Sienna Dahlen
Photo credit Roy Tony Revoy

This podcast interview with a key figure on the Canadian jazz scene, vocalist SIENNA DAHLEN, is a follow-on from our interview from 2016, which has become our most listened-to interview (link below). In this podcast we traverse through several different aspects of her varied work: first as a singer-songwriter with her own project Ice Age Paradise; then her methods as songwriter; then as educator (she teaches at McGill in Montreal); then as featured vocalist in a new major work by Christine Jensen for jazz orchestra, Under the Influence, a commission from the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal; and finally as an artist finding a balance - notably her house/artists' retreat in the idyllic Laurentides. Interview by Sebastian at McGill in Montreal, July 2017. Audio production by Harry Jones. 


- Sienna Dahlen talks about live performances of Ice Age Paradise

[2: 40] MUSIC: Drifting Daydream from Ice Age Paradise

- Andrew Downing
- “Are Montreal and Toronto audiences different?”
- Songwriting method - “First the words or - first the music?”

[9: 26] MUSIC Your Eyes from Ice Age Paradise

- “Does the experience of teaching have an influence on your own practice?”

[13:33]  MUSIC – Bridge section of Your Eyes

- Christine Jensen's Under the Influence

[17:56] MUSIC Star Bright from Under the Influence

- The countryside and the city
- Other projects- an artistic house

[22:46] MUSIC Parc La Fontaine from Notes from Montreal

LINK: Our popular 2016 interview with Sienna Dahlen
Sienna Dahlen's website


REVIEW: Rachael Cohen at the Devonshire Club, EC2

Rachael Cohen (centre) with (L-R) Sam Watts, Joe Downard, Shane Forbes

Rachael Cohen
(Devonshire Club. 17 October 2017. Review by Leah Williams)

The Devonshire Club, a private members’ club in Devonshire Square EC2, offers up a whole host of cultural events within its exclusive walls. The most recent of which is a monthly live jazz residency hosted by Ronnie Scott's and featuring some of the city’s hottest jazz talent.

Last night was the first of these intimate gigs and featured up-and-coming saxophonist, composer and improviser Rachael Cohen. Originally hailing from the Shetland Islands, Cohen is now London-based and has been lighting up stages and making a name for herself in the capital, with her debut album Halftime being highly praised. (Review by Chris Parker)

Last night’s line up also included Sam Watts on piano, Joe Downard on bass and Shane Forbes on drums, and the quartet filled the cosy lounge space with a variety of jazz ranging from ballads to latin to blues, all of them sharing the same smooth and seamless sound.

Rachael introduced the band and commented on how beautiful the space was to play in. The luxurious and comfortable setting was indeed the perfect place to relax and listen attentively to the soft, dulcet tones of Cohen’s playing.

During the two 45-minute sets, Cohen moved between soft and atmospheric to precision virtuosity with ease. Some classic tunes such as One-Note Samba and Lover Man were given a modern and exciting makeover. The band’s interplay was exciting and natural, all musicians showing off their soloing talents to very convincing effect.

The gig ended with two Thelonious Monk tunes, in honour of his recent would-have-been 100th birthday. Watts on piano especially shone in the first In Walked Bud, and the charm and relaxed beauty of Reflections was the perfect way to close the evening.

LINK: Member events at the Devonshire


REVIEW: Mélanie de Biasio at Scala

Mélanie de Biasio
(Scala, 16 October 2017. Review by Peter Jones)

Monday’s eerie pink and orange skies made people feel simultaneously excited and uneasy, so it was an entirely appropriate day for Belgian chanteuse Mélanie de Biasio to choose for this rare London appearance: her songs evoke similar reactions.

The music is unclassifiable, unless you want to use phrases like psychedelic post-apocalyptic electro-jazz minimalism, which I really don’t. She’s all about mood, and a quite specific mood at that, albeit one that’s very difficult to describe. Even to characterize her singing style as bleak and world-weary, à la (pardon my French) Jacques Brel of Ne Me Quitte Pas or Le Plat Pays, fails to capture the profound strangeness of it all.

Maybe there’s a bit of Marianne Faithfull or Nico somewhere in Melanie’s deep repertoire of bruised emotions, but she doesn’t even sing that much; likewise, although her flute-playing is beautiful, reminiscent of Yusef Lateef, she limits it to snatches and brief repeated phrases. The songs contain few, if any, changes: Afro Blue, the one non-original number of the night, was played pretty much on one chord. And while steady, the time is not emphasized, even on a 5/4 tune like I’m Gonna Leave You. The dynamics are likewise minimal: de Biasio and her band establish the vibe, and thereafter it’s largely a matter of small variations until they subside to an often rather indeterminate close. At times this gig felt like a late Sixties ‘happening’, but muted, as if Pink Floyd or the Soft Machine had ingested a whole bunch of downers.

So how can music like this possibly be any good? As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about mood: the songs unfurl slowly, like coils of smoke. The packed Scala audience of middle-aged Radio 6 fans listened with rapt attention. In contrast to many concert crowds these days, they didn’t chat and laugh all the way through the gig. In fact, so quiet were they that you could actually hear the dry ice puffing out of the machine above the stage. Nobody wanted to break the spell.

De Biasio achieves this reverential atmosphere by acting as a sort of high priestess: with her boyish haircut, and dressed in a plain white shirt and black tights, she looks rather like Hamlet. Her face is shrouded in darkness most of the time, and she doesn’t address the audience at all until the end of the show, instead striking a series of theatrical poses.

Her long-time band consists of Pascal Mohy on Fender Rhodes, Pascal Paulus on synthesizers and guitar, and Dre Pallemaerts on drums. Their approach to the whole enterprise is to play very quietly, and then only when absolutely necessary. The silences and fades are wonderful. Pallemaerts in particular is a master of subtlety and soft power, preferring beaters to sticks, while Paulus teases out velvety tone colours on an array of vintage synths. Mohy and Paulus work around each other with terrific empathy, each sketching in a phrase or a couple of notes here and there as required.

Most of all, there is de Biasio herself, the composer of this music, a dark, introverted figure utterly absorbed in the strange worlds she creates.

Anyone unfamiliar with Mélanie de Biasio is recommended to follow this link to a live appearance from 2014.


REPORT: Soirée Showcases at Jazz sur Seine 2017 in Paris

Volunteered Slaves at the Duc Des Lombards

Sebastian writes:

That's how to do it: twenty-three venues which present jazz all over the Paris region have an umbrella marketing organisation callled Paris Jazz Club with a handful of permanent staff. Paris Jazz Club is supported by the region of Ile de France, and others. It produces publications including a good clear twenty-four page guide to alll the activity in the memberclubs and more. PJC builds visibility for the clubs throughout the year, and is currently promoting a festival including 180 concerts (for which they borrow two extra venues). Londoners can just dream...if only.

The heart of the action is in the area around the rue des Lombards in the 1st arrondissement, and that is where the plan for Paris Jazz Club started, but these days the association includes a club as far away as the idyllic tranquillity (as painted by Van Gogh) of Auvers-sur-Oise. There are the Paris equivalents of the Vortex in hip areas: la Dynamo in Pantin and the Triton in Les Lilas A curious absence is the Caveau de la Huchette, recently immortalized by La La Land...but there is bound to be a reason.....

Last night was showcase night. Eighteen bands in six venues. Official start times for the three sets in each of the venues were 8pm, 9pm and 10pm, but we very quickly drifted into jazz time and I saw the beginning of a 10pm set ...which was getting under way at 10 45pm.     

Didier Lockwood (centre) with Auxane Cartigny and Fhima

For me the most rewarding and interesting set (I also somehow managed to snag the best seat in the house in the Duc des Lombards!) was the trio of 21-year old pianist Auxane Cartigny with bassist Samuel Fhima and  drummer Tiss Rodriguez.  They are all current students at the Centre Des Musiques Didier Lockwood (known as CMDL) based just outside Melun. Cartigny has absorbed all the melodic persuasiveness of Keith Jarrett and, mercifully, not a single one of the mannerisms. He is a musical rather than a flashy player, and he is clearly putting the work in to establishing a trio that can prove durable. Two of the eminences at the CMDL are pianist Benoît Sourisse piano and drummer André Charlier and one senses the experience, particularly of accompanying of finding and progressing contrasting levels of volume and intensity, of mood and dramaturgy in music being ingrained into these highly talented young players.

The eponymous founder of the school Didier Lockwood came on as star guest. He played Some Day My Prince Will Come as an opener, dealing with recalcitrant pegs on his instrument, but nevertheless producing that lightness and all the half-shade and delays and glanced notes and total flexibility he does so well, but then ramped up the intensity to eleven - and fixed it there - for an anthemic original composition. The young trio knew exactly what was expected and matched his mood. Lockwood also announced that after a ten year gap he has a new album on Sony on its way in November. In the meantime I shall go back to his masterful Grappelli tribute from 2000, the essential Les Valseuses.

Revisiting Grappelli
L-R Mathias Lévy, Jean-Philippe Viret, Sébastien Giniaux

Another set I witnessed was a Grappelli tribute by violinist Mathias Lévy, guitarist / cellist Sébastien Giniaux, and bassist Jean-Philippe Viret. Viret worked with Grappelli towards the end of his life, Lévy was able to borrow a Grappelli violin to make the recording, so the project has a direct lineage. Lévy's instinct is to go further into classical territory, finding comfort in a more or less straight rendition of the Bach double concerto.

Makaya McCraven (far left) with Antoine Berjeaut and Julien Lourau

The contrast to the next band in the same room could not have been greater. The "Scientific Beat" project of life-force drummer Makaya McCraven with that very inventive trumpeter/composer Antoine Berjeaut with saxophonist Julien Lourau was producing astonishing music (more please), but in the tiny confines of the upstairs room of the Baiser Salé, they were ear-shatteringly loud.

I was also able to catch the early skirmishes of an infectiously charismatic band Volunteered Slaves with a lively Chicago slam poet called Allonymous out front, and a lot of experience deep in the engine room from veteran bassist Akim Bournane. A great end to the evening.


CD REVIEW: Shannon Barnett Quartet - Hype

Shannon Barnett Quartet - Hype
(Double Moon Records DMCHR71191. Review by Jon Carvell)

Australian trombonist Shannon Barnett’s formidable technique and fearless solos took her from Melbourne, via New York, to a seat in Cologne’s WDR Big Band, and since her arrival in 2014 she’s been immersed in the city’s flourishing jazz scene.

Barnett’s new quartet album Hype features Stefan Karl Schmid (tenor), David Helm (bass) and Fabian Arends (drums) – all three hotly-tipped emerging German jazzers. But does Hype live up to the, er, hype?

The album’s title track unfolds like a piece of clockwork and gears up to a heady lick, but gratifying as the quirky central hook is, it’s Barnett’s sense of line in the moment and her risk taking in improvisation that steal the show. She cascades through semiquavers and dispatches licks with her infectious confidence and no-nonsense tone.

The best moments come from these unfiltered phrases. As Lembing closes, Barnett circles the final riff with melodies that are carefully crafted yet naturally vocal, as if whistled carefree.

Over the insistent tonic pedal of Speaking in Tongues or deep in the glitchy reggae groove of Chasing the Second, Barnett is at once virtuosic, lyrical and bolshy. She inhabits the contrasting facets of the instrument, seemingly able to flit between the erudition of Nils Wogram, the charisma of Dennis Rollins or the class of Jack Teagarden.

Back in the engine room, Helm and Arends zig when you expect them to zag, and have a careful eye on energy levels, ready to take off at a moment’s notice. Schmid meanwhile shows himself to be no slouch on his daring forays into the Latin vibes of Ok Compupid or the edgy Red-Bellied Stickleback.

There is energy, musicality and humour in Shannon Barnett's playing; I hope UK audiences are given the opportunity to hear her playing live.

LINK: Shannon Barnett interview/profile for International Women's Day 2017


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Sam Rapley (Kickstarter for Fabled's debut album, Short Stories)

Sam Rapley
Photo credit: Dave Hamblett

Fabled is the band saxophonist/clarinettist Sam Rapley started four years ago. Now the band's debut album, Short Stories, is recorded and nearly ready for release. But the process has not been without its dramatic moments, especially when Sam broke both his elbows. He's back playing now but he needs some assistance to get Short Stories across that finishing line, and he has instigated Kickstarter in order to attract your support. The fund-raising period ends in ten days' time. Peter Bacon urges you all: let's make this happen!

Fabled brings Sam Rapley together with four other excellent young musicians who also just happen to be his close friends. Matt Robinson is the pianist, Alex Munk is on guitar, Conor Chaplin on double bass and Will Glaser on drums.

They made an EP of music back in 2015, and for their first full-length album, Sam has looked to literature for inspiration. Here is a brief Q&A:

LondonJazz News: The music on your debut album has strong literary sources - what is it about a particular story or piece of writing that inspires you to write music?

Sam Rapley: I suppose for me it’s about trying to recreate the experience that I had when I read that book. Wanting the listener to be immersed, captivated and fully present for that period of time. The books that I love, and indeed any art that I love, all has that same effect on me and that’s what I want to create with this album. The longer forms allowed by literature have also been a huge inspiration - your experience of reading a book happens over several days, weeks or months, whereas when you listen to a piece of music, it only lasts a few minutes. So I wanted to find my own way of portraying these longer forms, but within the framework of a piece of music.

LJN: Is improvising a solo like telling a story?

SR: Absolutely. That’s something I was taught right from the beginning. I first got into jazz through a summer school in Manchester run by Mike Walker, Iain Dixon, Les Chsinall and Andy Schofield, who are all big advocates of having a narrative throughout a solo - something that is proved time and time again in their own playing. They were a huge influence on the way I play having an arc/shape to an improvisation is still something I alway strive for.

Photo credit: Dave Hamblett

It’s been interesting striking the balance on this album between improvisation and composition. The tunes are more composed than our previous EP so in a way, a lot of the drama and narrative is written into the music, but with such creative improvisers on board, I wanted to make sure that they were allowed to tell their own stories. I definitely feel that we’ve managed to find that balance and hopefully we’ve ended up with the best of both worlds.

LJN: Your own personal story has contained some drama recently… Tell us about your elbows.

SR: It has indeed! At the beginning of July, I rather unfortunately fell off a bike whilst riding down a mountain in Switzerland and broke both of my elbows. In hindsight, cycling down a mountain possibly wasn’t the wisest decision when you need your arms for your living, but you live and learn. Once I got over the first month which was pretty terrible (and which I only got through thanks to my girlfriend Helena, who was absolutely amazing!) I’ve actually enjoyed having some time off. I’ve been able to put it to good use and it’s made me appreciate making music more than ever.

LJN: Your three favourite saxophonists… and your three favourite writers?

SR: Now this is a hard one. My original favourite has to be Stan Getz - he’s the reason that I started playing the saxophone and I still spend most of my time trying to sound like him. Benny Golson is another one that I got into fairly early on and still love listening to. And someone that I’ve been checking out more recently is Shabaka Hutchings, he has an amazing way of building a story throughout a solo, which I love.

Writers-wise, Ian McEwan is an absolute favourite, especially his short stories First Love, Last Rites which influenced one of the tunes on the album. I loved reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, I learnt so much from the way she shapes the story and develops the characters throughout the book. And finally, Kate Tempest, who is a performer as well as a writer - she’s just released a new album Let Them Eat Chaos which is incredible - but I first got into her through her piece, Brand New Ancients. She just has such a unique way of making stories relatable that I love reading and listening to.

For the rest of what you need to know about Fabled, Sam Rapley and Short Stories, see below.

LINKS: Fabled's Kickstarter

Sam Rapley's website


CD REVIEW: Chris Speed Trio – Platinum on Tap

Chris Speed Trio – Platinum on Tap
(Intakt 294. CD review by Brian Marley)

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to listen to Platinum on Tap half a dozen times before having to write anything about it. Just as well. I confess, on first listen I wasn’t greatly impressed – the music seemed curiously restrained and limited in scope. But sometimes first impressions don’t count, and on subsequent listenings, as the compositions began to hit home, I could see how well they functioned as vehicles for improvisation. On even further listenings the quality of the musicianship shone through – and by quality I mean superb.

Why should I have been surprised? Chris Speed isn’t given to grandstanding or showiness of any kind. He rarely employs the ecstatic shrieks of post-Ayler players such as David S. Ware or the extensive false upper-register soliloquies of David Murray. Mostly he works directly off the potential of the theme, creating rhythmic and melodic complexity but always with an Ariadne thread that leads back to the source. In many respects his approach is not dissimilar to that of Lee Konitz, a ‘pure’ improviser who avoids not only repetition but, above all, cliché. If jazz is the sound of surprise (according to Whitney Balliett), then Konitz has always sought to surprise not only the audience and his fellow musicians but also himself, and Speed seems inclined that way too.

He is, of course, well known and respected as a sideman, in particular because of his role in Tim Berne’s much-lauded Bloodcount. But in recent years his own ensembles have grown in strength and importance. Although the range of his music is eclectic, often incorporating elements of chamber music and alternative rock, it’s gradually become more jazzlike, more ‘in the tradition’ than had previously been the case with the groups Pachora, Human Feel and Endangered Blood. This line of development was most noticeable when Speed on tenor saxophone, Chris Tordini double bass, and Bad Plus drummer Dave King issued Really OK (Skirl, 2014). The trio seemed much more interested in rhythm and melody than in the potential for complex harmony, and the music sweated jazz through every pore. That’s true also of Platinum on Tap, which may well be the best thing Speed has recorded under his own name.

As springboards for melodic improvisation, the compositions matter greatly. Eight of the ten on Platinum on Tap are by Speed, the others being Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, which is given a lovely reading, and Albert Ayler’s Spirits. All are deliberately spare, sinewy and sinuous, sometimes laconic (Red Hook Nights), sometimes lively (Spirits and Arrival High). They’re catchy, too. Speed mostly sticks to short phrases, building on melodic fragments, and even when Tordini and King are busily pushing and pulling the music around in interesting ways, he delivers his improvisations with wry insouciance in a style reminiscent at times of Lester Young. Surely you can’t get more jazzlike than that.


REVIEW: Tower of Power at the Roundhouse

Tower of Power at the Roundhouse
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Tower of Power
(The Roundhouse, 15 October, 2017. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

"Tower of Power brass, this is the pièce de résistance … but Tower of Power runs on this world-class rhythm section," confided Emilio Castilio, as he ran through the credentials of each band member, spotlighting bassist Rocca Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi (incidentally making his first appearances after a bizarre railroad accident in January), both founder members of the band along with Castilio and baritone sax maestro, Stephen 'Doc' Kupka.

In a band whose exceptional personnel have remained pretty well constant for several years, Castilio also focussed on their most recent recruit, vocalist, Marcus Scott - "one of the best vocalists we've ever had!" How right he was. Scott is not only a great vocalist with an extraordinary range, drawing on his Memphis soul roots, but he is a showman, too, who makes an essential, and rare, connection with musicians and audience alike. Somehow his presence has galvanised the band to get into another gear with arrangements sharper than ever, and a rich, brassy sound that gave added zest to best-known songs from their repertoire.

There's something in the band's DNA that makes the toughest, tightest arrangements flow with deceptive ease - the synchronisation is impeccable; their feel for the soul and funk traditions is continually refreshed and revitalised. The emphasis on 'Power' was the keynote with their supercharged interpretations of their classic numbers through a weighty sound system that settled well after a couple of numbers in the Roundhouse's not-always-kind acoustics.

Guitarist Jerry Cortez and lead tenor Tom Politzer stretched out with artfully controlled abandon in several solo spots. The twin trumpets of Adolfo Acosta and Sal Cracciolo played tag with the three saxes to firmly put the stamp on Tower of Power's trademark brass signature, underpinned throughout with great subtlety by Roger Smith's elegant keyboard work. Not forgetting great backing vocals and harmonies supplied from all round the stage - true versatility.

Scott really got down with the audience, spending several minutes singing from the front rows with false endings and a gospel feel to passages in Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream), segueing in to This Time It's Real which had Kupka turning on dance steps to the delight of the house.

In over an hour and a half they covered the full gamut, from Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now - which is what they set out to show as they approach their 50th anniversary next year in rude musical health - to a slow, soulful You're Still a Young Man, right through to an awesomely tight Very Hard to Know, the anthemic What Is Hip? and their encore, Soul with a Capital S, which had the audience chanting along with them, not for the first time in the evening.

In his closing remarks Castilio also announced that the band has just signed a deal with the classy Mack Avenue label, a real endorsement, and have many new numbers in the bag in time for that special anniversary which will be celebrated on their home turf, Oakland, California!

In support, Cymande, originally formed in the early '70s and reunited recently, put in a finely balanced set of lightly-toned funk - catchy tunes and riffs with a hint of Frankie Beverley's Maze in their loose yet tight approach. Keen organ licks from Adrian Reid, neat, precise drumming from Sam Kelly, complemented by Pablo Gonzales' percussion were just part of a well-paced presentation from this seasoned ten-piece which set up the main act very nicely.

LINKS: Review of Tower of Power at Ronnie Scott's
Review of Tower of Power at the Shepherd's Bush Empire


REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant at Ronnie Scott's

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Photo credit: ataelw/ Creative Commons

Cécile McLorin Salvant
(Ronnie Scott's, 11 October 2017. Review by Jade Lauren)

Four years ago, when I was working at Ronnie’s, Cécile McLorin Salvant played there for the first time. I was so bowled over I took to consoling my shaken self with heavy slogs of good gin and embarked on a rambling crusade of a Facebook post about how, after so many years, I’d just seen an actual Jazz singer. (Published here at LondonJazz News)

This week I was sent back with a view to rambling once more. In this industry it’s somewhat of a stretch to find a decent singer who isn’t wearing fishnets and a trilby hat and who happens to be dating the bass player of (insert band here). There are some and they know who they are, fewer still know who they really are, but we’ll get there. But this isn’t about them, it’s about this woman.

There’s a great episode of The West Wing where a group of high ranking good men in the government converse for a moment amidst the absolute absurdity of their busy lives and look around at a staff party. What bowls them over the most is ‘these women’ around them. They describe one with the vigour and charm of a '50s movie star, another with the fight and gumption of an army general who’s just won a political battle but is in it to win the war, another who lost both of her sons to an actual war and has remained so quiet and resolute on not only the issue but her duty of care to others that for 14 years she had not missed a day of work. I found myself thinking about this scene as I sat watching a woman effortlessly tear herself apart to channel so many tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit with nothing but her voice and vibe. She was all of those women and more.

I sat with two women watching the show: one a former colleague who had booked the night off from work to… be at work (I know from enough experience a good gig will warrant that from time to time); the other the wife of a former colleague and a friend of mine who’s new son I had just met outside the club. She couldn’t stay long but for the relatively short time she did she managed to catch two songs and before the end of the first I was acutely aware of the fact that she kept melting. We held each other both in wonderment and to remind her that it’s not good practice to pass out in a jazz club sober.

Since last I saw Salvant she has gone from a quietly confident loudmouth to stalking around the stage like a predator. She spent an entire song after the break giving new meanings to vowels, sans words and it still managed to communicate every gumption and swell of the heart-breaking message she put forth. What’s truly terrifying is her mastery; her sense of sonic awareness is somewhat otherworldly. It’s almost perverse and voyeuristic watching these musicians do what they do. It’s a terrible and captivatingly curious fascination you get when peering into the darker sides of humanity. There’s a reason films and documentaries about murder and madness sell, but to see raw madness up close and let it climb up inside you is another story. Most don’t live to tell the tale, but if you do, chances are you’ll end up as one of those strange and mysterious characters you find hiding in jazz clubs. It’s disconcerting until you realise they’re playing you just as they’re playing with each other.

Her band are a very special assortment of guys. She has a blood-pact of unspoken knowing with Aaron Diehl on her piano, bassist Paul Sikivie swells a melody then punctuates a verse with the odd bow to the strings and he might as well be slicing you up with the bloody thing. As for the drummer, Kyle Poole, a former colleague said it best when she remarked in hushed whispering tones: "Jesus, I can’t get over it, it sounds like he’s tapdancing on the drums for Christ sakes!” He had the Gene Kelly grin, to boot.

Another interesting titbit about this motley crew was this; you can tell the measure of some headliners in their capacity as musicians and members of that community by how they treat the support and late bands. By this measure Salvant and her crew are a class act; they sat quietly and agreeably on the front bar clapping and clicking along to the support until they took the stage and their seats were replaced with stenographers. They went on to spend quite some time hanging and jamming with the late crew to a room that was full of wonderful British talent after having Leo Richardson’s album launch at the Spice of Life kick out and turn up en-masse to join the party.

When asking what people thought of the show the running thread theme was something to the effect of “I can’t actually get over that”. Enough can happen throughout one’s life that will stick with you for better or worse. If you find yourself frequenting jazz clubs enough then it might be because you’ve had one too many hard shots of the worst! We congregate in these clubs as if they were churches for the soul. There is an incestuous community of people from every walk of life, but with the same fortuitous mistake in common: life itself. And now there is another brilliant and terrifying high priestess.

I had remarked before that no one had quite managed to capture what it was like to be in a room like that listening to her. Naturally I wasn't the only one with that observation and so thankfully her latest album, Dreams And Daggers (reviewed here) was recorded in a different church, and an older one at that: The Village Vanguard. In part it reminds me of that great old rendition of the Zawinul tune Mercy Mercy Mercy by Cannonball, it's live and in it you can hear the crowd whooping and cheering. I think it's high time we had a bit more of that in jazz clubs, and with more musicians like Cecile and her players, there's every reason to.


CD REVIEW: Christian Sands Trio - Reach - (plus photo and report from Munich)

Christian Sands - Reach
(Mack Avenue. Review by Charlie Anderson)

From the very first notes of the opening track, Armando’s Song, Chick Corea’s influence on 27-year-old pianist Christian Sands is fully evident. Throughout the album he is supported by Japanese-American bassist Yasushi Nakamura and former Yellowjackets drummer Marcus Baylor on an album produced by bassist, and Sands' boss/mentor, Christian McBride.

Song of the Rainbow People is a slow and contemplative composition with swells of intensity.  Pointing West is one of two tracks to feature saxophonist Marcus Strickland and has a rocking melody that switches to swing. Freefall is, perhaps, the oddest track on the album which starts with an ethereal Star Trek-esque theme which soon develops into more of a space odyssey with Sands adding keyboard overdubs and Marcus Strickland adding bass clarinet into the mix.

The latin tune Oyeme! features percussionist Cristian Rivera and shows a Chucho Valdes influence in Sands’ piano playing. Although this tune can seem repetitive in places, it’s broken up enough to remain interesting.

One of the many highlights of this well-produced album is Bud’s Tune, a Honeysuckle Rose-inspired tribute to Bud Powell which is a relaxed but hard swinging number that features a bass solo by Nakamura which could easily have been played by McBride. This is just one of eight albums Nakamura appears on this year as a sideman, not to mention his own latest album, Hometown, to be released in November.

The most radio-friendly track on the album, Reaching For The Sun, has some Metheny-inspired guitar work from Gilad Hekselman and some beautiful melody writing by Christian Sands. The Bill Withers tune Use Me sees Sands imitating his boss and mentor (who has covered soul tunes such as Family Affair and Car Wash), and features McBride doing a guest solo on arco bass.

Gangstalude is an upbeat, grooving tune that mixes Sands’ soulful playing with Gilad Hekselman’s guitar whilst the final track, Somewhere Out There, is another pop cover, a contemplative rendition of a tune originally recorded for the 1980s animated film An American Tail.

What stands out the most on this album is the virtuosity, the confidence and the sheer technical mastery of the pianist. The fluidity of his solos combines with a thorough absorption of the jazz tradition in a way that is both soulful and bluesy.

"This trio has the big auditoriums ahead of it"
Christian Sands at Unterfahrt in Munich
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski 


Our German friend Ralf Dombrowski was also completely won over by the Christian Sands Trio with Jerome Jennings and Eric Wheeler performing at Unterfahrt in Munich at the end of last week. His full review appears in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. This is a short extract, which serves as an appetizer for Sands' appearance at Ronnie Scott's tonight. Ralf writes:

"Christian Sands has the ability to integrate and transform what the Petersons and Powells, Ellingtons and even the Mehldaus, all members of the guild of piano greats, have done, and to formulate an individual message full of energy that not only leaves the individualism of others behind, but also points to where the future of the jazz piano is headed. This trio has the big auditoriums ahead of it, so it is our very good fortune indeed still to be able to hear them in jazz clubs."


COMMENT: Someone to Watch over Me - Ella with The London Symphony Orchestra

Ella Fitzgerald. The pianist (left) is Ellis Larkins

Last month the release was announced of Someone to Watch over Me - Ella with The London Symphony Orchestra. Walter Houser,  who remembers Ella's visits to Ronnie Scott's club vividly, objects:

As we know this year marks the centenary of the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald. On account of my age and long association with Ronnie Scott's Club and the fact that I had actually met her I was privileged to be interviewed by the BBC, aired on her actual birthday, 25 April.

I met Ella for the first time when she appeared at the club. This was a very exciting time for Ronnie,  Pete King and me. She came with a fearsome reputation for being difficult. She was not. Her only demand was that her dressing room should have a toilet which it didn’t so we cut through the wall into the office and built in a toilet, thereafter always referred to as Ella’s Crapper. Of course I could not say that in the BBC interview. It was toned down to Ella’s Loo which misses the whole point.

Anyway, Ella was a sweetie. At the end of her very successful engagement we gave her a silver salver suitably engraved and she actually cried.

Of late, I began to hear about a new album that had been made using a couple of albums made in the early '50s. One was Ella singing George Gershwin songs and the other was various songs from the Great American Songbook. Both albums featured just Ella and her piano accompanist. It seems that some technical whizz has been able to lift just the voice tracks from the albums and re-record them with the backing of the LSO. I have heard a couple of the tracks and the technical expertise is mind-blowing and the results are very pleasing. Now comes the “but”, in my view. Why has this been done? What purpose does it serve?

The original tracks are miniature masterpieces .What has been done is like drawing a crayon moustache on a Rembrandt portrait.

The pianist whose work was been thrown away so casually was Ellis Larkins, the jazz equivalent of Gerald Moore

I think the whole thing is disrespectful.

The arrangements on Someone To Watch Over Me are by Jorge Calandrelli. Gregory Porter duets with Ella on People Will Say We're In Love. Producers were James Morgan and Juliette Pochin. James Morgan and Jorge Calandrelli, conductors. Orchestra recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Mixed at Medley Studios, Copenhagen. 

LINK: News piece about the release of Someone to Watch over Me - Ella with The London Symphony Orchestra (Universal / UMO) 


PHOTOS: Tony Kinsey's 90th Birthday gig at Cafe Posk

Tony Kinsey at 90 playing at Cafe Posk
Photo credit: Paul Wood

The great TONY KINSEY was 90 years old on 11 October. Two days later he was out at Cafe Posk with Art Themen, John Horler and Andy Cleyndert. Photographer Paul Wood caught them in action. Paul writes: "Legend drummer Tony Kinsey who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, showed no sign of taking it easy behind his Gretsch drum kit, playing a mixture of Al Cohn tunes with jazz standards and original compositions from his most recent CD, Blue Circles, which the audience greatly appreciated." Richard Williams wrote recently about this hero of British jazz HERE.

Tony Kinsey
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Andt Cleyndert at Cafe Posk
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Art Themen
Photo credit: Paul Wood

John Horler
Photo credit: Paul Wood

L-R: John Horler, Andy Cleyndert, Art Themen, Tony Kinsey
Photo credit: Paul Wood

LINKS: Tony Kinsey's Blue Circles - Live at the Ealing Jazz Festival at Proper Music
Tony Kinsey website


PREVIEW: EFG London Jazz Festival Crazy Coqs, Live at Zédel programme

         Leïla Martial
          Photo Credit: Courtesy of Zédel Brasserie
The bustling intimacy of Crazy Coqs, a small gem of a club tucked away in the heart of London’s theatre district just a hop, skip and jump from Piccadilly Circus, is one vital element of an atmospheric venue that not only thrives on the spirit and adventure of live performance but also provides a setting where both audience and performer can feel right at home. At this year’s London Jazz Festival the venue is putting on a host of eclectic jazz including a sprinkling of UK debuts. Stephen Graham previews what’s in store.

On the opening night Friday 10 November in the early evening slot of 7pm it’s the turn of Leïla Martial. Making her UK debut, this award-winning French singer’s style encompasses jazz and rock delivered with a certain élan. Later in the evening two of the UK’s best jazz singers Emily Saunders and Georgia Mancio combine in a high powered duo setting. Billed as The Voice Mix, Emily has curated the show and performs with her band while Georgia guests. Expect latin-infused grooves with edges of drum & bass and infectious melodies from Emily while in Georgia’s hands originals and interpretations of the Great American Songbook find their place alongside each other in a perfect match.

There’s a change of focus on Saturday 11 November and the first of two performances by a legendary veteran of US jazz piano as the perennially popular Kirk Lightsey appears with his trio for some connoisseur shows. One of a chosen few of Detroit jazz musicians recruited by Berry Gordy at Motown, Kirk has accompanied many singers over a long and distinguished career, from Betty Carter and Aretha Franklin to Joe Lee Wilson and Gregory Porter. Here he strips it right back in his trio where he is joined by British bassist Steve Watts and drummer Dave Wickins.

Sunday 12 November sees the Will Butterworth Quartet play The Nightingale and the Rose, a themed concert read by One Show presenter and former MP Gyles Brandreth comprising a suite of music shaped around an Oscar Wilde children's story. Later, in the 9pm slot it is the second night of the Kirk Lightsey Trio.

On Tuesday 14 November the 7pm show provides an opportunity to enjoy the appearance of rising star French organist Laurent Coulondre, an award-winning performer who has opened for Sting and Marcus Miller. Later in the evening another specially themed gig reveals itself with The Jazz Side of Dudley Moore pianist Chris Ingham’s Quartet homage to much loved comic and gifted pianist Dud.

A big highlight of Live at Zédel’s London Jazz Festival programme this year is Hard Rain in which acclaimed jazz cabaret singer Barb Jungr sings Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen repertoire on Wednesday 15 November in the early show featuring material drawn from Barb’s 2014 album of the same name. Both the show and album have been lavished with praise with the show selling out a three-week New York run, and two nights at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2016.

         Barb Jungr
              Photo Credit: Courtesy of Zédel Brasserie

Later the same evening the highly unusual Tao of Jazz features philosopher Dr Julian Baggini keeping company with vocal guru Juliet Russell, with Baggini exploring the fascinating links that can be made between philosophy and jazz and, in doing so, revealing what can be learnt about the way to live just by listening a little closer.                         
Thursday sees a return to the piano with Paul Ryan and Kenny Clayton in the late slot celebrating the immense contribution that jazz pianists have made to the Great American Songbook. Expect Fats Waller, Erroll Garner and Nat King Cole material. Earlier in the evening, with a further show on Friday 17 November, there’s plenty of gutsy soul and a smattering of blues with ex-Communards singer Sarah Jane Morris in the company of leading blues guitarist Tony Rémy and Trinidad-born Tim Cansfield.

Sarah Jane Morris with Tony Rémy and Tim Cansfield
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Zédel Brasserie

Emily Saunders returns in the late slot on Friday this time with special guest star drummer Davide Giovannini in a Latin-themed show.

As the festival draws to a close there’s time for more new names and Saturday 18 November sees Cuban singer/violinist Yilian Cañizares make her UK debut while Marcel Lucont fills the late slot with his remarkable Cabaret Fantastique, Cañizares returning to wrap up the Zédel LJF programme on the final evening of the festival in some style. (pp)

LINK:  Live at Zédel


REVIEW: GoGo Penguin: Koyaanisqatsi at the Barbican

The demolition of the Pruitt–Igoe housing project, St. Louis, MO,
an early scene to be filmed for Koyaanisqatsi
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Housing/ Public Domain

GoGo Penguin: Koyaanisqatsi 
(Barbican. 11 October 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

Ko-yaa-nis-qatsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.

The cult 1982 experimental film Koyaanisqatsi is a reflection on technologically overdriven capitalism and its effect on nature and people. It uses only images and music, with no spoken dialogue, storyline or actors. Its acclaimed synergy of image and music was achieved through an intense and protracted collaboration. Producer and director Godfrey Reggio, and director of photography Ron Fricke spent years shooting and collecting footage and assembling the material into thematic groups. Philip Glass’s score was made into a work tape to which the film was cut. Over three years Glass visited them in California, and both music and film were revised countless times, sometimes new footage being shot to go with the written music.

GoGoPenguin first debuted their new score live in 2015. It is a vital new gloss on the film’s commentary on the contemporary. The acoustic trio of Chris Illingworth on piano, Nick Blacka on bass and Rob Turner on drums have made a name for themselves for their discreet fusion of jazz and neoclassical vocabulary with the rhythms and techniques of dance music. Their live score is of a piece with their normal work, sharing its seamless blend of intensive scored material and discrete improvisation, an inspirational fit for their sympathetic interest in “robots, transhumanism and human augmentation”, and non-Western philosophical ideas.

Glass’s original score is typically monolithic and abounds in his characteristic hypnotic arpeggiation with doomy choral elements. GoGo Penguin’s acoustic re-scoring feels more dynamic and in tune with the overlooked personal human dimensions of the film. I tend to prefer the new score. Key moments have more impact. You forget they’re playing live, and it seems more integral to the screen. GoGo Penguin cleave to their characteristic blend of melody and groove, and, like the film, they never devolve to abstraction, which alleviates for better or worse some of the film’s piousness.

A film with truly epic scope, it opens with cave paintings in Utah. Glass’s score has a portentous baroque-feel organ progression and a choir of low-throated chappies chanting “Koyaanisqatsi”. GoGo Penguin drop the vocals. Their close attention to the image is announced early with a stunning cadenza over the film’s whiteout as rockets leave the earth and it cuts to a memorable canyon flyover. The new score is often more sensitive to the image than Glass’s hypnotic arpeggios. The texture of clouds, then ocean waves crashing, are visually incredible. The live cymbal splashes have a mimetic effect that improves on the original scoring.

The first of the Hopi prophecies originally sung in the film, “If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster”, sets the scene with open cast mining, the elemental, unseen fact of how we get the material for our existence on an industrial scale. The film has an audacious jump-cut as striking as the legendary cut of a bone falling as a space ship in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A nuclear testing action segues into a mother and her children asleep on sand. The camera pans back to reveal not a beachfront vista but the brutalist anti-architecture of heavy industry.

Another killer montage series takes us from tanks to fighter craft to an image of the bomb that fell on Nagasaki to an e=mc2 arranged on an aircraft carrier. The camera lingers on that bomb. Glass’s score ploughs on, but in GoGo Penguin’s conception they let the image speak with an ever more chilling contemporaneity. The film moves perfectly from day to night. The second and third Hopi prophecies that structure the film make clear what is at stake: “Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky” and “A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans”.

The key central sequence of the film “The Grid” has a different impact without Glass’s blistering synthesizer bass-line ostinatos, but in a nod to this Blancka moves from acoustic to electric bass, retaining the intensity. The band has previously spoken about this: “There’s a massive section in the middle that’s totally nuts and really complicated so we worked outwards from there.” Their approach is typically organic but considered: “Some of it is heavily composed and are other bits are more of a vibe. Depending on where you cut the sections up, it totally changes the meaning of the film.”

During this pivotal section GoGo Penguin step up to the challenge with the inspired employment of one of their signature set-piece techniques, their mimicking of glitch, where grooves st-st-stutter and break back and forward in juddering triplets. What can be a sonic gimmick perfectly enacts an interaction with the exhausting pace and stress of the film’s depiction of capitalist consumption. Factory production lines chop out sausages and jeans from sewing machines. We see the women who produce our things, the sausage machine, robotic factory production lines, sausages, jeans, sewing machines, interspersed with relentless consumption in crowd-drenched malls. The camera makes dizzying time-lapse trolley-dashes through supermarkets. We jump cut into computer games, enhanced by GoGo Penguin’s glitch and stop, adding a contemporary sense more evident in the black mirror of 2017 than in 1982 that we ourselves are inside a computer game.

The kind of Fordist production depicted in Koyaanisqatsi seems oddly period. We in the West tend not to associate physical means of production as an image or imago of our current form of society, even though we’re dependent on it more than ever. It’s been outsourced to China. The early computer games and some of the fashions also date the film, but mostly it’s as if nothing at all has changed. Everything is hyperfamiliar, but its like you’ve never seen the world before. Seeing this classic film with a new soundtrack makes it doubly strange.

The film’s understandably negative attitude to modernity is singled and symbolised in its pious title, “Life out balance”. The film looks at our species from a high level, but its judgmental view is relieved by tiny moments of intimacy: hands held across the bar of a hospital bed, couples sitting still together while the world weaves around them, men haplessly filling up a lift.

The slower pace after the busy central section is met by the pretty piano melodism that is GoGo Penguin’s secret weapon, sweetly complementing these quotidian scenes of human interaction. A man with a bloodied pate looking into his hand with despair in his eyes, a dandy charismatically holding forth while comically holding onto a bright pink ice cream, the many portraits in which ordinary people stare out of the film. These are tenderly brought home by the more organic acoustic approach of the live score. It’s all so human. The film can seem pious and portentous but it is its revealing poetic visual details, rather than the broad sweeps of cities and canyons, where GoGo Penguin’s acoustic approach can be more responsive than Glass’s austere score.

The music dries on a double exposure image. The people look like ghosts. We are ghosts. The Saturn V (Apollo 11) rocket takes off toward our final frontier, our great achievement in the stars. Complaisant to the film’s crucial irony, GoGo Penguin drag lugubrious Rachmaninovian chords. The film cuts to the May 1962 Atlas-Centaur rocket exploding, our grand follies and dreams crashing back to earth with an Eno-esque simplicity in chiming chords. As we fall burning back to earth, twirling, burning, falling in the blue sea of the air, the piano slows, to nothing… Is this the film’s bleak and futile message? Or is this immortal 35-year-old film saying that, rather than building towers of Babel, we should think about improving the bloody mess we have achieved on earth?

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


PREVIEW/FEATURE: Joe Lovano (Ronnie Scott's, 6 & 7 November)

Joe Lovano
Publicity picture

Joe Lovano will be at Ronnie Scott's on 6 and 7 November with his quartet. Saxophonist Joshua Heaton, a final year student at the Royal Welsh College, is a devotee and looks forward to the gigs. He writes:

Joe Lovano has been one of my favourite saxophonists and chief inspirations since I was first introduced to his playing. A drummer friend showed me the take of You And the Night and the Music from Paul Motian's On Broadway (Vol. 2) and I instantly loved the dramatic, dark energy on that recording; Lovano's super-expressive, raw sound, and incredible feel from the whole band (Motian and Lovano joined here by Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell) make for formidable interplay and genuinely exciting music. The On Broadway collection went straight on my Christmas list, and I started to check out this icon of modern jazz.

The second album I discovered was Bird Songs, a collection of strange arrangements of classic bebop tunes, played by the 'Us Five' group, featuring two drummers, Francisco Mela and Otis Brown, who will be joining Lovano at Ronnie's on the 6th and 7th. I was particularly interested by the arrangement of the popular up tune Donna Lee on this album, as it taught me to appreciate the unexpected, that tunes can speak to different listeners in different ways, and that every musician can draw their own unique spirit from a tune. Lovano plays it not as a burning gun show, but as a tender ballad, reworking the harmony of the tune with the help of James Weidman and Esperanza Spalding on piano and bass.

Clearly Lovano takes influence from the bebop tradition. You can hear him taking Parker's phrases and placing them in his own context amongst the emphatic gestural runs and falls (fills?), and the syncopated, rhythmic language which typify his playing. Other influences include John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and his father, tenor player Tony 'Big T' Lovano, who Joe is often heard proudly calling his mentor.

While listening to the landmark From The Soul album recently, I was reminded of Dewey Redman by some of Lovano's more open, free improvisation, but perhaps that's because Ed Blackwell is on drums on the album. His clear and fearless ideas on the kit complement Lovano's gushing phrases well. With Michel Petrucciani's life-affirming genius and Dave Holland's magic, all heard on a wide variety of music (standards, not-so-standards, originals), you can understand why this album is considered one of the finest of Lovano's long career.

For it has been a long career - and a rich one. Through very open, free work with the Paul Motian Trio, to the beautiful duo with Hank Jones, and way back to the Mel Lewis big band when he first moved to New York City in the late 1970s, Lovano has made great success in both very small and very large ensembles. He finds the middle ground under his own name, however, on the Nonet record 52nd Street Themes, which features a number of the Mel Lewis band and some familiar repertoire.

Joe Lovano has recorded in his time something for every jazz fan. He is buried in the tradition and yet fearless enough (and has a sound and musical identity strong enough) to plow down barriers and head in more unusual, uncomfortable directions.

For your sleepy Sunday or your 3am ponderings, I highly recommend:

1. I'm All For You, a Lovano ballads album with Hank Jones, Paul Motian and George Mraz;

2. Time and Time Again, by the Paul Motian Trio - simple melodies played brilliantly;

For your slightly erratic Thursday morning listening, I strongly suggest:

1. Flights of Fancy: Trio Fascination Edition 2 - featuring many different line-ups including lovely playing by Kenny Werner on piano and Toots Thielemans on the harmonica, of course.

2. Paul Motian's Sound of Love - Some of my favourite Lovano playing on record.

I am delighted that as I go into my final year at college I will have the pleasure of hearing Joe Lovano in a live setting. There'll be much to learn from this master of the saxophone and wizard of self-expression, and although the musicians in the rhythm section aren't currently well-known in the UK, based on Lovano's history of incredible line-ups, I predict impressive playing from Lawrence Fields on piano (he has played with Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Bill Stewart, Jason Palmer, Christian Scott) and Peter Slavov on bass (George Garzone, Quincy Jones, and replaces Esperanza on the latest 'Us Five' album Cross Culture).

LINK: Joe Lovano Classic Quartet at Ronnie Scott's


CD REVIEW: Seal - Standards

Seal - Standards
(Decca 5799479. Review by Adrian Fry)

Multi-award-winning singer and songwriter Seal swiftly rose to prominence in 1990 with the number one hit single Killer, closely followed by his eponymous first solo album. The title of this, his tenth studio album, gives us a clue that it's a significant departure from the genres of pop, soul and dance music for which he has been hitherto known.

He has chosen an interesting mix of popular songs from the 1930s through to the '60s, and they're performed by a 65-piece jazz orchestra which includes such session luminaries as Randy Waldman, Greg Fields and veteran bassist Chuck Berghofer. All arrangements are by German-born Chris Walden who also conducted the orchestral sessions, which were recorded at the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. However, there are no studio fades, which gives the listener the impression almost of a live performance; certainly not the kind of piecemeal production that is usually employed on a studio album by someone who is ostensibly a pop musician.

Seal's poised colla voce opening to Luck Be A Lady gives a stylistic nod to Tony Bennett before bursting into tempo with rambunctious unison horns soaring over the big band brass.
The full richness of the ensemble is revealed when strings make their entrance and by the end of this exuberant opener we're left in no doubt as to Seal's ability to deliver this kind of music. The next song, Autumn Leaves, is altogether different, sombre and reflective, with Seal's poignant vocal underpinned by the luscious orchestral arrangement.

Seal's soulful tribute to the Nina Simone version of I Put A Spell On You is subtly accompanied by a gospel chorus and given a jazz flavour by German trumpet star Till Br önner. By contrast, there follows a Count Basie-style interpretation of They Can't Take That Away From Me which is the personification of laid-back swing. Seal's cover version of the 1964 single by blues singer Irma Thomas, Anyone Who Knows What Love Is, is compelling and once again features the gospel chorus.

Cole Porter's controversial Love For Sale begins as a lilting bossa nova and the strings soar on a line reminiscent of John Barry's main title for the film You Only Live Twice before the orchestra breaks into swing for the bridge before returning to the latin feel. The Rodgers and Hart classic, My Funny Valentine, is rooted by Berghofer's rich bass, and Seal's performance is intriguingly reminiscent of soloist Br önner's own vocal styling although Brönner is only to be heard on trumpet on this album.

One might expect I've Got You Under My Skin to pay homage to Riddle's classic arrangement for Sinatra, but Seal's version is pleasingly different; a more contemporary big band affair. Charlie Chaplin's 1936 composition Smile became a hit for Nat 'King' Cole in 1956 when lyrics were added, and Seal's interpretation of the suppressed melancholy of the words is matched by the equally beautiful orchestral arrangement. The tone lightens for the walking groove of Beginning To See The Light when Seal is accompanied by the vocal velvet that is The Puppini Sisters and the mellifluous trombone of Alex Iles.

Numerous singers have recorded It Was A Very Good Year since it was made Famous by Sinatra in 1966 and Seal's rendition is a wistful end to the standard edition of the album. The deluxe edition, however, contains three further tracks, the first of which, The Nearness Of You, Seal sings with aplomb, accompanied by a beautifully sympathetic string arrangement. The next two are seasonal, perhaps with the album's November release date in mind: an almost cheeky version of Let It Snow and Mel Torme's classic composition The Christmas Song, which really is the icing on the cake as while Seal clearly has Nat 'King' Cole's seminal version in mind, he and arranger Walden make it their own.

Many have tackled the Great American Songbook, and Seal said of this album “Recording these timeless tunes was a lifelong dream”. While for other artists one might argue that such projects might best have remained a dream, I believe that Standards is a laudable realisation of Seal's ambition and he may well need to make room for another award or two.


CD REVIEW: Daryl Runswick - The Jazz Years

Daryl Runswick - The Jazz Years
(ASC Records. ASCCD167/68. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Jazz Years collects together previously unissued live quartet recordings by bassist Daryl Runswick made between 1970 and 1978, together with a solo track from 1967. The bands feature some of the most well known names in British jazz, such as saxophonists Don Rendell, Stan Sulzmann, and Alan Skidmore, pianist Mick Pyne, and drummer Spike Wells. It might be easy to consider The Jazz Years as a historic document, but the music - mostly composed by Runswick - stands on its own terms, too.

Runswick was clearly a fine bass player and composer. Starkers is a fast romp, Runswick's bass walking at top speed behind a sparking soprano solo from Rendell. Lainey's Tune, from the same 1973 session for the Darryl Runswick Quartet, is a slower, more thoughtful number.

The earliest group session, the London Jazz Four from 1970, features two covers of pop songs from the era. MacArthur Park starts as a fairly standard exposition (as standard as a bonkers song about about baking can be) but develops into something much more interesting as Mike McNaught's slow piano solo explodes into a fast post bop workout.

The 1974 and '75 sessions of the Darryl Runswick Quartet featuring Sulzmann and Tony Rymas on piano with Wells (74) or Harold Fisher (75) on drums yield some fine tracks. Sulzmann's Anagram balances a jaunty rhythm with long notes on his saxophone, before he launches into a fiery sax solo. Skreepin', by Hymas, features Sulzmann on soprano. Alan Skidmore is captured in full on Coltranesque form on Runswick's Hamrun, together with a powerful solo from Mick Pyne on piano.

Aside from the quality of the playing, the one constant throughout is of course Runswick. His bass playing is eloquent and articulate; his solos are engaging, pulling one in and making one listen. His writing, mostly mid paced post bop with nods to jazz-rock on some pieces together with some lovely ballads, is similarly appealing. The two CD set is bookended by two versions of Wyntones The first features Rendell on flute from 1973; it feels exploratory, a tune finding its feet. The second is from the 1978 session with Skidmore and Pyne and is much more self assured, the musicians bringing a sense of maturity, in particular evident in Runswick's bass solo.

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

LINKS: Feature about Daryl Runswick
Review of 70th Birthday Concert


REVIEW: Finding Home: Kate Williams' Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

Finding Home
L-R: Kate Williams, Georgia Mancio, Oli Hayhurst, Francis Gallagher

Finding Home: Kate Williams' Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 6 October 2017. Part of Georgia's Hang. Review by Lauren Bush)

While the stage grew quite crowded with four strings and a rhythm section plus the ever-lovely Georgia Mancio perched on the edge of the stage, close to Kate Williams at the grand piano, it was obvious that the tight-knit group were used to this arrangement. The physical feeling of closeness only grew as their music blended beautifully from the first note.

Such a special line-up of music is rare to find, and while Georgia’s “Hang” residency led to many different, exciting combinations over the course of the weekend, this one was the most-highly anticipated by far.

The singer and the pianist have each been working on their own individual projects, so to see them combine their skills to create yet another unique performance was something exceptional. They collaborated to write a selection of songs featuring Williams’ narrative melodies and Mancio’s emotionally charged lyrics all around the theme of “Finding Home”.

The entire evening developed through a beautiful arc of story-telling, first starting with a heartwarmingly fun melody from Mancio's and Alan Broadbent’s collection Take the Journey Home. Bursting with positivity, the smiles on the faces of the musicians spread throughout the room. Kate’s arrangement seamlessly included the strings as though they had been there all along and the audience was invited to start this rare journey together.

Almost instantly, the depth of story-telling broadened through The Last Goodbye, delving into a sparse, ghostly melody paired with Mancio’s lyrics, creating an image of someone left behind.

Williams’ arrangement of No More Blues had a Django-esque slow-quickness about it as the audience realised without notice that all eight musicians were swinging so hard together as solos ensued. The string quartet soli was like listening to Lambert/Hendricks/Ross rip into an instrumental solo – hard to tell that it was four instruments, not just one.

I Cover The Waterfront – Mancio’s voice softly hummed as the bass joined the string quartet as if part of the family, led to beautiful solos from John Garner on the violin and Williams on piano in discussion with each other. The pianist’s Orchid Avenues was a trio feature building to an ethereal ending that shows that story-telling doesn’t always need lyrics. The message was clear.

Williams and Mancio explained to the audience how they worked collaboratively, sometimes apart at first on their own areas, and then bringing the two together to rehearse later on. Writing from different inspirations – sometimes just a picture that had spurred Mancio to write lyrics, aharing that picture with Williams. It is something very special to hear their teamwork come to fruition.

Composers are often compelled by things close to their heart and the messages and images that the pair shared through song were so poignant. At times, the music could depict an almost tangible sense of destruction - the ostinato in The Last Boy on Earth initiated a realy sense of uneasiness. But it was followed up with a feeling of determination as we moved through Exodus and into Halfway. Suddenly, the confidence felt through the music lifted everyone out of musical and literal dissonance.

Another Broadbent/Mancio piece, Quiet Is the Star, arranged by Williams for the strings, was a delightfully soft lullaby. A tender cello solo played by Sergio Serra carried us sweetly to a beautiful tribute to Williams’ dad, John, and a moment for the artists to reflect on family and belonging. Mancio felt impelled to write words after hearing daughter and father play it together. Slow Dawn reminisced about difficult moments, starting anew and encompassed a feeling of roundedness.

Reaching the end, a beautiful homage to loved ones now gone had everyone almost in tears. It was clear that Mancio and Williams were both so proud of the evening that had come together - as they should be! It was an absolute delight to be in the audience. Everyone had a say in the final, upbeat Play, the music reflecting the title with a child-like quality.

Check out Kate Williams and Georgia Mancio separately and cross your fingers that they will collaborate again.


Kate Williams (piano)
Georgia Mancio (voice)
Oli Hayhurst (bass)
David Ingamells (drums)
John Garner (violin)
Marie Schreer (violin)
Francis Gallagher (viola)
Sergio Serra (cello)


NEWS: Winners Announced at the 2017 APPJAG (Parliamentary) Jazz Awards

A Parliamentary Jazz Award

The winners of the 2017 Parliamentary Jazz Awards have been announced.

Jazz Vocalist of the Year - WINNER: Cleveland Watkiss
Nominees: Georgia Mancio, Alice Zawadzki

Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year- WINNER: Shabaka Hutchings
Nominees: Jim Mullen, Tori Freestone

Jazz Album of the Year- WINNER:  Dinosaur – Together As One 
Nominees: Shabaka Hutchings – Wisdom Of The Elders, Tim Garland – One

Jazz Ensemble of the Year - WINNER: Phronesis
Nominees: Partikel, Binker and Moses

Jazz Newcomer of the Year- WINNER: Nerija
Nominees: Corrie Dick, Ezra Collective, Jacob Collier

Jazz Venue of the Year - WINNER: Scarborough Jazz Festival.
Nominees: Watermill Jazz Club, Jazz Re:Freshed, PizzaExpress Live

Jazz Media Award- WINNER: Chris Philips
Nominees: Jazzwise, Kevin Le Gendre

Jazz Education Award- WINNER: Tomorrows Warriors
Nominees: Jean Toussaint, Andrea Vicari

Services to Jazz Award-WINNER: Tony Dudley-Evans
Nominees: Sue Edwards, Henry Lowther, Gary Crosby

Special APPJAG Award: Jim Mullen

=  =  =  =  = 

Kelvin Hopkins MP, APPJAG Co-Chairman, said:

“The Parliamentary Jazz Awards are a great way for MPs and Peers of all political parties to show their support for British jazz by recognising and honouring the amazing musical talent we have in our country. From established stars to fresh new talent, the range and diversity of this year‟s winners shows the vibrancy and creativity of British jazz. We are extremely grateful once again to PizzaEpress Live for supporting the Awards and for Peroni sponsoring the Parliamentary Jazz Awards.”

About the awards: The compere for the ceremony held at the Pizza Express Live venue in Holborn was Ross Dines. The awards have been running since 2005. The Secretariat team for the awards is Chris Hodgkins and Sarah Pellew. The awards are sponsored by Peroni with the support of PizzaExpress Live.

About APPJAG: APPJAG has 80 members from the House of Commons and House of Lords, across all political parties. Its aim is to encourage a wider and deeper enjoyment of jazz, to increase Parliamentarians‟ understanding of the industry and issues surrounding it, as well as promoting jazz as a musical form, and to raise its profile both inside and outside of Parliament. The Group‟s officers as at the 19th July 2017 are Co-Chairs, Kelvin Hopkins MP and Lord Colwyn, Secretary, Baroness Coussins, Vice Chairs, Alison Thewless MP and Sarah Champion MP, the Treasurer is Ian Paisley MP. Officers are: Lord Crathorne, John Mann MP and Sir Greg Knight MP.