CD REVIEW: Mathias Eick – Midwest

Mathias Eick – Midwest
(ECM 472 4478. CD Review by Peter Jones)

When midwesterner Pat Metheny first came to public notice in the late Seventies with his recordings for ECM, what people noticed was a certain quality of spaciousness and optimism, almost naïvité. The music was folk-influenced, full of melody, very different in tone to the urban funk route that American jazz had taken during the first part of that decade. In particular, tunes like (Cross the) Heartland and New Chautauqua seemed to catch the mood as white America shook off the humiliations of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal and got ready to elect Ronald Reagan.

This new album from Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick is imbued with a similar spirit, but it goes much further back. Midwest is explicitly intended to reflect the experiences of the million or so Norwegians who emigrated to the American Midwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries, settling in rural towns like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon and the real-life Fargo, immortalized by the eponymous Coen Brothers film. We have also seen these landscapes in Terence Malick’s Seventies movies Badlands and Days of Heaven.

It’s the participation of folk violinist Gjermund Larsen that gives Eick’s album its distinctive quality. Its melodic ideas are cinematic in scope, evoking the vast emptiness of this part of America. Your mind conjures up images of wagons rolling slowly across the plains.

Beginning with a Lyle Mays-like ostinato piano figure from Jon Balke, the title track takes an unexpected turn halfway through, as Larsen strikes up a vigorous campfire hoedown before Balke returns to his theme, accompanied by a brief double bass solo from Mats Eilertsen. Hem, the gentle waltz which follows, refers to Eick’s Norwegian home village. There’s more ostinato piano in the majestic March, Eick here producing the sort of flute-like tone we have also heard from fellow Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Fargo is a personal favourite, very ‘ECM’ in feel, sparse and reflective in the best way.

The melancholy Dakota ends with drummer Helge Norbakken adding his signature understated percussion, described in the publicity as ‘hinting at Native American tribal pulses or perhaps bison hooves pounding the plains’. Fanciful as that may sound, listening to such evocative music can’t help but bring out comparisons like these.

The music of Midwest doesn’t grab you by the lapels, but takes its time, revealing itself slowly, and fully rewarding your close attention.


RIP Richard Wheatly, Chair of JazzFM and NYJC

JazzFM have just put out this statement:

"It is with great sadness we announce that Richard Wheatly died earlier this week, following a short illness. Richard had been an integral part of Jazz FM for many years and is responsible for shaping the brand."

Having been Managing Director of the station in its initial existence (2000-2005) Richard was the main person responsible for the re-launch of the station after buying the brand back from Guardian Media Group in June 2008. Passionate about the muusic, he raised the money to make the station work, survive and prosper as an independent station in a market populated by much larger groups. He gave us an extensive interview just after the move from National DAB in Febrary 2014

In the past year he took on another role he cherished, and to which he had started to bring his energy and enthusiasm, as Chair of the National Youth Jazz Collective. This news is as sad as it is sudden. He will be sorely missed.


NEWS: BBC Proms - Sinatra, The Story of Swing and Bernstein

The Battle of the Bands Prom 2014
Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou
A very quick flick through the 20115 BBC Proms season prospectus, out today, booking opens May 16th yields - so far - three jazz-related events:

Fri 7th August John Wilson Orchestra Late Night Frank Sinatra

Tues 11 Aug The Story of Swing

Sat 5 Sep Bernstein Stage and Screen

LINK: REVIEW - The Battle of the Bands 2014


CD REVIEW: Alexander Hawkins Trio - Alexander Hawkins Trio

Alexander Hawkins Trio - Alexander Hawkins Trio
(Alexander Hawkins Music. AH1001. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)

Alexander Hawkins is a familiar performer around London, regularly playing at venues like the Vortex and Cafe Oto, in bands with such luminaries as Louis Moholo-Moholo and Evan Parker, but this is the first recording of his regular trio.

It is contemporary and exploratory whilst paying respect and gratitude those who came before. There are hints of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, even a nod to John Taylor, as well as many pianists who are further "out there".

The CD is bookended with Tom Skinner's drums, which open Sweet Duke. But the Duke Hawkins is emulating here is Ellington's venture into the avant garde, Money Jungle, his record with Max Roach and Charles Mingus in which he lay down his improvising credentials. Hawkins' trio, completed by Neil Charles on bass, make new music evoking old: definitely not a pastiche, Sweet Duke is fresh and exciting, and sets the standard for the CD.

Elsewhere the trio explore lots of musical avenues. In places the notes cascade and scatter from Hawkins' keyboard, reminiscent perhaps of Cecil Taylor; in others, there is some of the nervous jerkiness of Andrew Hill. There is a real feeling of catching the musicians in the act of improvising: recording improvised music can often seem like an oxymoron, and can sometimes be difficult to listen to, but Hawkins and his colleagues have captured the excitement of improvisation whilst making it listenable.

The closing number, Blue Notes for a Blue Note, is dedicated to Moholo, who was the drummer in the South African sextet The Blue Notes. It starts with an elegiac piano solo, before an energetic Skinner joins in, and, later, Charles on bass, changing the mood until Skinner finishes the track alone, one drummer to another.

This is a fine record, full of zest and imagination, and exciting music.

LINK: Review of CD Song Singular for solo piano from 2014 (Babel)


INTERVIEW / PREVIEW: Cyrille Aimée at Ronnie Scott’s (April 29)

Cyrille Aimée. Photo credit:Ariane Rousselier

New York-based, award-winning vocalist Cyrille Aimée performs for the first time at Ronnie Scott’s on April 29th. Nicky Schrire interviewed her:

London Jazz News: You were in London towards the end of last year for the EFG London Jazz Festival and performed to a packed room at the Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room. Was that your first time performing in London?

Cyrille Aimée: It was my first time performing with my own band, but last time I was in London, I performed for the Harlem vs Hackney competition (VIDEO HERE) , which was organized by the Apollo Theatre in New York. They flew five amateur night winners to compete with five Hackney winners at the Hackney Empire, and I won! It was a lot of fun!

LJN: You've been working on the follow up album to 2014’s "It's a Good Day" (Mack Avenue). What can be expected from the next album? Is it a continuation of melding originals and standards? Does it feature the same instrumentation (notably two guitarists)?

CA: The band on It's a Good Day was created for the album. I had the idea of these guitarists together in my head, because one lives in NY and the other in France, so they basically met in the studio. The new record is with the same band but now it's a band that has played together a lot, and we have become like a family so it's a more seasoned sound. The repertoire is a mix of a lot of stuff, (like I like to do), so some covers, some standards, some originals, some French songs, and even a Dominican song! I think it is a more mature record and more peaceful in a way.

LJN: You recently launched a page on the Patreon continuous crowd funding platform. How has the experience been for you so far and are there any big goals that you hope to achieve with your Patreon presence?

CA: I've always had many ideas in my head for music videos, and without budget, they just stay in my head! I think Patreon (LINK TO PAGE) is definitely the way of the future. It's a way to build a loyal fan base who are also investing in your work. So it motivates you to give back to them, and gives you a certain budget for it. I have just started but it is a slow process because people are not yet aware of Patreon and don't fully understand the concept yet, but it is a slow and ongoing process. I hope to make beautiful music videos, like the Michael Jackson ones, where there is a story, and sometimes there is a mini-film before and after. I've also been taking acting lesson and loving it and it's given me so many ideas!

LJN: You grew up in France, but have made Brooklyn, New York your home. What are your thoughts on identity, both musical and personal.  Has being international positively impacted your artistic journey?

CA: I have never really thought about that because living in various places has always been my lifestyle. By the time I was 20 I had already moved to four continents and lived in several countries in them. I guess that is my identity and that is why my music is so varied and my repertoire is mixed. A lot of things are a part of me from growing up with the gypsies in France, to living in Dominican Republic, my mother's country, to coming the NY to study jazz!

LJN: What are you most looking forward to about being back in London and performing at the landmark venue Ronnie Scott's next week? 

CA: The one time I was at Ronnie Scott’s was during a jam session a couple years ago. I remember I was sitting in the back with a friend of mine and Wynton Marsalis got up and played the piano, then blew his trumpet on a blues. It was so beautiful and I wanted to get up there so bad but I was shy! This time I will take my revenge! Hehehehe!!!!

LINK: Cyrille Aimée's website


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Clare Foster (CD Launch 27th April at The White Swan in Limehouse)

Clare Foster

UK singer Clare Foster talked to Alison Bentley about her new English Song project "Satori", and about her studies with the legendary vocalist Judy Niemack in New York.

London Jazz News: Tell me about your jazz background.

Clare Foster: I started playing the clarinet at a fairly young age and got into jazz that way. I’ve been listening to it since the age of about 5- my Dad played it. He still doesn’t believe there’s any jazz after 1932! It was all from the very early era- Bix Beiderbecke and Bessie Smith, all these very early singers. I really wanted to sing the tunes I was playing on the clarinet. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a singer or an actress. I couldn’t get into drama school- I was 18, and I decided I’d take the music route. I thought, I’m going to go to New York for a bit, because all the musicians I’d listened to were from America.

LJN: That was when you studied with Judy Niemack. What did you learn from her?

CF: I learnt a lot because I lived with her for a short time. It was like having a view of how life is as a jazz singer. And she was very serious about scatting- she was much more of an instrumental jazz singer. So I would listen to her learning Coltrane solos at 12.30 at night. I was starting out and she’d been singing jazz for at least 20 years. She was doing all these gigs, and Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis would turn up to hear the gigs. The experience of seeing somebody work very seriously at their art was thrilling. It paved the way for what I wanted to do.

LJN: The next big thing was Amsterdam?

CF: I decided that I wanted to study more so I did the London Guildhall Jazz course. Then a friend invited me to Amsterdam. I met a drummer there who kept bringing me over to do gigs- I thought, if I’m working there I might as well go and live there.

LJN: And your CD of Wayne Shorter tunes, with your lyrics?

CF: I made an album in Holland with a mix of material from Metheny to Cedar Walton, with Jean Toussaint on sax. Then I approached this record company called Groove Records- they decided it would be better if I did a whole album of Shorter tunes. I went along with what they asked, or they wouldn’t have made the album. I got the repertoire and musicians together and I don’t even think we had a rehearsal! I got Dré Pallemaerts [drums] from Antwerp. [Pianist] Bernardo Sassetti flew in from Portugal and [bassist] Wayne Batchelor came from London. You know how it is- you just do it!

LJN: And your Brazilian band Claridade?

CF: I got into Brazilian music living in Holland- there were a lot of Brazilian and Uruguayan people living there. I got a gig every week with a Brazilian band. I went crazy for the music.

LJN: I was intrigued that you’ve now made a CD of English songs.

CF: I’ve always loved beautiful music- I absolutely adore those folk/Classical songs, and the lyrics are so gorgeous. Most of the ones I’ve chosen were originally poems. I don’t hear these- why aren’t they done? I’ve never even heard vocal versions of a few of the tracks, even Classical recordings. It’s amazing- John Ireland- I’ve done quite a few of his songs- The Vagabond, Sea Fever and Summer Schemes. There are not as many recordings as I thought there would be. He’s written so many, I’d need three lives to get through all of them! Vaughan Williams- Whither Must I Wander- a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. We’ve done a slightly McCoy Tyner version of it, though you can’t get too McCoy with a cello [Shanti Paul Jayasinha] and piano [Gabriel Keen]! Roger Quilter- he wrote these absolutely beautiful Four Songs of the Sea, of which I’ve recorded two. And Holst- Now in these fairylands.

LJN: Did you do the arrangements?

CF: I arranged one of the John Ireland Sea Songs. We kept two or three of them nearly the same [as written], but have taken the keys down. Come Away Death- we’ve more or less kept it the same but we’ve added solo sections. All the other arrangements are by Shanti Paul Jayasinha. He’s taken Vagabond and put it into 5/4, with an absolutely beautiful cello line running through it. We’ve got Brazilian guitaristKaw Regis, and we’ve made Summer Schemes into a reggae piece. Markku Rinta-Polari plays soprano on this lovely tune that I found by accident. My daughter was doing a choir concert in a church, and at the back they were selling all this old music. I picked up this thing that looked very interesting by Walter de la Mare the poet and music by V. H. Hutchinson, who I’d never heard of. We’ve given it an African vibe. It’s not a big sound on the album, but it’s a little bit bigger because we’ve been able to add percussion afterwards.

LJN: Did you study Classical singing?

CF: I had a few lessons when I first started singing, and my experience has been that people have wanted me to go the Classical way. But I’ve never wanted to go that way- it’s so very strict. I was always a bit scared about losing my freedom.

- Clare Foster- Satori CD Launch The White Swan 556 Commercial Road, London E14 7JD (Limehouse DLR) 27 April 2015 7.00 pm
- Satori is out on 33 Records - 33JAZZ249


CD REVIEW: Theo Jackson - Shoeless and the Girl

Theo Jackson - Shoeless and the Girl
(Dot Time Records DT9035. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

In these days of quick-fix, fast fame, ten-a-penny singer/songwriters, the hope remains alive in many genres that genuine craftsmanship and musicality will out. Contemporary jazz has its own fine catalogue of distinctive, treasured piano vocalists… and it would appear that another is now entering the fold. Back in 2012, Kent-born Theo Jackson was discovered by Steve Rubie, owner of London's 606 Club (where he still regularly performs) – and Jericho, a quietly confident debut release of self-penned material, ensued. What raised eyebrows then was the distinctive Englishness of a trained musician who wasn't content with churning out standards and covers to gain popularity; but rather, here was a steeped-in-jazz songwriter, pianist and singer insistent on charting his own course. And sell-out London and Cheltenham jazz festival gigs confirmed his appeal.

New release Shoeless and the Girl finds Jackson (still early on in his career but already maturing as a creative musician) inspired by characters and themes of loneliness – the storytelling is a vital ingredient. And, though frequently wistful or emotionally charged, the album also displays attractive charm and balance. Intentionally recorded more or less live in the studio, with Jackson singing at the piano, it's clear that his music is influenced by mainstream pop and soul artists. Yet this couldn't be described as anything other than a jazz record, full of memorable vocal phrasing and slick instrumental finesse from Theo and his core trio companions Huntly Gordon (double bass) and Marco Quarantotto (drums, percussion).

Little Do You Know is a case in point. Opening the album with Jackson's clear tones and warm vibrato, it's an amiable swing which bursts into life courtesy of bubbling alto sax from visitor Nathaniel Facey (of Empirical). With a whistled intro reminiscent of Billy Joel's The Stranger, and caressed by the silky lyricism of guest Leo Richardson's tenor, Moonchild's spaciality and changing tempi reveal much about the writer's penchant for conveying atmospheres; and forlorn, lumbering ballad Lonesome George – with echoes of Joe Jackson's Is She Really Going Out With Him? – is curiously based on the true story of the Galápagos Islands' famed last remaining tortoise of his sub-species (an unlikely subject but, nonetheless, beautifully told). Title track Shoeless and the Girl documents the chance meeting of two differently lost souls; a song weighing positivity against melancholy, the line "no-one's really alone" is buoyed by the fluent flugelhorn cameo of Quentin Collins.

A huge fillip to Theo Jackson's abilities as a wordsmith came in the shape of Wayne Shorter's personal approval of the singer's lyrical interpretations of two of his classic numbers (from albums Adam's Apple and Speak No Evil). Such boldness can only be admired, though the sung poetry flows organically and respectfully in a whirling rendition of Footprints; and Wild Flower delivers the delicacy of unadorned voice and sumptuously chordal piano.

Bella's Coming Home poignantly explores parental anguish/relief as they anticipate the return of their runaway daughter, communicated superbly through the troubled uneasiness of both words and music; and the homey simplicity of Love and a Shoestring eases along to a Scott Joplin-suggested piano lick and an air of very early Elton John, though with darker harmonic twists. The French lyric of late-night Peu m'Importe might feel a tad awkward (perhaps it's that beguiling 'Englishness' in Theo's delivery), though the arrangement, including Richardson's cool tenor, is irresistible. Closing track Camberwell Butterfly is something of a revelation, its Frankie Valli-style piano groove preparing the ground for a soaring, Stevie Wonder-inspired vocal – and with radio-edit accessibility and duration, it should surely find primetime airplay.

It will be interesting to track the appeal of Theo Jackson, an accomplished, original jazz musician capable of wider/crossover reach – as the final track puts it, "I will follow you, I will see you come alive". Shoeless and the Girl indicates that he could already be fixed on that path.

LINK: Theo Jackson Interview


NEWS: BBC Radio 3 Feature - 25 Years of Audio-B

Sebastian writes:

This Saturday 25th April's Jazz Line-Up has my first BBC Radio 3 feature, a 25th anniversary piece about the label Audio-B and about its founder Malcolm Creese. The piece, for which I also interviewed Tim Garland, will be 15-20 minutes in from the start of the programme, which will be available for a month on catch-up HERE.


REVIEW: Pete Cater Big Band 20th Anniversary at Cadogan Hall

Pete Cater

Pete Cater Big Band
(Cadogan Hall, 20th April 2015, Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It is salutory to be reminded quite how good Buddy Rich's top-flight 60s/70s big bands in full cry could sound, and what fine arrangements they had to play from. Opportunities to savour this music live are rare these days. The task of keeping this particular flame alive, and reminding London of the visceral power of this music seems to fall - essentially - to one exceptional, energetic, committed man, who has taken on that responsibility for two decades and who also happens to lead the band from the drum kit, Pete Cater. He said that in the round of interviews he has done in the run-up to this concert at Cadogan Hall, the question which  kept on coming up was: "How do you keep a band going for 20 years?" And the answer: "You just don't stop."

The most powerful assertion of the indefatigable power of this music comes in arranger Bill Reddie's West Side Story Suite, written for the Buddy Rich Band, as were most of the arrangements in this concert. It is a remarkably virtuosic work, with constant rhythm switchbacks, and it allows every section of the band to burn and flare. The piece does have a wonderful calm central section  (curiously omitted in this video version by the Rich band, to make way for a ten minute drum solo). Given his moment to shine, Andy Flaxman played the trombone solo on Somewhere, which requires at least the same expressive and communicative power of the one in Mahler's 3rd Symphony heart-rendingly and truly memorably.

It was also fascinating to hear Hank Levy's Whiplash played complete, uninterrupted and live.

The Pete Cater Big Band at Cadogan Hall

Other moments to savour were the solo contributions of Bob Martin on alto saxophone, whose unmistakeable powerful sound graced the Rich band of the seventies, and who is all too rarely heard in London these days, having moved to France. The trumpet solos of Craig Wild and Joe Auckland had character and power every time, but Andy Greenwood's blazing glorious excursions into the stratosphere in Jay Craig's OK with Jay was the kind of playing you tell your grandchildren about. And the finger-speed of Dave Jones on Don Menza's fast and furious Time Out was the sort of virtuosity where you demand a slo-mo video to prove it really happened.

All in all, this was an evening to celebrate the kind of known, predictable virtues of beautifully-crafted music superbly played. And to salute the determination and industriousness of Pete Cater who has been making it happen here for two decades.


1 Machine (Bill Reddie)
2 Willowcrest (Bob Florence)
3 Moments Notice
4 In a Mellow Tone (Ellington Arr Oliver Nelson)
5 Cape Verdean Blues (Horace Silver )
6 Whiplash (Hank Levy)
7 Good Bye Yesterday(Don Piestrup)
8 Round Midnight
9 Love for Sale


1 Don't Rain on My Parade
2 A Long Day's Journey
3 Time Out (Don Menza)
4 Wack Wack (Eldee Young, Red Holt/ Arr Shorty Rogers)
5 Can't Get Started
6 OK With Jay (Jay Craig)
7 West Side Story Suite (Bernstein Arr. Bill Reddie)
8 You Gotta Try (Nestico)

Saxophones Michael Coates, Bob Martin, Martin Dunsdon, Steve Main, Jay Craig
Trumpets Joe Auckland, Craig Wild, Andy Greenwood, Ken Wedrychowski
Trombones Andy Flaxman, Keith Hutton, Bruce Douglas
Piano Rob Barron
Bass Dave Jones
Drums/ Leader Pete Cater

LINKS: Pete Cater interview
World's Greatest Drummer concert in Northampton 0n 26th May


CD REVIEW: Julian Argüelles & Frankfurt Radio Big Band - Let it Be Told.

Julian Argüelles & Frankfurt Radio Big Band - Let it Be Told 
(Basho SRCD 47-2. CD review by Jon Turney)

If South African jazz grabs you at the right time, it never lets go. The electrifying effect of the township bop and free jazz blended by the Blue Notes, playing in exile in London in the 1960s and 70s, is well known. Nowadays it is usually just one, more faintly echoing, strain in a global repertoire of styles that well-schooled youngsters can draw on. But there are occasional fully-realised reminders of the power and beauty of that music: the massed ranks of the Louis Moholo-powered Dedication Orchestra reunited at last year’s London Jazz Festival; more regular dates for the pure small group sound of Adam Glasser’s Township Comets. Here, joyfully, is one more new dip into the same well.

Julian Argüelles has written big band arrangements of some of the finest pieces by members of the Blue Notes, and other Southern African composers, and they are delivered to great effect by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. It is a smoother, more well-oiled ensemble than the raggle-taggle glory of the legendary Brotherhood of Breath, but they can whip up that township groove, and the horn section harmonies sound magnificent.

The pieces are a good blend of familiar and less often revisited tunes. There are new settings of Mongezi Feza’s You Ain’t Gonna Know Me and of Dudu Pukwana’s Mra – a tune first recorded by Gwigwi Mrwebi’s band back in 1967. Those two are in the Dedication Orchestra’s book as well, but the versions here are distinct. Other tunes are by Pukwana, the Blue Notes’ bass player Johnny Dyani, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Joseph Shabatala and Abdullah Ibrahim. A single Chris McGregor composition, played in his own arrangement, completes the set.

There are terrific individual contributions. Django Bates shines on keyboards, recalling his youthful work with Dudu Pukwana’s Zila. He took something of Zila’s spirit into Loose Tubes. Here, he conjures that feel brilliantly, especially on synthesiser excursions on Makeba’s Retreat Song and on You Ain’t Gonna Know Me. Julian Argüelles’ brother Steve adds punchy percussion throughout. Julian himself, as befits a project conjuring the spirit of Pukwana, sticks to acidly fluid alto sax, while fellow altoist Hans Dieter-Sauerborn is more reminiscent of Ibrahim’s great partner Carlos Ward on The Wedding, which is reimagined with a dreamy prelude featuring bass clarinet.

Solos aside, the big band’s range lifts the whole project. The tunes are full of riffs that cry out for a full horn section, and get the treatment they deserve. And the band sound built from Argüelles’ thoughtful arrangements is rich and expressive throughout, from the hymnal intro to You Ain’t.. to the gorgeous horn chorale treatment of Ladysmith’s Amabutho. For those who know this music this is a wonderful series of reinventions; for any who don’t, a treat that is sure to inspire further exploration.

LINK: Julian Argüelles interview


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Liz Fletcher, (Tribute to Ray Charles and Nina Simone, 9th May Cadogan Hall)

Liz Fletcher

On Saturday 9th May The Jazz Repertory Company present their fifteenth concert at Cadogan Hall. Until now, their programmes have concentrated on the jazz of the 20’s through to the 50’s, but this time around they’ve moved their focus to the jazz, blues and soul of Ray Charles and Nina Simone.

Jeremy Sassoon will be bringing his 17-piece Ray Charles project to London for the first time and Liz Fletcher will be presenting a set of songs closely associated with Nina, including the big hits Feelin’ Good and I Love You Porgy alongside less well known gems such as Wild Is The Wind and Work Song. Jazz Repertory Company director Richard Pite interviewed her:

LondonJazz News: This is the first time  in your jazz singing career that you’ve performed a tribute to another singer – is that different from what you normally do?

Liz Fletcher: I suppose I’m paying tribute to many singers when performing from the Great American Song Book. Their influences are probably subliminally interwoven without me even realising it. I’ve been reviewed as sounding like Julie London, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and Ella Fitzgerald which is hardly surprising as I’ve listened so much to these ladies. But doing a whole show, dedicated to one singer does feel different. Nina had a hugely powerful voice and personality – quite a challenge for an English blonde with a lighter timbre. I feel I have to be respectful to the original content and yet maintain my own identity. Nina’s musical arrangements are intrinsic to the way the songs are sung and apart from her amazing voice, why they are so recognisable. This is why I decided to stay close to the original source.

LJN:  I believe you once suddenly found yourself as the support act for Nina. She was quite a tough cookie wasn’t she?

LF: Yes, it was bonkers! In 1999, I was on tour with the world music band ‘LoopGuru’ and we were doing a big open air festival in Thessalonika, Greece . At the sound check there was a sudden panic by the crew when a big limousine pulled up by the stage. A red carpet was quickly unravelled to greet Nina who rather unsteadily made it up the steps and into her own private loo which was in the wings. We did our set and then Nina came on, but she was in a very grumpy mood and shouted at everyone. I suppose at that time of life, she had a right but it did shatter my illusion and I was way too scared of her to ask for an autograph! Still, I will always be grateful to have shared the stage with such a great lady.

LJN: I can’t think of anyone who sounds quite like Nina but you do capture her style. How did you approach her songs?

LF: Thanks. I suppose it’s about listening lots and practice. A bit like when an instrumentalist learns a famous solo note for note, bend for bend, wiggle for wiggle, if you know what I mean? I could never sound like her all the time but I hope there are a few reminders.

LJN: Tell us a little about the band you’ll be using.

LF: What a talented bunch - Christian Vaughan is my musical director and pianist and he’s transcribed Nina’s arrangements and plays them brilliantly. Julie Walkington is one of London’s top bassists and it’s lovely to have another female on board, she’s a rare breed. We’re lucky to have Nigel Price on guitar, he’s very busy and prolific with his own projects.

LJN:  Is there a particular favourite amongst the songs you’ll be singing?

LF: I adore ‘Wild is the Wind’- a beautiful ballad. After I fell in love with this song, I learned that David Bowie had seen Nina perform it and promptly learnt it and recorded the song on his album ‘Station to Station’, so I’m in good company! I also like singing ‘Work Song’ and ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ - they really swing - ‘House of the Rising Sun’ too.

LJN: Outside of your Nina show what else is happening with you and music right now?

LF: I’m doing lots of gigs with a super band called Jiving Miss Daisy run by the bassist Simon Thorpe. I’m headlining the Ealing Jazz Festival and playing at the ‘Give’ Festival with my experimental band doing dance music. And as you know, I’m a jobbing jazzer, Richard, doing whatever work comes in – as long as the phone keeps ringing, I keep singing. Oh yes, and I’ll be working on my next album to be released on my own label ‘Audioloob’ later in the year.

The Genius of Ray Charles and The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone is at 7.30pm on Saturday May 9th at Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace London SW1 (just one minute’s walk from Sloane Square tube station). Ticket prices start at £16 –  Box Office: 020 7730 4500.


PREVIEW: Nick Weldon Sextet (Lauderdale House, 30th April)

The Nick Weldon Sextet
L-R: Art Themen, Trevor Tomkins, Nikki Iles, Nick Weldon,
Andra Sparks, Laura Jurd 

Sebastian writes: 

The photograph above tells part of the story of a fascinating gig at Lauderdale House on April 30th.

Start simultaneously at the opposite of this line-up. Trumpeter Laura Jurd (far right), and  saxophonist Art Themen (far left) are two musicians who were born a mind-stretching 50 years apart. They are collaborating here for the very first time. Different worlds, but each is apparently bowled over by the playing of the other.
At the centre, hidden by a microphone, is the instigator/composer Nick Weldon (fourth from left). This is his album project, with compositions which deal with different kinds of passion - provisional titles are A Hidden Flame and Eleven Flames - and which gets a London airing at Lauderdale House on International Jazz Day April 30th.

Nick is heavily involved with the Jazz School UK which he and vocalist Andra Sparks (second from right) run in Rushden in Northamptonshire in an old shoe factory, which also has a recording studio. So his visit back to London to air this new project is welcome.

Also in the picture is drummer/educator Trevor Tomkins (second from left) who has been with the project since the beginning, and has worked with Nick Weldon over many years.Absent from the picture is the much-missed bassist andTomkins' partner-in-rhythm Jeff Clyne, who was involved in early incarnations of this project. Nick Weldon is known on a pianist, but on this album he switches to bass, leaving the piano duties in the supremely capable hands of Nikki Iles (third from left).

What is it all about? The flame of passion is the starting point for music of varying character. One of the eleven tracks is a setting of  John Dryden's poem Hidden Flame. Another is what Nick Weldon calls a "hip-hop collage" using sound recordings of James Baldwin and Malcolm X, and is based around the passion for justice, using the fact that Thelonious Monk's tune Evidence (originaly entitled Justice)  is a contrafact of the standard Just You, Just Me (by inference "Just Us"). Another influence has been the classical composer Madeleine Dring.

And their plans? Nick Weldon will eventually release the whole  thing as an album, but before he does that, he is going to be releasing the tracks one by one. If the process of creation often has to meet deadlines, here is one which is evolving at its own pace, and with a group of fine musicians loyal and committed to it. Go with the flow, or just go.



PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Norma Winstone (Jazz with a View Series, City of London Festival, 26th June)

Norma Winstone at the 2012 London Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
The duo of vocalist Norma Winstone and pianist Gwilym Simcock will be performing in the "Jazz with a View" series, part of the City of London Festival, on 26th June, at the top of Unilever House, overlooking Blackfriars Bridge. The series also has concerts by Jeremy Monteiro, Anita Wardell (Ella in London) and Arve Henriksen (LIST HERE). Sebastian spoke to her by phone and asked her about her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock: 

LondonJazz News: What's it like working with Gwilym Simcock?

Norma Winstone: It's easy because he can play anything Last time, we did a couple of tunes by Michael MacDonald. I happened to say I liked this or this song …..and there he was, playing it!

LJN: Can you remember when you first became aware of him?

NW: It was when he was still a student at the Royal Academy of Music. He did a gig with one of Kenny Wheeler's bands, a 13-piece. The band already had two pianos but Kenny Wheeler really wanted to include him somehow, so there he was playing french horn.

LJN: But your paths have crossed through other things..

NW: Yes, we've crossed over with some of Kenny's things and Steve Swallow. We played together with Kenny Wheeler's big band we did a couple of tours. We would do a duet on How Deep is the Ocean before Kenny's Big Band arrangement of it

And another time Evan Parker decided that he' d like to record Gwilym - Kenny was on some of it – I sang on some tunes. It never came out as a release, but we had that experience.

LJN: And duo gigs?

NW: We've done a few duo gigs. One was a few years ago for the Deal Music Festival, which is mostly classical but they do put on one or two other things. It was at the time when Gwilym was a BBC New Generation Artist, that was how they'd heard of him, so they asked me to do something and they commissioned him to do arrangements. There was a photo exhibition by Harold Chapman who had taken photos of the beat poets was living round here in the area where I live too. So Gwilym did settings of poems by some of these beat poets.

LJN: When was the last time you did a duo, what kind of repertoire do you perform?

NW: Last October, a duo gig for the Canterbury Festival, we did all kinds of things.

There are one or two standards we normally do, like A Nightingale Sang and we'll sometimes do something of Kenny Wheeler's. We might do one or two of Steve Swallow's. I did a gig in Italy and Gwilym arranged some Steve Swallow for the trio, with Ben Davis on Cello. There's also I Can Let Go Now and Minute by Minute by Michael McDonald, perhaps. It can be anything, there's quite a lot that we can resurrect - we really do a cross-section.

I played a gig with him in a series at the Pheasantry. It was when Gwilym had broken his hand.  They got in a guitarist, Chris Montague, but quite honestly – I said it at the time - he played better with one hand than some people can with two!

LJN: Apart from this duo gig in the City of London Festival, what else is coming up for you in the UK?

NW: The next thing is the Printmakers album with a tour around that in May and June

Then there's the trio. (with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier) The most recent album Dance Without Answer came out, the third on ECM, in January 2014, And it's quite unusual, the trio has UK dates, in August. There's Brecon and Pizza Express and there may be some others...

BOOKINGS for Norma Winstone and Gwilym Simcock in the Jazz with a View Series, City of London Festival, 26th June


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Cheltenham Jazz Festival Director Ian George (2015 Festival, April 29th - May 4th )

The Big Top in 2014
Photo source: Cheltenham Jazz Festival

"It's been quite a steep growth curve." says Ian George as he reflects on a rise in tickets sold from 9,000 in 2009 to 25,000. He has been Director of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival since 2010, but has been with the Festivals organization which runs the four Cheltenham Festivals (Classical Music, Jazz, Science and Literature) and the year-round education programm, for more than a decade. He set up a marketing function when the organization left the aegis of Cheltenham Council in 2005, and spent five years as head of marketing. In that role he had worked with previous Jazz Festival Director Tony Dudley-Evans, who is still involved with the Festival as Programming Consultant. Sebastian interviewed Ian George in advance of the 2015 Festival.

LondonJazz News: Are you local to Cheltenham?

Ian George: I grew up in Gloucestershire, and found my way back here via Southampton and New Zealand. But I've always been a festivals person. My father was working for Schweppes on a sort of gap year in New Jersey and went to Woodstock. Having been brought up with those stories, my brother and I both jumped into the festivals world as soon as we could.

LJN: In the period since you became Director in 2010, a lot has changed...

IG: One of the challenges was that when the Festival was just going on in the Town Hall and the Everyman, you could be in town and not have any sense of a festival vibe, or even that the festival was happening.

One of my thoughts was to bring it outside more so when I took over in 2010, I took the tricky decision to stop using the Everyman. We built a 600-seater in the gardens of the Town Hall. It made a statement – visually, musically - and we were able to attach a free-stage, so we were able to attract people that we weren't managing to convert to buy a ticket, and they were able to get a taste of what we were about.

And with that comes all the foodstalls and the bars and with the throng of people that brings more interest from sponsors. Since we don't get local government funding at all, we have a series of things we need to do in parallel: building the audience, finding support and balancing the books. From a business point of view that was the first step of the journey

LJN: And in 2012 you moved on from Imperial Gardens...

IG: We had two years at Imperial Gardens by the Town Hall but outgrew that kind of model, and so in 2012 we moved to a bigger park, Montpellier. We are very lucky in Cheltenham to have two beautiful Regency parks This festival, 2015, will be our fourth festival in Montpellier which is a completely stand-alone site. We build a 1300-seat big top, and then we have a 600-seater as well. When one stage is up the other one is down.

The whole site is free to enter and people can buy tickets for the seated venues, and we have a talkspace where you can have journalists or musicians talking...along with food stalls and bars.

It's quite a change in how the festival is presented - we've gone from 9,000 tickets sold in 2009 to 25,000. It's been quite a steep growth curve.

We want to make sure the quality is still there – we work closely with people like Tony Dudley-Evans.

Jamie Cullum and Tom Richards, Cheltenham 2014
Photo credit: Edu Hawkins

LJN: But it's not all outdoors, is it? 

We still use some “concrete” venues too. There's a new stunning 300 seater venue the Parabola in the grounds of Cheltenham Ladies College that we are lucky to use.

We have also gone back to the Town Hall which for certain kinds of events works really well It gives us the opportunity to have a standing venue and a late licence. One of the challenges of being in the gardens is needing to have it all wrapped up by 11pm. As you'll know, not many jazz festivals finish at eleven in the evening.

So we'll do Gilles Peterson with Gogo Penguin in there from 10 30pm to around 1 30. We had a similar show, a great show last year with 1,000 people with Gilles and Snarky Puppy. So it's been quite a journey.

Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham

LJN: One of the things people have really moaned about has been sound leakage....

IG: We are very aware of that. We are constantly reviewing it. Following feedback from last year we have altered how the site is set out and what we've changed is the free-stage . It is important to have a freestage so people who aren't buying tickets can come in and enjoy the festival, but what we certainly dont want is for that to act negatively on the more delicate types of jazz, and on the ticket-buying public.

So we have moved the freestage , we've moved the location of the speakers in the Big Top, and we've also made sure in terms of programming that there are certain times when we're not programming any bands on the freestage. We've continued to invest in sound installation in the arena, which is something which has given us a couple of issues in the past.

We understand: when you're in a festival in an open setting, sound bleed is sort of accepted. However the transition to purpose-built venues - even though they are outdoors - means people are buying a ticket for that show. So it's very different from when you've paid over £100 to hear sixty bands. We are very aware of this. Hopefully this year we will have cracked that one.

The Montpellier Gardens Freestage in 2014
Photo Source: Cheltenham Jazz Festival

LJN: Personal favourites, the gig or gigs you really want to be at yourself?

IG: There are a couple:

- One I'm very excited about is to be getting Medeski Martin and Wood over. They don't play in the UK very often, getting them was paramount in my mind. Jamie Cullum - he's our ongoing Guest Director - told me it was one of the bands he'd love to play with and see at Cheltenham so I made it my mission. It's selling really well. That's on Sunday in the Big Top

- The other one is Sun Ra Arkestra on the Saturday .They're one of those bands who transcend different audiences. These guys get played on everything from Clare Teal to Gilles Peterson and Jamie Cullum

- We've got Tony Allen I really enjoyed his Film of Life album last year

- We've got Lee Konitz and Dave Douglas doing a quintet which is a kind of UK premiere

LJN: And there is something calledJazz in the Box?

IG: It's not actually a box, it's a shipping container. I'm looking at a strand for the next three years called Musical Encounters, it's all about how audiences interact with music. (You'll recall the Phronesis music in the dark, we're doing that as well on the Saturday in Parabola ) This idea is to take the extreme of an intense audience experience with just one audience member and one musician. Kit Downes has been writing some specially commissioned music, one five minute piece that he can play hundreds of different ways . So what we're looking at is people going in and sitting in the dark and having an intense musical experince . That's all for free people can go in and experience that.

LJN: By the way Luke Davidson's review of your Loose Tubes premiere in 2014, the first review of that concert to be published, has been one of our best-read pieces of the year

IG: That's good to hear - We've been nominated for a JazzFM Award for that

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival runs from April 29th - May 4th 

LINKS:  Cheltenham Jazz Festival website

Peter Slavid's interview with Tony Dudley-Evans and preview (audio)


FILM: Keep On Keepin' On (Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin)

George Foster writes:

A documentary about Clark Terry's last years has just appeared on NETFLIX , on April 17th. Keep On Keepin' On" (2014) is an 85-minute film about Clark Terry's mentoring of Justin Kauflin a young blind pianist. Although the film ends several years before his death, Terry is obviously dying from the effects of diabetes. During the course of the film he loses his sight and has both legs amputated, but he still goes on teaching and mentoring.

Kauflin undergoes personal and musical disappointments but ends up at Montreux with Quincy Jones, who appears in and produced the film.

There are lots of interesting musical extracts and interviews, and it is well worth watching. I found it very moving and quite harrowing at times.

- Keep On Keepin' On at Netflix - needs subscription, but free trials are available, for which Terms and Conditions Apply
- More details and full cast list on IMDB
- Selected reviews at Rotten Tomatoes


NEWS: Manu Codija Trio win 2015 BMW Welt Jazz Award

Jérôme Regard, Manu Codija, Philippe Garcia with the BMW Welt Award
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

In this last report, Ralf Dombrowski, who has been photographing and observing this year's seventh annual BMW Welt Jazz Award gives the result from last night's final. The winners of the competition and of its EUR15,000 prize, with the strap-line this year "Playing my Guitar", were chosen from about 50 entries which the jury (members listed below) considered blind. Ralf writes: 

The final round first presented the FAT trio from Austria with their highly intellectual, but also very well-constructed music with a significant debt to Frank Zappa and the heritage of rockjazz modernism ... followed by the trio of Manu Codjia (with Jérôme Regard, bass, and Philippe Garcia, drums). The latter group triumphed last night. They were worthy winners.

Manu Codija. and the trophy. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Whereas in the competitive, the trio had been good but had appeared unfocused, this time the French guitarist with family roots in Cote D'Ivoire and his colleagues reallly had the situation under control. They played a programme with covers of Michael Jackson, Leonard Cohen plus a few originals that had a wonderfully cumulative effect. There was empathy, the stylistic areas they were drawing on ranged far and wide from fusion to an emotionally involving ballad. They made their mark with a blend of authenticity, emotion and energy outbursts that ultimately won the day. Structurally they weren't pushing barriers, but their craftsmanship was excellent and their charm very affecting.

BMW will be continuing its sponsorship further. The theme next year will be “taking inspiration from the heroes of jazz.” It will be fascinating to see what will emerge from that...

The jury were: Christiane Böhnke-Geisse (formally of Unterfahrt, now running the agency Jazz By Heart), Heike Lies (Munich Culture Deprtment), Andreas Kolb (Jazzzeitung / Silberhorn), Roland Spiegel (Bayerischer Rundfunk). The non-voting Chair was Oliver Hochkeppel (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

LINKS: BMW Jazz Award
REPORT: Opening round(Michel Sajrawy)
REPORT: Camilla Meza
REPORT: Franz Hellmuller


CD REVIEW: Babelfish - Chasing Rainbows

Babelfish - Chasing Rainbows
(Moletone Records 006. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

At the heart of Babelfish are Brigitte Beraha (vocals) and Barry Green (piano), who have written and arranged this mix of original, jazz and Classical pieces. Beraha’s pure, airy voice complements Green’s lyrical piano, and they’re joined by the excellent Chris Laurence (bass) and Paul Clarvis (percussion). This new CD is about love in its many forms. The album as a whole describes the unravelling of love, and the title Chasing Rainbows expresses the mood of Romantic longing that pervades it.

Beraha’s You, Me and the Rest of the World opens with a delicate, joyful Latin melody and fine ensemble improvising behind the vocal solo- you feel they’re all working together intuitively. ‘No love at first sight, but all of its other shades’ she sings, and the next song has a shadier mood. Caetano Veloso’s song for film director Michelangelo Antonioni, sung in Italian by Beraha (she was born in Italy) picks out details: ‘empty corner’, ‘useless window’, to allude to lost love. The slow atmospheric tango breaks into double time for a thoughtful piano solo from Green.

Perhaps the most conventionally jazzy piece is based on Monk’s Ask Me Now, (reworked as Your Turn to Ask) Its subtly swung opening piano solo is both beautiful and prickly. Beraha’s lyrics to a Steve Lacy solo- ‘I dare you, go ahead and ask me now’ -reveal the full range of her supple voice, light and dreamy.

Interspersed throughout the CD are minute-long solo improvisations on a Green riffy piece- Confusion. Each band member plays their own version of it- Barry’s, Chris’, Paul’s (you can quite clearly hear the tune played on the drums) and Brigitte’s Confusion. Beraha seems to be learning the piece as she goes along, her glottal hesitations part of the whole till she gets it right, in a wonderfully playful piece of free improv.

Beraha’s Sushi Hero (love of Sushi?) is a personal favourite- a lilting, almost Eastern (Beraha is half Turkish) diminished-scale melody: piano and breathy vocal in unison over shifting percussion and a rhythmic bass pedal, pulling the harmony back and forth from major to minor. The piano and vocal improvisations are like Indian ragas, improvising on a scale over complex rhythms- the bass is as percussive as Clarvis’ cabasa.

Her Nuit Blanche couldn’t be more different: sung in French, it opens like a French Chanson, becoming a slow tango, lamenting the evanescence of love like a Michel Legrand song. The voice is soft, a little like Fleurine. The piano solo is so haunting, you couldn’t help but wish for it to be a little higher in the mix.

Both Green and Beraha studied Classical music as well as jazz, and their version of Copland’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem Heart We Will Forget Him is exquisite. One of British singer Norma Winstone’s gift to younger singers is to give them the freedom to sing in a natural style, and she’s clearly an influence on Beraha here. Green’s piano is close to the original, with some laid back phrasing. It merges into the theme from Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, reworked by Carroll and McCarthy as I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, with its ruefully regretful words. Britten arranged the traditional melody of W.B Yeats’ poem Salley Gardens, and Beraha has added to it brilliantly. She turns Britten’s counterpoint lines into an irresistible bass/piano riff. The voice is plaintive and folk-edged, ‘full of tears’.

The Story Ends is Beraha’s wordless lament for lost love; her Unspoken has an excellent, plangent bass solo. Green’s compositions have rather less romantic titles (Knocked Knees, Stubble Rash). The first is dreamily joyful in 11/8, the voice melting into the piano, which becomes stronger and bluesier. The album is dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, and Stubble Rash sounds Wheeler-esque, a little like the Opening to his Music for Large and Small Ensembles with its free-floating phrases and expressive percussion. The final Confusion ends the album, as they all improvise with Ornette Coleman-ish freedom, having fun being confused.

It’s a pleasure to enter the original music language of this band: a world of playfulness and beauty, where anything could happen- you’re caught up in their sense of mystery and imagination.

CD Launch: Pizza Express Dean St., Tues 21st April


REVIEW: Andrew McCormack Trio with Mark Lockheart at Cambridge Modern Jazz

L-R: Andrew McCormack, Mark Lockheart, Sam Lasserson, James Maddren
Hidden Rooms, Cambridge, April 2015

Andrew McCormack Trio with Mark Lockheart
(Cambridge Modern Jazz, Hidden Rooms in Jesus Lane. 16th April 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

"An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it," once decreed Isaac Newton from his place of work in Cambridge, just a few streets away from last night's gig. Andrew McCormack's compositions,mostly from the 2014 album First Light (reviewed here) often have a way of starting with an assertion of calm, of staying neatly within bar-lines, it's the state of being of a steady soul. That mood, expressed at its clearest in a quiet solo introduction to Vista, is the base from which things start to happen. As the tension, the volume the aggression all rack up, there is an open invitation to all members of the group to amaze, a challenge to find unexpected ways to respond and to transcend. It is an offer which all four members of quartet were repeatedly taking up with relish last night, and to great effect.

Perhaps the best example in the first set was a solo by drummer James Maddren on the tune The Reluctant Gift. Maddren is at all times supportive, watchful, alert, responsive, but when the limelight falls on him he has that capacity to do something utterly memorable. Pushing against a steady ostinato riff from bassist Sam Lasserson, he was letting go thunderbolts, violent interjections, the kind of playing that has the other band members' eyes out on stalks, and spreads an energy field throughout the room. When Maddren produces a moment like that, it explains why he is now starting to assert his rightful place alongside other young drummers like Jonas Burgwinkel and Sylvain Darrifourcq, to form a small elite coterie at the pinnacle of European jazz.

Pianist Andrew McCormack builds his solos differently each time, but build them he certainly does. He starts simple and sparse, often with either a straightforward or a quirky right hand figure and only then brings his considerable armoury and technical facility into play, for example in a contrapuntal episode at the end of Gotham Soul which was quite remarkable.

McCormack is more often heard in the role of sideman to Kyle Eastwood or Jean Toussaint than as leader, so it was fascinating to observe how in the latter role he prefers to dominate by example and by determination rather than by right. He never over-dominates. It is as if he wants to earn the right every time to enjoy the view from on high by demonstrating that he has got to the summit through his own efforts, that he has climbed to the top by having started at the base.

Mark Lockheart really shines in this context too. His new composition A Shorter Story was an absolute gem. A long song form, it has a way of following its own logic, and yet reflecting back in on itself as it proceeds. The test of it will be when Wayne Shorter himself gets to hear it - he cannot fail to approve. Lockheart showed a very different side of his playing in a blistering series of choruses on the standard Just in Time, which had the expressive fluency of Hank Mobley or Sonny Stitt.

Bassist Sam Lasserson has a wonderful way of underlining, repeating, provoking and reinforcing the asymmetries, kinks and instabilities in McCormack's tunes, most notably on Junket. He also has ferociously fleet fingers, above all on Just in Time, where his solo had a clever insistent repeated quote from Now's The Time. 

Listeners seemed to come away from this gig energized and spiritually nourished. Cambridge Modern Jazz, now in their 42nd year, and stepping boldly forth without the cushion of funding from Cambridge City Council, do a remarkable job in their cosy and inviting subterranean venue.

18th April Vortex
24th April Stoke by Nayland, Leavenheath
8th May Riverhouse Walton


Prospect Park
Second Circle
Gotham Soul
The Reluctant Gift


A Shorter Story (Mark Lockheart)
First Light
Adagio - after Mahler
Just in Time (Jule Styne)


CD REVIEW: Piero Umiliani – Intrigo a Los Angeles

Piero Umiliani – Intrigo a Los Angeles
(Beat. BCM 9514. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)

Chet Baker resided in Italy from 1959 until 1964 — including a spell in prison after the trumpeter had the misfortune to overdose in the toilet of a gas station in San Concordio. Baker managed to talk his way out of the police station in Lucca, and appeared to be in the clear. Unfortunately a local public prosecutor went gunning for the American, blithely breaking laws in a campaign to nail him. So Baker ended up on trial, and was convicted of drug smuggling and forging prescriptions. He was incarcerated in the Penitenziario San Giorgio but, thanks to the tireless campaigning of his friends, was released after serving eight months — less than half his sentence — at the end of 1961. Just in time for Christmas. Almost immediately, Baker threw himself into recording a strong new album in Rome, Chet is Back, and resumed his fruitful collaboration with the Florentine soundtrack composer Piero Umiliani.

The last film which Umiliani and Baker collaborated on was 1964’s Intrigo a Los Angeles, a nuclear espionage thriller pseudonymously directed by Romano Ferrara. The movie would probably be forgotten today if not for its fine jazz score. The music was originally released in 1964 on a mono LP which is now impossibly rare and expensive. But assorted tracks have surfaced over the years on CD, including on Umiliani’s own Liuto label, and recently on the Moochin’ About compilation Italian Movies (reviewed here).

Now the Roman label Beat records have issued the first official CD dedicated solely to the score in its entirety, featuring detailed notes about the movie and about Chet Baker in both Italian and English. They have also, importantly, used the analog mono master tapes from the original sessions for this CD. The result is some fine trumpet from Baker, and excellent piano from Umiliani, the two musicians who absolutely unequivocally play on these tracks (the other names are derived from Moochin’ About’s best-guess list).

The title of Movimento con Swing is self explanatory and this is both one of the longest tracks on the album and one of the jazz highlights. Umiliani unrolls a carpet of piano and Baker spills out of it like a smuggled harem girl, playing an incisive, silvery solo. The tight knit drumming is likely by Ralph Ferraro or Roberto Zappulla and the bass by Berto Pisano (later to become a soundtrack composer in his own right) or Beppe Carta.

The adroit bass playing also conjures the noir feel of Tipi Sospetti (‘Suspect Types’) until Baker cuts through the shadows like a police spotlight. The conversation between the trumpet and the baritone sax here (probably Gino Marinacci) is a reminder of what a fruitful collaboration Baker had with Gerry Mulligan. Jazz Bar has an easy, loping feel that shows Umiliani’s Dixieland roots, with some first-rate use of brushes on the drums and beautiful, considered flute playing (no one else has any suggestions about who this might be, so I’m going to nominate the multi talented Marinacci again).

Other tracks like Agguato (‘Ambush’) use the jazz vocabulary to conjure suspense, with the horns providing brief, throbbing stabs (the trumpeters here are likely to be Noni Rossi, Beppe Cuccaro or Baldo Panfili), while the flute weaves patterns in the air like sparklers on Bonfire Night and the guitar (quite likely by Enzo Grillini) provides a pulsing structure to the piece. And there is also some characteristically inventive (and advanced) use of electronics by Umiliani in the appropriate context of Ritmo Neutronico (‘Neutron Rhythm’), which sounds like an avant-garde classical piece until the jazz bass and drums kick in, and the seriously spooky and queasiness-inducing Contagio Atomico (‘Radiation Sickness’).

Half a century on, there are some inevitable limitations to the aging master tape, and one of the tracks sounds a bit distant. But for the most part the sound here is startlingly sharp and Beat have done an outstanding job of audio reconstruction. They are to be congratulated for the world premier release of the definitive version of this important jazz document. For Baker and Umiliani aficionados alike..


REVIEW: Loose Tubes at the 2015 Gateshead Festival

Loose Tubes with John Parricelli (centre)

Loose Tubes
(Sage Gateshead, 12th April 2015. Tour report and Review by Jon Carvell)

Jon Carvell travelled with the Loose Tubes and saw their show at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival. This is his tour diary, review, and preview of forthcoming dates. He writes:  

It’s just after 7am on Sunday morning in a side street in Euston. Members of Loose Tubes are congregating ahead of their seven hour journey to Gateshead to play the closing show of the festival. The smell of coffee and porridge fills the bus as space is found in the hold for an enormous box of music in between Dave Powell’s two tubas and Steve Watts’ bass.

On the way out of central London, more band members are collected. Ashley Slater arrives resplendent in shimmering sequin Converse high tops, camouflage jacket and handlebar moustache. Julian Argüelles takes up a position near the driver, donning a large pair of headphones. Chris Batchelor and Julian Nicholas shoot the breeze debating self-taught vs music college. John Eacott explains how to compose using tidal wave patterns- (LINK to his Floodtide project). There is a great sense of warmth; old jokes are revived and zing around the bus.

A few hundred miles later we arrive in Gateshead amidst heavy rain, entering the backstage of the Sage through a cool curve in the building’s futuristic shell. Sound check begins almost immediately and, by the time I figure out my way into the main auditorium, Django Bates, Steve Watts and Martin France are already on stage grooving through Children’s Game. Django has alighted on some new voicings for the middle eight and eagerly tries them out whilst Watts and France lock in as if they’ve been on tour together for the last six months.

Soon all 21 members assemble on stage. Jeremy Farnell manages proceedings, not only organiser in chief for the band, but trusted with the unenviable task of perfecting the sound for one of the most diverse ensembles around. As the line checks start, the sax section finds a boom in the sound system on the lowest note of Steve Buckley’s alto, and Django can’t help but riff along as the note is repeated over and over.

The stage takes some getting used to for the band – it’s much larger, much more of a live acoustic than Ronnie Scott’s and it takes a while for things to fully click. Dressed all in white, with hair down to his shoulders, Eddie Parker takes the reins (“Ok guys, seven of your earth quavers in!”) to rehearse his fiendishly difficult Bright Smoke, Cold Fire before the doors open. As the show begins it’s clear that the mood has changed since the afternoon – the analytical focus of the rehearsal has been replaced with an effervescent energy. Django Bates, wearing not one hat but two, can hardly stay seated at his keyboard. He positively wills the opening tune Yellow Hill onwards, seemingly with a direct line to drummer Martin France’s subconscious.

Last Word’s reggae vibe is pulled off flawlessly, with Paul Taylor taking a storming trombone solo. A band favourite Would I Were, composed by trumpeter Chris Batchelor, features powerful solos from Batchelor himself and guitarist John Parricelli. Parricelli had one of those evenings when he couldn’t play a bad note if he tried – Shelley, later in the set, was another fine example. Creeper, another of Batchelor’s compositions, was also a highlight - one of four new works commissioned by BBC Radio 3 which have been added to the pad. We also heard Steve Berry’s exquisitely crafted Smoke and Daffodils, as well as Django Bates’ classic Like Life. Squeezing every last minute out of their allotted time, the band gave an encore of Arriving (a tune from their first album, and also the title of the recording from 1990 which will be released in July this year) - Django Bates taking up his tenor horn for this hugely fun gospel romp.

So what’s new with the Loose Tubes? Well, this is just the first of a number of dates in 2015. They will be at the Herts Jazz Festival in Welwyn and at Ronnie Scott's, both in September, they are nominated and can be voted for in the Jazz FM Awards. They have another recording from 1990 due out in July, and to top it all off there are rumours of a potential collaboration with the Jazz Warriors – the band that saw the emergence of Courtney Pine, Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson. Django Bates says “I keep on mentioning this in interviews because I really want it to happen, and so do quite a few members of the Jazz Warriors. We want to do a double bill.”

We need to celebrate Loose Tubes and the richness they bring to our musical life: we were lucky to have them in the 80s and we’re even luckier that they’re back now.

 Loose Tubes’ concert at Gateshead International Jazz Festival was recorded for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line Up. Broadcast date 2nd May.


INTERVIEW: Julian Argüelles - New CD with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band Let It Be Told (Basho)

In this interview about his new album Let It Be Told with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Basho), Julian Argüelles explains some background...

LondonJazz News: How did Let It Be Told Come into being, and were your brother Steve and Django Bates both involved frm the start?

Julian Argüelles: I've been fortunate to be asked to go to Germany to compose and arrange music for German Radio Big Bands and this project was an idea I put to the Frankfurt Radio Big band in 2010. Originally it was going to feature my Loose Tubes colleague percussionist Thebe Lipere, but he went back to South Africa and was unavailable for the first gigs. The natural choice was to get my brother Steve involved on percussion (actually a drum-percussion hybrid setup), and as activity for this project in Germany developed it was suggested to use Django Bates on Keyboards. Both Steve and Django were long time musical associates of Dudu Pukwana (and others from the SA scene) and the music became so much more vibrant when they got involved. It was for the three of us a labour of love.

LJN: How did you first get to know South African music?

JA: I moved to London in 1984 and it was shortly after this that I became aware of the South African scene. The awareness probably came from my connection to Loose Tubes (which was a band I was depping in before I joined them in 1986). My brother Steve, Django, Dave Defries, and Chris Batchelor were all active performing with South African exiles living in the UK and in about 1986 I got a call from Chris McGregor asking me to join his group the Brotherhood Of Breath.

LJN: How was that?

JA: I was immediately attracted to the music from these South African exiles. I am uncomfortable with generalising about the music from one country like this: although there are similarities I feel, especially at that time, that the music by Louis Moholo, Dudu and Chris and others was not alike, it was hugely varied. Their music had everything I love: it had an uninhibited quality; it was emotionally charged, dangerous and sophisticated, yet also very accessible. I could hear the connections to music that I was already influenced by (Ornette, Monk, Duke, Coltrane etc).

This music has been a big part of me from those early years and I feel very lucky to have heard, played and toured with those great musicians. My first CD as a leader, Phaedrus (1990) included Chris McGregor's beautiful ballad 'Maxine'.

LJN: So what music did you choose for this album, and what has been your approach to it?

JA: I chose music from these great South African composers: Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, Abdullah Ibrahim, Johnny Mbizo Dyani, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba. The music is written for a normal sized big band (8 brass, 5 saxes, 5 rhythm). Usually when I arrange the compositions of others, I deconstruct the music so that it contains a lot of my identity and plenty of fresh ideas. Recreating or reproducing doesn't usually interest me, but with this music I tried to keep more of the original music than I might with other material because I have such a love for this music. I wanted the focus to be on the people who originally created it without trying to redefine it too much.

LJN: What are you hoping might happen when people hear this album?

JA: Interestingly, it seems there are a huge amount of knowledgeable and talented young musicians who are not aware of this beautiful music. This might be because there are so few of these South African exiles still living and playing in Europe. I hope Let It Be Told can help to keep this important and powerful music known and enjoyed by both listeners and musicians. Their music is certainly going to live on in the hearts of the people lucky enough to experience it.

Let it be Told is released on Basho Records on April 27th
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REPORT: Nicolas Simion at the Romanian Cultural Institute

Nicolas Simion playing tarogato

Sebastian reports from an evening at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square:

An all-too-brief set of music with liveliness,  humour and devil-may-care was a very welcome antidote and complement to more than two hours of speeches and earnest discussion dedicated to the distinguished Romanian poet and political figure Ana Blandiana.

We need levity. Just as the WDR Big Band at the WDR Jazz Prize concert in Dortmund chose to bring on multi-reed hero Nicolas Simion to bring informality to their proceedings and to send hundreds of people away happy, here he was again, to remind people that there is a brighter side to life, if you know where to locate it. Simion, however, brings a great deal more to this role than just  his humour, than the smile that resides deep in his musical personality. He is an extremely eloquent improviser, mood-setter and story-teller, with a range of improvising vocabulary which co-inhabits the jazz sphere and Eastern European music. And as an improviser on the Hungarian tarogato (an instrument which both Charles Lloyd and Joe Lovano have shown interest in), he is probably out in front of the pack. His sound on all the reed instuments he plays is focused, characterful, a delight. (Try his funky Transylvanian bass clarinet playing).

Guitarist Sorin Romanescu from Bucharest was an indispensable partner who also knows every twist and turn of the music they play together. And hats off to the Romanians for reaching out to two guitarists who both happen to be instigators right at the heart and soul and the centre of jazz in London Hannes Riepler and Nigel Price. The former played, the latter on this occasion just lent an amplifier. With the positive spirits of can-do musicians like all of these involved here, good things, fascinating collaborations can definitely start to happen.

Nicolas Simion on simultaneous tenor and soprano saxophones

Hannes Riepler, Sorin Romanescu, Nicolas Simion playing the closing number,
Belgrave Square Blues

Nicolas Simion and Hannes Riepler will both be playing next month at that tiny gem of a European Festival INNTOENE, held in the barn of a working pig-farm in Diersbach in Austria


PHOTOS/ REPORT: Ben Williams Group at Bayerischer Hof, Munich

Ben Williams Band. L-R Christian Sands, Ben Williams, John Davis,
Marcus Strickland, Matt Stevens Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski heard a band currently touring in Germany last night, led by bassist Ben Williams. Williams was Thelonious Monk Prizewinner (in 2011) and is a member of Pat Metheny's Unity Band. Ralf writes:

Photos from the sound-check and from the concert by the Ben Williams Group yesterday at the Bayerischer Hof in Munich. The band were Marcus Strickland (Sax), Chistian Sands (keys), Matt Stevens (guitar), John Davis (drums) and Ben Williams ( bass). On this occasion he was just playing electric bass, because the organizers hadn't supplied him with an upright bass - but on balance that led to the show having even more of the modern fusion sound, which is how Williams' music is conceived anyway.

Ben Williams. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

What was fascinating is the ease with which this generation of musicians incorporates everything in their surroundings: Nirvana or Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, as well as standards.

Ben Williams,  Matt Stevens John Davis,
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

 The quintet was acting symbiotically, like a jazz organism, groovy, but they were also focused on that kind of collegial fun that musicians have.

Christian Sands,  Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

We can expect to hear a lot more about keyboardist Christian Sands. Everything flows in the way he plays: melodic intuition, the joy of communication, a powerful harmonic conception. It's very American, this music, with real presence.

LINK: Extensive interview with Ben Williams in For Bass Players Only