NEWS: Laura Jurd announced as the fifth BBC New Generation Artist from jazz, for 2015-2017

Laura Jurd Quartet at Match & Fuse Warsaw 2015
Photo Credit: Thuy Duong Dang

It has been announced today at a Radio 3 season press launch that the next BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist from jazz, for the period 2015-2017 will be trumpeter LAURA JURD. This role includes developing a variety of projects including commissions with the BBC's performing groups.

The previous New Generation Artists from jazz have been

- Saxophonist Trish Clowes (2012-2014)

- clarinettist/saxophonist&nbsp Shabaka Hutchings(2010-12, see our news piece giving some
more background about the scheme HERE)

- trumpeter Tom Arthurs (2008-10)

- pianist Gwilym Simcock (2006-08)

BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists website


CD REVIEW: Uwe Oberg - Twice, At Least

Uwe Oberg - Twice, At Least
(Leo Records LR 733. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

German pianist and composer Uwe Oberg is often found nestled in a duo, trio or quartet, so his solo album Twice, At Least gives an intriguing insight into his own musical motivations. Twice, At Least is comprised of live recordings in which original compositions are blended with treatments of Monk and others. He creates an open solo structure in which there is scope both to indulge in playful thoughts and to lay bare powerful emotions. These patient, searching free improvisations develop into a very rewarding listen.

The opening piece, Chant II/Kelvin, dovetailing two Oberg originals, begins minimally: a neutral key lightly played before sliding into discord. We swing between light taps and a rolling bass absorbing all before it. He presents innocent themes with sinister undertones - imagine a gambolling fawn picking its way along the hard shoulder of the M4. These cinematic snippets appear cut between jaunty themes as over a dozen minutes Oberg sets out his stall: intense, unpredictable, yet coherent.

The abrupt, high-energy arrival of Enzym & Eros brings bravado and old empire pomp. Repeating and alternating between defiant cries and grand flourishes, Oberg rumbles and rolls, deconstructing the composition plank by plank before he abandons the piece disappearing amongst a hyperactive tinkled flurry. The reimagining of the solo piano continues in Magnetic Wood, where the introduction of a Mbira (thumb piano) – an instrument as much a part of southern African sounds as it is becoming part of Dan Nicholls' north London electronic stylings – adds a more percussive approach.

The understated high point is the Monk/Oberg combination Brilliant Corners/Twiyed Place arriving with a tinkling steely wash, echoing and reverberating gently behind the clean piano. Among the searching chords we settle into a fresh atmospheric piece, looping and re-referencing phrases with an unexpected Kieran Hebden lilt. The delicate drawn out chords at the opening of Pannonica and the care which follows encapsulates a style which delights in leaving a respectful space amongst the notes when needed – a contained, sparse melancholia.

Interspersed amongst Oberg originals and Monk adaptations (which Oberg evidently feels equally at home with) are changes in compositional tone. Touching provides the time and separation for some beautiful phrasing and clear tones, while the chunky King Korn - high speed and tumbling over itself much like Mingus at the bench - remains an exciting counterpoint.

Oberg possesses a unique approach: at times frugal, at others erratic or classical. Here is a man as comfortable with one hand on the keys and the other in the belly of his grand piano beast as he is delicately playing by the rules with both hands on deck. The liner notes by Claus Gnichwitz of Hessischer Rundfunk refer to his “density and intensity”, a texture drawn out through the continual establishment of themes. Each theme is rolled out, laid aside and lost, only to be unearthed again with a fresh, exciting perspective. To build and develop as Oberg does, everything must happen twice, at least. "


NEWS: 2015 MOBO Awards nominees announced

Binker and Moses at Jazz in the Round this week

The five nominees for the jazz cattegory of the MOBO Awards are announced. The awards are celebrating 20 years this year. The winners will be announced at an event at the First Direct Arena, Leeds, on 4th November which will be broadcast live on ITV2.


Binker And Moses
Julia Biel
Courtney Pine
David Lyttle
Polar Bear

Kwabs is also nominated in the Best RnB / Soul Act category


RIP Phil Woods (1931-2015)

Sad to learn this evening of the death of alto saxophonist Phil Woods, officially confirmed HERE. He was a four-time Grammy winner, a NEA Jazz master in 2007, carrier of the bebop flame, he leaves behind a mass of educational material in digital form, and one of many indelible marks as a player on Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are in 1977 . RIP


REVIEW: Barry Green / Chris Cheek / Gerald Cleaver at the Vortex

Barry Green / Chris Cheek / Gerald Cleaver
Vortex, 24th September 2015, first night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Pianist Barry Green is a highly adaptable pianist, who can be heard frequently - because he is a quality player and therefore in demand -  in any number of contexts around London. One might conclude that, because he is such a fixture on the scene, he has to be a known quantity. Think again.

Last Thursday night, in the company of  the incredibly resourceful. persuasive and melodic saxophonist Chris Cheek, and that drummer with an exquisite sense of both shape and drama Gerald Cleaver, the focus turned to Green's strengths and individual style and character  as a composer. My main response last night was the wish to hear some of those compositions - like Great News and Probably Not again, to get a better idea of their shapes an contours, to understand how Green combines a clear delight in bringing unexpected asymmetries into song forms,

There was also contrasts in the tunes by others they selected: one sequence started in the sweet candied atmosphere of Cheer up Charlie by Leslie Bricusse, and ended up in the in-your face anarchy of Ornette Coleman's Happy House. On Chris Cheek's tune Vine, the sharing of melody between Green and Cheek also led to particularly felicitous results.

There was also a solo moment to treasure from Barry Green, when he played John Taylor's joyous and intricate Clapperclowe as a homage to the late great pianist for whom the grieving, the remembering still have further to go.

If the very best test of hearing music for the first time is whether one wants to hear it again straight away, then most of last night's gig - and in particular those constantly intriguing compositions of Barry Green's  - succeeded.


LP REVIEW: Tubby Hayes Quartet – Live at the Hopbine 1968 Vol.1 The Syndicate

Tubby Hayes Quartet – Live at the Hopbine 1968 Vol.1 The Syndicate
(Gearbox GB1532. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

The Hopbine — it took some wrestling with the word processor to prevent this from becoming ‘The Hipbone’ — was a cavernous pub in north London where British sax legend Tubby Hayes often played. Gearbox Records have previously issued a 1972 Hopbine session by Tubby (reviewed here), but this latest release is particularly interesting. It is closer to what most regard as the tenor player’s prime period — indeed 1968 is the year Hayes released his immortal album Mexican Green. And this recording also has a somewhat unusual line-up in that, along with Kenny Baldock on double bass and Spike Wells on drums, it features the Irish guitarist Louis Stewart, who has played with George Shearing, J.J. Johnson and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. It’s a firecracker of a quartet and one which could never before be heard on a legitimately released recording.

The record goes from nought to sixty in the blink of an eye with The Syndicate, a Tubby Hayes original offering no-nonsense, fast, breezy bebop. Out of the dense, flashing intro Tubby emerges sounding sweetly tuneful and incisive. Louis Stewart smoothly supports the leader on electric guitar before launching into a chunky, fuzzy, chopping solo. The Gentle Rain, a bossa nova classic by Luiz Bonfá, is a radical change of pace and a gem of a selection, with Tubby showing what he can do in territory that Stan Getz seemed to have staked out as his alone. He blows airy bossa strains, effortless and affecting. Stewart’s racing, ringing electric guitar alternates fast bop lines with strumming in a modified flamenco style. Spike Wells keeps shimmering time on cymbals and Kenny Baldock plays twisting, full bodied bass.

Gingerbread Boy, a Jimmy Heath composition, is a feature for Stewart in a very different mode, playing lightning boppish lines which puts the leader on his mettle. Hayes rises to the occasion and shows his extraordinary speed and agility with Spike Wells galloping like a race horse alongside him. Tubby concludes with some good humoured Dizzy Gillespie style flourishes. The Inner Splurge is another Tubby Hayes original, and the title is an irreverent reference to The Inner Urge a 1966 composition, and Blue Note album, by Joe Henderson. Tubby’s tune is fierce and frantic hard bop with Stewart and Wells alternating in bursts of machine-gun-fire riffing. Hayes remains the master of ceremonies, though, always guiding the music back to the theme, and performing a tyre-scorching stop to conclude the piece.

This is a desirable rarity, fleshing out Tubby Hayes’s all too slender discography. There are some limitations to the original source used, including the occasional hint of a ghostly echo (tape print-through?), but considering the age of the recording the sound is remarkably strong and clear. The album has the standard Gearbox bonus of attractive packaging and comprehensive, informative liner notes by the estimable Simon Spillett who has literally, and quite recently, written the definitive book on Tubby Hayes


Magic Science Quartet at Cafe Oto and Barbican freestage

Henry Grimes at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Magic Science Quartet
(Cafe Oto, 22 September 2015 and Barbican with Guidhall students, 27 September 2015. Reviews and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The Magic Science Quartet are bound together by a unique chemistry. The majestic jazz and improvising bassist, Henry Grimes, since his reemergence on the scene in 2002, has teamed up on over thirty occasions with the mercurial Sun Ra Arkestra director, saxophonist, Marshall Allen. Grimes is approaching his eightieth birthday, Allen recently celebrated his ninety-first, yet both are flourishing in the company of the dynamic Chicagoan, ex-Sun Ra drummer, Avreeayl Ra, and artistic force, activist and pianist KA, whose achievements include the creation of the Uncool Festival at her Swiss mountain base.

Marshall Allen playing kora
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved  

The Magic Science Quartet do jazz and improvisation - but not quite like anybody else. Magic Science? Clues are in 'Space is the Place', Sun Ra's biography by John Szwed; '[Sun Ra] told tales of a future when science would become one with music …', and Sun Ra's assertion that 'You're not musicians, you're tone scientists.' ... and Grimes' powerful, recent solo album on KA's Uncool label is entitled 'Tone of Wonder' (REVIEWED HERE) .

There's something special in the quartet's language which goes very deep - and much that they don't need to say. The resonances in their playing are more like reverberations from an earthquake, emerging as spontaneous statements with unique inflections and deflections that draw on their rich and unpredictable lives in jazz and art. Grimes, Ayler's favourite bass player, with his thirty year hiatus, never losing hope; Allen's total immersion in Sun Ra's world to eventually take on the mantle of the Arkestra's director; Av Ra embracing the healing potential of music, learned from Phil Cohran (father of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) and KA, a visionary artist who took naturally to the piano, acquired twenty years ago.

Onstage, their multi-hued, sequinned attire was straight out of the Arkestra wardrobe. Avreeayl Ra has talked of how Sun Ra would write 'music in different colours [with] notes pertaining to the vibration per second of the color [to] open up our consciousness …' A focus on the spiritual dimension dusted their performance.

At Cafe Oto, two sets, burning the midnight oil, a testament to their stamina, and love of the music. Allen inaugurated proceedings with the lightest of touches on a kora (on which he'd been practicing for hours on end), then swapped between the bleepy atmospherics of the Casio palm-keyboard, the EVI, and explosive bursts on alto sax. Grimes took the bass for a walk, exerting a subterranean, gravitation pull, KA turned the piano into a supercharged harp, with echoes of Tyner and Cecil Taylor, and Av Ra exuded joy, energy and rhythmic precision, which extended to the foursome's spells of dry desert scratching, with shakers, reed pipe and micro-sonics.

Magic Science Quartet with Guildhall students - 23 piece big band on Barbican freestage
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved 

On the Barbican Freestage, after two days of workshops with the quartet, Guildhall students and youngsters from east London joined them to make up a joyous, twenty-three piece Magic Science Arkestra, exuding life and energy, with Allen in full conduction mode and Grimes at its fulcrum. KA and Ra drove from the back with 4 guitars, 6 saxes, 3 keyboards, 2 percussionists, bass, Alpine horn, flute and trumpet in tow, sounding somewhere between JCOA, a Mingus Orchestra - briefly playing two tunes simultaneously, and the riffy, chugging confidence of a Basie bunch, motoring with some of the fiercest grooves around, some great solos - sax and flute, notably, and memorably, Grimes' immaculate solo spot where he didn't skip a beat, but just skipped along. Pure jazz. And Allen was totally in control, with graceful gestures and an unfailingly positive, life-affirming musical vision that imbued every note played. Brilliant!

Henry Grimes and Marshall Allen
Photo credit: Paul Wood

The Magic Science Quartet will be playing late gigs at the Vortex on Tuesday 29 and Wed 30 September, kicking off at 11pm - be there!

The Magic Science Quartet

Henry Grimes: acoustic double bass, violin
Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, evi, casio vl-tone
Avreeayl Ra: drums, bamboo flute, kalimba
KA: piano, shaman drum


NEWS: Help Musicians 25th UK Peter Whittingham Award open for applications

2010 Development Award Winners Peter Edwards and Max Luthert
2015 Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Benoit Rousseau / FIJM 

One of the main UK awards for a young UK Jazz act, the Peter Whittingham Awards produced by Help Musicians UK (formerly the Musicians Benevolent Fund) is in its 25th year, and is now open for applications HERE. Deadline is 2nd November.

Winners in the past have included Soweto Kinch, Scott Stroman, Errollyn Wallen MBE, Dave O’Higgins, Gwilym Simcock, Empirical, and Led Bib. Here is a list of the recent winners, with our news stories from each year:

World Service Project / Peter Edwards Trio / Joe Wright and James Maddren

Roller Trio, Chaos Collective, Ayanna Witter Johnson

Reuben Fowler, Ollie Howell

Phil Meadows , Elliot Galvin

Stretch Trio , Mark Pringle


NEWS: EFG London Jazz Festival to include Keith Jarrett Solo Concert on Nov 20th

Keith Jarrett in Antibes in 2008.
Photo credit: Olivier Bruchez /Creative Commons

Keith Jarrett last played a solo concert in London in February 2013 (reviewed here). It was announced at the festival launch party last night that he will be playing the Royal Festival Hall on 20th November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, (incidentally the same night as the Dave Holland solo concert at Wigmore Hall), and that tickets will go on sale on Friday October 2nd at 10am on the Southbank Centre website.


NEWS: BBC Radio, Jazz FM + EFG LJF will launch temporary digital station BBC Music Jazz

BBC Radio has announced that it will be working with Jazz FM and EFG London Jazz Festival to launch a temporary Jazz Pop-up digital radio station, BBC Music Jazz. BBC Music Jazz will run from 12th November to 15th November offering continuous jazz content.

The service will be available on digital radio platforms, online in the UK and globally and via the BBC iplayer radio app labelled as BBC Music Jazz. It will also be available on demand for 30 days. 

The lengthy press release also flags up - among other things -  the following:

- This is a ground-breaking BBC Music collaboration with Jazz FM.

- It is the first time BBC Radio will work with Jazz FM to offer shared content for audiences

-Presenters include; Jamie Cullum, Julian Joseph, Clare Teal, Craig Charles, Helen Mayhew, Jez Nelson, Geoffrey Smith, Claire Martin, Chris Philips, Alyn Shipton and many other household names.

- ‘50 Greatest Jazz Figures’ vote will be launched. BBC Radio 3’s Geoffrey Smith with special guest and Jazz FM presenter Helen Mayhew will present the ‘50 Greatest Jazz Artists’. The programme will be broadcast daily on the pop-up station with audiences invited to vote.

- BBC Radio 3’s live coverage of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2015 to be simulcast

- Jazz FM’s rare archive coverage of Ella Fitzgerald in concert from the 1990s available.

- Temporary jazz pop-up station to be called ‘BBC Music Jazz’ and to run from 2pm on Thursday 12th November 2015 – midnight Sunday 15th November 2015.BBC Radio 2’s Jamie Cullum will open proceedings at 2pm on Thursday 12th November with a celebration of live performance

- ‘BBC Music Jazz’ will also feature jazz masterclasses with leading figures such as sax with Tommy Smith presented by Julian Joseph, bass with Lawrence Cottle presented by Kevin LeGendre and trombone with Dennis Rollins presented by Jez Nelson.

-  A programme ‘BBC Jazz around the Country’ will also be a celebration of UK jazz highlights from Gateshead to Belfast, Brecon, Manchester, Glasgow and Glynde.

- There will also be programming on the eve of the search for BBC Four’s BBC Young Jazz Musician 2016. ‘BBC Music Jazz’ will include performances from the award’s inaugural winner from 2014, Alexander Bone.


CD REVIEW: Jeff Herr Corporation - Layer Cake

Jeff Herr Corporation - Layer Cake
(Igloo IGL 259. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Luxembourg drummer Jeff Herr's Corporation has been in existence for some twelve years, though only since 2012 in this energetic acoustic trio format with saxophonist Maxime Bender and double bassist Laurent Payfert.

The concept of the chordless trio is enduringly attractive, its raw, exhilarating power, pulling into sharp focus the technical and expressive attributes of each player, whilst also requiring pin-sharp group co-ordination. Herr, Bender and Payfert clearly have this off to a fine art, injecting much invention into their original compositions and flowing performances – and frequently, it's Jeff Herr's sparky, varietal drumming and percussiveness which provide the foundation.

Listen closely… and this 50-minute recording bursts into life. Opening number The Funky Monkey marks out the terrain with fidgety, clattering drums and peppy, swooning sax – shades of Pierrick Pédron or Depart, but with a decidedly penetrating edge. Pushing things further, And So It Is hits an irresistibly intensifying, raga-like groove set up by bassist Payfert – and the improvised alto sax gyrations of Bender, against Herr's thunderous, perfectly-timed syncopations, seem unstoppable. Multi-coloured percussion in A-Rabi Dub perpetuates the Eastern thrill, as sparkling soprano sax chromatics soar over its bass-and-drum impetus; and Danse Sucrée is politely sweeter, offering Payfert's bass the space to dance en l'air.

More expansive outings are interspersed with miniatures. Wind's breathy, honking tenor and softly-malleted percussion might suggest the graceful flight of geese into the afterglow; and Rain captures a similar mood, as Herr's intensifying rattlings mimic heavy downpour. Melancholy is drenched in tearful sax, as is the arco-bass suspension of Le Regret; and an impressively intense burst of Euphoria, with perpetual-motion snare, crackling percussion and fantastically whining soprano sax, soon becomes drained of its energy.

The gem of a revelation at the centre of this album is a reworking of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World. Memories of Lulu's original, husky vocals pale into the background as the familiar melodic lines (stated and then extemporised by Bender's tenor) are gradually twisted out of recognition by tricksy bass-and drum-rhythms, eventually resulting in a satisfying, solid rock-out.

Journey to the Bliss highlights the depth of this trio's creativity, Herr's cicada-like percussion encircling Payfert's smoothly-phrased bass melodies before the entry of an enticing, slow, bluesy lead from Bender's tenor (the crisp production here especially evident); and the ruminations of closing title track Layer Cake are fabulously shot through with calypsonian verve, Bender's fluency echoing the joyful abandon of Sonny Rollins – and Herr almost steals the final word in a suitably resounding, exuberant finish.

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

Jeff Herr Corporation will play their first ever UK dates:
– 29 September 2015 at Newcastle upon Tyne's Jazz Café
– 30 September 2015. Vortex London



CD REVIEW: Lizz Wright - Freedom and Surrender

Lizz Wright - Freedom and Surrender
(Concord. 7237220. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

American singer Lizz Wright’s heart-stopping voice has covered jazz, rootsy folk, gospel and original songs in her previous four albums. Her last was in 2010, so this new one is eagerly awaited, and draws on all these elements.

She has co-written songs for this CD with a number of seasoned songwriters, but the most compelling track is an arrangement of Nick Drake’s River Man, with its mysterious lyrics and uneasy major/minor shifts. It’s the jazziest on the album, with its ethereal trumpet solo (Till Brönner) and gentle vocals heard through a veil of Hammond.Right Where You Are is an irresistible duet with Gregory Porter in 6/8, the simple instrumentation leaving space for the voices to intertwine, harmonise and improvise together- the voices sound made for each other.

Some tracks have a singer-songwriter feel, such as Somewhere Down the Mystic with its silvery guitars and soft layers of sound. The moving, autobiographical lyrics are about being rescued from a car crash. Real Life Painting (co-written with Maia Sharp) has a strong melody that draws you back, and delicate drumming. Mostly the instruments are there to frame the voice rather than take solos. Here and Now has keyboard fills tumbling between the pure vocal lines.The Game and Lean In are co-written with Jesse Harris (famous for his compositions on Norah Jones’ first album.) It has an earthy feel, more like Wright’s Dreaming Wide Awake album. The voice is surprisingly deep and utterly unforced, the melody rising poignantly as the chords descend.

Several songs have a strong gospel influence (Wright started out singing in the church). The Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody has a fine 6/8 bluesy punch, pulling the lead vocal against the backing vocals and Hammond whorls. In Blessed and the Brave, the backing vocals act like instrumental chords, as guitar and Hammond echo the vocal riffs over the restless bass line. Surrender concludes the album with a gospel choir and huge drum sound.

Larry Klein has co-written five songs along with David Batteau and Wright, and produced the album. Sometimes there’s the ghost of his production of Joni Mitchell’s 80s recordings, with the huge echoing backbeats on the snare, and the vocal reverb (as in The New Game.) The funky Freedom allows Wright to explore the power in her voice, as she addresses freedom itself: ‘Call again and I’ll answer.’ Lizz Wright must have one of the most beautiful voices in existence in any genre, and no-one who has heard her ‘Sing the Truth’ gigs with Dianne Reeves and Angelique Kidjo could deny its power. But to these ears, the voice seems to be fighting the rock production on a few tracks: The New Game, Lean In, You.

The voice still has its arresting intimacy, disarming directness, and dazzling tone though, holding the different song styles together. ‘Songs carry stories that I need to tell,’ she told one interviewer, ‘and I just pick them up and sing them…

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud.

Lizz Wright is on tour in Europe Oct 18-31 (DATES) with Ronnie Scott's on 31st


LP REVIEW: Chris Potter/Underground Orchestra – Imaginary Cities

Chris Potter/Underground Orchestra – Imaginary Cities
(Double LP, ECM 2387. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

With its elegant black and white covers and often cutting edge material, the ECM label can project a forbidding, austere image and it’s possible to forget that they also record music possessed of considerable warmth, which grooves and swings — like this album written and performed by Chris Potter. Potter was a sax prodigy who made his debut playing bebop with Red Rodney and went on to work with Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall and Ray Brown. He has been recording with ECM since 2000, starting as a sideman for Dave Holland. Potter’s Underground Orchestra grew out of his Underground Quartet, with some significant changes, beyond its obvious expansion in size. Fender Rhodes player Craig Taborn moved on to piano, and after forsaking bass in the quartet, Potter opted to have two players here, Fima Ephron on electric bass guitar and Scott Colley on double bass. There’s also an adroit string section consisting of David Eggar on cello, Lois Martin on viola and Joyce Hammann and Mark Feldman on violin. All this adds up to a very distinctive, powerful and agile big jazz band.

Lament presents Colley’s warm, rounded bass sounding against a shifting curtain of melancholy strings with Potter foregrounded as Nate Smith’s drums kick in softly and Adam Rogers’s electric guitar begins to comment. The violins escort Potter through the changes then drop away as he solos, underpinned by Taborn’s piano. This is a majestic, lovely and haunting piece, moving and coolly romantic in a way that could never tip into Kenny G. territory (Potter plays soprano sax, tenor sax and bass clarinet on the album). Adam Roger’s scant, thoughtful electric guitar brings a country twang to the proceedings. Potter is articulate and heartfelt, his sax is persistent and poetic, chattering and sharp with the strings building in intensity and frequency before everyone flattens out in a smooth, relaxed plateau of sound. Potter offers a shapely, piercing sign-off.

Firefly opens with scattered piano and modernist, elliptical, fractured sounds from guitar and drums. Potter’s boppish sax comes nosing through this futuristic landscape as Nate Smith begins his solid, punchy drumming. There’s a call and response dialogue between the violin and Potter and the mellow chugging of the electric bass by Fima Ephron against Smith’s drums and Roger’s guitar licks. Shadow Self sounds almost like a film soundtrack piece with the suspenseful see-saw bowing on the strings from Joyce Hammann, Mark Feldman, Lois Martin and David Eggar. The violins are elegantly sharp and strident as they chatter, squeal and slide in skittering runs, paving the way for an exultant, celebrant Potter to enter against a backdrop of mesmeric, metronomic percussion (Steve Nelson plays vibraphone and marimba on the album). The strings are to the fore again in Sky, this time with an Indian sound. Taborn plays rainfall piano and there’s an assertive, silvery solo spot from Potter that becomes frayed and fiery.

The ambitious four-part title track Imaginary Cities takes up both sides of the second record in this two LP set. The first movement, Compassion, features some especially tasty sax by Potter and memorable electric guitar from Adam Rogers. The second movement, Dualities, showcases great drumming by Nate Smith. Part three, Disintegration, showers notes like falling autumn leaves, with rolling percussion and sonorous unison playing on the reeds (all by Potter). The final movement, Rebuilding, impresses with the smoothly bubbling flow of Roger’s electric guitar and the acerbic angularity of the string section which make this such a distinctive combo.

Chris Potter comments, “I was hearing a real thick rhythm section sound, also with vibraphone… I didn’t want a classical-meets-jazz feeling. I wanted it all to be completely integrated. And, in places, the lines between the written material and the improvised material would be a little blurred, and the strings would improvise, too.” He’s achieved an impressive piece of writing for large ensemble and has created a big band to be reckoned with.


LP REVIEW: Hubert Laws – Afro Classic

Hubert Laws – Afro Classic
(Speakers Corner/CTI 6006. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Another classic from the CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated) catalogue, revived on state of the art vinyl by Speakers Corner. These are beautiful, lucid recordings engineered by the great Rudy Van Gelder in December 1970, featuring flautist Hubert Laws as leader. Laws had begun recording his own albums at Atlantic (also the home of Herbie Mann, the other leading exponent of jazz flute) before being lured away by Creed Taylor. Laws’s jazz credentials are flawless, but he also had a considerable presence in the world of classical music — having studied at Juilliard before playing with the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera orchestras. The ‘Classic’ in the title alludes to Laws’s interest in classical music, and in this pursuit he’s aided signifcantly by Don Sebesky, one of CTI’s cornerstone arrangers. Sebesky was a graduate of the Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton big bands and had already scored big (in every sense) for Creed Taylor with his work on some bestselling Wes Montgomery albums.

But before the classical explorations we’re treat to an astonishing version of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. The hesitant lyricism of Laws’s flute sings the theme against a menacing drone of the bass (Ron Carter) and some ominous fragments of percussion (Airto and Richie ‘Pablo’ Landrum) which suggest the darker aspects of the song, before the childlike purity of electric piano by Bob James, echoed by Laws’s flute, profoundly changes the mood. A staccato stutter of military drums (Fred Waits) and fluttering flute effect another transformation. A sustained linear note from Laws fractures into coloured shards and precedes the most striking development in the piece. The song turns into an hallucinogenic tapestry of electronica, combining Gene Bertoncini’s guitar, David Friedman’s fuzz pedal vibes and Bob James’s keyboards and ends with an amazing, sustained electronic shimmer. An acid era masterpiece.

Bach’s Passacaglia In C Minor opens with the powerful, dark murmurings of Ron Carter’s bass, which provides soft shadowed slopes for the bright skating of Bob James’ electric piano. Gene Bertoncini is also a master of the acoustic guitar, as he demonstrates here, and he’s accompanied by Carter doubling on electric cello. Bertoncini’s strumming, Laws’s downward-spiralling flute and Bob James’s descending scales on the electric piano intertwine virtuosically. Meanwhile Airto and Landrum’s catchy ethnic percussion provide some of the ‘Afro’ of the album’s title. James plays his keyboards with a forceful percussive drive which pushes them to the edge of distortion and Fred Waits works alchemy with his drum kit. Bertoncini swaps to electric guitar, Carter saws sour-sweet country licks on the electric cello. Then frayed, worrying phrases played by Laws on electric flute take the piece in a fascinating new direction. Bertoncini returns for a lonely coda on acoustic guitar, ghosted by Carter’s bass before the ensemble returns, joined by Friedman’s vibes.

Attempts at ‘jazz meets classical music’ can go horribly wrong, but the poised beauty and understated elegance of the Passacaglia suggests that it’s a viable form after all. This entire album is also noteworthy for highlighting how effective and utterly musical even the oddest electric instruments can be, when used by the right players working with the right arranger. This is a 1970s classic reborn on vinyl and sounding superb.


NEWS: Cambridge Jazz Festival announced (Nov 19th-29th)

The Cambridge Jazz Festival, (the organizers believe it is the first in the city since 1964) will run from Thursday 19th to Sunday 29th November 2015. Over 150 international, national and local musicians will take part. There will also be jam sessions, masterclasses, films, speakers and workshops.

The main events will include

- The New York Standards Quartet
- Dennis Rollins and the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra
- Gilad Atzmon with The Orient House Ensemble
- Julian Joseph Trio
- Hiatus Kaiyote
- London Vocal Project
- Resolution 88
- Tom Green Septet
- Partikel with Benet McClean
- Sara Mitra Quartet
- Stan Sulzmann & Nikki Iles Duo
- Rip Rap Quartet
- Tara Minton Quintet
- Valia Calda
- Dan Forshaw & Frank Griffith
- Jazz Masterclasses led by Julian Joseph, Dennis Rollins, Tara Minton and Frank Griffith

Venues involved will include:

The Junction
Anglia Ruskin University's Mumford Theatre
Cambridge Modern Jazz at the Hidden Rooms in Jesus Lane
La Raza
Clare Jazz

The Festival has been supported by Arts Council England and Cambridge BID, which represents a collection of 1,100 shops, bars, cafes, attractions, entertainment and services in Cambridge City Centre. Directors of the social enterprise company behind the festival are Sergio Contrino, Martin Hallmark, plus Roslin Russell and Gavin Spence who are producing the festival.

  LINK: Cambridge Jazz Festival Website with full programme and bookings


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Claire de Belloy (See Me Clear EP Launch, St Pancras Old Church, Fri Oct 9th)

Claire de Belloy

Young French actress/singer/songwriter Claire de Belloy launches her debut EP on October 9th. Sebastian Scotney interviewed her:

LondonJazz News: You are from France - What made you come to England

Claire de Belloy: I am from Southern France, Aix-en-Provence, and from Nantes. One reason for coming to England is that so much of the best music ever written - in my opinion -  comes from the UK: Queen, Pink Floyd, Johanna Newsom, Elton John, David Bowie… And the list is long! How can one not be intrigued?

LJN: You've been on stage most of your life...

CdB: I started  on stage in musical theatre when I was 11, touring in France and the on the East cost of the USA, with the Fredonia Company. After studying for three years in Paris at the Sorbonne where I did a double major in Theatre and Cinema, and also studying at the Conservatoire Debussy and at a musical theatre school called ECM de Paris, Another reason I came to the UK was because my dream was to get into the Guildford School of Acting. I was studying at GSA for 3 years until September 2014.

LJN: What have you been doing since your studies finished? 

CdB: While living from one place to another, making a living in various ways, I have been writing and composing in music, musical theatre and in the commercial world. With Christian Lunn and Matt Sheppard, we have created a new theatre company called Theatre Seat 141. We co-wrote and composed the musical Here’s To Life which was performed at the National Portrait Gallery in June 2014. The show is also scheduled for a run at the Waterloo East Theatre in 2016.

I have also started a Youtube Channel:  to tell a story  called “How I became famous or absolutely nothing”. It is an imagined voice from 2030 telling the story of what is happing, and how I became what I became!

LJN: You've just done a musical for the National Gallery, what is the story of that?

CdB:  Here’s To Life takes us on a journey through the highs and lows of human experience and the questions we face through the stages of life.

Christian Lunn and I co-authored it. We met at GSA and became good friends. We wrote a first version of the show as a song cycle at GSA and got to perform at the Cornbury Festival supported by Caffe Nero in 2014. It then became a musical for the National Portrait Gallery.

The inspiration at the heart of the show is a message that Christian's father John Lunn left before he passed away in December 2013 “Take one step at a time, rather than crowding the mind with endless projections of the future which may never happen. Do not worry, do not worry” Here is a teaser.

LJN: You are also a song writer - when did you start writing your songs. What kind of themes/subjects/moods do you try to capture in your songs?

CdB:  I have started writing the songs of the EP and many other songs this year 2015. Those songs, in English and French, come from the need of expressing a feeling, an impression, a reaction or asking questions to maybe find an answer. The moods of the songs depend very much on the subjects, trying to be honest with the words. There is a common theme which, pretty much, follows what Gandhi said: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow but learn as if you were to live forever". The songs are also awlays about others, and the kind of interaction we create. My style has soul, folk, world and alternative influences.

LJN: Who are your song writing Gods in English and in French?

In French, I would say Aznavour, Brassens, Brel, Sardou… and in English, most definitely Carole King, Kate Bush, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Regina Spektor….and the list is long.

LJN:  What was the inspiration for the song  "See Me Clear" ?

CdB:  The man I used to love told me that somehow he couldn’t really see who I was and am. My name being Claire, I just replied that he could See Me Clear… The song says it all.

LJN: And you've just made a recording?

CdB: I have just recorded an EP in August 2015 with my own writing and composing, starting to get into the music world. This EP is called See Me Clear, produced by Dan Bell. We gathered string quartet, grand piano, double bass, guitars, drums and harp and backing vocals.

See Me Clear will be launched at the Saint Pancras Old Church, with The Quill,  on October 9th, at 7:30

LINKS: Claire de Belloy on Facebook
Claire de Belloy at Green Room Management
Twitter : @clairedebelloy
Theatre Seat 141


PREVIEW: Philip Clouts Quartet

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

South Africa-born pianist Philip Clouts launches his quartet’s new album, "Umoya", at Café Posk in Hammersmith on Saturday, October 17th during a tour of England and Scotland to mark the album’s release. He spoke to Rob Adams about the tour:

Philip Clouts' new album Umoya continues Clouts’ love affair with not just South African music, but also rhythms and melodies from around the world. “Jazz and world music have been important to me throughout my musical life,” says the now Dorset-based Clouts who emerged on the London scene during the 1980s and became a key member of popular world jazz ensemble Zubop before moving to the Jurassic coast in 2006. “I’m inspired by both the freedom of jazz and the rootedness of world music with its sense of dance, community and spirituality. Listening to both genres always reveals a variety of approaches to rhythm, harmony and melody.”

The influences on Umoya include Sufi music, with its trance-like bass figures, Nigerian dance rhythms and European folk music from Romania and Southern Italy as well as an already well-established jazz inspiration, gospel music.

Although he came over to London from Cape Town with his family as a young child in the early 1960s, Clouts grew up hearing the music of his homeland as his parents – his father, Sydney Clouts, was a poet whose work captured the South African landscape – had brought their favourite records with them.

After his two older brothers began taking piano lessons, he impressed by picking up what they were playing by ear. He found himself drawn to improvising, and hearing Stan Tracey on a television programme when he was twelve attracted him to jazz and inspired him to take the instrument more seriously.

It was while studying anthropology at Cambridge that Clouts realised he really wanted to focus on contributing to his own culture. On returning to London he got the chance to play with and learn from African musicians including the pianist Bheki Mseleku, who became a mentor for a while, and the percussionist Thebe Lipere, who joined Clouts in the first incarnation of Zubop.

“There was a lot of South African music on the London scene at that time in the 1980s,” he says. “I’d missed the Blue Notes live, being too young, but there were bands that had grown out of them and were carrying on that spirit that they’d brought over. Their saxophonist, Dudu Pukwana was a real force in those days and, of course, listening to Chris MacGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath was a huge inspiration.”

Clouts’ current quartet features saxophonist Samuel Eagles, bass guitarist Alex Keen and the Yamaha Jazz Scholarship-winning drummer Dave Ingamells, all players who have, he says, taken to the multi-cultural mix at the root of his music with real enthusiasm.

“Umoya is the Zulu word for ‘life force’. It can also be translated as ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ and I’m really pleased with the way Sam, Alex and Dave brought these aspects out in the music on the album,” says Clouts. “Playing live is where jazz really develops, of course, so I’m looking forward to getting out on the road and seeing what happens with these compositions as we share them with audiences around the country.”

Rob Adams is a freelance writer, and jazz and roots music correspondent for The Herald Scotland. Twitter @rabjourno

Philip Clouts October Umoya Tour Dates 2015

Sat Oct 3: Café Bar Contemporary, Nottingham
Sun Oct 4: Oxford Wine Café
Sat 17 Oct: Album Launch Concert at Café Posk, London
Fri Oct 23: Bridport Arts Centre
Sat Oct 24: Zefirelli's, Ambleside, Cumbria
Sun Oct 25 Number 39, Darwen, Lancashire (3pm start)
Mon 26: Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Tue 27: "Sounds in the Suburbs" Glasgow
Wed 28: Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline
Thur 29: Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Fri Oct 30: Capstone Theatre Liverpool

UMOYA is one of the first releases on the new jazz imprint of American classical label Odradek.

LINKS: Philip Clouts website
Podcast interview from 2013 with Philip Clouts
Odradek Jazz on Faceboook


CD/LP REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love

Cécile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love
(Mack Avenue MAC 1095 (CD) and MAC 1095LP (double vinyl). CD and LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

This is the third album by singer Cécile McLorin Salvant who was born in Florida, of Haitian, French and Guadeloupean descent. She’s a Grammy nominee, has won Downbeat polls and taken first prize in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. For One to Love is an impressive example of jazz vocals. Its richness and complexity is such that the casual listener is startled to discover that it’s not the work of Salvant supported by a large unit, but rather a crack trio consisting of Aaron Diehl piano, Paul Sikivie double bass and Lawrence Leathers on drums. The apparent size and diversity of the sound here is due in no small part to the variety and range of Salvant’s singing and Aaron Diehl’s notable ability to encompass shifts in colour and tempo.

The album is a canny mix of unusual and carefully chosen standards alternating with nimble originals penned by Salvant. Fog is one of the latter and the singer immediately begins to stake out her territory and show what she can do. Called to mind are Nina Simone and, above all, Betty Carter (whom some would consider the greatest jazz ginger of them all). For those with other musical reference points, there’s even a hint of Bjork.

Growlin’ Dan is a great example of the imaginative standards on offer. It’s a composition by Blanche Calloway, Cab’s older sister, and it charts the further adventures of Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher. With a stomping, funky beat from Paul Sikivie and Lawrence Leathers, and restrained piano from Diehl it’s a story-telling song carried by the power of the singer, reminiscent of Peggy Lee’s I’m a Woman.

Burt Bacharach’s Wives and Lovers is presented in a meditative and moody version, with Salvant wringing out every syllable of Hal David’s lyric and Diehl playing insistent, minatory piano like a warning bulletin coming in. Salvant’s voice soars above the piano, a bird over jagged rocks. Lawrence Leathers plays beautifully judged drums which are so spare they’re hardly there, and the whole group wraps things up in an amazingly concise conclusion.

The Trolley Song is introduced with uneasy, time-shifting drums and piano, racing like a fevered pulse, and the tempo changes are a feature of the song throughout — speeding up and slowing to a stop while Salvant’s singing ties it all together, through transformations that include a brief Latin excursion. What’s the Matter Now? is a gorgeously involving, bluesy workout, which gets the head nodding and toes tapping. Paul Sikivie’s skill is particularly on show here with his immaculate plucked bass. Its sweetly funky down-home nature is balanced by some very sophisticated tempo shifts and sudden, immaculate pauses — at several points the song just seems to stop dead, and these short, sweet silences are breathtaking. Diehl has a gleaming, carefully crafted solo which develops interesting angular forms from this simple composition.

An eerie modernist introduction with some splendid, judicious piano from Diehl opens up into Sondheim’s Something’s Coming — a spine tingling highlight in an outstandingly diverse collection of songs. Diehl’s playing moves from the spooky to the elegantly offhand and Salvant manages to project warmth while sounding avant garde. On top of all that, she does a convincing and sonorous job of singing Le Mal de Vivre in French. (Not so surprising when one considers that Salvant studied classical and baroque singing with the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence. It was in France that she began performing.) At this point it’s tempting to say, “Enough — we’re impressed already.”

And we are. Very impressed. A standout jazz vocal album which features both impressive originals and eclectic standards, all delivered by a singer of real stature with a first rate rhythm section. This notable CD is also available on deluxe double vinyl, with three extra songs (So In Love, You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me and Personne). In either format it’s one of the vocal releases of the year and deserves attention.

Cecile McLorin Salvant will be appearing at the EFG London Jazz Festival on Saturday November 14th at Cadogan Hall


REVIEW: Nicola Conte at Brooklyn Bowl, O2, Greenwich

Zara McFarlane, Nicola Conte

Nicola Conte
(Brooklyn Bowl, O2, Greenwich, 24 September 2105. Review by Peter Jones.)

The master of retro groove and Summery feel-food vibes, Nicola Conte was some way out of his natural element in this enormous, echoing, barn-like pub-cum-bowling alley. His music may be warm and intimate; the venue is anything but. He has worked with many different vocalists, from José James to Kimberley Sanders, so it was fortunate that he had one with him on this occasion able to project her voice and personality sufficiently to overcome any surrounding distractions, namely the sublime Zara MacFarlane.

The sharp-suited band looked understandably grim as they hit the stage, but began to relax and smile as they realized that the relatively small audience appreciated what they were about.

Apart from the traditional Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, the material seemed new. I’m guessing at the titles, not having been supplied with them, but there was the familiar mixture of samba (We Get Our Love From The Sun), slow funk (Revelation) and bossa nova (It’s Quiet). Annoyingly, Searching For Peace, a gentle, meditative tune, didn’t find it: the music was marred by the clatter of bowling balls and roars of triumph on one side, and loud conversation from the bar on the other.

But none of this deterred Francesco Lento (trumpet) or Logan Richardson (alto saxophone) as they supplied a fertile stream of solos to complement the rhythm section’s solid grooves. Later in the gig there were also solo contributions from Pietro Lussu (electric piano), Luca Alemanno (double bass) and Marco Valeri (drums), who traded fours on Black Spirit. Goddess Of The Sea featured a brief but magnificent, Fitzgeraldesque scat from MacFarlane. As is his custom, Conte himself (guitar) modestly refrained from soloing.

‘They want to close, but we’re going to do one more anyway’, he said, as they returned to the stage for their encore. By now the bowling fans had gone home, allowing the band to play It’s Only Love unmolested by noise, with more wonderful swapping of solos between MacFarlane and Lento.


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW Tigran Hamasyan. (With the Yerevan State Chamber Choir, Union Chapel October 15th

Tigran Hamasyan. Photo courtesy of ECM

TIGRAN HAMASYAN first burst on to the international jazz scene as the winner of the Thelonious Monk prize in 2006. His path since, on some half dozen albums, has embraced contemporary jazz and world music but even within his own highly eclectic parameters his latest album Luys i Luso (ECM) is a unique departure for the pianist who at only 28 has achieved so much already in a relatively short time frame. Ahead of a concert at Union Chapel on 15th October, he spoke to Stephen Graham on the phone from Yerevan:

Recorded with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir in his native Armenia, Luys i Luso is an extraordinarily spiritual album that has a humbling majesty and stillness to it. The title meaning, in English, ‘light from light’, explores Armenian sacred music, the pianist loosely improvising around Armenian modes as he and the chamber choir interpret newly arranged Armenian hymns, sharakans (chants) and cantos some dating back to the 5th century by among others Grigor Narekatsi, Nerses Shnorhali, Mesrop Mashtots, Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi, Grigor Pahlavuni and Komitas mainly written in grabar, the oldest form of the Armenian language.

Tigran explains how closely he connects with the ancient sacred music of his homeland: “The thing is I used to listen to it when I was 15 or 16. I also knew that I wanted to do something eventually with those incredible melodies and I wanted to arrange them. But I didn’t dare to touch them, it is such an old tradition, you have to go deep into it. I didn’t dare do anything until two or three years ago. But this coming to the music is natural in a way. The music is systematic and there are a lot of rules written down. For example all the songs are based on modal rules and on chants you can’t use certain rhythmic ideas or ornamentation. But if you hear something that comes from the heart then that music can’t pass you by.”

This project introduced him to some new collaborators. “It’s my first time working with this choir. I needed singers that would sing like priests and really be able to use a modern classical music tradition too. It was tough to find such singers. The rehearsing eventually went on for some six months. On the record it is a full choir but on tour we’re working with an octet version, it’s more an ensemble without a conductor. It’s more intimate.”

One of the most intriguing things about the project is that the piano part allows for some free improvisation within the arrangements. Tigran says in performance the scope of what he is playing changes a good deal from concert to concert. “Every concert is different, every time it’s a new journey, sometimes things happen that nobody would have known could have happened. We usually like to do the same set list but even this changes.”

A different mindset is needed as a listener away from fixed styles and comfort zones. On the metrically complex ‘Ov Zarmanali’ Tigran breathes wind into some improvisatory runs to break loose a little more than the otherwise tight structures allow. Later there’s a surge of power and inspiration the choir responding to Tigran’s sudden freedom on Mashtots piece ‘Voghormea indz Astvats’ a fasting canticle and plea for divine mercy.

What Tigran sees Armenian music and jazz as sharing in common illuminates a good deal of the sheer commitment demonstrated by all the musicians on the album. “It’s the soul of the music. You can’t hear it without seeing the mountains, seeing the people, listening to the people. Everything is connected. We can break it down into modes and specific ornamentation and technical concerns but the soul of it makes it distinctive. It taught me a lot about what my values are, my spirituality in my life right now. It made a big impact on me. It was sort of meant to happen. I always thought when I would get to this stage my life would change – and it has.”

Tigran and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir play Union Chapel, London on 15 October. BOOKINGS
Further British Isles dates are: 
Howard Assembly Room, Leeds (16 Oct)
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin (17 Oct).

LINKS: Review - Tigran Hamasyan solo and with Jeff Ballard at the EJE in Cagliari in 2011
Young musicians to watch 2014
CD Review: A Fable from 2011


RIP Marek Greliak - founder of Jazz Cafe Posk

We are very sad to read the report the death of MAREK GRELIAK, founder of Jazz Cafe Posk. Posk has become a vital weekend hub in London's jazz scene. Marek deserves our thanks for his unique contribution to our scene, and for making Posk into such a welcoming venue. He showed us Londoners the virtues of letting this music build vital, vibrant communities, bringing virtues we have been at risk of forgetting, in the selfish rush that London can often become. The following tribute is freely adapted from what appears on the club's Facebook page in two languages (we have taken an amalgam of the English version and the more personal Polish version) :

"Friends…it is with great sadness and regret that we inform you that Mark Greliak, our dear friend and founder of the Polish Jazz Café in POSK passed away today 23rd September at 11 40am. It is fair to call the club his baby. The creation of the club was his idea, and it was he who put in all the effort to make it work and make it viable, and gave the place his wholehearted attention from the moment it was established onwards.

He battled resolutely over the last few years to overcome his illness and during this difficult time continued to help with the running of the club, and was often seen most Fridays and Saturdays enjoying the music and chatting to friends.

He leaves a void in the hearts of not only the immediate family but also in all of our hearts, because we were all part of his family. We will miss his passion, peace, devotion, strength, and humility.but above all we will miss us Mark- our friend.

We share the grief of his beloved wife Teresa as well as their children.We give thanks for what he did for us, and for all the wonderful music."

LINKS: Report of the club's second birthday with Jarek Smietana in 2009
"Poles Together" from 2009
Anita Wardell's Songsuite from 2013
Interview: Agata Kubiak from 2014
SandyBrownJazz has a good history of the club


CD REVIEW: Sunna Gunnlaugs - Cielito Lindo

Sunna Gunnlaugs - Cielito Lindo
(Sunny Sky 733. CD review by Mary James)

The cover of this enjoyable album shows two warmly wrapped little girls contemplating nature and running across a dreamlike landscape. Survival in Iceland, a thinly populated and fragile island, is dependent on willing co-operation and that is abundantly apparent in this album by Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, where compositions are shared across the band to create a harmonious album. The sound is at once sparce yet warm, Icelandic Blues wittily summing up the contrast between Northern cool and a syncopated South.

This is Gunnlaugs' third album with her trio of bassist ƥorgrímur Jónsson and drummer Scott McLemore. The pianist writes that this album was a long time in the making, and the tunes feel lovingly put together, with a respect for profound uncluttered simplicity that is the mark of a mature trio. Simple titles (long and short words) create a pleasing shape of gentle curves on the album cover, with the nadir of each curve denoted by compositions called Spin 8, Spin 9 and Spin 11. These short abstract pieces consisting of atmospheric noises, like the straining of ice, or wind growling through metal structures act like glue holding the album together, allowing the piano's unhurried lyricism to be seen in context so it never cloys or overwhelms.

There is a wide variety of tempos and moods on this album. Who would have thought that a popular Mexican tune Cielito Lindo could sound so stately, piano strings thrumming like a sitar? There is an edgy uneasy feel to the standard Summertime, you listen to it afresh from that plaintive first note on the piano. A square-dancey feel to Workaround allows the band to really groove. Vetrarstef (winter theme) is a lovely slow ballad by Jónsson, you can almost see the Northern Lights in the shimmering cymbals. What's noticeable about this trio is the way each instrument takes the lead then gently passes to the next one without fuss, they seem to read each other's minds.

Notwithstanding the crowded piano trio landscape, Cielito Lindo is a very beautiful, melodic, contemplative piece of Iceland by an outstandingly democratic trio, you discover more riches in it every time you listen.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter and artist manager. Twitter @maryleamington

LINKS: CD Review - Sunna Gunnlaugs - Long Pair Bond
CD Review - Scott McLemore - Remote Location
CD Review - Sunna Gunnlaugs - Distilled


CD REVIEW: Charenée Wade – Offering, The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson

Charenée Wade – Offering, The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
(Motéma 234026. CD review by John L Walters)

Charenée Wade’s album Offering takes ten songs from the towering body of work made by poet and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) and his early musical partner, pianist / flutist Brian Jackson (b. 1952), and wrestles them into her own mellow poetry.

There are few hits. No Johannesburg, Winter In America or The Bottle. Wade and her producer Mark Ruffin have chosen songs that give the album a reflective mood and contemporary resonance. Though the lyrics are heavy, the music is light on its feet, given extra wings on the six tracks featuring vibes player Stefon Harris, including the almost Ellingtonian arrangement of Song of the Wind. Wade’s diction, pitching and rhythmic élan are flawless, and she resists the temptation to over-indulge her impressive vocal technique. This is very much a jazz album, with supple acoustic bass (Lonnie Plaxico) and airy drums (Alvester Garnett) and a studio production that favours the rhapsodic over the funky.

Wade states in her sleevenotes that the choice of material was informed by ‘issues that unfortunately still need to be addressed today’. She continues: ‘even in the light of some progress that has been afforded us by the miracle of the first brown president of the United States, there are still so many struggles revealing that our work is not yet done.’ Her polemical intention is emphasised by Christian McBride’s spoken-word intro for Peace Go With You Brother and the melancholy, Mingus-like arrangement of Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till, with a lengthy passage declaimed by actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

These tracks promise to veer in the direction of Terence Blanchard’s Breathless, which also features words that reflect on similar concerns in the US. But Blanchard’s album maintains a more uplifting and consistent spirit – when taken as a whole, Offering is a little less coherent. It demonstrates – quite understandably – that the music of Scott-Heron and Jackson is difficult to re-interpret, lyrically and musically, but that it is worth the effort.

The dark, eliptical humour of the originals may be impossible to replicate, but on songs such as The Vulture [Your Soul and Mine] and in her sardonic reading of Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman, Wade excavates Scott-Heron’s matchless repertoire to find new meaning. Personally speaking, I was also glad of the excuse to rediscover the original songs, and that is a very generous gift, a valuable ‘offering’, to receive from the talented Charenée Wade.


CD REVIEW: The Abstract Truth Big Band - Judith & Dave O'Higgins Present The Abstract Truth Big Band

The Abstract Truth Big Band - Judith & Dave O'Higgins Present The Abstract Truth Big Band
(JVG Productions. JVG017CD. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)

It was with some trepidation - and a lot of interest - that I put this CD on: a new interpretation of a much loved classic. The first few bars blew my worries away: this big band production of Oliver Nelson's 1961 quintessential LP "The Blues And The Abstract Truth" is both respectful and exciting.

Extending Nelson's original arrangements for a seven piece band to seventeen piece big band, saxophonist and producer Judith O'Higgins relied on arranger Jörg Achim Keller's orchestrations, originally prepared for the HR Big Band in Frankfirt. Keller also directs this very accomplished big band, comprising a host of British musicians.

The arrangements crackle with energy and dynamics, and, taking a leaf out of George Russell's work, include orchestral arrangements of famous solos by Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry and Nelson. Elsewhere the orchestration has the richness and depth of Gil Evans' work. As well as the six tracks from Nelson's album, the band also play four of Nelson's other tunes, which he had arranged for big band.

The band sound on great form. The rhythm section of Sebastiaan de Krom on drums, Geoff Gascoyne, bass, and Graham Harvey on piano keep things moving swiftly with real drive. The band is full of good players/soloists, eg Martin Shaw, Henry Armburg Jennings, Mark Nightingale, Trevor Mires, Howard McGill, Sammy Mayne and Judith O’Higgins - some familiar and others less so, and they make the most of the tunes.

The sleeve notes explain what a labour of love this project has been for O'Higgins and Keller, and it grew out of their shared passion for Nelson's music. That passion seems to have infected the whole band: this record is brimming with it. A joy throughout.

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


REVIEWS: Keiji Haino and William Basinski solo concerts at Cafe Oto.

William Basinski at Cafe Oto, September 2015
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Keiji Haino and William Basinski
(Two solo concerts at Cafe Oto: Keiji Haino 30 Aug, William Basinski 15 Sept, 2015. Reviews and drawings by Geoff Winston)

These two very different sell-out solo performances at Cafe Oto occurred within two weeks. Keiji Haino's acoustic set in the sandbag-bunkered Project Space was given at  at short notice.  William Basinski's electronic set in Oto's main space shared a common fascination in the revelations tucked away in the quotidian. For Haino the lyrics of the popular song formed the groundwork of his accented deconstructions; for Basinski, it was the insistent and tender repetitions of the found musical phrase.

Haino proved to be a performer in the widest sense, integrating gracefully dynamic dance manoeuvres in the creation of his crisply focused, yet inevitably transient sound world, adding an unusual intensity and force to the idea of an acoustic evening - 'unplugged' in spirit it certainly wasn't!

Desk-bound with laptop, reel-to-reel and analogue kit, Basinski switched from light-hearted pre-concert chat to sharp concentration mode in summoning up the haunting piano loops and havering distortions in his most recent compositions.

Haino collaged together diverse and surprising streams. 'His singing tonight is part of sound rather than singing,' was the introduction. Well-known lyrics ('Come on, baby, light my fire') and those more obscure ('I was dancing when I was twelve …' from T Rex's Cosmic Dancer) delivered with raw, melodramatic unease, crossing Scott Walker with grindcore. An unexpectedly jazzy acoustic guitar interlude rubbed against ear-bending metallic chimes and shimmering temple bells.

Keiji Haino playing reed pipe at Cafe Oto, August 2015
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

In the spirit of Fluxus, a tambourine was played with a hair dryer, then with tambourine in each hand Haino traversed the stage, wheeling circular patterns, shaking and spring-jumping with athletic energy. Pausing at odd junctures to return to the refashioning of the song lyric Haino maintained engagement and continuity within the unique beauty of his performative vision.

Basinski melded deep resonances from sampled, orphaned, acoustic fragments that derived power from compounded repetitions and retention of their distant, degraded sound qualities. The heartrendingly touching, isolated piano phrase at the heart of Cascade moved on to the energised orchestral fragments forming The Deluge. Basinski's immersive sound space evoked, with gracefully blurred focus and a lingering unease, the poignant ephemerality of the spirit which drove the original recorded performances and hinted at the experience of the listeners at that time. Flickering patterns of light on water projected on to the back wall completed the experience of fleeting, watery ambience.

In the enhanced intimacy of Cafe Oto's unique settings both artists ran against various grains, to deliver uniquely memorable experiences.