CD REVIEW: Charlie Bates Big Band - Silhouettes

Charlie Bates Big Band featuring Percy Pursglove - Silhouettes
(Charlie Bates. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans).

Charlie Bates is a young pianist and composer who has recently graduated with First Class Honours from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire. He is a gifted pianist who runs an excellent quartet, but he is also developing strong skills in the area of composition; in 2016 he won the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Composition prize adjudicated by Tim Garland. On this album we have five of his compositions for big band that are written to feature Percy Pursglove, another Birmingham Conservatoire graduate, on trumpet and flugelhorn.

His main influence seems to come from Kenny Wheeler's writing for his various large ensembles, but I also detect the influence of John Dankworth, especially on Track 3, High Rise. Bates has the ability to create very rich and powerful textures that set off Pursglove's solos to great effect. It is perhaps a more traditional approach to the big band sound, but this is offset by the more contemporary sound that Pursglove brings to the mix.

Track 1, Cyanopsia, is an excellent example of Bates' approach. He creates a very big, sometimes lush and sometimes brassy sound from the front line which is strongly supported by the very tight rhythm section of Sam Ingvorsen on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums. Pursglove comes out of the ensemble in dramatic fashion with two solos of great originality. Sam Craig also takes a strong solo on tenor saxophone. Track 2, Almost Gone, is more mellow with lovely writing for the woodwind section of clarinet and bass clarinet. Pursglove impresses again as does Richard Foote who takes a lengthy solo on trombone.

Track 3, High Rise, is shortest track at 5.39 mins; it starts quite gently but the band builds up to an impressive climax behind Pursglove's solo. Track 4, Eyes Shut, follows a similar pattern to Track 3 building up to a strong climax. It also has an attractive short opening statement from Pursglove accompanied by pianist Jacky Naylor and a soprano saxophone solo from Elliot Drew. The final track, Eyes Open, is the longest at 10.34 mins. It features a  beautifully judged piano solo from Naylor and what, for me, is the most exciting solo from Pursglove as he gradually takes his solo out into more contemporary territory.

There is little doubt that this band is a very strong addition to the Birmingham and West Midlands scene that already features a number of excellent big bands. I look forward to its development and perhaps a bit of experimentation with some electronics, or other featured soloists.

LINK: The album is available from Charlie Bates' website


CD REVIEW: Alexander Hawkins - Unit[e]

Alexander Hawkins - Unit[e]
(Alexander Hawkins Music. AH002/3. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

This two CD set from pianist, composer and - on one of the two discs - conductor Alexander Hawkins is both a challenging and rewarding record of his large and small ensembles, each taking one disc and both featuring some most accomplished improvisers. The two discs, each given its own title, complement each other.

"[C]all" features Hawkins' sextet. It is less free with respect to time, drummer Tom Skinner keeping a firm hand on the rhythm on three tracks, but there is a fair dose of anarchy in the mix too. Shabaka Hutchings sparkles on bass clarinet and tenor, as does Hawkins himself. Guitarist Otto Fischer adds fluid melodic lines, as well as providing spoken words to [K]now, on which Hawkins sprinkles phrases with a South African feel.

The more loose tracks such as [T]each, [W]here and [S]how work better for me, the sextet working together to explore new avenues. [W]here features violinist Dylan Bates sharing phrases with Hawkins and bassist Neil Charles before Fischer takes us in one direction and then Bates and Hutchings lead us in another, Skinner all the while adding percussive flourishes and rolls.

The other disc is named "Hear[t]". Hawkins, Fischer, Bates and Charles are joined by James Arben, Julie Kjaer and Alex Ward on assorted saxes, clarinets and flutes; Laura Jurd and Nick Malcolm on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Stephen Davis on percussion, Hannah Marshall on cello, Percy Pursglove on trumpet and bass and Matthew Wright on electronics. The larger number of players provides for a richer sound.

There are passages where reeds, strings and brass form sections, each playing in unison, such as the beginning of See[k]>Hear[t] where Hawkins has the brass and reeds playing different lines which sometimes come together but are often pulling in different directions. Over the top saxes, trumpets or the violin solo, whilst below percussion and electronics provide texture. The result is multilayered and almost symphonic, a beguiling complexity.

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

Unit[e] is available from Discovery Records


FEATURE/ INTERVIEW Fiona Ross (New album Just Me And Sometimes Someone Else)

Fiona Ross
Photo Credit: Stefan Ferrol
In FIONA ROSS's role as a teacher she saw at an early stage the potential and talent of new stars in the making, like Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne. but now it’s her time in the limelight as songwriter and performer. A major burst of creativity  has led to preparations for a second album - currently spilling over into plans for another.... Interview: Stephen Graham

You get the palpable sense that singer Fiona Ross is on something of a mission. Constantly on the go and currently preparing for a third album she was limbering up for a rehearsal with her band later in the day when she came to the phone on a warm summer’s morning.

Fiona’s second album Just Me (And Sometimes Someone Else) was released earlier in the year, a substantial double album full of her own songs she agrees that she’s something of a late starter as a solo artist having switched from a lengthy teaching career although she actually began in music as a child encouraged by her jazz loving father and opera buff of a mother. Becoming a mum herself while still a teenager her music career in the early days embraced performing in musicals and session work and she still wears plenty of different hats in her artistic profile as a composer, choreographer, director, dancer, and actor although she says with a laugh ‘my dancing days are behind me.’

Her jazz sensibility derives from a love of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, her love of Billie arriving later as she grew deeper into jazz. She also admires the Japanese piano sensation Hiromi who she says ‘I listen to every day’ and beyond jazz admires Prince.

Above all she says without hesitation ‘I love the writing process’ and she brings an intimacy and immediacy to all her songs. As a former long-time teacher at the British Academy of New Music in London she witnessed the drive and determination of future stars in the making such as Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne at an early stage of their careers. She says ‘they were all so motivated and inspired’ and yet she has seen so many equally talented musicians who have never achieved quite what their potential suggested.

As a singer-songwriter she values honesty and communication and she ultimately would like to perform at all the leading jazz clubs, with Ronnie Scott’s top of her own headline slot wish list. ‘What I’m about is being genuine,’ she says, an instinct that derives from the singer-songwriter impetus that seems to underpin all her work.

Fiona Ross
Photo Credit: Goat Noise Photography

She’s kept her latest band together for the last year many of them former students of hers who bring influences from reggae to classic jazz into her pared-back sound. And there has been a lot of activity in terms of her own creativity over the last year with the release of A Twist of Blue in 2016 and preparations for a new record well under way.

Her songs have an easy melodic intimacy that leap off the page, I’m Lost, for example, a song that she describes as about ‘going through life not really knowing who you are or how to find out; pretending you’re ok, but you’re not really… and no one knows.’

For now going forward it’s a pivotal period in her burgeoning career as a bandleader and there seems to be a galloping enthusiasm and thirst for adventure about Ross now with teaching behind her and a strong desire to perform and record more inspiring her in new directions. While she says she is ‘quite naturally introverted’ and yet, just like her idol Hiromi, there is plenty of attitude and sassiness on display in her ‘on duty’ approach and on the new album gear changes from stripped back acoustic nocturnal moods to a poppy sense of optimism.

She’s keen mostly to showcase her own material at the moment, years of doing sessions where she was less connected with the material have led her to her own individual path as a creator more, a certain amount of ‘life’s too short not to’ part of this direction, and certainly time to give her own specific artistry a chance to shine.

‘The dream’ she says, ‘is to spend my life writing new material, gigging and rehearsing’ –– and that dream is well on the way to becoming her daily reality. (pp)

LINK:   Just Me (And Sometimes Someone Else) is on Therapy Records


CD REVIEW: Sean Jones - Live from Jazz at the Bistro

Sean Jones - Live from Jazz at the Bistro
(Mack Avenue MAC1111. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Cool and restrained, that’s the default style of modern trumpet maestro Sean Jones, whose playing is reminiscent of Roy Hargrove’s. This live album is his eighth, recorded over three nights in December 2015 at a St Louis club which looks a little like London’s Jazz Café, judging by the pictures on its website.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for Jones since his fine 2007 collection Kaleidoscope and its follow-up The Search Within. Many of his long-term collaborators reappear on this new album – notably pianist Orrin Evans, bass man Luques Curtis, drummer Obed Calvaire and alto/soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans. But there’s no room this time for vocals – a bit of a shame, since he has worked previously with the luminous Gretchen Parlato, and Carolyn Perteete, whose wistful vocal on Letter of Resignation (here on YouTube) first drew my attention to Jones as a writer of subtlety and intelligence.

The partnership with Evans seems to be an important one: Evans can fade into the background or leap suddenly into the spotlight, as on his own composition, the casually strolling Doc’s Holiday, with its charming little midway stumble, as if the Doc has had a drink or two during his vacation. Or Lost, Then Found, on which his two-chord vamp slots in so perfectly with Jones and Hogans’s simple harmonized lines.

Characteristically thoughtful and reflective, Sean Jones can also bebop with the best of them, as on Brian Hogans’s Piscean Dichotomy or his own Prof. On The Ungentrified Blues, Jones’s trumpet brilliantly emulates the hollerin’ blues vocal – raspin’ one minute, pleadin’ and moanin’ the next.

So it’s a varied set, topped off by BJ’s Tune, a ballad which builds into something rowdier before subsiding into a solo trumpet rendition of Amazing Grace.


CD REVIEW: Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan - Small Town

Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan - Small Town
(ECM 574 6341. CD review by Peter Bacon)

As a reviewer I always approach a new Bill Frisell disc with a certain trepidation. Over the last couple of decades of writing about him I have searched in vain for something negative to say. It threatens to undermine one’s credibility as a critic; one comes across instead as a gushing fan.
Oh well… I am sure there are listeners out there who just don’t “get” Frisell; I am not in that group.

A duo album from him is a rare thing, which I guess suggests he’s fussy about just one partner. His choice here is, naturally, impeccable.

The young - well he looks young though I realise he has been on the scene for a while - double bass player Thomas Morgan has already made a name for himself as the sort of sideman who brings real character with him to every performance. It strikes me listening to this disc that he’s more of a rightful successor to Charlie Haden than most. He has the touch, the melodic facility and, most important of all, a certain gravitas.

Small Town is a live set from the Village Vanguard, and the two musicians interact effortlessly, the deep woody tone of Morgan acting as the ideal foil to the wiry, ringing electric guitar of Frisell.
The programme is as varied as you would expect from Frisell, opening with It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago from a great Vanguard regular, the late drummer Paul Motian, and continuing with a Lee Konitz tune, the perfectly-titled Subconscious Lee. Three originals, some Fats Domino and the classic folk melody Wildwood Flower follow, finishing  in full cinemascope with the theme from Goldfinger.

If there are any jazz police reservists out there who pooh-pooh Frisell’s country forays and gainsay the space guitar outings, then the Konitz should shut them up. Frisell is in eloquent, (almost) pure  jazz mode with Morgan striding purposefully alongside him. The thoughtful Song For Andrew 1 is a quiet masterpiece in resonating chords and synchronised duo phrasing of the most graceful kind. Wildwood Flower has that hokey, down-home, porch vibe, but the wit the two men cram into their ever inventive, inter-twisting lines, puts the smile muscles to work big-time.

The longest track is Poet - Pearl, the only one credited to both Frisell and Morgan as composers. Is it a spontaneous improv? The slow start of guitar harmonics and holding bass phrases suggests so but Frisell quickly moves into a melodic line and Morgan is a deep-voiced sprite in pursuit. The results that develop leisurely are quietly sublime, a drawled conversation from two men who speak the same language and speak it with equal articulacy.

Suffice to say, were my CD collection to be held hostage by some crazed kidnapper, and were I permitted to plead for the release of just one artist, Bill Frisell would definitely be on the short list. Now for heaven’s sake, let this gushing end!

Here is a short taster:


REPORT: Val Wilmer - The Wire Salon at Cafe Oto

Val Wilmer at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights reserved

Val Wilmer - The Wire Salon
(Cafe Oto; 16 July 2017; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The first of a new series of The Wire Salon evenings was An Audience With Val Wilmer, renowned chronicler, in both photographs and words, of the jazz and blues scenes from the 60s onwards. Val Wilmer was in conversation with the Wire publisher, Tony Herrington, for a fascinating two hours with a dozen carefully selected images from her portfolio projected behind them as the discussion evolved.

Wilmer was truly engaging as raconteur and commentator, with an incisive, self-deprecating wit fielded against some of the lines of questioning. A fine veneer over a no-nonsense, hands-on approach to her art and her observations on situations, often defined by uncomfortable complexities and contradictions.

Wilmer’s experience ranges wide and deep. Her photos were initially made to illustrate her written articles. She talked about the friendships she has made since her days studying photography at Regent Street Poly, often with visiting and UK-based black musicians, celebrated early on in her book The Face of Black Music (1977), with its preface by Archie Shepp, mentioning also how her professional life changed when the handy Pentax SLR camera usurped the bulky, boxy Rolleiflex.

Many she invited to tea at her more-than-supportive mother’s in Streatham, and it’s quite a guest list - not that she wanted to name-drop, but when there’s Mingus, Braxton, Elton John, Buck Clayton, Harry Carney, why not! Others she got to know by writing to them - bluesman Jesse Fuller amongst them.

Her aim was ‘to show something of the people in my photos’, and to do this ‘[you’ve] got to be able to spend time with people’. Her earliest shots include those of Jamaican born saxophonist George Tyndale at Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1960). Dexter Gordon she photographed having his shoes shined in Piccadilly after he declared that he couldn’t believe that a white man was shining shoes! John Coltrane and Art Blakey were each captured having a short back and sides at the Kilburn State - presumably before going on stage, in 1961. Whilst she wasn’t part of the hard-living Soho set, there were, nevertheless, unusual demands on her time in pursuit of that elusive perfect shot - the great bassist Richard Davis, for example, she discovered, went horse-riding in Central Park at 4.30am, which was a challenge!

One of her favourite photos is of the young behatted Marshall Allen caught in a profile view at Moers walking through the rain with Sun Ra trombonist, Tony Bethel, umbrella resting on his shoulder. The shot of Albert Ayler caught as he turned towards her, she said was ‘certainly a number 37’, a reference to the contention that the best photos on a roll of 36 (35mm film) can be 0A and 37. This photo appeared in Melody Maker in 1966, around the time of his BBC appearance on Jazz Goes To College, a recording sadly lost in the Corporation’s space-saving exercise of the time.

Wilmer also wanted to show jazz musicians at work, and like Roy DeCarava, whom she admires and has said, ‘I stay back, and I wait until something happens’, she said of her shot of an adrenalin-tensed Albert King at Hammersmith, ‘[you] just have to wait for the right moment.’ DeCarava supplied the images for the landmark book about Harlem, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a collaboration with another great friend of Wilmer’s, the writer and poet, Langston Hughes.

Discussing the political angle, she said, ‘as you learn more, you become politicised,’ inevitable when mixing with the likes of the articulate and motivated Archie Shepp, leading to a trip to Mississippi to photograph the black women living there - and in the audience was Maggie Murray, with whom she set up the women’s photographic agency, Format, running for 20 years until 2003.

The bottom line was her unstoppable curiosity - ‘The thing I was really interested in was finding out more about the music - nothing more.’

A hugely illuminating evening - difficult to believe Wilmer packed so much in to just two hours!

Val Wilmer and Tony Herrington at Cafe Oto; photo of George Tyndale on screen
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights reserved


NEWS: Swanage Jazz Festival declares officially that the 28th Festival was the last

Photo credit: Richard Webb / Creative Commons

The Swanage Jazz Festival's website homepage has a story announcing that it is to stop.  The statement starts as follows - with a link to the full piece

"Welcome to the twenty-eighth and final Swanage Jazz Festival. We are delighted (but also sad) to present our twenty-eighth and final programme. The Festival Board took the decision to end the Festival reluctantly, recognising that age and illness has caught up with us." (LINK TO FULL STATEMENT)

Brian Blain, who will be doing a round-up of the festival for LJN, writes: 

Although there was little of a wake atmosphere around the 28th Swanage Festival which concluded last Sunday evening and everyone accepted that it was to be the last one, Chinese whispers were all over the site that there might be a reprieve. No secret that a dynamic, popular musician had stepped forward to take over as Artistic Director, but that would be the easy bit in relation to forward planning.

One member of the existing team of volunteers told us that a number of them would be willing to help out. So the much anticipated announcement that the Festival's dynamic Director, Fred Lindop delivered just before the final set of the weekend, by the Dave Newton /Clark Tracey Band was inevitably an anticlimax for those expecting a dramatic reprieve.

Meetings will take place in August with interested parties and there is a formal statement on the Swanage Festival website already. We will bring you a round up of the weekend's music next week.


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Tommy Smith (new album Embodying The Light)

The Tommy Smith Quartet
Photo credit: Derek Clark

John Coltrane died 50 years ago today. Tommy Smith turned 50 in April. Clearly the planets were correctly aligned for the Scottish saxophonist to make what he describes as a “most terrifying journey” - a dedicated album to Trane. Tommy Smith explains all to LondonJazz News.

Tommy Smith has an acute sense of the jazz tradition. Not only does he pay tribute to its various masters in his own work - think of his sumptuous 1997 album, The Sound Of Love, on which he interpreted the ballads of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn - but with the big band he founded, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, he has honoured Count Basie and Benny Goodman, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, plus Mingus, Kenton, Oliver Nelson and so many more.

But he also understands that it’s important to honour that tradition in its underlying spirit, too, which means to do something new, to forge some fresh steps down the jazz path.

Despite having led the SCJO on specially commissioned arrangements of Coltrane, he has waited till this golden anniversary year to devote one of his own band’s albums to the man. It was clearly a decision not to be taken lightly.

“As someone who plays the saxophone occasionally,” he explains with dry wit, “recording a dedication to Coltrane is probably the most terrifying journey you can prepare for, since one is never ready … Especially, as I’m on no occasion ready for any project, due to the fact, I’m always pushing myself.”

Of course, he adds, Coltrane pushed himself hardest of all.

Was there a lot of preparation? Again, Smith underplays it as “simple really”.

“I got in touch with a few fantastic musicians, who have great personal spirits that I wanted to share some important music with,” he expands. “We got together on the day of the recording at Castlesound near Edinburgh and set forth to record the music of Coltrane. Importantly, we didn’t rehearse before the date, as I wanted the interaction to be as special as your first kiss.”

Those musicians are pianist Peter Johnstone, a former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year; the much-in-demand double bassist Calum Gourlay; and the Dutch drummer Sebastiaan de Krom who first became known to UK audiences as part of Jamie Cullum’s band and, like Smith, studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The band was assembled, but what would they play?

“Well, there are so many wonderful tunes to choose from... so I thought I would record the music I play regularly, the more challenging songs that require focused imagination and interplay from the quartet. But I would so love to do another recording now with additional songs, as Trane wrote so many great vehicles for improvisation."

Two of them, Transition and The Father, The Son And The Holy Ghost are more free pieces from  later in Coltrane’s career. Smith claims he learned how to tackle these from a few masters.

“I had a fantastic guru, Arild Andersen. Playing in his trio since 2008 has taught me how to tackle these free pieces with an open mind and open ears. Sebastiaan de Krom and I toured in 2001 with David Liebman and we learned a thing or two about focused energy and forward motion. Gary Burton, my other guru, taught me how to develop ideas thematically when I was 18, which is still an important part of my conceptual playing.

“The quartet was filled with energy that day and all of us were exhausted afterwards.”

In addition to the Coltrane compositions, there are some originals. Were they written specially for the album?

“Yes and No. The first track, Transformation, I wrote when I was 15 years old. Its original title was, Traneing For Life and is based on the chord progression of Trane’s Impressions, the melody and harmony of which are plagiarised from a 1942 classical piece by Morton Gould called Pavanne…”

Smith’s other tunes as he explains them are Embodying The Light and Embodying The Darkness, the first a simple blues with rhythmic Traneisms, the latter song based on Trane’s One Down, One Up.

As Tommy Smith tells it, his first encounter with a Coltrane album was not an altogether happy one.

“Remember, I had no money when I was a kid, and the money I did earn was only £5 per week playing with my group in a bar in Edinburgh, which was spent on saxophone reeds and bus fares, so, it always took me a few weeks to save up for a precious LP.

“Ominously, the first Trane record I bought was Ascension, from a small record shop in Cockburn Street in the centre of my hometown. I took the album home and placed it on my parent’s record player. The cover had a photo of Trane sitting on a chair with a soprano saxophone in his hand, while he looked into the void against a pure white background, like he was adoring some heavenly peace.
“I watched the record spin and listened to the chaos begin, skipped to the middle and end of side A, turned it over and did the same again. I unequivocally hated it!

“So, I walked down to the bus stop and waited for the number 30 bus to take me from Westerhailes all the way back into town. Upon arrival, I demanded a refunded from the shop owner. Sadly, he didn’t give me one, so I left the album in the wee shop, said something stupid and stormed out in disgust.

“It would take a good few years for me to understand and appreciate the brilliance of Ascension."

He concludes: “Eventually, I did own a Coltrane record; the great Blue Trane; although, I was still heavily into Getz, Dexter, George Coleman and the Hawk, but I did appreciate the brilliance of Trane’s technique and harmonic knowledge.”

And how about now. Does he have a favourite Coltrane album today?

“That’s a tricky one, but I do enjoy Interstellar Space, which is just a duo with drummer Rashid Ali and is monumental,. But there are so many: Meditations, A Love Supreme, Transition, Live At The Half Note…

The Tommy Smith Quartet’s own Coltrane album, Embodying The Light, released on Spartacus Records, has already gained enthusiastic reviews. Mark McKergow, writing on this site, said “this excellent CD is about Tommy Smith meeting John Coltrane for a thrilling extended workout”. (FULL REVIEW(pp)

LINK: Buy the Tommy Smith Quartet’s Embodying The Light: A Dedication to John Coltrane.


CD REVIEW: JD Allen – Radio Flyer

JD Allen – Radio Flyer
(Savant SCD 2162. CD review by Brian Marley)

The trio of JD Allen (tenor saxophone), Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) released their first album, I Am I Am, on Sunnyside in 2008. Since then there have been five more, all strong, culminating in last year’s Savant release, Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues. Whereas many saxophonists play more than one instrument, and in a variety of group settings, to demonstrate their versatility and (to mix metaphors) freshen the palette, Allen has stuck to tenor and dug deep into what a longstanding trio of like-minded players can accomplish. As such, these recordings, especially Americana, should be mentioned in the same breath as Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard and Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard.

Allen has, of course, recorded with groups larger than a trio. His slightly scrappy first outing, In Search of JD Allen (Red Records, 1999), was a quintet featuring piano and trumpet, and the much more tightly focused follow-up, Pharoah’s Children (Criss Cross, 2003) was a quartet featuring piano, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt guesting on three tracks. Since then, there have been two more quartets with piano, Grace (2013) and Bloom (2014), both issued on Savant, both excellent. August and Royston played in none of these groups.

Radio Flyer is Allen’s first quartet that features his regular trio plus one other. It’s also the first time he’s recorded with a guitarist. The guitarist in question is Liberty Ellman, who, as well as having released four critically acclaimed recordings under his own name, most recently Radiate (Pi Recordings, 2015), is a member of Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, an ensemble that makes organically evolving music of mind-boggling complexity. Prior to listening to Radio Flyer, I wondered how Ellman, who shares Steve Coleman’s interest in bright, complex structures with strong rhythmic underpinnings, would fit with Allen’s measured, often metreless dark musings. The answer: surprisingly well.

At times Radio Flyer reminds me of David Murray and James ‘Blood’ Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble, and the genre and theory out of which Ulmer’s music sprang: blues and harmolodics. Which brings us, naturally, to Ornette Coleman. Over the years comparisons have regularly been made between Allen and various other tenor players, particularly Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, but on Radio Flyer, and the title track in particular, his tone, angular phrasing and freewheeling improvisational flurries are much more reminiscent of Ornette with Prime Time.

This restless, probing linearity suits Ellman down to the ground. Mostly using a clean tone, and adding occasional, very sparing effects to his sound, Ellman proves to be a fine accompanist, and his solos, such as on The Angelus Bell and Ghost Dance, match Allen’s for sheer inventiveness. August and Royston may get less individual solo space than they would when working with Allen as a trio, but essentially they’re always soloing, even if their role is largely supportive. The quartet play a tightly focused, highly disciplined free jazz that, while looking forward, seems simultaneously to hark back to an earlier, headier era of music making.


CD REVIEW: Sergio Pamies - What Brought You Here?

Sergio Pamies - What Brought You Here?
(Bebyne Records CD8018. CD review by Peter Jones)

Born in Granada, Spain, currently resident in Dallas, Texas, Sergio Pamies is a pianist who brings both his Spanish heritage and his classical training to bear on this, his largely self-penned third album. Pamies is also an accomplished arranger, with a sophisticated ear, who seems able to turn his hand to any style or instrumental lineup. The vibe is mostly mainstream jazz, but with a strong latin element. No fewer than 23 other musicians are featured in various combinations.

The title track appears in three guises – as a solo piano melody at the start, as a trio piece about halfway through, and as a lush soprano sax feature with viola, cello, vibes and a latin percussion section to close the album.

The beboppish Our Man Andrew (based on Our Man Higgins from Lee Morgan’s Cornbread album) refers to drummer Andrew Griffith, whose busy brushes punctuate the syncopated horn riffs on the intro, and there are brash, confident solos from tenorman Quamon Fowler and Pamies himself.

Curiously, I Get A Kick Out Of You is divided across two tracks: first the verse, sung by Ashleigh Smith, backed by acoustic piano, then the song proper, partly reharmonized, with electric piano and more latin percussion, that hits its groove as the blowing section turns into a samba.

For me the latin material is most interesting, particularly El Hijo de la Portuguesa, with the clear flamenco influence in its chordal flourishes and stamping rhythm. Brad Kang shines with his electric guitar soloing here. The sweet ballad Faltando Um Pedaco features Young Heo on acoustic bass; Pamies plays the tune on melodica, doubling with Daniel Pardo’s flute, before Lara Bello comes in on vocals.

If I had any criticism at all of this otherwise very enjoyable album, it would be that the selection is a little too varied, lacking an overall style, as if Pamies has simply gathered up various recordings made at various times and put them all out together.


BOOK REVIEW: Danny Barker, Ed. Alyn Shipton - A Life in Jazz

Danny Barker, Ed. Alyn Shipton - A Life in Jazz
(The Historic New Orleans Collection, 254pp. Book review by Alison Bentley)

We’re used to jazz musicians being portrayed as tortured individuals, sacrificing themselves to push jazz forward. But guitarist/ banjo player/ songwriter Danny Barker’s autobiography tells of growing up with jazz in New Orleans, where the music was part of the community. It’s a view from the ground. Barker interviewed musicians, collected photos and memorabilia, and drew on his own remarkable experiences, and it’s a highly entertaining as well as an enthralling read.

Born in 1909 in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Barker has an eye for detail that brings his memories to life: in the Animule Hall, bands played the ‘deep inner feeling’ of the blues, which led to slow dancing but also fights- settled by kicks from a man who ‘wore extra-special long-toed shoes, the tips of which were as sharp as an ice pick…’

Brass bands, marching clubs and parades were everywhere. Barker’s grandfather was in the Onward Brass Band- and a funeral director. We hear about competition for funeral gigs among the many bands. (‘Dying is good business.’) Local boy made good, Sidney Bechet, was an inspiration to Barker in his decision to become a professional musician. Barker began playing banjo ukulele in a spasm band, a street band where the kids’ instruments were as improvised as their music. In the late 1920s, established bands rarely took on new personnel, so the only way to get on was to leave town.

Outside his close-knit community in New Orleans, racism abounded. Barker’s first tour was to Mississippi, and his mother was terrified of how he would be treated. The bandleader had to get her permission to take him. Barker is a consummate storyteller, and always leaves you wanting to know what happens next. For example, he writes about playing for the elderly white owner of the ‘Mississippi Bloodhound Kennel’ where dogs were trained to attack escaped (black) convicts, a tale both chilling and darkly comic.

In 1930, Barker and his wife moved to New York, where he played with an extraordinary number of musicians and big bands, with beautifully-shaped anecdotes to match: Jelly Roll Morton, (who called Barker ‘Home Town’) Jimmy Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington- the big names are all here. From 1930-37 Barker played with Cab Calloway’s band, and then constantly toured, gigged and recorded. (‘…you just get a tough skin. Have guitar, banjo…will travel.’) Many of the stories have a comic veneer that partly masks the racism. We hear about Dizzy Gillespie getting caught short in Cab Calloway’s band bus- because black people were not allowed to use whites’ toilets, which made touring difficult.

Barker has many stories relating to individual musicians. Louis Armstrong’s influence is shown when Barker finds ‘half a dozen noted trumpet players…bare-chested…by a wide-open window…’ as the snow fell. They were trying to catch colds so they could sing like Armstrong himself.

Alongside the discipline of the big bands, younger musicians, such as the beboppers, seemed to return to the spirit of New Orleans’ music: ‘You don’t tell me what you want and I don’t tell you. We all play variations on the theme.’ Charlie Parker loved Barker’s ‘big fat chords’ and booked him to record.

Barker was a serious jazz historian. ‘I read much of this crap [about jazz] and then was told I should write some truth.’ After a short stay in California, the Barker and his wife Lu (a fine blues singer) went back to New Orleans. Though the city had changed, Barker still gigged, and worked at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. He died in 1994.

This is an important book written in Barker’s own words, first published in 1986 (when he was 75) and seamlessly edited by Alyn Shipton. As there were several drafts of the original manuscript, Shipton read the final version aloud to Barker to check he approved. This sumptuously-produced reissue comes with wonderful photos, previously-unused material, and a comprehensive song list and discography from Shipton.


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Ralph Towner (Oregon, Pizza Express Jazz Club, 20/21 July)

Oregon - Mark Walker, Ralph Towner, Paolo Dalla Porta and Paul McCandless
Publicity photo

Oregon’s Ralph Towner spent some of his only free day during the band’s current 14-date European tour speaking from his hotel room in Augsburg, Germany, to Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon.

Guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner, double bassist Glen Moore and percussionist/sitar player Collin Walcott met oboist Paul McCandless when the first three joined the Paul Winter Consort in 1970. As Towner recalls: “During our first Consort tour, Glen and Collin and I were already a sort of unit, and Paul McCandless fitted in naturally. We would tour for weeks on end, and play together, all four of us writing together in a station wagon. We kind of bonded… and musically also.”
And so Oregon was born. Nearly half a century later half of that original band, Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless, now with Mark Walker and Paolo Dalla Porta, will be at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho, for three performances on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 July.

London Jazz News: You and Paul McCandless are getting near to your “golden anniversary”.

Ralph Towner: Yeah, I guess you could call it that. It’s a round number in 2020... if we make it that far!

LJN: Given the length of time Oregon has been going, how easy has it been to incorporate percussionist Mark Walker and now bassist Paolino Dalla Porta into the Oregon way of thinking?

RT: In both cases it was quite easy. Paul McCandless was doing work with Lyle Mays and Mark was on drums. Trilok Gurtu had been our drummer for seven years after Collin died [Walcott was killed in a road accident during a European tour] and we tried one record as a trio, and a couple of tours as a trio. And then we did a recording with two drummers and one was Mark.
He fitted in immediately. But it changes the music completely. You add one different player in a group of four and it alters the entire way the music is played. Not the concept, but the responses and the way you play off the other person - that creates the change. And it can be a good one if the musician is any good. In this case Mark is very good. His expertise is very much more with Latin American rhythms and percussion as well as being a very good jazz drummer, so that altered the chemistry of the remaining three.

Ralph Towner
Photo credit: Paolo Soriani

I had met Paolino Dalla Porta at least 15, maybe 20 years ago. I first heard him play with a great guitar player Bebo Ferra in Italy and I thought this is a good bass player, this could be a nice person to play with. And then we met a few times after that and played a few times. But we had very short notice as far as finding the bass player for Oregon, because we were going to tour in about a week and a half and then Glen notified us that he didn’t want to play anymore in the group., n
But fortunately, I knew Paolino would be a good fit because he’s a great musician, able to play all sorts of music - and sure enough he’s fitted in perfectly, and we were able to have a rehearsal at my home in Rome - a day in which he learned practically the entire repertoire that we were going to use on that tour.
He has worked out great, again changing the way the group sounds because he’s more facile than Glen was, and sometimes comical. It has taken us to another level of playing that is really welcome.
It’s kind of an instant evolution if the player works.

LJN: Despite these personnel changes, the essence of Oregon remains really strong. To what do you attribute this?

RT: The reason that Oregon continues is because of the compositions as well as the way the compositions are played.The compositions are not always standard jazz forms - I started writing sectional kind of things which would involve the improvisations on different material rather than have everyone playing on the same chord changes. Trying to make more long forms, and that basically is one of our identifying factors, along with those different rhythms - not always swing time. And now we don’t have the tabla there is a more Latin feel to it. But overall it’s the compositions, I think.

LJN: And the eclectic nature of that essence, the range of influences in the music - what is the source of that? 

RT: New York City [in the late ‘60s/early '70s] was where all the musicans were and where all this music was being developed. Weather Report and Mahavishnu and interchangeable jam sessions with all these different players - it was like a small town, you know. I remember being in a group with Jimmy Garrison, Coltrane's bass player, and we were rehearsing at Chick Corea’s apartment... We were all living pretty much in the same area - you could afford to do that then.
So when we were hired by Paul Winter he had a really interesting concept of music. But he was doing interpretations of various music - hardly any original composition. We played adaptations and arrangements of Brazilian music and Renaissance music and some Baroque things, and some other pop things - Joni Mitchell kind of things. And so it was a real potpourri of styles.
One great thing about the Paul Winter Consort was that I started writing music for that arrangement of instruments, and to incorporate all the flavour those instruments. Based on the tabla and the oboe and the cello and the saxophone of Paul Winter, and my guitar playing - I didn’t play piano in that group - I kind of found a style that was comfortable for everyone.

LJN: Will your London performances concentrate on the material from the new album Lantern (reviewed HERE), or will you be exploring Oregon’s vast back catalogue too?

RT: Some new material and then things from our entire history.

LJN: It must be hard to choose…

RT: We try to make put things together to make a nice form for the concert so that all the pieces are different and they all function differently in the arc of the concert. We pluck them out from the whole 47 years.

LJN: Do you split your time in the group between piano and guitar?

RT: Yes, pretty much. I stopped playing 12-string with the group because of the difficulties the airlines cause with all these different instruments. It became too much of a burden to carry two guitars and a keyboard and a third guitar. The synthesisers have now been reduced to one computer and then a keyboard controller.

LJN: A far cry from the Paul Winter Consort instrumentation that I remember from the pictures on album covers - it was vast!

RT: Yes, it looked like a music store, with all that percussion - the camel bells and tympani even. Paul  Winter had this big truck and he would drive from place to place…  I don’t think we ever toured outside of the States with the Consort.

LJN: You have played at the Pizza Express Jazz Club before, I believe. Do you like the venue?

RT: It’s intimate… and has a great audience. It’s fun because the people are close, almost in your lap, and they like that too. And English sound men all seem to be great - they have a good reputation. I’ve always had great luck with sound technicians in England.


INTERVIEW: Qobuz, Music Streaming and Downloading (Malcolm Ouzeri)

A screengrab of the Qobuz UK homepage

The Paris-based streaming and downloading service QOBUZ aims to "address the needs of discerning music lovers." 18% of the music being listened to on Qobuz is jazz. Founded by Yves Riesel and Alexandre Leforestier in 2007, Qobuz has not just determinedly offered better sound quality than MP3 since inception, it has also resisted the industry trend towards only offering users commercial promotions and sales algorithms - some of the consequences of which are emerging (*). Qobuz was recently in London, and Sebastian did an email interview with Head of Marketing Malcolm Ouzeri:

LondonJazz News: You have set out to present a fairer model as regards artists than some larger competitors. What is your motivation?

Malcolm Ouzeri: Ever since Qobuz was founded in 2007, the core of our values has lain in the respect given to the artists, to their works and to the value associated to their works.

Qobuz has therefore always promoted paid music subscriptions and value-generating offers when the market was - and still is - filled with free-of-charge offers, generating almost no revenue for the artists. Let's point out the example of Qobuz's unique mix of revenue, including streaming revenue and download revenue.

The founders of Qobuz came from music production - which is significant:

Qobuz has always fostered creation, and creation from all parts: from independent labels, from all genres of music.

The model of Qobuz has always been fairer, and Qobuz is still at the vanguard of a fairer model.

LJN: Is that a "red line" or what kind of commitment do you make that it will be part of your offering?

MO: It is indeed a red line, which is applicable along with several commitments:

1. From the creation of Qobuz, we never provided free-of-charge subscriptions. The "freemium" model has proven to be an insufficient compensation for the artists when compared to their work, especially for certain repertoires.

2. We've created a combination of revenue that includes streaming revenue and download revenue.
In 2017 we still give people reasons to download with high-quality downloads (in Hi-Res Audio). It is value-generating for the artist.

3. The music we promote and highlight is not promoted everywhere else. Our taste is different, so is our users'. Great independent artists in all genres of music find great exposure on Qobuz. As a consequence, the music being listened to on Qobuz is broken down differently. And so do the royalties when shared back.

A few examples : Jazz is 18% of the music being listened to on Qobuz.

4. We do investigate on a change of revenue split model: from a "per service" approach to a "per user" model so that the revenue generated by a user's subscription more directly goes to the music the user has actually listened to.

Malcolm Ouzeri

LJN: There was recently a takeover/absorption of Qobuz. What was the background and is your business model now a durable sustainable one?

MO: Qobuz was taken over by the Xandrie Group in January 2016, after falling into receivership at the end of 2015. The Qobuz team was preserved. The idea was to give Qobuz full support in terms of investment so that Qobuz could fulfil its vision: to provide a great music service for all passionate music lovers.

For the last year and half, Xandrie has followed an ambitious investment plan, to put Qobuz back on track in terms of backend and infrastructure development. Qobuz has recently renewed its digital factory and renewed all of its apps (PC/Mac apps, smartphone and tablet iOS/Android apps). Qobuz has also developed new offers (the very first full Hi-Res streaming subscription worldwide).

Qobuz is now following an ambitious development plan throughout Europe.

LJN: There are claims that the benefit of 24-bit over 16-bit for listening is not that great. How would you respond to these articles from  or Xiph?

MO: Qobuz users have something in common, they share a great passion for music. Some of these users decide to express their passion by wanting to experience music in the best conditions possible.

By listening to music the way the artist truly intended it. We give them this possibility, either with Hi-Res download, or with Hi-Res streaming. We give them 'the real thing': the bit-perfect file, the studio master, which is as close as you can get from the music the artist played. And we accompany them in the process by giving them advice and content about the hardware material to use to enjoy Hi-Res.

LJN: Are you the same as Neil Young's Pono or different?

MO: We share common values in the quality-based approach. We offer streaming and download, in CD-Quality (16 bits 44,1 kHz) and in Hi-Res (24-Bit up to 192 kHz).

We have a large catalogue (40 million tracks in CD-Quality / 70,000 albums in Hi-Res) that include all major and independent labels.

LJN: What does Qobuz cost to subscribe and is it easy to do? 

MO: We also have an entry-level offer starting at 9,99 euros a month, which gives access to the full catalogue in mp3 320k and to everything that we do differently: better curated editorial, better documentation, quality recommendations.

Qobuz starts at 9,99 euros a month and there is a 15-day or 1-month free trial period.

See our offers:

Very easy! Download the Qobuz app!

(*) See recent alleged abuses of algorithms/ promotions HERE and HERE


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2017 (3 of 3)

"Like musical speed-dating" - Jazz Labs

Round-up:  Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2017
(Bozen/ Bolzano Wed. 5th July.Report by Alison Bentley)

Rawfishboys, EURAC
Jazz Labs and Warped Dreamer, Messe Bozen/Fiera Bolzano
CLOD! Hotel Four Points by Sheraton

Lodged in among Suedtirol’s mountains are modern buildings, with large white rooms, like blank canvases for the musicians to work with. The EURAC research centre was holding a conference: Artists on the road – Paths and boundaries of travelling. The Rawfishboys’ music (from their album Fengling) led us on a journey through high double bass harmonies, (Brice Soniano) where the bow bounced across the strings, along with free bass clarinet (Joachim Badenhorst.) Repeated arpeggios recalled Phillip Glass, but with more harmonic movement. The White Starline had the ardent timbre of Klezmer from Badenhorst, while another piece gave us bluesy lilts and a Dudu Pukwana feel - imaginative and beautiful music.

Brice Sonianao and Joachim Badenhorst of Rawfishboys

On the outskirts of town, three stages had been created in the simple white space of the Exhibition Centre- no distractions- just the music. The Jazz Labs ‘experiment’, where 14 musicians from 6 countries improvised together for the first time, was like musical speed-dating. Duos and trios, and finally two larger groups, were given 7 1/2 minutes before the sound of a giant gong moved us on to the next group.

Lightning sketches: Filippo Vignato’s gravelly trombone conversed with the rumbly crashes of Onno Govaert’s drums; Leila Martial chattered in the imagined language of childhood over Reinier Baas’ rough-edged guitar; the metallic creak of Pascal Niggenkemper’s double bass pushed against Francesco Diodati’s insistent guitar chords and Manuel Hermia’s melancholy, growling sax.

Sylvain Darrifourcq‘s drums ticked like a clock to the underwater multiphonics of Joachim Badenhorst’s bass clarinet; Laura Perrudin’s rich-toned chromatic harp chords blended with Ben van Gelder’s breathy sax and Eisikur Orri Olafsson’s melodic trumpet. Valentin Ceccaldi’s dark rock cello tones grooved with the molasses sound of Joris Roelofs’s bass clarinet. It was like experiencing many different phases of the same long piece. Warped Dreamer took us into a dream sequence to delight and disturb. Arve Henriksen’s trumpet sounded like a wooden flute (he’s studied the Japanese shakuhachi as well as Norwegian willow flute from his own country)- the effect was ethereally beautiful. A nightmarish section broke out, with Hawkwind-like electronic sounds. Blistering trumpet and primal drumming (Teun Verbruggen, Belgium) sounded as if they might rouse another Iceman Ötzi from the mountains. Slow wave sleep followed, with pastoral trumpet and energised restraint from Verbruggen, recalling Eric Harland’s work with Charles Lloyd. There was another ferocious phase, as if all your favourite heavy rock bands had visited your dream at once, then gentle guitar, from Norwegian Stian Westerhus, a little like Nguyên Lê. Pulsing keyboard sounds from Jozef Dumoulin (Belgium) faded into guitar played with a violin bow; Henriksen’s delicate falsetto voice in a hymn-like song brought an ecstatic innocence to the dream’s end- superb musicianship in an amazing variety of moods.

A door slid aside and we were suddenly, dream-like, in a hotel bar, with Netherlands-based young band CLOD! grooving as the cocktail-drinking audience spilled out on to the warm street. There seemed a strong link with Black Market-era Weather Report, with a funky backbeat from Mark Schilders’ drums, a pleasingly distorted keyboard sound from Koen Schalkwijk- and strummed guitar from Dario Trapani. A slower piece with vibes-like keyboard, and Brecker-ish tenor (Nicolò Francesco Ricci, ) brought us close to 90s Steps Ahead- but for a new age with elements of punk and drum & bass. Sometimes Alessandro Fungaro’s electric bass set up a groove, but the drums took it in a completely unexpected direction, interlocked in unsettling, complex beats. A superbly-played, original and modern take on classic jazz funk.


CD REVIEW: Various Artists - The Passion of Charlie Parker

Various Artists (*)  - The Passion of Charlie Parker
(Impulse 5742176. CD Review by Peter Jones)

(*) VOCALISTS: Madeleine Peyroux, Barbara Hannigan, Gregory Porter, Jeffrey Wright, Luciana Souza, Kurt Elling, Kandace Springs, Melody Gardot, Camille Bertault.

This intriguing and highly original project seeks to do several things at once: first, and rather belatedly, to mark the 60th anniversary of Bird’s death (which fell in 2015); second, to weave his best-known tunes together into a biographical narrative; and third, to re-imagine the tunes as if their composer were alive and working in today’s musical context.

Producer Larry Klein has achieved all of these things in terrific style, aided by the participation of the top tier of modern jazz singers and players, along with a new collection of lyrics by under-the radar songwriter David Baerwald. One of many bold moves was to use the musicians from David Bowie’s Blackstar album: saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Mark Guiliana, plus Craig Taborn on keys, and either Larry Grenadier or Scott Colley on bass, with the ubiquitous Eric Harland as second drummer alongside Guiliana.

Two tracks feature the actor Jeffrey Wright as Parker himself, and a couple more are instrumentals, but the rest are divided up between singers – all of whom do a magnificent job. Take the opener – a vocal version of Ornithology (retitled Meet Charlie Parker) which dispenses with Jon Hendricks’s hipster lines and reimagines the song as a hymn to the sexual attraction of Kansas City’s finest, aided by the soft, smoky voice of Madeleine Peyroux; meanwhile the uptempo swing of the original has morphed into a loose Freddie King-style vamp. Later, Gregory Porter takes on Yardbird Suite (retitled A Genius in his Youth); again, the tune has been freed from its bebop straightjacket and dressed in a modern suit of clothes, with a meandering, almost arrhythmic accompaniment; Kurt Elling’s contribution - Moose the Mooche (AKA Los Angeles) - gets a similar treatment, Elling purring and chuckling his way through the lyric as McCaslin and Taborn trade oblique licks.

Some will bristle at the liberties Klein and his colleagues have taken with Parker’s music. But for my money, this is a wonderful reinvigoration of the canon. Slowing a lot of the material down and giving it brand new, well-crafted words allows Parker’s melodies to shine through afresh. There’s also a pleasing contrast of styles here: Kandace Springs, for example, sashays sunnily through the familiar samba My Little Suede Shoes (AKA Live My Love for You), before Wright brings it all down to pavement level with his noirish nightcrawler version of Segment (AKA Fifty Dollars), his mumbling, growling vocal reminiscent of Tom Waits at his darkest.

So many all-star projects are exercises in grandstanding, eliciting little more than shrugs from the listener. The Passion of Charlie Parker, however, is a fully integrated musical tribute, making one long to see it staged or screened as soon as possible. But for now, the pictures it creates in one’s head are vivid enough.


REVIEW: Christian Brewer and Jim Mullen Quintet at The Woodman, Highgate

The Woodman
Photo from Streetview

Christian Brewer and Jim Mullen Quintet
(The Woodman. Highgate. June 2017. Review by Brian Blain)

Just one of those summer evening's 'let's go for a pint and catch Christian Brewer's second set' occasions at his increasingly popular Funky Thursdays at The  Woodman- right next door to Highgate Underground.

So, in we go through a crowded garden wondering whether there will be anyone inside, only to find the two spaces around the bar filled with a youngish crowd, some showing off their dance moves, others just moving and grooving to music which was popular before many of them were born.....

Such an atmosphere, but before we could even elbow our way to the bar, could it be?...Yes it was; the unmistakable sound, phrasing, sheer bite and beautifully constructed choruses of our best loved guitar player. After a devastating illness at the beginning of the year the main man, Jim Mullen is back, although he told us it will be a few more months before total fitness is reached. 

Christian Brewer, creator of  so many North London scenes,is an alto/soprano player of driving enthusiasm,power and creativity,though not done many favours on this occasion by a distinctly underwhelming PA system seemed totally delighted to be reunited with a natural soul mate Tunes by writers such as Jeff Lorber, Grover Washington Joe Zawinul and Stevie Wonder had me stirring the memory cells trying to remember the titles of so many old favourites.

None of it would have worked without a tight rhythm section totally at home with that powerful but modest unshowy feel that funk demands. Veterans of that scene Crispin Taylor (dms) and Winston Blissett, a dancing bear of an electric bassist with his bottom ended 'grumbly' bass sound, together with Mullen's regular keyboard player Mike Gorman provided a perfect platform from which Jim  and Christian could take off. An evening of total delight ; weird that so many musicians seem to think that this particular bag is all a bit beneath them: too simplistic perhaps? Or maybe they just don't have that magic 'get down' feeling.


INTERVIEW: Duncan Eagles (Inventions and Dimensions, Thursday nights at the Ram Jam Club, Kingston)

Duncan Eagles

The Inventions and Dimensions series on Thursday nights at the Ram Jam Club in Kingston is rapidly becoming one of the cornerstone musician-led gigs on the scene in the London area. Kingston-based guitarist Tony Heiberg, for LJN, interviewed saxophonist DUNCAN EAGLES to find out more.

LondonJazz News: How long has Inventions and Dimensions been running?

Duncan Eagles: We - Max Luthert, Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Mike Brunt and I - inherited the Thursday nights at the Ram Jam Club in Kingston from saxophonist Tim Whitehead last summer and started our programming in September.

LJN: What is the concept behind the programme?

DE: We are providing a platform for new and emerging projects performing original music that does not usually get heard in this part of London.

LJN: What are some of the highlights so far?

DE: It was great to have American pianist George Colligan over with heavyweight saxophonist Jon Irabagon whilst they were touring with drummer Andrew Bain. To hear musicianship of this standard in such an intimate setting is very inspiring.

LJN: And what has been the UK's response to these American interlopers?

DE: We've had excellent gigs from the likes of Nick Costley-White, Ralph Wyld and Tom Syson - to name just a few of the great bands we've presented so far.

LJN: And I've noticed that you happen to appear in quite a few of the bands...

DE: Well, booking me is an absolutely essential part of the criteria for any band being considered for a gig at the club.

LJN: I suspected as much. May we have a list, please?

DE: Some of the new projects I'm currently involved with that have performed include my brother Samuel Eagles' band - which recently won a special prize at the finals of the Bucharest International Jazz Competition - Max Luthert's Orbital, guitarists Gero Schipmann and Filipe Monteiro's respective bands and, of course, your fabulous band, Tony.

LJN: So how do the other musicians that help run the night manage to get a look in?

DE: It's actually really great to have Nette, Tony and Max on board as they also bring their various projects to the club. And Mike Brunt is a lifesaver. Mike designs the artfully crafted posters and flyers - in addition to presiding over the door every week with a seemingly endless amount of energy and enthusiasm.

LJN: Admirable. But I expect Mike to stop charging me on the door after this piece comes out.

DE: We'll see...

LJN: As someone who used to write for a comedian in the cast of Saturday Night Live, I've enjoyed the droll comedy in your promo videos.

DE: We learnt very quickly that people like a laugh on social media - as the light hearted videos get far more views and do much a better job of promoting the gigs. Here is an example:

LJN: What can we look forward to in the future?

DE: Inventions & Dimensions will be presenting six concerts as part of the London Jazz Festival including performances from bands lead by Alex Bonney, Ant Law and Dom Pipkin. We'll also have a performance from Orjan Hulten's quartet, a great sax player from Sweden, and up and coming pianist Tom Millar.

LJN: Excellent! And I'm pleased to see that you've finally eradicated the element of nepotism I've noticed in previous programmings...

DE: Well, actually, my band, The Duncan Eagles Quartet, will be playing, also as a part of the London Jazz Festival programme, on 16 November - get your tickets now, folks - along with this Thursday, which promises to be mega.

Inventions & Dimensions - live jazz every Thursday. The Ram Jam Club 46 Richmond Road Kingston upon Thames KT2 5EE Tel: 020 86179860, Doors: 7.30pm.

LINK: Events and tickets at



ROUND-UP: The UK presence at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival

The curtain-call at the King Crimson concert
Photo: FIJM/ Frederique Menard-Aubin

Sebastian writes:

The UK presence at the world's biggest jazz festival in Montreal is not something new. It's been written about before,,. The Montreal programmers know our scene very well, and are actively keen to bring the best of it to Montreal audiences.

This year, however, the UK presence almost reached the scale of a festival within a festival. Away from jazz, the biggest event was the big King Crimson concert, which has been written about fully by John Kelman (LINK). Closer to jazz, the list of acts was into double figures, with the events I attended asterisked, and briefly reviewed below:

Jacob Collier*
Gwilym Simcock solo*
Binker and Moses
Portico Quarter (those four were part of a "UK marathon")
Laura Jurd's Dinosaur
Polly Gibbons*
Deelee Dube
Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors*
Shobaleader One
Neil Cowley Trio

Jacob Colier
Photo: FIJM/ Frederique Menard-Aubin
Jacob Collier at Club Soda

Jacob Collier filled the Club Soda venue to capacity, for his 96th solo show, which occurred on the first anniversary of his double Grammy-winning solo album In My Room. Everything felt right. The Club Soda venue is what the Jazz Cafe could be if the room were the right shape. The Montreal crowd is warm and welcoming. And after his miles on the road Collier knows exactly what buttons to press. It is an impressive show. Who knows what he will return with next time.

Shabaka and the Ancestors

Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors at Gesu

The depth and richness of the musical scene in South Africa - with the exception of a handful of 'known' artists - often seems like one of the great untapped resources in music. So it is to Shabaka Hutchings’ credit that he and the people behind him have enabled this band to make its mark on the Northern hemisphere. The band (Mthunzi Mvubu on alto saxophone, Ariel Zamonsky on bass, Tumi Mogorosi on drums and Gontse Makhene on percussion, were remarkable, and vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu engaged the audience completely. This was a set which communicated on many levels. We have covered Shabaka's previous ventures nearly 40 times on this site. and it is very heartening to see his career simultaneously blossoming in so many areas. The Ottawa performance by this group received an ecstatic and in-depth review HERE.

Photo credit: FIJM/ Benoit Rousseau
Phronesis at the Monument National

Phronesis' performance was remarkable for the big-canvas, almost improbably symphonic scale the trio can reach. Ivo Neame was nursing a bleeding finger, but as the evening progressed he found many ways to spring sudden surprises. He always keeps the listener on the edge of the seat, wondering what will happen next. As for Anton Eger, this review in French - which also has a good selection of the official photos of the gig - describes him accurately as "un batteur épatant." (a fantastic drummer)

Polly Gibbons
Photo LJN

Polly Gibbons on the Rio Tinto freestage

Polly Gibbons' appearance on a free outdoor stage, not just with regular accompanist/Musical Director James Pearson but also with a stupendously good North American band, completely held the attention of a big crowd out in the Place des Spectacles. The band was Shedrick Mitchell -  Hammond B3, Richie Goods - bass, Mark McLean - drums and Paul Bollenback - guitar. A very impressive show.

Gwilym Simcock
Photo Credit FIJM/ Frederique Menard-Aubin

Gwilym Simcock Solo at Monument National

Gwilym Simcock's solo piano repertoire has moved on a long way since Good Times at Schloss Elmau, which earned him a Mercury nomination back in 2011. It was not only impressive but (for example his version of the slow movement of the Grieg piano concerto) very moving. Surely, if he ever finds the time between touring with the Pat Metheny or the Impossible Gentlemen and doing composition commissions, another solo album must beckon.


CD REVIEW: Thelonius Monk - Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Thelonius Monk - Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
(Sam Records. CD review by Jon Turney)

Recorded music is always a kind of time travel, but this unexpectedly recovered treasure really does feel like a science-fictional proposition. If you could go back to July 27, 1959, where would you like to be that day?

In Nola Penthouse Studio would be a strong choice, with Thelonius Monk and one of his very best, short-lived, rhythm sections, Sam Jones on bass and Art Taylor on drums, along with Charlie Rouse, and 22-year-old Barney Wilen joining him to make it two tenors on some tracks.

The occasion, as readers of Robin Kelley’s magisterial Monk biography will recall, was the long-deferred fulfilment of an agreement to provide music for Roger Vadim’s movie, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with Monk finally calling the session after much prevarication and a visit to New York by the producers. He was working at full stretch, dealing with numerous personal vicissitudes, and not really in a position to write any new music even if he had been inclined to. So he laid down versions of a set of now very familiar pieces, along with an impromptu solo piano blues and a brief rendition of We’ll Understand it Better By and By. He gave some thought to the scenes in the film, adjusting a tempo here and there - Crepuscule with Nellie is even slower than usual - but not, one guesses, a lot.

None of this matters much today, save for explaining why the tapes immediately went from New York to Paris and were then stored after the film release, unregarded, until this very welcome disinterment nearly 60 years later. What we have is a pristine Monk studio recording - the piano sound seems especially crisp - from a particularly happy period, playing-wise. The end of the 1950s puts the session after the great man had found some real public and critical acclaim, but before his quartets settled into the sometimes formulaic sound of the exhaustively documented 1960s tours. Rouse, a recent arrival, sounds superb throughout, and Jones, in particular - soon to depart for fame with Cannonball Adderley - just sounds like the ideal bass player for this music.

The first CD - or vinyl disc if you prefer - presents all the Monk cuts included in the film, with sparkling renditions of Rhythm-a-Ning, Well, You Needn’t, and Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are, plus the tunes already mentioned.

The only misfire, slightly unfortunately, is the rarely heard Light Blue. The second disc, which offers a few alternate takes and tracks with soundtrack edits restored, also has a lengthy segment including the band getting to grips with the tune. Monk is heard urging Art Taylor to keep repeating the simple drum figure he kicks off with, and which chugs on unchanged through both takes. There are several false starts, with Taylor starting up, then stopping, Monk asking, why? I think at this distance we can safely say the drummer was trying to tell him, “this is a really bad idea”.

Still, geniuses are allowed their mistakes, and this is otherwise a flawless gem. It is not quite the archival wonder we marvelled at when the 1957 Carnegie Hall performance by Monk and Coltrane was unearthed a few years back, but comes close. A 25-page booklet complements the music beautifully, with notes from Kelley, Brian Priestley and others, and a handsome set of session photos. Gaze at the pictures, then close your eyes and listen, and you might be one of those folks sitting round the studio while Monk and his cohorts do their stuff. What a way to spend a day.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney