REVIEW: Clare Teal and Jason Rebello at Crazy Coqs

Jason Rebello (L.) and Clare Teal

Clare Teal and Jason Rebello
(Crazy Coqs room at Zedel, 25th October 2016. First house. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Who could ask for anything more? The Crazy Coqs room works well for performers with experience, who know how to set up an easy rapport with each other and with the audience, and certainly worked a treat for the duo of Clare Teal and Jason Rebello last night, making their venue debut. The seventy-five minutes of their set seemed to pass by in no time at all.

Their programme was balanced, thought through, and by the time we got to a final rousing hard-swinging Ella version of Mack the Knife complete with Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong, we had just heard a lot of very fine songs delivered with authority, style, professionalism and heaps of musicality. 'It's just so...approachable,' my companion said afterwards.

Clare Teal's way of engaging and cheering an audience is unforced and natural. There were great jazz moments too. For example, in Kern/Fields'The Way you Look Tonight. Clare Teal intuited that Rebello's solo with an insistent, sassy, fast-walking bass line was really building and going somewhere, so she made sure he took an extra chorus, and then rounded off the song with some wonderful and forceful 'out' singing. For the next song, the contrast was maximised, the mood was taken right down, with the duo taking all the time in the world over a beautifully controlled account of the (completely unfamiliar to me at least?) verse to Secret Love.

The variety of Jason Rebello's piano textures, the rhythmic positivity, and his occasional backing vocals and vocal percussion were also a delight.

This is one of those shows to take the kind of people to who say they don't like - or know anything about - jazz. And also, quite definitely, those who do.


CD REVIEW: Ben Lee Quintet - In The Tree

Ben Lee Quintet - In The Tree
(Stoney Lane Records SLR1892. CD review by Mike Collins)

Birmingham based Stoney Lane Records are getting into their stride, making sure that there’s no excuse for missing the creative hubbub being generated in the city. With In the Tree, they showcase the talents of young guitarist Ben Lee who leads a quintet comprising an unusual combination of his guitar, David Ferris on organ, Chris Young on alto sax, Richard Foote on trombone and Euan Palmer at the drums.

There’s a constant shifting between points on the musical compass throughout the set of ten originals but, to borrow one the trends amongst young European jazz groups discerned by Henning Bolte in his round up of this year’s 12 Points Festival, rock/ new beats is the general direction in which this band points with some large doses of playfulness.

Folk Theme kicks things off, sounding for all the world like it might be the theme from a western with throbbing bass drum and a simple atmospheric melody from the guitar but is immediately subverted by a snappy groove , the horns and organ conjuring up a competing vibe. Ferris’ solo surfs the energy and clatter. In the Tree’s oom-pah feel and simple theme give the band space to clamber over each other and hint at the potential for a more raucous performance live. First Contact ramps things up with a raunchy, rocky groove and more collective blowing and some expansive soloing from the leader and Ferris.

Beginning of the End’s skipping, slightly frenetic beat keeps the energy high, building riff on on riff laced with plenty of distorting guitar. Hygge conjures a more reflective atmosphere through melody whilst Drone sketches more with colours and textures. Kickin the Chicken hints both at southern african grooves and Caribbean melodies. The quirky Skateboarding On My Own, just voice and and acoustic guitar closes the set.

This is an ensemble performance with Lee’s guitar a constant presence but not always in the spotlight. This collection has an unmistakably creative and individual stamp however. Both Peter Bacon and Tony Dudley Evans picked him out in London Jazz’s 2015 end of year lists. This album shows us why.

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

LINK: Interview with Ben Lee


FEATURE: Gearbox Records release five selected albums on CD (Mini LP Replica CD Series)

Vinyl specialist Gearbox Records is known for its high-quality releases of many previously unheard recordings by a number of jazz greats as well as, more recently, some award-winning contemporary artists such as Binker & Moses. The rapid growth and success of this label, since its foundation in 2009 by drummer, record collector and all-round entrepreneur Darrel Sheinman, is reflected in the general resurge in popularity of music on vinyl. 

In an interesting new development, Gearbox Records has decided to release five of its recordings on CD. Darrel Sheinman explained. Interview by Leah Williams: 

LondonJazz News: Gearbox Records is fast becoming one of the leaders in high-quality vinyl recordings, how did it all get started?

Darrel Sheinman: It actually all started at an N.E.R.D. concert. They were so amazing live and it just gave me this spark of an idea about how great it would be to be able to produce their music on vinyl, which is undoubtedly the best sound quality you can get. Of course, they weren’t just going to hand over the rights to their music to me - at that stage Gearbox Records wasn’t even a thing! - so I decided to start up by producing recordings of music that is definitely meant to be heard on vinyl: that of the jazz greats.

LJN: Where did you start with that?

DS: Well, I concentrated on getting the rights for famous jazz recordings that were aired as radio broadcasts back in the fifties and sixties but never actually released as recordings. This developed a good relationship with BBC Worldwide and we managed to buy some great recordings through them from legends such as Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott. Those albums sold out within a year and the Gearbox Records name was officially out there; the potential just continued to grow from there.

LJN: You’ve got your own cutting and mastering studio now?

DS: Yes, in 2012 I let go of my other enterprises to work full time on the label, hired Adam Sieff (former Sony Jazz Director) to come work with me and we moved into a studio in the Tileyard Studios complex near King’s Cross. We built it up ourselves, sourcing and restoring some of the finest vintage equipment in order to ensure that we could produce the highest quality recordings possible.

LJN: Do you find that the older equipment is significantly better then?

DS: Definitely. A lot of the modern stuff is made for mass production and commercial use and it just doesn’t have the same construction and sound quality. The vintage equipment is built like a tanker using only the best components. The only downside is the amount of maintenance that it needs but I was lucky enough to learn from Sean Davies, one of the original recording legends, how to cut, master and maintain it all.

LJN: Priding yourselves on releasing high-quality vinyl recordings that “put the ritual back into music listening” is obviously the main ethos of the label, why then have you made the decision to release some of your recordings on CD?

DS: Well whilst it might seem like a bit of an odd move it felt like a natural progression of what we’re trying to do here in some ways. Alongside promoting vinyl and aiming to produce the best high-quality recordings on that format, we also want to simply give people the opportunity to access and listen to as much great music as possible. A lot of the jazz recordings that we have were previously unreleased and so are unavailable on any other format. By giving people the option to buy that music on CD we are helping more people listen to great music, it’s as simple as that.

LJN: Do you not worry that CD production might somewhat dilute your label’s message though?

DS: Of course, but at the same time we are not just producing regular CDs. We’re keeping the essence of vinyl - being something special and collectable with great sound and aesthetic quality - alive with these CD releases. In short, we’ve aimed to keep it “sexy”. We certainly wouldn’t have considered mass producing CDs or presenting them in any other cheap, plastic way. Our CD releases come inside little paper sleeves with the full sleeve notes of the record and housed in good-quality, durable card casing featuring the same unique artwork as their vinyl counterparts. They’re pretty much like mini vinyls.

LJN: And how has the idea been received by fans so far?

DS: Really well, actually. We’ve got a lot of pre-orders for the CDs already. One of the main reasons we saw this as the right development for us was because we were getting so much demand for it. It’s not going against our fanbase’s wishes but catering to them. Whilst our main concern is, and always will be, the production of vinyl recordings, we didn’t want to be so constrained by this that we inadvertently became a bit elitist and excluded anyone from being able to enjoy the music. A lot of the jazz recordings especially are artists who are loved by a generation who grew up with vinyl but then moved on as technology did. Perhaps they don’t want to buy a new turntable at the moment - with these CDs they still get the chance to hear these unique recordings and that’s what it’s all about.

LJN: Word on the grapevine is that Gearbox Records are actually in the process of designing their own turntable?

DS: That is underway, yes! We wanted to come up with a design that has a really great design aesthetic with a small footprint but that still delivers on quality. A lot of these small, stylised turntables you can get now aren’t durable and don’t give the sound quality your vinyls need. So packaged within a really smart design, we are producing something that will still be top of the line in terms of sound and endurance.

LJN: Sounds great! When will we be able to get one?

DS: Well, in the not too distant future if all goes to plan. We’ve got a working design prototype now so it’s a matter of logistics really. We're hoping we might be able to get it into production early next year.

LJN: Apart from all the above, is there anything else exciting on the horizon for Gearbox Records?

DS: Well, it’s still very much in the planning stages right now but we’ve got an exciting project that will hopefully get off the ground early next year called Gearbox Sessions. The plan is to get a group of 10 or so artists, who we really love but who aren’t necessarily signed with us, to do some recording sessions here at the studio, which we will then film and release on YouTube. The culmination of that would potentially be releasing an album featuring the best of these sessions so that’s pretty exciting.

LJN: Can we cut to the chase please...what is the key date, and which are the five CDs in the Mini LP Replica CD Series?

DS: The release date for the CDs was October 21st, and the five are:

- Michael Garrick Sextet with Don Rendell & Ian Carr -Prelude to Heart is a Lotus (Recorded 1968)

- The Jazz Couriers - Live In Morecambe 1959 - Tippin’

- Binker and Moses - Dem Ones (2015)

- Mark Murphy - A Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn (Recorded 2012)

- Nucleus With Leon Thomas - Live 1970

LJN: One last question: of all your albums, which is your favourite or the one you feel has give most exposure to the label?

DS: Well, funnily enough Binker & Moses’ debut album winning so many awards has really shone a light on the label and it’s actually their second album, already recorded but not due for release until February time next year, that is undoubtedly the best thing we’ve produced here so far in my opinion. It’s really different and exciting - we can’t wait for everyone to hear it. (pp)

- The new CD releases are available at Gearbox Records' online store

- Darrel Sheinman will be at Hidden Rooms in Cambridge, playing vinyl as part of a Japanese-style “Kissaten” listening session during the Cambridge Jazz Festival on 23 November at 6.30pm. (TICKETS)

Gearbox Records website


REVIEW: William Kentridge and Philip Miller - Paper Music at Coronet Print Room

William Kentridge at Coronet Print Room
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

William Kentridge and Philip Miller - Paper Music
(Coronet Print Room, 13th October 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The films of South African artist William Kentridge have many lives. They are central to the challenging, multi-media room installations at his current major exhibition at London's Whitechapel gallery. For a short season at the Coronet Print Room theatre in Notting Hill a selection of around a dozen were also integral to the performances of Paper Music; a Ciné Concert, one of Kentridge's many fruitful collaborations with composer and compatriot Philip Miller.

'Most children draw … I just forgot to stop!' In interview, Kentridge succinctly gave this insight to his obsessive approach to drawing, which blurs the lines between figuration and abstraction, political issues and Dadaistic anarchy - and even traditional delineations between media. Drawing lies at the heart of his animated films, combining the plasticity of dynamically metamorphosing collage and live-action with the fluency of ink, charcoal and pencil mark-making.

In Paper Music the power of the proposition, stringing the line between certainty and uncertainty, was fully realised through the virtuosic performances of singers Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley and pianist Vincenzo Pasquariello - and on this particular evening, with a little help onstage from Kentridge himself.

The process of creative evolution of each film is interactive and symbiotic. Miller explained in an illuminating conversation how Kentridge liberated him from the prescriptive, narrative trope he was locked in to in the world of the commercial film soundtrack, to focus on much less deliberately structured form, which in time generates its own structure.

In iBook (Uses of a Tree) the relationship between apartheid era white families and black servants is turned topsy turvy through their reallocation of roles in exploring the ownership of the Fanagalo language, a Zulu pidgin which originated in the mines and had been co-opted by whites attempting to impose authority on dialogue. Kentridge sent the briefest of texts to Miller to which he responded by composing a song referencing Fanagalo, to which the artist replied with a flood of pages on which he drew. Finally, the order was reshaped in to its own explosive, filmic sequence to form the backbone of the politically charged statement at its heart and to render structure to the live performance.

Masina's range was extraordinary. Described in the programme as a 'formidably large woman with an even bigger voice' she was the embodiment, at times, of deep-rooted anger and essential matriarchal, societal authority from which she could switch to the most liminal of sounds or the sweetest of choral and operatic verses.

Dudley's vocal prowess and restrained stage style, informed by Javanese and Japanese tradition and left-field Dada performance, was a finely balanced complement to Masina as, with chilling accuracy, she imitated the gamut of intruder alarms in Lullaby for House Alarm, and combined the kind of clicking and creaking vocalisations pioneered by Joan La Barbara (REVIEWED) with ticking noises summoned from a spinning bicycle wheel, with its strong visual bond to Marcel Duchamp's readymade, Bicycle Wheel of 1913, in Other Faces.

Pasquariello, at the piano, proved to be an acutely sensitive interpreter of Miller's scores, whether focused on the keyboard, reaching within its body, or offering dense rhythmic pulsations of the order of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, while constantly attuned to the changing events front of stage. Described by Miller as a 'wannabe foley artist', he also added a discreet, translucent layer of effects while crumpling a sheet of paper at the microphone in tandem with other sonic peregrinations.

Kentridge's appearance, late on in the programme, added an additional layer of authority to proceedings and included the reading of his poem Panther (for Rilke) in German, echoed by Dudley's agile, part-improvised interpretations of the text in English whilst, on-screen behind them, the charcoal-rendered panther paced behind drawn bars which exhibited both built-in fluidity and disturbingly deliberate enclosure, to seal the statement.

Paper Music is such a rich concoction of visual and musical stimuli that it can veer close to information overload, yet its variety of signals and messages and the generous individual performances ensured an overwhelmingly positive 'Ciné Concert' experience at the Coronet.


CD REVIEW: Richard Bona & Mandekan Cubano - Heritage

Richard Bona & Mandekan Cubano - Heritage
(Qwest QR234245, CD Review by John Walters)

To catch a fragment of Richard Bona’s music on a chilly autumn day is to down a neat shot of pure summer happiness. Bona, born in Cameroon, is one of the world’s best fusion bassists, working in the fretless electric bass tradition established by Jaco Pastorius. Like Jaco, Bona was very good from an early age, moved to Europe and US and soon played with the best: listen to his playing on the Zawinul Syndicate’s World Tour album (1998). He is also blessed with a golden voice, and has played and/or sung with Mike Stern, George Benson, Pat Metheny, Regina Carter, Bobby McFerrin and Huong Thanh.

However Bona’s solo albums, such as Munia (The Tale) in 2003 and Tiki (2005) have been more about songwriting than jazz performances. Heritage, his latest album, made in Paris with Cuban sidemen, is not so much a tribute to Cuba as a cheerful experiment to see how well his songs fit within the brass-heavy, montuno-driven performances of a quality Cuban dance outfit. And the experiment is a complete success. And of course Bona remains entirely Bona throughout Heritage’s twelve tracks – this is a good value album with no duds.

Bona has written most of the songs, but pays tribute to the Afro-Cuban tradition by covering Guillermo Rodrígeuz Fiffe’s classic Bilongo, to which he has written new words. Jokoh Jokoh is an exultant chant packed with instrumental hooks and an exquisite verse melody, and Cubaneando is a mid-tempo with endlessly cycling chords, ingenious brass punctuation and tireless piano.

As the title suggests, Bona’s intention is to explore the heritage of Afro-Cuban music, some of whose roots, via the slave trade, lie deep in the Mandé culture of West Africa. Bona has used Cuban rhythms before, as on the track Ekwa Mato (featuring Edsel Gomez and Luisito Quintero) on his 2001 album Reverence, but Heritage provides more space in which to explore the possibilities, with a consistent band. The line-up comprises Osmany Paredes (piano), Rey Alexandre (trombone), Dennis Hernandez (trumpet) and percussionists Luisito and Roberto Quintero, Venezuala-born cousins.

One of the outstanding tracks on Heritage is a new, ‘Cubanised’ version of Muntula Moto, a song that appeared in smoother form on Reverence (2001). Meaning ‘The Benediction of a Long Life’, this muscular, lilting song exemplifies Bona’s light touch. As the mellifluous bridge comes to an end (around the three-minute mark), Bona nonchalantly inserts a dazzling, four-second bass cadenza before returning to the groove, the verse and a couple of fine solos (trumpet and trombone). He ends on a restatement of that super-smooth bridge. It’s a master class in integrating jazz musicianship with accessible, commercial songwriting and production.

Bona also revisits his song Kivu, which on Tiki lasted less than a minute and a half. On Heritage, he gives Kivu an old-school Cuban flavour, slow and courtly, that makes the most of the song’s yearning romanticism, with concise solos from Hernandez, Paredes and Alexandre.

Bona hints at the limitless horizons of his music by bookending Heritage with two atypical, multitracked solo creations: Aka Lingala Tè, the vocal-dominated, opener; and Kwa Singa, a dramatic coda, packed with ideas. Someone should give this guy a whole film score to write!


CD REVIEW: Black String - Mask Dance

Black String - Mask Dance
(ACT Music 9036-2. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

At a time when the terms 'world music' and 'fusion' are often used in a vaguely disparaging way, Mask Dance strikes a triumphant chord as an intriguing mix of Korean tradition and Western contemporary music. Producing a varied sound palette from unfamiliar instruments, this seven-track album presents an insight into the subtle middle ground between cultures that Yoon Jeong Heo and Black String continue to probe following a Korea-UK cultural exchange programme in 2011.

To a UK ear the instrumentation alone provides an engaging opening, with Seven Beats introducing the traditional Korean bamboo flutes, the Daegeum and the Danso, punctuated by the careful, then driving electric guitar of Jean Oh. Rolling percussion from Min Wang Hwang become something of a theme, as the cautious initial melody develops to a pressing rock climax.

The introduction of Oh's rocky electric guitar provides the most clear cross-culture comparisons, however the almost imperceptible taps and pops at the start of Growth Ring produce a stark contrast from the fundamentally contemporary electronica, to the millenia-old searching of Aram Lee's Daegeum sailing over it.

The core of much of the Korean sound, the long alligator-esque Geomungo (fretted zither) played by Heo centre stage, has its many moods: the clean tradition of Song from Heaven contrasted with the bowed interest of Flowing, Floating and the knowingly ethereal and discordant Strangeness of the Moon. However often it provides a un-hurried composure to counteract the contemporary cut of the electric guitar's brief minimalist chord progressions.

The liner notes quote Heo's description of Korean music as “powerful... beautiful… valuable”, and perhaps this comes off strongest in the atmospheric Dang, Dang, Dang, a probing vibrant piece with the band joining together in unison, as well as tumbling apart to leave space for improvisation and tempo change. It presents traditional music in a raw light, in periods imbued with energy as much as it is restrained melancholy.

Black String is fundamentally about collaboration, motivated by a desire to make Korean traditional music accessible to a wider audience. As with celebrated Korean cinema, the title track Mask Dance does not shrink back from showcasing it's jauntier unsettling side – breathy moments and despairing yodels – while also restructuring into a Korean peninsula version of The Great Gig in the Sky, later with the epic feel and familiar rhythmic pattern of a modern rock jam.

As a first exploration into a Korean soundscape, Mask Dance is an excellent introduction for the developing dilettante. However with an understanding lost in the visual performance of unfamiliar instruments, the recordings leave me wishing more to catch the band live, instead.


TRIBUTE: Frank Griffith remembers Claus Ogerman (1930- 2016)

Claus Ogerman Conducting for Diana Krall in 2011

Frank Griffith writes in tribute to CLAUS OGERMAN: 

The passing of German composer/arranger and producer Claus Ogerman has brought about an end to an era of a studio writer and conceptualist which was very much the norm of the 1960s and 70s in the recording business. Ogerman not only arranged to suit the particular needs of the solo artist, he was also a very distinctive composer in his own right.

Although he died in Germany on 8th March 2016, at the age of 85, the news of his passing seems to have escaped the traditional media in the UK and USA largely because his family was unavailable to confirm his death at the time and had also decided to keep the news private. In the past week,, have received personal confirmation from Tommy LaPuma, and the news is now been released and we can now mourn the loss of this great and innovative figure. There has also been an affectionate tribute in German in the past week in Der Spiegel. The Allaboutjazz piece has extensive YouTube links.

Born in Berlin, he did his early tutelage as a pianist with the Max Gregor Sextet in the early 1950s and moved to NYC and racked up an exhaustive list of artists to to collaborate with. Too numerous to mention of course, but includes the likes of Bill Evans, Mike Brecker, Sinatra, Jobim, Getz, Oscar Peterson, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Michael Franks and Diana Krall as well as popsters, Lesley Gore and Solomon Burke.

To describe what music sounds like is difficult at the best of times. However, in Ogerman's case this could be somewhat of an exception.His sound was very impressionistic not unlike the great Frenchmen, Ravel, Debussy,et al in creating a strong visual sense sonically. Educated in the early 20th Century figures such as Mahler, Berg, Poulenc and even the pastoralism of Delius, Ogerman's orchestral ambience had "cool" warmth about it, often attributed to the German tradition.

In my studies with composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer (also of German heritage) he often spoke of the cold and angular sound created by serialists like Schoenberg and Berg as well as (possibly) Copland and Milhaud (at a stretch). He explained the simplicity and opaqueness, marked by three and four note voicings (not eight or nine) and less complicated rhythmic activity or amounts of notes bring about a cool simplicity. This results in "warming" the listener to what might have been previously as a less than accessible, or overly heady sounding music.

One might find Ogerman's greatest achievements in the two albums he did with Bill Evans- Bill Evans trio With Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1965) which included works by Chopin, Scriabin, Granadas, Faure and Evans and Symbiosis from 1974 - the last of these an original work performed by the trio and the London Symphony Orchestra.


CD REVIEW: Catherine Russell – Harlem On My Mind

Catherine Russell - Harlem On My Mind
(Jazz Village JV579004, CD Review by Peter Vacher)

The New York-based vocalist and Grammy winner Catherine Russell comes with the kind of genetic heritage that gets jazz historians excited. She’s the daughter of pianist Luis Russell, for many years the bandleader for Louis Armstrong, and Carline Ray, the bassist and a distinguished educator who came to fame with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Happily for those who care little about her history, she has an alluring voice, with an inbuilt sense of swing and a proper jazz sensibility. She’s the real deal, as they say.

For this 2015 recording, her sixth outing for the label, she’s chosen to revisit classic songs from Harlem’s heyday associated with such great names as Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, The title track, a neat swinger by Irving Berlin, takes the song on a relaxed journey, Mark Shane’s fluent piano accompaniment just right, and feels good straightaway. I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me brings her full band into play, this like a perfect calling-card for the Big Apple’s mainstream elite, with Dan Block’s clarinet featured, and neat backing riffs showcasing Russell’s sturdy swing feeling. Naturally enough, Swing, Brother, Swing does just that, Russell urgent and direct, the bandsmen’s solos including a glistening interlude by trombonist John Allred and muted trumpet from the mighty Jon-Erik Kellso. This is romping music, Russell exuding joy. No wonder the Wall Street Journal called her ‘The best blues and jazz singer going today’.

There’s further support for that verdict with her stately version of The Very Thought of You before she essays Smith’s You Got The Wrong Key with suitable brio. Her version of Henry Nemo’s less familiar Don’t Take Your Love From Me is calmer, with the 100-year old Fred Staton’s grainy tenor in the spotlight. Thereafter there are gems all the way through, like Fats Waller’s sublime Blue Turning Grey Over You with more sparkling Shane piano in stride style, and good guitar from Russell’s MD Matt Munisteri.

She can be lusty when appropriate but stays well away from self-conscious parody or period ricky-tick in this fine programme, the arrangements [and solos] neatly fashioned and appropriate. Russell is blessed with perfect intonation, vocal warmth and a natural inclination to give these time-honoured lyrics their proper due. Old-fashioned values maybe, but in a good way. Miss Russell should tour here. Soon.


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Claire Martin remembers Richard Rodney Bennett (Barbican/BBC Total Immersion Day 27th Nov)

Cover of CD Say it isn't so (Linn, 2013)

The British composer, arranger, pianist RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT, a multi-talented, prolific  benign force in music, died in 2012. He would have been 80 this year. Next month the Barbican and the BBC will be hosting a major celebration of the man and his music, consisting of five events on the same day. CLAIRE MARTIN worked with him for several years and will also be performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra in Barbican Hall at 4.30pm the day, 27th November (booking link below). In this interview she remembers the man and looks forward to the day at the Barbican. Questions from Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: You are involved in the BBC Symphony Orchestra's Richard Rodney Bennett Total Immersion. What will you be doing?

Claire Martin: I am very honoured to be a small part of this celebration of Richard’s music. I’ll be singing four brand new arrangements of his songs by the brilliant conductor Scott Dunn who was also a dear friend of Richard’s. Very special for both of us. The four songs are: Early to Bed, I Never Went Away, Goodbye for Now and Let’s Go Live in the Country. All very different and I’m very much looking forward to doing them.

LJN: What other events in the weekend grab your attention / have particular resonances for you?

CM: Well I especially love Partita which I think is the piece they are playing before my songs, let’s hope I can hold it together as I find it deeply moving. Richard could write very romantically without schmaltz or gushing. He wore his genius very lightly and seemed to be able to turn his hand to many styles of music. The whole day reflects this very well.

LJN: You worked with RRB for several years - how did you first meet?

CM: Richard was in Glasgow in the early 1990’s to see the concert hall space where he was to perform in, and I, quite by chance, was singing that night with my trio in the function suite within the concert hall. We met at the bar after my set and that was it. We hit it off immediately and it was without a doubt one of the luckiest nights of my life as I also met Elliot Meadow that night and he introduced me to Linn Records and produced my first record for them which Richard wrote the liner notes for. It was just one of those lucky nights!!

LJN: And when did you first work together?

CM: I used to sit in with Richard whenever he was in London or if I was in New York, but we really became a proper partnership around 2001. I remember being pregnant with my daughter during our first rehearsals and both of us eating far too many doughnuts. He was a lover of cooking and good food and was a very good cook, but he also loved junk food and his favourite sweets were Bassett’s Jelly Babies which we ate by the bag full on every road trip.

LJN: Are there any highlights from your work together (name as many as you want!)

CM: Our residencies in the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC were real highlights for me as it was all SO New York and dead glamourous. Plus we stayed in suites at the Algonquin, so it was a very easy trip down in the lift each night for our shows. Luxury!!! But honestly - every gig with Richard was a gem as he was so easy to work with and I learnt so much just being around him hearing him talk about music to me or whoever we happened to be with. He was a consummate professional who took rehearsing very seriously and then on stage was playful and totally up for a laugh. We had lots of ‘in jokes’ between us on stage, a look or a lyric might send us into hysterics, but we had to keep a straight face. Singing with Richard was a joy and I was always aware just how great a musician he was and how lucky I was to be sharing the stage with such a giant.

LJN: How did it happen that he knew the jazz standards repertoire so well?

CM: Well he grew up listening to and loving all the great writers, Arlen, Berlin, Gershwin, Porter etc, and loved all the jazz singers that sung the songs, especially Carmen McRae (who was his favourite), Shirley Horn and Chris Conner. He knew a lot about songs, every obscure verse, every writer, what year the song was written and usually the publisher too. I don’t know how he remembered all that plus all the ‘classical’ stuff as well. A big brain!!

LJN: He seemed as a musician to have a particular way of crossing into different styles, suddenly being somewhere else musically. Did he ever talk about that?

CM: Not really, he just seemed to be able to seamlessly go from one thing to another in his stride. He never really wanted to talk about his classical music, I think most likely because he knew I would have been totally out of my depth and was perhaps not the right person to talk about who was composing what etc. He had a great friendship with the composer Mark Anthony Turnage and I think that they would have been having far different conversations to the ones we had!!

LJN: He always seemed a kind and generous person?

CM: Richard was a true friend. He was fiercely loyal, terrifically supportive and incredibly giving. He also had a GREAT sense of humour and was mischievous and slightly wicked. I miss laughing with him the most.

LJN: I heard you both at his alma mater Leighton Park. Did the quaker ethos of seeing the good / divine in people really affect him (or was I just imagining that?!)

CM: He was very happy at that school and the whole Quaker ethos suited him, especially after a rough time at an early age at a boarding school where bullying was rife. I think he did want to see the good in others and he treated everyone he met with good manners and kindness. However, he did NOT suffer fools!

LJN: Was he patient - or were there things that made him impatient?

CM: I only saw Richard lose his temper once during a particularly agonising sound check with a young and rather rude and stupid engineer, but other than that he always seemed very calm and nothing really phased him. He was incredibly optimistic about everything and not inclined to hang out with negative people. He knew himself, had nothing to prove and just enjoyed his life from day to day. A true Renaissance man I am so honoured to have been part of his world singing songs we both loved, eating Jelly Babies and laughing our way up and down the M1.

LINKS: Barbican - BBC Total Immersion Day: Richard Rodney Bennett - the 4.30pm concert involving Claire Martin and the BBC Concert Orchestra

All five events in the Total Immersion Day


REPORTS: Tim Garland 50th Birthday gig at Pizza Express Dean Street

Thomas Gould (violin) and Tim Garland (soprano sax)
at Tim's 50th birthday gig 

Last Wednesday 19th October 2016 was TIM GARLAND's 50th birthday. A celebration gig took place on the day itself at Pizza Express in Dean Street. We asked Tim Garland's daughter Rosa if she could write a short personal recollection of the event for us, and she accepted. Nigel Tully took the photos. Rosa Garland writes: 

It's always special when your Dad turns 50, but even more special when he's performing with a group of world-class musicians on a world-class stage. Joining Tim as part of his Electric Quartet were his musical companions of 26 years and 13 years respectively, Jason Rebello (keyboard) and Asaf Sirkis (drums/percussion) along with more recent collaborator on guitars, Ant Law. All played inspiringly on a set of original numbers, many from the recent album One. These ranged greatly in style, but the theme of unity was best exemplified when the band was joined on ‘Sam’ai for Peace' by two masters of their art: Thomas Gould of The Britten Sinfonia, and Hossam Ramzy, elder statesman of Egyptian world music.

Eclecticism being a Tim Garland hallmark, he did not disappoint, and the audience was uplifted by the sense of musical communication and joy emanating from the stage. Tim is an example of true passion for your work, and a real creative inspiration - despite watching him struggle with the arts’ (and jazz’s) constant battle for representation, funding, and value in governmental decisions, he retains his integrity and continues to be a prolific and virtuosic musician. It’s brilliant to see how many still come out to support live music at his gigs - let’s keep doing that!

Tim is an inspiration, a wonderful father and the reason the only song currently in my iTunes is Ivor Cutler - Use A Brick.

Happy 50th, Dad.

L-R: Birthday cake, Tim Garland, Amanda Garland

Nigel Tully writes: The joy and; happiness of the four musicians working together was visible & almost palpable. Asaf’s smile each time Jason or Ant reflected what the other had just played was glorious! Asaf’s high-speed Konnakol (that amazing South Indian performance art of vocal percussion, an area where he is masterful) was an absolute highlight for me.

LINKS: Preview of the Tim Garland Quartet at Herts Jazz
CD Review of One
Live review from Kings Place
Live Review from ManchesterJazz Festival

FUTURE DATE: "Tim Garland Celebrates Stan Getz and Chick Corea" is at Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 16th November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, including a reinvented version of the Stan Getz/Eddie Sauter 1961 album Focus (BOOKINGS)


ROUND-UP REVIEW: Salzburg Jazz & the City Festival 2016

A highlight of Jazz & the City:
Hamilton de Holanda solo in the Großer Saal of the Mozarteum

Jazz & The City in Salzburg 2016
(Various venues in Salzburg. October 19-23 = first four days. Report by Sebastian Scotney*

There are festivals in the world where there is a substantial programme put on with free admission – Montreal, Copenhagen and London are amongst the major ones which come to mind. But Salzburg may be the only festival which has an international line-up with artists of the calibre of Bill Frisell, Uri Caine and Marius Neset performing in some prestigious venues... where everything is put on without an admission charge. We have asked this question on Twitter and nobody has yet put forward another candidate.

So yes, all you have to do is to be in Salzburg, turn up at a venue (normally it's good to be early, Austrians get their scarves and coats down the moment the doors open), and you can get a great seat. All the 120 events over five days are in walking distance. It all happens in one of the most attractive towns in Europe (scroll down for a sunset)... is this a secret that might be too good to get out? I told a taxi driver, unaware of the festival, that there had been a full house on Saturday night in the main hall (Großer Saal) of the Mozarteum without anyone having to pay, and he didn't quite believe it: “That hall? Free entry? No tickets? First time I’ve ever heard that.”

So here is my account of the 16 (out of 120) gigs that I heard or sampled at the seventeenth Jazz & the City Festival in Salzburg*. It has been the first under the artistic direction of Tina Heine, who founded Elbjazz. She suggested the initiative to stop ticketing – and it seems to have worked.


Uri Caine Trio (Friday) – a remarkable free-form hour, a super gig covered in a single gig review HERE.

Ulrich Drechsler with Stefano Battaglia and guest Sahar Lotfi. This was in the lovely Kavernen 1595 venue. Ulrich Drechsler plays bass clarinet and basset horn (Selmers, with wooden Backun bells for the gear-obsessed) and the repertoire was mainly from a recent duo album with Stefano Battaglia of Little Peace Lullabies. Battaglia is wonderful at holding a line at very slow tempos. A nice melodic, quiet, intimate gig, with a guest appearance by a remarkable Sufi vocalist Sahar Lotfi with incredible natural overtones. There is good video of the three of them from last year which gives a good flavour of their quietly meditative slow-burn style HERE.

Peter Evans  solo trumpet in a church with at least an eight-second echo. The trumpeter was using all his mind-blowing armoury of extended techniques and also the natural reverberation to create magical effects. Not well attended. The St. Andräkirche has a fine organ – perhaps they will ask Kit Downes and Tom Challenger one year to take the roof off the place...

Bill Frisell Quartet – this was his new films project with a stellar line-up of Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, with occasional songs from Petra Haden (daughter of the late Charlie). For me it was too uniformly ponderous and I couldn't get into their slow-mo version of Bacharach's Alfie at all.

Doro Hanke and Robert Friedl (Wednesday) - covered in opening night round-up HERE.

Hamilton de Holanda (Saturday) – a genuine highlight. Solo mandolin captivating a full crowd in an 800-seater concert hall needs an exceptionally communicative musician, and HdH did it with room to spare. I kept on thinking of the difference with ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, whom I heard recently, and it is this: with Hamilton de Holanda, there is never just virtuosity for its own sake. He can play at illegal speeds, but absolutely everything is expressive.  

Das Kapital (Saturday) – this trio, led by saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, was placed in the right location. An exhibition of agitprop drawings and prints in the Rupertinum modern art gallery. This trio’s repertoire of Hanns Eisler propaganda music fitted the location. They were playing in a packed, small gallery, but the sounds were going round the building – so I wandered around the gallery, taking in political art from Honoré Daumier to Georg Grosz and Frans Masereel while listening.

Omer Klein Trio (Thursday) – a popular and successful group, with catchy, hooky tunes, and the audience loved it. The trio have just moved label and will put out their next album on Warner.

Libertango in the Linzergasse with passing Segways

Libertango (Saturday). Libertango proved to be a lively street band and were very lucky with the weather on Saturday. Salzburg can often produce what is locally called Schnürlregen (rain in the form of little strings) but on a glorious sunny Saturday, they livened up the popular Linzergasse – where the real Salzburger go to shop.

Matthias Loibner (Saturday). Loibner has made the sound world of the hurdy-gurdy or Drehorgel his lifetime’s work and he drew a rapt audience, in the Weinek antiquarian bookshop, into his world of charm. He has also recorded a mesmeric, recommendable, left-field complete Schubert Winterreise with the Serbian singer Nataša Mirković.

Loktor (Wednesday) – covered in opening night round-up HERE.

Marja Nuut

Marja Nuut (Saturday). Nuut was playing in the lovely basement Weinarchiv venue underneath the Blauer Gans Hotel. She invites the listener into a particular personal world. Her musical universe is that of Veijo Tormis and the swing songs of Estonia. and it is a rich seam. She also tells delightful and often cruel stories. On this site, both Henning Bolte and Naoise Murphy have reviewed her for us; both have been captivated by what she does – and it is not difficult to see why.

At the gig I went to, the spell got broken. People really need to stay seated and let these narratives unfurl. Once one person has decided in the middle of a number that there might be a better gig somewhere else, and then someone else has instantly swooped in and grabbed the empty seat, the magic has gone.

Orchestre National de Jazz (Wednesday) – covered in opening night round-up HERE.

Diknu Schneeberger Trio (Wednesday) – covered in opening night round-up HERE.

Ian Shaw and Trio (Wednesday) – overed in opening night round-up HERE.

Nils Wogram and Bojan Z (Thursday). Just as the St. Andräkirche was the right venue for Peter Evans, the long echo – I just heard their rehearsal/soundcheck, so I probably shouldn't be writing – was a real challenge/struggle for this fine and communicative trombone and piano duo. I want to hear them again.

Salzburg – a beautiful city

*My hotel room was provided by Jazz & the City Altstadt Marketing. I am also doing a Jazz Travels feature for JazzFM – link to follow.


CD REVIEW: The Spanner Big Band – Live at the Gunners

The Spanner Big Band – Live at the Gunners
(, CD review by Mark McKergow)

This is rollicking good time big band music from north London enthusiasts the Spanner Big Band. The band perform their classic big band repertoire and more with power and gusto in shows recorded at The Gunners pub in Finsbury Park (close to the old Arsenal ground at Highbury, obviously) over total of three nights.

In these days of laptop DJs, it’s really something to see a full sized big band in full flight, and to see such a thing in a packed pub is an even greater reminder of the power, exuberance and flexibility of the classic line up of saxes, brass and rhythm. Leader Dan Spanner (also of Spanner Jazz Punks) is heard on alto and clarinet, taking a well earned feature on Sing Sang Sung, Gordon Goodwin’s (Big Phat Band, California) answer to classic Benny Goodman feature Sing Sing Sing.

There’s plenty of good musicianship on show over the 15 tracks here. Nick Walters takes a neat and flowing trumpet solo in the opening One On One. The band’s fondness for a Basie-ish direction is well displayed, with Sammy Nestico’s Switch In Time (taken at quite a lick with some nice trombone from Tim Cox) and Doin’ Basie’s Thing, along with Neal Hefti’s Splanky.

The movies and TV get a look in too – a sharp rendition of Henry Mancini’s A Shot In The Dark (a theme from the Pink Panther, but not that Pink Panther theme)moves nicely from tiptoeing stutter to swaggering confidence, and the Barry Gray’s Thunderbirds theme (always a winner in this house) launches with cries of 5-4-3-2-1 and a spectacular lift-off. The band also take time to demonstrate their jazz chops – a nice arrangement of Charles Mingus’ Fables of Faubus is capped with a nice tenor sax solo from Bettina Schmid. A snappy Sweet Georgia Brown featuring the tenor of Dave Blackmore brings proceedings to a close.

With plenty of favourites, good recording and a lively atmosphere, this CD will clearly make an excellent gig souvenir. More to the point, it’s an encouragement to all big band fans to get up to Finsbury Park and enjoy the Spanners on home turf. This kind of group is tough to run and even tougher to get right, and Dan Spanner and his comrades deserve applause and support.


REVIEW: Uri Caine Trio at Jazz & The City Festival in Salzburg

L-R: Uri Caine, Mark Helias, Clarence Penn

Uri Caine Trio
(Kavernen 1595, 21st October 2016. Jazz & The City Festival, Salzburg. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The onstage announcer before this concert by Uri Caine's trio started by telling us quite categorically what they were not going to play. It was not going to be a run-through of the fifteen short and contrasted compositions from the trio's latest album Calibrated Thickness (816 Records). That announcement might sound unhelpful, but in fact it set up the context very well indeed for a superb set. In the hands of a trio like this, we set off an unpredictable journey, and the introduction served as a reminder that the live experience is something different, unique, not-to-be-repeated. And  special.

Where Uri Caine excels is in maintaining a constant sense that the next move could take him and his fellow musicians just about anywhere. He has a deep knowledge of the jazz canon and of previous piano styles, but such references are merely points on the itinerary. So last night we dropped in to visit (properly- with time to pause and reflect) stride piano, Fats Waller' Honeysuckle Rose, Oscar Peterson, Round Midnight. There was also a fascinating free section near the beginning where Caine, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Clarence Penn were all three playing solistically, each with a different and contrasting pulse, creating a fascinating suspension, a game to see how long they would hold it, and who would break out of it first and lead the group into a concerted action. There are also the fascinating nods and references which Caine makes that flash past, as if tunes are witnessed from afar and then lost from view. There was just half a phrase from Time After Time, or a hook from Bye Bye Blackbird, and even a sudden, quickly discarded burst of 'The Ride of the Valkyries.'

We are a long way from head-solos-head here, and into something much more organic and intuitive and, perhaps above all,  free. The first collective improvisation was around half an hour - the time passed very quickly - and it came to an end in an unexpected way - particularly odd considering it was being recorded for radio transmission. An audience member made a particularly loud sniff over a quiet, passage close to silence, it raised a laugh in the audience, broke the mood. Caine made a virtue of it, however. He stopped, made a thumbs-up sign, accepted the applause and told the audience it had been a perfect ednding -  that the sniff had reminded him quite how much he hated Donald Trump.

The trio then played shorter selections, including Golem which is on the new album, and finished with an encore in the form of a doff of the cap to Salzburg's most famous son. Cane gave the opening of the Piano Sonata in C major ('Sonata semplice') K. 545 a taste of looseness and Loussier ("a little corny, I know," he quipped)

The Cavernen 1595 is a great venue and this was a completely nourishing experience. Caine completely engages the listener's heart, head and sense of humour. This was a gig which will stay in the mind.

LINKS: Review - Uri Caine meets Dave Douglas in Leeds
Review - Uri Caine Meets Mahler in Birmingham


INTERVIEW: Fini Bearman (new album Burn The Boat - launch at Brilliant Corners on 25th October then touring)

Fini Bearman

Vocalist and composer FINI BEARMAN has a new album  of original songs, "Burn the Boat" (Two Rivers Records), following on from her successful and bold re-working of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" in 2014. In this interview with Sebastian she explains  the background to the new CD, and looks forward to the launch next Tuesday 25th at Brilliant Corners in Dalston:  

LondonJazz News: What's the story of the new album?

Fini Bearman: The new album Burn The Boat is about cutting free from the old and embracing the new. It’s about making yourself vulnerable and open to new things, people and experiences. The title came as the result of a dream I had about 18 months ago; I was standing on the shore looking out to sea on a bible-black and starless night. On the horizon there was a majestic ship- like an old ocean liner- ablaze. When I woke up it felt significant to me though I had no idea how or why.

So I took this story to a friend who is a Jungian psychoanalyst and we talked about it; the various symbology and themes etc. I’ve read some Carl Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who worked for a time alongside Freud) and I briefly studied Freud, so I do believe that dreams can have meaning and I like the idea that they are in a sense your Unconscious demanding some attention. My friend told me the following phrase- 'sometimes you have to burn the boat to get out of the water'- sometimes you have to leave or break away from the familiar to move forward, develop, create.

I then began to do some research and discovered that the phrase to 'burn the boats’ is an alternate way of saying to 'burn the bridges’. This expression alludes to certain famous incidents in history where a commander, having landed on a hostile shore, ordered his men to destroy their ships, so that they would have to conquer the country or be killed. Whilst quite a dark image, I like the philosophy behind it- throw yourself into whatever you do, apply yourself like you won't fail. That sort of commitment is enviable- to have 100% belief in everything you do. I’m not quite there yet but it's something I am thinking about.

LJN: Is it studio or live?

FB: The album was all recorded in residential stay at the go-to studio in Wales, Giant Wafer. It is an idyllic location set in the middle of the rural countryside in Wales, which is an amazing alternative to London where you're always competing with rush-hour chaos and evening gigs/other commitments. This way (residential) you get to immerse yourself in the music, play, eat, drink together and be merry. It was an amazing experience and I definitely want to go back there.

LJN: Are they all your songs?

FB: The album is a collection of original songs that I have written over the past 2 years. I feel like it’s a pretty honest representation of what I’m trying to say at the moment as a composer, bridging the gap between instrumental jazz and folk/contemporary music with an emphasis on story-telling. There is one collaboration on the album which is with a good friend of mine, the amazing multi-instrumentalist and composer Tommy Antonio. I was going crazy with this tune Gone- it was recorded with the rest of the album but I wasn’t happy with the verse and I couldn’t work out where to go with it. Tommy went off upstairs (we live together) and wrote a whole new verse, complete with vocal arrangement and I love this tune now- he knows me really well so we’ve ended up with a song which is deeply personal to me. I also set a couple of poems by some of my favourite poets- Dreams by Langston Hughes, Know, I Alone, a translation of a poem by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and May My Heart Always Be Open to Little Birds, by E. E. Cummings.

LJN: Who's on the album?

FB:  Wonderful people! Matt Robinson on piano and synths, Nick Costley-White on guitar, Conor Chaplin on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums. Bassist and producer extraordinaire Rob Mullarkey mixed the record and did a fair bit of post-production wizardry including putting down overdubs etc. It was great to have his ears involved, drawing out little nuances in my writing and basically enhancing the songs to make them as strong as possible. It's a totally different album having him involved and I love it!

LJN: Is there a backstory behind one or two of the songs?

FB: The songs are about all sorts but there are a couple which map the span of a previous relationship; I'd Rather Have the Rain is about being so into that person that you can't imagine a world without them and you'd give up everything just to have them in your life. Maybe Next Year reflects upon that rose-tinted stage and accepts the transience of the experience. The repeated mantra-like chorus is a coming to terms acknowledgement of what has been, which is fundamentally a positive affirmation.

LJN: What makes you happy? Angry?

FB: Making music with people I love and traveling as much as possible. Food also makes me very happy. It's definitely the simple things.


LJN: When are the gigs?

The album launch is on Tuesday 25th October at Brilliant Corners in Dalston. It's a really special, intimate venue and we are doing two shows, an early one at 20:30 and a late one at 22:30 (*)

We will be following this with a northern launch at The Lescar in Sheffield on Wednesday 2nd of November, followed by a regional tour next spring.

LINKS: Fini Bearman website
Video interview with Fini Bearman from 2014
CD Review of Porgy & Bess
(*) Bookings for the launch / early and late shows


REPORT: Opening night of Jazz & The City Festival in Salzburg

The French Orchestre National de Jazz take the stage
Jazz & the City 2016 opening night
Various venues in Salzburg Altstadt, 19th October 2016. Report by Sebastian Scotney) 

This was the opening night of the seventeenth Salzburg Jazz & the City Festival, the first under the artistic directorship of the dynamic Tina Heine, the instigator and creator of the Elbjazz Festival in her home town of Hamburg. She was headhunted earlier this year to run the festival here by a city at the opposite extremity of the German-speaking area of Europe (link to our interview below). Several of the speakers at the opening ceremony last night (including the mayor who was announced as arriving onstage direct from the shower...!) expressed their delight with the difference she has already made.

In her opening speech, she had a neat expression for the aim of the festival : "to let the music tell the story of the locations in this city in a different way." The local audience - which can on other festival occasions spend a whacking 400 Euros a seat (!) to see opera productions in Salzburg - appeared very happy indeed with one key feature of this festival: all of its 118 events have free admission.

The festival has a particular evanescent here-today-gone-tomorrow feel because each night it takes place in a particular area / Viertel of the town. That contrasts with the sense of history and permanence everywhere in the city, (shops in well-built new buildings selling products made to last...). One good branding trick is that the festival staff spray the logo/branding in washable paint on the pavement outside every venue.

Clever branding on the pavement! 

The festival's first night was centred around the Republic venue in the Anton-Neumayr-Platz, and after the formalities the Orchestre National de Jazz played their Berlin suite under Olivier Benoit. I just heard the carefully paced slightly ponderous opening salvoes of the piece, and by the time I left, the more flamboyant characters in this band like Theo Ceccaldi on violin and trombonist Fidel Fourneyron had not yet been given the proper space to even give a hint what they are capable of.

The other act in the main Republic venue was Ian Shaw with the trio of Barry Green on piano, Mick Hutton on bass and Dave Ohm on drums.  Tina Heine had said in her opening introduction that the first time she had heard Ian Shaw in London, it had been a gig that had made her both laugh and cry, which set the scene well. This was one of those sets when a supportive and sizeable audience gives from the start by cheering - and then gets back. The sense of shared enjoyment was spreading from stage to audience, building and becoming palpable in the room. The audience were enjoying it, the band were enjoying it, the virtuous circle of live performance was complete. September in the Rain was teeming with dare-devil energy. My Brother had soul and passion. Happy.

I also headed off to sample a few of the other venues. The "Kavernen 1595" is a great (cavernous) performance space hewn into the rock with (result!) no mobile signal. There I enjoyed part of a good-time set from fusion trio Loktor, led by keyboardist Bernhard Ludescher channeling Both Herbie Hancock and Bob James with energy and humour.

In the Afro Cafe, extra bar staff had been drafted in. They were threading their way through the packed audience to elicit drinks orders. But one couldn't help feeling sorry for powerful and persuasive Zambian singer Yvonne Mwale who was working her socks off and engaging a crowd, but failing to receive the glass of water she very much deserved.

At the Carpe Diem restaurant singer Doro Hanke and her band were pleasing a crowd with some very complex and worked song arrangements. My ear was caught by the great full Plas Johnson sax sound of Robert Friedl. And some of the gentlest, sweetest sounds - again in a rammed venue - came from melodic less-is-more guitarist Diknu Schneeberger and his trio in the Art Hotel.

The fun - and the neck-craning in packed rooms! - have only just begun.

LINKS: Our interview of March 2016 with Tina Heine on her appointment 
Europe Jazz Network's list of women in leadership roles
Jazz & The City website


FEATURE: Ben Lee Quintet - (New Album In The Tree, tour dates from November 10th)

Some exciting young jazz musicians have been coming out of Birmingham in recent years, and one name  to watch is that of Devon-born Ben Lee. The up-and-coming guitarist and composer is the founder and leader of the Ben Lee Quintet (playing alongside Chris Young on alto sax, Richard Foote on trombone, David Ferris on organ, and Euan Palmer on drums). They are just about to release their debut album "In The Tree" on Stoney Lane Records. He spoke to Leah Williams about the inspirations for the album, his love of sci-fi and travel, and his recent move to London.

LondonJazz News: How did the Ben Lee Quintet come into being?

Ben Lee: It actually evolved out of a quartet I played with when studying at college (Ben studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire). One of my friends Dave Ferris moved from playing the piano to concentrating more on the organ and we just started jamming and finding some really great sounds. He joined the band and I remember we did one particular gig with all five of the current line-up together and it just really clicked. So we’ve been playing together since then, which was about 18 months or so ago.

LJN: And now you’re releasing your debut album - you must be pretty excited?

BL: Yeah, it’s great. We actually recorded that album last year just before Christmas and were so happy with the way it turned out. It was amazing when Sam Slater from Stoney Lane Records picked it up.

LJN: For people who haven’t heard any of your music, what kind of thing can they expect from In The Tree?

BL: I think it’s pretty eclectic music, with a sense of humour running throughout. Being a guitarist, I’ve always loved rock music and so I think this album does have a certain rock flavour to it but without being too heavy - it’s definitely meant to be fun primarily.

LJN: You played an album pre-launch gig at King’s Place last month, how was it?

BL: It was really fun. The room we were in was so great. Rarely do you get to play in a space where you can hear all the other musicians so well. We had a bit of drama to kick it off actually because Dave’s organ broke during the soundcheck and the replacement only arrived about a minute before we were due on! It actually worked out for us because it put everyone in such a good, celebratory mood before we’d even begun playing! The energy was really high throughout, with the highlight probably being playing one of the tunes from our album with the Jonathan Silk Big Band who were playing the 2nd set that night. It was quite an amazing experience with all 25 or so of us on stage together and hearing the track Beginning Of The End, which I composed to have a kind of dystopian novel type epic feel, played on such a scale was a really great moment.

LJN: All your compositions seem to have pretty interesting and unique stories behind them! You’ve obviously travelled a lot - do you find that’s a great source of inspiration?

BL: Yeah I’ve done a fair amount of travel over the years, both for music and for other reasons. I wouldn’t say it’s a conscientious decision to turn these experiences into the basis for my music it’s more just that you naturally encounter so many different ideas in everyday life, no matter where you are, and the tunes from this album have just been born out of those things I happen to have engaged with over the last few years.

LJN: So how did you come across Hygge (an un-translatable Danish word loosely meaning cosiness, creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people) that features as a track title on your album?

BL: It was actually last year when Hans Koller invited us along as guests to a Winter Jazz School he was running in Denmark. It was a great experience filled with awesome music, great food and keeping warm away from the January cold. It was pretty much the embodiment of the word Hygge - which is an atmosphere of cosiness and acceptance shared with other people. It obviously made quite an impression on me!

LJN: Apart from your everyday encounters, sci-fi interests and other life influences, do you have any particular musical influences that went into this album?

BL: So many. I’ve been a lifelong fan of Wes Montgomery’s music. I just love listening to him; it always seems to me that he’s smiling when he plays. I feel a great connection to his music and it’s definitely been, and still is, a huge influence. Other guitarists I really love and listen to a lot are John Scofield and Grant Green. I’m actually listening to a friend’s band at the moment, called Delta Autumn - I get a lot of inspiration from listening to and playing with friends and other musicians.

Ben Lee

LJN: So you’ve recently moved to London - does this mean we can expect to hear more from you?

BL: Hopefully! I only moved here three weeks ago and I’ll be back and forth to Birmingham as I’m still involved with a lot of projects there. But I’m excited about the move and exploring London’s scene more. I’ve already been to so many gigs and have been out busking. I love to busk - you meet so many interesting people and who knows where those connections may lead or what future songs they might inspire…(pp)

In The Tree is released on Stoney Lane Records on 21 October and can be purchased from
Stoney Lane

The Ben Lee Quintet will be at The Green Note in Camden on 8 January 2017 or at various other venues around the UK from 10 November, with support from the Arts Council.

LINK: Ben Lee website / tour dates


FEATURE: Some highlights of the Manchester Jazz Scene (Johnny Hunter Quartet at the Vortex on 31st October)

Johnny Hunter

Manchester-based drummer Johnny Hunter will be with his quartet at the Vortex on 31 October. It was a good opportunity for Liam Izod to ask him to pick out some of his favourite lesser-known acts from the Manchester jazz scene. Liam writes:

It was in Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall forty years ago that the U.K first learnt that attitude, and not aptitude could propel great music and change society. A decade or so later the music of ‘Madchester’ taught the country the meaning of joy and ecstasy. And around a decade after that, two Manchester brothers’ decision to rock up the fab four’s formula, took Brit-Pop global.

The great northern city’s musical heritage is so rich, it seems obvious that Manchester’s engagement with jazz would be fruitful. Yet a London-centric viewpoint still registers surprise that in recent years, arguably the UK jazz’s most inventive and successful acts have come from Manchester: GoGo Penguin infused E.S.T’s Scandinavian cool with northern grit, Beats & Pieces Big Band offer a sardonic take on Loose Tubes’ anarchic big band humour. Trumpeter Matthew Halsall guides the scene like a godfather, with his Gondwana label continually bringing through exciting new acts, the latest hit being melodious minimalist trio (from Norwich) Mammal Hands.

As with any scene, there is a hive of activity beyond the headline makers. Drummer Johnny Hunter is close to the pulse. Signed to the Efpi label that house Beats & Pieces, his quartet released their debut album of 21st century hard-bop, While We Still Can, last year.

He has picked out seven lesser known Manchester jazz acts, who as well as making the case that UK jazz’s centre of gravity might lie further north, highlight the importance of collaboration between scenes.

"There is so much great music happening up here," says Johnny Hunter. "This list could easily be twice as long if I had space to include Nat Birchall, Fragments, Misha Gray's Prehistoric Jazz Quintet, Kelly Jayne Jones, Henge, Adam Fairhall... I could go on!"

"Manchester has produced some of the more popular UK jazz acts, which is great. But there’s also a really strong improvised and experimental scene here that I want to highlight. This isn’t North vs South, Oasis vs Blur stuff either, I think collaborations between scenes are really important and have produced fantastic music."


Mark Hanslip, Otto Willberg and Andrew Cheetham are great players. They follow their improvisatory instincts from art music explorations to hard bop maelstroms. (AUDIO)

This group brings together the London and Manchester improvising scenes. London-based experimental saxophonist Colin Webster adventures with HTrio’s rhythm section, augmented by improv stalwart Dave Birchall. (AUDIO)

Ripsaw Catfish
Another Manchester-London collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter and baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts improvising in and out of composed passages.  

Paul Baxter
A prolific composer, whose material is sadly a rarity online. Baxter writes fantastically inventive pieces for both larger ensembles like Mahakasyapa and the Potter Ensemble (making full use of these groups’ string sections), and smaller more conventional jazz combos.  You can check out his piano trio - eyeshutight - (VIDEO)

Sam Andreae
Sam now lives in Berlin, and hasn't lived in Manchester for quite a few years, but he still counts! Silence Blossoms, Trio Riot…every project he is involved with is great. Either he’s very lucky or very talented…(VIDEO)

Paddy Steer
Paddy has been doing really interesting and varied projects around Manchester for years. He’s fused electro chip tunes with jazz sensibilities and led a tribute to Sun Ra called The Part Time Heliocentric Cosmo Drama After School Club.(VIDEO)

Manchester Jazz Collective
This is a really exciting group to be a part of. Led by Kyran Matthews, this 10-piece group meets every month to workshop and perform original music written by various composers, and there are now over 50 tunes in the pad.  It's fantastic to have the opportunity to write for large ensemble and have it performed; it's very rare to be able to get ten great musicians in the same room, let alone every month! (AUDIO)

Johnny Hunter Quartet plays the Vortex on the 31st October. TICKETS


CD REVIEW: Square One - In Motion

Square One - In Motion
(SQ1CD1601. From Bandcamp. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

A young quartet from Glasgow, Square One's debut release In Motion quickly catches the attention with its imaginative compositional breadth, sparkling energy and nuanced elegance.

A collaboration arising from their time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, guitarist Joe Williamson, pianist Peter Johnstone, bassist David Bowden and drummer/percussionist Stephen Henderson have already gained deserved recognition for their work, receiving 2015's Peter Whittingham Jazz Award which provided the wherewithal to record this album. Citing The Impossible Gentlemen amongst influences, the band otherwise possesses its own, solid jazz identity infused with soul and rock; and the ensemble's intelligent empathy and balance is redolent of, say, the Moutin Reunion Quartet (albeit with guitar, whose styling, in different moments, might easily evoke Mike Walker, Louis Stewart or Mike Stern).

Ten originals, across a full hour, combine melodic memorability with warmth of arrangement. Title track In Motion is a shining example, its propulsive groove inviting unfettered guitar and piano improvisations within a tight, percussive framework, sparking all manner of hues and refractions; and the homely, breezy openness of Full Circle paints blue-sky freedom, Peter Johnstone's rhythmic and high piano embellishments melding crisply with Williamson's clean tone. Brooding Eastern Ballad signals that this is a band which thrives on searching for the less obvious, eschewing the status quo with textural variance and spatial confidence; and Quicksand (in two parts) juxtaposes Mission Impossible-riff impetus and freewheeling bossa with unpredictable, smouldering progression and deliciously tremulant guitar.

Again, the apparently straightforward swing of 12 teases with swiftly-changing syncopations, all tightly engineered, whilst Crawler's dark, heavily-trodden grunge is fired by Williamson's edgy, chordal invention, gyrating with Johnstone's piano riffs and Henderson's crackling drumming – ten minutes of episodic brilliance. Feel-good harmonic shifts in Light Up the Sky inspire beautiful melodies from Williamson, Johnstone and Bowden; and Ending Song's twilight limpidity, imbued with such sweet reverence, could easily welcome a poetic vocal line.

Square One deliver original jazz characterised by intelligent writing, illuminated by like-minded improvisation and interplay… and it feels likely that they have much more to reveal. In Motion must surely be their launch pad for a great future together.

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