REVIEW: Beats and Pieces, Anton Hunter's Article X, Adam Fairhall, Madwort Saxophone Quartet (Efpi Festival 2017) at The Deaf Institute, Manchester



Efpi Festival 2017
(The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 16 November 2017. Review by John Marley) 

Efpi are a shining beacon of creative music making in the north of England. Running an independent label can be a thankless task but one that can give a music scene an identity, a focal point and a following. This evening celebrated the unique improvising artists that Manchester is producing. Defying categorisation, it would not be the first time the city has produced a music scene with an immediately identifiable sound.

The Madwort Saxophone Quartet opened proceedings, layering contrapuntal melody lines over wonky hip hop foundations. Many of the quartet’s grooves began in unison but harmonies gradually appeared, illuminating the compositions like rays of sunshine on a cold morning. The baritone never flinched as the remaining members manoeuvred frantically around it. It was like a lumbering beast whose mischievous children refused to behave. The groove based material was broken up by soundscapes where the chords ebbed and flowed. The percussive baritone allowed the trio to build closely voiced dissonances.

The nature of the ensemble left much of the harmonic movement to the imagination. The space encouraged the soloists to move in and out of tonality. The final piece saw the quartet move through the changes as one, but break out into differing rhythmic subdivisions, easing the set to a rippling conclusion.

Pianist Adam Fairhall adopted a host of keyboard instruments in the absence of a piano. His opening piece on the Dulcitone sounded like a free improvising Victorian music box. The percussion effects were like those of a child's play buggy, giving the piece a sinister undertone. Whether it was harmonically consonant in a conventional sense stopped being discernible and became irrelevant. The audience was brought to a fascinated silence.

The second piece was an Appalachian folk tune performed on accordion. Unidentifiable to begin with, the melody was imprisoned under a web of manic free improv. It was eventually forced out by its pentatonic roots, settling on a bed of pulsating chords.

There was a brief move to a miniature piano for a freewheeling improvisation before Fairhall closed the set on an unidentified droning instrument. This time the improvisation featured more discernible melody lines. Nothing brings out the colour of a simple major triad like the absence of one, which was true for much of the set. When it appeared it was warming and enjoyed all the more for its familiar simplicity. Thank goodness there was no piano in the venue, otherwise we may have missed a spectacularly varied performance.

A subdued groove introduced Anton Hunter’s Article XI. The piece was intensely restrained. This accentuated the drama when the groove began to break up under the extended trumpet solo. The horns were synth-like and produced swelling textures. Seth Bennett’s bass solo showed an advanced agility, particularly in the right hand. The energy grew increasingly erratic as the horns began to stab. They became aggressors pursuing an increasingly panicked prey, and eventually overwhelming it. The resulting mix of rasping horns and chaotic improvisation evoked Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.

The leader took an extended solo on the second piece over sloth-like chords. He turned to his rhythm section, back to the audience to lead the intentional abstraction & destruction of the groove. The horns returned lazily, almost seeming fatigued by the energy of the trio playing.

The set closed with the memorably titled I Dreamed I Spat Out A Bee. In this evocative performance, the frenzied dialogue between Oliver Dover's alto & Johnny Hunter's drums could as easily have been the sound of the traumatised bee as the unsuspecting spitter. Hunter played sparingly while patiently introducing the 7/8 groove section by section, climaxing on a forceful riff.

Beats and Pieces Big Band, now in their ninth year, delivered a blow to the sternum via an unrelenting wall of improvised counterpoint over a tight dance groove. The second tune showed a post-rock influence. The introduction of the delay laden guitar, playing emotionally teasing chords made the screaming brass lines all the more rousing.

The band have a great command of dynamics and their blend of old and new was not overdone. The baritone sax became the synth, the muted trumpets sounded like electronic effects, the horns blew out voicings which were nourished in the womb of traditional jazz harmony and born into a post-funk world. The horn backing figures were precise and mathematical, landing unpredictable blows.

The older material walks a marginally more conventional path while still retaining a sense of individuality. The indie rock and dance influences are still present but with the emphasis towards the big band tradition. It was interesting to put the material of the band in  a chronological and developmental context.

A sombre trip-hop groove gave Riley Stone-Lonergan the space to build a solo which showed a well developed musical maturity. Leaving extended pauses between sentences, allowing the listener to absorb what has been said, he became more and more animated in both tone and vocabulary.

Beats and Pieces operate like an erratic genius - one who will tell you about of all the inner workings of music, if you can just get him to stop dancing.  

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INTERVIEW: Fiona Ross (new album Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey now released)

Fiona Ross
Photo credit: Alexander Barnes

Singer, pianist and songwriter FIONA ROSS has released her second album of 2017. She spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: Some songwriters eke out the new material over years and years. Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey will be your second album within a year, and follows on from a double album! Does writing come easily to you?

Fiona Ross: Ha, yes, everyone seems to think I’m a bit crazy releasing two albums in one year. At the moment, yes, I have so many ideas going around my head and I just want to get them out. I am aware this will probably not always be the case, so, I’m just going with it while it’s there! I’ve already started writing a few new ones for the next album.

LJN: Do you have a set way of writing? Words first or melody? What’s your favoured process?

FR: I try to not analyse my process too much and just go with the flow, as such. I generally start with a chord sequence, or a groove, never really a melody or lyrics. Although that does occasionally change. Out of two songs I have just started, for example, one started with a little riff that a trumpet would play, then I just worked out the chords and groove that will go with it, then the lyrics, etc. The other one I actually had a short melody with lyrics together to a chorus, after someone said something to me, so then I worked on the groove, etc. I really just go with the moment – and that could be a variety of things.




LJN: Does the new album have a theme? Tell us what led you to these songs...

FR: Yes, it is a concept album about the complicated relationship between a wife, husband and a mistress. Situations like this can be very clear cut, right and wrong, but then not everything is life is actually as simple as that.

[Here's how Fiona explains it in the publicity material]

"The new album, ‘ Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey’, explores the story of a husband, a
wife, and a mistress: a web of emotions, of desires, of regrets, of ecstasy. Situations are not
always as clear-cut as they may appear as allegiances shift and betrayals become
serpentine—not everything is black and white. Sometimes - when the victim becomes hazy,
when pain and passion become intertwined—there’s ‘a Little Bit of Grey."

LJN: Your band: Gibbi Bettini (guitar), Derek Daley (bass), Marley Drummond (drums), Kris Buzow (saxophone), Simon Todd (congas)... Do you always use the same musicians? What drew you to them?

FR: Oh my goodness, I love my musicians to bits! Yes, I always use the same musicians, although on occasion have to use session musicians for live work. Apart from my saxophonist, they are all my past students. An amazing group of people that is a real honour to work with. We have so, so much fun. One of the most important things to me, is working with genuine people that share the same passions. They all have different backgrounds, experiences and influences – it’s so wonderful to be part of. We laugh so much when we work together – in rehearsals, studio, live. It’s wonderful.

LJN: You’ve done a lot of teaching and nurturing the careers of other performers before attending to your own. What are the most valuable pieces of advice you have given your students? And do you follow them yourself?

FR: Advice? So many things I could say. Know your craft, from every angle, inside and out – the business, the history, techniques, everything. You have to be the best you can be and more to have a chance. Be genuine – know yourself and be more than ok with who you are. Understand the business side of the industry so that you can protect yourself and make the right decisions.
And ha, yes, I do follow these things. I practise for a minimum of four hours a day (which is not enough), without fail and I am very disciplined with that. I am always learning something about my craft and that will never end and nor do I want it to. The business side of things, yes, and again, still learning, but yes, I like to be in control of my work and be able to make the right decisions. And I am always genuine. I am who I am, take it or leave it. Ha.

LJN: Three things on your musical bucket list?

FR: Gosh, I’ve never really thought about that. Well, I am desperate to see Stevie Wonder live and I am ashamed that I never have. I want to sing in all the venues that Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday sang in. And I want to sing a song with Earth, Wind and Fire – with their amazing full band.

LINK: Fiona Ross's website

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REVIEW: Hard rain: Barb Jungr sings Dylan and Cohen Live at Zédel (2017 EFG LJF)

"The greatest interpreter of the songs Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen that I’ve ever seen"
Barb Jungr with Simon Wallace (L) and Davide Mantovani (R)


Hard rain: Barb Jungr sings Dylan and Cohen
(Live at Zédel. EFG London Jazz Festival. 15 November 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

Barb Jungr reinvents the truth-telling songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen for the post-truth age. With her albums Every Grain of Sand: Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan (2002), Hard Rain (The Songs Of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen) (2014) and Shelter From The Storm (2016), she has established herself as one of the most dynamic and thought-provoking interpreters of the songs of these two astonishing songwriters. Her angle on Dylan hinges on exploring the political continuities between the protest song mode of his early work and his ongoing symbolist surrealist word-salad. Her take on Cohen helps us work through the ambiguities and complexities of his violently tender meta-narratives.

Barb Jungr cut her teeth on the alternative cabaret circuit in the late ‘70s. Her dramatic presence and ability to work up an audience are allied to an exquisite musicality to provide a complete picture of these songs. Returning to the splendid Art Deco chambers of Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, she threw herself onto the stage to It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, not bleeding but waving. Jazz and cabaret are eager bedfellows. Accompanied by longstanding collaborator Simon Wallace on piano and Davide Mantovani on bass, Barb Jungr is the greatest interpreter of the songs of these two great writers Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen that I’ve ever seen - sometimes talking, growling, swooping down to a low register, soaring like a flute. Few can do justice to the full dynamic and emotional range of these songs as she does.

How often in life can you say an artist gave you a genuine moment of revelation? During First We Take Manhattan I had that moment of epiphany. Leonard Cohen’s songs from the 1980s onwards, once his voice had crinkled such that he felt the melodies needed ever more shoring up with backing singers, these fathomlessly dark narrations suddenly give way to the cheesy chorus of backing singers. For me “I’d really like to live beside you, baby” was always the opposite of "Don’t bore us get to the chorus".

But when Barb Jungr sings “I’d really like to live beside you, baby” the Manichean chiaroscuro of light and dark that underpins the song suddenly makes sense. Those choruses I always thought were cheesy and wanted to skip are revealed to be integral to the complex yin and yang of meaning and message in the songs. When Barb Jungr pealed into that chorus, she shone a chink of heaven through the darkness. There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in…

The well-worn anecdote about Dylan and Cohen goes that Dylan was interested in Hallelujah - in the early '80s, way before anyone took any notice of that song. (Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History does an incredibly moving history of this song’s fortunes between being forgotten and becoming a classic (on video). Bob asked Leonard how long it had taken to write. Two years, Cohen lied. It had been five. Cohen asked how long it had taken Dylan to write I and I. Fifteen minutes, said Dylan.

When Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Cohen said giving Dylan a Nobel Prize was like pinning a medal on Mount Everest. Dylan said very little. Introducing Chimes of Freedom, Barb Jungr said, “If you didn’t understand why Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, this song alone justifies it.”

She moves in and out of character between the registers of singing and talking, in Things Have Changed laconically stating “I used to care. Things have changed.” The droll delivery is funny but severe, capturing the hardness of the source. “Put her in a wheelbarrow,” she turned as a quip with a touch of Les Dawson and we laughed. The dryness of her wit is a perfect fit, but Barb Jungr also captures her authors’ tenderness and vulnerability, and she never balks at bringing whatever is required dramatically, on Blind Willie McTell blowing a wild harmonica (much preferable to Dylan’s, obviously).

Dylan’s Masters of War is more chilling than ever, an apposite response to the works of the Military-Industrial Complex, the conflation of politics and the machinery of war for profit, which is more entrenched than ever. “Even Jesus would never forgive what you do,” wasn’t spat out but softly uttered with pathos, pitying the sickness of these unarguably evil men. There’s nothing more haunting and empty than the warning “All the money you make will never buy back your soul”.

She continues the story. “Oh come on, Barb. Dylan’s dark. Leonard Cohen doesn’t go any darker than that, does he?” She didn’t need to mention Cohen’s swansong 2016 album You Want It Darker. They play 1992’s The Future with brooding gusto and the dark exuberance of cabaret, giving the densely cynical lyrics a renewed shock appeal. Hear a woman in her 60s say “Give me crack and anal sex”. Even Leonard used to sing “careless sex”.

“That’s gotta be rock bottom,” she said. You want it darker? Too dark. Cohen’s The Land of Plenty made an effectively understated bringer-upper opening to a hymnal singalong moment. Her reading of Dylan’s surreal Dantesque apocalypse road movie It’s a Hard Rain makes for an unlikely rousing Baptist uplift buoyed by Jungr’s ability to slip in and out of a talkier style of vocalising, confident in her own lightly Northern accent, weaving in a sense of her own history. She hails from Stockport and paints a grim scene of shops boarded up next to betting shops, with, she said, “The sense of people looking for an answer”. Introducing the almost-standard Everybody Knows, she stated that these people should have asked Leonard Cohen and his co-writer Sharon Robinson, because they knew.

“There’s a song we’ve left out. We have to do it.” Blowin’ in the Wind is recalled as an earnest spiritual, a jazz-folk reverie for times that never changed, a final call for an answer that never came. It’s a song beyond songs. Cohen once told Dylan that as songwriters Cohen was Number Two and Dylan was Number One. Dylan said no, you’re Number One, I’m Number Zero - a typically Dylanesque mind-twister implying that while Cohen is Number One, Dylan ain’t even on the damn scale.

Sincerely, A Dehany

AJ Dehany is the founder of musical variety night Bob Dylan Thomas. Listen online to the recorded radio broadcast celebrating Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize and marking the passing of Leonard Cohen: https://www.mixcloud.com/Resonance/bobdylanthomas_16dec2016_8pm_clearspot/

SET LIST

1. It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding
2. Who By Fire
3. Things Have Changed
4. First We Take Manhattan
5. Chimes of Freedom
6. Blind Willie McTell
7. Everybody Knows
8. Masters of War
9. The Future
10. The Land of Plenty
11. It’s a Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall
12. Blowin’ in the Wind

BAND

Barb Jungr - voice
Simon Wallace - piano
Davide Mantovani - bass

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Wendy Kirkland (Piano Divas, Pheasantry, 25 Nov 2017 - and new CD)

Wendy Kirkland
Photo Credit: Mark Ludbrook of Sports Shots

Singer and pianist Wendy Kirkland discusses her recent CD and upcoming gig with Andrew Cartmel:

LondonJazz News: The internet has a lot of information about your CD, and your gig at the Pheasantry, but background information about you is rather thin on the ground. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you discovered jazz?

Wendy Kirkland: I’ve been a pianist since childhood. All the classical grades. I was influenced by my dad who played in clubs in the area. I wanted to play the piano to be like him. My dad did have a few jazz albums, mostly pianists — Nat King Cole, a British pianist called Roger Webb. One of the things that made me want to play this sort of music was when dad came home with transcription books of Dave Brubeck. I read these and played them but I realised that Brubeck was improvising, he wasn’t working from written music. I got an Oscar Peterson album, We Get Requests. I used to play it and listen to it, but I couldn’t work it out because it went by too fast, and I couldn’t slow the record player down!

LJN: That’s what musicians used to do in the days of 78s, they’d slow them down so they could work out what was going on.

WK: Well, I couldn’t. I could work out some of the slower passages, though. I went on to play in local clubs. mostly local pop cover bands. Then I was playing in a '70s disco band in Nottingham. The drummer in that band had jazz aspirations, too. I found out about the Sheffield Jazz workshop and I started to go there on Saturdays. I went there for about three years. They have three groups. Once you’ve reached the advanced group you either become a perpetual workshop-goer or you get a band together and start doing your own gigs. So that’s what I did.




LJN: How did you begin singing?

WK: I’d sung at school and in choirs but I’d never sung while playing the piano. I was doing this gig with a guitarist when someone came up and requested a Diana Krall song. I said, “Sorry, I don’t sing.” But the guitarist said I really should. I owned a couple of Diana Krall albums, but I’d only really thought of her as singer and not a pianist. So when I realised she did both so well, that was an inspiration. Then Eliane Elias was another pianist who turned to singing. Then of course there’s Shirley Horn. The singing just sort of developed. It was my husband Pat’s idea to get the band together and do the album. We’d always talked about how much we enjoyed singer pianists. Not just the ladies either. Peter Cincotti and Ben Sidran, too.

LJN: You specifically reference great female pianist/singers such as Nina Simone and Krall. Do you have any other jazz heroes?

WK: Yeah, loads. Oscar Peterson. Nat Cole. Herbie Hancock, even his weird existential stuff. You can always feel the jazz influence coming through. And he always had the latest keyboards, which I loved. I’m a bit of a synth nerd, I’m really into that. I love the sounds of old synths and old keyboards.

LJN: The songs on the CD are radical and very refreshing in the way you reinterpret classics. It’s Not Unusual has a leisurely bossa feel and My Baby Just Cares for Me is a catchy, casual, relaxed medium-tempo take on the celebrated Nina Simone original. Do you put a lot of thought into breathing new life into such standards?

WK: It’s thinking of a way it hasn’t been done before. My Baby is a take on We’re in This Love Together by Al Jarreau. It’s got a sort of smooth shuffle feel. And it intertwines with the Al Jarreau track at the end. Both Pat and I really like Jarreau.

LJN: When you revamp and enrich classic songs the way you do, you’re moving beyond performance into arranging. Do you regard yourself as an arranger?

WK: I think so, yes! It’s not something I’ve done lots of. It’s about fifty-fifty on the album, me and Pat. Just because we wanted to do the songs our own way. I loved doing that. And the writing as well. We included some originals. Bahia was based on a chord sequence Pat had come up with on guitar in Portugal years ago. Samba Chica is one of ours, too. Tania Maria is somebody I really admire. She does a lot of scatting, so that track was sort of a tribute to her.

LJN: The album has been picked up by Discovery Records. Has that helped raise the profile?

WK: Definitely. I think they’re responsible for that 4* Observer review. When reviewers get a CD from a distribution company instead of from musicians direct, it just gives it that much more weight. The album is good and we enjoyed making it, but the idea of doing it was to get more gigs. To me the end result is performing. Performing is everything. We’re looking forward to building on the exposure and publicity, getting some great gigs, hopefully at major festivals, here and worldwide. That’s the goal.

Wendy Kirkland is performing music from Piano Divas at the Pheasantry at 8.30pm on Saturday 25 November 2017.

LINK: Tickets for the Pheasantry gig

Wendy Kirkland's website

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REVIEW: Fred Hersch Trio at Kings Place (2017 EFG LJF)

"Their ease together was evident from the first tantalising vamp"
Fred Hersch,John Hébert, Eric McPherson
Photo credit: Paul Wood
Fred Hersch Trio 
(Kings Place, Hall One. 18 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)

A solo rendition of Valentine was a near perfect encore to Fred Hersch's compelling ninety-minute trio set. It distilled all the expansive, fluid embellishment of harmony; moving, interweaving lines and singing melody into a few hold-your-breath minutes. Its rapturous reception brought him back one last time for an angular jaunt through Blue Monk.

The trio Hersch had brought to the festival was the now longstanding line-up with John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. Their ease together was evident from the first tantalising vamp, the anticipation released as the theme of Everyone’s Song But My Own flowed over the surging momentum of the rhythm section. In an interview before the gig Hersch said, ‘I’ve always been interested in inner moving voices and counterpoint… I like melody’. He’s been exploring and developing that interest for more than 40 years as a working musician now and it’s a natural part of the way he speaks at the piano. His first solo was full of long, soaring, melodic lines and then dizzying, intertwining flurries of notes, spiralling on and on. A vamp out at the end, extended the counterpoint to a rhythmic exchange with McPherson’s drums.

A long section of three tunes segued together started with Snape Maltings, a folky, hymn like melody distorted and pulled around by an organic, rubato feel then a longer, free-ish section with conversational exchanges between all three players before a scalding boppish line at breakneck tempo some how surfaced; Hersch’s Skipping. Paul McCartney’s For No One followed, the piano singing to us, before a wonky calypso and then a dedication to John Taylor, Bristol Fog, with bittersweet harmony and a solo of overlapping, angular melodic lines, criss-crossing the piano.

Hébert and McPherson are remarkable partners in the trio, taking relatively few solos, but ever-present in the music. On Cock Eyed Optimist McPherson was like a coiled spring, listening intently as piano and bass generated a headlong groove with a pulsing vamp, McPherson adding smears and clicks in little doses, almost as commentary. When a driving swing finally arrived it was like a dam bursting. On Serpentine an Ornettish, snaking theme with a baggy pulse, the drums were all sizzle and contrast to a twisting dueling interplay between piano and bass.

A ballad and a Monk tune took as to the end, as is Hersch’s wont, and on to the encores and the magic descended one last time. Hersch seems to be in a purple patch in his career at the moment, in terms of recognition as well as creativity. This set made it clear why.

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

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REVIEW: Henri Texier Hope Quartet at King's Place (2017 EFG LJF)

"Tremendous bass playing": Henri Texier
Photo credit: John Watson /jazzcamera.co.uk


Henri Texier Hope Quartet
(King's Place Hall One, 17 November - 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Patrick Hadfield).


Henri Texier didn't talk much to the full house in King's Place Hall One; he let his bass speak for him. Across eighty minutes, it spoke with depth and warmth, energy and, occasionally, anger.

The Hope Quartet - Texier with Francois Courneloup on baritone saxophone, Sebastien Texier on alto sax and clarinets, and Louis Moutin on drums - filled the hall with music. Individually they were superb; together, they were phenomenal. Playing material largely from the recent live release Dakota Mab, with several numbers dedicated to native American tribes, as well as older pieces such as the closing number Sacrifice - which he dedicated to this very hard working band.

None worked harder than Moutin. He rarely played with sticks, instead pushing the music on with insistent brush work, or, on the several pieces, his bare hands, deftly making the drums ring. His drumming was often busy but never obtrusive.

At times they were reminiscent of a chamber band such as the MJQ, as on the beautifully melodic Hopi, which featured a heartfelt baritone solo. He Was Just Shining, for Paul Motian, had a touch of Ellington: it's eastern-sounding melody and snake-like, entwining saxophone lines would have been at home in Ellington's Far East Suite.

"We really didn't want to let them go."
L-R: Sebastien Texier, Francois Corneloup, Henri Texier, Louis Moutin
Photo credit: John Watson /jazzcamera.co.uk

Elsewhere there were passages of free music, Texier producing flurries of notes from his bass as the alto soared and the baritone roared. There was a powerful duo between the bass and and drums, Moutin balancing Texier's tremendous bass playing with very melodic drums with just his hands. The amount of communication and understanding between all members of the band was impressive, it often being like a conversation we were privileged to be watching.

On Sacrifice it was almost as if they were channelling Coltrane, the saxes playing in unison over some thunderous drumming, the whole rooted in Texier's bass playing. Together they pushed the level of intense excitement higher and higher.

Coming back for an encore, they played a slower, more simple piece, the baritone and clarinet playing long notes over which Texier played a moody solo. They earned a standing ovation and huge applause from the audience: we really didn't want to let them go.

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

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REVIEW: Alan Barnes - Barnes plays Basie at The Other Palace (2017 EFG LJF)

Alan Barnes (centre) with Robert Fowler
Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley

Alan Barnes - Barnes plays Basie
(The Other Palace. 17 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Saxophonist Alan Barnes brought an all-star line up to The Other Palace to perform the music of Count Basie, with the hard-swinging rhythm section of pianist Robin Aspland, bassist Adam King and drummer Matt Home. Many of the Basie signature introductions were expertly re-created by pianist Aspland, who sounded particularly impressive on One O’Clock Jump, and also contributed a number of intelligent and beguiling solos. Throughout the evening it was the quality of the solos that impressed the most, together with the band’s ability to re-create the Basie big band sound in a reduced ensemble.

Trumpeter George Hogg used a range of trumpet mutes to get the sounds of Buck Clayton and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, and stood out on the Basie classics Lil’ Darlin’ and After Supper. Tenor saxophonist Robert Fowler gave a sparkling performance with his beautiful old-school tone combined with prodigious technique and fluency around the instrument, which was illustrated perfectly on his rendition of Blue and Sentimental, that also included a warm, sensitive solo by Alan Barnes on the baritone saxophone. The baritone was also the highlight of the closing number of the first set, One O’Clock Jump, which also served as a bass solo feature for excellent young bassist Adam King.

They started the second set with a swinging Shiny Stockings, and progressed through another set of Basie classics, with an uptempo 9:20 Special, the beautiful Neal Hefti tune Lil’ Darlin’ and a hard swinging Topsy which again featured some beautiful baritone saxophone playing from Alan Barnes. Although they finished with the Basie classic Jumpin’ at the Woodside as their encore, it was inevitable that the enthusiastic audience were going to demand more. They were rewarded with Basie-esque version of Honeysuckle Rose. Promoter and host John Billett once again put on a fantastic show and gave as good as he got when it came to the repartee between him and the perennially funny Alan Barnes.

Line Up
Alan Barnes - alto and baritone saxophone
Robert Fowler- tenor saxophone
George Hogg – trumpet
Robin Aspland – piano
Adam King – double bass
Matt Home – drums

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REVIEW: Dee Dee Bridgewater + Camilla George at Cadogan Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Photo credit: Paul Wood


Dee Dee Bridgewater + Camilla George
(Cadogan Hall. Thurs. 16th Nov. 2017 EFG LJF. Review by Alison Bentley)

It soundedas if Dee Dee Bridgewater’s voice had been waiting for these songs. In her jazz singing, she’s always had a strong soulful voice, sometimes muted like a trumpet. In this gig the voice was on fire with songs from her new album, Memphis... Yes, I'm Ready with her Memphis Soulphony band. Born in Memphis, Bridgewater grew up listening to soul and R&B on WDIA Radio; dedicated to black music, it used musician DJs (BB King, Rufus Thomas, and her own trumpeter father, ‘Matt the Platter Cat’.) Bridgewater also has a background in musical theatre, and a strong onstage persona: each song (‘revisiting, revamping’) involved an anecdote or miniature drama.

The voice was deep and lived-in (a little like recent Candi Staton) in Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s I'm Going Down Slow, with its Dr John vibe. Gospelly backing singers joined her in Gladys Knight’s Giving Up, with Dell Smith’s stirring Hammond. She sang the Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next to You (Al Green’s version) as if her voice were all the instruments at once. Things took a comic turn: she recalled underwear being thrown on stage to a disdainful Al Green- but she donned the Y-fronts thrown on for her, over her spangly white outfit.

From comedy to pathos in seconds: in Barbara Mason’s Yes I’m Ready, a sweet 6/8 ballad, Bridgewater sang freely with a Dionne Warwick timbre, scatting into high pure notes- emotion without sentimentality. The powerful call and response between Bridgewater and backing vocals continued in the funky Why (Am I Treated So Bad.) She recalled Martin Luther King getting the Staple Singers to perform this at rallies. In Carla Thomas’ B.A.B.Y. , trumpet and sax sounded like a much bigger horn section as they crescendoed into a up tempo gospel groove.

Two Elvis songs appeared in unexpected guises. Bridgewater sang the lyrics of Don’t Be Cruel (Wilson Pickett’s version) to saxophonist Bryant Lockhart; a musical conversation unfolded, voice scatting brilliantly to match sax in virtuosity and intensity. Big Mama Thornton’s rootsy minor blues, Hound Dog, created a comic drama where singers competed for bassist Barry Campbell’s attention, as Charlton Johnson played heartbreaking slide guitar.

The Soul Children’s ballad The Sweeter He Is unleashed a memory about teenage lost love leading to a ‘pivotal’ decision to be a singer. She communicated a powerful sense of loss and longing, in a moving moment with Curtis Pulliam’s muted trumpet. In I Can’t Stand the Rain (by Ann Peebles) the jazzy, behind-the-beat phrasing was spine-tingling.

‘Free yourselves, ‘cause this is B.B.King time!’- she got the audience dancing (in Cadogan Hall!) to a funky The Thrill is Gone, incorporating the Meters’ Cissy Strut. Try A Little Tenderness has suspense built into the song; as the gentle opening unfolds, you know it’s about to break into a huge shout chorus. It was the perfect song to finish on, showing the full range of her voice from jazzy delicacy to soul-belt.

‘As singers, people expect us to stay in the same category of music for all of our lives. And musicians are allowed to be much freer,’ she told one interviewer. This audience yelled their approval for her new venture.


Camilla George
Photo credit: Paul Wood


‘The world is safe because we have Camilla,’ said Bridgewater earlier, after London-based alto-player Camilla George’s support set. George played with an assured calmness. Her pieces were based on African stories: a magic turtle, a spirit who takes the form of a mermaid (Mami Wata.) There was some Coltrane/Rollins influence in her thoughtful playing, supported by the excellent Daniel Casimir (bass) and Winston Clifford (drums.) Creative pianist Sarah Tandy brought a strong technique and sense of stillness to a ‘ballad for naughty children.’

You felt the future of jazz was in good hands.

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REVIEW: Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra + Southbank Sinfonia — Miles Davis Symphonic: Kind of Blue at Cadogan Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Giy Barker conducting Miles Davis Symphonic: Kind of Blue
Phoro credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

The Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra + Southbank Sinfonia — Miles Davis Symphonic: Kind of Blue
(Cadogan Hall, 18 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz album of all time and, remarkably, also the best. But its essence is so utterly bound up with small-group jazz playing that expanding it to symphonic proportions is a daunting notion. The seeds of this project were sown years ago when Guy Barker was playing with Gil Evans’s big band. One night for an encore, Evans distributed the score for So What from Kind of Blue and the young Barker was astonished to discover that what he’d always assumed to be an improvised introduction by the pianist Bill Evans was actually composed, and the handiwork of another Evans. “Gil Evans actually wrote that introduction,” recalls Guy Barker. And when the big band played it, “It sounded like a fanfare.” Barker began to wonder what would happen, “If I was to take a lot of those improvised solos, especially by Bill Evans, but also some by Wynton Kelly, and orchestrate them for the orchestra…”

Well, this afternoon at Cadogan Hall we had a chance to discover exactly what would happen. For So What there are vast opening notes on the tuba as it lumbers majestically, like hippo towards a water hole, then it joins the other instruments and the ensemble states the theme. Beautiful plucked double bass by Chris Hill performs a call and response with the reeds which raises the hair on the back of your neck. An orchestral blast yields to a tight rhythm section and then horns come in to make way for a silvery trumpet solo by Martin Shaw, adroitly climbing over the ensemble. Then the strings, played by the Southbank Sinfonia, rise like steam off a pool, warm and welcoming. Toes were tapping from the first note.

On Freddie Freeloader the see-sawing horn section and elegant exposition of the strings provide a high vantage point for Shaw’s solo trumpet. Brass stabs cue a delicate rising flight of flutes. A tenor solo by Per ‘Texas’ Johansson breaks surface and commands attention, illuminating the contours of the tune and suddenly making things urgent and personal. The tuba provides battering-ram backup as the horns enter in force, then draw back for a lilting string and woodwind passage that rises and falls with oceanic majesty. The cry of the brass evokes Stan Kenton as Guy Barker draws startling punches out of the ensemble before it subsides to allow piano (Jim Watson) and trumpet to make a final statement.

Diminishing string and woodwinds whisper the farewell for this piece. Out of the silence rises Blue in Green. Once attributed, like all the music on Kind of Blue, exclusively to Miles Davis, it is now generally acknowledged that Bill Evans deserves at least equal credit for this piece. Here it is introduced by shimmering impressionist strings which would have made Johnny Mandel proud. By now it’s very clear that Guy Barker has unlocked this tight small-combo music and expanded it into a considerable treasure trove of playing and experimentation. Rosario Giuliani solos on his alto sax with diffident passion and off-hand intensity. The piece has become a rhapsody for saxophone and a rich, late night, on-the-nod feel begins to evoke a big-city nocturne. The piano is sparsely supportive as the alto rises and rises, a subtle shiver of horns beginning to coalesce behind Giuliani with the whole ensemble tightening and growing louder in a slow, smoothly controlled explosion. It’s not surprising that various attempts have been made to add lyrics to Blue in Green because Giuliani’s alto sax reveals that it’s actually an intense ballad, a modal torch song.

The strings drop to a faint, melancholy glitter, then rise sighing to envelope the pulsing double bass and we’re now in All Blues. Chris Hill’s bass is so precisely rhythmic and irresistible that it’s almost impossible not to start snapping your fingers. A series of detonations from the horns clear the air for a crystalline piano solo by Jim Watson. The rhythm section (featuring Ed Richardson on drums) rules the stage while the orchestra wait, attentively poised, for their moment. The strings re-enter with subliminal subtlety, a blasting trombone takes a solo. When Martin Shaw starts playing the fantastic Miles Davis solo it’s like finding an old friend in an unexpected place. The piece tails off in a cool modernist cloud of strings which condenses into the heartfelt melody of Flamenco Sketches. This is another Miles Davis melody in which Bill Evans had a hand (it draws on Evan’s beautifully lyrical arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein song Some Other Time). Shaw’s muted trumpet presents its eloquent heartbreak against a flowered slope of strings. Rosario Giuliani plays another alto solo of harsh, raw lyricism, its beauty menaced by a sinister Spanish rattle of percussion.

The programme concludes with a dense, tense firework display of orchestral energy and focus. Barker’s achievement here is considerable, remaining true to the sparse aesthetic of the original small group sessions while making valid use of the combined forces of a jazz orchestra and a classical chamber orchestra. What could have been cumbersome and overblown is fleet, ecstatic, enthralling.

BAND:

TRUMPETS: Nathan Bray, Mike Lovatt. Pat White, Martin Shaw
TROMBONES: Barnaby Dickinson, Alistair White, Mark Frost
TUBA: Dave Powell
SAXES:Rosario Giuliani, Sam Mayne, Graeme Blevins, Per Johansson, Ben Castle
RHYTHM: Jim Watson, Chris Hill, Ed Richardson, Rob Farrer
CONDUCTOR: Guy Barker

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REVIEW: Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse album launch at Kings Place (2017 EFG LJF)

Yazz Ahmed at Kings Place
Photo credit: John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse album launch
(Kings Place Hall Two. 2017 EFG LJF. Review by Gail Tasker)

Against a backdrop of colourful and shifting sketches by illustrator Sophie Bass, Yazz Ahmed and her band performed an extended set of tunes from her latest album, La Saboteuse (Naim). The line-up was eclectic in instrumentation, including Ralph Wyld on vibraphone, Corrina Silvester on a variety of percussion, and Ahmed herself on flugelhorn. Theye were complemented by Dudley Philips on electric bass, Martin France on drums, Naadia Sheriff on piano, and the Swede Samuel Hällkvist on electric guitar. The gig marked the launch of her new album, and although the musicians and instruments were slightly different from those on the recording, the group interpreted a number of Ahmed’s beautifully arranged compositions with impressive vividness and flair.

There was a definite underlying edge to the music which took it outside of the jazz genre. The unique instrumentation, coupled with an Arabic twist in terms of scales, melody, and rhythm, invited the audience into a different reality. Tunes like Jamil Jamal featured driving rhythms by Silvester combined with a unison melodic riff over an Arabic scale, immediately bringing to mind dry deserts and hot sun, a reminder of Ahmed’s Bahraini roots. In La Saboteuse, melodies were passed around the band in different configurations and in a staggered fashion, giving a lulling, gentle feeling to the music. Despite the relaxed, atmospheric aspect of the music, the performance never lost its momentum. France kept the pace up with frantic drum patterns, a nice contrast against Ahmed’s more textural trumpet playing, which was aided by synths and various effect pedals.

It was refreshing to see a band leader take a more back-seat role, as Ahmed took to directing the group and listening to the overall sound as opposed to taking spotlight solos. Sporadic explanations between playing showcased the vibe and direction behind the music. If having three female instrumentalists in a jazz line up wasn’t enough, Ahmed was clear in describing certain music as being inspired by Rosa Park and by strong female role models in general. It was towards the end of the set that the performance really began to warm up, with different sound directions being taken in the soloing. At one point, France and Wyld improvised together, and at another point, Hällkvist and Ahmed.

The unusual compositions combined with unique band configuration led to a memorable evening, and one that is definitely going to stick in my mind.

INTERVIEW ABOUT LA SABOTEUSE FROM 2016

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NEWS: Participants announced for 13th Take Five Professional Development Scheme

The participants fron the twelfth Take Five
Photo from Serious website


The eight participants for the next, thirteenth Take Five professional development programme  are announced today:


Al MacSween - Pianist - (website currently down)

Ant Law - guitarist (INTERVIEW)

Camilla George - saxophonist - (INTERVIEW)

Helen Papiaoannou - (composer / saxophonist based in Bristol  - website)

Jonathan Silk - Scottish drummer / composer/ bandleader based in Birmingham - (Interview)

Nubya Garcia - saxophonist  (bandcamp site)

Rob Luft - guitarist (CD review, Live review)

Scott Flanigan - pianist composer based in Belfast (website)

Take Five is run by Serious and supported by grant-funders such as the PRS Foundation, Help Musicians UK and the Jerwood Foundation. There is one major change in the running of the scheme: Martel Ollerenshaw who has administered and produced Take Five since inception, has left Serious. A new appointee will be starting in January in the Talent Development areaof Serious and will run the scheme. Alex Webb is currently involved in an interim role.

LINK: Reports of previous editions of Take Five

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REVIEW: Robert Glasper at the Barbican (2017 EFG LJF)

Robert Glasper at the Barbican


Robert Glasper
(Barbican, 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Lauren Bush)

With a few minutes to spare before the concert began, the Barbican was buzzing with excitement. The stage was absolutely bursting with instruments. Two drum kits, double bass, electric bass, electric guitars, a harmonica set-up, a grand piano, a Rhodes and even a DJ booth, where DJ Sunshine (Jahi Lake) was already scratching away on Love for Sale.

Robert Glasper comes out and casually teases the audience and appeals to us to have a good time. He chats about the focus of the evening being his newest album Covered – a compilation of pop tunes from different well-known artists. He nonchalantly points to his shirt – a caricature of Stevie Wonder – and the crowd goes wild.

The DJ has been on stage from before the lights dimmed, but Glasper is now joined by bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid (leaving us all wondering who would be playing the other instruments). Prince’s song Sign of the Times starts off the evening with a captivating drum solo. The role of the DJ starts to become clear as he drops in familiar hip-hop lines from the 80’s and 90’s such as Erykah Badu’s version of Afro Blue.

The next song starts off featuring just bass. It’s clear that Glasper really enjoys the collaborative part of music. His laid back nature allows others to shine on stage. He’s much more of a puppet-master than a leader in the sense that he has arranged all of this music to be what he wants, but when it comes time to play it, he lets the musicians do their jobs.

Only 30 minutes in and Glasper announces that there will be a set change. The lights stay dark as drum kit number one is moved and the new musicians find their places on stage. His original trio’s got the rest of the night off as Blue Note recording artist Derrick Hodge> takes over on electric bass and George Spanky McCurdy takes the seat at the drums. Joining them and the DJ are a trio of singers, Brendan Reilly, LaDonna Harley-Peters and Vula; guitarist Mike Severson and keyboardist Travis Sayles and harmonica player Grégoire Maret Glasper’s got a whole team of collaborators now, as the trio of singers take turns crooning their arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed.

Vula takes centre stage for a brilliant tune and then we are surprised by yet another addition to this already stellar line-up. American singer-songwriter Bilal, full of eccentric, soulful touches, sings another Stevie song before sharing one of his originals, Levels, that Glasper has recorded on his Covered album. The personal connection – sharing someone’s original music, together, for a new audience is a special experience.

The band suddenly leave the stage and a spotlight focuses in on bassist Derrick Hodge as he treats to a solo performance of My Cherie Amour. Reminiscent of Victor Wooten’s electric bass solos, it is such an interesting and unique opportunity to hear such skill and creativity.

One more surprise for the evening, as Glasper introduces his final guest, the rising star, Laura Mvula, donning a super-trendy felt hat. She sits down at the Rhodes, kitty corner to Glasper and they share an intimate moment, blending seamlessly with the rest of the band. The final song, Toast, an original of Mvula’s proves to be the most memorable song of the night.

Glasper contributes beautiful piano lines amongst all the other details, some really soulful solos and carries himself in such a calm and casual manner that it’s hard to imagine how this collection of artists couldn’t possibly enjoy their job any more. Their fearless frontrunner gives them the freedom to explore, create and mould this music into something that any audience member would fall in love with.

PERSONNEL

Robert Glasper
Bilal
Mike Severson - guitar
Travis Sayles  - keys
Spanky McCurdy - drums
Derrick Hodge - bass
Jahi Lake DJ
Vicente Archer
Damion Reid
LaDonna Harley-Peters
Vula Malinga
Brenda Reilly
Laura Mvula
Grégoire Maret

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PHOTOS: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at Kings Place (2017 EFG LJF

Darcy James Argue
Photo credit : John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


Sebastian writes:

John Watson's pictures capture a special gig in the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. It really is a whole seven years since Darcy James Argue's Secret Society came to London and performed at Cafe Oto (REVIEW).

Last night, they finally came back, with support from the Canadian High Commission in London and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation they brought the Real Enemies music.

John L Walters has described on this site the power and importance of this music in his CD review (HERE). And on the strength of hearing this astonishingly tight, dark and sinister music live last night it would be impossible to demur from his judgment that it is indeed "a mind-blowing example of truly great, era-defining jazz composition."

And also hats off for the sound: Kings Place - where LJN has its office - was designed as an acoustic hall, and I have never heard a sound engineer render amplified sound in it quite so vividly and convincingly. 
Darcy James Argue
Photo credit : John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


Darcy James Argue
Photo credit : John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


LINK: See also Richard Williams' eloquent write-up of this concert

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REVIEW: Dayna Stephens at the 606 Club (2017 EFG LJF)

Dayna Stephens at the 606
with Gareth Williams (L) and Calum Gourlay (R)
Photo credit: Roger Thomas


Dayna Stephens
 (606 Club. 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It seems too obvious and trite to write, but at a jazz gig the audience witnesses a unique act of creation, sees musicians discovering how things do (or might) work between them - by actually doing it. In this case an American saxophonist who has not performed in London for seventeen years met a trio of top UK players for a short rehearsal on the day of the gig, and onto the stage they went. And as the evening progressed, the familiarity and the trust built and evolved like a flower gradually opening out.

It was fascinating to hear California-born, New York-based Dayna Stephens live for the first time in this context. The opening tunes had a tendency to veer off into abstraction; it felt far more like a Vortex gig than a 606 gig. Then, as the set progressed there was an increasing ease. Stephens has a remarkably communicative face which betrays his every emotion and seems to let the audience into the secret of what he is thinking and what his shifting mood is at any moment. In Along Came Betty which closed the first set, it seemed at last to break out into a joyous smile.

 The mood of rightness and naturalness carried through the second set in which  tunes like Coltrane's Satellite and the classic Body and Soul - with an exuberant and bravura cadenza - came across with scale and heft.

Stephens  is not a player when settled reverts to vocabulary which a jazz listener will recognize, far from it. In fact he is not one ever to play a hackneyed clichéd phrase. In that sense he is a Coltrane heir, constantly finding unlikely intervals, going off exploring and seeing where his explorations will lead.

And then there is his sound. In the interview he did for us a few weeks ago he talked about the saxophone sound of his grandfather: "it was the breathy warmth of his sound that captivated me. I can still hear it even though I don’t have a recording of it." Breathines, subtone is also a feature of Stephens' own playing, whether on tenor sax or EWI. It takes a time to get used to that sound. He is about to do a recording project on EWI playing with guitarist Gilad Hekselman and it is bound to explore a very different character of that instrument from, say, Michael Brecker

Stephens had a great trio to support him. Tim Giles on drums is one of the most unobtrusive and subtle yet supportive drummers anywhere. I hadn't heard Calum Gourlay playing for several months and the authority just grows, and his contribution to settling Body and Soul was memorable. Pianist Gareth Williams' listening is so complete, there were several occasions when he would spot one of Stephens' unusually shaped phrases and do the Paul Klee thing, and  take a line for a walk.

Stephens is such an interesting player. The saxophonist has got over years of illness - kidney dialysis for six years followed by a transplant - and surely he is bound to be back soon, either playing with a UK trio as here, or possibly in his project with Hekselman. Let's hope so.


SET LISTS

First Set

Common Ancestors
U R Me Blues
New Cynic City
Emilie
Along Came Betty

Second Set

First Snow
Satellite
Body and Soul
Uncle Jr.
Encore: Best thing for you is Me

LINKS : CD Review of Gratitude (with Julian Lage, Brad Mehldau and Larry Grenadier)
Interview with Dayna Stephens

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REVIEW: Golden Age of Steam/ Ivo Neame Quartet at the Con Cellar Bar (2017 EFG LJF)

Golden Age of Steam at the Con Cellar Bar
L-R: James Allsopp, Ruth Goller,
Alex Bonney, Kit Downes


Golden Age of Steam/ Ivo Neame Quartet
(Con Cellar Bar. 17 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)


The Con Cellar Jazz team surpassed themselves with this double bill. As Golden Age of Steam reached an ecstatic, tumultuous climax under the direction of James Allsopp, after nearly 45 minutes of steadily accumulating intensity, drummer Tim Giles mouthed ‘whoa’ to himself and the packed cellar bar seemed to sway, trance-like, as one. It was epic.

But this was a double bill and the first set had been no less compelling, with a set of originals from Ivo Neame on Rhodes and a small Mellotron, with a great band of drummer James Maddren, Tom Farmer on bass and Con Cellar impresario and tenor man, George Crowley. Neame’s keyboard imbued the sound with a warm glow as they took off through a set of distinctive small band compositions, some built around alluring, not-quite-sweet melodies, others developing looping angular hooks and contrasting passages. Vegetarians had a funky edge and could almost have been re-cast Monk tune, Parlour was all hanging phrases and moody textures over a shuffling beat, Spaceballs moved through episodes and centred around a burn-up, Crowley really letting fly. In these hands the music soared and swooped. Neame is a prodigious improviser, seeming to find some hook deep inside a tune and expand and develop it until and ideas bursts into bloom. Maddren’s drumming was as remarkable as ever, somehow articulating every swell and eddy of a piece. The ballad Outsider segued via a Neame solo meditation, into a bubbling, optimistic vibe that finished with the exuberant skitter of drums and a triumphant dead stop.

 After a brief scatological introduction from Allsopp, Golden Age of Steam embarked on Loftopus. Alex Bonney conjured rumbles and squeaks whilst Ruth Goller, Kit Downes and Giles waited, scrutinising their scripts and looking for Allsopp’s cue. This was a master-class in space, timing and patience. Eventually fragments of keening sax, gently traced sparkling keyboard, droning bass all crept in. Drums clattered, live electronics re-cycled and added, layers accumulated and momentum imperceptibly developed. When Allsopp cued an insistent, chanting theme, it seemed somehow obvious, a throbbing pulse had evolved and a glorious, transcendental hubbub unfolded. There was just time for another, shorter trip, initiated by singing an Ivor Cutler lyric. It’s a fair bet that Cutler never envisaged a setting for his lyrics like this, as the walls bulged with the volcanic tumult from Giles. It was an exhilarating end to a remarkable evening.

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

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REVIEW: Dayna Stephens - old post now moved


Our review of the return of to the UK after 17 years has now moved to HERE

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REVIEW: Chris Ingham's Rebop at The Other Palace (2017 EFG LJF)

Chris Ingham's Rebop
L-R: Chris Ingham, Kevin Flanagan, Robert Rickenberg
Paul Higgs, Colin Watling, George Double
Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley


Chris Ingham's Rebop 
(The Other Palace. 15 November. EFG LJF. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Beginning with the Horace Silver classic Sister Sadie, this was an evening of pure Blue Note style hard bop, performed by some of Britain’s most talented hard bop devotees, fronted by pianist Chris Ingham.

With many of the arrangements from Ingham’s long-term associate, altoist Kevin Flanagan, this tight-knit ensemble also performed some of the less obvious tunes from the Blue Note repertoire, such as Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas and Donald Byrd’s Ghana. Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil gave Kevin Flanagan a chance to illustrate both his fluency on the alto sax and his hard-swinging bebop abilities.

The first set ended with a double bill of classic 1960s Herbie Hancock, with two contrasting pieces: his beautiful and complex Dolphin Dance and his simple and catchy Cantaloupe Island. Both tunes were a great illustration of Ingham’s attention to detail, duplicating Herbie’s piano voicings as well as his light touch.

The second set began immediately with the familiar call-and-response phrase of Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’, made famous by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, allowing trumpeter Paul Higgs to let rip with a bluesy and swinging solo.

The ‘odd one out’ for this Blue Note tribute was Cedar Walton’s Bolivia, from his Eastern Rebellion album, released on the Timeless label in 1976, which, as Chris Ingham explained, was a hard bop classic recorded at a time when many jazz musicians had moved on to more popular styles of music.  This tune fitted in perfectly with the latin-influenced hard bop repertoire with the signature tight arrangement of the original with fast-fingered work from bassist Robert Rickenberg.

Under-rated composer and pianist Duke Pearson’s Jeannine provided an opportunity for one of the most memorable solos of the night from Kevin Flanagan, zipping through the chord changes in a style reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley.

Donald Byrd’s Ghana, from his 1960 Blue Note album Byrd in Flight, served as an excellent feature for expressive drummer George Double and included an outstanding solo from tenor saxophonist Colin Watling.

Ingham’s Rebop ended with Joe Henderson’s rarely performed original Mamacita, giving solid bassist Robert Rickenberg another chance to shine.

Rather than playing the more obvious classics (such as The Sidewinder or Song For My Father) the focus was more on the musicians’ favourites such as Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. What came across most was that the band enjoyed re-creating the sound of these classic recordings and connecting to the tunes through their own solos.

Bandleader Chris Ingham lightened the mood throughout the evening with his dry humour, but also excelled at propelling the band and getting the best out of a group of outstanding musicians.

Ensemble 
Chris Ingham, piano
Kevin Flanagan, alto sax
Paul Higgs, trumpet
Colin Watling, tenor sax
Robert Rickenberg, double bass
George Double, drums

Set Lists

1st Set

Sister Sadie (Horace Silver)
Una Mas (Kenny Dorham)
Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
This I Dig of You (Hank Mobley)
Dolphin Dance (Herbie Hancock)
Cantaloupe Island (Herbie Hancock)

2nd Set

Moanin’ (Bobby Timmons)
Bolivia (Cedar Walton)
Jeannine (Duke Pearson)
Ghana (Donald Byrd)
Mamacita (Joe Henderson)

Encore: Finger Poppin’ (Horace Silver)

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REVIEW: Elliot Galvin Trio at Pizza Express Dean Street (2017 EFG LJF)

Elliot Galvin Trio
L-R: Tom McCredie, Elliot Galvin, Corrie Dick


Elliot Galvin Trio
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)

A quietly ringing, high pitched note, insinuated itself into the hushed atmosphere at the beginning of Elliot Galvin’s set at Pizza Express Jazz Club. As was to happen often, it wasn’t immediately obvious where the sound was coming from. On this occasion it was Corrie Dick, gently rubbing the rim of a small metal bowl place on his snare drum. Spacious chiming chords from the piano circled the note and a slightly unexpected, pastoral ambience settled, an extended prelude to a stealthily infectious, dancing groove, with Galvin using a synth sound in his left hand to complement Tom McCredie’s propulsive bass hook. Unexpected was a theme of the set.

That first tune, New Model Army, was followed by Lobster Cracking which seemed to pack all the possible variants of unexpected into one piece. Dense, helter-skelter percussive sections on the piano switched suddenly to stomping, rocky riffs, then stopped in mid-stomp and switched back to the helter-skelter. For all the air of wild spontaneity, the trio moved from one to the other without blinking. This was carefully constructed music, as well as being riotously performed.

Galvin’s trio was voted European Jazz Artist of the year in 2014 just as they released their first album. A third is due in January, The Influencing Machine, from which much of the material we were hearing came. On this showing, it should further establish them as a formidable presence on the European scene. There’s Galvin’s writing. The moods, textures, grab-you-by-the-throat maelstroms, other worldly sounds and, dammit, get up and dance grooves, are woven together into seamless, sometimes white knuckle, rides. And then there’s the playing.

Galvin can make the piano do anything for him and it always seems to have q quirky twist or kink in it. JJ had an irresistible funky pulse over which a spiraling, acerbic, melody unfurled before a blistering, frenetic work out from Galvin. Scurrying runs, punctuated by fierce percussive episodes with the judicious use of an elbow. Bees, Dogs and Flies was all elegant counterpoint and traces of melody, but twisted by the careful placement of paper on the piano strings. It would have been easy to miss Corrie Dick’s part in all this. The whole performance seemed to float on the presence of his drums, often telepathically anticipating some switch back turn in a solo passage or providing a pin drop coda to a piece.

This was an absorbing gig; arresting music demanding attention and exhilarating playing.

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INTERVIEW: Bugge Wesseltoft (Rohey at Rich Mix - 19 Nov - 2017 EFG LJF)

Bugge Wesseltoft
Photo credit: CF Wesenberg

Norwegian band Rohey who record for the Jazzland label will present their powerful and energetic nu-soul music at Rich Mix on Saturday 18 November 2017. Jazzland label owner and creative pianist BUGGE WESSELTOFT talks about Rohey, the Jazzland label 20th anniversary and about his new album Everybody Loves Angels (ACT).  Interview by Tomasz Furmanek:

Tomasz Furmanek: Rohey are possibly unfamiliar to LondonJazz News readers. Please tell us about them.

Bugge Wesseltoft: Rohey are a very talented and hard working young group, we are super happy to have them on Jazzland label, they seem to be extremely successful wherever they go! Their music could be described as, I guess, a kind of neo-soul, and sometimes they remind me, in a way, of the early Beady Belle, so it might be something that could be interesting for Beady Belle’s fans too...

TF: Where do they come from?

BW: I believe they come from all over Norway, and even from Sweden. They all met up in Trondheim, where they studied jazz. It was my colleague Sten who booked them, and I think it’s their exceptional talent and exciting music combined with hard work and real focus on music that made us wanting to sign them. They do have a very fresh and lovely energy and it’s interesting to see how they interpret soul music in the 21st century.

TF: Jazzland recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, was there a special anniversary album released?

BW: I guess that both Jazzland20: 1996-2016 and the 20th anniversary edition of my record New Conception of Jazz were the anniversary albums. We also had quite a few very nice anniversary concerts. My initial idea, back then, was to release my own album and to do it well. At that time, there weren’t really any labels releasing the type of music I was playing. Then, after a while, other people started sending me demos, like Beate Lech, for example. She sent me a demo with her music, I liked it, and we decided to work with that... That’s how it started. We are so happy that we are still around and that what we do still seem to be relevant for the audiences!

TF: Within those 20 years Jazzland documented many of your collaborations with exceptional artist, like Sidsel Endresen for example...Would you say something about this very unique singer?

BW: She is unique, in my opinion she is one of the best living vocalists in the world. The quality of her voice in so unique, she’s just a fantastic singer – when you hear her sing a straight melody too! It blew my mind, how strong she is and how exceptionally well she could do it! She always looked for her own voice and her own energy, and I think she definitely found it! She’s a great performer too! And that’s what she teaches younger singers, to find their own level of energy, because if you try to be someone else, you will never be anything really. You just have to work with who you are! We worked together so many times, I think we are very good friends, and we still play together like every other year...

TF: Please tell us about your newest album on ACT Music Everybody Loves Angels.

BW: This album is a direct descendant of a twenty year old Christmas album It’s Snowing on My Piano which I recorded back in 1997, and which was without doubt my best selling and most popular album so far. It feels good to do a “follow up album” twenty years later – time really flies... Everybody Loves Angels is not a Christmas album but a collection of popular songs I grew up with since childhood, interpreted in the same very ambient and minimalistic way as was on the Christmas album. It was recorded on the beautiful Lofoten islands, north of Norway, and I hope that album captures and brings out the nature of the place and our care for its beauty.

Concert: Rohey + Bigyuki + Butcher Brown + DJ Harrison @ LJF 2017
Saturday 18 November 2017, 8:00pm LONDON Rich Mix  

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REVIEW: Becca Stevens at Ronnie Scott's (2017 EFG LJF)

Becca Stevens
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


Becca Stevens
(Ronnie Scott's, 15 November 2017, first of 2-night residency. EFG LJF 2017. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Singer-songwriter Becca Stevens has a warm, engaging presence which drew the crowd on-side from the start as she announced that she'd invited some of her favourite musicians to join her and that the audience should approach the gig 'like you're in the living room with me!' adding later '… and we're just hanging out.'

She set the scene perfectly for a richly textured evening, two sets of songs, anecdotes and chats to the audience, dropping the formal barriers, joined by her long-time percussionist Jordan Perlson ('best drummer on the planet!'), down-at-roots songsmith Oli Rockberger on keyboards, and co-opted, on bass, guitarist Alicyn Yaffee, like Stevens, Brooklyn-based, whose fretboard-work, recalling that of Emily Remler, Stevens has admired for years.

Although she can turn herself formidably to the jazz songbook, as on Chris Tordini's Midnight Sun album (Newvelle), Stevens didn't dip in to the jazz canon at all, showing just how flexible musicians and audiences can be - even at Ronnie's! She started off singing solo and playing traditional 4-string ukelele (later she'd employ a 10-string model), setting out her stall with the title track of her new album, Regina, with a folk-tinged tale of loss, a void left by a relationship and more.

Stevens has a beautifully nuanced vocal style, a delicate yet strongly assured delivery rooted in an open, broad, range which is very much her own, with the mildest of echoes of one of her heroines, Joni Mitchell, that also carries through to her guitar work, and with whose Help Me she encored.

She covered tracks spanning her four albums and showcased songs by her guests. Canyon Dust had her ukelele shine with the poise of a dulcimer, Rockeberger and Perlson throwing in subtle taps and twists in support. I asked, which she's also recorded with Snarky Puppy, introduced Yaffee, adding fluid, powerful bass foundations. Tillery was the opportunity to open the doors further, as she explained how crucial the poetry of Jane Tyson Clement had been to shaping the song after a spell of songwriter's block, and whose poems she continues to set to her music.

Clements' descendants were in the house - a son, daughter-in-law and great granddaughter - and she also would connect with Yaffees relatives, and Rockberger's parents, making it not only a family atmosphere but a true family affair.

Rockberger's Don't Forget Me had an unforgetteble streak running through it. Riven with thoughtful melancholy, hints of Simon and Garfunkel, it cut through as a vocal duet, with the soulful, call-and-response repetition of the lyric leavened sweetly by a fleetingly bright piano lick. Yaffee's My Word - 'I fell in love with this song', said Stevens - got its second ever airing with Stevens adding harmonies on its poignant pathway.

Stevens brought on cellist Laura Armstrong with Ella Hohnen Ford, 'who's become like a sister to me', who took the lead vocal on the old Irish song Wild Mountain Thyme, in an arrangement flushed with atmospheric space, and then Troy Miller, producer of Regina and drummer with Laura Mvula, adding further pzazz, to duet on piano on the reflective Both Still Here which she said had taken a few years to complete with sketches stored on voice memos. The darker side of her lyrics, never that far from the surface, took centre stage on Ophelia, developed out of a fascination with Shakspeare - 'His dreams, as back as ink …'

A greatly enjoyable evening - resolutely from the heart and to warm the heart.

LINKS: 2014 Q and A with Becca Stevens
2016 live review

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REVIEW: Zara McFarlane at Rich Mix (2017 EFG LJF)

"No mere reproduction of album tracks, but proper jazz"
Zara McFarlane at Rich Mix
Photo by Peter Jones


Zara McFarlane
(Rich Mix, 15 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Jones)


It’s time we had a new National Anthem, something that more truly reflects this country’s fractious state of mind. I nominate Zara McFarlane’s Fussin’ and Fightin’. Apart from the relevance of the lyrics, it’s just such a great song, although we had to wait until nearly the end of this richly satisfying gig before she played it.

McFarlane’s compositions draw on the musical legacy of the Caribbean, as well as the jazz tradition. This evening was devoted to tunes culled from her recent Arise album. She had always promised to play the gig with a ten-piece band. And sure enough, it was a big, bold sound from some very fine players, most of them alarmingly young - in jazz years, at least.

Zara sings with seemingly effortless power and accuracy, and on the album her vocal harmonies are integral to these songs; so one major issue to resolve beforehand was how to approximate the recorded sound of her own multi-tracked voice. In the end she used two backing singers – Baby Sol and Keisher Downie - who, despite a couple of hesitant moments, threw themselves into the performance with such enthusiasm that their presence lifted the whole event. They were in fine exuberant form from the start, with Nora Dean’s Peace Begins Within and McFarlane’s Pride, and one of the many pleasing elements of the gig was the way the three voices blended, as if there were three Zaras.

Pride also featured a fine, mature tenor solo from young Kaidi Akinnibi. Standing next to him was trombonist Rosie Turton, who turned in terrific solos on Freedom Chain and Silhouette.

This was no mere reproduction of album tracks, but proper jazz: whilst McFarlane cued the band throughout with great authority and humour, she allowed them plenty of freedom to improvise. On Stoke the Fire, for example, Shirley Tetteh unleashed a fiery, passionate guitar solo that ignited the audience. And there were dynamics: on the Congos’ gorgeous Fisherman, one of two covers on the new album, the singers were backed only by Pete Eckford’s congas and Max Luthert’s arco double bass; similarly, on Allies and Enemies the singers had only Tetteh behind them. But for the rest of the night the groove was rock solid, thanks to Luthert and drummer Sam Jones.

It all ended with McFarlane’s unforgettable version of Police and Thieves, bolstered by a sweeping piano solo from Peter Edwards, and then Max Roach’s All Africa.

Earlier, audience cockles had been warmed by support act Thabo, who showed what could be done with nothing more than a fine soulful voice, a good pianist, a handful of nice songs, and a plus-size personality full of warmth and charisma.

LINKS: Interview with Zara McFarlane
CD Review of Arise

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