CD REVIEW: Led Bib - Umbrella Weather

Led Bib - Umbrella Weather
(RareNoiseRecords. RNR071. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The latest CD from Led Bib is an attractive mixture, but it's hard to classify. Founder and drummer Mark Holub and his band members create lively, dynamic music with a hint of dance beats nestling amongst quirkier rhythms. This CD goes a long way to capturing the energy and excitement of their live shows.

Holub is credited with composing all the tracks, although he has said they are created in the studio through improvisation. The double sax frontline, both Chris Williams and Pete Grogan playing alto, provides the melodic and harmonic impetus. At times they play in unison, at others they weave in and out of each other. But often their paths diverge as they improvise away from the riffs.

Holub's drumming is sometimes rock-steady, sometimes frenetic. Keeping it all together is bassist Liran Donin, the rhythmic centre of the band. Keyboard player Toby McLaren adds texture and atmosphere to create what can be a very full sound.

The music could clearly be classified “jazz rock”, but it's a fusion of a large number of eclectic influences. The saxes necessarily evoke Prime Time Ornette Coleman – how could two improvising altos not? There's a bit of motorik beat, a large hint of prog rock, all laced with modern improvisation that provides a. Some of the tunes are almost anthemic - the second half of the opener Lobster Terror, or the end of Marching Orders.

Fields of Forgetfulness, Skeleton Key to the City and Goodbye, the aptly named piece which closes the CD, demonstrate a gentle lyricism, building in emotional power as they progress. Other pieces sound almost manic, such as At the Shopping Centre - shopping was never that traumatic.

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


CD REVIEW: Modern Jazz Quartet Live at Monterey

Modern Jazz Quartet Live at Monterey
(Douglas AD-07. CD Review by Peter Jones)

If, in retrospect, there is a jazz combo that looks less fashionable than the Dave Brubeck Quartet, it is probably the Modern Jazz Quartet. Both were massively popular and successful over roughly the same time period. Both had a restrained, rather professorial image, conservatively dressed, with a reputation for playing polite jazz music for white people; objects of scorn, in other words, for those who preferred their musicians to look like they had to scuffle harder.

MJQ certainly had a smooth sound, honed from being in the same group together for so long (nine years by the time this live recording was made at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival). But that smoothness was deliberate policy on the part of the group and its musical director, pianist John Lewis. The discipline they had all learned from playing formal charts as the rhythm section for Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band was maintained in this small unit. They wanted to be taken seriously, as if they were a string quartet playing classical repertoire. And therein lies the problem (if it is a problem): MJQ were a bit conservative, lacking the wildness and unpredictability inherent in other styles of jazz. They did not go out on a limb. They did not hit the odd bum note while reaching for something extraordinary. In other words, one does not get the sense that anything very exciting is going to happen. One critic accused them of ‘relentless tastefulness’, partly due to the ‘saccharine’ tonal combination of Lewis’s piano and the vibraphone of Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson. How could you play blues tunes like this? Where was the edge?

But I would suggest there are still reasons to listen to them. To begin with, they were all master musicians, as well as brilliant improvisers. The over-smoothness complained of could be attributed to the perfection of their playing. Secondly, they embodied the spirit of the cool school. Sure, maybe there was nothing to get too worked up about, but who said jazz always has to be thrilling? Sometimes there is pleasure in restraint, as we hear in Lewis’s composition In A Crowd, with its subtle modulations and chirpy piano and vibes solos.

One can also enjoy the formal structure of a tune like Winter Tale, a mini-suite in two distinct repeated sections. It begins like the accompaniment to a dramatic silent movie, all rippling piano and arco double bass, before settling into a sort of manouche section played accelerando, which morphs into a brisk upswing. The elusive time count on the intro to The Sheriff showcases the murderous accuracy of Connie Kay on drums and Percy Heath on bass, before the band sets off on another tasteful upswing excursion. The more I play this CD, the more I like it. Let’s give MJQ a chance!


LP REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler – Deer Wan

Kenny Wheeler – Deer Wan
(ECM 1102. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

The great Canadian trumpeter, flugelhorn player and mischievous pun-meister Kenny Wheeler recorded Deer Wan in 1977 and it was released on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label the following year. Now as part of ECM’s vinyl revival it’s back in print in this format, and is one of the catalogue’s outstanding reissues, showing Wheeler’s skill as a writer and performer in the context of an emphatically talented group.

Peace For Five opens with Jan Garbarek’s searching, sighing, rhapsodic tenor until Wheeler steps in to solo and exchange comments with John Abercrombie’s electric guitar. Then an extended, sinewy solo by Dave Holland on upright bass explores the structure of the piece before suddenly accelerating the pace so the combo can jump back on the tune, like bank robbers leaping into a getaway car. Emerging from the fraught and meticulously interlocking ensemble, Abercrombie plays an at first beautifully piercing, then fatly sonorous, bell-like solo. Garbarek concludes with long, serpentine lines and Holland’s bass becomes a heartbeat, clearing the way for a characteristically complex excursion by Jack DeJohnette on drums, sounding like a whole ensemble on his own until the actual ensemble reasserts itself and shows what they can do.

The brief and haunting 3/4 in the Afternoon has a bittersweet quality with Ralph Towner’s 12 string guitar deftly fashioning the mood and in some ways anticipating the approach of Bill Frisell, who would also become a mainstay of ECM, starting in 1983. Both Garbarek and Wheeler fit in beautifully with Towner’s sound here.

At eleven minutes and twenty two seconds, Sumother Song is actually two pieces, at first emerging out of a skeletal, steady, measured beat to develop into something thoughtfully and passionately sculpted by Garbarek before undergoing a complete metamorphosis — becoming pacey and breezy, with a Latin feel. Wheeler plays with great openness, letting fresh air into the piece, John Abercrombie covering his back all the way. The guitarist then moves forward to play a moving and meditative conclusion that tends towards, and eventually arrives at, silence. Finally Wheeler and Garbarek state and restate a signature phrase, at first in competition, then agreement.

Deer Wan sees Wheeler and Garbarek in close cahoots again, adding section after section to a rising tower of sound, accompanied by the delicate patter of cymbal effects from DeJohnette. Changing from the vertical to the horizontal, Wheeler and Garbarek essay a languid chase in a sort of postmodern reinterpretation of the West Coast sound, DeJohnette playing strong and articulate support, Abercrombie and Holland covering their flanks.

This is a 180 gram piece of vinyl mastered from the original analog master tapes, which are audibly in good condition. It scores highly as an audiophile artefact, but more importantly as excellent music. The album thoughtfully includes a download code, so your digital needs are also attended to.

LINK: Product Link at Proper Music


LP REVIEW: Jazz in Italian Cinema - (Spreading new sounds from the Big Screen 1958-62)

LP REVIEW:  Jazz in Italian Cinema
(Jazz On Film Records JOF003. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Not content with providing definitive boxed-set CD collections, the Jazz on Film label have now branched out into vinyl with an impressive first LP release. As the title implies, Jazz in Italian Cinema - (Spreading new sounds from the Big Screen 1958-62) is an overview and since it consists of one 33 rpm record, it’s a sampler, dipping into a number of film scores. It makes for a dense concentration of dazzling music.

First up is Piero Umiliani’s music for I soliti ignoti,  an Italian phrase with shades of ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘Persons Unknown’ — the English language title of the film is in fact Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958). On the track Blues for Gassman Part 1 a gong cues an insistent shuffle with noir overtones provided by the dark pumping of Gino Marinacci’s baritone sax, closely tracked by the trombones of Mario Midana and Bill Gilmore (valve). Drummer Roberto Zapulla’s use of brushes and Umiliani’s melodic piano are also highlights.

Although not as well known as Umiliani, Armando Trovajoli was another master of both Italian jazz and film scores. The score in question here is from il Vedovo (‘The Widower’). On Oscar is the Back (sic) the personnel is hazy but that’s either Chet Baker or Oscar Valdambrini on trumpet and nothing is lost either way. There’s no ambiguity about who’s playing on Relaxin’ With Chet, which is taken from Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti (1959) — roughly the ‘Daring Heist by the Usual Suspects’ and, as you will have guessed, a sequel to the earlier film and again an Umiliani score. Despite the laidback title of Relaxin’, it is with this number that the LP really starts to cook, surging forward as Baker’s cascading phrases fall like onrushing waves amidst an elite ensemble. Gilmore and Marinacci are back and Marcello Boschi on alto sax and Livio Cervellieri on tenor have been added to the equation. Boschi’s alto is a particularly exquisite bonus.

Piero Piccioni was the third great exponent of Italian jazz and film music. A marvellous musician, his life was like something out of one of the movies he scored — a lawyer himself, he was a suspect in a scandalous, high profile murder case in 1953. His main title theme for L’Assassino (1961) manages to be simultaneously breezy and menacing and is a classic example of the thriving 1950s genre of ‘crime jazz’ (notable examples include Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn themes). This track has a clean, liquid sound and the vibes are especially impressive. Sadly the player is unknown, as is everyone here except Piccioni on piano, who has evidently been listening to his Ellington collection, and Marinacci playing his characteristically virile baritone and providing an agreeably dark foundation for the proceedings. Also by Piccioni, Finale is taken from the 1960 film Adua e le compagne (‘Adua and Her Friends’). Once more the details of the personnel are lost to history, which is particularly a shame in the case of the wonderful saxophonist.

The soundtrack for La Notte (‘The Night’; 1960) is Giorgio Gaslini, a new name to me. The featured track here is Blues All’Alba and when you hear Eraldo Volonté’s roughly caressing tenor on it you will begin to realise what a thriving and healthy jazz scene Italy had in the fifties and sixties. So it comes as a something of a surprise to learn that the music for Una storia Milanese (1962) was written by none other than John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The Belgian Bobby Jaspar (Blossom Dearie’s husband) is responsible for the delightful, probing, delicacy of the flute on Lewis’s In a Crowd, which is also notable for countrified violin from Giulio Franzetti and Enzo Porta, and loping guitar by René Thomas (who co-led a quintet with Jaspar). Lastly we have another Italian composer, Sandro Brugnolini with his music for Gli arcangeli (‘The Archangels’; 1962). The track Robert’s Idea features bold, robust trumpet by Cicci Santucci.

There is no shortage of Italian film/jazz reissues on the market today but this is a particularly fine example. The audio quality is poised, clear, and articulate and the 180 gram vinyl pressing is immaculate and free of any flaws (which is far from always the case). I doubt this music has ever sounded so good before. The package also includes excellent, authoritative notes, both on the back of the album cover (by Francesco Martinelli) and on an attractive insert sheet (by Selwyn Harris). The only shortcoming with this record is that you’ll wish there was more of the music. But if all goes according to plan, there will indeed be a follow-up box set of CDs from Jazz on Film, addressing exactly that problem.

LINK: Product link at Proper Music 


CD REVIEW: Kansas Smitty’s House Band – Kansas Smitty’s Live

Kansas Smitty’s House Band – Kansas Smitty’s Live
( - CD review by Mark McKergow)

Kansas Smitty’s continue their rise and rise with this attractive second album of stylish originals performed with huge skill and aplomb.  The band, the only one in London with their own eponymous bar -  in Broadway Market E8 -  have achieved the unusual feat of establishing a recognisable signature sound that is rooted fair and square in pre-war jazz traditions.

This recording follows on from the band’s debut, which was notable for getting ten well-performed original numbers into a mere 40 minutes, as if in tribute to the focused time restrictions of the 78rpm gramophone.  This time the band are positively expansive, with eight tunes over a similar duration.  Even though this doesn’t look like a huge difference, it does allow the group a little more time for stretching out, and the soloing – normally featuring one or two performers on each track - is particularly impressive throughout.  The live-with-an-audience recording from ‘the heart of Soho’ captures the crowd’s warm response most attractively.

Once again all eight tracks are originals, with writing shared between altoist/clarinettist and leader Giacomo Smith, pianist Joe Webb, bass player Ferg Ireland and trumpeter Pete Horsfall.  Each tune has a distinct feel, from the opening ragtime of Whiskey Rag (featuring some very fine clarinet from Adrian Cox, complete with shrieks, growls and fluency in all registers) to the lilting closing adieu Goodbye My Friends sung by Horsfall in his smooth and liquid style. (Horsfall’s own EP How Can We Know? was released at the end of 2016, and I suspect there’s more to come.)

The variety and skill of this recording is outstanding. The swinging romp Anita shows Giacomo Smith in fine form as he extends over some boppish phrasing, Here’s To Huw is a rhythm section feature that brings Dave Archer’s guitar to the fore, and North Henry Street’s bouncing mainstream swing has space for Pedro Segundo to shine behind the drumkit.  As on the first CD, Smitty’s find space for a guest performer and blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti steps up for a rocking run at his Messin’ Around No More (which also allows Giacomo Smith to show off his rock’n’roll sax tone).

The overall impression from this collection is a super combination of tight writing and performing and exuberant soloing and spirit.  I expect Kansas Smitty’s to continue to impress in London and elsewhere – they have a four-night residency at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival this year, a chance for a wider audience to catch up with their playful punch-on-the-nose straight ahead style.

LINK:  Kansas Smitty’s House Band debut CD review 


NEWS: Larry Coryell 2 April 1943 - 19 February 2017 R.I.P.

Larry Coryell

The news has been announced of the death of guitarist Larry Coryell. Here is the official press release from Savoy Jazz.

Legendary guitarist Larry Coryell died on Sunday 19 February in New York City. Coryell, 73, passed away in his sleep at his hotel from natural causes. He’d performed his last two shows on Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18, at the Iridium in New York City.

> As one of the pioneers of jazz-rock - perhaps the pioneer in the ears of some (he’s known to many as the Godfather of Fusion) -  Larry Coryell deserves a special place in the history books. He brought what amounted to a nearly alien sensibility to jazz electric guitar playing in the 1960s, a hard-edged, cutting tone, phrasing and note-bending that owed as much to blues, rock and even country as it did to earlier, smoother bop influences.

Yet as a true eclectic, armed with a brilliant technique, he was comfortable in almost every style, covering almost every base from the most decibel-heavy, distortion-laden electric work to the most delicate, soothing, intricate lines on acoustic guitar.

Born in Galveston, Texas, on 2 April 1943, Coryell grew up in the Seattle, Washington, area where his mother introduced him to the piano at the age of four. He switched to guitar and played rock music while in his teens. He didn't consider himself good enough to pursue a music career and studied journalism at The University of Washington while simultaneously taking private guitar lessons.

By 1965 he had relocated to New York City and began taking classical guitar lessons which would figure prominently in the later stages of his career. Although citing Chet Atkins and Chuck Berry as early influences he also took cues from jazzmen such as John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery. He was also inspired by the popular music of the day by The Beatles, The Byrds and Bob Dylan, and worked diligently to meld both rock and jazz stylings into his technique. This was reflected on his debut recording performance on drummer Chico Hamilton's album The Dealer where he sounded like Chuck Berry at times with his almost distorted "fat" tone.

In 1966 he formed a psychedelic band called The Free Spirits on which he also sang vocals, played the sitar and did most of the composing. Although conceptually the band's music conformed to the psychedelic formula with titles like Bad News Cat and I'm Gonna Be Free it foreshadowed jazz-rock fusion with more complex soloing by Coryell and sax/flute player Jim Pepper.

However, it wasn't until three years later after apprenticing on albums by vibraphonist Gary Burton and flautist Herbie Mann, and gigging with the likes of Jack Bruce and others that Coryell established his multifarious musical voice, releasing two solo albums (Lady Coryell and Coryell) which mixed jazz, classical and rock ingredients.

In late 1969 he recorded Spaces, the album for which he is most noted. It was a guitar blow-out which also included John McLaughlin who was also sitting on the fence between rock and jazz at the time and the cogitative result formed what many aficionados consider to be the embryo from which the fusion jazz movement of the 1970s emerged. It contained insane tempos and fiery guitar exchanges which were often beyond category not to mention some innovating acoustic bass work by Miroslav Vitous and power drumming by Billy Cobham, both of whom were to make contributions to jazz-rock throughout the ‘70s.

His career as a significant guitar force in the era of late ‘60s and early ‘70s music continued to take flight in a time when guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and many other iconic names also blossomed. His varied musical expression took him on a diverse journey, and though he did not receive the level of commercial fame some of his guitarist contemporaries enjoyed, he was still able to make his timeless mark in music through his highly acclaimed solo work (he released well over 60 solo albums), his performances with powerhouse fusion band The Eleventh House and numerous collaborations with a host of jazz greats including  Miles Davis, Gary Burton, Alphonse Mouzon, Ron Carter and Chet Baker, and many other noteworthy artists of all styles.

Larry still toured the world right up until his passing and had planned an extensive 2017 summer tour with a reformed The Eleventh House.

His most recent releases are Barefoot Man: Sanpaku, released on 14 October 2016 on Cleopatra Records and an upcoming Eleventh House release, entitled Seven Secrets, which will be released on the Savoy Jazz label on 2 June.

His final original works included operas based on Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and James Joyce's Ulysses.

He is survived by his wife Tracey, his daughter Annie, his sons Murali and Julian, and his daughter Allegra, as well as six grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned Friday 24 February at the S.G.I-USA Buddhist centre at 7 East 15th St, New York, at 7pm.


NEWS: Winners of Dankworth and Eddie Harvey Awards announced (GSMD 23rd March)

Eddie Harvey Award winner (fellow trombonist/arranger) Tom Green

The Worshipful Company of Musicians has just announced the winners of the 2017 Dankworth and Eddie Harvey Awards

Now in their tenth anniversary year, the Dankworth Awards are awarded to:

Big Band: Jacky Naylor with “Bilbao”
Runner up: James Brady with “Hermeto’s Hideaway"

Small Ensemble: Matt Anderson with “Jig Jag Jug”
Runner-Up: Matt Sulzmann with “Castle View”

The winner of the 2017 Eddie Harvey Jazz Arrangers Award is:

Tom Green with “Badger Cam”
Runner Up: Jacky Naylor with “Stockholm"

The Press release continues:

"The winning pieces will be performed by members of the GSMD Jazz Dept under the direction of Scott Stroman and Malcolm Edmonstone at Milton Court, Silk Street, Barbican on: Thursday 23rd March 2017 7.30pm" 

The awards evening is produced by GSMD in partnership with the Worshipful Company of Musicians. The Dankworth Awards awards will be presented by members of the Dankworth Family



REVIEW: Charles McPherson Quartet at Pizza Express

Charles McPherson with bassist Daryll Hall (background)

Charles McPherson Quartet
Pizza Express Dean Street, 17th February 2017, First House. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Famous for performing bebop standards at blistering speeds, 77 year old bebop veteran Charles McPherson shows no sign of slowing down. Beginning with the standard Spring Is Here, you wouldn’t have known that Spanish pianist Albert Palau was performing with McPherson for the first time. Their latin version of Nature Boy provided some contrast, with Palau taking the first solo, intelligently running through some fluid lines and interacting with drummer Stephen Keogh before McPherson ended with a cadenza displaying his command of the upper register.

The tune Marionette showed McPherson’s ability to still do his trademark fast runs up and down the horn, and these brief glimpses of jaw-dropping virtuosity remind you of the mastery that McPherson displayed whilst playing with Mingus, Barry Harris and on the soundtrack to the Clint Eastwood-directed film Bird.

McPherson is a master of tension and release and this was evident in his version of East of the Sun, which has been part of his repertoire for some years now. His solos always show a good understanding of shape and structure, telling a story with a beginning, middle and end.

The Sonny Rollins classic Tenor Madness was played at a blistering pace, but bassist Daryll Hall kept up and even surpassed himself with his best solo of the set, proving that the more challenging a tune is, the more often it can produce surprising results.

Drummer Stephen Keogh, a McPherson regular, was featured on another uptempo bebop classic, Anthropology, allowing him to unleash an Elvin Jones style display of virtuosity.

As the band were doing an early show and a late show, they performed a single set of about an hour and a half, leaving the audience demanding an encore. April in Paris provided an overall summary of the evening: plenty of swinging classic bebop.

L-R: Albert Palau, Charles McPherson, Daryll Hall, Stephen Keogh
Photo credit: Paul Wood

LINK: Preview feature about Charles McPherson


NEWS: Line-Up for Pizza Express Steinway 2-Piano Festival Announced (March 13-19)

Mike Westbrook

The artists for this year's Pizza Express Steinway Festival have been announced. 

- The legends are in on Wednesday (Mike Westbrook - above) and Saturday/ Sunday (Bob Dorough). 

- The duo of Nikki Yeoh and Zoe Rahman is a very appealing prospect. 

- There is a Latin night on Friday with Alex Wilson and London-Cuban sensation Eliane Correa. 

- Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll on Tuesday is described in the club's blurb as "not for the faint-hearted" (what can they mean?) . 

- Monday's pairing is the regular duo of Stephanie Trick (thank you Wikipedia), " born 1987 in St. Louis, Missouri and an American stride, ragtime and jazz pianist." and Paolo Alderighi, born in Milan in 1980 and together they sound and look like THIS. 

- For those of us with short attention spans, the communicative sparks will be flying in both the Aspland / Horler and the Leak/Neame duos on Saturday lunchtime. 

March 13th 
Stephanie Trick & Paolo Alderighi

March 14th Ian Shaw & Liane Carroll

March 15th Mike Westbrook & Jonathan Gee

March 16th Nikki Yeoh & Zoe Rahman

March 17th Alex Wilson & Eliane Correa (two shows)

March 18th (Lunchtime)  John Horler & Robin Aspland/Sam Leak & Ivo Neame

March 18th-19th Bob Dorough (Two shows each night - Saturday with Simon Wallace and guests, Sunday in a trio with Geoff Gascoyne and Seb de Krom)

LINK: Interview with Bob Dorough 


PREVIEW FEATURE: Playing John Mayer's Indo-Jazz Fusions (Birmingham mac, 8th April)

Indo-Jazz Fusions in the 1990s: John Mayer with (clockwise from top left) James MacDowell, Jonathan Mayer, Steve Tromans, Ranjit Singh, Chris Featonby, Andrew Bratt, Dave Smith, Anna Brooks.

As he prepares to lead a band in homage to a pioneer of musical fusion, composer and bandleader JOHN MAYER, pianist STEVE TROMANS remembers how the great man left his mark:

In his sleeve notes to the album Etudes (originally released 1969, remastered and re-released on First Hand Records 2008), John Mayer describes his compositional intention with Indo-Jazz Fusions as being to “combine the techniques of symphonic writing with the medium of jazz and the Indian system of raga and tala”. Almost 50 years since the penning of those words – and compositions – and Mayer’s approach to the fusing of musical systems from diverse cultures still retains the extraordinary sense of nascence and revolution engendered in the first incarnation of Indo-Jazz Fusions (featuring the legendary saxophonist Joe Harriott).

Joe Harriott and John Mayer in 1966.

Mayer (1930-2004) began his musical life as a violinist, studying at the Calcutta School of Music before winning a scholarship to study under Melhi Mehta at the Royal Academy in London in 1950. After time in the London and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras in the 1950s and early-‘60s, it was in 1964 that, firstly, EMI producer Dennis Preston and, later, Atlantic Record’s Ahmet Ertegun respectively sparked and encouraged interest in Mayer’s fusion of Indian classical and modern jazz stylings. This interest led to the recording (among others) of the Indo-Jazz Fusions I album, released in 1966 to critical acclaim and followed by further recordings and performances in the UK and Europe – before Harriott’s death in 1973 brought the project to an untimely end.

Fast-forward to the mid-’90s, and my own association with John Mayer began with the great man as my composition tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire of Music (UK). Encouraged by student interest (including my own) in the Indo-Jazz project, Mayer was persuaded to reform the band, leading to four albums and three major tours (India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), plus a string of festival and club-venue appearances before his tragic death - he was fatally injured by a car - in 2004.

Mayer’s legacy, for myself (as a jazz pianist and composer), and for my peers who also played in (what turned out to be) the last incarnation of Indo-Jazz Fusions, centres on his perpetual willingness to experiment, and to take musical chances: to bring together aspects of two different musical cultures (jazz and Indian classical) and to compose a way to allow them to find each other, in the ensuing improvisations of the performers concerned. As Ian Carr points out, in his liner notes to the Indo-Jazz Fusions II album (originally released in 1968), “They said it couldn’t be done ... But it has been done: East has met – and fused with – West”. And it was John Mayer who composed that fusion – which is no mean feat (when was the last time any one of us invented a whole new way of hearing and feeling disparate musical cultures, I wonder?).

And speaking of legacy, it is with a certain pride that I am to be leading a homage to John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions as part of the forthcoming Surge in Spring festival at the Midlands’ Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham (UK), 8 April 2017. The event will provide the opportunity for John’s son, the renowned sitarist and composer Jonathan Mayer, to perform alongside members of the Surge Orchestra (including myself) and special guests – including the tabla master Mohinder Singh, and a young lion of the Birmingham scene, Xhosa Cole (saxophone and flute). We will be revisiting certain of Mayer Snr’s pieces from the original Indo-Jazz project, plus arrangements and new compositions from members of the specially-formed ensemble.

In this current political and cultural climate of 2017, it seems to my senses to be vital that Mayer’s Indo-Jazz experiments be rekindled and rebooted for a new generation of musicians and music fans. As John himself said in 1996, concerning his feelings on the fusions he helped pioneer: “There’s not the isolation that there was before – there is a closeness ... which is so nice”. We can all learn more than a little from such sentiments.

John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions is appearing at Surge In Spring, mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham at 4.30pm on Saturday 8 April 2017.

LINK: Surge In Spring: John Mayer's Indo-Jazz Fusions


INTERVIEW: Raph Clarkson (and the Jazz Musicians in Front of Brick Walls website)

Raph Clarkson  (photo Jake Walker)

Trombonist RAPH CLARKSON is one of the musicians to be found on a new site Jazz Musicians in Front of Brick Walls. We were keen to find out how this new found prominence / fame notoriety / cool (discuss) was affecting him. Interview by Sebastian: 

London Jazz News: Why did you get yourself photographed in front of a brick wall?

Raph Clarkson: I'm somebody that could probably do with a cool-factor boost when it comes to publicising myself - and nothing says cool and hip like a gritty, urban brick wall. So I decided to pose in front of one! Also that particular wall (in Shoreditch of course) is near my girlfriend's house, so... yeah. Walls are cool. Brick is cool. Brick walls are cool.

LJN: What was the first you knew about the brick walls site?

RC: I saw myself tagged in a tweet publicizing the site, and thought 'finally - I've made it'.

LJN: You've become the poster child of the site. Which other pictures do you like?

RC: I enjoy Chris Potter's picture - the simultaneous performance of sax and piano is impressive enough, but put it in front of some brick - and it's kind of overwhelming. Ambrose Akinmusire has also wisely copied my clever idea of dismantling my instrument in order to appear quirky.

Chris Potter

LJN: How does it feel?

RC: It just feels amazing, and I'm so grateful to everyone for their help on this journey, it's been hard, goodness knows it's been hard but, kids, the hard work pays off in the end. Keep plugging away and you too will one day find yourself on a witty photo blog.

LJN: What's this about an album launch?

RC: All joking aside, I have actually made an album with The Dissolute Society, a band chock full of wonderful musicians who have played and improvised their hearts out to create our debut record 'Soldiering On', paying tribute to my mother, and musical heroes John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler. We're launching it at The Vortex on 12th May.

LJN: Do brick walls feature in the album?

RC: There is a track on the album called Find The Way Through, which, if you are analytically minded, can be interpreted as a metaphorical struggle to break through an impasse, or wall if you will, and an impasse (or wall) that in its hardy composition, its toughness, might be described as 'brick-like', so yes, brick walls absolutely do feature in the album.

In your dreams and nightmares?

RC: After this interview I think the answer is inevitably yes.

Raph Clarkson's album Soldiering On will appear on Babel Records


REVIEW: Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story in Hull

Sean O'Hagan and Friends, Friday 17 February 2017, (c) Thomas Arran
Basil Kirchin
Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story
(Hull City Hall. 17th-19th February 2017. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

This wonderful weekend was devoted to the memory of Basil Kirchin (1927-2005), originally a drummer, but latterly a highly regarded composer of large scale compositions, film music and a pioneer of the integration of natural sounds into written composition. Kirchin spent all his later years in Hull. 

Since I had known next to nothing of Kirchin before signing up to go to Hull, I learnt a lot from this weekend with its excellent panels and associated literature. I was particularly struck by the loyalty of the various musicians, recording engineers and record label owners present at the weekend to Kirchin and his work. This also came across strongly in the documentary Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story made by Hull’s Nova Studios, which was premiered at the weekend festival. A very clear picture emerged from this of an intense but very likeable man devoted to his music who had led a Spartan existence in a small house in Hull, but who had achieved his goal of creating a large body of work that clearly influenced and inspired a large number of fellow musicians and composers – Brian Eno is, for example, quoted as acknowledging Kirchin as a major influence.

Kirchin’s work remained largely unknown outside the group of committed musicians during his life, but this weekend celebration and the gradual re-issue of key albums by Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, plus the championing of it by key musicians such as Evan Parker, Alan Barnes and Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas group, plus young innovators such as Liam van Rijn aka DJ Revenu and Joe Acheson of the Hidden Orchestra may well lead to a revival of interest. Certainly Kirchin’s music with its focus on texture and on the integration of electronics within those textures is increasingly relevant.

I also learnt a lot from a very entertaining two hour DJ set by Jerry Dammers who played excerpts of Kirchin’s ‘library music’, the music written for film but never issued as an album, within an overview of the whole library music scene. He commented that Kirchin’s music is often a cross between middle of the road music and the avant-garde.

Friday: Sean O'Hagan and Friends
Photo credit and (c) Thomas Arran

The weekend, brilliantly curated by Serious and J-Night for Hull 2017, had many musical highlights. Each set focussed on new work inspired by one or more aspects of Kirchin’s work. On the first evening DJ Revenu’s quintet concentrated on the use of electronics while Sean O’Hagan’s nine-piece group drew on Kirchin’s film music especially I Start Counting written for the film of the same name. This led naturally into the showing of the horror film The Abominable Dr. Phibes with Alex Hawkins playing the pipe organ parts on the City Hall organ integrating these sections into Kirchin’s score. The power of the live organ played by Alex in a flowing cape added a stunning extra dimension to the showing of the film. Joe Acheson and the Hidden Orchestra, on this occasion a 7-piece band with trumpet, cello, violin doubling keys, harp, bass doubling electronics and two drummers, played an electrifying set on the Saturday that seemed to capture something of Kirchin’s methods with layers of percussion driving over strongly integrated textures from the rest of the band. Acheson also demonstrated very effectively Kirchin’s technique of making recordings of natural sounds, e.g. birdsong or sounds from Hull’s dockland, and altering these sounds by slowing them down to produce different textures, which were then integrated into the compositions.

Saturday: Hidden Orchestra,
Photo credit and (c) James Mulkeen

The final concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra played various pieces of Kirchin’s own work, plus commissions from Matthew Herbert, St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, Jim O’Rourke and Will Gregory. The piece featuring Evan Parker integrated birdsong with the sound of Evan’s soprano saxophone and this was followed by Gregory’s piece that made similar use of birdsong this time blending it with the sound of Charles Mutter’s violin and Brigitte Beraha’s voice. O’Rourke’s piece captured the mix of the mainstream with the avant-garde characteristic of much of Kirchin’s work with Raymond Macdonald’s spiky solos on alto and soprano saxophones contrasting with the gentle melodic drone of the strings. The concert built up to a tremendous climax with two big band like pieces in which Alan Barnes’ storming alto saxophone featured strongly.

The musical highlight of the weekend for me, however, was a beautifully controlled improvised set on the Saturday night with Evan Parker on soprano sax and the sounds of Spring Heel Jack (Ashley Wales and John Coxon) plus Matt Wright on turntables and Adam Linson on double bass and electronics. Evan introduced the concert by relating how Kirchin had defied Alan Barnes to distinguish between the sound of a wild swan and that of Evan’s soprano improvisations. The first part of the improvisation built on this by creating a situation in which Evan reacted to the birdsong generated by Spring Heel Jack thereby producing a quite unique blend of sounds. As the set developed, the music moved on to other textures, but throughout maintained a gentle but always inventive interaction between the electronics and the acoustic instruments.

I very much hope that the Mind on the Run weekend will lead to a wider recognition of Kirchin’s music.

LINK: Basil Kirchin at Hull 2017


PREVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, March 16-19th.

The crowd at the 2014 Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
Photo credit: Ruth Butler

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, the city's very own jazz jamboree based in and around Colston Hall already seems well-established, with the fifth edition in a few weeks offering a well-balanced mix of special projects and a tempting selection of touring bands. Bristolian JON TURNEY previews the four-day event:

First up, on the Thursday evening (March 16th) - a day earlier than usual - is the intriguing prospect of a new score for Fritz Lang’s expressionist epic Metropolis. Long-time resident Andy Sheppard, already missed in the city after his recent move to Portugal, returns to Bristol to debut this 90-minute effort, featuring a 10-piece band including regular cohorts Michele Rabbia on percussion and Eivind Aarset on guitar. Sheppard has set Lang’s great fable - of the workers’ rebellion in a stratified city, and Martha the girl activist turned into a robot by archetypal mad scientist Rotwang - to sounds that blend, guitars, electronica and treated saxophones. Films buffs will also want to note a sumptuous sounding set on Saturday evening (18th) when Charles Hazlewood explores jazz scores by the likes of Lalo Schifrin, Roy Budd, Ira Newborn, Don Ellis, Ellington and (of course) Henry Mancini, in the company of his own orchestra, strings, Adrian Utley and Will Gregory.

Over the four days, this year’s festival follows its usual three-tier schedule, using the many mansions of the Colston Hall (with one gig, by Quantic over the road in the O2 Academy). The main crowd-pullers for ticketed gigs are in the main hall. The smaller Lantern fills out the roster with plenty of things for more adventurous listeners, and there’s a freestage in the foyer that attracts big crowds for a showcase of local talent.

After Sheppard, and Friday night’s ever-popular swing dance gala, the main hall features Robben Ford, Mud Morganfield, and Hazelwood (Saturday) and The London Community Gospel Choir, Bobby Shew’s centenary tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, and Macy Grey (Sunday). Ford and Shew, who is backed by festival music director Denny Ilett’s big band, also have dates at Ronnie Scott’s but they’re both already posted as sold out so you’ll have to pop down to Bristol to catch them.

The Lantern is well-supplied with must-see bands this year, including double helpings of Laura Jurd, appearing with her own Dinosaur and with Jasper Hoiby’s splendid new ensemble Fellow Creatures. The programme there also takes in trumpeter Yazz Armed, Gilad Atzman and Alan Barnes, Alec Dankworth, and a solo piano set from Jason Rebello. Bristol favourites Dakhla Brass are promoted to the Lantern this year, in a double bill with guitarist Remi Harris’s trio, and I’m told their set will feature other special guests yet to be revealed. If none of those appeals, hang on for the final set on Sunday night, when a trio led by Neville Marten recreate Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced to mark its 50th anniversary, though they have to compete with the heavily Hendrix influenced Tony Remy gracing local hero saxist James Morton’s band and closing the foyer programme at the same hour.

Add a score of other foyer sets over the four days, and late jam sessions in neighbouring, newly refitted bar/restaurant Bambalan, and a serious sampling of what’s on offer will need serious stamina - always a good test of whether a programme measures up as a real festival. This one certainly does.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival


REPORT: London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead - World Premiere in New York

London Vocal Project at the premiere
with Pete Churchill and Jon Hendricks (front row, 5th and 5th from left)

London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead  - 
(St Peter's Church, New York, 17th February 2017. Report by Tessa Souter)

The world premiere of the seminal Gil Evans-Miles Davis album Miles Ahead, lyricized by Jon Hendricks, St. Peter’s Church in New York on Friday, was a spectacular success.

Practically every singer in New York was in attendance – including (sharing a pew in the front row) Annie Ross, Sheila Jordan and the man himself, Jon Hendricks. Executive Producer, Quincy Jones, who paid for the 23-strong choir (plus bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Steve Brown) to fly in from London, was video-ed on the wall, sending his congratulations and love. The performances were amazing. And the audience was spellbound, including 95-year-old Jon Hendricks, who could barely contain his excitement – mouthing the words, conducting along and occasionally jumping up from his seat throughout the concert.

But, despite all appearances to the contrary, pulling it off was far from effortless. Almost 50 years in the making, from concept to final execution, the vocal version of Miles Ahead was finally midwifed into existence by LVP choir director, Pete Churchill, who first heard about it when he met Jon Hendricks at a vocal workshop in London in 2010. “He said he’d been working on this Miles Ahead project since the 60s and I said, ‘Well, we’ll do it!’ Because that’s what the London Vocal Project’s mission is about. To champion new music. In other words, if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done!”

And you can see why. It wasn’t simply a question of learning supremely difficult music, reducing all the orchestra parts and rescoring them up for 11-part vocal harmonies (“We sang every note that Gil wrote; that was Jon’s stipulation,” says Churchill), it had to be actually finished. “About a year after we agreed to do it, we met in Paris to look at feasibility. Jon had all his lyrics and he’d brought all his scores. And that’s when I found out how much there was still yet to do because he’d done all the Miles solos but many of the orchestrations hadn’t been lyricized.”

A week before a 2014 performance at Ronnie Scott’s of three movements – “The Duke”, “The Maids of Cadiz” and “My Ship” - Churchill flew to New York to start filling in the lyrics that were needed for the orchestrations. “I sat at the piano and played the score – it’s easier to rewind me than a recording! – saying to Jon: ‘What’s Miles saying at this point. And what should the trombones be saying?’ It was a kind of dialogue between orchestra and soloists. Sometimes protagonist, sometimes Greek chorus. It was very interesting what his concept was. Then I was sending them back to the LVP to write on the score and rehearse as he was writing them.”

“Jon and I had a schedule every day. I’d knock on his door at about 11am and we’d do a couple of hours and have lunch and then do another couple of hours. Then I’d be spending the rest of the time scoring it up and putting the voices in on the score. It worked really well,” says Churchill. “Sometimes he’d have a block. I had various strategies, including suggesting a really bad lyric knowing he’d then come up with something amazing. Sometimes he’d come out with complete lyrics. He'd been thinking about it for years, so he was pretty fertile.”

Next job was rehearsing it. Hendricks had asked the choir to listen to the album “first thing each morning and last thing each night.” Which they did – and more. “Every summer for the eight or nine years we’ve been together we go on a retreat, and we’d spend a week working on a couple of movements of Miles Ahead. Because it’s intense, we had to devise new ways of rehearsing. One of our basses is an IT genius and he adapted a program where we could loop bits of Miles off the album and slow it down to practice, with the score on the screen in front of us.” Miraculously, the choir performs entirely from memory – and in the original key.

It was a huge responsibility. “I was worried about how long it was going to take,” says Churchill. “I was very sad when Judith, who took care of and traveled with Jon everywhere, passed away. That’s when I realized he couldn’t come to London and that if he was going to hear this we were going to have to come to him. So I wrote to Quincy to ask for help and he came through, along with Wendy Oxenhorn of the Jazz Foundation of America.”

"I felt it all came together," says Churchill, of the world premiere, in classic British understatement. It was actually a triumph in every possible way. The soloists Anita Wardell, Michele Hendricks, Kevin Fitzgerald Burke and Jessica Radcliffe were outstanding, and the choir – from bass to impossibly high soprano - was one incredible voice. After the final standing ovation, vocalist Michele Hendricks, took the microphone and said: “Tonight Pete Churchill made a dream of my father’s come true! It’s not every day you get to see someone’s dream come true.” For those of us that were lucky enough to be there last Friday, that was the icing on the cake.

Tessa Souter is a New York based vocalist. She is appearing at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola on March 7 - Sets at 7:30 and 9:30pm.

The London premiere will of the Hendricks / LVP Miles Ahead be at Kings Place Hall One on Sunday May 21st. DETAILS/BOOKINGS.


TRIBUTE: Roanne Dods (1965-2017)

Roanne Dods

On January 31st 2017, ROANNE DODS, the original director of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation (JCF), passed away after a long illness at the tragically young age of 51. Claire Whitaker, Director of Serious and a good friend, pays tribute to her and remembers her uniquely imaginative contribution to jazz in the UK:

Roanne Dods supported many areas of the arts which seemed less obvious in her work at the Jerwood, seeking to enable creative organisations and artists to achieve their very best. One important strand of that work was the support the Foundation gave to jazz.

As well as being one of the two original funders of Take Five, Serious’ Talent development scheme for Jazz composers and performers, Roanne also oversaw grants to a wide range of Jazz organisations, including JazzXchange to support dance training, The Wapping Project for a series of solo Jazz Commissions, Air for support of an apprentice artist manager and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival for the Jerwood Next Generation strand. She also enabled a host of individual artists attend International festivals or to be commissioned at key moments in their careers.

Tom Ponsonby, a long standing colleague and friend said:

‘Roanne welcomed me into the Jerwood Charitable Foundation in 2000 and we worked together until 2009. Welcomed is apposite: with her warm smile, sparkling eyes & great head of auburn hair she put everyone at ease and made them feel positive about themselves and the project they had brought to the table. She had great energy and curiosity, very open to new ideas and innovation and she very much believed that work should be fun. In a sense our working relationship was ying and yang. I tended to be interested in older art forms, and I came from a classical music background; she came from dance and had also qualified as a lawyer. We had many happy days and nights at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival over the years, & sitting in on the Take Five sessions that we supported with Serious’.

Roanne’s legacy continues, not only though the many connections she facilitated, often resulting in strong professional bonds and friendships, but also in the work she initiated. Since 2009, when Roanne left, JCF has continued to support jazz, including on-going support for Take Five, the Jazzlines Fellowships with Town Hall Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and a new grant to Empirical in 2016.

Cheltenham Festival was an important strand of JCF’s jazz strategy. Tony Dudley-Evans said:

‘Cheltenham Jazz Festival entered into a partnership with Jerwood Charitable Foundation in 2002 to create the Jerwood Rising Stars project and later the Jerwood Jazz Generation project over a period of eight years. These two schemes, the first focussing on young artists in the early stages of their career and the second on taking some of these artists onto the next stage, became a key part of Cheltenham Jazz Festival's approach and enabled it to develop its reputation as one of the most innovative jazz festivals in Europe. The longevity of the scheme came out of a very strong professional relationship between Roanne from Jerwood and Kate Danielson and myself from Cheltenham. Roanne was a wonderful person to work with, always keenly interested in what we were planning and supportive of the end results. It was only with Roanne’s commitment that the festival was able to provide sustained support for young British musicians, such as Seb Rochford, Pete Wareham, Ingrid Laubrock, Denys Baptiste, Abram Wilson and Gwilym Simcock who rose to prominence partly through their regular appearance at Cheltenham over the years of Jerwood’s support.

We intend to pay tribute to Roanne at this year’s festival’.

There has been an outpouring of tributes to Roanne, many of them remarking on her passion, power presence and inspiration. One of her friends, Jana Roberts summed up the feelings and thoughts of many when she wrote, “Roanne completely, unreservedly, made the worlds of everyone she touched a whole lot better, richer and more loving and warm and intelligent and questioning. She had the heart the size of the universe and always managed to give you the feeling that you are the most important thing to her when she spoke to you. She was the rarest of beings and one of the brightest lights you could have hoped for`, David Lan, Director of the Young Vic said that in the creative circles in which he moved “Roanne is considered a god”.

On a personal note, my relationship with Roanne epitomised all that is special about the kind of work we all do. We started by forming a new partnership and that relationship blossomed into professional colleagues and then to become firm and longstanding friends. Roanne became an enthusiastic attender of jazz concerts and festivals, she was particularly fond of the work of Abram Wilson and always tried to see his shows whenever possible. It was on a visit to Cheltenham Jazz festival to see him perform that our families got the chance to meet. Our sons, who are the same age, hit it off immediately and I have very happy memories of that weekend, as well as the many receptions, conferences, drinks and dinners we shared where I benefited from Roanne’s huge knowledge, insight, warmth and good humour. Quite simply she understood the creative process and had an eye for quality across a huge range of arts and artists. She is hugely missed.

Roanne Watson Dods. Born Lima Peru September 1965. Died Glasgow 31st January 2017

LINKS: Tribute from One Dance UK
Tribute from Siobhan Davies
Tribute from Craft Scotland
Roanne Dods' website


REVIEW + INTERVIEW: Oddjob: Jazzoo at the Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall

Oddjob, with leader Goran Kajfes second from right

Oddjob: Jazzoo
(Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall. 17th Frb 2017. Live review + interview by Rob Mallows)

You don’t often see face-painting and balloons at a jazz gig. But then again, there aren’t many jazz gigs like Jazzoo.

Catch ‘em early seems to be the philosophy behind this jazz primer for tots and pre-teens. Sweden’s Oddjob has performed their award-winning Jazzoo jazz multimedia show since 2013 and brought it to London as part of the South Bank Centre’s Imagine Children's Festival, showcasing Nordic children’s culture.

Oddjob is one of Sweden’s top rated bands, with a career stretching over twenty years of contemporary instrumental jazz, their most recent album being an 2016 E.P. of Weather Report covers.

Comprising Goran Kajfes - trumpet, Per “Ruskträsk” Johansson - sax and bass clarinet, Daniel Karlsson - keyboards, Lars Skoglund - drums and Peter Forss, double and electric bass - plus ‘VJ’ Helene Berg - Oddjob has hit upon a winning formula with Jazzoo that has had the added bonus of boosting interest in their music for adults.

Jazzoo is an adventure about a forest of creatures, each with its own musical motif and animation. Think Peter & The Wolf but with swing.

An elephant walking through the forest trumpets away (literally) to an easy jazz vibe. A woodpecker’s rhythmic hammering is picked up by Skoglund's snare drums and leads into some charming folk jazz bird calls by Johansson. Each animal is accompanied by its own simple story and audience interactions.

Presently, a duck swaggers onto the screen, the king of swingers. But he suddenly loses his swagger as the band drops into free-jazz then switches to a minor key to show the duck is crying, before switching back to up-tempo, major chords and funky piano chops from Karlsson that show the kids that everything is alright with Mr Duck. Phew!

When a thirsty hippopotamus, after a long run accompanied by Brecker Brothers-style funk jazz, jumps into a pool of water to cool down and end the show, it was an emotionally uplifting and fun end to a show that highlighted music's story-telling powers.

Across forty-fives minutes Oddjob entertained young and old with their simple but brilliantly executed musical pictures. The animated illustrations by British artist Ben Javens were delightfully naive in style - think classic Vision-On animation with a hint of Roobarb & Custard - and perfectly matched the sounds on stage.

While the jazz was simple, it was not simplistic: Oddjob never talked down musically to the children. For a generation of youngsters more used to listening to Peppa Pig than Oscar Petersen, the joy of hearing fun new sounds and anarchic visuals was plainly evident.


Rob Mallows spoke briefly to members of Oddjob after the gig:

London Jazz News: Who came up with the idea for "Jazzoo"?

Per Johansson: We developed it on the tourbus, really. Since we started Oddjob we’ve had a pop group-type approach to the band and we’ve always developed everything together. We have kids and we thought we should try and re-make our music for them, maybe a bit shorter, a bit simpler, but still our music. We wanted to create something that stimulated emotions and creativity in children.

Daniel Karlsson: And of course, there are no lyrics, so children can use their imaginations to create their own stories.

LJN: You’ve simplified the music, but it’s not simple - it’s proper jazz.

Goran Kajfes: Absolutely. There’s a tradition in Sweden since the ‘sixties of some of our greatest jazz musicians producing music - sometimes even free jazz - for young children, and we wanted to pick up on that tradition because we grew up with that music.

LJN: And how did the link to the illustrations of Ben Javens come about?
Goran Kajfes: I checked out a cover he’d done of an album I was listening to and I thought his style could work well with the music we were beginning to develop. So I contacted him and asked if he’d consider doing some animations to the musical ideas that were emerging.

Per Johansson What he came back with was great, we though yeah, it was perfect, you know.

LJN: Writing for one year-olds and upwards must be a challenge, perhaps even more so than writing for adults?

Per Johansson: We had to think differently, sure. We didn’t want to make ‘kid’s music’; we wanted to make serious music for children that was also fun. So, we thought a lot about the music we liked, and our kids liked, and that was the starting point.

Peter Forss And we had to think of what theme would tie it all together. Animals and kids always works, but we also thought it was a great hook on which to develop some jazz music; what would a shark sound like, which instrument would play it? Then we had to think about how we could build on the sounds and themes we had. We thought first about having dancers to make it interactive, but when we saw what the animators could do, an animated story became the right way to go.

LJN: Since 2013, what reaction have you had to "Jazzoo"?

Goran Kajfes: It’s been great. We won a Swedish Grammis, but also a French Grammy for best children’s album, and we’re now very popular in France on the back of it. And we’re up for a prize at the Berlin Film Festival, so it’s proving quite a hit.

LJN: And I understand the success of "Jazzoo" has helped Oddjob increase it’s popularity as a group with more mature audiences.

Goran Kajfes: Definitely. When we go to France, for example, it’s mostly on the back of Jazzoo gigs. It’s nice in that we can play for the kids in the afternoon as a way to chill out and prepare for a great gig with the adults as Oddjob proper in the evening.

LJN: And what next for Oddjob?

Peter Forss: Well, we are thinking about doing another Jazzoo album, maybe this time with farm animals!


INTERVIEW/CD PREVIEW/ TOUR DATES: Tim Armacost - Time Being (Whirlwind)

Tim Armacost
Photo credit: Emra Islek
The New York-based saxophonist TIM ARMACOST who is on a final dates of a European tour spoke to LondonJazz News’s Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon about the vision that prompted his new album - with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Robert Hurst plus pianist David Kikoski - and the spatial awareness within it. Plus, the international influences on his music and his favourite tenor players.

LondonJazz News: I understand this album all begins with Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman and a picture in your mind? Can you explain the image and the process it led to?

Tim Armacost: The image that came to me was like a scene from a movie. I am in the studio with Tain and Bob, and Tain is playing on his own, in a way that is irresistibly, passionately swinging. Meanwhile, Bob and I are exploring the melody of Lonely Woman, trying out some different interpretations. I play it one way, and he mimics that, and then after we’ve been through it once, Bob phrases it his way, and I try to feel that.

We have a job to do, but we really want to join that amazing vibe that Tain is creating. Eventually Bob can’t resist, and goes over to start swinging with Tain, and I continue to try to develop the melody of the tune. Seeing that and hearing it in my mind led to the idea of trying out some different ways to swing together, and that became the focus of the compositions for this recording.

LJN: Has a spatial awareness and concerns for the relationships between the instruments always been crucial to your music or is it a more recent development?

TA: This is a new development for me. Swinging for me has always been the main attraction to playing jazz, but that has meant finding the way to feel the music together. The Lonely Woman idea led to these explorations of creating tension by playing in parallel spaces, and then releasing the tension into a beautifully swinging groove by allowing the parallel spaces to merge.

It was a lot of fun experimenting with these compositions in the studio, and it’s been rewarding to pursue them in front of audiences here in the UK over the last two weeks.

LJN: You have a truly international background which includes living in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Washington, New York, Amsterdam, New Delhi… Are there identifiable elements in your music which the listener can link to these places?

TA: There is a concept in traditional Japanese music - where the written music is not notated in time. The notes are written out in order, but the phrase length is determined by the length of the performer’s breath. This idea definitely influenced the writing and performance of the melody of Time Being, the title track. I wrote out the notes of the melody, but just played it for Bob, and had him listen to how I phrased it, rather than defining it metrically on the page.

I have used Indian classical music elements in other recordings, but on this one the Indian influence is a little more roundabout - I had not been able to access Ornette Coleman’s music as a younger musician. During the time I was studying Sonny Rollins intensely, I wasn’t ready for Ornette’s style of playing.

I had to arrive at some level of mastery over the foundational elements of straight ahead jazz before I was able to understand the need to get free of them… and it was in India, right around the time I was turning 30, that Ornette’s music made sense in my ears for the first time. I’d been hearing Indian music played live for a few months - with no piano anywhere in sight - so that probably set me up to be more receptive to what Ornette was doing.

LJN: For the majority of Time Being you are operating in a trio with Tain and Bob - what drew you to use this pair on the album?

TA: As I mentioned, they were a part of the vision of playing this music in the studio, so I was motivated to do everything I could to bring them together to make this music. On a technical level, I needed musicians for whom swinging was second nature - because I was asking them to separate and swing in two unrelated tempos - so they had to have a high level of confidence, natural swing, and the patience to allow the tension to play out, and the trust to know that the payoff would be delicious.

I am grateful that Tain and Bob were open to trying these things out, and I’m excited by the possibilities for further exploration.

LJN: And why Kikoski?

TA: I’ve been playing some gigs with David over the last couple of years, and knew that he also had a level of experience and an open mind, that would allow him to embrace trying something a little different.

LJN: Despite being a multi-instrumentalist you have chosen to restrict yourself to tenor saxophone on the album. What is special about the tenor for you?

TA: I take the soprano to all of my gigs these days, but I choose to play it when I feel like that’s the right sound for the tune, or sometimes I choose it just to get a little sonic variety in the set. I love playing soprano, but the tenor is definitely home for me.

I’ve toyed with the idea of making an all soprano record, but it never seemed like something I really had to do… I had it with me at the recording session, set up and ready to go, but felt like tenor was the right sound for everything we recorded. I’ve been playing soprano on (one of the album’s tracks) One And Four some nights on stage, but I like the way it came out on tenor on the recording. The tenor is quite close in range to my actual singing voice, and I love the flexibility of it.

The soprano is more like a laser, in my hands anyway. It's a little more demanding - whereas the tenor can be wide and warm one minute, piercing and angry the next.

LJN: Do you have favourite tenor players who have influenced you? 

TA: My main influences on tenor are Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Pete Christlieb. Very close behind them are Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Harold Land. And of course, I learned a bunch of Charlie Parker solos… I’ve also studied language from Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, Herbie Hancock, and Bud Powell. Many, many others too, but those are the ones who I’ve most consciously taken things from to build my style of playing.

LJN: Anyone coming up that particularly impresses you?

TA: Of the tenor players who are younger than me, I’m a big fan of John Ellis and Alex Garnett. They both have incredible technical facility, but what comes across is their love for and dedication to the music. Put another way, they are both loving individuals, and you hear that in their playing. Stylistically, I like what a bunch of the younger alto players are doing. Casey Benjamin, John O’Gallagher, Caleb Curtis and Andrew Gould are all guys I’m happy to pay money to listen to…

Tim Armacost is near the end of a European tour but still has UK dates with Michael Janisch on bass and Klemens Marktl on drums: tonight at Royal Academy of Music Festival; tomorrow Friday 17th Feb at The Verdict in Brighton, and on Saturday 18th Feb at The Archduke, London (this final date adds guitarist David Preston).

LINK: Whirlwind details and dates


CD REVIEW: Benedikt Jahnel Trio - The Invariant

Benedikt Jahnel Trio - The Invariant
(ECM 5712837. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Piano trios seem to be easier to keep going and build a life together than bigger groups - to become, as German pianist Benedikt Jahnel says of his band with Spanish bassist Antonio Miguel and Canadian drummer Owen Howard “a constant in a transformational period”. This year the band will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.

The Invariant is a fine celebration in itself. Eight tracks, all written by the pianist, and showing a marvellously bedded-in interplay between the players that helps them achieve that uncanny double effect for the listener of being both three individuals, each with their own musical personality, and yet also being one, united in their communal interpretation and expression of the music.

My favourite tracks on this album keep changing. At the moment it’s Mirrors with its dense structure and perfectly controlled transitions through nine-and-a-half minutes. It feels like a classical piece in the thoroughness of the writing and in the romantic roundness and warmth of its theme, yet in performance it naturally acquires that elasticity and sense of change that only jazz musicians can give it.

Jahnel is, like quite a few modern musicians, also a scientist - he’s a researcher at the Weierstrass-Institut Berlin and is particularly interested in “interacting particle systems in the context of probability theory”, so it’s perfectly natural to be quite mathematical in his compositions, with odd time metre and other complexities.

But the remarkable thing is that for the listener this doesn’t sound like overly complicated music. Jahnel has an acute ear for melody and that sweetens any knotty pill embedded within these eight tracks. Exciting, playful, varied in mood, but with one overriding constant: yes, the invariant is real beauty.


CD REVIEW: Mike Westbrook - Paris

Mike Westbrook - Paris
(ASC. asccd166. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

To someone familiar with Mike Westbrook as composer and arranger of, for instance, last year's excellent A Bigger Show, this solo piano CD was a revelation. Recorded live in Paris last year as part of Westbrook's 80th birthday celebrations, it features tunes associated with various projects throughout his career. What comes across most strongly is his strength as an improviser.

With barely a pause, he moves from one tune to another, weaving together twenty pieces into one, flowing with imagination and emotion. The original melodies may be referred to only obliquely - Westbrook hints here and there - until the tune becomes apparent, sometimes close to its end, and he moves on to the next.

Organised in four sections, with a coda, the collection features tunes Lennon & McCartney, Ellington, Strayhorn, and a couple of others, together with several by Westbrook and his wife and collaborator, Kate, to whom the CD is dedicated.

The different sections - The Front Page, Bar-Room Piano, Love Stories, and The Blues - loosely bind together the tunes by theme. The majority of the pieces are by Westbrook, alone or in collaboration. Three of the collaborators are dead poets (*), Westbrook having set their verses at different times for specific projects; others are settings of words by Kate Westbrook. His love of song, in both high and low, popular form, is evident. He treats them both the same: something special, a springboard for improvisation.

The two pieces by the Beatles exemplify Westbrook's approach. She Loves You, an early Beatles' hit from 1963, is re-imagined as a slow jazz ballad, almost unrecognisable from the original. Westbrook imparts a bluesy quality as he explores the tune obliquely, certain phrases teasing memories of the Fab Four. Westbrook's version is full of longing, reflecting Lennon & McCartney's tale of broken hearts.

Because comes from much later in the Beatles' career, 1969. Again, Westbrook takes the basic theme and makes it his own: contemplative, exploring. From a piece of 1960s psychedelia comes something that's timeless.

The two pieces attributed to Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Lady and Solitude, appear in Bar--Room Piano, and sandwich the Westbrooks' Gaudy Bar. Westbrook's notes (available online, but not included with the CD itself) explain how "I often enjoy playing the piano in a crowded room where people are talking. Though almost no one is paying any attention to the music, it nevertheless affects the general atmosphere." He does himself a disservice: this music deserves one's full attention. And despite this being a live recording, there is no audience sound: no applause, no shuffling, no glasses clinking. I imagine the audience spellbound.

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

(*) DH Lawrence, Goethe, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

LINK: Live review of Mike Westbrook solo at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW: The Three Sounds (featuring Gene Harris) – Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-1968

The Three Sounds (featuring Gene Harris) – Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-1968
(Resonance Records HCD-2025 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

This welcome new CD captures pianist Gene Harris and his The Three Sounds trio live in Seattle between 1964-68, and overflows with the group’s joyful hard-swinging sounds.

It seems hard to believe now, but Gene Harris’ trio outsold everyone else on the legendary Blue Note label in the early 1960s. Harris led the group from 1958 until 1970, with a number of bass and drum collaborators.  This CD collects various tapes from the group’s appearances at The Penthouse club in Seattle, recorded at the time and broadcast simultaneously on local radio station KING-FM, and captures an exciting live in-the-room vibe.

Harris describes himself in the excellent sleeve notes as ‘a blues pianist with chops’ and his style doesn’t disappoint, with swinging bluey phrasing spilling into powerful block chord passages, a little like Red Garland on an angry and determined day.  All the trios work well together, with Andy Simpkins bass showing empathy and dynamics alongside some neat head arrangements.  Drumming duties are shared by Bill Dowdy (mainstay of the Three Sounds until he fell out with Harris in in the mid-1960s), Kalil Madi and Carl Burnett.

The music is a mix of standards, a couple of movie tunes including Theme from Caesar and Cleopatra, and three Harris originals.  The opening Girl Talk starts with rumbling chords before swaying into the theme with an irresistible Basie-ish swagger, and one can almost feel the Penthouse patrons relaxing with their martinis and puffing cigars.  Toots Thielemans’ tune Bluesette gives a great opportunity for the trio to build up a real head of steam before sliding back into a jaunty jazz-waltz bounce. 

Harris’s originals are in the vein of boogie blues shuffle, vehicles for showboating soloing which the leader doesn’t shy away from exploiting.  It’s notable that while the pianist isn’t afraid of raising the roof by using most of his fingers at once, he never overstays the moment – these tracks are under three minutes each of swinging soulfulness. 

All in all this CD is well worth hearing as a reminder of the Three Sounds and Gene Harris in their pomp in a live setting.  The packaging is excellent with a 20-page booklet and many photos, as well as detailed recollections of The Penthouse club, the recordings and where it all sits in the Three Sounds trajectory.  The title Groovin’ Hard sums up well the overall feel of the collection – plenty of groove, and delivered with an edge.  If you like swinging piano in a soul-jazz vein then this is really worth a place on your shelf.