REVIEW: Jean-Luc Ponty, Biréli Lagrène, Kyle Eastwood at the Barbican

A subdued curtain call: L-R: Jean-Luc Ponty, Kyle Eastwood, Biréli Lagrène 
Jean-Luc Ponty, Biréli Lagrène, Kyle Eastwood
(Barbican Hall. 16 March 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The stately poise, the patrician control, the wiry strength of Jean-Luc Ponty's violin playing are what stay in the mind. The set-up of his playing does have an intrinsic balance, and he used it to wonderful effect, particularly in his solo feature in the second half where the layers of sound and virtuosity built up impressively and inexorably. It brought to mind that classic 1980's book in French about the violin by Dominique Hoppenot, Le Violon Intérieur. Its basic theory is about having the body in balance and then having the instrument in balance with the body. That is exactly what one sees with Ponty.

In Ponty's hands, a standard ballad like Jimmy McHugh's Too Young To Go Steady is played with such intensity of 'sostenuto', it starts to sound like Danny Boy. It got me thinking how fundamentally far apart the approaches of Ponty and another French jazz violinist, fourteen years younger than him, and another heir to Grapelli are. It is less than a month since the sudden death of Didier Lockwood at 62 left the French jazz community in complete shock. His way was so much freer, much more impulsive, more will o'the wisp. He is sorely missed.

Ponty's calm and unruffleability definitely seem to come from within, but for the spectator/listener they are also reinforced by the company he keeps. He has tended to surround himself with musicians who  essentially have a busier and more worker-bee-ish way of going about their business than he does. Perhaps the extreme example of that from the past – roughly 20 yeas ago – was Al DiMeola, but it is also true of the current line-up.

In the case of guitarist Biréli Lagrène it is his stylistic adaptability. I still remember my first encounter with a recording he made live at a club in Kirchheim/Teck near Stuttgart at the age of about 13. His gypsy jazz guitar playing was already a fully-formed miracle. And what the decades have brought is the facility to move into many different styles. I found Kyle Eastwood to be at his most effective when playing simply, for example providing an insistently hook-ish bass line, such as on Zawinul’s Mercy Mercy Mercy.

Ponty as headliner in London is rarity. The Barbican audience was loudly appreciative. Here is a very similar set from last summer .


Blue Train (Coltrane)
To and Fro (Ponty)
Samba de Paris (Eastwood)
Too Young to Go Steady (McHugh)
Stretch (Lagrène)
Renaissance (Ponty)


Solo – Eastwood
Andalucia (Eastwood)
Childhood Memories (Ponty)
Solo – Lagrène
Mercy Mercy Mercy (Zawinul)
Solo- Ponty
One Take (Lagrène)
Encore: Oleo (Rollins)


INTERVIEW: Capri-Batterie (digital album Bristol Fashion available now)

Photo supplied

Avant-garde trio Capri-Batterie’s album Bristol Fashion, a collaboration with comedian Stewart Lee, has drawn attention to their unique approaches to free improvisation. AJ Dehany spoke to them via Skype between London and Totnes. 

Named after a yellow light bulb powered by a lemon, Capri-Batterie recently released the album Bristol Fashion, a collaboration with comedian and free jazz enthusiast Stewart Lee. It was entirely improvised over an hour in a studio in Bristol, even Lee’s hilarious spoken word contribution which ranges from sugar snap peas to the controversies of civic architecture in Birmingham.

“It was strange for the people recording this album,” said trumpeter Tim Sayer. “We subverted some of their natural recording practices. There is no overdubbing, no editing, we had almost a mix in our headphones with virtually nothing done to the take once it’s done. Stewart Lee’s tracks had a little bit of mixing but basically it’s what we were hearing at the time. We were lucky enough to be in a studio, DBs Music, where that they can do that.”

The group has a smattering of recordings on Bandcamp but Bristol Fashion is their first full-length album. Bass player Matt Lord expressed a familiar improviser’s ambivalence about recording: “I like going into the studio with these guys but the one we did with Stewart was by far the easiest. I tend to have very negative studio experiences and feel that what comes out tends to be a bit of a plasticated version of what I’m interested in. I am interested in albums but I'm not so hung up on the idea. It's documentation, isn’t it?”

The group is based in Exeter, where none of them lives. Matt Lord (bass and saxophone) and Kordian Tetkov (drums) live in Devon, but Tim Sayer (trumpet and electronics) is based in London. There is a terrific film of them at Cafe Concrete in Plymouth in July 2016 (above), which I was astonished to learn was the first time they came together as a trio.

Kordian Tetkov: We met for the first time one and a half hours before.

LondonJazz News: How did you do the encore, a piece called The Devil (“and the devil is always different”), that amazing two-minute death-jazz thing?

Matt Lord: Kordian and I used to play The Devil as a duo.

Tim Sayer: I can remember you telling me at the sound check that we’ll probably do this at the end and for two minutes: ‘You'll do it with us and we'll just go for it’.

ML: That's right.

KT: That was the only bit we ‘arranged’. We didn't know what was going to happen.

TS: The thing that sticks out in my head was the sound check, the absolutely beautiful feeling that ‘My God, this is just going to work’. Any anxiety just went out of the window as soon as we played the sound check because we realised we could just carry on; it just gelled in that instant.

LJN: The album Bristol Fashion is a significant step forward in Capri-Batterie’s work, dialling down the volume with a more acoustic instrumentation but retaining the characteristic intensity they bring to free playing. What led to that change?

ML: I shifted over to a double bass less than a year ago. It has caused a huge change in terms of my navigating what we do. I was able to hone my listening to what was going on with these two. With electric instruments I think I got tired with just the sheer volume. That can be distorting in terms of your ability to play with other people.

TS: I think one of the things with any acoustic instrument is the volume pushes you in a certain way and there’s lots of space and nuance to play with.

LJN: How does instrumentation influence what you’re doing? I noticed you used an unusual format with sax and trumpet on the first Weigh In Suite piece.

TS: It's a small thing that happens within Capri-Batterie where the instrumentation changes. It scales down to small, intense happenings. We’re intending to roll this out in different contexts so we can set it out very quickly. Kordian’s drum kit scales down. I use a pocket trumpet. Matt has saxophone. It’s a more intense creation.

KT: The intention is to be a pop-up band. Have you seen the Fassbinder film World on a Wire? It predates The Matrix, it's an early 1970s TV sci-fi in two parts. They use this computer simulation program to predict consumer trends and there are characters moving between realities.

TS: It's like this thing coming out of another dimension from nothing and disappearing again. Like, ‘What just happened!?!?’

Their blend of influences is multidimensional. Kordian started with classical percussion at 12 but loved playing rock music in bands, as well as being fascinated by Taiko drums, which he studied in Japan. Tim as an academic has a research interest in improvising and music technology, “so I have that kind of background in experimental music but I don't feel that intentionally as a player”. What they do as a trio does fits into a jazz bracket but, says Tim, “I don't think of any of us are completely comfortable in the jazz world. I can do it but it doesn't feel authentic if I'm just doing a straight-ahead jazz gig. It's gonna be a bit different.”

ML: I’ve always been primarily interested in whoever the person is on the outside edge of whatever type of music I'm into. If you're looking at contemporary classical, blues, pop music even, they all have people who are pushing or searching within that frame and so those are people I relate to. Maybe jazz music has always had a stronger tradition of allowing that to happen – though if you look back on the history of jazz music there's been a huge opposition to this to those people.

Capri-Batterie is an artwork by legendary German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. It is a yellow light bulb attached to a lemon, a comment on ecology, freedom and flux. I asked the group if they felt a connection to Joseph Beuys in a political dimension regarding free improvisation, “particularly in our current world where freedom seems to be more like freedom to be an asshole”?

TS: I don't think we have collectively formulated a manifesto as it were. I've played lots of different styles of music for many many years but this is absolutely the first time when I feel myself connecting with the concept of freedom in my playing. I don't experience it in any other facet of my life. When things are working for me I experience a state of understanding of what freedom is about, of what else is going on around the world, oppression and chaos. Capri-Batterie is anathema to all that. It feels like an important theme for me to deal with to make sense of that chaos.

KT: I think for me free playing works much better than playing in a political rock band. It's more abstract, but the times are very chaotic. Hopefully it’s some sort of comfort in terms of understanding how things are without a safety net.

TS: It's very difficult and self-examining music to play, not just when you listen back to stuff but in the moment. There's lots of questioning – self-doubts and insecurities – and yet we are putting ourselves into this situation to challenge that. The whole thing about not having a safety net there and having space for this: it's a unique thing. There’s not many other fields of human endeavour where those two things come together.

KT: The real experience is the life experience and the audience is part of it with the players and as always an audience influences the process very much. When things happen, when they feel right, I think then the audience get as much out of it as we do.

TS: It's challenging for an audience. The interesting thing working with Stewart Lee is how the audience has expanded. I've been watching the comments on Twitter going crazy, this mixture of people giving themselves permission to get into the sound worlds, or this craziness, this insanity, all sorts of words are coming up. I think it makes people reflect on themselves: they have to formulate an attitude to this somehow and it's maybe pushing people to think about things in a slightly different way. We’re pushing that mainstream audience through Stewart’s connection and I was really amazed by the response, to be honest. I thought we might be in for a hard time but it hasn't been like that at all.

KT: Of course there are lots of people for whom this is insane. The comment that stuck with me was he couldn’t work out if it was total shit or genius!

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

Bristol Fashion is available digitally from Bandcamp

A vinyl release is in the pipeline.


REVIEW: Get the Blessing: Bristopolis at the 2018 Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival

Bristopolis banner
From Bristol Jazz Festival website
(no indication of any copyright restrictions)

Get the Blessing: Bristopolis
(Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, 15 March 2018. Review by Jon Turney)

Bristol’s festival has a great record of making shrewd use of local artists. The opener for this year’s Colston Hall jamboree featured city favourites Get the Blessing and an unexpected resource, a trove of archive film of Bristol over the last century.

They were brought together by film-maker John Minton, who has worked with the band extensively. Building on that, the show opened with a series of shorts made for the band’s earlier work, wittily linked by vintage cinema announcements. These old pop-video style efforts don’t benefit from being sequenced together - tight budgets make them a tad repetitive - but they did allow a crowd-pleasing airing for a string of GTB’s greatest hits, with live video mixing from the stage to add interest.

That music wears very well, but main event was all new. The band created an expansive soundscape for a fascinating hour-long depiction of city life over the last century. Their music, for all its deep grooves and catchy hooks, has always had a cinematic aspect, and it came to the fore here. Period commentary emerged now and again as the images ranged over the days when the docks were the focal point of the city, the ravages of the blitz, and a panoply of everyday urban life, sometimes prosaic, sometimes eccentric.

Unlike last year’s screening of Metropolis, scored by Andy Sheppard, the film didn’t have an overall narrative - though there were narrative episodes here and there. The music, in keeping, was mainly textural and atmospheric. Dan Moore on keyboards and sparing use of electronics by hornmen Jake McMurchie on saxes and Pete Judge on trumpet extended the sound palette of the quartet. Clive Deamer on drums furnished a constantly shifting rhythmic pulse. Jim Barr on electric basses unified the band, as per normal, by locking down the rhythm while also taking a share of melodic declarations.

The live work on stage married well with the images, without drawing attention from them. No-one left humming the tunes, but the mood-setting was unobtrusively appropriate: elegiac for footage from the morning after an air raid; a moment of exultation for a victory parade. It wasn’t the right show for big soloing, although the construction of Brunel’s suspension bridge over Clifton Gorge triggered a barnstorming baritone sax feature from McMurchie.

A fascinating evening altogether. The collaborators brought off an audio-visual treat in a realm where sound and moving images can as easily detract from as enhance each other, and Minton shared the applause with the band at the close. The emphasis returns to music for the rest of the programme, but this multi-media show already feels like a festival highlight.

Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival continues until Sunday.

LINKS: Programme


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Sean Gibbs (Fervour: album Taking Flight and tour April 2018)

Sean Gibbs
Photo credit: Iza Korsak
SEAN GIBBS is a trumpeter, composer, band leader, graduate of the Tommy Smith Youth Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, and a first class honours alumnus of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire where he won the BMus Jazz Prize in 2015. His suite, Burns, for the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra attracted glowing reviews. Now he has a new, smaller band, Fervour, a new album, Taking Flight, coming out next month and a linked six-date England tour. He spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: After spending a few years in Birmingham, studying and then staying on, you’ve moved even further south to London. How is that working out? And do you miss Brum?

Sean Gibbs: I’m really enjoying London so far! It's been great to play with some new musicians and experience a new scene. I've particularly enjoyed playing in Calum Gourlay's monthly big band residency at The Vortex. It features an incredible line-up, and the arrangements (mostly Calum's) are pretty special. I've been fortunate to contribute a couple of my own charts too.

I still keep close links to the Birmingham scene, through my band Fervour, Young Pilgrims and the Stella Roberts Sextet. It's not really that far away, so I've been back quite regularly. The main thing I miss is the Tuesday night session at The Spotted Dog, which has quite a unique community spirit (not to mention the drink prices…). One of the London scene’s biggest strengths however, is the sheer number of great gigs happening every night of the week.

LJN: Your new band Fervour has some old friends in the line-up. How did you choose them – and why?

SG: I started the band in 2016, whilst living in Birmingham. It features Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums) alongside myself on trumpet. I felt these players would suit the vibe of the music, but also be unafraid to add their own ideas into the mix. It’s a thrill to play with them, and I feel like we push each other to new heights each time we perform. There’s also a certain trust that comes with improvising with musicians that you’ve played with for years.

LJN: I read that Fervour’s music “draws on the jazz tradition alongside… blues, rock and more. Can you expand a little. What are the main influences on your writing/arranging and how does this band differ from previous bands you’ve led? Or maybe it doesn’t?

SG: I’d say that my writing style is heavily rooted in the jazz tradition. The album features a variety of different influences from this tradition – including hard bop, modal jazz, bebop and New Orleans second line. What holds it all together for me is a strong connection to the blues. This is present in the vast majority of the music that I enjoy.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing for big band in the past, and one of the ways in which this project differs from previous ones is that improvisation is more at the forefront. The flexibility of a quintet can allow for greater interaction and more things being set in the moment. This project is also perhaps more centred around groove than previous bands of mine. Alongside swing and New Orleans grooves, I’ve embraced elements of blues rock music. I’ve always loved the earthiness that this provides, and a current influence in this vein would be the Tedeschi Trucks Band (check out their amazing Tiny Desk Concert if you haven’t). I can’t get enough of the grittiness and honesty present in their music, and would love for some of that to come across in my own way.

LJN: You’ve been successful in getting some ACE support for the album and tour. Was the application process fairly straightforward? Did you seek advice before applying? And why do you think they gave you the money?

SG: I’d never applied for funding before, so I was quite daunted at first. Thankfully, the Arts Council England website provided lots of helpful information, and I received some invaluable advice from Phil Woods of [Birmingham promoters] Jazzlines. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to receive funding at the first time of asking, and can only assume that they saw some artistic potential in the project. I think the fact that my Robert Burns-inspired big band album had received positive reviews (LJN review) and some radio play must have helped, and the CV of each of the musicians in the band showed some strong credentials.

LJN: When is the album out, and where can we all buy it? And will you just be playing this music on the tour? Or is there more?

SG: The album is released on 5 April. You can hear a preview track and pre-order the album (in both physical and digital formats) here. It will also be available on Itunes and Amazon once it’s released. Better still, come down to a gig on the tour and grab a copy there! We’ll mainly be playing the material from the album on the tour, with a couple of surprises thrown in. I’m really looking forward to playing with the band again, and can’t wait to hear how the music evolves from night to night.

LINK: Sean Gibbs’ website  


INTERVIEW: Jihad Darwish (new album Reclamation)

Jihad Darwish
Photo credit: Kelly Warman
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist JIHAD DARWISH seems to blend well into this environment – an artisan coffee shop, popular with local creative types, writes Brianna McClean. His genuine warmth and energy spill over as he tells his story. It is one of reclamation, which is appropriately the name of his debut album. Mellow and narrative-driven, this album is a fine piece of work and one testament to Darwish’s unique training and talent. As he describes his multicultural heritage, his wide range of musical influences and his personal ethos as an artist, it becomes clear that the particulars of Reclamation run deep.

LJN: Tell me your story, how did you end up where you are today? 

JD: When I was eight, I started playing the violin because my Mum always said she wanted to learn but never did. When I was 13 I had an attack of the ego and realised I wanted to be a rockstar so swapped to electric bass. Fast-forward through years with the Hackney Jazz Youth Ensemble, a decade of working with people such as Sting, Imelda May, Newton Faulker and Moses Boyd, plus a tabloid cocaine habit and a celebrity divorce and I find myself releasing my debut album.

LJN: What has your musical training been and how has it shaped you?

JD: I went from foundation music training at Kingsway College to experimental music collaborations at Dartington College of Arts to fine-tuning of technique and harmony on a jazz masters at Guildhall.

LJN: What is your philosophy as a performer and composer?

JD: I don’t have a philosophy I only ever have three requirements of anyone’s art. Do I believe that person? Is there sentiment? Is there conviction? If those things are all present, I’m on board.

LJN: Who are your biggest inspirations?

JD: Peter Gabriel, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, John Martyn, Jeff Buckley, Herbie Hancock, Sigur Ros, Radiohead

LJN: Tell me about this new record, Reclamation.

JD: It documents a pretty difficult period in my life or at least in the consciousness that is ‘Jihad Darwish’. It moves through 3 stages as an album and explores identity, loss, longing, fear desire, love and hope. I wanted to reclaim some sense of identity, of where I came from and who I am. I wanted to reclaim the feeling of been completely honest with yourself and the surrounding world.

I wanted to reclaim my name. I spent 25 years with my birth name and I suddenly found myself having to be someone else. I’ve used ‘Jay’ as a stage name but I’m trying to return to who I am. I’ve experienced ignorance on an unprecedented level regarding my name. I don’t want to be Jay anymore. I suppose ultimately it’s about reclaiming your sense of self.

LJN: How would you explain it to a first time listener, what can they expect to hear?

JD: It’s a journey - start at the beginning and listen through to the end. The album is a real mix, it probably is genre-less. Lots of jazz but it’s interwoven with pop, indie, new wave and African influences. I think that the listener can expect the unexpected! My favourite albums have always been the ones when maybe everything’s not totally apparent on the first listen.

LJN: What was the creation process like? 

JD: I recorded the album over about three or four months. I wrote most of the album in the studio. It ended up being both a quick and slow process, if that makes sense? Sometimes I would have dozens and dozens of versions of songs. I wrote so many songs and lots of them didn’t make it onto the album. I must have written over 30 songs for this album.

For lyrics I have books of lyrics some old, some new. I actually had this book of poetry lying on the desk, I think it was Larkin, and I would start most mornings by opening it randomly and reading something. Maybe not always the best idea to start the day with as Larkin he can be melancholy at the best of times but he has a direct and quickly digestible way of conveying ideas in his writing and I found that this got me into a different headspace. It was a very liberating process, I didn’t have a set working methodology but rather just gifted myself with that time and space to feel my way along.

LJN: What are your hopes for this album?

JD: Making this album was a cathartic process for me. It’s about the joy you find in the process of making, not what you do with it. I’m finding that a particular challenge with this is that because it was all so personal to me it’s quite hard performing some of it as I feel very exposed and that I’m letting people into a very personal space. I would much rather a random person on the street said to me "this song on your album made me feel something" than a musician gave it the seal of approval. I want to connect with people in life.

Reclamation was released on 23 February 2018 and is available from Two Rivers Records (LINK


CD REVIEW: Fredrik Lundin – 5 Go Adventuring Again

Fredrik Lundin – 5 Go Adventuring Again
(Stunt Records. CD Review by Peter Slavid)

There are some words that don't appear very often in jazz CD reviews. You rarely see the adjectives “spooky”, “brooding” or “dramatic” because jazz doesn't often go down that path. However, this new CD from Danish saxophonist  Fredrik Lundin needs all of those words and a few more besides.

It starts with the eight-sided black-and-white cover which is full of dark mysterious pictures – including  the occasional ghost. Then the tune titles continue the theme with The Hound of the Baskerville, The Pond, and Being in a Dark Place. The liner notes expand along the same track. On Borderland for example, they talk about disappearances, mental breakdowns and a border between reason and madness.

The instrumentation is unusual too. Fredrik Lundin (tenor, mezzo soprano and baritone saxophones) Tomasz Dabrowski (trumpet); Petter Hangsel (trombone, sylo synth); Joel Illerberg (bazantar); Anders Provis (drums, spds drumpads) plus Jesper Lovdal (contrabass clarinet on first track).

Part of the unique sound undoubtedly comes from the bazantar. Invented 20 years ago, it's a rarely seen five-string acoustic bass fitted with an additional twenty-nine sympathetic strings and four drone strings, rather like a bass sitar in appearance. In places this gives the overall sound some hints of India or of the Middle East. Elsewhere it just seems to add to the generally rather spooky sound of the music as do the other unusual instruments – the mezzo soprano sax, sylo synth and spds drumpads.

But at the core of the music the three front-line soloists turn in terrific performances. Dabrowski's trumpet starts the track Crumbling Castles with a powerful dark brooding solo and the track continues with an almost orchestral sound that reminded me of some early Carla Bley. Hangsel's trombone takes the lead on Being in a Dark Place over a similar mysterious orchestral sound.  Of course there are lighter moments. Despite the title, Dodging Bullets lets Lundin exercise his very substantial melodic and improvisational skills over the riffing horns. And the final track sounds almost sweet and delicate.

This is a most unusual CD. The dramatic and dark nature of the arrangements and solos is rare. The compositions would make a good soundtrack for a Gothic horror film, and it may take a second listen to settle in to the atmosphere – but it's definitely worth it!

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Modern Jazz on and


NEWS: Emulsion VI in Shrewsbury – Trish Clowes launches Kickstarter campaign

Trish Clowes and the Emulsion Sinfonietta
Photo credit: Dannie Price

Peter Bacon writes:

Emulsion, the new music festival that is the brainchild of saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes, will have its sixth incarnation at the Gateway Education and Arts Centre in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, on 15/16 June 2018.

Emulsion set the bar high from the start and has more than lived up to expectations since, bringing together open-mindedness, an adventurous spirit and collaborators of high calibre. And along the way some new music has been commissioned that has gone on to win awards.

Of Emulsion VI, Trish writes: “Our headline artist for this edition is Robert Mitchell, who will perform a solo set on the Friday evening. The Emulsion Sinfonietta will perform on the Saturday night, showcasing existing repertoire and hopefully two new commissions from Robert and Nikki Iles (and our trusted sound engineer Alex Fiennes will be there to capture the moment).

“To make these commissions happen we have launched a Kickstarter campaign and we need your support!"

In his 5-star review of an earlier Emulsion festival Matthew Wright, of the Arts Desk, wrote: “…an absorbing spectacle of multi-genre music that was both emotionally and technically compelling… brilliant, three-dimensional theatricality.” (REVIEW)

In the lead up to Emulsion VI there will be two workshops for local audiences (also at the Gateway Education & Arts Centre) on 18 March and 22 April. Please contact Trish at for more information on these.

LINKS: Kickstarter campaign for Emulsion VI
Emulsion website


CD REVIEW: Camille Bertault - Pas de Géant

Camille Bertault - Pas de Géant
(Sony Music 88985422322. CD review by Sebastian Scotney)

Camille Bertault is a French jazz vocal phenomenon. She has made an impact on YouTube where she has a channel, which is home for example to a nonchalant and completely transfixing version of  Hermeto Pascoal’s Frevo Novo. She has an extraordinary facility. She really can do the impossible as if without effort.

However, her new album Pas de Géant  (Giant Steps) shows there is more, much more to her. She has said in an interview  that she wanted to make “an album which represents everything I am ….An album which looks like me rather than its own genre.” And Sony have given her the Rolls Royce treatment. Ten days in a studio, a classy arranger, trumpeter Michael Leonhart (son of bassist Jay for those with elephantine memories) and a fine band with a prominent role for pianist Dan Tepfer.  Exceptions to the care lavished on this project are the English press release which is laughably poor - and e.g.the captioning of the video below.

There are some astonishing displays of virtuosity, like the title track Pas de Géant (Giant Steps). It is a vocalese version of the Coltrane solo, full of puns and internal rhymes “prendre le le train avec “Trane” et surtout ne pas traîner” (taking the train with Trane and not dragging) is just one of masses of examples. And buried in the rapid fire of the words there is even a credo about why this music, this jazz matters, what the purpose is: “On est là pour délivrer l'urgence, sa subjectivité radicale” (We are here to deliver the urgency, its radical subjectivity.) The radical, the thoughtful, the daring are never far. Arbre Ravéologique, for example, is an exhilarating whistle-stop tour through about sixteen Ravel melodies in four minutes.

The delight of playing with the verbal possibilities of the French language, of savouring the musicality of alliteratively used words is a recurrent feature. Tantôt with just bass and accordion is a tongue-twisting gem. This whole "verbal" side to her, the fact that she is as interested in language-as-music and for its own sake was new to me. If this sounds dry and abstract it isn't. She has a great sense of fun and extracts from live performance show her as a stage-force to be reckoned with.

The jazz end of the chanson repertoire is also there. There isn't any Nougaro or Boris Vian, but their aesthetic feels close. Comment te dire adieu is a broken-beat updating of 1968 Serge Gainsbourg hit for Françoise Hardy. There is one of the lesser-known songs from the Demy/Legrand movie Les Demoiselles de Rochefort - delightful. There is Brassens, a teasing version of Je me suis fais tout petit with an extraordinary voice trumpet episode, Cathy Berberian-like abstraction, and a child-like pleading “maman” at the end. Vocally, another singer who came to mind was the soaringly high French coloratura Mady Mesplé, who in her prime was equally at home in Offenbach as she was working with Boulez.

Pas de Géant is an album of experimentation, of extremes. Bertault's over-the-top rendition of the Brigitte Fontaine song (parce que je suis) Conne, ending in a blood-curdling scream brings to mind involuntarily the English expression “as mad as a box of frogs.” There are other sections which show a proximity to the traditions of contemporary classical music. Comptes de Fées with its jagged intervals is a track which reveals its subtleties gradually. And there are other excursions. Bill Evans' Very Early is beautifully sung. The speedily scatting Goldberg is the first variation from Bach, a zippy allegro marcato, done as a two-part invention for voice and piano left-hand. And there is a characterful Casa de Jade (Wayne Shorter's House of Jade from Juju) enjoying the twists in the melody. She is currently heading back to Brazil.

When you see the album in iTunes, the word “pop” pops up under “Genre” sixteen times. That had me wondering when the album arrived what kind of concessions to popularity, compromises, what limits  might have been imposed in the search for "pop". I was wrong. In fact, Bertault always manages to flee the safety of predictable. As she says, she always wants to welcome the “mise en danger” of jazz. It is to Camille Bertault's credit that she has made such a deeply musical, varied and above all personal album. The last two people to whom I played it enjoyed it so much they made a note to buy it.

EPK for Pas de Géant


NEWS: Turner Sims' Jazz South project gets £315k from ACE

A Turner Sims audience
Picture from University of Southampton's Soundings blog
Peter Bacon reports:

Turner Sims Southampton, part of the University of Southampton, is launching a three-year talent development programme called Jazz South, and will receive over £315,000 for this scheme to significantly raise the aspirations of emerging and professional jazz artists, standards of performance, composition and promotion across the UK’s Southern regions.

According to the Turner Sims press release, this is "the only music project in the country selected within the final round of the Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme fund".

The release continues: "Through Jazz South, established and emerging artists, and gifted and talented children and young people, will work with promoters and leading UK and international figures. New work will be commissioned, and talent and excellence developed through masterclasses and residencies.

"Jazz South will benefit from Turner Sims’ strong track record in jazz promotion, development and commitment to broadening the reach and raising the profile of the sector. Talent development opportunities will be offered throughout the Arts Council’s South West region plus the central and southern parts of Arts Council’s current South East region, from Buckinghamshire to Kent."

Kevin Appleby
Picture from Turner Sims website
Kevin Appleby, Turner Sims Concert Hall Manager, said: “This is a hugely exciting moment for Turner Sims and I’m most grateful to Arts Council England for their support. This investment enables us to realise our aspirations for creating new opportunities for the jazz sector in the South of England. I know from the conversations we have had with a range of organisations and individuals across the region already that there is a great appetite for this, and I look forward to working with partners regionally, nationally and internationally to bring these opportunities to life.”

Sir Christopher Snowden, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Southampton, commented: “The University welcomes this funding for its renowned concert hall and is proud to be supporting this significant sector development – playing a leading role in talent development for jazz artists of all ages. As custodians of culture in Southampton, this extraordinary project is testimony to our University’s determination and commitment to the fundamental role that arts and culture play and further underpins our essential role in nurturing new talent.”

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West. Arts Council England, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting Turner Sims with a significant grant of £315,755 through our National Lottery-funded Ambition for Excellence programme. The fund supports and stimulates ambition, talent and excellence in arts and culture across England and our investment in Jazz South looks set to support a step change in jazz music across the south west and south east of England.

"Turner Sims already has a distinctive jazz programme with fantastic links across Europe and this investment will enable this identity to grow by developing young, emerging and established talent, creating new commissions and building different and diverse audiences. We are excited to see what the next three years have in store for jazz in the region, nationally and beyond.”

Turner Sims will be announcing details of the first stage of the project in the summer.

LINK: Turner Sims Southampton


CD REVIEW: Simon Lasky Group – About the Moment

Simon Lasky Group – About the Moment
(33 RPM Ltd. CD review by Rob Mallows)

A moment, I discover. was a medieval unit of time. 1/40th of a solar hour on a sundial, to be exact. We’ve moved on since then of course, but the moment is still with us. Music can be "of the moment". We experience moments of sheer bliss, or terror, or realisation. It also signifies an effect or influence. Moments, therefore, have import and deep meaning.

British keyboard player Simon Lasky’s second album is all about finding these moments when things become clear, tension is released and the music makes sense. As the title suggests, it’s focused on precise revelatory periods in music which seek to stimulate, to induce in the listener the shudder of realisation; the epiphany of understanding.

While we’re not in classic territory, there are certainly plenty of moments in About the Moment that, in the author’s description of the album, “take your breath away”.

Lasky is a pianist with a classical background, and listening to this album that comes across in the precision and deftness of his touch on the keyboards. He also seems to be a very generous musician; while this is his album, his sextet is foregrounded significantly to the extent that it feels like a true ensemble rather than just a keyboardist and some hired guns. Lasky’s joined by Pete Billington on fretless and electric bass; Luca Boscagin on acoustic and fretless guitars; Sophie Alloway on drums; Kuljit Bhamra on tabla; Fergus Gerrand on percussion; and Philip Achille on harmonica.

The mastering and mixing by Nick Pugh is very well done – the sound is clear, no instrument dominates and it has a fresh feeling, hearteningly pure and electronics-free. The ten tracks on offer provide a variety of moods and tempos. No track stands out as a "wow" moment; but then again, the collection sits well together.

Opener Dancing in the Rain offers a refreshing ozone boost of well put-together chords and group playing, and invigorates the listener before things cool down – Lasky’s notes state he wrote the album to create moments of tension, then release – with second track She Said, with the louche fretless bass, tabla and lazy harmonica giving it a lounge-y, Sunday afternoon sort of feel.

Mountain Spirit starts with intense tabla hinting at the Himalayas, over which Lasky’s piano and Boscagin’s guitar combine simply, but well. This track has a strong middle section which whips the listener around 270 degrees with a sort of bhangra/techno vibe that doubles the tempo and adds some spice to a tune that lumbers a little. This time, it’s release then tension.

With Nightrider, the simplest of bass lines provides the most solid of foundations. Lasky’s playing is not overly dramatic on much of this album, but his solo is well wrought: it moves up and down, runs soft then hard, and here and there little triplets generate a propulsive stutter. The intriguing guitar voicing by Boscagin is very spacey and angular, and provides a great counterpoint.

Of the other tracks, Mendocino conjures up a slight West Coast groove and Herbie Hancock-like riffs by Lasky. Strange as it may seem, the standout sound on this is Gerrand’s wood block, which shoots through like a peppermint mouthwash and draws in the ear.

The opening bass chords on Chasing Shadows are discordant and create a feeling sense of the chase, with the pace picking up as the tune progresses. It contains the albums strongest keyboard solo, almost guitar like, that provides real edge and an unusual tone. Billginton’s cauliflower steak of a bass solo is terrifically meaty while Alloway’s drumming here is economical but just what the track needs. Her solo is not bombastic, but just the right side of show-off-y, a palate cleanser.

Last track New Day was a little disappointing, a vanilla track. It’s inoffensive, but I found little to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. However, it builds up periodic heads of steam, even if ultimately it ends on a lighter-than-air note.

That aside, this is a competent and, at times thrilling album. Despite it being his album, it’s the strength of Lasky’s co-musicians that makes this a good to very good album. He clearly walked the full length of the counter before choosing his creative partners.

The only downside of this album is the cover design, which is grey and uninspiring and seems to have little connection to the title or hint at what’s inside. However, it’s a small gripe on an otherwise strong showing. Take a moment to check it out.


INTERVIEW: Polish Pianist Vladyslav Sendecki (first UK appearance in his own name, 24 March)

Vladyslav Sendecki
Photo credit: Artur Szczepaniak

VLADYSLAV SENDECKI, an icon of Polish jazz, has been pianist of the NDR Big Band in Hamburg since 1996. He is a charismatic player, composer, arranger and producer, and was  named by Village Voice as one of the world’s top five jazz pianists.

Colin Towns has written of him: 

"Many musicians have a powerful technique that amazes and surprises.
Others have a simple but powerful message.
Vladyslav lives his music with technique, simplicity, virtuosity and love.
Very few piano players can tell the stories that he does” .

Michael Gibbs says: 

"I've worked with Vlady for eons and do so love him –
he's monstrous!!
He can come up with a concerto in 3 beats' (crotchets that is!) rest -
whether asked for or not –
and will, with the grace of the ultimate pro,
refrain from playing it if asked.
My experience though finds that those unrequested
bursts of inspiration are often so masterly – 
that, Hey! – yeah I'd say – keep that in."

In advance of his two-piano concert at Pizza Express on 24 March (two houses) with Gwilym Simcock, Tomasz Furmanek interviewed him:

Tomasz Furmanek: In Poland, in the '70s, your career was developing fast as one of the best and most creative musicians on the Polish jazz scene. You played with the best.

Vladyslav Sendecki: Yes, it’s true. During my classical piano studies at the Academy of Music in Kraków I was often jamming in various jazz clubs, and one day when chatting with Jarek Śmietana we decided to form a band. We were both leading it and both writing the music. Extra Ball was basically the two of us, but of course we had many great musicians with us in the band. Jarek, who was older than me and more experienced, was also involved in the business side of it. I was more into playing and rehearsing at that time. We recorded our first album in 1976, and after a while we achieved a tremendous success. Shortly after Jarek started to push us into a more Joe Pass type of mainstream jazz, which wasn’t so much my thing… so I said “ok, you can keep Extra Ball and I am going to do something else”. And so I started the Sunship. We recorded an album in 1978 and we were doing very well. At more or less the same time I also joined Zbigniew Namysłowski’s famous Air Condition band.

TF: And shortly after you chose to live in exile. What’s your story?

VS: Unfortunately I was deeply affected by politics and the social situation in Poland, and I became very depressed by it. I felt I almost got into a sort of lethargy. I got engaged in the anti-communist movements and events. I took part in many underground performances, which the communist regime did not like. I went through a lot of stress and harassment. My family eventually got expropriated and I received an “invitation” to a military complex (which was more commonly known as a military prison). I knew I had to escape, my passport was confiscated. It was a very, very hard time. I wanted to raise my kids in a civilized place where respect and honorary rules play a major role in the society. Economically, however, I was doing very, very well.

A lot to talk about, but to cut it short, I ended up in Switzerland.

TF: What happened after you left Poland? How did “The West” receive you?

VS: “The West”… well… it was easy in a way. Musicians called me immediately, like Billy Cobham… There were studio recordings, film music… but I had to learn to talk about the money, and I had to do it quick. You know what I mean. I´ve learned my lesson.

TF: The Polski Jazz Ensemble – how important was that project and time for your artistic development and for building your position abroad?

VS: The Polski Jazz Ensemble was a very important time for me. We played some deep stuff. I was full of Coltrane since ever, so I could play myself out. Besides, we were and still are friends, there were times when we simply couldn´t even stop and to get up from our instruments. It was hugely inspiring and fulfilling. We also collected money for Solidarity in Poland. This gave us even more sense and purpose. Did it help building my position abroad? I don´t know. People respected us, and that´s all I know.

TF: Your long term cooperation with the NDR Big Band, the Radio Orchestra from Hamburg, was an important stage for you as a jazz artist in Germany. How did it start?

VS: It was at the time when I wasn’t very happy with my life. Switzerland didn’t seem the country where music and arts were an existential part for society. In my opinion in Switzerland jazz was treated worse than any other form of music or art. I brought a small revolution over there, being well educated classical piano player who chose playing jazz. It was in contrast to what was happening on the scene that time over there. For me, music and all other important things were in other countries, so I worked with Americans a lot, not to say mainly. If it comes to Swiss musicians, some were very good but… there didn’t seem to be much scene for them in their country… I started to produce music, even write songs, and built a small pre-production studio. After a while I got an offer from Berlin to make it big, but I pretty soon got tired with dealing with singers, record companies, “studio musician mentality”, A&Rs and the whole business… NDR kept inviting me to join their productions since the '80s, so when they found out I would be around in Germany they gave me a call. It was the right moment. I could be interacting with musicians again. NDR Band is a great band. They are a living organism which is very alive. And it is good to be there.

TF: At some stage New York's Village Voice named you as one of the five best pianists in the world. How would you comment on that today?

VS: I actually never saw the Village Voice. I remember once an older guy came to me after my concert in New York to congratulate me, he was amazed and he said that he had decided to come to see me because Village Voice wanted to write about the concert. That’s all I can say. It could have been around 1986… The rest I have read from lexicons or newspapers which wrote about me and I got a few calls from NY. Nice, and that’s more or less it. Music is not a sport. I love all the other piano players and admire their work more than my own. I didn’t really collect any press notes or articles about me. Whatever few I had from the past got lost at some stage when I was moving flats. Maybe that was a mistake. Now when I try to put my page together, I can see I should have kept it.

TF: The list of your collaborations with great jazz musicians is an impressive one – just to mention a few, names like Billy Cobham, Michael and Randy Brecker, Larry Coryell, Didier Lockwood, Jaco Pastorius, Michał Urbaniak… What was Jaco Pastorius like?

VS: I was lucky to work with some of the greatest jazz musicians. Most of them were wonderful, big hearted people who had their own, great visions of the world, music or arts in general. Unfortunately some squandered their talent for cheap applause and a full pocket. In the late '80s, I think, I recorded an album together with a French guitarist Biréli Lagrène and Jaco Pastorius. The album was called Stuttgart Aria, and a few of the tracks we composed together. After that we went on the European tour. Jaco was a guy with very natural musical instinct, but unfortunately, in my opinion, he wasn´t strong enough to take the advantages of his amazing talent.

TF: Your suite Anima Mundi, performed together with NDR Big Band during Summer Jazz Festival in Kraków, impressed many people. 

VS: I went to Kraków in 2009 with NDR and Maria Schneider, Joao Bosco, Joe Lovano and Nils Landgren. It was my official return to Poland after 27 Years of not being there! One evening at the festival we played my Anima Mundi composition, which is a work interpreting the communication and creative and loving attitude when dealing with strangers, and understanding and encompassing the unknown which is our human purpose and gives meaning to our existence… It is saying how inspiring it is to have all of it around you, and to be able to play and have fun with it.

Technically, it was the first and so far the only big band production using samples in such a way. Samples, of course, are nothing new anymore, but I mean the way they were used in that composition…. It was a lot of work, but the effect was and still is so exciting. (REVIEW)

TF: You often say that you don’t insist on recording many solo piano albums, however could you say something about the last one, Solo Piano at Schloss Elmau?

VS: If it comes to recordings… well, I am working everyday on broadening my horizons as a musician and to be a better human being. There is not much time left for running after record deals… I have known Siggi Loch, the owner of ACT, for many, many years. This album is very OK, but I personally prefer one recorded for an English label Provocateur Records. It is much more intimate.

TF: Your duo concert with Gwilym Simcock is imminent. What can the London audiences expect on 24 March?

VS: I love Gwilym, he is a very creative artist and he is very dedicated to music. I am happy to play with him and I am looking forward to an adventure of experiencing his thoughts. It will definitely be spontaneous, exciting, fresh, inspiring, lovely and great! (laughter). I am looking forward to it all and to being in London… See you, everyone, at the gig.

Gwilym Simcock & Vladyslav Sendecki
Steinway Festival 2018
Pizza Express (Soho)
24 March 2018, 7:30pm and 10:30pm
Tickets £25 Booking Link


CD REVIEW: Ivo Neame - Moksha (Released 23 March)

Ivo Neame Moksha
(Edition Records EDN1108. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Beer and jazz usually go well together, but thank goodness Ivo Neame decided not to go into the family brewing business (Shepherd Neame). Not that he wouldn’t have been great at making beer; it’s just that, on balance, beer’s loss has been jazz’s gain: Neame is one of the UK’s very finest pianists, bandleaders and composers, and he keeps himself busy. Not long ago, he was treading the boards with his Quintet project, featuring Tori Freestone and Jim Hart. He is also the pianist in Jasper Hølby’s trio Phronesis, and works with Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset.

This new album, recorded last summer, features Neame’s Quartet, with a different line-up to all the other bands, but suffused with the same confident fire and passion we find in the others. His sound is bracingly modernist, characterized by complex uptempo rhythms, a hard, attacking approach to the keyboard, and a fluent, usually melodic style that occasionally breaks down into free-form improvisation, as in Moksha Music, where it then melts seamlessly back into the original form, with a shimmering wash of (I’m guessing) Nord keyboard.

On this album, Neame’s augmentation of the acoustic piano with Mellotron (a digital version of the original tape-loop device), Hammond organ, Nord and Fender Rhodes helps to keep everything fresh and contemporary. Pala is a good example of the richness and beauty he achieves by mixing together these other keyboard sounds, in a way reminiscent of mid-70s Herbie Hancock albums like Thrust and Man-Child.

George Crowley is an excellent choice of tenor saxophonist for this material: he plays with the same sinuous ease and robust authority as Tim Garland, sharing the latter’s enjoyment of adventure. His creative interplay with Neame is the bedrock of the album, along with drummer James Maddren’s often thunderous accompaniment. And yes, there are times of reflection, as in the sweet, drifting Outsider, where bassist Tom Farmer gets a bit of solo time.

I’ve been playing Moksha a lot at home. It’s flawlessly conceived and executed, endlessly intriguing, and beautiful to listen to. Expect to hear of it again at the end of the year, when the votes for Best Album of 2018 are counted. Moksha is officially released on 23 March.

LINKS: Vegetarians, from Moksha

Pre-order the album here


NEWS: London festival celebrating the saxophone announced

Peter Bacon reports:

The first London Saxophone Festival will be held at various venues in London from 21 to 27 May 2018. Among the headliners are Bob Reynolds from Snarky Puppy and Casey Benjamin from The Robert Glasper Experiment. Other saxophonists giving live performances will be BBC Young Musician of the Year Alexander Bone and Mobo-winning reggae-soul player YolanDa Brown.

There will also be a wide range of workshops and educational events for families to encourage young people to take up the instrument.

The press release adds: "A free ‘Sax Village and Family Day’, will be open to the public on the Sat 26 May between 11am and 8.30pm in the foyer of the beautiful Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square. Newcomers will be able to assemble and play the saxophone for the first time and be shown techniques, while experienced players will be able to converse and consult with leading musicians and industry figures. The day will feature concerts for babies and children, as well as saxophones to hire or to purchase at special Sax Fest rates."

Other venues which will be hosting events include the Jazz Café, Pizza Expresss Holborn and the Vortex Jazz Club, and there will be special screenings of films with predominant saxophone soundtracks at the Everyman chain of cinemas. JazzFM, Howarth of London, and D'Addario Woodwinds will also be working with the festival.

LINK: For full details see the festival's website


CD REVIEW: Zoe Francis – Remembering Blossom Dearie

Zoe Francis – Remembering Blossom Dearie
(Zoe Francis Records. CD Review by Jane Mann)

London-born Zoe Francis began singing when she was living and studying in New York, and her first gigs were in Manhattan. When she returned to London, she recorded her first album Looking For A Boy in 2013. This, only her third CD, is devoted to songs made famous by Blossom Dearie, the well-known New Yorker singer/pianist (1924-2009) who lived in Paris in the 1950s, and who frequently performed in London throughout her long career.

Francis says: “I have long been a fan of Blossom’s as she had great diction, taste and a very intimate way of putting a song across”. She had been intending to add more brilliant Dearie songs to her repertoire, but then decided to record a whole album of them. Some of this material was only ever recorded by Dearie, other songs were specifically written for her. These include Try Your Wings by Michael Barr and Dion McGregor, played here as a gentle bossa nova. All the songs on the CD are arranged by eminent Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen, and played by him, pianist Barry Green with Mick Hutton on bass. This is not a Dearie tribute band – these are fresh, well-crafted arrangements. Francis has the appropriate clarity of diction and poise that these songs require without that girlish Dearie tone – her voice is gentle, airy and bright but always elegant, and you never miss a word.

There are three songs by Cy Coleman, one of Dearie’s favourite composers. The Riviera is a perfect Blossom Dearie vehicle, with a catchy tune and clever lyrics, for example when “Maharajah” is rhymed with “décolletage”. Francis clearly relishes the words and Mullen slips in French musical references – there’s a sliver of Nuages in the intro.

There are two Dave Frishberg tunes, a very poised version of I’m Hip (“I am anything but middle class”) and a cool Peel Me A Grape (“Bring me a bowl full of bon-bons!”). Francis sings these witty songs with nonchalance, to sensitive accompaniment from the trio, with plenty of space for unhurried solos from Mullen and Green.

I like their version of the supremely silly Tea for Two, (“Day will break/you will wake/ I will bake/a sugar cake/for you to take/ for all the boys to see”). According to legend, when this song was written in 1925, the words were stop gaps, until a lyricist could write some proper words, but that never happened. Dearie’s own version was slow and wistful, in contrast to popular recordings at the time. Here Francis and the band reimagine the piece as a fast swinging waltz, sung with a very light touch reminiscent of dance bands of the '30s.

There are three Bernstein tunes – Lonely Town showcasing Green’s rippling piano and Some Other Time Hutton’s understated rhythmic underpinning, and Lucky To Be Me showing off Francis’s vocal range and dexterity and also providing space for a rare solo from Hutton. There’s a pretty, pared down arrangement of the Michel Legrand tune Once Upon a Summertime, just voice and flickering piano. (Interestingly, Dearie formed an eight-piece vocal group in France in the 1950s with Legrand’s sister Christiane, which eventually became The Swingle Singers.)

The album concludes with Lies of Handsome Men by Francesca Blumenthal, a lovely Sondheim-ish dinner jazz piece which Dearie recorded in 1990 and which Francis and Co play with a light Brazilian feel. If you like the music of Blossom Dearie you will enjoy this album. If you are new to her work this fresh take will serve as an excellent introduction both to her and to lovely Zoe Francis. Sadly there is no longer a chance to see Dearie play but you can catch this delightful quartet live:

Zoe Francis will be performing songs from this album, and other Blossom Dearie songs, at the Bulls Head on 17 March (LINK),  and at the Vortex on 21 April (LINK)


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Dominic J. Marshall - (UK Tour Dates)

Dominic J Marshall Trio
Publicity photo

Pianist Dominic J Marshall was born in Scotland and studied at Leeds College of Music, where he formed the first edition of his trio. With successes including a BBC Introduces session at Manchester Jazz Festival, the trio quickly made an impression, drawing praise such as Jazzwise’s description of Marshall’s music as “ultra-hip and soulful cosmic jazz.” After moving to Amsterdam, where he took his master’s degree, Marshall ran two trios – the UK and the Dutch versions – both of which featured on his 2016 release, Triolithic, which was nominated for the Edison Award, the Dutch equivalent of the Grammys. 

He brings his Amsterdam trio, featuring bassist Glenn Gaddum Jr and drummer Jamie Peet, to the UK for the first time at the end of this month as part of the Going Dutch initiative, which is presenting musicians from the Netherlands across the UK and Ireland through 2018 and into 2019. Tour dates listed below. Rob Adams caught up with Marshall ahead of the concerts.

LondonJazz News: How did you get interested in jazz and were there any particular musicians who made you think, that’s what I want to do (be a jazz musician)?
DJM: From the time I started piano lessons with my Dad I've been into composing and trying things out. I wasn't as proficient as my Dad's students at reading music and doing the classical thing. But my brother, who was much more sociable than me, had some friends who were into jazz. He got hold of a minidisc of Kind of Blue at some point. From then on Bill Evans became the bridge for me between classical music and this new world of jazz

LJN: What is it about the piano-bass-drums instrumentation that you particularly like?

DJM: I've always just liked the way it sounds. When you have three people improvising there's scope for each one to do their own thing and the other two to hold it down. I like introspection in music: I suppose on some level the less instruments there are, the more room there is to look inward.

LJN: When you formed a trio in Leeds did you have an idea of where you wanted to go musically or was it more of a gradual development?

DJM: For me it always came from the pieces I was writing. It's never been static, for example recently I've started singing on stage - which was frightening, but the music called for it. In 2016 I had to integrate a synth, which also posed a lot of challenges. Before that I had to switch from acoustic to electric bass, which was difficult too. But in each case that's what the songs needed so I had to do what I had to do. Necessity, invention, same old story I suppose.

LJN:  What attracted you to taking your master’s degree in Amsterdam?

DJM: I liked the city a lot and the teachers as well. As with most major life choices, it was a 'heart' decision rather than a 'head' decision - it felt like the right place for me to be. Also, without wanting to get too political, I didn't really feel like paying £9000 a year for my postgrad.

LJN:  How does the jazz scene in the Netherlands compare to the UK in terms of work, venues and ease of access (or otherwise) to the European scene generally?

DJM: You can never live in two scenes at once so it's hard to compare, but they're both very much alive musical scenes. I'd love to see more cross-fertilization between the two, but it's already better than it was when I came to Holland.

LJN: What can audiences expect to hear from your current trio on your forthcoming concerts in Newcastle and London?

DJM: It's not always easy to categorise your music when you're trying for something new - but as always people can hear music that I put my heart into. There will be new songs from my upcoming albums 'Compassion Fruit', 'Cave Art vol. 2' and my release on Dirty Tapes which is also coming out soon - some vocal, some instrumental.

Jazz writer Rob Adams has been working with Podiunkunste NL and the Going Dutch programme to assist this tour


THU - Mar 22, 2018 - Sheffield, Bungalows & Bears
THU - Mar 29, 2018 - Newcastle, Jazz Northeast @ The Globe
SAT - Mar 31, 2018 - London, Pizza Express Jazz
THU - Apr 19, 2018 - Nottingham, Nottingham Jazz
FRI - Apr 20, 2018 - Luton, London, The Bear Club

LINK: Dominic J Marshall's website


REVIEW: John Cale (2018-1964): A Futurespective at the Barbican

John Cale
Photo credit: Mark Allan /Barbican

John Cale (2018-1964): A Futurespective
(Barbican. 9 March 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

On his 76th birthday John Cale shows no sign of slowing down or offering concessions to either the pop audience or the avant-garde. The first night of two ‘Futurespective’ concerts at the Barbican was a two-hour spectacular showcasing the breathtaking range of his input and output over five decades in music, with wholly reimagined selections from his string of classic 1970s albums, Vintage Violence, Paris 1919, Fear, and Helen of Troy, smatterings from the eighties and noughties, and more recent punches that reflect his continuing interest in raucous minimalism, orchestral and electronic textures, deep literary allusiveness and gut-punching emotional reveal.

The concert began with a slow, complex ambience recalling La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music, a key reference for Cale’s practice in developing the drone textures that characterised his involvement on amplified viola in a band called The Velvet Underground. The influence and impact of that group is not something John Cale is unaware of, but the birthday concert largely avoided that familiar territory in favour of representing the wide range of his work since.

Cate Le Bon and John Cale
Photo credit:  Mark Allan/ Barbican

The excitement of the event was amplified by guest appearances, with a huge favourite, Cate Le Bon, who kind of sings like Nico and plays guitar like the Magic Band, creator of odd-rock masterpieces like Crab Day, who joined on acoustic guitar to duet on Buffalo Ballet and Amsterdam. It seemed like a missed opportunity to do All Tomorrow’s Parties. DJ/sound artist Actress contributed his slick electronic sound on Over Her Head, Magritte, and Chums of Dumpty, but he also felt under-utilised.

One of the hallmarks of John Cale’s considerable production experience is his use of strings, and the London Contemporary Orchestra seemed like a perfect fit, being the leading outfit of its kind specialising in left-field crossover collaboration. As the concert moved along their contribution was more integrated and important in the sound world, but it still felt like a band-plus gig rather than completely realised as a large-scale (Large-Cale) orchestration. Similarly, the House Gospel Choir came on and off, but added a great emotional appeal to some of Cale’s most treasured, pained works, especially Half Past France, reconfigured from one of Cale’s most beloved chamber-pop albums, Paris 1919.

The songs are a real mixture. Some are achingly melodic, others are harder to love. The Barbican’s interview podcast asked Cale about his attitude to love songs. Cale wasn’t sure he’d ever quite nailed it, and cited a recent song The Story of Blood as maybe his best attempt. But his beautiful paean Close Watch (from 1975’s Helen of Troy) is one of the most tender and thoughtful thwarted love songs ever written, and in a unique new treatment it was never more painfully realised than in performance with the LCO strings.

It was a long wait for a Velvets song. Waiting For The Man rested on the two-chord vamp without those Lou Reed chord changes (“He’s never early…”) that make it good. Which is weird because in many of Cale’s own compositions, for example Dying On The Vine and Hatred, there was a predominant country vibe, and then he introduced some spectacular chord change and an epic chorus. While John Cale always deferred to Lou Reed as a poet, the literary writing is always his mainstay: you can hear the Dylan and Cohen influences in everything Cale does, not just in the country-influenced songs he plays, but in the detail of songs like E is missing which “is about Ezra Pound” and references Perec’s novel La Disparition famously written without the letter E.

Guitarist Dustin Boyer played excitingly discordant guitar solos that recalled the disruptive spirit of the Velvets. Deantoni Parks brought the important contemporary sonic texture of electronic percussion but also driving straight-ahead rock playing and the intense funky feel of Talking Heads. Joey Maramba helped set up the pop-avant texture starting with bowing the electric bass then locking it down throughout.

Held-back violence is a cornerstone of John Cale’s work, which at times has not been held back at all. Aside from ripping the heads off chickens as a performer in the ‘70s, as a musician John Cale is characteristically raw, brutal and frank. In Waiting for the Man he let his 1970s persona free reign screaming to no-one in particular “Shut up, Shut the fuck up!”

As much as he and Lou Reed had differences, Reed said of Cale “Music ran out of him like water down a mountain.” 1982’s album Music For A New Society was improvised. When asked by the BBC World Service where the raw inspiration came from, he said: “It’s the usual teenage stuff: standing in front of a mirror holding a razor blade up to your neck. That’s just the same thing that happens to a lot of teens.”

It’s not quite the same now. The slowed-down, chorally enriched arrangement of Leaving It Up To You re-imagines the original’s post-punk guitar-lick led song in a more considered Leonard Cohen-esque treatment. Lines like “I know we can be happy like Sharon Tate!” that he spat out at the height of his punk-era hockey-mask-wearing chicken-head-biting-off identity, have a compelling ambivalence. More than ever, we’re not out to shock you, just to make you think.

Before the show some thoughtful fans provided us with glow-sticks and instructions. Approaching the encores, we in the audience sang Patty and Mildred J. Hill’s popular 1893 song ‘Good Morning to All’ with its more familiar birthday-related lyrics, waving our glow sticks in what was a rather lovely sight to behold. John Cale was remarkably good-natured about it, conducting the House Gospel Choir into a richly unrehearsed cadence. He even quipped about celebrating again in another 76 years. Tickets are not yet on sale, but it should just about coincide with the conclusion of La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music.

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

John Cale – set list, Barbican 9 March 2018

Over Her Head (Actress) (HoboSapiens, 2003)
Dying On The Vine (Artificial Intelligence, 1985)
Hedda Gabler - Choir (orch) (Sabotage/Live, 1979)
E Is Missing (5 Tracks, 2003)
Helen – horns (Helen of Troy, 1975)
Big White Cloud – choir (orch) (Vintage Violence, 1970)
Half Past France (orch) (Paris 1919, 1973)
Leaving It Up To You (Helen of Troy, 1975)
Magritte – Actress (orch) (HoboSapiens, 2003)
Buffalo Ballet (Cate) (Fear, 1974)
Mr Wilson (orch) (Slow Dazzle, 1975)
Close Watch (orch) (Helen of Troy, 1975)
Chums of Dumpty (orch) Actress (5 Tracks, 2003)
Amsterdam (Cate) (orch) (Vintage Violence, 1970)
Villa Albani (orch) (Caribbean Sunset, 1984)
Waiting For The Man
Pretty People – choir
Hatred – choir (orch) (Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, 2012)


Emily – Choir (Fear, 1974)


NEWS/ PHOTOS: Winners of the 10th International Burghausen Young Jazz Prize - Leleka

Viktoria Anton
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski writes :

Leleka, the Berlin quartet with Ukrainian singer Viktoria Anton was a particularly fascinating band. Not only did they win the 10th International Burghausen Young Jazz Prize - and with some ease - at the final on the evening before the actual festival, but also presented a programme at the opening concert of the 49th Burghausen Jazzwoche, which moved in a way that was easy to follow between presenting folk music templates, and transforming them through jazz. Anton's voice conveyed drama and fragility, girlish joy and feminine seriousness, while Robert Wienröder's piano created the combination of minor-key commitment and pianistic finesse. The bassist Thomas Kolarczyk and the drummer Jakob Hegner rounded off the band sound with melodic and rhythmic transparency, and sometimes with rock music urgency. If this band doesn't manage to break through, an awful lot of things will need to have gone wrong....

Jakob Hegner
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
LINK: Our December 2017 news piece with the finalists


REVIEW: Dennis Rollins & the Nick Dewhurst Band at the George Hotel, Lichfield

Dennis Rollins with the Nick Dewhurst Band
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Dennis Rollins & the Nick Dewhurst Band
(George Hotel, Lichfield, 7 March 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

Trombonist Dennis Rollins brought inspiration when he came to Lichfield 10 years ago to appear in the cathedral city’s Blues And Jazz Festival and to take part in workshops and performances with the local Netherstowe School Big Band.

Among the young musicians in that band was a promising teenage trumpeter, Nick Dewhurst, and Dennis’s enthusiasm and creative insights helped to spark Nick’s determination to make music his life.
The trumpeter, who – unusually – doubles on guitar, has become a driving force in the Staffordshire city’s music scene, establishing a series of pub gigs featuring his own band and rising stars of the Midlands scene, recording his first album (Suspect In You) with many of his own compositions, performing regularly with regional big bands, and running a lively community big band, Blast Off.

Nick’s latest venture features his band with visiting star players, and he Dennis were reunited on Wednesday in a packed concert at the city’s George Hotel. “It’s so great to be playing with Nick again after all these years,” said Dennis. “And he wrote a song for me!”

The tune, penned for the reunion, was simply called One For Dennis, played as the climax of a gig full of exuberant, intense and solidly-driven playing.

Dennis Rollins with Nick Dewhurst and Tom Moore in the background.
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Award-winning Dennis – born in the Black Country borough of Wednesbury, raised in Yorkshire – is celebrated for the infectious joy of his playing, his  blending of jazz and funk, and for his expert use of electronics to expand the palette of sounds from the trombone. There’s a wonderful sense of lightness in his facility on the horn, a gorgeous, bright tone, and superb control. When he taps into electronic effects – for many years a Rollins speciality – the musical colours take on a stunning intensity.

His  work with his groups Badbone & Co and the Velocity Trio – both of which have won Band Of The Year awards – and with Maceo Parker and a host of bands including The Jazz Warriors, plus pop acts including Jamiroiquai and Blur, has won widespread praise.

With Nick’s band – Callum Roxburgh, tenor; Tom Lindsay, electric piano; Tom Moore, bass; and Carl Hemingsley, drums – Dennis established a funky mood for the show with Stevie Wonder’s I Wish, followed by a lovely arrangement by Nick of Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom.

There were strong versions of Dennis’s own furiously funky Shake It Down, and Nick’s new piece Bird Street Blues, featuring a firecracker solo from the trumpeter.

In contrast to the funky ensembles, a duet version of Duke Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood by Rollins and Lindsay – who switched to synthesiser – was a masterly demonstration of how electronics, experty used, can expand human expression. It will stay in the memory for a very long time.