PHOTO: Adam Cohen (@ThisIsAdamCohen) at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Adam Cohen on the TD Stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Benoit Rousseau. All Rights Reserved

Sebastian writes:

I'm covering the 36th Montreal Jazz Festival, with a few pieces commissioned by the Telegraph. The headliner on the main, vast free-stage in the Place des Festivals last night was Adam Cohen, mostly doing material from the album We Go Home from 2014 (Rezolute). Benoit Rousseau's picture (copyright applies) shows him evidently enjoying the moment, loving being back in front of a huge appreciative crowd in his home city, and appreciating the warmth of their welcome.

LINKS: Russell Malone at Upstairs review
Preview of Jamie Cullum's BBC Introducing Showcase 
"Impossibly charismatic": Montreal Gazette review of Jamie Cullum 


REPORT: Pussy Riot with the Thurston Moore Band, The Jack Wood, Scofferlane at Village Underground

Masha Alekhina and Luke Harding
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Pussy Riot with the Thurston Moore Band, The Jack Wood, Scofferlane
(Village Underground, 1 July 2015; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Zona.Media is the platform created by Masha Alekhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova, two members of Russian feminist punk-protest group, Pussy Riot, to critique the political establishment and champion the causes of political prisoners and media freedom, after being jailed for 21 months for their high-profile, anti-government protest in 2012 at Moscow's Orthodox Cathedral,

Masha Alekhina was interviewed by Charlotte Church at Glastonbury a few days earlier, and to open this event at Village Underground, a Pussy Riot guerrilla performance announced only the previous morning, she continued this theme in conversation with the Guardian's Luke Harding, who, as Moscow correspondent, had also experienced the sharp end of Russian politics, on which he has written at length in his book, Mafia State.

This was also the opportunity to showcase two hard-edge, high-energy Russian bands, Scofferlane and The Jack Wood, both also hotfoot from Glastonbury, before The Thurston Moore Band rounded off the evening in style.

Moore, expressing solidarity with the aims of Zona.Media, had stated, 'It is an honour to participate with Pussy Riot ... one of the most radical and uncompromising movements of punk', which was why they'd taken the unusual step of playing the night before embarking on tour.

Alekhina's discussion with Harding was wide ranging and pulled no punches. She made no bones about the gender roles in violence experienced in Ukraine and further afield. 'All this war made by men, no women there, they're all trying to stop them.' 'Over the last three years our country has become a f***ing monster .. [it] looks like prison', as democratic institutions are crushed by the state and the Church is appropriated to become a symbol of political power. And, in the current climate, she said that 'the problem is [that] young people are not so politically involved.' 'Politicians are imprisoned or under house arrest ... politicians steal money, buy property abroad ...' The harsh reality was brought home effectively.

Then on to the music. Scofferlane, down to bassist and vocalist for this gig - ‘the others are in Moscow’ - were sharp, dramatic and moody, with echoes of Nick Cave's delivery, their dark side given extra presence with high end lighting that threw out beams with sculptural intent.

The Jack Wood, a raw, post/proto-punk trio from Tomsk in the depths of Siberia, loved being over here: on Glastonbury, they twittered 'Best place ever - Wango Riley Stage!' Fronted by hyper-energetic singer, Sasha Klokova, who has an unrelentingly powerful voice and stage presence, they were telepathically tight, churning up an instrumental storm with just guitar and drums - no need for a bass, while Klokova, skinny, hyper-athletic, braced herself against the power lighting to appear in silhouette like a Javanese shadow puppet.

Moore's band, including bassist Debbie Googe, ex-My Bloody Valentine, made the case for guitar rock and songs, in a post-Sonic Youth vein - a contrast to Moore's left-field excursions in Dalston, but no less engaging, and their presence put a strong seal of endorsement on the event.

Geoffrey Winston is a design consultant for arts clients. His reviews and drawings have been a feature of LJN since 2010.


REVIEW: Brigitte Beraha and Friends at Karamel, N22

Brigitte Beraha and friends at Karamel N22

Brigitte Beraha and Friends
(Karamel, Wood Green N22. Review by Mike Collins)

The Karamel Restaurant is a large high ceilinged room in a former industrial building on Coburg Road, adjacent to the main Chocolate Factory in Wood Green's Cultural Quarter. Now known as the Chocolate Factory, Barratt’s extensive former confectionary Works buildings on Clarendon Road have become became the focus of the Wood Green cultural quarter. Several of the businesses operating within the buildings function as production facilities for the creative industry rather than as attractions for the general public, so many local residents wonder where and what this ‘cultural quarter’ actually is. Well, I can assure you that culture is alive and well in Wood Green in the form of Jazz and World Music at the Karamel Club (as it is more often called)!

The general ambience at the venue is that of a café bar, located in a large, airy room, with lots of space. The restaurant is vegan, although you don't have to have food, and there are small plates or desserts available or you can just have drinks.

For Thursday evenings, Stu Butterfield, a jazz drummer of note, books the bands - the 27th venue at which he has performed this role since 1995. Stu has been running gigs at the Karamel club for about 18 months, initially monthly and now weekly since April. “Mostly I invite musicians whose work I know of and admire, although I take suggestions from other musicians about who to book as well. The bar has organic wine and beers, so musicians are fed and watered healthily before the gig - they are well looked after and they always get paid!”

Brigitte Beraha's band for the evening was Stuart Hall on guitar, Dave Mannington on bass and mandolin, and Paul Clarvis on percussion. "I work with all three of the other musicians in different bands," Hall told me, "but this is the first time we've worked together as a quartet. We all live in North London and I met Brigitte at the Guildhall where we both taught on a course. I also have a duo with Brigitte which has only done a couple of gigs so far, but we are aiming for world domination!”

I arrived just in time for the second set, which opened with a song called Lisa - lovely relaxed vocals from Beraha and excellent guitar work from Hall. Egberto Gismonti's Palhaco followed, with a dynamic guitar accompaniment. Brigitte Beraha's expansive vocals filled the room, sounding joyful and happy, while the rhythm section provided a sensitive backdrop.

Dave Manington's mandolin made its appearance in the next song Asablanca adding its own special "colour" to the sound. The Beraha/Manington song Willow Tree was up next, with Hall swapping onto Telecaster guitar and Manington back on double bass. Reminiscent of a Laura Nyro song, the slow tempo allowed Paul Clarvis to fill the spaces in the minimalistic musical arrangement with dramatic and dynamic accents on his tiny kit, played with brushes while Stuart Hall filled in with evocative harmonics, arpeggios and occasional chords.

Stu Butterfield sat in with the band for the more uptempo number that followed, which featured wonderful harmonic guitar comping. Then it was back to bossa nova - a genre that Brigitte Beraha clearly feels totally at home with. Airto Moreira's song Papo Furado brought another change of instrumentation, featuring pandeiro, mandolin and acoustic guitar, lots of vocal whoops and swoops and scatting - as you might expect - and the venue's reverberant acoustics worked well for this! The mandolin, which was not amplified, was a bit lost in all this, but it didn’t seem to matter!

The next song, Keep On Moving was so newly-minted that Beraha was not even sure what it was called. Again, I found this somehow reminiscent of Laura Nyro's work! Finally, it was time for the last song - another bossa - Choro Do Anjo, originally by Joyce, which brought the evening gently to its close.

Mike Collins is a London-based music creator - producer, songwriter, studio musician - music technology consultant & author.


NEWS: Winners at the inaugural Jarek Smietana Jazz Competition in Krakow

L-R: Szymon Mika, Felix Lemerle, Rotem Sivan, Gabriel Niedziela
Photo credit Pawel Mazur

The winners have been announced at the inaugural Jarek Smietana Jazz Competition in Krakow

Szymon Mika (Poland)  1st prize
Félix Lemerle (France) 2nd prize
Roland Balogh (Hungary) 3rd prize (Ex aequo)
Rotem Sivan (Israel)  3rd prize (Ex aequo)
Gabriel Niedziela (Poland)  Special prize founded by Anna & Alicja Śmietana

Mary James has attended the competition writing for us, and her more detailed report will follow.


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Alto Adige 2015, 30th June

Matthias Schriefl. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015
(Bolzano. 30th June 2015. Festival Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the second part of Alison's round-up

One of Jazz Festival Director Klaus Widmann’s aims was to bring an international feel to Suedtirol Alto Adige, in the mountains of Northern Italy. People there speak two languages (German and Italian) and every town has two names. Saxophonist Tom Challenger’s Brass Mask added a New Orleans carnival feel, allied with modern jazz.

The sense of anticipation was heightened, as the programme didn’t say where in Bolzano’s centre they’d start playing- you had to listen out for them. Would they be round the next corner? Suddenly, there they were, on a wooden stage, with Theon Cross’ tuba and Nat Cross’ trombone keeping the groove. Dan Nicholls’ Hammond keyboard augmented the sound; later he played percussion. Jon Scott also swapped his drum kit for percussion as they started to march slowly though the street markets in the morning sun.

Brass Mask in Bolzano

They played New Orleans-style tunes, like Just a Closer Walk With Thee and All of Me. Small children and dogs followed, fascinated; shop workers danced in doorways. As they paused in the squares, modern jazz elements came more to the fore. There were Black Indian Mardi Gras tunes (Shallow Water Oh Mama, Indian Red) with scrunchy harmonies, George Crowley’s sax free-ish with hints of Chris Potter. Challenger’s sax called and the rest of the band responded in harmonised riffs, Nick Malcolm and Alex Bonney’s trumpets ricocheting off the high walls of the squares.

The new Jazz Station on Piazza del Grano was the Festival’s workshop centre, reflecting Widmann’s philosophy that jazz should be new and challenging, but not elitist- an intimate space for artists to discuss and demonstrate their art. French singer and performance artist Leila Martial first appeared as a disembodied whisper greeting each newly arrived audience member: ‘Are you here?’ As she emerged from her hiding place, she looped her voice in strange Gollum-like rasps and harmonised swoony long notes. (She later, fascinatingly, talked us though her arsenal of pedals) Her clown persona, complete with makeup and huge buttons, allowed her to experiment with different voices. ‘What do you expect from life?’ she muttered sotto voce, before asking for a volunteer to improvise a (beautiful) duet with her.

Pianist Kit Downes had curated a piano series for the Modern Art Gallery (Museion). Suedtirol (London resident) artist Martino Gamper’s exhibition had retro furnishings and massive glass cases, full of the kinds of artefacts you might have found in a 1970s house. In the middle of the large white room, its glass walls overlooking the huge mountains, was a grand piano- a parody of a living room.

Dan Nicholls, Lauren Kinsella. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

British pianist Dan Nicholls and Irish singer Lauren Kinsella were in duet. Kinsella explained that they like to ‘work from a small portion of text and see where it leads’, allying jazz and free improvisation to performance poetry and sprechstimme. They used technology (keyboard and pedals) to loop and distort the sounds, a kind of real time musique concrète. Kinsella’s voice was at times pure and folk-edged, with perfect intonation, floating over ostinato piano lines. She could be breathy or harsh, or like an eerie choir. ‘This is a homage to beauty wherever it may find itself,’ she sang over Nicholls’ complex piano, with its echoes of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin. One piece could have been Jarrett playing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, as Kinsella’s notes and words rose and plummeted. They ended with a gentle Mood Indigo, with elegiac new harmonies.

The stage of the "G7" Great European Jazz Conference had been built over the Parkhotel Laurin’s outdoor pool. It was a truly international gig, with 7 musicians representing 7 countries, conducted by German trumpeter Matthias Schriefl: ‘Real G7 politicians could learn a lot from musicians!’ Each contributed a composition- jazz, rock, folk and free improv jostling together. Icelandic guitarist Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson opened with a gorgeous duet with Irish Lauren Kinsella; her vocal style was cooler in tone than Leila Martial’s impassioned improvisation, with its overtones of French Chanson. The group was bassless but Rögnvaldsson’s octave pedal ably supported Swiss drummer David Meier. Ukrainian singer Tamara Lukasheva’s Solaremi involved her in sweet harmonies with the other singers and a wonderfully inventive improvised duet with Finnish saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, matching each other squeal for squeal. Then it had to happen- Schriefl and Meier finally jumped into the pool below the stage, Schriefl’s euphonium gurgling underwater and the singers responding with suitable watery sounds. Schriefl later pointed out that water carries sound considerably better than air- perhaps next year’s gig will be underwater?

Alison's first report of 29th June


CD REVIEW: John Law's New Congregation - These Skies In Which We Rust

John Law's New Congregation - These Skies In Which We Rust
(33 Extreme. 33Xtreme006. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

For almost thirty years, classically-trained British pianist John Law has been pushing on the door of jazz creativity, forming and reshaping his own particularly diverse routes through an impressive catalogue of ensemble and solo piano releases.

The last decade has seen a consolidation of his considerable compositional and performance strengths – including collaborations with Sam Burgess, Yuri Goloubev and Asaf Sirkis – to create a memorable clutch of albums from his Art of Sound and Congregation projects (2009's piano trio release, entitled Congregation, an unquestionable treasure). Throughout, his inventive, precise solo piano extemporisations have remained at the heart of everything he produces, even when subtly enhanced by glockenspiel, electronics, other keyboards or prepared piano techniques.

For this double album release from John Law's New Congregation, he again enjoys the company of expressive bassist Yuri Goloubev, along with drummer Laurie Lowe (from Law's recent electronic quartet project, Boink!), and introduces the spirited playing of acclaimed young London-based tenorist Josh Arcoleo. Law's approach has always felt essentially English – and endearingly so. Perhaps it's his quirkily teasing song titles and the stories of their origins, plus the upright solidity of his particularly distinctive technique. But that's where any semblance of immaculacy ends, as his original works are enduringly attractive and frequently bracing, with a good measure of unpredictability.

The hundred-minute expanse of this eleven-track playlist allows Law and his colleagues the freedom to stretch out, as in opening When Planets Collide where nebulous electro-effects hover behind an oscillating 4/4 and 5/4 piano-and-bass groove – the perfect spacial canvas for Law's eloquent improvisations and Yuri Goloubev's characteristically cantabile bass resonance; and Laurie Lowe demonstrates his thunderous percussive capabilities. Seven Ate Nine (Law's tricksy, rhythmic interpretation of children's joke, "Why was Six scared of Seven? Because…") is based on an ebullient ascending motif – seven rhythmically fighting nine – whose middle section lyricism contrasts beautifully, as the pianist makes it all seem so effortless.

Interpreting Law's memories of live, outdoor African music, Laurie Lowe's ibo drum in The Music of the Night conveys exotic summer's evening warmth, jangling to prepared piano and fabulously overblown tenor lines from Arcoleo; and rocky To Do Today To Die mesmerises with audacious cross-rhythms, whilst bright piano and tenor lines shine above Goloubev's rolling bass and Lowe's ticking tempo (do NOT attempt to background-listen to this music!).

Conjuring the cinemascope grandeur of John Williams, a glockenspiel-and-chorale prelude to title track These Skies In Which We Rust widens into a bewitching groove inspired by the poetry of Law's teenage daughter, Holly; and, for a moment, that innate Englishness is firmly put under the spell of exquisite Balkan mystery. Lucky 13 is typically and brazenly mischievous, written in 13 for the pianist's son's 13th birthday; and remarkably, I Sink Therefore I Swam sparks to animated, Phronesis-like riffs and rhythms (Goloubev sounding uncannily like its dedicatee, Jasper Høiby!), with Arcoleo adding crunchy tenor histrionics to Lowe's Eger-style fireworks – quite a standout.

Set Theory has all the string-backed, jingly charm of an '80s chart hit, albeit with Law's predilection for edgy, hard-driving momentum and quickfire soloing; and Conical is an inspired representation of former drummer Asaf Sirkis' breathtaking abilities in the vocalised, rhythmic, Indian art of Konnakol (Lowe also cleverly mimicking Sirkis' hard snare action). Incarnadine Day is a new interpretation of a previously-released track – the sinister weight of Holly Law's 9/11-prompted poetry expressed through jarring, disconcerting electronics, wailing sirens and the overall urgency of the quartet. And, as if to honour the many victims of that world-changing event, I Hold My Soul to the Wind peacefully closes the album with piano trio and the hopeful, sweet innocence of Holly's wordless vocal.

Review copies of this album, recorded in July 2014, have only been sent out sporadically. But, as ever, John Law does not disappoint – and any thoughts of extravagance or surplusage in releasing a two-disc set are dispelled by the freedom and inventiveness displayed in these scintillating performances.

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


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015 - 29th June

Laura Jurd's Human Spirit at Schloss Fahlburg
Suedtirol Jazz Festival
(Various Locations in Alto Adige, Northern Italy. 29th June 2015. Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the first of Alison's reports.

The town of Bolzano (Bozen) was full of British musicians walking round with a slightly glazed look, staring at the mountains and muttering words like, ‘beautiful’ and ‘stupendous’. Bolzano and neighbouring towns, nestling in the mountains of South Tyrol, were hosting ‘UK Sounds’ this year in a variety of extraordinary venues.

In the garden of the Parkhotel Laurin, amongst the palms and tall pines, Alice Zawadzki’s voice drifted serenely like the breeze over Moss Freed’s gentle guitar- jazzy, husky. Her pizzicato violin blended with the sounds of the fountain as the violin and guitar harmonised lines in Freed’s Lose Ourselves. Cut Me Down was about a Scottish tree threatened with felling. Zawadski sang with great passion: sometimes with a rich Joan Baez vibrato against the distortion of Freed’s rock-edged guitar and looped chords; sometimes with Bjork-like wails. In her song about separated lovers, her voice and violin slid expressively together.

A Sephardic wedding song brought out more Eastern timbres in her voice, blending classical tones with early music and folk, the way British singer Belinda Sykes can. Bolzano’s bells rang out serendipitously, in the same key, as if joining in the song’s wedding celebrations- a very special moment. A Polish song once sung by a great aunt (an opera singer in Poland) followed, with a gypsy feel, and a fine solo from Freed over pizzicato violin. A Ligeti song played without words had wonderfully atonal harmony. Alice’s own song Ring of Fire had the rootsiest, bluesiest feel, before a moving version of Sandy Denny’s Quiet Joys of Brotherhood Freed’s beautifully wavering notes recalled Bill Frisell, and he even sang the original’s complex close harmony. The duo created so many thoughtful textures, but above all a special intensity.

Imagine a fairy tale castle at the top of a winding mountain road, far above the town: here in front of Fahlburg Castle, trumpeter Laura Jurd performed music she’d written for her band Human Spirit as a commission for the 2012 London Jazz Festival. The sheltered garden sloped down towards the castle, creating a natural amphitheatre and perfect sound, as the moon rose above the distant crags.

The pieces had sentences sung or intoned by Lauren Kinsella with a pure folk-tinged sound- just enough to provoke the imagination, as if telling the beginning of a story, or as if lines from a play had been set to music. She Knew Him (“She knew him till his dying day”) began like a hymn before Mick Foster’s squawky bass sax broke into funky slap-tonguing and walrus grunts. In Brighter Days sweet harmonies became funky overlapping riffs and a beautifully melodic trombone solo from Colm O’Hara. Kinsella’s wild laughter created a frisson as the sun set. Some heavy distortion from Alex Roth’s guitar fell against the light trumpet and vocal lines, like comic characters tumbling over each other. Chris Batchelor’s trumpet solo shivered over the grungy sounds.

Pirates had a sense of searching for adventure: childlike wonder and innocence with a hint of theatrical menace and anarchy. There were African influences and big breezy phrases; sections that grew out of each other and repeated. Blinded ("In the desert was a man blinded by the dazzling sunlight”) seemed to have the playful spirit of Ornette Coleman; a folk feel with some Desert Blues. O’Hara’s trombone howled at the rising moon over Roth’s scratchy guitar. Human Spirit had brass band elements with monstrous rocky eruptions from Corrie Dick’s excellent drums under the delicate vocal lines: Kinsella has developed an improvising language of her own that could have come from Middle Earth. More Than Just a Fairy Tale (“Only you can set him free”) opened with Jurd and Batchelor harmonising and echoing each other’s phrases eerily before everyone joined in a wild section like a circus dance. In Closing Sequence the slow melody emerged from the driving drones of guitar, the chords changing under one note. Jurd’s solo had Miles and Hubbard influences but a clarity of thought and directness all her own.

This was music of wonderful contrasts from Laura Jurd’s musical imagination: carefully-written but free and wild; grungy yet innocent; uncompromising but always approachable.


PHOTOS: 2015 Suedtirol Jazz Festival

Matthew Bourne Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

This is a holding page for some great photos by Ralf Dombrowski. Others have been integrated into our written coverage by Alison Bentley. 


29th June report

30th June report

Perhaps Contraption. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved


CD REVIEW: John Russell, Phil Durrant, John Butcher - Conceits 1987/1992

John Russell, Phil Durrant, John Butcher - Conceits 1987/1992 
(EMANEM 5036. CD Review by Geoff Winston)

The playing on Conceits is marked out by sensitivity and restraint combined with dynamic invention. Recorded almost 30 years ago by the improvising trio of saxophonist, John Butcher, guitarist, John Russell and Phil Durrant, who played violin and trombone, it retains a freshness and maturity that stands the test of time.

The original vinyl album was put out in 1988 and launched the ACTA label. Devoted primarily to improvisation, ACTA was set up by Butcher, in association with Russell and Durrant, and released fourteen albums over the same number of years.

The eleven concise tracks on Conceits are augmented on this CD reissue on the Emanem label by a fifteen minute live recording of the trio made by Mats Gustafsson in Stockholm in 1992, adding a further dimension to appreciation of the trio's range.

The structure of the album has a quasi-episodic quality. With the majority of the tracks between roughly two and three minutes, and the others only slightly longer, they have the feel of both fragments and self-contained vignettes.

Each improvised track relates to the others through the consistency of the trio's shared vocabularies and the particular sound qualities that they nurture. There is a quirky, metallic, state of staccato about their world, liminal and distinctive, dry yet not without warmth and organic references.

The individual sounds are often unattributable to specific instruments and there is reward in concentrating on impressions and the imaginative thread. A Japanese flavour is implied when Russell's guitar takes on the uncompromisingly sharp, plucked tones of a koto, or when Butcher's saxophone might trade places with a hichiriki.

The language patterns of the natural world are indirectly evoked through repetitions, scratchings, calls and shuffling. Delicacy mixes with concentrated intensity. Stabs and bowings, guttural wails and short puffs of air, avian cooing and clucking, the humming of the hive, all flow with the feel of the mirrored observations of a field recording. Artisan activities - hammering, scrapings, light taps and paperclip clicks, reinforce the patterning, and gamelan delicacy blends with fleeting jazz phrasing from Butcher to alight on suggestions of human craft and community.

Yet, it is the overall abstract qualities that shine through, and the combination of the original recording, captured in a single day, and the complementary live performance make this an engaging and stimulating CD.

Liner notes, including those by Russell and Gustafsson, add valuable insights into the genesis of the trio, the album and the improvisation environment at the time.

Geoffrey Winston is a design consultant for arts clients. His reviews and drawings have been a feature of LJN since 2010.


PHOTOS: The debut Jacob Collier solo show - Quincy Jones presents at Ronnie Scott's

Jacob Collier solo show.
Photo credit Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved

We will have a review  to follow, but here are photos by Carl Hyde of a landmark occasion, the debut performance of  Jacob Collier's solo show at Ronnie Scott's in the presence of mentor Quincy Jones. The show has had participation from MIT in Boston. Collier, still an undergraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music for another year, will be taking this show to Montreux where he/it will open for Herbie  Hancock and Chick  Corea.    

Jacob Collier solo show.
Photo credit Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved
Jacob Collier and Quincy Jones
Photo credit Carl Hyde. All Rights Reserved


NEWS: Discounts for a bassist and a drummer at Certaldo GMF course in August

The rush hour in Certaldo
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Come on down. This year's Global Music Foundation Tuscany International Workshop and Jazz Festival 2015 in the Tuscan hill town of Certaldo, associated with writer and poet Boccaccio (1311-1375) runs from August 4th-11th. The tutor faculty includes Rene Marie, Bruce Barth, Arnie Somogyi, Stephen Keogh, Alfred Kramer, Guillermo Rozenthuler and Garrison Fewell.

Almost all of the strictly limited fifty-five places on the course have already gone, but the organizers are still welcoming applications from a drummer and a bassist. Be quick, quote "LondonJazz News", and you will be offered a discount.


PREVIEW: Theo Travis’ Double Talk. Transgression album laiunch, Vortex 2nd July

Theo Travis’ Double Talk
L-R: Pete Whittaker, Theo Travis, Make Outram, Nic France 
Saxophonist/ flautist/composer THEO TRAVIS launches the first album released in his own name for eight years tomorrow 2nd July at the Vortex.

The band - with the exception of drummer Roy Dodds replaced by Nic France - remains the same as in that last album: Hammond organist Pete Whittaker and guitarist Mike Outram. The official release date is July 6th and there is a limited edition vinyl, on Tonefloat, described here.

Theo is a regular member of Soft Machine Legacy, has also made four albums with Robert Fripp under the name Travis and Fripp with Robert Fripp, and works extensively with Steven Wilson. who has mixed and mastered the new album.

Theo Travis has explained the background to the release in this statement:

It is an instrumental, bluesy, progressive jazz album. It reflects many of my influences and inspirations and I think it is both personal and of broad appeal – at least if you are into melody and powerful bluesy electric jazz with a strong 1970s influence. After a recent gig by the band, a member of the audience said to me ‘This was the first time I've ever heard you play in your own band. Having heard you live before with Gong, Soft Machine, The Tangent, Steven Wilson, I knew it was going to be excellent - and it was’ which was a very pleasing response to the music. The line-up includes Nic France on drums, Mike Outram on guitar and Pete Whittaker on Hammond organ – all fabulous players. It is very much a live band and the album was recorded in the studio but all playing together live and watching each other intently. I think that immediacy and excitement comes across.”

“I've written most of the music and much of it reflects my love of music from the late 1960s and early 1970s when the boundaries between Jazz, Rock and Experimental music were more fluid, though I think the music we have recorded still sounds contemporary. You might be able to hear the influences of King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as late Talk Talk, and ECM artists such as Terje Rypdal and my friend Palle Mikkelborg. We also recorded an instrumental version of a track I co-wrote with keyboard player and composer Andy Tillison – the title track from the Tangent’s third album A Place In The Queue. There's also a cover of Robert Wyatt’s tune Maryan and a track I wrote with Dave Sturt of the recent Gong line-up called Everything I Feared. The track Smokin’at Klooks is a tribute to Klooks Kleek the North London Jazz and Blues club open in the late 1960s, which was in a pub near where I used to live. Just a room in a pub that hosted such future greats as Eric Clapton, Jagger and Richards, Peter Green, Hendrix, Dick Heckstall Smith, Alexis Corner and a host of others – a real melting pot and springboard for so many great musicians and so much great music."


FILM REVIEW: The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew
(ArtHouse Cinema, Crouch End. UK premiere, June 25th, 2015. Review by Mike Collins)

Guitarists Howard Roberts and Tommy Tedesco and bassist Carole Kaye were all part of the team of studio musicians that had been featured on so many of the popular music recordings made in Los Angeles during the 60’s and into the 70’s. They  played on many hit records, by Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Mamas and Papas, 5th Dimension, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, The Byrds, The Monkees, the Beach Boys, Motown hits by The Supremes, Brenda Holloway and others, and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound – to name just a few!

When Tommy Tedesco was diagnosed with terminal cancer, his son Denny decided to create and direct this film to document the work of his father and his fellow studio musicians. Denny's English wife, Suzie Greene Tedesco, produced the film.

Denny Tedesco at the premiere
Photo credit: Mike Collins. All Rights Reserved

The project started out 19 years ago and the first version of the film was shown at various festivals in 2008. The film features archive footage and more recent interviews with producers and arrangers Phil Spector, H. B. Barnum, Snuff Garrett, Bones Howe and Herb Alpert; stars from Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin, to Glen Campbell, Sonny & Cher and Sam Cooke; and, of course, the studio musicians including Plas Johnson, Carole Kaye, Hal Blaine, Al Casey, Don Randi, Joe Osborn, Tommy Tedesco, Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts. Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys are featured prominently as are Mickey Dolenz and The Monkees – and there is even an interview with Frank Zappa!

Apparently it cost $750,000 to get the rights to use all the songs in the film and on the DVD, but the film is only expected to make about $100,000, so, eventually, they went to Kickstarter to get donations to make up the money.

Matt Backer, Mari Wilson at the premiere
Photo credit: Mike Collins. All Rights Reserved

Immediately before the film was shown, Crouch End resident Mari Wilson sang acoustic arrangements of three of the hit songs from the movie, with guitarist Matt Backer accompanying. Finishing up with Be My Baby, she got the whole audience singing along – me included!

The film has a poignant side to it when it is revealed that many of the top session players only had relatively short careers of even just 10 or 12 years before the calls stopped coming for them. Partly this happened because more records were being made by self-contained bands and singer-songwriters, who played on their own records, and partly when newer styles and younger players came along. Older players, like Tommy Tedesco, had to turn to other ways of earning their livings, such as teaching or giving seminars. Denny said that his dad, Tommy, was actually a better player when he reached the age of 60, but, frustratingly, “he was only getting called to play on the more difficult sessions – on ‘Field of Dreams’ for James Horner, or for John Williams – Tommy played mandolin on the Godfather, for example.” And other members of the crew did the same.

For me there were personal resonances: before I became a studio guitarist, I took lessons from Barney Kessel back in the 70’s and devoured the tutor books written by Tommy Tedesco and Howard Roberts around this time.

What stays in the mind is how the film rolled along so quickly while the music just kept on coming! Hit after hit – a total of 110 songs used in the final cut – along with great footage of all those mentioned above, and more!

Mike Collins is a music creator - producer, songwriter, studio musician - music technology consultant & author.

The film was shown at the Artthouse in Crouch End between the 25th and 30th of June. It will be showing at Picturehouse Central in Soho on the 1st and 2nd of July, and then opens in Derby, Manchester, Glasgow, Perth, Ireland, and the DVD comes out on July 13th.



PREVIEW : Legends Festival. (Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham 17-19 July)

Henry Lowther. Photo credit: Garry Corbett

A new "Legends Festival" will start in Birmingham in July. The first one is partly devoted to Miles Davis and will be 'guest-curated' by Henry Lowther. Peter Bacon writes about the background:

In the rock and pop world tribute bands seem to me a bit like a minor but spreading infection. It’s not exactly the plague and a healthy shot of original music will usually clear it up, but it’s still mildly irritating.

But in the jazz world, we don’t have tribute bands, or rather we do but the very nature of the music and the way its players remake what has gone before in their own interpretations makes paying tribute the noble exercise it should be.

Not in the jazz world do we have the (honestly) named Fake Festival - there is one in my Midland city in August. Nor do we see the poster with “JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE” in giant letters with the small print reading: “as played by the Timi Bendicks Expedience”.

Nope, we have bands like:

- Chris Biscoe’s Mingus Profiles Sextet
- Simon Spillett’s Standard Miles
- Chris Gumbley's Quintet playing their Tribute to Cannonball Adderley.

Those three bands can be heard at a new festival in Birmingham which runs over the weekend of 17 to 19 July in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. It’s called the Legends Festival and intends to focus on a particular “jazz legend” each year. This year it’s Miles Davis, but the programme has been widened to include other “legends” in order to establish the concept.

Guest curator is trumpeter Henry Lowther who actually got to meet Miles. It was in Los Angeles in 1969 and Henry, who was playing with the Keef Hartley Band at the Whisky A Go Go, was introduced to Miles by Dave Holland, Miles’s bassist at the time.

Henry will recall that meeting and his time working in the Gil Evans Orchestra in a Legends Festival talk called He Also Plays Trumpet, and will be leading his own Still Waters band on the first night of the festival.

In addition to the Biscoe, Spillett and Gumbley bands, up-and-coming Birmingham pianist David Austin Grey will be investigating the influence of the electric Miles in his Little Church band, formed for the occasion and featuring Aaron Diaz on trumpet and electronics, and Rachael Cohen on alto saxophone. The Jim Wynn Nonet will be playing Miles’s Birth Of The Cool music, and Sean Gibbs will be playing music associated with another trumpeter: Clark Terry.

So, lots of tributes being paid - but lots of new music being made in the process.

LINKS: Full listing of Legends Festival events go to Interview with Henry Lowther


PREVIEW: Pete Churchill - Stories to Tell Album Launch at the Forge. Wednesday 8th July

 Pete Churchill's album of new songs,  Stories to Tell, with Mishka Adams, Mark Lockheart, Adriano Adewale and Ben Barritt is to be launched at the Forge on the 8th July. Pete writes about how it came about :

I think it was Stan Sulzmann who said to me that it was always a good idea to have a project on the go - something to return to in the middle of the madness of your day-to-day music-making. Specifically I think he meant a musical project - something close to your heart that would serve as a refuge from the balancing act  of gigs, rehearsals, teaching, commissions etc.

I have quiet obsessions outside music that take me away from it all - on rare occasions they help me forget about music all together. I had an allotment for a few years, I will always browse in secondhand shops for hours (especially bookshops) and, for a while, I collected 18th century prayer-books!

However, having a separate musical project of some sort is a totally different thing. It can be very liberating working on something that's ongoing and only has to make sense in terms of itself. As you probably guessed I have been working on just such a project for the last three years or so. It's a song-writing project which has resulted in an album called 'Stories to Tell' and I am launching it on Wednesday 8th July at The Forge in Camden (8.00 start). There - I've got the practicalities out if the way so I can return to the project itself.

I've always written songs. However, over the last ten years a lot of my commissions have been based around certain 'critical issues'. This does mean that I have, in my back catalogue, a fair amount of songs on subjects which I care deeply about. Clearly a whole album of these might have been a bit much and I have tempered these with a few more personal narratives - some imaginary and some deeply embedded in my own experience.

I think the best decision I made was not to sing them myself and so most of them (with a few exceptions) are sung by the wonderful Mishka Adams. She is a songwriter's dream - a great understanding of text and, quite simply, one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard.

With the addition of Ben Barritt on guitar, Adriano Adewale on percussion and the astonishing Mark Lockheart on saxophones we were able to spend more than a few days at Porcupine Studios with Nick Taylor at the helm. I'm convinced that the first thing you hear on any  recording is the atmosphere in which it was made. Nick creates such a wonderful ambience in his studio that it permeates the whole of our album - the process becomes the product.

So with typical bad planning I have loads of CDs in my garage with no record label, no distributor and no mechanism, as yet, to get them up and out. I gather that there is something called 'Bandcamp' that seems to work so keep your ears to the ground and your finger on the pulse of the information super-highway and 'Stories to Tell' may emerge. Or we can do things the old fashioned way. Come to my gigs/workshops/courses where I'll be hawking them shamelessly from a brown cardboard box - basically it's a case of 'stop-me-and-buy-one'!

Hope to see you on Wednesday, 8th July at the Forge in Camden... 8.00pm. Tickets HERE


REVIEW – Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra at Harrow Arts Centre

The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra

Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra
(Harrow Arts Centre, 28th June 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Nothing twee or self-conscious, no hint of parody or Great Gatsby-style nostalgia, just a well-dressed and pleasing programme of 20s and 30s music. While that might not be the published mission statement for Tony Jacobs and the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, it’s certainly what they delivered to an enthusiastic [if largely senior] audience at the HAC on Sunday night. As their publicity blurb put it, ‘the show is packed with great songs and tunes – authentically and lovingly recreated’, and so they were.

Front-man Jacobs, known for his ten-year vocal tenure with the Syd Lawrence orchestra has been presenting shows of this ilk for a while and has found a concert formula that really works well. The Tuxedo’s opening blast on ‘Stomp Off, Let’s Go’ in the Bob Crosby Bobcats arrangements set the mood, the tight ensemble and vigorous swing a promise of good things to come. These included a number of Bing Crosby-style vocals from Jacobs, whose easy manner and self-deprecating humour speak of a relaxed view of life, these complemented by the clear-voiced singing of Catherine Sykes. Ms Sykes has that most agreeable quality, an innate relish for the lyrics coupled with the kind of classy intonation that avoids extremes and just lets the song work for itself. Just to hear her sing ‘Comes Love’ against the backdrop of the original Artie Shaw arrangement was a delight in itself. She and Jacobs also duet endearingly on such things as ‘Cheek to Cheek’, and with trombonist Graham Hughes added, on the timeless ‘The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid’.

Lest it be thought that the Jacobs programme was overly weighted towards popular show songs, jazz interest was satisfied by the presence of star trumpeter Peter Rudeforth, a Chris Barber man, growling expertly on ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’ and popping up throughout as did veteran tenor-man Jimmy Hastings who took charge on ‘Business in F’, the ensemble again in surging form on the climactic ‘White Heat’. I especially liked their band-within-a-band, the Little Tuxes, on ‘Royal Garden Blues’, with Rudeforth, Hughes and Hastings again, this time on clarinet, with strong support from the rhythm section primed by the virtuosic bass of Paul Morgan and the light touch of pianist Trevor Brown. This keyboard expert later excelled on a solo version of ‘Nola’ before giving the old crowd-pleaser ‘12th Street Rag’ a jaunty going-over. Eclectic choices maybe but done to perfection, the mixture of material, even including ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, plus the expert musicianship of all concerned, making this old-style band show a joy to behold.

The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra: Peter Rudeforth, Dave Ford [t] Graham Hughes [tb]; Jimmy Hastings [ts,cl]; Duncan Lamont Jr. [as,cl]; Mark Alloway [bs,as,cl]; Trevor Brown [p]; Len Walker [bjo]; Paul Morgan [b]; Jeff Lardner [d]; Catherine Sykes [voc]; Tony Jacobs [voc, dir].

Peter Vacher's new book ‘Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African-American Jazz in Los Angeles’ is out in September.


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Ben Cottrell/ Beats & Pieces Big Band (Ronnie Scott's 8th July)

Beats & Pieces setting up at Jazztage& Görlitz, May 2015

LondonJazz News first covered Beats & Pieces in May 2010 when they were about to do their first London gig at the Forge. Five years on, Ben Cottrell responded to some questions from Sebastian by email:

LondonJazz News: Have there been personnel changes or has it basically been the same band for five years?

Ben Cottrell: Its basically the same group of people – on the new album I think half the band is the same people that I called for the very first rehearsal in January 2008 (when I’d only written 2 tunes and before we had a name or any gigs), and the most recent new addition joined permanently almost 2 and a half years ago. I know its really difficult to keep a consistent group of people together of any size, even a quartet sometimes, so I’m really lucky that the guys in Beats & Pieces are always really up for doing stuff and will go out of their way to dep out other gigs if they can, even when that involves them losing money (as it often does – big bands aren’t going to get anyone rich anytime soon…). That continuity is amazing as a composer as I know all of their musical personalities and individual sounds inside out, and I know whilst I’m writing how they’re going to react to what I give them. It also means that we’re able to do all gigs from memory with no charts, which just wouldn’t be possible if it was a radically different group of people from gig to gig.

LJN: How do you set about finding new people?

BC: There’s a pool of people that we’ve used as deps for rehearsals or gigs whenever one of the usual musicians can’t make it, and as I mentioned above everyone is really good at making themselves available for b&p so even on the odd occasion when a dep or two is required its really rare that we’re bringing in someone who’ll be completely new to the band. Even on those occasions its always someone that I know myself and/or that the guys have personally recommended from playing with them in another group – I think that personal connection is really important.

LJN: You've been on tour this year abroad - where did you go?

BC: We played a couple of gigs in Germany at the end of May – the first was a festival called Jazztage Görlitz which is a few hours on the train from Berlin, close to the Polish border. The gig was an outdoor stage inside a local brewery, which is pretty much a perfect venue! Then we travelled back to Berlin the next day for a gig at the b-flat, a really nice club that we first played last year. It was a cool weekend but pretty tiring as we drove down from Manchester overnight for a 6am flight from Luton on the morning of the first gig – it was the only way we could afford the flights…

That was our third time travelling to Germany since our first trip in 2011 when we won the European Young Artists’ Award in Burghausen, and we’ve been pretty fortunate at getting to other places outside of the UK too – so far we’ve also made it to Norway, France and Ireland and we’re always trying to get to new places. Of course with so many people to transport and accommodate its always difficult though, and it’s a shame that the UK doesn’t have the funding available for export that is commonplace in other countries across Europe. Hopefully that is something that can be changed in the near future.

LJN: You are all good friends from Manchester, but you must get to know each other better on tour right ? 

BC: It’s definitely really nice to spend a few solid days together – its something that doesn’t happen as often as it used to when we were all students seeing each other every day, especially now that some of them have moved away from Manchester and more are starting families etc. I think we probably revert to being students again when we’re all together on tour, which may or may not be a good thing!

LJN: What has been the inspiration for some of the tunes on the new album ?

BC: My writing is influenced by loads of things – I think that’s fairly common with people of my generation that have grown up with a wide variety of music easily available to listen to, and increasingly so now with the internet, shuffle modes, streaming etc. Maybe I’ll just talk about a few of the tunes from the album, in the order that they appear on the record.

LJN:  Shall we start with 'pop'?

BC:  pop was born out of an experiment with static and repetitive snare patterns that I noticed was common in lots of Quincy Jones’ productions for Michael Jackson – in tunes like The Way You Make Me Feel or Smooth Criminal from Bad there’s the exact same snare sound on 2 and 4 almost the whole way through, regardless of what else is going on in the drums or in the rest of the arrangement. I thought that was really different to how I imagine jazz drummers normally play, where they’re constantly listening and reacting to the rest of the ensemble and often no two bars are the same – so I wanted to try using that idea of a fixed and immovable drum pattern and see if it worked in a big band tune. Hopefully it turned out ok…

LJN: And what about 'rain'

BC: rain opens with a Rhodes riff in 7 that was inspired by one of Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain – the rhythm and rough pitches of the riff are pretty close to the original fragement of recorded speech. From there the piece then goes off to other places but the original riff keeps coming back in slightly different forms throughout.

LJN: And 'fairytale?

BC: The final track on the album is a short chorale type piece called fairytale. One of the reasons that I love writing for this combination of instruments is the flexibility that it offers a composer – I think that the contrast between fairytale and the opening track rocky really demonstrate that, they’re pretty much polar opposites in every way! All of the horn players in Beats & Pieces are classically trained and many currently do extra work with orchestras across the North (Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Opera North etc) so they’re able to play really beautifully and symphonically and I wanted to write something to show that off, and they all really nailed it.

LINKS: CD review "all in"
Bookings for Ronnie Scott's 8th July  
And Manchester on 7th July


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP/ PHOTOS: Bingen Swingt! 2015

Hildegard lernt fliegen at the Binger Bühne

Bingen Swingt! 2015
(Bingen-am-Rhein. 26-28 June 2015. Festival Round-Up and photos - All Rights Reserved -by Ralf Dombrowski)

The Rhine town of Bingen celebrated 20 years of "Bingen Swingt!" and struck lucky this year: the dark clouds that had emptied themselves over Mainz, never quite made it as far as the river Nahe. The result was that this open air festival - it has just one indoor stage in a club - the Binger Bühne - made it through to the end virtually rain-free.

China Moses

The programme was an eclectic mix. There were the acts who knew how to entertain, such as Roger Cicero, Jasmin Tabatabai and China Moses. They made their impact with showbiz style and big gestures, China Moses in particular, with her young band, built her show towards a rousing soul-jazz climax. Others, such as Emil Mangelsdorff played dependable jazz from the tradition. There were fledgling bands, such as Jugend Jazzt and the Boehringer Ingelheim Big Band, and there were the more seasoned outfits like the NDR Big Band working away at their familiar, extensive coal-face.

Christof Lauer

There were sounds for dancing, and for linking arms and swaying in time... (zum Schunkeln). There was also modern, engaging, innovative music. I heard the young guitarist and blues bard Jesper Munk, detached, serene, in his own world; there was Michael Sagmeister who had captured and absorbed the best of Wes Montgomery, and saxophonist Christof Lauer, who proved in his Trio - as he always does - that he is one of the greats when it comes to conjuring with the abstract. Another saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen showed her worth as a skilled and assertive newcomer.

Nicole Johänntgen

But right out in front of the pack were the sextet Hildegard lernt fliegen, around the Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer. They are a bunch of oddballs, but they offer complexity and the art of association. They may go deliberately mad, but their collective humour is not just planned, it is also, and on many levels, extremely funny, and just the right thing for a festival in the recently canonized St. Hildegard's home town.

Bingen Swingt website


REPORT: Peter King Benefit Night at Pizza Express Dean Street

L-R: Julian Arguelles, Peter King, Jeremy Brown, Jean Toussaint
Peter King Benefit night at Pizza Express Dean Street
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
Peter King Benefit Night
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 29th June 2015. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

Tributes and well-wishes to Peter King had come in from far and wide last night: from Jon Hendricks "you are the best of the jazz community", from Phil Woods, "fight the Eb fight," from Charles McPherson "keep going!", from clubs in Sheffield and Barcelona, from Charlie Watts, describing the "pleasure and the honour" to have played alongside the great British saxophonist whose health has been giving way in the past few years.

And yet, when King took the stand and played, and that sound, that beauty, that logic and clarity take over, it is easy to forget the pain he has been going through. I Can't Get Started was his first feature. This was the moment to forget the idea that playing over changes can ever be repetitive, or constraining, or been-there done-that. The sheer variety of vocabulary, the ability to land, to suggest new time-feels (quickly picked up on by a trio of Tom Cawley, Jeremy Brown and Stephen Keogh) to float a phrase as a question, as a warning, as a was wonderful to share, to be so close to, and to hope it continues.

There was an awed and admiring atmosphere on the stand, not least from saxophone brothers and willing and devoted acolytes Jean Toussaint and Julian Arguelles, which conveyed itself to the room. Others who made significant contributions were Pete Churchill, Tina May, guitarist Augustin Mas (spelling?), bassist Arnie Somogyi (who also ran an auction), drummers Matt Home and Steve Brown...

These people all come and give their services in order to support an artist they revere, and that speaks volumes.  They are busy people, as a quick sample of my conversations around the room last night can testify:

- Pete Churchill will have new arrangements performed this Thursday when Quincy Jones collects a doctorate at the Royal Academy of Music. He will also launch a lovely new album of his songs with Mishka Adams, Ben Barritt, Mark Lockheart and Adriano Adewale next Wenesday (LINK)

- Tina May had just returned from touring in France and has a new album out with Enrico Pieranunzi

- Stephen Keogh will be running the August Global Music Foundation course in Certaldo    

- Julian Arguelles is preparing a tour with his quartet



INTERVIEW : Ambrose Akinmusire (Love Supreme 4th July, Pizza Express Dean St 14th/ 15th July, Co-published with Citizen Jazz)

Ambrose Akinmusire, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014
Photo credit: © John Watson/ . All Rights Reserved

Ambrose Akinmusire will be playing three UK dates this month: the trumpeter and his band will be at Love Supreme on Saturday 4th July (Big Top stage) and Pizza Express Dean Street on 14th & 15th July. Sandie Safont met him backstage at the Koa Jazz festival in Montpellier (France) last April. Their discussion touched on figures as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Kenny Wheeler. He also shared memories of his teachers, Laurie Frink (1951-2013) and Lew Soloff (1944-2015):  

LondonJazz News: The set you played tonight had some new material, and also a quartet version of your last album. Keeping your music organic while on tour can be quite a challenge …

Ambrose Akinmusire : It’s more about the challenge in growing as an artist. I just never want to get into the habit of creating an album and then going out and trying to play the album on tour because that’s not really possible. Imagine Jackson Pollock doing a painting and then going around to each date and each country and trying to re-create this painting.

It’s not really possible and that’s not what I’m really here for. I’m just trying to commit myself to this craft every day and get better and better and I don’t know how re- creating something that you did yesterday is really a part of that. Sometimes it can be, if you’re developing that thing but right now I’m more about writing and trying to develop the band and develop myself as a composer and as a player.

The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint came out a year ago, which means that it was recorded a year and a half ago and that I probably wrote those tunes two and a half years ago. I’m definitely not the same person that I was then.

LJN : ‘Music isn’t just about music, it’s about life’, some say. It’s amazing how life can impact your music and vice versa.

AA : Absolutely. Music is also about trying to express these things that aren’t easy to express. Trying to express the things that we can’t see. Trying to put them into some sort of physical form.

LJN : Are you going to record the new tunes we heard tonight?

AA : Maybe. But you know, in between albums there’s a lot of material that never gets recorded because I’m always writing and trying to develop the band. There are tunes that we were playing when we recorded the last album that we still haven’t recorded. I’ve also written music for a big band and a double quartet – a string quartet and a quartet – so, it’s a lot of music.

LJN : Is orchestral writing the natural progression for you as a composer, then?

AA : I would love to write for an orchestra, tour an orchestra and tour a string quartet and I have a lot of music for these things but I’m seen as a young guy, especially in jazz, where you have to graduate in these other areas. There’s a whole line of people who have to wait for them to get older and I understand it and I’m ok with that.

LJN : The ‘young player’ that you are has developed a sound and a style of his own. In terms of musical influences, who do you look up to the most?

AA : My number one influence in everything is Joni Mitchell.

LJN : And one can see why. The voice is very central to your work and your elaborated song titles show your love for words and poetry. And so, it’s no coincidence that you’ve collaborated with Becca Stevens on your last album, as she’s very often hailed as ‘the new Joni’.

AA : Definitely. In my generation, Becca is probably the most committed to the art form. She really breathes and lives the music. I try to hear everything as a voice and I’m very lucky to have people like Walter (Smith III) and Sam (Harris) who play like vocalists.

I’ve always been drawn to the trumpeters who didn’t get too much attention. The trumpet is such a hard instrument. Right now I’m getting a lot of attention so it’s easy for me to sit down and practice because I know everybody’s gonna hear me but what about these people who practice every day into their 70s and never got heard ?

That’s real committment. I’m thinking Marcus Belgrave, Charles Tolliver or even Dupree Bolton – who went to jail for a while. Those kind of guys who were really studious from the beginning to the end and who are one the best trumpet players but never got the attention.

LJN : Charles Tolliver has been getting more recognition recently - Gilles Peterson curated a Strata-East all stars evening at the Barbican last March. A belated but welcome recognition of a career spanning 50 years.

AA : Yeah, that’s super late. There was a point back in the 70s when Charles Tolliver was, in my opinion, just as good as Woody Shaw and Freddie and all these guys who were really getting attention. Also, during that time when Freddie started to do these LA studio sessions, Charles Tolliver stuck to his thing so, even when Wynton came along and said : ‘hey, we’re going back’, they said : ‘no, forward.’ and I think that’s really admirable and beautiful.

LJN : You’ve studied with the late Laurie Frink and Lew Soloff. How influential were they in your approach to your instrument, music and life?

AA : I studied with Lew before I studied with Laurie. The lessons with Lew were quite epic : we would sit in his drive way and he would make me listen to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way and I would be so mad because I just wanted to learn how to play high notes from him but he would sit me down and make me listen to the whole album and then we would go and improvise and that would be my lesson. And so, I kept coming back and towards the end of the year I was like : ‘Ah, I’m getting it!’ because it was just that record and Lew was trying to get me to show my stuff out and listen to the beauty of things and that was his high note lesson. And then, at our last lesson, he gave me some exercises for my range. But for a whole year, we just sat in his drive way listening to In A Silent Way!

And Laurie, wow, I don’t even know what to say about her. I mean, I wouldn’t be playing trumpet without Laurie. I studied with her for four or five years. She was like a mother to me. Out of everybody, I think I’ve studied the most with her. It got to a point where it was really like counselling. I would just go in and we would talk about trumpet for ten minutes but the rest of the lesson she would give me life advice. Even after graduating, I started gigging and I would call her whenever I had problems with my chops and she was like a doctor. And she could really play! There was this one time when she asked me to bend on a high E and I said to her I had been trying for the last six months and it just was impossible. She looked at me dead in the eye and just played a bended E! (He sings the note). Just like that. I mean, cold. We had been ten minutes into the lesson. No effort, no crack. Just perfect. Looking at me the whole time, like saying : ‘I know you bet I couldn’t play it!’

She was so amazing and such an inspiration for me.

LJN : Do you still practice those exercices?

AA : Well, fortunately and unfortunately it built my chops, so I try to do other things but I always go back to her exercises because they’re the foundation.

LJN : A few words on another trumpet giant, Kenny Wheeler, who passed away recently ? Has he ever been an influence on you ?

AA : I really like his Music for small and large ensembles and Angel Song and Gnu High but he’s never been an influence on me. I think what people hear in my playing that’s also in his playing is Booker Little – who was a huge influence on me and I know he was an influence on him, too.

LJN : And finally, what does being a Blue Note artist mean to you ?

AA : It’s just great to be on the same label that all my heroes were on. I have no problem being in line with the tradition. And the tradition of this music is looking to the future. And all the masters did that. Paying tribute to what came before while looking forward. It seems like a simple concept but a lot of people don’t seem to know about it and don’t talk about it.

This interview was originally conducted for Citizen Jazz, our French partners, and will be soon published on their site in French

More tour dates on

Love Supreme Festival 

Pizza Express Live


REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter at Music in the Garden

The LJO at Wavendon, with Henry Lowther (standing)
taking the Kenny Wheeler solo part.

Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter
(London Jazz Orchestra at Music in the Garden, Wavendon. 28th June 2015. Review by Tony Kelsey)

Almost fifty years after it was recorded, Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter (1968)  has finally been given two full live performances by the big band of which he was a founder member, the first at the Vortex, the second at the Laine/Dankworth Centre just South of Milton Keynes, as part of the month-long music series “Music in the Garden”.  The packed audience in the garden at Wavendon was on tenterhooks for this once-in-a-generation occasion, as the 20-piece orchestra walked onto the open air stage.

The afternoon opened with a sumptuous version of John Dankworth’s Tomorrow’s World theme which was immensely satisfying and benefitted from Pete Hurt soloing on flute and later tenor (compare and contrast to the version to be found on JD’s Lifeline album). The following numbers were variously penned by LJO members Robbie Robson, Henry Lowther, Josephine Davies and Stuart Hall, an the first half of this set ended with Noel Langley’s extraordinary arrangement of Edward Elgar’s  Nimrod, which must be a first for jazz.

Following the intermission, the orchestra reassembled in a slightly different configuration, for as leader and conductor Scott Stroman explained, John Dankworth had his own ideas about how a big band should be arranged to obtain the maximum sonic balance. Although this meant one less trombone, the bass notes were more than compensated for by former Dankworth band member Dave Powell on tuba.

From the first notes, the band presented a spine-tingling version of Windmill Tilter which even to those very familiar with this suite was hugely gratifying. Had it not been for John Dankworth’s largesse in commissioning Kenny Wheeler to write the piece when the trumpeter was out of action for a time, British jazz history might have been quite different.

Two trumpeters Robbie Robson and the redoubtable Henry Lowther took turns to perform the trumpet and flugelhorn parts previously played by Wheeler himself. Apart from being extremely moving, this was an edifying experience. Other soloists included Pete Hurt on tenor, Stuart Hall, taking on the mantle of the original “Windmill Tilter” guitarist, John McLaughlin and the great Chris Laurence, depping for the LJO’s usual bass player, Alec Dankworth, taking over the bass lines formerly meted out by Dave Holland on the Fontana recording. The afternoon concluded with a short version Duke Ellington’s  Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face) which John Dankworth had always regarded highly.

Had the late Sir John and Kenny Wheeler been around to hear this performance they would have been justifiably proud and the London Jazz Orchestra too should give themselves a collective pat on the back for carrying off a brilliant rendition of this great jazz work.

Music in the Garden


REVIEW : Nora Germain at Pizza Express Dean Street (also available as video-stream)

L-R: Dave Newton,Alison Burns, Nora Germain

Nora Germain and Friends
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 28th June 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Last night's show by the 23-year old California-based (Wisconsin-born) violinist/singer Nora Germain was the first ever show to be live-streamed from Pizza Express Dean Street. So rather than reading on, you could just press play and experience the whole show, as live...


Germain gets a lot done: she is about to record her fourth album, for which there is a Pledge campaign. The album release coincides with a the publication of a life-skills book (sic). John Altman, who had set up last night's gig, the first in London in which Germain has led the band, sets the bar high: "Nora Germain is the best jazz violinist in the world, bar none," he writes. Her jazz style is rooted in Stuff Smith and Stephane Grappelli,

The programme was, mostly, unashamedly digging back into jazz and the songbook from the period up to the 1940's. We had a blistering Airmail Special, a lively Swing 42, a langorous Sunny Side of the Street, the core vibe a gentle medium swing.

The band are the kind of London musicians who can put something like this together more or less on the spot. Dave Newton on piano was particularly spacious on A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Rob Luft on guitar, Lloyd Haines on drums, Terry Gregory on bass were discreet and everywhere they needed to be. Rhere were  guests too: a Kenny Davern-ish John Altman on soprano saxophone, plus cameos from singer Alison Burns and drummer James Taylor.

An impressive debut as leader, and a name to watch.


REVIEW: Schlippenbach Trio at Cafe Oto

Schlippenbach Trio
L-R: Alexander von  Schlippenbach, Evan Parker
Paul Lovens. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Schlippenbach Trio
(Cafe Oto, 25th June 2015; second night of 2-day residency. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

It's not easy to pin down exactly what it is that makes this trio so special, but perhaps it is ultimately down to the composure that comes with experience. Alexander von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker and Paul Lovens have played together with intermittent regularity since the beginning of the 70s. Three iron-strong musical personalities, their individual paths have both collided and coalesced in this combination. Parker has noted that the trio can stretch them to breaking point, yet it can also lead to performances of a stunningly uplifting sensitivity, as it was at Cafe Oto.

The trio achieved a finely tuned expressive balance in their journey of rich explorations over two sets, with a light flow and a tight weave enabling each to turn the tentative to the resoundingly affirmative as the initiatives were traded and shared with intuitive equanimity.

The strong sense of continually seeking out the unknown banished any assumptions that a musical liaison of such long-standing might result in a formulaic performance. Monk was never far from von Schlippenbach's side in his scintillating runs and melodic angularity. Parker's range took on multicoloured hues, drifting from bassy resonances to mercurial high-pitched rounds. Yet, maybe it was Lovens who, with his quietly intense focus, held the key to their equilibrium. He pitched in with dynamic assurance mixing artillery precision with metallic, butterfly nuances, nurturing duets, then falling back to allow extended solos to emerge from the fray.

There was hardly any need to exchange glances - the understanding was so deeply ingrained, and when von Schlippenbach's piano took on the trance rhythms and intense tones of Parker's meditative flow the unity was complete. Spiritual nourishment of a very high order.

Alexander von Schlippenbach - piano
Evan Parker - saxophone
Paul Lovens - drums


CD REVIEW: Indigo Kid II - Fist Full of Notes

Indigo Kid II - Fist Full of Notes
(Babel BDV 14130. CD review by Mike Collins)

Indigo Kid’s first album, released in 2012, was a cocktail of melody, country, rock and jazz erudition delivered with whimsy and understated authority. It won plaudits all round (including from London Jazz’s Chris Parker - REVIEW) and was an early revelation of the composing and playing talents of leader Dan Messore. The follow up Fist Full of Notes, will garner plenty more praise.

Messore’s writes strong melodic themes blended with lilting grooves and wide-ranging musical and cultural reference points. It’s rich material to explore for a refreshed line up of Martin France on drums and Trish Clowes on saxes (Iain Ballamy still guests on two tracks having shouldered all the sax duties on the first album). Tim Harries completes the band on bass. Snow on Presellis starts with fragments of melody passed around all the band over a gently rocking pulse before accelerating to a quietly insistent samba like groove and a flowing guitar solo. All Hands to Dance and Skylark is a skipping joyful piece with Clowes stretching out. It’s confident, distinctive music, these pieces picking up the threads of the first album. There are extra dimensions to this album however. Messore has been exploring the use of electronics, not least in various collaborations including with Jake McMurchie’s Michelson Morley. Those techniques add an extra dimension to this album. Sometimes it’s atmospheric washes behind more melodic pieces. In other places a darker more intense mood emerges. From Nowhere to Our Place has muted thunder from Martin France’s drums as layers of guitar and distortion build up. Carpet Boys’ marching melody builds to climax of howling guitar battling with Clowes’ sax. Sketches in the fabric is a looser pieces with Iain Ballamy’s distinctive sound stating and exploring a plaintive theme against racing drums, Messore’s guitar weaving in and out.

From moments of almost unbearable tenderness and melancholy in pieces like The Healing Process, through the playful and dancing, to the dark and anguished this album is a significant achievement for a distinctive and confident musician.

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