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

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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

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Andrew Bain / PROM 28 (5th August, NYJOS with Liane Carroll and Iain Ballamy)

NYJOS at the new RSNO Auditorium in Glasgow Concert Halls
Photo courtesy of the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland

Friday 5th August 2016 will be a very big night indeed for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland. Their 2016 summer tour culminates in the Royal Albert Hall. 

The main work is Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder". The programme will also include Ian Ballamy's "All Men Amen" and "Floater". Pianist/vocalist Liane Carroll and the orchestra will perform tunes made famous by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Carole King and others.

NYJOS has performed this summer at the Skye Music Festival and in the new RSNO Auditorium at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. The night before the Prom they will also be at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon. Sebastian interviewed ANDREW BAIN, one of the joint Artistic Directors of NYJOS, as he looks forward to the Prom:


LondonJazz News : How long have you and Malcolm Edmonstone been involved with NYJOS

Andrew Bain: Malcolm and I have been Artistic Directors of NYOS Jazz for the past 11 years. Throughout that time we have had soloists and guest artists including Duncan Lamont, Jacqui Dankworth, Mike Walker, Chris Batchelor, Mark Lockheart, Iain Dixon, Rick Taylor, Liane Carroll, Gordon McNeil, Tim Garland, Julian Arguelles and, most recently, Iain Ballamy.

It has always been important to us to bring musicians from south of the border to mix with the fantastic Scottish talent, giving the students the best of both worlds and a truly unique experience. In addition to that our summer school staff includes more of the finest musicians to be found in the world. Since 2006, we have, at one time or another, involved Percy Pursglove, Jules Jackson, Phil O'Malley, Malcolm MacFarlane, Nick Smart, Jon Irabagon, Nick Dover, Ryan Quigley, as well as many others.

We are incredibly proud of the hundreds of young Scottish musicians we have had on our various courses. Many of those are now fine, professional musicians, having gone on to study at one of the many fine jazz courses in the UK, Europe and North America.

LJN: The youth jazz scene in Scotland - how is it?

AB: The scene is varied and vibrant. We are constantly amazed at how many times we have visited a far flung part of Scotland and discovered an amazing talent. Our work takes us all over Scotland, from the Borders to Wick, to Skye and Shetland. We think it is incredibly important to hear and nurture talent from all over the country.

Through NYOS we run three different ensembles in addition to the Summer School.

- NYOS Jazz Access trains our young musicians for the demands of

- Our flagship jazz orchestra the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland (NYJOS).

- We also have a chamber jazz orchestra Collective that meets at various times to focus on a prominent jazz musicians repertoire and play a major jazz festival. Guests have previously included Julian Arguelles and Tim Garland, with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis. This would feature the most senior members of the jazz program.

LJN: Do you always go to Skye?.... why?

AB: We first played on Skye at the amazing Sabhal Mor Ostaig in July 2012 with Rick Taylor as soloist and guest writer, and we fell in love with the vibe and the view. We knew we had to take the entire course there the following year and we have been there ever since. It is a proper residential course with nothing to do but listen to and play jazz - perfect!

LJN: Midges?

AB: Not as bad as you would think! Pack Smidge or eat Marmite (apparently...)!

LJN: And this is quite a big date for the orchestra and they are presumably more than a little excited

AB: The band are playing wonderfully and are so incredibly excited to be playing at the BBC Proms. I had the pleasure to do the same as a member of NYOS Orchestra as a student, but this is the first time any NYOS jazz orchestra has participated in the Proms. We have packed a super program of Duke Ellington's Such, Sweet, Thunder - alongside two of our most recent soloists Iain Ballamy and Liane Carroll with bespoke arrangements by Malcolm Edmonstone. It is a stellar program with something for everyone, and we all cannot wait to play it in The Albert Hall.

LJN: What has been your contribution - to the preparation on the night?

AB: I have taken care of Such, Sweet, Thunder - which I conduct - and I play percussion and coach the rhythm section for the rest of the performance. I find myself most effective as part of the band, be it playing congas, cowbell, or finger cymbals!

What is the background to the Ellington work

AB: In 1956, jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington was in Stratford, Ontario appearing with his Jazz Orchestra. Coincidentally, there was a Shakespeare Festival happening at the same time and the Duke attended several performances. Inspired by what he saw in person, Ellington wrote a suite of music, dedicated to the Bard, entitled Such Sweet Thunder as an ‘attempt to parallel the vignettes of some of the Shakespearean characters in miniature - sometimes to the point of caricature’ (Ellington, 1957).

Much like Shakespeare, Ellington's orchestra was his own repertory cast, writing each piece specifically for each member. This suite of music featured such luminaries of the jazz world as Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, and Sam Woodyard. In twelve movements, this work, orchestrated by Billy Strayhorn, focuses on each player with specific reference to ten of Shakespeare’s plays. In our version, we feature the most talented jazz musicians in Scotland, in a dedication to both William Shakespeare and Duke Ellington, two of the greatest writers of all time.

We perform this suite as part of the Shakespeare anniversary

Andrew Bain
Photo courtesy of the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland

LINKS: 
Prom 28 Bookings
NYOS website
Andrew Bain

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CD REVIEW: John Coltrane The Atlantic Years – In Mono

John Coltrane - The Atlantic Years. Image is of vinyl set


John Coltrane The Atlantic Years – In Mono
(Atlantic 0081227946418. Six CDs. CD Review by Peter Jones)


This refreshing Summer six-pack of remastered CDs has been assembled by Rhino Records from what was arguably John Coltrane ’s most interesting and influential period. And if you opt for the vinyl version, there’s also a replica 7in single of My Favourite Things Parts I and II. Authenticity is the idea: everything is in glorious mono, so we can share ‘the same aural experience that greeted fans when these albums were first released.’ Hence no bonus tracks, alternate versions or previously unreleased material, and each CD/LP is sleeved in its original artwork.

The main collection consists of the following:

Giant Steps (released in 1960), Bags & Trane (with Milt Jackson, 1961), Olé Coltrane (1962), Coltrane Plays The Blues (1962), The Avant-Garde (with Don Cherry, 1966), and The Coltrane Legacy (1970). However all of them were recorded between 1959 and 1961, reminding us of the extraordinary richness and variety in Coltrane’s playing during those three years, as well as his exponential growth as a pusher of boundaries.

Everyone will have their own favourites. Everything on Giant Steps is iconic. For me, Bags & Trane is a cool and mellow delight, and there’s more of Milt Jackson’s vibes work on The Coltrane Legacy (Centerpiece, Stairway to the Stars and Blues Legacy). Plays The Blues serves as a reminder not only of the central importance of the blues form to jazz, but how it can be made to sound fresh and new in the hands of a master, e.g. on Mr Knight. Olé, which features McCoy Tyner on piano, features the latter’s beautiful ballad Aisha, with Coltrane playing soprano. The Avant-Garde was recorded during Don Cherry’s prolific period with Ornette Coleman. The tracks have more in common with Coleman’s Something Else!! than the wilder shores of Free Jazz.

This seems to be Coltrane’s year: a film documentary - Chasin’ Trane - from director John Scheinfeld and producer Spencer Proffer is apparently due for release later this year, with the participation and approval of the Coltrane family; another project - A Love Supreme - is also in the works, courtesy of producer/director Sam Pollard. This film is based on Ashley Kahn’s book about that album, and Khan also supplies the booklet notes to this excellent album collection.

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REVIEW: Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio at Pizza Express Dean Street

Toshiko Akiyoshi

Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, 21st July 2016. Fourth and final night of residency. Review by Mark McKergow)

Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, NEA Jazz Master and fourteen-time Grammy nominee, is probably best known for her long-running jazz orchestra featuring husband Lew Tabackin. Recently she has been concentrating more on trio work and is performing her first London club engagement in the smaller format – at the astonishing age of 86.

Akiyoshi’s style is robust and energetic, as might be expected following a lifetime of performing and leading a big band from the piano stool. It’s also no surprise that her musical conception, even in the intimate format of a piano trio, is one of arrangement rather than total spontaneity. For these series of performances Akiyoshi is joined by London regulars Dave Green (double bass) and Matt Home (drums), who even on this fourth and final night spend a lot of time glued to their parts.

Opening with her signature tune Long Yellow Road, Akiyoshi gave the first of several context-setting introductions about her life and work. Born in Manchuria in 1929, her family moved back to Japan after the second world war where she heard jazz piano on black market records and fell in love with the music. Born in China to Japanese parents, she was discovered by Oscar Peterson playing at a club in Ginza in 1952.  She was the first Japanese student at Berklee. Akiyoshi connected this life as an outsider with George Gershwin’s relationship to his opera Porgy and Bess, a white Jewish composer writing about black slum-dwellers, and performed three of Gershwin’s immortal tunes from the work: I Got Plenty Of Nothing (featuring Home’s sharp drumming), It Ain’t Necessarily So (an opportunity for Dave Green to shine, as he invariably does) and finally I Loves You, Porgy as a piano solo.

The evening progressed with no let-up in pace, Akiyoshi combining sprightly takes on standards like I’m Old Fashioned and It Could Happen To You with her own compositions including a solo The Village with its driving left-hand riff almost reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. Akiyoshi spoke of her mentor Bud Powell (who died over 50 years ago in 1965) and performed her tribute to him, Remembering Bud, followed by a high-speed run at Powell’s own Tempus Fugit, the energy of which saw the pianist swinging her legs into the air as she moved up and down the keyboard. Closing with another signature composition, Hope from her Hiroshima suite, Akiyoshi left me thinking that her life and her music are surely like love and marriage and a horse and carriage – intertwined and inseparable.

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INTERVIEW: NYJO - recently in Milan, in Cheltenham and in London with Bob Mintzer

NYJO with Mark Armstrong in concert at the UniCredit Pavilion in Milan


NYJO's summer calendar in the past two weeks has been full of interesting ventures and adventures. 

The main band has been in Milan and in Cheltenham, and also had a guest workshop in London with saxophonist Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets. 

Sebastian asked Nigel Tully, Executive Chair of NYJO, and Jonathan Carvell - who joined NYJO as Development and Communications Manager in April 2016 - to tell the story, and also to send us some of their photos:

LondonJazz News: Nigel, I gather NYJO has just been in Milan - what was the context / festival?

Nigel Tully: One of Italy’s largest banks, UniCredit, organised a six-concert Festival of European Youth Orchestras in Milan, using Concerto Management (who represent the LSO in Italy) as curator. They decided to book four classical orchestras, a folk band, and a jazz big band - and they chose NYJO for that role.

The audience in the UniCredit Pavilion


LJN: And it sounds like quite a space for the band to perform in?

NT: It was amazing! The UniCredit Pavilion is a 700-seater in a modern square in Milan a bit like Canary Wharf - very impressive and somehow very Italian. There were huge screens outside and - despite a torrential downpour 2 hours before the gig - there were thousands watching the gig outside as well as a full house.

LJN: And I understand it is quite a feather in NYJO's cap and a first in some ways?

NT: Yes, indeed! We were the only British orchestra and the only jazz ensemble out of six - the others were from Poland, France, Italy, Romania, and Slovenia. We were very pleased to be representing Britain in Europe so soon after Brexit - Mark Armstrong got a roar of appreciation when he said so in fluent Italian! The other wonderful thing was that it was a genuine commercial gig, with a professional fee and the band looked after as they deserve rather than having to scrape by with an inadequate budget, which has always been NYJO’s experience on previous gigs around the world. I think Mark and the band can take great credit for being chosen as Europe’s best on this occasion.



LJN: And the band played with Fabrizio Bosso - for the uninitiated can you explain who he is and how did all that go?

NT: He is an absolutely superb trumpeter - amazing technical facility, and lovely artistic sensitivity as well. We played some of his stuff, he played some of ours, and it all sounded like he had been playing with NYJO for years. On one of his solos the entire NYJO trumpet section were visibly amazed at his playing - nudging each other open-mouthed to say “How did he do that?”!

LJN: What was the programme for the concert?

NT: Three of Fabrizio’s originals, five standards including a marvellous ‘Round Midnight’ and two NYJO originals, including ‘Have You Seen Them Cakes?’ on which Mark got all five NYJO trumpeters down to the front row to trade eights and then fours with Fabrizio, and then the trombones as well. That was the point at which the Italian crowd understood that NYJO is not only a superb big band, it is also packed with top class soloists.

LJN: And did the Italian crowd take to NYJO?

NT: All I can tell is that the band had to play an encore (‘Feelin’ Good’ of course) and Concerto Management want to discuss an Italian tour for NYJO in 2017, so I think we can safely say it went well. My Italian friends who were there were absolutely knocked out - there is nothing like NYJO in Italy, but hopefully we will help to get an Italian version started one day.

Mark Armstrong of NYJO and Ben Parry of NYCCGB bring both groups to
their feet in Cheltenham Town Hall


LJN: Jonathan, can you tell us about the recent Cheltenham project and the story behind it and what got played?

 Jonathan Carvell: NYJO was performing in Cheltenham with the National Youth Chamber Choir, in a special joint programme of music inspired by Shakespeare. The collaboration was conceived for the 2015 City of London Festival, mainly alternating between jazz band and choir, but occasionally with both together, and received rave reviews. Since then we’ve broadcast from the Hackney Empire for BBC Radio 2 Friday Night is Music Night on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

The collaboration is currently going on tour across the country. The next performances will be at Petworth Festival on 29 July, followed by Stratford on 22 October. There is a TICKET LINK for Petworth.

The concert in Cheltenham included the premiere of ‘Food of Love’ a brilliant new piece written by NYJO’s MD and Artistic Director Mark Armstrong. We also played Pete Churchill’s ‘Journey’s End’, commissioned specially for NYJO and the Choir to perform together - so we’re presenting brand new responses to Shakespeare alongside classics like Duke Ellington’s ‘Such Sweet Thunder’.

Bob Mintzer and the NYJO sax section


LJN: I'm also hearing that the main NYJO band also had some time with Bob Mintzer - how did that go?

JC: Bob Mintzer came to work with NYJO on Saturday morning, in between his two sold-out gigs with the Yellowjackets at Ronnie Scott’s. NYJO rehearsed Bob’s tune ‘Land of Oak’ (from his 2015 album ‘Get Up!’), learning the piece from scratch in around 90 minutes. Bob spoke about the piece’s roots in the Oakland R&B scene (with influences from Tower of Power and Graham Central Station etc.) and gave some great insights into how to approach the chart; he also played some blistering solos with the band! NYJO had a gig at Deal Festival that evening and performed Bob’s chart as part of the show – it went down a storm. Bob was pretty impressed with how quickly the band took this very challenging piece on board.

Following the workshop, Bob said:

‘NYJO is a well-honed ensemble of Britain's finest young musicians, masterfully led by Mark Armstrong. Jazz is in good hands with this wonderful organization. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them!’

There is also a video on our NYJO Youtube channel of the band rehearsing ‘Land of Oak’ with Bob Mintzer.

FUNDRAISING: NYJO is currently fundraising for its next international venture, the tour of Germany and Holland with the German BuJazzO and the Dutch NJJO in September (LINK TO MAKE A DONATION)

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LP REVIEW: Joe Henderson – Mirror, Mirror



Joe Henderson – Mirror, Mirror
(MPS 0210998MSW. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


Anyone who’s listened to records like Ron Carter’s All Blues (reviewed) is likely to end up asking why the tremendous tenorist Joe Henderson hasn’t had more exposure as a leader. Cue this timely reissue from the MPS back catalogue, headlined by the man himself. It was originally released in 1980 and so falls roughly halfway between his heyday as a sideman at Blue Note and his Grammy winning comeback with the album Lush Life. Mirror, Mirror consists of an all-star quartet with Henderson supported by Chick Corea piano, Billy Higgins drums and Ron Carter himself on bass.

The opener Mirror, Mirror is a playful, lilting waltz, its swiftly swinging form colourfully clothed by Henderson’s richly melodic tenor with Higgins’s dashing cymbals providing an iridescent backdrop for the sax. As elsewhere on this album, Chick Corea plays with canny discretion and taste. His presence is nicely judged, shifting from comping to a delicate solo which is a model of restraint, considering he wrote this piece. It’s bracing, and a little startling, to hear Corea playing such clean, melodic and straight-up acoustic piano after a decade of full-on electronic fusion with his band Return to Forever. Perhaps he found it as refreshing as this listener does.

Candlelight is a Ron Carter composition which features Henderson playing softly over a bed of assertive piano chords by Corea with Higgins gently chugging on the drums and Carter’s bass unobtrusively playing at the edge of attention, as if shrouded in shadow cast by the candlelight of the title. On Keystone, another Carter original, Henderson is firm, thrusting and exploratory, moving inexorably forward with a sense of resolutely overturning the details of the tune to find things in it, as if he’s digging through hard dirt in search of gold coins. Corea’s piano provides neat, glinting detail, never over-elaborate or slowing down the relentless advance of the piece. The drummer and bassist really drive this number forward. Higgins plays an extended, tight tattoo and Carter weaves long, intoxicating lines around him. It’s startling how much musical pleasure can be derived from just bass and drums, when it’s this bass and these drums.

Joe’s Bolero which is Henderson’s own composition, is the most out-there piece of the session, recalling the mood of prime Blue Note, and works like Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (one of the seminal recordings Joe Henderson didn’t play on). Carter and Higgins work together in a tight, staccato, minimalist pulse which is tensely exciting. In quite another vein, the standard What’s New receives a lush, lazy and funky treatment with the broadening of Henderson’s tone suggesting a big band sax section, a feeling only enhanced by the dense but dexterous playing of the rhythm section. This is a solid slab of melodic jazz played to perfection by a flawless combo.

MPS is a distinguished German jazz label renowned for their shrewd selection of jazz artists and the quality of their recordings - such as this one.  It’s good news that they’ve launched a major program of reissues on vinyl. This new incarnation of Mirror, Mirror features the original cover art, but additionally includes a new insert containing notes on the music and the remastering (nothing digital in the recording chain). It also features a photo of “the original master tape box” — the sort of thing to accelerate the heartbeat of the true devotee. As nice as they are, all these trappings are secondary to the music, which is exemplary, and the quality of the recording, which is first rate. Pressed in Germany, this is a precision piece of 180gram audiophile vinyl with a clean, natural sound. The prospect of more from the MPS vaults is very welcome.

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REVIEW/ PHOTOS: Richard Bona/ Alune Wade (Harold López-Nussa Trio)/ Marcus Miller in Munich

Richard Bona. Photo credit  Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski reports on three gigs featuring bassists in Munich: 

This was definitely bassists' week in Munich. The chance to hear three international stars of the instrument within the space of six days was something out of the ordinary, even in a city quite accustomed to having its fair share of exceptional concerts.

Starting off last Wednesday was Cameroon-born Richard Bona with his septet Mandekan Cubano in the Unterfahrt club. Bona emerged in the late 1980s, when with his individual, African perspective, he transferred the rock music sensibilities of Jaco Pastorious into jazz. In the interim he has become a creator of his own idiom. His version of Afro-Salsa lines up the Caribbean in its sights from the shores of Africa, and his band-mates, all perfectly in accord with this vision, create a sound world which not only serves fragile ballads very well, it also creates an energetic rhythmic flow.

Whether as a singer or bassist, Bona has his band in exempary laid-back control, there is plenty of variaton in dynamics, they are in a precisely calibrated groove, giving a launch pad for soloists such as trumpeter Dennis Hernandez and pianist Osmany Paredes to get positively airborne.

Alune Wade (centre) with Harold (background) and Ruy López-Nussa (foreground)
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski 


Two days later it was the turn of Harold López-Nussa's trio. The pianist is one of the rising stars of the Cuban jazz world in his own right. He was joined by his brother, drummer Ruy. and bassist Alune Wade. Originally from Dakar, Wade first took to the road with stars of African pop music such as Youssou N'Dour and Ismael Lo, but has now definitely arrived at destination jazz. Once again there is a coalescence of musical worlds, in which Wade comes across as more introverted than Bona in the way he conveys the melodic heritage of his native Senegal. He is similarly versatile and adaptable in the way he combines Caribbean, North American and African music, and is just as focused on communication with his fellow band members. He is also adept at giving propulsion to the lively and complexly organized eco-system of Cuban-inflected sound.



Marcus Miller
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski



By comparison, the grand old man of the modern bass Marcus Miller, who was giving the opening concert of the twenty-fifth summer season at the Bayerischer Hof, came across as rather conventional. He places reliance on his own heritage, by celebrating much of the Miles material, from Jean-Pierre to Tutu with a touch of Afrodeezia, while bringing his audience refreshment with his thumb-popping antics. It is technically dazzling and effective, but in musical terms, the creative offerings of Miller's bass colleagues from the previous week left him way behind.

Ralf Dombrowski's original German piece appeared in Jazzzeitung (LINK)

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FEATURE/ INTERVIEW: Guitarist Andy Lale: new CD from Undiscovered Television - Gypsy in a High Rise



Guitarist ANDY LALE has a new album out called "Gypsy in a High Rise". Written for his quartet Undiscovered Television (UTV). He explained the background to Sebastian:

Guitarist Andy Lale makes no secret of his attempt to make the music he has composed for the album Gypsy in a High Rise function at several levels. He is trying “to evoke - and on occasion enhance - the sound-world of a jazz quartet, and to allow visual landscapes to emerge in the mind of the listener.” His idea, he told me is that listeners enter into a “private world.He wants to “offer people a soundtrack for their private TV show.” The most obvious example of this is the track Smedley Butler's War, where the instrumental track is overlaid with, amongst others the thoughts of trader Alessio Rastani in a famous BBC interview from 2011.

Musically the instrumentation shows that he is interested in particular sonic ranges. His own 8-string guitar has lower sounds than a conventional guitar, and pairing it with a cello increases the possibilities in that register. Important influences have been the free player John Stevens and the cellist Hugh Mcdowell from the Electric Light Orchestra with whom Lale studied composition. The fact that Lale uses a cellist in his current band gives a sense of what an important voice McDowell gave Lale to work with as a composer.

And his own music? As a guitarist he is essentially self taught, but is indebted to Charles Alexander for his guidance. Lale says he has an “envious respect for Pat Metheny, and that he has listened a lot to Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian - “but that's more about technique than feel.” He played with the band Blackwater Street in the 1990s, which had a good following and performed regular gigs on the South Bank and at the ICA in the late 1990s

Composing influences? There is Hugh McDowell, and from his own listening Lale points out the influence of the minimalists such as Philip Glass, and also the “ accessible genius” of the Miles Davis Kind of Blue era “in the way the tunes on "Gypsy" are put together.” And then, Andy thinks for a moment and says, "beyond that there is Stravinsky/Debussy/Ravel: “ Debussy used a lot of minor ninths and so did seventies song writers, it's a lineage he says smiling - there is hopefully a lowbrow-highbrow playfulness about this album.

Andy Lale


In the past decade and a half, Andy Lale has made music in a highly unusual context, to which he has had access through what must be a unique combination of qualifications. He not only has a Masters degree in music therapy but another in psychoanalytic psychotherapist. As he explains : “I am a music professional, working in the bowels of a psychiatric hospital co-creating reggae tracks for a day job. I do have a very analytical approach to it actually. That work is structured and serious. The nature of his work means that he is more than usually focused with what he calls “my other side, keeping my creativity  alive. There is no mistaking that urge: “ I have a desire to create. The need to make music has got stronger recently, as working in the NHS has got harder - being a music psychotherapist is engaging - but problematic. I have had fifteen years of being immersed in it . Now I have more space to do what I need to do. And to create an expression of a very personal identity.”

The early signs are good. JazzFM have played two tracks from the album and put the track Slow Day @ The Numbers Station on their regular playlist and there is a tour planned for the autumn. Keep watching Undiscovered Television. (pp)

LINK: Tracks are available to sample via Andy Lale's website.
The album is on iTunes

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CD REVIEW: Michelson Morley – Strange Courage



Michelson Morley – Strange Courage
(Babel Label BDV15140, CD review by Mark McKergow)

If there were a prize for forming bands with instantly distinctive sounds, Bristol-based saxophonist Jake McMurchie would surely carry it off. As a key driving force behind the award-winning quartet Get The Blessing, McMurchie has moved from bass-groove to live-wire industrial loopy without dropping a beat.

Strange Courage is the second album from Michelson Morley (the name refers to a famous physics experimenter duo who proved that the ‘ether’ didn’t exist). Originally formed in 2012, the original trio of McMurchie, Mark Whitlam (percussion) and Will Harris (bass) have added guitarist Dan Messore to the line-up. The result is an even wider palette of sound to construct hard-driving compositions which surge forward with little respite and no prisoners taken.

The opening Tamer As Prey is a good example – juddering reverberations are joined by guitar and electronics, in a hypnotic series of repeated notes, before layers of haunting soprano sax almost like birdsong allow a little space to emerge – and all the while the insistent rapid heartbeat of the piece carries on, lifting all before it. And then, with about a minute to go, a great peace overcomes us, with gentle guitar echoes merging with, but not completely overwhelming, the sax calls - an epic in just under eight minutes.

Other tracks show off the group’s commitment to textures and industrial-sounding pulses. Prime Twin is built around a low-end pulse which might have been found somewhere on the back lot of Dr Who, which acts as foil for tenor sax explorations and snare drum rattles and rolls, before a definite and emphatic theme finally arrives – followed by fully 25 seconds of silence (which emphasises the unexpected elements continually cropping up in the music, as well as being a bit perturbing if you’re listening on the Tube and wondering if your headphone wire has come adrift).

Another similarity to the work of McMurchie’s other combo Get The Blessing (aside of the science-based names of the tunes), this collection comes across as a real group effort. There are no real ‘solos’, with each tune evolving and developing as a soundscape with its own internal logic. There’s a lot to listen to, and a lot of listening is required to make the most of it. Michelson Morley is not easy listening, and that’s a compliment in these days where loops can so easily mean laziness.

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EXHIBITION: Jukebox, Jewkbox! A Century on Shellac and Vinyl at the Jewish Museum till October

The listening table and the display of LPs
Photo credit: Jon Holloway


Sebastian writes:

A new exhibition opened last week and will run throughout the summer until October 16th. It is entitled Jukebox, Jewkbox! A Century on Shellac and Vinyl. It is about the music, the technology the people in popular music. There is technology on display from early gramophones to the iPod. And interactive exhibits, and the possibility to listen. Plus a huge range of album sleeves along the walls. There is a fair represention of music from the Jewish community which is directed exclusively towards the Jewish community. But above all the exhibition underlines quite how extensive the reach of both Jewish artists and people behind the scenes in the music industry has been into the  worldwide marketplace for music, and into broader popular culture.

A section of the exhibition focusing on jazz


There is a section (above) which celebrates and remembers the Jewish influence on jazz - not least the fact that the founders of Blue Note were refugees from Nazi Germany.

Quoting the Press Release 

"Jukebox, Jewkbox! takes visitors on a musical journey of discovery through popular culture, featuring records that changed lives and the technology that made it happen. In the late 19th century, a German-Jewish emigrant to the USA changed the world. With Emil Berliner’s invention of the gramophone and the record, the age of mass entertainment found its first global medium.

In an interactive exhibition that takes this moment in history as its starting point, Jewish Museum London explores the experience of the 20th century through shellac and vinyl, celebrating the history of Jewish inventors, musicians, composers, music producers and songwriters.

The exhibition opens with an exploration of the development of technology and the record business, including early examples of gramophones and shellac records, and the hugely popular Dansette, an iconic and fashionable record-player which doubled as a stylish piece of furniture, designed in London in the 1950s by Russian-Jewish immigrant Morris Margolin.

The 20th century Jewish experience also found its expression on records, from the introduction of synagogue music into the middle-class Jewish home to the reinvention of Jewish folk music; from the career of Yiddish theatre songs on Broadway to the rebels of punk. A central display tells over 40 audio stories with musicians, artists, producers, and music fans recounting ‘My favourite Jewish record that changed my life’.

The exhibition also celebrates the record sleeve, with almost 500 examples from various genres, from cantorial to punk, from comedy to serious education, from Yiddish theatre to Arab-Jewish music, from folk music to Israeli and other pop music. Visitors can hang out in the ‘Jewtube’ lounge and watch music videos. Curator Joanne Rosenthal said “Jukebox, Jewkbox! celebrates the role Jews have played in the history of recorded music, both from an artistic standpoint and as industry influencers.

Visitors are invited to take a personal journey, exploring the soundtracks and stories of one hundred years of shellac and vinyl. Camden Town, with its rich and colourful musical heritage, is an ideal setting to tell this story.” This exhibition was developed by the Jewish Museum Hohenems, Austria in collaboration with the Jewish Museum Munich."

Quote Ends

LINK: Jewish muesum website
ADDRESS: Raymond Burton House 129 – 131 Albert Street London NW1 7NB 
OPENING: Daily till 16 October 10am – 5pm (Friday: 10am – 2pm)

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LP REVIEW: Gregory Porter – Take Me To the Alley



Gregory Porter – Take Me To the Alley
(Blue Note 0602547814456. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


Among the current wave of singers who might be considered successors to Mark Murphy, one of the strongest contenders is Gregory Porter. A native Californian, Porter looked set for a career in professional (American) football, but an injury put paid to that. Instead he carved out a reputation as a singer in New York in the early part of this century and his third album — and Blue Note label debut — Liquid Spirit won the 2014 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal. His second Blue Note album Take Me To the Alley, here presented as a double vinyl set, demonstrates that at the age of 44, Porter is a star set to rise further still.

The record has a lovely warm sound that suits Porter’s deeply soulful vocals, which alternately call to mind Bill Withers and vintage Al Green. The singer is accompanied by his regular musicians, with co-arranger Chip Crawford delivering the spare piano on Holding On and Aaron James playing bass and Emanuel Harrold on drums while Yosuke Sato is responsible for the outstanding, sensual alto sax on Day Dream. Added to this primary team are Ondrej Pivec who provides the springy organ sound on Don’t Lose Your Steam and singer Alicia Olatuja who subtly shadows Porter’s vocals on the dreamy Take Me To the Alley. The title track is certainly one of the finest moments of the album with trumpeter Keyon Harrold playing a solo of pensive ecstasy. This song, which gently eases into the listener’s head and firmly remains there, has a Van Morrison vibe, reminiscent of Morrison’s key 1980s work with Pee Wee Ellis —bringing us full circle to the influence of Al Green.

In Fashion is bouncing, funky and very catchy, with an open sunny sound. Porter performs a relaxed, offhand scat while the rhythm section keep a sparse and laidback beat which is enormously engaging. The track’s stripped-down nature adds to its addictive quality and its lyrics manage to be at once cryptic and affecting. Like virtually all the songs on the album, this is Porter’s own composition. And he’s no mean writer. The songs here call to mind, among others, Joni Mitchell. More Than a Woman is another triumph for the rhythm players, this time more emphatically to the fore, with Aaron James’s bass rich and rounded and profound, Emanuel Harrold’s steady ticking drumming pacemaker-accurate, and Chip Crawford’s piano so tautly synchronised as to be almost subliminal before he emerges to emphasise the tune with chiming notes. There is also an exquisite sax passage (in addition to Yosuke Sato on alto, the album features Tivon Pennicott on tenor).

Blue Note was at one time the home of the finest American jazz recordings. In more recent years the label seemed to have become little more than a deracinated brand name applied, seemingly almost at random, to currently fashionable artists. But with its laudable support of Gregory Porter it would seem the glory days are not over, after all.

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PODCAST INTERVIEW: Cellist/ Vocalist Zosia Jagodzinska (Debut EP Eros and Thanatos Release 21st July)



London-based cellist/ vocalist /poet Zosia Jagodzinska is the principal cello with Phil Meadows' Engines Orchestra and Raph Clarkson's Dissolute Society. Her debut EP "Eros and Thanatos" also featuring percussionist Simon Roth is released on July 21st.

In this interview she talked to Sebastian about her music, and how it was adverse circumstances which first led her to first discover that singing and playing the cello (or piano) simultaneously could work so well, and could produce a more natural way of breathing. Audio production of the interview by Nicholas Heymann.



TOPICS IN THIS PODCAST:

00:13 – Eros and Thanatos
00:47 – Poetry inspirations
01:06 – Background and education
02:47 – Tato and Babcia
03:44 – Music – Babcia (in memory of Tato and Babcia)
04:27 – Buying Eros and Thanatos
04:53 – The jazz world
05:47 – Singing with the ‘cello
06:40 – Inspirations for singing and playing ‘cello
07:02 – First Breath
07:54 – Music – First Breath

LINKS: Zosia Jagodzinska on Facebook
On Soundcloud
Purchase links for the EP to follow

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REVIEW: Lacuna at Ryans N16

Lacuna. Photo credit: Alasdair Harriss

Lacuna
(Ryan’s N16. 15th July 2016. Review by Liam Izod)

On the playlist prior to the show at Ryan’s N16 in trendy Stoke Newington, Tower of Power preach - “Sweet soul music, that’s the best”. Lacuna prove devotees of ToP’s teachings, though their style is not ‘Soul with a capital S’ but neo-soul. The denomination pioneered in the 1990s by artists such as Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, is currently undergoing a resurgence. Bands like Hiatus Kaiyote and Native Dancer have taken the sub-genre deeper into jazz territory, and Lacuna aim to continue the soul searching.

Comprised of a quintet of Durham University Students, Lacuna demonstrate they have done their research, serving up a series of soul classics from Al Green to Amy Winehouse. Each number is arranged with the lurching grooves and lush electronic accompaniment characteristic of the neo-soul new-wavers. It is a treatment that serves the newer numbers better than the classics however, with Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together losing some of their emotional punch when refracted through the chilled re-harmonisations.

The catalogue of covers could have ended up lending Lacuna the air of an experimental wedding band, but Laura Paul’s vocals elevate them, her voice capable of tastefully melismatic runs worthy of Esperanza Spalding. Paul is not the only standout member. With his Michael Gove glasses, guitarist Ollie Farley looks more Parliament than Funkadelic, but he proves a worthy Minister of Groove. His playing orbits artfully around the arrangements, picking out angular funky phrases as if receiving signals from George Clinton’s Mothership.

Lacuna met as members of Durham University Big Band, and they are still undergoing graduation towards a group with their own identity and direction. They might take inspiration from bands like Glasgow’s Fat Suit, who began life as a Snarky Puppy tribute band but now boast fearless original compositions. Lacuna deliver a fresh reworking of Round Midnight late in their second set that suggests they could emulate the Glaswegian’s example. It is heartening in any case to see a young crowd getting down to Thelonious Monk, and to have found more musicians dedicated to addressing the lacunas among jazz audiences in the U.K.

LINKS: Ryans N16
Lacuna are represented by Jazzplus

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REVIEW: Carla Bley Trio feat. Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard at Ronnie Scott's

Carla Bley at Ronnie Scott's.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


Carla Bley Trio featuring Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard
(Ronnie Scott's, 17th July 2106; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

At the heart of the Carla Bley's trio of over twenty years standing, with Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard, lies a sophisticated equilibrium, which was articulated, not only musically, but also visually. Each musician sits or stands evenly spaced across the stage at Ronnie's, with several pages of Bley's complex scores constantly in view on the music stand.

Swallow was seated centrally with his 5-string bass, custom built by Harvey Citron, to all appearances a specially-crafted guitar with an extended neck. Sheppard standing to the right, exchanged tenor and soprano saxes to suit the demands of Bley's repertoire, and Bley herself, elegant in black with signature geometric blond bob, imposing and exacting in both appearance and her role as the trio's leader, was seated to the left.

The whole of the trio's new ECM album, Andando el Tiempo ('The Passing of Time') was visited during their two one-hour sets, augmented by a sprinkling of new compositions, including Copycat, their opener, premiered in New York at the album's launch concert in May, with several of their favourites including the breezily jazzy Ups and Downs and Baby Baby from the Duets (1988) album by Bley and Swallow.

The deceptive simplicity of Bley's intimately-scaled compositions masks their whittled-down refinement, which came through in the continual games of hide and seek with their main themes, as they were subsumed in variations and extemporisations, only to return to the fore when it seemed that they had all but disappeared.

Bley's distinctive, laser-sharp piano style complemented Swallow's and Sheppard's virtuosic musicianship, as she led them through thoughtfully constructed duet passages, solo interludes and then back to the full trio, underscoring the clarity of her composer's vision - the quality that has spurred her on in to her ninth decade, and was recognised in her National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Award last year.

Bley lightly deconstructed Mendelssohn's Wedding March in Naked Bridges / Diving Brides (her gift to Sheppard and his recent bride) deep within its engagingly left-of-centre phrasing that gave Sheppard a platform for his delicately cascading fluency on soprano. Swallow added a deliberately acoustic edge to his melodic approach on the 5-string, which compares interestingly to the more electric sound of his bass as recorded on the album – and his solo improvised spot in the recently-penned Tricycle was the perfect vehicle for his absorbing brand of fluid understatement.

The movingly melancholic intensity of the new album's three movement title track was emphasised in the urgency of Sheppard's warm tenor delivery, which also permeated the gospel-drenched flavour of The Lord is Listening to You. Hallelujah!, and Monk's Misterioso, arranged by Bley with a lightly whimsical flourish, flipping from the blues to Monk's idiosyncratic phrasing, with Sheppard kicking in with a raw blast from the Pharaoh Sanders book.

To encore, Lawns, introduced by Bley's precisely pin-pointed piano figures brought a breathy, soft-toned intimacy from Sheppard that beautifully summed up the spirit of the entire evening.

Carla Bley's Liberation Music Orchestra will be at Cadogan Hall on Nov 20th as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival

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ROUND-UP REVIEW: Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2016

Edward Perraud. Photo credit: Nada Zgank


Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2016
(Ljubljana, Cankarjev Dom, June 29 – July 2. Review by Henning Bolte)


In his thoughtful round-up review of Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2016, Henning Bolte takes a succession of themes: drums, fine arts, rising female stars...where the festival itself is in the course of its evolution...


Generations

New up and coming generations of musicians are rushing forward and taking over. This year’s edition of Ljubljana Jazz Festival – the oldest in Europe - had four musicians from older generations, namely Hamid Drake, Mark Helias, Ned Rothenberg and Günther ‘Baby’ Sommer, two drummers, a bassist and a reedist.

Specialities

What stood out first in this year’s edition was a remarkably high amount of drummers/percussionists, 16 of them in 18 concerts. Also remarkable was the presence of many fine young female musicians. Five of them played a prominent role during the concerts: three pianists Eve Risser (France), Kaja Draksler (Slovenia/Netherlands), Hiromi (Japan), and saxophonist Anna Högberg (Sweden). Eve Risser and Kaja Draksler premiered a piano duo and both performed with a trio. Risser appeared with En-Corps, a longer existing French working band. Draksler met North American drummer Hamid Drake and clarinettist/ saxophonist Ned Rothenberg, also a world premiere. Draksler had already briefly collaborated with Drake a few months ago in Amsterdam (see review).


Malin Wättring, Anna Högberg, Elin Larsson
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Anna Högberg Attack

Swedish saxophonist Anna Högberg presented her all female sextet Anna Högberg Attack comprising three horns, Elin Larsson, Malin Wättring and Högberg herself on saxophone, Lisa Ullén on piano, Elsa Bergman on double bass and Ann Lund on drums, a whirlwind of well-matched and strong young talent. To finish this list, Japanese pianist Hiromi had more mass appeal and was a big draw for the festival. The appearances of these musicians/groups definitely made a difference in a – still - male dominated territory. The difference was not only because of their mere presence, but mainly by their way of manifesting themselves and their appeal, their attitude and approach, their effect and impact. That the all-female group came from Sweden might not be a pure accident: the Swedish music organization has been addressing the gender balance issue for a long time now through programs and specific actions. Even a quota for subsidized Swedish venues was introduced.

Clusters of diversity

The festival’s 18 concerts covered a greater variety of the musical game called ‘jazz’. This variety can loosely be grouped in five clusters. Multidisciplinary Surnatural Orchestra from France (reviewed separately) is a special case. It is the only group that cuts through all except the Fusion cluster.

There was drummer Gard Nilssen’s fast forward driven Acoustic Unity spinning elements of bop, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman in a two horns (André Roligheten and Fredrik Ljunkvist) line-up. Anna Högberg Attack and Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic operated in that high-energy vein too See review.

With stark contrasts and massive loudness drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit beat that same track. Drummer Nasheet Waits’ Equality Quartet with bassist Mark Helias, altoist Darius Jones and young pianist Abel Marcel Calderon stood and stands for continued fresh and thrilling exploration on steady ground of and deep rootedness in Afro-American jazz tradition (from the south).

Then there were the three female pianists generating clearly different experiential qualities. The trio of Hiromi operated in a large-scale fusion mould, collating diverse stylistic elements on a speeded-up, rock-driven base. Igor Matković hit the same road fully shining with the soaring trumpet lines he infused into his highly present quintet.

Eve Risser (photo Henning Bolte)


The other pianists, French Eve Risser from Paris and Slovenian Kaja Draksler from Amsterdam could be found opposite these fusion salvos. From small(est) particles, gestures and motives her trio En-Corps with Benjamin Duboc and Edward Perraud playfully conjured up a highly suggestive magical world of sound. In a highly sensitive and responsive process the three musical personae of Kaja Draksler, Ned Rothenberg and Hamid Drake connected in their first meeting. By mutually carving their sparking off signatures into the air the threesome aroused vibrations of wondrous thriving textures and interlocking rhythms and voices.

Trio Draksler, Rothenberg, Drake. Photo credit: Nada Zgank 

It was looking forward then to the first meeting of both pianist in a duo performance. It was hard to predict what the four hands would do with 166 keys, what would happen, how it would work out. Risser and Draksler did both: they respected each other’s peculiarity and space and proceeding along a series of stark contrasts in temperament, temperature and attack they collaged each other’s snippets and contributions in attentive and clever ways. They emphasized it by a choreographic intervention. After the first two pieces they pointedly moved each other’s grand pianos close together before continuing.

Kaja Draksler and Eve Risser.

The resulting music was far distant from the original Afro-American jazz tradition. The jazz factor was the improvised character of the performance and the interweaving of both individual voices. Although the performance was not in concordance with the patterns of neither jazz nor classical music the audience warm-heartedly respected and welcomed the performance. It was a daring enterprise that proved to be another highlight of the festival.

Besides these three clusters of family resemblance two others manifested themselves at this year’s edition. One was the de-/reframing mode of the game represented by Polish pianist Marcin Masiecki and Portuguese electronics wizard Pedro Lopes. Marcin Masiecki is a highly versatile musician leaving his footprint in a variety of contexts, from experimental pop music to a classical festival of his own (running during the summer in Warsaw). He is a master of de-automatizing deeply ingrained conditioned patterns of behaviour in performing and listening to music (see review). He not only challenges the expectation patterns, the framing, tied to types of music. He has developed a way to bring those into slip by subtle means in his solo-recitals. He is juggling between de- and re-framing in a highly honest, humorous and serious way and is able to leave the audience in a state of astonished or even puzzled admiration. Masiecki’s moves are beyond the infinite different nuances of rendering van Beethoven’s scores. With him the audience will listen to its memories of van Beethoven and are enabled to recognize it during, in the listening itself. It frees and set free for new perceptions and ways of listening. Pedro Lopes is doing something comparable (the other way round) when working with his turntables, assorted electronic devices and physical percussive elements (see review). Het puts heterogeneity of musical sources in a new de-automatizing perspective in a sharp and highly entertaining way.


Hamid Drake. Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Solo concerts by Hamid Drake and Gunter 'Beby' Sommer

Last but not least there was the narrative mode most clearly brought into being the solo-concert of German drummer Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer and the solo-concert of Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake (see radio portrait of Hamid Drake). Sommer’s recital touched upon the biographical significance of a number of influential drummers of the history of jazz, the shaping of his identity in life and in the performance (Baby Dodds, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Han Bennink, Paul Lovens). Hamid Drake performance was a rich intercultural journey into spiritual unity with a series of captivating momentum experiences. Both narratives had a strong and inevitable multicultural exchange dimension and traces of social struggle (of the past).

Drummers

16 drummers for 18 concerts … and among those 16 drummers only one female drummer, namely Ann Lund of Anna Högberg Attack from Sweden. Lund played a rather important role in that group. Confident, driven by urgency and at the same time relaxed she fulfilled her role bravely and never overplayed. The way the other musicians in Högberg’s group played – more or less – can be traced back to their teachers and role models. It revealed that Lund with her own tight way of drumming has beaten her very own track. She is a distinctive and promising, up and coming voice.

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Ann Lund. Photo credit: Nada Zgank

The festival had two – very different - solo drum performances (Hamid Drake and Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer). Three drummers had their own group performing, namely Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity, Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit and Nasheet Waits’ Equality – some late repercussion of Art Blakey.

Three ensemble comprised two drummers: drummer Paal-Nilssen Love’s Large Unit had Andreas Wildhagen as second drummer, Surnatural Orchestra had Antonin Leymarie and Sylvain Lemetre on the percussive side of the orchestra and Slovenian guitarist Samo Šalamon’s sextet had Robert Dani and Christian Lillinger as drummers. Two drummers were figuring in two constellations: Edward Perraud in Eve Risser’s En-Corps and in Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic which meant acting in two different contexts, cope with quite different musical approaches. Perraud is an experienced musician who can accomplish that keeping his identity.

Some are in need of an abundance of drums and percussion devices some need little or less, some can bang on every can and others need an abundance of this and that (which is often not a musical necessity but a social one). Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer is a rare example of drummers/percussionists who lives, travels and performs with HIS skins and percussion devices. From Dresden in Saxony to Ljubljana in Slovenia was a relatively short distance by car compared to a lot of concert destination in the Deep South of Europe.

Myth and image construction/iconography

Jazz is a characteristically male dominated territory. Up to now it is clearly manifested in jazz photography. It established a strong guiding iconography to live by. It set and still sets the parameters for perception and description of jazz events and known figures, so called heroes. Like the electric guitar in rock music, the man with the horn, trumpet or saxophone, is the ultimate, central icon in jazz. There is a lot of myth and image construction still going on here. Historically there were also a lot of outstanding female musicians in jazz but they were/are less known than their male counterparts.

But for some time things are changing. There are no longer a few leading figureheads. Nowadays we have a diversified field with a lot of great players constructing their identity and image (themselves) in various ways. Also there are a lot of female trumpeters and saxophonists now, which makes the old image of the man with the horn waning. Most notable is the melt down of the image of the strong muscular baritone sax player. Nowadays there are slender young women who can blow on the ‘heavy’ baritone sax horizon wide and sky high.

The change is a slow, a non-linear process with a lot of disjunctions and contradictions. Due to a several factors it is still more difficult for female musicians to get into positions and get equal acknowledgement. But when they succeed they seem to be less inclined to occupy old positions or reproduce old patterns. As a matter of fact female musicians and composers introduced a lot of interesting musical innovations and extraordinary creativity in recent years.

What is even more remarkable in this context: Högberg’s group musically operates in the same territory as the most virile exponent of European free jazz, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. It is interesting to watch and experience how these young female musicians, Anna Högberg, Elin Larsson, Malin Wättring on saxophone, Lisa Ullén on piano, Elsa Bergman on double bass and Ann Lund on drums, have adopted this approach and give it a turn of their own. Elin Larsson turns into a wild beast of supernatural forces when blowing her horn. Same as two years ago when I saw her performing in Sweden she was again highly pregnant (see review). When watching and listening to Elsa Bergman it is immediately clear by which Norwegian bassist she has been inspired. It is a group of confident musicians, open-minded, serious and funny with a smile, who know very well what they are doing and who go for it full of joy. They are doing their won thing, tough with a certain kind of lightness. One of their pieces with an ostinato familiar to John Coltrane’s Chant Love Supreme appeared to be conceived the day before by Anna Högberg while spending time on the toilet. She sent it to her companions. They rehearsed it during the sound check and rendered it in a great uplifting way during the concert.

Context/interdisciplinarity

As in recent years Ljubljana Jazz Festival presented a rich and attractive context program with exhibitions, lectures, market and other audience related activities.

Lectures were held by Kevin LeGendre from London on the historical Carribean and South African influence in the London Jazz Scene, a lecture by Erling Aksdal from Trondheim on the jazz education and by Ičo Vidmar on the socio-economic dynamics and relocation mobility of New York jazz venues.

A recent album cover from Clean Feed


On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Clean Feed Label from Lisbon/Parede and its 5-year partnership with the festival in Ljubljana an exhibition of the design of Clean Feed album covers was held. The first 100 were done by Rui Garrido, the subsequent 300 by Travassos (aka Jorge Trindade). The design is extremely divers but at the same time highly recognizable.

Fine artist Lena Czerniawska from Wroclaw, Poland, was invited by the festival to accompany the musical performances of the concerts by real time drawing like she did at several Melting Pot meetings of young European improvisers at Wroclaw’s New Forum of Music as part of the Jazztopad festival (see review).

Her work can best be described as visually designed reflection on the process of music making. It is conceived as a new bidirectional, interactive component. As such it differs from the usual picturing illustration of musicians. It is an accompanying activity in a different medium performed in real time together with the proceeding of the music. It reflects the fine artist’s perception of the music going on and its ‘translation’ in lines, dots, textures, shapes etc.. The perceptions have to be translated into a readable form. Like in improvised music the fine artists has to take decision how to focus, how to condense and how to give it shape (quickly). The work has a twofold character. It is visual reflection of a concrete musical performance process and it is an independent piece of visual art (see my article on the ‘musical work’ of fine artist Rita Draper Frazão).

Drawing of Günther ‘Baby’ Sommerby Rita Draper Frazão


Outcomes of the creative processes and the processes themselves can provide valuable insights into both sides of collaboration and also function as a fruitful, inspiring trigger in the discourse of the audience about the music they have experienced. Through dialogue, the perceptions of all three parties, musicians, fine artists and audience can be sharpened. Last but not least it can lead to new ideas, forms and ways of communication/collaboration. It is worthwhile to really develop this last aspect beyond just putting the drawings on a exposition panel or wall. It should more be a starting point for collaborative activities (more in a forthcoming article). When we are running out of words we can move on to draw. Together viewing the drawings then can bring us back to exchange with words and elevate this.

Zaključek (conclusion)

The Ljubljana Jazz Festival has not yet reached its full potential - it is still evolving what it does, and strongly. It picks up relevant developments at the cutting edge in the field and engages in beating new tracks. In that sense it is not simply ‘buying’ and programming parts of the traveling summer festival circus. On the contrary it shares “ownership” of interesting developments in the field with participating groups and individual musicians. In the course of this the (artistic) directors clearly guard diversity of the program as a key factor. Of special importance for the festival was its focus on two highly promising young pianists in truly challenging encounters as an alternative to the artist in residence concept.

Of high importance was the programming of Surnatural Orchestra from France, which opened the festival to more/new ears, hearts and souls. Hopefully the programmers will find troupes/artists of the same calibre who can carry on on this path. With its Ljubljana – Lisbon axis now in its 5th year it is truly European and a shining example of enriching collaboration. As an important landmark

Ljubljana will host the European Jazz Conference in September 2017

 Photo credits Henning Bolte and official photographers working for the Ljubljana Jazz Festival (Domen Pal, Nada Zgank)

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