by Ian Mann
September 02, 2010
Jazz musicians from Luxembourg will be playing a series of concerts in London during the autumn of 2010. Ian Mann takes a look at the bands involved and listens to their latest albums.
LUXEMBOURG COMES TO LONDON
I’ll admit that it came as a surprise to me to learn that there is a thriving jazz scene in Luxembourg. Some of the country’s leading musicians are due to visit London this Autumn for what promises to be a highly intriguing series of concerts.
The first event is a double bill at the Pizza Express in Dean Street on 14th September 2010. This will feature the young singer Leana Sealy and her band plus the group Largo, led by Luxembourg’s premier jazz musician, the trumpeter Gast Waltzing. Publicist Lee Paterson describes Waltzing as “the Courtney Pine of Luxembourg jazz” and he certainly occupies a similar position on the Grand Duchy’s music scene, encouraging young performers such as Sealy and involving himself in countless cross genre projects. Like Pine he is clearly a great populariser of the music but as “It’s All about Us”, the new album from his quintet Largo, shows he is also an uncompromising performer who retains a strong sense of artistic integrity.
Waltzing is the catalyst that brings this double bill together. He acts as the producer on Sealey’s latest album “Undecided” (WPR Jazz 2009-017) and her backing group of guitarist David Laborier , bassist Romain Heck and drummer Michel Mootz will also be appearing with Waltzing’s Largo.
Born in Dublin but now based in Luxembourg Sealy has been compared to a young Ella Fitzgerald. Her album reveals her to be a singer who combines confident jazz phrasing with a sultry soulfulness on a selection of familiar jazz standards and rather more unexpected pop tunes. The latter are some of the most successful pieces on the album and include versions of James Morrison’s “Call The Police”, David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World” and Alanis Morrisette’s “Uninvited”.
Sealy trained as a saxophonist and this may account for her fondness for scatting which surfaces periodically, and perhaps a little too often, throughout the album. Some of her best jazz performances come on the more intimate items such as her lovely rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and her duet with guitarist David Laborier on “Cheek To Cheek”. Laborier and his colleagues add sympathetic, understated support throughout with the guitarist particularly impressive. Sealy sometimes overdubs herself to provide backing vocal lines and the group sound is surprisingly full whilst simultaneously retaining a sense of intimacy.
“Undecided” is undoubtedly a classy piece of work and I would surmise that Ms. Sealy will prove to be a popular live performer when she visits Pizza Express. However for all the album’s sophistication the choice of much of the material is a little too obvious, we’ve all heard singers do some of these tunes, among them “Love For Sale” and “No More Blues”,far too many times before.
There are some less obvious items from the bebop repertoire too, including “A Night In Tunisia” and “Scrapple From the Apple” which represent braver choices, but how do you improve on perfection? A scat version of Miles Davis’ classic “So What” seems to me to be particularly superfluous.
Despite my personal misgivings I’m sure she’ll still deliver a successful performance at the Pizza.
LARGO featuring GAST WALTZING
I’d be keener to see Waltzing’s Largo quintet. “This music is a reflection of the times we are living in” says Waltzing on the CD cover, this simple remark immediately adding a political undercurrent to the music. The playing reflects this, it’s urgent, sometimes funky and bears a strong rock influence. Although the band photograph on the cover reveals that they are no spring chickens the group play with a fire and verve that belies their apparent age.
Besides Waltzing on trumpet “It’s All About Us” (WPR Jazz WPR2009-018) also features guitarist David Laborier and bassist Romain Heck from Leana Sealy’s group plus drummer Rainer Kind and pianist Thomas Bracht. For the live performance at Pizza Express Michel Mootz from the Sealy group will fill the drum chair.
Largo’s sound is primarily influenced by electric era Miles Davis. Even the cover features a shadowy, Miles like figure, presumably Waltzing in silhouette. Of the ten tracks nine are Waltzing originals, his writing is more structured than that of Davis and there are plenty of memorable hooks, grooves and riffs. Most of the soloing is by Waltzing or Laborier, the latter now very much in rock god mode. The difference between his (and Heck’s) playing here and his work on Sealy’s album couldn’t be more marked. Clearly these guys are highly talented and versatile musicians.
Most of the music is resolutely up-tempo and forceful with the emphasis on rock rhythms. Bracht’s piano provides a leavening sweetness and the anthemic “Kissing Your Tears Away” and the beautiful and tender ballad “Yael” add a welcome stylistic and dynamic variety to the programme.
The group’s approach is perhaps neatly summed up by the tracks “mmmm” (shorthand for Miles Meets Marcus Miller) and the closing “Black Dog”, a brief romp through the Led Zeppelin classic. Heck’s electric bass takes Robert Plant’s vocal line with the rest of the band providing crashing punctuation. Zep’s update on the classic field holler/call and response is given yet another twist by Waltzing and his gang.
Live I’d imagine Largo to be loud and visceral. I was hugely impressed with “It’s All About Us” despite (or maybe because of) it’s rock trappings. This is fiery, intelligent jazz/rock and should hold appeal for fans of such contemporary British acts as Acoustic Ladyland and Get The Blessing.
PASCAL SCHUMACHER QUARTET (pictured right-photograph courtesy of Lee Paterson))
In November two further Luxembourg based groups are due to visit London as part of the annual London Jazz Festival.
Pascal Schumacher is a vibes player with an international reputation. He is particularly popular in neighbouring Belgium and has worked in a duo with Belgian pianist Jef Neve. The quartet he will be bringing to the Pizza express on 12th November 2010 features the album personnel from his latest release “Here We Gong” (Enja Records) with Franz von Chossy on piano, Christophe Devisscher on bass and the German drummer Jens Duppe. Duppe is perhaps best known for his work with the iconoclastic young trumpeter Mathias Schriefl and in what is essentially an all original programme with at least one composition coming from each member of the group Duppe brings some of Schriefl’s celebrated humour to his own composition “Peanut Butter And Jelly”.
The title “Here We Gong” refers not to Daevid Allen’s band of psychedelic troupers but to a phrase used by Steve Reich in his “Music For Eighteen Musicians”, a work Schumacher has previously performed. Certainly there is a mathematical, Reichian quality to many of the pieces performed here. The bulk of the pieces are by Schumacher himself with the longer pieces, mostly around the five to six minute mark, punctuated by shorter, more impressionistic snatches of group improvisation. The latter often have joky, punning titles “Gongs And Roses”, “Gong With The Wind” etc.
The intelligent, tightly knit often highly complex music sometimes recalls Gary Burton’s collaborations with Chick Corea or Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone. Perhaps a fitting British comparison would be the partnership between vibraphonist Jim Hart and pianist Ivo Neame in the latter’s quartet. The interlocking front line of Schumacher and von Chossy is given flexible and intelligent support by Devisscher and Duppe. All four players have some pretty tricky stuff to deal with and all rise to the challenge admirably.
Perhaps the most attention grabbing performance on the album is the quartet’s version of “Sing”, a huge hit for the Scottish pop/rock band Travis. Schumacher and his colleagues add an air of cool mystery to the piece with the leader turning in one of his finest solos.
“Here We Gong” is an intriguing record, one that reveals hidden layers with each listening. It may not have the visceral impact of the Largo album but it’s thoroughly absorbing and the standard of the musicianship is frequently brilliant. Seeing this music performed in a live context should take the listener’s enjoyment to another level.
GREG LAMY QUARTET (pictured left-photograph courtesy of Lee Paterson))
The final Luxembourg based artist visiting London is guitarist Greg Lamy who brings his quartet to The Vortex on November 13th as part of a European jazz showcase. The line up is the same as that which appears on his latest album “I See You” with Johannes Muller on saxophones, Gautier Laurent on double bass and Jean- Marc Robin on drums.
Lamy was born in New Orleans and trained at Berklee College of Music in Boston but he is now based in Luxembourg where he also studied under the tutelage of Gast Waltzing. Recently he returned to the US and worked with leading singers and musicians such as Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke.
“I See You” is a short (by today’s standards) but enjoyable album that offers a good showcase for Lamy’s talents. “Go” is a breezy and lyrical opener with Muller featuring on feathery soprano. By contrast “the Tram” is a rousing blues bruiser that frames powerful solos from Lamy and Muller on muscular tenor.
The three part “Mademoiselle” comprises of three shortish themes with Muller gravitating between soprano and tenor, the first two are mainly contemplative, the third is more bluesy and assertive with Lamy making judicious use of guitar effects.
“Mr Paulo” is a surprisingly impressionistic and tender ballad and the brooding “On/Off” retains the air of contemplation. “In and Out” raises the temperature with Lamy’s playing reminiscent of John Scofield. The album closes with a lovely version of Monk’s “Round Midnight” with eloquently conversational guitar and smoky, slow burning tenor. Sympathetic support comes from the rhythm team with Robin displaying an admirable delicacy with the brushes.
Although largely laid back and introspective “I See You” retains just enough bite to keep it interesting. Again, Lamy’s performance at The Vortex should make for interesting viewing and listening.
The forthcoming Luxembourg season promises much to enjoy and is an excellent example of how jazz has grown to become a universal language. Support these and other gigs if you can and help to keep it that way.
Full details of the concerts featuring jazz artists from Luxembourg are shown below;
14 September 2010 - Pizza Express, Dean Street
Tickets ?15.00?? Booking:? 0845 6027 017
Doors: 7pm?? Performance: 8.30pm
Leana Sealy (vocals), David Laborier (guitar), Rom Heck (bass), Michel Mootz (drums)
LARGO featuring GAST WALTZING
Gast Waltzing (trumpet), David Laborier (guitar), Rom Heck (bass), Michel Mootz (drums), Thomas Bracht (piano)
London Jazz Festival
12 November 2010 - Pizza Express, Dean Street
PASCAL SCHUMACHER QUARTET
Pascal Schumacher (vibes)? Franz von Chossy (piano)? Christophe Devisscher (double bass)? Jens Dűppe (drums)
13 November 2010 ? Vortex Jazz Club, Gillett Square N16
GREG LAMY QUARTET
Greg Lamy (guitar)? Gautier Laurent (double bass) Johannes Muller (saxophone) Jean-Marc Robin (drums)
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