by Ian Mann
February 08, 2019
Ian Mann enjoys this compilation album celebrating the vibrant jazz and improvised music scene in Leeds - after acquiring the record in Cardiff!
“To Be Here Now”
Yesterday evening (Thursday,7th February 2019) I travelled to Cardiff to attend the monthly Hackensack event at Café Jazz.
Organised by students at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Hackensack takes place on Thursday evenings and presents a double bill of ‘modern jazz’, the programme often featuring bands formed of current students or recent graduates from the RWCMD. It also hosts touring bands from other regions of the UK with last night’s event featuring the Leeds based quintet Wandering Monster, led by double bassist and composer Sam Quintana.
I recently gave a very positive review to Wandering Monster’s eponymous début album for the emerging Ubuntu label and was particularly keen to see the group performing their music live. I wasn’t to be disappointed as the quintet delivered a powerful and admirably tight performance with the line up featuring two changes from the album personnel. Quintana and regular group members Calvin Travers (guitar) and Aleks Podraza were joined by Jack Chandler (alto sax) and Ali Wells (drums) who replaced Ben Powling and Tom Higham respectively.
Support came from RWCMD graduate Josh Heaton, the tenor saxophonist leading his Mouth of Words quintet featuring Rachel Head (alto sax), Kumar Chopra (guitar), Matheus Prado (electric bass) and Zach Breskal (drums). Mouth of Words blend jazz and poetry in highly contemporary fashion, the poetry being Heaton’s own, the words being spoken rather than sung and offering a kind of kitchen sink surrealism, deftly mixing humour with pathos.
I decided not to undertake a full review of tonight’s performances having written at length about both quintets only fairly recently. Instead I paid by money at the door and settled back to enjoy two sets of excellent modern jazz from two very talented young bands.
My review of Wandering Monster’s excellent début album can be read here;
Meanwhile my account of a performance by Mouth of Words as part of an RWCMD showcase event at Brecon Jazz Club in July 2018 can be found here;
During the course of the evening I spoke to both Josh Heaton and Sam Quintana and I’m grateful to Sam for providing me with a review copy of the vinyl album “To Be Here Now” which has been issued to “pay respect to the thriving scene flourishing in and enveloping Leeds right now”.
First released on October 1st 2018 “To Be Here Now” (the title a cheeky Oasis pun) is the brainchild of Wandering Monster’s regular saxophonist Ben Powling and venue owner Jack Simpson. The raison d’etre behind the album is perhaps best epitomised by the press release Powling forwarded to me at the time;
“The late, great John Peel OBE once said that there were more bands living and working in the LS6 area of Leeds than anywhere else in the country, and the same feels true today. To Be Here Now is an attempt to document, preserve and celebrate some of the jazz and improvised music currently being recorded and performed within the Leeds scene.
This jazz compilation was imagined, programmed and compiled by saxophonist Ben Powling and venue owner Jack Simpson at Jack’s café and venue Hyde Park Book Club. Despite being relatively new, Hyde Park Book Club has already established itself as a thriving hub for new and improvised music in the city and many of the bands who feature on To Be Here Now, have gigged, rehearsed and even started out at Hyde Park Book Club.
To Be Here Now was recorded across a few days, in late 2017 and early 2018, by Will Jackson of Soundworks (a multi-platinum selling production studio) at Jack Simpson’s other venue, Eiger Studios. Will has over 20 years’ experience of recording and working with national artists and brought his expertise to creating a compilation which showcases established groups (who have received regional and national recognition) but also newcomers, for which To Be Here Now was their first time recording in a studio. What remains constant is the maturity and tenacity of the music and its performers.”
The vinyl edition of “To Be Here Now” features three tracks to each side from six different bands these being Jasmine, Skwid Ink, Wandering Monster, Ayana, Tip Toe and Ancient Infinity Orchestra. As is the nature of the jazz scene there is much sharing of personnel with several of the musicians cropping up in more than one band in the kind of healthy cross-fertilisation that is part of the DNA of jazz and improvised music.
Side A commences with “Cold Sweat” by the quintet Jasmine, led by alto saxophonist and composer Jasmine Whalley. The band also features Ben Haskins (guitar), George MacDonald (keyboards), Owen Burns (electric bass) and George Hall (drums). It’s the pure, incisive tone of the leader’s alto that we hear first in conjunction with MacDonald’s piano. Following the intro an insistent, hip-hop inspired groove is established courtesy of keys, bass and drums, this underpinning Whalley’s soaring alto sax melody lines. The music moves up and down the gears allowing for a degree of dynamic variation with Whalley and Haskins the featured soloists, the pair also combining effectively. The piece concludes as it began with the sound of Whalley’s unaccompanied alto sax.
Next up are the band Skwid Ink led by Fergus Quill on electric bass and featuring MacDonald and Hall plus guitarist Will Lakin. Quill’s tune “Chang Soi” commences with the sound of his own liquid electric bass above a chattering backdrop of sequenced keyboards. It’s a quirky, playful, and highly inventive piece that combines elements of jazz, avant rock and electronica in intriguing fashion with Hall laying down the grooves as Quill, Lakin and MacDonald produce an impressive range of sounds from bass, guitar and keyboards as the music progresses. It’s a richly imaginative performance that should also be capable of appealing to adventurous rock listeners.
Wandering Monster are represented by the Quintana composition “Green Room”, a track that didn’t make it on to the group’s début album – hence it represents a bit of a bonus to be able to hear it here. In this edition of the band Quintana is joined by Travers and Higham with Powling on tenor sax and Jamil Sheriff on keyboards. The piece begins with the sound of Powling’s unaccompanied tenor, his soulful blowing ushering in a cerebrally funky groove that fuels powerful solos from Powling on tenor, Sheriff on electric piano and Travers on guitar. It’s more of a funky, hard grooving, blowing piece than some of the more obviously structured compositions on the album and this different feel may explain its omission there and inclusion here.
Flipping the record Side B commences with “Prophecy”, a composition written by bass guitarist Sam Dutton-Taylor and performed by the ensemble Ayana, which also includes Tom Sharp on trumpet, Jack Chandler on baritone sax, Powling on tenor, Jess Mollie on vibraphone, Matthew Aplin on keyboards, Travers on guitar and Brendan Bache on drums and percussion.
With an expanded line up the ensemble is correspondingly bigger, and most impressively so, with the metallic clank of Mollie’s vibes cutting through the unison horn lines. The leader’s bass and Aplin’s electric keyboards provide an underlying funkiness and the impressive Powling, who has also worked with the London based WorldService Project, again solos powerfully and at length.
The group Tip Toe introduces four musicians that we haven’t heard from thus far, singer Alice Higgins, guitarist/vocalist Conall Mulvenna, trumpeter Will Blackstone and double bassist Angus Milne. “How Will I Know” was written by Mulvenna but it’s Higgins who takes the lead vocal on this breezy slice of jazz and Latin inflected soul pop. There’s some uncredited percussion (claves, etc.) alongside the guitar and double bass while trumpeter Blackstone contributes an elegantly melodic solo.
The final group, Ancient Infinity Orchestra, introduces another clutch of new names these being;
Andy French (tenor sax), Joel Stedman (flute), Joseph Love (drums), Giorgos Kravvaritis and James Milligan (percussion), Ozzy Moysey (n’goni) and Elliot Roffe (double bass).
Credited to the whole band “Siluvaipuram” commences with the sound of the n’goni, the West African “hunter’s guitar” that is probably best known to jazz audiences through its association with the late great Don Cherry. There’s a genuinely African feel about this piece with its interlocking percussive rhythms underpinning the snaking, insidiously seductive melodies of saxophonist French and flautist Stedman.
The broad range of musical styles presented is a good representation of the diversity and vitality of the music scene in Leeds. It’s a scene that is prepared to embrace many musical influences and one which, like that of Edinburgh, is small enough to encourage frequent genre hopping. Like Cardiff Leeds has a thriving music college and many of the musicians that can be heard on “To Be Here Now” have studied there. The playing and singing is therefore of a remarkably high standard throughout with the students and graduates contributing massively to the success and vibrancy of the increasingly influential Leeds scene.
Congratulations to Ben Powling and Jack Simpson for putting this excellent compilation album together. It’s a true celebration of Leeds and its music. Maybe somebody could do something similar for Cardiff.
The only disappointment is that Powling’s own Mansion of Snakes outfit isn’t represented. I’d have liked to have hrard something from them.
The digital version of “To Be Here Now” is available via Bandcamp at;
The vinyl can be purchased at gigs involving the bands and musicians that play on it, including the current Wandering Monster tour, the final date of which is;
Saturday 9 February - Refu-jazz festival, Leeds
Get your copy there!