish “Mean It” with Marrows’ guitar solo fuelled by Harris’ propulsive bass and Storey’s sizzling cymbals. Barford and Cox both soloed individually before thrillingly trading phrases and the piece was climaxed by an extended Storey drum solo.

Although there were moments when the tunes felt a little bit like compositional exercises there was much to enjoy about Asterope’s set. The standard of musicianship was very high throughout with Barford, Marrows and Cox all impressing with their solos. Storey also featured strongly and Harris blended into the group superbly. The core of the set featured a blend of melodic jazz with rock elements that sometimes reminded me of the music of Theo Travis, another saxophonist who likes to work with guitar players. However Barford’s physical resemblance to a young Travis may have helped me to form this conclusion.

Asterope have yet to record but it would be good to see this music committed to disc. Barford, a saxophonist and composer with considerable potential, is yet another talented young musician to keep an eye on.

CARAVELA

Caravela are a London based quintet specialising in the music of Portugal, Cape Verde and Brazil. Fronted by the charismatic vocalist Ines Loubet the band also features pianist Joseph Costi, guitarist Telmo Sousa, bassist Pedro Velasco and drummer Ben Brown.

The band take their name from the Caravels, the small sailing vessels in which the Portuguese navigators explored the Atlantic, taking them to Brazil, Cape Verde and West Africa.

The songs were sung in entirely in Portuguese so I wasn’t able to get many of the titles but Loubet’s between tunes announcements were conducted in flawless English, which helped to give some valuable insight into the meanings behind the songs. Much of this was already apparent from the passion of her singing, an extraordinary and transcendent vocal performance.

But it wasn’t just about Loubet, the instrumentalists supported her brilliantly with Costi, Sousa and Velasco moving between the acoustic and electric versions of their respective instruments as the music required.

The set opened with Loubet ‘s singing, accompanied only by the sounds of two tambourines played by herself and Costi. Brown’s drums and shakers plus Sousa’s acoustic guitar were subsequently added to the equation as the music began to gather momentum.

The second piece began with a stunning passage of vocal percussion that made me think that the music had temporarily been re-located to India, but clearly this kind of ‘mouth music’ is part of the Afro-Brazilian tradition too.

Based upon the Baio rhythm of North East Brazil Hermeto Pascoal’s “Bebe” with its soaring, wordless Flora Purim style vocals and Costi piano solo probably represented more familiar ground for jazz listeners.

The pianist also featured strongly on a song telling a tale of wife swapping in Brazil (“it doesn’t end well” explained Loubert) that also name checked the Maracana Stadium. 
 
But it wasn’t all about Brazil.  The lovely “Zeta” was written by a Cape Verdean composer in honour of his mother and included a liquid electric bass solo from Velasco. “Farewell” was written from the point of an economic migrant from Cape Verde and featured Loupet encouraging the audience to sing along wordlessly with the lilting, folk like melody.

The original tune “Maraguese” addressed the Portuguese diaspora with Loupet announcing “you can be anywhere in the world but you never forget where you’re from”.

These were just the highlights of a powerful and impressive set that periodically included pithy but sparkling instrumental solos from Costi and Sousa plus a couple of features for drummer Brown who was thoroughly convincing in his mastery of the varying rhythms deployed in this exotic (to British ears) music.

By turns dramatic, beautiful, melancholy, celebratory and incantatory this was a remarkable set with the compelling and technically gifted Loupet commanding the attentive and pleasingly sizeable audience in the Theatr’s Studio space.

I’m no expert on World Music but it struck me that Caravela were very much the real deal with this passionate, emotional and thoroughly convincing performance that mixed technical excellence with a raw, emotive, authenticity.

It seems that others agree with me. Caravela were invited to participate in a late night prom at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall, a performance that was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Caravela were one of THE highlights of the Brecon Jazz Futures programme. A surprising, but thoroughly deserving festival success.

TINA MAY sings THE MUSIC OF BRAZIL

There were more Brazilian sounds to enjoy at the Guildhall at this Brecon Jazz Club curated performance by vocalist Tina May who fronted an eight piece ensemble featuring both locally based and visiting musicians.

May recalled performing Brazilian inspired music at the same venue back in 1989 as part of guitarist Dylan Fowler’s group Frevo. I remember being present at what was an excellent and memorable gig and like the singer also remember that she was heavily pregnant at the time and sang perched on a stool at the front of the stage. I still have the cassette, signed by Tina, that I purchased at the gig. 

May is a graduate of the RWCMD in Cardiff and has always maintained strong links with Wales. She was joined in a three pronged vocal front line by Cathy Jones, who also played percussion, and Alexa Dene who also featured on the flute. Cardiff based Jonathan Crespo played both trumpet and percussion with RWCMD alumni Aidan Thorne (double bass) and Lloyd Haines (drums)  forming a very capable rhythm section. Keyboard player Pedro Asencio and guitarist/vocalist Gui Tavares added an authentic Brazilian presence to a very talented ensemble.

May and her colleagues played the music of Brazil in a style jazz followers are familiar with, an Anglicised version if you will, and arguably less authentic than the music of Caravela. But for all that it still sounded good as Tavares’ acoustic guitar introduced “A Felicidade”, the first item in a programme of material written by Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim. May shared the lead vocal with the impressive Jones, the latter a popular figure with Brecon Jazz Club audiences following a successful visit to the club fronting her own group in March 2015. Also playing a range of held hand percussive instruments Jones was in particularly good voice this afternoon and her performance was highly impressive, more than holding her own in comparison to the nationally known May.

“So Danco Samba” featured the trumpet playing talents of Crespo, a Cardiff based musician who I was seeing perform live for the first time. I was hugely impressed with Crespo’s playing throughout the set, his tone rich and burnished, his playing assured and fluent – and he wielded a mean shaker too! Also featuring as a soloist on this piece was Asencio on electric piano.

Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade” was given an English language lyric by the great American vocal artist Jon Hendricks who retitled it “No More Blues”. May demonstrated her class here by singing the lyric first in English and then in Portuguese. Instrumental solos came from the two Brazilians in the line up, Tavares and Asencio.

Dene was featured singing the Portuguese lyric to “Insensatez”, also known as “How Insensitive”, a melody based on a Chopin prelude. The Cardiff based vocalist was primarily deployed as a harmony singer with May and Jones handling the majority of the lead vocal parts but this was a nice feature from her.

Announcing “One Note Samba” May was at pains to point out the origins of samba in the slave trade. Musically the piece included a series of thrilling scat vocal/trumpet exchanges between May and Crespo and a feature from the talented young drummer Lloyd Haines, a musician now making his way on the London jazz scene.

“Bonita” featured Dene on flute and Tavares on guitar and vocals. The latter’s guitar playing was at the heart of many of the arrangements and his singing provided the ensemble with a distinctive fourth voice.

The inevitable “Girl From Ipanema” featured Dene singing the English lyric and exchanging scat vocal lines with Crespo, with Asencio again functioning as the other featured soloist.

“Corcovado” (aka “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”) featured the lead vocals of the impressive Cathy Jones, who also told the tale of her visit to the mountain, getting trapped on the slopes in a storm and having to be rescued by a team of Brazilian firemen! She seemed to be quite excited about that!
Jones’ percussion was also an integral part of the ensemble sound and she was also due to lead a Latin voice/percussion workshop over the course of the weekend.

The concert ended with the whole band playing percussion instruments of one kind or another as they sang a song with a lyric translating as “How Can We keep Our Children safe”, Jobim’s comment on the one time military dictatorship in Brazil. The music sounded tribal and African, a further reminder of the true origins of Brazilian music.

Performed in front of a capacity audience this concert was another triumph for Brecon Jazz Club. Again the standard of singing and playing was commendably high with May, Jones, Crespo and Tavares arguably the most impressive performers. The show was presented in a good natured manner by the effusive May,  one of The UK’s most adventurous and accomplished jazz singers and also a trained actress.

NERIJA / DENNIS ROLLINS’ VELOCITY TRIO

The concert programme at Theatr Brycheiniog concluded for the day with this exciting double bill.
The event was supported by Jazz4Jed, the charitable foundation set up in memory of Jed Williams, the man whose adventurous and visionary programming did so much to put the original Brecon Jazz Festival on the map.

NERIJA

Nerija is the young all female, multi cultural septet that emerged out of the Tomorrow’s Warriors scheme and is now beginning to make waves on the UK jazz scene. I was fortunate enough to cover the band’s performance at the Green Note in Camden Town at the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival and was hugely impressed by the group’s energy and musicianship.

Unfortunately I missed around twenty minutes of Nerija’s set here due to a scheduling clash with the Tina May event at the Guildhall. However all the virtues that made that Green Note show such a success were in evidence again here, qualities that were very much appreciated by the biggest audience of the day in the Main House at Theatr Brycheiniog. The crowd gave Nerija a terrific reception on their first visit to Wales.

I’ll refer readers to my London Jazz Festival coverage of the Green Note gig for the full Nerija experience but here’s something of the flavour of the Brecon show where Nerija performed with their customary verve and skill. The first thing that strikes you about the band is the punchy exuberance of the four woman horn section featuring Nubya Garcia (tenor sax), Cassie Kinoshi (alto), Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet) and Rosie Turton (trombone). These four are all highly accomplished soloists and all got to enjoy impressive individual features during this set. But they’re also highly effective as a unit and came across like a veritable juggernaut during the more forceful and energetic moments of the programme.

The front line were well supported by guitarist Shirley Tetteh, also an accomplished soloist and in many respects the linchpin of the band, and by double bassist Inga Eichler. On drums, replacing the busy Lizy Exell was Olly Sarkar, - like fellow percussionist Jason Long at the Green Note here cast in the role of ‘token bloke’! 

All of the classic Nerija characteristics were here with the band’s music including many of the elements associated with the music of Africa and its diaspora. We heard the West African cadences of Tetteh’s guitar and the joyous, celebratory sounds of South African Township Jazz alongside more contemporary funk/soul grooves and hip hop inspired broken beats. 

Nerija’s members are all writers and their different styles add colour and variety to the group’s sound. It’s not all hammer and tongs, the tunes embrace a range of dynamics and one pensive tenor solo by Garcia was particularly affecting. 
   
The material included Eichler’s “A & R”, Kinoshi’s “Mirrors” and Turton’s “Fisherman”. All of the pieces were characterised by the fluent, powerful and increasingly confident soloing of the horn players allied to the strong but supple and intelligent support of the rhythm section, all of this bound together by the sound of Tetteh’s guitar.

As at the Green Note I had the pleasure of talking with Nubya Garcia after the gig. She gave me the good news that the band’s début album will be released in September 2016, the recording financed by a successful Kickstarter campaign. This is indeed good news, Nerija’s music deserves to be widely heard and the album is sure to be one of the most eagerly awaited British jazz releases of the year.

DENNIS ROLLINS’ VELOCITY TRIO

Dennis Rollins’ Velocity Trio is an unlikely and probably unique success story, I mean, how many trombone and organ trios are there? Guitar and Hammond – check, saxophone and Hammond – check – but Hammond and trombone?! Yet somehow Rollins and his colleagues make it all work and make it seem like the most obvious instrumental combination in the (jazz) world. 

It wasn’t always this way. When I first saw the Velocity group, admittedly with a different line up, back in 2009 at the Lichfield Real Ale Jazz & Blues Festival it was very much a work in progress. In the years since Rollins has honed his approach and established a stable personnel in the shapes of organist Ross Stanley and drummer Pedro Segundo, these two featuring on both of the trio’s widely acclaimed albums, 2011’s “The 11th Gate” and 2014’s “Symbiosis”.

Velocity Trio is now a commendably tight unit, one that is capable of delivering consistently interesting and entertaining live shows. I’ve seen the trio perform on a number of occasions since that Lichfield gig including club performances at Much Wenlock and Abergavenny and also as part of the Stroller programme at the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival. Rollins and his colleagues have done the business at all of these performances and tonight was to be no different, even with Segundo absent and replaced by the very capable Tim Carter.

The trio hit the ground running with the animated Rollins’ leading his troops through the rousing “Utopia” with solos coming from Rollins on trombone and Stanley on his KeyB organ, a modern generation instrument capable of generating a remarkably authentic vintage Hammond sound.

“Emergence” was inspired by one of the most influential organists in the history of jazz, the late, great Larry Young (1940-79), and particularly Young’s classic 1965 Blue Note album “Unity”. This featured the wailing and churning of Stanley’s keys plus a series of fiery trombone and organ exchanges.

Inspired by the possibilities of spiritualism the spacey and dramatic “The Other Side” was introduced by a highly musical drum feature from the impressive Carter, a musician who I was previously unfamiliar with. His atmospheric rumbles and filigree cymbal work were looped and treated by Rollins, his soundscaping skills producing a fascinating backdrop of interlocking rhythms, these in turn providing the canvas for solos from Stanley’s keyboards, at times adopting an electric piano sound, and the leader’s trombone. The dry ice that was seeping from the side of the stage seemed particularly appropriate for this piece, which concluded as it began with the sound of Carter’s drums.

Rollins’ rousing and infectious stop-start arrangement of Pink Floyd’s “Money” has long been a favourite item at the trio’s live shows and tonight was no exception. The dry ice swirled again and there was even something of a light show as Velocity paid homage to the Floyd. Carter’s funky grooves fuelled solos from both Rollins and Stanley before the drummer rounded thing off with his own feature.

Another popular set piece has been Rollins’ adaptation of Eddie Harris’ enduring “Freedom Jazz Dance”. “We take the tune round the universe” explained Rollins - “but we always come back to the same beat” he added as he encouraged the audience to clap along to the simple groove that formed the fulcrum of the arrangement. Meanwhile the three musicians did indeed head for the outer limits with solos from Stanley and Rollins plus an extended drum feature for the hard working, sweat drenched Carter.

At the end of a relatively short set the deserved encore was Rollins’ gospel tinged arrangement of Amanda McBroom’s song “The Rose”, written in 1977 and subsequently covered by Bette Midler, Elaine Paige and Westlife! The leader’s sumptuous trombone sounds were complemented by   Stanley’s church like organ and Carter’s gently supportive brushed drum grooves. If jazz ever does lighter wavers this arrangement will be right up there.

Although I’d seen Rollins and the trio perform broadly similar sets before this was still hugely enjoyable. Rollins is a great communicator and always presents his shows with a warmth and charm that has also made him an acclaimed educator. The standard of musicianship was impeccable and I highly impressed by Carter who deputised for the hugely talented Segundo with great aplomb.

The Velocity Trio will be back in Wales on September 3rd 2016 when they appear at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny. Please visit http://www.wall2walljazz.co.uk for details.

In the meantime I’ll leave the last word to pianist Andy Nowak who had played with his own trio the previous evening at the Cathedral - “Ross Stanley! - what a badass!”.

Quite, I couldn’t have put it better myself. 


COMMENTS (via Facebook) ;


Jonathan Crespo;
My first review after all this time in Cardiff, thank you sir for your kind words. They mean a lot.


John Anderson;
Thanks Ian, I agree pretty much with your accounts of the events I saw. I particularly thought NÉRIJA were fantastic. Very much a band to follow. Without in anyway wishing to diminish the fantastic efforts of the three organising groups better co-ordination of publicity and programming are areas for discussion for next year, AND WE MUST HOPE THERE WILL BE A NEXT YEAR. Brecon is much too valuable a festival to lose.


Roger Warburton;
Nice review Megan…...

 


 


 

Friday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 12/08/2016.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Friday at Brecon Jazz Weekend, 12/08/2016.

Ian Mann on the start of the first Brecon Jazz Weekend and performances by two very different piano trios led by Geoff Eales and Andy Nowak. Photography by Bob Meyrick.

Photograph of Geoff Eales by Bob Meyrick

FRIDAY AT BRECON JAZZ WEEKEND, 12/08/2016.

In December 2015 the decision of franchise operators Orchard Media to withdraw their support from Brecon Jazz Festival appeared to signal the end of a great musical institution that hosted some of the biggest names in jazz, drew visitors from all over the world and provided an incalculable boost to the local economy.

Understandably the town of Brecon was reluctant to see the Festival die after more than thirty years as one of the biggest and most important jazz gatherings in Britain, a much loved annual event that had helped to put Brecon on the global musical map.

In January 2016 plans began to be made for a jazz happening in Brecon on the traditional mid August weekend that had been a fixture in the diary of so many jazz lovers for so many years. The first group of jazz enthusiasts to take action were Brecon Jazz Club who have been keeping the jazz flag flying in Brecon for the other eleven months of the year for so long.

Under the guidance of Lynne ‘The Indefatigable” Gornall and her team Brecon Jazz Club were quick to organise a series of concert events at popular former Festival venues such as the Guildhall and the Castle Hotel.

Left high and dry by Orchard’s withdrawal and suddenly faced with a blank weekend Theatr Brycheiniog presented a series of concerts by young performers under the generic title “Brecon Jazz Futures”. The programme was curated by musical educator Marc Edwards and proved to be a great success and I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the individual events in the series in due course.

The third strand of the newly christened Brecon Jazz Weekend was a further series of concerts at Brecon Cathedral, another venue that had become closely associated with the Festival. The Dean & Chapter were keen to continue the Cathedral’s association with jazz in the town and were able to secure Arts Council of Wales funding for some of their events, among them a celebration of the music of Duke Ellington and a concert by vocalist Jacqui Dankworth and her quintet. 

With the three different strands in operation there was a commendably wide choice of music to be enjoyed in the town over the course of the first ‘Brecon Jazz Weekend’. True to the Brecon spirit this was music that impressed with its sheer variety as the performers explored a broad array of jazz styles. For me it’s the wide range of jazz and related music that’s been one of the great strengths of Brecon Jazz over the years with every Festival throwing up at least one important new discovery. This year, under new management and a new name, was to be no different.

While the jazz festival was being re-invented the accompanying Brecon Fringe was celebrating its tenth anniversary. One suspects that even without the main festival to hang its hat on the Fringe would have happened anyway with virtually all the pubs in town presenting bands over the weekend. The sounds of rock, blues and covers bands was blasting out all over town and some of them sounded pretty damn good. I’ve attended a few Fringe events in the past and enjoyed them and I’d like to congratulate the organisers on reaching this milestone.

This inaugural Brecon Jazz Weekend centred around the theme of “Women In Jazz” and also placed an emphasis on the virtues of collaboration and well being that are encouraged by the playing of jazz and other musics. The programme included a series of workshops including a number of events conducted by trained music therapist (and talented double bass player ) Erika Lyons.

The Guildhall venue also hosted an exhibition emphasising the role that women have played in the development of jazz in Wales, among them bassist and educator Paula Gardiner and drummer and big band leader Crissy Lea. At the opening reception music was performed by a number of local, predominately female musicians including pianist Jen Wilson, saxophonist Deborah Glenister and vocalists Elissa Evans and Margot Morgan.

Having set the background to the Brecon Jazz weekend I’ll now move on to the main concert programme which commenced with;


GEOFF EALES TRIO, CASTLE HOTEL

This event was part of the programme curated by Brecon Jazz Club and Lynne Gornall and her team were rewarded with a capacity audience, seated cabaret style at the refurbished Castle Hotel.

Pianist and composer Geoff Eales was born in Wales but is now based in London. One of the UK’s most respected jazz musicians he has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages playing music in a variety of styles ranging from chamber jazz to fusion via mainstream and even free jazz. For me his best album remains 2009’s Edition Records release “Master Of The Game”, an aptly titled set of original contemporary piano jazz featuring an exceptional trio including double bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Martin France.

For tonight’s homecoming concert , and in keeping with the theme of the Weekend, Eales was joined by an all female rhythm section featuring the experienced double bassist Erika Lyons and the young Birmingham based drummer Romarna Campbell. 

There were echoes of a 2007 Festival performance in the same room when Eales, plus a different rhythm section, paid homage to the greats of jazz piano by playing in a myriad of styles ranging from Art Tatum through Bill Evans to Keith Jarrett. Tonight Eales, Lyons and Campbell concentrated on the music of four contemporary piano giants in the shapes of Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner - “four great living pianists”, as Eales described them. 

Following its recent refurbishment the Castle Hotel ballroom no longer has a grand piano and Eales was forced to play an electric keyboard but he still sounded good as he soloed in flowingly expansive fashion as the trio opened with Hancock’s much loved composition “Dolphin Dance”. The piece also included a solo from the consistently excellent Lyons, a hugely popular performer on the jazz circuit in Wales and the Borders and once a fully professional musician on the London jazz scene.

Also by Hancock the perennially popular “Watermelon Man” saw the music taking a funkier turn with solos by Eales and Lyons plus Campbell, who had previously exhibited a mature sense of detachment, cutting loose at the drums. “Herbie was only twenty two when he wrote it” explained Eales, “it’s been making him money ever since!”

Introducing Chick Corea’s “Friends” Eales couldn’t resist a dig at the odious Donald Trump. The music was rather more palatable as the trio lowered the temperature with Campbell starting out on brushes and with solos coming from Eales and Lyons. After Campbell finally picked up her sticks Eales second piano excursion found him adopting a more quirky approach and peppering his solo with quotes.

From the album “The Real McCoy” came Tyner’s sumptuous ballad “Search For Peace” which was introduced by a passage of solo piano before Eales was joined by Lyons’ languorous bass purr and the gentle swish of Campbell’s brushes. Lyrical solos came from Eales and Lyons with the latter picking up her bow as the tune drew to a close.

Tyner’s much played “Passion Dance” saw the trio upping the energy levels once more with Campbell introducing the tune with a solo drum passage before helping to power Eales’ solo in conjunction with Lyons’ propulsive bass. A second drum feature helped to ‘top and tail’ the piece and earned Campbell a great reception from the capacity audience.

Keith Jarrett’s “My Song” was one of the tunes played by Eales at that concert back in 2007. It’s one of the composer’s most beautiful melodies and the piece featured suitably lyrical solos from Eales and Lyons, sympathetically supported by Campbell’s brushed drums. I must admit to missing the distinctive sound of Jan Garbarek’s sax though.

The second Jarrett piece was Eales’ trio arrangement of “Memories Of Tomorrow”, better known as part IV of Jarrett’s million selling solo piano album “The Koln Concert”. The trio’s surprisingly robust treatment included solos from Eales and Lyons with the latter again taking up the bow in the closing stages.

Eales decided to include a couple of his own compositions in the set including “Watermill 22”, a piece written to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the Watermill Jazz Club in Dorking. Described by the composer as “a twelve bar blues with altered chords” and as a “a bit Monkish” it was another lively offering with a quote laden solo from Eales plus features for both Lyons and Campbell, the latter trading fours with the composer.

Eales’ “Song For My Mother” originally appeared on the “Master Of The Game” album and has subsequently acquired an additional poignancy following the recent death of the composers mother.
With its gospel tinged lyricism it’s one of Eales’ most beautiful tunes and was introduced here by a passage of solo piano with Lyons then combining to form a duo before the eventual introduction of Campbell. Eales and Lyons both soloed in appropriately sensitive fashion with the bassist again utilising her bow at the close.

Despite probably being unfamiliar to most members of the audience both of Eales’ original tunes were very well received but it was to be Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba” which closed the set. “It’s actually a samba”, explained Eales, “but who am I to argue with Chick Corea?” The piece proved to be something of a feature for Campbell who demonstrated her impressive musicality on an extended drum feature, winning herself a lot of new friends in the process.

The well deserved encore saw the trio again departing from the script with a performance of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” which Eales dedicated to his own father, also Horace, who was present in the audience. A talented pianist himself it was Horace who first encouraged Geoff to play and he was rewarded by this good natured rendition that was ushered in by Lyons at the bass and included solos by herself and Geoff Eales.

This combination of classic jazz compositions and excellent musicianship performed in front of a full house ensured that Brecon Jazz Weekend got off to a terrific start and helped to set the scene for the events to come. It represented a triumph for organisers Brecon Jazz Club who were to be rewarded with capacity audiences all weekend.


ANDY NOWAK TRIO, BRECON CATHEDRAL

Andy Nowak is a pianist and composer based in Bristol. In early 2016 he released his début album “Sorrow And The Phoenix” which featured his regular trio with fellow Bristolian Andy Tween (drums) and London based bassist Spencer Brown.

The trio played a number of dates in support of the album earlier in the year, including one at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergvenny which I was forced to miss. I was therefore determined to catch them this time round and made my way across to this first concert on the Cathedral programme.

Unfortunately in contrast to the sell out events at the Castle Hotel featuring Geoff Eales followed by the Teddy Smith Big Band this concert was very sparsely attended with fewer than twenty people seated in the nave at the Cathedral. It appeared that the Cathedral’s flagship concerts, a Duke Ellington tribute plus a performance by Jacqui Dankworth, had been well publicised but the performances by Nowak’s trio and by fellow pianist Simon Deeley’s trio less so. As a result both Nowak and Deeley suffered from poor attendances.

In Nowak’s case ( I didn’t see Deeley’s performance) this was a pity as the music and playing were both excellent and the sound balance exquisite with Nowak clearly relishing the opportunity to play the Cathedral’s beautiful Bluther grand piano.

Virtually all the music was sourced from the group’s début album and the performance began with set opener “First Light” which featured the trio’s expressive instrumental interplay plus a flowing Nowak solo.  Initially classically trained Nowak exhibited an admirable lightness of touch at the keyboard and he has cited both Bach and Brad Mehldau as significant influences. Less obviously apparent sources of inspiration include Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and Captain Beefheart!

Brown has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on albums by guitarist Kristian Borring and saxophonist Josh Kemp plus the band Porpoise Corpus. I was reminded of his work with the latter as he switched to electric bass for “We’ve Got To Bring It Down”, an ode to creativity that combined Nowak’s flowing lyricism with a subliminal funkiness and included solos for both Nowak and Brown.

The bassist moved back to the acoustic upright for a version of the standard “But Not For Me” which began with a solo piano introduction prior to Brown picking out the melody on the bass. His resonant but sensitive playing was hugely influential in the success of the music. Nowak’s solo climaxed with him trading fours with Tween, the drummer’s playing occasionally showing flickers of the latent power that once earned him a gig with folk / rock superstar Seth Lakeman. Since quitting the Lakeman band Tween has focussed on jazz and his sensitive and neatly detailed playing is also a key component in the music of this supremely balanced trio.

The album track “In The Leaving” was described by Tween as “a break up song” and featured the composer’s thoughtful, precise and undemonstrative playing on a solo piano introduction and subsequent feature that included the admirably sensitive support of brushed drums and double bass.

Like many contemporary piano trios the Nowak group have been subject to the inevitable E.S.T. comparisons and there was something of this on the busy “Stop” with its alternating fast/loud passages. Introduced by Tween at the drums and featuring Brown on electric bass the piece saw Nowak skilfully building up the tension during his solo before handing over to Brown.

One of Nowak’s primary influences was Oscar Peterson and the trio performed their arrangement of the Peterson hit “Night Train” in his honour with solos from Nowak on piano and Brown on acoustic bass, both propelled by the gentle surge of Tween’s brushes.

Nowak also spoke of his admiration for the Japanese pianist Hiromi after having seen her at a previous Brecon Jazz Festival. That said Nowak’s own more considered approach seemed far removed from Hiromi’s blend of showmanship and phenomenal technique, something emphasised by the delicate probing and brooding of “So Far Away” with the pianist combining right hand lyricism with powerful left hand motifs.

George Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” was compellingly reworked by the trio with Nowak’s lyrical solo piano intro followed by an achingly lovely and melodic solo by Brown on acoustic bass. Nowak’s subsequent solo found him stretching out expansively in a manner that was sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett.

Returning to the album “Falling” was inspired by the fall to earth of a sycamore leaf, something that was reflected in the gently spiralling quality of Nowak’s solo. The piece also included a drum feature from the impressive Tween who had manfully been battling the effects of a summer cold (or maybe hay fever) all evening.

I spoke earlier of Nowak’s admiration for the pianist Brad Mehldau. The American has a fondness for de-constructing the work of contemporary songwriters and his version of Nick Drake’s “Riverman” in turn inspired Nowak’s arrangement of a lesser known Drake song, “These Things First”. Beginning with a passage of solo piano the trio’s expressive interpretation found the leader stretching out impressively with Brown also soloing on double bass. I was impressed by the subtle detail of Nowak’s arrangement, like Mehldau he clearly has a great affinity for Drake’s work.

The performance ended with “Raining In Bristol” with Nowak’s piano arpeggios cleverly simulating the patters of raindrops as the vigorous rhythmic interplay again hinted strongly at that E.S.T. influence.

Overall I was very impressed with this performance by the Andy Nowak Trio and also by the album “Sorrow And The Phoenix” which is both intelligent and highly melodic and features an unfailingly high standard of musicianship throughout. It’s an album that deserves to be widely heard.

As did this performance.

 

Jazz Corner - ‘All Those Cultural Links’.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Jazz Corner - ‘All Those Cultural Links’.

Guest contributor Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club on the spirit of local and international co-operation within the jazz community.

Photograph of Major Swing with Remi Harris by Bob Meyrick.


Ian writes;


The indefatigable Lynne Gornall and her willing team co-ordinate the monthly jazz events held in the Brecon Jazz Club Bar at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon as well as helping with the promotion of jazz in Wales as a whole.


Lynne has recently begun to write a regular column called “Jazz Corner” for the local newspaper, the Brecon & Radnor Express. I’m indebted to Lynne and to Eryl Jones of the Brecon & Radnor Express for allowing me to reproduce the following article which originally appeared in the newspaper on 23rd May 2016 and finds Lynne examining the cultural links and spirit of co-operation between local jazz clubs and the wider international jazz community.

I think that it’s a fascinating read and it’s something that I wanted to share with the Jazzmann readership.


Lynne Gornall writes;


Brecon + Radnor Express
Jazz Corner column (Brecon Jazz Club)


JAZZ CORNER
23 May 2016    


BANK HOLIDAY JAZZ – AND ALL THOSE CULTURAL LINKS

So here’s some good news at last, and hopes of summer weather: a free jazz event and prospect of a relaxing afternoon on Saturday (28 May) from 2pm at the Wellington Hotel, Brecon.

Vocalist Debs Hancock is a favourite at Brecon Jazz Club and her trio sees some of the best-known and respected musicians around to join her – Brecon’s Mike Chappell on piano/keyboards, and South Wales’ Steve Tarner on double bass. Both have played many times at the club, in different lineups. Debs tells us that she is planning a programme with some of the most requested jazz vocal numbers from the ‘Great American Songbook’, the enduring melodies and classic lyrics that we all love. It’s also great to be introducing younger audiences to these great sounds. The music starts at 2pm - so not to be missed.

When the Wellington approached us at the beginning of this year, to discuss a way that they could play their part in keeping jazz alive all year round in town – part of the jazz club’s declared mission – we were delighted. They wanted to build up to the summer jazz festival and show that jazz and ‘Brecon’ were intimately linked.  Great thinking, which we totally support.

It is this kind of co-operation and partnership that has been so evident this year. Debs (Hancock) herself is part of the team at our ‘partner’ jazz club, Black Mountain Jazz over in Abergavenny. We regularly see friends coming over from the ‘Sugarloaf’ direction to our club events, and we get over there too whenever we can. BMJ (organized by Mike Skilton) now run their monthly Sunday gigs from the delightful ‘bijou’ Melville Theatre. Next up is the Manchester band Artephis on Sunday 26 June (8pm, £10/£8). We went over to the club earlier this year (in March) to see their new venue and to hear the amazing Olivia Trummer from Germany, and her vibes player Jean-Lou Treboux (from Switzerland). It was a stand-out gig. Olivia plays jazz in a ‘classical’ way, or to put it differently, she plays ‘classical jazz’. - original compositions inspired by the works of Mozart, Scarlatti and (especially) Bach. And played, as jazz, but in that style. You had to be there to get it!  It was wonderful, and quite a coup for a small jazz club to host such international talents. Debs (Hancock) was there too, not in this case as an accomplished jazz vocalist, but as part of the club team, introducing everyone and helping the evening go smoothly - we also have a great team supporting our Jazz Club. She’ll have her moment in Brecon this Saturday, and we’ll all be there to applaud her, won’t we?

‘Partnership working’ and the kind of mutual support we see amongst the jazz clubs community for example, is typically included in all of the strategic and policy objectives today of most of our public bodies – and lots of progressive commercial companies too. But achieving it is easier said than done. Some of the unsung heroes of this kind of thing – like Debs, Mike and our team - are also volunteers and community agents. So it is with the people who organize ‘twinning’ links between our towns with those in other countries. Whichever way you lean on ‘Europe’, the town-to-town partnerships, where people in business, community, tourism and residence co-operate with each other, learning and sharing ideas, exchanging visits and local data, can only be a good thing.

‘Twinning’ is a relationship for cultural exchange, visits and receptions and aims to promote strong social cultural artistic and sporting links with the twin town. It encourages individual, family and group visits, through staying with host families to make for greater understanding of each other’s way of life. Brecon is also twinned with the city of Saline in Michigan, US, an association that began in 1966. It is a city of some 8,000 inhabitants, and the bonds of close friendship with Wales are such that 4,000 trips by both sets of residents have been to date. Perhaps readers have taken part and will tell us more? Links with Gouesnou are also very active: last year, Breton residents came to walk in Wales, while Brecon residents visited their counterparts for ‘Welsh week’ in Finistère, with folk dancing performance, heritage visits, languages and crafts as part of the cultural offer.

Last year, as Brecon Jazz Club, we were lucky enough to be invited by Margaret Edwards, Secretary of the Brecon-Gouesnou Twinning Association, to meet the visitors who had come over on one of their annual visits. There in St Mary’s Church café, we met Philippe, the leader of the Gouesnou partnership and more than 30 Bretons who had come over for their latest Brecon sojourn. Some had been coming a long time and knew the area very well. One had learned Welsh. There was an exhibition at Brecon Library showing some of the similarities between Breton and Welsh languages in ‘100 words’.  It was all incredibly impressive – such energy, engagement, commitment, camaraderie. Well, partnership really.

Our involvement in this arose when (last year), we invited the group from Brittany, Major Swing, to play at the 2015 Brecon Jazz Festival. We had also attended a wonderful jazz festival in Brittany (at Châteauneuf-du-Faou), where we met the amazing guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h and his friends in the band. Leader Philippe (Cann), also originally from Brittany, and the others of Major Swing now live in Tours, which gives them access to Paris and wider regions for gigs. But they retain their strong regional links: Jean’s father speaks Breton, and they brought gifts over of local foods and wine for people who hosted them here in Brecon. The reaction was very positive. There was also a rather unique drink sent over later by special delivery– alcoholic and made with fermented honey – rather delightful but (like their music) with a special ‘kick’!

Such delightful people, we asked them to include a greeting in Breton at the gigs they played – we organized a special tour for them here. Jean duly consulted his father. Together, and with some help, we came up with a set of phrases - but please dear readers, all corrections on a postcard please! This included an ‘hello’ in four languages -

Kalz plijadur zo ganeomp da vezan deuet e Bro Gembre – Breizh/Breton

A great pleasure with us to have been in Wales - English

Noswaith dda o Gymru, a croeso i’r cyngerdd heno – Welsh

Beaucoup de plaisir est avec nous d’être venus au pays de Galles - French


(Breizh-à-Galles project summer 2015 – ‘Major Swing’)
In July last year, and to help set up this collaboration, we accompanied our friend the guitarist Remi Harris (and rhythm guitarist Caley Groves) on a Brittany Ferries trip to France. We we had arranged for Remi to headline with Major Swing in France, to be followed by a coming together again to perform in Brecon a month later. French festival promoter Trevor Stent of FestJazz wrote after the project, ‘Really pleased Major Swing were such a success over in Wales, am really pleased for them and you who did so much to bring it about. Interested in discussing future partnerships…Remi (Harris) [from UK] is an extraordinary talent and absolutely deserves his rising star status – thank you for bringing him over (to play), and introducing us to him’.

In turn, Aberjazz emailed, after hearing Major Swing at Brecon and then also hosting them in Fishguard as part of the curated tour, ‘it is great for us that we are working with Brecon jazz club, and co-operating in bringing events here by working together. The gig was a tremendous success and everyone we’ve spoken to has asked if we can have them back.’

Working together co-operatively made this ambitious idea easy to realize, and built strong bonds. There is a link here with the Wellington gig coming up on bank holiday Saturday. We last saw bassist Steve Tarner as he set off for Fishguard to play the concert with Major Swing (in the Ffwrn, old bakehouse) organized by our friends at Aberjazz. Steve, ever the professional, and with a long drive involved, arrived early and in very good time, complete with his draft set list, chord sheets and ipad, all ready to rehearse. The band arrived late – very late (but in time for the gig) – distracted and amazed by the beauty of Wales, and unable to resist numerous small detours. We can’t blame them!  They were entranced. They loved Wales and Wales loved them, Major Swing were an outright ‘major’ success in our jazz events calendar. When they returned, they wrote….‘We have been guided and supported by many careful and effective people and organizations…and credit all those we played with…these excellent musicians in this ‘Franco-Galloise collaboration’, organized by Brecon Jazz Club’ - “De riches rencontres humaines et musicales, en haut avec les organisateurs du Brecon Jazz [club], hôtes, et bien sûr les fabuleux musicians gallois!”

Philippe also wrote a diary blog even as they returned to France after the tour, on the ferry home: We…know that this collaboration will continue, and new places and promoters will want to book us as part of a ‘Celtic’ co-operation and exchange. The goal would also be to involve musicians (in both countries) – and perhaps more Breton festivals – in order to give further momentum and identity to this project.  The leading musicians we played with will also perform another event in Wales at the end of the month [28 Aug], to sustain and celebrate the coming together (Philippe Cann, leader of Major Swing, letter to promoters, October 2015 – ref. Breizh-à-Galles project).  He also, once home and on Facebook, created an identity for the creative co-working – ‘Jazz Inter-Celtique’.  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, or wished for more.

Reviews of the concerts were also excellent, as were audience responses, and the musician-of-musician comments– ‘he has wonderful energy’, Jean Guyomarc’h said of Steve Tarner. Demonstrating that ‘collaboration’ can be objectively evaluated as of high value, reviews confirmed the musical excellence and also innovation by the players – brilliant but improvising and spontaneously developing their musical alliance ‘in concert’.  ‘This freshly assembled quintet had never played together before and the idea to bring them together first came from [the promoters of Brecon Jazz Club - ‘we knew it would work’. And in a programme celebrating the jazz guitar, it was perhaps appropriate that it was these two brilliant soloists [Remi Harris from the UK and Jean Guyomarc’h of France] who made the most lasting impression, with superb instrumental interplay..’ (Jazzmann Review, August 2015).

Having set this up, the mutual compliments by the Welsh/French counterparts, the positive reviews and seeing how the creative partnership between them developed was really rewarding. Of course, it was risky, and involved writing bids, persuading people and organisations, getting musicians and groups on board, and just trusting to instincts that these were amazing musicians who only needed to be introduced to each other for the magic to happen.  It did. So ‘vive’ partnership and co-operation. As the Spanish musician, Arturo Serra, also in a curated tour and visit here, commented in a post-tour interview – ‘I always trust in the new things that can come - collaboration is the only way!’. He went on to say that he is dedicating his life and work to this, a confirmation that he loves and believes in what he does (May 2014).

Next week after the bank holiday, a group are travelling to Brittany from Brecon on a return visit to Gouesnou, where there will be visits, encounters and furthering of the relationships, friendship and partnership between the two civic counterparts.  But before then, there’s just time to catch that great collaboration with Debs Hancock and the Trio at the Wellington. See you there – à bientôt!


Links;

Brecon Jazz Club http://www.breconjazzclub.org

Brecon & Radnor Express http://www.brecon-radnor.co.uk


Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 02/05/2016.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 02/05/2016.

Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by Ibibio Sound Machine, Remi Harris Trio, Ben Cipolla Band, Elkie Brooks and Darius Brubeck Quartet.

Photograph of Elkie Brooks by Tim Dickeson


MONDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL, 02/052016.


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE

It’s become something of a Cheltenham tradition for the final day of the festival to begin with something of a party in the Big Top featuring energetic, crowd pleasing bands who are able to get audiences to their feet and start the day with a bang. 2014 saw the London Afro-Beat Collective entertaining the crowd and in 2015 it was the turn of the excellent Hackney Colliery Band.

This year saw the Festival organisers turning again to the genre of Afro-Beat with Ibibio Sound Machine, an octet of London based musicians fronted by vocalist Eno Williams, London born of Nigerian heritage. Completing the line up were guitarist Alfred Bannerman, bass guitarist Leon Brichard, drummer Jose Joyette and percussionist Anselmo Netto plus a three man horn section consisting of Max Grunhard (alto sax), Tony Hayden (trombone) and Scott Baylis (trumpet). Hayden and Baylis both doubled on keyboards with synthesisers and electronics playing a substantial part in a group sound that embraced soul vocals, fat funk bass lines, rock influenced guitar and the African percussive exotica of the flamboyant Netto.

As a unit the Sound Machine were commendably tight and the colourfully clothed Williams proved to be a galvanising presence, an energetic front woman who was exhorting the crowd to get to their feet from the off. That she succeeded at one o’clock in the afternoon was a triumph both for her energy and persistence and for the near irresistible grooves generated by her highly competent band.

The bulk of the material came from their eponymous 2014 début album and included the single “The Talking Fish” which brought the crowd to its feet and augmented Williams’ strident vocal with a spectacular duel between drummer Joyette and percussionist Netto plus the first of a series of searing, rock influenced guitar solos by Bannerman. As Williams explained to the crowd the Sound Machine’s music is a blend of Nigerian and Western influences, filtered through a London perspective.

Let’s Dance, with the crowd doing exactly that, was notable for its energy and more excellent work from Netto on a mix of African and Latin percussion that included darbuka, congas and much more. There were occasions when the Sound Machine’s genre blending music reminded me a little of Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart, particularly when Brichard, who occasionally doubled on percussion, laid down a particularly heavy bass line.

The aptly named “Quiet Song” lowered the temperature briefly but still combined a hypnotic groove with a smouldering solo by Grunhard on alto sax. But Williams soon had the audience back on its feet again and singing along with the closing “Trans Dance” with its “The Pot’s On Fire” refrain.

Overall this was an enjoyable gig and nobody could fault Williams and the band for their energy and enthusiasm. But like the London Afro-Beat Collective this was probably the least successful gig of the day in purely musical terms. But there’s no doubt that Ibibio Sound Machine work hard to put on a show and their sound has also been enjoyed by audiences at the WOMAD, Glastonbury and Wilderness festivals.

There were occasions when I thought Williams was perhaps trying a bit too hard, but this was early afternoon and I suspect that audiences at Sound Machine gigs in a later time slot probably need a lot less cajoling to the get into the vibe. Also today’s audience was down on the last two years which meant that the band had to work that little bit harder.

Rather the like the LAC this isn’t music I’d necessarily want to listen to at home but it did get the day off to an invigorating start.

FRINGE SHOWCASE;
REMI HARRIS TRIO & THE BEN CIPOLLA BAND, THE JAZZ ARENA

Another Bank Holiday Monday afternoon tradition at Cheltenham is the Fringe Showcase which features the two most popular acts from the previous year’s Fringe. The event is supported by the charitable Oldham Foundation whose chairman John Oldham introduces the artists each year.

Guitarist Remi Harris proved to be a big hit at the 2014 Fringe, his set being enjoyed by Jamie Callum who featured Harris’ trio on his BBC Radio 2 programme.

Harris has also been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages. Originally from Bromyard, Herefordshire he’s something of a local hero as far as I’m concerned and it’s been a pleasure to watch his career develop over the course of the last six years from playing the back rooms of pubs to sell out performances at festivals, first Brecon and now Cheltenham. 

Still only twenty six Harris began his musical career as lead guitarist with the rock band Mars Bonfire but a growing fascination with Django Reinhardt and the sounds of gypsy jazz saw him undertake a radical change of direction and he rapidly began to forge an impressive reputation on the jazz circuit as a brilliant acoustic guitarist working out of the gypsy jazz tradition.

More recently Harris has diversified and allowed some of his earlier influences to return and his set is now an entertaining mix of various music styles but still with gypsy jazz at its heart.

The personnel of Harris’ trio has undergone a number of changes over the years but now appears to have stabilised with the experienced Birmingham musician Mike Green on double bass and the Australian born Caley Groves on rhythm guitar.

Harris’ stagecraft has improved immeasurably over the years too and he and the trio consistently deliver entertaining, enjoyable and informative sets that always leave audiences delighted. I’ve never seen Harris play a bad gig and although today’s performance was inevitably somewhat truncated due to the ‘double header’ nature of the event he and the trio were still rapturously received by a capacity crowd that was not necessarily previously familiar with his music.

Harris’ wide ranging approach was perhaps best encapsulated by the opening number, an arrangement of the Beatles song “Can’t Buy Me Love”, delivered gypsy jazz style by two acoustic guitars and double bass. This was segued with “Joseph, Joseph”, a gypsy jazz staple that was also a hit in vocal form for the Andrews Sisters.

As evidenced by the Beatles piece Harris is increasingly looking beyond the established gypsy jazz repertoire for inspiration as evidenced by the trio’s brilliant acoustic version of The Meters’ New Orleans funk classic “Cissy Strut” with its feature for the excellent Green on double bass.

Harris’ between song announcements these days contain a wealth of information, that earlier nugget about the Andrews Sisters being an example. Now he explained how he was first influenced by rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac. Harris now picked up his electric guitar to deliver a stunningly emotive instrumental performance of Green’s “Need Your Love So Bad”, a piece that has increasingly become a high point of his set.

Harris moved back to acoustic guitar for “Oud Elegy”, a fiendishly complicated piece with a 39/16 time signature originally written for the oud by the North African musician Dhafer Youseff. Harris has been relishing the technical challenges of this piece for some time now as he adds world music to the flavours of an already eclectic musical mix.

Finally in this all too brief ‘taster’ of a set the trio moved back to the classic gypsy jazz canon with “Bossa Dorado” but with a Chuck Berry quote thrown in for good measure.

As he thanked the crowd Harris informed us that a new album is imminent which will be released on his own label, a keenly awaited follow up to 2010’s “Live At The Hatch” and 2014’s studio album “Ninick”.

Today’s performance, excellent though it was, offered only a glimpse of what Remi Harris is capable of. Readers are urged to check him out for themselves at a full length performance. Harris is a particularly hard working musician who performs live frequently. Please visit http://www.remiharris.com for details of his schedule.

The Harris Trio were followed by the Ben Cipolla Band, a young group from Swindon fronted by vocalist, songwriter and occasional guitarist Ben Cipolla. As well as impressing at last year’s Cheltenham Jazz Fringe the band also won the award for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the 2014 Marlborough Jazz festival where Cipolla guested with Clare Teal. He has also featured on her Radio 2 programme.

The Cipolla band also played at the 2015 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny where I was impressed by their blend of musicality, showmanship and mix of original songs and jazz, pop and soul covers.

The line up at Abergavenny was a six piece but today’s show featured the full octet with Cipolla fronting a line up featuring guitarists Jonny Budd (electric) and Isaac Francis (acoustic), bass guitarist Dan Springate and drummer Will Downes-Hall. A full three man horn section featured Lawrence Cooper on trumpet, David Knight on alto sax and Ash Garfitt on tenor and baritone saxes.

Although still so young that their parents have to drive them to gigs the Cipolla band have already released a critically acclaimed EP. “Guest House”, from which some of the songs in an all original programme were taken. A full length album is due for release in 2017 and will doubtless be very keenly anticipated.

Roared on by a large contingent from Swindon the band started energetically with “Mr Chameleon” but a problem with Cipolla’s vocal mic meant that they got off to a shaky start. Wearing the same eye catching blue suit that we’d seen at Abergavenny the confident singer soon got himself back on track and ultimately this concert was a triumph for the band.

The catchy “Felicity Fandango” helped to keep the crowd onside as did the reggae grooves and rousing chorus of “Saskia”. And even in Cheltenham there wasn’t anybody called Saskia in the audience!

Budd impressed on electric guitar on “Stripped Down”, a song sourced from the “Guest House” EP. By way of contrast “Worthwhile” offered a welcome change of pace and dynamics with an assured duet between vocalist Cipolla and acoustic guitar specialist Francis.

Punchy horn lines and funky grooves helped to power “Puppet”, a song from the EP that also had its more reflective moments too.

“Capuccino” was a song written about the band members busking experiences and “Monkey Love” saw Budd abandoning his guitar to pick up a second alto sax thereby creating a four piece horn section. The set ended with the uplifting “Cocoa Butterfly” with the band having to reluctantly refuse the deserved requests for an encore due to festival scheduling pressures.

Once again I was highly impressed with this young band’s standard of musicianship and overall coherence. Although the charismatic Cipolla is very much the leader and front man this is a group that still seems to have a genuine ‘band’ mentality, one senses that they are all good mates off the stand as well. However there’s also a drive and professionalism about the band, a work ethic that will help to ensure their continued progress as they prepare to record their début album.

The Abergavenny performance included covers by well known artists such as Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison as well as the more contemporary singer-songwriters John Mayer and Patrick Duff.  It also included a clutch of jazz standards further complemented by a couple of songs by Cheltenham favourite Gregory Porter, who Cipolla cites as a huge influence.   

But today’s performance was all about the band’s increasingly sophisticated original songs which clearly delighted the members of this capacity audience. I’ll admit that the music of the Ben Cipolla band is rather outside my usual listening area but I do see huge potential in these talented young musicians. Ben Cipolla’s star will continue to rise and I’m certain that we’re going to hear a lot from him and his talented band.

ELKIE BROOKS, THE BIG TOP

From two of the rising stars of the UK music scene to a veritable legend of the business. I first remember Elkie Brooks as a member of the early 70s group Vinegar Joe which she fronted with co-vocalist Robert Palmer. Brooks’ raucous on stage performances routinely upstaged Palmer and it was no real surprise when Vinegar Joe imploded with both singers going on to have successful solo careers. However the band remains in the public eye with Brooks still often to be seen belting out “Proud To Be a Honky Tonk Woman” a staple of BBC 4’s regular pop and rock nostalgia programmes.

In 1977 Brooks had a massive hit with “Pearl’s A Singer”, still the song most closely identified with her and one which established her as a bona fide star after years of scrabbling around the cabaret and second division rock circuits. It also marked a toning down of her music as she became an increasingly mainstream entertainer, moving further away from her blues and rock roots and becoming increasingly ‘middle of the road and AOR. Of course it all led to a plethora of hits and Brooks, true trouper that she is has continued to tour extensively, amassing a large and loyal following in the process.

I’ll admit that I’d rather lost touch with her music over the years but was still more than happy to see one of the great survivors of British popular music in action. Whether Brooks is genuinely a ‘blues singer’ is a moot point but she still has a belter of a voice and the vitality and energy of her performance belied her seventy years.

Still pencil slim and wearing an elegant black dress she fronted a six piece band featuring Rufus Ruffell (guitar), Lee Noble (backing vocals, keyboards), Brian Badham(electric bass) Stevie Jones   (tenor sax) Andrew Murray (keyboards) and Michael Richardson (drums). Initially the musicians kept a low profile with the arrangements seemingly designed to highlight the remarkable power of Brooks’ voice.

I’m not going to describe every song because most of them will be so familiar beginning with “Gasoline Alley”, once a hit for Rod Stewart.

Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”  and Percy Sledge’s “Warm and Tender” established her soul credentials with powerfully emotive performances and then it was into the hits such as “Fool If You Think It’s Over” , “Sunshine After The Rain” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.

Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” was recently made famous for a new generation by Adele but here Brook’s claimed it as her own with her hoarse, bluesy expressiveness. She also started to cut her musicians some slack too with Stevie Jones turning in the first of several effective r’n'b style tenor solos.

Occasionally bombast got the better of her as on a synth drenched “Night In White Satin” that only began to improve with Ruffell’s lead guitar solo that took the place of the flute led instrumental section on the Moody Blues original. And then there was Brooks’ transcendent Daltrey-esque scream at the very end of the song. 

“Lilac Wine” was another well received popular hit and the inevitable “Pearl’s A Singer”, still Brooks biggest hit and presumably inspired by her own cabaret days, brought the house down. “I’ve been singing this for thirty nine years” said Brooks but if she was tired of it it certainly didn’t show.

I’d expected “Pearl” to be the climax of the concert but instead it cleared the way for what, for me, was the best section of the show as Brooks and the band exploded into a turbo charged blues and rock ‘n’ roll medley that reminded me of Vinegar Joe in their hey day. Here Ruffell and Jones really came into their own with some blistering solos as the band really turned on the afterburners behind Brooks’ raunchy vocals. The entire audience in a sold out Big Top was on its feet by now as Brooks and the band romped through a sequence of songs that included the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and “I’m Tore Down”, a blues song associated with Freddie King and Eric Clapton.

The inevitable encore was Prince’s “Purple Rain”, an appropriate choice but unlike some of the other tributes over the weekend not a spontaneous gesture. Brooks’ bluesy arrangement of the song actually appeared on her most recent album and has been in her repertoire for some time. In the light of recent events it took on a new significance and poignancy here and helped to make this excellent performance even more memorable.

I have to confess that I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this performance by Elkie Brooks. She undoubtedly still ‘has it’, not just the voice but also the personality. Her exuberant non stop performance saw her working the audience and flirting with her band mates but never taking herself too seriously as she skipped girlishly around the stage, danced unselfconsciously and delivered the announcements with a dollop of salty, acerbic, no nonsense, Salford wit. It was clear to see why her audiences love her so much.

For me this was an unexpected Festival highlight.

DARIUS BRUBECK QUARTET

Pianist and composer Darius Brubeck is, of course the son of Dave Brubeck, also a pianist and the composer of “Take Five” and a string of other jazz hits from the 50s and 60s. Rather than resenting living in his father’s shadow Darius seems more than happy to carry on the family name, playing his father’s music with his brothers Chris (bass) and Dan (drums) as Brubecks Play Brubeck.

Based in London since 2006 Brubeck has assembled an excellent band of musicians from the capital’s jazz scene including the experienced saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, rising star bassist Matt Ridley and the South African born drummer Wesley Gibbens.  The repertoire of the band includes well known Dave Brubeck tunes, original compositions from the pen of Darius Brubeck and pieces by South African musicians such as Abdullah Ibrahim.

Brubeck’s connection to South Africa is deep rooted, having spent over twenty years in the country as the Head of Jazz at the University of KwaZulu Natal where he initiated the first degree course in Jazz Studies offered by an African university. He still retains an honorary artist-in-residence post at KwaZulu Natal and returns to South Africa on an annual basis.

Today’s performance saw Brubeck and his quartet performing to a capacity crowd in the Jazz Arena. Brubeck adheres to the sartorial fashions of his father’s time with the leader and his band mates appearing in sharply tailored suits and ties – I’ve never seen O’ Higgins or the spectacularly hirsute Ridley looking quite so dapper. 

The set commenced with a passage of solo piano from Brubeck with Ridley’s bass walk subsequently introducing the main body of the song, an Abdullah Ibrahim tune, the title of which Brubeck failed to announce. This featured a soprano sax solo from O’Higgins and a brushed drum feature from Gibbons over Ridley’s still implacable walk.

Brubeck dug quickly into his father’s back catalogue, eliciting a ripple of applause from the audience in a packed Jazz Arena as they recognised the familiar intro to “Blue Rondo A La Turk”.
O’Higgins filled the Paul Desmond role here, albeit on tenor, and his solo, complete with a quote from “Stranger In Paradise” was followed by Brubeck at the piano. Matt Ridley impressed with a bass solo that combined melodicism and dexterity in equal measure, his feature subtly supported by the patter of Gibbons’ brushed drums before the roles were reversed and Ridley repaid the complement.

Brubeck informed us that the jazz standard “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You” was co-written by Bing Crosby back in 1931 in conjunction with co-composers Ned Washington and Victor Young. The piece was a ballad feature for Brubeck on piano, O’Higgins on warm toned tenor sax and Ridley with another wonderfully melodic bass solo. The performance was crowned by a n impressive but beautiful solo tenor sax cadenza from O’Higgins.

Brubeck is a skilled composer in his own right and four original pieces were to follow, all of them sourced from this quartet’s latest release, 2014’s “Cathy’s Summer”, the album named in honour of Brubeck’s wife and manager Catherine.

The first original piece was “Ravely Street”, presumably named after the London thoroughfare in NW5. This saw O’Higgins probing deeply and intelligently on soprano as he shared the solos with the composer on piano.

Brubeck informed us that he had performed the tune “Before It’s Too Late” on Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio “ programme. This saw O’Higgins moving back to tenor and again sharing the solos with Brubeck on a mid tempo tune that had something of the feeling of a jazz standard.

The album title track began with a drum prompt from Gibbens which introduced O’ Higgins’ theme statement, this followed in turn by concise solos from piano and tenor sax. But the piece ended as it began with Gibbens, his drum feature over Brubeck’s insistent Latin-esque piano figure garnering a great reception from the Jazz Arena audience.

The last of the original tunes was “Flippin’ The Bird”, a breezy piece based around a catchy and persistent melodic fragment that possessed a distinct hard bop feel and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Blue Note album from the 50s or 60s. The ebullient Gibbens was again in sparkling form as he occupied a prominent place in the arrangement alongside soloists O’ Higgins (tenor) and Brubeck (piano).

Brubeck’s love of South African jazz runs deep and the set concluded with the happy Township sounds of “Baby I Don’t Know”, written by a South African composer whose name I didn’t quite catch. Solos here came from the leader on piano and O’Higgins on tenor sax, the latter dubbed “an honorary Brubeck” by Darius on account of O’Higgins having toured with Brubeck and his brothers.

The audience at the Jazz Arena loved Darius Brubeck and his quartet and as this was the last gig of the Festival at this venue they were able to perform a deserved encore. Almost inevitably this was “Take Five”, Dave Brubeck’s biggest hit, which drew a barrage of applause on the intro and included solos from O’Higgins on tenor, Brubeck on piano and Gibbens at the drums, clearly relishing his chance to play the Joe Morello role.

This was easily the best straight ahead jazz performance of the day, one that I enjoyed very much and which got a terrific reception from the Jazz Arena crowd. The album “Cathy’s Summer” is also a rewarding , if not particularly demanding listen, with a good mix of eight original tunes and three standards, these including “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You”.

But the award for gig of the day goes to Elkie Brooks for the sheer chutzpah, energy and stagecraft of the singer’s performance allied, of course, to that still extraordinary voice. 

 

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2016.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2016.

Ian Mann on a day of richly varied music including performances by Shiver, Julian Arguelles, Meadow, Christian Scott, David Sanborn , Mulatu Astatke, Giovanni Guidi and Melt Yourself Down.

SUNDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL, 01/05/2016.

Photograph of Giovanni Guidi by Tim Dickeson


SHIVER, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

Shiver is a relatively new project featuring three musicians from the North of England in the shapes of Chris Sharkey (guitar), Andy Champion (electric bass) and Joost Hendrickx (drums). Given Sharkey’s involvement it’s tempting to think of Shiver as the direct descendants of the much missed trioVD,  which featured Sharkey alongside saxophonist Christophe de Bezenac and drummer Chris Bussey.

However Shiver’s music is substantially different. Whereas trioVD tended to perform in short, sharp ‘punk jazz’ bursts, often with a grunge like soft/loud dynamic Shiver prefer lengthy, shifting magnum opuses. Their music is much more about soundscaping with electronics playing a substantial part in the sonic process. It’s less obviously “in yer face” than trioVD and the sound levels at this mid-day performance at the PAC were considerably lower than at trioVD’s incendiary late night performance at the Pillar Room venue at the 2010 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Not that Shiver lacks dynamism as their gripping performance was about to prove.

Playing a set of entirely new music Shiver commenced with a half hour opening segue of the tunes “Quickstep” and Bounce” beginning in impressionistic fashion with a sea of guitar washes above the rumble of Hendrickx’s mallets and Champion’s further manipulation of the sound via a floor mounted effects unit. Gradually the use of live looping, layering and sequencing saw the group’s sound mutating into something akin to contemporary dance music as Sharkey and his colleagues continued to develop a veritable wall of sound shored up by Hendrickx’s dynamic drumming. Elsewhere tribal sounding drums underpinned a Sharkey solo that sounded like Hank Marvin on very bad acid and there was plenty of the chunky math rock riffage that trioVD used to specialise in while the more ambient episodes were sometimes reminiscent of the soundscapes of Manchester based guitarist Stuart McCallum.

The shorter “Gum Takes Bat” began with a passage of solo guitar from Sharkey that saw him utilising his FX pedals to create layers of sound punctuated by electronic glitches before overlaying this with complex math rock riffing that eventually formed the spur for an impressive solo from Champion on his five string bass guitar. The piece concluded with a veritable riff fest that combined the sophistication of jazz with the power of heavy metal.

By the end of the second piece some fifty minutes had elapsed with this complex but compelling music making the time just seem to fly by. Unfortunately I had to leave at this juncture to move on to my next ticketed event at Cheltenham Town Hall. I was very reluctant to depart on but at least I’d got a handle on Shiver by then and found their combination of jazz, alt-rock and electronica both absorbing and exciting. The band is a worthy successor to trioVD and I look forward to catching up with them again sometime. Hopefully they will get to record a full length album before too long, the group’s début EP “Shiver 3” now being completely sold out. 

JULIAN ARGUELLES with the FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND, CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL

It was unfortunate that the Shiver gig overlapped this performance by saxophonist Julian Arguelles who was appearing in the company of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band plus guest performers Django Bates (piano, keyboards) and Steve Arguelles (drums, percussion). A fifteen minute gap between shows is normally slotted into the programme to allow concert goers to move between gigs but the early start for Arguelles and the FRBB was due to the fact that the musicians had to catch a flight back to Germany from Birmingham Airport later in the afternoon. This gig concluded a busy weekend for the members of the FRBB who had accompanied American vocalist Lizz Wright at the same venue the previous evening.

Arguelles has been a frequent collaborator with the FRBB and has recorded two albums with them beginning with “Momenta” an album of big band arrangements of the saxophonist’s original compositions recorded in 2008. In 2015 Arguelles and the Band released “Let It Be Told”, an album featuring Arguelles’ arrangements of tunes written by members of the Blue Notes, the group of South African musicians who were exiled from their homeland in the 1960s and subsequently moved to London where they had a profound and lasting effect on the UK jazz scene. Sadly many of them died tragically early with drummer Louis Moholo Moholo the only surviving member.

Arguelles and his older brother Steve were strongly influenced by the music of the Blue Notes as was Django Bates and it was their enduring love of this timeless music that led to this collaboration. Both Bates and Steve Arguelles appeared on “Let It Be Told” and both played prominent roles in today’s performance.

The Arguelles Brothers and Bates will always be linked with the seminal British big band Loose Tubes but prior to this they had all worked with the Blue Notes’ alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana in his band Zila and Pukwana was to have a significant influence on the work of Loose Tubes. Julian Arguelles has also played in bands led by Moholo Moholo and by the late Blue Notes pianist and Brotherhood of Breath leader Chris McGregor.

Although the music of the Blue Notes has previously been recorded and performed in a large ensemble format by the Dedication Orchestra (an aggregation that initially included Bates) Arguelles’ love of the music was so strong that he wanted to put his own stamp on it. Both today’s performance and the “Let It Be Told” album represent a joyous celebration of the Blue Notes and their legacy. Arguelles is a superb orchestrator and his skilled arrangements plus the marvellous playing of all the musicians involved ensured that for may people this was one of their ‘gigs of the festival’.

I was certainly expecting great things having previously heard and reviewed “Let It Be Told”. I’d also seen the FRBB perform at the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival when they collaborated with the Anglo-Scandinavian trio Phronesis in a wonderful performance at the Milton Court concert hall. The repertoire consisted of simply brilliant big band arrangements of Phronesis tunes by Julian Arguelles who also directed the FRBB as they shared the stage with the members of Phronesis (Jasper Hoiby – double bass, Ivo Neame – piano and Anton Eger – drums). Again this was beyond doubt one of the stand-out gigs of that festival.

Today at Cheltenham Arguelles did more than just direct as he took up his alto saxophone to play the Dudu Pukwana role as he shared the solos with Bates on the opening “Mra Khali”, written of course by Dudu Pukwana. Bates’ piano was initially a little too low in the mix, drowned out by the twin drum kits of Steve Arguelles and the FRBB’s Paul Hochstadter. Happily this was a situation that the sound engineers were able to rectify as the concert progressed.

Next we heard “Mama Marimba” written by Blue Notes bassist Johnny Dyani. This opened with a freely structured chorale out of which the theme subsequently emerged, played by Bates on piano. The featured soloists here were trombonist Christian Jaksjo, a musician who had made a big impression at the Phronesis/FRBB performance, and star tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos.

“Retreat Song”, written by vocalist Miriam Makeba began with the lonely sound of a sole alto saxophone played by Heinz Dieter Sauerborn before mutating into a melancholy lilt with the first solo coming from Peter Feil on vocalised, plunger muted trombone. There was a brief duo exchange between the Arguelles brothers, Julian on alto and Steve at the drum kit, before a closing solo from Bates on synthesiser, his signature sound evoking memories of Loose Tubes.

The late trumpeter Mongezi Feza’s “You Ain’t Going To Know Me Unless You Know Me” is one of the most enduringly popular tunes to emerge from the Blue Notes stable and we were to hear a very different version of it later on in the day, but I’ll come to that in due course. Here it was ushered in by a delightful and elegant dialogue between Bates on piano and Oliver Leicht on clarinet before the familiar melody eventually emerged. Feza died aged just thirty in tragic circumstances in the mid 1970s but this tune remains a fine and worthy legacy.

A lively horn and percussion heavy arrangement of Pukwana’s “Diamond Express” saw Arguelles revisiting his Dudu role on alto as he shared the solos with trumpeter Axel Schlosser.

The “Let It Be Told” album occasionally includes compositions from outside the immediate Blue Notes circle, a case being the delightful ballad arrangement of one of Abdullah Ibrahim’s best known tunes, “The Wedding” . The combination of lush horn voicings and Bates’ crystalline acoustic piano was further enhanced by the featured soloists, Hans Dieter Saurborn on alto sax and Rainer Heute on bass clarinet. Only one drum kit featured on this tune as Hochstadter sat out entirely and Steve Arguelles confined himself to brushes.

Until this point Arguelles and the FRBB had played the album in its exact running order but the leader now introduced a ‘bonus piece’, a new arrangement of Chris McGregor’s “Sea Breeze”.
“This is the piece I changed the least” explained Arguelles “it’s beautiful just the way it is”. He also cited the particularly difficult part played by the bass trombone. After a percussive, almost funky intro that featured Julian himself on alto sax solos came from Jaksjo on trombone, Lakatos on tenor and Bates at the piano.

It was back to the album repertoire, albeit in a slightly different running order, for “Amabutho”, a traditional song that had previously been adapted by Joseph Shabalala, leader of the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In Arguelles hands the arrangement became an unaccompanied horn chorale for a section including Julian on alto plus clarinet, two bass clarinets and Schlosser on trumpet. 

“Amasi” was another rousing and exciting McGregor tune featuring Rainer Heute on baritone sax and culminating in a thrilling drum battle between Paul Hochstadter and Steve Arguelles.

The concert concluded with “Come Again” co-written by Pukwana and Martha Mdenge, a joyous, celebratory slice of Township Jazz featuring Arguelles on alto, Schlosser on pocket trumpet and Martin Scales on guitar.

Minor sound difficulties aside this had been a magnificent concert and the audience in a packed Town Hall responded with suitable enthusiasm and shouted for an encore. Sadly none was to be forthcoming, I suspect that there were probably no further arrangements and, of course, these gentlemen of the orchestra had a plane to catch.

In any event they’d already delivered the goods with a glorious display of sophisticated and celebratory big band jazz. Well done to all.

MEADOW, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE / CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH, THE JAZZ ARENA

I was unable to obtain press tickets for either of these shows but not wanting to miss out on either of them I stumped up the money and attended as a paying customer.

Although I don’t intend to write a full review of either of them I thoroughly enjoyed these two very different events.

At the PAC the surviving members of Meadow, the Norwegian musicians Thomas Stronen (drums) and Tore Brunborg (tenor & soprano sax) paid tribute to their former bandmate, the late, great British pianist and composer John Taylor who died suddenly and unexpectedly in the summer of 2015.

Meadow had been contracted to play Cheltenham in 2016 and decided to honour the booking, turning the performance into a homage to Taylor. In a programme of new material written by Brunborg and Stronen they were augmented by the bassist Anders Jormin who had played in an early edition of Meadow and who slotted in superbly with the group’s melodic, all acoustic chamber jazz aesthetic. This was a beautiful performance that was a fitting tribute to the great John Taylor.

Over at the Jazz Arena New Orleans born trumpeter Christian Scott’s performance was very different. Fronting his new quintet Stretch Music Scott played with great energy and verve, his sound incorporating elements of hip hop and soul as well as classic jazz. The trumpeter was joined by the Americans Logan Richardson (alto sax), Luques Curtis (bass) and Corey Fonville (drums) plus the Martinique born keyboard player Tony Tixier.

Amazingly this was the quintet’s first gig together but they acquitted themselves superbly playing a mix of jazz standards by Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane alongside Scott’s own compositions. As this stellar group progresses I’m sure that the focus will be entirely on original material.

Heavily miked up the Scott quintet were loud by jazz standards but this only added to the punch and sparkle of the music. Scott is a charismatic front man but he’s also a man of the people, seen fraternising with fans in Montpellier Gardens before the gig as well as jamming at Hotel De Vin later on.

This gig at a sold out Jazz Arena was lauded by many of my fellow commentators as the best of the weekend and I have to say it was right up there. Scott is a musician with genuine star quality and this new band of his is going to be well worth keeping an eye on.

DAVID SANBORN ELECTRIC BAND, THE BIG TOP

From the (comparatively) youthful promise of Christian Scott to the veteran (again, comparatively) saxophonist David Sanborn over at the Jazz Arena. Sanborn’s distinctive alto has been heard on records by Stevie Wonder, Gil Evans, James Brown, Jaco Pastorius and perhaps most famously David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. But he’s also a skilled jazz improviser despite the tendency of some critics to dismiss his music as ‘lightweight’ or ‘smooth jazz’.

Elements of blues, soul, funk and r’n'b have always been central to Sanborn’s sound and at the 2011 London Jazz Festival I saw him give an enjoyable performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the company of a trio featuring the brilliant organist Joey De Francesco plus drummer Byron Langham.

Fast forward to 2016 and Sanborn has assembled a quintet that he refers to as his ‘Electric Band’ featuring Ricky Peterson on keyboards, Nicky Moroch on guitar, Andre Berry on electric bass, Billy Kilson at the drums and studio veteran Karl Van Den Bossche on percussion. They proved to be a highly competent if slightly faceless ensemble, I seem to recall there being rather more chemistry between Sanborn and his 2011 trio.

Things kicked off with Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star” which featured some rather unnecessary and irritating wordless vocalising from Peterson and Berry but this was mercifully curtailed by the incisive and distinctive sound of the leader’s alto. The highly entertaining Van Den Bossche was also featured on percussion but he was tucked away at the side of the stage and not really illuminated sufficiently, which was also something of a disappointment.

Sanborn recorded Marcus Miller’s “Maputo” on the album “Double Vision”, a collaboration with the keyboard player Bob James. Tonight’s version featured the flute like sounds of Peterson’s keyboards alongside the leader’s alto.

Miller also had a compositional hand in “Camel Island”, a piece co-written with Sanborn which featured Berry’s slapped bass and Peterson on Hammond with guitarist Moroch also emerging from the comparative shadows.  Van den Bossche was also featured with an extended percussion feature, an impressively energetic display that was rather better lit second time around. But at the heart of it all was Sanborn’s expressive alto - behind the smooth jazz trappings there’s an inspired improviser whose impassioned marathon soloing combines inventiveness with an admirable stamina.

One of the best moments of the set wasn’t even musical as Sanborn launched into an impressively angry rant about the state of American and British politics, declaring himself to be ‘embarrassed’ about the ongoing Presidential campaign and lamenting the way in which the man in the street has generally been ‘fucked over’ by the powers that be. I know that jazz audiences are generally left leaning but I thought that it was pretty brave of him to vent his spleen quite so bitterly in ultra conservative Cheltenham.

All of this was by way of introduction to the tune “Ordinary People”, dedicated to the hard working rank and file on both sides of the Atlantic trying to earn an honest crust in an increasingly hostile and corrupt environment. Some of that anger came out in the music during the course of this slow burning, ultimately anthemic tune, one could sense the indignation rising as Sanborn’s bluesy alto become increasingly impassioned as he blew long and hard over the swell and rumble of Peterson’s Hammond. Moroch’s blistering rock guitar solo climaxed the song and brought the anger into even greater focus. This combination of acerbic social comment backed up by some of the most powerful music of the set was the undisputed highlight of the show.

After the angst and the seriousness it was back to business as usual with the crunching funk grooves of “Chicago Song” with Peterson adopting a clavinet like sound on his keyboards behind Sanborn’s declamatory alto.

“Spanish Joint” began with a feature for Kilson and Van Den Bossche above Berry’s electric bass groove before opening out to incorporate solos from Sanborn on alto, Peterson on Rhodes and Moroch on guitar, the latter also trading phrases with Sanborn in thrilling fashion. 

The performance concluded with “Dream”, the jazz equivalent of a stadium rock anthem with its solid rhythms, slow burning alto solo and wordless vocals from Peterson. It was left to Kilson to end the proceedings with a closing drum flourish.

I know that several people were disappointed with this concert including Peter Jones writing for London Jazz News but overall I enjoyed it as did many others. Yes, there was a sense that the band were sometimes going through the motions and I certainly didn’t like the vocals. Also I didn’t find Peterson’s keyboard playing as convincing as that of Chad Selph in the Marcus Strickland band the previous day.

That said David Sanborn is never likely to play a bad show and I was impressed with his passion and energy at seventy – and not just with regard to that unexpected political rant. Some of his playing was pretty damn impressive too. I also enjoyed Van Den Bossche’s lively and colourful contribution behind his array of percussion. Overall the positives outweighed the negatives, and I’ll remember that verbal outburst for a long time.

MULATU ASTATKE, JAZZ ARENA

I have to admit to knowing precious little about Mulatu Astatke, “the Father of Ethio-Jazz”, before tonight’s performance but the fact that so many leading contemporary jazz musicians have either performed with him or have named him as a significant influence made me think that I really owed it to myself to check him out.

Born in 1943 in the Ethiopian city of Jimma Astatke studied music in both the UK and the US and subsequently developed a unique blend of jazz, Latin music and traditional Ethiopian music that he dubbed “Ethio-Jazz”.

Sure enough Astatke’s band at Cheltenham included some great British players including James Arben on reeds, Byron Wallen on trumpet, Alexander Hawkins on piano, Tom Skinner on drum kit and the great John Edwards on double bass. The line up was completed by cellist Danny Keane and percussionist Richard Olatunde Baker with Astatke centre stage playing vibraphone, congas and other items of percussion.

Naturally this was highly rhythmic music with Olatunde Baker and Astatke himself particularly animated, vibrant and watchable. The leader impressed with his numerous vibraphone solos and percussion features but there were also fiery solos from Arben and Wallen on tenor sax and trumpet respectively.

Astatke was keen to share the solos around the band and Hawkins impressed with an absolutely torrential piano solo while Edwards launched a typically physical assault on his bass as well as providing an astonishing rhythmic drive throughout as he linked up expertly with the three drummers/percussionists.

Arben also featured on flute and bass clarinet while Keane’s cello brought an interesting breadth of colour and texture to the ensemble sound as well as being an effective solo instrument.

Audience participation was encouraged, including the not only the almost obligatory clapping along but also Olatunde leading the audience in an African vocal chant.

The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for “Yerkerma Sew”, Astatke’s composition for the soundtrack of the Jim Jarmusch film “Broken Flowers” which helped to get the audience onside fairly early on in the set. 

Still youthful at seventy three Astatke led his band with élan and considerable charm, an eminently benign figure on the bandstand. His musicians responded with some razor sharp ensemble playing and some outstanding individual solos. This was a band that would have been even better suited to a late night ‘party’ slot but there was still much to enjoy about their playing, even in the early evening.

Once again I had to drag myself away early from this vibrant, colourful music to make my way to the hallowed portals of the PAC for my next event which was;


GIOVANNI GUIDI TRIO, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

The last gig of the 2016 Festival at the PAC was by the international trio led by the young Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Guidi.

Guidi, born 1985, has released two trio albums for ECM, “City Of Broken Dreams” (2011) and “This Is The Day” (2015). He has also issued a number of other albums in different instrumental formats on other labels.

Introducing the trio Tony Dudley Evans mentioned that he had seen them perform at Jazzahead in Bremen in 2015 and thought that they would be ideal for Cheltenham. His judgement was fully vindicated by a brilliantly interactive trio performance that utilised the superb acoustics of the PAC superbly.

The Guidi trio also appear to be a perfect fit for ECM with their effective use of space between the notes a distinctive characteristic of this performance with the notes sometimes seeming to just hang in the air. Portuguese drummer Joao Lobo plays on both of the ECM albums and although it’s the American bassist Thomas Morgan who appears on the records tonight’s trio featuring Danish bassist Nicolai Munch-Hansen was still a finely balanced unit that meshed together brilliantly and intuitively.

The opening piece began in archetypal ECM fashion with pregnant single notes carrying a wealth of information as they floated suspended in the air in a commendably full but hushed PAC. Sparse but dramatic under the lid strumming and eerily bowed cymbals and mallet rumbles added to the atmosphere but Guidi was soon steering the trio into more conventional piano territory with the dialogue between himself and Lobo particularly impressive as Munch-Hansen continued to play something of a holding role. But it would be wrong to think of the Guidi Trio as ‘typical ECM’, the pianist was soon leading his band mates into even deeper, more freely structured waters with the pianist fearlessly executing thunderous Cecil Taylor / Myra Melford like storms full of jagged cross handed runs as Lobo deployed a variety of small percussive devices in the manner of a free jazz drummer. As the music became more and more animated in this lengthy opening section Guidi played with a Keith Jarrett like physicality, contorting his body into a variety of almost impossible shapes on the piano stool as he became more and more immersed in the music. Ultimately this was daring, seat of the pants stuff which was delivered with an astonishing level of technique and dexterity.

The second piece began with a passage of solo piano before the introduction of Munch-Hansen’s bass counter melody and the sound of Lobo’s delicately brushed drums. The piece than developed via a piano/ bass dialogue underscored by Lobo’s cymbal scrapes to again enter more turbulent waters, first incorporating a vigorous interlude for just bass and drums before Guidi rejoined the fray with furiously hammered arpeggios accompanied by busy bass and chattering drums. Finally the piece resolved itself with a return to the earlier lyricism with Munch-Hansen’s bass temporarily taking over the melody accompanied by the gentle patter of Lobo’s hand drums. Guidi’s lightness of touch in this closing passage was a delight and a total contrast to the violence of the tune’s mid section. He is a pianist with technique to burn.

Tune announcements were rare but some pieces were eminently recognisable such as “ I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” which began in almost hymnal fashion before developing something of an avant garde undercurrent as Guidi’s lush melodicism was deliberately undermined by the wilfully ugly sounds of Lobo’s bowed cymbals and harshly scraped drum skins. This was real ‘chalk scraping down the blackboard’ stuff and a process that Luke Davidson writing for London Jazz News memorably described as “the grit in the pearl”. For myself I relished Guidi’s humour and playfulness, characteristics that also distinguish the playing of his compatriot Stefano Bollani, also signed to ECM.

And it was to another Italian that Guidi gleefully dedicated the final tune of the evening (a well deserved encore) as he acknowledged the footballing triumphs of one Claudio Ranieri. The tune was Mongezi Feza’s “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me (‘Cos You think Know Me)”, now sounding very different to earlier in the day when it was played by Julian Arguelles and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

Although I haven’t been totally convinced by Guidi’s ECM recordings I was blown away by this performance which, for me, ranks right up there as one of the best of the Festival. There was everything here that one could wish for in a piano trio performance, flawless technique, melody and lyricism counterbalanced by a corresponding grittiness and a willingness to explore and take musical risks. All this from a highly interactive trio that was not afraid to inject an element of humour into the music. The superb level of the musicianship was perfectly complemented by the immaculate acoustic of the PAC. This was definitely a gig to savour and remember and a fittingly magnificent conclusion to the programme at the PAC for 2016. It is to be very much hoped that Cheltenham Ladies College will allow the Festival to use the venue again next year.

MELT YOURSELF DOWN, SUBTONE

The Subtone is a basement bar on Cheltenham’s Promenade, a nightspot that has been deployed as a venue by the Festival before although it’s been many years since I last went there. That was more years ago than I care to remember and was an afternoon performance by the Hungry Ants, the now defunct band led by pianist/keyboard player Richard Fairhurst.

Tonight’s show was very different to my previous Subtone visit and a total contrast to the hushed, reverential atmosphere of the Guidi gig at the PAC. For this late night show it was standing room only with a large crowd crammed into the hot and sweaty downstairs room to witness a performance by Melt Yourself Down, a sextet led by former Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham that also featured fellow saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. The group also featured Ruth Goller on electric bass, Satin Singh on percussion and Tom Skinner, playing at least his second gig of the day on drum kit. The band were fronted by vocalist Kushal Gaya, an energetic and charismatic front man who spent much of his time down among the audience.

Signed to the Leeds based Leaf label Melt Yourself Down have released two albums to date, their eponymous début from 2013 and the new “Last Evenings On Earth” (2016). On record their sound is manipulated by electronics artist Leafcutter John, sadly not present this evening, though whether there would have been room for him on an already overcrowded stage is a moot point.

The term ‘punk jazz’ has been widely used over the course of the last ten years or so but ‘jazz punk’ might be more appropriate to describe the music played by Melt Yourself Down. Essentially these are jazz musicians playing punk, short thrashy songs featuring Gaya’s manic, mantra like vocals.

Halfway back in the crowded club it was difficult to see everybody on the stage, apart from the phenomenally tall tenor toting Hutchings who combined with the hat wearing Wareham in a ferocious twin horn assault reinforced by Goller’s thunderous electric bass lines and the double percussive assault of Skinner and Singh. Rhythmically and sonically MYD were a juggernaut, playing at rock volume in the strobe lit, increasingly sweaty club. Gaya bellowed out his vocals, bouncing around the stage , hanging off the rafters and leaping into the crowd to pogo with a raucous and enthusiastic audience.

Note taking wasn’t an option so I can’t tell you exactly what they played but my guess is that most of it was from the new album “Last Evenings On Earth”. This was a band that were perfectly suited to both their environment and the late night time slot. A mostly youngish audience (myself and Tony Dudley Evans helped to push the average age up) loved the frenetically energetic show with MYD just exuding attitude and clearly taking a great delight in their playing. These musicians may perform more complex music in other contexts but they clearly the relish to let their hair down and blow their socks off with MYD.

Despite the lateness of the hour the set flew by in a rush of adrenaline and I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed MYD’s music. The records can appear a bit too simplistic in comparison to either Acoustic Ladyland or Polar Bear, two of the other key bands with which Wareham has been involved, but tonight was the perfect context in which to appreciate MYD’s blend of punk and Afro-Jazz, a turbo-charged slice of energy and attitude that delighted the capacity crowd. It was the first time I’d witnessed pogoing at what was nominally a jazz gig since Acoustic Ladyland played at a similarly crowded Barfly in Cardiff back in 2005, one of the most remarkable gigs I think I’ve ever seen. 

Still exhilarated I exited into the chilly Cheltenham night reflecting that this thrillingly caustic performance by MYD was the perfect way to round off an excellent day’s music with Giovanni Guidi just about getting the nod for ‘gig of the day’.

 

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2016.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2016.

Ian Mann on a day of truly international music with performances by Trondheim Jazz Exchange, Jazz Jamaica, Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life, Tim Berne's Snakeoil and Omar Sosa's Quarteto AfroCubano.

Photograph of Gary Crosby of Jazz Jamaica by Tim Dickeson


SATURDAY AT CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL, 30/04/2016.

“Today is International Jazz Day” said Tony Dudley Evans as he took to the stage at the Parabola Arts Centre to introduce the first concert of the day “the only music genre to have its own designated date on the calendar”.

It was therefore perhaps appropriate that during a very full day of excellent music I witnessed performances by musicians from the UK, Norway, Italy, Jamaica, the USA, Mozambique and Cuba.

TRONDHEIM JAZZ EXCHANGE, PARABOLA ARTS CENTRE

It was totally fitting that International Jazz Day at Cheltenham should begin with the long running Trondheim Jazz Exchange concert, the annual collaboration between students of the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires, a project supported by the Norwegian Embassy.

The Norwegian students travel to Birmingham in the week leading up to the festival and ‘woodshed’ intensively with their UK based counterparts. The fruits of their labours are normally premièred at a concert in Birmingham on the Friday evening before being showcased again at Cheltenham in the now traditional Saturday lunchtime slot at the PAC. This year the Birmingham students will be making the return trip to play at Trondheim Jazz Festival.

The usual format is for the concert to present three ensembles, usually comprised of two musicians from each country. First to appear was a quartet featuring the Norwegian front line of pianist Hogne Kleiberg and saxophonist Karl Nyberg plus the Birmingham rhythm team of bassist Aram Bahmie and drummer Gwilym Jones.

They began a little tentatively with an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Friday the 13th” which included a tenor sax solo from Nyberg and a drum feature from Jones. If anything the group seemed more confident playing original material from within its ranks. “Jungle”, written by saxophonist Nyberg was lively and Latin-esque with Kleiberg’s piano vamp forming the basis for a melodic tenor solo from Nyberg that explored the instrument’s upper registers. The piece also included solos from Kleiberg on piano and Bahmie on bass.

Kleiberg announced his own tune “Cooler Than Anticipated”, no doubt written during the ‘woodshedding’ sessions, the title seeming to reference the unseasonably chill British weather. This began as a kind of abstract ballad with melodic tenor sax underscored by brushed drums but began to gather momentum during Kleiberg’s piano solo in which he utilised the entire range of the keyboard. Nyberg then dug in powerfully on his tenor solo and there was also an engrossing unaccompanied double bass interlude.

Ensemble One concluded their performance with a highly contemporary arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s classic “Passion Dance” with Kleiberg appropriately ‘Tyner-esque’ on a tumultuous piano solo lashed forward by Jones’ crisp, hard driving drumming and Bahmie’s energetic bass work. Nyberg matched the fire of his compatriot with a suitably impassioned Coltrane inspired tenor solo and the piece also included a well constructed drum feature from the irrepressible Jones. After a slightly hesitant start the quartet had certainly delivered the goods and they were afforded an excellent reception by the appreciative Parabola audience.

The next ensemble couldn’t have been more different. This drummer-less quartet featured the Norwegian pair of Sondre Ferstad on harmonica and Simon Ovinge on guitar plus the Birmingham students Ben Muirhead (double bass) and the Italian born Vittorio Mura (tenor saxophone).

This was a unique combination of instruments for these series of Jazz Exchanges and certainly the first time that a harmonica had featured at one of these concerts. Indeed I’d go as far to say that I’d never seen or heard this particular instrumental configuration before anywhere.

The music that these four young musicians produced during the course of a single twenty minute performance was extraordinary - haunting and impressionistic with Ferstad’s harmonica right at the centre of the group’s sound. This was music with a strong cinematic quality with a real element of ‘Scandi Noir’ about it. Not that it was in any way bloodless, Muirhead’s powerful double bass playing ensured that the music was surprisingly rhythmic. Conventional solos were rare - apart from one passage of guitar from Ovinge that reminded me of John Abercrombie the focus was very much on the ensemble sound but with one’s ear inevitably drawn to the distinctive sound of Ferstad’s harmonica. 

At least one full time collaboration has come out of these series of exchanges, the group ELDA featuring British pianist Andrew Woodhead and Norwegian vocalist Kari Eskild Havenstrom who first performed together at the 2013 Trondheim Jazz Exchange. ELDA were playing elsewhere on the festival site at the Free Stage over the course of the weekend but it wasn’t a performance that I was able to see.

I’d also like to think that Ensemble Two might think about making their collaboration more permanent. I thought that they were really on to something and that this was a unique line up with the potential to do something really different. Today’s performance was extremely well received by the discerning audience and this tantalising taster made me want to hear more from this thoroughly distinctive quartet.

The