PREVIEW: Marianne Trudel’s Trifolia (UK and European dates in October)

Marianne Trudel's Trifolia. Photo credit: Randy Cole
Montreal-based pianist and composer MARIANNE TRUDEL is an influential figure on the national scene in Canada. Her recordings have been nominated for a Felix (the Quebec awards) and a Juno (national awards). She was one of the first composers to receive a major commission from the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal.  In October she will be on a seven-date tour of Europe and the UK with her band Trifolia. The three UK dates will mark her debut in this country. Dan Paton interviewed her in anticipation of the tour:

Marianne Trudel is musing on whether the term ‘jazz pianist’ continues to have any real meaning. ‘For me, music is one inclusive thing and I never really felt good with labels. I don’t feel like I’m a jazz pianist - I’m a musician and I get inspired by really different musical traditions and I just try to blend it in a way that it speaks.’ Discussing her musical background and training, Trudel says ‘I grew up playing classical music and I switched to jazz when I was 18. This was because I’ve always loved improvising but I didn’t know anything about it beyond that at the time! I discovered the jazz tradition and loved it but I also found the improvising of Han Bennink and Evan Parker very inspiring. I listened to Kenny Wheeler’s music a lot and that inevitably influenced my melodic sense. I love Brazilian music too.’

Trudel’s band Trifolia, an unconventional piano trio, formed in Canada after its three members played as the rhythm section for a larger, 12 piece festival project and decided they had to play more together in a small band context. The band is named after a three leaved flower. Does Trudel also draw influence from observations in the natural world? ‘I’ve always been inspired by nature. I grew up in a very small village of about 800 people, along the Saint Laurence river. My backyard was pretty much the Saint Lawrence river! I’ve always felt really close to nature. I do play under the name Marianne Trudel Trio when it’s more of a standard jazz trio, but that never felt right for this. There is something very organic in the way we play and we are all very passionate about nature. Etienne (Lafrance, bassist) is a big canoe fan. Every summer, he goes far up in to north Quebec for a month by himself to go canoeing.’

Perhaps the name also encapsulates the band’s democratic modus operandi. Whilst the majority of compositions on 2013’s Le Refuge are Trudel’s, there are also some where writing credits are shared, and the approach to improvisation is consistently interactive. Trudel is keen to emphasise the importance of her musical colleagues in every project she leads. ‘If I want to play with people, it’s because I want to hear what they have to say. Sometimes it gets too much! For the project with (Canadian trumpeter) Ingrid Jensen, I had to re-record part of it because I realised there was only one piano solo on the whole album! Trudel’s passion and enthusiasm for Trifolia specifically is abundantly clear. ‘It’s very open’, Trudel explains. ‘This is not something we had at the very beginning. There was a musical connection between us, of course, but we toured a lot and this really made it bloom’. (It is interesting that Trudel continues to use the language of nature here). Trudel is aware that this makes the band special. ‘Unless you are a big name, it’s hard to tour a lot and to get deeper and deeper with the same project. We have been fortunate to be able to do this with Trifolia.’

In spite of all the obstacles, thanks to a combination of industrious hard work and assistance from The Canada Council of the Arts, Trudel will make an impressive UK debut in October, joining the line-up of the Marsden Jazz Festival and performing a show at The Vortex in London. ‘It’s a challenge financially’, Trudel says, although her breezy effervescence hardly makes it sound like a complaint. ‘It’s not like people are willing to pay a big fee. They will try for the first time and see what happens. It’s also really hard to work on promo from here. I have my network in Canada and I know exactly what to do, even if it means six hours to Vancouver on a plane. But touring away from home is an adventure too! We’ve just been to China for the first time - talk about a different place! It’s a risk but I’m willing to take that risk with Trifolia because it’s a dream I have and I really believe in the music.’ What about the actual approach to performing and communicating with new audiences? Trudel is keen to emphasise the social, communicative and interactive aspects of the band. ‘I love to meet new people and I love to talk to the audience. I also have two other musicians who are really passionate and who are great to watch onstage. There are lots of smiles and we have a lot of fun.’ The fundamental delight musicians take in playing can communicate a great deal to an audience, particularly those who may even be new to improvised music entirely.

It is not difficult to see why Trudel evangelises for the individual qualities of the musicians in Trifolia. The band has a unique sound and character that owes much to their contributions. For example, Patrick Graham uses a range of percussion instruments rather than a conventional drum kit, allowing for a very wide dynamic range and some compelling sound worlds. ‘The textures and colours that Patrick brings to Trifolia are crucial. His sound makes me play very differently from how I would with a regular drum kit. With Patrick, I could go back to a level of dynamics and sensitivity in my playing that had got a bit lost. He can take a hand drum and just caress the skin, and I can be behind him very softly. His playing also resonates for the part of me that loves orchestration too.’ Trudel also explains that bassist Etienne Lafrance worked as a bassist for the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. As a result, he has considerable arco playing skills. ‘He’s not one of those bassists who reaches for the bow and just makes you want to die’, Trudel jests. This clearly gives the band many more options in terms of sound and atmosphere.

There are other, more isolated elements of Trifolia’s sound that also seem striking. On Trois Soleils for example, Trudel improvises on Wurlitzer electric piano but accompanies herself on acoustic piano. Another is her occasional use of her own voice, albeit not in a dominant, foregrounded way. ‘These were accidents’, Trudel suggests, ‘although it also came from my love of orchestration. I want to have rich textures, even if it’s only three people involved. There was a Wurlitzer in the studio and the idea of playing my solo on Trois Soleils on it just came to me and I went for it. The singing was kind of an accident too! I always sing when I play, singing my lines when I improvise. The mic was set up in a way that they could hear my voice, but I didn’t mean it. I was very shy because I’m not a singer at all - but we decided to keep it. It’s just a different texture again. Those two songs with accordion and voice bring something different to the show when we play live too.’

Trudel has said that what she enjoys most about Trifolia is the ‘freedom’. What does she mean by this? Again, it at least partially seems to come down to her interaction with Patrick and Etienne. ‘The foundation of freedom is trust’, she states clearly. ‘If there is no trust, there is no freedom. When I’m free on stage, it means I totally trust the players I’m playing with. I’m less and less interested in playing in contexts where this is not happening - all the channels need to be open.’

One of her pieces, Possibilities Et Limitations, suggests that Trudel is also interested in limitations too. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way, I’ve always loved that phrase!’ she enthuses. ‘I’ve always really pushed myself. I will always push myself to the limits, in all kinds of ways. But I reached a point where it was no longer true - sometimes where there’s a will, there’s no way! We are human. Everybody seems totally overworked, overstressed, overtired. At some point we hit a wall. The song, musically, is a pedal on F with a really cool bass line. I’m really big on harmonies, but we stick to the F pedal. This is the limitation - yet it also goes somewhere, in this very defined zone.’ Neither this nor the emphasis on trust mean that Trudel seeks to become formulaic or polished, however. She seeks to retain the crucial element of spontaneity that makes improvised music so exciting. ‘When I walk on stage, there needs to be a notion of risk. I don’t want to know exactly what will happen in advance.’ Trudel’s enthusiasm is infectious and there can be little doubt that she will revel in sharing that delight in risk taking with UK audiences. If Trudel achieves her stated aims, people will leave the concerts feeling transported and moved. They are not to be missed.

Marianne Trudel’s Trifolia UK and European tour (DATES) is assisted by The Canada Council for the Arts/ Conseil des arts du Canada

UK Tour Dates

Oct 9th 2:00 pm Marsden Jazz Festival, West Yorkshire
Oct 9th 8:30 pm The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Oct 11th 8:30 pm Vortex Jazz Club, London, N 16

LINKS: CD Review: La Vie Commence Ici
Trifolia at Marianne Trudel's website


INTERVIEW: Tom O'Grady of Resolution 88 (New Album After-glow + 2nd Cambridge Jazz Festival, 16-27 Nov)

Resolution 88 Afterglow album cover
The Cambridge Jazz Festival, 16-27 November 2016 
 has released an impressive, varied line-up for its second year. It features names such as Soweto Kinch, Laura Mvula and Anita Wardell. (FULL LINE-UP JUST PUBLISHED)

One of the headline acts is Resolution 88. Local heroes of the Cambridge scene, they will bring their signature lively jazz funk sound to La Raza, in a double bill with Binker Golding's Quartet,on Wednesday 23rd November 2016. 

Leah Williams interviewed Tom O’Grady, the band’s leader, about their new album "Afterglow,"  about November's Cambridge Jazz Fest, as well as what drew him to funk, and his experience of playing with Incognito:

LondonJazz News: You’ve taken a rather interesting path to becoming a professional musician, tell us how you got here?

Tom O’Grady: Well, I come from a very musical family. My mum’s a piano teacher and my dad’s a pianist so I started to learn the piano from a young age and it’s always been a very serious passion. When it came to deciding on a career though, I ended up going to study Engineering, thinking that it was probably safer to keep music as a part-time interest. I ended up becoming a Maths teacher in Cambridge after my studies but had continued to play a lot of music all the way through and was still really enjoying it. It got to a point where I realised that if I never really gave it a go to see where music could take me full-time then I would probably end up regretting it.

LJN: Is that how Resolution 88 came into being?

T O’G: Pretty much, yes. I went for a piano lesson with Rob Barron in London and one of the things he said that really kick-started the idea was that, aside from my own playing and practice of course, I should think about creating my own music as that’s an education in itself. I was playing a lot with local musicians on the Cambridge scene and I already knew who I really wanted to be involved - luckily they all said yes!

LJN: Reoslution 88 is described as a “hard-hitting, raw funk quartet”; is this what you set out to do from the start or is it a sound that’s evolved throughout the process?

T O’G: Well jazz funk, percussive music has always been something that I’ve listened to and taken inspiration from but in terms of writing my own music it developed quite naturally. My main ambition and drive was really just to create my own music but when I first started I wasn’t re-ally sure what kind of path that was going to take. One of my main inspirations at the time was Don Blackman and his eponymous album that was actually released the year I was born, in 1982. His music is more p-funk - quite tough 80s funk - and it’s also got vocals with it. I quickly realised through the writing process though that I was leaning more towards writing instrumental music and that was where my strengths lay. It was a combination of that natural inclination and the group of musicians we’d got together that really led the sound of our first album, Resolution 88, and, of course, the Fender Rhodes played its part in influencing the direction too.

Resolution 88 playing Ronnie Scott's. Photo credit Carl Hyde

LJN: Of course, the Fender Rhodes is a big part of your sound; how did you get in to playing this?

T O’G: Well I actually became interested in the Fender Rhodes early on when I started listening to Jamiroquai’s music at around the age of 12. The first thing you hear on their track Return of a Space Cowboy is actually a whole tone scale played on a Rhodes. I was so taken with the sound and what it brought to the music as a whole that I just knew it would end up becoming a big part of my music.

LJN: What is it you like so much about the instrument?

T O’G: There are so many things that make it such an exciting sound to work with but, to put it simply, I think the main difference between it and the piano is that the Rhodes can really blend into the sound of the band as a whole, rather than cutting through it as a soloist instrument. Putting more pressure on the keys doesn’t mean louder or bigger, it actually alters the tone and gives you so much versatility to work with.
Tom O'Grady photo credit John O'Connell

LJN: Cambridge has been a musical home to you of some sorts; how do you feel about the success of the Cambridge Jazz Festival so far?

T O’G: I think it’s amazing. It’s so incredible what they’ve managed to achieve in just two years. There’s a strong jazz and music scene in Cambridge so it’s really great that that’s being recognised and showcased there now and building more interest in the community.

LJN: You played at the Cambridge Jazz Fest last year, with Dennis Rollins as a guest trombonist. This year you’ve got Oli Savill (best known as the percussionist for Basement Jaxx) joining you. How did this come about?

T O’G: I first came across Oli when he was playing percussion with Kaidi Tatham, whose music is another of my biggest influences. Kaidi’s music heavily features percussion and it was through seeing him play live that I realised just how fundamental it is to the music - tying in the harmony as well as the rhythm. It’s definitely not just decoration. Oli’s one of the best percussion-ists around at the moment, that’s for sure, and we love playing with him.
Resolution 88 photo credit Rob Monk

LJN: Who else at the Cambridge Jazz Fest would you recommend catching?

T O’G: The line-up this year is even better than last year with some really exciting names. I’d definitely recommend Soweto Kinch. We’ve played with him before and he’s just the most incredible musician. Our music is quite complex to play but he just turned up and nailed it on the night - he’s quite something to see live. Otherwise the Misha Mullov-Abbado group are always on point and the Nigel Price organ trio will be coming off the back of a huge tour so they’ll be flying for their gig at the Festival.

LJN: Presumably, you’ll be playing music from your new album, Afterglow, for this gig?

T O’G: Yeah, we’re really excited about the new album and it’s been really well received so far. I think I learnt a lot from the process of putting out our first album and that my composition has naturally developed and become more refined since then. There are more common threads throughout, and more dynamics with a generally bigger sound. When Soweto Kinch played with us he played some second horn lines and we loved what it added to our sound. So for After-glow Alex overdubbed some second horn lines, so he’s actually playing bass clarinet as well as alto and tenor saxophone on this album.

LJN: "Afterglow" has been released on the Splash Blue label, which is run by Bluey (Jean-Paul Maunick) from Incognito, amongst others. How was it working with him?

T O’G: Oh, it’s fantastic. I’m currently filling in on keys on tour with Incognito and I’m such a big fan of their music and of Bluey himself. Being released on his label Splash Blue is so exciting because he only signs music that he genuinely wants to endorse and it’s so great to know that he’s behind us, helping to get our sound out there. He’s been so successful so we’re just happy to have the benefit of his experience and support.

Afterglow is released now and can be found on Bandcamp or iTunes.

Resolution 88
Resolution 88 on Bandcamp
Cambridge Jazz Festival


REVIEW: Iain Ballamy/ Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir / Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Barbican Hall.

Iain Ballamy/ Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir
Barbican Hall. 23rd September. Review by Frank Griffith)

Iain Ballamy’s collaboration with the Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir with exquisite arrangements by Malcom Edmonstone took place at The Barbican on Friday 23rd September. The exemplary conducting of composer and veteran Guildhall Jazz Lecturer, Scott Stroman should not go unnoticed. Arriving in London in 1983, Indiana-born, Illinois-bred Stroman has been a formative figure in UK jazz education. His leadership of the jazz course commenced in 1987 and brought into being what has become an internationally recognised jazz course, where the idea of a centre of excellence continues to flourish: the extraordinary talents of the School's current students - from 1st year to post graduates -  all shone spectacularly.

Billed as Iain Ballamy’s 21st Century Pastoral the first half of the concert featured arrangements of Ballamy’s pieces by pianist and Head of Jazz, Malcolm Edmonstone as well as guitarist, Stuart Hall.

This was followed by the The Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing works by Brahms and Walton. One might wonder as to why and how these seemingly disparate musical styles were programmed on the same bill but there are actual connections between the style. These were explored in a PREVIEW of the concert which noted that “the influence of jazz is well documented in the works of William Walton and jazz style rhythms, also strongly associated with Stravinsky, are self-evident in many of his works. Walton met many jazz musicians at the Savoy Theatre (in Harlem) and was known for his liking of music by Duke Ellington, Spike Hughes and Benny Goodman.”

The results of which were victorious in achieving a seamless articulation of idioms and sonorities in the two halves of the concert making for a delightful bouquet of large ensemble harmoniousness.

The music and the lyricism of Iain Ballamy were given depth and magic by the wondrous and larger-than-life arrangements of Edmonstone. These explored a range of colours and rhythmical grooves and changing metres. An expanded rhythm section included a kit drummer joined by four hand percussionists and seven guitarists (!) Speaking of which, two of Ballamy’s melodies were cleverly arranged by guitarist, Stuart Hall, for guitar ensemble and rhythm section. In addition to leading the group, Hall contributed some quirky and fiery solos of his own. This not only provided a welcome change of texture for the listener but presented yet another facet of Ballamy’s musical oeuvre. Hall’s harmonically updated treatment of Molly Malone certainly warmed the cockles and mussels of this listener's heart as well as providing an opportunity for several of the guitarists to let loose.

The primary figure of the evening though was Ballamy, of course. In addition to his excellent compositions exploring so many musical idioms his tenor sax scored highly as well. Possessing a rich and darkly sonorous tone he negotiated his way through the registers with both evenness and aplomb. His command of the horn is an inspiration to saxophonists and listeners alike, yet there is no hint of an icy or detached connection with the music. The warmth and melodic fluidity of his message reigned supreme at all times.

The pieces were from differing periods of Ballamy's career, and the inclusion and ordering of them helped the listener and  created a suite-like effect. This context gave a rounded and full perspective of a remarkable musician. Bravo to the Guildhall and Barbican for successfully marrying these musical idioms together as they clearly scored and resonated well. One looks forward to more initiatives like this in the future.

LINK: Interview with Iain Ballamy


PREVIEW: Tina May and Enrico Pieranunzi (tour dates tonight till Oct 7th, nearest to London on Oct 5th)

Enrico Pieranunzi and Tina May

Singer Tina May and pianist Enrico Pieranunzi will stir memories of two jazz legends who have been the focus of attention recently when they begin a UK in Langholm in the Scottish Borders tonight (Tuesday, September 27). Rob Adams explains the background - and the connections to Chet Baker and to Rudy Van Gelder: 

Tina May recorded The Ray Bryant Songbook in 2002 in the studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where the recently departed audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder helped to shape the sound of modern jazz on recordings by John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Lee Morgan, among many others. And Enrico Pieranunzi was once the regular accompanist to singer and trumpeter Chet Baker, the subject of Ethan Hawke’s latest film, Born to be Blue.

The tour is a belated launch for May and Pieranunzi’s Home is Where the Heart Is album, which was released on 33 Records in 2015 (Link to review below). Since recording the album the two musicians have been travelling separately almost constantly. May has made repeated journeys to the Far East and France, as well as gigging closer to home, and Pieranunzi has played gigs in New York and at the recent International Piano Trio festival at Ronnie Scott’s in London. So finding a mutually suitable period to tour proved a problem.

“It’s really just the way things are as a freelance musician,” says May. “You take every gig that comes along, assuming a mutually suitable gap will appear, and before you know it, the calendar’s changing. We meant to promote the album live at the time of its release but eventually we just had to set aside a couple weeks in late September and early October and go out and do some concerts together.”

The album continues May’s career as a lyricist as well as a singer. Having added words to compositions by Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Bobby Watson in the mid-1990s, she teamed up in 2002 with the great pianist Ray Bryant – accompanist to Carmen McRae and Betty Carter as well as sideman to Lester Young and Miles Davis – on The Ray Bryant Songbook to considerable acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

On being introduced to Pieranunzi by a mutual friend in 2011, May and the pianist struck up an immediate rapport and five of the nine tracks on Home is Where the Heart Is are collaborative efforts.

As at home playing the works of Rossini as he is Sonny Rollins, Pieranunzi has vast experience as an accompanist, including his work with Chet Baker, with whom he recorded recording the album Soft Journey among others. He is also a recipient of France’s coveted Django d’Or award and a prolific composer.

“I love working with Enrico as a singer and as a songwriter,” says May. “He writes beautiful melodies that can immediately suggest ideas for lyrics and he seems to know intuitively where I’m going to be at any time in a song. I’m looking forward to the tour immensely because we always have a great time together.”

Tour dates

Tue Sep 27: Langholm, Buccleuch Centre
Wed Sep 28: Findhorn, Universal Hall
Thu Sep 29: Edinburgh, Queen’s Hall
Fri Sep 30: Stirling, Tolbooth
Sun Oct 2: Southport, Clifton Hotel
Wed Oct 5: Luton, The Bear Club
Thu Oct 6: Leeds, Seven Arts
Fri Oct 7: Liverpool, Capstone Theatre

LINK: Review of Enrico Pieranunzi Trio at Ronnie Scott's 
Review of CD Home is Where the Heart Is


TRIBUTE: Rob Adams remembers John Ellson (1952-2016)

John Ellson
The UK jazz community is mourning the loss of one of its most significant and energetic - and liked and respected -  behind-the-scenes instigators. The producer and promoter JOHN ELLSON, who died at home in Shiplake in Oxfordshire of a heart attack on September 17th 2016, was an integral part of the scene for over three decades. Rob Adams remembers him:

As is the way of these things, I’d been speaking about him the day before the news came through that John Ellson had died. Some musicians were looking to apply for Made in the UK and I’d assured them that, if successful, they’d be in the best possible hands.

They would also be joining a long, long list of musicians that John had expertly guided across the world, not just to Rochester International Jazz Festival in New York where Made in the UK has given British jazz a platform since 2008, but to just about everywhere jazz is played.

John was one of these people who take on the physical attributes of a geographical feature. We weren’t in touch that often latterly but it was easy to assume he would always be around and when we did bump into each other, it was always the same John you were dealing with. He was as steady as a rock.

We’d met in the 1980s when I was organising tours for Jazz Services in Covent Garden and John was working out of the office space over the dividing wall. Sometimes, if we were both in town, we’d share the walk from Waterloo over the Thames in the morning and compare notes.

I’d be sending bands to Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, or maybe Barnstaple, Exeter and Eype, and John would either be dealing with something similar on the considerably larger scale of the Contemporary Music Network tours or plotting some mammoth itinerary for all-star teams on transglobal jaunts sponsored by cigarette manufacturers Philip Morris. On these trips there invariably seemed to be a Hammond organ, complete with Lesley speaker cabinet, to shunt around the world’s airports. It sounded nightmarish but John dealt with it all as if it was no more onerous than a golf outing, something that he also enjoyed.

Eventually I moved back to Scotland to another jazz company that wasn’t quite as long for this world as I’d hoped and when it went under, John was one of the first to get in touch. He offered me a job which, not ungratefully, I turned down, sensing a move in another direction. I remember his response: I’d be back, running some tour or other. He was right, although it took a while and it hasn’t become a full-time occupation. Certainly not like John’s, which went on to include festival programming and production and overseeing recording projects plus many, many more waits by airport carousels.

The last time we met was at the Scottish Jazz Awards, at which John was presenting, I think, the live band of the year prize. That would have been the most appropriate category anyway for someone who thrived on making jazz happen, who saw no obstacles in its way and who loved dealing with everyone involved, especially the musicians. And they loved him back. How could they not love someone who came up with the idea of flying British musicians to America to play at a major jazz festival and then make that the springboard for concerts deeper into the U.S. and Canada?

One of the things we dicussed on those walks across Waterloo Bridge was the Musicians Union exchange system which required incoming Americans’ gigs to be matched by MU members playing the same number of U.S. dates. Imagine if, instead of trading a whole UK tour by Jack Walrath for a weekend of Simple Minds gigs (as once happened), we could actually send British jazzers. John Ellson made that fantasy a reality. The jazz world has lost a big friend indeed.

Facebook has carried eloquent tributes from Sue Edwards , John HarleKerstan Mackness and John Nugent


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Joe Williamson of Square One (CD In Motion and Tour Dates 4 Oct-29 Nov)

Square One. Back L to R:   David Bowden, Stephen Henderson, Peter Johnstone.
Lower step: Joe Williamson 
If being invited down to London to play in the auditions for the Peter Whittingham Jazz Awards last December had been an unexpected pleasure for Square One...then the return journey following the event had an even bigger surprise in store. Rob Adams explains: 

It was while travelling back to Glasgow by train that the quartet Square One heard the news that they had been selected, alongside the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, to receive the top prize in the Peter Whittingham Jazz Awards, of £5000. In music industry terms this may be a modest sum but it’s been a game changer for Square One, enabling them to record their first album, In Motion, which they are touring to promote in the UK from October 4 with a series of gigs in Poland in between two dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a final date in London at the Vortex.

“As well as the financial aspect, the award has been a fantastic boost for Square One,” says guitarist Joe Williamson. “It's really raised the profile of the band, and helped to get the attention of promoters - it’s great to have so many gigs on the album launch tour as a result. As well as the album we were also able to make some videos, which help to promote the band, and being able to afford the luxury of two days in a state of the art studio, Castlesound in Pencaitland, near Edinburgh, allowed us to take our time and get the music sounding the way we wanted.”

All four band members are graduates of the jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, although they were part of three different in-takes and got together on a more social basis away from the course. Pianist and former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, Peter Johnstone is the senior member and had already graduated when Square One began to play informally in the local scene in 2014.

“The nature of the RCS course is that, although it’s quite small, you get to play with lots of people and various bands come together among the students actually within the conservatoire,” says Williamson. “The four of us - Peter, David Bowden [bass] and Stephen Henderson [drums] – had played together a lot in various different line-ups, and found that we enjoyed playing each other’s music, so we wanted to take it a bit further. Very quickly, a style began to emerge, and as the sound began to develop we were able to start writing specifically for Square One.”

Most of the music on In Motion has been composed by Williamson, Bowden and Henderson, with Johnstone contributing ideas and suggestions for edits and arrangements. Already, though, there’s a unity of style. The key component for Williamson, who cites the Impossible Gentlemen in general and Mike Walker’s playing in particular as primary influences, is melody.

“We all play in other projects away from the band,” he says. “And we all bring different styles into the music. Peter, for example is a very accomplished classical pianist and is about to take a doctorate in performance back at the RCS. Stephen’s really into Steely Dan and the fusion side of things and also plays in a folk-rock band, and David’s interested in song-based compositions and has a very lyrical approach. At the same time, though, we all have the same mind-set as far as what we want to play as a band is concerned and I think that makes us well-balanced and keeps us focused on not just melody but in creating dynamism and drama within the arrangements.”

For Williamson, who was commissioned by Glasgow Jazz Festival this year to write an extended piece for the band, In Motion marks a staging post in Square One’s music. The album tracks are still evolving since being recorded and he’s looking forward to taking the music on tour.

“We feel that every time we play the music develops, so it’s going to be really exciting to go out on the road and play almost every night,” he says. “It’s great playing with Pete, David, and Stephen, as they always discover something new in the music every time we play it. It’s very exciting for us – we hope audiences will feel the same!’’ (pp)

Tour dates:

4th Oct - The Spotted Dog - Birmingham
5th Oct - Dempsey's - Cardiff
7th Oct - St Christopher's Church, Haslemere
9th Oct - The Phoenix Inn, York
10th Oct - The Wonder Inn, Manchester
12th Oct - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
20th Oct - Harris Piano Bar, Krakow, Poland
22nd Oct - Dali Club, Krakow, Poland
23rd Oct - Theatre in the Castle, Przemsyl, Poland
1st Nov - The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
29th Nov – The Vortex, London


REVIEW: ELDA Trio - Album Launch at King’s Place

Emilia Mårtensson, Janez Dovč and Adriano Adewale of ELDA trio.
Photo credit Gierdre Cesnaite

ELDA Trio - Album Launch
(King’s Place. 22nd September 2016. Review by Leah Williams)

The transatlantic trio of Swedish vocalist Emilia Mårtensson, Slovenian accordionist Janez Dovč and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale are a new force to be reckoned with. Drawing on musical inspirations from their variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences, ELDA produces a full and uplifting sound that is both recognisable from its various distinctive elements, whilst also creating something completely new of its own. Launching their eponymous debut album, the trio treated us to a memorable celebration of cultures, musical heritage and life.

ELDA trio make for an interesting combination with a collection of instruments and backgrounds probably rarely seen together on stage. This “melting pot” of their respective musical styles and cultures is apparently simultaneously the result of and reason for this collaboration. They make it clear that this project wasn’t only a musical journey to see how their respective styles and sounds would come together, but had a larger purpose. As described by Adewale, this venture is about an “encounter of different cultures and noting not only the similarities but also respecting and celebrating the differences…which is important in times like this”.

The excitement and pure joy of their music-making remained dominant throughout and was truly infectious. From the way the instruments are set-up (in almost a music circle setting so they can all easily see and interact with one another) and the continuous grins and knowing looks they send to each other and out to the audience throughout, it is clear that not only is there a lot of love and respect there but that they are truly relishing every minute of finally seeing all their hard work and dreams for this trio come to life. The entire gig is high energy and whether a song is pure celebration or dealing with a more serious topic, the music never fails to be rousing. It’s the kind of music that gets every sense involved, leaving you with a stupid grin on your face and bringing goosebumps with every climax, which are both inevitably and organically built up to in each song but also somehow catch you by surprise.

The majority of the songs have been co-written by them all and this shows in the way that a consistent sound has been found amidst the many different styles and musical influences. They have drawn on folk tales and musical traditions from their varied cultures but then used these influences to push their music and style forwards to its own unique place, adding a few subtle electronic soundbites for a truly contemporary touch.

One of my personal favourites was Ellis Dreams, which Emilia Mårtensson introduced by explaining how one of the things they’d wanted to do with this music was to “tell stories that everyone can relate to” and then followed this by saying that perhaps not so many people would be able to relate to this one as she co-wrote it with a friend when they were drunk on red wine. The result is one of the most synergetic songs I’ve ever heard with a tipsy-topsy, fantastical, Willy Wonka style that makes you feel as though you’re right there with them, a few glasses down yourself! This aside, the majority of songs cover topics that will speak to all in the most poignant of ways, with lost love, displacement and a search for identity beautifully captured and communicated.

Who would have predicted that an accordion, a range of percussion instruments and pure, trandescent vocals could come together to create such musical magic? But this recipe does indeed make for one seriously tasty dish for the ears and the spirit. It is the kind of music that leaves you feeling alive and glad to be human (no mean feat sometimes these days and something we could all do with more of).

The scene had been nicely set by surprise support act, The Magic Lantern (aka singer/songwriter Jamie Doe), who set up a wonderful rapport with the audience. Not only was he at ease, he was also genuinely funny, delivering a seemingly natural mix of stand-up comedy and great acoustic folk music. His songs appeared deceptively simple but revealed a depth and life-experience that many will connect with. He even managed to produce a variety of sounds from his guitar - including one inspired by the African mbira (thumb piano) - using a few humorous props such as broken tent string and blu tac.

ELDA will be performing at the EFG London Jazz Festival in the Upper Hall (Bar) Union Chapel at 3 30pm on Nov 20th in a double bill with Fini Bearman. (DETAILS). The album ELDA Trio is released on Two Rivers Records.

LINK: ELDA Trio website


NEWS: Bassist Daniel Casimir wins 2016 Musicians Company Award

Master of the Musicians Company Andrew Morris and Daniel Casimir
Photo credit: Melody McLaren 

The winner of the 2016 Musicians' Company Young Jazz Musician Competition is bassist Daniel Casimir. This was the second win by a bassist in two years, last year's winner having been Adam King. The last (and only) guitarist to have won was Colin Oxley in 2001, the last pianist John Escreet in 2004.

The unusual format of the competition is to put together a six-piece band to play standards, and for the audience to choose the winner by secret ballot. The strongest impression was of the unbelievably the high standards and professional energy and adaptability attained by all six participants as they worked together as a band, and yet simultaneously vied for the audience's attention and/or affection. One stand-out moment was Elliott Sansom's  eloquent and beautifully crafted solo on Sam Rivers' Beatrice, but it was Daniel Casimir who won the audience over last night - and gained their vote by quite a margin - with a great mix of communicativeness, simplicity and sass.

The finalists' band. L-R: Elliott Sansom, Rob Luft, Daniel Casimir
Leo Richardson, Jackson Mathod, Scott Chapman
Photo credit Melody McLaren

Daniel Casimir. Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LINK: Musicians' Company Website


INTERVIEW: Mark Wingfield (Specialist Mixing and Mastering Service for Jazz at Heron Island Studio)

Mark Wingfield
MARK WINGFIELD is a musician and a specialist in mixing and mastering jazz recordings. In this in-depth interview he talks about the art and craft of mixing and mastering, and gives an insight into the issues involved when an album has been recorded in a cramped space. He explains the activity of Heron Island Studios, and brings to the fore some current industry trends. Sebastian asked the questions: 

LondonJazz News: What and where is Heron Island Studio?

Mark Wingfield:We are just outside of St Neots on an island on the Great Ouse river in an area rich in bird-life, hence the name Heron Island Studio. The road crosses over the island so no boats necessary! We overlook a nature reserve and are surrounded by natural beauty as well as the river, so it's a relaxing place to mix. Access from London is easy, we are 40 minutes by train from Kings Cross and just off the A1 for anyone coming by car.

LJN: You specialise in mixing and mastering jazz. Is your approach different from people mixing and mastering other types of music?

MW: Yes mixing jazz is very different from mixing for example, pop or rock. With rock and pop it's often the opposite approach to how you would mix a jazz record. Mixing rock and pop you are often trying to fill in the gaps, gel everything together, flatten out the dynamics. It often even involves moving every note onto the grid, removing all natural timing from the playing. This is all an anathema to jazz playing. In jazz the detail of what's played is very important. With a jazz musician, every inflection, nuance, dynamic and tonal change is part of their expression. So it is vital that the mixing approach allows all this to be heard clearly and that it makes everything sound as natural as possible.

Because of the budgetary limitations most jazz musicians face, most albums are being recorded in small studios. The problem with small studios is that the walls are too close to the instruments. This means that these studios are forced to deaden the walls and ceiling with sound baffling to prevent the kind of horrible sounding small room reverberation, which would otherwise ruin the recording. Try walking into a small empty room and clapping your hands. You get a sort of "boing" noise as the sound bounces off all the walls. If you imagine that sound on every instrument, it would be a very far cry from the big beautiful reverberation sound you get in a performance hall or even a small club. That's why small studios have to put absorbent baffling in the rooms.

LJN: What is the effect on the sound of recording in small deadened rooms and how do you work with this when mixing?

MW When you play back what you've recorded in one of these small rooms, the instruments sound like they are on top of each other. This is because the baffling has taken away the spacial information from the sound, so it's more difficult for the ear to separate the instruments and place them in space relative to each other. So you end up with a very dense, flat, crowded sound where it's hard to hear what's going on in detail. Part of our job when mixing is to take this raw recording and transform it into a mix where the instruments are in a beautiful sounding space. A beautiful sounding space where they are not on top of each other, but set out as if on stage or in a large room. What kind of space you create depends on the music. Some music needs an intimate atmosphere, some asks for a larger more epic space. You then place the instruments in this space in relation to each other, close enough together to sound like they are playing with each other, but with enough room between them so that you can hear all the details. For me, creating this space is part of the art of mixing jazz.

This involves many things, like making sure frequencies don't clash between instruments. For example if the kick drum is occupying part of the same frequency range as the acoustic bass, you won't hear either of them clearly. Sorting out these kinds of problems while keeping the instruments sounding very natural, is for me another part of the art of mixing jazz. These kinds of techniques have taken me many years of mixing and mastering to acquire and refine, but I think that comes from that fact that I absolutely love doing it.

LJN: Do you have a particular goal when you mix or master a jazz album?

MW:There are goals I have when mixing or mastering an album. I want to hear the wood in an acoustic bass, the texture of brush strokes on the snare or detailed work on the ride cymbal. I'm looking for a feeling of depth and warmth but without any muddiness. I want to hear the detail of what players are doing and the interaction that's going on clearly, because that's so important in jazz. I want it to be a truly pleasurable experience for the listener because I think that helps people connect with the music.

LJN: And you are a musician yourself – when did you start being involved on the other side of the microphone?

MW: I've always been involved in mixing and recording right from the beginning. Perhaps because I'm a guitarist and have always been very interested in the effects side of things, mixing was a natural extension of what I did as a musician from early on. I got hold of a mixing desk at the age of 18 and have been heavily involved in mixing now for over 20 years. Mastering is something I started doing later on, after I had been mixing for quite a while.

LJN: Are mixing and mastering a question of equipment or is it the person and their experience / judgment ?

MW:It's both for sure... I think the personal aesthetic of the mixing or mastering engineer is key to getting a sound that suits a particular style of music. If you are not really steeped in the music of the genre, though you might do a decent job, it's going to hard to really make the music shine. I've been involved with jazz and related music my whole life, so I know the history, all the classic recordings starting from the 40's right up to today. The sound of recording and mixing has changed over the decades along with the evolution of the music. I think this knowledge and listening experience makes a huge difference in how I mix and master. I mean if you gave me a thrash metal album or an electronic dance album to mix I could do a decent job, but it wouldn't be the same as getting someone who specialised in those genres. I think it's the same with jazz or any genre, if you have a deep knowledge of the music you're mixing and mastering it makes a huge difference in the results.

I think experience and judgement are far more important than the equipment. Someone who really knows what their doing can produce a good result from any decent equipment. Someone who isn't as skilled will produce a mediocre result with the best equipment in the world. But of course equipment does make a big difference. It means that a skilled engineer can make things sound even better.

LJN: Is there any particular piece of gear or software that you feel makes a difference in making a great sounding mix?

MW:A particularly important factor for jazz is having world class reverbs. I think people often don't realise what a difference it makes between using say, Lexicon's current flagship reverb, versus a lesser reverb like an older unit made in the 1980s or a cheap reverb plugin. The difference is like night and day. I see some studios using old or cheap reverbs and I can always hear it. To my ears they almost always muddy the sound without creating a realistic sense of space in the music. Certain kinds of studio gear haven't really improved since the 1970's. That's not true for reverb, it has improved dramatically in recent years in terms of realism and sonic quality. A great modern reverb allows you to create a beautiful 3D space for the music to be in, without you even noticing it's there. Put simply, world-class reverb makes the music a real pleasure to listen to, especially with acoustic instruments. Used correctly, it creates space between the instruments, which actually makes it easier to hear the details of what people are playing.

LJN: How did you get to know MoonJune?

MW:For anyone who doesn't know MoonJune Records, it's an innovative jazz label based in Manhattan, which has been nominated for label of the year in Downbeat two years running. I signed to MoonJune as a musician in 2014 and in 2015 recorded an album for them as band leader, called "Proof of Light". As well as playing on the album I also mixed and masted it. I have since recorded another four albums for them as band leader or co-leader. One coming out this year and another two in 2017.

"Proof of Light" got over 60 rave reviews around the world including Downbeat, Relix and many other major publications. One interesting upshot of all that publicity was that a lot of audiophiles commented about how good the album sounded in terms of the mixing and mastering audio quality. As a result Leonardo Pavkovic, the owner of MoonJune, asked me to mix and master some of the other albums on the label. Before long Heron Island became their go-to mixing and mastering studio. I'm incredibly pleased about the fact that all the records I have mixed and mastered for MoonJune have received world-wide critical acclaim.

It's a very similar story for Greydisc Records the Boston based label I do a lot of work for, which is also known for it's audiophile sound. One of the records I mixed and mastered for Greydisc was the subject of a feature article in Guitar Player magazine, and six others have been selected for the year's "best-of" list by numerous US jazz radio stations as well as by major music publications. That's something I'm very proud of.

LJN: What albums have you been working on recently?

MW: We've been working on some interesting music recently at Heron Island. I've just been mastering a Softworks album featuring Allan Holdsworth, John Marshall, Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper and a double album by the great Indonesian jazz pianist Dwiki Dharmawan called Pasar Klewer which features Gilad Atzmon, Nicolas Meier, Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis. Before that I was mastering an album by the amazing NYC based guitarist Beledo featuring Gary Husband. Other albums recently have featured great musicians such as Iain Ballamy, Chad Wackerman, Lincoln Goines, Jimmy Haslip, Robert Mitchell and more.

LJN: Do you choose the work you get or does it choose you?

MW: It's a bit of both. I choose to work only on jazz related music, which includes some world music too. I prefer to work in that genre because I feel I have a deep understanding of jazz, I think that really helps in the mixing and mastering, and I feel like I can use the best of my mixing abilities. Having said that, I did mix and master a rock/pop album album for Warner Bros. recently. Mixing that style is unusual for me these days, but I was asked to do it and I liked the music. So I will make an exception if I like the music enough, but my speciality is jazz. There was a full string orchestra on the recording and as I have experience mixing classical music that may have played a part in them asking me.

LJN: Do you mix "in the box" or is there analogue outboard gear or what combination of the two?

MW:We have analog gear here and we use it if requested. However in the past three or four years, software has advanced to the point where it sounds as good as or better than the very best hardware. Most of the best analog gear has now been emulated so well with software, that the owners of the actual units that copied cannot tell which is which when you switch between the two. The analog magic created by prized hardware has now been completely understood and completely reproduced in software. If anyone reading this has doubts, I urge them to listen to the plugins made by SlateDigital, Millennia, Softube and Eiosis. These companies and a few others, have completely changed the game. As a result, a whole slew of famous Grammy Award winning engineers in the US, who all used to swear by analog, have come out and said that software now actually sounds as good or better than their hardware and are now mixing entirely in the box.

LJN: What does this mean for musicians recording today and what does it mean for you as a mix and mastering engineer?

MW:What this means to a musician or group recording an album is that they can now afford a world-class sound which would normally be way beyond the finances of most jazz groups. The cost of setting up a studio with at large mixing desk and the necessary racks of the best analog gear was 120 to 150 thousand pounds. Now you can get the same quality or better for under 10 thousand because it's based in software. In fact it's now arguably better because you don't have to compromise with the fact that your studio only has one or two examples of a particular piece of beautiful sounding analog gear. With software you can use that sound on every instrument. That's something that just wasn't possible in the analog world.

For me what's just as important is that in the past three or so years, the best software designers have taken things way past what analog can do. So for example, you might have a great sounding piece of analog gear which adds a sweetness to the mid range, a different unit might add richness to the low end and a third piece is nice because it tends to add a silky smoothness to the high frequencies. But each of these pieces of hardware comes with a hefty dose of noise and other changes to frequencies you really don't want to affect. So you gain something, but you also loose something, it's always a compromise in the analog world. The result was often a warm sounding mix, but also a loss of detail and space. Everything would be coated in a sort of gauze or mist. This can actually be a good thing for some kinds of rock music, but for jazz, you just end up missing out on the details and the depth in the sound.

This is one of a number of areas where software has now gone beyond the hardware. The best new software allows you to choose just the attribute you want to enhance without affecting anything else. So for example you can add a silky smoothness to the sax or vocal that a prized piece of analog hardware would add, but without adding mushiness to the mid range or low end that the actual hardware would. There's a lot less compromise in the sound quality now and it's easier to get just the sound you want on every instrument.

LJN: And the acoustic environment of the room is special / optimized ?

MW:Yes absolutely. A room which has been properly acoustically treated is one of the most important things in a mixing and mastering studio, it's even more important than the gear or software. The reason is that any room will have reflections across the frequency range. These bounce back at your ears just after the sound from the speakers and that causes frequencies to cancel out and multiply. The result is that what you hear is not what the music actually sounds like. You may be hearing more bass than there actually is, or less high frequencies than there actually are etc... You're hearing a skewed version of the music. This will very likely cause problems in the mix, because the mixer will be fixing problems which don't exist and missing problems which do.

A lot of our work in mastering is fixing problems in mixes which happened because the room was not properly treated or the mixing speakers were not good enough. In fact that's the most common problem any mastering engineer encounters. You can do a lot to fix this in mastering, but it's never going to be as good as if the mix didn't have those problems to begin with.

So proper acoustic treatment is essential. This is something you simply can't skimp on if you want great results and yet so many small studios don't take it seriously enough. It's simply not enough to put some foam and a few cheap sound baffles on the walls. That might help a little, but it's just not going to fix the major problems almost all rooms naturally have. For this reason we spent a good deal on acoustic treatment at Heron Island. Our acoustic treatment was bespoke designed for our studio by RealTraps who do many of the top NYC studios.

LJN: Is there anything else apart from the acoustic treatment that you feel is vital for a mixing or mastering studio?

MW:Great speakers are the other important thing. We use Adam A77Xs which swept the awards for studio speakers. Adam are are world-class mixing speakers which is why they are used by Abbey Road, Bomb Factory, Universal Studios, Deepwave, Rupert Neve, etc… Having speakers of this quality makes a huge difference in getting a great mix.

Mastering also requires great speakers and you can't use mixing speakers to master with. Mastering speakers are very different from near field mixing speakers. It's vitally important for a mastering studio to have truly great mastering speakers and amplifier. We are very lucky to have a pair of Duntech Viscount mastering speakers. Duntechs are legendary in the mastering world because they are extremely well balanced and accurate across the frequency spectrum and they have incredible detail and sound stage. We have a world-class Chord amplifier to drive them.

LJN: Is there an advantage in musicians coming to St Neots and working with you?

MW:That depends on the client. I mix music from all over the world. A lot of stuff from NYC, Boston, Berlin, Zurich, even as far afield as Jakarta (which has a huge and vibrant jazz scene). So I am used to receiving files over the internet or receiving a hard disk in the mail and working remotely. I often skype with the band or musicians to talk over what they would like from the mix. I'll then send high quality mp3s of rough mixes, get their comments and make changes based on that. This system works extremely well for many people. However some people would really like to be there during the mix and of course they are more than welcome to come to the studio. It's a very relaxing environment to work in here as I mentioned, we often have a break (important to do when mixing) and have a walk by the river around the island. There are restaurants, shops and pubs just a mile up the road in St Neots. So it's totally up to the client. We are more than happy to have people attend the mixing sessions or equally happy to do it remotely. The same goes with mastering, though as a rule not so many people want to attend mastering.

LJN: How long does mixing / mastering take?

MW: The time it takes to mix an album is variable. Some albums are quick to mix, others take longer. As a rough guide it takes about a week for most things. If there is a full string section or many instruments playing it's going to take longer than mixing a quartet or trio. It also depends on the budget of the musician, band or label. Because I know what it's like to be a struggling jazz musician I try to stay as flexible as possible. I discuss the project with the client to establish what's involved, and find out how complicated the mix is going to be. There will be a difference between how long it takes to mix a trio record and a record with fifteen instruments playing at the same time for example. From there I can work out a price and the time it will take. Mastering an album is usually done in a day, sometimes two.

LJN: People who hear you speak might not be able to place your accent. What's your story?

MW:I have an American father and English mother. I was born in Oklahoma USA then moved to the UK and spent some of my childhood here before returning to the US and spending my later childhood and teens in Boston. I then returned to the UK and have been here now for over 20 years.

LJN: Did you have mentors as musician and or as mixing /mastering specialist. What is it that makes one better than another?

MW:If I had to choose an engineer who I looked up to and someone who really changed the face of jazz sonically it would be Jan Erik Kongshaug. Jan Erik mixed many of the classic ECM recordings, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny etc... and he along with Manfred Eicher, changed the sound of how jazz was recorded and mixed. There's barely and album made today which hasn't taken some influence from the way Jan Erik mixed those ECM recordings (and still does). If you listen to the clarity and detail in those recordings compared to pretty much anything that came before, you can hear how much he changed the face of jazz mixing. (pp)

LINK: Contacting Heron Island Studio


PHOTO-ESSAY: Herts Jazz Festival 2016, 16th - 18th September

The Mingus Tribute Band (L to R): Arnie Somogyi, Art Themen, Bruce Boardman, Karen Sharp, Richard Foote, Richard Henry, Bruce Adams, Jeremy Price, Nigel Hitchcock, Tony Kofi, Sam Mayne, Neil Yates, Clark Tracey. Photo credit: © Melody McLaren

As a photographer for Herts Jazz Club, Melody McLaren has followed and photographed the club’s events since 2011. Staged for the sixth time this year from September 16 to 18, the annual Herts Jazz Festival is the club’s flagship event. Its identity has evolved under Artistic Director Clark Tracey’s leadership and reflects his approach to programming in (at least) three ways. Melody has put her photos of Herts Jazz Festival 2016 under three headings. She writes: 

1) SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW: balancing innovation and familiar elements to maintain the loyalty of longtime Herts Jazz audience members whilst engaging new jazz enthusiasts;

2) GENERATION JAZZ: providing performance opportunities for jazz musicians of all ages, ranging from young and emerging artists to the more established members of our community; and

3) WE ARE FAMILY: visibly engaging family and friends in running the Festival each year, giving the event the feel of an inclusive family reunion which encompasses youngsters and elders and features appearances by beloved, as well as occasionally eccentric, aunties and uncles regaling us with their entertaining musical stories.


Herts Jazz Film Festival

This year, film aficionado and Herts Jazz team member Mike O’Brien launched the Herts Jazz Film Festival to complement the music festival programme, co-located at Campus West Entertainment Centre in Welwyn Garden City. The films presented during Herts Jazz Festival weekend included Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 Sweet Smell of Success, featuring a jazz score by Elmer Bernstein and including appearances by The Chico Hamilton Quintet; two Buster Keaton short films from 1920, Neighbors and One Week, accompanied by Dave Newton on piano; and Lee Cogswell’s 2015 documentary, Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry, narrated by actor and Hayes fan Martin Freeman. The final film, John Akomfrah’s documentary, Stan Tracey: The Godfather Of British Jazz, will be presented at a Herts Jazz gala evening 2nd October 2016 and be followed by a live performance by the all-star Stan Tracey Legacy Quartet featuring Art Themen, Steve Melling, Andy Cleyndert and Clark Tracey.

Mike O'Brien welcomes film-goers to the inaugural Herts Jazz Film Festival. Photo credit: © Melody McLaren

Mingus/Monk Big Band Tribute 

Billed as ‘a meeting of the mavericks’ (see lead photo), this project – the brainchild of bassist Arnie Somogyi and drummer Clark Tracey, as described in his earlier interview with LondonJazz News – brought together some of the UK’s top jazz soloists including Bruce Adams, Freddy Gavita, Martin Shaw (trumpets), Nigel Hitchcock, Sam Mayne, Art Themen, Karen Sharp, Tony Kofi (saxes), Jeremy Price, Richard Foote, Richard Henry (trombones) and Bruce Boardman (piano) to re-create the music of Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk in an unusual big band format. The arrival of musical scores on the afternoon of the Sunday concert helped to create the spontaneous, lively atmosphere which kept the musicians, as well as the audience, on the edge of their seats.


This Festival underscored the enduring appeal of jazz to successive generations of musicians, with all being showcased in this year’s programme. Clark Tracey’s support for young and emerging musicians has been a consistent theme in Herts Jazz programming, launching his ‘College Collection’ seasonal features of student musicians in 2012. This year’s Festival continued that support in a variety of ways. The Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble appeared in a Saturday morning free concert for the sixth successive year. Sixteen-year-old Sean Payne, a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year Finalist, performed in a Saturday late-night set, backed by ‘jazz royalty’ in the form of bassist Alec Dankworth, pianist Gareth Williams and Clark on drums. And bassist Daniel Casimir, whom Clark recruited into his own quintet of up-and-coming musicians, led a trio gig in his own right (with Joe Armon-Jones on piano and Winston Clifford on drums/vocals) on Sunday afternoon, reaping a rapturous audience reception.

Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble. Photo credit: © Melody McLaren.
Neil Yates, remarking on the multi-generational line-up in the Ernie Wilkins’ ‘Top Brass’ Revisited concert, which featured himself alongside veteran trumpeters Bruce Adams and Dick Pearce as well as the more youthful Jamie Brownfield and George Hogg, humorously observed that as a youngster, he used to go to hear Adams and Pearce and thought “I could do that”, whereas now, years later, his fellow North Wales trumpeter Brownfield gets gigs and “I stay home and watch telly”.

Ernie Wilkins’ ‘Top Brass’ Revisited (L to R): Dave Newton (piano), Neil Yates, Jamie Brownfield, Bruce Adams, George Hogg, Dick Pearce (trumpets). Also in the band: Arnie Somogyi (bass), Clark Tracey (drums). Photo credit: © Melody McLaren


Throughout the six-year history of Herts Jazz Festival, the core staff group running the event has remained remarkably consistent: Clark Tracey, wife Sylvia Rae Tracey (who manages everything backstage that most of us never see), publicity manager Stephen Hyde, Mike O’Brien (who, in addition to running the film festival, manages the merchandising table and, with Mark Farmer, looks after a variety of other tasks), Clark’s son Ben Tracey plus a coterie of his reliable friends who cheerfully do everything else that needs to be done. This year, Clark’s daughter Gemma Tracey made her first appearance at the Festival, helping to run the raffle. Their continuing presence heightens the sense that the jazz community is, in a very real sense, an extended family. Long may they continue.

(L to R): Gemma Tracey, Clark Tracey and Ben Tracey conduct the Festival raffle. Photo credit: © Melody McLaren
Herts Jazz Festival Team 2016 (L to R): Mike O'Brien, Mark Farmer, Clark Tracey, Stephen Hyde, Sylvia Rae Tracey, George Lock, Ben Tracey, Pete Marshall, William Kear, Hollie Stephens. Photo credit: © Melody McLaren

LINK: Clark Tracey interview


REVIEW: Lauren Kinsella Ensemble at Omnibus Clapham

Lauren Kinsella. Photo Credit: © Adrian Pallant

Lauren Kinsella Ensemble
(Omnibus Clapham, 18th September 2016. Review by Leah Williams)

Last night, I did something I very rarely do and ventured south of the Thames. It was for a particularly good reason though. The Lauren Kinsella Ensemble were playing one solitary London date during their current tour, which is taking them throughout the UK and Ireland until the end of October.

Having first come across Lauren Kinsella in mesmerising Snowpoet – her collaboration with Chris Hyson and also Nick Costley-White, Matt Robinson and Dave Hamblett – I was immediately struck by the unique, emotive quality of her voice that immediately draws you in and then haunts you for days afterwards. Needless to say, I’d been looking forward to another opportunity to see her live and was excited to see her in a different setting. Alongside her amazing ensemble – Tom Challenger on sax, Dan Nicholls on piano, Conor Chaplin on bass and Simon Roth on drums – she was performing new music that was originally commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival.

The gig took place at Omnibus in Clapham, a venue that I had never been to, nor had any expectations about. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to walk into a small, intimate setting that more resembled a living space than a music venue, with comfy armchairs and tables scattered in front of an informal band set-up. With probably a maximum of 20 people there, it seemed we were in for a far more exclusive experience than I’d realised.

Beginning as they meant to go on, the Ensemble opened with the quite beautiful Natural Watch, which treated us to their multi-layered soundscape in all its glory. As is to be expected with all of Kinsella’s music, the lyrics are incredibly poignant: “Forget the past, and move on. Open your eyes and see what you are missing… Someday all this will be forgotten”. And even when she moves into her own unique style of scatting or vocalising – with words that sound quite simply magical, as though from an other-worldly land (although with no small hint of the Scandinavian about them) – the emotion and communication is not lost. Her style of delivery, which seems to hang delicately in the balance between the sung and the spoken word, with a virtuosity that is entirely natural and non-showy, keeps the audience captivated.

It became quite clear, throughout the evening, that the instruments are not really seen as individual soloists at any point, not even Kinsella’s voice. Each is part of the larger whole, each vital to the rich tapestry that creates this wonderful sonic effect. Within the ensemble, there’s also much duo and trio work that appears and disappears softly, adding to, rather than distracting from, the overall effect of the music. Kinsella often doubles the other instruments with her flexible tones, adding a unique and impressive texture to the sound.

This isn’t to say that the merits and virtuosity of each player aren’t clearly heard throughout. Kinsella’s voice, in particular, is showcased to perfection with impressive range, power and clarity of tone which isn’t pushed unnaturally to the forefront, but instead presented with skill, control and softness. It seems to both drive and follow the tonal and rhythmic modulations, entrancing with unexpected turns and shapes combined seamlessly with soft legato sounds and lyrics weighted with emotion.

Certainly, seeing Lauren Kinsella in action – either here with the Ensemble or as part of one of her other ventures – is always a real treat and there's never an uninspiring moment. Whether for the carefully chosen and expressed lyrics, the digital effects softly included to enhance the sound or the intricate web of instruments and voice, the music is progressive, emotive and worthy. Nothing is arbitrary, no note superfluous. This is superbly crafted music telling stories which I could listen to all night.



CD REVIEW: Rune Klakegg & Scheen Jazzorkester - Fjon

Rune Klakegg & Scheen Jazzorkester - Fjon
(Losen Records LOS 153-2. CD Review by Peter Jones)

And so the outpouring of wonderful music from Norway continues. This time it’s the work of pianist, composer, arranger and erstwhile jazz journalist Rune Klakegg, who has been on the scene since the late 1970s, and who wrote the material for this album over many years. Much of it has been recorded before in various forms; some of the tunes were originally intended for big bands, some for trios, and everything in between. This particular album is performed by a large ensemble – in fact, with 15 musicians on board, it’s only slightly short of a big band. However, a lot of the time the Scheen Jazzorkester doesn’t quite sound like a conventional big band, with defined sections of trumpets, trombones and woodwind; instead there’s more of an orchestral feel, with instruments individually scored. And among them there’s also room for a vibraphonist (Rob Waring), a guitarist (Sondre Stordalen) and a singer (Nina Gromstad).

The album is richly melodic, although modernist in feel – there’s no swing. As is the case with many Scandinavian visual artists, Klakegg’s true forté is noir: I would love to see a film featuring the ominous waltz Achille, named for Achille-Claude Debussy. This apparently started life as a trio piece, but has since evolved into a dangerously restrained, prowling mini-epic, with solos from André Kassen on soprano, Thomas Johansson on trumpet and Audun Kleive on drums, underpinned by the bass clarinet of Line Bjørner Rosland and bass trombone of Åsgeir Grong.

The dark mood lingers on with Slapback, featuring a passionate solo by Stordalen, and a Sweet Smell of Success-like blaring trumpet motif. Later, the only non-original composition, Henry Mancini’s Moon River, has been reharmonized to sound as sinister as possible – completely undermining the now precarious-sounding sentiments sung by Gromstad. In short, if we’re talking rivers and moons, it’s far more Night of the Hunter than Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Din meg apparently translates as ‘Yours me’, which frankly isn’t much of a translation; but no matter, as it affords a lovely vibes solo from Waring. The sequencing of the album has been carefully considered: Din Meg ends on a long held chord, which is how the next track Blub Club begins.

Det er noe muffens her (‘There’s something fishy here’) takes us once more into the realm of unease and melancholy, while on the closing title track, an overcast dawn finally breaks. Fjon is a terrific album by any standards – complex, intriguing, and beautifully played by all concerned.


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Emily Saunders (the Voice Mix St James Theatre 28th October, and shows on

Emily Saunders
Appearing at the Voice Mix on 28 October at St James Theatre in London, singer Emily Saunders continues her adventurous and in-depth explorations of vocal jazz and beyond. Emily explains to Stephen Graham the thinking behind the evening and her own unique approach to jazz and improvisation.

LondonJazz News: What’s the fundamental idea behind the Voice Mix? How has it developed so far and who will be guesting with you at your next show this autumn?

Emily Saunders: The Voice Mix is a platform for a mix of voices and a mix of sounds presenting both established artists and new artists. So far we have been graced by artists such as Cleveland Watkiss, Imaani, Snowboy, Elle Cato, Wayne Hernandez, Next up in London we have two up and coming artists: from Leicester, saxophonist, composer and spoken word artist Marcus Joseph creating a mix of jazz, hip-hop, reggae, plus London-based Guildhall student, vocalist and singer playing styles of soul and jazz, Renato Paris. My amazing band that I love, ESB, will also be playing with the great Byron Wallen on board as usual. We'll be putting out there Latin mix tunes from my Outsiders Insiders and Cotton Skies albums, plus some new things to be heard from my forthcoming 2017 album release.

LJN: Thinking of both your recent albums you’ve never been averse to taking risks. How important do you think the process of experimentation is in today’s jazz vocals and how is it best achieved and developed?

ES: For me, improvisation and jazz is about taking risks. Initially I grew up in a family focussed on classical music performance, everyone playing it, listening to it. It is a genre I love, but growing up and studying classical clarinet as an undergrad I felt like a vessel that the sound had to travel through, and that the aim was to honour how everyone else thought it should sound. I chose to do improvisation as I wanted to use my own creativity and interpretation to create my own sound. For example when doing my undergrad, and I was practising the same clarinet pieces or intricate bars for days or months on end, aiming for total perfection, I would steal time to improvise on the clarinet, voice or piano, and enjoy more the freedom of expressing what I wanted to say with the skilled technique I’d developed. For me experimentation and being yourself is essential and the essence of why I do what I do.

LJN: When you first set out to be a singer, what inspired you most?

ES: I’ve always sung since I was a dot. I find the opportunity to communicate music and words that create a sound world, and that you can take people on a journey to that place, is invaluable. I love it, and I’d say Nina Simone was one of my earliest childhood influences.

LJN: As a songwriter you still find plenty of room for extended improvisation. But what attracts you to improvisation as an art and why is it so important in what you do?

ES: I’ve always improvised since I was a child, literally for as long as I can remember. I come from a family of pianists and other instrumentalists, so I’ve also always played piano and to me, floating past a piano, sitting down and improvising, then writing a song is second nature. Improvisation has always been part of my upbringing, for example singing four-part harmony on a basic song when on long car journeys as a kid was a way of life. I'd also say being a clarinettist is connected to my instrumental approach to the voice and love of instrumental composed or improvisatory lines – anyone who’s heard me play the clarinet says they can hear it in my voice.

LJN: Brazilian music has become almost a trademark part of your released albums so far. How did you first get into Brazilian sounds and if push were to come to shove what Brazilian singers would you most recommend to newcomers and why?

ES: Growing up in inner London I’ve heard Brazilian sounds all my life and love it. I remember hearing particular bands live when I was a kid – and I’d sit there or dance my head off wishing I could be that person singing away in the band. Then later when studying jazz voice someone introduced me to Airto Moreira and Hermeto Pascoal and I was in heaven – Brazilian sounds plus my love of instrumental voice all wrapped into one, for me, what was not to love? Within this repertoire, vocalist Flora Purim has been a great influence to me.

LJN: Do you think vocal jazz in the 21st century is a very different style to how jazz singers worked and performed in the 1950s and 60s? Is there more freedom now and if so how has this been achieved?

ES: That’s a really difficult question. Jazz in the 50s and 60s was clearly groundbreaking – that exploration being the essence of jazz. However, I can only fully comment on now and would say there is immense freedom musically at this time. This is both connected to online systems of communicating and sharing (which whilst good in many ways sadly also impacts on musicians financially). In addition there is more social and cultural integration which leads to cross pollination of sounds being created. I think jazz is going through a very exciting time with many new versions or definitions of what jazz is, and for me choice and variety of expression is a good thing.

LJN: Do you actually see yourself as a ‘jazz singer’? And drilling down does the term have any real value these days?

ES: When selling music my category is jazz vocalist, but I think whether I am or not is a matter of opinion. I think I am a jazz singer as improvisation is integral to me, as well as my being a band leader, songwriter, instrumentalist. Stylistically, I think the definition of jazz is a matter of opinion, for me it is both learning from a tradition and learning from contemporary music around me, plus putting my interpretation and personality into the mix. Jazz for me needs to have personal interpretation.

LJN: How do you see your radio shows developing? What kind of music are you most interested in playing, and who are the new jazz singers you’re most keen to champion?

ES: I love doing radio. I have two shows:

- One is The Latin Mix (Sat, 7-9pm), which is mainly focused on Latin, with an openness to include cross-over styles. I play the classic greats, as well as new stuff happening worldwide, plus some of the wonderful new London things out there.

- The other show is The Voice Mix where I’ve interviewed artists such as Lonnie Liston Smith, Cory Henry, Claire Martin & Joe Stilgoe about upcoming gigs. I also interview the guests for my The Voice Mix Live, it’s an opportunity to “meet the real person” on the radio who is highlighted at the shows. The shows are on

The Voice Mix Live takes place on 28 October at St James Theatre London. Venue link