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Various Artists

BBC Jazz Awards 2006


by Ian Mann

October 06, 2006


This double CD is a very enjoyable and good value introduction to the UK jazz scene and everybody should find something to enjoy here.

This two CD set features all of the artists nominated in this year’s BBC Jazz Awards and is an excellent representation of the current vitality and diversity of the British jazz scene. The music ranges from the mainstream to the experimental and all points in between and shows that despite the rumours of it’s imminent demise jazz is still very much alive and kicking.

The music is split into “vocal” and “instrumental” categories. CD one showcases a wide variety of jazz vocalists, both male and female, operating right across the jazz spectrum. It is a common criticism that aspiring young jazz singers all seem to sound the same but this is not something that could be levelled here. From seasoned veterans to rising stars these are proper jazz singers, the real McCoy.

Things get off to a rousing start with “Messin’ With Fire” featuring Clare Teal’s confident and sassy singing fronting a swaggering all star big band conducted by Simon Wallace and featuring instrumentalists of the calibre of trumpeter Guy Barker, saxophonist Alan Barnes and trombonist Mark Nightingale.

Young vocalist Polly Gibbons delivers a powerful performance on “Saving Grace” recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s. She has an authentic soulful, bluesy voice that belies her years. This is one of the album’s stand out tracks and Gibbons gets great support from her band- James Pearson (piano), Simon Little (bass) and Mark Fletcher (drums).

By contrast “Corcovado” is laid back and languid. This features the smoky tenor saxophone of Jim Tomlinson and the cool, relaxed vocals of his partner Stacey Kent, a very popular figure with audiences.

Anita Wardell delves into the great American songbook for “Autumn Leaves”. Her phrasing is excellent and once again the band offers great support. Saxophonist Alex Garnett and pianist Robin Aspland solo to good effect with the sympathetic backing of Jeremy Brown (bass) and Steve Brown (drums). Wardell has been a mentor to many younger singers and is an important figure on the British scene.

Jacqui Dankworth’s “But Beautiful” mines the same seam and is also excellent. Considering her lineage one would expect nothing less. Once again the phrasing is immaculate as Dankworth wrings every ounce of emotion out of the ballad. Instrumental honours go to guitarist Mike Outram supported by Tim Harries (bass) and Roy Dodds (drums).

Elaine Delmar remains in standards territory with “I Concentrate On You”. Her voice is rich and smoky and her phrasing unhurried. There is a wonderful after hours feel to this piece to which the band once again make a fine contribution. Jim Mullen (guitar), Brian Dee (piano), Alec Dankworth (bass) and drummer Alan Ganley take the plaudits.

I’ve always had a bit of a blind spot about Georgie Fame due to his pop past. However I enjoyed his contribution here. Fame appears with a swinging all-star big band for a confident strut through his own composition “City Life”. He name checks Monk, Bird and Diz and there are some brilliant solos from the cream of our native British talent. Great stuff.

I’m less keen on Ray Gelato’s “Hey There”. It’s a bit too much in the old-fashioned show band tradition for me. However, Gelato is a hugely popular figure and after all this album is a celebration of the diversity of the scene. Nobody can be expected to like everything.

For all his abilities I have to admit to not liking Ian Shaw all that much either. I find his take on Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” interesting rather than enjoyable. This comes from an album of Mitchell interpretations, which may suit ears other than mine.

Julia Biel is a member of the F-ire Collective who have produced so much excellent music in recent years. The haunting, other worldly “Where Is She Now” is co-written with guitarist Jonny Phillips and appears on Biel’s highly acclaimed debut album “Not Alone”. Biel’s ethereal delivery recalls that of Bjork. An excellent band includes Phillips, Dorian Ford (piano), Tom Herbert (bass) and the ever inventive Seb Rochford on drums.

Saxophonist Jason Yarde has become an increasingly important figure over the years. He appears here in a duo with singer and guitarist Marcina Arnold on the lengthy and atmospheric “Cold Inside”. Yarde’s ringing, echo drenched saxophone soars like a less austere Jan Garbarek and is shadowed by Arnold’s guitar. In time her pure vocals add to the glacial atmosphere of the piece. This is haunting and effective music and a technical tour de force from Yarde.

Trombonist Dennis Rollins lightens the mood again with “Sweet Tone Bone” a rollicking tribute to past trombone masters like “Tricky” Sam Nanton and Miff Mole and to the instrument itself. The vocals here are delivered rap style by ShortMan. There is some superb word play and some fine and funky instrumental playing, not least from Rollins himself. Great fun, no wonder Rollins’ band is such a popular live act.

The final track on the “vocal” album comes from Fulborn Teversham, one of a number of bands to feature the restlessly creative drummer Seb Rochford. “Beach Tune” features Rochford’s deft but driving drums and Pete Wareham’s garrulous sax together with a remarkably dirty keyboard sound from Nick Ramm plus Alice Grant’s punk like vocal delivery. A brief but highly energetic and hugely enjoyable taster for their forthcoming album.

The instrumental CD kicks off with a bang in the shape of “Honeydripper” by Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. This is pretty much what you’d expect, driving boogie rhythms with punchy big band charts plus some storming drumming. A stirring start to the album.

Alan Barnes keeps the pot simmering with “Finger Poppin’” taken from his album “Yeah” which pays tribute to the great Horace Silver. Barnes is a remarkably versatile saxophonist and handles Silver’s material with aplomb. His band of Steve Waterman (trumpet), John Donaldson (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums) show up well too.

Scottish bassist Ronnie Rae produced an excellent album with the wonderful title “From The Cradle To the Groove”. This yielded the enigmatically titled “Rumble De Thump” which has a great groove and features wonderful solos from Warren Vache on cornet and Dimitri Shapko on tenor sax. Ronnie is joined in the rhythm section by his sons, pianist Ronnie Jr. and drummer John. They make a hell of a team.

Earlier this year pianist John Taylor released the highly praised album “Angel Of The Presence” and also played a series of brilliant concerts on his British tour. At last Taylor is beginning to enjoy the same sort of acclaim at home as he does on the continent For the album and tour he was joined by Danish bassist Palle Danielsson and UK drummer Martin France. They are a formidable trio and their version of Steve Swallow’s “Up Too Late” emphasises the interaction between the players as well as confirming their undoubted individual skills. France is one of Britain’s finest jazz drummers, at home in all areas of the music.

The effortless tenor playing of the veteran Bobby Wellins is highlighted on a version of Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”. The rhythm section of Mark Edwards (piano), Andrew Cleyndert(bass) and especially drummer Spike Wells kick up a storm behind him on this live recording.

Rising piano star Andrew McCormack features on the title track of his album “Telescope”. His playing is a fine blend of muscularity and intelligence and he is backed by a rhythm section with similar qualities in the form of bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Tom Skinner. McCormack has been an in demand sideman for a while but “Telescope” is an auspicious debut as leader.

Jazz-Rock band Partisans have been around for a while but with their members always in demand for other projects only record irregularly. “Last Chance” is taken from their third album “Max” (dedicated to Max Roach) and was written by guitarist Phil Robson. It begins quietly but soon brews up a storm with razor sharp runs and riffs from Robson and furious, complex rhythms from bassist Thad Kelly and volcanic drummer Gene Calderazzo. Julian Siegel’s bass clarinet brings the piece to a gentle conclusion but not before he has the chance to add some belligerent saxophone to the preceding mayhem. Partisans are an excellent band and Robson and Siegel are quality writers. There is a good deal of sophistication in their compositions despite the robust, rock orientated delivery. They remain criminally underrated.

The brash rock production of Partisans’ 2000 album “Sourpuss” did much to lay the groundwork for Acoustic Ladyland who follow them here. Ladyland have been more successful in reaching the rock audience through a combination of timing, justified critical acclaim, a willingness to play rock venues and an appearance on Jools Holland’s “Later”.” Trial And Error” is drawn from their highly acclaimed album “Last Chance Disco” a barnstorming record with great tunes, jazz chops and an almost punk like attitude. Like the other tunes on the album this is a composition by saxophonist Pete Wareham who plays in a powerful style that mimics vocal and guitar lines. Bassist Tom Herbert lays down a mighty groove along with dynamic drummer Seb Rochford and keyboards player Tom Cawley fills out the sound. Cawley gets more solo space elsewhere on the album where he really comes into his own.

Amazingly three quarters of Acoustic Ladyland are also present and correct in Polar Bear. Cawley is replaced by tenor saxophonist Mark Lockheart to give PB an unusual double sax front line. In this band drummer Sebastian Rochford takes up the compositional reins. His writing is more eclectic and experimental than Wareham’s and despite sharing a pool of musicians the two groups sound very different. Rochford likes to take simple melodies and underlay them with dark, complex patterns. The consistently inventive interplay of the two saxophonists is a major factor in the success of the Polar Bear sound. “Beartown” is an excellent introduction to the bands music, building from simple beginnings to a more complex mesh of interlocking saxophones, Herbert’s inventive but subtly powerful and funky bass lines and Rochford’s powerful but sophisticated drumming. Guest trombonist Joe Bently gets some solo space too.

Multi instrumentalists John Coxon and Ashley Wales (collectively known as Spring Heel Jack) are an important presence on London’s free improvisation scene. They frequently work with visiting American musicians such as saxophonists John Tchicai and Tim Berne, pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker. There have also been collaborations with British legend Evan Parker and the maverick Dutch drummer Han Bennink. “Lied” finds them in reflective mood in a collaboration with John Tchicai. Tchicai’s plaintive bass clarinet and alto saxophone is backed by the duo’s exotic percussion and samples in a strangely atmospheric and affecting piece of improvisation.

The final cut on this excellent compilation comes from saxophonist Tim Garland. British born Garland has acquired an international reputation through his work with legendary American pianist Chick Corea. He has also worked with the great drummer Bill Bruford in the band Earthworks. “Epilogue-From the Land” carries on the mood set by Spring Heel Jack. Reflective and atmospheric it feature Garland’s brooding reeds and the exquisite pianistic touch of Gwilym Simcock with whom Garland collaborates in the chamber jazz group Acoustic Triangle. Bassist Malcolm Creese, de facto leader of Acoustic Triangle also appears here along with acoustic guitarist Don Paterson and percussionist Asaf Sirkis.

This double CD is a very enjoyable and good value introduction to the UK jazz scene and everybody should find something to enjoy here. There is some great playing across a wide stylistic area and for anybody dipping their toes into the (British) jazz stream for the first time this is a good place to start.

For more committed listeners this should merely be a taster for albums by the individual bands and artists. There are some real classics out there, believe me.

For the record the winners were;

* BBC 2 Jazz Artist Of the Year- Jools Holland

* The Best Of Jazz Award - Anita Wardell

* Best Band - Dennis Rollins’ Bad Bone & Co

* Innovation Or Achievement In New Music -Tim Garland’s Lighthouse Project

* Album Of The Year - “The Lyric” by Jim Tomlinson featuring Stacey Kent

* Rising Star- Andrew McCormack

* Best Instrumentalist - Alan Barnes

* Best Vocalist - Clare Teal

* Services To Jazz - Ian Carr

* Lifetime Achievement - Quincy Jones

Can’t say I agree with all of them. What do you think?

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