TRIBUTE: Jimmie Haskell (1936- 2016)

Jimmie Haskell and Richard Niles

Dr. Richard Niles remembers composer/arranger JIMMIE HASKELL, three-time Grammy winner, Emmy winner, and responsible for 135 gold or platinum albums, who died last week aged 79. Richard writes:

Jimmie Haskell was successful as a composer, arranger and producer from the late 1950s onwards. Starting out with Ricky Nelson, he worked with Sheryl Crow, Steely Dan, Barbara Streisand, Elvis, Blondie, Tina Turner, The Bee Gees, Chicago, Bobbie Darren, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Doobie Brothers, Jose Feliciano, Barry Manilow and Michael Jackson. He won Grammys for his work with Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water), Chicago (If You Leave Me Now) and Bobbie Gentry (Ballad of Billie Jo). He also won an Emmy (four nominations) and composed music for 31 feature films, 32 TV movies and 445 TV episodes.

I was fortunate enough to interview him on three occasions and devoted a chapter to him in my book on the great pop arrangers, The Invisible Artist. He was a warm, inviting, kind gentleman with an understated sense of humor. He told great stories but he was also a great listener, really interested in other points of view. He was the kind of guy who it was impossible not to like. The twinkle in his smile made you think about perhaps putting on a pair of sunglasses. He was couch-comfortable to be around.

He had a relaxed confidence about his years of success and was able to clearly explain the working methods of his art.

Arrangers must be generically literate to be able to write for a variety of styles. His arranging choices were determined not only by the song and the artist, but by the meaning of the song. Much of his work was “scoring the lyric”. He advised aspiring arrangers to transcribe their favorite work and get help from a teacher or mentor. He warned against over arranging.

“A good arrangement enhances the song, makes you want to listen to it again and again and, most importantly, makes you want to buy the record.”

How did he begin writing?

“When I listen to the song, I think of what I’m gonna write but I don’t try too hard. I listen some more and notes pop into my head. I jot them down on paper.”

Commercial considerations?

“Commerciality doesn’t control what I write, but it controls the attitude of the people who hire me!”

Haskell won a Grammy for “Bridge Over Troubled Water” though it was “the song I did the least work on”. But his masterful writing, as exemplified by his arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “America” uses many techniques. Contrasting orchestration, melodic counter lines, varied voicing techniques, descriptive programmatic writing and dissonance are all used with the sole purpose of intensifying the emotional impact of the music and the lyric.

To what did Haskell attribute the longevity of his career?

“The fact that I enjoy 99% of my sessions and they’re all fun!”

I am very grateful that I was able to share some stories and some fun with him. He was a very nice man.

Dr. Richard Niles (website) is a composer, arranger and author living in California. His new album BANDZILLA RISES is due April 2016.

Jimmie Haskell (born Sheridan Pearlman). Born November 7, 1936 in Brooklyn, NY, died February 4, 2016, Laguna Niguel, CA.  (WEBSITE)


PURE GUESSWORK: Love Supreme Festival (First programme announcement due 11th Feb 9am, Festival July 1-3)

Love Supreme Festival is due to make the first announcenent of headliners this Thursday February 11th at 9am. In the meantime, the festival has been tantalising its mailing list members with what that announcement might contain. Indeed, the picture above goes by the document name of "website tease." 

The email promises:  

"We set ourselves the challenge to outdo what has come before.....  A big line up for this summer....Music legends, jazz and soul superstars, the hottest newcomers to the scene and a few leftfield choices....We may even be announcing a UK exclusive collaboration between some legendary jazz artists…More announcements to come."

Without any prior knowledge whatsoever, and with just as much chance of getting it wrong as getting it right..... we started to wonder, and also to enter into the spirit. The Copenhagen Jazz Festival, at the same time, is still in the middle of its Winter Jazz offering, and has not yet announced its headliners, so no clues there...However, interestingly, two major US artists have been booked into quite small London venues around the time of the festival. So in the spirit of the tease, they are:

 1. A guitarist called Patrick born in 1954 in Lee's Summit, Missouri, who is at Ronnie Scott's 29 June- 2 July (LINK)

2.  A pianist called Armando born in 1941 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, who is at the Wigmore Hall on 8th July (LINK)

All will become clearer on Thursday morning...

 LINK: Love Supreme Festival Website


PREVIEW/ FEATURE: Saxophonist Aldevis Tibaldi (New sextet album with John Eacott TwentySix Three + Launch February 26 at Hampton Court House)

Aldevis Tibaldi

Italian-born saxophonist ALDEVIS TIBALDI launches a new sextet  album "TwentySix Three" on February 26th with a group including trumpeter/composer John Eacott. Rob Adams found out the background:

Carla Bley, Willie Garnett and Bill Kyle are unlikely ever to play in the same band together but the pianist-composer, saxophonist-instrument repairer and drummer-jazz club owner form an invaluable trio of encouragement and assistance in the career of Aldevis Tibaldi.

The Trieste-born saxophonist, who has been resident in London since 2004, encountered Bley while playing with a student orchestra in Bologna and was impressed by her willingness, over lunch with the young musicians she was tutoring, to answer any and all questions about arranging techniques. As the saxophone technician to players from Ben Webster to David Sanborn, every professional passing through London owes Willie Garnett a favour, says Tibaldi. And mine host of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, Bill Kyle has consistently given Tibaldi the opportunity to see that his musical ideas work and may be this trio’s most vital component.

Tibaldi began playing classical trumpet and double bass as a child in Trieste and by the age of eleven he had added a parallel interest in jazz courtesy of Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Rollins, whom he discovered through an art teacher with a fondness for passing mix-tapes to pupils he thought might share his musical tastes.

“One of those tapes had Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus on it and I was immediately seduced by the sound of the tenor saxophone,” says Tibaldi. “This was small town Italy in the 1980s and there wasn’t a lot of jazz around. The nearest saxophone teacher was 150 kilometres away so I learned to play with the school concert band until I moved on to the academy, where I played all sorts of music, church music, a lot of rock music. It was a great experience.”

Having won a place at university Tibaldi went ahead and took an MA in Political Studies but just days after he completed his final dissertation he was studying the singular inversions and voicings that make Carla Bley’s music so distinctive. By this time he was playing baritone in the OFP Orchestra S.Lazzaro in Bologna, whose many guest directors included Steve Coleman and Bruno Tommaso as well as Bley and her long-time partner and collaborator, bassist Steve Swallow.

“Carla and Steve were wonderful,” he says. “We had a week of rehearsals with them and often the guest directors would eat with the professors but Carla and Steve sat with the students and let us fire questions at them all through the meals. What Carla told me stayed with me for years and I still use the knowledge she imparted in my own music today.”

Another lasting influence from his early days is Balkan music. Trieste being near the Yugoslavian border, musician exchanges brought him into contact with the compound time signatures that are a feature of the Balkan traditions. “I never actually played that music but it made a big impression,” he says. “What amazed me was that, not only could they play music in those metres, but they could also dance in 13/8 – and I could barely count it!”

In 2004, Tibaldi decided on a change of scene. He moved to London and taking time to find his way on the gig scene he got a job in Virgin Records’ Oxford Street store. In the jazz department there he was exposed to a lot of music he hadn’t heard before and wandering through Soho after work he encountered a local worthy, Jake Vegas, who was his passport onto the jobbing musician circuit.

“Jake is a very funny guy but also a genius,” says Tibaldi. “And through him, I was able to give up my job with Virgin and earn enough to live on as a musician, playing weddings and other functions, a whole variety of things.”

It was around this time that, on a road trip through Scotland, Tibaldi happened upon the Tuesday jam session at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh. Hearing him play, club owner Bill Kyle offered him a couple of nights’ work the following weekend, playing with the World Premiere Quintet – an ad hoc meeting of musicians who are often meeting for the first time and who organise the set list on the bandstand.

Two nights became three as Tibaldi sat in with the Jazz Bar Big Band on the Monday and from then on Kyle would call and invite him back periodically to work with musicians including award-winning trumpeter Colin Steele, pianists and young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year winners Alan Benzie and Pete Johnstone, and the now Korea-based Paul Kirby, and the experienced Kyle himself.

“Playing at the Jazz Bar has been a great help with my career in the UK,” says Tibaldi. “Having these musicians playing my own music has let me see that my ideas work and it’s given me confidence when putting my own projects together.”

Among those projects is the London Jazz Ensemble, which includes sometime Loose Tubes, trumpeter John Eacott and trombonist Paul Taylor, alongside pianist Liam Dunachie, bassist Richard Sadler, and drummer Chris Gale. The band launches its first album, TwentySix Three, on February 26 at Hampton Court House, where Tibaldi has been teaching saxophone since 2009.

Mostly comprising Tibaldi originals, with arrangements of Mingus, Monk, and Ellington tunes and the Italian standard Mi Piace, TwentySix Three showcases Tibaldi’s ability both to make a three-horn frontline sound almost orchestral and to produce his best work to a deadline.

“I have ideas on the go all the time and notes all over the place that I’ll keep coming back to and revising,” he says. “But I find that my best writing comes when I have to come up with something to order. For some reason a deadline makes me think clearer and more decisively. It’s a great motivation.”

Aldevis Tibaldi at Galetone Records
February 26th concert on Facebook - and BOOKINGS - Hampton Court House is in Hampton Court Road, KT8 9BS


CD REVIEW: Mike Westbrook and the Uncommon Orchestra - A Bigger Show

Mike Westbrook and the Uncommon Orchestra - A Bigger Show
(ASC Records. ascd162163. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

This double CD records Mike and Kate Westbrook's recent large scale theatrical project. Using an orchestra of twenty one, incorporating actors and a dramaturge (a rare credit on a jazz CD) and musicians from a variety of traditions, it builds on themes that the Westbrooks have been working on for several years. Several of the songs appear in shorter versions on the Village Band's CD “The Waxeywork Show”, and other tracks have been developed from pieces in the Art Wolf project. But this is a bigger band – a bigger show.

Sung in Kate Westbrook's distinctive, stylised voice, the songs tell tales of the Waxeyworks, a composite of a fairground, a freak show, Bartholomew Fair, a seaside music hall, and today's internet-driven celebrity culture. The cast of characters would fit right in to Brecht's The Beggars Opera or a Shakespearean bawdy house. They serve to emphasise the absurdity of our hectic, networked modern lives.

Most tracks are based around relatively simple riffs, but Mike Westbrook's luscious orchestrations and arrangements create complex musical structures which, together with some excellent soloists, hold one's attention across both CDs. Several tracks last around fifteen minutes, and Propositions, at over thirty minutes, could form a suite of its own as it moves through several different sections, but the music flies along. Kate Westbrook's words come across with more pathos and irony than in their previous incarnation. There are several new songs, too, and the older ones have been extended and reworked for the Uncommon Orchestra's broader canvas. The interplay between the three singers allows for a varied characterisation as they take different on different roles.

The whole has been described as an oratorio, in which the Westbrooks have created a compelling if sometimes repellant world. Taking from jazz, rock and folk musics, something unique emerges. Building on his large body of work, Mike Westbrook has produced music that is by turns exciting, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Let's hope it really is “the show that never ends”!

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

LINKS: Review by John Turney of the Westbrook Blake from the Bath Festival in 2015
Reviewby Chris Parker  of Glad Day in London in 2014
Interview with Mike and Kate Westbrook about Glad Day
CD Review: The Serpent Hit by Chris Parker


CD REVIEW: Malija - The Day I Had Everything

Malija - The Day I Had Everything
(Editions Records. EDN1064. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Malija comprises in equal measures Mark Lockheart on reeds, pianist Liam Noble and Jasper Høiby on bass. All three are familiar from their busy workload and prolific collaborations. They played together on Lockheart's quintet recording In Deep, but this is their first outing as a trio. Lockheart contributes more tunes than Høiby or Noble, but other than that the trio is very well balanced.

The music has an eclectic feel, bringing together several styles and influences, whilst keeping a singular voice. Indeed, the closing track is called In One Voice, a gentle, exploratory walk which allows each of the trio (and the guest violinist) to contribute to the whole.

The trio are joined on that track and on Mr Wrack by a string quartet who, though unobtrusive, provide a little nudge along. Mr Wrack starts with slightly off-kilter, Monk-like piano and some tender clarinet, and gradually gets more frenetic, until at the end it threatens to come off the tracks.

The band give their name to Høiby's Malija, a slow, contemplative number to which each contribute solos, full of space and light. Noble's Blues is in a similar vein, a slow, moody piece. Lockheart's languid solo takes up much of the tune, full of gentle, long notes. Beneath the reeds and bass, Noble adds subtle touches here and there.

Despite each tune having different inspiration – there are hints of New Orleans, tango (not so much a hint, since it's called Almost A Tango), Ellington, folk and classical genres – the whole recording is a very satisfying statement of what three musicians together can achieve.

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


PREVIEW: Todd Gordon's Going Gaga over Tony! - (Pizza Express, Dean Street, 11th Feb)

Todd Gordon aged 3

We almost never post cute portraits of 3 year olds.... But jazz and swing singer TODD GORDON has pointed out some uncanny coincidences around this photo, and persuaded us to make an exception. He writes:

Facebook recently had their Way Back Week and I noticed people uploading photos of when they were young(er). So I did the same. It was one that I’d discovered on moving house a couple of years ago. Then two coincidences happened: firstly, having uploaded it onto my Facebook page in the early hours of January 23rd, I discovered on a discoloured piece of paper that the photograph had been taken 54 years earlier to the day on January 23rd, 1962.

The second coincidence is even more uncanny. One of the shows I am touring with this year celebrates the music popularised by Tony Bennett. I started working on this project a couple of years ago after meeting the legendary crooner, and the Bennett family has given me the green light to run with it. 

Tony Bennett and Todd Gordon

As I was preparing the material for the show, I discovered that Tony Bennett recorded what was to become his big-selling hit and signature song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco", in January 1962. Checking it out online, I couldn’t believe that my photo had been taken on the very same day - January 23rd!

 Todd Gordon's show - Going Gaga over Tony! - is at Pizza Express Jazz Room in Dean Street on Thursday, 11 February (Doors 7.00pm; Performance 8.30pm.)

LINKS: Todd Gordon website
Pizza Express Details/ Bookings


NEWS: Jazz on 3 to be replaced by new Monday night BBC Radio 3 jazz programme starting in April

A Press Release from 7Digital today confirmed the rumours that Unique, its radio production subsidiary has won a tender process, and will be replacing Somethin' Else, the producers of Jazz on 3 for the past eighteen years, as producer of BBC Radio 3's Monday Night jazz programme. The first programme from the new team is scheduled for early April.

In an first official statement - more detail will emerge in the next few weeks - Executive Producer Alyn Shipton, on behalf of 7Digital/ Unique said:

'We are all very excited by this opportunity to bring the best of contemporary jazz to BBC Radio 3, both from Britain and the rest of the world. We hope to satisfy existing fans of jazz, and also draw in plenty of new listeners to music we are passionate about and committed to supporting. We look forward to the work ahead.'

The full text of 7Digital's Press Release is HERE.


CD REVIEW: Ian Shaw - The Theory of Joy

Ian Shaw - The Theory of Joy
(Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi 55001. CD review by Mark McKergow)

This CD finds Ian Shaw not sitting in his apparently natural habitat at a piano, but having replaced his own accompaniment with an excellent trio. There is no doubt that Shaw is a good pianist, but this format seems to free him upto really focus on his vocal performance - which he does with accuracy and aplomb.

The 12 tracks on the CD version show an excellent mix of material from Bart to Bowie, plus three Shaw originals. The opening Small Day Tomorrow (a useful concept for the jazz enthusiast, staying up late as you only have a small day tomorrow) quickly opens up to allow Barry Green to sparkle on piano. Shaw's voice seems to have something of the light touch and agility of Joni Mitchell about it, and this becomes even more clear on the Canadian artist's own In France They Kiss On Main Street. The section in which Shaw sings over Mick Hutton's round-sounding bass and Dave Ohm's tight-yet-dynamic brushes is a particular delight.

The Bowie song is Where Are We Now, from 2013's The Next Day album. This is a wistful song, looking back with a little regret, and Shaw turns in an impassioned performance. The album was recorded in summer 2015 before the shock recent news of Bowie's death, and the number makes a very fitting tribute. Mick Hutton must surely produce the most sonorous double bass tone in London, and he uses it to great effect here and throughout the album. This reflective mood carries on into Legrand/Bergman/Bergman's How Do You Keep The Music Playing, a song of love an uncertainty looking into a long-term relationship which Shaw renders beautifully -tears in this listener's eyes at any rate.

The three original songs come grouped together towards the end of the album. My Brother, about Shaw's brother Gareth who died before Ian was born, is catchy and meaningful. It's been rightly receiving radio plays - check out the video link below, which ties it in to Ian's work with refugees in Calais. All This And Betty Too is a jazz-filled romp with Shaw remembering listening to Betty Carter in Ronnie Scott's with Claire Martin, a long-term friend who also produced this album. A trio reworking of Somewhere Towards Love (chosen in its solo version as a Desert Island Disc by both Molly Parkin and Julian Clary) sees the song moving with a little more urgency, and it's great to get another way to hear it. As if to stress Shaw's versatility, we move from a pointed You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two (sung with social comment in mind, surely) to a closing If You Go Away/Ne Me Quitte Pas, in Brel-ish style over Green's solo accompaniment.

This collection has great variety, yet is defined at its core by four top-class musicians on their own terms. If, like me, you have enjoyed Ian Shaw's live performances but never yet taken the plunge with an album, this is a wonderful place to start. It's also available on double vinyl with three bonus tracks including Clive Gregson's Last Man Alive and Mel Tormé's Born To Be Blue. Cracking.

LINKS: Video of My Brother
Brian Blain's review of the launch gig of The Theory of Joy


PREVIEW: Radio feature about Norwich, Alton, Wakefield and Dunfermline (Broadcast on BBC Jazz Line-Up Saturday 6th after 5pm)

Photo from Writers Centre Norwich

Sebastian writes:

A radio feature I did,looking at four places in the UK which produce more than their fair share of top jazz musicians will be transmitted during Jazz Line-Up on Saturday February 6th - the programme starts at 5pm. The places are Norwich, Alton, Wakefield and the Kingdom of Fife, and the musicians who were interviewed are George Crowley and Kit Downes, (both originally from Norwich), Laura Jurd and Gwyneth Herbert (Alton), Reuben Fowler and Matt Robinson (Wakefield) and Kim Macari and Calum Gourlay (Fife, and both in fact from Dunfermline). A number of people have also suggested I could have looked at Derby and/or Cambridge. True.

The link to the programme on the BBC website is HERE.  UPDATE, 6th Feb: The item begins [18:12] into the programme is introduced by Julian Joseph and was produced by Sushil Dade.

There has also just been a repeat of another feature for Jazz Line-Up about some links between jazz and cricket. That is [18:50] into last Saturday's programme. LINK


PREVIEW: Wayne Shorter with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (Barbican Feb 18th)

Wayne Shorter in 2006. Photo Credit:Tom Beetz/Creative Commons

Wayne Shorter will be at the Barbican on 18th February with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of their fourth Barbican International Associate Residency. Jim Burlong previews the concert:

 “Wayne brings us [the Wayne Shorter Quartet] things that are highly composed and orchestrated. We play them. Invariably he says, ‘Okay, that’s what it is—now I want to delve into it and break it apart and reconstruct it in many different ways.’ He wants it new every time. The form of the piece is cemented in everybody’s mind, but then the one rule, you could say, is that there are no rules.”
John Patitucci (Quoted in a programme note by Ted Panken for Jazz at Lincoln Center.)

London audiences will have the opportunity to witness that laconic, ever-probing spirit at first hand, when the saxophonist and composer joins the orchestra of Jazz at Lincoln Center with leader Wynton Marsalis for one performance only, on the first night of their two-yearly London Residency. The programme was performed in New York last May and Ben Ratliff of the New York Times came away completely enthralled. Here's Ratliff's final paragraph:

"The really breathtaking moments often weren’t in emotional surges — one of Mr. Shorter’s specialties — but in denouements. Like any musician, he’s got a few of his own clichés, but they weren’t much in evidence on Thursday. Mr. Shorter was taking ideas for a ride, working episodically with no fixed outcome, making quick and impulsive turns: discovering, basically." 

 Shorter's career has embraced the early ground breaking years of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers through Miles Davis second great quintet and fusion giants Weather Report to his recordings with his own groups on the Blue Note and Verve labels.Throughout six decades he has been at the forefront of creativity both on tenor and soprano saxophones, as well as being one of the most compelling composers in jazz.

The set lists for the concert will consist of a total of ten Wayne Shorter compositions, re-arranged for the big band setting by members orchestra, to include Mama G recorded with The Messengers in 1960, Armageddon made with McCoy Tyner in '64 and from later years The Three Marias and Diana first released with VSOP. The highlight may well be the title track from the the Miles Davis album E.S.P. written when Shorter was emerging as one of the leading composers of his generation.

 LINK: Details of Jazz at Lincoln Center's fourth,three-day Barbican International Associate Residency 


NEWS: Concern over future of Ealing Jazz Festival is spreading / petition reaches 1000 signatures

The 2013 Ealing Jazz Festival. Photo: Ealing Summer Festivals

Sebastian writes:

I have been approached by a number of people who are extremely concerned that decisions which will "decimate" one of London's most popular summer festivals, and certainly one of the closest to the jazz community, the Ealing Jazz Festival in Walpole Park.

At the root of the concerns are the involvement of a company called The Event Umbrella (TEU), based in Whitstable in Kent which has taken an increasing role in the summer festivals run by Ealing Council, and is proposing - from the information I am being given - to cut the festival down to two days, to take over the programming of the jazz festival, and (somehow?) to absorb the financial risk of the festival. The company itself does not currently have a functioning website, it is exempt from filing proper accounts and appears to have minimal assets, but there is some detail about it HERE.

There is a petition giving more information HERE which has just reached 1000 signatures. 


REVIEWS: Jazzmeia Horn, James Carter Trio, Pablo Held Trio at Unterfahrt in Munich

Gerard Gibbs, organist with the James Carter Trio
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Jazzmeia Horn, James Carter, Pablo Held Trio
(Unterfahrt in Munich, 26, 28 and 19 January. Reviews by Ralf Dombrowski)

Sometimes it can be a real mystery why musicians choose to surround themselves with the bands they do. One is just left imagining what might have happened, had Jazzmeia Horn been able to work with musical colleagues at the same level as her, for her appearance at the Unterfahrt in Munich. She has such an astonishing presence and a sparkling personality, it would surely have been the kind of musical experience that everyone in the club would want to tell their grandchildren about.

Jazzmeia Horn. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

In any case we heard a singer who stands a part from many of her peers because she takes on every song she sings so naturally. She is a performer for whom every word, gesture and ornament becomes and expression of her total conviction, and she completely comes alive in the moment. She inhabits the standards repertoire with every breath she takes. This a mesmerising, charming involving voice. She has soul, swing, she can scat...but her real distinguishing feature is her compelling storytelling. Her performance culminated in a Lush Life which can have left very few if any eyes in the house completely dry.

Her concert was the centre-piece of a great week in Munich. The city seemed to offer just one great gig after another, and all it wanted in return for this great bounty was large quantities of my sleep. Each of these concerts could not have been more different from one another.

James Carter Trio
Phoro credit: Ralf Dombrowski

For example there was James Carter. He was once a high-spec saxophonist back in the nineties, and was over here in a trio with organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Alex White at Unterfahrt. Carter still has something of the circus performer about him. Nevertheless, despite occasionally resorting to a box of tricks that includes hefty slap-tonguing, extended circular breathing and wildly expansive Coltranesque episodes, he does keep finding his way straight back to an authentic American soul-feel. The agility, and also the laid-back ways of communicating of the musicians working with him  must also have helped him to locate that core.

Pablo Held. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

On the previous day in the same club it had been the Pablo Held Trio on the bill. According to what was announced, the musicians were going to let themselves be led by their intuitions and instincts. In the course of their two sets their structured sense of where they were headed within their own compositions, plus the immediacy of the flow of this band, a mutual understanding that has been built up over ten years was generating recognizable and concise song forms, complete with all their fine nuances.

The original German version of these reviews, extended and also including a review of Israeli saxophonist Oded Tzur at the BWM Welt Jazz Awards, is appearing at


NEWS: Vijay Iyer announced as Wigmore Hall Jazz Artist in Residence.

Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer

The Wigmore Hall has announced that Vijay Iyer will become the Wigmore Hall's fourth Jazz Artist in Residence from January 2017, following in the footsteps of Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and Christian McBride.

The first concert in his series will be a performance with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith on 6 January 2017. There is an ECM duo release announced for this autumn.

John Gilhooly, Director of Wigmore Hall, says: “I’ve admired Vijay Iyer’s work for many years now. I attended one his live shows for the first time in Paris last year and was blown away by the immediacy and vitality of his musicianship. After meeting with him the next day, creative sparks began to fly and I knew that he would be a great Jazz Artist in Residence for Wigmore Hall. Vijay is perhaps better known in America and on the continent, but I am thrilled that this gives us the opportunity to introduce him properly to London audiences and that Vijay can do this by collaborating with artists from all over the world. Vijay’s interests in psychology and education are also something that we will explore during the residency. His approach fits with the Hall’s philosophy that ‘everything is learning’ – that our Learning programme and artistic programme are fuelled by one overarching spirit of creative exploration.”

The next event in Christian McBride's residency is a duo concert with fellow bassist Edgar Meyer on 18th March (DETAILS) and then a duo with Chick Corea on 8th July (not yet available for public booking.


REPORTS: Third and fouth nights of the 2016 WDR3 Jazzfest at Theater Münster

Mike Gibbs (right) thanking the NDR big band as they
acknowledge the applause from a full house

Third and fourth nights of the 2016 WDR 3 Jazzfest 2016
(Theater Münster, 30th and 31st January 2016. Reports by Sebastian Scotney, Oliver Weindling - late Saturday, and Tobias Richtsteig - Sunday)

SATURDAY (Jazzmeia Horn, Nils Landgren, NDR Big Band/ Gibbs, Sternal/Manderscheid duo / Chris Speed Trio)

This, our third report from Münster, is a three-way collaborative effort. For the Saturday night of the WDR3 Jazz Festival, the main theatre was completely sold out for a two part programme.

First Nils Landgren and Viktoria Tolstoy performed Some Other Time, a new Bernstein project with specially commissioned arrangements from Vince Mendoza. Landgren is a hugely popular figure throughout Germany, and the full house gave him a hero's welcome.

Viktoria Tolstoy, Joerg Achim Keller, Nils Landgren
with winds and brass of the Bochumer Symphoniker

There is a full explanation – in English – to the background to the project in this beautifully produced Youtube EPK . A key constituent of the project is that top dog among German jazz bass players Dieter Ilg, whose less-is-more approach completely fits with these arrangements.

The second half was a set from the NDR Big Band directed by Mike Gibbs, and playing almost exclusively arrangements by him. The NDR Big Band's programme was yet another demonstration of what a consummate arranger for big band Mike Gibbs is. He took the trouble to explain where some of the devices in particular pieces has been – to use his word - “nicked” from. In the first piece, he set out his stall as an admirer of Kenny Wheeler, in the second a bass progression from Messian's L'Ascension, elsewhere there was a piece in memory of Paco De Lucia – and in honour of the country where he now makes his home. There was also a slightly re-worked version of Gibbs' arrangement of Eberhard Weber's Maurizius. It felt like a masterpiece when I first heard it in Stuttgart a year ago, and on the record, and even more so in this second live performance. It has a completely natural pace and development from the quiet piano opening (Wladislaw Sendecki) and shimmeringly quiet guitar arpeggios (Sandra Hempel) onwards and upwards and bigger and ever more heartfelt, through an episode which John Adams would have been pleased to write, and on to the full-band blaze.

This concert was just part of a very full night, with one concert before the main show, and two after it. It was also the “long night of jazz” on WDR3 and Oesterreich 1, which involves the broadcasters radio programming flitting into and out of the live concerts.

Jazzmeia Horn performed an early evening set. She won the 2013 Sarah Vaughan Competition in 2013, the Thelonious Monk competition in 2015. I thought she was getting more powerful and connecting better and better as the set progressed, and just hold in my mind what the second set which never was might have been like. Her Concord Records debut scheduled for later this year will be something worth waiting for.

The Saturday ended (Oliver Weindling writes) with two late night sets in the small hall. First a duo of Sebastian Sternal, a former WDR prize winner and pupil of John Taylor, with Dieter Manderscheid on bass. The classical inspiration for the music was asserted by Manderscheid’s extensive use of the bow. The core music on which they improvised was, on the face of it, a disparate bunch which didn’t seem to work: mixture of originals, classical composers such as Vivaldi, Scriabin and Mompou with purer jazz such as Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Bill Evans. Part of the rationale is that they clearly love the originals, but also that they actually have common strands: The care with which they have developed the duo is shown by how they were able to fuse two compositions that when introduced might induce a few eyebrows to be raised but achieve it seamlessly, such as the Scriabin with Duke Ellington or Bill Evans’ Time Remembered with a composition by Thomas Heberer.

The final set of the night from the trio of Chris Speed with Chris Tordini and Dave King showed quite a contrast in approach to the duo but not necessarily in sound level! Relatively melodic and rhythmic, it was anchored by King who managed to deliver Bad Plus drumming and intensity at the quietest of levels which allowed Speed and Tordini to open up terms of their lines with relative ease. It was reminiscent of a Sonny Rollins trio in approach but certainly anchored in the scene of 2016

Sunday 31st (Annette Maye with Gianluigi Trovesi, Sidsel Endresen)

Julia Hülsmann

First onto the main stage for the second half of Sunday night (writes Tobias Richtsteig) was Julia Hülsmann, but - for once - not to play piano. She introduced a solo performance by Sidsel Endresen. The Norwegian singer had been awarded the European Prize of the FrauenKulturbüro NRW at the prize concert on Friday, in honour her major career as improviser, educator, and as an impressive role model for generations of young musicians.

Hülsmann, an academic educator in her own right, had chaired the jury which awarded the prize and told the audience in Münster that she would often play Endresen's recordings to her pupils, as an inspirational example of an artist, constantly exploring ways to find a unique and individual expressiveness in Music. What followed was one of the most breathtaking performances of the whole four day WDR 3 Jazzfest.

One chair and one microphone were all Sidsel Endresen, her singing, whispering and breathing. needed to capture the attention of the well-filled theatre. She began her performance singing a kind of Folksong, although it was hard to tell if the words were Norwegian, or in some kind of improvised dialect.

Such doubts were cast aside in her following piece, which turned the simple acts of inhaling and exhaling into highly effective audio art, presumably telling the story of a magnetic tape editing process, rewinding and scratching, and so on. This was followed by a Gertrude-Stein-like poem, linking Endresen's "abstract" storytelling to the "absurd" DaDa-Performances a hundred years ago in Zürich.

That might give the impression that Sidsel Endresen is just an artsy and other-worldly performer. She proved the contrary in the encore which the audience had been begging for, concluding with some real-world advice: "ears listen. lips kiss. feet walk... and these are some basic techniques of survival."

This mind-opening final concert of the WDR 3 Jazzfest had been preceded by a set from clarinettist Annette Maye, who had been presented the "Förderpreis" of the FrauenKulturBüro NRW. Maye in turn presented her band "Vinograd Express", which co-leads with trumpet player Udo Moll. This quartet, together with the guest (and longtime musical friend) Gianluigi Trovesi played a bunch of pieces of the"masada"-series of John Zorn. They have an unusual take on it, treating Zorn's "radical jewish music" as a sort of "folklore imaginaire".

These young musicians and Trovesi (a kind of 'Umberto Eco of the Clarinet' being north-italian and a universal genius at ease with pre-renaissance music as well as with non-European traditions and free improv avantgarde) presented the wisest form of musicianship: their music - and pieces of Maye and Moll made that point more than clear - is not about showing off virtuosic skills (although they handled some tough odd-meter-tasks very deftly).

Instead they took time, invested musical personality in their playing an created a moment of communion - something, every festival should be happy to aim for. Especially Udo Moll's piece Rubidium stayed long in the heart and ears of the listeners: basically a ten-minute drum solo (Max Andrzejewski) with some carefully added chords by the wind instruments - the Jazzfest-audience loved it!

(Sebastian again). This festival gave continuing and potent reminders of the commitment of WDR and of the region of NRW to promoting and supporting jazz is not just substantial, it is also targeted and built around the model of sustainability.

The story is to be continued, in 2017, on February 2nd to 5th in Gütersloh.....and then, as ever, broadcast on the German radio station which does more for jazz than just about any other in Europe.

LINKS: Review Martial Solal Trio
REPORT: Nights 1 and 2 of the 2016 WDR3 Jazzfest


REVIEW: Snowpoet album launch at St Pancras Old Church

The Snowpoet album launch

(Album launch at St Pancras Old Church, 29th January 2016. Review by Adam Tait)

Many performers would undoubtedly insist St Pancras Old Church is the ideal setting for their music. The idiosyncrasies of the acoustics are one thing, but the magnitude of the atmosphere is as much of a boon as anything else. The ageing religious images decorating the walls make for a sense of reverence. There’s an eerie stillness to the place, an instant feeling of quiet introspection.

Few acts or pieces of music are could be more perfectly matched with the venue, though, than Snowpoet and their self-­titled debut album. Their music wonderfully accompanies the sort of inward­facing consideration the space encourages. Lauren Kinsella’s lyrics dance around the metaphysical and ontological pondering found woven throughout religious thinking.

Opening with the charming, idyllic Mermaid, Snowpoet patiently, intricately apply intertwining layers of music until their sound fills the space. Kinsella’s voice resonating wonderfully, the band ease the audience into the performance before a change of tempo makes it irresistibly compelling.
In A Quiet Space provides and early highlight. The gently unfurling lyrics are strikingly cathartic, the ebb and flow of the music mesmeric. Bjork’s influence on the band is immediately and unavoidably clear, whispered words teasing at the edges of the music. But the clarity of the keys over the shuffling rhythm frames Kinsella’s murmurings artfully, enchanting the crowd with the spaces between sounds.

Admittedly the band revisit this sonic approach several times, most notably perhaps on Poetry Of Stillness, and the similarities to Bjork becomes a little too apparent at points. But the intrigue of Snowpoet lies in their fantastic blend of influences and inspiration. At times they allow a jazzy swing to take hold of the music, letting it dance across the audience. At others spiral ling loops inject an electronic urgency to the warm folk tones with hypnotic effect. One moment an earthy sparsity controls the music, the next Josh Arcoleo's sax adds a blaring vibrancy.

Glad To Have Lost swells wonderfully over Nick Costley-White's twinkling picked guitar notes. The spoken word utterances of Butterflies, the title track from 2014’s EP (see interview with Chris Hyson below), are riveting. Waves is soothingly introspective and considered. Throughout, Kinsella’s lyrics ponder obtuse questions of life, of finding a place in existence, conjuring stark images with their narratives. And the impact of these words is magnified by the venue’s serenity, the stillness of the atmosphere the perfect canvas for Snowpoet’s music.

Every second of the show is beautifully thoughtful, a carefully constructed calmness holding everything together.

The space gives the music an added gravitas. The music enhances the reverential impact of the building. In both style and substance, this band with this music in this place could not be a better match.

Adam Tait is a music journalist and digital campaign manager, previously for Gigwise and The 405 among others

Snowpoet's album is on Two Rivers Records

LINK: Interview with Chris Hyson about Snowpoet from June 2014


REVIEW: Alice Zawadzki's Songs To The Moon at St Mark’s, Dalston

L-R: Alice Purton, Alice Zawadzki and Alex Roth
(Photo from the first performance of Songs to the Moon in May 2015)

Alice Zawadzki, Alex Roth, Alice Purton - Songs To The Moon
(St Mark’s Church, Dalston, 30 January 2016. Review by Peter Jones)

Josh Zvimba, the enterprising vicar at St Mark’s, has just begun staging a series of intimate gigs in his huge, exotic, mysterious, dimly-lit church whose every surface is richly coloured and deeply textured. Such a setting was ideally suited to the music of the Alice Zawadzki and her trio.

It was a performance of transcendent beauty. Lord knows whether you could actually call it jazz, but whatever it was, Zawadzki’s voice and violin, Alice Purton’s cello and Alex Roth’s electric guitar combined to create sounds that seeped into the brain and evoked a stream of otherworldly images and impressions. They had taken music from forgotten corners of Europe and beyond – Czechoslovakia, Crete, Hungary, Palestine – as well as a few originals by members of the group. If this suggests too much diversity, in fact the opposite was true: these Songs to the Moon had a distinctive unified character – quiet, delicate, ethereal and strange.

The first, Noches Noches, was an ancient song sung in the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino, in which Zawadzki’s microtonal singing was backed by an eerie drone. A similar technique was employed in Ha Folyóvíz Volnék, written by the 20th century Romanian composer György Ligeti, a gypsy tune with no chords, just a drone in E with tapped guitar strings to create rhythm. But for me the highlight of the first set was Purton’s composition Seasong, her interpretation of ‘what it’s like being under the sea’. Zawadzki sang wordlessly, and you could close your eyes and imagine yourself in an old documentary by Hans and Lotte Hass.

After the interval came Rusalka's Song to the Moon, a rearranged version of Dvořak’s aria from his opera Rusalka, about a water spirit. Needless to say, Zawadzki sang this in the original Czech, in a sweet, powerful and – yes – operatic style, while playing some kind of tone generator. There was much more in this vein, but for me the most beautiful tune in the second set was Old Matthew, a piece she wrote herself based on an old Javanese Gamelan melody she apparently learned many years ago.

Songs to the Moon combined deep knowledge of the world’s folk music, perfect empathy between exceptionally fine musicians, improvisation and the techniques of modern minimalism to create something very special.

Music on the Rise


CD REVIEW: New York Standards Quartet - Power of 10

New York Standards Quartet - Power of 10
(Whirlwind Records WR4680. CD review by Mike Collins)

The cocktail of standards is well and truly shaken as well as stirred on this 10th anniversary release for the New York based team of saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman and drummer Gene Jackson. The quartet is completed for this recording by Whirlwind Records boss Michael Janisch and they deliver a fizzing, varied set of driving contemporary jazz.

Reinvention and re-making are the watchwords for some classic standards in the arranging and composing hands of pianist Berkman. All of Me’s familiar melody becomes a keening lament over a bubbling sequence of chords and bass figures, setting the scene for Armacost to stretch out on soprano, weaving long, fluent lines. Secret Love becomes Hidden Fondness with the familiar melody underpinned by Berkman’s re-harmonised sequence skating on Janisch’s bass notes. The piano solo is a typical Berkman workout, dense patterns then expansive chords and tense rhythmic patterns picked up and developed by the tenor in a blistering solo. Lush Life is dark and distorted before exiting with a spring its step. Deep High Wide Sky launches the set with an energetic, twisting, Tristano like theme over the sequence of How Deep is the Ocean. Doll’s Green Phone, a re-worked Green Dolphin Street has Janisch doubling another boppish theme with Armacost. Jackson is not an obtrusive presence on this set but his driving pulse and taut energy are part of what make this a compelling listen. Three Card Molly, an Elvin Jones piece is his arrangement and a standout track. Jackson and Berkman boil and buffet Armacost who is all muscular attack on a spiralling, passionate solo. Berkman too is on fire, before Jackson lets fly over a piano vamp. There are exquisitely tender moments and some of magical simplicity. It’s impossible not to smile at a short duo rendition by Berkman and Armacost of How Deep is the Ocean and sigh as Armacost’s Polka Dots and Moonbeams ends the set with a whisper, accompanied only by the colours from Jackson’s drums.

These are all top class players. A quick search will reveal formidable CVs. This recording finds them digging deep into the jazz canon, having fun and serving up a treat.

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


CD REVIEW: Sam Crockatt - Mells Bells

Sam Crockatt - Mells Bells
(Whirlwind Records WR4681. CD review by Mike Collins)

The first chiming notes of Canon are an arresting opening to this dynamic and engaging album from saxophonist Sam Crockatt’s formidable quartet. The tenor’s phrase is echoed first by Kit Downes on piano, then Oli Hayhurst’s bass, followed by James Maddren’s drums before they accelerate and the band burst into life with an expansive solo from Downes over a restless groove from Maddren and Hayhurst.

The whole set is bubbling with energy and momentum. Crockatt’s compositions make the most of finely crafted and distilled ideas. Masterplan ups the temperature, a rollicking, shuffling, rocky groover launched by a theme full of snappy hooks and hits. The leader builds a storming solo from first, bluesy fragments, then spiralling runs, really digging into the groove. Downes is constantly goading and playing off him, before letting rip. I found you in the Jam unfolds from a declamatory, rubato theme, with first the piano then the tenor leading the whole band through a collective clattering lament. Mells Bells is built round a frenetic, spiralling figure spinning off into tumult, Maddren whipping it along with a boiling, relentless, barrage. Breath is tense and suspenseful, full of beautifully judged hesitations and delicate phrases. A Stroll on the Knoll is a trio take making the most of the gutsy roar and bite in Crockatt’s sound, a propulsive, impassioned performance with motifs and phrases changing shape as Hayhurst and Maddren follow every step of his jagged rythmic phrasing. The Land That Time Forget evolves more slowly from another ear tweaking, melodic phrase into a rolling climatic piece, Downes letting fly again with dazzling melodic flights.

This an excellent set from a quartet who are finely tuned to each other’s every move. It has the immediacy and vibrancy of a live performance and Sam Crockatt’s eight originals are a great vehicle for their melodic fluency and invention. Go and see this band.

Launch Tour Dates

2nd February 2016 – Pizza Express, London
3rd February 2016 – Anteros Arts Foundation, Norwich
18th April 2016 – Beaver Inn, Appledore
19th April 2016 – St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall
20th April 2016 – Restormel Arts, St Austell
21st April 2016 – The Blue Boar, Poole
24th April 2016 – Burdall’s Yard – Bath
23rd April 2016 – The Meeting House, Ilminster
30th June 2016 – The Spin Oxford

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


PHOTOS: Dave Liebman and Liam Noble at the Vortex

The stand at the Vortex
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Photographer Victor Hugo Guidini captured a special event, the first appearance as a duo of DAVE LIEBMAN and LIAM NOBLE, played in front of a full house at the Vortex on Thursday 28th January 2016. All pictures are copyright the photographer.

Dave Liebman
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Liam Noble
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Liam Noble and Dave Liebman
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Liam Noble and Dave Liebman
Photo Credit: ©Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved


BOOK REVIEW: Peter Vacher - Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African American Jazz in Los Angeles

Peter Vacher - Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African American Jazz in Los Angeles
(Rowman & Littlefield, 346pp., £37.95. Book Review by Chris Parker)

Of all significant periods of jazz, the pre-war Los Angeles scene is, arguably, among the most poorly documented; the post-war jazz history of the city, its cool, breezy west coast sound epitomised by the likes of Shorty Rogers and Chet Baker, is relatively familiar, but the world described in these sixteen in-depth interviews by Peter Vacher is, by comparison, almost a vanished one.

Central Avenue was the pre-bebop hub of the LA jazz scene, attracting musicians from Chicago and the south to play in the swing bands that proliferated there, and Vacher has done jazz history a valuable service by tracking down surviving unsung heroes of this scene and allowing them space to talk about everything from clubowners and their habits, booking practices, the ‘mob’ and its involvement in the music scene, racial segregation, studio work etc. etc. He is clearly a good listener (an undervalued skill), and so his interviewees become expansive on all manner of topics – from the necessity of taking uncongenial daytime jobs to the unreasonableness of jazz leaders – not generally covered by jazz histories.

Vacher’s choice of subjects is also revealing: the likes of trumpeter Andy Blakeney, drummer Monk McFay, pianist Chester C. Lane et al. are by no means household names, even in the specialised jazz world, but this only serves to render their testimonies all the more pertinent. Hard work, struggle and neglect are the seams that run through this stratum of jazz history; the world of plush nightclubs with white clienteles is tellingly contrasted with the after-hours joints where the music was incubated; the occasional ‘big name’ (Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Jimmie Lunceford) generally mentioned solely in the context of comparative wages (‘Count Basie pays $8 a night and we make $12 over here’ … ‘[Cab Calloway] wanted me to go to New York and he said he would give me $50 a week, but I’m … probably making $100 a week [… and] would have to join Local 802, the New York local, and I didn’t want that’ are typical examples, both from trombonist ‘Streamline’ Ewing).

Anyone who has read Vacher’s other books (2012’s Mixed Messages: American Jazz Stories, published by Five Leaves, is a perfect example) will already be familiar with his quiet erudition and respectful courtesy; Swingin’ on Central Avenue is another fine addition to his oral-history oeuvre.


REVIEW: Academy Big Band with Dave Liebman at Duke's Hall, RAM

Dave Liebman. Photo credit: Wolfgang Gonaus/
artist website 

Academy Big Band with Dave Liebman
(Duke's Hall, RAM, Marylebone Road, 29th January 2016. Review by Frank Griffith)

Saxist and composer Dave Liebman, was featured with the Academy Big Band, directed by Nick Smart. This annual event is part of the International Jazz Artist in Residence scheme at the RAM, now in its 5th year.

NEA Jazz master Dave Liebman's career has spanned nearly five decades, beginning in the early 1970s as the saxophonist and flautist in both the Elvin Jones and Miles Davis groups. He is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) since 1989, which is a worldwide network of schools from nearly forty countries. His breadth of vision and experience was clearly communicated to the RAM students not only on stage but during his week-long residency working and rehearsing with them beforehand. The results of which were clearly evident in their exemplary performance of his complex and challenging music conducted quietly yet flawlessly by Nick Smart, an acclaimed trumpeter, composer and bandleader in his own right.

Liebman is arguably the most distinctive and influential voice on the soprano sax today. His sound has a sinewy intensity with a jagged lyricism that borrows equally from the Klezmer tradition as it does from post-Coltrane angular ferocity. It is these disparate yet symbiotic qualities that help to create his unparalleled voice on this instrument. His command of this unique tonal palette goes a long way to his projecting over the most complex and radiant big band figures on all registers of his instrument.

The repertoire performed was 80% Liebman's compositions arranged by a variety of writers including a few of Dave students (Andrew Rathbun and Henrik Frisk) to leading practitioners like Jim McNeely and Vince Mendoza. McNeely's distinctive treatment of Liebman's Enfin - meaning finally, or at last, and written as a tribute to the election of Obama in 2008 - was particularly memorable. In addition, McNeely's modernistic take on Sing, Sing, Sing the 1938 Benny Goodman anthem is clearly a great example of a timeless vehicle for big band and soloist. The melodies incorporated were largely the 1938 ones. His re-spelling of the rhythmic structures and the thicker, more dissonant harmonies sent Liebman into the lower register of his sinewy soprano. This clearly did not put off the audience as one observed their heads a-bobbin' and eyes a-listenin' throughout the largely "mature" audience - many of whom were probably familiar with the original.

Another welcome inclusion was trombonist and eminent jazz educator Scott Reeves' take on New Breed a 1972 Liebman composition originally recorded on Elvin Jones's Mr Jones LP which featured a lineup of two tenors, bass and drums. Reeves' expansive realisation began with the bass introducing the first eight bars of the melody extending into the sharing of the melody amongst the different sections in a seamless fashion. First-rate trumpeter James Copus offered a solo replete with angular melodicisms that scored highly. What followed then was a brilliantly played sax soli based on Liebman's original solo from the 1972 recording. A blistering tour de force chart climaxed by a semi-raucous and cacophonic climax then demurely sloping into a gentle close.

What a player, what a band and what a night!


REPORT: First two nights of WDR3 Jazzfest 2016 at Theater Münster

The lampshades in the roof of Theater Münster.
Photo: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

WDR3 Jazzfest 2015
(Theater Münster, 28th and 29th January 2016. Report by Sebastian Scotney)
Theater Münster, a building you don't forget, the one where you look up and capture the extraordinary sight of hundreds of domestic lampshades. It was the very first new theatre in Germany to open its doors after the second world war - in fact it will be celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of its official opening next Thursday - and the Münsteraner are justifiably proud of it.

That sense of pride in culture ran deep through the Friday night prize concert, which is the centre-piece of the WDR3 Jazzfest. The head of radio for WDR, Valerie Weber, called the region of NRW unequivocally the "größte Heimat des Jazz in Deutschland" (the most important home/homeland for jazz in Germany.) The first two nights of the festival have reinforced the theme of the exemplary commitment which the region and its broadcaster give to jazz, and the many forms which that support takes.

The prize concert celebrated four different aspects of that activity, and virtually all the other events on the first two nights brought to the fore the theme of sustainability. The spotlight was also put on several previous winners of WDR jazz prizes. The message is clear, that jazz musicians change and develop, and a continued and sustained approach to their creativity rather than one-off flashes in the pan is what creates a sustainable scene. One special event, which fell outside those themes was the appearance of Martial Solal, which I have reviewed separately.

A big big band with double wind and bass.
Unijazzity the Münsterland Youth Band
The first prize of the evening went to the big band of Münsterland Unijazzity, propelled by a very impressive young drummer.

L-R: NRW Culture Minister Christine Kampmann,
Sidsel Endresen, Annette Maye

The region of NRW has also given two European female artist prizes, to Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen and to German clarinettist Annette Maye. 

Julia Hülsmann and Torun Eriksen

This year's speial prize acknowledged the work of the Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker, which was re-launched in 2011, and has been an effective force in bringing recognition and understanding of what  professional jazz musicians do, and raising it in the political discussions at regional and national level. A prime mover in that re-birth was pianist Julia Hülsmann. She had appeared earlier in the evening with Norwegian vocalist Torun Eriksen. For me there was one magical moment when Eriksen switched to her native language, and the way Hülsmann tracked and reinforced the speech rhythms suddenly gave an extra level of expressive freedom to both of them.

Tobias Hoffmann trio
Photo credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

The third of the evening's prizewinners was the awardee for improvisation, guitarist Tobias Hoffmann. He is a core member of the Klaeng collective, a group of musicians of the same generation, which also includes pianist Pablo Held. Hoffmann's recent CD 11 Famous Songs Tenderly Messed Up has won prizes, and his brief set drew the audience in immediately into its reflective, bluesy world.

Karolina Strassmayr and Shannon Barnett
of the WDR Big Band

The final prizewinner of the evening is from a very different generation. Saxophonist and arranger/composer Stefan Pfeifer-Galilea is in his mid-fifties and fell under the spell of the Thad Jones Mel Lewis band as a teenager in the hot summer of 1976. His writing still bears the imprint of that baptism. He was an eloquent and strong-toned soloist in a composition dedicated to his wife- in which I thought I also heard a mischievous quote from My Old Flame, and also had a number featuring the two female members of the WDR Big Band.

Gianluigi Trovesi and Annette Maye

The evening came to a happy close by briefly presenting one of the quiet legends of the European jazz scene, Gianluigi Trovesi, alongside prizewinning clarintettist Annette Maye.

There were several celebrations of previous prizewinners in the other concerts of the first two nights.

Steffen Schorn, his tubax and the Zurich Jazz Orchestra

Composer / saxophonist Steffen Schorn is a man irresistibly drawn to extremes. His preferred instruments are the tubax, bass flute and contrabass clarinet, and the themes of his compositions space travel, an encounter of Catweasel with the inventor of the metronome and "all the female creatures in the universe." It was a lively and varied set.

Gabriel Perez and the CCJO

Gabriel Perez is an Argentinian-born, passionately expressive musician steeped in the folklore traditions of his native country. His opening set of the festival featured two remarkable musicians, the fine accordionist Luciano Biondini and the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra's guitarist Markus Segschneider.  

Jan Clare's group
Finally, two reflective late night sessions on the festival's small stage. On the first night  Münster-based saxophonist Jan Clare had a highly musical quartet who slipped easily from composed sections and Hanns Eisler-like marches to free sections where the bassist and the trumpeter both simultaneously produced delicious slidings and slitherings in pitch.

Robert Landferman's Quartet

Festivals which give a local musician carte blanche to construct his or her dream band deserve a special salute. I remember Lotte Anker being given this opportunity by the Copenhagen Festival in 2010. Lat night it was the remarkable bassist Robert Landfermann. His quartet with Chris Speed, Jim Black and Achim Kaufmann held a late night audence's attention completely through their  beautifully thought-through, long and complex interactions.  

LINK: Preview of WDR3 Jazzfest 2016


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: John Law (Tour Dates until September)

John Law New Congregation. Photo credit: David Forman
Pianist and composer JOHN LAW is about to embark on an extensive British tour with his New Congregation, including a London launch of the band’s album, "These Skies In Which We Rust". He spoke to Peter Bacon about speaking to the heart, not being clever, and the imprecision that is instrumental music’s strength.

London Jazz News: Your current quartet, New Congregation, has developed out of the Congregation trio and the Art of Sound trio before that. What prompted the changes?

John Law: Essentially they were prompted by changes in personnel. The specific impetus for the new recording was reading my daughter Holly's poetry, which produced three of the tunes.

On the recording I used Josh Arcoleo on tenor sax, Yuri Goloubev on bass and Laurie Lowe on drums. On the up-coming tour I've got Dave Hamblett on drums, with some dates filled by Lloyd Haines. Josh is only doing a few dates, with Sam Crockatt doing most. On bass I'm alternating between four players: Yuri on quite a few, with Ashley John Long, James Agg and Oli Hayhurst doing the rest. I'm quite excited about keeping things fresh for myself by working with lots of different musicians!

With New Congregation I'm now trying to exert a little more control over solo space.

LJN: You are about to embark on a New Congregation tour and the London launch of your album. What can audiences expect at these concerts?

JL: The main thing I'm trying to do is cover lots of different areas. There are lots of references to classical music in these current compositions, from the general approach we take through to specific quotes. Then there's an element of rhythmic complexity.

And alongside this apparent complexity I'm fascinated by the simplicity and minimalism that form many of the contemporary creative trends. So many of my themes are really simple, and have a sort of rock music-like, quasi-anthemic quality. Then there's the electronics. I'm trying to use this quite subtly, so it's not overbearing.

In the end I want music to speak to people, to their hearts, not make clever music for other musicians.

LJN: You also have your Goldberg Project involving the music of Bach and film. Is your relationship with classical music different now from what it was when you were a child?

JL: I guess I'm coming back to classical music more now! Yet I've always played Bach, and generally started my day at the piano with his music.

I recorded the Goldberg Variations in 2014. I played the Bach fairly straight and then added an intro and outro, electronic ambient tracks composed by myself.

I've now started to do this work live, but with the added feature of visuals. I met the visual artist David Daniels in 2014 and he's put together a fascinating digital representation of the music. I'm still ironing out some kinks and I'm hoping to take the project into classical concert halls and maybe art cinemas in 2017/18.
Classical music will always be my first love. I just have to find the balance with jazz and creative/improvised music.

LJN: Are we living in an age where the divisions between different genres of music are being increasingly torn down? Or do you think it was ever thus? Does this make today a more exciting time to be making music?

JL: It's incredible how jazz has changed over the time I've been involved in it. The result of educational changes, plus the whole issue of the world shrinking though the use of the internet, and everyone's learning stuff from everyone else... If you want to see how things have changed I can show you how.

But if you want to know how things have stayed the same I can show you [that too]. Does anyone nowadays have more pianistic skill than Art Tatum, or Phineas Newborn, or the amazing relaxed pyrotechnics of Fats Waller?

Maybe we can't get any closer to the poignant, heartfelt truth relayed by music than a Chet Baker solo of the ’60s or a blues ballad by Bessie Smith from even earlier.

Plus, there's got to be a time (we're probably almost there) when the newness of cross-genre music begins to wear off. And then what? We're still faced with the same problems faced by musicians from previous generations: how do we mark time with sounds, in such a way that we convey something that speaks, that moves? It's always the same problem.

LJN: From classical to jazz, free to composed, your musical exploration has changed subtly over the decades. Were there things you got tired of; or things elsewhere that you were attracted to? Do you see your musical career as all of a piece?

JL: From one point of view everything I've done has come from me, so therefore it must be all of a oneness. From another point of view I must admit I've changed a lot over the years. And I believe that's confused a lot of people! It just sort of happened. I came across people and music that made me think and feel differently. I don't think there was anything that I got tired of, as such. All my new directions have felt really positive. It's always been something that really grabbed me, some person's music or playing, some genre/style that spoke to me in a way that the one I was playing in at that time didn't quite touch.

And I'm still very confused! For example I can go and hear a totally improvised gig and I'm all nostalgic again and envious for the complete freedom they have, to just go on stage, listen and play. A certain part of me thinks of all the composition and study of straighter forms of contemporary jazz I've done over the last 20 years as perhaps just preparatory to returning to free music... as a better, more rounded free player!

LJN: What most excites you outside of music?

JL: All my life my main interest outside of music has been art. A visual way of feeling music is quite essential for me, in many ways. Then there's the related interest of architecture.

Still, what really binds me to music is the imprecise nature of the 'language' we're dealing with. The words stop, the meaning becomes quite imprecise. That's why I'm completely devoted to instrumental music. I like music mainly because the words stop.

LINK: John Law’s website:

TOUR DATES - List correct as at 30th January 2016

February 2016

12/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Chichester University, Chapel of the Ascension at 7:30pm
18/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: The George, Norton St. Philip at 8:00pm
19/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Be-Bop Club, Bristol at 8:30pm
24/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Pizza Express, Dean Street, London at 7:30pm LONDON CD LAUNCH!

March 2016

02/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Dempsey's, Cardiff at 8:45pm
03/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Bonington Theatre, Nottingham at 8:00pm
04/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Xposed Club, Glos. University, Cheltenham at 8:00pm
10/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Blue Boar, Poole at 8:00pm
11/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Riverhouse Barn, Walton-on-Thames at 8:00pm
15/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: St. Ives Jazz Club at Western Hotel, St. Ives at 8:30pm
16/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Broomhill Art Hotel, Barnstaple at 8:30pm
19/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: The Collection, Lincoln at 7:30pm

April 2016

01/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Symphony Hall Foyer, Birmingham at 5:00pm
06/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Lescar, Sheffield at 8:00pm
07/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Seven Arts Centre, Leeds at 8:00pm
08/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool at 7:30pm
14/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Cube, Corby at 7:30pm
15/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Wakefield Jazz at 8:00pm
16/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Sage Gateshead Jazz Festival, Gateshead at 4:00pm

May 2016

05/05/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Vortex Jazz Bar, London at 8:00pm
26/05/2015 Goldberg Project: Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester at 8:00pm
27/05/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Fleece Jazz, Stoke By Nayland at 8:00pm

June 2016

16/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Future Inns, Bristol at 8:00pm
17/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: St. Catherine's Church, Ventnor, Isle of Wight at 7:45pm
18/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton at 7:30pm

September 2016

09/09/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Meeting House, Ilminster at 8:00pm
24/09/2016 Goldberg Project: Holburne Museum, Bath at 8:00pm

LINK: John Law website