NEWS: Xmas Jazz Voice Boot Camp, 28th - 30th December 2015

Trudy Kerr and Anita Wardell

International jazz vocalists Trudy Kerr and Anita Wardell present Jazz Singing School:

Trudy and Anita met in 1985 during a singing competition in Sydney, Australia. They immediately became good friends and have remained so ever since. Moving to London a few years later, and studying on the prestigious Postgraduate Jazz and Studio Music course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, was the springboard for establishing their careers in jazz singing, both going on to record albums to critical acclaim, and extensively touring the UK and around the world.

Alongside their artistic careers, they share a true passion for jazz education. Both are very well respected educators, and sought after globally. Anita has taught at most universities and conservatories around the UK including the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Colchester Institute and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and is in great demand all over the world as a visiting jazz specialist, as well as having a thriving private practice. Trudy holds teaching posts at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London Centre of Contemporary Music and Chichester University and has recently received a Fellowship with the Higher Education Academy.

With many conversations about vocal jazz education, the time was right to collaborate and create a learning platform for jazz singers of all levels. So they have created Jazz Singing School and are hoping this will be a hub for just that, offering courses, online tutorials, videos and information to all those interested in singing jazz.

To launch Jazz Singing School, Trudy and Anita will be holding a three-day Xmas Jazz Voice Boot Camp, 28th – 30th December. The course will include the following study topics: vocal technique; improvisation; vocalese; finding repertoire and making it unique to you; rhythm and ear training; performance masterclass; finding your key and way around a chart. All this and more.

To book a place on the course, please visit Jazz Singing School; or for more details, email: 


PREVIEW: Nine Lessons & Carols: A Soulful Celebration at the Jazz Cafe, Camden, Sun 6th Dec

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (SSGC)

Miko Giedroyc, organiser & organist of the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, previews Nine Lessons & Carols: A Soulful Celebration, featuring guest singers Tracey Campbell and Kathy McLeish, and spoken word artists Mel Giedroyc and Karl Nova.

The relationship between Christian music and secular music has always been an uneasy one. The two thousand years since the time of Jesus have seen cycles of hubris and nemesis – periods when the music of the tavern, the theatre, the dance-hall and the workplace have been welcomed joyfully into Christian worship, followed by periods of angst and repression.

It is incredible to think that the Council of Trent in the 1560s found the choral polyphony of the late Renaissance, beloved of today’s traditionalists, too luscious and earthy to be worthy of post-Reformation Catholic liturgy.

The last century and this so far have been everywhere and in every genre the time of Black American music, which also has seen its own cycle of hubris and nemesis vis a vis Christian worship. There have been periods of understandable suspicion on the part of black churches against jazz and blues and all their descendents, periods in which they have been reluctant to import any traces thereof. In the films of the Newport Jazz Festivals in the late 1950s, jazz can be heard soaring through bebop and into modal and free… and gospel, as represented by Mahalia Jackson, stirring, noble and beautiful, but still entrenched in traditional hymn book harmony.

We are lucky enough to live in a time of plenty in Black American Christian music. The Greats of Contemporary Gospel have been busy collecting the harvest of secular music since the early 1960s and infusing it with contemporary gospel’s own take on choral harmony and dynamics, and the framing of lyrics. Nowhere is this more in evidence than at Christmas, where the joy of the season (gospel is always better at rejoicing than at contemplating) mixes with the poetry of the Prophet Isaiah and the time-tested melodies and lyrics of the great Christmas carols.

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (SSGC) exists to bring this amazing Spirit-filled music into mainstream Christian worship, working every month at Farm Street RC Church in Mayfair and St James’s Anglican Church Piccadilly. Its founding director was Tracey Campbell, one of Britain’s top gospel artists, and a great deal of Britain’s gospel talent has worked with SSGC and nurtured it. Some jazz artists too: for example, Dave Okumu, who wrote a beautiful but also functional congregational mass setting for SSGC in 2007.

The classic Nine Lessons & Carols service was created in Cornwall, in 1880, and was a beautiful example of harvesting: it was the Bishop of Truro’s declared intention to bring Christmas carols from people's homes into church, interspersing them with short bursts of key Messianic scripture. By taking the Nine Lessons & Carols format into music venues, and reinterpreting the carols through contemporary gospel, we feel that we are taking the Bishop’s mission a step further. Our guest artists are among Britain’s finest (they each have a list of credits and plaudits too long to cite). The script has been assembled by one of our sopranos, Erica Jarnes, with additional writing from another SSGC soprano, Chenoa Bradshaw, and is based on two widely contrasting bible translations: those of King James and Rob Lacey. Musical arrangements are those of Contemporary Gospel Greats (Mervyn Warren, Israel Houghton, Donald Lawrence, etc.) as well as some of our own. The piece is written to be intelligible to, and enjoyed by, everyone, not just Christians.

My favourite plaudit for SSGC comes from the Rector of St Stephen’s Walbrook: “Soul Sanctuary sound like angels on fire!”

Tickets for the premiere at the Jazz Cafe, Camden, on 6th December at 7.30pm, can be purchased from their website.


PREVIEW: December's Northern Lights season at BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3's Northern Lights season. Photo credit: Indus Films

Chris Elcombe, senior producer of BBC Radio 3’s Jazz on 3, previews the programme’s contribution to Radio 3’s forthcoming Northern Lights season:

When we were told of Radio 3’s plans for a Northern Lights season this December, we jumped at the chance to get involved and find some new music from the countries of the North (however this might be defined). But where to travel to?

The Nordic countries are the obvious choices, having produced several of the biggest artists in contemporary jazz of the last 20 years or so. But even there, the likes of EST, Tord Gustavsen and Nils Petter Molvaer (whose set on our live show at Ronnie Scott’s is still available) are the tip of a very large iceberg that encompasses far more than the spacious, quiet approach that has become the stereotype. Thrash-jazzers The Thing, the souped-up prog-jazz of Elephant 9, and the groovy virtuosity of saxophonist Marius Neset are all testament to that.

But what lies beyond Scandinavia? We’re kicking off Jazz on 3’s involvement in Radio 3’s Northern Lights season with a whole programme exploring the current Finnish scene (yes, we’ve been pulled up by listeners for describing Finland as Scandinavian in the past!). We’ve live sets from veteran saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen (who by coincidence turns 80 this month), and at the other end of his career, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, signed to the UK’s Edition label. And our colleague in Finnish radio, Markus Partanen, is our man on the ground, sharing some recommendations of new releases from the country.

Over the following weeks, we’ll have despatches from correspondents from Iceland and Russia, too. And on 21st December, as the winter solstice nears, we’ll be returning to Norway for a concert recorded earlier this year by vocalist Sidsel Endresen, with guitarist Stian Westerhus. I had their album from a couple of years ago on repeat when it came out, and we’re really looking forward to sharing this concert. It’s eery and inventive music, her approach to vocal improvisation is like no other. But it’s beautiful too, and makes for great late-night winter listening.

There’s lots of northern jazz coming up on other programmes on Radio 3 too, including special editions of Jazz Line Up, Jazz Record Requests and Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz.

Jazz on 3: join Jez Nelson on Monday nights on BBC Radio 3 – available for 30 days after broadcast here.

Monday 7th December: music from Finland
Monday 14th December: a selection by our Icelandic correspondent (alongside our recording of David Virelles’ recent concert as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival)
Monday 21st December: Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus in concert, plus music from Russia

For more information about Radio 3’s Northern Lights season, visit


NEWS: Alarming statistics around musicians' hearing revealed by Help Musicians UK

A hearing survey by Help Musicians UK has revealed alarming statistics around musicians’ hearing. The charity has released a new campaign called #HearForMusicians, aimed at raising awareness of hearing loss and prevention.

This survey was in response to the charity’s widely recognised health and wellbeing survey in March 2014 which revealed that 47% of people had experienced hearing problems in their career. In this latest survey, 78% of those who suffer think that being a musician was the cause.

Despite this fact, 68% of musicians haven’t had a hearing test in the last three years. 81% believed they should use hearing protection and only 67% had ever used any. On average, musicians are four times more likely to suffer hearing damage than the general population and 57% more likely to experience tinnitus.

Nigel Hamilton, Help & Advice Manager at Help Musicians UK, says: “We know that hearing is one of the most important tools a musician has and when we started looking into musicians’ hearing more closely, we realised how fragile it can be. Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable but also completely irreversible and, as the leading charity for musicians, we felt we had to do something.

We’ve launched a new section of specialist advice and information on our website and will be rolling out a nationwide campaign in 2016. As well as raising awareness, this will include financial support towards hearing tests, hearing protection and hearing aids to help musicians continue working.”

The charity is working with musicians, experts and healthcare professionals to deliver its 2016 campaign. These include the British Tinnitus Association, Musicians’ Hearing Services, the Musicians’ Union and ACS hearing protection. The survey results are also being analysed by the University of Leeds with the intention of publishing them in an academic journal.

For the full survey results and more information, visit and join the conversation.


REVIEW: Corrie Dick – Impossible Things album launch at Jackdaw, London

Impossible Things album launch at Jackdaw. Photo credit: Rachel Maby

Corrie Dick
(Jackdaw Jazz Cafe, 28th November. Review by Rachel Maby)

Last Saturday night, Scottish jazz drummer Corrie Dick concluded a two-date album launch of his debut, Impossible Things, at London’s newest jazz venue, the Jackdaw Jazz Cafe. The band comprised Joe Webb on organ, Matt Robinson on piano, Laura Jurd on trumpet, Joe Wright and George Crowley on saxophones, Conor Chaplin on bass, and vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki.

The Jackdaw’s intimate, chic, black-and-red basement performance space seats approximately 30 people and hosts a delicious restaurant upstairs, offering a varied selection of wholesome food dishes from lamb and chestnuts to gnocchi and celeriac purée. Nestled in a dark corner in the candle-lit basement, I first found myself unexpectedly treated to a folk support set by Dick’s friends, John Dipper (viola) and Dave Malkin (guitar). The two interplayed beautifully and went from the driven, rhythmic impulses of King of Poland to atmospheric pieces such as Weather Lullaby.

Dick’s eight-piece band followed on, spilling out into the audience from the Jackdaw’s tiny stage; but this crowded set-up seemed to help the musical interactions, rather than hinder them. This was highlighted in energetic opening number, Soar – an upbeat love song with poetry by Alice Zawadzki. Jurd, Wright and Crowley blasted out massive horn lines in free and open rhythmic form, which was quickly followed by a pulsating driving bass line underneath Zawadzki’s spoken poetry. The sections interwove seamlessly, as one musician fed each musically stylistic idea into the next. This approach to combining musical styles was similarly used in Six impossible things, which quickly changed from an open free jazz form to a structured ‘French cabaret-esque’ ballad, as Zawadzki and George Crowley on keyboard took centre stage. A mash-up ensued, with a gypsy jazz rhythmic structure underlying the heavily stylized cabaret harmony and singing persona Zawadzki took on, reminding me very much of Parisien songstress Zaz’s music.

I loved the idiomatic and childlike What has become of Albert?, about a flying dinosaur, which featured frivolous polyphonic horn lines and 80s organ, with the music fading towards the send as Zawadzki described the dinosaur flying away. Dick let rip on Annamarrakech – a pentatonic, harmonically-built song dedicated to his girlfriend Anna. King William walk brought out the true Scottish folkloric element to Dick’s musical inspiration, featuring a violin and flute duet (played by Zawadzki and Wright) into a quickly-paced rhythm to get feet stomping in traditional folk spirit. My only reservation was the outro, which seemed to fizzle out, rather than ending with an expected accelerando and big finish.

Dick finished the night with a Caribbean, funk-inspired tune called Lock your heart up and sultry ballad Don’t Cry. The combination of the two showcased both the loud and fast-paced dexterity of Dick’s rhythmic playing, as well as his intricate and quiet contrapuntal ability. Perhaps these might have been played the other way round, but the musicians captivated the audience and left us feeling contemplative, charmed and peaceful.

It was a completely ‘family friendly’ affair – his band was full of musicians he’s studied and played with over the past six years of being in London; and the sense of rapport in their charisma and dynamic energy onstage was palpable. Dick’s Scottish ties are, without a doubt, what binds this music together – and it certainly feels home-grown, both in the sense of the community of musicians incorporated, but also the direct inspiration of his family on tunes written for this album. It has a wholesome, earthy quality which is sure to attract both jazz and folk audiences alike.



PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Django Bates on Around the World in 80 Days at St. James Theatre

Composer and pianist Django Bates has written music for a new stage production of Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel, Around the World in 80 Days, running through Christmas and into the new year at St. James Theatre in London’s Victoria. It’s Bates’ latest work for director Lucy Bailey (Gogmagogs, Titus Andronicus). Bates took time out from the technical rehearsal to talk to Stephen Graham.

Beavering away at the sound desk, hours from the first performance of Around the World in 80 Days, Django Bates was in fine fettle, twinkling in the murk of the ill-lit daytime.

Snatching a quick break and moving away from the auditorium so that he can grab a bite to eat, the great British jazz composer and pianist tucks into some piping hot fish and chips with some gusto soon enough in the restaurant, explaining between tasty morsels a little more about his music for the new production.

As he munches, the strains of Dixieland jazz almost impossibly drift up merrily from downstairs, merging in a Falstaffian counterpoint with the sounds of other diners' knives and forks scraping on china plates, as Django begins to ruminate.

The much loved story of Around the World in 80 Days in the narrative actually begins not far away from St James, in the Reform Club in Pall Mall where classic English gent and adventurer Phileas Fogg (played by Robert Portal) makes a seemingly desperate bet, insisting that despite his friends’ scepticism, he can indeed travel around the world preposterously enough to make it back to Blighty in 80 days. Bates sees Fogg as a fastidious kind of Englishman and relishes his quaint eccentricity.

“I suppose with someone like him, I had in mind a cliché of a reserved Englishman of that period. And the funny thing is, in writing music for theatre, there is so much detail you can put in to the music that you don’t have to necessarily go into massive detail about each character. You can have a broad outline and just let the director and actors go delving 2,000 leagues down into that.” The Verne bug has definitely bitten hard.

“For me, I’m focussed on how the music colours things and has a parallel development, which I find a really fun challenge. It’s quite hard for me to describe that, but there are two things going on here for me. One is a very pragmatic thing of making the play work with what I can do to help that. That’s what everybody’s doing in that room, everybody’s just trying to check that there are no gaps and that everything looks as it should, sounds like it should, everything is moving along at the right tempo and the music is part of that process. But also I’ve got my own secret agenda in a way because I can tell you because you are writing for a jazz journal!”

There are no live musicians in the production although, sometimes in the past, Bates’ work with director Lucy Bailey has involved this factor. Bates’ point of departure for this production was to draw on different resources instead. He channels a little Conlon Nancarrow, a little boogie-woogie via Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons in the process and even some of his early work for his small fusion group Human Chain.

Feeding in sound effects worked up by sound designer Mic Pool, who Bates has collaborated with before on a production of classic noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, the composer, a youthful, puckish 55 says: “Mic puts the sound in related to the story, like a ship’s bell or something, and I can say ‘can you put that up a minor third so it fits with this music?’ It’s very much working together about blending sound and music so it becomes one thing, just a feeling, an emotion.”

The music has a lot of breadth to it, built around mood and themes. After all, Bates is a master of colour and pace and just recently he has been nominated for another British Composer Award after picking up the award last year for contemporary jazz composition.

Wary of being too literal, period detail is not really the issue in his approach to this new work.

“You’re doing this job, and if you think too much about that, you really stifle yourself in terms of what’s possible. So I suppose I take a starting point that’s relevant and then allow myself to wander away from it just in a way that you would hear that rhythm in Kurt Weill operettas and something incredible would happen over the top of it. So OK, how am I going to make this vamp something that anyone coming to the show would go ‘Oh there’s Django sneaking in some of his views on the story’? And then I just add tiny little fills on a quarter-tone piano above to show the piano kind of warping for a split second.

“But it all starts with Fogg. There is a huge streak of eccentricity in him from the beginning – this great tradition of English eccentrics. And long may that continue!”

Around the World In 80 Days runs until 17 January 2016. To book, call 0844 264 2140 or visit St James Theatre.


CD REVIEW: Kai Hoffman – Luckiest Girl Alive

Kai Hoffman - Luckiest Girl Alive
(Broad Reach Records BRKH0002. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Singer Kai Hoffman's latest offering, Luckiest Girl Alive, showcases her sunny delivery and pleasantly cavorting vocal talents to great effect. Her retro-1950s look (well illustrated on the CD cover) goes hand in hand with the musical fare on offer, with period classics such as Lucky Lips, TV is the thing this year and Drown in my tears, as well as four songs by Kai herself. Sadly, the composer credits only mention surnames, making it difficult to ascertain exactly who wrote these classic songs that Ms Hoffman pays such respectful tributes to.
This collection of Kai's own 1950s-inspired originals, rockin’ rhythm & blues and a healthy dose of New Orleans brings the great rhythm & blues back to life. These include the women who helped to invent rock’n’roll, like Ruth Brown, Wynona Carr, Annisteen Allen, Lillian Briggs and Wanda Jackson.

Resident at Ronnie Scott’s since 2008, Kai has also wowed audiences worldwide. Her appearances in New York City, Milan and the Edinburgh Fringe have won her many rave reviews.

Special plaudits also to sidefolks for their input – saxist Dan Faulkner, guitar man Simon Picton and the renowned ‘Sheila’ (Aussie vocalist) Nina Ferro who cameos on three backing vocals.

Ideal for a good ol’ knees up or rollicking shimmy on the dance floor, this hearty offering from this "Boss-stonian" croonette (Kai hails from New England) will delight fans of this post-war sub-genre of jazz no end.


INTERVIEW: Giorgio Serci and Johnny Phillips. Guitar Journey Duet (touring)

Guitar Journey Duet: Giorgio Serci (left) and Jonny Phillips (right) 

Surrey-based Sardinian guitarist GIORGIO SERCI and JONNY PHILLIPS, best known as the guitarist, composer and leader of the Spanish-music influenced F-ire Collective band Oriole, have been friends since they met at a gig in Brixton around fifteen years ago.

At the time Serci, who has recorded and shared stages with Martin Taylor, Jools Holland, Shirley Bassey, Julian Lloyd Webber, Kenny Wheeler, Dr John, Nigel Kennedy, Andy Sheppard, Bill Bruford, Paolo Fresu, and the CBS, BBC Concert and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras among many others, was working in a guitar duo and hearing him play, Phillips thought they’d make an ideal partnership.

Now, they’ve finally cemented their relationship in Guitar Journey Duet. They play the Royal Albert Hall’s Italian restaurant, Verdi, tonight [Friday, November 27] and have their first album in preparation as they begin to fill the diary with gigs including a Scottish tour in March. Rob Adams spoke to them about their individual and collective guitar journeys.

LJN: What was it about Jonny/Giorgio’s playing that made you want to work with him?

JP: I remember thinking wow this guy is a real acoustic player and with great ideas and feel. I still think he is my favourite acoustic guitarist in London. There are many electric guitarists who dabble in acoustic and acoustic guitarists that concentrate on speed and showmanship. Giorgio can do all that but he also has a great touch, sense of harmony and really listens.

GS: I was immediately enchanted by Jonny’s story-telling compositions and playing. I love his open-mindedness in music with its innumerable styles and sub-styles, contrasted with his deep understanding and respect for traditional music from different parts of the world. He is a fantastic Jazz guitarist too, and I love his mature approach to playing, always choosing the most musical pathway over the more flashy one. We have a very similar taste in music and this make it possible to understand each other without having to say much.

LJN: What was the thinking behind Guitar Journey Duet?

JP: The idea is that we play in a variety of styles that vaguely follow some of the evolution of the Spanish guitar. We wanted to arrange our own tunes and write new ones especially for the project but we will also play some tunes from the increasing expanding guitar repertoire.

LJN: What is it you like about the two-guitar line-up?

JP: What’s not to like! I love it. For one thing, it’s versatile and portable. There’s also a lot of responsibility and no safety net and it pushes me to improve as a guitarist. When one guitarist is playing a tune or improvising the other has to hold all the harmony and rhythm. Thirdly, I feel like there are more obvious things left to explore than there are in say string quartet, jazz trio or folk outfit settings and I’ve always loved Egberto Gismonti’s guitar duets as well as Paco de Lucia’s duo with John McLaughlin.

GS: As the genius Chopin used to say: “There is nothing better than the sound of one guitar, except the sound of two guitars”. How could I disagree with him?

LJN: What styles of music particularly interest you?

JP: Folkloric styles in general, Jazz, Latin (Brazilian, Cuban etc) and Flamenco.

GS: Most music styles, particularly those featuring captivating use of melodies, harmony and rhythms and most importantly, making good use of space, silence and dynamics.

LJN: Was there any one musician who made you think when you were growing up, that’s what I want to do (and what was it about this player made you think that)?

JP: I used to go and see guitarists in small clubs that were self-contained, there was a guitarist called Isaac Guillory who sang folksongs from around the world and played guitar very beautifully. I loved the way he seemed to be outside and uncontrolled by mainstream society and yet always had a full room.

GS: There have been a few key figures who have in one way or another stimulated my appetite for knowledge in many music styles and who have helped finding my direction, but one of the first times I had a close encounter with a tremendous guitarist was in my early teens. While camping in Sardinia, I was listening to a friend accompanying himself on guitar and singing some popular Italian songs when a random person passing asked my friend if he could try his guitar. This gentleman started playing and we were all completely blown away. I had never seen anyone playing the guitar in that way, and that made me want to have a go at it myself.

LJN: How did you go about creating a repertoire for Guitar Journey Duet? Ultimately, what are the aims of the duo?

JP: We try to choose a repertoire that follows the path of the development of the Spanish guitar. Through Spain, Africa, South America etc. This the benefit of keeping the sound varied and giving us a direction, literally. Our aim is to constantly develop and therefor never to arrive as such, until our fingers give up working maybe. I also hope we will get to travel around to some nice places.

LJN: What would you like the audience to take away from a Guitar Journey Duet concert (aside from a CD when it comes out)?

JP: A bit of inspiration and hopefully some smiles. We’re going to try to make it an entertaining evening.


FEATURE: Stan Sulzmann / Nikki Iles. Duo CD Stardust for release 11th December

Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles.

It has been over 20 years since the duo of saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and pianist Nikki Iles recorded their first album, "Treasure Trove." There is now, finally, a follow-up, "Stardust", which Jellymould Records will be releasing on December 11th. Stan Sulzmann tells the story of a long-term collaboration between these two good friends, who are also pivotal figures in British jazz. Stan Sulzmann writes:

I first met Nikki on a freezing cold and densely foggy night at Wakefield Jazz club in the early 1990s. There was hardly any audience as the weather was so appalling and Nikki had to drive with a keyboard from Leeds. Being Nikki she made it and we played two lovely quartet sets. Sometime later I was thinking about making another duo cd (after having recorded Everybody’s Song But My Own with John Taylor for a Loose Tubes label vinyl recording). At that time there was a great studio in Kingston University called Gateway that had two great pianos and was very affordable with a good engineer Steve Lowe. I had really loved Nikki's sense of harmony and that wonderful keyboard touch that she shares with people like Victor Feldman, Bill Evans, Herbie and John Taylor, so essential for me if playing in a duo. So I invited her. We both provided the original material plus a Bill Evans tune Since We Met and a Paul Simon song, I do it for your love. This was released in 1994 titled 'TREASURE TROVE". We received very nice reviews and this started a long-term musical relationship. We worked as a duo and in each other’s bands including a week at Ronnie Scotts and a lovely trip to Jyaskyla in the center of Finland to play with my quartet and with Ken Wheeler as guest.

In the duo setting I feel we are a good foil style-wise, Nikki has a gentler approach with a beautiful sense of harmony and calm, mixed with a love of songs. I’ve also stood in for Mark Lockheart in Nikki’s 'Printmakers' band and she has played in my big band ‘NEON ORCHESTRA' that opened the LJF 2013 at the Purcell room in London. We both compose and arrange but we both also love the great standard songbook and jazz repertoire. Over the years we have found ourselves in many ad hoc groups in jazz clubs and have played some of our favourite tunes for fun. The opportunity to use The Royal Academy studio facilities and a very nice Academy piano gave us a chance to document some of these songs.

Apart from one original tune each the remaining tracks are standards. I wrote Nicki’s Corner for Nikki referring to some chordal harmony (two chords) made famous by Bill Evans which Nikki sometimes used as an underlay for reharmonizing a ballad like My One And Only Love. The standards include the classic Body & Soul, and Stardust, great tunes that have stood the test of time. The pieces also made me think about some of the wonderful versions and arrangements. Memorable for me are Lucky Thompson with Oscar Pettiford playing Body & Soul and a wonderful big band arrangement of Stardust written by the late Alan Downey, the verse written for solo brass, but the list is vast. Steve Gray wrote an arrangement for 8 saxophones of You'll Never Get To Heaven for a saxophone group called Winds Of Change that I played with for some years. Steve was a remarkable musician’s musician and writer. So I wanted to make this small tribute to him, as I learned a lot from his music.

I hope this CD, Stardust, fills the gap in the recordings I’ve made over the years by focusing on this standard material with some re-workings here and there. Making it with Nikki couldn’t have been a better choice for me as her bright positive musicality has given me so much pleasure over the years and I would like you to share in this with me.

Stardust will be released on Jellymould on 11th December.
A track is available for free download from Stan Sulzman's website

DATES for Neon Orchestra and the Sulzmann/Iles duo

Jan 10th – Stan Sulzmann/Nikki Iles Duo, Herts Jazz
Jan 21st – Neon Orchestra, Karamel Club
Jan 25th – Stan Sulzmann/Nikki Iles Duo, Jazz In The Round Cockpit Theatre, London 8.30pm
Feb 11th – Neon Orchestra, Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking


CD REVIEW: National Youth Jazz Orchestra – NYJO Fifty

National Youth Jazz Orchestra – NYJO Fifty
(Whirlwind WR4679, CD Review by Peter Jones.)

There’s been half a century of top-notch big band playing and recording since the organization which became NYJO was founded by Bill Ashton in 1965. In that time they have made well over 40 albums, performed live around the world, and on television at The Royal Variety Performance and the Royal Celebration of Youth. Ashton has even been awarded an OBE for ‘services to jazz’. So this is very much the establishment-approved jazz ensemble, and thank the lord for that, since the establishment has in all other respects failed to comprehend the importance of the arts in the UK.

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the jazz stars who were launched upon the world thanks to NYJO, not least Guy Barker, Mark Nightingale, Gerard Presencer, Pete Long, Dennis and Winston Rollins, and of course the 16-year-old Amy Winehouse, of whom Bill Ashton commented: ‘I can honestly say, she had the best jazz voice of any young singer I had ever heard.’

However, this double album release is not a retrospective, rather a set of new recordings, divided into ‘contemporary’ (disc one) and ‘traditional’ (disc two) material. One of NYJO’s recent roles in recent years has been to commission new work from leading UK jazz composers. Included here are tunes from the ubiquitous Kit Downes (Wintermute), Laura Jurd (No Man Is An Island), and Jason Yarde (Sub Hub Hubbub – great title!). And it’s appropriate that the final piece is one of Bill Ashton’s compositions - Finding My Feet.

Disc one kicks off with Mama Badgers, a bracingly percussive piece written by Julian Siegel, and giving early prominence to the excellent David Dyson on drums, Owen Dawson on trombone and Rob Luft on guitar. Luft surely deserves a special award for being on practically every British jazz CD released this year. Another musician vying for that honour is Gareth Lochrane, and blow me down, here he is again on Rush Hour.

It’s tough to pick out individual tracks when the playing is at such a high level, but I particularly liked a couple of the quieter tracks on the first disc - Chris Whiter’s lush, floaty Dreams and Owen Dawson’s No Pãu de Açúcar, both of these featuring the flugelhorn of James Copus. The second disc opens with St Louis Blues, a mixture of foot-dragging sleaze and finger- snapping helter-skelter swing. Favourites here include NYJO’s take on Lullabye on Broadway and What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?, both lifted by the velvety voice of Jessica Radcliffe. There has been a lot of excellent UK big band music this year, notably from the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and the Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble. This one is a fine addition to the pile: you get a lot of music for your money - 19 tracks in well over two hours - and it’s music of the very highest quality.


FESTIVAL NEWS: Gateshead / Cheltenham / Love Supreme 2016 announcements

The Big Top at Cheltenham

In the wake of the 2015 London Jazz Festival, three UK Festivals, Gateshead, Cheltenham and Love Supreme have put out announcements this week about 2016.

GATESHEAD 15-17 April 2016

Full programme announced and on sale from 27th November

Gregory Porter
Arun Ghosh
Evan Parker
Liane Carroll
World Service Project plus Chris Sharkey
Phil Meadows with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Jambone
John Surman with the Alexander Hawkins Trio
Double Bill of Courtney Pine / Zoe Rahman and Terence Blanchard
Simon Spillett/ Tubby Hayes tribute
John Law plus Kris Bowers
Cafe Societ Swing
Airelle Besson/Nelson Veras plus Malija
Charles Bradley
Ibrahim Maalouf


- o - o - o -

CHELTENHAM - 27 April  – 2 May

The first artists are anounced for the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Christian Scott nonet
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil
Becca Stevens Band
Giovanni Guidi Trio
Omar Sosa’s QuartetoAfroCubano
Rom Schaerer Eberle
The UK premiere of Julian Arguelles' Let It Be Told - HR Big Band, Django Bates on piano and Steve Arguelles.


- o - o - o -

LOVE SUPREME  - 1- 3 July

Early bird tickets are on sale  HERE


BOOK REVIEW: Simon Spillett and C. Tom Davis - 100% Proof — The Complete Tubby Hayes Discography

100% Proof — The Complete Tubby Hayes Discography Compiled by Simon Spillett and C. Tom Davis
(Names & Numbers Discographical Publications. Interview/Book Review by Andrew Cartmel)

“We missed a trick with the title…” says Tom Davis. “We should have called it The Incomplete Tubby Hayes Discography,” he laughs. “Because there is always more stuff being discovered. Like the film of the 1962 Scandinavian tour which surfaced in September. We scrambled and got it into the book. If it had emerged after the deadline it couldn’t have gone in.”

The new Tubby Hayes discography from Davis and co-author, British sax star and Tubby expert Simon Spillett, is a hefty and handsome volume, just over 240 pages long and spiral bound. It also has protective plastic covers — luckily, since almost my first act was to inadvertently set the book in a puddle of coffee on the table in the cafe where I met Tom Davis to talk about it. “We had to leave out the full sleeve notes for the sessions to make it a convenient size,” says Davis. “If you want to discover who Hayes was, ahem, dating at the time you won’t find it here… Except in the song titles, perhaps. But if you want details of the sessions he was playing, you will find that here.”

A Canadian expatriate who fell in love with British jazz in general and Tubby Hayes in particular, Tom Davis was inspired to undertake this project by Barbara Schwarz’s first stab at a Tubby discography, published by Blackpress in 1990. The Schwarz book was seminal, but there was plenty more work to be done, and a mountain of information to be excavated. For instance, in documenting the Ambrose and Jack Parnell years. “We found a whole lot of other occasions when Hayes played.” It turned into a project that swallowed years of the authors’ lives. “What the hell am I getting into?” was Davis’s reaction at one point. Indeed, at more than one point.

And along the way Tom Davis met Simon Spillett, a man with similar ambitions, and they decided to pool their considerable resources. Spillett’s definitive biography of Tubby Hayes was published earlier this year. (reviewed here), “Our discography complements Simon’s biography,” says Tom Davis. Originally they planned to include it as part of Spillett’s book, but it had become much too long.

In 2008 the discography found a home with Names & Numbers, a publisher in the Netherlands who have previously issued works on Clifford Brown, Buck Clayton, Lars Gullin, Leo Wright and many more. The Tubby discography was still too long, though, so the authors set about trimming it. “At one point we were cutting it down while new information was coming in and making it longer,” says Tom Davis. He roars with laughter. There were other complications. Names & Numbers is a jazz discographical specialist dedicated to accuracy. “We had to meet their rigorous standards,” says Davis, and laughs again. “The data had to be reformatted. For example, all the saxophone players had to be in pitch order. But that was good, it made us examine everything again. Simon and I evolved a really good method of working together. And the wonders of the internet have taken some of the grunt work out of discographies. For instance, the entire scanned archive of The Radio Times now exists online.”

But it was still a massive undertaking. “The 80th anniversary of Tubby and the spread of the internet has brought more and more information to the fore.” And the discography doesn’t just cover records and CDs, but every known Tubby Hayes appearance (or soundtrack performance) on film or television, which includes those where he was a composer or musical director, but didn’t appear or didn’t play.... “Simon and I have listened to or watched everything in the book,” says Davis. “Some lucky sod, i.e. me, has watched the entire film and noted when and where Hayes plays or appears so you don’t have to sit through the whole thing. A lot of love and hard work has gone into this. If you’re a fan, the biography and discography (which complement each other nicely) constitute just about everything you’re going to want to know about Tubby and his music. If you want to indulge yourself in expanding your record collection you can use the discography to spend happy hours surfing the net.” Indeed, my first order of business on getting home with this thing of beauty in my hot little hands was to track down a vinyl copy of a soundtrack which I previously hadn’t dreamed that Tubby had played on.

“Doing the last draft was painful,” reflects Davis, “because you’re acutely aware that the deadline is approaching and you want to get it right.” And inevitably some things arrived too late to be documented. “There was this auction site selling acetates of the first Hayes group at the Flamingo Club. That came out after the deadline.” Davis looks resigned for a moment, then perks up. “But if you purchase the discography we will be publishing updates, online and off. The work doesn’t stop here. We wanted to leave the best possible road map for next bunch of researchers, just the way Barbara Schwarz did for us. If it inspires people to go back to the music — and, better yet, gets people to delve into boxes in the attic and discover dusty old tapes — it has served its purpose.” I tell him that the discography is well worth having because I now only have to watch ten minutes of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors to catch Tubby’s performance. Tom Davis chuckles: “A snip at 27.50 euros!” he says.

Names and Numbers website


REVIEW: Julia Hülsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann. A Clear Midnight – Kurt Weill and America at Milton Court

A Clear Midnight – Kurt Weill and America at Milton Court
L-R: Julia Hülsmann Theo Bleckmann, Marc Muellbauer, Tom Arthurs, Heinrich Köbberling

Julia Hülsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann. A Clear Midnight – Kurt Weill and America
(Milton Court, 22nd November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Alison Bentley)

Unsung Weill – German pianist Julia Hülsmann found a number of Kurt Weill songs which had been cut from the original shows. She included them, along with some better known ones, on her latest album for ECM: A Clear Midnight. Inspired by Weill’s settings of Walt Whitman poems, she set some to music herself, drawing all the songs together on this gig in the group’s improvisational yet disciplined style.

Hülsmann has always enjoyed working with singers, (she decribed it in this 2014 interview as ‘…a very direct way to make music.’) and German-born New York resident Theo Bleckmann was her choice for this project. She augmented her long-term trio (Marc Muellbauer: double bass; Heinrich Köbberling: drums) with the UK’s Tom Arthurs on trumpet- the four have worked together frequently, which created a sense of ease and trust on stage.

Weill’s Your Technique opened, a slow Latin groove, Bleckmann singing the witty lyrics in delicate falsetto, sprinkled lightly with cymbal sounds from Köbberling. Mullbauer’s bass solo was sure-footed and clear in the designer acoustic of the Milton Court theatre. Arthurs joined them for Weill’s Great Big Sky, with its Sondheim-esque piano motifs and shifting time signatures. The shapes of the piano solo were almost visual in their clarity; sometimes pulled out of shape, then brought back. Speak Low was given some shiny new chords, but Bleckmann sang the melody unadorned. You thought of the gorgeous tone rather than the lyrics. He didn’t slide up to the notes in a jazz crooner’s style but hit them dead centre, with a pure sound that seemed to float above him. He slightly bent the notes occasionally; or he’d bring the mic close for a sforzando effect. When the voice harmonised with Arthurs’ trumpet, it was hard to tell them apart. Bleckmann seemed to relish Ogden Nash’s witty lyrics to Who Am I? – with its lyrics rhyming ‘genius’ and ‘schizophrenious’, it could almost have been a Dave Frishberg song. The clambering arpeggios of Hülsmann’s solo fell into block chords thickened by the drum sounds.

Alabama Song was played by the piano trio, bass and piano sharing the melody over sparkling cymbals and piano patterns; it broke out into no time, no changes- just the melody- bass and drums playing fast and loose. Mack the Knife also had a radical makeover- a re-worked translation which highlighted the sense of menace, set against the exquisite, slow piano chords and plaintive trumpet harmony. Each verse ended with a dissonant note that led chillingly into a key change, owing more to Schoenberg than Louis Armstrong.

Hülsmann had arranged Walt Whitman’s civil war poem Beat! Beat! Drums! into a spaciously funky groove, with trumpet spluttering evocatively before bursting into long powerful bugle calls. The piano solo repeatedly beat single drumming notes along with Bleckmann’s percussive noises. In Weill’s Little Tin God Bleckmann created his own choir with looped vocal lines, over the piano’s clockwork-like phrases (the Little Tin God in question being the clock on the shelf) Arthurs’ trumpet had real fire, fast and free, as the music expressed a planet without rules- until the clockwork motif returned.

September Song (beautifully arranged by Muellbauer) began colla voce, the perfect vocal tone a balancing act over the wonderfully dissonant new chords. The bridge was chillingly slow and tense (‘September, November…’ mixed with some eerie overtone chanting) before resolving into the reassuring chords of ‘these few precious days I’ll spend with you.’ Hülsmann’s solo had the warmth and delicacy of the late John Taylor, with a little bluesiness. A Clear Midnight (Hülsmann’s setting of a Whitman poem) started with a single vocal note over changing chords- distilled down to an essence of voice. A groove emerged mysteriously from the Köbberling’s free drumming, his solo full of rich textures over harmon-muted trumpet lines. A Noiseless Patient Spider, another Hülsmann setting of Whitman, had spinning piano and trumpet riffs as the spider ‘…launched forth filament, filament, filament out of itself.’ The groove built rockily behind Arthurs’ impassioned solo, Kenny Wheeler-like in its huge leaps. Humour concluded- Weill’s Apple Jack, a slinky tale of Eve wooing Adam with apple schnapps. Swing time became broken up, then free, then a little raunchy.

The set was long but never seemed so- it was perfectly-paced and completely captivating. A superb conclusion to this year’s Festival.

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud


REVIEW: Vocal Summit (Marta Capponi,Brigitte Beraha and Trudy Kerr) at the Spice of Life

Marta Capponi, Brigitte Beraha and Truy Kerr

Vocal Summit (Marta Capponi, Brigitte Beraha and Trudy Kerr)
(Spice of Life. 18th November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Brian Blain)

Paul Pace's venue at the Spice of Life at Cambridge Circus was absolutely packed. Last Wednesday, and not just because Vocal Summit. Marta Capponi, Brigitte Beraha and Trudy Kerr are brilliant performers,but because being under the umbrella of London Jazz Festival, publicity really does make a difference.

Capponi not only knocked out the crowd with a bubbling Honeysuckle Rose but a wistful I'll Be Seeing You as well; easy to see why she is making waves. Brigitte Beraha, the slightly ethereal original artist of Babelfish, can also 'get down with the people' with her easy swing on This Heart of Mine as well as turning a packed pub into a rapt concert hall on I Fall In Love Too Easily - magical.

Trudy Kerr was wonderful; almost mother hennish, sending herself up just a little with a mildly coquettish reference to the 'young men' in the rhythm section - Rick Simpson, Mark Lewandowski and Lloyd Haines, who were positive and 'up' all evening. Musically she was quite majestic, a gripping out of tempo intro to Joy Spring showed that she too can be a risk taker, while on the closing But Not For Me, with all three together on stage, and a great sisterly vibe filling the room, she just shaded it for tiime and feel.

All this and a lovely new Yamaha C3 Grand Piano made Paul's downstairs bar venue as good a place to be as any in an overly stuffed week


REVIEW: Submotion Orchestra and Catching Flies at the Barbican (2015 EFG LJF)

Submotion Orchestra. Photo credit: Dan Medhurst/Ninjatune

Submotion Orchestra and Catching Flies
(Barbican. 22nd November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Adam Tait)

There’s something about the understated elegance of the Barbican hall that makes musician/DJ Catching Flies, accompanied by a guitarist and saxophonist, look a little bit small as he takes the stage. Considering he only debuted his live show 18 months ago, it’s a big place to find himself, helping to close the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Fortunately, he’s something of a musical TARDIS. The content is far, far bigger than its container. Opening with icy, spectral samples, tense tones that hang above the audience, his compositions are immediately captivating. Sax flourishes add enticing adornments as the taut anticipation steadily builds until the resounding baselines - Catching Flies’ musical meat on the bones - make a thunderous first appearance.

And after the glassy stillness of the opening moments, Catching Flies shows how easily he can fill a space. The knotted, rigid combination of engineered bass and drums counterbalance the serenity of his murmuring samples. It all comes together to make something enthralling and cinematic and enveloping.

But Catching Flies is at his best stitching together these glittering, unfolding soundscapes with garbled vocal snippets and oriental synth sounds, happily moving from a few bars of hip hop-inspired grooves toward house inflicted throbs and back again via moments hard to pin down.

Submotion Orchestra, by contrast, are preceded by a reputation for making mammoth sounds and challenging venues to contain them. In these acoustically impressive surroundings expectation ahead of their set, with an expanded lineup no less, is understandably electric.

Feeding off the crowd’s anticipation, the Leeds outfit open with the glorious build up of Intro, taken from second album Fragments, before delving into the sweeping, soaring duo of Perfection and Sunshine.

The additional musicians make an immediate impact. The band’s already expansive compositions not only grow still broader, but also become more detailed, are filled in and elaborated on by the string quartet and extra three horn musicians.

And while Submotion’s live execution has always been a startling absorbing experience, the impact of this particular performance is a step beyond. The combination of violins and Ruby Wood’s voice on Worries is genuinely tear-jerking. Time Will Wait’s rolling rhythm is both mesmeric and magnificent. Over and again they raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The ebb and flow of the music is entrancing.

That’s not to say any of the usual chest rattling noise is absent. Granted the volume seems a little lower on this occasion, but instrumental maelstroms like Thousand Yard Stare are a swift reminder of what Submotion are about.

Perhaps it would have been nice to see the band tackle some of their material less obviously suited to this sort of musical expansion. It would have been fascinating to see how a string addendum would fit into the uncompromising Chrome Units, or dance orientated It’s Not Me It’s You. But with those quivering notes soar behind Wood reaching for the breathtaking high notes during Blind Spot, it’s difficult to find room for complaint.

Submotion are, if not unique, unrivaled when it comes the marrying grinding sub-bass with piercing blasts of brass and thrilling melodic runs. On record it can be easy to forget how fantastically intricate their music is. Seeing it played out in such a sedate setting brings their ingenuity to the fore.

When they started to attract attention in 2011 they were humbly branded an alternative dub step act. Dub step’s moment has passed while Submotion have devised ever more mesmeric way to show their musical might. And watching them play ‘Finest Hour’, their breakthrough track, as they close their set for the EFG London Jazz Festival is a wonderful reminder of how far they’ve come, and how much further they’re likely to go.


PREVIEW: Harold Sanditen, Flyin' High CD launch with Janet Suzman at Crazy Coqs (Mon 30th Nov.)

Vocalist HAROLD SANDITEN, who is also the popular host of the late night Thursday open mic at Crazy Coqs,  is looking forward to the launch gig for of his third CD -  in the venue where it was recorded. "Flyin' High - Live at Crazy Coqs" will be presented on Monday November 30th. Harold writes:

When I set out to develop the Flyin' High show, I was excited by the prospect of meshing my two biggest passions - music and travel. I’d been travelling around the globe for years, with some wonderful memories and pretty funny tales along the way.

I didn’t want an endless string of songs about travel, though, and as I thought about all the trips, certain events or places came to mind, and the emotions they evoked, inspired songs. The show evolved over a year before it settled into place at The Crazy Coqs, where it was recorded live. The result is a terrifically fun selection of songs celebrating the joy that travel has given me, by songwriters including The Beatles, Jimmy Van Heusen, Carole King, Bacharach, Ann Hampton Callaway, Cy Coleman, Irving Berlin, Jobim amongst others.

The CD launch show is on Monday, 30th November, 8 pm at The Crazy Coqs, and will include songs from the CD, along with duets with special guests, all backed by musicians Michael Roulston (piano and arrangements), Tom Mansi (bass) and Jonathan “Kitch” Kitching (drums and percussion).

Dame Janet Suzman will reprise our duet of Dave Frishberg’s Let’s Eat Home; Gary Williams and I will perform a comic duet of a very popular Weill song; and Champagne Charlie and I will sing the premiere of a parody song about social media dating apps, to the tune of Girl Talk.

It’s going to be a party night to remember. Expect lots of rhythm, lots of humour and just enough pathos!

LINKS: Artist website:
Crazy Coqs online bookings


PREVIEW: Anna Mae Silver - In My Wildest Dreams CD Launch with Liane Carroll and Lance Ellington (229 The venue, Nov 29th)

Liane Carroll and Anna-Mae Silver

This Sunday 29th sees the culmination of a long story. Vocalist Rachel Sutton explains here the background story of a collection of songs by Anna Mae Silver that now form a CD, and her involvement. The CD will be launched this Sunday at 229 The Venue. Liane Carroll, Lance Ellington, Jane Milligan and Rachel herself will be perfoming the songs. Rachel writes:

When I met Anna Mae Silver, little did I know that we would end up collaborating on her album, ‘In My Wildest Dreams’, a collection of songs she started writing 45 years ago after a chance encounter with Jon Hendricks inspired her as a composer. She was astonished and delighted when Hendricks loved her work and asked if he could write the lyrics to some of her pieces.

Jump forward to 2008: I was embarking on a singing career and Anna Mae’s interest in my voice, together with her passion and knowledge of jazz were inspiring and encouraging. Our meeting rekindled her ambition to produce a recording of her most treasured songs, and I was hugely flattered when she asked me to write some of the lyrics and to sing some of the material. She also asked her good friend, Lesley Duke, to write lyrics for three of the songs. Anna Mae’s work is both moving and uplifting – a real joy to sing and a wonderful canvas for lyrical creation. I felt a deep connection to Anna Mae’s music and so it was easy for me to put words to the stories I heard her playing.

After many months of work, musical director, pianist and composer John G Smith, member of the influential band Roadside Picnic, came on board and made sublime arrangements for the recording. Liane Carroll is a singer whose extraordinary voice and emotive presence Anna Mae has always greatly admired. A meeting was arranged and Liane was excited by the music and keen to be involved. We also needed a male voice and the wonderful Lance Ellington, well known for his work on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, is featured on the album, along with the beautifully tender voice of Jane Milligan, Spike’s daughter and a successful musical theatre actress.

I am delighted to be joining these fantastic singers on stage for the launch.

In My Wildest Dreams’ will be launched at  229 The Venue, 229 Great Portland Street, Sunday 29th November at 7:45pm. (WEBSITE/BOOKINGS)

The band includes:

John G Smith (piano)
John Parricelli (guitar)
Pat White (flugelhorn/trumpet)
Steve Pearce (bass)
Paul Robinson (drums)
Mike Williams (sax)
Jeremy Shoham (sax)
Susie Candlin (violin)
Virgilijus Vitkus (accordion)


REVIEW: Phronesis with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band at Milton Court (2015 EFG LJF)

Julian Arguelles directing Phronesis and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Phronesis with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.
(Milton Court. 22 November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Jon Turney)

If ever a piano trio seemed complete unto itself, Phronesis surely do. Jasper Høiby’s bass can double a piano line as readily as laying down a rhythmic figure that is as insistent as it is hard to follow. Anton Eger has equal rhythmic panache allied to an orchestral concept of percussion. Ivo Neame on piano brings improvisational prowess that keeps the other two constantly on their toes.

Still, good music is always generative, as this gig confirmed most satisfyingly. For their tenth anniversary, the trio celebrated with a commission for Julian Argüelles to arrange some of their back catalogue for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. The results, at a debut gig in Germany and this London Jazz Festival show, were magnificent.

The trio have always had compositional flair to match their improvisational fervour and Argüelles must have had a taxing time selecting which pieces, and which elements of each piece, to highlight. He remarked on how much detail there is in the trio’s music. That’s not rare in a jazz group but certainly a challenge for one trying to find room to add to their work.

Nonetheless, the conductor (none of his own peerless saxophone playing this afternoon) affirmed the superb arranging skills recently highighted on his recording of South African jazz themes with the same band. He opened out an hour and a half’s worth of Phronesis’ music in ways both intriguing and rewarding. An old (still) untitled piece opened with a rich horn fanfare with piano ornamentation before the rhythm kicked in. From that opening statement of intent through to a three horn front line re-working of Urban Control, there were countless moments when the big band’s collective skills augmented and enhanced familiar music. They accumulated partly from the solo strength in depth in Frankfurt’s massed ranks, notably from Martin Scales on guitar, and Ollie Leicht on clarinet as well as the band’s trumpet and trombone sections. The trio responded readily to the new arrangements, Anton Eger energising a big band as to the manner born, and Neame playing at his very best. Add Høiby’s usual droll announcements punctuating his jaw-dropping contributions on bass, and there was really something for everyone.

A remarkable set that left two lasting impressions. As with the best Phronesis gigs, there was almost too much to take in. And there is joy in collaboration when musical intelligences that are as strong, yet open-minded, as the trio and their arranger here come together, and combine to create something new, the big band truly becoming an extension of Phronesis’ musical world. I don’t know if that can happen again, but I’m told the German show was recorded, so here’s hoping there’s a chance to dig into this set at leisure soon.


REVIEW: South African Vocal Jazz Night at the Ivy House (2015 EFG LJF)

South African Vocal Jazz Night
(Ivy House, Peckham, 20th November. 2015 EFG LF. Review by Rachel Maby)

Situated in Nunhead SE15, The Ivy House pub venue hosted a night of loud, grooving South African dance music

The music featured South African vocal music arranged by project collaborators Gareth Lockrane (UK jazz flautist), Adam Glasser (South African harmonica player) and Bokani Dyer (South African jazz pianist). The nine piece band also featured an all-star UK jazz line-up: Steve Watts on bass, Rob Luft on guitar, Jason Yarde on saxophone, Tim Giles on drums, Hugh Wilkinson on percussion, Chris Batchelor on trumpet and Richard Henry on trombone.

Joining the band were South African singers Pinise Saul, Luyanda Jezile, Prudence Jezile and Glasser’s daughter Abigail, who brought the music to life with their effervescent charisma and dancing. The “feel-good” music featured in this gig celebrated traditional South African folk music with jazz harmonies, polyphonic hornlines, vibrant accompanying percussion and rocking bass line.

A particular highlight in the first set was Saul’s ‘The Girls’ featuring all singers, whose sexy four crotchet pattern was highlighted by the singers’ dance moves on the first beat of every bar – an unnatural rhythmic instinct for the UK audience prone to 2 and 4 rhythmic impulse.

The second set was opened beautifully by a piano solo by Dyer on his tune ‘Vuvuzela’ from his latest album ‘World Music’, whose pentatonic harmony shone through in a stonking solo by Jason Yarde. By the last tune of the night the audience were up dancing on their feet, clapping for more.

This event was part of SA-UK Seasons 2014-2015, supported by the British Council Connect/ZA and Republic of South Africa Department of Arts and Culture.

LINK: Interview with Adam Glasser and Pinise Saul from 2014


REVIEW: Arild Andersen Sextet at Kings Place (2015 EFG LJF)

Arild Andersen - from artist website

Arild Andersen Sextet
(Kings Place, 21st November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Jon Turney)

Jazz celebrates its past in lots of different ways. This festival alone had explorations of the music of Paul Whiteman, Bill Evans, a new look at The Birth of the Cool and, indeed, a close look at Charles Mingus’ Ah Um (reviewed here).

This evening was a little different, though: a nod to just one performance. One of the great Mingus sextets visited Oslo when the European jazz circuit was just getting going in 1964, and living bass legend Arild Andersen put together a matching ensemble to mark that show’s 50th anniversary. They came to London a year on to reprise at least some of the concert.

There were a couple of ways of hearing this. You can still watch or listen to the entire original Mingus concert, and several others from the same year. It’s hard, then, not to compare this band with that one. But that ends badly. Of course we were not getting to hear one of the greatest ever jazz composers, nor revelling in Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan and Jaki Byard in their prime responding to his brilliant playing and composing, and his volcanic temperament.

Ask instead, was the music good tonight? Well, these tunes – So Long Eric, Orange was the Colour…, Better Get it In Your Soul, Fables of Faubus – are nearly everyone’s favourites. The sonority of the sextet was a good match for the canonical performances, and it is always splendid to hear them brought to life in concert. The ensemble arrangements were carried off beautifully, even on the fiendish All the Things You Could Be By Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother. And the solos, shorter than they would have been fifty years ago, were mostly great – especially those featuring trumpeter Eivind Lønning and two or three magisterial excursions from Andersen himself, retaining all the depth of the bass even with amplification cranked well up in the mix. Andersen also meshed perfectly with drummer Gard Nilssen, reproducing that almost-too-on-top-of- the-beat urgency that was Mingus and Danny Richmond’s trademark. The other soloists – Erlend Slettevold on piano along with Petter Wettke and Klaus Holm on reeds - did good work throughout, but allowed a few more thoughts of their illustrious forebears to creep back in. It must, let’s face it, be pretty well impossible to play bass clarinet on a tune people have heard Eric Dolphy solo on and leave the listener satisfied, as impossible as matching the impact the original band must have had when they hit Oslo all those years ago.

A tad tantalising, overall, then? Certainly. But still very enjoyable in its own right as a one-off tribute to the old masters.


REVIEW: Lush Life : The Songs of Billy Strayhorn at Cadogan Hall (2015 EFG LJF)

Allan Harris and the Frank Griffith Festival Tentet at Cadogan Hall
Photo Credit:Patti Timura-Harris

Lush Life : The Songs of Billy Strayhorn
Cadogan Hall, 20th November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Peter Vacher)

Pianist-arranger Alex Webb, who conceived this show to celebrate the centenary of Strayhorn’s birth, is the local pioneer of a relatively new development in jazz presentation, the narrative concert form. Where others, like Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company, seek to replicate past events, Webb looks to tell a specific story. He’s the man who dreamed up the Café Society Swing and Parker on Dial programmes, each featuring a scholarly narration and a strong commitment to appropriate jazz performance. And so it was here, with no less than three vocalists, each quite idiosyncratic, accompanied by Frank Griffith’s Festival Tentet, Webb’s informative script seamlessly delivered by Washington-born Sirena Riley, each cue summoning one or other of the vocalists to perform.

That Strayhorn was a considerable composer was never in doubt and that he was seldom given his due by Duke Ellington is equally true, all of this brought out in Riley’s readings. That he was lionised by those in the know was also the case, his talent recognised by his peers if not by the wider world. In badging this as a celebration of his songs, Webb made himself a hostage to fortune, in that a number of these pieces were first conceived by Strayhorn as instrumentals, Webb having to provide a lyric himself. For my part, I longed for more straight band performances, for there was considerable solo firepower in this ensemble, not least from Griffith himself, always persuasive on tenor, and the fiercely inventive altoist Tony Kofi, who later told me how much he’d enjoyed playing Robbie Robson’s arrangement of the immortal Blood Count. Still, for all that this this was conceived as a singer’s show.

First up was Harlem-ite Allan Harris, an engaging vocalist who has something of Nat King Cole’s ease with a song, this evident as he bounced on stage for Jump for Joy, the band sound reminding me of the Savoy Sultans of yesteryear. He stayed for two more pieces to be replaced by the overly histrionic David McAlmont, essentially a soul-oriented pop singer who deployed his falsetto on My Little Brown Book, this sparked by a thoughtful Adrian Fry trombone solo. It was Fry’s arrangement of ‘Rain Check’ [with lyrics by Webb] that brought on the hyper-active Sandra Nkaké, strutting and staying just this side of vocal mayhem on Rhumbop, before she combined with McAlmont on the evergreen Satin Doll and so it went, each singer taking turn and turnabout . With Omar Puente supreme on violin on A Train, the vocal trio then turned the climactic C-Jam Blues into a madcap romp as Duke’s Place using the Armstrong-inspired lyrics that emerged on the iconic encounter between Duke and Satchmo, as each band member soloed, pianist Peter Edwards, bandleader Griffith, Kofi and trumpeter Sue Richardson seizing their moments splendidly. Great stuff.

How better to remember Strayhorn than by performing his music? So, plaudits all round to Webb for his research and to all his performers and arrangers for this tribute. Additional sidemen would have given the band more body and it did lack a certain oomph but more time on the ball would improve that. This show deserves to be aired again. For now, let Duke have the last word. ‘God bless Billy Strayhorn,’ he said, so amen to that.

Frank Griffith Tentet:

Sue Richardson, Robbie Robson [tp]
Adrian Fry [tb]
Frank Griffith [ts,cl]
Tony Kofi [as]
Erica Clarke [bs, fl]
Omar Puente [vln]
Peter Edwards [p]
Gary Crosby [b] Rod Youngs [d]

Allan Harris, David McAlmont, Sandra Nkaké [voc]
Sirena Riley [narr]
Alex Webb [Curator].


LP REVIEW: Sun Ra and His Arkestra – To Those of Earth… and Other Worlds

Sun Ra and His Arkestra – To Those of Earth… and Other Worlds
(Strut/Art Yard SRUT125LP. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

To give it its proper designation, this is Gilles Peterson Presents Sun Ra and His Arkestra, which is quite a canny idea for a project. Because, like Duke Ellington or Frank Zappa, Sun Ra has a dauntingly vast oeuvre (well over 100 albums; and that isn’t taking into account the bootlegs) and if someone is keen to explore Ra’s music, yet doesn’t know where to begin, then a curated experience by one of Britain’s top DJs is an excellent starting point. He explains some of his choices on video HERE. (The new compilation follows on last year’s release In the Orbit of Ra, also on the Strut label, which saw long time Arkestra luminary Marshall Allen providing his own doorway into the massive Ra back catalogue.)

This is an intergalactic tour of Ra’s music (musics, actually, plural) from his early doo-wop, in the shape of the lovely, lolloping Dreaming performed by The Cosmic Rays (Calvin Barron, Matt Swift and Lonnie Tolbert), to angular, ethnic electronica such as The World Of Africa (Sun Ra on Hohner Clarinet and ‘sun harp’). And, perhaps surprisingly, it passes through the richly romantic on the way — Black Sky and Blue Moon is a mesmerising ballad with virile science fiction vocals (the descendants of the doo-wop). Featuring The Cosmic Rays again, the song is poised between primitive simplicity and the avant-garde, with its delicate, exploratory flute (Marshall Allen), challenged and banished by the powerful background blast of the baritone sax by Pat Patrick, voices rising in celebration to the sky and moon of the title and fading to flute and drums (the latter probably played by Robert Barry). Utterly beautiful.

India, on the other hand, is typical — and classic — Ra with its mystery percussion and sensual, snaking muted trumpet (Art Hoyle), clashing starburst cymbals (Jim Herndon), shimmering bells and casually elegant electric piano by Su Ra — who also plays space gong. Of course. Sun Ra’s keyboards (Mini-Moog synth and Rocksichord) offer a very different experience on Love In Outer Space, providing a springy cartoon trampoline for the soft innocence of the vocals by David Henderson. Spontaneous Simplicity (Stereo Version) is memorable for its insistent, boogying rhythmic percussion (the drums are by William Cochran, with just about every other member of the band contributing to percussion) and Ra’s judicious, jauntily terse piano comments à la Basie.

This is a splendid package, a hefty gatefold album, nicely designed and featuring extensive and fascinating liner notes, including an in-depth history of Ra by Robert L. Campbell, extracted from the forthcoming Art Yard reprint of the rare and sought after book Sun Ra: the Omniverse by Hartmut Geerken. There’s also a great gallery of Sun Ra album covers and some lovely black and white photographs of the Arkestra members by Val Wilmer. In addition, the origin of every track in the collection is carefully documented. Sadly, for reasons of space (ironic in a Sun Ra context), there’s no detailed information on who plays what on which track. The booklet for the double CD version, however, contains all that one could ask in that area, and it can, in a pinch, be downloaded.

In any event this a great compilation, though you’ll miss the ringing telephone in the background on Adventure-Equation — it's only on the CDs. But the double LP version will exert a considerable appeal to all vinyl enthusiasts. It has a strong, open, punchy sound and is an admirably clean transfer. And, to my ears, it has the edge on In the Orbit of Ra in audiophile, if not musical, terms. What’s more, the two CDs (though not the booklet) are included as a bonus with this doubly vinyl package; so it’s hard to find a reason not to buy it. An ideal starting point to explore the Universe According to Sun Ra.


CD REVIEW: Eberhard Weber - Hommage à Eberhard Weber

Eberhard Weber - Hommage à Eberhard Weber
(ECM Records 473 2344. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Rarely has a live jazz album felt as emotive or as broadly momentous, encompassing and celebrating so many strands and decades of sublime creativity.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, and gradually becoming a mainstay of Manfred Eicher's ECM record label, Stuttgart-born Eberhard Weber has forged a visionary compositional and instrumental path, providing contemporary jazz with one of its most distinctive, five-string bass sonorities. Throughout his career, Weber has continued to delight audiophiles and concert audiences via a vast range of atmospheric, boundary-straddling releases, collaborating perhaps most notably with Ralph Towner, Jon Christensen, Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Paul McCandless and Pat Metheny. But in 2007, a stroke brought an end to his bass-playing (though two albums, Resumé (2012) and Encore (2015) – based on archived, live bass solos with the Jan Garbarek Group between 1990 and 2007 – have since been released).

In January 2015, to observe the popular bassist's 75th birthday and honour his significant musical achievements, two jubilee concerts were presented in Stuttgart; and though Eberhard selected the personnel, he requested that the programme be a surprise. So, a stellar line-up convened – Pat Metheny (guitars), Jan Garbarek (soprano sax), Gary Burton (vibraphone), Scott Colley (double bass), Danny Gottlieb (drums), Paul McCandless (English horn, soprano sax), Klaus Graf (alto sax) and Ernst Hutter (euphonium).  With the powerfully elegant 18-piece SWR Big Band conducted by Helge Sunde and Michael Gibbs, the stage was set for large-scale arrangements of Weber's music (with arrangements by Gibbs, Ralf SchmidRainer Tempel and Libor Šíma), with Pat Metheny's 30-minutes-plus commission, Hommage, the centrepiece.

Appropriately, one of the stars of the show was Eberhard Weber himself, firstly as compère and expectant onlooker; but also, ingeniously, recorded excerpts of his playing were woven into some of the performances, so that the bassist became magically integrated. Résumé Variations opens the album, a typically ethereal, soaring, eight-minute extemporisation from Garbarek, its spatiality caressing only Weber's signature phased-effect layerings from tape; and Touch broods magnificently to Ralf Schmid's luscious, cinemascope, big band arrangement, with features for Gary Burton's vibraphone and Paul McCandless's English horn, whilst bassist Scott Colley takes on Weber's role particularly eloquently.

Maurizius (taken from 1982 album Later That Evening) is sensitively reimagined in Michael Gibbs' arrangement, the wistful air of the original frequently breaking into brassy grandeur. More recent creation Tübingen preens itself majestically, Rainer Tempel's imaginative arrangement bristling with exquisite musicianship, including the delicacy of vibes and soprano sax; and digital download add-on Street Scene is, ironically, an album highlight – at nine minutes, this ebullient, big band spectacular dances to Burton's seemingly effortless perambulations and Colley's bubbling, subtly-rasping, Weber-like bass.

Pat Metheny's challenge to create Hommage entailed incorporating available video elements of Eberhard Weber's improvisations into a new work, with the visual sampling appearing as a projection behind the players at the key moments. Broadly through-composed, it fascinatingly melds the guitarist's written and performance styles with Weber's, producing dynamic, soundtrack-scale orchestrations which, though continuous, are divided into contrasting movements. The SWR Big Band's crystalline dynamics and brassy stabs are particularly effective, especially combined with Weber's resonant presence and Metheny's characteristic pitch-bent synth improvisations – and fittingly, the overall impression is of celebration.

To close, Libor Šíma's close-harmonied arrangement of Notes After An Evening possesses a hymnal, almost South-African folksong quality (reminiscent, too, of O Waly Waly), its reverence suggesting the respect that these concert audiences communicated to this great bassist/composer of our time. As Metheny puts it: "The main goal for me in all of this was the hope that Eberhard would enjoy the evening of the premiere and that I would be able to represent at least a portion of the genuine love I have for him and his music in a way that was faithful to the standard he established throughout his amazing career." A very special ECM occasion.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site


REVIEW: Annette Peacock solo at Cafe Oto

Annette Peacock at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Annette Peacock solo
(Cafe Oto on 20 November 2015. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston.)

Annette Peacock is a true artist. Her music, her songs, her lyrics are her art, her poetry. At Cafe Oto she gave a wonderful solo performance. One of the most compelling witnessed. It was only one set, but it was a distillation of her art, intimate, absorbing, captivating.

Peacock has a striking presence, a natural sense of style and understatement, which commanded attention from the moment she was ushered round the sold-out crowd to the stage area. The execution and her arrangements were that of the careful perfectionist, offering an uncanny sense of spacious tension with every note, word and gesture. Music of spellbinding, jazzy beauty, elusive, mesmerising.

Just her voice and keyboards, maintaining equilibrium between her extraordinarily agile vocal range and the nuanced tones of the venue's Yamaha grand, the ethereal strains of her vintage Roland D 50 digital synth, and occasional forays in to digital beats.

Peacock's keynote high pitched, distant voicings, delicate, yet sharp, were not only still there, fifty years on from her early recordings, but sounding even better - evaporating in to the ether, rebounding to underpin the wistful, plaintive qualities of her songs.

Songs of reflection, of pain, of isolation, of love and feelings, of inner honesty and searching. A tender poetry - nothing trite, every word carved and crafted. Phrases resonating, sweet and bitter, hitting deep.

Peacock's lyrics made their mark as she drew on long-standing and more recent repertoire. Twisting the knife, from Succubus - "I don't need to take Valium or opium to know what it takes to leave you." From B 4 U Said, from her ECM album, An Acrobat's Heart, "That you know my soul … I know my soul is being seen." From others, disconcertingly, "Feelings last too long," and alarmingly, "My heart is not beating at all." The broadest vistas were embraced: "… beyond the pretence of time …" "the infinite surrounds me" - and the political: "Will the scientists find how to report all the damage done?"

Self-taught, her roots are in the 60s and 70s jazz and experimental electronics - she and Paul Bley explored the potential of the first Moogs and performed with the like-minded percussionist, Han Bennink. Now, looking for parallels, the individual voices of Scott Walker, Yoko Ono, may be the closest.

Playing Albert's Love Theme, a beautiful, lightly fractured solo piano composition from 1966, she recalled with affection the impact of Albert Ayler - "a big influence on me. Can you hear it?" - with whom she travelled after persuading her then husband, bassist Gary Peacock to join Ayler in his trio.

To close, she threw in a funk beat infused with Grace Jones intent, intertwined, slightly unnervingly with a recording of her own singing voice and just added a few notes on the synth before taking her leave. A star.

Peacock's performances are rare events, and she will be back for one more, unmissable night at Cafe Oto on Monday 23 November.