REVIEW: Tina May at the 606 Club

Tina May with Steve Brown
Photo: Peter Jones
Tina May
(606 Club, 14 October 2018. Review and picture by Peter Jones)

“Everything is about Mark tonight,” explained Tina May at the start of this gig. She was referring, of course, to the late Mark Murphy, who has been her guiding light in jazz singing for many years. And she didn’t just mean the repertoire for the evening, although there was indeed a connection to the great man in every song. To name-check Murphy is to declare an attitude to jazz singing that distinguishes it from lesser forms of singing, and for Ms May that means doing a great deal more than merely bookending the band’s solos.

She began with a song from Leonard Bernstein’s musical On The Town, Lucky To Be Me, which Murphy recorded in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks. In the musical, this tune is usually performed in a rather brash, over-the-top manner, as you might expect from an American sailor on 24-hour shore leave. But in May’s hands it became very relaxed indeed, almost languid, a hip, mid-tempo swinger that beautifully reflected the song’s lyrical content, a celebration of new love. Out Of This World followed (from Murphy’s Rah album), arranged in Afro-Cuban style by the Munich-based pianist Andy Lutter.

In fact, Lutter had been part of the original plan for this gig: the idea was for them to perform their recent album Café Paranoia. It turned out he had prior commitments; thankfully, her long-time friend and accompanist Nikki Iles was available, even though some of Lutter’s charts weren’t.

After a classy rendition of Murphy’s signature tune, Stolen Moments, they arrived at a song called Dance Slowly.

Murphy himself never recorded or performed this tune. But for years he used to send snatches of poetry to Andy Lutter, many of them being what he called his ‘jazz haikus’ – not in the strict 17-syllable Japanese verse form, but much looser, while preserving the spirit of the haiku: odd thoughts and meditations, and usually quite short. Whenever he had time, Lutter would write music for them, with the object of eventually recording them with Murphy. But the singer became ill, and it never happened. Last year, Lutter and May released their own version of Mark Murphy’s jazz haikus on Café Paranoia. Not only was it one of the best albums of the year, it also sounded fiendishly difficult from a singer’s point of view. I confess one of my reasons for attending this gig was to see how it was even possible to render such challenging material live.

There was no need to worry: May, Iles, bassist Nick Pugh and drummer Steve Brown had it all under their fingers. After the delicate Dance Slowly came the haunting one-minute ballad Tundraness. What on earth is it about? It didn’t matter. Before singing the Café Paranoia title track, written as a sort of Weimar nightclub tune, May told the audience that Humphrey Lyttelton had once handed her a clarinet and told her to play it because they only had three and they needed four. She then produced said instrument and played it on this tune, quite well. It was that kind of gig.

May’s personal warmth and humour are an essential part of her appeal as a performer. She is also a fearless improviser, and does it all without apparent effort; she has a huge vocal range, sings across the bar-lines, misses words out, adds extra ones, and there are lots of slurs and subtle melodic variations, giving the impression of complete spontaneity.

Perhaps the best thing of the night was a smouldering I’m Through With Love, although a final Mark Murphy haiku – the sweet, mournful Less And Less – ran it a close second.

Peter Jones’s This is Hip: The Life of Mark Murphy is published by Equinox.

LINK: Review of Café Paranoia CD  


CD REVIEW: Metamorphic – The Two Fridas

Metamorphic – The Two Fridas
(DISCUS 65CD. CD review by AJ Dehany)

When she was six, the painter Frida Kahlo contracted polio. Confined to bed for a month, she made up an imaginary friend who accompanied her for the rest of her life. In her diary she recalled the experience as being the origin of one of her most important paintings The Two Fridas. That double portrait of Frida Kahlo is transformed into a double portrait of composer and pianist Laura Cole in the new double album by her octet Metamorphic. Part spoken word, part sound art, part improvisation, part composition, as a double album it has an almost overwhelming emotional and intellectual heft. The album is, she says, “an attempt to express intimate emotions and thoughts through the creative – and recording – process”. It's an attempt that places significant demands on the listener.

A double album poses significant problems for attention and pacing. They’re often patchworks or sketchbooks (like the Beatles' white album which is currently celebrating its 50th birthday). The Two Fridas seems conceptually coherent, with shape and development, but it does take its time to emerge. Overall it’s a slow, atmospheric listen, sparingly melodic. Many of the tracks start with an atmospheric sense before settling into a theme or groove. The concision of one of the album’s highlights, Senken, coming in at under five minutes, makes for a more satisfying and visceral conception – though I’d love to hear more of bassist Ruth Goller and drummer Johnny Hunter together; there’s a real punch when they lock together.

Laura Cole is not only a bandleader, composer and pianist, but a poet. The spoken word elements form the connecting tissue of a journey into an exploration of self-knowledge and overcoming, reflecting her fascination with symmetry and “the double-sidedness of things, maybe as a Gemini”. The title track is the clearest outline of the concerns of the album: “I am the person I know best; it will be better in the knowing.” It also demonstrates some of the characteristics of Laura Cole’s writing, with many tracks using short repeating thematic sections or units.

The long track The Mountains, The Sea / The Island is an opportunity to hear her singular piano inventions. For a full picture you have to hear her recent double album Enough, which comprises a disc of arrangements of others’, and another of originals and improvisations. Her piano playing is lustrous and a touch eldritch, with a distinctive classical sense and a richly developed harmonic sensibility.

Naturally the album has not one but two centrepieces: the title track and the 17-minute suite Digging For Memories, which presents an unfolding of dignified and controlled emotion. Charcole I & II also obey the Gemini tendency, recorded back to back; essentially presenting two sides of the same improvisation. In Little Woman, Lonely Wing Cole weaves together Ornette Coleman and Jimi Hendrix compositions in a way that sounds uniquely her own. As a bandleader Laura Cole is light-handed but inspires discipline in the ensemble. Recorded at Real World, the clear dynamic sound impresses on you individual contributions and the individuality of the contributions.

John Martin specialises in extended techniques on the tenor sax and brings a dash of that grit to forge a strong responsive trio together with Chris Williams from Led Bib on alto sax and Ollie Diver on bass clarinet. Johnny Hunter’s command of pace and dynamics is valuable in these extended structures that start quiet and abstract, and move inexorably toward a groove or vocal ostinato. Vocalist Kerry Andrew always feels embedded in the group rather than leading, whether singing wordlessly or uttering glossolia, whether whispering or reading the poems.

Surprisingly for an album of this length, this double portrait of deep selfhood raises more questions than it answers. The inspirational work of Frida Kahlo similarly involves a negotiation of the private meanings of public utterances, and there is always some mystery in the most detailed portrait. At their hottest moments of interplay the octet, called Metamorphic, submit the protolithic strata of Laura Cole’s personal experience to the heat and stress of group connection, transforming raw material into fine art.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes about music, art and stuff.

LINK: Metamorphic website


INTERVIEW: Abraham Brody (new album Crossings and EFG LJF concert 18 Nov)

Abraham Brody
Publicity picture

US-Lithuanian singer/composer ABRAHAM BRODY’s second album, Crossings, comes out on 16 November with an appearance at the London Jazz Festival on 18 November collaborating with innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also be performing their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. Based in Iceland, he spoke to AJ Dehany in London about music as a transformational process.

The title of Abraham Brody’s new album, Crossings, encapsulates his personality and practice. He is a composer, artist, and multi-instrumentalist with Lithuanian roots who grew up in the US. He has lived in London, Lithuania, and now lives in Iceland. He originally studied classical music, then became involved in folk music. His first album From The Rich Dark Earth (2017) reworked Lithuanian folk traditions, but he has found himself evolving a more personal style.

“All the songs are very autobiographical. They're about our society, on how people interact now –  relationships, childhood. A lot of the songs are kind of abstract, about certain things that I see or that other people see that are not necessarily real – they're kind of imagined.”

His new video In The Dream, directed by Lithuanian artist MIST, was created for an international audience but comments directly on social issues in Lithuania.

“I love Lithuania. My previous album is a dedication to Lithuanian culture, but there are a lot of problems – with homophobia and racism. In The Dream is about all the diverse types of people that live there and trying to show their love in a beautiful way. Everyone is dreaming and sleeping and we all have the same kind of desires. We all search for love and to be loved – so it's kind of like asking for acceptance.”

The album Crossings is rich and atmospheric, with a strange, ancient, ritual sense allied to contemporary energies and concerns. The album title represents the different influences that cross over in his music, with his classical background intersecting with the influence of folk traditions and now electronic and contemporary directions. There is also the importance of travel and movement to his artistic development, and more mysterious metaphorical crossings.

“The songs are kind of crossing between reality and imagined reality, and putting people in a kind of mythological role.”

I had read that Abraham Brody is pursuing a “mystical vision” and has an interest in Buryat Shamanism. He says, “I started being really interested in these things because for me it is really important that music is not entertainment. It's a transformational process. A few years ago I went to Siberia and I made some films and a multimedia exhibition that I showed in Moscow that was about these rituals of shamans and how they use music to enter a trance. For me it's important that I'm not creating music just as entertainment. I want to transform myself. I think that's why it's so important that people still go to live concerts. That transformation doesn't really take place in a recorded form. It's in the live space, it's what the performer can transmit and the audience can give back.”

In 2013 he came to wider notice working with Marina Abramovic on a recreation of her piece The Artist Is Present using sound (The Violinist Is Present).

“That was when I first started going my own way. I was really really focused on this interaction with an audience. It wouldn't be just passive entertainment, it would be a really direct contact. I would look in people's eyes and I would improvise what I see.”

The concert at the London Jazz Festival is taking place at Village Underground, which is a large industrial space more associated with dance parties, an unusual choice to situate the intimacy and intensity of Brody’s music and approach.

“I wanted to create this special environment,” he says; there will be a light show, and videos made for each song by Latvian artist Zane Zelmene."

The concert will present his collaboration with the innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also present their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. It will conclude with a collaboration with Icelandic electronic artist Áslaug Magnusdottir from the group Samaris.

Brody has a longstanding interest in exploring interactions between performer and audience, but, he says, “I actually think now I'm more interested in larger audiences. It’s more about the focus and the interaction, and what you can communicate non-verbally. I really look for that shared connection.”

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

Crossings is released on 16 November.

LINKS: Abraham Brody's website

Abraham Brody and Wooden Elephant play the EFG London Jazz Festival on Sunday 18 November


CD REVIEW: Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs

Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
(ECM 675 1580. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The singular title track of this album, Helsinki Song, has a four-note ostinato line from double bassist Mats Eilertsen complemented by slowly building snare and cymbals from Markku Ounaskari and overlain with a compelling, singing melody from Trygve Seim’s tenor and Kristjan Randalu’s piano in tandem.

It rises and falls beautifully and Seim and Randalu lay down astutely-judged and deeply-felt solos. Meanwhile Eilertsen just keeps on and on with that line, saying such a lot with so little, so that when he varies it slightly – to take it higher behind the piano solo and then through a set of changes before returning with the rest of the band to the theme – one almost holds one’s breath.

And breath is significant here – as a friend noted when he heard this, the song really breathes. And so it does! Maybe that’s how it goes straight to the listener’s heart. It’s a quality, simultaneously both spiritual and visceral, that is found running right through this album.

Trygve Seim has found, with this quartet, what feels to me like an ideal balance. In the Estonian Randalu, especially, he has the perfect complementary soloist; the piano improvisations throughout this album have had me smiling with pleasure.

There are references here to Seim’s admiration for Jimmy Webb – Morning Song is, I understand, a kind of coda to one of Webb’s tunes, and that makes sense: there is very much a songlike feeling to most of the tracks on the album. Stravinsky is referenced in Katya’s Dream, inspired by a film about the composer.

The saxophonist’s playing is very special indeed. His soprano sounds almost like the Armenian duduk at times, such is his tone-bending skill, while his tenor tone, once perhaps a little too strongly in thrall to Jan Garbarek, is now unmistakably his and his alone.

This album keeps on giving. I felt I had had my money’s worth even before I had reached the sublime stateliness of Sorrow March – and that’s just track six of 11. In a list of 2018’s most beautiful new music, Helsinki Songs must surely rank very highly indeed.


CD REVIEW: Gabrielle Ducomble – Across the Bridge

Gabrielle Ducomble – Across the Bridge
(MGP CD020. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Blessed with a light, accurate, affectless voice rather in the mode of Stacey Kent, Belgian-born Gabrielle Ducomble has done very well professionally since nearly winning the French version of Pop Idol in 2003. Her musical métier is a mixture of chansons and tangos, her style sophisticated and nostalgic. Backed by a formidable band, her live appearances are justifiably popular.

But despite all the Parisian-style gaiety, is everything sweetness and light? Let us not forget that Belgium also gave birth to angst-tortured Jacques Brel, for whom life often seemed a grim struggle. In more recent years it has seen the emergence of the formidable Mélanie De Biasio, the queen of bleak urban soundscapes. And despite her sunny persona, you get the feeling that Gabrielle Ducomble would have been happier in the sunlit world of the 1960s, as the lyrics of this self-penned album suggest: “Ma vie semble bien vide, dans mon grand monde sans couleurs / La distance est ma douleur…” (Les Terrasses de Riz de Jatiluwih) and “I long to find somewhere to hide / In stone or glass, forget about the past” (Where is Home). For me, it’s this underlying sadness that gives the music a certain edge, where it might otherwise be a little bland.

Ducomble has been astute in her choice of musicians, including the awesomely talented Nicolas Meier on guitar. Here he is somewhat under-used, most of the solos going to violinist Richard Jones, who imbues everything he plays with fire and energy and great depth of feeling. Like a Bridge Across Your Heart gives his dramatic flair full reign.

The album also features Nick Kaçal on bass and Saleem Raman on drums, with guest appearances from Fausto Beccalossi (accordion) and Bill Mudge (keys).

With perhaps a couple of exceptions (Tell Me Today, Is This It?) the quality of the songwriting is impressive. Ducomble’s compositions are reminiscent of the '70s folk-rock groups Renaissance and Fairport Convention. I suspect they will sound more gutsy live than they do on record. We may judge for ourselves as Ducomble continues her lengthy UK tour, the next leg of which begins at the Watermill, Dorking (16 October) and ends at The Stables, Milton Keynes (18 November).

LINKS: Full Tour Details on Gabrielle Ducomble's website
Interview with Gabrielle Ducomble
Review of album launch


INTERVIEW: Cellist Shirley Smart (new album Long Story Short, launch party at Vortex, 24 Oct)

Shirley Smart
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Last time we published an interview with SHIRLEY SMART (link below), comments came in, praising her as "erudite and sparkling", "a genuine one-off, both personally and musically..." and as a "wonderfully talented and eclectic musician." The cellist is about to release the first album in her own name on Paul Jolly's 33extreme label. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Why have you called this album Long Story Short?

Shirley Smart: Ha! Good question. I suppose because this album does draw on and brings together a lot of things that it is quite a long story to explain – both in terms of having lived in the Middle East for a decade or so, largely by accident, and also being in jazz as a cellist, which has its own stories behind it, and an awful lot of things that might be interesting to someone, but not necessary to know to enjoy the music.

LJN: Is this your first album in your own name or as leader?

SS: It is my first in my own name, yes. It's not my first as a band-leader – I released an album with my band Melange in 2016, although that project was more centred around traditional repertoire, whereas this one has more originals and a different balance of interests, I think.

LJN: Is there a structure running through it?

SS: Yes, I hope so... although it does draw together quite a few different strands of influence and styles, I have tried to construct the album in a way that coheres, as well as highlights those differences. So I have generally arranged it in mini-sets of two or three tunes that share similar lines of influence. I also tried to take into account spacing the tracks with the different guests on, so that sonically, in terms of the variety of instruments it is balanced as well. I hope it worked!

LJN: Do you see the jazz and the middle eastern influences as separate or as things you want to combine?

SS: I think this is something that is possibly quite personal to me, as my journey into jazz was via various projects that involved Middle Eastern music as well, even though a lot of the musicians were also very fine jazz players. I got involved with both whilst living in Jerusalem, which has a very small but also very fertile and intensive music scene with a lot of really excellent musicians – the bassist Omer Avital was in one of the main bands I played with there, and also pianist Omri Mor, who played for a long time in Avishai Cohen's trio. Obviously jazz and traditional Middle Eastern music are two very different traditions with wildly different historical trajectories, but at the same time, jazz particularly has always been a genre of music with various tributaries, so it is unsurprising to me that musicians with Middle Eastern backgrounds start exploring links and using that as a ground for creative development, as for example, both Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen have done, as well as people like Omer Klein, Ibrahim Maalouf, and, closer to home, musicians like Yazz Ahmed also. I certainly find them inseparable as the way I came into both fields was a very intertwined experience, and I cannot really change or undo that, so although I have spent quite a lot of time disentangling that, I find the interplay a very natural one for me.

LJN: Are these originals or tunes from other places? If so, where?

SS: Most of the tunes on this album are originals, by me. There are a couple of traditional tunes - one Macedonian one which I think you ask about further below, and one Algerian tune called Ticaraca Tchoub – the title of which no-one seems to understand or to have a clue as to its meaning (even the Algerian guys I learned it off!) But it's a fun tune, and I thought it fit well in the set, so in it went! There's also one tune by Anouar Brahem, who is one of my favourite musicians – a beautiful tune called Halfouine, which I have played in many guises for a long time. Orphy Robinson added some beautiful effects on vibraphone in the version. My tunes are a mixture of influences from swing, be-bop, jazz musette – the first tune was influenced by both Bireli Lagrene and Richard Galliano, both of whom I admire greatly and love their music, Arabic and North African. Some are more straight ahead, Mobius Blues for example is a fairly straightforward swing tune, and Tetouan is I think a bit of a mixture of Algerian chaabi and a jazz waltz. Then there is also a slow tango tune and a 3/4 samba influenced tune.

SAMPLE TRACK: Waltz for an Amethyst

LJN: You have a Macedonian tune what is the background to it?

SS: Aha! This tune is a longstanding mystery to m. It is basically a very simple 7/8 folk tune, which happened to be on the radio when I was in a car on the way to a gig in Haifa with an oud-playing friend of mine from Jerusalem. It was going round and round, but they never said what it was (or if they did, we were talking about something else and didn't hear it – probably more likely!). Anyway, by the time we got to the gig, we had kind of picked it up, so we played it on that gig and then every Thursday night in the residency we had in this restaurant in East Jerusalem, so we got to know it pretty well. I kept playing it when I moved back to the UK, because I like it, and it's now gone through so many versions, that I probably should release an album made up of just that tune! People often come up to me after gigs, and offer suggestions as to its title and provenance, and also quite a few have sent me links, but it's never quite the same, so I would love to know what it actually is. (Although this would ruin a really good gig story...)

LJN: Who else is on the album – is there a core band ?

SS: Yes, there is a core trio of myself, John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums/percussion. John has Spanish roots, and also a great interest and love of world music, so it's been great to play with him on this and he's also a great friend of Demi, whom I have played with now for several years, so it worked very naturally. A few tunes also suggested some other sounds – on Halfouine, for example I really loved the idea of the vibraphone on that tune, and then of course, as soon as you open that door a million possibilities throw themselves up, so we did end up with a few very special guests as well.

LJN: Demi Garcia Sabat is an unfamiliar name - tell us more about him musically - and he has another life too?

SS: Demi is unfamiliar? That's so wrong! He is an amazing drummer and percussionist – and really a unique player because he has roots in flamenco and North African rhythms as well, so like me, the fusion of jazz and world music is very natural and inseparable for him. He is Catalan by birth and grew up playing flamenco (and also being a fire-eater, apparently – although he doesn't as yet do that on gigs...) He's been on the scene for quite a while – he plays also in Nicolas Meier's trio and with Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents and Chris Garrick's Budapest Cafe Orchestra. He is also from a family of pastry chefs and has been known to turn up to morning rehearsals with freshly made croissants that he made during the night. He is a thoroughly marvellous character and I totally recommend anyone who has a chance to get to a gig he is on to go and see him in action. (You may also become the first person to see his glasses actually fall off his nose during a cajon solo – every time, they get right down to the end, but somehow they defy gravity and stay on his nose. I have no idea how!)

LJN: And there are guests?

SS: Yes! Orphy Robinson plays vibraphone on a couple of tunes – Halfouine and one other one, Nikki Iles plays accordion on two tracks, and Nicolas Meier plays guitar on a few tracks. I think this gives the album a nice variety of sounds across the whole – and I was really happy and grateful to these fabulous and lovely musicians for coming and giving their talents as well.

LJN: Is it a studio album or more 'as live'?

SS: I suppose it's as live as you can get while being in a studio. We recorded it at Session Corner, at the Hat Factory in Luton, which is a studio I really like. I recommend the engineer there, Nick Pugh, extremely highly. I recorded an EP there a few years ago with Sawa, another project I am involved in, and I really liked both the piano and the live room, and I remember thinking when we were there " when I do my own album, I want to do it here".

LJN: When is released and how will people get hold of it?

SS: It is being released on 33 Jazz Records, on their 33xtreme label.

The release date is yet to be fixed, but I imagine it will be around November/early December.

We are having an album launch party at the Vortex on 24 October – so it will be for sale at that gig, which will feature the trio and Nicolas Meier on guitar. And probably some biscuits from Demi.

LINKS: Bookings for Vortex 24 October 
Interview for IWD 2018


CD REVIEW: Flying Machines – New Life

Flying Machines – New Life

(Ubuntu Music UBU0017. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Flying Machines’ maiden voyage – their eponymous debut release of 2016 – announced the soaring, anthemic drive and cirrostratus serenity of guitarist Alex Munk’s jazz-rock originals. Now, joined by regular crew mates Matt Robinson (piano, synths, Fender Rhodes), Conor Chaplin (electric bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums), the band bursts through the ozone with second album New Life, their higher aspirations reflected in cover-art astrophotography of the Veil Nebula supernova.

The galaxies they inhabit are a melange of indie/prog rock, composed/improvised jazz and ambient aura as Munk leads the way with distinctive electric guitar textures and precise melodic tones. Yet it’s the overarching rhythmic and episodic intuition of the quartet which elevates the majority of these ten tracks above the realm of subconscious soundtrack, filling the air with gritty hard-hewn fret action or contrasting time-warped atmospherics.

Title track New Life’s overdriven metal-rock phrases against syncopated blows announce the band’s powerful intent, whilst Moondust offers a pop-friendly promenade of piano-embellished guitar purity. Elation’s new-age acoustic feel (with quiet chant) preludes its piano/synth ostinati, introducing welcome jazz improv from Robinson and Munk, all buoyed by Chaplin’s bubbling electric bass; and folksong-like Kilter can almost be imagined as a lyrical tale.

Lush smooth-jazz Rhodes clusters/solos are just one element of Fall In’s breezy momentum, with Munk’s perky electric attack and rhythmic resonator-guitar chordal style adding much to its shining diversity. And weightless, echoic Take Time features intricate, featherweight percussion from Dave Hamblett, strikingly different to his solid presence throughout the album’s heavier riffage.

Occasionally there’s a sense that a blistering tenor sax or left-field vocal solo could push Flying Machines’ quartet sound into an adjacent universe; and the inclusion of three particularly appealing, freely-improvised vignettes may provide a window on broader, future explorations in that direction. But for intelligently crafted rock-outs and jazz-grounded improv, New Life fizzes with light, energy and ambition.

New Life is released on 19 October on Ubuntu Music, with the album launch at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on 22 October. Flying Machines are also appearing at the London Jazz Festival on 25 November.


REVIEW: Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell at Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham

Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne in action at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/

Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell
(Eastside Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 11 October. Review and photos by John Watson)

“I’ve been working with Matt Mitchell for 10 years now,” saxophonist Tim Berne told his audience at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Eastside Jazz Club. “And he’s saved my ass! He keeps me on my toes, ankles, knees...”

Berne’s association with Mitchell has indeed proved fruitful, their best known collaboration being the pianist’s role in Tim’s group Snakeoil, whose recordings for the ECM label have won widespread acclaim. Now the altoist and the pianist have recorded a CD of duets, Angel Dusk, for Berne’s own label Screwgun Records.

Their rapport in their Birmingham performance was indeed extraordinary, with the altoist’s long, swirling and absorbingly complex lines complemented by Mitchell’s intense splashes of vibrant, rippling arpeggios exploring the whole keyboard, at times matching the saxophonist phrase by phrase, and in other places creating dark background tonal colours.

Matt Mitchell at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/
Berne’s mastery as an expert creator of harmonically dense compositions, spinning seamlessly into furiously passionate free improvisations, is well established. Mitchell has matured into an immensely gifted improviser, leading his own trio with bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss, as well as collaborating with artists including trumpeter Dave Douglas, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa and Darcy James Argue’s adventurous big band Secret Society.

The Birmingham performance included some of Mitchell’s own compositions, among them the curious-titled Tooth Helmet and Pouting Grimace. Berne’s own strong compositions included Traction, and several pieces yet to be titled.

Another untitled piece, by the late saxophonist Julius Hemphill of World Saxophone Quartet fame, was a remarkable highlight, and it was intriguing, though impossible, to try to catch the moment when the written piece ended and Berne’s improvising began.

Tim Berne at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/
The duet performance followed three days of workshops by Berne and Mitchell at the conservatoire, in a collaboration between its jazz course and Tony Dudley Evans of TDE Promotions. The evening’s performance had begun with a work specially written by Berne for the jazz course students, and it was frustrating that a late-running train caused me to miss it. However, I spoke to some of those lucky enough to squeeze into the packed club on time, and the verdict was “marvellous”. Berne himself said the students had been “amazing”.

The next collaboration between TDE Promotions and the conservatoire will feature legendary American drummer Hamid Drake, with saxophonist Paul Dunmall’s Quintet on 9 November. 


NEWS: Full Programme for fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival announced (13-27 Nov)

Madeleine Peyroux
Publicity Photo
Sebastian writes:

Festival Director Ros Russell's introduction to this fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival sets the tone of a festival which she and the team around her have brought from a new upstart in 2015 to a regular feature of the calendar:

“Every year we celebrate Jazz and this year we go further to celebrate women in Jazz, global connections in Jazz and tributes to the masters of Jazz. With this being our fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival. It also continues our developing mission to advocate and celebrate talent and excellence in Jazz. Whether it’s established masters, or rising talent or the London Jazz scene, there is a place for everyone in this year’s programme. 

Within a fortnight in mid-November Cambridge will host over 60 events, with 72 artists, 428 musicians and thousands of audience members. 

One of the key themes that we have been developing over the past few years is both the contribution and leadership of Women in Jazz. From headliners to debutants, concerts to workshops this year’s programme is a proud celebration of the creativity that female artists have given to Jazz.” 

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger
Photo credit: Alex Bonney 


Madeleine Peyroux - Corn Exchange, 27 Nov
Liane Carroll & Ian Shaw (+ London Gay Big Band) - Junction 2, 13 Nov
Phronesis, Mumford Theatre at Anglia Ruskin, 24 Nov
Tim Kliphuis Trio plus Tara Minton - Storey Field Centre, 24 Nov
Myles Sanko + Snowboy - Junction, 22 Nov
Alec Dankworth ’Spanish Accents’ - Stapleford Granary, 16 Nov
Claire Martin & The Dave Newton Trio - Stapleford Granary 17 November
Orphy Robinson presents Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks - Saffron Hall 16 Nov
Tony Kofi & The Organisation - Hidden Rooms, 15 Nov
Robert Spaven Trio - La Raza, 15 Nov
Kit Downes ‘Obsidian’ ft Tom Challenger - Gonville and Caius , 23 Nov, 6pm start
Issie Barratt’s Interchange (ft Zoe Rahman and Laura Jurd) Emanuel United Reformed Church, 20 Nov
Yazz Ahmed with Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra - Wes Road Concert Hall, 18 Nov
Josephine Davies ’Satori’ - Hidden Rooms, 22 Nov
Dinosaur and Big Bad wolf - Zooology Museum, 21 Nov, 6 30 start
Jasper Høiby ‘Planet B’ - Gonville and Caius College, 19 Nov


Vanessa Haynes Celebrates Aretha Franklin, World Service Project, Elliot Galvin Trio, The Ridout Family (Alexandra Ridout + Tom Ridout), Elina Duni & Rob Luft, Yazmin Lacey, Resolution 88, Hitchcock/Law/Casimr/Michel, Skeltr, Run Logan Run, Yazmin Lacey, Lydian Collective, Fini Bearman’s This Is Not America, Blues & Roots Ensemble - Music of Charles Mingus, Lorraine Baker‘s Eden, Nick Wells’ Below the Baseline, Reem Kelani, Bahla, Daphna Sadeh, The Black Mamba, Fofoulah, Big Bad Wolf, Zenel, The Brass Funkeys, Harry Green Trio ft Ashton Jones, Harp Bazaar, Robin Phillips Sings & Plays Chet Baker + Film: Born To Be Blue, Josh Kemp Trio, Chanan Hanspal Trio, Phil Stevenson Trio, Q3, Sam Miles & Vij Prakash Quintet.

Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay and Tori Freestone of Interchange
Photo at Cheltenham Jazz Festival © John Watson/


Improvisation Masterclass with Phronesis
Music By Women with Issie Barratt & Laura Jurd
Django Workshop with Tim Kliphuis

Women in Jazz and Making Changes – Issie Barratt
Nathan Holder: Wish I didn’t Quit Music (pp)


The  Cambridge Jazz Festival is supported by the Arts Council England, Brewin Dolphin, Cambridge BID, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridgeshire Music and the University of Cambridge. Media partners include BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Cambridge Independent and Cambridge 105.


REVIEW: Georgia Mancio's 2018 Hang opening night at Pizza Express

L-R Nikki Iles, Georgia Mancio, Tom Cawley and Alina Bzhezhinska
Phone photo by Sebastian Scotney

Georgia Mancio's 2018 Hang Series Opening Night with Nikki Iles, Alina Bzhezinska and Tom Cawley
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 10 October 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The last words of the last song which Georgia Mancio sang last night bear repeating: “The spirit of the music sets me free.” They are from Sheila Jordan’s song The Crossing and they seemed to sum up the spirit of the occasion, an evening presenting three different duos and focusing on the work of female lyricists and composers.

The words stick in the mind because that is exactly where all of the work, the devising, the planning, the marketing, the artist booking... that Georgia Mancio does in advance of these shows eventually has to lead. Her particular combination of entrepreneurial and creative flair are second to none. There is no one who works harder or does these things better. But in the end there is also her delicate artistry, the simple (or rather, definitely not so simple) act of conveying and bringing emotion to words and notes. And as the evening went on, one could feel the audience becoming increasingly wrapped up in the power of the words, the stories, the emotion.

The first set was a duo with Nikki Iles. There was a piano solo in between the verses of Blossom Dearie’s Inside a Silent Tear which was a reminder of how complete Nikki Iles is as an accompanist for singers. There is a whole art of taking the solo in the middle of a song that keeps the shape of the song, that doesn’t overpower with either volume or virtuosity, that nevertheless finds unexpected corners and colours in the harmonies, and prepares to hand the melodic line back to the singer like a wrapped present. It comes from instinct and experience. And, like Bill Evans or Tommy Flanagan, Nikki Iles is extraordinarily good at it.

Every word of Pick Yourself Up was crystal clear. And the final song, Tideway, written by Nikki Iles and Norma Winstone, explored some of the deeper timbres in Mancio’s voice. The song also required an imitation of a sea breeze and the sound of a seagull. It ended a beautifully paced and shaped set of infinite delicacy from both musicians.
Georgia Mancio and Alina Bzhezhinska
Phone photo by Sebastian Scotney

The second set presented a first-time collaboration between Mancio and harpist Alina Bzhezhinska. It focused on the songs of Abbey Lincoln, with an unforgettable Throw It Away, and even with a passing nod to Thelonious Monk’s 101st Birthday with Abbey Lincoln’s lyrics to Blue Monk. And how does jazz voice and harp work? That's a dumb question. This duo left no doubt that it can and it does.

For the final set, Mancio was in a third duo with Tom Cawley, presenting songs they had co-written four years ago. And that brought another side of Georgia Mancio to the fore – these real and imagined stories of ordinary people with fascinating tales to tell were a reminder of how observant, how selfless, how inspired she is. Each of these song-tales kept the audience enthralled.

The four participants came onstage together for the final number, with Tom Cawley on melodica. A heart-warming gig which bodes well for the rest of the ‘Hang’. 


CD REVIEW: Yellowjackets – Raising Our Voice

Yellowjackets – Raising Our Voice
(Mack Avenue MAC1137. CD Review by Peter Bacon)

It’s clear from the first minute or so of the opening track, Man Facing North, that featured vocalist Luciana Souza fits into the music of the four-man Yellowjackets a treat and that her Brazilian heritage expands the 'jackets’ already broad genre coverage in the most natural way. Her wordless vocals track bassist Dane Alderson’s line as the band sets out its stall. Later she will do the same in harmony alongside Bob Mintzer’s tenor saxophone. Both pairings remind us, too, what graceful "vocal" qualities both Alderson and Mintzer have in the way they phrase: it's always about the melody.

Dan Oullette quotes in his liner note Mintzer’s observation that “The band keeps moving forward” and it is that shark-like sense of momentum that has helped the Yellowjackets to do so much more than just survive 37 years and nearly 30 albums. Souza brings a lightness of touch which is also energising to their sound, in much the same way as she did with her featured track on Vince Mendoza’s 2011 album, Nights On Earth: she can take a lyric or she can be an added “horn” and slide in amongst the instruments.

The Yellowjackets started out as a jazz-fusion band and they still have that core, mainly through Russell Ferrante’s keyboards, but the drumming of William Kennedy and (in between Kennedy’s two tenures in the drum chair) Marcus Baylor gave them a funk-tinged underpinning, and Mintzer’s jazzier writing together with the soul-jazz bass of Jimmy Haslip and now Alderson, expanded their stylistic range sill further. The Brazilian touches on this album (and not just on the tracks featuring Souza) add yet further sauce to the stew.

And that is before we have got to the Bach fugue-like touches of Mutuality (which Ferrante apparently based on a Martin Luther King Jr speech and which goes through every key both major and minor in its harmony) or the hard swing of Swing With It.

For classic 'jackets sound and excitement Ecuador ticks all the boxes for me, and it’s a renewed pleasure to be reacquainted with Timeline (from the 2011 album of the same name) which Souza decorates beautifully here, again tracking Mintzer on the melody and then adding an exquisite scat solo which called to mind Flora Purim with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. The track builds to a marvellous climax.

The stand-out Souza track is Quiet, which she wrote with Ferrante. It already sounds like a Brazilian/American standard. Mintzer's solo is a muscular yet tender wonder.

Even by the Yellowjackets’ high standards, Raise Our Voice is an exceptional beauty. Play it loud; play it often.


CD REVIEW: Cuong Vu 4tet Change In The Air

Cuong Vu 4tet Change In The Air
(RareNoiseRecords RNR091. CD Review by Jon Turney)

Here’s intriguing small group jazz worthy of a starry ensemble. The same foursome – Cuong Vu on trumpet, regular partners Ted Poor on drums and Luke Bergman on bass, and more occasional collaborator Bill Frisell on guitar – released a much-lauded session last year devoted to reimagining compositions by Mike Gibbs. For this second outing they worked with originals, some from each player.

The results are uniformly excellent. Their compositional styles yield an appealing variety. Poor has a good stab at the “standards you never heard yet” feel, notably on the Ellingtonian opener All That’s Left of Me is You, titled for an unwritten lyric. Frisell’s pieces are studies in delicacy and depth. Vu leans more to abstraction. His playful Round and Round, reminiscent of Paul Motian’s simple-yet-insidious tunes, is played twice, bracketing the frenetic March of the Owl and the Bat. The latter benefits from some howling fuzz guitar – as on some previous meetings Vu stimulates more of Frisell’s more extrovert, effects-laden playing than you tend to get on his own recordings these days. Conversely, the guitarist can draw out Vu’s lyrical side, often with a slightly burred edge to the trumpet tone, like a catch in the throat, that is unfailingly affecting. But Frisell also matches him when he turns up the wick and emphasises his electric-era Miles sound (both sides of Vu’s playing here also calling to mind Frisell’s earlier trumpet foil, Ron Miles).

Poor provides brilliant commentary on drums, with Motian-like brushwork on some tracks, leaning more toward Joey Baron’s snap on others, and Bergman is solid in support. It’s an egalitarian, interactive quartet. But the deep sympathy between Vu and Frisell, in splendid unison or improvising freely together, is what binds these disparate materials together.

It sounds like a collaboration that was waiting to happen. If you haven’t heard the Mike Gibbs set on the same label, I would still recommend checking it out first – it has a little more staying power. If you have, you’ll need little persuading to try this new offering.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney 


REVIEW: Max Richter: The Four Seasons Recomposed at the Purcell Room

Ben Palmer directing the Covent Garden Sinfonia
Photo by Tom Elkins
Max Richter: The Four Seasons Recomposed 
(Covent Garden Sinfonia. Purcell Room, Southbank Centre. 9 October 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

The tension between familiarity and novelty was explored in an evening opening with the UK premiere of Ben Palmer’s Bach Dreams and closing with Max Richter’s The Four Seasons Recomposed from 2012. Palmer reimagines three works by Bach, and Richter radically reconfigures Vivaldi, making beautifully strange one of the most famous works in the classical canon.

Richter, in creating his “recomposed” version, threw out 75% of the Vivaldi material and recast the rest into the loops and phases of his own style. Call it post-classical or neoclassical or contemporary classical, it’s very much the sibling to the emotive and stirring category Scandi Noir and the catalytically influential work of Arvo Pärt. As a reworking of The Four Seasons, Richter says even when it’s mostly new it still sounds like Vivaldi, but I’m not so sure. The gorgeous filmic sound of Autumn I just sounds like Richter.

Sure he keeps largely intact certain moments like the crashing violin cadenza of L'estate (Summer) in G minor, Op. 8-2, RV 315- III. Presto. It’s still thrilling; you don’t need to try to make it exciting. Whereas there are few audible traces of La primavera (Spring) in E major, Op. 8-1, RV 269- I. Allegro, you know the bit I mean. Unlistenable now, it is hellish hold music while you wait for an operator, your call recorded for quality purposes. Winter I is fairly faithful to the original but chopped into a 7/8 time signature.

We’re used to looping now so when you hear it on record part of you assumes it’s electronic, but it’s all scored and all played. The physicality of it really strikes you up close. What impressed when it was premiered in the 2000-capacity hall of the Barbican in 2012 was the work’s scale and ambition. But there is also a level of intimate detail that that was brought out in the 295-seater Purcell Room in London’s Southbank Centre.

It also felt less chopped and looped than before, perhaps because of familiarity, not with the Vivaldi but now with the Richter. You could easily emphasise the fragmentation and displacement but Ben Palmer’s conducting and the warm ensemble feel of the 18-piece Covent Garden Sinfonia emphasised the unity and continuity of the conception. The young players of the ensemble have an engaging sound and a fresh, lively approach, opting for youthful passion and brightness rather than overly strict precision.

Fenella Humphreys and Ben Palmer
Photo by Tom Elkins
In the solo violin intro to Arvo Pärt’s classic 10-minute 1977 piece Fratres, Fenella Humphreys seemed to go for bravura, effect and theatricality rather than absolutely clean intonation. She plucked the pizzicato chords of the piece with gusto, but overall the mellifluous spiritual reveries of the piece seemed to suffer from a slight lack of gravitas.

It might be that Fratres also suffered from over-familiarity. We tend to compare familiar works to masterpiece recordings or that one performance you’ll never forget (now where was it again?). Whereas the relative unfamiliarity of Peteris Vasks’ 12-minute 1996 piece Lonely Angel lent it an astonishment and haunting power that was for me the highlight of the concert.

The richness and warmth of the Sinfonia’s sound – often the string players are bowing near or over the neck – highlighted an aspect of Vasks’ work it can be easy to overlook. As well as the strange cold sound world of bowing against the bridge, whistling harmonics and scraping strings, they really brought to life Vasks’ overlooked rich resonant passages, revealing that the beautiful strangeness of Vasks masks a warm-hearted inner light.

Ben Palmer is the founder of the Covent Garden Sinfonia and to open the concert he conducted it through the premiere of his own three-part work Bach Dreams. It is more ‘inspired by’ than a reworking of three Bach pieces, but can be compared to Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi. It too has an identifiably contemporary post-classical sound, but also irruptions from dropping multiple unconnected keys simultaneously. Like how Charles Ives mimicked the effect of moving between different bandstands, at one point it felt like pieces by Purcell and Philip Glass were playing at the same time. This effect made for a welcome interruption of the prevailing tastefulness of the Scandi-influenced sound in the world at large.

In 2012 what Richter did was considered pretty avant-garde. It still feels contemporary, but now we’ve heard quite a lot of this kind of music on dark crime dramas. What sets Richter’s Four Seasons apart is still its use of the Vivaldi: a postmodernist intervention which gives it a real frisson. It has extra levels that appeal intellectually and which viscerally connect with your lifelong memories of that ubiquitous but evergreen piece, literally a work for all seasons.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINK: Covent Garden Sinfonia website


BOOK REVIEW: Matthew Ruddick – Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker

Matthew Ruddick – Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker
(Melrose Books, 840pp., £16.99. Book Review by Chris Parker

The blurb for this, the third edition of Matthew Ruddick’s biography of Chet Baker, describes it as ‘intimate and unflinching’, so anyone familiar with the trumpeter’s life story will know what to expect: an account of an extravagantly gifted individual squandering his talent in a downward spiral of drug addiction and abusive relationships, both professional and personal.

Except, of course, it isn’t quite that simple. While Baker’s overall life-trajectory can be clearly traced simply by looking at the book’s illustrated section (which faithfully documents his transformation, 1948–88, from clean-cut pin-up to cadaverous sunken-cheeked junkie), his actual story – so painstakingly reconstructed in this scrupulously researched account, which includes the fruits of almost 200 exclusive interviews – is complex, ambiguous, often downright bewildering and paradoxical. As Paris-based trombonist/journalist Mike Zwerin says: "At the end, Chet was not good most of the time. But when he played well, he played really well. It was the investment he made in music. Improvising was the way he expressed himself, and he put everything into it. He put his whole life into it – and when he played, you could tell."

Put baldly, as Zwerin suggests, Baker could play like a supremely sensitive angel, but he frequently behaved – especially where women and children were concerned – like a callous, violent monster; even his musical performances veered, according to the day-to-day vagaries of his drug use, between the sublime and the ridiculous. For example, Guy Barker (source of some of the book’s most perceptive assessments of Baker’s musical gift) remembers the trumpeter’s 1985 appearance at Ronnie Scott’s as "amazing… he played great, and what really knocked me out was his stamina… [Gil Evans] turned to me and said, 'My God, did you hear that? Everything, the way it built, the strength of it all'." I myself witnessed a set during this residency, and remember Baker solely as a forlorn figure slumped on a stool at the front of the stage, able to do little but stare into the audience and occasionally wail, "Pete King, Pete King" – a deeply distressing and frustrating experience for all present.

Ruddick’s book’s great strength lies in his determination to face this central contradiction head-on. Thus, musical assessments from the likes of fellow trumpeter Jack Sheldon ("Chettie was just a genius right away… he had completely his own sound") or saxophonist Bill Homan ("Chet… played all the good notes") are interspersed with comments on his personality from trombonist Ed Byrne ("he would always ruin [success] because he understood losing, mistrust and hate… He was totally uncomfortable with winning") or the frank judgements of his musical collaborators, such as bassist John Burr ("It’s so sad, he had such a great musical mind. He played so in tune that notes became transparent, a transcendental quality that he was capable of, but only under certain conditions. He could have had the world").

Ruddick thus addresses, in this meticulous, exhaustive, but consistently gripping study, a central question about art: are we entitled, as its consumers, to separate the art from the artist, or must we constantly reassess its worth in light of our approval or disapproval of what we can unearth about an artist’s personal life? This question is probably never going to be satisfactorily answered; one thing is certain, however: Funny Valentine triumphantly succeeds in its main aim by providing a comprehensive, perceptive and thoughtful survey of Chet Baker’s music from its West Coast beginnings to its end in late-1980s Europe.


REVIEW: Paul Booth's Bansangu Orchestra at Ronnie Scott's

Bansangu Orchestra stretching across the club
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life

Bansangu Orchestra
(Ronnie Scott's, 8 October 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

In a sense, the band's name says it all. "Ban-san-gu" (band sounds good) is apparently the lapidary formula which Brazilian percussion legend Airto Moreira uses to describe the way a band sounds when everyone in it is working well together. And, on Monday night in Ronnie's this band, with every member (listed below) playing his or her heart out, sounded very good indeed.

And forget any thought that these elite players who have spent their thousands of hours in studios might be jaded, might have their ways of coasting, maybe even of disengaging. The urgency of the whole enterprise and the commitment to it, were there to be heard, and to be seen too: keeping an eye on the facial expression of drummer Rod Youngs was enough to get a sense throughout the evening that every intervention, every note was of vital importance.

Rod Youngs (centre) with Paul Booth (front right) and Laurence Cottle
and Kevin Robinson
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life

This really is an elite band. The expression "if you want something done, ask a busy person" comes to mind. These are the London players (I'm tempted to say 'metropolitan elite') who are permanently in demand, and the quality they bring to everything they do is palpable. There were a couple of core members on tour in North America: bassist Davide Mantovani (currently with Lisa Stansfield) and Giorgio Serci (currently with Basia), but their replacements were also top-drawer players who slotted in easily in this company. On bass Laurence Cottle brought lively lines, perfect balance, the occasional finger-popping solo, and also a sassy arrangement of Tower of Power's What is Hip featuring the excellent Claire Martin, while on guitar Guille Hill had solo features where the sheer presence of his sound and his sense of drama and narrative instantly drew the whole audience in.

Oli Rockberger's characterful Randy Newman-ish songs had the benefit of great arrangements by the presiding genius and band director Paul Booth. A particular joy was this band's saxophone section in which only players of quite astonishing ability get the call.

In her review of the band's CD, LJN writer Jane Mann referred to a "driving, joyous quality", and that was very much in evidence on Monday night. A highlight was Curralau Cool by Alex Wilson, who had come over from Switzerland especially for this gig. As ever he combined poetry and beauty of sound with how-many-hands-has-he-got virtuosity. The arrangements are wonderfully characterful. Kevin Robinson's reggae-inspired Walk On By is a gem.

Alex Wilson
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life
The themes of elite playing quality and busy people were also there in the support band. Pianist Rob Barron (who has another trio album on the way, I was told) played with two stalwarts from the John Wilson Orchestra, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Matt Skelton. The three brought languor and lyricism to Johnny Mandel's A Time for Love, and the perfect contrast of velocity and joy to Mike LeDonne's Emergence, a contrafact on Love for Sale.

This was an evening to be reminded what astonishing quality and bench-strength there is among the players in London. We really don't celebrate it enough.


Trumpets: Ryan Quigley, Kevin Robinson, Shanti Paul Jayasinha, Andy Greenwood
Trombones: Trevor Mires, Robbie Harvey, Martin Gladdish, Richard Henry
Saxophones: Sammy Mayne, Graeme Blevins, Julian Siegel, Gemma Moore, Paul Booth
Piano: Alex Wilson
Guitar: Guille Hill
Bass: Laurence Cottle
Percussion: Satin Singh
Drums: Rod Youngs

Oli Rockberger (vocals/ piano)
Claire Martin (vocals)


Cross Channel (Paul Booth)

The Long Road (Shanti Paul Jayasinha)

My Old Life (Oli Rockberger arr Paul Booth)

Georgia On My Mind (arr Paul booth - with guest Claire Martin)

Walk On By (arr Kevin Robinson - with guest Claire Martin )

Pipe Dream (Paul Booth)

The Reason (Trevor Mires)

Curralau Cool (Alex Wilson)

Queen Of Evasion (Oli Rockberger arr Paul Booth)

There Was A Time (Paul Booth/Victoria Newton)

What is Hip (arr Laurence Cottle)

Light my fire (Kevin Robinson)


INTERVIEW: Tord Gustavsen (new trio album The Other Side and UK tour 26 Oct to 16 Nov)

It is over a decade since the Norwegian pianist TORD GUSTAVSEN first made gentle yet very distinctive waves with his piano trio. Now, after quartet albums and his vocal/piano/drums project What Was Said, he returns to the classic jazz piano trio format for a new ECM album, The Other Side, and an extensive UK tour which begins later his month and culminates in an EFG London Jazz Festival concert. Peter Bacon interviewed him by email.

LondonJazz News: It’s been 11 years since your last piano/bass/drums trio album, and in the interim period you have included saxophone and vocals in your group recordings. Why the return to the trio format for The Other Side, and why now?

Tord Gustavsen: It has not felt right until now. After the tragically early passing of bass player Harald Johnsen from my first trio, it did not feel right to just do a new trio with the same instruments. Also, the quartet with Tore Brunborg on saxophone, and the project with vocalist Simin Tander, were both formations that demanded full attention as bands and musical organisms, and that developed strongly over time. And then, when I started thinking that it could be time to do trio again – with the piano more in the main melodic foreground, it all had to mature into a situation where I could avoid thinking about how to "follow up’ the old trio, and instead just play, here and now, un-forced.

LJN: Most of your albums – and certainly all the piano trio ones – have been recorded in the depths of a Norwegian winter. Accident or design? And if by design, does the season play a vital part in affecting the mood of the music?

TG: This has happened mostly by accident, I think. January is a good month to record, though, because there is often not so much touring going on then. I really don’t know how much the season affects the music – but it’s fair to assume that there are some links…

LJN: Drummer Jarle Vespestad has been the constant in all your recordings. What makes him special?

TG: His extreme ability to combine attentive interplay and melodic focus with stable foundations and subtle groove. And his skills in dynamics – the ability to play extremely quietly over time when needed. And his sound – you can immediately hear that he is playing. And the fact that he actually likes my music enough to stick with it…

LJN: And tell us about Sigurd Hole, the double bassist on The Other Side. How did you meet and what does he bring to the trio?

TG: I met Sigurd a few years ago when he played with me in a project with choir and poetry recital in Norway, and I liked his playing a lot. Sigurd then joined my quartet when Mats Eilertsen left around 2014-15, and did some concerts with us, a tour of Australia and New Zealand, plus concerts in Norway, Poland, Turkey, Romania and the UK. After this, the focus shifted to the project with Simin Tander and the album What Was Said with world-wide touring in 2016 and 2017, with synth-bass and drones instead of traditional double bass.

Still, what we had started with Sigurd kept maturing under the surface, and when we took up trio playing in 2017 the interplay was already there, and has developed further into a musical relationship that I really cherish. Sigurd brings the right kind of musical patience and wisdom – and stable, yet inventive playing. And he has very special arco skills – that is, playing with the bow on the double bass with various techniques. And this adds new textures and also percussive elements to the soundscape.

LJN: Your own playing on The Other Side sounds to me not only like a further honing of your style, but also – in seeming contradiction – a broadening of it. Is that a fair hearing? Are there new influences that you feel you are bringing to your compositions and improvisations?

TG: I really appreciate you seeing it like this. In a way, there is nothing ‘new’ on The Other Side from my side as compared to what I have been doing with the quartet, with Simin Tander, and in my solo concerts the last couple of years. But then, if you compare it to the earlier trio albums, there is a substantial development.

I like the term "broadening" – it is not so much about linear development and leaving something behind, it is about including new ideas, stretching out, and returning to your main "themes" or musical "message" in ever new ways. I play more "orchestrally" on some tunes now, I play more abstractly on some tunes, I play even more reduced on some tunes, but there are also more dynamics. And still a basic contemplative approach. And I use some electronics and deep-end sounds (the album deserves to be listened to on good speakers and with the volume turned up to really hear the deep-end qualities and the textures produced by electronics on some tunes).

All this has been gradually growing in my playing during the 11 years since the last trio album, especially during the last five years. The influences come from many sources – for example from listening to electronic music, from playing Bach with a choir and a Norwegian fiddle player (!), from playing with Iranian musicians – and fundamentally from listening closely to classical piano players and being inspired by their touch and the way they shape timbre-colours.

LJN: You have included in the album your arrangements of other composers. Tell me about them and why you chose them.

TG: Hymns and chorales have always been an important part of my musical "self" – as a listener, as a non-dogmatic liberal church-goer, and as a performer. But they did not make their way into the albums under my name until What Was Said in 2016 (except for the one track Eg veit i himmerik ei borg on Extended Circle from 2014). It feels very natural now to combine original compositions and folk tunes and even the Bach chorales – it did not before… I guess we had to arrive at a point where we just played with it, and did not try too hard… and, concerning Bach, to a point where the respect for the great master turned into gratitude and freedom rather than anxiety and doubts as to what is "allowed". Of course, one can not "improve" Bach – his compositions are so complete and perfect. So, we had to arrive at a point where we could steal and borrow in the most unforced way and simply treat these amazingly good songs as just that; good songs to approach with a here-and-now attitude as jazz musicians approach their "standards".

Then, the hymns and chorales we play are also really important to me as texts, although we do instrumental versions. I often think of the lyrics when performing them – in a way we indirectly interpret or comment on the message of the texts. The Bach chorales are important in this way: O, Traurigkeit is a lament – expressing deep sorrow and longing for release. Jesu, meine Freude is about deep joy, the joy that lies under our ups and downs and embraces both suffering and celebration. And Schlafes Bruder is actually a song about welcoming death – but here our interpretation is more paradoxical. Jarle started playing a really uplifting groove during a rehearsal, and I just felt that this theme could perhaps fit, although quite far from how it’s usually played… and all of a sudden we were indirectly interpreting the chorale as being about release in resurrection – about new life on The Other Side (sic.) of suffering, or moving towards the light…

LJN: You have described in a previous interview with me the idea that “a concert is a meditation”. Can you expand on that idea? And also, how does a recording differ from a concert – how does a listening audience in the room, or the absence of one, affect your performance?

TG: Both an album and a concert to me can have a structure almost like Prelude (opening up, purifying our minds and getting rid of distractions etc.); Kyrie (confession / openness / transparency / willingness to surrender); Gloria (celebration / deep joy); Agnus Dei (contemplation on the divine presence or the "sacred" incarnated in us here and now, whether or not one uses a word like God); Communion (companionship, shared presence); Sanctus (release and gratitude); Interludes (small spaces to take a breath); and Postlude (ending and re-affirmation). This parallell between mass and concert means a lot to me, although I don’t follow it in any strict way in normal concerts. Furthermore, playing itself equals meditating or praying to me – opening up, being vulnerable, stretching your mind outwards and observing the innermost vibrations at the same time, sometimes receiving gifts of insight, breathing deeply.

As for the audience, the most beautiful thing is when you can feel that they take part in all this – that we are on the journey together. But I can never be an entertainer – I will never be able to play for the audience first and foremost. I have to play for myself first and try to make the music I would have liked to listen to myself, and then expand the circle to include the audience and experience them. The other way round would not have worked for me. (pp)

The Tord Gustavsen Trio's The Other Side is now out on ECM.

Tour dates

26 October: The Tower Digital Arts Centre, Helensburgh
27 October: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
28 October: Triskel ECM Weekend, Guinness Cork Jazz Festival
29 October: The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
30 October: St. George’s, Bristol Keyboard Festival
31 October: Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
1 November: Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
2 November: Turner Sims, Southampton
3 November: Lakeside Arts, Nottingham
16 November: Cadogan Hall, EFG London Jazz Festival

LINK: Tord Gustavsen Trio's website

ECM website


REVIEW: Julian Joseph's Tristan and Isolde at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Tristan and Isolde
Photo credit: BBC/Mark Allan

Julian Joseph's Tristan and Isolde
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, 6 October 2018. Review by Dominic Williams)

Tristan and Isolde (or Iseult) is an early medieval Celtic story in which Isolde, travelling from Ireland to Brittany to marry King Mark, falls in love with Tristan, her escort. There are sub-plots concerning a love potion; Tristan’s involvement in the killing of Isolde’s brother; and a treacherous page who betrays them to King Mark’s men. Richard Wagner wrote his operatic version in the 1860s using unresolved chord sequences to suggest unsatisfied sexual longing which was only resolved in the end by Isolde’s death (la mort and la petite mort, as the French would say). The opera was panned initially by Leipzig's Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung as “the glorification of sensual pleasure, tricked out with every titillating device" (all those heaving Wagnerian bosoms, presumably...).

Here, Julian Joseph and his librettist, Michael Philips, update the action to contemporary Transylvania, ditching the page and the potions from the plot. Following a presentation as a work in progress in 2013, [REVIEWED], they also removed most of the Wagnerian chords, sensibly enough, since this libretto is mainly about multiculturalism not sexual frustration. The result musically has diverse influences and is as much Ellingtonian as Wagnerian.

This was a hugely ambitious enterprise featuring, from back to front of the stage, the BBC Singers, the BBC Concert Orchestra (plus members of the Julian Joseph All Star Big Band), the five main singers and the Julian Joseph piano trio (Mark Hodgson bass and Jerry Brown drums).

With a running time well beyond an hour, of mainly scored music, that’s a lot of writing. So, while the musical action swung from full string sections to the jazz trio with every combination in between, it is not surprising that the trio and jazz improvisations came out more in the second act. There were some motifs to chime with the story telling – an Eastern flavour here, Dixieland brass there – and the brass section switched seamlessly from classical to jazz and back, with solos for saxophone and trumpet. The narrative was slightly held up by bass and drum solos as well but these were good enough that nobody minded at all. The trio and orchestra were not quite seamlessly integrated; Clark Rundell, the orchestral conductor, and Julian Joseph were sometimes both directing at the same time, which caused the occasional glitch but more rehearsal time would solve that.

Structurally, the piece was divided up into clearly marked song sections, with pauses in between, and no spoken lines or recitativo. However, there was relatively little repetitive melody in the shape of songs. In operatic terms, they were not arias. There were probably only two tunes to hum on the way home, both of which emerged late in the first act and were reprised towards the end – and very beautiful they were, too. Some of the other sections also stuck in the memory, though, such as Tristan’s evocation of the delights of Transylvania.

The singers had a stiff technical challenge, with long passages to sight read and a libretto packed with words needing careful enunciation – like “Krakow” and “perambulator”, quite apart from the need to sing well. They were fantastic. Carleen Anderson as Isolde displayed a range from Tina Turner growl to full operatic mezzo. Ken Papenfus as Tristan is a clear-toned tenor who could be a great jazz voice if he were not busy elsewhere. In the lesser roles, Cleveland Watkiss (Vasile) had a scene-stealing improvisation on the word “Cuckoo” that was a highlight of the show; Christine Tobin (Iuliana/Brigid) has a talent for acting and let loose with a scat solo, while Renato Paris (Marko) was entirely believable as a bombastic gangster boss.

Julian Joseph
Photo credit BBC/Mark Allan
Big artistic endeavours like this do not always lend themselves to instant judgment and usually reward further listening. The Wagner opera took years to be fully appreciated, after all, so I hope we get the chance to hear this many times again. What I can say is that we, the audience, sat absolutely engrossed through the whole performance and cheered loudly at the end, which is a good start for any new work.

It was not a flawless performance and if you are the kind of person who keeps your 12” vinyls in alphabetical order in a climate controlled cabinet, this concert probably wasn’t for you. Jazz and perfectionism do not often go together and some people might worry the work is too stylistically varied, needs pruning in parts and runs out of steam slightly towards the end – but you equally could say that about the Bible or indeed Escalator Over The Hill, both of which have stood the test of time. I would not let it spoil my enjoyment.


CD REVIEW: Tal Arditi – Portrait – Live at “A Trane", Berlin

Tal Arditi - Portrait - Live at “A Trane", Berlin
(Ancor Records. CD review by Rob Mallows.)

If you love the sound of jazz guitar, this album from young Israeli fretboard wizard Tal Arditi offers up track after track of it. Well-crafted and infused with the influences of playing the Berlin jazz scene for a number of years, it is a fine album, if lacking in anything outstandingly original in terms of tone or approach.

Tal Arditi is a new name to this reviewer. Born in 1998, he moved from university in Israel straight to Berlin, where he started playing gigs and festivals regularly and winning prizes, leading up to this point, his debut album Portrait. Recorded with Tobias Backhaus on drums and Andreas Lang on double bass, over eight tracks Arditi demonstrates he’s certainly an important new voice in European guitar jazz, even if that voice still has some maturing to do to become distinctive and mark it out from the myriad other guitar maestros plying their trade.

But for a debut, it’s strong and offers some positive moments. Opening track One Step Behind is ambitious – 11 minutes – and opens with a gentle plucked riff that starts to build with the rhythm and bass and as the tune progresses, like a pot coming to the boil, the melody – while simple in structure – is spun and woven by Arditi very well, so that the central spine of the track is always there, but the flourishes work in and out well to create a medium-paced, sprightly opener. His sound is not particularly reminiscent of any particular player – and that’s actually no bad thing – but having said that, there’s also not really a clearly recognisable Arditi sound yet.

Second track Berlin Vibe sounds like a cut borne of many nights playing tiny clubs around this great European capital and jazz hothouse. It opens rather maudlin, and stays mid-paced – it never really ‘breaks out’ as such – but some of the chord voicings are rather right angled and unusual in this context, and provide some heft to what is a quite light track. On third track, Sassari, the tempo rises a little, and the tone from the guitar is a little fruitier, but it is essentially more of the same.

Fourth track, Waltz No. 1, has the strongest bass showing from Lang, a solo one minute 20 seconds in which has lovely sweeps up and down the fingerboard and some low punch, over which Arditi picks out momentarily the opening chord motif from the James Bond movies, giving it a touch of the Cold War sensibilities. Sixth track My Dream is ballad-ish to start, with stop-start rhythms from Backhaus which aren’t over complicated, but serve to bring the track up a little and really catch the ear.

The best track is the last, a live cut, Circles, which starts of with fast-paced drums signalling intent, and lovely arpeggiated chords in the high register, it is well-rounded (see what I did there?) and technically tough, indicating that Arditi, for one so young, already has at his disposal every sort of jazz guitar chop he will need to succeed in a crowded market.

That said, overall, the album is maybe let down a little by its lack of distinctiveness – and perhaps that’s forgivable; it’s a debut after all. There’s certainly oodles of promise in Arditi’s playing, but making the shift from jazz guitarist to notable jazz star will likely require a step up in composition and overall sound. Perhaps that will come with album number two.