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.


SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

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.


GENERATION JAZZ

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

WE ARE FAMILY

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

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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.

LINK: PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Lauren Kinsella

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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.

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

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 JazzLondonRadio.com(pp)

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

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CD REVIEW: The Bad Plus - It’s Hard


The Bad Plus - It’s Hard
(Okeh Records / Sony Music Masterworks 88985 33714 2
.
CD Review by Liam Izod)


In 2016, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk – and if there is a jazz group who might lay claim to the legacy of 1976, it is Brooklyn’s The Bad Plus. Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King have been purveying jazz-punk deconstructions of zeitgeisty hits from Bowie to Black Sabbath since their formation in 2000. In 2014, they released a reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, demonstrating their respect for the musical iconoclasts of the past, though not quite provoking the riots that famously broke out at the original Rite’s premiere.

Rather than riot, the appropriate reaction to a Bad Plus covers album is more a sort of post-modern chortle at their irascible rearrangements. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the eleven selections on their latest, It’s Hard. Kraftwerk’s The Robots gets a sparky latin overhaul, which finds the swing amidst the precise pulses of the original. Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time is another triumph, with Iverson extracting some affecting changes, under which Anderson weaves what seems like an endlessly ascending bass line.

There are moments, though, which make you question whether you get the joke. Did the world really need a contemporary jazz cover of an early noughties indie song that wasn’t particularly remarkable the first time round? Are the Bad Plus celebrating these old hits, or sending them up, or both? The final track, Broken Shadows by Ornette Coleman, offers some answers. The trio cover it almost like a ballad in a standards book – and it is the most genuine moment on the album, and their reverence for the avant-jazz great is plain to hear.

So, The Bad Plus are perhaps best understood through the prism of Ornette as well as punk. Here, they continue to find playful new ways to improvise in the jazz idiom, and to transmit challenging music to those who might not often hear it. That can only be commended.

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CD REVIEW: Neil Cowley Trio - Spacebound Apes



Neil Cowley Trio - Spacebound Apes
(Hide Inside Records HIDECD002. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


Spacebound Apes is an out-and-out concept album and multimedia experience. As well as the music, there are at least two websites, a host of videos, a sheet music single and an illustrated book of the music. Inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's book The City And The Stars and recorded with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in the background (HAL 9000 gets an engineer's credit), there is an unashamed geekiness to the enterprise; but it succeeds or fails on the music.

The music is a distinct departure for Neil Cowley Trio, if not a change of direction: in keeping with their source material, it represents a clear evolution in their sound. The pieces have a more sparse quality than previous releases; there is a lot more space in the sound (pun wholly embraced!).

The typical elements from the trio's earlier recordings are still there - piano riffs which building in intensity, powerful drums and rhythmic, insistent bass playing from Rex Horan. But Evan Jenkins's drumming is more restrained. On Hubris Major, his contribution is restricted to a repeated three-beat pattern for most of the tune. There are very few times when his energetic delivery reaches the frenetic peaks common to earlier recordings. When the trio does get the opportunity to rock out - for the first time on the album on The City and the Stars, or later with The Sharks of Competition - it gives an added impetus.

Their earlier records always had subtle moments, more than an album title such as Loud... Louder... Stop! might suggest. On Spacebound Apes, the introspective moments come to the fore. Neil Cowley's piano playing has a softer, more tempered approach than before. Several tracks feature Cowley predominantly rather than the trio, such as Hubris Major and Echo Nebula, on which Cowley's slow, resonant piano is accompanied by treated percussion and gentle electronic sounds.

There are several collaborators involved in creating Spacebound Apes: as well as a suitably ethereal choir and a French horn section, Leo Abrahams contributes guitar and electronic effects, which add to the textures on particular tracks.

The result is a thoughtful, reflective record, less exuberantly energetic than the trio's earlier recordings, and with fewer exciting crescendos. It is less immediate, with a stripped-back sound. It's the Neil Cowley Trio, Jim - but not as we know it.

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

LINK: Don't mention the J-word: how Spotify gifted my jazz tune two million hits (Guardian)

Neil Cowley Trio perform Spacebound Apes at the Union Chapel, Islington, on 27 October, with other gigs around the country.

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FEATURE/PREVIEW: Rick Simpson – Klammer album launch

Rick Simpson

We interviewed Rick Simpson, whose second CD as leader, Klammer, is about to be released on Two Rivers Records on 30th September (launch gig on 22nd September at the Vortex, Dalston):

LondonJazz: Rick, what's happened since the last record?

Rick Simpson: Well, I found myself gravitating to jazz where the writing was more of an event, and less of an an excuse for some improvising. I'd always been a fan of that kind of approach, since being a fan of Kenny Wheeler's Music for Large and Small Ensembles in my teenage years and a huge Django Bates devotee. I realised that composition held a massive sway for me and was something I wanted to explore. On the first record, Semi Wogan, I'm proud of some of those tunes, but it's really quite a standard head-solo-head affair. On Klammer there's only one tune that follows that structure, which I wrote to serve as a break from all the through-composed material. Writing for a larger ensemble and having a lot of written material allows you to own your music a bit more, I think. That said, the challenge is to find ways in which we can be spontaneous with these forms, and that's something which will develop, the more we play.

LJ: When and where was it recorded?

RS: We were really lucky to get three days together in Eastcote Studios in West London, back in March. It's a fantastic studio and George Murphy made the whole process a breeze. I was really grateful that Eastcote have a wonderful selection of instruments lying around, so I got to play an MS-10 monosynth and a harmonium in some free time before the studio closed. Alex Bonney did an amazing job with the mix and Peter Beckmann mastered the whole record, making it sound incredible. Alex and Peter really are the go-to mixing and mastering team for a reason.

LJ: What excites you about playing music?

RS: Improvising in any context. I love playing all music, and all of the history of jazz. Variety excites me. I can play steaming post-bop jazz with Leo Richardson's Quartet at Ronnie Scott's one night and then play with Jay Phelps' Quartet the next, playing music that draws from free jazz, m-base and hip-hop. I've never wanted to limit myself to which area of jazz I play, so I've tried to soak in as much as possible and be open to everything. I hope that comes across on this record!

LJ: And what inspired the tunes on the album?

RS: A lot of music from composers I admire – Dan Weiss, Django Bates, John Hollenbeck, Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, Stravinsky... but also things that are happening in our scene these days. I can't deny that I just wanted to write, and sometimes the tunes aren't about anything other than me trying to express what music I admire and offering a sort of tribute to it. But at certain points, there are deliberate musical allusions; things which I find funny or weird about the scene we have here – but I'll leave that for people to interpret. I think I made deliberate choices, whilst composing, that I wanted to write something which would serve a purpose. Sea Change and Orbital were definitely written with the intent of giving the listener a breather. I always try and imagine how my music might be received, whilst I'm writing, and try and make it as direct as possible without sacrificing any musical integrity.

LJ: Tell us about who's on this record.

RS: George Crowley, tenor saxophone, has been in my bands for a long time now, so he really understands where everything is coming from. I love musicians, like George, who can play the whole history. I've heard him cover the whole history on one gig before and variety of language excites me. George has an almost unparalleled knowledge and understanding of what's going on in jazz and our scene, so having him around is essential.

Michael Chillingworth, on assorted reed instruments, has been my closest musical ally for about ten years now. He's an incredible musician and composer, and I really feel that he's hugely overlooked. He's light years ahead and I'm honoured that he's willing to play my music. Check him out – especially his new record, Scratch and Sift.

Ralph Wyld, on vibraphone – it blows my mind that someone his age can play like that. He can read anything instantly and burns everything up. He's just done a record of his own too with his band Mosaic.

Tom Farmer, on bass, is one of my favourite musicians in the world, period. Everything he plays is perfect for the music and he's an incredibly supportive bass player, internalising everything so quickly so he can get his head out of the chart and really improvise. I caught Empirical a couple of times this summer and they sounded absolutely incredible. The best band we have in the UK.

Dave Hamblett completes the line up on drums. Dave has incredible facility at his instrument and nails everything he plays. He brings a real energy to the group and is an integral part of this band's sound. Listen to him tear it up on Beware of Gabriel Garrick Imitators. I wrote this as kind of drum concerto for Dave to play.

LJ: And you enjoy composing and bandleading?

RS: I do. I'm super proud of this record, especially the first four tunes and the last two – I think they came out better than I could have hoped for, but it's stressful at times! I think I'm more relaxed on stage as a sideman, but I'm working on that. It's also quite confusing about how you progress your career doing your own thing, and often it's a battle getting anyone in the press to take any notice of you; so it's comforting having side-man gigs. But, ultimately, I love writing music and I'm happy with what I came up with for this record.

LJ: What's next?

RS: Well, I'm going to book more gigs for this band and keep it as a long-term project that always plays. I'd love to do another record with them at some point in the future, probably with an expanded line-up. But the next thing that I'm looking to do is have a band which is nothing to do with jazz, a straight-up indie-rock band or something. I love Deerhoof and Animal Collective very dearly, and music with vocals has always connected with me in a special way. So I'm hoping, in 2017, I can finally start a project which is just song based.

LJ: The record is being released on Two Rivers Records, right?

RS: It is, and I'm indebted to the wonderful work and support of Alya Al-Sultani who founded and funds the label's work. She's a force of nature and I love her dearly. We could not have done this without her. Check out the website, and Alya's own music on tworiversrecords.org.

LJ: Definitely looking forward to hearing the album.

RS: If you don't want to wait, you can listen to a sample track, right now, on Bandcamp; and there's also a video of Pins.

LJ: Thanks for doing the interview, Rick – and very good luck with the album!

LINK: Album launch at the Vortex – booking details

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REVIEW: Moon Hooch at O2 Academy, Oxford

Moon Hooch. Photo credit: © Jay Sansone

Moon Hooch
(O2 Academy, Oxford, 15th September 2016. Review by Alison Bentley)


A late-night busker was singing ‘60s folk songs outside the O2 in Cowley Road (Oxford’s ‘left bank’). Trio Moon Hooch honed their skills busking on the New York subway – and their music was a considerably more urban experience. They played their ‘cave music’ (jazz mixed with house music, played ‘organically’) to a wildly enthusiastic, mixed-age crowd.

Saxophonists Mike Wilbur on tenor and Wenzl McGowen on bari harmonised sweetly – it could have been a few bars of Brahms with Ambient reverb until drummer James Muschler’s techno beats burst in with amazing cymbal detail. This tour is promoting their new album Red Sky, but nothing recorded could prepare you for the sheer visceral energy of their live sound. Each 3-4 minute piece merged seamlessly with the next – subtle changes of groove drew the audience along. Something Else had a bigger back beat, while Wilbur and McGowen faced each other as if their saxes were having a private conversation at high volume. The volume tended to drown the sax subtleties, though the sound improved as the gig went on. The trio met at New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, Wilbur bringing his love of avant garde free jazz (he often sounded like Albert Ayler, or David Murray’s wilder moments) to McGowen’s love of house and electronic dance music. The two saxophonists took it in turns to produce synth bass lines from a laptop, often buzzing throatily like a ‘60s Moog, which augmented most of the gig.

Shot had Wilbur on vocals, as distorted as a vocoder, with scrabbling sax multiphonics and hissy disco cymbals. Low 5 had gravelly, angular sax riffs from Wilbur folding into speedy counterpoint lines from McGowen’s tenor, and wild but incredibly focused drumming. #8 had menacing synth bass lines sizzling through the floor, McGowen gesturing wildly as the audience whooped; carefully-controlled stops made space for interlocking sax lines, without ever letting the energy drop. The Thought had a bright ‘60s pop melody played through a grungy filter with a four to the floor groove. Alien Invasion brought an Ibiza feel to fluttering sax arpeggios dripping with delay – the audience, concentrating so hard, were unable to resist dancing.

The beats of Freak Out and Old Techno, a little faster than a heartbeat, stirred adrenaline, the latter with its distorted sax and shrieking electronic effects – a kind of thrash jazz. McGowen improvised a spacey intro to St. Louis, dazzling arpeggios with cavernous delay and Hendrix-like feedback. Muschler’s cymbals built up, getting ready for the power of his bass drum and rockier groove.

Muschler shifted to tablas (he studied them in India) for the dubstep-influenced Oil Sipper. The words of Wilbur’s rap dipped into the bass drops: ‘Mono-culture culture vulture…Uncle Sam scam…the time has come to penetrate…’ – straight into the untrammelled sound of Audrey, every nanosecond filled with extraordinary drum beats and Philip Glass-like repeated phrases. In Tubes (from their 2013 hit album Moon Hooch), McGowen increased the onstage tube count by inserting a long traffic cone into the bell of his sax: cue suitably Neanderthal grunts over massive grooves intensified by moments of total silence. In Rough Sex, McGowen played rhythmic stabs like looped samples. New Techno’s tabla-led Indian overtones were heightened by flashing lights and dry ice; State of Emergency had a poetic urgency rapped by Wilbur, haunted by electronic sounds like falling fireworks. Long sax drones ended the gig, circular breathing in harmony, like eerie calls echoing round a cave, creating an avalanche of free drumming. But the encores left us on a high: huge grooves and a happy dubstep feel from #1.

Moon Hooch reconnect jazz with the dance music of their generation with total commitment, musical virtuosity, wall-to-wall grooves – and a good time.

UK DATES, SEPTEMBER 2016

18 September
Ramsbottom Festival, Bury
20 September Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton
21 September The Junction, Plymouth
22 September Phoenix, Exeter
23 September CLWB Ifor Bach, Cardiff
24 September Neuadd Ogwen, Bethesda
25 September O2 Academy Islington, London

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REVIEW: Phronesis at the Sounds of Denmark Festival in London

Phronesis in 2014. Image courtesy of Edition Records


Phronesis
(Pizza Express Dean Steet, 17th September 2016 - Sounds of Denmark Festival. 
Revew by Liam Izod)

They might modestly resist it, but you could call Phronesis a ‘super-trio’, given their current stature on the European jazz scene. So it was a rare opportunity to see them in the intimacy of the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, where they were playing as part of the Sounds of Denmark Festival. Bassist Jasper Høiby, willowy and wry as ever, joked that whilst they are a ‘Danish band’ today, they would happily be a ‘British band’ tomorrow if it was to their advantage.

There is something undeniably Scandinavian about Phronesis’ sound though. Since their formation in 2005 they have lifted off from the Esbjörn Svensson Trio launch pad into their own unique orbit. On opener 67000 MPH from latest album Parallax, the band set serpentine lead lines against hefty grooves, yet avoided any sense of clutter; the arrangements as ordered as a Danish designer’s desk.

Phronesis’ relationship with time is Professor Hawking level complex. Working out the time signatures of their pieces could be a fiendish new element of the music theory syllabus, or perhaps a high concept replacement for the intros round on Never Mind the Buzzcocks (very best of luck to Phill Jupitus and Noel Fielding!). This could all end up sounding like a technical exercise but an undeniable emotional element prevents that. It is elusive but might be found somewhere between Høiby’s playful flourishes, pianist Ivo Neame’s melodious voicings, and drummer Anton Eger’s exuberant musicality.

Saxophonist Julian Argüelles made the trio a quartet for most of the second set. His presence loosened the group up, allowing the musicians to appear as individuals instead of aspects of the groove organism that is Phronesis. Instantly the group became more the ‘British Band’ that Høiby had joked about earlier, finding creativity in indiscipline, in the spirit of Argüelles' old gig Loose Tubes. Whether Phronesis are the sound of Denmark, Sweden, the U.K or anywhere else; they must be heard.

LINKS: The Sounds of Denmark Festival continues at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho till 22 September
Phronesis’ latest album Parallax is out now on Edition Records

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Kyle Eastwood Band (Ronnie Scott's, 21-24 September)

Kyle Eastwood. Photo credit: © Claude Dinhut

US-born, Paris-based bassist Kyle Eastwood returns to London for a four-night residency at Ronnie Scott’s, 21-24 September 2016. French writer Sandie Safont caught up with him a month ago at the Avignon Jazz Festival:

LondonJazz News: Let’s rewind a couple of years. Could you tell us about the journey behind ‘Time Pieces’? The album sounds like more than just a tribute to your hard-bop heroes. Do you second that impression?

Kyle Eastwood: Yes, I do. When I started to write for the album, I knew that I wanted to record Dolphin Dance, because it was something we had started to play live with the band. Blowin’ The Blues Away was one of my father’s favourite records, so it’s one of the tunes I remember from when I was very young. So, yeah, I knew I wanted to record those two songs; and then I started writing some new music for the album that had this sort of spirit of that time period – jazz from the '50s and '60s – with a mix of some more modern materials.

LJN: Horn sections are central to Horace Silver’s work. Can you tell us about the stellar horn players you have in your band?

KE: I’ve known Quentin Collins for a long time. We’ve played together on and off for eight years or so – the better part of the last five or six. I met Brandon Allen more recently, through Quentin. They play a lot together, and founded the well-established QC/BA quartet.

LJN: And the rest of the line-up – all London-based?

KE: Andrew McCormack (piano) is the one I’ve played with the longest from when I used to live in London – about twelve years ago – and Chris Higginbottom (drums) is a recent addition to the band, but I’ve known him for ten years or so.

LJN: What about the songwriting for this album? Was it a collective process at all?

KE: Some of the pieces, we wrote totally collectively – we did a couple of rehearsals in London before recording the album in Paris. Otherwise, I would come up with ideas or a song, sort of half-written, and we would start playing it around and maybe the horns would change a few things or add a couple of things to it. So, in a way, the tunes became collective pieces.

LJN: That's apart from one song, written by Andrew McCormack?

KE: That’s right. Andrew played Vista a lot with his trio and he thought it would be nice to try it with the quintet. The two of us get together sometimes to write some new music that we then bring to the band. Ideally, the best thing to do is to write new music ahead of time, and then play it live as you’re on the road for a while. It makes the recording process much easier. And soundchecks are a great time to rehearse new ideas!

LJN: Judging by some of the song titles on ‘Time Pieces’, one might suspect a little bit of caipirinha and prosecco being consumed in the writing process…

KE: [laughs] Caipirinha was an idea Andrew and I came up with. since the song has a kind of Brazilian feel to it; and Prosecco Smile was a title that my wife and I came up with while in Rome, two years before I even wrote the tune. I then brought a few ideas to the band with this title in mind, and then I think Quentin added a few things to the horn parts – and yes, there was some prosecco being consumed [laughs].

LJN: Was bass your first instrument? Could you name some of your bass heroes for us?

KE: Piano was my first instrument, and then I played a bit of guitar when I was twelve. I was thirteen or fourteen when I first started playing electric bass – just for fun. I was listening to a lot of Motown records at the time, so I guess James Jamerson was certainly one I listened to a lot. I picked up the double bass a few years later, when I was seventeen or eighteen years old, and I used to listen to a lot of Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Stanley Clarke, Ron Carter and Oscar Pettiford – and then the later guys like Dave Holland. Then, of course, Jaco Pastorius, Anthony Jackson, Marcus Miller…

LJN: Any new talents we should watch out for in the bass world?

KE: Linda Oh, definitely. She plays with Dave Douglas and Pat Metheny’s new band. She sounds great.

LJN: You’ve been on the road most of 2015-16. How soon can we hope for a new album?

KE: We’re playing on and off until the end of November and we should probably go and record again in February/March 2017. We already have a couple of arrangements of some old things – including some Charles Mingus – and we’re working on some new compositions.

LJN: Will it be with the same line-up?

KE: Yes, absolutely. I might have a couple of guests, as I have been doing some stuff with saxophonist Stefano di Battista quite a bit lately, So the quintet might expand to a sextet for a few songs.

LJN: You’re playing four nights in a row at Ronnie’s next September. How do you feel about it?

KE: I’m delighted to be back. It has a really great vibe, a nice sounding room and there’s a lot of history there, which makes it one of my favourite clubs to play.

LINKS:
Booking at Ronnie Scott's, 21-24 September
Time Pieces album review at All About Jazz
Time Pieces album review at AP Reviews

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INTERVIEW: Iain Ballamy – (Preview of 21st Century Pastoral, Barbican Hall - 23rd September)

Malcolm Edmonstone and Iain Ballamy

Saxophonist and newly-appointed professor at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Iain Ballamy, appears with Malcolm Edmonstone (Head of Jazz) and the Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir next week, 23 September 2016, at the Barbican. The concert's first half, '21st Century Pastoral – The Music of Iain Ballamy', will be followed by a programme of Brahms and Walton with the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Sebastian sent a few email questions to Iain Ballamy: 

LondonJazz News: How long ago – and how – did you first meet Malcolm Edmonstone?

Iain Ballamy: We were introduced by drummer and mutual friend Martin France, just a couple of years ago, but it already feels like we’ve known each other for many years. From the first time we met, we instantly clicked. I was struck by what a positive and generous musician Malcolm is, as well as being a terrific piano player.

LJN: And he asked to do some arrangements?

IB: Malcolm said he would like to arrange a broad selection of my work from over the last thirty years for NYJOS (the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland). These pieces were to be rehearsed at a summer school on the Isle of Skye, and then followed by a short tour and a studio recording, to create a lasting memory of the project and give vital first studio experience to the young players.

LJN: You made a recording last summer?

IB: We spent two days at Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, near Edinburgh, and recorded seven tunes initially; but the result way exceeded our expectations, and so another session was booked to create enough material for an album (yet to be mixed and released). The players were so accomplished, with some as young as fifteen years old. I am so proud to have worked with them and I love the arrangements Malcolm wrote – they filled me with excitement!

LJN: The Prom was a culmination....

IB: Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we were invited to perform BBC Prom 28 at the Albert Hall last month. This was a great experience for everyone. Live on BBC Radio 3, on that stage… it almost feels like being a gladiator in the coliseum when you play that venue!

LJN: And this September concert is a next step?

IB: Now Malcolm is Head of Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, I am also acting as a professor there. We have a big concert on Friday 23rd September featuring Ballamy, Brahms and William Walton performed by the Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir, and Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. I will be soloist with the Jazz Orchestra and Choir, performing my compositions arranged by Malcolm Edmonstone.

LJN: And what are the plans after that?

IB: I would like to work on some larger jazz/orchestral crossover projects with Malcolm and to see these arrangements performed by ensembles and radio bands around the world. I am looking forward to the release of the recordings we've already made and look forward to a lifelong friendship and working relationship with the gifted arranger Malcolm Edmonstone.

The Guildhall has also explained to us the programming connection between the two halves of the concert. They write:

“The influence of jazz is well documented jazz in the works of William Walton and the 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 and was known for his liking of music by Duke Ellington, Spike Hughes and Benny Goodman. Stephen Lloyd tells us in his book A Muse of Fire that it was Walton who first played through Spike Hughes’ work A Harlem Symphony and then went on to sketch material from the work on the back of his orchestral parts to Belshazzar’s Feast.”

LINK: Programme details/bookings for 23rd September at Barbican Hall

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NEWS: BBC Music Jazz digital pop-up radio station returns, 10-14 November

L-R: Jonathan Arendt (CEO of Jazz FM), Claire Whitaker (Director of Serious) and Alan Davey (Controller of BBC Radio 3) launching BBC Music Jazz
Photo credit: © Adrienne Photography

Following the success of last year’s inaugural run of the temporary jazz station, and coinciding with the beginning of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival, BBC Music Jazz will this year be broadcasting around the clock, this time providing a continuous 96 hours of programming over five days.

From 10-14 November 2016, this collaboration between BBC Music, BBC Radio and Jazz FM will offer access to rare archive recordings (including specially-commissioned new content), a countdown of the Top 50 jazz albums of all time, as well as featuring live concerts from the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Presenters will include Stewart Lee, Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula, Will Young, Cerys Matthews, Moira Stuart, Jamie Cullum, Soweto Kinch, Jools Holland, Craig Charles, Ana Matronic, Jay Rayner, Julian Joseph and Claire Martin.

Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3, says: "As a station Radio 3 has an illustrious history of broadcasting jazz and connecting audiences with pioneering music and culture, as well as supporting new talent and broadcasting from major festivals like EFG London Jazz Festival. What better way to help celebrate our 70th anniversary than to come together once again with our sister BBC radio stations and Jazz FM to bring an astonishing amount of new and archive content to jazz obsessives, the uninitiated and everyone in between."

The full schedule is yet to be announced, but the press release from BBC Media Centre with all that has been made available to date can be viewed here.

LINK: 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival Programme Published

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PREVIEW: Alex Wilson and Marc Halbheer (London Latin Jazz Festival, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Sep 27- Oct 1)

Madrid Edition. L-R Miguel Linares, Dany Noel, Marc Halbheer


There will be a certain symmetry about the opening and closing concerts of this year's London Latin Jazz Festival. The opener on Tuesday 27th September will present Marc Halbheer's Madrid Edition with special guest Alex Wilson. The closing concert on 1st October "Alex Wilson & Friends" will have Swiss Drummer Marc Halbheer as guest. Sebastian found out more about the background from both of them: 

Swiss-born drummer Marc Halbheer has not played in the UK since a visit here with the Vienna Art Orchestra in the 1990's, and yet on the continent - he divides his time between Madrid and Switzerland - he is an extremely influential player and teacher, and even...inventor. His London trip will even present a brand new invention for drummers, the “DRUFO” which will be exhibited for the first time at a trade fair the weekend before he comes here for the Festival. (nothing online until 23rd September)

Halbheer's formative period was in Los Angeles where he spent nearly four years between 1988 and 1992. He went there with a long-standing friend the cellist and composer Martin Tillman who has stayed there and been successful as a film composer. Halbheer studied in LA with two former members of Frank Zappa's bands, Ralph Humphrey and Ed Man. “The LA experience for me was important for me. Most of what I did after that came from my time in LA and from the connections made there.” On his return to Switzerland he was asked to start the percussion and rhythmics course at the Lucerne Conservatoire, and has been department head since then. He has appeared as drummer and percussionist in a wide range of live, recording and film contexts.

The project he is bringing to London, his Madrid Edition is the result of intense study of flamenco and of its inter-relationship with other music which he has been pursuing for a number of years, notably studying and playing with the doyen of flamenco artists – with whom Dave Holland also went to unlock the secrets of the tradition, Pepe Habichuela “Pepe is the head of one of the Flamenco clans. With him the music goes back seven generations! Once I started to find the connections. I began to understand where jazz comes from – slaves, travelling,the diaspora.” It is all interconnected. It opened up new perspectives on the music I know, the music we think we know.”

The Madrid Edition has Paris-born Flamenco guitarist Miguel Linares, a regular member of the Rafael Aguilar group , and Cuban bass player & singer Dany Noel



Artistic Director of the London Latin Jazz Festival ALEX WILSON writes

"Cuban piano royalty, new generation salsa-soul, flamenco-jazz, cutting edge Cuban son and an Indian vocalist have all been infused into the fourth edition of the London Latin Jazz Fest 2016.

I believe the festival nights now are known as events to go for intense, passionate music, experienced close up. Concerts performed by world-class artists, many of whom are active in London (important to us) mixed with international guests for something really quite unique. So check out our listings and buy tickets to see the Cuban virtuoso pianist, Ivan Melon Lewis, the passionate flamenco jazz of Madrid Edition, the youthful take on Cuban traditional music with Son con Swing, new generation salsa by Edwin Sanz and yours truly on the Saturday leading a closing night with many friends including my Indo-Latin collaboration partner, vocalist Unnati Dasgupta."




BOOKING LINKS:

Tuesday, 27th Sept Marc Halbheer's Madrid Edition

Wednesday, 28th Sept Ivan ‘Melon’ Lewis Trio

Thursday, 29th Sept Son con Swing

Friday, 30th September Edwin Sanz (2 shows)

Saturday, 1st Oct Alex Wilson and Friends

LINK: London Latin Jazz Festival website

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NEWS: Arts Council England reveals figures on jazz funding

Althea Efunshile. Photo from Arts Council England


In a speech at the programme launch of the EFG London Jazz Festival, Althea Efunshile, Deputy Chief Executive of Arts Council England, gave out some selective data, which represents - as far as we are aware - the first meaningful sector-wide statistics for funding since the announcement in July 2014 that Jazz Services was having its ACE support withdrawn.

The chosen statistics do serve to illustrate some recent trends. NYJO, NYJC, Jazz Refreshed and Brownswood all joined the National Portfolio from the 2015-6 year, and there has also been an increase in grants paid directly to musician-promoters. The key paragraphs from Efunshile's speech illustrating this were:

"At the Arts Council, as well as our growing investment in jazz in our current National Portfolio, we’ve also increased the value of our Grants for the Arts awards for jazz by more than 250% since 2012. In the current year to date, jazz projects have received more than £417,000 through Grant in aid.

"In the last two financial years we have awarded £1.2m of strategic touring funds to jazz related projects – a tenfold improvement on the £120,000 invested in the previous two years."


The speech singled out Serious, the hosts of the event, for particular praise, and also mentioned some other funded organisations:

"Organisations like the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Tomorrow’s Warriors are being supported through our Catalyst programme to help bring in donations and sponsorship. While Jazz Re:freshed is taking our talent to an international stage, with International Showcasing funding. Organisations like the National Youth Jazz Collective are doing exemplary work building lasting partnerships with schools and music education hubs, offering excellent training for the next generation."

LINK: Read Althea Efunshile's full speech

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FEATURE/PREVIEW: Guitarist Nigel Price on fifty-six date UK tour until December


Nigel Price Trio - Nigel Price, Matt Home, Ross Stanley

Nigel Price remembers the first time he became aware of the Hammond organ. The guitarist who is currently on a mammoth, fifty-six date Arts Council-funded UK tour with his organ trio, has become quite the evangelist for an instrument that technology has tried - but failed – to make obsolete. He spoke to Rob Adams:

He’s well aware of the more easily portable alternatives but craves the real thing, the sound he first heard coming, not from a Jimmy Smith or a Jack McDuff album, although they would come soon afterwards, but from Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.

“It was Rainy Day, Dream Away,” he says. “They’re just messing around in the studio but it has this shuffle that has to be the grooviest thing ever and in comes Mike Finnigan on organ and I just thought, I want that sound.”

As the young Price checked out the jazz guitar and its history, it was inevitable that he would come across the Hammond sound at some point. He’s often bracketed with Wes Montgomery, who made some of the coolest organ trio albums in the jazz canon, although he’s more of a Joe Pass fan, and if his Jimi Hendrix experience hadn’t made him a Hammond devotee, then hearing Jimmy Smith’s The Boss, with George Benson, would have clinched it.

“I love all these guys, all the great American players, but there was something really inspiring, for me, in being able to hear someone like Jim Mullen live rather than on record,” says Price. “Jim tears it up on every gig and he’s always really exciting but I particularly liked the fact that he’d be doing that in some local pub or club where he’s so close you can see what he’s doing. Dave Cliff was another inspiration and another example of someone who had it all going on and was playing locally.”

Talking of yet another, local-ish hero, the recently departed Louis Stewart, takes Price into the slightly more geeky territory of guitar string gauges. He’s not one for the super-slinky range, preferring the chunky, bluesy sound that comes from what he calls piano wire. Call it suffering for your art - with blisters – but there’s a triumph in the face of adversity quality, he says, about playing on heavy gauge strings, a sense of commitment that also shines through in turning up at the furthest away club with a Hammond organ.

“You can see it registering on people’s faces when they look at the stage and there’s the Hammond with a Leslie speaker sitting there,” he says. “These are not items that the average person is going to carry on his or her back – although I’ve seen it done. The sheer size of them shows conviction and audiences get that.”

Aside from offering a consistency, or near-consistency, in terms of sound quality, the organ trio is also self-contained. It doesn't suffer from the variable quality of instrument that can afflict a touring band that requires a piano and, says Price, it can change quite significantly if a horn is added.

“It’s very immediate in terms of communication between the three of us,” he says. “I miss bass players but with organ and guitar it’s very easy to signal just with a twitch of an eyebrow what you intend to do. Plus when Ross is soloing he has the basslines covered and there’s a gap in the middle begging for someone to comp, and that’s my place. I find it a really creative, sociable unit.”

The sociability extends to the audience for Price. As was the case with Cannonball Adderley’s quintet, he says, the organ trio format makes for music that communicates directly with the listeners as well as between the players. Price is a gregarious sort by nature anyway and isn’t likely to be found “basking in my own self-loathing” in the dressing room between sets.

“It sounds a bit hippy-ish but I mean it when I say that music should be a shared experience,” he says. “It means the world to me that people come out to hear Ross, Steve and me and I couldn’t stand the thought of us making a sound and people hating it. I try to chat with as many people in the audience as possible on every gig. You want them to feel involved and of course you want them to come back next time but if we can’t all enjoy it in the moment, what’s the point?”

The Nigel Price Organ TrioNigel Price, Ross Stanley (organ) and Steve Brown (drums) is at a venue near you before Christmas. TOUR DATES

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NEWS: 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival Programme Published



The full 36-page printed programme for the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival has been published.

.... AND HERE IT IS.

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CD REVIEW: Joanna Wallfisch - Gardens in My Mind



Joanna Wallfisch - Gardens in My Mind
(Sunnyside Records SSC1455. CD Review by Zosia Jagodzinska)


Jazz vocalist and songwriter Joanna Wallfisch has built an impressive reputation since moving to New York in 2012, playing with big names such as Wynton Marsalis and Lee Konitz. Reviewers have drawn attention to both her ‘focused, crystalline delivery’ (DownBeat) and also to the originality of her songs.

Such success will perhaps come as no surprise. Wallfisch belongs to a family of extremely accomplished classical musicians, but she has determinedly forged her own creative path with studies in Art at Central St Martins and Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music. A broad range of influences informs the vivid imagery and eclecticism of her songwriting, both musically and lyrically.

Gardens in My Mind is a collection of originals and covers (Joni Mitchell, Tim Buckley.) People who admire the voices of Norma Winstone or Joni Mitchell, the raw lyricism of Fiona Apple (The Idler Wheel..), the Ballads of Kurt Weill, or the atmospheric film music of Yann Tiersen- will surely find things to like on this album. Wallfisch achieves a sophisticated and beautiful juxtaposition of contrasting sound worlds and styles; something which could feel jarring or forced in lesser hands.

This is, by her own confession, her ‘most adventurous’ record to date. She has written full arrangements for string quartet and piano, resulting from a special commission by the Salisbury Festival to collaborate with the Sacconi Quartet. It is these unusual, highly expressive arrangements, coupled with their sensitive and virtuosic execution by pianist Dan Tepfer and the Sacconis, which elevate the songs to a new level, making this a truly transporting record that warrants multiple listens. The roles of the quartet and the piano change throughout, at times providing heartbreakingly tender atmosphere (Anonymous Journeys, Patience), at others, playing the clown (Brighton Beach), elsewhere providing a cinematic narrative via dramatic turns of phrase, striking dissonances and unexpected textural changes which reveal conflicting urges in the lyrics. The arrangements provide not only a beautifully shifting sonic tapestry over which Joanna sings her stories, but also an intriguing subtext for her lyrics, ensuring the songs remain interesting on repeated listens as we question their multiple meanings. Life is a strange, sad, joyful and surprising journey, and Wallfisch communicates its contradictions playfully and tenderly.

Harmonically and melodically, mercurial twists and turns keep the listener on their toes in Moons of Jupiter and This Is How You Make Me Feel. The latter is a catchy, smile-inducing portrayal of the excitement of being in love; irresistible in its joyful forward motion, the music unexpectedly descends into manic dissonance via a ‘breakdown’ initiated by unravelling lines in the Quartet. Elsewhere, Wallfisch employs a Stravinsky-esque sense of neo-classical humour, borrowing and distorting well known material to humorous effect (Beethoven’s Fur Elise is pulled apart in Brighton Beach). Her bold exploration of quick changes in mood and style results in a well rounded listening experience of dark and light, intense and whimsical.

Vocally she retains composure within the surrounding drama. Her delivery and phrasing  are beautiful,  intimately confessional and expressive, yet never overtly emotional. The combination of this controlled, unfussy delivery with the drama and unpredictability of the accompaniment works well. Emotional tension is created via the intriguing push and pull between the vocal and accompaniment lines, working together and against each other.

The Sacconi Quartet offer a wealth of expression and personality with their impressive range of colours and textures; from icy cold false harmonics and whispered tremolos (Moons of Jupiter), feathery pulsing heart beats (Patience) and a darkly hollow alto flute sound (Anonymous Journeys) via coiling passages of great tenderness and warmth (Moons of Jupiter) to lighter pop and musical theatre stylings (Distant Shores), mischievous pizzicatos (Satin Grey) and the fabulously wonky solos and scratchings in Brighton Beach, where Tepfer’s zany melodica deserves a special mention.

Tepfer’s piano playing is delicate and empathetic throughout, as are his own arrangements, which blend seamlessly into the record, demonstrating the strength of Wallfisch and Tepfer’s musical relationship. This is chamber music making of the highest level, from all involved.

Gardens in My Mind is a compelling journey of experimentation and adventure, expressing the minutiae of Wallfisch's daily experiences, relationships and changing moods. The record is both fresh and familiar, showing a wide range of influences, yet it always remains distinctive.

Joanna Wallfisch will be performing at the Forge in Camden Town on Saturday November 19th at 2pm as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival

LINK: Joanna Wallfisch Interview


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CD REVIEW: Madeleine Peyroux - Secular Hymns



Madeleine Peyroux - Secular Hymns
(Impulse 5701701. CD Review by Peter Jones)


Recorded ‘as live’ in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, Madeleine Peyroux’s new album is as mellow and rootsy as you might expect, performed by a trio consisting of herself on vocal and acoustic guitar, John Herington on electric guitar and vocals, and Barak Mori on double bass and vocals. Acoustically speaking, the church is a good setting for this kind of music, providing it with a natural reverb which emphasises the musical spaciousness Peyroux’s repertoire has always contained.

Willie Dixon gets two look-ins – the opener Got You On My Mind and If The Sea Was Whiskey, the latter featuring great slide guitar from Herington. There’s older and newer music here too: Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More, an intriguing bit of social commentary written in the mid-19th century, sounds as if it’s benefitted from a spot of reharmonization, but it’s no more than a modern lick of paint on a good song. Tom Waits’s Tango Till They’re Sore (from his Rain Dogs album) is at the other end of the historical spectrum: the original version is not actually a tango, but Peyroux’s is, and it sounds so right that it’s hard to imagine it otherwise, with Mori’s bowed staccato bass providing the beat.

It’s also great to hear Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky, one of the best things Lee Dorsey ever recorded. There’s only one chord, so the groove is all. With blues, tango and funk, Peyroux gets plenty of rhythmic variety into this album, and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s More Time provides the reggae component.

Secular Hymns is not really a jazz album, but it’s very much familiar territory and will therefore please Madeleine Peyroux’s many fans.

Madeleine Peyroux will be performing at the EFG London Jazz Festival on November 20th at the Royal Festival Hall

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CD REVIEW: Amália Baraona - 3 Mundus



Amália Baraona - 3 Mundus
(fo(u)r. CD BE015. CD Review by Alison Bentley)


Three guitarists bring their 3 Mundus (‘3 Worlds’) to Croatian-based Portuguese singer Amália Baraona’s third album. It’s a sunny CD of lesser-known Brazilian sambas and bossa novas. On the cover she peers shyly from behind a Spanish guitar; on the recording her voice is gentle, tuneful and rhythmically strong- you can tell how much she loves the songs she grew up with in Brazil. The blending of the guitarists’ jazz, classical and folk styles sounds completely natural.

Three songs are from the 30s: two by Ary Arroso (Inquietação and Faceira.) The first expresses disillusionment with love, opening with flowing Spanish classical guitar as arco bass underpins the understated voice. (Croatian multi-instrumentalist Dinko Stipaničev plays bass on seven tracks and guitar on five, as well as other instruments.) Faceira keeps some of the original samba feel, the counter-melody of Stipaničev’s clarinet slowing the speedy delicacy of the voice. Several songs on the album were written by singer-guitarists, including Feitio de Oração (Noel Rosa/ Vadico.) It’s a ‘samba prayer’, with Macedonian guitarist Toni Kitanovski negotiating the descending jazzy chords. Albanian pianist Gent Rushi is here on accordion, adding a lovely, winsome sound to five tracks. Caymmi’s A Vizinha do Lado jumps to the 40s: a witty song about a beautifully distracting neighbour. Cross rhythms between guitars and clarinet lines create a sense of joyful lightness.

Maria Ninguém, by singer-guitarist Carlos Lyra, seems to embody the 60s; covered by Brigitte Bardot, it was reputedly Jacqueline Kennedy’s favourite tune. The melody shelves itself in the brain like a favourite book. Baraona sings with a smile over gentle accordion tremolo. Singer-guitarist Roberto Menescal guested on Baraona’s previous album. Here she sings his Errinho á Toa with a nostalgic 60s insouciance. Lyra/Moraes’ Primavera has percussive guitar rhythms and wistful accordion- it could be a theme song from a retro Audrey Tatou film. Moraes co-wrote Como Dizia o Poeta with singer/guitarist Toquinho in the 60s. Baraona’s version has old-style double-tracked vocals. Stipaničev on cavaquinho, harmonises brilliantly with the voice and Albanian Petrit Çeku’s guitar. The melancholy Villa Lobos/Bandeira song Modinha (Serasta N. 5) shows why Çeku is an award-winning classical guitarist.

Other songs are from the 70s and 80s. In Moraes/Toquinho’s Samba da Volta, Baraona eschews slushy strings in favour of harmonised gypsy-jazz tumbling scales and phrase-swapping. In O Que Será (A Flor de Pele) by Chico Buarque, Baraona’s singing is especially rhythmic, as she plays with the percussive phrase ‘que será.’ Two Jobim songs are utterly uplifting. Correnteza (‘Flow’) has a shimmering watery quality in the vocal harmonies. The track I listen out for every time is Jobim’s Luiza: the opening where Stipaničev plays the melody on arco bass over Rushi’s romantic accordion is beautifully Piazzolla-esque, and Baraona sings the precipitous melody from the heart.

These are devoted re-workings of classic Brazilian songs, beautifully-arranged, played and sung.

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud

LINKS: Review of Menescantando
Review of Mulheres

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PREVIEW: Another 100 Years of Jazz - Life, The Saxophone and Everything - the new Jazz Repertory Company show (Cadogan Hall, Saturday Sept 24th)

L-R: Nick Dawson, Dave Chamberlain, Enrico Tomasso
Georgina Jackson, Pete Long, Richard Pite


Richard Pite and the Jazz Repertory Company will be presenting a new show entitled "Another 100 Years of Jazz" at Cadogan Hall on Saturday, September 24th. Peter Vacher interviewed one of the musicians involved, singer/ trumpeter Georgina Jackson to get an early look at what will be in the new show:

Having devised and performed a popular concert programme , snappily entitled 100 Years of Jazz in 99 Minutes, that encompassed the developments in jazz from then until now, Richard Pite and the Jazz Repertory Company were left scratching their heads as to what to do next. They had presented this programme some thirty or more times, to considerable critical acclaim and audience satisfaction. But they were starting to wonder: had their show run its course?

Something had to be done, it was decided. Time to draw a line and move on, as they say. So what next? Brainstorming as only canny creatives can, how about Another 100 Years of Jazz, they cried, falling back into their sun loungers, quite overcome by the sheer audacity of it. And as if to compound the excitement, they added a sub-title: ‘Life, The Saxophone and Everything’. And so it has come about, with the London debut performance for their new show with this memorable title, scheduled for Chelsea’s mighty Cadogan Hall on Saturday, September 24th.

With a cast of, well, six, and a century’s music to call on, an entirely new programme has been devised, honed and sharpened, the full span of the music somehow compressed into a fast-moving yet seamless set of performances. Once again, there will be a series of rapid adjustments, instruments changing hands with bewildering speed, as these stellar players adjust embouchures, flex fingers afresh, re-focus and move from ragtime to the present day. Let’s sum it up thus: historically fascinating, blissfully informative, visually exciting and rather well played.

So who are these talented musical chameleons, each apparently adept at mastering conflicting stylistic challenges and what can we expect? Look out for reedman Pete Long as he moves from Larry Shields to Charlie Parker with total aplomb via a side bar on cornet, wonder at trumpeter Enrico Tomasso as he evokes Louis Armstrong and then suggests the presence of the acclaimed soloist Wynton Marsalis pausing only to manipulate the trombone, and then see pianist Nick Dawson segue rewardingly from Lil Hardin-Armstrong to Herbie Hancock before adding a clarinet obligatto or two. Check how bassist Dave Chamberlain becomes Dave Chamberlain banjoist and guitarist, but wait isn’t that him also pounding the snare drum as the band marches in? Then again there’s maestro Richard Pite who wraps a sousaphone around himself, lays it down and picks up a string bass before settling behind the drum kit and giving us his Sonny Greer or his Gene Krupa. And last by no means least, we come to the distaff side and that’s the one-person presence of the multi-talented Georgina Jackson whose trumpet prowess and sheer vocal class is set to be a key feature of the new presentation.

Jackson tells me she first picked up a trumpet at the age of nine and earned her spurs with the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra under the benign gaze of Dr Iain Darrington, himself a trumpeter of renown. These days she’s a versatile performer, often glimpsed on the high seas on cruise ships but equally at home in the cloistered surroundings of concert venues and jazz clubs.

“Originally I was just an add-on to the 100 Years show,” she says, but now she’s now central to the new show’s intentions. “I’m stretching myself, one minute having to play trumpet in the top register to emulate Dizzy Gillespie and the next, singing a ballad. It’s taking every little bit of my skills. It’s a great challenge. The range is incredible. From Bessie Smith to the days of the big bands. We’re going to do ‘And The Angels Sing’ as my feature so I’ll be covering Ziggy Elman’s famous trumpet solo and then singing Helen Forrest’s vocal. That’s an awful lot of trumpet, you know. Still, with Richard, if you say ‘I really can’t do that’, he just says ‘get on with it’ and you do!”

When I ask what the audience should expect, Georgina says, “They’ll see us having lots of fun on stage but always respecting the music. That’s important. We love each other’s playing and I think audiences can see that too. What’s more, we all get on. In the end, I guess we’re just trying to entertain people.”(pp)

LINKS: Tickets for Another 100 Years of Jazz - Life, The Saxophone and Everything
Jazz Repertory Company website

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