18 February 2016
Bernd Reiter Quintet feat. Eric Alexander Workout at Bird’s Eye
(Steeplechase SCCD33123). CD Review by Peter Jones
A defiant clatter of snare drum introduces this joyously retro live set from young Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter. Aided by the doyen of New York mainstream tenor saxophone, Illinois-born Eric Alexander, Reiter and his band swing through the kind of collection that might have been cut by Dexter Gordon when he too was on the Danish Steeplechase label in the mid-Seventies. And everyone’s wearing suits on the cover, natch.
Not that Alexander possesses the instantly identifiable Gordon tone (he uses vibrato only sparingly), but he does have that effortless authority and melodic style. The sleek Helmut Kagerer on guitar also has his ears fixed on the jazz of the Seventies mainstream – in his case, Grant Green springs to mind, but also – of course – the immortal Wes Montgomery. And pianist Olivier Hutman takes on the Kenny Drew/Wynton Kelly role with terrific panache.
One of the many enjoyable things about the album is the length of the tracks. Reiter’s cavalier disregard for the likelihood of radio play makes a nice change – there are only six tracks, none of them clocking in at under 8½ minutes. So everyone gets to stretch out and blow.
As the album’s title suggests, several tunes are taken from Hank Mobley’s catalogue: the title track and Uh Huh (from his 1962 Workout album) plus Getting’ and Jettin’ (from Another Workout, recorded in 1961 but not released until 1985). The other three tracks are an unrecognizable I Want To Hold Your Hand, Jimmy Van Heusen’s All The Way and Tadd Dameron’s Super Jet.
The whole enterprise is suffused with energy and warmth. In fact there’s nothing not to like here, apart from a bit of intrusive snare rattle triggered by Viktor Nyberg’s double bass – tough to avoid on a live recording. The musicians are all at the top of their game and locked in together in a way that only develops after a good spell on the road. Kids – if you want to know how to swing, listen to this. Oldies – listening to Workout is like sinking into a hot bath at the end of a tough working day.
1 February 2016
|L-R: Alice Purton, Alice Zawadzki and Alex Roth
(Photo from the first performance of Songs to the Moon in May 2015)
Alice Zawadzki, Alex Roth, Alice Purton – Songs To The Moon
(St Mark’s Church, Dalston, 30 January 2016. Review by Peter Jones)
Josh Zvimba, the enterprising vicar at St Mark’s, has just begun staging a series of intimate gigs in his huge, exotic, mysterious, dimly-lit church whose every surface is richly coloured and deeply textured. Such a setting was ideally suited to the music of the Alice Zawadzki and her trio.
It was a performance of transcendent beauty. Lord knows whether you could actually call it jazz, but whatever it was, Zawadzki’s voice and violin, Alice Purton’s cello and Alex Roth’s electric guitar combined to create sounds that seeped into the brain and evoked a stream of otherworldly images and impressions. They had taken music from forgotten corners of Europe and beyond – Czechoslovakia, Crete, Hungary, Palestine – as well as a few originals by members of the group. If this suggests too much diversity, in fact the opposite was true: these Songs to the Moon had a distinctive unified character – quiet, delicate, ethereal and strange.
The first, Noches Noches, was an ancient song sung in the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino, in which Zawadzki’s microtonal singing was backed by an eerie drone. A similar technique was employed in Ha Folyóvíz Volnék, written by the 20th century Romanian composer György Ligeti, a gypsy tune with no chords, just a drone in E with tapped guitar strings to create rhythm. But for me the highlight of the first set was Purton’s composition Seasong, her interpretation of ‘what it’s like being under the sea’. Zawadzki sang wordlessly, and you could close your eyes and imagine yourself in an old documentary by Hans and Lotte Hass.
After the interval came Rusalka’s Song to the Moon, a rearranged version of Dvořak’s aria from his opera Rusalka, about a water spirit. Needless to say, Zawadzki sang this in the original Czech, in a sweet, powerful and – yes – operatic style, while playing some kind of tone generator. There was much more in this vein, but for me the most beautiful tune in the second set was Old Matthew, a piece she wrote herself based on an old Javanese Gamelan melody she apparently learned many years ago.
Songs to the Moon combined deep knowledge of the world’s folk music, perfect empathy between exceptionally fine musicians, improvisation and the techniques of modern minimalism to create something very special.
29 January 2016
|Joe Locke’s Love is a Pendulum group at the A-Trane in Berlin
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow
Joe Locke’s Love is a Pendulum Quartet
(Watermill Jazz, Dorking, 28th January 2016, review by Peter Jones)
Times are changing at Watermill Jazz: at some point in the Spring, the club will move from its present comfortable and spacious HQ at the Aviva Sports and Social Club to the Betchworth Golf Club, opposite the Watermill pub, where it started out in 1994.
In the meantime, the Aviva played host to an exhilarating evening with American vibraphonist Joe Locke, accompanied by Robert Rodriguez on piano (not to be confused with the director of cheapo action movies), Ricardo Rodriguez(apparently no relation) on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. They’d flown in from Vienna earlier that day, and survived a long crawl along the M25. Joe Locke had borrowed a vibraphone from his friend Neil Percy, principal percussionist of the London Symphony Orchestra, who was in the audience.
Born in California but raised in New York State, Locke is a full-on performer. While soloing he attacks his instrument with tremendous energy and passion, flushed of face, darting this way and that, singing or even shouting along with his solo, hopping in the air at the end of a phrase, mallets aloft. This seems to be more than mere showmanship: he is an intense man, and his music is rich and complex, requiring huge concentration.
Most of the material in tonight’s show was taken from his new album Love Is A Pendulum, but they started out with the David Raksin standard Laura. It was a pleasingly Methenyesque arrangement, and beforehand Locke challenged the audience to identify it. This presented no difficulty: the correct answer was immediately called out by several people at the end of the number. The event had attracted an exceptionally attentive and knowledgeable crowd, as Locke himself pointed out later in the evening – and he wasn’t just soft-soaping them to buy the album.
Next came Betty One-Note, a version of Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, followed by the Bobby Hutcherson-like This New October, and the skittering Love Is The Tide. In the second set came the Zappa-ish tune Love Is A Pendulum, featuring a brief but stunning Steve Gadd-style solo from Gully. It was followed by Sonny Rollins’s No Moe, based on the I Got Rhythm changes (and you could hear his nascent Alfie’s Theme) in the melody). The bass solo by Ricardo Rodriguez received one of the biggest ovations of the night – another indication, along with the absence of talking, that this was a proper jazz audience. After the ballad Embrace, they were called back for an encore described by its composer as a ‘barnburner’: Love Is Perpetual Motion.
Joe Locke is also perpetual motion, a man who throws his heart and soul into the music.
The same group is at Pizza Express Jazz Club Dean Street on Sunday night January 31st, 8pm start. (BOOKINGS)
27 January 2016
Corrie Dick Impossible Things
(Chaos Collective CC006. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Corrie Dick is much more than a drummer, and Impossible Things is far more than a ‘drummer’s album’. It provides evidence of a thoughtful, sensitive and imaginative all-round composer and bandleader with a lot to say: the music is brimming with optimism, energy and ideas. Not for nothing does Dick call them his ‘Band of Joy’.
The album is bolstered on the distaff side by the ubiquitous Alice Zawadzki (vocals, violin and some of the lyrics), and two of Dick’s colleagues in Blue-Eyed Hawk – Laura Jurd (trumpet), and – off-stage – Lauren Kinsella, who also helped out with lyrics. Other band members include Joe Webb and Matt Robinson on keys, Joe Wright and George Crowley on saxophones, Felix Higginbottom on percussion and Conor Chaplin on bass.
Soar features a joyous, surging melody led mainly by Robinson’s piano, with a spoken poem-cum-love song by Zawadzki, whose voice really shines throughout the album. Dick’s Scottish heritage comes through on King William Walk, with a fiddle/whistle melody reminiscent of some Scottish dance, albeit you’d tie yourself in knots trying to figure out the time signature; it then morphs into something faintly African. On Six Impossible Things, we are in the world of Alice – Through the Looking Glass, as well as Zawadzki – since the lyric refers to the White Queen’s remark to the eponymous heroine: Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.. Annamarrakech is a gorgeous, swooping tune with an airy solo by Laura Jurd, a celebration of the time Dick went to Morocco with his girlfriend and played with local musicians in Djemaa el-Fnaa square.
The mood softens with Farewell Modhachaidh, a lovely breathy piece about the home of Dick’s grandparents on the Isle of Skye. Lock Your Heart Up subtly prolongs the mood before evolving into a typically flamboyant soprano saxophone riot featuring Joe Wright. Like everything else on the album, it feels very free and spontaneous, while remaining intensely melodic. Everyone joins in on backing vocals on the mysteriously-titled What has Become of Albert? and the album ends with Don’t Cry, which Dick refers to as his calm-after-the-storm moment. This features another sweet, breathy vocal from Zawadzki, complete with background creaks and clicks which only add to the ambience, and the track fades out very slowly with an extended coda of chiming piano, overlaid with gorgeous vocal and trumpet improvisation.
25 January 2016
|L-R: Julian Joseph, Christine Tobin, Phil Robson
Photo Credit: Kat Pfeiffer
The Winter Sun: Christine Tobin, Phil Robson, Julian Joseph
(Kings Place, 24th January 2016. Review by Peter Jones)
Christine Tobin and Phil Robson have been collaborating for more than two decades, certainly since the former’s debut album, Aililiu, in 1995. The addition of Julian Joseph to this well-established duo was a challenging, fascinating and largely successful move, judging by the experience of their first gig together, at Kings Place on Sunday.
Individually, Tobin and Joseph wrote most of the music, and it must be said straight away is that the beauty and depth of the writing was extraordinary, not least in terms of the unusual subject matter. Love songs are all very well, but these two have a great deal more to say: about visiting art galleries, fatherhood and religion, for example, as in Tobin’s sad, spooky, chiming Ritual, in which she sings of her inability to make sense of the religion she was brought up in: ‘I spat out the faith, and I cried.’
All of the songs were complex and, I imagine, difficult to sing, but Tobin succeeded not merely in hitting the notes, but in expressing the feeling behind the words without recourse to histrionics or show-off vocal gymnastics. Her role model – and what a role model – is Joni Mitchell; the debt she owes is obvious, even to the extent of singing in a strong American accent. Tobin’s song Brandy and Scars was pure Mitchell in both style and execution. However the album explicitly referenced was Mingus, and in the second set we were treated to a medley of the Mingus-Mitchell composition A Chair In The Sky and Ornette Coleman’s All My Life. This was followed by Joseph’s Who Loves You Babe, dedicated to Jaco Pastorius, who also played on the Mingus album.
Throughout, Tobin’s vocal improvisations were striking and inventive, especially on the coda of Who Loves You Babe. Joseph was magisterial and passionate at the keyboard. Robson, despite his dazzling solos, was a rather subdued presence, his guitar mixed slightly too low, and being without a microphone, he could not stamp his personality on the proceedings to the same extent as the other two. There were also some issues, particularly in the first set, where piano and guitar did not seem to have fully resolved their complementary roles. Some audience members left before the end, perhaps disappointed not to hear folk music. But despite drawing on a variety of other musical forms, Tobin has always declared herself to be first and foremost a jazz musician.
Minor teething problems aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying gig, and one felt privileged to witness the birth of this new musical partnership.
18 January 2016
Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles Stardust
(Jellymould JM-JJ020. Review by Peter Jones)
Their first duo album since Treasure Trove in 1996 finds long-time friends and colleagues Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles still in perfect working order. Both teach at the Royal Academy of Music, and these tunes were recorded in September 2014 in its Concert Room, whose ambience gives the music just the right amount of ‘live’ edge.
An album like this is not designed to be challenging: almost every track is a delicate and perfectly judged rendition of a standard, the only exceptions being Sulzmann original Nikki’s Corner, dedicated to his partner in crime, and Iles’s Under The Canopy, dedicated to Sir David Attenborough.
The very gentleness of the arrangements throughout underlines the deep love and knowledge these two have for jazz melody.
The tracks are long enough at seven or eight minutes each to allow the solos plenty of rein, and for the tunes to evolve. Nikki’s Corner is a fine composition in 5/4, beginning with an ostinato piano bass figure and fading out with beautiful cascades of melody from Sulzmann. Another particular favourite for me is Bacharach’s You’ll Never Get To Heaven, a tune not played often enough in jazz. This version is based on an arrangement by Steve Gray. A third stand-out track is the ballad I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry a choice inspired, according to Iles, by the Sinatra version, and Sulzmann is in particularly fine form here.
Those wishing to hear a sample can download Nikki’s Corner free from Soundcloud (link below).
6 January 2016
|Oslo Jazz Band|
Oslo Jazz Band
(Ronnie Scott’s, 5th January 2016. Review by Peter Jones.
Just what is it that makes Norwegian jazz so different, so appealing? I first became aware of the country’s distinctive take on jazz with the release of guitarist Terje Rypdal’s ECM album Descendre, recorded in collaboration with Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet and Jon Christensen on drums. The album was striking for the vast feeling of space it generated: this was serene, meditative, unhurried music, full of long notes and almost-silences. However the term ‘minimalism’ didn’t seem quite right, because there was so much going on.
By this point (1980) Rypdal had already made three albums with fellow Norwegian Jan Garbarek, and the ripples had begun to spread beyond their point of origin, leading to collaborations with the likes of Lester Bowie, George Russell and John Surman.
Roll forward 36 years, and it is remarkable how instantly recognizable that Oslo sound remains. The Ronnie Scott’s audience was privileged to hear it in the form of the first ever gig by the Oslo Jazz Band – a sort of supergroup consisting of three generations of Norwegians: senior member, pianist Jon Balke, first recorded with the influential Arild Andersen Quartet back in 1975, and recently appeared on Mathias Eick’s excellent Midwest album; saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpet-player Eick are doyens of the current scene; whilst the younger contingent were represented by drummer Gard Nilssen and bassist/vocalist Ellen Andrea Wang.
Viewers of BBC4’s The Sleigh Ride, shown on Christmas Eve, marveled at the hypnotic beauty of the two-hour real-time reindeer-powered journey across the snowy wastes of northern Norway. It was mesmerizing, and Nilssen’s Mormor was like a musical version, with gorgeous wafts and waves of mournful melody, in which Eick’s pure, liquid soloing was particularly affecting.
One consistent feature of the quintet’s arrangements was the doubling, rather than harmonizing, of trumpet and tenor saxophone, as in Seim’s Sol’s Song and Wang’s Tropical. Another was the Norwegian gift for making instruments sound like other instruments. Seim played what I think was a curved Eb sopranino saxophone on the ghostly Sorrows no.2, bending the notes in Indian flute-like fashion while Wang provided a bowed sitar-like drone, yet the tune evolved to the point where Balke’s solo in the style of Bach fitted perfectly.
Support came from the young Oslo quartet Pixel, also featuring Ellen Andrea Wang, and featuring material from their recent album Golden Years. Saxophonist Harald Lassen’s Our Beauty was the stand-out of the set, a lush, floaty thing with three-part vocal harmony – a gorgeous contrast to the austerity of the other tunes.
27 November 2015
National Youth Jazz Orchestra – NYJO Fifty
(Whirlwind WR4679, CD Review by Peter Jones.)
There’s been half a century of top-notch big band playing and recording since the organization which became NYJO was founded by Bill Ashton in 1965. In that time they have made well over 40 albums, performed live around the world, and on television at The Royal Variety Performance and the Royal Celebration of Youth. Ashton has even been awarded an OBE for ‘services to jazz’. So this is very much the establishment-approved jazz ensemble, and thank the lord for that, since the establishment has in all other respects failed to comprehend the importance of the arts in the UK.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of the jazz stars who were launched upon the world thanks to NYJO, not least Guy Barker, Mark Nightingale, Gerard Presencer, Pete Long, Dennis and Winston Rollins, and of course the 16-year-old Amy Winehouse, of whom Bill Ashton commented: ‘I can honestly say, she had the best jazz voice of any young singer I had ever heard.’
However, this double album release is not a retrospective, rather a set of new recordings, divided into ‘contemporary’ (disc one) and ‘traditional’ (disc two) material. One of NYJO’s recent roles in recent years has been to commission new work from leading UK jazz composers. Included here are tunes from the ubiquitous Kit Downes (Wintermute), Laura Jurd (No Man Is An Island), and Jason Yarde (Sub Hub Hubbub – great title!). And it’s appropriate that the final piece is one of Bill Ashton’s compositions – Finding My Feet.
Disc one kicks off with Mama Badgers, a bracingly percussive piece written by Julian Siegel, and giving early prominence to the excellent David Dyson on drums, Owen Dawson on trombone and Rob Luft on guitar. Luft surely deserves a special award for being on practically every British jazz CD released this year. Another musician vying for that honour is Gareth Lochrane, and blow me down, here he is again on Rush Hour.
It’s tough to pick out individual tracks when the playing is at such a high level, but I particularly liked a couple of the quieter tracks on the first disc – Chris Whiter’s lush, floaty Dreams and Owen Dawson’s No Pãu de Açúcar, both of these featuring the flugelhorn of James Copus. The second disc opens with St Louis Blues, a mixture of foot-dragging sleaze and finger- snapping helter-skelter swing. Favourites here include NYJO’s take on Lullabye on Broadway and What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?, both lifted by the velvety voice of Jessica Radcliffe. There has been a lot of excellent UK big band music this year, notably from the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and the Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble. This one is a fine addition to the pile: you get a lot of music for your money – 19 tracks in well over two hours – and it’s music of the very highest quality.
17 November 2015
|Marcin Wasilewski. Photo credit: Henryk Kotowski (Creative Commons)|
Marcin Wasilewski Trio with Joakim Milder and Helen Sung Quartet
(Milton Court Concert Hall, EFG LJF. 15 November 2015. Review by Peter Jones.)
A successful and enduring jazz trio, in the tradition of Evans and Jarrett, is not so much a well-oiled machine as a single six-legged organism. This one, headed by piano maestro Marcin Wasilewski, is arguably the best in the world. After more than 20 years together, Wasilewski, bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz have long enjoyed the kind of telepathy that the truly great trios thrive on.
Originally known as The Simple Acoustic Trio, they first met in their teens in the Polish coastal city of Koszalin, and earned acclaim for their first album, which was devoted to the music of the great Krzysztof Komeda. This in turn brought them to the attention of trumpet legend Tomasz Stańko, with whom they recorded three albums. Since then they have recorded three more as the Marcin Wasilewski Trio. This LJF date in the acoustically perfect Milton Court mostly featured music from last year’s album Spark of Life, also featuring Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder, who was with them on the gig.
The Trio never plays anything harsh, ugly or meaningless – it’s all melody, cascades of it, in an endless, continually evolving profusion. At other times the style is cool, spacious and reflective – just what you’d expect from ECM recording artists – as on Sudovian Dance, an eerie tune, full of shadows and pitfalls. They also performed their dramatic take on Sting’s Message In A Bottle (in the past they have also recorded versions of Bjork’s Hyperballad and Prince’s Diamond and Pearls).
Wasilewski himself is a passionate, kinetic player, sometimes crouching low over the keys, or leaning precariously back, at other times raising his right leg high in the air or pumping it furiously up and down, his mouth agape, his whole body convulsing as if undergoing electric shock treatment. Kurkiewicz, meanwhile, is an exceptionally fine bass player, his solos melodic, warm and clear; Miśkiewicz is empathy personified, always listening, never indulging in the pointless clatter sometimes heard from drummers in this genre of jazz.
The evening began with an hour of music from the Helen Sung Quartet. Sung is a classically-trained American pianist who knew nothing about jazz until she was taken to a Harry Connick Jr concert, and decided there and then to switch disciplines. This evening she had with her a fine band consisting of alto saxophonist Logan Richardson (recently seen with Nicola Conte), bassist Josh Ginsberg and drummer E.J. Strickland. It was an enjoyable set, and these are consummate musicians, but in the end precision won out over warmth, and you just wanted them to relax and cut loose a little.
LINK: Helen Sung Interview
16 November 2015
|Cécile McLorin Salvant at Cadogan Hall
Photo credit : Paul Wood
Cécile McLorin Salvant
(Cadogan Hall, EFG LJF. 14 November 2015. Review by Peter Jones.)
Still only 26, Cécile McLorin Salvant has already arrived at a certain… grandeur.Viewed in many quarters as the inheritor of the official Jazz Goddess mantle previously worn by Holiday, Vaughan and Fitzgerald, Salvant is certainly the full package: a huge vocal range, formidable control and power, a highly intelligent gift for lyrical interpretation, and a deep knowledge of music, both American and French.
As if to underline this last fact, her material is self-consciously classic – it feels like Hollywood in the studio era: at the Cadogan Hall, she sang almost nothing written in the last half-century (her own composition Monday being, I believe, the sole exception).
There were songs from the shows (The Trolley Song, from Meet Me In St Louis); tunes from the songwriters’ pantheon (three on the trot by Cole Porter – I Get A Kick Out Of You, So In Love, and the lesser-known but brilliant Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love); old-time blues (two from Bessie Smith); and a selection of beautiful, haunting French songs (including La Route Enchantée, from a 1938 film, and Le Mal de Vivre, by 1960s singer Barbara). These she would probably have sung anyway, but they took on a particular significance in the light of the unfolding horror in Paris.
|Cécile McLorin Salvant – Photo credit Paul Wood|
Despite the pall that those events have cast over the whole Festival, Salvant still managed to inject some humour into the gig, not only in the arena of sexual politics (including an ominously reharmonised Wives and Lovers), but also religion: I found myself wondering whether it’s even legal in today’s God-fearing America to sing It Ain’t Necessarily So. And there was some good old-fashioned filth from the ever-reliable Bessie Smith, with You’ve Got To Give Me Some. She also brings to light some songs we may have forgotten or never knew about in the first place, such as the sly Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh number When In Rome (I Do As The Romans Do).
There was so much to enjoy, but where Salvant can still improve, I think, is to break away from rehearsed arrangements sometimes, and allow herself and the band to loosen up and settle into a groove: some numbers had a rather brittle, stop-start quality. To put it another way, we could have done with less Barbra Streisand, and more Madeleine Peyroux.
Salvant was ably backed by Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass and Lawrence Leathers on drums.
15 November 2015
Xantoné Blacq/Pee Wee Ellis/Patches Stewart
(Hideaway, Streatham, EFG LJF. 13 November 2015. Review by Peter Jones.
Who can forget James Brown’s warning to his band whenever the soloing became a little too free: ‘Don’t play no mo’ jazz!’ Well it seems jazz is having the last word, because Brown’s bandleader, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, stands accused of the very crime his late employer suspected him of. At any rate, he played some righteous tenor saxophone at this packed-out date on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival. Perhaps being the co-author of Cold Sweat and Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud isn’t enough for him.
Tonight’s bandleader Xantoné Blacq only brought the 74-year-old on towards the end of the first set. When asked to say a few words, Pee Wee deliberated for a while before declaring: ‘I’m not a speech-maker, I’m still trying to learn how to play the saxophone.’
It had been a fine, melodic but relatively low-key start to the gig, the highlight of which was the lovely Till Brönner/Larry Klein ballad A Distant Episode, featuring Patches Stewart on flugelhorn. The tempo picked up as soon as Pee Wee hit the stage, with Blacq doing his vocoder party-piece on his own tune What You Talkin’ About. This was followed by The Chicken (aka Chicken Soup), the old jam session favourite recorded by Jaco Pastorius and beloved of bass players, but penned by Ellis.
An energetic and engaging performer with a style reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, Xantoné Blacq gives the impression that he can’t quite believe his luck at playing in the company of such fine musicians. But of course luck has nothing to do with it: hard work, a positive attitude and prodigious talent have been at least as important. He first came to public notice as the pianist with Amy Winehouse’s band, and was joined tonight by the musical director of that band, bassist Dale Davis. The rhythm section was completed by a third Winehouse alumnus, drummer Nathan Allen. So Blacq was very much the pivot of this ensemble, being both the core of the rhythm section, and also – like messrs Stewart and Ellis – a front man of quality.
In an enjoyably varied gig, there were moments of sheer class, like Blacq’s samba tune Makes Me Wanna, from his first album, Ellis’s slow burning mellow groove New Moon, that opened the second set, and his James Bond-like Blue Bell Pepper. Blacq’s solo piece, a gorgeous solo take on The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, was another highlight. The gig ended with a long-standing live favourite, his funked-up version of the Beatles’ Drive My Car. It’s hard to understand why Xantoné Blacq isn’t already a household name, but his day is surely coming soon.
LINK: Preview to this gig
30 October 2015
Joyce Moreno and Kenny Werner Poesia
(Pirouet PIT3087. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Two outstanding jazz veterans of the Americas – one based in Rio, the other in New York – have come up with a simple idea: to record an album of ballads. Joyce Moreno and Kenny Werner have been friends since first meeting in 1989, and have worked together during that time on two of Joyce’s previous albums.
Poesia feels very different to the exuberance of Joyce’s last album Raiz, which was an exploration of her Brazilian musical roots. This is a collection of chamber pieces, and what works so beautifully and distinctively on it is the combination of styles – Moreno singing in the latin tradition of drama and melancholy, accompanied by Werner’s delicate, empathetic less-is-more piano.
Confusingly, Second Love Song, which they wrote together, is the opening track, and it’s one of the highlights of the album. Werner had originally penned the tune for a big band, but with Moreno’s newly-added lyrics, it sounds perfect and complete a deux.
Of course, working in a duo can also cruelly expose any vocal frailties, and here and there, for example on Jobim’s Olha Maria, Joyce sounds a little uncertain. But elsewhere it’s great to hear her take on such standards as Estate and Mad About The Boy. Werner’s piano on the former ripples and riffs, sometimes complementing and supporting the voice, sometimes providing an edgy counterpoint. He doesn’t ‘latinise’ the material, sticking instead to conventional jazz ballad stylings.
Caymmi’s Velho Piano – a new one on me – is a sweet and melodic delight; Pra Dizer Adeus (‘Just To Say Goodbye’) is a tear-jerker, darkened by Werner’s interpolated melody lines and bittersweet chords; Charlie Chaplin’s Smile (whose lyrics, by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, weren’t added until a full 18 years after the song appeared in Chaplin’s film Modern Times) is another excellent choice, perfectly in keeping with the overall mood, and the same goes for Bernstein’s Some Other Time.
Don’t expect innovation or even surprises from Poesia; it’s not that kind of album. But if you want a mellow, chilled-out listen for the early hours of the morning, this is it.
25 October 2015
|L-R: Xantoné Blacq, Pee Wee Ellis, Patches Stewart|
Keyboard player, singer, composer, recording artist and jazz-funk impresario Xantoné Blacq played keyboards for Amy Winehouse. He’s appearing for two nights at The Hideaway next month as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. With him are trumpeter Patches Stewart, famous for his collaborations with Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller and others, and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, saxophonist, arranger and bandleader for James Brown. Peter Jones interviewed Xantoné about the gig.
LondonJazz News: How did you get together with these two funk demigods?
Xantoné Blacq: I first met Pee Wee Ellis at least ten years ago. I was working for Collage Arts in North London, and Pee Wee was there, teaching the students. They did a show at the end, and all these rappers were coming up, and at one point I shouted out: ‘God bless the rappers, Pee Wee, but what about the singers?’ So he said OK, what about you? So I got up on stage and did I Feel Good – his take on it – and we kept in touch after that. And when I did my first album, he came to London and played on it. Then last year he was guesting with the Paul Jackson Trio, and we worked together there as well.
I met Patches Stewart when I was working in Poland with Michal Urbaniak. Patches has a Polish partner, so he lives there some of the time as well, and he came on the gig with Michal too.
LJN: You’re also playing with your regular trio guys Nathan Allen and Alex Bonfanti at The Hideaway?
XB: Yes, they’re my partners in funk! There’s been a slight change actually – Nathan Allen is still playing drums but Alex has a six-week tour, so Dale Davis is now on bass. Both of the guys are Amy Winehouse alumni. Dale was musical director for Amy’s band. So there’s huge experience there, and I feel very lucky to have these guys. I mean, Patches was with Al Jarreau for ten years, and Pee Wee was right there at the genesis of funk. He wrote Cold Sweat with James Brown. So you’ve got this front line and the Winehouse guys keeping the groove going. A lot of firepower!
LJN: But it’s also a classic jazz quintet line-up.
XB: Yes, it’s a classic quintet, but not as we know it! There will be a lot of funk, but we have the capability to play straight-ahead too, and I’m sure there will be some moments of that.
LJN: Without giving too much away, what else can audiences expect at The Hideaway?
XB: A mixture of everybody’s original material – my stuff, Patches, Pee Wee, plus covers done in our way. But there will be surprises too. There will be some kind of framework that we have rehearsed, but really from that point on, it depends on the day. I would not want people who come on both nights to see the same show. The set list will be the same, but it will morph. I really believe in that jazz aesthetic. All the people I respect in music – and in life – are people who follow their gut and focus on being in the moment.
There’s something very interesting about watching a band like ours play, where you have people from different generations and backgrounds playing in the same tradition of music, and seeing how that music has evolved. So for example you’ve got Pee Wee, who was there at the start in the Sixties, then Patches was the next generation, then there was funk in the Eighties when it integrated with soul. And of course you had all the changes in technology, and it continued to mutate. And then there’s my own background coming from Lagos in Nigeria, the African influence that I have.
LJN: What else are you up to?
XB: I’m about to start work on my third album. And I’m learning to play the guitar!
DETAILS: Xantone Blacq & Patches Stewart Band featuring Pee Wee Ellis are at The Hideaway on 13th and 14th November. The gig is one in the series of Xantoné Blacq Presents live music events which he curates and promotes. Twitter: @xanblacq andFacebook: The-Magnificent Xantoné Blacq.
8 October 2015
|Derek Nash and Branford Marsalis at Boaters in Kingston|
It’s a Wednesday evening, October 1990 (writes Peter Jones). Saddam Hussain has just invaded Kuwait, Dances With Wolves is about to receive its American premiere, and two teenage students arrive to play a little jazz duo gig at a riverside pub in Kingston…Roll forward a quarter of a century, and the Boaters has become the longest-running weekly jazz venue in London. Co-founder, pianist Simon Carter spoke to Peter about the highs and lows of those 25 years:
LondonJazz News: What’s been the biggest challenge in running the gig?
Simon Carter: The most difficult times have been when the pub’s changed hands, whether the ownership or the management. The last major change was when it shut for a re-furb. It’s currently owned by a subsidiary of Greene King. Over the time I’ve been running jazz, there’s been anything up to 20 different managers. Some come in and are really enthusiastic and supportive straight away. Others are non- committal, and aren’t aware of live music, and you just hope they’ll see a few gigs and enjoy it and understand what it’s all about. So I try to keep things varied, for instance by having some more soul-oriented performers, which helps to keep the management on board.
LJN: How did it start?
SC: It was just me and my good friend and flatmate Richard Cardwell. We were both doing the music degree at Kingston University, and both into our jazz and funky stuff. We were also both keyboard players, but I was also dabbling on the saxophone. Richard was seeing one of the barmaids at the Boaters, and she put in a good word with the manager at the time, and we got a gig there. It just seemed like a good opportunity to learn some tunes out of the Real Book, and play to an audience. There was a small, appreciative little crowd there, and it became a regular thing. Eventually it went from a duo to a trio, then to a quartet. After about three years I switched to playing bass, and the gig switched to Sunday.
Nothing was ever planned. I just started getting people down to play that I’d known from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra , and local people I’d met, like Matt Wates. Dave O’Higgins was the first musician we advertised by name, and it was absolutely packed that night. Then we did one with Jim Mullen shortly afterwards, and Lawrence Cottle came down to watch, and that scared the living daylights out of me. Soon afterwards I switched to piano!
One thing I’m really aware of is that when I started the gig I was 19. And when it became a proper featured gig I was still in my early twenties, and I didn’t want to go down the same road as some existing jazz venues, where it was very much an older audience. I wanted to play with people closer my own age. And I still try to introduce new people every so often… [thoughtful pause]… I do wonder whether I should try to do that more. There’s a responsibility to reach a younger audience. But it’s always a balance.
At times over the years flocks of young musicians have turned up on Sunday nights. One was the bassist Janek Gwizdala, who now lives in the US, where he plays with everyone from Randy Brecker to Chuck Loeb. But learned his chops at The Boaters.
In my opinion he’s now one of the greatest bass players in the world. He’s incredibly motivated, he worked his ass off. I met him when I was in the NYJO. We did a rhythm section workshop – he was maybe 13 or 14 at the time – and he decided there and then he wanted to play bass, and he started to come down to the Boaters to see Lawrence Cottle play. Eventually he started to play there, and now I’m lucky if I can even get him.
LJN: What highlights do you remember?
SC: There have been some special occasions, like the night Branford Marsalis turned up. Derek Nash was playing, and one of our regulars, who was the local chief of police, came up to me after the first set and said: ‘Branford Marsalis is a personal friend of mine. He’s in a taxi on his way here and he’s got his sax with him. Do you mind if he sits in?’ And I thought he was winding me up. But Branford arrived during the first tune of the second set. Derek beckoned him on and he didn’t even wait until we’d finished the tune. We were playing a Crusaders number, and Branford loved it. Very humble and unassuming, and happy to play whatever we were going to play. The word must have spread very quickly, because within 20 minutes of Branford arriving, the audience had doubled in size.
LJN: The drummer Chris Dagley became a regular at The Boaters. After he died in a scooter accident in 2010 on his way home from Ronnie Scott’s, you decided to hold a benefit night for his widow.
SC: It was an amazing night. I came away from that absolutely exhausted, because it was such an effort to organize it. I got Rick Astley to come, Carleen Anderson, Natalie Williams, and I wanted to get some drummers up that were important to Chris – Neal Wilkinson, Pete Cater, Ian Thomas – and we started early and finished late and didn’t have a break because there were so many people that were going to play. The manager at the time was incredibly supportive. They took out rows of seats and we even had some lighting put in, which we don’t normally have.
One night last year, half of the Average White Band turned up. Freddy V, the saxophone player, is a friend of mine, and he mentioned that the drummer, Rocky Bryant, might want to come down as well. And he said I think Brent Carter, the lead singer, might come down. And the keyboard player Rob Aries came as well.
But The Boaters for me is a constant highlight. Gigs come and go, there are people I’ve worked with for a long time, but it’s been sporadic. Boaters is the most consistent thing in my musical life. Nothing else even comes close.
During October, The Boaters plays host to quartets featuring Derek Nash (11th), Jacqui Hicks (18th) and Nigel Price (25th), with Simon Carter on keyboards in each case.
6 October 2015
Tim Garland – Return To The Fire
(Edition Records EDNLP 1063. Review by Peter Jones)
It must be rather gratifying to be described as a genius by no less a figure than Chick Corea, but that’s the burden Ilford-born saxophonist Tim Garland is saddled with. And after a performance of astonishing virtuosity at the 606 Club a couple of weeks back, one is forced to agree with Chick: Garland can stand alongside the very best in the world.
These recordings reunite the band that played on his 1995 album Enter The Fire. And although that wasn’t the first release under his own name, it was a highly significant one for Tim Garland: Corea heard it through a mutual friend and decided there and then that he must have the Englishman in his own band.
Now Tim Garland’s quintet from Enter The Fire – Gerard Presencer on trumpet, Jason Rebello on keys, Mick Hutton and Jeremy Stacey on double bass and drums respectively – has recorded these new tracks. There are four new Garland compositions, plus JJ Johnson’s Lament and McCoy Tyner’s Search For Peace. The result is fresh, cool and invigorating, often evoking classic period Wayne Shorter, particularly on Abiding Love, which opens Side A. This is a bold, swinging, beautifully-crafted piece with a great doubled melody from the horns, and fine soloing from Garland, Presencer and Rebello. It’s full of dynamic variety, and long enough at over nine minutes to create moods both light and shady.
Lament is simply gorgeous, Garland’s playing suggesting the agonized human voice to an uncanny degree, particularly when it soars to the top of its range. Jason Rebello features on the title track, which starts off as an upswing workout that blows the dust off like nobody’s business. Rebello’s comping alone should be compulsory listening for all aspiring jazz pianists.
Side B begins with two slower, strongly melodic tunes: Valse Pour Ravel, featuring Garland on soprano, and Search For Peace, a Kind Of Blue-type ballad clocking in at just under ten minutes. The solos on both tracks are played with considerable feeling, demonstrating that when you’ve got nothing left to prove in terms of technique, it’s about having something to say with every note.
In a slight change of style as well as personnel, the album closes with the muscular, fusion-inflected All Our Summers, Garland on soprano joined by James Maddrenon drums , Lawrence Cottle on electric bass and Ant Law on guitar. Tom Farmeralso plays double bass somewhere on the album, but it’s not clear where.
Return To The Fire is released on vinyl and download.
Tim Garland is about to embark on a lengthy European tour with Chick Corea and The Vigil, ending with two nights at Ronnie Scott’s on 10th and 11th November.
LINK: Tim Garland interviewed about the genesis of Return to the Fire
26 September 2015
|Zara McFarlane, Nicola Conte|
(Brooklyn Bowl, O2, Greenwich, 24 September 2105. Review by Peter Jones.)
The master of retro groove and Summery feel-food vibes, Nicola Conte was some way out of his natural element in this enormous, echoing, barn-like pub-cum-bowling alley. His music may be warm and intimate; the venue is anything but. He has worked with many different vocalists, from José James to Kimberley Sanders, so it was fortunate that he had one with him on this occasion able to project her voice and personality sufficiently to overcome any surrounding distractions, namely the sublime Zara MacFarlane.
The sharp-suited band looked understandably grim as they hit the stage, but began to relax and smile as they realized that the relatively small audience appreciated what they were about.
Apart from the traditional Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, the material seemed new. I’m guessing at the titles, not having been supplied with them, but there was the familiar mixture of samba (We Get Our Love From The Sun), slow funk (Revelation) and bossa nova (It’s Quiet). Annoyingly, Searching For Peace, a gentle, meditative tune, didn’t find it: the music was marred by the clatter of bowling balls and roars of triumph on one side, and loud conversation from the bar on the other.
But none of this deterred Francesco Lento (trumpet) or Logan Richardson (alto saxophone) as they supplied a fertile stream of solos to complement the rhythm section’s solid grooves. Later in the gig there were also solo contributions from Pietro Lussu (electric piano), Luca Alemanno (double bass) and Marco Valeri(drums), who traded fours on Black Spirit. Goddess Of The Sea featured a brief but magnificent, Fitzgeraldesque scat from MacFarlane. As is his custom, Conte himself (guitar) modestly refrained from soloing.
‘They want to close, but we’re going to do one more anyway’, he said, as they returned to the stage for their encore. By now the bowling fans had gone home, allowing the band to play It’s Only Love unmolested by noise, with more wonderful swapping of solos between MacFarlane and Lento.
21 September 2015
Matthew Herd’s Seafarers
(Omnibus, Clapham, 20th September 2015. Review by Peter Jones)
Two stacks of cabin trunks, abstract photographs of rippling water – the scene was set for a nautical evening in the comfortable, low-lit galley area of this former public library opposite Clapham Common.
Alto and soprano saxophonist Matthew Herd is one of a loose collective of musicians who met at the Royal Academy of Music, and who are now making waves on the British jazz scene. The all-acoustic band Seafarers was formed as an outlet for Herd’s own compositions, five of which were recorded a couple of years ago with the voice of Lauren Kinsella, plus Sam Rapley on tenor sax and clarinet, Sam Watts on piano, Tom McCredie on double bass and Scott Chapman on drums. Tonight, Kinsella was on shore leave, and Joe Wright came aboard with his tenor saxophone.
Herd’s inspirations are literary. There were name-checks for writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Raymond Carver, Dylan Thomas, Ali Smith and Alasdair Gray. Perhaps as a consequence of this, the tunes are evocative and shaped like narratives: take Lanark, inspired by Gray’s eponymous novel. It began with saxes only playing mournful lines like ships’ hooters, as Watts plucked the strings of the piano, until Chapman’s drums came clattering in like an approaching storm.
The Pleasant Land of Counterpane is based on a poem by Stevenson in which he recalls long periods of childhood illness; Herd’s interpretation contrasted jittery bowed bass and tenor sax with a calm piano figure, suggesting the bronchial fevers that came and went. The Game was introduced by another feverish intro, McCredie producing a great variety of insect buzzes and drones until the tune solidified into something more melodic, the horn players swaying in unison as if standing on deck in a moderate sea-swell. They ended with Down The Rivers – despite its title, a piece more redolent of a steam train chuffing through the countryside. Fine music, a lovely intimate gig, with wonderful playing by all.
16 September 2015
|Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet and guests, with the leader far right|
Robert Mitchell Trio and Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet
(Kings Place Festival, 2015. Report by Peter Jones.
Kicking off their new season of arts events, Kings Place last weekend staged a mini-blizzard of them for only £6.50 per ticket, a wonderful way of encouraging audiences to try something new at low risk.
Among the events on the Saturday of this eighth annual festival were two jazz gigs of exceptional quality.
Robert Mitchell Trio
Pianist Robert Mitchell is one of those musicians’ musicians who leave your jaw on the ground. His trio, featuring Mike Mondesir on electric bass and drummer Laurie Lowe, gave a masterclass in ‘chamber jazz’, by which I mean music played by a small ensemble, with empathic delicacy, in which there are often more spaces than notes, and an overall feeling of restrained intensity. On this occasion the sound quality was absolutely perfect, allowing you to hear every tiny brushstroke, bass harmonic and piano phrase with crystal clarity. And finding oneself part of an audience that is completely silent and absorbed in the music is a vanishingly rare experience these days. (At one point Mitchell asked, a little waspishly, ‘Are you enjoying this, by the way?’)
He had no cause to worry: you had to listen hard because all the material was brand new, and every detail was worth hearing. The austerity of the black-curtained auditorium was perfect for Mitchell, a quiet, precise, rather professorial figure wearing a simple blue t-shirt. His comments between tunes were elliptical and teasing: he introduced one rather dark and menacing piece as a tribute to Debbie Purdy, with no further explanation (in fact she was an MS sufferer and right-to-die campaigner who passed away at the end of last year). The title of another tune, The Spirit Line, apparently refers to traditional Navajo rug-weaving, in which there is usually a deliberate imperfection.
If this makes the whole thing sound somewhat precious, it wasn’t. Rather, it was captivating throughout, because it was richly inventive and full of contrast. At times, as on A Vigil For Justice, the trio could play in as minimalist a fashion as any ECM recording; at others, they poured out melodies of breathtaking beauty, as on Cumulus, a tune as airy and tumbling as its title. I doubt whether there is a better jazz pianist in London than Robert Mitchell.
Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet
If the music of the Mitchell trio is cool and contemplative, the quintet led by bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado provides the perfect contrast. It was standing-room only at this gig, the launch of his debut album New Ansonia, featuring some of the most interesting younger UK talent to emerge in recent years. Most are graduates of the Royal Academy of Music: on piano, none other than all-round jazz wunderkind, Jacob Collier; on alto saxophone, Matthew Herd, currently launching his own ‘Seafarers’ project; on trombone, Tom Green, whose own septet has made such an impact in recent months. The quintet is completed by drummer Scott Chapman who, like Mullov-Abbado and Herd, is also a member of the Tom Green Septet.
The quintet’s line-up is slightly unconventional in featuring alto sax and trombone rather than tenor and trumpet; this is one of the many features that gives them their distinctive flavour. Mullov-Abbado’s compositions are characterized by terrific warmth and humour. Beginning with the clattering, carnivalesque samba Hair Of The Bop, the band moved swiftly to the gentler, richly melodic Circle Song in 6/8, followed by a couple of raucous swing tunes – Lock, Stock And Shuffle, with terrific solos from Herd, Collier and Chapman and the rollicking Gromit’s Grand Outing, a tribute to Aardman’s heroic plasticine pooch. Here, instead of individual solos, Green, Herd and Collier traded eights and fours – an indicator of Mullov-Abbado’s generous, inclusive approach.
Earlier the band had been augmented by percussionist Ben Brown; now James Davidson appeared on flugelhorn for Real Eyes Realise Real Lies, bringing the number of Tom Green Septet members to five. By the time they got to the album’s title track, there were nine of them on stage: Ben Brown returned, accompanied by Sam James on Rhodes (yet another Septet member) and Nick Goodwin on guitar.
This hugely enjoyable gig marked Jacob Collier’s final appearance with the band: ‘He’s getting too expensive’, commented the leader drily.
11 September 2015
Jon Cleary – GoGo Juice
(FHQ Records. CD Review by Peter Jones)
For the last 35 years Jon Cleary has lived and breathed the sound of New Orleans as a keyboard player, guitarist and singer. Although he hails originally from Cranbrook in Kent, he was welcomed with open arms by the Crescent City locals for his skills as a performer and songwriter steeped in the New Orleans tradition, and since then he has been a prominent citizen of the troubled city which he has made his home.
On this, his sixth album, the sound is pure Americana, more rock than jazz or r&b, soul or funk – although there are strong elements of all these genres (he explicitly reveals his love for them all on Bringing Back The Home). Much of the music is of the timeless truck stop/barroom variety – highly polished and packed with all the musical accoutrements of working class American music: funky rhythms, fat horn arrangements and Cleary’s husky singing voice.
At times this can topple over into cliché: lyrically Beg, Steal or Borrow is a case in point – not merely the title but many of the lyrics do little more than recycle common expressions like ‘you’ve gotta be in it to win it’ and ‘the best things in life are free’. But there are also plenty of moments to savour. I like the album most when the songs reveal Cleary’s softer, more reflective and socially conscious side, such as Brother I’m Hungry and Step Into My Life.
GoGo Juice won’t change the world, but it’s an enjoyable addition to the family.
7 September 2015
New West Guitar Group – Send One Your Love
(Summit Records DCD659. CD Review by Peter Jones)The New West Guitar Group consists of Perry Smith, John Storie and Jeffrey Stein, who formed the ensemble in 2003 while students at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. This is their sixth album, and it’s rarely been out of my CD player since it arrived.
There are five guest vocalists, each of whom is allocated two tracks – one jazz standard and one more contemporary tune. Carefully thought out, then, but what makes this album so special?
First of all, the delicacy and sophistication of the singing and playing are immediately apparent. Secondly, every arrangement has been written by one of the guitarists specifically for the singer in question. And a third factor is that acoustic and electric guitars are blended to create rich harmonic textures, which we can hear clearly in the absence of any other instruments. Overdubs are few, and as far as it’s possible to tell, they are limited to subtle vocal harmonies. Familiar standards like Detour Ahead and You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To are balanced by fresher tunes like Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow, and Waltz No.1 by the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. And there’s not a duff track on the album.
Gretchen Parlato’s breathless, intimate style is perfect for the title track, written by Stevie Wonder, and also for Like Someone In Love. Becca Stevens sings Detour Ahead and the sad, spooky Waltz No.1 with the sort of yearning, quavery voice that one might associate more with folk music, but it works beautifully on these songs. The third singer (and the only male vocalist featured) is Peter Eldridge, who performs Black Crow and Kurt Weill’s My Ship, the former to a backing reminiscent of America’s A Horse With No Name. In common with all the other performers, Eldridge’s delivery is light and ego-free, in the service of the song and nothing more.
Sara Gazarek guested recently on Kurt Elling’s Passion World album. Here she sings I Fall In Love Too Easily and James Taylor’s Secret o’ Life, both with an effortless sweetness of tone. The final singer is Tierney Sutton, with You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, featuring some blisteringly fast harmony guitar runs, and When She Loved Me, a wistful Randy Newman song from the film Toy Story 2 (and also recorded by Big Screen for their current album Take One).
In short, Send One Your Love is a complete delight. The New West Guitar Group are touring across the USA through October and November. It would be wonderful to see them in the UK some time in 2016.
2 September 2015
4th Rye International Jazz & Blues Festival
(Rye, East Sussex, 27th-31st August, 2015. Report by Peter Jones)
Festivals of all kinds are springing up like mushrooms these days. Rye, its fourth year just completed, looks like it’s here to stay. To begin with, the setting could not be more pleasant – ancient buildings, cobbled streets, plenty of tea shops, restaurants and pubs. The festival is well organized, and has enough variety to satisfy most tastes, including its own fringe, and a musical and educational programme called Chapter and Lyric. Setting up shop over the August Bank Holiday weekend, it also conveniently marks the dying days of Summer (this year the weather stayed warm and dry until the penultimate evening, which was enlivened by some spectacular downpours).
The venues are all small – at 337 maximum capacity, the Milligan Theatre is the largest space. This means the audience is never too far from the performers, and the gigs thus retain a pleasing level of intimacy. Churches play an important role: jazz films provided part of the entertainment at the town’s Kino Cinema, a converted church; the busiest venue for the festival as a whole was Rye Community Centre, another converted church, temporarily designated the Spectrum Jazz Lounge; and there were three gigs in St Mary’s Church – miraculously still functioning as a church.
On the Friday night the Spectrum hosted Hard Lines, a smooth jazz standards outfit led by pianist Iain Rae and featuring Gary Plumley on tenor. They were followed by Gwyneth Herbert, billed as ‘relaxed and chilled out’. But as anyone who has seen her knows, this description does not prepare you for an edgy performance of breathtaking eccentricity, more cabaret or stand-up comedy than jazz. Ukelele, kazoo, french horn, bass drum, wine glass and frying pan were all part of Herbert’s armoury, as was her silent, bashful fiancé Ned Cartwright on piano.
There was a great deal of audience participation – at one point she had everyone popping imaginary balloons. Standout tunes were Jane Into a Beauty Queen and Annie’s Yellow Bag, both from her All The Ghosts album; Promises, a kind of sea shanty, with Herbert switching to piano while Cartwright tootled mournfully on melodica; and the beautiful, haunting Lorelei, both of these from her most recent album The Sea Cabinet.
|Fat Tuesday Second Line Band|
At any time on the Saturday afternoon, you could easily bump into the raucous Fat Tuesday Second-Line Band weaving through the narrow streets, led by a flamboyant character with a megaphone and a silver-topped cane, as if this was hot, humid New Orleans rather than hot, humid Rye.
Back at the Spectrum that evening, bathed in yellow light, and with a couple of hours of crowd-pleasing soul perfectly tailored for the sweating middle-aged audience, Avery Sunshine (née Denise Nicole White) was the hot ticket. Another (almost) silent male accompanist to an extravert female singer, Dana Johnson played acoustic guitar and ‘stomp box’ while Avery sat at the piano and poured out familiar tunes like Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground and Anita Baker’s Sweet Love and her own Al Green-styled Won’t You Try. It was slick, feel-good American entertainment, as relentlessly positive as a church revival meeting, and as close as you can get to an Aretha Franklin gig without it actually being an Aretha Franklin gig.
This was a hard act for the Shez Raja Collective to follow. Where Ms Sunshine’s generic soul is pigeonhole-perfect for national radio, the Collective defies easy categorization – it’s a high-energy fusion of jazz, funk, prog and ‘eastern’ (for lack of a better term), and more about groove than melody. As well as Shez Raja himself on electric bass, the band consists of the ubiquitous Vasilis Xenopoulos on saxophones, Chris Nickolls on drums, Pascal Roggen (who had flown in from New Zealand especially for the gig) on violin and Alex Stanford on keys. They were briefly joined by the Polish singer Monica Lidke.
The next day, half-hidden in an alcove outside Rye Town Hall, the Alex Munk Quartet provided one of the highlights of the festival. Guitarist Munk impressed earlier this year with his work as a member of Matt Anderson’s Wild Flower Sextet. Here, he and his young, studious-looking band featured material from their forthcoming album, some of which is so new as to be yet untitled.
Inevitably, Munk’s playing draws comparisons with Pat Metheny, in both his electric and acoustic incarnations: sweet, lyrical passages blend with impossible prog-like time signatures to create a fresh, modern sound with its own distinctive character. At times Matt Robinson on keys is tonally so close to Munk’s guitar as to create the impression of two guitars. The sweet, meandering A Long Walk Home, dedicated to his mum, was a particular favourite, accompanied (and enhanced) on this occasion by Rye’s church bells and seagulls. This quiet, unshowy band is completed by the excellent Conor Chaplin on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums.
Once the keyboard player for Morcheeba, pianist Dom Pipkin (as in Dom Pipkin and the Ikos) roused a potentially comatose audience in the ballroom of The George hotel with a stomping selection of New Orleans jazz. It was a gig that might have been better suited to the open air rather than this pristine environment, all chandeliers, Japanese-print wallpaper and ruched curtains. Before bringing on the band, Pipkin delivered a fascinating lecture about the current state of affairs in that Katrina-battered city and about the musicians who have influenced him, including Dr John, Professor Longhair, James Booker and Jon Cleary. Pipkin’s cheery, full-on enthusiasm swept all before him with tunes like If You’re Lonesome Pick Up The Phone, Skinny Man Skank and the solo piano piece Pixie.
No jazz festival is complete these days without young Manchester trio Gogo Penguin, recently signed to Blue Note, who performed their distinctive brand of trance-like minimalism to a rapturous capacity audience in the 900-year-old St Mary’s Church. Unless you were lucky enough to find a seat in the first few rows, you were unlikely to catch more than a glimpse of the band, rows of magnificent pillars and the lack of a raised platform rendering them invisible to ticket-holders who had paid £24 for the privilege.
The Spectrum later hosted three musician’s musicians – the Neil Angilley Trio with a Brazilian-influenced set penned by Angilley (dubbed ‘the best pianist I have ever played with’ by none other than Herbie Flowers). Drummer Davide Giovannini and bassist Davide Mantovani have developed an extraordinary telepathy with the band’s leader and with each other. As well as tunes from their most recent album Chango they wowed the audience with three lyrical pieces inspired by the Lake District, plus a beautiful arrangement of Black Magic Woman.
Next morning, as the rain thundered down outside, the George was treated to a ‘jazz breakfast’ hosted by the aforementioned Herbie Flowers, and accompanied by the aforementioned Neil Angilley, along with drummer Malcolm Mortimore and Finnish violin supremo Mikko-Ville. It was a sort of standards masterclass: I’ll Remember April, Autumn Leaves, Body and Soul, Summertime, My Funny Valentine and a tune Flowers introduced as Days of Swine and Roses. But no one minded the familiarity of the material – Herbie’s inspired clowning provided a rich source of entertainment, mostly based on the gag that at the age of 77 he’s become somewhat senile. In fact his humour is as dry as that of the late Humphrey Lyttelton. He pretended to mistake the microphone for an electric razor. Later he said: ‘I bought this bass in 1959… and I still ain’t got the hang of it.’ This assertion was instantly disproved by a version of Caravan that roared along like an express train, almost drowning out the rain.
25 August 2015
Stuart McCallum – City
(Naim Jazz Records naimcd219). CD Review by Peter Jones.
Some music is at its best after dark; after all, night is the time for introspection, and this, guitarist Stuart McCallum’s second album for Naim Jazz, is a case in point: we’re truly talking about 3.00am levels of introspection.
McCallum has used a rock line-up, merged with subtle electronica. The vibe is thrillingly slow, rich, sensuous, dark and mellow, one might almost say druggy. There are echoes not only of McCallum’s band The Cinematic Orchestra, but of the late lamented Durutti Column, with shades also of the Cocteau Twins, Massive Attack, Plastyc Buddha and Zero 7 – downtempo, chill-out, call it what you will. And before the jazz police come knocking (perhaps looking for the aforementioned drugs), I should add that there are clearly improvised elements to the music, with echoes of Emily Remler in McCallum’s beautiful, plangent guitar work.
As well as himself on both acoustic and electric guitars, the band consists of Robin Mullarkey on bass, Sean Foran on Fender Rhodes and most significantly of all, Richard Spaven on drums, synths and electronics. Spaven, who has contributed so much to José James’s sound, should really be co-credited with McCallum, having shared the writing and production duties with him. A variety of vocalists have been used, not in a conventional way, more as additional tones used like instruments in the overall mix.
It’s tough to pick out individual tracks: these don’t feel like conventional ‘tunes’ or ‘songs’ but looping, dreamlike pieces that flow from one to the next. But if I were compelled to mention any in particular, Mk II and Inhale are gorgeous, McCallum’s chiming guitars underpinned by Spaven’s signature broken-beat drumming to create a very fresh, contemporary sound picture. Lushly romantic as it is, it’s romance with a somewhat bleak northern aspect, in the best ‘ECM’ sense.
Frustratingly, Stuart McCallum has no plans to gig down south following his one London date last July, but the northern half of the country is in for a real treat.
Meanwhile City is available on 180gm vinyl as well as in CD and digital formats.
Stuart McCallum’s live dates are as follows:
Sept 24 – Grumbles, Stafford;
Oct 7 – Lescar, Sheffield;
Oct 8 – Mash Guru, Macclesfield;
Oct 9 – Cafe Lento, Leeds;
Oct 10 – Zefirellis, Ambleside
Oct 11 – Marsden Jazz Festival, West Yorks
24 August 2015
John Fedchock New York Big Band – Like It Is
(Mama MAA1048. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Trombonists seem to like taking charge of big bands and large ensembles – presumably because that’s where they spend nearly all their time. Recently in the UK both Tom Green and Patrick Hayes have produced albums which are not only accomplished but fresh and challenging.
Across the pond another trombonist, ex-Woody Herman arranger John Fedchock, has been at it for a lot longer than them: this is his fifth recording with the 16-piece New York Big Band – ‘a vital large ensemble inspired by tradition and innovation’, according to the publicity. The new album contains ten tunes, half old and half new, but all characterized by super-glossy playing and highly-polished production. Fedchock has succeeded in getting commissions for four of them from four different universities – quite an achievement, and surely very helpful with the album’s production costs.
All the new numbers are his original compositions. Although the title track swaggers along with familiar New York attitude, the melody just doesn’t emerge all that strongly. It’s the same story on the mid-tempo swinger Just Sayin’. It’s brash and confident, but sayin’ what exactly? Hair Of The Dog lurches through the mean streets in more convincing fashion, bassist Dick Sarpola and pianist Allen Farnham setting a suitably queasy tone ahead of a conventional solo from Fedchock and a slightly more hung-over one from tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. Ten Thirty 30 is a faster, more angular piece with some edgy playing from Farnham and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry.
The non-originals begin with You And The Night And The Music, in which the arranger’s stated aim was to ‘mask the original structure’ of the tune, and its identity is indeed skillfully disguised behind a new coat of musical paint. The wistful ballad Never Let Me Go is a highlight, the leader playing most of the melody himself and soloing with great sensitivity. Cedar Walton’s Ojos De Rojo contains some fine brass flourishes and a great drums from Dave Ratajczak. Just Squeeze Me sets up a nice call-and-response between Scott Robinson’s doleful baritone sax and the rest of the horns.
In short, a pleasant album, a thoroughly professional album, with some fine moments, but there’s a shortage of the promised innovation, and one can’t help wishing John Fedchock had taken more risks.
14 August 2015
There’s been a distinct revival of interest in big bands lately, with more young players seemingly enjoying the camaraderie and learning opportunities offered by a large ensemble. It’s also interesting to see younger players writing their own big band charts. Recently the Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble, for example, breathed wonderful new life into the format with their album Back To The Grove – REVIEWED HERE.
Now comes Scottish-born trumpeter Sean Gibbs, just turned 22, with a selection of his own compositions and arrangements inspired by the poetry of Robert Burns, his stated aim to ‘capture the warmth, drama and humanity’ of Burns’s work.
Here he directs an orchestra which itself only came into being in September of last year, consisting partly of alumni of the Birmingham Conservatoire – from which he has only just graduated.
Burns is a short album, running to the length of an old-fashioned LP, but fortunately it’s all killer, no filler, packed with vibrancy and passion, and bursting with slick soloists and a superbly well-drilled team of players. The swing-shuffle Tam O’Shanter, faintly reminiscent of Nostalgia In Times Square, blows away the cobwebs straight from the off, with some great hardcore guitar soloing from Ben Lee. Muscular, in-the-pocket drumming from Jonathan Silk drives the tune along powerfully, especially as it clatters into a fast section with a growling tenor solo contribution from Lluis Mather.
Love In The Guise Of Friendship is sweeter, more introspective, with a lovely trombone passage from Richard Foote. Like its predecessor, this track also has a distinctive ‘second movement’ which picks up the tempo and gives Elliot Drew the chance to show off his chops on alto. The tune is followed by a big, fat uptempo swinger Nature’s Law, featuring the fluent Nick Dewhurst on trumpet, the hip David Ferris on piano, and Ben Lee returning for a second solo, this time more Grant Green in style.
To A Mountain Daisy opens with an elegiac flute passage from Josie Wilkin, handing over to Hugh Pascall for a light and spacious trumpet solo, before the tune starts to build to the now-obligatory second section, handing over to Dan Seargeanton alto for a sweet, melodic solo whose mood becomes increasingly urgent, finally subsiding to a close as the tune ends. Address To The Toothache belies its title, breezing along with more inventive soloing from Ferris.
Whether this album has much to do with 18th century Scottish poetry, I wouldn’t like to say, but it has certainly inspired Sean Gibbs to impressive musical heights for one so young. It’s an album I will be listening to a lot.
Burns is available from Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
20 July 2015
|Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Casey Moore|
(The Waiting Room, N16. Review by Peter Jones)
Among the hipster cafés and all-night Turkish barbershops on Stoke Newington High Street is an unassuming pub with a small and equally unassuming basement bar. An unlikely setting, you might think, for a jazz performance of devastating brilliance by one of the most exciting new vocal talents to emerge in recent years.
Daymé Arocena (‘Die-may Aro-chayna’) weaved her way through the packed audience towards the stage, a tiny figure in a simple white dress and white headdress. When she reached the microphone and turned her 1,000-watt smile on us, and we were won over before she’d even sung a note. And how many other singers could get an audience singing along on the opening number?
Arocena hails from Cuba, but her music draws much of its inspiration from Africa, with its complex rhythms and choral, call-and-response vocal style. It’s also strongly jazz-based. Her producer Simbad (who played percussion and alto sax on this gig) has been closely involved in the musical setting, putting her together with British jazz musicians Robert Mitchell (keys) and Oli Saville (percussion). For tonight’s performance the album’s double bassist, Neil Charles, was replaced by Tom Mason.
The majority of the set was from Arocena’s recent debut album Nueva Era(reviewed in London Jazz News on 11 May, link below), and I pondered in advance how they would cope without the massed vocal harmonies that are such a feature of the album. As it turned out, apart from using a couple of introductory backing tapes, they simply re-arranged the songs for a smaller ensemble. Daymé is such a one-woman musical powerhouse that she could probably have done the entire gig a cappella.
Fortunately that was not necessary, as the band proved more than capable of keeping up with her. Mitchell in particular wowed a largely non-jazz audience with blistering electric piano solos, particularly on El Ruso and Drama. Mason, Arocena informed us, had learned the entire set in one rehearsal, and played it on the gig without charts – quite an achievement, given the complexity of the music.
But it was the singer – charisma and confidence on full blast – who really held the audience’s attention throughout. There was an especially loud roar of approval for the single Don’t Unplug My Body, which has been receiving airplay in recent weeks.
Arocena has the full skillset as a performer and bandleader, expertly cueing the band during the tunes, playing hand percussion, improvising vocally, and confiding with the audience between songs as if they were her most intimate friends. It’s a cliché, but no exaggeration to state, on the evidence of this gig, that a new star is born.
16 July 2015
Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol.4
(Columbia Legacy 88875081952. Four CD set. Review by Peter Jones)
The title says it all: here is a quadruple CD collection encompassing the key Miles Davis years from the perspective of eight annual Newport Jazz Festivals, seven of them actually held in Newport, RI, the eighth recorded in Switzerland under the banner of Newport Jazz Festival In Europe.
To put Volume 4 in the context of the series as a whole, Volume 1 featured live material from a European tour of Autumn 1967, with Miles’s so-called Second Great Quintet, namelyWayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams; Volume 2 was taken from another tour in 1969, with Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette; while Volume 3, subtitled Miles at the Fillmore, included concerts from 1970 by an expanded band consisting of Holland, DeJohnette, both Corea and Keith Jarrett on keys, saxophonist Steve Grossmanand percussionist Airto Moreira.
So the new release starts earlier and finishes later, thus offering something the others don’t: a historical overview of two decades during which the music developed from bebop all the way through to electronica, when drug abuse and poor health were taking a severe toll on the leader’s live appearances. To quote Newport impresario George Wein, ‘[Miles] couldn’t play as well, and it seemed he was covering himself up with all the electronics around him.’
The first CD begins in 1955 with what was billed as an all-star jam session. And for once the description almost under-sells it: Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan, a certain Thelonious Monk on piano, Percy Heath on bass, Connie Kay on drums. Monk’s Round Midnight is included, and you can hear it again from 12 years later on the second CD, this time with Shorter, Hancock, Carter and Williams.
Another of the many points of interest from the collection is the band from July 1958 – the Coltrane/Adderley/Evans/Chambers/Cobb sextet that would record Kind of Blue early the following year: there is no hint of the chilled modal style that was to come. Instead the material is taken from the albums Milestones, ‘Round About Midnight and 1958 Miles, and played with an edgy, neurotic vibe that suggests an impatient search for something they hadn’t yet found. It should be said that all of these tracks have been released before, albeit not together.
CD 2, covering 1966 and 1967, represents the era of Miles Smiles and Nefertiti. You can hear how fast things were evolving. Each of the two years offers a version of Jimmy Heath’s Gingerbread Boy for comparison, and it comes as no surprise that the second is faster and makes fewer references to the original melody. Never remotely concerned about pleasing an audience, Miles doesn’t even bother with breaks between the tunes to allow for applause or reflection – the band is on to the next number even as the previous one dies away.
By the time we reach CD 3, it’s 1969 and a quartet initially, with Messrs Corea, Holland and DeJohnette on tracks taken largely from Bitches Brew; we then jump forward to 1973, the two-guitar funk outfit featuring Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas, Dave Liebman, Michael Henderson, Al Foster and James Mtume Forman. One track alone (Mtume) represents 1975, by which time Sam Morrison had replaced Liebman on sax.
The final CD returns to 1971. At this stage Miles was playing wah-wah trumpet in a band consisting of Jarrett, Forman, saxophonist Gary Bartz, Michael Hendersonon bass, Ndugu Leon Chancler on drums and a second percussionist, Don Alias. They went on to record the poorly-received On the Corner the following year.
Even completists will surely be satiated by the Bootleg series as a whole: there are many different versions of tunes like Gingerbread Boy, Round Midnight, Masqualeroand Footprints on the other volumes. And the long gap between 1958 and 1966 means no Gil Evans and no Kind Of Blue, which for many will mean there is nothing to represent Miles’s most melodic period.
8 July 2015
The Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble – Back To The Grove
(PHEE. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Initially misreading the title as Back to the Groove, I was expecting funk, and as luck would have it, funk there was – right there on the opening track of this slick and highly enjoyable album from trombonist Patrick Hayes. Crackin’ the Whip could easily be the theme music to some late Seventies crime film, Rob Luft contributing crunchy badass guitar as the horns riff away. It’s a big, sophisticated, expensive sound, with a core ensemble of nine: two trumpets, trombone, saxophone, guitar, piano, bass, percussion and drums. And that’s before you add in all the string players and vocalists, of whom more later.
Appropriately, the second track, You Get The Picture, could easily be in the same imaginary film mentioned above. The title track, however, brings on a mellower latin vibe – again very Seventies in feel. The arrangements are lush and silky-smooth, and there are terrific solos from Gareth Lockrane on flute, Reuben Fowler on flugelhorn and Hayes himself on trombone. Towards the end the tune morphs into Philly-style disco, the singers helpfully informing us that ‘we’ve got to get back to the grove.’ According to Patrick Hayes, this refers not to Arnos Grove or Westbourne Grove but Florida’s Coconut Grove, a hang-out from his days studying studio techniques and jazz at the University of Miami. This, I have to tell you, was time well spent.
You can never go too far wrong with Bruno Martino’s Estaté, but here Hayes delivers an arrangement of exceptional gorgeousness, helped in no small measure by the sweet and gentle Bublé-esque vocals of London City Big Band alumnus Billy Boothroyd, floating on a sea of strings. The Miami influence is strong on the Cuban-style Night In The Gables, featuring more flute from Lochrane, and a fine, assured lead vocal from Guildhall graduate Harriet Syndercombe-Court, plus percussion from Jon Ormston.
The album concludes with two more uptempo and highly filmic tracks – the prowling Safe in Berlin and the funky horn and string-laden Barkham.
Back To The Grove was launched at the Jazz Café at the beginning of June. Now that must have been a gig to savour.
7 July 2015
Juliet Kelly – Spellbound Stories
(Purple Stiletto PSR004. CD review by Peter Jones)
The idea behind this self-produced fourth album from singer Juliet Kelly is a good one: each song is about one of her favourite novels. Since the song titles don’t give much away, part of the fun is trying to work out which song is about which book (although if you want to cheat, you can find out by going to her website). The books are from a wide range of authors, but all of them are loosely linked by themes of mystery, magic and the supernatural.
The backing is supplied by a sympathetic and imaginative piano trio, and although the tone is often appropriately spooky, there is a light summery feel to tunes like Beautiful Smile, whilst the bouncy Little Things has already proved sufficiently poptastic to attract the ears of the people who compile radio playlists: it was played repeatedly between sets to a huge audience at last weekend’s Love Supreme Festival.
Elsewhere the mood is darker: the opener One More Dance, a song that seems to be about death and madness, is powered by Eddie Hick’s hypnotic drum pattern; Devil in Disguise has a strong melody in 7:4 that one could imagine Sade covering, with a lengthy coda featuring pianist Nick Ramm with Kelly’s improvised vocals given added atmosphere by a heavy dose of reverb. Deep bowed bass from the ubiquitous Oli Hayhurst underpins the slow, sinister opening to Ghosts, before Ramm’s piano arrives to relieve the tension.
Kelly is able to command a range of styles, from the austere Berlin cabaret feel of No One Can Tell to the twinkling Magic and Mystery. Her songs are beautifully written, with excellent commercially viable melodies. If there is one questionable choice, it is the version of Wuthering Heights included here: Kate Bush’s original track is such a towering presence that attempting a reworking of it is, frankly, asking for trouble.
Juliet Kelly has live dates at The Stables, Milton Keynes (15 September), Queen’s Hall, Hexham (19 September) and Urban Art Bar at the Red Lion Birmingham (16 October).
LINKS: Juliet Kelly interview about Spellbound Stories
WEBSITE – julietkelly.com
Peter Jones is a singer whose second album will be released in the autumn.
25 June 2015
Alex Hutton Trio Magna Carta Suite
(F-IRE CD82. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Medieval jazz? Sure, why not – after all, we’ve had Latin jazz. Having said that, looking at the sleeve, one feels a little apprehensive at the Olde Englishe font and Alban Low woodcut of Bad King John. A glance at the back, and we see the album features not merely a piano trio, but baroque flute, cor anglais and the spoken word.
Magna Carta Suite, the fourth album from Alex Hutton, turns out to be a thing of great beauty. It contains 12 short pieces, ten of them inspired by the 800th anniversary of said document. Hutton is a busy and inventive pianist, here accompanied by long-standing musical partners Yuri Goloubev on bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums.
For the most part it’s conventional piano trio music, and all the better for that, as the musical empathy among the trio is powerful. The added instrumental elements are provided by Goloubev’s gorgeous bowed bass, played high enough to sound richly melodic and cello-like on Old Yew and King John’s Hunting Lodge. Liz Palmer’s baroque flute on Old Yew is mixed low enough to provide just the right counterpoint to the bass melody. And on King John’s Hunting Lodge Liesbeth Allart’s cor anglais adds a sweet and attractive oboe-like texture that doesn’t overdo the medievalism.
There’s a folky, village green feel to The Barons, toughened by a solo from Sirkis, while June 15th 1215 is rather Keith Jarrett-like, with a delicate plucked solo from Goloubev which reminds you that he spent 12 years as a classical player in Moscow before dedicating himself to jazz. Maintaining the classical influence, the pounding Gunpowder and Compass is partly based on a fugue by JS Bach.
If all this makes Magna Carta Suite sound like a bit of a mish-mash, it’s actually a lot more cohesive than one might expect. Hutton is firmly on top of his disparate musical influences, and the project hangs together very well: it sounds like a suite.
There are albums that you review approvingly whilst knowing you won’t ever play them again. This one I will listen to for pleasure, although to be honest only as far as track 10: I found the recitations of Neil Sparkes on Thoughts Bear Heirs to Memoryand As Sunlight Passses a little portentous.
The album is launched on 13th July at the 606 Club, with an additional date at Ronnie Scott’s on 13th August.
2 June 2015
Bill Laurance – Swift
(GroundUp Music BL002. CD Review by Peter Jones)
It’s possible to get hung up on genre, especially with the jazz police lurking around every corner. When you hear Bill Laurance – when you hear Snarky Puppy, for that matter – you sometimes find yourself wondering whether it’s jazz. Might it be prog rock dressed up as jazz? Might it be essentially soundtrack music? Or ambient?
Such speculations are pointless, because they take your attention away from the music. The first track on this album, Laurance’s follow-up to last year’s Flint, is a case in point. With orchestral strings to the fore (there are eight string players on the album), you could almost imagine Prologue: Fjords on the soundtrack of the new Mad Max movie. And as with soundtrack music, distinctive melody plays second fiddle to mood. There’s more piano in evidence on the next track, the bustling December in New York, and the third (the title track) is an uptempo groove featuring Bill Laurance’s piano, Michael League’s bass and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight’s drums. It’s more Terry Riley-style serial music than jazz. In fact, the album is very much a product of these core members of Snarky Puppy: all three are credited as producers, and it was League who produced, orchestrated and conducted the strings and horns.
Denmark Hill is essentially a jazz trio track, with a lovely melody that sounds more Manhattan than London SE5. Red Sand starts out as synthi-prog but evolves into another soundtracky piece, and there is some plucky Michael League guitar. Another personal favourite is the gorgeous, hypnotic Mr Elevator.
Where Laurance’s own music diverges from that of Snarky Puppy is in the absence of solo horn instruments – specifically trumpet and saxophone. French horn and trombone make an appearance on The Rush, but only to provide orchestral colour to a certain passage in the tune, rather than to play solos. This approach makes the album a somewhat smoother listening experience than you get with Snarky Puppy. The danger with smoothness, of course, is that it can teeter into blandness. The energy and inventiveness, the command of dynamics, the sheer drama, are what give Snarky Puppy’s live performances their intensity. However, as a recording, played quietly, Swift is quite capable of melting into the background. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if you think of it as ambient music.
Having spent a decade writing Flint, Bill Laurance, to his great credit, made a decision to write this album within a self-imposed deadline of four months, while he was on tour with Snarky Puppy, and then record it immediately. It is a rich, fascinating piece of work, and when you play close attention to it, and don’t treat it as background, its melodies and groove hook themselves into your brain and don’t let go.
30 May 2015
Kurt Elling – Passion World
(Concord Records. CR- 36841. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Kurt Elling has never been one to fight shy of risk. Long stretches of vocalese? Try A New Body and Soul from the album Nightmoves. Notes seemingly held for minutes at a time? How about Higher Vibe from Man In The Air? For vocal acrobatics and jazz chops in general, Kurt’s your man. But here, on a musical voyage around the world, he stretches himself even further than usual. How about singing in five different languages? No problem – there are songs in Spanish, French, Portuguese and German, as well as English. And although he ducks the challenge of Icelandic, to be fair, Bjork did Who Is It? in English too.
And it isn’t only the languages, but the singing styles: on Si Te Contara by Cuban composer Félix Reina Altuna, Elling adopts the declamatory macho Hispanic vibrato, with all the theatrical passion one associates with male vocalists from this part of the world. On Loch Tay Boat Song, the style is softer, more reflective, with a rich accompaniment from Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, arranged by Florian Ross (who is German).
So is Kurt Elling sneaking into the mainstream? In an interview with London Jazz News a few weeks ago, he let slip that he thought at the age of 12, like so many, that he was destined to be a big star. Yet unlike, say, Michael Bublé or Jamie Cullum, he has not so far flirted with easy listening or pop; he has always stayed true to jazz. This remains the case with Passion World, despite the non-jazz origins of much of the material. However the tunes start out, they always end up sounding like jazz. The strategy isn’t 100% successful: his version of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name is suitably passionate, but sounds effortful compared with the original.
The album is at its best when Elling relaxes and falls back on his own natural sincerity, as on the sweet and light-hearted Você Já Foi à Bahia, a Dorimel Caymmi tune duetted with the singer Sara Gazarek. Richard Galliano’s Billie, is another gentle number, here retitled The Tangled Road, with Kurt Elling’s own lyrics. A particular delight is his beautiful setting of Brahms’s Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht, featuring the WDR big band and orchestra. It starts out as a classic German lied, but morphs into a sweet jazz ballad with rippling piano from Frank Chastenier. The album closes with the haunting, romantic Where Love Is, a James Joyce poem set to music by Brian Byrne.
Passion World is released on 8th June.
20 May 2015
(Ronnie Scott’s, 19th May 2015. Review by Peter Jones)
An audience on its feet and cheering is not the most common sight at Ronnie Scott’s, however appreciative they may be. But such was José James’s warmth and charisma, his musicianship and sheer spontaneity, no other reaction made sense. He had just played God Bless The Child with a barnstorming energy you would never have suspected from Mr Cool, backed by a terrific trio of Leo Genevese(keys), Solomon Dorsey (double bass and vocals) and Nate Smith (drums).
It was a performance that just kept on getting better, offering further proof that James is now the most innovative and creative male jazz singer on the scene. When he improvises, it isn’t the dooby-dooby-doo scat we’re familiar with, but a style derived from DJing and digital editing technology: he grabs fragments – words and phrases – from the tune and recycles them, throwing them up in the air and repeating them in a stuttered and chopped-up manner.
This featured throughout, but most notably in an extended coda to Body and Soul, which opened the second set. James improvises in other ways too, telling the band at the start of the set that they were going to do Lover Man, then changing his mind when they were already playing the intro. It’s a world away from the infinitely rehearsed sleek showbiz approach we have come to expect from many more seasoned American performers: James gets excited by some idea, and wants to put it into practice straight away. Hence when they finally did play Lover Man, it segued into Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands and then Ain’t No Sunshine.
The first set had featured other tunes from his new album Yesterday I Had The Blues, his tribute to Billie Holiday: Good Morning Heartache, Tenderly, Fine and Mellow, and then, strapping on an acoustic guitar, he played a song he wrote with the singer-songwriter Emily King – Come to My Door. Here, the vocal harmony was provided by the excellent Solomon Dorsey, whose solos elsewhere were accompanied by his own scat vocal.
It had been an intimate sort of evening, enlivened by good-natured banter with the audience. James told a long and touching story about his relationship with London, where he was ‘discovered’ while living here in 2006. At one point he was so overcome with emotion that he had to stop talking. In New York they wouldn’t give him the time of day, he said.
The show ended with an encore, his version of Strange Fruit, sung completely a capella. Through the magic of technology he recorded his vocal harmonies and ragged handclaps live, building up a hyponotic, repeated 2-bar backing, then singing the song’s terrible tale of murder and racism in the Deep South. The applause was long and loud, but so powerful was this performance that it left several people in tears.
17 May 2015
Marcus Miller – Afrodeezia
(Blue Note 0602547214416. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Writing, arranging and producing an album for Miles Davis at the age of 25 is not a bad start to anyone’s career, even if Tutu was critically panned at the time. In fact, it wasn’t the start of Marcus Miller’s career: by then he had already been working professionally for a decade, and over the years he has contributed as a session bass player to the work of jazz and pop royalty: Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Mariah Carey, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Frank Sinatra, George Benson… you get the picture.
Miller’s own recordings have been many: Afrodeezia is the 22nd album he has released under his own name, albeit his first for Blue Note. As one would expect, it’s a polished, sophisticated piece of work, full of rich melody and with a sonically diverse instrumentation, including the bass clarinet. It was recorded with musicians from West Africa, South America and the Caribbean as well as the USA, and was inspired by Miller’s role as spokesman for UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. The players include Miles soundalike Patches Stewart on an ass-kicking rendition of Papa Was a Rolling Stone, one of only two tracks not composed by Miller. The other is a tune written by Bizet, and here titled I Still Believe I Hear, a stately piece featuring gorgeous cello from Ben Hong of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
So Afrodeezia is not what the title suggests, an album of exclusively African sounds. Instead Marcus Miller has given his musical imagination free rein across the many genres he works in. This is important to his mission of giving a voice to the black people who, as he points out, have no voice, whose history has been erased, living on only through music. His stated aim has been to ‘follow them like footprints from their beginnings in Africa all the way to the United States’ and throughout the New World. Hence the steel pans on Son of Macbeth, the upbeat samba-like Hylife, with vocals by Senegal’s Alune Wade and Cherif Soumano. And of course the melodic possibilities of the electric bass are well exploited here, such as the fretless soloing on the serene Xtraordinary.
The contemporary struggle faced by African Americans in the face of police violence is the inspiration for the dance groove I Can’t Breathe, one of the best tracks on the album, with a vocal from Public Enemy’s Chuck D: ‘Can’t breathe, got my hands up… not good when you’re breathing in fear.’
There’s a lot to like and admire about Marcus Miller, and much to enjoy on this album.
11 May 2015
Daymé Arocena – Nueva Era
(Brownswood BWOOD0138. CD Review by Peter Jones.)
This debut album by the 22 year-old Cuban singer, arranger and composer Daymé Arocena will come as a surprise to anyone expecting a familiar Caribbean latin-style repertoire of relentless percussion, chorus of male backing vocals, brass instruments, and so on. Arocena’s music is largely shorn of Spanish influence, rooted instead in a distinctly African heritage. In short, it’s a breath of fresh air, and Arocena is the most interesting female singer in the Spanish language I’ve heard since Concha Buika (although Arocena also sings in English and Yoruba). And despite her youth, she is already a mature composer and performer. Her rich, throaty singing style is passionate and declamatory, but never tiresome. On the contrary, she sings with great sensitivity and is able to convey an impressive range of emotions.
Gilles Peterson has apparently had her in his sights since she was a teenager, but decided to wait until now to record her for his label. The album was produced in London and Havana, mostly by Peterson’s long-time collaborator Simbad, who also co-wrote some of the tunes. The excellent, empathetic core musicians are all London-based, consisting of Rob Mitchell on piano, Neil Charles on double bass and Oli Savill on percussion, with a few other instruments making an appearance from time to time, notably organ and trumpet. But it’s the combination of Daymé Arocena’s solo and massed backing vocals that lie at the heart of this fine album.
Cuban music is famed for its syncretic riot of influences, but the album is in a genre of its own, seemingly constructed from jazz, choral and African music, but only the track El Ruso is identifiably in a vein one might recognise as ‘Cuban’. Especially striking is Arocena’s use of choral harmony, notably on the gorgeous title track, with its deep throbbing percussion, organ and hallucinogenic wash of voices. The opener Madres is another in which the call-and-response voices combine with the percussion and organ to evoke a hypnotic, other-worldly atmosphere. Much of this is apparently derived from the music of the Santeria religion, of which Arocena is a devotee, and which is traditionally conducted in the Yoruba language. At the other extreme is the enjoyable but rather brazenly commercial track Don’t Unplug My Body, which has already had some advance airplay.
I thoroughly recommend this album.
Nueva Era is released on 8th June.
7 May 2015
|Archie Shepp at the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival
Photo copyright John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
Archie Shepp Quartet
(Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Saturday 2nd May 2015. Review by Peter Jones)
‘Give us a smile!’ shouted someone as Archie Shepp strolled lugubriously on stage and began strapping on his saxophone without acknowledging the audience. But Archie, who turns 78 this month, has his own way of doing things, and that includes acknowledging the audience when he’s good and ready. After all, he had only stepped in at short notice due to the cancellation of Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
First known for his early Sixties avant-garde work with Cecil Taylor, then for his explorations of jazz’s African heritage, the story of Archie Shepp is also the story of the evolving political and cultural consciousness of black America. And that, of course, includes the blues, because part of Shepp’s repertoire is a powerful, throaty singing voice, which was greeted with delight by the crowd.
The band began with Hope 2, a melodic mid-tempo swinger featuring a long opening solo from its leader. Along with the fluidity we expect from a musician of Shepp’s eminence was his trademark sharpness of tone, somewhat in the vein of Sonny Rollins. It gives his music edge and urgency, as if it’s all about to spiral out of control. And then, for the first time, we heard That Voice, on Don’t Get Around Much Any More – an unexpectedly straightforward arrangement of the familiar standard, enlivened by his monumental vocal delivery.
It was followed by Revolution, which he dedicated to his grandmother. For myself this was the highlight of the set. Archie Shepp showed how deep and wide his roots go – into black history on this occasion, since his grandmother was born when slavery still existed in America (he himself has been not only a Professor of Music but a Professor of African-American Studies). The tune is a cry of anger, with a thrilling beatnik-poetry lyric which held the audience spellbound, as bassist Matyas Szandai played a relentless riff over Steve McCraven’s inventive drum rhythms.
After the beautiful The Stars Are In Your Eyes, a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, it was party time again with Trippin’, a jokey 12-bar blues, hollered with gusto by Archie Shepp. By now it was evident that the man is more than a great singer and saxophonist, more than a mere retired professor. He is a consummate entertainer.
The set ended with Burning Bright, a hard-swinging contemporary number written by pianist Tom McClung, who has been with Archie Shepp for more than five years, and who here supplied the combo with an endless stream of cool and inventive playing.
6 May 2015
|Kurt Elling at Cheltenham 2015
Photo credit: Mick Destino. All Rights Reserved
KURT ELLING appeared at this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival in Radio 2’s “Friday Night Is Music Night” tribute to Frank Sinatra, with Guy Barker and the BBC Orchestra, and fellow singers Anthony Strong and Clare Teal. He is also working with Barker on a new drama production based on the life of jazz singer Joe E Lewis in 1920s Chicago. Lewis’s story was previously made into a 1957 Frank Sinatra film called “The Joker is Wild”. Peter Jones caught up with Kurt in Cheltenham.
LondonJazz News: How hard do you push yourself as a singer? I’m thinking of tunes that are difficult to sing – the long-held notes in Higher Vibe, the ten minutes of vocalese in Tanya Jean…
Kurt Elling: I’ve been fortunate to be given physiologically the right voice for a singer. I mean, I’m built to sing. I have a very flexible instrument that much of the time, if I treat it right, does what I want it to do. I don’t think of it so much as challenging my voice for the sake of it, it’s more that I know my voice can do things. So it becomes a question of – what should I do with it? I want to discover stuff that I didn’t know was possible. Somebody like Bobby McFerrin does the same thing, although the area of his discovery has more to do with improvisational tactics and wordless music. He’s just hyper-capable. But he and I are going down two different roads. I mean, mine has so much to do with lyrical interpretation and vocalese things and trying to tell stories through these longer aria-like set-ups where I’ll do a Dexter Gordon thing or a John Coltrane thing. To me it’s just a joy because I like to be athletic when I sing. It’s the natural place for me – real loud. I like to do big things and make big statements.
LJN: Do you still practise every day?
KE: I practise a lot. I’ve got a lot of different material to get through. But some days I have to let it rest. I mean, our apartment in New York is not big enough… some days I just have to wait for my wife to go on errands. You can imagine a singer as loud as I am in a two-bedroom apartment! And just doin’ scales and stuff is a bore for anyone to have to listen to, let alone the girl of your dreams, twenty years into a marriage [Kurt is married to the dancer Jennifer Carney]. She doesn’t need to hear la-la-la-la-la-la-laaaah one more time, believe me!
LJN: You’re known for your singing debt to Mark Murphy.
KE: Mark set a standard for individualism, and he set the bar for interpretive personalization, I guess you might say, in the jazz idiom. So eccentric, so unique, Such a personal and singular take on songs.
LJN: He seemed to want his voice to be an instrument, like a human saxophone…
KE: Well, he followed Jon Hendricks down that road. Jon has been the great be-bop, truly jazz-based jazz singer. In his scatting improvisation, there’s nobody around who can touch him for be-bop accuracy and for the use of that language, that style. And he’s a showman of a certain era. And Mark was much less influenced, strictly speaking, by be-bop licks. He has them in there as licks, but his scatting is much more individual, and much less at the knee of instrumentalists like Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges… than Jon. And Jon obviously had a great running partner in Dave Lambert, who was a great be-bop scat singer in his own right, a wonderful musician, and a thrilling singer.
LJN: That Lambert, Hendricks and Ross stuff stills sounds great today.
KE: Yes, that stuff’s gonna be eternal, it’s so clever, and the mother wit in Jon’s lyrics… Nobody’s gonna be as clever in that idiom and the use of language and the twisted syntax and the invention of words as Jon has been. Mark came from a different angle. He learned from Jon, and he was physically present when they were doing a lot of things. But Mark could do things that were different from Jon. Mark investigated ballads in a much more dramatic fashion. Jon was much more about swinging and be-bop scatting and language invention, and Mark’s stronger places are not in the scatting but in ballad interpretation…
LJN: Examples? Ones that you like?
KE: Oh, they’re rife. The medley he made of The Night We Called It A Day and There’s No You. What a great idea! I’ll never forget hearing him sing Never Let Me Go for the first time, because man, he feels it so deeply. And he interprets it in such an emotionally raw fashion. And then there’s Mark’s work as a spoken word artist as well, keeping that beatnik tradition alive.
LJN: You’ve done that a fair bit too.
KE: Yeah, because Mark really shows any other jazz singer things that are possible in the music, that are forward-looking, that have to do with the possible breadth of the jazz singing world. You have to take each individual jazz singer for the best qualities that they bring. Joe Williams brings that soulful blues, that sophisticated blues of urban manhood. That magnificent sound, and the articulation. And it’s big band. He was a big loud singer. Mark brings the savage, broken-hearted passion, the balladry, the drama, the spoken word aspects…
LJN: And the total spontaneity.
KE: Total. Bouncin’ off the walls. Crazy stuff, right? But it’s always Mark, you can tell that in a second. Versus a Mel Tormé, who was able to be super-spontaneous in his improvisational ability, a hyper-articulate musician, incredibly polished, but you never feel that savage ripped-open heart. It’s a lot more trained than what Mark is doing. Mark is much more musically raw. He’s not makin’ the changes all the time, it’s more about the expressiveness.
LJN: That’s why he’ll never be a major name outside of jazz.
KE: You know, the mainstream doesn’t want… (he ponders for a moment) One’s natural gifts and creative inclinations have got to match so precisely with the zeitgeist. To hit that frequency with a large audience. And Sinatra, he was exactly the right guy with exactly the right gifts, everything, and the timing was right, and the technology was right. He was incredibly fortunate to fit into the situation. And Mark’s thing, and I dare say my thing, I mean unless lightning strikes for me, I don’t know what that would look like at this point. At 47, I would be really surprised if suddenly something blew up and wow, I’m now actually as big a star as I thought I would be when I was 12!
LJN: And what do you think has been your own unique contribution to the jazz singing tradition?
KE: I believe I’m going down a road that is my own. I believe that the sonic identifiers that still show up in my performances, that come from people like Mark and Jon and Joe Williams… that they give me a family resemblance to those great singers. I wanna be a part of the family. And I believe that I’m not overwhelmed by any of those signifiers. I mean that I still sound like myself. I have that confidence. I’ve sung 200 nights a year for the last 20 years. And I trust that I’ve got my own sound and I’m not weirded out by anybody saying, this sounds like him, or him. Because that’s a compliment to me. Because that means it’s ingrained.
LJN: But the only way to start sounding like yourself is to start out trying to sound like other people. How else are you going to do it?
KE: That’s right. If you wanna have a family resemblance. I’m taking my own path. I think the records that I’ve made have been of quality. I’ve taken a lot of chances, and I’ve been growing. I’m confident that I’m making some kind of progress, because when I listen to early records, I can hear how much I didn’t know. It’s like, wow, I wouldn’t do that again! And I hope that 20 years from now, God willing, if I’m still out here, that I’ll look back at the things I’m doin’ now and say, good for you, man, you were really trying a thing. And now I can hear what I didn’t know in 2015.
LJN: Which brings me back to my original question that you’re continually pushing yourself to do interesting stuff, challenging stuff, and that’s what keeps you moving forward.
KE: What’s the point otherwise? It would be boring for me and it would be boring for my audience if I were to start just reiterating.
LJN: Well yes, because the alternative would be to hit the cabaret trail and just do your greatest hits for another 20 years.
KE: (laughs) Greatest hits! ‘That one sold 30 copies!’
LJN: Speaking of which, do you think jazz will ever find the kind of mainstream acceptance that it once had, or will it be forever a minority sport?
KE: Man, I think the world moves on.
LJN: Jazz moves on too.
KE: Jazz moves on, and continues to press forward, there are incredible brilliant innovators of sound who deserve massive audiences. The world would be a better place. It would be a more intelligent and civil and exciting and compassionate place if people… but people don’t have the wherewithal. They don’t have the time, and they don’t have the brain-space to listen to more serious music. They’re just being assaulted by so much stuff. And we’re trying to do stuff that really matters, that takes you down a road, that you’ve gotta sit still for and try to figure out and digest, and that’s always going to be a minority music. As everything accelerates. Even though the things that we’re doing are responding to current provocations and culture. But there are so many things to worry about at this point. I mean… the Fukushima plant is dumping a whole bunch of radiation into the Pacific Ocean. We’re not going to have any giraffes left because assholes are going out and hunting them. What the fuck do you want to shoot a giraffe for, you mother? That’s just bullshit. You know, the water crisis that’s on the way. Who’s going to own the water, and then, you know, Syria, God…
LJN: So, there are more important things to worry about than whether anyone’s listening to jazz?
KE: Yeah, man. Way more important. We’re on death’s doorstep here if we don’t watch it. Just because of the technology and what we’re able to do to each other is so grave and so overpowering. So if I can be with Guy Barker and the BBC Concert Orchestra on a Friday night, it’s a huge victory. We’re lucky it continues at all.
26 April 2015
Mathias Eick – Midwest
(ECM 472 4478. CD Review by Peter Jones)
When midwesterner Pat Metheny first came to public notice in the late Seventies with his recordings for ECM, what people noticed was a certain quality of spaciousness and optimism, almost naïvité. The music was folk-influenced, full of melody, very different in tone to the urban funk route that American jazz had taken during the first part of that decade. In particular, tunes like (Cross the) Heartland and New Chautauqua seemed to catch the mood as white America shook off the humiliations of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal and got ready to elect Ronald Reagan.
This new album from Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick is imbued with a similar spirit, but it goes much further back. Midwest is explicitly intended to reflect the experiences of the million or so Norwegians who emigrated to the American Midwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries, settling in rural towns like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon and the real-life Fargo, immortalized by the eponymous Coen Brothers film. We have also seen these landscapes in Terence Malick’s Seventies movies Badlands and Days of Heaven.
It’s the participation of folk violinist Gjermund Larsen that gives Eick’s album its distinctive quality. Its melodic ideas are cinematic in scope, evoking the vast emptiness of this part of America. Your mind conjures up images of wagons rolling slowly across the plains.
Beginning with a Lyle Mays-like ostinato piano figure from Jon Balke, the title track takes an unexpected turn halfway through, as Larsen strikes up a vigorous campfire hoedown before Balke returns to his theme, accompanied by a brief double bass solo from Mats Eilertsen. Hem, the gentle waltz which follows, refers to Eick’s Norwegian home village. There’s more ostinato piano in the majestic March, Eick here producing the sort of flute-like tone we have also heard from fellow Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Fargo is a personal favourite, very ‘ECM’ in feel, sparse and reflective in the best way.
The melancholy Dakota ends with drummer Helge Norbakken adding his signature understated percussion, described in the publicity as ‘hinting at Native American tribal pulses or perhaps bison hooves pounding the plains’. Fanciful as that may sound, listening to such evocative music can’t help but bring out comparisons like these.
The music of Midwest doesn’t grab you by the lapels, but takes its time, revealing itself slowly, and fully rewarding your close attention.
11 April 2015
Big Screen – Take One
(Linn Records AKD 504. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Take One is a collection of nine tunes taken from 20th century shows and films. It features the combined talents of this project’s prime mover, the drummer Matt Skelton, bassist Tom Farmer and award-garlanded pianist David Newton. Not bad as an opening proposition, so it comes as no surprise that this highly professional trio have duly delivered a highly polished album, beautifully recorded by Chris Traves in someone’s Eastbourne home.
With the exception of Vangelis’s theme to Chariots of Fire, Take One is solid Hollywood: mainstream, mostly upbeat, toe-tapping stuff that will be extremely familiar to the audience. There’s no truck with European cinema here, no moody ECM-style introspection, nor even any hint of postwar musical dissonance. The album is dominated by that chirpy kind of vibe you used to get from the Dudley Moore Trio, back in the days when there was jazz on TV. The musicians play with that close, listening togetherness that generates intensity, the kind of intensity you only really get with piano trios.
Things gallop off in fine style with the theme from the 1964 nose-twitching TV sitcom Bewitched. According to Peter Erskine’s liner notes, the show’s producers were originally planning to use Frank Sinatra’s version of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, then realized it would be too expensive, and asked composers Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller to come with an alternative within the week. This tune was the result.
Most of Take One is uptempo, including tunes more commonly performed as ballads, such as Old Man River (from Show Boat, 1927) and On The Street Where You Live (My Fair Lady, 1956). As you would expect with such a Hollywood focus, the quieter numbers are played sweet, pretty and sentimental rather than deep, thoughtful and melancholy: The Heather on the Hill (Brigadoon, 1947), Randy Newman’s When She Loved Me (here mistitled When Somebody Loved Me) from Toy Story 2, 1999, and Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (My Fair Lady again).
Take One… hmm, what are the chances of Take Two: The Sequel?
Big Screen have dates across the UK from now until September. Tour Dates from Linn Records
27 March 2015
José James – Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday
(Blue Note 00600406536204. CD Review by Peter Jones)
With a string of genre-busting albums behind him, collaborations with everyone from Nicola Conte to Basement Jaxx, and a stellar performance at last year’s Love Supreme Festival, it seems José James can do no wrong. He has embraced hip-hop, rock and jazz. On early, groundbreaking tracks like Park Bench People (from his debut album The Dreamer), he staked out a piece of Gil Scott-Heron’s territory. Last year’s While You Were Sleeping featured both electric and acoustic rock guitar, reflecting his youthful passion for bands like Nirvana.
The velvet-voiced singer from Minneapolis, now reportedly resident in London, has been making a lot of new friends here, and with good reason: he doesn’t go in for the tiresome histrionics witnessed on talent show TV; his delivery is gentle and cool, dreamy and ecstatic, as if transfixed by the vision in his head. The result is a compelling intimacy of style that gives the impression that he’s singing just for you. His recordings have been among the most interesting and original in recent vocal jazz.
James is not afraid to take risks, and with this new tribute to Billie Holiday, he sets himself a target: the tunes are so well known and have been so often covered that he can now be judged alongside the greatest singers in jazz – including Billie herself. How well he pulls it off is a matter for debate.
He’s kept it stripped-down and simple, with just a piano trio led by Jason Moran, with John Pattitucci on bass and Eric Harland on drums. So far, so good. Now comes the problem: José is a hipster. It isn’t that he lacks passion, but his usual mode of expression is restrained and inward, casual, as if he can’t quite be bothered. This becomes apparent on songs like What a Little Moonlight Can Do. When played uptempo like this, the song’s vocal delivery needs to be snappier, otherwise the singer risks trailing in the band’s wake. Likewise on Fine and Mellow(cue some gender-reassigned lyrics), he doesn’t seem convincingly engaged. On Body and Soul, featuring some beautiful soloing from Moran, the last note José hits would have benefitted from the attention of producer Don Was.
But on the sixth track, a passionate version of Tenderly, José breaks free of his cool and hits his style. All of a sudden he’s in focus. The whole album should have been like this. And it continues: Lover Man leans on a simple bluesy bass-line from Pattitucci. James’s yearning vocal bursts out angrily on the line ‘No one’s here to love me’, as if raging at his lonely fate. God Bless the Child is another slow blues, Moran switching to Fender Rhodes for the first time, with a lovely variation in dynamic and a drawn-out ritardando ending.
But the album’s closer Strange Fruit is the No.1 reason to listen to this album, for all its minor faults. Because no one can sing this tune unless they mean it. And José James does mean it, declaiming Abel Meeropol’s lyric a capella, backed only by a dark country church drone of weary voices and a plain handclap. Not merely spine-chilling, but one of the best things he’s ever done.
20 March 2015
Wild Card – Organic Riot
(Top End Records TER003CD. CD Review by Peter Jones)
This busy band on the London jazz scene consists of a nucleus orbited by several electrons. The nucleus consists of leader and composer of nearly all the tunes, French-born guitarist Clément Régert, organist Andrew Noble and drummer Sophie Alloway. The talented electrons are Natalie Williams, who sings on two tracks, trumpeter Graeme Flowers, tenor saxophonist Roberto Manzin, trombonist Jerome Harper, percussionists Joaö Caetano and Lili Iontcheva, and French rapper B’loon. Flowers and Manzin contribute to all tracks. The others crop up in various combinations throughout the album.
Régert describes Wild Card’s music as Nu-jazz, combining elements of hard bop, afro, latin and funk. The album has a distinctively live feel, the object presumably being to capture the band’s gigging style in the studio.
The disparate genres tumble over one another in a cheerful riot, hence the album’s title. For example, on the opening track (helpfully called Intro) B-loon raps in French over repeated trumpet/trombone/tenor phrases. It’s slighty funky, slightly samba. Wild Card Thême follows, with acoustic guitar under Flowers’s trumpet melody, again with a samba feel to it. It’s dancey, foot-tappin’ stuff, that makes you think it would be great to see Wild Card live. They feel like a good-time band.
As if in answer to one’s thoughts, next comes Feeling Good, the tune made famous by Nina Simone and since used in many a TV advert. Natalie Williams sings, backed by harmonized horns, then there’s a lengthy guitar solo in two different styles – first picky and funky, then out and out rock.
B’loon comes back for more on the title track. One can’t be sure what he is declaiming about, as the sleeve provides no translation for a monoglot like myself. It certainly sounds rather ominous, partly shouted through a megaphone, as if at a particularly hip Parisian street demo.
Heartbeat is not the theme from the cockle-warming TV series of the same name, but a gentler interlude nonetheless, with another nice solo from Flowers and one from Noble then another from Clément Régert.
One might question the absence of a specialist bass player. This matters less in such straightahead jazz organ trios as operated by Jim Mullen or Nigel Price, but Wild Card are all about groove and feel, and given that, giving the entire bottom end responsibility to the organist results in a slight lack of punch.
Organic Riot is a cheerful, no frills production that no doubt captures the essential magic of the Wild Card live experience.
13 March 2015
Polly Gibbons – Many Faces of Love
(Resonance Records RCD 1022. CD review by Peter Jones)
There’s a long and honourable tradition of British female singers, from Lulu and Dusty to Beverly Knight, Ruby Turner and Joss Stone, who sound as if they spent their early lives testifyin’ in some Memphis Baptist church. Polly Gibbons is the latest in this line, and there are few clues in these recordings to her roots among Suffolk farming folk. The voice is rough-edged, full of soul, powered by a pair of mighty lungs apparently cast from rusty iron. Only the long ‘a’ sound in words like ‘chance’ and ‘answer’ betray an upbringing in southern England.
Generically, the tunes occupy a sort of no-man’s land between soul, R&B and jazz. Running throughout the album – remarkably, her debut collection – is the signature interplay between Polly’s voice and Christian Howes’s violin. Howes is a remarkably simpatico player, filling the spaces between vocal lines with great empathy. His command of different styles matches that of Gibbons herself. Al Jarreau’s regretful Not Like This, for example, required Howes to overdub several string parts, and it’s to the credit of arranger and pianist Tamir Hendelman that the resulting harmonies are so sweet and rich. Polly is equally at home belting out R&B tunes like the opener, Please Send Me Someone To Love, on which Howes demonstrates that he can also rock out. City Lights is a bluesy shuffle by Dr John, which morphs into swing, giving Howes yet another chance to show his class, followed by a classy jazz-blues solo from guitarist Anthony Wilson.
After a few tracks, it becomes clear that Polly Gibbons can sing pretty much anything. On another Jarreau number, So Good, she gives Aretha Franklin a run for her money, adding an effortless scat solo for good measure; on the terrific dark ballad After Hours, she moves into Sarah Vaughan territory. Then it’s back to the soulful blues with Buddy Johnson’s Since I Fell for You.
To call this album slick and professional hardly seems like a criticism. It’s just that there’s such a gloss to the recordings that you wonder where Polly Gibbons goes from here – so good has she become, and only just into her thirties. The answer is perhaps that she can gradually throw off her influences and begin to sound like herself. It would be fascinating to hear her performing original material written specifically for her.
The CD is accompanied by a DVD featuring some behind-the-scenes footage filmed in the studio, plus live takes of five of the album tracks, along with versions of Almost Like Being in Love, Muddy Water and Miss Celie’s Blues. There is no information about where these were recorded, but they were perhaps taken from different nights, since they feature both veteran American pianist Roger Kellaway(who wrote the track I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before) and Ronnie Scott’s in-house keyboard maestro James Pearson.
Polly Gibbons’ next scheduled appearance is in a tribute to Ray Charles on April 23rd at St James Studio
9 March 2015
Samadhi Quintet – The Dance of Venus
(F-IRE CD81. CD Review by Peter Jones)
This accomplished and richly inventive album is the brainchild of drummer Sam Gardner, last heard from as a member of the Wildflower Sextet. Nothing if not ambitious, Gardner describes his project as ‘a phonographic celebration of life, consciousness and the universe… inspired by the Quadrivium – the four liberal arts of Number, Geometry, Music and Cosmology’, thus complicating the whole business for those of us who thought the answer was 42.
Gardner is the composer of all the tracks, apart from one brief snippet. The first two are uptempo: The Doctrine of Interdependence and the title track are the most tricky and elusive on the album, both rhythmically and melodically, dominated by the soprano saxophone of Krzysztof Urbanski. There’s a change of tone with the dark and delicious Trismegistus, which fades in with Dominic Marshall’s fast-rippling piano arpeggios accompanied by a lovely melody from Urbanski, but it fades out much too soon. Next up is Kinesphere, which comes on like some badass blaxploitation movie soundtrack from 1973, Marshall and bassist Sam Vicarydoubling a busy bottom-end riff before the track settles into another lengthy soprano excursion, relieved by more rippling piano.
The snippet referred to earlier is When Shadows Crash, a promising hip-hop piano riff written by Ohbliv that, like Trismegistus, you’d rather like to have heard more of before it fades off into the ether. Deimos features a thoughtful piano melody, punctuated by more of Marshall’s trademark arpeggios, and finishing with a clattering solo from Gardner. There’s more sweet saxophone melody on the frustratingly succinct Annica. The album cruises out beyond the ionosphere with Indra’s Net, another fine melody underpinned by solid bass and the percussion of Sam Bell. Here Dominic Marshall again contributes a stream of beautiful melodic and harmonic ideas.
The Dance of Venus is at its best when it eschews complexity for its own sake and relaxes a little, allowing some space and time into the equation.
6 March 2015
Noemi Nuti – Nice to Meet You
(Ubuntu UBU0001. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Italian-American singer and composer Noemi Nuti’s debut album focuses on her love for Brazilian music. She has teamed up with a crack team of London-based musicians, including trumpeter Quentin Collins, also credited as ‘music director’, who produced this interesting and varied album.
Most of the material was composed by Noemi Nuti herself, sometimes in collaboration with pianist Andrew McCormack, who according to his website now lives in New York. Noemi brings her clear, fresh voice and facility with languages (she speaks Italian, English, Spanish, French and – of course – Portuguese) to bear on songs in a range of styles, all Brazilian-influenced.
One approach used repeatedly to good effect is the doubling or harmonizing of trumpet and voice, as on the opening track Infanzia. This includes a rippling solo from principal pianist Chris Eldred. We hear the trumpet/voice device again on Charade and Tidal Surge.
McCormack plays on two tracks. On the ominous Vista, featuring only voice and piano, he rumbles a dark ostinato as Noemi’s voice soars above it. This is a dizzyingly tricky piece, with many shifts of melody and rhythm that would completely defeat most singers. Rugiada is another difficult melody, this time mostly doubled with McCormack’s piano.
Another two tracks are more or less well-known Brazilian pieces: Dorival Caymmi’s Doralice, covered by singers from Gretchen Parlato to Eliane Elias; and Dança da Solidão, by Paulinho da Viola.
Encouragingly, given the present season, the album has a Summery, seaside theme: on The Shell, an intriguingly washy piece, Noemi is backed by dramatic Eldred piano, Tim Thornton’s bowed double bass and Enzo Zirilli’s skittering brushes. In terms of vocal style, Noemi favours drama and complexity over ease and mellow vibes, which occasionally makes it less than relaxing for the listener. The album demands your attention – it refuses to blend into the background.
There are some moments of real beauty: Tidal Surge, co-written with Quentin Collins, stands out, featuring a lovely flugelhorn solo. On this tune guitarist Filipe Monteiro switches from acoustic to Allan Holdsworth-style electric. And on the gentle Dança da Solidão, which follows, Noemi is backed by Monteiro on acoustic guitar and Zirilli on hand percussion.
There is much to like about Nice to Meet You. Noemi Nuti is a highly talented musician, well served by her band, and on this evidence there will be plenty to enjoy from her in the future.
14 February 2015
The Wild Flower Sextet – Wildflower
(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ017. Review by Peter Jones)
For a dying art-form, an old man’s game…modern British jazz certainly has a lot of brilliant young practitioners. Here’s another example of this welcome trend – Matt Anderson, leader of the Wild Flower Sextet, only graduated from Leeds College of Music in 2010 (with a First, natch). His band includes the extremely talented Laura Jurd on trumpet. All the members are also busy with numerous projects of their own.
According to its self-description, the sextet plays ‘original music inspired by the sound and approach of jazz legend Wayne Shorter, alongside new arrangements of classic and lesser-known Shorter compositions.’ The band’s name, of course, refers to a tune on Shorter’s Speak No Evil. One measure of how well they have succeeded in their mission is that this reviewer at least found himself repeatedly checking which tunes were Anderson’s and which were Shorter’s. For the record, the latter’s included here are Masqualero, which first appeared on Miles Davis’sSorcerer album, and again on ESP; Fall (recorded for Miles’s Nefertiti); Three Clowns (from Weather Report’s Black Market) and Lester Left Town (from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ 1960 album The Big Beat). Slightly odd to call some of these ‘lesser-known’, but no matter – the band’s interpretations are cool and assured.
The album kicks off with a salute to the Sextet’s eminence grise: Blues for Wayne is a shuffle with a toe-tapping opening groove, followed by fluent solos from guitaristAlex Munk, tenor saxophonist Anderson and drummer Sam Gardner, who particularly shines here. Jurd gets her first proper outing on Sfumato, a bop-type tune with echoes of Freddie Hubbard. Piano and guitar often work together to powerful harmonic effect, particularly on the intros to tunes such as Blues for Wayne, Masqualero and J.G.. This approach complements the lines played jointly by Anderson and Jurd. Munk’s inclusion in what would otherwise be a classic quintet adds depth and tonal variety to band’s sound. Wildflower is an accessible and richly melodic album of great warmth and sophistication.
The album comes out on 9th March, and the band is currently nearing the end of a UK tour:
26 February Northampton Contemporary Jazz (Castle Theatre, Wellingborough)
27 February Birmingham Jazz (Red Lion, Birmingham)
11 February 2015
PREVIEW: Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling OrganizmRobin Goodie launch tour (Ronnie Scott’s date, 18th Feb)
The young Russian alto saxophonist ZHENYA STRIGALEV released a new album “Robin Goodie” (Whirlwind) on February 2nd. In advance of a major tour of Euopean clubs, and US dates in June, Peter Jones interviewed him:
Zhenya Strigalev‘s music is so eclectic, it defies easy categorization. His second album, Robin Goodie, is launched at Ronnie Scott’s next week, and is apparently inspired by the time he has spent living in England, where he graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2007. Later, he says, he started the Charlie Wright’s jam in Shoreditch, at a time when there weren’t as many late-night jazz jams around as there are now. Since then he has spent time in New York, sleeping on the sofa of a bass-playing friend, while he checked out the jamming scene there. And somehow he has also found time to tour all over Europe.
The album title Robin Goodie has something or other to do with Robin Hood and his merry men galloping about on horses, and the boogie-woogie rhythm such activity allegedly inspires. (Really, it’s better not to ask.) One unusual feature of his band is that it features two bass players – one acoustic, one electric. It goes without saying that this combination could be a recipe for chaos in the wrong hands. But Strigalev is a talented arranger as well as composer, and uses his two bassists in very different ways. ‘On my first album I had both, but never playing at the same time. Then I started writing tunes where I wanted a swing feel one moment, and something funkier the next,’ he explains.
Every time you think his music is spinning off into spiky self-indulgence, it rights itself and comes out with something surprisingly gentle and melodic. The edgy mixture of sweet and sour is reminiscent of Tomasz Stanko. At other times it could be ESP-era Miles Davis. And when it gets funky, think not of Bootsie Collins butCaptain Beefheart.
Something else audiences have noticed is that Strigalev holds the saxophone very high, causing his head to stick up at an angle of 45 degrees. It looks downright uncomfortable, if not actually hazardous to life and limb. Why? ‘I get less pain than I used to. After six hours of practice, my neck used to get very painful, but the way I play now, the weight goes on to my shoulders. It makes me feel more relaxed and confident, and also the air goes straight from my throat.’
All the frenetic activity of the last few years has brought him into contact with some very accomplished players. The rest of the sextet known as Smiling Organizm is fluid, personnel-wise: on the album it consists entirely of American musicians, including Brad Meldau Trio double bassist Larry Grenadier and in-demand electric bassist Tim Lefebvre.
At Ronnie Scott’s the band will consist of Eric Harland (who also plays on the album) on drums, Britain’s own Liam Noble on piano, plus Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, plus bassists Linley Marthe (electric) and Matt Penman (acoustic).
After three full listens to the album, I still don’t feel I’ve heard everything there is to hear, but that’s a good thing. This gig promises to be intriguing at the very least.
24 January 2015
Emily Saunders – Outsiders Insiders
(Mix Records. MIXS1501. CD Review by Peter Jones)
It’s a delight occasionally to hear something that sounds genuinely new. Better still when it’s cool, sophisticated, full of space and light, and beautifully performed. Singer Emily Saunders’ second album falls into that rare category. Her music is hip and up-to-date, and even though you can hear her influences, it sounds highly distinctive. She also wrote, arranged and produced the album, which comes out in March, four years after her well-received debut Cotton Skies.
Not surprisingly, given its earworm quality, the title track has been getting airplay lately. Why wouldn’t it be a hit single, with that wonderful syncopated The Beat Goes On riff? There’s an android vocal, followed by a sweet harmony answering vocal; however the bridge is probably too challenging for the charts, featuring Byron Wallen’s squeaky trumpet over a broken rhythm and then a super-cool electric piano solo from Steve Pringle.
If you’re looking for vocal comparisons, you will hear echoes of Gretchen Parlatoand Lauren Desberg here, and certainly Bebel Gilberto in Saunders’s glissando style – so apparently effortless as to be Teflon-coated. Yet what she’s singing is often extremely difficult, soaring through rapid chord changes on Brazilian-influenced tunes like Residing. There’s an alien, dreamlike quality to many tracks:You Caught Me, Moon and the tautological Descending Down, with their intriguingly elliptical lyrics and slow, vibrato Rhodes backing from Bruno Heinen.
The musicians are locked into Saunders’ musical vision. She has used two different pianists, two bassists and two percussionists, but such is her control over the arrangements that you wouldn’t know it. Vocally, she does so much more than just sing the songs over a backing. Take Metronomic, which begins with a wordless, snaky improvisation on some Eastern scale before settling into a dark meditation about ‘a man who sought to control’, and ending on a brief cacophony of electronic noise. The album closes with You With Me, a gorgeous, poignant voice-and-piano ballad that’s over much too quickly.
Everything on Outsiders Insiders is drenched in melody, and it’s this, as well as the intimate and deeply-felt quality to the recordings that lifts them above the everyday.
Emily Saunders: Voice
Byron Wallen: Trumpet
Trevor Mires: Trombone
Bruno Heinen: Keys
Steve Pringle: Keys (Outsiders Insiders)
Dave Whitford: Bass
Paul Michael: Bass (Residing, Descending Down)
Jon Scott: Drums
Fabio de Oliveira: Percussion
Asaf Sirkis: Percussion (Descending Down)
Emily Saunders appears at the Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival on March 5th, and at St James Studio, London on March 17th. Further dates in March to be announced soon.
15 January 2015
Tom Green Septet – Skyline ,
(Spark 001. CD review by Peter Jones.)
Garlanded with honours and still only in his twenties, Tom Green is a trombonist, pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader of rare accomplishment. This debut septet album features seven tunes written by Green, plus a version of Skylark.
I first saw him perform last September as a member of Chris Biscoe’s Mingus tribute band. On that occasion he escaped the fate of Mingus’s trombonist Jimmy Knepper, who was twice hit in the face by Mingus, on the second occasion breaking a tooth and destroying his embouchure for the next two years.
There’s an obvious comparison here between what Green is doing with his septet and the music of Mingus himself, who worked with ensembles of roughly this size. Mingus also insisted on improvisation being part of the compositional process, not merely something that began once the band had played the first head. And you can hear other echoes from the great man here too, for example the cheerfully intertwining solos reminiscent of New Orleans second-line jazz, particularly on DIY.
However it wouldn’t do to make too much of the Mingus parallels. Green’s music is generally sweeter, less urban, less anarchic. In fact, there’s a certain stately grandeur to these arrangements, which sound more like they were written for a big band than for a large group. A personal favourite is Equilibrium, a long, slowly-evolving piece starting out with a moody theme initially played by the horns only, then picking up time in gentle 5/4 and building in urgency, before eventually subsiding into a series of squeaks and warbles. The original horn theme then reappears for a quiet close.
Such is the internal cohesion of the band that it’s tough to single out any of the individual musicians. Having said that, there’s a lovely Lark Ascending-type solo by Matthew Herd on soprano sax – not on Skylark, as you might expect, but on the track that follows – Winter Halo.
Skyline needs to be listened to with care. There’s a lot going on, and it richly repays your full attention.
LINK: Equilibrium on Video
The tour begins on 16th January in Bath, winding up in Colchester on 27th March. FULL LIST OF DATES
12 January 2015
(Ronnie Scott’s. 12th January 2015. First night of two. Review by Peter Jones)
There’s really nothing like hearing Brazilian music played by real-life Brazilians. A few weeks back the Ronnie Scott’s audience was treated to a wonderful, fiery performance by virtuoso pianist and singer Tania Maria. Last night it was the turn of virtuoso guitarist and singer Joyce Moreno (formerly known as Joyce) – exactly the same age as Tania Maria, but from the opposite end of Brazil, and with a somewhat lighter style.
Moreno is in Europe to promote her new album Raiz, or ‘Roots’, featuring all the key influences on her music since she began her recording career back in 1964. Hence there were tunes by Jobim (Desafinado), Baden Powell (Canto De Yansan),Menescal (O Barquinho) and Caymmi (Vestido de Bolero and Requebre Que Eu Dou Um Doce), as well as Joyce herself (Penalty). The touring band is the same one as on the album, just released on the London-based Far Out Recordings label:Helio Alves on piano, Rodolfo Stroeter on electric bass and Joyce’s husband and producer Tutty Moreno on drums.
It was an evening of quite stunning beauty – non-stop explosions of brilliant tropical colour and bewilderingly complex rhythms. Musicians as sophisticated as these can take an oft-heard standard like Desafinado and turn it into a creation full of light and shade, with infinite variations on what we Brits think of as simple bossanova. The drumming of Tutty Moreno in particular should be compulsory study for anyone wishing to perform these songs: throughout I was reminded of the famous Miles Davis maxim ‘Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.’ Stroeter’s bass was sinuous and insistent, full of melody; Alves’s piano was mostly sweet and fluid, but occasionally cut loose in breakneck solos, particularly on Penalty.
‘I love my job,’ said Joyce as she returned for her encore. She does, and the audience loved her for it.
30 December 2014
Terje Isungset and Arve Henriksen – World of Glass
(All Ice Records 1409. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Somewhere out there, if there are aliens – intelligent, friendly ones – they probably make music like this. And if you can imagine the aliens working in collaboration with some equally intelligent species from our own planet, such as whales, you may begin to get a feel for World of Glass, by Norwegian minimalists Terje Isungset and Arve Henriksen.
Saxophones, trumpets, pianos, drums, 2-5-1 sequences and even conventional melodies are all distinctly lacking on this album. As the title suggests, glass is the key component: all the instruments used were made from glass by students from the Estonian Academy of Arts. The album was largely recorded in front of a live audience in Tallinn.
The project was Isungset’s idea, but the better known half of the duo is Arve Henriksen, whose delicate and intensely moving music on the 2004 album Chiaroscuro brought him to the attention of many in the UK. A trumpeter and vocalist, Henriksen has worked with numerous avant-garde and modernist musicians from Scandinavia, including minimalist trailblazer and fellow Norwegian Terje Rypdal. He has collaborated with David Sylvian, Laurie Anderson and Gavin Bryars, and is currently one third of a trio called Supersilent. He visited London in 2012 and again in 2014 with the vocal group Trio Mediaeval.
World of Glass conjures a weirdly beautiful soundscape, cool and flutey, with crunching broken glass sometimes used for percussion, and occasional deep bongs emanating from bowl-like objects. The music seems so meditative and unstructured that it’s hard to tell where one piece ends and another begins, but in fact there is structure of a sort, as anyone will know who has been lucky enough to witness an Arve Henriksen performance.
There is no point in getting into some arid debate about whether or not it’s actually jazz: it is certainly improvised. And it is certainly lovely to listen to. That’s all we really need to know.
24 December 2014
The extraordinary thing about Accent is not so much that they come from five different countries, but that the London gigs will mark only the second time they have ever met in person. Modern technology is what has made it possible to call Accent a band at all: Danny Fong and Andrew Kesler from Canada, James Rosefrom England, Simon Åkesson from Sweden, Jean-Baptiste Craipeau from France and Evan Sanders from the USA got it together online.
Peter Jones interviewed Evan Sanders of Accent by phone
How did Accent became a YouTube phenomenon?
It all started on the strength of the individual members’ YouTube channels. Jean-Baptiste in particular was very adept at multi-tracking his voice. Danny also was doing a similar thing, multi-tracking barbershop stuff. What happened then was that Take 6 fans started following us individually, and meanwhile we were following each other, got talking through YouTube and social media, and gradually coalesced into what we are today.
What can audiences expect from your London gigs?
Well, we’re six guys from five different countries, and we only met and performed together for the first time in June 2014, in Sweden. Our excitement just to actually be together creates so much energy that the audience will definitely pick up on that. But in terms of the tunes we’ll be playing, there’s already some new stuff since we played in June, and that means more of our own arrangements of existing material.
I gather the members of Accent are all separately involved in music full-time.
Yes, that’s true – five of us are professionally engaged in composing, performing, arranging or engineering. In fact, I’m the only one you could describe as a normal working stiff, since I have an ordinary office job – although I also perform a lot in my spare time.
How do you rehearse and record at the moment – by conference call?
No, the technology isn’t quite there to allow that yet. There’s a latency problem, the satellite delay, that makes it impossible to time the music accurately. So instead we work independently a lot beforehand, and rehearse immediately before the gig. Fortunately we all read music very well, so once the parts are written out we can sing the piece. Some members of the band can remember their parts by rote, but in the end it’s pretty much all written out.
Why do you think there’s so little vocal harmony in jazz? Once you take into account Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and latterly Take 6 and New York Voices, the cupboard is relatively bare.
Well that’s a very good question – I don’t really know. Having said that, there is an academic vocal jazz tradition here in the US that I suppose provides a grounding in this kind of singing.
What would happen if Accent became as big as Take 6? Wouldn’t it be a logistical nightmare?
It’s something we’ve only just started to think about. The first time we decided to get together in person, it was like a joke. But then we realized it was going way better than we ever dreamed possible. So now we’re actually having to consider the possibility of being physically together more often. We could probably handle doing six to ten gigs a year, but more than that, and we’d probably have to be together all the time.
*Accent are appearing at Kings Place, King’s Cross, London, on Friday 30th January, and before that at the Spice of Life, Soho, on Wednesday 28th.
*The London A Cappella Festival runs from 28th to 31st January at Cadogan Hall and Kings Place. It includes vocal workshops for both adults and children, with ‘LACF Kids’ on the afternoon of the final day.
*For adults, there are workshops on everything from harmony singing to creating instrument sounds using only your mouth.
*The Festival closes with a concert by The Swingles.
14 December 2014
Kate Daniels – Atmospherics
(Loxford Records. K2. CD Review by Peter Jones)
London-based singer Kate Daniels has coined a musical genre of her own – jazz noir. On this self-produced album, her stated aim was to recreate the dark mood of the films she loved while growing up – particularly The Third Man. Shored up by an experienced crew of British jazz talent, Atmospherics is actually not as downbeat as that. On tunes such as the rim-shot clattering A Night in Tunisia and the folky Nature Boy, the music has a stripped- down quality whose sparseness creates space for the music to breathe, and freshens up material that might otherwise sound over-familiar; elsewhere, as on I Thought About You, a rollicking Tom Waits-style rendition of the Jacques Brel tune Port of Amsterdam and Don’t Worry About Me, Daniels’s background in folk music and cabaret shines through, to pleasing effect.
For me, the violin has not always been the most welcome instrument in jazz, but here, in the swinging and confident hands of Mike Piggott, it’s one of the best things about the album. Entwined with John Etheridge’s guitar, it lends several tracks a convincing Hot Club/gypsy jazz vibe. The styles vary: Beautiful Love and the Anita O’Day-inflected Whisper Not are pretty much straight-ahead piano trio tunes, whilst Angel Eyes marks the single appearance of a Fender Rhodes.
Daniels’s vocal delivery is breathy, dramatic and confident. An effortless style like this is always testament to years of actual effort. And it’s good to hear Witchcraftperformed by a woman: despite famous versions by everyone from Sinatra to Mark Murphy, Carolyn Leigh’s lyrics never quite sound right coming from a man. Having said that, there are one or two instances (e.g. Angel Eyes, Nature Boy) where the last note of a vocal phrase isn’t precisely on pitch – an ever-present danger with minimalist arrangements that leave the singer exposed. However, as the title indicates, this album is all about atmosphere, and the playing of John Horler, Alec Dankworth and Winston Clifford is every bit as good as you’d expect.