REVIEW: Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70)

Singer Jarvis Cocker with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra
Photo credit BBC/Mark Allan

REVIEW: Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70)
(Royal Albert Hall. 25 July 2017. Review by AJ Dehany. Drawing by Geoff Winston)

The “Scott Walker Prom” has been heavily trailed with a rich season of programmes, 6 Music Celebrates Scott Walker, including a vanishingly rare recent interview with the legend himself and exploratory features by Jarvis Cocker, Stuart Maconie and Max Richter.

The BBC Proms tend to celebrate great pop and rock composers only after they’re dead: Michael Jackson and David Bowie have each been saluted. Last year’s bloody G.R.R. Martin-esque cull of our most beloved pop icons had me bleeding my knuckles while praying for Scott Walker to be spared. It’s gratifying to know he was backstage at his own tribute. He deserves it. As Brian Eno says, Walker “took music to a place it hasn’t been since.”

Masterminded by Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde and journalist Dick Hovenga, the Prom focused on the late '60s period of the four classic orchestral pop albums Scott (1967), Scott 2 (1968), Scott 3 (1969) and Scott 4 (1969) plus ‘Til The Band Comes In (1970) - the same selection of records that Julian Cope drew on for the compilation Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker, which reignited interest in Walker in 1981.

Scott Walker never performed these songs live. The Albert Hall concert was a one-off event, possibly the only chance we’ll ever get to hear them realized at scale. The Heritage Orchestra with conductor Jules Buckley and the London Contemporary Voices choir brought the lush arrangements from the albums to life with great gusto and aplomb, though at the same time it was all rather tasteful and faithful, in an atmosphere of stiff reverence. The four vocalists, Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Susanne Sundfør and Richard Hawley, were in varying degrees visibly and audibly nervous. Scott Walker’s voice is a wonder of the world: vulnerable, tender, bracing and bombastic all at once. Each of the them possessed some but not all of his qualities.

Richard Hawley at the Scott Walker Prom
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

Richard Hawley is a wonderfully rich singer but just couldn’t step into Scott Walker’s lungs in the colossal choruses of Montague Terrace (In Blue). He seemed to be hiding behind his guitar during It’s Raining Today, Two Ragged Soldiers and The Old Man’s Back Again, all beloved songs that seemed destined for bigger vocal cords. Jarvis Cocker gave nervous readings of Boy Child, Plastic Palace People, The War Is Over, and Little Things. He might have been better employed on The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. This second album cut was a prize fit for Susanne Sundfør, the star of the hour, who managed to belt it out in a way the others didn’t quite dare. Closest in expressive range to Walker, her Plugg was full Shirley Bassey with John Barry Big Band; raunchy then smooth, delicate and crystalline throughout On Your Own Again, Angels of Ashes, and Hero of the War. Her TV performance of On Your Own Again with just piano is exquisite and devastating.

John Grant has some pipes too and is no stranger to big orchestras, having recently toured his breakthrough album Pale Green Ghosts with the BBC Philharmonic. The Greatest MF was in fine voice for Rosemary, The World’s Strongest Man, and he was perfection in a commanding reading of Walker’s retelling of Bergman, The Seventh Seal, a widescreen epic with Mariachi horns and no mean feat to pull off. John Grant told 6music before the concert that Walker’s songs are “not easy to perform: sometimes very loose, sometimes very specific. Things don’t go where you expect. The words are challenging. I’m a little bit shocked”.

Susanne Sundfør, Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra
Photo credit BBC/Mark Allan

It’s true, it’s challenging material. We can be distracted from this by what he did later. Proper musos tend to celebrate the albums from 1981’s Climate of Hunter onwards: Tilt (1995), The Drift (2006), and Bish Bosch (2012): dark modern classical sound worlds with an industrial impact. On these albums the use of the orchestra is somewhat different, more akin to musique concrète: “there are no arrangements [on The Drift],” says Walker, “it’s big blocks of sound; the orchestra’s there but it’s noises and big blocks of sound, it’s even come down to that.”

Scott Walker famously warned Evan Parker when he turned up for work, “This is not a funk session,” which is no understatement. But how we thrill to the lopping melodic bass on The Old Man’s Back Again on Scott 4. Jarvis Cocker in his 6music interview asked Walker the question we have been asking forever: who played the bass on that song? And the answer was... he can’t remember... “but it would have been a very fine bass player.” Do you think he means himself?

Now acclaimed as a masterpiece and a summation of his art, in 1969 Scott 4 was summarily deleted. 1970’s 'Til The Band Comes In should have been Scott 5 and is sometimes called 'Scott 4 1/2': a decent short suite of originals followed by some derisory company-demanded covers. Subsequent albums from the early 1970s contained no original material at all, and have been suppressed: silent documents of “lost years”.

Regarding the failure of his solo career Walker notes that the third album is “practically all written in 3/4: you can’t dance to it — unless you wanted to waltz all night. Before, I’d given something people could hang onto. People started to drift away. I became a kind of leper. People didn’t wanna touch me commercially... and after that I don’t know what happened. A whole lot of drinking.”

The belated appeal of the songs on these four albums is not because they were ahead of their time or because they were sombre and melancholic in a way that mirrors our times. Pop contains multitudes of visionaries and depressing bastards, and it’s patronising to suggest pop is just about bubblegum and Ed Sheeran’s face. These albums failed for the same reason they are great: they straddle two very different worlds that aren’t always permitted to meet.

The greatness of those albums is their inbetween-ness. They have many of the same ‘weird’ elements of the later albums - unlikely textural combinations (at the concert we spotted a contrabass flute), lyrics so loaded with meaning they might appear meaningless (is The Old Man’s Back Again about Stalin or something? Following the concert, Walker’s response to hearing his songs for the first time in 50 years was “Just basically I wondered what was I going on about!?”), and dissonant clusters of shrill cicada-like tones that drone throughout It’s Raining Today from Scott 3: if you listened to just the right channel you’d hear a guitarist singing a pretty song, just the left channel and you’d think it was John Cage’s Two4.

The tension between the more traditional songwriting and the avant garde underbelly is what makes these records so satisfying. Anyone can be weird — though admittedly Walker has made a weirdness distinctively his own. At the Barbican in 2008 the concert Tilting and Drifting: The Songs of Scott Walker presented the more recent work, with Walker himself at the mixing desk. To give you a flavour of what that evening was like, during a song about the hanging of Mussolini an opera singer lay across the stage with his legs tied up while a boxer punched a dead pig. It’s on YouTube.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) was broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio 3 and BBC 6music and will be screened on Friday 28 July at 10pm on BBC Four.


PREVIEW: Sounds Of Denmark (13-17 September, Pizza Express Jazz Club)


Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon enjoys a Danish selection with his morning coffee.

The impossible is going to be attempted in mid-September: squeezing a whole country into a jazz club. Well, not exactly a whole city, but a representative number of musicians from that country. It's not the first time it's been tried - last year's Sounds Of Denmark was clearly a resounding success.

The jazz roots go deep in Denmark, back to when Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon lived there, back to when Albert Ayler and Cecil Tayor recorded there, and back before then, to when Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Palle Mikkelborg and John Tchicai were born...

But Sounds Of Denmark is about what is happening in the country today, and the diversity of the Danish jazz scene is one of its hallmarks. It's difficult to reflect that diversity in eight bands, but the programmers of this year's festival have had a good crack at it.

Mads Mathias

The Firebirds take their name from Stravinsky and their repertoire from classical composers including Igor himself that saxophonist Anders Banke, drummer Stefan Pasborg and Anders Filipsen on keyboards then improvise upon.

The Makiko Hirabayashi Trio highlights how a city like Copenhagen is a magnet for creative artists from around the world. The Japanese pianist/composer who has made here home there has the celebrated Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur in her band along with bassist Klavs Hovman.

The six-piece KutiMangoes take their inspiration from Fela Kuti, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman and forge a new sound from these eclectic sources. Their last album was recorded in Burkina Faso and Mali. There will be dancing.

The music of West Africa has also had a strong impact on the electronic trio plus drums of Kalaha. DJ Gilles Peterson is a big fan.

Jacob Anderskov's Resonance, led by the award-winning composer and pianist, revives the Third Stream concept forged by Gunther Schuller back in the 1950s, with a string trio interacting with Anderskov's piano and the drums of Peter Bruun.

The big star of the weekend is singer, saxophonist and songwriter Mads Mathias, a familiar and much loved performer in the UK. Brian Blain, on this site, has called him "a truly gifted artist". He has a new album to promote but will also be singing songs from his award-winning debut disc Free Falling.

Søren Bebe Trio

Fitting neatly into the Scandinavian piano trio tradition is the Søren Bebe Trio, Bebe's compositions taking a leaf out of the Bill Evans book of harmony and applying it sometimes to folk-influenced melodies. With Kasper Tagel on bass and Anders Mogensen on drums, the new record is called Home.

Winding up the five days is the Snorre Kirk Quintet, with a classic line-up of two horns, piano, bass and drums, the subtle twist coming in the fact that Tobias Wiklund plays cornet. Also with Kirk, leading from the drums, are Jan Harbeck on tenor, Magnus Hjorth on piano and Lasse Mørck on double bass.

The full timetable of these bands at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, London, is on the link below.

LINK: Sounds Of Denmark at Pizza Express Jazz Club


CD REVIEW: John Coltrane – European Tour 1961

John Coltrane – European Tour 1961
(Le Chant du Monde 574274551- 3149024274558 . CD review by Nick Davies) 

To mark the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s passing on 17 July 1967, a box set of the 1961 European Tour by French label Le Chant du Mont has been released. This is the first time the material has been available, other than as a bootleg copy, and serves as a historical record even if the audio quality is not perfect.

It includes music from Coltrane’s Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm shows, as well as unexpected treasures from his Stuttgart and Berlin gigs and a bonus set from Coltrane’s first European visit in March 1960 (Dusseldorf) as part of the Miles Davies Quintet. The 1961 tour featured the quintet of John Coltrane (tenor & soprano saxophones), Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

Critiquing classic songs like Blue Train is difficult, particularly when trying to avoid repeating previous reviews. However, in a live setting these little gems showcase Coltrane as a master improviser, each song played in a unique way across the concert series. For example, on My Favourite Things, the tune is instantly recognisable despite being delivered differently in the each show. This impressive collection boasts live recordings of the following tracks: Impressions, I Want To Talk About You, Blue Train, My Favourite Things, Delilah, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Naima, On Green Dolphin Street, Walkin’, The Theme, Autumn Leaves, What's New, Moonlight In Vermont and Hackensack.

Brilliant interplay between all the band’s musicians is an indication of a terrific rhythm section. Although Tyner and Dolphy, at times, rival Coltrane’s first-rate playing, no one musician outshines the other; instead it highlights the tightness of the band.≈

Overall, this inspired collection takes the listener back in time to one of the great tours of the 1960s. Featuring several of the same tunes, the set brings the 57-year-old concert series into the modern age, enabling the listener to make comparisons and to experience much celebrated improvisation. This release is an excellent introduction to Coltrane’s music, but it's also guaranteed to hook even the hesitant enthusiast.


REVIEW: 28th 'and final' Swanage Jazz Festival

Tina May in 2013
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Swanage Jazz Festival 2017
(Swanage, 14-16 July 2017. Round-up review by Brian Blain)

Towards the end of the '28th and Final' SwanageJazz Festival, in the last Sunday afternoon slot, with the sun shining on the big marquee, I got the feeling that I was part of a remake of the classic documentary Jazz On a Summer's Day - the part where Anita O Day takes the place by storm. I have never seen Tina May so 'up'; we were certainly not in for one of her subdued sub-Winstone moods or her Edith Piaf show - both of which she does so well.

Here was a great rhythm section, John Donaldson (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Winston Clifford, the listening drummer, with the great tenor saxophonist Art Themen waiting in the wings. Indeed there he was, hand-claps, claves in hand, second tune in No More Blues, whacking out that classic 3/2 pattern with Winston egging on the crowd with his overhead hand claps; demagogic rhythm paradise!

From Monk's Well You Needn't to the Ella tribute Every Time we Say Goodbye, this was a glorious heartwarming show, not just a singer with jazz rhythm section, but five full-on musicians interacting together magnificently.

Coincidentally this followed another set which rocked a full house: the Arun Ghosh Quintet. The Swanage crowd have really taken these guys to their hearts so let's have an end to snideries about token multi culturalism. Ghosh is a super brilliant clarinettist, with one of the most engaging personalities to be seen anywhere - humorous and genuine - and the mix of Indian sub-continent rhythms and melody with the rockish grooves of bassist Liran Donan and drummer Dave Walsh is totally captivating.

Overcoming all my prejudices about the newer generation of technically perfect but somewhat cold musicians, I made my way up the hill to the Methodist Church to be totally captivated by elegant Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame and by bassist Matt Ridley. A beautifully elegant long note from saxophonist Jason Yarde even reconciled me to the sound of the soprano saxophone, my aversion to which is only exceeded by the bagpipes: he was stunning. So was James Maddren. Indeed his opening slow burn groover with the big warm sounding tenor of George Crowley shook all my preconceptions out of the window, his mastery of the tricky acoustics of the room being a measure of his superlative technique and sensitive ears. Maximum marks to both new wave-ish bands and especially to the writing of both leaders, as well as the brilliant John Turville, pianist with Matt Ridley, who is quite a writer himself.

Sunday lunch in the church started none too promisingly with a thin house for Roger Beaujolais' band with Donaldson, Thorpe and Clifford. The sardonically humorous title of one of Damon Brown's new albums, Sorry, It's Just Jazz, was just made for this set with its melodic Beaujolais originals, understated grooves, and fine soloing from pianist Donaldson, and the band's vibes-playing leader, By the end the venue was full, nobody left and a healthy queue was waiting to buy the band's latest CD; people were talking to me about this set for the rest of the day.

Apologies to all those left out; there was so much great music by the likes of Darius Brubeck, Dave O'Higgins, Alex Garnett, Nigel Price, Keith Nichols, Joan Viskant, Liz Fletcher, TJ Johnson and others I couldn't catch.

Above all, thanks to Fred Lindop and his wonderful team of helpers: there will be a big hole in the heart of the British jazz scene.

LINK: Our news piece about the Festival


PREVIEW INTERVIEW: Tom Syson (Conscia Jazz Festival: Snowpoet/ Joe Stilgoe/ BJO ft. Trish Clowes, Bedford, 1-3 Sept 2017)

Tom Syson
Photo Credit: Emily Dove

Trumpet player and Bedford resident TOM SYSON has taken it upon himself to bring a festival of high-quality jazz to the town. Now in its third year, the Conscia Jazz Festival (previously Bedford Jazz Festival) will be showcasing a range of national and local jazz musicians at the Quarry Theatre in Bedford for 3 days from 1 to 3 September. Leah Williams talked to Syson about the development of the festival, and this year's impressive line-up:

LondonJazz News: How did the Conscia Jazz Festival get started?

Tom Syson: Well, I’ve always been interested in promoting jazz outside of the main UK cities, especially in Bedford where I’m from. For my final year project at Birmingham Conservatoire, I decided to run a small festival in Bedford and Milton Keynes to see how it was received. It went really well and each year it has just grown in size.

LJN: So what’s different about this year’s festival?

TS: It’s bigger and longer again, running over three days with an opening night performance on the Friday from the amazing Snowpoet and then other great headline gigs from Joe Stilgoe on the Saturday and the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra with Trish Clowes to close on Sunday evening. It’s also all concentrated in the one location this year.

LJN: Is that the Quarry Theatre again?

TS: Yes. We had several gigs there at the previous festival but this time decided it would work best to hold everything there and create a really great buzz and atmosphere around the festival in one central spot. The main stage will be in the theatre and then the community stage will be outside in the garden so people will be able to get a taste of the full festival no matter which bit they’re attending.

LJN: What’s going to be happening on the community stage?

TS: It’s mainly a platform for local musicians to showcase what they can do. I really think it’s equally important to both bring national and international musicians into Bedford and also to give local musicians a chance to perform, meet and get involved. The community stage will be free so anyone can come along and have a listen, even if they don’t want to buy a ticket for one of the main stage performances.

LJN: Is there a big jazz community in Bedford?

TS: There are some incredible musicians and local nights here, yes. I’m hoping that the wider interest and appreciation will also continue to grow off the back of the festival. Jazz is such a diverse genre and I often find that many people who say they don’t like jazz haven’t actually had the chance to hear really good live music. After the festival last year, lots of people came up and shared how great they had found the experience, whether they were locals who previously had to travel into London to hear big jazz names or people who hadn’t really had any experience of the genre before.

LJN: What would be your recommended gig this year for people who might be experiencing jazz for the first time?

TS: Well, all our headliners and main stage acts are really top class and all of them will be incredible to see live but I guess I’d probably say the closing gig with Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and Trish Clowes. A lot of people I talk to have this preconception that jazz is “boring” and that gig is bound to be anything but! It’s also the biggest ensemble of the festival so will be quite an impressive show.

LJN: Is there anything else people should know about?

TS: This year, we’re planning two education events which will take place on Saturday and Sunday morning at the Quarry Theatre. Details of these will be released on the website shortly. There will also be a couple of fringe events taking place on the John Bunyan Boat, one each lunchtime on both the Saturday and the Sunday.

LJN: How can people book?

TS: All tickets can be booked on the Conscia Jazz Festival website - - and, for the first time, we’re offering both day and weekend tickets as well as for individual gigs so that people can have the opportunity to see as much music as they want for a great price.

Prices: Weekend Ticket - £99 (£90 conc) Saturday Ticket - £55 (£50 conc) Sunday Ticket - £55 (£50 conc)

LJN: Finally, will you be playing at all during the festival?

TS: I will for the first time this year, actually. I’m going to be opening the main stage on the Saturday with Berlin-based pianist Mark Pringle. I also play lead trumpet in the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra so will be on stage for that gig too. (pp)

Conscia Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW: Liane Carroll - The Right to Love

Liane Carroll - The Right to Love
(Quietmoney QMR0004. CD Review by Charlie Anderson)

Following the success of their last collaboration, Seaside, in 2015, Liane Carroll and producer James McMillan have struck gold once again with an impressive album of ten tracks with a range of guest musicians.

Nobody adds emotion to a song in quite the way that Liane Carroll manages to, particularly in live performance, and, not surprisingly on an album with the theme of love, this raw emotion is here in abundance.

Her ability to make a tune her own is something that Liane Carroll is already well known for, and this is illustrated perfectly in her interpretation of the title track, Gene Lees and Lalo Schifrin’s The Right to Love.

The album opens with a silky jazz rendition of Skylark with saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and also includes varied interpretations of jazz standards such as You Don’t Know What Love Is, which features some beautiful playing from guitarist Mark Jaimes.

Georgia, a duo of voice and the guitar of Mark Jaimes, includes one of the best scat solos on the album, reminiscent of her fluid and soulful scat soloing on Almost Like Being In Love from the  Seaside album.

The Right to Love features everything from delicate, heartfelt yearning to impassioned pleas, combined with unique interpretations that showcase the impressive artistry and musicianship of all involved.

The London launch gigs for The Right to Love at Pizza Express Dean Street on 1 & 2 Aug are sold out.

LINK: Liane Carroll's website


CD REVIEW: Ferenc Snétberger, Eric Bibb, Mulatu Astatke and other CDs in brief

Editor-At-Large Peter Bacon flips through his pile of recently-released CDs.

Ferenc Snétberger - Titok
(ECM 574 0670)

The Hungarian acoustic guitarist Ferenc Snétberger’s last album (also on ECM) was a solo affair recorded in concert. This time he is in the Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Anders Jormin on double bass and Joey Baron on drums. All the music is written by Snétberger and all 13 tracks are fairly concise. Some, like the delightfully melodic Kék Kerék, sound like folk songs, others have a chamber-jazz feel with the leader’s instrument inevitably reminding of the classical guitar repertoire, and some even sound like standards. Snétberger has a precise touch, flowing improvisational mind, and imparts each piece with a generous heart, a grace fully embraced by his sensitive fellows.

Steel Sheep - Trucker’s Tan

Steel Sheep is a trio comprising Slovenian/American violinist  Bela Horvat, Spanish acoustic guitarist Virxilio Da Silva and American double bassist Matt Adomeit. They are based in Amsterdam. They are highly skilled and have more new ideas per minute than most people have over a couple of months. This means the 13 original compositions on this album never become boring. What they do become is exhausting. Well, with the odd exception. Departures is remarkable for its adherence to one theme and overall atmosphere over its modest duration. It’s natural in the land of jigs and reels to flit from one thing to another, but Steel Sheep’s desire to cram in all they know, from folk music to swing jazz to modern classical harmony, gets very close to chronic ADD. Bluegrass for boys who like clever computer games.

Claudio Jr De Rosa Jazz 4et - Groovin’ Up
(Incipit Records ING233)

De Rosa is an Italian tenor and soprano saxophonist and his 4et has Xavi Torres Vicente on piano, Kimon Karoutzos on double bass and Augustus Baronas on drums. Vivienne ChuLiao steps in on piano for one track. The tunes are all his bar the closer which is the standard I Hear A Rhapsody - they are strongly structured with some catchy hooks and pretty melodies. As a player the leader does just that from the start, opening with an unaccompanied work-out over the whole range of the tenor which reminded my a little of Joshua Redman or a less acrobatic Marius Neset.
He has a particularly lovely - and typically light, sunny Italian - tone on soprano, heard to fine effect on The Case. It’s nicely recorded, too.

Eric Bibb - Migration Blues
(Dixiefrog Records DFGCD 8795)

Blues singer/guitarist Eric Bibb might be a little smooth-sounding for the hardcore heritage blues fan but he is slowly building a strong body of work, and this album, with its theme of strife-driven movement, could be his best yet. On first listen, you’d swear these were old songs from dustbowl times and earlier, but just as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings do in a country context, Bibb and his co-writers compose with a penchant for an old-time turn of phrase. While most are new originals, Bibb also covers Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, Bob Dylan’s Masters Of War and the traditional Mornin’ Train. A bit like a blues record version of the BBC Radio 4 programme The Long View, Migration Blues reminds us that refugees and migrants have always been with us, and a sense of history can foster our help and understanding.

Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu Of Ethiopia
(Strut Records Strut 129CD)

Strut Records claim this is the first official release of a landmark recording in the Ethiopian composer and multi-instrumentalist’s career. It was recorded in 1972 in New York and is filled with Mulatu Astatke’s characteristic sliding plates of bass and percussion, wah-wah funk guitar and riffy woodwinds, all overlaid with grit-rasped tenor saxophone, flute or vibes solos, using that swooning slightly disconcerting five-tone scale. The single CD version I have contains tunes that Astatke would return to again and again in live shows - Dewel, Kulunmanqueleshi and Kasalefku-Hulu among them - in both stereo and mono versions. For the real nerds here is a three-LP, six-panel gatefold sleeve album which contains the stereo master album, a pre-mix mono master and a selection of out-takes, plus rare photos and an interview with the man himself.


INTERVIEW: Samuel Eagles (New CD Ask Seek Knock on Whirlwind just released)

Samuel Eagles (centre) with Ferg Ireland and Ralph Wyld

Saxophonist SAMUEL EAGLES has a new album out, Ask Seek Knock, his second as leader. Sebastian found out more about it:

LondonJazz News: You are a saxophonist with a saxophonist brother. He plays tenor and soprano, you play alto. What led you to your choice of instrument?

Samuel Eagles: I started playing alto when I was 12 years old, I knew I wanted to play the saxophone and I guess alto was the appropriate size. Most of my influences growing up were tenor players (including my brother), however I was mesmerized by Kenny Garrett, this solidified my relationship with the alto saxophone. I also play soprano saxophone, this is also originally due to the Kenny Garrett influence but it doesn't get much of an outing at the moment.

LJN: Apart from your own projects you have a busy life playing - what other bands are you currently in?

SE: I am involved in a number of great bands, one being The Philip Clouts Quartet. We recorded his latest album 'Umoya' just over a year ago and are now preparing to embark on our 2nd UK tour in October/November.

I am also part of German born guitarist's band The Gero Schipmann sextet. In this group we play all of Gero's original tunes and the line up is also very exciting! I believe we are going into the studio in the near future to record an album.

Another group that I co - lead is 'Emeka Presents - KALAKUTA'. This is an extremely fun band. We play many Fela Kuti tunes and also a few of Emeka's originals. What is also great is that Emeka used to be in Fella Kuti's band when he was younger. This band has so much fire and energy. We are headling the 'Tribal Earth Festival' in August.

I occasionally play in a Ska band called 'Maroon Town'. I love this band, it's exciting and full of character. Jazz piano player, Jack Knoke and his group is another band I play with. We have a nice weekly residency at Komo club in Guildford.

LJN: This is your second album - first can you explain the the title "Ask Seek Knock"

SE: The title is related to a very difficult period of my life where I realized who God is to me. I realized God is always watching me and through my troubles , I could ask Him for wisdom to make the right choices. 'Ask, Seek, Knock' is short for: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

LJN: The press release talks about "spiritual enlightenment". What does that mean? 

SE: Spiritual enlightenment for me is about putting God at the heart of everything I do. Through this I will become more aware, moral, peaceful, wise and happy. This doesn't happen over night, it is a process and a discipline that I have entered which spans a life time.

LJN: And who's in the band - who are the oldest and newest members?

SE: The line up of the band is extremely exciting and it's a privilege to perform with them. We have Duncan Eagles on Tenor, we met when I popped out all those years ago...

This is the first time I have involved him in my band. There is a flow with him, he understands the music and I don't think he could be replaced. Ralph Wyld is on Vibraphone. I have been playing with Ralph for almost 5 years and he was also on my debut album 'Next Beginning'. Sam Leak is on piano. Sam adds an elegant tenderness to the music but can also bring the intensity when he wants. I met Sam 14 years ago at various jam session in the area we used to live. This is the first time I have involved him in my band. Max Luthert is on Double Bass. Max and I went to school together and have been playing together since we were primary school children. Dave Hamblett is on Drums and is the latest addition to the band. We haven't known each other long. We met briefly at gigs a few times but I always remember thinking, 'wow this guy is a ridiculous drummer'. He always brings something new to the table at every gig. I am happy to have such an amazing band of musicians.

LJN: You have Jean Toussaint as guest, what led to that choice? Does he get a speacial feature on the album?

SE: Jean helped me so much and taught me a lot. He woud invite me to his home to study with him regularly, this experience was precious. I admire greatly Jeans playing, I think he is very unique and you know for sure it is Jean when you hear his sound etc. Jean features on two tracks, 'Hear His Voice' and 'Dreams and Visions of The Son'. On both tracks he delivers oustanding playing. I won't forget the knowledge and wisdom he passed on to me, having him play on my album makes me very happy. I think it is important for the older musicians to mentor the young so we can keep music alive and keep pushing the boundaries of music in every way.

LJN: What is the story behind "Hope in the Hills"

SE: Hope in The Hills is about a road trip I took with a band I am in. We were headed from London to Lake Bracciano just outside of Rome to play a gig there. We decided to make an adventure of it and hire a mini bus for 2 weeks. We arrived at the lake, did the gig, it was all good. Then we set off back to London, 2 hours into the journey the bus wasn't feeling quite right. We stopped to check the engine. A few of us got out of the bus and a few stayed waiting in the bus. My friend decided to test drive the bus, so off we went, then the bus really broke down, we were stuck on a motor way in the middle of no where, separated from our friends with a max speed of 10mph.

A loophole in the insurance policy meant that we were stuck with no help coming. We decided to drive at 10mph back to our friends to try and find them, eventually we did. All the car repair shops were closed that day and all the hotels nearby were too expensive so we checked online and found a camp site about 20km away up in the hills.

A few hours later and countless times of pushing the bus up some steep gradients in the road we made it to the camp. The people running the camp were amazing, helped us with food, repair of the bus, getting to and from the local town, providing us with a cabin. Also the holiday maker's staying at the camp were great too. We were stranded there for 4 days but it was worth every moment and it all worked out...

LJN: You've been touring the album. Was there a gig which was the highlight of the tour?

SE: I love every gig we do, large and small. The one which sticks out is the album launch at Inventions and Dimensions in Kingston. It’s a smaller venue but when it gets packed out the intimacy and atmosphere is in my opinion is one of the best in London.

LJN: What's next for you?

SE: I am planning a UK tour for 2018. I am also hoping to get some gigs in Europe and I am planning a tour of China/Taiwan and South Korea in 2018. I am also going to start composing for the next SPIRIT album


CD REVIEW: Geoff Simkins Trio - in a quiet way

Geoff Simkins Trio - in a quiet way
(Symbol Records SR20170301. CD review by Mike Collins)

Listening to this sublime trio outing from alto-ist Geoff Simkins with Nikki Iles on piano and Dave Green on bass, I initially found myself at a loss for words (uncharacteristically as my more waspish friends might say).

Fortunately the elegant, eloquent swinging music speaks for itself and liner notes for the three musicians also seem to put the finger on some of the special ingredients. This is Simkins’ gig and it’s his voice that characterises the sound. In her note, Nikki Iles refers to the “twists and turns of (his) softly spoken lines”, capturing something of the essence of the leader’s playing beautifully. There’s a melodic and meditative logic to sinuous lines that thread through the most complex of harmonic changes even at burning tempos.

The repertoire too is Simkins to the core. Of course a Lee Konitz piece, Friend-Lee, then a couple of song-book standards Make Someone Happy and Nobody else but me. A life time immersed in this music means he’s something of curator of less known gems. There’s a couple Bill Evans-esque pieces by Earl Zinders and a fiendish Josh Rutner setting of Moose the Mooch over the harmony of Evans’ Very Early called Mooch too Early. Kenny Wheeler’s Old Ballad and a sumptuous, langourous tribute from the trio to Dave Cliff For DJC complete the set. The ingredients are all there, but it’s the playing that illuminates and moves the listener.

“.. the essence and the joy of jazz music is achieving moments of perfect group interaction” says Dave Green in his note. They aced it a few times on this set. Friend-Lee is Konitz line over the harmony Just Friends. It fizzes with energy as Simkins’ solo blends into Iles and they dance around each other as Green propels them with headlong momentum. From the first chord and bass pedal note on Nobody else but me there’s something special happening. Simkins spins out long lines and then it takes off like a rocket in lles’ solo, her and Green seem to be on fire.

Simkins has, as he observes, “often been stowed in a compartment labelled ‘Cool School’ “. Maybe that helps locate some of the sources on which he personally has drawn, but there’s nevertheless a distinctiveness to his playing that the tag misses. Perhaps a school of his own is in order: the ‘Quiet School ‘ anyone?

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


CD REVIEW: Dara Tucker - Oklahoma Rain

Dara Tucker - Oklahoma Rain
(Watchman Music 006. Review by Peter Bacon)

Dara Tucker is a singer and composer. Whether the fact that she is based in Nashville and still regards Oklahoma as home are the reasons, I can't be certain, but she certainly brings a fresh approach to jazz-inflected singing with a big sky atmosphere to the soundscapes she and her band create.

Tucker's singing style mixes jazz and R'n'B but without the mannered inflections that each genre can bring out in some others, and adds tinges of gospel and country; at time her tone reminds me vaguely of that other singer/songwriter with Nashville connections, Mary Chapin Carpenter, but then at others she sounds nothing like that.

Similarly her band, a rhythm section with some added strings in places plus occasional saxophone and harmonica decoration, treads its own road, determined by the songs themselves rather than any particular conventions of genre.

The up-tempo Radio - "they'll never play it on the radio" is the chorus hook - shows Tucker is comfortable at speed and the instrumental setting is more in a jazz vein, while the throughly old-school ballad I Fall - a duet with Kevin Whalum - allows her to indulge the richness of her vocal timbre and clear, relaxed phrasing. The title track has acoustic guitar and piano loping along and Tucker soaring in harmony with herself over the top.

If there is a slight downside to the album it lies, as so often, with singers who choose to write their own lyrics, with the words. There's nothing particularly wrong with them, but they feel just too easily interchangeable with other romantic pop lyrics.

This is Dara Tucker's fourth album and the act of stretching from jazz towards an Americana direction shows greater potential for originality - no one else seems to be operating in this particular territory. 


REVIEW: Amizade (Guillermo Rozenthuler, Mishka Adams, Javier Fioramonti) at Crazy Coqs

Amizade. L-R: Javier Fioramonti, Mishka Adams, Guillermo Rozenthuler

(Crazy Coqs, 23 July 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Amizade, a project of Mishka Adams and Guillermo Rozenthuler to unearth and perform songs from all over Latin America is performing its early gigs, yet the accomplishment, the care, the performance experience and energy, the infinitely subtle ways of expressing and being musical and poetic - it's all there and, in the language of the French brasserie they were at last night - à point. The audience may still be dominated by musician friends, but such is the way of these things 

The name of the band is the Portuguese word for friendship and Rozenthuler's and Adams' idea is to celebrate their own musical friendship and to invite other like-minded friends. At Pizza Express in April, the announced guest was percussionist Adriano Adewale. But they also had (as the video below shows) - discreet and unannounced - Javier Fioramonti. He is an Argentinian, a fine player known for his characterful work and wonderful sound on acoustic bass guitar, but, as was mentioned a number of times last night, he turns out to be a "Swiss army knife" of a musician, also offering extremely deft nylon string guitar, a whole array of percussion and extra vocals.

They also had another guest in the second half, Beto Caletti, an Argentinian-born singer-guitarist who is completely at home in Brazilian repertoire - indeed he has that Brazilian way of floating weightlessly through chord changes. His speedy guitar playing was simply jaw-dropping.

Amizade has a delightful repertoire of songs of which Amapola by Jose Luis Guerra with its talking poppies is just one of many. It is an out-and-out romantic song. The couple next to me who had been in rather perfunctory discussion of the drinks menu when they arrived spent that song intertwined and scarcely surfacing for breath.

Brasserie Zedel doesn't really need recommending as a first-date venue, but Amizade (see Candombe Bailador, below) might just be the band to Tripadvisor it off the scale.



INTERVIEW: Stephen Keogh GMF London Jazz Workshop and Music Festival, Pizza Express, 16-20 August)

The final concert at the 2016 GMF London Jazz Course and Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
The Global Music Foundation will be back in London in mid-August for another London Jazz Workshop and Music Festival running from 16 to 20 August. GMF Director, the Irish drummer STEPHEN KEOGH, explained the background to Sebastian in an email interview:

LondonJazz News: You are putting on a second GMF course and festival at Pizza Express - so - clearly - it went well last year both educationally and artistically?

Stephen Keogh: Well honestly this is the part I never really worry about. The people who come to play and guide are wonderful and I have complete trust in them. I just let them do what they do. They are all totally dedicated and in love with music, and they are all people who give themselves totally to what they do. All that comes across in the performance and the guidance given. What more can you ask.

The tough part, with an event like this, even if one has done all one can, can be the logistics. Having run these events in many different countries and faced the challenges that each particular location presents I'd love to be able to say that it gets easier, but in fact it's always as if you are beginning again, every time. You just get a little wiser and you pay close attention.

Arnie Somogyi coaching on the 2016 course
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LJN:  Who are the stars in your faculty this year?

SK: As you can see from the previous answer, they are all stars to me, but the more known names are Perico Sambeat, Bruce Barth, Arnie Somogyi - who always manages to create magic and wow everyone with his ensemble. Jim Mullen and Nigel Price are guitarists "par excellence" and very well known in the UK.

LJN:   And tell us about the concerts?

SK:  There are a total of eight concerts over five nights:

- Wednesday is the opening concert with the All Stars.

- Thursday introduces a fantastic young alto player, Victor Jimenez, from Valencia. Obviously influenced by Perico but with his own take on things. He will be sharing the front line with the magnificent UK trumpet player Steve Fishwick (very well respected by leading trumpet players on the other side of the Atlantic) this promises to be a fiery night.

Bruce Barth in 2014
Photo credit: Antonio Porcar Cano

- On Friday and Saturday nights there a two concerts per night, four different bands. They are all strong bands.

- Bruce Barth's set - this is always one of my favourites as Bruce is such a wonderful composer and always comes with great new material full of fascinating rhythms, rich harmony and always containing a hidden surprise. His music is timeless in some sort of way. You could never date his original compositions. Then he will throw in an old ballad with that warm rich sound and lightness of touch that the great masters like Art Tatum all have. You can hear the history of the music, not just in the notes, but in the sound. He seems to conjure up the spirits of times gone by and they become alive and are in the room.

- Viktorija Pilatovic is a Lithuanian singer/songwriter, new to the UK audience, well worth coming to hear. Her writing and way of arranging a song is unique. And she can scat her heart out to if she wants to.

- Then we have the Guitar Summit (more on which below) .

- And Perico Sambeat's latest offering which is always special.

- On Sunday afternoon it's the turn of the students to get up on the stage, and then in the evening it's the Rising Stars, more about these below.

Link to the concert programme

LJN:   Maybe some introduction for a London audience of Perico Sambeat is required - can you remind us of his previous bands. What kind of presence he is on the world stage.

SK: I met Perico in Spain in 1991, but the first time I played in the UK with him was in early '93, I think, at Ronnie Scott's. The band, apart from Perico, was Brad Mehldau on piano, Dave Green on bass and myself. Both Ronnie and Pete were impressed by the band and they actually paid us a little more and gave us a bottle of Champagne at the end of the engagement. That was a joyous week indeed and there were several repeat visits along with other outings in Ireland and Spain.

Perico Sambeat is a huge musician. One of the biggest I've been fortunate to meet. I can't say enough good things about Perico. He is truly one of the great alto players in the world today. Aside from that he is a great composer and orchestrator. He is an example for every young musician to follow. He moves with complete ease and mastery between so many genres too. From the hippest, most thrilling bebop to Flamenco (check out his Flamenco Big Band) to Afro-Cuban and Classical. He has got it all. He is still practising, never slacking, ever learning, never comes with a big time attitude, always giving all of himself to the music. The genuine article.

I have no doubt that all of the people he has worked with over the years, including names like Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau, Jerry Bergonzi, Kurt Rosenwinkel would likely say the same as me.

LJN: What's the story behind the guitar summit? Is it to some extent a Louis Stewart tribute?

SK: In 2016, 20 August (almost one year ago), Louis Stewart, one of the great jazz guitarists of all time, died. I was at Pizza Express Jazz Club when I received the news. I asked Jim Mullen to join us for this concert next August (18) as I know he loved Louis and I remembered that on the night of 30 August 1997 while playing a gig at the very same club with Louis, Jim walked in the door, sat in with us and the music was wonderful. Another great guitarist who was not known about at the time due to his youth was also there that week as a listener: Nigel Price. Remembering Louis' generosity of spirit, and how he loved to hear other talented guitarists play and help young players to be heard, I asked Nick Fitch to come and join us. Libor Smoldas from Czech Republic has something of the subtlety and soft touch that Louis could access at will. So with the four of these great players I thought it would be a fitting tribute to the guitar and a nod in Louis' direction, because we will never forget him.

Personally, I first heard Louis when I was 13 years old and he had a profound influence on me. His sound, his swing, timing, elegance and virtuosity were amazing, but even beyond that there was a magic in the room and you knew with every fibre of your being that this was special. He was my school; there were others of course but Louis was the main one. He influenced, inspired and helped so many people, but it was all done very quietly and discreetly. He did not get the wide public recognition that he deserved. But musicians everywhere knew how great he was. I remember one day in Dublin at a sound check in a theatre a phone call came for Louis. It was his wife saying that a package had for him arrived in the post from America. Mundell Lowe had sent him a Gibson L7 for his birthday.

LJN: You have a rising stars concert - what's the story?

SK: These are the talented young people who are taking their first big steps, but are already firmly on their musical path. They love the music to the degree that they have committed to the art form. Mostly there is no choice if you have really been bitten by the bug. This night is about giving them an opportunity to be heard playing material of their own choice, drawn from their own sources and including some original compositions too. They will put their own programme together and run the evening themselves. Nel Begley, a wonderful singer from Leeds, is the presenter of this year's offering, and we'll hear and see several different line-ups taken from the pool of great young players coming to this year's event.

LJN: The course is quite holistic - how does a typical day start?

SK: We start in "silence", listening, we train in pulse together, we play samba and Afro/Latin-influenced rhythms together, we sing together and we practice developing some body consciouness. That starts at 9.45am and takes us to 11.45am. Then we have a short break for air and coffee and then we split into groups for instrumental and vocal tuition. We have lunch - if possible all together - then we split into three ensembles and a choir to develop a band sound and prepare the structure of the pieces for performance on the student concert on Sunday 20 August at 5.30pm. After ensemble we have Singers Corner upstairs at Pizza Express (5.30pm) and then it's on to the main evening concert(s). After that it's on to the jam session which finishes up around 1.30am. It's quite "full on" as they say but music gives you energy. There's time to rest and assimilate later on.

LJN: Are all the places on the course filled or are there still places?

SK: There are one or two places left only for front line players and vocalists. Anyone interested should get in touch asap via THIS LINK  (pp)

Global Music Foundation website


CD REVIEW: Arve Henriksen - Towards Language; Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen - Rimur

Arve Henriksen - Towards Language
(Rune Grammofon RCD2192)
Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen - Rimur
(ECM 481 4742)
Reviews by Peter Bacon

The Norwegian trumpeter and vocalist Arve Henriksen has one of the most immediately identifiable sounds on his instrument and although he blends it easily into a variety of contexts, including the “free noise” group Supersilent and the classical vocal group Trio Mediaeval, he always remains fully himself in style and sound.

His own albums blend intriguing textures of acoustic and electronic instruments in many different and creative ways while maintaining a remarkable consistency of mood - often one of quiet dedication. His 2013 album was called Places Of Worship and that sums it up well.

Towards Language continues that path with longtime associates Jan Bang on live sampling and programming, Erik Honoré on synthesizer and Eivind Aarset on guitar, and at first hearing it seems to offer little that is new. However, with each new recording Henriksen distills his music further. The solo trumpet introduction to Vivification is Henriksen at his most intimate, most revealing, simplest yet most affecting.

Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen
publicity photo

With Trio Mediaeval - Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Berit Opheim - Henriksen has forged a particularly special relationship. In concert together they are mesmerising, on record they are sublime.

Rimur is a collection which includes chants, hymns and improvisations with their source material from Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Henrisken’s trumpet acts like a fourth voice, its different timbre adding new colour while also accentuating the rich, unified blend of the three voices. Some of this music comes from the 13th century - the Trio and Henriksen make it sound both of the now and also timeless.

I recently heard the saxophonist (and collaborator with Henriksen in the early Food albums) Iain Ballamy identify the wide range of music he is drawn to with a singular description: devotional music. Both these albums, so different in sound and instrumentation, fit that description perfectly.


REVIEW: Mary Halvorson Octet at the Village Vanguard in New York

Applause for Mary Halvorson's octet

Mary Halvorson Octet
(Village Vanguard, New York, 21 July 2017, second set, fourth night of residency. Review by Jacob Werth)

The Mary Halvorson Octet's eagerly anticipated debut run at the Village Vanguard has been a success. Her slightly altered line-up saw Chris Lightcap step in for John Hébert on bass, who will be at the club with Fred Hersch next week. The Octet’s powerhouse horn section, featuring 2008 Monk Competition winner Jon Irabagon alongside Ingrid Laubrock, was among few that could have done justice to Halvorson’s intricate writing. Her structured, episodic compositions suspended moments of dark, slowly contorting harmony within sections of unruly free improvisation. Elsewhere, complex polyrhythmic passages performed at some speed seemed to demand full focus; this was a masterful performance attesting to the fearsome level of musicianship here on Friday night.

Spirit Splitter began as a somewhat disturbed stately fanfare, eventually descending into a grungy chord sequence in which Halvorson’s distorted tone, supported by pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn’s metallic growls, provided a menacing backing to a superbly mellifluous alto solo from Irabagon. After eventually being joined by the remarkably agile trombonist Jacob Garchik, the tune erupted into a raucous group improvisation. Garchik was then featured alongside bassist Lightcap during an intimate duo introduction to Echo Road - a sultry march with an ever-sinking sense of harmony and a cleverly disguised compound time signature courtesy of a seemingly free and at-large Ches Smith on drums. Smith arguably had the most creative freedom in this group – his sense of groove was unwaveringly strong, whilst his will to abandon it entirely remained actionable when necessary.

Susan Alcorn, having performed alongside Halvorson in a duo last year at the Stone in NYC, opened up The Absolute Almost on her own, with a gorgeously haunting introduction bordering on the dystopian. Her harmonic palette was densely rich, and upon being joined by Halvorson it became clear how strong a pairing these two were in the creation of a powerful soundscape. Fortune Teller was another opportunity for Smith to showcase his boundless energy; his erratic, angular rhythms offset Lightcap’s steady yet irregular 14-beat groove excitingly. Later on, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, who appears with Steve Coleman and Five Elements in Philadelphia this Wednesday, got a lengthy opportunity to demonstrate his world class virtuosity on an almost mariachi-influenced A minor vamp.

Untitled, a dark, wailing ballad, further showcased Halvorson’s penchant for the harmonically contortioned, as heavily dissonant harmony was interrupted by moments of comforting warmth. The writing for horns on Safety Orange was similarly jarring both harmonically and rhythmically, however a highlight had to be Halvorson’s energetic, bumblebee-like guitar solo. Lightcap then went on to deliver a highly virtuosic introduction to the greatly cinematic Old King Misfit, allowing himself a well-earned portion of the limelight, having hitherto been a dependable servant to each tune’s groove. Finally, Halvorson pulled out all the stops on the catchy yet distorted pop hook that kicks off Away With You – enticing groove, strong melodic writing and fearless changes in dynamic that retained intensity were elements strongly featured.

The eclecticism of this group is difficult to describe. It was a cacophony of mixed emotions – jubilantly chaotic in places, achingly dark and introspective elsewhere. Consistent throughout were clear, bold ideas that gripped the audience to such an extent that one keen visitor was unable to remain in his seat. All of this surely points to the compositional excellence of guitarist Mary Halvorson.


REVIEW: 12 Points Festival in Aarhus, Denmark

12 Points Festival in Aarhus, Denmark
(Atlas and other venues, Aarhus, 12 to 15th July Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

This year’s 12 Points Festival, the festival that brings together 12 young bands, all under the age of 30/35 from 12 European countries, took place in the very attractive city of Aarhus, this year’s European Capital of Culture in conjunction with the Aarhus Jazz Festival.

Each of the bands, selected after an application process, plays a 50-minute set. The 12 bands play over a three-day period with four bands playing each day. This year’s standard was extremely high, and, although it’s a cliché to say so, I left Aarhus feeling immensely encouraged by the directions that jazz in Europe is taking, but also I have to confess to feeling more than a little anxious about the prospects for these bands being able to set up viable touring circuits.

As well as the showcase sessions, there were a number of presentations and panel sessions: Matt Fripp gave a very authoritative presentation of how musicians should approach promoters, manage social media and other related matters; Ros Rigby chaired an excellent panel of how we can improve jazz touring from an environmental point of view; and I chaired a panel on the sustainability of the jazz industry, and how it can be made more fit for purpose in the future. On the latter panel I was struck by a statement by Cormac Larkin from Ireland that we need to argue for jazz as the "art music of the future".

Lis Raabjerg of Lars Fiil Frit Fald
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

This point was amply exemplified by many of the performances. There were two excellent piano trios, one from Italy, the Francesco Orio Trio, and from Switzerland the Marie Kruttli Trio. Then there were various groups that drew on aspects of classical music as well as jazz, the Estonian Kirke Karja Quartet showing an influence from Stockhausen and other composers without losing their essential jazz feel, and the Danish group Lars Fiil Frit Fald playing introspective but also emotional music - a kind of jazz chamber group.

All of these bands have a seriousness and originality such that they could comfortably fit into a double bill with a classical ensemble in the right context, bringing a unique creativity to such an event.

There were, however, many other approaches on display. Two bands, Sheep Got Waxed from Lithuania and Taupe from UK, played sets of high energy and full-on improvisation with something of a punk attitude – it could be argued that much of this high energy jazz today is the ‘punk’ of tomorrow. Less punk, more high energy electronic was Big Spoon from Ireland with Chris Engel on alto sax and electronics.

Benjamin Dousteyssier of Post K
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Other groups took aspects of the history of  jazz and gave it a more contemporary feel. Significant Time from Norway combined elements of swing jazz with Norwegian folk music creating music that struck me as original and very different from the majority of Norwegian jazz groups; Post K  from France with an excellent front line of the Dousteyssier brothers, Jean on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Benjamin on saxophones, took the music further back playing tunes such as Tiger Rag fairly straight, but then launching into free improvisation for the solos.

Several groups made effective use of humour in their presentation. The already mentioned Sheep Got Waxed use a lot of zany humour, both in the playing and in their announcements. A very slick and entertaining set from the Dutch group Tommy Moustache combined humour around the mythical figure of Tommy Moustache with some great playing, but I did wonder whether the seemingly very characteristically Dutch humour would work in a UK context. The Belgian group SHNTZL, a duo with Hendrik Lasure on piano and keys and Casper Van De Velde on drums, didn’t specifically use humour, but their rapidly changing interaction was very entertaining and in a subtle way quite witty.

Judith Schwarz of chuffDRONE
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Finally there was chuffDRONE from Austria, a group that does not fit any classification, but was one of the groups I enjoyed most. It’s a quintet with four women and one man with a strong front line of Lisa Hofmaninger on soprano saxophone and clarinet and Astrid Wiesinger on alto and soprano saxophones. There was a variety in their material that I found engaging.

It was wonderful to hear 12 great groups playing music of the highest order and with a huge amount of variety.  concern I referred to in the opening paragraph is the difficulty for these young musicians in getting established in other European countries, let alone their own country, and finding opportunities in the many burgeoning festivals in the continent. 12 Points does a great job in bringing these young groups to our attention; it is now up to festival and club promoters to do their bit.

The 12 Points festival is curated by the Improvised Music Company from Dublin


CD REVIEW: Charlie Bates Big Band - Silhouettes

Charlie Bates Big Band featuring Percy Pursglove - Silhouettes
(Charlie Bates. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans).

Charlie Bates is a young pianist and composer who has recently graduated with First Class Honours from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire. He is a gifted pianist who runs an excellent quartet, but he is also developing strong skills in the area of composition; in 2016 he won the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Composition prize adjudicated by Tim Garland. On this album we have five of his compositions for big band that are written to feature Percy Pursglove, another Birmingham Conservatoire graduate, on trumpet and flugelhorn.

His main influence seems to come from Kenny Wheeler's writing for his various large ensembles, but I also detect the influence of John Dankworth, especially on Track 3, High Rise. Bates has the ability to create very rich and powerful textures that set off Pursglove's solos to great effect. It is perhaps a more traditional approach to the big band sound, but this is offset by the more contemporary sound that Pursglove brings to the mix.

Track 1, Cyanopsia, is an excellent example of Bates' approach. He creates a very big, sometimes lush and sometimes brassy sound from the front line which is strongly supported by the very tight rhythm section of Sam Ingvorsen on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums. Pursglove comes out of the ensemble in dramatic fashion with two solos of great originality. Sam Craig also takes a strong solo on tenor saxophone. Track 2, Almost Gone, is more mellow with lovely writing for the woodwind section of clarinet and bass clarinet. Pursglove impresses again as does Richard Foote who takes a lengthy solo on trombone.

Track 3, High Rise, is shortest track at 5.39 mins; it starts quite gently but the band builds up to an impressive climax behind Pursglove's solo. Track 4, Eyes Shut, follows a similar pattern to Track 3 building up to a strong climax. It also has an attractive short opening statement from Pursglove accompanied by pianist Jacky Naylor and a soprano saxophone solo from Elliot Drew. The final track, Eyes Open, is the longest at 10.34 mins. It features a  beautifully judged piano solo from Naylor and what, for me, is the most exciting solo from Pursglove as he gradually takes his solo out into more contemporary territory.

There is little doubt that this band is a very strong addition to the Birmingham and West Midlands scene that already features a number of excellent big bands. I look forward to its development and perhaps a bit of experimentation with some electronics, or other featured soloists.

LINK: The album is available from Charlie Bates' website


CD REVIEW: Alexander Hawkins - Unit[e]

Alexander Hawkins - Unit[e]
(Alexander Hawkins Music. AH002/3. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

This two CD set from pianist, composer and - on one of the two discs - conductor Alexander Hawkins is both a challenging and rewarding record of his large and small ensembles, each taking one disc and both featuring some most accomplished improvisers. The two discs, each given its own title, complement each other.

"[C]all" features Hawkins' sextet. It is less free with respect to time, drummer Tom Skinner keeping a firm hand on the rhythm on three tracks, but there is a fair dose of anarchy in the mix too. Shabaka Hutchings sparkles on bass clarinet and tenor, as does Hawkins himself. Guitarist Otto Fischer adds fluid melodic lines, as well as providing spoken words to [K]now, on which Hawkins sprinkles phrases with a South African feel.

The more loose tracks such as [T]each, [W]here and [S]how work better for me, the sextet working together to explore new avenues. [W]here features violinist Dylan Bates sharing phrases with Hawkins and bassist Neil Charles before Fischer takes us in one direction and then Bates and Hutchings lead us in another, Skinner all the while adding percussive flourishes and rolls.

The other disc is named "Hear[t]". Hawkins, Fischer, Bates and Charles are joined by James Arben, Julie Kjaer and Alex Ward on assorted saxes, clarinets and flutes; Laura Jurd and Nick Malcolm on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Stephen Davis on percussion, Hannah Marshall on cello, Percy Pursglove on trumpet and bass and Matthew Wright on electronics. The larger number of players provides for a richer sound.

There are passages where reeds, strings and brass form sections, each playing in unison, such as the beginning of See[k]>Hear[t] where Hawkins has the brass and reeds playing different lines which sometimes come together but are often pulling in different directions. Over the top saxes, trumpets or the violin solo, whilst below percussion and electronics provide texture. The result is multilayered and almost symphonic, a beguiling complexity.

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

Unit[e] is available from Discovery Records


FEATURE/ INTERVIEW Fiona Ross (New album Just Me And Sometimes Someone Else)

Fiona Ross
Photo Credit: Stefan Ferrol
In FIONA ROSS's role as a teacher she saw at an early stage the potential and talent of new stars in the making, like Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne. but now it’s her time in the limelight as songwriter and performer. A major burst of creativity  has led to preparations for a second album - currently spilling over into plans for another.... Interview: Stephen Graham

You get the palpable sense that singer Fiona Ross is on something of a mission. Constantly on the go and currently preparing for a third album she was limbering up for a rehearsal with her band later in the day when she came to the phone on a warm summer’s morning.

Fiona’s second album Just Me (And Sometimes Someone Else) was released earlier in the year, a substantial double album full of her own songs she agrees that she’s something of a late starter as a solo artist having switched from a lengthy teaching career although she actually began in music as a child encouraged by her jazz loving father and opera buff of a mother. Becoming a mum herself while still a teenager her music career in the early days embraced performing in musicals and session work and she still wears plenty of different hats in her artistic profile as a composer, choreographer, director, dancer, and actor although she says with a laugh ‘my dancing days are behind me.’

Her jazz sensibility derives from a love of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, her love of Billie arriving later as she grew deeper into jazz. She also admires the Japanese piano sensation Hiromi who she says ‘I listen to every day’ and beyond jazz admires Prince.

Above all she says without hesitation ‘I love the writing process’ and she brings an intimacy and immediacy to all her songs. As a former long-time teacher at the British Academy of New Music in London she witnessed the drive and determination of future stars in the making such as Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne at an early stage of their careers. She says ‘they were all so motivated and inspired’ and yet she has seen so many equally talented musicians who have never achieved quite what their potential suggested.

As a singer-songwriter she values honesty and communication and she ultimately would like to perform at all the leading jazz clubs, with Ronnie Scott’s top of her own headline slot wish list. ‘What I’m about is being genuine,’ she says, an instinct that derives from the singer-songwriter impetus that seems to underpin all her work.

Fiona Ross
Photo Credit: Goat Noise Photography

She’s kept her latest band together for the last year many of them former students of hers who bring influences from reggae to classic jazz into her pared-back sound. And there has been a lot of activity in terms of her own creativity over the last year with the release of A Twist of Blue in 2016 and preparations for a new record well under way.

Her songs have an easy melodic intimacy that leap off the page, I’m Lost, for example, a song that she describes as about ‘going through life not really knowing who you are or how to find out; pretending you’re ok, but you’re not really… and no one knows.’

For now going forward it’s a pivotal period in her burgeoning career as a bandleader and there seems to be a galloping enthusiasm and thirst for adventure about Ross now with teaching behind her and a strong desire to perform and record more inspiring her in new directions. While she says she is ‘quite naturally introverted’ and yet, just like her idol Hiromi, there is plenty of attitude and sassiness on display in her ‘on duty’ approach and on the new album gear changes from stripped back acoustic nocturnal moods to a poppy sense of optimism.

She’s keen mostly to showcase her own material at the moment, years of doing sessions where she was less connected with the material have led her to her own individual path as a creator more, a certain amount of ‘life’s too short not to’ part of this direction, and certainly time to give her own specific artistry a chance to shine.

‘The dream’ she says, ‘is to spend my life writing new material, gigging and rehearsing’ –– and that dream is well on the way to becoming her daily reality. (pp)

LINK:   Just Me (And Sometimes Someone Else) is on Therapy Records


CD REVIEW: Sean Jones - Live from Jazz at the Bistro

Sean Jones - Live from Jazz at the Bistro
(Mack Avenue MAC1111. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Cool and restrained, that’s the default style of modern trumpet maestro Sean Jones, whose playing is reminiscent of Roy Hargrove’s. This live album is his eighth, recorded over three nights in December 2015 at a St Louis club which looks a little like London’s Jazz Café, judging by the pictures on its website.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for Jones since his fine 2007 collection Kaleidoscope and its follow-up The Search Within. Many of his long-term collaborators reappear on this new album – notably pianist Orrin Evans, bass man Luques Curtis, drummer Obed Calvaire and alto/soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans. But there’s no room this time for vocals – a bit of a shame, since he has worked previously with the luminous Gretchen Parlato, and Carolyn Perteete, whose wistful vocal on Letter of Resignation (here on YouTube) first drew my attention to Jones as a writer of subtlety and intelligence.

The partnership with Evans seems to be an important one: Evans can fade into the background or leap suddenly into the spotlight, as on his own composition, the casually strolling Doc’s Holiday, with its charming little midway stumble, as if the Doc has had a drink or two during his vacation. Or Lost, Then Found, on which his two-chord vamp slots in so perfectly with Jones and Hogans’s simple harmonized lines.

Characteristically thoughtful and reflective, Sean Jones can also bebop with the best of them, as on Brian Hogans’s Piscean Dichotomy or his own Prof. On The Ungentrified Blues, Jones’s trumpet brilliantly emulates the hollerin’ blues vocal – raspin’ one minute, pleadin’ and moanin’ the next.

So it’s a varied set, topped off by BJ’s Tune, a ballad which builds into something rowdier before subsiding into a solo trumpet rendition of Amazing Grace.