REVIEW : Mark Morris Dance Group / Ethan Iverson - Pepperland at the Royal Court, Liverpool

Mark Morris Dance Group - Pepperland
(Royal Court, Liverpool - World Premiere, 25 May 2017. Review by Phil Johnson)

From Charles Lloyd tootling Here There and Everywhere to Brad Mehldau’s current concert renditions of Blackbird or And I Love Her, with Mike Westbrook’s Off Abbey Road suite in between, there’s a long if variable history to jazz versions of The Beatles. Yet Ethan Iverson’s music for this wonderful grand project commissioned by the city of Liverpool (along with a host of other international co-producers) for its Sgt Pepper at 50 festival, is - along with the production itself - a triumph. Taking five songs from the canonical album (six if we count the title track’s reprise), plus Penny Lane and six miniature interludes composed by himself, Iverson manages the extremely difficult feat of staying true to the spirit of the Lennon, McCartney and Harrison originals while adding something both new and surprising of his own and also fulfilling the principal task of providing Morris and his dancers with an inspiring and rhythmically supple score to animate choreography and movement.

As well as being the pianist from jazz trio The Bad Plus and author of the influential blog ‘Do The Math’, Iverson is a previous musical director of the Mark Morris Dance Group, a role taken since 2013 by Colin Fowler, who for this production plays organ and harpsichord, with Iverson on piano. The band, playing from the orchestra pit, is a killer Downtown NYC unit, with Jacob Garchik on trombone, Sam Newsome on saxophone, Rob Schwimmer on theremin and Vinnie Sperrazza, percussion, with baritone Clinton Curtis on vocals. The feel throughout is perhaps part Berlin cabaret, part woozy Nino Rota, with the sound of the theremin absolutely key, although Schwimmer’s virtuosity makes it closer to a second, female, vocal line to complement the deeper register of Clinton Curtis, echoing the classical recordings of Clara Rockmore - the instrument’s most celebrated exponent, and inventor Lev Theremin’s great protege - more than the usual cheapo science fiction-signifier. Curtis's clear diction and clipped, emotionally-neutral delivery also impart a very effective, rather Sondheim-ish quality that, together with the horn-men’s parps and peeps, further removes the music from a jaunty singalonga-context without losing its popular appeal.

Unsurprisingly, some tunes work better than others, and how they’d work on their own is uncertain. The title song remains exactly what you expect, and I’m not sure if anything can be done with When I’m Sixty-Four, although Iverson attempts a ragtime-ish doubling of rhythm that makes the tune slip disconcertingly in and out of time. But George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ provokes the most thrilling part of the whole show, and sounds like a total masterpiece, its lyric - intoned by Curtis - more than living up to a libretto’s enhanced sense of importance. And then, after a suitably celebratory Penny Lane, there’s A Day in the Life, which is every bit as satisfying as you hope it will be, Iverson witholding the vocals of the opening verse to stretch the tension of the music even further.

But music is only a part of the overall show’s spectacle, which I found enormously life-affirming and moving: a fab and fitting tribute to the spirit of the Beatles, to the city which made them, and to the era they so transformed. When Mark Morris came on stage at the end to take his bows and to deflect the applause in the direction of the seven musicians and the fifteen dancers, you felt that he was genuinely proud - made up, you could say - of what they had achieved. Pepperland is a big, ambitious yet human-sized project that doesn’t feel like some worthy commemoration. Roll on the rest of ‘Sgt Pepper at 50’.



CD REVIEW: Michael Attias – Nerve Dance

Michael Attias – Nerve Dance
(Clean Feed CF411CD. Review by Olie Brice)

Alto saxophonist and composer Michael Attias has released a series of albums in the past few years showing a deeply personal and creative voice, with bands including Renku (his trio with John Hébert and Satoshi Takeishi) and Spun Tree (with Ralph Alessi, Matt Mitchell, Sean Conly and Tom Rainey). Nerve Tree is the first release from his new Quartet – featuring heavyweights Aruán Ortiz (piano), John Hébert (double bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums)- and might just be my favourite yet of Attias’ projects.

Several of the compositions on the album share a similar approach – built up from ostinatos in the bass or the piano’s bottom end, or structured using long rhythmic patterns shared out among the musicians. With nine original pieces from Attias and two contributed by Hébert, there is a definite overall vibe to the music. Written melodies are as likely to be heard from the piano, bass and drums as the sax. However, while some ostinato-led music can tend towards a non-interactive layering, this group always approach the music with freedom and inventiveness. The time is elastic, with improvisations skittering around the patterns rather than being tied down by them. Compositionally the whole album made me think of the great Andrew Hill, especially his last album Timelines. The combination of polyrhythmic complexity, freedom and mystery seems to come from a similar place.

Attias’ own playing, like the compositions, draws heavily both on jazz history and abstraction. He has written in the past about his love of Jimmy Lyons, and shares with that genius of the alto saxophone a capacity to abstract a personal vocabulary out of an intimate knowledge of Charlie Parker. He also has a way of constantly using timbre and attack to shape every phrase, something of a lost art.

Aruán Ortiz was the least familiar to me of the musicians on this album, but I will definitely be investigating further. Cuban-born, he has worked with such magicians of the music as Andrew Cyrille, Henry Grimes and Oliver Lake. A pianist out of the Monk/Herbie Nichols/Andrew Hill school, he has a strongly resonant, dark sound and a mysterious, patient approach to developing his improvisations.

You couldn’t hope for a better rhythm section pairing than this for exploring music that is simultaneously innovative and rooted in tradition. Hébert and Waits share the ability always to be deeply swinging while taking risks and playing with complete abandon. They worked together with Andrew Hill (among many other collaborations), and this sort of material is perfectly suited to their approach.

All in all, a magical, emotionally honest and beautiful album from one of the most interesting musicians working today.

LINK: Nerve Dance trailer


CD REVIEW: Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra feat. Steve Wilson - Portraits and Places

Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra feat. Steve Wilson) - Portraits and Places
(Origin Records 82710. Review by Adrian Fry)

This CD, on the Seattle-based Origin label, is the debut recording of the New York-based big band led by trombonist/composer/arranger Scott Reeves. He has previously made albums as leader, but of smaller ensembles. The band has been in existence since 2008, the recording was made in early 2015, and the listener can hear clearly the considerable time, care and attention that has been spent rehearsing this music: the performances are as relaxed as they are accomplished. The opener, a tribute to the late pianist and educator James Williams, features Reeves on the rarely-heard alto flugelhorn and the first of several excellent piano solos from Jim Ridl. All tunes bar one are Reeves originals. 3 'n 2 demonstrates his ability to weave strong themes, rich harmony and improvisation over a seemingly unstoppable groove. The first time we hear Sara Serpa's voice is her wordless vocal on Osaka June. She floats over the ensemble adding perfectly intonated warmth and sofness. Whilst the next number Waters of March / Águas de março was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1972, Reeves has made it his own, retaining the lilting bossa feel but demonstrating his skill as an arranger in almost ten minutes of development and invention.

The centrepiece of the album is the L & T Suite which weaves themes from four twentieth century composers with Reeves' own invention, and each movement features a particular soloist. Saxophonist Steve Wilson is up first on Wants To Dance, crafting an exciting alto solo between tricky opening and closing ensemble sections. Next Matt McDonald tells A Trombonist's Tale quite beautifully. The suite closes with the exuberant Hip Kitty which once again features Ridl's pianistic artistry. Finally there's one Last Call, a soulful blues notable for solos from the bass trombone of Max Seigel and Terry Goss's baritone.

This group of fabulous musicians are continuing and developing the great tradition of big band music. In the sleeve notes Reeves thanks several well-known and respected writers who have mentored and inspired him, including Manny Albam, Mike Abene and Jim McNeely. From the evidence of this recording, it seems clear that he should be considered as being on a par with them. I can honestly say this is one of the most enjoyable albums I have heard in recent years. Lovely charts, great playing and first-class recording.

LINK: Portraits and Places at Origin Records


REVIEW: Salif Keita in the Muffathalle in Munich

Salif Keita
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Salif Keita
(Muffathalle, Muffatwerk, Munich. 24 May 2017. Review (*) by Ralf Dombrowski)

Salif Keita had to cancel last winter's tour because of ill health. As an albino in Africa, he must indeed have different health - and also cultural - problems to deal with from his compatriots. His music is a means to help create understanding. Through it he can cast aside the barriers of superstition, insecurity, and exclusion. Over the past few decades he has achieved results in building public awareness of the mistreatment and ostracising of albinos. But above all he has developed as a pivotal figure in the world of African music, and has built interest in it and awareness of it through his live performances.
Mamadou Diabaté (centre)
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

At the moment, Keita is experimenting with the combination of musical styles, and is keeping a balance between the African tradition and modern electronics. There is no bass in his band; what he does have is electronic sounds and subtly integrated loops from a laptop. Balafon and n’goni have both disappeared from the line-up, leaving a kora, along with the percussion, as the only African instrument.

The kora-payer is Mamadou Diabaté, one of the reigning monarchs of the harp-like instrument. In the Muffathalle, his instrumental sequence took the listener off into the polyrhythmic-melodic subtleties of this particular cosmos. And they were fascinating excursions: everything from bubblingly fluid cascades of notes to violent whipcracks. Apart from that, many elements are coinciding in this music: rocky elements with Afro-Funk roots, a bit of afro-beat, cycled patterns which took us right back to Keita's early days with Les Ambassadeurs, dancing episodes, volleys from the djembe....

And running right through it is Keita's singing: throaty, evocative, and in its more intense moments, completely hypnotic. Towards the end of the almost one and a half hour single set, dancers from the audience were allowed onto the stage, to join in the Afro-Party-hang. This is the moment when Salif Keita slowly and discreetly disappears from the stage and lets his musicians play on without him. Thank you and goodnight Munich - the master has moved on.

The conclusion of the Salif Keita show in the Muffathalle
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

(*) LINK: Ralf Dombrowski's original German review appeared in the Munich broadsheet - the Süddeutsche Zeitung


SIX PHOTOS: Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place

Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place (sound check)
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/

As a companion piece to our CONCERT REVIEW of Leszek Możdżer in Kings Place Hall One, these photos by Monika S. Jakubowska tell some of the same story. She had privileged access to the sound-check (first three pictures), she shares the same side-on view from the hall which most of the 420 spectators in the packed hall will have seen (fourth picture), she captured one his entertaining explanations (fifth picture). and witnessed him leaving the stage, with the job very well done. All pictures are copyright of MSJPhotos.

Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place (sound check)
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/

Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place (sound check)
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/

The audience view of Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/

Leszek Możdżer explains - at Kings Place
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/

Leszek Możdżer leaves the stage at Kings Place
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/


CD REVIEW: Polly Gibbons - Is It Me...?

Polly Gibbons – Is It Me…?
(Resonance Records RCD-1025. Review by Jeanie Barton)

Polly Gibbons is a young British lady with a shockingly mature soulful voice – perhaps only Joss Stone and Natalie Williams share her enigma. This, her second album for US label Resonance Records, charts her rise in the States. She has recently supported George Benson as well as Gladys Knight on tour, who is likely a vocal idol (they share a strikingly similar vibrato and tone.)

The band and arrangements match Polly’s output in magnitude; producer George Klabin has assembled a seven-piece horn section enhancing both her R&B and swing roots. The piano and most of the arrangements are shared by Ronnie Scott’s All Star James Pearson and Tamir Hendelman (an LA-based pianist who regularly accompanies Barbra Streisand among others.)

This album is a mixture of eclectic covers and originals, three compositions by James and Polly sit happily alongside very established songs; Midnight Prayer is enthused with gospel, Is It Me... gently swings and showcases James at the piano with a storming jazz-drenched solo, while Polly’s vocal brings to mind Al Jarreau in its playful/joyfulness. You Can’t Just… has the vibe of a '70s film theme full of attitude, like Shaft, it is great fun. As is the opening track, Patti Austin’s Ability To Swing, which starts the album with a punch - a catchy skit with a heavy nod to It Don’t Mean A Thing - it too is saturated with soul, blues and gospel.

A track which stands apart for me is Wild Is The Wind, made famous by Nina Simone; Polly’s delivery is understated and the depth of her tone absorbing, she strips the final note of all her rich vibrato, which is very effective - I think she could perhaps employ that simplicity more often. The accompaniment is more skeletal than other numbers too, giving Graham Dechter’s guitar solo space to shine. He also comes to the fore on Dr Feelgood, which gets the blood pumping.

Basin St. Blues is a wondrously sassy track, one could imagine it choreographed in a production like Chicago. It showcases all the horns with passing solos; also, within the arrangement, the band toy with tempo and groove bouncing between half time and double time feels, as they do within the closing Ellington number I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart (Willie Murillo’s trumpet solo on the latter is pure fire).

Polly’s innate husky tone belies the capabilities of her upper register; the final bonus track Don’t Be On The Outside is a live record during which, she somehow pulls out a top F - a third higher than my trick shot! As a singer and songwriter myself, I have every admiration for this lady and where she is going - undoubtedly towards deserved, enduring fame.

Personnel: Polly Gibbons - vocals, Tamir Henderson, James Pearson - piano, Shedrick Mitchell - hammond organ, Graham Dechter - guitar, Kevin Axt - bass, Ray Brinker - drums, Willie Murillo, Vinny Dawson - trumpet, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin - trombone, Bob Shepherd, Brian Scanlon, Keith Bishop, Tom Peterson - reeds.


REVIEW: Leszek Możdżer solo piano at Kings Place

Leszek Możdżer at the Kings Place soundcheck
Photo credit and copyright Monika S Jakubowska/ MSJ Photos

Leszek Możdżer solo piano
(Kings Place Hall One, 24 May 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

(ALSO SEE UPDATE: Six more photos of Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place )

Kings Place Hall One was completely sold out in advance of this show, and a mostly young and appreciative audience had gathered. One could sense that feeling of strong connection and excitement in the hall: I found myself sitting next to one happy adoptive Londoner from Leszek Możdżer's home town of Gdansk, who was also completely captivated by the show. At the end, there were any number of people happy to take their patient place in the long queue for CD signing and selfie. Możdżer, utterly charming, acquiesced to every request for one - or the other.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Monika S. Jakubowska's photos capture the vibe of the whole event. She was there from sound-check onwards. Mozdzer does set an interesting challenge for photographers, though: his long hair keeps his facial expressions almost completely under wraps...

....which perhaps is a way to make more people stop thinking about the pointless task of taking photos, and to concentrate on what is going on musically. The first thing one notices is the clarity of his intent, the natural desire to make the music's flow understandable. I thought of Jorge Bolet, that master of lucid playing who once said (guess what, wonderfully clearly): "It is a performer's responsibility to do what will best put across the piece he is playing."

Yes, Możdżer may hide his face, his remarks about what he does are flippant and funny, but he is a great communicator who does take that responsibility seriously. His playing always has a very strong sense of foreground and background. With his astonishing dexterity and control the first thing he does is to set up a consistent framework for the piece, so that the melodic line he wants to bring over – or at other times the ridiculously fast Art Tatum-style runs – have an understandable context. It is not pedantic, it is just helpful for the listener. The backgrounds are chosen with care: one piece had a kind of languid, Chopin-esque barcarolle feel, Libertango had an accented cross-rhythm; Polska was more rock-anthemic.

Możdżer is faced with the challenge of a number of successful European pianists, which is to make the solo piano recital into a viable offering for playing larger halls, basically to think bigger. From having heard two others relatively recently – the Belgian Jef Neve (review) and the Frenchman Baptiste Trotignon (review) it is fascinating to see how many different ways there are. Of the three, Neve leaves the essence of pianism furthest behind - he thinks orchestral - while Trotignon tries to be the most varied (I loved the jazz playing but had to wait a long time for it). But Możdżer is the one who can hold the attention best. I loved the clever irony of this aside: "I'm going to play a ballad now - you can all go to sleep."

As Możdżer played his encores, I was wondering if he had read my mind. Kings Place Hall One is bristling with electronics. The technical spec of this hall is unbelievable: tech companies with names beginning with Goo... and App... hold product launches in it. The venue also has a very good sound team. It is all there to be used, and Możdżer did deliver most of the programme through the speakers. I guess in larger halls he needs to. But Hall One was designed for classical music to be played acoustically, and for his final offering, all of the technology was switched off. We could delight in Chopin - the Revolutionary Etude delivered with a hurricane of passion - and then the serenity of Bach/ Busoni - both with the unaltered sound of the Steinway "D" coming at us from the middle of the stage. A great show that held the attention from start to finish.

SET LISTS (original compositions unless stated)


Medley: Land of Oblivion - She Said She Was A Painter
Prelude in C minor - Chopin
My Secret Love / Prelude 26 (Fain/Webster and Chopin)
Etude No.2 (Lutoslawski)


Libertango (Piazolla)
Svantetic (Krysztof Komeda)
Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode)
Suffering (Lars Danielsson)

Revolutionary Etude (Chopin)
Improvisation on Bach/Busoni Choral Prelude "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen" BWV 734


BEWARE: Scammers claiming to represent UK Jazz Festivals

Three UK Jazz Festival organizers are currently posting  prominent warnings that there are scammers operating who are purporting to offer bookings at their festivals:

- Bournemouth have put up a warning HERE

- Edinburgh have put up an alert HERE

- There is a note on the bottom of the London Jazz Festival homepage HERE

Kim Macari has written to us explaining the matter in detail. She writes:

"There is currently a scam offering bookings to overseas artists at EFG London Jazz Festival and Edinburgh Jazz Festival. They are copy and pasting information from the festival websites and offering gigs, complete with contracts. They ask artists to arrange their own work permits at a cost of $400 and direct them to their 'Work Permit Agent' Evelyn Scott to arrange this. If artists make this payment, they lose the money but also give their information to the scammers to use in identity theft.

The emails are coming from, purportedly from a Gerry Clarke.

Serious have spoken to the British Police about this but their position is that no crime has taken place so they won't pursue it.

The gig offers look legitimate enough that overseas musicians without working knowledge of the festival teams could be easily convinced of their authenticity." 


REVIEW: Mark Lewandowski's Waller at the Fringe Bar in Bristol.

Waller in Bristol
Photo credit:Jon Taylor
Mark Lewandowski's Waller
(Fringe Bar, Bristol. 24 May, 2017. Review by Jon Turney)

Bassist Mark Lewandowski’s Waller project has just given us a warmly received CD, recorded live at the Vortex. (Reviewed here). This Bristol date, filling the steamy back room of Bristol’s Fringe bar on the hottest day of the year, is part of a UK tour giving the rest of us the chance to hear the trio’s take on a matchless maestro.

Will Glaser is on drums tonight, in place of Paul Clarvis, and Liam Noble is subduing a slightly cranky Fender Rhodes instead of the acoustic instrument on the recording. The differences are intriguing. Waller tunes - mainly ones we all know although the leader mentions a few times that the man produced 400 compositions - cry out for a clean, emphatic bounce, and Glaser punches it out as exuberantlly as Clarvis. The drummer is obviously having a ball throughout, allowing himself a few startling detonations in the second set, as well as an extended spoons solo. Noble’s electric instrument, which he prefers to rigs that simulate an acoustic sound, doesn’t have the sparkle I associate with Waller, and that graces the CD. But he does such good things with it that one soon stops noticing. The second set opener, Martinique, with a Caribbean feel akin to Rollins’ St Thomas, sounds as if made for the Rhodes, and so does the doo-wop treatment of Let’s Pretend that There’s a Moon.

That pair show Lewandowski’s project is still developing, with tunes that don’t appear on the CD. We hear plenty that do as well: an outrageously funked up Honeysuckle Rose; Jitterbug Waltz stated then mutated appealingly in a way strongly reminiscent of Air’s early treatments of Jelly Roll Morton. The leader’s bass here even takes on a touch of the great Fred Hopkins, I fancy, just as I swear I caught hints of Dave Holland in his magisterial solo bass feature later on.

As that suggests, there are big helpings of strong improvisation, as the band stretch out mid-tour. But the way the trio relish Waller’s tunes, and the arrangements - bending and twisting familiar numbers in delightfully unexpected ways - is also a pleasure. It’s not all fun and games - Black and Blue, New Orleans march-style, is suitably funereal. But it is all deliciously well done.

This is a marvellous new take on an old master. It’s also one of the most enjoyable musical evenings of the year from three players who rise brilliantly to the challenge of refreshing music that was always intensely lovable but can now seem hackneyed. Not here. It just sounds as the best jazz does in the moment: simply the right way to play.

LINK: Further Tour Dates


REVIEW: Buddy Rich Big Band at Ronnie Scotts

The Buddy Rich Big Band
Image and file are copyright of Carl Hyde Photography Ltd/ ©2017

Buddy Rich Big Band
(Ronnie Scotts 22 May 2017, first night of residency, first house. Review by Frank Griffith)

The centenary of Buddy Rich's birth (30 September 1917) has brought his band to Ronnie Scott's for a six-night stand until Saturday, 27 May. The band played regularly at the club regularly during the 1970s until 1986 not long before the Rich's untimely passing in April of 1987 at the age of 69. This included the recording two LPs, Rich in London (1972) and The Man From Planet Jazz (1980) the first of which featured Rich's daughter, Cathy, who hosted tonight's show. She revived That's Enough which she sang with Jon Hendricks and his two daughters all those years ago in her set. Upon entering the stage she explained how emotional it was for her to be returning to the club after so many years in her father's 100th year,  but quickly got down to business opening with The Beat Goes On which she originally recorded in the late 1960s with the band -  at the age of twelve!

The largely British band did the music and Buddy proud with a ninety minute set broken into two parts. The first part featured Cathy's husband, Gregg Potter, who got things warmed up nicely with his smooth and quite visual drumming as well as somewhat lighthearted remarks to the audience between songs. After a thirty minute setup change the renowned Dave Weckl took over to escalate the proceedings into fourth and fifth gear leading up to what was a big finish. A set that would have poleaxed a lesser band as the brass section had their work cut out for them in terms of endurance alone but prevailed heroically.

Many soloists rose to the occasion to excite and burnish the crowd with their powerful improvisations. These include trumpeter, Simon Gardner, who combined his fluid hard bop melodies with stunning flashes of high notery that impressed indeed. The powerful and sinuous trombone flightery of Mark Nightingale's solos held his own in the lower brass as did the relentlessly steaming "paid by the note" tenor sax solos of Nigel Hitchcock who for my money took top honours for the blowing Baftas of the night. Not to be outdone, the blustery and bluesy alto sax excursions of Bob Bowlby offered a welcome change to the aforementioned hard bopsters angularisms with his sound and phrasing more reminiscent of the late Gene Quill. Pianist Matt Harris brought a bit of calm and repose to the proceedings with his reflective solos allowing the temperature to cool somewhat before the next onslaught of heat crept in to beat the band.

Incidentally, Bowlby, Harris and Scotsman, baritone saxist, Jay Craig, were veterans of the last band that Buddy fielded in 1986.

Special plaudits to bassist Laurence Cottle, a fixture on the UK recording and jazz scene for his handling of the bass chair while linking up so well with not one but two drummers. UK big band fans will no doubt be aware of Cottles' stunning big band which he is also chief composer and arranger for. They have played at Ronnie's on many occasions as well. I would reckon that his intimate knowledge of the big band as a player, leader and writer allows him to bring much to the table in "driving the bus" so effortlessly.

Cathy Rich and Gregg Potter
Image &/ file are copyright of Carl Hyde Photography Ltd/ ©2017

Drummer Dave Weckl's command of the idiom was spellbinding and carried off in such an effortless way, to boot. He also spoke lovingly of Rich as well as pointing out that as a young drummer, Buddy was one of his main inspirations and how honoured he was having the opportunity help carry on the legacy.

The high point for me was on the set closer Love For Sale (arranged by Brit, Pete Myers) which began with an unaccompanied drum solo. It eased into it demurely enough slowly building up to a suitable temperature for the band to enter with Cole Porter's spacious theme. This was followed by two brief but blinding solos by Bowlby (alto sax) and Gardner (trumpet) after which Weckl moved quickly over to the "right lane" and single handedly pummelled both the band and audience into bad health for the two remaining choruses. At times one was convinced that his four limbs had doubled into eight with the complexity of his multi metre fills amongst his deep dish swing that prevailed to the MGM level big climax at the chart's end. A tour de force that could only be followed by a break and long lie down for all.

A super, super night. Buddy at 100. Who could ask for more.

The entire run of shows is sold out, but cancellations/ returns are sometimes available.


CD REVIEW: Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra - Live

Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra - Live
(Tom Haines Music THMCD001. Review by Peter Bacon)

Composer Tom Haines who lives and works in Warwickshire, raised the money for this recording via a crowdfunding appeal and enlisted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, started in 2014 by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, to perform five of his works before an audience at Stratford Jazz’s 30th birthday celebrations in December last year.

I was there on the night (my review on thejazzbreakfast) and was hugely impressed both by the strength and originality of Haines’ writing and by the way it was interpreted and brought to vivid life by the youthful BJO.

What sounds fine live doesn’t always pass muster when subjected to the more exacting scrutiny possible when a recording is made and turned into a CD. So I am delighted to find that in this case not only does the recording confirm my delight on the night, it actually sounds much better than the live balance could manage in what was a difficult room - circular - for amplification.

Tom Haines has, to my ears, a really fresh approach to big band writing. I get the impression he is a composer first and foremost (as opposed to a player who also composes) and he brings a broad set of influences to his writing - minimalism and contemporary as well as jazz - plus a really detailed ear and eye to the arrangements.

The opener, Yitzoid, exemplifies this approach: tight section motifs interlaced and then overlaid, a lot of jumpiness and silent spaces between the stacked-up notes. Chris Young on alto and Sean Gibbs on trumpet both get generous solo space against a rhythm section - Ben Lee on guitar, David Ferris on piano, Stuart Barker on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums - on a rolling boil.

On the other tracks there are sterling solo efforts from Elliot Drew on soprano, Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone, Kieran McLeod on trombone, Ben Lee, Mike Adlington on flugelhorn, John Fleming and Vittorio Mura on tenors, David Ferris and Jonathan Silk - all of them just lovely!

Strange Utopia features a vocal from Rosie Harris that again stresses the mix of stylistic influences in the writing, her approach more classical than jazz, but here the band risks overwhelming the singer and as a composition it’s perhaps a near miss rather than a palpable hit.

In the end it’s the overall mix of great ensemble playing and strong soloing that make this such a satisfying listen - and that all goes back to having fine writing as the base metal for the band to work with. Haines, the BJO and engineer Luke Morrish-Thomas all deserve a resounding hurrah.

This album is released on 2 June.

LINK: Tom Haines' website


PREVIEW: TW12 Jazz Festival (Richmond, Sunbury and Hampton, 2-4 June)

The Gareth Lockrane Big Band

For their fifth TW12 Festival, Terry Collie and Janet McCunn have brought in what they rightly call an “eclectic mix.” Sebastian writes:

The festival uses three venues:

In Richmond, the new Queen Charlotte Hall, and the smaller “The Link” studio space at the Adult Community College in Parkshot (Friday 2 June)

In Sunbury,  the Riverside Arts Centre (Saturday 3 June)

In Hampton Hill, the Theatre (Sunday 4 June)

The UK artists involved bring strong current projects, such as:

Brandon Allen's very assured tribute to Gene Ammons with Ross Stanley (INTERVIEW) which is the main act on Saturday in Sunbury (DETAILS).

The full splendour of the Gareth Lockrane Big Band - in Richmond on Friday (DETAILS) .

Geoffrey Keezer

On Sunday there is a full programme, culminating in an appearance by Los Angeles-based pianist Geoffrey Keezer - a major coup for this festival


As a teenager, Keezer was in the last line-up of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
He worked for three years as a member of Ray Brown's trio
He has worked with Diana Krall , Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Sting, Wayne Shorter, Joe Locke, Tim Garland
Grammy Nominations
He has recorded projects in his own name for Motema and Sunnyside, Dreyfus, Telarc...

I spoke briefly to Geoffrey Keezer. His last album was for solo piano, entitled Heart of the Piano. He has just finished recording a new album, partly a trio with bassist and also sound engineer Mike Pope from Baltimore which was also where the album was recorded, and drummer Lee Pearson. The trio expands into a quartet with Toronto-born singer Gillian Margot. The repertoire is new compositions by Keezer and new songs co-written with Gillian Margot: "That wa a fun process, it's inspiring to co-write. When I was in my 20s I never thought I would ever let anyone touch my music..."

I asked Keezer about Gillian Margot's music. It turns out she studied with Oscar Peterson. There is a symmetry there, considering Keezer's role in Ray Brown's trio... And as a singer? "She reminds me of Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, that soulful alto voice," but she also has a deep knowledge of the jazz canon.

Gillian Margot and Geoffrey Keezer will be doing a workshop in Hampton on the Sunday afternoon focusing on the art of accompanying vocalists (away from the festival there is also a workshop at Brighton Jazz school).

I asked about other pianists who were currently holding his attention/admiration: "Chucho Valdes – he blows my mind." (pp)



NEWS/ INTERVIEW: Miriam Ast/ Victor Gutierrez Duo - winners at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition

Victor Gutierrez and Miriam Ast
Photo credit: Mina Sanghera

The duo of German-born singer MIRIAM AST and Spanish-born pianist VICTOR GUTIERREZ have just returned (May 2017) to their adoptive city of  London having won the Best Vocalist prize at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition. They tell the story of their win to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Tell me more about the two of you.

Miriam Ast:  I am a German jazz singer, saxophonist and composer. I have been living in London since 2014. Last year I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, London. In Germany, I completed a Bachelor degree in jazz saxophone and singing at the Musikhochschule Mainz and was a member of the established BuJazzO (German National Jazz Orchestra). I have been lucky to perform with some established German musicians including the Polish bassist Vitold Rek, the Echo jazz awardee Sebastian Sternal, and the German saxophonist Gerd Dudek. In London, I have started to collaborate with the saxophonist Stan Sulzmann who wrote a Big Band chart to one of my original compositions. Besides the Ast/Gutierrez Duo, I sing in the London Vocal Project and I want to record my debut album with the Miriam Ast Quintet this year. As a singer, I like to improvise like an instrument and put an emphasis on musical creativity and interaction with my band members.

Victor Gutierrez:  I am a Spanish-born pianist, arranger and composer based in London. Summa Cum Laude graduate at Berklee College of Music (Boston-USA) and scholarship recipient at the Royal Academy of Music, London for a Masters in Jazz Performance, where I have performed with the likes of Norma Winstone, Dave Liebman and Joe Locke. For the previous seven years I lived in New York City and toured the US, Europe and Japan as a member of different projects.

LJN: How long has the duo been together?

MA: Victor and I met in 2015 during our Masters at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Right from the beginning, we felt a special musical connection, so we had a few jams and since then, we organise rehearsals on a regular basis. Especially in the last few years, I have started to appreciate the art form of duo-playing very much, because it allows you the greatest freedom and creativity in interacting with each other and going to unexpected places musically. Whilst in Germany, I was lucky to play duo with one of my tutors in Mainz, the established German pianist Sebastian Sternal. Together, we played a concert in my hometown in Speyer in 2015. It was Sebastian, who inspired me to follow the duo path with Victor Gutierrez in London.

VG:  The Duo is one the hardest ensemble types to make sound properly, as there is nowhere to hide. Right after the first informal jams with Miriam I got a proper reality check of what my real level as a pianist was. She is a fantastic vocalist, with impeccable time and clarity on her lines, so I knew I had to work hard in order catch up with her level. The challenge was there, and I accepted it. I guess the challenge was mutual, as I brought also harmonies and concepts she had to get familiar with. We both also worked critically to improve aspects of each other’s playing, and the result of that mutual hard work is here now.

LJN: What made you want to enter the competition?

MA:  As already mentioned, Victor and I had been regularly rehearsing together for almost two years. Last year after my graduation, we wanted to start promoting the duo properly and get some performance experience. However, we realized that we needed more exposure and visibility on the London scene and internationally to receive promoter’s attention. That is why we applied for the Bucharest International Jazz Competition.

VG:  It was definitely a great excuse to put to test our project and get some sort of reassurance that our work goes in the right direction. And it was a great excuse to visit a city that otherwise we wouldn’t have!

LJN: Tell us about how the competition works/mechanics/judges/prize?

VG:  Basically there is a selection of 22 bands for the semi-final. Each band performs twice in different venues and 4-5 bands make it to the final, which means another two performances. There is a grand prize, best band prize and a best vocalist prize.

We shared the final with the Boston Swing Trio (USA), Soft West (Australia), Aaron Gunst Quintet (Netherlands) and the other UK-band, Samuel Eagles’ Spirit, which received an honorary special prize.

The jury was formed of two teachers from the Fullerton College in California, an Australian pianist and a Romanian professor of music.

LJN: Was anyone else from the UK there?

MA:  Yes, the other UK band was Samuel Eagles’ Spirit. The line-up was Samuel and his brother Duncan Eagles on saxophones, Dave Hamblett on drums, Sam Leak on piano and Max Luthert on double bass. I knew Sam and Dave from London (Sam and I lived in the same flat for about a year) and it was great to get to know the rest of the band in Bucharest. I really liked Samuel’s compositions and their band sound, which was very energetic and virtuoso. We also had some very nice hangs together in the old town of Bucharest and I am very glad to have met these great musicians who are also very lovely people.

LJN: How international was it?

MA:  It was extremely international. The bands came from 20 different countries around the world including Australia, USA, Japan, Nepal, Brazil, Hungary, Canada etc. There were also a few jam sessions organised during the week, which meant that we had the chance to play together and hang together.

LJN:  What about the experience/ /how long were you there for?

VG:  The competition lasted one week, from the first semi-finals to the final. I felt that the duo got stronger over the four performances to the final, and actually some of the judges praised this aspect together with the strength of our musical concept and arrangements, which was really uplifting. The best part was the great level displayed by many bands, especially the finalists. Among the lows was the absence of professional equipment/instruments available for the entire competition. We had to do all our performances on an electric piano, even in the final, which, as a duo in an international competition, really dwarfs the other lows related to the organization, payment, and treatment dispensed to the competitors, etc.

LJN: What did you perform in the competition?

VG:  A selection of arrangements of standards we love from the Great American Songbook (The Song Is You, Alone Together, Round Midnight…) and also a bunch of originals we have been working on. As for the arrangements, Miriam was always very creative about forms and sections whereas I brought harmonic ideas and grooves. It was truly a teamwork.

LJN: Did you expect to win? :)

MA: Our goal was to reach the final. We were very happy about that achievement and did not expect to receive a prize in the final. We focused on enjoying the experience of performing on an international stage so we sang and played our hearts out on the final night. Obviously, we were very honoured about the Best Vocalist prize for our duo.

LJN: Who else were you impressed by?

MA:  In the finals, in which five bands competed, I extremely enjoyed listening to the band Soft West from Australia. The band consisted of some high-level Australian jazz musicians who had a very tight and fusion-like band sound. Very impressive! They came all the way from Australia and I really appreciated their effort and commitment to come all the way to Europe. I also very much enjoyed listening to Samuel Eagles’ Spirit who played beautifully and are all very accomplished and experienced British jazz musicians.

VG: I also thought that the Australians and Sam Eagles' band had the strongest original material and probably the strongest musicians. It is no accident that Sam has a record deal with Whirlwind Recordings. The winners of the other prizes displayed a style more rooted in tradition with no original compositions, but still good energy and swing. A music competition is really a bizarre place, and the criteria to give prizes away may completely differ as the jury changes from one year to the other.

The Official Certificate 

LINKS: Victor Gutierrez' website
Miriam Ast's website


IN SADNESS: Manchester in mourning

The MEN Arena in 2006
Photo: public domain

Manchester-born singer-pianist Jeremy Sassoon shares an initial reaction to the atrocities at the MEN Arena last night:

Manchester. Our city. Our vibrant music city. Another 21,000 sell-out night at the largest indoor arena in the UK. Most of us have watched gigs there, been through the foyer, traversed that walkway, a walkway that encapsulates the typically bizarre Mancunian relationship between an incongruous 1844 railway station and a 20-year-old sports and concert arena. Industrial revolution meets post-Madchester in one classic cameo.

It’s the morning after the night before. I’ve slept on and off through the night with the radio on. “Fatalities” at 11pm became “19 fatalities” at 1am (this one was too difficult to stomach) and has now become 22. I know a few people who were at the gig, but safely made it out. Some people are still looking for their kids. The local Holiday Inn housed 50 children who attended the gig unaccompanied by their parents, and is seeking to unite them. I saw people offering their city centre rooms on Facebook for people at the MEN Arena to take shelter overnight. Good people. Very good people.

As I reflect on last night, I’m haunted by that surreal experience of watching events unfold on TV, knowing nothing for sure, yet being certain that history was being written in front of my eyes.

At first it reminded me of the 1996 IRA bomb exploding in Manchester (I heard that from 10 miles away). And yet not one person was killed by that IRA bomb. That wasn’t luck. Back in those days, terrorists placed a phone call before detonating anything. It doesn’t bear thinking of that, the whole MEN arena would have been totally cleared had that been the case last night. No, these perpetrators are truly bastards. But far worse. I don’t wish to talk much about them.

My point is that this event feels very different. This assault has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, shopping centres and the businesses within, it’s about life and death. This is not our 1996, this is our 9/11. It cuts far deeper.

On a personal level, it’s sharply brought out the Mancunian in me. Nothing galvanised New Yorkers more than 9/11 and as I write this, every Mancunian is feeling it too. And we’re a strong bunch and a very proud city. Every friend who works in the city centre has gone into work today. Manchester will look exactly the same, but feel very, very different.

Enter Andy Burnham. Talk about an initiation from hell. He was elected Mayor of Manchester only a fortnight ago, and now finds himself saddled with the task of guiding this great city through this disaster and out the other side. I spent a few minutes last night Googling Andy Burnham, and I like what I read. He’s born on Merseyside and represented Leigh as MP, so what he lacks in mayoral experience, he makes up for in good Northern stock. He’s a man who decided to donate 15% of his mayoral salary to mental health charities. As an ex-psychiatrist, I take my hat off to a man like that. Unfortunately, demands on these services will be even higher in the aftermath of what has just happened, so he may want to review that figure, but I trust him.

I don’t know how our emotions will develop over the coming days or weeks. It’s only 14 hours old and the wounds are still very fresh. We’re reminded by the police we’re still not out of the woods as regards repeat attacks, yet we should go about our usual business. For many of us, tomorrow’s business will be supporting Manchester United in the Europa League Final. Not only will there be a minute’s silence for the victims of this atrocity, every fan will be singing their heart out for the city of Manchester and its beloved children tragically lost only a few hours ago.

LINK: Appeal / fund to support the families of the MEN Arena victims


PHOTOS/REVIEW: JQ Legends Festival, Birmingham

Alina Bzhezhinska paying tribute to Alice Coltrane
Photo credit: © John Watson/

John Watson captured some of the action at the 2017 JQ Legends Festival (19-21 May 2017), presented by Birmingham Jazz in various venues around Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Reports jointly by Peter Bacon and Ben Daniels.

How do you bring together the jazz audience that loves the music’s heritage with the listeners who thrive on the surprise of the new? Birmingham Jazz has come up with an ingenious solution in its Legends Festival, now in its third year. It gets contemporary players to celebrate the legends of the past but in their own contemporary manner.

Chris Bowden (unusually on tenor) and Legend guest curator Bryan Corbett
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Peter Bacon writes: 

This year’s loose theme was the Blue Note label and the players who recorded for it. Guest curator Bryan Corbett, a trumpeter who has been very much wedded to that idea of reinventing the past since his work in Us3 led four different bands over the three days, including one with powerful saxophonist Chris Bowden, himself something of a Birmingham legend. Meanwhile another good friend of Birmingham Jazz, saxophonist Tony Kofi, featured in tributes to John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Tony Kofi playing Coltrane
Photo credit: © John Watson/
The Ornette gig was my highlight. Kofi has a bona fide Coleman link - he played with him on a Jamaaladeen Tacuma recording session - and he, Byron Wallen on trumpet, Larry Bartley on double bass and Rod Youngs on drums made sure that they not only played true to themselves on a selection of Ornette tunes, they communicated their own brand of that visceral excitement stirred up by the Coleman Quartet at the turn of the ‘60s.

I also enjoyed two young bands, the David Ferris Trio playing the music of Jimmy Smith and the Nick Dewhurst Quintet playing Kenny Doreham tunes, both free entry gigs in Jewellery Quarter coffee bars.

Ben Daniels writes:

Two outstanding performances came from the brilliant harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, in a tribute to the work of Alice Coltrane, and from bassist Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents.

Alec Dankworth adding the crucial flamenco rhythm
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Emily Dankworth in Spanish mood
Photo credit: © John Watson/

Alina, with saxophonist Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Joel Prime, demonstrated that the harp can be a tremendously expressive jazz instrument, while Alec's group strongly evoked the power of flamenco in a dazzling show, with superb singing from his daughter Emily Dankworth.


REVIEW: Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project at Birmingham Town Hall

Terri Lyne Carrington in Birmingham Town Hall
Photo credit: John Watson/

Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project
(Birmingham Town Hall, 21 May 2017. Review by A J Dehany)

“It’s important to claim new standards,” says Terri Lyne Carrington, the Grammy award-winning drummer who has won a longstanding crossover audience and for over 30 years introduced soul tunes to jazz arrangements and jazz tunes to the deep grooves of soul. How does a song become a standard? Blind luck, good fortune, sheer chance… but a start would be somebody playing the song.

Terri Lyne Carrington’s only UK tour date to a diverse audience at Birmingham Town Hall, part of a two-day residence involving a day of drumming workshops as part of the Jazzlines Women In Jazz programme, was a projective lesson in the attempt to “claim new standards” from an eclectic selection of tunes from contemporary jazz and the classic pop songbook.

The thing about crossing over to a wider audience is you can go to them, but few will cross back over with you. The first hour of the concert was some quite hard jazzer’s jazz. A number of couples leaving I didn’t notice returning. The quartet’s playing is serious, with each player unafraid to take risks: rhythmically tripling up under the main rhythm is a strong suit in both Carrington’s drumming and under the fingers of pianist Helen Sung; and harmonically straying ‘outside’ as in the dextrous soloing of multiple sax player Tineke Postma. Generally the players keep to a strong group discipline.

Carrington’s Sweden sounds like a Wayne Shorter tune, but its restrained tempo is offset by quite busy playing; Carrington has a particular expressiveness on the ride cymbal that carries across her restless imagination. Her Mosaic Triad Part 1 similarly showcases her controlled creativity on the drums. It’s after Geri Allen’s deep cut Unconditional Love that Carrington makes her case for new standards, but continuing with Kenny Barron’s A Voyage we are still deep in jazzer’s jazz territory rather than the souljazz cross-over many have come to hear.

The final half hour of the concert, with vocalist China Moses, is truer to this fresher spirit, and in a sophisticated way. Hendrix’s Burning of the Midnight Lamp’s harpsichord intro is reapportioned into 7/4 time but perfectly recognisable whereas you might not necessarily spot the Beatles’ Michelle, which is also in 7/4 and taking the same approach to the melody: simplified to its bluest notes, the melodic essentials of the memory.

China Moses is a magnetic communicator. Her mother is Dee Dee Bridgewater so, as Carrington says, “the fruit don’t fall far from the tree”. Her self-confident contribution to the reworkings of Hendrix, Al Green, and the Beatles, as well as her own tune Disconnected and a languidly grooving arrangement of the legit standard Lover Man help open the music out into the auditorium. A frustrating concert in some ways, crucially divided between jazz and soul tendencies, but at their finest moments the strong playing of the group and the careful synergies of the arrangements spark an appealing frisson.

LINK: Terri Lyne Carrington interview


NEWS: Tony Levin Prize at the 2017 JQ Legends Festival, Birmingham awarded to Gwilym Jones

Gwilym Jones getting happy during the Tony Levin Prize competiton.
Photo credit: Brian Homer

Peter Bacon reports on a competition for drummers held in Birmingham on Friday 19 May 2017: 

The legacy of the British jazz drummer Tony Levin, who died in 2011, is celebrated each year by Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire Jazz Department, where Tony had taught, in this prize for the best drummer among the conservatoire’s students.

Or, more precisely, “the most swinging drummer today, in this room,” as another BCU jazz tutor, double bassist Arnie Somogyi, explained Tony’s aim with the prize, the specificity an attempt to get around the whole modern distaste for competitions - and their reduction of artistic creativity into simple winners and, therefore, losers.

Among the collected audience on Friday lunchtime at The Red Lion in the Jewellery Quarter - this was the first event of this year’s JQ Legends Festival - were many jazz students, and among the students were seven drummers. Each would take their turn on the stand, pick a tune - literally - out of Arnie’s flat cap of standards, and play it with Somogyi on bass and Jean Toussaint on tenor saxophone.

And so, Piero Alessi played Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, Oliver Baylis played All The Things You Are, Kai Chaurensy played I’ll Remember April… you get the picture. We also heard Rob Harper, Gwilym Jones, Israel Shabani and Noah Stone.

Then the adjudicators - Somogyi and Toussaint the main judges, with some assistance from Tony’s widow, Chris, and son, Miles - slimmed the list to two, to be followed, in Arnie’s words, by a “fight to the death”.

After all seven had been commended on their efforts, the shortlist of two was Gwilym Jones and Israel Shabani, with a recommendation of Kai Chaurensy, a first year, as a close third. Jones chose Softly… and Shabani I’ll Remember… and the judges consulted once more.

“The most swinging drummer today, in this room,” was deemed to be Gwilym Jones, and he celebrated with the appropriately titled Get Happy. He gets a pint bought for him by Arnie Somogyi and a cash prize. Mostly his reward was the chance to do his thing between Somogyi and Toussaint and to get lots of slaps on the back afterwards.

The audience’s reward was the vicarious thrill of hearing seven young musicians putting their skills on the line in the demanding but generous company of two expert players.

Congratulations to all of them, especially to Gwilym Jones.


REVIEW: London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead - European Premiere at Kings Place

Pete Churchill, soloists and the London Vocal Project at the end
of the European premiere of Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead

London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead
(Kings Place Hall One, 21 May 2017. Review by John L. Walters)

Pete Churchill and the London Vocal Project (LVP) are making history. They have realised Jon Hendricks’ ambition to make a vocalese version of Miles Ahead, the groundbreaking album of orchestral jazz by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. French jazz critic André Hodeir, in his sleeve notes for the original LP sleeve, described its contents as ‘ten little concertos assembled in a vast fresco’, and his allusion to the great art of the past is entirely appropriate. Davis, playing flügelhorn throughout, is the only soloist, supported by ‘19+’, a jazz big band enhanced by extra brass and woodwind but without chordal instruments. Evans’ arrangements have a ‘classical’ seriousness in their depth and dynamics, yet they feel light and easy on the ear. And though six decades have passed since Miles stepped into New York’s 30th Street Studio to record it (in May 1957), Miles Ahead still sounds breathtakingly fresh.

Hendricks, the godfather of harmonised vocalese, has been working on lyrics for Miles Ahead since the late 1960s. Manhattan Transfer recorded a sublime version of the Gil Evans composition Blues for Pablo on their underrated The Offbeat of Avenues (1991), but there have been few other realisations. What’s remarkable about Hendricks’ vision is that in addition to writing words for melodies and improvised solos (and re-working existing lyrics), he sought to write lyrics for all the internal parts, the countermelodies, comping [accompanying] chords, riffs and bravura ensemble passages – in Churchill’s words, ‘every note that Gil wrote.’

Pete Churchill persuaded Hendricks that the London Vocal Project could make his dream come true and it is down to the encouragement and tenacity of Churchill that the great singer-lyricist, now 95, completed all the words in time for its New York premiere last February (see Tessa Souter’s report  for LondonJazz News). And it’s also down to Churchill’s skill and hard graft as an arranger – he transcribed and scored the entire work for vocal ensemble – that it sounded so wonderful at Sunday evening’s sold-out London premiere;  it was a highly emotional occasion. To remind us of the source, he placed a mono vinyl copy of Miles Ahead against a stage monitor.

At Kings Place, the 24-strong LVP was augmented by Dave Whitford (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), plus three vocal soloists: Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, ‘national treasure’ Norma Winstone and Michele Hendricks, daughter of Jon. Churchill programmed the evening with Miles Ahead in the second half; a relaxed first set (all with vocalese lyrics by Jon Hendricks) included Neal Hefti’s Count Basie classic Li’l Darlin’ and Summertime (from the Davis/Evans Porgy and Bess, and a tune originally slated for Miles Ahead, according to its record producer George Avakian), with soloist Jessica Radcliffe. The LVP left the stage for trio-backed numbers by each of the soloists; Michele Hendricks delivered an exuberant Everybody’s Boppin’.

For the second set, Churchill left the piano to join the bass voices. Michele Hendricks began Miles Ahead by singing the album’s opener, Springsville. The choir performed all ten tracks in album order, so Fitzgerald Burke then sang The Maids of Cadiz, floating on a super-smooth cloud of harmonised vocalese. Evans’ recomposition of the original Delibes tune was transformed further by Churchill’s sonorous arrangements, while Dave Whitford emerged from the shadows to play the prominent bass part. When Norma Winstone sang Dave Brubeck’s The Duke she totally ‘owned’ the Davis solo, and the LVP delivered the song’s elegant but intense contrasts, from chamber group, to shouting big band, to cool, spacious trio. The tune's erudite hat-tip to Duke Ellington, underlined by Hendricks’ words: ‘'Life is loaded with melody, he writes it down for you and me.’ Winstone stayed out front to sing the Ira Gershwin-Kurt Weill classic My Ship, and Fitzgerald Burke ended ‘side one’ with the thrilling positivity of Hendricks’ lyrics for Miles Ahead; the LVP’s articulation of the interlocking ensemble lines was impressive.

Churchill then flipped over the vinyl LP, leaving it on the piano, to remind us that we had come to side two of Miles Ahead. This starts with one of the greatest Gil Evans compositions ever (which kind of means one of the best pieces of music, ever), the magisterial and multi-stranded Blues for Pablo. Michele Hendricks made the flugel part authentic and highly emotional, while Churchill’s orchestration showed his mastery of the LVP’s timbres, the sheer scope of sounds it is possible to make with massed human voices. The high key of Ahmad Jamal’s New Rhumba was a challenge, but Norma Winstone attacked the Davis part with glee, and the ‘comping’ behind her solo was delicious. Part of the genius of Miles Ahead is the way Evans made a big ensemble feel as supple as a trio; the LVP version keeps this quality.

Hendricks’ lyrics are a constant delight: when Davis’s New Rhumba solo quotes from Richard Rodgers’ show tune ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, Hendricks quotes Lorenz Hart’s lyrics – ‘wild again, beguiled again’.

A stack of vocal harmonies started The Meaning of the Blues, like the exposed struts of a great bridge or tower, prefacing a restrained but moving solo part by Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, melding without pause into J. J. Johnson’s Lament. The final track, I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone Else But You) is the Jack Elliott and Harold Spina tune that Ahmad Jamal made his own. Gil Evans’ chart transformed Jamal’s trio version into a tongue-in-cheek showstopper; Michele Hendricks delivered the Davis part with aplomb while the LVP went into virtuoso overdrive.

The singers of the London Vocal Project are something else. Not only did they successfully face the technical challenge of singing Evans’ charts, tricky parts that foxed even New York’s finest session guys in the 1950s, they sang the entire album from memory, every note bearing a Jon Hendricks lyric. Not only do they sound like a coherent ensemble – a real band – with a signature sound like no other choir on the scene, they have the technique to stretch and adapt their sound to the scores’ more extreme demands. Yet they wear their learning lightly, as Miles Davis did, as Gil Evans did. Their reinterpretation of Miles Ahead gives new life, texture and meaning to this orchestral jazz ‘fresco’ in a way that enhances and deepens our understanding and enjoyment of the original. To re-use Gil Evans’ metaphor, Hendricks, Churchill and the LVP have made the most beautiful new bottle for this fine old wine.

The Encore - Horace Silver's The Preacher



1) It's Sand Man by Ed Lewis & Jon Hendricks (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross - from 'Sing a song of Basie') (LVP)
2) Summertime - by Gershwin. New lyrics by Jon Hendricks (from Miles Davis/Gil Evans - Porgy and Bess) (LVP)
3) I'll bet you thought I'd never find you - by Les McCann & Jon Hendricks (Kevin Fitzgerald Burke)
4) Hi-Fly - by Randy Weston & Jon Hendricks (Norma Winstone)
5) Ev'rybody's Boppin' - Jon Hendricks (Michele Hendricks)
6) Li'l Darlin' - by Neil Hefti & Jon Hendricks (Andi Hopgood, LVP)
7) O Pato - by Jaime Silva/Neuza Teixeira -,English lyric by Jon Hendricks (LVP)

SECOND SET.. (All Lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

1) Springsville (John Carisi) - Michele Hendricks.
2) Maids of Cadiz (Delibes) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke.
3) The Duke (Dave Brubeck) - Norma Winstone.
4) My Ship (Kurt Weill) - Norma Winstone
5) Miles Ahead (Miles Davis/Gil Evans) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke.
6) Blues for Pablo (Gil Evans) -Michele Hendricks
7) New Rhumba (Ahmad Jamal) - Norma Winstone
8) (Bobby Troup/Leah Worth) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke
9) Lament (J.J.Johnson) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke
10) I don't wanna be kissed (Jack Eliot/Harold Spina) - Michele Hendricks


The Preacher (Horace Silver, lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

Set lists courtesy of Pete Churchill and Nikki Iles

LINKS: Preview feature before the New York premiere
Emma Smith interviews Pete Churchill on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now
The history of the collaboration,
The first LVP Miles Ahead ‘teaser’, including footage of LVP in the recording studio,
Footage of final rehearsals and an interview with Pete Churchill prior to the New York premiere,


CD REVIEW: Matt Holman – The Tenth Muse

Matt Holman – The Tenth Muse
(Panoramic PAN07. CD review by Brian Marley)

The few fragments of Sappho’s poetry that have come down to us from antiquity make unusually high demands of the reader. To make best sense of the poems, we have to fill in the gaps where words are missing, to connect the dots between one isolate phrase and the next.

But there are ways of doing that other than with words. Trumpet and flugelhorn player/ composer Matt Holman has crafted twelve pieces that are both interpretive and speculative in nature, and he and his ensemble have added four improvisations that are so perfectly in keeping with the compositions you’d be hard pressed to know which is which.

He’s chosen well, both in terms of Sappho translators (the poet Anne Carson) and his musicians: Chris Dingman (vibraphone), Bobby Avey (piano) and Sam Sadigursky (soprano saxophone, clarinets, flutes). This band - he had a different set of colleagues on his 2013 debut album When Flooded -  play these lyrically sophisticated and occasionally songlike compositions with elegance and grace. Holman himself has a strong harmonic sensibility, and his fluid phrasing and way with melody occasionally remind me of Kenny Wheeler. Although his role isn’t spotlit, he’s always there, at the heart of the music, the pivot around which everything revolves.

The compositions on The Tenth Muse have been arrived at by way of cryptograms. “Pitches and rhythms associated with specific letters or words,” as Holman explains. (J.S. Bach famously used the letters of his own name, of course.). But this is not a dry academic exercise. Holman has tried to make the music as expressive and emotionally varied as the poem fragments. To achieve the clarity required by this approach, the musicians have to work as one rather than as four individuals pursuing common ground – more akin to a string quartet than a jazz band. But there’s still plenty of improvisational room for manoeuvre, and the players take full advantage of it. The music is light, airy, and a tad mysterious – much like Sappho’s poems. It’s a fitting tribute.


INTERVIEW: Hedwig Mollestad Thomassen (co-publication with Citizen Jazz, France)

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy

HEDVIG MOLLESTAD THOMASSEN played with her trio in Oslo at the 20th edition of the by:larm festival, where she played two impressive, fast, complementary shows on 3 and 4 March. The first show was at Kulturkiken Jacob, a church built in 1880 and now a place of culture welcoming art performances, the second at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, the Oslo jazz club. Anne Yven of the Citizen Jazz (France) interview, and shared her interview for this co-publication with LondonJazz News.(*)

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your relationship with the guitar? Was it “love at first sight”?

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen: I started to play guitar when I was not even 10 years old, I think. There were a lot of instruments at home: a piano which I would also play, and my father played the flugelhorn, and the guitar was just there. I do think there’s a relation between what people would like to do and what they do well, or at least what they learn fast!

LJN: So is it a matter of pleasure or work? When did you decide to become a musician?

HMT: When something seems to fit your skills it’s easy to like it, of course! Therefore I did practise a lot because I enjoyed it. The most important thing is that my parents encouraged me to try everything. As a mother and as a musician I’m really interested in this issue of our growing-up environment. It has so much to do with who we are today as adults. How it shapes us.

LJN: And I guess it also has to do with the many musicians and bands who have influenced your music? Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Jim Hall. What about rock bands like Motorpsycho, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath? Are their influences coming from your teenage years?

HMT: No! I wasn’t exposed to the hard rock scene until very recently. When I was a teen, I was into the grunge rock wave, Pearl Jam, Nirvana... Plus, there were jazz “bacteria” in me when I grew up. The whole 1970s rock came much later, when I met musicians of my age who had been listening to hard rock, like Ivar (drummer of Hedvig Mollestatd Trio) who said to me “You’re so lucky you don’t know them! There’s so much music you’re going to love!”

LJN: “Hedvig Mollestad Trio”. The name of your band is also an artistic choice, isn’t it?

HMT: Definitely. We thought a lot about it. It was when I won this award at the Molde Jazz festival in 2009, which allowed me to put together a band and do concerts the year after. I had one year. So the first thing most people would do is put together a big band with all the great musicians you know because there’s money for it, but sometimes nothing more happens. I saw it as an opportunity to build something that can really last. You can’t pick the musicians that are already too busy, because then you cannot really create a unity.

LJN: The name is important for you. It’s your trio, your name, but you insist on the fact that it is a band.

HMT: Yes. The idea of having a rock band with a jazz name was not so calculated. There are so many guitar trios. The guitar trio is more powerful than the name. In our first record the songs are more structured in a jazz way: in the melodies and the harmonies, the schemes, a lot of solos and loose things in the writing. The music is changing, although we still look a little weird in the jazz festivals and a little weird in the rock festivals.

LJN: Your record label, Rune Gramofon, is also a reference in promoting fine music with jazz and rock influences. Do you consider it as a good support?

HMT: Absolutely. I like to stick with people and Rune (Kristoffersen) has been with us since the beginning. It is sometimes hard for him, hard to make a living with this. Selling records. He’s doing it out of love for the music. He gives us so much artistic freedom.

LJN: All Of Them Witches, Evil in Oslo, Blood Witch, Kathmandu, Code of Hammurabi… The titles of your albums and songs often have magical, esoteric or spiritual references. Are you looking for a sort of trance state?

HMT: We are not, our music is not, about getting high, doing drugs, and so on. We’ve never been into this. But what we do chase is this particular moment in music when it feels right for everyone at the same time, the three of us on stage and the audience. And when it happens it is still hard to describe why! Why this particular moment or version of the song or entire gig was just so perfect for us? If you want to call that a trance, this chase, you can.

Ellen Brekken
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy

LJN: For seven years now you’ve been writing for this trio with bass player Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad. How has your writing evolved? Do you think about them when you write?

HMT: It’s not a real conscious procedure but when I sit down and feel like playing, finding new material for the trio, I hear them. They are here. On the first record I was more focused on the melodies and the riffs of the guitar, trying to express my own different languages. Now I want to work on this thing that binds us together.

LJN: Do you feel more powerful when you express yourself through this unity?

HMT: Well, there’s a time for everything you know. I also do solo concerts and that’s something else. It’s human relationships anyway. Each relationship is unique.

And there must be room for chance in our music. A gig does not necessarily work the way you thought it would. It might sometimes surprise you and make you think differently. It opens your mind when something like that happens.

LJN: Is this the jazz side of your trio?

HMT: Yes, in a way. The thing about this music is that it is supposed to be free, whatever we put in the word “free”. We can almost do whatever we want. Almost. This music is about building a conversation so if someone starts to talk badly, to be rude in a way that it doesn’t make sense, nobody knows how to respond and it can’t work. You can do whatever you want but the intention must be good!

LJN: Finally, I would like you to talk about something you don’t like to talk about. Women in music. I have a few names in mind like Matana Roberts or Joelle Léandre. Both artists refer to their fight, because they’re still a minority. Do you feel concerned by this fight?

HMT: I can talk about it! I used not to talk about the subject because I thought it was important to be a female instrumentalist and play without focusing on the subject. It was more important for me to talk about the music, the band, the project, the trio. Of course if being a feminist means to demand equal rights for men and women then sure I am. And everyone should be. But when I perform music I’m only concerned about the music.

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy

LJN: You’re a live band, you’re offering something powerful, interacting with the audience, paying attention to details – you have a red dress code –, and the way you behave on stage. To me HM3 is a visual experience! Would you agree?

HMT: We did start as a jazz band, playing dressed in jeans and T-shirts… But I always felt like when I offer something on stage, I want to change. Not necessarily a big costume change, maybe a little lipstick or a dress. This is something every rock band would do, and I think, yes, the people who go to see a live band, deserve to have a visual experience. Jazz musicians are very focused on the music. I think to dress up a little more does not necessarily take the focus away from the music. It might actually give more focus and fun to the music!

It’s like the high heeled shoes I’m wearing on stage. I’m playing with codes. I actually have a double feeling about that. These are feminine objects developed, produced, for women, when they want to “dress up” but they make me move in the worst way on a stage! The red dress also. You can’t actually feel comfortable wearing it. But at the same time, the shoes make me taller, the dress makes me sweat but you don’t see that! The point is not to look better, the point’s to say to the audience “Look, here: we prepared something for you.”

(*) LJN has published an edited, shorter version of the Citizen Jazz interview
Nicky Schririe's 2014 interview with Hedwig Mollestad