REVIEW Kenny Barron and Dave Holland Duo at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2014 EFG LJF)

Kenny Barron and Dave Holland Duo
(QEH, 21st November 2014. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Vacher)

Pianist Kenny Barron and former home-town bassist Dave Holland were playing the final concert in a long series of European appearances in support of their album The Art of Conversation. They had spoken in a pre-performance interview of the need to listen and to respond intuitively in a duo situation, to go where the music takes you. And so it did. While clearly respectful of each other, it was heartening to see the way each would throw cues and elicit responses in each of the pieces they played, sometimes trading an idea back and forth, in eights and fours. Theirs was a proper partnership, a true meeting of equals.

Barron is above all a literate player, calm at the keyboard with no need for bombast or grandstanding, a master of jazz procedure, never seemingly short of an idea or an elegantly shaped response. Quick-fingered and relaxed, his is classic modern jazz piano, with momentary hints of the past, a sense of the whole history of the music in the approach while Holland is an almost mesmeric performer, his touch and command allowing him to set and meet challenges that one fears might break a lesser musician. While his solos were undeniably complex and his virtuosity never in doubt, their shape and direction was always clear to see.

Their programme combined originals by both men, two by Holland conceived as tributes respectively to Kenny Wheeler - ‘A Waltz for Wheeler’ - and the jaunty Pass It On for New Orleans drummer Ed Blackwell, these interspersed with compositions by Charlie Parker and a storming reading of Thelonious Monk ‘s In Walked Bud’. All had their rewards none more so than Barron’s ‘Calypso, a remembrance of his early days in Brooklyn playing with West Indian bands, its very perky theme calling for some startlingly adroit work from both men, before it turned into a danceable Barron romp. Both men spoke eloquently about their choices; more to the point the music they created had that wonderful in-the-moment creativity that distinguishes the best in jazz.

Earlier, ‘Singapore’s King of Swing’, pianist Jeremy Monteiro, an EFG-supported artist, had played an invigorating set with Calum Gourlay on bass and the very sensitive yet resourceful Thai drummer Hong [Chanutr Techetana-nan]. Mr Monteiro occupies that jazz interesting hinterland also populated by pianists like Jacques Diéval and the late Dudley Moore, each rendition like an entity in itself, largely pre-structured but always swinging and invariably engaging. The unbilled appearance by singer Melissa Chan, an elegant young woman who is a Monteiro protégé, proved to be as pleasurable as it was unexpected.

Hats off to Serious for this one, arguably the perfect jazz concert. Two consummate musicians at the height of their game, a newcomer determined to make a mark, a surprise addition and a pre-concert talk that was both illuminating and entertaining. No wonder the packed crowd erupted into a cacophony of whoops and calls for more at its end.


Liam Noble Trio/ Mike Chillingworth Group at the Con Cellar Bar (2014 EFG LJF)

Liam Noble, Dave Whitford, Dave Wickens
Con Cellar Bar, Nov 2014. Photo by Mike Collins 

Liam Noble Trio/ Mike Chillingworth Group
(Con Cellar Bar. 21st Nov 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Mike Collins)

Blue Rondo a la Turk brought the curtain down and quite possibly the house too, on a dazzling set by Liam Noble’s trio on Friday, judging by whoops and cheers that reverberated round the tiny Con Cellar from the audience so packed in that the only hope of exit was by crowd surfing. Pianist Noble has an utterly distinctive voice and approach. Tunes you thought you knew, bend and distort in his hands sliding off in all directions then flexing, tantalisingly, back into a nearly recognisable form.

In Dave Whitford and Dave Wickens on bass and drums respectively, he has two co-conspirators who follow his every move. Blue Rondo started with flurries of arpeggios and jagged rhythms, veering off int strange tonalities. Then Whitford and Wickens picked up on a rhythmic figure and a wonky vamp developed before the mists cleared and the familiar racing theme kicked in. The interaction in the trio was electric and instinctive. Wickens was conjuring all manner of strange tones from the minimal kit whilst infectiously liquid grooves unfolded. On La Paloma Azul, a weird chiming sound was suddenly somehow echoed in Noble harmonisation of the affecting melody before it spiralled off into a fluid singing solo. Melody sounded like the key to this absorbing and by turns exhilarating set. No matter how far the connection was stretched through the distorting lens of the band’s imagination, it was always there at the heart.

The second set of this double header offered a delicious contrast. “These aren’t really tunes” mused Mike Chillingworth as he introduced the first piece, Brian Koo, in the set of his compositions for a septet of formidable musicians. The frontline of two tenors (Josh Arcoleo and Tom Challenger) bass clarinet (George Crowley) and alto (Chillingworth himself) conjured some amazing sounds. The ripple of notes from the four horns harmonised in close dissonant intervals echoed by Ralph Wylde’s vibes produced an unearthly ringing sound to kick things off. It had me checking there weren’t any tricky electronics under a seat somewhere. With Sam Lasserson’s bass and Jon Scott’s drums locked with the stabbing rhythms and providing a driving very hip groove, it was an arresting opening. With more closely arranged, repeating figures and rhythms providing the setting for the other pieces these certainly weren’t hummable tunes as the leader had implied, but it was an exciting set.

Early on Josh Arcoleo pulled out a burning solo bouncing off the motifs and rhythms in the theme to raise the temperature. The more moody vibe of the The Wait changed the atmosphere a bit and then Grateful Lady had a definite wonky riff over a rocky groove, still with some rasping dissonance underneath before first Chillingworth and then Challenger let rip with some energetic blowing.

 Two exciting, varied sets made for a great London Jazz Festival evening at the Con.


REVIEW: Chucho Valdés at Kings Place (2014 EFG LJF)

Chucho Valdés.
Photo credit: Carlos Delgado/ Creative Commons

Chucho Valdés Solo
(Kings Place Hall One. 21st November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Second night of three. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Irresistible, unforgettable. The 73-year old Cubn-born pianist Chucho Valdés (full name Dionisio de Jesús Valdés Rodríguez) mesmerised a packed and satisfied Kings Place Hall One with what we tend lazily to call a masterclass (his almost wordless way of doing one of those - in the afternoon prior to the concert - is explained below).

To learn an artistic credo from Valdés, one need look no further than one telling gesture in the interview he did on video for Kings Place in June. At two key points, when he uses the word "compatibiles" those huge hands interlock. (LINK HERE). Valdés' recital was a demonstration of how different strands in music - jazz, Afro-Cuban, classical -  do indeed become compatible under those hands.

With the massive orchestral sound he is capable of deriving from a Steinway, he also used the bright acoustic of Kings Place Hall One as his instrument. This hall was designed for music to be played unamplified, and to let the colours come out, and it was a joy to hear it resonate with such a carefree demonstration of the art of fine piano playing. The 1929 Gershwin tune Liza/ All the Clouds Roll Away, played with infectiously hard swing, seemed to sum up the character of the man.

The juxtapositions are extraordinary. In Jerome Kern's Yesterdays, both Beethoven and Rachmaninov seemed to be invited onto the stage. In Arlen's Over the Rainbow, we not only had Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, but also a few safely-grazing arpeggiating sheep from Bach crossing the stage too. Brubeck's The Duke was played coquettishly, for laughs; and got them.

So if the concert was the masterclass, what was the masterclass in the afternoon, introduced by Katrina Duncan all about? Chucho Valdés asked if anyone wanted to come on. As had been pre-arranged, Royal Academy of Music student Will Barry came on. What would he like to play, asked Valdés? He played Like Someone in Love, well and sensitively. Would he like to play another one, asks Valdés. Stella by Starlight. Valdés, thoughtful, simply reaffirmed the values and qualities he had liked in Barry's playing: "A beautiful sound. Sensitivity. Very fluid. Very good" Then Valdés sat down at the piano himself, and played the same tune, Stella. It was far slower, infinitely roomier. Valdés started building an extra commentary into the tune and engaging in a dialogue between the tune and the new elements and patterns he was bringing to it. Applause.

Perhaps if there is a lesson to be learnt from both the masterclass and from the concert- (masterclass), the best teaching is done by doing, and by people who really can. Valdés is on again tonight. Queue for returns, and here's hoping he'll be back.


NEWS: JazzUK magazine "has ceased publication effective immediately."

Jazz Services has just announced the closure of JazzUK magazine after issue 119 (cover above). The move is part of the necessary re-organisation/ cost-saving following the Arts Council's withdrawal of Jazz Services' NPO status and funding, announced on July 1st (story and debate here).

Jazz Services' full statement today is as follows:

[statement begiins]

Jazz Services announces plans for organisational restructure and closure of JazzUK magazine

21st November 2015: Jazz Services announces it is about to embark on a comprehensive restructuring process that will take the organisation into 2015 and beyond. One aspect of this process is that its long-running magazine JazzUK has had to cease publication in its current form.

Following the withdrawal of its NPO status in the last round of Arts Council England funding, Jazz Services has been working hard both internally and externally. This has involved consulting with the wider public, continuing its encouraging discussions with the Arts Council England and other related parties and most recently undertaking a comprehensive organisational review.

These results of these activities have informed several key decisions about the organisation’s present and future endeavours, and to coincide with its 30th anniversary in 2015, Jazz Services is now developing a new and revitalised business model that will ensure it can continue working with and for the UK’s jazz scene beyond the end of March next year.

While yet to be finalised, the new Jazz Services model will place a greater emphasis on artist and audience development, working in partnerships with related organisations and groups to offer a more rounded support network to artists throughout their careers as well as contributing towards a healthy live scene for both artists and audiences.

In the coming months Jazz Services will be concentrating its energies on ensuring that the organisational redevelopment process goes ahead in the most efficient way possible. Jazz Services’s core delivery programmes – such as its funding schemes and preparation for April’s JazzAhead event - will continue as normal until the end of the current funding period, but as part of the immediate streamlining process the current incarnation of JazzUK has ceased publication effective immediately.

However, for the past few years JazzUK has enjoyed an extremely productive partnership with Jazzwise magazine to produce monthly live jazz listings, available on the Jazz Services website as the digital guide Gigs (which can be read and downloaded for free along with previous archived issues of JazzUK) as well as in the print edition of Jazzwise and on Jazzwise Magazine’s website and app. As part of the more collaborative model proposed for Jazz Services in the future, discussions are currently in place to expand and develop this partnership further, with more details to be announced as they are available.

JazzUK’s editor John Norbury-Lyons said, “It’s a shame to have to close the magazine in its current form after so many issues, as it’s been a great way to communicate the amazing work done by so many of those involved in the UK’s jazz scene, as well as Jazz Services’ own activities. But Jazz Services has to change, and now the organisation has to focus on making those changes to ensure it’s still in a position to support the jazz scene going forwards. Prioritising time and resources is a necessary part of that process, and unfortunately this means JazzUK has had to close.

“I hope that in its own way the magazine has helped contribute to the success of the artists, promoters, broadcasters, writers and others featured in its pages, and I’d like to take this opportunity to give my sincere thanks to everyone who’s been involved in its production over the years. In the meantime, the discussions with Jazzwise magazine are very encouraging and hopefully there will yet be a future for the JazzUK name as Jazz Services continues to evolve.”
[statement ends]


NEWS: Programme announced for 2015 Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival

Colston Hall: the crowd at the Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival 2014
Photo credit: Ruth Butler

Jon Turney previews next March's Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival, which had its programme launch this week: 

A re-creation of a Louis Armstrong big band concert is the latest fruit of Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival’s deepening relationship with New Orleans, and will be a Sunday afternoon highlight of the Festival’s third edition next March.

It is just possible a few punters will have heard the Armstrong All Stars play at Bristol’s Colston Hall in 1962, but this will be something new even to them. A 17-strong ensemble will play scores made available by the Louis Armstrong House museum and last aired in 1947. The concert will also feature New Orleans musicians Lillian Boutte, vocals, Evan Christopher on clarinet, and banjo and guitar player Don Vappie, plus at least one yet to be announced guest, and narration from actor and singer Clarke Peters, who has a concert of his own the previous day.

The Armstrong connection will be sealed by a two-week residence in the city for Armstrong House archivist Ricky Ricciardi who will tour local schools as well as presenting rare Armstrong film footage at the Festival.

The other distinctive offering is a new project for the Big Buzzard Boogie Band and the Bristol Jazz Festival Chorus performing songs from Disney movies under the banner of Cartoon Jazz.

 Dr John strengthens the New Orleans theme when he closes the Festival on Sunday night with his first show in Bristol for a dozen years.

Bill Wyman’s nine-strong Rhythm Kings should ensure a full house for the late show on Saturday.

More contemporary sounds come from Andy Sheppard’s European quartet, playing material from their forthcoming new ECM recording, and Dave (Edition Records) Stapleton’s Slowly Rolling Camera.

Last year’s popular swing dance big band session is reprised as a Festival opener on Friday night, when none-dancers can enjoy trumpeter Nick Walter’s Paradox Ensemble, and there are bluesy contributions later in the weekend from Mike Sanchez, festival returnee Matt Schofield and Aynsley Lister.

The package is completed by the now customary, and very popular two days of free sets in Colston Hall’s impressive foyer, featuring the best local bands, next year including Moonlight Saving Time, Kevin Figes’ Octet, James Morton, the Andy Hague Quintet and Greg Cordez’ Quintet.

The largely unsponsored Festival remains loyal to its Colston Hall base, which means programming options are limited by use of a 2000 seat or a 200 seat hall for ticketed gigs, but nothing in between. It will be interesting to see how it might evolve when the Colston music trust finishes fund-raising for a £45m refurb, which - incidentally -  is likely to see the closure of the hall for at least a year from 2017.

The 2015 Festival runs from March 6-8, and booking is now open.


REVIEW: NYJO (UK) and BuJazzo (Germany) Freedom and Friendship- A century of jazz (2014 EFG LJF)

NYJO and BuJazzO in Hamburg
Photo credit: Musikrat//Klaus Loenze

NYJO (UK) and BuJazzo (Germany) - Freedom and Friendship- A century of jazz 
Purcell Room. 19th November 2014. EFG LJF. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This was a special occasion. The two leading national youth jazz orchestras of Europe, NYJO from the UK and BuJazzO from Germany had gathered for the final concert of a series under a banner quoting a phrase from the great idealist and Hellenist J.J Winckelmann, Freedom and Friendship - A century of jazz, The Purcell Room audience gained the benefit of this programme being thoroughly prepared: it had been played on four previous occasions in both Germany and the UK, so this was a celebratory performance in every way.

The strong symbolism of this common endeavour - happening in the year that both countries comb through their separate legacies of 1914 -  was acknowledged rather cleverly by also marking the centenary of W C Handy's St Louis Blues, in a rollicking double-band arrangement by Mark Armstrong as the opener.

The re were moments which really brought home the co-operative spirit. NYJO's strong guitarist Rob Luft, in former NYJO trumpeter Nick Dewhurst's funkily exuberant piece Rush Hour was giving his solo the full treatment (specialists tell me the technical expression is "balls-out") and the BuJazzO trombone section were all smiling, giving him the rolling hand cue that they wanted him to continue with his mayhem. Similarly, I watched NYJO tenor saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan, no mean soloist in his own right, coolly transfixed by a solo from his opposite number from BuJazzO Florian Boos.

The most frequently asked question around this concert is what the differences between the two formations are.  The initial impression left from seeing the two formations briefly side by side was that BuJAzzO director Jiggs Whigham has a special way of making the German players take their time, to settle in, perhaps even to value themselves and their sound a bit more than the British players, whereas what NYJO has is slightly more in-the-moment excitement and flair. Maybein the end the differences are less important than the similarities. Both bands allow their players to get to astonishing levels of proficiency and common energy in highly complex music (I only witnessed the first half).

Above all,it happened. The good thing about his endeavour is that, thanks to assembling a raft of sponsors, notably BP, both bands were able to prepare, to spend time together, to combine not for just a one-off concert, but  also to get on the road, with the result that horizons for two lucky groups of fine players from two countries have been mutially broadened.

LINK: BuJazzO at 25- a background piece from 2012 on its history and organisation


REVIEW: Newport Jazz Festival Celebration at Cadogan Hall (2014 EFG LJF)

Anita O'Day in the film Jazz on  Summer's Day

Newport Jazz Festival Celebration
(Cadogan Hall. Tuesday, 18 November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Vacher)

Drummer/impresario/historian Richard Pite’s ingenuity and enthusiasm know no bounds, it seems. Fresh from presenting a well-received LJF programme celebrating Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman’s New York heyday just days before at the same venue, here he was back in this uplifting space to recall the 1950s Newport Jazz Festivals, again to a full house of highly appreciative listeners.

The premise here was simple enough: recreate Duke Ellington’s 1956 Newport Suite, factor in Cole Porter’s music from the movie High Society, move on to photographers Bert Stern’s evocative documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, leap forward to the Dizzy Gillespie big band and their 1957 NJF offerings and conclude matters with Duke’s immortal Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.

Well, simple to say perhaps, but mightily challenging to accomplish. It needed a cast of, not thousands, but certainly twenty, all hand-picked to suit and a level of commitment that allowed the proceedings to move well beyond pastiche and on to creative replication. This was epitomised when tenorist Mike Hall, given the unforgiving task of recreating the seminal Paul Gonsalves solo on D&C, chose not to chase a note-for-note duplication but to give its unrelenting surge a twist of his own, with Pete Long’s superb orchestra in full cry behind him. Earlier, young altoist Simon Marsh had evoked the memory of Johnny Hodges on Jeep’s Blues with due care and attention before the band essayed the multi-part Newport Suite.

With Long’s opening clarinet cadenza duly done, trumpeter Ryan Quigley made the first of a number of impressive incisions, soaring high over a crunching trumpet section, the band bounding in with gusto. ‘High Society’ gave trumpeter Rico Tomasso his head, especially so on ‘Now you Has Jazz’, Louis-like for sure, but couched in his own heart-felt manner, trombonist Ian Bateman on song alongside, with Long similarly fluent. Whether the show needed the soft-centred Little One and the rest of the film’s balladry may be questionable for all that Spats Langham coped well as an ersatz Bing Crosby.

Tomasso-Bateman- Long, the last of these three on tenor, then gave Blues Walk a cheery going-over before pianist James Pearson essayed Blue Monk, momentarily allowing us to picture its composer from Stern’s film before Georgina Jackson reminded us of Anita O’Day’s impact with Sweet Georgia Brown/Tea For Two. Then followed more Louis from Rico, then Dizzy’s formidable Cool Breeze and Manteca as dealt by this terrific ensemble, Quigley and fellow-trumpeter George Hogg making high notes seem easy. Then came Hall’s finisher. He looked triumphant and so he should but then that goes for the whole presentation. Put aside one or two bits of cheesy stage biz, and look for this package to live again. It was that good.

The Jazz Repertory Company has  more surprises in store for 2015.


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Tammy Weis celebrates Julie London (606 Club, Nov 30th)

Canadian (Alberta-born) vocalist and songwriter Tammy Weis, now resident in London, will present her celebration of Julie London at the 606 Club on November 30th. She previews it: 

LondonJazz News: What made you choose Julie London?

Tammy Weis: As I was researching her life, I ended up finding a lot in common with her: she was a mezzo soprano, like me. We both did our first live performance at three years old. She learned to sing from her mother as did I.  And for her it all began listening to Ella Fitzgerald (with me it was Sarah Vaughan).

LJN: Who was she?

TW: She recorded 32 albums in a career that began in  Los Angeles. Billboard named her the most popular female vocalist for 1955, 1956, and 1957. She was the subject of a 1957 Life cover article in which she was quoted as saying, "It's only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of oversmoked voice, and it automatically sounds intimate."

She also had a 35 year acting career, making over 20 films

LJN? Who was she married to?

TW: Bobby Troup, in 1959 (he wrote Get your Kicks on Route 66)

LJN: How did she first hear Cry Me A River?

TW: It had originally been written for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in a film set in the 1920's, Pete Kelly's Blues but the song was dropped. A friend asked if she would like to sing it. She performed it in the 1956 film The Girl Can't Help It. It was her biggest chart success and was #9 on US charts and #22 in the UK

LJN: And "Sway" (video above)

TW: It was originally a Mexican mambo instrumental from 1953, entitled "¿Quién será?",(Demetrio/ Beltran Ruiz), and issued by Dean MArtin with lyrics by Norman Gimbel[ the follwing year. Julie London's famous recording was on her album Latin in a Satin Mood from 1964.

LJN: What was her last recording?

TW: My Funny Valentine, on the soundtrack for the Burt Reynolds film Sharky's Machine in 1981

TW: I am really looking forward to singing in her keys; very intimate and smoky. It is amazing what a difference it can make to a song like Fly me to the Moon. It gives it a whole new sound.

LJN: What other projects do you have on the go?

TW: I am currently working on finishing my album celebrating Canadian songwriters. We have recorded half of the album to date which features a guest performance by Randy Bachman (BTO and The Guess Who 'Ain't seen nothing yet' and 'American Woman')

I have also been spending time in Portugal, writing for a Portuguese album

I have been a mentor at the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy and helped them prepare for their performance at the 2014 Jazz Festival at the Southbank Centre



NEWS: Jazz for Labour concert at the Barbican announced (Feb 27th 2015)

Courtney Pine and Soweto Kinch in January 2010
Photo credit: Richard Kaby

A line up which so far includes Courtney Pine, Claire Martin, Ian Shaw, Arun Ghosh, Andy Sheppard, Christine Tobin, Soweto Kinch and Darius Brubeck is announced for a "Jazz for Labour- A concert for fairness and diversity" gala, as part of the build-up to the May 2015 General Election. The concert is in the Barbican Hall on Friday February 27th at 7 30pm.



REVIEW: Tokyo-chutei-iki and Harvey Mason at Ronnie Scott's (EFG London Jazz Festival)

Tokyo-chutei-iki. Photo credit: Benjamin Amure

Tokyo-chutei-iki and Harvey Mason
(Ronnie Scott's 19th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

"We are just a baritone sax group, As you can see." With ten men clutching baritones having just marched playing through the crowd, having given us their opening number, that clarification from  Akira Mizutani did seem unnecessary. But there again, that wasn't the point.

Tokyo-chutei-iki (Tokyo-bass-frequency) are a spectacle. Clad in black suits and an assortment of different black hats, they engulf the cosy stage. Playing big band-style arrangements, Balkan folk and New Orleans Mardi Gras, smattered with virtuoso improvisation, they shuffle and rearrange themselves into different groups on stage as members come to the fore or drop into rhythmic support. They sing educational songs explaining what a baritone can do (roar), and how you play it (with fingers and a strap around your neck). They dance (crouching, wiggling, jumping) all comically slightly out of sync with one another. There are moments when the timing of their unison playing judders, or when tuning slips. But there are also moments of real power, displaying the rich low rumbling and textured harmonies one can only achieve with that number of instruments. During one piece half the band were banished from the stage and set loose on the venue, wandering the aisles, the volume rising and falling as band members erratically made their way around the room.

As occasionally befalls a support act, the audience's energy wasn't yet ready to match that from the band. Yet Tokyo-chutei-iki's  delivery, both of their music and their performance was deadpan, a smile only briefly showing through when they incongruously dedicated a song to anyone in the room who might be named 'Paul' (the stage patter read in slow English from a notepad). They brought the threat of chaos to the usually professional, slickly run Ronnie Scott's, with waiters running into each other, finding themselves, their trays and their caviar inadvertently trapped between tooting baritones.

The main act couldn't have been from a more different musical place. The  effortless cool of drummer Harvey Mason, performing a set of covers and originals from his latest album Chameleon, was fresh from the 1970's.

There are few drummers with a sound as distinctive as Mason's, or with such a refined touch. When he plays you hear every tap, every strike as a defined, tuned note. His drum work during Black Forest saw him play a single tom with such variation it sung like a tabla. With good drummers come exceptional bands - the structurally crucial Ernest Tibbs watching Mason like a hawk throughout, alert and sharp in support but restrained and considered when improvising on the full range of his five-string bass.

While before the break the group focused on work from the new album, post interval they relaunched on standards. Their rendition of Take Five, dragged away from its eponymous time signature back to four, lacked bite although Headhunters classics Sly and Chameleon were punchy and smooth with that familiar inexhaustible hi-hat groove, Kamasi Washington channelling some Maceo Parker swagger to add to his impressive sorrowful soprano moments earlier in the set. A brief impromptu skit saw Mason groove while keys player and laptop 'mixologist' Mark de Clive-Lowe layered electronic percussion and clean grand piano loops on top, showing how, like Herbie Hancock, Mason is still eager to embrace new technology, the very essence of what made their collective milestone 1974 record so important.

Following a crowd-pleasing encore the group left the stage to a standing ovation. It had been a master class in percussion and jazz-funk. Forty years on from its release, Chameleon is still making waves.


REVIEW: Alan Broadbent and the Mark Nightingale Big Band at The Apex Theatre, Bury St Edmunds

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent and the Mark Nightingale Big Band
(The Apex Theatre, Bury St Edmunds. 18 November. Review by Frank Griffith)

Pianist and composer/arranger Alan Broadbent, along with the Mark Nightingale Big Band was on form on Tuesday. He is visiting the UK for a brief tour to inaugurate his recently released CD, made with the NDR Big Band, who are based in Hamburg. What form it was too, as Nightingale's band shone brightly, presenting Broadbent’s hugely varied range of compositions, sent into orbit with an excellent bevy of powerful soloists drawn from the band.

Born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1947, Alan immigrated to the USA in 1965 to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston which pretty much led directly to a 3 year apprenticeship with Woody Herman. He contributed dozens of scores to the Herd library a few of which were performed tonight. Since then, he settled in LA and served as arranger and conductor for many singers like Irene Kral, Natalie Cole, and Diana Krall as well as recently departed bassist Charlie Haden’s Quartet West.

Nightingale’s exemplary band sported a stunning cast of players, too numerous to list but included the likes of trumpeters, Si Gardner and Martin Shaw, the leader’s trombone and saxists Andy Panayi, Sam Mayne and Ben Castle. All were featured healthily in solo roles. Bassist Sam Burgess and the ubiquitous Ian Thomas on drums handled the rhythm chores more than ably.

Not to be underestimated are Alan’s pianistic skills as both a soloist and accompanist. His light-fingered and flawless technique coupled with a rhapsodic expressiveness covering the full range (88 keys and counting) of the “orchestra” of instruments was sublime with its grandeur. His extended solo rendition of Body and Soul as an encore was a stunning example of this. A real tour de force sparkled with modulations, tempo changes and a glorious “codenza” (dramatic ending) to effectively put the evening to bed.

From a writer’s point of view,  Broadbent is truly remarkable in his juxtaposition of rich and lush harmonies with orchestration. He frequently utilises orchestral woodwinds (flutes and clarinets) with softer brass textures (mutes, flugelhorns) which helps mellow the somewhat strident harmonies that he employs. This is nicely offset by the full saxy and brassy settings of his in your face bebop swingers such as Sonnys Step (dedicated to the late bop pianist, Sonny Clark) and Bebop and Roses, a staple of the Woody Herman library.

Mr Broadbent was not parsimonious with his addresses to the audience speaking quite movingly of his former leaders, Herman, Haden and Kral. He pointed out that Haden was such an effective bandleader for his ability to put diverse musicians together and create something well above the sum of its parts. He then performed his treatment of a piece he wrote for Quartet West, The Long Goodbye, which had a lyric added by London vocalist, Georgia Mancio, the very first fruits of a songwriting partnership which will have its debut at Pizza Express Dean Street next week.

A glorious night of new sounds provided by the best in the business. Kudos also to Kathryn Shackleton of the Watermill who conceived and organised this tour for Alan and lets hope that this can become an annual event.

DATES: Alan Broadbent with Georgia Mancio 26th November at Pizza Express Dean Street 

Mark Nightingale Big Band, Watermill in Dorking  27th November (to be recorded by the BBC for an upcoming broadcast/ SOLD OUT.)

LINK: Alan Broadbent interview about this tour


REVIEW: Snarky Puppy at the Roundhouse (2014, EFG London Jazz Festival)

Snarky Puppy at the Roundhouse Nov 2014
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Snarky Puppy
(Roundhouse, 18th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Snarky Puppy turned in an explosive near two-hour set that will have unquestionably satisfied the three thousand die-hard fans packed in to the Roundhouse for the band’s second London concert in two days, having slipped in to Ronnie's for a late gig the night before.

Magda Giannikou's Magda Banda, supplemented by members of Snarky Puppy, set up the evening with a dynamic performance. The Greek-born singer, based in New York, who first collaborated with the band on Family Dinner - Vol 1, is a great communicator. She made the perfect connection with Snarky Puppy's partisan audience, who hung on every note of her tightly arranged songs, including Amour T'es Là from the aforementioned album, towing samba-tinged percussion, brass and Steely Dan-glossed chord changes alongside her power-packed vocals; and the audience needed no persuading to hum along en masse when she directed, a ritual that is also part and parcel of the main act.

Enter Snarky Puppy, all guns blazing, to a rapturous welcome. Formed over ten years ago in Texas, now based in New York, bassist Michael League's collective project delivers a super-crisp, finely honed brand of jazz fusion, which takes its cues from antecedents such as Brass Construction, Weather Report, Donald Byrd, even Tower of Power, and has a devoted London following who cheered virtually every note and beat - and it is not difficult to see why. Their broader approach not only to music, but also to education and community reach-out and to the business of music sets a great example, too.

Powered from raised platforms back of stage by supercharged, master funk-rock drummer Larnell Lewis, and percussionists Nate Werth and Marcelo Woloski, and by League's booming bass, the brass section of Mike Mather, Jay Jennings and Chris Bullock, stage left, the keyboards of Bill Laurance and Justin Stanton and guitarist Chris McQueen, wove their way through songs from three of their eight albums to date, Ground UP, Tell Your Friends and We Like It Here.

Mather's solo flugelhorn made the first impression in Blinky, the opener, setting the precedent for a series of sharp sax and trumpet mini-solos from the note-perfect brass. Jangling guitar and complex keyboard patterns blended with mute trumpet to build up the texture on Kite, "the closest thing we have to a ballad," as League said. Yet, a Godspeed rumble was not outside their remit, either, and McQueen's choppy, raw guitar solo cast a complementary hue on the hefty, synchronised wall of sound at a point about half-way through when we had perceptible lift-off into another gear, and individuals really came into their own with the whole thing loosening up and the sound opening out.

Each of the band added colour with their own personal touches to fill out the canvas. Bullock's flighty flute added a different shade on Tio Macaco before the three percussionists were left alone on stage to whip up an extraordinary rhythmic spell all of their own. Bill Laurance's beautifully crafted piano solo gave way to a chunky, latin roller-coaster of a groove that had the brass gliding over the rhythms with effortless ease. To encore they invited Muswell Hill's very own major young talent, Jacob Collier  - "he's ten years younger than me!" declared League - to join them to add funked-up melodica to the mix on Quarter Master, as boogie brass collided with a rattling New Orleans stomp before they eased out on the heavyweight Shofukan.

Snarky Puppy's is a mighty sound and in full flow they can punch holes through the big band, r'n'b and jazz fusion genres. Yet, in such a strong position they can afford to take more risks. Maybe that will be part of their way forward!


REVIEW: Chano Dominguez and Niño Josele at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (2014 EFG LJF)

Chano Dominguez and Niño Josele(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 17th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Sarah Chaplin)

In guitarist Niño Josele’s album Paz (2006), he brought his 'nuevo flamenco' sensibility to the world of jazz, and to the tunes of Bill Evans in particular, imbuing them with a joyous sparkle. So the chance to hear him in London with fellow Spaniard, jazz pianist Chano Dominguez, for this year’s festival was not to be missed. What I hadn't realized (and nor did they, judging by their astonishment) was quite how magical a venue they’d booked for the gig. You feel as if you’ve stepped back in time into a miniature carved and gilded jewellery box that’s lit solely by real chandeliers.

Bolstered by the intimacy of this interior, the two approached their material with great composure and pin-dropping clarity, letting one another build up a strong opening statement with a tune before fleshing it out into a duo piece. Their joint improvisational intent involves passionate, romantic phrases underpinned by a steadying flamenco pulse that ebbs and flows beneath. The delicacy of the low guitar tirando and apoyando against Dominguez’s upper register chordal work on the piano such as in Je t’Attendrai was very appealing. A particular highlight of the evening were the work they dedicated to their musical mentors, such as Django taken from their latest album Chano y Josele (Okeh) and dedicated of course to the great gypsy guitarist Reinhardt. At one point Dominguez respectfully left the stage to allow Josele to do a solo version of a tune by Dominguez, and then came back on stage and returned the compliment, playing something with great humility by Josele.

It’s a special thing to see two musicians working so intuitively with each other, and to be evidently relishing each other’s playing the way ‘Chano y Josele’ do so well. On a high, the pair closed the second set with a piece dedicated to the late, great Paco de Lucia, the lovely Canción de Amor, which quite literally brought a tear to my eye, and clearly the rest of the audience felt similarly emotionally aroused, drumming their feet on the wooden floor in a flamenco trill to call for an encore, to which Dominguez and Josele, smiling and bowing arm in arm like two brothers, generously agreed.


REVIEW: Henri Texier Hope Quartet plus Tori Freestone Trio in the Purcell Room, (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival)

Henri Texier at New Morning, Paris
Photo Credit: Thibault Geenen/Creative Commons

Henri Texier Hope Quartet plus Tori Freestone Trio.
(The Purcell Room, EFG London Jazz Festival, 16th November 2014. Review by Patrick Hadfield.)

Opening for Henri Texier was the Tori Freestone Trio. A saxophone trio must be a hard gig for a saxophonist: much of the weight of the music fell on Freestone's tenor. She was excellent, her playing full of fluid lyricism. There was a soft quality to her tone, recalling Garbarek at times.

She needn't have felt too lonely up there, with Dave Manington on bass and James Maddren on drums. Every time I see Maddren play, I am more impressed - and I have seen him a lot.

They only played a handful of tunes, including an extended piece specially commissioned by EFG London Jazz Festival, Identity Protection. The other numbers came from her CD, In The Chop House. It was a short but impressive set.

And then the Henri Texier Hope Quartet came on. It was as if a whole new dimension had been opened. Only four musicians, but they have a big sound, driven fast by the polyrhythms of Louis Moutin's drums and Henri Texier's swinging, walking bass. Sebastian Texier was playing alto clarinet, a moody sound evoking Mingus-era Eric Dolphy.

Francois Corneloup's baritone had a rich tone, adding depth. The focus on Moutin's percussion was warranted when Texier informed us that the tune was O Elvin, dedicated to Elvin Jones. He later announced a piece dedicated to another drummer Paul Motian, allowing Moutin some respite as the tempo slowed.

Sebastian Texier switched to alto saxophone and introduced a sense of the Maghreb - a wistful, distant longing - in duet with the drums. Henri Texier's bass was firmly rooted in the blues, but tinged by a variety of folk musics, I think. His playing brought to mind Charles Mingus, perhaps because of the echoes of Dolphy, but also because with the blues at his core he then plays other influences over the top. Corneloup added to the Mingus mood with some bluesy baritone.

At times Moutin eschewed sticks or brushes, using his hands directly on the drums and cymbals, building up complex and sometimes anarchic rhythms. There was a joyful playfulness to his drumming, over which there were screeching and soaring saxophones.

Moutin continued his battering of la batterie with a couple of exciting drum solos - no, not an oxymoron - but it was Texier's bass that set the standard, pushing the music forward.

They played several tunes from the quartet's latest album, A L'Improviste, including Sacrifice (a recurrent theme of Texier's) and Desaparecido. Coming back for an encore Stone Sleep, Texier took a long bass solo, slow and gentle, and then Moutin took over with a tremendous, thunderous drum solo before settling down with a simple rhythm played with just his hands upon the skins. The reeds played long notes over the top.

It was an exhilarating evening, a rollercoaster of rhythm and melody.


NEWS: Public Nomination Round for 2015 Parliamentary Jazz Awards Opens Two Months Early

The 2014 Winners

Because of the May 2015 General Election, the process for the Parliamentary (APPJAG) Jazz Awards has been brought forwards by two months this year. The public nomination round is open, and will close on 12th December. The awards ceremony will be on  March 10th. VOTING IS HERE IN THE FOLLOWING ELEVEN CATEGORIES:

1) Jazz Album of the Year (Released in 2014 by UK band or musicians)

2) Jazz Album of the Year (Released in 2014 by UK band or musicians)

3) Jazz Vocalist of the Year (UK based artist who impressed in 2014)

4) Jazz Vocalist of the Year (UK based artist who impressed in 2014)

5) Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year (UK based musician who impressed in 2014)

6) Jazz Ensemble of the Year (UK based group who impressed in 2014)

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

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

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

10) Jazz Newcomer of the Year (UK based artist, musician or group who has released a debut album in 2014)

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

(Thank you to those who have enabled LondonJazz News to be shortlisted in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.)


REVIEW: Randy Weston/Billy Harper and JD Allen, Queen Elizabeth Hall (2014 EFG LJF)

Randy Weston and Billy Harper. 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Randy Weston/Billy Harper and JD Allen
(Queen Elizabeth Hall. 17th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Having left the South Bank thoroughly dispirited and disappointed on Saturday night, by the dullness and the sheer soullessness of Abdullah Ibrahim's septet, the much-needed antidote came when I returned on Monday. The sound of JD Allen’s tenor sax was heard before he emerged from the shadows, and – brimming with enthusiasm – the Detroit-born 41-year-old poured out captivating, uncompromising, gimmick-less jazz for the next 50 minutes. With one exception - the standard Stardust – Allen avoided the temptation to play songs from his latest album “Bloom” (Savant SCD 2139) and plumped instead for older compositions including The Pilot’s Compass, Son House, Pagan and Conjuration of Angles.

Allen’s classy line-up – featuring Alexander Claffy on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums - sometimes brought to mind the piano-less trios of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, and the band completely lacked the bullish arrogance that taints so many of its contemporaries. It was great stuff, and a very hard act to follow.

JD Allen Trio, 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival - Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

The relationship between pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist Billy Harper dates back to the early 70s, when Harper travelled to Tangier to participate in a festival that Weston had organised. They recorded their first duet CD “The Roots of the Blues” (Sunnyside SSC 3097) early last year but, like their predecessors on stage at the QEH, most of the pieces at the gig came from other sources.

With 88 years of life behind him and 88 keys in front, Weston began with the spiritual vamp of The Healers, and it paved the way for a remarkable set that overflowed with joyful sounds and luminous harmonies. Early on, Weston’s huge hands evoked the plodding of an African elephant, yet later on Little Niles his fingers were lightning-fast. After tapping out the rhythm on the piano’s woodwork, he incorporated elements of “stride” into his classic Hi Fly, and swung the roof off with an unaccompanied A Night in Mbari. Weston provided a brief background to each of the selections and proved to be an avuncular, likeable front-man.

Harper was the perfect foil. Speaking only through his tenor sax, the 71-year-old displayed a gorgeous tone that was somehow both deep and bright, and he let rip with wonderful flurries and wails on Blues to Africa. If One Could Only See came to Harper in a dream and was a solo tour de force, but it’s the partnership between the two men that was truly magical. During Blue Moses and Kofi Ghanaba’s Love, The Mystery Of, Weston and Harper knew exactly when to complement the other and when to strike out with something individual. After all those years, their love of playing together remains undimmed.

This was a fantastic double bill, and it’s a crime that the hall was less than half full.


REVIEW: Steve Swallow / Carla Bley Quintet at Ronnie Scott's

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Steve Swallow / Carla Bley Quintet
(Ronnie Scott's, 17th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Steve Swallow and Carla Bley are a very special musical combination, with a history, both musical and personal, that stretches back to the late '60s, so it was with particular delight that Simon Cooke, Ronnie's MD, announced that after many years the club had finally managed to secure the first booking of the couple, united as part Swallow's high-calibre quintet with Chris Cheek (tenor sax), Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Jorge Rossy (drums), as featured on their recent album, Into The Woodwork .

The beginnings of Swallow's jazz career coincided with the opening of the original Ronnie Scott's Club in 1959 , where he and Pete La Roca (with Jim Hall and Art Farmer) would play 'until 6am ... 7 - OK!' and he fondly and movingly recalled Ronnie, as an 'especially gracious and generous person'. Swallow, who recorded at Ronnie's fifteen years ago, was very much at home in the club's intimate surroundings and also reflected that 'finally the stars have aligned'.

By way of introducing their opening number, Bite Your Grandmother, he recounted J P Sousa's priceless response to jazz - "It makes me want to bite my grandmother!" Its jumpy, oddball structure, as if to further annoy Sousa, had something of the feel of an Ornette composition which immediately allowed Bley to impose her own inimitable poise and sense of style on the B3 Hammond, bringing a mixture of nuanced blues-gospel and the merest hint of quirky toy piano to the group's sound.

With Swallow in the driving seat, rhythmically and melodically, he facilitated various rounds, solos and spells of counterpoint and opened up interplay between Cheek's gutsy, flowing sax, Cardenas's rippling guitar and Rossy's light percussive interventions. On the langorous, melancholic Ever After Bley held down the chords and played on sustains, knowingly reflecting the B3's heritage whilst maintaining her own unique voice, which prompted Swallow to allow himself to declare, perhaps on behalf of all in the house, "I can hardly believe it! It's Carla Bley on organ!"

Jorge Rossy. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

A medley of three pieces inspired by Swallow's love of murder mysteries - Grisly Business, Unnatural Causes, and Bend Over Backwards - embraced spooky passages with Bley sneaking in bluesy organ discords, and Rossy padding, thumping, and generally mistreating the drum kit at one point in a way that suggested that 'it was the drummer wot dun it'! With space for a beautifully understated duet from Swallow and Bley, that saw Swallow soloing on the high notes and Bley bending her head so low it almost touched the keyboard, the triptych was rounded off with a theme that took its bounce, in the only way it could - from the Pink Panther.

Closing the set with powerful sax and guitar interaction, held firmly on course by the rhythm section, they encored with a number inspired by another mild obsession of Swallow's, an imaginary TV sitcom - 'the worst kind!' - that had Bley vamping the Hammond and Cheek taking off for a final burst to leave the audience with the warm glow of having been in the close company of two of the left-field heros and playmakers of the era.

Opening the evening was the assured Phil Robson Quartet, with Julian Siegel, Dave Whitford and Chris Higginbottom who skimmed between the standards and their own compositions with tight precision and an accomplished edge.

Steve Swallow / Carla Bley Quintet
Steve Swallow - bass
Carla Bley - B3 Hammond organ
Chris Cheek - tenor sax
Steve Cardenas - guitar
Jorge Rossy - drums

Phil Robson quartet

Phil Robson - guitar
Julian Siegel - sax
Dave Whitford - bass
Chris Higginbottom - drums


REVIEW: Kit Downes plus Pete Wareham Double Bill at the 606 Club (2014 EFG LJF)

Kit Downes plus Pete Wareham
(606 Club. 17th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Joe Stoddart)

As part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the 606 hosted a double bill by two Mercury Prize nominated artists, pianist Kit Downes and saxophonist Pete Wareham.

Kit Downes was first up, joined by Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and long-time collaborator James Maddren on drums, playing music almost all composed by Downes for the occasion, beginning with 'Politix', an intense piece with frenetic playing from all, setting the tone for the set ahead. Eldh's bass playing was particularly impressive considering a string broke early on in the piece. After a small pause to fix the problem, the band continued with Jinn, in which the solo piano exposition highlighted some of the many musical and technical facets of Downes' playing that make him such a formidable pianist, qualities to be reinforced later on solo set closer Alliri.

After 'Jinn', James Maddren started off Rusty with an excellent mallet drum solo leading into the melody which featured some great unison lines between the bass and Downes' left hand. It was finally Eldh's turn to start off a tune, Faster Than Light beginning with a virtuosic exploration of the double bass before a angular piano melody accompanied by muscular bass and drums led to motivic ending. Petter Eldh's Children With Torches, the only piece of the set not written specifically for the performance, followed before a reprise of set opener 'Politix' and the solo piano encore.

Pete Wareham is probably best known for his work with Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear and Melt Yourself Down, 'Bump' is different from these. It is a standards project, in which Wareham deploys a more rootsy, mellow and maybe even traditional sound. It worked wonderfully from the off with his sax blending beautifully with Ben Hazleton's bass intro for a rendition of Sam Rivers' 'Beatrice'. The band then moved the tempo up for Sonny Rollins' 'Strode Rode', Wareham's full tenor sound reminiscent of Rollins himself while Hazleton and drummer George Bird provided not just a solid foundation but also an exciting backdrop. A more bluesy element of Wareham's playing was evident on 'The Old Country' before an up-Latin version of 'Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise' veered more towards the type of playing one may expect to here with Melt Yourself Down, more rhythmic and motific ideas coming to the fore as well as streching the range of the instrument.

Duke Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady' featured a fantastic unaccompanied bass solo while George Bird contributed a fine drum solo on 'Downstairs Blues, Upstairs' (another tune from Sam Rivers' 1964 classic 'Fuchsia Swing Song') but Wareham was the star of the show with closing tunes 'My One & Only Love' and Art Pepper's 'Trip' serving to really highlight the scale and breadth of his playing. From the tenderness of the ballad to the more free, faster paced feel of 'Trip' and everywhere between throughout the evening, Wareham shows time and time again why he is such a respected presence on the UK jazz scene.

Both trios offered a huge amount of musicality, intensity and excitement in their performances and Downes' exciting new compostions balanced well with Wareham's interpretations of some classic material. The result was a cleverly put-together double bill, the bands complementing each other very well indeed.

Set Lists:

Kit Downes Trio

Faster Then Light
Children With Torches

Encore: Alliri (Piano Solo)

Pete Wareham's Bump

Strode Rode
The Old Country
Softly, As I A Morning Sunrise
Sophisticated Lady
Downstairs Blues, Upstairs
My One & Only Love

Encore: Trip


REVIEW: Abdullah Ibrahim at the Royal Festival Hall (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival).

Abdullah Ibrahim at the 2011 Moera Fetival.
Photo credit: Michael Hoefner/ Creative Commons
Abdullah Ibrahim
(Royal Festival Hall.15th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Hoblyn)

After the week we'd had, my companion,T, and I needed a bit of peace. No-one downloading words in our ears. So, sitting with a bird's-eye view of the Festival Hall stage we were in a place above it all. From the moment of hush (when everyone knows it's about to begin) we were ready for something good. And the only words in the whole evening were uttered by Jumoke Fashola, introducing the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim a month on from his 80th birthday. She told us of the two-halves nature of the night; the first to be performed by his new trio - Cleave Guyton (clarinet/flute) and Noah Jackson (cello/bass) and Ibrahim himself on startlingly naked piano (no lid in sight), and the second with a larger group.

The man almost shuffled on stage, dropping sheet music as he came, but any frailty dropped away as he began to play alone. It was comfortingly familiar - melodic and meditational, rich in those heart-touching chords that are inimical to his playing. He played on through several movements for at least 30 minutes, the softness of the piece punctuated with percussive African rhythms. When the cello and flute joined him in the next pieces (including African Market, The Wedding and Duke 88) the therapy was complete; shoulders relaxed visibly all around. The African Suite themes that were revisited produced an orchestral mood, and the piano flowed over us like molten gold, silver threaded by the flute.The whole sensory experience was uplifting but not in an agitatedly, excitable way;at times the trio were pooled in purple light and the instruments were perfectly balanced. It felt like sitting on a cloud-cushion of delightful sound. And thankfully, there was rarely that jazz-goers' interruption of clapping for solos to disturb the balm.

Collective breaths exhaled for the interval, there was time to reflect on Ibrahim's provenance as composer of Mannenberg - which became the unofficial theme for black South Africans during the apartheid struggles. My husband had seen him in Jo'burg when he was still calling himself by the name of Dollar Brand. Ibrahim has taken the African heart and cadences to a wider audience in his 80 years; our seat neighbours last saw him in New York.

The second half had been billed by the ever-enthusiastic Fashola as 'get up and dance to Township music'. The ensemble was now dubbed Ekaya and expanded to a heavenly-seven-strong with Laurence Bryant (tenor sax), Marshall McDonald (baritone sax), Andrae Murchison (trombone) and Will Terrill (drums) There was some sophisticated brass unison playing and Murchison on trombone produced wonderful story-telling but for me it was more mellow than dance-inducing. At times there were north African/Arabic influences - drum driven. Fine musicianship, with Ibrahim generously handing over the stage to his colleagues with just the odd, pearly-highlighted touch on the tiller from the piano.

For me, it was the intravenous infusion of heart-medicine in the first half that made me glad. It's also good to see that advanced age allows you to talk less - but every pared down note you utter means more.

LINKS: Nelson Mandela and music - a guide/ tribute by Gwen Ansell 

Abdullah Ibrahim's Ekaya, review from 2010


REVIEW: The Bad Plus at Village Underground (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival)

The Bad Plus at the Bimhuis. Photo Credit: Jerroen/ Creative Commons

The Bad Plus
(Village Underground. 17th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

On the evidence of the long queue still stretching eagerly underneath the East London Line bridge, waiting to enter Village Underground as Bitch 'n' Monk concluded the first set of the sold out night, it is fair to draw the conclusion that the The Bad Plus are rather popular. And it is also easy to see why: bassist and frontman Reid Anderson has the stage manner and easy humour many can only dream of, while the group deliver song after song of impressively tight and strongly percussive music.

Opening track Pound for Pound saw Ethan Iverson take a ponderous straight piano line and deform it with pauses, pushed beats, and the odd atypical harmony. With a deeply-resonant double bass rumbling beneath and building to quite the climax, this is the sort of euphoric fare that The Bad Plus are known for.

As a unit they can shift gear together perfectly, switching between the fast-paced muscular grooves of Mr Now to the rather more clean and classic keys of I Hear You, both from their latest release Inevitable Western (EPK HERE). And they're certainly still interested in disassembling a song before an audience's eyes, as on the cinematic chase sequence of Self Serve or dystopian meter-busting Wolf Out, at times the hammered energy of their delivery drawing favourable comparisons with the complex twisting and strongly grooving pieces of fellow charismatic bass-led trio Phronesis.

It was also a reminder of a shrewd remark once made by Tony Platt, who has produced albums for them and describes them thus: "They're like the Marx Brothers. One of them starts a gag. They pass it on to each other. Then they all get together for the punchline. There isn't any sense of competition. They don't out-jazz or out-anything each other."

That said, a controlled unease is also something they continue to explore - melodies which on first inspection are simple, are subtly distorted with the odd atonal chord or hanging dissonance between a progressing bass and a lingering chord. Like the slightly trapezoidal roof enclosing the repurposed traditional brick coal store which forms the Village Underground main hall, The Bad Plus can present a piece which on first impressions appears unassuming, but queasily doesn’t quite fit. During their rendition of Knows the Difference they revel in the unanchored deconstructed freedom, each instrumentalist seemingly off-piste and hurtling downhill alone until they abruptly pull together out of nowhere. It is this trick which has served them so distinctly on their reinterpretations of others works – the niggling familiarity of the root of a popular tune holding the piece together as we wait for the resolution.

The Bad Plus may forged its reputation with unique covers, but ever since the album Never Stop, the direction that they've been homing in on in recent years has been fixed: last night's set was predominantly of their own compositions. While they're still exploring their two traditional mindsets - hell-for-leather intensity and slow swelling resonant contemplation - tracks such as drummer Dave King's Gold Prisms Incorporated approached something of a middle ground: composed, yet still urgent.

But it is still this simple contrast of two dynamics which they toy with so well with each other throughout the set. The languid delivery of song titles and gentle joshing of bandmates is played against the wrestling-style introductions, a brief burst of a stomping entrance theme accompanying each name announced. They returned to the stage to finish with their 2007 barnstormer Physical Cities to demonstrate their rhythmic nous and close understanding with the seemingly never-ending break, as sharp performed live as if they were in a studio.

The Bad Plus are one of very few groups who have successfully coupled avant-garde musical Deconstructivism with accessible commercial success, and on the evidence of their delightfully off-key, tongue-in-cheek closing tune, imploring all those present to purchase a copy of their new CD, long may this continue.

LINKS: The Bad Plus at Ronnie Scott's 2012

Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus, interview 2010

The Bad Plus and Django Bates, LJF 2010


REVIEW: John Surman and the Bergen Big Band at Kings Place.(2014 EFG LJF)

Bergen Big Band

John Surman and the Bergen Big Band 
(Kings Place. 15th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The second evening of the EFG London Jazz Festival's celebration of John Surman's 70th birthday, this performance at Kings Place featured his work with big bands, as well as some of the major collaborations of his long career. Now resident in Norway, Surman was joined by the Bergen Big Band, his regular collaborator Karin Krog, and the arranger John Warren .

They got off to a forceful start. The stage of Kings Place Hall One, isn't large, and the twenty-odd musicians filled it. When they started blowing together, their sound filled the hall, too, almost forcing the audience back into our seats. Exhilarating, but it didn't leave much space for subtlety. Surman alternated between baritone and soprano saxophones, directing the band when not playing.

After a couple of numbers at full throttle, Surman was joined onstage by Krog. They dueted on In A Sentimental Mood, the band sitting out on a well earned, albeit early, rest. Krog's thin voice matched to Surman's rich baritone and was frankly spell binding: a sentimental mood indeed.

The band joined in on Angel Eyes . More restrained, they quietly added abstract textures behind Krog's vocal, turning what is usually played as a warm ballad into a powerful piece of Nordic noir. The quiet control shown by the band was very effective.

Krog continued with the more upbeat Don't Just Sing , with Surman soloing on soprano, and then it was back to Surman alone with the band, back at full pelt, with a lively Latin number.

After the interval, John Warren conducted Surman on soprano and the band in his arrangement of Windy Kent, and then they played Surman's Another Sky suite, which was released with the band in the autumn. These pieces were full of texture, the horns punctuating Surman's powerful solos as well as providing some fine work themselves. The arrangements were reminiscent of Maria Schneider at some times, and Colin Towns at others.

Surman continued with Thelonious Monk's Ruby My Dear, played beautifully as a slow ballad, which moved into full big band swing. Surman took a long, muscular solo on baritone, producing a powerful, almost choral sound. They closed the second set as they started the first, blowing a gale, with some great solos from each section.

Krog came back for a moving encore, JJ Johnson's Lament, played as a tribute to Olav Dale . Dale had led the Bergen Big Band and died earlier this month. His seat in the saxophones was taken by Martin Hathaway for the night. A gentle ballad, the arrangement had much of the character of a Gil Evans piece, full of soft dynamics. It must have been a moving coda for the musicians, remembering their former leader and colleague. A fitting end to an excellent evening.


REVIEW: Sarah Jane Morris at the Hippodrome (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival)

Sarah Jane Morris. Photo Credit: Richard Kaby

Sarah Jane Morris at the Hippodrome,
(EFG London Jazz Festival, 15th November 2014. Review by Sarah Chaplin)

This was the third time I’d heard Sarah Jane Morris over the last four decades. Back in the 80s, I saw her fronting The Communards with Jimmy Somerville at Rock City in Nottingham. By the time I saw her next, in the intimate setting of the Pigalle Club on Piccadilly. she’d embarked on her solo song-writing career. On Saturday night, here she was singing some great new songs with a highly political edge in the most unlikely setting of a West End casino.

For her most recent album, Bloody Rain (Fallen Angel, 2014), Morris assembled a talented crew to create a gorgeous African setting for her soulful bluesy contralto. The album was a PledgeMusic project and is a celebration of humanity, dedicated in fact to the people of Africa, and was recorded in the UK, Johannesburg, Paris and Tel Aviv. Many of the artists on the album were appearing on the gig: Henry Thomas sounding great on electric bass guitar, the wondrous Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, Martyn Barker on drums, John Eacott on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tim Cansfield, and Tony Remy on guitar, with whom she co-wrote much of the material. She also added a small choir drawn from the Soweto Gospel Choir to the mix.

Resplendent in a fabulous black floral print crinoline, Morris delivered her riveting lyrics and melodies with tremendous warmth and conviction, starting with Feel the Love, and closely following the track order on the album itself. No Beyonce is a heart-rending tale of a young girl, the title track itself Bloody Rain a powerful indictment of the harsh conditions many Africans endure, and Deeper Well, a searching lament. The guitar-driven arrangements with thoughtful percussive overlays and choral backings together with some beautiful solos from Eacott and Thomas were evidence that this band really knows what it’s doing and works well as a collective unit. There is texture as well as meaning to all her songs, the dirt, pain and hurt keenly felt and deeply ingrained, Coal Train being no exception, with its evocative list of place names and a heart-stopping primal scream.

Perhaps wondering if by this stage in the set she might have tipped the balance too far in terms of the politics of human struggle, Morris lifted the mood with the song she wrote for Annie Lennox’s Sing campaign raising money for women and children with HIV/Aids, entitled Men Just Want to Have Fun, a cheeky calypso-esque Aretha-like rant about the necessity of using condoms garnished with plenty of amusing innuendo. But Morris wanted us to have even more fun than that, and finished the set by getting us all up singing and dancing to I Shall Be Released (by Keziah Jones), Piece of My Heart, and last but not least, a lovely version of Don't Leave Me This Way, which she managed to prevent from becoming a nostalgia-fest by singing it as though it was a brand new song. Sweaty, breathless and beaming from ear to ear, Morris declared after rapturous applause that they would do an encore ‘without first leaving the stage, if that’s OK’. And yes, we were more than happy with that.


REVIEW: Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble at Temple Church (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival)

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble
(Temple Church, EFG London Jazz Festival, 14 th November 2014. Review and photo by Sarah Chaplin)

A strange hush descends. You have the feeling that everyone around you is sitting very still when the renowned Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek emerges from behind a stone column in Temple Church and makes his first utterance on his tiny curved soprano saxophone. You can’t help but close your eyes to let its reverberant cadence wash over you, and it’s only then that you become aware of celestial voices at the edge of your consciousness, arriving seemingly out of nowhere. Slowly you realize it’s the four male singers that comprise the Hilliard Ensemble, who are moving through the aisles, to converge on the small platform in the centre of the nave.

Now in their 40th year, this concert is part of the Ensemble’s goodbye tour, during which they have performed their repertoire with Garbarek all over Europe in many different sacred spaces with incredible acoustics. Knowing it’s their swansong lends what is already a highly charged emotional experience an additional poignancy, and might help explain the extraordinary attentiveness of the audience; you have the sense that no-one wants to miss a single note.

The pairing of a vocal chamber ensemble with a jazz musician might sound an unlikely combination, but it was the inspired brainchild of ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher. In 1993 he brought the five of them to an Benedictine monastery deep in the Austrian Alps, and first tried out this extraordinary combined sound, little knowing it would be one of ECM’s biggest success stories. Officium was released in 1994 to great critical acclaim and has since sold over 1.5 million copies. They followed this with two other albums, Mnemosyne in 1999 and Officium Novum in 2010. Often attracting epithets like ‘esoteric’ and ‘ethereal’ – terms which in a sense have come to define the ECM label – Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble’s choice and treatment of material is, to my mind, more ‘eclectic’ than anything else. They have rearranged Plainsong, old English folk songs, renaissance secular music, Spanish funeral music, compositions by the Armenian monk Komitas and also work by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. They have set poems by Swedish poet Pär Lagerkvist to music, as well as worked with compositions by Garbarek himself. The end result is a highly consistent blend of choral works with a strong minor or modal tonality, to which the group applies unusual humility and restraint and produces something that’s not far short of perfection.

The four voices, David James (countertenor), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Steven Harrold (tenor) and Gordon Jones (baritone), are so in tune and in synch with each other at times it’s quite unreal; you can hear all the possible harmonic overtones. Usually alluded to as the ‘fifth voice’, Garbarek’s contribution to the sound functions in several different ways depending on the piece. At times he adds a decorative motif in the form of a wildly angelic soprano line, sometimes it’s a firm rhythmic counterpoint in a canon, sometimes more typically in a jazz idiom working as a game of call-and-response, and on occasions he makes an opening statement upon which the quartet then elaborates. Whatever his role, Garbarek often leads the voicings into a darker more austere harmony, making exhilarating lines from obscure but captivating scale choices. Their performance of Holy Mother of God was particularly mesmerising. At times something else emerged from their combined sound that was like a low, ululating resonant interplay, feeding off the fabric of the building. What can I say? It was a quite extraordinary and, dare I say it, transcendent experience.

LINK: Review- Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Enseble. City of London Festival 2009

Officium is released for the first time on vinyl Monday 27th November 2014. The final performance by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliards will be in Kings College Chapel Cambridge on December 6th


REVIEW: Bill Frisell plus Sam Amidon at the Barbican (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival

Tony Scheer, Greg Leisz, Kenny Wollesen, Bill Frisell
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Bill Frisell plus Sam Amidon
(Barbican Hall, 16th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

On a wet Sunday evening the Barbican crowd were taken on journey by Bill Frisell from the sixties, post-Blitz Brutalist architecture of London  to the same evocative period across the Atlantic. Steeped in sun-kissed hope, Guitar in the Space Age! was a nostalgic return to the country, blues and surf music of Frisell's formative years, seen through the prism of the civil rights movement and the seemingly infinite possibilities of scientific progress at that time.

Before looking to the stars, supporting act Sam Amidon located the concert in its all-American heartland with a string of beautiful and sincere folk songs and ballads. His endearing patter and evocative traditional singing style belied some of the complex texture and variation supplied by touring partner Chris Vatalaro on bass, drums, laptops and keys. While Amidon was unexpectedly joined on stage for the entirety by Frisell himself, accompanying with his telecaster, his role was very much complementary to Amidon and Vatalaro's routine, featuring pieces from new release Lily-O.

Amidon's folk provided a context for the music that Frisell revisited in his inimitable style when he returned to the stage with his group. With Frisell now clearly in the driving seat the trajectories of the songs took his more circuitous and patient route, with a restrained Frisell met by the relaxed slide of Greg Leisz's pedal steel rising to an intense finale: a brief hint of some of his Naked City work slipping through before falling back into a comfortable blues.

Throughout the evening Frisell was exceedingly comfortable, barely halting to address the audience but instead rolling song into song, playfully revealing a previously concealed theme before embarking on a piece in earnest. With Kenny Wollesen ably adding spark to proceedings, the core dynamics on-stage were controlled by the clear understanding between Frisell and bassist Tony Scheer. Tired of Waiting For You in particular was brought to life by the nuanced styles traversed as Frisell and Scheer communicated across the stage, building a very American sound from a very British song.

Whether the audience were familiar with the originals or not, Frisell and friends presented a very accessible set touching on distinctive pop culture surf theme Rumble, and Tornados classic Telstar closing the scheduled performance. As he remounted the stage Frisell, as effective with his sparse use of words as he is with his sparse playing style, gratefully announced “I love every- I love most people”. Less cautious in music, the beautiful re-workings of the music of his childhood years selected from Guitar in the Space Age! certainly came from the heart.

LINKS: CD Review - Big Sur
Review: Bill Frisell Beautiful Dreamers Trio
Review:  Bill Frisell - The Great Flood (2012)