by Ian Mann
December 05, 2018
Ian Mann visits central London's two Pizza Express Jazz Club venues and enjoys performances by the Alyn Cosker Group and the Itamar Borochov Quartet.
Photograph of Itamar Borochov sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk
EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL
Tuesday 20th November 2018
ALYN COSKER GROUP, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO
This lunchtime gig at the Pizza was my second sighting of the Alyn Cosker Group in twenty four hours. The band, led by drummer and composer Cosker and featuring pianist Steve Hamilton, guitarist Davie Dunsmuir and electric bass specialist Colin Cunningham, had supported Nik Bartsch’s Ronin at Ronnie Scott’s the previous evening but I have chosen to cover today’s performance which featured one full length set rather than the brief forty five minute support slot at Ronnie’s. I’d enjoyed the performance the night before but today’s show was decidedly superior as the group set their own agenda and relaxed into Cosker’s material. Also Hamilton had the use of the Pizza’s beautiful Steinway grand piano; at Ronnie’s he had played electric keyboards exclusively, the grand at Ronnie’s having been prepared for Nik Bartsch, who had worked extensively ‘under the lid’.
Around half of today’s material was sourced from Cosker’s recent album release “KPF” (reviewed here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alyn-cosker-k-p-f/). The recording covers a wide stylistic range features a number of guests from both the jazz and folk scenes but is centred around the core all Scottish quartet that Cosker brought to London. The album fuses a variety of musical elements but in live performance the Cosker Group focusses on ‘fusion’ in the original jazz-rock sense with the composer unapologetically making consistent use of the f-word.
Cosker is the most in demand drummer on the Scottish jazz scene. He helps to provide the rhythmic drive behind the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by Tommy Smith and is also a prolific sideman in a plethora of small group settings. Among the leading Scottish musicians with whom Cosker has recorded are saxophonists Smith, Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Colin Steele, bassist Euan Burton and pianist Euan Stevenson. Crossing the border he has also worked with the English musicians Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Ed Jones (saxophones). Cosker has also worked with the American vibraphonist Joe Locke and away from the jazz field played in the band co-led by Mercury Music Prize nominees Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanergan.
A music graduate of the University of Strathclyde Cosker is also an aspiring composer and has released two solo albums, 2009’s “Lyn’s Une” and the current recording “KPF”.
Today’s performance began with a sequence of three tunes sourced from Cosker’s début commencing with the complex but high powered “Oh Dear” which saw Dunsmuir taking the first solo on guitar, his playing combining the power of rock with the dexterity and fluency of jazz on a high octane solo. Hamilton, once a member of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks followed on piano. The pianist is Scottish ‘jazz royalty’ a hugely in demand musician in a wide variety of jazz contexts and beyond. The combination of electric guitar and acoustic piano, allied to Cosker’s dynamic drumming sometimes reminded me of The Impossible Gentlemen as the quartet teased the crowd with a series of playful false endings.
“Logan’s Slogans”, a piece dedicated to Cosker’s old music teacher in Ayr was introduced by a salvo of solo drumming before settling into a Meters inspired funk groove with the excellent Dunsmuir delivering another feverish solo before handing over to Hamilton at the piano. Cunningham was featured extensively on five string electric bass prior to a closing drum feature for the leader.
The ballad “Don’t Forget Me” then slowed things down a little and demonstrated a more sensitive side of the group. Dunsmuir’s atmospheric unaccompanied guitar intro saw him making effective use of the instrument’s tremolo arm. Cunningham’s bass solo featured liquidly melodic playing, a nice contrast to the funky slapping of his previous feature. Hamilton’s piano solo was distinguished by his flowing lyricism while Cosker drummed with great sensitivity, this heightening the dramatic effect of his cymbal work at the close.
Turning now to the new album “Purely Intertwined” was introduced by the leader’s drums, Cosker revealing that his playing on this piece had been inspired by the great American session drummer Jim Keltner (Steely Dan, Traveling Wilburys, Ry Cooder etc.). Dunsmuir’s solo here was exceptional, bending strings and again making inventive use of the tremolo arm. The recorded version features a solo from guest vibraphonist Joe Locke but it was Hamilton who stepped into the breach here with an equally impressive acoustic piano solo (he actually plays electric keyboards on the album version).
The title track of “KPF” was skilfully segued with another album track, “Hee Haw Twice”. Dedicated to Cosker’s wife and standing for “Kirsty’s Pretty Face” “KPF” is a brief, but suitably charming, solo piano piece with the recorded version featuring Cosker’s own keyboard playing.
Here the atmospheric unaccompanied piano passage was delivered by Hamilton, the music then taking a more dramatic turn as it mutated into “Hee Haw Twice” with Dunsmuir’s rock influenced guitar again taking flight. Hamilton then sparkled at the piano, stretching out expansively prior to a volcanic closing drum feature from Cosker.
Remaining with the “KPF” repertoire “The Adventures of Feskelar” was dedicated to Cosker’s cocker spaniel of the same name. Picking up where he left off the composer introduced the tune at the drums with Cunningham’s propulsive electric bass lines subsequently fuelling turbo charged solos from Dunsmuir on guitar and Hamilton at the piano. Interestingly both Dunsmuir and Hamilton have been working with another famous drummer, the great Billy Cobham - “he keeps pinching my sidemen!” joked Cosker. Dunsmuir certainly follows some impressive figures in the Cobham guitar chair, among them John Scofield and the late, great John Abercrombie.
It was back to the début album for a closing segue of the ballad “Unannounced” and the fiery funk work out “That’s The Ticket”. The ballad section was lyrical and melodic with Cosker deploying brushes as Hamilton and Dunsmuir delivered attractive solos with the guitarist using a finger slide to generate a sound similar to that of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
Cosker’s drums provided the link into the funky “That’s The Ticket” as he combined with Cunningham to provide the boosters for Dunsmuir’s fleet fingered guitar soloing. Cunningham then demonstrated his slap bass technique on an extended feature.
This was a hugely enjoyable performance from the Cosker group with the leader introducing the show with a wry Scottish wit. The standard of playing was superb throughout and although Cosker’s brand of high energy fusion might not be to all tastes it went down a storm with today’s crowd at the Pizza.
My thanks to Alyn and Steve Hamilton for speaking with me afterwards and revealing that the jazz life isn’t always glamorous. The group members had to catch an early evening train back to Edinburgh, a second night in a London hotel representing an unaffordable luxury.
ITAMAR BOROCHOV QUARTET, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, HOLBORN
We decided to give the 2.30 show at Cadogan Hall a miss today, partly because of the filthy cold, wet weather and partly because we had arranged to meet a friend for an early evening drink in the Russell Square area.
This proved to be handy for our next musical port of call, Pizza Express’ new venue in Holborn which was playing host to a quartet led by the Israeli born, Brooklyn based trumpeter and composer Itamar Borochov.
I’m indebted to Sue Edwards for providing us with tickets for this event. Sue handled the UK publicity for “Blue Nights”, Borochov’s third album as a leader, which appears on the French label Laborie Jazz. I was highly impressed with the recording (review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/itamar-borochov-blue-nights/), and jumped at the chance of seeing Borochov performing live.
The following biographical details are sourced from my “Blue Nights” review;
Originally from the cosmopolitan port city of Jaffa Borochov brings the influence of Sephardic sacred music to jazz, particularly the use of Arabic scales. He first heard this music in his local synagogue and has since broadened his range of musical influences to include the ‘maqams’ of the greater Middle East and North Africa. The ‘maqam’ is the mode of Arabic Music, hence the resemblance of some of Borochov’s music to the modal jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others.
In addition to his Jewish, Arab and North African influences Borochov has also immersed himself in the realms of jazz and bebop, increasingly so since moving to the US. Borochov began playing trumpet at the age of eleven and has absorbed the jazz trumpet lineage of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Clark Terry, and Booker Little through to Wynton Marsalis, Jon Hassell and Arve Henriksen. He has also been open to the influence of other jazz instrumentalists such as saxophonists Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.
Borochov also cites the influence of Weather Report plus such non-jazz artists as diverse as Edith Piaf, Nasrat Fatah Ali Khan and Prince. The trumpeter is interested in the similarities between different musical cultures, traditions and genres and brings something of that fascination to bear in his music.
“Blue Nights”, despite its many influences, is primarily a jazz record - as distinct from a ‘world jazz’ record. The core instrumentation is just trumpet, piano, double bass and drums, that of a classic jazz quartet. Borochov’s frequently quoted remark helps to put things into context;
“I have to be real. If John Coltrane was informed by his father being a preacher I had to do the same thing. Lee Morgan brought gospel and I’m bringing Sephardi synagogue music.”
The group that Borochov brought to Holborn was essentially the one that appeared on the album with the trumpeter joined by drummer Jay Sawyer and Chicago based pianist Rob Clearfield. The only change was in the bass chair where the leader’s brother, Avri, was replaced by the Dutchman Nicolas Thys. The bassist has worked with Borochov before and was drafted in for the European tour after Avri recently became a father for the first time. Thys proved to be a more than adequate replacement in a show that highlighted Borachov’s star quality while still remaining a superb team performance.
I have to say that I was also impressed with the Pizza’s new venue. In the basement of the building and clearly modelled on the original jazz club in Dean Street, Soho it also possesses a beautiful Steinway grand piano and an authentic jazz club ambience. Hitherto it’s largely been used for events at the cabaret / comedy/ light entertainment end of the spectrum but tonight proved that it’s also a great place to listen to jazz. The Borochov gig was probably the most “serious” jazz event Holborn has hosted thus far and was probably moved here due to the presence of heavyweight jazz talents drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel at Dean Street during EFG LJF week.
I’m pleased to report that the new venue was packed out for the visit of Borachov, a musician with a relatively low profile in the UK but with a growing international reputation. Not every tune was announced but I’m reasonably certain that nearly everything was sourced from the “Blue Nights” album.
That was certainly the case with the opening “Motherlands” which was introduced by Clearfield’s piano arpeggios, these soon by Sawyer’s atmospheric use of shakers and the whispering of the leader’s trumpet. Borochov’s opening solo had something of the majesty of Miles Davis about it, his playing in the flesh more noticeably powerful than on the album as he stalked the stage charismatically, again in a manner reminiscent of Miles. But Borochov is no copyist, the Jewish and Middle Eastern influences that permeate his music are proof enough of that. The recorded version of “Motherlands” includes distinctive contributions from three Moroccan Gnawa vocalists/percussionists. Tonight the leader shared the solos with pianist Clearfield, the latter making highly effective use of that Steinway.
The title track from “Blue Nights” followed, with Borochov stating the melodic theme of the piece with a slow burning intensity as Sawyer deployed brushes behind him. Clearfield’s piano solo embraced a flowing lyricism while the leader favoured a choked intensity for his subsequent trumpet solo, eventually building to an anthemic grandeur. The subtle use of Arabic scales and motifs was apparent throughout the piece, adding an alluring appeal of the exotic to these English ears.
“Take Me To The Bridge” actually closes the “Blue Nights” album and is based on a Jewish melody written by the rabbi Baruch Chait with an arrangement by Borachov. Introduced by Thys at the bass with Sawyer again wielding shakers Chait’s theme was jointly stated by Borochov and Clearfield before being used as the basis for individual solos with Borochov going first, his increasingly impassioned playing supported by the dynamic drumming of the consistently impressive Sawyer. Clearfield relished the opportunity to stretch out with an expansive, quote filled solo and there were also cameos for bass and drums
The rather short first set concluded with “Garden Dog Sleeps”, a Borochov ‘contrafact’ based around the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street”. The trumpeter challenged the audience to name which tune it was based on, but nobody spotted it. I wouldn’t have known myself if I hadn’t read about it while reviewing the album. Borochov and Clearfield were the featured soloists on this heavily disguised artefact.
Returning to the stage for the second set Borochov dedicated the opening number to the memory of the recently deceased trumpet great Roy Hargrove, a very classy and humble gesture. Extolling Hargrove’s philosophy of living life “completely in the moment” the tune he chose to play was “Right Now”, the opening track from the new album, here featuring solos from Hargrove, Clearfield and Thys.
Unaccompanied piano introduced the next, unannounced piece with Clearfield now deploying a more percussive style that was sometimes reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. On trumpet Borochov soloed with controlled power and a Miles-ian sense of cool. I suspect that this may have been an extended version of “Broken Vessels” from the new album
From the new album “Maalem” (meaning ‘the one who knows’) was the second tune from Borochov’s Moroccan collaboration. More spacious than on the record the mood here was of quiet reflection with fragile, lyrical solos from Borochov and Clearfield. There was little applause for the individual solos, this mainly due to the fact that an air of hushed reverence had fallen over the audience as the sense of spirituality that informs all of Borochov’s music was at its most palpable. The atmosphere was only breached when Borochov announced that this was the end of the performance.
With the tension now released the audience clapped loudly and cheered for more, eventually being awarded for their efforts as Sawyer established a brisk drum groove that powered the boppish solos of Borochov and Clearfield as the quartet delivered some of their most straightahead jazz playing of the evening. Sawyer then enjoyed a series of effervescent drum breaks as he entered into a series of spirited exchanges with the leader’s trumpet before embarking on an impressive no holds barred drum solo.
This was a great, high energy way to end a memorable performance. As with Nik Bartsch’s Ronin the previous evening the full power and majesty of Borochov’s playing only truly came out in live performance. Impressive as the “Blue Nights” album is tonight’s performance took the music into another dimension with the charismatic, enigmatic Borochov leading a superb band of musicians. The playing from all concerned was both inspired and exemplary throughout. This was a performance that was a definite Festival highlight. Borochov is definitely a musician worthy of greater recognition. On the evidence of tonight’s performance his star is surely destined to continue to rise.
My thanks to Sue Edwards and her sister Fiona for speaking with me afterwards, and also to Charlotte, the manager of Ian Shaw, another artist whose work I have covered recently.
I also spoke to Itamar, Jay and Rob, so my thanks to them. Rob was also kind enough to provide me with a review copy of his recent solo piano recording “Wherever You’re Starting From”, which I intend to take a full look at in due course.blog comments powered by Disqus