REVIEW: Henri Texier Hope Quartet at King's Place (2017 EFG LJF)

"Tremendous bass playing": Henri Texier
Photo credit: John Watson /jazzcamera.co.uk


Henri Texier Hope Quartet
(King's Place Hall One, 17 November - 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Patrick Hadfield).


Henri Texier didn't talk much to the full house in King's Place Hall One; he let his bass speak for him. Across eighty minutes, it spoke with depth and warmth, energy and, occasionally, anger.

The Hope Quartet - Texier with Francois Courneloup on baritone saxophone, Sebastien Texier on alto sax and clarinets, and Louis Moutin on drums - filled the hall with music. Individually they were superb; together, they were phenomenal. Playing material largely from the recent live release Dakota Mab, with several numbers dedicated to native American tribes, as well as older pieces such as the closing number Sacrifice - which he dedicated to this very hard working band.

None worked harder than Moutin. He rarely played with sticks, instead pushing the music on with insistent brush work, or, on the several pieces, his bare hands, deftly making the drums ring. His drumming was often busy but never obtrusive.

At times they were reminiscent of a chamber band such as the MJQ, as on the beautifully melodic Hopi, which featured a heartfelt baritone solo. He Was Just Shining, for Paul Motian, had a touch of Ellington: it's eastern-sounding melody and snake-like, entwining saxophone lines would have been at home in Ellington's Far East Suite.

"We really didn't want to let them go."
L-R: Sebastien Texier, Francois Corneloup, Henri Texier, Louis Moutin
Photo credit: John Watson /jazzcamera.co.uk

Elsewhere there were passages of free music, Texier producing flurries of notes from his bass as the alto soared and the baritone roared. There was a powerful duo between the bass and and drums, Moutin balancing Texier's tremendous bass playing with very melodic drums with just his hands. The amount of communication and understanding between all members of the band was impressive, it often being like a conversation we were privileged to be watching.

On Sacrifice it was almost as if they were channelling Coltrane, the saxes playing in unison over some thunderous drumming, the whole rooted in Texier's bass playing. Together they pushed the level of intense excitement higher and higher.

Coming back for an encore, they played a slower, more simple piece, the baritone and clarinet playing long notes over which Texier played a moody solo. They earned a standing ovation and huge applause from the audience: we really didn't want to let them go.

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

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REVIEW: Alan Barnes - Barnes plays Basie at The Other Palace (2017 EFG LJF)

Alan Barnes (centre) with Robert Fowler
Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley

Alan Barnes - Barnes plays Basie
(The Other Palace. 17 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Saxophonist Alan Barnes brought an all-star line up to The Other Palace to perform the music of Count Basie, with the hard-swinging rhythm section of pianist Robin Aspland, bassist Adam King and drummer Matt Home. Many of the Basie signature introductions were expertly re-created by pianist Aspland, who sounded particularly impressive on One O’Clock Jump, and also contributed a number of intelligent and beguiling solos. Throughout the evening it was the quality of the solos that impressed the most, together with the band’s ability to re-create the Basie big band sound in a reduced ensemble.

Trumpeter George Hogg used a range of trumpet mutes to get the sounds of Buck Clayton and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, and stood out on the Basie classics Lil’ Darlin’ and After Supper. Tenor saxophonist Robert Fowler gave a sparkling performance with his beautiful old-school tone combined with prodigious technique and fluency around the instrument, which was illustrated perfectly on his rendition of Blue and Sentimental, that also included a warm, sensitive solo by Alan Barnes on the baritone saxophone. The baritone was also the highlight of the closing number of the first set, One O’Clock Jump, which also served as a bass solo feature for excellent young bassist Adam King.

They started the second set with a swinging Shiny Stockings, and progressed through another set of Basie classics, with an uptempo 9:20 Special, the beautiful Neal Hefti tune Lil’ Darlin’ and a hard swinging Topsy which again featured some beautiful baritone saxophone playing from Alan Barnes. Although they finished with the Basie classic Jumpin’ at the Woodside as their encore, it was inevitable that the enthusiastic audience were going to demand more. They were rewarded with Basie-esque version of Honeysuckle Rose. Promoter and host John Billett once again put on a fantastic show and gave as good as he got when it came to the repartee between him and the perennially funny Alan Barnes.

Line Up
Alan Barnes - alto and baritone saxophone
Robert Fowler- tenor saxophone
George Hogg – trumpet
Robin Aspland – piano
Adam King – double bass
Matt Home – drums

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REVIEW: Dee Dee Bridgewater + Camilla George at Cadogan Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Photo credit: Paul Wood


Dee Dee Bridgewater + Camilla George
(Cadogan Hall. Thurs. 16th Nov. 2017 EFG LJF. Review by Alison Bentley)

It soundedas if Dee Dee Bridgewater’s voice had been waiting for these songs. In her jazz singing, she’s always had a strong soulful voice, sometimes muted like a trumpet. In this gig the voice was on fire with songs from her new album, Memphis... Yes, I'm Ready with her Memphis Soulphony band. Born in Memphis, Bridgewater grew up listening to soul and R&B on WDIA Radio; dedicated to black music, it used musician DJs (BB King, Rufus Thomas, and her own trumpeter father, ‘Matt the Platter Cat’.) Bridgewater also has a background in musical theatre, and a strong onstage persona: each song (‘revisiting, revamping’) involved an anecdote or miniature drama.

The voice was deep and lived-in (a little like recent Candi Staton) in Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s I'm Going Down Slow, with its Dr John vibe. Gospelly backing singers joined her in Gladys Knight’s Giving Up, with Dell Smith’s stirring Hammond. She sang the Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next to You (Al Green’s version) as if her voice were all the instruments at once. Things took a comic turn: she recalled underwear being thrown on stage to a disdainful Al Green- but she donned the Y-fronts thrown on for her, over her spangly white outfit.

From comedy to pathos in seconds: in Barbara Mason’s Yes I’m Ready, a sweet 6/8 ballad, Bridgewater sang freely with a Dionne Warwick timbre, scatting into high pure notes- emotion without sentimentality. The powerful call and response between Bridgewater and backing vocals continued in the funky Why (Am I Treated So Bad.) She recalled Martin Luther King getting the Staple Singers to perform this at rallies. In Carla Thomas’ B.A.B.Y. , trumpet and sax sounded like a much bigger horn section as they crescendoed into a up tempo gospel groove.

Two Elvis songs appeared in unexpected guises. Bridgewater sang the lyrics of Don’t Be Cruel (Wilson Pickett’s version) to saxophonist Bryant Lockhart; a musical conversation unfolded, voice scatting brilliantly to match sax in virtuosity and intensity. Big Mama Thornton’s rootsy minor blues, Hound Dog, created a comic drama where singers competed for bassist Barry Campbell’s attention, as Charlton Johnson played heartbreaking slide guitar.

The Soul Children’s ballad The Sweeter He Is unleashed a memory about teenage lost love leading to a ‘pivotal’ decision to be a singer. She communicated a powerful sense of loss and longing, in a moving moment with Curtis Pulliam’s muted trumpet. In I Can’t Stand the Rain (by Ann Peebles) the jazzy, behind-the-beat phrasing was spine-tingling.

‘Free yourselves, ‘cause this is B.B.King time!’- she got the audience dancing (in Cadogan Hall!) to a funky The Thrill is Gone, incorporating the Meters’ Cissy Strut. Try A Little Tenderness has suspense built into the song; as the gentle opening unfolds, you know it’s about to break into a huge shout chorus. It was the perfect song to finish on, showing the full range of her voice from jazzy delicacy to soul-belt.

‘As singers, people expect us to stay in the same category of music for all of our lives. And musicians are allowed to be much freer,’ she told one interviewer. This audience yelled their approval for her new venture.


Camilla George
Photo credit: Paul Wood


‘The world is safe because we have Camilla,’ said Bridgewater earlier, after London-based alto-player Camilla George’s support set. George played with an assured calmness. Her pieces were based on African stories: a magic turtle, a spirit who takes the form of a mermaid (Mami Wata.) There was some Coltrane/Rollins influence in her thoughtful playing, supported by the excellent Daniel Casimir (bass) and Winston Clifford (drums.) Creative pianist Sarah Tandy brought a strong technique and sense of stillness to a ‘ballad for naughty children.’

You felt the future of jazz was in good hands.

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REVIEW: Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra + Southbank Sinfonia — Miles Davis Symphonic: Kind of Blue at Cadogan Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Giy Barker conducting Miles Davis Symphonic: Kind of Blue
Phoro credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

The Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra + Southbank Sinfonia — Miles Davis Symphonic: Kind of Blue
(Cadogan Hall, 18 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz album of all time and, remarkably, also the best. But its essence is so utterly bound up with small-group jazz playing that expanding it to symphonic proportions is a daunting notion. The seeds of this project were sown years ago when Guy Barker was playing with Gil Evans’s big band. One night for an encore, Evans distributed the score for So What from Kind of Blue and the young Barker was astonished to discover that what he’d always assumed to be an improvised introduction by the pianist Bill Evans was actually composed, and the handiwork of another Evans. “Gil Evans actually wrote that introduction,” recalls Guy Barker. And when the big band played it, “It sounded like a fanfare.” Barker began to wonder what would happen, “If I was to take a lot of those improvised solos, especially by Bill Evans, but also some by Wynton Kelly, and orchestrate them for the orchestra…”

Well, this afternoon at Cadogan Hall we had a chance to discover exactly what would happen. For So What there are vast opening notes on the tuba as it lumbers majestically, like hippo towards a water hole, as it joins the other instruments and the ensemble then states the theme. Beautiful plucked double bass performs a call and response with the reeds which raises the hair on the back of your neck. An orchestral blast yields to a tight rhythm section and then horns come in to make way for a silvery trumpet solo by Martin Shaw, adroitly climbing over the ensemble. Then the strings, played by the Southbank Sinfonia, rise like steam off a pool, warm and welcoming. Toes were tapping from the first note.

On Freddie Freeloader the see-sawing horn section and elegant exposition of the strings provide a high vantage point for Shaw’s solo trumpet. Brass stabs cue a delicate rising flight of flutes. A tenor solo by Per ‘Texas’ Johansson breaks surface and commands attention, illuminating the contours of the tune and suddenly making things urgent and personal. The tuba provides battering-ram backup as the horns enter in force, then draw back for a lilting string and woodwind passage that rises and falls with oceanic majesty. The cry of the brass evokes Stan Kenton as Guy Barker draws startling punches out of the ensemble before it subsides to allow piano and trumpet to make a final statement.

Diminishing string and woodwinds whisper the farewell for this piece. Out of the silence rises Blue in Green. Once attributed, like all the music on Kind of Blue, exclusively to Miles Davis, it is now generally acknowledged that Bill Evans deserves at least equal credit for this piece. Here it is introduced by shimmering impressionist strings which would have made Johnny Mandel proud. By now it’s very clear that Guy Barker has unlocked this tight small-combo music and expanded it into a considerable treasure trove of playing and experimentation. Rosario Giuliani solos on his alto sax with diffident passion and off-hand intensity. The piece is now a rhapsody for saxophone and a rich, late night, on-the-nod feel begins to evoke a big-city nocturne. The piano is sparsely supportive as the alto rises and rises, a subtle shiver of horns beginning to coalesce behind Giuliani with the whole ensemble tightening and growing louder in a slow, smoothly controlled explosion. It’s not surprising that various attempts have been made to add lyrics to Blue in Green because Giuliani’s alto sax reveals that it’s actually an intense ballad, a modal torch song.

The strings drop to a faint, melancholy glitter, then rise sighing to envelope the pulsing double bass and we’re now in All Blues. The bass is so precisely rhythmic and irresistible that it’s almost impossible not to start snapping your fingers. A series of detonations from the horns clear the air for a crystalline piano solo. The rhythm section rules the stage while the orchestra wait, attentively poised, for their moment. The strings re-enter with subliminal subtlety, a blasting trombone takes a solo. When Martin Shaw starts playing the fantastic Miles Davis solo it’s like finding an old friend in an unexpected place. The piece tails off in a cool modernist cloud of strings which condenses into the heartfelt melody of Flamenco Sketches. This is another Miles Davis melody in which Bill Evans had a hand (it draws on Evan’s beautifully lyrical arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein song Some Other Time). Shaw’s muted trumpet presents its eloquent heartbreak against a flowered slope of strings. Rosario Giuliani plays another alto solo of harsh, raw lyricism, its beauty menaced by a sinister Spanish rattle of percussion.

The programme concludes with a dense, tense firework display of orchestral energy and focus. Barker’s achievement here is considerable, remaining true to the sparse aesthetic of the original small group sessions while making valid use of the combined forces of a jazz orchestra and a classical chamber orchestra. What could have been cumbersome and overblown is fleet, ecstatic, enthralling.

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REVIEW: Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse album launch at Kings Place (2017 EFG LJF)

Yazz Ahmed at Kings Place
Photo credit: John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse album launch
(Kings Place Hall Two. 2017 EFG LJF. Review by Gail Tasker)

Against a backdrop of colourful and shifting sketches by illustrator Sophie Bass, Yazz Ahmed and her band performed an extended set of tunes from her latest album, La Saboteuse (Naim). The line-up was eclectic in instrumentation, including Ralph Wyld on vibraphone, Corrina Silvester on a variety of percussion, and Ahmed herself on flugelhorn. Theye were complemented by Dudley Philips on electric bass, Martin France on drums, Naadia Sheriff on piano, and the Swede Samuel Hällkvist on electric guitar. The gig marked the launch of her new album, and although the musicians and instruments were slightly different from those on the recording, the group interpreted a number of Ahmed’s beautifully arranged compositions with impressive vividness and flair.

There was a definite underlying edge to the music which took it outside of the jazz genre. The unique instrumentation, coupled with an Arabic twist in terms of scales, melody, and rhythm, invited the audience into a different reality. Tunes like Jamil Jamal featured driving rhythms by Silvester combined with a unison melodic riff over an Arabic scale, immediately bringing to mind dry deserts and hot sun, a reminder of Ahmed’s Bahraini roots. In La Saboteuse, melodies were passed around the band in different configurations and in a staggered fashion, giving a lulling, gentle feeling to the music. Despite the relaxed, atmospheric aspect of the music, the performance never lost its momentum. France kept the pace up with frantic drum patterns, a nice contrast against Ahmed’s more textural trumpet playing, which was aided by synths and various effect pedals.

It was refreshing to see a band leader take a more back-seat role, as Ahmed took to directing the group and listening to the overall sound as opposed to taking spotlight solos. Sporadic explanations between playing showcased the vibe and direction behind the music. If having three female instrumentalists in a jazz line up wasn’t enough, Ahmed was clear in describing certain music as being inspired by Rosa Park and by strong female role models in general. It was towards the end of the set that the performance really began to warm up, with different sound directions being taken in the soloing. At one point, France and Wyld improvised together, and at another point, Hällkvist and Ahmed.

The unusual compositions combined with unique band configuration led to a memorable evening, and one that is definitely going to stick in my mind.

INTERVIEW ABOUT LA SABOTEUSE FROM 2016

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NEWS: Participants announced for 13th Take Five Professional Development Scheme

The participants fron the twelfth Take Five
Photo from Serious website


The eight participants for the next, thirteenth Take Five professional development programme  are announced today:


Al MacSween - Pianist - (website currently down)

Ant Law - guitarist (INTERVIEW)

Camilla George - saxophonist - (INTERVIEW)

Helen Papiaoannou - (composer / saxophonist based in Bristol  - website)

Jonathan Silk - Scottish drummer / composer/ bandleader based in Birmingham - (Interview)

Nubya Garcia - saxophonist  (bandcamp site)

Rob Luft - guitarist (CD review, Live review)

Scott Flanigan - pianist composer based in Belfast (website)

Take Five is run by Serious and supported by grant-funders such as the PRS Foundation, Help Musicians UK and the Jerwood Foundation. There is one major change in the running of the scheme: Martel Ollerenshaw who has administered and produced Take Five since inception, has left Serious. A new appointee will be starting in January in the Talent Development areaof Serious and will run the scheme. Alex Webb is currently involved in an interim role.

LINK: Reports of previous editions of Take Five

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REVIEW: Robert Glasper at the Barbican (2017 EFG LJF)

Robert Glasper at the Barbican


Robert Glasper
(Barbican, 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Lauren Bush)

With a few minutes to spare before the concert began, the Barbican was buzzing with excitement. The stage was absolutely bursting with instruments. Two drum kits, double bass, electric bass, electric guitars, a harmonica set-up, a grand piano, a Rhodes and even a DJ booth, where DJ Sunshine (Jahi Lake) was already scratching away on Love for Sale.

Robert Glasper comes out and casually teases the audience and appeals to us to have a good time. He chats about the focus of the evening being his newest album Covered – a compilation of pop tunes from different well-known artists. He nonchalantly points to his shirt – a caricature of Stevie Wonder – and the crowd goes wild.

The DJ has been on stage from before the lights dimmed, but Glasper is now joined by bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid (leaving us all wondering who would be playing the other instruments). Prince’s song Sign of the Times starts off the evening with a captivating drum solo. The role of the DJ starts to become clear as he drops in familiar hip-hop lines from the 80’s and 90’s such as Erykah Badu’s version of Afro Blue.

The next song starts off featuring just bass. It’s clear that Glasper really enjoys the collaborative part of music. His laid back nature allows others to shine on stage. He’s much more of a puppet-master than a leader in the sense that he has arranged all of this music to be what he wants, but when it comes time to play it, he lets the musicians do their jobs.

Only 30 minutes in and Glasper announces that there will be a set change. The lights stay dark as drum kit number one is moved and the new musicians find their places on stage. His original trio’s got the rest of the night off as Blue Note recording artist Derrick Hodge> takes over on electric bass and George Spanky McCurdy takes the seat at the drums. Joining them and the DJ are a trio of singers, Brendan Reilly, LaDonna Harley-Peters and Vula; guitarist Mike Severson and keyboardist Travis Sayles and harmonica player Grégoire Maret Glasper’s got a whole team of collaborators now, as the trio of singers take turns crooning their arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed.

Vula takes centre stage for a brilliant tune and then we are surprised by yet another addition to this already stellar line-up. American singer-songwriter Bilal, full of eccentric, soulful touches, sings another Stevie song before sharing one of his originals, Levels, that Glasper has recorded on his Covered album. The personal connection – sharing someone’s original music, together, for a new audience is a special experience.

The band suddenly leave the stage and a spotlight focuses in on bassist Derrick Hodge as he treats to a solo performance of My Cherie Amour. Reminiscent of Victor Wooten’s electric bass solos, it is such an interesting and unique opportunity to hear such skill and creativity.

One more surprise for the evening, as Glasper introduces his final guest, the rising star, Laura Mvula, donning a super-trendy felt hat. She sits down at the Rhodes, kitty corner to Glasper and they share an intimate moment, blending seamlessly with the rest of the band. The final song, Toast, an original of Mvula’s proves to be the most memorable song of the night.

Glasper contributes beautiful piano lines amongst all the other details, some really soulful solos and carries himself in such a calm and casual manner that it’s hard to imagine how this collection of artists couldn’t possibly enjoy their job any more. Their fearless frontrunner gives them the freedom to explore, create and mould this music into something that any audience member would fall in love with.

PERSONNEL

Robert Glasper
Bilal
Mike Severson - guitar
Travis Sayles  - keys
Spanky McCurdy - drums
Derrick Hodge - bass
Jahi Lake DJ
Vicente Archer
Damion Reid
LaDonna Harley-Peters
Vula Malinga
Brenda Reilly
Laura Mvula
Grégoire Maret

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PHOTOS: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at Kings Place (2017 EFG LJF

Darcy James Argue
Photo credit : John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


Sebastian writes:

John Watson's pictures capture a special gig in the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. It really is a whole seven years since Darcy James Argue's Secret Society came to London and performed at Cafe Oto (REVIEW).

Last night, they finally came back, with support from the Canadian High Commission in London and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation they brought the Real Enemies music.

John L Walters has described on this site the power and importance of this music in his CD review (HERE). And on the strength of hearing this astonishingly tight, dark and sinister music live last night it would be impossible to demur from his judgment that it is indeed "a mind-blowing example of truly great, era-defining jazz composition."

And also hats off for the sound: Kings Place - where LJN has its office - was designed as an acoustic hall, and I have never heard a sound engineer render amplified sound in it quite so vividly and convincingly. 
Darcy James Argue
Photo credit : John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


Darcy James Argue
Photo credit : John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


LINK: See also Richard Williams' eloquent write-up of this concert

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REVIEW: Dayna Stephens at the 606 Club (2017 EFG LJF)

Dayna Stephens at the 606
with Gareth Williams (L) and Calum Gourlay (R)
Photo credit: Roger Thomas


Dayna Stephens
 (606 Club. 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It seems too obvious and trite to write, but at a jazz gig the audience witnesses a unique act of creation, sees musicians discovering how things do (or might) work between them - by actually doing it. In this case an American saxophonist who has not performed in London for seventeen years met a trio of top UK players for a short rehearsal on the day of the gig, and onto the stage they went. And as the evening progressed, the familiarity and the trust built and evolved like a flower gradually opening out.

It was fascinating to hear California-born, New York-based Dayna Stephens live for the first time in this context. The opening tunes had a tendency to veer off into abstraction; it felt far more like a Vortex gig than a 606 gig. Then, as the set progressed there was an increasing ease. Stephens has a remarkably communicative face which betrays his every emotion and seems to let the audience into the secret of what he is thinking and what his shifting mood is at any moment. In Along Came Betty which closed the first set, it seemed at last to break out into a joyous smile.

 The mood of rightness and naturalness carried through the second set in which  tunes like Coltrane's Satellite and the classic Body and Soul - with an exuberant and bravura cadenza - came across with scale and heft.

Stephens  is not a player when settled reverts to vocabulary which a jazz listener will recognize, far from it. In fact he is not one ever to play a hackneyed clichéd phrase. In that sense he is a Coltrane heir, constantly finding unlikely intervals, going off exploring and seeing where his explorations will lead.

And then there is his sound. In the interview he did for us a few weeks ago he talked about the saxophone sound of his grandfather: "it was the breathy warmth of his sound that captivated me. I can still hear it even though I don’t have a recording of it." Breathines, subtone is also a feature of Stephens' own playing, whether on tenor sax or EWI. It takes a time to get used to that sound. He is about to do a recording project on EWI playing with guitarist Gilad Hekselman and it is bound to explore a very different character of that instrument from, say, Michael Brecker

Stephens had a great trio to support him. Tim Giles on drums is one of the most unobtrusive and subtle yet supportive drummers anywhere. I hadn't heard Calum Gourlay playing for several months and the authority just grows, and his contribution to settling Body and Soul was memorable. Pianist Gareth Williams' listening is so complete, there were several occasions when he would spot one of Stephens' unusually shaped phrases and do the Paul Klee thing, and  take a line for a walk.

Stephens is such an interesting player. The saxophonist has got over years of illness - kidney dialysis for six years followed by a transplant - and surely he is bound to be back soon, either playing with a UK trio as here, or possibly in his project with Hekselman. Let's hope so.


SET LISTS

First Set

Common Ancestors
U R Me Blues
New Cynic City
Emilie
Along Came Betty

Second Set

First Snow
Satellite
Body and Soul
Uncle Jr.
Encore: Best thing for you is Me

LINKS : CD Review of Gratitude (with Julian Lage, Brad Mehldau and Larry Grenadier)
Interview with Dayna Stephens

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REVIEW: Golden Age of Steam/ Ivo Neame Quartet at the Con Cellar Bar (2017 EFG LJF)

Golden Age of Steam at the Con Cellar Bar
L-R: James Allsopp, Ruth Goller,
Alex Bonney, Kit Downes


Golden Age of Steam/ Ivo Neame Quartet
(Con Cellar Bar. 17 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)


The Con Cellar Jazz team surpassed themselves with this double bill. As Golden Age of Steam reached an ecstatic, tumultuous climax under the direction of James Allsopp, after nearly 45 minutes of steadily accumulating intensity, drummer Tim Giles mouthed ‘whoa’ to himself and the packed cellar bar seemed to sway, trance-like, as one. It was epic.

But this was a double bill and the first set had been no less compelling, with a set of originals from Ivo Neame on Rhodes and a small Mellotron, with a great band of drummer James Maddren, Tom Farmer on bass and Con Cellar impresario and tenor man, George Crowley. Neame’s keyboard imbued the sound with a warm glow as they took off through a set of distinctive small band compositions, some built around alluring, not-quite-sweet melodies, others developing looping angular hooks and contrasting passages. Vegetarians had a funky edge and could almost have been re-cast Monk tune, Parlour was all hanging phrases and moody textures over a shuffling beat, Spaceballs moved through episodes and centred around a burn-up, Crowley really letting fly. In these hands the music soared and swooped. Neame is a prodigious improviser, seeming to find some hook deep inside a tune and expand and develop it until and ideas bursts into bloom. Maddren’s drumming was as remarkable as ever, somehow articulating every swell and eddy of a piece. The ballad Outsider segued via a Neame solo meditation, into a bubbling, optimistic vibe that finished with the exuberant skitter of drums and a triumphant dead stop.

 After a brief scatological introduction from Allsopp, Golden Age of Steam embarked on Loftopus. Alex Bonney conjured rumbles and squeaks whilst Ruth Goller, Kit Downes and Giles waited, scrutinising their scripts and looking for Allsopp’s cue. This was a master-class in space, timing and patience. Eventually fragments of keening sax, gently traced sparkling keyboard, droning bass all crept in. Drums clattered, live electronics re-cycled and added, layers accumulated and momentum imperceptibly developed. When Allsopp cued an insistent, chanting theme, it seemed somehow obvious, a throbbing pulse had evolved and a glorious, transcendental hubbub unfolded. There was just time for another, shorter trip, initiated by singing an Ivor Cutler lyric. It’s a fair bet that Cutler never envisaged a setting for his lyrics like this, as the walls bulged with the volcanic tumult from Giles. It was an exhilarating end to a remarkable evening.

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

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REVIEW: Dayna Stephens - old post now moved


Our review of the return of to the UK after 17 years has now moved to HERE

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REVIEW: Chris Ingham's Rebop at The Other Palace (2017 EFG LJF)

Chris Ingham's Rebop
L-R: Chris Ingham, Kevin Flanagan, Robert Rickenberg
Paul Higgs, Colin Watling, George Double
Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley


Chris Ingham's Rebop 
(The Other Palace. 15 November. EFG LJF. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Beginning with the Horace Silver classic Sister Sadie, this was an evening of pure Blue Note style hard bop, performed by some of Britain’s most talented hard bop devotees, fronted by pianist Chris Ingham.

With many of the arrangements from Ingham’s long-term associate, altoist Kevin Flanagan, this tight-knit ensemble also performed some of the less obvious tunes from the Blue Note repertoire, such as Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas and Donald Byrd’s Ghana. Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil gave Kevin Flanagan a chance to illustrate both his fluency on the alto sax and his hard-swinging bebop abilities.

The first set ended with a double bill of classic 1960s Herbie Hancock, with two contrasting pieces: his beautiful and complex Dolphin Dance and his simple and catchy Cantaloupe Island. Both tunes were a great illustration of Ingham’s attention to detail, duplicating Herbie’s piano voicings as well as his light touch.

The second set began immediately with the familiar call-and-response phrase of Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’, made famous by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, allowing trumpeter Paul Higgs to let rip with a bluesy and swinging solo.

The ‘odd one out’ for this Blue Note tribute was Cedar Walton’s Bolivia, from his Eastern Rebellion album, released on the Timeless label in 1976, which, as Chris Ingham explained, was a hard bop classic recorded at a time when many jazz musicians had moved on to more popular styles of music.  This tune fitted in perfectly with the latin-influenced hard bop repertoire with the signature tight arrangement of the original with fast-fingered work from bassist Robert Rickenberg.

Under-rated composer and pianist Duke Pearson’s Jeannine provided an opportunity for one of the most memorable solos of the night from Kevin Flanagan, zipping through the chord changes in a style reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley.

Donald Byrd’s Ghana, from his 1960 Blue Note album Byrd in Flight, served as an excellent feature for expressive drummer George Double and included an outstanding solo from tenor saxophonist Colin Watling.

Ingham’s Rebop ended with Joe Henderson’s rarely performed original Mamacita, giving solid bassist Robert Rickenberg another chance to shine.

Rather than playing the more obvious classics (such as The Sidewinder or Song For My Father) the focus was more on the musicians’ favourites such as Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. What came across most was that the band enjoyed re-creating the sound of these classic recordings and connecting to the tunes through their own solos.

Bandleader Chris Ingham lightened the mood throughout the evening with his dry humour, but also excelled at propelling the band and getting the best out of a group of outstanding musicians.

Ensemble 
Chris Ingham, piano
Kevin Flanagan, alto sax
Paul Higgs, trumpet
Colin Watling, tenor sax
Robert Rickenberg, double bass
George Double, drums

Set Lists

1st Set

Sister Sadie (Horace Silver)
Una Mas (Kenny Dorham)
Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
This I Dig of You (Hank Mobley)
Dolphin Dance (Herbie Hancock)
Cantaloupe Island (Herbie Hancock)

2nd Set

Moanin’ (Bobby Timmons)
Bolivia (Cedar Walton)
Jeannine (Duke Pearson)
Ghana (Donald Byrd)
Mamacita (Joe Henderson)

Encore: Finger Poppin’ (Horace Silver)

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REVIEW: Elliot Galvin Trio at Pizza Express Dean Street (2017 EFG LJF)

Elliot Galvin Trio
L-R: Tom McCredie, Elliot Galvin, Corrie Dick


Elliot Galvin Trio
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)

A quietly ringing, high pitched note, insinuated itself into the hushed atmosphere at the beginning of Elliot Galvin’s set at Pizza Express Jazz Club. As was to happen often, it wasn’t immediately obvious where the sound was coming from. On this occasion it was Corrie Dick, gently rubbing the rim of a small metal bowl place on his snare drum. Spacious chiming chords from the piano circled the note and a slightly unexpected, pastoral ambience settled, an extended prelude to a stealthily infectious, dancing groove, with Galvin using a synth sound in his left hand to complement Tom McCredie’s propulsive bass hook. Unexpected was a theme of the set.

That first tune, New Model Army, was followed by Lobster Cracking which seemed to pack all the possible variants of unexpected into one piece. Dense, helter-skelter percussive sections on the piano switched suddenly to stomping, rocky riffs, then stopped in mid-stomp and switched back to the helter-skelter. For all the air of wild spontaneity, the trio moved from one to the other without blinking. This was carefully constructed music, as well as being riotously performed.

Galvin’s trio was voted European Jazz Artist of the year in 2014 just as they released their first album. A third is due in January, The Influencing Machine, from which much of the material we were hearing came. On this showing, it should further establish them as a formidable presence on the European scene. There’s Galvin’s writing. The moods, textures, grab-you-by-the-throat maelstroms, other worldly sounds and, dammit, get up and dance grooves, are woven together into seamless, sometimes white knuckle, rides. And then there’s the playing.

Galvin can make the piano do anything for him and it always seems to have q quirky twist or kink in it. JJ had an irresistible funky pulse over which a spiraling, acerbic, melody unfurled before a blistering, frenetic work out from Galvin. Scurrying runs, punctuated by fierce percussive episodes with the judicious use of an elbow. Bees, Dogs and Flies was all elegant counterpoint and traces of melody, but twisted by the careful placement of paper on the piano strings. It would have been easy to miss Corrie Dick’s part in all this. The whole performance seemed to float on the presence of his drums, often telepathically anticipating some switch back turn in a solo passage or providing a pin drop coda to a piece.

This was an absorbing gig; arresting music demanding attention and exhilarating playing.

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INTERVIEW: Bugge Wesseltoft (Rohey at Rich Mix - 19 Nov - 2017 EFG LJF)

Bugge Wesseltoft
Photo credit: CF Wesenberg

Norwegian band Rohey who record for the Jazzland label will present their powerful and energetic nu-soul music at Rich Mix on Saturday 18 November 2017. Jazzland label owner and creative pianist BUGGE WESSELTOFT talks about Rohey, the Jazzland label 20th anniversary and about his new album Everybody Loves Angels (ACT).  Interview by Tomasz Furmanek:

Tomasz Furmanek: Rohey are possibly unfamiliar to LondonJazz News readers. Please tell us about them.

Bugge Wesseltoft: Rohey are a very talented and hard working young group, we are super happy to have them on Jazzland label, they seem to be extremely successful wherever they go! Their music could be described as, I guess, a kind of neo-soul, and sometimes they remind me, in a way, of the early Beady Belle, so it might be something that could be interesting for Beady Belle’s fans too...

TF: Where do they come from?

BW: I believe they come from all over Norway, and even from Sweden. They all met up in Trondheim, where they studied jazz. It was my colleague Sten who booked them, and I think it’s their exceptional talent and exciting music combined with hard work and real focus on music that made us wanting to sign them. They do have a very fresh and lovely energy and it’s interesting to see how they interpret soul music in the 21st century.

TF: Jazzland recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, was there a special anniversary album released?

BW: I guess that both Jazzland20: 1996-2016 and the 20th anniversary edition of my record New Conception of Jazz were the anniversary albums. We also had quite a few very nice anniversary concerts. My initial idea, back then, was to release my own album and to do it well. At that time, there weren’t really any labels releasing the type of music I was playing. Then, after a while, other people started sending me demos, like Beate Lech, for example. She sent me a demo with her music, I liked it, and we decided to work with that... That’s how it started. We are so happy that we are still around and that what we do still seem to be relevant for the audiences!

TF: Within those 20 years Jazzland documented many of your collaborations with exceptional artist, like Sidsel Endresen for example...Would you say something about this very unique singer?

BW: She is unique, in my opinion she is one of the best living vocalists in the world. The quality of her voice in so unique, she’s just a fantastic singer – when you hear her sing a straight melody too! It blew my mind, how strong she is and how exceptionally well she could do it! She always looked for her own voice and her own energy, and I think she definitely found it! She’s a great performer too! And that’s what she teaches younger singers, to find their own level of energy, because if you try to be someone else, you will never be anything really. You just have to work with who you are! We worked together so many times, I think we are very good friends, and we still play together like every other year...

TF: Please tell us about your newest album on ACT Music Everybody Loves Angels.

BW: This album is a direct descendant of a twenty year old Christmas album It’s Snowing on My Piano which I recorded back in 1997, and which was without doubt my best selling and most popular album so far. It feels good to do a “follow up album” twenty years later – time really flies... Everybody Loves Angels is not a Christmas album but a collection of popular songs I grew up with since childhood, interpreted in the same very ambient and minimalistic way as was on the Christmas album. It was recorded on the beautiful Lofoten islands, north of Norway, and I hope that album captures and brings out the nature of the place and our care for its beauty.

Concert: Rohey + Bigyuki + Butcher Brown + DJ Harrison @ LJF 2017
Saturday 18 November 2017, 8:00pm LONDON Rich Mix  

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REVIEW: Becca Stevens at Ronnie Scott's (2017 EFG LJF)

Becca Stevens
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


Becca Stevens
(Ronnie Scott's, 15 November 2017, first of 2-night residency. EFG LJF 2017. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Singer-songwriter Becca Stevens has a warm, engaging presence which drew the crowd on-side from the start as she announced that she'd invited some of her favourite musicians to join her and that the audience should approach the gig 'like you're in the living room with me!' adding later '… and we're just hanging out.'

She set the scene perfectly for a richly textured evening, two sets of songs, anecdotes and chats to the audience, dropping the formal barriers, joined by her long-time percussionist Jordan Perlson ('best drummer on the planet!'), down-at-roots songsmith Oli Rockberger on keyboards, and co-opted, on bass, guitarist Alicyn Yaffee, like Stevens, Brooklyn-based, whose fretboard-work, recalling that of Emily Remler, Stevens has admired for years.

Although she can turn herself formidably to the jazz songbook, as on Chris Tordini's Midnight Sun album (Newvelle), Stevens didn't dip in to the jazz canon at all, showing just how flexible musicians and audiences can be - even at Ronnie's! She started off singing solo and playing traditional 4-string ukelele (later she'd employ a 10-string model), setting out her stall with the title track of her new album, Regina, with a folk-tinged tale of loss, a void left by a relationship and more.

Stevens has a beautifully nuanced vocal style, a delicate yet strongly assured delivery rooted in an open, broad, range which is very much her own, with the mildest of echoes of one of her heroines, Joni Mitchell, that also carries through to her guitar work, and with whose Help Me she encored.

She covered tracks spanning her four albums and showcased songs by her guests. Canyon Dust had her ukelele shine with the poise of a dulcimer, Rockeberger and Perlson throwing in subtle taps and twists in support. I asked, which she's also recorded with Snarky Puppy, introduced Yaffee, adding fluid, powerful bass foundations. Tillery was the opportunity to open the doors further, as she explained how crucial the poetry of Jane Tyson Clement had been to shaping the song after a spell of songwriter's block, and whose poems she continues to set to her music.

Clements' descendants were in the house - a son, daughter-in-law and great granddaughter - and she also would connect with Yaffees relatives, and Rockberger's parents, making it not only a family atmosphere but a true family affair.

Rockberger's Don't Forget Me had an unforgetteble streak running through it. Riven with thoughtful melancholy, hints of Simon and Garfunkel, it cut through as a vocal duet, with the soulful, call-and-response repetition of the lyric leavened sweetly by a fleetingly bright piano lick. Yaffee's My Word - 'I fell in love with this song', said Stevens - got its second ever airing with Stevens adding harmonies on its poignant pathway.

Stevens brought on cellist Laura Armstrong with Ella Hohnen Ford, 'who's become like a sister to me', who took the lead vocal on the old Irish song Wild Mountain Thyme, in an arrangement flushed with atmospheric space, and then Troy Miller, producer of Regina and drummer with Laura Mvula, adding further pzazz, to duet on piano on the reflective Both Still Here which she said had taken a few years to complete with sketches stored on voice memos. The darker side of her lyrics, never that far from the surface, took centre stage on Ophelia, developed out of a fascination with Shakspeare - 'His dreams, as back as ink …'

A greatly enjoyable evening - resolutely from the heart and to warm the heart.

LINKS: 2014 Q and A with Becca Stevens
2016 live review

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REVIEW: Zara McFarlane at Rich Mix (2017 EFG LJF)

"No mere reproduction of album tracks, but proper jazz"
Zara McFarlane at Rich Mix
Photo by Peter Jones


Zara McFarlane
(Rich Mix, 15 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Jones)


It’s time we had a new National Anthem, something that more truly reflects this country’s fractious state of mind. I nominate Zara McFarlane’s Fussin’ and Fightin’. Apart from the relevance of the lyrics, it’s just such a great song, although we had to wait until nearly the end of this richly satisfying gig before she played it.

McFarlane’s compositions draw on the musical legacy of the Caribbean, as well as the jazz tradition. This evening was devoted to tunes culled from her recent Arise album. She had always promised to play the gig with a ten-piece band. And sure enough, it was a big, bold sound from some very fine players, most of them alarmingly young - in jazz years, at least.

Zara sings with seemingly effortless power and accuracy, and on the album her vocal harmonies are integral to these songs; so one major issue to resolve beforehand was how to approximate the recorded sound of her own multi-tracked voice. In the end she used two backing singers – Baby Sol and Keisher Downie - who, despite a couple of hesitant moments, threw themselves into the performance with such enthusiasm that their presence lifted the whole event. They were in fine exuberant form from the start, with Nora Dean’s Peace Begins Within and McFarlane’s Pride, and one of the many pleasing elements of the gig was the way the three voices blended, as if there were three Zaras.

Pride also featured a fine, mature tenor solo from young Kaidi Akinnibi. Standing next to him was trombonist Rosie Turton, who turned in terrific solos on Freedom Chain and Silhouette.

This was no mere reproduction of album tracks, but proper jazz: whilst McFarlane cued the band throughout with great authority and humour, she allowed them plenty of freedom to improvise. On Stoke the Fire, for example, Shirley Tetteh unleashed a fiery, passionate guitar solo that ignited the audience. And there were dynamics: on the Congos’ gorgeous Fisherman, one of two covers on the new album, the singers were backed only by Pete Eckford’s congas and Max Luthert’s arco double bass; similarly, on Allies and Enemies the singers had only Tetteh behind them. But for the rest of the night the groove was rock solid, thanks to Luthert and drummer Sam Jones.

It all ended with McFarlane’s unforgettable version of Police and Thieves, bolstered by a sweeping piano solo from Peter Edwards, and then Max Roach’s All Africa.

Earlier, audience cockles had been warmed by support act Thabo, who showed what could be done with nothing more than a fine soulful voice, a good pianist, a handful of nice songs, and a plus-size personality full of warmth and charisma.

LINKS: Interview with Zara McFarlane
CD Review of Arise

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REVIEW: Dee Byrne's Entropi at Pizza Express Dean Street(2017 EFG LJF)


Dee Byrne's Entropi
Photo credit: Carl Hyde


Dee Byrne's Entropi
(Pizza Express, 15 November, EFG LJF 2017. Review by Peter Slavid)


The very phrase “Lunchtime Jazz” can conjure up an image of something gentle, conventional and smooth. However, the large crowd gathered at the Pizza Express for this free lunchtime gig clearly knew better. Dee Byrne's Entropi is anything but smooth and conventional. It is in fact sharp, spiky and very exciting.

Byrne is an increasingly influential figure in the London jazz world having (with Cath Roberts), set up Lume, an organisation dedicated to experimental music, which has spawned a number of interesting bands as well as lots of gigs, a festival, a record label and a national tour.

Musically Byrne is a powerful improvising saxophonist, and a composer of interesting melodies, often with titles influenced by her interest in space and the cosmos. Sometimes there's a slightly spacey feel to the tunes too, but there's also a good share of dissonance and of free improvisation. Perhaps hyperspacey is a better description.

The majority of the music came from Entropi's recent second album Moment Frozen The tunes manage to mix ferocious collective improvisation with some catchy hooks, and even some lyrical improvising.

Trumpeter Andre Canniere has a growing reputation in his own right and his interplay with Byrne is the signature sound of this band. The set is powerfully driven along by drummer Matt Fisher and hyperactive bassist Olie Brice. Rebecca Nash on piano and keyboards plays a crucial part in holding it all together and is perfectly capable of standing up for herself in the collective sections.

This band has been together now for several years and their enjoyment at playing together comes through in their interactions, and communicates itself to the audience. A great way to have lunch.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz and on thejazz.co.uk

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REVIEW: Naima at Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club (2017 EFG LJF)

Naima at Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club
L-R:Enrique Ruiz, Oscar Cuchillo, Luis Torregrosa
Photo credit: Ina Irens
Naima
(Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club. 12 November 2017.  EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

It has been said (by me at least) that if you scratch a nursery rhyme you'll find a murder ballad underneath. Within the sweetest confection there is an aching darkness.

Spanish trio Naima’s fourth album Bye was released on Cuneiform last year. The liner notes state that the album was “composed at one of the most difficult moments which, unfortunately, all of us have to go through: the two biggest losses which a son, a father, and a mother can have.” The group’s history, like that of Spain itself, is a history of sadness and struggle. The cryptic dedication in the album, their personal challenges and personnel changes and the slow pace of recognition since 2004, these things burn in their music. They’re from Valencia. The word itself means “strength” or “valour”.

Naima’s music has a plangent yearning sentiment with a hard edge. Their typical dynamic is a strong but sweetly sad Jobimesque melodic piano line with rumbling darkness underneath, propelled by pianist Enrique Ruiz’s smoky Rachmaninovian romantic chords, Oscar Cuchillo’s muscular bass playing and drummer Luis Torregrosa‘s beats from dance and rock, with degrees of electronic ornamentation.

The trio played two nights at the London Jazz Festival: Saturday at experimental arts hub Iklectik, and Sunday at the brand new Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club, a beguiling basement hideaway where their darkly Scandi-esque electroacoustic sound went down so well the band said they’d like to come back and play a whole week there.

Naima would suit those who find the Bad Plus too clever-clever, or people who like Radiohead but find Thom Yorke too whiny. Their instrumental repertoire includes versions of the late beloved Elliot Smith’s Can’t Make a Sound, and the drum and bass stomp of Animal Chin by Jaga Jazzist, the acclaimed Scandinavian nu-jazz outfit whose style of catchy cinematic jazz is a clear influence. Naima opened their second set with Ana by the Pixies, the aching perfection of its melody underpinned by unsettling chords.

As composer Ryuichi Sakamoto said, a perfect melody is one where you feel you know it already, and then it throws you off. This is the mainstay of Naima’s melodic writing as well: precisely chipped, strong but vulnerable. The group is exploring new directions with a new bass player at an interesting point in their journey. “This is a really experimental one,” said drummer Luis Torregrosa, “I hope you don’t get embarrassed.” It started with bloopy electronic sounds, settling into another of the group’s stately piano melodies but with more non-chordal machine-like noise and disturbance, giving it a slightly more earnest and tormented feel to the album tracks, though not radically dissimilar to Naima’s usual darkly filmic melodicism.

Album cornerstone Future Imperfect was introduced as “another path of Naima—we've got several.” In the intimate brick arches of the tiny club it sounded cavernous: dark and driving and discordant with heavy clattering jazz-industrial rhythms, the right hand scattering discordantly melodic notes. Their live performance draws the murder ballad out from the nursery rhyme, not anguished but emotionally wrought. All at once the tension released and cleared in a moving sequence of resolving chords, implying hopefulness rescued from the edge of despair.

“We will tell you why the record is called Bye,” he said, “but we want to have a party, not sad feelings right now. We are Naima. Flamenco band from Spain.”


 Tune: Al Llegar Sabríamos Tanto Como Ella (title is some head-achey Spanish meaning roughly 'on arrival, we would know as much as she does’ (ie. she has knowledge of something because she’s already there)

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

Naima’s Bye is released on Cuneiform Records (LINK)
Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club is at 23-25 New End, Hampstead NW3 1JD (WEBSITE)

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FEATURE/ INTERVIEW : Laura Perrudin (Barbican 19 November - 2017 EFG LJF)

Laura Perrudin
Photo Credit: Nicolas Joubard

"Making music is really close to painting. It’s about many things meeting at a one point...My goal is to take very personal elements and to transform them into universal material.”

Harpist/ singer / composer - and producer - LAURA PERRUDIN will be appearing on a Barbican Freestage on Sunday 19 November at 6pm. (2017 EFG LJF). Her new album, Poisons & Antidotes shows the mélange of musical and artistic influences that go to make her background. Feature/interview  by Emily Palmer:

Growing up in a musical family in Brittany, Laura Perrudin was exposed to a variety of genres from an early age: jazz; hip-hop; soul and electronica, for example. After hearing her parent’s recording of a harp festival in Belfast she decided the harp would be her instrument, a decision that hasn’t come without its difficulties. The vibration of the harp had what she describes as a ‘healthy effect’ on the speech difficulties she suffered from as a child and she went on to pursue a traditional musical education at a conservatoire. Alongside her studies she was composing and producing electronic music using her home studio. Perrudin says she has been curious about different textures since she was a child and the use of computers and technology is now something she recreates in her live performances with the help of her sound engineer Jérémy Rouault.

HARPS...

Frustrations with her instrument began to materialise when Perrudin realised it was impossible to recreate the jazz she was listening to on the Celtic or pedal harp due to their harmonic limitations. Undeterred, she started to research other instrumental systems on the harp, looking for a chromatic harp with a single row of strings that would produce a sound closer to a piano. In 2008, she met harp-marker Philippe Volant, who had already created something similar for harpist François Pernel, and asked him to build her one. Although this was a step in the right direction, difficulties still remained and in 2014 she asked Volant to make an electric version of the chromatic harp, which she has played ever since. Perrudin explains the process as both exciting and complicated, with her spending years ‘re-learning’ how to play each harp.

Perrudin sees her harp as both an orchestra and a drum kit, something which is very apparent in her live performances. It is chromatic and electronic, capable of melodic lines and rhythmic patterns as if it were a percussive instrument. The harp itself doesn’t have a natural sound, the sound it produces (which she describes as a mix between an electric guitar, an electric bass and a harp) depends on the amp and the effect pedals being used. This versatility is reflected in the music Perrudin creates. Her music has been described as ‘unclassifiable’, does she think this is a fair description?

MY MUSIC...

“I agree that my music is unclassifiable,” says Perrudin, “For me, I’m not trying to go into this or that aesthetic. I’m making music, I’m making sounds. I’m trying to paint sounds and in the same way trying to create songs. My perception of music is really linked to visual elements. For me making music is really close to painting. It’s about many things meeting at a one point.”

LYRICS...

Perrudin goes on to explain that lyrics are really important in her song-writing process and are inspired by a specific topic, emotion or something visual like movement or dance. Her compositions, in the majority of cases, begin with the lyrics. The sound then follows, shaped by the lyrics not by a yearning for a specific aesthetic. On her first album, Impressions, most of the lyrics were taken from existing poems which she then set to music. She refers to this process as a ‘school for writing’ at a time when she wasn’t confident in her own abilities. Now she says it is vital that the lyrics are her own.

“The music was easier for me to write. It’s something that I have been doing for so long, it’s much more natural and spontaneous for me. The lyrics are still a bit of a fight,” she laughs. “I have so many questions. I want my lyrics to be meaningful but they must also have a musicality in themselves. The music is less about questions, it’s more about doing, it’s more abstract.”



INFLUENCES

She touches again on the wide spectrum of influences behind her music, citing French composers like Ravel and Fauré and 20th century jazz as the main influences on the harmonic elements of her work, electronic music influencing the textures she experiments with and folk and world music shaping how she uses her voice. The influences are so vast, music from Ireland to Iran, it’s hard even for her to identify which influence is at play at certain points in her work.

SONGS...

We talk more about the use of her voice in her compositions. “The way I write my music now and what you see on stage, it’s all about songs,” Perrudin says. “It’s not instrumental music, the voice is very important.”

Until recently, singing had always been self-taught and the development of her voice was simultaneous to that of her playing, with both feeding off of each other. She spent time exploring how she could play the harp more instinctively and spontaneously – qualities that came naturally with her vocals - and searched for ways she could use her voice more like an instrument, as a source of different textures both harmonically and melodically. In her music, the harp and voice are of equal importance, she sees one as the extension of the other.

TRANSFORMING THE PERSONAL...

“My songs are all separate entities but are ultimately all part of the same picture, and that picture is me,” Perrudin says. “The songs from my latest album, Poisons & Antidotes, are really personal. They are inspired by my private life as well as the philosophical and political landscape. My goal is to take very personal elements and to transform them into universal material, to not make them my own anymore.”

How does it feel to have something so personal transformed in that way?

“It’s very liberating,” Perrudin says without hesitation. “That album for me was a process of self-healing, working on things that were a source of suffering and tension for me, like nightmares I had for example. The idea of taking something that is haunting you, to confront it and to transform it into something beautiful, it’s a way to take back the power.”




THE FUTURE

So, what does the future hold for Perrudin? She is currently working on new material for her third album, which will again focus on transforming perspectives, exploring subjects close to her heart but with the use of different characters and objects. On 19 November, she makes her London debut at the Barbican as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2017. What can the audience expect?

“I hope my performances destroy clichés, that audiences see me doing something they didn’t expect. Maybe it’s the subjects that my songs explore, maybe I can touch something deeper than they had imagined. I’d like less borders, I want to play more and more in different music worlds and for different kinds of audiences. For me personally, it’s not a good idea to adapt my own artistic position to meet audience expectations. I want to continue following how I feel and making music that remains instinctual, trusting that the audiences will respond spontaneously. And I have to accept that some people will be disappointed or will find my music strange or even scary. But I’m okay with that.”


LINKS: Barbican performance 19 November
Laura Perrudin's website
CD review -  Poisons and Antidotes

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REVIEW: Herbie Hancock at the Barbican (2017 EFG LJF)

His piano playing "one of the many beguiling textures"
Herbie Hancock at Bridgewater Hall
Photo credit: William Ellis

Herbie Hancock
(Barbican Centre, 13 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)

Herbie Hancock’s music has come full circle. Multi-instrumentalist and record producer Terrace Martin recently said: "…it would be impossible to do anything I’ve ever done without a Herbie Hancock." (Martin produced Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly.) Hancock has repaid the compliment by getting Martin into his latest band, to take his own music in a new direction - the way Hancock’s mentor Miles Davis did with young musicians.

Martin opened with synth eddies and space age sounds, his vocals bringing to mind Hancock’s pioneering work with the vocoder in the '70s. A long funk groove was propelled from the front of the stage by James Genus on 5-string electric bass (the computer keeps correcting his name to ‘genius’, and quite rightly). At times he closed his eyes and focused totally on one note. Further back on stage, Hancock seemed to be leading from behind, especially as the piano seemed a little quiet in the mix, but soon I stopped expecting to hear the piano as the lead instrument. It became one of the many beguiling textures, bringing a sweetness to Martin’s acute-angled saxophone solo.

An exquisite solo piano interlude led us to a passing flutter of Butterfly. Hancock’s piano stayed serene, then spilled irrepressibly out into the centre of the storm created by Trevor Lawrence’s surprisingly emotive drumming. Lawrence brought an R&B feel to the gig, creating rhythmic suspense across the beat, then settling into the massive grooves of Chameleon.

In Actual Proof from 1974’s Thrust, Hancock swivelled between keyboard and piano, visually representing his two sides: the cool funkster and the lyrical, classically-influenced pianist. The piano solo built to an almost unbearable intensity, then fell into a Ligeti and Liszt-like shimmer of notes. The notes of Genus’ fine solo popped and danced among the big back beats. A sudden rush of cymbals in Lawrence’s solo was carefully framed by Hancock’s synth sounds.

Hancock has often worked with singers, from Joni Mitchell to Pink (on his Imagine Project). Tonight he sang through the vocoder himself on Come Running to Me (as he did on his 1978 Sunlight LP). The elegant melody soared in a tingling falsetto worthy of Dhafer Youssef, harmonised by Martin’s vocals. Hancock’s piano found a groove on one note then broke out into fresh, lovely phrases. He made percussive vocal noises like a jaw harp, before pushing a piano riff to its limits and over into wild runs. A darker piece with a knotty time signature had Hancock bending keyboard sounds like a Moog synth, swapping with his own piano and Martin’s distorted vocals, over a slow grungy beat. Hancock took up his great white keytar to trade free, biting licks with Martin’s hard-edged alto, pushing each other into more abstract improvisations.

They brought the audience back on to familiar ground with the opening chords of Cantaloupe Island, but with a hip-hop feel. Hancock’s piano was an amazing fusion of Romanticism and the old-school R&B that influenced him as a young man. Genus grinned with delight as the piano moved right away from the groove. A funky minor section slid into Watermelon Man, slinkily re-harmonized and re-grooved, unleashing Martin’s tempestuous alto solo. The encore was a reprised Chameleon, Hancock on keytar playing bluesy phrases with a taut timing that made you sit forward so as not to miss a single note. At 77, he was still leaping into the air like a rock guitarist, getting us all to sing along to his riffs.

The full house was on its feet, applauding not just this gig but the decades that Herbie Hancock has brought to jazz. He pushed attention away from himself, and on to his band. "I like to discover new rules so I can break them," he told the Guardian this week. His music is always moving forward, and this superb band is helping him do just that.

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REVIEW (2): Jazz before Jazz was Jazz at Two Temple Place (EFG LJF)

The magnificent staircase at Two Temple Place
Photo credit: Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved  
Jazz before Jazz was Jazz
(Two Temple Place. 12 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Daniel Bergsagel. Drawings and photographs by Geoff Winston)


(We had two writers, Geoff Winston and Dan Bergsagel, attending different parts of the day at Two Temple Place. Link to Geoff Winston's piece below)

Emphasis is more important than we think. Jazz before Jazz was Jazz could be tautology at its finest, but instead was a journey down the rabbit hole into the context that let jazz flourish into the pillar of modern music it is today. This was a long evening of seminars, concerts, and everything in between: layering knowledge, experiences and context to generate a heady atmosphere steeped in the early '20s.

Marcus Bonifanti
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


The crowd entered to Marcus Bonfanti crying in the hall with his resonant blues voice and comfortable guitar style. But it was Dr Peter Shaw set the scholastic tone of the evening, inviting people to gather in the salon for a lecture on the birth of jazz in Britain via the early 1900s ragtime, and the demise of Music Hall on the way. Playing wax cylinder snippets and early shellac recordings there was a tangible excitement as he ploughed through a life's work in a short half-an-hour, covering the rise and fall of Mark Sheridan and Harry Champion and how they slipped from the music hall Victorian themes of food/drink/work/sex/mother-in-laws to the US and ragtime of Scott Joplin. Andrew Oliver played and provided commentary on Gottschalk pieces as the development of rags from classical influences, and Alex Bishop took us on a whirlwind tour of the development of the guitar in to the instrument of Django Reinhardt's day, with unexpected insights in to the internal structure of a guitar, and it's influence on tone.

The underlying theme of the short seminars and helpfully descriptive musicians' contributions was that jazz formed out of the melting pot of the 19th/20th century southern US - Joplin Parnell did a beautiful job of taking people through the pre-jazz story through selected records and brief explanations. The political and social context left New Orleans and around as a crossroads of African, Caribbean, European and American culture, and ragtime and dixie formed from the working songs and blues. This spread to the formation of the 'jazz guitar', developing the middle-eastern Oud into the guitar picking up styles and changes across the European Mediterranean. What was interesting in Two Temple Place was the nuanced view on how jazz affected the British music scene – as a cultural shock to the Edwardian system, cemented in place through the circumstances of WWI.

The scholarly atmosphere was partly imbued by the venue itself. Two Temple Place was built as a neo-Gothic showpiece at the end of the 19th Century, and bestowed a sense of collegiate wonder on the crowd which saw jazz more as an oddity to be studied than a visceral thing. Built at the time of the birth of jazz, Two Temple Place very much embodied the establishment jazz was overthrowing, and the juxtaposition between the wood-panelled rooms, ornate ceilings and stained glass windows somehow suited the speak-easy cocktail bars and musical stages. The Victorian soundproofing struggled to contain the strains of opera and blues from ragtime analysis.

No evening in London covering the dawn of jazz could do better than having Kansas Smitty's House Band close proceedings. They'll be at the equally historic Shoreditch Town Hall next Saturday

LINK: Geoff Winston's review

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REVIEW (1): Jazz Before Jazz Was Jazz at Two Temple Place (2017 EFG LJF)

Kansas Smitty's House Band at Two Temple Place
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


Jazz Before Jazz Was Jazz
(Two Temple Place, 12 November 2107. Review, drawings and photos by Geoff Winston)

(We had two writers, Geoff Winston and Dan Bergsagel, attending different parts of the day at Two Temple Place. Link to Dan Bergsagel's piece below)

Jazz Before Jazz Was Jazz was an ambitious roller-coaster ride through pre-jazz and early jazz by leading exponents of the repertoire with scholarly, erudite support, ostensibly an in-depth foretaste of the exhibition, Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain, which inaugurates the 2018 exhibition programme at Two Temple Place in January.

Two Temple Place, owned by the Bulldog Trust, a charitable foundation, is one of London's most amazing settings, an elaborate, architectural jewel built by Viscount Astor in the 1890s and one of the hidden treasures in the city's cultural landscape. For this venture they partnered with The Arts Society to promote this exploration, by curator Catherine Tackley and the Kansas Smitty's crew, of the emergence of jazz in the USA, charting its early impact in the UK in the forthcoming exposition, which also has Arts Council support.

I concentrated on the highly engaging live performances by young musicians who have taken the era to heart, investing the songs with fresh energy and broadening its appeal. Pianist Andrew Oliver, bluesman Marcus Bonifanti and the Kansas Smitty's House Band brought to life, with inspired interpretations, the Ragtime, Tango, Dixieland and Blues of the pre-war era, while mezzo soprano Lotte Betts-Dean offered a panoramic take on the classical and popular songs of the time.

The lecture programme is covered by Dan Bergsagel - which highlights the pitfalls of parallel programming in such an interesting area - you can't be in two places at once! (link below)

Andrew Oliver, a Londoner via Portland, Oregon, gave an extra lift to the heady brew of Cuban, Tango and Folk rhymes and rhythms which crossed over with Ragtime and Stride, his deft, lively fingerwork picking out familiar melodies. Eubie Blake, noted Oliver, was a key conduit between Ragtime, Jazz and Broadway and in Blake's technically demanding Sounds of Africa (also known as Charleston Rag) Oliver's left hand crossed with his right, one hand chased the other all over the keyboard, to deliver the goods.

Andrew Oliver at Two Temple Place
Drawing by Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Oliver's virtuosity took in the masters. J Bernie Barbour - also a successful music publisher, whom, Oliver pointed out was, in 1919, the first African American musician to tour the US; the Brazilian, Ernesto Nazareth, doyen of the samba-like Brazilian Tango; Scott Joplin - he included Joplin's Original Rags of 1899 and the Magnetic Rag of 1914, composed, sadly, while dying from syphilis, also Nazareth's fate. Jelly Roll Morton was 'the best' in Oliver's view. Buddy Bolden's Blues was set down firm but not without its jaunty aspect, high-up runs cemented by solid left hand. The Pearls, slower in pace yet not without its fillips, was reputedly dedicated to a waitress to whom Morton had taken a shine.

Swing, spiked with harrumphing chords, bled in to the fin de siècle flow to evoke the atmosphere of the barrooms of the era - all that was missing was fog of the fumeurs and glistening snow outside the window!

Marcus Bonfanti, Crickelwood-based (as he told the audience) guitarist and vocalist steeped in the Blues, and whose playing also greeted attendees on arrival, brought additional authenticity to his earthy renditions and meticulously picked classic blues numbers with asides about the protagonists. Who better to trace its tracks in the often bumpy history of the blues and its relation to jazz?

Josh White, the first African American to trade risky lyrics on tour was represented by a hollerin' Jelly Jelly, and Bonfanti covered Blues hero Sonny Boy Williamson the First with a wicked take on a nursery rhyme (Sonny Boy adapted both Polly Put The Kettle On and Rub A Dub to his blues format). The Delta Blues of Leadbelly found its way through Midnight Special, also popularised by Jimmy Smith, and apparently not about the salvation brought about through religion but about a busload of hookers who were sent to a prison once a week! Big Bill Broonzy's Country Blues made its mark with a stirring version of C C Rider.

Lotte Betts-Dean at Two Temple Place
Photo credit: Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Australian opera singer Lotte Betts-Dean with accompanist Joseph Havlat (piano) added a refreshing zing to the context with beautiful renditions of a range of songs which could be heard at the time when jazz pioneers were shaping the idiom. They took in Hugo Wolff, Wagner, Fauré, Grieg and Brahms from the classical side and Ives's Down East, Gershwin and Paolo Tosti whose ideas impacted on the evolution of jazz. There was wit and sparkle in Betts-Dean's delivery and even a spot of whistling!

Betts-Dean also read an apposite extract from an essay by Brad Mehldau which had (metaphorically) struck a chord with her on the fluidity of interpretation by musicians and audiences and the nature of jazz and improvisation.

Kansas Smitty's House Band, a self-styled 'group of jazz-addicted twenty-somethings who run their own bar', impressed with their irrepressible enthusiasm and musicianship in their first set. There wasn't a score in sight, yet they were faithful to the letter and spirit of each of the landmark songs they took on, kicking off with Washington Lee Swing and revisiting Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag and Morton's The Pearls. Adrian Cox shone on clarinet with razor sharp, fast flowing runs and beautiful tone. Completing the front line were Pete Horsfall on trumpet and Giacomo Smith, another refugee from across the water, on alto, trading melodies and solos that conveyed the immediacy and enjoyment ingrained in the genre.

Between numbers Catherine Tackley offered illuminating historical insight and the key comment that the 'music exists to be played live and danced to!' In other words, it wasn't designed for the staid concert hall, accounting for the polarised reception the first jazz bands received when they hit these shores in 1919, attracting over 2,000 dancers to the Hammersmith Palais, whom Tackley said, had to find a way to dance to this music. She also introduced the idea that improvisation grew out of the boredom of playing the same arrangements each night.

And talking of heady brews, the Kansas Smitty cocktail team ensured that there was a constant supply of Prohibition Era cocktails - including their highly refreshing Mississippi God-Dram!

LINK: Dan Bergsagel's review
The exhibition The Age of Jazz opens on 27 January 2018

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