CD REVIEW: Eivind Opsvik – Overseas V

Eivind Opsvik – Overseas V
(Loyal Label. CD review by Henning Bolte)

This CD is the fifth opus of Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas quintet, a well-established Brooklyn unit of the Norwegian-born bassist comprising hot guitarrero and banjo picker Brandon Seabrook, exquisite pianist Jacob Sacks, magnificent tenorist Tony Malaby and drum magician Kenny Wollesen. It is a troupe that can jump in and chase it both straight and zig zagging in ritmo grandioso, and Opsvik is a bit more than the proverbial anchor. He is a master of the ostinato and forces invoked by imperturbable repetition. His Overseas quintet normally plays a game of uncovering and hiding, up and down, slow and fast, outburst and focus. Its music might at moments enter into heartfelt enchanting melodies and a few moments later the rough and brittle side might appear with unpredictable shifts and transitions – all great dialectics and dynamics.

On this album it’s a matter of chasing along the fun to run and vice versa route. It has resulted in the most amusing, light-hearted album that crossed my ears so far this year. It’s all great pleasure with a lot of smiles. It starts with I’m Up This Step derailing grandioso at the end. Hold Everything is a moonlight pogo with all monsters gathering. The Extraterrestrial Tantrum is what it says. It’s conjuring up what never really will appear. It’s a “Telstar’ derivate with a great Oberheim drum machine. In Brraps the horses are totally free to run. It’s a kind of jazz that nearly everybody should get. Cozy Little Nightmare is a kind of bop dub, solid and firm but contorted too and all on a carpet grown with thistles. The First Challenge On The Road seems to be that it seems endless. So the group indulge in a rubato variant of some traits of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Shoppers And Pickpockets is a minimalistic wavy affair with great breaks. IZO revives Kool & The Gang’s Celebration riff climbing its own rocks – and oh this drummer here! The finishing Katmania Duskmann, an older piece, is a nice raw outro interspersed with Brötzonia and traversed by Seabrook’s fantastico shaggy ragged guitar work. Why did I think of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at some moments and of The Lounge Lizards at others? Resemblances are of course, as always, purely coincidental.

The album came out on the unsung Loyal Label, a Brooklyn based musicians’ label, now in its 10th year. It has a lot to offer including a covers/packages with a basic colour and a unique clear-cut and handsome graphic design.


REVIEW: Mark Holub, Liran Donan, Tom Herbert, Chris Batchelor at the Vortex

Liran Donin in 2013
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

Mark Holub, Liran Donan, Tom Herbert, Chris Batchelor
Vortex, 22nd March 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

There’s something particularly earth-shattering and primal about duelling basses: the driving, grinding, earthy experience of digging into dirt and finding treasure. With two bass-players and Led Bib bandleader Mark Holub on drums, this quartet’s debut was always going to be a groove fest. Liran Donin is the shoulder-popping neck-thwacking double-stopping badass bass-man from Led Beb, and Tom Herbert is the fulsome fearsome engine of Polar Bear. It’s an inspired pairing of bass-players, and an inspired pairing of rhythm section and lead player in trumpeter Chris Batchelor.

Batchelor lends a composer’s ear and a lot of bop to the open playing. He’s so melodic, they’re so driving. It leaves a certain onus on Batchelor, who responds with a warmly lyrical approach and a diverse selection of horns: trumpet, specialised cornets, and a horn of seven horns that looks like the eponymous throne from Game of Thrones: a beast of seven pipes attached to a man. We know the set has reached serious business when he whips it off the piano half an hour in. It blasts like a car horn.

It’s pleasing to find Chris Batchelor extemporising melodic motifs that are taken up by the other players. He settles on a good one, and Tom Herbert echoes it. There’s that great feeling when you perceive players ‘feeling each other up’ and we’re part of it, vicariously. Pervy, nerdy fun for musos, though maybe less appealing to those who prefer their music pre-prepared and ready to eat. We, however.. don’t we like to see ‘em cookin’.

Throughout the two wholly improvised sets there sounds like there must be some pre-prepared material, at least from the trumpeter. That’s the thing about free music: it’s improvised at the source, but composed in the ear and recomposed in the memory. Holub just says their rehearsal had wholly consisted of working out bass frequencies. These guys are serious groove-meisters, so it’s a bit more like a really good jam session than ‘free playing’ as we would recognize it in terms of what Stewart Lee calls “players trying to play non-idiomatically in what is now an established idiom.”

Writing about free playing isn’t like the cliché ‘dancing about architecture’. It’s more like architecture about dancing: finding the structural form among the baggy content. We do this intuitively as listeners, forming patterns and applying our own structures and references which are the basis of the sensibility we use to apprehend what Kevin LeGendre calls “the island of meaning in the ocean of music”.

It’s funny how the shape of a ‘free’ 40-minute improv still retains something of the form of a shorter structured piece - a song. The inevitable drum solo is never earlier than three quarters of the way in. This is somehow necessary. A conceptual purist would start a clock, say go, play notes at random and, when 40 minutes has elapsed, simply stop the music. Thankfully this never happens.

If ‘free’ playing can suggest the form and schedule of composed material it is especially gratifying when you can get more free of that. This is what happens in your second set: warmed up, freer. Here’s a thing about jazz generally. By the second set you’re tired, but you’re energised - it’s almost always better, but no-one knows how - it’s a mystery.


PREVIEW: Hitting the High Notes - BBC R3 Documentary on jazz, heroin, and the story of the 'Narcotic Farm (Sunday Mar 26, 6 45pm)

Jam session by patients at the Narcotic Farm
© 1951, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection
reproduced by permission of BBC Radio 3 Publicity

BBC Radio 3 are flagging up a radio documentary this Sunday featuring interviews with Benny Golson, Hal Galper, Jerry Tolson (University of Louisville), Gary Falk (Falk Recording Studio in Louisville and a member of the band Indigo) and Professor Colin Drummond (Professor of Addiction Psychiatry at Kings College London).

In the 45-minute progamme, Dr Sally Marlow, Public Engagement Fellow at King’s College London and a specialist in addiction and mental health, explores the links between jazz and heroin addiction and tells the story of the 'Narcotic Farm' in Lexington Kentucky.

DETAILS: Sunday Feature: Hitting The High Notes
18:45-19:30 BBC Radio 3 - PROGRAMME WEBSITE


The story of jazz in the post-war era is one of revolution and rebellion, as musicians like Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie re-invented the genre, giving birth to bebop. But alongside the music, something else emerged in this period: a mini-epidemic of heroin use among jazz musicians which broke out in the mid-1940s, as the drug became more freely available in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

In their attempt to understand and tackle the rising problem of drug addiction and the moral panic that ensued, the US Government targeted and arrested many jazz musicians. But instead of sending them to conventional prisons, many ended up at a Kentucky institution known as the Narcotic Farm. Part prison, part hospital, it was the first attempt anywhere in the world to simultaneously treat addiction as a health problem, whilst studying the science behind it. Though it practiced an enlightened approach to therapy, it also carried out what today would be considered highly unethical experiments on patients, which even included re-addicting them in order to study the symptoms of withdrawal.

The roll-call of jazz musicians who spent time at Lexington is astonishing: Sonny Rollins, Elvin Jones, Chet Baker, Lee Morgan, Sonny Stitt, Bennie Green, Jackie MacLean, Red Rodney… the list goes on. Rather than viewing Jazz as part of the problem, the doctors and researches instead chose to look at it as a potentially therapeutic activity. Musicians were given instruments and rooms where they could play for up to six hours a day. As a result, bands formed – jazz super groups – who performed regularly in the prison’s auditorium. The shows became so famous that one band was invited onto the Johnny Carson Show on US TV.

In this programme, Dr Sally Marlow, an addiction researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, examines the relationship between heroin and jazz in the post-war period and explores its impact on creativity, therapy and addiction science both then and now. She hears from musicians of that period, travels to Lexington and discovers that a recording of a ‘Narco’ concert, made by a member of staff in the late 1960s, has survived.


LINKS: Documentary film and book about Narcotic Farm
Dr Sally Marlow


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Tara Minton – The Tides of Love (Album Launch April 6th Elgar Room RAH)

Photo Credit: Antonella Raimondo

Australian harpist and vocalist TARA MINTON travelled halfway around the world to become established on the British music scene and is now due to release her solo album, ‘The Tides of Love’. Adrian Pallant talked with Tara ahead of her launch concert at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on 6th April.

LondonJazz News: Based in London since 2011, you’re originally from Melbourne. Can you describe your musical beginnings and how your relocation came about?

Tara Minton: I was born into a non-musical family, but begged to have piano lessons until I was big enough to sit on the stool at the age of seven. After seeing a Marx Brothers movie on tv when I was ten, I made a little harp out of a lunchbox and went around playing it until my parents realised I was serious. I played and was trained in classical harp, as well as being an amateur jazz pianist. But after I heard and watched videos of the amazing French jazz harpist Jakez Francois (who is also a director of Camac Harps), I emailed him, asking if he would listen out for my song ‘Play With Me’ on a local radio station. That resulted in me having lunch with my hero and telling him of my dreams to move to London. He agreed Europe is a much better place for me to create my music and offered to help me. That was where my relationship with Camac began. Five weeks later, I flew to London, got settled and then I drove to Paris to collect the same Big Blue harp that Jakez plays – certainly a case of ‘right place, right time’.

LJN: You’re as much at home performing Fauré and Puccini as jazz – but your new album seamlessly blends jazz, folk, country and soul with a distinctive and expressive singer/songwriter approach. What led you in this direction, and what creative opportunities does it provide you with?

TM: I love Etta James, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald – and I love words. So I decided I would learn from jazz musicians, taking my harp to pester musos in Melbourne and sitting with bass players, guitarists, drummers, saxophonists. For example, I learnt how to incorporate guitarists’ percussive damping on the strings – and because a harp’s strings are closer together than a piano’s, the range is much greater, so those lovely, open guitar voicings such as big fourths that you can’t manage across piano keys can be achieved on the harp. It takes the place of a piano in a trio, and is a kind of cross between piano and guitar – though you do have to ‘unplay’ everything you play (to stop it sounding) – and pianos aren’t able to shift into whole-tone scale mode, either.

LJN: You also belong to a high-energy gypsy jazz band, Harp Bazaar – but your original music for The Tides of Love seems personal, often emotive, and with an emphasis on lyrical, observational storytelling. What inspires you in your writing?

TM: I have an acting degree, and feel that all art is about telling a story. Whatever the medium, that’s the most important thing. It all began when my grandfather played classical records to me and would make ups stories to go along with the music. In Dvorak’s Humoresques, he would say, “Can you see the autumn leaf dancing in the wind?” – almost like Fantasia, but with his own tales. I try to compose music that supports the dramatic narrative as much as it can. It can be therapeutic, too, and works for both grief and joy. I have so much feeling that it’s almost overwhelming, but every time I play one of my songs on stage, I revisit the place I was in when I wrote it and a little more of the feeling is released – and with the happier songs, I can go back and think, ‘Ah, wasn’t that good?”

LJN: You have said on your blog that music is magic, and that everyone is transformed by it in some way or other. You’re a busy musician on the London scene – how do you witness that transformation when you perform?

TM: A lot of people, at gigs, come up to me and say how much a song meant to them, and then tell me really personal stories. So even though my songs can be very specific – about certain people and certain things – we all kinda have the same experiences; and because I’m being open and honest, it seems to allow other people are able to express that, too. The most amazing experience I ever had was in Palanga on the Baltic Sea in Lithuania. I played a concert and the audience were very generous; they really came with me. Afterwards, a woman said, “Please join me for dinner, I want to talk to you about one of the songs” (‘You Never Kill A Good Woman’). We ended up having an in depth conversation about gender politics. She explained how in Belarus, women are often highly educated, but the culture places more value on how attractive they are to men rather than who they are. Obviously I believe women and everyone’s value is inherent, so we really got stuck in – which was super interesting, coming from such different cultures. At the end of the night she said, “I have an eight-year old daughter, and I’m going to raise her to believe she can be happy with or without the love of a man”. I thought, “How cool is that?” A song – just a song – started this long conversation, and we‘re still friends. Speaking personally, I am transformed when I play with great musicians.

LJN: So tell me about a couple of the songs on the album, and what they mean to you.

TM: Clementines in the Morning Sun tells the story of a crazy night out, after going through a rough patch. The following morning, I woke up on a boat, surrounded by interesting artistic folk, and thought, “These are my people! I feel much better about life.” As it turned out, a few of us in the group had just recently ended relationships – so we sat around, eating clementines and talking about how life should be sweet… like clementines in the morning sun. When I left Australia, six years ago, my boyfriend didn’t want to move to London – but we’re still really good friends, so that’s what Tower of London is about. And the final track, On My Way To You, is a lovely story. It was written for my husband, who I met over here just a couple of weeks before I was due to play a five-week series of concerts in Australia. I bumped into an ex back home, and my friend had said to him, “Tara’s got this lovely Kiwi man – you’ve missed the boat!” Later, my husband’s response was, “He never missed the boat, Tara… you were on your way to me the whole time.”

Photo Credit: Andy Porter
LJN: You’re active in promoting the harp at festivals and workshops – including Sydney, Geneva, Rotterdam and Poland, as well as Birmingham and Cardiff in the UK. Do you sense a great spirit and enthusiasm for the harp’s musical diversity?

TM: Yes, I do. A lot of people are very excited about the harp. There are some amazing players, such as Park Stickney (for me and everyone, the harp has limits – but for Park, it doesn’t), and Edmar Castenada, the Colombian harpist who has played with Chick Corea, Marcus Miller and Herbie Hancock, is setting the world on fire right now. My mission is to get the instrument and its capabilities out of the ‘harp bubble’ and into the wider world of music.

LJN: ‘The Tides of Love’ is released on 6th April, and is to be launched at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. Will all your musicians on the album be playing?

TM: Usually I tour with the trio – Ed Babar (bass) and Tom Early (drums) – but for the launch, we wanted to recreate the album line-up as best we could. So everyone, except for the string quartet, will be there. Violinist Duncan Menzies and guitarist Filippo Dall’Asta are members of Harp Bazaar, and Tim Boniface on horns has been a musical mentor of mine for the past six years in London. Percussionist Lilia Iontcheva turned up at the studio while John Merriman, my producer, was mixing the album and declared, “It needs me!” (we’ve since become very good friends), so she will be playing. The stunning Serena Braida is singing backing vocals and Phil Merriman on keys is just a genius – I can’t believe he’s playing with me! We’ll perform all the songs from the album, along with a couple of new tunes and some standards to showcase the incredible musicians in the ensemble… and there’ll be a few surprises, too.

LJN: How does it feel, as an expression of your music, now that the album is finally going out into the world?

TM: I’m very happy with how it represents my music – it owes in incredible amount to the wonderful team of musicians and the crew at Crown Lane Studios who worked with me. I grew up and lived by the ocean my entire life, so it was important that this theme continued throughout the album. Everyone took the idea and really brought it to life in their playing. There are flowing lines, with breathing and instrumental lines which suggests waves, seagulls, a whale; and the final track returns to earlier musical references, almost as if you’re standing on the same sand, looking at the same ocean, but something’s changed. (pp)

LINK: Tara Minton's website


NEWS: Programme announced for Made in UK at Rochester #XRIJF Showcase

The line-up for the Made in UK Showcase at the Christ Church venue at thei year's Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (June 23 – July 1 2017) is announced.

Following the untimely death of Made in UK's founder-instigator and director John Ellson, this tenth year's programme has been put in place by Sue Edwards. As the press release says: "It remains the largest presentation of British Jazz outside the UK and several of the bands will also be performing on the Canadian festival circuit this year."

Sue Edwards says: "Since the very sad loss of Made in the UK founder/director John Ellson last year, it has been an honour to carry on this important collaboration with the XRIJF, one that gives British jazz musicians the unique opportunity to perform in the USA and on the Canadian jazz Festival circuit. We look forward to celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Made in the UK series this year and dedicate it to the memory of our dear friend and colleague."


June 23 Gwilym Simcock

June 24 Neil Cowley Trio

June 25 Elliot Galvin Trio

June 26 Laura Jurd - Dinosaur

June 27 Dave O'Higgins - Atlantic Bridge Quartet

June 28 Polly Gibbons Quartet

June 29 Phronesis

June 30 Binker & Moses

July 01 Tessa Souter Quartet

There will also be a tribute to John Ellson on the last day of the festival

LINKS: Made in the UK
Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Tribute to John Ellson by Rob Adams


PREVIEW: Monthly Jazz Vespers @ Christ Church Highbury N5 (March 26th, 6.30pm)

Rachel Maby
Photo Credit : City Academy

New singers and congregation members are very welcome this Sunday 26th March at 6.30pm, when Christ Church Highbury will host an intimate evening of jazz and soul music at the monthly Jazz Vespers service. Leading the musical worship will be the newly established Christ Church jazz choir, directed by its Music Director, Rachel Maby. Joining them will be Liam Dunachie on piano, Greg Gottlieb on bass and Scott Chapman on drums. Rachel Maby writes:

Christ Church Highbury’s monthly Jazz Vespers service is now in its second year, having been founded by jazz trombonist and Guildhall School of Music and Drama jazz professor, Scott Stroman. Jazz Vespers is a music lead service where Christians and non-Christians are welcome alike. The service allows time to reflect and appreciate spiritual and secular musical works in an informal worship setting.

This month’s service falls on Mother’s Day and the Christ Church Jazz choir will be performing my new arrangements of ‘Mother’s Eyes’ jazz standard, ‘No one knows me like the piano’ by Sampha and Adam Morris’ arrangement of ‘Mother’s Child’ by Gregory Porter. These songs will be interspersed with congregation hymns and fellowship songs.

Christ Church Jazz Vespers has seen many well-known London jazz musicians perform, such as Norma Winstone and Pete Churchill. It’s also a great platform for young up-and-coming jazz artists to take part and play; the church has previously hosted the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Big Band and Jazz Choir.

Christ Church Jazz Vespers falls on the last Sunday of each month and offers the opportunity for members of the congregation and local community to come and sing with the jazz choir, to help lead the musical worship in the hymn and fellowship songs. We meet at 5pm on the day to rehearse with the band before the service. If you would be interested in taking part, just message me via my website:

Christ Church is situated in the heart of Highbury and is a 5min walk from Highbury and Islington station and on the direct route of 19, 4 and 236 buses. The church address is 155 Highbury Grove, London, N5 1SA.

All are most welcome.

Scott Stroman directing Jazz Vespers at Christ Church Highbury


REVIEW: The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence
(Spartacus Records. STS024. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra is the youth arm of the inestimable Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Tommy Smith, head of the jazz programme at the Royal Conservatiore of Scotland and the (grown up) driving force behind both orchestras, won the 2016 Jazz Educator of the Year at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, in part for his work with TSYJO. There is a lot of cross fertilisation between the two bands, with members of the junior orchestra moving up to take seats in SNJO, and players from SNJO acting as mentors to the TSYJO, such as trumpeter Tom Walsh, who adds a bit of weight to the trumpet section on this disc.

"Effervescence" can mean bubbly, vivacious and enthusiastic, an apt name for this record. It contains seven standards and one tune written and arranged by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, Tam O'Shanter, part of Gibbs' collection of tunes based on poems by Robert Burns released by the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra. Gibbs' tune is perfectly at home amongst work by Woody Herman, Benny Golson, Dizzy Gillespie and Chick Corea.

Several of the tunes are arranged by Florian Ross, who is a regular collaborator with the SNJO. He adds verve to Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight, Shorter's Nefertiti (credited to Miles Davis) and Corea's Humpty Dumpty. A second Corea tune, his homage Bud Powell, has been arranged by Christian Jacob, and the orchestra tackle original arrangements of Herman's Apple Honey, Golson's Blues March and Gillespie's Things To Come.

There is no doubt about the musicianship of the TSYJO. The band contains several winners and finalists from the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, including this year's winner, bassist David Bowden; the other members of the rhythm section have all been finalists, and the other sections have their fair share, too. Many members of the orchestra are bandleaders in their own right.

This would be a good disc by any band: one need make no allowances the players' age. They are well-drilled, the unison playing punchy and energetic, which pushes the soloists on, too. It is a young band in which everyone shines.

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


REVIEW: Mike Westbrook and Jonathan Gee at Pizza Express Dean Street

Jonathan Gee and Mike Westbrook
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Mike Westbrook and Jonathan Gee
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London. Wednesday 15th March 2017. Review by Jane Mann)

Mike Westbrook and Jonathan Gee were an interesting pairing at this year’s Steinway 2 Piano Festival 2017 at the Pizza Express.

These two very different pianists took to the stage together and played by turns solos and duets. Mike Westbrook played several excerpts from his recent solo piano album Paris (2016) over the evening. He began with Sonnet for Stephen, an extended blues full of sadness and anger featuring his trademark massive chords and plenty of Debussy twinkling in the upper register. Propositions, a loud almost cubist improvisation, full of dissonance and conflict followed. The notes to the Paris album say that this tune “conjures up a vision of the Universe and the boundless possibilities, for good and ill, of the Web”. Jonathan Gee joined in, and the two men clearly relished the joint improvisation, and the sheer noise of these two powerful pianos. Out of this turmoil, the strains of Strayhorn’s A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing emerged, and harmony and melody returned.

Then it was Gee’s turn. He started with three compositions from his 2011 CD Dragonfly. The first was about a Cicada, and the next a mythical beast the Tortadilla. Both were lively with complicated South American rhythms, with tiny hints of Ravel, Gee singing along as he played. Then came the Barnes wetlands-inspired pastoral Dragonfly. I began to hear Westbrook influences, similarly expansive chords, and a penchant for modulating up towards the end of a tune, to cheering effect.

They then played some Ellington songs together which clearly delighted them both as well as the audience, with Gee bursting into song when they got to Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.

In Gee’s next solo set he played the Westbrook tune Brazilian Love Songs from the 2013 album three into wonderfull, sympathetically and beautifully, then his deconstructed reworking of the Beatles’ Michelle. Gee, who has spent years working on various Monk projects, both in jazz and contemporary classical music, finished his set with an effortless Crepuscule with Nelly and a pretty Light Blue.

Westbrook then explored some love songs from the Paris CD: tantalising glimpses of the Beatles’ Because, the beautiful 1974 Stylistics tune You Make Me Feel Brand New, finishing with a minimalist and touching interpretation of She Loves You. The final duets were two more Westbrook compositions. The first was D.T.T.M. – a piece in memory of two band members and friends. This was a blues but full of unexpected chords, played with sensitivity and vigour. Next came a riotous Rooster Rabelais, the pair grinning at each other as they traded big chords and extravagant trills. As an encore: Gaudy Bar, a Mingus tinged bar-room blues from Paintbox Jane, Westbrook providing a thunderous rolling blues undercurrent and Gee scat singing, and energetically decorating the melody. This tune, though new, felt like a jazz standard, and was an exciting way to end the evening.

-  Jonathan Gee is off touring the West Country for most of March and will be back in London at The Archduke, Waterloo on the 31st. He will also be performing at Ronnie Scott’s on the 24th April 2017. 

- Mike Westbrook is touring his masterpiece The Westbrook Blake, and then he will be back in London with Westbrook & Company, for performances of the new show Paintbox Jane at Vout-O-Reenees, Prescot Street, E1 on 28th and 29th April 2017.


NEWS: cELLAbration to mark Ella Fitzgerald's centenary (Institute of Jazz Studies Rutgers-Newark, Newark NJ, 24th-25th March)

A free two day celebration of  ELLA FITZGERALD will be held at 15 Washington Street, Newark, March 24th-25th. The event  brings together musicians, historians, authors, record producers, critics, and fans, and will feature performances by vocalists Alexis Morrast and Carrie Jackson. From the world of jazz studies are distinguished archivist Dan Morgenstern, and Norman Granz's biographer Tad Hershorn, who has had a major hand in shaping the event. Eminent journalist and critic Will Friedwald will be showcasing rare footage, and musical demonstration will be provided by Mike Wofford and Richard Wyands, both of whom worked with Ella Fitzgerald.

LINK: Full program and link for registration.


Dr. Judith Tick, whose biography Becoming Ella: The Jazz Genius Who Transformed American Song, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2018

Jim Blackman, Ella's road manager at the end of her career

Lewis Porter, Grammy-nominated jazz educator, author and pianist on Ella's extraordinary approach to improvisation; Dan Morgenstern, Grammy Award-winner, author, former editor of Down Beat, historian and IJS director for 36 years and Sheila Anderson, author and WBGO host, on where Ella fits in the tradition of jazz singing

Vincent Pelote from IJS on the decades-long interactions between Ella and Benny Carter

Tad Hershorn, IJS archivist and author of Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice, on the historic relationship between Ella and Norman Granz, her longtime manager and record producer

Mike Wofford, Fitzgerald's pianist for the final three years of Ella's career and Richard Wyands, her musical director in 1956, will discuss her approach to singing and play examples of how they accompanied her

Phil Schaap, independent record producer, broadcaster and historian; Harry Weinger, vice president of A&R and product development at Universal Music; and Scott Wenzel, producer, Mosaic Records, will discuss getting historic Ella records out of the vaults and on their way to successful releases

Rhonda Hamilton, WBGO host, will play and discuss favorite recordings by Ella

Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal columnist and producer of Clip Joint, will show rare film and video clips of Ella


LondonJazz review of Tad Hershorn's biography of Norman Granz

BBC Radio 2 Celebration of Ella Fitzgerald featuring BBC Concert Orchestra, starring Clare Teal, April 11th.


NEWS: Crazy Coqs Announce Line-up For Week Long Jazz Festival (Apr 2-8)

Pianist Joe Webb
Photo: Jesaja Hizkia Hutubessy

Live at Zedel is announcing a week of jazz events between April 2nd - 8th. 

One of the most intriguing of the gigs is JOE WEBB's tribute (photo above) to piano greats Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson on Monday April 3rd. It is his first ever solo show. Joe was born in Basingstoke, grew up in Neath and studied at RWCMD in Cardiff. His stylistic breadth is impressive. As well as mainstream jazz, and being a member of the Kansas Smitty's House Band, and Corrie Dick's Little Lions...he also plays stride piano and has recorded with folk, reggae, hip-hop and pop bands. In addition to piano he also plays other keyboards: organ, Wurlitzer and harmonium.

Sunday April 2nd

9.15pm : Ian Shaw

Monday April 3rd

7pm : Joe Webb
9.15pm : The Night

Tuesday April 4th

7pm : Emilia Martensson
9pm : Chris Read

Wednesday April 5th

7pm: Pete Horsfall

Thursday April 6th

7pm: Zoe Rahman Trio
9pm: Hailey Tuck

Friday April 7th

7pm: Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
9pm: Joni & Me: Joanna Eden

Saturday April 8th

7pm: Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
9pm: Emma Smith & Jamie Safir


CD REVIEW: Matt Mitchell – Matt Mitchell plays Tim Berne: førage

Matt Mitchell – Matt Mitchell plays Tim Berne: førage
(Screwgun Records. CD review by Henning Bolte)

Pianist Matt Mitchell has a broad, deep range of contemporary music at his fingertips, and is a musician who has intertwined its constructive possibilities at a high creative level. He decided to dive still deeper in the music of one of his closest fellow musicians and inspirer Tim Berne and sculpt something relevant out of it. Berne is one of those jazz musician in whose music a strong and stringent compositional strategy is at work. Its gestalt rises from contrasting and countering shifts lurking in the compositional core. Its own recurrent systematics are not discernible in a linear way or on the surface. Mitchell, who was engaged in Berne’s music and started to work in Berne’s Snakeoil unit some eight years ago, has gained deep knowledge of and insight into Berne’s way of working and his aesthetics, which stems back to 2009, when Mitchell, impressed Berne massively with an opening solo set for a Berne appearance with solely Berne pieces which he had re-conceived for piano.

The album presenting this work comes with cover artwork and package by Steven Byram on Berne’s own Screwgun label. It is a Nine Donkey Production with Daniel Goodwin’s engineer work, Sonic Föraging by Bavîd Torñ all dedicated för Sârāh, a labour of love embodied by remarkable sounds, shapes and materiality.

The opening piece of the album, Pænë, is one of almost hushed, rare beauty. Being an expression of humbly devoting passion, it could easily serve as a concluding piece. The real last piece, Sîiñ, is quite similar to this first piece, which means it could also be the opening piece. These two pieces of great clearness, depth, which wafting in the music of an equinoctial breeze, bookend the whole sequence of seven pieces. In between a lot of temperatures and temperaments can be heard, from jumbling staccato to serenity, from surging waves, slipping stone avalanches to ballad qualities shining through. None of the seven pieces is clearly and easily attributable to a single original piece by Berne. Certain elements of Berne’s work are used as plug-in or as torch. They appear in different light and drive new shoots etc.. Consequently they are established as new units in their own right (in first instance) under Mitchell’s hands.

In Trāçeś the pianist's two hands act independently in a way that it can be perceived as intricate real duo performance. It starts with highly abstracted Monk staccato, after which repetitive runs of agitated lines take over. The real fun starts when Mitchell starts to jumble the ideas, without them ever colliding. It then divides in high register part and a low register part serving each other and finding common ground. The piece finishes with ad infinitum runs.

Àäš, the longest piece (running almost a quarter of on hour), is a miracle of beauty without exit. There are a lot of varied movements and none is leading out of that wondrous, shining oasis. Räåy is the surf piece of the album with its surging waves rolling and the subsequent Œrbs could associate with the sound of a permanently slipping stone avalanche. Cløùdé then with its ballad qualities, exquisite beauty and rich subtle dynamics is thundering, draining and dripping at the end.

Listening to the pieces you could be torn between following the mountain stream and wanting to discern familiar elements, lines, shapes and architecture. The best approach is to abandon search for the familiar, and to immerse oneself as deeply as possible in the movements of the music first and finally getting satisfied by an apprehension of the gestalt that crystallizes in that kind of rewarding interaction. It is facilitated then by the clear articulation, flow and conclusiveness of the music.


FEATURE: Birmingham's free jazz/improvised music scene (Surge In Spring at mac, 8th April)

Mark Sanders
Photo credit: Andrew Putler

Jazz freedom is alive and well at England's centre. Tony Dudley-Evans, programme adviser to both Birmingham's Jazzlines and Cheltenham Jazz Festival and himself a free jazz promoter, looks back - and forwards:

Birmingham has always had a free jazz/improvised music scene with its own venues and its own followers. The voluntary promoters Fizzle have been at the forefront of this scene with regular Tuesday night sessions, originally at the Old Moseley Arms pub, but for many years now at the wonderful Lamp Tavern pub off the Pershore Road. Fizzle has really built up its audiences in the last few years under the enterprising leadership of musician Andy Woodhead and with the support of TDE Promotions/Fizzle co-promotions in the Hexagon Theatre at mac.

At the heart of the free scene have been a number of key players who have been based in Birmingham or the surrounding area. The late Tony Levin lived in Birmingham most of his life before moving out to nearby Shropshire, Steve Tromans has mostly been based here apart from a few years abroad in Mongolia and elsewhere, Paul Dunmall has been based nearby in Worcestershire since 1979 and, more recently, Mark Sanders has made his base in Bearwood, which is effectively in Birmingham, but technically just outside.

These players have international reputations and tour widely in continental Europe, and occasionally to the USA, but will also appear in Birmingham. For example, Paul Dunmall recently played at mac with a fabulous quintet built around the Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake as part of a three-date UK tour that also featured trumpeter Percy Pursglove and Steve Tromans. A few years ago Paul played in a trio with Henry Grimes and Andrew Cyrille, initially at the Vision Festival in New York and then on a UK tour.

Here’s a short example of their music with Paul playing bagpipes.

Percy Pursglove is one of the younger players who can play in a free jazz context with as much confidence as in a more mainstream situation. He often plays with Evan Parker as well as playing in the trumpet sections of big bands and leading his own projects. In this he is perhaps typical of an openness of the free scene in Birmingham. It is not isolated or keeping itself separate from the more straight-ahead jazz scene; players and audiences overlap.

All the players mentioned above play or have played very successfully in more mainstream bands. Tony Levin played of course in one of Tubby Hayes’ later and most successful groups, Paul Dunmall played for years with Spirit Level and with Danny Thompson. Moreover, many young graduates from the Conservatoire find it natural to play free as well as in more structured settings: as well as Percy Pursglove, saxophonist Lee Griffiths, trombonist David Sear and pianist Ollie Chalk come to mind.
Of course, much contemporary jazz will incorporate elements of free playing in a more structured setting, and it could be argued – which I think I have often done in the past! – that the ‘mainstream’ of jazz is now an approach that moves from written passages and solos to freely improvised sections, or ‘in and out of tunes’ as it is sometimes called.

One thinks of bands such as Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear, or Tim Berne’s Snakeoil. Very much in this tradition is Sid Peacock’s Surge whose music moves seamlessly from Sid’s compositions into often frenetic free passages and whose personnel includes Steve Tromans, Mark Sanders and trumpeter Aaron Diaz. Surge’s concerts always feature a conduction led by Sid, in which he guides the improvisation through signals and gestures.

Surge are at the heart of the forthcoming Surge In Spring one-day festival at mac on Saturday 8 April. 

This is all-day event running in the main theatre, the small and intimate Hexagon Theatre and the bar area, and running through from 1pm to late in the evening.  The day features Ray Prince’s Gospel Revisited Project, John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions, and a final full set from the 21-piece Surge Orchestra. There will be sessions in the bar and improvised sessions in the Hexagon Theatre. But in the context of this article, the most exciting event promises to be the Free Jazz Improv set that will feature the first coming together of Paul Dunmall and John O’Gallagher.

John O’Gallagher is an American alto saxophonist who is highly regarded on the New York scene, playing there with Jeff Williams as well as leading his own groups. He is currently based in Birmingham studying at Birmingham City University and writing a doctoral thesis on the late work of John Coltrane, especially the Interstellar Space album.

Since starting his research here, John has been to hear Paul play and Paul has been listening to John’s albums. They are keen to play together and this is finally happening! They will play in small groups with members of the Surge band - notably Steve Tromans, Mark Sanders and Simon King - and will also be joined by vibraphone player Corey Mwamba. There will also be a large scale improvisation conducted by Sid.

LINKS: Fizzle
Surge In Spring


ROUND-UP REVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival 2017

Local heroes Dakhla Brass
Photo copyright John Watson/

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
(March 17-19th 2017, Round-Up Review by Jon Turney)

300 or more singers on stage, led by the London Community Gospel Choir, and the Colston Hall audience joining in on Sunday lunchtime, the night after a triple-bill swing dance session in the same space: the Bristol festival’s trademark audience involvement was well up to the mark this year.

Now in its fifth edition, the Festival is too large to review in its entirely - I didn’t witness either of the above: I rely on video evidence of the singers and a daughter who danced. But I can affirm that Bristol’s long weekend continues to combine the genuinely international with a distinctive homebrew flavour as it grows.

Bobby Shew
Photo copyright John Watson/

The homebrew is quality stuff, with special projects like Andy Sheppard’s new score for Metropolis (reviewed separately) and Bobby Shew’s centenary tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. The latter featured the regular big-band co-led by festival artistic director Denny Ilett and trumpeter Johnny Bruce. Less expectedly, most of the arrangements were not from Shew’s ample book, but were based on new transcriptions by Ilett. Manteca, Groovin’ High, Emanon, Tin Tin Deo and Good Bait were brought to sparkling life, with Shew on fine form and band soloists like Jake “Get the Blessing” McMurchie showing their command of the tradition.

Macy Gray
Photo copyright John Watson/

Other shows in the main hall that packed them in included Mud Morganfield on Saturday , delivering powerful, authentic Chicago blues in a voice that really gets the attention. Macy Gray, late on Sunday, was less compelling, trying the patience of a full house in party mood by keeping them waiting 40 minutes. The jazz leanings of her latest CD have made little impression on her stage show, but her efficient band kept her raucous, declamatory vocals in some semblance of order.

Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents
Photo copyright John Watson/

The big ticket shows were backed up by an adventurous programme in the smaller of Colston Hall’s two venues, the Lantern. Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents felt a little tentative on Friday evening, on the first outing for a new line-up, with Josephine Davies replacing Mark Lockheart on sax and John Crawford on piano substituting for Phil Robson’s much-missed guitar. Chris Garrick’s violin dazzled with equal facility on jazzy excursions, dancing folk themes and even a bagpipe drone part.

There was more dazzle from Jason Rebello on Saturday, offering solo piano with virtuosity, and real depth: sly Monkish touches on Garner’s Play, Piano, Play were a beautiful reminder how musical modernism connects with tradition.The day’s closer in the Lantern from the acclaimed Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur offered a different look back. Leader Jurd is bursting with talent, but her current preoccupation with the electric keyboard sounds of the 1970s does create a flattening of textures compared with her previous bands. The trumpet is very welcome when it comes, but horn contributions were a little sparse here for some.

Pee Wee Ellis
Photo copyright John Watson/

Sunday in the Lantern saw sets from Bristol patron and tireless performer Pee Wee Ellis, supported by the excellent French drummer Roger Biwandu’s trio. Ellis retains a magisterial sound on tenor, and can bring off playing a succession of numbers that evoke Sonny Rollins (St Thomas, Sonnymoon for Two, Isn’t She Lovely), without breaking sweat. Yazz Ahmed’s beautifully balanced seven-piece band, deliciously combining George Crowley’s bass clarinet with Ralph Wyld’s vibes, was a fine vehicle for exploring Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies’ affinity with jazz. Best of all, Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures, with plenty of trumpet from Laura Jurd this time, presented a joyful 80-minutes of musical exuberance that allowed all five players room to shine. Mark Lockheart and Jurd spent much of the set in counterpoint, pianist Will Barry and drummer Corrie Dick raised the trio portions to near Phronesis-like intensity at times, and leader and composer Hoiby’s memorably sonorous bass figures were a marvel throughout.

Jasper Hoiby's Fellow Creatures
Photo copyright John Watson/

Fellow Creatures made a superb debut CD, but live the music has an even stronger feeling of organisation-as-liberating. The recipe for success in making something fresh of jazz has to be: compose carefully, then play with abandon. Jurd and Ahmed’s bands are aiming for that, I think, and it comes off some of the time. Hoiby’s new crew did it from first second to last.

Jasper Hoiby
Photo copyright John Watson/

All that left little time to sample the packed schedule in the foyer, but Jim Blomfield’s fine piano trio, with a set of new music soon to be recorded, caught the ear of the enthusiastic crowd who listen for free.

Special mention, too, for the Bristol players who keep so many varied ensembles going that the free programme hardly ever repeats. It’s a collaborative spirit epitomised this year by hearing the always mood-brightening Dakhla Brass, playing new tunes in the Lantern early on Friday evening. By the time the second half of that gig - by guitar wizard Remi Harris - was over, Dakhla’s baritone sax anchor and principal composer Charlotte Ostafew was already set up on the foyer stage with another of her bands, the swing trio Bartoune. Tight scheduling, but rewarding for all concerned.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Vula Viel (First time in new Trio format - Pizza Express 22nd Mar)

The new Vula Viel: Jim Hart, Ruth Goller and Bex Burch

Vula Viel have just announced a new trio line-up, and new material with Bex Burch on gyil joined by Ruth Goller on bass and Jim Hart, Dave Smith or Zands Duggan on drums. They are playing for the first time as a trio on Wednesday 22 March at Pizza Express (For a special discount for LJN readers, see end).  Here, newly joined band member RUTH GOLLER gets to know BEX BURCH.

Ruth Goller: Where does the name Vula Viel come from and what does it mean?

Bex Burch: Vula Viel is my name in Dagaare, given to me by the family elders when I passed out of my (xylophone making) apprenticeship in the village of Guo, Upper West Ghana. It means Good is Good. In the Dagaare tradition the first five years you own your name and after that the name owns you. I feel like Good is Good challenges me everyday to make something good, to be good to myself and my loved ones. I turned five in 2013 when I gave the name to this band. So next year the name will own the band too!

RG: What do you do if you need inspiration to write new music?

BB: The first album was a product of my years in Ghana and was my workings of all the amazing powerful music there. Once that was recorded, I found all this space in my head / creativity to start writing my own tunes. I'm learning that when I am feeling moody or melancholy, I feel the music cooking in me, and if I make the time to go create, I write.

I have written much of the album at a childhood friend's house in Swaledale, Yorkshire, and some at another dear friend's home in Godmersham, Kent. So definitely being in nature is a huge help in that stage. Being alone is also important for me.

RG: What is happening on Wednesday?

BB: The first outing for this new trio line-up, playing mostly new material! It's at Pizza Express, 10 Dean Street, music starts at 8.30pm. In this special time before the album is recorded, the music isn't set in vinyl so anything could happen!

RG: Where can LJN readers listen to your music online?

BB: Vula Viel are on itunes, bandcamp, even spotify and they can find these and more links at But if they really want to know what's going on, they have to come to see us play.

RG: What are the plans for the band this year?

BB: Developing this album, recording in the autumn and building our profile at home and abroad.

RG: What are your favourite bands in the world?

BB: Vula Viel! and Konono No.1. Pauline Mbuka Nsiala is my hero! I went to one of their Cafe OTO gigs a few years back and basically danced with her all night. Amazing musician and performer.

RG: Are there any musical rules or concepts in the band?

BB: Yes! The fundamentals of this music are asymmetry, space, and chaos. Each band member has rules for the patterns to play which inter-cross and create the sum of the parts. But listeners probably can't hear them. I feel that the constructs are like the science behind how and why this music grooves, but like a good engine, the music and listener can just enjoy the ride.

RG: Do you play any other instruments?

BB: Percussion, but other than that very basic... bit of piano, guitar and bass guitar... and I've just had a few violin lessons to help train my ear from the fantastic Laurel Pardue at Queen Mary University of London - she has invented and built an augmented violin to help beginners play in tune.

RG: Finally, if you were an animal what would it be?

BB: This has caused a heated discussion. The sheep because, Yorkshire / walks / hair style.

But my dad always called me his monkey. Cue The Beatles: Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My…

Photo credit: Strongp/ creative commons


Vula Viel at Pizza Express Jazz Club - LJN readers can use the code "Ghana" to get £5 off bookings (Box office 020 7439 4962 / in person).

Vula Viel reviewed


REVIEW: John Harle: A Celebration Of The Saxophone at Milton Court

Steve Lodder (left) and John Harle acknowledging the applause
 at the end of A Celebration Of The Saxophone

John Harle: A Celebration Of The Saxophone
(Milton Court, 17th March 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Some concerts don't really have any reason at all to happen. This one had, at a rough calculation, seven.

First it marked the official launch of John Harle's new two-volume book The Saxophone - The Art of Playing and Performing (Faber Music - INTERVIEW). This has been a major undertaking, involving several years in the conceiving the and writing, some astute brokering by Leslie East, and a huge common effort by author and publisher. It is a mighty 336 pages of A4 in a solid case and has already received plaudits from Branford Marsalis and Tommy Smith.

Second, it was also a celebration of Harle's sixtieth birthday, for which he arrived on stage proudly brandishing his newly-acquired Senior RailCard - and also sporting - as a reminder of human fallibility perhaps - a sprained ankle. That birthday is cause to reflect on the scale and heft of Harle's activity as player, producer, composer, and as instigator / commissioner of new works.

Third, it also marked officially the appointment of John Harle FGSM ARCM (Hons) as Visiting Professor at Guildhall School. He was joined on stage for the encore, a speedy Albinoni Double Concerto movement by the impressive, and impressively relaxed fourth year student Tom Gimson.

Fourth, it also presented the London premieres of a number of recently commissioned pieces, a reminder that Harle has been responsible for adding significantly to the repertoire for saxophone. The pieces were of very different character. The most openly appealing was a lyrical slowly evolving reverie by by Gavin Bryars. Perhaps the most elusive was Sally Beamish's piece based on a retrograde - more there than can possibly absorbed on one hearing. The new piece by Graham Fitkin was angular, motoric and reminiscent of Stravinsky's Agon. There was a highly effective Carl Davis piece based on an unreleased film by Charlie Chaplin about a flea circus, The Professor which traversed effectively from a sardonic Shostakovich-ish slow waltz to a helter-skelter Ibert scherzo. The most curious and experimental of the pieces was by the youngest of the composers Oliver Christophe Leith, whose Little Boy Fat Man and Other Baby Names (a reference to the nuclear bombs landed on Japan in 1945) featured a whole range of technical effects - microtones, cross-fingerings, sections in subtone, and flutter-tonguing.

Fifth there was a reminder of Harle's work as composer first half closer- an extended feature of his new composition Arcadia, which is apparently on its way to growing into a full ballet. It brought on the subtle, distinctive violin playing of Chris Clad, and had sections recalling Bartok's Contrasts as well as an exuberant, even edgy excursion into English folk-rock.

Sixth it was also a celebration of Harle's long-term partnership with uniquely chameleon-like pianist Steve Lodder. The stylistic range that the duo were able to inhabit authentically was quite remarkable. For his solo feature, Lodder turned the clock briefly back to 1360 and the Robertsbridge Codex, but his elegant yet muscular improvisation seemed to carry with it an authoritative knowledge of all the centuries in between,

The seventh reason, and perhaps the part of the evening which will stay longest in the mind, was to hear Harle playing two alto features by Ellington written for Johnny Hodges, Star- Crossed Lovers from Such Sweet Thunder and Sultry Sunset.These pieces brought the opportunity for direct communication as the music stand was put to one side, the chance to bathe in the warmth of tone, impeccably judged shaping of phrases, Pure pleasure.

LINKS:  John Harle was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Front Row (from [0:58])
Sebastian's Jazzthetik feature on The Saxophone and (in German)


CD REVIEW: Nordic Circles - Winter Rainbow

Nordic Circles - Winter Rainbow
(AMP. AT002. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

A project featuring some of the key improvisers of the burgeoning Nordic scene, this record sounds uncluttered and spacious, full of atmosphere: it has a certain gentleness. Brought together and produced by drummer Anders Thorén, the music is folk-infused jazz fitting solidly in the Scandinavian tradition.

Each member of the quintet has a chance to assert his musical character, though perhaps Helge Lien's thoughtful piano and Tore Johansen's melancholic trumpet are to the fore. Different members of the band are credited with different tunes, guitarist Per Orvang contributing three tunes, Thorén two and Lien, Johansen and bassist Anders Ljungberg one each. The result is a well balanced, considered conversation.

The music is understated, but there is emotion lurking below the surface: it is cool but not cold. There are no fireworks, no hyperbole, but lots of creative imagination. Johansen's moody trumpet sounds at times like distant singing; Lien's melodic piano slowly draws one into the soundscape. And Orvang's guitar-work has a light feel that hovers like mist. Behind it all is the subtle interplay between Thorén's drums and Ljungberg's bass, very gently insistent.

It is hard to pick out individual tracks – each have their place, building a whole, gently evocative picture. Free for Five has, as its title implies, a loose, open character, with Johansen's mournful trumpet predominant. On Leon, Orvang's guitar is to the fore with a folk influenced melody before Lien's takes the centre stage with solo that has a flavour of the Europe's celtic fringes. A tune with the name Silent Scream might be expected to have repressed Munchian angst at its centre, but whilst it might be one of the more intense pieces on the album, it is a melodic exploration more optimistic than its title would suggest. It adds up to album of deep but buried emotion, contemplative and atmospheric.

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


REVIEW: Julian Siegel Big Band at Ronnie Scott's

The Julian Siegel Big Band at Ronnie Scott's
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life

Julian Siegel Big Band 
(Ronnie Scotts,  16 March 2017. Review by Frank Griffith)

The Julian Siegel Big Band made their London debut on 16 March at Ronnie Scotts with an all-star ensemble. Amongst this illustrious hand picked amalgamation of UK's finest were saxists, Stan Sulzmann, Tori Freestone, Jason Yarde, Gemma Moore, Mike Chillingworth and the leader himself. The trumpets of UK veteran, Henry Lowther and the visiting Claus Stoetter of the NDR Band in Hamburg, with Percy Pursglove were joined by trombonists like Mark Nightingale and Harry Brown and Trevor Mires, as well as the seamless tuba and bass trombone artistry of Richard Henry. An absolutely stellar rhythm section of pianist Liam Noble, Mike Outram, guitar, Oli Hayhurst, bass, and the eclectic, yet driving percussion, USA expatriate, Gene Calderazzo, went to great lengths to fully ignite the furnaces at this venerated hall of jazz. Finally, the heroically and flawless lead trumpet of Tom Walsh played a principal role as well as the conducting of Nick Smart, whose band "Black-Eyed Dog" played a spectacular set to open the show.

This performance was part of a six-date UK tour commissioned in large part by Derby Jazz (Siegel is from Nottingham) and several well earned mentions of Geoff Wright, the gaffer of said organisation that enabled this project to come to life. Also celebrating at the club was Jazzwise Magazine, in their 20th anniversary of publication represented by a phalanx of the great and the good of this worthy publication. All in all, an opportune setting for what was a grand night of sounds.

Some punters and readers might be interested to note the novel and effective layout of the 17-piece entourage. The six saxophones and four trombones bedecked the front of the stage in an arc formation presumably to hear each other better. The four trumpets stood on the extreme left not far from the audience but within clear earshot of the rhythm section which was laid out evenly through the middle of the stage, side by side each other. This afforded both audience and horn players to see, hear and feel this all important unit in an integrated and embracing fashion. Any large ensemble anticipating a forthcoming engagement at Ronnies, please take note.

Siegel's six pieces explored a wealth of grooves, tonal colours and styles. These include a 1970s Tower of Power-like funky extravaganza, Mama Badgers, which opened the set and a languid, moaning blues entitled Blues. His Song was a ruminative ballad featuring his wistful tenor and introduced by Oli Hayhurst's pensive reading of the melancholic tune played by unaccompanied bass. This reminds one of Kenny Wheeler's pieces being introduced by the solo bass of Dave Holland, a longtime collaborator of his. A haunting quality persevered throughout yet kept the listener engaged with a ever hopeful sense that all was going to be well in the end.

Derby Jazz commissioned piece Tales From The Jacquard was a twenty minute masterpiece that had so many sections, grooves, change ups and tempos that one does not have sufficient time to detail it here. It featured a multitude of soloists that included Claus Stoetter, Tori Freestone, Harry Brown, Stan Sulzman, Mike Chillingworh and Gene Calderazzo. All to great effect contributing so much more to this already epic and heroic work.

The Missing Link was an uptempo romp with a sophisticated chordal scheme for blowers "getting paid by the note" to fully flex their chops in the jazz equivalent of an Olympian effort negotiating through a challenging course. Claus' and Julian's solo outings on this "steaming steeplechase" accomplished exactly this.

The Julian Siegel big band in a rehearsal break
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life

The opening of "Interlude" had a delightful trio of bass clarinet, baritone sax and tuba conversing amongst themselves. "Aglow with the lower blowers" if you will. This then led to blistering solos by saxists, Jason Yarde and Tori Freestone over a medium shuffely beat broken up a recurring eight bar interlude with a Giant Steps-y harmonic sequence that resulted in a welcome solo from Liam Noble's piano.

The set finished off with Siegel's arrangement of the late Cedar Walton's Fantasy in D that featured a healthy bevy of soloist including Tom Walsh, Trevor Mires as well as the time honoured tradition of tenor sax exchanges between the leader and Stan Sulzmann. Julian did also mention that Walton was a frequent visitor to the club and what better way to conclude the evening giving a nod to this great pianist and composer.

A truly magnificent night, The last performance of the tour is tonight in Birmingham. .

LINK: Interview about the tour with Julian Siegel


PHOTOS: Courtney Pine plus Camilla George at the Barbican

Courtney Pine, Vidal Montgomery
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Photographer Paul Wood was at the Barbican for Courtney Pine's group with the Camilla George Quartet as support (March 17th 2017). He writes: 

Multi-Instrumentalist,composer and band leader Courtney Pine romped on stage sporting a bright pink over-shirt, plunged into his first number at top speed and full volume, and backed by

Robert Mitchell -piano/organ
Vidal Montgomery-bass
Robert Fordjour -drums

joined by Omar Lye-Fook on Vocals

Courtney Pine - tenor sax and bass flute

Courtney Pine
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Courtney Pine and Omar
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Opening the concert -London Alto sax newcomer Camilla George Quartet-George's playing recalled memories of 50s cool school - backed by the talented pianist Sarah Tandy

Camilla George
Photo credit: Paul Wood


TWO PART FEATURE on Art Ensemble of Chicago (2): INTERVIEW with Lester Bowie from 1995

Lester Bowie in the 1990s
Photo credit: Barbara Mürdter/ Creative Commons
"We knew we had this unique thing happening." For the second part (*) of this feature about the Art Ensemble of Chicago, here is  a previously unpublished interview which LESTER BOWIE gave Chris Parker on 16 November 1995, when the Art Ensemble played at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The performance was broadcast by the Radio 3 programme “In Concert”, introduced by Chris Parker:

Chris Parker: How important was the city of Chicago to the process of forming your music? Could it have happened anywhere else?

Lester Bowie: Probably not: it would have to have happened in the Midwest. The Midwest is the real America – it’s where people really believe, where the musicians really believe in the music. New York is a marketplace, where you go to sell it, once you get it together. But in the Midwest you have musicians who came up loving this music and have a really strong belief in it, and in Chicago there had always been a centre of music anyway – always a centre of black acitivities.

CP: It was actually founded by a black man, wasn’t it – Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable?

LB: Du Sable, yes.

CP: And how influential was the AACM on all this – presumably you couldn’t have done it without Muhal Richard Abrams?

LB: The AACM began as a rehearsal band in 1961. It was officially chartered as a state organisation in 1965. It was very important. For me, when I ran into the AACM, I’d never seen anything like this in my life. Organised weirdos – really eccentric-type musicians, not the normal studio guys. I’d never seen that many before in one room in my life. Here were thirty or forty people: Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, all these people like that – it was something else.

CP: You met them all at once.

LB: Yes, I went to a rehearsal. I’d been living in Chicago – I moved there in late 1964 – and I’d been playing as a studio musician. I’d done a lot of rock and roll sessions – my wife was a recording artist, Fontella Bass – and a lot of commercials, a lot of studio stuff. I was bored.

CP: You played on a lot of Chess sessions?

LB: Yes, and Brunswick. But I was just completely bored; it wasn’t so exciting. I’d always wanted to be a jazz musician, I’d never wanted to be a classical musician or a studio musician – I just did those things to make a living – so when I went to this rehearsal, of the Richard Abrams Experimental Band, I took a solo, everybody got my number, and the next thing I knew Roscoe was calling, my phone was ringing before I got home. We started rehearsing the next day – and now it’s been thirty years!

CP: And you actually sold up everything you had to go to Paris?

LB: Yes. I put an ad in the paper: ‘Jazz musician sells out’. Up and sold everything, just like that, man.

CP: You were quite well off at the time, weren’t you? I read somewhere you had a Bentley?

LB: Yes, I had a Bentley, motorcycles and stuff. I sold everything except the motorcycle – we took the motorcycle with us. I left the Bentley, everything else, sold it.

CP: And you lived outside Paris, all together?

LB: Yes, place called Saint-Leu-La-Forêt.

CP: What attracted you to Paris?

LB: They’d let us in. We couldn’t get in to England – we would have come here.

CP: Would you?

LB: Sure. You speak English, right? But you can’t get in England with a horn unless you’ve got all kinds of paperwork. And we had this whole trunkful of instruments. They never would have let us in, so we went to Paris instead.

CP: And how influential was the Paris scene on your music?

LB: Paris really gave us the opportunity to develop the music in front of live audiences, whereas in the States we were working four times a year, but rehearsing maybe three hundred days out of that – like really rehearsing a lot, but only working four or five times a year. But after we went to Paris, we were working six nights a week, and we continued to work like that the whole time we were there, we did seventy concerts right in Paris. We were based in a small theatre. It really gave us time to develop all these techniques we’d been working on, really try them out, see how they worked on people on an ongoing basis, not just doing a concert one month, then another two months later. It was like every night, really gave us time to develop.

CP: And you made an enormous number of records.

LB: Yes, about a dozen. A great experience.

CP: And when you came back, were you better received in America for having made your names in Paris?

LB: Yes, we were better received, of course; people knew more about us. We weren’t drawing money like pop groups or anything, but we were better received – I don’t know how well received, but better…

CP: In the 1970s you all started doing separate things. You went off and played with Fela Kuti.

LB: Yes, we always did a lot of things. Part of the philosophy of the group was, in order for us to maintain unity together over a long period of time, we had to allow each member to grow inside of the group – and at the same time, this makes the group grow. So what we’d do, each member went outside the group and developed another entity. He took what he’d learned from this group to that group and in turn, after doing it, brought back what he’d learned from that group into this group, so it keeps everything growing.

CP: Do you regard the Art Ensemble as your home base?

LB: This is the most difficult, artistically, intellectually, it’s the most difficult music. The most difficult physically for me is the Brass Fantasy, because of all the brass.

CP: What do you think about the jazz climate these days? It’s supposed to embrace music from all sorts of sources – do you think it’s better in the 1990s than when you started in the 1970s? More hospitable to your sort of music?

LB: It’s more hospitable to us, but you have to understand, after thirty years, we hope someone has gotten used to us. You know we have full houses everywhere we play, so it’s much better now, but you understand we’ve been doing this a long time. The climate for the music is much better in Europe than it is in the States, because of all this fake jazz, the States is really behind the times as far as music goes.

CP: When you say fake jazz, you mean retro-jazz?

LB: Yes, this retro-jazz, imitation jazz.

CP: Yes, I remember once you saying – to me, actually – about the tradition: the big thing in the 1980s here was the tradition. Everyone had to be very respectful to the tradition. I remember you saying that the only tradition you were really interested in within jazz was the tradition of being free and innovative. Do you still feel that?

LB: Of course: these are the traditions we can’t forget. I never could understand how people could be speaking so much about the tradition of jazz and then negate creativity. That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, innovation is all part of it. What we’ve taken tradition to be is that we go back and play some of the songs they played forty years ago. That’s not the tradition; that’s merely repeating something that’s happened before. Actually, the tradition of the music is growth and development, and if you’re following the tradition of the music, the tradition of Miles and Bird and Ellington, you have to go forward, not backward – none of those guys went backward.

CP: You’ve actually done a lot of collaborating with people from outside jazz, and I see that tonight you’ve got Senegalese drummers. What do you feel they bring to your music?

LB: Different notes, different rhythms. Anytime you incorporate – our music has always been about incorporating – jazz has always been about incorporating all sorts of developments. It’s for our development, but also for the development of the people listening to us, to be able to hear different combinations, to hear how they sound together, so they can hear how these different forms relate to each other. And it’s also good for us, because it gives us a chance to really develop. For example, I’ve never had the opportunity to play with a Senegalese drummer for seven weeks, every night. I’ve done here-there, here-there, but never seven weeks straight. So in doing that, I’ve learned a bunch of new rhythms, a way to relate to the trumpet and play in different ways, so it’s been good for us and – hopefully – for the people who listen to us. World music – jazz is the first world’s music, because it encompasses the ideas of every group of people in the world – the first music people can respond to all over – I mean intellectually, emotionally – and it will be the world music, all over, one day, when we join the United Federation of Planets – by then, we’ll be into the world music of jazz.

CP: And Anthony Braxton will be the President. So, what does the future hold for the Art Ensemble?

LB: Hopefully a pension. It’s about that time. Almost retirement time here. No, we’re going to continue. We’re doing quite a few projects, new recordings next month, then going to Jamaica.

CP: For DIW?

LB: For our own label. We’ve got a corporate sponsor, a juice company, and we’re going to be doing tent shows.

CP: Tent shows?

LB: We’ve been trying to do these kinds of shows for years. It just took us thirty years to be able to do it – really big shows.

CP: And you still maintain yourselves playing in America, just as in Europe, these days?

LB: Yes, we work all over now: Japan, the States, Australia. We’re doing a tour of the States next March: Brass Fantasy, the drummers, singers, Fontella Bass. Really nice shows.

CP: How have you managed to keep the band together all these years? It’s an extraordinary thing to have done, certainly in the jazz world.

LB: It was intended, planned, it didn’t happen by chance. We worked on it – it’s like a long marriage: you have ups and downs. We started with the intention of – not quite – a lifelong project. We’ll retire soon, see what that feels like. When we started playing together, we knew we had something different. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s creative, it’s different, and we know we can do it, because over a long period of time there was enough substance in what we were doing so that we could be developing, to this day. Thirty years later we’re still getting new ideas, new things are happening. It goes back to what I was saying about allowing each member of the group to develop themselves. We used to call the Art Ensemble the Officers’ Training Corps. Because each person is trained as a leader himself. Each one of us has several groups. That was the idea: to do that, keep everything going, so no one can do it like us – we knew we had this unique thing happening. Collective things like this are really fun.

CP: You spend a lot of time together socially?

LB: Not as much as we used to. We live all over the States. I live in New York, Roscoe lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and Malachi and Moye are in Chicago. So we’re not together socially – we’re pretty busy when we’re not doing this, but when we’re together we’re together most of the time. I think we’re more anti-social. I’m not much of a social person – all my best friends are people I play with; other than that, I don’t even go out, I stay with my family at home.

CP: When Joseph Jarman left, did you think of replacing him?

LB: This is the kind of group where it’d be hard to replace someone. We’ve done things like temporarily having someone in as a guest, but we haven’t thought about replacing him. Actually, this is the original group: in the beginning it was me and Roscoe and Malachi. It’s more difficult to get into things with three horns, so we miss him; he may be back – I’m sure he may, whenever he gets tired of playing with the Buddha.

(*) PART ONE: Book Review: Message to Our Folks