REVIEW: Alison Rayner Quintet at Pizza Express Dean Street

Alison Rayner Quintet
Publicity photo

Alison Rayner Quintet
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 21 February 2018. Review by Charlie Anderson)

The Alison Rayner Quintet are a band with a wealth of experience and the musical chemistry that they have developed is very much evident, both on their recordings and in live performances.

They released their second album, A Magic Life, back in 2016 and started their set at Pizza Express Live with the original Musicophilia, a grooving piece from the album. With lots of forward momentum, the piece was inspired by the writings of Oliver Sacks and the music of bassist Eberhard Weber.

Alison Rayner’s strength lies in conjuring up different sound worlds as she is often inspired by locations and personal experiences. This was conveyed in tunes such as the atmospheric Swanage Bay, the Indian influenced The Trunk Call and a new piece, Croajingolong Bushwalk, inspired by her first trip to Australia.

Rayner has said that the reason for the band’s success is that each member of the band is a composer in their own right and whilst a majority of the pieces were Rayner’s originals, each set featured a piece composed by a different member. In the first set, Diane McLoughlin’s New Day was a pensive and dreamy groove with phrases exchanged between piano and saxophone before breaking out into a bright jazz waltz and some fantastically fluid soloing from Steve Lodder. In the second set, Lodder’s own composition, The OK Chorale, began as an energetic groove before transforming into a Bach-inspired mellow piano feature.

What also stood out was guitarist Deirdre Cartwright’s ability to play just about any sound imaginable, ranging from a sitar effect on The Trunk Call to a didgeridoo sound on Croajingolong Bushwalk, together with her ability to adapt to any context whether playing bebop solo lines or rock guitar riffs.

Drummer Buster Birch had blended in so well with the band he was almost unnoticeable but was given a chance to shine on the encore, Queer Bird, from the 2014 album August.

What makes Rayner’s music so enjoyable is her distinctive, powerful bass lines combined with strong melodic lines, together with arrangements that really bring out the strengths of the different members of the band.

LINKS:Alison Rayner interview with Alison Bentley from 2018

CD Review A Magic Life

Podcast interview from 2016


NEWS: Herts Jazz moves from Sundays to Tuesdays and from Welwyn to St. Albans from 3 April

The view from the stage at Maltings Arts Theatre
Photo from theatre website

NEWS: Herts Jazz Club, under the Artistic Directorship of Clark Tracey, is on the move.

The club started as Jazz at the Bell in Codicote in 1969. Subsequent venues have included The Fountain and Panshanger Golf Complex, both in Welwyn Garden City. Clark Tracey has been in charge since 2009, and Campus West in Welwyn has been the club's base for the past seven years.

It has just been announced that Herts Jazz will be moving roughly 10 miles to the
South-West to the 140-seater Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans at the beginning of April. Gigs will start at 7.30pm and finish at 10pm. Maltings Arts Theatre has been run by the company OVO since 2011.

The very last artists to perform at the old venue in Welwyn will be Allison Neale and Chris Biscoe with the well-matched sounds from their vintage Conn saxophones from the 1930s, in their alto/baritone "Two of a Mind" project (described here) on Sunday 25 March.

American saxophonist Scott Hamilton will be the first to perform in the new venue on Tuesday 3 April.

"Artists already booked for this season," says the press release, "include Claire Martin & Liane Carroll, The Stan Tracey Legacy Octet, Alan Barnes’ Sextet, Zoe Rahman, Dave O’Higgins, Freddie Gavita, Rosario di Rosa and Simon Spillett."

Clark Tracey says, “We are so pleased to be able to bring the best of British jazz to St Albans. The Maltings Arts Theatre is a brilliant space for jazz with a grand piano, capacity for 140 and a great ambience. We know that the city has been crying out for regular jazz and we hope to see many newcomers join our regulars for some great music.”

For the avoidance of confusion, this is the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans AL1 3HL. -  so if your Satnav or Google Maps has taken you to either THIS ARTS CENTRE CALLED MALTINGS or THIS ONE have gone either 100 or 320 miles in completely the wrong direction.

LINKS: Maltings Arts Theatre St Albans website 

Herts Jazz website


INTERVIEW: Stefano Battaglia (first London appearance since late1980s. Poet in the City, Kings Place, 1 March)

Stefano Battaglia
Photo credit: Roberto Cifarelli /ECM

Milanese pianist STEFANO BATTAGLIA, who has made seven albums for ECM, will be making his first appearance in London for a quarter of a century, at Kings Place on 1 March 2018, in an event promoted by Poet in the City. The Sea Opens will see him sharing the stage with Turkish-Kurdish poet Bejan Matur. Interview and translation by the London correspondent of Il Foglio William Ward:

LondonJazz News: You haven't performed in the UK for some 25 years. Any reason for this return? What are your expectations for your visit here?

Stefano Battaglia: I’m a lucky guy, I travel the world performing the music that I have composed, but I'm also aware that what I do doesn't necessarily suit the tastes of a local audience, even in such an important musical culture like the UK. I guess that over the last quarter century, there just wasn't that much interest in what I do: no worries.

Actually my only appearances in London go back some 30 years ago, when I was invited by that great drummer Tony Oxley, with whom I’d won a prize for the joint album project Explore. I was only 20 at the time, so to come back with a different life experience will be amazing, I can’t wait!

LJN: You’ve now recorded some seven album for ECM: given your rather socio-political outlook how do you reconcile your interest in some of the world’s most burning political issues with the distinctly aesthetic ethos of a label like ECM?

SB: Ever since politics has become the expression of economic interests, I am no longer interested in entering the fray, on those terms. What I’m interested in is “ethos” as a guiding principle for living, expressing the finest aspects of humanistic culture.

I’d say the same thing goes for ECM which is frequently perceived as being predicated around “aesthetic” ideas, when in fact its guiding principle is “ethos”. I don’t think there are any other record labels in the world which so explicit embrace the principle that in music there should be no distinction between ideologies, races, cultures, religions.

ECM must have the only catologue that features ancient music as well as contemporary classical; folk and traditional music; mainstream jazz and free jazz, Classical and Baroque, new music and electronic stuff, being concerned only with the idea of uncompromising beauty and artistic integrity.

I am totally signed up to this philosophical approach, of Dialogue-through-Beauty.

LJN: Can you give us some clues about what inspired you when you were making your solo album Pelagos?

SB: I often realize that as a musician, I run the risk of closing myself off into a hermetically sealed, self-indulgent magic bubble. But what of my role on this planet? I can’t just be a competent musician, I must contribute towards the survival of the planet. Sometimes it drives me nuts to observe this constantly self-referential carousel of the music industry, with its endless self indulgent “homages” to “the canon”, be that to Vivaldi or Hendrix, to Chopin or Frank Zappa, when there are people dying in civil wars, or trying to survive even the most basic subsistence level.

What is happening in the Mediterranean now is devastating. Once the open forum of peaceful cultural and lively commercial exchange, it has now been reduced to a watery grave, like in the times of Homer’s Odyssey.

LJN:  How did you meet Bejan Matur and what prompted you to collaborate with her in this performance at Kings Place on 1 March?

SB: I met Bejan at a poetry festival in the mountains of central Sardinia, and heard her recite her work in her native language (of which I don't understand a word) and I was deeply moved by the eloquence of the deep emotions she expressed so forcefully. I went to congratulate her afterwards, only to discover that she too knew my work and loves what I do – isnt that amazing?

Her being Kurdish, and being heavily involved in her people's struggle for survival and dignity, what with my own ethical principles and sense of priorities, I could not pass over the chance of an artistic collaboration like this!

LJN: Why did you think of combining certain distinct elements of Poetry and Jazz to create this unique narrative of the current migrant crisis in the Mediterranean?

SB: I think that Art – the performing arts –should go back to having a more active role in public life, not just as sterile entertainment. Its memory is different from that of formal history, ours is a meta-memory. Picasso’s Guernica memorializes the devastating effects of the Nazi bombing in Spain far more effectively that any formal historical account. Improvisation is about the “hic et nunc” – the here and now! And despite all the terrible things happening within its confines, the Mediterranean offers the ideal forum for a creative dialogue between different cultural expressions and disciplines in a truly efficacious, dynamic manner.

LJN: How important are your Italian – and even your Milanese - roots in terms of inspiring your work, which has such a declared universalist nature ?

SB: Whilst Im perfectly happy to accept my Italian-ness as a simple fact it’s not a choice. True personal identity isnt a question of style or geography, but something deeper: a combination of personal desire and of a sense of “voluntas” – will or determination – in harmony with truth. The misunderstanding comes about when one thinks of Art as being just "language” – Logos, a syntactic construction. But music isn't a language, it's a meta-language. Sure there is grammar in it, but beyond that there exists in it a "mystery zone" with its own rules, which must be cherished on its own terms.

When we hear a Korean sing the Blues, or an African play the Goldberg Variations, we only hear the idiom , the language, but there isn't a deep sense of “ownership”, of profound understanding. That’s why it’s necessary for us to travel to hear other cultures’ music performed within their own cultural context, or alternatively, have those musicians travel so that we can witness their deeper cultural truths on our doorstep.

Britain is a good paradigm of this: Elizabethan theatre invented “la canzone” – the song – and it is within that metaphysical “created space” that subsequent generations have explored and developed the genre: John Dowland, William Byrd, Thomas Morley & Orlando Gibbons. I can still hear echos of that creativity five centuries later in the work of Peter Gabriel or Thom Yorke, just as the same life blood paasses through Hogarth and Reynolds and Turner, via Purcell to Genesis, through Britten to Peter Hammill and Scott Walker. This is the meaning of Identity.

LJN: After an angry and highly divisive electoral campaign Italy is on the verge of general elections (4 March). What is the outcome you most fear?

SB: It’s hard at times in Italy to distinguish nowadays between Mafia bosses and legitimate politicians, such is the degree of ambient corruption at all levels, and perhaps more worrying, the supine acceptance by the electorate of such a dangerous state of affairs. History teaches us how the conflict between mankind and the collective memory is sustained by the fact that society regualry forgets that without Culture there is no real memory of anything: the Arts are the memory of any given civilization. The Italians seem perennially condemned to forget this basic truth.

LJN: For some decades now, Italy has been the victim of a serious decline in its acknowledged position as a Cultural Superpower. It seems to lack ideas, creative energy, focus, discipline – not to mention the money – to compete with its rivals. Normally, a political/economic crisis – like the one Italy has also been facing these last 30 years or so, produces strong anti-bodies in the shape of a strong cultural response. But (perhaps with the honourbale exception of you and a few others) there has been none.

SB: I think the key word here is creativity, which is like a muscle: it needs to be exercised to work properly. I don't think we are short of ideas or creative genius, but nowadays the sort of creativity required by society is of digital invention, and no longer of music, dance or poetry. In a digital society like ours, true, profound creativity is considered “surplus to requirements”.

The matieral and sensual comforts offered by our consumer society, and the pointless distractions offered by our electronic devices are so enticing that as a society (and I don't think this is by any means exclusive to Italy), we no longer have the stimulus to be creative, or even to experience the joys and even the pains of the natural world, outside our urban constructions. Thinking that material comfort is key to individual well-being is a decadent philosophical short-circuit. Beyond the obvious geographical, literal sense of “identity” I honestly don’t feel part of this materialist society, in a broadly philosophical sense. (pp)

Stefano Battaglia Artist Page at ECM Records 


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Fini Bearman (This Is Not America, 606 Club, 28 Feb 2018)

Fini Bearman
Publicity picture supplied
The musical legacy of David Bowie stretches out across genre. Singer/composer Fini Bearman has been feeling its pull, as she tells Peter Bacon.

“Always go a little further into the water than you think you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel like your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

So said David Bowie in an interview in the 1990s and singer Fini Bearman is taking it as her credo of sorts for a trio gig she is doing next Wednesday 28 February at the 606 Club in Chelsea.
Her new project is called This Is Not America and together with Calum Gourlay on bass and Tom Cawley on piano she will be exploring the songs of Bowie.

Fini told me:

“I first started really listening to Bowie a couple of years ago, when I was completely enamoured by Life on Mars? – to me it seemed (and still does) like the perfect song; the melodic development of the verse, the gradual lift and trajectory of the melody which takes you through modulations, twists and turns, as it builds majestically to surely one of the greatest choruses of all time.

“There is not a fibre of my body that does not sigh in satisfaction when the lyric “Sailors, fighting in the dance hall” arrives… And the marrying of this delicious, melodic writing with harmony – gosh! – I could wax on for hours. This attention to detail both in music and lyrics, pervades his back catalogue: Quicksand and Changes (Hunky Dory), The Man Who Sold the World (“ “), All The Young Dudes (originally written for the rock band Mott the Hoople), Where Are We Now (The Next Day), Lazarus (Blackstar)… I could go on. That’s genius songwriting for you.”

So what does the trio hope to do with these brilliant raw materials?

“It is a challenge to reinterpret this music; on the one side making sure to keep the essence of the songs and the message present/intact, whilst on the other hand trying to shine a light on something new, or previously hidden. I chose to work with the smaller line-up of voice, bass and piano so that without a drummer I would be forced to find new ways through the songs, whilst trying to hold onto what was the essence and message of the music.

“Sharing this music with Tom Cawley and Calum Gourlay seemed right because they are both melodically sensitive players who can leave space or just s.p.e.l.l. out the time, and they share such a virtuosity that if and when the music diverges and takes a new path, everyone’s holding on.”

Who is the music aimed at - what does Fini hope will be its appeal?

“I hope that this project will appeal to both Bowie fans and perhaps also those who haven’t yet connected with his music. The nature of such an exposing line-up is that it invites listeners into the music, and with that, into the story. These songs speak both of the numinous and prosaic, soul-searching, star-gazing, the every day conversation and also the fantastical, and I think that even on the most basic level, there is an appeal to everyone.

"I suppose at the root of it, this project has rather humble aspirations – to explore and rejoice in the music of David Bowie, and connect with listeners old and new to celebrate a genius of our time."

LINK: 606 Club event
Fini Bearman's website


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Cape Town Jazz Festival, 23-24 March 2018

Enjoying the Free Community Concert in Greenmarket Square
Photo supplied by CTIJF
The 19th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival gets under way next month (23-24 March 2018). Billed as the biggest musical event in sub-Saharan Africa, the Festival is directed by BILLY DOMINGO. Peter Jones asked him about it.

London Jazz News: What are your main criteria for selecting the artists?

Billy Domingo: Along with our own talent department, the CTIJF has a panel made up of musicians, authors, journalists, producers and others involved in growing the music industry in South Africa. Together, we look at all genres of jazz – from what is current, to artists who play South African music in a style that it really stems from.

We consider what will appeal to our existing festinos as well as offering something new (for them), as well as attracting new audiences to explore the Festival and the genre.  Baseline stage, for example, tends to attract a younger audience who are our future festinos. We have also constructed a number of initiatives that speak to growing new talent.  These include the ‘espYoungLegends’ competition and the Music and Careers workshops which are aimed at high school music students.

LJN: How easy/difficult has it been to attract the upfront financing and sponsorship?

BD: We are in the fortunate position to have the full support of our parent company, a listed entity on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. It is sometimes challenging, though, because every year sponsors' visions change, and marketing directives change, so we are always at the mercy of change.

Billy Domingo
Photo credit: espAfrika
Very few sponsors sign long-term contracts but we are very fortunate in that we have a unique brand so people want to partner with us, and that is because association with the CTIJF also drives proven value. In the main, we budget and strategically plan for all eventualities – we have 19 years of experience in this regard and a team of experts to safeguard the sustainability of the festival.

LJN: The pre-festival free concert is an inspired idea which should be taken up by other international jazz festivals. Do you think it gets more people into the Festival itself?

BD: We are not unique. The North Sea Jazz Festival has a concert in the city as well and we’ve adapted from concerts around the world. We have a huge political history that we recognise every year and Greenmarket Square, where we host the annual Free Community Concert, is where lots of our people were arrested during the struggle.

It gives something back to the people of the city, as a way for us to say thank you for allowing us to disrupt their trains, planes and life in general over those two festival days. It has done a lot for ticket sales, as many tourists who are unaware of the genre and artists will see them perform at the Free Concert and then be urged to buy a ticket to the main festival, if not for the same year, then for the following year. Over the past 11 years we have been sold out prior to the Free Concert, but it definitely gets word of mouth out and brings people to the main event.

LJN: What for you is the importance of the associated training and development events?

BD: This is the core of the festival – South Africa’s rich musical heritage will live on through these students – not just artists but the production and management side too.  We, as an organization, are very passionate about ensuring a sustainable and vibrant entertainment industry in South Africa – on stage as well as behind the scenes.

Nurturing rising talent at Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Picture supplied by CTIJF
The Music and Careers workshops – aimed at high school students – for example, helps music artists develop their performance craft while also training those keen on an events career.  For four Saturdays, the 75+ students get valuable training on developing their own brand, understanding what technical and hospitality riders are, how to use technology and social media to market themselves (once they know what their brand is), lighting and sound set-ups, creating music digitally, MC and presenter skills… and the list goes on. The workshops culminate in a live performance at the famous Artscape theatre where each of the bands performs two numbers.  From these performances, the music directors select what is referred to as the ‘All Star Band’.  This band then plays at the Greenmarket Square CTIJF Free community concert.

The next level would be the espYoungLegends competition (now in its third year), that invites young unsigned bands to compete for a slot to play at the main festival.  Other initiatives also include free masterclasses, which are open to the public, one on the business of music and another which is a hands-on technology masterclass.

There’s more besides – arts journalism and photojournalism courses, that ensure we are creating a raft of arts and culture journalists who can write beyond an event listing.  This also contributes to sustaining the industry, because you can be the best performer in the world, but if no one writes about you, no one will know…

LJN: How would you like to see the Festival developing in future?

BD: I would like to see it continue and extend the footprint into the inner city, as they do at Montreux and New Orleans, encompassing the whole city of Cape Town, so that not only can we benefit from this festival, but the general population as a whole can also experience the culture, as well as our visitors. So it’s about expanding our footprint, encompassing more venues, all professionally organized and curated under the banner of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

LINK: Cape Town International Jazz Festival


REVIEW: Peter Lemer Quintet Son Of Local Colour at Pizza Express

Peter Lemer (left) with John Surman and Alan Skidmore
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Peter Lemer Quintet Son Of Local Colour
(Pizza Express, 20 February 2018; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

"We take from one another and give, willingly, unwillingly, knowingly, unknowingly." Thus did the ultra-versatile jazz pianist, Peter Lemer, articulate the psychology of musicianly interplay in the sleeve note to his quintet's album, Local Colour. Recorded in 1966 for New York's ground-breaking ESP label and produced by the legendary Eddie Kramer, who was to become a core element in Hendrix's creative team, this was the only album put out in Lemer's own name, despite a high-flying career at the heart of the British progressive jazz-rock scene and as sideman with the likes of Annette Peacock, Ginger Baker and Mike Oldfield. His earliest work was in left-field territory with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and he studied with piano luminaries, Paul Bley and Jackie Byard.

At Pizza Express he reconvened the original members of that stellar fivesome, John Surman (baritone and soprano saxes), Jon Hiseman (drums), Tony Reeves (bass) with the consummate tenor of Alan Skidmore, Surman's old sidekick from SOS, depping for the indisposed George (Nisar Ahmad) Khan.

The quintet lasted around five months including a six-week Ronnie Scott's residency, before other demands led to its dispersal, yet they proved that they have lost none of the dynamic edge displayed so challengingly on the '66 LP, which, if anything, has been honed and intensified over the intervening 52 years.

Selections from the album included, as a thank you to Lemer's mentors at the time, Carla Bley's hyperactive Inctus, and Lemer's compositions, Flowville with its softly meditative preamble, In the Out, with the harmonised saxes briefly a dead-ringer for Roland Kirk, and Carmen, a springboard for melodic extrapolation. In this powerful performance, the material sounded vital, fresh and unequivocally current, optimised by a crisp sound mix that propelled to the fore the subtleties and dynamics of each musician's contribution, auguring well for the live recording that was taking place.

John Surman on soprano sax in Peter Lemer's quintet at Pizza Express
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Reading from demanding scores, Surman and Skidmore welded an inspired, rock-solid brass section alongside the nuanced bass dialogues from Reeves, Hiseman's structurally intense percussion and Lemer's keyboard effervescence.

The first set opened with improvisation. "I dreamt about an octopus last night, so that's where we are going to start!" echoing the sleeve note that "The written leads were the maps into the unexplored, the direction being towards the open, out …" As the textures were built up there was an underlying modulation with the feel of an ECM sound world. Judicious, infectious soloing, waves of sonics through the saxes, concentrated, serial piano repetitions and a break out in to a rocking groove mapped out the Local Colour field.

With references to non-verbal communication and to proto-linguistics, Lemer's notion was that "we're tapping the veins of your brains." Spells of tough, tight synchronisation, expressive solos from Surman and Skidmore deep in to their power station delivery, Reeves' sensitively syncopated bass lines and discreet pummelling by Hiseman complemented Lemer's brightly illuminated piano flights.

Lemer's homage to Dick Heckstall-Smith, Big Dick, took its lead from Lemer's nine note figure, and with the quintet motoring at full throttle, Surman served up a stand-out soprano solo on Coltrane's Impressions. The perfectionist in Lemer insisted on four false starts at Blues for Something Funny before he deemed the pace just right for their recording.

With such a quality performance all round the question is - where has Peter Lemer been hiding all these years? He was keen that this outfit gets further airings and is looking for offers!

We have also published Paul Wood's photos of this gig HERE


REVIEW: FIRE! (Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin) at Cafe OTO

Mats Gustafsson brings the same ferocity to electronics
that he brings to the baritone sax

FIRE! (Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin)
(Cafe OTO. 21 February 2018. Review and phone-snaps by AJ Dehany)

Swedish baritone sax master Mats Gustafsson does not fuck about. Two thirds of the way through an intense one-hour set with his bruising power trio FIRE! he makes a short speech that mirrors the way the music works, deconstructing the platitudinous niceties of ordinary stage banter that none of us at Cafe OTO want to hear nor he to utter.

“Thank you very much, it is actually great to be back here. Fucked up. We have a new record and blah blah blah blah *commercial break* t-shirts, stickers. There’s beers at the bar, there’s malts at the bar….” He pauses, and resumes. “It’s a difficult world we’re living in *philosophical break* Shitloads of merch over there, some music over here. We played one, two, three, four pieces from The Hands, and the titles are… way too complicated for us to remember… but we know that one of them is actually named The Hands so that’s easy. We will play *bom bom bom* two more songs, maybe, let’s see, and then we’ll fuck off.”

This is music that does not care to give you the familiar crutches and reassuring elements that music crrrrritics would demand and musicians would try to tick off one item at a time. Harmonic interest, complexity, variation, melody, structure, depth, I don’t know, whatever. It has all these in varying degrees but in an integrated way that refuses to tick them off just to prove it’s good. It doesn’t give a shit if you think it’s good or not.

This is actually a hallmark of respect. They don’t care to patronise you or the music. Short bruising basslines from Johan Berthling cycle round, drilling into your brain. This is the deep core of the music around which explosions ricochet in a dark, harsh landscape, an urban punk industrial jazz sound sculpture that shimmers like petrol. Gustafsson’s table of electronic circuit breakers and pedals is deployed with ear-splitting ferocity. At Cafe OTO, the trio played one intense 60-minute set with material from The Hands, its sixth album of bruising unclassifiable music or anti-music. You don’t know whether to call these radically deconstructed assemblages compositions, pieces, jams, improvisations, workouts, bouts. Bouts is good. Mats Gustafsson’s physical engagement with the baritone sax makes you think of wrestling, seriously.

The impact of Andreas Werliin’s surprisingly dynamic playing across the kit is heightened by putting it through an echo pedal: the kick drum punches hard, the cymbals needle out of the sound. The mainstay of the group is the fierce heavyweight baritone sax playing of Mats Gustafsson, who tore through three reeds during the set. His playing has a visceral rhythmic physicality just in the thickness of the sound coming out of the horn, but it’s also intensely creative and responsive to the underregarded subtleties of the trio’s dynamic, always shifting and searching out new sources of energy and excitement.

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

Andreas Werliin, Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling

LINK: The Hands on video


The Hands
Upp o ner


NEWS: New appointments at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Dept

John O'Gallagher
Photo credit: Brian Homer
Peter Bacon writes:

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University, has announced two new appointments to the full-time staff of its Jazz Department. They are John O'Gallagher and Percy Pursglove.

O'Gallagher, an alto saxophonist originally from Anaheim in California, but who has spent recent years as a prominent musician on the Brooklyn/New York scenes, initially came to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to work on a doctorate. His presence in the city has had a galvanizing impact not just on the students on the jazz course but for fans in the city's jazz clubs and pubs.

He said: “I am very excited to be joining the jazz faculty at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and I am looking forward to working with students to help cultivate their artistic potential and individual voices.”

Trumpeter Pursglove is a son of the Midlands and alumnus of this Conservatoire, and has been a vital presence on the scene since before he graduated, not only in Birmingham but spreading out throughout the UK and Europe.

He said: “'I'm thrilled and delighted to join the jazz faculty at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. It's a world-class team of creative practitioners, educators and thinkers positioned amongst a vibrant student community. It's an honour to be a part of a continually developing jazz programme here at the Conservatoire, and a thriving Midlands jazz scene.”

Percy Pursglove
Supplied picture
Head of Jazz at RBC, Jeremy Price, commented: “At long last we can go public with the news that we have recruited these two fantastic jazz musicians to full time posts at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Saxophonist John O’Gallagher and trumpet player Percy Pursglove – both well-known on the international scene as virtuosi improvisers – have accepted academic posts that include and embrace their research output, and provide a further platform for their great playing careers.

“They join myself and drummer Andrew Bain as the main contact for the students on our undergraduate and postgraduate jazz programmes, and are already making inspiring contributions to how we develop the curriculum and programme our concerts and masterclasses. This is truly an exciting team to be leading and is brimming with new ideas and passion for the music.”

John O’Gallagher joins the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire as Senior Lecturer, with Percy Pursglove now employed as an undergraduate lecturer in the Jazz Department at the music college.

The expansion in the full-time teaching staff comes shortly after the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's move into its new £57 million purpose-built facilities complete with jazz club.

Not far from the RBC and Eastside Jazz Club, resides Birmingham City's Jazz Research cluster.  Led by Professors Nicholas Gebhardt and Tony Whyton, the cluster boasts 29 members, including 12 jazz researchers from across the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Birmingham School of Media, as well as nine doctoral students and leaders of the regional jazz community, and additional academic partners at Middlesex University, University of Warwick, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Aveiro (Portugal).

The new appointments show a further strengthening of Birmingham’s position as a major international centre for jazz’s teaching, performance and research.

LINKS: Interview with Jeremy Price about the new season at Eastside Jazz Club

The new home of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire


CD REVIEW: The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren

The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren 
(Cuneiform Records, Rune 440. CD Review by Jane Mann)

Somehow, the work of the brilliant New York-based American arranger, saxophonist and guitarist Ed Palermo had passed me by until now. His previous CDs include: The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2 (2017) which celebrates British pop music, Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2009), and at least two other Frank Zappa tribute albums. He’s been an arranger or alto sax player for big names including Mel Tormé, Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett, and has had his own big band for years.

On this new CD Palermo has turned his attention to the works of composers Frank Zappa (Palermo has arranged more than 300 Zappa tunes in his time) and Todd Rundgren, two significant musicians from his teenage years. He says, “Todd Rundgren holds a very special place in my heart... A lot of people who like the music of Zappa, also like Rundgren and Steely Dan, but there are enough Steely Dan cover bands out there…”   This doesn’t stop him from quoting Steely Dan in his scores – his arrangement of Rundgren’s Broke Down and Busted includes hints of The “In” Crowd, Zappa’s Brown Shoes Don’t Make It and a great swathe of Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic. He does this sort of thing a lot. On Rundgren’s Yer Fast, not two minutes long, he squeezes in references to Zappa’s Montana and Florentine Pogen, two tunes which he deals with at greater length later on in the CD.  This is action packed stuff.

Palermo says: "Arranging is the fun part for me. Zappa used to call it “dressing up the song”. Hearing an arrangement played is the cherry on top, but the process of writing, when the ideas are flowing, that’s the main meal. Sometimes I’ll be working on a song and something about it reminds me of another song. Instead of ignoring it, my ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] tells me, 'No, put that in there.' And people talk about ADD as if it’s a bad thing!"

The Ed Palermo Big Band are an exuberant 17-piece ensemble, with splendid singing from guest vocalist Napoleon Murphy Brock, former singer with Frank Zappa’s bands. More excellent vocals come from guitarist Bruce McDaniel, who also produced the CD, and arranged a couple of numbers.  The ensemble playing is tight and exciting throughout and the soloists are all terrific. This includes remarkable solos from Palermo himself on guitar and alto sax.

I was unfamiliar with much of Todd Rundgren’s oeuvre, so some of the songs took me by surprise, for example, Emperor of the Highway (vocals from both Brock and McDaniel) – an unlikely homage to Gilbert and Sullivan. Despite the two disparate sources, the album feels coherent and moves seamlessly between the two composers – some tracks slide without pause from a Zappa tune to a Rundgren tune, like the huge Peaches En Regalia which morphs into Influenza, featuring an impressive violin solo from Katie Jacoby (and little snatches of Greig’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King too). Palermo has given many of the Rundgren tunes a Zappaish feel, although there are some exceptions: there is a gorgeous ballad, Hello It’s Me (from 1968) which could be a Beach Boys tune.

The arrangement of Zappa’s Absolutely Free (1968) is a gentle delight. It dispenses with the vocal line, focussing on a charming piano part from Bob Quaranta, showing how pleasingly melodic Zappa can be. By contrast, Zappa’s instrumental piece Echidna’s Arf (Of You) is presented here with what sounds like a choir, billed as the Louisiana Swindle Singers, but is in fact just multi-tracked McDaniel. The  arrangement of everyone’s favourite Zappa tune Montana is a show stopper, and Brock’s vocals are superlative. Palermo replaces the original’s Zappa guitar solo with an alto sax solo from himself. Another unexpected pleasure is an immaculate Afro-Cuban middle section which emerges during Zappa’s Florentine Pogen.  Palermo spent four years in Tito Puente’s Band, and has played with Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri so he knows exactly what he’s doing here.

This glorious CD is big band music for people for whom the rock and pop music of the 1960s and '70s are standards, just as the dancehall tunes of the '30s and '40s were the standards for a previous generation.

The liner notes are comedic (there is a credit for Alternative Executive Producer: Kellyanne Conway in there.) True to the spirit of Zappa, Ed Palermo balances serious music playing with humour and a lightness of touch. The music is very difficult to perform but this band seems to have no trouble at all.  Somebody please put the Ed Palermo Big Band on soon, preferably in the UK but anywhere else in Europe would do.  They would go down a storm.

The Ed Palermo Big Band:
Ed Palermo Arranger, Alto Saxophone, Guitar
Ronnie Buttacavoli Trumpet
John Bailey Trumpet
Charlie Gordon Trombone
Joe Fiedler Trombone
Matt Ingman Bass Trombone
Cliff Lyons Alto Saxophone, Clarinet
Phil Chester Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute
Ben Kono Tenor Saxophone, Flute
Bill Straub Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet
Barbara Cifelli Baritone Saxophone
Bob Quaranta Acoustic Piano
Ted Kooshian Synthesizer
Paul Adamy Bass Guitar
Ray Marchica Drums
Bruce McDaniel Guitar, Vocals
Katie Jacoby Violin
Napolean Murphy Brock Guest vocalist

Track listing:
1.The Solemn Z-Men Credo
2.Peaches En Regalia (Frank Zappa)
3.Influenza (Todd Rundgren)
4.Yer Fast (Todd Rundgren)
5.Absolutely Free (Frank Zappa)
6.Breathless (Part 1) (Todd Rundgren)
7.Big Swifty (Frank Zappa)
8.Kiddie Boy (Todd Rundgren)
9.Montana (Frank Zappa)
10.Emperor of the Highway (Todd Rundgren)
11.You Are What You Is (Frank Zappa)
12.Echidna's Arf (Of You) (Frank Zappa) [feat. The Louisiana Swindle Singers]
13.Hello It's Me (Todd Rundgren)
14.Big Swifty Coda (Frank Zappa)
15.Wailing Wall (Todd Rundgren)
16.Florentine Pogen (Frank Zappa)
17.Flamingo (Todd Rundgren)
18.Marqueson's Chicken (Frank Zappa)
19.Song of the Viking (Todd Rundgren)
20.Janet's Big Dance Number (Frank Zappa)
21.Broke Down and Busted (Todd Rundgren)
22.Breathless (Part 2) (Todd Rundgren)
23.Zoot Allures (Frank Zappa)
24.Yer Fast (Reprise) (Todd Rundgren)


PREVIEW: Guildhall Jazz Singers sing Jazz Vespers (Christ Church, London, Sunday 25 Feb)

Christ Church Jazz Choir
Photo credit: Marek Dorcik

Peter Bacon reports:

This Sunday, 25 February, The Guildhall Jazz Singers conducted by Scott Stroman will perform at the Christ Church Jazz Vespers alongside the Christ Church Jazz Choir. It's at 6.30pm at Christ Church, 155 Highbury Grove, London N5 1SA.

Christ Church Music Director Rachel Maby writes:

"Jazz Vespers is a music-led service, where Christians and non-Christians alike are welcome. The service allows time to reflect and appreciate spiritual and secular musical works in an informal worship setting. The Guildhall Jazz Singers will perform Puerling and Stroman arrangements of On a Clear Day, Indian Summer, My Ship and Twisted. They will be accompanied by Liam Dunachie on piano (Misha Mullov-Abbado group), Arthur O’Hara on bass (World Service Project) and Scott Chapman on drums (Misha Mullov-Abbado group).

"The Guildhall Jazz Singers are the flagship jazz vocal ensemble of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Directed by Scott Stroman, they sing close-harmony jazz classics as well as creating their own arrangements and improvising on their own creations. They have performed Stroman's recreation of Ellington's Second Sacred Concert, Malcolm Edmonstone's recreation of Donald Fagan's Nightfly, Kenny Wheeler's Mirrors Suite, and a wide range of traditional and contemporary jazz.

"This is an un-ticketed and free musical event. Refreshments will be serviced from 6pm and the service will run from 6.30-7.30pm. All are most welcome."

Christ Church Jazz Vespers was founded two years ago by Professor of Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Scott Stroman, and is now led by Christ Church Music Director, Rachel Maby, and the Christ Church Jazz Choir.


NEWS: ‘Proper’ jazz festival for Leeds announced (20-24 July 2018)

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After last year’s one-day trial, JazzLeeds now comes the real thing – a five-dayer. Peter Bacon reports.

Leeds gets a real jazz festival this year with JazzLeeds running from Friday 20 to Tuesday 24 July 2018. Topping the bill is Soweto Kinch and other big names include Ian Shaw leading his trio, Chris Batchelor’s Pigfoot and the all-women Nerija.

There are strong local angles. As JazzLeeds’ Steve Crocker said: “It’s got a lot more of a city slant to it that some jazz festivals, we realise, but then Leeds has quite a few jazz stories to tell!”

So, The Queen and the Duke, for example, has Alan Barnes’ Eliingtonians Octet celebrating the 60th anniversary of the meeting between Duke Ellington and Queen Elizabeth II - in Leeds - by playing the little-known The Queens Suite. And New Briggate Blues will remember Studio 20 on New Briggate which was the main jazz club in the city in the 1950s and played host to Jimmy Rushing among others.

Local hero Jamil Sherrif will be presenting his tribute to playwright Bill Naughton and there will also be some adventurous music from Matthew Bourne and Shatner’s Bassoon. Like all proper festivals this one too will have a Fringe.

Earlybird tickets for JazzLeeds festival are now on sale (£90 until 30 April).

LINKS: Festival website

Earlybird tickets


PHOTOS: Peter Lemer, Jon Hiseman, John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Tony Reeves at Pizza Express

Peter Lemer
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Photographer Paul Wood was at Pizza Express to catch the Peter Lemer Quintet in the "Son of Local Colour" reunion. (More detail here.)  We will also have a full review of the gig from Geoff Winston.

Jon Hiseman
Photo credit: Paul Wood

John Surman and Alan Skidmore
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Tony Reeves
Photo credit: Paul Wood


REVIEW: Tori Freestone's Birthday Gig at Pizza Express

Tori Freestone at Pizza Expres
Photo credit: José Carlos López Ruiz

Tori Freestone’s Birthday Gig
(Pizza Express, 13 February 2018. Review by Brianna McClean)

The audience was at capacity at Pizza Express Live, as saxophonist and flautist Tori Freestone celebrated her birthday in style with an evening of mellow jazz. Her soft-spoken and understated on-stage personality translates into music of a similar vein. The gig was in promotion of Tori’s new duo album, Criss-Cross, featuring Alcyona Mick on piano. Both these musicians, as well as members of Tori’s trio and special guests, performed with refreshing gracefulness.

The first part of the evening saw Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick on stage together, showcasing their new album. The set included mostly self-composed pieces which while melodically interesting, were perhaps at times a little too cautious and mild. However during moments where the pace and vigour picked up, the strength of Tori and Alcyona’s partnership was clear. Tori’s precise technical ability was clear on both the flute and saxophone. Alcyona is a sensitive pianist, both responding well to Tori and carrying solos with ease. The duo invited the vocalist who features on their new album, Brigitte Beraha, on stage for a few track tracks. The instant vivacity and interest contributed by this addition highlighted the issue so many duos face - a lack of texture and range. The breathy soprano vocals were a welcome layer and revealed a certain feminine character present in the duo’s album. The final piece played by the duo was their title track, Criss-Cross, by Thelonious Monk. It was in this finale which the potential of this duo was evident - watching them loosen up and enjoy this light-hearted tune was a delight.

Tori’s trio, with drummer Tim Giles and bassist Dave Manington, featured in the second half of the evening. Their bright tone and tight rhythms saw much more head-nodding and toe-tapping from the audience than the duo’s performance. Tori’s easy-going nature still shone through the trio’s set, perhaps quieting some of the tension and energy in the pieces. The trio are all accomplished musicians and performers; they carried more rhythmically complicated pieces without hesitation. The group have released two albums, In the Chop House (2014) and El Barranco (2017). Like the performance last night, both records are marked by apt musicality and a cheerful disposition.

LINK: Tori Freestone's website 
New CD Criss Cross at Whirlwind Recordings


INTERVIEW: Mark Cherrie (new album Joining The Dots)

Mark Cherrie
Photo Credit: Helen Jones
When you think jazz, you probably do not think of the subtropical sounds of a steel pan. And yet this is the instrument of choice for Mark Cherrie, an accomplished musician who is sure to make waves in the London jazz scene. It is his sound and story which make his latest album, Joining the Dots, a success. Brianna McClean, on behalf of London Jazz News, asked Mark a few questions about his career and the recent record.

LondonJazz News: : Congratulations on the release of your new album, Joining the Dots. What can listeners expect from this record?

Mark Cherrie: There is a diverse selection of tunes, including some jazz standards, ‘pop’ tunes and some original compositions too. All with a steel pan-led jazz quartet. Joining The Dots meant several things to me. It described how I was able to make a connection, between music straight out of the jazz canon and non-jazz music – interpreting all of it with a jazz sensibility. It also described how the album physically came about. The very kind offer of some free studio time led to recording all the material, as well as shooting a video and taking a set of photographs, in one day!

I hope that listeners will be taken on a musical journey through various of my own personal musical landmarks and come away thinking that the steel pan can be a valid jazz instrument.

LJN: How did you get to this point? What has the journey to this record been?

MC: I guess my previous work is a bit of a mixed bag really. I have done a lot of work as a steel pan player, working in mostly Caribbean musical settings. I also spent a long time writing for TV & film – the experience that I gained from having done such varied work has helped me to develop my own voice in a jazz setting. My philosophy is really to be as open as possible as a human being and to allow these influences, both musical and otherwise, to inform my playing.

LJN: The steel pan is a bit of an unusual instrument in the contemporary jazz scene. What has your experience been of specialising in this instrument?

MC: To my mind, the steel pan can function perfectly well, much like the role of a vibraphone, in a quartet. The problem comes with how other people view it. From non-musicians, I still have to field questions like, “Are they still made from dustbin lids?” (That was from a gig I did last week!). I believe that I have a unique voice on the steel pan, particularly in a jazz setting. Very few people seem to have managed to pull it off.

LJN: Does this album have an overall story or shape to it?

MC: I wouldn’t say that there was a narrative threading throughout the album but there is definitely a musical sensibility – there’s a lot of improvisation throughout and not just with the melodic instruments.

LJN: Tell me a bit about the other artists featured on the album? What is your dynamic as a group like?

MC: John Donaldson is an amazing piano player, easily one of this country’s finest. Eric Ford is a drummer that came into my orbit a few years ago but instantly I loved the guy’s playing. He is one of a few drummers in my experience that really listens to what everyone is playing and contributes sympathetically. Mick Hutton is a first-call double bass player on the jazz circuit and I have known him for many years now. Again, his experience of playing at the top level is almost unsurpassed. Then the guests too have an impressive pedigree. Dominic Grant has a unique voice on the nylon string guitar, a beautiful player. Dave O’Higgins is a saxophonist whose career I have followed over the years – I remember buying his debut album way before I was playing any jazz music myself. Nigel Price is an unbelievable guitar player, I was pleased that he was available to record with me. Finally, Sumudu was actually a recommendation of Dominic’s and she was absolutely masterful in the studio.

Mark Cherrie is a rising name in the London Jazz scene and given the breadth of his experience, someone to keep an eye on.

Joining the Dots was released earlier this month and is available *here*


NEWS: Birmingham Jazz's 2018 Legends Festival celebrates Women in Jazz (April/May)

Alina Bzhezhinska
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Birmingham Jazz has chosen a theme in tune with the zeitgeist for its 2018 Legends Festival: Celebrating Women in Jazz. Peter Bacon reports:

The small voluntary organisation Birmingham Jazz has grown steadily in strength in recent years, taking one small part of the city - the Jewellery Quarter - as its stamping ground, and building a reputation among listeners and musicians alike for its dedication to diverse programming united by high quality, mostly presented in intimate surroundings.

This year's Legends Festival, bringing together contemporary players to salute their illustrious forebears, takes as its focus Women in Jazz, with a programme stretching across two weekends in May with a preview show at the end of April. With a couple of exceptions all the bands are female-led and the two that aren't feature female musicians.

The programme states: "This year’s Legends Festival marks Birmingham Jazz’s contribution to the centenary celebrations of when some women first got the vote - after pressure by the Suffragette Movement.

"Society is still not equal and jazz is no exception so as a small contribution to recognising the impact of women we feature some of today’s women players who demonstrate their own musical journeys and feature their own music but also music by others. Each band is either led by a woman or strongly features women players. Some players are returning and some are new to us..."

Here is the programme of events:

27 April - Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet

11 May - Dave Mannington's Riff Raff feat. Brigitte Beraha

12 May - Gwyneth Herbert Duo; Andrea Vicari feat Yazz Ahmed

13 May - Franki Dodwell - Acid Body; Trish Clowes - My Iris; Denys Baptiste feat Nikki Yeoh - Late Trane

19 May - Alicia Gardener-Trejo; Wendy Kirkland - Piano Divas; Helena Kay; Kate Williams & Georgia Mancio - Finding Home

20 May - Joey Walter - Me & 3; Juliet Kelly - Nina Simone; Two of a Mind - Allison Neale & Chris Biscoe

Most of the events are at 1000 Trades, Birmingham Jazz's regular venue, with a couple not far away.

LINK: Birmingham Jazz's Legends 18 website page


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Jost Lijbaart (Under The Surface Scottish Dates 22-24 Feb 2018)

Under the Surface
Photo credit: Juan Carlos Villarroel

Under the Surface is the latest group to visit the UK as part of the Jazz Promotion Network’s Going Dutch project. The trio’s spokesperson and drummer is Joost Lijbaart, who has toured over here with saxophonist Yuri Honing and has been a prominent player on the Dutch scene over the past twenty-five years. The group also features guitarist Bram Stadhouders, whom some readers might know from his work with Norwegian singer Sidsel Endresen and the Norwegian percussionist and ice concert maestro Terje Isungset, alongside a relatively new Dutch talent, vocalist Sanne Rambags. Five questions from Rob Adams:

LJN: How did Under the Surface come together?

JL: Beaux Jazz, a project that offers young musicians an opportunity to collaborate with more experienced players, selected our singer, Sanne Rambags, to be part of its Next Generation strand. The idea is that the younger musicians are given carte blanche to create something with players who are already established. So Sanne selected the guitarist Bram Stadhouders, who I knew a little bit, and myself, giving us three musicians from different generations.

LJN: What were your first impressions?

JL:  The minute we started to play I felt we had something special. There was a review of our gig at Rotterdam Jazz International on London Jazz News that picked up very well on Sanne’s almost shamanistic style of singing, like’s she’s calling up ancient spirits. I thought she had something really interesting there and with Bram’s sense of space, we were creating something I’d had an idea of doing for quite a long time yet it was very natural, unforced.

LJN: Is the music you make completely spontaneous?

JL: It’s mostly spontaneous. Before we recorded our album I went walking in the forest near where I live and tried to imagine recreating the atmospheres in different parts of the forest. I also spent quite a lot of time in my rehearsal room working on rhythms and working out what percussion instruments, aside from the drum kit, would work best. Sanne sometimes brings a poem, like John Donne’s No Man is an Island or texts by American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens, that suggests rhythm and we’ll use these as a basis. It’s not free jazz, more spontaneous composition worked up from sketches.

LJN: What has been the highlight of the band so far?

JL: There have been a few but one that particularly stands out is being invited to play at the Festival on the Niger, in Mali. This led to festival appearances in Mexico, China and India but it also gave us the opportunity to play with kora player Mamadou Sidiki Diabaté, the younger brother of kora master Toumani Diabaté, and that turned out to be a very compatible group and a really enjoyable experience. World music promoters seem to have taken to what we do and that’s opened doors we never really expected to open.

LJN: We’re hearing quite a lot about Dutch jazz at the moment, especially with the Going Dutch project going on throughout this year; what are your impressions of the scene?

JL:  It got a bit quiet for a few years but for the past five to eight years there’s been quite a buzz about the scene generally. There are a lot of young players coming through, people like Kapok, who I think toured over here recently, and there are a couple of pianists, Kaja Draksler and Dominic J Marshall, who are not Dutch but live in Amsterdam and are getting attention as Dutch residents. It’s good for someone like me because I might not have got to work with Sanne and Bram if there weren’t these young musicians and projects like Beaux Jazz and Going Dutch that bring them to the fore.

Rob Adams is consulting to the Going Dutch project, and has helped Jost Lijbaart to put the group’s short Scottish tour together.

Under the Surface Scotish Tour Dates

The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen on Thursday, 22nd February
Eyemouth Hippodrome, Friday 23rd February
The Blue Arrow, Glasgow, Saturday 24th February


INTERVIEW: DAVID FERRIS (new Septet album and tour starts 26 Feb)

The David Ferris Septet with Maria Väli – going out on the road.
Photo credit: © Emily Dove

David Ferris is a familiar figure on the Birmingham scene at the keyboard in many different situations, from Ben Lee’s Quintet to Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and the funk-jazz trio Three Step Manoevre. In addition he co-promotes with Chris Young the weekly Tuesday night sessions at The Spotted Dog which have developed a reputation for great gigs. Now David has stepped out front to lead his own band, a Septet plus One. There’s an album and a tour. He spoke to Peter Bacon

LondonJazz News: You’ve been very active on the Birmingham scene for a good few years but with the Septet you really step out front as leader with your own name there in the title of the band. What took you so long? (Are you a more natural collaborator - as in Three Step Manoeuvre?)

David Ferris: I hadn't even thought of it like that to be honest! The idea of putting together some kind of larger ensemble had been kicking around in my head pretty much since I graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in the Summer of 2015. I had some vague notions of some music I'd like to write in my head – things involving counterpoint and richer colours that would benefit from more voices in the band. It took a while to get going – I'm pretty awful at getting on with the writing without some kind of deadline – so eventually I booked a couple of gigs in Birmingham in October 2016 to force me to sort it out (if I remember rightly I wrote a tune on the morning of the first gig...)

They were great though – the band were a hoot to play with, the tunes seemed to bed in really well and the audience response was really positive. In my head I think I'd almost been viewing them as a trial run, and if I had a good time I'd keep doing it!

I guess you are right though – I am definitely more naturally inclined to be a collaborator, but I think my experience in these collaborative groups (Three Step Manoeuvre, Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, Ferris/Lee/Weir, etc) as well as doing a fair few projects as a sideman have hopefully made me a better bandleader now. I hope this band still works as a democracy though – with a group of guys in the band like I'm lucky to have, I'd be an idiot not to listen to them!

David Ferris
Photo credit: © Emily Dove

LJN: The Septet is a real showcase for your writing. How do you go about composing, from what do you take inspiration, and who are your chief influences as a composer?

DF: I always find this a really tricky question to answer! I don't think I really have a process to be honest – some things seem to just write themselves naturally and some require weeks of teasing in really technical and nerdy ways. However I find I'm rarely drawn to music for technical reasons, and I suppose what really inspires me is hearing some kind of human warmth?  I've just had a look at the 'recently listened' on my iTunes for some suggestions of what that actually means, and it told me I've been checking out a lot of Wayne Shorter, The Beatles, John Scofield and Paul Simon – they all definitely fit the bill for me even though musically speaking they're pretty diverse. I don't think I write particularly complex music – I love old-fashioned song forms, riffs, and Blakey tunes too much I guess – but I feel you can get a lot out of the simpler things. Maybe part of this comes from playing funk music with Three Step Manoeuvre – James Brown taught us that if you've played one chord for five minutes, going to the next chord is going to feel massive, even if it's the 'most obvious' chord you could choose!

LJN: Tell us about the other seven musicians, how you chose them, what you value in their contributions (and maybe explain why this is an eight-piece septet)?

DF: I'm a pretty happy man about this – I feel like I've put together some kind of Midlands all-stars!  I think what drew me to the other musicians was probably the same thing I talked about before – they are all such warm and beautiful communicators, in different ways.  Take the horn players as a starting point – Richard Foote on trombone has this incredible extrovert excitement coupled with an absolute discipline in the ensemble playing, Vittorio Mura on tenor and bari has an incredible breadth of inflection and colour that sounds like a history of the instrument in one person, Hugh Pascall on trumpet has the most beautiful, elegant and melodic delivery I know, and finally Chris Young on alto is an absolute fireball of energy at all times.

Then Euan Palmer and Nick Jurd are the perfect rhythm section, equally happy laying down grooves as they are pushing the ensemble and soloists. Basically I've put together a band where I'm happy to just sit back and listen! For the upcoming tour and album the final crucial element was our special guest vocalist, Maria Väli. Maria is Estonian and is based in Tallinn, but I first met her as part of the exchange with Trondheim Conservatory whilst I was studying at Birmingham. We played together at Cheltenham and Molde Jazz Festivals, and, thanks to the help of Tony Dudley-Evans, we managed to get her back over for Cheltenham again the following year. Since then I've been looking for an opportunity to work with her again – she can sing literally anything (look up the group Estonian Voices if you want to see a thorough representation of what the human voice can do!) but she does it so beautifully and with such an astonishing versatility of approaches that I just knew she would be the perfect singer for just about any music I might throw at her!

LJN: The band has its first CD coming out and a substantial tour beginning soon. Give us an idea of what we can expect…

DF: Yes! A large part of the impetus behind the writing for this album came from my love of songwriters, and the craft of creating something that feels like it can be called a 'song.' This goes right back to the people who wrote the standards – Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Harold Arlen et al. I think it's easy to forget but next time you get a chance just have another listen to something we take for granted like All The Things You Are or My Foolish Heart and just see how perfectly it all fits together – the melody, the harmony, the words, the structure. There's something of that crystalline perfection in Lennon/McCartney as well – Can't Buy Me Love is barely two minutes long but says everything it wants to!

Then I think two of the biggest influences on me are probably Paul Simon and Donald Fagen – both of them have a way of taking a slightly oblique lyric and using the music to make it mean something to us, even if we're not sure what that is! I was desperate to tap into this with the music for the album but didn't trust my skills as a lyricist, so I turned to some of the most beautiful words I knew, and set to music poetry by Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, WH Auden and WB Yeats. The album's title, Alphabets, comes from a Heaney poem about him learning to write, and falling in love with words and letters. It felt relevant to my experience with music too! There are a couple of other things on there as well – Chorale is the result of some thoroughly unqualified messing about I did with classical counterpoint, and Fred is a tribute to one of my heroes, Fred Hersch. But hopefully it's all music that will make people feel good – I really want to channel that warmth all my idols have and communicate with the listener.

LJN: Any particular thank-yous, you’d like to make public?

DF: So many! Making a band like this work doesn't happen without lots of help. To Help Musicians UK/Peter Whittingham Award and Arts Council England for helping to fund the tour – it takes quite a lot to keep eight people housed fed and watered on tour. To the Estonian Embassy in the UK for helping us get Maria over – it's the 100th anniversary of the birth of Estonia this year and they're doing loads of great work to celebrate. To Alexis Ffrench at Uppingham School for letting us use their beautiful Recital Room and Fazioli piano to record on absolutely free of charge, Phil Woods at Symphony Hall for all his help securing funding and for putting up with me not ever understanding how to fill in forms, Luke Morrish-Thomas for capturing the vibe of the music so perfectly in recording, Carys Boughton for the stunning artwork (feels like a waste that it's just going on an album cover!) and finally to the musicians themselves for just being wonderful.


26 - North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
27 - St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall
28 - Restormel Arts, St Austell, Cornwall

1 - NewGen Jazz, Cambridge
2 - Symphony Hall, Birmingham
4 - JazzLeeds
5 - Jazz at the Peer Hat, Manchester
6 - Jazz at the Spotted Dog, Birmingham
7 - The Flute and Tankard, Cardiff
8 - The Vortex, London

The new CD, Alphabets, will be available on the tour and on David's website, and on general release before too long.

LINK: David Ferris's website


INTERVIEW: Elliot Galvin (The Influencing Machine album and tour)

Tom McCredie, Elliot Galvin and Corrie Dick
Publicity picture

Elliot Galvin has released his third album, The Influencing Machine (Galvin keyboards & electronics; Tom McCredie bass & guitar; Corrie Dick drums), and is about to take the music on tour. He spoke to Sebastian:

London Jazz News: Tell us about the new album. It was inspired by a book you stumbled across, is that right?

Elliot Galvin: Yep, I was looking for material to inspire some new music and I stumbled across this amazing book by Mike Jay at the Welcome Collection in London. The book was called The Influencing Machine, it’s an historical account of the life of James Tilly-Matthews, born in 1770, a double agent at the time of the French civil war, tea merchant, political thinker, architect and first fully documented case of a paranoid schizophrenic who was committed to Bethlem psychiatric hospital in 1797.

Tilly-Matthews’ life was a web of espionage and delusion, coinciding with many of the key events of his time: the French revolution, the rise of mesmerism, and the change in societal thinking towards the mentally ill, to name just a few. He was the first documented case of someone who believed their mind was being controlled by a machine and was intelligent and articulate enough to describe this machine in incredible detail. There were so many parallels between his life and the times we live in now I felt I had to write something inspired by it.

LJN: So would you describe it as a concept album?

EG: To some extent I think of everything I write as a concept piece really. For me there has to be some grit of an idea holding everything together. It really helps focus my writing when I know what I’m writing about. I like to build rules and structures and then create freely inside them.

LJN: Some of the instruments you used on this album are very different from your previous albums; you even use circuit bending.

EG: It’s definitely the most electric thing I’ve made so far. I originally avoided using synths or electronics in my music as I felt it was a whole different world and I wanted to focus on the acoustic. But after playing synths and electronics in Dinosaur a lot I found it really inspiring to use electronic sounds and wanted to include it in my own work.

The circuit bending is a new thing I have been messing around with. I found some amazing little children’s toys in some charity shops near where I live and opened them up to play with the circuitry inside. You can make them produce some pretty radically different sounds and when you use them in a musical context they behave quite differently to how you expect them to. They keep you on your toes and always push you in a direction you didn’t exactly expect. I find that inspiring to play with and I felt the sound world they produced fitted perfectly with the subject matter of the album.

Tom (McCredie) plays electric guitar on the album as well as bass, and that also adds a much rockier dimension to some of the music.

LJN: I’ve heard there are some hidden meanings in the music; can you give any of them away?

EG: I quite like layering meaning when I write music, and so there are a lot of subtle references throughout the album. I don’t want to tell everyone everything I’ve put in the music as part of the reason they are hidden is because I don’t want to beat people over the head with what the pieces are about. But one reference I will give away is that the first track on the album New Model Army is pretty much entirely based on the communist anthem The People United Shall Never Be Defeated.

LJN: The artwork for the album is very striking, is that something that is important to you?

EG: Definitely, I’m probably equally inspired by visual art as I am by music. The artist who designed the album is a friend of mine called George Finlay Ramsay and he’s a really amazing individual. He works across a lot of mediums. I also think the way you present your music is very important; it’s an art in itself. It allows you to provide the right context for the music and enhance the overall effect of the album.

LJN: You’re just about to embark on a UK wide tour to celebrate the release, where are you playing?

EG: Well we kick things off with a two-night residency at the Vortex in Dalston on 21 and 22 February. Then we are heading all over: The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen, The Black Box in Belfast, Royal Welsh College of Music, St. Ives and the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham, plus a lot of other places. We’re also playing at one of my favourite venues to play: The Lescar in Sheffield, run by Jez Matthews, a real unsung hero!


21 Feb - The Vortex - LONDON (Launch with special guests Lauren Kinsella + Tom Challenger)

22 Feb - The Vortex - LONDON (Launch with special guest Tom Herbert)

24 Feb - The Bear Club - LUTON

1 Mar - Blue Lamp - ABERDEEN

2 Mar - Unitarian Church - CAMBRIDGE

7 Mar - The Jazz Bar - EDINBURGH

8 Mar - Black Bok - BELFAST

12  Mar – Ashburton Arts Centre - ASHBURTON

13 Mar - St. Ives Jazz Club - ST. IVES

14 Mar - Hare and Hounds - BIRMINGHAM

15 Mar - Broomhill Art Hotel - BARNSTAPLE

16 Mar - Dora Stoutzker Hall - CARDIFF

20 Mar - Watermill Jazz Club - DORKING

21 Mar - The Lescar - SHEFFIELD

Elliot Galvin's The Influencing Machine is out now on Edition Records


Elliot Galvin's website

Editon Records