INTERVIEW: Debbie Sargent of Jazz Travels (Havana Jazz Festival/ Jazz Plaza in December)

Jazz Travels is a specialist travel operator taking groups to jazz festivals abroad, and will be taking a party to the Havana Jazz Festival in December. Founder Debbie Sargent explained the background to Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: What is Jazz Travels?

Debbie Sargent: Jazz Travels is the UK’s only Tour Operator dedicated to taking jazz lovers to these amazing jazz festivals around the world. We are fully insured, meet UK Package Travel Regulations, and have years of experience operating escorted cultural tours.

LJN: What started it off? 

 I previously worked for a company organising holidays for opera lovers, to the great opera houses and opera festivals around the world. Before THAT I had been working producing shows for Serious/London Jazz Festival, so I saw a gap in the market, and an opportunity to combine two of my passions, and set up Jazz Travels.

LJN: But doesn't London have it all....?

DS: You have a point. We’re so spoiled here – the best jazz musicians from all around the world come and play in concert hall near you, so why should you travel for jazz? There are some obvious pilgrimages to destinations such as Cuba and New Orleans, but there are so many jazz festivals in the world, large and small, that offer unique cultural experiences that complement their world-class jazz.

Pori Jazz Festival in Finland
Photo credit: Kallerna /Creative Commons
LJN: Some examples?

DS: There’s an Ice Music Festival in Norway, where all the instruments are made out of ice (harvested from a local lake) and a midnight concert is performed under the full moon. I love the Südtirol festival which has performances in train carriages, and on mountainsides accompanied by rock-climbers and adventurous types in wingsuits (audience participation in extreme sports not required!)

There’s Jazz a Vienne, where concerts are held in a 2,000-year-old Roman Theatre, and the local wine producers work together to create a red wine specially for the festival. Jazz can take you to places you’d never otherwise consider visiting and get you closer to different cultures and people. At the end of the day, isn’t that what all travel is about?

LJN: Tell us about the Havana Jazz Festival. The programme gets announced quite late, right?

DS: Havana Jazz Festival (aka Jazz Plaza) is Chucho Valdes’ festival celebrating the best of Cuban jazz, with the addition of a few invited foreign guests. It takes place over 5 days every December, when hurricane season is over. The dates are the one thing we know in advance – the programme is published just a week or two before the festival, and what it such an experience is that you never quite know what’s going to happen next. You can’t guarantee you’ll see Roberto Fonseca or Chucho himself performing, but they do often turn up somewhere!

As we work with one of the government-sanctioned travel specialists in Havana, they always have their ears to the ground to find out the latest additions or schedule changes. The performances take place in some amazing spaces in the city that you may not otherwise visit; including the Gaudi-esque Teatro Mella, the opulent neo-classical Sala Cervantes, and just maybe, if the restoration is finished, the Gran Teatro de la Habana. To get the best out of the festival, relax, go with the flow and enjoy the magical moments that come from improvising on this grand scale.

The Malecon in Havana
Photo credit:Antonio Milena/ Creative Commons

LJN: And Jazz Travels is organising a trip to it?

DS: Absolutely! Cuba is a must-see for jazz lovers, and this is a great time to visit. If you’ve been before, you’ll be amazed how quickly the country is changing. If you’ve never been, go now, as the reopening of relations with the US is likely to make a big difference over the coming few years.

Travelling with a specialist tour operator like Jazz Travels means we can get you deeper inside Cuban culture, we help you negotiate the nuances of how the country works, and we’re there to offer assistance as necessary.

LJN: What is the age range?

DS: For both social and economic reasons, travellers on escorted group cultural tours are often of the age when children have left home, and work is perhaps taking up less of their time. That being said, we do get clients of all ages on our trips, and the group bonds over their shared passion for jazz! We keep our groups small; you’re unlikely to be one of more than twenty – so you can really get to know your fellow travellers, we can get to know you, and you can enjoy better value experiences than if a group of forty or fifty is all trying to crowd around a single guide or exhibit.

LJN: How long is your trip and what is included?

DS: We’re doing a 7-night tour based in Havana, including a choice of 4* or 5* B&B accommodation, a Jazz Festival pass that allows access to all performances, including the opening and closing ceremonies, some meals, and a programme of cultural sightseeing. We ask that clients book their own flights, but we’ve timed everything to meet the direct Virgin flights from London Gatwick, and we can help you choose your best flight option.

LJN: And you will offer people more than just the gigs- what else?

DS: We’ve actually included quite a lot of guided sightseeing in this tour compared to others, because Cuba’s historical sites and museums aren’t very well labelled or signposted in English, so having an English-speaking guide helps you get a lot more out of each visit. We’ve included the essential sightseeing; a walking tour of old Havana (Havana Vieja), a driven city tour of the wider area and a day trip out of the city to Viñales Valley to see tobacco plantations and the spectacular limestone outcrops.

LJN: And a music school too?

DS: We also have a really special touch, a visit is planned to the Conservatorio Guillermo Tomás, a Music School in Guanabacoa , where bright young Cubans aged 8-19 are tutored from scratch in their chosen instrument, to become the next generation professional Cuban musicians. On the way back, we stop in at Abdala recording studio to see what those teenagers are aiming towards! Of all the things we’ve seen and done in Havana, these two visits are the ones that most connected us to the roots of Cuban jazz.

Tobacco plantation, Pinar del Río, Cuba
Photo credit: Kotoviski/ Creative Commons

LJN: What do most tourists to Cuba see and what do they miss?

DS: There’s a lot of glamour and glitter associated with Havana; and the Cubans’ exuberant joy in their dancing and music-making, Club Tropicana, La Floridita etc are definitely important parts of Cuba’s history and culture. But I was keen to mix in some different perspectives on Cuban life – their story of the revolution, the realities of daily life in a very different culture to our own, and now a really interesting time of change, as the country relaxes private enterprise laws and reopens relations with the US. All these influences feed back into the jazz that the current generation of Cuban musicians are making.

LJN: Do you have a philosophy at Jazz Travels of what you hope people will get from the trip?

DS: I felt there was an opportunity to put the jazz into its cultural context. I’ve had so many lightbulb moments, visiting the ‘home’ of one jazz genre or other. The first time I went to New Orleans, danced to the music, ate the food, and met the people, I suddenly realised: “Ah! I understand now!” But at the end of the day – Cuban music also just makes for a great party. If you just want to sit back and enjoy it with a mojito and a panama hat, or shake your thing on the dance floor, then that’s fine too.

LJN: What other countries might you organise trips to?

DS: We have lots on the pipeline, both long- and short-haul, to suit all kinds of jazz lovers. In January we’ll be running our second tour to the Ice Music Festival in Norway. You’ve just missed the wonderful Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans, that celebrates the life and legacy of Louis Armstrong, and Heineken Jazzaldia in the stunning setting of San Sebastian. And we’re working with Umbria Jazz Festival, Penang Island Jazz Festival, Bute Jazz Festival in Scotland, Sõru Jazz Festival in Estonia and Jazz a Vienne to put together exciting packages for next summer. We can also organise jazz weekends for individuals in Paris and Brussels, which are great jazz destinations any time of year. Taste in jazz can be very personal, and every jazz festival has its own vibe, so if you give us a call and tell us what kind of music and destinations you enjoy, we can help you find the best festival for you.

LJN: Other people might like this job – where have you been recently?

DS: I do get to go to some wonderful places! I’ve recently returned from a trip to meet Sõru Jazz Festival in Estonia, a real gem of a festival held in one of those idyllic settings you imagine only existed in your childhood. Sõru celebrates midsummer in a harbour-side boathouse, with the help of Estonia’s best jazz musicians, and a few foreign guests. Estonian jazz is great – innovative but really melodic and playful. The breaks between performances were all about enjoying nature, and visiting the microbreweries and quaint wool factories of the formerly agricultural island of Hiiumaa. Then in a complete contrast, I segued to Jazz á Vienne, where 7,000-strong crowds populate the open-air Roman theatre every night for two weeks for the likes of Melody Gardot and Gilberto Gil, and there’s jazz on the fringe stages from lunchtime to three a.m!

However I would hate to give the impression that all I do is have fun. All tour operators must comply with strict UK Package Travel Regulations for the protection of our customers, which in short means a lot of paperwork and investment. But I love my job – it’s such a privilege to be able to share such amazing music and places with the people who come on these trips.

LINK Jazz Travels website


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Love Supreme 2015

Laura Jurd of Blue-Eyed Hawk
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Love Supreme Festival 2015
(Glynde, E. Sussex, 3-5 July 2015. Festival Round-Up by Daniel Bergsagel)

Daniel's round-up of the third Love Supreme festival, where attendance numbers were significantly up from last year's 15,000, takes its cue from the four track titles of the original Love Supreme album...

Part I - Acknowledgement

While political yellow might have been rejected by the people of Glynde in May, the neon yellow sign of Love Supreme was welcomed into the grounds of Glynde Place again for the weekend 3-5th July 2015. For its third outing Love Supreme returned as an intimate and diverse festival promoting the future of jazz as well as its elder statesmen - in both its performers and its fans.

As with previous years the Jazz Festival title is worn loosely, with the Friday night warm-up entertainment featuring grassroots dub, hip hop, latin and funk crossover talent from the area. Cambridge-originating Brass Funkeys energised the crowd with their original brass compositions on the Arena stage following acts from both termini of the London-Brighton commuter service. This supportive local programming nurtures a warm attitude, with musician's who'd previously held the stage regularly spotted spending the rest of the weekend amongst the crowds enjoying the performances of others. The incongruity of a middle-aged man emerging from a tent bleary-eyed on a Saturday morning, donning a rumpled suit and adjusting his tie amongst of a backdrop of flip flops and shirtless backs is explained only as he gathers an instrument and heads for the stages to take his shift in the sharply dressed limelight.

Joshua Redman and Reid Anderson
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman launched proceedings in the Big Top on Saturday at midday, the egalitarian trio playing works composed for their recent album featuring their temporary fourth member on saxophone. For a tightly knit and powerful trio like the Bad Plus to record and tour as a quartet may surprise, but the results were fascinating. At times Redman slipped into the rhythmic line up, ghosting Ethan Iverson's piano or Reid Anderson's bass, but at others he took centre stage: improvising with gusto over what must be one of the more atmospheric and intense back lines in contemporary jazz. The Bad Plus' early morning energy and humour was well matched by Young Pilgrims strong brass chords and swagger in the Arena, followed closely by the Elliot Galvin Trio. With his array of intriguing instruments (children's xylophones, accordians and melodicas amongst them), Galvin produced the sort of intensity and deconstructivism the Bad Plus made their name with, playing eerie children's nursery songs and brooding pulsing covers of Mack the Knife.

Blue Eyed Hawk saw Fraud-esque guitar crashes combine with Laura Jurd squealed trumpet flourishes to form the backdrop for Lauren Kinsella's exciting experimental vocals, with a particularly new take on Somewhere over the Rainbow. Partisans continued to produce fast-paced energetic chord changes with guitar shredding and Sourpuss'sharp stop finish.

With a seam of contemporary improvisational jazz established, the rest of Saturday afternoon continued to broaden Friday evening's horizons. Omar returned after last year's success as part of the soul train on the main stage, and was followed by the crowd-enthralling musings and identity changes of Neneh Cherry, torn between a proud singer in her sixth decade in the music industry, and an energetic sparky rapper. She discussed Ornette Coleman, grandchildren and life's overwhelming bullshit, accompanied on stage by slick euro-synth and drum duo RocketNumberNine. Catalonia's Andrea Motis and Joan Chamorro played out Jobim-tinged tunes as beautifully-voiced Andrea swapped vocals for trumpet and duetted with her charismatic mentor Joan, the notes crackling with chemistry.

Bill Laurance
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Like Omar, Bill Laurance again returned after appearances in the first two years, but this time under his own name instead of as a cog in the unstoppable machine that is Snarky Puppy. After performing pieces from his own compositions with the collective on the main stage this year the biting horns and army of synth were replaced by the more restrained Westside Trio strings and a haunting French horn. A more introspective project then Snarky Puppy's - swapping raw excitement for cinematic sweeps - like Snarky Puppy Laurance's project is still driven by cool bass. With Rebecca Ferguson entertaining a picnic blanket sprawl soaking up sun in front of the main stage with her big voice and bigger live backing band, Get the Blessing supplied some antidote rock roughage bringing medieval torture inspired music, this year representing for musical compatriots like Polar Bear and Melt Yourself Down who this year were absent from the line-up.

Part II - Resolution

Jason Moran
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Two American Blue Note artists, Jason Moran and Ambrose Akinmusire helped close on Saturday evening, Moran with his transformative Fats Waller head (an oversized mask of the late great pianist, complete with dangling cigarette) competing for and audience, perhaps unfairly, with the main stage headliner. But it was Akinmusire's virtuoso trumpet and snaking compositions which blew away cobwebs, opening his set with twenty minutes of blistering post-bop, only to contrast it with a tender ballad full of pauses and note-bending magic. Like many of the instrumental contributors to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly like Kamasi Washington, Akinmusire is certainly one to watch. Mercury nominated and recent Blue Note artists from the UK GoGo Penguin filled their tent playing woven electronic jazz which could perhaps be drawn somewhere on the intensity spectrum with Elliot Galvin Trio and The Bad Plus earlier in the day.

The real commercial draw of the festival continues to be with soul and funk vocalists, evidenced by Larry Graham and Graham Central Station's storytelling set covering their musical inspirations with live short song samples. As is suitable for funk royalty, his own Sly and the Family Stone featured alongside P-Funk and up-paced soul from James Brown and a crowd-pleasing version of Peebles' I Can't Stand the Rain. This should have left a main stage ready to move their bodies for Chaka Khan, however the funk more or less left the stage with Larry Graham. Propped up by strong backing singers and an enthusiastic sound man, Sweet Thing and What Cha' Gonna Do for Me kept things moving as Ain't Nobody was the finisher the collected were waiting for. But Chaka lacked the good nature or excitement shown by other acts, and the dancing (promised by the compère in an attempt to get people to finally fold up their deck chairs) never quite came. Dianne Reeves (INTERVIEWED AHEAD OF THIS FESTIVAL) in particular showed her up with her delight to be singing and scatting in the English countryside for the first time. Much as Andrea Motis paid homage to Love Supreme's host country with her Amy Winehouse cover, Reeves' adaptation of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams was an appreciative and modest nod to the audience she was here to entertain.

Dianne Reeves
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Part III - Pursuance

 Following some cleansing morning rain, the challenges of a pre-noon slot on Sunday were apparent as Christine Tobin and the Hackney Colliery Band looked to rouse people from their tents. The brass band's morning sound check of Fela Kuti and The Specials tempting a crowd to the main stage for a set heavy with original pieces from their new album, It's Normally Bigger in particular exploring exciting ground. With atmosphere still tricky to generate in the open air, Joe Stilgoe fared better in the Big Top - his comfortable stage patter and light humour bringing to mind American stage maestros like Curtis Stigers from previous festivals. Accompanied ably by Empirical's Tom Farmer on bass, he whipped through standards and original compositions about first kisses and expectant baby wishes. Ball of energy Dylan Howe and North London friends Ross Stanley and James Allsop put together a show of atmospheric free jazz under the time-travelling projection of German film footage illustrating Bowie's Berlin.

The afternoon sessions were full of new acts breaking through, with Theo Croker bristling with talent and ideas and with an incredibly accomplished group DVRK FUNK with him. Stretching from wah-wah tributes to a South African legend withBo Masekela to closing out the set with snippets of Lowrider, Croker demonstrated that he justifies the high praise he has received. Taylor McFerrin and Shiver brought very studio friendly approaches to the stage, McFerrin effectively running a nightclub DJ set with guest live drummer and occasional vocalists, while Shiver had a small army of guest instrumentals trooping on and off stage for each track.

Gilles Peterson favourites Hiatus Kaiyote entertained an adoring young crowd hanging on Nai Palm's every word at the Main Stage. With inspirations covering MC Escher, Japanese cinema and Saharan music strong grooves and stronger vocals have hit the zeitgeist, with hints of Dirty Projectors-esque quirks slipping into accessible danceable neo-soul. Ibibio Sound Machine's headline slot in the Arena closed the new guns performances with hyperactive percussion and big beats ranging from raw funk to layered highlife and Afro-beat. A brass line equally comfortable playing their horn or electronica (or, at, times both at once) supported the mesmerising Eno Williams dancing and singing with the sort of abandon you'd hope every performer could muster.

Part IV - Psalm

Ginger Baker
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

With so much promise for the future, the festival was left to be closed by a strong array of the established. Lisa Stansfield and Candi Staton brought more nostalgic funk and soul to the army of deck chair-seated picnickers on the main lawn as a wise old Ginger Baker led his Jazz Confusion and regaled his audience with stories of glamour from Birmingham Town Hall in 1969. As he closed his set it seems that Baker's 'Confusion' is the diversity and inclusion that Love Supreme has so embraced: a slow blues followed by a vibrant Yoruba folk song. Still with plenty of energy in his arms, he drove on fellow on-stage percussionist to rhythmic heights.

Terence Blanchard E-Collective allowed the film-composition king to explore his less jazzy impulses with a grooving rocky backline for him to play over before the Sunday headliner Van Morrison took to the main stage. Not as talkative as some, he soothed an enormous crowd with his blues and folk, reassuring as ever with his unique voice and backing organ. Moondance appeared early in the set to bring people into a dancing mood (although the perfection of the recorded version's solo wasn't even attempted), and he left the stage to a happy audience singing Gloria with him.

Hugh Masekela
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

But it was Hugh Masekela's earlier performance in the Big Top that truly shone. Many bands toiled to engage a fluid festival audience to stay, interact and dance. Masekela just needed to play and talk, his charisma rooting the crowd to stay with him until the moment he left the stage. An immensely likeable performer, after asking the audience "Is that enough?" and receiving a resounding "No!" he chides a tent full of fans: "Why are you so greedy? Why are you so pushy? Why are you so beautiful?" His performance of the morality questioning Stimela brought the crowd to its emotional knees, with him barely needing to lift his flugelhorn, before replacing Fela Kuti's entire brass ensemble himself on Lady. Masekela even closed by bettering Ginger Baker's previous history trip by one year with Grazing in the Grass, first released in 1968.

After last year's expansion of the festival to five stages, this year saw it return to its previous smaller format. At times the missing stage showed, with the occasional pause in the schedule which saw an entire festival crowd roving to find the only performance on at that time. The pared back line-up was perhaps an indication of Love Supreme beginning to settle on a stable size for the future, or perhaps a response to mild criticism from the previous year that noise bleed between venues was affecting gigs. The relocation of the Verdict Jazz club run Bandstand from between the main stage and the arena to a more secluded location as a musical enclave surrounded by food stalls was certainly of benefit to the audience numbers of local artists performing there.

With tweaks still being made and early history still being written, the third year of Love Supreme was certainly another success story. Here's to hoping this wasn't the third instalment of a trilogy, but a festival which is settling in for many series and re-runs to come.

Love Supreme Festival


CD REVIEW: Juliet Kelly - Spellbound Stories

Juliet Kelly - Spellbound Stories
(Purple Stiletto PSR004. CD review by Peter Jones)

The idea behind this self-produced fourth album from singer Juliet Kelly is a good one: each song is about one of her favourite novels. Since the song titles don’t give much away, part of the fun is trying to work out which song is about which book (although if you want to cheat, you can find out by going to her website). The books are from a wide range of authors, but all of them are loosely linked by themes of mystery, magic and the supernatural.

The backing is supplied by a sympathetic and imaginative piano trio, and although the tone is often appropriately spooky, there is a light summery feel to tunes like Beautiful Smile, whilst the bouncy Little Things has already proved sufficiently poptastic to attract the ears of the people who compile radio playlists: it was played repeatedly between sets to a huge audience at last weekend’s Love Supreme Festival.

Elsewhere the mood is darker: the opener One More Dance, a song that seems to be about death and madness, is powered by Eddie Hick’s hypnotic drum pattern; Devil in Disguise has a strong melody in 7:4 that one could imagine Sade covering, with a lengthy coda featuring pianist Nick Ramm with Kelly’s improvised vocals given added atmosphere by a heavy dose of reverb. Deep bowed bass from the ubiquitous Oli Hayhurst underpins the slow, sinister opening to Ghosts, before Ramm’s piano arrives to relieve the tension.

Kelly is able to command a range of styles, from the austere Berlin cabaret feel of No One Can Tell to the twinkling Magic and Mystery. Her songs are beautifully written, with excellent commercially viable melodies. If there is one questionable choice, it is the version of Wuthering Heights included here: Kate Bush’s original track is such a towering presence that attempting a reworking of it is, frankly, asking for trouble.

Juliet Kelly has live dates at The Stables, Milton Keynes (15 September), Queen’s Hall, Hexham (19 September) and Urban Art Bar at the Red Lion Birmingham (16 October).

LINKS: Juliet Kelly interview about Spellbound Stories

Peter Jones is a singer whose second album will be released in the autumn.


INTERVIEW: John Abercrombie in Kraków

John Abercrombie 4th July 2015 ICE Kraków Congress Centre
Photo credit Tomasz Osuchowski

JOHN ABERCROMBIE was one of the judges of the First International Jarek Śmietana Jazz Guitar Competition in Kraków, 1st - 4th July 2015. Mary James met him just before the final rounds of the competition. In this interview he remembered Jarek Śmietana and talked, as a first-time judge, about the high standards of the competitor and how he listens to their playing. His general advice to young guitarists: "Stop once in a while, stop playing...":

London Jazz News: This first International Jarek Śmietana Jazz Guitar Competition celebrates the work of Jarek Śmietana. You worked with him, notably on the album 'Speak Easy'. How did you first get to know him?

John Abercrombie: I can't remember when Jarek first got in touch. It was before email existed! He got in touch with me, told me who he was, told me he liked my music and wanted to work with me. So before we started recording, he organised a short of Poland. We didn't want to work too hard, we wanted to have fun so we both brought some compositions to the tour and even a Beatles tune. It was a nice fit, we played differently but we communicated well and he became a real good friend. I think 'Speak Easy' was recorded after that tour when we came back to New York. It went really well, it was easy to do. His music was quite easy to figure out and so is mine except for my odd phrase lengths.

LJN: What is Jarek's legacy?

JA: Jarek was the best jazz guitarist in Poland at the time, in a country of very good musicians like Tomasz Stańko, Michał Urbaniak. He brought so much music to people, he made people want to hear his music, he made fans, and that made them want to hear other jazz music. This makes the music environment healthier. So he was a wonderful ambassador for music in his own country and beyond.

LJN: What have been your impressions of this competition?

JA: It's an unusual situation. I have never been to a jazz competition before. It seems kind of unfair, it's hard to judge someone when they are under pressure. But these are not kids, they are professional musicians. I did not know what to expect. I thought I was going to hear medium level students. I was not expecting this level of proficiency which makes it even harder to judge. They all sound good. They all can play.

LJN: What criteria are you using to judge a performance then?

JA: It's just a feeling you get. You get a really strong feeling listening to somebody play, how they present the music, how they handle the instrument, their tone, their feeling, do they leave enough space or are they just crowding it all together? You hear one guy play and you say "Yes, this sounds good". And if you are pressed to say why it sounds good then you dig into your technical mind and try to figure out how to describe it.

It has to do with how they phrase, the sound they get from their instrument, their time feeling and what kind of compositions they are playing. It was nice to have the music in front of us, some are standards, some of Jarek's I already knew, some are own compositions. It was useful to see as well as hear the music and this gives another take, especially if you don't know the song. But if you know the song then it is easier to judge. You have a yardstick, you know what it is about. You might think "Gee, he's not making the changes correctly, or he is not improvising over the form, or he missed something". It's good to see how they begin and end, do they have a feeling for an arrangement or are they just playing it off the top of their head. I am listening to their intuition and seeing if they have put some thought into it, that they are not just winging it. Of course the whole situation has changed since I started.

LJN: How has it changed?

JA:  People are still playing the standard repertoire, Autumn Leaves, Stella By Starlight, so in that sense things haven't changed. But what's changed is the speed at which they learn, it's so rapid because of the technology. When I started there was no-one to help me, I had to listen to records and seek it out. There were only a few places to study so in 1962 I went to the Berklee School. Now every school has a jazz program, people learn quicker, there's more musicians but there's not more places to play, the venues have remained the same, the money has remained the same, or has even gotten less, and you have thousands of musicians who want to do the same thing. As far as recording goes, that industry has tanked, so now people do their own projects and they promote themselves.

LJN: If it's harder now, how do musicians mature?

JA: Good question! There is a theory prevalent among musicians of my age and even older (if there is such a thing) that the music of my generation came from the heart, and that the music of today comes more from the brain, technique, exercises and how complicated and clever you can be. There is a lot of truth in that. But when I listen to young musicians play, like here, they must be feeling something, you can't play devoid of feeling. There has to be something going on that makes you want to do this besides your brain.

I never had to consider this. I played with people who did not care if you went to school. I worked with older musicians and they would say "Hey, don't play any of that Berklee-school of music stuff on my bandstand". They didn't want to know how educated you were, they just wanted to know can you swing, do you know the song, can you play. So even though I did go to school the real school was in the moment, playing with people who were better than me. That situation doesn't exist for kids today. They may play with one of their compatriots who is better than them but they are not going to get a phone call from Miles Davis or Art Blakey. Those kind of people are all gone.

LJN: What one piece of advice would you give the young people here and all guitarists?

JA: I would tell all of them "Stop once in a while, stop playing, listen to what you are playing and don't just keep playing". The great Jim Hall told a student who was playing all the time, who was just noodling around "Don't just play something, stand there!" So my advice is "Stop, look and listen".

LINKS: Results of the  Śmietana Competition
Yaron Stavi's tribute to Jarek  Śmietana
CD Review - John Abercrombie Within a Song
CD Review: John Abercrombie Quartet - 39 Steps
Mary James' report on the Competition will follow


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015 - July 1st (Part 3 of 3)

Ruth Goller and Kit Downes

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015
Various Locations in Alto Adige, 1st July 2015.Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the third and last of Alison's reports from Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015

‘I had no idea that there was such a thing as British jazz,’ said an American tourist on the vertiginous cable car ride up into the mountains. At the top was Ritten (Renon) station where 9-piece UK street band Perhaps Contraption were poised ready to play; the sun blazed on their red and yellow clothes (even a yellow trombone). Formed by Christo Squier (flute, piccolo, guitar), the band has a strict musical discipline and untrammelled punky energy, somewhere between the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and British ska band Madness. They boarded the mountain train with us, moving from carriage to carriage like buskers on the London Underground. They all sang (megaphones bright yellow, of course), ‘We must be free!’ French horn and sax played klezmer-like riffs while the percussionist clambered on seat backs and racks with glee.

Perhaps Contraption. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

Back in Bolzano’s Jazz Station, pianist Kit Downes and bassist Ruth Goller were leading a workshop. ‘Each peak needs a trough,’ said Downes- he could have been referring to the mountains, but was talking about tension and release in harmony. The duo demonstrated these ideas, and it was a pleasure to listen to them play together- partly because we were able to listen out for what they were doing. They played Oscar Peterson’s Night Train (the first jazz piece Downes ever heard); There Will Never Be Another You; All the Things You Are; Clifford Brown’s Sandu, and a funky Scofield tune. They talked about the kinds of chord sequences that occur in jazz tunes, and ways of improvising to create ‘a lot of tension and a big resolution’. ‘These things happen by chance,’ said Goller.‘You chase, follow each other.’ Rather than simply learning musical phrases to copy into his own solos, Downes likes to take the shape and ‘harmonic information’ of a given phrase. Goller plays rock and pop too, where she has to play things ‘as they are written’. They demonstrated being ‘in the pocket’- where they both ‘fit nicely into the tempo’- and how they might move away from that. It was important for Downes to trust her to keep the groove steady, while he played in front of or behind the beat. ‘Squash it, squeeze it, stretch it,’ he said. ‘You have to trust your own inner time,’ commented Goller. She described the tension between listening to what the other musicians are doing while at the same time ignoring it.

Matthew Bourne Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

In the austere white Museion Art Gallery, solo pianist Matthew Bourne continued the piano series curated by Downes. Bourne was disarmingly playful and deeply serious. He padded barefoot to the grand piano and slapped it inside and out with his sandals, plucking the stings like an oudh, exploring all the sounds the piano could make. The noises buzzed round the room, with its bright acoustic and mountain views. ‘They’re new, these shoes,’ he said, as he pulled them out of the piano. ‘Quite clean.’ His compositions (several from his 2011 album Montauk Variations) ranged from the minimalist to the maverick and volcanic. The pieces had a powerful emotional pull: stillness, but with some spiny harmonies. One was a like a spare version of Bill Evans’ Peace Piece, achingly beautiful, simple as a musical box. Chapin’s Smile (‘the only standard I know’) was slow and yearning. The encore was like a storm suddenly descending on the mountains, the notes finding their way like water down the rocks. I wanted to hear the whole concert all over again.

In Bolzano’s main square, the day’s heat hung on as the sun set on the distant crags. German band Frigloob played an extraordinary range of styles with aplomb. They moved from grungy rock (guitar from Johannes Emminger); funk (led by bassist Maximilian Hirning and drummer Sebastian Wolfgruber); Lee Konitz-like swing (clarinettist Jakob Lakner) and Eastern European folk (Lakner is a klezmer specialist).

UK trio Three Trapped Tigers ended the evening with a gig worthy of stadium rock. Full-on from the first tune, Matt Calvert’s distorted guitar sound, Tom Rogerson’s keyboards and Adam Betts’ inventive drumming grabbed the audience by the throat and wouldn’t let us go. Each piece had strong melodies, and often simple chords. It was difficult to hear which instrument produced which sound, especially as Calvert also played synth, but it didn’t seem to matter- they were about creating textures, rather than demonstrating individual virtuosity. There was sometimes an 80s sound, redolent of Kraftwerk, but stirred up with heavy metal guitar- the kind of metal you might hear from Incubus. Sometimes they invoked the 70s, with Soft Machine-style swirling synths. Other tunes sounded a little like Brad Meldhau’s work with Mark Guiliana- those bubbling keys with drum ‘n’ bass grooves from Betts.

It would be easy for bands to be upstaged by the mountains themselves- but the Trapped Tigers had definitely escaped. Having prowled the elegant squares of Bolzano, they were probably off to cause an avalanche. The crowd roared their approval.

 LINKS: Festival Round Up 1 
 Festival Round-Up 2


REVIEW: Quincy Jones Presents Jacob Collier Solo Show debut, and Justin Kauflin Trio at Ronnie Scott's

Jacob Collier. Photo credit: Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved

Quincy Jones Presents Jacob Collier Solo Show debut and Justin Kauflin
(Ronnie Scott's, 1st July 2015. Review by James P.K. Pearson)

Our minds, warned Quincy Jones, presenting Jacob Collier’s debut solo show at Ronnie Scott’s, were “about to be blown on to the roof.” which, safe to say, was an understatement.

Collier, who at the age of 20 is yet to graduate from the Royal Academy of Music, arrested the audience with pure wonderment and awe in a debut solo show that securely marks his place as jazz’s new prodigy. Having recently taken established a collaboration with Ben Bloomberg of the MIT Media Lab, to find new ways to multi-track music live, Collier displayed a fine array of musical talents. Counting the number of instruments on stage proved difficult, but I would estimate around 12 or 13.

Flipping between the Steinway grand, keyboards, percussion and bass using looping pedals, multitracking and a fantastic projector show behind him, Collier’s fresh interpretation of Quincy Jones’ PYT stunned the audience. Heads shook in pure disbelief throughout the evening due to the sheer range and quality of his singing and playing, which was particularly world class in his renditions of Chaplin’s Smile and Bacharach/David’s Close to You, his pulsating funk bass lines and multi-layered vocal lines aiding the bopping of heads around the room. It feels natural to reach for the superlatives adequately to describe the feeling and vibe Collier spread throughout Ronnie’s in his 45 minute set, which closed with Gershwin’s  Fascinatin' Rhythm, which marked progression from his Youtube version.

Quincy Jones then moved on to introducing another of his young stars, Justin Kauflin, who remarked that his job of following Collier was immensely tough; his sound was one that “no human being or group of human beings could ever recreate”, which on reflection seems just about fair enough. Along with long-term collaborator Billy Williams on the drums, and bassist Chris Smith, Kauflin classily presented his talents in improvisation and jazz songwriting. No wonder Quincy Jones took these two young musicians under his wing.

You simply have to see it to believe it. The show will have a high profile outing as the opening act for Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea at this year's Montreux Jazz Festival.

LINK: More of Carl Hyde's photos. NB Copyright applies.  

James P. K. Pearson is a geography graduate and jazz pianist, looking to work in music promotion.


CD REVIEW: Kit Downes - Tricko

Kit Downes - Tricko
(Coup Perdu. CPCD003. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)

Keyboard player Kit Downes plays in a bewildering number of different of ensembles, reflecting a wide and eclectic range of styles and influences. It was therefore with both excitement and trepidation that I started listening to this CD, the first recording of his regular collaboration with cellist Lucy Railton. What you get is rather good: music at the intersection between jazz, improvisation and classical.

In the sleeve notes Downes writes about the process he went through in composing the seven pieces on the record, a slow development of shifting and mutation. The result is that the final pieces have moved on, and include nothing of the musical material that was there at the beginning. The pieces morph from one state to another, the cello often being the instrument of change, and produce a real sense of a journey travelled.

This is contemplative music, to be taken slowly and thoughtfully. Some tracks feel more jazz than classical, some reflect folk influences. The cello provides a tonal balance, and on some tracks such Waira, rhythmic drive. Waira also features the gentle, atmospheric sound of rainfall, a curious but not unwelcome addition.

The classical influence evokes composers such as Satie or Debussy, and more contemporary composers like Reich, Pärt or Adams. The serial motif is most present at the start of the CD's title track, Tricko.

Several of the tunes also feel improvised as they move between sections, the piano and the cello responding to each other. The result is very listenable to, an intimate record of two performers making music which is both accessible and intricate.

LINK: Coup Perdu Records. The image is of the LP version 

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


RIP Garrison Fewell (1953-2015)

Garrison Fewell. Cork 2013. Photo credit: Melody McLaren

The guitarist and educator Garrison Fewell died yesterday, July 5th at the age of 61. Stephen Keogh has written this tribute to his friend and colleague:

Garrison Fewell was a great musician and a lot more. He performed all over the world with many of the greats.

He taught countless students guitar and ear training.

His kindness and positive spirit pervaded whatever he was engaged in, be it teaching, playing a concert, running his house concerts, or designing and hand writing each individual CD cover.

His patience was immense with his students and sometimes even with his colleagues. In difficult and sometimes dodgy situations on tour he was a peacemaker. He was a great friend.

Although his illness was known about to all, having been diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013, it still came as a shock when the news of his death arrived.

He will be missed by so many for his music and for his presence.

o - o - o - o - o

Biograpy page from the Global Music Foundation website:

Renowned for his mature, melodic sound and elegant, lyrical style of writing and playing, guitarist Garrison Fewell has established himself as a distinctive voice throughout his 30-year career. Critics have called him "one of today’s most personal guitar players" (Boston Phoenix), "an assured stylist with a strong sense of tradition" (The New Yorker), "a player of virtuosity and swinging intensity" (UPI), and "refined, passionate, and inspiring" (Guitar Player). 

As a leader, Garrison has performed at NYC's Blue Note and Birdland Jazz Clubs, and toured in the US, South America, Africa, Caribbean, Canada and Europe. He has played at major jazz festivals such as Montreux, North Sea, Umbria, Clusone, Veneto Jazz, Copenhagen, Krakow, Budapaest, Quebec, Cape Verde, Africa, and Asuncion, Paraguay. He has performed with renowned artists such Tal Farlow, Larry Coryell, Benny Golson, Billy Harper, John Tchicai, Zbigniew Namyslowski, Steve Grossman, Herbie Hancock, Fred Hersch, Hal Galper, George Cables, Cecil McBee, Buster Williams, Miroslav Vitous, Steve LaSpina, Cameron Brown, Harvie Swartz, Michael Formanek, Tim Hagans, Cecil Bridgewater, Kenny Wheeler, Jimmy Owens, Dusko Goykovich, Khan Jamal, Norma Winstone, Jay Clayton, and Slide Hampton. 

An internationally respected jazz educator, Fewell has been a Professor of Guitar and Ear Training at Boston’s Berklee College of Music since 1977 and has given clinics at more than 40 prestigious conservatories in Europe alone, authored a textbook called Jazz Improvisation, and served as a lesson contributor to Guitar Player, Guitar Club and Axe magazines. He recently wrote a book "Outside Music, Inside Voices - dialogues on improvisation and the creative spirit."

LINK: Garrison Fewell at Berklee


PHOTO: Adam Cohen (@ThisIsAdamCohen) at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Adam Cohen on the TD Stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Benoit Rousseau. All Rights Reserved

Sebastian writes:

I'm covering the 36th Montreal Jazz Festival, with a few pieces commissioned by the Telegraph. The headliner on the main, vast free-stage in the Place des Festivals last night was Adam Cohen, mostly doing material from the album We Go Home from 2014 (Rezolute). Benoit Rousseau's picture (copyright applies) shows him evidently enjoying the moment, loving being back in front of a huge appreciative crowd in his home city, and appreciating the warmth of their welcome.

LINKS: Russell Malone at Upstairs review
Preview of Jamie Cullum's BBC Introducing Showcase 
"Impossibly charismatic": Montreal Gazette review of Jamie Cullum 


REPORT: Pussy Riot with the Thurston Moore Band, The Jack Wood, Scofferlane at Village Underground

Masha Alekhina and Luke Harding
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Pussy Riot with the Thurston Moore Band, The Jack Wood, Scofferlane
(Village Underground, 1 July 2015; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Zona.Media is the platform created by Masha Alekhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova, two members of Russian feminist punk-protest group, Pussy Riot, to critique the political establishment and champion the causes of political prisoners and media freedom, after being jailed for 21 months for their high-profile, anti-government protest in 2012 at Moscow's Orthodox Cathedral,

Masha Alekhina was interviewed by Charlotte Church at Glastonbury a few days earlier, and to open this event at Village Underground, a Pussy Riot guerrilla performance announced only the previous morning, she continued this theme in conversation with the Guardian's Luke Harding, who, as Moscow correspondent, had also experienced the sharp end of Russian politics, on which he has written at length in his book, Mafia State.

This was also the opportunity to showcase two hard-edge, high-energy Russian bands, Scofferlane and The Jack Wood, both also hotfoot from Glastonbury, before The Thurston Moore Band rounded off the evening in style.

Moore, expressing solidarity with the aims of Zona.Media, had stated, 'It is an honour to participate with Pussy Riot ... one of the most radical and uncompromising movements of punk', which was why they'd taken the unusual step of playing the night before embarking on tour.

Alekhina's discussion with Harding was wide ranging and pulled no punches. She made no bones about the gender roles in violence experienced in Ukraine and further afield. 'All this war made by men, no women there, they're all trying to stop them.' 'Over the last three years our country has become a f***ing monster .. [it] looks like prison', as democratic institutions are crushed by the state and the Church is appropriated to become a symbol of political power. And, in the current climate, she said that 'the problem is [that] young people are not so politically involved.' 'Politicians are imprisoned or under house arrest ... politicians steal money, buy property abroad ...' The harsh reality was brought home effectively.

Then on to the music. Scofferlane, down to bassist and vocalist for this gig - ‘the others are in Moscow’ - were sharp, dramatic and moody, with echoes of Nick Cave's delivery, their dark side given extra presence with high end lighting that threw out beams with sculptural intent.

The Jack Wood, a raw, post/proto-punk trio from Tomsk in the depths of Siberia, loved being over here: on Glastonbury, they twittered 'Best place ever - Wango Riley Stage!' Fronted by hyper-energetic singer, Sasha Klokova, who has an unrelentingly powerful voice and stage presence, they were telepathically tight, churning up an instrumental storm with just guitar and drums - no need for a bass, while Klokova, skinny, hyper-athletic, braced herself against the power lighting to appear in silhouette like a Javanese shadow puppet.

Moore's band, including bassist Debbie Googe, ex-My Bloody Valentine, made the case for guitar rock and songs, in a post-Sonic Youth vein - a contrast to Moore's left-field excursions in Dalston, but no less engaging, and their presence put a strong seal of endorsement on the event.

Geoffrey Winston is a design consultant for arts clients. His reviews and drawings have been a feature of LJN since 2010.


REVIEW: Brigitte Beraha and Friends at Karamel, N22

Brigitte Beraha and friends at Karamel N22

Brigitte Beraha and Friends
(Karamel, Wood Green N22. Review by Mike Collins)

The Karamel Restaurant is a large high ceilinged room in a former industrial building on Coburg Road, adjacent to the main Chocolate Factory in Wood Green's Cultural Quarter. Now known as the Chocolate Factory, Barratt’s extensive former confectionery Works buildings on Clarendon Road have become became the focus of the Wood Green cultural quarter. Several of the businesses operating within the buildings function as production facilities for the creative industry rather than as attractions for the general public, so many local residents wonder where and what this ‘cultural quarter’ actually is. Well, I can assure you that culture is alive and well in Wood Green in the form of Jazz and World Music at the Karamel Club (as it is more often called)!

The general ambience at the venue is that of a café bar, located in a large, airy room, with lots of space. The restaurant is vegan, although you don't have to have food, and there are small plates or desserts available or you can just have drinks.

For Thursday evenings, Stu Butterfield, a jazz drummer of note, books the bands - the 27th venue at which he has performed this role since 1995. Stu has been running gigs at the Karamel club for about 18 months, initially monthly and now weekly since April. “Mostly I invite musicians whose work I know of and admire, although I take suggestions from other musicians about who to book as well. The bar has organic wine and beers, so musicians are fed and watered healthily before the gig - they are well looked after and they always get paid!”

Brigitte Beraha's band for the evening was Stuart Hall on guitar, Dave Mannington on bass and mandolin, and Paul Clarvis on percussion. "I work with all three of the other musicians in different bands," Hall told me, "but this is the first time we've worked together as a quartet. We all live in North London and I met Brigitte at the Guildhall where we both taught on a course. I also have a duo with Brigitte which has only done a couple of gigs so far, but we are aiming for world domination!”

I arrived just in time for the second set, which opened with a song called Lisa - lovely relaxed vocals from Beraha and excellent guitar work from Hall. Egberto Gismonti's Palhaco followed, with a dynamic guitar accompaniment. Brigitte Beraha's expansive vocals filled the room, sounding joyful and happy, while the rhythm section provided a sensitive backdrop.

Dave Manington's mandolin made its appearance in the next song Asablanca adding its own special "colour" to the sound. The Beraha/Manington song Willow Tree was up next, with Hall swapping onto Telecaster guitar and Manington back on double bass. Reminiscent of a Laura Nyro song, the slow tempo allowed Paul Clarvis to fill the spaces in the minimalistic musical arrangement with dramatic and dynamic accents on his tiny kit, played with brushes while Stuart Hall filled in with evocative harmonics, arpeggios and occasional chords.

Stu Butterfield sat in with the band for the more uptempo number that followed, which featured wonderful harmonic guitar comping. Then it was back to bossa nova - a genre that Brigitte Beraha clearly feels totally at home with. Airto Moreira's song Papo Furado brought another change of instrumentation, featuring pandeiro, mandolin and acoustic guitar, lots of vocal whoops and swoops and scatting - as you might expect - and the venue's reverberant acoustics worked well for this! The mandolin, which was not amplified, was a bit lost in all this, but it didn’t seem to matter!

The next song, Keep On Moving was so newly-minted that Beraha was not even sure what it was called. Again, I found this somehow reminiscent of Laura Nyro's work! Finally, it was time for the last song - another bossa - Choro Do Anjo, originally by Joyce, which brought the evening gently to its close.

Mike Collins is a London-based music creator - producer, songwriter, studio musician - music technology consultant & author.


NEWS: Winners at the inaugural Jarek Smietana Jazz Competition in Krakow

L-R: Szymon Mika, Felix Lemerle, Rotem Sivan, Gabriel Niedziela
Photo credit Pawel Mazur

The winners have been announced at the inaugural Jarek Smietana Jazz Competition in Krakow

Szymon Mika (Poland)  1st prize
Félix Lemerle (France) 2nd prize
Roland Balogh (Hungary) 3rd prize (Ex aequo)
Rotem Sivan (Israel)  3rd prize (Ex aequo)
Gabriel Niedziela (Poland)  Special prize founded by Anna & Alicja Śmietana

Mary James has attended the competition writing for us, and her more detailed report will follow.


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Alto Adige 2015, 30th June

Matthias Schriefl. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015
(Bolzano. 30th June 2015. Festival Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the second part of Alison's round-up

One of Jazz Festival Director Klaus Widmann’s aims was to bring an international feel to Suedtirol Alto Adige, in the mountains of Northern Italy. People there speak two languages (German and Italian) and every town has two names. Saxophonist Tom Challenger’s Brass Mask added a New Orleans carnival feel, allied with modern jazz.

The sense of anticipation was heightened, as the programme didn’t say where in Bolzano’s centre they’d start playing- you had to listen out for them. Would they be round the next corner? Suddenly, there they were, on a wooden stage, with Theon Cross’ tuba and Nat Cross’ trombone keeping the groove. Dan Nicholls’ Hammond keyboard augmented the sound; later he played percussion. Jon Scott also swapped his drum kit for percussion as they started to march slowly though the street markets in the morning sun.

Brass Mask in Bolzano

They played New Orleans-style tunes, like Just a Closer Walk With Thee and All of Me. Small children and dogs followed, fascinated; shop workers danced in doorways. As they paused in the squares, modern jazz elements came more to the fore. There were Black Indian Mardi Gras tunes (Shallow Water Oh Mama, Indian Red) with scrunchy harmonies, George Crowley’s sax free-ish with hints of Chris Potter. Challenger’s sax called and the rest of the band responded in harmonised riffs, Nick Malcolm and Alex Bonney’s trumpets ricocheting off the high walls of the squares.

The new Jazz Station on Piazza del Grano was the Festival’s workshop centre, reflecting Widmann’s philosophy that jazz should be new and challenging, but not elitist- an intimate space for artists to discuss and demonstrate their art. French singer and performance artist Leila Martial first appeared as a disembodied whisper greeting each newly arrived audience member: ‘Are you here?’ As she emerged from her hiding place, she looped her voice in strange Gollum-like rasps and harmonised swoony long notes. (She later, fascinatingly, talked us though her arsenal of pedals) Her clown persona, complete with makeup and huge buttons, allowed her to experiment with different voices. ‘What do you expect from life?’ she muttered sotto voce, before asking for a volunteer to improvise a (beautiful) duet with her.

Pianist Kit Downes had curated a piano series for the Modern Art Gallery (Museion). Suedtirol (London resident) artist Martino Gamper’s exhibition had retro furnishings and massive glass cases, full of the kinds of artefacts you might have found in a 1970s house. In the middle of the large white room, its glass walls overlooking the huge mountains, was a grand piano- a parody of a living room.

Dan Nicholls, Lauren Kinsella. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

British pianist Dan Nicholls and Irish singer Lauren Kinsella were in duet. Kinsella explained that they like to ‘work from a small portion of text and see where it leads’, allying jazz and free improvisation to performance poetry and sprechstimme. They used technology (keyboard and pedals) to loop and distort the sounds, a kind of real time musique concrète. Kinsella’s voice was at times pure and folk-edged, with perfect intonation, floating over ostinato piano lines. She could be breathy or harsh, or like an eerie choir. ‘This is a homage to beauty wherever it may find itself,’ she sang over Nicholls’ complex piano, with its echoes of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin. One piece could have been Jarrett playing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, as Kinsella’s notes and words rose and plummeted. They ended with a gentle Mood Indigo, with elegiac new harmonies.

The stage of the "G7" Great European Jazz Conference had been built over the Parkhotel Laurin’s outdoor pool. It was a truly international gig, with 7 musicians representing 7 countries, conducted by German trumpeter Matthias Schriefl: ‘Real G7 politicians could learn a lot from musicians!’ Each contributed a composition- jazz, rock, folk and free improv jostling together. Icelandic guitarist Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson opened with a gorgeous duet with Irish Lauren Kinsella; her vocal style was cooler in tone than Leila Martial’s impassioned improvisation, with its overtones of French Chanson. The group was bassless but Rögnvaldsson’s octave pedal ably supported Swiss drummer David Meier. Ukrainian singer Tamara Lukasheva’s Solaremi involved her in sweet harmonies with the other singers and a wonderfully inventive improvised duet with Finnish saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, matching each other squeal for squeal. Then it had to happen- Schriefl and Meier finally jumped into the pool below the stage, Schriefl’s euphonium gurgling underwater and the singers responding with suitable watery sounds. Schriefl later pointed out that water carries sound considerably better than air- perhaps next year’s gig will be underwater?

Alison's first report of 29th June


CD REVIEW: John Law's New Congregation - These Skies In Which We Rust

John Law's New Congregation - These Skies In Which We Rust
(33 Extreme. 33Xtreme006. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

For almost thirty years, classically-trained British pianist John Law has been pushing on the door of jazz creativity, forming and reshaping his own particularly diverse routes through an impressive catalogue of ensemble and solo piano releases.

The last decade has seen a consolidation of his considerable compositional and performance strengths – including collaborations with Sam Burgess, Yuri Goloubev and Asaf Sirkis – to create a memorable clutch of albums from his Art of Sound and Congregation projects (2009's piano trio release, entitled Congregation, an unquestionable treasure). Throughout, his inventive, precise solo piano extemporisations have remained at the heart of everything he produces, even when subtly enhanced by glockenspiel, electronics, other keyboards or prepared piano techniques.

For this double album release from John Law's New Congregation, he again enjoys the company of expressive bassist Yuri Goloubev, along with drummer Laurie Lowe (from Law's recent electronic quartet project, Boink!), and introduces the spirited playing of acclaimed young London-based tenorist Josh Arcoleo. Law's approach has always felt essentially English – and endearingly so. Perhaps it's his quirkily teasing song titles and the stories of their origins, plus the upright solidity of his particularly distinctive technique. But that's where any semblance of immaculacy ends, as his original works are enduringly attractive and frequently bracing, with a good measure of unpredictability.

The hundred-minute expanse of this eleven-track playlist allows Law and his colleagues the freedom to stretch out, as in opening When Planets Collide where nebulous electro-effects hover behind an oscillating 4/4 and 5/4 piano-and-bass groove – the perfect spacial canvas for Law's eloquent improvisations and Yuri Goloubev's characteristically cantabile bass resonance; and Laurie Lowe demonstrates his thunderous percussive capabilities. Seven Ate Nine (Law's tricksy, rhythmic interpretation of children's joke, "Why was Six scared of Seven? Because…") is based on an ebullient ascending motif – seven rhythmically fighting nine – whose middle section lyricism contrasts beautifully, as the pianist makes it all seem so effortless.

Interpreting Law's memories of live, outdoor African music, Laurie Lowe's ibo drum in The Music of the Night conveys exotic summer's evening warmth, jangling to prepared piano and fabulously overblown tenor lines from Arcoleo; and rocky To Do Today To Die mesmerises with audacious cross-rhythms, whilst bright piano and tenor lines shine above Goloubev's rolling bass and Lowe's ticking tempo (do NOT attempt to background-listen to this music!).

Conjuring the cinemascope grandeur of John Williams, a glockenspiel-and-chorale prelude to title track These Skies In Which We Rust widens into a bewitching groove inspired by the poetry of Law's teenage daughter, Holly; and, for a moment, that innate Englishness is firmly put under the spell of exquisite Balkan mystery. Lucky 13 is typically and brazenly mischievous, written in 13 for the pianist's son's 13th birthday; and remarkably, I Sink Therefore I Swam sparks to animated, Phronesis-like riffs and rhythms (Goloubev sounding uncannily like its dedicatee, Jasper Høiby!), with Arcoleo adding crunchy tenor histrionics to Lowe's Eger-style fireworks – quite a standout.

Set Theory has all the string-backed, jingly charm of an '80s chart hit, albeit with Law's predilection for edgy, hard-driving momentum and quickfire soloing; and Conical is an inspired representation of former drummer Asaf Sirkis' breathtaking abilities in the vocalised, rhythmic, Indian art of Konnakol (Lowe also cleverly mimicking Sirkis' hard snare action). Incarnadine Day is a new interpretation of a previously-released track – the sinister weight of Holly Law's 9/11-prompted poetry expressed through jarring, disconcerting electronics, wailing sirens and the overall urgency of the quartet. And, as if to honour the many victims of that world-changing event, I Hold My Soul to the Wind peacefully closes the album with piano trio and the hopeful, sweet innocence of Holly's wordless vocal.

Review copies of this album, recorded in July 2014, have only been sent out sporadically. But, as ever, John Law does not disappoint – and any thoughts of extravagance or surplusage in releasing a two-disc set are dispelled by the freedom and inventiveness displayed in these scintillating performances.

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


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015 - 29th June

Laura Jurd's Human Spirit at Schloss Fahlburg
Suedtirol Jazz Festival
(Various Locations in Alto Adige, Northern Italy. 29th June 2015. Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the first of Alison's reports.

The town of Bolzano (Bozen) was full of British musicians walking round with a slightly glazed look, staring at the mountains and muttering words like, ‘beautiful’ and ‘stupendous’. Bolzano and neighbouring towns, nestling in the mountains of South Tyrol, were hosting ‘UK Sounds’ this year in a variety of extraordinary venues.

In the garden of the Parkhotel Laurin, amongst the palms and tall pines, Alice Zawadzki’s voice drifted serenely like the breeze over Moss Freed’s gentle guitar- jazzy, husky. Her pizzicato violin blended with the sounds of the fountain as the violin and guitar harmonised lines in Freed’s Lose Ourselves. Cut Me Down was about a Scottish tree threatened with felling. Zawadski sang with great passion: sometimes with a rich Joan Baez vibrato against the distortion of Freed’s rock-edged guitar and looped chords; sometimes with Bjork-like wails. In her song about separated lovers, her voice and violin slid expressively together.

A Sephardic wedding song brought out more Eastern timbres in her voice, blending classical tones with early music and folk, the way British singer Belinda Sykes can. Bolzano’s bells rang out serendipitously, in the same key, as if joining in the song’s wedding celebrations- a very special moment. A Polish song once sung by a great aunt (an opera singer in Poland) followed, with a gypsy feel, and a fine solo from Freed over pizzicato violin. A Ligeti song played without words had wonderfully atonal harmony. Alice’s own song Ring of Fire had the rootsiest, bluesiest feel, before a moving version of Sandy Denny’s Quiet Joys of Brotherhood Freed’s beautifully wavering notes recalled Bill Frisell, and he even sang the original’s complex close harmony. The duo created so many thoughtful textures, but above all a special intensity.

Imagine a fairy tale castle at the top of a winding mountain road, far above the town: here in front of Fahlburg Castle, trumpeter Laura Jurd performed music she’d written for her band Human Spirit as a commission for the 2012 London Jazz Festival. The sheltered garden sloped down towards the castle, creating a natural amphitheatre and perfect sound, as the moon rose above the distant crags.

The pieces had sentences sung or intoned by Lauren Kinsella with a pure folk-tinged sound- just enough to provoke the imagination, as if telling the beginning of a story, or as if lines from a play had been set to music. She Knew Him (“She knew him till his dying day”) began like a hymn before Mick Foster’s squawky bass sax broke into funky slap-tonguing and walrus grunts. In Brighter Days sweet harmonies became funky overlapping riffs and a beautifully melodic trombone solo from Colm O’Hara. Kinsella’s wild laughter created a frisson as the sun set. Some heavy distortion from Alex Roth’s guitar fell against the light trumpet and vocal lines, like comic characters tumbling over each other. Chris Batchelor’s trumpet solo shivered over the grungy sounds.

Pirates had a sense of searching for adventure: childlike wonder and innocence with a hint of theatrical menace and anarchy. There were African influences and big breezy phrases; sections that grew out of each other and repeated. Blinded ("In the desert was a man blinded by the dazzling sunlight”) seemed to have the playful spirit of Ornette Coleman; a folk feel with some Desert Blues. O’Hara’s trombone howled at the rising moon over Roth’s scratchy guitar. Human Spirit had brass band elements with monstrous rocky eruptions from Corrie Dick’s excellent drums under the delicate vocal lines: Kinsella has developed an improvising language of her own that could have come from Middle Earth. More Than Just a Fairy Tale (“Only you can set him free”) opened with Jurd and Batchelor harmonising and echoing each other’s phrases eerily before everyone joined in a wild section like a circus dance. In Closing Sequence the slow melody emerged from the driving drones of guitar, the chords changing under one note. Jurd’s solo had Miles and Hubbard influences but a clarity of thought and directness all her own.

This was music of wonderful contrasts from Laura Jurd’s musical imagination: carefully-written but free and wild; grungy yet innocent; uncompromising but always approachable.


PHOTOS: 2015 Suedtirol Jazz Festival

The pictures originally on this page, by Ralf Dombrowski, have all now been integrated into our written coverage by Alison Bentley. 


29th June report

30th June report

1st July Report


CD REVIEW: John Russell, Phil Durrant, John Butcher - Conceits 1987/1992

John Russell, Phil Durrant, John Butcher - Conceits 1987/1992 
(EMANEM 5036. CD Review by Geoff Winston)

The playing on Conceits is marked out by sensitivity and restraint combined with dynamic invention. Recorded almost 30 years ago by the improvising trio of saxophonist, John Butcher, guitarist, John Russell and Phil Durrant, who played violin and trombone, it retains a freshness and maturity that stands the test of time.

The original vinyl album was put out in 1988 and launched the ACTA label. Devoted primarily to improvisation, ACTA was set up by Butcher, in association with Russell and Durrant, and released fourteen albums over the same number of years.

The eleven concise tracks on Conceits are augmented on this CD reissue on the Emanem label by a fifteen minute live recording of the trio made by Mats Gustafsson in Stockholm in 1992, adding a further dimension to appreciation of the trio's range.

The structure of the album has a quasi-episodic quality. With the majority of the tracks between roughly two and three minutes, and the others only slightly longer, they have the feel of both fragments and self-contained vignettes.

Each improvised track relates to the others through the consistency of the trio's shared vocabularies and the particular sound qualities that they nurture. There is a quirky, metallic, state of staccato about their world, liminal and distinctive, dry yet not without warmth and organic references.

The individual sounds are often unattributable to specific instruments and there is reward in concentrating on impressions and the imaginative thread. A Japanese flavour is implied when Russell's guitar takes on the uncompromisingly sharp, plucked tones of a koto, or when Butcher's saxophone might trade places with a hichiriki.

The language patterns of the natural world are indirectly evoked through repetitions, scratchings, calls and shuffling. Delicacy mixes with concentrated intensity. Stabs and bowings, guttural wails and short puffs of air, avian cooing and clucking, the humming of the hive, all flow with the feel of the mirrored observations of a field recording. Artisan activities - hammering, scrapings, light taps and paperclip clicks, reinforce the patterning, and gamelan delicacy blends with fleeting jazz phrasing from Butcher to alight on suggestions of human craft and community.

Yet, it is the overall abstract qualities that shine through, and the combination of the original recording, captured in a single day, and the complementary live performance make this an engaging and stimulating CD.

Liner notes, including those by Russell and Gustafsson, add valuable insights into the genesis of the trio, the album and the improvisation environment at the time.

Geoffrey Winston is a design consultant for arts clients. His reviews and drawings have been a feature of LJN since 2010.


PHOTOS: The debut Jacob Collier solo show - Quincy Jones presents at Ronnie Scott's

Jacob Collier solo show.
Photo credit Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved

We will have a review  to follow, but here are photos by Carl Hyde of a landmark occasion, the debut performance of  Jacob Collier's solo show at Ronnie Scott's in the presence of mentor Quincy Jones. The show has had participation from MIT in Boston. Collier, still an undergraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music for another year, will be taking this show to Montreux where he/it will open for Herbie  Hancock and Chick  Corea.    

Jacob Collier solo show.
Photo credit Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved
Jacob Collier and Quincy Jones
Photo credit Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved