CD REVIEW: Mammal Hands – Animalia



Mammal Hands – Animalia
(Gondwana GOND011. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The opening track of this debut offering from Mammal Hands, Mansions of Millions of Years is laden with repetitive hooks, jaunty keys and doubled melodies. It provides a characteristically immersive introduction to the whole album. In just over two years this tight-knit piano/drums/saxophones trio has travelled from busking the streets of Norwich to playing the concert halls of London and the green fields of Love Supreme, a journey built on the hypnotic appeal of their sound.

Animalia is, however, much more than an exercise in contemplative atmospherics. The opening track disappears with a flamenco flourish finish into the stripped back Snow Bough, a brief scripted lament told by piano and saxophone speculatively meandering in unison, with only an occasional shimmer of cymbals behind. Pianist Nick Smart then takes control on the more extended progressive rock piano-led Kandaiki. While in Spinning the Wheel the trio play on their stripped back line up, with Jesse Barrett's thumping drums stepping in from the wings on an anthemic tune with a Bad Plus tinge, the piano's driving restlessness in Bustle, the sharp percussion and eager sax melodies give an impression that Mammal Hands are a forceful sextet a la Escalandrum instead of the taut trio that they are.

Inuit Party sees a strong group develop, and then begin to descend into the abyss as saxophonist Jordan Smart transitions from his previously clean and uncomplicated sound into a more free tone.

Earnest and intense, like contemporaries Portico Quartet and their label siblings Gogo Penguin they draw from ambient, dance and electronica circle as well as classical jazz composition, yet their bass-less back line allows them to approach these common points in a unique way. The trio are piano-led: at times intentionally sparse; at times immensely rich. They range from short musical poems like Snow Bough to epic key-change-strewn improvisational rampages, such as the album closer Tiny Crumb.

On the basis of this strong and varied debut album, Mammal Hands are an extremely interesting proposition.

The Animalia London Album Launch is on Friday 7th November at Rich Mix.

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RIP Sheila Tracy (1934-2014)

Sheila Tracy


Both BBC News BBC News and Sheila Tracy's own website have confirmed that musician and broadcaster Sheila Tracy passed away yesterday 30th September. Marianne Windham writes in tribute to a much-admired and popular figure in British jazz:

I got to know Sheila Tracy just two years ago, when I was invited to join a big band which she ran, near her home in Kingswood, Surrey. Many in the band were her former colleagues and friends from her BBC days, including Barry Forgie, Bill Geldard, Duncan Lamont and Ronnie Hughes, and from their conversations during rehearsals it was obvious they had a long shared history together.

I found her rather intimidating to start with, after all this was THE Sheila Tracy - a member of Ivy Benson All Girls Band, the voice of Radio 2’s BBC Big Band Special, and the first woman newsreader on Radio 4. Who she hadn’t rubbed shoulders with over the years wasn’t worth mentioning.

Gradually I got to know her, however. I enjoyed talking to her and learning more about her - that she studied piano, trombone and violin (now that was a surprise!) at the Royal Academy, then joined the Ivy Benson All Girls Band, and from there formed a duo, with Phyl Brown, with whom she travelled all over the world as the Tracy Sisters.

But mostly of course she and other people talked about her time at the BBC. She once showed me round her studio – the walls were covered in photographs and press cuttings from her days at the Beeb. I remember quite a striking one with a youthful looking David Niven! But it was very much a working studio, and she was still hard at it even then, showing me the scripts she was preparing for her broadcasts that week for the US Station Pure Jazz Radio.

The Kingswood band is still going strong, and it’s a great pleasure to play with people who are also such a part of British jazz history. Sheila turned up every week until quite recently to look after us all, even somewhat reluctantly playing 4th trombone in the band when pressed! After she started getting ill, she talked to me sometimes about going back to her roots in Cornwall.

I am very sorry she’s no longer with us, but I am very grateful to have known her, even for such a short while. I know she will be very much missed by everyone in the Kingswood band, and by all the people whose lives she has been part of over the years.

Thank you, Sheila, for the huge legacy you have left us all.

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LP/DOWNLOAD REVIEW: Blueblut - Hurts So Gut


Blueblut - Hurts so Gut 
(blueblut1. Pay-what-you-like download/LP Review by Peter Slavid)

I have often heard it said that jazz musicians take themselves a bit too seriously, and sometimes I’m inclined to agree. But there’s not much doubt that Blueblut had as much fun making their new album – Hurts so Gut - as I had listening to it.

It’s not for the purists, but those of you familiar with Led Bib will enjoy lots of it – their drummer Mark Holub is one member of this Vienna-based trio. But the sound is very different. Pamelia Kurstin is probably not the only jazz Theremin player – but she’s certainly the best known and the only one I’ve ever come across - and her bent notes pervade this CD. The theremin is a fascinating instrument that can move from singing to screaming in an instant and can sometimes sound like lots of other instruments and at other times like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

I haven’t come across Chris Janka on guitar before but he seems to be an all round experimental sound artist who describes himself as “Flying machine maker, sound engineer, guitarist and automata creator”.

Originally Blueblut formed for a one off concert for the Vienna Room Service festival in 2013, but the trio apparently liked what they played so much that they decided to continue. By the end of the year, powered by crates of beer, curries and sweets and with open access to Chris’s basement studio, a distinct sound and album had emerged.

The first track You think is typical (but only in its unpredictability). It starts with some strange squawking, then wailing electronics, and then the voice comes in to scream “Is this what you thought it was gonna be like?” followed by a heavy rock riff and finishing up with some distorted sound. Both the sound and the words seem to set the tone for the rest of the album.

The second track Bondàge starts with a theremin wailing a melody over a solid guitar riff and a rock beat. Held together by the drums the sound then gets more frenetic and electronic before returning to the melody.

So on other tracks we might get a twisted theremin walking bass, some thrash punk guitar, a toy piano playing a nursery rhyme, strange vocal interjections, some ethereal electronic wailing, some very jolly tunes that sound like film music and through most of it lots of energetic driving drumming – and sometimes you get all that on one track.

Experimental sounds and electronics can sometimes be too overpowering and difficult. Here they are delivered with wit and a sense of fun over the driving rock rhythms that made this an easy CD to listen to.

Blueblut are on a nine-date European tour starting at the end of October and are appearing at the Vortex on November 3rd with the duo of Seb Rochford with Pamelia Kurstin.

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CD Review: Andreas Schaerer and Lucas Niggli - Arcanum



Andreas Schaerer and Lucas Niggli - Arcanum
 (Intakt Records 232. CD Review by Eric Ford)

The idea of a duet between voice (augmented and manipulated by electronics) and percussion/drums is appealing and of course stretches back to the dawn of human existence. The eight pieces from the Swiss duo on this CD are improvised, although vocalist Andreas Schaerer and drummer/percussionist Lucas Niggli clearly decided on a "vibe" for the start of each piece before proceeding. The duo excel in conjuring both violence and tranquility. The meditative tracks - replete with gongs to aid the transition into trance - were my favourites. Very Zen. Some of the more frantic pieces had me laughing aloud, although I know lots of other people who would have been reaching for the "stop" button at these moments. For Schaerer is wont to use his voice for the production of unexpected sounds.

This album goes beyond the bounds of what would conventionally be referred to as "music" and any sound Andreas can produce via his mouth is fair game. Some of it actually reminded me of Clark Terry's "mumblings" from the 1960's. Andreas can clearly sing and Lucas can clearly play; their collaboration, equally clearly, is about sound, performance and energy more than about "music" per se.

Three of the eight tracks climax with the same thrashy fusion drumming from Niggli, which is (ironically) one of the hazards of improvised music. Without a premeditated structure to ensure different outcomes in different pieces, it's easy to slide into a comfort zone and revert to whatever springs to mind most readily.

The duo will be performing on the final night of the EFG London Jazz Festival, 23rd November at Club Inegales 

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CD Review: Jason Moran - All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller



Jason Moran - All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
(Blue Note 3753429. CD Review by Jon Turney)

The wondrously infolded history of jazz, new improvisation in continual dialogue with old recordings, continues to inspire new ways of honouring the ancestors. One extreme has just been marked by Moppa Elliott and co’s note-for-note recreation of Kind of Blue on Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s latest release. Jason Moran’s Fats Waller tribute is nearer the other pole – deconstruction and reassembly, “distorted, but with respect”, as Lol Coxhill used to deadpan before mugging an unsuspecting standard.

There’s a lot of distortion here, but also a good deal of respect – maybe, in the end, a little too much of both. To my mind, quite a few tracks discard familiar elements of the originals without adding anything notable.

Most of Waller’s classic songs are here, not so much revisited as reinvented, as part of a dance party originally performed at Harlem Stage in 2011. That featured MeShell Ndegeocello, who co-produced the recording with Blue Note’s President Don Was. Her soulful vocal takes the lead on versions of Ain’t Misbehavin and Ain’t Nobody’s Business which are like none you’ve heard before. The melodies are re-worked, and interestingly detailed horn and rhythm arrangements reframe them. Misbehavin’ becomes a near lament, set against electronics and beats reminiscent of mid-period Weather Report. Nobody’s Business is brooding and plaintive, defiance giving way to resignation.

There’s a completely different approach to Two Sleepy People, sung as a straight ballad by trumpeter Leron Thomas with mock (?) cheesy synthesized strings. An amusingly affectionate parody if you’re in the mood, a quick skip to the next track if you aren’t. It follows a regular jazz rendition of Lulu’s back in Town which displays all the virtues of Moran and his Bandwagon trioTarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums supporting some dazzling piano which, tantalisingly fades out.

It’s a characteristic touch on a set that never settles on one thing for long. Funk drummer Charles Haynes drives most of the tracks, and trombonist Josh Roseman and, just once, Steve Lehman’s sax pop in and out of the arrangements. Moran is a constant presence on keys, now leaning into an electric riff, now adding synch colours, now letting rip on acoustic piano.

It is all beautifully crafted, and most of tracks work on their own terms. The overall effect, though, is a tad disjointed. There’s no obvious reason why one song attracts one treatment rather than another. A listener with broad tastes might enjoy all of it, but many will lean more toward some tracks than others. I was more engaged when the set moves in a jazzier direction, especially in the lengthier piano features toward the close, though the more heavily produced tracks are fun when all the ingredients gel, an engagingly light-hearted Honeysuckle Rose being the best example.

So interesting, and creative, like all Moran’s explorations, but for me it lacks the unforgettable illumination of, say, the moment in his 2007 project In My Mind when he accompanies the heavy, hollow tread of Thelonius Monk’s dance steps recorded in a Harlem loft. And for a Waller tribute-cum-recreation, I’ll be returning more often to Aki Takase’s 2003 effort, with Rudi Mahal and the inimitable Eugene Chadbourne on vocals. Now his treatment of Two Sleepy People manages to be both humorous and genuinely affecting - something Fats managed apparently effortlessly, and which Moran’s somewhat more effortful offering doesn’t really bring off.

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REVIEW: Sarah Moule at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Sarah Moule. Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne

Sarah Moule
(Pizza Express Jazz Club Dean Street. 16th September 2014. Review by Brian Blain)

You don’t sing with the perfection of the John Wilson Orchestra, for six years, as she has in the past, without massive talent and perfect technique, so that now, as a solo artist, Sarah Moule stands in the very top flight of UK singers. And so it was that last week’s launch of her latest album, Songs From the Floating World,at Dean Street’s Pizza Express, was both a special occasion and a tour de force. With nothing of the haughty diva about her she projected a real presence and knowledge of how to ‘sell’ a song without histrionics and an easy relationship with her favourite musicians, MD Simon Wallace (piano) Mick Hutton (bass) and Paul Robinson (drums), laced with more than a little humour.

The range of material was wonderfully wide and sometimes courageous, as when she divested I’ve Got You Under My Skin from decades of perception arising from Sinatra’s ring-a-ding-ding reading, treating it as it was originally intended, as a slow, tender ballad, in complete contrast to Willy Dixon’s My Babe or Clarence Williams’ I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl when she came close to sounding like the classic black singers of the twenties and thirties.

As ever with a Moule programme there was a fair sprinkling of songs written by the collaboration between the legendary Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace - I am amazed that more singers haven’t picked up on Scars, for example, a deeply touching lyric combined with a strong melody that you can actually remember – and her reading of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, the Landesman/Tommy Woolf classic, reminded me of why it is probably my all-time favourite standard.

Matching Sarah all the way and making for a special evening her musicians were on tremendous form, light years removed from the bad old days of near-disdain for singers they were paid to turn up and accompany. Every Wallace solo was understated story telling perfection,with each note seeming to exist in acres of space. On his writing collaboration with Julie Burchill, Lots Of People Do, his rolling left hand was the very essence of blues inflected playing and swing. Bassist Mick Hutton, one of the UK’s finest, showed his ability to embroider slow ballads with almost Spanish guitar lines or lock into Paul Robinson’s drums with a huge walking bass line intro to My Babe that was truly exhilarating. As for Robinson himself; is there any drummer who listens more and who truly converses with the lead voice, with a projection of power without volume that to me is unique on the scene,with little twists on the rhythm patterns, like the 12/8 feel of The Secret of Silence, that keeps everyone alert and fresh. A wonderful band and a tremendous artist; this was a truly special occasion

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PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: James Allsopp (2014 Match&Fuse 4th October)

James Allsopp. Photo credit: Russ Escritt


Saxophonist/ composer James Allsopp's new composition ‘Ashore’ will be premièred on Friday night 3rd October at the Match&Fuse festival at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green. He will perform alongside the bassist and guitarist from the Italian band Nohaybandatrio. Rachel Maby interviewed him:

LondonJazz News: How did you choose the title of your piece?

James Allsopp: I thought it would be nice to feel like you’d come home and felt that it had calmed down, especially as the other music that I’m doing with the Italians is quite full on…I have little stories to compositions, even if they don’t necessarily make much sense, it gives me something to work with rather than it being a purely musical problem.

LJN: And how have you pieced this composition together?

JA: I wanted to keep it really simple because I think Nohaybandatrio learn mostly by ear, so I thought if I wrote something easy then we could spend more time on the music part of it, i.e. how we play together… I’ve tried to use drones and pedal points, which the Italians can interpret with their use of electronics in a different way. I don’t know enough about what electronics do to indicate a particular sound I want, but I usually feel that if I’ve written the music right it will suggest a certain sound world.

LJN: You say you’re not an electronics expert, and yet it’s an integral part to your music making and your band The Golden Age of Steam. When you compose for the group, do you imagine the electronics in your compositions or do you include that as part of the improvisatory process of your music?

JA: It feels more interactive for someone else to manipulate my sound and for me to respond to it, rather than doing it myself…We decide the sound world we want, but then there’s a lot of room for different things to happen within that... My solution to having a lot of different sounds available to me has always been to play lots of different instruments: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass-clarinet and clarinet. They’re completely different characters to me and I don’t try and play them in the same way. But I love that thing of someone being able to touch a button and allow something completely new to happen.

LJN: When you compose a piece, what balance do you give between notated and improvised material?

JA: I try and write the minimum amount of music. I like to leave as much room for improvising as possible, rather than giving people a structure or strict form. I think duration is really important…I like the idea of writing something that you get lost in. Three is the magic number – you just need three things that happen, and if you can plan where those go then you’ve got a very strong structure.

Tickets: www.matchandfuse.co.uk

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CD REVIEW: Cloudmakers Trio- Abstract Forces



CD REVIEW: Cloudmakers Trio- Abstract Forces
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4655. CD Review by Sarah Chaplin)

Jim Hart has helped to re-establish the vibraphone as a core component of the contemporary British jazz scene. His past releases have garnered huge respect for the new possibilities he has opened up on the instrument. Having previously released a CD of live material with New York trumpeter Ralph Alessi, this new album for Whirlwind Recordings showcases Hart’s trio on fine form, with plentiful fresh material.

The Cloudmakers Trio consist of Hart’s fellow Loop Collective collaborator Dave Smith on drums, an arch innovator who oozes polyrhythms from every pore, and none other than Whirlwind maestro himself, Michael Janisch, on bass. The definition of a top-drawer trio to my mind is one where each plays an equal role in performance, introducing ideas and leading the music into new places. This is certainly true of Abstract Forces. Take the opening number, Snaggletooth, for instance, which sets up a wonderful plucked drone over which Hart and Smith apply an offset sequence of insistent tones. It’s like moving steadily through a dense forest with a few clearings to pause and admire the clouds. Occasionally you catch a whiff of Freddie Hubbard's Little Sunflower rising out of the miasma, but it’s so fleeting you think you must have imagined it. On Angular Momentum it’s Hart who sets up the insistent tempo and rhythm, with many moments when the three come into a crisp, accented alignment, or double up the time feel, against Hart’s persuasive low-pitched narrative.

I particularly like the edgy contribution that Post Stone makes to the album. It sounds as if both Janisch and Hart are wielding bows and applying them to unlikely parts of their instruments while Smith potters away with a mixture of sticks, hands and maybe even fingernails on his drum kit. It’s a beautifully recorded piece of experimental a-tonal music, not unlike amplifying the antics of a whole bunch of insects stuck in a belljar. I’m not sure if they manage to escape or just invent a new way of getting along by the end of the track, but it’s feisty and original. By way of a complete constrast, next up is Early Hours which opens with a lovely private lyrical moment with Janisch on bass. You can actually hear him breathing on the recording right before vibes and drums join the meditative, almost medieval-sounding morning workout.

And that’s just the first four tracks – you’ve still got the quirky delights of Social Assassin and Conversation Killer to look forward to, evidence of just how powerful the effects of this album can be. Ramprasad is mysteriously and majestically other, a peek at some of the trio’s other cultural influences, of which I am sure we have plenty more to look forward to. Smith’s skittering drums, Hart’s strange augmented, almost theramin-like responses and the moody lines that Janisch pulls out speak volumes of their patient, attentive approach to building space and adventure into their music: it’s all utterly bewitching.

Album launch Friday October 3rd, Camberwell Crypt.

LINKS: Cloudmakers Live at the 2013 Whirlwind Festival
Jim Hart previews a 2013 gig
Jim Hart previews the 2013 album Launch
CD Review Live at Pizza Express by Chris Parker
Review of the 'Jim Hart Trio' with Ralph Alessi in 2010 

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NEWS: Stefano Bollani wins JTI Trier Jazz Award

Stefano Bollani
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
Ralf Dombrowski (story and photos) writes:

Stefano Bollani was awarded the € 10,000 JTI Trier Jazz Award last Friday. He is the fifth recipient, after Marilyn Mazur, Oliver Strauch, Toots Thielemans and Pascal Schumacher. The award, jointly funded by JTI and the City of Trier, is given in alternate years to an international artist, and to one from the three-country European super-region of Saarland/ Lorraine/ Luxembourg.

He gave a solo concert in the JTI Tabak-Lager in Trier, playing scurrilously with tobacco themes -  Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, a bossa version of Smoke On The Water - plus classics like Blue Rondo A La Turk  comprehensively re-imagined and some of his own compositions. He even sang in the style of and Italian canzone. Outstanding, humorous, he's an artist who never ceases to fascinate.

Stefano Bollani, Herman Lewen
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

He received the award from Hermann Lewen (above), Director of the Mosel Music Festival.

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REVIEW: Brötzmann, Noble, Tippett (BNT) at Cafe Oto

Keith Tippett of BNT at Cafe Oto, September 2014
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All rights reserved


Brötzmann, Noble, Tippett (BNT)
(Cafe Oto, 25th September 2014, first of a two-night residency; review and drawing of Keith Tippett by Geoff Winston)

BNT - Peter Brötzmann, Steve Noble, and Keith Tippett - was the meeting of three master musicians pushing at the edges of improvisation, and pushing each other into areas where they put themselves on the line rather than sitting back on their formidable reputations. This was also the first time Tippett and Brötzmann had been together on stage for some years.

Brötzmann led the way with one of his characteristic rolling, repetitive riffs to bring the tide flooding in, to offer an uncompromising base which would, nevertheless, allow melody to seep in and which suddenly dissipated when Tippett and Noble took off on a light duet, all sticks and quirky harpsichord sounds, a temporary move into prepared piano territory.

Tippett's complexity and dexterity flashed Cecil Taylor with Conlon Nancarrow. Ultra-attentive to Brötzmann's imperatives, he visibly strained to push himself to the limit and fashion the responses that would maintain the generative flux and continually lead to new pathways.

Noble took it all in his stride, with Tippett to his right and Brötzmann to his left, building up thunderous rumbles as Brötzmann worried his tenor and bringing a lightness of touch to intense passages with Tippett. Hand held cymbals, sticks held vertically to the snare, elbows tautening the skins - each gesture added punctuation, timbres and percussive melody to the discourse.

The dialogue had its calm spells, too. Brötzmann, who swapped alto sax for his metal clarinet and then tárogató, was at his most lyrical in a serpentine second set excursion that started with the slow burn of echoing gongs and bells and crossed Township jazz with an extreme piano-led blues and a rampant charge through the foothills of Coltrane's Giant Steps. When Tippett utilised a tiny mechanical musical box and Noble added maracas, the change of scale was a touch of blue sky, the precursor of a beautifully poetic spell that they crafted within the hyper-energetic surge.

Peter Brötzmann: saxophones, clarinet, tárogató
Steve Noble: drums, percussion
Keith Tippett: piano


LINKS: Keith Tippett looking forward to his September 2014 schedule

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INTERVIEW: Chris Hyson - (EP of compositions performed by Kit Downes - Paradise



Bassist/composer Chris Hyson has just released his new EP “Paradise” which features the playing of pianist Kit Downes. This is the third EP from this duo collaboration-the previous two recordings “Little Moon Man” (see link below) and “Alive With Closed Eyes” were released in February and October 2013 Nicky Schrire interviewed him: 

LondonJazz  News: Chris, you’re an accomplished bassist, most notably with the groups “Tiny Beast” and “SnowPoet”. What made you decide to wear only your composer hat and to write for piano for these EP outings? As opposed to playing on them, or having them be duo bass/piano works.

Chris Hyson: It kind of all came about naturally. There was no initial plan to set out and compose music just for piano. I write most of my music on the piano and have always played the piano since I was fifteen or so. When I was studying at the Royal Academy I had a collection of tunes that I had written on the piano and had tried with various different bands and instrumentations and couldn’t really work out the best way of expressing them. After some thought, I slowly came to realise that they were best played as they were written - on the piano. It was then I started to wonder what they would sound like if somebody other than me played them on the piano.

I’m a huge fan of Kit’s piano playing and find his music mesmerising and effortlessly beautiful so I asked him if he’d fancy playing the tunes. We spent a morning at his house drinking tea playing the music. It felt ‘right’ and natural the way the music came out. We decided to record it a few months later, and released it as an EP - ‘Little Moon Man’ in February 2013. It was done on a very small scale - digital release with no press as we didn’t have any label or budget for the PR etc. It did really well and we had lots of lovely feedback and responses to the EP. By the summer I had written some more tunes and it only felt natural to do it again with Kit. We recorded and released ‘Alive With Closed Eyes’ that October and now ‘Paradise’ a year later.

I think if I was to play bass on these recordings, I would be doing it for myself or ‘for the sake of it’. The way Kit uses and orchestrates the piano to express this music is more than enough. I think if I played bass, I would interfere with the thought process and creative journey that Kit is taking the music on.

LJN: Can you shed some light on your collaborative process with Kit. Do you write outlines for each tune or is the notation more fleshed out than a mere skeleton that Kit uses as a springboard for his improvisations?

CH: The process for each song is different. Some are, like you say, a little more skeletal-chords and melody, while some are just notation, and others are a bit of both (notating chords, or queuing improvised melodies). Something I tend to do a lot is write lots of words on the scores and try to describe the feeling I want to elicit from the tunes. There are also a lot of dynamic markings, arrows pointing and tempo marks on the charts. We tend to work the tunes out before recording them in terms of forms and textures. Sometimes Kit will just come out with something completely new whilst recording that we haven’t prepared before-hand or reference something in a completely different way. For me, this is the most exiting part of the process - when the music is being played with and pulled around in ways that I couldn’t have imagined during the writing process.

LJ: Is there a particular reason that you favour the EP format? Or is it just based on the running time? 

CH: Personally, I love the idea of creating both a set of tunes that feel complete and an audio experience that is the perfect amount of sonic information. The EP is a good vehicle for our generation seeing as attention spans are dwindling.

I like EPs and I think that for this project the EP format works best. Keeping each document short and simple. There’s something in this that pushes me to keep writing more music. Also, for the listener, it’s cheaper to buy and I agree that our attention spans are dwindling. So I think there’s enough content to make the listener feel like they’ve had a complete experience of the music without taking up too much of their time.

LJN: There’s a strong emphasis on melodic content and a lot of the sonic landscapes are cinematic, meandering and very evocative on all three EP releases. Are you consciously inspired by film music or is there another influence in your mind when writing in this context?

CH: I’m not hugely inspired by film music in particular, however I did used to listen to Thomas Newman’s music. I have a lot of friends who are actors and writers so I see a lot of film and theatre - maybe this influences the way I write as I tend to reflect and imagine when composing. My musical influences vary quite a lot. I listen to a lot of folky and singer/songwriter stuff like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Feist, Tom Waits, Bon Iver, Billy Joel, Patti Smith, Kate Bush. Also jazz - Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong. Classical music from - Ravel, Debussy, John Cage, Schubert…

I’m also really into new alternative and electronic music - James Blake, M83, Björk, Baths, Lapalux, Kwes, Everything Everything, St. Vincent, Radiohead, etc. I could go on and on. There’s so much beautiful music being made all the time it’s hard to keep up with!

LINKS: Chris Hyson on Soundcloud
Snowpoet Preview ( June 2014)
Chris Hyson writes about Little Moon Man

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EP Review: Beaker - Beaker




Beaker - Beaker
(Off - ODG029, download only. Review by Joe Stoddart)


Beaker is a collaboration between Brooklyn-based composer and electronic musician Tyler Gilmore and London-based saxophonist Alec Harper. Their debut EP is "assembled upon a series of textural improvisations," with eight tracks either called ‘Improv’ or ‘Song.’ It begins with the emphasis largely on the electronic side in the ambient soundscapes on Improv 1 and Improv 2, before Harper takes on more of a central role on Song 1 in which, as with the other ‘Song’ contributions, there is a shift towards a slightly more beat-orientated approach under a mixture of melodious and exploratary saxophone sounds.

I would strongly recommend listening to the whole EP as one piece of music but for me Song 2 provides the highlight of the record. A sparse, lurching beat provides the background for intermittent lush chords under saxophone textures before disappearing through delay and reverb into silence.

Overall, the record is a successful starting point for the duo, giving a good impression of the pair’s sound and musical objectives.

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REVIEW: Fire! Orchestra at The Laundry in Hackney

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


Fire! Orchestra
(The Laundry. 26 September 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

This was the first British performance by Fire! Orchestra, the 28 piece ensemble which is the brainchild of Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson with his co-musicians in the Fire! trio, Andreas Werliin and Johan Berthling. Nothing could have quite prepared the Hackney audience for the group's extraordinary dynamism, creativity and sheer sledgehammer impact.

What had been 'a typical 3 am decision ... chilling in a bar' had grown in to 'an amazing beast', as Mats put it in our preview interview, following in the pioneering footsteps of large experimental jazz groups such as the Jazz Composers Orchestra, Global Unity Orchestra and the Sun Ra Arkestra .

Martin Hederos's emphatic opening organ riff set all those packed in to The Laundry's concrete bunker on a tempestuous, exhilarating voyage through the complex groupings and sound structures of Enter, the major, four part work composed by the Fire! trio and singer Mariam Wallentin.

The three vocalists set down soulful, tense chants and wails as the ensemble built up the driving, layered momentum that would underscore the entire performance.

With Gustafsson conducting, arms flying, fingers held up to convey directives, his communication was instantaneous as he navigating the course between slabs of crushing electronic distortion, electrifying brass and percussion power punches and a disarmingly refreshed, retro prog-jazz undercurrent heaved knowingly into the twenty-first century.

In the interview, Gustafsson had talked about 'the riff-based structures ... How to lock a groove and open it up without losing direction, focus or energy' being at the core and it was, indeed, these locked grooves that channelled a primal force which kept the whole ensemble of extraordinary musicians melded together and fully in synch.

It was a exploding confection of textures, impassioned expression and virtuosity, mixing Mats Älenklint's razor sharp brass arrangements with spells of spontaneous combustion as individuals came to the fore to improvise, dish up surprises, then drop back in to the flow.

Sofia Jernberg's solo vocals were utterly extraordinary, pushing into a paranormal range with perfect pitch and clarity. Her utterances and vocalisations challenged description, as she shared ground with Joachim Nordwall's shuddering dinosaur rumblings and Berthling's clanging electric bass.

Gustafsson's driving tenor sax spells (echoes of the unflagging intensity of Peter Brötzmann, who was at the venue) and, from the back row, Anna Högberg's alto pushed at the edges, while Malin Wättring's tenor created strong, yet softer shapes alongside the four bristling trumpeters. There were mini-highlights galore - Per Ake Homander's quietly powered tuba, Martin Andreas Söderstom's pedal steel and e-bow electronics, the three drummers punching out the pulse and adding embellishments, and a grizzly noise spot from of Hederos and Andreas Bethling, amongst them.

In the encore - a section of Exit! (the forerunner of Enter) - vocalists Simon Ohlsson, Jernberg and Wallentin brought obliquely offbeat synchronisations to the supercharged funk/punk thread which took the orchestra out on a phenomenal high.

The power of this massive group was inescapable - total energy, total noise, huge sound, but with Gustafsson always in control, they never veered off course. Ultimately about the 'voice' of an essential humanity, the experience had an overwhelmingly uplifting spirit. Summed up best in Gustafsson's own words, '... an important part of the Orchestra, [is] 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.'

Morphosis opened with a strong set of pulsed electronics behind which he wove a web of finely honed micro-tones and samples with calm precision, recalling his collaborations with Charles Cohen, seen earlier in the year at Cafe Oto.

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

Produced by the Barbican in association with Cafe Oto and Qu Junktions


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REVIEW: David Sanborn Trio feat. Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham at Ronnie Scott’s

David Sanbor. Photo credit Rhonda M.Lane from David Sanborn's Facebook page

David Sanborn Trio feat. Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham
(Ronnie Scott’s, Thursday 25th September. 2nd of three nights. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


David Sanborn’s emotional, keening wail on alto saxophone is one of the most distinctive and widely-heard sounds in jazz. Since the early 70's it has graced hundreds of sessions, encompassing music with David Bowie, James Brown and - for several unforgettable years - the blissful blaze of the Gil Evans Orchestra. Sanborn’s own groups have taken him from electronic fusion to Americana, and as an instrumentalist he has influenced a generation of alto players including Kenny Garrett and Chris Hunter.

This eagerly-anticipated appearance at Ronnie Scott’s dispensed with large aggregations and complex arrangements, and focused on the directness and simplicity of Sanborn’s acknowledged heroes from Ray Charles’ bands of the 50s and 60s, Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman.

Sanborn delivered a single set of 100 minutes to a sell-out crowd that was unusually quiet and attentive. His beautiful tone dominated the opener, Ben Tucker’s catchy Comin’ Home Baby, and Joey DeFrancesco upped the ante with a magnificent double-time passage on Hammond organ. What Will I Tell My Heart? was underpinned by drummer Byron Landham’s delicate brushwork, and distinguished by DeFrancesco’s muted trumpet as he simultaneously used the bass pedals. During these opening pieces, Sanborn strung together a multitude of magnificently-conceived phrases.

The band was in full flight for The Peeper, but - after Sanborn’s repeated, tension-building notes and high squeals – a minor tragedy occurred: the organ suddenly packed up. The tune was brought to an abrupt end as technicians tried to fix the fault. During an awkward hiatus, Sanborn related a story, and DeFrancesco told a joke. The good humour began to wear off when it seemed that a repair was not imminent; the organist considered moving to the piano and having a Fender Rhodes hauled from backstage. Never have I heard so much bad language coming from the stage of Ronnie Scott’s.

As soon as the problem was resolved, The Peeper continued with a vengeance and DeFrancesco beat the hell out of his instrument. After segueing into Let the Good Times Roll, the mood lightened, DeFrancesco sang the melody, Sanborn chanted the refrain, and the audience clapped along on the offbeat. Here and elsewhere, Landham’s subtle contribution – from boogaloo to ballad - was spot on.

Sanborn’s best and most cogent work came during Brother Ray, and the gentle Infant Eyes contained an unexpectedly swinging middle section. There was a hint of smooth jazz during Michael Sembello’s The Dream, which was an unadorned saxophonic tour-de-force.

As the gig went on, one sensed that Sanborn had been understandably affected by the interruptions. The fluency and power of expression  which had been their earlier seemed to pass him by. But really, that didn’t matter. The searing power and quality of Sanborn’s sound were as great as ever, and that’s why he is loved and revered.

LINKS: David Sanborn and Bob James at the 2013 LJF
CD Review: Then Again The Anthology


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DIARY: Stan Sulzmann, A Cockney In Colorado

Stan Sulzmann being interviewed by Daniel Feinberg
for KUVO radio (Denver)

Stan Sulzmann was invited by John Gunther, a great saxophonist/composer and head of Thompson Jazz Studies Program at Colorado Univ. Boulder to work with the students for a week this September, culminating in a Big Band gig at Dazzles Jazz club in Denver.

Prior to the week Stan and his wife Sarah had the opportunity to fit in week of holiday in the Rockies.

A change is as good as a rest, and vice versa. In Stan's tour diary, the calm, the distance, and the thin mountain air seem to put everyday London life into perspective. Questions he was asked, from a simple, friendly “Where are you guys from?” on a hiking trail to “Do you think there is a difference between the music in USA and in Europe/Scandanavia - - if so what?” from an inquisitive student, spur Stan Sulzmann to some broad and fascinating reflections. The trip also was also poignant for Stan, since it coincided with the last days of Kenny Wheeler's life. Kenny Wheeler and Stan have been close colleagues for several decades. Stan writes:

FIRST WEEK

On Trail Ridge Road In the Rocky Mountains

“Welcome to Colorado” - “Have A Great Time In Colorado” were the friendly messages we read on the large hoardings on our arrival at Denver airport. Even the immigration officer said “have a great stay.” And we did, way beyond any of my expectations !!

On the second day, we collected a car and headed off into the Rocky Mountains for a preliminary week's break staying in a log cabin near Wild Basin just outside the National Park entrance. Straight out of ‘gunfight at the OK Corral’ ! The Big Thompson river ran not far away, through Estes, the scene of devastating flooding in Sept. 2013. The recovery is still evident. New roads and buildings were quickly reconstructed by a very resilient population.

Altitude sickness took a while to adjust to (we were around a mile above sea level). Panting for air on the trail head hikes, particularly on the steep ups meant little chatter, but time for some self-reflection amongst such a spectacular, surreal and humbling landscape.Vast vistas of mountain range, pine and aspen trees, lakes,meadows and wildlife; it all makes us feel so small.

I realised just how privileged we were to be there for this short time, away from the interminable media news of pointless violence, religious bickering, gangs, drugs and the insanity we live with on a daily basis. This friendly expansive region invoked the opposite view of USA as typified in ‘The Wire’ or ‘Breaking Bad’. We visited Eagle Plume, a shop and museum of Native American culture reminding us of Colorado's own difficult history played out between the indigenous native tribes and the settlers. But this wasn’t Hollywood, those were real events.

The people we met everywhere were incredibly open, friendly and wanting to talk, particularly interested in the Scottish referendum. On more than a few occasions other passing hikers said “Hey where are you guys from ? My parents met in England , dad was stationed there during and after the 2nd world war”. That reminded me of playing a gig with Eric Delaney's band on a US airbase just off the A1 when I was about 18 ! Glen Miller lived in Fort Morgan Colorado for a while, not the jazz musicians first choice maybe but a great roaring band that was stationed in the UK. In the late 1960’s players like John McLaughlin and Harry Beckett worked in bands lead by ex GI R&B singers like Ronnie Jones(& the Night Timers) and Herbie Goines. Possibly this fusion of jazz,blues, and rock influenced McLaughlin's classic record Extrapolations that lead him to NY and working with Miles and Tony Williams. I believe John Surman took lessons from a GI serviceman - explaining the Harry Carney influence and circular breathing.

We heard some spectacular three octave elk bugling. Eerie high notes made me think of Evan Parker and the possibility of a duet with him on soprano. We weren’t far from a small town of Lyons where posters invited you to open Blue Grass jam sessions ,reminding me that Bill Frisell, brought up in Denver Colorado draws on a huge ‘country’ influence in his music.

I’ve been toying with Moose The Mooche (Parker theme ) ever since Jim Hart suggested playing it on a busking gig some time ago . Eating breakfast about 7.00am my wife Sarah suddenly screamed ‘Look !’ : a moose was ambling right past the window, just feet away and then disappeared into the Aspen trees. The tune has now taken on new meaning !

A drive to the top of Trail Ridge Rd ( the highest road in USA, above the treeline) meant white knuckles on the steering wheel, particularly when terrifying roadside sheer drops appeared and central road markings disappeared . All made worthwhile by the breathtaking view ! I've included my amateur pic from the top of Trail Ridge. The view both humbling and awe inspiring brought up all manner of reflections and emotions . I had been receiving news on e mail from Nick Smart in London about Ken Wheeler's deteriorating condition. The spectacular landscape made me think about some of the wonderful artists that I have been privileged to work with or experienced, lifting the spirit out of the ordinary, inspiring us to keep trying to get a little better and ‘contribute’ in some way.

Ken was certainly one of those people ( for me, like Messiaen or Coltrane ). A private and shy person excused the usual duties of life courtesy of a loving family, who played and composed sublime music right up till his 83rd year. Artistic success came in middle life and Ken continued to work hard and develop almost to his passing. An inspirational life and music that touched so many people around the world. Kenny enriched my life as did that view from Trail Ridge Rd .

SECOND WEEK

The second week we drove down to Boulder and the Colorado Univ. campus. architecturally a pleasure to stroll around. I was surprised just how much the Jazz faculty staff knew about us in the UK. Brad Goode, trumpet teacher from Chicago knew Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler very well having worked with them both. Paul Mckee (trombone and composition) enthused about Kenny's and Mike Gibbs' composing. Art Lande who had a duo with Garbarek in the 1970s, and records with ECM, is artist in residence.

John Guenther, Stan Sulzmann


John Gunther (above) is a fine saxophonist and woodwind player as well as composer and not least head of the Jazz faculty. A remarkably broad artist with eclectic taste in music John is well versed in the traditions having been a member of Woody Herman's band and then spending nine years in New York. He leads an experimental laptop orchestra as well as promoting the repertoire classes. He was keen for me to talk to the students about our jazz history and development (as well as cockney rhyming slang ! ) and my own early experiences. A student asked “ Do you think there is a difference between the music in USA and in Europe/Scandanavia - - if so what ”

That question set the memories going.... I found myself talking first about having started playing whilst at school in R&B and dance bands before formal jazz education was a possibility. A short period in an office job ,then working on the Queen Mary at the age of 18 making regular trips to NY. Docking on 52nd street I remember passing Birdland all boarded up. Rock & Roll was “in” but Jazz at a huge ebb. I visited clubs like Village Gate with a double bill Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie Quintets but with half empty houses, seeing Mingus with Dannie Richmond and Charles McPherson and a quartet led by Joe Henderson with Louis Hayes and Kenny Barron, where Cornish drummer Terry Rodd and myself were the only ‘punters’. With jovial curiosity and puzzlement the guys came off stage and asked “Hey where are you guys from?”

Back to that question: I think the differences (if indeed there are any) may have come about because of American expats like Dexter Gordon , Ben Webster, Oscar Pettiford, Tootie Heath, Mal Waldron to name but a few, moving to Denmark ,Sweden, France and Germany but not to the UK mainly because of our Musicians Union rulings - - they couldn’t work here. In Europe/Scandinavia they were stars coming from the states where making a living was becoming extremely difficult. More importantly they passed on their traditions directly to the local players, but here in the UK we developed in a different unique way. I told the students about Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, one student doing some quick research on Tubby and coming back saying Wow ! how great Tubby was. ( wonder of the net ! ) I also talked about the great players that left these shores for the states. Victor Feldman, Peter Ind, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and more recently Will Vinson and Phil Donkin.

In the late 50s early 60s we had a strong musical influx from the West Indies, Jamaica bringing Dizzy Reece , Wilton Bogey Gaynor, Joe Harriott, Shake Keane, Harry Becket, Harold McNair, Ernest Ranglin and Russ Henderson playing the London clubs. But the big development came in the late 60,s with the arrival of Mike Westbrook’s band with John Surman. The faculty staff and some students knew about Surman.. The general vibe of the music was ‘full on’ often free and affectionately earned the nickname “modal holocaust !’ Blood on your lip and “seeing God” marked a great gig ! Ken Wheeler became prominent around this time as did John Taylor and Mike Gibbs, all ex members of John Dankworths band. Then add to the mix the South African musicians lead by Chris Mcgregor that arrived and took up residence at Ronnies Old Place ( the original tiny club) with Dudu Pukwana and Louis Moholo . These musicians were to be a huge influence on the next ‘Loose Tubes’ generation abandoning traditional swing for a more broad eclectic view. Evan Parker , Derek Bailey, John Stevens and Tony Oxley were spearheading the free improv music that found Germany as its stronghold. The Boulder students were genuinely interested and I hope they will research some of these great artists.

At Old Main, Colorado University Boulder


THE TWO GIGS

On the Wednesday evening (Thurs am in UK) we played a small group concert in Old Main a lovely old hall on campus built around 1850. The second set comprised of all Kenny Wheeler compositions that I had taken specially, finishing with Kind Folk. Next day I heard from Nick Smart that Ken had passed away that morning (Thurs am). There was a shared air of sadness from the whole jazz faculty who expressed their love for Ken's music including the young students being introduced to the music for the first time. It was very emotional to hear how much Ken was revered by the faculty and how his music had touched so many.

Daniel Feinberg invited me for a live radio interview on KUVO radio (Denver) a great jazz radio station in large premises and with a live performance room. KUVO runs on sponsorship, donations and a great deal of voluntary work. We talked about the Univ. Big Band gig at Dazzles jazz club in Denver that would conclude my visit playing tracks from several of my cds. An impromptu special half hour tribute to Kenny followed, talking about him and playing some of the recordings kept in the stations extensive CD library.

The ‘Dazzles’ club gig was a joy. A comfortable venue with a large playing room and smaller back room for late night sessions. It felt a little daunting to precede upcoming gigs by Ravi Coltrane and Mark Turner quartets. The band played beautifully with such spirit reminding me of home. Apart from a couple of my own compositions we played my arrangements of British jazz musicians tunes that I have been working on for several years now, giving me the opportunity to have fun telling the audience about these great artists and ‘characters’ Ken Wheeler, John Taylor, Nikki Iles, Iain Ballamy, Mike Walker, Gwilym Simcock. I took one new piece written especially for the band ,an arrangement of a Bacharach tune You’ll Never Get To Heaven . Nikki Iles Westerly was the hit with its slightly laid back ‘Western’ groove. We enjoyed the response from the very open and generationally mixed audience who stood for the band, every bit deserved .

RETURNING HOME

Many thanks to John Gunther and his wife Stephanie for taking such great care of us and making me feel so valued. If you ever get the opportunity to go and see the Rocky Mountains and Boulder , GO ! - - its wonderful !!!

Arriving back at Heathrow exhausted but exhilarated from such a full on eventful and emotional trip, we noticed a large sign saying ‘Abuse of our staff will not be tolerated’ Back to reality !

Thanks for listening.
Stan Sulzmann.

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PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Barb Jungr (Crazy Coqs - Sep 30 - Oct 5)

Barb Jungr. Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne


We interviewed Barb Jungr ahead of her residency at Crazy Coqs (September 30th - October 5th)

LondonJazz News: Why have you called this show This Wheels on Fire?

Barb Jungr: I'd made Hard Rain, and somehow started to think about Dylan and more songs and spell bindings and This Wheel's On Fire had been on my radar for such a long time - so we started to work on an arrangement, and I thought - I could expand the whole notion of Hard Rain, and include other songs that bring ideas of dislocation and philosophy and politics together, and then - it came to me - this is a great title to move the whole project along. So Hard Rain morphs into This Wheel's on Fire with an injection of new songs and a much more jazz based interaction between the piano and voice.

LJN: What songs will you be singing?

BJ : Well I have some Hard Rain and some other Dylan (Times They Are A Changin') and but have added Steely Dan's Only A Fool Would Say That, and Everything Must Change, This Wheel's On Fire, Kern and Hammerstein's Ol' Man River, a mash-up of Walk Me Out In The Morning Dew with a Jagger and Richards surprise in the middle, a Springsteen - Devils and Dust, and the brilliant Richard Thompson's Pharaoh.

LJN: What have you been doing over the summer?

BJ: Corby in August and the Royal Phil Orchestra with Anthony Weeden conducting - he'd orchestrated the songs that I'd written with the local musicians and a small group of women from the 40 strong choir. (See previous interview).There were 120 of us on stage, if not more. It was quite something. I was in Connecticut working with performers there for 2 weeks - that was a joy - and the closest I got to a holiday. We did Hard Rain at the Vortex and that was packed in August and then its now!

LJN: What is it about Dylan’s songs that inspire you so much ?

BJ: Its the inner beauty and harsh clarity. The deceptively simple sounding - they're not simple at all - melodies which you can - if you're working with someone as sympathetic and smart as Simon Wallace, open out harmonically, and you can get such achingly lovely sense into the song structures.

LJN: What are you doing after Crazy Coqs shows?

BJ: I'm off to a 2 week season at 59E59 Theater in Manhattan to do Hard Rain there for 2 weeks, which will be great. Tracy Stark will play piano and Mike Lunoe percussion. I did a run there over Christmas last year and had a ball. There's such openness in the New York and American jazz and cabaret audiences. And I'll be planning for next year.

CRAZY COQS DETAILS /BOOKINGS

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BOOK/ CD REVIEW: Chilly Gonzales: Re-Introduction Etudes



Chilly Gonzales: Re-Introduction Etudes
( Éditions Bourgès R EBR 525. Book and CD review by Alison Bentley )

Chilly Gonzales (the Canadian pianist and composer formerly known as Jason Beck) has written a book of 24 short piano pieces aimed at luring ‘lapsed pianists’ back into playing. First, let me count the ways I find to avoid practising...the piano…dust it… call the piano tuner… now it’s too late to disturb the neighbours…set up the keyboard…where’s the music stand?... better clear out the cupboard…but the cats... Next question: can Chilly Gonzales help the reluctant pianist to sound like Keith Jarrett/Danilo Perez after - how long? -  about half an hour?

‘I feel people have to get back in touch with the joy of having their life saved by music,’ Gonzales told Radio 3. He’s very serious and at the same time very funny about music. He calls himself a ‘sit-down comic’, and his compositions are accompanied, like Satie’s, with quirky comments: ‘Don’t overdo it- deadpan’, or ‘Just play it.’ The pieces are aimed at people who learned piano for 2-4 years and gave up, because they didn’t like what they were given to play, or had teachers who ‘stripped away the joy of making music.’ You need to be able to read some music in bass and treble clef but no piece has more than 3 flats, or anything too complicated.

There are jazz, classical, electronic and rock influences. Each Etude has a witty written introduction that explains the thinking behind it, and Gonzales smuggles in a lot of theory by just getting you to play (for example, Resolutions per Minute, Glad and Sad, and College Triads deal with cadences, major and minor keys, and harmonies) But these are no dry exercises- even the simplest piece is very beautiful and satisfying.

So, fingers on keys- I was immediately hooked (or bitten?) by the spiky Monk-ish Tarantula and graceful Odessa, both with blue notes and grace notes. ‘Green notes’ are what Gonzales calls whole tone grace notes in the seductive Dressed in Green. There’s the bluesy Aquamarine (‘snake oil’ says Gonzales) and the evocative Climbing and Falling (‘reaching for something you’ll never get’). Satie is a strong influence in the style as well as the asides. I wanted to play them again. And again.

Some pieces recall the drifting melodies of Scandinavian groups like the Tingvall Trio (the pleasing harmonies of Pleading the Fifth and Mansbridge.) Red Thread, Cloches Triste and White Litany feel on the borders of jazz, rock and minimalist classical music, with overtones of Michael Wollny or Neil Cowley. (But much easier to play!)

Elsewhere, Gonzales has recorded electronic dance music, and worked with Daft Punk and (producer) Boys Noize. This style has filtered through into some pieces, like 80’s and Gentlemen, with its finger-dislocating funky left hand groove. Knight Moves is utterly absorbing with its mesmeric repeated phrases. At first it seems impossible to play, but Gonzales explains the fingering in a helpful YouTube tutorial. And for inspiration there’s the CD that accompanies the book, where Gonzales’ exquisite piano technique makes the simplest pieces sound both plangent and delicate. (The more classical Five Spot, Pavane.)

The result: no overnight miracles have been worked in this lapsed pianist, but the pieces are truly engaging, and Gonzales draws you in with his superb writing- and humour. Time for more practice.

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CD Review: Alison Rayner Quintet – August




Alison Rayner Quintet - August
(Blow the Fuse Records. CD Review by Kim Macari)


Bassist and composer Alison Rayner has been a valued member of the UK jazz community for almost forty years, not only as a player but also as a champion for women in jazz. This year, she releases her long-awaited debut album as leader, August.

Recorded live at the Vortex (one of Rayner’s musical homes), August is almost like a musical memoir; full of nods to Rayner’s influences and musical career to date. Joined by four of her closest musical companions, the group’s tight and assured playing are superbly suited to play Rayner’s compositions.

Throughout the album, Rayner skilfully combines voices to play melodies; guitar and saxophone often work together, blending well to bring out the melodies in String Theory and Half a World Away, while the title track finds the timbre shifting between bass/tenor and piano/guitar.

August opens with a bass melody reminiscent of Charlie Haden (a player cited as a main influence in August’s liner notes) and the piece confirms that Alison is as at home as a melody instrument as she is being a driving force in the rhythm section, with her thoughtful and melodic soloing being a particular highlight.

Nowhere is the versatility and considered playing of the band heard more clearly than in Vejer De La Frontera. Rayner opens the piece with long-time collaborator Deirdre Cartwright on guitar before the groove kicks in and the openness of the rhythm section leaves space for Cartwright and saxophonist Diane McLoughlin (who shines particularly on soprano) to bring out the singing melody. The atmosphere of the piece suits Cartwright well and this may well be her stand-out solo of the album. Meanwhile, pianist Steve Lodder weaves around the melody and often brings out phrases in the solos, highlighting his skill as a sensitive accompanist.

Many listeners will know Alison from her work in The Jam Today and The Guest Stars in the 70’s and 80’s so it’s apt that she should include pieces that feature strong grooves and funk on the album. Mr Stanley II and Hyperbubble showcase the team-work of Rayner and drummer Buster Birch and Deirdre Cartwright switches between the roles of rhythm section player and soloist with ease.

There’s a wealth of melodic and harmonic references throughout the album (you can hear Monk in the bebop-inspired Queer Bird, a structure similar to Kenny Wheeler’s Mark Time in String Theory and Elegy for Art has hints of Keith Jarrett ’s writing in it), giving listeners an insight in Alison’s musical mind. Though extremely varied stylistically, one comes away with a strong sense of Rayner’s musical personality both as a player and composer. The debut album couldn’t be stronger and audiences will no doubt be keen to hear what Alison has to say next.

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PREVIEW : Geoff Eales Invocation Album Launch at The Forge (Oct 8th )



Geoff Eales writes:

I am thrilled to be launching my new solo piano album at The Forge in Camden on October 8th.

This was the venue where virtuoso flautist / ethnic instrumentalist Andy Findon launched The Dancing Flute last year, a duo CD with the two of us as equal soloists. Andy joins me once more, but this time he plays a more supportive role. I decided to break up the solo improvisations with a few flute/piano items here and there.

Invocation is subtitled “Twelve Improvisations for Solo Piano” and on the sleeve notes I write the following : “One of the biggest challenges facing an improvising musician is to deliver a performance that holds the attention of the listener when playing completely solo. To achieve success, one must dig deep into one’s musical psyche in order to invoke the muse within. The improvisations on the album are all unedited single-takes. I was helped enormously in my task by having such a wonderful instrument at my disposal. This, combined with the benevolent acoustic of Wyastone’s magnificent concert hall, ensured that I was given the very best chance to succeed”

The “unedited single-take” idea was deliberate. I wanted to document exactly what happened at a certain moment in time as opposed to spending time tweaking this and that in post-production. After all, in a concert situation there are no second takes or edits.

For me, Invocation seems to sum up what the album is all about. The spirits of Messiaen, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky are invoked in some of the improvisations whilst other tracks would not have been possible without me absorbing the music of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Egberto Gismonti, Cecil Taylor and so on. However, blindly copying others is a pointless exercise. The trick is to assimilate everything before transcending one’s influences. That is the aim at least. One must try and speak with one’s own unique voice. It is a huge ask but it is a challenge that every creative artist must ultimately face.

Some of the pieces on the album were created from a totally blank canvas. Here, you pray that inspiration will come and that you don’t fall flat on your face. However, it isn’t quite as daunting as a trapeze artist without a safety net as the consequences of failure in the case of the improviser are never actually life-threatening ; at other times I was armed with the briefest of sketches. This might be a simple melodic idea, a tiny rhythmic motif or riff, or perhaps a series of pre-chosen tonal areas. These raw materials formed the basis for spontaneous exploration, the full arc of the improvisation only revealed once the piece had ended.

Both approaches will be manifest at the concert, though on the flute/piano interludes it will be composition rather than improvisation that has the upper hand. But, even here, there will be moments where the two of us are unleashed from the constraints of the written music.

The performance will run without a break with an album signing in the bar afterwards.

Invocation is on Nimbus Records ( N1 6287 ) / FORGE BOOKINGS / Geoff Eales' Website

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REVIEW: Cédric Hanriot and Jason Palmer’s ‘City of Poets’ feat. Donny McCaslin at Pizza Express Jazz Club

edri Hanrio Above) and Jason Palmer 

REVIEW: Cédric Hanriot and Jason Palmer’s ‘City of Poets’ feat. Donny McCaslin
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 23rd September 2014. Review by Tom Gray)

Two of the world’s most acclaimed jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Clarence Penn, were the big-name attractions in this French-American collaboration which made its UK debut at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Monday night. The project was conceived, however, by the lesser-known emerging talents of Frenchman Cédric Hanriot on piano and the US’s Jason Palmer on trumpet.

Palmer and Hanriot co-wrote all of the music performed, inspired by science fiction author Dan Simmons, with each piece based on and named after one of Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Seven Modes of Limited Transportation’. By splicing these other-worldly scales with some mesmerizingly innovative rhythms, the compositions (which together formed The Hyperion Suite) sounded remarkably futuristic given the classic acoustic quintet line-up. They conjured a variety of moods, from the swirling impressionism of Hanriot’s ‘Third Mode’ to what Palmer described as a “space-age party vibe” on ‘First Mode’.

The lion’s share of soloing duties was taken by Palmer and McCaslin, who matched each other for daring and sure-footedness on some challenging charts with tricky-to-pin-down time signatures. Through his brawny tone and endless resources of rhythmic invention, McCaslin showed why he is considered one of the finest tenor saxophonists to have emerged since Michael Brecker. On top of his fine compositions, Palmer made a strong case as an artist deserving wider recognition with some patiently crafted, cliché-free solos and a confident, open sound.

Hanriot seemed content to play a supporting role for much of the first set, colouring the music with some thoughtful accompaniment. He stepped more into the foreground in the second set, revealing himself to be a highly accomplished pianist, evoking 60s-era Herbie Hancock during an exuberant, assured solo on ‘Seventh Mode’. Considering that Hanriot, still in his thirties, only came to the piano at the age of 21, his playing was all the more impressive.

Penn laid down immaculately tasteful and nuanced grooves, often playing at relatively hushed volumes, but eventually removed the gloves during a heavy-hitting groove-fest on ‘Fifth Mode’. He and Michael Janisch, rock-solid as ever on bass, appeared to be having plenty of fun linking together.

Both sets were recorded for Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label, and to my ears, every take was nailed first time. Apparently more critical of their own efforts, the musicians returned for two ‘second takes’ to end the gig. This turned out to be a shrewd decision, as the group appeared to have grown in confidence just over the course of the evening, their interplay even more polished. The recording promises to be another fine addition to the Whirlwind catalogue, capturing a world-class small ensemble in full flow.

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NEWS: Jo Fooks marks return from illness with charity gig (Oct 5th - Halstead Kent)



Saxophonist Jo Fooks has been through a serious illness which kept her away from playing for more than a year. She is making a return with her first gig, a charity evening in Halstead, Kent next month. She told us about the ordeal, the gig, and the things she has become more aware and more certain of as a result of what she has gone through:

[ UPDATE: Jo Fooks has set up a Justgiving page for people who want to support the cause ]

LondonJazz News: We didn't know you'd been ill . How terrible - What happened?

Jo Fooks: I came down with Bells Palsy on 15th May 2013. My face had been twitching the day before and I thought I'd burnt my tongue. The next sign that something was wrong was when I was brushing my teeth in the morning and I couldn't spit properly. I then noticed that my mouth wasn't responding, which was quite scary. Buster rushed me to our local hospital where they initially thought that I was having a stroke but then confirmed it was bells palsy. Over the space of about 24 hours I lost all use of one side of my face and was unable to blink.

LJN: What was the treatment regime?

JF: I was prescribed a 10 day course of very strong anti viral pills and steroids. These made me feel very ill and I'm not sure if they helped with my recovery. After that, the Dr's said it's just a matter of time. After 5 months of very little improvement my Dr referred me to Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead where they specialise in facial Palsy. I receive facial retraining and botox injections every 4 months. Botox is used to calm the over active muscles which is a bazaar side effect of this condition.

LJN: Were you able to play at all?

JF: I was unable to get any sound out of the saxophone for 14 months. I had no control of my cheek muscles (buccinator muscle) and my lips were unable to form a seal so any air I blew came straight out my mouth and not down the saxophone. Eating was also a challenge as I was unable to move food around my mouth. My taste buds were effected, my unblinking eye was light sensitive and my hearing became super sensitive as some of the muscles involved in hearing were unable to function properly.

LJN: How is it now?

JF: Things are so much better now and I am so happy to be playing again. Recovery was slow and there were many times when I thought that I'd be unable to play the saxophone. One of the neurologist told me that it was unlikely that I would be able to play the saxophone again. Fortunately I proved him wrong! My blink returned after 8 months then after 14 months I found that I could finally get a sound out of the saxophone! That was a very happy day!

LJN: You must be looking forward to the gig

JF: I'm very much looking forward to my first gig and sharing the stage with the fabulous Ted Beament on piano, Pete Ringrose on Bass and my gorgeous husband Buster Birch on drums. I'll be playing a selection of my favourite and jolly standards. Details below.

LJN: And its for a charity? Why did you choose the one you chose?

JF: I'm hoping to raise some money for The Royal Society of Musicians as they were an enormous help to me during my illness. I'm so graceful to them as their help was more than financial. They took away a lot of stress and enabled me to focus my energies on getting stronger.

LJN: What an incredible thing to go through. What are your thoughts as you emerge from it?

JF: Bells Palsy has taught me to acknowledge and celebrate the good things in life as the bad thing's will always demand our attention. Also, having an enforced year out from music has made me appreciate how important it is. Being able to make music is a gift and I'll never take that for granted ever again. Finally, bells palsy taught me to find and focus on the "silver linings" as they help make life easier.

FUND RAISING CONCERT on SUNDAY 5TH OCTOBER, 8:00pm 
HALSTEAD VILLAGE HALL, Knockholt Road, Halstead, Kent, TN14 7EU 
TICKETS £10 on the door. No advance sales. Doors 7:00pm

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CD REVIEW: The Gascoyne O’Higgins Quartet - The Real Note vol.2



The Gascoyne O’Higgins Quartet - The Real Note vol.2
(Jazzizit Records, JITCD 1461. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)


Recorded nearly two years after its predecessor “Got The Real Note”, The Real Note vol. 2 features the same quartet, and consists mostly of original compositions by its co-leaders, bassist Geoff Gascoyne and saxophonist Dave O’Higgins.

The album begins with “a messed up minor blues”, Darkness. After a suspense-building bass intro, the restless theme is stated; Sebastiaan de Krom’s crisp drumming immediately catches the ear, and Graham Harvey delivers a thrilling piano solo that wells up and subsides. Although the opener is not typical of the material that follows, the musicianship sets the tone for an exciting set.

Seven of the 11 tracks are based on the chord sequences of jazz standards, and have titles that hint at their origin. Shark Avenue - after “On Green Dolphin Street” - is an attractive samba. In 5/4 time, Five Moods is an adaptation of “I’m in the Mood for Love” and incorporates melodic (in addition to rhythmic) elements of “Take Five”. Gascoyne takes “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and transforms it into a bold and absorbing Vision. Little examination is required to determine the Basie-associated core of Autopsy, while O’Higgins’ hearty tenor on I Got Arrythmia (in 7/4) has the drive of Bob Berg and the warmth of Joe Henderson.

Two of the highlights showcase O’Higgins on soprano sax. Dedication is a waltz rooted in the gentle pop song “May Each Day,” made famous by Andy Williams in 1966 (I don’t think I’ve ever heard it performed by anyone else). De Krom is in his element on RSVP, which is a swaggering and audacious version of “Invitation”. Sheer pleasure!

In addition to the re-workings, a couple of familiar pieces are played straight. The grace and beauty of Sophisticated Lady shine through, and the closing Broadway – a bit too fast and bombastic for my liking – successfully conjures up the frenetic bustle of a New York rush hour.

Frequent changes of pace and time signature give the album a rather unsettled quality, but the occasional fussiness of the arrangements is outweighed by their impact. The music is tuneful enough for casual enjoyment, and experienced listeners will be kept on their toes by the more adventurous passages.

As always on the Jazzizit label, the production is exemplary. With The Real Note vol.2, Gascoyne, O’Higgins, Harvey and de Krom have come up with another terrific album.

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Rebecca Parris (Revoice! Festival Pizza Jazz Club, 10 and 11 Oct.)

Rebecca Parris


Returning ReVoice! star Rebecca Parris (10 and 11 October, Pizza Express Jazz Club) may be the jazz world’s best kept secret. She has worked with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Wynton Marsalis, Gary Burton and Dizzy Gillespie; counted Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae among her friends and is commonly referred to as the first lady of Boston Jazz, having won the Boston Music Award no less than 9 times. Yet she is still relatively unknown here in the UK. 

Acclaimed Dutch vocalist and songwriter Rosalie Genay interviewed her, finding her "warm, disarming and generous with her time, wisdom, and her vast knowledge of jazz vocals and music.": 

Rosalie Genay: It is wonderful to have you return to the ReVoice! Festival in London. What do you love about the UK?

Rebecca Parris: I adore everything I've seen in the U.K.; the people I've met, the history, the architecture, the appreciation of intellect and the arts. Where else can you walk down a street and touch a Roman wall? I am so excited to be returning. I'll bet you can't tell that I love London! Oh and I can't forget a certain tour bus driver named Tony who was absolutely splendid to my partner Paul!

RG: You started your career performing musical theatre and later fronted various Top 40 bands; what made you switch to jazz and how did you make that transition?

RP: I spent so long playing cover material that I felt I was losing myself. Luckily I [was] in several situations where the need was for standards and jazz tunes. I felt so free all of a sudden. My creative self reawakened and it felt good, really good. No longer was I relegated to sounding like someone else. With this opportunity I could pick songs for me and arrange them as I liked. The clouds passed. The music was adult, had actual lyrics and made complete musical sense. It was in retrospect a perfectly natural move for me. Jazz could incorporate all the things I had learned: theatre, romance, sadness, truth, dreams, reality. I could defy people with my experience, play with harmonies and melody, stretch my brain into new rhythms......it was like Christmas. It still is. I learn every time I play [with] the caliber of musicians that I have been blessed to [work] with.

RG: How has the jazz music scene changed in your eyes?

RP: American jazz lovers and players are all terribly disappointed in the lack of support the genre receives as it has been named the US' Official National music. Clubs are disappearing, "jazz" festivals are being overrun by pop music... Music education has nearly disappeared in all but the most affluent towns. I think that is the true crime here. Our kids are really missing out on the possibilities in music. We're allowing record companies with flashy videos, concerts with all the bells and whistles to take over and prescribe what people will listen to. Television and video and computers are too convenient for folks to spend money on live performances. No one has a clue as to how music is put together. If you don't teach harmony how will kids get it? I feel sorry for the ones that are missing out.

RG: You have worked with and alongside many of the greats that are sadly no longer with us today. Who have you loved collaborating with?

RP: Collaborations are always fun for me whether for a writing, producing or playing project. Playing with Dizzy Gillespie was a gas, writing with Carroll Coates and Arthur Hamilton was fun but my favorite writing collaboration was a long time ago with a relatively unknown songwriter named Stan Ellis. We co-produced my first album and wrote several pieces together. However, if I were to choose one it would have to be Gary Burton. Gary remains one of the singularly most generous human beings [and] I learned so very much [from him].

The late Jack Massarik awarded Rebecca’s appearance at the first ReVoice! an extremely rare 5 star review.

She returns to ReVoice! at the Pizza Express Jazz Club 10 and 11 October with James Pearson (piano), Mark Hodgson (bass). Dave Ohm (drums). First set from Georgia Mancio and  guitarist Colin Oxley. Tickets available HERE

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