REVIEW: Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning - UK premiere at Kings Place

The London Contemporary Orchestra performing
Tower of Meaning.
Photo credit: Daniel Halford

Peter Zummo, Bill Ruyle, London Contemporary Orchestra with Oliver Coates - Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning (UK premiere) 
(Kings Place, 15th January 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

Arthur Russell’s untimely death in 1992 took away a restless talent with an enduring fascination. The cellist, composer and avant-disco producer is mostly known for the haunting cello and electronics of the album World of Echo, but each year more music surfaces from his bags of master tapes, and his stock grows.

Last year saw the re-release of his little-known album for string ensemble, Tower of Meaning. Two of Arthur Russell’s former collaborators Peter Zummo and Bill Ruyle have now transcribed the music from the record and arranged it for live performance. January 2017 saw its UK debut by the London Contemporary Orchestra at Kings Place, presented in the round with a young fairly hip audience sat on the floor. The programme included two other UK premieres that set the scene, as well as a very recent work from another talent who straddles avant-garde, pop and classical worlds.

Mica Levi’s astonishing string quartet You Belong To Me (2016) shows the avant-pop singer-songwriter’s growing stature as a composer, as also demonstrated in her award-winning score for creepy sci-fi movie Under the Skin and, currently in cinemas, Jackie. From the opening trills and chromatic flourishes, through episodes of dense riffing, this richly textured and colourfully ornamented 15-minute piece would be the highlight of any concert. At its apogee, cellist Oliver Coates’ grinding double-stops were so powerful, I thought the cello must have a hidden amp.

Bill Ruyle performing Wolff Tones E-Tude.
Photo credit: Emily Moore

Mary Jane Leach’s Wolff Tones E-Tudes (2004) is a process-based open-form composition in six sections. Christian Wolff’s Exercises were a formative influence on Ruyle, Zummo and Russell. ‘Wolf tones’ are unintended, often ‘unpleasant’, resonances inherent in some instruments, especially strings. The seven instruments (including a piano with 3 e-bows resonating drones) repeat phrases throughout each section before moving on. The interplay of the ensemble in performance is a compositional strategy. Similarly, Julius Eastman’s Joy Boy (1974) requires a markedly communal approach to realisation.

Bill Ruyle conducting Tower of Meaning.
Photo credit: Emily Moore

The compositional integrity of the pieces that comprise the forty-minute instrumental work Tower of Meaning might surprise those used to the endearingly open-ended experimentation of World Of Echo, where Russell’s vocals are tentative, teetering on the melodic and almost whispered, suggested. Tower of Meaning shares the oneiric otherworldliness that makes Arthur Russell’s work across disparate forms from experimental disco to his solo cello improvisations so teasingly appealing.

The music was originally intended for a production of Euripides’ Medea and in several sections the blocky harmony and stately rhythmic pulse strongly resemble early music. Its stepwise courtliness derives from chamber music and incidental stage music rather than any symphonic ambition.

Peter Zummo.
Photo credit: Emily Moore

The music emerges in waves, lapping regularly and inexorably on the shores of our sadness. Aside from the posthumous 2008 documentary Wild Combination, the films haven’t really been made yet that Arthur Russell’s music would soundtrack. It’s filmic as befits the cross-influence of Philip Glass, whose label released 320 copies of the original album - before indecorously folding.

Presenting Tower of Meaning was a similar enterprise to Bang On A Can’s transcription of Music for Airports, which scored Eno’s intricate tape-cut loops for live ensemble performance. Bill Ruyle had scores for the work but found that the recording was a perfect fourth out. Russell had varispeeded the tape. Recreating the low notes of the recording necessitated certain additions and substitutions - viola for violin, English horns for oboes, double bass for cello. This timbrally enriches the texture, and a re-recording of the album by the ensemble would be welcome. In the meantime, the performance was broadcast on NTS Live (link below) and filmed. A welcome rediscovery, Tower of Meaning illuminates Arthur Russell’s softly glowing reputation.

LINK: Recording of concert on NTS Live


NEWS: London Vocal Project to perform New York and London premieres of Jon Hendricks' complete vocal Miles Ahead

Jon Hendricks and Pete Churchill in New York preparing lyrics
Sebastian writes:

This is one of those projects which has been a long time in the making. The premiere of Jon Hendricks’ lyricisation of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans album, MILES AHEAD - which will take place at St Peter's Church (the Jazz Church), Manhattan, on Friday 17 February, at 7pm - marks the final fruition of an idea first conceived by Hendricks fifty years ago.

It will be performed by the London Vocal Project with Pete Churchill (director) Michelle Hendricks, Kevin Burke and Anita Wardell (vocal soloists), Dave Whitford (bass) and Steve Brown (drums). The 95 year old Hendricks will be at the premiere. The London premiere will be in Kings Place Hall One on Sunday 21st May (details)

LVP Singers L-R: Hannah Berry, Helen Burnett, Flora Medlicott, Chloe Potter
Sophie Smith, Miriam Ast (back row), Richard Lake, Lilli Unwin (back row)

Pete Churchill confirms "it has been a long haul." He first corresponded with Jon Hendricks and met him to discuss the idea in 2010. From one of those first meetings came this email setting the tone of the project, addressed to the members of LVP: “

This brings us to as many members of your choir who can sing them according to established standards; each word written to fit a note of music in Gil’s brilliant score All of which tell a story based on the title of each song, and, of course, I want you involved. First thing is that each singer must have a copy of this album, to which they should listen first thing each morning and the last thing each night until the performance. No other way will they be able to keep pace with the endless subtleties and nuances the work is fraught with. Remember, Gil’s guru was Duke and both were self-taught. So fasten your seat belts. Here we go!”

Churchill's conscientious work with Hendricks to take the words Hendricks had already conceived and written down or remembered, and to expand them to the point where Hendricks' original ambition -  to have full words to the whole album -  is complete, has taken several visits. The first partial performance, of three numbers, took place at Ronnie Scott's in June 2014. Mike Collins reviewed it.

An ambitious undertaking like this needs supporters. The members of the London Vocal Project themselves provided the original funds for Churchill to spend the time in New York working daily with Hendricks, the Hendricks family have been highly supportive, and the premiere has been thanks to the generosity of Quincy Jones (Executive Producer) and the Jazz Foundation of America.

LINK: Miles Ahead at the London Vocal Project website


INTERVIEW: Fred Hersch (co-publication with Citizen Jazz and Jazzaround)

Fred Hersch. Photo credit: : Martin Zeman

Fred Hersch - currently nominated for two Grammys -  is a pianist whose influence can be heard in many of the new generation of younger players. The key to his music is his honesty. Jean-Pierre Goffin met him during a short solo tour in Europe which included four dates in Flanders. This interview is co-published with Citizen Jazz in France and Jazzaround in Belgium: 

Jean-Pierre Goffin: Could you summarise your journey from classical music to jazz?

Fred Hersch: Starting at a young age I improvised on classical music. I would imitate Bach and round the age of 11 or 12 I decided I wouldn’t be able to be a concert pianist. I had listened to Glenn Gould and Horowitz and I thought enough people were doing that so I sang and played the violin for a while, played pop tunes and then at high school, round 17, I joined the jazz ensemble and as I had had some theory lessons before, it worked pretty well so I started with a violin and cello trio and I discovered I really liked making music with other people, being a concert pianist playing alone was not for me. I really enjoyed playing in a group. When I went back to my hometown in Cincinnati, I entered a jazz club. In the basement there was bluegrass music and there was a room for jazz upstairs; a local sax player was there with his quartet, I heard the set and I asked if I could sit in and I played Autumn Leaves… not very well. Then he took me to the backroom and let me hear record of Duke Ellington at Newport with Paul Gonsalves playing this crazy twenty-six chorus solo and he said: “That’s time, that’s rhythm, that’s swing. You got to do that, learn those things and you are always welcome to come and play with us.” And I went to the used records shop downtown and I took all the records with Autumn Leaves, it was the only tune I knew, you know it is like an artist painting a bowl of fruit, it is common. I listened to all those different versions, they were all great…”

J-PG: Which versions were your favourites?

FH: There were Miles, Bill Evans Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson… I can’t remember, there was Sarah Vaughan, too. I loved them all, I listened to them and worked. Afterwards, I started to play gigs with all the guys… They were very nice.

J-PG: Was Cincinnati a very active place at that time?

FH: Most of the cities in America had quite heavy-weight piano players or sax players. There was no education program then, so young people were not really interested in jazz. I learned accompanying singers and all kind of skills that were very important to me. And I decided to get out of it and left for New England where Jaki Byard was teaching. I followed lessons with him for one year and I also had a teacher for classical music… Gunther Schüller was there, too.

J-PG: Did you go on with classical music - just for the technique?

FH: No, I loved the music. New England was one of the best Conservatories in the world and I decided I wanted to take advantage of that and play chamber music, play in different ensembles. Many musicians in my class were very successful: Michael Moore, John Harris, Anthony Coleman, the bebop piano player Mike LeDonne… We were all in the same class, a very special group and we learned a lot from each other. As soon as I graduated I moved to New York, 40 years ago now!

J-PG: That’s where you met Joe Henderson.

FH: Well, it was more complicated than that. I first started playing at parties and in restaurants. Then I played a lot at Bradley’s, that the venue where I started playing with Sam Jones who recommended me to Art Farmer who had Joe Henderson as a guest. Also there were not so many young jazz pianists like me who knew a lot of tunes, who could swing, accompany, play in different styles. So I was a bit like a sort of novelty at my age, pretty well developed… I am finishing a memoir which will be released in September 2017 called Good Things Happen Slowly, I am doing the final edit now. I write about the time when I met Mingus, the time when I heard Miles Davis live and all these wonderful experiences I had, what Joe Henderson was like as a person… I try to paint a picture for someone who doesn’t know much about jazz, why this music was so fascinating. Also, I am very deep into the story of who I am, including my health problems. There is also a new film about me which is good… I am sorry to say that Let Yourself Go was not very good, but this one is really beautifully done. It is called The Ballad of Fred Hersch and it is going to be shown in film festivals.

J-PG: Could you speak about the birth of your first trio?

FH: My first trio was with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron, we made our first album in 1984, we also played with Toots Thielemans on Ne Me quitte pas and also Only Trust Your Heart which I produced. Then for my second trio I had Charlie Haden and Joey for a new recording, but we never worked on tour. The third trio was with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey; that one lasted a long time, maybe 10, 12 years.

Then I started looking for something different for the drums and from a recommendation I heard Nasheet Waits. We made a couple of records, but Drew began to be very very busy and I knew John Hebert and shortly after came Nasheet’s best friend Eric McPherson ,and we have been together for seven years. I think it is my best trio, I have never had a band I feel so comfortable with. We can play any kind of music. We got two Grammy nominations two years ago. People recognise the particular sound of this trio, not because of me but because of the sound of the band.

J-PG: Do you compose differently for the trio or for playing solo?

FH: Yes, I know the pieces I compose for a solo or a duo, pieces I know I will use the low chords of the piano in a certain way. There are other pieces I definitely write for the trio and other things I write for the trio plus two, pieces I never play in another context. But sometimes you compose a new tune for the trio and the guys like it or not, it works or it doesn’t work. On Sunday Night At The Vanguard there is a tune called The Optimum Thing, a kind of counterfeit of The Best Thing For You by Irving Berlin and I couldn’t decide what tempo I was going to play, so we played it on every tempo: we started slowly, randomly and gradually it became faster… You know we seldom rehearse - maybe twice a year - but we have a lot of work on tour. In the States we are fairly busy and every concert is a rehearsal, some pieces evolve, some pieces we play for a while and then we let them go, and other pieces come in… You don’t want to release perfect sets, there are pieces you are familiar enough with but you don’t have all the performances in mind and think: the last time was perfect and I want to do that again… You need to be familiar with a tune but you want to explore more and more.

J-PG: That’s why you like live recordings…

FH: I love live recordings! You know maybe there is an occasional note which is not perfect but it is the best reflection of what I really do… The microphones are there and you just play, it is the most honest thing.

One of the first albums I owned was Miles’ Friday Night At The Blackhawk with Wynton Kelly, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Cobb… and I loved the music and I also loved the recording. I sat in my studio in Cincinnati and I felt as I was in the club, the solos were longer than they can be in a studio, you hear the glasses clinking, the people talking , same thing with Bill Evans’ session at the Village Vanguard, you hear the cash register, a bit of conversation… I mean studio albums are great but it is like stage actors and film actors: a film actor can do 20 takes …On stage you do what you do that night.”

J-PG: You often compare jazz to tennis…

FH: Yes, it is reactive, the only shot you control is the first shot and then it is whatever happens. Also in tennis you can lose a few games or even a set, but you are still in the match. And the good players don’t panic… like young jazzmen who want to make their trio perfect but they can’t let it go… I feel that I play much better now than I played before my illness; I’m much more forgiving. Maybe one chord was not perfect but I’m not going to die… I heard Rubinstein’s last concert and there were some wrong notes but it didn’t affect the experience of hearing Arthur Rubinstein, that sound he got from the piano will be with me for the rest of my life… He missed some notes, so what…

Young players don’t have the experience that I had listening to Tommy Flanagan 30 times, and some of those nights he was not playing so great… Joe Henderson, too. Some nights he wasn’t so inspired at the beginning of a set but he would be patient and find it, then he was going to the fifth gear and it was amazing. Young musicians have a distorted image of music on CDs andYouTube, they are not able to sit and feel the things. They use Spotify and they listen to Miles, Red Garland, Herbie Hancock, but they don’t try to learn more, there is no notification of where and when it was recorded, who else is playing… They don’t have the passion to seek out the real stuff.

J-PG: There is a great variety of tunes in your repertoire: you play Schumann, Monk, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell… How do you make these choices?

FH: These songs are not only beautiful pieces of music but the lyrics are important to me. It is very difficult to play a song when I don’t like the lyrics… like Polka Dots And Moonbeams, the melody is beautiful but the lyrics are awful , so I never play it. There is a famous story about Lester Young who was in the middle of a melody in a studio and he stopped and the engineer asked him why he stopped and he said he forgot the words. Young musicians are very far from that… I have to play things I am connected to. Sometimes I don’t play some songs anymore, and five years later they are fresh once again.

J-PG: You are still influenced by classical music....

FH: It’s not conscious, it is part of the language of the piano; it is creating new textures, but it’s not a kind of “jazz meets classical”, some influences come for the trio, some for the solo performance, some for the duo, and of course I’m very influenced by who I’m playing with. It’s different if I’m playing with Julian Lage, Ornette Coleman or Michael Moore: they all bring out different parts of me. That’s why I play jazz, you know!

J-PG: There is a piece dedicated to Benoit Delbecq: Calligram. Could you explain the origin of this piece?

FH: We did a project and an album called Fun House, a fascinating project: two pianos, two bass players, two drums, electronics, and in Benoit’s part some prepared piano with different stuff, pieces of wood… Benoit is very influenced by Ligeti and pygmy music. I think he is a genius and also one of my favourite people. I like writing tunes for other people - I have written 40 of them - and the melody for Benoit came out very quickly with some of the things I know he likes. It is not an imitation, but an homage. John Hebert also played a lot with Benoit so it was natural to write something for him. It is just a little melody and it becomes very open.

J-PG: Do you have any duo projects planned?

FH: There is an album coming in 2017 with Anat Cohen, recorded in California. And every May for the last ten years I have done a duo invitation series at the Jazz Standard in New York: six nights with six different guests. That makes about 40 different guest in 10 years. It is developing organically, sometimes you have good feelings… The only way I play with a singer now is in duo: Norma Winstone, Kurt Elling, Cecil McLorin Salvant… I’m really interested in people who give and take, share… I love the sound of piano and voice, I love words.

J-PG: You love literature: you had a project called "Leaves of Grass".

FH: Yes, and we are going to play it live for the first time in September 2017 for the release of my book. Walt Whitman’s words are very inspiring, he was one of the greatest philosopher/poets, very American in a good way. At this moment people in my country should read words like this. It is horrifying and getting worse every day in the States… It is very depressing and one of the nice things of being on tour in Europe is that I don’t have to look at the New York Times every day. I can work on my book, be quiet, not be in the middle of it.

J-PG: Do you know the piece you are going to start with this evening?

FH: No, I used to have a repertoire, but it depends. I can start with something more energetic or something slow… It also depends if the band that’s going to play the first part, what they sound like, what their energy is. I can be just one part of a whole concert… I have some ideas of what I might play but to be honest I don’t know…

On that night, Fred Hersch played: Improvisation followed by Portrait In Black and White (AC Jobim), West Virginia Round (Hersch), Down Home (Hersch’s homage to Bill Frisell), Songs Without Words Part 4 (Hersch), Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell), Everybody’s Song But My Own (Kenny Wheeler), You’re The Top (Cole Porter), The Wind (Russ Freeman), Moon and Sand (Engvitz/Palitz/Wilder), The Nearness of You (Carmichael/Washington), In Walked Bud (Monk), Mood Indigo (Ellington), and Valentine (Hersch).

LINKS: The interview is on CitizenJazz and we will link to the Jazzaround piece shortly.


REVIEW/ PHOTOS: Cloudmakers Trio 'Five' at Cambridge Modern Jazz and Kings Place

Cloudmakers Trio 'Five'
L-R: Jim Hart, Michael Janisch, Antonin Tri Hoang,
Dave Smith,Hannes Riepler
Photo credit and © Victor Guidini

Cloudmakers Trio 'Five'
(Cambridge Modern Jazz, 12th January 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney
Photos by Victor Guidini from Kings Place, January 13th)

What a difference 6 1/2 years makes. The trio of Jim Hart with Dave Smith and Michael Janisch first came into existence in July 2010 to perform a tour with Ralph Alessi. Jim Hart wrote a preview looking forward to it at the time, and we reviewed their very first gig. Fast forward to now. Life marches on, all three are among the busiest musicians around. Jim Hart has moved his base to France and is involved in a whole raft of different projects (interview). Dave Smith tours the world with Robert Plant and has kept also his West African group Fofoulah ticking over (more to come, I hear...), Michael Janisch has organized who knows how many tours, produced records, taught, played, played, taught,,,,

For all three, these experiences have clearly expanded  their horizons, but these are musicians whose common history of playing together has given them a particular affinity and respect for each other. The miracle is to see all of these busy players clear their diaries and commit to a tour with Jim Hart as composer and leader. For the listener it is fascinating to be there at the moment where this re-discovery leads to re-connection which leads in turn to fresh creation.

Jim Hart Photo credit and © Victor Guidini

Hart's music is often complex, sometimes unforgivingly so, and as the tour progresses the familiarity and the band feel will grow as they familiarize themselves with it. The mind-bending, lively rhythms of Travelling Pulse,  for example, would test any group, and the drummer in particular. (Students watch out....). Golden, a far-from-simple power ballad dedicated to Hart's son, was an ideal vehicle for  guitarist Hannes Riepler's melodic authority. But finding a shared communicable language is the nature of the beast. Members of elite groups in New York and Paris have candidly admitted to me that in the early stages, as the orchestras were starting to perform, they couldn't actually play the music, but what makes the difference is the commitment to to the composer, to understanding the music, to ensuring that it is  performed. The ideal time to hear this band and this music will be at the Vortex on March 10th and 11th, when it will also be recorded.

Michael Janisch. Photo credit and © Victor Guidini

Antonin Tri Hoang and Dave Smith. Photo credit and © Victor Guidini

Antonin Tri Hoang, an alumnus of the Orchestre National de Jazz 2012-15, and a key member of Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra, has worked with Hart for several years (review from 2012), and - without showiness casts out all kinds of rhythmic challenges, and keeps a very strong sense of line. In the 'double-standard' All the things you are / Ornithology he seemed to be out-phrasing, out-thinking, out-manoeuvring everyone, while looking completely impassive.

Hannes Riepler. Photo credit and © Victor Guidini

I also wrote a quick first reaction to one aspect of this gig, namely to single out the contribution of Dave Smith. His playing is something genuinely to treasure, and remains the strongest memory.  (LINK)

Cloudmakers 'Five' taking their applause. Photo credit and © Victor Guidini

LINK: Tour dates listed in our interview with Jim Hart 



Thank you Tim Garland for reminding us that it is exactly ten years since Michael Brecker's untimely death from leukemia at the age of just 57. Thoughtful obits from Ben Ratliff and John Fordham. In sadness.


A FIRST THOUGHT: Jim Hart's Cloudmaker's at Cambridge Modern Jazz (tonight at Kings Place)


Sebastian writes:

I'll be doing a full review once some pictures are in from Victor Guidini, but here is just a first thought. This was the first time I have heard Dave Smith's drumming for a while, and in the intervening time he has been doing stadium shows all over the world with Robert Plant (as in THIS PICTURE). Jim Hart has written new music of considerable rhythmic complexity, and Dave - with bassist Michael Janisch - provide the rhythm engine to make it work. That thought is quite simple: go to Kings Place tonight, and hear drumming with the rolling creativity and fullness and sensitivity to sound of a Jack DeJohnette, the ability to land clearly, decisively and definitively of a Brian Blade. Dave Smith, reunited for this tour with old musical friends, never overpowers them, but he is a mighty force.


PREVIEW: Dakhla Brass (Kings Place, Sat. 21st Jan.)

Dakhla Brass at L'Astral in Montreal. Photo FIJM

Jamie Cullum has described DAKHLA BRASS as a "jazz punk brass Balkan Bach band". As the group head for Kings Place to present mostly new repertoire, Jon Turney profiles them and asks about the new music:

Bristol’s Dakhla Brass had quite a year in 2016. First of all, they got brassier, with trombonist Liam Treasure a regular addition to the previous quartet of alto and baritone sax, trumpet and drums. And their first album to feature that line-up throughout, Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla, enthused Jamie Cullum. That led not just to invaluable radio play but to invitations from BBC Introducing to fly out to the Montreal Jazz Festival (video below), and to join Cullum in the Albert Hall for his Proms extravaganza in August.

Emboldened by this rise in profile, they’re going to experiment more in 2017, collaborating with more new players, and adding to their already extensive original repertoire.

Their show at Kings Place will feature a host of new tunes, most having a first live outing. They confirm the trend manifest on that CD, their third. The rhythmic energy and punchy horn sound familiar to Dakhla fans – a beguiling mix integrating influences as varied as Balkan dances and English brass band music – is being enriched, and opened out. “The sound has definitely changed” says drummer Matt Brown. "We're getting away a bit from the Balkan thing - there's a larger sound. It's more chordal, less interwoven, and has more texture". More of the horns play more of the time, making it more tiring music to play now, jokes incisive altoist Sophie Stockham.

The results, judging from a first airing for some of the material in their home town just before Christmas, widen the range of moods. They have always been a sure bet for upbeat, intricate, enjoyable music. Now there’s time for reflection as well: the horns whisper as well as roar. It’s partly a matter of exploiting the endless range of chord voicings the four very different horns can offer – this is highly written and arranged music for the most part. But the sound quality of the individual players plays a big part, too. Charlotte Ostafew, who is the principal composer of most of the pieces, furnishes as much rhythmic fuel as Brown’s drums with her grooving baritone sax figures. Brown also singles out the contribution of Pete Judge (*) – of Get the Blessing and Three Cane Whale fame – as crucial to the overall effect. “He has a really thick trumpet sound. It gives the four horns such a dense texture.” The alto, and now trombone, complete the sound – Treasure bringing something they knew they were looking for, and found fitted in with the band right away. Musicians notice: “Bass players have stopped asking if they can join the band”, laughs Brown.

Will the sound stay as it is now, then? Not at all. There are plans for some new musical encounters – and not just with horn players. “The people know who they are but we’ll meet in a rehearsal room before we do anything public.”, says Brown. “We’re going to send them some new songs and see what works”. Stockham: “And if it does work, then Char will be off, writing again!”

Another recording will follow, but with three already in the bag the band are in no hurry this time. “We’re going to take our time, and maybe work with a producer”, Brown reckons. The new material will develop – they want to leave more space for improvisation within the carefully scored horn arrangements. And we’ll see what the new players may bring. Like all good bands, next week’s gig will present work in progress. Toward what? Brown’s vision reaches beyond the reliable pleasures of the groove, and the intertwining horns: “I hope people will be transported, in a cinematic way, and feel a story has been told. I’m always going for melody and story.”

(*) Pete Judge was replaced by Nick Malcolm in Montreal

- A few of the new tunes are available at Dakhla’s Bandcamp page
Kings Place bookings 
- A review with a first reaction to some of the new pieces at their Bristol airing.
- Dakhla Brass website


PREVIEW: Tim Berne, Ches Smith, David Torn - Sun of Goldfinger (Vortex, Jan 22 and 23)

L-R: Tim Berne, David Torn, Ches Smith
Photo credit: Caterina DiPerri-

Sun of Goldfinger (Tim Berne, David Torn, Ches Smith) will be at the Vortex on 22nd  and 23rd January 2017 -  Geoff Winston looks forward to it: 

Tony Visconti and David Bowie have a knack with guitarists, particularly those with left-leaning jazz tendencies. There's Ben Monder on Blackstar, and David Torn on The Next Day, amongst others, of whom Visconti said in a Rolling Stone interview: 'There's a guy called David Torn who plays guitar, who we use; he comes with huge amounts of equipment that he creates these aural landscapes. He uses them in a rock context with all that ambient sound, and he's bending his tremolo arm and all that. It's just crazy, completely crazy sound on that track [Dancing Out In Space].'

Bowie was known to have referred to Torn as 'The Yo-Yo Ma of guitar' and noted that, 'His work is very spiritual and has an ephemeral quality that I adore.' Jeff Beck brought him in specially to produce and reshape the album, Jeff - 'This guy's twisted, and I WANT twisted. Torn saved the tracks from the bin - he's 'The One!'

Torn has a tight musical friendship with saxophonist Tim Berne, who made the point in interview that the Sun of Goldfinger trio is in essence Torn's project. Their previous London appearance together was also at the Vortex as Prezens, an ECM quartet with Craig Taborn and Tom Rainey, which received ecstatic reviews. John Fordham wrote in the Guardian: 'I, and rest of the audience, went wild when David Torn's Prezens played a gig in Dalston … Eminent local musicians in the audience were shaking their heads in disbelief, some audience members were looking ecstatic, some almost shocked.'

While David Torn may be the least known of the trio Sun of Goldfinger, in terms of London gigs, as Berne and percussionist Ches Smith have been recent visitors to the Vortex with Berne's Snakeoil (reviewed), and Smith with his own trio with Taborn and Matt Maneri, his prolific work on film scores may have made an under-the-radar impact - Order and soundtrack award-winning Believe in Me, are just two in a long list of film credits.

All three are ECM recording artists, most recently - You've been Watching Me from Berne's Snakeoil, Smith's solo debut The Bell and, picking up a long-standing relationship with the label, Torn's Open Sky.

Although the trio have not yet recorded together the various online clips of their live performances (HERE for example, or HERE) give a strong taste of what will be served up at the Vortex - a heady brew of improvised atmospherics, hard-hitting invention and rock-solid intensity. The two nights on offer are a sublimely ear-watering prospect!

LINK: Tickets to the Vortex shows


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: International Jazz Festival Münster 2017 (Germany)

Theater Münster - Photo: International Jazz Festival Münster

International Jazz Festival Münster 2017
(Theater Münster, 6th 8th January 2017. Round-Up Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Münster’s Jazz Festival, held once every two years, is the first European jazz festival of the year. In its early days it used to be annual, it would bring in the crowd-pleasers.  These days Festival Director Fritz Schmücker is blessed with audience that is both supportive and open-minded. With the resources from the city of Münster and a range of partners and sponsors he is able to put together a bold, fascinating and often challenging programme, and yet the festival thrives.

This year, with the outside temperature dropping at one point to minus 8, the festival's comfortable single venue, Theater Münster with its two stages felt warm and very welcoming indeed. The sense that the audience during this Festival is on Schmücker’s side was palpable. Münster is a cultured, university town, and the Saturday in particular had sold out very quickly after going on sale.

Emprical who opened the festival taking their applause
L-R: Nathaniel Facey, Tom Farmer, Shene Forbes, Lewis Wright
Photo credit Ansgar Jolle/ Int Jazz Festival Münster

This crowd really loves applauding. At one point Schmücker was quietly declaring in his introduction what a coup it had been for him to put on the uncompromising avant-garde trio of Slovenian/ Dutch-based pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and German drummer (and subject of a recent TV profile) Christian Lillinger, and the hall just burst into spontaneous applause. In mid-announcement.

There was a mixture of the known and established and the very young and very new. Venerating the greats of the past was a mainly French group Brotherhood Heritage, celebrating the music of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, with one non-French member, Chris Biscoe. They gave the sell-out-Saturday a rousing conclusion.

Another icon from the past was which brought that sense of connection and drew an appreciative response was the Dutch ICP Orchestra (Instant Composers Pool), with its extrovert drummer Han Bennink. Cellist Tristan Honsinger did his theatrical mime act. Joris Roelofs was making his deburt with the band. And there was also a poignant round of applause when Ernst Glerum announced that the orchestra would be going to re-perform the concert at the home in Holland where the orchestra's inspiration and creative lodestone Mischa Mengelberg now lives in the dark fog of his Alzheimer's. That moment given to remember an individual who is alone, lost, trapped served as a reminder of how lucky the rest of us are to gather together, with our senses and minds intact, our ears open for the shared experience.

The sax section of Brotherhood Heritage
L-R: Laurent Dehors, Chris Biscoe, Francois Corneloup

British interest was mainly centred on two acts.  Emprical proved a very suitable opening act, setting both a positive tone and a very high standard. Alexander Hawkins’ new quartet with Elaine Mitchener, bassist Neil Charles and (Ulster) drummer Steve Davis played a contiguous set in which not even the Münster crowd could find any slots to applaud. But, as they do. they showed their strong appreciation when the opportunity came at the end of the set.

Elaine Mitchener (centre) with Alex Hawkins and Neil Charles

The Festival awards a musician with local connections, and this year it was the turn of drummer Eva Klesse, born in the region, and her extremely tight Leipzig-based quartet, which was praised so highly on this site just over two years ago HERE

But to me everything else on offer stands in the shadow of just one concert, a particularly happy and extremely well-received gig by Alison Miller's Tic Tic Boom. The Münster Festival scored the unique distinction of presenting the European premiere of this band in a six-piece format. Schmücker explained at the closing press conference how his careful sleuthing had led him to invite this band. He had been won over by the playing of violinist Jenny Scheinmann as part of a Bill Frisell group at the Saalfelden, Festival. and had started researching her other projects. It was the album Otis is a Polar Bear (very little reviewed, THIS an exception) which made them his must-have for this festival.  .

The album is indeed extremely persuasive. It shows their range, from Klezmer, to Satie-ish vexation, to gloopy nostalgia to full-on serialism. Miller's switch-back compositions are far from simple. And as a live band, spurred on by the leader/ drummer's irrepressible energy, joy and precision they are an irresistible force. There isn't a weak link anywhere, all six are ego-less ensemble players and also soloists of flair, immense resourcefulness and often humour. A moment to treasure was a solo from pianist Myra Melford - probably on the tone-row inspired tune Staten Island when she subjected audience to a fully-loaded fortissimo barrage of Boulez and Barraqué. The Münster audience didn't recoil, or show meek, polite approval. They responded to the jagged aural assault with a massive, unforgettable roar.

Allison Miller
Photo credit and (c)Ansgar Bolle / Int Jazz Fest Muenster

(*) This concert will be transmitted by WDR3 at 8pm German time on 13th Feb. The full list of broadcasts is: 

Friday 10 Feb 8pm

Jacky Terrasson – p, Stéphane Belmondo – tp, Majid Bekkas – guembri, oud, voc
Eva Klesse Quartet
Eva Klesse – dr, Evgeny Ring – sax, Philip Frischkorn – p, Robert Lucaciu – b

Monday 13 Feb 8pm

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom
Allison Miller – dr, comp, arr, Jenny Scheinman – viol, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Jeff Lederer – cl, Myra Melford – p, Todd Sickafoose – b
Brotherhood Heritage
Michel Marre, Alain Vankenhove – tp, Jean-Louis Pommier, Simon Girard – tb, Chris Biscoe, Laurent Dehors, François Corneloup – cl, sax, François Raulin – p, arr, Didier Levallet – b, arr, Simon Goubert – dr


PODCAST INTERVIEW: Barry Green (CD Almost There + six-date tour )

In this podcast, pianist BARRY GREEN talks about the background to a new CD "Almost There", recorded in Brooklyn with bassist DREW GRESS and drummer TOM RAINEY, This trio will be on a six-date UK tour from 31 Jan to 7 Feb - dates below. Audio production by Nicholas Heymann.

00:11 - The trio and Almost There
01:24 - Music - Lulu's Back in Town
02:17 - Systems Two Recording Studio
02:55 - Difference between the two trios with which Barry Green recorded
03:47 - Mixture of self-written tunes and standards
04:12 - Her Majesty
04:55 - Music - Her Majesty
05:35 - Teaching aspects from the older generation to younger students
08:11 - Being between the two generations
09:02 - Train in the Distance
09:33 - Music - Train in the Distance

TOUR DATES - Almost There Tour 2017 with the Barry Green Trio – Barry Green (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)

Tue, 31st Jan 2017
The Spotted Dog - 104 Warwick Street, Birmingham, Digbeth B12 0NH

Thu, 2nd Feb 2017
Bonington Theatre
High Street, Nottingham, Arnold NG5 7EE

Fri, 3rd Feb 2017
Crucible Theatre
The Crucible Studio, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield S1 1DA

Sat, 4th Feb and Sunday 5th Feb 2017
Vortex Jazz Club
11 Gillet Square, London N16 8AZ

Tue, 7th Feb 2017
The Watermill Jazz Club
Betchworth Park Golf Club, Reigate Road, Dorking RH4 1NZ


PREVIEW: South Coast Jazz Festival (Brighton and Shoreham, 16-29 Jan)

The English South Coast, where Londoners of yore went for therapy. Though they didn’t call it that in them days. Today, this therapeutic easing of the January blues comes in the form of top quality jazz, courtesy of Claire Martin OBE, Julian Nicholas and their enthusiastic team of South Coast Jazz Festival activists. Peter Bacon previews their third festival:

For 2017 the South Coast Jazz Festival just got bigger and better. As Claire Martin explains: ”This year, the South Coast Jazz Festival has taken a massive leap in terms of extending our programme. It now covers a full 14 days of top quality jazz, showcasing the wealth of our national and regional talent, special events and workshops.”

The festival has not only expanded its scope from a long weekend to a fortnight but from one venue to two, (three if you count the festival’s launch by Incognito at The Old Market in Hove in December).

Events at the festival’s familiar stamping ground, the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham By Sea, are packed into the weekend of 27-29 January, with a double bill preceding them on Thursday 26 January, and all that is preceded by a solid ten days at The Verdict in Brighton.

The Jam Experiment featuring Rory Ingham (centre) and Alex Bone (right)

The more intimate gigs at The Verdict comprise performances from the Dave Drake Trio, Terry Seabrook’s Triversion, Ollie Brice with Rachel Musson and Mark Sanders, the Nigel Thomas and Sara Oschlag quartets, The Jam Experiment, and the Eddie Myer 5TET, as well as a student showcase, an education forum, a jazz film and photography day, and a jam session.

Over in Shoreham the programme lists double bills of Zoe Rahman and Dennis Rollins’ Funky Funk, the Jim Mullen Organ Trio and Sarah Jane Morris, and the J-Sonics alongside Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents. There will be DJ sets from Kevin Le Gendre and Neil Godwin, plus a concert by Terry Pack’s community band, Trees. The SCJF grand finale is Ray Gelato’s Giants featuring Claire Martin with a selection of songs from their recent album We’ve Got A World That Swings.

This is a festival that caters for all ages, and cares as much about helping the up-and-coming musician as it does providing classy entertainment for the jazz punter. Well Versed - Tools Of The Trade is a workshop run by Claire Martin and Elaine Crouch addressing the challenges of career musicians, while Jazz For Juniors, open to 10 to 17 year-olds, gives the musicians of the future a first step on the ladder.

Claire stresses: “There really is something for everyone. I'm very proud of the hard work our small team have put in, and that our original vision of establishing an annual ‘boutique’ festival, by the sea and with it’s roots firmly based in the community is well on the way to to being fulfilled.” (pp)

The 2017 South Coast Jazz Festival, in association with Jazz FM, runs from 16 to 29 January at The Verdict in Brighton and Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham By Sea.

LINK: South Coast Jazz Festival


PREVIEW: Ruth Goller (Gufo with Ed Begley and Bex Burch, Green Note, 22nd Jan)

Gufo: L-R: Ruth Goller. Dave De Rose, Dario Rossetti Bonnelli

A band named after the Italian word for an owl, whose band-members all "love animals and great food."  Bassist RUTH GOLLER explains the background and the concept behind the band who will be performing in one of London's best little music rooms, the Green Note. Sebastian asked the questions:

LondonJazz News: Who is in Gufo?

Ruth Goller: Gufo is Dave De Rose on drums/vocals, myself on ukulele bass/vocals and Dario Rossetti Bonell on guitar and mandolin. Also for this gig we have a special guest - Ed Begley on vocals, who will hopefully join us for more collaborations as well.

LJN: Why the name?

RG: Gufo is the Italian word for owl - they are beautiful animals who make a great sound, which is what we aspire to doing too.

LJN: How did you get to know each other?

RG: We have known each other for years and loved playing in various projects together, such as Rokia Traore, Lonjon La Flecha, Thunder Dog and Vula Viel. It seems like a very natural development to set up a trio and see where it leads to.

LJN: What music do you play?

RG: Our main goal is to make good, honest music. We are relatively genre-free but of course inspired by many. About half of the tunes have vocals in them, but we try and keep the music very open and flowing. Some tunes might evolve completely from one rehearsal to the other and we embrace that very positively. We like good music of any style as long as it breathes and delivers feelings and the possibility of contemplation.

LJN: Is there a bandleader?

RG: No, we all write for the band and share responsibilities.

LJN: Do you have a connecting theme interest outside music?

RG: We love animals and great food. Political issues are in mind, as well as contemplation of the simple ways of life.

LJN: Are there any sound clips or videos?

RG:  Yes we have a Soundcloud page HERE

and there are some videos on YouTube.

LJN:  What is happening on 22 Jan?

RG: We will be playing a double bill with our friend Bex Birch from Vula Viel at the Green Note in Camden, and we are specifically excited about it because our friend and amazing vocalist Ed Begley will be joining us on quite a few tunes. We love playing the Green Note as it is such a special intimate venue that puts on all sorts of different types of music.

LINK: Goller/Burch/Gaya -


INTERVIEW: John Warren (live album rec. 1993 with Surman/Marshall. Also live at Karamel N22 Jan 19th)

John Warren

The distinguished arranger/composer JOHN WARREN's new work "A Whereabout" will be performed under his direction for just the third time with a line-up of top UK players at Karamel in N22 on Jan 19th. Sebastian asked him to explain about the piece, and to talk about his extraordinary career: 

LondonJazz News: Like quite a few of the best arrangers you are originally from Canada.....

John Warren: I wasn't aware of any Canadian arrangers at the time I started. I listened to Monk, Mingus, Ellington, Herman, Kenton (particularly Bill Holman's work) and Gil Evans (wore out my copy of Miles Ahead). Along with Duke those two were (and still are) two of my favourite arrangers. I had been a jazz fan since early teens but only got started playing while at university.

LJN: And who encouraged you to get involved in writing?

JW: My first attempts at arranging were encouraged by Herbie Spanier- a well known Canadian trumpet player at the time.

LJN: You moved to the UK over 50 years ago... what was the original motivation in coming here And you got to know Kenny Wheeler...

JW: I came to England in 1962. I had an introduction to two Canadian musicians Kenny Wheeler and Art Ellefson. They introduced me to some of the musicians in Dankworth's band and others on the scene. (I didn't have anything to do with Dankworth, although I did write a piece for his band in the 70s.) In the same year, I met John Surman in a rehearsal band. I had taken along an arrangement and he liked it.

Years later I bumped into in Notting Hill Gate and he invited me to a Mike Westbrook rehearsal at Ronnie Scott's Old Place. So I met all the guys in that band who subsequently became the core of my big band. (Surman, Mike Osborne, Malcolm Griffiths, Harry Miller, and Alan Jackson) Surman organised the personnel for my big band's first gig - including John Taylor. Kenny Wheeler and Mike Gibbs were in it later. In 1971 we made Tales of the Algonquin under Surman's name with his trio and my big band. We toured England, Germany and Switzerland a few times.

Through all these musical connections I got to write for the Kurt Edelhagen Band, Danish Radio Big Band, Bohuslan Big Band- Gothenburg, Bergen Big Band, NDR Big Band. Several of these projects involving Surman.
The Brass Project issued an ECM studio album

The Brass Project was a band John started in the 80s that we both wrote for. The band toured Britain and Europe.("The Brass Project"- ECM Records)

I taught at Newcastle College for 10 years. During the same period 90s-00s I wrote for and directed the Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra - based in Darlington but with musos from all over the North East.

LJN:  What have you written in the past few years?

In 2008 I made 2 recordings ( "Finally Beginning" and "Following On"- Fuzzy Moon Records) of music for the Nonet with Simcock, Presencer, Sulzmann, Siegel, Nightingale, Hart, Brewer, Donkin, Maddren.

LJN: Your nonet has a gig at Karamel on Thursday Jan 19th. What is the story there? What music is the group playing?

JW: In 2015 I was commissioned by the Jazz Nursery to write a work - The 40 minute suite AwhereAbout inspired by First Nation folk legends was written for the players that were chosen from the Jazz Nursery stable. The third performance of the piece will be at Karamel Jazz on January 19th - virtually the original band - Sam Braysher, Miquel Gorodi, Owen Dawson, James Allsopp, Sam Rapley, Nick Costley-White, Oli Hayhurst and Tim Giles. We will also play a number of my other compositions and arrangements.

LJN: And you are directing the University Big Band in York later too??

JW: In 2017 I am directing the University of York Jazz Orchestra in 2 concerts of my music.

LJN: And you also have an album coming out, what are the details

JW: The album is The Traveller's Tale-  The Brass Project Live! featuring John Surman / Chris Laurence / John Marshall . On Fledg'ling Records, and  to be released February 24 2017

David Suff runs the label that is mostly folk, but they have re released albums by Surman, Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath.

The Traveller's Tale is a suite I wrote based on stories about my grandfather's life. It was a recorded live at a concert in '93. Brass section is made up of Steve Waterman, Steve Sidwell, Guy Barker, Pete Beachill, Malcolm Griffiths, Richard Edwards, Kenny Hamilton.

Link: Sam Braysher previewed the Jazz Nursery performance last year for us
Details of John Warren Nonet at Karamel


PREVIEW: Jazz In New York Part 2 - The 30s and 40s (Cadogan Hall, Sat 28th Jan)

Richard Pite writes: 

In 2015 the Jazz Repertory Company sold out Cadogan Hall with Jazz in New York: The 1930s featuring the music of Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and many other stars of the era. Part 2 focuses on the transition from swing to bebop and especially the music of Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie performed by Pete Long’s two big bands Echoes of Ellington and Gillespiana.

The first half will be topped and tailed with two Ellingtonian takes on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing showing how much jazz changed in a little over a decade. We open with the 1932 version featuring singer Ivie Anderson (in our concert portrayed by Heather Simmons) and wind up with the 1943 version (with Enrico Tomasso taking the role of singer Ray Nance). In between there’ll be 30s Ellington compositions such as Solitude and Braggin’ In Brass and music from the early 40s Blanton Webster band (considered by many to be Duke’s greatest ever line-up) including Take The A Train and Sepia Panorama.

Also in the first half Enrico Tomasso’s Swingtette will be showing how far swing had developed in the late 30s with the speed of Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse (a favourite soundtrack for Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes cartoons) the novelty of Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five (swing harpsichord) and swing on the cusp of bop with the John Kirby Orchestra’s version of Royal Garden Blues.

In the second half Gillespiana will be presenting A Night at the Harlem Apollo 1947 when Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band appeared to wildly enthusiastic crowds that were there to witness the musical revolution of be-bop. The new jazz didn’t turn its back on show business as you can see in Dizzy’s movie Jiving in Be-Bop where Diz prances around the stage in the manner he learnt from his old boss Cab Calloway and introduces exotic dancers, a girl singer and other crowd pleasers. The 19-piece Gillespiana will be doing likewise - bringing back Heather to sing Good Dues Blues and Rico for He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped. Our dancers jive to Ool Ya Koo whilst vibes maestro Anthony Kerr takes the role of Milt Jackson and percussionists Satin Singh and Dave Pattman bring to the band the Afro Cuban flavour which was so important to Dizzy at this time. Pete Long is your larger-than-life host and musical director so come and join us, or in the words of your typical 1940s New York hipster – “Hey alligators, advance the spark – is you in the know or is you a solid bringer downer, you dig?” (pp)

Richard Pite is founder, producer and musical director of The Jazz Repertory Company

LINKS:Jazz In New York (Part 2). The 30s and 40s at the JazzRep website

Cadogan Hall bookings


REVIEW: Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith at Wigmore Hall

Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith at Wigmore Hall
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith
(Wigmore Hall, 6th January 2017; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The first event of Vijay Iyer's Jazz Residency at the Wigmore Hall was an evening of illumination and inspiration.

Illumination came in the form of an hour-long conversation between reknowned pianist Vijay Iyer and his 'hero, friend and teacher', trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, moderated sensitively by Kevin LeGendre, in the venue's Bechstein Room.

Inspiration came in the form of their duo concert in the sold-out auditorium, which majored on the suite, a cosmic rhythm with each stroke, Iyer's commission from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (MetLiveArts) to complement the major exhibition of works by Indian woman artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990) with which the museum's newly acquired space, Met Breuer, was launched in Spring 2016. The suite was also recorded by the duo a few months earlier in New York by ECM, with production overseen by Manfred Eicher, and this was the opening concert of an intensive, nine-venue European tour.

Crossing paths in the 90s, Iyer's broad musical outlook found resonance with Smith's transidiomatic approach (to borrow Anthony Braxton's term), with Smith inviting Iyer to join his Golden Quartet in 2005, playing in around 100 concerts over five years, with the pair of them often functioning as a 'unit-within a-unit'.

In a fascinating discussion they opened up generously, offering insights about music and their motivations, much in the manner of their approaches to performance with Iyer seemingly sticking to the script while subversively following fresh leads and Smith, sage-like, delivering bursts of insight and the occasional minor bombshell.

The scene was set with the music and social politics of Chicago's AACM with which Smith had been involved and which chimed strongly for Iyer with his American-Tamil/Indian roots. Iyer touched on his year as Artist In Residence at The Met (2015-16) where he was introduced to Mohamedi's abstract works with their 'meditative' qualities revealing 'glimpses of the infinite'. Smith articulated a deep response to her writings and was able to draw parallels with pioneering contralto Marian Brown.

Smith described the piano as a 'fascinating sounding board for the trumpet … a resonator', citing Weather Bird by Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong as 'one of the greatest masterpieces … between here and Jupiter!' Iyer focused on the nature of the duo 'encounter' and offered an unexpected perspective: 'You know what listening sounds like … you can hear us listening … You can draw the listener in [on] a collective discovery process', and Smith went on to discuss the way music 'reactivates our imagination'.

On stage the cosmic rhythm suite's seven movements were merged to become one continuous piece, in contrast to the recording's discrete sections, bookended by short compositions, as on the CD. Iyer led off with the lightest of meanderings on Fender Rhodes to create a meditational atmosphere which the white-suited Smith cut through with bright incisions using the mute for restraint to put down a marker of 'calm, but very present'. When the mute was dropped the drama intensified. Iyer segued to piano, hitting its bass registers while Smith ramped up the stakes with rasped flights, de-accelerated to allow the infiltration of serene keyboard passages. Hard, jumping chords and sharp, shearing blasts of brass combined to shape a complex, shared dialogue intermittently undermined by deep electronic pulses.

Whilst there was constant reference to the score, there were slews of departures and deviations with a free and improvised quality lending a pianistic Messiaen meets post-Miles trumpet quality to proceedings. As if to underscore this, Iyer slipped in a snatch of sampled voices on Uncut Emeralds, and a passage of Sun Ra-ish outer space electronics bloops and whooshings on A Cold Fire, neither of which appears on the recording. With impassioned intensity Smith squeezed all manner of tone from the trumpet, bent over crouching at times to 'make the sounds hit the floor'.

The two short pieces with which they encored were imbued with a spirit of inflamed invention that put the seal on a remarkable evening. I had seen the beautiful Mohamedi show in New York, so it had been especially rewarding to see how the suite continued to evolve with reference to her delicate, meticulously executed work and its spiritual qualities.

And on the bombshell front, Smith's wise words to a young student were, 'There's no such thing as jazz - there never was!', putting her firmly on the path of thinking out of the box.


LP REVIEW: Jimmy Scott - I Go Back Home

Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home
(Eden River Records. ERR-LP01 . LP Review by Phil Johnson)

Many jazz vocalists command admiration and respect; Jimmy Scott inspired love. The singer, who died in 2014 aged 89, specialised in ballads, favouring tempos so slow that they bordered on the comatose, allowing him all the time in the world to sell the story of the song, communicating shopworn lyrics with an emotional intensity that could reduce audiences - and on occasion himself - to tears.

The back-story is well-known: featured vocalist with Lionel Hampton; friend to Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Ray Charles; bad luck and exploitation in the race records market of rhythm and blues before a late recovery with sponsorship from fans like Doc Pomus, Lou Reed, David Lynch, Frankie Valli and Joe Pesci.

And now comes this very classy final album, subtitled A Story About Hoping and Dreaming’, released as a single CD or double LP on 180gram vinyl. Just check the guests: Joey DeFrancesco, Till Bronner, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Arturo Sandoval, James Moody, Gregoire Maret, Oscar Castro Neves, Kenny Barron, Peter Erskine and more, with strings by the HBR Studio Symphony Orchestra. It’s a joint German/US job, produced by Ralf Kemper with Scott listed as one of three co-producers, and the great Phil Ramone - who like Scott and Moody, has since passed on too - credited with “Mixes produced by…". Release date is January 27th 2017.

And unlike most smooth jazz with special guests type-efforts, this is a very superior product that one would have to be a very hard-hearted critic to object to. Scott’s voice had been shot for some time, and many of his later recordings presented the pipes he had left less than perfectly, but heard here, on a well-chosen repertoire of favourite songs - Motherless Child, The Nearness of You, Someone to Watch Over Me, Easy Living among them - he sounds wonderful, recorded close to the microphone with absolute clarity, and hitting some very tough notes. At times, on an impossibly sad The Folks Who Live on the Hill featuring a vocal cameo - actually a sublime impersonation of Scott - by Joe Pesci, followed by the master's halting narration on a closing Poor Butterly, spoken against the sweet-sounding harmonica of Gregoire Maret as the lush strings swirl around them, it’s hard not to get all misty-eyed yourself. Which, of course, is how it needs to be when you’re honouring probably the most gloriously lachrymose singer of the twentieth century.

LINKS: Tracklist
Details of screenings of the documentary film about the making of the album


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Sarah Chaplin of JazzLondonLive

In this feature /interview, SARAH CHAPLIN, co-founder of JazzLondonLive updates LJN Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon on the latest news from the online and App-based listings guide - and also talks about the ideal jazz club:

It has been a busy 12 months for Sarah Chaplin. Not only did she record an album, Firehorse, last February and released it in March, but the saxophonist/flautist made her debut at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho, in October. Alongside all that she and fellow musician Mick Sexton have been developing the digital successor to the monthly Jazz In London listings booklet that ceased publication after four decades of being the capital’s what’s on jazz bible.

The online listings guide resulted, Sarah tells me, from “one of those four o’clock in the morning panic moments: how am I going to know what’s on now that there’s no Jazz In London any more?”

The first steps were not too difficult.

“I’ve organised a lot of things in the past, I’ve not always been a musician - I trained as an architect and then I was an academic, and did a lot of publishing, desktop publishing as well - so the kind of activities that are involved in producing a digital successor to Jazz In London were quite familiar to me.”

Sarah’s first thought was to put together a free, and easy, website. JazzLondonLive is the result. The idea of an App seemed like a natural development.

“But I had no idea how to go about that… and there would be a price tag involved.”

A crowdfunding campaign, via Kickstarter, was the next logical step.

“That was another steep learning curve, but it was brilliant because it really engaged the jazz community. We had just shy of 400 backers. Some pledged incredibly generously. And we realised there was that whole ambassadorial thing because once you become a backer of a project you tend to tell everybody about it.”

The aim was to get the JazzLondonLive App up and running in September last year and be able to iron out any problems before the London Jazz Festival in November, which was Sarah and Mick’s launch goal.

“In the end it didn’t launch until the Friday morning that the festival was starting. But it worked really well. And then, of course, you realise that you’ve launched it during the week when the spotlight is really on jazz in London but at the same time it’s the one week of the year when people don’t need an App because they’ve got this lovely printed brochure that the jazz festival puts out tucked under their arm…

“So it was only after the festival was over that people realised that they needed this thing.”

The JazzLondonLive App is currently available on Google Play and Amazon for download to Android phones and tablets, as well as Kindle Fire. The Apple version is due in February. And in the meantime, Apple devotees can still access the bright and cheery JazzLondonLive website which contains not just listings of all that’s on in London and within driving distance of the city, but links to more details of musicians, reviews and other useful links.

What has been the reaction of jazz lovers so far?

“The website has had 140,000 visits - they used to print 10,000 copies of Jazz In London every month so that was our initial target. But in fact the audience is far more extensive than that - just the fact that LondonJazz News has 40,000 Twitter followers suggests that - and currently 17,000 people have found the website. So we want to keep building that.”

Finally, since she lists so many I wondered what Sarah’s ideal jazz club would look like.

Well, an intimate venue. One where you can get up close and personal with the musicians, where you can see the interaction on their faces - and where they feel they can really free up and play their own material.”

And how about a favourite London venue?

“I really like (Jazz Cafe) POSK, I really like the Spice (of Life), and I’ve enjoyed jazz live at (Café in) The Crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields as well.” (pp)

Peter Bacon will also be road-testing/reviewing the Apple version of the JazzLondonLive App as soon as it becomes available.

Jazz In London Live


REVIEW: Koop Oscar Orchestra at the Jazz Café,

Koop Oscar Orchestra

Koop Oscar Orchestra
(Jazz Café, 5 January 2017. Review by Peter Jones.)

Since Koop’s Oscar Simonsson split from the band’s co-founder, Magnus Zingmark, six years ago, he has been sitting at home doing absolutely nothing. Or so he told the audience at the start of this gig. Unlikely, of course – rumour has it that he has been bringing up his young family. Whatever the truth of the matter, this was a rare UK glimpse of the re-formed genre-busting outfit that made such an impact in 2001 with their debut album, Waltz for Koop.

They have not exactly been prolific over the years, producing only four albums since they started out in Uppsala way back in 1995, and one of those a collection of Waltz for Koop remixes (excellent though it was). In 2017 no one except Oscar Simonsson has survived from the original line-up, but the new band – together for about a year - in no way disappointed the enthusiastic Jazz Cafe audience.

Beginning with a beautifully languid rendition of the title track from Waltz for Koop, they continued with Baby from the same album, featuring a jaw-dropping vibes solo from Love Meyerson. For this number, Simonsson switched from accordion to piano. He appeared to be playing a battered old upright joanna, but in fact it was a mere carcass to house his Nord keyboard – a metaphor, if you will, for what Koop do with music. As with other younger European jazz musicians who came to prominence a few years back, like Finland’s Five Corners Quintet or Italy’s Nicola Conte, Koop’s roots are in the groove-based jazz of the Sixties. On top are grafted the dance beats and samples of more recent times.

Vocalist Jazzu

However although Simonsson did trigger a few samples during the set, he was dismissive of the practice, pointing out that DJ’s can play a whole tune by pressing a single key. The real emphasis tonight was on fine playing with real, exceptional musicians. Meyerson stood out, but there were great contributions too from Niklas Barnö on trumpet. It was no small achievement by vocalist Jazzu to deliver songs recorded by a wide range of singers in the past, including Yukimi Nagano, Terry Callier and London’s own Cecilia Stalin, but she did it in fine style.

Not all the songs are great, although I was clearly in the minority in not liking Livs Psalm, which they performed twice: it sounded rather like an Abba B-side. Pop has been their direction of travel since Waltz for Koop, and the audience went into raptures on hearing tunes like the French café-style Koop Island Blues and Come To Me, from the band’s most recent (2007) album. A new song – You Stole the Saddest Heart - was a doo-wop-ish number that would not have been out of place in a David Lynch film. But for me nothing will ever sound as sublime as Summer Sun, which on this occasion featured another blistering vibes solo from Meyerson.