FILM REVIEW: Richard Turner: A Life In Music

Richard Turner
Photo courtesy of Rob Cope


Richard Turner: A Life In Music
(Directed by Rob Cope. Screening at Royal Academy of Music, 11 April 2019. Film Review by Peter Jones


London’s Royal Academy of Music played host last week to the almost-premiere of a new jazz documentary dedicated to the late trumpeter Richard Turner. Almost, because in honour of Turner’s birthplace, the film was first shown at Leeds College of Music two days earlier. The film was produced and directed by another young jazz musician, Rob Cope, whose regular interview vehicle The Jazz Podcast has enlivened London’s jazz scene in recent years.

For those who didn’t know, Turner was an alumnus of both Leeds College and the Royal Academy. He quickly established himself as both a prodigiously gifted jazz musician and gig promoter. Playing with the pop band Friendly Fires and Gary Husband’s fusion group Drive, he made only one album (on the F-IRE Collective label in 2010 - link to review below) featuring his own compositions - as leader of the band Round Trip. It featured the chordless line-up of Mike Chillingworth (alto sax), Tom Farmer (bass) and Josh Morrison (drums). Turner’s other great contribution to UK jazz, in October 2006, was to launch the Con Cellar Bar gig at the Constitution pub in Camden.

The reason Turner has left relatively little behind was that he died at the shockingly early age of 27. This is not the only reason he has been compared with Clifford Brown, who departed this world aged only 25: Turner’s tone was equally warm and his playing as technically accomplished, sophisticated and lyrical as Brown’s. But Turner was also not afraid to play “out” as and when the mood took him.

Rob Cope’s film, crowdfunded through Kickstarter, is his debut as a director, and has been talked of as the first in a possible series. It held my attention for its full hour-and-a-half running time, a succession of interviewees recalling Richard Turner with a great deal of warmth, humour and insight. Many of them were in the room for the screening, including his mother Christine. We learned, among other things, that as a small child, Richard refused to play the recorder or the violin, and picked up the trumpet instead for no reason anyone could fathom, producing a coherent note immediately. Thereafter he was rarely separated from it.

Richard Turner was a natural improviser who understood very early on the need for narrative – the connectedness and overall trajectory of the notes - in his solos. As well as being highly creative, he was a disciplined musician, constantly transcribing and practising tunes in all 12 keys, and developing musical themes rather than merely reproducing someone else’s work. As a composer, he would often write tunes without giving them a title until the moment he had to play them on stage, much to the discomfort of the band. One was titled Shit Blues.

A powerful and enthusiastic swimmer, Richard Turner died in 2011, his promise snuffed out by a ruptured aortic aneurysm whilst in the water at South London’s Brockwell lido.

Many a documentary has foundered on the rocks of Death by Talking Head, a hazard narrowly avoided by Cope thanks to the quality of his interviewees’ contributions. Likewise, he has rightly eschewed the intrusive authorial voice-over. Many a jazz documentary has actually been shipwrecked on the rocks of prohibitive royalty payments for the soundtrack. This fate, too, is avoided here, thanks to a delicate original piano score and the availability of music from the Round Trip album.

Links: John Fordham's Guardian obituary
Rob Cope's The Jazz Podcast
CD Review of Round Trip by Chris Parker
Our news story with several links and tributes reporting Richard Turner's death in 2011
2012 tribute to Richard Turner by George Crowley

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PREVIEW/FEATURE: Band leader Mike Fletcher takes some imagined questions (MFJO, Surge In Spring 27 April)

Mike Fletcher
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Picasso(s):Interactions is a new suite of music for large ensemble inspired by Picasso's Las Meninas and Coleman Hawkins' Picasso. The Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra will debut it at 1pm on Saturday 27 April at the mac in Birmingham as part of the Surge in Spring festival. For LondonJazz News, Mike answers five questions from an imagined audience member and adds some questions he will be asking his audience:

Imagined Audience Member: What is the connection to Picasso?

Mike Fletcher: At the beginning of my PhD in early 2015 I found myself in Barcelona with some free time so I went to the Museo Picasso, where I discovered his Las Meninas exhibition, which is a collection of 58 paintings that he made based on the much earlier Velazquez painting of the same name. The paintings themselves are, of course, wonderful pieces of art in their own right, but what caught my attention was a short extract from a letter Picasso wrote to his friend Sabartes where the artist explained his process, which I’ll paraphrase here. He said something along the lines of “if I were to undertake a faithful copy of Velazquez’s Las Meninas, there would come a time when I would perhaps be impelled to make a small change, and as a result of this first change more would follow. Gradually it would cease to be a copy and become my (Picasso’s) Las Meninas."

As a jazz musician I found this description to be resonant of the way we improvise on standard compositions. So I decided to see if I could apply Picasso’s process to my own music making.

IAM: What about Coleman Hawkins?

MF: Picasso’s project involved copying a seminal masterpiece of Spanish painting. In order to ‘copy’ Picasso’s process I would have to find a similar masterpiece from within my own discipline. I had already decided that it should be a solo saxophone project, so it was an easy decision to make. I would copy the first great solo saxophone piece. A beautiful coincidence is that the first major recording made by a solo saxophonist was Coleman Hawkins’ 1948 recording Picasso – hence the title Picasso(s).

IAM: Why is this music any different to what you’ve done before?

MF: The most apparent difference is that it represents the first time I’ve done a project completely on my own. That said, perhaps the most important difference in terms of the music is that it is all based on a technique I call ‘pitch limitation’.

Picasso based his Las Meninas entirely on the structure and content of the Velazquez. This is to say that, although he made many changes to the way he depicted Velazquez’ tableau, he didn’t add in any extra figures or objects. I felt like this was an important part of the procedure, so I decided to do the same with the Hawkins piece. In other words, I transcribed Hawkins’ notes, and throughout the piece, these are the only notes I permit myself to use.

In this sense I would argue that this is quite a novel approach to jazz performance because in almost every other type of jazz, the musician is free to choose the notes he or she likes!

The Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra
Publicity picture
IAM: But isn’t Picasso(s):Interactions a large ensemble project?

MF: Yes. The original Picasso(s) was a solo piece (which was the basis of my PhD, and is also available as an album). What I have done with the Interactions stage is to apply the same pitch limitation process to my large ensemble, MFJO. The suite is in three parts, each of which is based on a different way of using Hawkins’ notes, but the common thread is that you won’t hear any other notes throughout the suite!

IAM: Does improvising in this way make a difference to the musicians’ experience?

MF: This was one of the questions I asked myself when I began the project. I can report that it very much does – perhaps more than I had anticipated.

Improvisers frequently talk about the way that they form habits that, over time, lead them to develop certain formulae. As a result many of us try and find ways to stimulate new ideas. The pitch limitation concept was my way of doing this. I have found that, when performing the piece, an idea occurs to me that I can’t complete because the notes I need to complete the phrase are not available. Consequently I have to find a way of resolving the phrase that would not have occurred to me had I followed the first idea. I find this a challenging but very rewarding way of improvising.

Now I have employed the same technique for the large ensemble, the rest of the guys in the band are faced with the same challenge!

Five questions for my audience:

Do you think it is important/valuable for an audience member to understand the processes that musicians use in performance?

If so, do you consider it the responsibility of the musician to inform the listener, or the listener to inform his or herself? If not, why not?

Do you think you would have noticed any difference in musical approach without having had it explained?

Do you think this type of verbal interaction could be relevant to other types of jazz performance?

Is it jazz?

Mike will be asking the audience to consider these questions in a pre-concert talk at the mac, and will discuss them with the audience after the performance in a Q&A. He would also welcome any interaction/feedback via his blog, email or via social media.

Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra: Picasso(s): Interactions is at the mac, Birmingham at 1pm on Saturday 27 April 2019. The project is supported by Arts Council England.

The band: Mike Fletcher, alto saxophone, composition and direction; John O'Gallagher, George Crowley, saxophones; Sean Gibbs, Aaron Diaz, Sam Wooster, trumpets; Kieran McLeod, Richard Foote, trombones; Andy Johnson, tuba; Tom Ford, guitar; Chris Mapp, bass; Jonathan Silk, drums.

LINKS: Mike Fletcher's website

Mike's blog

Surge in Spring: Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra at the mac

The Picasso solo project on Bandcamp

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NEWS: Manchester Jazz Festival needs unsigned musicians (hothouse scheme – apply by 5 May)

A hothouse of a different kind
Free-to-use image
Peter Bacon reports:

Manchester Jazz Festival – or mjf as it is trendily, lower-casedly known – has opened the doors of its hothouse project, an opportunity for musicians from the North of England of any age over 18 to show off their talents at this festival, which runs this year from 23 to 27 May.

Helen Goodman, Talent Development Associate for mjf, explained:

“hothouse is for unsigned musicians at all stages of their career, who haven’t yet secured a major opportunity or commission yet and have a new idea they want to try out. It's a free scheme for artists looking to develop ideas, hone their craft and move onto the next step. hothouse is an opportunity to overcome barriers that may have prevented artists from furthering their careers, giving them the chance to develop an idea in a supportive environment.”

She added: “It’s important to us that we try to reach as many independent artists. There is no upper age limit but applicants must be aged 18+ and be based within the North of England.”

Benefits include up to £2,300 to cover creation time, rehearsals, etc; mentoring with industry specialists; workshops; a 10-15 minute performance slot; networking opportunities.

In order to get the word out she is asking people to share the call-out, and you can do this by just sharing the link to this story. Applications close on 5 May 2019.

LINK: More info and apply here.

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REVIEW: Jazz Jamaica at the Jazz Cafe

Jazz Jamaica
Publicity Photo
Jazz Jamaica
(Jazz Café, Camden. 12 April 2019. Review by Kate Delamere)

If you could bottle a good time, Jazz Jamaica would have it licked. Whatever tough times you’re going through this jazz reggae music group that won BBC Jazz Best Band Award in 2002, will zap your cares away with their powerful and positive upbeat arrangements of classic tunes. They spread joy and happiness like a musical ‘Pollyanna’!

Their enticing elixir is a fusion of ska, reggae and classic and modern jazz styles with a dollop of Jamaican folk songs thrown in. Who’d have known this mix could be so potently uplifting for the human condition!

The group were formed by the inspirational jazz double bassist and one of the original Jazz Warriors Gary Crosby in London in 1991, who was himself inspired by the rhythms of traditional Jamaican music and improvisational jazz. And this creative genius with a magic touch for recognising rising stars has much to be thanked for.

Cara Crosby-Irons practically raised the roof of Camden’s Jazz Café belting out Millie Small’s popular classic My Boy Lollipop and Bob Marley’s Waiting In Vain, joined by the smokey and intense sound of trumpeter Mark Kavuma, she got everyone dancing and making friends in the audience. (I found myself leaping around with Robert – a diehard fan who’s faithfully followed Jazz Jamaica’s beat to gigs at festivals all over the world. And judging by the megawatt smile on his face he’s found more than a new religion – he’s had a positive spiritual conversion.)

Singer Cherise Adams-Burnell helped us lay to rest past heartbreaks with her stunning and emotive rendition of Jamaican recording artist Dawn Penn’s No No No (You Don’t Love Me).

The set also included some awesome solos, such as the sparkling organ one played by Dian Gasper on Harry J Allstar’s reggae instrumental Liquidator – it proved the instrument is the closest to heaven by far!

Each musician, without fail, brought something to the party. Camilla George on alto saxophone was a delight to watch, with a skilful Denys Baptiste on tenor sax and flute, brilliant Rod Youngs on drums, joyful Harry Brown on trombone and perky Pete Eckford on percussion.

Could Jazz Jamaica be a new world religion? I may not have had a spiritual conversion… yet. But they certainly gave me a spiritual awakening.

SET LIST

Green Island
Liquidator
Butterfly
Don’t Stay Away
Waiting In Vain
No No No [You Don’t Love Me]
Eastern Standard
What About Me?
Police and Thieves
My Boy Lollipop

LINE-UP

Gary Crosby,  band leader
Cherise Adams-Burnett, vocals
Cara Crosby-Irons, vocals
Camilla George, alto sax
Denys Baptiste, tenor/soprano sax
Mark Kavuma, trumpet
Harry Brown, trombone
Diân Gasper, piano/organ
Shirley Tetteh, guitar
Gabriel Lord-Baptiste, guitar
Lance Rose, double bass
Pete Eckford, percussion
Rod Youngs, drums

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Fall-Out (Dave Morecroft, Marco di Gasbarro, Simone Memé – UK dates 27 April to 5 May)

Fall-Out
Publicity picture
Dave Morecroft writes: With Brexit clouds still looming and mass uncertainty hanging over the UK and Europe’s jazz and improvised music scene, it seems more important than ever to strengthen existing ties, continue transmitting work across borders and forging new collaborations. Touring work into Europe and importing European artists into the UK, especially for the experimental end of the music scene will potentially be in serious jeopardy, especially in the still touted (as incredible as this may be) ‘No-Deal’ scenario. That said, after the many years of Match&Fuse and my numerous links across Europe, my work finds me pressing ever-onwards along European pathways.

Fall-Out is a new project of mine featuring Marco di Gasbarro (drums) and Simone Memé (video/visuals), both from Rome, seeking to explore a unique and genuine dialogue between improvised music and video in an immersive, live context. I caught up with both of my counterparts to discuss all things Fall-Out, Brexit, the UK and improvisation:

Dave Morecroft: Give me a quick introduction, guys.

Marco di Gasbarro: Hi, I'm Marco Di Gasbarro, I've been playing drums and percussion since I was a teenager, producing music and touring Italy and other countries in Europe, US and Asia with my bands; Squartet, Ay! and others.

Simone Memé: Hi, I’m Simone Memé, visual artist, video editor and motion graphics designer for over 15 years. My research is oriented to the creation and experimentation of visual environments, especially dedicated to performative projects of music and theatre.

DM: How would you describe Fall-Out as a concept?

MG: The idea is of something that happens after an important event, that can be viewed in different ways from different perspectives; take Hiroshima as an example, often described using the words ‘fall-out’ in English – the 'fall-out' included the mass loss of life from a Japanese perspective, but also the ending of Japanese concentration camps in China, the end of the Second World War from a Western perspective, but of course then the huge sense of guilt and responsibility from the American side in the years that followed. From each perspective, this event was lived in many ways, with the ‘fall-out’ resonating differently according to each subject involved.

SM: In my opinion, the collapse that occurs in the ‘fall-out’ of an event, be it a war or a catastrophic event, often comes with negative connotations. In reality, from the rubble comes growth, transformation, and an analysis of what was there before; therefore, often results in positivity, it renders us conscious of what is within the collapsed material, and its meaning.

For example, another ‘fall-out’, the ending of a passionate relationship, with tears, depression, anger, often lasting years; two people meet each other, love each other, and when this ends, it can in fact take a long time for those people to return to serenity again. In these moments, one truly analyses what happened.

I think musically and visually, we as a trio are starting from just before the ‘fall-out’, moving into the moment of suspension in which one must remain, one has to be present, not moving forward, analysing, thinking and reflecting. We can also learn to enjoy this space, this pause in time, outside of reality.

DM: Talk a little about your artistic role in the group.

SM: After many years of working with visuals accompanying music, starting even from drum ‘n' bass nights, I was working with a group of people giving clear meaning and connection between image and music, but this project represents the image instead as a clear part of the improvisation. It asks for a ‘visual listening/concentration’ from the audience, an experience to be had with eyes fully open, which I enjoy a lot.



MG: For me, it’s the first time that I work with live video. I worked in the past creating live soundtracks for existing silent films, which in some ways restricts the musician to follow what there is already, producing mixed results – sometimes you feel a little behind the image as an improviser, as you receive input, but what you produce sonically is not re-elaborated in the image. Instead, in this group, I feel much more inside an organism that responds to external stimulation; the video responds to music and vice-versa. It’s the first time I work with video that is also improvised, which is very rewarding.

DM: How you both feel about coming to the UK for this tour? You both had previous experiences working in the cultural scene there no?

SM: It's my first ever music-tour of this nature, so very excited first and foremost. My previous experiences were a London-based exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute and an interactive installation in Doncaster. In the former, we focussed solely on the exhibition and therefore I had very little time to interact with anything outside of that, and after a week we went away, which was a shame. In the latter instead, we had the opportunity to partake in workshops with children which generated the material for the installation, therefore through communicating with English children and working with them left me with many ideas. I really came home with a different experience, seeing how English children might react to artistic work compared to Italian children.

For this tour, I’m very curious to see how the UK audiences respond to Fall-Out and am particularly interested to see how reactions differ from metropolitan to rural areas.

MG: I toured the UK with my trio Ay! alongside Hot Head Show, in London as well as Nottingham, Bristol and the Unorthodox Paradox festival. Having seen the UK scene from the point of view of a musician, I was happy to experience different parts of the country and how it, and the people, change depending on the region. From this tour, I’m expecting something artistically and culturally stimulating, like the UK itself, and social contexts very similar to what we have in Italy. I think we’ll meet both people who hope for and believe in union, interactions with European people, and also people who perhaps have fear for or about the future.

DM: Which brings us nicely onto Brexit, what are your thoughts from an Italian perspective?

MG: It seems the population is very split, as I was saying, and in Italy we have a very similar situation. Politically, it seems that what is happening in the UK in a way is happening in the whole of Europe, maybe it’s the ‘fall-out’ of what has happened in recent years, a consequence of the ‘third industrial revolution’, of internet, social media, etc. We find ourselves, perhaps across the world, with divisions in society more evident than before. For good or bad, this is the future we have in front of us, what our generation must live through and/or change. Maybe our role as artists, instead of augmenting these divides is to ask why this has happened and give time to reflect on the causes. Brexit is just another way to discriminate against all people on both sides, that doesn’t necessarily reflect the state of things.

SM: This is what we must work on, instead of looking immediately for the easy answer, that is true. I’m worried about potentially having to get a visa in the future though!

Fall-Out play six dates across the UK alongside German trumpeter John-Dennis Renken, who will feature next week in an exclusive interview on LondonJazzNews.

TOUR DATES

27 April – Take Over Festival, Colston Hall, Bristol, BS1 5AR – 3pm
30 April – Number 39, Darwen, BB3 2AA – 8pm
2 May – Tin Arts Centre, Coventry, CV1 4LY – 8pm
3 May – The Regal Theatre Bar, Minehead, TA24 5AY – 8pm
4 May – The Curator, Totnes, TQ9 5DR – 8pm
5 May – The Vortex Jazz Club, London, N16 8AZ – doors 7.30pm

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Carla Cook (Pizza Express Dean St 18 & 19 April)

Carla Cook
Publicity photo supplied

Vocalist Nel Begley writes: Carla Cook is a wicked and groovy jazz singer, with clear influences from various genres including funk, R&B and gospel. She describes herself as not being a 'jazz purist', yet her repertoire clearly personifies her musical background and brings to life the many voices of jazz through the ages. As a singer, I love the way she manipulates her tone so effortlessly, bringing so much spice into each piece, alongside really cool song and ensemble arrangements. Ahead of Easter dates in London, I am pleased to have interviewed her for LondonJazz News:

LondonJazz News: When did you start singing? Are there other musicians in your family background?

Carla Cook: I started singing in my church choir at St. John’s Christian Methodist Episcopal Church at age five. There it was a mixture of anthems, hymns, spirituals and an occasional Carole King tune. Several of my siblings sang in church choirs, but no other musicians are in my family.

LJN: Detroit has produced so many great jazz musicians and so much great music. Are there certain musicians in particular there that inspired you?

CC: Well, there was an extremely vibrant music scene in Detroit while I was growing up. Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave was a local favorite among several others. However, my main source of jazz education as a child was a great radio station WJZZ – I listened to that at first because my oldest brother was a fan. I became an early fan of the station because he bought lots of Miles, Nancy Wilson, Jazz Crusaders and Wes Montgomery recordings and I wanted to hear those artists on the radio. It opened my eyes and ears to so many more artists it took no time at all to become completely hooked!

LJN: Being from Detroit you must have been surrounded and influenced by Soul and Motown music. Who were some of the people you listened to and had an influence on you?

CC: Wow. I love this question because I truly believe all of the music that I loved as a child had an influence on me as a jazz artist. If I may be so bold to speak for all Detroiters, (Ha) all of the music that came out of Hitsville (Motown) was influential. In addition, groups like Parliament/Funkadelic were the soundtrack of my high school years. I have to give a shout-out to the Detroit Community Music School where I studied European classical voice as well. My formative years were full of great music from many genres and it has never dawned on me to shy away from any of it even though jazz is what I love most and it’s where I live.

I listened to a lot of Sarah, Miles, Eddie Jefferson, Ella, Betty, Wes. I think the first singer I started listening to was Nancy Wilson. A ton of her recordings were in my home because of my brother. 

LJN: Were there some musicians that supported, helped and mentored you?

CC: I left Detroit and moved to Boston for North Eastern University at age 18, so I’d only done a few gigs in Detroit before leaving. While a high school student though, there were several kids like me who had plans for a career in jazz and we’d get together and jam and turn each other on to new music quite often. We were basically a self-contained support system. Our parents paid for private lessons and we were already enrolled in Detroit’s prestigious Cass Tech High – so we really believed we’d become jazz artists one day. 

LJN: Of the jazz vocalists did you have any particular favourites, and if so, what was it that grabbed your attention?

CC: This is a tough one. I had favourites in different phases. I went through a Betty phase, an Eddie phase, etc. I supposed if I had to nail down a few that have remained my ultimate favourites.
1. Sarah Vaughan for the warmth, range, beauty and gutsiness of her use of her instrument.
2.  Ella – I still remember being stunned by the idea of improvisation. Me: “You mean it’s different every time?"
3. Eddie Jefferson for the way he’d scat! He made it all sound so fun!
4. Betty Carter, because she was such an innovative voice and carved out her own space in jazz vocal history.

As I think of it, all of these vocalists could scat their brains out and that had a huge influence on me.

LJN: You write songs and you arrange your own material. Do you think it is important for a vocalist to be able to do all this as well as sing.

CC: Absolutely. From a practical standpoint, it’s nice to have a few songwriting royalties come in, but more importantly: fresh ideas! Even if your 'forte’ is song interpretation, one should be able to express musical ideas to add to the pantheon. If you are alive you have something to say. We may not write like Ellington, but some listener out there wants and even needs to hear you express what they are feeling.

LJN: You are going to Barcelona and will be featured in the Global Music Foundation GMF Barcelona '19 week of workshops and concerts there next August. How did that come about?

CC: This is exciting. I was invited  to attend by my dear friend and drummer Stephen Keogh along with an international group of musicians. It’s always a groovy thing when jazz musicians from different parts of the world come together – professionals, students. It seems to me the healing properties of jazz have never been needed more. I personally can’t wait to get together with the cats and catwomen to share stories, workshop, jam and break bread!

LJN: What three things/words of advice would you say to young upcoming musicians now?

CC: I would say learn the history of this music. It’s great to love and be influenced by more contemporary artists, but this music has roots. Like a  tree that you’d like to see continue to grow healthy and strong, its roots need to be nurtured or you’ll soon just have an empty, dead trunk! If you want to add something to the jazz conversation, you can’t start in the middle – you’ve got to know the whole story. Then practise as if your life depended on it!  In short, learn red and blue before you try to get to purple.

Secondly, I’d say to be mindful that this is still a business. That project you poured your heart into may be your “baby”, but if you want to make a living doing this, remember that your “baby” is still a product. 

Thirdly, this is supposed to be fun! If you don’t enjoy making music with all your heart, find something else to do because life is short.

LJN: Are you writing anything now? What plans do you have for the future?

CC:  I’m very slowly working on a project that I hope will honour my old hometown radio station WJZZ. That’s all I’ll say on this because it’s taking a long time to pull things together. In the meantime, I’m doing what I always do – some touring, some teaching and any number of interesting new projects that come my way. Sometimes that’s scary, but it’s also the way I measure my personal growth – taking risks. 

LJN: Do you have anything to say to the people of London in advance of your dates at Pizza Express on 18 and 19 April?

CC: I’m looking forward to returning to Pizza Express. I remember it so fondly because the audience was warm and receptive! I hope to see faces old and new so that we can swing in some good vibes to ward off all the bad stuff taking place on both sides of the Pond! 

Nel Begley is a young, highly talented vocalist, composer and arranger from Leeds. She was awarded a scholarship in 2015 to attend the GMF Tuscany International Jazz Workshop and Festival and she is now teaching, performing and producing at GMF Barcelona '19, 21 July to 7 August 2019.

Carla Cook UK Dates

Pizza Express Dean St
18 April at 20.30h
19 April at 19.00h and 22.00h

Nel Begley's dates are:

26 May Manchester Jazz
Mini UK tour with Rafe's Dilemma in Aug/Sep including
27 August Vortex
29 August Chapel Allerton Arts Festival

SPECIAL OFFER!!

GMF Barcelona '19 - a week-long festival of concerts, jams, participation workshops, classes, beach club and martial arts, featuring Charles McPherson, Carla Cook, Perico Sambeat, Jean Toussaint, Peter Churchill and many more. Info and applications here. Quote this code LJN-BARCELONA-GMF when filling in the online application form before the end of April and receive a discount of €75.00 off the course fee.

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CD REVIEW: Surge Orchestra – Valley of Angels


Surge Orchestra Valley of Angels
(Surge 03. CD Review by Peter Jones)

There’s often a great deal of fun to had from listening to a large jazz ensemble inspired by some off-kilter genius. One is reminded, as always, of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, or of Mak Murtic’s hallucinogenic Mimika Orchestra. Another contender is Birmingham’s Surge Orchestra, brainchild of Ulster-born Sid Peacock. A leading light in many Midlands-based music education organizations, Peacock is the group’s composer and producer. Surge, as you will have guessed, is an acronym for Sidist Utopian Revolutionary Groove Ensemble.

Surge was established in 2013 and has become an intercultural orchestra, performing with the likes of Django Bates, John Mayer’s Indo Jazz Fusion, Congolese vocalist Didier Kisala with English folk string quartet The Froe and Palestinian clarinettist Mohamed Najem. (Future plans include a collaboration with Chongqing Sichuan Opera.)

The Surge sound is distinctive. As well as the usual components of a jazz big band, their line-up includes a number of string players. Generally speaking, Surge are funky. And at different times, various disparate styles are grafted on to this basic groove – one minute they’re in full Irish ceilidh mode, the next they’re rampaging along in madcap Zappa-esque style, and then there might be a bit of rapping or storytelling. Sit the Vampire in the Sun, for example, sets up a lumpy James Brown vibe, with a rapping vocal by Juice Aleem. It funks along very pleasantly, with a nice wordless soaring vocal by Ruth Angell halfway through.

The title track kicks off with a swirl of traditional Irish strings and pipes and features more spoken word, as Peacock retells the story of St Patrick. Lovely drone strings introduce Molly’s Disco Biscuit, which then gets funky, with a rollicking Zappa-esque rhythm break halfway through. The most beautiful tune is Chinese Flowers, recorded live last year, with lush romantic strings, followed by more sweet wordless vocalizing by Ruth Angell. The Zappa-influenced Maniacal Heroics of Number 13 features Jason Huxtable’s excellent marimba-playing. And somewhere in amongst the amiable riot is tenor saxophonist Xhosa Cole, recent winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician competition.

Veteran music cartoonist Birmingham-based Hunt Emerson (who I remember from his work in the Melody Maker) provides cartoony CD artwork which encourages us not to take this enterprise too seriously.

Surge will be appearing on 27 April 2019 at Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, as part of the third annual Surge In Spring festival, where this CD will be launched.

LINKS: Surge Orchestra

Surge In Spring at the mac

Hunt Emerson 

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NEWS: New playlist to draw attention to current Scottish jazz scene

Graham Costello
Photo credit: Jannica Honey


Rob Adams writes:

In an imaginative and admirably proactive venture, saxophonist Matt Carmichael has compiled a Spotify playlist of mostly current music from a Scottish jazz scene that is brimming with talent. The playlist features the likes of Tommy Smith, Corrie Dick, Andrew Bain, Helena Kay, Fergus McCreadie, Graham Costello’s Strata, Georgia Cecile....

Matt Carmichael himself is one of the brightest stars, of whom Tommy Smith has said, ‘he’s better than I was at his age.’

Scotland has produced many great jazz players – citing George Chisholm, Tommy McQuater, Annie Ross, Carol Kidd, Bobby Wellins, Jimmy Deuchar, Joe Temperley (featured in the list), Tommy Whittle, Jim Mullen, and Tommy Smith only scratches the surface – and there are examples in Matt’s playlist who will surely create a generation or two a par with those in whose footsteps they’re following.

 LINK: Matt Carmichael's Scottish Jazz Playlist 

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NEWS: Llandudno Jazz Festival (26-28 July) line-up announced

Some of Llandudno's line-up
Publicity montage
Peter Bacon reports:

Llandudno Jazz Festival offers a wide selection of jazz in rural surroundings over the weekend of 26-28 July 2019 with a warm and lively host in the person of Alan Barnes.

Among this year’s big names are Zoe Rahman, Tony Kofi, Ian Shaw with the Dave Newton Trio, Clark Tracey, Jim Mullen, Art Themen and Nigel Price, plus the irrepressible Barnes playing as well as introducing the bands, and there is a strong theme of tributes to the greats of jazz’s past.

The programme is:

Friday afternoon: Chris Gumbley’s Tribute to Cannonball featuring Bryan Corbett; Tony Kofi with Alina Bzhezhinska.

Friday evening: The Arrangements of Jimmy Heath featuring Liam Byrne; Sara Oschlag with Nigel Price and Alan Barnes; Brandon Allen’s Gene Ammons Project with Tim Lapthorn.

Saturday afternoon: Jim Mullen and Zoe Frances; Zoe Rahman.

Saturday evening: Dean Masser’s Salute to Dexter Gordon; A Different Kind of Blue – Celebrating 60 years since Miles’ masterpiece without re-creating it; All-star Jamtastic.

Sunday afternoon: Dave Newton Trio; Greg Abate with Nigel Price Trio.

Sunday evening: Ian Shaw with Dave Newton Trio; Benn Clatworthy; Giant Stepping featuring Steve Melling; Alan Barnes Octet: Requiem Suite featuring Mark Nightingale and Gilad Atzmon.

A special early-birds concert on Thursday evening will be a tribute and fund-raiser in memory of Ed Burke, co-founder and director of the festival who died earlier this year. Called A Gig For Big Ed, it will feature Sara Oschlag, Alan Barnes, Neil Yates and Tony Kofi.

The venue is Bodafon Farm Park. There will be more acts and fringe events confirmed in the coming weeks.

LINK: Llandudno Jazz Festival website – full information and tickets

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INTERVIEW: Fiona Ross (New Album Fierce and Non-Compliant, Launch Bulls Head, 18 April)

Fiona Ross
Album Cover

Vocalist, composer, journalist and educator Fiona Ross has enjoyed a long and successful professional life, which has included an eight-year stint as head of the British Academy of New Music, where she helped lay the foundations for the careers of Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne. Fiona launches her latest album, Fierce and Non-Compliant, on 18 April at The Bull’s Head, Barnes. Peter Jones asked her about it.

LondonJazz News: The album title sounds like a strong feminist statement – reinforced by the CD cover image. Is that interpretation too simplistic?

Fiona Ross: Yes, it is too simplistic, ha. It’s not a feminist statement at all and in fact the lyrics to the song explain my meaning “but you know, it’s just me #me”. Fierce is a term usually referred when discussing women, same as ‘sassy’ but in reality I don’t see how gender is really relevant to what I am doing. I am just going with the flow, going with the opportunities that are presented, trying to do my thing, work hard and be me – I’m not sure how this is really fierce. Another line explains this: “Is this how you see me? It’s not how I see me”.

The album title came about when I posted a tweet about a year ago about being ‘fierce and non-compliant’ as a kind of motivational thought really, and someone replied saying that would be a fab album title. I agreed and then decided that I would call my next album that – just because I liked the title, no reference to anything other than that. But then when I started writing, it all came into this place that all linked together and made sense.

LJN: Tell us something about the bassist Snow Owl, and which tracks is he on?

FR: Snow Owl plays on two tracks Don’t Say and I Don’t Want It. He is a Grammy-nominated world-renowned bassist and an incredible human being. I first met him when I interviewed him for Jazz in Europe. I was busy writing my album and while writing Don’t Say on the third chord, I could suddenly imagine him playing on the track, messaged him and he said yes. I finished that song with him in mind and wrote another one too. We were just organising recording the songs and he invited me over to Vienna, which is where he lives. We had a day in a castle – which is where he recorded his Blue Road album.

LJN: How did you meet saxophonist Kim Cypher?

FR: Well actually, I first met her on the session! But we met virtually through social media. I interviewed her when I was working for Jazz UK and we have stayed in touch and followed each other ever since.

LJN: What governed your choice of the other musicians? (You’ve worked with most of them before, by the look of it).

FR: I have worked with Marley Drummond, Derek Daley and Gibbi Bettini on my last three albums and they used to be my students at the British Academy. The rest of the musicians (Adam Hayes, Ashaine White and Loren Hignell) are who I work with live, with the addition of trumpet (Adam Brown) for this album. My choices are completely governed by how wonderful these human beings are and how passionate they are about music. Genuine and real people. And of course, amazing players!

LJN: How did you learn about being a producer? Was it easy to make those “kill your darlings” decisions?

Fiona Ross
Publicity picture

FR: I am still learning! Don’t think I will ever stop. This is the third album I have produced and I am growing with this. I always like to control the whole process, so initially fell into the role by default really, with my second album, but then stepped up a gear with the last two. I love experimenting with different recording locations and techniques. When I was teaching, I did teach Music Production and in fact was an examiner for A-level Music Technology once, so I have some knowledge. I have not had to make any “kill your darling” decisions yet, but I can be objective!

LJN:  You’ve been quite prolific – I counted four albums, including this new one, in three years. Do you find writing original material comes quite easily?

FR: At the moment, yes. I have loads of ideas and could happily spend all my time writing. I am aware that probably won’t always be the case, though. I spent a lot of time writing for other people, so I guess now I am writing for myself, I’m just going with the flow!

LJN: Who’s on the launch gig?

FR: Mostly the same people on the album, which is my normal live line up – Gibbi Bettini, Derek Daley, Lorne Hignell, Adam Hayes, Ashaine White. (pp)

LINKS: Fiona Ross album
Album launch tickets

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CD REVIEW: The Matthew Herbert Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band – The State Between Us


The Matthew Herbert Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band – The State Between Us
(Accidental. 2CD set. Review by Mark McKergow)

Composer, singer and writer Matthew Herbert has worked for two years on this immense outpouring of creativity inspired by Brexit. The result is an extended howl of anguish from all sides, sometimes beautiful, sometimes angry, sometimes ironic, exploring soundscapes, songs, texts, samples, choirs and even jazz.

Herbert says that this is not an anti-Brexit project – it draws on all manner of inputs from over 1000 people, and “attempts to work out what a new kind of relationship with our European neighbours may look like”. This fact has not prevented the likes of right-wing commentator Melanie Phillips and UKIP from pouring scorn on the project; Herbert’s response is to turn some of this abuse into lyrics.

Herbert tells us that he started work on this opus when Article 50, the formal notification that the UK intended to leave the European Union, was triggered. Moving around the country, Herbert has collected a vast array of sounds from around the country; a cross-channel swimmer, a factory being demolished, an empty harbour, a lone cyclist riding around Chequers and many many more. These form a basis for the extended recording, some two hours of tripping through landscapes of sound, song and symbolism.

Sometimes this symbolism is none too subtle. The opening A Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions features the (beautifully recorded) sound of woodland and meadow, culminating in the firing-up of a chainsaw and the felling of a tree. Fiesta starts with huge bowed double basses which are joined first by brass and then choirs in a dramatic and threatening pose. You’re Welcome Here offers a delectable vocal lead from Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne backed by an orchestra recorded at Abbey Road. Run It Down, inspired by comments from Patrick Minford about British manufacturing and agriculture, sports some fine flugelhorn playing from Enrico Rava amidst urban and rural sound rhythms.

There is so much in this sprawling collection that it’s worth dipping in almost anywhere. The focus moves from Grenfell Irish border to German reunification to the Second World War, with Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade juxtaposed with a wartime aircraft and sounds from Yemen in 2018. Jazz enthusiasts will enjoy Byron Wallen’s trumpet solo on Where’s Home, the brass orchestral music developing into a deep groove. The combination of sounds through the whole work put me in mind of some of Keith Tippett’s mega-group work from the 1960s and '70s – swirling mayhem giving way to hear-a-pin-drop stillness, textures and solos.

Overall this is much more than an album. It is a vast art project in the broadest sense, pulling together people, input and material from all over the world. Various iterations have been performed internationally leading to the big album launch on 29 March 2019, which was of course due to be Brexit day. As we now know, it wasn’t. Both Brexit and this project go on, with another performance planned for Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here festival on 17 August 2019. And after that, there will no doubt be a PhD looking at all the connections and imagery of Herbert’s overwhelming project.

LINK: Album preview video

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REVIEW: Henry Lowther's Still Waters Quintet at Cambridge Modern Jazz

Still Waters: Henry Lowther (foreground) and Dave Green
iPhone snaps by Sebastian Scotney
Henry Lowther's Still Waters Quintet
(Cambridge Modern Jazz at the University Centre, Granta Place. 11 April 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

“At times he ventures farther afield […] challenging, even defying, conventional notions of tonality and melodic structure. Vocabularies, syntaxes, and aesthetic conceits that heretofore might have been considered incompatible meld together….”

These are words that have actually been used to describe the playing of another, much younger trumpeter. But listening intently to Henry Lowther's playing last night in Cambridge, and contemplating his astonishingly varied career in music, I was thinking that this is exactly what the 77-year-old Leicester-born master trumpeter has been doing for decades. His facility on the instrument, the freshness of his imagination, his capacity to surprise – they are all still there in abundance. Each intake of breath brings the certain knowledge that by the time he takes the next one, he will have confidently taken the listener somewhere completely unexpected. A convincing phrase-shape will have been made, a new idea invited in, a surprise will have been sprung.

For this habitué of recording studios over several decades, there is never a duff take. Every utterance is exactly as it is meant to be. His variety of attack and delay seem limitless. His flugelhorn tone on a tune like Golovec is a thing of beauty. For his soloing on T.L. it was as if Kenny Wheeler was in the room. And that idea brought a maudlin thought with it: Lowther's precious and wonderful craft, and the level at which he is now playing, won't necessarily be around forever. We should be treasuring it properly and for as long as we possibly can.

The Still Waters Quintet plays mostly Lowther's compositions, and the variety of inspiration makes for a balanced, varied and satisfying programme. The band's two albums, almost 20 years apart, contain tunes inspired by such diverse influences as Moroccan Gnawa, Finnish palindromes and astronomy. For more on this variety, I'd recommend Ian Mann's incredibly detailed review of the album. Astronomy and humour were to the fore in White Dwarf the most intricate, energetic and punchiest tune in the programme. It was also a reminder of Lowther's deep involvement in the free improv scene from the '60s onwards.

By way of total contrast, this gig also had its moments of repose and reflection, particularly in the tune Golovec. Just before the final statement of the tune there was a moment of sheer magic from Dave Green, who has been a stalwart of Still Waters ever since the band started in 1987: total simplicity, space and poise. If it was a "solo", it certainly wasn't about either display or swagger, it was about giving the moment what it needed in precisely the right quantities: sound, presence, anchoring, solidity and elegance.

Pete Hurt's saxophone playing is an ideal foil for Henry Lowther, and his skill at weaving lines counter-melodist is as good as it gets. Drummer Paul Clarvis never fails to bring life, energy and joyful provocation, particularly in the incongruous yet enlivening reggae backbeat to Too Young to Go Steady. My ear was also taken by the quality of mutual listening. These players have always absorbed the previous player's solo, and have a way of validating and showing approval for what has gone before. Barry Green at the piano was particularly adept in showing that organic link.

This was just the third gig at Cambridge Modern Jazz’s new venue, their Thursday night gigs having recently moved to the Cambridge University Centre in Granta Place. For those interested in the building's 1967 brutalism go HERE. The building is just next to the river, the Mill Pond and the punts. Immediately next door is that Cambridge institution which was once known as the Garden House Hotel, to which the words “riot” (1970) and “fire” (1972) were always appended, and which now, rebuilt, hides its turbulent past behind corporate anonymity as “The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cambridge City Centre”). The seats in the University Centre are all comfortable. There was a good-sized and attentive audience last night. And, please, the facts that the drinks prices at the bar are so low and that the house wines are so good had better be kept secret.

L-R: Dave Green, Pete Hurt, Paul Clarvis 
SET LIST (all tunes by Henry Lowther except where stated)

Can't Believe, Won't Believe
T.L.
Amber
Capricorn (Pete Hurt)
Something Like

Too Young To Go Steady (McHugh)
Saippuakauppias
Oh, What a Beautiful Morning (Rodgers)
Golovec
White Dwarf
For Pete (Tribute to Pete Saberton by Pete Hurt)

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CD REVIEW: Le Rex – Escape Of The Fire Ants


Le Rex – Escape Of The Fire Ants
(Cuneiform Records Rune 464. Review by Peter Slavid)

The Washington DC based label Cuneiform has championed  avant-garde jazz, prog-rock and generally “difficult” music for over 27 years. Unusually for an American label it also includes a lot of European music in its back catalogue including our own Led Bib, Soft Machine and Empirical.

In 2018 they were forced to shut the label down for a period, for all the same well-documented problems faced by independent record labels everywhere. But they are back now with a fine set of new releases including this, the fourth album from Swiss band Le Rex.

The title track is a good example of the band's style. There's a strong brass driven groove to the music led by the powerful bass sound of Andreas Tschopp's trombone and Marc Unternährer's tuba alongside the thumping drumming of Rico Baumann. And then the music morphs into a delicate trombone solo, and then back into a groove. This is very danceable jazz with echoes of marching bands in some of the tunes. The band is notionally fronted by Benedikt Reising on alto and Marc Stucki on tenor although in reality all the instruments take their share up front as is often the case in a chordless band.

In the past Le Rex have recorded albums out in unusual locations and they see themselves as a street band that's matured. This is a studio album but they have clearly tried hard to keep that street feel.

There are ballads too, and intricate arrangements which still leave room for solos. The track One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy sits over a slow tuba bass and develops a dramatic, almost menacing power out of which emerges a slightly spooky saxophone solo. In contrast the lyrical Elliot's theme has the delicate retro feel of a swing band.

Other ballads such as Tschopp’s Ballad For an Optimist get subverted. While it starts with a lovely trombone melody, before long it turns into another dance party. Oddly it's followed by the final track, Der Knochige Dürre which features the only appearance of some ferocious squealing improvisations from the tenor.

This is a band with a great sense of fun. Ideally you would want to see them on an open stage in the sunshine, or in a busy club with room to dance, rather than in a concert hall. They tour regularly in Germany and Switzerland and have had one large tour in the US and a shorter one in Ireland – but it would be great to see them here in the UK.

Meanwhile this album will hopefully form part of a revival in the fortunes of Cuneiform, one of the  great independent record labels.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz and various internet stations.

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NEWS: Tommy Smith celebrates Queen's Hall, Edinburgh's 40th with four concerts

Tommy Smith
Photo: Derek Clark

Tommy Smith is helping to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Queen's Hall in Edinburgh. Rob Adams reports:

Saxophonist Tommy Smith has been invited to give four concerts at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh this year as part of the venue’s fortieth anniversary celebrations (QH@40).

Smith, who was appointed OBE for services to jazz and education in this year’s New Year Honours List, is revisiting his 1996 commission for Glasgow Jazz Festival, Beasts of Scotland, for the first concert, which takes place on Thursday 18 April. “Beasts” will feature a sextet which comprises Smith alongside Andy Panayi (saxes) and Tom Gordon (drums) from the original recording plus James Copus (trumpet), and Pete Johnstone (piano) and Calum Gourlay (bass) from Smith’s current quartet.

The Queen’s Hall, a former church on Edinburgh’s southide, opened in 1979 and quickly became associated with top line jazz attractions, initially through the trailblazing Platform organisation and then through hosting Edinburgh Jazz Festival and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra concerts and its own in-house promotions.

Among the many significant musicians who have appeared there are Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, George Russell, Wynton Marsalis and the Gil Evans Orchestra. Smith, who grew up in Edinburgh, has played there many times – singer Kurt Elling remembers going to see him play at the Queen’s Hall when he was studying at the University of Edinburgh in the late 1980s – and he celebrated his 21st birthday at the venue with a concert featuring him alongside Chick Corea and Gary Burton.

Following the Beasts of Scotland concert, Smith will feature in his duo with pianist Brian Kellock, with special guest, leading Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes on 13 June. His widely acclaimed ‘Coltrane’ quartet, Embodying the Light, appears on 17 October and he gives a solo saxophone concert on 19 December. All concerts feature support by groups and musicians who have come through Smith’s youth orchestra and the jazz course he initiated at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

"The Queen's Hall has been a regular venue for me throughout my career," says Smith. "I can remember aspiring to play there as a young musician and it's been a pleasure to work there with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra's many guests – Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Benny Golson et al – as well as my own bands and with Arild Andersen's trio. It feels like going home when I step through the door and I’m looking forward to being back there so often this year."

LINK: Beasts of Scotland booking

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DOWNLOAD REVIEW: Animal Society – Rise


Animal Society – Rise
(Available from Bandcamp. Download Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Animal Society is a new band led by guitarist Joe Williamson, winner of 2018's Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year. Part of Glasgow's lively jazz scene, Williamson is also a member of Square One and Strata. Animal Society has more in common with Strata, not least sharing drummer Graham Costello and a similar approach to music, mixing jazz and heavy progressive rock.

Rise is labelled as an "EP", though at just under 40 minutes of music it is perhaps the perfect length for those of us raised on LPs. It opens with the title track: a thunder of drums and a loud chord that wouldn't sound out of place in early '70s Deep Purple, say. It's making a statement. This is loud jazz. That chord gives way to a pretty heavy riff, too.

There are quieter moments, even in the loudest tracks. And loud moments in the quieter pieces, too. Even during the riffs, there are subtle keyboard trills and punctuation, provided by Alan Benzie and Craig McMahon, who together play keys and synthesisers.

Even at its loudest, there is a focus on melodic development. Williamson's guitar solos are both searing and attractive, and Benzie and McMahon's synthesisers play complex lines and weave in and out of the guitar. Costello's drums and subtle bass playing by Gus Stirrat balance the sound so no one instrument dominates.

Williamson cites the Esbjorn Svensson Trio as an influence, and I can hear similarities with the post-est recordings by Magnus Öström, the drummer in est. The four tracks on this EP display a range of dynamics so that the melodic ethic isn't hidden even in the louder moments. Animal Society made their live debut only four months ago; that they have produced a such an impressive record as Rise in so short a time bodes well.

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

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FEATURE: Guitarist Alex Scheuerer

Alex Scheuerer's album launch at Pizza Express Dean Street
L-R: Alex Scheuerer, Paul Michael,Mike Horne, Chris Whiter
Photo from Alex Scheuerer's website

Jazz guitarist Alex Scheuerer talks about writing music, finding inspiration and his roots following the release and launch of his new album, Between Heaven and Earth. Feature by Daphne Bugler:

The jazz notes from Alex Scheuerer’s guitar still hang in the air of his London flat as he says hello, and I suddenly realise I’ve interrupted him practising. He tells me he is preparing a new cover song to debut at a jazz club on Friday. It’s Paper Doll by John Mayer. I ask him how this fits in with his style, and he assures me it's going to be a jazz version, full of improvisation and funky riffs. He’s transcribed the song completely by ear in an afternoon...

At 27 years of age, Alex released his first album Between Heaven and Earth on 31 March. He’s been writing it for almost two years, finding time between his hectic schedule as a session musician and jazz performer to create his own music. The album had its debut with a gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club. His album is full of original compositions as well as two covers. It’s fun, relaxing, and a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

“The album came about because I have been playing a lot of other people’s music at the moment, but I felt like I wanted to do my own stuff, and so I started writing,” Alex explains in his elegant Swiss accent. He moved to London from Geneva in 2010 in order to attend music college (BIMM). “Music school is where I found jazz. They had a jazz course and I realised how it opens the possibilities of my playing a lot more. I felt like there was so much more to learn from jazz and I am still learning today. I love the music and the freedom of it.”

For Alex the attraction of jazz is in its emphasis on collaboration. “You are never really sure what’s going to happen when you start playing with other people because you create music on the spot and it's all about improvisation. I really love that feeling.” Couldn’t that lead to tensions though if people change what you’ve written? “Maybe sometimes when you’re recording,” he explains, “but if we play live you want people to explore.”

Alex started playing guitar at a very young age. “I guess it will be 20 years next month... I started with music theory and then studied classical guitar at the Geneva Conservatory. At the beginning I didn’t really like it though,” he says, clearly finding the irony. “I like the classical guitar now, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do and I just wasn’t passionate. When I became a teenager I picked up my first electric, and I started playing every day. I played as much as I could, honestly 5-6 hours a day. I started with blues and rock, but it wasn’t until my degree that I got into jazz”.

Between Heaven and Earth contains a wide variety of songs. “I draw on so many different things when I’m writing”, Alex continues. “London Flavour, the second song on the album, is about meeting musicians in London and has a much more funky vibe, while Between Heaven and Earth, the title track, is for my mother. She is originally from Lebanon but was forced to leave the country due to the Civil War in the 1970s. I wanted this song to reflect her journey.”

“My friends don’t really like jazz music,” the guitarist added. “The song Flirting With Sounds is for them. They have a strange taste in music if I can say so,”, he laughs. “I wanted to write a song to show them jazz can be modern and good and interesting. It has a drum and bass feel and they actually liked it. It’s their favourite song on the album.”

One of the covers Alex chose to include is Diamonds by Rihanna, an unusual choice, and featuring London-based French-Morrocan singer Najwa Ezzaher. “I was really inspired by Robert Glasper,” he told me. “He does unique arrangements and I love his playing. If I could collaborate with anyone it would be him, and that’s what this song says.”

It’s only up from here for Alex, and the jazz scene in London does truly seem to be coming back into full swing. “Guys like Tom Misch, Submotion Orchestra and Jordan Rakei are really bringing jazz back by incorporating elements of it into their music. You can hear it in so many venues every night now...”

So where does Alex want to play? What is his dream venue? “I would love to do the Montreux Festival. We’ll have to see how it all goes won’t we.”

Daphne Bugler is a Freelance Journalist in London and can be found at @daphnemb96

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INTERVIEW: Gabriel Latchin (new trio album The Moon and I out now, touring from 28 April)

Gabriel Latchin
Photo: Rob Blackham
As pianist Gabriel Latchin sets out with his trio on a UK tour to mark the release of his second album The Moon and I (released 5 April ), Rachel Coombes caught up with him to talk about musical and familial influences in his latest work.

London Jazz News: Your music sits firmly within the classic jazz piano tradition, and your style reflects some of the great players of the 20th century. Among these, who would you count as your greatest musical influences? 

Gabriel Latchin: I’ve thought often about this question – it’s the people I listen to the most and those I try to imitate. So, Barry Harris is very important to me, and Cedar Walton. I go through phases – Oscar Peterson was the first, but that was a while ago. I then had a Bill Evans phase, followed by a Herbie Hancock phase. So I suppose Bill, Herbie, Barry and Cedar are the main guys, although there’s obviously a lot of overlap between them.

LJN: Are you going through a particular ‘phase’ at the moment?

GL: Probably right now it’s Cedar Walton. But they’re all there in my work – they all have their turn. I should add Sonny Rollins to the list; he’s of equal importance to Barry in terms of music I’ve spent the most time with. I sometimes forget these phases, and my wife reminds me, “You used to talk about Bill Evans all the time” – she sort of acts like my memory. I can trace most melodies and phrases back to very specific people; you learn by working out what these musicians are doing, how it works and how it can be applied, so with every little thing that I know now, I can remember exactly where I got it from. It could just be one or two seconds-worth of music but the way you finally use it feels very profound, and is not something I can forget.

LJN: I was imagining a vast mental textbook of lots of phrases and patterns from which one picks and chooses, but I imagine it’s a more instinctive process than that?

GL: It’s both. Of course there is specific vocabulary within the jazz language. I remember having a lesson with Aaron Goldberg once, and he said something along the lines of: “You can play well and it can feel good, but if you’re not playing the right language then it just isn’t jazz.” It’s not as if you’re just playing someone else’s licks, it’s simply that that is the vocabulary. Funnily enough, there’s a great Charlie Parker lick that everyone plays, and I found that the earliest source of it was from Liszt’s Consolations, written almost 200 years ago – it’s exactly the same. That obviously happens a lot with Bach too: all these minor II-V-I progressions were all there in his music.

LJN: You’ve said that you measure yourself only against what you think you can do. This shows a certain humility, but also a belief in your musical instincts. When did that instinct kick in and guide you towards a career in jazz piano?

GL: It was very gradual: I’d already been playing for a while up in Scotland, and I applied to the Guildhall in London, slightly last minute. One of the tutors at the aural exam asked: “Why do you want to be a jazz musician?” I simply said: “I am a jazz musician”, and he laughed and left it at that. My path was a little unorthodox – I was studying economics and was tempted to stay in that field. At Edinburgh they wanted me to do a PhD, but I was already playing and getting involved in the music scene. In fact even at school I was in bands so I suppose it all started then – although of course I didn’t consider it could be a career at that point! But eventually I found I was playing all the time, and making some money, so I thought “maybe I’ll try this when I graduate...”. I was amazed at how easy it was to go from being an academic student to a musician, but I guess life in Edinburgh is a little bit easier. After a few years I moved down to study it more formally, and it went from there. I assume it’s the same for a lot of people in the arts – it just sort of happens, and we’re focused on the art rather than the career side of things.

LJN: As well as being taught by some of the best American jazz pianists around, you also had tuition from sax player Grant Stewart and guitarist Peter Bernstein. How did these non-pianists shape the way you understand music and perform it?

GL: Well, Grant Stewart definitely comes from the Sonny Rollins mould, who as I say, is a huge influence. One of the main topics I discussed with both Grant and Peter was the melodic material of the right hand. As pianists we always start with chords, and I’m trying to get away from that and think more about melody being the most important aspect. They also had very insightful things to say about comping, and I had great opportunities to perform with them.

LJN: You’ve collaborated with a host of great musicians including saxophonists Ronnie Cuber and Alex Garnett, vibes player Nat Steele and vocalist Salena Jones, as well as with larger ensembles.  Could you pick out one or two that have been particularly formative for your solo career?  

GL: The most high-profile gig I’ve done was at the Wigmore Hall in 2016 with Christian McBride and Renée Fleming (report and photos) – that was where the title of the album comes from [the 'Moon and I’ is a lyric taken from the Hubbell and Golden standard Poor Butterfly, which was the first piece they performed together]. Otherwise, I feel I owe a lot to the singer Atila, who I work with often. A pianist needs those ‘employable’ skills – understanding the piano’s role in a band, knowing a lot of repertoire, taking care of intros and endings: the piano player is the bridge to the rest of the band and the rhythm section, which is an enjoyable responsibility. I’ve learnt this from working with him so much, and learning so many songs from him. It’s really helped to shape my whole musical output, in quite a straight-ahead ‘Sinatra’ way.

LJN: Your debut album, Introducing, came out in 2017 but was actually recorded in 2014. What’s changed in your musical world over the last five years?

GL: I think my music has changed slightly – the main thing I’d say is that I think it’s a lot better! Which I suppose I would say... but this time round I thought “Okay, I need to be a lot more prepared” for recording: I considered the arrangements more carefully, so we weren’t wasting any time in the studio. For the first album I had two and a half days of recording time, which just seems so excessive now. I was talking to the great piano player David Hazeltine in New York a few days ago; I’d heard a rumour that he recorded what I think was his latest album in two hours – I asked him about it and he said: “No, no. It was more like four.” And to be honest it wasn’t really that different for me with this album. I’d got the whole day timetabled – it’s such precious time and it was quite an expensive studio! Jazz has a reputation of being ‘made up’ or ‘in the moment’, and of course you need some of that to make it exciting. But much of it can be highly worked out before.

The Gabriel Latchin Trio – Dario di Lecce, left, and Josh Morrison, right
Photo: Rob Blackham
LJN: You’re joined by Dario di Lecce and Josh Morrison for the new album. How long have you been working together as an ensemble?

GL: I’ve been playing with them for many years, especially Josh. I seem to be working with Dario all the time in other groups too (with Atila and Sara Dowling for example) – we have a great connection. We met at Ronnie’s, and I remember Josh saying: “Have you heard this guy, he’s just moved to town?” Straight away it was a really nice vibe. We did so many unadvertised gigs together – those are the ones when you really get to know somebody’s playing.

LJN: There are four of your own originals on the new album, each one inspired in some way by a member of your family, or, in the case of Peek a Bu, the jazz family around Art Blakey. Could you talk a bit more about these pieces?

GL: Obviously starting a family is a big thing. Being a musician is nice in the sense that I’m around all the time during the day. Often I’ll be playing or working on something and my two boys will be very present, and wanting to be involved somehow. I started working on the first track Arthur Go when my eldest son Arthur was just beginning to talk: he was just able to put two words together and talked about himself in the third person at this point. He came in the room, and I played the tune to him and asked what we should call it. And he said “Arthur go!” – so he named it. Although it’s funny because after he said that he quickly left the room, so he was actually just talking about himself leaving... But he’s so proud of the song now that he can read his name.

I wanted to end the album with something for my other son Oscar (whose nickname is Pippy). Like Arthur Go, it’s based on I Got Rhythm by Gershwin. Oscar wasn’t involved in naming it as he couldn’t talk yet but the name is a nod to the ‘delight’ theme in jazz titles (Our Delight, Tadd’s Delight, etc).  After naming these songs after my kids, I think my wife thought “Well, hang on, I’ve been around for 15 years – haven’t you forgotten something?” Brigi, My Dear is probably one of the hardest pieces on the album – it’s in the key of E which is not a common jazz key. It’s the only one on the album that is an entirely original composition. Peek a Bu, which is dedicated to Art Blakey (who was also known as Bu), is simply a minor blues – the form and the shape is already there.

LJN: What inspired the choices behind the very varied covers that you’ve included in the release - from sunny Sinatra hits to the blues of In Love in Vain, to the bossa nova electricity of Só Danço Samba?

GL: They’re a combination of pieces I’ve been really inspired by over the last few years, and ones that I’ve been working on with the guys. Most importantly I had to think about the programming of the whole album, and had to ask myself “if it were a set, what do we need to balance? What’s the first thing you hear?” Again I tried to think about these details a lot more this time round. It’s good to have something very fast, to contrast with a ballad, and I wanted to have a Latin, groovy work. Só Danço Samba starts as a bossa but turns into more of a '60s Blue Note boogaloo type vibe...

LJN: You’ve got a busy few months ahead touring the new album; are there any other collaborations or projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

GL: Yes, part of the reason I went to New York was to think about possibly recording something over there with some American guys. I spoke to a few people for some advice and to see who might be up for it. Going into it I thought it would be a piano trio, but maybe it’s time for a change – perhaps a two horn thing... So no definite plans yet but I am thinking ahead and hope to do something within the next 18 months. My plan is five albums before I’m 40 – that’s what I’m working towards.  Otherwise, I’ve got these collaborations that I’m doing all the time; I’m working a lot with Sara Dowling, and I might be recording with Nat Steele again soon, for his MJQ project. (pp)



The album launch of the Gabriel Latchin Trio's The Moon and I is at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on 8 May 2019. Tickets here.

TOUR DATES

28 April – Herts Jazz, St Albans
3 May – South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell
4 May – The Bear Club, Luton
8 May – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London  * ALBUM LAUNCH
28 May – Electric Theatre, Guildford (quintet performance **)
31 May – Newport Methodist Church, Isle of Wight
8 June – The Verdict, Brighton
13 June – All Saints Church, Hove
19 July – Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead

* with Steve Brown on drums.
** with Sam Braysher on saxophone, Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Marianne
Windham on bass.

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INTERVIEW: Zbigniew Namysłowski (Behind The Iron Curtain, 18 April)

Zbigniew Namysłowski
Photo credit: Filip Błażejowski
Zbigniew Namysłowski is an icon of Polish jazz and the first Polish musician who ever recorded an album in the Western Europe (Lola for Decca, 1964). In 1965, Krzysztof Komeda invited him to record the Astigmatic album, widely regarded as one of the milestones in the history of jazz music. He is an unsurpassed master of the Polish jazz dialect, who managed to work out an original musical language, understood both by Polish and world jazz audiences. Zbigniew Namysłowski and his Quintet will perform in London on 18 April 2019 as part of the Cold War Experience at ICA / Baltic Restaurant. The phenomenal saxophonist and composer was interviewed by Tomasz Furmanek in Warsaw:

LondonJazz News: You recorded your debut album Lola in London in 1964 for Decca. It was the first album ever recorded by Polish musicians in the so-called West. How did this happen?

Zbigniew Namysłowski: After the success of my quartet at Jazz Jamboree Festival '63, we were invited several times to the United Kingdom for tours. During one of these English tours our manager Roman Waschko managed to agree, in his own way, with a publisher and the Decca label. I do not know the details, in any case we did not get any money from that (laughter), but the manager made money on it, so that’s how it looked like then… (laughs) These were really big tours all over England, Wales and Scotland, we were almost everywhere, lots of concerts, and basically any place we played we were very successful! We even had so-called followers who followed us from one concert to another just to listen to what we played again. Well, apparently, a rumour about us had spread and Decca decided to record our music.

LJN: It looks like you showed something really different then, since it whipped up such an enthusiastic response?

ZN: Perhaps it was because of these pieces of music that were absolutely unusual for a standard jazz playing. We had songs like Siódmawka or Piątawka in the programme, inspired by Polish mountain folklore. In addition, we played few ballads of mine, like Beautiful Lola Flower of the North, and something else more folkloric too, and these were the forms that had never been heard there before. It seems to me that it caused a very big interest, because it was completely different from everything that people knew there. In other words, not only was I a musician from behind the “iron curtain”, but it also turned out that this musician had his own voice and showed something... innovatory.

LJN: The fact of releasing an album in the UK by a Polish musician was a great and unprecedented event at that time. How was it received in the then communist Poland? Were there any problems because of this?

ZN: Oh, no, not at all. We did not have any problems then, jazz was an exceptional music, it was instrumental above all, performed without words, so no one was afraid that we would pass on any undesirable contents. And we were probably the only artistic group then that had no problem with getting passports. Of course, we always had to wait for these passports, but we always got them eventually, and after some time Pagart, our then state-owned artistic agency, arranged somehow with the Ministry of Internal Affairs that passports will be kept with them, so we did not have to apply for them anymore each time.

LJN: The authorities in those times did not see any risk associated with jazz music anymore at that time, they even took the opportunity to show how they would let their artists perform around the world, didn’t they?

ZN: Well, that's it, that's true... so we had this special privilege then, we were allowed much more than others... However, when it comes to the album Lola itself, it was unobtainable in Poland, so just the few who managed to go to England bought it there. Even from New Zealand they were bringing these records of mine (laughs)... However, we recorded a similar repertoire a bit later in Poland for Polskie Nagrania label.




LJN: Krzysztof Komeda invited you to record an Astigmatic album with him. The album is widely regarded a masterpiece and many international critics consider the recording a beginning of the influential Polish School of Jazz. How do you remember that?

ZN: Krzysztof just invited me to play a concert and then to record this album. Generally, I did not play – and I would not play – in the Komeda band, because I always dealt with my own affairs and composed myself the repertoire for my band. In case of playing, for example, in Komeda's band, I would have to be only a performer of someone else’s music. Nevertheless, it was a great cooperation, and this album turned out to be a huge success and constantly gains first places in the rankings of the best Polish jazz albums.

LJN: What does the term "Polish School of Jazz" mean to you? What is your take on it?

ZN: To tell you the truth, I do not know what the “Polish School of Jazz” was about in the case of Krzysztof Komeda... Because I simply do not know what was so Polish in Komeda’s music? In my opinion, it was a very American music. But Polish musicians played it and it was recorded in Poland, so it was a Polish record. However, I know that from the very beginning, since my very first composition, I was involved in Polish music, in such a sort of a marriage of Polish folk and jazz music.

LJN: One could say that you started to play world music – more specifically a fusion of jazz and world music – before such a term as world music existed!

ZN: I think so! (laughs). Actually the crowning achievement of my “folky activity” was the album I recorded with the highlanders 20 years ago. At some point I told myself that I already had enough of folk music, that I would not do it anymore, and there was quite a long time that I wanted to play only pure jazz or even funk. I even founded the Air Condition band, which played such sort of a lighter funky music. Nevertheless, I have always had some folk music notes appearing in my music, be it highlander or kujawiak or oberkas... I did such things a lot. It seems to me that maybe the Polish School of Jazz is a kind of connecting jazz with Polish folklore.

LJN: When you started to play fusion of jazz and Polish folk and recorded your outstanding albums, like Kuyawiak Goes Funky or Winobranie, it was something very new at the time and nobody did it before. What kind of an artistic vision was it a result of?

ZN: I wanted it to sound different than the so-called pure jazz. If I tell the truth, I did not force it in any way, it was not a result of any concept. My first jazz composition for a jazz quartet, played at Jazz Jamboree in '63, was called Piątawka, and for some unknown reasons it contained various motifs from highlander music... I was asked many times about the reasons for these folk elements in my music appearing from the very beginning. It seems to me that it might come from the fact that in the music school during the ear training lessons we worked with a book called A Small Solfeggio by Józef Lasocki ... It was a song book in which the author put a great deal of folk melodies. In the music school I was attending in Krakow we sang it and I liked it very much, and because I was good at solfeggio I often sang these tunes for myself, so maybe it stuck somewhere in my head and maybe because of that when I started composing , these folk phrases appeared.

LJN: So you were open to the "openness of your mind"?

ZN: It happened without my conscious participation… And it still happens that way. I can only repeat that I did not force myself to it.

LJN: Your concert in London on 18 April will be a highlight of this year's Kinoteka, and specifically the "Cold War Experience" event, which will be a celebration of cinema and Polish jazz from the period depicted in the movie “Cold War”. I know you saw the movie, what are your impressions?

ZN: To tell you the truth, I could not cool down for many days – such an impression this movie made on me!

LJN: Is the way the film shows those times realistic, similar to those in your memories?

ZN: Oh yes, yes! I do not know how much the scenes in French clubs are faithful to the times, although I have just imagined it in a similar way I saw on the screen and it was very well shown, but all that has happened to Poland, all this process of searching talent and the later preparations, including Stalinist songs performed by a folk band, it was extremely faithfully reproduced in this film.

LJN: And what will the London concert be like, what will you play?

ZN: Just for this concert, we were specifically asked to play something older, so we extracted from an old drawer the Kujawiak and we will play it in its entirety, it is a suite made up of three parts. We will also play, among others, the One, two, three, four piece... It will be a full-scale concert of my most famous compositions written and played in the period of which the “Cold War” narrates. We warmly invite you!

Zbigniew Namysłowski Quintet @ Behind The Iron Curtain – an evening of film, food and music inspired by Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War

Thursday 18 April 2019, 6:15pm – 11pm
ICA (after the screening transfer to Baltic Restaurant & Bar)
The Mall, St James’
London SW1Y 5AH

LINKS: Bookings for the Behind the Iron Curtain Evening
Zbigniew Namysłowski artist page at the Adam Mickiewicz Institute

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