INTERVIEW: Sara Colman (new album What We’re Made Of out 28 Sept)

Sara Colman
Photo: Ian Wallman

Sara Colman has her new album, What We’re Made Of, coming out later this month, and will be performing music from it, as well as some arrangements of Joni Mitchell, in Birmingham in November. The new CD is a real step up for the vocalist and composer. In the second of two chats (the first is here), Sara and Peter Bacon discuss the results:

LondonJazz News: This new album feels very strongly like just that: an album! Did you always have that structure in mind? Or was it a happy accident after the event?

Sara Colman: Whilst I think it was a happy accident, it’s possible that something subconscious was going on. I think the singer-songwriter/‘70s pop albums I listened to a lot as a young person were often very crafted in terms of song sequence, they were organised in the knowledge that listeners would most likely listen to one side and then the other... I think that has happened here and although it wasn’t deliberate maybe it was inevitable!

LJN: Most of it is original material of yours, with various collaborators. I know you did some serious song-writing studies a few years ago. Are we seeing the fruits of that here? Writing comes easily to some, and is a really hard process for others – which are you?

SC: Writing definitely does not come easily! Collaborating made it much more productive and I really enjoyed working with my co-writers and arrangers on the songs – they all have very different ways of working and that was an intriguing process.

Some songs have been evolving for years. Heartsafe, for example, started off as a song called Eyes Wide Open several years ago. I played it live and it worked but it wasn’t complete – playing songs live often shows you what works and what doesn’t. In that instance, one of things the song needed was a bridge – I’m a big fan of the bridge! I think a bridge gives you a chance to say something in a way that a verse and chorus aren’t set up for. It allows you to speak from a different perspective – Rickie Lee Jones says it’s where you tell the secret about the song. I agree!

Studying showed me how to get past a block and how to craft a song. It showed me the aspects of songwriting that I do naturally and, crucially, holes that I fall into, things I do habitually, and how to helpfully critique my own work, how to re-write.

I loved that MA – I wish it had been a continual course rather than just two years! I think I was very wary of collaborating, now I want to do more!




LJN: Your band is very much the opposite of one meeting for the first time in the studio on the day. There are strong bonds between you? Tell me about your fellow musicians.

SC: Well, it goes without saying that I think they are all wonderful musicians and talented in so many ways! Steve Banks (guitar) is my partner and so that makes for an interesting collaboration. Thankfully he is very patient as I can be very, very impatient! As I don’t play guitar he has to translate my ideas even when they are half formed! His piece Open is one of my favourites on the album. We had moments of joy expanding that from a solo guitar piece to the much bigger work it’s become.

I have worked with Ben Markland (bass) for 20 years. He is a rock and such a stickler for detail. His ears are incredible and having him as an MD is a gift. He listens and plays a lot of different kinds of music so is always up for trying out new ways of approaching songs. He has also been a big part of the production of this album.

Rebecca Nash (piano) is a new friend by comparison and a very important one. From the first time we played music together I knew we had lots more to do! She is so musical and so very creative and supportive. And she sings beautifully too! We wrote Dreamer together and we are collaborating on some songs for her new album with her band Atlas.

Jonathan Silk (drums, string arrangements) is a new collaborator – he’s such a great guy and will go to all lengths to get things done and done right!

The same with Jules Jackson – we co-wrote Trouble Out There and Jules did the string arrangement for that song. Another amazing player who I got to collaborate with for the first time. I was stuck with that song and he helped bring it to life!

Adriano Adewale is the only person I had never really played with before. He’s such a gentle soul with a fierce lion of a musician inside! I love what he brought to the album. For this singer, drums can be troublesome – but not with AA and JS.

We recorded the acoustic piano and the strings at the new Conservatoire in Birmingham. It’s a gorgeous space to record in and Ben engineered and ran the sessions. We asked the Carducci Quartet to come and play the four songs which have strings and they played beautifully.

Percy Pursglove is such a brilliant musician, lyrical and dramatically expressive, perfect for these stories. He is such an inspiring improviser, I enjoy that so much in live gigs too. He also sings (he kept that quiet)!

The invisible member of the band is definitely Nick Dover who owns Canyon Sound. Over a period of about six months I spent several weeks in the studio with Nick. I had never made an album like that before and it wasn’t my intention to do so until I had experienced working with him at that studio – then I knew that it would be a big part of the evolution of the sound.

LJN: Among What We’re Made Of’s many strong attributes is a) the strings, and b) the stacked harmony vocals. Tell us about these.

SC: Emilia Martensson and Anthony Marsden came and sang bvs on several songs – two strongly unique voices, equally beautiful, both with haunting and emotional qualities as well as being very different to mine. I wanted to be able to hear the character in each of the harmony voices rather than a homogenous bv pad sound, for this music – they were both amazing. [Paul Simon’s] Still Crazy After All These Years was a last minute idea and we recorded it around the piano, all together – live if you like. I love having a bit of that scruffy stuff on an album, a song where you can hear the pedal creaking on the piano and the parts are deliberately loose.

For the song Strange Meeting I asked the band to sing too. They had to be a village! I also wanted that vibe on What We’re Made Of.

The strings idea came in the development of Steve’s piece Open. I guess both strings and bvs add depth and texture. They also give the writer another chance to colour in the musical picture, they can reinforce a message, expand a theme, and in the arrangement of Heartsafe for example, the strings add to the rhythmic dynamic. It was a new experience and a treat to have time and space to experiment with strings and vocals.

LJN: There are strong stories in these songs and it’s tempting to get the background on each, but let’s, for reasons of space, focus on just one: Echoes. It has its inspiration in one person and in a specific place, yes?

SC: Yes. My very dear friend William Joss died in August 2015. We studied together at the Birmingham Conservatoire and he was a talented composer and songwriter. Around the same time the old Conservatoire building was being slowly demolished – sometimes that was quite brutal to witness, big metal machinery gouging out great chunks of the building I had sort of grown up in, I had known for more than 25 years as a student and a teacher.

Will and I spent a lot of time making music together in that building and I imagined that it had all been absorbed by the walls and as they came down, so that music was released into the atmosphere – a bit fanciful but somehow a pertinent image. We had recorded that song at the studio in the old building with the intention of re-recording in the new one. We set a date and Rebecca and I went into record and that day I just couldn’t do it. We used the original recording for the album.

LJN: There is that cliched idea that the deepest art comes from tortured souls, etc. But there is something about this album that suggests an underlying contentment, maybe a sense of arrival after years of searching? Or am I imagining things?

SC: No, I don’t think you are imagining that! I find it so interesting that all of that comes across in these songs – perhaps not in any one but as a group this is more apparent?

I’ve definitely been collecting snippets of stories for a little while, little character studies maybe. As my experiences and my perspectives have changed, so those stories became more fully formed  – so I’ve been a bit more able to write from the perspective of someone else. I think what happens as you get a bit further down your own path (aka older!) is that you are less inside the drama of your own life…

I had a grant from the Arts Council to help make this album. It allowed me to take my time to be exploratory and ambitious with the sounds I wanted to achieve. That was so important and a real boost to my confidence – I shall be ever grateful for the opportunities that decision continues to offer me.

You know how you can hear something, a philosophy or idea that sounds so simple and you must have heard it a hundred times before and yet that one time you hear it again, it is peculiarly relevant and everything you need? I had a conversation with a fellow musician about writing music and she said that she simply writes music that she likes - if other people don’t, it doesn’t really matter as long as she does. It was like huge lightbulb going on in my brain! It sort of gave me permission to do that and that’s the benchmark for all of the music on this album. (pp)

Sara Colman’s What We’re Made Of is released on Stoney Lane Records on 28 September 2018.

This month Sara became a Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Recording Artist in Residence.

Sara and her band play music from What We’re Made Of and celebrate the songbook of Joni Mitchell at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham on Saturday 10 November for Jazzlines, Town Hall Symphony Hall.

LINKS: Stoney Lane website
The Jazzlines CBSO concert

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Dakhla Brass Murmur album launch (Kings Place, 6 October)

Dakhla Brass at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo: FIJM

Bristol’s DAKHLA BRASS already contrived a richly orchestrated sound when they were a three-horns and drums four-piece. Now they are exploring a richer sound palette, live as a sextet, and in the studio with producer Ben Lamdin. The results are on their fourth recording, Murmur, which they launch at Kings Place on 6 October and in Bristol on 18 November. Jon Turney asked drummer Matt Brown and baritone saxophonist Charlotte Ostafew about the band’s evolution.

London Jazz News: You began as a four piece (Brown, Ostafew, Sophie Stockham on alto and Pete Judge, trumpet), then added Liam Treasure’s trombone. Now bass player Riaan Vosloo is on board too, how is that changing things?

Char: It’s interesting because for this album, the double bass parts were added after most of the album had been written. Riaan managed to find space within the music to add the double bass lines. As we approached writing in the same way, we haven't compromised our sound at all. The double bass adds a new dimension and tone.

LJN: What else is different on the new album?

Matt: Even though a lot of our pieces are intricately written and full of weaving melodies and rhythm we felt interested in exploring sonic space that was available to fill.

Just horns and drums is a brilliant thing that we will continue to enjoy. However one thing you can’t get acoustically from that line up is smooth bass frequencies and long smooth drones.  In the studio Riaan ended up playing synth, vibraphone, double and electric bass and I added percussion and timpani as well as a Marxophone (a kind of zither) on one song. When we got to the mixing those extra ingredients were used very subtly and sometimes covertly. This helped create aurally comforting roots for angular horn lines to flourish on top of.

LJN: But it’s still recognisable as Dakhla’s signature sound?

Matt: It still has the ingredients that make Dakhla but working with Ben Lamdin we have developed a wider cinematic spread aided by the extra instruments, added percussion, deeper grooves as well as some free textural approaches in solos and accompaniment. Ben’s input was super valuable and really helpful to have that extra set of ears to enhance compositions written before we got to the studio.  We are really excited to get this album out.

LJN: And how about the live set?

Matt: The bass adds roots and more groove to the sound live and we are currently working on adding bass to a bunch of old songs but we aren’t recreating the added parts from the new record (synth, vibes, percussion etc).  We are getting enough with bass and want to explore just that and keep things fresh with live versions of songs that grow with us.

LJN: Dakhla weaves many influences together beautifully. Is the “jazz” word a help or a hindrance? Should we say something else?

Matt: We have no idea what you should say! We’ve thought about it a lot and given up – though we’re open to suggestions if anyone wants to help… We just like to make music and keep everything as open as possible. We are six musicians that have hugely eclectic listening tastes and musical backgrounds from classical and jazz education to self-taught and it all goes together to create Dakhla.

As for the J word it has mostly helped and mildly hindered I think.  We are all massively influenced by jazz music and you hear that in our instrumentation and our improvisation in terms of horn solos. And as the drummer I get to explore and improvise different ideas every night. However the horn arrangements are very through-composed, and set in stone, which isn’t so jazz.  The problems have mostly been with gig bookings: some venues say we are too jazz and some say we aren’t jazz enough… We love playing in intimate sit down and listen ‘Jazz’ venues because we can explore our dynamic range, but we can tailor our set to festivals too.  We just hope people are moved, challenged and transported when we play our compositions.



LJN: The last two recordings have each increased personnel by one. You’ve commented on the more expansive production this time. Where might you take the band next? Do you have any dream collaborations, perhaps?

Matt: It will always be Dakhla Brass - we have no plans to bring in more members. But at some point I think all of us would like to explore a much bigger ensemble. And yes, we dream. Anything to do with Bjork, Thom Yorke, Tin Hat Trio, Tom Waits, Yo-Yo Ma and Medeski Martin and Wood would be ace. Studio Ghibli would have been fun too.

LJN: And in the meantime?

Char: In terms of future writing, I'm very intrigued about the next album, knowing that we have the bass now. In theory it frees me up a lot to move away from the bass lines, so I could explore other roles within the band. Then again, part of why and how the band formed was because I love playing the role of the bass, so I can't imagine stepping too far away.

Matt: We have a London and Bristol album launch booked. Oct 6th at Kings Place in London and November 18th at The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol,  Also we are playing in Cardiff on November 1st.  We will be getting on booking more gigs next and then a tour but that is just in the planning stages. We are proud of this album and excited to be exploring new approaches and sounds with the new line up so we want to get touring and writing!

The Dakhla Brass Murmur album launch is at Kings Place on 6 October

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REVIEW: Michel Legrand and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – 60 Years of Music and Movies at the Royal Festival Hall

The standing ovation for Michel Legrand
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Michel Legrand and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – 60 Years of Music and Movies
(Royal Festival Hall, 18 September 2018. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


Sixty years indeed. This sampling of the vast output of the French jazz prodigy Michel Legrand kept proceedings to manageable proportions by presenting highlights from just his film composing career.

On stage at London’s South Bank were the massed forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – or, the Michel Legrand Big Band, as I like to think of it – with a jazz rhythm section nestling at their centre, featuring the maestro himself on piano supported by long-time musical accomplices Geoff Gascoyne on upright bass and Sebastiaan de Krom drums. Accompanying the musicians as they played were neatly coordinated and smoothly edited sequences of clips from the movies themselves.

Ice Station Zebra demonstrated the mastery of film composition that Legrand had achieved as early as 1968. The pointillist mystery of the introduction, comprising cross-hatched strings and glockenspiel, yielded to supple shoots of woodwinds springing up, subtly and adroitly conjuring the mood before the brass section injected a stab of menace. If the film itself, a Cold War thriller set in cardboard snowfields, is now forgotten, Legrand’s music for it remains compelling, absorbing and masterful.

Providing an impressive contrast, and a first hint of Legrand’s extraordinary range, Gable and Lombard was an American pastoral, conveying a sense of loss and nostalgia from the opening notes, with Helen Tunstall’s harp adding delicate pastel splashes. Sebastiaan de Krom’s ticking drums and Gascoyne’s bass were at the heart of the piece which suggested the sweet insistence of a memory which is always just a little out of reach.

Michel Legrand left the conductor’s podium to sit at the piano, leaving conducting duties to Paul Bateman, and there was an audible sigh of appreciation from the audience as he played the opening bars of The Summer of ’42. His solo carried the piece with casual authority until the orchestra joined in with a flood of colour and emotion, but Legrand unequivocally maintained the theme. Casualness and authority were again paired in his insouciant announcement, “Now I’m going to play a couple of songs that I wrote with Miles Davis.” These were from the film Dingo and Legrand’s piano was rapid-fire bop played to perfection, like bright water flooding between stones. The trio dominated here, with the glittering cadence of Legrand’s playing, de Krom’s mesmeric and measured drums and Gascoyne’s throaty, sinewy bass all providing a spellbinding setting for the mass deployment of the brass.

The encore for the concert was Legrand’s ravishing solo on Brian’s Song, a perfect jewel of a composition and one which will have lodged in the minds of every listener  more than a few will have walked from the hall humming it. But the ultimate statement of this evening came a little earlier, with the music from The Thomas Crown Affair. The Windmills of Your Mind was like a controlled series of explosions from the orchestra until arpeggios from Michel Legrand led us into a sublimely slinky trio rendition. His piano performed a melancholy, thoughtful monologue before the final orchestral flourish, as though reflecting on the long decades of a great career.

The concert was presented by Ronnie Scott’s and Fane Productions, in association with City Lights Entertainment UK.


Michel Legrand
LINKS: Review of Michel Legrand's autobiography
Review of his Ronnie Scott's debut in 2011
Review of an appearance at Ronnie Scott's in 2015

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REPORT: Don Weller Tribute at the 606 Club

Don Weller at the 2015 Herts Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Don Weller Tribute
(606 Club. 10 September 2018. Report by Brian Blain)

If you wanted to catch up on the unpretentious heart of 'modern' mainstream jazz then the place to be last Monday week was the 606 Club when 10 of Britain's finest came together to play for free in tribute to one of the truly great English players, tenorist Don Weller, now in retirement.

Great to see Dick Pearce, a trumpeter currently in Shropshire, once a member of Ronnie Scott's Quintet and the author of the most authentic account of a jazz musician's life that I have read, in the first band, along with Dave Newton (piano), Arnie Somogyi (bass), Dave Barry (drums) and the irrepressible Alan Barnes (alto). Kicking off with a brisk trot through It's You Or No-one, Newton roused the crowd with a thundering solo while the band laid out, giving a lift to the evening which seemed to kickstart everyone else. Pearce was sweetly melodic on Misty, in a ballad medley, but for me it was Barnes, on the superb Detour Ahead, that provided the emotional high in this first set. Janine was good; a great jazz standard and a tempo that gave the rhythm section a chance to settle into a nice easy flowing groove. How these guys – and the next band as well – can pull all this varied material together with no rehearsal and just experience and ears to make it all work is really quite remarkable and something we all take for granted, always expecting a new musical peak that must be scaled to justify the claim of 'artist'.

Next up two tenor titans Art Themen, who got the ball rolling with the original Phone Calls, and Mornington Lockett, with John Donaldson (piano), Jim Mullen (guitar), Andy Cleyndert (bass) and Clark Tracey (drums), and into the set with a Dexter Gordon tune, one of Art's favourites, and a brisk It Could Happen To You, with Mullen's unique sound and biting attack providing an astringent contrast to the bustling voices of the jousting tenors. One of the really subtle blues lines , Charles Lloyd's Third Floor Richard, with its slightly Monk-ish overtones, gave John Donaldson the chance to get down to some head shaking stuff. By the time we got to the closer, a roaring Just One of Those Things, Tracey and Cleyndert were really flying, giving the feeling that they could have gone on all night. Club owner Steve Rubie had brought his flute to the party on the Charles Lloyd tune and –  while thanking everyone for the music and their support for Don Weller – let's not forget his role in donating the club for the evening to make it possible. This was the jazz community at its best.

LINK: Art Themen's preview of the Tribute Night

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NEWS: London Jazz Festival gets EFG backing to 2023


Peter Bacon reports:

Long-term commitment to jazz music from the big world outside it is not an everyday occurrence so it is worthy of hurrahs to note that EFG Private Bank has renewed its title sponsorship of the London Jazz Festival for another five years to 2023.

The announcement was made last night at the EFG LJF’s Mayfair Hotel launch party where the full programme for this year’s festival (16 – 25 November) was also revealed.

John Williamson, Chair of EFG International, said at the event:

“2018 also marks the 10th anniversary of our partnership with the EFG London Jazz Festival, during which time we have seen the Festival go from strength to strength. As an organisation, we aspire to share and celebrate the distinctive qualities which make jazz such an exceptional art form, embracing creativity and innovation, freedom of individual and collective expression, diversity and collaboration. Through our sponsorship programmes we also strive to help up and coming talent establish their voice on a global stage.”

Claire Whitaker, Director of Serious, responded: “We are delighted that EFG Private Bank has renewed their partnership with the Festival. EFG and Serious share a passion for jazz, the excellence of the music and the diversity of the audiences it attracts. We are thrilled that their commitment to the music we love ensures that the reach and scale of the festival can be sustained and supports the next generation of talent.”

It was also announced by James Stirling, BBC Music's Head of Content Commissioning, that Soweto Kinch will be hosting some TV coverage from the festival on BBC4.

LINK: EFG London Jazz Festival website with full programme

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PREVIEW: Margate Jazz Weekend (21 – 23 September 2018)

Paul Booth and the Bansangu Orchestra
Publicity Photo/ Pathway Records

Ahead of the Margate Jazz Weekend, AJ Dehany interviewed Adam Sieff, one of the Margate Jazz Festival team involved in this year’s event:

Margate has a longstanding grubby artistic cachet. The painter Turner was a lifelong regular visitor and it is here where TS Eliot drafted much of The Waste Land: “On Margate sands I can connect nothing with nothing.” The town became pretty depressed in the 20th century, but particularly since the opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery in 2011 its profile as an artistic hub has risen. It still retains a rather grungy character; “Somebody summed up Margate beautifully,” says Adam Sieff. “It’s like teenagers; they have all sorts of faults and don’t clean their rooms – but you love them.”

In 2005 the founder of London’s Vortex, David Mossman, moved to Margate and set up the Big Sky Festival, which morphed into the Margate Jazz Festival with a new team including Martin Goodsmith and Adam Sieff. The 2018 Margate Jazz Weekend is a three-night special organized by Olby’s Soul Cafe, with a supporting programme of fringe events over the weekend. “There’s so much happening in Margate now!” Adam says, noting regular events at Ales Of The Unexpected and the weekly jazz jam at the Lifeboat, where “people who had never been before have said ‘I had no idea how much fun Margate could be!’”

Courtney Pine is a huge draw, performing with his House Of Legends project, an exhilarating mix of Caribbean influences. Cuban violinist Omar Puente’s unique sound also appeals to crossover audiences, and the Bansangu Orchestra draws on a breathtaking range of music from Brazilian to Middle Eastern, led by Thanet-based saxophonist Paul Booth. The 18-piece lineup will include Jason Yarde, Alex Wilson, Shanti Paul Jayasinha, Trevor Mires, Barnaby Dickinson, Steve Fishwick, Rod Youngs and Gemma Moore. The band – Bansangu! – is named from a running together of “The band sound good!”

Free daytime events include the Simon Treadwell Jam Session, the Mampama six-piece featuring Ray Otu Allen, Jo Doolan and Richard Rozze, the Three Plus Trio, and a conceptually appealing event involving a conversation between sax and trumpet positioned at opposing ends of the harbour. “It’s gonna be fun!” says Adam. “The weather forecast isn’t looking too bad. You have to work on the basis that everything is gonna be fine. Let it roll!”

I asked Adam what his Desert Island line-up drawn from living musicians would be. “Who would I love? Ethan Iverson and Mark Turner, but that would be difficult! I would love to see Kenny Burrell, one of my all time heroes. Probably the way to do that would be with Martin Taylor playing together. I would love to see the Argentinian Chivo Borraro—that big fat saxophone tone, he’s wonderful. I would have Wynton with a small line-up. When he was doing that septet in the ‘90s it was unbelievable.”

Adam has longstanding links in the music industry, and is himself a guitarist. He was a session musician for years, working on a string of classic '80s TV shows and, as a producer, with artists from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Italian rock royalty Edoardo Benato to Splodgenessabounds.

“Ah,” I recalled, “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please!

“Not that one,” he laughs. “I did In Search of the Seven Golden Gussets… It’s subtle stuff.”

As our REVIEW of last year’s single-serving Margate Jazz Weekend pointed out, Adam Sieff is an ardent champion of younger musicians. He is working with the Jazz Re:freshed organization to promote regular programming with an emphasis on quality. “The London movement (if you want to call it anything): it’s very exciting but at the moment I’m not seeing quality control. It’s the things that surprise me that are great.” He admires people like Binker Golding who is not playing what the scene expects them to play.

“As soon as you see something exciting people latch on. More mainstream crowd-pleasing stuff comes through, which is a shame because at the heart of this whole movement is musicians playing the music they’ve been surrounded with, with skill. Its very easy to say ‘Yeah, integrity! We’ll have some of that!’”

AJ Dehany is based in London (with frequent trips to Margate) and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

LINKS: Margate Jazz Weekend
Programme at Olby's website


EVENT LISTING

Friday 21 Sept – The Bansangu Orchestra (Doors 7.00pm Show 8.30pm)

Saturday 22 Sept – Courtney Pine ‘Black Notes From The Deep’ (Doors 7.00pm Show 8.30pm)

Sunday 23 Sept – Omar Puente ‘Best Foot Forward’ Doors 7.00pm Show 8.30pm)

Free gigs 

Saturday 22 Sept

14.00 The Lifeboat - Three Plus (Ginger Bennett/Ian East/Daniel Cano)
16.00 Margate Harbour - Call Across The Harbour (sax and trumpet at opposite ends of the harbour) 18.00 Buoy & Oyster - Jo Doolan & Richard Rozze (table bookings)

Sunday 23 Sept

14.00 The Glass Jar - The Simon Treadwell Jam Session
16.00 The Cinque Ports - Mampama (Kevin richards 6-piece High Life band feat Ray Otu Allen)

TICKET PRICES

Full Weekend Friday to Sunday Inclusive £37.50
Friday Evening Show, £15.00 plus 10% booking fee
Saturday Evening Show £27.50 plus 10% booking fee
Sunday Evening Show, £15.00 plus 10% booking fee

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REVIEW: Ian Shaw Quartet at Ronnie Scott's

Ian Shaw
Publicity picture by Gerhard Richter

Ian Shaw Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, 15 September 2018, Second House. Review by Kate Delamere)

Hailed as one of the world’s leading male jazz singers, Ian Shaw hit London’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club with a frenetic energy that refused to abate on Saturday night. The award-winning artist from Wales, the ‘land of song’ – and something of a stand-up comedian to boot – he was unafraid to entertain. The packed audience was hanging on his every note and word from the moment he set foot on stage.

The legendary jazz club was the perfect intimate setting for a charismatic Shaw who had the untamed vigour of an exuberant puppy. He showcased an impressively extensive vocal range and unique musical arrangements paying homage to greats including Joni Mitchell (In France They Kiss On Main Street), Leonard Cohen (Dance Me To The End Of Love), Peggy Lee (I Don’t Know Enough About You), Hal David and Burt Bacharach (A House Is Not A Home) and Stevie Wonder (All In Love Is Fair).

His self-deprecating humour at times may lead the uninitiated to question whether he takes himself seriously despite being the recipient of two BBC jazz awards for Best Vocalist. "I’m a wet shabby old Labrador reaching for notes that don’t belong in my range," he confessed at one stage to the audience. But this was all part of his charm. A seasoned performer but with a sweet humility that suggests he’s still pinching himself as to the reasons why he has an audience eating out of the palm of his hand!

His voice is an instrument that deserves to be heard, complemented by Barry Green’s masterful piano with its broad range of style, while Mick Hutton expertly kept the tempo on the double bass allowing drummer Dave Ohm solo flourishes infused with seductive pitter-patter rhythms.

At times it was fun to witness the friendly sparring between drummer and bassist, only made possible by the familiarity of their relationship. Shaw and his band are a tight unit, having performed all over Europe following their appearance in 2014 at the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival and Hamburg’s Elbjazz in 2015 where they showcased Shaw’s new work. They are indeed a formidable team with an easy, natural rapport that adapts well to Shaw’s random flights of fancy as he interrupts his own vocals to heckle the audience! No doubt it will soon become common parlance in the best jazz salons across Europe to talk about a good night out in the vernacular of being ‘Ian Shawed!’

But this man isn’t to be under estimated. Not only did a flamboyant Shaw pay homage to past artists, he also offered up a few of his own compositions – 42, My Brother and Shine Sister Shine, written with Tanita Tikaram – that revealed his original talent.

Grab any opportunity to be ‘Ian Shawed!’ His most recent album Shine Sister Shine is internationally released this month.

Kate Delamere is a national journalist in TV, newspapers and magazines, and writes creatively for theatre, radio and print.

LINK: Ian Shaw's website

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NEWS: Claire Martin and Scott Stroman to get BASCA Gold Badges


Peter Bacon reports:

Jazz singer and broadcaster Claire Martin and conductor, composer, trombonist/singer Scott Stroman are among 11 individuals being celebrated for their “exceptional talent in the UK music industry” with Gold Badge Awards from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA).

The 2018 gongs will be handed out at a ceremony at The Savoy, London, on 19 October. Broadcaster Janice Long, a previous Gold Badge Award recipient, will be the host. These awards are for “individuals who inspire or support creativity and the professional lives of BASCA members” and “acknowledge contributions to the worlds of jazz and classical, film, television and theatre music, and songwriting”.

The 11 Golden Badge wearers are described thus in BASCA’s press release:



Annette Barrett, highly respected music publisher and Managing Director of Reservoir/Reverb Music.



Martyn Brabbins, acclaimed conductor and Music Director of the English National Opera.



Jackie Davidson, multi-faceted, award-winning music entrepreneur and manager. This award is presented in association with PRS for Music.



Chris Difford, Grammy nominated and double Ivor Novello Award winning lyricist, Squeeze co-founder and solo artist.



Guy Fletcher OBE, Ivor Novello Award winning songwriter and former Chairman of BASCA and PRS.



Guy Garvey, lead singer and lyricist of elbow, renowned DJ for 6 Music and solo artist. This award is presented in association with PPL.



Claire Martin OBE, critically acclaimed jazz singer and broadcaster.



Sarah Rodgers, composer who has dedicated herself to championing music creators.



Matthew Scott, composer, arranger, producer and former Head of Music at the National Theatre.



Scott Stroman, inspirational conductor, composer, trombonist and singer in a uniquely broad range of musical styles.

Nick Wollage, respected and sought after engineer working across a diverse collection of projects from major Hollywood film scores to individual artists.

Crispin Hunt, Chair of BASCA, said, "The Gold Badge Awards always provide a fantastic opportunity and platform to recognise those who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields whilst contributing to the betterment of the wider musical community. This year’s list of recipients is full of inspiring individuals who we are honoured to celebrate.”



The 45th Gold Badge Awards are presented by BASCA and sponsored by PPL and PRS for Music. They take place at The Savoy in London from 11.30am to 4.30pm on Friday 19 October. The award ceremony follows a three course lunch and tickets are currently on sale. For more information contact Cindy Truong at BASCA (cindy@basca.org.uk).

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CD REVIEW: Arve Henriksen – The Height Of The Reeds


Arve Henriksen – The Height Of The Reeds
(Rune Grammofon RCD2201. CD review by Peter Bacon)

There has always been an elemental nature to the cultural connections between the North East of the UK and Scandinavia, and Arve Henriksen’s work The Height Of The Reeds, a commission as part of Hull’s UK City of Culture celebrations in 2017, is one of the strongest yet.

It began as a sound installation for the Humber Bridge, the sounds being made not only by Henriksen (trumpeter and voice), Eivind Aarset (guitar and electronics), Jan Bang (samples and programming) and the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Justin Doyle, but also the Humber Bridge itself and its surroundings, courtesy of field recordings by sound artist Jez Riley French. With this CD release you don’t have to don a pair of headphones and battle the blustering winds off the Humber. What you miss is the interaction of music and landscape, but the sounds coming from my hi-fi speakers are substantial enough to stand alone.

We get the unmistakable sound of Henriksen’s trumpet and almost otherworldly falsetto – they are very closely related, subtle variations on the same timbral and tonal range. We get the similarly personal guitar/electronic washes of Aarset. Riley French’s field recordings include the bridge cables resonating and the percussive clicking of the reeds. The music for the orchestra and chorus, arranged by Alexander Waaktaar give Henriksen his biggest musical soundscape yet, and if the music they produce is not particularly adventurous, it is completely in keeping with the trumpeter’s precise focus. What Bang does I have always regarded in the same way I view the work of adept magicians – I have no idea how it’s done; I am happy to marvel and be enthralled.

What these nine pieces – their names are a joy: The Swans Bend Their Necks Backward To See God, Nymphs And Eurasian Horses, Pink Cherry Trees are examples – do so well is convey contradictions: a sense of the vast river but also of the overbearing man-made landscape, the loss that comes with industrial decline but also the natural renewal of wildlife, the light and shade in the Nordic soul and similarly the North-Eastern soul too. Or maybe that is all in my imagination… Henriksen’s music is like that – it gives the listener freedom to find in it what most appeals.

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INTERVIEW: Gabrielle Ducomble launches her third album Across The Bridge (Pizza Express Jazz Club, Holborn, 23 Sept)

Photo Credit: Dan Hopkins

GABRIELLE DUCOMBLE goes further into her desire to make music that means something with her third album, Across The Bridge, which she launches at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Holborn, on Sunday 23 September before taking it on tour. She spoke to Rob Adams.  

The album is the Belgian-born singer’s first collection of all original compositions following two albums of Parisian-style jazz and tango – J’ai Deux Amours, from 2011, and Notes From Paris, released in 2014 – and is another step further away from the pop music that gave her her first success.

Having happily entered and finished in the final of the French version of Pop Idol, Ducomble began to see the shallowness of the programme and what it represented.

“I was naïve, I realize now, but I’m glad I had that experience because it pointed me in the direction of making music that is all about the music and not about all the other things on the periphery,” she says.

One of the people who influenced her change of direction was Dee Dee Bridgewater, whom Ducomble heard and met in Lyon. Bridgewater’s whole approach – singing every song with depth, paying attention to every detail in business as well as the music – made a big impression and after finishing the masters degree in economics she was studying for, Ducomble moved to London to improve her English and immerse herself in the jazz scene.

She enrolled at Goldsmith’s College, where she added being able to write her own charts to the piano skills she had picked up from her mother, a piano teacher. She then studied arranging and composition at the Guildhall where she met Nick Kacal, the double bass player in her touring band, which also features guitarist Nicolas Meier and violinist Richard Jones.

The songs from Across the Bridge reflect on themes including nature, social justice, ideology and art (the cover artwork features Claude Monet’s painting Japanese Bridge) and mark the end of a period when Ducomble was living a transient lifestyle.

“I wasn’t homeless in the sense of people who have been displaced or can’t afford to put a roof over their heads,” she says. “It was more that I was moving between France, where my boyfriend lives, Belgium and London and staying with friends or in B&Bs. But it made me think about what it would be like to be homeless and to have nowhere where you could go to recharge, and that’s where the song Where Is Home came from.”

Ducomble writes mostly at the piano, although she comes up with ideas on the move and saves them until she gets to the nearest keyboard, and melodies always come first.
                                             
Photo Credit: Will Austin
“Some of the lyrics on the album are my own but I also worked with four lyricists and explained the ideas I wanted to convey,” she says. “For instance, I had this idea for the opening track, Forest Boy, and when I told the lyricist what I was thinking, she came up with exactly what I wanted to capture.”

Her own lyrics might begin in French then develop into an English song, or vice versa, a result of her listening to English and American pop music in her teens before becoming interested in French pop and then the chansons associated with singers including Edith Piaf and Claude Nougaro.

On Time is Now, she is urging people to act and make a difference with regard to pollution and while she’s passionate about making the world a better place – “We could sort out the global problem with plastic and make sure everybody had some place to live if we really wanted to,” she says – she doesn’t want to come over as preaching.

“When I go onstage I want to make everyone feel uplifted,” she says. “I have a great band who are all my friends as well as my musicians, which I think is important, and we go out to present a mood of optimism and positivity. I’d like people to leave feeling more peaceful, more contented than when they arrived.” (pp)

LINK: Gabrielle Ducomble's website

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CD REVIEW: Soft Machine – Hidden Details



Soft Machine – Hidden Details
(Dyad Records DY029. CD review by Brian Marley)


Hidden Details is being touted as the first official Soft Machine album since Softs (1976). In the interim, working under the name Soft Machine Legacy, the group released a slew of studio and live albums, and maintained the high level of creativity set by the first two incarnations of Soft Machine (sometimes known as the eras of Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean) in which guitar played no role.

That changed with Bundles (1975), in which fleet-fingered Alan Holdsworth was added to the personnel. But he stayed for only one album, passing the plectrum to John Etheridge for Softs. Etheridge, an earthier player, continued the good work that Holdsworth had begun, shifting the group away from the free jazz elements that were strongest on the album Fifth, in which Elton Dean’s freewheeling saxello played a major role, and the smooth fusion of the Karl Jenkins-led Seven, towards a more jazz-rock orientation, with the emphasis slightly more on rock than jazz.

Tricky time signatures still featured, of course, as did looped layers of sound anchored by ostinato bass patterns. Roy Babbington was in the bass chair for Softs, and here he is again on Hidden Details. Likewise drummer John Marshall. In fact, the only change to the Softs line-up is that Theo Travis (reeds, flute, Fender Rhodes piano) replaces Karl Jenkins, who went on to fame and fortune elsewhere.

During the period in which Jenkins led Soft Machine, he became the group’s principal composer, and composition became the group’s principal focus. Jenkins gradually reduced the amount of space afforded to improvisation, making the album Seven a slightly airless, somewhat lacklustre affair. The introduction to the group of Travis and Etheridge opened up the music so it could breathe again. They’ve been stalwarts of the group ever since.

Both are strong improvisers, and their compositions maintain the high standard set by Mike Ratledge, arguably Soft Machine’s leading composer from its naïve beginnings until 1976, when he left the group. Two Ratledge compositions are given an airing on Hidden Details, the cruise-controlled The Man Who Waved at Trains and Out Bloody Rageous (Part 1) (featuring an excellent soprano sax solo from Travis). They’ve never been out of the Soft Machine/Legacy songbook and have appeared on a number of live albums.

The title track offers an exciting tenor sax solo from Travis, and a frankly unhinged guitar workout from Etheridge that responds to Babbington’s fuzz-bass provocations as if receiving a series of jolts from a cattle prod. The gentler side of Soft Machine is provided by three Etheridge compositions, Heart Off Guard which feeds into Broken Hill and Drifting White. The freely improvised Flight of the Jett gives Marshall a chance to demonstrate what a subtle but powerful player he is. But it’s Travis’s compositions, Life on Bridges, Fourteen Hour Dream, and the title track that provide the strongest links to early Soft Machine and also some of the album’s highlights. Breathe, a flute-looped inhale/exhale drone that features only Travis’s flute and Marshall’s delicate cymbalwork, is a fittingly tranquil conclusion to a very fine album.

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NEWS: Vortex DIY Makeover Day (22/23 September)


Peter Bacon reports on some changes at the Vortex:

I’d forgotten about painting parties – when you got all your friends round, handed them each a brush, and rewarded them for revitalising your tired digs with some cheap wine and takeaway pizza – ah, the fun of youth!

Thankfully, the friends of the Vortex, the individualistic jazz club in Dalston, North London, have better memories than mine. All hail the Vortex DIY Makeover Day. The club is offering just that heady mix of beer, emulsion, pizza, screwdriver action and cameraderie next Saturday and Sunday, 22/23 September 2018.

One of those club friends, Rick Simpson, has organised a gofundme campaign to assist in the revamp (link below). I asked him what else is going on… And, it seems, a lick of paint, etc, is just part of it.

“We feel like the vortex is on the verge of a renaissance,” he told me.

“Other changes afoot are the appointments of Kim Macari as programmer and Ali Strick as creative director and marketing/comms strategist,” Rick said. “They’re both absolutely brilliant, talented people and are bringing a new energy and optimism to the future of the club.

“Kim has already put together a fantastic programme for the rest of the year. And Ali has redesigned the flyers, the twitter account, mailing list and, more importantly, is directing the new aesthetics of the club’s interior. She’s also introduced cocktails to the Vortex for the very first time.

“The club has been extremely dear to people for the last 30 years and really is the bastion of contemporary jazz in London. We’re all looking to the future and working to make it even better. It’s also great that we have two dynamic young women at the forefront of these changes.”

And what’s going to happen next weekend?

Rick explains: “We’re going to repaint the walls, touch up any bits that are in disrepair and give the club a fresh, new look, while still appealing to old members. We’re looking to redesign the bar and get some plant life in there too! We think that a fresh aesthetic look will only help being more appeal to the club.”

So, you’ve heard the call – volunteers are needed to help with the spruce-up. And even if you can't be there next Saturday, you can still help by donating to the cause (They're over halfway there, so please help them reach – or exceed – that target).

LINKS: The Vortex Makeover Day gofundme page

What's coming up at the Vortex

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REVIEW: Michel Portal with Benjamin Moussay and Keyvan Chemirani at Le Triton in Paris

Benjamin Moussay and Michel Portal
(out of shot: Keyvan Chemirani)
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Michel Portal with Benjamin Moussay and Keyvan Chemirani
(Le Triton, Les Lilas, Paris, 13 September 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Michel Portal (clarinet/saxophone) was born in Bayonne in the Pays Basque in November 1935 and  has now reached an age where the word 'legend' gets used. And with good reason.

I remember vividly the first time I came across him. I was in my late teens, and borrowed his extrovert, improbably virtuosic 1971 recording of Pierre Boulez' Domaines from the local music library (thank you, Enfield). And on Friday night, there he was. A wiry 82-year-old, he brims with good humour, rhythmic drive and melodic inspiration, with a glint of innocent glee ever-present in his eye.

With age has come a certainty about what he likes and doesn’t like. He doesn't like sadness, he said. He prefers the tranquil, the sensual. And then "j'adore les éclats, les paysages nouveaux" (I adore sudden sparks, new landscapes). That knowledge of exactly what mood he wants to have around him also determines the way he prepares for a tune. Before setting the tempo for a bittersweet little waltz he had once written in Berlin, he focused on the mood he wanted by repeating the word "sentimental" several times, like a mantra, savouring the four syllables of the word each time he said it. When it comes to giving precise meaning and clear expression to music, Portal gave an object lesson in how valuable it is to know with certainty exactly what you want.

Portal was appearing in a brand new trio making its premiere appearance. Pianist Benjamin Moussay explained how it had come about, and with a mixture of gratitude and happy incomprehension: “I seem to have been given carte blanche for life by the team here at Le Triton.” He had been entrusted with the task of building a trio for this event, one of the opening concerts of their 2018/19 season, to welcome the club's faithful back from the summer holidays. Rather than exploring any familiar repertoire, the group had been given the opportunity – and, I am guessing, a budget for rehearsal – to find pieces that they all could work at from scratch. The experiment worked; this was a very satisfying concert indeed, and the audience who packed out every gunwale of Le Triton knew they were hearing something worthwhile and unique.

Moussay has spoken in interviews of the care, forethought and preparation that should be put in before performances, but then the joy of breaking out and free in the moment. That dichotomy seems to define him. He lays down a solid groove but clearly relishes the chance to use clusters and the sustaining pedal to make an aggressive escape from definable tonality. Indeed it was only in the first encore, Doom Doom Doom, a kind of chromatic cha-cha composed by the late French organ player Eddy Louiss, that Moussay finally showed in an expansive and fleet solo what a fine jazz player he is.

The third member of the trio has a fascinating back-story. Percussionist Keyvan Chemirani inherited the playing tradition of his father, the Teheran-born Djamchid Chemirâni, who brought his artistry to the work of major creative figures active in France such as choreographer Maurice Béjart and theatre director Peter Brook, e.g. for the Mahâbhârata. Chemirani Jr.  has a way of keeping rhythms constantly alive. In the little Berlin waltz, Chemirani pulled off the remarkable feat of never letting go of the feel that the tune was just as much in two as it was in three. And when you need a delicate, controlled fade to nothing, the fingertips you would want to take you to the borders of silence would be Chemirani's every time.

The scheduled encore brought one of those fades, with Portal dropping down to the lowest notes of the bass clarinet where it becomes a mysterious sonic veil, with Chemirani using an ever lighter fingertip touch on the zarb. However, if that was the way the three had hoped to end the concert, then they underestimated the Triton audience’s sheer tenacity: insistent rhythmic clapping brought them back. Portal berated the audience with a smile for being "des enfants gâtés" (spoilt children), explained the immense difficulty of conjuring up unscheduled encores out of thin air and on the spot... but in the end he did come up with one last piece of wonderful sorcery, a little ear-worm-ish zortziko dance from the Basque country. It was an even better ending than the one they had planned.

I couldn't help thinking that I had just witnessed at first hand what makes Le Triton special. In the past few years, several French musicians have explained to me that it is their favourite club. I hadn't really understood why, but this, my first visit, showed me: it is because the Triton team places respect in the musicians, and trusts them to instigate, to shape their offering, to take charge and to deliver. All of which Messrs Portal, Moussay and Chemirani did, as they created a very special one-off evening.

L-R: Benjamin Moussay, Michel Portal, Keyvan Chemirani
LINKS: Keyvan Chemirani full biography
Le Triton website

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REVIEW: Joan Armatrading at The Barbican

Joan Armatrading
Photo credit: Justin Ng

Joan Armatrading
(The Barbican, 13 September 2018. Review by Chris Parker)

From the very start, this sellout concert (one of over 30 on Joan Armatrading’s current UK tour, embracing venues from Exeter to Edinburgh) had an air of triumphant celebration about it. The faithful (including Ed Balls and Graham Norton) had gathered to pay homage to an artist who had provided the soundtrack to their emotional lives, and they greeted her relatively low-key arrival on the Barbican stage ("It’s a long walk," her first remark) with rapturous whooping and cheering.

As if to defuse expectation that this might be merely a crowd-pleasing display of her greatest hits, Armatrading immediately announced herself as "the support act", explaining that the concert would follow convention by featuring a first set consisting of songs nobody knew: her new album Not Too Far Away in its entirety. She then completed her impression of a nervous unknown by stumbling on the very first line of I Like It When We’re Together, but swiftly gathered herself by means of a couple of gracefully self-deprecating muttered asides and launched herself into a characteristically touching, unaffected love song propelled by subtly rhythmic guitar.

The Armatrading voice, conversationally intimate in its lower registers but capable of thrilling stridency where necessary, has aged pretty well; as Joni Mitchell has done, she has judiciously replaced the effortless intervallic leaps of yore with a more considered, contemplative approach which perfectly suits her contemporary material, itself less emotionally convoluted than many of her early songs. Still Waters and Always In My Dreams saw her change to piano (a mock-indignant "I usually get applause when I sit down here" rewarded with an obedient ovation at each subsequent move to the instrument), but otherwise, she stuck to guitar accompaniment, with vocal harmonies and occasional percussive and instrumental commentaries provided by what she referred to as "a little box" at her feet, triggered by pedals. Arguably – given the customary muffled boxiness of the Barbican acoustic – this facility did her music few favours, cluttering rather than embellishing her overall sound, and sewing the seeds for problems in the concert’s second half.

After the interval, Armatrading started as she meant to go on, with an accomplished rendition of one of her most celebrated songs, Down To Zero. A selection of familiar favourites followed, including All the Way From America and Drop The Pilot, but just as she was relaxing into cruise mode, the "little box" quit on her, necessitating a series of undignified stagefloor scramblings by three technicians. These shenanigans seriously compromised the show’s emotional momentum, which had been building naturally courtesy of Armatrading’s easy grace and growing confidence, but they didn’t prevent her receiving a wild ovation at the conclusion of her set: her audience had come to honour and support her, and were richly rewarded for their faithfulness by a concluding encore of her most richly complex and beautiful song: Love And Affection.

So, in the end, this concert was not quite the unalloyed triumph it should have been, which – given the entirely justifiable affection in which Armatrading is held – is a shame, but no doubt subsequent venues on her UK tour will more than make up for the problems she encountered here.

First half
I Like It When We’re Together
Still Waters
No More Pain
Cover My Eyes
Invisible Blue Light
Not Too Far Away
Any Place
Always in My Dreams
This is Not That
Loving What You Hate

Second half
Down to Zero
Kind Words
Travel So Far
Empty Highway
True Love
All the Way from America
Rosie
I Really Must be Going
Mama Mercy
Drop the Pilot

Encores
The Weakness in Me
Love and Affection

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CD REVIEW: Itamar Borochov – Blue Nights


Itamar Borochov – Blue Nights
(Laborie Jazz LJ47. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Trumpeter Itamar Borochov produces a feast of musical exploration on this, his third album, combining influences from across the Middle East and North Africa with a jazz quartet line-up. The result is rich, detailed and engrossing music with an individual sound.

Born and raised in Jaffa and Tel Aviv and based in Brooklyn, Borochov clearly has feet in several camps and he is making good use of these different cultures in his work. The music on Blue Nights forms a very coherent collection; it sounds simple at first, but there is a sophistication to the music making which surfaces and draws the listener in different directions. Eight of the nine tunes are originals, with a considerable focus on modal concepts which form the springboard for first-class contributions from all members of the quartet.

The opening Right Now is darkly atmospheric, with rolling piano figures from Chicago-based Rob Clearfield setting a late-night vibe. Borochov sustains the mood very well here, as throughout the album, moving from theme statement to improvisation without breaking step and continuing in thoughtful and spacious mode for the full six minutes. The ensemble works superbly together, quietly underpinning the music. The following Blue Nights starts in a similarly low-key way with bassist and brother Avri Borochov adding the plucked sound of the oud to the lilting texture, before the music gathers pace into a beating climax with high-pitched trumpet ululations shrieking apparently to the night sky.

Motherlands moves us into a new territory, drawing on the traditions of the Gnawa music of North Africa. Going back many centuries, Gnawa takes the form of hypnotically repeating phrases and is used in night-long community gathering of healing and prayer. The quartet is joined by the New York-based Innov Gnawa trio of vocalists led by Maalem Hassan Ben Jaffer, who play the traditional qraqebs (think metal castanets) as well as adding strong voice elements. A ‘maalem’ is the name given to a Gnawan master musician, and Borochov continues in this mode with his composition Maalem, with its unexpected syncopations and another finely sustained trumpet performance.

The album takes a nod towards more conventional jazz with Garden Dog Sleeps, Borochov’s cunningly concealed contrafact (new melody over an existing chord sequence) to On Green Dolphin Street – cunningly concealed as the rhythm section stay in character with the rest of the album rather than simply switching into latin/swing mode. Broken Vessels offers some space for the fine drum and cymbal work of Jay Sawyer to come to the fore for once, emphasising the contribution he makes throughout the album. The closer, Kol Haolam Kulo – Take Me To The Bridge, was written in the early 19th century by Rabbi Baruch Chait and, arranged by Borochov, offers a fine climax to the album, its driving rhythms subsiding into a gentle and delicate coda.

There is a lot of fine music making to be enjoyed here, and I was struck by the potentially very wide appeal of the music; Motherlands would surely do well on Radio 3, while Right Now is a shoe-in for China Moses’ late night Jazz FM show. It’s very well worth your time and attention.

Itamar Borochov is performing at Holborn’s Pizza Express Live on Tuesday 20th November 2018 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. 

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NEWS: Nominations for the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards Announced (Full List)

The 2016 Winners
Photo credit: Hayley Madden


This year's Parliamentary Jazz Awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday 16 October at Pizza Express Live in Holborn and the nominees have just been announced:

FULL LIST OF NOMINEES

Jazz Vocalist of the Year (UK-based vocalist):

Liane Carroll
Georgia Mancio
Zara McFarlane
Ian Shaw


Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year (UK-based musician):

Rob Luft
Arun Ghosh
Ross Stanley


Jazz Album of the Year (released by a UK band or musicians):

Arun Ghosh – But Where Are You Really From?
Denys Baptiste – The Late Trane
Gareth Lockrane Big Band – Fistfight At The Barndance

Jazz Ensemble of the Year:

Ezra Collective
Dinosaur
ARQ – Alison Rayner Quartet
Beats & Pieces Big Band


Jazz Newcomer of the Year (UK-based artist, musician or group with a debut album released):

Fergus McCreadie
Sarah Tandy
Shirley Tetteh


Jazz Venue of the Year: (including jazz clubs, venues, festivals and promoters)

Jazz Re:Freshed
Jazz At The Lescar
South Coast Jazz Festival

Jazz Media Award (including broadcasters, journalists, magazines, blogs, listings and books):

Richard Williams
Kevin Le Gendre
Lance Liddle (Bebop Spoken Here)


Jazz Education Award: (to an educator or project for raising the standard of jazz education in the UK)

Pete Churchill
Jean Toussaint
Nikki Iles


Services to Jazz Award (to a living person for their outstanding contribution to jazz in the UK):

Blow The Fuse – Alison Rayner and Deirdre Cartwright
Jill Rodger – Glasgow Jazz Festival
Gary Crosby
Gill Wilde - Grimsby Jazz


Kelvin Hopkins MP, Co-Chair of APPJAG, said:

"These shortlists demonstrate the wealth of talent and commitment that exists in the British jazz scene. Now in its 14th year, the Parliamentary Jazz Awards honour the best of British jazz. MPs and Peers in the All Party Group are delighted to host another ceremony at Pizza Express Live and we are extremely grateful to PizzaExpress Live for supporting the event and for Peroni for sponsoring the event."

LINK: Parliamentary Jazz Awards at Pizza Express

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CD REVIEW: Marshall Gilkes featuring the WDR Big Band – Always Forward


Marshall Gilkes featuring the WDR Big Band – Always Forward
(Alternate Side Records. CD Review by Nicky Schrire)

Trombonist, composer and arranger Marshall Gilkes released his first album with the Cologne-based WDR Big Band in 2015. Three years later, he delivers Always Forward, a follow-up recording that celebrates the big band sound, pays respect to the arrangers that have shaped and influenced him, and shines a much-needed light on where big band music is headed.



Puddle Jumping kicks off proceedings with a driving, suitably dazzling big band introduction followed by a solo trombone cadenza – a moment for Gilkes to remind us that this tremendous document is a result of his talent, imagination and hard work. The ensuing bass line motif played by Gilkes’ brassy trombone a capella is also the first virtuosic moment of many to come. Gilkes and his WDR teammates are, without question, some of the finest players in today’s jazz community.



Another Gilkes original, Switchback, is similarly stunning. With a searing alto solo by Karolina Strassmayer and a tenor takeover by Paul Heller, the song exemplifies the joyous exhilaration of big band music: trumpets cutting through in their upper ranges; the punch of a unison saxophone section; the thrill of trombones barking out a syncopated bass line en masse. This album speaks to both jazz students who understand the scale of the ensemble and what that demands from a player and arranger, and jazz-lovers who appreciate emotionally compelling melodies and exciting groove-driven songs.



The Denali Suite is a highlight of this album. Named after Alaska’s Denali National Park, the three-part suite is ambitious, intricate and takes the listener on a journey perhaps not dissimilar to that which Gilkes embarked on with his wife and son in the park itself. Each section of the big band is brought to light in Gilkes’ arranging in an ever-shifting, seamless way. The woodiness of the saxophones gives way to the warmth of the brass. Rippling counterlines ebb and flow, offering up shades of light and dark, while drummer Hans Dekker’s constant presence is the engine that unobtrusively keeps everything ticking along.



Bill Milkowski’s thorough liner notes mention that Gilkes’ acknowledges the influence of Maria Schneider in the rhythmic feel of his closing track Always Forward. This is not surprising as he is a long-time member of her much-loved large ensemble. However, his fondness for woodwind double introductions on Morning Smiles and his rendition of Burdge and Robinson’s Portrait Of Jennie seemed to be a more obvious nod to Schneider’s approach. This is hardly a criticism as the result is lovely, especially on Morning Smiles where the bell-like wind opening gives way to the theme seemingly suspended in time, played on trombone with a simple piano, guitar, bass and drum accompaniment. Airier moments like these contrast beautifully with the denser writing we expect to hear from a big band.



What is most striking about this album is the strength, not only of the arranging, but of the quality of Gilkes’ melodic writing. An arrangement of a badly crafted song can only rise so high. However, an arrangement of a thoughtfully constructed tune with a sensical, memorable melody has emotional impact far beyond the arranger’s intent. Always Forward is a beautiful result of an arranger writing for musicians he knows and respects, with great care, musicality and sophistication.

Always Forward was released on 7 September 2018.

LINK: Marshall Gilkes tour dates and further information

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INTERVIEW: Georgia Mancio (Georgia Mancio’s Hang, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, 10-12 October 2018)


Georgia Mancio, jazz vocalist and lyricist, as well as the producer/organiser from 2010 to 2014 of the ReVoice! Festival, last year devised her first Hang. It's a mini-festival of sorts which takes its name from the slang for not only the after-hours party, but also the preparation of an art exhibition. As Georgia so eloquently puts it, it's about: "the process and the pay off: the thought and preparation, and the celebration and fun". Welcome to Hang Number Two – Peter Bacon asked the questions.

LondonJazz News: A former boss of mine would sometimes tease individuals who were defending their corners with the words: “it’s not all about you, y’know”. But Georgia Mancio’s Hang could be seen as very much “all about you”. How do you manage this very personal mini-festival while keeping your own ego in check?

Georgia Mancio: Ha ha, well I’m answering this on the back of a 15 hour admin day sending out press releases and producing artwork declaring the brilliance of all my collaborators so my ‘ego’ is sitting quietly knackered in the corner!

Truly, I don’t see Hang that way at all. I am not a self-contained artist: I have vision and I’m organised so curating projects comes quite naturally and I now have six previous festivals’ experience/graft behind me. But the magic is in the alchemy with other performers, in pushing, surprising, putting your trust in each other, in being open. I am very lucky and excited to be working with and learning from all these superb musicians.

LJN: The personnel of the four gigs over three days shows a healthy gender balance. Are we making progress in this regard in the jazz world? And what would help to keep up the momentum for change?

GM: I think we are making progress, yes, and I’m really excited to see so many more women playing the music, working in production and getting accolades than ever before. I’ve talked to a lot of musicians, some press/industry people over the last year and appreciate it’s a nuanced subject. Being conscious is the first step and I think there are still too many sleepwalking. Festival and club programmes still need more balance, there are very few female journalists (why is that?) and particularly outside London fewer women than men going to gigs.

Where there is a fear of change it’s good to remember that if we keep doing things in the same way, we’ll get the same results. We need to look beyond our own experiences, elevate our consciousness to imagine another’s scenario and then make active improvements. Some of this will happen organically over time but that time is also very much now.

LJN: The best music is never just about the music, is it? There is a wider world out there that it needs to engage with. How do you and your fellow musicians go about this?

GM: Fundamentally, for me, art has to communicate. It has to have a soul and the artist integrity. If you make the art you need then it will also nourish someone else. Even if it there is an ugliness in its message (and recently I have put into song experiences from meeting and working with refugees), there can be great beauty and delicacy in the way it’s conveyed. What an artist chooses to perform is – and should be – very personal. I’m keen to reflect the world around me (through song choices and my own writings) and the age I live in.

LJN: Tell us about how you see the four individual gigs as different from each other (albeit with you as the common element), and how you see the overarching “narrative” of this 2018 Hang. Does the ’18 Hang differ from the ’17 one? And, if so, how?

GM: As 2017 was my first Hang I programmed ongoing projects: a kind of introduction (and retrospective) of where I was at, having also toured with Alan Broadbent and our Songbook earlier that year. Hang 2018 more closely follows on from my ReVoice! Festival sets: collaborating with musicians new to me or in new combinations or by the inclusion of more original writing.

The first show (10 Oct) is three duo sets – a celebration of female writers with pianist Nikki Iles, an exploration of the great singer/songwriter and activist Abbey Lincoln’s compositions with harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and a long awaited reunion with songs (and characters) co-created by pianist Tom Cawley from our 2014 ReVoice! debut.

The second (11 Oct) is roughly two trios – one with accordionist/pianist Maurizio Minardi (in his first London return since relocating to Paris in 2016) and cellist Shirley Smart, the other with seven-string guitarist Luiz Morais and my long-time collaborator, flute genius Gareth Lockrane (we go all the way back to my 2003 debut album Peaceful Place). The clue is in the title Somos Unidos – we are united so not only will we explore musical combinations, we will sit multiple languages, genres and cultures side by side.

The last two shows (12 Oct) feature my quartet with pianist Kate Williams, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Dave Ohm. For the Late Show we are joined by a musician I’ve long admired but haven’t previously worked with – saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes. We’ll play new songs co-written/arranged with Kate Williams, revisit part of my 2010 album Silhouette and introduce some Broadbent/Mancio material as yet unheard in the UK.

The overarching narrative is storytelling, I think, and the weaving of old and new. Really though it’s a living, breathing, mutable thing that is best understood in front of an audience – the main protagonists of these stories!

LJN: Your professional musical life is as old as the century. How different is the scene in 2018 from what it was in 2000. And how has your place in it changed?

GM: Mainly the volume of (great) musicians has increased enormously. I also see many more artists now controlling their destiny – running events and self-releasing music. Whether that’s by necessity or design I think it’s not only crucial to understand as many aspects of the industry as possible but also to steer its direction, make contributions and create opportunities for our colleagues not just ourselves.

As to how my place in it has changed these 18 years: I left my waitressing job at Ronnie Scott’s on Christmas Eve 1999 with very few savings and a lot of hope. Last year I headlined there for the first time and I think probably, whatever happens in the future, that will always be the highlight of my career. Having learnt very much on the job, I’m the tortoise and not the hare but it seems good things definitely do come to those who wait!

Every small step has been a surprise that led to bigger strides – making and releasing albums, writing, producing events and chiefly the goal I feared was unattainable all those years ago: earning a living from music.

LJN: And what about life-after-Hang? What are your hopes, fears, ambitions, etc, before the 2019 Hang comes around?

GM: Firstly, having been consumed and depressed by it for the last two years, I hope Brexit is reversed and that it precipitates a radical change of direction for this country, the rest of Europe and the US. Fascism was always the terrifying warning learnt in history lessons, not the beast just over your shoulder or in high office. As the daughter of immigrants I’m accustomed to being the outsider looking in but we desperately need a new narrative.

Professionally I hope to continue growing artistically and well, just to continue, which can be the hardest thing year after year but also the best prize. I’ve just recorded my seventh album, Finding Home, co-written with pianist/composer, Kate Williams, and featuring the Guastalla String Quartet, for release and tour in 2019. Alan Broadbent and I aim to publish our songs (25 and counting!) as a book and I’m quietly brewing another creative writing project. Hopefully there might also be time for a honeymoon! (pp)

LINK: Georgia Mancio's Hang

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CD REVIEW: Dexter Gordon Quartet – Tokyo 1975



Dexter Gordon - Tokyo 1975
(Elemental Music 5990428. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)

In all likelihood, Dexter Gordon is the only tenor saxophone player with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 Round Midnight). His talent was displayed early in his career when he skilfully impersonated the airiness and behind-the-beat style of Lester Young, later adding the rich chordal explorations of Coleman Hawkins and reshaping his version of the combination to suit the challenging topology of bebop.

Here, on tracks over 40 years old, never before released and curated by Michael Cuscuna (the most distinguished archaeologist in jazz?), we experience Dexter in full roar. Not only is this his debut performance in Japan, but it’s also Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s final recorded appearance with this group. And, because the four Tokyo recordings alone would have made an insubstantial CD, they’re augmented by two extended bonus live numbers recorded elsewhere (with group changes): Rhythm-A-Ning, from a 1973 Dutch concert and Old Folks, performed live in the U.S. in 1977.

At 6’ 6”, Dexter was a physical, as well as musical, giant. Towering over most of humankind, let alone his Japanese hosts, his grumbled that “the ceilings are too low and the beds too short”. If these discomforts caused a stiff neck or muscular aches, no audible evidence exists (and, being a Japanese concert, the sound was meticulously engineered). Of the four titles recorded in Tokyo, three (Fried Bananas, Days of Wine and Roses and Jelly, Jelly, Jelly) conjure gastronomic overtones, allowing Gordon to serve course after course of tasty ideas spicily garnished with a fair sprinkling of quotes (Sonny Boy, Chicago, etc.). In full flow, Gordon is an unstoppable force (refer to his epic thrilling duels with fellow tenor master, Wardell Gray). Few jazz musicians can compete with the torrential effect. Or swing as hard.

Having appeared frequently at Copenhagen’s legendary Montmartre Jazzhus club, the band’s ESP is other-worldly. Hardly a surprise because, even earlier, Kenny Drew had been Gordon’s deft piano sparring partner on highly rated U.S. recordings. Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, a native Dane, was a virtuoso bassist who turbo-charged all the performances (check the second chorus of Days of Wine and Roses). And drummer, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath (a jazz aristo, brother of bassist Percy and tenor player Jimmy), digs in deeply behind Gordon on Days of Wine and Roses. Errol Garner’s ballad Misty, usually a cue for syrupy expression, is approached with sensitivity. In place of cloying sentiment, we hear luscious sustained tones from Dexter and sparkle from Drew supported by Niels-Henning in monster form. To the audience’s delight, on Jelly, Jelly, Jelly (has no academic yet written a thesis on the prevalence of copulatory imagery in jazz song titles?), Gordon sings the 1941 Billy Eckstine back-beat blues that caused second balconies to writhe with pleasure (apparently, Eckstine was once accused of stealing the song from Dexter). The appreciative applause threatened to raise the Yubin Chokin’s roof.

Rhythm-A-Ning was taped in Laren, Holland, two years before the Japanese tour. Gordon’s second chorus with Nils-Henning will fold back your ears with pleasure. Drums are handled by Norwegian Espen Rud. And Old Folks, taken at leisurely tempo, was recorded in 1977 in New Haven with Ronnie Matthews (who supplies a delicious piano solo), bassist Stafford James and drummer Louis Hayes.

DETAILS

Fried Bananas; Days of Wine and Roses; Misty; Jelly, Jelly, Jelly; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass; Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, drums. Recorded live Yubin Chokin Hall, Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 1975

Rhythm-A-Ning; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass; Espen Rud, drums. Recorded live De Boerenhofstee, Laren, Netherlands, July 18 1973

Old Folks; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Ronnie Matthews, piano; Stafford James, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Recorded live New Haven, Connecticut, U.S. May 5 1977

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