CD REVIEW: Zara McFarlane - Arise



Zara McFarlane - Arise
(Brownswood BWOOD0162CD. CD Review by Peter Jones)


With this new album, her third, singer-composer Zara McFarlane approaches the portals of greatness. She has honed a very individual style from the musical materials she has been surrounded by: first of all, the strong Caribbean influence - essentially reggae – that she absorbed from her parents; second, her subsequent immersion in a vibrant and diverse London jazz scene; and third, her recent researches into her Jamaican heritage, pre-reggae, all the way back to its cultural and religious roots in Africa.

More important, McFarlane has the ability to write songs of great maturity, subtlety and power which are also maddeningly catchy – particularly Fussin’ and Fightin’ and the brilliantly oxymoronic Freedom Chain. Her light, sweet, effortless voice is what first brought her to the attention of the UK music industry. Here on Arise, she has multi-layered these vocals to stunning effect. And speaking of oxymorons, the overall mood is simultaneously calm but troubled and moody, a gathering storm that never completely breaks.

Friends and fellow alumni of Tomorrow’s Warriors provide admirable support: principally drummer and producer Moses Boyd, bassist Max Luthert, pianist Peter Edwards, tenorman Binker Golding and trombonist Nathaniel Cross. And Shabaka Hutchings makes a guest appearance on bass clarinet on the tracks Pride and Silhouette, contributing a langorous, melancholy solo to the latter. Elsewhere McFarlane is content to rely on almost no one but herself, as on Allies or Enemies, where she is backed by nothing more than a simple acoustic guitar and a bit of percussion. All the vocal arrangements, and some of the horn arrangements, are her own.

The two non-original songs on the album both come from 1970s reggae: Nora Dean’s Peace Begins Within, and Fisherman, by vocal group The Congos. The album is bookended by McFarlane’s wordless African chants Ode to Kumina and Ode to Cyril.

Zara McFarlane appears at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green on 15 November as part of the London Jazz festival, with dates around Europe before and after.

Link: Interview with Zara McFarlane

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Philip Clouts Quartet (UK tour dates 5 Oct - 30 Nov)

The Philip Clouts Quartet
L-R: Dave Ingamells, Alex Keen, Philip Clouts, Samuel Eagles


Pianist PHILIP CLOUTS celebrates his quartet’s tenth anniversary with a 13-date tour from October 5 that begins and ends with London gigs. Rob Adams asked Clouts for the lowdown on the group and its music:

Rob Adams: How did you come to form the quartet?

Philip Clouts: Well, if we go right back to the first few years of the millennium, my main band at the time was 7-piece worldbeat jazz outfit Zubop. Zubop started to collaborate with Gambian master musicians Juldeh Camara and Njega Sohna, so the band was expanding to a 9-piece. At this time I was doing some writing and performing in a trio context as a contrastingly more intimate project, with Sean Randle from Zubop on drums, and Alex Keen on bass. After releasing a trio album, Direction South, I felt that even in this smaller outfit I was interested to add another voice, and at the time I was doing some work with saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real from the F-IRE Collective. We had many inspiring chats about playing and composition along the way, so I was really happy when Carlos agreed to join, forming the Quartet.

RA: How would you say the quartet has developed over the past ten years?

PC:Firstly just in terms of personnel the quartet has given me the opportunity to work with many amazing musicians. Alex Keen on the bass is someone who I have worked with through most of my musical career and I love his sound-he has been in all incarnations of the band. Sean moved to Ireland before we recorded our debut CD Sennen Cove, so it features Paul Cavaciuti on drums who brought a very dynamic approach to the rhythm section. Our second CD The Hour of Pearl has Jon Desbruslais in the drum chair, another great player, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the different sorts of grooves I like to cover in my compositions. Then in our current line up we have David Ingamells who played on the most recent album Umoya - he’s got phenomenal technique and can go from total sensitivity to powerhouse in an instant.

Carlos had to leave the band three years ago due to increased teaching commitments on a new course he was developing at the Guildhall. Samuel Eagles stepped in and it is great to have his input on the new material. His sense of phrasing is unique, and apart from being a great jazz player he also brings his experience of playing Afrobeat on the London scene.

Musically I’d say there has always been a strong Afro-Latin thread running through my compositions, and over the years that has extended to more Middle Eastern and European folk influences as well. I’m writing some new material at the moment that we’ll be premiering on the tour, including a piece that is a different take on the blues, maybe more of a ‘desert blues’.

RA: Are there any achievements that stand out for you?

PC:It was great to play as part of the Wigmore Hall Lates series, and we’ve had a great reception at the Marsden Jazz Festival both times we’ve played there. After our first album came out we were selected by Jazz Services to be one of the first two bands on their Rural Touring Scheme, which got us travelling to a wide variety of places. I’m really happy we are currently with the Odradek record label, they have expanded from being classical specialists and we were one of the first on their jazz imprint.

RA: Is there anything you are looking forward to particularly on the forthcoming tour?

PC: One of the venues on our debut tour in 2007 was Grimsby Jazz Club and I am delighted that we‘ll be playing there as part of this one. I like the way the tour is bookended by two London dates, starting at Karamel in North London, and ending in West London at Inventions and Dimensions at the Ram Jam Club. We’ll be playing at some of our favourite venues from the past ten years like Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre and Bridport Arts Centre; and taking in a few that are new to us like the Lescar in Sheffield and the Catstrand Arts Centre in New Galloway.

RA: What can audiences expect to hear?

PC:One of the new pieces we’ll be playing is called Praya Dubia-it is named after a fascinating deep sea creature, it is about forty metres long, has a blue glow and is made up of a colony of single celled organisms that each have specific functions. Another new one I mentioned earlier is Biram Blues -a biram is a five-stringed harp used by the Boudouma people of Eastern Niger. We’ll also be playing some pieces from our latest CD Umoya which spans a range of inspirations from Moroccan Gnawa music to Italian tarantella.

RA: What would you like them to take away from a Philip Clouts Quartet gig (aside from all the CDs you’re carting around)?

PC: Someone recently told me they found my music life-affirming, so I hope that the quartet’s melodic groove-oriented approach will have that effect on the people who come to hear us.

Rob Adams has been assisting with the preparation of this tour.

TOUR DATES

Thur 5 Oct LONDON Karamel, Wood Green
www.karamelrestaurant.com 020 8829 8989
8pm £10/8 adv

Wed 18 Oct GRIMSBY Jazz Club
www.grimsbyjazz.com  01472 873730
8.30pm £14/12

Thur 19 Oct DARWEN Number 39
www.number39.darwenmusic.org.uk
9pm free admission

Fri 20 Oct LINCOLN Zing Café (5pm)
www.lpac.co.uk 01522 837600
5pm free admission

Wed 25 Oct SHEFFIELD Lescar
www.jazzatthelescar.com 07740 201939
  8.45pm £7

Thur 26 Oct DAVENHAM Players Theatre
www.davenhamplayers.co.uk 01606 74502
8pm £10

Fri 27 Oct NEW GALLOWAY Catstrand
www.catstrand.com 01644 420374

Sat 28 Oct EYEMOUTH Hippodrome
www.eyemouthhippodrome.org 01890 750099
8pm £12.50/10.50

Sun 29 Oct GLASGOW Sounds in the Suburbs (2pm) www.facebook.com/soundsin.thesuburbs 07944 354459
2pm £12

Mon 30 Oct EDINBURGH Traverse Theatre
www.traverse.co.uk 0131 228 1404
8pm £11

Thur 9 Nov BRISTOL Future Inn
www.jazzatfutureinn.co.uk 0845 094 5588
£7/5 students

Fri 10 Nov BRIDPORT Arts Centre
www.bridport-arts.com 01308 424204
8pm £10

Thur 30 Nov LONDON Ram Jam Club, Kingston
www.grey-horse.co.uk 020 8617 9860
8.30pm £10/8/5
 

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REVIEW: Soweto Kinch at Rich Mix

Soweto Kinch


Soweto Kinch
(Rich Mix, Shoreditch. 22 September 2017. Review by Leah Williams)


Soweto Kinch is pretty much a household name these days, but that doesn’t mean he’s resting on his laurels. The multiple award-winning saxophonist, MC and composer spans genres and generations, with innovation and passion as the only fixed parameters in his music. And yet his roots are firmly grounded in jazz, and the influence of this is clear to hear. Last night’s gig was no exception and, if ever there was proof that jazz music really isn’t dying out, it was in the sea of fully engaged, enthusiastic faces at Shoreditch’s hip Rich Mix venue.

Apparently, Kinch used to do a Sunday residency at the venue, and he opened by saying what a special and intimate space he found it to be. Going on to introduce music from his new album, Nonogram, as “audio healing”, he joked that it could perhaps “send some people to sleep”. There were certainly no sleepy faces in the audience last night, with everyone kept on their rhythmic toes as strong melodic themes were interwoven and exchanged with more frenetic and virtuosic wanderings. There were few full gaps between pieces, resulting in a seamlessly woven tapestry of complementary sounds and beats.

The atmosphere was pleasantly relaxed and Kinch’s casual use of on-stage gadgets to add extra rich layers of digital sound to the live music felt both natural and innovative. Close your eyes and you would have been forgiven for thinking there were far more than just the three musicians up on stage. As it was, both Nick Jurd on bass and Will Glaser on drums were seriously excellent additions, with the synergy between all three musicians and the digital sounds creating an electric vibe.

With support from talented friends Kingpin and Jonzi D, there was much love and laughter shared generously, along with a serious amount of audience participation! Fantastic MCs all three, the night ended with a bit of freestyle based on words thrown out by the audience – a particular favourite most definitely being “marshmallow”, a challenge that was deftly risen to.

Alongside this, there was a fearless delving into the subjects of current politics and affairs, which was effective without being overwhelming. As he placed his sax to one side and took to the mic, Kinch asked: “What’s it all for?” in his track Four Caste, with everyone echoing his sentiments both in spirit and quite literally as he got the crowd dancing and singing along with his infectious enthusiasm. Other particularly reverberating songs to look out for on the new album include Mitosis and Soul Bearings.

A fantastic gig that only further solidifies Kinch’s genius as a multi-faceted and engaged musician.

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CD REVIEW: Marius Neset Circle of Chimes



Marius Neset Circle of Chimes
(ACT 9038-2. CD review by Jon Turney)


Since he signed for ACT a few years back, it’s become clear that Marius Neset’s ambitions extend well beyond being Europe’s most exciting young saxophonist. His first release for the label, 2014’s Lion, featured lengthy new scores for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Last year’s Snowmelt, an acclaimed collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, presented another Neset-composed suite for large ensemble. This latest offering, Circle of Chimes, again sees Neset the composer pushing into new areas, drawing on jazz but blending in many other styles and genres.

It features the same personnel as the marvellous, more conventionally jazzy Pinball from 2015, where he shared the writing with long-time colleague drummer Anton Eger. As there, his regular touring quintet is augmented by Ingrid Neset’s flutes and Andreas Brantelid’s cello, and this time Lionel Loueke joins them on guitar, as he did at the 2016 New Year concert in Cologne where these pieces were first aired.

The session was recorded a few days later in Copenhagen. The results are…. mixed. There are many things to like here. The opener, Satellite, beguiles with the titular chimes, and Brantelid’s haunting cello lines. Prague’s Ballet features Neset at his most lyrical on soprano sax, chamber-style. There are plenty of other arresting moments. Neset is the most powerful player throughout, but Ivo Neame on piano contributes brilliantly, too.

For me, though, this collection doesn’t quite hang together. Swerves of mood and style make for a rather disjointed whole. Moments to savour are interspersed with orchestral passages that amplify Neset’s characteristic, bustling urgency to a point where it feels, at times, hectoring. Loueke’s contributions, unusually for him, don’t always sound entirely comfortable, and he takes up space that might have been exploited by band regular Jim Hart on vibes, who has less to do than usual.

All in all, the set reaffirms the leader’s increasingly impressive powers, as player and composer, but feels like a documentation of pieces that might have settled better if they had been performed more than once before ushering the band into a studio. The credits feature Neset as composer, arranger and producer - as well as his indispensable contributions as the most distinctive soloist. Eger is named as co-producer here, but I wonder whether ACT might serve their young star better by arranging for him to work with a producer outside the band on projects as complex and wide-ranging as this one. But it’ll have to be someone who can help shape the outpourings of one who is such a powerful creative force in European music, whether he’s channeling Zawinul or Zappa.

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

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NEWS: Berlin Jazz Festival full programme announced (31 Oct - 5 Nov)

Tyshawn Sorey - the Festival's first ever Artist-in-Residence
Photo credit: Camille Blake 


The full programme has been announced for this year's Berlin Jazz Festival. This year's is the fifty-fourth festival and the third under the highly successful Artistic Directorship of Richard Williams. Nadin Deventer will be Artistic Director from next year.

Quoting todays press release: "The connection from the Berlin music scene to the USA and to London is one theme of the third and final festival edition of the artistic director, the British writer Richard Williams. The American drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey is the festival's first ever artist-in-residence and will appear in four combinations, including a performance with 20 Berlin musicians on the closing night. Other guests from the USA include Dr. Lonnie Smith, Nels Cline with his Lovers project, Ambrose Akinmusire, Heroes Are Gang Leaders, Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone and John Beasley's MONK'estra. The “Berlin-London conversations” at A-Trane and the concerts with Shabaka and the Ancestors, Mônica Vasconcelos, Kit Downes and Empirical bring the London music scene to Berlin." 

JAZZFEST BERLIN 2017 FULL PROGRAMME

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CD REVIEW: Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals



Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals
ECM 576 725. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Of all the musicians who have emerged from the creative New York scene of the 1980s (also known as the Downtown scene, a term disliked by the musicians) I find Tim Berne to be the musician, composer and band leader that has contributed the most to contemporary jazz. Tim has led groups that play totally freely, e.g. Paraphrase, but it is with the groups, e.g. Caos Totale, Bloodcount and his current group Snakeoil, for which he writes extensive, interweaving compositions in which the movement between structure and improvisation is seamless, that he is at his most original and visceral.

Incidentals is the fourth album that Snakeoil has made for ECM Records. In this and the previous album You’ve Been Watching Me the original quartet of Tim on alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums, vibes and other percussion has been joined by guitarist Ryan Ferreira. The addition of guitar has significantly broadened the dynamic range of the group; Ferreira comes in with striking bursts of electric guitar, and this seems to have liberated Smith to create exciting explosions of sound on drums, tympani and vibes. The contrast between the lines created by the two horns and what the guitar, percussion and piano are doing behind and over them is one of the delights of this album. It is a contrast that means that there is always a strong rhythmic impulse but one that does not take anything away from the edginess of the music.

There are five tracks, four composed by Berne and one co-written with Mitchell. I’ll focus on the third track, Sideshow, at 26.01 mins by far the longest track on the album, as it contains most of the features that give the band its character. It moves through various fairly clearly delineated sections and through quite distinct moods. Often a particular section will focus initially on one member of the band and then gradually build up the intensity and energy through the gradual entry of other members. There is also a movement between the more intense sections and those that are more contemplative.

The track begins with a fairly long piano introduction which leads into an ensemble passage with complex lines that flow and take occasional sharp turns. The ensemble lines become more rhythmic and Smith's percussion adds to the strong groove. The piano then takes up the theme with the horns adding a punchy rhythmic accompaniment. This is gradually taken down, leading into a much gentler passage with Noriega dominant on clarinet. The energy gradually builds up again with Tim coming in on alto sax leading into a mellow passage with the horns dominant which winds down with a strong interjection from Smith on the cymbals.

We then go into possibly the most exciting passage of the track with Ferreira initially dominant with ambient sounds on guitar, which leads into a more intense section with jagged guitar, plus piano and percussion before the horns return with a fairly gentle, rather melancholy line behind which the percussion and guitar build up to a climax with Smith very strong on tympani. The track gradually winds down with David Torn, the album producer, having the final say on guitar.

Of the five Snakeoil albums, four on ECM and one on Tim’s own Screwgun label, this is the one that is probably the most varied and happening. But they are all amazing.

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INTERVIEW: Francesco Tristano - Piano Circle Songs (UK premiere RFH on 20 Sept)

Francesco Tristano
Photo credit: Marie Staggsr
Luxembourg-born musician FRANCESCO TRISTANO's new album Piano Circle Songs marks a return to piano music, after his recent work in techno. The CD features collaborations with Chilly Gonzales. Ahead of the album's UK premiere performance at the Royal Festival Hall, he spoke by phone from Berlin to AJ Dehany about the “enhanced piano experience” he will be offering:

“I try not to repeat myself." says Francesco Tristano. "My last few records were mostly dance floor friendly techno productions because that was what I was into. I don't think I could have done this album the same way if I hadn't done those records.”

Francesco Tristano’s new album Piano Circle Songs on Sony Classical recalls the deceptively sophisticated folk naïve of Michael Nyman’s soundtrack to The Piano and the chiming sound world of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, which it echoes in its acoustic spaciousness and subtle electronic texturing.

“I had an urge to go back to basics, which really meant to spend time with myself and my piano, and not think of the 20 synthesizers that I have in my studio, and five drum machines and six sequencers and eight FX racks. I felt like I was willing to get out of this comfort zone which is to have as many sound sources as possible and to really concentrate only on one source which is the piano.”

The piano is close-miked, giving a bell-like immediacy to the sound. Francesco says “I didn't want to project the sound of this album to the listener, I wanted to bring the listener inside the piano, to give the impression you're surrounded by this massive instrument.”

It’s a remarkable step for a classically trained pianist who has recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Berio’s complete piano works, and can romp confidently through repertoire from Bach’s Partitas to Ravel’s Piano Concerto.

I ask him if the ‘naïve’ sense of Piano Circle Songs relates to his parenting experience—his children are five and two. “That’s one part,” he says. “The other is that my primary impulse has always been rhythm, percussion, beats, groove. That’s my comfort zone, so I needed to step out of that, to write music that is melodic and harmonic and that eventually my kids could sing. And they do. When I was working on a melody I was playing it over and over and when I realized the kids were picking up on it I said ‘Yeah, I'm going to keep that’.”

Piano Circle Songs has a surface simplicity such that you can imagine playing it yourself. The album opens with Circle Song a beautifully memorable and melodic folk-inflected tune. Second track This Too Shall Go goes further in dunking the melody in disarming dissonances. “I think [Ryuichi] Sakamoto said the great melody is something you think you know when you hear it but as soon as you think ‘I've heard this before’ it throws you off. I wanted to write music that is accessible, that people can sing or whistle but then there is always some kind of disturbing element that throws you off course. It could be just one chord, one sound, or one harmony, one note that makes you feel maybe this is not something I knew.”

I mention a comment by the artist Paul Klee: “Genius is an error in the system.” Islamic artists deliberately build a flaw into their patterning to break up the perfection that only God may possess. It’s the humanising kink. It’s Leonard Cohen’s "There’s a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in." Francesco leavens the melodic lyricism with dissonances to keep things interesting. “If you're gonna be 100% lean and melodic and kind of pretty there is nothing to compare it against, but if you have one chord which is really dark and threatening or kind of 'off', then the melody can take its meaning and depth from this chord which is the opposite. It’s a balancing game.”

He explains his obsession with circles on this album. “The circle is a kind of a perfect form and yet it’s got a very disturbing element which is the number Pi. Pi is the wrong note in perfection. It’s the wrong note in the perfect melody when all of a sudden you hear a sound that’s really throwing you off. We cannot capture Pi. Pi is... it’s a trip.” The album nerdishly abounds with threes and twos and circles, from the three different iterations of Circle Song to Monologue for Two and Third Haiku, inspired by the mixture of rigour and atmosphere in Japanese micropoetry. “Haiku is this kind of non-poetry which has a very nice formal aspect but also this mysterious minimalism. How can you say something without saying anything?”

Piano Circle Songs bears similarities to another brilliant crossover pianist’s most recent album, Tigran Hamsyan’s An Ancient Observer, which similarly works with a scrupulously reduced compositional palette to release not so much a timeless quality as an ancient ritual sense. Francesco himself has commented before that “ancient music is like techno.” He expands, “There’s something about the ritualistic quality of music. Music as a ritual, as a kind of a procedure which transforms you and enriches you. That’s quite different from virtuoso entertainment. In old music there was a universal quality which was also a rhythmic quality and me being a techno kat I find parallels. I think they are connected.

“The ritual notion of the circle works on many levels. Of course every day of your life is gonna be some kind of cycle, and it’s always the same but it’s never quite the same. Kids are really a trip. They change mood in half a second and then you think ‘Oh, now they are in this mood’ but then next thing you know they've changed their mood again. Their circles go much faster, they go at an incredible speed. It’s as if you live the four seasons in one day. But they're not four seasons, they're like 400 seasons. And yet in the evening when they fall asleep, that’s it, it’s the end of the circle.”

Piano Circle Songs features Canadian producer and songwriter Chilly Gonzales on four of the tracks. The collaboration came at a crucial point in Francesco’s thinking. “I believe in the power of timing. Things rarely happen if you try to force them. We got in touch about a year ago. We were re-tweeting and stuff, and at some point I thought ‘Wouldn't it be fun to do something’. He said ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ Then we had to figure out how we were going to collaborate. We thought the best thing was to prepare some music individually and meet in the studio to enrich each other’s music with our own touch.”




The album closes with a mysterious Third Haiku - with no first or second. “Yeah, that’s a funny one. That’s got quite extreme processing. We went through a tape machine and de-pitched it. It didn't sound at all like the way it sounds now.”

Monologue For Two presents another zen-like problem: how can a monologue be for two? “I liked the idea of the paradox, that’s very cool. It’s also because Chilly, as you might know, is one funny motherfucker— pardon my French. He wrote Tryst for me, a tryst being a short love affair and also playing with my name. Then I said ‘You know, I'm gonna write a monologue for us’. The score for that is very open. There’s lots of improvisation. We wanted to make the two pianos sound as if it was just one. We played at opposite ends of the room. The aim of the sound design was to capture the mids in the middle and the extremes on the right and left so you have a very engrossing sound experience and you hear noises you're not supposed to hear.”

Francesco is currently solo touring Piano Circle Songs, playing London’s Royal Festival Hall on 20 September. I saw him there seven years ago during the London Jazz Festival when he was collaborating with electronic artist Murcof. “I learned a lot with Murcof because he is such a sound wizard. I wanna bring this to Piano Circle Songs and make it an enhanced piano experience. With this tour I’m hoping to kind of possess these tunes like they are my breathing. I'm quite excited. I am naked. I am outside my comfort zone. My wish is to develop these pieces, to expand them. The album is just a first step.”

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

Francesco Tristano performs Piano Circle Songs at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank on 20 September. The album is released on Sony Classical.

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Mike Gibbs (Big Band - 80th Birthday Celebration English tour, 24-29 Sept)

Mike Gibbs
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Composer and arranger MIKE GIBBS turns 80 on Monday 25 September. He will be conducting his UK big band at the Vortex that night, the second date of six across England. Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon asked him a few questions by email.

LondonJazz News: The South African author/painter Breyten Breytenbach once said that because one’s first sensual experiences of the world (sights/sounds/smells) are imprinted in the early years of childhood, living in a different climate/landscape from one’s country of origin always makes one feel, to an extent, like a stranger in a strange land. He was talking as an exile, but I think it might also act as a creative impulse… Does this idea resonate with you at all?

Mike Gibbs: Yes, very much so. Having left Rhodesia in 1959, I later felt most ‘at home’ when I lived in New York - I felt as equally ‘other’  as everyone around me.

However, when in 1991, I visited Zimbabwe, and then later in early 2000s, I visited South Africa - the expanse of the horizon, the smells, the colour of the ground - the lack of lush green - the flat top trees, the food - really got to me - to the point that I (briefly) contemplated returning to Africa when it came time to die... so at home did it feel.

LJN: Your time living in Africa is a long way back now, but are you aware of any influences from that time and place in your music?

MG: No, and regretfully so. From my mid-teens, I had already discovered jazz, American jazz, and immersed myself in it to the point that I paid no more attention to the african music around me. It was later while I was at Berklee in Boston, I realised, sadly, what I’d missed out on. When I heard Chris McGregor in London in early ’70s, I realised that all the more - having missed out what I’d been in the midst of. I do though respond with a sort of natural basic-ness when I hear African music to this day - and at least treasure that.

LJN: I’m assuming bringing a rock beat and influences into orchestral jazz came naturally - was it a conscious move at the time?

MG: No, not that conscious - Gary Burton had stopped over in UK around 1965 - we always got together in those days to discuss music for his frequent recording dates - and he brought over a portable record player, and some Beatles music. Although I was aware of The Beatles, Gary’s delight and obvious desire to have some of that in what I wrote for him pointed in the direction of the rhythm grooves - and so I started to incorporate them into the pieces I wrote. These pieces then later became the foundation of the music I played in my bands. Although I did love the freshness of the “rock scene” - I did feel a little constrained in figuring out how to now use rhythm patterns that were very repetitive, where I was more comfortable with intrinsically interactive and constantly varying playing especially from drums - but this was hardly a problem - more new territory to explore - and we did have fun with it.

LJN: And the other influences upon your music, musical or otherwise - where do you find your inspiration?

MG: Most of ideas for pieces come to me from other musics - and the supply is endless. I’m never at a loss for things I’d like to write - though I do get stuck occasionally - but it’s just like a knot that needs loosening - so, I’ve found waiting a while always helps.

LJN: When working with a featured soloist - i’m thinking Bill Frisell or Gary Burton - how much do you take their musical character/style of playing into account when composing/arranging?

MG: Boyo! How would I measure that - there’s no way to avoid taking their personalities into account, and why would one want to…?

LJN: And so to the band for this tour - I get the impression your players mean a lot to you?

MG: Those I know - yes! Some are new faces to me - but their reputations precede them, and they - all, that is, as a group, sound wonderful - particularly, already having a collective personality - which we’re only beginning to define.

Mike Gibbs - the band's view
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
LJN: Do you like standing at the front with the baton? Or are you happier with manuscript paper and pencil? Or working with a band away from an audience?

MG: Writing at home, alone, is (often) such a lonely pursuit - I don’t always enjoy it - and find distractions to compensate. However, when I do find a way to develop an idea it’s always a real giant pleasure, and prompts wanting to tell someone - in the old days, that would have been Cilla, my wife - even if she didn’t understand the technicalities, she always gave me the support of the (mini) achievement.

LJN: Tell me about the pleasures of teaching - and working with student players…

MG: Teaching is so often a great way to learn - at one residency I had in Helsinki - at the Sibelius Academy, I vividly recall being astonished at some of the students’ ideas, and found myself writing them down for my own (later) edification. But it’s the pleasure of the interaction with newer, fresher minds - so often a lesson to me.

LJN: You’re doing a Birmingham date (a co-promotion between Jazzlines and Birmingham Jazz). Your links with Birmingham have proved fruitful - and lasting. What’s the attraction?

MG: Birmingham has always been so kind to me when it came to support, and giving me opportunities to play and write - mostly through Tony Dudley-Evans - and so it’s a like a second home. I’ve had so many gigs at the CBSO Centre - it is such a fabulous venue to play in. Then my short stint at the Conservatoire was also such a positive delight - Hans Koller has the ears I most like to be present when I play, as his responses are always deeper than I was aware.

The Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Big Band is:
Conductor: Mike Gibbs;
Trumpets: Ryan Quigley, Henry Lowther, Percy Pursglove, Nick Smart;
Trombones: Mark Bassey, Jeremy Price, Rory Ingham, Richard Henry (bass trombone);
Saxophones: Jason Yarde (alto/soprano), John O’Gallagher (alto), Julian Siegel (tenor/bass clarinet), Alex Garnett (tenor/baritone);
French horn & accordion: Jim Rattigan;
Piano: Hans Koller;
Guitar: Mike Walker;
Bass: Michael Janisch;
Drums: Andrew Bain;
Percussion: Paul Clarvis (some dates).

The tour dates are:

Sunday 24 Sept: Scarborough Jazz Festival
Monday 25 Sept: Vortex, London
Tuesday 26 Sept: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
Wednesday 27 Sept: Vortex, London
Thursday 28 Sept: CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Friday 29 Sept: Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton

LINK: Feature: Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Celebrations

2013 Podcast interview

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NEWS: Örjan Hultén’s Orion is first joint tour by West Midlands jazz promoters

Örjan Hultén's Orion
Publicity picture
They’re getting organised in the West Midlands. Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon reports.

Promoters in the counties around Birmingham have been in discussions for a while concerning how they might work together for the benefit of all. As a pilot project they have put together a tour and their guinea pigs are from Sweden.

Saxophonist Örjan Hultén is bringing his Orion quartet to the UK and doing a whistle-stop tour of small venues in Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Bromsgrove.

Hultén formed Orion in 2009, and the quartet has recorded three albums, the latest being 2016’s Fältrapport (Field Report).

The publicity material for the tour has this: “In his compositions Örjan Hultén moves effortlessly across boundaries and musical genres. Here and there Middle Eastern and Balkan traits can be heard while one can distinguish traces of Wayne Shorter or Joni Mitchell in other parts.”

The group, all bandleaders in their own right, comprises Örjan Hultén – soprano and tenor saxophone; Torbjörn Gulz – piano; Filip Augustson – bass and Peter Danemo - drums.

Jazz Network WM - modelled loosely on EmJazz in the East Midlands - stretches over five counties and comprises Birmingham Jazz based in the city’s Jewellery Quarter; The Artrix, Bromsgrove; Jazz Coventry; Kenilworth Jazz; Leam Jazz, Leamington Spa; Lichfield Jazz; Shrewsbury Jazz Network; Stratford Jazz; Wolverhampton Jazz; and Clun Valley Jazz, Craven Arms.

A Jazz Guide pamphlet for September and October gigs from all these promoters is now available.

Örjan Hultén’s Orion is playing the following Midland dates:

Friday 22 September - 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham7.45pm, for Birmingham Jazz
Thursday 28 September - The Albany Club, Coventry, 8pm, for Jazz Coventry
Saturday 30 September - Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 8pm, for Wolverhampton Jazz
Sunday 1 October - The Artrix, Bromsgrove, 8pm, for Artrix

Jazz Network WM is being led by Birmingham Jazz - call Phil Rose on 07887 526435 for more details.

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INTERVIEW: Julian Costello (new album Transitions launched 10 Oct at Pizza Express, and touring)

Julian Costello
Sketch by Alban Low
Saxophonist and composer JULIAN COSTELLO has a new album out, Transitions (33 Records), with Maciek Pysz on guitar, Yuri Goloubev on bass and Adam Teixeira on drums (Reviewed by Adrian Pallant for LondonJazz News). They're touring, too. Peter Bacon asks the questions.

LondonJazz News: You’re quite partial to having a guitarist in your quartet rather than piano. Do you prefer the sound? Or is it a practical move to get around needing a venue with a piano?

Julian Costello: It’s definitely a choice on my part to use a guitar in my quartet. I like the space a guitar provides both when accompanying and when soloing. It could be seen as hard, as when soloing there is only the bass playing the chords, but that's the point, there is freedom and space. Of course I love the piano as well, it's different. For this project I had the sound of Maciek Pysz's classical guitar in my head.

LJN: Your quartet is packed with characterful players. How did you meet Maciek, Yuri and Adam? What attracts you about their playing and what do you look for them to bring to the band?

JC: I think so too. I met Maciek in 2016 and we really got on. We played some gigs together and did a small tour. I love his sound, especially on the classical guitar and we both really like to jam and experiment with tunes. I was looking for a drummer and he mentioned Adam Teixeira. I absolutely love his playing. He is a drummer/percussionist who really knows how to support the band and gives a great sense of energy. He is a real listening and musical drummer and percussionist. Yuri Goloubev plays in Maciek's quartet and is a fantastic bass player who I think has a gorgeous sound. His improvisations are inspiring and full of musicality. We all get on very well as a group and I think the term characterful is a good one. I feel that when you ask other musicians to play your tunes you are also asking for their input. I want the musicians to bring their personality and their ideas to the compositions and interpret them in their own way.

LJN: Any specific transitions? Or transitions in general?

JC: Transitions because the first seven tracks on the album act as a segue, one long narrative of music. I tried to really think about how the tunes flow from one to another to create a contrast in moods, keys, time signatures and feels. I hope that when you listen you are embarking on a musical journey and that the album works as one whole listening experience. Also it has a personal resonance in my complicated family life. When some of my children go and stay with their mother (or return) we call the change over the transition. It's a time when feelings run high, people are missed and dynamics change.

LJN: It feels like there is good deal of freedom in the writing. Do you have a preferred method of composing? And how does new material happen?

JC: I think the tunes are quite open and there is a lot of room for collective improvisation and jamming. I like to write the riffs, chord changes and melodic ideas, and then leave the form to take shape as we play. Probably, like a lot of people, ideas sometimes really flow and other times my head is blank. Generally I find it easier to come up with the ideas than to write them down. Even using Sibelius it seems to take so long.

LJN: Tell us about wit and humour in music… is it as difficult as writing jokes?

JC: I can't write jokes or tell them really. Music is of course quite serious and I enjoy listening to music that has expression and is moving. But I also think it's important not to take yourself too seriously. Music can also be funny and when the audience laughs at a few points in a set it's good. I want to enjoy playing and not feel to precious about it. I hope people will find the tune Tongue In Cheek funny. Yuri certainly made me laugh in the studio.

LJN: You identified a favourite album in a previous LondonJazz interview: Garbarek, Gismonti and Haden playing Magico (ECM). Any funny music you’d recommend?

JC: I love You Live and Learn... Apparently by Django Bates. A brilliant and witty album that appeals to my sense of humour.

Julian Costello with Adam Teixeira.
Photo credit: Paul Ottavio

LJN: A track like Patience has an Italian feel to it… or perhaps I am imagining it because you recorded in Italy?

JC: That is a very perceptive question as I wrote that tune specifically to replace an Italian tune (Cinema Paradiso by Enrico Morricone) that we had been playing in our live set. They are in similiar keys and I began by taking the idea of the opening glissando and a play between the major and relative minor. I wanted other instruments to play some of the heads and I think it works, Yuri playing the tune arco and then pizzicato leading into an improvisation.

LJN: Iain Ballamy calls this “untypical music” - can you put your own modesty on hold for a minute and explain what you think he means by that?

JC: I have known Iain for a very long time and I love his saxophone playing a lot. He has a great sense of humour and wit. I was thrilled when he agreed to write the sleeve notes for the album.  He put a lot of effort into writing them and I really appreciate that, as he was experiencing some difficulties at the time. I think they are beautifully written. "Untypical"? I think he means it in a positive way.

LJN: You have near a dozen dates from early October to take this band on the road. Tell us about the charms of touring…

JC: Spending time with the other guys in the band, seeing the country and getting the chance to play".

LJN: Any unrealised ambitions?

JC: Seeing New York. Playing the accordion. Driving a Routemaster bus down Shaftesbury Avenue. Taking my football mad daughter to a CFC away match in The Champion's League. Being able to work out more than 95% of a cracking Seamus Blake sax solo. Playing with the band in Europe for some festivals. (pp)

The Julian Costello Quartet is touring Transitions from 6 October to 10 November, taking in Bradford, Newcastle, High Peak, London (Pizza Express Jazz Club for the album launch on 10 October), Bridport, Croydon, Barnes, Abergevenny, London again, Ferndown and Birmingham. 

LINK: Julian Costello's website


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PREVIEW: The Jazz Moment - jazz photography exhibition, Alan John Ainsworth/ John Watson (The Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street, EC1, 10 to 23 November)

James Carter at the Pancevo Jazz Festival, Serbia
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Jazz and photography - they go together like... well, a horse and carriage. Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon previews an exhibition by two of our finest jazz snappers.

“Jazz is a powerfully visual music, remarks Alan John Ainsworth. "Photographers like me are privileged to be able to capture the art of supremely talented musicians in the act of creation. The spontaneity and ‘in the moment’ nature of jazz chimes with the ‘decisive moment’ of the photographer. Jazz and photography were made for each other.”

And we can see the results in a London gallery in November when a joint exhibition by specialist music photographers Ainsworth and John Watson is to be staged during the EFG London Jazz Festival.

The exhibition, The Jazz Moment, at The Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street, EC1M 6EL (nearest Tube Farringdon) will feature 50 images of jazz legends and rising stars, and will run from Friday 10 November to Thursday 23 November.

The exhibition will be launched at a special invitation event on 10 November, the opening night of the festival, at The Gallery, in Clerkenwell. The launch event starts at 5:30 pm.

John Watson (a generous contributor to this site) has contributed to UK magazines including Jazz Journal and Jazzwise for many years, and his work has also frequently been published abroad, in countries including the USA, Japan, China and throughout Europe. His published books include his critically-acclaimed photography book The Power of Jazz, which was described by reviewer Fred Grand in Jazz Journal as “Treasure-packed, and highly compulsive”. Watson has been nominated three times for photography in the JJA Jazz Awards, organised in New York. His work can be seen on his website www.jazzcamera.co.uk

Watson comments: “It’s a joy and a privilege to photograph so many jazz legends and rising stars, and to document jazz history in the making. The challenge of working in low light at festivals, clubs and concert halls, and often with limited time for shooting, is always an exciting one.

“My aim is always to create striking images that capture the thrills of performance, and will interest viewers in great musicians and their work. Capturing ‘the jazz moment’ is a joy.”

Alan John Ainsworth’s jazz and architectural photographs have appeared in the national and specialist press. His books include New City: Contemporary Architecture in the City of London (2012) and Brussels Arts Nouveau: Architecture and Design (2015). His reviews of photography exhibitions have been published in Twentieth Century magazine and articles on jazz photography history in Jazz Research Journal. Alan has photographed jazz musicians in the UK and the United States.

Alan was awarded first prize in the Harry Page Photography Competition in 2016. His work can be seen on his website www.alanainsworthphotography.com

John Scofield at Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival.
Photo credit: © Alan John Ainsworth/www.alanainsworthphotography.com


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REVIEW: Mads Mathias at Sounds of Denmark at Pizza Express

Mads Mathias with Peter Rosendal (piano)
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Mads Mathias 
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16 September 2017. Sounds of Denmark Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Mads is truly, deeply jazz. Danish singer and saxophonist Mathias is young (mid-30s), he has an easeful, natural stage presence. And after his cameo appearances at the Swing Prom at the Royal Albert Hall (reviewed) which made such a huge impression, it was fascinating to hear him in the small club context with his regular pianist Peter Rosendal, bassist Morten Ankarfeldt, and drummer James Maddren. 

Mathias' deep absorption of the jazz tradition comes across not least in the effortless, gear-shift-less way he navigates chord changes, both in original songs and in standards. In a song like The Single Trap, the sequence stays stuck on a dominant pedal in the manner of the jazz standards Dearly Beloved or Secret Love. His scat chorus on that tune had the charm, sass and humour of Clark Terry's "Mumbles". His performance of I Can't Get Started, loving and wallowing in the chromaticism, created the most complete concentration in the room, and yielded the loudest applause.


L-R: Rosendal, Mathias, Ankarfeldt, Maddren
Photo credit: Cat Munro

>

These jazz traits were picked up well in Brian Blain's review of Mathias' 2015 UK debut. They are also a reminder of what a special place Denmark has been in the evolution of jazz in Europe. The country afforded a warm welcome to some great American jazz musicians, which provided a fertile place for the mainstream tradition, and a palpably American heritage, to put down solid roots. I couldn't help remembering the recently departed pianist Horace Parlan, who lived in the area of Copenhagen for over four decades. Local sidemen such as drummer Alex Riel and bassist Hugo Rasmussen (Mads Mathias wrote a very touching tribute to him for us) would have played countless dates with Americans, and this heritage comes through in the deep understanding with whch Danes  approach the music.

Among UK drummers, one might imagine Matt Skelton or Steve Brown as the naturals in this territory, so it is a token of James Maddren's joyous, smiling, encouraging versatility that he also made it so much his own last night. Morten Ankarfeldt is an ideal bassist for singers: discreet, and always perfectly in tune. There were time when I could have hoped for pianist Peter Rosendal to make a bigger impression, but his gentleness was a good foil for Mathias' effortlessly extrovert nature.

Mathias seems to wear all this jazz learning yet has wonderful ease as a performer in public. Wooing an English-speaking audience with his jokes, and drawing us all in to his performance seemed the most natural things in the world.

Mads Mathias has four more UK dates this autumn

19 September Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
20 September Stables Milton Keynes
21 September Seven Arts Leeds 
22 September Scarborough Jazz Festival 

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TRIBUTE: John Abercrombie (1944-2017) by Mark Wingfield

John Abercrombie in November last year at Birmingham Conservatoire.
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
John Abercrombie, who died last month, is remembered by fellow guitarist Mark Wingfield.

Perhaps more than any other electric guitarist, John Abercrombie's playing approach defined the classic 1970's "ECM" sound. Along with some of the other players that emerged in the late '70s and '80s on the ECM label, such as Terje Rypdal, Bill Frisell, Jan Garbarek and Kenny Wheeler,  John pioneered the "less is more" approach to playing. Looking back, this period of jazz was an incredibly innovative and creative period in improvised music. Though John's signature approach dates back to the '70s, he went on to produce an extensive and rich catalogue of albums as both leader and side man which continued right up until his final year.

I first heard John Abercrombie playing on an album called Sargasso Sea with Ralph Towner. For me it was a revelation, because I heard melodic improvisation of a depth, originality, and subtle inflections of a kind that I hadn't thought was possible on the guitar. The atmospheres John and Ralph were able to create, were like opening the door to a whole other world of moods, places and times. I found this incredibly inspiring, because it taught me that it wasn't just about covering chord changes and playing lots of notes. It was clear from John's playing that much more musically profound things could be said if you slowed down and explored the harmonies and their melodic implications more deeply.

Unlike most of the other jazz or fusion guitarists I know, John rarely played really fast lines. Instead what he played were lines of real musical depth. John had a way of improvising melodic phrases which sounded like deeply considered, composed reflections on the harmonic progression. He seemed able to speak with his playing about whole other levels of melodic and harmonic implications. Some of these seemed to hang in the air for minutes or hours after I heard them. In this, John Abercrombie was a pioneer the likes of which I have rarely heard since on the guitar or any other instrument.

The other area which really set John apart was his phrasing. He developed a unique set of slurs and inflections which made his playing immediately identifiable. Again a lot of this, I think, came from the fact that unlike so many other guitarists, he wasn't trying to play fast lines all the time, instead he concentrated on meaning, detail and inflection.

Playing fewer notes also meant that John could use his artistry to create lines which were more like considered personal reflections, introspections and sometimes startling melodic and harmonic revelations. To my ears, John often said more with five slow notes than most others say with 30 or 40 fast ones. It's not that I don't like fast playing, it can be a great improvisational outlet if it's born of passion and meaning, for example in John Coltrane's late work. But John demonstrated the musical depth that could be created with space and inflection.

John's melodically and harmonically deep, "less is more" approach was just as much apparent in his composing. His twisting, poignant, lyrical and strongly atmospheric tunes and harmonies sound like no one else and can be heard throughout his many albums.

In his later years, John's playing and music took a more traditional turn, looking back towards the jazz of the past, yet his ability to say something of real depth about the harmonies when he soloed remained. Interestingly on his last album John returned to his innovative sound world of unique and deeply atmospheric compositions and moods.

John has such a large and varied catalogue of albums as leader and sideman over the years that it's very hard to choose a few to recommend. I'll start with the album that for me defined John's unique approach to the guitar.

Sargasso Sea John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner (1976). This is a series of duets which is stunning in its originality and the depth of the atmospheres it creates.

Up And Coming John Abercrombie Quartet (2017). On his most recent album John returned back to his introspective and poignant best.

The Third Quartet John Abercrombie Quartet (2007). Beautiful playing throughout.

Five Years Later John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner (1982). A very different approach by two of the most original guitarists in the history of jazz.

Gateway 2 John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette (1978). This is classic early Abercrombie with all his idiosyncratic phrasing and poignant melodic phrasing.

Characters John Abercrombie (1978). This album is all guitar with no other instruments and includes some self accompaniment as overdubs. This is full of introspective reflections, it is at times harmonically dense and perhaps a touch sombre for some, but a great example of the darker side of 1970s ECM.

Current Events John Abercrombie with Peter Erskine and Marc Johnson (1986). A beautiful introspective album, a classic ECM sound.

Kenny Wheeler's Deer Wan - John Abercrombie with Wheeler, Dave Holand, Jan Garbarek, Jack Dejohnette, Ralph Towner (1977).  I think this is one of the most under-sung, but great jazz albums of the 20th century. The compositions and arrangements by Wheeler are epic and stunning in their breadth, originality and atmosphere. A true masterpiece. This album features great playing by all, particularly notable is Wheeler himself playing some beautiful and deep improvisations on fluegelhorn. Also prominent is a faster more aggressive (than many may be used to), but brilliant side of Jan Garbarek. And of course a key component of this great album is John Abercrombie's trademark twisting, gliding and melodically deep soloing.

Mark Wingfield is a guitarist and composer. His website is markwingfield.com

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CD REVIEW: Soul Session – two



Soul Session – two
(Agogo Records AG081 CD, LP and download. Review by Mark McKergow)

The second CD from Soul Session brings together a well-curated selection of vocalists with some cracking soul and jazz-flavoured sounds.

Soul Session is the creation of Munich-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Hans Kiefer. Following his debut album in this guise in 2011 (cunningly entitled one), he is back with more grooving jazz, funk, soul and world music sounds. As before the production is superb, with every track hitting the spot. For this second album, Kiefer has chosen to move towards themes based on love and spiritual awareness – though this is more a background feature for much of the album.

Kiefer has invited a great range of vocal talent to join him on this journey. The opening track Quantraversa features LA star singer Georgia Anne Muldrow, a lady with some serious jazz and hip-hop chops herself, to add some choice stylings over his bass-heavy, grooving instrumentation. The way Muldrow slides around with the time over the beats is quite startling – very reminiscent of hip hop legend J Dilla’s love of off-pulse rhythms. Later in the album we are treated to an appearance by UK acid jazzer Omar, who pours his rich tones over some world-beat rhythms and old-school synth lead lines on Wish The Beat To Never Stop.

The meat of the collection is a pair of three-part suites. The instrumental Kalimba suite starts with – what else – the sound of a Kalimba, a kind of African-inspired thumb piano. This is quickly joined by a rhythm section with a touch of A Love Supreme before heading for grooving solo territory. The second track, Steely Dan, rather gives away its inspiration, picking up the vibes with sharp bass guitar and rich electric piano chords. The final section, Transformation, rolls the rhythm along further for a pulsing climax of keyboards.

The other suite, Liberation, strongly features the vocals of German female vocalist Anaj who brings some stylish voice contributions. Got To Go Where To Go sees a blissed-out funkiness, which moves into the irresistible samba beat of Samba De Alfama (my standout track from the whole collection, also featuring some nice Rhodes soloing from Kiefer). The final Liberation is a bit corny, but keeps things moving and will do well on the dance floors of sophisticated clubs across Europe.

The most intriguing track is You Are Everything, featuring vocal samples not from soul divas or rappers but instead from Indian mystic and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Kiefer sets up a piano and flute-led rolling figure over which we hear historic recordings of Krishnamurti urging us to give our hearts and minds to living differently. It works pretty well, and certainly adds substance to claims that this album is pointing us in the direction of love.
Taken overall this is a very well-produced and interesting collection with a great variety of sounds and plenty of different styles on offer. The way in which Kiefer makes it into a coherent whole is therefore even more impressive.

Check out the music on the Agogo Records website (link below) and see which of the moods grabs you.

LINK: The album on the Agogo Records website

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CD REVIEW: Roscoe Mitchell - Bells For The South Side



Roscoe Mitchell – Bells For The South Side
(ECM 571 1952. CD review by Olie Brice)

With some great artists, the release of a new album requires serious investigation – not just for the sheer joy of listening but for an insight into the ‘state of the art’, where the music is going and what new routes are being explored. For me, Roscoe Mitchell is on a very short list of these living giants of the music – Wadada Leo Smith is another who springs to mind. The trouble with combining this sort of serious listening and trying to write reviews is that a review should be published while the release is recent, whereas a landmark recording of the stature of this new Roscoe Mitchell album will take me years to absorb.

Bells For The South Side is a two-CD recording of music which Roscoe Mitchell presented at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the AACM, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The album brings together four trios – with Craig Taborn and Kikanju Baku, with Tani Tabbal and Jaribu Shahid, with William Winant and James Fei, and with Tyshawn Sorey & Hugh Ragin.

The musicians are also presented in other combinations, and as they are all multi-instrumentalists a huge palette of combinations is available to Mitchell. The liner notes don’t always make it clear who is playing on which pieces, and the variety of instrumentation means that it often can’t be deduced by instrumentation.

A huge range of approaches is explored, ranging from almost Feldman-esque, gradually developing harmonies to furious free jazz to brass counterpoint that could almost be described as a chorale. And bringing it all to an end - the last few minutes of disc two contains some of the most unexpected music I have heard in a long time!

A vital and fascinating recording, full of brilliant compositions and astonishing improvising.

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CD REVIEW: Malija - Instinct



Malija - Instinct
(Edition EDN 1096. CD review by Mike Collins)


Malija are a meeting of musical minds. The formidable creativity of Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble and Jasper Høiby makes Instinct, their second foray into the recording studio, a delicious prospect. It more than lives up to expectation.

Mark Lockheart’s saxophone is at the centre of their sound. There’s a constant emotional tug to his playing. Whether digging into riffy motifs or more fluid lines, a romantic fading swoop is never far away or a slide through and away from a note, given an edge with a bit of crackle and grit. It imbues his playing with a sense of flight and an impassioned, slightly melancholic edge.

Noble and Høiby are a constant jousting, swirling presence in the mix, injecting drive, momentum and colour. There’s electric interplay between the three that brings carefully scripted and distilled pieces fizzing to life.

The ten originals, with contributions from each of the band, conjure varied atmospheres. Kindred Spirit is tantalisingly brief and still somehow juxtaposes a jagged melodic line with hints of a dancing folk-like theme. Then they’re on to a jigsaw of interlocking phrases bouncing around the trio as Noble’s TV Shoes takes shape.

Hung Up, after a spooky riff and snaking theme, gives Lockheart space to be expansive over a tango-ish groove before Noble steps forward with an inventive, steadily intensifying solo. Moon Stairs unfurls like a mystery tale, sax and piano creeping around each other, arco bass complementing a distorted, nearly pretty melody before a group exploration of the mood.

Mila arrives at an instantly danceable, lilting melody via pulsing phrases and a percussive intro. It exits with piano and sax showing instinctive understanding in a playful exchange. Sanctuary’s slowly unfolding beauty is a highlight.

This is a fine set that reveals more of its quality with repeated listens.

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

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CD REVIEW: Julian Costello Quartet - Transitions


Julian Costello Quartet - Transitions
(33 Jazz Records 33JAZZ268. CD review by Adrian Pallant)


The three subtle soprano sax keys on Julian Costello’s album cover hint at the assiduous craftsmanship which he applies, both compositionally and in performance, to this new quartet release, Transitions; and entirely appropriate that he’s joined by the similarly focused minds of guitarist Maciek Pysz, double bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira.

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Stefano Amerio at Italy’s celebrated Artesuono Studios, many of these 13 original pieces are almost intangibly segued – transitions, as played out at their live gigs – with Costello’s romantic, often blithe soprano and tenor melodies (possessing a theme-tune redolence of Christopher Gunning) inspiring his players to improvise both intelligently and from the heart. Whilst the saxophonist leads from the front, the clarity of this particular instrumentation engenders an open, measured dialogue between the four… and importantly, across a full hour, the conversation is as varied as it is unpredictable.

In an earlier interview with LondonJazz News, Julian Costello revealed his eclectic musical beginnings, as well as a desire to not take music too seriously. So amongst the lyrical oases and pulsating guitar rhythms in this recording, there are also frequent glints of eccentric humour, illustrated especially by wonderfully furtive, tiptoeing samba, Tongue in Cheek; and the searching, Jan Garbarek-style opening to Waves unfolds elegantly into a chirpy, syncopated riff before evolving into free-flowing Ducks and canny, lush ‘sax ensemble’ miniature, Corners.

Costello’s band are also inveterate groovers, the mysterious, Eastern progression of A Manic Episode featuring frenzied soprano over Maciek Pysz’s John McLaughlin-style electric guitar riff, with Adam Teixeira conspicuous in creating its crackling yet controlled percussive undercurrent. Pysz is especially known for his acoustic guitar precision, and the flamenco fervour he generates here, as well as the detailing in edgy, chiaroscuro Mirage, is assuredly buoyed by Yuri Goloubev’s bass swell. Earworm’s delightfully halcyon soprano hook, over a descending bass figure, stays long in the memory; so too, the luxurious splendour of Patience, whose dance-band sentimentality is painted with extended, ornamented sax lines and cantabile arco bass.

The overriding emotional impact of this recording is a sense of warmth between the players, heightened by Costello’s penchant for a good tune, and enhanced by Amerio’s fine ‘chamber music’ engineering. The rich, voluble tenor lead to Buraki I Ziemniaki is just one element of a varied bossa outing ornamented by electric guitar improv and joshing unison motifs; Panettone’s darker, contra-key fluctuations find Costello’s tenor in a more inquiring, Iain Ballamy-like sound world; and breezy Walking Through the Jungle overflows with rhythmic progression, attractively showcasing each band member’s individuality.

Once in a while, an album like this appears on the horizon, becoming the unputdownable ‘earworm’ that Costello portrays at the heart of his colourful recording. The live-music experience (touring from 6 October to 8 November, with the official launch at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on 10 October) will surely be a real joy.

Transitions is released today, 15 September.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com

LINK: INTERVIEW: Julian Costello

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TRIBUTE: John Jack (1933-2017) by Mike Westbrook

John Jack earlier this year
Photo by Leo Hoffmann courtesy of the Vortex


JOHN JACK - Mike Westbrook writes

At an informal gathering in his honour at The Vortex recently, John, who had not been in good health, was a little frail and short of breath. The gathering was organized by Hazel Miller with John’s partner Shirley Thompson, and friends Matthew Wright and Mike Gavin. The evening brought together a small cross section of the jazz community. Present were a few of the legions of musicians, promoters, journalists and fans whose lives had been touched and enriched by John’s support and friendship over the years. John’s speech showed that he had lost none of that ironic, world–weary humour. He always had a keen sense of the ridiculous. His passion for jazz was marked by honesty and integrity. To pretentiousness and pomposity he gave short shrift, and he was forever amused and/or outraged by the follies of this world.

John and Shirley continued to attend the much-loved Vortex until, following a check-up, it was decided to keep him in hospital. The breathing got worse, and within a week he passed peacefully away. Hazel observed that John’s death ‘marks the end of an era’. This is a sobering thought on which many of us will want to ponder. The generation that I shared with John has begun to suffer the grievous loss of jazz musicians, colleagues and friends. The era in which we cut our musical teeth, the late 1950s through '70s, was one of a new-found freedom of expression, the breaking of barriers, and the hope for cultural and political change. Jazz music epitomized the spirit of the times. We took our cue from the astonishing records coming out of the States, and from hearing great jazz musicians ‘live’ for the first time. Thus inspired, we started to do our own thing. John was at the epicentre of all the changes going on. In the years that followed, he never faltered in his belief in the music, despite finding himself increasingly embattled by creeping commercialism when even some musicians were embarrassed to use the ‘J’ word.

I first met John in 1966 when I turned up with my sextet to play the Saturday All-Nighter at The Old Place. When Ronnie Scott and Pete King moved the club to Frith Street, 18 months remained on the lease of the Gerrard Street premises. In a gesture of enlightened arts patronage Ronnie decided to keep the Old Place open as a venue for the newer bands. Pete King gave John the keys and told him to get on with it. Musicians who played there were paid £5 a show. Ronnie had offered me the Saturday night gig. With my band we played it every week till the club closed in May 1968.

Soon after their arrival from South Africa, Chris McGregor’s Blue Notes were installed on Friday nights. John’s approach to programming the other nights was flexible and the club became a platform for experimentation. He was always open to new ideas, and many, many musicians took their turn on that small stage. Then there were the all-night rehearsals. I remember we rehearsed Marching Song there after hours, and that was where Chris McGregor first got together The Brotherhood of Breath. John, who had probably never been in charge of a club before, was the perfect manager. Everything was laid back and relaxed, but it all seemed to function perfectly well. And at 6am, at the end of the all-nighter, John cooked bacon and eggs for the band.

John was the most generous, most loyal and honest friend I could ever have wished for. He was crucial in helping me to keep my life and my music together in difficult times. When The Old Place closed, he and I continued working together. It was an exciting time. The music was exploding in many directions. But, lacking the central meeting place of the club, the scene became more fragmented. In a sense every musician had to fight their own corner and much of that collective spirit that had united musicians of different styles, backgrounds and persuasions, was lost.

From the mid '70s, though we were always in touch, I saw less of John, which is something that I regret. I know that I never managed to express my gratitude to him. Others may well feel as I do that he did so much for us that was not adequately acknowledged. But John didn’t do what he did for personal glory, or for thanks. He did it out of the goodness of his heart, for the musicians he respected, and for the greater glory of jazz. His reward was to hear us play. And he had high standards. Nothing short of total commitment would do. He knew that what we all wanted most was to be listened to. And he understood that it was not always in the big sell-out concert halls, but often before small audiences in clubs and the back rooms of pubs, that the most creative, cutting edge music is to be found.

I think the best way we can celebrate John’s memory is to continue to make and to fight for the music that we love.

FOOTNOTE: Mike Westbrook has also kindly explained the origins of John Jack's label Cadillac Records:

CADILLAC RECORDS

In 1972 I made a ‘live’ recording with my five-piece band. At that time I had a contract with RCA and, as a follow up to Metropolis, I was due to make another album. I offered RCA the ‘live’ album but they turned it down. John Jack was managing the band at that time, and he and I both felt that this music deserved a wider hearing.

We decided to release it ourselves and started a new label. By then the group had evolved into Solid Gold Cadillac. Hence Cadillac was the name we gave the new company.

Mike Westbrook–LIVE was the first album to be released on Cadillac Records. Under John Jack’s management Cadillac, alongside Hazel Miller’s Ogun Records, went on to build a catalogue of some of the most important contemporary Jazz generated in the UK.

Mike Westbrook- LIVE 1972 is now re-issued on Hux Records

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REVIEW: Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet at the Vortex

Louis Moholo-Moholo
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield


Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet.
(Vortex, 9 September 2017. Review and photos by Patrick Hadfield)


Now based in his native South Africa, Louis Moholo-Moholo is a regular visitor to Europe, and he made a very welcome return for two sold-out nights at the Vortex. Moholo is adept in ensembles of various sizes, from big bands such as Brotherhood of Breath and the Dedication Orchestra, smaller groups such as Viva La Black (a septet when they played London Jazz Festival in 2010) through to duos. For these gigs, he brought a quartet, all long-time collaborators, a cut down version of his latest quintet, Five Blokes, Shabaka Hutchings unfortunately not able to make these shows.

But the four men on stage made an awfully big sound, filling the Vortex with a glorious noise. Across two sets featuring several tunes from former band mates in Brotherhood of Breath coupled with interludes of searing free jazz, the band swung, rocked and excited. Pianist Alexander Hawkins played thundering, rolling chords; Jason Yarde played fast, fluid and exciting alto and soprano – one time, both at once – and finished the gig playing baritone. John Edwards' bass playing matched them, at times pounding out riffs, at others playing tremendous walking lines, and still others using his bow to produce sonorous chords or additional percussive phrases.

It was clear who was directing things. From behind his drum kit, as one tune came to a close, Moholo would repeatedly shout the name of the next tune: "B My Dear! B My Dear!"or "You ain't gonna know me - You ain't gonna know me", and the band would switch mood in a beat. Moholo's drumming was quite low key but energetic and emphatic. He played a lot of patterns on his snare drum, occasionally falling into the gentlest swing rhythm on the cymbals.

It was an evening of passionate music. There were few breaks between tunes, one morphing into another without space for applause – by the time the audience had caught up, the band were in the middle of another number. On Zanele, all four musicians joyfully chanted as they played. Other numbers sounded like African spirituals. The free sections drove the music one way and another. Mongezi Feza's You Ain't Gonna Know Me Just Because You Know Me was heralded by an extended solo from Edwards, before leading into its emotional, powerful riff. They played numbers by, I think, Dudu Pukwana (B My Dear), Harry Miller (Lost Opportunities), Johnny Dyani (Ithi Gui), and Chris McGregor: when they played Moholo's own frenetic For the Blue Notes, it felt like they were summarising the whole gig.

At the close of the second set, Moholo apologised that the band didn't know any more tunes – though they played one final encore. The applause continued long after the band had left the stage, squeezing through the audience to leave. A joyful, exciting evening of music.

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

Alexander Hawkins
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

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