REVIEW: Ben Cottrell's New Seeing commission – world première at 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival

New Seeing – centre: Graham South (trumpet),
right: Ben Cottrell (composer/conductor)

Ben Cottrell – New Seeing
(RNCM. Manchester Jazz Festival. 27th July 2016. Report and photography by Adrian Pallant)

Taking inspiration from Stan Getz’s 1961 album Focus (suite for tenor sax and strings, with arrangements by Eddie Sauter), composer and bandleader Ben Cottrell’s world premiére of his New Seeing project was enthusiastically received by last night’s Manchester Jazz Festival audience at the RNCM. Known especially as creator and director of the award-winning Beats and Pieces Big Band, Cottrell’s long-held ambition for this work was realised through the ‘mjf originals’ series (the only open jazz commissioning scheme of its kind in the UK) which, over the festival’s 21 years, has brought to fruition as many as eighteen major new jazz projects.

This instrumental set-up, drawing together many alumni colleagues, was visually intriguing – an arc of twelve mostly standing string players (6 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos) enclosing a double rhythm section of two drummers and two bassists, plus piano, electronics and trumpet, all directed by Cottrell himself. This in itself created an openness of sound, soon apparent from the gently unfolding weave of strings emanating from distant street sounds in FM (it was suggested these are perhaps working titles at this stage) as Graham South’s soft flugel tones floated across a descending bass piano motif from Richard Jones, encouraging a reassuring, sustained swell redolent of John Tavener (and, distinct from Getz’s work, here trumpet or flugel took the central melodic role).

A lumbering dual double bass feature from Mick Bardon and Stewart Wilson introduced Banger – a vibrant, propulsive jazz expression with an interesting dynamic: pizzicato strings embellishing saturated rhythms, with close communication between drummers Finlay Panter and Johnny Hunter as they entered into a percussive maelstrom. I Feel a Lot Better Now found its origins in a simple message which Cottrell saw in a Berlin church, its themes of forgiveness arising from a note whose writer pardoned a German fighter pilot for the death of a family member during the Second World War. Pervading, spacial, Pärt-like strings combined with gentle jazz piano and arco bass lines to create a slow ebb and flow of textures before fading to restful, recorded bell peals… and silence.

Contrasting final section, Big Band Zwölf, resounded to churning arco bass and effective plucked string ostinati (curiously resembling, at times, the fullness of woodwind or brass) as it crescendoed together with muted and flutter-tongued trumpet improv, embellished by Jones' celeste. Certainly a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck celebration of evolving contemporary jazz.

At its close, there was a sense that Cottrell’s accessible and engaging work might indicate a larger, symphonic vision – perhaps the fusion of his mature through-composition and the improvisational versatility of his players possesses such a magic. Maybe this is just the beginning.

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

Manchester Jazz Festival continues, daily, until this Sunday, 31st July.


NEWS: "56 gigs, 14 young support bands, 15 workshops." Nigel Price announces tour (Aug-Dec)

Guitarist Nigel Price

Sebastian writes:

The most dynamic, entrepreneurial and resilient of the UK's jazz musician-promoters, guitarist NIGEL PRICE has just announced the most extensive and ambitious venture that he has organized to date, a fifty-six date trio/quartet tour of the UK, involving fourteen support bands and fifteen workshops, starting in late August and concluding just before Christmas, by which point (see review of the thirtieth date of a previous tour), the band will have gelled, and cohered to a point which is now seen far to rarely in jazz.

Nigel Price's regular trio consists of Ross Stanley on Hammond Organ and Matt Home on drums, and in quartet format has a choice of either Alex Garnett or Vasilis Xenopoulos on saxophone. Nigel Price wrote on Facebook: "Steve Brown, Dean Masser and Brandon Allen are all involved. There will be other special guests too."

Nigel Price's tour acknowledges substantial support from Arts Council England 












LINKS: Nigel Price website
Nigel Price's Facebook announcement of the tour, with more reflection and detail
Interview in Telegraph ahead of 2014 tour


REVIEW: Jherek Bischoff and Amanda Palmer at Courtyard Theatre

Jherek Bischoff at London's Courtyard Theatre.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All rights reserved.

Jherek Bischoff and Amanda Palmer
(Courtyard Theatre, 26 July 2016; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The sweltering heat in Hoxton’s tiny Courtyard Theatre united the audience of eighty and those on stage for the London launch of Jherek Bischoff's Cistern album and a run-through with the extraordinary Amanda Palmer of their Bowie tribute ahead of their Proms appearance, accompanied by a brilliant, young string quartet.

The barriers were down right away. "I'm going to keep my coat on … to punish myself," joked Bischoff, met with a riposte from the audience, "You're not sweating, you're sparkling!" When Palmer joined him later she reflected, "I can't even keep my cool coat on. We've never played a gig this hot!" There was much else to unite them, not least, musings on the state of the world. "Brexit - suffering's always relative!" declared Palmer, and the power dynamics of her Dresden Dolls' number, Missed Me, with it's Kurt Weill flavour, were wittily recast: "I'm England, and you [Jherek] are the EU!"

But, foremost, it was the music that made the night special. Bischoff, playing a violin bass with the look of McCartney's Hofner, kicked in at an insistent pace picked up by the strings to summon up a surreal Duane Eddy meets a chamber group tone. He explained, "I'm not of the orchestral world, I'm from a rock and roll background," yet he was equally at home as conductor utilising elegant hand gestures, and his sensitive string arrangements vested authority to all they played - half a dozen haunting compositions from Cistern, their Bowie selection, including an instrumental Life on Mars, which had the feel of George Martin's strings on Eleanor Rigby, his own take on a song by the explosive Congolese outfit, Konono No 1 (reviewed), and three of Palmer's incisively visceral offerings.

Bischoff went out of his way to offer insights to the music. Cistern was inspired by his three day experience of a derelict, two-million gallon WW2 cistern in Washington State, with a 45 second reverb, the site of a 1989 Pauline Oliveros Deep Listening recording, and "changed the way I thought about music."

Each piece was relatively short with carefully deliberate structures, feeling like enticing tasters for extended compositions, and in this stripped back format had a tangible immediacy compared to the full orchestration on the album.

The Sea's Son and The Wolf related to experiences of place. The former echoed, with great poignancy, Bischoff's floating sensation on the open seas when the stars were fleetingly reflected on its perfectly smooth surface. The latter, which he described as "the creepiest thing I have ever written," came out of a winter's residency at the art foundation of Robert Wilson - who directed the staging of Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach (reviewed). Cas(s)iopeia was based on looping four Casios, which created a raw backing for the hovering pitches of the strings and, in contast, the title track's evocation of the cistern's vast internal space was given further articulation when small ringing bells were walked through the audience.

The spell was warmly broken for a communal rendition of Happy Birthday to the first violinist, and, in referendum style, all agreed to "push on through" without an intermission.

Amanda Palmer onstage at London's Courtyard Theatre.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2106. All rights reserved.

Enter Amanda Palmer, a magnetic performer who engaged instantly with her audience with respect, intelligence and humour. Which is why she and Bischoff have such a fruitful working relationship. Her compelling stage presence combines extroversion with humility. There is no side to her. She has a great voice and knows exactly when to hit the accelerator. Her songs deal with difficult subjects, the darker sides of human relationships and her staring eyes, clenched teeth and fists, and exaggerated, angular movements expressed the horrors and uncertainties of The Killing Type and The Bed Song ('Holding back those king-size tears').

She and Bischoff had the audience singing along to their beautifully arranged string quartet tributes to Bowie, counting down in Space Oddity, following every word in Ashes to Ashes and the final number, Heroes, but not before movingly performing Prince's Purple Rain, live, for the very first time, imbuing it with dignity, passion and pathos. "You guys have been the most sing-y audience in the world!" proclaimed Palmer. The perfect compliment to the spellbound house on a truly memorable evening.


REVIEW: Hot Orange Big Band & Richard Smith at Pizza Express Jazz Club

The Hot Orange Big Band
Photo credit: Dick Williams

Hot Orange Big Band & Richard Smith
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, July 24th 2016. Review by Ben Zucker)

For their debut gig at the Pizza Express Soho club, Richard Pywell and Dave Hammer’s well-established London group Hot Orange Big Band brought an energy that the low-ceilinged venue could barely contain (the lunching audience definitely enjoyed the intensity). Augmented by several guests, the large ensemble brought its characteristic brand of high-voltage soul and jazz to a Sunday afternoon.

The band plays to its strengths — funky mid-tempo numbers that allow intricate arrangements to shine with punchy ensemble playing. Though their set at Pizza Express contained nods to swinging and balladic jazz, the straight numbers were the ones that got the crowd going, occasionally contrived but generally expertly plumbed-in originals and covers including numbers by Rufus (Rags to Rufus)and Earth, Wind, and Fire. These included several stand-out soloists including Frank Griffith bringing plenty of burning ‘out’ tension on tenor sax, Ben Donnelly with a fluid alto sax feature, and a showstopping set of drum breaks by Paul Caviaciuti.

Dave Hammer directing the band
Photo credit: Dick Williams

Much of this took place, however, alongside and behind the featured guest artist, guitarist Richard Smith. Simultaneously refined and rocking, Smith’s prowess as a jazz and contemporary player in the manner of guitarists such as George Benson is undisputed. He has a adept command of feel-good soul styles, and his sound is well-rounded and filled in the cracks of the band’s sharp horns with a few well-defined gestures. Some may deride Smith’s brand of “smooth jazz”, but in this context it was clear that the style can be as nuanced as those adored by purists. He and Hot Orange are a symbiotic match, and bring out the best in each other.

Soloing: Richard Smith (L) and Frank Griffith (R)
Photo credit: Dick Williams

LINK: Hot Orange Big Band website


CD REVIEW: Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa – Eros

Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa – Eros
(Bonsai Music BONS160502. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)

The striking immediacy of the trumpet and flugelhorn playing of Sardinian master Paolo Fresu shows the profound influence of Miles Davis combined with Mediterranean lyricism. His list of associates include Carla Bley, Piero Umiliani, Ralph Towner, and Sheila Jordan. His latest project is a collaboration with pianist Omar Sosa. Cuban-born Sosa relocated to San Francisco and then Barcelona, and has played with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, John Santos and Trilok Gurtu. Also on board for this CD are the Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and Egyptian-Belgian singer Natacha Atlas.

The album opens with a cover version of Massive Attack’s anthem Teardrop. It is slowed down, blissed-out and reconceived as a piece of minimalist and dismantled electronica, with Sosa using electric keyboards, samplers and effects. And Natacha Atlas sings the lyrics in Arabic. The effect is even more hypnotic than the original, and it has the keen advantage of Fresu’s clean, piercing trumpet to guide and emphasise the piece. Sensuousness features a credible replica of Tuvan throat singing and a melancholy exploration of its theme by Fresu.

Zeus’ Desires has a bouncing beat, with blossoming, rolling Fender Rhodes, set against the more angular gradient of the violins — Anton Berovski and Sonia Peana of the Quartetto Alborada. The string quartet continue to enthral on Brezza del Verano, also featuring Nico Ciricugno on viola and Piero Savatori on cello. Omar Sosa scatters notes across the piece but it’s Fresu who keeps moving it forward with his plangent, reverberant, pre-electric Miles style playing. My Soul, My Spirit features Atlas again and is like a secular call to worship, her voice being gently lowered on a cushion created by the string section. La Llamada (‘The Call’) is a slow-paced, pulsing piece shaped by Sosa’s keyboards and effects, with Fresu playing a dreamlike horn, and succinct, otherworldly interjections in the form of sighing, slanting phrases from the strings. What Is Inside / Himeros begins in the same dreamy, delicate vein, but Sosa builds a fierce, echoing pulse, with fleeting telegraph-key Morse-code taps on the keyboards, building up the feeling of electric-era Miles, not least in Fresu’s performance. In the measured, ambient landscape of Who Wu, with Sosa keeping a tic-tac suggestion of a military drum, Fresu comes and goes in a manner reminiscent of summer lightning before the thunder hits, while the sudden jagged violin is like a can opener lifting the lid on your mind. Why is notable for jovial, lyrical sawing strains on the cello by Jaques Morelenbaum.

Forsaking a conventional rhythm section, this is an unusual and curiously effective group, with a distinctive 21st Century sound that creates a uniform mood without repeating itself or losing the interest of the listener. It has a silky surface which makes for “easy” listening, but also a complexity and depth which repays attention. And, incidentally, when the CD appears to be isn’t. After a minute or two of silence there is an extended “ghost track” which features some great playing.


FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS: 2016 Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Jan Garbarek in Edinburgh.
Photo Credit: AJBlairPhotography

Edinburgh resident Patrick Hadfield writes about his personal highlights of the 2016 Edinburgh International Jazz & Blues Festival (15th-24th July)

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival has just finished: more than 170 concerts over ten days, with music from genres of jazz and blues from New Orleans to modern electronic improvisation, and most styles in between. I carved out my own festival of twelve concerts, still varied, from established international stars to young musicians early in their careers.

Jan Garbarek Group in Edinburgh. Photo Credit: AJBlairPhotography

The biggest star I saw was saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who played for over two hours to a full house at the Festival Theatre. He weaved a spell from the moment he started playing, fusing jazz and Norwegian folk melodies to great effect. The one niggle might have been the extended solos taken by his band members, except that the quality was so high that the adoring audience welcomed them. Garbarek's long time collaborator on piano Rainer Brüninghaus and relative newcomer to the band Yuri Daniel on bass captivated the crowd, but it was Trilok Gurtu, playing a mixture of western and eastern percussion who truly impressed. His final, extended solo was breathtaking, involving a huge range of instruments, including a bucket of water. Full of humour and musicality, it brought a smile to Garbarek's face, and the two played a duet involving a fair bit of audience participation beating out some supporting rhythms. Garbarek's playing was captivating throughout. I felt I'd be lucky to see a better gig all year.

Graeme Stephen and Calum Gourlay
photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

But just two days later I did. Another sell out show crammed into the award winning JazzBar; I've never seen it so busy. Playing music solely written by guitarist Graeme Stephen, his quartet consists of local and formerly local musicians Calum Gourlay, always impressive on bass, Stu Ritchie on drums and Phil Bancroft on saxophone. Stephen uses a variety of pedals and loops to create textures over which he and the band play, producing music of depth and emotion. The band were all excellent, but Bancroft in particular played a series of scorching solos. Ritchie's drumming had both finesse and guts. The music was at times dark, at others humorous, and sometimes both. This was an unexpected triumph, and it felt a privilege to hear musicians I see regularly pull off something both world class and original.

Phil Bancroft
photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

For the first, the jazz festival used the City Art Centre as a venue. Kitted out with a grand piano (they must have had fun getting that to the fifth floor!), it featured a range of pianists. I saw three excellent gigs there. The first was a solo performance by Enrico Zanisi. He played a range of pieces, both composed by himself and wholly improvised, that exhibited a rare sensitivity. Zanisi closed his entrancing gig with a piece from Wagner's Tannheuser; the distance from classical to jazz was never closer. Dave Milligan, another local musician, have a similarly nuanced performance, and also included extended improvisations. Some of Milligan's playing also reflected the some classical sensitivity, but his music displays aspects of the Scottish folk tradition, too. Both Zanisi and Milligan produced deeply engaging performances in which one felt one could get lost within the music.

Most impressive of the pianists, though, was Fergus McCreadie, not least because of his youth: not yet in his twenties, and still a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, McCreadie plays with a deep maturity. Leading his trio of David Bowden on drums and Stephen Henderson on bass, they played music by all three. McCreadie's playing was sometimes impressionistic and abstract, but the trio could also swing. To hear three young musicians produce such impressive music was heartening finale to a very enjoyable festival.

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

LINK: Edinburgh Jazz Festival website


REVIEW: The Impossible Gentlemen Let’s Get Deluxe CD Launch at 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival

L-R: Steve Rodby, Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker, Adam Nussbaum, Iain Dixon

The Impossible Gentlemen
(RNCM. Manchester Jazz Festival. 26th July 2016. Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

Something of a Northern homecoming for guitarist Mike Walker and pianist/keyboardist Gwilym Simcock, a great buzz of excitement preceded the album launch of The Impossible Gentlemen’s third release, Let’s Get Deluxe, at Manchester Jazz Festival last night. Looking back from the stage of the RNCM Theatre, every one of the steeply-tiered seats appeared to be filled, and a warm expression of appreciation greeted this ‘international supergroup’ as they took up their positions. Alongside US colleagues, bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum, the name of Iain Dixon has now been added, providing a seamless woodwind and synth addition to the Gents’ distinctive musical character.

The new recording is stacked with layered instrumental textures (most notably Simcock on French horn), yet their live interpretation was a triumph, as revealed in the bright, opening prog-guitar groove of title track Let’s Get Deluxe. Grungy, late-night Dog Time (which Walker explained didn’t quite cut it in his straight Salford accent, but rather pronounced “Dawwwg Tahhhm”) is already an album standout – but here, the guitarist coaxed the most wonderful howls and caterwauls from his fretboard as it melded with Simcock’s double-banked Nord organ tremolo, before erupting into a full-bodied blues rocker with contrasting, mysterious episodes.

Mike Walker
Dedicated to late, great pianist John Taylor, A Simple Goodbye is one of the most affecting tributes, and Simcock’s delicate chordal eloquence at the grand piano was matched by Walker’s oh-so-subtle string-bent cries – had a pin dropped in the hall, it would surely have been noticed; and blithe, countrified Speak to Me of Home breezed along to Walker’s picked guitar and Dixon’s folksy soprano sax improvisations, expounding on the nursery-rhyme simplicity of its original melody. A complex left-hand piano figure introduced shuffling Barber Blues (from the band’s second album), developing to feature delightful bass clarinet from Dixon and lithe bass perambulations from Rodby, with Mike Walker feeling and mouthing every nuance of his octaved extemporisations; and amidst colourful drum soloing, with a few cheeky fake endings, Nussbaum’s cymbal work was positively balletic.

Gwilym Simcock
Closing the set with an even more energised version of the new album’s Propane Jane, Simcock jabbed away funkily with his effective Fender Rhodes voicing, and those deliciously soaring electric guitar lines from Walker could happily have been soaked up into the wee small hours by this rapt audience. But with that final number announced after just over an hour, never has a concert melted away so quickly, the whole auditorium rising to its feet in genuine gratitude for the beauty they had witnessed (many later taking to social media to declare it “one of the jazz gigs of the year”). Quite rightly called back for an encore, the band’s known playfulness surfaced: as Mike Walker’s guitar became detached from its strap, he genially muttered, “What ‘ave ah dun ‘ere?”, promptly followed by Gwilym Simcock's subtle teasing in the form of a perfect rendition of the Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em theme at the top of the Steinway!

A special evening to savour – and a classy album to own. The Impossible Gentlemen's tour continues at Pizza Express, Dean Street, this Sunday and Monday (31st July, 1st August).

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

LINK: Feature / Interview with Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker about the making of the album Let's Get Deluxe


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Guitarist Kristian Borring ( new CD from Jellymould - Silent Storm)

Danish guitarist and composer KRISTIAN BORRING has a new album (Silent Storm on the Jellymould label) with his long-standing quartet and a UK tour coming up. He spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: What attracted you to study and then settle in the UK, and what do you consider the major strengths of the UK jazz scene?

Kristian Borring: I chose to finish my studies in London at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama because I knew the city had a great vibe and was a “happening” place for jazz. I didn’t really know much about the British scene as a whole and more than 10 years later I am still learning the history. But the UK scene has a huge focus on original music but with a great jazz tradition to build it on. The level is super high and musicians are hungry for playing across many styles.

LJN: This is your third release to feature these same players - what are the benefits of maintaining a cohesive band?

KB: I guess like in any workspace if a group of people gets along professionally and socially it doesn’t just make life easier, it also makes it more fun, especially when you travel. I feel that we have created a trust and honesty both verbally and musically that I enjoy. Also when your band knows your catalogue of music it allows you to be a little more spontaneous on gigs.

LJN: How do you compose and where do you find your inspiration to write new music?

KB: I compose mainly on the guitar and sometimes on the piano. The process varies. I can be composing with a vague idea in mind and work at it with structure. I get a lot of my ideas from exploring rhythmic or harmonic material that I am curious about and so some of my compositions need meticulous creation with trial and error and attention to detail. Other tunes come to me more naturally when I pick up my guitar or sit down at the piano with no intention of composing. When that happens I try and drop everything and keep the flow open to let the music write itself, so to speak.

LJN: There are suggestions on this disc of some rock and fusion influences - where do these come from?

KB: I came to the guitar through blues and hard rock, like BB King, AC/DC and Van Halen. I think they all had soul and vibe in their own way. I copied bands like Nirvana and Alice In Chains. And then came Radiohead. But at the same time I was digging those more virtuosic players like Joe Satriani. That quickly bridged into an interest for fusion with the Pat Metheny Group, Brecker Brothers and Chick Corea. I was listening to bebop and really wanted to learn to play that way but I still had a lot to learn, so I guess the whole fusion genre helped me explore new ground while using my more advanced rock “chops”.

LJN: You recently paid homage to Jim Hall, but who are the other musicians from whom you feel you have learned most, or who have been most influential on your music?

KB: Oh boy, I find it very hard to single out my influences after years of learning and listening. I guess I studied Metheny and Scofield a lot when I was younger and of course Wes Montgomery. I have more Coltrane albums than any other artist. Ornette Coleman is a big inspiration too, also for composition, his work up until the ‘70s. I love the melodic development and sound of alto players Konitz and Desmond and I find 20th century composers like, Alban Berg, Stravinsky and Charles Ives very inspirational. I listen a lot to pianists for phrasing, harmony and composition, Mehldau, Herbie, Garland and Powell. Of musicians I have actually studied with in person, Dutch guitarists Jesse Van Ruller and Martijn van Iterson both had a big influence while I went to Music College in Amsterdam. I took lessons with Peter Bernstein in New York who approaches the instrument in a very natural and musical way. I have learned a lot from my peers too.

LINK: Kristian Borring's website.


NEWS: Guitarist Rob Luft becomes sixth Kenny Wheeler Prize Winner

2016 Kenny Wheeler Prizewinner Rob Luft (foreground)
with 2014 winner Misha Mullov-Abbado
Photo Credit: Kat Pfeiffer 

The sixth winnner of the Kenny Wheeler Prize at the Royal Academy of Music is guitarist Rob Luft. The prize is given to "a musician graduating from the Royal Academy who can demonstrate excellence in both performance and composition," and the main element is the opportunity to make a recording on Edition Records.

The citation from judge Evan Parker is as follows: ‘This year’s discussions were more intense than ever. The standard of musicianship and originality of creative vision that have become the hallmark of the Kenny Wheeler Prize winners were achieved by many of the entrants so that, inevitably, other considerations came in to help us make our final choice. Rob Luft convinced us that not only was he a great improvising guitarist, but his written material, arrangements and leadership seemed to inspire the other members of his group to play their best. Our final decision was unanimous.’

His credits as sideman are already impressive. From the Press Release: "Rob is a member of Byron Wallen’s “Four Corners”, Martin Speake’s “Mafarowi” and Enzo Zirilli’s “Zirobop”. He received the Second Prize in The 2016 Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition. He also is the recipient of the 2015 Peter Whittingham Award as part of two collective ensembles – Patchwork Jazz Orchestra and jazz-rock quartet Big Bad Wolf. He appears on Liane Carroll’s latest release on Linn Records (Seaside – 2015), Brazilian singer Luna Cohen’s new album on the Catalonian independent label Temps Record (November Sky – 2016), and the debut album from Enzo Zirilli on Milanese label UR Records (Zirobop – 2015)." (end of quote)

Rob Luft first made his mark in this site in 2010 as a sixteen year-old. Frank Griffith was reviewing the NYJO 45th Anniversary gig, and wrote: "An engaging but somewhat complicated sounding piece in 21/8 time had players and audiences grasping for their slide rules in haste while 16 year old whiz guitarist Rob Luft soloed fluidly throughout the piece as if it was a 4/4 blues." (Full review)


2011 Josh Arcoleo
2012 Reuben Fowler
2013 Lauren Kinsella
2014 Misha Mullov-Abbado
2015 Ralph Wyld


REVIEW: Wadada Leo Smith at Café Oto

Wadada Leo Smith at Cafe Oto, July 2016
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All rights reserved.

Wadada Leo Smith
(Café Oto, 23 July, first night of two-night residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is something of an international treasure in the creative musical firmament, linking avant-garde jazz with contemporary classical compositional practice. At 74 his wealth of experience includes early involvement with Chicago's AACM, stints with Anthony Braxton and Derek Bailey's Company, and recording for cutting edge labels such as Cuneiform, Treader and Tzadik, and, since 1979, ECM, most recently with Vijay Iyer. He has garnered numerous awards and a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and is also much in demand as an inspiring educator. With his warm, generous personality he connected with the Saturday audience at Café Oto right from the start.

If Wadada can do anything he can make the trumpet speak - and it speaks volumes. For him, the trumpet is a vehicle for exploration, for getting deep in to the subterrannean heartland of jazz and for building up cast-iron bonds with the musicians he plays with and with his audiences. The urgency and immediacy of Wadada's delivery is underpinned by a deeply ingrained authority and an incisive process of imaginative distillation that finds expression in complex, layered compositions, notably his epic Ten Freedom Summers suite or, as in this Café Oto concert, flights of inspired improvisation.

Two improvised sets, two entirely different propositions, both steered and shaped with a confidence born out of Wadada's natural sixth sense.

The first was in trio format with two of the most resourceful and versatile jazz improvisers around, percussionist Mark Sanders and John Edwards on double bass. Dreadlocked, grizzle-bearded, in an elegant cream suit, Wadada's hunched figure brought a shimmering energy into play. With Sanders and Edwards his history goes back around eight years, and the duo locked straight in to a soft-textured, rapidly morphing substrate to complement the crisp, vibrant poetry of his playing. Wadada's sharp, fluorescent tones cut through the high-performance bass and drum carpet ride, with ringing mute applied to summon echoes of the directions Miles would have travelled.

After the break, the trio expanded to include a frequent collaborator with Wadada, New York-based sound artist, Hardedge and, in the spirit of his Ten Freedom Summers performances at Café Oto in 2013 (Reviewed HERE and HERE ), six string players whose cosmopolitan range brought one of many smiles to Wadada's face as he introduced them. With Kenyan-born Alison Blunt (violin) were Luiz Moretto (viola) and Marcio Mattos (cello), both Brazilians, and Paloma Carrasco, originally from Madrid, each now London-based, along with Benedict Taylor (viola) and David Leahey (as a second bass player).

Peppered with minute electronic cracks and interventions, the set had the spirit of structured, industrial anarchy, drawing on the imperative to share the initiatives within the large group organism and to work with the bursts of clear sky offered by Wadada to shape its visceral edge. His sequence of intense, one-on-one duets with each of the string players brought out fast-forward one-liners that magically added up to a rounded, organic whole. With Moretto the energy level of the duet was at high-flying bluegrass pace, a contrast to the quiet restraint of the concluding passages, stripped down to focus thoughtfully on the original trio - and he hinted, too, that he, Edwards and Sanders may well be recording together soon.


LIVE REVIEW: Tim Garland Electric Quartet at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival

Tim Garland
Tim Garland Electric Quartet
(Hobgoblin Pavilion. Manchester Jazz Festival. 24th July 2016. Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

As the audience took to their seats for Tim Garland’s headline performance at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival, a growing sense of anticipation was tangible. After all, the British reedsman’s credentials speak for themselves in a career which has seen him working on countless solo and collaborative jazz projects, including notable stints with legendary artists Chick Corea and Bill Bruford. Playing broadly from recent album release ONE, Garland was joined by his colleagues in this new ‘Electric Quartet’ – Jason Rebello (piano/keyboards), Ant Law (guitars) and Asaf Sirkis (drums/percussion).

As both composer and saxophonist, Garland possesses a distinctive musical persona – yet this project, in which he judiciously also contributes electronic percussion, takes the instrumental possibilities a good deal further. His working relationships with the brilliant Rebello and Sirkis go back many years, but it was previous album Songs to the North Sky which introduced the multifarious skills of young guitarist Ant Law to establish this quartet – and how he shone across this two-hour live set.

Much of the ONE album material was intensely ‘roadworked’ prior to the album recording – so it was satisfying to marvel at the way all four members communicated and integrated to develop this original music in a live setting, as Garland visibly encouraged each band member’s solo improvisations to push increasingly higher. Following the cheery, acoustic positivity of Bright New Day, the set unfolded to reveal the saxophonist’s fusion sensibilities in Foretold, which culminated in a thunderous extended duel between Law’s electric guitar and Sirkis’ typically dynamic exploration of the kit as Garland’s electronically-clustered soprano dazzled.

Ant Law
Amongst the exactitude of rapid, through-composed riffs, this band clearly delights in the individual moments of invention, Garland quoting Spike Milligan – “A jazz musician never does the same thing once” – before entering darkly brooding The Eternal Greeting. Rhodes and sustained synth voicings in grooving Colours of Night were full of Zawinulese spirit, also demonstrating that both Rebello and Law (on electric 8-string) impressively saturate the lower resonances without need of a bassist – and the Middle Eastern inflections became further enhanced by Sirkis’ nimble, rhythmic Konnakol vocalisations.

Chick Corea’s Windows enjoyed the beautifully gruff tones of Garland’s bass clarinet (his “double misery stick”) in an interpretation which brought out the flamenco hues of Law's semi-acoustic 'Silent guitar', as well as flamboyant Latinesque piano grandeur; and old favourite Rosa Ballerina was delightfully breezy. Prog-tinged Sama’i for Peace featured fizzing, extended Rhodes improv from Rebello; Garland put in some seriously wild tenor soloing on Yes to This; and thunderous jazz/rock closer Prototype (dedicated to Bill Bruford, and with more than a hint of Earthworks) brought the house down.

Wishing we could take Garland at his word – “We could play all night, we’ve got loads of songs” – the most sublime encore, the Miles Davis/Bill Evans tune Blue in Green, confirmed why his tenor playing is so lauded; and why this versatile band can entertain on so many levels.

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

Review of One at Kings Place


PHOTOS: 2016 Ealing Jazz Festival

The main marqee

Photographer PAUL WOOD was out in the sunshine in Walpole Park W5 for the 2016 Ealing Jazz Festival, with Roy Ayers headlining on the Saturday. All photos reproduced by permission of Paul Wood - all rights reserved. 

Headliner Roy Ayers

Gill Cook

Local sax hero Vasilis Xenopoulos

Femi Temowo who performed with the Engines Orchestra

Tony Fisher and Art Themen with Jack Honeybourne's band 
The programme


INTERVIEW: Sarah Chaplin of JazzLondonLive - online listings guide (Update after successful crowdfunding)

Screenshot of the JazzLondonLive homepage
JazzLondonLive, the new online listings guide to London's vast and diverse jazz scene, run by SARAH CHAPLIN and MICK SEXTON, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund its development in early May. The campaign was successful: 394 backers came forward, and just under £12,000 was raised. Sebastian asked Sarah to explain how they got to this point, what the current priorities are, and what happens next:

LondonJazz News: Congrats on hitting the target. Did some of the higher priced slots get taken?

Sarah Chaplin: Thanks Seb, it’s been a great experience running a crowdfunder campaign - nerve-wracking at times, but with about 10 days to go I felt confident that we’d make it, and we had a couple of jazz musicians who’d said they were prepared to step in and pledge what was needed at the end to reach the target. In the event, they still pledged and we made well over 120% of our £10,000 target including a couple of actual cheques that Mick received from people who don't like paying for things online. I was most surprised by our two highest pledges, which came completely out of the blue - one early on, a South African jazz lover from Putney who wanted nothing in the way of a reward and backed us with £500, and another was a tenor player I knew from studying at Citylit, who pledged £1000 towards the end of the campaign, for our ‘party package’ reward. Receiving those gave us such a boost, but we wouldn't have got there without the other 392 people who all backed us with smaller amounts - because that’s what it’s all about, everyone believing in the JazzLondonLive project enough to chip in what they can afford, and it all mounts up.

LJN: What is your commitment to the crowdfunders generally?

SC: We regard the crowdfunders as our most loyal supporters of JazzLondonLive, whatever they pledged. They will get special treatment: if they’re artists we will be creating their presence on the app first, if they’re venues, we have created an algorithm which pushes their listings to the top of the home page, and if they have asked for a mug or T-shirt we’re getting those printed right now, and hope they will use them or wear them with pride for years to come! At some point in the Autumn we will be holding a launch party, and the backers will be our VIP guests.

LJN: What comes next and what timetable / deadlines / key dates are you currently working to?

SC: We have had three meetings so far with our App developer, to ensure we are on the right track - it’s been a steep learning curve for Mick and me, but we are confident that we have a clear vision for a really useful resource that will appeal to its target audience. We are working towards a September launch for the app, in both its Android and Apple formats. The money raised via Kickstarter enables us to pay the developer for 6 weeks’ work, which should be sufficient to get it designed, developed, tested and published. In the meantime, we will be building up a head of steam on the marketing side, to ensure that everyone living in London and the South East who loves Jazz has heard about it, so that when it comes out, they know where to go to download a copy to their phone or tablet. We are already active on Facebook - where we have a group and an App product page - and on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, besides having attracted over 1000 followers to the beta version of the JazzLondonLive website, so the ball is already rolling.

Sarah Chaplin. Photo credit: Magda Modrzejewska

LJN: Has it been hard work? More than you expected? What has taken the most effort?

SC: At the outset, the tricky part was simply choosing the right template on Wordpress that would provide a distinctive look and feel for our listings site whilst being as straightforward and user-friendly as the printed leaflet which everyone was familiar. We opted for a lively graphical concept that conveyed the warmth and intimacy of the jazz club vibe while keeping the level of information on the gigs themselves short and snappy, so that accessing the actual information is surprisingly quick and intuitive. It’s been hard work creating something that behaves like it’s running off an efficient and up-to-date database when in actual fact it’s Mick and me making all the individual webpages up and adding the links by hand. That’s taken many hundreds of hours so far, but it’s also enabled us to test the concept with our users and obtain some feedback before we commit to a suitable approach with the App itself.

LJN: Are the venues doing what you want then to uniformly and reliably?

SC: A good few jazz venues pledged to the campaign, mainly the smaller or out-of-town ones who can already see the benefit to them in being listed on the App. We have also established contact with the major ones, and the fact that they’re following us on Twitter and retweeting occasionally indicates to us that they’re interested in what JazzLondonLive will do to help promote their programming. We have some early analytics now that show we are directing traffic to their sites and so we’re hoping it’s only a matter of time before they are ready to commit to securing a prominent spot on the App. We have almost arrived at a competitive charging formula we are happy with, which combines the capacity of the venue, the frequency of gigs and the average ticket price, which will provide excellent value for money in terms of the level of service we can provide that goes beyond a printed boxed ad. In particular, we were looking to preserve the equivalent to the free listings section that existed in the printed booklet, whereby any venue putting on free gigs will be listed free of charge, whilst the larger, more prestigious venues who are able to generate a high volume of ticket sales will pay more.

LJN: What is the basic shape of the site? / Where do you recommend newcomer browsers to start?

SC: The site is pretty simple really - you’re greeted by a friendly grid of images of around 100 individual jazzclubs, which if you scroll down you’ll notice take you from central London to outlying venues in places like Reading, Southend and Milton Keynes. Click on any of the images and you bring up this month’s listings for that club. Alternatively, click on the wide bar at the top and you bring up all of today’s gigs happening in London and the South East, and you’ll see that the banner area is in fact organised into the days of the week, so scrolling through them from left to right gives you access to the next seven days, with a couple of promotional pages in amongst them advertising a festival or an album launch. Along the top bar, as well as a search function, you have a quick way of finding jazz venues, jazz artists and all the news and reviews. There’s even a link to your site!

LJN: How do you flag up sudden gig announcements / cancellations?

SC: So far, we have put alerts onto Facebook and Twitter when there’s been a last minute change to personnel or running time, or a cancellation, as well as updating the page to reflect that change, where known. Swanage Jazz Festival had got missed from the main site pages this month, so we created a quick banner to advertise that for the organisers. We have also added any ad hoc gigs we think users will be interested in. We have even been putting in a link in bright green to any reviews of past gigs that have gone up on your site, so when people look back they will see which ones were reviewed.

LJN: Do you have plans for a print version?

SC: We are still looking into the idea of printing it. What’s more likely is that we will produce a printed poster each month for venues that would like some nice looking artwork to use to publicise their live music offer.

LJN: Where do you hope to be in 3 months? 12 months ?

SC: We hope to have launched the App come September and are looking to celebrate its successful take-up by the time the LJF comes around. A year down the line, since it’s an annual subscription based model, we would be looking to implement a serious update to the App based on feedback from a wide range of jazz fans who are regularly using it. So it will be up to what everyone else as to what that will entail. For now, we’re happy that it seems to be heading in the right direction; everyone who we’ve spoken to seems to think it’s something they will find useful and enjoy using.

LINKS: JazzLondonLive website
The JazzLondonLive Kickstarter


CD REVIEW: Donna Lewis - Brand new Day

Donna Lewis - Brand new Day
(Whirlwind Recordings. WR4688. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Double take- was this really the Welsh singer Donna Lewis, who had a massive worldwide pop hit in the 90s? Recording with the members of the Bad Plus? It is the very same- and a very fine recording it is, balancing her emotive voice with the modern architecture of the jazz piano trio.

Her own three compositions stand out- Lewis sings with a particular vulnerability and openness. Sleep has lots of space, Lewis’ voice breathy with an astringent twist, reminiscent of a Scandinavian style of jazz singing (from Sidsel Endresen to Emilia Martensson.) ‘There’s no hiding here,’ she sings, as some notes fade into pure breath over an understated back beat. The energy builds with thrumming bass (Reid Anderson) and a touch of drum ‘n’ bass from Dave King. Lewis’ Brand New Day has a languidness, and an almost gospel feel to the open piano chords, framing the voice. There’s a strong, acoustic arrangement of her 1996 hit I Love You Always Forever, subduing its anthemic qualities into gentle hip hop. The arrangement is by her producer David Torn, recalling Robert Glasper’s arrangements for Gretchen Parlato. Ethan Iverson’s arpeggios billow beautifully behind Lewis’ soft bluesy drawl. The coda is irresistible, building with tricky piano riffs and glorious cymbals that get under the skin as much as the vocal lines.

There are versions of recent songs, all with strong melodies. Damien Rice’s Amie, with its paradoxical lyrics, has an unhurried feel, and voluptuous piano. Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy is slower and darker than the original. Iverson plays not just fills, but his own musical narrative complementing Lewis’ own. In Chocolate Genius’ My Mom, Lewis has the sweet crying tone of early Rickie Lee Jones- childhood memories devolving into dementia. Bowie’s Bring Me the Disco King originally had a jazz-rock, piano trio treatment. Here, there’s a tango feel which drifts into atonal piano, and insistent resonant bass riffs that echo the vocals. A deep piano glissando pulls back dramatically into an intimate conclusion.

There are older songs: Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me is reworked as a Latin piece, light hearted and uplifting. Helpless has a beautiful intro and coda diverting from the simple chords of Neil Young’s original. The piano cascades ecstatically behind the vocals, fading into free jazz. Lewis sings Walk on By with just Ron Affif’s guitar- it’s slow and atmospheric, but feels a little as though it’s slipped in from another album. Lewis has always enjoyed Jobim’s songs- and it shows. Waters of March opens freely, colla voce, giving space for the complex lyrics to unfold; the trio gets more convoluted as the images build. Lewis really tastes the words. ‘The promise of life, the joy in your heart.’ A groove starts, only for the piano chords to course wildly down like the March floods themselves.

Lewis’ winsome voice and Iverson, Reid and King’s musicianship are an inspired partnership, drawing together familiar and unfamiliar songs into something new.

LINKS: Podcast interview with Donna Lewis
Review of the London Album Launch


FESTIVAL REPORT: Saturday 23rd July at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival – Solstice, De La Purissima, Collocutor, Thomas de Pourquery

2016 Manchester Jazz Festival – Saturday 23 July
(Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

Proudly living up to its recent, prestigious Europe Jazz Network Award for Adventurous Programming (see news story), Manchester Jazz Festival put on a dazzling display for the first Saturday of its 2016 festival. Now in its 21st year and celebrating the eclecticism of jazz across nine city-centre venues – with a strapline invitation to ‘Re-think Jazz’ – the relaxed ambience of the main festival hub attracted happy weekend crowds to the pavilion and outdoor spaces to soak up the sun and discover new music. Amidst the carnival buzz of street bands such as the Young Pilgrims, the first full day’s schedule included diverse sets from bands from the UK, Spain and France:

Left to right: Brigitte Beraha, Tori Freestone, Dave Whitford of Solstice


Bringing together established East London-based musicians Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (vocals), Jez Franks (guitar), John Turville (piano), Dave Whitford (bass) (for Dave Manington) and George Hart (drums), new ensemble Solstice previewed their debut album, Elementation, which releases later this year. Featuring the close pairing of Beraha’s precise, often wordless vocals and Freestone’s endlessly tumbling tenor and soprano lines, this sextet’s experience shone through. New arrangements of Beraha’s elegant, complex Unspoken (from her Babelfish release Chasing Rainbows) and Freestone’s snappy The Universal 4 (from album In the Chop House) became illuminated by this colourful line-up.

Jez Franks’ rapid-fire guitar improvisations, especially in his own piece Tilt, were invigorating; Freestone’s Avocado Deficit (which she explained was written after discovering that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years) climbed endlessly and mysteriously, as if emulating an Escher illustration; and the band’s interpretation of Björk’s The Anchor Song beautifully pictorialised the writer’s themes of diving to the bottom of the ocean through sequences of crisp, babbling rhythm and pearlescent lustre. As good friends, Solstice expressed their enthusiasm for this new project – and great to see it so eloquently introduced to this festival audience. (Podcast interview with John Turville about Solstice)

Left: Julia de Castro. Right: Miguel Rodrigañez
De La Purissima

Billed as ‘tales of passion, sensuality and excess from Madrid’, singer/actress Julia de Castro flamboyantly strutted onto the pavilion stage to join her slick piano trio, presenting an hour of provocative, risqué songs which captured the spirit of women from Spain’s early 20th Century theatre scene. Overflowing with uncompromising attitude, spicy theatrics and sexual innuendo, the vocalist connected with an audience who hung on every sung or spoken word (with her teasing that learning Spanish would unlock the hidden secrets).

Amidst the cheeky, burlesque humour – shedding her heavy matador tunic in the heat of the pavilion, as well as revealing that, had it not been the middle of the afternoon, the skirt would normally have been discarded, too! – de Castro and her pianist Jorge Vera, double bassist Miguel Rodrigañez and drummer Gonzalo Maestre captivated with impassioned, Hispanic musicality. Strong vocals (an impressively long, held note at one stage), dizzying piano improv and rhythmic zest combined to prompt a standing ovation at the close, with smiles all round (especially from those with a smattering of Spanish).

Left: Tamar Osborn. Right: Magnus Mehta

Led by saxophonist and flautist Tamar Osborn, seven-piece Collocutor carefully craft original modal music drawn from many genres, including jazz, afrobeat, minimalism and Indian classical. With the horn line-up completed by saxophonist Mike Lesirge and trumpeter Simon Finch, African-style rhythms are the backbone of this mesmeric septet, created by percussionists Magnus Mehta and Maurizio Ravalico, electric guitarist Marco Piccioni and double bassist Suman Joshi.

Offering music from debut album Instead, and previewing tracks from forthcoming album follow-up The Search, Collocutor’s multi-faceted, shifting soundscapes were frequently described as journeys “from darkness to a place of hope”, and their varied world-music beats were also visually attractive (touchingly, a mother was led to the front of the audience by her toddler son to investigate the spectacle – a sign of this festival’s joyous sense of family and inclusivity). Tight horn riffs, Mahavishnu-like guitar and earthy, tectonic experimentalism – which often reached effective, hypnotic saturation – featured in numbers such as Here to There to Everywhere (from the new album) and modal raga Archaic Morning. A vibe which convincingly confirmed the creative blurring of contemporary jazz’s boundaries – and well received.

Left: Laurent Bardainne. Right: Thomas de Pourquery
Thomas de Pourquery: Supersonic Play Sun Ra

Artistic Director Steve Mead could barely contain his excitement, during his on-stage introduction, in bringing this extraordinary French sextet to Manchester’s RNCM Theatre for their sole UK performance. Led by ‘ringmaster’, saxophonist and vocalist Thomas de Pourquery, their raw, unpredictable energy pays homage to experimental 20th Century American jazz musician Sun Ra whose avant garde compositions and electronic keyboard playing became (and continue to be) so influential on the experimental jazz scene. Totally unpredictable throughout, de Pourquery and his team (saxophones, trumpet, piano/keyboards, electric bass, drums, vocals) whipped up a maelstrom of punky, gritty-bassline grooves and hard-blown melodics, driven along by astonishingly demonstrative, off-his-stool drummer/percussionist Edward Perraud.

Arnaud Roulin’s retro pitch-bent synth lines in The Perfect Man were juxtaposed with We Travel the Spaceways, an inventive sequence of babbling, synthy washes and solid horn riffs (with Pourquery vocalising in trio with sax and trumpet) which then kicked into relentless, heavy jazz/rock redolent of King Crimson. The whole evening was peppered with humour as little snatches of the theme from Indian Jones surfaced and the leader taunted his audience, in good humour, about the UK’s European exit before proclaiming "Manchester, we love you!" Thunderously-good live entertainment, its moments of serenity (especially Roulin’s lofty, resonant synth/electronics soloing in relative darkness, before the encore) were just as memorable. Unsurprisingly, an appreciative audience rose to its feet to applaud this six-piece French whirlwind.

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

Manchester Jazz Festival continues, daily, until Sunday 31 July. Full programme at


NEWS: Manchester Jazz Festival receives 5th EJN Award for Adventurous Programming.

Stephen Mead of mjf (third from left) receiving the Award
L-R Piotr Turkiewicz, Ros Rigby, Steve Mead, Francesca Cerretani
Photo Credit David McLenachan

At an Award Ceremony at Manchester Town Hall on Friday night, coinciding with the opening of this year's festival, the Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf) received the EJN (Europe Jazz Network) Award 2016. It is the fifth time the Europe Jazz Network has given this 'Award for Adventurous Programming.'

At the ceremony, EJN was represented by Piotr Turkiewicz, Chair of the EJN jury, Ros Rigby, EJN President and Francesca Cerretani, EJN Network Administrator/Co-ordinator. The award was received by Steve Mead, Artistic Director mjf. John Davies, Chair of mjf opened the ceremony. Ros Rigby of EJN, Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council and Sarah Maxfield, Director of Arts Council North also spoke.

The citation of the Award Jury 2016 reads as follows:

"The EJN Award is for ‘adventurous programming’ and this can be interpreted in many ways. Manchester Jazz Festival, now over 20 years old, has been adventurous in its policy of supporting emerging talent, jazz from across the North of England, and new work, rather than seeking the usual ‘big names’ for their programme. Through this they have brought to public attention many artists from the North who have gone on to gain national and international profiles- such as the Mercury Prize nominated band GoGo Penguin from Manchester. The Jury were unanimous in their appreciation for this approach and were delighted that the 2016 Award should go to this enterprising UK jazz festival.”


Moers Festival - Germany (2015)
Jazz em Agosto - Portugal (2014)
Bimhuis - Netherlands (2013)
12 Points Festival - Ireland (2012)

LINKS: Europe Jazz Network
Manchester Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW: Carla Bley/ Steve Swallow/ Andy Sheppard - Andando el Tiempo

Carla Bley/ Steve Swallow/ Andy Sheppard - Andando el Tiempo
(ECM 4779711. CD review by Mike Collins)

Carla Bley turned 80 in May. It’s clear from this set of new compositions, recorded with the long-standing trio of Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard, her formidable powers are undiminished.

This is just the second release by the trio with ECM’s Manfred Eicher in the producer’s chair and it’s of course beautifully recorded, allowing the spacious music to breath and the delicate interplay within the trio to infuse Bley’s distinctive pieces with a lustrous beauty.

The first two thirds of the set is filled by a suite whose name gives the album its title. Andando el Tiempo: Sin Fin and Andando el Tiempo: Potacion De Guya have the same haunting melody at their core, built around the simplest of gradually mutating two note phrases and played over a stately tango-like pulse. The trio, in turn patiently explore the material allowing embellishments and melodic fragments to resonate and develop, the first section with darker overtones and moods. Andando el Tiempo: Camino Al Volver develops more energy, its jigsaw like construction providing a snappy launchpad for solos. Saints Alive!’s gently loping feel gives both Swallow and Sheppard an opportunity to play sweetly and melodically and Naked Bridges/ Diving Bridges an extended, tone poem like piece dissolves into an extended looping invention of a coda.

Bley has described her compositions as reduced big band music, demanding al lot of these musicians, but the trio are more than equal to it. Andy Sheppard is on great form, his unmistakable breathy tone making the melodies sing whilst Swallow’s electric bass grounds the sound with sinuous lines or takes flight as melodic voice. Over a period of twenty years this trio has been charming and delighting audiences, a vehicle for Bley’s unique writing and distinctive playing. Long may it continue.

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


CD REVIEW: Peter Erskine - As it Was

Peter Erskine - As it Was
(ECM 4755832. 4 CD set. CD review by Mike Collins)

“The goal was to get audiences to lean forward in their seats to hear us”. That was drummer Peter Erksine’s ambition for the trio under his own name on ECM. The music they created is still as distinctive as when they recorded between 1992 and 1997 and the release now of a box set of the four albums in the label’s Old and New Masters Series is especially salutatory, coming as it does close to the first anniversary of pianist John Taylor’s death. His playing and composing is a defining element of the trio’s sound. The third corner of the triangle was of course Palle Danielsson.

The first release You Never Know begins with the cycling, slowly mutating piano figure of New Old Age. Erskine waits an implausibly long time to enter with the sizzle of a cymbal after the sound has been anchored by Danielsson’s glowing bass. It sets the tone. The drummer leader’s conception of restrained dynamics, a conversation amongst equals, pieces that have a natural arc with solos a non-event, this was often fully realized. With nearly half of the tunes in the trio’s repertoire coming from Taylor’s pen however and the rest drawn significantly from Vince Mendoza, Erskine himself and a sprinkling of Kenny Wheeler, there was very rich terrain on which to apply these principles. The very next piece is the bustling Taylor composition Clapperclowe, bursting with energy. Erskine’s On the Lake that follows, signals his instinct for distilled, folk like structures and progressions albeit given a twist by the striking theme constructed around a two note figure. That first set concludes with a sublime viscerally swinging take on Cole Porter’s Everything I Love. The subsequent three albums move between the shimmering moods of Terraces that opens Time Being, flights of lyricism such as on Mendoza’s Esperança on As It Is the minimally adorned arrangement of Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips and Part and the slightly greater abstraction and freer sound of the final album Juni that nevertheless condenses into a a rocking groove on The Ant and the Elk and blistering swing on Twelve.

The dynamism, creativity and melodic and harmonic fluency of Taylor and Danielsson flood the music with light and airiness and the rapport with Erksine, whose drumming somehow conjures momentum almost without playing, is wondrous. It’s hard not to concur with Erskine’s own assessment of the trio, “a truly unique group … nothing like it before or since”. The four CD set comes with a booklet replete with extensive and illuminating notes by John Kelman. This is an appealing document of a remarkable trio.

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


REVIEW: Hermeto Pascoal at Barbican Hall

Hermeto Pascoal. Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

Hermeto Pascoal
(Barbican Hall, 9th July 2016. Review by John L Walters)

This concert alternated performances by two very different bands. To our right was a British big band led by flugelhorn-player Noel Langley; on the left was Hermeto Pascoal’s own septet. Both played tunes from the great Brazilian composer’s vast and tuneful catalogue, and it made for an exhilarating and occasionally confusing experience.

I witnessed a version of Pascoal’s seven-piece in 2005, and the words of my (five-star) review (LINK) still hold true: his musicians ‘appear to be drilled down to the last semi-quaver, playing Pascoal's intricate and involved arrangements from memory, but with the relaxed nonchalance of a dance band, never stopping to draw breath between numbers.’  Drummer Ajurina Zwarg, flute / reeds player Jota P. Ramos and superb pianist André Marcos were new to me, but percussionist Fabio Pascoal (Hermeto’s son), singer Aline Morena (his wife) and bassist Itiberê Zwarg are longstanding interpreters of his work.

Many jazz musicians and listeners first encountered Pascoal’s melodies, along with his whistling and singing, on Miles Davis’s Live-Evil. The three short studio tracks he made with The trumpeter – Little Church, Nem Um Talvez and Selim – cast a dream-like spell over the double album, presenting a hallucinatory contrast to the funked-up Cellar Door live jams that comprise most of the remainder. (Needles and Opium, Robert Lepage’s dazzling theatre piece that incorporates Miles Davis and Jean Cocteau as archetypal cultural figures, with lashings of Davis’s cinematic music, was being performed in the Barbican Theatre next door.)

Pascoal’s music incorporates a host of otherworldly timbres, scurrying, forro-like rhythms, sounds of nature and speech-like melodies. He is a prolific composer for a multitude of ensemble sizes and his tunes and hooks quickly tunnel their way into your brain. He makes music from anything he can get his hands on, singing, grabbing wind and percussion instruments and squeaky toys, stabbing out chords on his electric keyboards (much as Miles did in the mid-70s) and keeping busy by gesticulating or plonking his hat on the heads of Langley or pianist Naadia Sheriff.

The UK band directed by Noel Langley.Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

The London band sounded great, playing charts such as Apresentação, Viva Gil Evans and Pirâmide that had been prepared by guitarist Stuart Hall from Pascoal’s original handwritten scores. Though his tunes and hooks often burrow their way into your brain, his compositional signature doesn't spring from the page in the manner of the vertical timbres created by Gil Evans, or Pascoal’s near contemporaries Carla Bley and Mike Gibbs.

The full cast. Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

So it may have been Pascoal’s desire for something more than exemplary musicianship that led him to pick his precarious way across the on-stage monitors to start gesticulating at trumpeter Chris Batchelor, who briefly swerved off mic (mid-solo) in response. For a dangerous moment, the band stopped playing: it seemed that Pascoal wanted something intangible, but had no way of telling Langley and crew what it was. The band quickly recovered their composure with a well executed passage that led to an explosive tenor solo by Julian Siegel. The concert featured great solos by Jason Yarde, Henry Lowther, Pete Beachill and others, and at one point Langley contributed a brief flugelhorn coda reminiscent of the late Harry Beckett.

Later in the long evening, Pascoal strapped on a sanfona (accordion), his first instrument, to play a solo that led into yet another ultrafast, forro-drenched, contrapuntal number by his septet. Another item had his musicians blowing across beer bottles to create a two-chord vamp (shades of both John White and Herbie Hancock). Pascoal then went into a call and response routine with the audience. This is a familiar feature of the great man’s concerts, but doing the ‘bebop football crowd’ thing three times in one evening felt as if he were over-anxious to secure the audience’s participation.

Aline Morena. Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

The last few numbers with the big band were enhanced by Morena’s vocals on the top line. Pascoal invited Langley to duet ‘on an instrument of his choice’, so the trumpeter picked up a tea kettle from the cluttered toy table and played Autumn Leaves backed by Pascoal’s surprisingly conventional jazz piano accompaniment. He soon switched to flugel. The concert ended with an interlude by Morena, dancing percussively on a stomp board, and then more of Pascoal’s joyous anthems from just about everyone on stage.

Hermeto Pascoal, with Noel Langley on kettle
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini