NEWS: Jazz North Introduces announces 2017 award recipients: Andchuck and J Frisco

J Frisco
Gail Tasker writes: 

The organization Jazz North have just announced the latest recipients of Jazz North Introducing, an award that gives assistance and festival exposure to emerging bands. Growing success in the scheme and an increase in interest from festivals means that unprecedentedly, two bands have received the support instead of one.

The winners are: 

-  Andchuck (Manchester)

-  J Frisco (Leeds)

Whilst both bands are young and up-and-coming, they already have an established following in their cities as well as a social media presence.

Andchuck are made up of Tom Chapman on bass, Caitlin Laing on saxophone, Jack March on guitar, and Gabriel Alexander on drums. Having met at the Royal Northern College of Music, they cite such influences as EST and Snarky Puppy. Their sound is filled with groovy basslines and rocky guitar riffs, with a distinctive modern edge.

The all-female trio J Frisco contains Jemma Freese on keys, Lara Jones on saxophone, and Megan Roe on guitar. Contrastingly, they include poetry and art pieces in their music, and tend towards the experimental improvisation side.


The award offers a special chance for young bands to showcase their music at six Northern jazz festivals. The bands also get a professional photo shoot and a video. To qualify, musicians under the age of 25 must fulfill an online application with 3 links to examples of their music. They must also be living in or studying in the north of England. Applicants are then assessed by a panel of judges made up of festival representatives.

Nigel Slee of Jazz North points out that what the organization are looking for is ‘high quality music but also creativity, innovation, and potential.’ Slee explains, ‘We’re thinking, which band can we give a lift up, who are ready to be put in front of a larger audience.’

The scheme is also unique in that it offers the winning bands two days of mentoring with jazz industry professionals. With previous mentors including Manchester-based guitarist Mike Walker, the groups get an opportunity to receive critical feedback on their playing, a way to refine and polish their sound and artistic ideas.

Runner-up applicants who performed well are often given this same opportunity of a day of fine-tuning. Slee tells us, ‘There are too many bands for the amount of gigs that are available. It’s right across the whole country, a terrible situation.’ The organization works on this issue by giving instructive help on how to get more gigs and how to deal with promoters.

Previous winners of the scheme include the The Jam Experiment (2013) and The Stretch Trio (2014). Overall the scheme is key in exposing exciting, little-known bands who otherwise might pass under the radar to industry professionals and new audiences.

LINKS: Andchuck on Soundcloud
J Frisco on Soundcloud


REPORT: Global Music Fdn Jazz Workshop & Music Festival at Pizza Express Dean Street

Perico Sambeat teaching an ensemble on the 2016 course
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Review: Global Music Foundation Jazz Workshop and Festival
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, 16-20 August 2017)

If your dream week consists of learning from, listening to, and even jamming with acclaimed jazz musicians, this year’s GMF London Jazz Workshop and Music Festival was the right place to be. Taking over Pizza Express Dean Street for most of the week, the course offered a jam-packed schedule of instrumental lessons, sessions on broader musical skills such as time-feel and singing, and late-night jam sessions beginning at midnight. To complement a hard day’s work, the course also came attached with free nightly concerts for the students, often featuring the teachers in various line-ups.

One of the unique characteristics of the course was that its faculty was made up of an international collection of musicians that one might not normally come across in the UK. Valencia-based saxophonist Perico Sambeat was there this year alongside fellow Spaniard Victor Jiménez, as well as guitarist Libor Smoldas from the Czech Republic. Italian-born Franscesco Petreni came to teach drums and percussion, whilst USA-based Bruce Barth taught piano. Accomplished British musicians also made up the other half of the faculty, with the likes of bassist Arnie Somogyi and up-and-coming singer and recent music college graduate Nel Begley. The entire course was directed by the Irish drummer Stephen Keogh, who as well as being a top jazz educator, has also performed with the likes of Lee Konitz and Brad Mehldau.

Mornings at the course consisted of a series of workshops that focussed on a variety of different musical skills. Begley led a morning meditation session, which served to open up the awareness of the students and prepare them for the day that lay ahead. Petreni led the samba workshop, introducing various types of sambas with the aid of a host of percussive instruments. Guillermo Rozenthuler, an Argentinian singer and composer who now lives in London, led the group singing sessions, which taught the skills of singing rhythmically and in time whilst listening closely to one’s place in the harmonies. These fun and dynamic workshops then gave way to the instrument-specific classes, which took place in various other venues around Soho and Holborn. In the afternoon, the musicians were then placed into jazz bands where they worked on repertoire for the final student’s concert.

Libor Smoldas, Viktorija Pilatovic, Mark Hodgson, Perico Sambeat
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

After a long busy day, course participants could relax with a drink at Soho’s Pizza Express and experience concerts performed by their teachers, as well as visiting musicians. Sambeat performed a memorable gig of original compositions on the Friday alongside long-time friends Petreni, Keogh, and Mark Hodgson on double bass, whilst Lithuanian-born Viktorija Pilatovic sang an electrifying set on the Saturday. There was also a 'Rising Stars' concert led Begley on the Sunday, where young musicians on the rise could showcase their achievements to a new audience. This included Roz Macdonald and Sam Ingvorsen on bass, and Gwilym Jones and Jordan Dinsdale on drums, names to watch out for. The evening gigs were then immediately followed up by jams, where students inspired by a day’s jazz could experiment and play alongside other teachers and students alike. The high musical calibre of the visiting teachers ensured high standards. And yet, the GMF course also maintains a consistently relaxed and friendly vibe. It was a privilege to have been a part of it.


INTERVIEW: Duncan Lamont - interviewed by Duncan Lamont Jr. (606 Club, 30 August)

Duncan Lamont Jr. and Duncan Lamont
Photo taken at Alan Grahame’s 90th party

As this interview reminds us, saxophonist and composer DUNCAN LAMONT has performed with... Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr., Paul McCartney, George Shearing, Gil Evans, Benny Carter and Neal Hefti. His next London appearance is at the 606 Club on 30 August with Esther Bennett and Sarah Moule. In this preview of that gig, he is interviewed for LondonJazz News by his son, the saxophonist Duncan Lamont Jr.: 

Duncan Lamont Jr.In a recent video featuring your song Stark Reality performed by Sarah Moule, you mention that you like “to write a song a day”.  Do you ever have writer’s block, and if so, how do you work through it?

Duncan Lamont: I try to write a song a day. It might not be a good song but the important thing is I’ve produced a song. To me, it’s like practising scales or doing physical exercises and if I’m lucky I might write something worthwhile. I keep thinking I’m going to get writer's block before I start a song but then it disappears when I sit at the piano.

Blossom Dearie once asked me, “How do you get around to writing a song?” I answered, “Well, I know I have to write a song and I just do it.” Blossom said, “I like that!” As a result, I have written a huge amount of material and many vocalists have recorded quite a few of them - in America, artists such as Natalie Cole, Mark Murphy, Nancy Marano, and in the UK, Tina May, Norma Winstone, Liane Carroll, Elaine Delmar and many others. Cleo Laine recorded my song I Told You So in New York which went on to win the Sesac Best Jazz Ballad of the Year award.

LJN: From the viewpoint of a professional musician and songwriter, what are your thoughts on the saying “Success is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”?

DL: Yes, I would agree with that statement. Writing songs is hard work although I find it easier when I have a specific project. For instance, John Dankworth rang me up once in a panic as he’d written a suite for the BBC Proms and needed lyrics urgently for Cleo Laine to sing. I wrote them over a weekend which proves that having a deadline really helps. Sometimes a tune or a lyric appears from nowhere but the main thing is the project in hand. Inspiration is all well and good but, for me, I have to graft at it.

LJN: During your long and varied career, were there some particular experiences that really stand out, either because they were so wonderful or because they were so challenging?

DL:  Regarding wonderful experiences, for me it has to be working with Frank Sinatra. I never got caught up in the adulation trap but I admired him professionally as a consummate singer who was so happy to sing with a big band. I’m sure he preferred that to anything else in the world - after all, he rediscovered The American Song Book and even influenced American politics with his support for JFK. We’ll never see his like again. Also playing with Frank was a challenge in itself.

LJN: As a songwriter and musician, was there some aspect of your work that you found particularly difficult? What was your greatest obstacle and how did you solve it?

DL: As a musician, I took up the saxophone late in my career but within a couple of years I was being booked on recording sessions, often as a featured soloist. I was wholly inadequate playing the other doubles, i.e. clarinet, flute, etc. This meant I was always apprehensive every time I went to a session. The pressure really got to me but I didn’t want to deal with it through drink or drugs. Instead I tried yoga and within a week my mind was transformed. I found I could deal with whatever came my way and it even helped me with regards to the creative side of composing. Eventually I stopped practising yoga but it gave me what I wanted at that time.

LJN: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, from Bing Crosby to Fred Astaire, Paul McCartney, Henry Mancini & Frank Sinatra. What was it like to work with such high profile artists? 

DL:  Sinatra apart, it was wonderful playing with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. You can’t believe you’re in the same room with people who have become part of your life. Sammy Davis was wonderful too and Paul McCartney is a very sweet guy. All in all, a wonderful ride.

However, all these wonderful artists were just part of my working life and I didn’t know them on a personal level. That said, I’ve been lucky to have become friends with some of the real giants of music, amongst them George Shearing, Gil Evans, Benny Carter and Neal Hefti. This has given me an insight into them as people away from the spotlight. Less well known were the great songwriters that also become friends and occasional collaborators such as Matt Dennis (Angel Eyes), Johnny Mandel (The Shadow Of Your Smile), Jack Segal (When Sunny Gets Blue) and not forgetting Blossom Dearie who also wrote great songs herself and recorded many of my compositions.

Top-bottom: duncan Lamont,
Sarah Moule, Esther Bennett

LJN: What material will you be performing at the 606 Club gig on 30 August?

DL: I’m fortunate that two highly talented singers, Sarah Moule and Esther Bennett, are performing my songs at a club I have such a high regard for. They’ll be singing music I’ve written during the last 40 years and also some brand new material I’ve written specifically for this gig. We’ve also got an outstanding rhythm section consisting of John Crawford, Oli Hayhurst and Steve Taylor. I’ve included songs that cover a wide range of subjects; from unrequited love to Fred Astaire! It’s going to be a wonderful evening and I’m looking forward to it.

The Duncan Lamont Songbook featuring Esther Bennett & Sarah Moule will be at the 606 Club on Wednesday 30 August, 8:30pm £12

LINK: 606 Club


PREVIEW: Rye International Jazz & Blues International Festival 2017 (24-28 August)

Kandace Springs

Gail Tasker previews the 2017 edition of this East Sussex festival.

The annual Rye International Jazz and Blues festival takes place this Bank Holiday weekend 24-28 August.

Now in its seventh year, the festival is located in the historic, picturesque town of Rye. This year’s programme contains an eclectic range of music suitable for just about any palette, ranging from R&B and soul to Latin and Cuban.

As well as free street music happening throughout the weekend, there’s also a host of international headline acts arriving, including American jazz singer-songwriter Kandace Springs on Saturday the 26th. As festival director Ian Bowden pointed out to me when I spoke to him, she is  ‘hot property'. She has recently released a new album on Blue Note to great reception, entitled Soul Eyes. A talented keyboardist as well as songwriter, Springs cites singers Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill as influences.  She will also be performing at Ronnie’s and the BBC Proms as part of her short stay in the UK.

Travelling down from a bit closer to home for Monday 28 August are the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars. They are set to perform a special concert based on the club's heritage, entitled the Soho Songbook. The regular house band at Ronnie's, led by singer Natalie Williams, will perform.

Alex Garnett said: "We'll be presenting a chronological history lesson, a hommage to Soho and its part in the music culture of Britain, and how the club is one of the few surviving venues that has been in continuous operation since 1959."

Ronnie Scott's All Stars

Other artists programmed to perform include the pop brothers Patrick and Gregory Kane, known as Hue & Cry, on the Saturday, the gypsy-jazz Trio Manouche also on the Saturday, and the contemporary blues singer Eric Bibb on Monday.

With a combination of live jazz, stunning views, and potential sunshine in the forecast, the festival promises the perfect atmosphere for a fun and enjoyable weekend.

LINK: Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival 2017


PHOTOS/ REPORT: Zappelbude reunion at Unterfahrt in Munich

L-R: Roberto Gioia, Tony Lakatos, Wolfgang Haffner,
Patrick Scales, Martin Scales
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski was photographing at the last of the three reunion gigs of Zappelbude as part of the Munich Summer Jazz Weeks at Unterfahrt. The group recently got together after a gap of fifteen years. Ralf writes:

Wolfgang Haffner and Patrick Scales
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

"Zappelbude, the reunited supergroup of German jazz fusion really could be one of the big things of the next few years. They all want to continue what they have started and go back into the studio and record.

Roberto Gioia and Tony Lakatos
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

"Zappelbude consists of co-leader and fine keyboard player Roberto Di Gioia who does most of the writing for the band, saxophonist Tony Lakatos  - one of the best and most under-recognized saxophonists on European jazz - and the Scales brothers, Martin - from the HR Big Band - on guitar and Patrick on bass. The Scales brothers are originally from Garmisch in Bavaria - their father is English."

Wolfgang Haffner
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf has also recently interviewed the other co-leader, drummer Wolfgang Haffner, who said:

"Zappelbude is a fully grown-up band. We have experienced so much together and spent a lot of time in each others' company. After a gap of 15 years it is something completely different. Everyone has been off doing his own thing for years. Roberto, for example, has been doing pop and hiphop bands. But he is a better jazz pianist than ever. When we did our concerts he played solos and we were all there, with our instruments cheering him on in total amazement!"

LINK: Wolfgang Haffner's new CD, Kind of Spain, is released on ACT Music on 25 August.


REVIEW: Jim Mullen, Nigel Price, Libor Smoldas, Nick Fitch - Guitar Summit at Pizza Express Dean Street

Libor Smoldas and Nick Fitch
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Jim Mullen, Nigel Price, Libor Smoldas, Nick Fitch - Guitar Summit
(Pizza Express Soho. 18th August 2017. Review by Gail Tasker)

When going to a gig described as a ‘guitar summit’, one might have perhaps expected a heightened sense of formality and gravitas throughout the performance. In this case, the technical mastery and brilliance of these musicians was something to be taken seriously, but the event also happened to feature a beautiful example of the spontaneity and creativity of jazz. The gig took place at Soho’s Pizza Express, with four jazz guitarists from different backgrounds and generations. The youngest, Nick Fitch, a budding guitar prodigy, rubbed shoulders with the legendary Jim Mullen, who also led the comic entertainment for the night. There was also the internationally-acclaimed Czech guitarist Libor Smoldas, as well as Nigel Price, a formidable guitarist known for his jam-packed CV of constant touring and recording as well as his incredible musicianship. Forming a strong rhythm section to this rare formation was Stephen Keogh on drums and Arnie Somogyi on double bass.

Instead of the night featuring a constant sextet line up, there was a high degree of inventiveness in terms of the instrumental collaborations. The two youngest guitarists, Smoldas and Fitch, jammed the first couple of tunes, with evident enjoyment taken in each other’s playing. The grin on Smoldas’ face was plain to see as he effortlessly supported Fitch’s stream of bebop patterns in Donna Lee with perfectly-timed chords and occasional bass-line figures. In contrast to this fast-paced number, the slow ballad Alone Together was more reflective, as the guitarists tested and experimented with each other’s sensibilities through trailing melodic embellishments and the odd ‘surprise’ chord or note at the end of a phrase.

Arnie Somogyi, Jim Mullen, Stephen Keogh, and Nigel Price
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

The appearance of four different guitarists in one set was also a chance for the listener to really hone in on what made each player’s style so idiosyncratic. Whilst Smoldas’ tone had a more muted, mellow appeal, Fitch’s tone was brighter and clearer. The combination of Mullen and Price, introduced by Mullen as ‘Guitarmaggedon’, made evident the rock and blues influences of their playing. With a long history of collaboration, Mullen and Price were perfectly at ease with each other’s playing as they switched back and forth between comping and soloing, each time taking ideas from the other’s improvisations. An especially heart-warming point of the night was experiencing Fitch and Mullen, separated by a 50-year age gap, take on Mullen’s original composition Medication. The weaving and winding melody of the head, set against fast-paced harmonic changes, made the choice of title all too suitable, and was communicated impressively by Fitch and Mullen in unison.

When the four featured guitarists finally came together towards the end of the night, the exchange of ideas during the solos was almost tangible. At this point, the players were more relaxed and warmed up, with the experimentation being less tentative and more convincing. The rhythm section continued to be completely in sync, with Keogh being key in providing an understated but crucial role during the proceedings. Somogyi similarly lent his bass as an undercurrent whilst occasionally taking on the odd chorus. Mullen and Price in particular were noteworthy in their humorous delivery of quotations, which underlined the light-hearted mood to the gig.

Overall, it seemed more a ‘celebration’ than a ‘summit’, with the night being dedicated to the late Irish guitarist Louis Stewart. It was fitting to honour his memory above all with the beauty of mutual encouragement and support between players.


PODCAST INTERVIEW: Martin Pearson (sound engineer for Swiss Radio and for Keith Jarrett)

Martin Pearson (left) and Gioni Alig, the day after this interview,
in the state-of-the-art RTR radio van

MARTIN PEARSON is a highly experienced and highly regarded sound engineer. London-born, he has worked for virtually the whole of his professional life in Switzerland, notably at Mountain Studios in Montreux and then at Studio Platinum One near Zurich. He works regularly for Swiss Radio, and has also toured the world to make many of Keith Jarrett's most lauded recordings. 

It was after midnight, and at the at the bar of the Dracula Club during the 2017 Festival da Jazz in St Moritz that Sebastian met Martin Pearson. Once Martin started to tell his fascinating story, it somehow seemed a good idea to forsake the bar, and to record the conversation. There were two reasons for this - (leaving aside the particular kind of blindingly clear logic which can take hold when one is hanging out in a friendly bar after midnight...): firstly because the radio service of Swiss Romantsch Radio (RTR) just happened to have an amazing recording truck at the venue - they had been recording the Mare Nostrum trio; and secondly because an extremely kind colleague of Martin's, Gioni Alig of RTR, was offering to do the recording.... 

With thanks to Peter Bürli and Judith Kobus. Audio production by Harry Jones.


INTRO MUSIC: Keith Jarrett Standards Trio - Butch and Butch from Up For It - recorded at Jazz à Juan, July 2002 (ECM)

3:03 MUSIC: Queen - Don't Stop Me Now from Jazz (EMI, 1978) Recorded at Mountain Studio, Montreux.

5:37 MUSIC: Krokus - Bedside Radio from Metal Rendez-Vous, recorded at Studio Platinum One, Oberehrendingen, Switzerland (1979, Ariola)

9:30 MUSIC: Keith Jarrett - Autumn Leaves from Up for It

12:15 MUSIC: Kristallen den Fina from Mare Nostrum II (2017 - track by kind courtesy of ACT Music)


CD REVIEW: Dom Franks’ Strayhorn Quartet – Living With Spooks

Dom Franks’ Strayhorn Quartet (feat. John Law) – Living With Spooks
(Soulito 191061814320. Review by Mark McKergow)

Cheltenham-based saxophonist Dom Franks links up with classical pianist turned improviser John Law on this engaging and highly listenable collection of originals with the odd (sometimes very odd!) cover featuring two excellent young rhythm section players as well as plenty of accomplished soloing.

This is Franks’ Strayhorn Quartet’s third album since their formation in 2010. A former winner of the Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Musician competition, the leader plays tenor and occasional limpid soprano saxophone, with a tone that varies from full and funky to light and airy as the mood demands. He writes well too, and the six originals on this ten-track album run a range of moods from the driving opener The Calling to the reflective The Kiss Of The Sun For Pardon, via afrobeat and funky flavours. I was taken with the soprano performance and tone on Granada, with dancing lines combining to give a Spanish tinge.

Known for his free improv work, Law provides a fairly straightahead piano role which is notable for creative counter-lines and rich harmonies on six of the tracks. His solo introduction to Granada is probably worth the price of the CD in itself. Franks’ regular keyboardist Alex Steele plays on the remaining tunes, and it’s to his credit that he maintains a consistent feel to the whole collection – the switching of pianists is not immediately obvious to the listener.

The covers on the album are an intriguing mix. The eye is immediately drawn to Mr. Men Reloaded, a reworking of the jaunty Mr. Men TV theme originally composed by Tony Hymas. The tune has plenty of harmonic interest, and Strayhorn do it full justice – the waltzing tune is embellished with piano counterpoints, with a brief moment of rhythmic exuberance leading, bravely, into a terrific double bass solo by James Agg. This forms an excellent springboard for the pace to pick up again for a lilting tenor solo. Agg takes several key solos, including unusually a fully arco solo (played with the bow) on the haunting The Kiss Of The Sun For Pardon, showing a high level of musical awareness as well as great skill on both acoustic and electric bass – a man to watch for the future.

Young drummer Billy Weir, winner of the 2014 Tony Levin prize for the ‘most swinging drummer’ at Birmingham Conservatoire (and Levin was himself a mightily swinging drummer to celebrate too!) provides a very interesting and varied accompaniment to the proceedings throughout. Very much at home in all styles from fidgeting shuffles to heavy beats, Weir plays key roles in tracks such as Franks’ original Angelique (which fizzes with afrobeat energy) and the spiritual song Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, given a funky take here with nice electric guitar from guest Lee Jones.  These musicians are obviously at ease performing together, and it’s no surprise to find that Agg and Weir also appear on Law’s recent CD Re-Creations Volume 1.

The title track, Living With Spooks, based none too subtly on the Ghostbusters movie theme originally recorded by Ray Parker Jr, is a fun workout and also gives a connection to the group’s origins in the home town of GCHQ. Taken all in all, this is a well-produced and entertaining collection providing a very satisfying listen with great variety. I can imagine that live performances from the group would also hit the mark with jazz fans and interested bystanders alike.  


CD REVIEW: Rob Luft - Riser

Rob Luft - Riser
(Edition Records EDN 1095. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Guitarist Rob Luft’s self-penned, self-produced debut album has been out for a few weeks now. One can always dash off an instant review when necessary, but because Riser is a piece of work that reveals itself slowly, it seemed sensible to let the music percolate into one’s brain for a while before passing comment.

Riser is a young man’s album, fizzing with vitality and stuffed full of quirky and original musical ideas. Luft has employed his long-term collaborators bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick to provide the bedrock, while tenor saxophonist Joe Wright and Hammond organist Joe Webb supply thick layers of tonal colour to the arrangements, with their echoes of British prog – King Crimson and Yes. The tunes proceed in distinct segments, without individual solos in the traditional sense: everyone is playing pretty much the whole time.

The opening track, Night Songs, is typical of the set as a whole, a dense, intense, dazzling, melodic, rhythmically elusive tour de force that shows off the talents of Luft and his fellow musicians to maximum effect. The joyful title track follows, its acoustic guitar opening allowing some space for Joe Wright on tenor saxophone, while Joe Webb on Hammond organ builds up washes of sound, a change of tempo heralding his brief solo. The celebratory mood continues with Beware, starting with a gentle Caribbean vibe, continuing with a curious raspberry-blowing motif from Wright. Big horizons loom in the acoustic tune Slow Potion, while the Methenyesque Different Colours of Silence gives Wright another chance to blow with that heavy-duty tone of his, the track finally segueing into Dust Settles.

A personal favourite is the ethereal, out-of-time Blue, White and Dreaming, replete with psychedelic waves and ripples of piano and guitar, with a curious background mélange of hisses and scratches. There’s more Hendrixy mind-bending on the closer We Are All Slowly Leaving.

When I first heard Luft live, his playing reminded me powerfully of the late Allan Holdsworth, but in fact his great musical hero is Kurt Rosenwinkel – a name that will be unfamiliar to many, but whose influence pervades this unusual and richly rewarding album.


CD Review: Maria João Pires / Carlos do Carmo - Maria João Pires / Carlos do Carmo

Maria João Pires / Carlos do Carmo - Maria João Pires / Carlos do Carmo 
(Universal Portugal/ EDGE Music 0602537220849. Released 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It is unusual, maybe counter-intuitive, to be reviewing an album recorded and released in November 2012, but this one managed to fall so completely under the radar, it feels worth doing. I found the  disc by surprise while on holiday, flicking through the fado shelves of the Companhia Nacional de Música in the Rua Nova do Almada in central Lisbon, and the album has frequently stayed on repeat play since then.

The fact that seems to have escaped the attention of just about everyone whom I thought might be aware, is that the eminent classical pianist Maria João Pires collaborated in 2012 with a major figure in Portuguese music, the veteran singer Carlos do Carmo, to make a remarkable album of fado songs. Fado can be one-geared, these are all songs of regret, but Do Carmo's experience of story telling, and Pires' genius pianism make this an edge-of-the seat disc, and one with subtle surprises all the way through. The songs are all compositions by the Portuguese composer and pianist António Victorino de Almeida (born 1940). They are settings of several different poets. The composer is of the same generation as the singer (born 1939) and Pires herself (1944). All three are from Lisbon; for Pires this is a return to her roots.

The disc consists if a short programme of nine songs, in total lasting less than half an hour, but six of the nine songs are also available on the DVD - the video sequences were rehearsals for the audio.  The audio CD and the DVD come as part of a lavishly produced set. There is a 24-page full colour booklet with photos from the sessions and all of the words - in Portuguese only (more pictures of the set here).

What is so remarkable? Pires' constant variations in pace and mood following the speech rhythms, her sheer variety of piano touch and texture. That aspect of Canto Três - for me the most perfect take, desert island stuff -  was the first thing that really struck me. In that song, as elsewhere, the shared instinctive sixth sense of how a story should unfold is magical. A wonderful moment occurs near the end of Teclado: it feels like Pires could easily drift off into the half-light of Debussy's Clair de Lune. Similarly the vivid scene-setting at the opening of Separação could be about to tell the story of The Maiden and the Nightingale from Granados' Goyescas. There are some rare occasions when Do Carmo's voice feels a bit strained, but for the assurance of his narration, for the vividness and beauty of the language, those are minor blemishes. There are moments when maybe the limitations of the composer emerge - the ending of Sem Palavras has a certain irredeemable silliness about it -  but that is true of real life too.

Followers/fans of Pires (I gladly own up to being both) are becoming used to expecting the unexpected from her. She is above all a generous spirit. She has emerged strengthened from financial and health problems in 2006  - SEE THIS INTERVIEW. The last time I wrote about her, (HERE), it was in her role as one of the master musicians at the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth south of Brussels. She was the uncontested star of the institution's 75th birthday concert, but chose to make her entrance on stage on that gala occasion... as a page-turner. It was a symbolic gesture which showed both her humility and her commitment to the institution. Her most-watched VIDEO is one where she discovers to her surprise and shock during the orchestral introduction to a Mozart piano concerto in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam that she has prepared the wrong concerto.

A disc to enjoy and to keep - or to ask for for Christmas!


CD REVIEW: Jay Rayner Quartet - Live at Zedel

Jay Rayner Quartet. Live at Zedel - A Night of Food and Agony
(Live at Zedel. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)

A Jay Rayner album weakens the resolve to resist culinary imagery (musicians’ chops? Sense of thyme?). Because, while Mr Rayner leads the band from the keyboard, he’s carrying heavy media baggage: an irascible restaurant critic with a celebrated side-order of brusqueness. He treads a lone, though distinguished, path: in the 1970s, Humphrey Lyttleton skewered restaurant pretentions for Harpers-Queen magazine with a lethal pen, memorably describing a dish of crudités as "…much like chewing my way through a barbed-wire entanglement…" Polymath Humph was also a consummate broadcaster and, like Wally Fawkes and Diz Disley, a gifted cartoonist. Cultural journo and author George Melly was also a Surrealist guru; Art Ellefsen, a doctor; Dudley Moore, a skilled comic actor and Sandy Brown, an acoustics expert. Benny Green blossomed on radio and edited Wisden. Is multi-tasking amongst jazzers a curiously British phenomenon? Discuss.

This album is a late night show recorded in situ at Crazy Coqs, an intimate Soho cabaret where jazz-inflected acts collide with cocktails. In between songs, Rayner spins revealing reminiscences (perhaps the first jazz pianist to go on record about his mother and wooden penises?) and the lyric department is handled by singer Pat Gordon-Smith, who also doubles as Mrs Rayner.

Perversely for a food writer, the programme follows a disordered meal, starting with It Must Be Jelly (Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That), followed by Better Than Anything (questionable choice with indigestible lyrics), then Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee, Food Glorious Food (acknowledging Lionel Bart’s debt to Bronislaw Kaper’s Green Dolphin Street) and The Ladies Who Lunch (reminding us of the innate unswingability of Stephen Sondheim’s compositions). After the food section, the mood segues into sensuality. Blue Skies is an unusual and appealing Gordon-Smith/Rickenberg duet for voice and bass. Rayner decants piano passion into Tenderly and the evening wraps with Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End of Love and a rousing Hallelujah I Love Him So.

The band is spirited throughout (take a deep bow Dave Lewis) if not always precise. And, in restaurant terms, the offering is more bistro than - loathsome expression - ‘fine dining’. The louche flavour of Crazy Coqs is faithfully captured and the audience’s appetite is fully satisfied. As well it should be.

Jay Rayner, piano; Robert Rickenberg, bass; Dave Lewis, tenor saxophone; Pat Gordon-Smith, voice. Recorded live at Crazy Coqs, Zedel, Soho, London, 24 March 2017. Live at Zedel - A Night of Food and Agony is Released on 8th September


PREVIEW: Canary Wharf Jazz Festival (19-20 August)

Shez Raja at the 2016 festival
Photo credit: Adrian Los

London’s biggest free-admission jazz festival is back for its 11th year at Canary Wharf from August 19-20 in Canada Square Park (writes Gail Tasker). The weather forecast is sunny on both days, perfect for the open-air event. Canary Wharf is more typically known as the financial centre of London, packed with towering skyscrapers and besuited men and women. All is set to change this weekend however as a variety of highly-talented jazz musicians take over.

The festival programme has always historically promoted British artists. In recent years however it has also focussed on young, newer musicians, with previous acts including Binker & Moses and Nérija. This year is no exception - the programme has a particularly contemporary feel, with director Peter Conway describing it as 'sharp-edged.' 

The opening bands on both days feature emerging bands, with the Rob Barron Quintet on Saturday, and Luna Cohen and Rob Luft on Sunday. Although British contemporary is the overarching theme, within that there is a variety of genres ranging from the Cuban-born violinist Omar Puente with his Sextet, to the highly energetic Saturday headliner Riot Jazz Brass Band which performs dancefloor-geared numbers. There is certainly an invitation to get up and dance with Sunday’s programming, as the festival culminates with the electronics-infused The Comet is Coming and the rave-inducing, highly percussive Melt Yourself Down. FULL PROGRAMME BELOW.

The crowd at 2016 festival
Photo credit: Adrian Los

Saturday 19 August

2-3.15pm Rob Barron Quintet
3.45-4.30pm Poppy Ajudha
5-6.15pm Omar Puente Sextet
6.45-8pm Mammal Hands
8.30-10pm Riot Jazz Brass Band

Sunday 20 August

2.15- 3.30pm Luna Cohen and Rob Luft
4-5.15pm Wild Card
5.45-7pm The Comet is Coming
7.30-pm Melt Yourself Down


INTERVIEW: Jon Irabagon

Jon Irabagon
Publicity picture

2008 Monk Competition winning saxophonist JON IRABAGON, a fiercely uncompromising stylist of remarkable eclecticism, has proven his versatility not only as a sideman for Mary Halvorson, Dave Douglas and Barry Altschul, but with his own, daringly assorted studio releases. These include 2015's Behind The Sky, itself a diverse yet polished collection of distinct compositional statements, and Axis, a lengthy, 2-track free group improvisation brought out earlier this year. 

Now a highly accomplished and firmly established player on the New York scene, Jon gave us an insight into his rise to stardom and a brief glance at what to expect from him in the coming years. Interview by Jake Werth.

London Jazz News: What Challenges did you face when moving from your native Chicago to New York City?

Jon Irabagon: I moved from Chicago to New York in 2001, a week before 9/11. The economy and gig scene was destroyed for a while. But that didn't even matter, because I moved to town in pre-social media days, so I didn't really know anyone and hadn't thought about networking. It took me several years to find a group of people whose playing I enjoyed, with whom I had sessions and eventually started playing my music. It was a long process, perhaps longer for me than most, but the rewards were in the music, the people I've met and the places I've travelled since. It was definitely wood-shedding to a certain degree.

LJN: How important was the 2008 Monk Competition for your career and what opportunities did you gain from winning?

JI: The Monk Institute is an amazing educational tool with great support from jazz educators and famous people. When I sent in my audition tape, I didn't plan on getting into the semi-finals, but in doing so, I had the opportunity to be around Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Greg Osby, Jane Ira Bloom, Herbie Hancock, David Sanchez and others who not only defined the music, but stuck to their guns on the kind of music they wanted to make. That was the most important part of it – picking their brains about aspects of the jazz business, putting out records and sticking with one's own voice. The Monk Competition doesn't necessarily guarantee jazz stardom anymore, but it was a great opportunity for me and the money allowed me to make some artistic decisions I wouldn't have been able to make otherwise. More than monetarily, though, it was a vote of confidence to continue trying to pursue my own voice.

Jon Irabagon
Publicity picture

LJN: As an accomplished band leader and sideman, having worked in the Mary Halvorson Octet, the Dave Douglas Quintet and Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, what did your sideman duties teach you about being a strong leader?

JI: I've been lucky that my vision and the kind of music I make melds well with certain band leaders. I've honed my skills in lots of big bands, and as a gun-for-hire in many different creative projects. In every experience you try to gauge what you love about working for different band leaders and under what circumstances things can be difficult. It's helped me to try to be a fair band leader that asks a tonne of their sidemen whilst being realistic about my expectations. For the kind of music I'm wanting to make, I think being a sideman for a number of years was essential.

LJN: You've received a number of significant cultural awards for your work, the French-American Cultural Exchange, 2012 Mabuhay Award from the National Association of Filipino-Americans and the 2014 Philippine Presidential Award. Do you feel your cultural background has an influence on your musical approach, stylistically or otherwise?

JI: Being born in Chicago, I'm a first generation American, and both my parents are from the Philippines. My dad has 10 brothers and sisters, almost all in Chicago, so there were definitely some cultural attitudes present in my upbringing that have made their way into my music. On Outright!, there's a tune that starts as a traditional New Orleans tune that quickly develops into a wall of noise from around 35 musicians playing simultaneously. I didn't realise until much later, but some of the greatest moments of my upbringing were during parties where there would be so much high-spirited, high-energy noise. In hindsight, that has definitely influenced some of my music. As far as jazz goes, I'm really an American at heart, and the tradition has been ingrained in me. However, some of the carefree, fun-loving attitudes come from my cultural background.

LJN: We understand that you undertook the project of transcribing every John Coltrane solo on record. Other than for musical enrichment and personal enjoyment, was there any other reason why you chose to do this?

JI: When I started as a professional musician I was strictly an alto player – my first love was Cannonball Adderley. However, Chicago is a tenor town, so I picked up tenor and tried to get better at it. When I moved to New York, I realised to truly become a tenor player I needed to plug some holes in my playing, I couldn't just switch from alto. So I looked back through the lineage and chose to dig into each of the masters as much as I could. When I arrived at Coltrane's playing I really noticed the difference between his bebop playing in the army in the late '40s and his playing less than 20 years later on Interstellar Space. I dove into Coltrane transcriptions to try and discover what the building blocks might have been.

LJN: And how far along are you?

JI: I'm almost at the end of the classic quartet recordings, just before Meditations, where things change pretty fast. The important off-shoots of learning transcriptions themselves were some of the bigger musical ideas, allowing me to come up with my own exercises inspired by things like hearing Sonny Rollins play an idea, abandon it for five choruses and return to it without missing a beat. When I practice a Bird blues, can I leave an idea, develop it, and come back to the original idea? Those are the things I've been learning about transcription more recently, in contrast to what we learn to do earlier on which is often learning licks and plugging them in. How can I strengthen my own voice from my interpretation of the voices of masters?

LJN: You were involved in a major project recreating the classic album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis note for note. How did yourself and other members of Mostly Other People Do The Killing handle the inevitable kickback from parts of the jazz community upon the release of Blue in 2014?

JI: The band had been together for eight or nine years at that point. The idea came from us talking over the course of lots of train journeys and flights on tours. It was organic to the four main members of the band, just like the music was. The band toured once or twice a year in Europe at one point but we found it hard to tour the United States, just because it might have seemed too crazy for straight ahead jazz audiences. So we did it for ourselves, to see if we could do it, and to see how well we could do it. I myself didn't expect any kickback at all. Some of the criticism was 'you should record your own music'. When these critics were told we'd written eight or nine records already, they weren't aware of that. So the selectivity of some of the criticism seemed pretty interesting to me. But we hit a nerve and it was just one of a string of internet outrages that exists. However the advancements in my playing that resulted from learning those Coltrane and Adderley solos can't be taken away from me, and I'd never take the experience back.

LJN: Tell us about your experiences running your own record label, Irabbagast Records.

JI: Originally, I just wanted to put out my own music and get used to the business side. I also got tired of sending my music to labels and either not hearing back or being offered production time a year and a half later, by which point I wouldn't want to hear it anymore. So I decided to start my own label and learn. Then, after putting out my first five albums, friends with similar frustrations towards other labels started wanting to put their music out. I try to help with distribution and publicity, just to help expand a fan's knowledge of what's available. Style isn't important, I want to support honesty and try and help out as much as I can.

LJN: Axis, released in February this year, marked a stylistic departure from a more conventional composition-based Behind The Sky, released in 2015 alongside the highly experimental solo sax album Inaction Is An Action. What comes next?

JI: There's a new record that's coming out hopefully by the end of this year but probably by the end of next year, which is the same band as the one on Behind The Sky, but I've written more intricate tunes for them. I wanted to take the working band mentality and write tunes with more sections and more interplay. On Behind The Sky, each tune is about five or six minutes and the album is quite tightly produced. This next album has tunes containing more group interplay, with one of my all time favourite trumpet players Tim Hagans. I'm also recording a solo album to follow up Inaction Is An Action, using an F mezzo-soprano saxophone. I've also written a piece for string quartet plus piano, consisting of six movements, so I'm recording that soon. I recently played at the Jazz Standard with my organ trio, for which I've written music. It features Gary Versace on organ and Nasheet Waits on drums, and next year I aim to record with that group.

LJN: What advice might you have for younger musicians hoping to move to NYC? From your perspective, at what point is it right to make that decision?

JI: As the world becomes more global, there's a chance people might not need to move here. I have Skype students that live out of town, and if they ever ask me about it, I always tell them they should at least visit first. Some people's personalities don't mix with the craziness here. But if you're one of the people that won't like it here but want the enrichment it can offer, you'd need to be proactive about getting that in other ways. If you're trying to be a professional musician, you owe it to yourself to at least be around it for a while, and if you're the type of person that could deal with it then I'd suggest you move here as soon as you can.

Always reflect on what you want out of your music and what you're willing to take a stand for, because once you do that here there's a target on you: If you're the most inside cat, you're not 'doing anything crazy'; if you're the most outside cat, you obviously don't know the tradition; and if you're trying to toe the line in-between then you're a charlatan because you obviously can't do either well. So that's one of the difficult parts about moving here, but it's important for any musician to think about what they want to take a stand for anyway.

LINK: Jon Irabagon's website


INTERVIEW: Peter Jones (Under the Setting Sun album launch 26 August, Jazz Café Posk )

Peter Jones
Photo credit: David Jacobson
Vocalist PETER JONES' third album, Under the Setting Sun will be released at the end of this month. It consists of new songs which are product of a songwriting partnership with Trevor Lever. Sebastian found out more: 

LondonJazz News:  How does your (combined/collective) writing process with Trevor Lever work?

Peter Jones: Songwriters used to be asked: which came first, the music or the lyrics? With us it’s different - it’s more like he’s the starter and I’m the finisher. So he will usually come up with a sequence of chords, to which I will write a tune and eventually a set of lyrics. We send files back and forth for a while, since he lives in Somerset and I’m in London. Then we’ll then get together and collaborate on the final version of the song.

LJN: Is there a theme to the songs and to the album?

PJ: In the first instance, having gone through a lengthy bebop phase a couple of years back, I thought I’d set myself the challenge not only of writing original material, but material that wasn’t swing, and rather more contemplative in mood than I’ve done before. They’d be songs you’d want to chill out to at 2am. You might think that would lead to a modal kind of vibe, and in fact one or two tunes have quite a simple structure. But having spent so many years trying to write like Donald Fagen, I find minimalism difficult. One example is a tune called 1969, which was just intended as a blues. Then it became a blues in 5/4, then it became a 14-bar blues in 5/4. You see what I mean?

LJN:  Is it a sequence or is it separate discrete songs?

PJ: It isn’t a concept album, so I suppose the only sequencing involved was deciding what order to put the songs in.

LJN:  JazzFM has picked one of the tracks...   

PJ: Jez Nelson played Your Secrets on his show Somethin’ Else the other day. It’s one of the most sparse tunes on the album, built around the idea of Three. So it has a simple three-chord waltz-time (3/4) structure and a three-part vocal harmony throughout. It’s not really about anything, it just captures a quiet, intimate, romantic mood.

LJN:  You have some of the musicians from your previous albums involved...

PJ: This is my third album, and I’ve had Neil Angilley on piano and Davide Giovannini on drums for all of them so far. Vasilis Xenopoulos was also on the first album, One Way Ticket to Palookaville. I first heard Neil play at the 606 with Steve Rubie’s Brazilian outfit Samara, and I was so knocked out that I then went to see his trio at the Archduke. Davide was the drummer, and Davide Mantovani was on bass. I just loved the depth and sophistication of the sound they produced. For my launch gig I couldn’t get Andy Hamill, who plays on the new album, but thankfully Davide Mantovani was available. So now I’ve got the entire Neil Angilley Trio, plus Vasilis Xenopouolos on tenor and flute, and Roger Beaujolais on vibes, since Anthony Kerr was also unavailable.

LJN:  What led to the choice of Anthony Kerr this time?

PJ: For me the vibes convey coolness and reflection; it was the 2am thing again. I went to a talk Anthony was giving at the Richmond Rhythm Club, talking about his musical life and about the vibraphone as an instrument. But more than that, I loved the way he played it, often just sketching in a few notes here and there. If you’ve got vibes and a piano - instruments with a similar range – you don’t want them bumping into each other, and I thought Anthony had the sensitivity to avoid that, so I asked him to play on the album. More recently I saw him with Georgie Fame, and realized that he also spends a lot of his time playing blues and r&b as well as jazz. He’s a real stylist.

LJN:  You are in the process of writing a biography of Mark Murphy. Has being so involved with his work influenced you - and in what ways?

PJ: It’s actually finished, and should be out next April. Having Andy Hamill on the album was a real bonus - he was Mark’s UK bass player - and he also plays chromatic harmonica on a couple of tracks.

Having listened to everything Mark Murphy ever released, and some stuff he didn’t, I realized that he wasn’t just a bopster, or even just a jazz musician – he also recorded pop, rock, blues, easy listening, ballads, the spoken word, poetry… and mastered all of them. In terms of influence, the thing I really like about him is his musical courage. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but Mark thrived on challenges. He actually loved it when musicians got lost during a tune, because that meant even more improvisation was needed to find your way back. I’m not yet at the point of welcoming cock-ups on stage, but I’m aiming for Mark’s confidence and positivity and love of adventure.

Peter Jones is also a regular contributor to LondonJazz News 

LINK: Peter Jones' website

Under the Setting Sun is released on Friday 25 August, distributed through Discovery Records. Peter appears at Jazz Café Posk on Saturday 26 August with Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor/flute), Roger Beaujolais (vibes), Neil Angilley (piano), Davide Mantovani (bass) and Davide Giovannini (drums).


INTERVIEW: Tal Janes of Bahla (album crowdfunder launched today)

Bahla. L-R: Inês Loubet, Ben Brown, Joseph Costi,
 Tal Janes and Andrea Di Biase
Photo credit: David Hamblett

If you mix Jewish folklore with contemporary jazz, you get BAHLA, a young band creating new music through the exploration of cultures that merge. New songs written for last year’s London Jazz Festival led them to the studio, and to a crowdfunding campaign - launched today - aimed at getting the band’s first record published. Q&A with co-leader Tal Janes by Matt Pannell.

London Jazz News: How does Bahla sound?

Tal Janes: When people read 'Jewish' they normally expect a klezmer band, but it's far from that. For the moment I've settled on describing it as 'contemporary cinematic jazz entangled with Jewish folklore'. If Radiohead, Polar Bear and Shai Maestro had a strange love child, we might sound a bit like that, but there are many references.

LJN: Who’s in the band?

TJ: Joseph Costi co-leads and plays piano.. He’s from Venezuela. We’ve found a really strong guitar-piano partnership, and our compositional voices are noticeably different but I think that's a good thing.

Ben Brown, our drummer, has an interest in rhythms from around the world. For example, in certain parts of north Africa, they feel triplets differently to how we do in the West… he's taken that and really made it his own and has become an important part of our sound. We met while studying at the Royal Academy of Music.

Andrea Di Biase is our bassist. We met playing in Maria Chiara Argirò's band and as well as being really into jazz, he has a background in classical music which brings something else into the music.

Inês Loubet joined in November 2016, just as we were creating new songs for the London Jazz Festival. She brought us new musical possibilities, singing in English, Hebrew and Ladino. Inês can give me shivers, she really wants to get inside the story of the music.

I play guitar. I've been exploring making more sounds using effect pedals. The recording process massively fed into that. I'm also a John Coltrane nut, but love John Martyn, and the rest.

LJN: Where did the ‘Jewish folklore’ part come from?

TJ: We were checking out this music from different places and times. First Russia, then Yemen, then North Africa. It all sounded ‘Jewish’ but you can hear how the cultures mix. You ask: where were these people displaced from? How did they integrate - or not? It got us thinking about London, today, about other cultures, and how we all express our own influences. We want to show that cultures coming together can lead to something good.

LJN: How do you write fresh, original music about historical events?

TJ: I think ideas seem to come when you’re completely immersed in something. We got into watching documentaries and reading books about the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and this took us all the way to Syria today, and trying to imagine how it feels to be displaced. In that sense, it’s not about notes and scales, but emotional impact.

Music is part of life. Phrasing is connected to dance and speech, and you can hear it in certain religious texts, where the words come with a melody built-in. Music co-exists with art, movement and literature. These things are not isolated, but reflect one another, and that’s something we’re conscious of as we write.

LJN: Your LJF gig attracted a big enough crowd to have the venue managers fretting about seating capacity. How did it feel?

TJ: The LJF gig was emotional. It was incredibly rewarding because we put a lot of work in. Vocals had given us new possibilities. That’s why we went on to the recording studio.

LJN: You’re aiming to release your debut record, Imprints, in two volumes. Why two EPs rather than one LP?

TJ: We recorded 13 tracks and we’re using eight, across two records. Having two releases keeps the momentum going. Albums can get lost, and we feel that a more digestable format might appeal to more people. We've called it Vol.1 & Vol.2 so people get a sense it's part of the same thing.

LJN: Most people launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund their studio time, but you’ve already made the recordings?

TJ: Yes. The recordings were possible because we’d saved up mine and Joseph's gig money to fund them. However, there are many more costs involved in releasing a record. This is the first release for me and Joseph, so we’re feeling our way. We’re appealing to everyone to support our project. Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is great, because it gets people involved and connected. Lastly, since our music is inspired by displaced people, we’re hopeful that we might raise enough to support a refugee charity called Side by Side Refugees. If we exceed our target [£3,000 by 31 August] any money left afterwards will go directly to them.

- To find out more and support Bahla’s first record there is a CROWDFUNDER
- Charity: Side by Side Refugees
Bahla website

LIVE DATES: Bahla will appear on 20 August as part of the Greenwich Summer Jazz Weekenders series: [LINK]

Bahla also plans an EP launch gig on 2 November at St Mary’s Music Hall, Walthamstow.


CD REVIEW: Jef Neve – Spirit Control

Jef Neve – Spirit Control
(Universal Music Belgium 5744122. CD review by Mary James )

Spirit Control has been in the top 10 of the Belgian pop charts constantly since its release in March this year. With this new album pianist Jef Neve celebrates turning 40 and his return to life, as it were, after the depression he felt around his 30th birthday. Work with José James, soundtracks, years of touring the world in major concert halls with an extended trio and recently a solo album One have culminated in this new work.

It’s easy to hear why this album appealed so widely, with its sumptuous orchestration and graphic compositions such as the racing-paced NYC Marathon. But it’s not pop and it could just as easily sit in contemporary classical as jazz with its glimpses of Barber and Reich. Above all it’s about the excitement of liberation. Neve says “Spirit Control, or the idea that your mind is finally doing what you always desired, the thought that you are taking the wheel now, [is]a fantastic feeling of freedom.”

There is certainly a glorious pulse of heartbeat coursing through this album from the opening track Crystal Lights right through to the end. Its scale is huge with a string and horn ensemble yet there is never a feeling of too much of anything. The album manages to be rich, detailed and delicate all at the same time, like the transparent jewel-coloured lacquers on a Japanese box. The way some of the compositions have been put together reminded me of how Brian Wilson appeared to construct Pet Sounds, here the underlying scaffolding of piano is decorated with a myriad of tiny details such as one note of a bell, or short snatches of trumpet, or washes of electronics.

Kite Crash is a mesmeric piece which uses full-on electronics and disorientating strings to set up the title track Spirit Control, a symphonic piece with classical opening. The inclusion of Australian pop singer Sam Sparro - also credited as co-composer - on the ballad Caterpillar, was an inspired choice. To me, this song appears to be an allegory of Neve’s life, the lyrics (by Sparro) describing the vulnerable life of a caterpillar and its eventual triumphant metamorphosis to butterfly, almost to its own surprise. Both artists are out of their comfort zones and the result is touching.

Neve writes beautiful tunes that hang around in your head and send you back to replay this album again and again, so satisfying is his virtuosity and eloquency of feeling. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Solitude which first appeared on his solo album One, an expressive piece about father and son. Here it has been given an orchestral arrangement with piano at full pedal, tension and release in perfect balance. Paris, Place Sainte-Catherine with its references to Durante’s Make Someone Happy is the perfect closure, mysterious and atmospheric.

This is a truly beautiful personal album of many layers and subtle colours from the master of emotional intensity truly at ease with himself.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter working with Maciek Pysz and others. Twitter @maryleamington


NEWS: RIP Janet Seidel, 'Australia's first lady of Jazz Singing' (1955-2017)

Janet Seidel

Known as “Australia’s first lady of jazz singing’, the Sydney-based cabaret singer and accomplished pianist JANET SEIDEL passed away last Monday 7 August, following complications related to ovarian cancer. Active from the 1980s with a prolific recording and touring career, Seidel was also a music educator and influential figurehead of the Australian jazz scene. As well as collaborating frequently with her brother, leading Australian bassist David Seidel, she also played with other notable figures from the Australian jazz scene such as guitarist Ian Date and pianist Bobby Gebert.

In an interview with LondonJazz News from 2011, she spoke about the appeal of learning and singing new repertoire, saying 'I still especially love the excitement I feel when I’ve got new material to play. A stand-out feature of her personality as a vocalist was also her humility, as she emphasized that 'the song is more important than the singer', showing her commitment to her music above all else.  

Born in the small South Australian town of Cummins in 1955, Seidel began performing at the tender age of 17. She attended the University of Adelaide where she studied for a bachelor’s in music. There in the early 1980s, she formed her first trio with her brother on bass and the legendary Billy Ross on drums. Next, she moved to Sydney where her career took off in the cabaret scene as well as in jazz.

Seidel recorded almost exclusively for the independent jazz label La Brava, releasing up to 18 albums from 1994 onwards. She acknowledged the influences of vocalists Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Blossom Dearie, releasing Doris & Me in 2001, Don’t Smoke in Bed in 2002, and Dear Blossom in 2004 to high critical acclaim. Her recording output has proved diverse as well as consistent, ranging from the intimate-sounding French chanson-themed album Comme Ci, Comme Ca, released in 2000, and her 2001 album Love Letters, where she collaborated effectively with harmonica player William Galison.

Seidel enjoyed substantial success overseas as well as in Australia, especially in Japan where she engaged in prestigious tours across Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, occasionally sharing the bill with the likes of Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin. Her album 2005 Moon of Manakoora, dominated the Japanese jazz vocal charts for three months consecutively.

Tributes have come pouring in around the world, recognising Seidel’s warm and generous personality as well as her musical achievements. Jazz vocalist Anita Wardell acknowledged the encouragement and support that Seidel had given her in a post on Facebook, describing her as ‘kind’, ‘encouraging’, and ‘funny’.

Her most regular outfit in recent years comprised of Seidel on vocals/piano and her brother on bass, with Chuck Morgan on guitar. In this trio, she toured and performed internationally, singing at Ronnie Scott’s as recently as last year.

LINK: LJN Interview with Janet Seidel from 2011


CD REVIEW: Django Bates and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Saluting Sgt. Pepper

Django Bates and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Saluting Sgt. Pepper
(Edition Records EDN1094. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Composer and arranger Django Bates brings his twisting jazz aesthetic to classic Beatles material in this well-worked yet curiously unadventurous reworking of the summer of love’s classic album.
Bates has been commissioned by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and partners from Sweden, Norway and Finland to reimagine the Fab Four’s most iconic collection. He clearly has a close relationship with the original material, describing in the liner notes how he bought the album at the time for his elder sister’s 18th birthday. Having always resisted invitations to arrange anything by the Beatles, he accepted this invitation in a spirit of ‘freedom, not licence’, in keeping with the unconventional schooling he himself received.

Working with guitarist Stuart Hall and Danish trio Eggs Laid By Tigers, who provide vocals and a rock rhythm section, Bates examined Sgt Pepper on a bar-by-bar basis before producing this new orchestration. He made the decision to hold to the original keys and structures (including vocals), on the grounds that millions have grown up with them in some possible kind of common memory. This is a fundamental and, to me, rather curious decision. While it undoubtedly holds true to the original, it means that the innovations are necessarily restricted to backing textures, fills, occasional short solo passages and the like. The effect is of listening to music sounding, at first hearing, to be almost a pastiche of the original.

Of course, Bates has a fertile imagination and a huge talent, and there is a great deal to enjoy about his work. The opening title track immediately produces time-bending quirkiness between the lines with very fine playing from the big band, while the music-hall character of songs like For The Benefit of Mr Kite and When I’m Sixty Four offer rich possibilities for squirling harmonies and woodwind – the latter track in particular featuring some great clarinet work. Fixing A Hole has some delicious harmonic twists, and She’s Leaving Home gains a cinematic feel which only expands the unbearable poignancy of the original song.

The fact that these are bar-by-bar reworkings brings some inevitable consequences. The songs are broadly as long as the originals – in some cases even a few seconds shorter. There is therefore no room for any up-front soloing past the limited space on the original record. Eggs Laid By Tigers are clearly also familiar with the Beatles LP, and for the most part are content to follow the phrasing and even the enunciation of the lads from Liverpool, which adds to the ‘heard it before’ sense. It’s only in the last three tracks that I hear a little of what might have been – Good Morning Good Morning has some funky keyboard from Django, and the title track reprise swings and rocks mightily. The closing A Day In The Life is the most worthwhile listen, with the two distinct sections (‘I heard the news today oh boy’ and ‘Woke up, got out of bed’) being even more contrasting, and everyone joins forces to tackle the huge upward glissando passages. There’s even a closing surprise

For this album Django Bates has chosen to ‘salute’ Sgt. Pepper in a very respectful way, adding his undoubted talents around the edges of one of the 20th century’s musical masterpieces to produce a subtle and enjoyable piece of work. How this translates as an exercise in ‘freedom, not licence’ is not entirely clear – perhaps the ‘freedom’ is that of the arranger to choose not to touch. Personally, I wish that, rather than paying a respectful salute, Bates had taken Sgt. Pepper out for a beer or two and seen how they’d got on while hanging out. You can see how this work fairs in a live context as the entire show is coming to Ronnie Scott’s for a week in September, followed by gigs around Europe.

LINK: Saluting Sgt. Pepper at Ronnie Scott's


REVIEW: National Youth Jazz Collective 10th Anniversary Concert at Kings Place

Julian Joseph and Dave Holland
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

National Youth Jazz Collective 10th Anniversary All-Star Concert
(Kings Place Hall One. 12th August 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This is the kind of occasion that jazz people do so well. The National Youth Jazz Collective's tenth anniversary gala concert pooled and combined talents of no fewer than twenty top musicians, to make something unique, unrepeatable and special. It was  a privilege to be there.

NYJC have many good reasons to celebrate the achievements of the past ten years, and this concert had a shape, a purpose and a sense of build-up which showed the imprint of NYJC founder Issie Barratt's programming instincts, and her thoughtful and careful forward planning.

The final sequence, devised by Dave Holland, was a delight. The bassist stayed put, in that place where singers stand, the "crook" of the piano, to welcome a succession of people to the stage to join not just him, but also -  as Holland pointed out on Twitter -  drummer Mark Mondesir, an inspiring and constant presence throughout this set, who conjured up all kinds of wonderful textures and interjections, including one which mesmerised me: an improbably fast shimmering shaker-type fill from rapid repeat on the hi-hat.

The sequence of mini-sets started with Norma Winstone and Nikki Iles in John Taylor's O. It set exactly the right tone for what was to follow, enabling the mood of celebration to build. There was joy, elation written across every gesture, every inflection of the late John Taylor's composition O. Then quartet became sextet with the addition of eloquent soloists and texture-bringers saxophonist Karen Sharp and guitarist Dominic Ashworth for Nikki Iles' piece Tideway,  a relatively new piece inspired both by the sea breezes of the Kent coast and the classic Tom Jobim/ Elis Regina collaborations. Then a change of mood again for the entrance of  Julian Joseph (who is Vice-President of the organization) and Cleveland Watkiss for Joseph's  tune Heartbeat, and finally a nonet version of Dave Holland's tune Dream of the Elders.

Laura Jurd and Tori Freestone
Photo credit: Melod Mclaren

Earlier in the concert there had been one NYJC alumna from the organisation's very early days -  Laura Jurd - currently nominated for the Mercury Prize, who combined very effectively with saxophonist Tori Freestone to tell convincing stories in Freestone's composition Avocado Deficit. The quintet led by Chris Batchelor and Martin Speake showed what classy players both of them are, with the final number Secret Cloud letting Speake to construct a powerful solo. There was also a lively solo piano contribution from Nikki Yeoh, and an opening set  from a group led by Digby Fairweather. His skills as raconteur and MC are well known, but the surprise - to me at least - was that the three finely crafted arrangements, not publicly credited, were also by him.

This concert, the culmination of a whole day of celebration (FULL DETAILS HERE), gave a strong sense of the valuable work which NYJC does. There were eloquent introductions from Issie Barratt, and an appeal from Executive Director Andy Thornton, who explained that NYJC is aiming to expand its size, geographical reach, and its scope to give bursaries, with help from the Big Give donation-matching scheme (more detail here). There were also some very well-made short films explaining the operation and the ethos of the organisation, which allowed the students to explain in their own words how it feels to be a participant. The words "inclusive" and "open" seemed to crop up a lot, and one participant said rather eloquently that the NYJC experience had taught her "to blend and to fit."

NYJC is a vital organisation in the UK musical landscape, and its well-deserved day of celebration shows that it is embarking on its second decade with impressive momentum, confidence and a real sense of mission.

Digby Faiirweather's group performing the opening set
Photo credit: Melody McLaren



Digby Fairweather (trumpet)
Mick Foster (alto/ baritone sax)
Karen Sharp (clarinet and tenor sax)
Malcolm Earle Smith (trombone)
Dominic Ashworth (guitar)
Tom Hewson (piano)
Mark Hodgson (bass)
Nic France (drums)

If I had you  – Ted Shapiro
The very thought of you – Ray Noble
Diggin' in – Digby Fairweather


Dance of the Two Small Bears (Yeoh)


Chris Batchelor (trumpet)
Martin Speake (alto sax)
Orphy Robinson (vibes, effects)
Mark Hodgson (bass)
Nic France (drums)

The Road, The Sky, The Moon (Chris Batchelor)
Improv - with Cleveland Watkiss
Secret Wood (Martin Speake)



Laura Jurd - Trumpet
Tori Freestone – Tenor
Tom Hewson - Piano
Andy Robb - Bass
Mark Mondesir - Drums

Extinct (Laura Jurd)
Avocado Deficit (Tori Freestone)
Dare I (Tom Hewson)

"Joy, elation written across every gesture and inflection"
Nikki Iles, Dave Holland, Mark Mondesir and Norma Winstone
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


1) Dave Holland -Bass
Norma Winstone - Voice
Nikki Iles – Piano
Mark Mondesir - Drums

 O (John Taylor)

2) Norma Winstone - Voice
Karen Sharp - Tenor
Dominic Ashworth - guitar
Dave Holland -Bass
Nikki Iles – Piano
Mark Mondesir - Drums

Tideway (Nikki Iles & Norma Winstone)

3) Cleveland Watkiss- Voice
Dave Holland -Bass
Julian Joseph – Piano
Mark Mondesir - Drums

Heartbeat  (Julian Joseph)

4) Norma Winstone - Voice
Chris Batchelor - Trumpet
Martin Speake – Alto Sax
Tori Freestone – Tenor Sax
Malcolm Earle Smith - Trombone
Mick Foster - Baritone
Dave Holland -Bass
Julian Joseph – Piano
Mark Mondesir – Drums

Dream of The Elders (Dave Holland)

Organizer and NYJC Artistic Director Issie Barratt
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LINK: How to support the  NYJC tenth birthday appeal