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.


CD REVIEW: Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan - Small Town

Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan - Small Town
(ECM 574 6341. CD review by Peter Bacon)

As a reviewer I always approach a new Bill Frisell disc with a certain trepidation. Over the last couple of decades of writing about him I have searched in vain for something negative to say. It threatens to undermine one’s credibility as a critic; one comes across instead as a gushing fan.
Oh well… I am sure there are listeners out there who just don’t “get” Frisell; I am not in that group.

A duo album from him is a rare thing, which I guess suggests he’s fussy about just one partner. His choice here is, naturally, impeccable.

The young - well he looks young though I realise he has been on the scene for a while - double bass player Thomas Morgan has already made a name for himself as the sort of sideman who brings real character with him to every performance. It strikes me listening to this disc that he’s more of a rightful successor to Charlie Haden than most. He has the touch, the melodic facility and, most important of all, a certain gravitas.

Small Town is a live set from the Village Vanguard, and the two musicians interact effortlessly, the deep woody tone of Morgan acting as the ideal foil to the wiry, ringing electric guitar of Frisell.
The programme is as varied as you would expect from Frisell, opening with It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago from a great Vanguard regular, the late drummer Paul Motian, and continuing with a Lee Konitz tune, the perfectly-titled Subconscious Lee. Three originals, some Fats Domino and the classic folk melody Wildwood Flower follow, finishing  in full cinemascope with the theme from Goldfinger.

If there are any jazz police reservists out there who pooh-pooh Frisell’s country forays and gainsay the space guitar outings, then the Konitz should shut them up. Frisell is in eloquent, (almost) pure  jazz mode with Morgan striding purposefully alongside him. The thoughtful Song For Andrew 1 is a quiet masterpiece in resonating chords and synchronised duo phrasing of the most graceful kind. Wildwood Flower has that hokey, down-home, porch vibe, but the wit the two men cram into their ever inventive, inter-twisting lines, puts the smile muscles to work big-time.

The longest track is Poet - Pearl, the only one credited to both Frisell and Morgan as composers. Is it a spontaneous improv? The slow start of guitar harmonics and holding bass phrases suggests so but Frisell quickly moves into a melodic line and Morgan is a deep-voiced sprite in pursuit. The results that develop leisurely are quietly sublime, a drawled conversation from two men who speak the same language and speak it with equal articulacy.

Suffice to say, were my CD collection to be held hostage by some crazed kidnapper, and were I permitted to plead for the release of just one artist, Bill Frisell would definitely be on the short list. Now for heaven’s sake, let this gushing end!

Here is a short taster:


REPORT: Val Wilmer - The Wire Salon at Cafe Oto

Val Wilmer at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights reserved

Val Wilmer - The Wire Salon
(Cafe Oto; 16 July 2017; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The first of a new series of The Wire Salon evenings was An Audience With Val Wilmer, renowned chronicler, in both photographs and words, of the jazz and blues scenes from the 60s onwards. Val Wilmer was in conversation with the Wire publisher, Tony Herrington, for a fascinating two hours with a dozen carefully selected images from her portfolio projected behind them as the discussion evolved.

Wilmer was truly engaging as raconteur and commentator, with an incisive, self-deprecating wit fielded against some of the lines of questioning. A fine veneer over a no-nonsense, hands-on approach to her art and her observations on situations, often defined by uncomfortable complexities and contradictions.

Wilmer’s experience ranges wide and deep. Her photos were initially made to illustrate her written articles. She talked about the friendships she has made since her days studying photography at Regent Street Poly, often with visiting and UK-based black musicians, celebrated early on in her book The Face of Black Music (1977), with its preface by Archie Shepp, mentioning also how her professional life changed when the handy Pentax SLR camera usurped the bulky, boxy Rolleiflex.

Many she invited to tea at her more-than-supportive mother’s in Streatham, and it’s quite a guest list - not that she wanted to name-drop, but when there’s Mingus, Braxton, Elton John, Buck Clayton, Harry Carney, why not! Others she got to know by writing to them - bluesman Jesse Fuller amongst them.

Her aim was ‘to show something of the people in my photos’, and to do this ‘[you’ve] got to be able to spend time with people’. Her earliest shots include those of Jamaican born saxophonist George Tyndale at Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1960). Dexter Gordon she photographed having his shoes shined in Piccadilly after he declared that he couldn’t believe that a white man was shining shoes! John Coltrane and Art Blakey were each captured having a short back and sides at the Kilburn State - presumably before going on stage, in 1961. Whilst she wasn’t part of the hard-living Soho set, there were, nevertheless, unusual demands on her time in pursuit of that elusive perfect shot - the great bassist Richard Davis, for example, she discovered, went horse-riding in Central Park at 4.30am, which was a challenge!

One of her favourite photos is of the young behatted Marshall Allen caught in a profile view at Moers walking through the rain with Sun Ra trombonist, Tony Bethel, umbrella resting on his shoulder. The shot of Albert Ayler caught as he turned towards her, she said was ‘certainly a number 37’, a reference to the contention that the best photos on a roll of 36 (35mm film) can be 0A and 37. This photo appeared in Melody Maker in 1966, around the time of his BBC appearance on Jazz Goes To College, a recording sadly lost in the Corporation’s space-saving exercise of the time.

Wilmer also wanted to show jazz musicians at work, and like Roy DeCarava, whom she admires and has said, ‘I stay back, and I wait until something happens’, she said of her shot of an adrenalin-tensed Albert King at Hammersmith, ‘[you] just have to wait for the right moment.’ DeCarava supplied the images for the landmark book about Harlem, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a collaboration with another great friend of Wilmer’s, the writer and poet, Langston Hughes.

Discussing the political angle, she said, ‘as you learn more, you become politicised,’ inevitable when mixing with the likes of the articulate and motivated Archie Shepp, leading to a trip to Mississippi to photograph the black women living there - and in the audience was Maggie Murray, with whom she set up the women’s photographic agency, Format, running for 20 years until 2003.

The bottom line was her unstoppable curiosity - ‘The thing I was really interested in was finding out more about the music - nothing more.’

A hugely illuminating evening - difficult to believe Wilmer packed so much in to just two hours!

Val Wilmer and Tony Herrington at Cafe Oto; photo of George Tyndale on screen
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights reserved


NEWS: Swanage Jazz Festival declares officially that the 28th Festival was the last

Photo credit: Richard Webb / Creative Commons

The Swanage Jazz Festival's website homepage has a story announcing that it is to stop.  The statement starts as follows - with a link to the full piece

"Welcome to the twenty-eighth and final Swanage Jazz Festival. We are delighted (but also sad) to present our twenty-eighth and final programme. The Festival Board took the decision to end the Festival reluctantly, recognising that age and illness has caught up with us." (LINK TO FULL STATEMENT)

Brian Blain, who will be doing a round-up of the festival for LJN, writes: 

Although there was little of a wake atmosphere around the 28th Swanage Festival which concluded last Sunday evening and everyone accepted that it was to be the last one, Chinese whispers were all over the site that there might be a reprieve. No secret that a dynamic, popular musician had stepped forward to take over as Artistic Director, but that would be the easy bit in relation to forward planning.

One member of the existing team of volunteers told us that a number of them would be willing to help out. So the much anticipated announcement that the Festival's dynamic Director, Fred Lindop delivered just before the final set of the weekend, by the Dave Newton /Clark Tracey Band was inevitably an anticlimax for those expecting a dramatic reprieve.

Meetings will take place in August with interested parties and there is a formal statement on the Swanage Festival website already. We will bring you a round up of the weekend's music next week.


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Tommy Smith (new album Embodying The Light)

The Tommy Smith Quartet
Photo credit: Derek Clark

John Coltrane died 50 years ago today. Tommy Smith turned 50 in April. Clearly the planets were correctly aligned for the Scottish saxophonist to make what he describes as a “most terrifying journey” - a dedicated album to Trane. Tommy Smith explains all to LondonJazz News.

Tommy Smith has an acute sense of the jazz tradition. Not only does he pay tribute to its various masters in his own work - think of his sumptuous 1997 album, The Sound Of Love, on which he interpreted the ballads of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn - but with the big band he founded, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, he has honoured Count Basie and Benny Goodman, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, plus Mingus, Kenton, Oliver Nelson and so many more.

But he also understands that it’s important to honour that tradition in its underlying spirit, too, which means to do something new, to forge some fresh steps down the jazz path.

Despite having led the SCJO on specially commissioned arrangements of Coltrane, he has waited till this golden anniversary year to devote one of his own band’s albums to the man. It was clearly a decision not to be taken lightly.

“As someone who plays the saxophone occasionally,” he explains with dry wit, “recording a dedication to Coltrane is probably the most terrifying journey you can prepare for, since one is never ready … Especially, as I’m on no occasion ready for any project, due to the fact, I’m always pushing myself.”

Of course, he adds, Coltrane pushed himself hardest of all.

Was there a lot of preparation? Again, Smith underplays it as “simple really”.

“I got in touch with a few fantastic musicians, who have great personal spirits that I wanted to share some important music with,” he expands. “We got together on the day of the recording at Castlesound near Edinburgh and set forth to record the music of Coltrane. Importantly, we didn’t rehearse before the date, as I wanted the interaction to be as special as your first kiss.”

Those musicians are pianist Peter Johnstone, a former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year; the much-in-demand double bassist Calum Gourlay; and the Dutch drummer Sebastiaan de Krom who first became known to UK audiences as part of Jamie Cullum’s band and, like Smith, studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The band was assembled, but what would they play?

“Well, there are so many wonderful tunes to choose from... so I thought I would record the music I play regularly, the more challenging songs that require focused imagination and interplay from the quartet. But I would so love to do another recording now with additional songs, as Trane wrote so many great vehicles for improvisation."

Two of them, Transition and The Father, The Son And The Holy Ghost are more free pieces from  later in Coltrane’s career. Smith claims he learned how to tackle these from a few masters.

“I had a fantastic guru, Arild Andersen. Playing in his trio since 2008 has taught me how to tackle these free pieces with an open mind and open ears. Sebastiaan de Krom and I toured in 2001 with David Liebman and we learned a thing or two about focused energy and forward motion. Gary Burton, my other guru, taught me how to develop ideas thematically when I was 18, which is still an important part of my conceptual playing.

“The quartet was filled with energy that day and all of us were exhausted afterwards.”

In addition to the Coltrane compositions, there are some originals. Were they written specially for the album?

“Yes and No. The first track, Transformation, I wrote when I was 15 years old. Its original title was, Traneing For Life and is based on the chord progression of Trane’s Impressions, the melody and harmony of which are plagiarised from a 1942 classical piece by Morton Gould called Pavanne…”

Smith’s other tunes as he explains them are Embodying The Light and Embodying The Darkness, the first a simple blues with rhythmic Traneisms, the latter song based on Trane’s One Down, One Up.

As Tommy Smith tells it, his first encounter with a Coltrane album was not an altogether happy one.

“Remember, I had no money when I was a kid, and the money I did earn was only £5 per week playing with my group in a bar in Edinburgh, which was spent on saxophone reeds and bus fares, so, it always took me a few weeks to save up for a precious LP.

“Ominously, the first Trane record I bought was Ascension, from a small record shop in Cockburn Street in the centre of my hometown. I took the album home and placed it on my parent’s record player. The cover had a photo of Trane sitting on a chair with a soprano saxophone in his hand, while he looked into the void against a pure white background, like he was adoring some heavenly peace.
“I watched the record spin and listened to the chaos begin, skipped to the middle and end of side A, turned it over and did the same again. I unequivocally hated it!

“So, I walked down to the bus stop and waited for the number 30 bus to take me from Westerhailes all the way back into town. Upon arrival, I demanded a refunded from the shop owner. Sadly, he didn’t give me one, so I left the album in the wee shop, said something stupid and stormed out in disgust.

“It would take a good few years for me to understand and appreciate the brilliance of Ascension."

He concludes: “Eventually, I did own a Coltrane record; the great Blue Trane; although, I was still heavily into Getz, Dexter, George Coleman and the Hawk, but I did appreciate the brilliance of Trane’s technique and harmonic knowledge.”

And how about now. Does he have a favourite Coltrane album today?

“That’s a tricky one, but I do enjoy Interstellar Space, which is just a duo with drummer Rashid Ali and is monumental,. But there are so many: Meditations, A Love Supreme, Transition, Live At The Half Note…

The Tommy Smith Quartet’s own Coltrane album, Embodying The Light, released on Spartacus Records, has already gained enthusiastic reviews. Mark McKergow, writing on this site, said “this excellent CD is about Tommy Smith meeting John Coltrane for a thrilling extended workout”. (FULL REVIEW(pp)

LINK: Buy the Tommy Smith Quartet’s Embodying The Light: A Dedication to John Coltrane.


CD REVIEW: JD Allen – Radio Flyer

JD Allen – Radio Flyer
(Savant SCD 2162. CD review by Brian Marley)

The trio of JD Allen (tenor saxophone), Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) released their first album, I Am I Am, on Sunnyside in 2008. Since then there have been five more, all strong, culminating in last year’s Savant release, Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues. Whereas many saxophonists play more than one instrument, and in a variety of group settings, to demonstrate their versatility and (to mix metaphors) freshen the palette, Allen has stuck to tenor and dug deep into what a longstanding trio of like-minded players can accomplish. As such, these recordings, especially Americana, should be mentioned in the same breath as Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard and Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard.

Allen has, of course, recorded with groups larger than a trio. His slightly scrappy first outing, In Search of JD Allen (Red Records, 1999), was a quintet featuring piano and trumpet, and the much more tightly focused follow-up, Pharoah’s Children (Criss Cross, 2003) was a quartet featuring piano, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt guesting on three tracks. Since then, there have been two more quartets with piano, Grace (2013) and Bloom (2014), both issued on Savant, both excellent. August and Royston played in none of these groups.

Radio Flyer is Allen’s first quartet that features his regular trio plus one other. It’s also the first time he’s recorded with a guitarist. The guitarist in question is Liberty Ellman, who, as well as having released four critically acclaimed recordings under his own name, most recently Radiate (Pi Recordings, 2015), is a member of Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, an ensemble that makes organically evolving music of mind-boggling complexity. Prior to listening to Radio Flyer, I wondered how Ellman, who shares Steve Coleman’s interest in bright, complex structures with strong rhythmic underpinnings, would fit with Allen’s measured, often metreless dark musings. The answer: surprisingly well.

At times Radio Flyer reminds me of David Murray and James ‘Blood’ Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble, and the genre and theory out of which Ulmer’s music sprang: blues and harmolodics. Which brings us, naturally, to Ornette Coleman. Over the years comparisons have regularly been made between Allen and various other tenor players, particularly Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, but on Radio Flyer, and the title track in particular, his tone, angular phrasing and freewheeling improvisational flurries are much more reminiscent of Ornette with Prime Time.

This restless, probing linearity suits Ellman down to the ground. Mostly using a clean tone, and adding occasional, very sparing effects to his sound, Ellman proves to be a fine accompanist, and his solos, such as on The Angelus Bell and Ghost Dance, match Allen’s for sheer inventiveness. August and Royston may get less individual solo space than they would when working with Allen as a trio, but essentially they’re always soloing, even if their role is largely supportive. The quartet play a tightly focused, highly disciplined free jazz that, while looking forward, seems simultaneously to hark back to an earlier, headier era of music making.


CD REVIEW: Sergio Pamies - What Brought You Here?

Sergio Pamies - What Brought You Here?
(Bebyne Records CD8018. CD review by Peter Jones)

Born in Granada, Spain, currently resident in Dallas, Texas, Sergio Pamies is a pianist who brings both his Spanish heritage and his classical training to bear on this, his largely self-penned third album. Pamies is also an accomplished arranger, with a sophisticated ear, who seems able to turn his hand to any style or instrumental lineup. The vibe is mostly mainstream jazz, but with a strong latin element. No fewer than 23 other musicians are featured in various combinations.

The title track appears in three guises – as a solo piano melody at the start, as a trio piece about halfway through, and as a lush soprano sax feature with viola, cello, vibes and a latin percussion section to close the album.

The beboppish Our Man Andrew (based on Our Man Higgins from Lee Morgan’s Cornbread album) refers to drummer Andrew Griffith, whose busy brushes punctuate the syncopated horn riffs on the intro, and there are brash, confident solos from tenorman Quamon Fowler and Pamies himself.

Curiously, I Get A Kick Out Of You is divided across two tracks: first the verse, sung by Ashleigh Smith, backed by acoustic piano, then the song proper, partly reharmonized, with electric piano and more latin percussion, that hits its groove as the blowing section turns into a samba.

For me the latin material is most interesting, particularly El Hijo de la Portuguesa, with the clear flamenco influence in its chordal flourishes and stamping rhythm. Brad Kang shines with his electric guitar soloing here. The sweet ballad Faltando Um Pedaco features Young Heo on acoustic bass; Pamies plays the tune on melodica, doubling with Daniel Pardo’s flute, before Lara Bello comes in on vocals.

If I had any criticism at all of this otherwise very enjoyable album, it would be that the selection is a little too varied, lacking an overall style, as if Pamies has simply gathered up various recordings made at various times and put them all out together.


BOOK REVIEW: Danny Barker, Ed. Alyn Shipton - A Life in Jazz

Danny Barker, Ed. Alyn Shipton - A Life in Jazz
(The Historic New Orleans Collection, 254pp. Book review by Alison Bentley)

We’re used to jazz musicians being portrayed as tortured individuals, sacrificing themselves to push jazz forward. But guitarist/ banjo player/ songwriter Danny Barker’s autobiography tells of growing up with jazz in New Orleans, where the music was part of the community. It’s a view from the ground. Barker interviewed musicians, collected photos and memorabilia, and drew on his own remarkable experiences, and it’s a highly entertaining as well as an enthralling read.

Born in 1909 in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Barker has an eye for detail that brings his memories to life: in the Animule Hall, bands played the ‘deep inner feeling’ of the blues, which led to slow dancing but also fights- settled by kicks from a man who ‘wore extra-special long-toed shoes, the tips of which were as sharp as an ice pick…’

Brass bands, marching clubs and parades were everywhere. Barker’s grandfather was in the Onward Brass Band- and a funeral director. We hear about competition for funeral gigs among the many bands. (‘Dying is good business.’) Local boy made good, Sidney Bechet, was an inspiration to Barker in his decision to become a professional musician. Barker began playing banjo ukulele in a spasm band, a street band where the kids’ instruments were as improvised as their music. In the late 1920s, established bands rarely took on new personnel, so the only way to get on was to leave town.

Outside his close-knit community in New Orleans, racism abounded. Barker’s first tour was to Mississippi, and his mother was terrified of how he would be treated. The bandleader had to get her permission to take him. Barker is a consummate storyteller, and always leaves you wanting to know what happens next. For example, he writes about playing for the elderly white owner of the ‘Mississippi Bloodhound Kennel’ where dogs were trained to attack escaped (black) convicts, a tale both chilling and darkly comic.

In 1930, Barker and his wife moved to New York, where he played with an extraordinary number of musicians and big bands, with beautifully-shaped anecdotes to match: Jelly Roll Morton, (who called Barker ‘Home Town’) Jimmy Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington- the big names are all here. From 1930-37 Barker played with Cab Calloway’s band, and then constantly toured, gigged and recorded. (‘…you just get a tough skin. Have guitar, banjo…will travel.’) Many of the stories have a comic veneer that partly masks the racism. We hear about Dizzy Gillespie getting caught short in Cab Calloway’s band bus- because black people were not allowed to use whites’ toilets, which made touring difficult.

Barker has many stories relating to individual musicians. Louis Armstrong’s influence is shown when Barker finds ‘half a dozen noted trumpet players…bare-chested…by a wide-open window…’ as the snow fell. They were trying to catch colds so they could sing like Armstrong himself.

Alongside the discipline of the big bands, younger musicians, such as the beboppers, seemed to return to the spirit of New Orleans’ music: ‘You don’t tell me what you want and I don’t tell you. We all play variations on the theme.’ Charlie Parker loved Barker’s ‘big fat chords’ and booked him to record.

Barker was a serious jazz historian. ‘I read much of this crap [about jazz] and then was told I should write some truth.’ After a short stay in California, the Barker and his wife Lu (a fine blues singer) went back to New Orleans. Though the city had changed, Barker still gigged, and worked at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. He died in 1994.

This is an important book written in Barker’s own words, first published in 1986 (when he was 75) and seamlessly edited by Alyn Shipton. As there were several drafts of the original manuscript, Shipton read the final version aloud to Barker to check he approved. This sumptuously-produced reissue comes with wonderful photos, previously-unused material, and a comprehensive song list and discography from Shipton.


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Ralph Towner (Oregon, Pizza Express Jazz Club, 20/21 July)

Oregon - Mark Walker, Ralph Towner, Paolo Dalla Porta and Paul McCandless
Publicity photo

Oregon’s Ralph Towner spent some of his only free day during the band’s current 14-date European tour speaking from his hotel room in Augsburg, Germany, to Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon.

Guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner, double bassist Glen Moore and percussionist/sitar player Collin Walcott met oboist Paul McCandless when the first three joined the Paul Winter Consort in 1970. As Towner recalls: “During our first Consort tour, Glen and Collin and I were already a sort of unit, and Paul McCandless fitted in naturally. We would tour for weeks on end, and play together, all four of us writing together in a station wagon. We kind of bonded… and musically also.”
And so Oregon was born. Nearly half a century later half of that original band, Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless, now with Mark Walker and Paolo Dalla Porta, will be at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho, for three performances on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 July.

London Jazz News: You and Paul McCandless are getting near to your “golden anniversary”.

Ralph Towner: Yeah, I guess you could call it that. It’s a round number in 2020... if we make it that far!

LJN: Given the length of time Oregon has been going, how easy has it been to incorporate percussionist Mark Walker and now bassist Paolino Dalla Porta into the Oregon way of thinking?

RT: In both cases it was quite easy. Paul McCandless was doing work with Lyle Mays and Mark was on drums. Trilok Gurtu had been our drummer for seven years after Collin died [Walcott was killed in a road accident during a European tour] and we tried one record as a trio, and a couple of tours as a trio. And then we did a recording with two drummers and one was Mark.
He fitted in immediately. But it changes the music completely. You add one different player in a group of four and it alters the entire way the music is played. Not the concept, but the responses and the way you play off the other person - that creates the change. And it can be a good one if the musician is any good. In this case Mark is very good. His expertise is very much more with Latin American rhythms and percussion as well as being a very good jazz drummer, so that altered the chemistry of the remaining three.

Ralph Towner
Photo credit: Paolo Soriani

I had met Paolino Dalla Porta at least 15, maybe 20 years ago. I first heard him play with a great guitar player Bebo Ferra in Italy and I thought this is a good bass player, this could be a nice person to play with. And then we met a few times after that and played a few times. But we had very short notice as far as finding the bass player for Oregon, because we were going to tour in about a week and a half and then Glen notified us that he didn’t want to play anymore in the group., n
But fortunately, I knew Paolino would be a good fit because he’s a great musician, able to play all sorts of music - and sure enough he’s fitted in perfectly, and we were able to have a rehearsal at my home in Rome - a day in which he learned practically the entire repertoire that we were going to use on that tour.
He has worked out great, again changing the way the group sounds because he’s more facile than Glen was, and sometimes comical. It has taken us to another level of playing that is really welcome.
It’s kind of an instant evolution if the player works.

LJN: Despite these personnel changes, the essence of Oregon remains really strong. To what do you attribute this?

RT: The reason that Oregon continues is because of the compositions as well as the way the compositions are played.The compositions are not always standard jazz forms - I started writing sectional kind of things which would involve the improvisations on different material rather than have everyone playing on the same chord changes. Trying to make more long forms, and that basically is one of our identifying factors, along with those different rhythms - not always swing time. And now we don’t have the tabla there is a more Latin feel to it. But overall it’s the compositions, I think.

LJN: And the eclectic nature of that essence, the range of influences in the music - what is the source of that? 

RT: New York City [in the late ‘60s/early '70s] was where all the musicans were and where all this music was being developed. Weather Report and Mahavishnu and interchangeable jam sessions with all these different players - it was like a small town, you know. I remember being in a group with Jimmy Garrison, Coltrane's bass player, and we were rehearsing at Chick Corea’s apartment... We were all living pretty much in the same area - you could afford to do that then.
So when we were hired by Paul Winter he had a really interesting concept of music. But he was doing interpretations of various music - hardly any original composition. We played adaptations and arrangements of Brazilian music and Renaissance music and some Baroque things, and some other pop things - Joni Mitchell kind of things. And so it was a real potpourri of styles.
One great thing about the Paul Winter Consort was that I started writing music for that arrangement of instruments, and to incorporate all the flavour those instruments. Based on the tabla and the oboe and the cello and the saxophone of Paul Winter, and my guitar playing - I didn’t play piano in that group - I kind of found a style that was comfortable for everyone.

LJN: Will your London performances concentrate on the material from the new album Lantern (reviewed HERE), or will you be exploring Oregon’s vast back catalogue too?

RT: Some new material and then things from our entire history.

LJN: It must be hard to choose…

RT: We try to make put things together to make a nice form for the concert so that all the pieces are different and they all function differently in the arc of the concert. We pluck them out from the whole 47 years.

LJN: Do you split your time in the group between piano and guitar?

RT: Yes, pretty much. I stopped playing 12-string with the group because of the difficulties the airlines cause with all these different instruments. It became too much of a burden to carry two guitars and a keyboard and a third guitar. The synthesisers have now been reduced to one computer and then a keyboard controller.

LJN: A far cry from the Paul Winter Consort instrumentation that I remember from the pictures on album covers - it was vast!

RT: Yes, it looked like a music store, with all that percussion - the camel bells and tympani even. Paul  Winter had this big truck and he would drive from place to place…  I don’t think we ever toured outside of the States with the Consort.

LJN: You have played at the Pizza Express Jazz Club before, I believe. Do you like the venue?

RT: It’s intimate… and has a great audience. It’s fun because the people are close, almost in your lap, and they like that too. And English sound men all seem to be great - they have a good reputation. I’ve always had great luck with sound technicians in England.