REVIEW/ DRAWINGS: John Cage – Electronic Music for Piano with Tania Chen, Thurston Moore, David Toop, Wobbly at Cafe Oto

Tania Chen with Jon Leideker, David Toop, Thurston Moore
performing Cage's Electronic Music for Piano at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Tania Chen, Thurston Moore, David Toop, Wobbly
(Cafe Oto, 18 March 2018; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Interpreted by pianist Tania Chen in a formidable partnership withThurston Moore, David Toop, and Jon Leideker (aka Wobbly), this performance of John Cage's Electronic Music for Piano thrived on the axes of tension and invention. The execution was infused with a collaborative spirit which enabled each of the four performers full expressive licence to unleash unpremeditated, unpredictable sonic explosions and collisions, something analogous to sherbet-filled flying saucers, those small sweets which zap the taste buds when the rice paper outers dissolve in the mouth.

Although Chen referred to Music for Piano 69-84 in her introduction, the initial point of reference in Cage's instruction is the somewhat elusive Cage's Music for Piano 4-84, a score which forms a skeleton for the processes of process based on micro-imperfections in the paper used as the substrate for a written music score. "Draw a stave on a sheet of paper and pitches would automatically appear within them," Cage had explained to David Charles, as noted by Toop in his insightful sleeve notes to the quartet's CD, the launch of which was the occasion for the concert at Cafe Oto.

Pin-sharp sound quality ensured that every nuance of the quartet's breathtakingly complex, layered improvisation was revealed to the ear – at times searingly intense, at others vaporous, permeable. Despite Cage's apparent antipathy to improvisation, the only way to respond to the dictates of his instructions, written out on a sheet of notepaper at a Stockholm hotel in 1964, was to actively create on the fly. David Tudor premiered the piece a few days later, doubtless a very different proposition to that of Chen's quartet.

The licence to invent was cast in Cage's hastily written, concise yet cryptic instructions. "Single tones (K, M, P) and noises (I, O) … feedback, changing sounds (microphones, amplifiers, loudspeakers – separate system for each piano [margin note: transformations] … without measurement of time (no notation) … consideration of imperfections in the silence in which the music is played … osciloscope [misspelled]."

As the prime mover of this project, Chen drew upon her enduring fascination with Cage in the careful selection of her co-performers. Each brought a unique, inflective character to bear on this dramatic realisation. Surprise was the keynote, with tactics of diversion and anonymity driving the richly concocted soundscape. Tiny paper tears, voice samples, squalling feedback, hammered destruction, delicate piano phrases all played their part.

Chen, intermittently studying and flicking the pages of Cage's earlier score, then sidelining the manuscript, concentrated on unlocking the potential of the piano with physical and electronic interventions to complement keyboard and spoken episodes. The laptop electric guitar was Moore's primary weapon of choice, with bowed, shredded and ambient outputs and lapping feedback. Toop's table-top guitar, one of a diverse arsenal of instruments and sound emitters, added depth to the distortions alongside amplified micro-sounds and the shearing of a large bamboo pipe which he tore apart at the start of the concert's second half. Leidecker, the most inscrutable of the quartet, hardly moved behind his table as he deftly insinuated camouflaged electronic mayhem with scatterings of subversive diversions throughout.

The richness of the experience derived from the constant stream of unpredictable, overlapping sounds whose sources from within the ensemble became blurred as they merged, dissolved and broke free. This really was a group effort – enriching, and creative in the best sense.

The CD, released by Chen through Omnivore Recordings, was recorded and produced in California by the like-minded Gino Robair, with an equally fresh interpretation of how to assemble Cage's Electronic Music for Piano for disc, as described in his sleeve notes.

The abstract sound world of Cage's Electronic Music for Piano
performed at Cafe Oto by Tania Chen and co-musicians
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved


CD REVIEW: Collective X – Love and Protest

Collective X – Love and Protest
(Two Rivers. Review by Brianna McClean) 

Love and Protest is the debut album from the impressive amalgamation of musicians which make up Collective X. The project is headed up by vocalist and composer, Alya Al-Sultani and features eight other musicians hailing from Europe and the U.K. These artists are: Cleveland Watkiss and Joshua Idehan on vocals, Neil Charles on bass, Pat Thomas and Clemens Christian Potzsh on keys, Dave Ital on guitar, Robert Menzel on saxophone and Mark Sanders on drums. Alya herself is of Middle Eastern origin, a part of her identity expressed in much of her work, including Love and Protest. This international group came together in response to the events of Brexit and their new album is testament to their dynamic political and artistic voice.

Love and Protest is unashamedly political in nature and yet manages to avoid being didactic or inelegant. The talents of this diverse group of musicians results in an album which not only has a take-home message for listeners but is a pleasure to listen to, in and of itself. Alya Al-Sultani says that Collective X views "jazz more as a method" to create responsive art, rather than a specific set of musical conventions. While this is evident in the wide range of influences heard throughout the record, from blues to rap to pop, there are also clear jazz overtones. This is particularly true in the work of experienced jazz percussionist Mark Sanders. Robert Menzel, on saxophone, also adds lovely depth and texture to many of the tracks.

Despite the album’s sombre subject matter, the tone is not one of pessimism, but hope through activism. Tracks such as Banaz, an exploration of the 2006 so-called "honour killing" of a London woman from an Iraqi Kurdish background, are an unsettling reminder of the state of current identity politics. The beat-boxing loop, muted synth and rap samples on this track are a powerful and contemporary expression of the obvious political frustration which has driven the creation of Collective X.

The first track of the record, Take a Moment, sets the mood well. As the vocalists sing the words, "take a moment to find your power", over the top of rich saxophone solos and a fun groove, the energy of this record is palpable. At the other end of the album, the final track, Dear Sister, is a gentle and contemplative ode to solidarity. Alya’s beautiful and extremely capable voice is showcased in these last moments of the record.

Each player is given a chance to shine in Love and Protest. Yet, it is really in their moments of collaboration in which the value of this project is most evident. This group of musicians brings with them decades of combined experience across a range of genres, and a shared passion for social activism and music which speaks to that context. All of this results in an album which is thought provoking and a successful artistic endeavour. The title of the record, Love and Protest, seems an accurate description of the aesthetics of this project. This album is equal parts grit and tenderness. Collective X is to be congratulated on creating something so unique and exciting.


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Tony Buck of The Necks - (The Long Now at Kraftwerk Berlin, 24 March)

A previous Berlin appearance by the Necks
in the Gedächtniskirche at the 2015 Berlin Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Camille Blake/ Berliner Festspiele

Australian free-improvising trio The Necks will be collaborating with ‘A’ Trio from Lebanon in a four-hour performance at The Long Now, the 30-hour programme at the conclusion of the Maerzmuzik Festival at Kraftwerk Berlin on Saturday 24 March. Necks drummer TONY BUCK spoke to AJ Dehany via email about this unusual event.

LondonJazz News: How did this collaboration with the ‘A’ Trio come about?

Tony Buck: For some time The Necks and The ‘A’ trio have spoken about the possibility to collaborate. We are all quite good friends and feel there are similarities, among the many differences, in the ways the groups approach improvising. Through our connections in Berlin with the people from Festspiele Berlin, and the DAAD, the opportunity arose that would give us the chance to explore these ideas. The concept seemed to fit perfectly into the theme for the 'Time Issues’ music nights presented as part of MaerzMusik.

LJN: The format is expanded in terms of both personnel and timescale. What do you have planned?

TB: There isn’t a great deal planned, except to know that we will play a four hour set together. One important aspect of the collaboration is that it is between two groups, not six individual musicians as such, and we will explore how these two group approaches work together. Not to say that there will not be moments in the music where it may break down to duos or quartets or any combination of the those involved, but it is that the idea revolves around the musical identities and approaches of the two ensembles.

LJN: What are the similarities and differences between the two groups with regard to duration and playing in a space?

TB: Both groups share a concern with duration and change over time. Both groups often employ long stretches exploring the inherent qualities of a timbre or texture that fills the space. Often the music of both groups reach a point of full resonance within the space and focus on the sound vibrating in the room. The ways in which both groups deal with material, exploiting similarities and contrasts, slow development and transitions, point to shared formal concerns.

The Necks, more often than not, take to slowly feeling out the potentials in the acoustic space and find ways the generate a sonic response from the room while constructing a piece of music that takes advantage of the properties we hear and uncover in the development of the music. The ‘A’ trio, in contrast, often approach an improvisation as if “joining a train that has already been running” to quote Mazen Kerbaj. I imagine, as a collaborative process, both groups will adjust their Modus Operandi somewhat, as improvisors do, to create a new music that will satisfy both approaches without diluting either their strong ensemble aesthetics.

LJN: How will you approach the challenging prospect of playing for four hours?

TB: The durational aspect of the project opens up a great many possibilities for both groups to explore in their usual manner as well as take advantage of the differences. The four hour framework, rather than being a challenge of concentration or stamina, opens up the possibilities to get into some really new and interesting areas. As I say, I feel like both groups are really sympathetic in their approaches and in this setting, being afforded that amount of time to explore, is a real advantage. It is a real advantage and privilege to have this amount of time to play with.

LJN: You’re playing as part of the 30-hour programme The Long Now, concluding an even more ambitious festival that looks spectacular. Have you worked with MaerzMusik before?

TB: Both groups have played numerous times for MaerzMusik in the past and the festival always offers a very open and creative space to work in. It is a very broad based festival and so the focus is always on playing the music with as much integrity and depth as possible. We always have the feeling that everyone concerned is totally committed to making an environment that is as good as it can to be to create something unique and special.

Kraftwerk Berlin interior
Photo credit Fine Art Berlin Photography
Reproduced by permission of Kraftwerk Berlin

LJN: How do you foresee playing in the large space of Kraftwerk Berlin, which is literally a power station?

TB: The venue for this project is an interesting one, and one that will play a huge part in the focus and success (or otherwise) of the concert. Neither group has played in the venue before but it promises to be a huge contributor to the evening - a dynamic mediator if you like - the acoustic space itself taking on a huge role in the unfolding of the music. As it is, the collaboration between The ‘A’ trio and The Necks will be only the starting point for this long, day length music event. It will be an interesting process to be part of.

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

The Long Now will take place between 6pm on 24 March and midnight on 25 March at Kraftwerk Berlin: LINK TO FULL PROGRAMME


NEWS: Artists Announced for 2018 (11th) Made in the UK June Showcase in Rochester NY

Alan Broadbent and Georgia Mamcio
Photo credit Andy Sheppard/ Lowlight photography

The UK artists who will be performing in the Made in The UK programme on the Christ Church stage at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival are announced today.

June 22 Will Vinson Trio

June 23 Django Bates Belovèd

June 24 Beats & Pieces Big Band

June 25 Zara McFarlane

June 26 Partikel

June 27 Julian Siegel Quartet

June 28 Georgia Mancio/Alan Broadbent 'Songbook'

June 29 Gwyneth Herbert

June 30 Mark Lewandowski Trio 'Waller'

As the press release states, Made in the UK "remains one of the largest presentations of British Jazz outside the UK and several of the bands will also be performing on the Canadian festival circuit this year. 80 groups submitted applications to perform in the series and the final nine were chosen by John Nugent, Producer/Artistic Director, Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival."

John Nugent said: "For over 10 years now, it’s been indeed my honour and artistic joy to invite many of the finest jazz artists from the United Kingdom to the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Having received submissions for consideration from 80 groups hoping to perform here, we’re very pleased with our lineup this year. It’s no secret that the Rochester audience is keenly tuned in to what the UK artists have to say! Our Made in The UK series is without question a key destination for our patrons as one of our Club Pass venues. This year we are delighted to present another nine exceptional groups who will be warmly received here in Rochester and at other locations in North America. Made In the UK has helped to define XRIJF as one of the leading creative music festivals in North America. Thank you to all the exceptional artists who submitted materials for our consideration!"

LINKS: Made in the UK
Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Fliss Gorst (The Place for Me debut album launch at Pizza Express Dean Street 25 March)

Saxophonist, bandleader and arranger FLISS GORST is from Devon and has lived in London since 2011 where she leads The Fliss Gorst Band. In this interview she talks about the evolution of the band, her forthcoming album launch and performance at  Pizza Express Dean Street. Sebastian reports:

LondonJazz News: The band were formerly called Jivestar – why the name change?

Fliss Gorst: When I moved to London and started Jivestar in 2012, I wanted to give myself a platform to perform with other musicians to create a fun band that would engage a wide audience. I learnt a lot along the way and have been lucky enough to play with many musicians since that time. I guess my tastes have changed somewhat with a particular desire now to create arrangements and original compositions within the swing genre, rather than pop and rock & roll as well. The reason I changed the name was because I felt like I didn’t need to hide behind a title. I’ve grown more confident, which has led me to better promote myself as a working, freelance musician without being pigeonholed by a style of music. It encourages me to develop new arrangements and compositions that are unique to the band.

LJN: So you’ve just finished producing The Place for Me, your debut album. What’s it all about?

FG: The title The Place For Me represents my inner-struggle with my love for London and my home county of Devon. I wouldn’t be able to live the life I live without my connection to either of these places. My parents’ house in Devon is my regular bolt hole to escape city life. The album is a compilation of what I’ve created so far. I wrote Blackfriars and Every Time which I hope seamlessly fit in with the other tracks which are my arrangements of classic standards.

LJN: Who is s on the album – tell us about the band…

FG: I’m really lucky to have made this album with seven of my good friends, some of whom I’ve met since living in the city. I met Lauren Bush at the Spice of Life where I help run the monthly Vandoren Jazz Jam. She is supremely confident on stage with a voice to match, yet she’s very humble and easy to work with. I love the swing tunes we play and Lauren brings them to life, enabling the audience to believe in every song. When she’s joined by swing vocalist Shane Hampsheir on stage there is so much banter it reminds me of the Louis Prima/Keeley Smith days. My right hand man is Dave Boraston on trumpet. Now he’s not only playing but singing in the band too! His easy charming manner and huge trumpet sound are irreplaceable. Then there’s the mighty Liam Dunachie on piano. Anyone that knows him knows what an asset he is to any ensemble. He is without doubt one of the finest musicians I’ve ever heard.

LJN: Musical inspirations?

FG: I’m heavily inspired by swing music. Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz are among my favourite saxophonists. I love the big bands – Ellington, Basie and their fabulous sax sections. I love Sam Butera and his raucous tenor sound in Louis Prima’s band.

I love listening to standards as they were, listening to the lyrics and trying to understand the original intent behind the song.

LJN: Best gig ?

FG: It’s hard to choose. We’ve been lucky enough to perform in some incredible venues but sometimes the smaller gigs are the most fun. We performed at The Spice Of Life in September and it remains one of my favourite gigs lately. The atmosphere there is so intimate and we had such a positive response from the audience.

LJN: Where and when is the album launch?

FG: It is at lunchtime on Sunday 25 March at Pizza Express Dean Street – such an iconic yet intimate venue. I’m looking forward to that. The sound is good and it’s always nice to play to a listening audience. I hope that the lunchtime set will welcome in people of all ages to come and have some fun with us.

With thanks to Lauren Bush for help in preparing this interview

LINKS: Pizza Express Bookings - a few remaining tickets
Fliss Gorst website


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2018 Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

Lee Konitz, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
(Colston Hall, 16-18 March 2018. Festival Round-Up by Jon Turney)

Bristol’s sixth jazz and blues festival weekend nearly ended on Sunday morning when the day dawned with a blizzard. Happily, the weather relented in time for the full day’s programme to run, rounding off a memorable farewell to the soon-to-be-redeveloped Colston Hall.

There was characteristically varied fare before the snow set in, too. Arun Ghosh, with Idris Rahman joining altoist Chris Williams to make a formidable three-horn front-line, had the audience buzzing in a packed Lantern on Friday night with a bustling set full of excitement and good humour. The leader’s gorgeous unaccompanied clarinet intro to Pastoral Sympathy was all the more effective for the contrast with the high-energy dominating the rest of the show. I’m guessing the band rarely play to a seated audience, but we were dancing in our heads.

There was plenty of the real thing, a dancing daughter tells me, in the now traditional big swing session with Denny Ilett and Johnny Bruce’s big band in the main hall. In the foyer, bass-player Greg Cordez’s quintet line-up, with percussionist for all occasions Tony Orrell on the drum chair, caught the ear.

Evelyn Glennie, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Trio HLK (Richard Harrold on keys, Ant Law on guitar and Richard Kass on drums) with percussion legend Evelyn Glennie was a bold booking for the first show in the big hall the following day For 1.00 on Saturday afternoon (and 1 degree on the streets) there was a decent crowd, and the music probably benefited from early in the day concentration. These were standards so radically reconstructed that, even when they tell you what they are, you have to take their word for it. Their arrangements are subtle and intricate, and make serious demands on the attention. Glennie fits in seamlessly - and offers one stunning solo piece. The quartet and trio excursions offered probably the wildest and most challenging sounds of the weekend. Then again, why play Blue in Green the way you’ve heard it before in 2018?

No such reservations attended the other pair of sets I caught on Saturday. Louis-inspired trumpeter Enrico Tomasso’s High Standards band delighted the lantern with bravura mainstream, and it was a delight to see Dave Newton’s piano and Dave Green’s bass on stage together. Clare Teal was superb value in a well-filled main hall later in the afternoon. She was backed by a nine-piece big band conducted by Guy Barker (recovered from recent surgery but not quite up to playing yet) that oozed class. It would have been great to have made a bit more solo space for the likes of Jason Rebello on piano, James Gardiner-Bateman and Alex Garnett on saxes, and Ryan Quigley and Martin Shaw on trumpet, but Teal’s show is all about the songs. I lost count of how many she packed in to 95 mjnutes, but every one was delivered with flawless professionalism.

Lauren Kinsella of Snowpoet, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Sunday began in the Lantern with the unclassifiably wonderful Snowpoet (no jokes). Whatever the band are doing - sometimes minimalist, just occasionally full-on jazz - Lauren Kinsella’s matchless voice reaches out of the ensemble and grabs you. The words are mostly modern confessional - mid-tempo reflections on love and death (Philip Larkin for the death), with intermittent flashes of Blakean visions. The overall effect is magical.

A larger crowd had braved the snow by the time Ivo Neame’s quartet took the stage, in a Lantern double bill for Edition records that was a festival highlight. Their live expansions of the rich contemporary jazz on new CD Moksha opened out the music in directions that suggest there’s more to come as they tour. Conor Chaplin standing in for Tom Farmer on bass sounded as if he’d been there all along, and George Crowley revelled in the challenge of the leader’s compositions.

Ivo Neame, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Then it was time for a festival special, arrangements by artistic director Denny Ilett for a stellar big band playing their way through Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, 50 years old in 2018. Hendrix’s mostly simple tunes don’t really call for a 16-piece band but this was enormous fun. A crop of super-soloists - Iain Ballamy, Ashley Slater, Ben Waghorn, Nathaniel Facey, Winston Rollins, and more - entered into the spirit of the thing with gusto and Ilett, white Strat and wah-wah pedal out front, acquitted himself convincingly as a voodoo child. Jazzier moments, including a fine trumpet duet from Yazz Ahmed and Laura Jurd on 1983, leavened a set that naturally leaned more toward the blues in the festival’s title.

That tribute to a lost hero was capped in the late evening by a genuine living legend, Lee Konitz in the Lantern. There was a lot of Lee love in the room, not least from his delicately supportive trio, with pianist Andreas Schmidt apparently having a collection of Konitz solos memorised. The great man, now turned 90, played seated, except when he stood, produced a beautiful sound and line on mid-tempo alto sax, sang some of the themes, and joked happily with the audience. Alternately coaxed and prodded gently by the trio, he held a full house rapt for an hour, essaying quite a few choruses that could have come from any time in his immense career. Several numbers ended with note perfect unison with the piano on complex bebop flights, a wonderfully effective way of evoking the core of his music. A duo encore with the piano was the perfect end to a memorable set. Outside, the blizzard had resumed, but hearts in the Lantern were well-and-truly warmed.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival website


INTERVIEW: Bruno Heinen (Mr. Vertigo album launch, Kings Place, 29 March)

Bruno Heinen
Carlotta Cardana

Pianist BRUNO HEINEN will be launching a new solo album
Mr Vertigo at Kings Place on 29 March. He talked about the project, which is connected to a doctorate - nearing completion - in which he is looking at building a solo language encompassing improvised counterpoint, and using the solo work of Fred Hersch as its starting point. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: You are from such a deeply musical family. Was any other career choice ever possible?

Bruno Heinen: Growing up with music around me, it was perhaps the only career choice. We didn't have a television at home, and spent most of our time playing music, games or listening to vinyl. I was always into painting, and this was perhaps the only other option for me. I only did two A-Levels - music and art (much to the despair of my head teacher at the time). At 18 I had to make a decision between the two, and in the end music won out.

LJN: Your new solo CD on the Babel label is called Mr. Vertigo. Why that title?

BH: The title track of the album is named after the book of the same name by American writer Paul Auster. It's a fable about a boy who is put through a series of tasks by his master in order to learn to fly. One these tasks is enduring a living burial - my composition is a musical depiction of what I think that might be like. (see video below)

LJN: And the other tracks all have a story. The opening sounds on the album are very reminiscent of Debussy. Is there a connection with the centenary of his death next weekend?

BH: Yes - my Forgotten Images is inspired by the lesser-known Images Oubliées of Claude Debussy (1894), not published in its entirety until 1977. I discovered it during my classical studies years ago, and always wanted to do something with it. It is particularly inspired by Debussy's remark in the forward of his composition: not for brilliantly lit salons … but rather conversations between the piano and oneself

LJN: And there is a playful György Kurtág- inspired track. Is keeping a child-like / playful spirit something important?

BH:  Yes - Kurtág's series of piano pieces Játékok is inspired by what children do when they first come to the piano. I have worked with children for many years, and am very passionate about my teaching. My composition draws on something I have observed very young students doing - playing with only the index finger on each hand. Improvising with only two fingers sounds restrictive, but I actually found it quite liberating.

LJN: The album is not just a solo acoustic piano project. What other instruments are on it?

BH:  Well the only two instruments on the album are piano and Rhodes. However, I explore overdubs and post-production techniques on some tracks. I also improvise alongside an original Stockhausen music box given to my parents when they were working with Stockhausen in the 70's in Germany. The piece follows on from my sextet release exploring the whole Stockhausen composition Tierkreis, which came out a few years ago. I also use some prepared piano on one of the tracks on Mr. Vertigo.

LJN: And on Track 6 Mirage there is what sounds like a recording of piano played backwards. Is that right / what is going on in that track?

BH:  Mirage is my exploration of an auditory depiction of the real against the imagined. I worked on this track with engineer Alex Kilpartrick, and we had a lot of fun with subtle post-production effects to achieve this. Yes - one of those techniques was to invert the wave form of some of the chords. My sister, the writer Nicki Heinen has also written a beautiful poem inspired by this piece which features in the notes of the CD.

LJN: Your last acknowledgement on the CD sleeve is to “the inspirational pianist Fred Hersch. You have been working closely with him what was the context.

BH:  I used the solo work of Fred Hersch as a starting point for my doctoral studies into improvised counterpoint. I was lucky enough to have a funded trip to NYC to hear a week of his gigs at the Vanguard, Interview him, and play to him. I learned so much from talking to him - his innovations in using counterpoint as a freeing device, his concept of tension and release and the way he builds a solo have informed my solo playing no end.

LJN: What is the actual title of your Ph.D?

BH:  "Counterpoint in jazz piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch."

LJN: And when do you expect to deliver the thesis?

BH:  This September - fingers crossed!

LJN: How has getting stuck into the Ph.D changed you and your direction/ ambitions?

BH:  Well, my primary aim with the PhD was to build a solo language. Before starting my doctorate I had never played a solo gig. Having done quite a few now, I feel this is something I want to continue and keep exploring. It's also been great to have funded time to work on my music, and in particular to read around my subject. This is something I never quite found the time for, and have so enjoyed.

LJN: You also mention Pete Saberton and John Taylor. Do you have something they said in mind that remains inspiring?

BH:  I feel very fortunate to have been taught by both of these masters of the instrument. Sabbo always surprised me. We had a short-lived two-piano project together after I finished studying with him. I remember doing a gig with him, and half way through the head of one of his (quite difficult) tunes, he shifted key up a semitone without any warning. He always had a great sense of humour about the music, which came out in his playing. This is what has stayed with me. John taught me a lot about playing solo. He told me never to plan a solo set to much. He always said that was the great thing about playing solo. If you changed your mind about playing a particular tune, or want to change a form, an intro or ending then just go for it.

LJN: Will the album launch concert at Kings Place necessarily diverge from the album? In what way?

BH:  On this tour I am performing the pieces with overdubs live in concert. In other words I will be playing some of the pieces alongside pre-recorded material, which I am really excited about. There will also be a couple of tracks on Rhodes, as well as a reading of the poem I mentioned by Nicki Heinen. I'm really looking forward to it.

LJN: Last time I heard you, you were playing piano in a massively enjoyable Bernstein “Wonderful Town”, sharing the stage with the entire London Symphony Orchestra and chorus. Will you be completely alone on stage at the album launch?

BH:  It was an amazing experience to work with the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle. Perhaps one of the most high-pressure gigs I have done. Yes, this time I will be completely alone on stage.

LJN: Is it too early to ask about your next album projects? Or have some of the earlier albums perhaps led to projects that have continued?

BH: I have a trio with two wonderful Italian musicians - fretless electric player Michele Tacchi and wonderful drummer Riccardo Chiaberta. We recorded quite a while ago in the ECM studio in Udine and are really happy with the results. We all write for the trio, and the music is inspired by cinematic themes. It will be coming out on Babel in the near future.

LJN: What else do you have in the pipeline?

BH: I recently played with Julian Siegel, Andrea Di Biase and Jon Scott at Ronnie's, the quartet from my first album release some years ago: Twinkle Twinkle. It was so great to play with those guys again - I would love to do another record with that project. (pp)

LINKS: Kings Place bookings
Bruno Heinen's website


INTERVIEW: Laurence Hobgood (UK and France tour dates April 4-13)

Laurence Hobgood
Publicity photo
It is now four and a half years since the 18-year partnership between pianist LAURENCE HOBGOOD and vocalist Kurt Elling came to an end. The pianist has several new projects, and will be doing dates with his trio in the UK and Australia in April. He explained the background to Sebastian:  

LondonJazz News: Can I clear up one uncertainty (of mine): are  you now a Chicagoan or a New Yorker?

Laurence Hobgood: I guess kind of both; I definitely live in New York full time (for one thing I married a born-and-bred Upper Westsider) but Chicago will always be "home" in a sense – I have more close friends there and that's where the Green Mill is. The Mill will always be my true jazz home.

LJN: I so much enjoyed the 2016 album Honor Thy Fathers with John Patitucci and Kendrick Scott. What was the significance of that album for you?

LH: Honor Thy Fathers was significant in many ways; principally that it was my first "full production" opportunity on my own project – meaning a first class studio where I had control of all the elements. I'd been in that position many times but always for someone else's project – and indeed it was in those situations where I'd learned studio/production craft. So I felt totally ready to bring all that experience to bear on my own recording.

Also, getting to play with Patitucci and Kendrick was significant – I'd played with both of them but not together. And at the time, fresh from the break with Kurt Elling, I felt it important to record with players who have "high profiles". And then there's the actual material/concept of the record itself; I was at a real junction point and the idea of paying tribute to the big influences in my life seemed not just appropriate but necessary. (By the way, I have every intention of doing an "Honor Thy Mothers" project at some point.)

LJN: And it seems to have had a good reception?

LH: Definitely -- great print reviews but even more important to me are the many friends who still tell me it's in some form of heavy rotation in their home, car, iPod, etc.

LJN: Now you will be touring with a different trio. Please introduce us to the other members?

LH: In Jared Schonig (drums) and Matt Clohesy (bass) I feel I've really found my sound – they each combine all the attributes my music requires: super broad stylistic versatility, virtuosic/effortless technique and a boundless joyfulness that comes across in their playing.

LJN: And the dominant repertoire is your arrangements of songs?

LH: Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: our repertoire is divided about 60/40 between arrangements of known songs and original material. I've found that the term "arrangement" is, let's just say, incompletely apprehended by most people. It literally means "how are we going to play the song in question" in a nuts & bolts sense. Given that most musical works have at their core a discernible melody, said melody can be thought of as the heart of the composition. But is the first note of the melody going to be the first note we actually play? Usually not – there will likely be some sort of introduction, probably something that establishes the groove that's been chosen. And there can be many other "events" during a performance (in addition to the improvised solo sections) that go beyond the basic melody. The sum total of all those decisions constitutes the arrangement – so you see that even original compositions have to be "arranged" in a way that's separate from conceiving their central melody.

As both an improviser and composer my particular approach is to try to frame an arrangement in what is frequently a pretty scripted way; this is tricky because jazz music always needs to sound spontaneous – it can't come off as overly controlled by its compositional elements. But in the hands of great players deftly conceived arranging can seem so fresh that the lines between exactly what's being improvised and what's pre-figured tend to blur. One of the best ways to describe the result is that my music is much harder to play than it is to listen to – and of course closely related to that is the old maxim of making it look easy.

LJN: Including some songs by Brits?

LH: Definitely. For example we'll play my arrangements of Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and Blackbird.

LJN: And your own compositions too?

LH: Oh yes, quite a few of those; we'll focus on the original pieces on Honor Thy Fathers but there are several others we've been digging into lately as well.

Laurence Hobgood (centre)
with Matt Clohesy and Jared Schonig
Publicity photo

LJN:  Does this now feel like a working band?

LH: Absolutely. These two young(-ish) gentlemen are the ideal fit for my music. Jared's parents are music educators in the Los Angeles area; as such he's grown up in a musically enlightened environment – he plays piano and has a good working knowledge of tonal music theory that's rare for drummers. So his interpretive abilities are expansive.

Matt is one of the few bassists I've heard anywhere whose sound is as huge as Patitucci's – or Christian's or Dave Holland's for that matter. His soloing is not just facile – it's interesting. That's a very important thing to me vis-à-vis the trio format – I want frequent bass solos, but for that to work the bassist has to really be able to play exciting ideas in a virtuosic way.

The point really is that they're both advanced musical thinkers who've also taken the time to develop monster technique. It's very special.

LJN:  You launched a new project called Tesseterra in Chicago – what’s the story there?

LH: Tesseterra is my new project for trio and string quartet. (I made up this word, tesseterra, by the way, and I'm inclined to italicize it for some reason – it's an amalgam of "tessitura" and "terra", and to me means "the fabric of the world" – meant of course in an aural sense.)

It probably started with the Kurt Elling project that eventually – thankfully – put a Grammy on my shelf; that was the Dedicated To You John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman tribute recorded live at Lincoln Center. That was the project that got me back to writing for string quartet (with rhythm section), which I hadn't done since college.

I love writing for string quartet – mind you I mean real string quartet writing, not glorified string section; intricate, independent scoring tightly coordinated with the rhythm section. As I felt I was sort of coming into my own as an arranger – and particularly focusing on the "expanded songbook" (bringing great modern popular songs into the jazz canon) – it seemed natural to revisit this sound (but sans vocals.) So I've been writing for a little over four years and finally last Fall felt I was ready (repertoire-wise) to get into the studio. I'm very excited with the results: the repertoire ranges from Sting (Every Little Thing...) to Jimmy Webb (Wichita Lineman) to Chopin (Waltz Op. 64 no. 2) to the American folk spiritual We Shall Overcome (which I started writing the day after our most recent Presidential election.) I even wrote an arrangement of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

The trio recorded with the string quartet ETHEL, who played on the aforementioned Grammy-winning project. It was great to reunite with them and I hope to be able to have them tour this project at least a little bit – they're quite busy. I'm guessing we'll end up collaborating with local string quartets – but that's cool, there are a lot of great string quartets out there who I think would really enjoy playing this material since it's both challenging but a lot of fun, too.

As for the album we're still "shopping" this so I'm not sure exactly when it will be released, hopefully by this Fall.

LJN: And there is a quintet with trumpet and sax. Who’s involved?

LH: Well Jared and Matt of course; I'm very proud to say that the tenor sax player is none other than the amazing Ernie Watts. I'm not yet sure who will play trumpet when we go into the studio – Marquis Hill played the longest tour we've done, but that was before he won the Monk competition and blew up, so he hasn't been available. Not sure about the trumpeter yet.

This is also ready to record – I think there are 12 finished pieces for the quintet. I'm constantly writing, either for my groups or, just as likely, one of the singers whose projects I'm writing and/or producing. When you write enough to develop a system that allows you to work with increasing speed (I use Sibelius if anyone's interested) you start viewing repertoire differently.

So it's intentional that tesseterra is all iconic song repertoire, whereas the quintet is all original writing. I wanted to do simultaneous projects that showed both sides of my compositional self; the classic sound of jazz quintet with tenor sax and trumpet is the perfect vessel for realizing my original compositions, whereas the more unique sound of trio + string quartet appeals to my penchant for reimagining standards.

LJN: And you also work with singer Arianna Neikrug?

LH: I met Arianna last year; she had won the Sarah Vaughan vocal competition and part of her prize was making a record for Concord. Chris Dunn (head of A&R at Concord) reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in shepherding the project and, after meeting with Arianna a couple times, I agreed enthusiastically.

She has a great voice and also a great imagination; further, I can say without a doubt that Arianna's the most theoretically informed singer I've ever worked with – she graduated from the Frost School of Music at University of Miami and it's no surprise to me that she learned so much because the dean there, the amazing pianist/composer/arranger Shelly Berg, is a good friend and I'd expect nothing less from any programme he'd be in charge of.

But Arianna has a thinking musician's mind or she wouldn't have retained so much information. She's special, and I think the record we've made, Changes (title of an original song we co-wrote,) is special – hopefully the start of an enduring collaboration. It comes out in May.

By the way Jared and Matt are on Changes, too.

LJN: And does either the UK or Australia bring back memories of previous visits?

LH: Oh yes, many memories. In fact Pizza Express in Dean Street especially so; that's where one night, as we began the second set, I looked out and saw Tony Bennett sitting there not 20 feet from me.

But there were also great nights at the Barbican and Queen Elizabeth Hall when I was still playing with Kurt Elling – I'd love to bring tesseterra into one of those exquisite venues!

And Australia – I love Australia, the people are so amazingly open and friendly! I think I've been down to Oz ten times or so? Been all over the country – lots of great memories, from sailing on Sydney Harbor to some great days in wine country – Barossa, McLaren Vale, Margaret River. Hitting the beach at Byron Bay, gorgeous place! And of course musical memories as well – playing in the main hall at Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony didn't ruin my day at all!

I can't wait to get back to both places and I'm so excited to be bringing the best trio I've ever had – we have so much fun and I can truthfully say that every time we play the audience does, too.


Wednesday 4 April 18:30 PizzaExpress Live, London
Thursday 5 April 18:30 PizzaExpress Live, London
Friday 6 April 18:30 Dublin Jazz, Bagots Hutton, Dublin, Ireland
Saturday 7 April 19:30 Cinnamon Club, Altricham
Tuesday 10 April 20:30 Watermill Jazz, Dorking
Friday 13 April 18:30 Duc des Lombards, Paris

LINKS: Review of 2016 CD Honor Thy Fathers
Laurence Hobgood website 


REVIEW: Jason Moran and Joan Jonas – A Lecture-Demonstration at Tate Modern

Jason Moran at Tate Modern
Photo by AJ Dehany (*)

Jason Moran and Joan Jonas – A Lecture-Demonstration 
(Tate Modern Tanks 16 to 18. Review by AJ Dehany) 

“Making language happen on the piano,” is a slightly different conception to conventional thinking in jazz, one which pianist Jason Moran has had to confront in the 12 years of his ongoing collaboration with artist Joan Jonas. Opening a major exhibition of Jonas’s five decades of pathfinding work, they performed a two-hour multimedia concert collaboration in the South Tank underneath Tate Modern, using video, movement, live drawing, sculpture, sound, and musical improvisation.

Extract of a still from Reanimation (2012) documentation of video performance
featuring Jason Moran and Joan Jonas
Photo by AJ Dehany(*)
Video footage of glaciers melting, beehive structures, long mirrored interiors and breathtaking landscapes from Nova Scotia were accompanied by Moran in a range of styles from spare atonality to densely rhythmic inventions including what  Jonas refers to as his “stride music” which drives along the exhausting physical rigour she herself brings, painting large figures across the stage floor, moving in dance rhythm, talking and making sound, or scrunching up paper.

Jonas read telegrams, pieces of art criticism and philosophy, with Moran playing off her, investigating the convergence of word and music. It was pianist Nikki Yeoh who introduced Moran to Hermeto Pascoal’s use of recordings of children, politicians, soccer announcers, Pascoal tracing the speech on the keyboard. As a traveller Moran has collected his own voices and dialects, and here played along to an extract of a conversation a woman was having with her mother in Istanbul. His virtuosic unpacking of the melodies inherent in speech was thrilling.

They had to improvise through some technical problems with some of the visuals. Jonas gamely noted that such problems are for a video artist “Like a painter having the paint come off the canvas,” a surreally disturbing thought. This had never happened to them in 12 years but now it had she asked with amusement: “Why am I making video art?”

They talked together in detail and performed with an easy, confident rapport. In one memorable exchange, Moran asked her “What is improvisation?”

“I’m not sure,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

A slight pause. “I’m not either,” he said.

She asked, “How do you locate the thing you thought you wanted to share with someone? We think of improvisation differently but circle round each other.”

Moran had a go at explaining Jonas’s performance practice with reference to jazz. To him, “this is just like Wayne Shorter, Geri Allen, Sam Rivers… she’s improvising with objects and arranging.”

Except, she said, “I’m not improvising! Once I get it down I keep doing it that way.” Similarly, she said Moran will use the same tune and same tempo but play it differently each time: “Jason as a jazz musician has encouraged me to open up with certain things.”

Joan Jonas and her dog after the show, Tate Modern
Photo by AJ Dehany(*)
The collaboration is rich in the political, and ecological themes are important to both their work. A previous collaboration referenced the ‘ring shout’ ritual practiced by slaves in the US and West Indies, with a trumpeter moving around in a circle in performance. At the Tate Tanks, Kate Fenner joined the stage to sing Pastures of Plenty, a song by Woody Guthrie that Jonas dedicated to “the children out marching in the street about gun violence”.

Creatively risk-taking to the last, they kept up the improvisatory dialogue between visual, spoken, musical and physical elements right up until the end of a wholly improvised piece, after which Jonas said flatly but finally: “That was something we wanted to try, something new as a last gesture. Thank you, that’s the end of the show.” It is, one senses, far from the end of the conversation.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.
(*) Permission to use these photos was given by Tate's Press Department

LINK: Tate Live


CD REVIEW: Chris Rogers - Voyage Home

Chris Rogers - Voyage Home
(Art of Life- AL1045-2. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

NYC born and bred trumpeter Chris Rogers' 2017 CD release Voyage Home was recorded in 2001 but has clearly been worth the wait. It features a first class NYC lineup which includes the late saxophonist, Michael Brecker (1949-2007) on a few tracks. Chris' late father, trombonist, Barry Rogers, was a close muscial associate of Brecker's, most notably as co-members of the innovative jazz/rock group Dreams that emerged in the late 1960s.

Happily, all of the remaining sidemen on this CD are very much still with us today. They include saxophonists Ted Nash and Roger Rosenberg, guitarist Steve Khan (son of composer Sammy Cahn), pianist Xavier Davis, bassman Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Johns.

What a sublime crew, all of whom more than deliver the goods on nine self-penned selections by Rogers. Many of these tracks are dedicated to the late influential figures who played a role in forming Rogers' efforts and inspirations, and include Brecker, Lew Soloff, Mike Lawerence, Ray Baretto, Don Grolnick and Chris' father, Barry.

Rogers' impeccable trumpet playing, articulate, adventurous yet highly musical, is eminently showcased while keeping within the overall context of the musical whole of the CD. This is equally evident in his compositional and arranging talents which offer ballads, hard boppery, funk and blues, all in rip-roaring fashion. Chris writes: "Listening to Mike, Randy (Brecker) and my dad playing together and all of Barry's great solos on those classic Eddie Palmieri sides pretty much informed my concepts – and have been towering influences upon me – that the music here can be considered a direct reflection on their incredible spirits."

Brecker is sensational on the album opener Counter Change – a burning hard bop blues. His full-bodied yet edgy solo blazes a trail for an exhilarating Rogers statement followed by a two-fisted Davis solo offering. Similarly Whit's End, a deftly syncopated romp driven by an insistent piano/bass ostinato that enables the saxist guru to reach untold heights in his solo with gutty incandescence. For this listener, a truly climactic moment of the entire recording.

Despite the lengthy period between recording and release of Rogers' debut, it will forever last in the memory and sets the tone for extremely good tidings to come from this powerful and individual artist.


CD REVIEW: Ed Palermo Big Band – The Great Un-American Songbook: Volumes 1 and 2

Ed Palermo Big Band – The Great  Un- American Songbook: Volumes 1 and 2
(Cuneiform Records Rune 435/436. Review by Frank Griffith)

Ed Palermo's fifth project for Cuneiform is a fond homage to the rockers who ruled the AM and FM airwaves in the 1960s amidst the offerings of the British Invasion. The stellar cast of the EPBB cheekily, but lovingly deconstructs songs, both famous and obscure, with reasonable recognition yet transformed with Palermo's distinctive flair for irreverance.

Chicago born and bred, Palermo started his band upon moving to NYC in the late 1970s. The material then was largely original with a rhythm section of keyboards, guitar, electric bass and percussion. At this time (believe it or not) this sound helped to advance a strong interface of rock and soul with more traditional  big band styles, both of which Palermo had mastery of. As a saxophonist in NYC at the time, I occasionally depped in Ed's band rehearsals and always found his  music to be challenging, provocative and unique. Many of the players on this CD were also with his early line-ups, such as Paul Adamy (bass), Bob Quaranta (keys), Charlie Gordon (trombone) and saxophonists Cliff Lyons and Barbara Cifelli.

Palermo has collaborated with other distinctive  jazz musicians, one in particular being guitarist, Dave Stryker, who's  composition Dangerous was arranged by Palermo for his 1994 CD Nomad which I had the pleasure of co-producing and contributing  the arrangement of the title tune for. Palermo's powerful and personal treatment of Dangerous went a significant way towards giving Nomad a well rounded stylistic edge.

Palermo opines: "Almost everything I do lately is reliving my past. With the craft and skill I've developed being an arranger for all of these years, I can now take those songs that I grew up with and loved and reinterpret them. I picked my favourite songs, songs that I'm going to want to hear and play a lot. There's really  no other way to explain my selection process."

Songs from the likes of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, King Crimson, Cream, Jethro Tull, ELP, Traffic and Procol Harum are given a distinctive  tribute alongside Palermos' tongue-in-cheek felicity.

From the jump, Palermo's band and music manifests greatness with a truly Un-American sentiment and storms the British Invasion, situating the American flag in a somewhat skewered but pleasing to the ear fashion. Dig it.


REVIEW: Yazz Ahmed Family Hafla at The Voicebox, Derby

Yazz Ahmed soloing at the Derby Jazz concert
Photo: © John Watson/
Yazz Ahmed Family Hafla
(Derby Jazz at The Voicebox, Derby, 17 March 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

Temperatures in the Midlands had plunged well below zero, the falling snow was being driven by a biting wind... but inside The Voicebox at Derby the music of trumpeter Yazz Ahmed created the most gorgeous glow.

It’s been fascinating to hear how her music has developed over the last few years, its character strongly shaped by the rhythms and exotic scales of her Bahraini heritage, made more personal by her extensive but very musical use of electronics. Many people have compared her concept to that of Miles Davis – from Bitches Brew onwards – but the first musician I heard extensively using electronics to create new sounds on trumpet was Don Ellis. Each made the effects sound strongly personal, as does Yazz.

Her latest album La Saboteuse has won extensive critical praise, as have her concerts, including a key event at Kings Place during last November’s EFG London Jazz Festival which was enhanced by projections of the album’s striking cover art.

Family Hafla
Photo credit: © John Watson/
She brought her Family Hafla group to Derby: George Crowley on bass clarinet; Naadia Sheriff, piano and keyboard; Dudley Phillips, bass guitar; Will Glaser, drums; Vasilis Sarikis, percussion; and Ralph Wyld, vibes.

Opening with The Lost Pearl, from La Saboteuse, the gentle rhythms and soft tonal textures built towards more intense interplay, with Ahmed’s long notes on trumpet – spiced by electronic enhancement – flowing against dashing, fluttering phrases from Crowley’s bass clarinet and the ripple of keyboards and vibes. This merged gradually into another track from the album, Al Emadi, with Wyld’s vibes and Phillips’ strong basslines playing a key supporting role, followed by the album’s title track.

Ahmed seemed to be gliding gracefully on a warm airstream of long tones – often on flugelhorn – lovely in texture, melodic in structure. But in the second movement of her suite A Shoal of Souls, something very special happened. She rapidly burst into a passionate, multi-noted torrent of blistering sounds – the warmth of her trumpet tone becoming a white hot core, with streams of electronic effects flaming around it.

The work is dedicated to the thousands of people who have died in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe and escape the trauma of war, and this second movement evoked a sense of outrage as well as despair. Ahmed was letting fly here, in a very musical way, with a sense  of structure in her wild improvising. It seemed to open up the possibility of an exciting dimension for Yazz to explore further in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

Yazz Ahmed and Family Hafla will be playing at the Jazz Cafe in London on 6 April.


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Alexander Hawkins (3-Day Residency at Cafe Oto, 26-28 April)

Alexander Hawkins, January 2018
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
ALEXANDER HAWKINS will present four projects in the course of a three-day residency at Cafe Oto. He explained the background to Sebastian:   

LondonJazz News: Most – maybe all – musicians these days have “slash careers”... I think of you as “pianist/composer/bandleader”. Is that more or less right?

Alexander Hawkins: I would say that’s about right; although I occasionally also play the Hammond organ, almost always in the context of the group Decoy, and even more occasionally, I get asked to play the pipe organ.

LJN: You have four concerts over three days at Oto. Did they approach you and give you the choice of what to programme?

AH: Yes, they were kind enough to approach me. I’ve had the privilege of playing on many residencies there over the years – for example, with Louis Moholo-Moholo, Joe McPhee, Marshall Allen, Sonny Simmons, Han Bennink, Matana Roberts, and most recently, the Chicago/London Underground – so Cafe Oto is a really important place to me, and I was totally thrilled to be given carte blanche to programme whatever I wanted. Although I didn’t design it with a neat numerical scheme in mind, the final programme is presenting each of solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet, and sextet formations.

LJN: For people who don’t know your work which might be the best one to get to know it?

AH: This is a tough question, since of course the music sounds different depending on where you’re coming from. Part of me thinks the (albeit slightly simplistic) answer is ‘any of them’, insofar as I try to only perform music I believe in, and where I feel I can contribute something personal. But a very brief case for each of the concerts in turn: the solo set I think would be an obvious choice, insofar as solo is inevitably a special case, where you’re more or less entirely responsible for shaping all the music; and although I don’t compose exclusively at the piano, it’s true to say that a lot of my output is shaped by my relationship to that instrument.

The solo set is paired with a performance by the quartet I co-lead with Elaine Mitchener, featuring Neil Charles and Stephen Davis; and that could be an interesting way in, for example for people more familiar with the contemporary classical world, in which Elaine often works.

The second night features Evan Parker, and so I’d like to think that even people who can’t stand to be in the same room as my playing might nevertheless be tempted out, since Evan is nothing less that one of the most important innovators in our music. (MUSIC EXAMPLE / Black Top with Evan Parker)

Black Top and Matthew Wright are also performing this night, and Pat Thomas, Orphy Robinson, and Matthew would all appeal to anyone with an interest in electronic music: they each have radical approaches which mix vernacular forms with sounds from contemporary classical music (and much else besides) in amazing ways.

On the final day of the residency, there is a matinee concert where we will perform some of Anthony Braxton’s music. Whilst it may be perverse in some respects to suggest a concert of someone else’s music as a ‘way in’ to that of the interpreter, I do think a lot can be learned from these contexts: I’m thinking here of albums like Monk playing Ellington, Geri Allen playing Mary Lou Williams, the ICP Orchestra playing Monk and Nichols, and so on. And of course, I hope that quite apart from whatever we can bring to the table as a sextet, this will be an interesting concert in any case for fans of Braxton’s music.

Finally, that evening, I’m really excited to be able to bring the great Gerry Hemingway over to join John Edwards and myself for a trio concert. Quite apart from Gerry and John being two extraordinary musicians, it might be interesting to see this concert since, with its piano/bass/drums lineup, it offers a take on one of the ‘classic’ instrumental lineups, and as such, could offer some reference points for people who are unfamiliar with our music.

LJN: The Quartet with Elaine Mitchener is now established and has an album out on Intakt. How did you first get working together?

AH: This collaboration was primarily thanks to the wonderful Tony Dudley-Evans. A few years ago, he invited me to perform at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Specifically, the request was for a new duo collaboration. I was already a big fan of Elaine’s work, so she was the first person I approached. We repeated the duo several times, originally focussing on trying to find interesting ways with other composers’ material. However, we very soon became eager to perform original material, and wanted to expand to a quartet to realise this. Neil Charles played in my Ensemble and Trio, and really knows my written music, and how to bring it ‘off the page’ extremely well. He has an incredible sound on the instrument, and is completely fearless as an improviser. Stephen Davis did play one concert with my trio, so I knew that he would work well with Neil; but I previously knew his playing best from working in his group ‘Human’. He’s one of those very special drummers who can move between completely abstract and more ‘time-based’ territories with complete fluidity. What I always strive for with a group performance is to make music first, and honour the composition second: and I feel that Steve and Neil both instinctively ‘get’ this.

LJN: You and Elaine come from different areas – was there a common musical interest/approach/hinterland from the start?

I think Elaine and I certainly share many values when it comes to making music... but one concrete thing which helped us from the off was a shared love of Jeanne Lee’s work (video above). Of course the first album she made with Ran Blake, The Newest Sound Around, is an absolute classic – it’s an amazing instance of being at once somehow completely oblique, and alarmingly direct; and I also love the later work she did with Mal Waldron (to mention only a couple of the piano-centric recordings). But Lee is a far more broadly inspirational character in her refusal to be typecast and restricted according to the traditional narratives of an African-American singer working in areas related to jazz. Yes, she did perform standards with a touch of genius, but she was also involved with poetry, education, performance art, contemporary classical music, dance, and much else besides, and as such is an amazing role model for people who are less interested in being able to fit their ‘thing’ into a recognisable box than in actually doing that thing.

LJN: Have you played with Black Top before?

AH: I’ve never performed with Black Top in a small group scenario, although Orphy played in my first Ensemble, a lineup which made two albums. And Pat is, like me, Oxford-born and resident, and was really (and continues to be) an extremely significant influence on me. I say ‘in a small group scenario’, because we did perform together as part of a fairly amazing Evan Parker large ensemble at a festival in Italy a couple of years back.

LJN: What format will that evening take?

AH: Evan and I will perform a short duo set – something we’ve done a bit over the last few years (there’s a live album on Clean Feed album called Leaps in Leicester: a great title for which the credit is entirely Evan’s) – before expanding to the quintet. The quintet has never actually performed together, although the line-up itself is criss-crossed by existing relationships.

LJN: As well as Orphy and Pat Thomas there is sound artist Matthew Wright. What was the connection there?

AH: I actually first heard Matthew’s work on the album Trance Map which he made with Evan. He has an amazing approach using turntables, a computer, live and pre-recorded samples, and goodness knows what else. I hadn’t worked with him until I was looking for an electronic musician with whom to collaborate for parts I was writing in my large ensemble music (, and he was incredibly open in helping me understand the type of things possible, and then realising them in a maverick and completely personal way.

LJN: The afternoon concert of Braxton – what compositions are you playing?

AH: The current thinking is to perform four compositions: 37, 142, 155 and 245. 37, the earliest of these pieces, was first recorded in 1974, and 245 (an example of the ‘Ghost Trance Music’) first appeared on disc in 2000. Incidentally, for people who are interested in Braxton’s work, I’d really love to link two websites here. For details on where many of the compositions appear, Jason Guthartz’s recording and composition indices at are invaluable. And the website of Braxton’s own Tri-Centric Foundation ( is a remarkable resource for Braxton’s creative universe more generally.

LJN: And who is in the band for the afternoon concert?

AH: Stephen Davis, percussion; Hannah Marshall, ‘cello; Rachel Musson and Cath Roberts, saxophones; Alex Ward, clarinet; and myself on piano.

LJN: Gerry Hemingway – a major figure, but unless I’m mistaken not often seen in London? What’s the story?

AH: I suppose in the live context, Gerry is possibly best known to UK audiences as a result of the 1985 tour of the Braxton quartet, which also included Marilyn Crispell and Mark Dresser. This is the tour which is chronicled in Graham Lock’s fantastic book Forces in Motion. But indeed – I’m not sure of the last time he played in this country (although he does have associations with British improvisers such as John Butcher). I think one of the reasons I identify with Gerry’s work is that not only is he a wonderful free improviser, but also an amazing composer, and these two activities on the continuum are also central to my own work.

The drummer-composer tradition is a venerable one, and many of Gerry’s contributions are absolutely seminal: I’m thinking here of classics such as The Marmalade King and Demon Chaser. Many will also know his work in the trio BassDrumBone, alongside Ray Anderson and Mark Helias. He’s also a key figure in the story of instrumental technique, with his meticulous approach (in some ways analogous to that of Mark Dresser on the bass) towards understanding the range of sounds discoverable on the drums. In short, he’s one of the most significant drummers working in this music today.

We first played together in the studio a couple of years ago, in a quartet led by Roberto Ottaviano, and also featuring Michael Formanek on bass (the music was released as the album Sideralis last year), and it was a joy from the first note. However, we’ve never actually performed together, so this will be a first outside the recording studio. As a nice counterpoint, the trio is completed by John Edwards: without doubt the musician with whom I’ve performed the most at Cafe Oto, and almost certainly irrespective of venue, come to think of it. It’s one of the amazing privileges we have in this country that John is only a phone call away for a gig.

LJN: After this series at Oto what other projects commissions do you have coming up?

AH: I have a nice period coming up. At the time of writing, I’m on the train to Belgium, where I begin a week long tour with Harris Eisenstadt’s great band Canada Day. I’m then off to Stuttgart for a duo concert with John Surman.

In April, shortly before the Oto residency, I’m on tour in Holland with Dimlicht, a really interesting project from the Dutch horn player and composer Morris Kliphuis (who people may have heard in this country recently both with his trio Kapok and at the Proms as part of Stargaze, who played in the David Bowie tribute).

Then after the Oto concert, in May, I’m on tour with Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor and John Edwards in the Chicago/London Underground – this is almost all on the continent, although we do actually have a London stop in amongst those dates, at the Vortex.

I’m also really excited to be playing solo on a great bill at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival at the start of April, and then with the quartet which will be heard at Cafe Oto at both the Sonorities Festival in Belfast in late April and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival at the start of May.

LINKS: Event page on Cafe Oto website
Event page on Facebook
London Jazz News review of AH/EP duo:


CD REVIEW: Lydian Collective – Adventure

Lydian Collective – Adventure
(Lydian label. CD Review by Peter Jones)

For the last few years, the arena for some of the most interesting new music in the UK has been prog-jazz, and this eagerly-anticipated album from Lydian Collective is one of them. Imagine a hybrid of Zero 7 and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, then cut out the vocal, and you’re some way towards the band’s sound.

The Lydian mode, with its raised fourth, is popular with film composers like John Williams, and this band’s composers – keyboards man Aaron Wheeler and guitarist Todd Baker – are well aware of the mode’s potential in creating the kind of euphoric mood they’re after.

But that’s not all, because both Wheeler and Baker have previously worked in the area of computer game music. Baker’s most recent work in this field has been the soundtrack to Monument Valley 2; Wheeler, in his alternative guise as Laszlo, has recorded retro electronica in the vein of pioneering bands like the Yellow Magic Orchestra, who in turn were interested in the sounds that came with early arcade games. All of these influences are brought to bear on Adventure, which is not only as good as one would have hoped, but way better.

Down in the engine room, supplying the power to the lofty Wheeler-Baker conceptions, are electric bassist Ida Hollis and, on drums, the ubiquitous Sophie Alloway, both of whom are adept at the kind of precision required for the rhythmic challenges of this music. They achieve an astonishing lightness of touch, and it’s this, I think, that raises the band from the merely progtastic to the truly inspired. Listen to Legend of Lumbar, a tune that’s been around for at least five years. In Laszlo’s original version, it sounded like music to zap aliens by. Now, rendered by humans rather than machines, it sounds much warmer, with a lovely solo from Hollis.

The most Zero 7-like tune is Overnight, with its spacey, bubbling Rhodes, pattering brushwork and U2-ish guitar. And if it’s Genesis you want, listen to the intro to Loops. In the home for retired progsters, Mike Rutherford must be chewing his knuckles.

Adventure is a triumph, which in a more musically literate world would carry Lydian Collective to colossal wealth and global fame. But I very much hope they don’t start playing stadiums. It’s ‘big’ music, of the kind that could appeal to that kind of audience. So catch them now while you can still see them in tiny clubs.

is released on 30 March 2018


Highlights from 2017 Pizza Express gig
LJN Interview with Aaron Wheeler


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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