CD REVIEW: Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra - Live



Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra - Live
(Tom Haines Music THMCD001. Review by Peter Bacon)

Composer Tom Haines who lives and works in Warwickshire, raised the money for this recording via a crowdfunding appeal and enlisted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, started in 2014 by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, to perform five of his works before an audience at Stratford Jazz’s 30th birthday celebrations in December last year.

I was there on the night (my review on thejazzbreakfast) and was hugely impressed both by the strength and originality of Haines’ writing and by the way it was interpreted and brought to vivid life by the youthful BJO.

What sounds fine live doesn’t always pass muster when subjected to the more exacting scrutiny possible when a recording is made and turned into a CD. So I am delighted to find that in this case not only does the recording confirm my delight on the night, it actually sounds much better than the live balance could manage in what was a difficult room - circular - for amplification.

Tom Haines has, to my ears, a really fresh approach to big band writing. I get the impression he is a composer first and foremost (as opposed to a player who also composes) and he brings a broad set of influences to his writing - minimalism and contemporary as well as jazz - plus a really detailed ear and eye to the arrangements.

The opener, Yitzoid, exemplifies this approach: tight section motifs interlaced and then overlaid, a lot of jumpiness and silent spaces between the stacked-up notes. Chris Young on alto and Sean Gibbs on trumpet both get generous solo space against a rhythm section - Ben Lee on guitar, David Ferris on piano, Stuart Barker on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums - on a rolling boil.

On the other tracks there are sterling solo efforts from Elliot Drew on soprano, Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone, Kieran McLeod on trombone, Ben Lee, Mike Adlington on flugelhorn, John Fleming and Vittorio Mura on tenors, David Ferris and Jonathan Silk - all of them just lovely!

Strange Utopia features a vocal from Rosie Harris that again stresses the mix of stylistic influences in the writing, her approach more classical than jazz, but here the band risks overwhelming the singer and as a composition it’s perhaps a near miss rather than a palpable hit.

In the end it’s the overall mix of great ensemble playing and strong soloing that make this such a satisfying listen - and that all goes back to having fine writing as the base metal for the band to work with. Haines, the BJO and engineer Luke Morrish-Thomas all deserve a resounding hurrah.

This album is released on 2 June.

LINK: Tom Haines' website

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PREVIEW: TW12 Jazz Festival (Richmond, Sunbury and Hampton, 2-4 June)

The Gareth Lockrane Big Band


For their fifth TW12 Festival, Terry Collie and Janet McCunn have brought in what they rightly call an “eclectic mix.” Sebastian writes:

The festival uses three venues:

In Richmond, the new Queen Charlotte Hall, and the smaller “The Link” studio space at the Adult Community College in Parkshot (Friday 2 June)

In Sunbury,  the Riverside Arts Centre (Saturday 3 June)

In Hampton Hill, the Theatre (Sunday 4 June)

The UK artists involved bring strong current projects, such as:

Brandon Allen's very assured tribute to Gene Ammons with Ross Stanley (INTERVIEW) which is the main act on Saturday in Sunbury (DETAILS).

The full splendour of the Gareth Lockrane Big Band - in Richmond on Friday (DETAILS) .

Geoffrey Keezer


On Sunday there is a full programme, culminating in an appearance by Los Angeles-based pianist Geoffrey Keezer - a major coup for this festival

GEOFFREY KEEZER - VITA

As a teenager, Keezer was in the last line-up of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
He worked for three years as a member of Ray Brown's trio
He has worked with Diana Krall , Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Sting, Wayne Shorter, Joe Locke, Tim Garland
Grammy Nominations
He has recorded projects in his own name for Motema and Sunnyside, Dreyfus, Telarc...

I spoke briefly to Geoffrey Keezer. His last album was for solo piano, entitled Heart of the Piano. He has just finished recording a new album, partly a trio with bassist and also sound engineer Mike Pope from Baltimore which was also where the album was recorded, and drummer Lee Pearson. The trio expands into a quartet with Toronto-born singer Gillian Margot. The repertoire is new compositions by Keezer and new songs co-written with Gillian Margot: "That wa a fun process, it's inspiring to co-write. When I was in my 20s I never thought I would ever let anyone touch my music..."

I asked Keezer about Gillian Margot's music. It turns out she studied with Oscar Peterson. There is a symmetry there, considering Keezer's role in Ray Brown's trio... And as a singer? "She reminds me of Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, that soulful alto voice," but she also has a deep knowledge of the jazz canon.

Gillian Margot and Geoffrey Keezer will be doing a workshop in Hampton on the Sunday afternoon focusing on the art of accompanying vocalists (away from the festival there is also a workshop at Brighton Jazz school).

I asked about other pianists who were currently holding his attention/admiration: "Chucho Valdes – he blows my mind." (pp)

LINK: FULL PROGRAMME DETAILS OF THE TW12 JAZZ FESTIVAL

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NEWS/ INTERVIEW: Miriam Ast/ Victor Gutierrez Duo - winners at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition


Victor Gutierrez and Miriam Ast
Photo credit: Mina Sanghera


The duo of German-born singer MIRIAM AST and Spanish-born pianist VICTOR GUTIERREZ have just returned (May 2017) to their adoptive city of  London having won the Best Vocalist prize at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition. They tell the story of their win to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Tell me more about the two of you.

Miriam Ast:  I am a German jazz singer, saxophonist and composer. I have been living in London since 2014. Last year I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, London. In Germany, I completed a Bachelor degree in jazz saxophone and singing at the Musikhochschule Mainz and was a member of the established BuJazzO (German National Jazz Orchestra). I have been lucky to perform with some established German musicians including the Polish bassist Vitold Rek, the Echo jazz awardee Sebastian Sternal, and the German saxophonist Gerd Dudek. In London, I have started to collaborate with the saxophonist Stan Sulzmann who wrote a Big Band chart to one of my original compositions. Besides the Ast/Gutierrez Duo, I sing in the London Vocal Project and I want to record my debut album with the Miriam Ast Quintet this year. As a singer, I like to improvise like an instrument and put an emphasis on musical creativity and interaction with my band members.

Victor Gutierrez:  I am a Spanish-born pianist, arranger and composer based in London. Summa Cum Laude graduate at Berklee College of Music (Boston-USA) and scholarship recipient at the Royal Academy of Music, London for a Masters in Jazz Performance, where I have performed with the likes of Norma Winstone, Dave Liebman and Joe Locke. For the previous seven years I lived in New York City and toured the US, Europe and Japan as a member of different projects.

LJN: How long has the duo been together?

MA: Victor and I met in 2015 during our Masters at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Right from the beginning, we felt a special musical connection, so we had a few jams and since then, we organise rehearsals on a regular basis. Especially in the last few years, I have started to appreciate the art form of duo-playing very much, because it allows you the greatest freedom and creativity in interacting with each other and going to unexpected places musically. Whilst in Germany, I was lucky to play duo with one of my tutors in Mainz, the established German pianist Sebastian Sternal. Together, we played a concert in my hometown in Speyer in 2015. It was Sebastian, who inspired me to follow the duo path with Victor Gutierrez in London.

VG:  The Duo is one the hardest ensemble types to make sound properly, as there is nowhere to hide. Right after the first informal jams with Miriam I got a proper reality check of what my real level as a pianist was. She is a fantastic vocalist, with impeccable time and clarity on her lines, so I knew I had to work hard in order catch up with her level. The challenge was there, and I accepted it. I guess the challenge was mutual, as I brought also harmonies and concepts she had to get familiar with. We both also worked critically to improve aspects of each other’s playing, and the result of that mutual hard work is here now.

LJN: What made you want to enter the competition?

MA:  As already mentioned, Victor and I had been regularly rehearsing together for almost two years. Last year after my graduation, we wanted to start promoting the duo properly and get some performance experience. However, we realized that we needed more exposure and visibility on the London scene and internationally to receive promoter’s attention. That is why we applied for the Bucharest International Jazz Competition.

VG:  It was definitely a great excuse to put to test our project and get some sort of reassurance that our work goes in the right direction. And it was a great excuse to visit a city that otherwise we wouldn’t have!

LJN: Tell us about how the competition works/mechanics/judges/prize?

VG:  Basically there is a selection of 22 bands for the semi-final. Each band performs twice in different venues and 4-5 bands make it to the final, which means another two performances. There is a grand prize, best band prize and a best vocalist prize.

We shared the final with the Boston Swing Trio (USA), Soft West (Australia), Aaron Gunst Quintet (Netherlands) and the other UK-band, Samuel Eagles’ Spirit, which received an honorary special prize.

The jury was formed of two teachers from the Fullerton College in California, an Australian pianist and a Romanian professor of music.

LJN: Was anyone else from the UK there?

MA:  Yes, the other UK band was Samuel Eagles’ Spirit. The line-up was Samuel and his brother Duncan Eagles on saxophones, Dave Hamblett on drums, Sam Leak on piano and Max Luthert on double bass. I knew Sam and Dave from London (Sam and I lived in the same flat for about a year) and it was great to get to know the rest of the band in Bucharest. I really liked Samuel’s compositions and their band sound, which was very energetic and virtuoso. We also had some very nice hangs together in the old town of Bucharest and I am very glad to have met these great musicians who are also very lovely people.

LJN: How international was it?

MA:  It was extremely international. The bands came from 20 different countries around the world including Australia, USA, Japan, Nepal, Brazil, Hungary, Canada etc. There were also a few jam sessions organised during the week, which meant that we had the chance to play together and hang together.

LJN:  What about the experience/ /how long were you there for?

VG:  The competition lasted one week, from the first semi-finals to the final. I felt that the duo got stronger over the four performances to the final, and actually some of the judges praised this aspect together with the strength of our musical concept and arrangements, which was really uplifting. The best part was the great level displayed by many bands, especially the finalists. Among the lows was the absence of professional equipment/instruments available for the entire competition. We had to do all our performances on an electric piano, even in the final, which, as a duo in an international competition, really dwarfs the other lows related to the organization, payment, and treatment dispensed to the competitors, etc.



LJN: What did you perform in the competition?

VG:  A selection of arrangements of standards we love from the Great American Songbook (The Song Is You, Alone Together, Round Midnight…) and also a bunch of originals we have been working on. As for the arrangements, Miriam was always very creative about forms and sections whereas I brought harmonic ideas and grooves. It was truly a teamwork.

LJN: Did you expect to win? :)

MA: Our goal was to reach the final. We were very happy about that achievement and did not expect to receive a prize in the final. We focused on enjoying the experience of performing on an international stage so we sang and played our hearts out on the final night. Obviously, we were very honoured about the Best Vocalist prize for our duo.

LJN: Who else were you impressed by?

MA:  In the finals, in which five bands competed, I extremely enjoyed listening to the band Soft West from Australia. The band consisted of some high-level Australian jazz musicians who had a very tight and fusion-like band sound. Very impressive! They came all the way from Australia and I really appreciated their effort and commitment to come all the way to Europe. I also very much enjoyed listening to Samuel Eagles’ Spirit who played beautifully and are all very accomplished and experienced British jazz musicians.

VG: I also thought that the Australians and Sam Eagles' band had the strongest original material and probably the strongest musicians. It is no accident that Sam has a record deal with Whirlwind Recordings. The winners of the other prizes displayed a style more rooted in tradition with no original compositions, but still good energy and swing. A music competition is really a bizarre place, and the criteria to give prizes away may completely differ as the jury changes from one year to the other.


The Official Certificate 

LINKS: Victor Gutierrez' website
Miriam Ast's website

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IN SADNESS: Manchester in mourning

The MEN Arena in 2006
Photo: public domain

Manchester-born singer-pianist Jeremy Sassoon shares an initial reaction to the atrocities at the MEN Arena last night:

Manchester. Our city. Our vibrant music city. Another 21,000 sell-out night at the largest indoor arena in the UK. Most of us have watched gigs there, been through the foyer, traversed that walkway, a walkway that encapsulates the typically bizarre Mancunian relationship between an incongruous 1844 railway station and a 20-year-old sports and concert arena. Industrial revolution meets post-Madchester in one classic cameo.

It’s the morning after the night before. I’ve slept on and off through the night with the radio on. “Fatalities” at 11pm became “19 fatalities” at 1am (this one was too difficult to stomach) and has now become 22. I know a few people who were at the gig, but safely made it out. Some people are still looking for their kids. The local Holiday Inn housed 50 children who attended the gig unaccompanied by their parents, and is seeking to unite them. I saw people offering their city centre rooms on Facebook for people at the MEN Arena to take shelter overnight. Good people. Very good people.

As I reflect on last night, I’m haunted by that surreal experience of watching events unfold on TV, knowing nothing for sure, yet being certain that history was being written in front of my eyes.

At first it reminded me of the 1996 IRA bomb exploding in Manchester (I heard that from 10 miles away). And yet not one person was killed by that IRA bomb. That wasn’t luck. Back in those days, terrorists placed a phone call before detonating anything. It doesn’t bear thinking of that, the whole MEN arena would have been totally cleared had that been the case last night. No, these perpetrators are truly bastards. But far worse. I don’t wish to talk much about them.

My point is that this event feels very different. This assault has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, shopping centres and the businesses within, it’s about life and death. This is not our 1996, this is our 9/11. It cuts far deeper.

On a personal level, it’s sharply brought out the Mancunian in me. Nothing galvanised New Yorkers more than 9/11 and as I write this, every Mancunian is feeling it too. And we’re a strong bunch and a very proud city. Every friend who works in the city centre has gone into work today. Manchester will look exactly the same, but feel very, very different.

Enter Andy Burnham. Talk about an initiation from hell. He was elected Mayor of Manchester only a fortnight ago, and now finds himself saddled with the task of guiding this great city through this disaster and out the other side. I spent a few minutes last night Googling Andy Burnham, and I like what I read. He’s born on Merseyside and represented Leigh as MP, so what he lacks in mayoral experience, he makes up for in good Northern stock. He’s a man who decided to donate 15% of his mayoral salary to mental health charities. As an ex-psychiatrist, I take my hat off to a man like that. Unfortunately, demands on these services will be even higher in the aftermath of what has just happened, so he may want to review that figure, but I trust him.

I don’t know how our emotions will develop over the coming days or weeks. It’s only 14 hours old and the wounds are still very fresh. We’re reminded by the police we’re still not out of the woods as regards repeat attacks, yet we should go about our usual business. For many of us, tomorrow’s business will be supporting Manchester United in the Europa League Final. Not only will there be a minute’s silence for the victims of this atrocity, every fan will be singing their heart out for the city of Manchester and its beloved children tragically lost only a few hours ago.

LINK: Appeal / fund to support the families of the MEN Arena victims

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PHOTOS/REVIEW: JQ Legends Festival, Birmingham

Alina Bzhezhinska paying tribute to Alice Coltrane
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

John Watson captured some of the action at the 2017 JQ Legends Festival (19-21 May 2017), presented by Birmingham Jazz in various venues around Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Reports jointly by Peter Bacon and Ben Daniels.


How do you bring together the jazz audience that loves the music’s heritage with the listeners who thrive on the surprise of the new? Birmingham Jazz has come up with an ingenious solution in its Legends Festival, now in its third year. It gets contemporary players to celebrate the legends of the past but in their own contemporary manner.

Chris Bowden (unusually on tenor) and Legend guest curator Bryan Corbett
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Peter Bacon writes: 

This year’s loose theme was the Blue Note label and the players who recorded for it. Guest curator Bryan Corbett, a trumpeter who has been very much wedded to that idea of reinventing the past since his work in Us3 led four different bands over the three days, including one with powerful saxophonist Chris Bowden, himself something of a Birmingham legend. Meanwhile another good friend of Birmingham Jazz, saxophonist Tony Kofi, featured in tributes to John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Tony Kofi playing Coltrane
Photo credit: © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
The Ornette gig was my highlight. Kofi has a bona fide Coleman link - he played with him on a Jamaaladeen Tacuma recording session - and he, Byron Wallen on trumpet, Larry Bartley on double bass and Rod Youngs on drums made sure that they not only played true to themselves on a selection of Ornette tunes, they communicated their own brand of that visceral excitement stirred up by the Coleman Quartet at the turn of the ‘60s.

I also enjoyed two young bands, the David Ferris Trio playing the music of Jimmy Smith and the Nick Dewhurst Quintet playing Kenny Doreham tunes, both free entry gigs in Jewellery Quarter coffee bars.

Ben Daniels writes:

Two outstanding performances came from the brilliant harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, in a tribute to the work of Alice Coltrane, and from bassist Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents.

Alec Dankworth adding the crucial flamenco rhythm
Photo credit: © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
Emily Dankworth in Spanish mood
Photo credit: © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Alina, with saxophonist Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Joel Prime, demonstrated that the harp can be a tremendously expressive jazz instrument, while Alec's group strongly evoked the power of flamenco in a dazzling show, with superb singing from his daughter Emily Dankworth.

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REVIEW: Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project at Birmingham Town Hall

Terri Lyne Carrington in Birmingham Town Hall
Photo credit: John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project
(Birmingham Town Hall, 21 May 2017. Review by A J Dehany)

“It’s important to claim new standards,” says Terri Lyne Carrington, the Grammy award-winning drummer who has won a longstanding crossover audience and for over 30 years introduced soul tunes to jazz arrangements and jazz tunes to the deep grooves of soul. How does a song become a standard? Blind luck, good fortune, sheer chance… but a start would be somebody playing the song.

Terri Lyne Carrington’s only UK tour date to a diverse audience at Birmingham Town Hall, part of a two-day residence involving a day of drumming workshops as part of the Jazzlines Women In Jazz programme, was a projective lesson in the attempt to “claim new standards” from an eclectic selection of tunes from contemporary jazz and the classic pop songbook.

The thing about crossing over to a wider audience is you can go to them, but few will cross back over with you. The first hour of the concert was some quite hard jazzer’s jazz. A number of couples leaving I didn’t notice returning. The quartet’s playing is serious, with each player unafraid to take risks: rhythmically tripling up under the main rhythm is a strong suit in both Carrington’s drumming and under the fingers of pianist Helen Sung; and harmonically straying ‘outside’ as in the dextrous soloing of multiple sax player Tineke Postma. Generally the players keep to a strong group discipline.

Carrington’s Sweden sounds like a Wayne Shorter tune, but its restrained tempo is offset by quite busy playing; Carrington has a particular expressiveness on the ride cymbal that carries across her restless imagination. Her Mosaic Triad Part 1 similarly showcases her controlled creativity on the drums. It’s after Geri Allen’s deep cut Unconditional Love that Carrington makes her case for new standards, but continuing with Kenny Barron’s A Voyage we are still deep in jazzer’s jazz territory rather than the souljazz cross-over many have come to hear.

The final half hour of the concert, with vocalist China Moses, is truer to this fresher spirit, and in a sophisticated way. Hendrix’s Burning of the Midnight Lamp’s harpsichord intro is reapportioned into 7/4 time but perfectly recognisable whereas you might not necessarily spot the Beatles’ Michelle, which is also in 7/4 and taking the same approach to the melody: simplified to its bluest notes, the melodic essentials of the memory.

China Moses is a magnetic communicator. Her mother is Dee Dee Bridgewater so, as Carrington says, “the fruit don’t fall far from the tree”. Her self-confident contribution to the reworkings of Hendrix, Al Green, and the Beatles, as well as her own tune Disconnected and a languidly grooving arrangement of the legit standard Lover Man help open the music out into the auditorium. A frustrating concert in some ways, crucially divided between jazz and soul tendencies, but at their finest moments the strong playing of the group and the careful synergies of the arrangements spark an appealing frisson.

LINK: Terri Lyne Carrington interview


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NEWS: Tony Levin Prize at the 2017 JQ Legends Festival, Birmingham awarded to Gwilym Jones

Gwilym Jones getting happy during the Tony Levin Prize competiton.
Photo credit: Brian Homer

Peter Bacon reports on a competition for drummers held in Birmingham on Friday 19 May 2017: 

The legacy of the British jazz drummer Tony Levin, who died in 2011, is celebrated each year by Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire Jazz Department, where Tony had taught, in this prize for the best drummer among the conservatoire’s students.

Or, more precisely, “the most swinging drummer today, in this room,” as another BCU jazz tutor, double bassist Arnie Somogyi, explained Tony’s aim with the prize, the specificity an attempt to get around the whole modern distaste for competitions - and their reduction of artistic creativity into simple winners and, therefore, losers.

Among the collected audience on Friday lunchtime at The Red Lion in the Jewellery Quarter - this was the first event of this year’s JQ Legends Festival - were many jazz students, and among the students were seven drummers. Each would take their turn on the stand, pick a tune - literally - out of Arnie’s flat cap of standards, and play it with Somogyi on bass and Jean Toussaint on tenor saxophone.

And so, Piero Alessi played Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, Oliver Baylis played All The Things You Are, Kai Chaurensy played I’ll Remember April… you get the picture. We also heard Rob Harper, Gwilym Jones, Israel Shabani and Noah Stone.

Then the adjudicators - Somogyi and Toussaint the main judges, with some assistance from Tony’s widow, Chris, and son, Miles - slimmed the list to two, to be followed, in Arnie’s words, by a “fight to the death”.

After all seven had been commended on their efforts, the shortlist of two was Gwilym Jones and Israel Shabani, with a recommendation of Kai Chaurensy, a first year, as a close third. Jones chose Softly… and Shabani I’ll Remember… and the judges consulted once more.

“The most swinging drummer today, in this room,” was deemed to be Gwilym Jones, and he celebrated with the appropriately titled Get Happy. He gets a pint bought for him by Arnie Somogyi and a cash prize. Mostly his reward was the chance to do his thing between Somogyi and Toussaint and to get lots of slaps on the back afterwards.

The audience’s reward was the vicarious thrill of hearing seven young musicians putting their skills on the line in the demanding but generous company of two expert players.


Congratulations to all of them, especially to Gwilym Jones.



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REVIEW: London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead - European Premiere at Kings Place

Pete Churchill, soloists and the London Vocal Project at the end
of the European premiere of Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead

London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead
(Kings Place Hall One, 21 May 2017. Review by John L. Walters)

Pete Churchill and the London Vocal Project (LVP) are making history. They have realised Jon Hendricks’ ambition to make a vocalese version of Miles Ahead, the groundbreaking album of orchestral jazz by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. French jazz critic André Hodeir, in his sleeve notes for the original LP sleeve, described its contents as ‘ten little concertos assembled in a vast fresco’, and his allusion to the great art of the past is entirely appropriate. Davis, playing flügelhorn throughout, is the only soloist, supported by ‘19+’, a jazz big band enhanced by extra brass and woodwind but without chordal instruments. Evans’ arrangements have a ‘classical’ seriousness in their depth and dynamics, yet they feel light and easy on the ear. And though six decades have passed since Miles stepped into New York’s 30th Street Studio to record it (in May 1957), Miles Ahead still sounds breathtakingly fresh.

Hendricks, the godfather of harmonised vocalese, has been working on lyrics for Miles Ahead since the late 1960s. Manhattan Transfer recorded a sublime version of the Gil Evans composition Blues for Pablo on their underrated The Offbeat of Avenues (1991), but there have been few other realisations. What’s remarkable about Hendricks’ vision is that in addition to writing words for melodies and improvised solos (and re-working existing lyrics), he sought to write lyrics for all the internal parts, the countermelodies, comping [accompanying] chords, riffs and bravura ensemble passages – in Churchill’s words, ‘every note that Gil wrote.’

Pete Churchill persuaded Hendricks that the London Vocal Project could make his dream come true and it is down to the encouragement and tenacity of Churchill that the great singer-lyricist, now 95, completed all the words in time for its New York premiere last February (see Tessa Souter’s report  for LondonJazz News). And it’s also down to Churchill’s skill and hard graft as an arranger – he transcribed and scored the entire work for vocal ensemble – that it sounded so wonderful at Sunday evening’s sold-out London premiere;  it was a highly emotional occasion. To remind us of the source, he placed a mono vinyl copy of Miles Ahead against a stage monitor.

At Kings Place, the 24-strong LVP was augmented by Dave Whitford (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), plus three vocal soloists: Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, ‘national treasure’ Norma Winstone and Michele Hendricks, daughter of Jon. Churchill programmed the evening with Miles Ahead in the second half; a relaxed first set (all with vocalese lyrics by Jon Hendricks) included Neal Hefti’s Count Basie classic Li’l Darlin’ and Summertime (from the Davis/Evans Porgy and Bess, and a tune originally slated for Miles Ahead, according to its record producer George Avakian), with soloist Jessica Radcliffe. The LVP left the stage for trio-backed numbers by each of the soloists; Michele Hendricks delivered an exuberant Everybody’s Boppin’.

For the second set, Churchill left the piano to join the bass voices. Michele Hendricks began Miles Ahead by singing the album’s opener, Springsville. The choir performed all ten tracks in album order, so Fitzgerald Burke then sang The Maids of Cadiz, floating on a super-smooth cloud of harmonised vocalese. Evans’ recomposition of the original Delibes tune was transformed further by Churchill’s sonorous arrangements, while Dave Whitford emerged from the shadows to play the prominent bass part. When Norma Winstone sang Dave Brubeck’s The Duke she totally ‘owned’ the Davis solo, and the LVP delivered the song’s elegant but intense contrasts, from chamber group, to shouting big band, to cool, spacious trio. The tune's erudite hat-tip to Duke Ellington, underlined by Hendricks’ words: ‘'Life is loaded with melody, he writes it down for you and me.’ Winstone stayed out front to sing the Ira Gershwin-Kurt Weill classic My Ship, and Fitzgerald Burke ended ‘side one’ with the thrilling positivity of Hendricks’ lyrics for Miles Ahead; the LVP’s articulation of the interlocking ensemble lines was impressive.

Churchill then flipped over the vinyl LP, leaving it on the piano, to remind us that we had come to side two of Miles Ahead. This starts with one of the greatest Gil Evans compositions ever (which kind of means one of the best pieces of music, ever), the magisterial and multi-stranded Blues for Pablo. Michele Hendricks made the flugel part authentic and highly emotional, while Churchill’s orchestration showed his mastery of the LVP’s timbres, the sheer scope of sounds it is possible to make with massed human voices. The high key of Ahmad Jamal’s New Rhumba was a challenge, but Norma Winstone attacked the Davis part with glee, and the ‘comping’ behind her solo was delicious. Part of the genius of Miles Ahead is the way Evans made a big ensemble feel as supple as a trio; the LVP version keeps this quality.

Hendricks’ lyrics are a constant delight: when Davis’s New Rhumba solo quotes from Richard Rodgers’ show tune ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, Hendricks quotes Lorenz Hart’s lyrics – ‘wild again, beguiled again’.

A stack of vocal harmonies started The Meaning of the Blues, like the exposed struts of a great bridge or tower, prefacing a restrained but moving solo part by Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, melding without pause into J. J. Johnson’s Lament. The final track, I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone Else But You) is the Jack Elliott and Harold Spina tune that Ahmad Jamal made his own. Gil Evans’ chart transformed Jamal’s trio version into a tongue-in-cheek showstopper; Michele Hendricks delivered the Davis part with aplomb while the LVP went into virtuoso overdrive.

The singers of the London Vocal Project are something else. Not only did they successfully face the technical challenge of singing Evans’ charts, tricky parts that foxed even New York’s finest session guys in the 1950s, they sang the entire album from memory, every note bearing a Jon Hendricks lyric. Not only do they sound like a coherent ensemble – a real band – with a signature sound like no other choir on the scene, they have the technique to stretch and adapt their sound to the scores’ more extreme demands. Yet they wear their learning lightly, as Miles Davis did, as Gil Evans did. Their reinterpretation of Miles Ahead gives new life, texture and meaning to this orchestral jazz ‘fresco’ in a way that enhances and deepens our understanding and enjoyment of the original. To re-use Gil Evans’ metaphor, Hendricks, Churchill and the LVP have made the most beautiful new bottle for this fine old wine.

The Encore - Horace Silver's The Preacher


SET LISTS

FIRST SET

1) It's Sand Man by Ed Lewis & Jon Hendricks (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross - from 'Sing a song of Basie') (LVP)
2) Summertime - by Gershwin. New lyrics by Jon Hendricks (from Miles Davis/Gil Evans - Porgy and Bess) (LVP)
3) I'll bet you thought I'd never find you - by Les McCann & Jon Hendricks (Kevin Fitzgerald Burke)
4) Hi-Fly - by Randy Weston & Jon Hendricks (Norma Winstone)
5) Ev'rybody's Boppin' - Jon Hendricks (Michele Hendricks)
6) Li'l Darlin' - by Neil Hefti & Jon Hendricks (Andi Hopgood, LVP)
7) O Pato - by Jaime Silva/Neuza Teixeira -,English lyric by Jon Hendricks (LVP)

SECOND SET.. (All Lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

1) Springsville (John Carisi) - Michele Hendricks.
2) Maids of Cadiz (Delibes) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke.
3) The Duke (Dave Brubeck) - Norma Winstone.
4) My Ship (Kurt Weill) - Norma Winstone
5) Miles Ahead (Miles Davis/Gil Evans) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke.
6) Blues for Pablo (Gil Evans) -Michele Hendricks
7) New Rhumba (Ahmad Jamal) - Norma Winstone
8) (Bobby Troup/Leah Worth) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke
9) Lament (J.J.Johnson) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke
10) I don't wanna be kissed (Jack Eliot/Harold Spina) - Michele Hendricks

ENCORE

The Preacher (Horace Silver, lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

Set lists courtesy of Pete Churchill and Nikki Iles

LINKS: Preview feature before the New York premiere
Emma Smith interviews Pete Churchill on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now
The history of the collaboration,
The first LVP Miles Ahead ‘teaser’, including footage of LVP in the recording studio,
Footage of final rehearsals and an interview with Pete Churchill prior to the New York premiere,

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CD REVIEW: Matt Holman – The Tenth Muse



Matt Holman – The Tenth Muse
(Panoramic PAN07. CD review by Brian Marley)

The few fragments of Sappho’s poetry that have come down to us from antiquity make unusually high demands of the reader. To make best sense of the poems, we have to fill in the gaps where words are missing, to connect the dots between one isolate phrase and the next.

But there are ways of doing that other than with words. Trumpet and flugelhorn player/ composer Matt Holman has crafted twelve pieces that are both interpretive and speculative in nature, and he and his ensemble have added four improvisations that are so perfectly in keeping with the compositions you’d be hard pressed to know which is which.

He’s chosen well, both in terms of Sappho translators (the poet Anne Carson) and his musicians: Chris Dingman (vibraphone), Bobby Avey (piano) and Sam Sadigursky (soprano saxophone, clarinets, flutes). This band - he had a different set of colleagues on his 2013 debut album When Flooded -  play these lyrically sophisticated and occasionally songlike compositions with elegance and grace. Holman himself has a strong harmonic sensibility, and his fluid phrasing and way with melody occasionally remind me of Kenny Wheeler. Although his role isn’t spotlit, he’s always there, at the heart of the music, the pivot around which everything revolves.

The compositions on The Tenth Muse have been arrived at by way of cryptograms. “Pitches and rhythms associated with specific letters or words,” as Holman explains. (J.S. Bach famously used the letters of his own name, of course.). But this is not a dry academic exercise. Holman has tried to make the music as expressive and emotionally varied as the poem fragments. To achieve the clarity required by this approach, the musicians have to work as one rather than as four individuals pursuing common ground – more akin to a string quartet than a jazz band. But there’s still plenty of improvisational room for manoeuvre, and the players take full advantage of it. The music is light, airy, and a tad mysterious – much like Sappho’s poems. It’s a fitting tribute.

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INTERVIEW: Hedwig Mollestad Thomassen (co-publication with Citizen Jazz, France)

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy


HEDVIG MOLLESTAD THOMASSEN played with her trio in Oslo at the 20th edition of the by:larm festival, where she played two impressive, fast, complementary shows on 3 and 4 March. The first show was at Kulturkiken Jacob, a church built in 1880 and now a place of culture welcoming art performances, the second at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, the Oslo jazz club. Anne Yven of the Citizen Jazz (France) interview, and shared her interview for this co-publication with LondonJazz News.(*)

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your relationship with the guitar? Was it “love at first sight”?

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen: I started to play guitar when I was not even 10 years old, I think. There were a lot of instruments at home: a piano which I would also play, and my father played the flugelhorn, and the guitar was just there. I do think there’s a relation between what people would like to do and what they do well, or at least what they learn fast!

LJN: So is it a matter of pleasure or work? When did you decide to become a musician?

HMT: When something seems to fit your skills it’s easy to like it, of course! Therefore I did practise a lot because I enjoyed it. The most important thing is that my parents encouraged me to try everything. As a mother and as a musician I’m really interested in this issue of our growing-up environment. It has so much to do with who we are today as adults. How it shapes us.

LJN: And I guess it also has to do with the many musicians and bands who have influenced your music? Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Jim Hall. What about rock bands like Motorpsycho, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath? Are their influences coming from your teenage years?

HMT: No! I wasn’t exposed to the hard rock scene until very recently. When I was a teen, I was into the grunge rock wave, Pearl Jam, Nirvana... Plus, there were jazz “bacteria” in me when I grew up. The whole 1970s rock came much later, when I met musicians of my age who had been listening to hard rock, like Ivar (drummer of Hedvig Mollestatd Trio) who said to me “You’re so lucky you don’t know them! There’s so much music you’re going to love!”

LJN: “Hedvig Mollestad Trio”. The name of your band is also an artistic choice, isn’t it?

HMT: Definitely. We thought a lot about it. It was when I won this award at the Molde Jazz festival in 2009, which allowed me to put together a band and do concerts the year after. I had one year. So the first thing most people would do is put together a big band with all the great musicians you know because there’s money for it, but sometimes nothing more happens. I saw it as an opportunity to build something that can really last. You can’t pick the musicians that are already too busy, because then you cannot really create a unity.

LJN: The name is important for you. It’s your trio, your name, but you insist on the fact that it is a band.

HMT: Yes. The idea of having a rock band with a jazz name was not so calculated. There are so many guitar trios. The guitar trio is more powerful than the name. In our first record the songs are more structured in a jazz way: in the melodies and the harmonies, the schemes, a lot of solos and loose things in the writing. The music is changing, although we still look a little weird in the jazz festivals and a little weird in the rock festivals.

LJN: Your record label, Rune Gramofon, is also a reference in promoting fine music with jazz and rock influences. Do you consider it as a good support?

HMT: Absolutely. I like to stick with people and Rune (Kristoffersen) has been with us since the beginning. It is sometimes hard for him, hard to make a living with this. Selling records. He’s doing it out of love for the music. He gives us so much artistic freedom.

LJN: All Of Them Witches, Evil in Oslo, Blood Witch, Kathmandu, Code of Hammurabi… The titles of your albums and songs often have magical, esoteric or spiritual references. Are you looking for a sort of trance state?

HMT: We are not, our music is not, about getting high, doing drugs, and so on. We’ve never been into this. But what we do chase is this particular moment in music when it feels right for everyone at the same time, the three of us on stage and the audience. And when it happens it is still hard to describe why! Why this particular moment or version of the song or entire gig was just so perfect for us? If you want to call that a trance, this chase, you can.

Ellen Brekken
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy


LJN: For seven years now you’ve been writing for this trio with bass player Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad. How has your writing evolved? Do you think about them when you write?

HMT: It’s not a real conscious procedure but when I sit down and feel like playing, finding new material for the trio, I hear them. They are here. On the first record I was more focused on the melodies and the riffs of the guitar, trying to express my own different languages. Now I want to work on this thing that binds us together.

LJN: Do you feel more powerful when you express yourself through this unity?

HMT: Well, there’s a time for everything you know. I also do solo concerts and that’s something else. It’s human relationships anyway. Each relationship is unique.

And there must be room for chance in our music. A gig does not necessarily work the way you thought it would. It might sometimes surprise you and make you think differently. It opens your mind when something like that happens.

LJN: Is this the jazz side of your trio?

HMT: Yes, in a way. The thing about this music is that it is supposed to be free, whatever we put in the word “free”. We can almost do whatever we want. Almost. This music is about building a conversation so if someone starts to talk badly, to be rude in a way that it doesn’t make sense, nobody knows how to respond and it can’t work. You can do whatever you want but the intention must be good!

LJN: Finally, I would like you to talk about something you don’t like to talk about. Women in music. I have a few names in mind like Matana Roberts or Joelle Léandre. Both artists refer to their fight, because they’re still a minority. Do you feel concerned by this fight?

HMT: I can talk about it! I used not to talk about the subject because I thought it was important to be a female instrumentalist and play without focusing on the subject. It was more important for me to talk about the music, the band, the project, the trio. Of course if being a feminist means to demand equal rights for men and women then sure I am. And everyone should be. But when I perform music I’m only concerned about the music.

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy


LJN: You’re a live band, you’re offering something powerful, interacting with the audience, paying attention to details – you have a red dress code –, and the way you behave on stage. To me HM3 is a visual experience! Would you agree?

HMT: We did start as a jazz band, playing dressed in jeans and T-shirts… But I always felt like when I offer something on stage, I want to change. Not necessarily a big costume change, maybe a little lipstick or a dress. This is something every rock band would do, and I think, yes, the people who go to see a live band, deserve to have a visual experience. Jazz musicians are very focused on the music. I think to dress up a little more does not necessarily take the focus away from the music. It might actually give more focus and fun to the music!

It’s like the high heeled shoes I’m wearing on stage. I’m playing with codes. I actually have a double feeling about that. These are feminine objects developed, produced, for women, when they want to “dress up” but they make me move in the worst way on a stage! The red dress also. You can’t actually feel comfortable wearing it. But at the same time, the shoes make me taller, the dress makes me sweat but you don’t see that! The point is not to look better, the point’s to say to the audience “Look, here: we prepared something for you.”

LINKS:
(*) LJN has published an edited, shorter version of the Citizen Jazz interview
Nicky Schririe's 2014 interview with Hedwig Mollestad

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Kate Williams “Four Plus Three plus One featuring Kate Williams plus special guest John Williams,” 606 Club, 14 June)

Kate Williams
Photo credit: The Rev, London

Pianist Composer KATE WILLIAMS has invited her father, the classical guitarist JOHN WILLIAMS to be her guest in “Four Plus Three plus One” at the 606 Club on 14 June. She explained the background to this first-time father-daughter collaboration to Sebastian(*) :


LondonJazz News: The 606 website has announced a very intriguing gig on it's website for 14 June “Four Plus Three plus One featuring Kate Williams plus special guest John Williams”. Can you explain the background?

Kate Williams: It was the coming together of two different things. When I first started “Four Plus Three”, I always had it in mind that it could be a lineup that could be quite flexible. We would get different guests, and I would arrange everything around that – last November we had Gareth Lockrane and Mike Outram join us at the 606, and later this year we'll be collaborating with Georgia Mancio.

But it never occurred to me to ask my Dad, because from the time when I first decided to go into music, I was aware of the “Oh I’ve got a famous dad” thing. I was very careful early on to keep everything separate, and he always encouraged me to get on with my own thing. But I think sometimes those things then become a habit without you even really thinking abut it. It never really crossed my mind to ask him to do anything with Four Plus Three.

What actually happened was, at the 606 a few months before Xmas last year, Steve Rubie approached me and said “Oh, I’m just wondering, would you ever work with your dad, or have you ever considered it, and if so, would you do something with the strings project?” My very first thought was "Oh well I haven’t really thought of it." He said, “Just think, if you never work together you might regret it. If you never ever did one gig…Have a think about it and ask him..?” And when I thought about it I realised it would be really nice, a great thing to do.

So I asked my dad. You know - you ask someone a question in a way that leaves them a way out, in case they don’t want to do it. So I rang him up and just said, “Well you’ll probably want to mull this over… don’t give me an answer now... but would you be willing to do a gig at the 606 with Four Plus Three?” But he said yes immediately. No mulling over to be done. He was really pleased.

John Williams
Photo credit: Kathy Panama / Askonas Holt


LJN: So you’ll have to write parts out...?

KW: Yeah, this is my learning curve at the moment, because classical guitar is an instrument that I’ve never composed for, which might sound strange but because we haven't worked together before etc… So, I’ve been kind of listening to various things. I was listening to some Joe Pass the other day and trying to get his voicings, ‘steal’ some information that I could use in a useful way (smiles).

LJN: What will you be playing?

KW: We haven’t decided the whole program. It will be a mixture of things - there will be a collection of new pieces which I'm writing specially for it. I thought, let's have a few things that are completely fresh, no titles yet, but probably three or four short pieces grouped together. Then, at least one Bill Evans tune, but it won’t necessarily be one from the album, a tune or two from my septet CD, and Nuages by Django Reinhardt - something which was specifically written by a guitarist, I thought would be nice.

LJN:  And the form of the evening?

KW: I think that Four Plus Three will kick off each set and then John’ll come on and join us.

LJN: The whole Four Plus Three, combining the classical string quartet and the jazz piano trio has been picking up momentum. I'm curious which are the classical composers that you gravitate towards...

KW: If I had to narrow it down, if I’m practising at home and just reading through classical stuff, the two composers which I always come back to are Bach and Ravel, they’re the two that kind of keep coming back.... maybe some of it seeps in somewhere. It kind of all goes into the pot, it all goes in there somewhere but you can’t always tell when something’s going to appear. I did accidentally quote something (assuming that I don’t edit the piece!) in one of the originals that I’ve written. I didn’t do it deliberately, but I realised soon afterwards: Oh, there’s a Ravel quote in there. Anyway, it’s staying in because it works with what follows. If you know the piece it’s quite obvious, but I won’t tell you what it is - you can hear it on the gig!

(*) With thanks to Sara Mitra for extensive help in the production of this piece.

LINK:  Podcast interview with Kate Williams about Bill Evans and the Impressionists
Interview with Dan Paton about Four plus Three
 606 CLUB FOR BOOKINGS

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CD REVIEW: Alexi Tuomarila, Mats Eilertsen, Olavi Louhivuori - Kingdom



Alexi Tuomarila, , Mats Eilertsen, Olavi Louhivuori - Kingdom
(Edition EDN1090. CD review by Mike Collins)


Pianist Alexi Tuomarila has been a glowing, itinerant presence on the European jazz scene for some fifteen years. Now, settled back in his native Finland, he is releasing his second trio album with Edition. He’s teamed up with his regular band that has the look of a European super-group. Norwegian bass player Mats Eilertson released is ECM debut as a leader last year and Finnish drummer Olevi Louhivuori is the driving force behind Odarrang.

The trio share the writing credits for this varied set and there’s a cover of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing. The Sun Hillock kicks off with a relaxed funky groove. Tuomarila’s left hand and the bass outline the melodic hook. Bass and piano solos follow with Tuomarila’s easy fluency spooling skipping lines across the rhythm. Rytter is more impressionistic with rippling arpeggios and colour from the drums. Fragments of melody come and go. The Girl in a Stetson Hat has an easy rocking momentum and rich cycling chords ground the song like melody. Tuomarila is at his most free-wheelingly lyrical in his solo. Vagabond first appeared on Toumarila’s quartet release with Edition, Drifter. The stuttering, staccato riffs have a more abstract, fractured feel on this take compared to edgier take of Drifter. The Dylan cover has an urgent flow and a bright, optimistic skip to it, there’s a sense of contentment and joy in Tuomarila’s changing times. Shadows, a Louhivuori contribution, is darker. A bass solo shades into an exploratory group improvisation before halfway through a racing pulse takes hold and the band fly, the leader unleashing a blistering solo. Aalto is a melodic evenly grooving number, Bruin Bay’s gently marching theme is kicked along by snappy off-kilter riffs. White Waters closes the set with a more meditative atmosphere of gently rocking lyricism.

Tuomarila’s trio is a formidable unit. All leaders in their own right, they play, as all great trios do, as a single unit. This set repays repeated listens. It has a reflective, quietly joyful air to is even as they occasionally let rip.

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

The Alexi Tuomarila Trio will be in the UK in June:

15 June, 2017, Kings Place, London
16 June, 2017, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
17 June, 2017, Turner Sims, Southampton
18 June, 2017, Band on the Wall, London

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CD REVIEW: Trombone Shorty - Parking Lot Symphony



Trombone Shorty - Parking Lot Symphony
(Blue Note. CD Review by John L. Walters)

There’s no-one quite like Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty. He’s no. 1 in a class of his own making, with a great back story (see ‘Illustrated gumbo’ in EYE Magazine) about the children’s picture-book of his life), and the weight of great expectations on his young shoulders. Andrews has a fine voice, but he is fundamentally a brass soloist (trombone and trumpet) who sings, putting him more in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and Roy Hargrove. He is not trying to compete with pop stars like Lenny Kravitz (with whom he toured early in his career) but he’s showing ­– like George Benson and even Herbie Hancock – that he can do vocal-led dance-oriented pop and R&B pretty well, thank you very much.

Parking Lot Symphony, his first album for Blue Note, throws together a grab bag of music styles in what some critics have interpreted as a lack of direction. I beg to differ – the relaxed and open-minded manner in which Andrews draws from black music heritage is part and parcel of his appeal and identity as a jazz musician and entertainer. And it is a highly musical album with enough depth and ambition to get away with the ‘symphony’ in the title. There are several co-composers besides Andrews, noticeably producer/arranger Chris Seefried, and there are two top-notch covers – extra-brassy versions of Allen Toussaint’s Here Come The Girls (a 1970 hit for Ernie K-Doe once used for a Boots TV advert) and The Meters’ It Ain’t No Use. Andrews and Seefried broaden out the latter track – a magnificent mid-tempo slice of 1970s rock-soul – by appending the chiming, ten-chord sequence that also lies at the heart of Laveau Dirge No. 1 and Laveau Dirge Finale, the instrumentals that bookend the generous eleven-track album.

Of the other instrumentals, Tripped Out Slim channels James Brown with a hollering, New Orleans-style relish, Fanfare is a jam that harks back to the Meters, and Like a Dog aims for thrilling electro-pomp.

Familiar ventures into contemporary R&B territory with parody of a paranoid R&B stalker – Andrews delivers the song tongue-in-cheek, with lashings of electronically enhanced brass. Dirty Water has a deliciously Sly Stone–influenced groove, while No Good Time is a soul anthem with a literate, churchy arrangement that tugs at the heartstrings. Maybe these tunes don’t need tight arrangements and jazz solos in order to function as feelgood music, but everything sounds so much better with horns. Where It At? (with its ‘I just want my heart back’ hook) has a laid-back groove, sneaky organ chops and an intoxicating backbeat concluding grandly with choir and strings – possibly a nod to Kamasi Washington’s magnificent The Epic.

Best of all is the title track, written by Andrews and Seefried with Alexander Ebert, a spine-chilling slice of soul-jazz that summarises everything Trombone Shorty does well; a beguiling vocal melody that grows to a grand conclusion (and a short trombone solo). As a bandleader, singer, songwriter, arranger, composer and producer who is fundamentally a jazz musician, Andrews has trodden deep in commercial swamplands where few dare go, and he’s come back smiling with a terrific album – entertaining and full of substance.

LINK: Trombone Shorty live review from 2010

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CD REVIEW: Aaron Parks - Find The Way



Aaron Parks - Find The Way
(ECM 478 1841. Review by Peter Bacon)

The California-born, Seattle-raised Aaron Parks' first ECM disc under his own name was the solo piano effort Arborescence (>Review) but for his second he leads a trio with Ben Street on double bass and Billy Hart on drums. (this trio was photographed in London in 2015)

There is a dreamy, indefinable quality about Parks' writing and playing which I find irresistibly intriguing. As a listener I find I am constantly reaching (figuratively) into the music and finding that what I thought was substantially there has somehow transfigured into gossamer and smoke and eluded my grasp, only to be replaced by a further, seemingly substantial, element... and on and on.
 It can't just be me that feels this way. That quality is reflected in some of the pianist's song titles: Adrift, Unravel, First Glance. And maybe even Hold Music. Which is in no way to suggest that it's all froth! There is real intellectual and emotional substance here, it's just that it's hard to pin down.

The other key to the pianist's music is in a further title: The Storyteller. Fellow pianist Kit Downes showed his appreciation in these words: "He has a compositional approach to improvising, always telling an interesting and clear story through his rich melodic lines. Even at very high speed, his lines always harness harmony and time together into one pure voice..." (Kit Downes writes... about Aaron Parks).

The choice of Street and Hart to amplify Parks' vision is a brilliant one. Ben Street follows and comments on the pianist's moves with equal melodic richness, while Hart, his drums exquisitely recorded with just the right amount of reverb to suggest the space around the kit as well as the drums themselves, adds an astonishing richness of sound and the subtlest of rhythmic accents. And yet neither bass nor drums overwhelm what must still be the beating heart of this music, the piano.

Chamber classical in its mood, cinematic in its evocation and thoroughly jazzy in its spontaneous creativity and lithe nature, Find The Way is one of the loveliest piano trio discs I expect to hear this year.

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PREVIEW: Talinka (new album; UK tour starts 22 May)

Talinka: Gilad Atzmon, Jenny Bliss Bennett, Tali Atzmon and Yaron Stavi
Photo credit: Chiara Ceolin
TALINKA, the British quartet which crosses boundaries and genres, begins a UK tour on Monday and releases its eponymous CD on 23 June.


Talinka is led by vocalist Tali Atzmon and draws together elements of folk music, jazz, tango and early classical music. The singer/composer has an evocative set of instrumental colours on which to draw with Jenny Bliss Bennett on viola da gamba, violin, flute and vocals, Gilad Atzmon on bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and accordion, and Yaron Stavi on double bass.

The band's repertoire incorporates original songs written by Tali and classics from the Great American Songbook given a fresh East mees West twist - Tali was a renowned singer and actress in Israel before coming to this country.


Of the song featured in this video, Tali explains: "I wote the song Losing Vision in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The bass clarinet together with the viola da gambia create a primordial auditory realm that evokes a deep sense of the Sisyphean existential struggle [yet also] a cry for a change."

You can hear Talinka in concert at the Beaver Inn, Devon (22 May), the Western Hotel in St Ives (23 May), the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry (3 June), The Alex in Felixstowe (4 June), Jazz Cafe Posk in London (24 June), Cheadle Hulme Con Club (7 July) and the Bonington Theatre in Nottingham (11 January 2018).

LINKS: Talinka


  

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REVIEW: Chris Potter Quartet at Unterfahrt in Munich

Chris Potter Quartet
L-R: David Virelles, Chris Potter, Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Chris Potter Quartet

(Unterfahrt, Munich. 16th May 2017. Review and photos by Ralf Dombrowski (*))

Drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of hardbop drummer Roy Haynes, belongs to a generation of drummers for whom the crude laying-down of  beat has been consigned to the past, and polyrhythmic independence is the stuff of everyday life. This also means that he likes to play a lot, he creates carpets in sound, stays in control of cascades from the toms, and can simultaneously follow both a pulse and a basic groove with fiery intuition.

This makes him just the right partner for a saxophonist such as Chris Potter, who is constantly exploring the limits of what is technically achievable on tenor and soprano, without ever losing sight of the shaping of both his sound and a coherent line. Potter may be equipped with a quite insane level of velocity and and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the canon of modern jazz going back to Charlie Parker, yet his music is tied to a rigour in which ecstasy does exist - but always as a means of intensifying expression, and not just being in a daze.

Marcus Gilmore
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


While Gilmore left the listener with the impression that he could not help but maintain the sense of forward propulsion, Potter's virtuosic flights of fancy were constantly oscillating between the solid and the filigree. Even ballads were a show of skill, if not of technical velocity then of the supple an malleable forming of melodic line and sound. And for that endeavour it was just right to have a pianist like David Virelles on board; in the context of the precise perfection of the Potter world he comes across as a source of strength, genius but also of confusion. As accompanist he is quiet and reserved, as soloist he creates motifs with space to breathe. His methods are not to inject athletic energy but rather to create anarchy of shapes and fragments.

The fourth quartet member bassist Joe Martin has a whole heritage of groove to work on and to make his own, his patterns and structures have the aura of self-sufficiency about them, and yet he fits perfectly into the tendency of his colleagues to create an opulence of shapes.

As a whole this concert was a very fine reflection of what an exploration of the borders of modern jazz can be. To play more impressively, more coherently or better than the Chris Potter Quartet...it really can't be done. But more movingly?...perhaps it can,
.


Joe Martin
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski



(*) LINKS: Ralf Dombrowski's original German is published today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung
CD Review :The Dreamer Is the Dream
Live Review: Chris Potter Trio at the Montreal Jazz Fesstival in 2016

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INTERVIEW/FEATURE: Kevin Fitzsimmons (new album Working Day And Night - launch Pizza Express 18 June)

Kevin Fitzsimmons


Singer KEVIN FITZSIMMONS has a new album out, Working Day And Night, recorded live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club. And that’s exactly where he and his band will be launching the album on 18 June. He spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: Your new album, Working Day And Night, is a live recording. What do you like about recording live? And what are the downsides?

Kevin Fitzsimmons: I think the upside to recording live is that you have a huge and very beneficial element in the room… the audience. They are as much a part of the music as the musicians on stage. They have the ability to affect the mood and emotion of the recording. The downside: you have to accept the first take.

LJN: You clearly have a rapport with your band on the album. Are the musicians you work with important to you? And how did you form this band?

KF: Musical accompaniment: oh man, how important is that! I know one thing, get it wrong and you’re sunk. I’ve been very fortunate along the way to have found some smart and very talented people I get along with musically and socially. I’ve met them through various musical scenarios, not always jazz but they are always jazz musicians.

LJN: It’s an eclectic mix of tunes - from old standards to contemporary, and a couple of original compositions. What do you look for in a song?

KF: A good lyric is high on the list, although more often than not a good lyric is normally accompanied by a good tune. My all-time favourite song, Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, has both these elements.

LJN: You work hard on a variety of projects, from tributes to the Ratpack and to Michael Buble, to swing bands and this jazz set. Are these projects beneficial to each other? Do they develop skills that are transferable, from one project to another?

KF: Our projects outside the jazz scene are very beneficial (mostly financially, Ha!) as it means we get to play together a fair bit. Plus we gain opportunities in the customary sound checks we do for those private corporate/wedding-type gigs to try out new material, etc, for our public jazz gigs. I don’t think I really take anything from one project to another other than experience. I normally close the door on one and enter the new with a completely new set of rules.
One of my favourite projects I did was a combination of two albums Cannonball Adderley recorded with two lesser known vocalists who were steeped in blues (Ernie Andrews and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson): Live Session! Cannonball Adderley With The New Exciting Voice Of Ernie Andrews and Cleanhead And Cannonball. (There’s a piece Kevin wrote about that project HERE.)

LJN: It sounds like your family background destined you for a life in showbiz? What were your early influences?

KF: Funny, but I had no aspirations whatsoever for a life in music or showbiz growing up. That came later. As a kid I was into athletics - middle and long distance running, and playing football - though I guess it’s helped with my breath control. Plus I had a passion for art so I spent a chunk of time drawing – which came in handy years later as it meant I could do my own artwork for the front covers of my albums. But music was always dominant in the Fitzsimmons household. My dad playing albums like Sinatra & Strings and Nat King Cole’s Complete After Midnight Sessions (though what I played at volume 11 in my bedroom didn’t remotely resemble my parents’ music). In fact, my Mum, in her teens back in her home town of Dublin, was lucky enough to see Nat Cole live and was blown away by the quality of his voice. She still talks about that night (nearly every time we see her, it seems, Ha!).

Kevin Fitzsimmons

LJN: What can people expect on your new CD?

KF: Well, like my previous (studio) album, Show Me The Way, I’ve looked at songs I like outside the jazz standard repertoire, like Michael Jackson’s Working Day And Night – the album’s title track - and reworked the arrangements to my band’s style. Plus there’s new material, although not as many as on the previous album as I didn’t want to overdose the live audience (when we recorded it at Pizza Express Jazz Club) with originals.

Naturally we include some standards, for example there’s a more up-tempo version of Leon Russell’s This Masquerade and one of my favourite Rogers & Hart songs, It Never Entered My Mind. At the album’s launch gig - Pizza Express Jazz Club 18 June - we’ll also include material not on the CD, including a few new arrangements of iconic soul/pop recordings that we’ll be playing live for the first time, which is always interesting to a jazz audience I guess. And nail-biting for the band!

LJN: Give our readers a tip: three top vocal albums of all time, in your opinion?

KF: Rachelle Ferrell’s First Instrument: for me she is one of the most gifted vocalists I’ve ever heard. A master class.

Mark Murphy’s The Latin Porter: ditto, this is a live album by the then 68-year-old Mark Murphy back in 2000, showing he was still on top form. In fact he’d won Best Male Jazz Vocalist that year in Downbeat magazine’s readers’ poll.

Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers: a near perfect album and one I never tire of listening to. Cracking arrangements by Nelson Riddle and Sinatra at his vocal peak. These are some of my favourite songs from Sinatra when he was on the Capitol label, and I’m lucky to get to perform some of this stuff with a bigb, in a touring theatre concert that celebrates his era at Capitol.

LJN: And a tip or two for singers just starting out: how do you look after your voice?

KF: I didn’t know you had to?! Joking aside, I don’t consciously do any specific rituals to look after my voice. But the moment I come into contact with anybody with a hanky or a sneeze I’m running for the hills. Another tip, never drink more (alcohol) than people think you should.

LJN: What does the future hold? Have you more projects lined up?

KF: You never know when new ideas are gonna cross your mind. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a new song or idea for an arrangement I’ll be thinking about a new song or idea for an arrangement, so there’s normally a flow of some kind of new material. Hope I don’t get a dry spell (fingers crossed).

LJN: Where can LondonJazz News readers find out more about you?

KF: Head to my website – www.Jazzwurx.co.uk – it’s full of the usual publicity and press reviews, videos, social media links and of course my contact page for London Jazz News readers to get in touch. (pp)

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CD REVIEW: The Playtime Trio - Tangential Excursions



The Playtime Trio - Tangential Excursions
(Interrupto Music. IM006. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


The house band at the regular Playtime night in Edinburgh turn their hand to many different styles, from mainstream through bop to free jazz - often in the same evening. In this incarnation, they're deep into improvisation. Sometimes wholly improvised music can be difficult to listen, outside of the gig in which it is created; sometim es it can be difficult to listen to, full stop. This recording of two sets from a single gig last year isn't hard, and makes sense as a recording, too.

The three musicians - Tom Bancroft (drums), Graeme Stephen (guitar) and Martin Kershaw (alto and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet) - have a knowledge and experience of each other's playing going back years. They take turns to lead, the music morphing from one form to another; almost as if different sections or tracks were evolving as one listens.

Stephen uses a variety of pedals to build up his sound, creating loops of multiple tracks which he, Bancroft and Kershaw play with. Sometimes he sets up a bass line and then solos over the top; sometimes he is building the colour and texture, almost like a painter adding to the canvas. His loops seem to rise and fall twisting back on themselves and becoming reversed unruly they slowly disintegrate. His playing is inventive and melodic.

Kershaw is similarly versatile. He uses the bass clarinet clarinet as a drone, or to play a soulful, organ-like melody. There are some tempestuous saxophone solos, angry notes cascading front his soprano, and there are some beautiful, tender and romantic sections, too.

Balancing the guitar and reeds is Bancroft's rhythmic drive. He shifts gear, pushing on or holding back. He sets up a groove - some sections are almost funky - he swings, and he rocks. At times his playing is solid, at others loose, almost flowing. The one thing missing from listening to this recording compared to the live experiences is Bancroft's sense of humour: he incorporates a lot of humour into his playing, much of it visual, and this doesn't necessarily translate to the recorded medium.

The melodic and rhythmic progression in these excursions makes them very approachable and enjoyable. They way they twist and turn, moving from one form to another as the emphasis shifts from one musician to the next holds one's attention across both sets.

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

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