NEWS: First Artists Announced for 2018 Galway Jazz Festival (4-7 October)

Sebastian writes:

The Galway Jazz Festival 2018, which will present over 120 musicians from 12 countries in more than 60 events across the city between 4 and 7 October, has announced its first artists. Two programming strands emerge: a dual focus on the UK and on Germany.

The UK programming strand

Festival director Ellen Cranitch explains the thinking behind the UK strand: “Nobody knows what's going to happen with Brexit – it could be that UK artists will need visas to come to Ireland in the very near future, we just don't know. We want to put a bit of a spotlight on what this may mean for the Arts in general, and music in particular. We also want to bring peoples attention to the burgeoning UK jazz scene, something that sometimes gets overlooked in favour of more exotic European scenes.”

Liane Carroll,
Ashley Henry
World Service Project
Huw Warren
and from beyond the jazz scene:
Kavus Torabi (website) in a double act with DJ Steve Davis
Poppy Ackroyd

The German programming strand

The festival's spokesman comments: "The German angle is less political and more geographical – each year we pick a country/region and thread together a few acts that present a cross section. The last couple of years was Scandanavian based, and this year (in association with the Goethe Institut) we present a cross section of German jazz."

Concerts by three artists from the German scene were announced, also demonstrating that the festival maintains a strong line on gender-balanced programming,

Pianist Julia Hulsmann with her trio
Jazz harpist Kathrin Pechlof and her trio
Saxophonist Anna-Lena Schnabel making her Irish debut

A further announcement with other International artists from Europe and Africa, and also Irish artists will be made in early August

LINK: Details and ticket information on the FESTIVAL'S WEBSITE


CD REVIEW: Linley Weir - Just One More Time

Linley Weir - Just One More Time
(Self-released and available on iTunes. CD review by Sarah Chaplin)

Just One More Time is what Linley Weir herself describes as a transitional album, which sees her emergence as a songwriter and pays tribute to her Fijian mother who died not long before she was planning to record it. Tapping into the emotions that arose in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s passing has produced a wealth of new material, which she presents here with compelling candour and simplicity, giving voice not so much to the grief as to the vivid stories that are her mother’s legacy.

Working with these rawest of ingredients could make for an album that’s too personal, but Weir brings to it such warmth and humour, such wonderful phrasing and arranging, you can really hear how much her line-up are relishing each and every song. John Crawford’s piano accompaniment makes a great foil for Linley’s delectable voice, right from the opening track Big Oak Tree, a folk-like elegy to nature. She employs bassist Andy Hamill to great effect on the wry and sexy love song More Than Just Friends, and Island In The Sun features percussionist Jansen Santana in full South Seas-calypso mode. But the most inspired addition to her band is the versatile and understated Shanti Jayasinha on trumpet and cello, adding his own jazz lines to the storytelling with memorable solos on both instruments, ably augmented by Simon Pearson on drums.

My favourite track is the very catchy Mr Black which paints a picture of her mother in feisty form, determined to go ahead with her mixed-race marriage no matter what her Scottish fiancé’s family thinks. All the songs are originals with the exception of Ivan Lins’ The Island, but its inclusion here makes complete sense – not only biographically for Weir – but because it fits so well alongside her own songwriting and sounds like it was written especially for her unaffected, heart-centred approach, right down to her own backing vocals, which subtly blend and accentuate throughout the album. The final song, Goodnight My Queen, makes abundantly clear Weir’s future trajectory in terms of her melodic ability as a writer and as a singer, and shows us there is more in store from this accomplished Surrey-based musician.


REVIEW: Marcus Miller (Laid Black) at Ronnie Scott's

Marcus Miller at Ronnie Scott's
Photo credit and © Carl Hyde

Marcus Miller
(Ronnie Scott's, 11 July 2018. First House. Review by Sebastian Maniura)

On an evening when the nation’s eyes were on the England semi-final, Marcus Miller returned for the second night of his three-night residency at Ronnie Scott's. Thanking everybody for coming down despite the match, Miller even went so far as to read out the score as it evolved during the set. Marcus and his band are currently on tour promoting his well-received new album Laid Black. The album follows on from Afrodeezia from 2015, inspired by his role as a UNESCO spokesperson for the Slave Routes Project. In Laid Black Marcus brings the music "home", incorporating modern styles such as trap, hiphop, R&B and gospel.

The band took the stage to a pre-recorded soundscape of multiple voices which led into Blues (from the album Tales) featuring a blistering solo from Miller. It would be difficult not to be struck by the sheer ease with which he and his band dived straight in to such a heavy groove. The set was a mix of new material, gospel hymns and old classics, never catching the audience off guard but not letting them get too comfortable in one vibe either. It showcased both the individual players’ skills and the elasticity, range and explosive energy of the group as a whole.

There was all the technical brilliance you would expect from a Marcus Miller concert as well as clear camaraderie between the musicians. Saxophonist Alex Han’s ecstatic solos on Untamed and Tutu drew whoops and applause from the crowd as well as dancing and fist bumps from his fellow musicians. Russell Gunn's playful trumpet work came to the fore on Trip Trap when he battled Alex Han’s melody line for the spotlight, even jokingly moving Alex’s mic away from his sax. Alex Bailey (drums) did stellar work navigating the complex trap and hip hop beats. Often playing along to a pre-recorded track, he not only seamlessly synchronized to it but managed to groove with it as well.

Miller’s solo lines were intricate and always brimming with energy. Tracks such as Untamed, Hylife and Trip Trap illustrated his sheer virtuosic mastery of both the fretless and fretted bass, whilst Tutu and I Loves you Porgy portrayed his more sensitive and restrained side.

With bass-led music there is always a danger of it being too chop-heavy. Miller negotiates this balance skilfully with melodies and solos that utilise both finger and slap style with tasteful aplomb and bountiful diversity, effortlessly switching from bass line to solo line.

The band moved seamlessly to accommodate these changes. Brett Williams on keys never allows the music to feel the least bit flat or thin. Indeed there was a depth to the music that made sure the show wasn't just about how well everybody could play.

A poignant moment came when Miller stopped to commemorate the recent death of his father. He shared some touching memories and expressed gratitude for the sacrifices his father had made in order to give him a good upbringing, whilst Williams accompanied quietly on the organ. This led into a rendition of Preachers Kid, featuring Miller on the bass clarinet with Gunn, Han and Williams providing a solemn accompaniment. This was followed by a thoughtful take on How Great Thou Art with bass clarinet and organ. These moments shone just as brightly as the more fast-paced, flashy numbers and revealed the subtlety and profundity of Miller’s music.

Earlier, keys player Tom O’Grady’s Resolution 88 had kicked off the evening. The band, inspired by Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters and Kaidi Tatham, was a good choice to warm up the room. The combination of the bass heavy grooves laid down by Tiago Coimbra (bass), Ric Elsworth (drums) and Oli Blake (percussion) and the soloistic zeal of Alex Hitchcock (saxophone) made for some great moments. The band were at their best when they were settled into some truly funky grooves.

The blackboard for the first night

Set List:

The Blues - Marcus Miller
Untamed - Charles Haynes / Mitch Henry / Marcus Miller / Brett Williams
I Loves You Porgy - George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin
Trip Trap - Marcus Miller
Hylife - Marcus Miller / Mamadou Cherif Soumano / Alune Wade
Preachers Kid - Marcus Miller
How Great Thou Art - Traditional Hymn
Tutu - Marcus Miller

Line ups:

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller: Bass / Bass Clarinet
Alex Bailey: Drums
Brett Williams: Keyboards
Russell Gunn: Trumpet
Alex Han: Saxophone

Resolution 88:

Tom O'Grady: Keys
Ric Elsworth: Drums
Alex Hitchcock: Saxophone
Tiago Coimbra: Bass
Oli Blake: Percussion


REVIEW: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 (3)

 Immediate Music
Photo credit and ©: Mick Destino

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 
(Bolzano and Castelrotto. 4 July 2018.  Review Part 3 by Alison Bentley)

Immediate Music- NOI Techpark Südtirol / Alto Adige - Bolzano / Bozen
Stefan Pasborg- NOI Techpark Südtirol / Alto Adige - Bolzano / Bozen
Natalie Sandtorv & Eirik Havnes- Batzen Sudwerk Ca'de Bezzi - Bozen / Bolzano
Maria Faust Sacrum Facere- Stone Cave Lieg - Kastelruth / Castelrotto

This is Alison's third report from Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 

The Festival likes to put on gigs in new buildings as well as old. Down the mirrored steps, in the black-painted basement in the shining new NOI Techpark building- were Finnish trio Immediate Music. Each year the Festival focuses on musicians from particular countries- this year, it’s the ‘Nordic connection.’ ‘Let’s jump into the stream and see where it takes us,’ said drummer Olavi Louhivuori. It took us through electronic whoops and whorls from Teemu Korpipää’s table of electronic wizardry, Pekko Käppi’s jouhikkos (bowed lyres) adrift in a storm of electronica. His jouhikkos played exquisite laments, with folk inflections. One was painted with a white skull; the other with a pentagram, and the heavy metal references were not only visual: Käppi’s vocalisations even recalled Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan at times.

Pekko Käppi’of Immediate Music
Photo credit and ©: Mick Destino

The volume increased as acoustic sounds became electrified, in an exciting rush of sound- music can be disturbing as well as consoling. But the detail, especially in Louhivuori’s fine drumming, was often lost in the over-loud amplification. Ötzi the prehistoric Iceman was once preserved in mountains close by, and now rests in a Bolzano museum. If he came back to life, I think this is the music he would be playing.

Stefan Pasborg
Photo by Alison Bentley

At the top of the building was a huge glass atrium. The impersonal space was transformed by Danish solo drummer Stefan Pasborg, who seemed merged with his drum kit. Perhaps Antonio Sánchez’ solo drum score to the film Birdman has allowed us to hear the kit in a new way. The glass made a perfect sound chamber, and Pasborg’s textures resonated round the room like reflections. The different drum timbres began to sound like melody, especially when Pasborg used elbow on tom to vary the tone. Metal bars played on the floor were like a gamelan; the volume increased; mallets shimmered on cymbals in an enthralling performance.

Natalie Sandtorv & Eirik Havnes
Photo by Alison Bentley

Back down to another basement: in the subterranean Batzen Sudwerk Ca'de Bezzi were Norwegians Natalie Sandtorv and Eirik Havnes, a vocal and guitar unlike any I’d heard before. Havnes, surrounded by a magic circle of pedals, created enchanting soundscapes around the voice. Sometimes played with a bow or metal bar, his sweeping sounds, clicks and crackles were like drops in a fantasy forest. Sandtorv’s vocals, dripping with reverb, could have been in Tolkien's Elvish, with Bjork-esque cries. She drew on free vocal jazz, sometimes reminiscent of Maggie Nicols. Her voice could be as gauzy as her dress, then unnervingly powerful.

In a quarry: Maria Faust's Sacrum Facere
Photo by Alison Bentley 

High up a mountain, in a quarry of rosy porphyry stone, surrounded by mountains and trees, was a perfect setting for Maria Faust’s compositions. Practical questions (like, how did they get a grand piano up a mountain?) faded as her music unfolded. Faust comes from Estonia, but studied music in Denmark, and made it her home. Her music is inspired by Estonian folk culture, and Kristi Mühling’s kannel (a kind of zither) brought an otherworldly quality to the ensemble.

‘All my songs are about women,’ she’s said, and Epp and Tui were Estonian girls’ names. Some minimalist classical influences, (John Adams?) some luscious orchestration, with sometimes jumpy time signatures- tuba (Swedish Olof Jonatan Ahlbom) and sax (American Edward Deane Ferm) in delicious harmony. A superb solo from Swedish trumpeter Nils Tobias Wiklund recalled Christian Scott in its ferocious energy. In the hymn-like Lydia, Italian Emanuele Maniscalco’s free piano solo hooked beautifully into the rhythms of the melody. It was if he was quarrying the notes from the crags above the stage. Sparrow Song, about birds in the streets where Faust grew up, was as syncopated as bird movements. Contrapuntal clarinet (Italian Francesco Bigoni,) bass clarinet (Danish Anders Banke,) trumpet and tuba lines jumped around like- sparrows. ‘My album is about destinies of women and on how women have been sacrificed in history – and this is still the case today,’ Faust has written. Her compositions were at times serious and delicate, but also strong and full of life and the energy of free jazz.


NEWS: Maria Schneider, Bob Dorough, Abdullah Ibrahim and Stanley Crouch named as 2019 NEA Jazz Masters Fellows

Maria Schneider
Photo credit and © Kyra Kverno

The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships are the highest honours in jazz in the USA. They are conferred on "individuals who have made significant contributions to the art form." The 2019 awardees have just been announced.

They are Bob Dorough (award made posthumously), Abdullah Ibrahim, Maria Schneider, and Stanley Crouch. Crouch receives the 2019 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. The release states that: "Sadly, Bob Dorough passed away shortly after being notified of his Jazz Masters honor."

The 2019 recipients will be celebrated at a free tribute concert, which will take place on Monday, April 15, 2019 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and streamed online.

The press release includes the following citations:

Stanley Crouch—Jazz Historian, Author, Critic, Co-founder Jazz at Lincoln Center (2019 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy)
Crouch is the author of eight critically acclaimed books and of hundreds of uncollected articles, essays, album liner notes, and reviews on jazz that has influenced the music and championed it for the general public. He also co-founded and served as artistic consultant for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Bob Dorough—Vocalist, Composer, Arranger, Pianist
Dorough’s career spanned more than 70 years in jazz as a singer, pianist, composer, and arranger. His distinctive vocals, clever lyrics, and strong melodies were well-known in the jazz world even before his compositions and vocals for the animation series Schoolhouse Rock!.

Abdullah Ibrahim
—Pianist, Composer
Ibrahim combines the rhythmic influences of South Africa with the improvisation of jazz to create his spiritually enriching music, whether performing solo, with a trio, a full band, or an orchestra. This blend of the traditional and the modern is reflected in his distinctive style, harmonies, and musical vocabulary.

Maria Schneider—Composer, Arranger, Bandleader
Schneider’s music has been hailed by critics as “evocative,” “majestic,” “heart-stoppingly gorgeous,” and “beyond categorization.” Primarily known for her highly original and provocative big band compositions written over the past three decades, she is unique in having written classical works as well, even stepping into rock through a collaboration with David Bowie.



FEATURE/ADVICE: Sound Reasoning Part 1 – the set-up

Mark Wingfield at his Heron Island Studio desk

Mark Wingfield is a mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio. He has three DownBeat Masterpiece albums under his belt, a Jazzwise Best Release Of The Year, and over 300 rave reviews from around the world for albums he has worked on. In this series of articles Mark gives advice on how to avoid common mistakes made in the recording studio which will hold back your album from sounding great.


In my work at Heron Island Studio I get some amazing recordings to mix and master, but I also get many sessions which could have been recorded a lot better and that prompted me to write this series of articles. I’ve been specialising in mixing and mastering jazz for over 20 years. In that time technology has changed beyond recognition. Styles of music have changed. The way we listen to music has changed. But one thing hasn't changed. I still hear the same recording mistakes being made in the way things are recorded. These are the kinds of problems that mean the album is never going to sound great. The good news is that most of these mistakes can easily be avoided with a little knowledge, which I aim to provide in this series.

Of course part of what we do as mixing and mastering engineers, is work our studio magic, and it is possible to greatly improve lacklustre recordings. However, it’s important to know, if you’re a young jazz musician (or even not so young), that even the best mixing or mastering engineer can’t ever make a recording with problems, sound as good as a recording without them.

Most jazz these days is recorded in small studios. It is possible to get a great recording, even a world class recording, in a small studio. But it’s also easy in small rooms to get it quite badly wrong and mar your recording with sonic problems. The result of such mistakes means that mixing becomes about fixing problems, whereas, if you avoid the mistakes, mixing can be about making your recording sound amazing.

You've put all that time and effort into developing your art and your skill as a musician, why skimp when it comes to recording? Especially when it doesn't actually cost you any more to get it right.

These articles are aimed at musicians who may not know much at all about the recording process, but there will also be some tips that even those with a lot of studio experience might find useful. I will look at all the common mistakes I hear people make when recording and and mixing jazz, starting with the set-up stage.

Set-up: getting the sounds you really want

The first main activity in the studio is of course setting up the microphones and getting the sound for each instrument. This set-up time is the single most important element in achieving a great sound for your recording. As long as there are no actual problems with the studio itself (which we’ll cover later), getting this stage right is by far the biggest step in achieving a great sound. The majority of problems that keep a recording from sounding great happen during this phase. So it cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to put extra time and effort into the set-up phase.

Get involved

You can of course just leave it all up to the engineer. However, unless they have a long track record of engineering great sounding jazz records, my advice is not to leave it up to them to decide on how each instrument ends up sounding. You may not have much experience or knowledge of recording studios, but if you’re a jazz musician you have good ears, so use your ears to guide the engineer. Get involved in deciding on the sound of every instrument and the sound of each drum in the drum kit. Use your ears to guide your engineer every step of the way.  Don’t make the mistake of chatting in the studio lounge while the engineer does everything. Each musician should take in personal interest in helping the engineer get the sound they are after.

There is sometimes an attitude amongst some jazz musicians that the technical side of recording is not their domain, so they just keep out of it and let “the professionals” do their work. That approach is fine if you’re working in a high-end studio with an engineer who has recorded many great sounding jazz albums. In any other situation, it really pays to be actively involved.

Even if the engineer is very good, unless they specialise in jazz, they are unlikely to know what sort of sound you’re really after. Unless you are actively involved when they are setting up the sound of each instrument, you’ll be leaving it up to the engineer to guess your tastes. Chances are you won’t end up with a sound which is as good as it could have been, even if the engineer is experienced with jazz as a genre. If they are not very experienced at recording jazz, they are likely to apply the techniques they use for recording other styles of music, many of which will not be appropriate for a jazz recording. Such an approach can ruin a jazz recording. This is why it’s so important to be actively involved in listening to the sounds the engineer gets for each instrument. For example, if the sound they have set up for the drums is not picking up the intricate ride work the drummer is playing, any competent engineer should be able to adjust the microphones accordingly. But unless you are there listening and commenting, they won’t know that’s what you are after.
Listen to the sounds the engineer gets for each instrument - and
don't be afraid to comment.

Avoid last minute changes

There is one caveat here however. Don’t be tempted to make any last minute changes to the sound of your instrument. Retuning the kick drum in a way which you don’t normally tune it, or trying out a new effects pedal on the guitar or bass is to be avoided. Stick to what you know works with your instrument in the context of the tunes you are playing. Last-minute changes to instruments or effects often end in disaster when it comes to the mix. It seems to sound pretty cool while you’re recording, but in the mix you realise it’s not quite what the track needs, or it sounds too much of a good thing and now it’s too late to do anything about it. Any change in an instrument’s sound which has not been tried and tested with the tunes and arrangements should be avoided. If you are planning to buy a new effects box, a new snare, or a new anything for the purpose of using on your record, I strongly recommend you try it out in more than one gig or rehearsal before the recording dates.

Reference tracks

When you are working with the engineer to get the sound of each instrument, don't be afraid to use reference tracks to help. It's useful to come prepared with a selection of tracks from albums you think sound great. Then you can A/B between your reference tracks and what you're hearing when the engineer is setting up the mics. You can ask the engineer to play your tracks through the control room speakers to get a good comparison. Of course, you won't be able to get the same sound as on your reference tracks because the instruments, players, studio and mics will all be different. But it will give you and the engineer a target to aim at.

Give yourself some time

In these days of streaming, budgets are tight. However, if you can find a way to pay for an extra studio day or even an extra half-day, where you can set up and get all your sounds, it can make an enormous difference to the end result. Trying to do it all on your first recording day means you’ll feel under a lot of time pressure, watching the clock and worrying that you’re still trying to get the right bass sound when you should be tracking. What tends to happen is that the set-up stage is rushed through and the result is almost always a less than ideal sound. What makes sense, if you want a great sounding record, is to think of a day for set-up (or at least half a day) as part and parcel of recording an album, rather than an add-on or a luxury. You’ve put in all that time working on your art, practising, writing and rehearsing, why skimp at the most important stage of recording your album?

I can't emphasise enough how important the set-up stage is. Apart from choosing a good sounding studio, it's the most important part of getting a great sounding record. Get this part right and all you'll need is a good mix engineer to end up with a great sounding album. Get it wrong and no mix engineer in the world can make it sound as good as it could have done if you'd spent a bit more time and effort at this stage.

Over this series of articles we will look at all the common problems you need to listen out for and avoid in the studio. You’ll also gain enough understanding of how the recording process works, to help you guide your engineer in achieving the sound you’re after for your recording.

In the next article we’ll begin with monitoring (how loudly you listen in the control room, etc) and why this is so important to getting a great recording.

Mark Wingfield, Mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio


NEWS: Full programme announced for 2018 Herts Jazz Festival (Letchworth Garden City, 5-7 October)

The opening night of the very first Herts Jazz Festival in 2011
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

The eighth Herts Jazz Festival will take place at the Broadway Theatre in Letchworth Garden City from 5-7 October 2018, it has been announced.


Joey DeFrancesco Quartet – their only UK date
Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames
A Tribute to Jazz at the Philharmonic
Alan Skidmore and Paul Dunmall
Claire Martin, Robert Mitchell, Jean Toussaint and many more!
Plus films:
Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr with live keyboard accompaniment from Gareth Williams
Dreams are Free, a documentary on the life of Bobby Wellins.

Clark Tracey, Festival Director said, “We are really pleased to be able to move the Festival to Letchworth this year. As well as some fantastic music in a great, newly refurbished theatre, festival-goers will be able to experience the vibrant atmosphere of the town – the first Garden City in the world and a centre of the Arts and Crafts movement – with great places to eat and drink on the doorstep.”

The 1936 art deco Broadway Cinema & Theatre in Letchworth
Publicity Photo


Friday 5 October

8-10.30pm A Tribute To Jazz At The Philharmonic
Pete Long – clarinet; Art Themen, Dean Masser, Simon Spillett – tenor saxophones; Sam Mayne – alto saxophone; Mark Armstrong, George Hogg, Steve Waterman – trumpets; Ian Bateman, Callum Au – trombones; Harry Sanke – guitar; Nick Dawson – piano; Steve Rose – bass; Clark Tracey – drums.

Saturday 6 October

10.15-11.00am Film (Screen 4) Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
Live musical accompaniment by Gareth Williams.

11.30am-12.30pm Art Themen 'New Directions' Quartet
Art Themen – tenor/soprano saxophones; Gareth Williams – piano; Arnie Somogyi – bass; Winston Clifford – drums.

1-2pm Misha Mullov-Abbado Sextet
Matthew Herd – alto saxophone; James Davison – trumpet; Sam Rapley – tenor saxophone; Liam Dunachie – piano; Misha Mullov-Abbado – bass; Scott Chapman – drums.

2.30-3.30pm Paul Dunmall's Sunship Quartet plus special guest Alan Skidmore
Paul Dunmall, Alan Skidmore, Howard Cottle – reeds; Olie Brice – bass; Tony Bianco – drums.

4-5pm Robert Mitchell Epiphany 3
Robert Mitchell – piano; Tom Mason – bass; Saleem Raman – drums.

6.30-7.45pm Alan Barnes Octet
Alan Barnes, Robert Fowler, Karen Sharp – reeds; Bruce Adams – trumpet; Mark Nightingale – trombone; Dave Newton – piano; Simon Thorpe – bass; Clark Tracey – drums.

8.15-10.45pm Joey DeFrancesco Quartet
Joey DeFrancesco – organ/keyboards/trumpet/vocals; Troy Roberts – saxophone; Dan Wilson – guitar; Michael Ode – drums.

Sunday 7 October

10.15-11.15am FILM (Screen 4) Dreams are Free (Gary Barber, 2013)
Documentary on the life and career of Bobby Wellins

11am-12noon Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble – Bernstein & Beyond
Directed by Duncan Fraser

12.30-1.30pm Claire Martin/Dave Newton
Claire Martin – vocals; Dave Newton – piano

2-3pm Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet
Nat Steele – vibes; Gabriel Latchin – piano; Dario Di Lecce – bass; Steve Brown – drums

3.30-4.45pm Gareth Lockrane's Grooveyard
Gareth Lockrane – flute; Alex Garnett – tenor saxophone; Mike Outram – guitar; Ross Stanley – piano; Dave Whitford – bass; Tim Giles – drums.

5.15-6.30pm Jean Toussaint's Young Lions
Jean Toussaint – tenor saxophone; Mark Kavuma – trumpet; Ashley Henry – piano; Daniel Casimir – bass; Ben Brown – drums

8-10.30pm Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames
Georgie Fame – vocals/organ; Alan Skidmore – tenor saxophone; Guy Barker – trumpet; Anthony Kerr – vibes; Tristan Powell – guitar; Alec Dankworth – bass; James Powell – drums

The Festival is being supported by Arts Council England, J Samuel Pianos and Cambridge Drums. (pp)


Weekend and Day tickets are now on sale at “early-bird” discounted prices until 31 July.
Weekend £110/£95 Herts Jazz Club members/£75 students.
Saturday £60/£50/£45
Sunday £50/£40/£30

There are NO booking fees!

Gig tickets go on sale 1 August

Tickets can be booked online at the Broadway Theatre site or the Herts Jazz site
Telephone bookings at 01462 681088
Book in person at Broadway Cinema & Theatre, Eastcheap, Letchworth Garden City, SG6 3DD


ROUND-UP (2): 2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival

The view out from the Rio Tinto Freestage onto the Rue Ste Catherine
Photo credit: MIJF/ Frederique Menard-Aubin

Montreal International Jazz Festival 2018
(Montreal, 30 June- 2 July. Round-UP (2) by Sebastian Scotney)

For this 39th Montreal Jazz Festival, the festival’s Twitter feed has cast away all false modesty and now clearly intends to be "fabulous at forty," by declaring FIJM to be, yes, “the greatest jazz festival in the world!”

With over 500 events, its combination of a massive free programme plus the highly impressive concert hall programme and all the ancillary events (like Leah Blythe's great tours of the history..) , and estimated total audiences of about a million and a half...economic value added nearing C$50m and additional tax receipts of over C$10m would be hard to argue.

From this year's vast jamboree I have so far done four pieces of coverage:

- a round-up of the first and second nights which includes a mini-review of Robert Lepage's controversial SLĀV (I actually saw it rather than just joining in the argument)

- and three individual gig reviews
 Ry Cooder at the Théâtre Maisonneuve
Houston Person with the Emmet Cohen Trio at Upstairs
Orchestre National de Jazz’s Hommage à Carla Bley.

From the remainder of my time in Montreal and the festival I've picked TEN moments I will treasure:

Vinicius Cantuaria (and Paul Sokolow) at L'Astral

1)  Vinicius Cantuaria at L'Astral. This was my gig of the festival. The way Cantuaria just glides, slides through changes, particularly in Jobim songs, is something I never cease to find quite miraculous. I have previously heard him do it solo, and here he was with a quartet musicians who needed to match his lightness of touch. And they did. Helio Feirrera Alves at the piano and a ubiquitous New Yorker Bill Dobrow on percussion found absolutely the miracle of weightlessness that is required to support this remarkable musician.

2) Gentiane MG Trio. This was a good set with an introspective Mehldau-ish vibe - with titles such as The Road to Nowhere or Empty Canvas. She unselfishly gave her drummer and bassist the prerogative to play loud. But there was a moment when all her calmness and composure were viciously torpedoed: she was targeted by a complete pain in the audience, an entitled woman heckler demanding loudly and vociferously her right to be addressed in French. Ouch.

Laid-back but with limitless melodic invention: Reg Schwager

3) Al Muirhead's Canadian Quintet. A friend from the local scene tipped me off to listen out for guitarist Reg Schwager. He was in the quintet of veteran trumpeter/ bass trumpeter Al Muirhead. Schwager sits back with the guitar resting almost horizontally, but the flow of his melodies and countermelodies is as effortless as it is undemonstrative  - he made me think of Jim Mullen.

4) The Suffers with vocalist Kamerra Franklin. The gutsy Texan soul singer was causing quite a buzz around the press room. I went out, heard her on a free stage and was not disappointed, quite the contrary.

5) The Bela Fleck press conference. The festival puts on events for the large number of us writers in town, and Bela Fleck and his bandmates did a very good interview as they received their Miles Davis Award, the first complete band to do so.  They were asked whom they would like to work with, and top of their list came harpist Edmar Castaneda, whom they described as “one of us”. It also turned out that all four Flecktones are huge admirers of Finchley's own Jacob Collier.

6) Gilad Hekselman with Mark Turner Jonathan Pinson and Rick Rosato at Gesu. Hekselman and  Turner made a fascinating contrast with each other in a late night session at the Gesu Centre with musicianship off the scale. Hekselman plays with positivity and drive. Turner acts as the perfect foil

7) Polly Gibbons. This one is a bit of a cheat -  I didn't actually hear them. I had heard the top-flight New York band that agent Mary Ann Topper put together last year on a free-stage, and this year noted that they have been promoted to be the support for Boz Scaggs. PG's American band included pianist Taylor Eigsti and a bass player with an irresistible sense of propulsion Richie Goods (try this on video). Polly's career has come a long way from Ipswich and is now really going places in North America, with both a Birdland residency and a new album imminent.

8) Jerry Granelli feat. Robben Ford. This was one of those 'I-really-should-have-done-my-homework-better' moments. I turned up at a freestage to hear a band led by a drummer from Halifax Nova Scotia called Jerry Granelli, only to discover that the featured guitarist was no less a personage than Robben Ford.  Which in turn led me in the direction of this album from Justin Time Records.

9) The Festival finding another hub for its 40th next year...? There is a new initiative afoot to give the jazz festival an additional hub in one of Montreal's boroughs in 2019. It is apparently up for grabs where it will go, but an area I have got to know now is the Plateau. A song by Mike Rud, sung by Sienna Dahlen seems to haunt me and hover over me. It described the delights of the tree-shaded Parc La Fontaine - where I try to fit in a morning run under the trees while in Montreal.

10)  Playing hookie. Sorry. I admit it. Some journalists are far more diligent and focused than I am. For example, John Kelman'sdevilishly detailed round-up is a masterpiece. But in Montreal there is...So much to see!!!  I can't help wandering off and exploring the delights of the city. Like these Habitat 67 Apartments. Amazing.

Sebastian was in Montreal as the guest of FIJM


REVIEW: Robert Mitchell Solo at the Jazz Cafe

Robert Mitchell
Photo credit: Richard Kaby

Robert Mitchell Solo
(Jazz Cafe, 8 July 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

Silence is impossible, so he begins. He strikes, neither soft nor hard, one key: the F sharp below middle C. The piano rings, and the F sharp rings until it is overwhelmed by the impossible silence and space. The space swallows the note and all 88 notes of the piano, until there is nothing, not even silence.

This was the bold opening of Robert Mitchell’s solo piano set at the Jazz Cafe, as he played a single, continuous 35-minute sequence of improvisation, the first time he had ever attempted this with an audience present, having had the idea in his mind for many years. He had been reading recently about the preparations Keith Jarrett makes before improvised piano concerts — and also, in light of the recent passing of Cecil Taylor, he felt it was time.

F Sharp. The Beethoven Opus 78 Piano Sonata is in F Sharp Major, starting very slowly. F# is newness — metallic, shiny and golden. Rare and ecstatic. Spiritual, but clashing and dissonant, like faith.

It’s both an exciting and daunting aim to keep a sense of narrative that will absorb an audience, particularly one in a standing venue. The next day the pianist recalled: “It was very much like sitting on a beam of light – you can be overwhelmed by its power – we didn't create it – so all you can do is negotiate to share its compelling atmosphere for as long as is possible.”

Out of the space, he makes two slow strikes of the A sharp above middle C, then two strikes of the D sharp above that. It could be an F#6 chord, or it could be a simpler D#minor. With all the space between and around the notes, you can’t be sure. This is one of the great pleasures of music, the deployment of uncertainty in a sure way.

The improvisation unfolded, the chordal uncertainties multiplying and filling in the space of the room with patient development, building the music with strong left-hand jabs at the keyboard, leading into dense, fast arpeggios reminiscent of the circular breathing solo improvisations of Evan Parker. The notes filled the room in streams, then stopped… and in the pregnant moment someone whooped.

I’m taken out of myself and feel like, if I’d made that whoop, in spite of my own excitement, I’d immediately have regretted it. I sense that something has changed in the room. Mitchell moves to another kind of playing. He stands and reaches into the piano. Now he is swiping the bare strings on the inside, without tonality, with a gentle but firm percussive attack.

I asked Robert Mitchell about this moment, and he was entirely gracious about it. As a performer he had experienced it totally differently to me as a listener. He had enjoyed that this audience member was so vocally enjoying his playing. He says: “It felt like I had built up a head of steam and expectation of a peak and a finish being imminent but also that I could ask the folk present to continue on this journey with me... for a bit longer... I sensed about five different types of silence/listening...”

Five types of silence should be the title of something, like a set of études that only exist in the imagination and are never written or played out loud… I suspect there are as many types of silence, and listening, as there are people — or infinitely more, as we can listen again and have a completely different experience to the time before, because we ourselves are different from how we were before.

The performance was recorded and it will surely be fascinating for those of us who were there to hear it again. It will in a very real way be a completely different, perhaps unrecognizable experience. Having taken us through the power and creativity of his playing and musical imagination, Mitchell’s improvisation concluded, as many have done in the past, merging into a song—this one is called Can We Care — a typically Mitchell concern.

The performance almost seemed to stand as a microcosm of Robert Mitchell’s diverse journey as a pianist and composer. We have followed him from the R'n'B-inflected songs of his group Panacea and his left-handed piano studies, Glimpse (interview), through to the symphonic ambition of his choral work Invocation and the spiritual modernism of his recent trio and spoken word album A Vigil for Justice, A Vigil for Peace. You may be intrigued by this long-deferred embrace of the depths and breadths of longer form improvisation, and you may even be as moved, absorbed and driven to whoops of pleasure as people there so demonstratively were.

*AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.
 AJ is grateful to Robert Mitchell for his open responses to his electronic questions. Robert Mitchell's solo set was the support for the Vijay Iyer Sextet, ALSO REVIEWED

LINK: Radio 3’s Key Matters devoted to F Sharp Major


REVIEW: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 Part 2.(Simone Graziano Frontal + Reinier Baas, Nils Berg, Euregio Collective)

Simone Graziano Frontal (piano) and group
Photo credit: Mick Destino 

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 Part 2. 
(Bolzano and Bressanone. 2 and 3 July. Review by Alison Bentley)

Simone Graziano Frontal + Reinier Baas, Palais Toggenburg - Bozen / Bolzano, Tues 3 Jul.
Nils Berg Cinemascope, Parco Semirurali Park, Bozen/Bolzano, Mon 2 Jul.
Euregio Collective feat. International Guests, Maria-Hueber-Square - Brixen / Bressanone, Tues. 3 July.

This is the second of Alison Bentley's Round-Ups from Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018

Working together- that’s something the Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige likes to emphasise. Musicians from different countries are invited to play together to develop new projects. Frontal, led by Florentine pianist Simone Graziano, are Italian, though sax player Dan Kinzelman is originally from America. They were joined for this gig in the garden of the Palais Toggenburg by inventive Dutch guitarist Reinier Baas, surrounded by morning birdsong and cicadas.

Graziano’s introductory piece veered brilliantly from pastoral to urban and back in a range of moods. The classically-influenced dreamy piano seemed to emerge from the birdsong, like Messiaen. A little drum and bass from mysteriously-hooded drummer Stefano Tamborrino; a serene sax theme, then from nowhere, an urgent driving groove; broken glass edginess from Kinzelman led to Brecker-ish climaxes. Graziano’s Killcoal , ‘inspired by African music’, had swirling guitar trills like a kalimba, and Steve Reichian cross rhythms. At one point, the groove seemed to slow down to meld with the cicadas and church bells. There was a gently funky piece in 10, with a romantic piano solo over a grungy beat. Graziano’s blues-edged solo pulled excitingly against Tamborrino’s wild rimshots. Kinzelman pushed the groove as far as it would go before it broke like a thunderstorm. Sax and guitar lines jumped, as if from branch to branch, among the ancient trees. One piece had breathy folky tenor phrases, dappled with piano notes- drums fluttering like birds’ wings- and powerful bass from Gabriele Evangelista. Baas’ solo moved between deadened strings and legato sounds; headlong funk fell into arpeggios like sun through leaves. In another, strummed guitar and trickling piano notes were like tributaries, coming together to a grand theme. An intriguing mix of European, American and African-influenced jazz.

Nils Berg
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Swedish trio Nils Berg Cinemascope collaborates with musicians from all over the world- by composing and improvising with film clips they’ve found on YouTube, as well as their own spontaneous films. Rather than accompany films in a dark cinema, they brought a huge screen out into Bolzano’s Parco Semirurali, with its extraordinary mountain backdrop. One slow, ambient piece featured a Hungarian cimbalom player from Stockholm- ‘If you’re lucky, you will meet him in the subway, or the streets,’ said saxophonist Berg.

Nils Berg's Cinemascope
Photo credit: Mick Destino

A piece from Chennai, Orissa (In the Hands of the Lord) featured an Indian dance rehearsal in the trio’s hotel, which Berg had caught on film. Drummer Christopher Cantillo created a loose groove, while Berg’s laid back tenor improvised around the vocals and harmonium. The trio had travelled to the Punjab to hunt for a Sufi singer, whose YouTube clip had inspired them. ‘He draws words from the sky and throws them out into the world,’ said Berg. They found him on the last day of their trip. He was happy with their treatment of his song- they gave it a rhythmic and harmonic context, with sensitivity, beauty and a touch of funk from Josef Kallerdah’s bass. Other clips juxtaposed a Bulgarian folk singer with an alpenhorn, a young singer from Bhutan, and a snow-covered park. The music took on an elemental quality as lightning lit up the mountains- the performance was sadly cut down in its prime as hailstones hurtled down.

Euregio Collective
Photo by Alison Bentley

The 15-piece Euregio Collective filled the stage in the small square in the picturesque town of Brixen/Bressanone. Young musicians from Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany and Chile had written compositions for the ensemble. The evening was warming up after a storm, as the audience filled up the wooden benches- locals as well as jazz fans who’d travelled there specially. The Collective opened with a mix of relaxed tautness that recalled Loose Tubes- heightened by Matthias Schriefl’s stirring trumpet solo, played from a balcony across the square. Some instruments were doubled: 2 vibes, 2 drummers, 2 basses (electric and acoustic,) 2 guitars, plus horns. Anna Widauer’s breathy, then impassioned vocals stood out in a couple of pieces, especially the slow-burning Animali Notturni (by bassist Marco Stagni.) Deep bass clarinet (Siegmar Brecher) and trombone (Simon Kintopp) lines lit the fuse, and the music burst into the flames of free jazz. Bassist Ruth Goller’s piece (Sketch) received especially appreciative applause- although resident in London, she grew up near Brixen/Bressanone. Her bass was the driving force behind a compelling, angular theme. Sax-player Marc Stucki’s composition brought together reggae, klezmer and Caribbean grooves, revealing the skills of drummers Andrea Polato and Valentin Schuster. Guitarist Stefano Giordani’s piece drew on rock and blues, while the encore seemed to reference Motown, with its pulsing bass and sweet vibes (Mirko Pedrotti and Matthias Legner.) But it dissolved into collective free improv as Schriefl poured water into the bell of his trumpet. It seemed to represent the musical discipline and freedom they all had- individual styles at the service of the whole band.


INTERVIEW: Miriam Ast & Victor Gutierrez (new album Secret Songs )

Miriam Ast and Victor Gutierrez
Publicity photo supplied

The London-based duo of German-born singer MIRIAM AST and pianist VICTOR GUTIERREZ first came to the attention of LJN when they won the Bucharest International Jazz Competition in May 2017 (interview link below. They have just released their debut album as a duo, Secret Songs on the German Mons label, with guest Stan Sulzmann. Sebastian found out more about it:

LondonJazz News: Could you tell us about your musical background? What drew you both to jazz in the first place?

Miriam Ast: I am from a musical family in the south-west of Germany near Mannheim. I grew up with a lot of music in the house as well as a cultural interest of my parents. From a young age I learned the guitar, flute, piano and I sang in different choirs. At the age of 10 I found the instrument that initially drew me into jazz music: the alto saxophone. My first teacher introduced me to a lot of jazz standards but it was not until I changed to a new hip saxophone guy and recent graduate from the music college in Mannheim that I immersed myself deeper into the genre: I had to transcribe Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and other saxophonists as well as clearly learn about jazz harmony to start playing over changes.

In the summer that year I took part in a jazz workshop where I was surrounded by advanced players and singers for a whole week. Their musicianship, improvisational quality and freedom with the music impressed me tremendously and stimulated me to practise more and more. At that point I would say music became more than a hobby but something I knew I wanted to do in my life.

Victor Gutierrez: I was born in Madrid and raised in Palencia, a town in Castilla y Leon 200km to the North of Madrid. I started studying classical music at the age of 9. I was first exposed to live jazz when I attended a Mark Murphy concert at the age of 16.  That was the moment when I fell in love with the style, so I started exploring this music on my own through albums from the local library.

Later on, I moved to Madrid where I started taking private tuition with some of the most talented Spanish musicians. This led to an audition for the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. I received a scholarship and was able to start my studies in Boston in January 2005. I decided to go for a professional music career after my graduation and lived in New York for some time. In 2014 I moved to the UK, and graduated with an MA in jazz piano from the Royal Academy of Music in 2017, which set the foundation for my current projects with Miriam as well as my piano trio.

LJN: Who are your musical influences?

MA: My biggest musical influences are singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, Carmen McRae and saxophonists such as Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins and Dick Oatts. During my bachelor studies with majors in jazz singing and saxophone I also started being interested in more modern jazz styles and especially checked out Esperanza Spalding, Gretchen Parlato and Norma Winstone. The latter really drew me into the art of chamber music singing putting focus on vocal timbres, story-telling and a strong atmospheric character in the music. This shifted my focus from straight-ahead singing with lots of improvisation, which I still love and do, into chamber music jazz singing my original compositions influenced by folk music and modern jazz styles. I think this is also the reason why I am particularly drawn to the duo-format in jazz: It challenges you immensely and gives you so much room and freedom for creativity and interaction in the moment.

VG: I can list the artists that had the biggest impact on my playing back then: Keith Jarrett, Michel Petrucciani, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, David Kikoski, Brad Mehldau and Miles Davis. Much later I also explored European jazz musicians, in particular Normal Winstone, John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler. They truly resonated with me as I found their style completely innovative, different from the traditional bebop coming from the States, and very close to my classical contemporary music heritage.

LJN: What has been the highlight of your performing career thus far? Are there any experiences that particularly stand out in your memory? 

MA: In 2014, my first year at the Royal Academy of Music, I got to perform with the Royal Academy Big Band and Nikki Iles during the EFG London Jazz Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That was a memorable experience, also because I was new to London and I got to sing Tideway, one of Nikki’s compositions with Norma Winstone’s lyrics who happened to be in the audience that night. (REVIEW)

VG: No doubt, the Norma Winstone 75th birthday concert at the Cadogan Hall in London, during the EFG London Jazz Festival in 2016 where I had the honour to perform with her as part of the Royal Academy Big Band and Symphonic Orchestra. A concert of a lifetime. (REVIEW)

 Another remarkable one was to perform with the French artists Benoit Sourisse and André Charlier, plus the Royal Academy Big Band at the Royal Festival Hall in 2015, also as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Secret Songs album cover

LJN: Tell us about your new album – what is the concept behind it?

MA: The new album is entitled ‘Secret Songs’ and this project goes back to our time at the Royal Academy of Music where Victor and I met in 2015. We started having regular plays as a duo and felt that there was a very good musical and personal connection. Over time we started arranging some of our favourite jazz standards in a very collaborative way and also played more and more original compositions. In May 2017 we won the Best Vocalist Award at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition. This gave us another push to take the next step and record our debut album ‘Secret Songs’.

VG: The original idea was to make a very personal album and bring out hidden meanings in songs that have a powerful story behind. We started combining lyrics, harmonies and melodies in new ways to enhance the spirit of each story. We aimed to create musical landscapes by the use of percussive and rhythmic elements, transforming structures, carving and shaping all the pieces in a very artisanal way.

It did not take us long to start writing our own compositions for the project, and after becoming finalists of the prestigious Peter Whittingham Award and completing a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, we decided to feature one of our London mentors and the British saxophone legend Stan Sulzmann on three songs of the album.

LJN: What can audiences expect from your live shows? 

MA: They definitely can expect an intense musical dialogue between voice and piano encompassing warm and lyrical sounds, rhythmic explorations and interactive soloing. We develop the arrangements in the rehearsals together and put our focus on story-telling that creates a narrative and takes the audience on a real musical journey. The songs have a strong atmospheric quality to them and we like to use space to draw the listener into the atmosphere of the moment. We are both very much aware of the lyrics in the songs and Victor enhances these by finding the right harmonies for me to express the story. The concept of this duo is not a singer being accompanied by a piano but a true interplay and interaction between the two counterparts. For concerts in general, our most important aim is to create an intimate connection with the audience by guiding them through the evening both of us and finding ways to engage them in the songs.

VG: Miriam also has the great ability to use her voice as an instrument. This has inspired me to write some challenging tunes which feature her voice in this capacity. Expect some intricate vocal lines and raw improvisation!

LJN: And what plans do you have for the future?

Both: First and foremost, we just released Secret Songs on the German label Mons Records on the 2nd July. We will play a few shows in Germany for our European release, and then we have a big concert coming up at Pizza Express The Pheasantry as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival on the 20th November. We are very excited to be joined by the acclaimed British saxophonist Tori Freestone for that.

Currently we are working hard to line up a UK album release tour for autumn and next year and have plans to collaborate with other renowned international artists such as Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale who may join us for some dates. We are constantly working on new songs and are producing new content such as videos and other material. Our goal for 2019 is to land some UK and international jazz festivals with this project.

• 16 Sep, Omnibus Theatre, Clapham
• 21 Sep Lit&Phil Newcastle (lunchtime)
• 20 Nov. EFG London Jazz Festival, Pizza Express Pheasantry (feat. Tori Freestone on saxophone),

LINKS: Interview with Miriam and Victor immediately after their win at the Bucharest Competition in 2017
The Ast /Gutierrez Duo are on Facebook


EP REVIEW: Stuart McCallum – Solitude

Stuart McCallum – Solitude
(Edition Records EDN1110. EP Review by Peter Jones)

Fans of the guitarist Martin Taylor, and anyone who liked Pat Metheny’s 2003 album One Quiet Night, would certainly enjoy this new EP from Stuart McCallum, a leisurely follow-up to his album City, released by Naim in 2015.

At around that time McCallum was also making live appearances with Slowly Rolling Camera, but some of us were alerted to his distinctive electric guitar style during his many years with the Cinematic Orchestra. The clue to his music lies in that name: it has an intensely visual quality. On this collection of five solo acoustic tunes, he has been inspired by the wild landscapes of the north-east, and to these ears he seems to capture them beautifully.

Why acoustic guitar this time? In an interview about his recent musical partnership with Mike Walker (who also taught him), McCallum puts it down simply to a desire to "reset" his outlook on playing the guitar, whilst gradually reintroducing the electronics.

All the new pieces on this EP were improvised in the studio. Most are played straight, but Farne, the last (and longest) track employs looping effects to create hypnotic serial music reminiscent of Philip Glass. Others, such as Alnmouth and Craster, employ the sort of Rodrigo-like flourishes we associate with flamenco, albeit with sparing echo effects, whilst Saltburn is more folky. Newton starts out in similar vein, evolving slowly into something more ethereal.

With its understated beauty and restrained emotional power, Solitude encourages repeated listens.


INTERVIEW: Amanda Tiffin (appointed as first Female Conductor for National Youth Jazz Band in South Africa)

Amanda Tiffin
Photo credit: Colette Yslie Benjamin

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival (SBJF) is one of South Africa’s leading jazz festivals whose line-up boasts a bevy of international and national musicians such as the Aaron Goldberg Trio, Tineke Postma and Maria Schneider.

The SBJF runs a Youth Jazz Festival concurrent with its main programme. This event invites more than 300 of the country’s top young musicians between the ages of 13 and 26 participate in training and development programmes with visiting artists. The crème de la crème of these are selected to perform in the National Youth Jazz Band and, for the first time since the NYJB started in 2001, the festival has appointed a female conductor, AMANDA TIFFIN, as Director.

Born in Zimbabwe, Tiffin studied jazz composition and performance at the University of Cape Town where she received a master’s degree. She is an in-demand performer, recording artist, bandleader, arranger, and is head of the Jazz Voice Department at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music. Nicky Schrire interviewed her immediately after the festival and the 2018 NYJB’s first performance at the 2018 Standard Bank Jazz Festival:

London Jazz News: Firstly, congratulations on this prestigious appointment! What does it mean to you to be both appointed as the conductor of the 2018 National Youth Jazz Band (NYJB), and to be the first woman holding this position at the Festival?

Amanda Tiffin: Thank you very much. It has been a great honour to be invited to direct the 2018 National Youth Jazz Band, and an affirming vote of confidence by the festival organizers in my abilities as a bandleader and an educator. There has been quite some heralding of the fact that I am the first woman to hold this position, so it has come with a little pressure, a feeling of leading a charge to some extent, but I am glad to have been asked to do so.

LJN: Given the current climate of #metoo and collectives like We Have Voice drawing up seminal codes of conduct for safer workplaces, does the timing of this honour make it even more pertinent?

AT: Naturally, I would hope that I have been asked to lead the project based on my skills, and not just to fulfil a gender equality mandate, given the telescoping of media attention on gender imbalances in the arts in general and in jazz in particular. However that would be a little naïve. It was mentioned to me that my name had come up a few times in previous years, so one does wonder a little at the timing of this, and begs the question why the delay?! Regardless, it is an important step in the right direction, and I am indeed honoured to be taking on the role.

LJN: As well as being a performing and recording musician, you are also an accomplished arranger and bandleader. Do you think one needs a specific skill-set to navigate the industry as a woman inhabiting these various roles? The answer should be ‘no’, but in reality...

AT: I think a woman navigating any male-dominated industry needs a specific skill-set in order to make any kind of progress or to achieve any measure of success. The reality is that a woman working in the patriarchal constructs that dominate the jazz world needs to work more than twice as hard as a man. She needs something of a thick skin, absolute determination and drive; needs to continually prove her worth as a performer, and to reassert her authority as a bandleader. She constantly has to navigate mansplaining by (often much less experienced) band members, and being talked over in rehearsals or meetings. That said, I have found that a certain level of respect has now come with my increasing age – at least there is something to be said for getting older!

LJN: Since the #metoo movement came to the fore, have you noticed changes in your immediate music community?

AT: I have noticed a number of shifts in my jazz/music community. There have been many enlightening and frank conversations around gender discrimination in our industry and institutions. Some have yielded really positive initiatives such as the all-women Lady Day Big Band, which I have the pleasure of conducting.

Unfortunately I have also personally experienced some resistance and push back from a few threatened male musicians who haven’t quite figured out how to cope with women who no longer keep quiet in the face of discrimination and bullying. However, for the most part the conversations are creating good debates, the search for solutions, and I have seen women proudly take up their space as performers and take on more leadership roles, which is wonderful.

LJN: Lastly, can you tell us how your experience was coaching and leading the 2018 NYJB in their performance last week and what’s in store for their upcoming performance at the 2018 Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg?

AT: It was an inspirational and hugely gratifying few days working with eight of our best young jazz musicians – creative, passionate, hungry to learn, generous of spirit. It was something quite marvellous to see the delight on their faces after we collectively arranged and collaborated on a composition brought to the group by the trumpet player. By the end of the week there was a real affection and connection between all of them both musically and as people. I tried to facilitate a true collaboration between the band members, so that they played as a collective. No room for egos or agendas! It was important for me to guide and mentor, but just as important for me to get out of the way and create a platform where each of the young musicians could really feel confident and shine. I think they achieved something truly excellent at their performance in Grahamstown.

I expect that our performance at the Joy of Jazz Festival will be even more exciting than the first – the band have really established a wonderful connection, and I’m looking forward to hearing them digging even deeper and giving another amazing performance.

The NYJB will perform at the 2018 Joy of Jazz Festival alongside artists like Cassandra Wilson, Oliver Mtukudzi, Nicholas Payton, Bokani Dyer...  in Johannesburg from 27-29 September. More detail at the Joy of Jazz Festival website

LINK: Amanda Tiffin's website


REVIEW: Vijay Iyer Sextet at the Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer at Unterfahrt in Munich in 2016
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

REVIEW: Vijay Iyer Sextet
(Jazz Cafe. 8 July 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

New York-based pianist Vijay Iyer was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013, partly in recognition of his large scale projects exploring American life since 9/11. Last year the so-called ‘Genius Grant’ was also awarded to Tyshawn Sorey, who played drums on Vijay Iyer Sextet’s album Far From Over. The brilliance of that 2017 album doesn’t just come from having two MacArthur Fellows on it. Sorey has left the touring group but under Iyer’s distinctive yet generous leadership the sextet keeps pushing into layered and varied contemporary terrain ranging from fierce free-influenced hard bop to oneiric abstract electronic sanctuaries.

Their sense of harmonic and rhythmic risk-taking is so assured, they seemed not to break into a sweat during a monster 100-minute set at London’s Jazz Cafe, delivered in three bouts of one continuous hour, a half hour, and a ten-minute encore. Each episode brought a renewed urgency, driven home by the boom of the rock gig PA system, the drums giving you an earful from the front right of the stage, and the crunchy sound of the Jazz Cafe’s Yamaha piano which sharpened even further the spiky quality of Vijay Iyer’s characteristic fracturings of chordal voicings.

It’s interesting to consider whether he had been affected by Robert Mitchell’s prior 35-minute solo piano improvisation (which was a masterclass in compositional development through improvisation and deserves its own separate piece of writing devoted to it). In Iyer’s surprisingly restrained solo moments there may have been an enhanced flavour of the British pianist’s darkly neoclassical jazz stylings.

The frontline trio of horns has a distinctive character situated around a mid-high register to leave ample space for Iyer’s harmonic inventions in the right hand and Stephan Crump’s expressive physicality on the double bass. Steve Lehman’s chirring alto sax almost sounds like a plastic horn as he spits flurries of notes that break against the rhythms, forcing everyone to respond creatively. Young drummer and writer Jeremy Dutton has taken over from Tyshawn Sorey and brings his own restless energy and intelligence to bear on the group’s with especially intricate detail and creativity on snare, hi-hat and kick. Rhythms are displaced but not dislocating. Mark Shim’s snappy tenor is well suited to the earthquake jazz later in the set and takes his best solo with a tincture of mid-Trane. Graham Haynes has an impressive diversity and versatility with powerful blowing of the cornet and flugelhorn and unsettlingly languorous rubato in conjunction with electronic effects.

Iyer’s themes are decorated with ideas and licks familiar from jazz history but integrated and reordered with a fresher contemporary sense, angular and fractured but somehow unified and satisfying. On several tunes, Iyer’s densely claustrophobic vamps wring the intensity, winding and winding it up. During the unfolding drama of the unbroken sequence of tracks reordered from the most recent album, the sextet dialed up the intensity to a plateau before releasing us, whether into the dreamy textures of the Rhodes on End of the Tunnel, or suddenly breaking into stomping altered funk of Down To The Wire.

"Keep listening. Keep resisting"
Vijay Iyer at the Jazz Cafe
Phone snap by AJ Dehany

The final phase of intensification during album closer and encore Threnody refigured an altered almost balladic sense with a stern solemnity straining through to a redemptive outlook. During the final solos, the players each issued strong statements, individually expressive but strongly drilled, with a climactic group improvisation ascending stepwise with mounting intensity to a bruising conclusion. “Well, these are troubled times,” said Vijay Iyer, making explicit the New Yorker’s committed sense of engagement with contemporary life and music. “I’m glad we could share this with you. Keep listening. Keep resisting.”

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

Vijay Iyer Sextet 

Vijay Iyer – piano
Mark Shim – tenor saxophone
Steve Lehman – alto saxophone
Graham Haynes – cornet, flugelhorn, electronics
Stephan Crump – double bass
Jeremy Dutton – drums LINK: Interview with Vijay Iyer from 2013


REVIEW: Warsaw Summer Jazz Days in Poland

Polish piano virtuoso Leszek Możdżer
Photo: © John Watson/

Warsaw Summer Jazz Days
(Warsaw, Poland, 5-8 July 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

So much marvellous music has emerged from the Polish jazz scene, from the 1950s to the present.

Artists including saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski, violinist Michal Urbaniak, singer Urszula Dudziak, trumpeter Tomas Stanko and pianist Marcin Wasilewski broke through as major performers internationally, and many fine young Polish musicians are fast developing individual styles.

Pianist Leszek Możdżer (also reviewed here playing solo in London last year) is well known around Eastern Europe and in countries like Germany, but his talent is so astonishing that he really deserves much more recognition throughout the whole world. His performance at Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, with his Special Project featuring American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, was for me the absolute highlight of the four-day festival.

The group’s exploration of original material by Możdżer – on the second night of the festival – was entrancing from the first bar, the pianist’s sparkling arpeggios flowing with immaculate technical execution and sensitive dynamics under the trumpeter’s gorgeously mellow long tones. The interplay between Możdżer, Akinmusire, dynamic bassist Vladimir Volkov and the brilliant percussionist Bodek Janke was inspired and thrilling throughout the performance.

Ambrose Akinmusire soloing at Warsaw Summer Jazz Days
Photo: © John Watson/

I’ve heard Możdżer before, as a soloist and in duets with bassist Lars Danielsson, and I’m already looking forward to the next time.

The festival, founded in 1992, is usually held in the Palace Of Culture Congress Hall, but the building is being renovated so the concerts this year were held in the large Klub Stodola, a concert venue usually featuring rock bands, next to a park just south of the centre of the capital.
Festival director Mariusz Adamiak had arranged a well-structured programme, with a strong British contingent – notably, Django Bates, Binker and Moses, and Soweto Kinch – as well as U.S stars including Akinmusire, John Scofield, Jack deJohnette, John Medeski, Scott Colley, Jonathan Finlayson, Brad Mehldau and Vijay Iyer.

Binker Golding’s fiery tenor and Moses Boyd’s intense drumming opened the first night of the festival, with Django Bates' Beloved (Petter Eldh, bass, Peter Bruun, drums) following with a typically imaginative and very satisfying performance of mainly original Django pieces, before Vijay Iyer’s Sextet gave a vibrant closing set, with alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and young drummer Jeremy Dutton immensely impressive both in ensembles and solos.

Vijay Iyer's Sextet with saxophonists Mark Shim and Steve Leyman, cornetist Graham Haynes.
bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Jeremy Dutton
Photo: © John Watson/

The second night opened with Kinch’s Trio (Will Glaser, drums, Nick Jurd, bass) and though I admire the leader’s alto playing enormously, I have to admit being weary of his “audience participation” rap routine. It must be said, in fairness, that the audience lapped it up and rapped it up.

American trumpeter Finlayson’s group Sicilian Defense had good moments, but burned on too low a flame for the first part of the show. I did, however, enjoy the leader’s bright, almost Woody Shaw-like, tone. Mehldau, with regular companions bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, opened the third night of the festival. The pianist never disappoints, but also rarely surprises. The ballad, Since I Fell For You, was Mehldau at his most exquisite, and a triple-time version of Tenderly made a sprightly encore.

U.S. saxophonist Dayna Stephens, whose group featured on the final night of the festival, is a player I’ve heard before with Akinmusire’s own group. Stephens brought pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Michal Baranski and drummer Greg Hutchinson to Warsaw, and it really was an excellent, high-energy band. Stephens has an appealing airy tone on tenor, but when he switched to Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) for some numbers the thin sound lacked any sense of warmth and humanity.

John Scofield soloing with Hudson
Photo: © John Watson/

Closing the festival was the supergroup Hudson, with guitarist Scofield, drummer (and occasional vocalist) DeJohnette, organist Medeski and bassist Colley, playing repertoire by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell as well as original pieces. Here were four masters at work, but the strongest moments – and there were many – came when Medeski steered the performance towards abstract intensity, with dramatic chords on the organ, mixed with flourishes on the electric piano.

With this electrifying performance the sun set on Warsaw Summer Jazz Days 2018, a programme full of imaginative music, in a city which combines broad modern streets with a captivatingly beautiful historic old town area – completely rebuilt after being wiped out in World War II – and in a country with a continuning tradition of supporting culture. And how wonderful it was to yet again visit a jazz festival abroad and see vast numbers of young people in the audiences.
Jack DeJohnette with Hudson
Photo: © John Watson/