CD REVIEW: Fragments – Fragments


Fragments – Fragments
(Northern Contemporary – nc003. CD review by Adrian Pallant)



Free improvisation has long intrigued me; partly for the certain discovery of the unexpected and unknown, but also for its ability to divide opinion – to maybe startle or even perplex. For the uninitiated, there can be an element of ‘king’s new clothes’ as established musicians ‘nakedly’ create random and often dissonant sounds between them. Yet, deep down, there can be the reward of hitherto unheard textures and sequences to inspire our own thought and imagery.

Eponymous debut release from trio Fragments – pianist Adam Fairhall, double bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter – reveals a project begun in 2013 as a workshop-band exploration, based on Hunter’s concept of intuitive, shared improvisation which eventually incorporates undisclosed fragments of pre-composed material. The resulting spontaneity is informed by the choice of fragment, the way it is integrated into the improv, and also what happens subsequently. All three players are familiar to northern contemporary jazz audiences. Fairhall’s The Imaginary Delta, a 2011 Manchester Jazz Festival commission also available as an album, was particularly enjoyable to encounter live; Johnny Hunter is pleasingly conspicuous on the Manchester and Liverpool scenes (his debut quartet statement While We Still Can echoing early-1960s jazz excitement); and Bennett is active in multifarious projects up and down the country.

Fragments comprises two, boisterous, 30-minute-plus sessions followed by a final, calmer episode – three movements under the title 2017 (the year of recording) – and their abstract intent is surely to evoke personal responses both from players and listener. These are unadorned, captured moments, Fairhall’s slightly detuned piano (even a cough) adding to the immediacy of it all; and right from the off, in 2017i, his fervency across the keyboard is evident, creating a melange of fast-rolling phrases and energetic, scree-riding momentum. Hunter and Bennett appear to act directly on his direction with skittering embellishment, though the responses may be entirely mutual across this fluid, connecting triangle. One might imagine Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra or Thelonious Monk in this atonal maelstrom – and then, there are lucid moments of repose, Bennett’s bass basking in reflective, sustained piano passages. They also explore the less obvious parameters of their instruments – sitar-like glissando bass, scraped piano and bass strings – before an Ellingtonian chase to the finish.

2017ii has a less intense demeanour, allowing space for arco bass calls and a remarkably mesmerising twinkling cluster at the piano’s top range; and its final third finds a more tonal, gospel-tinged home. Nine-minute 2017iii takes its time through percussive jangling, Fairhall’s bluesy piano and Bennett’s pliant bass wandering, moonlit, until they greet the light.

These outstretched landscapes (album cover colourfully illustrated by Sheffield artist Marion Rout) may not be for the musically timorous, and I suggest it requires an involved, open mind to engage with the relentless, sometimes challenging level of information communicated. But it can be an experience which draws us in, the initial clamour becoming more accessible and attractive as it proceeds – a window on the breadth of living, breathing jazz.

Fragments was released on 15 March.

Read More...

REVIEW Kit Downes and Bojan Z in the 2019 Pizza Express Steinway Two Piano Festival

Bojan Z (Left) and Kit Downes at Pizza Express
iPhone snap by William Ward
Kit Downes and Bojan Z 
(Pizza Express. 20 March 2019. Steinway Two Piano Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The audience thinks it's all over. Perhaps with good reason. The last of the improvised choruses of the final number, Bud Powell's Bouncing with Bud, has been so utterly joyous and major-ish, these two pianists Bojan Z and Kit Downes have landed us in such a good place, it feels natural and fitting for us to break out in confident, grateful and above all spontaneous applause .... and then sheepishly to let it die down again, as we work out it isn't actually the end yet, that there is actually one more little bit still to come. Of course. A jazz club. Where jazz conventions prevail. There is going to be one valedictory 'head' of the tune. It is now.

I just like that idea: these are skilled performers who know exactly where they want to be on the emotional compass, and also where they want to bring us over the course of an evening. And it's job done. We have already landed at our final destination...

Those two happy endings summed up what the evening was about: this two-piano concert had a special spirit of life- and friendship-affirmation about it, and for a good reason: it turned out that Z (full surname Zulfikarpašić) and Downes have admired each other's playing for over a decade. They have known each other ever since the Serbian-born Paris-based pianist played in a trio with Ruth Goller and Seb Rochford (see the link to a 2010 review below), but this was the very first time they had actually played as a duo together.

They had the freedom to construct an interesting and varied programme. It was book-ended by fast-flowing and youthful early bebop: Dizzy Gillespie's Grooving High to start, and Bouncing with Bud to end. But, in between those markers, we found ourselves taken to some very different places. A highlight was a delightfully airy and spacious version of Carla Bley's Jesus Maria. The rhythmic impetuousness of Thelonious Monk tunes such as Evidence and particularly Off Minor was eventually revealed, but not until several diversionary tactics had been employed, and in one case a thorough percussive examination of the sounds that can be elicited from a piano case had been expertly undertaken by Bojan Z. If those tunes led us into abstraction, intellectualism and detachment, a tune such as John Scofield's The Guinness Spot was much more lulling, comforting. There was also one of Kit Downes' 52 pieces for right hand (interview link below) which he had dedicated to Bojan Z.

This was a programme which had clearly been constructed with care -  and also agreement and affection. For us as an audience to witness a long-term off-stage friendship between two versatile and hugely adept musicians being captured on-stage and in music for the very first time felt like a privilege. The real ending was loudly and unanimously applauded: we did manage to get that bit right.


Bojan Z (foreground) and Kit Downes
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney


LINKS: Review of Bojan Z from 2010
Interview with the background to Kit Downes' 52 pieces for right hand

There are still SIX more concerts in the Festival which ends on Sunday 24 March

Read More...

NEWS/TRIBUTE: John Hughes, founder/musical director of Walsall Jazz Orchestra, R.I.P. (1940 – 2019)

John Hughes
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Peter Bacon pays tribute:

The death has been announced of John Hughes, founder and musical director of Walsall Jazz Orchestra. He had been suffering from prostate cancer. He was 78.

This message from Helen Miller, who plays first trombone in WJO and has been with it since it was a youth band, was posted on Facebook:

Dear friends,
It is with great sorrow that I announce the death of our dear friend and founder John Hughes. He passed peacefully away on Monday 18th March. John finally lost his brave eight year battle with prostate cancer.
John established the Walsall Jazz Orchestra in 1975. His drive, commitment, dedication and love for music has kept the band thriving for an incredible 44 years. 
I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the band to thank you for the support you have shown John and the Walsall Jazz Orchestra over the years and look forward to your support as we endeavour to continue his inspirational legacy.
Our thoughts go out to Jeanne, Penny and Sue at this very sad time.
Helen and Walsall Jazz Orchestra.

Julian Argüelles, who was in the band in the 1980s, sent LondonJazz News these words today:

"Every year, for the last 30 years or so, whenever the New Years Honours list is published, and many rich and famous people are honoured, I think of John Hughes. He is the kind of person who should have been awarded/rewarded for all the tireless hard work and selfless dedication he put into running a community based project, in his case the Walsall Jazz Orchestra. When I was involved with it it was a fantastic youth band with a great vibe, playing new and interesting music, which is unfortunately not as common as it should be. He was a wonderful man and I will always be very grateful for all he did for us."

I interviewed John on the occasion of WJO’s 40th anniversary in March 2015. He came across in interview just as he did on stage: self-effacing, modest, a little reticent to talk about himself and much keener to talk about all the musicians who had inspired him and who had contributed to the success of the band he had founded back in 1975.

Here is an extract from that interview. John explains how he became interested in jazz:

“I was completely useless at school, particularly at music which was just a no-no for me. We had this music teacher who would play us 78s of The Messiah and would tell us what great music it was…” (He makes a snoring sound.)

The moment of revelation came at a friend’s house. John can even remember the records he heard that day: Dizzy Gillespie’s The Champ, Woody Herman’s Wild Root, Stan Kenton’s Hammersmith Riff and Charlie Parker’s Cool Blues.

“I was just blown away. From having no interest whatsoever I wanted to go out and buy every record I could get my hands on…

“My friends wanted to buy instruments so I did too. One bought a trumpet, the other a saxophone and they said what we needed was a trombonist. I did a paper round to earn the money to buy a trombone.”

John was from the generation where semi-pro playing and taking any gig going formed the basis of his musical education. He was 40 before he gained any formal musical qualification.

Walsall Jazz Orchestra has its origins in the first school John taught in, Queen Mary’s High School in Walsall. And this all-girls origin still shows in the fact that today’s band is half female.

Here’s John again:

“Queen Mary’s had this fantastic wind band – they used to play Crown Imperial and play it well – but the one thing they all really perked up at was when they did a Duke Ellington number. So I said why don’t we start a jazz orchestra? The kids would love it…

“I borrowed some music from Norman Dovey – Woodchopper’s Ball and stuff like that… and from the word go it went like a bomb. We started in 1975 and by ’77 we played at the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at the South Bank and we were on ATV Today playing a Quincy Jones thing called G’won Train.”

Soon the girls from Queen Mary’s were joined by keen children from other schools… Two alumni who appeared with the band at their 40th anniversary concerts were saxophonist Julian Argüelles and trumpeter Martin Shaw.

John concluded our chat back in 2015 with these words:

“There never was a plan – things just happened. Financially I’ve made bugger all,” he says with a dismissive shrug.  And then the smile lights up his face: “It’s just great to stand in front of a terrific big band!”

It was typical of John to underplay his role. The reason Walsall Jazz Orchestra is, and always has been, such a terrific big band, is the warmth, dedication and generosity that John Hughes brought to it. His presence, standing at the front of Walsall Jazz Orchestra, will be sorely missed, but the ethos he instilled in the band and which has influenced all the musicians who have passed through it, lives on.

LINK: John Hughes interview from thejazzbreakfast

Read More...

REVIEW: Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/Andy Sheppard at the Jazz Standard, New York

Andy Sheppard, Carla Bley and Steve Swallow
Publicity picture
Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/Andy Sheppard
(Jazz Standard, New York, 19 March 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Watt and xtraWatt – the Carla Bley record labels – have a quirky maze of a website. I would recommend getting lost within all of its random cartoons, silly stony-faced photo in-jokes, and recreated biblical portraits.

Hidden somewhere within the site are some biographies, although biographies does them an injustice; they are more like essay memoirs, summaries written to share with family abroad the minutiae of working life month by month, year by year. They feature in incredible detail the stories of the WattxtraWatt stable, all inclusive of occasional festive holiday details and a commendable array of humorous band names, and song and album titles.

The potted history from Carla Bley's biography/memoir is, while she didn't take a conventional route to jazz royalty, she has now been dizzyingly busy for the last 50 years. Whether it was composing, arranging and playing music for duos/trios/quartets/quintets/octets/big bands/bigger band, managing a record label or teaching; whether in north America, Europe or beyond, the common denominators for the last 40 of those years have been the presence of Steve Swallow. The presence of Andy Sheppard comes in a close third place for the last 25 years.

This evening at the Jazz Standard is about Bley and her compositions, but it would be churlish not to mention that Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard are also continuing with dizzying distinguished careers of their own, which in their own ways are intertwined, with Swallow producing a record for Sheppard many moons ago before the three played together.

So, apparently tired from all 50 years of exertion, composition and variation, Bley opens the set solo with a simple languid blues. A familiar feel, Swallow's bass joins in at the highest range – more like a guitar – and Sheppard with warm, smooth tenor sax. This is Life Goes On, and develops from the comforting start into the next three phases On, And On, And Then One Day. We pass through grungier keys, a slight drag, and wavering soprano sax. For a piece being played live for only the second time (presumably the first set of the evening had the original honour) this is a composition of four movements leveraging sparse arrangements, and relishing in having only two or one instrument from the trio playing at a time.

This is really the mood – a trio so confident in themselves, they are happy to switch in and out, and to leave crucial space unfilled. It echoes an old Bley story of the first piece of music she wrote, at the age of five:

She presented her dad with a piece of paper covered in black dots.
He said there were too many dots.
She erased half of them.

The set overall is broadly an unfussy, unhurried, unpretentious collection of pieces: a classic piano trio for Ups and Downs anchored on the walking pull of Swallow; the beautifully poised inevitable serpentine chordal descent of Lawns.

But there are a few "difficult ones" slipped in (this being Bley and Swallow's personal code for interesting fun time signature multi-part pieces). Vashkar feels like it really turns, pulls, the repetitive pushed bass support to deeper piano, and light sop touches. Beautiful Telephones is a real lament, hooked on a president's facile idiocy. Moments where the piano and bass as a duet for much of it swapping the holding role between them to let the other free. I'm not sure about the telephones, but the bass solo is beautiful and tender, the tenor solo beautiful and inquisitive over the slow pulse of the bass. And then a beautiful Bley solo, stepped, slow, which she unravels and discovers as she goes.

Before the gig we find ourselves lined up down the side of the stairs to enter the Jazz Standard. You can tell it's a relatively new venue as the stairs are wide enough to actually meet building regulations, and you can queue on the side without the exit becoming an impassable death trap. As we wait, people stagger up the stairs and out from the set before. They mumble, "You're going to love it", "You're in for a big treat". A beautiful set and a standing ovation later, they weren't wrong.

LINK: Review of the 2018 Montreal Celebration of Carla Bley

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Duncan Eagles – Citizen


Duncan Eagles – Citizen
(Ropeadope. RAD443. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


Saxophonist Duncan Eagles may be most familiar from his work with the trio Partikel; for this CD of compositions reflecting a more personal approach he’s put together an outstanding quintet to bring out a rather different sound. Melody is more to the fore than on his previous work, and the set even includes a couple hummable tunes which manage to work their way into one’s brain.

He is helped by assembling an excellent supporting cast. With David Preston on guitar and Matt Robinson on piano, Eagles makes the most of the depth of texture that two chordal instruments allows. The two complement each other, Robinson adding a touch of contemplation to the quieter passages whilst Preston creates sounds which spread out like ripples over a pond.

They are joined by Max Luthert on bass and drummer Dave Hamblett – both on fine form. Luthert plays some beautiful solos in the softer moments, and Hamblett drives and pushes the music without ever being overbearing.

Eagles’ compositions seem upbeat and optimistic, perhaps against the grain of the times. Mostly mid-tempo, they are full of life. Riad, named for the houses Eagles saw in Marrakech, is a lively number featuring some ethereal guitar work by Preston. On Folk Song, the guitar is sometimes drone-like, making Eagles’ saxophone resemble bagpipes. The track also features an excellent solo by Robinson, exploring different avenues as he builds the intensity.

Conquistador is perhaps the exception, a slightly mournful, slow piece featuring Eagles’ tenor over rumbling drums, bass and piano. The saxophone is breathy and moody, almost yearning.

The CD closes with Midnight Mass, a slow, evocative piece in which Robinson’s gently contemplative piano leads the listener in until Eagles‘ sax opens up – a big, spacious, soulful sound.

This is, of course, Eagles’ album. He’s collected together a series of compositions well suited to the rich tone of his tenor. His soprano playing is lighter, as if flying over the rooftops in Riad. He includes an epigram on the CD cover from pianist Randy Weston: “we all have music in us... and music is supposed to put you in tune with nature”. This bright, confident collection gives us an insight into Eagles’ nature.

Duncan Eagles plays the Royal Festival Hall Foyer in London on 22 March and The Verdict in Brighton on 29 March.

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

Read More...

NEWS: Made in the UK Showcase Bands Announced for CGI Rochester International Jazz Fest (June)

Trish Clowes' My Iris
Publicity Photo by Brian Homer


Sebastian writes:

The ten successful bands who will perform in the Made in the UK Showcase at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival on 21 -29 June 2019 have just been announced. They are:

Leo Richardson Quartet
Empirical
Kit Downes (solo organ)
Enemy
Trish Clowes 'My Iris'
Ian Shaw
Elda Trio
Nubya Garcia
Kansas Smitty's House Band
Christine Tobin's Songitude

The press release quotes John Nugent, Producer/Artistic Director, Rochester International Jazz Festival who made the selection of the bands, from over ninety who applied. He said:

"For over a decade The Rochester International Jazz Festival has been honoured to have hosted well over 100 of the finest creative groups from the UK. Cumulatively, these amazing artists from across the United Kingdom embody the soul and spirit of an enormous contribution made towards the progression of the American art form known as jazz. Once again, we are proud to welcome the world to Rochester and I can assure the UK artists travelling to western NY this year that our patrons' hearts and ears eagerly await their performances in our annual Made In the UK Series".

Made in the UK has been running since 2008 and was started by the late John Ellson. It is now produced by Sue Edwards.

LINKS: Made in the UK Jazz website 
Made in the UK Jazz on Facebook
CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival website

Read More...

NEWS: 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival's first shows go on sale

Cécile McLorin Salvant with Sullivan Fortner
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

This year’s EFG London Jazz Festival will run from Friday 15 to Sunday 24 November and the first shows to be announced, with most going on sale this week, are:

Jazz Voice, Royal Festival Hall, Friday 15 November: 
The traditional opening-night gala with 42-piece orchestra, arrangements by Guy Barker and soloists. This year’s line-up still to be announced.

Cécile McLorin Salvant with Sullivan Fortner, Barbican, Saturday 16 November: Grammy Award winning vocalist, performing her newest release The Window, with pianist Sullivan Fortner.

Jan Garbarek Group, Royal Festival Hall, Sunday 17 November: Norwegian saxophonist and composer who epitomises the ECM label (which is celebrating its 50 anniversary this year) with German pianist and keyboarder Rainer Brüninghaus, the Brazilian bassist Yuri Daniel and the Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu.

Cross Currents Trio featuring Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter, Cadogan Hall, Sunday 17 November: 
Following their mperformance at our 2017 festival, the all-star trio is back.

Makaya McCraven + Rosie Turton, Village Underground, Tuesday 19 November: McCraven’s performance was one of the highlights of last year’s festival, a regular of the “best jazz albums of 2018” lists with his latest release Universal Beings, and the Jazz FM Awards nominee for the same category. This time in a double bill with London-based trombonist and composer Rosie Turton.

Lars Danielsson Group: Liberetto III with Grégory Privat, John Parricelli and Magnus Öström, Wigmore Hall, Tuesday 19 November (tickets on sale in May): 
Swedish bassist, cellist, composer and arranger teams up with an all-star line-up for the London premiere of Liberetto.

Marius Neset: Viaduct, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Thursday 21 November
: Following their award-winning collaboration on Neset's 2016 album Snowmelt, the London Sinfonietta and the dynamic jazz saxophonist join forces once again for a new commission.

Omar Puente and friends: An Evening for Debbie, Kings Place, Friday 22 November: 
Internationally-acclaimed Cuban violinist Omar Puente is performing a very special show in honour of his wife, campaigner Debbie Purdy who died in 2014. Puente will be joined by some very special guests including pianist Alex Wilson, saxophonist Courtney Pine, trombonist Dennis Rollins plus some surprise appearances.

Eliane Elias + Vinícius Cantuária, Barbican, Friday 22 November: 
This stellar double bill is part of a celebration of 60 years of Bossa nova which is being celebrated throughout the year.

BBC Concert Orchestra, Nu Civilisation Orchestra, String Ting and Misha Mullov Abbado, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Saturday 23 November: Cellist Matthew Barley gives the world premiere of Mullov-Abbado’s Cello Concerto, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 especially for this concert. Principal Conductor Bramwell Tovey directs the BBC Concert Orchestra joined by Southbank Centre resident groups the Nu Civilisation Orchestra and String Ting.

Battleship Potemkin: live soundtrack by Matt Calvert/Three Trapped Tigers + Jan Bang/Punkt, Kings Place, Saturday 23 November: The masterpiece of early cinema, Eisenstein’s 1925 Soviet classic finds its new sound with Opera North’s 2017 commission.

Dan Tepfer: Natural Machines, Kings Place, Sunday 24 November: Dan Tepfer uses the Yamaha Disklavier piano to bring together his world-class pianism with his background in physics and programming. As he improvises, the piano responds in real time with notes of its own and the music is created, another set of custom-made coding turns the data into animated visual art.

Swingin’ with Strings featuring Claire Martin and Iain Mackenzie, Cadogan Hall, Sunday 24 November
: An evening of superb historical musical recreations from the Jazz Repertory Company – their biggest production with 22 string players and a harpist added to a 17-piece big band. It includes Claire Martin performing music from Billie Holiday’s 1958 album Lady in Satin, and Pete Long performing Artie Shaw’s Concerto for Clarinet.

LINK: EFG London Jazz Festival website

Read More...

FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Kate Williams' Four Plus Three Meets Georgia Mancio (Finding Home out 1 June)

Photo Credit: Carl Hyde
Pianist and composer Kate Williams and singer-songwriter Georgia Mancio have been in each other’s musical orbits for nearly 20 years and their stirring new album, Finding Home, features a collection of songs, old and newly co-written, arranged for trio, string quartet and voice. “We know each other well, both musically and as friends,” Williams tells Martin Chilton for LondonJazz News.

Kate Williams formed Four Plus Three featuring trio and string quartet in 2016 and had always intended to eventually expand the line-up by featuring additional guest musicians: "It felt like a very natural evolution for the band to work with Georgia, and as we've both led various ensembles of our own I knew that we'd work well together as a team."

The album “evolved very organically” says Georgia Mancio, and they made a deliberate choice to tackle an eclectic mix of material. There is a terrific cover of No More Blues (Chega de Saudade) by Antonio Carlos Jobim. “The joyousness won us over, along with the great English translation by Jon Hendricks, who for me is peerless as far as lyric-writing goes. It felt like an appropriate homage to two musical idols and the perfect counterbalance to some of the album’s more weighty content,” Mancio says.

She is referring to the thought-provoking and moving trilogy of songs at the heart of the album – The Last Boy on Earth, Halfway and We Walk – which were inspired by events she was told about and/or witnessed herself during three years of volunteer work with refugee groups in Northern France and in the UK.

“My good friend, Ian Shaw, first visited the refugee camp known as ‘The Jungle’ in Calais in 2015, and encouraged a few of us from the jazz community to go back with him. Much maligned in the news, it was a staggering place: people from all different walks of life living largely harmoniously in this old chemical dump. Professors and judges, mothers, artists and doctors who had left everything of their past lives behind, often escaping in dramatic circumstances and making mind-boggling journeys over epic distances,” recalls Mancio.

“The most shocking discovery were how many unaccompanied children – some as young as eight years old – were living there, trying all kinds of desperate means to join family in the UK. Their already vulnerable position was further compromised when the French authorities finally decided to dismantle the camp and ‘relocate’ its inhabitants. Inexplicably they left the children – in barely adapted shipping containers – to the end. Those kids watched fires ravaging the camp and their only support structures stripped away, with no idea what would happen to them.

"I was in touch with a 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan who was trying to reach his uncle (who had gained British citizenship some 15 years ago) in the UK. He ended up in legal limbo for a year, in a situation badly mismanaged by French and British authorities until he was finally allowed into the UK – as had been his legal right all along. The Last Boy on Earth imagines those last few days in the burning Jungle.”

Mancio explains that many others however simply fell by the wayside and champions the invaluable work of the charity Safe Passage who help unaccompanied child refugees access their right to travel to a place of safety. The Last Boy... became the start of the trilogy and the need to document the trauma of these children and vulnerable young adults.

Despite the gravity of the subject matter, there is optimism: “Processing all that suffering felt like half the story,” she adds. “There was also a desire to make something beautiful out of something really ugly. At the end of We Walk the tense changes, suggesting a continuation of the story because ultimately these are people with an incredible resilience and survival instinct. It’s important to remember that those labelled refugees are first and foremost human beings and to recognise the necessity and ability to start over. Like grief, the loss stays with you, but you are also part of a larger world around you and that gives you the optimism to move forward and rebuild.”

Williams, who has worked with the late Bobby Wellins, The Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra, Chris Biscoe, and Stan Sulzmann, composed an elegant piece called Slow Dawn for her debut performance with her father, classical guitarist John Williams, back in 2017. That tune became the catalyst for the original trilogy, when Mancio transformed it into the poignant We Walk. It is one of two tracks for which the pre-eminent guitarist joins the ensemble. “The instrumental version Slow Dawn was written for my dad to play with Four Plus Three in 2017 – that was the first time we'd worked together,” says the pianist. "Up to that point, we'd always kept our working lives very separate. It was Steve Rubie who first suggested asking JW to guest with Four Plus Three - I'm now very pleased that he did so! "
                             
Georgia Mancio and Kate Williams
Photo Credit: Carl Hyde
“When Georgia suggested Caminando, Caminando by Victor Jara, I was reminded of my dad's work with the Chilean group Inti-Illimani – who were forced into exile under General Pinochet’s dictatorship – so it seemed like the perfect choice for another track featuring guitar.” Musician and political activist Jara was murdered by the Pinochet regime in 1973, when he was just 40. “Jara's version is beautifully simple, so I kept the arrangement fairly short and stayed quite close to the original harmonies,” says Williams. “The short duet at the end is John (Garner) on violin and Georgia whistling.”

Williams did all the arrangements on the album. "I usually compose/arrange with a specific player/players in mind. The solo violin piece The Key was written to feature Marie Schreer, and sets the tone for the title track Finding Home which is an original poem of Georgia's set to music. And more generally, when writing the songs, I always heard Georgia's voice… things like that make the composition process much easier".

The album’s content is admirably varied and includes a version of the poignant ballad Don't Go to Strangers. What helps tie it together is the gorgeous album artwork by Alban Low. “It was a joyful experience working with Alban, whose illustrations are fantastic,” says Mancio. “Because we had so many strands we felt like we needed someone to bring it all together and make a clear statement. The artwork is an integral part of the album.”

Growing up, Mancio admired an interesting array of singers such as Nancy Wilson, Anita O’Day, Norma Winstone, Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae and Brazilian singer Elis Regina. Before becoming a professional singer, she worked at Ronnie Scott’s club in Soho and vividly remembers Betty Carter. “Her command of the stage and musicians, her uncompromising love for the music – even if it was the last late set on a Monday night to a diminished audience – she was utterly compelling and driven. If I had a chance to see any artist again, I would choose to be in the presence of the unique Betty Carter.”

Both Williams and Mancio are firm believers in the power of live music and are relishing taking Finding Home on tour, which has funding from Arts Council England, and takes in interesting venues such as the Foundling Museum, the Salvation Army in Thornton Heath (including a family pay-what-you-can show) and Bolton Abbey in Skipton. Williams senior will guest on three of the tour dates.

“For me, seeing a band live and understanding how they interact with each other and the audience, completes the picture,” says Mancio. “We relish the chance to focus on the impact of this emotional experience: to reach as wide a range of audience members as we can, to move them and to do justice to the stories we have been privileged to tell.” (pp)

Finding Home is released 1 June 2019 on kwjazz and features:

Kate Williams - piano
Georgia Mancio - voice
John Garner - violin
Marie Schreer - violin
Francis Gallagher - viola
Sergio Serra - cello
Oli Hayhurst - double bass
David Ingamells -drums
John Williams - guitar (on 2 tracks and guest on 3 tour dates)

Read More...

FEATURE: Huw V Williams' 25th Improvised Music Agenda Podcast (with Corey Mwamba, about ceasing live performance)



Welsh bassist Huw V Williams has been recording interviews as podcasts, and has just reached the 25th episode of his Improvised Music Agenda Podcasts, in  which vibraphonist Corey Mwamba talked to him about the background to his decision to withdraw from live performance. Mwamba's last gig will be in Derby this weekend. Interview with Huw V Williams by Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your latest, 25th podcast interview.

Huw V Williams: For episode 25, I talked to Corey Mwamba. Corey is an incredible vibraphone player who is about to retire from public performance on 23 March 2019. Corey will still be active in composing/recording/organising/archiving music. I’m sure many musicians have felt like stopping (myself included); I wanted to see what lead him to this decision. I had wanted to talk to Corey for a while, despite our paths having not crossed yet, but I seized the opportunity and talked on the afternoon prior to his last ever gig in London.

A lot of the interviews I have recorded have felt as if they could go on for a lot longer, I’m playing with an idea of doing a part 2 with previous guests. Corey is definitely a person I’d like to catch up with again.

LJN: What originally gave you the idea to set up this podcast?

HVW: Around October 2017, after years of listening to podcasts and hoping to start my own, I bit the bullet and bought myself some recording equipment to record the long-form interviews. The main idea is to talk to some of my favourite musicians and to shine a light on some of the artists who I don’t think get as much attention as they deserve. I talk to guests across the whole spectrum of improvised musics.

LJN: Who were the first guests?

HVW: The first few interviews I recorded were with Dee Byrne, Simon Roth and Elias Stemeseder: musicians I had known for a while, but never had the opportunity to learn their full origin story or the details about their creative process. My policy about the podcast has always been to interview people who I am genuinely interested in and have researched. I do all the interviews in person, for many reasons, the biggest one being chemistry with the guest, but also for control over sound quality. If people are going to listen to me asking questions for an hour, I want to to sound as clear as I can make it.

I have always been curious about what makes up a musician, for example what had happened in their youth to turn them on to music and why they went down a certain path musically. In a long-form interview such as this, I feel the listener gets a clearer picture of the person I’m interviewing, as there’s more opportunity to open up than there would be in a short five-minute interview.

LJN: How many episodes will you record?

HVW: Originally I had only planned to make 10 episodes, just to see how it went, but after that I got the hunger to do more. There’s still a big list of people I’d love to interview, so there’s no real plans of stopping. Since I’ve published 25 episodes so far, maybe I’m going to aim for at least 50.

Huw V Williams
Photo supplied
LJN: What topics do you cover in the podcast?

HVW: The topics covered in most of these episodes are mostly to do with music. I love talking about the formative albums which made the musician the person they are now. I also cover biographical things, everyone has a slightly different story of how they fell into a life of playing fairly obscure music and it’s interesting to see how these things came about. Podcasts which really influenced me to start “Improvised Music Agenda” are Jeremiah Cymerman’s “5049 podcast”, who interviews musicians based around New York, he really gets into it and there’s a great mix of guests, also the other big one for me has been Stuart Goldsmith’s “Comedian’s Comedian Podcast”, in which he himself a stand-up interviews other stand-ups about their creative process. I have learnt a lot about interviewing from these two podcasts, but there are also many others which have influenced me (which I won’t list right now).

LJN: Is the podcast aimed at musicians or the wider audience?

HVW: When I started doing this, I was trying to model it on something I would like to listen to, but the intent has always been for it to appeal to the wider audience. I’m hoping the interviews will introduce people to new music and support the great scene we have in the UK at the moment. It’s been quiet nice recently bumping into fellow musicians who have been listening to the podcast and being complimentary about it.

LJN: Which has been the most popular episode? Do you have a favourite episode?

HVW: From looking at the stats, more people are listening each week and diving into previous episodes, which I’m really chuffed about! There are so many incredible musicians in our circle whose profiles aren’t as high as others, but their creative output is of equally high standard. For that reason I wouldn’t want to say which is the most popular or which is my favourite episode as it brings hierarchy to the series. I’m grateful to all the guests for giving up their time and telling their stories on mic for the listener. I believe each episode is different and every guest has a different quality that comes out, musically and personally. For example, Alex Ward and Adrian Cox are both incredible clarinettists, but on very different sides of music and had a great time interviewing both.

LJN: Which musicians would you really like to interview?

HVW: There’s already a big list of people I’d love to talk to which keeps growing. I would love to interview some of my heroes that are still around, for example Trevor Dunn, Mary Halvorson, Tony Malaby and many many many more. But if I could interview guests who have passed on, I’d love to talk to Wilbur Ware, Derek Bailey, Thelonious Monk and many, many more.

LJN: What have you learnt from doing the podcast? And how is it different from others?

HVW: From doing the podcast, I’ve become more aware of interview techniques and the role of the interviewer. The style which I’m going for is half way in between being an interview and a conversation, which I hope makes the guest open up a little more and get to talk about things you wouldn’t hear in other contexts. Maybe the closest comparison that people might make is to the Jazz podcast hosted by Rob Cope and Dan Farrant. Although there’s some crossover of guests between mine and Rob’s shows, we extract different sorts of information from our guests and our angle is slightly different. We have also been on each other’s shows and regularly message each other about podcast-related things, we’ve sort of created a British jazz/improvised music podcast support group.

It took me a while to start the podcast as I wasn’t sure if it was going to be different enough from other ones, but I figured it’s good to have as many of these things out there as possible as it’s minority musical genre, the more we talk about it, the more people will listen to the music.

LJN: Where can we find the podcast?

HVW: You can find the podcast on most streaming services, links are below. I also have a Patreon page for the podcast to help raise funds. There are many costs that go with making a podcast, for example online hosting, recording gear, travelling and so on. You can do a one-off donation or a subscription, – every little bit of money makes a big difference. Also, a massive thank you to those who already contribute! If you enjoy the podcast and want to help out with out donating money, a rating and review on iTunes is also a massive help.

LINKS:

Patreon
iTunes
Buzzsprout - the Corey Mwamba episode
Also available on Spotify and Stitcher

Read More...

NEWS: Cutbacks in Jazz Programming at BBC Radio 3

"We will be resting Jazz Now"
Screengrab from BBC website

Sebastian writes:

A press release at the end of last week presages a cut in the number of weekly jazz programmes on BBC Radio 3 from four to two. Late Junction which has been a Radio 3 late-night fixture ever since Roger Wright first asked Fiona Talkington to start it in September 1999, will become a once-a-week show.

Here is the key paragraph from the press release:

"On Fridays, Late Junction, a programme that explores the experimental boundaries of music, will move to a single two hour programme in a key slot on Friday evening, to kick start BBC Radio 3’s weekend for listeners. It will run from 11pm-1am. Jazz will continue to be well represented through Jazz Record Requests, J to Z, and on BBC Sounds which will bring together the best of Jazz performances and programmes from across the BBC. We will be resting Jazz Now and Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz. Music Planet will move from its Friday evening slot in turn, to Saturday nights from midnight-1am. We will also be making use of our unique partnership with The European Broadcasting Union to expand the Sunday night In Concert programme by 30 minutes, bringing listeners more of the very best of European music-making."

The full Press Release is here

A Facebook group to co-ordinate the petitions against the Late Junction decision is HERE
There is also a petition against the axeing of Jazz Now HERE

Read More...

FILM REVIEW: Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes


Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes
(2018, documentary, 1h 26m.  Director: Sophie Huber. Review by Richard Lee.)

This truly delightful documentary history of the Blue Note label is a love letter to a past-era, but with plenty of hope for the future.

Our heroes – Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff – are the musical equivalents of Siegel & Schuster, the boys of immigrant stock who around the same time turned der Ubermensch into your friendly neighbourhood Superman. Alfred & Francis championed the supermen of black musicians who played better and more inventively than anyone on the planet ever had, and it’s their love of the music that powers Sophie Huber’s film. As she says “Apart from the music, I am moved by the humanity that runs through the entire history of Blue Note. The collaboration between the German Jewish founders, who fled to New York in the 1930s and the African American musicians and how together, they found an expression of freedom in jazz. Especially today, when xenophobia and racism are omnipresent, it is important to tell this story and expose this extraordinary music and its lasting influence to a younger generation.” Our thoughts and prayers are with the descendants of those immigrants and musicians in the USA today, trying to power through this century’s Blue Notes.



To that end, as well as plenty of classic tracks played over the iconic visuals of Reid Miles, there are extended recording sessions from a 2018 supergroup, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Lionel Loueke, Kendrick Scott and Marcus Strickland. These “Blue Note All-Stars" are joined by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock for a delicious take of Masqualero, and these Blue Note stalwarts also contribute some valuable thoughts on the label, its founders and its influence. But perhaps the real joy among the interviews or voiceovers from the archive is the great Lou Donaldson. With his voice now a quirky alto of its own, he provides insights, quips and gossip that are worth your ticket price alone.

As the company’s intermittent history is told – “no-one could understand that here was a label more interested in the music than the money” – we arrive at the 21st century and the rise of hip-hop and latterly, the generation of Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. Whereas the jazz police would once have bemoaned these contemporary incursions, what comes through Huber’s framing of things is that music for the new kids on the block – makers and listeners alike – is simply Ellingtonian – good or bad – and genres, or indeed provenance, are no longer the key to understanding or approval.

This is good news for the future. And so is the promise from Blue Note that a soundtrack album will be released, and that the BBC has chipped in to show the documentary later in the year.

LINK: Blue Note Movie website

Read More...

REVIEW: Josh Sinton and Hprizm at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn

Josh Sinton
Publicity photo by Johannes Worsoe
Josh Sinton and Hprizm
(ISSUE Project Room, Boerum Place, Brooklyn, 15 March 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The evening preview notes sounded more like an architectural exhibition than a musical showcase, all “non-linear forms”, “generative programming”, “dense environments” and “musique concrète”. But while in architecture this sort of language would signal the forefront of complex geometry and parametric fanciness, this edition of Syncretics Series is borne from the lower-tech worlds of magnetic tape and early age electric amplifiers.

Tonight was a double-header, contrasting the large projected audio-visual sampling/messing of Hprizm presenting PRESSURE WAVE with the solo live clarinet of Josh Sinton and his work, krasa. A single chair is set centre stage ready for Sinton, placed directly before a dominant floor-to-ceiling white partition truncating a cavernous Beaux-Arts entrance hall (the former lodge HQ of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks).

It is when Sinton takes the stage that one notices that his chair is facing backwards. But the static view of the back of his black shirt and fedora is the perfect neutral focus for the sounds he is here to produce. krasa is a tour de force exploration of the sounds of an instrument. But really, all the sounds of an instrument. Sinton himself has likened his method to an “audio microscope”, and the attention to detail is startling. In this closely miked-up scenario, a delicate breath is picked up and amplified, and the pre-emptive rumble of a note arriving is presented before the note itself. Over a half hour or so the soundscape is built from clicks and air through to a sort of rolling climactic layered buzz.

The choice of instrument as the contrabass clarinet – a more unusual member of the clarinet family here resembling a large silver flattened pretzel – is inspired in providing a very low, resonant base to build from, but still retaining treble register capabilities. With his fingers semi-permanently clamped in the lower end of the contrabass range, there are moments where it is goes through more of the growing throbbing phases of the didgeridoo than the reed instrument it is.

This constant feeding sound has much to do with the impressive circular breathing on display, the view from behind the performance showing only the heaving shoulders and the side of Sinton's neck regularly inflating, the amplified rhythm of this additive bellows forming its own percussive metronome to the music. From the audience's position it feels as if we're watching him constantly fuelling a pulsing clicking fire.

Extra texture is added by honks, screeches – punctuation to the developing background. The resulting feedback, in control but at times on the limits, has the sound desk attentive and twitching, not sure if to intervene would be a creative invasion (I think here it would) but conditioned with conventional music's production instincts.

Producer/MC Kyle Austin (a.k.a. High Priest, or Hprizm)
Publicity photo from 2016
Hprizm presents a different challenge. As a start, Kyle Austin has arranged his laptop so he faces the audience. Attention is directed not to him, but above him, to the murky sepia-toned moving images that he projects. Unlike krasa, PRESSURE WAVES is inspired by magnetic tapes and retro recording and looping capabilities, but prepared through new technology. The old images and sounds, both distorted through noise, are played from a neat laptop glowing with an apple logo and not from tape technologies, or even the bird's nest of cables of intermediate technology (like the Jeff Snyder electronic instrument tool set). The synergy between the obfuscated sounds, introduced public announcement samples and noisy historic images is effective; as the musical clarity and minimal dance vibe develops, the imagery changes to pulsing wavy surfaces and nets. Here it is the changing visuals – not a bellowing neck and cheeks – that sets the metronome.

This former Elks hall, the current ISSUE Project Room, has seen better days. But the semi-derelict non-futuristic and re-purposed old space helped set the low-tech tone – providing interesting acoustics in amongst an opulent marble floor and ionic column capitals surrounded by missing vault tiles, MDF patches and faded, peeled gold leaf. The space also proved unexpectedly versatile: the enormous Hitchcock silhouette of Sinton's behatted profile and the absurdist loops of the contrabass clarinet looming high above the arches of the arcade colonnades along the side; the triple height plaster partition the perfect projection screen for Hprizm's filtered imagery.

It is worth noting how varied these two performers can be. Austin's work is often found in art galleries, or on stage with superstars like Radiohead and Public Enemy, while last month Sinton was nerdily fussing about Phantasos, his passionate re-staging of the 90s alternative rock band Morphine in the back room at Barbès. Whatever they're up to, I think its worth a visit.

Read More...

REVIEW: Ana Silvera at Anteros Arts in Norwich

Ana Silvera
Publicity photo by Alice Williamson

Ana Silvera
(Anteros Arts, Fye Bridge Street, Norwich. 15 March 2019. Review by Jane Mann)

London-born singer composer Ana Silvera, currently on a ten-date tour around England and Scotland, appeared at the charming recital room of the former Tudor mansion which houses the Anteros Arts Foundation in Norwich. She will be playing with various artists on this tour – on this occasion she is joined by Danish double bassist Jasper Høiby, well known on the London jazz scene for his work with the Loop Collective and for his bands Phronesis and Fellow Creatures.

She is billed as a folksinger, though her musical projects over the last few years have been wide-ranging in genre. She released her first album, the folk-tinged The Aviary in 2012. She was then commissioned by the Estonian Television Girls’ Choir, for whom she wrote a seven-part song cycle, Oracles, a live recording of which became her second album in 2018. In between she has: written the score to a ballet Cassandra performed in the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House in 2014; collaborated with an Early Music ensemble Concerto Caledonia resulting in the CD Purcell’s Revenge in 2015; and composed soundscapes for Ice & Fire Theatre Company on a commission entitled What Do I Know? for the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2018. Last month she played at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Montreal, Canada.

Silvera studied voice at the Guildhall School of Music as a teenager, and literature at University College London, and music and lyrics are clearly equally important to her.

She is a diminutive but compelling figure on stage. She switches between guitar and piano and has an engaging way of introducing the tunes and talking about her work. Her singing is wonderful – precise, delicate and powerful. She uses a looper expertly to create her own backing vocals, at times providing herself with a four-voice choir.

She is accompanied throughout by Høiby who has absolutely sure intonation, and an impressively melodic way with a bass line. His jazz sensibility sits beautifully with Silvera’s rippling folky fingerpicking.

Silvera sang mostly her own material. The combination of piano (as she mentioned, a rather fine Steinway) and bass, and guitar and bass produced a surprisingly full sound, especially when the choir of Anas joined in too. Her songs are affecting – joyful and sorrowful by turn. Often serious, a repeated theme is the difficult journey towards acceptance after loss or bereavement. The arrangements were nicely varied – some sounded like new contemporary music, others impressionistic, all dappled piano and tumbling bass.

She had arranged two songs from Oracles for this tour, both of which I really liked. The first, I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny is Leonard Cohen-like in both its deceptively simple melody and striking visual imagery. It is about her happiest memories, conjuring up her viewpoint as a loved child. The other, Catherine Wheels had a lyrical instrumental interlude like a miniature jazz pastoral. I would very much like to hear the full band versions of these two tunes live, as the duet versions were delightful.

The songs kept on coming, some with quite whimsical lyrics, all rhythmically interesting. I began to hear influences on Silvera’s singing style. There were echoes of Joni Mitchell in her phrasing and something of Kate Bush in the theatricality. She sang one of her favourite Kate Bush songs Cloudbusting – about Wilhelm Reich’s rain making machine – confirming that Bush is indeed an influence. Another poignant song, Greenwich Pier, about one of her favourite places in London, quite Celtic-sounding, and with a piano part like ringing bells, was originally a commission for BBC Radio Three’s Late Junction.

Here is the original Late Junction Session with Maya Youssef, Laura Moody and Silvera:

Haloes sounded to me like Early Music – Silvera’s high crystalline vocals and a beautiful sonorous bowed basso continuo from Høiby were a delight. Another jewel was La Galana I La Mar, a Sephardic wedding song from the 1600s sung in Ladino. In January Silvera played Ladino songs with cellist Francesca Ter-Berg at the Copenhagen Jewish Film Festival, and she and Høiby are planning a whole album of Sephardic songs later on this year.

The powerful Mulberry Moon was about Chilean folk singer Victor Jara who was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s men in 1973. Silvera sounded remarkably like Joan Baez, and there were more ringing bells in the arrangement, from the bass this time.

Pont Mirabeau, with a refrain adapted from French poet Apollinaire’s poem of the same name, also had something of the '70s singer-songwriter about it. Silvera told us that a woman in a café in Paris handed her the poem written on a piece of paper to cheer her up, which inspired her.

“Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine... la joie venait toujours après la peine.”
[The Seine flows under Mirabeau Bridge... pain was always followed by joy]

Silvera finished the show with Hometown, from The Aviary. She encouraged the audience to hum the chorus, as background to Høiby’s beautiful nimble bass and her delicate vocals. And we did.

Musicians:
Ana Silvera – voice, piano, guitar, keyboard
Jasper Høiby – double bass, voice

Set List:
Red Balloon
Queen Of Swords
Early Frost
Haloes
Sink Or Swim
I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny..
La Galana I La Mar (Trad.)
Mulberry Moon
Greenwich Pier
Cloudbusting (by Kate Bush)
Pont Mirabeau
Catherine Wheels
Home Town

UK TOUR DATES IN MARCH:

20 March - The Met, Bury
21 March - Barnoldswick Arts Centre
22 March - Edinburgh House Concert (email rebecca [at] bpa-live.com for booking info)
23 March - The Glad Café, Glasgow
27 March - Listening Room @ Old Fire Station, Oxford
29 March - The Goods Shed, Stroud
30 March - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick (nr Birmingham)

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Mare Nostrum – Mare Nostrum III



Mare Nostrum – Mare Nostrum III
(ACT 9877-2 CD Review by Alison Bentley)


Mare Nostrum III (our sea, and the Roman name for the Mediterranean) is the third album by three musician-composers who grew up by the sea: trumpeter Paolo Fresu (Sardinia); accordionist Richard Galliano (France), and pianist Jan Lundgren (Sweden.) They bring their compositions and styles from their individual countries together, fusing them into new European music, both beautiful and serene.

Galliano’s pieces are strongly melodic. The piano reverb on Blues sur Seine sounds as if it’s drifting from a distant shore; Lundgren sounds as if he’s drawing equally on Satie and Bill Evans. As the folk-edged tune unfolds, the accordion has real delicacy of feeling. You can hear the air fluttering like wings in the accordion’s bellows. Galliano also plays bandoneon and accordina throughout the album, and his solo on the latter has a high sweet purity.

Le Jardin des Fées is in memory of Galliano’s friend Didier Lockwood. With its crisp minor Latin piano groove, it recalls Piazzolla (also a friend of Galliano.) Like many of this album’s tracks, it’s elegiac but uplifting, with its shimmering accordion chords and solos that stay close to the melody. Galliano’s compositions feel personal. In Letter To My Mother, the rubato piano folds warmly around the muted trumpet. The three instruments intertwine phrases closely. Prayer varies the timbres as the three instruments drop in and out, through several meditative moods; stormy deep piano chords resolve into a bright, hopeful world.

Keeping a French mood, Galliano and Fresu play Legrand’s The Windmills of Your Mind unadorned. The tune speaks for itself. Toots Thielemans' harmonica played the original Love Theme From “The Getaway” (by Quincy Jones); Galliano keeps that feel on (what sounds like) accordina over the Jarrett-esque piano and trumpet. It’s like a boat rocking on waves.

Lundgren’s four compositions bring gently different grooves. Love Land has an energetic Latin rhythm, the joyous melody spreading slowly over the full percussive chords. Accordion and trumpet phrases are tucked into each other. Ronneby evokes a Swedish town with a quirky tune, bluesy solos and lazily chromatic trumpet. Love in Return veers towards tango; short solos burst out happily, phrases jostling together. The Magic Stroll has a Gallic insouciance, redolent of Jean Françaix’ Flower Clock.

Fresu’s Pavese has subtle key changes broadening out into a chorus recalling Pachelbel’s Canon, with heartfelt soloing from all. Fresu wrote Del Soldato in trincea (“Soldiers in the trenches”) for the 2014 film Torneranno i prati. Galliano creates a powerful sense of longing for home behind the plangent trumpet theme. Fresu and Lundgren play the former’s exquisite Human Requiem as a duet. It sounds cinematic too: each chord change is like a new camera angle. The trumpet is muted but punchy, and Lundgren recalls John Taylor in his way of playing jazz chords with a classical touch. Fresu’s Perfetta is perfectly poised in ¾ like a French Chanson. The accordina’s high countermelody reaffirms the trumpet, ultimately unresolved. Fresu plays the Neapolitan song I’te vurria vasà as if he’s playing muted lyrics. The accordion brings a nostalgic French atmosphere to the spacious jazz chords.

Although most tracks are under five minutes, the musical detail seems to extend them. They’re deceptively simple. Like looking into clear water, you can’t immediately see the ripples and undercurrents of the chords and rhythms – you just appreciate the experience.

Read More...

REVIEW: Jacob Garchik’s Trombone Choir and Quintet at CBSO Centre, Birmingham

Jacob Garchik (left) and Richard Foote (centre) as the Trombone Choir
 marches into the CBSO Centre.
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Jacob Garchik’s Trombone Choir and Quintet
(CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 16 March 2019. Review and photos by John Watson)

The riff started off-stage – a pulsing, blues-laden blast of brass that grew in volume as the musicians marched into the concert hall, slides waving, bells aimed at the ground and then at the ceiling. It was a thrilling start to this first performance by Jacob Garchik’s UK Trombone Choir – seven tonally blazing bones, plus tuba and drums.

Trombone ensembles are rare in jazz, but some significant musicians have created stimulating music with these rather special groups. Among them in the USA are The Band Of Bones, which has featured guest stars including Steve Turre and Mercer Ellington, and has notably celebrated the music of JJ Johnson in concerts and on disc. There’s also the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Competition, organised by the US-based International Trombone Association for groups of three or more trombones.
Jacob Garchik
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
San Francisco-born Garchik is in the forefront of trombone ensemble creativity in New York, and with the UK’s Richard Foote developed a UK version of his Gospel Trombone Choir, with a short tour organised by Birmingham-based Tony Dudley-Evans of TDE Productions. The CBSO Centre concert was promoted in conjunction with Fizzle and Jazzlines.

The music was inspired by the trombone ensembles of the House of Prayer Churches on the East Coast, and strongly influenced by the feel of classic New Orleans brass playing. The gospel trombone ensemble tradition, as far  as I can discover, originated in the region of Moravia, in the Czech Republic, and was brought to the USA by immigration from the area in the early 18th Century.
The concept works wonderfully well for gospel music, and for blues, too – the riff which heralded the arrival of the ensemble on stage settled quickly into a straight 12-bar sequence.

With Garchik and Foote on trombones were Nichol Tomson, Rob Harvey, Kieran McLeod, Tom Dunnett and Michael Owers - plus tuba player Oren Marshall and drummer Andrew Bain, all very fine players who blazed through Garchik’s suite The Heavens with tremendous zest. The highlights included Creation’s Creation, Dialogue With My Great Grandfather, and a stupendous I’m Bound For Canaan Land. These pieces were punctuated by occasional 30-second blasts of Jesus Is A Rock, all forming an exciting road to gospel glory.

A short first set featured Garchik’s Quintet playing his original compositions, with the leader and Foote on trombones, Andrew Woodhead on piano, Olie Brice on double bass, and Bain on drums.
This was rather less successful, not really catching fire until the final piece – one of the mysteries of jazz is that you can have very accomplished musicians and yet the music doesn’t quite gel. However, the splendid gospel trombones more than made up for it. I’m looking forward to a return visit.

Jacob Garchik’s Trombone Choir also appears at Yellow Arch, Sheffield (in association with Jazz At The Lescar) on Sunday 17 March and at the Vortex in London on Monday 18 March.
The Trombone Choir in rehearsal at the CBSO Centre
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Read More...

REVIEW: Brad Mehldau and the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican

Brad Mehldau at the Barbican
Photo credit: Barbican/Mark Allan


Britten Sinfonia with Brad Mehldau
(Barbican Hall, 16 March 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The main event here was the UK premiere of Brad Mehldau's Piano Concerto. The world premiere was last August at the Philharmonie in Paris, and it has since been heard in Barcelona and in Wrocław in Poland, and will shortly be heard, for example, in Lyon and Luxembourg. It is a big piece, roughly 35 minutes in length, consists of two long movements, and has extended solo episodes.

At a first hearing, and I suspect I am in a minority, I have to confess disappointment. The core vibe is serious, slow, elegaic, and dwells and circles rather than moving forward. There were some knotty and cerebral contrapuntal work-outs going on in the solo episodes, all rather hard to grasp, certainly at a first hearing. It was as if gravity of intent is everything. In the orchestral writing, I wanted there to be more obvious variety of timbre and colour. In the busier orchestral sections, I was reminded of the orchestral writing of, say, Patrick Doyle or Elmer Bernstein: a tendency to set up a simple motoric framework, and then to set off a lyrical voice against it. And that, to my ears and on a first hearing, seemed to be happening quite a lot. Which is fine in a film, but is there enough there to hold the attention in a concert?  There were a lot of other writers in the hall, so these early and perhaps superficial thoughts, written up and filed more or less immediately after the concert, are bound to be improved upon.

The first half had consisted of orchestral transcriptions of Bach, with a couple of interspersed improvisations by Mehldau. Curiosities were played, such as the Stravinsky transcription of Prelude X from the Well-Tempered Clavier from 1969 or Webern’s re-working of a movement from the Musical Offering from 1935. These pieces now seem like remnants from another era. Quaint, reverential, even a bit stuffy, they seemed like museum-pieces. So much has happened to bring Bach to life since then, and to let his music breathe naturally, why did we need to go there? This part of the concert also contained a quite ludicrous pause to re-configure the stage, a few minutes when in essence nothing happened; groups of orchestral players stood around chatting and waiting for their chairs and music stands to be put in place. If there had been any magic or transcendence, that moment killed it stone dead.

There was a solo encore, Little by Little by Radiohead. That felt more like Mehldau on his own terms. Yes, seriously contrapuntal, but with a far greater sense of shape and underlying direction. For me at least, it was by far the most more-ish part of the programme.

Brad Mehldau at the Barbican
Photo credit: Barbican/Mark Allan

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Mats Eilertsen – And Then Comes The Night


Mats Eilertsen – And Then Comes The Night
(ECM 770 2567. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Do I sense something of a trend in ECM track programming for bookending an album with a tune and a variation of it? It’s there on the recent Jakob Bro album, Bay Of Rainbows, and it’s here again on Norwegian double bassist Mats Eilertsen’s new trio disc with fellow countryman/drummer Thomas Strønen and Dutch pianist Harmen Fraanje.

The tune is called 22 and has a heart-melting, folkish melody with a falling phrase that reminds me of Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips And Part as articulated by Peter Erskine, John Taylor and Palle Danielsson back in 1995 (also on ECM). Fraanje makes the opening statements before Eilertsen adds the woody bottom and Strønen brings his characteristic near-orchestral percussion into play.

Eilertsen, a sideman on so many ECM discs – including releases by Tord Gustavsen, Trygve Seim and Mathias Eick – is not about to go off message on his second as leader. This album, like its predecessor, 2016’s Rubicon, sits firmly in the label’s “quiet storm”, or “Nordic cool” section – or however you want to describe one of its key strands. It’s very much a less-is-more band; even Strønen, perhaps the busiest of the three, leaves loads of space around the music. Its breaths may be deep, its sighs exquisitely articulated, but, when it chooses, this trio can have the air stopped in your chest with the intensity of its restrained excitement.

The title track (it comes from a novel by Icelandic writer Jón Kalman Stefánsson) feels like a three-way improv, as does Perpetum, while elsewhere the music is written by bassist or pianist, and has a gentle logic and form. Fraanje is lyrical with a leaning towards introspection, but the moods he creates are richly nuanced.

A good hi-fi is vital to get the full power of the album, especially the lower frequencies – not only the rich timbre of the Eilertsen’s bass but the monumental rumble of Strønen’s gran casa drum. In some ways the fourth member of the band is the hall where it was recorded (the musicians playing purely acoustically without using headphones); take a bow, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano.

The band has been together for a decade and this is their third album (the first two are on the Hubro label). For me, it's their strongest yet.

Mats Eilertsen Trio will be appearing on the jazzahead! clubnight at the Sendesaal in Bremen on 27 April

Read More...

INTERVIEW: Jacques Schwarz-Bart (new album Hazzan and Bio-Pic La Voix des Ancêtres)

Jacques Schwarz-Bart
Photo credit: Marc Baptiste
Saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, who has a dual Jewish and Guadeloupian heritage, has been living in the United States since the early 1990s. His parents are Simone and the late André Schwarz-Bart, both of whom are well-known in France as prize-winning published authors. This interview marks the release of a new Jacques Schwarz-Bart album Hazzan in which the saxophonist pays tribute to his father who died in 2006, and of a bio-pic La Voix des Ancêtres. Interview by Yannick Le Maintec, originally published in French in Le Monde (*): 

LondonJazz News: As we speak, you are back in Boston where you live after having lived in New York for a long time. You teach at the Berklee College of Music, where you also studied. How does it feel to return as a teacher?

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: It feels really exhilarating. For a very long time, I quietly held on to a secret dream of giving back what Berklee had given to me. I received an invitation to give a master class, and I think they liked the connection I was able to establish with the students, plus the fact that I was able to teach them a complex piece of music fairly quickly, and raise the level of their playing through directions and suggestions which were concise and to the point.

LJN: In the film dedicated to you, The Voice of the Ancestors, you say you feel like an immigrant. After 29 years on American soil, surely you can’t still feel like an immigrant?

JS-B: Yes. I think I will always feel like an immigrant. The sum of all my parts will always be a challenge for people I interact with. I do not expect to be perceived and understood in all aspects of my identity and diversity. I am already happy when I don’t feel any prejudice.

LJN: In the documentary film, you speak in measured terms about your dual origin, Jewish and Guadalupian, of people who have been in transit, not to say deported from their countries of origin. Does your sense of being an immigrant (or a migrant as one might say today) give you the feeling of being connected to what is happening in the world today?

JS-B: Yes. Being an immigrant allows me to see others as humans, as opposed to nationalists who have a myopic perception of humanity. When you look at the recent massive movements of migration, it is easy to see how this idea of a frontier is a pure fabrication of the mind, an artifice that is flying in pieces when confronted with reality.

LJN: I can detect in your comments that you are not exactly in favour of the walls that some would like to build...

JS-B: What you are referring to is an insult to the founding principles of the American nation, which was built by and for immigrants.

LJN: If we go back in time about 30 years, what happened in your career to make you switch to music? How does the top student in the class end up as a musician?

JS-B: I did not become a musician overnight. I was born a music lover. Music is an artistic vehicle that always transported me, got me enthused and impassioned.

I encountered my instrument, the tenor saxophone, very late, at the age of 24. I had just finished the school of government (Sciences Po). Since I was the top student in my ENA class, the President of the General Council of Guadeloupe offered me a position as General Manager. A few months before I started, I tried playing a saxophone at a friend’s house. Within half an hour, I was able to play simple scales and had melodies. My friends said: You never told us you could play! One of them offered me a gig the next day. And that summer, I played a series of little gigs. There was no transition between my first notes and my musician’s life.

After being in that position as a manager for two years, I quit in order to go to Paris. I wanted to be closer to the world of jazz music. I got a new position as a senator’s assistant. I was just enjoying going to concerts, and the idea of starting a career in music was simply inconceivable since I had started so late.

Then, one moment changed my destiny. I met Garrison Fewell – the Berklee professor and great guitar player – at the Caveau de la Huchette (TRIBUTE HERE). At the end of his set, he saw my sax case and invited me for the last song. I accepted with excitement. Afterwards, when he found out I had just recently started, he said I should come to Berklee. He sent manuals that I worked hard to ingest. I went to Boston for auditions, got a scholarship that allowed me to complete my musical education and stay in the US. I put my previous life behind me, and never looked back…

LJN: It's hard to imagine you switching to full-time music at the age of 24. There must have been something else going on....

JS-B: I don’t know whether to attribute it to the weight of my ancestry and inheritance, but I clearly remember being apprehensive of the world ever since I was born. As a child, I wanted to climb back into my mother’s womb, and I was a very late talker. Human interaction was really of no interest to me. I didn’t feel like engaging verbally. On the other hand, I sang every melody I heard. That is how I felt alive: I knew I really belonged to the world of music.

I quickly amassed a collection of jazz cassette recordings. Vinyl was very expensive so I recorded a lot of music from jazz radio shows. My best friend father was a jazz aficionado, so I made copies of his entire vinyl collection. My walls were entirely covered with shelves of cassette tapes. This was my refuge, my place of safety.

LJN: Hazzan is composed of ten songs from the Jewish liturgy. How did you get to know Jewish music?

JS-B: My brother and I received a religious education. These chants I heard as a child, either at the synagogue or during Jewish holidays at my father’s friends. This aspect of Jewish religion was important to me because of my love of music.

Jewish philosophy and ethics remain life principles for me to this day. For instance, I am very much attached to the importance of questioning. I question everything. It is the essence of wisdom. It is said that a Jewish person always responds to a question by another question. But one does not do so to avoid the truth. Rather one doesn’t take the truth for granted: it must be sought after, with deliberation, fortitude and courage. That is how I also approach musical truth.



LJN: Among the ten prayers you have chosen, is there one which is more important to you than the others?

JS-B: From a philosophical standpoint,  Ma Nishtana is important to me: we are reminded that we were slaves in Egypt. My parents met because of this teaching. It is this shared history of slavery between Jewish and black people that triggered my father’s interest in black culture. That is what motivated him to learn how to speak Creole and to befriend African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris. And that is how he approached my mother in Creole!

From a musical standpoint, two songs are close to my heart, because they represent the fusion of all my influences. Shabbat Manuka Hi and Mi Sebeirach. These two pieces combine polyrhythms, rich harmonies, lyrical melodies and powerful grooves. These elements are the cornerstones of my musical universe today.

LJN: I don't know if what I'm about to say can be offensive or should be taken as a compliment... Hazzan doesn't really sound like an album of Jewish music. How do you respond?

JS-B: The idea was not to sound like Jewish music. I intended to fully express my artistic freedom as a jazzman who has delved into Caribbean and African rhythms while staying true to the essence of the Jewish chants on this record.

I will always remember the concert I played in Metz, my father’s native town. The organiser came to the stage during sound check. I saw on his face a mixture of enthusiasm and fear. I stop the band and he says: "It’s intense, it’s powerful, it grooves, but what does it have to do with Jewish music? Our guests are mostly part of the Jewish community here. What will we tell them?” I replied: “Do not worry. They will sing along with us. You think that nothing is Jewish in this music. But everything is Jewish while being also not Jewish. Through these chants, they will latch on to my entire universe.”

LJN: I think I am right in saying that Hazzan has a clear connection with the albums you previously produced, and notably Jazz Racine Haïti?

JS-B: Absolutely. I am interested in the spiritual aspect of music. And even when a musical style is not strictly spiritual, what draws me to it is its spiritual expression. It seems to me that jazz is experienced by most jazzmen as spiritual expression, just as gwoka came from Voodoo, which is religious music and also a passion of mine. Spirituality is a continuous thread throughout my work. My whole musical history is essentially a long prayer.

LJN: Is the saxophone a mystical instrument, or can it become one?

JS-B: If I can’t use my saxophone as a vessel for spirituality, I will have missed the point. Playing the horn is about unveiling your inner voice. There is a reason why the most spiritual artist in history, John Coltrane, was a tenor saxophonist.

LJN: So we come to the question "What about God in all of this?" (**). We talked about Judaism, voodoo... What does Jacques Schwarz-Bart believe in?

JS-B: I believe in energies bigger than myself. Human senses and intellect have limited ways of accounting for this unfathomable reality. Each religion is an attempt at capturing a glance. That is why no religion is superior to another.

The ones I received have each given me a different angle. I am also attached to Buddhism and Toltec shamanism, while Judaism and Voodoo remain foundational in my perception.

I also love astrophysics with a passion.

LJN: After Hazzan and Jazz Racine Haiti, have you now completed a process of self- examination What will be the inspiration for your future projects?

JS-B: I just remain open. Carlos Castaneda said that the apprentice shaman needs to let the spirit guide his steps on this perilous journey. If you keep your ego in check, you will keep your ability to follow the spirit. That is how I will get to my next step. That said, I have five projects ready to come out, and three in the works: enough to keep me busy for the next decade!

LINK: (*) Yannick's original interview in French in Le Monde

(**) "Et Dieu dans tout ça?" is a familiar French trope, the question always asked of hundreds of interviewees by Jacques Chancel in his long-running shows on radio and TV, Radioscopie and Le Grand Échiquier.

Read More...