REVIEW: Ethan and the British Composers at Kings Place (2018 EFG LJF)

Ethan Iverson at Kings Place
Photo: © John Watson/

Ethan Iverson Residency (Part 2), Ethan and the British Composers
(Kings Place, 17 November 2018. Review by Mike Collins)

“You sound like where you come from.” Self-declared anglophile Ethan Iverson summed up the project for the evening, the second gig of his three-day residency at Kings Place: To unearth some of the gems of the last 50-odd years of jazz from this side of the Atlantic, hold it up the light, maybe figure out what made it British jazz and, of course, make music.

The set covered an enormous range from Stan Tracey’s Rainbow At The Five Mile Road – “Monk meets the swinging 60s,” was the quip – taking in John Surman’s Doxology – “a chorale!” declared Iverson – touching down on a Courtney Pine piece, a Nikki Iles composition, Joe Harriott and Gordon Beck all honoured before the band finished with Mike Gibbs’ And On the Third Day.

Ask any number of people to make their selections to represent British Jazz and they’d be equally distinctive and personal no doubt. Doing the impossible and selecting what to play was Iverson’s pleasure however, and he’d recruited a formidable team to help with the interpretation (and explanations). One of the distinctively British threads he’d discerned in the music, was the distant thud of a rock beat, melded with the cadences of jazz. Who better to recruit then, than founder members of Acoustic Ladyland, sax man Pete Wareham, Tom Herbert on bass, and drummer Seb Rochford. Laura Jurd on trumpet, who’s shown she can cover the waterfront in integrating inspirations into her music, completed the line-up. An added inspiration was inviting Richard Williams, writer, journalist, arguably our most insightful chronicler of all music over the period, to talk with Iverson about each writer before playing their tune.

The playing gathered momentum as the set progressed. Nikki Iles’ Fly’s Dilemna is built round an irresistible, propulsive figure that had Rochford and Herbert egging Wareham on as he locked into the pulse with squealing and fluttering lines. Joe Harriott’s Calypso Sketches had the loosely bound freedom of an Ornette Coleman theme, punctuated by locked tight gusts of Caribbean flavoured lines from sax and trumpet. As Wareham and Jurd cut loose, the air crackled. It set them up to close the set with the steadily thickening intensity of the Gibbs piece, chanting lines and shifting harmony over a steady rocky beat.

This was an engaging, illuminating swoop through some of the strata of what it might mean to sound like where we come from. The talking added insghtful colour and perspective. Perhaps, with it interspersed between every tune, it cramped the style of the band to start with, but there was no stopping the fuse burning and they caught fire. Back for an encore, they played British writer Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps To Heaven to send us all out with a spring in the step.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman


REVIEW: 2 Pianos, 6 Pianists at The Other Palace (2018 EFG LJF)

From left: James Pearson, Nikki Iles, Dave Newton and (backs to camera)
 Jim Watson, Gareth Williams, Jason Rebello
iPhone snap by Sebastian
2 Pianos, 6 Pianists
(The Other Palace, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

A person would have to be in a very bad mood not to enjoy this hugely from start to finish. Six top-drawer pianists revelled in two adjacent grand pianos. Their delight in this opportunity was palpable: the chance to enjoy the free-flowing interchanges that jazz musicians are accustomed to, but each on their own instrument for once.

The set-up was simple. Three pairs of pianists played two brief solos, then a duo each. Gareth Williams and Nikki Iles – fresh from her own big band gig the night before – began. Williams offered a fluid standards medley, Iles essayed Johnny Mandel’s Seascape in dedication to her late mother-in-law, and her own Tideway, then the duo picked up the Bill Evans cues from Seascape to gorgeous effect.

Next up Jim Watson and Jason Rebello, Rebello’s solo Pearl a genuine jewel and the duo punching out Well You Needn’t before indulging in exuberant exchanges that used more notes than Monk played in entire shows.

“Follow that?” sighed Dave Newton who responded by opening the final pairing by leaving generous space between the notes, before some good-humoured jousting with James Pearson to round off 90 minutes of rousing pianism.

Post interval saw extra piano stools and a silly-but-irresistible finale involving all six pianists playing in a two-minute relay, then all together. This needed the lowest common denominator to work – so they fell back on I’ve Got Rhythm (allowing reference to as many other Rhythm changes tunes as they could work in) and Take The A Train, and an encore that, inevitably it felt, saw, everyone pounding out some rent party piano on a never-ending blues.

The musical highlights had already been scaled in the first set(s), but it would have been a shame not to carry the logic of the afternoon to its final destination. A small corner of the Festival, but a genuinely festive event all round. And a lovely reminder of the strength in depth of mainstream-to-modern pianism in the UK. Promises to do it again next year were solicited, and given. I’ve already begun assembling my fantasy piano team for 2019.


REVIEW: Jazz Voice at the Royal Festival Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Zara McFarlane with Guy Barker and the orchestra
Photo: MSJ Photography
Jazz Voice
Royal Festival Hall. 16 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Lauren Bush)

The Jazz Voice Gala has been an opening event of the London Jazz Festival now since 2008, when Festival Director John Cumming commissioned Guy Barker to select and arrange music to feature a group of singers chosen specially to showcase in the festival week. Barker was given licence to create an ensemble that would “cover everything” so he created an orchestra that incorporated the traditional big band set up with all the bells and whistles, featuring a monstrous string section and even some French horns.

This year’s selected singers reflect the festival’s strong international representation, including Mariza from Portugal, Laila Biali from Canada, Americans Allan Harris, Lea Delaria and Deva Mahal, and native Brits Anthony Strong, Zara McFarlane and Lisa Stansfield.
Lisa Stansfield
Photo: MSJ Photography
The night started off with a bang – a song from the Andrew Lippa musical The Wild Party. Lea Delaria had enough flair for everyone in the room, and her energy was truly infectious.

Jumoke Fashola, the host of the evening (and also co-host of the BBC Radio 3 show J to Z), shared some tidbits about the songs featured throughout the evening featuring the number “8” in many ways – pointing out years of relevance from birth dates to death dates to album dates, connecting everything to the current year 2018.

Powerhouse vocalist, Deva Mahal, was next, with an original song from her debut album,  Shards,  her voice reminiscent of Adele and Alicia Keys. Anthony Strong then joined the orchestra on piano, sweetly singing As Long As 'She’ Needs Me, from Oliver! by Lionel Bart with a terrific arrangement, echoing tones of Frank Sinatra’s charts from the '50s and '60s. Next, Zara McFarlane’s original composition, Silhouette, had a beautiful wordless chant at the beginning of it. Her low range, full of richness, she slid effortlessly through octaves and even scatted in the middle.

Lisa Stansfield, an audience favourite, sang a rock-influenced rendition of My Funny Valentine, while the band floated gracefully behind her, featuring a beautiful flugelhorn solo from Martin Shaw. Next, Laila Biali’s award-winning original song, Satellite, fluttered in beautifully, as she set the pace with a memorable piano riff and pop inspired groove.

Mariza, who is famous for singing in the “Fado” style (known for its mournful tunes and lyrics), gave the audience a warm welcome into her world. Her voice was stunning and stylish, and the meaning of her music was clear, despite not being sung in English. Allan Harris finished off the first set with a up-tempo swinging number from his latest album – a nod to Eddie Jefferson’s classic vocalese style. Sister Sadie was full of fun and led the audience into the interval on a happy note.

The second set started with a medley from a time when jazz embraced funk, soul and the grooves of South Africa, a tribute to the spirit of 1968. The band was in full force, Guy Barker’s terrific arrangements giving each section a chance to shine – especially the horns. It was great to have a special selection for the band to show off just how stellar they are.

Lea Delaria opened and closed the show
Photo: MSJ Photography
The strings were featured beautifully in Deva Mahal’s version of Good Morning Heartache. It was obvious she’d listened to Billie Holiday sing it, but still managed to find her own flavour with it. Zara McFarlane returned with an up-tempo swinging number called Never Will I Marry. She impressively sang the shout soli in the middle with the band and was obviously having a brilliant time fronting this dynamo orchestra.

Anthony Strong’s second song gave him the rare chance to step out from behind the piano on the lovely ballad Some Other Time, featuring the beautiful French Horn section.

Mariza continued with another tune from her album Tera in her native Portuguese, roughly translating to “Kiss of Longing”. This one had a bit more of a playful feel to it as she teased the band on the last note.

Laila Biali featured another song from her latest album with a tune by Randy Newman, I Think It’s Going To Rain Today. Her voice held similarities to Becca Stevens, and the arrangement, featuring the string section, really captured the bleak and beautiful sentiment of the song.

Allan Harris sang Eddie Jefferson’s lyrics to the Coleman Hawkins tenor solo from the classic Body and Soul. This version had a likeness to Moody’s Mood for Love and Harris’ version did the song justice. Lisa Stansfield included one of her originals from her newest album, Twisted, about an all-consuming love. This song showed off the prowess of Guy Barker’s arrangements.

Lea Delaria got to open and close the night, finishing off the evening with the powerful David Bowie song Life on Mars. Her theatrical performance would have made Bowie proud as she poured her soul into the poignant words.

An encore, with special guest, Charlie Wood, boosted everyone’s mood back into a toe-tapping, New Orleans inspired medley. The whole crew of singers marched back onto the stage to take turns trading lines with the Wood and the orchestra.

It was clear throughout Royal Festival Hall that a good time was had by all – another successful London Jazz Festival opening night Voice gala.
Anthony Strong
Photo: MSJ Photography


REVIEW: Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Cadogan Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Jeff Goldblum at Cadogan Hall
Photo: © John Watson/

Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
(Cadogan Hall, 17 November, 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

Here was the quest: to find out whether he could actually play. As pianist Sam Leak put it on Facebook the other day: “I can’t tell to what degree he’s actually joking, just having a go at a hobby, or thinks he’s doing something serious...” Leak ended by saying that if the comic actor was allowed to be in the London Jazz Festival, he himself fancied a crack at the goofy professor role when they get around to casting Jurassic Park 5. Well, Sam, that sequel came out earlier this year, so stand by for Part 6. But we take your point.

Jeff Goldblum has apparently been playing jazz for 30 years. He must have learned something in that time. We’ve seen him accompanying Gregory Porter on Graham Norton’s TV show, perched on the piano bench like a giant praying mantis, all elbows and knees, stabbing at the keyboard, picking out little jagged clusters of notes that kind of fit the tune, but only just. So is he a faker, or is he the new Monk?

At the start of the gig (interrupted by a false evacuation alarm) Goldblum promised we would get a full two hours to find out, minus the interval. Actually what we got was a piece of amiably chaotic entertainment, more Butlins holiday camp than Ronnie Scott’s. He reminded me of the distant relative who turns up at the house on Boxing Day and just takes over, organizing a quiz, getting everyone to tell their favourite joke, playing a bit of jazz on the piano, asking us to admire his new shirt, getting the audience up for selfies with him.

The band was well-padded enough to disguise Jeff’s contributions at the keys – organ, guitar, tenor saxophone, bass and drums, plus an occasional singer (Imelda May) – and they could have got along fine without him. Most of the material would have passed muster at your average midweek pub jam: Nostalgia In Times Square, Autumn Leaves, Cantaloupe Island, Caravan. The star twitched his way through it all, contributing the odd solo (never more than one chorus), often raising an arm in a curious gesture of… what? Appreciation? Supplication? It was hard to tell. He seemed in a state of permanent distraction. Much of the time he simply laid out, taking the opportunity to interact with someone near the front of the audience or behind him in the circle.

It was fun. I enjoyed it.


REVIEW: Anthony Coleman and Friends at Barbès Brooklyn

Anthony Coleman in 2012
Photo credit Susanna Bolle/ Creative Commons

Anthony Coleman and friends
(Barbès Brooklyn, 17 November 2018. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Barbès is a small bar. And beyond it, behind a curtain in a smaller room still, sat pianist Anthony Coleman, drummer/ percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and reedsman Marty Ehrlich, running through phrases, throwing around scraps of manuscript paper, and generally enjoying themselves as if they were in their own front room.

As the third of a four-week Saturday residency at Barbès, this makes sense. While they discussed the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt of their continuing rehearsal five minutes before the set, and questioning the crowd as to whether the sound balance was OK, once the curtain was drawn across the door, it was very much a gig.

The opening piece set a clear intensity, with Ehrlich taking a bright phrasing on alto, dropping in and out to meet the various energies of Coleman's piano. The trio was further deconstructed, with Takeishi rejecting drumsticks and instead delicately playing his toms with his fingers and palms. There was a continued enthusiasm in not playing woodwind instruments as envisaged, an atmosphere generated from grunts and slaps on the soprano as well as the cleaner improvisation.

Throughout the set the sheer enjoyment of jamming was evident and enjoyable, but is was on two ballads, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing and Ghost Of A Chance, that the musical combination really shone. The tender Ghost... had Coleman accompanied by restrained percussion backing within the room and the well-timed additional shuffle of a cocktail shaker reaching through from beyond it. Having been sprung on him by Marc Ribot midweek when Coleman was accompanying him at his residency at the Stone, he came ready and motivated here, and had the decency to warn the others in advance so Ehrlich could produce a very considered clarinet melody.

They finished with a jaunty piece from Coleman's most recent recording, playing to piano pumps and drawing on Takeishi's interests in Colombian rhythms – perhaps a different focus to explore here in the coming months. For an early evening local session, Barbès is an unpretentious and rare opportunity to get up into the action, and Coleman and friends readily provide an immersive experience.

This is our first report from New York by Dan Bergsagel, who has just moved there.

LINKS: Barbès Brooklyn is at 376 9th Street, Park Slope - WEBSITE
Biography of Anthony Coleman from the New England Conservatory


REVIEW: The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra at the Vortex (2018 EFG LJF)

The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra
Photo courtesy of the Vortex

The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra  
(The Vortex, 16 November, 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Mike Collins)

‘Thanks to The Vortex for giving me my first gig’ declared Nikki Iles, somewhat incongruously for such an established figure on the UK jazz scene, as the clamorous reception from a packed Vortex subsided at the end of the evening. If not Nikki’s first gig then, it did perhaps signal a new chapter with the first full gig of a big ensemble (very big with 20 people on the stage) under Nikki’s name with her behind the conductor’s desk rather than at the piano.

Gathering together commissions from over the years, orchestrations of her own small band tunes, new writing and a couple of borrowed charts, ‘fleshed out’ for the remarkable band she’d assembled, this was an exhilarating debut. The depth and range of the writing and arranging suggest it was more  the culmination of a journey.

Wild Oak a tribute to Geri Allen, set the scene. An affecting melody line, chiming piano chords, Alcyona Mick doing the honours, suddenly swept aloft by a swell of rich harmony imbued with an edge by a growl of dissonance; a quietly urging groove, suspenseful episodes balanced on bubbling counterpoint from Conor Chaplin’s bass and the beautifully modulated solos presaged the return of soaring melodic lines. Gray as the Morning for the late Steve Gray, had a kicking, sparky pulse, with more drama throbbing pedals notes to goad soloists on. Vince Mendoza’s pulsating and funky Hero with a 1000 faces got an airing, stabbing horns ramping up the energy for first Mike Outram’s guitar, stuttering phrases gradually coalescing into swirling lines, and then a fierce tenor solo from Julian Siegel borne along by a surging wave of backings.

The Mendoza piece sounded perfectly in place amongst the Iles originals and arrangements. A marker of the quality of the rest of the set and the richness of the vocabulary. Highlands an Iles near standard, skirled and swirled James Copus uncorking a blistering flugel solo. Red Ellen swaggered and rocked, with a rambunctious solo from Nick Smart rousing cheers all-round. The newest piece, Home to Glory was an elegy, that stilled the room, Mick’s acerbic rhapsodic piano solo giving way to emotional flights from Henry Lowther’s trumpet that hung in the air. An electric moment. A blistering take on a Steely Dan tune closed the set and the uproar disturbed any dust remaining after the Vortex’s recent makeover.

This didn’t sound like a debut, more like a seasoned hand and a distinctive creative voice, pieces brought to vivid life by a top-drawer band. More please!

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

LINK: Report of the 2015 concert celebrating 50 years of jazz at Leeds College of Music, featuring a jazz orchestra led by Nikki Iles.


REVIEW: Punch Brothers at the Barbican (2018 EFG LJF)

Punch Brothers
iPhone snap by Leah Williams

Punch Brothers
(Barbican, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Leah Williams)

Wherever Chris Thile goes, inventive sounds and lyrics, unbridled joy and energy follow, and the progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers is no different. And Thile was most certainly on full form last night, keeping the audience raptly attentive with his virtuosic playing and singing, his trademark writhing body and priceless facial expressions. But it isn’t all about him and to proclaim so would be to do the collective an injustice.

The Punch Brothers are so unique and successful precisely because of the incredible skill and personality of each member. Alongside Thile on mandolin, banjo ace Noam Pikelny, bassist Paul Kowert, acoustic guitarist Chris Eldridge and fiddler Gabe Witcher make up a unified whole where at times it’s difficult to distinguish from where each sound is emanating.

The music is incredibly intricate and complex, with each instrument being stretched to its full capacity. Yet, crowded intimately around one mic with nothing but relaxed, happy expressions on their faces, the quintet masters each note, rhythm and twist and turn with enviable ease. Whether weaving in and out or playing in faultless synchronicity, they take the audience on a musical rollercoaster. Each song journeys through precision perfect highs, lows, soft moments and moments filled with frenzied energy, leaving you with adrenalin pumping and heart melting at the same time.

They played pretty continuously in this high-octane fashion for almost 2 hours, blending old favourites with new tunes from their latest album All Ashore. Songs from this album are reliably varied in tone and content, with subjects ranging from “odes to great Tiki cocktails” through to ruminations on isolation and relationships in the modern day. Pikelny simplified this with a witty introduction, saying the concept was widely based on the ‘“circus back at home”, with a very simple message of “help, help us please”. This led nicely into tunes very clearly inspired by a political backdrop we can all relate to, the aptly named Just Look at This Mess fully highlighting the quintet’s ability to seamlessly blend virtuosic playing with satirical sentiments.

A much-deserved standing ovation acknowledged the impassioned, generous performance of this music, the kind of music that is made to be heard, seen, experienced live. For their two encores, the quintet managed to do the impossible and create an even more exposed and intimate atmosphere, abandoning the microphone for softly mesmerising acoustic moments.

An excellent showcase of the kaleidoscope of sounds, textures, colours and emotions you can create with 5 stringed instruments and a lot of soul. A fantastic gig to kick off the ever-widening scope of the EFG London Jazz Festival.


Dave Douglas's UPLIFT at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Dave Douglas, London 2018
Photo credit and © John Watson/

Dave Douglas's UPLIFT
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 16 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

Man-of-many-projects Dave Douglas’s latest band is an edgy electro-acoustic ensemble. Two amplified guitars, Rafiq Bhatia dealing in a range of effects and Mary Halvorson with a slightly sharper, cleaner tone and Bill Laswell’s effortless depth on electric bass, as much felt as heard, thicken the sound. Ches Smith adds to it, with drums miked to deliver a cavernous echo and sharp cymbal work. Douglas on trumpet and Jon Irabagon on reeds throw unprocessed sounds over the top.

The pieces they play are from Douglas’s UPLIFT series, conceived as a response to dire political events worldwide. The opener has a fittingly uneasy turbulence, guitars furnishing organ sounds, the bass grumbling and growling, thrashing drums, and some Milesian trumpet peals over the top before a screaming tenor sax solo and then interweaving guitars, Halvorson raising the temperature with some bottleneck exclamations.

Dave Douglas's  UPLIFT. L-R: Mary Halvorson, Bill Laswell,
Dave Douglas, Ches Smith, John Irabagon, Rafiq Bhatia (hidden)
Photo credit and © John Watson/

There were calmer interludes later: sombre muted trumpet, softly suspended at times, beautiful alto clarinet from Irabagon, and occasional nods to more conventional jazz styles. But the dominant sound blend was the more minatory mix they began with - with an underlying current of unease the more positive declamations from the front line almost, but not quite dispelled.

This is wordless artistry, and there was little spoken exhortation, after one impassioned reminder from Douglas that “we’re at a difficult moment for our species”. So how does the musical statement relate to the worldly matters that the players want to highlight? This wasn’t exactly good time music (which is a fine thing but you don’t want it all the time). Nor did it amount to a call for action (ditto). I guess the political charge lies in pointing to such issues, then using each of them as a jumping off point for a piece that does leave you feeling good - among other things. Antidotes to despondency, created afresh, are always worthwhile.

Political engagement? You tell me. Musical brilliance? Sure. Uplift? Yes, I think so.


Sara Colman – What We’re Made Of

Sara Colman – What We’re Made Of
(Stoney Lane Records. SLR1968. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Jazz singers have often relied on the Great American Songbook and professional songwriters’ compositions for their repertoire. Jazz singer-songwriters are less common. Sara Colman grew up listening to the classic '70s singer-songwriters, and has written some striking songs, saturated with jazz.

Two covers pay tribute to her heroes: Joni Mitchell’s All I Want, and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years. The first is less folky than the original: a guitar-led Afro-Latin feel (Steve Banks) recalls Lionel Loueke. There’s strong bass work from Ben Markland and a satisfyingly Herbie-ish Fender Rhodes solo from Rebecca Nash. The voice is deep and full-toned, with lots of space for the lyrics to sink in. Paul Simon’s song concludes the album strongly, with Colman’s own gospel-tinged piano, and smoothly-layered live backing vocals from Emilia Martensson and Anthony Marsden.

Two contrasting songs by Colman open the album. It Begins slips the vocals in among Delius-like strings (the Carducci String Quartet, playing arrangements by Jonathan Silk, are on several tracks.) Part of the song’s pleasure is the contrast between the languid, impressionistic vocals and Percy Pursglove’s spirited flugel improvisation. The Latin What We’re Made Of seems to melt Nash’s Fender Rhodes and Colman’s voice together. Its Brazilian-style backing vocals and strong lead vocal sent me back to Flora Purim and Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, but this song has its own sound. The chorus has been running through my head since I first heard it.

Colman has co-written most of the other songs with her fellow musicians. Heartsafe, Open and Be Careful are jointly by Banks, whose baritone guitar is folk-edged, Bert Jansch-like on the first. There are strong overtones of Magazine-era Rickie Lee Jones, with the circling string quartet and unhurried, bluesy vocal. Open has an intriguing melody and steel-string guitar part; like Kevin Eubanks’ work, it has complex rhythms that flow completely naturally, here teased out by subtle strings and backing vocals. Be Careful is underpinned by a delicate drum and bass groove from drummer Jonathan Silk. Colman spent weeks in the recording studio, working on the album with owner Nick Dover. This track has layers of lush sound, and Dover has a writing credit.

Echoes and Dreamer have a melancholy feel. Colman studied at, and now teaches at, the Birmingham Conservatoire, and many of the musicians on the album have a close association with Birmingham. The phrase: “There you go” recurs in Colman’s Echoes: both an expression of resignation, and a commentary on the demolition of the old Conservatoire building, paralleling the death of a close musician friend. She sings with an understated emotion which catches you unawares. Dreamer, co-written with Nash, has lovely John Taylor-esque piano, and an extended vocal solo, with an expressive tone that brought Liane Carroll to mind.

Strange Meeting adds lyrics by Colman and Hannah Hind to Bill Frisell’s slow tune. An old man looks back on his life; his ballroom dancing is a metaphor for long-lost love. The volume pedal eases long chords from Banks’ guitar, enhanced by percussion from Adriano Adewale. Pursglove’s trumpet begins and ends the piece freely. Trouble Out There has perhaps the most modern jazz feel. It’s co-written with Jules Jackson, who doubles on bass and string arranging. The song looks at humans’ propensity to self-destruct: the loose, unsettling groove heightens the mood. “Would we recognise the ending of the world?”

There’s a strong group feel to this fine album. What We’re Made Of has the emotional openness of classic singer-songwriter recordings, allied to considerable musicality and a modern jazz sensibility.

LINK: Interviews with Sara Colman are HERE and HERE.


REVIEW: Fire! Orchestra + Sly & The Family Drone at Tufnell Park Dome

Sly & the Family Drone in the round at
Tufnell Park Dome
iPhone snap by AJ Dehany

Fire! Orchestra + Sly & The Family Drone
(Tufnell Park Dome, 14 November 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

This is not a funk session. The amps are pointed inwards on the ground in the middle of the floor. It’s like a boxing ring. We’re spilling into the square and sniffing up against the four guys in the band. The drummer looks like my mate Prof 5000 and I’m tempted to send him a photo. I don’t, ‘cos my photos are shit and I’d feel like a twat, even though filming has been normalised at gigs now – whether you like it or not. Sly & The Family Drone probably don’t care. We’re jumping up and down. The drummer is battering out solid blocks of rhythm with improvised fills. The saxophonist is screeching and skronking, then searing high like a whistling steam kettle. The other two guys are twisting knobs on their mixers, distorting and transforming the sound from their mikes and from more drums in a punishment of feedback.

Reaching out across his amp the guy in front of me tries to give the mike to our mate Grace. She isn’t having it. Anthony the promoter declines too. Then he offers me the mike, fool. OHHHHHYEEAASSSS. For the next few minutes I’m in the band. Does that make me Sly to their Family Drone, the Echo to their Bunnymen? Bending forward I’m screaming into the mike, not just a scream but a high slicing swipe slathered in echo and reverb and chlorine gas. I do a low drone for a bit, then settle into raps of percussive cawing and I’m sure I’ve knackered my throat. After that we keep dancing and then they stop and we realise we’ve lost all our hearing and we’re not pretty no more.

This is a night organised by Baba Yaga’s Hut, the UK’s foremost promoter of noise, improv and psych music from the dark end of the left-field, but you never know quite what to expect from Fire! Orchestra, who take to the main stage next. It’s Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Trio with Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin, augmented by two vocalists, a string quartet, a horn section and a piano. There are 14 now but last time they were spotted there were 28 of them. I wasn’t even there but my ears are ringing thinking about it. There were also about four times as many people in a smaller venue. Are people not going out as much in today’s Brexit days? It’s no use saving your money, when the economy crashes into the sea it won’t buy you so much as a gold toilet in a carpet warehouse.

This is the third iteration of the Fire! Orchestra. They’re playing a new piece, or a suite, or a concept, called ARRIVAL, with lyrics by Mariam Wallentin. The acoustic elements of strings and clarinets give the music an ancient ritual sense, especially with the European folk feel of the paired female vocalists. The core Viking trio of Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin are as fierce and driving as ever, and the extended horn section is sheer diesel poured on the fire. The piano carries the music into classical harmony, and there are intense bouts of semi-free extended group improvisation, as well as typically ferocious baritone sax work from Mats Gustafsson. He makes a great show of conducting the horns and the strings, ducking between them, gesturing rhythms for them to follow or waving to indicate waves of sound or gaggling patters of discordant ruckus. The atmosphere and energy are sustained for a whole hour. Then we all go home. Our mates moan the whole way back about how there’s no good music any more in this day and age until I just want to whack them round the head with an orchestra – which is basically what just happened. But everyone’s a critic.

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

Fire! Orchestra: Mats Gustafsson (baritone sax), Johan Berthling (basses), Andreas Werliin (drums), Mariam Wallentin (voice), Sofia Jernberg (voice), Josefin Runsteen (violin, percussion, voice) Anna Lindal, Katt Hernandez (violin), Leo Svensson (cello), Per Texas Johansson, Christer Bothén, Isak Hedtjäm (clarinets), Alexander Zethson (piano), Susana Santos Silva (trumpet)

LINKS: Family Drone on Bandcamp
Fire! Orchestra
Baba Yaga's Hut website
Interview with Mats Gustafsson from 2014


PREVIEW: Toulouse Lautrec 10th Anniversary Celebration (27 November)

Appearing at the 10th anniversary celebration:
Francesca Confortini and her jazz group.
Clockwise from left: Matteo Busti, Filippo Galli, Giovanni Cresseri,
Alex Otta, Toby Allen, Francesca Confortini (seated, centre)
Photo credit: Andy Porter

Peter Jones looks forward to a special evening celebrating ten years of Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington:

A grassroots jazz venue is something to be cherished, even more so if it’s putting on live jazz and cabaret seven nights a week, but that’s exactly what Kennington’s Toulouse Lautrec has been doing for the past decade. And on Tuesday 27 November, they plan a celebration to mark that tenth anniversary.

For those who have never been there, Toulouse Lautrec is a family-run enterprise based on three floors of a converted pub. The ground floor is a restaurant, the middle floor a piano bar, and at the top is a jazz club. Brothers Florent, Oliver and Nolan Régent divide up the management duties: Oliver is head chef, Florent the restaurant manager, and Nolan is in charge of the entertainment. The Régent family have been a part of the local community for 27 years, ever since the parents of the three brothers opened The Lobster Pot, two doors away.

Even I can work out that Nolan Régent must have put on 3,650 gigs since 2008. I asked how on earth he manages to keep on top of it all.

“It’s easier once you’ve got the infrastructure in place – particularly the ticketing company and the website. The thing about us is, we’ve got a unique booking policy: we’re half cabaret and half jazz. We try to preserve the Moulin Rouge spirit. So our anniversary event will reflect that: in the jazz club we’ve got Francesca Confortini with her six-piece jazz group, plus some burlesque performers, dancers and cabaret artists. In the piano bar we have the singer and trumpet-player Karl Charity, plus the singer and pianist Pete Saunders, who used to be in Dexy’s Midnight Runners.”

On the night, guests will have the freedom of the whole building, and can help themselves to a lavish dinner spread. Downstairs, they can have their picture taken – with showgirls – via the gloriously-named Vintage Selfie Frame. “It’s going to be great fun,” predicts Nolan. “The whole point of the evening is for people to experience what the venue’s all about.”

In fact, it’s about more than just putting on food and entertainment. Toulouse Lautrec has become a stalwart member of the local community, providing a much-needed venue for music students from the Guildhall to perform on Monday nights. And they support the London School of Musical Theatre and the Southwark Playhouse Theatre, whom they supply with food and rehearsal space, and who are about to move into larger accommodation in nearby Uncle Tower.

Any more news for 2019? “Yes – we’re going to be staying open all day, serving breakfast and lunch as well as dinner.”

Early Bird tickets for the 10th Anniversary event are priced at £29, including food. 

During the EFG London Jazz Festival Toulouse Lautrec is hosting BOPFEST
Toulouse Lautrec is at 140 Newington Butts, London SE11 4RN, tel: 020 7582 6800.


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2018 Leipziger Jazztage in Germany

Maggie Nicols
Photo credit: Susann Jehnichen

The 42nd Leipziger Jazztage (Leipzig jazz days) took place from 11 to 20 October – with a focus on the British jazz scene. Martin Laurentius attended the last few days of this East German jazz festival, which has its own rich tradition:

City of Heroes

Leipzig is nicknamed the Heldenstadt (city of heroes). On 4 September 1989, prayers for peace in the Nikolaikirche segued into a Monday demonstration, and a peaceful revolution started which was to sweep the old DDR regime from power in just a matter of weeks, and cause the fall of the "Iron Curtain".

So the people of this metropolis in Saxony definitely know a thing or two when it comes to wanting to tear down barriers. And that's why the curators of this year's Leipziger Jazztage came up with the idea that the programme of this, their 42nd edition, should feature the UK, and be placed under the motto "Fish'n'Chips", in honour of the British fast food staple and clichéd national symbol. On 29 March 2019 the United Kingdom is expected to leave the EU – with unforeseeable consequences for cultural practitioners in general and jazz musicians in particular on both sides of the Channel.

Goldberg Tangents & Brexit Big Band

I could only be there for the last three days of the Leipziger Jazztage, and therefore missed Michael Wollny's Goldberg Tangents experiment. However, the informative programme book does explain the background. The pianist had a double objective with this project to establish a reference to Johann Sebastian Bach's important keyboard work, the Goldberg Variations, written in Leipzig, and also to incorporate the festival’s British theme by doing an experimental collaboration with the electro artist Leafcutter John. I also never got to find out whether the English polymath Matthew Herbert with his Brexit Big Band could find a visionary way to set the forthcoming exit of the UK from the EU to music. And another omission was the panel discussion of journalist/publicist Wolf Kampmann with Matthew Herbert and Rachel Launey from the British Council about the "Brexit Big Bang".

Of grandparents and grandchildren

These days the events of the Leipziger Jazztage are decentralised. There are concerts in the opera house, aimed at a rather older, "classical" jazz audience, at which the younger audience – and that includes the students of the jazz department of the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Felix Mendelsohn Bartholdy – are not to be seen. There is the naTo socio-cultural centre, on Leipzig's nightlife mile, the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse south of the city centre, and that feels closer to the median point, certainly in terms of audience structure’s demographic. But when a concert was announced with the guitarist Helmut "Joe" Sachse, a pioneer of the so-called GDR-Jazz who has just turned 70, with the British vocalist Maggie Nicols, who is the same age, then the audience was full of their age group, notwithstanding the fact that the second part of the evening presented players who could more or less be their grandchildren, Anna-Lena Schnabel (saxophone), Florian Weber (piano), James Banner (bass) and James Maddren (drums). Faced with an onslaught of Sachse's riffs and grooves on semi-acoustic guitar, increasing the intensity even more with loud drone noises, Nicols didn’t seem to have the vocal means on this occasion to offer much of a response.

Max Andrzejewski
Photo credit: Susann Jehnichen

In the wake of Robert Wyatt

On the penultimate festival evening we went to the Westbad in the district of Lindenau. This indoor venue, opened in 1930 as a public swimming pool, is today an event centre and this year was a festival venue for the Leipziger Jazztage, presenting a newly commissioned composition. The festival organizers had originally tried to persuade the young Berlin percussionist Max Andrzejewski make a homage to the work of David Bowie. But with his quartet HÜTTE, augmented for this Leipzig premiere by keyboard player/guitarist Jörg Hochapfel and vocalist Cansu Tanrikulu, he decided he would prefer to work on Robert Wyatt's songs, with their reputarion for being cryptic.

Andrzejewski arranged ten songs and stayed surprisingly close to the originals. Only sporadically did extraneous noises disturb the peculiar pull of the Wyatt songs. The sound pressure and volume, which Wyatt's songs require in order to experience the depth of the different levels of meaning and the streaks between text and music, did prove to be a problem acoustically in the tiled, former indoor swimming pool. It is worth noting that the band which followed this premiere, the quartet/ collective James Farm – Americans Joshua Redman (tenor saxophone), Aaron Parks (piano), and Eric Harland (drums) and US-based New Zealander Matt Penman (bass) – didn’t have these difficulties. These four kept tight, communicated at a high dynamic level, and simply let their improvisational ideas run their course.

Eric Harland
Photo credit: Susann Jehnichen

Queen's Jazz

Harland was also at the drums in the Aziza quartet of bassist Dave Holland, which opened the final evening of the Leipziger Jazztage at the Leipzig Opera. The musical setting of this band was very different from that of James Farm: instead of modern jazz, there were jazz-rock experiments that risked degenerating into cliché.

Harland's pressure and powerful drumming was the constant in both bands. But it was only through the interaction with the deep-rooted grooves of the British-born bass player that his rhythmic flow got a further ingredient, and subtly shifted between concrete beat and shimmering pulsation. Aziza's jazz rock was also roughened up and contrasted by the single note lines of Lionel Loueke's guitar, which were reminiscent of the music of his homeland Benin, and by the expressive narratives of tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, performed at exhilarating speed.

Following this concert, the Leipziger Jazztage seemed to test the borders of audibility in the opera with two quiet sets: first with the deliberately intensive performance of the quartet around the Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen, who lives in New York, followed by the concentrated, quiet performance of film music by the English vocalist Norma Winstone and her trio.

But it wasn't over yet. From midnight on, there was to be ‘Jazz’ in the Telegraph club in the centre of Leipzig – in fact a revamp of the 40-year old record of that name by Queen, from Berlin guitarist Christian Kögel. With the two tenorists Peter Ehwald and Uli Kempendorff, and with his instrumental colleague and dobro player Kai Brückner and the drummer Rainer Winch, he unpacked the 13 songs on this album. They succeeded in extracting every last ounce of kitsch, opulence and camp out of them that they could. Chapeau!

Martin Laurentius is a Contributing Editor at the magazine Jazz thing and works extensively on jazz programmes for German broadcaster WDR 3 and other stations in the ARD network.

LINKS: Leipziger Jazztage 
There will be a link to Martin Laurentius' original German when available


CD REVIEW: Omar Sosa & Yilian Cañizares – Aguas

Omar Sosa & Yilian Cañizares – Aguas
(OTA Records OTA1032. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The Cuban pianist Omar Sosa is a committed collaborator. Throughout his recording career albums in his name have featured musicians from diverse musical heritages: Tunisian oud player Dhafer Yousef on Mulatos; New England Americana  multi-instrumentalist Tim Eriksen on Across The Divide; most recently Senegalese kora player and singer Seckou Keita on last year’s Transparent Water.

Here the collaboration is a closer one in the sense that violinist/vocalist Yilian Cañizares is Cuban-born, but the influences that she brings to the music are as diverse and global as Sosa’s – she studied classical violin in Cuba, and has lived in Venezuela and Switzerland since, and her music feeds on her Yoruba ancestry.

With the exception of percussion from Inor Sotolongo all the sounds you hear on Aguas are from Sosa and Cañizares, but that doesn’t stop it having an expansive soundscape since Sosa uses a variety of keyboards and both musicians are well versed in the use of programming and samples. Sosa sings also.

The combination of acoustic piano, violin and voices in amongst the lushness of synths and digitally altered ambience is tastefully handled and reflects perfectly these two musicians as delighted to be working in their musical tradition as they are to be dressing it with all the modern technologies at their disposal.

All the compositions are jointly credited and take in original songs which could just as easily be decades-old folk melodies, so compelling are they as ear worms, gently funky grooves and jazz improvisations of the fusion kind. The album takes water as its theme and there is a flow and fluidity to the way it slips and slides along.

Omar Sosa has an extensive discography and has built up a substantial fanbase; Yilian Cañizares may be a less familiar name but her 2016 album Invocación indicated that her star is surely on the rise and she blooms even more richly in this collaboration. Aguas is a hugely generous album with many moments of pure gorgeousness.

Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares are appearing at the EFG London Jazz Festival as part of the Jazz Cubano! triple-bill on Friday 23 November at the Barbican.

LINKS: Booking for Jazz Cubano!
Preview: Jazz Cubano
Peter Bacon's review of Yilian Cañizares' Invocación


BOOK REVIEW: Arthur Elgort – Jazz

Arthur Elgort – Jazz
(Damiani. ISBN 978-88-6208-608-0. Book review by Andrew Cartmel)

In an age where books of jazz photography tend to be of the mammoth, coffee table-hogging variety, this handsome collection of Arthur Elgort’s work bucks the trend. Published by Damiani, an Italian firm specialising in stylish volumes of photography, it’s an elegantly compact and solid hardcover, beautifully produced and designed to last for a lifetime of browsing. The cover has embossed golden metallic type over an image of saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in full flight, and indeed Jacquet features frequently throughout — perhaps most memorably portrayed grimacing as he chews on a reed at the Selmer factory, and generally looking splendidly moody and autumnal, in Paris in 1990.

Other luminaries to be found in these pages include a gritty depiction of Joshua Redman in action in 1996, a grizzled, silvery and distinguished Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon blowing ecstatically (both 1988), George Benson with his Ibanez guitar in 1987 and Sonny Rollins looking positively Buddha-like in 1991. There’s also a particularly beautiful study of Wynton Marsalis playing, which occupies the rear endpapers of Jazz and also comes as a print with the deluxe, limited edition of this book.

Black and white is Elgort’s forte — almost all of these images are in luminous monochrome, with the sort of glow and fine-grained detail which reminds us that classic analog photography relied on the light sensitivity of compounds of silver. But there are also some lush full-colour shots including a striking one of Ornette Coleman looking dapper astride a shiny red motorbike in 1988.

While the book depicts some of the giants of jazz, Elgort is himself a giant of fashion photography, enjoying a particularly long and fruitful association with Vogue magazine. Some of his most celebrated shoots featured Christy Turlington at the Red Army barracks in Leningrad and Stella Tennant diving into a swimming pool in tweeds and wellies. Elgort’s use of natural light was pioneering in the field, and he favours spontaneity over carefully contrived composition — and both of these qualities come across strongly in Jazz.

Contact sheet showing musicians and modelsin Harlem
Photo  © Arthur Elgort
Elgort’s association with the world of fashion leads to a certain degree of crossover, with supermodels such as Jenny Howorth and Liya Kebede cropping up in some of the same shots as the musicians in this book — and it has to be said that elder statesmen of jazz don’t look to be suffering too much at having such high calibre arm candy inflicted on them. And one the most gorgeous images in the book has Liya Kebede framed by the serpentine curves of a saxophone. It’s the epitome of jazz as glamour.

A little more information wouldn’t have gone amiss — there’s no index in the book, and a few of the portraits aren’t easy to identify — but this is a sophisticated little volume rich in jazz imagery seen through the lens of a master. And it’s arrived just in time for Christmas.

LINK: Jazz at Damiani Editore


PREVIEW: Jazz Cubano (23 November, Barbican, 2018 EFG LJF)

Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez
Publicity Photo by Anna Webber

Latin jazz specialist, French journalist Yannick Le Maintec of Le Monde, tells us that he will be making a special trip to London for just one show in this year's EFG London Jazz Festival. He explains his strong imperative for him to be here for Jazz Cubano:

On Friday 23 November, 2018 the EFG London Jazz Festival is offering a triple show, Jazz Cubano, three opportunities to discover the vivacity of Cuban jazz.

Let's face it. Comfortably settled in its tradition, Latin jazz, like its jazz cousin, can sometimes be lazy. But isn't innovation part of its DNA? Weren’t Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauza and Chico O'Farrill innovators?

When it came to making the choice between tradition and invention, Arturo O'Farrill (performing at the Barbican with his sextet) chose not to make a decision. Every Sunday at Birdland, he celebrates the work of his father Chico. His own recordings are formidable inventions. (website)

You never know what to expect from an Alfredo Rodriguez album. The Little Dream is no exception to this rule. Even the Besame Mucho, which has been sung into the ground, is getting a new lease on life. (website)

They were meant to meet. Two kindred spirits, Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares, the pianist and the violinist. Aguas, the result – almost mystical – of their musical union is an object of infinite beauty. (Facebook)

One violinist, three pianists, as many degrees of creativity. This is what we expect from this Cubano Jazz! scheduled for 23 November on the Barbican Hall stage. Expressing your creativity on stage, isn't that what jazz is all about?

Yannick Le Maintec's original French text:

Vendredi 23 novembre 2018, le London Jazz Festival propose un triple show, Jazz Cubano !, trois occasions de découvrir la vivacité du jazz cubain.

Reconnaissons-le. Confortablement installé dans sa tradition, le latin jazz, à l’instar de son cousin jazz, se fait parfois paresseux. L’innovation ne fait-elle pas partie de son ADN ? Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauza, Chico O’Farrill n’étaient-ils pas des inventeurs ?

Entre tradition et invention, Arturo O’Farrill a choisi de ne pas choisir. Chaque dimanche au Birdland, il célèbre l'oeuvre de son père Chico. Ses propres enregistrements sont redoutables d’invention.

Vous ne savez jamais ce qui vous attend dans un album d’Alfredo Rodriguez. « The Little Dream » ne déroge pas à la règle. Même l’usé Besame Mucho retrouve une nouvelle jeunesse.

Ils étaient faits pour se rencontrer. Deux âmes sœurs, Omar Sosa et Yilian Cañizares, le pianiste et la violoniste. « Aguas », le résultat -quasi-mystique- de leur union musicale est un objet d’une infinie beauté.

Une violoniste, trois pianistes, autant de degrés de créativité. Voilà ce qu’on attend de ce Jazz Cubano ! programmé le 23 novembre sur la scène du Barbican Center. Exprimer sur la scène sa créativité, n’est-ce pas le propre du jazz ?

LINK: Barbican bookings for 23 November


INTERVIEW: Deelee Dubé (Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, 29 November and new album Tenderly early 2019)

Deelee Dubé
Photo credit: Bob Meyrick
South London vocalist DEELEE DUBÉ was the winner of the 2016 Sarah Vaughan Competition in New Jersey, with a judging panel that included Dianne Reeves and Christian McBride. She has an Elgar Room appearance with her group on 29 November, and will launch a new album early next year. Having interviewed her when she won the competition (link below), Sebastian found out about what has been happening since, and her current plans:

LJN: In the time since you won the Sarah Vaughan comp in Jan 2016 you've been studying, I understand. A course? A thesis?

Deelee Dubé: Yes. I was offered a one-year placement and scholarship to study an MA in Voice studies at the Royal  Central School of Speech and Drama, which I have just completed. It has been a transformational experience, which has challenged me intensely on both a performative and academic level.

LJN: Was it more practical or more theoretical?

DD: It entailed both, practical and theoretical experiences which have enhanced my perspective on vocal pedagogy on so many levels, with a different lens in which to view my voice, craft and the art of performance and all that it encompasses. I have embraced this opportunity to fully immerse myself and engage with my voice and truth on a comprehensive level which I have not had the chance to do before, and in doing so I have observed my growth and development, and acquired/generated some logic and context behind the doing which is undoubtedly empowering.

LJN: Do you feel the studying has helped you as a singer/performer?

DD:  Absolutely. I enjoy learning, and believe that the moment we stop learning is the moment we stop living. Life is a learning experience in itself which sees and enables the constant evolution and development of self. In learning about the embodied voice, I have benefited from gaining and developing an informed understanding of my craft on a holistic level and consider this process as part of my overall make-up as a vocalist and as an individual and I like to utilise and apply what I learn to further enhance creative processes and abilities as a performer and individual respectively.

LJN: You have a new album due out early next year? When was it recorded?

DD: That's right. The Tenderly album was recorded prior to my studies at the RCSSD.

LJN: Who is on it and what will you be playing?

DD: Renato D’Aiello on tenor saxophone, who also produced and arranged the record, Bruno Montrone on piano, Nicola Muresu on double bass, and Gasper Bertoncelj on drums, a great line-up and rhythm section. For the most recent project I have worked with a great US-based rhythm section which include: Benito Gonzalez (piano), Corcoran Holt (acoustic bass), Mark Whitfield Jnr (drums) and Russell Malone (guitar)

LJN: Has the Vaughan comp win opened doors?

DD: Yes, it has, as much as I have enabled it to. I’ve also yet to see what other possibilities may unfold. The competition was an amazing and humbling experience and opportunity for myself as an artist and I especially feel honoured to have been chosen as the first British winner by a trailblazing panel of judges, it is a transformational experience.

LJN: What have been highlights since you won?

DD: I have performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2017 which was an amazing experience, and also performed at the Teatro Auditorio Revellin in Ceuta, and received an amazing reception both from the audience and Spanish press.

I performed as part of the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary series which included Celebrating Women and the Hall series (which will see the hall 150 on 29 March 2021) which was in honour of Sarah Vaughan who performed at the Royal Albert Hall on the 22 February 1953.

Besides my residency at Ronnie Scott’s Acoustic Jazz Lounge, I have also completed a mini-tour of the US prior to beginning my recording project for Concord, and have been recording whilst studying, so things have been pretty intense, but I’m not complaining!

LJN: What new repertoire or approaches to songs have you been getting into recently?

DD: I have also been listening the late South African jazz singer called Sathima Bea Benjamin (Ibrahim Abdullah’s late wife and jazz artist) and currently have an intrigue for improvisational vocal artforms such as vocalese and scat singing which have led towards exploring word-based art forms, listening to pioneers and studying their approaches such as Jon Hendricks and Allan Harris, Eddie Jefferson, Bobby McFerrin as well as listening to the magnificent Shirley Horn, Jobim and Carmen McRae, Alice Coltrane, Abbey Lincoln, Ernestine Anderson, Dena Derosa, Rene Marie and Meredith D’Ambrosio.

I believe it’s important to find the fun and excitement as well as the challenge within a musical moment, and the simple approach always seems to be effective, so in saying that I still enjoy listening to the likes of Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Nora Jones and Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Abbey Lincoln, Roberta Flack, Bessie Smith. I also enjoy listening to Sarah Vaughan’s creative approach to interpreting songs of The Beatles' catalogue.

LJN: You also have a role in Alex Webb and Tony Kofi's Cannonball show. How does all that work?

DD: Yes, I am currently working and touring with Tony Kofi and Alex Webb on a great project which celebrates the genius of Cannonball and Nat Adderley. My feature is based on the Cannonball’s 1961 studio album collaboration with Nancy Wilson, and we have an upcoming performance at the 606 Jazz club on 21 November 2018 as part of LJF, followed by the Hideaway on 17 January 2019

LJN: The Elgar Room show... will it be based on the material on the album?

DD:  We will be performing material from my repertoire which incorporates some new songs, compositions and arrangements. It’s going to be exciting!

LJN: Will you go back to North America ? 

DD: Yes I hope, soon!

LJN: And other plans?

DD: I am going on tour and also curating ideas and material for my next album project. I will also be graduating in December, and look forward to also developing my practice as a voice practitioner and emerging voice pedagogue. 2019 will see the development of new projects and music related ventures. Watch this space.

LINKS: Deelee Dube's website2016 Interview with Deelee Dube after her win at the Sarah Vaughan Competition
Elgar Room Bookings for 29 November


REVIEW: GoGo Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall

Gogo Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

GoGo Penguin
(Royal Albert Hall, 12 November 2018. Review by Sarah Chaplin)

Jazz gigs are not generally synonymous with large, oval, grandiose spaces that have too many associations with flag-waving prom-lovers, and looking at GoGo Penguin’s list of tour dates, it seemed that the Albert Hall was something of an anomaly in amongst their other ports of call, both in terms of capacity and style of venue. So when the three Mancunian musicians, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner, trooped onto the stage, they seemed a tad daunted by the vastness of their audience and the space they were about to fill with music.

But fill it they did, mostly with tunes from their latest album A Humdrum Star, released on Blue Note earlier this year. Things typically build up from a single hammered note from Chris, or from the slightest hint of a riff by Nick, or in response to a darkly persistent pulse laid down by Rob, and then slowly but surely they build an edifice of sound from this foundation. Their ideas mutate, spreading from one musician to the other, as they mould each simple motif into a cosmic landscape. The inspiration for their latest album came from Carl Sagan, but while his comment was intended to play down the importance of the sun in the context of our galactic neighbourhood, GoGo Penguin seem to regard it more as a challenge; their music seems to want to explore and celebrate our being here.

So in the first stretch we were treated to Prayer, Raven, Bardo and A Hundred Moons from this new album, then One Percent from their previous album v2.0. Halfway through the tune Ocean In A Drop, I began musing about the secret to GoGo Penguin’s success, about what makes them more than a drop in the jazz ocean. Was it their choice of name – apparently selected in the green room just before they performed their first gig, as their eye fell on a strange grubby item in the room that looked a bit like a penguin? Or was it their fortuitous sequence of signings, first to Gondwana, then Blue Note, and all the attendant publicity this has courted? Without meaning to sound churlish, there are plenty of other equally unassuming, self-effacing, non-commercial, hard-working, accomplished and talented jazzers on the circuit, so what’s caught the attention of a much wider audience, that’s enabled this trio to reach a level of success other jazz line-ups can only dream of? Lacking an obvious answer, I simply allowed myself to tune into my senses like every other person around me seemed to be doing, and be mesmerised.

Chris Illingworth of GoGo Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
GoGo Penguin lure you into a trance-like state, they toy with your emotions, feeding some primal need with jolts of energy, artfully varying the tension, the volume, the texture and creating a sense of expansiveness, all the while playing instruments that look completely conventional, yet leading you to suspect that somehow they’ve been souped up into another dimension. True, Illingworth’s grand piano had a strange ridged protuberance sticking out of the top and a weirdly sonorous quality at times, and Blacka’s acoustic, sometimes bowed, bass often had a reedy, synthy sound. Meanwhile, Turner seemed to be wielding more than two sticks, but it might just have been an illusion, because his hands were moving so fast. Then there’s the attention to visual detail: they have a nifty logo, which was repeated on three luminous disks above their heads, and a backlit band of LEDs that when combined with the smoke and cut through with pinpoints of coloured light, silhouetted and dissected the band in a way not often attempted at a jazz gig.

They claim their music sounds like who they’ve been listening to, and it seemed to me that must have encompassed a fair amount of classical minimalism, especially given the fact they recently toured with their new score to accompany the film Koyaanisqatsi, whose original soundtrack was written by Philip Glass. The one-set show concluded with tunes like Reactor and Transient State, by which time I was definitely in an altered state myself. Drifting back to the tube, I could hardly recall the two engaging support acts from the early part of the evening, Andreya Triana and Sunda Arc. But no matter, I got what I came for: a taste of the dizzy heights a humdrum jazz outfit from Manchester can rise to, given half a chance. London, we need to up our game!

Sarah Chaplin is Founder and Managing Director of JAZZLONDONLIVE

Rob Turner of Gogo Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska


LP REVIEW: Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions
(Resonance Records vinyl limited edition with booklet. LP review by Geoff Winston)

This three-LP vinyl set, drawn from the full Eric Dolphy sessions produced by Alan Douglas that gave rise to the Conversations and Iron Man LPs is, without reservation, extraordinary. The sound quality on these vinyl pressings is exceptional, using the surviving mono masters as the source for revisiting the sessions recorded on two days in July 1963.

The masters are from the priceless possessions entrusted to Hale and Juanita Smith by Dolphy before his fateful trip to Europe. He tragically died in a German hospital due to a misdiagnosis of his diabetes. Thanks to the tireless efforts of flautist James Newton, a Dolphy devotee and close friend of the Smiths, and the agency of LA-based Resonance Records' Zev Feldman, via Jason Moran, these tracks have been lovingly restored and enhanced by Resonance, in the hands of the company's president, George Klabin, and engineer Fran Gala, for release on vinyl on 23 November 2018, followed by CD release early in 2019.

Accompanying the tracks from those LPs is a carefully compiled selection of 85 minutes-worth of alternate and unissued takes along with a booklet of in-depth essays, interviews and photos which shed further light on Dolphy's unique talent, his personality and the stories behind these recordings.

What is amazing about these mixes and vinyl pressings is the clarity and tingling, bright definition achieved, which enhances the listening experience significantly, especially when compared to earlier, perfectly acceptable releases of the two albums. It is a sparkling, full sound, imbued with a tactile precision that brings out the underlying detail as never before. When you listen, you really do hear the range and subtleties of each musician's individual contribution in the acoustic separations, with the resulting whole very much a fulfilling sum of its parts.

The profundity of Eric Dolphy's genius is no more deeply articulated than in his duets playing bass clarinet with bassist Richard Davis on Muses For Richard Davis (previously unissued; two takes) with their inescapably powerful, emotional reach, and their two spiritual interpretations of Alone Together. The richness of the bass hums with breathtaking resonance from the opening notes of Alone Together. A bassist to whom I played these tracks said that's how he's always wished his bass could be recorded. These are not just recordings, you feel as though you are in the room together with Dolphy and Davis.

Dolphy's mental and technical dexterity, vision and virtuosity are revealed in the pin-sharp renderings of the three different takes of his intense, virtuosic solo forays on alto saxophone on Love Me. This pressing ensures that every note carries its full weight as one follows the tumbling intricacies of each astounding interpretation, which immediately bring to mind the pioneering invention of Coleman Hawkins' unaccompanied tenor solo, Picasso, on which he laboured for two four-hour sessions, a month apart in 1948, before deeming one take to be suitable for release – which it was as part of Norman Granz's monumental vinylite set, The Jazz Scene.

Eric Dolphy
Photo credit: Lee Tanner
Photo authorised for re-use by Resonance's distributor 

The range of the ensemble pieces is a delight. As Newton notes, "these recordings are testament to Dolphy's ability to assemble ensembles that could delve deeply in to his compositional language and his visionary approach as a bandleader". Original Dolphy compositions and interpretations of those of others are heard as though for the first time, and with repeated listening the subtle variations of alternate takes can be appreciated alongside the originals. The outtake of Jitterbug Waltz features a quirkily off-beat flute passage from Dolphy which brings out a smile. In both versions the merest hints of drum and cymbal touches are positioned so discreetly. The humour and joyfulness of the Mexican-inflected Music Matador is captured to a tee both times.

The Iron Man tracks, originally issued four years after Dolphy's death, comprising mainly Dolphy pieces, with its loose, almost messy, 'live' feel to the three larger group works (the title track, Mandrake and Burning Spear), were initially deemed 'too futuristic' by the record company, sadly echoing the fate of his recordings of Ellington with Chico Hamilton, when the record company had the suite re-recorded with Buddy Collette in his place. Luckily, the Dolphy recording was subsequently discovered by chance. In Burning Spear, it is still a surprise when it becomes obvious that there are two bassists playing, Davis and Eddie Kahn!

The brass work is superb, with the 18-year old trumpeter, Woody Shaw, given his break by the ever-generous and insightful Dolphy, rewarding the faith in his talent with truly mature and inspired contributions, while the section work utilised the talents of Sonny Simmons and Clifford Jordan. The ethereal, unearthly qualities of Bobby Hutcherson's vibraphone playing are refined with great sensitivity, shimmering ever deeper within the sound strata that Dolphy created.

A special bonus in this set is the only other recording of the unnerving Personal Statement aka Jim Crow which exists outside of that released on Other Aspects in 1987. Robin D.G. Kelley, in his illuminating essay, explains the fascinating story behind these recordings made in March 1964. Kelley also discusses Dolphy's Town Hall concert, sharing the bill with poet Ree Dragonette, around whose poems he wrote several compositions, including those that became Hat And Beard on Out To Lunch!, and Mandrake on Iron Man.

The insights offered by musicians who played with Dolphy are revealing. Herbie Hancock, drafted in as a 22-year-old to Dolphy's group, says, "Playing with Eric pried open my brain as to what was possible in jazz." Sonny Simmons movingly comments, in one of the publication's July 2018 interviews, "It was sad how they treated Dolphy … It broke my heart. … He couldn't work in New York." Which is why he went to Europe. McCoy Tyner remembers Dolphy's pockets "bulging with mouthpieces"! There is also a lovely conversation between Newton and bassist Davis which gets to the nub of his and Dolphy's special musical relationship.

This major collection of recordings is, in effect, the bridge between the adventurous exuberance of Out There, the loose, confident energy of Outward Bound and the daring leap that was Out To Lunch!, Dolphy's last studio recording as leader. It really is a joy to hear these sets entirely afresh, with the extra dimension that ultimately focusses on Dolphy's outstanding talents and playing. David Murray puts his finger on it when he harangues against a commentator who describes Dolphy's choice of notes as “unresolved”. "But those are the notes that make people great, in fact. The ones that he doesn't seem able to define."

I have one question, after reading in the touching reminiscences of Juanita Smith that Dolphy's last telephone goodbye before leaving from the airport was to the Hale's dog, Mitzi, adored by Dolphy. What kind of dog was Mitzi, and are there any photos of her, ideally with Dolphy?

The limited edition vinyl set, Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet, is an absolute 'must have' for any Dolphy fan. Start queueing at your local record store now (or ‘Get in line, now,’ for American readers)! It should be noted that the Dolphy Family Trust is the beneficiary of the proceeds from this release.

Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet will be available to selected independent stores only on 23 November, Record Store Day’s Black Friday event, where they can continue to sell the set after this date for one week only. After this initial period the set will then be made widely available for as long as stocks of the vinyl version last. The 3-CD version will be released on 25 January 2019.

LINK: Information on Record Store Day’s Black Friday event.
Eric Dolphy at Resonance Records