NEWS: Two Rivers Records launches first two albums at the Vortex

Calum Gourlay


Sebastian writes:

A celebratory cake, a brief speech from label boss Alya Marquardt, plus a lot of goodwill (and people) in the room, and the deed was done. Last night March 4th 2015 saw the launch of a new label Two Rivers Records and the release of two of its first three albums:

- Live at the Ridgeway - Calum Gourlay (solo bass)
- the debut CD of Tobias Delius/ Olie Brice / Mark Sanders

Tobias Delius, Mark Sanders, Olie Brice recording the album
Photo credit: Two Rivers Records


We interviewed Calum about his album HERE

The common thread around these albums is not stylistic, but the scale. Both projects have been performed at the house concerts which Alya Marquardt runs in her Clerkenwell flat. The third of the three albums in the initial batch of releases will be her own: Chai Party by her band Alula celebrates her Iraqi heritage and was recorded in New York, featuring Amina Figarova on piano. The launch will again be at the Vortex on April 6th.

The two rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates: Alya is British-Iraqi. Forthcoming releases will also  include an album from Snowpoet (Lauren Kinsella/Chris Hyson). The current aim is to release seven to eight albums a year. As Oliver Weindling said presenting the cake to Alya Marquardt..Welcome!

LINK: Two Rivers Records on Facebook

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REVIEW: Native Dancer, Kinkajous and Olivia's Owls at TheLexington

Frida Touray


Native Dancer, Kinkajous and Olivia's Owls
(The Lexington, 3rd March 2015. Review by Dan Bergsagel) 

'Post-jazz' is not a term to be used lightly – perhaps for obvious reasons - but on Tuesday night it truly encapsulated the progressive stance held by the three groups that featured at the Lexington. It was an evening of EPs (each local band showcasing recent work) and an evening emphasising ambiance and texture, ably aided by a sound technician with an ear for warm bass.

Olivia's Owl launched proceedings with endearing patter about pyjamas and non-fiction essays as bassist and composer Hedi Pinkerfeld laid the bedrock for tenor explorations and tight rhythmic sequences. Their open pared down setup was contrasted by the following acts' embrace of the wonders of on-stage electronica. Kinkajous' dedicated electronics man Rick Timpton stood amongst cables and laptops adding to the cool high speed cymbal taps of drummer Benoît Parmentier. With tight and refined compositions, their sound stands favourably abreast with folk-jazz popularisers Portico Quartet or experimental electro acoustic Jaga Jazzist, perhaps an irresistible reference thanks to Adrien Cau's beautiful bass clarinet work.

However the future truly arrived with Native Dancer: their synths and samplers easily outnumbering the quintet as they worked to emulate the mood of their high production record. Each with a number of toys to play with in addition to their primary instrument, there was not a moment left without layers of sound being daubed on or phased in and out. Frida Touray's rich voice and stories of love and revenge led the line as the group played with an easy rapport to a home crowd, mixing the odd cover into their set of brooding ballads and pensive breaks. Their eclectic influences peaked through, with Sam Crowe and his keys bringing in Fat Freddy’s Drop dub electronics and late period Zero 7 grooves.

Native Dancer were at their strongest when in full instrumental flow, such as in single Love, with the switch from lethargic opening to Jon Harvey's rapid jabbing bass powered by Ulysses hyperactive drums, together providing the high-energy backdrop for Josh Arcoleo on tenor. These live moments provided a visceral counterpart to their clean pop debut EP, full of bouncy bass, compressed drums, clean piano and reverbed sax.

Unexpectedly, one of the most successful fusions of the evening saw Touray join Kinkajous on stage. Given a melody to explore and a controlled house beat to support, her voice shone. This is what is so important to the London jazz scene: this ever-lurking potential for musical crossover. With musicians of the calibre of Arcoleo shifting nightly from exciting contemporary jazz sextets like Mike Chillingworth's to hybrid jazz acts like Native Dancer, evenings like this are pregnant with new talent. Parading under a Wayne Shorter album name, it might be tempting to assume Native Dancer to be nostalgic post-bop or jazz fusion. But it is instead the spirit of his famous 1974 album - that popular openness and genre-crossing fusion – that is being kept alive.

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REVIEW: Pizza Express All-Stars 35th Anniversary Reunion

Dave Shepherd, Digby Fairweather,  Roy Williams
Tim Huskisson, Len Skeat, Stan Bourke

Pizza Express All-Stars 35th Anniversary Reunion
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, 22nd February 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

You know how it is with reunions. Glad hands all round but a certain amount of shuffling and adjustment as familiar relationships rebuild after a while apart. And so it was at Pizza Express last Sunday, as a mixed bag of one-time All-Stars came together for this one-off gig. With the ever-enthusiastic Digby Fairweather fronting, former All-Stars leader Dave Shepherd on clarinet alongside, they took a while to find their collective feet, only the rock-solid bass lines laid down by Len Skeat keeping everything on the proverbial even keel. Gradually, though, trumpeter Fairweather’s cheerful stylistic mix of Wild Bill Davison and Billy Butterfield began to gain a tighter focus, with the 86-year old Shepherd on clarinet only marginally less adroit than in his heyday and Roy Williams on trombone at or near his declamatory best. Result? A kind of freewheeling Dixieland style that gradually built up steam, the rhythm section of guest pianist Tim Huskisson [it was always the late Brian Lemon’s gig], life-long All-Star Skeat and the veteran drummer Stan Bourke seeking and finding a basis for agreement.

The last version of the All-Stars was led by the late Tommy Whittle, a man who sought and achieved musical order whenever he played, and who kept the band on a well- arranged pathway, often using charts penned by the late Allan Ganley. Candidly, I yearned for something similar rather than the ‘what are we going to play next?’ scenario that pertained here. Still, the righteous sounds achieved on There’ll Be Some Changes Made and the final Royal Garden Blues each with stunning breaks by Williams brought a smile to every face in the room. Most notably to that of the mighty Peter Boizot himself, founder of Pizza Express and this house band’s original patron and principal instigator all those years ago, down from his Peterborough home and an especially welcome visitor to this warm-hearted occasion.

Further gigs are planned and as the song wryly says, ‘things can only get better’. Still, just hearing Shepherd in a quartet version of All I Do Is Dream of You was a joy all in itself. Roll on, All-Stars!

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PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW Gareth Lockrane (Big Band at Ronnie Scott's March 22nd)

Gareth Lockrane

Flautist GARETH LOCKRANE, one of the busiest players and educators on the UK scene will be bringing his big band back to Ronnie Scotts on March 22nd. Sebastian asked him about it:

LondonJazz News: Gareth it's been quite a while since your Big Band was last at Ronnie Scott's...

Gareth Lockrane: Yes. we last played there in 2010 and it was a fantastic night for me and the group.

LJN: And Ronnies is special?

GL: Ronnie’s still has a certain magic for me; I was lucky enough to catch the mid 90's era when I first moved to London and to see my idols there like Joe Zawinul, Steve Grossman, Elvin Jones, Betty Carter, Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins and the Brecker Brothers up close every night for a week was truly thrilling and the stage would take on this “hallowed ground” aura after one of their sets.

LJN: Your big band has always had quite a celebratory feel. Where does that come from?

GL: Part of what makes a big band fun is the combination of individual soloists and partnerships within the band, all combining with a healthy team spirit to make something that at its best can be expansive, epic, and intimate at the same time. I do love to feature solo passages and duo & trio combinations within the band to provide some breathing space between the more lavish moments in the compositions.

LJN: What music will you be playing?

GL: There’ll be a mix of influences in the set for anyone who hasn’t heard the band before; it’s all my tunes with shades of contemporary jazz, film music, funk, soul, hard bop, New Orleans, probably a hint of the influence of Herbie Hancock, Thad Jones, Mike Gibbs, John Scofield, Gil Evans and my old friend the late, great Bheki Mseleku amongst many, many others. I’ve gone through many different phases and influences in my writing and I hope it’s just developed fairly naturally.

I do have a taste for fairly extreme stylistic changes in my big band sets and alongside the more cerebral moments you’ll hear what I refer to as my “Mexican Wave” groove tunes! I haven’t actually achieved a Mexican wave yet on a big band gig, maybe this could be the night.

LJN: And the line-up for the 22nd?

GL: Julian Siegel (tenor) and Phil Robson (guitar) on board, astonishing musicians who can adapt to anything; everybody’s favourite collaborator Ross Stanley (keyboards) fresh from his triumph last weekend on the Andrew Marr show; a double-threat lead trumpet team of Andy Greenwood and Tom Walsh; a truly-world class trombone section of Mark Nightingale, Trevor Mires, Barnaby Dickinson and Lewis Edney on bass trombone and tuba (the idea of the band was originally hatched 15 years ago with Lewis on a whisky-sodden plane journey!).

LJN: And the trumpets?

GL: my old friend Steve Fishwick on trumpet has always been one of the most natural improvisers I know but somehow manages to get stronger and even more resourceful as a player every time I hear him (his new New York recorded sextet album is particularly killing, I particularly like all of it) and also Robbie Robson who originally played in my septet and has always been one of my favourite creative players on the scene.

LJN: And the saxes? 

GL: Sam Mayne and James Gardiner-Bateman, two very different players who work brilliantly well together; the incredible Graeme Blevins on tenor sax who is one of the most versatile musicians I’ve met and improvises with an immense force and incredible flow of ideas. Richard Shepherd on baritone and bass clarinet, who has brought a bit of barmy energy to the whole thing – I can just randomly point to him to solo on anything and he’s up for it! (He has some otherworldly memory skills I think, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him.)

LJN: And the rest of the engine room?

GL: Also in the rhythm section we have Ryan Trebilcock on bass who’s been a lynchpin of the band for a long time now, a fantastic musician comfortable on acoustic and electric basses who relishes a challenge, and the fabulous Tristan Maillot on drums who did our very first gig back in 2008 and around whom many of my arrangements were crafted. Tris and I have spent many a long car journey poring over bootleg recordings of the band, trying to refine the whole thing.

LJN: Please can I start a rumour that there is going to be a CD of the Big Band?

GL: At some point soon I’ll record it! People keep asking me when I’ll do it so it’s nice to know there’s some interest out there. I have to admit organizing something of that scale has been a tall order recently with two small children at home but I’m going to do it in 2015 somehow. Watch this space…


LINKS: Gareth Lockrane Big Band at Ronnie Scott's 22nd March
Interview with Gareth Lockrane by Xantoné Blacq from May 2014

Gareth Lockrane previews a 2012 Big band gig
Review from the 2010 London Jazz Festival
Review from September 2009
Review of the band's second ever gig in March 2009

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NEWS: Second JazzFM Awards announced for 10th June



JazzFM and Serious are announcing a second edition of the JazzFM Awards to be held at Vinopolis by London Bridge on 10th June 2015. These awards will also mark the twenty-fifth birthday of the broadcaster. There will be eleven awards:

Breakthrough Act
Instrumentalist of the Year
Album of the Year
Jazz Innovation of the Year
Live Experience of the Year
UK Jazz Act of the Year
International Jazz Artist of the Year
Blues Artist of the Year
Soul Artist of the Year
Vocalist of the Year
Lifetime Achievement – to be presented to Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis will perform at the ceremony. Sponsors are Aberdeen Asset Management, Taylor’s Port, Mishcon De Reya and Arqiva.

Today's is the first news release. Later releases will detail which are going to be public-voted categories and which will be decided by the judging panel, together with more about the nomination process in general.

LINK: January 2013 -  inaugural JazzFM Awards Report

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REVIEW: Jazz for Labour at the Barbican

Soweto Kinch, John Etheridge, Courtney Pine, Andy Sheppard, Arun Ghosh
Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit: © Mick Destino

Jazz for Labour
(Barbican Hall, 27th February 2015. Review by Brian Blain)


An astonishing assembly of talent, emulating a similar concert in New York by US musicians in support of Obama in 2012 filled the Barbican Concert Hall last Friday in an impressive show of support for The Labour Party under the strapline of ‘Fairness and Diversity, surely banishing for ever the old jibe about Labour’s obsession with trad.

From the opening slot, an astonishing tour de force of multiphonics, circular breathing and looping from Andy Sheppard standing dramatically alone on the vast stage, right through to the glorious finale of Courtney Pine, the UK’s James Brown of jazz, dragging Sheppard, Jay Phelps and Arun Ghosh on stage to join his guitar and percussion-heavy band to get the normally serious crowd on its feet in an unembarrassed display of fist-pumping to rhythmic chants of Unity, we had been treated to as thrilling a cross-section of talent, as broad and deep as anywhere in the world.

Arun Ghosh, Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit:© Mick Destino


Just to hear Arun Ghosh’s cheery South Manchester accent explaining the Bengali folk origins of one of his band’s exciting tunes summed up, for me, the beautifully inclusive vibe of the whole eveningand a spirit of togertherness that is the jazz culture at its best.

Not all was heady excitement in a crowd pleasing way. Juliet Kelly,with sensitive accompaniment from Kate Williams followed Sheppard’s virtuosic opening with song inspired by the story of a mother’s escape with her children from slavery in the Deep South, Christine Tobin, majestic warm and wonderfully authentic, as ever, gave us a Brazilian song by Milton Nascimento and one by Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat while someone new to me,the stunningly statuesque Vimala Rowe, with the excellent Alex Webb Café Society Band, after a bawdy vaudevillian number, climbed the Everest of lacerating musical social comment, Stange Fruit, and won; a tremendously brave and convincing performance.and yet another example from the history of late thirties Café Society’s breaking down of racial barriers, of jazz’s radical roots.

Claire Martin, Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit:© Mick Destino


Three of the greats, Liane Carroll, Claire Martin and Ian Shaw had solo spots, and Ian had some sharp thoughts on the Commonwealth’s tolerance of the persecution of homosexuals, in contrast to his normal pinsharp wit, which was followed by the three singers leading us in a bout of community singing on You’ve Got a Friend, the Carole King classic. Not jazz? Who cares? We know they can do it and we love the way they canget down with the rest of us mortals and just have a good time.

Of the instrumental ‘real’ jazz offerings Tim Garland’s scratch quartet reminded us that there is a lot more to him than the neo-classical influences of his own music, and to hear the great John Marshall roaring on Afro Blue, on the big stage where he rightly belongs was a rare treat:bassist Gary Crosby looked as if he thought so as well. And with guitarist Phil Robson laying down the harmonic base this sounded as good as any permanent group any where-onl real musicianship produces results like these in such a high powered situation.

John Prescott, Daris Brubeck, Rachel Reeves
Jazz For Labour, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit: ©Mick Destino

Darius Brubeck’s band was a delight too, and after a dreamy Latin-esque backbeat feel tune he dedicated Ghost of A Chance to John Prescott, whose half time pep talk, alongside rising Labour star Rachel Reeves, had included the own up that he was a musical conservative - as if we didn’t know John. A reminder here of what a beautiful tenor player Dave O’Higgins is and why bassist Matt Ridley is making waves all over town. He cropped up again in the totally different context of Soweto Kinch’s team of radicals,with another magnificent drummer, Shaney Forbes and Jay Phelps, who can blast like an Eldridge when he wants but here was suitably down and moody on the opener when I imagine Prescott would have been enjoying himself at the bar in hearfelt escape.

Ah yes, Soweto Kinch-a marvellous player and socially aware musician yet here he was following that with a rumbustious rap based on words shouted out by the crowd, beginning with he letters L-A-B-O-U-R. Great fun and the acknowledgement that sometimes you just have to let showbiz rule. For once, another of jazz’s great wits, supreme guitarist John Etheridge was lost for words but his Goodbye Pork Pie Hat said all that was needed. Altogether an inspiring evening which was the brain child of one-time MP, who hopes to be again, Bob Blizzard and which would not have been the smoothly run occasion had it not been for a number of people working together to make it happen, notably Alex Webb.

Jazz For Labour producer Bob Blizzard, Barbican, Feb 2015
Photo credit: © Mick Destino

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NEWS: Programme announced for Guildhall Jazz Festival (Mar 21-27)



The prrogramme for the week-long Guilhall Jazz Festival (formerly The Guildhall Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe) has been announced. The two ticketed events featuring Scott Stroman, an evening with the Guildhall Jazz Singers performing Ellington's second Sacred Concert, and a Kenny Wheeler tribute with the Big Band look particularly interesting.  Our pick of the free events is the E17 night on the Monday. The following is the full programme and blurb as announced:


FULL PROGRAMME

Saturday 21 March, 4pm, Lecture Recital Room

Junior Guildhall Jazz Band
Directed by Oliver Weston and Jonathan Taylor.

Small group and Big Band jazz from the Guildhall School’s thriving Junior department. Includes music by Marty Paich, Tim Garland, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie and Kenny Wheeler. Admission free


Saturday 21 March, 7.30pm, Milton Court Concert Hall
OPENING NIGHT | Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert

Guildhall Jazz Choir and Ensemble
Guildhall Jazz Singers
Directed by Scott Stroman

Ellington's Second Sacred Concert, premiered in 1968, contains some of the jazz legend’s best music. Guildhall professor Scott Stroman has streamlined and rearranged it into a new 40-minute Suite from the Second Sacred Concert, vastly increasing the contribution from the singers.

The Guildhall Jazz Singers, the School's select close-harmony singing group, presents its unique take on jazz standards in the first half.

Tickets: £15 (£10 concessions, free for Guildhall staff and students), available from the Barbican Box Office: 020 7638 8891 barbican.org.uk



Sunday 22 March, 7.30pm, Silk Street Music Hall

Tribute to Billie Holiday - Guildhall Jazz Ensemble directed by Ed Puddick

Ed Puddick directs a 12-piece ensemble celebrating Billie Holiday's continuing influence on the world of jazz, 100 years after her birth. This unique performance will feature brand new versions of melodies associated with Lady Day, arranged by third-year undergraduate students and Puddick himself. Admission free



Monday 23 March, 7.30pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Guildhall Jazz Ensemble directed by Carlos Lopez-Real

Carlos Lopez-Real directs the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble, playing music by members of the E17 Jazz Collective, which he founded in 2007. The flagship band of the collective is the 13-piece ‘large ensemble’, which features John Turville, Dave Manington, Jez Franks, Tori Freestone and other great musicians including Guildhall jazz faculty members Brigitte Beraha and Robbie Robson. Tonight the ensemble recreates that band, playing music by Carlos as well as John Turville, Dave Manington, Robbie Robson and others. Admission free



Tuesday 24 March, 7.30pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Guildhall Alumni Jazz Ensemble
Featuring The Tommy Andrews Quintet

Former student Tommy Andrews leads this group of eminent Guildhall School alumni, performing a set of expanded arrangements from his debut album, The Crux. The second set will feature the celebrated Tommy Andrews Quintet, performing the through-composed Galilean Suite. Admission free



Wednesday 25 March, 7.30pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Vintage Jazz Night
Directed by Martin Hathaway

This year, the much-loved Vintage Jazz Night focusses on the Swing Era, featuring music by Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and a special tribute to the Stephane Grappelli / Django Reinhardt 'Quintette du Hot Club de France'. Admission free

Thursday 26 March, 7.30pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Guildhall Improvised Music Ensemble directed by Sarah Gail Brand with special guest Mark Sanders percussion - Tribute to John Stevens / Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Expect the unexpected at the festival’s Improvised Music Night, which this year pays tribute to visionary British drummer John Stevens and the free improvisation group he co-founded in the mid-60s, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Admission free




Friday 27 March, 7.30pm, Milton Court Concert Hall
Tribute to Kenny Wheeler

Guildhall Jazz Band & Singers
Directed by Scott Stroman

The festival finale pays tribute to the late, great Kenny Wheeler – trumpeter, composer and innovator – with a special programme that includes a performance of his landmark Sweet Time Suite.

Tickets: £15 (£10 concessions, free for Guildhall staff and students), available from the Barbican Box Office: 020 7638 8891 barbican.org.uk

Throughout the Festival (afternoons)
Jazz Small Bands (free admission)

Sunday 22 March, 3pm & 4pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Monday 23 March, 3pm & 4pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Tuesday 24 March, 3pm & 4pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Wednesday 25 March, 3pm & 4pm, Silk Street Music Hall
Thursday 26 March, 4.30pm & 5.30pm, Silk Street Music Hall


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PREVIEW / TWO-FOR-ONE READER OFFER: Joyce Breach (Pizza Pheasantry Mar 4-7)



Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote review in the New York Times last October and called Joyce Breach "a beloved longtime fixture on New York’s cabaret circuit. Her refined taste… coincides with an appealing homeyness and a warm, easygoing personality."

Breach, whose assured way with the great songs is often aligned with that of Barbara Cook wrote to us: "I am thrilled to be back in London. I appeared several seasons at Pizza on the Park and I’ve also appeared at Crazy Coqs. Recently we released a new cd, number 14 for me, called “Moments Like This”, with some truly wonderful musicians, including Mike Renzi on piano and Jay Leonhart on bass."

We have a Two-for-the-Price-of-One offer, limited while stocks last. LondonJazz News readers should quote the word "Moments" to take up the offer. This offer is only available by phoning telephone number 020 7439 4962.

MOMENTS LIKE THIS at THE PHEASANTRY, from WEDNESDAY 4 – SATURDAY 7 MARCH

JOYCE BREACH with Graham Harvey (piano)

THE PHEASANTRY, 152-154 KINGS ROAD, CHELSEA, LONDON DATES: WEDNESDAY 4 – SATURDAY 7 MARCH TIMES: 6.30PM (DOORS) 8.30PM (ON STAGE) TICKETS/COVER: £25 BOX OFFICE: www.pizzaexpresslive.com  /  www.joycebreach.com

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CD REVIEW: Rudresh Mahanthappa - Bird Calls



Rudresh Mahanthappa - Bird Calls
(ACT 9581-2. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)


Almost 60 years after his death, Charlie “Bird” Parker is one of the most copied saxophone players and his influence pervades much contemporary jazz. In Bird Calls, Trieste-born, New York-based alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa avoids imitation and translates Parker’s classic music into the language of the 21st century.

Even familiar tunes are so rigorously transformed that one has to delve deeply to appreciate what’s going on. For instance, On the DL – which includes an energetic drum feature for Rudy Royston - is based on “Donna Lee”, but the source material is completely deconstructed and only the briefest fragments remain. Maybe Later is built from the rhythm of Parker’s solo on “Now’s the Time” and has a totally different melody; you’d have to be highly skilled to get this without prompting! During Gopuram (the tower at the entrance to a temple), the religious ritual of circumambulation is referenced in a humorously veiled take on “Steeplechase”.

Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill is definitely one to watch. Just out of his teens, the son of pianist Arturo (and grandson of the late Chico) has worked with the likes of Benny Golson and Kenny Burrell and co-leads an ensemble with his drummer brother Zack. Recalling Parker with Dizzy Gillespie, Both Hands – drawn from “Dexterity” – starts with a fast unison figure for alto and trumpet. When the horns separate, O’Farrill plays with the assurance and controlled swagger of, say, Woody Shaw and Charles Tolliver.

There are five short pieces entitled Bird Calls. Some are introductions to more substantial creations, others appear to stand alone. The first, for the full quintet, has echoes of Mahanthappa’s South Indian heritage; the fourth is a bass solo, during which you can visualise François Moutin’s sweat flying as his hands blur over the fingerboard. Another spotlights the excellent pianist Matt Mitchell.

Not everything is obscure. The stately ballad Sure Why Not? dispenses with the metres of “Confirmation” and “Barbados”, yet parts of their themes are left intact. Chillin’ - an exhilarating re-working of “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” - is another highlight. Mahanthappa delivers one of his most powerful solos on Talin is Thinking, which is named after his young son and rooted in “Parker’s Mood”. He says, “....what I play still sounds like Bird, just a little displaced. It’s coming from the same language and the same foundations”.

Actually, I don’t think that Mahanthappa sounds like Bird at all; he doesn’t possess Parker’s bluesy rhythmic drive, and his tone is more rounded. But it’s not about imitation. Mahanthappa’s compositions on Bird Calls are an intelligent and timely tribute to one of the greatest figures in jazz, and his new album rewards close attention.

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CD REVIEW: VEIN feat. Dave Liebman - Jazz Talks



VEIN feat. Dave Liebman - Jazz Talks
(Unit Records UTR 4556. CD review by Mike Collins)


Swiss trio Vein blipped brightly on UK jazz radars last year with an appearance at the Vortex alongside Greg Osby, and their previous release, Vote for Vein, that wowed London Jazz News reviewer Eric Ford (link below). The follow up Jazz Talks, this time with Dave Liebman as collaborator in chief and a sprinkling of live dates in April and May, will make sure they are really noticed. The new album, recorded in an afternoon and, they say, with no rehearsal is a tour de force.

There’s no pinning them down. Shuffle your play list for this album and the selections that emerge will lead the casual listener in different directions. There are loose, deconstructed standards propelled by a visceral, obliquely stated swing. All The Things You Are opens the set with Liebman sketching out the familiar intro. The band somehow coalesce around the theme and by the time Liebman and pianist Michael Arbenz are spooling out lines and weaving around each other’s phrases, there’s an unstoppable momentum. Autumn Leaves gets similar treatment. Negative Space, a Liebman composition, has a long, rhapsodic piano intro, before a closely scripted theme gives way to some impassioned blowing by Liebman on his familiar soprano sax: intense, contemporary jazz. Originals from the core trio members, pianist Michael’s twin brother Florian Arbenz on drums and Thomas Lähns on bass, steer things in different directions again. The taut, off-kilter funky groove of Stories of the Century gives way to some fiery blowing. Jammin’ in the Children’s Corner has the whole band in unison for the hooky theme over a swinging rocky groove that’s sustained through an extended, fizzing joust between sax and drums. Clear Light by contrast is more tone poem, Liebman’s wooden recorder soaring over textures and slowly moving harmony. Improvised ‘small talk’ is threaded through the album, duo conversations between each band member and Liebman.

While the references and styles may be divergent, this band has a vibrant, distinctive personality and it’s rooted in the earliest jazz. Pianist Michael cites Art Tatum and Fats Waller as influences, an exposure that began early for him and his brother through their father’s record collection. In an email exchange he suggests they draw on the sense of a collective approach to improvising as well as structures that use stops and ‘shout’ like choruses to shape and colour the music. It’s music that is vividly current as well as being rooted in that consciousness of jazz history.

The closing track You and the Night and Music begins with a more explicit reference back to that swing feel before developing into a burn-up, Dave Liebman on tenor letting rip and his hoarse cries providing a great finale to a diverse, top drawer session.

- Jazz Talks is released on 6th April

- Vein Trio will be appearing with Dave Liebman

May 28th The Vortex, London
May 29th Birmingham Conservatoire

- Vein Trio will be touring in April

April 21 St Ives Jazz Club
April 22nd Grimsby Jazz club
April 23rd Newcastle University
April 24th Capstone Theatre, Liverpool

LINK: CD Review: Vein - Vote for Vein

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CD REVIEW: Pete Neighbour – Back in the Neighbourhood



Pete Neighbour – Back in the Neighbourhood
(www.peteneighbour.com. CD review by Peter Vacher)

Nicely presented on what I take to be his own label [no label ID or number indicated] and available via his web-site, I assume, this is clarinettist Neighbour’s homecoming recording. Why homecoming? Well as the short booklet note explains, he lives in the States most of the time and seems to have built quite a career over there but wanted to record on home territory with some old friends.

So he enlisted on-form pianist Dave Newton, vibes player Nat Steele, bassist Andy Cleyndert, hard-swinging drummer Tom Gordon plus guitarist Jim Mullen to play a series of familiar pieces. Happily, familiarity in this case has only bred zest, especially when you take the opening I Want To Be Happy into account for this is very lively indeed, Neighbour’s Benny Goodman-like clarinet on top through a series of fast-moving key changes. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is prettier, the clarinet sound nicely centred with Steele’s vibes rippling through with Newton finding bluesy touches in his solo. Of course, the instrumentation evokes Goodman’s line-ups but happily for this listener, there’s no question of note-for-note replication, Steele opens up rewardingly every time he solos, a song like I May Be Wrong But I think You’re Wonderful moving easily, as Neighbour offers a clear-toned solo. Vocalist Louise Cookman is added for You Make Me Feel So Young, sounding poised and relaxed, with Newton’s solo a proverbial corker. Opus One is stronger but then it always was, as Neighbour stretches out over Gordon’s stirring beat with bassist Cleyndert as imposing as ever as Mullen puts his impeccable stamp on things, ahead of a moving reading of Ellington’s Come Sunday, nicely paced by Neighbour.

So, a pleasing encounter with a strong commitment to swing, and a neat reminder of America’s gain in finding a place for Neighbour in their musical scheme of things. Should sell well at gigs. Incidentally, the impressive personnel is not listed on the CD front or back – the names only noted in paragraph four of the text and no composer credits are shown. Shame.

LINK: www.peteneighbour.com

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INTERVIEW: Paul Booth - Debut CD by Richard Rozze , Learning to Fly

Paul Booth (left) with Richard Rozze
Saxophonist PAUL BOOTH's Pathway Records label has just released the debut album by guitarist RICHARD ROZZE, "Learning to Fly". In this email interview with Sebastian, he explains the background:  


LondonJazz News: Paul tell us about Richard Rozze and how you got to know him

Paul Booth: Richard Rozze and I met years ago while he was still at Sir Roger Manwood's School in Sandwich, Kent. I'm local to the area and have been living in Ramsgate since the late nineties. I got asked to play at the school with a local band and various musicians got up to jam, including Richard. Even at that age he really stood out from all the others and I remember thinking to myself, I'll be seeing this guy again. Sure enough after several years and I believe while he was still doing his degree at Canterbury Christchurch College University, he came along to the jazz club in Ramsgate that my parents and I have been running for years. From that moment on we became good friends and over the years have ended up playing in many musical settings.

LJN: Where did the idea of this album come from

PB: Richard asked if I'd like to play on his debut album, I naturally said yes and went one step further. After setting up my record label Pathway Records a few years ago I thought Richard's music would be a very welcome addition to the catalogue, he agreed and here we are. He assembled a wonderful group including Malcolm Edmonstone, Andrew Bain and Dave Whitford. Richard composed most of the music for this album and I believe you can really hear his multi-genre influences throughout, embracing what is essential a jazz album and yet dipping into other worlds of rock and folk. There are two covers on the album, an achingly beautiful version of Wichita Lineman and the jazz standard Solar, played freely as a duet between Richard and myself.

LJN: Paul you're the busiest guy in showbiz how/ why have you found the time?

PB: Haha, well I've been lucky enough to be particularly busy the last few years between my extensive work with Steve Winwood and a stint with the new show from the producers of Riverdance, Heartbeat Of Home. When I'm not touring with Steve I'm usually back in the UK gigging around the jazz scene with various artists, recording and running my own projects. In fact Richard plays two tracks on my forthcoming album Patchwork Project. I try to use my time constructively and find myself more and more wanting to only play music that I connect with, which brings me to answer your question, I connected with Richard's music and we managed to make time to record the album.

LJN: You play every horn - which ones are to the fore here?

PB: On this album I'm playing my main instrument the tenor sax for the most part, and alto on one track.

LJN: Is it a one-off or are you already making other plans?

PB: I can't speak for Richard but I'm certain it won't be too long before there's another release from him. He's an artist with with much to offer as a player and composer and I'm very much looking forward to following his direction in the years to come.

LJN:  When are you launching and where will the CD be available ?

- The album is now available to purchase and download on multiple websites - here are the links to iTunes and Amazon.

- Learning to Fly was released on 23rd February and will be launched at the Ramsgate Music Hall, Turner Street, Ramsgate, Kent on April 11th.

LINKS: Pathway Records
Richard Rozze's website has extracts from the album


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PHOTOS: Courtney Pine, John Prescott, Rachel Reeves, Darius Brubeck, Claire Martin... - Jazz for Labour 2015

THIS PIECE NOW INCORPORATES BRIAN BLAIN'S REVIEW. SO THE PHOTOS HAVE MOVED TO...

...HERE

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CD REVIEW: Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff



Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff
(ECM. 470 8937. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


Pianist Vijay Iyer's latest album is broadly a resetting of compositions for some larger ensembles for his long standing trio. The process of deconstructing them - stripping them down and reforming them for a classic jazz trio of piano, bass and drums - Iyer sees as "breaks": the space between the notes. In doing so, he acknowledges a wealth of influences, including many outside a usual jazz context: "breakdowns, break-beats and break dancing..." They can all be heard on this CD - one track, Hood, is a tribute to a techno DJ, Robert Hood (I only know this because it says so on Iyer's liner notes!) - but within an acoustic jazz format.

It is an interesting set of tunes from one of jazz's more searching performers. There is an emphasis on rhythm; much of Hood consists of the interplay between very simple piano figures, subtly changing bass, and complex, shifting drums patterns. The result on that track is not far from serial music - as if Steve Reich or Arvo Pärt wrote jazz. Some of the tracks have a kind of jerky insistence, as if the rhythms and melodies were trying to go in different directions.

Other tracks really swing; the contrast this creates is very effective. There are three covers on the CD. The trio's version of Monk's Work is played pretty straight, recognisably Monk, and demonstrates the trio's ability whilst Coltrane's Countdown is given the trio's breakdown treatment. Billy Strayhorn's Blood Count, his final composition, is a beautiful, slow, melancholy interpretation for solo piano, full of pathos.

The title track has an evolving, almost spiky rhythm, as if drummer Marcus Gilmore is both pushing forward and holding back, balanced by pulses from Stephan Crump's bass.

Three of the other tracks are based on birds - Starlings, Geese and Wrens, all from Iyer's Open City project, and a fourth is called Taking Flight. Iyer describes Open City as dealing with themes of migration, and sections of Taking Flight have a reggae rhythm whilst its opening is reminiscent of Satie or Debussy. Wrens, which closes the album, is a slow, thoughtful, rather lovely piece.

This is a compelling record, full of imaginative ideas and fascinating rhythms, trying new things whilst firmly rooted in a classic jazz context. By breaking down the tunes and putting them back together, Iyer has found space to experiment without scaring off the birds.

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Malcolm Earle-Smith (Swing to Bop, Blackheath Halls, Fri. Mar 6th)

Malcolm Earle-Smith


Trombonist/ Educator/ early jazz specialist  MALCOLM EARLE-SMITH will be directing "Swing to Bop" with the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble at Blackheath Halls on Friday March 6th. In this interview with Sebastian he explains how another cohort of Trinity Laban students is responding to being taken on a journey through an important part of jazz history: 

LondonJazz News: What is the background to the event?

Malcolm Earle-Smith: “Swing to Bop” features the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble (one of three big bands at the conservatoire), which I direct, and which is composed mainly of 1st and 2nd year BMus Jazz students. We started rehearsing in November and have already performed two gigs, one at King Charles Court (where Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music is based) and one at the Gunnersbury Tavern in Chiswick earlier this month. This is the final gig in this particular project.

The band has worked really hard with the help of some great section tutors - Mick Foster, Mike Lovatt and Matt Skelton. It’s really starting to swing!

LJN: What pieces are being played and why them specifically?

ME-S: As the title of the gig suggest we are focusing on a selection of arrangements which were written from the late 30s to the early 50s. These included repertoire from the Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman Bands, Duke Ellington, Claude Thornhill and Dizzy Gillespie. There were a great variety of approaches at this time, so stylistically this is a great challenge for us! There’s no greater way to understand the development of a music than to play it.

LJN: Are these transcriptions? Arrangements? Re-imaginings?

ME-S: Most of them are transcriptions - although we open some of them up for extending solos and we improvise backings.

LJN: Are you trying to stay as close to the originals as you can? If so what is the hardest part of that?

ME-S: As far as the arrangements are concerned, we do stick fairly closely to the original in order to absorb the style and this is also great for ensemble discipline. Maintaining the ensemble ’togetherness’ and stylistic consistency is certainly the hardest part - it requires continued concentration and a lot of self-discipline. But they’ve done very well. Many of the arrangements have the solos written out, which I think is useful to study - but as improvisers it’s important to let the students put their own stamp on it - so I always encourage them to do their own thing!

LJN: Anything of personal significance here?

ME-S: No more than any other project. They are all of personal significance to me, and I consider it a great privilege to be able to work with these young musicians year after year.

LJN: In general the growth of bands playing early jazz, some of whom (eg amongst Trinity Laban alumni) you have definitely sparked off, must bring quite some personal satisfaction?

ME-S: I think it’s really important that all styles of jazz continue to thrive. It does give me personal satisfaction to see a growth of younger bands playing early jazz - and without them these styles will die. But what really excites me is that a renewed understanding of these earlier traditions in the younger generations, coupled with innovations of today, could produce some really important new music.

Early jazz brings us closer to the emotional foundations of the music, and teaches us how to improvise with sound and melody - and how to improvise collectively. All these elements of music can be applied to any style.

LINKS: Swing to Bop, Blackheath Halls, Friday 6th March 
Malcolm Earle-Smith's Staff Page at Trinity Laban
Malcolm Earle-Smith's website

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REPORT: Vula Viel at the Forge



Sebastian writes:

Last night was something special. The video here from last autumn does give a strong sense of what the incredibly lively band Vula Viel was four months ago, but on the evidence of an opening set heard at The Forge in Camden last night, the energy levels, the confidence, the commitment to the project, the band feel, the balance, the mix of energy and precision... have all moved on by leaps and bounds. Yes, leaps. Bex Burch, jumps up and down as if on springs, and yet musically everything is completely in place. It's an utterly joyful sound.

The fascinating back-story is that Bex Burch is a classically-trained percussionist who has done what Steve Reich always wanted to do and never did, given two years to being an apprentice with the Dagaare tribe in Northern Ghana. Matthew Wright has chronicled that story HERE.

Their next dates are HERE, including a tour in April. And there will be a sneak preview track from the forthcoming album being played on World on 3 tonight on BBC Radio 3. Summer festival bookers, you've just found a great band to fill that very last slot.

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REVIEW : Mads Mathias UK debut at Pizza Express Dean Street

Mads Mathias at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Mads Mathias
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 24th February 2015. Review by Brian Blain)


Any misgivings about ‘gloomy Danes’ or the angsty introspection of original songs were swept away right from thr opening bars of Denmark’s Mads Mathias’s astonishing UK debut show in front of a jam-packed Dean St. Pizza Express on Tuesday, when we were treated to an electrifying evening of what can often be boring mainstream jazz from a singer, who also contributed a fair number of tasty tenor saxophone moments, who is clearly influenced by the master Kurt Elling. All the material apart from Stardust and a supersonic Tea For Two which closed the evening with scat that didn’t make you cringe,was written by this truly gifted artist and ,incredibly, it sounded like a programme of standards,with nice harmonic structures and good strong melodies that didn’t sound like pastiche or nostalgia.

Peter Rosendal, Mads Mathias at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro


Although they had only met earlier iin the day for the first time this was the kind of non tricksy material that allowed the rhythm section - Dave Ohm, Colin Oxley and Andy Cleyndert- to produce comfortable ,but not complacent, swing feels all built around Cleyndert’s great time. On tune after tune his great bass ‘walk’ intro’s with Mads’s stunning piano player,Peter Rosendal laying down subtle comping chords,beautifully placed in just the right places allowing Oxley and Ohm to breathe and lift Mathias up on a magic carpet of of beautiful swing time exposition: a masterclass in the classic art.


Mads Mathias, Andy Cleyndert at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro

The divine Georgia Mancio duetted with Mads on the title track of his new album, Free Falling, just before the break and though slightly shambolic the sheer sense of mutual pleasure and good humour seemed to spread over everyone in the room. Serious musicians sparking off each other and clearly having a great time is always one of the best experiences you can get in this music and thiis was such an occasion. Come back asap.

Mads Mathias, Andy Cleyndert, Georgia Mancio at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro




REMAINING TOUR DATES:

Thu 26th Feb – Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
Fri 27th Feb - Pizza Express Music Room, Maidstone
Sat 28th Feb – The Cinnamon Club, Altrincham, Cheshire


LINK: UK TOUR PREVIEW BY MADS MATHIAS

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CD REVIEW: Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group - Lifecycles



Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group - Lifecycles
(Engines Imprint. CD Review by Sarah Chaplin)


This album is a real feat. It’s the brainchild of human dynamo and 2014 Parliamentary Jazz Newcomer Award winner, saxophonist/composer Phil Meadows, who in less than 18 months secured himself a prestigious Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, wrote a powerful suite of music from scratch, formed a new 20-strong cross-genre ensemble of talented young players from across the capital to play alongside his own Phil Meadows Group, and recorded an ambitious debut studio album. They wowed audiences when the album launched at King’s Place during the EFG 2014 London Jazz Festival, and have now been nominated for a Parliamentary Award themselves. Meadows must be pleased as punch, and rightly so.

Lifecycles opens with a scene of tetchy domesticity: the urgent, insistent percussive skittering of what sounds like a bunch of kitchen utensils is supported by a low undertow of bass clarinet and a pad string section. Alice Zawadzki then supplies some lush vocals which stretch out over the top with evocative lyrics, turning the instruments into the hum of traffic, building in intensity. Conductor Matt Robinson skilfully steers a course towards a harp break before Meadows takes up his saxophone to provide a soulful melody, picking up the rhythmic feel again with Simon Roth on drums teasing alongside.

There’s an enjoyable filmic quality about the work, as if Meadows has conceived of it as a large multi-cultural city, where you might come across a lonely busker on one corner, some noisy skirmishes at a traffic intersection, before the sensory onslaught of a busy marketplace full of haggling musical phrases and rhythmic side deals. Meadows has a strong sense of form in his writing and gives the listener a generously proportioned kaleidoscopic soundscape, relishing the full range of instruments at his disposal, creating powerful settings for soloists and intriguing sectional textures.

Take Intoxicated Delirium for instance, which has an intentional untidiness and then in the midst of it all, something utterly controlled pierces through. It’s not specifically an orgy of mass improvisation as such, nor even about a strange clash of harmonies or cross rhythms, it’s more epic than that. You can hear the musicians gradually coming into spikes of alignment in the distance, creating the sense of an ambitious crowd scene that builds and builds and then comes to an abrupt end.

It’s followed by a deliciously restrained track called Euphoria, a more solitary piece using soprano saxophone and Tori Handsley on harp drawing out a plaintive lament. The strings hover above, bewitchingly watchful and edgy. The strings play a wide variety of roles: on Prelude they’re low and brooding, working their way through some dense dark harmonies, then on Remembrance they operate like a gang of gulls or monkeys in the distance calling to each other. As it develops fully into a tune, Elliot Galvin on piano takes up the lead with low, patient phrases that become bluesy and off-hand, ending with strong splashy chords as Zawadzki joins back in.

Celebration starts off like a vibrant folk tune played in unison, a happy dorian thing that then explodes like an unplanned firework, sputtering and fracturing into some weird turn of events, which after an exuberant piano break, sets off again at full tilt with a strong rock feel, showing us that Engines Orchestra really know how to construct a narrative. But it’s not only with a long-form tune that Meadows tells a story: Strife of Life is short and sweet, but it feels like you’ve been thrown into a bear pit only to escape within an inch of your life before encountering a divinely shy and contemplative trumpet solo from Laura Jurd. One of the most exciting moments on the album was the duo section on Twice the Man where Conor Chaplin takes a bass solo with Tori Handsley comping on harp.

Lifecycles has the energy of a live recording and the cleanness of the studio recording. There’s a wealth of of light and shade on the album, and the overall sense is that Meadows is continually pushing his collective out on a limb to search out something new. The music itself is a feat of ‘what-if’ type arranging, synthesising raw new blends, flavours and clashes of sound, which is probably why it comes across as a film score. There’s a whole range of moods on offer too, from exuberant, playful noisiness through to heartfelt interludes, yet despite the impressive production and mixing, it’s never too slick or hyped up for the sake of it. It’s one to keep, that’s for sure, but in terms of Meadows’ ambitious and exciting collaborative, it’s just the start of a mammoth new orchestral lifecycle.

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CD REVIEW: Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm - Robin Goodie



Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm - Robin Goodie
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4665. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)


UK jazz fans will have known about Zhenya Strigalev for some time, but many – looking at the St Petersburg-born alto saxophonist’s new CD – may be intrigued by its cover and will be asking the question, “Who is Robin Goodie?”

Strigalev explained IN THIS INTERVIEW that the disc “is in some way dedicated to England and my time here...a mixture of Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie”. You’ll be hard pushed to find any boogie woogie, but Strigalev’s band of merry men shows some of the traits – strong personalities, rebelliousness – associated with the legend. The sleeve depicts Strigalev in a forest - in Russia? Nottinghamshire? - near an abandoned house where he worked on several tunes that eventually made it to the album (which was recorded in New Jersey).

The eleven compositions – all by Strigalev - are frequently unsettling. The album opens with its longest track, KUKU. It has unison passages for the leader and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a pleasing theme and the occasional hook; yet the melodic and rhythmic motifs change every few moments. Several other selections have an equal restlessness, and demand stamina to navigate through a bewilderingly dense landscape of sound.

After urgently boppish passages by Strigalev and brushwork from drummer Eric Harland – penetrating, subtle and faultless as ever - Sharp Night takes on an altogether different hue. There’s a rapturous section led by pianist Taylor Eigsti; Larry Grenadier on double bass, and bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre shudder with nervous energy; and an oft-repeated trumpet note provides stability in the maelstrom. It’s a magical masterstroke that shows the band at its zenith.

Personal Opinion begins as conventionally as anything on the disc with an inviting riff, then dissolves into a collective improvisation after a couple of minutes. I may not fully understand Ornette Coleman's controversial theory of harmolodics, but this interactive episode is reminiscent of stuff that Prime Time did in the 80s. Just as alto sax, bass guitar and drums are blowing up a storm on the title track, the flow is suddenly interrupted by Strigalev saying “Hi, my name is Robin Goodie”, and the trumpet solo that follows fails to recapture the spirit. But Akinmusire’s gorgeous work on the following track, Lorton, makes up for it, and is matched by a fine contribution by Eigsti.

Instrumentally, Strigalev treads a fine line between poise and fragility on Unlimited Source of Pleasure, and his tone is at its purest as he throws in a few quotations during Urgent Ballad. His greatest strength, however, appears to lie in the ability to write for a frequently-shifting roster of band-mates who take risks and thrive on creating fleeting beauty from enigmatic, open-ended sketches.

Unless your musical mind is highly developed, you probably won’t be humming these melodies on the bus in the morning. But - whatever its origins – Robin Goodie is highly absorbing, and there is much magnificent music to savour.

LINK: Zhenya Strigalev at Whirlwind Records

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NEWS: Jamie Cullum to host BBC Introducing Showcase at Montreal Jazz Festival

The main outdoor stage at the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo ©Festival International de Jazz de Montréal - Victor Diaz Lamich

Jamie Cullum annnounced on his radio show tonight that he will be hosting a BBC Introducing showcase at the vast, massively attended Montreal International Jazz Festival on July 1st. This showcase will be supported by the PRS for Music Foundation.

There has to our knowledge been no press release (yet?). The instructions of how bands can get involved are HERE. The terms and conditions relating to the tracks uploaded to the BBC Introducing site are HERE.

LINK: Sebastian's A to Z of the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival for the Telegraph

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INTERVIEW: Phil Donkin (The Gate Tour Dates 3rd - 13th March)

Phil Donkin. Photo credit: Lena Ganssmann


Bassist PHIL DONKIN is releasing his first album as leader "The Gate" (Whirlwind) on March 9th, and is touring in the UK (dates below). Sebastian asked him the questions by email:

LondonJazz News: Where are you from?

Phil Donkin: Sunderland, North East England

LJN: You’ve been living in New York, London, Berlin… Where’s home? Are you settled now?

PD: Right now I'm based in Berlin for two reasons - most of my work is touring : Europe and sometimes Asia and Africa so it's great for getting around. Plus my girlfriend lives there. I feel quite settled in Berlin, it's a great place to live but I do think about living in other places sometimes. I enjoy changing my environment now and again.

LJN: What made you choose the bass?

I was fascinated by it when I was a kid because when I would watch 'top of the pops' and programmes like that, it was the one instrument I couldn't hear. I loved that it looked like an electric guitar but was a bit different. I think I was fascinated by the fact that Bass Players tended to get looked over. That intrigued me because I sensed that something really cool lurked under the surface, but I'd have to look a little harder to see it. The least obvious choices have always appealed to me the most.

When I was 12 I saw the Blues Brothers movie, and I was blown away by what Duck Dunn was doing. It also helped that I could see him close up. Unlike rock music ( which is what I'd mainly been listening to ), I noticed that the bass had a different role to the guitar in that the bass part was usually independent of the guitar part and therefore could be heard better. Often the bass would be a low-end counter-melody to the vocal at the top - with the guitar and keybaords etc in the middle. This really appealed to me. Don't get me wrong, I love rock music too but checking out soul, funk and motown etc was great to see how the role of the bass could vary.

On the surface Bass Players tend to blend into the background, but really I think they have so much control over the music. A bassist could really sabotage the gig if he/she wanted to. But taste, generosity and restraint are crucial to make the whole thing work. This can be a lot of fun.

LJN:  You have performed with many interesting artists? Which stand out and why?

You know, as a Bass Player I think the experiences with drummers are always the most thrilling for me. I've been very lucky to play with some incredible drummers, and what amazes me the most is how much more exciting the music is with great drummers. Three names that stand out for me are Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson and Ari Hoenig. With all of them I was hanging on for dear life. That is terribly exciting, and when it works out it feels very satisfying. It was very humbling because I really felt I was being tested to my limits, and I love when music is on the precipice of falling apart. To be honest, it's the only time when I think the music is really happening. The risk is always worth taking, even if it falls apart, which doesn't matter even if it does because the challenge is then in the recovery.

LJN: What has been your most surreal experience?

The most surreal experience I had was was probably on tour with Ari Hoenig and Jonathan Kreisberg in Finland - we played in a bus stop - No joke!

LJN:  I once heard a rumour that You were in the running for the bass chair in one of the salaried big bands in Germany - what happened? Is this still something you would be interested in?

PD: This is the first I've heard of that! No I've never applied for anything like that. But if I was asked, I don't think I'd want to do it because I don't like routine and I enjoy variety too much. But maybe one day I'll consider something like that if my priorities change.

LJN:  The album features fine musicians. How did you meet and what made you choose them for your debut album?

PD: I have known drummer Jochen Rückert (*) the longest, we've done many tours over the last 10 years or more. I met him in London around 2004 when he was playing with Marc Copland. I was (more ) naive back then which worked in my favour. I got his email address and plucked up the courage to ask if he wanted to jam. Luckily he said yes and we played some trio with Gwilym Simcock. It was a lot of fun, but I was very nervous and obviously got my arse kicked pretty hard. For some reason after that he recommended me to sub in some bands he worked with in Europe, so we kind of developed a musical rapport over time. When it came to choosing a drummer for my project, there was no question about asking Jochen. He just has 'the thing'. An amazing musician.

Pianist Glenn Zaleski and I became friends shortly after I moved to New York, he was a young guy on the scene and was always up for playing, as was I. So we ended up on many jam sessions and gigs together. Glenn is very special because he has so much depth, and doesn't just pander to whatever is in vogue at the moment. He knows so much about the history of the music, but is very creative and always fresh and in the moment. It's very easy to play with him because he listens so much. He comps really tastefully for bass solos too which I love.

Saxophonist Ben Wendel (*)  and I also met on the scene in NY. I always loved hearing him play, and the energy he brings to the music. He's a super nice guy and was always up for playing if he was in town. There's a lot of brilliant tenor players to choose from in NY, but because of how great Ben is and the experiences I'd had playing with him, it made sense to ask him. He totally nailed my music and added so much depth to it.

LJN:  You have been performing for many years - is there a particular reason why this is your debut album?

PD: Many reasons really. I had written some tunes and wanted to document my music. Also I felt that I needed to feature myself in a way that I might not get an opportunity to as a sideman. It's nice to be totally in charge of a project ( stressful as well of course! ) and get to make all the decisions. I wanted to test myself to see if I could do it actually. It would be easy as a bass player to not bother, but I like challenging myself. I didn't know how hard it was going to be though, I empathise with bandleaders much more now!

TOUR DATES :

3 March – SoudCellar, Poole
4 March – Dempsey’s, Cardiff
5 March – Bonington Theatre, Arnold
6 March – Millennium Hall, Sheffield
10 March – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch)
11 March – Urban Coffee, Birmingham
12 March – The Spin, Oxford
13 March – Wakefield Jazz

(*) The UK tour dates are being played by either Colin Stranahan or James Maddren on drums. The 13 Mar UK date will feature Julian Siegel on saxophone 
LINK: Phil Donkin at Whirlwind Recordings

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REVIEW: Rie Nakajima and Elliott Sharp at White Cube

Audience waiting for Rie Nakajima to 'animate the room', White Cube Gallery
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved.


Rie Nakajima and Elliott Sharp
(White Cube, Bermondsey, 21 February 2015. Part of the Christian Marclay exhibition programme. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The single Saturday afternoon performance by sound artist, Rie Nakajima, became two as Elliott Sharp was in town for the première of his Christian Marclay/London Sinfonietta commission the next day. Both artists explored the acoustic properties of glass, a major theme of Marclay's exhibition, in their own unique ways - Nakajima through her process-based performance and Sharp, shortly after, in an electric guitar improvisation set.

Nakajima's performance, said White Cube's Scott Martin in his introduction, 'will involve her animating the room'. This set the scene for a captivating sequence which involved Nakajima unravelling the coils of red wire which she had placed in the centre of the gallery, to each of which was attached a tiny vibration motor the size of an in-ear headphone that drew its electric power from a central source.

Walking towards the perimeter of the room, in different directions with each wire, Nakajima stretched them out, one at a time, and positioned their ends at floor level at points between the centre of the room and the shelf running around the room on which were sitting numerous pristine beer, wine and spirits glasses. She then selected individual glasses, placed them on the floor and brought them in to contact with the vibration motors so they would rattle against the glass. With some she taped the wire in position to ensure that the ensuing chiming and jangling tones remained continuous.

The cumulative effect was to build up a charmed, lightly smile-inducing landscape of layered, ringing sounds and serendipitous pulses precipitated by the star-shaped tentacular incursion of wires that gradually defined the room's topography. Passing relationships of ownership were created between clusters of audience members and the varied sonorities that the nearby glasses cast in to the space.

From a steady, low scale intervention, more complex overlapping beats emerged from within the jangling jungle mist and, finally, urgent alarm calls imposed themselves until, without warning, Nakajima literally pulled the plug on proceedings and instant silence crashed the space.

Elliott Sharp at White Cube, Feb 2015
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved.
A black-clad Elliott Sharp followed a different tack, seated by a table with a small array of glasses and other implements which he selected to apply, at times simultaneously with a glass in each hand, to the strings, fretboard and pickup areas of his strikingly minimalist, transparent bodied guitar. He drifted from slinky, slide guitar abstractions, using glasses, short metal rods and an ebow as the slides, to deeply down-home, sad, anguished and angry Chicago blues resonances. From revving up an electric bass beat Sharp flipped to a liquid limbo, a mercurial one-man band, with swings, sustains and hums all extracted from the glass/metal interface in his calmly irrepressible sonic quest.

Nakajima's and Sharp's contrasting approaches made fascinating listening and viewing, adding further richness to Marclay's music programme at White Cube.

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PREVIEW: Yazz Ahmed Polyhymnia ( Southbank Centre 8th March)

Tina Edwards (left) and Yazz Ahmed


Trumpeter YAZZ AHMED was interviewed this week by radio presenter Tina Edwards for the weekly Hoxton Radio show "Jazz Standard" which Tina presents. In the interview Yazz Ahmed looks forward to the premiere of a new work "Polyhmnia", to be performed by the Nu-Civilisation Orchestra on March 8th on the South Bank, and to her second album. Tina writes:

YAZZ AHMED

British Bahraini trumpeter/ composer Yazz Ahmed's music has been described as being "so fresh and inventive that it's its own style" (John Fordham/ Guardian). What would be her words for it?  An amalgamation of "Arabic scales and rhythms" with "jazz element," she says. "When I moved to England [from Bahrain], I felt like there was something missing in my life. I adapted to British culture and rediscovered my roots... and since then I've been delving deeper into that music". Ahmed cites her Grandfather as being an important figure to her musically. "[He] was a jazz trumpeter in the fifties and a record producer. He played with the Dankworth Seven, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott. And he's driven me to get to where I am today", shares Ahmed, before declaring, "he's my hero". 

POLYHYMNIA - PREMIERE ON MARCH 8th

Yazz Ahmed has been commissioned by Tomorrow's Warriors to write a six-movement suite called Polyhymnia, inspired by "courageous women". She'll be leading the performance at the Women of the World Festival with an all-female ensemble. Whether you hold an extended interest in feminism or not, Ahmed's suite won't fail to entice you. She's composed music based on figures such as the suffragettes and Saudi film director Haifaa Al Mansour. With pieces also built around British sax player Barbara Thompson and six-year-old activist Ruby Bridges, it's evident that there's a wealth of backgrounds to Ahmed's role models. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai's 2013 UN speech forms the shape of one of the movements.

"I've picked six quotes from the speech that I found very rhythmical and musical, so I've transcribed those and made little melodies", explains Ahmed. Protestor Rosa Parks is the sixth woman. Ahmed took the number of the bus that Rosa Parks protested on, 2857, to construct "a metric sequence and a melodic sequence". Ahmed describes it as "something very interesting of two halves. The beginning is quite beautiful... the second half is quite rhythmic and angry". 

NEW ALBUM

Having had considerable success with her album Finding My Way Home (2011), a second album from Yazz Ahmed is on the way. This time, it won't only be inspired by her Arabian heritage. Thanks to working with rock bands like Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers and Joan as Police Woman, Ahmed is keen to explore electronics in her second offering.


LINKS:   Tina Edwards' entire interview with Yazz Ahmed 
South Bank Tickets for Polyhymnia
CD Review - Finding My Way Home

- Jazz Standard is live on Hoxton Radio every Monday 10AM-Midday. 

- This profile is also the first piece in our 2015 International Women's Day coverage, the third edition, Commissioning Editor Catherine Ford

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PHOTOS: Hellmüller Risso Zanoli at BMW-Welt Munich

Franz Hellmüller and Stefano Risso at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski


Ralf Dombrowski writes: 

Some pictures from yesterday's fourth of the six competitive rounds of the BMW Welt Jazz Awards in Munich, with Swiss guitarist Franz Hellmüller, and Italians bassist Stefano Risso and drummer Marco Zanoli. This was a restrained affair, with more than a few evocative allusions to the masters of modern guitar atmospherics Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. But as a place of refuge from the unpleasant dankness of the weather outside, their welcoming ambient vibe had a good deal going for it.

Marco Zanoli at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski



Franz Hellmüller at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Hellmüller Risso Zanoli at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski



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PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Iiro Rantala (UK & Ireland dates, March 9th-15th)

Iiro Rantala. Photo Credit: Steven Haberland/ACT


Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala has a major presence on the European jazz scene. Kathryn Shackleton spoke to him ahead of  four dates in the UK and Ireland in March:

LondonJazz News: Despite your big following in Europe, you are not very well known in the UK. How would you describe your music to UK jazz fans who haven’t heard you yet?

Iiro Rantala: Lively and lovely too! My music is a mix of my own musical history. I started singing J.S. Bach Masses and Passions at the age of six, moving on to classical piano, then jazz and then going back to my roots – sad Scandinavian folk melodies and simplicity. Sounds like a mess, but that’s the formula.

LJN: You started singing in a choir at six? Is that normal in Finland?

IR: No, it’s not normal. Ice hockey is normal! But my mother had an idea that I could sing, when she heard me singing with the radio. We have no musicians in our family but she took me to a very professional choir called Cantores Minores and I started touring with them around Europe at the age of 7, and we even sang at the White House for Ronald Reagan!

I was always interested in the piano and there were pianos at the choir rehearsals, so I started playing and they couldn’t get me off the piano bench. I quickly learned the Bach piano parts and had a huge interest in the keys. When I was about 10 I switched to accompanying the choir on the piano. Piano technique always came easily to me.

My piano playing developed when I went to a classical music school and learnt first Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and then more complex works. Next I went to a secondary school which was the only school in Finland that was also very strong in pop and jazz. In a few weeks I found myself in 4 or 5 bands and rehearsed every day after school. I loved it and my strong classical background meant it was easy for me to get into improvising.

LJN: What other influences made you become a jazz musician?

IR : Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, who I heard as a teenager. I started with the modern pianists and never got into swing and more traditional jazz. Chick Corea was my idol as a composer and Keith Jarrett as a player. Also Leonard Bernstein who’s like a perfect example of a human being who donates his life to music – not just boosting himself, but by helping others to develop and succeed.

LJN: You worked for many years in the successful Finnish band, Trio Töykeät. What do you get out of playing solo as opposed to playing in a trio?

IR: I spent 18 years working hard without breaks with the same people in Trio Töykeät and we played all the continents and over 40 countries. After that ended I approached ACT and Siggi Loch and suggested a solo album. Playing solo, it’s all in your hands and there is no bass solo where you can rest! In a band, if you’re not having a good evening or the sound or the piano is bad or you are tired, you really get the support from the others, but that is not the case if you are on your own. If the magic doesn’t happen in the first 5 minutes of a piece, then playing solo is really hard.

I like playing solo as much as in a trio, though – it’s more challenging but I get a kick out of it and my solo recording ‘Lost Heroes’ has become my best selling album.

LJN: What is the premise behind the album ‘Lost Heroes’?

IR: Some artists want to hide their influences, but I’ve always been very open with mine. Each track on the album honours a different pianist who has influenced me and who is no longer with us. My idea was to give something back and to point out that in music we don’t have to come up with everything ourselves.

When I was working on Lost Heroes it was the first time that I had ever been really ill. I had a slipped disc for 5 months. I was on strong pain-killers and I thought I would have to live with the pain for the rest of my life. The most melancholic compositions like Tears for Esbjorn came out, and it was a special time for me, preparing for that album. It was also the first time I had worked with a producer. On the 7 or 8 Trio Töykeät albums we were our own bosses. On Lost Heroes, though, I had Siggi Loch - ACT owner and producer - in the studio with lots of opinions, and he wasn’t hiding them! Siggi is always keen that a concept should flow through an album and he kicked 2 or 3 tunes out because they didn’t fit the mood. He was absolutely right and I really wanted him to be close to the recording as he has so much experience.

LJN: What defines the Finnish jazz scene to you, and how does it differ from the UK jazz scene?

IR: Actually, I don’t see myself as part of Finland’s jazz scene as I work mostly around Germany and I live in Majorca. I don’t know much about the UK jazz scene, except that you have some excellent musicians like Gwilym Simcock, who I work with, and John Parricelli, with whom I just played in Lars Danielsson’s band.

LJN: Who would be your dream band – living or dead?

IR: Peter Erskine on drums and Lars Danielsson on bass – in fact we are starting to work together this year. Bobby McFerrin could join us for a couple of songs, but I wouldn’t let him steal the whole show!

LJN:As well as your trio with Peter Erskine and Lars Danielsson, what other plans do you have for this year?

IR: This is a very busy year. I’m releasing a duo album with a great Finnish saxophonist, Jukka Perko and touring in duo with Marius Neset. As well as this I may be hosting a TV programme where we travel with a grand piano across 5 countries and I play in the streets with local guests. I’m also recording a solo piano album of John Lennon’s music for ACT for his 75th anniversary this October, and I’ll be touring heavily with that. I won’t be changing every chord and making it sound like Giant Steps with lots of improv. I’m trying to change as little as possible and still trying to make it sound fresh.

LJN: How do you compose?

IR: It always starts the same way. I do my piano practice, and then I start improvising. My piano practice involves scales, then I play Bach, then a Chopin Étude and sometimes I take a difficult piece that I would never play in a concert, like Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata. After that I start working on new compositions. I try to make up simple melodies, and there is a fine line between simple melodies and something that sounds like Richard Clayderman!

In Trio Töykeät everything had to be very fast and technical, but I’ve done that now and don’t need to show off my technique anymore, so I try to find perfect melodies. I like composing, but the main motive for me is to do it because I need new music to play in my concerts. I don’t really wake up in the morning and feel the need to write a symphony! I’ve always loved performing. That’s my thing.

Iiro Rantala will be appearing at:-

- Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St., London on March 9th - with Gwilym Simcock


-  Watermill Jazz, Dorking on March 12th - solo

- The Model, Sligo on March 14th - solo

- Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin on March 15th - solo

Iiro Rantala’s first solo CD Lost Heroes was released in 2011 on ACT. He releases his next solo album in celebration of John Lennon’s music on the same label later this year.


LINK: Review - Iiro Rantala with Gwilym Simcock and Florian Ross at the 2010 European Jazz Piano Summit in Cologne

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