Interview: Singer Melissa James (New Single Live Again - raising money for SANE - mental health charity)

Recording the single at RAK Studios
Music as a healing force.

In order to raise awareness of Mental Health issues, singer Melissa James has a new  Single “Live Again” as part of her SING4SANE project.  She is committed to "harnessing creative forces that soar in a spirit of collective consciousness," and is endeavouring to tackle stigma and prejudice head on. Interview by Stephen Graham 

LondonJazz News: What inspired you to release ‘Live Again’ and to raise money for SANE?

Melissa James: The SING4SANE (S4S) project was inspired by the first recording of my song, Live Again. I wrote the song about two years ago after I watched someone struggling through a mentally challenging time. It was during this period that I began to really become aware of how difficult it can be, when you’re unstable mentally, to get professional help. Of course part of the difficulty can come from trying to convince the person who you can see needs help, that there is a problem. I made several calls to health professionals on this person’s behalf but quickly learned that really, unless you are hugely at risk of harming yourself or another, it can be difficult for those suffering –and for those supporting those suffering – to get help. My own investigations led me to speak to others in a situation similar to mine who would report familiar, but sometimes more devastating stories, of people who never got the right help at the right time and who sadly had taken their lives.

It was later when I made a recording of Live Again for a record yet to be released entitled Stripped Back that my journey towards creating the S4S project, began. I recorded Live Again acoustically, just with my voice and piano and hearing it in this way highlighted to me how much of the song’s message reflected my own feelings, even though I never imagined at the time of writing that I was writing about myself. I found I couldn’t speak-up and be open with others – even those close to me – about what I was feeling. If I’d broken my leg or arm or had a back problem or other health condition, I’d likely have had less of an issue talking about it to people I knew. But telling close friends and family about how I was feeling mentally was something I couldn’t bring myself to do.

In October 2015 I held a launch party for the release of Stripped Back (but later decided to delay the release) and at the launch I invited some amateur singers to sing backing vocals on Live Again with me. This was really the turning point and, while I didn’t know it, it was SING4SANE in its early formulation because after the launch I quite quickly started to think about organising a public Big Sing in aid of mental health awareness. I’m not quite sure how and why this was but something “clicked” for me that night and it made sense that I would use this song – joined by others – to highlight mental health as an issue. SANE became the charity for which I would fundraise at that first big sing event which took place at Caffe Nero, Heathrow in February this year.

LJN: How close is the charity’s work to your heart?

MJ: What I like about SANE is that they are a small charity but, even with a small team, they are doing a lot of good work researching mental health illnesses and providing a free daily telephone helpline to anyone who might wish to use it. Helplines like theirs are invaluable. When I was in anguish over the situation of the person whose mental health difficulties prompted me to write Live Again, I turned to a helpline to speak about what they were going through and to get advice on how I could cope. It felt such a release to speak to someone anonymously who completely understood the situation from all angles and without judgement.

LJN: Why did you decide to do a 'big sing', and what did it involve in putting it together?

MJ: Music is “my thing” if you like so naturally I guess anything I do that involves trying to promote a cause is going to involve music in some way. I see the power that music can have all the time whenever I perform concerts and people recount to me certain lyrics of my songs that they have been touched by and why. Since starting this project – and particularly when I held the first Big Sing event – I realised that a lot of people had a mental health related story and had an understanding of mind ill health and how it can affect a person’s life. We’re all affected by mind health because we all have minds. A Big Sing is not a new idea but by bringing people together to sing, what I was hoping to encourage was that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and ‘we’re all affected’ and ‘actually’ it’s OK; in particular ‘it’s OK to say that we’re not OK.’ I didn’t need to know the story of anyone who was coming to join the S4S Big Sing but there was the underlying understanding I guess as to what the purpose of the event was and we all “got it”.

Putting the event together mostly involved finding a space. Caffe Nero has always supported me musically; some of my songs are played in their stores so they were a good place to start in terms of finding a venue that could host the S4S Big Sing, particularly since the stores sometimes hold live performances. When I talked to them about it, they were immediately into the idea. The Heathrow space was an obvious choice because it has a piano in place. Other than that, I just put the word out online and told people when and where it was happening, inviting anyone who wanted to do so to come and sing with me. Then I had a bit of a panic that no one would show-up to sing with me on the day. I ended-up with 30 people alongside me at that event in Heathrow.

LJN: Is music a healing force? If so why and how do you see it?

MJ: You know, I’ve always thought that it is and you often hear people say that it is but there was something crucial that happened to me in making me really realise and understand this – and also in helping me to have a clearer understanding of my own purpose and why I do what I do. I was performing a concert last year and, towards the middle of the set, a man walked into the room where I was performing, stood at the back and I could see, from where I was, that he seemed really overjoyed to be there. He called out for a particular song of mine but I’d coincidentally performed it a couple of songs before so, not knowing why he was there, I wasn’t going to perform it again. At the end of the night I talked to him and he told me he was late because his flight had been delayed. He had travelled direct from his home in LA to be at the concert that night. He wanted to come to say thank you for saving his life after his assistant – who hadn’t known he was feeling suicidal at the time – sent him a couple songs of mine which reached out and touched him at exactly the right time.

I was blown away by that story when he told me and I still am to this day. That’s when I truly recognised the power that music can have and the importance of what I do in making music. What I do is not about me it’s about me sharing something that connects with others. And that’s what I like to do: reach out, communicate and make connections.

LJN: How are people's mental (mind) health, do you think, improved by music?

MJ: Well, I know that generally for myself, I can feel a sense of healing by listening to a particular song or piece of music. I can feel empowered, happy or uplifted; I can process a difficult emotion. Music – even without words – can of course say things which otherwise can be difficult to say. Sometimes it’s indescribable how music can help, and that’s what makes it powerful. Email to join the next planned S4S Big Sing which is scheduled for the New Year. All sale proceeds from the S4S single of Live Again go direct to SANE. The single is available for download via iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon and other online music stores.

LJN: How can music help reduce or even eradicate the unfair stigma that mental health is perceived to collect?

MJ: It’s that silent knowing and understanding, I think. When I perform a song like Live Again, those who connect with it do so because they sense that I have an understanding of something they are feeling or experiencing. I’m not banging anybody over the head with a message when I sing any of my songs but the story of the song is there and, if it taps you on the shoulder and encourages the listener to take notice and to feel something, that’s a good thing. Because of Live Again, and some of my other songs, people have come to me – people I don’t know – and they have shared their stories. They might not have told their stories to anyone else but they did with me because they felt that I might understand because of the songs that I sing.

A stigma will slowly disappear when more people speak, and are open, about the issue that is stigmatised. Bringing a subject out into the open helps people to discuss it without fear or embarrassment. It’s also about changing the face of mental health and perceptions of the word ‘mental’.

When someone first suggested to me that I was suffering from depression, I didn’t recognise it because I didn’t think someone who was depressed could ‘look’ like me, or ‘be’ like me. It took me two years before I finally could see and accept that actually I had been suffering from depression probably since childhood. I just always wore a smile through it.

LJN: Which element of music making do you most enjoy choosing out of live performance for instance or the studio work, songwriting, practice, research, creating an image, rehearsal and why?

MJ: I definitely enjoy performing live most of all because music for me is about communicating and connecting with others. You can do that through a record of course but I love feeling that energy of people who are in a room with me. Together we’re creating, or having, an experience. I like being in touch with people generally so any opportunity to do that – and particularly through music – is what stimulates me.

LJN: What’s the shape of the song ‘Live Again,’ both in terms of the music and lyrics, as you see it, in terms of listening notes or touching on little technical pointers to whet potential listeners’ and purchasers’ appetite and further pique their interest especially if some of them are musicians or singers themselves?

MJ: The song gives a glimpse into the mind of a person in despair; a person who, maybe if you see them in day-to-day life seems to be holding things together. They appear confident and assertive but in quieter moments on their own, their mind is wild with doubts and dark thoughts. Negative voices attack their being telling them they aren’t good enough and causing them to feel anxious and very depressed. They want to escape this way of thinking but they can’t see how to calm these angry and bitter voices. They want to own up and be honest to someone close to them about the circling thoughts in their head but they wouldn’t even know how to describe what they are and they’d be worried that they wouldn’t be taken seriously and would be told they have to simply pull themselves together.

The crux of the song comes in the bridge: “And I want to turn my world around / But I need my feet firm on the ground / ’Cause I think I am ready to start to change / Yes I am / But first I need some help to find my way” – that last line of the bridge is what the song is all about and at this point the song builds to its climatic line “All I want is to be free / From the battles of my mind / They keep my thoughts locked up inside.” This person is screaming: ‘I need help but how am I going to get it?’ It’s like saying: “I want to get out of this room but I can’t do it unless someone can show me how to get to the door”. The very final line of the song brings a hope that there is a way out of this feeling of desperation: “I want to start to live again” – because knowing that you want things to change is the first step in starting to make that change for the better.

LJN: How did you first meet Ross Lorraine and how do you write songs together?

MJ: Ross and I met via a site online. It took me a long time to decide I was going to push my fears out of the way and start writing songs but I knew I would have to do it with another. I put out an ad online to find someone to write with. Strangely, we lived about a 5 minute drive from each other and he’s still not far away from where I am now. Once we met and, having written the first couple of songs together, I soon began to feel like this was a partnership that could grow.

Mostly I record thoughts and ideas (usually in the middle of the night or on waking in the morning) into a recorder and the lyrics and melody come hand-in-hand and often write themselves. The songs seem to ‘come to me’ in quite a strong form. We’ll meet and I might play him what I have or sing it to him along with other thoughts for how the song could take shape musically and he’ll build around it from there, or he might play with it a bit or sometimes we’ll sit together and work through it. It doesn’t usually take much time before we have a completed song, particularly now that we have a much stronger relationship and understanding of how the other works and thinks.

LJN: Do you see "Stripped Back", your forthcoming album which is to be released in early 2017 I believe, as a departure in some regard or simply part of the process of going deeper as an artist? How's it all coming together following the recording session in the build up to release?

MJ I’ve never really thought about it. And in a way, I’d rather not think about it. What I know and feel is that I’m learning, growing and evolving all the time. I’m certainly a different person, different songwriter, different singer I think from the one I was even earlier this year. My experiences have taught me lessons that have made me change, for the better I hope. As such, that’s going to affect my writing too and everything about me. But I don’t sit down to write a song trying to be “deep” or trying to do anything actually. I just write what I write with integrity. What I feel is what comes out, even, as was the case with Live Again, when I don’t realise it.

The aim now is to put-out the new record, Stripped Back (well over a year later than I said I would) sometime early-to-mid 2017. The songs are recorded and they have been ready for release for a while. I just haven’t been ready to release it. I had to do the SING4SANE project and release the S4S version of Live Again first because that song is about me learning to ‘live again’. It felt important to me to work on that first before moving forward musically, or in in any other way.

Melissa James Promo Film
Live Again on iTunes
Live Again on Google Play
Live Again on Amazon


FEATURE: NYJO - recap of the year/ the best moments - by those leaving the band (Last gig of 2016 is Xmas Special, Spice of Life, 22nd Dec.)

NYJO directed by Mark Armstrong at the Spice of Life

The NYJO Christmas Special at the Spice of Life on December 22nd will be the band’s last gig of 2016. For a number of NYJO stalwarts, it will also be - nearly - the very last gig which they play in the band. (Their final swan-songs will in fact be the Ronnie Scott's residency in January.)

So we asked Jonathan Carvell, who joined NYJO earlier this year to run Development and Communications, to sum up the year. In this time of looking back, we also took the opportunity to find out from some of the contingent of players whose time with the band is coming to an end, what they consider were their best moments from their years as members of the orchestra. 

Jonathan writes:

"The band has had a great year, with performances at venues and major festivals across the country, concerts throughout Europe (Milan in July with Fabrizio Bosso, and Germany and the Netherlands in September with the German and Dutch National Youth Jazz Orchestras), a major collaboration with the National Youth Chamber Choir (broadcast on BBC Radio 2 and toured around the UK), as well as masterclasses from top jazz musicians including Bob Mintzer, Wayne Escoffery, Boris Kozlov, Vincent Gardner and Ingrid Jensen."

We also asked him to talk through the programme for the December 22nd gig (the equivalent gig in 2014 in Stroud, Glos, was filmed by Sky Arts):

"For this gig, NYJO will be drawing on a big pad of jazz Christmas tunes, including Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song and Sleigh Ride, as well as original takes on carols such as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."


Anna Drysdale, French horn

Working with Liane Carroll a couple of years ago was amazing. We do several incredibly inspiring things every year, like the BBC Proms in 2012.

Jim Gold - lead alto saxophone 

Two moments which stand out for overwhelming positivity, grand scale, and creative excellence would be the 2012 Prom and the 2016 Tour to Germany and Holland.

David Healey - tenor saxophone 

The tours abroad to Germany and Holland, and the Milan trip were great .... And getting to play the tenor solo at the start of On My Way To Harlem with Gregory Porter at Buckingham Palace.

Tom Dunnett - trombone

The 2016 trip to Milan

David Dyson - drums

Buckingham Palace -  with Gregory Porter    (pp)

LINK: NYJO Christmas Special at the Spice of Life Thursday 22nd December
Doors: 7pm, Music: 8pm - £10/£8 advance


INTERVIEW: Evan Sanders of a cappella group ACCENT (Guy Barker's Christmas, Royal Albert Hall. 11th Dec)

Six-voice a cappella group ACCENT will make their Royal Albert Hall debut on Sunday. They are in the line-up for "Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas" - with Clare Teal, Clarke Peters, Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling.

They first met via social media, on a forum for the 1950s group The Hi-Lo’s. They started "performing" together - and releasing YouTube videos - in 2011 but didn't actually meet in person until June 2014. Sebastian (*) asked EVAN SANDERS, who sings bass in the group to explain the background:

LondonJazz News: Who is in Accent ?

Evan Sanders: Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, tenor 1 (France); Simon Åkesson, tenor 2 (Sweden); Danny Fong, tenor 3 (Canada); Andrew Kesler, tenor 4 (Canada); James Rose, baritone (UK) and myself. I sing bass and I'm from the USA.

LJN: How does a group from five different countries get started?

ES : We began in 2011 as a one-time internet collaboration between a cappella vocalists from five different countries. In 2014, we were invited to perform live at a Swedish choral festival. Meeting up for the first time, and performing together was something that we had really only joked about: ‘of course we would love to meet some time’, but it was something that wouldn’t happen unless the stars aligned, so when the stars did align it was quite something. Until we got to know each other properly, we couldn’t say how it would work in a musical setting, whether we would all share the same level of professionalism. All of those fears went out of the window really quickly. They were top in all those things. Working together has been such a privilege, and we’ve kept that energy going.

LJN: How 2016 has been for Accent?

ES: 2016 has been our busiest and most exciting yet. We went from one show a couple of years ago, to two shows the next year, to spending many solid weeks together in person this year. We kept producing steady content for YouTube, produced a new EP – which is nearly finished – launched some collaborations and participated in multiple academic pursuits.

LJN: We understand this is your Royal Albert Hall debut - How did that happen?

ES: Guy has been in touch with our London-based member, James Rose, and they’ve talked for a while about doing something related to the group. This will be the biggest show we’ve ever done, we are just ecstatic. It’s a really great opportunity for us, and it’s been a joy to work with Guy. He’s someone whose work precedes him, and it’s been such a positive experience for us.

 LJN: And you are looking forward to it ...

 ES: It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done, we are just ecstatic. It’s a really great opportunity for us, and it’s been a joy to work with Guy. He’s someone whose work precedes him, and it’s been such a positive experience for us.

The line-up is amazing. All of these artists are extraordinary, but we are really happy to be in a programme with Kurt Elling – he is such a big name in the vocal jazz world.

LJN: What does 2017 have in store?

ES:   2017 will see the release of our EP. It’s very different from our debut recordings. It’s all going to be material that’s as yet unreleased, and that’s pretty rare in a capella, where a lot of it is covers of pop songs. We’re doing arrangements of songs composed by members of the group, and by other songwriters we’re privileged to work with.

We spent two weeks together in Los Angeles doing live takes, and it was fantastic. It was an important growth opportunity, allowing us to get used to performing together. What was really remarkable for us was how efficient it was. If someone had an idea for, say, a certain inflection, they didn’t have to send a text message and wait for someone in a different time zone to wake up so they could reply. That’s not something special for most groups, but it was important for us!

LJN: And live performances? 

ES: We will return to London for the A Cappella Festival at Kings Place (LINK) and our first tour in Germany. We're also making connections with promoters in Asia. We're working on some collaborations with prominent producers, bandleaders and vocalists that we are really excited to dive into.

LJN: What can audiences at Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas on Sunday expect?

ES: They can expect a focus on good harmony and good blend – we’re all about putting the vocals first. We bring a classic feeling back to a capella and I think we’ll fit really very nicely with the character of the programme. It will be the first time we’ve been backed by a big band, and we can’t wait. (pp)

(*) with help from/ thanks to Rick Burin, Royal Albert Hall 

LiNKS: Accent Vocal website
Interview with Guy Barker 
James Rose writing for LJN in 2012
London A Cappella Festival
Royal Albert Hall Bookings


PREVIEW: Rebecca Parris (Quartet at Pizza Express Dean Street, 14th Dec.)

Rebecca Parris

REBECCA PARRIS, First Lady of Boston Jazz has performed with the Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie and Woody Herman bands. Georgia Mancio is presenting a rare visit by the singer to London next week. Georgia writes:

In a world of impermeability, of transience, disconnection, apathy, ennui, speed, expectation and disappointment it takes something truly singular to make you fully stop and surrender.

I fell for Rebecca Parris the first time I heard her at the Pizza Express Jazz Club nearly 20 years ago and she (along with Belgian vocal maestro David Linx) was the first artist I invited for my international voice festival - ReVoice! in 2010. Listening to her again then (and her triumphant ReVoice! return in my last edition in 2014) older and more experienced myself, the expressive depth of her artistry floored me.

A jazz singer lauded by the triumvirate royalty Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn and Carmen McRae along with her impressive credit list (Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Terry Gibbs, David "Fathead" Newman, Red Mitchell, Gary Burton and Jerry Bergonzi) tell you all you need to know really.

Her lustrous tone is a thing of beauty; her groove and swing rooted and playful as any master percussionist; her improvisation authentic and personal. But for me it’s her lyrical interpretation, her dramatic range always shot through with such sincerity and nuance.

I remember watching her set in 2010 with Ian Shaw, turning to each other with tears in our eyes, so moved were we both by her storytelling. Veteran star of stage, screen and TV, Peter Vaughan, similarly captivated described her as “a truly great actress.”

I’m very proud to present this stunning vocalist again next week with some of my favourite musicians - pianist James Pearson , bassist Mark Hodgson  and drummer Dave Ohm.

Truly great art and real life-enhancing performance - gifts for life not just for Xmas.


 "a masterclass in the art of jazz singing....wit, wisdom, a wide range of vocal skills...flexibility, warmth and perfect timing" - The Evening Standard 5*****
 “I hear a little Carmen McRae when I listen to Rebecca and a little Sarah Vaughan. I think she’s on that level. Her phrasing is what is most extraordinary. She never sings a song the same way twice in a row.” - WGBH Radio 



NEWS: Empirical win Urban Music Award and announce new series at Kings Place

Tom Farmer with Empirical's Urban Music Award

Empirical were named ‘Best Jazz Act’ at Urban Music Awards 2016 - following on from their Parliamentary Award earlier in the year. They have also just announced that they will be curating a series of concerts and Kings Place - of which the first two events have so far been announced:


Empirical were named Best Jazz Act at the 14th Urban Music Awards, held at Porchester Hall, London, on Saturday 26th November. He other nominees included Esperanza Spalding, Moses Boyd, Bill Laurance, Kit Downes, Michael Janisch, Jacob Collier and Cory Henry.


Empirical announce ‘Curated by Empirical’ concert series at Kings Place. The blurb says: "The band is curating a series of high-profile performances for the ‘Jazz at Kings Place’ programme, launching on Friday 3rd February 2017. The series presents concerts by artists who are an important force on the UK and international music scenes and features special one-off collaborations and premieres of new projects."


Friday 3rd February 2017 

Jason Rebello on piano and Jean Toussaint on tenor saxophone,
Empirical to explore the music of Andrew Hill.

Saturday 13th May 2017

UK launch of Andrew McCormack’s new Graviton project -  with Eska - vocals, Jean Toussaint - tenor saxophone, Robin Mullarkey - electric bass, Anton Eger - drums.

LINK: Curated by Empirical series at Kings Place


REPORT: AJC Meeting and 2017 Jazz Migration Showcase in Paris

The Quatuor Machaut of four saxophones playing in 2015 in an empty swiming pool in Orléans
Photo Credit OJazz/ JLD

Sebastian reports from the French AJC meeting bringing together festival organizers and regional jazz organizations from all over France, and the "Jazz Migration" showcase:

“Jazz Migration” has been around since 2002. It is an annual scheme whereby AJC – Association Jazzé Croisé – which used to be called AFIJMA - gives support to a selection of young bands which appear at festivals and venues, mostly in France but also abroad, and - and this is new - continues in a second year to give them administrative and logistical support.  The four bands in this showcase were selected from over 100 applicants in a transparent process. This showcase is witnessed by a major cross section of promoters from France and all over Europe - four from the UK. The French scene functions in a very joined-up way, and the showcase was also the occasion for one of the main gatherings of the French industry and funders.

The discussions revolved around the theme of how private promoters and the musician-led collectives interact with the venues and festivals, with the common aim of helping sustainable development of artists, bands, audiences. Whoever helps it on its way, there is underlying creative energy to the scene.

Here are quick reports on the four bands:

QUATUOR MACHAUT (picture above)

(I have interviewed the leader of the group  Quentin Biardeau and that will be published later.)

The Quatuor Machaut consists of four saxophones from the town in Orleans on the Loire in central  France. Their point of departure is the choral writing of Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), and in particular the Messe de Notre Dame. The saxophones take the choral parts, but also improvise and experiment in sound - multi-phonics, slap  tonguing, microtones. They play in resonant spaces, have recorded an album in the abbey at Noirlac, and particularly enjoyed the resonance and the ambiance of an empty swimming pool where they performed a concert (photo above, video of the swimming pool concert)).

Post K


Post K (pronounced Post Ka, the letter K signifies Katrina) involves the two conservatoire-honed reed-playing brothers Benjamin and Jean Dousteyssier, originally from the South-west of France, who are now both involved in several jazz/world projects in Paris. Jean is the youngest member of the current Orchestre National de Jazz. Both have "rising star" status in France. This project, with piano and drums is a very musical New Orleans Dixieland deconstruction. They have fun keeping the audience guessing whether they are venerating the tradition  - or sending it up. The blurb talks about a "knowing deconstruction".  (Link to a positive review and video clip)



The band PJ5 are the One most likely to find their way into larger venues and festival stages. The music is full of energy, and commitment, heading off in a heavy anthemic prog rock direction - the leader /composer is the guitarist Paul Jarret and the band has a young bassist and drummer, both with feral energy. (video)


Watchdog is a thoughful quiet clarinet (or alto or bass clarinet) and Fender Rhodes/ Moog duo. This is a small-scale project for Anne Quillier who is a respected young pianist/ composer who leads her own groups including a sextet. There is some story/blurb which I didn't quite get to the bottom of about surveillance in society. They are interesting musicians - I think - at a relatively early stage of this collaboration (Video)



CD REVIEW: Bugge Wesseltoft - Somewhere In Between

Bugge Wesseltoft - Somewhere In Between
(Jazzland Recordings. 377 917 9. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

I missed out on pianist and producer Bugge Wesseltoft the first time around: I think I found the idea of a "New Conception of Jazz" a bit daunting when I was struggling to get to grips with the old conception! This compilation of twenty tracks spread over two disks, released to recognise the twentieth anniversary of "New Conception of Jazz", the first release under his name, seemed like the perfect way to remedy that omission.

The music covers several albums and features a variety of musicians from a variety of genres; whilst now it doesn't necessarily sound new, it does present a certain consistency of vision - and it has its roots firmly in jazz. Wesseltoft seems to bring a fair bit of soul to whatever he plays, and his sense of rhythm means he can get even ice cold electronics to groove.

Some of the tracks are as they were released; others have been remixed, and a few completely recorded anew, whilst still others are released for the first time here. Most of the material is written by Wesseltoft, with a couple of standards.

The quality of the musicians who collaborate with him speaks volumes. Saxophonist Joshua Redman appears on the lovely Oh Ye, with Wesseltoft playing the Hammond B3 organ. Dan Berglund takes what is almost a solo role playing bass on an arrangement of Round Midnight (which is curiously credited to Mingus, not Monk), with some very sparse piano work from Wesseltoft. There are two previously unreleased tracks as a piano trio with drummer Gregory Hutchinson and bassist Joe Saunders, Wesseltoft showing what a thoughtful pianist he is in a straight ahead jazz environment.

There are several pieces which folk or world musicians collaborate too. Hope features haunting, powerful vocals from Dhafer Youssef. On Yoyk, Sami vocalist Mari Bione provides equally affecting singing over a funky accompaniment from Wesseltoft on Fender Rhodes - two styles which one might expect not go together, but actually work superbly.

Wesseltoft's unaccompanied pieces are compelling, too. His slow rendition of How High The Moon has a sparse simplicity, an evocative exploration of what might be considered a clichéd standard. Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker (my heart ever wanders), a traditional Scandinavian Christmas song, is similarly paced, with lots of space.

The variety on this release is impressive. Whatever the situation - solo, small group or larger ensemble; with long term associates or one-off collaborations - Wesseltoft seems to produce music full of emotion and authenticity.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.


LP REVIEW: Bill Evans – The Bill Evans Album

Bill Evans – The Bill Evans Album
(Speakers Corner/Columbia C 30855. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

The Bill Evans trio triumphed twice at the Montreux Jazz festival, and the second time Evans was breaking in a new drummer — the formidable Jack DeJohnette having been replaced by Marty Morrell. Like his predecessor, Morrell had been introduced to Bill Evans by the trio’s bass player Eddie Gomez. Gomez would prove to be Evans’s most faithful collaborator, playing with him for eleven years. But Morrell was no flash in the pan, either, staying with the group for a seven year spell. Montreux II was this trio’s triumphant debut. But The Bill Evans Album is their first studio record, and it’s a Grammy winner… although it very nearly didn’t happen.

Recording for the Columbia label had been a lifelong ambition of Evans’s. But by the time this album was made, in May and June 1971, Columbia was no longer what it had once been. The company still operated superb recording facilities but Clive Davis, their president, was fixated on the notion of jazz rock — perhaps understandably, since Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew had been released a year earlier and, in Miles’s own words, “sold more copies than any album in jazz history.”

So Clive Davis decreed that Bill Evans would record a duo album, playing both acoustic and electric piano with Eddie Gomez, who in turn would play acoustic and electric bass. Things quite didn’t work out that way, though. As Gomez describes it, “It was a disaster really, because of my playing… I feel responsible, just for having been such a god-awful electric bass player… That idea was deep-sixed… So anyway they switched it over to a trio album and we recorded The Bill Evans Album.”

The title is not sheer megalomania. It refers to the fact that all seven cuts on the record are Evans’s own compositions — four of them never previously heard. The one notion that carried over from the duo debacle was that Evans would play both electric (Fender-Rhodes) and acoustic piano (Steinway) and at first the purist might feel some resistance to the Fender. Indeed, Evans himself said, “No electric instrument can begin to compare with the quality and resources of a good acoustic piano.” But even for a listener with his guard way up, the opening track Funkallero is something of a revelation. The initial ringing, chiming tones of the Fender might seem to confirm your worst fears — or prejudices. But such is the warmth, virtuosity and intoxicating rhythmic quality of Evans’s playing that within seconds we are simply absorbed into the music, the enjoyment and excitement of the piece obliterating any preconceptions. Gomez is a marvel (playing acoustic throughout, naturally), with his fat blooming tones blossoming around Evans, who swiftly moves to the Steinway to fashion delicate precision figures and then unleash dashing runs, while Morrell keeps impeccable time and plays brisk fills.

The Two Lonely People has a beautiful baroque feel with Morrell’s softly padded drumming and Gomez’s amazingly precise bass both following the leader so meticulously that it's hard for the ear to unravel the players. Sugar Plum projects a hip, plangent tone with Evans caressing the keys and then leaping smoothly into a sweetly elaborate duet with Gomez. When Morrell joins them, smoothly measured, restrained and subtle, everything moves up a level. And then Evans shifts to electronic keyboards, demonstrating his own dictum, “I’ve been happy to use the Fender Rhodes to add a little colour.” These colours and textures take the piece in a new direction before he returns to the Steinway for an elegant conclusion. But perhaps the most moving moment is a revisiting of Evans’s song Waltz for Debby, with its tumbling lullaby lilt and cradle-rocking refrain. Here the Fender makes a breathtaking contribution, shining new light across the familiar contours of the tune. As throughout the LP, Evans is deft and shrewd in his use of the electronics, moving back to the Steinway before there’s any chance of fatigue, and relying on Gomez to cover the transitions with his richly engaging bass.

This album was a triumph on its release — it actually won two Grammies, one for ‘Best Jazz Instrumental Solo’ and one for ‘Best Jazz Performance by a Group’ — and it’s a pleasure to have it back in the catalogue as an audiophile LP. At a time when we’re experiencing an avalanche of vinyl reissues, many of them mediocre in their sound quality, Speakers Corner remain reliably excellent. A first rate Bill Evans album has been given the treatment it deserves.

LINK: The Bill Evans Album at Speakers Corner Records


PODCAST INTERVIEW: The Jean-Pierre Leloir Jazz Images LP and CD collection (with *cute* cat intervention)

Duke Ellington - Festival Session
Discussed at [2:30] in the podcast interview

A collection of jazz LP and CD re-issues, featuring the photography of Jean-Pierre Leloir, has just been released under the generic title "Jazz Images". Sebastian interviewed ANDREW CARTMEL, author of "The Vinyl Detective". In the picture Andrew is holding a copy of "Little Girl Blue" by Nina Simone. Audio production was by HARRY JONES:


LINKS - The entire collection listed at Discovery Records 
Jazz Images Records website

o - o - o - o - o


0:00 Describing the concept

1:15 Sound quality

1:30 Jean-Pierre Leloir and his photographic style / strengths

2:30 Introducing Duke Ellington – Festival Session from 1959
“a handsome package”

4: 16 MUSIC EXTRACT: Perdido

5:56 Introduction to Sidney Bechet / Martial Solal - Together

7:20 MUSIC EXTRACT : Rose Room

8: 40 Intro to Bill Evans – Waltz for Debby

[10:00 Soulful intervention by Andrew Cartmel’s Cat Jade bemoaning the cost of Bill Evans on original vinyl]

12:14 MUSIC EXTRACT: My Foolish Heart

14:15 Discussion of the merits of a series which sets out to be different from the originals . “A sound move.”

15:41 Nina Simone, swimming pools, the South of France and all that...


REVIEW: Grégory Privat New Trio with Linley Marthe and Tilo Bertholo at Duc Des Lombards, Paris

Grégory Privat, Linley Marthe, Tilo Bertholo

Grégory Privat New Trio
Duc des Lombards, Paris, 28th November 2016. Second set, first night. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Those hands. Perhaps one day someone will make a film about them. Pianist Grégory Privat's fingers are improbably, powerfully yet expressively long. He gave last night's Paris audience a wonderful demonstration of the movements of spiders in a web with them, to explain what his tune Zig Zagriyen (*) was all about. And then when he plays, the fingers are often laid completely straight and flat across the keys of the piano, which give him all kinds of options with his touch. He has velocity and technique to spare, and also a strong melodic sense, particularly in lyrical pieces such as Le Parfum and Le Bonheur. 


Last night was part of an album launch residency for his new CD Family Tree, and the Duc des Lombards was full to bursting. Word has definitely got about. Two young people from northern Greece whom I met in the queue had made the trip to Paris specially, with their outing to this gig as the highlight of the visit, having seen Privat on YouTube. One does indeed sense a building reputation.

The rhetoric and the "story" are about the Creole heritage - Privat's father is a pianist from Martinique -, and as a thoughtful and reflective musician who is launching a career in his early thirties, he has considered opinions about his origins. But musically what I was hearing far more was a strong jazz piano heritage: Jarrett, Petrucciani, and particularly Brad Mehldau.

He has a very fine trio indeed. The bassist Linley Marthe's quality and sheer presence are well known from his associations with the late Joe Zawinul and Trilok Gurtu. For this trio he ventures onto double bass, and was playin consistently in a space-leaving, less-is-more kind of a way, knowing absolutely every melodic intervention expected of him without any sheet  music or obvious cue-ing, He stayed in that inconspicuous and supportive role until right before the end. In the encore Galactica, he unleashed a complete storm of a solo with all kinds of finger-poppings and double stopping techniques adapted from the electric bass. Drummer Tilo Bertholo reminded me of Corrie Dick from Scotland. Both are  young masters of creating ambient textures full of tingling energy and life.

The Duc des Lombards is a tiny club with free seating which has its advantages and its drawbacks, The only way to nab a decent seat - one should learn from one's errors - is to stand and queue outside on the pavement for at least half an hour before the due time of the gig, which at this time of the year means bringing your coat and scarf. It is a tiny club, and last night there was an offensive total idiot, loudly praising and wolf-whistling the band, ranting that he was going exact personal revenge on people who didn't buy Grégory Privat's new album, by killing them. Privat dealt with his repeated, unfortunate interventions with poise and class. Privat has an assured, confident and friendly stage manner and it was clear that the audience was not just keen on the music anyeay, but also increasingly drawn in by the performance as the evening progressed.

All in all, this was a very fine and completely feel-good gig. A fascinating and individual musical voice well worth hearing.

Grégory Privat, Linley Marthe and Tilo Bertholo
acknowledge the applause at the end of the night

(*) Zig Zagriyen is a play on "zarenyen" the Creole word for spider.

LINKS: Grégory Privat at ACT Music


FEATURE: Adam Glasser writes about Pinise Saul (Celebration at the 100 Club, Thursday, 1st December)

This Thursday sees a London tribute to PINISE SAUL (1941-2016) at the 100 Club. Adam Glasser, who worked closely with her, and has had a role in putting the tribute together, remembers her utterly unique voice, and explains the background to the event:  

While the essentials of Pinise Saul’s career are covered in this Guardian obituary, my own journey with her began in the autumn of 1982 in the foyer of the Greenwich Theatre where I heard her in a trio performance with saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and legendary South African guitarist Allen Kwela. I was delighted and amazed to discover a voice which combined in equally profound measure the searing influence of Nancy Wilson and the perfet embodiment of South African township jazz, township mbaqanga, church choral harmony and rural indigenous music. The following year when Dudu Pukwana’s Zila released Life at Bracknell & Willisau 1983 (one of the very best South African jazz albums ever made outside SA) it became an obsession for me to work with her and Dudu one day.

In 1985 the opportunity arose: bassist Ernest Mothle put me forward to replace Django Bates who had just left the band… a terrifyingly hard act to follow! - especially when at one particular sound check Pinise opined openly ‘ Oooh, I miss my Djangorino!’ But I persisted and we began a performing/writing partnership that lasted on and off for 3 decades: August One ( now on the ABRSM Jazz Syllbus) we wrote for the album Zila 86, a Peter Whittingham Award funded album Live at The Space Theatre in 1997, tours with The African Jazz All Stars and her own SA Gospel Singers, and many gigs with The Township Comets (the band formed in 2009 by Chris Batchelor and myself to celebrate the music of Dudu Pukwana). A particular highlight for us was appearing together finally in South Africa at the 2012 Cape Town International Jazz Festival after my albums - to which she made vital contributions - had made a critical impact in our home country.

Pinise Saul had the dramatic stage qualities and charisma of old school artists whose presence could light up a jazz club or concert hall. Her turn of phrase and observational wit were both merciless and hilarious - provoking stitches of laughter suddenly during rehearsals or long car journeys. She would talk about the SA jazz scene in 60s where she cut her teeth or stories about tours with Zila. One favourite anecdote described an extraordinary encounter in a Caracas restaurant between Salvador Dali and Dudu Pukwana which developed into a friendship.

Pinise had so many world class musical qualities: her ear for south african vocal harmony, her deep sense of groove and time, a powerful resonant voice that sounded amazing even through the worst of PAs. And a truly inspired gift for spontaneous unfettered free vocal improvisation which drew from the palette of her own Xhosa tongue. And yet to hear her phrasing and swing on a traditional jazz ballad like Lakutshonilanga she was clearly up there with the very best artists of the genre.

The gig this Thursday 1st December at Oxford Street’s 100 Club celebrating the life of the extraordinarily talented and under-recognised South African vocalist Pinise Saul will be probably the last formal opportunity for UK based musicians to pay tribute to a major South African artist - also a Londoner since the mid seventies - whose immense contribution to the scene leaves a special memory with those that experienced her live performances and recordings over the years. 

LINKS: News story after the passing of Pinise Saul
Podcast intervew from 2014
Tickets for the tribute at the 100 Club


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Guy Barker (Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas" with Kurt Elling, Clare Teal, Soweto Kinch.., Royal Albert Hall, Sunday Dec 11th).

Guy Barker
Photo Credit: Charlie Chan

Trumpeter/ conductor/ arranger GUY BARKER will be directing and co-hosting "Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas" at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday December 11th. It is billed as a  "soulful celebration of big band music from Count Basie to Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Louis Prima with a Christmas twist." Participating will be KURT ELLING, CLARE TEAL (also co-host), SOWETO KINCH, actor/singer CLARKE PETERS from "The Wire", "Notting Hill" - and playing Nelson Mandela in "The Prison Years." Also appearing are VANESSA HAYNES and the a capella group ACCENT.

In the run-up to the show, Guy Barker spoke to Dan Paton:

Guy Barker quietly sustains one of the most relentless and intense work schedules in British music. Almost immediately after the now traditional Jazz Voice concert at the EFG London Jazz Festival (for which he serves as Musical Director and arranger), Barker embarked on a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong for some meetings, before returning to the UK to resume his work in preparation for Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas, a huge festive musical celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on 11th December.

How does he maintain such momentum? 'Whenever I put the pencil down, something else comes in', he says, more with genuine gratitude than exasperation or exhaustion. 'This year has been very busy. I wrote a lot of orchestral arrangements for Clare Teal's album, I did my annual Cheltenham Jazz Festival gig and I wrote a violin concerto which was premiered in Bucharest with Charles Mutter. I'm now working on a Cello concerto as well. I love the challenges of all these things. There are times when it is easier than other times, especially when you've been travelling. There was a time I remember doing a Miles Davis project for the BBC Big Band and Philharmonic at the same time as I was doing Jazz Voice - I was waking up in the night out of fear and panic!'

Fortunately, Barker does not seem even remotely fearful about his current workload, even after Jazz Voice, which he admits can be all-encompassing. He explains the slightly circuitous route by which he came to be doing a Christmas concert, the event having origins in a very different project. 'I got a call from Lucy Noble who runs the concert schedule there and she asked me what I would do if I could do anything at all.

I've worked with an author called Rob Ryan a lot and we wanted to do something inspired by a circus fire that took place in the 40s. There's a Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs book that we were looking at (And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks). Unfortunately, some of the soloists' touring schedules meant we couldn't get it together but Lucy was very keen not to lose the project completely. In the meantime, she asked me how I'd feel about doing a Christmas concert. She had seen the swing prom with Clare Teal and was probably thinking along those lines.'

Some jazz musicians might run for the hills at such a proposition, but Barker is adept at moulding ideas to his own creative concerns. 'We knew it had to be in contrast to regular Christmas material - immediately we wanted to avoid The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol, he explains. 'I also wanted the band to look very different from the Jazz Voice concert as they were only a month apart.'

This directed Barker towards expanding the band to include two drummers, two pianos and an 18 piece string section, among other developments. He also started investigating the lineage of Christmas themed jazz and found some surprising rewards (he becomes animated when discussing a Charlie Parker Christmas Day live radio broadcast).

He takes evident delight in the way great jazz musicians were able to develop even the most familiar and predictable of Christmas material. 'I heard a fantastic arrangement of Jingle Bells that Ernie Wilkins arranged for the Count Basie orchestra and there was a Louis Prima song from the 30s that just made me laugh so much (What Will Santa Claus Say When He Finds Everyone Swinging) and I searched for jazz artists who made successful Christmas albums. It turns out that there are quite a few - the Ramsey Lewis one is particularly great.' This research also helped Barker shape the brief to focus on his existing musical relationships and enthusiasms. He invited Clarke Peters due to his deep knowledge of Louis Prima and Louis Jordan and, for a more contemporary perspective, contacted the great singer Kurt Elling who himself has just released a Christmas album The Beautiful Day (Sony Okeh) a couple of songs from which will feature in the Royal Albert Hall programme). More broadly, the concert is taking Barker back to formative influences, some of the music he heard as a teenager when his father took him to see Count Basie and Benny Goodman concerts.

Barker clearly sees no mutual exclusivity between the demands of entertaining a large audience and finding creative satisfaction from his work. He repeatedly emphasises that the Big Band Christmas concert will be 'a lot of fun' but has also judiciously selected his special guest performers for their specific musical contributions. He describes Soweto Kinch as 'a fantastic musician', emphasising the work ethic Kinch had when first hitting the scene as a teenager, and how hearing Charlie Parker had 'ignited a fire' in the young saxophonist. He claims that Vanessa Haynes, who has just finished touring with Incognito, 'tends to bring the house down' and commends Clare Teal not just for being 'a great singer and personality' but also for being 'incredibly well organised' and able to make subtle but significant suggestions that often make a show work much more effectively. Also keen to recognise new and less well known talent, Barker has also enlisted the international vocal group Accent.

Working with a wide variety of vocalists has clearly become one of the pillars of Barker's work. He credits the meeting with John Cumming from Serious that initiated Jazz Voice as being a major turning point in his career, marking a shift from trumpet playing and bandleading to composing and arranging. Does working with singers have an impact on the process of arranging? Does it present any specific responsibilities? 'They are the person that has to shine', he states clearly. 'You want the arrangement to work itself but it's very important that the vocalist feels you've done something special for them. When you run it in rehearsal and they hear it for the first time and smile, that's when it feels we've got there.'

He also discusses the range of experiences when working with different singers. Sometimes he begins from scratch and at other times he works using existing recordings as a starting point. When developing the arrangement of Like Someone In Love that Lizz Wright performed at this year's Jazz Voice, conversation was the main catalyst. Wright had 'talked about the concept of the ballad. She seemed like someone with such a good soul - just the few conversations we had got me playing with ideas.'

Sometimes, Barker embarks on collaborations that might initially seem surprising, such as his work with Paloma Faith that put him in 'Film Noir territory' (which he loved) or his more recent work with Lady Leshurr at Jazz Voice. 'To work with Lady Leshurr was incredible', he enthuses. 'An orchestral version of rap - how on earth was I going to do that? Fortunately, there were some sampled strings that gave me a starting point, then I wrote the introduction to be big and dramatic - I wanted her to have a great time.'

As well as working in the service of his collaborators, Barker is also keen to highlight what the musicians he works with can do in developing his music and how this can feel as a conductor in front of a large ensemble. 'It can be a lot of meaningless dots on a piece of paper until you put it into the hands of amazing musicians', he says. 'They tell you how it's supposed to go. That's the bit I love. Sometimes people play things in a way you wouldn't have thought of or expected and they take it on as their music.' Whilst Barker remains busy with other forthcoming arranging projects, including working with Billy Cobham, he also looks forward to working on something more personal in the not too distant future. If anyone can make time in an already intense schedule for something new, it's clearly Guy Barker. (pp)

LINKS: Kurt Elling's A Beautiful Day
DETAILS / BOOKINGS: Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas at the  Royal Albert Hall


PHOTOS: Omar Puente Group at Pizza Express Dean Street

Omar Puente
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini
Victor Hugo Guidini was out photographing the last night of OMAR PUENTE's  ACE funded tour to launch the album "Best Foot Forward" on 24th November. Sales of the CD at all of the well-attended gigs all over the country have been extremely high. JazzFM will be doing a live show broadcast to be recorded in early December

Michel Castellanos (drums)Oscar Martinez (percussion)
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

The Full band L-R: Al Macsween,, Jimmy Martinez, Omar Puente,
Flavio Correa, Caroline Loftus, Michel Castellanos, Oscar Martinez
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini


REPORT: A tribute in New York to pianist Derek Smith (1931-2016)

Preparing for the tribute at St Peter's Church, NYC

The British-born pianist DEREK SMITH was a member of the Dankworth band in the 1950's, moved to the United States in 1957 and had a highly successful career there for the next half-century. He was in the Benny Goodman band. At one point he made a recording with three of the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Another high-point was his role for five years as the pianist in the band of NBC's Tonight Show. He died in August 2016, and a very well-attended tribute tribute was held in New York City at the end of October. Derek Smith's daughter tells the story of that day: 

On Tuesday, October 25th , at St. Peters Church in New York City, a tribute was held to honor the great jazz musician and family man Derek Smith. Attended by his adoring family, friends, lifelong fans and fellow musicians, it was an evening filled with memories and great music.

Derk Smith as a teenager on Brighton Beach

It began with a photo montage showing Derek’s long and notable life. As a child walking along Brighton Beach with his family, playing with local bands as a teen, a baby-faced member of John Dankworth’s band, and boarding a transatlantic ship with his new wife en route to his new life in America. It continued with periodic glimpses into his life and career, showing dozens of hit album covers, group shots of the many musicians he played with and ended with many touching moments with his family.

A few words of introduction were spoken by his two daughters Helen and Valerie, and wife Shirley, describing what a happy, generous and gifted man he was, and how his incredible talent enabled him to have a seven decade-long career doing what he loved.

Warren Vache Performing at the tribute

The program was then handed over to the Master of Ceremonies, Dick Hyman. What followed were moving words and music by musicians both young and old, who had played with him and been inspired by him. Those musicians included Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Jerry Bruno, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jay Leonhart, Bill Charlap, Sandy Stewart, and Randy Sandke. The final performance of the evening was a beautiful flute and piano duet played by Dick Hyman and Derek’s granddaughter Samantha, who performed Concerto in D minor by Molique.

Finally, through the magic of technology the evening ended with a video of Derek performing one of his signature tunes Love For Sale. The feel in the room was if he was there performing, literally stealing the show and ending the tribute with a standing ovation.

With sincerest thanks to Derek Smith's daughter Valerie Anderson for contributing this piece and the photos, and to Keith McDowall for instigating and providing background information.

LINK: Peter Vacher's Guardian obituary


UPDATE: Aubrey Logan (new album in early 2017 and five UK dates)

Aubrey Logan at the 606 Club
Photo credit: Ram Shergill

Busy times are coming up for the live-wire Postmodern Jukebox singer and trombonist Aubrey Logan who has five London dates coming up, and will release a single in December and her Debut album in early 2017. Sebastian writes:

Seattle-born, LA-based Aubrey Logan was the winner of the Jazz Voice Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2009, and since then has performed or recorded with Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Josh Groban, Linda Ronstadt, Smokey Robinson and Pharrell Williams.Recent videos such as Bills have had over 200,000 views


Logan is set to release her debut album Impossible at the beginning of 2017. "We titled the album Impossible because so many people were saying it couldn't be done, that we couldn't pull together an album with such a diversity of styles and genres." There are songs from MC Hammer... and Georges Bizet (Carmen).


The first stage of the release of the album is the release of the single "Pistol" in December. The PR blurb is:

"Striking a vibe not unlike the superspy soundtracks of the ‘60s (think “Bond, James Bond”), “Pistol” targets Logan’s “sassy-chick” side, according to the artist herself, who co-wrote the song with Pam Sheyne. “Pistol” was recorded in Pasadena, CA, at the studio of producer Dale Becker who brought together an ensemble of musicians to complement Logan’s vocal and instrumental styling. “To create a 007 vintage sound, and even incorporate some of that ‘60s psychedelia, Dale and I layered the vocal and instrumental tracks,” says Logan. “That way, I was able to do my own back-ups and add trombone harmonies.” The drums were layered for a surround effect, and characteristic keyboard sounds of the period were used."


- 6th December 606 Club

- 8th December Motown and Soul Christmas Concert, St Giles in the Fields. "The concert, a fundraiser for The Haven+London, features music stars including the talented multi-instrumentalist Mo Pleasure, (Earth, Wind and Fire), Richard Hadfield (formerly of Collabro) and renowned London choir collective, the Gospel Undertones." Tickets

- 18th February Pizza Express Music Room 32, Earl Street, Maidstone Kent on Saturday

- 20th and 21st February Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street

- 26th February - Ronnie Scotts, 47 Frith Street, (pp)

LINK: Interview with Aubrey Logan by Alison Bentley


CD REVIEW: Sienna Dahlen- Ice Age Paradise

Sienna Dahlen- Ice Age Paradise
(Sienna Dahlen Music/ Bandcamp. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

This paradise isn’t warm and tropical, but cold. The award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Sienna Dahlen grew up in the west of Canada, where her memories are of the beauty of the cold, and connection with nature. Dahlen sings and plays guitar and piano in this lusciously-arranged song collection (her sixth album) along with a fine band of eight Canadian musicians.

Several songs have coldness as a central theme. The languid major/minor guitar arpeggios of Drifting Daydream evoke images of the north; the voice is spacey with reverb, and far back in the mix. Bassist Andrew Downing has arranged all the songs. Here are subtle, overlapping lines of cello and violin that echo and harmonise with the voice:

‘’The days grow thin
The nights fold in

Great grey owl, Phantom of the north.

The horns build in intensity but not volume. Dahlen describes the song as being influenced by Radiohead, but my first thought when hearing her enigmatic swooping vocals was of Jeff Buckley. Cold is slower and sparser. Electric guitar harmonics and delicate cymbals drip and crackle like melting ice as the oboe picks up the melody. Thom Gill’s thoughtful guitar solo floats over bass and drums. It’s a bleak vision transmuted by the beauty of the music: ‘Cold like cold like I’ve never felt.’

Many of her lyrics could stand alone as poems with their potent images. Your Eyes describes a former partner’s cold eyes.

‘Stones formed the weight of your words, dear 
Stones, you were aiming my way, dear’ 

The groove is urgent, almost a tango. In Ice Age Paradise, about the death of a ‘fearless snowboarder’ as well as lost love, the voice’s warm vibrato recalls the tone of compatriot kd lang. The lyrics pick out details to earth the abstractions: ‘Carving a path through the snow…’ before melting into glassy wordless vocal lines, ‘Chanting mantras at half mast…’

Blind Spot could be an elliptical lyric about love or, as Dahlen puts it, ‘Life, ephemeral’

‘Headlights flash sealing the deal
You got away
You flew away’

The orchestral layers, in somnambulistic 3/4, echo the vocal melody between lines. Boat Afloat an Ocean has the excellent Kevin Breit guesting on guitar and banjo, bringing more of an Americana flavour, with vocal rather than orchestral harmonies. Just as the cold can be both negative and positive, the boat, as a metaphor for ‘seasick’ love, is both ‘sinking sunk’ and ‘drifting home…’

Invisible and Reappearing Dream are about inner states. The first is a memorable melody partly in 5/4. There’s a particularly arresting moment where the high violin reinforces the vocals

‘Untameable urgency
A long, long journey home…’

A languid trumpet and guitar duet expands into a rich orchestral section. Reappearing Dream summons

‘Summer sky floating above a
Paris carrousel …’

as voices whisper in the background over string harmonics, in echoes of Elizabeth Fraser’s eerie vocal style.

The album is dedicated to Dahlen’s late mother, and Si Je Pouvais is a ‘song of love’ for her; the simple French lyric builds in repeated phrases till the phrase ‘comment je l’aime’ fades into a superb, unhurried trumpet solo. Venezia, written by Dahlen’s father Laine Dahlen, and sung in a duet with him, characterises the city as a beautiful woman. It’s a deeply romantic melody, recalling classic Italian love songs: ‘Guide me to enchanted lands..’

The whole album has an enchanted feel; the songs are personal but not confessional, and the orchestration develops them perfectly. There’s unflinching clarity and also beauty in these songs of love and loss.

Sienna Dahlen - Voice, Acoustic Guitar, Piano
Andrew Downing - Double Bass and Arrangements
Nick Fraser - Drums
Thom Gill- Electric Guitar
Lina Allemano - Trumpet
Lief Mosbaugh -  Oboe, English Horn
Micajah Sturgess - French Horn
Jennifer Burford- Violin
Evan Lamberton - Cello
Kevin Breit - Acoustic Guitars and Banjo (Track 9)
Laine Dahlen - Background Voice (Track 6)

LINK: Podcast interview with Sienna Dahlen about Ice Age Paradise

A new version of Ice Age Paradise with jazz orchestra will receive its premiere on 3rd December at L'Astral in Montreal, directed by Christine Jensen, as part of a fundraising campaign for the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal


REVIEW: Dhafer Youssef plus Ambrose Akinmusire at the Barbican (2016 EFG LJF)

Dhafer Yousef in 2011. Photo credit Photo: © Oles Cheresko

Dhafer Youssef plus Ambrose Akinmusire 
(Barbican Hall. 20th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Zosia Jagodzinska)

Introduced passionately by Jumoke Fashola as a musician who ‘bridges the gap between the sacred and the profane’, Tunisian born singer, composer and oud player Dhafer Youssef and his skilled band members took us on a whirlwind journey through many countries and cultures, embodying, musically and physically, a deep, searching spirituality and joyful playfulness that left us feeling exhilarated, inspired, and wanting more.

Youssef cut a trendy and mischievous figure, wiggling his hips and dancing around the stage with his beloved oud. His sheer delight in playing and moving was infectious, and looking around the Barbican hall I saw that I was not the only one dancing in my seat, uncontrollably tapping my feet and fingers. The opening tune Fly Shadow Fly had a medieval feel to it, alternating between major and minor strummed chords on the oud, accompanied by the liquid legato introspection and poignant phrasing of Aaron Parks' piano playing; taking the audience back in time and creating a sacred space for Youssef’s remarkably moving voice to enter. Influenced by Sufi and Quawwali singers, Youssef has a very focussed, pure and soulful voice that ranges from dark and richly textured lows to beautifully resonant falsetto highs, touching on operatic and rock vocal qualities. On Of Beauty and Odd, he duetted with gifted guest trumpeter and support act, Ambrose Akinmusire, using intense nasality to create an unusual, spine tingling metallic sound; the tangling of Youssef’s high pitched wails with those of Akinmusire’s trumpet, microtonally and timbrally coiling around each other before unifying in tone quality, created a powerful tension and release. Youssef loves the oud for the special quality of its “double strings”, “I always have the feeling…that I’m trying to make two people sound the same, which are never the same.” Here he explored the ‘double strings’ of his own voice and the trumpet to stunning effect.

He has described singing as an ‘out of body experience’, the body becoming ‘a resonating instrument, like a bass or oud’. On stage he played around with spacing, time and delay, retreating from the microphone as he rose into the falsetto register, creating a distant, disembodied sound, enhanced with lots of reverb. As he reached the climax of his vocal phrases he rose to stand on his stool, raising his arms as if summoning the heavens, then jumped down, slinging on his oud and dancing sensually, transporting us to a smoky dance floor or jazz club. The band’s controlled emotional and dynamic build ups were suddenly broken off at the top of Youssef’s vocal phrases to drop into thrilling grooves, expertly executed by drummer Justin Faulkner. Individually each player demonstrated impressive instrumental skill and originality; Ben Williams’ warmly resonant and virtuosic bass solo towards the end of the set was particularly memorable.

The crowd’s shifting moods and reactions alternated between stunned silence, spontaneous loud whoops, cheers and applause at Youssef’s top notes and the big drops, and laughter at his cheeky persona and humorous chat. Despite this being a large concert hall, Youssef maintained an intimate camaraderie between audience, band and crew. He has said: “I feel like a mosaic of everything.” Widely travelled, he celebrated people’s heritage, mentioning each of the countries his crew originated from.

Musically, oud ornamentation and melodies, of Arabic and Tunisian origins were ‘clothed’ differently by the the constantly changing grooves, ranging from tango, Spanish flamenco and jazz to Afro latin, drum and Bass, hip hop and heavy rock. Communication was strong between all band members, but Youssef was intensely focussed on drummer Faulkner, demonstrating the central importance of rhythm and groove in this intricate fusion music. Not only were there lots of complex metric changes- including Indian Tabla influenced 13/8’s and 11/4’s, Jazzy 5/4’s, lilting 9/8’s and Rock 4/4’s- but within these meters, the feel was changed with accent displacement of strong and weak beats, playing with the listeners’ expectations.

When he sings he is an old soul, when he plays the oud he is a cheeky young thing. There was a strong sense of the mystic who is too playful and restless to remain profound for too long, yet so in touch with spirituality that he couldn’t be dancing and riffing around for too long either. This fascinating dialogue between the ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ was visually demarcated in the gig by Youssef’s physical rising and falling. At the end of the show he brought us to our feet, exclaiming “We’re going to dance. Make them near God!’, to which a ballsy audience member replied ‘No pressure then?!’ and everyone laughed. He and the band had taken us near to God and back to the dance floor, with effortless, charismatic ease. True artists can do that.

LINK: Interview with Dhafer Youssef


FEATURE: Trish Clowes (Emulsion V at mac Birmingham, 27th Jan 2017, and Kickstarter)

Trish Clowes directing the Emulsion Sinfonietta
Photo courtesy of Basho Music

Emulsion V is the latest incarnation of saxophonist/ composer TRISH CLOWES' 'no boundaries' contemporary music and improvisation festival -  a triple-bill concert, free space performances and a panel discussion. It will take place at mac birmingham on 27th January 2017.

Trish looks forward to the festival and writes about the programme. She also discusses the challenges in programming and organising the festival over five years. There is also the opportunity to be part of the commissioning of new music, which is at the heart of this event, through supporting the Emulsion Kickstarter. Trish writes:

I started EMULSION in 2012 with a desire to create a space for a “no boundaries” approach to music-making. Since then, Emulsion has presented three festivals, a residency at Cheltenham Music Festival and provided a professional development course for its core musicians. Crucially, we have also commissioned 11 new works from a wide range of composers.

On 27th January 2017, we are taking Emulsion to Birmingham at the Midlands Art Centre (mac birmingham). Emulsion V, hosted by Radio 3 presenter and new music specialist Fiona Talkington, will take the form of a triple-bill concert, surrounded by free space performances and a panel discussion. We will be collaborating with local players and students.

It takes a huge amount of time, energy and money to keeps things like this alive. Other artists and festival promoters such as Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne of Lume or Georgia Mancio – Revoice! may tell the same story! Previously, Emulsion has been very lucky to get support from the PRS for Music Foundation, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Musikkfondene (Norway), the Arts Council and then radio broadcasting support from BBC Radio 3.

This year we have managed to get some support from Arts Council England and from partner organisations in Birmingham. It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally received the funding to make sure the event can happen. What we still need is some money to commission new works for the festival and to invite some special guests to join us. We have now launched a crowdfunder on Kickstarter to help us achieve this.

The Kickstarter is HERE

Our goal is to raise £2000. This will enable us to commission Percy Pursglove, Hans Koller and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian to write for the Emulsion Sinfonietta which is a colourful line-up of saxes, clarinet, oboe/cor anglias, cello, guitar, piano, violin, trumpet, bass and drums – a happy by-product of previous editions of Emulsion.

Cevanne’s commission is in two parts. She has written part 1 for my new band My Iris, which was supported by the PRS for Music Foundation and part 2 will be written to include the Sinfonietta.

We are also hoping to invite Joe Wright to perform solo saxophone, Cevanne to play solo folk Harp and Iain Ballamy to join us with the Emulsion Sinfonietta - should we surpass the initial £2000 kickstarter target.

The programme so far:

-Panel Discussion open to public, hosted by Fiona Talkington and in collaboration with Birmingham City University
-Hans Koller Quartet – featuring John O’Gallagher and Jeff Williams
-My Iris (my band with Chris Montague, Ross Stanley and James Maddren – part of our launch tour for my new album on Basho Records)
-Emulsion Sinfonietta (pieces by Koller, Pursglove, Montague, Cutler, Birmingham Conservatoire students)

LINK: Emulsion Music website

There are opportunities to get involved in Emulsion V -

- as advertised on the Kickstarter
- or via Facebook or Twitter
- or by email at : info (at ) emulsionmusic (dot) org