PREVIEW FEATURE: Playing John Mayer's Indo-Jazz Fusions (Birmingham mac, 8th April)

Indo-Jazz Fusions in the 1990s: John Mayer with (clockwise from top left) James MacDowell, Jonathan Mayer, Steve Tromans, Ranjit Singh, Chris Featonby, Andrew Bratt, Dave Smith, Anna Brooks.

As he prepares to lead a band in homage to a pioneer of musical fusion, composer and bandleader JOHN MAYER, pianist STEVE TROMANS remembers how the great man left his mark:

In his sleeve notes to the album Etudes (originally released 1969, remastered and re-released on First Hand Records 2008), John Mayer describes his compositional intention with Indo-Jazz Fusions as being to “combine the techniques of symphonic writing with the medium of jazz and the Indian system of raga and tala”. Almost 50 years since the penning of those words – and compositions – and Mayer’s approach to the fusing of musical systems from diverse cultures still retains the extraordinary sense of nascence and revolution engendered in the first incarnation of Indo-Jazz Fusions (featuring the legendary saxophonist Joe Harriott).

Joe Harriott and John Mayer in 1966.

Mayer (1930-2004) began his musical life as a violinist, studying at the Calcutta School of Music before winning a scholarship to study under Melhi Mehta at the Royal Academy in London in 1950. After time in the London and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras in the 1950s and early-‘60s, it was in 1964 that, firstly, EMI producer Dennis Preston and, later, Atlantic Record’s Ahmet Ertegun respectively sparked and encouraged interest in Mayer’s fusion of Indian classical and modern jazz stylings. This interest led to the recording (among others) of the Indo-Jazz Fusions I album, released in 1966 to critical acclaim and followed by further recordings and performances in the UK and Europe – before Harriott’s death in 1973 brought the project to an untimely end.

Fast-forward to the mid-’90s, and my own association with John Mayer began with the great man as my composition tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire of Music (UK). Encouraged by student interest (including my own) in the Indo-Jazz project, Mayer was persuaded to reform the band, leading to four albums and three major tours (India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), plus a string of festival and club-venue appearances before his tragic death - he was fatally injured by a car - in 2004.

Mayer’s legacy, for myself (as a jazz pianist and composer), and for my peers who also played in (what turned out to be) the last incarnation of Indo-Jazz Fusions, centres on his perpetual willingness to experiment, and to take musical chances: to bring together aspects of two different musical cultures (jazz and Indian classical) and to compose a way to allow them to find each other, in the ensuing improvisations of the performers concerned. As Ian Carr points out, in his liner notes to the Indo-Jazz Fusions II album (originally released in 1968), “They said it couldn’t be done ... But it has been done: East has met – and fused with – West”. And it was John Mayer who composed that fusion – which is no mean feat (when was the last time any one of us invented a whole new way of hearing and feeling disparate musical cultures, I wonder?).

And speaking of legacy, it is with a certain pride that I am to be leading a homage to John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions as part of the forthcoming Surge in Spring festival at the Midlands’ Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham (UK), 8 April 2017. The event will provide the opportunity for John’s son, the renowned sitarist and composer Jonathan Mayer, to perform alongside members of the Surge Orchestra (including myself) and special guests – including the tabla master Mohinder Singh, and a young lion of the Birmingham scene, Xhosa Cole (saxophone and flute). We will be revisiting certain of Mayer Snr’s pieces from the original Indo-Jazz project, plus arrangements and new compositions from members of the specially-formed ensemble.

In this current political and cultural climate of 2017, it seems to my senses to be vital that Mayer’s Indo-Jazz experiments be rekindled and rebooted for a new generation of musicians and music fans. As John himself said in 1996, concerning his feelings on the fusions he helped pioneer: “There’s not the isolation that there was before – there is a closeness ... which is so nice”. We can all learn more than a little from such sentiments.

John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions is appearing at Surge In Spring, mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham at 4.30pm on Saturday 8 April 2017.

LINK: Surge In Spring: John Mayer's Indo-Jazz Fusions


INTERVIEW: Raph Clarkson (and the Jazz Musicians in Front of Brick Walls website)

Raph Clarkson  (photo Jake Walker)

Trombonist RAPH CLARKSON is one of the musicians to be found on a new site Jazz Musicians in Front of Brick Walls. We were keen to find out how this new found prominence / fame notoriety / cool (discuss) was affecting him. Interview by Sebastian: 

London Jazz News: Why did you get yourself photographed in front of a brick wall?

Raph Clarkson: I'm somebody that could probably do with a cool-factor boost when it comes to publicising myself - and nothing says cool and hip like a gritty, urban brick wall. So I decided to pose in front of one! Also that particular wall (in Shoreditch of course) is near my girlfriend's house, so... yeah. Walls are cool. Brick is cool. Brick walls are cool.

LJN: What was the first you knew about the brick walls site?

RC: I saw myself tagged in a tweet publicizing the site, and thought 'finally - I've made it'.

LJN: You've become the poster child of the site. Which other pictures do you like?

RC: I enjoy Chris Potter's picture - the simultaneous performance of sax and piano is impressive enough, but put it in front of some brick - and it's kind of overwhelming. Ambrose Akinmusire has also wisely copied my clever idea of dismantling my instrument in order to appear quirky.

Chris Potter

LJN: How does it feel?

RC: It just feels amazing, and I'm so grateful to everyone for their help on this journey, it's been hard, goodness knows it's been hard but, kids, the hard work pays off in the end. Keep plugging away and you too will one day find yourself on a witty photo blog.

LJN: What's this about an album launch?

RC: All joking aside, I have actually made an album with The Dissolute Society, a band chock full of wonderful musicians who have played and improvised their hearts out to create our debut record 'Soldiering On', paying tribute to my mother, and musical heroes John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler. We're launching it at The Vortex on 12th May.

LJN: Do brick walls feature in the album?

RC: There is a track on the album called Find The Way Through, which, if you are analytically minded, can be interpreted as a metaphorical struggle to break through an impasse, or wall if you will, and an impasse (or wall) that in its hardy composition, its toughness, might be described as 'brick-like', so yes, brick walls absolutely do feature in the album.

In your dreams and nightmares?

RC: After this interview I think the answer is inevitably yes.

Raph Clarkson's album Soldiering On will appear on Babel Records


REVIEW: Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story in Hull

Sean O'Hagan and Friends, Friday 17 February 2017, (c) Thomas Arran
Basil Kirchin
Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story
(Hull City Hall. 17th-19th February 2017. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

This wonderful weekend was devoted to the memory of Basil Kirchin (1927-2005), originally a drummer, but latterly a highly regarded composer of large scale compositions, film music and a pioneer of the integration of natural sounds into written composition. Kirchin spent all his later years in Hull. 

Since I had known next to nothing of Kirchin before signing up to go to Hull, I learnt a lot from this weekend with its excellent panels and associated literature. I was particularly struck by the loyalty of the various musicians, recording engineers and record label owners present at the weekend to Kirchin and his work. This also came across strongly in the documentary Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story made by Hull’s Nova Studios, which was premiered at the weekend festival. A very clear picture emerged from this of an intense but very likeable man devoted to his music who had led a Spartan existence in a small house in Hull, but who had achieved his goal of creating a large body of work that clearly influenced and inspired a large number of fellow musicians and composers – Brian Eno is, for example, quoted as acknowledging Kirchin as a major influence.

Kirchin’s work remained largely unknown outside the group of committed musicians during his life, but this weekend celebration and the gradual re-issue of key albums by Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, plus the championing of it by key musicians such as Evan Parker, Alan Barnes and Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas group, plus young innovators such as Liam van Rijn aka DJ Revenu and Joe Acheson of the Hidden Orchestra may well lead to a revival of interest. Certainly Kirchin’s music with its focus on texture and on the integration of electronics within those textures is increasingly relevant.

I also learnt a lot from a very entertaining two hour DJ set by Jerry Dammers who played excerpts of Kirchin’s ‘library music’, the music written for film but never issued as an album, within an overview of the whole library music scene. He commented that Kirchin’s music is often a cross between middle of the road music and the avant-garde.

Friday: Sean O'Hagan and Friends
Photo credit and (c) Thomas Arran

The weekend, brilliantly curated by Serious and J-Night for Hull 2017, had many musical highlights. Each set focussed on new work inspired by one or more aspects of Kirchin’s work. On the first evening DJ Revenu’s quintet concentrated on the use of electronics while Sean O’Hagan’s nine-piece group drew on Kirchin’s film music especially I Start Counting written for the film of the same name. This led naturally into the showing of the horror film The Abominable Dr. Phibes with Alex Hawkins playing the pipe organ parts on the City Hall organ integrating these sections into Kirchin’s score. The power of the live organ played by Alex in a flowing cape added a stunning extra dimension to the showing of the film. Joe Acheson and the Hidden Orchestra, on this occasion a 7-piece band with trumpet, cello, violin doubling keys, harp, bass doubling electronics and two drummers, played an electrifying set on the Saturday that seemed to capture something of Kirchin’s methods with layers of percussion driving over strongly integrated textures from the rest of the band. Acheson also demonstrated very effectively Kirchin’s technique of making recordings of natural sounds, e.g. birdsong or sounds from Hull’s dockland, and altering these sounds by slowing them down to produce different textures, which were then integrated into the compositions.

Saturday: Hidden Orchestra,
Photo credit and (c) James Mulkeen

The final concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra played various pieces of Kirchin’s own work, plus commissions from Matthew Herbert, St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, Jim O’Rourke and Will Gregory. The piece featuring Evan Parker integrated birdsong with the sound of Evan’s soprano saxophone and this was followed by Gregory’s piece that made similar use of birdsong this time blending it with the sound of Charles Mutter’s violin and Brigitte Beraha’s voice. O’Rourke’s piece captured the mix of the mainstream with the avant-garde characteristic of much of Kirchin’s work with Raymond Macdonald’s spiky solos on alto and soprano saxophones contrasting with the gentle melodic drone of the strings. The concert built up to a tremendous climax with two big band like pieces in which Alan Barnes’ storming alto saxophone featured strongly.

The musical highlight of the weekend for me, however, was a beautifully controlled improvised set on the Saturday night with Evan Parker on soprano sax and the sounds of Spring Heel Jack (Ashley Wales and John Coxon) plus Matt Wright on turntables and Adam Linson on double bass and electronics. Evan introduced the concert by relating how Kirchin had defied Alan Barnes to distinguish between the sound of a wild swan and that of Evan’s soprano improvisations. The first part of the improvisation built on this by creating a situation in which Evan reacted to the birdsong generated by Spring Heel Jack thereby producing a quite unique blend of sounds. As the set developed, the music moved on to other textures, but throughout maintained a gentle but always inventive interaction between the electronics and the acoustic instruments.

I very much hope that the Mind on the Run weekend will lead to a wider recognition of Kirchin’s music.

LINK: Basil Kirchin at Hull 2017


PREVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, March 16-19th.

The crowd at the 2014 Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
Photo credit: Ruth Butler

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, the city's very own jazz jamboree based in and around Colston Hall already seems well-established, with the fifth edition in a few weeks offering a well-balanced mix of special projects and a tempting selection of touring bands. Bristolian JON TURNEY previews the four-day event:

First up, on the Thursday evening (March 16th) - a day earlier than usual - is the intriguing prospect of a new score for Fritz Lang’s expressionist epic Metropolis. Long-time resident Andy Sheppard, already missed in the city after his recent move to Portugal, returns to Bristol to debut this 90-minute effort, featuring a 10-piece band including regular cohorts Michele Rabbia on percussion and Eivind Aarset on guitar. Sheppard has set Lang’s great fable - of the workers’ rebellion in a stratified city, and Martha the girl activist turned into a robot by archetypal mad scientist Rotwang - to sounds that blend, guitars, electronica and treated saxophones. Films buffs will also want to note a sumptuous sounding set on Saturday evening (18th) when Charles Hazlewood explores jazz scores by the likes of Lalo Schifrin, Roy Budd, Ira Newborn, Don Ellis, Ellington and (of course) Henry Mancini, in the company of his own orchestra, strings, Adrian Utley and Will Gregory.

Over the four days, this year’s festival follows its usual three-tier schedule, using the many mansions of the Colston Hall (with one gig, by Quantic over the road in the O2 Academy). The main crowd-pullers for ticketed gigs are in the main hall. The smaller Lantern fills out the roster with plenty of things for more adventurous listeners, and there’s a freestage in the foyer that attracts big crowds for a showcase of local talent.

After Sheppard, and Friday night’s ever-popular swing dance gala, the main hall features Robben Ford, Mud Morganfield, and Hazelwood (Saturday) and The London Community Gospel Choir, Bobby Shew’s centenary tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, and Macy Grey (Sunday). Ford and Shew, who is backed by festival music director Denny Ilett’s big band, also have dates at Ronnie Scott’s but they’re both already posted as sold out so you’ll have to pop down to Bristol to catch them.

The Lantern is well-supplied with must-see bands this year, including double helpings of Laura Jurd, appearing with her own Dinosaur and with Jasper Hoiby’s splendid new ensemble Fellow Creatures. The programme there also takes in trumpeter Yazz Armed, Gilad Atzman and Alan Barnes, Alec Dankworth, and a solo piano set from Jason Rebello. Bristol favourites Dakhla Brass are promoted to the Lantern this year, in a double bill with guitarist Remi Harris’s trio, and I’m told their set will feature other special guests yet to be revealed. If none of those appeals, hang on for the final set on Sunday night, when a trio led by Neville Marten recreate Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced to mark its 50th anniversary, though they have to compete with the heavily Hendrix influenced Tony Remy gracing local hero saxist James Morton’s band and closing the foyer programme at the same hour.

Add a score of other foyer sets over the four days, and late jam sessions in neighbouring, newly refitted bar/restaurant Bambalan, and a serious sampling of what’s on offer will need serious stamina - always a good test of whether a programme measures up as a real festival. This one certainly does.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival


REPORT: London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead - World Premiere in New York

London Vocal Project at the premiere
with Pete Churchill and Jon Hendricks (front row, 5th and 5th from left)

London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead  - 
(St Peter's Church, New York, 17th February 2017. Report by Tessa Souter)

The world premiere of the seminal Gil Evans-Miles Davis album Miles Ahead, lyricized by Jon Hendricks, St. Peter’s Church in New York on Friday, was a spectacular success.

Practically every singer in New York was in attendance – including (sharing a pew in the front row) Annie Ross, Sheila Jordan and the man himself, Jon Hendricks. Executive Producer, Quincy Jones, who paid for the 23-strong choir (plus bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Steve Brown) to fly in from London, was video-ed on the wall, sending his congratulations and love. The performances were amazing. And the audience was spellbound, including 95-year-old Jon Hendricks, who could barely contain his excitement – mouthing the words, conducting along and occasionally jumping up from his seat throughout the concert.

But, despite all appearances to the contrary, pulling it off was far from effortless. Almost 50 years in the making, from concept to final execution, the vocal version of Miles Ahead was finally midwifed into existence by LVP choir director, Pete Churchill, who first heard about it when he met Jon Hendricks at a vocal workshop in London in 2010. “He said he’d been working on this Miles Ahead project since the 60s and I said, ‘Well, we’ll do it!’ Because that’s what the London Vocal Project’s mission is about. To champion new music. In other words, if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done!”

And you can see why. It wasn’t simply a question of learning supremely difficult music, reducing all the orchestra parts and rescoring them up for 11-part vocal harmonies (“We sang every note that Gil wrote; that was Jon’s stipulation,” says Churchill), it had to be actually finished. “About a year after we agreed to do it, we met in Paris to look at feasibility. Jon had all his lyrics and he’d brought all his scores. And that’s when I found out how much there was still yet to do because he’d done all the Miles solos but many of the orchestrations hadn’t been lyricized.”

A week before a 2014 performance at Ronnie Scott’s of three movements – “The Duke”, “The Maids of Cadiz” and “My Ship” - Churchill flew to New York to start filling in the lyrics that were needed for the orchestrations. “I sat at the piano and played the score – it’s easier to rewind me than a recording! – saying to Jon: ‘What’s Miles saying at this point. And what should the trombones be saying?’ It was a kind of dialogue between orchestra and soloists. Sometimes protagonist, sometimes Greek chorus. It was very interesting what his concept was. Then I was sending them back to the LVP to write on the score and rehearse as he was writing them.”

“Jon and I had a schedule every day. I’d knock on his door at about 11am and we’d do a couple of hours and have lunch and then do another couple of hours. Then I’d be spending the rest of the time scoring it up and putting the voices in on the score. It worked really well,” says Churchill. “Sometimes he’d have a block. I had various strategies, including suggesting a really bad lyric knowing he’d then come up with something amazing. Sometimes he’d come out with complete lyrics. He'd been thinking about it for years, so he was pretty fertile.”

Next job was rehearsing it. Hendricks had asked the choir to listen to the album “first thing each morning and last thing each night.” Which they did – and more. “Every summer for the eight or nine years we’ve been together we go on a retreat, and we’d spend a week working on a couple of movements of Miles Ahead. Because it’s intense, we had to devise new ways of rehearsing. One of our basses is an IT genius and he adapted a program where we could loop bits of Miles off the album and slow it down to practice, with the score on the screen in front of us.” Miraculously, the choir performs entirely from memory – and in the original key.

It was a huge responsibility. “I was worried about how long it was going to take,” says Churchill. “I was very sad when Judith, who took care of and traveled with Jon everywhere, passed away. That’s when I realized he couldn’t come to London and that if he was going to hear this we were going to have to come to him. So I wrote to Quincy to ask for help and he came through, along with Wendy Oxenhorn of the Jazz Foundation of America.”

"I felt it all came together," says Churchill, of the world premiere, in classic British understatement. It was actually a triumph in every possible way. The soloists Anita Wardell, Michele Hendricks, Kevin Fitzgerald Burke and Jessica Radcliffe were outstanding, and the choir – from bass to impossibly high soprano - was one incredible voice. After the final standing ovation, vocalist Michele Hendricks, took the microphone and said: “Tonight Pete Churchill made a dream of my father’s come true! It’s not every day you get to see someone’s dream come true.” For those of us that were lucky enough to be there last Friday, that was the icing on the cake.

Tessa Souter is a New York based vocalist. She is appearing at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola on March 7 - Sets at 7:30 and 9:30pm.

The London premiere will of the Hendricks / LVP Miles Ahead be at Kings Place Hall One on Sunday May 21st. DETAILS/BOOKINGS.


TRIBUTE: Roanne Dods (1965-2017)

Roanne Dods

On January 31st 2017, ROANNE DODS, the original director of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation (JCF), passed away after a long illness at the tragically young age of 51. Claire Whitaker, Director of Serious and a good friend, pays tribute to her and remembers her uniquely imaginative contribution to jazz in the UK:

Roanne Dods supported many areas of the arts which seemed less obvious in her work at the Jerwood, seeking to enable creative organisations and artists to achieve their very best. One important strand of that work was the support the Foundation gave to jazz.

As well as being one of the two original funders of Take Five, Serious’ Talent development scheme for Jazz composers and performers, Roanne also oversaw grants to a wide range of Jazz organisations, including JazzXchange to support dance training, The Wapping Project for a series of solo Jazz Commissions, Air for support of an apprentice artist manager and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival for the Jerwood Next Generation strand. She also enabled a host of individual artists attend International festivals or to be commissioned at key moments in their careers.

Tom Ponsonby, a long standing colleague and friend said:

‘Roanne welcomed me into the Jerwood Charitable Foundation in 2000 and we worked together until 2009. Welcomed is apposite: with her warm smile, sparkling eyes & great head of auburn hair she put everyone at ease and made them feel positive about themselves and the project they had brought to the table. She had great energy and curiosity, very open to new ideas and innovation and she very much believed that work should be fun. In a sense our working relationship was ying and yang. I tended to be interested in older art forms, and I came from a classical music background; she came from dance and had also qualified as a lawyer. We had many happy days and nights at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival over the years, & sitting in on the Take Five sessions that we supported with Serious’.

Roanne’s legacy continues, not only though the many connections she facilitated, often resulting in strong professional bonds and friendships, but also in the work she initiated. Since 2009, when Roanne left, JCF has continued to support jazz, including on-going support for Take Five, the Jazzlines Fellowships with Town Hall Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and a new grant to Empirical in 2016.

Cheltenham Festival was an important strand of JCF’s jazz strategy. Tony Dudley-Evans said:

‘Cheltenham Jazz Festival entered into a partnership with Jerwood Charitable Foundation in 2002 to create the Jerwood Rising Stars project and later the Jerwood Jazz Generation project over a period of eight years. These two schemes, the first focussing on young artists in the early stages of their career and the second on taking some of these artists onto the next stage, became a key part of Cheltenham Jazz Festival's approach and enabled it to develop its reputation as one of the most innovative jazz festivals in Europe. The longevity of the scheme came out of a very strong professional relationship between Roanne from Jerwood and Kate Danielson and myself from Cheltenham. Roanne was a wonderful person to work with, always keenly interested in what we were planning and supportive of the end results. It was only with Roanne’s commitment that the festival was able to provide sustained support for young British musicians, such as Seb Rochford, Pete Wareham, Ingrid Laubrock, Denys Baptiste, Abram Wilson and Gwilym Simcock who rose to prominence partly through their regular appearance at Cheltenham over the years of Jerwood’s support.

We intend to pay tribute to Roanne at this year’s festival’.

There has been an outpouring of tributes to Roanne, many of them remarking on her passion, power presence and inspiration. One of her friends, Jana Roberts summed up the feelings and thoughts of many when she wrote, “Roanne completely, unreservedly, made the worlds of everyone she touched a whole lot better, richer and more loving and warm and intelligent and questioning. She had the heart the size of the universe and always managed to give you the feeling that you are the most important thing to her when she spoke to you. She was the rarest of beings and one of the brightest lights you could have hoped for`, David Lan, Director of the Young Vic said that in the creative circles in which he moved “Roanne is considered a god”.

On a personal note, my relationship with Roanne epitomised all that is special about the kind of work we all do. We started by forming a new partnership and that relationship blossomed into professional colleagues and then to become firm and longstanding friends. Roanne became an enthusiastic attender of jazz concerts and festivals, she was particularly fond of the work of Abram Wilson and always tried to see his shows whenever possible. It was on a visit to Cheltenham Jazz festival to see him perform that our families got the chance to meet. Our sons, who are the same age, hit it off immediately and I have very happy memories of that weekend, as well as the many receptions, conferences, drinks and dinners we shared where I benefited from Roanne’s huge knowledge, insight, warmth and good humour. Quite simply she understood the creative process and had an eye for quality across a huge range of arts and artists. She is hugely missed.

Roanne Watson Dods. Born Lima Peru September 1965. Died Glasgow 31st January 2017

LINKS: Tribute from One Dance UK
Tribute from Siobhan Davies
Tribute from Craft Scotland
Roanne Dods' website


REVIEW + INTERVIEW: Oddjob: Jazzoo at the Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall

Oddjob, with leader Goran Kajfes second from right

Oddjob: Jazzoo
(Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall. 17th Frb 2017. Live review + interview by Rob Mallows)

You don’t often see face-painting and balloons at a jazz gig. But then again, there aren’t many jazz gigs like Jazzoo.

Catch ‘em early seems to be the philosophy behind this jazz primer for tots and pre-teens. Sweden’s Oddjob has performed their award-winning Jazzoo jazz multimedia show since 2013 and brought it to London as part of the South Bank Centre’s Imagine Children's Festival, showcasing Nordic children’s culture.

Oddjob is one of Sweden’s top rated bands, with a career stretching over twenty years of contemporary instrumental jazz, their most recent album being an 2016 E.P. of Weather Report covers.

Comprising Goran Kajfes - trumpet, Per “Ruskträsk” Johansson - sax and bass clarinet, Daniel Karlsson - keyboards, Lars Skoglund - drums and Peter Forss, double and electric bass - plus ‘VJ’ Helene Berg - Oddjob has hit upon a winning formula with Jazzoo that has had the added bonus of boosting interest in their music for adults.

Jazzoo is an adventure about a forest of creatures, each with its own musical motif and animation. Think Peter & The Wolf but with swing.

An elephant walking through the forest trumpets away (literally) to an easy jazz vibe. A woodpecker’s rhythmic hammering is picked up by Skoglund's snare drums and leads into some charming folk jazz bird calls by Johansson. Each animal is accompanied by its own simple story and audience interactions.

Presently, a duck swaggers onto the screen, the king of swingers. But he suddenly loses his swagger as the band drops into free-jazz then switches to a minor key to show the duck is crying, before switching back to up-tempo, major chords and funky piano chops from Karlsson that show the kids that everything is alright with Mr Duck. Phew!

When a thirsty hippopotamus, after a long run accompanied by Brecker Brothers-style funk jazz, jumps into a pool of water to cool down and end the show, it was an emotionally uplifting and fun end to a show that highlighted music's story-telling powers.

Across forty-fives minutes Oddjob entertained young and old with their simple but brilliantly executed musical pictures. The animated illustrations by British artist Ben Javens were delightfully naive in style - think classic Vision-On animation with a hint of Roobarb & Custard - and perfectly matched the sounds on stage.

While the jazz was simple, it was not simplistic: Oddjob never talked down musically to the children. For a generation of youngsters more used to listening to Peppa Pig than Oscar Petersen, the joy of hearing fun new sounds and anarchic visuals was plainly evident.


Rob Mallows spoke briefly to members of Oddjob after the gig:

London Jazz News: Who came up with the idea for "Jazzoo"?

Per Johansson: We developed it on the tourbus, really. Since we started Oddjob we’ve had a pop group-type approach to the band and we’ve always developed everything together. We have kids and we thought we should try and re-make our music for them, maybe a bit shorter, a bit simpler, but still our music. We wanted to create something that stimulated emotions and creativity in children.

Daniel Karlsson: And of course, there are no lyrics, so children can use their imaginations to create their own stories.

LJN: You’ve simplified the music, but it’s not simple - it’s proper jazz.

Goran Kajfes: Absolutely. There’s a tradition in Sweden since the ‘sixties of some of our greatest jazz musicians producing music - sometimes even free jazz - for young children, and we wanted to pick up on that tradition because we grew up with that music.

LJN: And how did the link to the illustrations of Ben Javens come about?
Goran Kajfes: I checked out a cover he’d done of an album I was listening to and I thought his style could work well with the music we were beginning to develop. So I contacted him and asked if he’d consider doing some animations to the musical ideas that were emerging.

Per Johansson What he came back with was great, we though yeah, it was perfect, you know.

LJN: Writing for one year-olds and upwards must be a challenge, perhaps even more so than writing for adults?

Per Johansson: We had to think differently, sure. We didn’t want to make ‘kid’s music’; we wanted to make serious music for children that was also fun. So, we thought a lot about the music we liked, and our kids liked, and that was the starting point.

Peter Forss And we had to think of what theme would tie it all together. Animals and kids always works, but we also thought it was a great hook on which to develop some jazz music; what would a shark sound like, which instrument would play it? Then we had to think about how we could build on the sounds and themes we had. We thought first about having dancers to make it interactive, but when we saw what the animators could do, an animated story became the right way to go.

LJN: Since 2013, what reaction have you had to "Jazzoo"?

Goran Kajfes: It’s been great. We won a Swedish Grammis, but also a French Grammy for best children’s album, and we’re now very popular in France on the back of it. And we’re up for a prize at the Berlin Film Festival, so it’s proving quite a hit.

LJN: And I understand the success of "Jazzoo" has helped Oddjob increase it’s popularity as a group with more mature audiences.

Goran Kajfes: Definitely. When we go to France, for example, it’s mostly on the back of Jazzoo gigs. It’s nice in that we can play for the kids in the afternoon as a way to chill out and prepare for a great gig with the adults as Oddjob proper in the evening.

LJN: And what next for Oddjob?

Peter Forss: Well, we are thinking about doing another Jazzoo album, maybe this time with farm animals!


INTERVIEW/CD PREVIEW/ TOUR DATES: Tim Armacost - Time Being (Whirlwind)

Tim Armacost
Photo credit: Emra Islek
The New York-based saxophonist TIM ARMACOST who is on a final dates of a European tour spoke to LondonJazz News’s Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon about the vision that prompted his new album - with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Robert Hurst plus pianist David Kikoski - and the spatial awareness within it. Plus, the international influences on his music and his favourite tenor players.

LondonJazz News: I understand this album all begins with Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman and a picture in your mind? Can you explain the image and the process it led to?

Tim Armacost: The image that came to me was like a scene from a movie. I am in the studio with Tain and Bob, and Tain is playing on his own, in a way that is irresistibly, passionately swinging. Meanwhile, Bob and I are exploring the melody of Lonely Woman, trying out some different interpretations. I play it one way, and he mimics that, and then after we’ve been through it once, Bob phrases it his way, and I try to feel that.

We have a job to do, but we really want to join that amazing vibe that Tain is creating. Eventually Bob can’t resist, and goes over to start swinging with Tain, and I continue to try to develop the melody of the tune. Seeing that and hearing it in my mind led to the idea of trying out some different ways to swing together, and that became the focus of the compositions for this recording.

LJN: Has a spatial awareness and concerns for the relationships between the instruments always been crucial to your music or is it a more recent development?

TA: This is a new development for me. Swinging for me has always been the main attraction to playing jazz, but that has meant finding the way to feel the music together. The Lonely Woman idea led to these explorations of creating tension by playing in parallel spaces, and then releasing the tension into a beautifully swinging groove by allowing the parallel spaces to merge.

It was a lot of fun experimenting with these compositions in the studio, and it’s been rewarding to pursue them in front of audiences here in the UK over the last two weeks.

LJN: You have a truly international background which includes living in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Washington, New York, Amsterdam, New Delhi… Are there identifiable elements in your music which the listener can link to these places?

TA: There is a concept in traditional Japanese music - where the written music is not notated in time. The notes are written out in order, but the phrase length is determined by the length of the performer’s breath. This idea definitely influenced the writing and performance of the melody of Time Being, the title track. I wrote out the notes of the melody, but just played it for Bob, and had him listen to how I phrased it, rather than defining it metrically on the page.

I have used Indian classical music elements in other recordings, but on this one the Indian influence is a little more roundabout - I had not been able to access Ornette Coleman’s music as a younger musician. During the time I was studying Sonny Rollins intensely, I wasn’t ready for Ornette’s style of playing.

I had to arrive at some level of mastery over the foundational elements of straight ahead jazz before I was able to understand the need to get free of them… and it was in India, right around the time I was turning 30, that Ornette’s music made sense in my ears for the first time. I’d been hearing Indian music played live for a few months - with no piano anywhere in sight - so that probably set me up to be more receptive to what Ornette was doing.

LJN: For the majority of Time Being you are operating in a trio with Tain and Bob - what drew you to use this pair on the album?

TA: As I mentioned, they were a part of the vision of playing this music in the studio, so I was motivated to do everything I could to bring them together to make this music. On a technical level, I needed musicians for whom swinging was second nature - because I was asking them to separate and swing in two unrelated tempos - so they had to have a high level of confidence, natural swing, and the patience to allow the tension to play out, and the trust to know that the payoff would be delicious.

I am grateful that Tain and Bob were open to trying these things out, and I’m excited by the possibilities for further exploration.

LJN: And why Kikoski?

TA: I’ve been playing some gigs with David over the last couple of years, and knew that he also had a level of experience and an open mind, that would allow him to embrace trying something a little different.

LJN: Despite being a multi-instrumentalist you have chosen to restrict yourself to tenor saxophone on the album. What is special about the tenor for you?

TA: I take the soprano to all of my gigs these days, but I choose to play it when I feel like that’s the right sound for the tune, or sometimes I choose it just to get a little sonic variety in the set. I love playing soprano, but the tenor is definitely home for me.

I’ve toyed with the idea of making an all soprano record, but it never seemed like something I really had to do… I had it with me at the recording session, set up and ready to go, but felt like tenor was the right sound for everything we recorded. I’ve been playing soprano on (one of the album’s tracks) One And Four some nights on stage, but I like the way it came out on tenor on the recording. The tenor is quite close in range to my actual singing voice, and I love the flexibility of it.

The soprano is more like a laser, in my hands anyway. It's a little more demanding - whereas the tenor can be wide and warm one minute, piercing and angry the next.

LJN: Do you have favourite tenor players who have influenced you? 

TA: My main influences on tenor are Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Pete Christlieb. Very close behind them are Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Harold Land. And of course, I learned a bunch of Charlie Parker solos… I’ve also studied language from Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, Herbie Hancock, and Bud Powell. Many, many others too, but those are the ones who I’ve most consciously taken things from to build my style of playing.

LJN: Anyone coming up that particularly impresses you?

TA: Of the tenor players who are younger than me, I’m a big fan of John Ellis and Alex Garnett. They both have incredible technical facility, but what comes across is their love for and dedication to the music. Put another way, they are both loving individuals, and you hear that in their playing. Stylistically, I like what a bunch of the younger alto players are doing. Casey Benjamin, John O’Gallagher, Caleb Curtis and Andrew Gould are all guys I’m happy to pay money to listen to…

Tim Armacost is near the end of a European tour but still has UK dates with Michael Janisch on bass and Klemens Marktl on drums: tonight at Royal Academy of Music Festival; tomorrow Friday 17th Feb at The Verdict in Brighton, and on Saturday 18th Feb at The Archduke, London (this final date adds guitarist David Preston).

LINK: Whirlwind details and dates


CD REVIEW: Benedikt Jahnel Trio - The Invariant

Benedikt Jahnel Trio - The Invariant
(ECM 5712837. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Piano trios seem to be easier to keep going and build a life together than bigger groups - to become, as German pianist Benedikt Jahnel says of his band with Spanish bassist Antonio Miguel and Canadian drummer Owen Howard “a constant in a transformational period”. This year the band will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.

The Invariant is a fine celebration in itself. Eight tracks, all written by the pianist, and showing a marvellously bedded-in interplay between the players that helps them achieve that uncanny double effect for the listener of being both three individuals, each with their own musical personality, and yet also being one, united in their communal interpretation and expression of the music.

My favourite tracks on this album keep changing. At the moment it’s Mirrors with its dense structure and perfectly controlled transitions through nine-and-a-half minutes. It feels like a classical piece in the thoroughness of the writing and in the romantic roundness and warmth of its theme, yet in performance it naturally acquires that elasticity and sense of change that only jazz musicians can give it.

Jahnel is, like quite a few modern musicians, also a scientist - he’s a researcher at the Weierstrass-Institut Berlin and is particularly interested in “interacting particle systems in the context of probability theory”, so it’s perfectly natural to be quite mathematical in his compositions, with odd time metre and other complexities.

But the remarkable thing is that for the listener this doesn’t sound like overly complicated music. Jahnel has an acute ear for melody and that sweetens any knotty pill embedded within these eight tracks. Exciting, playful, varied in mood, but with one overriding constant: yes, the invariant is real beauty.


CD REVIEW: Mike Westbrook - Paris

Mike Westbrook - Paris
(ASC. asccd166. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

To someone familiar with Mike Westbrook as composer and arranger of, for instance, last year's excellent A Bigger Show, this solo piano CD was a revelation. Recorded live in Paris last year as part of Westbrook's 80th birthday celebrations, it features tunes associated with various projects throughout his career. What comes across most strongly is his strength as an improviser.

With barely a pause, he moves from one tune to another, weaving together twenty pieces into one, flowing with imagination and emotion. The original melodies may be referred to only obliquely - Westbrook hints here and there - until the tune becomes apparent, sometimes close to its end, and he moves on to the next.

Organised in four sections, with a coda, the collection features tunes Lennon & McCartney, Ellington, Strayhorn, and a couple of others, together with several by Westbrook and his wife and collaborator, Kate, to whom the CD is dedicated.

The different sections - The Front Page, Bar-Room Piano, Love Stories, and The Blues - loosely bind together the tunes by theme. The majority of the pieces are by Westbrook, alone or in collaboration. Three of the collaborators are dead poets (*), Westbrook having set their verses at different times for specific projects; others are settings of words by Kate Westbrook. His love of song, in both high and low, popular form, is evident. He treats them both the same: something special, a springboard for improvisation.

The two pieces by the Beatles exemplify Westbrook's approach. She Loves You, an early Beatles' hit from 1963, is re-imagined as a slow jazz ballad, almost unrecognisable from the original. Westbrook imparts a bluesy quality as he explores the tune obliquely, certain phrases teasing memories of the Fab Four. Westbrook's version is full of longing, reflecting Lennon & McCartney's tale of broken hearts.

Because comes from much later in the Beatles' career, 1969. Again, Westbrook takes the basic theme and makes it his own: contemplative, exploring. From a piece of 1960s psychedelia comes something that's timeless.

The two pieces attributed to Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Lady and Solitude, appear in Bar--Room Piano, and sandwich the Westbrooks' Gaudy Bar. Westbrook's notes (available online, but not included with the CD itself) explain how "I often enjoy playing the piano in a crowded room where people are talking. Though almost no one is paying any attention to the music, it nevertheless affects the general atmosphere." He does himself a disservice: this music deserves one's full attention. And despite this being a live recording, there is no audience sound: no applause, no shuffling, no glasses clinking. I imagine the audience spellbound.

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

(*) DH Lawrence, Goethe, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

LINK: Live review of Mike Westbrook solo at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW: The Three Sounds (featuring Gene Harris) – Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-1968

The Three Sounds (featuring Gene Harris) – Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-1968
(Resonance Records HCD-2025 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

This welcome new CD captures pianist Gene Harris and his The Three Sounds trio live in Seattle between 1964-68, and overflows with the group’s joyful hard-swinging sounds.

It seems hard to believe now, but Gene Harris’ trio outsold everyone else on the legendary Blue Note label in the early 1960s. Harris led the group from 1958 until 1970, with a number of bass and drum collaborators.  This CD collects various tapes from the group’s appearances at The Penthouse club in Seattle, recorded at the time and broadcast simultaneously on local radio station KING-FM, and captures an exciting live in-the-room vibe.

Harris describes himself in the excellent sleeve notes as ‘a blues pianist with chops’ and his style doesn’t disappoint, with swinging bluey phrasing spilling into powerful block chord passages, a little like Red Garland on an angry and determined day.  All the trios work well together, with Andy Simpkins bass showing empathy and dynamics alongside some neat head arrangements.  Drumming duties are shared by Bill Dowdy (mainstay of the Three Sounds until he fell out with Harris in in the mid-1960s), Kalil Madi and Carl Burnett.

The music is a mix of standards, a couple of movie tunes including Theme from Caesar and Cleopatra, and three Harris originals.  The opening Girl Talk starts with rumbling chords before swaying into the theme with an irresistible Basie-ish swagger, and one can almost feel the Penthouse patrons relaxing with their martinis and puffing cigars.  Toots Thielemans’ tune Bluesette gives a great opportunity for the trio to build up a real head of steam before sliding back into a jaunty jazz-waltz bounce. 

Harris’s originals are in the vein of boogie blues shuffle, vehicles for showboating soloing which the leader doesn’t shy away from exploiting.  It’s notable that while the pianist isn’t afraid of raising the roof by using most of his fingers at once, he never overstays the moment – these tracks are under three minutes each of swinging soulfulness. 

All in all this CD is well worth hearing as a reminder of the Three Sounds and Gene Harris in their pomp in a live setting.  The packaging is excellent with a 20-page booklet and many photos, as well as detailed recollections of The Penthouse club, the recordings and where it all sits in the Three Sounds trajectory.  The title Groovin’ Hard sums up well the overall feel of the collection – plenty of groove, and delivered with an edge.  If you like swinging piano in a soul-jazz vein then this is really worth a place on your shelf. 


CD REVIEW: Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom - Otis Was A Polar Bear

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom - Otis Was A Polar Bear
(Royal Potato Family 20286 22109. CD review by Peter Bacon)

There is a freshness about this album that comes partly from the instrumentation - clarinet, cornet and violin front line, with piano, bass and drums - partly from the personnel - characterful players like violinist Jenny Scheinman - but of course the main reason is Allison Miller.

She drives Boom Tic Boom not just through her drums but in her compositions which, while they may incorporate snatches of klezmer and chamber music counterpoint along with long-lined melodies and loose-limbed rhythms, do so in a really cohesive fashion. This eclectic mix of influences is intimately assimilated within her writing style.

And it’s a style that leaves generous room for interpretation and expansion by her band. Pianist Myra Melford takes things off on a distinctive direction getting almost Little Richard-rocky and Meade Lux Lewis-boogie at different times during High T. That this and Miller’s tom-tom-led drum solo fit within a piece that has a head that might be adapted from a string quartet composition shows just how far and wide this band can reach in under ten minutes.

These are tunes that can be judged by their titles: Pig In A Sidecar and Hoarding The Pod - the latter a crazy helter-skelter for Kirk Knuffke’s cornet and Ben Goldberg’s clarinet with Melford going mad behind them, the former a clarinet/plucked fiddle theme over a space-filled lolloping rhythm - are every bit as witty as their monikers suggest.

Slow Jam is the most infectious of grooves driven by Miller and bassist Todd Sickafoose, while the title track has something of the Frisell in the timelessness of its initial reggae-tinged manner and then suddenly bursts out sideways into a North African piano thing before reconvening with bluegrass meets minimalism violin against a bouncing groove.

All the playing is lovely but a special shout-out is in order for the leader’s terrific drumming - and such fabulous sounding drums too!

Delights abound wherever the laser drops on this enchanting disc.

LINK: Allison Miller's Tic Tic Boom reviewed live at the 2017 Muenster Festival


TRIBUTE: Colin Towns remembers Roger Williams (1954-2017)

Roger Williams

ROGER WILLIAMS played bass trombone, tuba and euphonium. Educated at Haileybury School - where Eddie Harvey was an important and formative influence - and the Royal Academy of Music, Roger was a regular - and popular - member of West End theatre bands, notably the original run of Jesus Christ Superstar and the entire run of Starlight Express. He was also a member of Colin Towns' Mask Orchestra. In this tribute Colin Towns remembers Roger Williams:

In today's world where famous names or main soloists often are the pull for concert goers and music listeners alike, the unsung heroes are sidemen who are the backbone and foundation of many bands.

Roger Williams who has died after a long illness was simply a rock for me. Faced with a challenge, some of them rather ludicrous I must say, he was always there and right on it. A perfect partner in crime. Many times we would discuss my ideas for his part in the Mask Orchestra and no matter how big the challenge he always wanted to find a way to make it work. He was a dedicated master musician of all types of music but confessed that he should have played more Ska. Roger added his magic to classical orchestras, brass groups, West End shows (the day job of many great jazz musicians) as well as bands like Brass Monkey, the Stan Tracey Big Band and Home Service (formed from musicians working at the National Theatre).

With a strong love of contemporary classical music and all kinds of very diverse music styles, I had many conversations with him where he would mention composers I’d never heard of. I always felt that with his photographic memory he focused on the important things in life. He would say there are two types of music only: good or bad music. Roger simply loved life - walking, photography, travelling and of course his beautiful family. An almost normal human being, but anybody who knew him would say: "he’s a truly extraordinary man, a great friend, brilliant musician and by the by a brilliant chef too".

Roger’s funeral was held at St Paul’s Church, Chiswick, on Monday 6th February. An occasion he purposely turned into his final gig.

LINK: The eulogy at the funeral was given by Chris Stearn, who wrote in Trombone Forum HERE


CD REVIEW: The Baylor Project - The Journey

The Baylor Project - The Journey
(Be A Light. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The Baylor Project is husband and wife team Marcus - former drummer with Yellowjackets - and Jean - a versatile soul-jazz singer who has sung guest vocals with, among others, Yellowjackets and Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life - she appeared with the band at last year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

The pair share a church background and the gospel feel is there right from the start, with Block Party, which opens with old-school dropping of needle onto vinyl and has a real party feel along with good-time handclaps, followed by Great Is Thy Faithfulness, the hymn given a contemporary jazz treatment.

Guests - and there are many - include pianist/organist Shedrick Mitchell, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, guitarist Marvin Sewell and trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, but the music is strongly aligned around the foreground of Jean’s imperious vocals and the foundation of Marcus’s propulsive drums.

The rest of the programme roams far and wide, from interpretations of jazz standards like Afro Blue and Herbie Hancock’s Tell Me A (Bedtime) Story to Great American Songbook gems like Summertime,  Tenderly and Our Love Is Here To Stay, plus a few interspersed Baylor originals.
Although the standards are given sumptuous and perfectly fitting arrangements, I could have done with more substantial originals I think.

Nevertheless it’s a generous, charming album with a rich sound which places a marker in the sand and promises a solid future. The abiding strength of the project is its joyousness, and that counts for a lot.


2017 GRAMMYS: Congratulations, Jacob Collier!

Jacob Collier with his TWO (!) 2017 Grammys 

Congratulations Jacob Collier on winning one Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella (for You and I) and another for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals (for Flintstones)

Donny McCaslin colllected the five awards for David Bowie's Blackstar, and Ted Nash won two: for Large Ensemble Album and Best Instrumental Composition.
John Scofield received the Best Improvised Jazz Solo (for I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry) and Best Jazz Instrumental Album (Country For Old Men), and Gregory Porter won Best Jazz Vocal Album (Take Me To The Alley).



TRIBUTE: Heulwen Phillips (1966-2017)

Heulwen Phillips

HEULWEN PHILLIPS, Project Director - and effectively Chief Executive  - of JazzUK, the successor organization to Jazz Services, passed away in the evening of Wednesday 8 February, at the age of just 50, after a battle against cancer. In this tribute, Dominic McGonigal, Chair of JazzUK remembers the energy and inspiration that she brought to the organization. With additional contributions from Adrian Dwyer and Emily Saunders. In sadness. Dominic writes:

She arrived in a whirlwind, her voice struggling to keep up with her mind, tripping over the words. You could not help but be infected by her energy and passion, instilled with love and warmth.

Heulwen Phillips threw her energies at the jazz world as Project Director of JazzUK. She joined the board, and suddenly there were ideas that were creative, supportive of jazz musicians, and deliverable, and Jazz Services became JazzUK.

One of Heulwen’s ideas was a new jazz festival in Coventry, one that brought in new audiences, and participants such as theatre groups, and one that crucially, wasn’t an event entirely reliant on Arts Council funding.  

Whether the people of Coventry had any idea of the scale, and diversity of what became #4Jazz, is uncertain.  What is certain is that Heulwen’s #4Jazz was a resounding success on every metric that one might apply.   

But if I was to take one single ‘success’ at #4Jazz, it was in Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman’s final number in their concert in the recently refurbished Old Grammar School, Coventry.   To put this in context, situated in the front row were the Mayoral party, VIPs and sponsors, and following the duo’s first number, judging by the visible shock on their faces, one might reasonably assume they had probably never heard anything quite like it – squeaks and whistles around which a ‘tune’ could, on occasions, be discerned.

At the conclusion of Courtney and Zoe’s final number the ovation was so loud, the only face of horror was that of the buildings project manager – a question of whether the newly installed roof and timbers would withstand the sheer volume of the applause! Leading the standing ovation were the Mayoral party and VIPs, the face of shock replaced by one of unbridled pleasure. 

Heulwen, effacing as ever, was quick to praise all involved, but it was her vision, and her energy and enthusiasm that caused the timbers of the Old Grammar School to rattle as never before, and perhaps, hopefully, minds opened to the world of Jazz. 

She inspired numerous young people with the education projects she organised around the country. Along the way, she raised finance from every conceivable source. Sponsors, charitable trusts, foundations and arts bodies were wowed by her infectious enthusiasm and her determination to make things happen whatever the obstacles.

Heulwen started her career in commercial sales and marketing with over ten years each at Steinway & Sons and then Newsquest, a large weekly newspaper group. She had always wanted to work in the arts and, always the self-starter, she initiated numerous projects with artists such as John Dankworth, Julian Joseph, Mark Latimer, Sarah Brightman, Shakin Stevens, Asif Sirkis, Mario Castronari. Ever eventful, she sought out unusual venues bringing music to mines, barns, village halls, timber warehouses, parks and lakes, in addition to the more regular theatres and concert halls. And she didn’t limit herself to the UK. She also produced events in China, Norway, Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay.

Before joining JazzUK, she was Development Manager for Armonico Consort, a major regional arts organization. There she raised the finance for their programme of over 50 concerts a year as well as award-winning recordings.

Heulwen was never one to stand still and she certainly wasn’t going to let her illness stop her. She confronted the cancer head on, taking each session of treatment as it came and working in between. Just two weeks before she died she was talking about new projects she could embark on after the next round of chemo and a week later she wrote ‘I can still contribute’, even as the doctors were giving her final prognosis.

Since then, hundreds of tributes have poured in on Facebook.

'She was a beautiful, shining, driving force of immense energy, positivity, passion and love'.

‘Great memories of working with Heulwen at Steinway.’

‘Heulwen was a brilliant and very kind person.’

‘Her kindness and good humour defined her personality.’

‘One of the kindest and loveliest people I ever worked with. She was so brave and optimistic.’

‘For me, she was immensely supportive and encouraging of my work and future – I will miss her very much and remember her words of encouragement.’

She made the world a better place. That world – of jazz, of music, of laughter and of love – is today a poorer place.

Heulwen Philips FRSA. Born 14 March 1966 - Died 8 February 2017


RIP Al Jarreau (1940-2017)

Al Jarreau at Ronnie Scott's in 2015
Photo credit: Benjamin Amure

Jeanie Barton writes:

So much love, admiration and sadness is pouring onto social media from fans, singers and instrumentalists alike at the loss of Al Jarreau at aged 76. An incomparable inspiration to all; a vocal chameleon who inhabited songs, embodying bass, percussion, brass, guitar and other instruments with his voice. He was so stunningly connected to the music, literally breathing it and passing it onto his rapturous audience, like a medium channelling another realm. It is hard to believe his ageless energy, enthusiasm and joy has left us. For solace, let's Look to the Rainbow.

Alwin Lopez Jarreau, Born Milwaukee March 12 1940 - Died Los Angeles February 12 2017

LINKS: Andy Boeckstaens' review of Al Jarreau at Ronnie Scott's in April 2015
Jeanie Barton's review of Al Jarreau at the RFH in 2011
New York Times obituary


CD & DVD REVIEW: Andreas Schaerer - The Big Wig

Andreas Schaerer - The Big Wig
(ACT 9824-2. CD & DVD review by Jon Turney)

Listen to any of Andreas Schaerer’s work, and you can hear that he thinks orchestrally. The phenomenal Swiss vocalist and composer – also human trumpet and beatboxer – can conjure the effect of several people at once when he performs solo. His sextet Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, works cleverly wrought scores that often make them sound like a much weightier ensemble. Here, on a CD billed as “Hildegard Lernt Fliegen meets the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy”, he takes his orchestral ambitions to a new level.

The Academy is a 60-strong conglomeration of international music students up for anything, and a lynchpin of the Festival. They join the sextet for six exuberant pieces commissioned from Schaerer, and recorded live in 2015. Three have been heard before on Hildegard’s splendid 2014 release The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains. Seven Oaks opens both CDs, and immediately signals that the new project delivers rich dividends. Expanding it for ten times as many players creates a stupendous sound, but with no loss of rhythmic energy. You can even still hear (most of) the words, though the printed version supplied with the earlier CD, but not by ACT, helps if you want to follow the sometimes clotted lyric.

The risk of the regular band being overwhelmed looms large. Yet through the whole set, Schaerer revels in the depth of resources at his command, but still succeeds in deploying them so that the jazz sextet sound like a natural part of the orchestra. The soloists – Andreas Tschopp on trombone, Matthias Wenger on saxes and flute and Benedikt Reising on baritone sax and bass clarinet, have gorgeously textured new settings which nevertheless leave them plenty of room to stretch out. Thus Tschopp gets to duet with the enormous brass section on one of the new pieces, Preludium, while Wenger is suitably inflammatory on Der Zeusler, the fire raiser. Reising’s best moment comes on Wig Alert, a feature for the orchestra’s six percussionists, with Christoph Steiner’s and the vocalist’s own percussion effects spurring on the energetically virtuosic youngsters.

The CD comes with a beautifully shot concert DVD, a welcome record of such an unlikely-to-be-repeated event. Like the project as a whole, it is a rare success, and confirms that the composer and performer at the centre of things here is the lynchpin. He sings sometimes with the orchestra, sometimes against the orchestra. When he takes over conducting duties from Mariano Chiacchiarini, the DVD viewer following his eloquent repertoire of baton-free gestures gets a strong impression of Schaerer playing the whole orchestra. In his head, I guess, he always is. This set feels like hearing what he was striving for all along.

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

LINK: Review of Hildegard Lernt Fliegen’s most recent CD


CD REVIEW: Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts

Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts
(ECM 2527. CD Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Craig Taborn is the kind of artist who thinks carefully about each of his albums, and is clearly concerned that they should reflect his different musical interests. His first ECM album Avenging Angel was a solo piano album, followed by the trio album Chants.

The latest album Daylight Ghosts, his third for ECM, features a quartet with Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Chris Lightcap on double bass, Dave King on drums, and Taborn himself on piano and electronics. The approach is based on integration of the written material and the improvisation, and on drawing on the different personalities of the four musicians. This takes the music some way away from a [theme + solos + theme] approach. In its place is a carefully controlled movement from ambient chamber-like textures, building in intensity through to high-energy rock-inspired collective improvisation. Chris Lightcap and Dave King are key to the way that the music builds up and Taborn complements them with solos that have a strong narrative flow. I found Chris Speed's role on tenor saxophone very interesting; his tone is very gentle and at first I wondered whether his sound was too low in the mix, but it quickly became apparent to me that his role was not that of a dominant front-line horn, but one integrating into the overall sound of the quartet.

The first two tracks, The Shining One and Abandoned Reminder, are characteristic of the album's approach; they begin very gently with a chamber-like sound, but gradually build up into the high energy interaction mentioned above. The title track, Daylight Ghosts, follows a similar approach with Dave King playing a key role. Ancient is similar; it begins with a brilliant bass solo and moves into a strongly rhythmic climax. On other tracks, however, the mood remains restrained throughout, notably on Roscoe Mitchell's Jamaica Farewell, the only track not composed by Taborn, and which features Speed on clarinet.

On a number of tracks Taborn adds very subtle electronic effects to the mix; on The Great Silence, Speed plays clarinet over a hovering ambient electronic pulse. On the final track, Subtle Living Equations, Speed weaves a keening solo on tenor sax over a buzzing electronic background.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album that provides evidence of Craig Taborn's ability to produce distinctive projects that reflect the contemporary jazz scene in New York.


REVIEW: Stefanos Tsourelis Acoustic Trio at the Bull’s Head in Barnes, SW13

L-R: Stefanos Tsourelis, Dave Jones, Eric Ford

Stefanos Tsourelis Acoustic Trio
(Bull’s Head, Barnes Wed. 8th Feb. 2017. Review by Alison Bentley)

The delicate fretwork on Stefanos Tsourelis’ oud made it look too fragile for a stage: his semi-acoustic guitar was on a stand, while the oud was comfortably resting in an amp bag. Tsourelis comes from Greece and studied its music, as well as jazz and rock. This was his acoustic trio, with London’s Dave Jones on fretless bass and Eric Ford on drums.

Nostalgia opened on guitar, simple chords suddenly awoken by incredibly fast runs in unison with the bass- one of the amazing variety of timbres in the trio. One of Tsourelis’ heroes is John McLaughlin (and his 80s/90s trios with Trilok Gurtu) and you could hear a strong influence. Ford’s sensitive cymbal work was complex, tiny beats scattered between the strokes of the cowbell, often following the rhythm of the melodies. The full drum sound allowed guitar and bass to play in unison without the sense of anything missing. The piece moved organically through various sections: spiky, staccato bass with Ford on cajón (which at times sounded like tablas); a funky, gentle sound behind the guitar solo.

The Desert and Mystery Blues featured the oud, not an instrument you often hear in jazz, and certainly not in a small club. The wooden tuning pegs creaked as he tuned it, the double strings giving a kind of aura to the tone. The Desert opened like an Arabic maqam, the audience whooping at the complex circular bass/oud riffs. At times they almost veered into (gentle) heavy rock, the way Dhafer Youssef can. There were time signatures to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the gig. (Here 6/8, then 7/8- Tsourelis studied Greek lute, and its rhythms, in Greece before being introduced to the oud by his teacher.) There was a wonderful sense of the trio grooving together very intuitively- although Tsourelis had written the tunes, he told us, he wanted us to know how much Jones and Ford had contributed to the arrangements. Mystery Blues was a minor blues, the oud full of blue notes, the bass solo harmonising with and pulling against its note bends. Jan’s Tune had a funky feel, and a sense of power reined in to suit the room’s intimacy. The guitar solo had Hendrix overtones, with superb slap bass, Jones reaching down to the bottom of his 5th string. Ford’s solo had subtle fluttering of brushes on snare. Calm Sea was written before Tsourelis came to London (in 2005 to study at the London Guitar Institute.) The gorgeous chord melody head and Metheny-esque solo lulled us, the repeated phrases recurring like waves. Some of Kevin Eubanks’ trio work with Dave Holland came to mind.

Interplay was moody and minor, with fast, rising, almost flamenco riffs caught in the net of the spacey chords. Phrygian Major, appropriately named after a Greek scale, opened with rocky virtuosity, Ford playing cajón and hi-hat simultaneously. Spancil Hill, an Irish tune, was the only one not written by Tsourelis, and the sweet melody nestled among oriental trills. Jones’ solo was beautifully melodic as well as percussive. In The Living Gardens, Ford’s mallets on tiny splash cymbals were like the sound of the sea in a shell around the sweet major chords, the 5/8 melodies tumbling over each other to reach the bottom and climb back up again. They fell into the free harmonics of Square, Jones pulling around the already fluid time, then into an Arabic-influenced rocky groove. The encore El Divo was more dancey, (Tsourelis: ‘A hip tune, a bit different from the rest.’) with perhaps more of a Scofield influence- it ended on a sizzling drum solo and a huge roar of appreciation from the audience.

The Trio have a new album coming out next year (Native Speaker) Their mix of jazz and rock with Oriental and Greek influences, combined with sensitive dynamics and dizzying arrangements, make it something to look forward to.


CD REVIEW: Jam Experiment - Jam Experiment

Jam Experiment - Jam Experiment
(Self-released. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

It's more than enough to make the heart sing – a quintet of young musicians, on the threshold of successful lifetime careers, presenting a jazz/funk/soul album of remarkable musicianship and expressive depth.

Jam Experiment is fronted by saxophonist Alexander Bone and trombonist Rory Ingham, and completed by keyboardist/pianist Toby Comeau, electric bassist Joe Lee and drummer/percussionist Jonny Mansfield. In 2014, the then 17-year-old Bone stepped into the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition, going on to perform regularly at gigs and festivals (one highlight being 2015’s BBC Proms in the Park, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales); and he’s already worked with a host of major artists including Nile Rodgers, Kylie Minogue, Dave Holland and Liane Carroll.

All five members are still studying, either at the Royal Academy of Music or the Guildhall School of Music & Drama; yet ‘early-twenties eponymous debut’ belies the strength and accomplishment of their partnership and, indeed, the confident writing to be found in these eight original numbers. One thing’s certain – this band knows how to groove, with assured sax and trombone riffs/improvisations underpinned by a cool pitch-bent electric piano sound, bubbling bass and syncopated percussion.

Smooth echoes of, say, David Sanborn or Bob James are discernible, but there’s something about this band’s own colorations and nuances which draw the attention. So the full-on vivacity of It’s You and Enough For Me, already brimming with tonal variety, is contrasted by the synthy dreaminess of Bone’s First Day as well as the piano-styled limpidity of Last Decade; and luscious, melodic You are the Vibe to my Hang possesses a joyous ’80s demeanour, its vocalised trombone and sax pairing channelling Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays.

Alexander Bone’s individual tenor delivery frequently suggests the sound world of Michael Brecker and, in Mansfield’s Chorale, even a hint of the steady fluency of Jan Garbarek. When he shares the footlights with Ingham’s trombone, in Comeau’s Off on a Rant, there’s sparky chemistry; and effervescent, melodic Get it on Target celebrates the band’s synergy with sunshiny, commercial appeal.

Jam Experiment is ‘feel good’, accessible, intelligently crafted… and irresistible.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site


REVIEW: The Jeff Williams/Clark Tracey Project at Birmingham Conservatoire

Olivia Murphy, Tom Harris (obscured), Jack Kinsella (partially obscured), Xhosa Cole, James Owston and Jeff Williams
Photo credit: Samantha Wright
The Jeff Williams/Clark Tracey Project
(Arena Foyer, Birmingham Conservatoire, 9th February 2017. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

It is sometimes said that drummers do not make good band leaders. I have always had severe doubts about this theory and give as evidence the excellent bands led by Bobby Previte, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Sylvain Darrifourcq and many others.

This concert featured two great drummers who also lead strong groups of their own: Clark Tracey has long been a British equivalent of Art Blakey in the sense that he has led groups that have brought into prominence young players that have gone on to develop their own careers; Jeff Williams leads two groups, one of New York musicians and one of London based musicians, and his drumming seems to be the link between earlier styles of the 1960s and the more contemporary styles.

Both Tracey and Williams work as drum tutors and group leaders on the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire, and this concert featured the groups of First and Second Year students with whom they have been working.

Overall this was an excellent concert with the maturity and confidence of the students very apparent.  This provided clear evidence that the jazz course policy of having experienced professional jazz players actually playing with as well as mentoring the students really pays off.

Clark Tracey's group, which he calls Mission Impossible, was first up with an up-tempo number entitled C.U.C.B. dedicated to the memory of trumpeter Clifford Brown. Gareth Howell, resplendent in his pink shirt, took the solo honours paying suitable homage to the great trumpeter of the 1950s.  The group then moved into a Ballad Medley; in this, the extended piano solo by Billy Penny was beautifully judged. There was also impressive playing from tenor saxophonist Craig Nisbet who has a very interesting approach that seems to draw on earlier styles and sounds from Coleman Hawkins through to Stan Getz. The final number, Joshua written by Victor Feldman, featured a strong solo from bass player Shivraj Singh.

It was all driven along  forcefully by Clark on drums, clearly enjoying his role as leader and mentor.  He paid tribute to the group, remarking that he had had "a very enjoyable time kicking their asses".

Jeff Williams' group was a sextet and they focussed on five tunes taken from Wayne Shorter's Et Cetera album, recorded in the 1960s but not released till the 1980s. They played the material straight through and this gave the group a more integrated feel than Clark's Mission Impossible.

This was further strengthened by the excellence of the frontline of two saxophonists, Olivia Murphy and Xhosa Cole, both of whom took fine solos. There were excellent solos all round from Tom Harris on piano, Jack Kinsella on guitar and James Owston on double bass. The choice of material by Wayne Shorter from his Blue Note period located the music in that era when jazz was moving on from hard bop into a free-er approach. This is the territory where Jeff Williams belongs and his drumming really brought out the talents of these very promising young musicians.