PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Dave Shepherd (NJA Fundraiser, Loughton, 11th April)



Clarinettist/bandleader DAVE SHEPHERD has played alongside Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Bud Freeman, Yank Lawson, Ruby Braff, Wild Bill Davison., Barney Kessel and Gerry Mulligan. He also ran the Pizza Express All-Stars for more than 20 years.In anticipation of his fundraising gig in Loughton in aid of the National Jazz Archive, Digby Fairweather interviewed him:

LondonJazz News: When did you form the Quintet?

Dave Shepherd: I think it was in l954 but the lineup was different to now of course. But we were picked up by the BBC very quickly and during the l960s/70s were on nearly every week!

LJN: What was the inspiration?

DS: Well really Benny Goodman's small groups. I loved Benny best of all and later on I toured with his pianist Teddy Wilson and we became great friends.

LJN: That must have be a special time?

DS: Yes it was. Jack Higgins who was my agent for over fifty years first put us together and I remember I went to Ronnie Scott's for the audition. Teddy was the prefect gentleman. He just said 'What do you know' and we took it from there! After that we toured all over Europe and made a lot of albums together too for Alan Bates' Black Lion label. One of them was recorded live at the Montreux Festival I remember and it's still about.

LJN: By that time you had the name of 'Britain's Benny Goodman'?

DS: Yes, for better or worse, I did - although I like a lot of other clarinet players too. I can do a great Pee Wee Russell if you want! But I did do a lot of Goodman-based albums starting with 'Salute' in l954 and three or four more from the l960s-80s; for Alan Bates, Rediffusion, Souvenir - several labels.

LJN: What was Teddy Wilson like?

DS: Very charming, quite reserved. He used to stay with me at my home in Theydon Bois and made great friends with our cats. And on one of the first evenings he asked if he could have a drink. I don't drink - never have - but found a bottle of gin and a tumbler! When the gin got near the top of the glass I said 'How's that Teddy?'. And he said 'Dave - that's coming along just fine!'. My old friend the late Brian Lemon was there too.

LJN: Who's in the Quintet now?

DS: Well Roger Nobes for years - to my mind the greatest vibraharpist in Britain. Brian Lemon was with me too for years of course but now I use Nick Dawson or John Pearce where I can - both fantastic musicians! Then there's bassist Len Skeat and Stan Bourke on drums - two more regulars and both great friends and colleagues for years now. I think Paul Morgan – another great player – may be playing bass this time though.

LJN: I gather you're playing for nothing for the National Jazz Archive?

DS: Yes, I'm funding the concert - and happy to do so. It's a great cause and over the last few years there's been some intensive fundraising in between grants from the HLF. I guested with the 'Great British Jazz Band' on one fundraiser last Autumn and it's good to be back with my own band.

LJN: And the date?

DS: It's Saturday April 11th in the afternoon starting at 1.30 at Loughton Methodist Church. It's a beautiful hall and the nearest tube is Loughton. I gather there's a few tickets left too......call David Nathan the Archivist for tickets: 020 8502 8988. I think he works mornings most weekdays - except Thursdays.

LJN: Thank you Dave

DS: And thank you too.......

. LINK: Booking details are also on the National Jazz Archive website

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CD REVIEW: Steve Cromity - All My Tomorrows



Steve Cromity - All My Tomorrows
(Cromcake Records. UP code 040232190667. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)


Until a few months ago, I had never heard of the American vocalist Steve Cromity. Last September, I visited Emmanuel Baptist Church on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn to listen to the Eric Frazier-led sextet known as the Brooklyn Based Jazz Band, and Cromity was one of three singers who appeared with them. I was quickly won over by Cromity’s easy charm and sincerity, and these qualities are evident on this ten-song set that was recorded in June 2014. Many of the selections are associated with Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, and their treatment majors on Cromity’s strong voice and unfussy work from the piano trio and three guest horn-men. The opening Old Devil Moon and When Lights Are Low are typical of what follows. The leader’s intonation and diction are excellent, and Kenyatta Beasley plays obbligatos and tidy solos on muted trumpet.

Bass player Eric Lemon is a model of good taste and restraint throughout the album, and leads off How Little We Know on his own. Cromity opines that (Carolyn Leigh’s lyrics) give an “important insight into the nature of human relations” and the group - a quartet here - offers an object-lesson in responsiveness and sensitivity. I’d like to have heard more from pianist Marcus Persiani. Although he takes credit as musical director - and for the arrangements along with Cromity and producer Rob Crocker - his prowess as a soloist is seldom highlighted. His feature on I Was Telling Her is a rare exception.

Perhaps the best-known performer is Patience Higgins (whom I have seen leading his own quartet at Harlem’s historic Lenox Lounge; and in London with people as stylistically diverse as pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and the remarkable tap dancer Savion Glover). He is as versatile as ever: on tenor saxophone during the tender title track; with soprano in hand on Where Do You Start, and flute for the attractive bossa nova My Little Boat. The powerful tenor sax on Sugar – by Stanley Turrentine and Jon Hendricks - is that of Eric Wyatt (who is Cromity’s nephew). He is also prominent on Jeannine and Without a Song, and his tone combines particularly well with Beasley’s open trumpet. Drummer Darrell Green kicks along these uptempo tunes with a beautifully light, subtle swing.

The name of the record label suggests that the CD is the product of a cottage industry, but you would hardly know. From the clarity of the sound to the photography and digipak sleeve (and despite a couple of minor errors in the liner notes), its standards are very high.

There are few surprises and nothing radical on All My Tomorrows. Cromity and his team simply present melodic, uncomplicated mainstream jazz that many will find extremely pleasing.

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REVIEW: Nicolas Collins and Okkyung Lee at White Cube

Cellist, Okkyung Lee, at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Nicolas Collins and Okkyung Lee
(White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey, 21st and 22nd March 2015. Part of Christian Marclay's exhibition programme. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

"A live recording session - you don't know how strange this feels!" So proclaimed electronic music artist, Nicolas Collins, on the eighth weekend of the Christian Marclay season at White Cube. His improvised performance and that of the innovative Korean cellist, Okkyung Lee, whose commissioned work with the London Sinfonietta, Pub Crawl, Day One, was performed on the following afternoon, were recorded live for output as limited edition vinyl albums, to be pressed and packaged in the gallery, as with all the concerts.

Both events owed as much to the exuberant artistic melting pot of New York as they did to the vibrant London platform around which Marclay has built the series. Collins is a native New Yorker and, like Marclay, frightened the horses at CBGBs in the 80s. Lee is based in New York via Boston's Berklee, and Marclay, who conceived the entire series, now splits his time between the two cities.

Collins and Lee responded to Marclay's brief in unique engagements with the hundreds of drinking glasses crammed on to the shelf running round the pristine gallery.

Collins, in his first piece, worked carefully with feedback, using mics to interact with glasses hand-picked off the shelf. He captured, distorted and moulded the feedback from each mic, manoeuvring the glasses around them to shape the sounds, then poured water into each before extracting the liquid with a giant pipette, moving it from one glass to another to induce variations in pitch, with high hums and jamming signals adding highlights.

Small vibration motors were put to work in the fragile, active anarchy of his second piece, tapping on the glasses and beer mats placed over them, their echoes, tings, tinkles and tiny thuds eliding with lightly invasive feedback and sudden ear-crunching screeches. Collins turned each one off, singly, to return to silence.

Nicolas Collins, electronics artist, at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Lee, for the Sunday commission, envisioned the entire space as the performance area. With the Sinfonietta's quartet positioned centrally, a large bass drum as visual focus, each musician faced outwards to the audience. In the initial, arcadian spell, Jonathan Morton opened with tentative violin scutterings, Joely Koos drew out fluffy sounds with her bow on the cello's wood, Scott Lygate turned his clarinet horizontally to blow through the keys and Oliver Lowe used chains to play on his timpani and cymbals. 'Think of water sprinklers ... going off unevenly' was one of Lee's scored instructions.

Departing from the central podium, they walked into the audience area, continuing to play, halting for moments as they wove around the packed room and were joined by Lee, playing her cello with gusto, emerging from the corner where the recording team were based.

Delicate sounds drifted in from all directions as in a constantly changing multi-phonic dream. Drama was added with Lowe's thunderous pummeling on the bass drum, and with a final, magical touch, audience members who had been primed by Lee, played on the shelf-based glasses with pens to add a shimmering, tinkling cascade. Lee had immersed the whole room in a beautifully crafted sound world that spun on a perfect balance between structure, imagination and engagement.

Okkyung Lee’s Pub Crawl, Day One will be repeated on Sunday 29 March at White Cube Bermondsey with a solo improvised set from Lee, too.

LINK: WHITE CUBE GALLERY

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CD REVIEW: Streetworks - Unfurled



Streetworks - Unfurled.
(ATKS1501. CD review by Jon Turney)


The accordion, leader Karen Street’s instrument here, can be a domineering presence: that garrulous wheeze, the endless sustain, can leave other players with too little breathing space. Have no fear, she is far too good a musician and composer for that to ever happen. She is interested in colouring the soundscape and subtle orchestration and, although she can throw off a rapid fire solo with the best of them, there is relatively little of that here. She states some themes, embroiders others, comments and cajoles. But the bulk of the solo duties, and many of the lead lines, are shared by the pure-toned saxophone of Andy Tweed and Mike Outram’s superbly inventive guitar.

All three players stay mainly in a mellow mid-register, which with the immaculate support of Will Harris’s bass in this drummerless quartet gives the band a gently beguiling overall sound. There are no sonic extremes, save for a brief and – to my mind – not completely convincing burst of sax histrionics that underline the title of Tantrum. Otherwise, the more calculated approach of each arrangement allows the tunes to shine through. All are by Street, save for Tweed’s upbeat Beluga in the Bierkeller and No 255, a limpid reworking of a hymn tune by Basil Harwood. Street has said (in her interview here http://www.londonjazznews.com/2015/03/interview-karen-street-reflections.html with LondonJazzNews) that this a contemplative, mid-life offering. It also seems a very good-humoured set, though, in an English way. Certainly the accordion playing leans more toward the jaunty rather than maudlin side of the instrument’s personality. There are more dances than dirges, although the exceptionally beautiful closer Peace – introduced by simply-stated solo bass – does have a pleasantly melancholy air.

There, as elsewhere, the four sustain the mood brilliantly, with perfectly pitched contributions from all the players. Outram’s guitar lines, especially, always draw the ear, but this attractively unusual CD is really about the band sound, and a lovely one it is. The accordion, almost in spite of itself, is constantly hinting at other musics, from folk tunes to tango, but its use here is individual, distinctively jazzy, and wholly effective. It is a nice lesson in how a mature, relaxed and undemonstrative player can, nevertheless, be the essential, central voice.

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CD REVIEW: Polar Bear – Same As You



"Polar Bear – Same As You
(The Leaf Label. BAY 98CD . CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

More than a decade on from their first release, Dim Lit, Polar Bear have taken their sharpest change of tack yet with Same As You.

One gets a feeling that this album,
finished during an intimate six week stint shored up in the Mojave Desert, may be the closest that listeners have gotten until now to an understanding of the ever- enigmatic and musically multi-faceted Sebastian Rochford. The opening spoken word piece Life Love and Light was written and recited by Asar Mikael, a friend of Rochford's from Tottenham. It is a semi-spiritual sermon full of magnanimous wisdom and set over faint organ strains, and very much sets the tone of the record.

We Feel The Echoes is perhaps the start of the album proper, with Mark Lockheart and Pete Wareham combining - one tenor gently setting a context with the other rising over it - before embarking on quiet conversational solo tangents. The saxophones swap in and out, rising and falling as Tom Herbert's double bass anchors the group. Sounds all but cease before the Rochford's busy percussion creeps back into the frame, and ambient bass and subliminal sax return.

This very distant and minimal feel is surrendered a little as more recognisable Polar Bear emerges on The First Steps. The trademark interwoven tenor lines play out with more animation here over the urgent polyrhythmic backing that develops. Unrelenting Unconditional fulfills its earnest title with innocent clean sax melodies soaring over driving folk percussion and searching bass. It is slower paced and more reminiscent of Andy Sheppard's Nocturnal Tourist period say, than Polar Bear's own hustle and blustering bustle from some of their previous works.

The majority of tracks here pull up in a leisurely fashion and, after an interlude, drift off into the horizon. This is a pattern which makes Same As You very much a laid-back record.The delicate production focuses on the drums and bass, with the two saxophones left reverberating next door in the echo chamber instead of taking centre stage as they sometimes do. However the album's single Dont Let The Feeling Go takes a slightly more energetic attitude, opening with a solid yet patient bouncing bass line and contrasting Hannah Darling's clear vocals with Rochford's rougher singing style. The characteristic jaunty meandering sax middle period ends with a vocal reprise as the positive theme is reiterated. It returns once again at the end of the album.

Rochford has remarked that “the album is about love and positivity”, and while this is expressly clear in the lyrics on the two vocal tracks, what is so impressive is how he has made the other compositions exude his "wellbeing and happiness," too. This CD put me in thoughtful mood, so if I'm the "same as you", or even just simialr, it should have an equivalent effect, if you let it.

Same As You is released on 30/03/2015

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REVIEW: Eve Risser White Desert premiere at La Courneuve

Children from the Ecole Elementaire Charlie Chaplin, La Courneuve (foreground)
Antonin Tri-Hoang, Fidel Fourneyron, Eivind Lønning of the White Desert Orchestra
Photo Credit: Stephanie Knibbe

White Desert - World Premiere
(Centre Culturel Jean Houdremont, Courbevoie, France. 24th March 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

As Alsace-born composer/pianist Eve Risser observed with quite some emotion at the end of the evening, last night's remarkable premiere of her work for ten-piece ensemble and two choirs White Desert represented the first sight of a concept which she has been visualising for at least seven years.

Can the premiere of a project this big - not far short of a hundred participants were involved - but also this personal, define what a musician is about? Within limits, because both she and the work are bound to continue to develop. However, particularly for Risser, who has proved her adaptibility in a whole host of activities and groups - her website lists twelve!- last night certainly felt like an "apologia pro vita sua." This was a significant statement about how she as musician, as artist, as composer, as leader, can be herself, stand up to her full height, use her massive quiet energy and determination to not just have the vision but also see it through to completion.

 White Desert Orchestra
Photo Credit: Stephanie Knibbe

The main delight was to hear the composition. The variety, the scale, the sheer ambition of it left a big, and almost entirely positive impression. If the test of any music heard for the first time is how much of it one would happily hear again, and right away, then I would say that of all but about ten minutes. I'll come back to those. There were moments when the joyous power of Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden bands past were right there, notably in the tailgate Roswell Rudd-ish trombone of Fidel Fourneyron.  

There moments which were not just impressive when Risser used the scale and the vast tonal palette of her ensemble to suggest the formation of rocks, the elemental power of nature, something she is able to do as convincingly as any composer today. She is helped in that task by the authority of her rhythm players, notably Sylvain Darrifourcq, emerging as one of the handful of top percussion players in Europe. He started off proceedings with a huge bass drums you normally find in a Verdi Requiem, and continued to propel the band with exemplary skill, hand in glove with both premier league bassist Fanny Lasfarges, and guitarist Julien Desprez. The band came also came cross as a completely unified group, absolutely giving it their all.




Theremin player at the White Desert premiere
Photo Credit: Stephanie Knibbe

But this was only part of the story. There was one moment of real theatrical power, which Stephanie Knibbe has caught brilliantly, in the moment, in the photo above. There had been a quiet episode when flautist Sylvaine Hélary had been given free rein to capture the sounds of birds in the air, in that tradition of professionally schooled, beautifully-toned French flute-playing and teaching that goes from Paul Taffanel to Marcel Moyse and Alain Marion... when suddenly another, variably pitched sound came from much nearer to the audience. It was child of about seven carefully conjuring sounds out of a theremin. His action provided the cue for the stage to be invaded by a horde of young children, who gave a captivating, magc, uninhibited and lively performance. Risser herself abandoned the piano during that part, and let one of the children, standing, take charge. The leader of the children's group, music educator Azraël Tomé came across as a completely inspiring presence.

The only aspect of an exhilarating night which I found hard to come to terms with was the contribution of an amateur choir based at the local conservatoire. They were moving from unpitched to pitched sounds, inspired by Ligeti. The ending of a piece like this, I felt, really needed the professional energy of trained voices to lift the whole piece to the conclusion it was heading to, deserved, and needed. But, hey, you can't have everything...

Hats off to Xavier Lemettre and Banlieues Bleues and a raft of local supporters and sponsors for having given Eve Risser the right conditions to provide such a complete and fascinating definition of herself. They did it "without having heard a single note of the music," Risser noted with gratitude afterwards. It was a privilege to be there.

Links: BANLIEUES BLEUES WEBSITE
Eve Risser Interview
Franck Bergeron's review for Jazz Magazine, posted two hours after the end of the concert

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REVIEW: Guildhall Jazz Ensemble play the Music of the E17 Jazz Collective

Carlos Lopez-Real
Guildhall Jazz Ensemble play the Music of the E17 Jazz Collective
(Guildhall Jazz Festival, 23rd March 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)


The Guildhall Jazz Festival has something memorable to offer each year. In recent times, this low-key festival has delivered some extraordinary concerts. For example, there have been guest residencies by artists such as Dave Liebman. Or the festival has given carte blanche to a single artist like Stan Sulzmann– which in his case gave the initial impetus to a major work, his extendable suite of big band pieces built on the compositions of younger jazz composers. Or there have been the album re-creations which Malcolm Edmonstone used to do – Nightfly in particular still stays in the mind. Or indeed there was a poignant memorial to bassist Jeff Clyne.

This year will culminate in a celebration of Kenny Wheeler on Saturday night in Milton Court, directed by Scott Stroman, That will be special: the shadow of the recently-departed genius hovers over our scene.

Monday night's programme, put together by Carlos Lopez-Real, was fascinating. For the past eight years, the saxophonist - and respected teacher - has been not just one of the organizing dynamos but also one of the creative fountainheads of the E17 jazz collective, in which a group of musicians who happen to live in Walthamstow have built and nurtured a significant local scene, through promoting their own regular gigs, in the make-it-happen, let's-do-it-anyway spirit which drives much of British jazz. The collective's major events have often been the premieres of works written for a large ensemble of muscians who lived in the area (like this one we reviewed of Liam Noble in 2009). so the idea behind this evening in which works created in this context and bringing them to the students was, in summary, a teacher saying “welcome to our world.”

The ensemble of students - who ranged from first years to post-grads - were put through their paces in compositions by Brigitte Beraha, John Turville, Dave Manington and Carlos Lopez-Real himself. The first half, which I heard, was all made up of challenging music. The student performers were doing well with the textures and sound-worlds, and just starting to get into their stride, to settle, to convey the narrative of the music with authority... when I had to leave. Alto saxophonist Matt Davies, for example, started tentatively but was alreay starting to play with more authority by the end of the set. Charlotte Keeffe was playing characterful beautiful-toned flugelhorn. Vocalist Claire Phoenix was doing well with a vocal part full of traps for the unwary on every page.

Perhaps the main thing which emerges from this all-too-short glimpse of a gig like this was a renewed a sense of respect for the members of E17 from whom this complex music seems to pour so idiomatically, naturally and necessarily. This was a reminder of quite what a vibrant scene is there to be enjoyed on our doorstep, all over London. Or as Roald Dahl once put it: "And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

E17 Jazz Website  

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REVIEW: Marc Ribot at Cafe Oto

Marc Ribot at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved 
Marc Ribot
(Cafe Oto, 20 March 2015. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


Marc Ribot is a dangerous guitarist. In the first of his two sold out gigs at Cafe Oto he fashioned a virtuosic, sequence of disparate, fractured deconstructions of familiar repertoire, in an impromptu, multi-faceted journey which repeatedly stopped short of landing in any comfort zone.

Slumped over his battered, acoustic guitar he slipped and slid across many of the idioms which he has absorbed and hard-wired in to his system over the years - folk and country blues, pioneering jazz, hard blues and angry rock, classical Cuban and Spanish. An unsettling, discordant edge took hold from the start, a mirrored refraction of troubled times, with strums and metalled, vibrating harmonics undermining glimpses of gentler, melodic chord sequences.

With both hands on the fretboard and a near foetal attachment to his battered, acoustic guitar, Ribot yielded a revealing insight into his musical personality. Like saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, he continually worried his chosen instrument to dig deep in to the driving forces of his relentless quest.

With a refreshed spring to his step in the second set, the romantic charms of the samba fell away to tunings and detunings and the resumption of Ribot’s asymmetrical attack.

Ayler's gigantic leaps and Coltrane's giant footsteps were ever-present. Immersed in the complex machinations of Coltrane's take on Dearly Beloved he pulled back from the brink to pick out a ragtime and flip over to what he jokingly reflected, was 'the world's slowest Bachata', bringing his fond embrace of Cuban flavours to the fore.

Another obsession, film scores, percolated through to add further weight to Ribot's magpie medley with a preview of his soundtrack to the as-yet-unreleased movie Under the Highline. The resonant familiarity of The Shadow of Your Smile was dissected and spliced with a radical take on Happy Birthday (maybe an oblique, celebratory anthem for one of the audience) and the gravelly pounding weight of a Muddy Waters riff.

In the hear-a-pin-drop setting of Cafe Oto, Ribot's intense, heartfelt commitment invited not only the closest of listening but also allowed scrutiny of his technical approach, offering a minor spectacle as well as a rare, transportative musical experience.

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NEWS: Made in UK acts announced for 2015 Rochester Int. Jazz Festival

The crowd at Rochester


The acts for the Made in UK Showcase at the 2015 Rochester International Jazz Festival, organized by John Ellson of ESIP, have been announced: 

19th June.....Anthony Strong Trio
20th June.....Andrew McCormack Trio
21st June..... Tom Bancroft's 'Trio Red'
22nd June... Brian Molley Quartet
23rd June.....Cloudmakers
24th June..... Troyka
24th & 25th June.... Julia Biel
26th June..... Denys Baptiste 'Triumvirate'
27th June.... GoGo Penguin

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NEWS/FUNERAL DETAILS: RIP Con the barman in the Bulls Head

We have had the following sad news about Con, the barman in the Bulls Head from 1959 for over fifty years:

"Con died after a long illness but without pain on March 16th.

The funeral will be at his church St Osmond’s, 79 Castelnau, Barnes , SW13 9RT on the 9th April at 11am.

The burial at East Sheen Cemetery and the Wake at the Coach & Horses Barnes High Street."

In sadness.

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LP REVIEW: Abdullah Ibrahim – African Piano



Abdullah Ibrahim – African Piano
(JAPO/ECM Records JAPO 60002/ECM 374 3555. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


The great African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim started his career as Dollar Brand and it was under this name that he recorded a live solo piano set in October 1969 at the ‘Montmartre’ Jazzhus in Copenhagen. The gig was first released by a Scandinavian label (Spectator Records) in 1970, then by the German Japo label, effectively a mail order division of ECM, before being subsumed into the ECM catalogue proper. And it is ECM from whom it now appears in a new high quality vinyl version.

It’s remarkable how much of Abdullah Ibrahim’s character comes over in the simplest of materials. From the very opening chords of the opening track Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro, this is unmistakably Ibrahim playing — rolling musically, staking out territory with ringing commentary and gradually establishing supremacy over the café conversation at the Jazzhus which soon falls respectfully silent. Swirling scales spread out like glittering tributaries of a river and swift rhythmic runs descend like waterfalls. The piece comes to a contemplative conclusion which is both precise and spacious. Ibrahim’s playing is continuous and without appreciable pause and we flow swiftly through the brief second track whose title is almost longer than its duration — Selby That the Eternal Spirit is the Only Reality. Then we are into the crowded rhythm of The Moon, a tour de force which dominates Side 1 of the album. Dense exposition yields to jaunty celebration and soon we’re chiming and churning, a runaway train through the African landscape. This tune is a benign juggernaut hurtling to a joyful destination. Ibrahim goes right past the stop signal, straight into the final tune of the first side, Xaba with bright right hand block chords suggesting token attempts at braking the express. But the wheels slow, the steam subsides and Abdullah Ibrahim’s piano fades out.

Although Side 2 nominally begins with a new track, Sunset in Blue, it sounds like a straight fade up of Side 1, with a cheerful lilting theme. The relentless, melodic excursion slows to a thoughtful lyricism in the shape of the slipping, slow and delicate Kippy, a pondering, poetic meditation with clean, open chords and a lot of space. The album wraps up with the infectious affirmation of Tintiyana, a sunny Sunday-go-to-church piece.

The ECM publicity notes for this valuable reissue advise that “the flavour of this album is ‘documentary’ rather than luxuriantly hi-fidelity.” But there’s no need for apologies or caveats; the sound is lovely, immediate and alive, the piano sharp, clean-cut and resonant (vastly better than, say, the tragically muffed piano miking of Duke Ellington on Money Jungle by a major label some years earlier). This is a great sound document catching the then Dollar Brand at his raw and virile best.

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PREVIEW: Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (Premiere of a new work, Jazz Café Camden, Easter Monday April 6th, 7.30pm)

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir


"As a gospel town," writes Miko Giedroyc, "London may not equal Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles, but I can testify from personal experience that it’s ahead of New York City." Here Miko writes about the strength in depth of our gospel scene, and previews "The Resurrection", a newly written gospel oratorio, presented by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, featuring Tracey Campbell, Yolanda Antonio, Kathy McLeish, Sophie Harriot, Hermione Fawcett Thomas, Richard Butt and Lawrence Rowe, at the Jazz Café Camden, on Easter Monday April 6th, 7.30pm:

In Britain, jazz music still fails to get the profile it deserves. Over thirty years ago, Ian Carr named it “Music Outside”, and in spite of substantial progress since then, notably within higher education, jazz is still more outside than inside today. But compared to Britain’s gospel music, jazz is as mainstream as The Great British Bake-Off.

British gospel is of astonishing quantity and quality...and invisibility. A myriad of generally small Pentecostal churches in and around the big cities of Britain which have large West Indian and African communities generate a torrent of singing and playing talent. For every single Catholic or Anglican church plodding its way through the hymnbook on Sundays, there are several Pentecostal churches in which home-grown contemporary gospel music of high quality is the expected norm. Exceptional talent will often, but not always, spend time in larger institutions (the bigger churches and independent choirs) but these have low visibility outside Pentecostal Christian circles relative to the quality of their music. One or two artists (eg Mica Paris) have achieved wide recognition, but otherwise it is usually as backing vocalists and instrumentalists with big acts that British gospel musicians and singers have direct contact with the wider public.

And yet, as a gospel town, London may not equal Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles, but I can testify from personal experience that it’s ahead of New York City.

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (SSGC) exists to bring the Spirit-filled music of these amazing singers and players into mainstream Christian worship, working every month at Farm Street RC Church in Mayfair and St James’s Anglican Church Piccadilly. Its founding director was Tracey Campbell, one of Britain’s top gospel artists, and a great deal of Britain’s gospel talent has worked with SSGC and nurtured it. Some jazz artists too: for example, Dave Okumu, who wrote a beautiful but also functional congregational mass setting for SSGC in 2007.

Taking as blueprint the Passions of JS Bach, The Resurrection is a newly written gospel oratorio, a setting of John 20/21 and the Emmaus narrative from Luke 24 for choir, band, narrator (Evangelist) and soloists playing the key roles (Christ, Peter, John, Mary of Magdala, Thomas and the two Emmaus disciples), with original music in combination with well-known gospel anthems. The guest soloists are all among Britain’s finest gospel singers, and Tracey in particular is singing the part of Christ. The script has been written by one of SSGC’s altos, Ellen Havard, Artist in Residence at the Oxford Playhouse, the original music by choir members and directors (including a song by Tracey). The piece is written to be intelligible to, and enjoyed by, everyone, not just Christians.

Excerpts from it will be performed in Easter Glory on BBC Radio 2 on Easter Sunday at 8pm, and on Sunday Worship with The Rev Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, on Radio 4 the following Sunday (the pre-record for which happens in the church at 9am on Saturday April 11th, to which all are welcome).

Our guest soloists – Tracey, Yolanda Antonio, Kathy Mcleish, Sophie Harriot, Hermione Fawcett Thomas, Richard Butt and Lawrence Rowe – have a list of credits and plaudits too long to cite!

LINK: Tickets for the premiere at Jazz Café Camden

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CD REVIEW: Olivia's Owls - Moments Arriving



Olivia's Owls - Moments Arriving
(F-IRE Presents. F-IRECD73. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)


With thirteen tunes in less than forty minutes, Olivia's Owls cram a lot of different ideas and moods into their new CD, but some of them are lightly sketched out: they barely get going before the track is gone, and they are onto the next.  Fleeting Moments Arriving, perhaps...

Led by bassist Hedi Pinkerfeld with Alex Coppard on  saxophone,  Charlie Laffer on guitar and Josh Stadlen on drums, Moments Arriving was recorded as live over a couple of days. Opening with Closure, the album starts with a wistful union of sax and guitar, before an insistent rhythm is set up by the drums and bass, pushing the guitar and sax riff forward. Many of the short pieces follow a similar format, with the guitar and sax setting the pace before Stadlen's forceful drums Pikerfield's bass join them. The melodies are lively and captivating, twisting and turning, and the music is energetic - particularly with the drums.

The band state that their influences include classical composers Fauré and Scriabin, and there is certainly a richness to the compositions that belies the creative process. These are tightly structured pieces, bringing classical and rock influences into a 21st century jazz format.

But I did wonder where they would have got to if they had carried on: I wanted them to explore their ideas more, to extend their tunes further. I would relish seeing Olivia's Owls live, too see where they can go. I like this CD a lot. Their live performance might well be even better.

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PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Stéphane Belmondo’s Love for Chet (Ronnie Scott’s - Mar 30/31)

Stéphane Belmondo



Stéphane Belmondo, the talented and popular French Jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, will make his Ronnie Scott's debut as leader  on two nights, March 30th and 31st, showcasing ‘Love for Chet’, his brand new album, due for release April 9th (Naive). In this interview he explains to Sandie Safont the origins of this project:

LJN: You’re coming to London next week for an exclusive UK showcase of your new album, ‘Love for Chet’ out on April 9th. Is it your first time at Ronnie’s ?

SB:: I have played Ronnie’s before – with Dee Dee Bridgewater, circa 1995 – but never under my own name, so these two shows will be very special to me. As a child I was exposed to Ronnie’s music through my dad’s record collection - lots of live recordings on vinyl – and what I particularly enjoyed listening to was the one-off cuts of jam sessions that Ronnie used to record live and release on LPs. It was a very innovative concept at the time and most probably one of the things that made this club so unique.

LJN: How do you like playing in the UK?

SB: It’s always a pleasure playing to a UK audience because you have a unique way to respond to music and I’m always amazed to see how broad your music tastes are. London has so many clubs playing so many different styles. I love the idea that one and the same person can go to a Metronomy gig one night and a jazz gig the other! Only you can do this.

LJN: You’ll be premiering your tribute to Chet Baker. We know that Chet recorded live at Ronnie’s in 1986. I guess this makes this occasion even more special to you?

SB: Absolutely. This recording came out on CD and DVD and it meant a lot to me at the time because it showed Chet’s versatility and eclectic tastes in music – with Elvis Costello & Van Morrison as special guests! And also, this was the year when I met Chet.

LJN: As a young promising talent back then, Chet took you under his wing and you had a very privileged relationship with him. Is that what held you back all these years from recording a tribute album?

SB: I’ve never considered recording such a project and would never have done so, but for Christophe Deghelt, my booking agent and manager. He too has a passion for Chet and even wrote a Ph.D thesis on him many years ago. I have a very organic approach to life and music and believe that everything happens – or doesn’t happen – for a reason. It’s all about timing. I guess the time was right when I met Christophe and that’s how the project came about.

I was sixteen years old when I met Chet and he had a huge influence on my playing but so did Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Tom Harrell. Knowing Chet personally made a difference and even though I have developed my own style there’s always been a little bit of him in my music, that’s my subconscious tribute to him, just like my cover version of “Little Girl Blue” on “Ever After”, my previous album. I knew Chet used to play this number a lot but that’s not the reason why I recorded it.

LJN: Chet’s discography is quite an extensive one, to say the least. How did you go about choosing the material?

SB: “Love for Chet” is the first album of a trilogy and it covers mostly the Steeplechase period of Chet (1979, 1985, 1986) in the trio format when he played with guitarist Doug Raney and bassist NHOP, as well as two originals of mine – one them based on a melody that my daughter made up - and some songs he never played but that are closely related to him, somehow.

LJN: You mean “La Chanson d’Hélène” by Philippe Sarde and “Tarde” by Milton Nascimento? We know Chet loved Brazilian music - he recorded a beautiful version of Jobim’s “Portrait in Black and White / Zingaro” with flautist and guitarist Nicolas Stilo.

SB: That’s right. This song features on “Let’s Get Lost”, a documentary film directed by Bruce Weber in 1988. Before that, Chet recorded with The Boto Brasilian Quartet led by keyboardist Rique Pentoja. “Tarde” is probably my favourite song by Milton. It’s never been played in this trio format – not that I’m aware of- and it would have suited Chet perfectly.

While in Europe in the 80s, he recorded lots of soundtracks for the French cinema – films like “L’As des As” and “Flic ou Voyou” starring Jean-Paul Belmondo (same surname, but we're not related) under the direction of great composers such as Vladimir Cosma and Philippe Sarde. The latter wrote the score to director Claude Sautet’s 1970 “Les Choses de la Vie” which features “La Chanson d’Hélène”, sung by Romy Schneider. I play this song as a duo with my friend Jacky Terrasson and because Chet worked for Sarde, it made perfect sense to me to include it on the album. I’m surprised he never recorded it himself.

LJN: Chet also played with famous composer/orchestra director Michel Legrand and so did you. That’s one more connection for you with Chet and French cinema...

SB: [smiles] Indeed. And Vladimir Cosma approached me on several occasion to record some of his music but our busy schedules never allowed it to happen.

LJN: A few words on the album title, “Love for Chet”, quite evocative?

SB: Clearly an evocation of “Love for Sale”, one of Chet’s signature songs, which also features on the album. It also echoes “Chet’s Romance”, a live session filmed by French photographer/director Bertrand Fèvre. We’ve known each other for years, so here again; he was my first choice man for the album cover and teaser.

LJN:You mentioned musicians associated with his Steeplechase period and you’ve played with some of them. What about the line-up for your tribute, then?

SB: I’m very pleased to be joined by the amazing Dutch guitarist Jesse Van Ruller. We first met on a recording project we did with the UER (Union Européenne de Radio Télévision) orchestra in Budapest in the early 90s. He was very young and his virtuoso performance made a strong impression on me - he later won the Thelonious Monk Competition in 1995. We lost touch for years and our paths met again only recently. I was hoping to renew our collab at some point and he knows Chet’s trio period really well, so he was first choice for this recording. On double bass we have my old friend and partner in crime Thomas Bramerie. His time is rock-solid, his bass lines are tastefully crafted and he’s played with Chet. It all happened organically and I could not dream of a better team.

LJN: And you have one special guest on vocals …

SB: Amin Bouker sings on “Blame It On My Youth”. His timbre and phrasing are very much in the same vein as Chet and yet different enough – his range is slightly lower. I met Amin in Paris in the 80s and he and my booking agent go way back, too. He used to sing with some of Chet’s former musicians: bassist Riccardo del Fra and pianist Alain Jean-Marie and I would sit in with the band. So, I’d say Amin was the natural choice when it came to vocals.

LJN: A few words on Kenny Wheeler, Clark Terry and Lew Soloff, who passed away recently? 

SB: It takes more than a few words to evoke these tragic losses. I was lucky enough to meet Clark about thirty years ago in Paris. One night he came along to my gig and we met again circa 1994 when I was living in NYC. He used to host a radio show and invited me along to play a selection of songs. We never got to play together, sadly enough.

I met Kenny Wheeler and Lew Soloff on a few occasions - Kenny and I spent long hours talking about music, as one would - but never got to play with them, either. Lew & I shared the stage at Jazz à Vienne Festival (France) back in 2006. He was playing in The Carla Bley Big Band and my brother and I, together with Yusef Lateef, were presenting “Influence”, our brand new album. Quite a memorable night, as you can imagine. Yusef died in 2013.

They were my generation and the new generation’s heroes and will be greatly missed.

LJN: “Love for Chet” comes out next month. When and where in France will you be playing the album launch gig?

SB: We’ll be playing the New Morning in Paris on May 6th. “Be there or be square!”

LINKS:stephane-belmondo.com
Review of the Belmondo family band at Duc Des Lombards
CD Review: The same as it never was before

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REVIEW: Buck Clayton Legacy Band at SJE Arts, Oxford

Buck Clayton Legacy Band in Gateshead
Photo credit: John Watson / Jazzcamera

The Buck Clayton Legacy Band: Duke Ellington Tribute.
(SJE Arts, Oxford. Fri 20th March 2015. Review by Alison Bentley)

You never know with jazz in churches. Would Oxford’s newest venue, the Victorian church of St John the Evangelist, enhance the sound of the Buck Clayton Legacy Band or seem more like Paddington Station at rush hour? We could relax: from the start, the blend of the five horns and rhythm section, with only the double bass amplified, was thrilling.

Bassist, writer and broadcaster Alyn Shipton and German saxophonist/clarinettist Matthias Seuffert formed the band in 2004 to play charts donated by Clayton himself, a close friend of Duke Ellington. This gig focused on pieces by Ellington (arranged by Tony Faulkner) and his sidemen Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn (mostly arranged by band member Alan Barnes, with a few by Andy Panayi). The music ranged from the 20s to the 50s, programmed according to varying tempos, moods and instrumentation, rather than chronologically.

Ellington’s swinging Stomp, Look and Listen was given weight by the church’s echo- a huge rush of sound, though the big band original had been pared down. The audience at first seemed a little nervous about applauding solos in a church, but soon got carried away by their enthusiasm. Hodges’ Globe Trotter had a lively swing too, held by Shipton’s strong bass pulse and (last minute dep) Clark Tracey’s sensitive drumming. The solos bubbled up between the simple horn backing riffs. Hodges’ Frisky was a little slower, Seuffert and Robert Fowler trading tenor 4s that sounded like a single seamless solo. Ellington’s Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile in My Face) had Barnes leading the slow, luscious harmonies with a swooning Hodges tone.

Both sets were punctuated by Martin Litton’s extraordinarily virtuosic solo piano spots. He condensed the Ellington Orchestra’s 20s Washington Wabble into explosive, complex stride, playing all the parts of the orchestra simultaneously. (The second set’s Birmingham Breakdown kept a metronomic pulse with the illusion of several pianos speeding up and slowing down.) Hodges’ Sweet as Bear Meat brought out the band’s drawling bluesiness, the wah wah of Adrian Fry’s trombone and the crying wails of Seuffert’s clarinet touching the heart. Strayhorn’s Snibor had dark orchestration-tenor trombone and baritone- lightened by punchy horn riffs and judicious key changes.

Hodges’ Latino opened the second set with a brief 12 bar Afro-Latin groove. It soon settled back into swing, with Ian Smith’s trumpet punching in nicely-phrased melodies, at times raunchy, at times with a ringing tone.

Many of Ellington’s more famous pieces were written by his sidemen. ‘Strayhorn does a lot of the work,’ Ellington once said, ‘but I get to take the bows!’ Strayhorn’s Take the A Train was teasingly arranged here- complex solis and solos over the familiar chords, hints of the famous piano intro- but keeping the tune tucked away towards the end.

Johnny Hodges felt under-paid and under-appreciated in Ellington’s band, and even left for a few years. Barnes joked that Three and Six was what he’d been paid for arranging Hodges’ tune- but his solo was certainly appreciated, tremulous and growly, then a huge dramatic sound, emerging from the backings. Ellington’s 20s The Mooche was Caravan-like with its Afro-Latin chromaticisms, Smith’s wah-wah trumpet calling to the three harmonised clarinets.

Ellington once described the tenements that inspired Harlem Air Shaft (the English ‘light well’ just doesn’t have the same resonance) ‘An air shaft is one great loudspeaker, you hear people praying, fighting and snoring’. You could hear some of that in the busy overlapping harmonies and riffs of the excellent arrangement, the solos like brief interchanges.

Ellington wrote Happy Reunion, Shipton told us, for tenor-player Paul Gonsalves- working together again after their Newport Jazz Festival success. Seuffert took the key role beautifully, with hints of Coleman Hawkins’ famous Body and Soul solo. Two Hodges pieces concluded. The Jeep is Jumpin’ (over the chords to I Got Rhythm) had be-bop energy, with lots of space for solos. Shady Side (usurping the chords to Sunny Side of the Street) was more pensive, concluding with a five horn soli of great beauty.

The applause reverberated round the pillars for music arranged with such devotion, and played with such virtuosity. It couldn’t fail to put a spring in your step- and send you home to sleep with a smile on your face.

Matthias Seuffert, reeds and Alyn Shipton, bass (co-leaders); Ian Smith, trumpet; Robert Fowler, reeds; Alan Barnes, reeds; Adrian Fry, trombone; Martin Litton, piano; ClarkTracey, drums.

LINK: CD- Claytonia

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PHOTOS : Strata-East Night at the Barbican

Charles Tolliver. Barbican, March 2015. Photo credit Paul Wood
Photographer Paul Wood caught several of the leading lights of Strata-East (the event was also  previewed by Dan Bergsagel, who did an extensive interview with Charles Tolliver) at the soundcheck at the Barbican yesterday.

UPDATE 25th MARCH: We have added five pictures of the show by Mark-Rowan Hull - keep on scrolling!

Stanley Cowell. Barbican, March 2015. Photo credit: Paul Wood

Billy Harper, Barbican , March 2015
Photo credit: Paul Wood


Cecil McBee. Barbican March 2015. Photo credit: Paul Wood

Alvin Queen, Barbican March 2015
Photo credit Paul Wood


Strata-East night at the Barbican, March 2015. Photo Credit: Mark Rowan-Hull


Strata-East night at the Barbican, March 2015.
Photo Credit: Mark Rowan-Hull


Strata-East night at the Barbican, March 2015.
Photo Credit: Mark Rowan-Hull


Strata-East night at the Barbican, March 2015.
Photo Credit: Mark Rowan-Hull

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Chris Caldwell, CRIMSON! (St Johns Smith Square 1st May)



On 1st May at St Johns Smith Square The Delta Saxophone Quartet join forces with jazz pianist/composer Gwilym Simcock for the London premiere of a new composition CRIMSON! Sebastian Scotney interviewed Delta's baritone saxophonist Chris Caldwell, first about Crimson, and then about the quartet:

CRIMSON

LondonJazz News: How did you first get to know Gwilym Simcock?

Chris Caldwell I'd known of Gwilym's brilliant performances and projects for some time but had never had the opportunity to work with him as a musician. I couldn't believe it when a work colleague of mine told me that Gwilym played in a musicians south London football team and was also a fan of my local boyhood team… The Potters (Stoke City FC).  My first communications with Gwilym started out as group text updates from Stoke City matches provided by my cousin…the other group member is also a musician who's second trumpet in the BBC Concert Orchestra. Our first meeting was at the Britannia Stadium on December 1st 2011 when Stoke played Dynamo Kiev in a European match. 

LJN:  And "Crimson!" is the second work which the Delta Saxophone Quartet has commissioned for its 30th Anniversary?

CC: Yes, the quartet since its formation in 1984 has always looked to encourage and inspire composers to write new works for the ensemble. We've commissioned the jazz composer Mike Westbrook twice, Gavin Bryars (the long time friend of Evan Parker), Graham Fitkin, Issie Barratt and many more contemporary composers. So we wanted to mark our 30th year with something special. Mark Anthony-Turnage composed a 12' quartet for us called 'Run Riot' which received its London Premiere at SJSS and was also recorded by BBC Radio 3 in March 2014. Gwilym's work for Saxophone Quartet & Piano (like any canny composer there is also a version for solo saxophone quartet too which means we can take this new work to many smaller venues too) is the longest work we've ever performed coming in at over 50'… the previous holder of that title was Louis Andriessen with his homage to the life of Charlie Parker 'Bird' and his saxophone quartet version of 'Facing Death' (released on FMR Records). This is just shy of 20'.

LJN:  What albums is the original music taken from and how did the idea evolve for Gwilym?

CC: Here's the set list:

A Kind Of Red - Simcock Coda: Marine 475 - (From THRAK)
The Night Watch - (From the Night Watch)
Dinosaur - (From THRAK)
Two Hands - (From Beat)
The Great Deceiver - (From Starless & Bible Black)

The idea evolved from a few 'threads'…we were trying to come up with a theme/story rather than just Quartet No.1 Opus 1 .. I'd given Gwilym some of our albums from our previous recordings so he could get an idea of our sound world, but I didn't want him to feel pressured into trying to fit his musical ideas into our past work. I wanted him to feel free to take this project where he wanted too.  

What seemed to resonate with him was a link with what his father had listened too, re- a variety of Prog Rock Music (he'd enjoyed our Soft Machine Inspired recording for Moonjune Records (2007) 'Dedicated to you…but you weren't listening') & his work with Bill Bruford's Earthworks. Crimson was born... the '!' followed a month later.

The icing on the Crimson! cake was when Gwilym also said he'd like to compose the work for saxophone quartet & piano and create a project which was a whole 'set' or in classical terms 'a half' of a concert. Talking to Gwilym last week at the UK Premiere in Guildford, he said he'd listened to ALL of King Crimson's output and had a marker/highlight system for what he'd thought might work for the quartet. Red (no chance), Yellow (with caution) & Green (all systems go).

LJN:  What moods are evoked in each the different movements?

CC:That's a great question, and do you mean for the individual performer or the listener? The lovely thing about working with Gwilym is that he's such a craftsman in the way he puts his music together. You can hear this in the way he builds and shapes a solo. This is also the case with how he's presented the various material in Crimson!  The work starts with an overture of approx 10' which is an original composition by Gwilym called 'A Kind of Red'  It really covers so many different aspects of what's going to come later, beautiful melody, uplifting harmonies, soaring solo's and some of the most tricky 'ensemble' saxophone writing I've had to get to grips with (woodshed!). Gwilym also has added the opportunity to use loop pedals and harmonisers as part of the whole texture, taking what was a classical saxophone quartet into a whole new realm of electronic (Luddite) fears and fascinations. At times it's what I'd call a 'white knuckle ride' but God, is it exhilarating.

LJN:  What is the saxophone writing like / easy difficult?

CC:Gwilym has been great here, he's said, oh if that's not going to work I can change it, but you know what, we've always loved the challenge and excitement which new music always brings to the performer, and I know in this case to the listener too (if Milan and Guildford are anything to go by). So it's sort of easily difficult and difficultly easy too. Don't you just love how the mind works!

LJN:  You've already performed it twice - the premiere in Italy sounds amazing 

Gwilym Simcock (third from left) with the Delta Saxophone Quartet


CC:The World Premiere was totally a dream. The Artistic Director Gianni Gualberto is a brilliant man and has been a great supporter of the quartet over many years. He brought our Soft Machine Project with Hugh Hopper to Catania (Etnafest) in January of 2007. The Italians always have style, and the Teatro Manzoni was 900 plus filled with the style guru's of Milan on 30th November 2014. But, how they can rock! The performance received amazing reviews and a fabulous response from the audience. As for the hospitality before, during and after, delicious, just like a Gwilym solo!

LJN:  What does the future hold for Crimson! 

CC:The sad reality of the culture around new works/music is they are only as good as their first performance. For some reason anything that happens after that isn't news/note worthy. Gwilym has created something here which will always be new/unique. This is the joy of having a work which also has 'improvisation' as part of its DNA. What's then funny is people then ask what it sounds like rather than taking the plunge and go and find out for themselves.  Obviously we hope to be able to share this brilliant set both in the UK and further afield, so any promoters, festival directors out there do get in touch. We are currently in the process of recording Crimson!  for a release later in 2015.

THE DELTA SAXOPHONE QUARTET

LJN:  How and where did the quartet get going in the first place?

CC:We started out as undergrads at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 1983. We've had changes to the soprano and tenor chairs since then but Pete Whyman on the alto chair and Chris Caldwell (me!) on the baritone sax chair have been involved from the start.

LJN:  30 years must mean you all get on well - and share similar interests outside music? 

CC:We've had lots of moments…mostly brilliant and very funny but we've also had some difficult times too. I think that's called the 'gravy of life'. Our current line up really can have fun outside of our music making, Graeme Blevins has rejoined the group this year, Tim Holmes has been with us since 2006 and often depped for us before that.

LJN:  And commissioning work has been an important activity? 

CC:This has been one of the main reasons for our existence. It's special thanks to Arts Council England (ACE), PRSF (Performing Rights Society Foundation) and Richard Heason (SJSS) & Stephen Goss (Surrey University) that we could raise the funds to support this work too.

LJN:  What was the association with the late Steve Martland?

CC:Tim, Pete & I are the saxophone section for the Steve Martland Band. I had the pleasure of working in this band from 1997 and many years spent as his manager. He's very much missed by all of us.

LJN:  Graeme Blevins the newest quartet member is a great improviser will he get his moment to stretch out? 

CC:Try stopping him! Blev is a brilliant musician, he was in the quartet in 2006/07 and we only lost him to a Kyle Minogue World tour, I ask you! Great to have him back for this.

LJN:  What will you be playing in the first half of the concert? 

CC:Excerpts from our Dedicated to You set inspired by Soft Machine and solo piano improvisations by Gwilym. The perfect aperitif.

St John's Smith Square Tickets for 1st May

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Ben Tracey (Under Milk Wood 50th anniv perfs. - Gateshead Apr 10th / Ronnnie Scott's Apr 14th)

Stan Tracey with Ben Tracey, overlooking the battlefield at Loos in Northern France
whereStan's father was wounded in WWI.
After this visit, Stan wrote the Loos Suite (The Flying Pig)

Ben Tracey, the grandson of Stan Tracey, will be doing the narration for "Under Milk Wood" in performances celebrating the work's 50th anniversary in April and May. Sebastian interviewed him about the prospect of performing a work which has been part of his life for  as long as he can remember, and about Stan's two last major works "A Child's Christmas," which was written with a speaking role for Ben, and "The Flying Pig": 

LondonJazz News: Can you remember how old you were when you became aware of "Under Milk Wood" and when you first heard it live?

Ben Tracey: I suppose it must have been sometime between the ages of seven or eight that I was first made aware of it. Some of the individual tracks I can’t be so sure of – I’d probably heard them ‘from the egg’, as it were.

LJN: Who did the narration ?

BT: That would have been the late Philip Madoc, a distinguished television and radio actor.

LJN: And you were aware of  Philip Madoc from TV?

BT: I’m a bit of a Doctor Who fan, and so I was aware of Madoc from the several appearances he’d made in that programme. I remember being a little bit star-struck when I met him at first.

LJN: What were your first reactions when heard it

BT: Well, Dylan’s words are, first and foremost, a pleasurable experience to hear, to listen to. There’s a wry, knowing streak of almost black comedy which runs through the narrator’s observations in Under Milk Wood; and its accessibility when I first heard it was aided enormously by Madoc’s reading. I remember getting the giggles right in the front row.

LJN: And you only came to appreciate the depth of the piece later

BT: I love the English language. I think it’s clear Dylan Thomas did too; as I got a bit older, I read the script for the Under Milk Wood play, and was introduced to more of Thomas’ work, his prose and the like.

LJN: And what aspects of the poetry appeal to you now?

BT: His spectacularly unapologetic run-on sentences, for one; there’s also his propensity for ‘tongue twisters’ like: ‘the sea-shelled, ship-in-bottled, shipshape best cabin of Schooner House’

Thomas could appropriate phrases and apply them as metaphor in ways which compel one to take pause at their beauty, and then only a few lines later he’s done it again. I could go on and on.

‘(…) into the Davy dark where the fish come biting out and nibble him down to his wishbone’

‘It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black (…)’

LJN: And Bobby Wellins' sound is something special...

BT: A good example, for me, is Bobby’s playing in the beginning of ‘A.M. Mayhem’ which (in the context of the story) is meant to evoke the flurry of activity as a whole town begins a new day; Bobby’s melodic handle on the tune lures you in and then grabs you by the neck, dragging you along into the frenetic swing of it all. His phrasing is as unique as a fingerprint, especially with the Milk Wood suite.

LJN: But you also know other recordings ...

BT: Back in 2012, Grandad and I went through a lot of recordings of ‘Under Milk Wood’ the play, deciding between us what approach I should take with the spoken word sections.

But the main pleasure for me was finally listening to the 1976 version, featuring the Stan Tracey Quartet from ‘Captain Adventure’, with Donald Houston’s narration.

That was always one of my favourite line-ups (Stan Tracey – piano, Bryan Spring – drums, Dave Green – Bass & Art Themen – saxes) and to hear the different take on certain parts… for instance, Themen’s version of A.M. Mayhem, was brilliant.

Houston’s take on things was likewise intriguing, if only because of my own unfamiliarity with it, though I’ve definitely taken more cues from the 2001 Madoc version. There are certain passages which, to me, can’t be read in another way than the way he did. To try would feel unnatural. Grandad and I thought that recording (the 1976 one) missed a trick in its narration, in regards to some of what Stan wanted from it, which was the ‘sometimes dark, often risqué’ vein.

LJN: Your first  appearance with your grandfather was in "A Child's Christmas". What's the story of that

BT: It was a pretty organic process. I think it stated as an Under Milk Wood (UMW) idea, since the anniversary of the original recording was only a few years off. Grandad wasn’t that enthused about it. It’s not as though he was tired Milk Wood, or wasn’t proud of it, but he was more interested in new things. (I imagine for Stan it was a bit like how it must be when people tell Stephen King how much they loved ‘Carrie’. Yes, it’s still good, but it was also decades ago.)

Between my dad, his wife and Stan there evolved an idea for a completely new suite, a spiritual sequel, if not successor to UMW, based on another Dylan Thomas piece:’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales’.

‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ is a short book my dad introduced me to when I was young, as it had similarly been given to him. I think I once chose to ‘review’ it for a homework assignment back in primary school. it’s almost like the suite was sitting as a kind of unexploded mine, just waiting to be noticed, because pretty soon, Stan was writing again. The honour (for me) was that they wanted me to narrate it.

LJN: He had talked about retiring from compositon....what did you think about that?

BT: I never thought it would really stick; though I believed he’d slow down if he said he would. He wasn’t overfond of the process of writing, the laboriousness of the minutia. I know he couldn’t’ve helped himself but write if he had something to express. We’d be watching the telly during that time (writing ‘A Child’s Christmas’), and he’d have to excuse himself abruptly and go next door where he kept the upright piano, or I’d hear him working on a particular part when I went off to make the tea.

After ‘A Child’s Christmas came ‘the Loos Suite’ released as the 2013 album ‘the Flying Pig’. As it turned out, they were his last few compositions. I think they are among his best.

Under Milk Wood, Herts Jazz Festival, 2012.
L.-R. Stan Tracey, Bobby Wellins, Andy Cleyndert, Clark Tracey, Ben Tracey
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


LJN: You did Under Milk Wood just once with your grandfather . When where how was it? 

BT: That was at the 2012 Herts Jazz Festival, in Welwyn Garden City’s Hawthorne Theatre. It was also the first time I had performed Under Milk Wood at all. When it was booked, we were still doing the ‘Child’s Christmas’ gigs, so the festival loomed distantly on the other side of the calendar, giving me ample time to get used to the idea.

With ‘A Child’s Christmas’, there was a certain security for me in the knowledge that I was setting a standard for how the narration worked in that suite – I wasn’t following Madoc, Houston et al. That was not the case with UMW… It felt very different to start the process of that, given the history of the suite. This was the record which ‘put British Jazz on the map’, which I’d heard since the cradle.

It felt humbling if eerie getting used to that; to picture sitting across from Bobby and Stan, Andy Cleyndert, and my dad (Clark Tracey), and saying the words. It was something I tried not to dwell on much, almost on a superstitious level for a while.

Time came, and it was like lightning in a bottle, a perfect collision of elements. It was a truly great gig. I never took up an instrument, but it was a strange epiphany to realise that I’d had the privilege to share the bandstand with both my father and grandfather anyway. That’s no hyperbole, it was a numinous feeling.

It continues to go down well, as since Stan’s passing the group has done more Under Milk Wood gigs, this time with Steve Melling – in my opinion, the only man who could fill grandad’s chair – on piano. Steve’s a fantastic artist I’ve been listening to for years, and his interpretation of the suite is a treat.

LJN: Apart from the performing what other directions is your life taking?

BT: My background is illustration, and I’d like to get further in to writing at some point, though it’s the performing and vocal work which has really taken my interest recently. I also work as a cook in a pub kitchen occasionally.

LJN: Where are the next performances than people can attend?

BT: The next performance of Under Milk Wood is at the Sage, Gateshead on the 10th April, which will be the first gig of a tour celebrating the UMW’s 50th anniversary.

Following that, the tour includes Ronnie Scott’s (April 14th), Southampton (May 12th), Dorking (May 14th) & Welwyn Garden City (May 17th).

LINKS :
- Under Milk Wood at Ronnie Scott's
- Under Milk Wood at Gateshead
- The recording of Under Milk Wood with Donald Houston and Art Themen is available on Resteamed Records

- Chris Parker's 2011 review of A Child's Christmas from 2011
- Richard Williams writes about The Flying Pig

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PREVIEW/ MEMORIES/ OLD PHOTOS : Welsh Summer Schools (Tutor Concert for Original UK Jazz Summer School- Vortex Mar 26)

Tutors Clockwise from top left: Alison Rayner, Buster Birch,
Dave Wickins, Liam Noble, Malcolm Earle-Smith, Dave Cliff
Steve Watts, Nick Smart, Nia Lynn, Lee Goodall

This Thursday March 26th at the Vortex is a concert featuring the Faculty of the Original UK Jazz Summer School. In anticipation of the School's 50th Anniversary in 2016, tutors past and present have written about the unique significance of this course for the UK jazz scene, and share personal memories, starting with the current co-directors Dave Wickins and Buster Birch:

DAVE WICKINS: Brian Waite invited me to teach on the summer school in the mid eighties and I took over running the jazz course at the end of that decade. By that time it had moved from Trefforest (South Wales Poly) to Nottage Primary in Porthcawl and the numbers were very low: we had no more than 20 students. My solution was to enlist the support of the Welsh Jazz Society whose director, the late Jed Williams, formed a team with myself and Doug Jones, an inspirational head of the education department in Mid Glamorgan. Between us we revitalised the course and rekindled the spirit of it's ancestor, established in 1966 by Pat Evans, known as the Barry Summer School.

Dave Wickins in 1991. Photo credit: Iain Forbes


This revitalisation enabled me to invite new people onto the staff including Simon Purcell. Simon and I developed a course which maintained the old 'spirit of Barry' (the minimal organisation, maximum experimentation of Tony Oxley and Gordon Beck) whilst at the same time meeting the needs of a broad range of students, for whom a flexible framework balanced against lots of support ensured a more fulfilling time on the course. As one of our regulars said, "I know that it takes a lot of organisation to appear to be this disorganised and yet achieve so much".

I have been fortunate to have not one great partner but two for when Simon decided to bow out of summer school to focus on running the jazz course at Trinity Laban, I was able to develop another highly successful working relationship with my present co-director Buster Birch. Apart from being a superb musician and educator, Buster has considerable business skills which have enabled us to achieve more independence and form our own company: Thanks For Listening Ltd. We decided to re-name the course The Original UK Jazz Summer School so as to reflect its role in the history of jazz education in Britain.

I am proud of how the summer school has thrived within a culture of democracy and sharing whilst maintaining certain core principals. We never assume we’ve got everything right and we’re not afraid to make changes. We create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, whatever their level or previous experience. We bring together professionals, music college students and adult learners, and for that one week we all have a common purpose. It’s a magical process that, unless you’ve experienced it, is difficult to describe.


BUSTER BIRCH: There is something special about our summer school which is hard to put in to words. I don’t think it is just the great sense of community that one feels when people from so many different walks of life (and nations) join together for a week, bonded by the shared fascination with this great music and the challenges of trying to play it. Although that is one of the many great things about it. I think there is something special in the long and deep history that the course has and the very long standing personal relationships that have been built around it. When so many of the participants have been coming back for 20 years or more there is a wonderful familiarity about the event and the people who share it. And far from becoming a clique these people help to promote the supportive ethos and nurturing spirit that runs right through the course. One of the many comments we get from new participants is how friendly and welcoming everyone is and what a great sense of community they feel. This is of course very important when taking your first tentative steps towards improvising for the first time on stage in a jazz club environment and the warm reaction from the crowd helps enormously. And knowing that they will soon be in your place, performing for you, makes for a very shared experience. And of course the diversity of the people is also represented in the diversity of the music, with all the many different styles and approaches to jazz that are covered in the week.

Simon Purcell (left), two unnamed students, Chris Batchelor (right) in 1992
Photo credit: Iain Forbes

For me personally it all started 17 years ago in the summer of ’98, when I was invited by Simon Purcell (teacher, mentor, friend and someone I am enormously grateful to for all the opportunities he has given me) to come on the summer school as an AT (assistant tutor) having just finished a post-graduate jazz course at The Guildhall School of Music. It was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget. I was of course completely in awe of the tutors, and still am. I remember the incredible sound of the samba band Dave Hassell and Chris Batchelor ran, Pete Churchill’s fantastic choir and the amazing tutor mega-band playing Stevie Wonder tunes. I was put in Alison Rayner’s group and I thought she was fantastic. Not only a great bass player but also such a good teacher who created a lovely atmosphere in the room for the students and was always very encouraging, which is something I’ve always tried to copy in my teaching ever since. I wouldn’t have believed it back then, but all these years later I find myself now touring and recording in her band. Some years after this I had a call from Simon and was invited to come and help him and Dave Wickins with organising some things for the course and I was only too pleased to have an excuse to come back and experience it all again. The following year Simon stepped down from running the course and with some trepidation I stepped in to the enormous boots he left behind, leading to a great working partnership with Dave Wickins, one of the UKs finest drummers and educators. Between the two of us we deal with all of the many things that go in to making a course like this happen. Since then another 10 great summer schools have flown past, with far too many wonderful experiences and funny stories to recount here. Dave and I have become good friends and for me personally, getting to know all the tutors and returning students over that time has been the best bit. I really look forward to coming back every year and seeing everyone again. After two venue changes we are now firmly back home in south wales at The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, which has both the fantastic facilities of a modern conservatoire and also the old spirit of summer school with the nightly jazz concerts in the SU bar.

In 2012 we set up a limited company to run the course independently. We couldn’t have done it without the loyalty of our tutors and students who have been coming back year after year and to whom we are very grateful. With such a long history it seemed the obvious choice to name it “The Original UK Jazz Summer School”. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of this great institution and I don’t think it is overstating it to say that the connections made on this summer school and the ripples from it have had a huge impact on the UK jazz scene. Long may this great tradition continue!



DAVE CLIFF: I think the Summer School is well balanced between freedom and discipline,also it's very egalitarian,no favouritism.The more reserved students get the same opportunities to shine. The tutors are from a varied background with differing approaches but seem to all blend in and co-operate with each other,



DAVE HASSELL: With reference to the course... I have been doing it for approx 20 years and it's one of the first things I block out in my diary. There have been many changes over the 20 years, personnel and venues, however, i am always amazed at the enthusiasm of both tutors and students it's the most professional run summer school I have worked on; and i have taught on many in the past.

Lets look forward to another 50 years of Jazz education!!!

Geoff Simkins at the Glamorgan Summer School circa 1991
Photo credit: Iain Forbes


GEOFF SIMKINS: My first experience of teaching at the Summer School was 1986 when the venue was the University of Glamorgan at Treforest. The course organisers then were the late, and much missed, Brian Waite and Gordon Beck. I’ve taught every Summer School since then and look forward to this year’s course as much as ever; partly because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the students, many of whom themselves organise gigs and workshops around the country, but also (selfishly) for an opportunity again to spend time with the other tutors, whose extraordinary creativity as musicians and educators continues to inspire me, and whose friendship I value enormously.

Julian Nicholas in 1991. Photo credit: Iain Forbes


JULIAN NICHOLAS: 2000 ish : Err ... Tom ....on his Pumpin' organ - doing Stompin' At The Savoy (?) on his 79th (80th?) birthday night with a big band of half of the course (50-strong!!!) 2000 ish: Arnie and Alex McGuire's double act presenting the club - edgy, but brilliant! 1990 - 2008: night after night of magical performances from students lifted to new heights; tutors finding inspired combinations and playing out of their skins!!



LEE GOODALL: Well it was way back in the mid 80's when drummer Dave Wickins, altoist Geoff Simpkins, bassist Dave Good and myself (playing guitar) would meet at a school in Newbury once every two weeks in order to teach the young students the joys of jazz music. I remember giving a big 'thumbs up' to those lovely Greenham Common ladies as they steadfastly remained camped out in protest against the American military base with it's evil missiles! Hats off to those ladies.

Fast forward to 1989 when I received a call from Dave asking me to participate in, what was then, the long standing Barry Jazz Summer School, now in Dave's hands from the great pianist, Brian Waite (RIP) who ran it until admin got the better of him.

The summer school was to be held in Porthcawl, South Wales, Dave informed me. Fast forward again to the present and I have now been a tutor every year but one making this year my 25th anniversary. It has been longest working relationship I have, or will ever have I would imagine. I have made so many dear friends through my association with this incredible summer school. There have been so many great times over the years and some incredible, one off 'all star' bands performing in the evening jazz club. Amazing student bands playing a huge diversity of material generated in the main by the dedicated tutor team.

The age range of the students is as wide as is possible and it is just wonderful to see very young musicians playing music with seasoned amateur and professional players. Many friendships, bands and even marriages have sprung from this summer school and even changing venues have not discouraged the core of attendies or tutors.

This is certainly always a highlight of my year and truly hope that it may continue.


LIAM NOBLE: The Original Jazz Summer School has been hugely important to me over the years. It was the first place I got a chance to coach groups, from beginners up to advanced levels, and so it has been invaluable seeing the other tutors and their varying approaches to teaching. I've seen many successful young musicians come through the ranks too, but mainly it has been very rewarding to see the community spirit of the music in action, with many people giving freely of their time outside the classes as well as during teaching hours. And of course, the hang is legendary! A great opportunity for musicians who often don't cross paths at other times of the year to get drunk and exchange notes."



NIA LYNN: When I think of this Summer school, I have lots of great memories, but one in particular; when I was there as a student at the end of my first year at music college, there was a regular viewing spot where us students would stand to study our legendary teachers more closely! 'We' were made up of Dave Smith, Barry Green, Brigitte Beraha, Patrick Davey, And the late lovely Graham Fox... Watching the 'Tutors' who were made up of Dave Wickins, Liane Carroll, Dave Hassell, Steve Watts, Pete Churchill and the late great Pete Saberton to name but a few. It was and still is fifteen years later, a place of inspiration for me. Its ethos and content reminds us that jazz education can be about sharing experience and knowledge in the lineage of mentorship, encouragement and hard work in the aim to create a new language in the conversation of a common vernacular for the greater good of art! It's a creative re-boot and kick up the arse all at the same time! I love it and feel honoured to be part of its history!



NICK SMART: If I explain how important this summer school has been to me it will sound like over-sentimentality or plain old exaggeration, but it really isn't, this was an amazing period for me and its echoes continue to be part of my life. I first went as an assistant tutor in the summer of 1998 after graduating from the Guildhall Postgrad, a bewildering seventeen years ago. I was an assistant tutor to Steve Berry, a wonderful jazz musician and educator with whom I am still friends - we had two pianists in the band, but one was a youngish lad who despite being fantastic was incredibly humble, so he would always let the older player take the lead and say "I play a bit but I'm more of a singer really"…. I wonder what he's up to now… his name was Jamie Cullum!

At this time the Summer School was being hosted by Glamorgan University and being run by Dave Wickins and Simon Purcell - to whom I am forever grateful not only for his teaching and friendship, but for getting me involved with Glamorgan. As well as getting some valuable teaching experience and playing with some wonderful graduates of other colleges, the most lasting impression was the staggering array of tutors we "AT's" would get to listen to, and hang out with. I get my years confused but I remember early courses with Bobby Wellins, Stan Sulzmann, Chris Batchelor, John Parricelli, Julian Arguelles, the dearly missed Jeff Clyne and Pete Saberton, Geoff Simkins, Liam Noble, Julian Siegel, Alex Maguire, Nikki Iles, Pete Churchill, Liane Carroll, Dave Cliff, Steve Watts and far too many more to mention (with apologies to those I missed). But for a young musician who was into the music being made by these people, it was almost unbelievable to be a part of that.

The friendships made throughout the years on that course have been the relationships that shaped most things I've done since. Through Chris and Nikki I began to teach at Middlesex, I got to know John Parricelli and Stan Sulzmann well enough to ask them to be on my first album, I got to know and play with Geoff Simkins and Lee Goodall - beautiful musicians and people that I might not have met so easily in other circumstances. And so many other memories, many of the best of which, I have to say, are either unrepeatable or half forgotten! I remember the concerts in the bar each night over the years, which interestingly enough was the era when mini-disk recorders would start increasingly appearing on the ledge in front of the stage until it was almost covered with them, and us tutors having a meeting about whether or not we could control it - laughable now when you think how common place bootlegging is, but not then. Dave Hassell, Chris Batchelor and I used to take mega-band type brass and percussion projects, we'd plan them for months in advance. Even outside of the summer school the things we did there occasionally resurfaced, I remember one surreal function gig that came through Buckley/Batchelor I think, we played a Bar Mitzvah doing Pete's arrangements of Stevie Wonder tunes, the band included John Parricelli, Simon Purcell, Pete, Steve Watts I think, and the horns I'm pretty sure were Chris, Steve Buckley, Julian Arguelles and me, I may have forgotten others, but I'd like to see that band live again! I could go on and on... the rain, the hill, the Otley beer... but enough of all that. It is with the greatest of thanks to Dave and Buster that the course and it's unique spirit live on - now rightfully hosted back in its native Wales at the RWCMD - Happy 50th Anniversary to this extraordinary and special institution. I thank you and I owe you, big time."

Steve Watts in 1992. Photo credit : Iain Forbes


STEVE WATTS: My memories of the summer school are many: The camaraderie, laughter, fun, and numerous musical memories, from the sublime to the surreal. Meeting lots of interesting characters and forming some lasting friendships.


This year's Original UK Jazz Summer School is at RWCMD in Cardiff and runs from July 26-31. WEBSITE

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