INTERVIEW: Kenny Wheeler in 1990

In January 1990, Kenny Wheeler was about to set out on a tour to play the material from Music for Large and Small Ensembles, certainly among his masterpieces, and arguably one of the essential and most influential jazz albums of the past half-century. Chris Parker's interview, from one of the creative high points of Kenny Wheeler's career, captures well his kindness about colleagues and his clarity of judgement, and appears here in its entirety for the first time. 

Chris Parker: You started in the UK with Vic Lewis and Roy Fox?

Kenny Wheeler: Yes, but Tommy Whittle also had a very nice eight-piece band – five horns and a rhythm section – with Keith Christie and Eddie Taylor. A really good band.

CP: Was it difficult to combine personal jazz satisfaction with commerciality?

KW: Some bands were a lot more commercial than others. The Heath band and the Dankworth band were a little more jazzy than others – though the Heath band was also fairly commercial – but even with Roy Fox he had tunes where people could play jazz solos on standards and somehow get away with it.

CP: Was there any pressure to play the same solos every night?

KW: Maybe I did without knowing it, but I was never asked to do it.

CP: Did you come across much of the internecine warfare that raged then, between the boppers and the traditionalists?

KW: No, but I never mixed with the other scenes. I was always in what they called the modern jazz scene. I think it was something the press liked to stir up to keep things going.

CP: Dankworth: a lot of the criticism of him is based around the fact that he got work by allying jazz, rather arbitrarily, with other art forms to make it respectable ...

KW: It does help to have some sort of literary thing put on, rather than just calling the songs Joe or John or Jane, or whatever. It makes the public take a little more notice.

CP: Were you inspired, for Windmill Tilter, by Cervantes?

KW: The world’s greatest losers are some of my favourite people and I wanted to do something about that, but I had a talk with Dankworth and he put me off a bit. He mentioned some names, and Don Quixote caught my attention. I went to the local library and met a lady there who was very helpful, and the more I read, the more I liked him, but I wasn’t sure if it was a great idea because I think Richard Strauss has done something ... Dave Holland and John McLaughlin were both on it, very early in their careers, before they left for the States.

CP: Then there was Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes etc.?

KW: Ronnie had a great band, but it was probably too much – his nine-piece aggravation, he called it. It had two drummers, Tony Oxley and Tony Crombie, plus John Surman, Chris Pyne, Ray Warleigh. I thought it was fabulous – just bursting to get the music going – but Ronnie wanted it more straightahead (fair enough: it was his band), so it just petered out, though I enjoyed that band a lot. Joe Henderson was writing for it, and I wrote a couple of things.

CP: Was writing always a part of your life?

KW: I started early. I wrote a couple of things for Dankworth before the album.

CP: Then the free improvisation with John Stevens etc.: has that branch of the music always interested you?

KW: The Little Theatre Club was going. I wasn’t a great bebopper, although that was my roots; I never could really play it and there were great people around who could: Tubby Hayes, Jimmy Deuchar. But I was determined, I wanted to play with somebody, and I heard about the Little Theatre Club, so I went up there one night and listened and hated it very much! After a few nights, I was asked to sit in and I did. It was like therapy for me; I just went berserk and from then on I was kind of a little bit hooked on it.

CP: Do you think it’s fair comment that freely improvised music looks a lot more fun to play than to listen to?

KW: That’s because of people like Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg, but it was always pretty serious to me, with the English and German lot. It depends on who you play it with – I never enjoyed trying to play with everybody, but there’s always a few who last: Evan Parker etc.

CP: Mike Gibbs?

KW: I like his music very much. I did a Birmingham gig with him recently.

CP: Anthony Braxton, Globe Unity?

KW: 1974-–76 with Braxton – a great quartet with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. I’d like to play with Anthony again, but I don’t know if I could play his music: it was hard enough then; it’s probably harder now!

CP: Do you feel that the UK scene neglects your generation? Do you ever wish you were starting now with the scene as it is today?

KW: Probably not. I was confused and diffused when I started. I never thought seriously that I could become an actual jazz player until I was in my thirties – a late starter – though I’ve made my living on the trumpet from age 22 or 23. I was almost like a fan until I was 30. I’d always had trouble with the mechanics, the physical thing of the trumpet, I was never a naturally good trumpet player, but I had good conception. I wouldn’t say I am now a good trumpeter – it’s just one of those things that if you love it, you’re stuck with it for life and you’re lucky if you get better, but you never say: ‘Well, now I can play the trumpet.’ When I got into my thirties and started improving a little as a player I got a little more confident. If I’d been starting young, I would probably have gone straight to New York and got some lessons.

CP: Why did you come here rather than the US?

KW: It was the end of the Korean War and I would have probably been eligible to be drafted. I didn’t mind being drafted, but I thought, ‘Maybe they won’t put me in a band, maybe they’ll put me in the front line’, so I thought I’d go somewhere safe. I applied a year ago for dual nationality. I travel so much, and when I come back to the UK there’s always a huge line and I can’t go to the UK queue even though I’ve lived here for 35 years.

CP: What do you consider your favourite recording?

KW: Deer Wan. That’s the most complete – with Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. My favourite band.

CP: Azimuth carries on?

KW: In the last three or four years it’s loosened up a bit. At one time it used to be all Norma [Winstone] and I leaning heavily on John [Taylor] to do everything, almost – composing, being the complete rhythm section – but lately we’ve taken charge a bit between us and it can get quite violent and hot sometimes. We never work – I think because a lot of people think, ‘Wishy-washy ECM’, so we get one or two gigs a year. That’s a shame: this country’s missing something there, because it’s a terrific group.

CP: Do you think Europe’s more appreciative of jazz than the UK?

KW: Yes, I do think so. It may be because the Germans were forbidden to play jazz in the war – a lot of US players do most of their work there. I hardly work here – this tour [Music for Large and Small Ensembles, 1990] is a very special thing: I probably do only about 10 per cent of my work here in the UK, if that. I used to go to the US two or three times a year, but since that’s not happening ... I teach once a year in western Canada, Alberta. The [Dave] Holland group had to stop for me because I could never get together with them and rehearse – US players play much more than we do, though the younger UK guys, I hear, do get together just to play. Before, it was: ‘We’ll get a gig and then we’ll have a rehearsal.’

CP: Have you had the chance to hear many of the young players here?

KW: I don’t get out much, but I have heard Iain Ballamy, Steve Argüelles, Steve Williamson ...

CP: What do you think about the media attention being focused so much on young players?

KW: It’s nice, but they should maybe focus some attention on the old ones too. It all started with Wynton Marsalis’s cult of youth. They don’t ask me to play with them. I’m very impressed with Steve Williamson, but even younger people than me – Stan Sulzmann for instance – get no attention, play to ten people. Perhaps Courtney [Pine] and Andy [Sheppard] brought in a whole generation of people who were never into jazz before. It’s nice in a way, but I’d like to see Bobby Wellins etc. get more recognition.

CP: Do you feel jazz-rock was a fertile area?

KW: The way Mike Gibbs does it, yes. I love his music. As a horn player, you’ve got all that stuff going on in the rhythm section behind you and it takes away your exposure – with a trio, playing standards, you’re exposed. But it’s not generally for me. The United Jazz and Rock Ensemble plays to big audiences – it’s a good, commercial band.

CP: What do you think of the state of the music now? Has anything really happened since Ornette?

KW: I suppose that’s what it needs: some new Messiah to come along. Maybe Steve Coleman. He has a big following among the young black players – it’s not something that hits you immediately as ‘new’, but maybe it takes a while to get in to. Some of the tunes I write, with their harmonies, would sound sweet and nice with synthesisers, but I still like to go back to the old acoustic thing.

CP: Who’s in the [upcoming tour] band?

KW: John Abercrombie, Pete Erskine, Dave Holland, John Taylor. It’s not based around the quintet, doesn’t heavily feature it. Eight brass, five saxes and Norma, with Hugh Fraser on trombone. We’ve got two days to rehearse, all my compositions. I got an Arts Council grant.

CP: What are your plans afterwards?

KW: Definitely not to be a bandleader for a long time! If you could just write the music and play it, it’d be OK, but there’s so much else involved. I’ll usually get letters, calls – I’m not the hustling type, but I keep working.

CP: What would you do with unlimited resources?

KW: I’d like to write and maybe take a quartet out in England, but there’s a problem: unless you have a ‘big name’, people don’t come out to see you. I like quartets – John Taylor’s my favourite pianist, and Chris Laurence and John Marshall would suit me, possibly augmented by Julian Argüelles, who’s in the new band.


RIP Kenny Wheeler (1930 - 2014)

Kenny Wheeler, June 2012, recording album Mirrors for the Edition label
Photo Credit: Tim Dickeson
Nick Smart of the Royal Academy of Music has confirmed the sad news that the inestimably great Kenny Wheeler passed away earlier today. As Nick writes: "Famously self deprecating, Kenny was always modest and humble about his own musical achievements. But the truth is, he was a genius walking amongst us, and it was the most tremendous privilege to have been able to consider him a dear colleague and friend." His full tribute is HERE.


BOOK REVIEW: Evan Guilford-Blake - American Blues

Evan Guilford-Blake - American Blues
(Holland House, 220pp., £14.99. Review by Chris Parker)

This collection of five short stories from US playwright/poet/non-fiction writer Evan Guilford-Blake focuses on people in extremis: a dying saxophonist (‘Sonny’s Blues’), a mentally handicapped young adult and his psychopathic brother (‘Tio’s Blues’), a victim of a racially aggravated assault (‘Nighthawks’), an unemployed man unable to prevent his life disintegrating (‘Animation’) and the self-deluding inhabitants of an apartment complex whose lives fatally intertwine (‘The Easy Lovin’ Blues’). Jazz provides not only the soundtrack for these lives, but also – more importantly – the emotional and psychic energy infusing them. Of most immediate interest to jazz aficionados will be the collection’s opening story, ‘Sonny’s Blues’, which fictionalises the final days of Sonny Criss, his last couple of gigs, his relationships with a topless dancer and a thinly disguised Hampton Hawes, his [spoiler alert for those unfamiliar with Criss’s tragic end] eventual suicide while ‘Now’s the Time’ plays in the background. Although those who are allergic to what might, for (over-)simplicity’s sake, be referred to as the Geoff Dyer view of jazz musicians (doomed geniuses and social misfits – see But Beautiful, passim) may be initially suspicious, Guilford-Blake handles his material with enough sensitivity and verve (his ear for dialogue – unsurprisingly, given his track record as a playwright – fine-tuned) to allay such apprehension.

The content of these stories may be uncompromisingly specific (sexual abuse, incest, sadomasochism, racist assault and murder are all unflinchingly confronted), but the humanity and tenderness with which they are imbued (jazz playing a crucial role here – ‘a great skein of notes woven into a crazy quilt of such otherwise-inexpressible beauty that it can only exist because he weaves it’) render them universally relevant and American Blues is, as a consequence, a compellingly readable evocation of a hard, unforgiving world fitfully illuminated not only by art, but also by small acts of solidarity and kindness.


REVIEW: Jamie Cullum at Ronnie Scott's

Jamie Cullum
(Ronnie Scott's. 17th September 2014. First house, first night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

History lesson. In January 2010, BBC Radio 2 Controller Lewis Carnie accepted an invitation to speak at a very tetchy public debate on the Jazz and the BBC. At that meeting, he made an announcement which we reported HERE:

"Jamie Cullum will take over the 7pm slot on Tuesdays on Radio 2 from April 7th."

In theory, Cullum's weekly radio show might have lasted just a few weeks, but it has continued. It has built its audience, and is now extensively syndicated overseas. Doing the show every week has dictated the music Cullum listens to - a lot more jazz - and the people he meets and talks about music with, for the show. Two direct consequences have been a new album, Interlude, and a tour this autumn of of jazz clubs in London, New York, Tokyo, Amsterdam...

I interviewed him yesterday,  we'll have more about the thinking behind it, and the people involved - notably Ben Lamdin -  but the results as seen in Ronnie Scott's last night were fabulous. I don't believe a single person can have walked away from that show without being completely won over, heart-warmed, and energized.

One could try to analyze what and how it is that Jamie Cullum connects with audiences - down-to-earth, endearing reticence? sincerity? not trying to be someone he isn't? - but the plain fact is that he works at it, he delivers and he does, whether it's a crowd of 55,000 in San Sebastian, or just over 200 of us last night.

The performance trademarks and the singing/songwriting side are not forgotten. Towards the end of the set came the the obligatory leap from the Yamaha piano in When I get Famous, the fast hand-clapping and pogo-ing in Mixtape. Nevertheless, there is a deliberate attempt to connect an audience to great songs, to classic performances. "We ripped it" was an unashamed reference to the Tony Bennett/ Bill Evans version of Make Someone Happy, performed as a duo with Jason Rebello. Cullum also had a fabulous band on display, led by Tom Richards - hat-tip for some fine arrangements - with top-notch people in every section. The lower end of the sound spectrum was particularly impressive, with James Allsopp fluent and strong on both bass clarinet and baritone sax, and the authoritative huge boss sound of Mark Frost on bass trombone definitely stays in my ear this morning.

The show is not slavish album recreation. On the album Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood is a delightful duet with Gregory Porter in which two gentle nice-guys vie for the attention of the same girl by being kinder-than-you. As a solo song, it was sassier and far more urgent.

A clear by-product of the power and reach of Jamie Cullum's Radio 2 Programme is that it can raise the profile for UK artists. Natalie Williams, who gave the early set, acknowledged the support Jamie had given her. She mostly sang songs from last year's Kickstarter-funded album Where You Are. She also performed one characterful and completely new song Little Did I Know which showed off a powerful and gravelly basso register which certainly took me by surprise. More please. Jobim's Waters of March had her trio of Phil Peskett Rob Mullarkey and James Maddren enjoying the cross-rhythms. It was then on to more familiar Soul Family territory for Jealous Guy with a lively funky bass solo.


Sack O' Woe
Seers Tower
Lovesick Blues
Don't Stop the Music
Don't let me be misunderstood
Good Morning Heartache
Don't You Know
Losing You (Randy Newman)
You and Me are Gone
When I Get Famous
Make Someone Happy


Jamie Cullum - piano/vocals
Tom Richards - Sax/keys/vocals
Rory Simmons - Trumpet/guitar
Brad Webb - drums/vocals
Loz Garratt - bass/vocals


Tom Walsh, Tom Rees-Roberts, Fulvio Sigurta (trumpets)
Barnaby Dickinson, Neil Sidwell, TomWhite , Mark Frost (trombones)
Simon Allen, Claire McInerney, Tom Challenger, James Allsop (reeds/saxes)
Jason Rebello (piano/guest)

INTERLUDE (Island Records) is released in the UK on October 6th


REPORT/PHOTOS: Steve Waterman Septet at the Birley Centre,Eastbourne

Steve Waterman Septet at Birley Centre, Eastbourne
Photo Credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz

Brian O'Connor reports from the second jazz gig at a new venue:

The Birley Centre opened in Eastbourne a couple of years ago. Part of Eastbourne College, it is a small theatre complex devoted to the arts. When it comes to music, classical is dominant. However, thanks to Musical Director Nick Parrans-Smith, ably assisted by Annette Keen, who has been promoting jazz in the area for many years, jazz itself is beginning to be seen and heard. Three months ago Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe successfully opened what is hoped to become a regular series of gigs. Yesterday, Tuesday, a second gig was performed by the Steve Waterman Septet.

Dave O'Higgins, Dave Barry, Birley Centre, Eastbourne
Photo Credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz

The line-up consisted of, Steve Waterman, trumpet; Mark Nightingale, trombone; Dave O’Higgins, tenor sax, Alan Barnes, baritone sax, Gareth Williams, piano; Alec Dankworth, bass; and Dave Barry, drums. Unbeatable.

They played tunes mainly from the Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, and Herbie Hancock era, with one superb 20 minute tribute to Buddy Bolden, Red Vest Man, written by Steve Waterman himself.

An incredible evening, and with the right support this could become a regular and very welcome venue on the jazz circuit.
Alec Dankworth, Dave Barry, Alan Barnes, Mark Nightingale,
Steve Waterman,Dave O'Higgins. Birley Centre, Eastbourne
Photo Credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Concert Celebrating Ten Years of the Royal Academy of Music Junior Jazz Department (Kings Place Oct 4th)

Nick Smart (foreground) and members of the RAM JJD in 2004
Photo courtesy of Tommy Andrews

In anticipation of a concert celebrating the first ten years of the Royal Academy Junior Jazz Department, at Kings Place on October 4th, Sebastian interviewed the RAM's Head of Jazz, Nick Smart.

LondonJazz News: Nick, you were involved with the RAM JJD right from the start, but where did the idea come from?

Nick Smart: I have to give full credit here to Gerard Presencer, head of jazz at the Academy at the time. It was the end of 2002, following the Academy auditions, when Gerard approached me to say it was becoming more and more apparent that the quality of education young players were receiving before the age of 18 was extremely mixed across the country. Outside of the well-established to conservatoire, Chethams/Purcell School etc, it was simply a case of luck as to whether a young musician happened to grow up in an area where there was a good jazz teacher. I was running a Saturday morning jazz course in Bedford in those days and Gerard, who knew me well anyway, felt that the students I had been teaching were suitably prepared and capable. So in 2003 Gerard invited me to establish the Junior Academy Jazz programme to provide a dedicated learning environment to help young players learn more about jazz and if they wanted to, get them up to the level where they could apply to continue studying at music college.

LJN: And you probably remember the first students through the door? 

NS: Indeed I do, it was not a very forgettable year for a start and weirdly, almost the whole band came from Norwich! This was the line-up of the first intake in September 2003:

Kit Downes - piano
Josh Blackmore - drums
Sam White - bass
Toby Seed and Luke Hellebronth - guitar
Freddie Gavita - trumpet
Tom Stone, Tommy Andrews and Nick Carter - saxophones

We were very fortunate that this first band had so many incredible players in it, I am sure it helped establish the reputation of the course so quickly as being THE place for young players wanting to go on to college. Since then the course has a virtually 100% record of getting students into one of the main jazz courses if that's what they want to do. We had a lot of fun in that initial band, they were a great bunch and at the end of their first year in May 2004 we played our first proper gig at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (inevitably!) with Tim Garland as a special guest. I still have recordings, I'll sell them one day! (see embarrassing pic of the band at that time, courtesy Tommy Andrews- above).

LJN: Some highlights /milestones along the way?

NS: Well since we set up it became obvious very quickly that we were going to need to set up a second band, and then a third band which Simon Colam taught (and still does), so by the end of that first year we were up to three bands which is where it has remained ever since. One of the most memorable things we did was to invite Kenny Wheeler to be the patron of the course, we played a concert with him at Pizza Express where the position was officially announced. He came in at least once a year and played and talked to students, very special memories.

L-R: Nick Smart, Gareth Lockrane, Mike Walker, Simon Colam

We played concerts at Ronnie Scott's every summer with different special guests, we had one with Gerard, one with John Parricelli, with Soweto Kinch, one with Kenny Wheeler again plus Norma Winstone on that occasion. Since then (under Gareth Lockrane's directorship) there have been concerts with Stan Sulzmann, Tim Garland and Mike Walker (photo above).

We would also hold these special kind of "band residency" days where we'd all be together for the whole Saturday with an ensemble, The first was with the Perfect Houseplants, then we had Stan's NEON group, Bobby Wellins' quartet, and Gareth has run them with Iain Ballamy's ANORAK, Jason Rebello/Jean Toussaint Quartet and Pete King. It's amazing when you list it all out like that, they've had some incredible experiences throughout the last 10 years. That's not even including days with Joe Lovano and the "Daves" Liebman, Holland and Douglas!

LJN: Regrets? Too few to mention? 

NS: Well personally it was a great sadness for me to finally have to move on and leave the position, it was such a rewarding job and something I remain incredibly proud of. In 2010 when I was appointed head of jazz at the main Academy it was just too  much (not to mention probably inappropriate) to keep on both positions, so at Christmas that year we were delighted to appoint Gareth Lockrane the new director of Junior Jazz. He has been amazing in that role and continually inspires the young players with his passion for the music, and obviously his astonishing abilities on the instrument! It was always a shame we were not able to expand more but in the end the available space in the building would just not allow it, and on the plus side it has meant we have been able to keep the standard high and maintain a close-knit community.

LJN: As you said, Gareth Lockrane now runs it but do you still have an involvement ?

NS: Gareth and I talk frequently about the students and who is coming and going, what projects are planned and so on. I try to pop in as often as possible and make the concerts, the atmosphere is still every bit as exciting as I remember it. I also see a lot of the players through the National Youth Jazz Collective which I am very involved in, many of the guys do Junior Academy and the NYJC projects.

LJN: What are the plans for October 4th?

NS: Well the opportunity arose to do this concert and Gareth and I thought it would be great to celebrate 10 full years of the Junior Jazz course, since the first group "graduated" in summer 2004.

We wanted this to be a collaboration of various ex students from throughout the years, book-ended by a reunion of the original class of 2003, and the most recent graduates of June 2014. So Kit Downes et al from the original group are coming back together, a couple of them couldn't make it but we have more than a sufficient pool of Jnr jazz deps on hand, bassist of the moment Tim Thornton will be stepping in and so will drummer Dave Hamblett.

We have a whole host of mixed ensembles taken from across the years featuring rhythm section players including James Opstad, Flo Moore, Ben Brown, Lizy Exell, Ralph Wyld and the musical phenomenon that is Jacob Collier! Alongside horn players including trumpet star Tom Walsh, Tom Barford, Jim Gold, Nubya Garcia and Rosie Turton.

LJN: What will you/they be playing?

Nick Smart: We'll be playing a mixture of repertoire from across the years including some old Junior Jazz favourites from Kenny Wheeler and Dave Holland, original pieces by Jacob Collier and Kit Downes, and some of the jazz classics we all hold dear.

It is going to be a truly memorable evening and no finer demonstration of what an exciting and vibrant time this is for the music and the generation of players currently taking on the mantle.



Preview: FIRE! Orchestra / INTERVIEW: Mats Gustafsson (The Laundry, Hackney, 26th Sept)

Mats Gustafsson. Drawing by Geoff Winston.
© 2014. All Rights Reserved

Preview: FIRE! Orchestra
(The Laundry, 26 September 2014; preview/interview with Mats Gustafsson and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Mats Gustafsson, in this interview with Geoff Winston, gives the inside track on the Fire! Orchestra adventure which will be rolling in to The Laundry venue in Hackney on 26 September, as part of the Transcender festival, jointly promoted by Cafe Oto and the Barbican.

Audiences in London have appreciated Mats Gustafsson’s visits here in both small groups and as solo performer.  Recent highlights have included collaborations with Thurston Moore and other great improvisers, and in trios including The Thing and the Fire! Trio (with Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin), as well as his participation in the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet.

This being something on an altogether grander scale, Geoff first asked him about the different challenges of a large venture such as FIRE! : 

Geoff Winston: How did you make the jump from a trio to a 28 piece orchestra (plus 2 engineers)?

Mats Gustafsson: Well, it was a typical 3am decision… just chilling in a bar after a long European tour. After the last gig, having some drinks together and dreaming about the future. The idea came to all 3 of us at the same time: ‘Why not gather all our friends in Stockholm and just play FIRE! music. Just starting the year with a FIRE! party!’

And so we did. It was a huge success from the first note. Audience going berserk. People crying, dancing and misbehaving. It is an amazing beast, the Fire! Orchestra. And so inspiring to work with so many strong individuals, from so many different backgrounds. The idea of getting all our friends together was a good one, we found out, since they all represent our various interests and dedications in creative music, be it contemporary music, noise, free jazz, alt rock and all other related activities.

CD cover for Enter (Courtesy Rune Grammofon)
GW: At this concert will you concentrate solely on the new composition, Enter, the work on the new Fire! Orchestra CD, which follows the first CD, Exit (both on Rune Grammofon)?

MG: Yes, we will make a new version of Enter. Things do change from concert to concert. I do quite a lot of conduction and a lot of freer sections, so there are always new things going on.

GW: The intense moods and references on Enter cut across all kinds of music with strong bases in jazz and rock, but embrace much else from free passages to crisp, restrained brass work, and take on board vocals, both conventional (in English) and impressionistic. Does this range reflect your personal interests - obsessions, even?

MG: Yes, exactly. All the individual members of the orchestra are really coming from all different directions of music. Whatever kicks our minds and butts. Whatever music that challenges us in the trio. Whichever musicians make us burn.

The network of musicians and groups that are built around the trio Fire! is pretty intense and we plan to expand that universe as we go. These are all favourite musicians of ours. The personnel changes slightly from tour to tour, because of the Fire! Orchestra baby boom and other commitments, but the core of the ensemble is still the same. Approx 30 musicians, two engineers and a tour manager to keep under control!

GW: How is the structure decided? Is it down to you alone to compose the riffs and create the format within which the other 27 musicians operate over its hour-long duration - or is it a collaborative composition shared with Johan and Andreas and others?

MG: Enter is co-composed by the trio Fire! and singer Mariam Wallentin. We all came up with riffs, rhythms, melodies, arrangements, chorals and ideas on how to structure the music. Mariam wrote the lyrics, and we just brainstormed it all together.

I made a graphic score that represents what we discussed together. During the piece I can change the path of the music with my conductions and signals. It is all actually a very democratic (whatever that word means nowadays!) process and this is the way we work in Fire!. From the start of the group until the bitter end, whenever that shows up. The other members of the Orchestra are, of course, actively discussing further possibilities of the music during rehearsals, soundchecks, barhangs, breakfasts and other related activities. It is all open.

But to be able to control the music a bit, and to do Fire! music – we felt that we needed a clear structure to start from and to deal with. The next piece we’ll do, will be a different story, of course….

GW:Are there specific scores - graphic and otherwise - which the musicians work from?

MG: Yes, one graphic score with instructions. And quite a lot of conduction to be able to open shit up.

GW:Are there many opportunities to rehearse?

MG: With 28 musicians and people living in Stockholm, Oslo, Berlin, Nickelsdorf, Lund, Göteborg, Copenhagen? No, this is hard! We wish we could do that. But economically it is just impossible. We are willing to discuss this with anybody who wants to put money into the band, so that we can rehearse and tour frequently!

It is, anyway, still quite unreal that we are doing this project at all. We thought it would just be a one-off concert in Stockholm with our friends, playing for our friends - and see now, what is going on! Hilarious! But, this is an important part of the Orchestra, to do the impossible, in these times of confusion and stupidities, globally and locally, it IS important to do things. TO DO things. We try. And we enjoy trying.

GW:I am interested to know why you have focused on the mechanism of fairly heavy riffs to bind the whole concept. Can you explain how these work as compositional devices in this context?

MG: This is the main element in the Fire! trio. The riff-based structures, the repetition and how to move the energy within the structure. How to lock a groove and open it up without losing direction, focus or energy. So, we took that concept straight into the universe of the Orchestra.

FIRE! Orchestra. Photo credit: Micke Keysendal. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Of course, there are endless possibilities with a beast of 28 musicians. You can really do anything with musicians on this level. And that is also a really important factor in the music of the Orchestra, not to overdo it. To restrain and let the music come first. To find the balance on how to use the individual voices….

The solo capabilities in this ensemble are amazing. But we can’t have all 28 soloing in every version of the piece; it would become something else, and much more predictable. So, the order is decided in an instant by the conductor, depending on what has happened previously in the piece.

GW: There are great brass arrangements - so light and tight - in contrast to some of the dense, loose passages. Can you tell us about these?

MG: The brass arrangements are made by our great trombone hero, Mats Äleklint. We only need one trombone in the Orchestra, and Mats is the strongest trombone player I have ever worked with, musically and volume-wise. He is also a fantastic arranger. I wrote and arranged the choral section, but all the other horn arrangements are made by the other Mats.

GW: And the vocals - who has written the words, and is there a verbal theme/concept?

MG: Mariam wrote the lyrics which were loosely inspired by a text made by the great Joe McPhee. But, basically, it’s from Mariam’s mind and soul. She writes great texts, and is very inspiring to work with when she guests in the trio from time to time. The singers worked together to find the best possible arrangements for the vocals, and they each have a specific text to work with, which they can use in any way they feel like.

GW: You have previously mentioned key inspirations, including Centipede, Sun Ra, Carla Bley and G L Unit. What is it about these (and other) radical big bands that particularly appeals to you? And do other big bands (Ellington, Basie) figure in your thinking?

MG: Oh, yes. The history is the history. The element that we always have to deal with. Whether you like it or not - and I love it. The great orchestras of Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Mingus, John Kirby, Harry Arnold, they all affect what we do. How can we avoid it? They are all great sources of inspiration.

It is just a very thrilling challenge to work with a large orchestra. To work only freely is very, very hard, and that is obvious if you look at the history of free improvisation in large units. There are some exceptions with larger bands that managed to play free improvisation in a large context, like the larger groups of Günter Christmann and Derek Bailey, but, in general, it is a hard thing. And that IS the challenge. And if we – and I, personally – don’t feel challenged by it… we’d rather stay at home, dealing with our vinyl collections.

The real challenge is to balance the pre-structured/composed material with the freer passages. To make the friction between them work. The friction itself creates new platforms to work with, and against.

GW: Is there a reason that many of these bands date back to the late 60s and the 70s?

MG: Not really. It is mostly a musical challenge. The urge of doing it in a larger context. But, yes, it was another time. Different energy, different possibilities. But, I think there has never been as important and valid a time as now to really make it happen, to work in a context that shouldn’t be possible, from logistical and economic points of view.

In the 60s and 70s there was still a lot of exploration to do. The meeting between the prog/psych rock and the freer possibilities of jazz/improvised music, and also the frictions created with the infusion of electronic music as well as written contemporary music. It is all about the friction, the energy. The meeting of traditions and thoughts. But, in the history of jazz-related music, there have always been large groups and will always be. We need that shit to be explored even more.

GW: For a particular section of Enter, Joe McPhee is also singled out as the specific inspiration, and so is a track from the Beatles’ Revolver LP. Could you tell us more about how they impacted on the creative process, and how this influence was absorbed in to the concept?

MG: Joe McPhee wrote an initial text for us, that Mariam took apart and recreated it as something of her own which she later gave back to us to work with. So, that was the main source of inspiration. Joe is the man. One of the most beautiful human beings on this planet. I have no words. His music and his mind is with me and us, all the time.

Beatles? That is a car, isn’t it ? Seriously… we have gotten reviews and comments about using a Beatles quote on this record. Which could be good, or bad, depending on who you are. But there are no references or ideas of using their music at all, in the context of this piece. I hear so many other sources of inspiration in this music, that are much more obvious for us… Bubble Puppy, Mecki Mark Men, Bengt Nordström, Codeine, Gal Costa… or maybe it is just the way that Andreas and Simon dress?

GW:How did you select the excellent musicians and get them on board, and how do they feel about constantly crossing from their comfort zones in to other genres?

MG: You need to ask them individually about that! They are still with us - and they aren’t doing this project because of money, so, perhaps there are still some elements of the music that they all like. Some of them are, of course, very familiar with large group improvisations - and some are not.

We just love that MIX of different backgrounds, interests and perspectives. These are our favourite Swedish musicians, and they surely kick ass, in the context of the Orchestra - and outside as well!

To have people from groups as diverse as Ass, Silverbullit, Tape, Nacka Forum, GUSH, Tonbruket, Dungen, Atomic, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Attack and others is just… fanfuckintastic!

There are so many great musicians within our three individual networks. So, we just invited the first ones that came to our minds. The problem is that there are many, many more in Sweden. We could put together a really huge Orchestra with 100 members at some point. But, so far, I’m the only one into this idea! But I’m working on convincing the others about the greatness of such a stupid thing.

In one way or the other, we’ll try to keep the Orchestra together. For yearly adventures, preferably in early January. Which was the starting point of the Orchestra. To meet after the winter weekends and just PLAY!

GW: You have managed to take the Fire! Orchestra on a highly successful tour in Europe - how does this work? Not only logistically (you have talked of three green buses) but also financially? Are there sponsors who help make it happen?

MG: Without our great engineers - Mikael Werliin: sound genius! - and our amazing tour manager and photographer, Micke Keysendal – it wouldn’t have been possible.

We are a Swedish group, not Norwegian. So, we don’t have unlimited support money. We managed to get some travel costs covered for this year from the Swedish Arts Council (Musikverket) – but in previous years we managed without. Just because we HAD to. For the future… we have no idea. But again, we’ll make it happen! There are shitloads of music and places to explore!

GW:Do small ensembles emerge from the body of the orchestra - something which Barry Guy and Peter Brötzmann have each explored at their Cafe Oto concerts - or will you concentrate purely on the full orchestra at the concert at The Laundry?

MG: Within the context of this concert, there will be just the Orchestra. If there would have been more time and a different budget around… different possibilities emerge. We were initially talking to Cafe Oto about doing small groups as well. But, it just wasn’t possible this time. Logistically, this unit is a handful!

There is always a next time… if you want. We are working on it. During the tours we do always have a first set with small groups or soloists. We will keep this tradition. It is highly inspirational to hear the musicians play before the Orchestra. This, of course, affects the whole thing. That is the way it should be.

GW:How much do individuals shape the piece at each performance, and does each performance take on a life that deviates from the central score?

MG: Oh yes, it all differs from concert to concert. That is the nature of music and human beings. Of life. Different soloists in the piece every night, and also at different sections in the piece. Whatever needs to be done. It is all instant decisions. But, of course, yesterday’s concert affects today’s; it is an ongoing process. I love that.

GW: You will be conducting, and using conduction techniques to guide and exercise control over the ensemble. How much opportunity will you have to play sax - bari or tenor - and when you do, does another musician take the captain’s arm band for these passages?

MG: Yeah, I feel sometimes like a windmill on the loose… a wind turbine eating the wrong mushrooms. There is so much activity going on. It is truly fantastic to stand there in front of all the great people, with the endless possibilities there are within the conduction techniques. Trying hard not to overdo it and just support the music. To put ENERGY into the thing. I’m usually playing tenor sax with the Orchestra, since we already have two amazing bari players in the band. Usually I end up playing with Mariam during her section. That riff she did for that is just KILLING!!! I just can’t resist joining in!

GW:I just wanted to ask about the exclamation mark after 'Fire', which is great - how did that arrive?

MG: This is all the fault of one of the trumpet players! Magnus Broo, the mad jazz bee, has always used the expression ‘FIRE!’ when he is positive about something (we think that is why he says it, at least), and that was clearly with an exclamation mark! We asked him for permission to use it as our band name. He agreed happily with a cheerful ‘Fire!’.

GW:And, finally, how did your well-known interest in obscure and crucial vinyl start - and how do you feed the obsession?

MG: I feed it every day. This is the sole reason why I tour these days. To feed my discaholism. To hunt. Every day. Endless search.‘One piece of vinyl per day keeps the doctor away,’ as my friend, Olof Madsen, puts it. It is a long story. Some day it will be told. We can meet at Rough Trade, Reckless, Honest Jon’s or at Kristina Records and I can tell you part of that story.

Hit the wall. Hit the wall. That always comes first. Hit the wall (and the new arrivals)!

Fire! Orchestra personnel

Mariam Wallentin, Simon Ohlsson, Sofia Jernberg (voice), Niklas Barnö, Magnus Broo, Goran Kajfes, Emil Strandberg (trumpet), Mats Äleklint (trombone), Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), Anna Högberg (alto sax), Mats Gustafsson, Elin Larsson, Malin Wättring (tenor sax), Jonas Kullhammar (bass sax), Martin Küchen (baritone sax), Fredrik Ljungkvist (baritone sax, clarinet), Christer Bothén (bass clarinet, guimbri), Andreas Söderström, Sören Runolf, David Stackenäs (guitar), Sten Sandell (synthesizer and harmonium, piano), Martin Hederos, (organ, keyboards), Joachim Nordwall (electronics), Johan Berthling (el bass), Joel Grip, Dan Berglund (bass), Andreas Werliin, Johan Holmegard, Raymond Strid (drums)

Fire! Orchestra website / 'Enter' CD/LP is on Rune Grammofon

Tickets for the Laundry concert, 26 September


INTERVIEW / PREVIEW : Shabaka Hutchings - The Comet is Coming. (Rich Mix 2nd Oct/ Match&Fuse)

Shabaka Hutchings

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutching has a newly-formed band The Comet is Coming, which will be performing as part of the Match&Fuse festival on Friday 2nd October at Rich Mix. 

The band, a collaboration between Hutchings on saxophone, Dan Leavers (Danalogue) on synths and keys and Maxwell Hallett (Betamax) on drums, brings together the worlds of electronics and free improvisation with echos of 80s dance music and psych-rock. Rachel Maby interviewed him:

Rachel Maby: Can you describe the band’s compositional approach?

Shabaka Hutchings: We just jam, but with the intention of making tunes spontaneously. Dan and Maxwell have both got really compositional heads - they see things in terms of bands and tunes. So we’ll just play and the forms will come out because we think on the same level in terms of where things rise and fall.

RM: You’re mostly associated with jazz and classical music venues, so what has steered you towards the electronics and London warehouse rave scene with this band?

SH: I’m a fan of constant activity... I’m not consciously deciding to specify, it’s just the way that it goes. It’s the music that I listen to, they’re the people that I hang out with and the places that I go to to listen to music… I don’t see any hierarchy in terms of art music or whatever. If I choose to listen to more electronica or psych-rock, it’s not a lesser thing than listening to contemporary jazz.

RM: Match&Fuse have commissioned you to write a piece for the band – how has the way you’ve composed for this group compare to your previous commissions, such as your compositions for the BBC Concert orchestra and Ligeti string quartet?

SH: When I write it’s quite a simple process…I just hear everything as I want it and then I just write it. It sounds reductionist when I say it like that, but I sit down in the right zone and it will just all come at once...I do a lot of preparation before I write, in regard to what I choose to listen to. So when I say I free-write it’s not like I just close my eyes and it happens - I try to train my mind and write what I want to happen…In the prior weeks to writing I’ll be thinking about it - what I should be doing and what could be happening - so that when I finally sit down I already have all the ideas.

The Comet is Coming have yet to release their debut album, but examples of their music can be heard on Shabaka Hutchings’ soundcloud

Tickets to the Match&Fuse gig


CD REVIEW: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra / Bobby Wellins - Culloden Moor Suite

CD REVIEW Scottish National Jazz Orchestra / Bobby Wellins - Culloden Moor Suite
(Spartacus Records STS020 . CD Review by Mark McKergow)

A 25 year-old Bobby Wellins wrote The Culloden Moor Suite in 1961, having been inspired by stories of the 1746 battle which signalled the destruction of the Highland way of life. Now in 2014 the veteran Scottish saxophonist revisits the five-part work with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in a new orchestration by Florian Ross.

From the atmospheric opening, it is instantly clear that Wellins has lost none of his performing touch, his opening tenor lines utterly distinctive and evocative, establishing the tone for what is to come. The broad arc of the music is clearly set, with the titles Gathering – March – Battle – Aftermath – Epilogue pointing the way to a satisfying musical whole. The moment during Gathering when SNJO leader Tommy Smith takes over the lead is delightful, a new voice on the same instrument which draws the listener to greater attention and appreciation.

March starts as a blues-march, swaggering and bouncing with a Blakey-esque feel, before surprising us with rapid movements from ominous pauses to quick-fire swinging big band licks to complex through-written passages. The searing trumpet of Tom MacNiven follows Wellins with a bright solo turn here, until Alyn Cosker’s drums mark a return to march time in preparation for the battle ahead. Cosker’s is a key voice through the work, leading the way from sparse soundscapes through tight time to ebullient fills and solo passages.

Battle is unsurprisingly the most dissonant and edgy piece, which nonetheless jerks the listener to renewed attention with sudden stops and starts, as if the fight might have been over and then recommences. There is a great deal to enjoy about the SNJO’s ensemble work, both well-performed and well-recorded, with the arrangements always in support of the musical endeavour rather than dominating.

The closing Aftermath and Epilogue have, of course, a large element of lament about them. Wellins sustains his playing very well here, and we can feel his sorrow and despair at the outcome. Epilogue has a twist though – a positive and new theme emerges in the closing moments which looks somehow to the future, the icing on an already enjoyable cake.

At 40 minutes this is not a long work by CD-era standards, but I can see it providing an excellent concert set and a fulfilling home listening experience. I hope we won’t have to wait till the next referendum campaign to see SNJO tackling more of this musical heritage. Indeed this CD pushes the case strongly that Bobby Wellins' other suite inspired by his Scottish roots, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, with chorus, and which exists in a performing version by Pete Churchill, must also be due for a recording.


CD REVIEW: Charlie Haden & Jim Hall - Charlie Haden-Jim Hall

Charlie Haden & Jim Hall – Charlie Haden-Jim Hall
(Impulse! / Renaissance. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Bass icon Charlie Haden and guitar legend Jim Hall were well known for working in duet format, but this previously-unissued CD from the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July 1990 documents their first concert-length recording together. At the time, Hall was 59 years old and Haden was approaching 53.

Haden’s beautiful introduction to Bemsha Swing leads into Hall’s statement that develops from a single-note line into an excursion that’s packed with sparse (but not always simple) chords. In an accompanying role, Haden is rhythmically rock-solid and entirely “inside”, although his choice of notes makes you sit up and take notice. His solo is much more flexible.

Clean guitar chimes open Haden’s wistful and touching First Song. After arguably the best bass feature on the album, Hall resumes and does full justice to the composition right through to the final cadence.

Ornette Coleman’s blues Turnaround is one of the first things I heard in my long journey of jazz discovery, played by Haden in duo with the troubled pianist Hampton Hawes. The almost unbearable soulfulness of that ecstatic cut (from “The Golden Number”) is missing here, but Haden and Hall work well together. The former has symmetry and drive, and the latter brims with brio.

Haden’s folky side surfaces on Hall’s attractive Down from Antigua, and many will find the tenderness of Body and Soul and Skylark appealing. But the anticipated frisson created by the bassist’s emotionalism and the guitarist’s more measured style rarely results in inspiration. Big Blues starts well, as Hall crams in various tonal and rhythmic devices. Somehow, though, it stalls. Haden solos while Hall strums gently in the background. They sound completely at odds, and the communication that you might expect is absent.

Both men are thinkers and swingers, although for much of the time they skirt tentatively around the melodies, as if they are waiting for the other to do something. It’s great to hear a live recording “as it happened”, but, at 76 minutes, this is too long and few pieces in the latter stages of the concert – not even the more exploratory In the Moment - match the splendid earlier tunes.

While this collaboration may not come close to, say, Hall’s duets with Bill Evans, or Haden’s with Ornette Coleman, there are many fascinating passages in this historic encounter between two greatly missed jazz masters.


NEWS: Peter Whittingham Award now open for applications

Help Musicians UK, the recently re-branded Musicians Benevolent Fund, is inviting applications for this year's Peter Whittingham Award, which it administers. The main criteria for entry are that applicants should be either in the first two years of a career or on a full time jazz course, and need to have been resident in the UK for five years prior to applying. The annual prizes are worth £4,000.

There is normally a main award and a smaller development award. The deadline for applications is 7th November. The judging round is on 5th December.

Full information and criteria HERE

The last winner was Phil Meadows, with a Development Award going to Elliot Galvin.
The 2012 award went to Reuben Fowler with a Developmant Award going to Ollie Howell.

LINKS: 2013 News story
2012 News Story


REVIEW: A Tribute to ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ at Cadogan Hall

Callum Au (trombone) at Cadogan Hall, September 2014
Photo credit: Wayne McIntyre

A Tribute to ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ 
(Cadogan Hall, 14th September 2014. Review by Peter Vacher)

How’s this for a plan? The Jazz Repertory Company’s Richard Pite’s aim was to recreate Jazz At The Philharmonic in facsimile form, using the best local talent, and thereby to pay due homage to these ground-breaking shows and incidentally, their instigator, Norman Granz. Those of us old enough to remember a time when such all-star US troupes came into town, sweeping all before them, Oscar and Ella at the forefront, might have given Pite’s dream short shrift but he has form when it comes to this kind of adventure. More to the point he has a retinue of able players and vocalists who can, momentarily, take you back to a time when a package show like JATP could offer you all that was best yet sometimes vainglorious about this music.

The avuncular Pite, split in two as part-time front-man and drummer, had badged the show as a 70thanniversary celebration and programmed it to follow JATP’s time-honoured routine. Thus pianist Nick Dawson, with bassist Joe Pettit and guitarist Nigel Price, opened as representing the Oscar Peterson Trio and my, what a fist they made of it. Dawson played like a man possessed, his keyboard dash and flow of ideas on Honeysuckle Rose like OP on fast-forward. The trio stayed on [with drummer Elliot Henshaw added] for Nicola Emmanuelle’s all-too short Ella-inspired set, this singer’s vibrato wider than Ella’s, her tonal warmth a delight and swing savvy uppermost on It’s Alright With Me. And with me, too.

Tenorist Pete Long, with Pite on drums, and Dawson rallying round, then offered their version of the Gene Krupa Trio, all spirited fun although Long’s emulation of Charlie Ventura was too near parody for my taste. Georgina Jackson was then given the perhaps unenviable task of evoking Billie Holiday in a three-song mini-set, with an augmented band. Nicely done, even if her US-accent distracted me for a minute, but again her innate jazz feeling and sheer vocal élan won the day. As Red Allen used to say, ‘Nice’. And then came the first half closer – The Three Tenors, that’s Long, playing himself this time, Ray Gelato and Dean Masser, all three ‘Brylcreamed and smartly-suited’, as Pite put it, again with the masterly Dawson, Price, whose every solo was a startler, Petit and drumming dynamo Henshaw. Bristling, hard-swinging, surging, big-toned, competitive, the dictionary can hardly do it justice, what with Henshaw’s tireless drive and the rhythm section’s vital swing. Each man on song, trading choruses, eights, fours, riffs, you name it. What a joy.

The second half was made over to the ‘Jam Session’, with the Drum Battle between Pite and Henshaw for starters, the two men as one, the latter just edging it for me, trombonist Callum Au, trumpeters George Hogg and Tommy Walsh added to the ensemble. There followed the Ballad Medley, each player heard in turn, major-domo Long on clarinet, all of this delirium culminating in the Trumpet Battle on Sweet Georgia Brown. Here Hogg’s classy structures emerged a tad ahead of Walsh’s high-altitude forays, both young men compellingly good, as were, well, every one of them. Pite’s beatific smile throughout said it all as did this audience’s cheery approval. Quite a celebration and quite a show.

LINK: Richard Pite's preview of this show
Review of Tad Hershorn's biography of Norman Granz


RIP Joe Sample (1939 - 2014)

 Martin Chilton of the Telegraph has written in tribute to Joe Sample who died on Friday 12th September. Here, in Cologne, in concert with Randy Crawford. Sample's One Day I'll Fly Away is at 33:15.


LP REVIEW: Bill Evans – You Must Believe In Spring

Bill Evans – You Must Believe In Spring
(Warner Bros/Music On Viny MOVLP-1145. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

This is a late album in the canon of Bill Evans, recorded in 1977 and on the Warner Bros label, whereas Evans was most famously associated with Riverside and Verve, and his glory days are widely regarded as being in the 1960s. In theory, the great jazz pianist should have been a spent force by this point, with every tooth in his head removed by a British dentist between gigs at Ronnie Scott’s (to avoid the expense of dental work in the USA). He was also suffering from hepatitis and beleaguered by personal tragedies, which would culminate in the suicide of his beloved brother Harry (father of the Debby immortalised in Waltz For Debby). It was a period of decline and debacle and indeed this LP was shelved by Warner Bros and only released after Evans’s death in 1980. I certainly wouldn’t have sought it out, with its melancholy, near monochrome cover — anything but spring-like — which in fact seems to be announcing the wintry terminus of Evans’s career, and life. But that would have been my loss.

Fortunately the audiophile label Music On Vinyl have chosen to resurrect this largely forgotten record. I was ambushed by its quiet, exquisite musicality. It’s an album of startling beauty with exemplary, elegant playing in the purity of a trio setting and it displays a flawless choice of material.

B Minor Waltz is an original written by Bill Evans. It opens the album with booming bass and chiming, precise, pensive piano by Evans. Accompanied by the soft shimmering of drummer Eliot Zigmund’s brushes, Evans picks his way through the tune like a water bird on a glittering seashore. Evans was very much taken with the music of Michel Legrand, whose gift for melody deeply influenced Evans, leaving its mark on this and other compositions.

The lovely You Must Believe In Spring is by Michel Legrand himself and had its origins in the wonderful Jacques Demy film Les Demoiselles de Rochefort where it was entitled Chanson de Maxence. Evans shows his affection and admiration for Legrand in the care and emotion with which he delineates the tune, eschewing pyrotechnics. Bassist Eddie Gomez goes electric on this track and his gorgeous, poetic bass playing goes a remarkable way towards reproducing the vocal line of the original song.

Gary’s Theme, which Evans always called ‘Gary’s Waltz’, is by Gary McFarland, another tragic jazz figure (an enormously gifted vibraphonist, composer and arranger, he was poisoned with a shot of methadone in a New York bar). Evans plays it with a slow and expert melancholy, unearthing both pain and beauty. Gomez and Zigmund shadow and support him, moving through the lost terrain of memory.

This is an album shot through with elegiac, autumnal beauty. But it’s by no means all woe, and the material is varied and wide ranging. The upbeat and darkly jaunty Theme from MASH (Suicide is Painless) was a considerable hit by composer Johnny Mandel and has become something of a jazz standard thanks to a cover version by Ahmad Jamal. Given that MASH was Bill Evans’s favourite TV show (he used to watch repeats between sets in his dressing room at Ronnie Scott’s), it’s only appropriate that he should take a crack at Mandel’s theme here. Evans plays lyrical and meditative piano while Gomez’s bass kicks in to give it a propelling pulse. The mood remains impressionistic as Evans dismantles the tune, but to a great extent it remains Gomez’s piece. These sessions were the last work Eddie Gomez did with Evans — the end of an eleven year association — and there’s a sense that the bassist is pulling out all the stops to do his finest work for his long time collaborator.

This album is a lost gem and a poignant reminder, should any be needed, of the immensity of our loss when Bill Evans checked out.


PHOTOS / REPORT: 2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting

Pascal Schumacher
2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

German writer/ photographer Ralf Dombrowski is just back from the annual Luxembourg Jazz Meeting with photos and a quick pick of his highlights. He writes: 

The artist who caught the attention above all at the Luxembourg Jazz Meeting was Pascal Schumacher, (photo above) the leading vibraphonist throughout Europe at the moment.

Francesco Tristano
2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Schumacher was at the festival a pair of extremely strong projects - a quartet, and also a trio with Francesco Tristano (photo above) and Bachar Khalife.

Marly Marques, PaulFox (background
2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

A number of musicians appeared in different contexts, such as saxophonist Maxime Bender, drummer Paul Fox (pictured above with Luxembourg/Portuguese singer Marly Marques) and pianist/drummer Jérome Klein.

2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting.Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

There was an outstandingly subtle quartet with pianist Michel Reis, playing with Niels Klein, Robert Landfermann, Jonas Burgwinkel). Also worthy  of a mention are the  are the trio of Pit Dahm.

Mark Sanders
2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Also on the bill were the interesting and well-matched trio of the Luxembourg-born saxophonist Roby Glod with Andy Champion and Mark Sanders (photo above). Three like-minded very individual players seem to have found each other. Champion was powerful and possessed, following his own imperatives, while Sanders gave a very coercive pulse, constantly in close, attentive communication with the others, and Glod's free-flowing saxophone playing definitely held the listener's interest.

Grzegorz Karnas, Annemie Osborne
2014 Luxembourg Jazz Meeting. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
Also a highlight was the jocular Polish vocal acrobat Grzegorz Karnas, in a trio with Jérome Klein and the cellist Annemie Osborne (photo above).


NEWS: Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs announced for Eberhard Weber 75th Birthday Gala in Stuttgart

Eberhard Weber. Photo credit: Nadia Romanini/ECM
Details of a Gala Concert for bassist/ composer Eberhard Weber's 75th Birthday Concert have been announced at a press conference in Stuttgart today.

The gala will take place over two nights, January 23rd and 24th 2015, with the same programme being performed twice. At the first concert, the Land of Baden-Wuerttemberg will also be awarding Weber a Special Prize to honour his lifetime's work and his huge worldwide influence. Weber himself has been unable to play since suffering a stroke in 2007.

The line-up which has been assembled is phenomenal: Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs, Danny Gottlieb, Scott Colley, Paul McCandless 


- The first half of the concert will feature re-interpretations of Eberhard Weber's compositions, with soloists Gary Burton, Ralph Towner, Jan Garbarek, Danny Gottlieb and Scott Colley, with the SWR Big Band .The arrangers are Baden-Württemberg jazz composers, Steffen Schorn, Rainer Tempel, Libor Sima, Ralf Schmid. There is also also an arrangement in the first half by by Michael Gibbs.

- The second half of the concert has been conceived by Pat Metheny, who has built a new major work to be premiered around extant video footage of Eberhard Weber playing solo, and worked this into a composition. The video footage of Weber himself playing will be back-projected.

FURTHER INFORMATION: we will shortly be publishing an interview with the project's director Martin Mühleis of Sagas. The full press release in German is HERE


CD REVIEW: Franck Amsallem - Franck Amsallem sings, Vol II

Franck Amsallem - Franck Amsallem sings, Vol II
(FRAM OO2. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Jazz singers didn't really emerging onto the forefront of the music until well into the 1940s with stylists like Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme. Since then the tide has completely turned, and singers are the most popular leading lights in jazz today. Or, as the cynic would have it: "how many singers does it take to sing Black Coffee? Apparently all of them".

Moving along quickly, the internationally recognised French jazz pianist, composer and arranger, Frank Amsallem, born in Algeria, raised in Nice and - after two decades in the US - currently resident in Paris, has released his second vocal CD which features an ecclectic collection of largely American popular standards along with Jobim's Dindi and the leader's own Paris Remains in My Heart. Franck's eloquent, yet propulsively emotive and striking piano is joined by the sturdy but lyrically sensitive basswork of Sylvain Romano and the subtly driving drumming of Canadian émigré, Karl Jannuska.

What I find the most special and unique about this offering is the perfectly matched trident of original arrangements, trio concept and fluid vocals throughout. The equal sharing of these three disparate components bring about a winning alchemy resulting in a musical sum greatly outreaching its parts.

Amsallem's voice is free of pretence and the need to "jazzify" or unnecessarily affect or decorate the written theme, both melodically and lyrically. Essentially delivering the song as the composer intended while taking many liberties with the harmonies and rhythmic undercurrents. Both of which are very much the province and preserve of an arranger of which Amsallem is one of the highest order. Excellent examples of this are on the slower more ruminative songs like Tadd Dameron's If You Could See Me Now Johnny Green's Body and Soul and Henry Mancini's Two For The Road, all of which score highly from Franck's understated interpretations.

It is my contention that the two most important aspects of a jazz singers' craft are their rhythmical treatment of the melody and lyric, and the sound and tonal colour of the voice to suit the song's message. Amsallem captures this to the hilt and effectively sums up his approach with a sentence from his brief liner note. "Indeed, unlike many of my contemporaries, I adore singers and their songs". Indeed, indeed.


NEWS: New petition launched to reduce threat to established music venues by adopting the Agent of Change principle

The Music Venue Trust  has been lobbying on an important issue affecting live music since the beginning of the year. Long-established music venues are being forced to close when noise abatement notices are issued by residents of newly-built premises nearby. It is a repeat of what could have happened to the Bulls Head in Barnes in 2005 -  until Youngs Brewery decided to spend the money on soundproofing, with the result that the Bulls Head survived

There is a new  PETITION  lobbying Culture Secretary Sajid Javid to adopt the Agent of Change principle, namely that "if a music venue is in place before the residential building, the residential building would be responsible for paying for soundproofing. Likewise, if a new music venue opens in a residential area, the venue are responsible for the cost."

A previous petition by the Music Venue Trust got to 15,000 signatures, at which point it became eligible to receive a response from a DEFRA civil servant, whose response was a cop-out: the government "needs to strike a balance".

He should read some better prose, like Lord Denning's timeless judgement in the case of Miller v Jackson [1977] QB 966:

In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last 70 years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practise while the light lasts. Yet now after these 70 years a judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there any more. He has issued an injunction to stop them. He has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket. This newcomer has built, or has had built for him, a house on the edge of the cricket ground which four years ago was a field where cattle grazed. The animals did not mind the cricket. But now this adjoining field has been turned into a housing estate. The newcomer bought one of the houses on the edge of the cricket ground. No doubt the open space was a selling point. Now he complains that when a batsman hits a six the ball has been known to land in his garden or on or near his house. His wife has got so upset about it that they always go out at week-ends. They do not go into the garden when cricket is being played. They say that this is intolerable. So they asked the judge to stop the cricket being played. And the judge, much against his will, has felt that he must order the cricket to be stopped: with the consequence, I suppose, that the Lintz Cricket Club will disappear. The cricket ground will be turned to some other use. I expect for more houses or a factory. The young men will turn to other things instead of cricket. The whole village will be much the poorer. And all this because of a newcomer who has just bought a house there next to the cricket ground.

Here are some venues we have found mentioned in connection with the current lobbying. Some of them have already closed, others allegedly under threat. Please add to this list:

- A petition to save Night & Day in Manchester has nearly 75,000 signatures. - Blind Tiger in Brighton
- Freebutt in Brighton
- the 200 Club in Newport, Gwent,
 - Le Pub in Newport,


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Tierney Sutton (Ronnie Scott's, 22-23 September)

US vocalist Tierney Sutton will be at Ronnie Scott’s next week performing music from her tenth album After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Project. Nicky Schrire interviewed her:

Nicky Schrire: Your recent albums have been made with your long-term working band TSB, the Tierney Sutton Band. This album is with different people. What brought about the shift in personnel, and what have you discovered in the process of making the change?

Tierney Sutton. Doing this album with new personnel happened very organically. The TSB members were busy with other things and at the same time Peter Erskine reached out to me and said he was interested in being a part of the project—and suggested Larry Goldings on B-3—and I knew I wanted him on acoustic piano too. Also at the same time, Al Jarreau reached out about doing something with me—and I jumped at the chance to bring him on board. The whole idea began with my collaboration with the Turtle Island String Qt so that seemed completely natural. I learned so much by having new collaborators. There are muscles that you don’t use as much when you perform with the same musicians for as long as I have (OVER 20 YEARS!) so at first it was, frankly, terrifying! My band is really extraordinarily great—but it was time for me to see what it felt like to conceive of the project myself and see it through. I’m delighted with the results and with the new musical relationships I formed.

NS. Your output is beautifully consistent-both in creativity and your timeline. In fact, your Joni Mitchell album won’t be your most recent release by the time you arrive in London. It seems you’re celebrating the best of both worlds by collaborating with TSB bassist Kevin Axt and French guitarist Serge Merlaud on your new recording “Paris Sessions” (due 16 September on BFM Jazz). Serge and Kevin will be performing with you at Ronnie’s-will we hear repertoire from the new album as well as Joni gems? And did this recording come about quite organically and spontaneously in that it follows closely on the heels of “After Blue”?

TS. “Paris Sessions” was actually recorded BEFORE “After Blue” and 2 tracks on the CD are included on “After Blue”: “Don’t Go To Strangers” and “Answer me My Love”. I knew that, as part of the Joni project, I wanted to pay tribute to Joni’s jazz singing. These two songs (and one other that is on Paris Sessions but not on After Blue, Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me are great standards Joni recorded.) Kevin and I both fell in love with Serge’s playing—Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell classic jazz, and we wanted to record with him. So we came to Paris to record and knew that a few of the tracks would be included in joni project that was already in the planning stages and underway.

NS: Joni is loved by so many singers and there are tribute albums a plenty reiterating her magic as a writer and songstress. Did you have any trepidations in paying tribute to Joni with your own album?

TS: I have to say I had 30 years' worth of trepidations, that’s how long people were suggesting Joni’s material to me and it took all that time to finally decide I loved the music and felt I had something to say with it. But I have to say that all projects are fine if you fall in love with the music, which I did. Once that happens, you aren’t afraid of criticism—you know you are coming from sincerity and that’s all you can do—the rest is out of your hands.

Nicky Schrire: I love hearing you in these new configurations even though I love TSB and the sound you’ve carved out as a unit. You were also a guest with the Turtle Island Quartet, touring their program “Poets and Prayers” in 2013. Will we see the return of TSB in the near future or are you gearing up for other collaborations before reuniting?

Tierey Sutton: The TSB is talking about what we will do next and several ideas are floating around. We definitely aren’t done… and still have done some gigs together recently. In addition to that, I will be continuing to tour and work with Kevin and Serge—We are already talking about some follow-up to “Paris Sessions” that would be a swing and or latin album, AT the end of January I will be on the Jazz Cruise in the US with guitarist Larry Koonse and Flute legend Hubert Laws –we’ve been working in trio for the last several years. In addition, Mark Summer (cellist from Turtle Island Qt) and I are collaborating on a holiday program Season of Peace possibly with Christian Jacob on piano, I’ve been asked to sing with the WDR orchestra with Belgian pianist Ivan Paduart in 2015 and am also talking to violinist Mads Tolling about a collaboration. I am really happy to have many different projects going at once. It feels right and natural. And I am so blessed that they are all with such great players and people…I’d be glad to have more!

Tierney Sutton plays at Ronnie Scotts on Monday 22 September and Tuesday 23 September, shows at 8:30pm (doors open at 6pm)