VIDEO PREVIEW: Highgate Jazz with Soul Festival (Aug 29-31)

The Highgate Jazz and Blues Festival in August, now in its fourth year, and directed by Brandon Allen, is now established as - arguably - London's main annual showcase specifically for the London scene. The promotional video has a programme of good, lively sounds from artists performing at the festival:

- Charlie Wood My Music is my Monkey from New Souvenirs (Perdido, 2014)

- Partisans Flip the Sneck (Julian Siegel) from Swamp (Whirlwind, 2014) from [0:40]

- Sara Mitra - Losing You (Title Track, Impossible Ark, 2015) from [1:39]

- Jason Rebello - Thunderbirds from from Jazz Rainbow (Jumby/Lyte 2007/2014) from [2:26]

Full programme details and bookings on the Festival's website



“Kakatsitsi and the “ceremonial removal of the wellington boots"
Womad 2015 Saturday afternoon, BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage

Womad was held at Charlton Park last weekend. Musician Bex Burch reports back for us from the Wiltshire festival which presented almost a hundred artists from fifty-three countries:

My first experience of WOMAD has been incredible, thanks to the 35,000 people who came and witnessed all this music alongside me. There’s so many voices, instruments and stories I had swirling round my head it’s a relief to be able to tell you about some. This report will stick to chronological order. It might not seem ‘logical’ but the WOMAD experience isn’t put into categories for you to walk around, even ‘headliners’ aren’t clear! Welcome to the wonderful madness!


Friday was a celebration despite the rain! Mahotella Queens looked and sounded beautiful, Totó La Momposina, who is 75 this week, has incredible energy of voice,  with 3 generations of her family on stage too, what a great debut! There was a real treat for those who saw De La Soul, an intimate set from a huge band. A theme throughout for me, as I turned up late but still found a place to watch Tinariwen under cover (Siam Tent) from the rain and wondered already at a festival with such variety and excellence.


Saturday dried up (some of) the mud and was a powerful day. A festival highlight for me was Kakatsitsi, playing the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage at 12 noon, I felt the warmth of the sun and, right at the front of the stage, I felt the warmth from these incredible drummers too. I’ve seen many Ghanaian drumming groups in my life and Kakastisti were spot on! Speaking to them afterwards, the Ga troupe, based in James Town, Accra, told me how they learnt the music of other tribes because they are “so smart”! Injoly (Samuel Teteh Addo, lead drummer) told me, huge smile on his face, “we play them (Ewe, Ashanti, Djembe from Mail or Senegal) different. We can play theirs, but they can’t play ours. It’s slower so you can enter and dance too.”

Certainly the accessibility was highlighted when Kofi led the packed crowd in a range of different dances. I looked back at everyone joining in, hands in the air, and felt everyone’s joy at moving together. This was true accessibility, but not at the expense of the power of the music.

From Ga Kpalengo drumming to the dhol of the Shikor Bangladesh All Stars. Staying at the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage, seriously incredible rhythms, incredible vocals, and later (in workshop with LoKkhi TeRra later in the World Rhythms tent) awesome cross-culture collaboration and a bongo playing front man!

L’Hijâz’Car (again a highlight from the fantastic programming at the BBC stage), something entirely different, played songs flowing effortlessly from syncopated bass solo to Stravinsky-esque tuttis! Awesome arrangements, instrumentation with the oud, tarhu (spike fiddle) double bass, bass clarinet, and percussion including darbouka and rek (Etienne Gruel was sensitive and brave). Minimalism, contemporary, and just a great sound!

“L’Hijaz’Car on BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage

Backstage I met the two BBC introducing artists, Nazim Ziyab, who listed among his Cheikh (masters), Algerian fusion musicians Cheikh Khlifi Ahmen, Cheikh Guezouabi alongside Cheikh Jimmy Hendrix and Cheikh Bach! And Ngawang Lodup, ex-Tibetan monk who is due to perform at the O2 as part of the Dali Llama’s 80th birthday celebrations. Ngawang sang us three songs, one in tribute of His Holiness the Dali Llama (who he told me he respects for dedicating his whole life to peace), an a capella song to the mountain dragon to ask for rain (for which I cried... as sure enough, more rain came), and one called ‘Homesick’ about his parents, who he hasn’t seen for over a decade. When I spoke to him about the music and his family, he movingly said ‘My mother taught me to sing while carrying me as a babe. If she heard me now, yes I think she would recognise me.’

Saturday also saw big names Cheikh Lô, who played his baifal Senegalese music, at times leaping out with explosive percussion, rich vocals, and great ensemble. Also Aurelio, from San Vicente, who was glowing on and off stage.

Spiro on the Ecotricity stage were another lovely highlight, playing among the beautiful trees, the strings, guitar, accordion and Mandolin combination of well played rhythmic passages and long harmonic space set a delicious tone in the Arboretum. After all this, Lunched out Lizards held a wicked after-auditorium party with Adam, Steve and Pewie DJ-ing.


Noura Mint Seymali played to a rainy crowd at Open Air Stage. Singing full throttle for an hour, preparing for her workshops, and actually feeding her baby as she made time to talk to me about being from a 15 generation griot family, Noura Mint was seriously hard working, powerful and spacious, both on and off the stage.

Incredible to put Noura Mint and Ghost Poet alongside one another, but that’s what happened walking round WOMAD - awesome to hear Obaro Ejimiwe (Ghost Poet) here, playing to a packed out tent (perhaps the rain helped in the covered Siam tent) which seemed unanimously cheered by his good taste and excellent vibes.

“Acholi Machon, or Gaitano Otiri Tep Yer Yer and Korneli Odong Mulili, both playing
the likembe (thumb piano) on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage.”

A very special personal festival highlight was when Acholi Machon were kind enough to talk and play to me before their gig on the BBC stage. Yer Yer and Mulili told me about their meanings, notably “Queen Elizabeth (or people of UK), we need peace in South Sudan”. We also chatted about the importance of thick coats, why tea is not good for Yer Yer’s voice, and (as matter-of-fact as coats and tea) the destruction of war on their new nation. These two men have great music to share, and I am so glad I got to talk with them and look forward to hearing more of this incredible uplifting music, distilled, as it was, in severe conditions.

Feedback from my camp highlighted a special hour with ESKA, playing at the Ecotricity stage, full of energy, creativity and courage. Her performance and music making is explosive and obviously communicated very strongly to the hugely positive audience.

Another wonderful female artist at WOMAD, and the last in my little round up was Laura Mvula. The songs were arranged so beautifully, the band played so well together, each instrument (my favourite was the harp, played by Laura’s brother) held something quite special and made space for Mvula to truly shine, even if the sun didn’t!

If you can’t beat it, join it!”
Photograph supplied by WOMAD

Rain and mud maybe the biggest aspect of my first WOMAD, but one can't help notice the work which the crew, stewards, and even the press do (I have a new found respect for all the work that goes into reviews and interviews). So, thanks to the musicians, and to the friendly punters, all of whom put aside the soggy feeling in the shoes/head/everywhere to remain positive, respectful, joyful and creative. I still have wicked music in my head and a smile in my eyes.

Bex Burch was the guest of BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage. Her own group's album Vula Viel is released in October.


EP LAUNCH PREVIEW: Eat Logic - Eat Logic (Launch 4th August, Half Moon Putney)

Eat Logic

Eat Logic - Eat Logic
(Notting Hill Recordings. EP launch preview by Mike Collins*)

 Offering an edgy blend of jazz-influenced electronic and acoustic music, Eat Logic is best described as "Incognito, Labrinth and Weather Report meet Ennio Morricone ". Lovers of Cinematic Orchestra, Slowly Moving Camera, Zero 7, Massive Attack, Reel People, and similar bands will find familiar sonic landscapes here.

“Blending nu-soul with drum and bass, dark buzzy bit-crushed synths with ‘Kind Of Blue’ brass textures, urgent sax extrapolations cascading over epic ethereal filtered pads and vocals ranging from declamatory to introspective, the EP promises to satisfy “Jazz lovers who want a bit of pep when they step out, club-heads who want more than a straight four on the floor and people who love to see good musicians do their thing!” says Gordon Hulbert, the band’s founder, adding “You could say we’re halfway between ECM and EDM”.

The album’s producer, Gordon Hulbert, has been a sideman and musical director playing keyboards with the likes of Chaka Khan, Hugh Masekela, and Imogen Heap while co-producer John Myers, who sings and plays guitar, keys, fiddle and Irish flute, has worked with everyone from Pogues singer Shane MacGowan to Kylie Minogue. The band has two first-rate brass players: Dave Land, who previously played trumpet and flugelhorn with Amy Winehouse, and currently works with the BBC Radio Orchestra; and sax player Roberto Manzin who has been creating quite a buzz amongst London’s jazzerati of late. The rhythm section is truly ‘hot’ and funky: Drummer Paul Jones has worked with artists such as Don Blackman, Rahsaan Patterson, Mica Paris and Loose Ends while bass player Winston Blissett - a founder member of jazz-fusion outfit, ‘Protect The Beat’ - has been recording and touring with Massive Attack for years and also has studio credits with everyone from Cher and Robbie Williams to Basement Jaxx and Reel People.

What excites me most about this band is the tremendous potential of its instrumentalist members to make great music together with not one, but TWO powerful, jazzy and soulful vocalists, Anita Kelsey and Alison Limerick. Alison Limerick has been a front person with UK acid jazz stalwarts The James Taylor Quartet, Vibrasonic, and Courtney Pine. As a solo artist with BMG Records during the early 90s, she scored worldwide hits with 'Where Love Lives', 'Make It On My Own' and 'Love Come Down'. Anita Kelsey worked with Sunship's Ceri Evans on his first jazz album, for which they won a MOBO in 1997. Anita later went on to score hits in the EDM world during the noughties, such as Tiesto’s Falling.

The band’s debut EP has just three tracks: Eat Logic starts out quite aggressively, with frantic drums and cutting synthesizer sounds. The music cools down a little to allow Roberto Manzin to enter the fray with his incredibly fluid soprano saxophone lines, before these ultimately dominate the track, leading to the powerful ending climax and release. The slow funky groove, Magaso, provides the perfect backdrop for Dave Land’s magnificent flugelhorn. Reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra, this track opens with industrial-sounding electronic sounds as a preamble to the ‘hooky’ brass riff that sets the mood. The drums never let go of the groove, while the riff becomes totally incessant as the drums build with fills – and all the while the flugelhorn improvisations keep on flowing. Then it’s time for a stab at a more ‘commercial’-sounding track. As soon as Working On It starts playing, you’re going to immediately think Incognito, Lisa Stansfield and Cold Cut, with its instantly danceable ‘house’/’disco’ groove, soulful vocals from Alison Limerick, and an excellent keyboard solo by Gordon Hulbert.

The band’s ‘live’ repertoire will also include excellent arrangements of John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’ in an uptempo ‘house’ style; Paul McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’, mostly in 7/4 but subtly using meter changes; and an interesting composition called ‘Minor Crisis’ which starts in 4/4 then switches between 7/4 and 5/4, with occasional sorties into ¾ and 6/4!

(*) Mike Collins is a music creator - producer, songwriter, studio musician - music technology consultant & author.

Eat Logic's debut EP is released on 4th August, their debut gig and EP launch will be at The Half Moon in Putney on that date. Kevin Robinson will dep for Dave Land on Trumpet/Flugelhorn and Jerry Brown will dep for Paul Jones on drums.

LINK: Eat Logic Website


REVIEW: Tal National at Cafe Oto

Tal National at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Tal National
(Cafe Oto, 23rd July 2015; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Tal National, the sparkling six-piece from Niger's capital, Niamey, have a devastatingly percussive streak running through their music, and made a powerful impact at Cafe Oto on their British debut, before a WOMAD appearance the next day.

Tal National travel with six core members, but at home, where they have an immense reputation, they can expand to a dozen for legendary 5 hour shows. Their leader, guitarist, Almeida, was so impressed by New Zealand-born, Chicago-based producer and Steve Albini fan, Jamie Carter, with whom he recorded during a Chicago arts festival, that he recruited him to record the band back home, as it was cheaper than flying the band to use studios in neighbouring Ghana or Nigeria. Carter became a devotee and has since brought them to the US to tour and secured them a record deal with Brighton-based indie label, Fat Cat.

Almeida is anything but conventional - a judge by day, an ex-footballer and an accomplished guitarist, he formed the band in 2000, and is a passionate advocate for the treasures of his beloved, landlocked, West African homeland. A large presence onstage, he started off their show by interrogating the audience about its location, and then went on to describe its wildlife and attractions before introducing the band's range of Niger's ethnicities, including Fulani, Hausa, Songhai and his own-Tuareg roots. 'Tal', by the way, means 'desert', of which there are large swathes to the east of Niger.

With the audience on board, the music flowed. How to describe it - imagine a cross between Barrister's Fuji, or Sunny Adé's Ju Ju, and Cream! There's the circularity of continually reborn rhythms, driven by the unbelievable, crisp discipline of drummer, Omar and the talking drums of Kelegue, who doubles on vocals with the soulful voice of Souleymane; mix in the raw rock collisions of Clapton, Bruce and, particularly, Baker, something of griot guitar and the blues inflections of Ali Farka Toure and you get close.

Tal National at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015.All Rights Reserved

Omar's razor sharp attack was at the root of it, an entrancing and complex blend of rhythmic structures. The melodies and breaks flowed around it with increasing intensity, a mix of traditional and original material. Essa's pummelling bass, equally capable of melodic flight, meshed with gleefully extrovert guitar solos, and call-and-response vocal patterns - and it was loud! The five musicians knew all the cues, felt the tempo changes, and paved the way for spells of expressive, physical dance led by their female dancer, joined by kindred spirits in the packed house.

As Almeida was happy to pronounce several times: 'Very rock and roll'. It certainly was - in some ways - but at the edge of a precipice with 360 degree vision!

Tal National:

Almeida – guitar
Souleymane – vocals
Essa – bass
Omar – drums
Kelegue – talking drums and vocals
Dancer - uncredited (??)


PREVIEW: Manchester Jazz Festival BBC Introducing Showcase (31st July 2015, Band on the Wall )

The four acts appearing at this year's showcase, clockwise from top left:
Nérija, Cameron Vale, Ashley Henry, Phaze Theory
Adrian Pallant previews the BBC Introducing showcase on this Friday 31st July 2015 at Band on the Wall in Manchester, part of this year's jazz festival:

The BBC Introducing Showcase, which effectively launches Manchester’s annual ten days’ celebration of live jazz in and around the city centre, has become an exciting event for artists and festival-goers alike. The busy evening of music at Band on the Wall, before an audience selected by random ballot, offers a fantastic platform for unsigned, under-the-radar performers from across the UK.

Invited audio submissions, via the BBC Introducing Uploader, are honed down to just four acts by a team of BBC presenters – including Kevin Le Gendre and Jez Nelson (BBC Radio 3) and Gilles Peterson (BBC 6 Music) – to present to an encouragingly receptive audience a fascinating glimpse of hitherto unheard music, whilst providing all-important prominence to these hugely-talented emerging artists.

Recent years have seen consistently strong performances including Twelveheads, Dominic J Marshall, Moss Project, Moonlight Saving Time and Peter Edwards – and 2015’s line-up promises to be at least as vibrant and eclectic:

London-based all-female septet Nérija, emanating from multicultural jazz education programme Tomorrow’s Warriors, whose big-sound influences include Joe Henderson and Kurt Rosenwinkel; also from the capital, the Ashley Henry Trio (Ashley studies at the Royal Academy under Gwilym Simcock) with a spirited presence incorporating classic and contemporary piano trio styles; from Leeds, the energetic jazz/rock/electronic ‘riffage’ of sax- and guitar-led quartet Cameron Vale; and London quartet Phaze Theory who, with personnel including voice and tuba, explore “the vastness of the musical cosmos.”

Manchester Jazz Festival this year rejoices in its 20th year – and another impressive programme awaits, including big names John Surman, Partisans, Iain Ballamy, GoGo Penguin and Robert Glasper, plus a host of local and international performers who revel in this established, cosmopolitan event.

The BBC Introducing showcase, presented by Kevin Le Gendre will be recorded, for  transmission on BBC Jazz on 3 on 10th August. There will also be transmissons on BBC 6 Music’s Freak Zone and Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio 2 show.

LINK: Manchester Jazz Festival page


Trudy Kerr - Contemplation: The Best of Trudy Kerr

Trudy Kerr - Contemplation: The Best of Trudy Kerr
(Jazzizit records. Review by Kai Hoffman)

Trudy Kerr's  album Contemplation, released a few months ago, is a fantastic compilation of her favourite tracks from an impressive catalogue of ten different recordings with a practical 'who's who' of British Jazz in her lineups including her husband Geoff Gascoyne, Seb de Krom, Tom Cawley, Dick Pearce, Jim Mullen, Martin Shaw, Derek Nash and Andy Panayi and more.

You wouldn't notice that these beautiful, fluid songs are in fact from a multitude of times and phases, as Trudy's wonderfully flexible, consistently warm sound hasn't changed a bit from album to album, and the songs fit wonderfully together.

A melancholy, reflective mood is set with the first track, Glad to Be Unhappy, from her album Daydream with American pianist Mulgrew Miller, before the mood is lifted with a great version of 'Tea for Two,’ with a tight, swinging tutti solo, celebrating the music of Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, originally from the album My Old Flame. Her treatment of standards is as fresh as the original numbers on the album. Extracted from the recent album The Rhythm of Life (with husband and collaborator Geoff Gascoyne) come two songs, the beautiful and flowing original Poppies, as well as the lyrically poignant Save Me, which whilst maintaining a relaxed feel, delivers a captivating message of the trials and tribulations of love.

It can prove challenging to introduce strings to a jazz recording, but They Say It’s Wonderful is mixed eloquently and flows perfectly with the other songs on the album, bringing the listener back to the contemplative, ever-so-slightly-bittersweet feel of the album, the sound of the strings effortlessly blending with Trudy’s magnificent voice, whilst Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren’s sensitive, textural piano playing make this track one of the stars on the album for me personally.  Moment’s Notice  demonstrates Trudy’s skill with vocalese, both lyrically and with her driving senses of rhythm and phrasing on this Coltrane classic, while her demonstrative version of My Foolish Heart conveys a unique uncertainty, bringing an entirely new meaning to the lyrics. Another favourite of mine from Contemplation is the warm bossa Two Kites, with a mellow combination of open, vast-feeling orchestration and the rhythmic melody. There is a kind of fantasy to this song, like capturing the feeling of flying - you can hear the rush of the wind and fun in Trudy’s voice.

This is a perfect album for an evening at home by the fireside, with the lights dimmed and a glass of a complex-tasting red wine. Delivering Contemplation with a sweet, poignant delicacy and wonderfully flexible sound, the singer demonstrates that she has always been a remarkable talent, and is still at the top of her game. Drawing you into each song with a poignant sensitivity, Trudy Kerr takes you on a wonderful journey with this selection of songs.



INTERVIEW: Kenny Werner

Kenny Werner (artist website)

US pianist Kenny Werner talked in this interview about improvising, about his work with Joe Lovano and Benjamin Koppel, his influential 1996 book "Effortless Mastery", and his philosophy of practising and performing. Alison Bentley was speaking to him after his duo gig with Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel at the Inntoene Jazz festival in May 2015.

London Jazz News: What first brought you together with Benjamin Koppel?

Kenny Werner: He contacted me to play at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Then he gave me one of his CDs, and I was interested in the thoughtful way he was improvising, and the way his father [musician and composer Anders Koppel] was improvising. All I did was contact him about that and I started to come over [to Denmark] and play gigs with him; eventually I introduced him to the American audience and brought him a few times. That’s how it started, but we found that it was very easy to play as a duo and go a lot of places.

LJN: I have always thought of you in the American tradition- I don’t know if that’s right- your work with Joe Lovano and your solo work. Were there some qualities in Benjamin Koppel’s playing that changed the way you played?

KW:  Well, he’s got big ears! And his Classical influence. I’m not a Classical player, but I have a big Classical influence, just from hearing it. And that really serves well when I’m playing with Benjamin, ‘cause we can go with that kind of thing any time. But mostly what makes any partner good is the responsiveness. And Benjamin is immediately and completely responsive to whatever you throw out, as I try to be with him. But I don’t break it down American/ European- my thing’s more American because I’m American. I would sound different with whoever you hear me with because I’m not just playing- I’m reacting to that person. So Joe Lovano elicits a completely different thing out of me than Benjamin would, as does my trio, as does Toots Thielemans when I play with him. So I don’t really have a style. In my mind it’s not styles, it’s textures. Joe has a certain texture in his rhythm that changes my rhythm.

LJN: Your playing tonight seemed to create pastoral images…

KW:  I try to get lost in the sound and then I let the sound take over, and then things channel. Sometimes I have specific images; sometimes I just have feelings; sometimes it’s just getting high on the sound that’s happening, and letting that carry me. I like to feel that something is playing through me, not from me.

LJN: It’s nearly 20 years since you wrote Effortless Mastery. Do you feel that your ideas have changed in any way since then?

KW:  It’s funny, because I had written the book after several years of teaching and speaking in real time, so the book was not the beginning of a journey- it was sort of and end. And of course I’ve added a few things to it, but essentially it’s the same idea. Letting music come through me means… there’s practising and there’s playing. Practising is time to focus on what I can’t do technically. Practising is dry. When I play, put my hands on a piano, and I try to receive with love whatever they play. That’s not a time to judge them. Maybe I’m doing it better today than I was 20 years. The philosophy remains the same, ‘cause that philosophy’s served me so well, that I realise that for me I’m in the right place. It might not be good for someone else that likes to plan their life differently, but it’s the right philosophy for me.

LJN: Do you think you would have benefited from the simple finger exercises [recommended in ‘Effortless Mastery’] without first working on the Classical discipline that was boring for you?

KW: In fact, I didn’t do that much Classical work- I kept avoiding it, to tell you the truth. This is not an exercise for the fingers; it’s an exercise for the mind. It’s about dropping your fingers [on the keys] and not forcing them to do things, and just watching. And what happens is, if you read my story in the book, when I played after six days of nothing but dropping my fingers I went to play and they just took over. I had empowered them to play. It was the first time ever that I was not making music- I was just watching my hands play music, and they were playing better than I have ever played. That was what you call a religious experience. It was from that day in 1973 that I took this philosophy and I’ve never changed. Six days of any kind of practising would not have changed my playing as much as six days of this just dropping my fingers.

It seems like there’s an ego element of needing to sound good that gets in the way of the greatest, the more profound stuff. I found that out that day and even the guy I was playing with, he was going, ‘Oh, man, I can’t believe what you’re playing!’ And I’m looking at him, saying, ‘Yeah, I can’t believe it either- it wasn’t me!’ So I had a spiritual conversion that minute. And since then, I judge my music more not by how it sounds but- how much did I let go? Usually they equal the same thing. I let go and that was an inspired concert. Sometimes I let go and it wasn’t a good concert but I’m not going to be concerned with that. To me, music is profound when I let go and I feel it coming through, and it feels self-conscious when I’m trying to force it.

LJN: There was one piece tonight when you were playing quite simple chords very slowly, then it built very strongly. There was a standing ovation- people had been really drawn in and you responded. Were you conscious of doing that or did it just happen?

KW: Well it just sort of happened- sometimes the piano is a factor. I hate to sound like a Zen guy but when I sit down at that piano I have to find out what it’s going to give me. ‘Cause I’m not going to make it do anything. And this particular piano chose to do that, and it had a very dramatic effect. I don’t think we played better than anybody else. I think there’s a lot of people that play better than us. The question is- what are people really looking for when they go to a jazz concert? Are they looking for jazz, or are they looking to find their own true identity in their heart?

And I myself am more interested in the essence of- what am I? What am I doing? I can’t answer that but I’m more interested in that whole world than I am jazz. So I said, ‘Why am I trying to uphold jazz which is not even what I most care about?’ I care about this energy inside me that takes over and completes me. So maybe because that’s what I’m going for, the audience responds more than they would to even a greater jazz concert. I think behind jazz, behind all art is the human being’s urge to know the true self. And art very often is a way to get there. But I don’t think the art itself is the end. I always like to say that for me art is not a message- it’s a messenger. Art is always stronger when it describes something greater than itself. I didn’t grow up in a very artistic environment, so if I think- this is Art, I lose interest! But if I think, I’m getting myself off, and feeling intoxicated from this…for me it’s like a sexual experience. It’s like a spiritual experience- it’s not an artistic experience. As soon as I think to myself, ‘I’m playing jazz,’ I lose all my inspiration.

That may be what I’m doing but I can’t think that way. It’s just the raw sound of my consciousness, and it can make me turned on, and then I’m inspired, or I’m angry- in other words, it makes me real, and I suddenly feel my life. That’s what the music is for me. I don’t care what kind of jazz it is. And that’s why arguments about what jazz is really could not interest me less. This world’s got a lot deeper problems than that! But I found out that when I just do the complete act of selfish, surrender to the sound and let myself get high- when I open my eyes the audience has been given a gift. So for me an artist has to be supremely selfish in order to get himself to the point where he lights up the rest of the audience- that’s the way it’s worked for me.

Thelonious Monk could make a mistake and then people made that the next thing in his art. But what was the secret? Was that mistake only good ‘cause Thelonious Monk made it? Or was it the fact that Thelonious Monk loved that as soon as he played it? And then everybody went, ‘Wait a minute- I thought that was a mistake- look at him! That must be the hippest thing I’ve ever heard!’ I think we’re attracted to that consciousness more than the music itself. And anyway, that’s all I’m interested in.

LJN: And you have a new CD out*?

KW: Yes, my trio’s been together for fifteen years. It’s the first one we’ve done in eight years, and I think it’s one of the most mature, that’s why I called it ‘The Melody’, and I really hope people enjoy it.

* (Pirouet Records PIT3083, release date July 7, 2015, with Johannes Weidenmueller, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums)


LP REVIEW: Binker and Moses – Dem Ones

Binker and Moses – Dem Ones
(Gearbox Records GB1530. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

It’s always a sign of outstanding musicianship when you realise that you’re listening to far fewer players than you first thought. A sufficiently gifted pianist can suggest an entire orchestra, and various cunning small combos may punch well above their weight. But this album features a really striking duo — tenor saxophone and drums — whose playing is so accomplished and integrated that it’s easy to forget you’re not listening to a whole band.

The tenor sax in question is that of Binker Golding, leader of his own quartet and co-director of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra {please insert link: }. He is rewardingly in league with drummer Moses Boyd, winner of the Worshipful Company of Musicians 2014 Young Jazz Musician Award {please insert link }. The two first met in the development program of Gary Crosby’s Tomorrow’s Warriors and played together in Zara McFarlane’s band and play together now in Boyd’s The Exodus.

Now they’ve teamed up with Gearbox Records and created an album that is both cutting edge and retro — recorded not just with all analogue equipment but also all valve, and with the minimum number of steps in the audio chain to preserve the accuracy and immediacy of sound, as evidenced by the opening track, No Long Tings. This presents to us Binker Golding’s deft and exultant sax tenor, floating out clouds of sound, shot through with Moses Boyd’s drum hits like spots of light seen through smoke, the percussion played with military precision (though a very unmilitary hipness). It concludes with Golding playing incantatory and hypnotic repetitive phrases, as though summoning a shamanic trance.

In a dramatic contrast, Man Like GP has a warmer and more festive mood, displaying a Golding now reminiscent of Sonny Rollins playing St Thomas, adroitly launching a sunny excursion with broad, bright, marine-blue horizons and Boyd’s tingling cymbal play providing a bite of salt in the air, before setting up a dense shimmer of drums like a sheet of spray sweeping over a boat. Golding’s sax is the bow cutting through the waves. ÈSÙ (a title which may signify a Yoruba deity, the divine messenger) sees the sound world undergo another radical transformation. The tenor here is minimal, evoking a tentative yet insistent birdsong. Under the chirping of the sax, Boyd’s drumming is solid and subtle.

The wittily punning title Black Ave Maria heralds a piece that begins with wavering, tense sax flickering in and out and is dominated by a Middle Eastern feel. Moses Boyd keeps a steady horizontal pulse going while Binker Golding sweeps up and down over it in accelerating curves of sound, building to a finale which is breathless — only for the listener, Binker has plenty of wind to spare — and ends on an adroit shimmer of ethnic percussion from Moses like a beaded curtain closing.

The Eastern feel continues in The Creeper which is distinguished by a searching and thoughtful tenor, a firm and complex shimmer of drumming underpinning it with confidence and precision, like the steel rods that run through the most ornate and decorative of buildings. Then Moses sits out and lets Binker solo weightlessly, floating in midair until a haunting pulse of percussion asserts itself again. This is possibly the most virtuosic performance in the set, in a quietly un-showy way. It contrasts strikingly with Retox an abstract modernist scorcher.

Gearbox, an outstanding niche vinyl label, has begun expanding beyond its area of specialty — discovering lost tapes of greats like Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott — and is now shining a light on the new British jazz scene while retaining their painstaking audiophile aesthetic.

Andrew Cartmel’s new crime novel Vinyl Detective will be published by Titan Books in May 2016./ Blog / Twitter: @andrewcartmel


DOUBLE FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Copenhagen (closing weekend) and Aarhus 2015

Fire! Orchestra at Copenhagen

Jazz Festival Copenhagen 2015, (July 9 -12), Jazz Festival Aarhus 2015, (July 13-14)
(Various Danish locations. Round-Up and photos by Henning Bolte- all rights reserved)

This report is about the final part of the ten-day Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and the beginning of the Aarhus Jazz Festival. Heening Bolte has focused on and confined his report of both festivals to larg(er) ensembles,. 

- The Copenhagen part will cover Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra, Maria Faust Jazz Catatrophe/Immigrant Orchestra, Blood Sweat Drum+Bass feat. Palle Mikkelborg/David Liebman, Fire! Orchestra, the Jakob Bro Tentet.

 -The Aarhus part will cover the Jakob Bro Tentet. The Nicolaj Hess Nonet and Jakob Dinesen with Strings.

Between the Copenhagen and the Aarhus festivals there is virtually no gap in time, and both festivals exchange Danish musicians and bands for their programmes. Both festivals also share a common, organizational approach and programming policy. There is a small core program that is organized by the central festival direction and there is large periphery of venues that do their own festival-oriented programming which is integrated in the festival programme. Hence the programming is many hands and works mainly bottom-up.

Another remarkable characteristic of both festivals is that they program mainly musicians/groups from Denmark. During the festival period it is high gig season for the whole scene. Musicians will have a lot of concerts in both cities: some few, some more than ten, and a few even more than 30 concerts. During this period you can watch a lot of musicians crossing town to get to a gig or to go from one gig to the next. At concerts you can see musicians leaving directly after the last note or even before to get to their next gig.

As a visitor you have “to study” the program of 100 venues and take a decision about your approach: stay in a neighbourhood or criss-crossing town to see performances at various locations spread in town? It also means that you cannot attend the greater part of the program. The best conveyance is the bike and for certain locations and distances public transportation can be convenient.


The White Desert Orchestra of young French pianist/flutist Eve Risser (INTERVIEW)served as an exciting starting point. The ensemble performed at Kulturhuset Island Brygge in the southeast of Copenhagen easy to reach with one of the two metro-lines.

Risser, an effervescent musician, has just released her first solo album Des pas sur la neige on Clean Feed. She runs the French label Umlaut, has won several awards, and was a member of the prestigious Orchestre National de Jazz (2009 to 2013). White Desert Orchestra is a new ensemble that premiered at this year's Banlieues Bleues Festival in Paris (PREMIERE REVIEWED HERE).

Inspired amongst others by the geophonics and biophonics of Utah’s Bryce Canon with its hodos, the orchestra gradually unfolded a bright and deeply resonating sound space strongly speaking to listeners’ imagination. Risser has been inspired also by the approach of Christian Wallumrød and the Norwegian-French group Dans Les Arbres. She transposed that approach to the level and the special colours of her own large ensemble comprising excellent young musicians: Sylvaine Hélary (flute), Sophie Bernardo (bassoon), Fanny Lasfargues (acoustic bass guitar), Antonin-Tri Hoang and Benjamin Dousteyssier (saxophones, clarinets), Eivind Lønning (trumpet), Fidel Fourneyron (trombone) and Sylvain Darrifourcq (drums). Guitarist Julien Desprez, a regular member, was absent this time.

The ensemble adapted quickly to the simple smaller hall of the Kulturhuset that allowed subtleties to happen, like in remarkable, deeply embedded soloing’s on bassoon, drums, piano and flute - the later a brilliant example of multiphonics. In the opening piece the orchestra emulated the sounding of the canyon area with its inherent musical qualities. A new piece was performed, and Eclat, one of its striking central pieces with its helter-skelter characteristics, quite the opposite of the opening piece. The unfolding of the pieces was overall unpredictable but felt amazingly coherent and natural. Its non-linear developmental logic and the magical effects of it was quite a rewarding experience. The ensemble undoubtedly set a charming new, masterfully executed tone.

To get to the concert of Maria Faust Jazz Catastrophe it was back one metro station to Christianshavn. Just around the corner of the metro station at Dronningensgade 34, there is Beboerhus, home of the collective of Barefoot Records. The seven-piece ensemble of alto saxophonist Maria Faust who has a newer record Sacrum Facere with another, 8-piece ensemble on Barefoot Records, comprised Faust, Sture Ericsson (b-cl), Ned Ferm (sax), Tomasz Dabrowski (tr), Liudas Mockunas (bari-sax), Jonatan Ahlbom (tuba) and Håkon Berre (dr), none of them originally from Denmark. That is why Faust renamed the ensemble that night ‘Immigration Orchestra’ with musicians from Estonia, Sweden, The United States, Poland, Lithuania and Norway. It is a full brass ensemble playing Faust-originals. Faust is a well-trained ensemble conductor and knows how to make things work effectively with such a group of high quality musicians. The group played a delicate and fascinating combination of hymns, lullabies and oom-pah music interspersed with stunning soloing finishing with an Estonian folksong arranged by Faust, a musician to keep an ear on.


The saxophone section of Blood Sweat Drum+Bass at Copenhagen

Next day led me to the Aarhus-based formation Blood Sweat Drum+Bass featuring two older legendary musicians, Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and reedist David Liebman from the United States. With its almost 30 musicians on stage it was a big leap on the larger ensemble trail. The concert took place in the concert hall (Dronningesalen) in the building of the Royal Library called The Black Diamond (Den Sorte Diamant) at Søren Kierkegaards Plads at the waterside in the centre of Copenhagen. The concert hall is known for the unique acoustics and has space for an audience of 4-600 people. The young ensemble of BSDB is a Big Band of a new type led by saxophonist Jens Christian ‘Chappe’ Jensen (1957). It must not be mixed up with other Big Bands from Aarhus!

From a long stretched and resounding deep swoosh Liebman’s flute beautifully surfaced up accompanying an undulating passage in slow motion that Mikkelborg entered after a while with high hitting notes. The slow-motion mode finally, suddenly turned into a highly mobile banging groove. A dynamic change in temperament and pace became one of the main features during the rest of the concert. Also stylistic variation from rock, blues to reggae was integrated in the high-tension curves. The young ensemble and Liebman and Mikkelborg apparently lifted each other up. Especially Mikkelborg was playing the ball interacting intensively with the ensemble’s guitarist. Both, Liebman and Mikkelborg, were contributing and leading in a splendid manner that at the same time gradually became a weakness. The same moves were done over and over again, the same procedure alas reiterated too often. Nonetheless the ensemble showed that it is still growing into its very own innovative signature of Big Band jazz that matters. It has just released an album (on cd/dvd), In The Spirit Of … , with Mikkelborg and Liebman as guests.


Saturday night it was MG (machine gun Mats Gustafsson) who ruled Copenhagen Jazzhouse in the centre of town: first with a short appearance of power-trio The Thing with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten and MG mostly on baritone saxophone and then afterwards with the 19 piece Fire! Orchestra, this very loud, noisy mega orchestra that unites a lot of Vikings plus some other specialists.

Originating from Mats Gustafsson’s the trio Fire! with bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin a 28-piece mega orchestra was put together at first by inviting Swedish friends from the worlds of jazz, improv, and rock after which also other musicians were asked to join. The mega orchestra made a start in 2012, skyrocketed in the next two years and released two albums, Exit and Enter, on Rune Grammofon. With its 2015 renewed 19-piece outfit it is busily touring the European summer festivals this year. The line-up had two excellent vocalists, Sofia Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin, as well as three ‘heavy’ female musicians, saxophonists Lotte Anker and Mette Rasmussen from Denmark and French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord from Norway. The vocalists play a crucial role in relating the music to the audience and navigating through the sea of sounds.

The music of the Fire! Orchestra was built around ostinatos, rock riffs and other simple motifs allowing for continual repetition, for different kinds of variation, thereby cumulatively producing layers that collided, were smashed or blown up, broken down or just transformed by – very often but not always - heavy forces of overblowing or blowing to smithereens.

The sheer force of the powerful noise of so many (good) musicians’ joint action was sensational and impressive as such. It attracted a big crowd that apparently likes the surging and raging energies (big enough for two sold out concerts). Working this way Fire Orchestra had a big impact but only a limited range of musical elaboration and deeper and varied musical sensations. The music was too much forced in push-ups yielding unwieldy results. Despite some funny, valuable local interactions real cathartic moments were somewhat lacking. It depends, I suppose, on what one can expect from an agglomeration of so many excellent musicians. Fire! Orchestra is intended to be a joyful meeting of musical like minds - and in that, it succeeds.


The three bassists in the Jakob Bro Tentet at Copenahgen 

Sunday, the last day of the Copenhagen festival the Jakob Bro Tentet played the Loppen Club at Christiania. Guitarist Jakob Bro is known from his recent ECM trio album Gefion with his long time musical partner Thomas Morgan and drum legend Jon Christensen as well as from his album trilogy with Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan and Paul Motian. As a sideman he is serving the Dark Eyes quintet of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and the Lee Konitz/Dave Douglas quintet (REVIEWED HERE) with Linda Oh and Jorge Rossy. His tentet with a wisely chosen line-up, active since 2012, comprises Jesper Zeuthen, Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed on saxophone/clarinet, Thomas Morgan, AC and Nikolaj Munch Hansen on double bass, Adi Zukanovic, keyboards and electronics, Jakob Høyer and Kresten Osgood on drums and the voice of Aarhusian writer Peter Laugesen. They are all lead by Bro’s quite guitar playing. The first album of the tentet, aptly named Hymnotic/Salmodisk, a studio recording from 2014, has just been released and is available on vinyl and as free download.

Bro’s tentet was a striking proof of the immense power that may arise from a clear and rich melody that reinforces and refreshes itself. A thrust made the music flourish deeply from inside. The music drifted, the colours gleamed, and time flew by.

One of its cornerstones was the blazing sharpness of Jesper Zeuthen’s alto, a unique sound signature that matched brilliantly with the sound of D’Angelo’s alto sax/bass clarinet and Chris Speed's lilting tenor voice. Lifted up by it, the music went on, elevating, leading up to elation at a higher destination thereby adequately covering its title that blends ‘hymnal’ and ‘hypnotic’. Another crucial factor was Laugesen’s sonorously rocking (Velvet Underground) voice that steadily concatenated the improbable into rhythmical images – talking in Danish along three murmuring double basses or immersing in Danish into a fully blowing group.

“in language’s night a machine’s turned on, 
The train of dreams seeks its own song”
from: Marlpit (Mergelgrav)

“Words drift across the paper like clouds in the sky
 and their shadows drift through the mind 

from: The Origin of Everything (Altings Ophav)

Using the same mood-loaded melodic nuclei as in his work with smaller groups, it remains miraculous, how Bro managed to transform it into the fully-fledged, big and bright sound of the tentet. Somebody in the audience called it ‘Farewell Songs’ … and Indeed the music is at times reminiscent Liberation Orchestra of Charlie Haden’s and the large ensembles of Carla Bley, especially her famous piece Utviklingssang. The sound of Bro’s Tentet was lush, fully blown and on full volume but came from the opposite side of the continuum in relation to the Fire! Orchestra. Bro’s modus operandi is one of recursive and emerging translucence contrary to a modus of jagged jump cuts and pushed up accumulation. It turned out even more magical next night when the tentet performed again at Aarhus’ Atlas venue.


The Aarhus Jazz Festival starts during the weekend that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is ending. It is a comfortable three hours journey by train to get from Copenhagen to Aarhus on the Jutland peninsula in the northwest of Denmark. As said earlier the Aarhus Festival is organized along the same principles as the Copenhagen Festival but is much more compact with respect to space and distances between the venues. It is much more surveyable and all easily walkable in a highly attractive ambiance. Part of the ambiance is the well-known ARoS, a remarkable art museum with Olafur Eliasson’s stunning Your Rainbow Panorama on top of the museum building – an extraordinary, internationally acclaimed work of environmental art. The much-frequented museum is in itself worth a visit.

The first day offered several attractive concerts of the large(r) ensemble type. First the Nicolaj Hess Nonet, the Signe Bisgaard Group, the Blood Sweat Drum+Bass formation with Mikkelborg and Liebman as guests and the Jakob Bro Tentet preceded by the Giovanni Guidi Trio. Pianist Signe Bisgaard is a promising new name. She would perform with the horns of Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard, Anders Banke and Mads La Cour, the strings of Cecilie Hyldgaard, Mark Solborg and Klaus Nørgaard, the up-and-coming young drum talent Anders Vestergaard. At almost the same time however there was the chance to see the Nonet of pianist Nikolaj Hess that is not playing concerts frequently. Hess’ concert at Kunsthal became the first choice.

Sissel Vera Pettersen in Nikolaj Hess's Group at Aarhus

There is no other Danish musician as versatile, in demand and as busy as pianist Nikolaj Hess. During the ten days of this year’s Copenhagen Jazz Festival he played a total of 30 concerts and also at the Aarhus Jazz Festival he was involved in a lot of activities one of them his own nonet – a chance to see that large ensemble that is not playing concerts frequently. It comprises Danish top-notch musicians who have collaborated with Hess regularly and know each other very well: Sissel Vera Pettersen (voc), Peter Fuglsang (a-sax, cl, b-cl, fl), Jesper Riis (trp, flh), Mads Hyhne (trb), Per Gade (g), Anders Christensen (b), Ayi Solomon (perc), Mikkel Hess (dr). Vocalist Sissel Vera Pettersen did not front the group as a conventional singer but functioned as an integral part of the instrumental group. The group started with a wonderful feather light ostinato immediately showcasing AC’s extraordinary velvet bass tone. It went into a wistful melody that was rendered by Hyhne on trombone, Peter Fuglsang’s clarinet and wordless singing by Sissel Vera Pettersen. Pettersen’s singing, electronically processed very subtle brought a fascinating extra colour into the spectrum of the groups rich instrumental sound. The beauty of the piece captivated the audience at the same extent as the liquid colourful sound. Even the way Hess was announcing and conducting the pieces meanwhile regularly searching in a pile of paper on his grand piano for the particular sheet he needed was entertaining, and kept the audience at its ease. It seems he never gets into a fret, always stays in full control. Transitions from preparation to performance, chatting and clearing up are seamless for him. For Hess, music and life mingle easily.

The nonet drew its pieces from the rich repertoire of smaller groups the participating musicians are involved, for instance Kalimba Waltz from the duo-album A Word (2009, Calibrated) of Pettersen and Hess or Kalahari from the Spacelab album The Champ (2009, Stunt Records). Spacelab is the long time firm trio of Nikolaj and Mikkel Hess with bassist AC. The trio alone performed a new piece, Space Minor. With its wonderful levitating melody the trio fully unfolded its chant qualities. It will hopefully be recorded for the nonet’s first album. The nonet’s attraction lies in its great colours, its remarkable sense of balance, its qualities of translucence qualities and the rich way it unfolds.


The strings in Jakob Dinesen's group at Aarhus 

The last concert of the visit to this year’s jazz festival Aarhus was the concert of saxophonist Jakob Dinesen’s quartet augmented by a string quartet. It aroused both curiosity and scepticism. Dinesen, one of the most well-known saxophonists of the Danish scene, appeared with the high-calibre line up of Magnus Hjort on piano, AC on bass and Jakob Høyer on drums. AC appeared in Bro’s Tentet and AC also in Hess’ Nonet. AC, Anders Christensen, is ubiquitous in the Danish scene. Hjort is a young Swedish musician living and working in Copenhagen. He was the original pianist of Phronesis (see the in Copenhagen recorded album Organic Wayfarer (Loop, 2007), has collaborated with Marius Neset and is a member of the group of well known young Danish drummer Snorre Kirk. He has released three albums with his own trio, the latest of it Gershwin With Strings (Stunt, 2011). The album’s title indicates that Hjort might be a string specialist and it appeared that he indeed is. He made the string arrangements for the quartet of Andrea Gyarfas (vln), Karen Johanne Pedersen (vln), Sidsel Feher Most (viola), Samira Dayyani (vcl). The result in the performance can only be qualified as excellent and stunning. All pieces were very well known but nonetheless opened ears widely and ignited full enjoyment. The performance was razor-sharp, subtly balanced, moving smoothly and particularly of extraordinary elegance on all levels. It was a rare thing to experience. The complete group acted as one unified musical organism and Dinesen delivered an impeccable performance of great beauty on his saxophone. It was a treat: lush twinkling music of highest sophistication with grand souplesse. It was a finish in style.

Coda - Large Ensembles

It seems that the number of large(er) ensembles (LE) is not only increasing at the moment, but also that more of them are booked by festivals and venues. You get a fairly long list when you start to find new and old LEs, active and successful ones, musically interesting and/or highly entertaining ones. Some attraction lurks in LEs for both musicians and presenters. A LE offers lots of possibilities and chances but also has to be organized and managed well to keep it running and developing. In this  review I have tried to illustrate the diversity of formats, musical approach and reach. It seems that expression of creative musical individuality no longer fulfils, but that there is a need for extended ways of sound-making, collectively created ‘bigger’ sound.

LINK: Ralf Dombrowski's report on the earlier part of Copenhagen 2015


CD REVIEW  Emily Francis Trio – The Absent

Emily Francis Trio – The Absent
( CD Review by Mark McKergow)

The Absent is the debut CD from keyboardist and London College of Music graduate Emily Francis and her eponymous trio (Trevor Boxall, bass guitar, and Liam Waugh, drums, also of punk-jazz anarchists WorldService Project). Francis’ website refers to her influences as “jazz-rock, 70's jazz-funk and soul”, and the material presented here showcases a fairly conventional fusion-type trio at work with a strong ensemble feel. 

What was not at all conventional, to my ears at least, was the catchiness of the tunes.  All six tracks on the 40-minute album are credited to the trio, and they each have plentiful earworm characteristics.  On only the second listen, I was already recognising and enjoying each piece.  The opening Hops n Scotch moves from a steady groove to feature some nice Rhodes piano soloing.  Winnebago develops a nice loping 12/8 gambol, with good dynamic variation.   Sabo, perhaps my favourite track, is an optimistic bounce sustained by a rhythmic ostinato from the bass and some flowing piano work.  Trunk, which features the guitar of guest Stefanos Tsourelis, brings us squarely back into the territory of 70’s jazz-funk with some interesting bass work from Trevor Boxall.   Liam Waugh’s drumming is a key part of the sound, always tight yet moving with the music in unobtrusive ways.  

This recording shows a good start for Emily Francis and her colleagues.  It’s very accessible, highly catchy and well produced and performed.  The tunes are great – personally I’d like to have heard a bit more fire and interplay in the soloing sections.

The piano trio world is a crowded marketplace, and the attention gets grabbed by innovators like Robert Glasper, or spirited performers like Chihiro Yamanaka (both gracing the stage at Ronnie Scott’s next month by the way). I hope that Francis can build on this promising debut and carve out a distinctive space for herself.     


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP : Swanage 2015

Ross Stanley, Phil Robson, Gene Calderazzo.
Photo credit: Jon Macey

Swanage Jazz Festival
(Various locations in Swanage, 10th-12th July 2015. Round-up by Brian Blain)

Oh to be in that most charming of resorts, Swanage, in early July when the beating heart of UK jazz takes over, with fifty bands; from the edgy sounds of Larry Bartley's Just Us, which attracted a good crowd to the Methodist Church on the High Street, to a clutch of traditonal bands in the second marquee venue with Keith Nichols' Blue Devils, containing on of Britain's true greats, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso, flying high over Mahogany Hall Stomp, and its charismatic singer, Joan Viskant making one wonder why we never seem to see her billed anywhere else.

All three blockbuster bands, one each evening in the other main marquee, completely lived up to expectations with Jean Toussaint's Art Blakey-themed programme setting, for me, a new standard of excitement with themes by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Timmons and Cedar Walton. Byron Wallen and Denis Rollins sparked, while the great Shaney Forbes on drums and Clark Tracey's bassist protege Daniel Casimir locked into pianist Andrew McCormack's gloriously over-amped comping and solos to prodice the kind of driving swing which once would have been almost inconceivable on this side of the Atlantic.

How to top that, we wondered, but on the next evening in the main venue, Clark Tracey's readings of his old man's octet pad showed that he too has real stature as a leader as well as his drumming with its driving Sam Woodyard feel.

The third major show which also lived up to Toussaint's opening chllenge, was the closer, a five-piece saxophjone section of Robert Fowler, Karen Sharp playing glorious baritone, Sammy Mayne and the dream rhythm section of Dave Newton, Andy Cleyndert and the magnificent Steve Brown co-led by Alan Barnes and Dave O'Higgins. The standard of interpretation of themes by Benny Carter, Tadd Dameron and Duke Ellington with next to no rehearsal was almost impossible to believe.

All through the weekend, gems appeared. Mike Outram for example, with Bristol's Kevin Figes' beatiful alto and bartone sounds was one of three outstanding guitarists appearing over the weekend. Phil Robdson, for example, dazzled with the mighty Ross Stanley and drummer Gene Calderazzo holding himself well in check in the church's tricky acoustic. Amid the fizzing Scofield-isms, Robson's reading of one of jazz's great tunes, J.J Johnson's Lament was a complete and wonderful surprrise. No fears for Georgia Mancio in the same venue. She just gets better and better, and having sussed the system with the engineer, her voice sounded exquisite in the space.

Dennis Rollins had almost packed the place with his Velocity Trio when a Ross Stanley “church organ” passage produced one of the great moments of the weekend. At the end of their set, the queue for Rollins' CDs stretched from the altar back to the vestry: amazing. Who said the codgers never listen to anything new?

To catch Rollins I had to leave Renato D'Aiello's hard-driving Horace Silver set, where one of the big surprises of the weekend, trombonist Chris Dean, who normally leads the Syd Lawrence Orchestra depped at the last minute for trumpeter Quentin Collins. Matt Ridley's MJQ celebration with the superb Jim Hart got Saturday morning off to a great start, while Allison Neale's band revealed another magnificent vibist, Nathaniel Steele. Not difficult to see why Allison's Art Pepper-inspired alto is making waves, but for me, her flute-playing was quite outstanding, while, as always, Leon Greening's piano was pure joy. A band to see without doubt.

So was Robert Fowler and Karen Sharp's Al Cohn and Zoot Sims-insired swingfest, while Gilad Atzmon, as ever, charmed the birds off the trees with his wit and virtuosic musicianship; someone else whose 'difficult' music has wormed its way of the affections of a knowledgeable older crowd. As ever, an inspiring weekend. Apologies to all that I have been able to do justice too, like guitarist Dominic Ashworth, who held the trad tent -yes the trad tent – spellbound with Concierto de Aranjuez and Manha de Carnaval in the irrepressible Digby Fairweather's set.


INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Polly Gibbons (Butley Priory, Suffolk, Saturday 25th July)

Polly Gibbons

Polly Gibbons has been performing and recording in the US. She will be appearing at Butley Priory in Suffolk on 25th July. Laura Thorne asked her  to explain the background: 

LondonJazz News:  You've been working with an American record label, Resonance Records. How did that come about?

Polly Gibbons: Well about two years ago, a friend Vince Williams was putting together an idea to create a Jazz and Blues TV station and asked if I would be up for being filmed as a favour and then I'd have a nice promo video for use. He took his idea to George Klabin at Resonance Records as George also films many concerts and one of the videos Vince gave him as an example was mine! George couldn't be a part of the TV idea, but wanted to get in touch with me. He did in October 2013 and in the February 2014 I was recording an album for his 'Rising Star' label!

LJN: On the new album, "Many Faces of Love", were you working with American musicians?

PG: Yes, I am working with American players on it. George booked a team of really super musicians from all over the country. I love the experience and challenge of playing with new musicians. I was slightly nervous initially, wondering how they would be, but there was an excellent vibe from them. Kevin the bass player is a big fan of British comedy and loves Alan Partridge so that sorted that out! Funnily enough, James Pearson helped me no end with preparation for the project. His gift of adaptability and his ability to read music meant I was able to run all the new material before going over. He's an extremely generous person and encouraged me from the outset.

LJN:  Tell us about the songs on the new record if you will, how were they chosen? Generally speaking, what is your favourite style of music to sing?

PG: The concept of the album came from the producer George Klabin. He'd had the idea for some time and was just waiting for the right singer. It's a whole collection of songs about love! Ha, that hasn't been done before! What makes it quite interesting is the idea of the album running through various stages. As in, the opening tune is Percy Mayfield's Please Send Me Someone To Love and it finishes with 'Love Comes and Goes which is a beautiful philosophical tune, written by the Brit Carroll Coates. George and I too-ed and fro-ed with material for some time. It has a really eclectic mix of stuff on it from the Great American Songbook to Patti Austin and Rickie Lee Jones. I find it hard to choose genres in music, my voice seems to lend itself to the jazzy, bluesy, souly side of things. And I'm happy to dabble about in those areas! I love good songs and enjoy many different grooves and ways of telling the story. I'm not sure I could choose!

LJN:  Have you been gigging in America as well, tell us about your experiences there performing live. Is there a difference between American and UK audiences in your opinion?

PG: Yes I have, but I'm only just starting to get a feel for it and there's a long way to go as it's a whopping country! I was performing at Birdland a couple of weeks ago and they seemed more expressive than a UK audience. Happy to chuck out 'Yeahs' and 'Whoops', but that could just be a New York thing. I'm going to Oklahoma in October so I'll have to let you know! So far so good though.

Butley Priory House

LJN:  You are going to performing on 25 July at Butley Priory near Woodbridge Suffolk  presented by 606 Club. When did you first play at the 606?

PG: When I was about 19/20 Steve gave myself and fellow singer Symeon Cosburn a shared Wednesday night to get us going and then after a couple of years I graduated to my own Sunday! Steve's also booked me with his Latin/Souly/Funky band Samara.

LJN:  You are from Framlingham, Suffolk, is that right? How were you first introduced to jazz when you were growing up, & what led to your becoming a professional singer?

PG: Indeed I am. Neither of my parents swang in the Jazz direction. It was my sister Amy who had a large vinyl collection, ranging from early 80's hip hop to Robert Johnson, Prince etc! She was playing 'I'm A Fool To Want You' from Billie Holiday's 'Lady in Satin' album and it grabbed me immediately. I'd never heard a spirit conveyed so rawly and freely like that. That was it really, she played me Miles Davis and I was off rooting about.... It was only shortly after I realised I could sing that I heard Billie. I'd always been interested in acting and it was my cousin who pointed out I had a nice voice after singing along to an 80's hip hop chorus. I went to see a local jazz bassist Gill Alexander who does wonderful work, playing and educating, where I met Ian Shaw. I did a workshop with him when I was 16 and he loved my voice and offered to produce an album for me. It all seems to have just flowed from there, doors have opened and I've said yes!

LJN:  What does the future hold for you now, what are you looking forward to next?

PG: I've just sung with the Liverpool Philharmonic, singing the songs of John Lennon. That was really special, I've never sung with an Orchestra before and it’s such an intense sound behind you - really beautiful. Hope to do some more of that! As I said earlier I'm off to the states in October and then early next year I'll be recording another album on Resonance Records. It's a day-to- day game, this music thing. I'm learning to try and enjoy it all! I'll be happy to be back in Suffolk for Butley, just enjoying the peace and quiet...along with a riotous band of course....

Laura Thorne runs marketing for the 606 Club

LINKS: Butley Priory Event Info: (Saturday 25 July 2015 :: doors 6:30, music 7:30) 
Review of CD Many Faces of Love


REVIEW : Daymé Arocena at The Waiting Room, N16

Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Casey Moore

Daymé Arocena
(The Waiting Room, N16. Review by Peter Jones)

Among the hipster cafés and all-night Turkish barbershops on Stoke Newington High Street is an unassuming pub with a small and equally unassuming basement bar. An unlikely setting, you might think, for a jazz performance of devastating brilliance by one of the most exciting new vocal talents to emerge in recent years.

Daymé Arocena (‘Die-may Aro-chayna’) weaved her way through the packed audience towards the stage, a tiny figure in a simple white dress and white headdress. When she reached the microphone and turned her 1,000-watt smile on us, and we were won over before she’d even sung a note. And how many other singers could get an audience singing along on the opening number?

Arocena hails from Cuba, but her music draws much of its inspiration from Africa, with its complex rhythms and choral, call-and-response vocal style. It’s also strongly jazz-based. Her producer Simbad (who played percussion and alto sax on this gig) has been closely involved in the musical setting, putting her together with British jazz musicians Robert Mitchell (keys) and Oli Saville (percussion). For tonight’s performance the album’s double bassist, Neil Charles, was replaced by Tom Mason.

The majority of the set was from Arocena’s recent debut album Nueva Era (reviewed in London Jazz News on 11 May, link below), and I pondered in advance how they would cope without the massed vocal harmonies that are such a feature of the album. As it turned out, apart from using a couple of introductory backing tapes, they simply re-arranged the songs for a smaller ensemble. Daymé is such a one-woman musical powerhouse that she could probably have done the entire gig a cappella.

Fortunately that was not necessary, as the band proved more than capable of keeping up with her. Mitchell in particular wowed a largely non-jazz audience with blistering electric piano solos, particularly on El Ruso and Drama. Mason, Arocena informed us, had learned the entire set in one rehearsal, and played it on the gig without charts – quite an achievement, given the complexity of the music.

But it was the singer – charisma and confidence on full blast - who really held the audience’s attention throughout. There was an especially loud roar of approval for the single Don’t Unplug My Body, which has been receiving airplay in recent weeks.

Arocena has the full skillset as a performer and bandleader, expertly cueing the band during the tunes, playing hand percussion, improvising vocally, and confiding with the audience between songs as if they were her most intimate friends. It’s a cliché, but no exaggeration to state, on the evidence of this gig, that a new star is born.

LINK: CD Review of Nueva Era (2015)


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Umbria Jazz 2015

Stefano Bollani at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

We have the pleasure to publish Ralf Dombrowski's Round-Up of Umbria 2015 in English - this is Sebastian's hasty translation. The original flavoursome German, and a more substantial photo cache were published by Jazzzeitung HERE:


The circus is back on the road. A pack of the great and the very great have been playing the large jazz festivals since the middle of June: Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd and even Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga. Others get to be heard in the smaller halls, where their art can really take wing.

Vijay Iyer was playing with lohg-standing trio - bassist Stephan Crump und Drummer Marcus Gilmore - in the Teatro Morlacchi which is the main location for modern jazz concerts. The atmosphere of this respectable provincial theatre. the expectation of suited the music of the group he has run for many years well, their surges of energy tempered by the claims of art. This was careful craft at a high level of abstraction, oscillating from the momentum of the pulse being the main propellant to passages shaped by their strong musical motifs. Since the basic material was drawn out to the length of a major suite, there were moments when the interest flagged, but the existence of over-arching themes made this a concert where concentrating and listening intently were rewarded.

These paradoxes were also in evidence for the Umbria Jazz Festival as a whole, which continued until Sunday 19th. While it goes on, it is the main event determining how life is to be lived in Perugia. On the one hand you can hear music which is demanding both intellectually and aurally – such as the Danish guitarist Jakob Bro or Vijay Iyer. But over and above that there is another festival which belongs to the historically significant town, enlivened by its student population, and that happens under open skies and carries on as a party into the balmy hours towards sunrise.

Paolo Fresu and Steven Bernstein at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

The festival is well-loved, and musicians of stature play on stages such as the Arena Santa Giuliana which has the dimensions of as sporting arena. That is where the likes of Cassandra Wilson or the Gilberto Gil I/ Caetano Veloso tandem, and for local heroes such as Paolo Fresu who took the opportunity to introduce his Projekt Brass Bang!, a micro brass band with tuba player Marcus Rojas, trombonist Gianluca Petrella and fellow trumpeter from New York Steven Bernstein. It was attempt to combine latin band with a touch of New Orleans, a smattering of the avant-garde and some lashings of humour, but their hour-long set needed more of an identifiable creative centre.

Stefano Bollani, on the other hand, was enjoying playing with unusual resources. He was in a quartet with drummer Jim Black, bassist Paul Santner and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, presenting pieces by Frank Zappa which in their jazz re-workings gained in substance.

The reason it worked was not just because of Bollani himself, occupying pieces such as Bobby Brown and Blessed Reief with both his habitual tendency to tease and his jawdropping pianistic class. It was also down to Adasiewicz releasing casades of energy and emphatic lunacy.

Not just the music which is loyal to the tradition, but also experiments like this which caught the hearts and minds of a large audience. It's all in the mix of ingredients: swing, blues, a party in the streets, art and something to keep the noddle occupied, and special locations. And above all that good time feel from just being cradled between the Umbrian hills.

Vijay Iyer at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


Stefano Bollani Band at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


PREVIEW: WOMAD 2015 / BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage (July 24-26)

Yaaba Funk on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage at WOMAD 2014
Photo Credit: BBC Radio 3

Percussionist BEX BURCH who runs the band Vula Viel will be reporting for us from WOMAD 2015. In this preview Bex writes about some of the acts that  she is looking forward to seeing and hearing - who will be mainly appearing on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage:

Acholi Machon

Acholi Machon (meaning Old Acholi) from Northern Uganda/ Southern Sudan perform in contexts ranging from a duo right up to larger group which “can swell to 15 members”, but I am very excited to see them. The background of the Acholi tribe, the wars and stories is fascinating. But what I hear in the album Lapwong (Freedom Fighters) are simple, everyday songs; fresh and relevant to the musicians. Beautiful thumb piano, African tuning, buzzing bottle tops, two harmonies repeating round with different riffs and songs to let go of the English stress of what you need to do tomorrow or what has happened yesterday, and just be in the cyclic music with Old Acholi!

17:00  Saturday - Ecotricity Stage
18.30  Sunday - BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage


Ibeyi, or really Ibeji, means twins in Yoruba, the Nigerian language their French/Venezuelan mother Maya Dagnino introduced to these French/Cuban sisters. Yoruba was imported to Cuba on the slave ships in the 1700s and the influence in the harmonies and, sparingly, in the words, on these percussive pop songs is beautiful. Having listened to the album, Ibeyi, and read about their take on the world, I’ll be interested to see the live act and hoping to check out the instrumental skills of both Naomi and Lisa on piano and Cajon.

20.30  Friday - BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage


Luzmilla from Bolivia learnt the daily songs of the Quenchua and Aymara people in the mountains and valleys of Northern Potosi in Boliva. Her songs were among the first popular Quenchua songs in the country at a time when Spanish and Westernization was in vogue.

She moved to Paris and was made Bolivain ambassador to France 2006-2010. Reading her story, I would love to meet this incredible woman and hear her many stories which cross continents, generations and cultures. So I am looking forward to hearing her ‘stories’ in song instead. An incredible voice and range, I am struck by the song, the range, yes, but also the picture Luzmila paints, mountains, echos, bare rocks in the highest clouds plunging to deep valleys with lush vegetation.

16:00  Saturday - All Singing, All Dancing
20.15  Saturday - BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage

Kakatsitsi. Photo reproduced by kind permission of African Drum Village


 Kakatsitsi!! The name alone takes me to Ghana, to the rhythms of the drummers, or the car horns or the shouting... Everything is rhythm, KA KA TSI TSI! In the polyrhythms of Ga music, Kpalengo, and the Agbedza Ewe rhythms Kakatsitsi play, each separate rhythm forms a whole, and there are no ‘off’ days with this science. Expect wonderful drumming and dancing, djembe slaps and call and response singing.

15:00  Friday - Molly’s Bar
12.00  Saturday - BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage

Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali has been the must listen to album of my neighbour this year and this is one woman who I definitely won't want to miss at WOMAD. I love her powerful voice, for me holding both the harshness of the Sahara (she was born in Mauretania) and the vastness too. She plays the ardine - a 9-stringed harp that is reserved for women! She too plays like a woman, the steady strength of an African woman living and singing in the desert.

13:00  Sunday - Open Air Stage
17:00  Sunday - World Rhythms

LINK: BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage Line-Up
WOMAD is at Charlton Park near Malmesbury in Wiltshire. WOMAD website

Vula Viel