INTERVIEW: Emilia Martensson (Beyond Vocal Workshops in Blackheath and Izola + forthcoming album)

Emilia Martensson in Bremen 2018
Photo credit: Knipserey, Bremen

Swedish/Slovenian vocalist/ songwriter EMILIA MARTENSSON led her group at the European showcase in Bremen last week. She has a range of interesting projects in the next few months. Interview by Sebastian:  

LondonJazz News:
How have the last few months been for you? You've normally been to some fairly exotic places!

Emilia Martensson: The last few months have been good thanks. I do spend a lot of my time in Slovenia at the moment, which is where my mother is from, but I have been mainly in London these last few months working on my new project which I am about to record in the summer and also getting ready for my showcase at Jazzahead which has just been.

I was also recently in Kosovo performing with Joe Sanders project 'Infinity'.

Congratulations on your Jazzahead showcase. What was your experience like of the conference this year?

EM: Thank you! I had a great time at Jazzahead this year! It is quite a daunting task to go there as an artist trying to 'sell yourself', but actually it is a very friendly environment! I mean it's full of great music and music loving people so of course the atmosphere is going to be wonderful! I had lots of great new meetings with lovely people and feeling excited about the future. It was great to get the opportunity to showcase my new project this year. We played on Friday afternoon at Shlachtof for a full room and a very warm audience and we had a great response afterwards so I couldn't be more happy.

And you have a new album coming out. Who is featured in this new project of yours?

EM: Yes my new album Loredana is out on Babel Label in March next year. The project features Adriano Adewale on percussion, Luca Boscagin on Guitar, Fulvio Sigurta on Trumpet and Electronics and Sam Lasserson on bass.

LJN: What are the inspirations for the songs?

EM: The album is titled after my mother Loredana and within this project I have explored the adversity of the mother-child relationship. I have asked my audiences four specific questions about their relationship to their mothers and used their answers as inspiration to write this new material. It has been an interesting and inspiring process so far with lots of open and honest answers of a wide variety. There is still time to be involved and if you would like to answer my questions and have your answers turned in to a song then you can find the questions here !

LJN: Is there a linking thread in the songs?

EM: Yes the 'Mother' theme is for sure the red thread through this project. I chose this theme because it is one we all can relate to but also because there's infinite observations to the mother-child relationship and how it shapes us throughout our lives. One of the questions I ask is 'explain your mother with one word'! The variation of words has been wild! One of the words that stood out to me though was the word 'There' which is now one of the titles for one of the songs. We also have a song called 'Born' and one about 'Mother Nature'. I am also including my own childhood memories in my songs and we have one song called 'I wake up and hear your voice downstairs' which is inspired by one of my favourite childhood memories.

LJN: What stage is the album at right now? When will it be released and when's the launch ?

EM: We are recording this July and releasing our first single in November during The London Jazz Festival. The full album will be out mid March 2019. The venue for the launch is yet to be confirmed.

LJN: And then the next thing is your courses in Slovenia?

EM: Yes! This will be the 5th year that I run my 'BEYOND VOCALS' Jazz Course in Izola, Slovenia. I have singers of a very high standard coming form all over Europe attending the course and it is always an amazing week and one of the highlights of my summer. This year I will be joined by Jamie Safir as guest tutor and piano accompanist. We run daily workshops and masterclasses in the days including work on band leading skills, interpretation of a wide range of repertoire, improvisation and performing skills amongst many other workshop titles. We also run jam sessions most nights and finish the week with a big concert by the sea together with a great rhythm section in front of a local audience.

This year I am also starting a brand new course which I call 'CREATIVITY', which will involve more focus on song writing, exploring the voice through improvisation and yoga and meditation sessions in order to boost creativity. The guest tutors will include Jamie Doe (Composer, singer and guitarist who goes under the name the Magic Lantern ) and Luca Boscagin (Guitar and Composer) and Anja Brenko, (Yoga and Meditation Instructor). I am also arranging a small festival around this course which will include Mishka Adams and Beto Caletto, The Flying Ibex, The Magic Lantern and Myself and Luca.

You can apply to the course and read about them here:

LJN: What else have you got coming up?

EM: I am collaborating with Cooknst on a new event at The Baldwin Gallery in Blackheath on 19 May. The event is called 'Who's your Mama?' and will be an evening of food, music, fine art and stories. I will also run a vocal workshop in the day as part of this event and the evening will go on to include a set from me and my quartet as well as a four course meal by the amazing Egyptian chef Mostafa Hussien inside the Baldwin Art Gallery which also has an amazing exhibition on.

LINKS: Apply for the vocal course on 19 May HERE
Who's Your Mama in Blackheath/ tickets HERE


NEWS: 39th Montreal Jazz Festival Announces Concert Hall Programme (28 June - 7 July)

The Place des Festivals in Montreal
Photo Credit: Jean-Francois Leblanc/Montreal Int Jazz Fest

The world's largest jazz festival has just announced its indoor programme. The range both in jazz and in other music, as ever, is vast and mouth-watering. 

The following list just scratches the surface. 
The full artist list is HERE. (click on a name to go through to date and venue)

- One name which has already caught the imagination is Ry Cooder (29 June Theatre Maisonneuve) - - Singers: Cecile McLorin Salvant, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Melanie de Biasio
- Dave Holland's Quartet with Trilok Gurtu, Chris Potter and Renee Rosnes
- Mike Stern and Randy Brecker
- From the UK, legends: Jethro Tull and Soft Machine
- and others: Sons of Kemet, GoGo Penguin, Zara McFarlane, Hannah Williams, Jacob Banks, Metronomy, Gwyneth Herbert
- Herbie Hancock
- The vast Centre Bell ice hockey arena will present Ludovico Einaudi
- At the Gesu arts centre there is a special residencies for John Medeski and Mark Guiliana and Dr Lonnie Smith
- Also at Gesu Keyon Harrold, Marius Neset, Gilad Hekselman, David Binney, Shai Maestro, Jamie Saft
- and Cory Henry, Snarky Puppy, Kamasi Washington
- Bela Fleck
- Carla Bley
- Archie Shepp
- Shake Stew
- Aruan Ortiz
- Sarah McKenzie
- St Germain
- Charlotte Gainsbourg
- and from the Canadian scene projects for bassist Remi-Jean Leblanc, Jordan Officer, Lucioles, Francois Bourassa...

LINK: Montreal Jazz Festival website


PREVIEW: The Tap Pack, Peacock Theatre WC2 (1-19 May 2018)

The Tap Pack
Publicity picture

From 1 to 19 May at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre near Aldwych, classic jazz and mesmeric tap dancing are brought together in one high-energy show. Inspired by the suave sounds and cool characters of the original Rat Pack, five performers and a four-piece live band inject new life into this timeless style. Leah Williams reports:

Sadly for us, the chances of walking into a theatre and getting to see the legendary members of the Rat Pack do their thing is, well, pretty slim to say the least. Luckily for us, though, a celebrated Australian dance group are providing the opportunity to see an all-singing, all-dancing show that encapsulates the cool, slick, enduring joy of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

Offering a show that embraces the classic and adds a modern twist, The Tap Pack promises to be the perfect combination of song, dance and comedy entertainment. Featured songs include classics from the Rat Pack themselves such as The Lady is a Tramp, Come Fly with Me and That’s Life that will take you straight back to that golden era. At the same time, the show also fully embraces the 21st Century and adds its own special touch to modern-day hits from pop royalty such as Beyoncé, Michael Bublé and Ed Sheeran.

The show, which has previously toured Australia, Berlin and Beijing, will be landing on our capital’s doorstep at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre next month. The first tap show to feature at the theatre for several years, this comedy tap extravaganza was invited to London after being seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016, where it won the Spirit of the Fringe award.

A show that defies easy definition, The Tap Pack presents the type of fun, all-round entertainment the Peacock Theatre is renowned for. With swing music at its heart, it is a show full to the brim with tap dancing, singing and witty banter that reflects the cheeky, old-school coolness of its inspiration.

Sammy Davis Jr. is quoted as saying that “the success of the Rat Pack was due to the camaraderie, the three guys who work together and kid each other and love each other.” There was indeed an undeniable chemistry that has made the Rat Pack the unique and timeless collaboration that it is, loved by all from those who might have seen them live to those who listen to remastered versions online today.

The Tap Pack also embraces this essence of friendship and creative collaboration to create an indefinable energy on stage. One of the show’s creators Jordan Pollard said: "The Rat Pack were genuine pals on and off stage. So too are The Tap Pack and I think audiences may be able to feel the friendships on stage and know that they are seeing great mates who love what they do! You can definitely feel the mischief on stage – every night is a little bit different and we encourage everyone to keep it spontaneous. This has got to be the best show I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on!"

 “The Pack” is made up of five of Australia’s hottest entertainment talents: Jesse Rasmussen, Thomas J. Egan, Sean Mulligan, Max Patterson and Ben Brown, all of whom have a list of impressive credits to their name. They are joined on stage by a swinging live band led by Micky Bister on drums alongside Simon Ferris on keys, Jac Jones on saxophone and Ben Cummings on trumpet.(pp)

LINKS: Peacock Theatre - Portugal Street WC2
The Tap Pack


NEWS: New regular showcase of young talent launches on International Jazz Day (Vortex, 30 April 2018)

Aubin Vanns and Michael Shrimpling collage from the Vortex website
The recent Dave Holland/Evan Parker fund-raiser at the Vortex has spawned a fund to support young musicians. The first showcase is on Monday. Peter Bacon reports:

It started with a duo gig from two giants of the jazz world, and will ultimately benefit those climbing the first rungs on the jazz ladder. The Shape Of Jazz To Come is the title of what it is hoped will become a regular showcase of young talent.

Dave Holland explained: “Last month Evan Parker and I held a successful fund raising concert at the Vortex and I want to thank all those that came and gave their generous support to the event. As a result we have established a fund that will be used to support the presentation of special events, including evenings showcasing many of the talented young artists that are in the UK.

“The first of these will occur on International Jazz Day, April 30th, and will feature two groups, one from the Royal Academy of Music and one from Trinity College. It’s our intention to make this a regular event, giving the dedicated Vortex audience a chance to hear some of the great young musicians present their vision for the future of the music. We hope you’ll give them your support.”

Monday’s double bill features the Aubin Vanns Trio + 1 from the Royal Academy, and the Michael Shrimpling Quartet from Trinity Laban.

Aubin Vanns is a guitarist and AVT’s music is described thus: “Flashes of brightness and colourful streaks contrast with dark, brooding ambience. AVT spin their own common thread from eclectic fibres, with a typically post-modern list of influences including Richard Strauss, Jim Hall and Neil Young. Purely abstract compositions nestle with pieces written to words by Yeats and Kerouac.” Vanns, double bassist Will Sach and drummer Jay Davis will be joined by fellow Royal Academy student Alberto Palau Garcera on piano.

Michael Shrimpling is a double bassist and his quartet has Joe Elliott on tenor saxophone, George Melton on guitar and Will Cleasby on drums. According to the Vortex blurb: “With a collective passion for the free jazz tradition pioneered by Ornette Coleman, Michael and his band will present a set of music inspired by the great composers of this broad and exciting jazz lineage.”

Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, said: “The Vortex provides a vital outlet for creative and community expression, and I hope this new monthly night will pave the way for future generations to nurture their own relationship and sense of history with the club.”

Hans Koller, head of jazz at Trinity Laban, added: “I think that jazz education can only come alive and develop in the interaction of ‘the street and the school’. The Vortex plays a vital part in the process of everybody’s learning. And of course in our music we are all eternal students. Please support the Vortex, it’s the future.”

LINK: The Shape Of Jazz To Come at the Vortex


PROFILE: Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock (tour dates in England and Scotland in May)

Alex Hitchcock
Photo credit: Rob Monk

Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock has been tipped in the jazz media for great things, and marked out as “an incredible young lion of the tenor sax” by flute virtuoso, composer and bandleader Gareth Lockrane. Profile by Rob Adams

Born in London, Alex Hitchcock studied English at Cambridge, reasoning that he might enjoy the best of both worlds through gaining access to the lively local jazz scene while gaining a first class university education and still being close to London. He went on to become the director of the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, touring to Istanbul and collaborating with the aforementioned Gareth Lockrane, before returning to London, where he completed a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016.

For his final recital at the Royal Academy he formed the quintet that features on his first recording as a leader, Live at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals, and is currently on tour until 18 May.

A four-track EP, the recording has been made possible by the support of the City Music Foundation and documents the progress the group has made with four tracks captured a year apart. With 15 gigs in all, Hitchcock is looking forward to hearing how the group develops over a fairly intensive period of activity.

“I’m still at the early stages as a bandleader,” he says, “and it’s interesting to hear how we sounded on the two London tracks compared to the two Cambridge tracks a year on. There’s a raw energy to the music on the EP generally and I like that because some of my favourite albums – and I’m not saying my music is at the same level – are live recordings by Oscar Peterson with Wes Montgomery and Sonny Stitt. I like the honesty you get from recording live before all the post-production that goes into studio albums kicks in.”

Hitchcock began playing saxophone at the age of nine after realising quite quickly that his first choice of instrument, the violin, wasn’t really for him. He started on alto and went through a period of listening to and playing Charlie Parker tunes and bebop generally before hearing Coleman Hawkins and Joshua Redman turned him towards the tenor.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet
Photo Credit, CD Artwork: Gina Southgate

“There was definitely an old school influence involved and then I started going to the Weekend Arts College, which was always known as WAC, in Belsize Park,” he says. “The main tutor there, Ricky Mian, was a really inspirational figure in terms of developing my tenor playing and trying odd time signatures and there was such a diverse group of musicians involved. People came from all over the place and I found that really beneficial.”

At Cambridge Hitchcock threw himself into the local scene and met a lot of the musicians he works with now through gigging. As well as his own group he plays in bands including Resolution 88 and the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. He has also performed with, amongst others, Soweto Kinch, Laurence Cottle, John Hollenbeck, Stan Sulzmann, Dennis Rollins, Nick Smart, Art Themen and Franco-Belgian duo André Charlier/Benoit Sourisse.

For his quintet he chose musicians he felt he could write for and whose playing he was familiar with. He and pianist Will Barry have known each other for ten years now. Bassist Joe Downard and drummer Jay Davis are more recent acquaintances and trumpeter James Copus, he says, is everyone’s favourite player right now.

“I like the idea of everyone bringing their own thing to the music,” he says. “I’ll scope the pieces out to begin with and they might develop into a feature for a particular band member. I’m still developing as a composer and trying to become the sort of person who can get up every morning and write something but I think developing a style of writing is like developing a style of playing: you take little bits of everyone you like and adapt and combine it until you have your own signature.”

Having grown up listening to American players including Ambrose Akinmusire and Jason Moran, he has taken their influence on board and finds inspiration in the diversity of the UK and European scenes.

“It’s a really exciting time at the moment,” he says. “Between what Laura Jurd is doing with Dinosaur, what Jasper Høiby is doing with Phronesis and what Sons of Kemet are doing, just to name a few, there’s an incredible richness available. With the quintet I’d be happy if people heard some of all of those influences. It can be quite raucous and sometimes it feels like there’s a bit of chaos under the surface but I like that. There’s room for subtlety and dynamic contrast but I like that it also has a bit of edge to it.” (pp)

Tour dates:
Sun 6 May: Colchester Arts Centre
Fri 11 May: The Verdict, Brighton
Sat 12 May: The Hive, Shrewsbury
Mon 14 May: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Wed 16 May: The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
​Thu 17 May: The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
Fri 18 May: Sheffield Jazz


REVIEWED IN BRIEF: Showcase Reactions from jazzahead! 2018

Jazzmeia Horn – chosen by Dominic Reilly
Photo Credit: Kat Pfeiffer

Sebastian writes:

The 39 bands which played at the showcases (rather than the full 40 - Anna-Lena Schnabel's Quartet had to withdraw) are selected from a total of roughly 600 entrants. There is so much else going on at jazzahead!, very few people – and I am no exception – get to see all the showcases. So I asked a few people to write in brief about their favourite bands from the showcases. Please add more! 

I really enjoyed Philip Clemo's set – he's doing interesting things with visuals and I loved the unusual instrumentation (Mary James – artist management, UK)

Jazzmeia Horn has an amazingly versatile voice and a strong backing band (Dominic Reilly – promoter, Dublin, Ireland)

Hermia/Darrifourcq/Ceccaldi in Hall 7.1 on Friday were outstanding, and had my full attention throughout their set, drawing me in with high-energy group interaction. Valentin Ceccaldi on cello laid down a strong interweaving rhythmic foundation in partnership with drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq, allowing saxophonist Manuel Hermia to ride the waves with his compelling and adventurous improvising. A treat indeed. (Dee Byrne – saxophonist, UK)

It was astonishing how the visual artist in the Australian group Mn'JAM Experiment was able to lead and direct the improvisation – especially on the last tune with a series of faces. As a way of interpreting a graphic score this was something wholly new to me. (VIDEO from 8:23:40)(Lukas Niggli – drummer, Uster, Switzerland)

Shake Stew, an allstar-group comprised of the most versatile young players in Vienna, blew the roof off of the Schlachthof on Friday night. Astonishing interplay between two drummers and two bassists respectively, plus a terrific horn section made for a hypnotic sound somewhere between North African trance, Afro-Beat and Souljazz. (VIDEO) (Jan Paersch – journalist, Hamburg)

I was made aware of Aly Keita's concert by his agent. Exiting my meeting next to the hall, I caught the 2nd half of the show. The combination of balafon, clarinet or saxophone and bass drum melded well - and Keita is a real master on his instrument. (Tobi Kirsch - publicist, Berlin)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution - chosen by Tom Hewson

I was lucky to see Janette Mason’s Red Alert Clubnight for Dot Time Records which was a mixture of Mason’s arrangements and originals with her piano trio featuring Tom Mason on bass and Chris Morris on drums. Her tunes were engaging and exciting and demonstrate Mason’s depth of creativity and complete passion for jazz. Thoroughly enjoyable. (Lauren Bush - vocalist - London)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution really stood out for me – I was captivated by the viola and violin playing of Théo Ceccaldi, and it was a treat to hear Jim Hart in such detail and sonic space. VIDEO from 1:20:30 (Tom Hewson – pianist, UK)

Acá Seca Trio in Hall 7.1 was the perfect finale for Jazzahead! 2018. The combination of piano, Spanish guitar, percussion and three voices transported me to Argentina. The trio ended the show singing a capella from the middle of the audience. Their beautiful harmonies and emotional phrasing got them a standing ovation. (Nora Jorba – booker/agency, London, UK)

What I really enjoyed about the set from Gregory Privat's trio was how they could sound very poetic and soft, and also dynamic and surprising at the same time. A very fluent way of traversing through music, telling stories that seemed deeply personal. Picturesque, authentic, I just loved it and afterwards it felt as if I had been taken on a trip to Martinique! (Kat Pfeiffer - photographer, London)

I appreciated Piotr Damasciewicz/Power of the Horns most. They were the last group of the Polish night on Thursday: Good group interplay and especially a tasteful and interesting drum solo from a drummer (Samuel Hall) with total independence of both hands. (Constantin Sieg – radio presenter, Marburg, Germany)


REVIEW: SNJO, dir. Tommy Smith, feat. Laura Jurd, Irini Arabatzi, Brian Kellock at Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

The poster for the concert.

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, directed by Tommy Smith, featuring Laura Jurd, Irini Arabatzi and Brian Kellock
(Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22 April 2018. Concert review by Mark McKergow)

This superlative performance from the SNJO was definitively a ‘concert of two halves’ – both overflowing with outstanding ensemble and solo work from two very different eras of jazz music – from pre-war swing to ECM and free improvisation.

Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Sister Suite was originally commissioned by Tommy Smith in 1997, the early days of the SNJO. It was premiered in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall with Wheeler himself and Norma Winstone as featured soloists. Twenty years on, the work is revived in the same venue with Laura Jurd taking Wheeler’s seat on flugelhorn and Greek vocalist Irini Arabatzi tackling the Winstone vocal parts. The suite’s eight movements are played as a continuous whole, and the result was so entrancing that my pint remained untouched for the entire hour.

The opening set Jurd’s flugelhorn in a short and atmospheric duet with Peter Johnstone’s piano and the atmosphere was electric within seconds. Kevin McKenzie’s guitar then sparred with Jurd, before the first of several magnificent flugelhorn solos; Jurd’s tone can be mellow, and also hit a fine brightness in the blink of an eye. Wheeler’s writing style often interposed ensemble passages between solos, and the SNJO played this with fine precision and intonation, with changes to the pace and rhythms flowing naturally and flawlessly.

Irina Arabatzi came more to the fore in the second movement, Keeper Of The Light, warming to her role of voice-as-instrument and adding occasional sung words. Her solo here following leader Tommy Smith’s typically powerful tenor turn showed a great musicality and flair. Other outstanding moments during this breathtaking performance included Chris Greive’s trombone alongside Arabatzi in Worlds Apart, the movement culminating in an accelerando passage performed without conductor in total unison. Paul Towndrow put in an excellent alto sax solo on Her Love Is An Endless Stream, leading to another glorious ensemble passage before Laura Jurd showed her power and fluidity once again.

Jurd stood aside to allow Sean Gibbs to come forward for a trumpet solo on Wondering Dream, and was plainly as appreciative as the audience for his bright sound and energy. The penultimate movement, Twilight Chant, saw a latin riff build up into another Tommy Smith tenor explosion with the band playing at 100mph and the soloists flying free into group improvisations. The closing moments, Utopian Recital, were by contrast short, majestic and conclusive. Word is that there will be a CD release of this suite in June 2018 which should be a real treat – look out for it.

This performance would have made an outstanding concert on its own. However, after just 20 minutes the SNJO were back on the stand with a completely new project featuring the music of Mary Lou Williams, pianist, composer and arranger whose output ranged from the 1930s era of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington through the bebop period with Dizzy Gillespie into the 1960s and 1970s.

Williams is one of those ‘hidden figures’ of jazz, working at the very top for decades without becoming a leading star, and the SNJO did justice to this range of output. Edinburgh favourite Brian Kellock took up the piano seat and showed his versatility throughout. The opening Mary’s Idea and Camel Hop really caught the dance hall smoky mood, with top-class dynamics from the ensemble and bright clarinet interjections from Martin Kershaw.  From the other end of Williams’ career, Aries Mood from 1968, composed for the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra as a tribute to Ben Webster, had space for multiple reed solos.

Irini Arabatzi returned to the stage for a sultry rendition of What Your Story, Morning Glory? (no Gallaghers here, of course) and a successful run at a feminised take on In The Land of OO-BLA-DEE, written for Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra in 1949: full of bebop phrases, flattened 5ths and space for Kellock to stretch his fingers. The evening concluded after close on three hours with Jump Caprice, a hugely swinging 12-bar blues which allowed tenor player Konrad Wiszniewski to finally emerge from the shadows and channel his inner Paul Gonsalves at the microphone.

To experience either of these sets would have made for a fine show.  To hear them both on the same evening from musicians overflowing in all directions with creativity and collective endeavour was an unforgettable privilege.  If there was a finer evening of jazz on this planet on 22 April 2018, I don’t know where I’d look for it.

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra:
Reeds: Tommy Smith, Martin Keshaw,  Paul Towndrow, Konrad Wieszniewski, Bill Fleming
Trumpets: Jim Davison, Sean Gibbs, Tom MacNiven, Lorne Cowieson
Trombones: Chris Greive, Liam Shorthall, Kevin Garrity, Michael Owers
Rhythm: Peter Johnstone (piano), Kevin McKenzie (guitars), Calum Gourlay (double bass), Sebastiaan de Krom (drums, sitting in for regular drummer Alyn Cosker)

LINK Video of SNJO, Laura Jurd and Irini Arabatzi in rehearsal for these performances.


CD REVIEW: SkyDive Trio – Sun Sparkle

SkyDive Trio – Sun Sparkle
Hubro. CD review by Rob Mallows

Norway is a pulsing hotbed of jazz creativity and invention and a source of much that’s good in cutting-edge European jazz at the moment. Sun Sparkle, the second album by SkyDive Trio, reinforces that perception.

This new ‘supergroup’ power trio brings together Nowegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and compatriot, composer and guitarist Thomas T. Dahl, with Finnish percussionist Olavi Louhivuori. Norway and Finland both border the Arctic Circle and this album has a sort of hypnotic, fluid sensibility that dazzles and mesmerises like a musical Northern Lights.

This album has a strong jazz-rock vibe to it on some tracks (what came into my mind at one point was the US band Tool) and tracks like Apollo, with its simple eighth-note bass rhythms and four-to-the-floor drumming, reinforce that idea. Their press release says the band “counters jazz subtlety with rock attack”, and that is a pretty accurate description. There’s enough improvisation, creativity and musical fluidity to please the jazz fan, but you also get chunks of pure rock granite.

The risk is, of course, that this duality pleases neither the jazz fan, the rock fan, or indeed the jazz-rock fan. But Dahl, Eilertsen and Louhivuori offer up enough in the ten original songs on this album, and multiple moods and sensibilities to ensure that it’s a mixture that, on the whole, works well.

Fourth track Engine Rest brings the chill of the fjörd to the album, all quiet introspection and muted, acoustic bass, which leads into Descending, which is all falling guitar arpeggios and bass triplets, sparse but cool, with Dahl’s guitar having at times a country music-like twang that elevates the track out of the ordinary. This Nordic sensibility is also audible on a track like Spruce, where a basic acoustic arpeggio from Dahl is contrasted with bowed bass from Eilertsen that has a calming effect which creates the most beautiful, but also simple, track on an album that, up to this point, is chock full of musical ‘stuff’.

The title track, Sun Sparkle is aptly named. On it, the trio recreates the feel of a sunrise over quiet, snow-capped mountains, the combination of brilliant musical light and a fresh harmonic atmosphere uplifting the soul. Dahl’s guitar work has a transcendent, lyrical quality that you can just luxuriate in. His work on this album offers positive comparison with another recent guitar genre-bending album, Matthew Stevens’ Preverbal (REVIEW HERE)

Norway is, Wikipedia tells me, the 213th least densely populated planet on the planet. Sun Sparkle too feels full of space and uncluttered and a great place in which to lose oneself for an hour.


CD REVIEW: Joachim Kühn New Trio – Love & Peace

Joachim Kühn New Trio – Love & Peace
(ACT Music 9861-2. CD review by Brian Marley)

Joachim Kühn’s earlier trio with J-F Jenny-Clark (double bass) and Daniel Humair (drums) was one of the great undersung groups of the 1980s and ‘90s. They mixed lyrical free-flowing improvisation with memorable compositions (mostly penned by Kühn) and a smattering of standards, to which they always brought something fresh and worthwhile. Albums such as From Time to Time Free and Live 1989 (both on CMP) were benchmark recordings in terms of strong group interaction and a well-balanced programme of material.

Initially that trio brought a high degree of edginess and urgency to its music that became, in later recordings, less hard driven, more measured, but no less accomplished. Although it wasn’t formed until 2015, the New Trio, with Chris Jennings (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) follows on naturally from the later Kühn/Jenny-Clark/Humair recordings.

Love & Peace, their second album, follows the critically acclaimed Beauty & Truth (ACT Music, 2016). The music on both recordings is organic in nature and deeply felt. It’s also deeply satisfying. Tracks are fairly brief – only three of the 11 top the five-minute mark – and, as one would imagine, the solos are also brief, brief but not insubstantial. Greater emphasis is put on group interplay, mood and atmosphere, things the trio does supremely well.

On Beauty & Truth, they covered two tracks by The Doors (Riders on the Storm and The End), and on the new album there’s a beautifully limpid reading of The Crystal Ship. These tunes lend themselves well to Schaefer’s less orthodox rhythmic approach, drawing inspiration as much from rock as jazz. Even though he doesn’t always play what you expect to hear in a jazz piano trio, it’s always the right thing. Consider, for example, the tribal thump that underpins Kühn’s New Pharoah. When the track begins, what Shaefer does seems anomalous until the theme slides into place and it suddenly makes sense.

The trio also tackle one of Ornette Coleman’s lesser-known compositions, Night Plans, which Kühn originally recorded in duo with Coleman on the album Colors: Live from Leipzig (Harmolodic/Verve, 1997). The rich harmonic material that Kühn draws out of Coleman’s fairly straightforward melody is really something special. Like everything else on Love & Peace, repeated listening is required to fully appreciate the subtle complexity of this trio’s music, but it’s well worth the effort.


NEWS: "Love & Protest is the last album to be released on Two Rivers Records"

The Two Rivers Records logo

Peter Bacon reports:

Founder of Two Rivers Records, Alya Al-Sultani, has announced on Facebook the cessation of new releases on the label, the aim being to concentrate on her own creative activity.

She writes: “Collective X's Love & Protest is the last album to be released on Two Rivers Records.

"I feel that four years and 25 (mostly debut) releases later, I have done my bit and now need to fully focus on myself as an artist and producer.

“I love running labels but also love producing and so I will be focussing on Black Wave and SLSA where I can do both. I am blessed with ears and I want to use them for more than deciding whether or not to release a mastered record. The process matters to me as much as the outcome.

“The label model I always wanted to develop was one where the label takes a leading role in artist development, nurtures a collective mentality and shares opportunities. The set up of Two Rivers Records did not allow this and it became too similar to other independent jazz labels who do a great job and I don't want to crowd an already under-pressure market.

“The TRR bandcamp will stay exactly where it is and we will continue to communicate regularly with our wonderful supporters. The legal entity also remains so artists are unaffected from this point of view and publishing efforts continue.

“I've been happy to see artists who released debuts with TRR flourish and take their careers forward. I've learnt a lot about the music industry and I am taking these lessons forward into Black Wave and SLSA with a fantastic team.

“Yes, I still love jazz in all its many forms. But I'll be focussing on doing it, rather than releasing it.”

The label had released a wide stylistic range of music from artists including Fini Bearman, Alex Bonney, Darwish, Snowpoet, Calum Gourlay, Emilia Martensson and Nuvorrian. All albums will still be available on the Two Rivers Records bandcamp page.

LINK TO ALL TRR ALBUMS: Two Rivers Records Bandcamp


CD REVIEW: Spirit Fingers – Spirit Fingers

Spirit Fingers – Spirit Fingers
(Shanachie Records. CD review by Rob Mallows)

When an album liner notes helpfully lists the time signatures for each track (and each solo within each track), you know you’re in for a jazz-fusion adventure. So it proves with the polyrhythmic groove of Spirit Fingers, the new vehicle for US keyboardist and composer Greg Spero, where every track on this eponymous album is as challenging as a puzzle of an Antarctic snow scene.

Spero is a new artist to me, but if you judge a man by the company he keeps, then he is – as Vince Wilburn Jr of the great Miles Davis Electric Band says in the press release for this album – “the real deal”. He was mentored by Herbie Hancock and has played in the Buddy Rich Big Band as well as worked with saxophonists Frank Catalano, and Kamasi Washington and drummer Thundercat.

The 32-year-old Spero has fingers in a number of musical pies including jazz, hip-hop, modern classical and pop. This creative outburst arose, his notes say, from sitting around on the tour bus during a tour with singer-songwriter Halsey. Rebelling against the simplicity of the music Spero was playing night after night, he went to the other extreme and sought solace in overlapping time signatures and the myriad possibilities they offer a composer.

The results of his rhythmic epiphany are clear on this album. Opening track inside (12/8 time) - has a visceral intensity and propulsive quality that makes for challenging listening as there are few easy melodic hooks to grab the listener. As Spero himself says in the notes: “My music can be hard to immediately dive into.” It will, therefore, challenge jazz fans looking for hummable melodies or uplifting chord changes. This is hard music to concentrate on at times, as there’s so much going on. But, with persistence, it rewards.

Helping him create his musical vision are bassist Hadrien Feraud, drummer Mike Mitchell and guitarist Dario Chiazzolino. Together, they bring to mind the spirit and intensity of a Weckl-backed Chick Corea Elektric Band – lots o' notes – with the virtuosity and boundless imagination of Mahavishnu-era John McLaughlin, or the funk-fuelled jazz rock of Weather Report and maybe even Spyro Gyra.

Fourth track for (17/8) starts off straight-forwardly enough with a simple piano arpeggio, but grows in complexity as Mitchell’s cymbal work hints at more to come, after which Chiazzolino’s guitar solo breaks out and generates momentum as it grows in intensity.

There is a delicious relentlessness to everything on this album. The band rarely gives the listener the chance to breathe and take stock. Fifth track find (13/16) right off the bat is intense high-hat, pulsing bass and repetitive, evolving arpeggios from Spero under which Mitchell’s drums whirl and gyrate, at times matching the tonal complexity of someone like Magnus Öström in what he can do with one set of drums.

Each successive track provides a new – in Spero’s words – “jagged rhythmic landscape”. This album is the musical equivalent of listening to the Andes – high peaks, deep troughs, huge ranges of temperature and atmosphere. It’s not for the average jazz Sunday stroller.

But it’s not all just about the complexity and the speed – there is a lot of delightful harmonic colour. Spero’s keyboard playing brings to mind players like Gary Husband and Jeff Lorber.

There is also simplicity. Like a strand of DNA running through eleventh track, the pop-jazz-infused you, there’s a simple chord progression used in hundreds of everyday pop tracks which Spero modulates out of all recognition to create a rather lovely composition that, finally, gives the listener a chance to rest.

There’s a lot to reward a good, intense listen of this album. At times it can – as jazz-fusion is prone to do – just get too complicated, but for most tracks Spero and band stay on the right, listenable side of complexity and propulsiveness.

All the track titles, for some reason, have no capital letters and feel a little uninspired. It’s as if Spero, after the tremendous energy spent on both composing and record these tracks, gave all of five minutes to naming them. A shame, as a great track name can tell you so much about what the composer is aiming to say.


CD REVIEW: Pablo Held Trio – Investigations

Pablo Held Trio – Investigations
(Edition Records. EDN1109. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Pablo Held Trio have been together for more than 12 years, and this is the band's tenth CD together. On it they demonstrate the depth of understanding gained through recording and performing as a unit. Whilst pianist Pablo Held wrote all the tracks, it is as if they play as one.

On the liner notes Held explains how many of the pieces refer to specific people, particularly his family; April Sonne, dedicated to his wife, is a slow, contemplative tune, reminiscent of John Taylor's trio work such as Rosslyn. I'll Dream of Flowers is similarly gentle, Jonas Burgwinkel's sparse brush work on the drums quietly adding greatly to the piece. Robert Landferman work on bass is also integral to the feel off the record. Whilst he can play walking bass lines, as on Yearning, during which the trio get into almost straight-ahead swing, elsewhere it's almost as if his bass hints at the piece; on Stubborn, he heads off on a tangent, almost daring Held and Burgwinkel to follow; Held's phrasing of the tune has the angular, stabbing quality of Monk, although on his solo it's as if he is squeezing notes in to see where they will take him.

Haiku Kit, dedicated to Held's friend and fellow pianist Kit Downes, is another slow, open, reflective piece. As well as piano, bass and drums, there are organ chords provided by Hubert Nuss backing the trio which set the mood. Held's solo increases the tension before he returns to the theme.

The CD opens with Investigations, the title track, which sums up the shared musical language between the trio. It is exploratory, loud in places and quiet in others; energetic and and emphatic.

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


CD REVIEW: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette - After The Fall

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette - After The Fall
(ECM 6716506. CD review by Mike Collins)

The Standards Trio, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, last performed in 2014 and the end of their 30-year collaboration was confirmed the following year. There had been 18 albums, most of them live recordings, an exhaustive oeuvre that it’s hard not to reference acoustic piano trios against, and so distinctive, a few notes is usually all it takes to identify them. Now here is a 19th with a title, After the Fall, to conjure with and two CDs' worth of the trio to relish.

The live recording is from November 1998. It was a very particular moment in the trio’s story and Jarrett’s career. He had not performed publicly for two years having suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This gig was, by his account, an experiment at a venue close to his home, testing his readiness to return.

The Melody At Night With You, a set of solo renditions of mainly standards was recorded in this period, nearly 12 months before this concert and released in 1999. That is almost unbearable in its balance of intimacy, fragility and expressiveness, untypically Jarrett in its lack of discursiveness. This return to public performance is a triumph also, but now bursting with fresh invention on the most familiar of material. It stands alongside the best of the released recordings, crackling with the energy that comes from the three minds moving as a unit through the music.

The repertoire is striking. Of course standards, but drawn from some of the most loved and bebop-flavoured jazz standards. Scrapple from the Apple, Bouncin with BudDoxy, Autumn Leaves. Moment’s Notice even gets a thorough examination. It’s a turn that pays dividends on this recording. There’s a focus and economy to themes. The opener, The Masquerade is Over, gets an intro, but thereafter it's straight down to business and the focus seems to unlock something. Scrapple fizzes, the bebop language weaving around a long melodic arc and the stream of ideas fuse together. Standards Trio habits emerge, but are never formulaic. After another dizzying excursion on Autumn Leaves they find a hypnotic vamp and take off in a new direction. The blues One for Majid is a reminder of Jarrett’s capacity for a seemingly unstoppable flow of invention on the most basic of forms. They produce one of their viscerally infectious, country-cum-gospel grooves to re-cast Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and then close out the set with a tender reading of the trio perennial When I Fall In Love.

For devotees, this will all be pleasurably familiar, it never ‘gets old’ however. Their two-year hiatus proved to be mid-way through the eventual span of the trio, so this gig marks a significant moment and it’s magnificent.

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


CD REVIEW: Draw by Four – Framework

Draw by Four – Framework
(Jellymould JM-JJ029. CD Review by Peter Jones)

You could call Draw by Four an organ trio with added sax, but that description would not do justice to the band’s richly integrated sound. They are captained by South London saxophonist Jon Shenoy, and this sparky new album evokes both past and present, in keeping with all good jazz. Ignore the uninspiring title – it’s a sophisticated collection of melodic pieces, most of them written by Shenoy himself, sometimes in dazzlingly difficult time signatures.

Framework is full of musical nods and references, and the arrangements have been creatively thought through. Take their version of Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder), one of the most gorgeous tunes on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Although in this case it slightly outstays its welcome, it’s a good example of everything I’ve just mentioned. It may not be a new tune, but the choice is refreshing. After a sort of upsidedown cadenza from Hammond organist Will Bartlett, very free and wistful in keeping with the original, there’s a full statement of the intro melody from Shenoy’s tenor, after which Chris Draper sidles in with the brushes and guitarist Sam Dunn sketches in a few gentle fills. Draper and Dunn then lay out again for the second A section, after which the bridge tickles your ears with what sounds like a brace of harmonized flutes (although it’s more likely one flute plus the Hammond’s flute setting), whilst the guitar plays a beautiful counter-melody, leading back into the main theme over which Dunn now solos. It’s not flashy, but it is tasteful and well organized.

Shenoy is hip enough both to acknowledge the funk/groove tradition of the organ trio and to subvert it too, as in the labyrinthine Tomorrow’s Worriers (sic) which succeeds in maintaining its groove despite being in 11/8 (as far as I can tell). Pretty fiendish to solo over, but the band achieves it with little apparent effort. Dunn’s guitar is crunchy with sustain, and the tune stops on a dime. The sweet ballad My Horizon is a duo excursion for tenor and guitar, after which the intro to the impressionistic Breakers features wave sounds, guitar-generated seagulls and gently bobbing tom-toms.

The album closes with a couple of spirited swingers – Marriage is for Old Folks, a total obscurity by Leon Carr and Earl Shuman (who also penned Hey There Lonely Girl) and Arthur Schwartz’s You and the Night and the Music, the latter bookended with a newly-minted riff. It’s all good stuff, and dense enough to reward repeated plays.


LP REVIEW: Quincy Jones and His Orchestra – The Quintessence/Big Band Bossa Nova

Quincy Jones and His Orchestra – The Quintessence/Big Band Bossa Nova
(Vinyl Passion VP 80780. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

There is no shortage of jazz being reissued on vinyl. Almost all of it consists of digital transfers of public domain material. That is also true of a new series of LPs from Vinyl Passion. However, a couple of things make these releases stand out from the pack. For a start, despite being pressed on good quality 180gram vinyl, they’re reasonably priced. More importantly, the records are rather lovingly curated by some people who seem to know what they’re doing, and care about it.

This double album consists of two albums by Quincy Jones. The first is The Quintessence, originally released on the Impulse label (Impulse AS-11) in 1961 and a superb modern big band set. The compositions include a couple of standards, Straight, No Chaser by Thelonious Monk and Invitation by Bronislau Kaper, but otherwise consist of originals by Jones himself, Billy Byers or Benny Golson. It should be noted that all three of these men were top arrangers — Billy Byers in particular is an unsung hero in jazz. One reason Byers is less known than he should be is that he was happy to remain anonymous, ghost writing for Quincy Jones among others. When the journalist Gene Lees asked Billy Byers why he was content with this situation, Byers replied, “Quincy’s good at the politics and business part of it. I just want to do my writing.”

In any case, The Quintessence is a showcase for excellent composing and dynamic arrangements. And the roster of soloists is phenomenal. The sax section includes Oliver Nelson, Jerome Richardson and Phil Woods. On trumpet we have Clark Terry, Thad Jones and Freddie Hubbard, and Curtis Fuller is among the trombones. Woods is wonderful on the title track, providing a rhapsodic, unfurling introduction. And Freddie Hubbard and Oliver Nelson distinguish themselves in the contemporary urban strut of Robot Portrait, a Billy Byers composition. Nelson’s solo here is majestic, towering and endlessly articulate. And Hubbard responds with a sharp, chattering, masterfully judged flow of trumpet.

However, if The Quintessence is unadulterated, top shelf, mainstream jazz, Big Band Bossa Nova would seem to have rather more suspect credentials. Originally released by Mercury in 1962, when Quincy Jones was still head of A&R for that label, it’s not only part of the bossa nova craze, it’s very much in the space-age-bachelor-pad, lounge music genre — a status firmly cemented by the use of a track from the record, Soul Bossa Nova, in the Austin Powers movies. So it would be understandable if a jazz purist came out in hives just reading the catalogue number of this album (SR 60751). But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some amazing soloists, including the breathtaking presence of Roland Kirk, along with plenty more very tasty playing. Other instrumentalists include Phil Woods and Jerome Richardson back again, with the addition of Paul Gonsalves to the sax section. Clark Terry is back, too, Jim Hall plays guitar, and the authenticity of the album’s Latin American heritage is reinforced by the presence of Lalo Schifrin as pianist and composer. His tune, the loping Lalo Bossa Nova is outstanding, with a great sax solo. And one only has to listen to the sincere and elegant and lovely Serenata to realise this is not just meretricious bossa-craze cash-in, nor exotica ephemera.

Where the exotica ephemera does make an appearance is in the two bonus tracks appended to The Quintessence. Sadly they aren’t alternate takes or passed-over selections from the original Impulse sessions. Instead they’re taken from another Quincy Jones Mercury album, Around the World (PPS 6014). The culprits are Hot Sake and Baia. The faux-japonais of Hot Sake is hard to take, or at least hard to take seriously. Baia is better, but then most things are.

By contrast, the bonus tracks for Big Band Bossa Nova are terrific. A Taste of Honey and Shagnasty were two sides of a 7 inch single released in 1962 on Mercury (72012). As far as I can tell this is their only other appearance on vinyl since that day. A very nifty little addition, which makes this set suddenly of interest to collectors and Quincy Jones completists. That and the shocking purple vinyl, of course.

Just for the hell of it I put this reissue up against an original Impulse pressing of The Quintessence from my library, mastered by Rudy Van Gelder. This 1961 copy has greater scope, more detail and superior dynamics and generates considerably more excitement. To make a synaesthetic comparison, the original Impulse was a little like seeing a movie at the cinema, while the Vinyl Pleasure reissue was like watching it at home, albeit on a decent sized TV screen. The Vinyl Pleasure pressings are almost certainly digitally sourced, but they are nice clean, noise-free pressings and afford a great deal of enjoyment to the listener. And did I mention that they’re purple?

My only real beef with this very agreeable release is that it has been entirely stripped of the original liner notes and therefore there are no musician credits. I understand that a bare-bones presentation enables a pleasantly low price tag, but it wouldn’t have cost much to include an insert with some details of the personnel. Even a repurposed version of the press release would have been helpful. Enough moaning. To anyone less of a vinyl snob than yours truly, this is an ideal way to acquire some immensely enjoyable jazz.

Some final thoughts… Despite some excellent use of typography, the cover design of this album is rudimentary, to say the least. There are so many talented designers out there that it should be possible to do something really distinctive and attractive for a marginal cost. And Vinyl Pleasure might also consider giving this budget series a strong brand identity, so each release is clearly part of it. If they do this, then instead of just reissuing the collector’s items of yesterday they could be creating the collector’s items of tomorrow.


CD REVIEW: Kate McGarry/Keith Ganz/Gary Versace – The Subject Tonight Is Love

Kate McGarry/Keith Ganz/Gary Versace – The Subject Tonight Is Love
(Binxtown Records. Review by Peter Bacon)

Against a sumptuous cushion of piano from Gary Versace and ringing guitar from Keith Ganz, vocalist Kate McGarry recites the words of 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz:

The subject tonight is love
And for tomorrow night as well

As a matter of fact

I know of no better topic

For us to discuss

Until we all


Discuss? Seriously? Maybe it loses something in translation. Thankfully, McGarry’s idea of a discussion involves not a round-table committee meeting but an impeccable choice songs about love in a wide range of meanings, from a rich diversity of sources, and conveyed with a broad palette of styles by three musicians who have developed their three-way skill over more than a decade.

So we get standards like the all-too-rarely covered Secret Love, the possibly far-too-commonly covered My Funny Valentine and the always welcome Gone With The Wind and What A Difference A Day Made. But interspersed with these we get a McGarry original like the dark country of Climb Down, the sublime Benny Golson/Kenny Doreham composition Fair Weather, a blissful Egberto Gismonti tune with added lyrics, even a Beatles song for the epilogue. McGarry identifies the various takes on love in the CD’s liner notes: “courageous love”, “tribal love”, “fleeting love”, “fractured love”, “love thy neighbour”, etc.

That’s the material, but what of the cutting, the stitching, the finishing. Well, “wow!”, in a word. But, of course the music reviewer must offer more than an expression of amazement, something more articulate than a dropped jaw at such apparently lightly-worn artistry, a tear welling in the eye at the heart-tugging beauty of it all, and a chill rising on the back of the neck at the magic that results from this kind of interactive musicianship.

If you want to experience all those things at once, then may I recommend Fair Weather, and in particular the reprise? McGarry has prepared us with an initially stately reading which as it progresses turns into something more intimate, its climax a high, breathy note that she extends into a bell-like tone, then adds a vibrato at the death. Versace’s piano and Ganz’s strummed acoustic guitar are beautifully spaced in between her lines, then Versace takes McGarry’s mood and stretches it across a finely articulated solo with Ganz in support before the roles are expertly reversed. And then comes that even more magical return, with all three taking more freedom while staying in perfect formation. “Hate will die and love will win,” sings McGarry and the sheer three-way freedom/cohesion of the trio’s music feels unassailable. “Heroes” is the high spine-tingler but throughout one marvels at McGarry’s continual variation of tone, timbre, how each note and syllable is phrased, each given particular attention while maintaining the big-picture interpretation and flow.

That’s just one meticulous performance among 12 – this is an album without low points, without any lapses of concentration. And, in the face of any anticipatory scepticism, My Funny Valentine is, of course, a completely refreshing triumph.

There are 61 minutes of music on this CD – each is one to treasure for years and years to come.

Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz and Gary Versace will be playing the Rochester Jazz Festival in Rochester NY on Wednesday 27 June. 

LINK: The McGarry/Ganz/Versace trio site  


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Nora Jorba (London Catalan Festival at Pizza Express Jazz Club 8-10 June)

"Fearless bassist and talented composer"
One of the four Catalan bandleaders: bassist Giulia Valle
Photo credit: Carles Palacio

Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street will be hosting the first London Catalan Festival in early June. It features four bands led by women. The festival is the brain-child of London-based Catalan NORA JORBA. She explains the background. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: For people who don’t know you please tell us some more. What first brought you to London and what’s your job now.

Nora Jorba: I’m from Barcelona. I studied classical music for over eight years, including piano and solfeggio. Then I studied film production at ESCAC University in Terrassa, moving to London in June 2011.

In London I studied jazz performance at Middlesex University, graduating with a BA Hons in Jazz in 2016. During those years I crossed paths with amazing people who inspired me in performing but also very much encouraged me to get more involved in the British jazz scene on the production side.

Since May 2016 I’ve been working for Pizza Express Live as Music Logistics Manager, running the finances for the five music venues. But because of the encouragement of my colleagues, especially Joseph Paice, I got the opportunity to book some shows as well founding my own agency, Saurus Management.

Nora Jorba
LJN: And you are a proud Catalan and want to help promote Catalan culture ?

NJ: Yes! As you say, I’m a very proud Catalan. I’ve been away from home for seven years now and I miss Barcelona and Catalonia, the people, the food, the music. But I’m not complaining. I love being in London. So many things happening in just one city! Being able to share my culture and help promote artist from Catalonia in an international capital like London is a dream come true.

LJN: So you approached the Institut Ramon Llull...?

NJ: Well, it actually went the other way. Pizza Express offered me a long weekend to put on a run of shows and they gave me total freedom for it. I could pick any theme and, after a bit of thinking, I decided to put on a little Catalan Festival at Dean St Jazz Club. At the same time, a friend of mine who works for Institut Ramon Llull in London told me they wanted to focus on Catalan jazz in London. They were looking for a venue that would host a series of shows during the year. When I mentioned that I wanted to put on a festival, they liked the idea and we joined forces to make the festival happen! It’s an honour to have them supporting it. The Institut Ramon Llull is a public body founded with the purpose of promoting Catalan language studies at universities abroad, the translation of literature and thought written in Catalan, and Catalan cultural production in other areas like theatre, film, circus, dance, music, the visual arts, design and architecture.

 LJN: And they suggested a theme of women artists for the festival – what was the reasoning?

NJ: Yes, that’s correct. In one of the meetings I had with Maria Lladó, from Institut Ramon Llull, she suggested focussing the attention on female artists for the first edition of the festival. Right after that meeting, I went to Palau Robert, an exhibition centre in Barcelona that was showing a very interesting project: D’Ones. That means Waves, but without the apostrophe, it means women. The exhibition focuses in the Evolution and Revolution of Women in Music. It was very inspiring to see so many names of female musicians who have made a difference in music, but that we don’t know well. I was determined to use the exposure of the festival to celebrate a new generation of female talents. Just by chance, this happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK.

LJN: How many concerts?

NJ: This year’s festival has five concerts by four artists over three days.

Sara Pi
Publicity Photo
LJN: Who appears first? Tell us about the artists because they may be unfamiliar names.

NJ: Kicking off the festival on Friday 8 June we have Sara Pi. I heard Sara for first time years ago, when I was still living in Barcelona. Her music was pretty different to what I had heard from any Catalan artist. Now being in London I’ve heard a few other artists navigating similar styles, but at that point, Sara’s music really had an impact on me. I feel lucky to be able to bring her to London and be part of this event. Sara and her producer Erico Moreira have a great musical and personal partnership. The fusion between R&B, Neo-soul and Brazilian influence is a fantastic combination and I thought it would make a great first show for the festival.

On Saturday 9 June we have two shows. At lunchtime we have Eva Fernandez and in the evening we have Giulia Valle.

Eva Fernandez is a young vocalist and sax player who, along with Andrea Motis, studied with Joan Chamorro and at Taller de Musics in Barcelona. I heard Eva a while ago, when surfing on the internet watching videos of Joan’s Sant Andreu Big Band. A few months ago, in one of my chats with Taller de Musics, they told me she was launching a new album in 2018, much more personal than her previous work. In trio formation (with Josep Munar on guitar and Enric Fuster on drums), she plays and sings not only jazz but also original compositions inspired by the poems of Jorge Cortazar amongst other writers. It’s a beautiful and musical approach to timeless poetry.

Giulia Valle is one of the most renowned musicians in the jazz scene in Catalonia. She was born in Italy, but grew up in Catalonia. She is a fearless bassist and talented composer. She has lead several projects, going from contemporary jazz, jazz mixed with electronics, and now with her powerful trio, featuring Marco Mezquida on piano and David Xirgu on drums. When I first heard her music I was struck by her compositions and the synergy between the three of them. This will definitely be a highlight of the festival.

Returning for the third time to Pizza Express Dean Street:
Trumpeter/ vocalist Andrea Motis
Publicity photo
And last but not least, we have Andrea Motis and Joan Chamorro Quintet performing two shows on Sunday 10 June. Andrea is returning for the third time to Dean Street. We are very excited to have her back. I’ve been following Andrea’s work for a few years now. Despite her young age, she has developed impressive skills and with her talent she is now recognized as one of the biggest names in Catalan jazz. In her band she performs with Joan Chamorro on bass, Ignasi Terraza on piano, Josep Traver on guitar and Esteve Pi on drums. This will be a great finale for the first edition of the London Catalan Festival at PizzaExpress Jazz Club.

I’m really excited and I cannot wait! (pp)

LINK: London Catalan Festival Bookings
Saurus Management on Instagram


PREVIEW: 606 Club 30 Years at Lots Road Festival (16-27 May)

Photo Credit: 606 Club

London's 606 Club is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary in their current home at 90 Lots Road with a 12-day festival of gigs welcoming some of the most prized names in British jazz and improvised music. Many of the artists featured are longstanding affiliates and friends of the venue, a fact which speaks to the club's legendary status in London's jazz topography. Feature and interview with club proprietor STEVE RUBIE by George Crowley:

There is certainly a magical feeling connected with leaving the street and outside world behind and descending into a basement jazz club. Saxophonist Seamus Blake once wrote of New York's Village Vanguard, "walking down the stairs... and hearing something that just cooks, is what it's all about as a jazz lover and musician. It's one of the most exciting things, period", and this experience is doubtless something with which any attendee of the 606 would be familiar.

Club owner and musician Steve Rubie certainly agrees, and while there are certain practical aspects which benefit a basement for a club (noise insulation and cheaper rent chief among them), the Lots Road site, derelict as it was ("there was just an old piano and a dead cat," he quips) felt perfect from the start. With the work of Steve and his team it has grown from a derelict basement to one of London's most consistent and essential venues, where audiences can be transported every night: "You want to be taken out of yourself, that's why people go, to experience something different from their normal everyday lives, be taken to a different place by listening to music. Basements are good for that – it does help with that sense of just being taken out of the world for a short time."

Thirty years of successful activity for an independent jazz venue is certainly no mean feat by anybody's standards, and when I try to discover from Steve exactly how he's done it, he is modest, yet categorical. "I have no idea!" he says, "It just kind of happened – I always say that my tenure at the club is a triumph of hope over experience." Nevertheless he is keen to leave me under no illusion that this accomplishment is not one he has made single-handed: "I definitely have not done this on my own... One of the reasons we've managed to survive this long is the support, not only from the jazz community and musicians, but also the various teams that I've had working with me over the years at the club itself – I definitely can't do this by myself! It's like a swan, you know? – it may look like it glides along, but there's a huge amount of paddling going on underneath!"

This sense of community feels key to the success and longevity of a venue like the 606. From my earliest days in London just over 10 years ago, walking down the stairs into the cellar always felt like a warm and welcoming experience, and a space where the relationship between management and musicians was always paramount (a relationship undoubtedly deepened by Steve's deep experience as both musician and manager) while never losing sight of the audience in tow. Steve is quick to acknowledge that goodwill from musicians paved the way for a lot of what was to come – back in the day "nobody did that gig for the money, that's for sure... in many ways having the support of musicians is one of the things that keeps us going" – and importantly the club still plays its part in fostering and supporting the younger generation of musicians, hosting regular gigs as well as final recitals from students at the Royal Academy of Music.

With such a rich and storied history in music, Steve is understandably reluctant to single out any favourites ("So many people have come through, I've got over 700 musicians on my list... and also my memory's crap!"), and indeed many long-standing bonds will be reaffirmed over the course of the upcoming anniversary gigs.

As our conversation moves to the transition to the Lots Road site in 1988 though, he does offer a particular remembrance of the late, great London legend Ronnie Scott who supported him and the club so closely, remembering, "Ronnie always looked out for me. When we closed the old club he'd call me every week to see how things were going." Ronnie ended up playing the opening night in the new location with his Quartet, as well as the second anniversary, and the fifth: "He was hugely helpful and supportive – that meant a lot, you know? I miss him, I miss him a lot." Reflections such as this are an important reminder for a younger musician such as myself, not just about how much recent musical history there is in a city like this – which we constantly benefit from – but also how much of that history goes into a venue like the 6, the echoes of which can still be felt in the warm and convivial atmosphere – not to mention quality musical curation – of the club today.

The upcoming 12 days of musical celebration at the 606 Club offer a glittering and musically varied insight into exactly the kind of activity which makes the club so special, and I would warmly encourage anyone reading here to join the party and enjoy some wonderful music in very special surroundings. All of the musicians featured are longstanding friends of the club, which is why they have been invited to perform during the celebration.

Long live the Six! (pp)

On  23 May for the Basho Records Evening:
Publicity Photo


Wedneday 16 May
8:30pm Peter Rubie / John Etheridge w/ Lily Dior/ Glow Quartet

Thursday 17 May
8:30pm Hamish Stewart's 10 piece band

Friday 18 May
9:30pm Natalie Williams / Tony O’Malley/ Beverley Skeete

Saturday 19 May
9:30pm Giacomo Smith/ Alex Garnett/ James Davison

Sunday 20 May
1:30pm 606 Gospel Group w Special Guests/ Noel McCalla
8:30pm Ian Shaw/ Polly Gibbons/ Liane Carroll

Monday 21 May
8:30pm The CrateDiggers/ Paul Stacey

Tuesday 22 May

Wednesday 23 May
8:30pm Gwilym Simcock/ The Printmakers (Basho Evening)

Thursday 24 May
8:30pm Anoushka Lucas/ Tim and Hattie Whitehead / Gwyneth Herbert

Friday 25 May
9:30pm Mary Pearce/ Vanessa Haynes/ Imaani

Saturday 26 May
9:30pm Clark Tracey/ Jacqui Dankworth/ Peter King, Art Themen & Mornington Lockett

Sunday 27 May
1:30pm Rachel Sutton w Special Guests / Alice Zawadzki
8:30pm Claire Martin & Jim Mullen/ Rachael Calladine/ Samara


NEWS: Jazz at the 2018 BBC Proms

Jacob Collier
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

The jazz content at this year's Proms – the programme has just been announced – is relatively low: it is focused on just two events: a full 7.30pm Prom for Jacob Collier and the Metropole Orkest and a late night Gershwin Prom with NYJO –  plus events to mark the Leonard Bernstein centenary. 


19 July Prom 7 Jacob Collier and guests with the Metropole Orkest Dir. Jules Buckley

16 August Prom 46 NYJO and Benjamin Grosvenor


18 July Prom 6 Gershwin’s An American in Paris (paired with Messiaen’s Turangalila)

31 July Prom 23 Havana meets Kingston – produced by Mista Savona (aka Jake Savona) 

8 August Prom 35: New York: Story of a City with Metropole Orkest Dir. Jules Buckley, Hercules and Love Affair, serpentwithfeet and Sharon Van Etten

11 August Proms 38 and 39 West Side Story Dir. By John Wilson
Two performances

25 August Prom 57 Bernstein’s On the Town 

31 Aug Prom 65A Youssou Ndour & Le Super Étoile de Dakar 

4 Sep Prom 70 Tango Prom