FEATURE/ADVICE: Sound Reasoning Part 4 – microphones for jazz recording, contd.

Positioning overheads can be tricky
Photo credit: Ru Cook

Mark Wingfield is a mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio. He has three DownBeat Masterpiece albums under his belt, a Jazzwise Best Release Of The Year, two All About Jazz Best Albums of the Year, and over 300 rave reviews from around the world for albums he has worked on. In this series of articles Mark gives advice on how to avoid common mistakes made in the recording studio which will hold back your album from sounding great. This is the fourth part of his special advice series for LondonJazz News. 

Here are: Sound Reasoning Part 1 – the set-up and Part 2 – monitoring levels and listening

This is the second part of a two-section article on microphones (for the first part click here).

Instruments, mic choice and positioning

The right type of microphone, positioned correctly is vital for a great sounding jazz recording. Here I outline one way of achieving a good sound which doesn’t require any difficult miking technique or setup. Unless your recording engineer has a good track record with jazz albums, it’s best not to leave everything up them. They might not have a huge amount of experience with jazz. Don’t be afraid to step in and make changes to how they are miking things up if the results you hear in the control room are less than amazing (see the previous article on listening levels which are also important).

If more than one instrument is being recorded in the same room, you will get some "leakage" between instruments. In a shared space, the piano sound, say, will get recorded by the bass microphones and vice versa. If you have a large, beautiful sounding studio room, leakage might actually be a good thing. The sound of the room will mix with the instruments in a pleasing way. Mic leakage can, if captured correctly, preserve this effect. However for most jazz musicians, such a studio busts the budget.

Large rooms can be good, but take care
Even if you can afford it, recording in a large room can be a bad idea. Clap your hands and you will hear a room's ambient properties. Large rooms tend to be more reflective. Some refer to this as sounding "echoey" or "reverberant". If you hear much of an ambient sound when you clap your hands, this should be a warning sign. Rooms like this are not necessarily a good place to record jazz.   Reverberant rooms differ greatly from each other. One room can sound great for recording rock and another can sound great for classical music, but it doesn’t mean either one will sound great for jazz.  Don’t risk using a reverberant room unless you have listened to jazz albums recorded there and you like the sound. Even if you have heard something recorded well in an ambient space, if the engineer hasn't achieved the results you like before in that space, it's a risk. Recording jazz in a reverberant space takes very specific miking techniques and experience. Too much or the wrong kind of ambience can ruin your recording. Even if it's not actually spoiled beyond repair, it may not sound as good as it would have done recorded in a properly treated (not reverberant) studio room.

Reducing leakage
Studios within the budget of most jazz groups have small rooms. Here, there is no advantage to leakage. All it will do is make your album harder to mix well. Here’s why. Imagine that listening through the bass mic you can hear the piano loud and clear. Now you want to apply some EQ to bring out the sound of the strings on the fingerboard of the bass or a different EQ to bring out the woodiness of the tone. This EQ, or any EQ on the bass, is going to affect the sound of the piano as well, because part of the piano sound is coming through the bass mic. So by the time you have a great bass sound, you’ve ruined the piano sound (which maybe didn’t need any EQ or if it did, it would be very different from the bass). This can happen with any two instruments in the same room. In a large beautiful sounding room, with great sounding instruments, miked skilfully, not much processing is needed during the mix. However music recorded in small rooms almost always needs adjustments to the sound. This calls for as little leakage as possible.

Here’s how to check for leakage. If the piano and acoustic bass are in the same room, record 30 seconds of them playing together. Then listen back to the recording and turn off the piano mics in the mix to see how much piano is picked up by the bass mics. If you can hear the piano fairly clearly that’s going to be a problem. Check this with any instruments recorded in the same room. You’ll never completely eliminate leakage. Your aim is to minimise it by how you position the instruments and the microphones. Ideally put every instrument into its own room with windows so that everyone can see each other, but most small studios won’t allow that.

Which mics to use for specific instruments?

The most common choice of snare mic for recording rock and pop music is the Shure SM57. This dynamic mic is ubiquitous in studios large and small. However it is often not the best choice for recording the fine detail or quiet intricate snare work in jazz.

Many engineers put an SM57 on the snare regardless of the style of music, so you should watch out for this. The SM57 does not represent higher frequencies at all well, especially at low volumes.  That's far from ideal for jazz drums. A jazz drummer will typically have a lot of information in those higher frequencies in the form of intricate ghost notes, quiet rolls or brush work.

A better choice is a high quality condenser mic. Any decent studio will be able to offer you a variety of these (make sure it's one that can handle the volume of the snare). I suggest a high quality, small diaphragm condenser mic on both the top and bottom of the snare.  

Make sure the snare mic is positioned so that it doesn't pick up too much of the hi-hat, with the back of the mic pointed at the hi-hat as much as possible. Similarly, make sure the hi-hat mic doesn't pick up too much of the snare. Angle it down towards the top hat but away from the snare.  Check for leakage between the snare and hi-hat mics during the setup. It's impossible to remove all leakage from mics this close to each other, but try reduce it as much as possible. Ask the engineer to turn off the hi-hat mic and see how loud the hi-hat sounds listening through the snare mic. If you can still hear the hi-hat clearly, it's too loud and you need to reposition the snare mic. Then check the overhead mics. In this case you'll hear the hi-hat clearly, but look out for how loud it is compared to the snare and cymbals. You should try to position the overhead mics so that the hi-hat is as quiet as possible.  Remember if the hi-hat sounds loud enough without the hi-hat mic turned on, the overheads are picking up too much of it.

Like snare drums, hi-hats also do well with high quality small diaphragm condensers.

Kick drum
The kick drum is hard to get right, so spend some time on it. I suggest using a Shure beta 52 mic, one you'll find in most studios. It’s good at capturing the tone but also has a tight low end. There are other options, but the beta 52 is always a safe bet. You need to experiment with positioning. Seven times out of ten, halfway into the hole in the kick drum head is a good place to start. Using the wrong mic or the wrong position can give you a flabby toneless kick drum. Or it can give the kick too much ring and resonance which will crowd out the acoustic or electric bass. Generally speaking, the further inside the drum the mic is, and the closer to the beater, the more click and attack the sound will have.  The further out of the drum the mic is the more very low sub frequencies you'll get. But there's no strict rule for mic positioning, it varies from drum to drum.

Don't kill the ring of the kick drum with too much damping. For most styles of jazz you want some ring and tone on the kick. However, if you listen back and the kick is noticeably sustaining a note, you probably need to damp it more. If you have too much sustain, you'll end up with a muddy low end on the faster tunes because the drum will be ringing constantly. This can make it very hard to hear the bass and piano clearly. Too much damping and the kick can sound dead and more like a rock kick drum. Your choice depends on the sound you are after. Listen to the kick drum sounds on your favourite records as a reference. If you have time it might be worth changing the damping on the kick drum to suit the tune. A slow ballad might call for a longer sustain on the kick, with less damping.  For faster tunes you'll want less sustain so use more damping.

If the kick drum is tuned so that it has a definite note to the sustain, that may not fit every tune, in which case you might want to damp it more. Some lightly damped kick drums sustain a constant note that rings from one hit to the next. Even if the note fits, is that what you want? I have been given sets to mix where the kick drum is effectively sustaining a drone note on every tune on an album, because nobody thought about it during the recording. That may well suit some types of music, but I'm guessing it's not often what people were after .

Overhead mics are another tricky problem. Cymbal work in jazz is more about tone and intricacy than about smashing them on the down beat. Rock and pop need the mics a good distance above the cymbals because the drummer is probably going to be bashing them hard. In jazz that means you can't hear the detail on the ride cymbal. The higher the overhead mics, the more they pick up the snare, kick drum and toms. So by the time you turn up the mics enough to hear the detail in the ride cymbal, you'll be hearing the snare louder than you want.

To avoid this, make sure the engineer keeps the overhead mics down close to the cymbals. How close is a matter of taste. Again your set-up time can help. I suggest overhead mics 30-40cm from the cymbals if you want to clearly hear detailed ride work, perhaps a little higher if you prefer a softer ride sound.

Use high quality small diaphragm condenser mics for overheads. Large diaphragm condensers can work too, but if you are close miking the cymbals you really don't need the low end of a large diaphragm condenser. Small diaphragm condensers offer a lot of detail in the high end. Finally, even if you have the mics down close to the cymbals, it's very important to make sure the mics are equidistant from the centre of the snare. Use a mic lead, or tape measure to check.
That's the drums sorted
Photo credit: Borislav Kresojević

Reeds and horns
Large diaphragm condenser mics are a good choice for sax, they offer plenty of detail but also a rich low end. Ribbons can sound good but I caution against them for reasons explained in the previous article. For trumpet and other brass you might want to try a ribbon but a large diaphragm condenser is always a good option.

Acoustic bass
There is more than one way to get a good acoustic bass sound, and some of these include using more than one mic. But to keep things simple, here's one that I find always gives a decent acoustic bass sound and with care can give a great sound. Put one high quality large diaphragm condenser mic in front of the bass pointing slightly above the level of the bridge 20-30cm away from the strings. Try varying the exact position and distance to get the sound you are after. Hardest to capture on acoustic bass is the mid range and upper midrange. This is where the articulation and singing tone of the bass resides. If you don't capture that, you'll be left with just the low end. Then all you'll hear in the mix is "fumm, fumm, mumm, mumm, fumm, fumm…", it will be very hard to hear the detail. So experiment with mic position and brand of mic until you can hear detail in the bass when the drums and piano are playing. A good acoustic bass sound is essential if you have one in the session. But be wary of using more than one mic on the bass unless your engineer understands how to avoid phase issues.

There are numerous ways of miking piano and each gives a different sound. In a busy uptempo jazz tune you generally need close miking for the piano to be heard clearly. Distant miking can sound nice on a solo piano piece, but is unlikely to cut through in an up tempo or even medium tempo tune. In most small recording studios, using mics outside the piano may pick up too much of the room sound.  Also, in a small studio you'll probably need to put at least one other instrument in the same room as the piano, quite close by. This rules out anything but close miking. There are dedicated piano mics, but most small studios won't have these. High quality large diaphragm condenser mics are the obvious choice, placed a few inches above the strings. Try one towards the back of the piano pointed at the bass stings at about a 30 degree angle relative to the strings and 20-30cm above the strings, and another near the front pointed at the treble strings at a similar angle and distance. There are variations which all sound good in different ways. Miking nearer to the hammers will give you a brighter more percussive sound if that's what you're after.

Electric bass
Always, always, always record a dry direct signal from an electric bass along with the microphone in front of the speaker. The bass amplifier you love on stage rarely sounds good in a mix. More than any other instrument, electric bass has a tendency for some notes to ring out louder than others and amps accentuate this. For example you can play a low A and it sits very nicely with the other instruments but when you hit the C the note rings out much louder (or vice versa depending on the amp or bass).  This difference often isn't apparent over headphones when you're recording and in performance these differences are often masked by the acoustics of the venue. Amps also have a strong tendency to create resonances which muddy the low end of the whole track. In a studio recording these problems can ruin the bass. It's a problem with rock bass too, but in rock significant amounts of compression and EQ are used to even out the notes and remove resonances. For a jazz bassist that can ruin the dynamics and tone of a performance. This is why you must record a direct signal from the bass along side the amped signal. Then you have the option to use software amp simulation on the direct signal.  These days amp simulation software sounds amazingly good, and this DI backup can save a recording. When you do mic up the bass amp, use a large diaphragm condenser and in particular check for boominess when listening back in the control room.

Electric guitar
In my experience guitar amplifiers are much better at translating through when recorded with a microphone than bass amps. So recording a DI track of the guitar is not as important, but might still be worth doing just in case. Electric guitar can be recorded with a variety of microphone types, dynamic, large condenser or ribbon. Each type of mic will give you a different result, so it may be worth experimenting or use two or three mics, all recorded on separate tracks. If you line up the diaphragms of each mic so they are exactly the same distance from the speaker, you can combine them in the mix for a kind of "natural EQ". This won't work if the diaphragms aren't lined up exactly however as you'll get phase cancellation.

In the next article we look at microphone preamps.

Mark Wingfield
Mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Flavio Li Vigni (Jazz at Morley College – new Friday series starts 25 January)

Flavio Li Vigni, Head of Jazz at Morley College London, has instigated a new monthly Friday late afternoon and evening jazz series starting on 25 January 2019. The full list for this first season's events is below. He explained more about the new series, the deep jazz history and associations of  Morley College, the thriving current activity at the College – and also his own musical journey – to Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: What and where is Morley College London?

Flavio Li Vigni: Established in 1889, and with its roots stretching back some years before that, Morley College London is one of the country's oldest and largest specialist providers of adult education with a very significant music legacy. The College is on Westminster Bridge Road, very close to Waterloo station and a two-minute walk from Lambeth North tube station.

LJN: And it also has some quite eminent jazz history, even pedigree?

FLV: Absolutely! Heads of Music at Morley included the likes of Gustav Holst and Michael Tippet and in jazz, people like Bill Russo and Kenny Wheeler and many others were once running ensembles here. Our big bands were, and still are, a place where professionals, amateurs and semiprofessional musicians come together to share their passion for music. That makes Morley a really unique place.

I often meet well-established players in the London jazz community who perfected their craft in one of our bands and have fond memories of their time here. We still have a number of amazing (and some unpublished) tunes and arrangements from these great musicians that we still perform to this day. One more reason to check the Morley Big Band and the Morley Jazz Orchestra when they play in town.

Bill Russo's London educational work:
the lead story in Melody Maker in June 1955
LJN: And there is a lot of jazz that goes on regularly at the college?

FLV: With more than 400 enrolments per term, the Jazz department is thriving. We have four big bands from beginners to advanced, a variety of ensembles covering a number of styles in the genre, jazz improvisation classes and a strong Afro-Cuban offer. In addition to that, we provide jazz specific instrumental classes from beginners to advanced, including jazz piano, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, drums and bass. Our Listeners Guide to Jazz Series is a great and successful addition to the programme for people who want to understand this music better. Wherever you are in your musical journey, Morley has something for you.

LJN: And some of the people involved in the new series teach at Morley College London?

FLV:  We have a fantastic team of teachers at Morley College and I am sure they will be featured more in the coming series. So far, Adam Dyer, who currently runs our Swing Band and Jazz Repertoire Ensemble, is helping me prepare something special for our Big Band night, but I can’t say much more at this stage! Asaf Sirkis runs an annual two-day masterclass on Konnakol and Michael Chillingworth ran our Swing Band for a year. Both are featured in the series. I am really grateful to Asaf and Michael for helping and supporting me with this series of concerts.

LJN: And Bill Laurance has a role there too?

FLV: Juggling his busy solo career and his commitments with Snarky Puppy, Bill still finds the time to be our Artist-in-Residence. He is a great friend of Morley and he is constantly in touch with what happens here, often giving workshops and masterclasses at the College. We have something very exciting coming up with him soon. So stay tuned!

LJN: What will be the format for these Friday events?

FLV: Concerts will start at 8pm with two 45 minutes sets and a 20-minute break in the middle. Before each concert, from 6.30pm to 7.15pm the artists and I will discuss a jazz album that played a significant role in their musical life. These talks are free, open to the public, and will be part of a series of podcasts for our new Morley Radio Station.

LJN: And tell us about the venue you are using?

FLV: We will use our largest performance space at Morley, the Emma Cons Hall, a wonderful room equipped with a lovely grand piano.

The Emma Cons Hall at Morley College
Picture courtesy of Morley College
LJN: Tell us some more about your own jazz story. It what lit the spark for jazz in Palermo, or did it happen later?

FLV: My dad was a musician so I was surrounded by music and musicians from a very young age. Palermo is a very interesting place; because of its ties with the USA we had a constant flow of musicians coming and going from the States, bringing all the right information back after playing with the greats. My dad used to bring me to all of the big jazz gigs in town and I fell in love with the music and started taking piano and drum lessons.

Flavio Li Vigni
Photo credit: Trevor Lee
LJN:  And then Amsterdam, New York and now London?

FLV: Music was a key part of my life, I was playing jazz gigs and taking lessons but until I was 21 I was studying history and classics at university and preparing for a different career until I moved to New York for a few months. In the Big Apple I met some of my heroes including Elvin Jones, Joe Lovano and many others and I was encouraged to take music more seriously. Studying in the States wasn’t a possibility for me back then, I couldn’t ask my parents to support me through a second degree…. in music! Therefore, I found a great jazz programme in Holland at the Prince Claus Conservatory in Groningen, taught by American jazz royalties such as Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig, Don Braden, Deena DeRose, David Berkman, and my mentor, Ralph Peterson. The opportunity of studying and then playing with them was transformative. After my BA in Holland I won a Lerverhulme Trust scholarship to do a one year Masters at the Guildhall School of Music. Things really started happening from there and I was very lucky to play with great artists that I admired throughout my career.

LJN: What will be the best outcome you imagine from this series of concerts?

FLV: Our idea is to create a space where artists, students, educators and the community can come together to meet, play and discuss projects and possibly record (yes we also have an amazing recording studio!). I really believe that jazz is community music and has to be in contact with the various people it represents and then branch out to spread its message of life and inclusivity. Every year I will put together a different panel of musicians to select the artists for the next series. Our focus will be on quality and diversity in all its forms! We will take it from there…


Friday 25 January – Tori Freestone/Alcyona Mick
The distinctive saxophone/flute & piano duo perform following their acclaimed 2018 album Criss Cross.

Friday 22 February – Jason Rebello
The veteran British jazz pianist and Grammy winning album musician performs a special solo set following his celebrated album Held.

Friday 22 March – Asaf Sirkis
One of the world’s premier drummers performs tracks from his forthcoming album, Our New Earth.

Friday 26 April – Calum Gourlay Big Band
The ensemble led by bassist/composer Calum Gourlay performs contemporary and classic big band material.

Friday 24 May – Josephine Davies Trio
The tenor saxophonist performs with Dave Whitford on bass and Will Glaser on drums in her signature melodic style.

Friday 7 June – Morley Big Band led by Flavio Li Vigni, plus special guest
Keep an eye out in March 2019 for the announcement of our guest performer.

Friday 21 June – Mishka Adams & Pete Churchill
A live jazz folk special performing songs from their acclaimed album Stories to Tell.

Friday 28 June – Mike Chillingworth Quartet
The alto saxophonist leads Kit Downes on piano, Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums.

Tickets for the individual concerts are £12, the talks are free, and a ticket for all 8 events in the inaugural season costs £60 or just £7.50 per concert.
LINK: Bookings for individual events and discounted series bookings


PREVIEW: Royal Bopsters return to London and Play Ronnie Scott's, 13 February

The Royal Bopsters
Photo Credit: Janis Wilkins

When the ROYAL BOPSTERS return to London to play Ronnie Scott’s on 13 February 2019, they will bring with them a whole shed-load of jazz history. Peter Jones previews the gig:

The American close-harmony quartet, the Royal Bopsters, are the latest group to carry the flame ignited by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in the Fifties, continued by the Swingle Singers in the Sixties, and revived by the Manhattan Transfer in the Seventies. But the Royal Bopsters have gone a step further by featuring contributions from the jazz royalty referred to in their name: Jon Hendricks, Bob Dorough, Annie Ross, Sheila Jordan and Mark Murphy all appear as guests on their debut album released in 2015.

The group consists of Amy London (soprano), Holli Ross (alto), Pete McGuiness (tenor) and Dylan Pramuk (bass) – all of them prominent vocal jazz educators as well as performers and recording artists.

As well as harmony singing, they specialize in the tricky disciplines of scat and vocalese – scat being non-verbal vocal improvisation, and vocalese being the performance of lyrics set to existing recorded instrumental solos. These techniques first came to prominence when bebop was at its height - specifically in 1952, when King Pleasure recorded his famous version of Moody’s Mood for Love, with lyrics penned by Eddie Jefferson. They were based on tenor saxophonist James Moody’s solo on I’m in the Mood for Love, recorded three years earlier.

As any jazz singer knows, scatting is hard to do well, because you have to be as good an improviser as the musicians you are playing with. Vocalese is even harder, requiring a prodigious feat of memory as well as skill, since bop tunes are often sung at a terrifying tempo. The Royal Bopsters each have a lifetime of experience, but it’s always a high-wire act.

Holli Ross and Amy London with Mark Murphy
Photo credit: Janis Wilkins
With a new album – Party of Four – planned for release some time in Spring 2019, we will soon have a chance to hear some of their new material, as well as to reflect on the passing of time since their first release because, sadly, only Ross and Jordan are still with us. Mark Murphy died in 2015, Jon Hendricks in 2017, and Bob Dorough only last April. But the good news is that sprightly 90-year-old Sheila Jordan will be appearing with the Bopsters at their Ronnie Scott’s show.
Holli Ross recalls working with Dorough on the new album. “Bob was 92 or 93 when he sang with us, and he was an angel to work with. He drove himself all the way to New Jersey from Delaware Water Gap, walked in, and did it in two or three takes. He stayed long enough to tweak anything he didn’t like on the recording, and that was that. He was amazing.”

In 2012-13, when the group recorded their first album, Mark Murphy cut no fewer than six tracks, four of which appeared on the album, with two more held in reserve. “It was only because they were both ballads,” explains Ross, “and we already had ballads from Annie and Sheila.” The forthcoming release includes a new tune written by pianist Steve Schmidt, Why Did You Do Me Like You Did, with lyrics by Mark Murphy. Another famous name on the new album is bassist Christian McBride, a big fan of the group, who has also been helping behind the scenes to get them some high-profile live dates in 2019.

Meanwhile Holli Ross is thrilled to be performing with Sheila Jordan in London. “I feel like I’m getting a lesson whenever I’m with her. The wisdom of her years and her generosity with musicians are things we can all learn from.” Sheila Jordan and Jon Hendricks both sang with Charlie Parker in the early '50s, gold-plating the Royal Bopsters project with a sense of continuity and authenticity.

They will be joined at Ronnie Scottt’s by Nikki Iles on piano, Dave Whitford (bass) and Rod Youngs (drums) (pp)

LINK: Bookings for Royal Bopsters & Sheila Jordan at Ronnie Scott's


REVIEW: Sarah Jane Morris at Ronnie Scott's

Sarah Jane Morris
Publicity picture
Sarah Jane Morris
(Ronnie Scott’s, London. Wednesday 9 January 2019. Review by Jane Mann)

English soul jazz diva Sarah Jane Morris played the last of three consecutive sold out shows at Ronnie Scott’s and she was dazzling. It is more than 30 years since I first heard Morris sing in front of big band The Happy End, and her magnificent voice goes from strength to strength. She was supported by her long term collaborators – guitar virtuosi Tony Remy and Tim Cansfield, and renowned educator Henry Thomas on bass guitar, who between them have played in the studio and live with an amazing array of stars from the Bee Gees to Barbara Thompson. On drums and percussion is Martyn Barker, who has co-written many albums with Morris. They were joined by special guest guitarist Dominic Miller, perhaps best known for his extensive work with Sting, and three backing singers, Lily Bud, Morris’s son Otis Jack Coulter and Jasper Hill. Morris and the band opened with the joyous, African influenced Feel The Love from her 2014 CD Bloody Rain, and we knew we were in for a great night.

Morris, looking the picture of elegance in one of her trademark full-skirted Italian gowns, is that surprisingly rare creature – a singer who sings as if she really means it – and her performances can be an emotional rollercoaster for the sensitive listener. The abundance of guitars creates a full rich backdrop for that powerful contralto voice.

Next she sang a lovely version of Sting’s Fragile, on her 1995 album Blue Valentine, all shimmering acoustic guitars and gentle percussion. More covers of rock standards followed, fresh and invigorating re-interpretations which make you listen anew to familiar tunes. There was a stunning version of John Lennon’s Imagine, the piece totally re-imagined and given an extra verse, through which Morris channelled her genuine dismay and despair about Brexit. She then raised our spirits back up with a stand out version of Janis Joplin’s Piece Of My Heart, for which Morris’s emotional and vocal range, and her mane of unruly hair, are perfect. There was terrific singing from the backing vocalists too, names to watch out for in the future.

The main part of the show highlighted Morris and Remy’s new project: an homage to the music of Scottish singer/songwriter John Martyn. There is synchronicity here – Martyn died 10 years ago aged 60, Morris will be 60 this year, and Ronnie Scott’s is also celebrating its 60 years.

The John Martyn section covered many of my old favourites: Head And Heart, Over The Hill, One World, and the iconic May You Never. Morris’s extraordinary vocal range is a match for John Martyn’s, and the arrangements for voice, guitars and percussion are inspired. Each musician has their own distinctive style, yet they play so gorgeously together, swapping roles, creating wonderful grooves, with intricate solos woven into the whole, and no ostentation. Morris swoops and soars overhead, relishing those delicious Martyn melodies, and the effect is mesmeric. Solid Air was a particular delight. It’s a lovely song, and this arrangement was an exemplar for Morris’s impressive vocal technique and the sensitive ensemble playing of the band.

The band clearly all get on, and Morris gave each of them a warm introduction in the closing song, Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. She has an easy way with the audience too, with amusing interjections between numbers. She encouraged everyone to sing and clap along with the Dylan, and the show finished to joyful applause.

The first encore was Don’t Leave Me This Way, the wildly popular no. 1 hit Morris had with the Communards in 1986. By now, almost everyone was on their feet dancing and joining in, including the waiting-on staff. After that delirium, the band gave us another reworked Martyn classic which Morris has performed for years: I Don’t Wanna Know 'Bout Evil. We all stayed on our feet, and were invited to join the refrain of this one too – it turns out to be a great sing-along. After many iterations of the chorus, the audience cheered and whooped, and the mood was buoyant. What a splendid night!

A five-track studio-recorded EP Sweet Little Mystery is already available from www.sarahjanemorris.co.uk. The new Martyn CD will be launched with a concert at the Purcell Room on Tuesday 14 May 2019. Until then Sarah Jane Morris is on tour in England and Italy.

Sarah Jane Morris - vocals
Tony Remy - guitar
Tim Cansfield - guitar
Dominic Miller - guitar
Henry Thomas - bass guitar
Martyn Barker - drums and percussion
Lily Bud, Otis Jack Coulter, Jasper Hill - backing vocals


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Oene van Geel (LoLanders at Celtic Connections, Glasgow, 22 January)

Oene van Geel
Photo credit: © Govert Driessen from Oene van Geel's website
Dutch violist Oene van Geel and Scottish multi-instrumentalist Fraser Fifield lead LoLanders, a new sextet that makes its debut at Celtic Connections in Glasgow on Tuesday 22 January 2019. Rob Adams introduces the band:

The latest instalment of the Going Dutch project, which is continuing to promote jazz musicians from the Netherlands across the UK and Ireland during 2019, LoLanders also features Scottish guitarist Graeme Stephen and Glasgow-based tablas master Hardeep Deerhe alongside Dutch bass guitar-percussion team Mark Haanstra and Udo Demandt and has concerts lined up – so far – in Amsterdam, Sheffield, Newcastle and Bath later in the year.

LoLanders follows on from van Geel and Fifield’s meeting during the first international edition of Serious’ Take Five initiative in 2012, after which the violist invited Fifield, a piper and saxophonist who has developed advanced techniques and a deeply expressive style on the low whistle, to work with his group the Nordanians in the Netherlands.

“We got on really well during Take Five,” says van Geel. “It was clear that we had a good musical understanding from the start and when Fraser came over to Amsterdam he fitted in very naturally to what we do in the Nordanians. His low whistle playing especially gave us a different but highly compatible dimension and we always planned to work together again at some point.”

It was actually guitarist Graeme Stephen who maintained the connection between Edinburgh and Amsterdam. While working on a new piece for guitar and string quartet, which became the album Distances, Stephen mentioned to Fifield (the pair have a long-running duo) that he would need to find string players who had a fairly elastic approach. Fifield immediately thought of van Geel who, as well as the Nordanians, also works with the adventurous string quartet Zapp4.

“Fraser told me about Graeme and I thought, if Graeme has the same sense of enquiry and the same expression in his playing as Fraser does, then this could be really interesting,” says van Geel.

One Skype call later, Stephen had the string quartet he needed for Distances. He and Zapp4 subsequently worked together on Stephen’s soundtrack for the 1927 classic film Metropolis, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 and went on to great success at the Xintiandi Festival in Shanghai.

Fraser Fifield
Photo credit: © Patrick Hadfield
When they decided to put LoLanders together van Geel and Fifield took the unconventional step of choosing musicians ahead of instrumentation. Stephen was an automatic choice, as was bassist Mark Haanstra, with whom van Geel – mirroring Fifield and Stephen’s partnership – has a very successful duo, and the two percussionists are also players the two nominal co-leaders have enjoyed working with before.

“We could have ended up with quite an odd combination but as it happens we have an instrumental line-up that has the three main elements – melody, harmony and rhythm – quite strongly covered,” says van Geel. “None of us has any idea of what it might sound like but I’ve every faith in the musicians involved to produce something interesting.”

The six musicians will convene in the Scottish Borders for three days’ rehearsals ahead of the Celtic Connections concert, which also features young Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie’s trio, and the composers among them have all been primed to take along new pieces.

“I’m really excited about the band,” says van Geel. “It’s particularly interesting because we’re not just going to get together, create one concert and then lose touch, as can often happen in situations where you put a new group together for a festival. Having these other concerts lined up will allow us to develop and blend these six personalities together into one collective identity.

Rob Adams is a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh and helps publicise Going Dutch.

LINK: Oene van Geel's website

Celtic Connections event page


PREVIEW: Roth / Zimpel / Zemler (Jazz Café POSK, 26 January)

Alex Roth, Wacław Zimpel and Hubert Zemler
Photo credits L-R: Ken Drew, Joanna Kurkowska, Maciej Włodarczyk
Guitarist and composer ALEX ROTH left London for Kraków last summer in search of his Polish roots and artistic inspiration. We can hear the results in a new collaboration and a pair of concerts, in Kraków on 19 January and at Jazz Cafe POSK on 26 January. Alex explains his relocation and its results:

Last summer, I left London’s sprawling medley for the enchanting, historic city of Kraków, Poland. Among my reasons for relocating was a desire to (re)connect with my ancestral heritage – a calling that had intensified in the wake of Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis and various debates on immigration surrounding a certain referendum in June 2016. In such an environment, I felt hitherto dormant questions of belonging and identity bubble up to the surface. A couple of years down the line, I’m writing this from a place my ancestors called home for centuries...

My great-great-grandfather Herschel Roth came to the UK around 1890 from Kalisz, an ancient town now in central Poland but then under Russian rule (and formerly part of of Prussia). Fleeing the pogroms against Jews that were sweeping across the region, Herschel found his way to London's East End, adopting the Anglicised name Harris. Over a century later, I’m retracing in reverse a migratory path that he and many other Jewish families took. The difference (other than the direction of travel) is that they made the journey out of desperation and fear, whereas I came to Poland filled with curiosity and hope.

Thanks to support from Arts Council England, I’ve been in residence at the Galicia Jewish Museum, exploring historical and contemporary Polish-Jewish life and attempting to position my own experience in relation to it after a four-generation separation.

I’m not sure I believe in the concept of national identity (at least as defined geopolitically), but in as much as Polishness can be said to exist, one of its most striking characteristics is surely a pervasive sense of everyday life being imbued with history. The longer a conversation here goes on, the more likely one is to end up discussing the country’s past. And not without good reason: indeed, it’s difficult to think of a European nation that has shape-shifted quite as radically as Poland in the modern era.

In 1795, the last of three partitions by the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires wiped the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (as it was then) from the map altogether. My family records don’t go that far back, but if my ancestors were already settled in Kalisz by this time, they would have been part of a Jewish community that made up 40 percent of the town’s population. Over the next century, growing Russian-backed antisemitism fueled great waves of emigration to western Europe and the US. Herschel/Harris, along with his parents and nine siblings, settled in Mile End.

We all know what fate befell the vast majority of Jews who remained. Today, Poland’s Jewish population – once the largest in Europe – is estimated at well under 10,000. But in the post-communist era, a generation of my peers has been seizing the opportunity presented by a more open society (the current right-wing government’s efforts notwithstanding) to re-evaluate Polish-Jewish culture. For the first time, artists and cultural commentators across the former Soviet bloc are free to engage critically with the complex events of the last hundred years or so. Meanwhile, institutions celebrating Jewish culture have opened all over Poland: Jewish Community Centres in Kraków and Warsaw; the capital’s Museum of the Living History of Polish Jews POLIN; the Galicia Jewish Museum. Kraków’s Jewish Culture Festival – taking place over ten days in the city’s Jewish quarter – is the largest of its kind in Europe.

The music I’m making during my time here isn’t intended to evoke that which might have been heard in 19th century shtetls. Instead, it’s a personal response to the the experience of returning to my ancestral homeland and seeking to connect with the culture I’ve found here. The project’s culmination is a pair of concerts, in Kraków (19 January) and London (26 January), with two musicians at the forefront of Poland's experimental scene: clarinettist Wacław Zimpel and percussionist Hubert Zemler.

When I first started checking out Polish contemporary music – with the help of excellent features by bandcamp (see here and here) and the Quietus – Wacław and Hubert seemed to be associated with most of the records I really resonated with. Their solo releases (Lines and Pupation of Dissonance respectively) and records with groups like LAM and To Tu Orchestra were signs that something special was happening here. It’s an honour to be sharing the stage with them.

Since I conceived of this project, several of the themes it explores – not least migration and Jewish identity – have become widely discussed issues across British media. My generation of UK citizens looks set to become the last to have grown up with the right to move freely across European borders. Meanwhile, citations of antisemitism abound, both in Britain and Poland. In this context, my explorations seem (to me, at least) to have taken on an extra layer of symbolism, perhaps even defiance.

LINKS: Roth / Zimpel / Zemler perform at Jazz Café POSK, Hammersmith, on Saturday 26 January. More info and tickets are available here.

Listen to a Spotify playlist of selected tracks from the discographies of Alex Roth, Wacław Zimpel and Hubert Zemler.


REVIEW: Tomorrow’s Warriors presents I Am Warrior at the Jazz Cafe

Binker Golden conductiing Roella Oloro (piano) and Donovan Haffner (alto)
Photo credit: © MSpictures.Mochles 
Tomorrow’s Warriors presents I Am Warrior
(Jazz Cafe, 12 January 2019. Review by Leah Williams.) 

It is no exaggeration to say that Tomorrow’s Warriors has almost single-handedly changed the face of contemporary jazz across London and beyond. Founders Janine Irons and Gary Crosby set up the music charity in 1991 with a mission to improve diversity and equality in jazz by offering tuition, support and opportunity to musicians of all ethnicities, genders and backgrounds. The pioneering artist development programme has since seen a plethora of extraordinary talent take the jazz world by storm.

The likes of Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Femi Koleoso are all making waves in the music world – and that’s just the beginning of the list. As Soweto Kinch said while introducing the evening: “I could spend all night telling you about the incredible musicians who’ve passed through Tomorrow’s Warriors and the impact they’ve gone on to have.”

Soweto Kinch
Photo credit: © MSpictures.Mochles
Sunday jam sessions at the Jazz Cafe were the foundation of Tomorrow’s Warriors and where many of its biggest names would have first begun cutting their teeth. So for this special celebration of the Warriors movement, and to raise funds to keep the programme running, current young Warriors joined some of these illustrious alumni back on the stage where it all began.

The pieces played were specially written for the concert and #IAmWarrior fundraising campaign by seven of the Warriors' well-known ex-students: singer Zara McFarlane, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, pianist Peter Edwards, saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Binker Golding and Cassie Kinoshi, and trumpeter Mark Crown.

The result was a fantastic breadth of creativity and dynamism showcasing both the different musical voices of these Warriors alumni and the exciting talent emerging from its current cohort. Pieces ranged in complexity, focus and style but the young musicians rose to the challenge of both the music and the setting, showing how effective this development programme is and why it is so important for the future jazz scene.

Joe Bristow
Photo credit: © MSpictures.Mochles
One of the highlights had to be Shirley Tetteh’s Sutures, which brought her distinctive style of contemporary jazz to the fore with vocals and instruments coming together in an intricately woven piece of storytelling. Binker Golding’s rapport with the young musicians, many of whom he teaches at Tomorrow’s Warriors, also shone through in his tune Exquisite Green Revisited that treated us to some of the high-octane energy Binker’s music is known for, with syncopated blasts across a lyrical soundscape keeping the musicians and audience on their toes.

Zara McFarlane
Photo credit: © MSpictures.Mochles
After the main concert the music continued with a jam session, with ever more Warriors' alumni appearing and other young musicians given the chance to shine on stage. An en masse, inter-generational version of Caravan concluded the evening in an appropriately celebratory fashion, leaving the audience full of the positive vibes that epitomise the Warriors' way.

Imagining a London jazz scene without the many incredible talents that have been nurtured by Tomorrow’s Warriors is almost inconceivable and the next generations of young artists are relying on the programme for their development and future careers.

Binker Golding
Photo credit: © MSpictures.Mochles
The current Warriors house band is:

Ife Ogunjobi – trumpet
Joe Bristow – trombone
Donovan Haffner – alto saxophone
Maddy Coombs – tenor saxophone
Cara Crosby-Irons – vocals
Loucin Moskofian - vocals
Roella Oloro – piano
Tommy Remon – guitar
Isobella Burnham – bass guitar
Hamish Moore – double bass
Zoe Pascal – drums

Leah Williams is a freelance journalist and editor working across many different sectors and has been a regular reviewer and feature writer for LJN since 2016.

LINK: Donations to Tomorrow’s Warriors I Am A Warrior campaign


REVIEW: Vocal Classics of the Black Avant-Garde at Cafe Oto

Elaine Mitchener, with Neil Charles, Mark Sanders and Jason Yarde at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved

Vocal Classics of the Black Avant-Garde
(Cafe Oto, 7 January 2019; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

When vocalist Elaine Mitchener's hand-picked group first performed Vocal Classics of the Black Avant-Garde in 2017 at the London Contemporary Music Festival (reviewed here)  there was a clearly structured programme with each of the six works self-contained, identified by title, and relatively faithful to the originals in their intense interpretations.

Revisiting this significant oeuvre, the same ensemble – Mitchener with Jason Yarde (saxophones and musical director), Byron Wallen (trumpet), Neil Charles (bass), Mark Sanders (percussion), poet Dante Micheaux, with Alexander Hawkins (piano) taking the place of Robert Mitchell – has digested, invested in and explored the field with such commitment and intensity that some in their new selection of works re-emerged almost unrecognisable, especially as they were segued without breaks or explanatory assistance for the audience.

As with accomplished actors, the musicians lived and breathed the agonising context and content to which the compositions and poems gave access, and in performance these landmark statements were presented in a fresh format with the originals as stepping stones to contemporary interpretations.

Whereas the originals pushed the envelope of their times and, on listening to recordings where available, still unnerve convincingly, the interpretations presented at Cafe Oto pushed today's envelope in equally uncomfortable directions as, by implication, they reflected and acknowledged the issues in which society remains deeply mired.

Leading the group in from the back of the house, Yarde's mouthpiece squawking bird calls set the stage for an explosive start with percussive fireworks from Hawkins on keyboards, raw, farmyard honking from Yarde on alto, searing brass fire from Wallen and vocals right out on the edge from Mitchener, suddenly morphing to near silence with Sanders and Charles taking the pace right down, and Yarde merely tapping the sax's keys to background Mitchener's tense meanderings.

Sanders’ gamelan tones and Charles' bowed bass defined the underlying texture of Bob James's Personal Statement aka Jim Crow, which had Eric Dolphy on the two extraordinary recordings of the composition made in 1964 with its vocals from counter-tenor David Schwartz, giving Yarde, switching to baritone sax, and Mitchener the opportunity to pay energetic homage to Dolphy, who embraced such challenges with intelligence, virtuosity and great gusto.

The ensuing compelling, cacophonous group chaos was overtaken by Wallen's muted trumpet tones, Charles' micro-toned bass and a spell on maracas from Sanders leading in to Micheaux's poised delivery of Joseph Jarman's music-flushed word-scape, Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City, keeping true to Jarman's diction on his early Delmark recording, articulating "The hell of where we are", "The city… where no one is more alone than any other", concluding with the ominous "…non-cognitive doom".

Archie Shepp's milestone, On this Night (If that Great Day Would Come), followed on without a pause, with Mitchener sensitively articulating the tribute to campaigner W. E. B. Du Bois before the group dived into the piece's romping blues passages with burning passion, kicking all the way!

Fragments and poems were stirred in to the mix of heritages, divides and injustices – "Come celebrate… Lexington 96 Street Stop…"; "Guinea Bissau… Mozambique"; "Angola, maximum security prison, Louisiana… my wife died and you hand me a ticket for drinking red pop"; "Motherland, the give and take of liberty"; with Micheaux returning to prose in celebration of "queen and country" with an extract (as identified by a friend) possibly from Sam Selvon's The Lonely Londoners with words receding behind Yarde's sampled saxophone layers, poignantly affirming "The place in which I stand is the land in which I must be free".

All this before Hawkins tied up the evening in glorious style with a massive, boisterous, boogie-woogie, samba cocktail.

Next time round, Moor Mother, with her coruscating, visceral poetry, could be an ideal partner on a double bill (as she was in 2017).

Neil Charles at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved


REVIEW: The Sounds of 2019 at the Jazz Cafe

Vertaal in The Sounds of 2019 at the Jazz Cafe
iPhone snap by Rachel Coombes
The Sounds of 2019 
(Jazz Cafe. 9 January 2019. Review by Rachel Coombes)

After years of tirelessly promoting the best upcoming jazz talent to a small but dedicated audience, the ‘relentlessly determined’ organisation that is Jazz re:freshed, has, over the past few years, been reaping the fruits of its labour. The organisation’s founders, Adam Moses and Justin Mckenzie, have been at the forefront of the jazz wave that has rocked Britain’s music scene, helping to bring artists including Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and Shabaka Hutchings to wide public attention. Accordingly, when they announce a showcase of three acts which they predict will be big in 2019, we sit up and listen. “If you’re here just to chat with your mates, the door’s over there,” Adam Moses announces at the start of Jazz re:freshed’s The Sounds of 2019 event at Camden’s Jazz Café. He’s no killjoy – he just wants the audience to demonstrate the same level of respect that he has for the bands about to appear (no doubt he was also recognisant of the Jazz Café’s notoriously ‘buzzing’ atmosphere).

Opening the evening was Vertaal (Theo Howarth on keys and Ajit Gill on drums), a duo who describe their sound as ‘spiritual jazz-funk’; this was a fairly apt description of their set, although there was more groove than meditation. Vertaal’s performances are always bolstered by the addition of live guests, who flesh out the duo’s original compositions. Tonight the pair was joined by Loren Hignell on the saxophone, Severin Bruhin on bass guitar and Simon Todd on percussion. Loren’s sunny, bright tone was sumptuous, and his nimble-fingered solos were particularly impressive, especially in the languid, dreamy Shifting (their latest release). Holding the composition together was Theo’s soulful chord progressions (the duo cite Alfa Mist as one of their key influences), which could be heard even in the frenetic middle section during which Ajit’s frenzied cymbal playing sent the audience’s head-bopping into overdrive. The stand-out tune from the group’s set was Kora, with its punchy two-chord keyboard riff, intricate conga rhythms (played by Simon) and lyrical sax lines.

Tenor saxophone player Chelsea Carmichael, already a name familiar to many from her work with Arun Ghosh, the NYJO Jazz Messengers and the SEED Ensemble, debuted her new project next. So new was the project, in fact, that her tunes were yet to be titled. Chelsea had an authoritative stage presence: she exuded an aura of calmness, remaining remarkably motionless even in the funkiest of passages. Her communication with her band members (regular collaborator Arthur O’Hara on bass guitar, Olly Sarkar on drums and James Beckwith on keyboard) was elegant and understated, but not at all to the detriment of the ensemble – transitions were wonderfully smooth and natural. We were promised that tonight’s show would highlight Chelsea’s “love of groove and intricate rhythms” – it did just that. At times, Olly switched to an electric drum pad (attached to his standard kit), bringing the driving rhythms into sharp focus, although never for sustained periods of time. Chelsea’s solos were introspective and melodically spacious – each song was a sort of expansive odyssey, although every one of them was underpinned by a tight structure.

While Chelsea epitomized on-stage serenity, electric violinist (and occasional rapper) Saskia Horton, from the quintet Nihilism, took the stage by storm, dancing rapturously and head-banging her way through the band’s riotous tunes. As the final act of the evening, this quintet was determined to end our night on a note of exuberance. Keyboard player Lorenz Okello-Osengor had no trouble in hyping up the audience: “We’re here to show you some vibes. This is not a show – it’s an experience,” he asserted. “They’re so young!” exclaimed one audience member; their artistry, however, belied the fact that their reported average age is only 20. Abrupt tempo changes were navigated almost faultlessly, and the frequent unison melodic lines between violin and saxophone (played by James Akers, a very impressive performer who was stepping in for Deji Ijishakin) were extremely tight. The stomping tune Beast Mode began with a Terry Riley-esque minimalism but shifted – quite wonderfully – into grime, with Saskia tripping off lyrics so quickly that Lady Leshurr would probably have given a nod of approval. The audience couldn’t resist dancing along to Yoda, which gave an opportunity for bass guitarist Christopher Luu to show off his funk credentials, while Benjamin Appiah on the kit kept the groove steady. This group showed particular promise, and with their overtly experimental ethos and disregard for genre boundaries, they perfectly encapsulated the philosophy of Jazz re:freshed.


CD REVIEW: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (featuring Tam Dean Burn & Makoto Ozone) – Peter And The Wolf

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (featuring Tam Dean Burn & Makoto Ozone) – Peter And The Wolf
(Spartacus Records STS027 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

The SNJO continue to boldly state both their musical excellence and their Scots heritage with this engaging performance of Serge Prokofiev’s classic fable, newly arranged and orchestrated by SNJO director Tommy Smith with the text adapted into Scots by Liz Lochhead and performed with huge emphatic energy by Tam Dean Burn.

Peter And The Wolf has of course been a mainstay of the orchestral repertoire for decades, featuring different instruments representing the characters in the story. The big-band instrumentation necessitates some adjustments; Peter himself is portrayed by the sparkling piano of regular SNJO collaborator Makoto Ozone (there being no string section), Tom MacNiven’s muted trumpet slinks along as the duck, and Grandfather ponderously stomps up as Bill Fleming’s baritone sax plus Calum Gourlay’s double bass.  More conventionally, the bird and cat are respectively brought to life by flute (Yvonne Robertson) and clarinet (Martin Kershaw).

The real star of the show, however, is the new Scots text from leading Scottish poet Liz Lochhead. A word of explanation might be useful here; this is not Scottish Gaelic, nor English, but the language spoken by the majority of Scots-born folk – the language you’ll hear on the street in Glasgow (‘Glesca’ in Scots) or in its Doric form on the quayside at Peterhead. Decades ago this might have been viewed by English outsiders as a kind of distorted version of their own language, but is now well recognised as a written – as well as spoken – language in its own right. You won’t have much difficulty understanding it! What is does is bring the drama firmly into a Scottish context, without ever having to state the location, as well as presenting language as spoken in everyday life in the artistic and cultural domain of the concert hall.

This text is brought to life by an enormous performance from actor, musician and activist Tam Dean Burn. A leading actor with appearances in Sky’s arctic drama Fortitude, Outlander and (inevitably) Taggart under his belt, Burn is also thoroughly committed to working with young people – he toured Scotland on a bicycle in 2014, reading all 195 of Julia Donaldson’s stories to children. He throws himself into the fray with total commitment, really making the most of the sonic possibilities and drawing meaning and emphasis from every phrase. The CD was recorded at a live performance in Edinburgh in 2018 so there is no room for error, and the way Burn (and the orchestra) sustains the performance is remarkable.

The new orchestrations from Tommy Smith (awarded a richly-deserved OBE in the New Year honours list) use the SNJO resources imaginatively and the positively symphonic music springs along with great pace and swagger. There isn’t a lot of extended improvising, but pianist Makoto Ozone makes the most of his opportunities, notably in In Big Trouble, and the flute of Yvonne Robertson is lively and flawless throughout. The new text adds to the story, particularly at the end after the wolf has been captured, with a very contemporary ending. And if you want to know what that is, well, you’ll have to get the CD (which includes the full new text) or join the SNJO at Ronnie Scott’s in London where they are performing this work on Saturday 26 January 2019, having given a different programme of Scottish music for Burns Night the evening before.

There is an extract from the performance here:

LINK: SNJO at Ronnie Scott’s


REVIEW: Ezra Collective, Tawiah, Emma-Jean Thackray's Walrus, Yazmin Lacey at WinterJazz 2019 NYC

Ezra Collective at Poisson Rouge
Photo credit: Vanessa Reed
Ezra Collective  Tawiah, Emma-Jean Thackray's Walrus, Yazmin Lacey - PRSF/BBC Music Introducing Showcase at WinterJazz NYC
(Le Poisson Rouge. 9 January 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

As gigs go, this one wore its agenda right on its sleeve: British musical funding institutions (PRS Foundation and BBC Music Introducing) hosting British Jazz. At face value it is a worryingly commercial prospect, of trying to generate a return on investment. In reality, it was anything but.

Faced by an always likeable Gilles Peterson, for this showcase we had four grassroots acts that have been nurtured, supported, and plugged by establishments with excitement and enthusiasm, and have grown into owning their set. Back home there's a network of people working on this, but curiously it takes the distance of New York to tie it all together.

2019 is the second year the UK has taken over Le Poisson Rouge as part of the Winter Jazzfest, after it all went well last year with 2018 alumni Oscar Jerome, Yazz Ahmed and Comet is Coming all continuing to be success stories, and Nubya Garcia so in demand that she's back in NY for more this year with Pharaoh Sanders. The mission is clear: bring UK jazz to a US market. And that's what we had, although from the number of London accents in the crowd (at least the early birds and the stragglers at the end) there wasn't quite as much US market in the room as you'd expect.

* * *

"I like to start with a rant so everyone knows where we're at". Tawiah cuts a lone figure opening the night, but it doesn't put her off her stride. With her varied vocal style range, natural scat and vibrant tone, it's really not a problem for her to hold the fort solo. Decidedly chill with her simple setup, she builds a big sound with triggered beats and a discreet loop – no gimmicks just musical tools – and the part-time help of a temporary musical assistant.

Falling Short shows she has power, but the full set of songs picked out demonstrates a depth in emotions (and in slow jams). Wheeling out a selection of personal vignettes set to music (like the inspiringly titled Don't Hold your Breath, subtitled “If you wait for me to love you, you will die”) these feel like lived thoughts, presented on stage with natural understated charm so that you forget it must be dangerous as one of Tawiah's friends, and at constant risk of being immortalized in song.
Nothing is taken too seriously, although there is a hint of earnestness when we get to Mother's Prayer and samplings of her 103-year-old great gran singing hymns, and the unhappy coincidence that “singing” and “sinning”, in some eyes, are linked by more than their spelling.

* * *

Emma-Jean Thackray's Walrus are a more introspective outfit. Serious chat came with serious tone, mixing ethereal trumpet reverb with a stomping sousaphone. Swapping from slow and thoughtful floated melodies to searching horn grooves and purposeful drum shuffles, there was a drive that felt like Thackray's compositions were looking for something more than just the Ley Lines.

Moments felt like a modern modal jazz, with trumpet alternating with vocals – a lot of Walrus's sound here built on the link between unwavering Ben Kelly on sousaphone and Thackray's trumpet, but she also formed a fast connection with Dave Drake on the keys – his two hands pitted against each other, a call and response with himself. Red Bush stands out as the go-to track, a testament to a minimal arrangement chosen to not lose anything on the way.

* * *

Yazmin Lacey is a minimal arranger by nature, demanding our quiet attention through a rich voice and clear grand piano accompaniment from Joe Armon-Jones. In Armon-Jones she had more than quiet attention, his eyes glued on her as he played – visibly immersed in the moment. This astonishing focus and easy flourishes are part of the reason he is so in demand in London, and he did well here to make sure it stayed Lacey's show.

With a sheath of songs to go through, Lacey comfortably settled in for a warming vocal set, happy to just sing, and even riding the growing hubbub (there was no officious shush-ing here). In it we had what felt like sultry classics with 90 Degrees, as well as moments which had surprisingly trip hop inflection, even without that Portishead bass.

The vocals were carefully picked, sparse and intimate, but sometimes it felt maybe that a bass, or light percussion would bring something out. While she was looking for remedies the crowd came in with their version of supportive backing with a slow click on a funky Something my Heart Trusts.

* * *

We had emotions, we had introspection, we had stories. And as all good showcases go, we finished with some energy.

The tenor and trumpet led out on stage, together a call to arms, and the rest of the Ezra Collective bounded on soon after – the crowd ready to bound along, too. It was the start of the evening's journey, closely curated by the collective on the way, from Kenny Dorham to Sun Ra, via Skepta and Kendrick Lamar.

A blistering Space is the Place is a euphoric marker, with a power sax intro and free-wheeling bass backing. We had dub Red Wine and a necessary afro beat encore, always with time in a set for slower moments with variation in mood – a lone trumpet leading in People in Trouble with a ponderous well-structured solo. But what makes Ezra Collective stand out is the way they play together: when they nail a post-drum-solo drop, or when they all dump their instruments and gather in to crowd and dance around Armon-Jones's keys.

There is plenty of old pal love on display and a brotherly bond, but the core of the band is in the understanding between the organ vamp and Femi Koleoso's shockingly crisp rhythms. The way Koleoso waves the horns out of his way so he can get a clear view of Armon-Jones feels like it reveals so much. With TJ Koleoso's bass involved too there's a real power groove borne in this axis of stares.

It might be the camaraderie, the feeling of being part of a bigger social music movement, or just the big sound, but it feels like Ezra Collective are now at the front of a young London's answer to Kamasi Washington's West Coast Get Down. It's still eclectic and epic, but this version is fun and honest and real. Less pageantry, and not so bloody serious.

* * *

Understandably there was a lot “What's up New York!” when in Jazz Mecca. Even if you're not looking for it you find yourself tripping over jazz history (Le Poisson Rouge was once the Village Gate), but what makes it such a musical pilgrimage is that jazz here is just not unusual: the New Yorker magazine lists up-coming jazz events in it's 'Night life' section rubbing shoulders with Detroit house and techno DJs; at the same time as the 10 venues dedicated to the WinterJazz fest there is the Jazz Congress at the Lincoln Center, a mountain jazz festival up the Hudson, and in parallel every other club in the city is still putting on a normal schedule, often of two-sittings seven days a week. It's just normal club music here, which is all these four groups want to provide.

Having said that, getting here wasn't easy, with frequent references to turbulent political times dropped in between the music. Tawiah's long-distance relationship angst with “crossing borders, crossing waters” pale in comparison with the issues involved in procuring artist visas. For many of the performers this was their first time in the US, their first time playing in NY, and they had to do it with half a band of deps that they'd played with for the first time earlier that day. With artist access to visas in the UK expected to only continue getting progressively harder, what does this brave new world mean when we struggle to even export our Great British Music? Particularly when the attitude and multi-cultural music that these groups are espousing is exactly the image that London wants to continue to proudly project?

The UK has spent many moons flattering itself as the Great World Lecturer (a Magna Carta here, two brutal wars there, many maps coloured pink in between). But with jazz there's no pretense to try to claim anything from a dominant US. As Gilles Peterson stated with heartfelt gratitude to the crowd, “America. You've given us some pretty shitty things, but you've also given us jazz”. Here we are, after years of giving a platform to an exciting homegrown scene, our justifiably much-lauded "Jazzy John Peel" feels we're at a point where not only is the young UK jazz scene vibrant and alive, but that it is new and original and stands up to scrutiny anywhere. Maybe this is the start of him as a transatlantic taste-maker too, forming a musical special relationship.

So in amongst all the doom and gloom, the good news is that after finally receiving their artist visas, for these performers the countdown on 12 months of performance access to the US starts now – so hopefully they'll be able to give a bit more jazz back in the rest of 2019.


NEWS: Artists Announced for the jazzahead! Showcases 2019

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
Publicity Photo

Sebastian writes:

jazzahead! has just announced the forty successful bands who will be performing at its 2019 showcases on 25-27 April, following a multi-stage selection process by four international juries. This year there was a record number of applications for these slots, 764 in total. There is a higher percentage of bands led by women than ever before, notably Jane Bunnett & Maqueque and also Linda May Han Oh, both appearing at the overseas night. Trio Abozekrys, also appearing that night are the first Egyptian band ever to have appeared at a jazzahead! showcase.

Here is the complete list:

Norwegian Night 25 April 2019

Espen Berg Trio
Frode Haltli Avant Folk
Gard Nilssen´s Acoustic Unity
Hedvig Mollestad Trio
Karl Seglem Band
Kristin Asbjørnsen
Thomas Strønens Time is a Blind Guide

European Jazz Meeting, 26 April 2019

Adam Baldych Quartet (PL)
Elliot Galvin (GB)
Flat Earth Society (BE)
Giovanni Guidi (IT)
Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble (L.U.M.E.) (PT)
Makiko Hirabayashi Trio (DK)
Marie Kruttli Trio (CH)
Reis/Demuth/Wiltgen (LU)
Scott McLemore (IS)
Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio featuring Verneri Pohjola (IS/FI)
The Rite of Trio (PT)

Botticelli Baby from Essen, Germany
Photo credit: Nicole Kempa

German Jazz Expo, 27 April 2019

Botticelli Baby
Der Weise Panda
Duo Tander/Brinkmann
Edi Nulz
Janning Trumann 6
Johannes Bigge Trio
Olga Amelchenko Quartet
Peter Gall Quintett

Overseas Night, 27 April 2019

Emie R Roussel Trio (CA)
Isfar Sarabski Trio & Shahriyar Imanov (AZ)
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque (CA/CU)
Linda May Oh Han (AU)
Ludere (BR)
Matthew Whitaker (US)
Quiana Lynell (US)
Trio Abozekrys (EG)

LINK: www.jazzahead.de


INTERVIEW: Matt Holborn (The Jazz Violin Podcast episode 12 featuring Jean-Luc Ponty just released)

Matt Holborn
Photo credit: David Choi
Jazz violinist Matt Holborn has been interviewing other jazz violinists and releasing podcasts of their conversations. He has just released the 12th interview, with the highest-profile interviewee so far, Jean-Luc Ponty. Matt explained the background to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Where are you from originally? From a musical family?

Matt Holborn: I was born in Hull but moved with my family to Edinburgh at 10 years old. My dad plays a bit of guitar and my grandfather plays jazz clarinet in Hull.

LJN: When did you start playing jazz violin and was it gradual or a sudden lightbulb moment?

MH: Well I learnt violin at school when I was little. My grandfather taught me how to solo over and play the chords to a blues on guitar and I sat and practised that for a while. The lightbulb moment came when I realised that I could just find those same notes on the violin and that I would be able to get there a lot easier because I can already play the violin to some degree. My grandad also gave me some Django and Stephane CDs and told me all about them when I was about 15/16. I remember getting it a bit wrong and thinking that it was Stephane who only had two working fingers!

LJN: Were you a fan of other podcasts or what led you to set up The Jazz Violin Podcast?

MH: I love listening to podcasts, I like long in-depth interviews that don't have much direction or production involved so you can really hear people's ideas properly. I like Adam Buxton, Joe Rogan, Russell Brand and Chris Howes' The Creative Strings podcast.

One thing that spurred me on to create my own was a long drive back from a gig. I was in the car with a drummer/producer friend of mine and he was listening to a super nerdy one about microphone preamps or something. I remember being really bored by it so I went about trying to find a podcast that was super-specific to my tastes and interests that would bore my friends. I realised I would have to make it myself…

LJN: Whom did you do the first one with, and did it all go smoothly or were there things you learnt that you'd better not do through doing?

MH: My first was with Tcha Limberger. Tcha is a natural orator and has so many amazing insights about music it basically didn't take any prompting from me. I was lucky there because I was quite nervous. It did teach me that it was a lot easier than I thought it would be, but also to make sure you are prepared with some questions to keep things relaxed.

LJN: Have you interviewed someone already whom you consider an idol? Were you reduced to wobbly-kneed fanboydom??

MH: One of the really exciting ones was the most recent, episode 12 with Jean Luc Ponty. He is a total legend and has shaped the world of jazz violin a great deal!

LJN: Is there someone you're dreaming of interviewing and it hasn't happened yet?

MH: I'd really love to interview Regina Carter because she is amazing and seems to have some great stuff to say about music. The only thing is that she just did an interview with Chris Howes for his podcast Creative Strings (an amazing podcast that covers everything from 'jazz violin' to 'rock cello'). I thought it best to wait a little before I asked her.

LJN: Is there a violinist from the past you wish you could interview and what would you ask him or her?

MH: I'm really sad that I never got to interview Didier Lockwood. When I started the podcast he was still alive and in the back of my mind was the idea that at some point I would ask him. He was one of the first violinists I heard that played in a more 'modern' jazz style and inspired my playing a lot at one time. He always seemed like such a nice dude and was a great teacher I'm told. I would have asked him how he developed his unique left hand.

Matt Holborn
Photo credit: David Choi
LJN: Do you do them face to face or Skype or what?

MH: I started off always trying to do face to face. This meant that it was a lot more difficult to find time as I'm always interviewing busy musicians and my life gets quite manic too. A large portion of the interviews I do now are over the internet, I use a great website called Source Connect.

LJN: Do you have an idea how long the podcasts should be or do you just let it happen? How long are they normally?

MH:  I don't set a time limit – as I said I've always enjoyed long interviews as it gives the person being interviewed the chance to relax and then get their views across as intricately as they want to. The fact that we can transmit huge files over the internet in seconds has made this possible now; I feel the age of the 60-second soundbite is over! The episode with Christiaan Van Hemmert is nearly 2 hours long!

LJN: Two hours?! What went wrong/right?

MH: Ha, Christiaan is one of these musicians who has lots of opinions about learning and doesn't have a problem with chatting. Basically, we were having a good time and didnt realise the time!

LJN: As you have developed the project, has a common thread emerged in people's stories?

MH: I think the common trait it seems that all jazz violinists have a desire to resist convention. It's still a slightly uncommon instrument in jazz. Most violinists I have interviewed have recalled moments when the realised that the orchestra wasn't for them or that they wanted an outlet for creativity that the classical music world didn't quite give them. Another common theme has of course been hard work but there was no surprise there!

LJN: Practical question – please give us a list of /links to your individual episodes

Ep 1- Tcha Limberger 
Ep 2- Chris Garrick 
Ep 3- Scott Tixier
Ep 4-Christiaan van Hemmert
Ep 5- Ola Kvernberg 
Ep 6- Daniel John Martin 
Ep 7- Alexandre Tripodi
Ep 8- Joanna Gardner
Ep 9- Zach Brock
Ep 10 Jason Anick 
Ep 11 Tim Kliphuis

LJN: And where do we find the newest one with Jean Luc Ponty

MH: There is a taster on YouTube (below) and the whole interview is HERE!

Some episodes of The Jazz Violin Podcast have been sponsored by Ithaca Strings