PREVIEW: Canary Wharf Jazz Festival (19-20 August)

Shez Raja at the 2016 festival
Photo credit: Adrian Los

London’s biggest free-admission jazz festival is back for its 11th year at Canary Wharf from August 19-20 in Canada Square Park (writes Gail Tasker). The weather forecast is sunny on both days, perfect for the open-air event. Canary Wharf is more typically known as the financial centre of London, packed with towering skyscrapers and besuited men and women. All is set to change this weekend however as a variety of highly-talented jazz musicians take over.

The festival programme has always historically promoted British artists. In recent years however it has also focussed on young, newer musicians, with previous acts including Binker & Moses and Nérija. This year is no exception - the programme has a particularly contemporary feel, with director Peter Conway describing it as 'sharp-edged.' 

The opening bands on both days feature emerging bands, with the Rob Barron Quintet on Saturday, and Luna Cohen and Rob Luft on Sunday. Although British contemporary is the overarching theme, within that there is a variety of genres ranging from the Cuban-born violinist Omar Puente with his Sextet, to the highly energetic Saturday headliner Riot Jazz Brass Band which performs dancefloor-geared numbers. There is certainly an invitation to get up and dance with Sunday’s programming, as the festival culminates with the electronics-infused The Comet is Coming and the rave-inducing, highly percussive Melt Yourself Down. FULL PROGRAMME BELOW.

The crowd at 2016 festival
Photo credit: Adrian Los

Saturday 19 August

2-3.15pm Rob Barron Quintet
3.45-4.30pm Poppy Ajudha
5-6.15pm Omar Puente Sextet
6.45-8pm Mammal Hands
8.30-10pm Riot Jazz Brass Band

Sunday 20 August

2.15- 3.30pm Luna Cohen and Rob Luft
4-5.15pm Wild Card
5.45-7pm The Comet is Coming
7.30-pm Melt Yourself Down


INTERVIEW: Jon Irabagon

Jon Irabagon
Publicity picture

2008 Monk Competition winning saxophonist JON IRABAGON, a fiercely uncompromising stylist of remarkable eclecticism, has proven his versatility not only as a sideman for Mary Halvorson, Dave Douglas and Barry Altschul, but with his own, daringly assorted studio releases. These include 2015's Behind The Sky, itself a diverse yet polished collection of distinct compositional statements, and Axis, a lengthy, 2-track free group improvisation brought out earlier this year. 

Now a highly accomplished and firmly established player on the New York scene, Jon gave us an insight into his rise to stardom and a brief glance at what to expect from him in the coming years. Interview by Jake Werth.

London Jazz News: What Challenges did you face when moving from your native Chicago to New York City?

Jon Irabagon: I moved from Chicago to New York in 2001, a week before 9/11. The economy and gig scene was destroyed for a while. But that didn't even matter, because I moved to town in pre-social media days, so I didn't really know anyone and hadn't thought about networking. It took me several years to find a group of people whose playing I enjoyed, with whom I had sessions and eventually started playing my music. It was a long process, perhaps longer for me than most, but the rewards were in the music, the people I've met and the places I've travelled since. It was definitely wood-shedding to a certain degree.

LJN: How important was the 2008 Monk Competition for your career and what opportunities did you gain from winning?

JI: The Monk Institute is an amazing educational tool with great support from jazz educators and famous people. When I sent in my audition tape, I didn't plan on getting into the semi-finals, but in doing so, I had the opportunity to be around Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Greg Osby, Jane Ira Bloom, Herbie Hancock, David Sanchez and others who not only defined the music, but stuck to their guns on the kind of music they wanted to make. That was the most important part of it – picking their brains about aspects of the jazz business, putting out records and sticking with one's own voice. The Monk Competition doesn't necessarily guarantee jazz stardom anymore, but it was a great opportunity for me and the money allowed me to make some artistic decisions I wouldn't have been able to make otherwise. More than monetarily, though, it was a vote of confidence to continue trying to pursue my own voice.

Jon Irabagon
Publicity picture

LJN: As an accomplished band leader and sideman, having worked in the Mary Halvorson Octet, the Dave Douglas Quintet and Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, what did your sideman duties teach you about being a strong leader?

JI: I've been lucky that my vision and the kind of music I make melds well with certain band leaders. I've honed my skills in lots of big bands, and as a gun-for-hire in many different creative projects. In every experience you try to gauge what you love about working for different band leaders and under what circumstances things can be difficult. It's helped me to try to be a fair band leader that asks a tonne of their sidemen whilst being realistic about my expectations. For the kind of music I'm wanting to make, I think being a sideman for a number of years was essential.

LJN: You've received a number of significant cultural awards for your work, the French-American Cultural Exchange, 2012 Mabuhay Award from the National Association of Filipino-Americans and the 2014 Philippine Presidential Award. Do you feel your cultural background has an influence on your musical approach, stylistically or otherwise?

JI: Being born in Chicago, I'm a first generation American, and both my parents are from the Philippines. My dad has 10 brothers and sisters, almost all in Chicago, so there were definitely some cultural attitudes present in my upbringing that have made their way into my music. On Outright!, there's a tune that starts as a traditional New Orleans tune that quickly develops into a wall of noise from around 35 musicians playing simultaneously. I didn't realise until much later, but some of the greatest moments of my upbringing were during parties where there would be so much high-spirited, high-energy noise. In hindsight, that has definitely influenced some of my music. As far as jazz goes, I'm really an American at heart, and the tradition has been ingrained in me. However, some of the carefree, fun-loving attitudes come from my cultural background.

LJN: We understand that you undertook the project of transcribing every John Coltrane solo on record. Other than for musical enrichment and personal enjoyment, was there any other reason why you chose to do this?

JI: When I started as a professional musician I was strictly an alto player – my first love was Cannonball Adderley. However, Chicago is a tenor town, so I picked up tenor and tried to get better at it. When I moved to New York, I realised to truly become a tenor player I needed to plug some holes in my playing, I couldn't just switch from alto. So I looked back through the lineage and chose to dig into each of the masters as much as I could. When I arrived at Coltrane's playing I really noticed the difference between his bebop playing in the army in the late '40s and his playing less than 20 years later on Interstellar Space. I dove into Coltrane transcriptions to try and discover what the building blocks might have been.

LJN: And how far along are you?

JI: I'm almost at the end of the classic quartet recordings, just before Meditations, where things change pretty fast. The important off-shoots of learning transcriptions themselves were some of the bigger musical ideas, allowing me to come up with my own exercises inspired by things like hearing Sonny Rollins play an idea, abandon it for five choruses and return to it without missing a beat. When I practice a Bird blues, can I leave an idea, develop it, and come back to the original idea? Those are the things I've been learning about transcription more recently, in contrast to what we learn to do earlier on which is often learning licks and plugging them in. How can I strengthen my own voice from my interpretation of the voices of masters?

LJN: You were involved in a major project recreating the classic album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis note for note. How did yourself and other members of Mostly Other People Do The Killing handle the inevitable kickback from parts of the jazz community upon the release of Blue in 2014?

JI: The band had been together for eight or nine years at that point. The idea came from us talking over the course of lots of train journeys and flights on tours. It was organic to the four main members of the band, just like the music was. The band toured once or twice a year in Europe at one point but we found it hard to tour the United States, just because it might have seemed too crazy for straight ahead jazz audiences. So we did it for ourselves, to see if we could do it, and to see how well we could do it. I myself didn't expect any kickback at all. Some of the criticism was 'you should record your own music'. When these critics were told we'd written eight or nine records already, they weren't aware of that. So the selectivity of some of the criticism seemed pretty interesting to me. But we hit a nerve and it was just one of a string of internet outrages that exists. However the advancements in my playing that resulted from learning those Coltrane and Adderley solos can't be taken away from me, and I'd never take the experience back.

LJN: Tell us about your experiences running your own record label, Irabbagast Records.

JI: Originally, I just wanted to put out my own music and get used to the business side. I also got tired of sending my music to labels and either not hearing back or being offered production time a year and a half later, by which point I wouldn't want to hear it anymore. So I decided to start my own label and learn. Then, after putting out my first five albums, friends with similar frustrations towards other labels started wanting to put their music out. I try to help with distribution and publicity, just to help expand a fan's knowledge of what's available. Style isn't important, I want to support honesty and try and help out as much as I can.

LJN: Axis, released in February this year, marked a stylistic departure from a more conventional composition-based Behind The Sky, released in 2015 alongside the highly experimental solo sax album Inaction Is An Action. What comes next?

JI: There's a new record that's coming out hopefully by the end of this year but probably by the end of next year, which is the same band as the one on Behind The Sky, but I've written more intricate tunes for them. I wanted to take the working band mentality and write tunes with more sections and more interplay. On Behind The Sky, each tune is about five or six minutes and the album is quite tightly produced. This next album has tunes containing more group interplay, with one of my all time favourite trumpet players Tim Hagans. I'm also recording a solo album to follow up Inaction Is An Action, using an F mezzo-soprano saxophone. I've also written a piece for string quartet plus piano, consisting of six movements, so I'm recording that soon. I recently played at the Jazz Standard with my organ trio, for which I've written music. It features Gary Versace on organ and Nasheet Waits on drums, and next year I aim to record with that group.

LJN: What advice might you have for younger musicians hoping to move to NYC? From your perspective, at what point is it right to make that decision?

JI: As the world becomes more global, there's a chance people might not need to move here. I have Skype students that live out of town, and if they ever ask me about it, I always tell them they should at least visit first. Some people's personalities don't mix with the craziness here. But if you're one of the people that won't like it here but want the enrichment it can offer, you'd need to be proactive about getting that in other ways. If you're trying to be a professional musician, you owe it to yourself to at least be around it for a while, and if you're the type of person that could deal with it then I'd suggest you move here as soon as you can.

Always reflect on what you want out of your music and what you're willing to take a stand for, because once you do that here there's a target on you: If you're the most inside cat, you're not 'doing anything crazy'; if you're the most outside cat, you obviously don't know the tradition; and if you're trying to toe the line in-between then you're a charlatan because you obviously can't do either well. So that's one of the difficult parts about moving here, but it's important for any musician to think about what they want to take a stand for anyway.

LINK: Jon Irabagon's website


INTERVIEW: Peter Jones (Under the Setting Sun album launch 26 August, Jazz Café Posk )

Peter Jones
Photo credit: David Jacobson
Vocalist PETER JONES' third album, Under the Setting Sun will be released at the end of this month. It consists of new songs which are product of a songwriting partnership with Trevor Lever. Sebastian found out more: 

LondonJazz News:  How does your (combined/collective) writing process with Trevor Lever work?

Peter Jones: Songwriters used to be asked: which came first, the music or the lyrics? With us it’s different - it’s more like he’s the starter and I’m the finisher. So he will usually come up with a sequence of chords, to which I will write a tune and eventually a set of lyrics. We send files back and forth for a while, since he lives in Somerset and I’m in London. Then we’ll then get together and collaborate on the final version of the song.

LJN: Is there a theme to the songs and to the album?

PJ: In the first instance, having gone through a lengthy bebop phase a couple of years back, I thought I’d set myself the challenge not only of writing original material, but material that wasn’t swing, and rather more contemplative in mood than I’ve done before. They’d be songs you’d want to chill out to at 2am. You might think that would lead to a modal kind of vibe, and in fact one or two tunes have quite a simple structure. But having spent so many years trying to write like Donald Fagen, I find minimalism difficult. One example is a tune called 1969, which was just intended as a blues. Then it became a blues in 5/4, then it became a 14-bar blues in 5/4. You see what I mean?

LJN:  Is it a sequence or is it separate discrete songs?

PJ: It isn’t a concept album, so I suppose the only sequencing involved was deciding what order to put the songs in.

LJN:  JazzFM has picked one of the tracks...   

PJ: Jez Nelson played Your Secrets on his show Somethin’ Else the other day. It’s one of the most sparse tunes on the album, built around the idea of Three. So it has a simple three-chord waltz-time (3/4) structure and a three-part vocal harmony throughout. It’s not really about anything, it just captures a quiet, intimate, romantic mood.

LJN:  You have some of the musicians from your previous albums involved...

PJ: This is my third album, and I’ve had Neil Angilley on piano and Davide Giovannini on drums for all of them so far. Vasilis Xenopoulos was also on the first album, One Way Ticket to Palookaville. I first heard Neil play at the 606 with Steve Rubie’s Brazilian outfit Samara, and I was so knocked out that I then went to see his trio at the Archduke. Davide was the drummer, and Davide Mantovani was on bass. I just loved the depth and sophistication of the sound they produced. For my launch gig I couldn’t get Andy Hamill, who plays on the new album, but thankfully Davide Mantovani was available. So now I’ve got the entire Neil Angilley Trio, plus Vasilis Xenopouolos on tenor and flute, and Roger Beaujolais on vibes, since Anthony Kerr was also unavailable.

LJN:  What led to the choice of Anthony Kerr this time?

PJ: For me the vibes convey coolness and reflection; it was the 2am thing again. I went to a talk Anthony was giving at the Richmond Rhythm Club, talking about his musical life and about the vibraphone as an instrument. But more than that, I loved the way he played it, often just sketching in a few notes here and there. If you’ve got vibes and a piano - instruments with a similar range – you don’t want them bumping into each other, and I thought Anthony had the sensitivity to avoid that, so I asked him to play on the album. More recently I saw him with Georgie Fame, and realized that he also spends a lot of his time playing blues and r&b as well as jazz. He’s a real stylist.

LJN:  You are in the process of writing a biography of Mark Murphy. Has being so involved with his work influenced you - and in what ways?

PJ: It’s actually finished, and should be out next April. Having Andy Hamill on the album was a real bonus - he was Mark’s UK bass player - and he also plays chromatic harmonica on a couple of tracks.

Having listened to everything Mark Murphy ever released, and some stuff he didn’t, I realized that he wasn’t just a bopster, or even just a jazz musician – he also recorded pop, rock, blues, easy listening, ballads, the spoken word, poetry… and mastered all of them. In terms of influence, the thing I really like about him is his musical courage. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but Mark thrived on challenges. He actually loved it when musicians got lost during a tune, because that meant even more improvisation was needed to find your way back. I’m not yet at the point of welcoming cock-ups on stage, but I’m aiming for Mark’s confidence and positivity and love of adventure.

Peter Jones is also a regular contributor to LondonJazz News 

LINK: Peter Jones' website

Under the Setting Sun is released on Friday 25 August, distributed through Discovery Records. Peter appears at Jazz Café Posk on Saturday 26 August with Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor/flute), Roger Beaujolais (vibes), Neil Angilley (piano), Davide Mantovani (bass) and Davide Giovannini (drums).


INTERVIEW: Tal Janes of Bahla (album crowdfunder launched today)

Bahla. L-R: Inês Loubet, Ben Brown, Joseph Costi,
 Tal Janes and Andrea Di Biase
Photo credit: David Hamblett

If you mix Jewish folklore with contemporary jazz, you get BAHLA, a young band creating new music through the exploration of cultures that merge. New songs written for last year’s London Jazz Festival led them to the studio, and to a crowdfunding campaign - launched today - aimed at getting the band’s first record published. Q&A with co-leader Tal Janes by Matt Pannell.

London Jazz News: How does Bahla sound?

Tal Janes: When people read 'Jewish' they normally expect a klezmer band, but it's far from that. For the moment I've settled on describing it as 'contemporary cinematic jazz entangled with Jewish folklore'. If Radiohead, Polar Bear and Shai Maestro had a strange love child, we might sound a bit like that, but there are many references.

LJN: Who’s in the band?

TJ: Joseph Costi co-leads and plays piano.. He’s from Venezuela. We’ve found a really strong guitar-piano partnership, and our compositional voices are noticeably different but I think that's a good thing.

Ben Brown, our drummer, has an interest in rhythms from around the world. For example, in certain parts of north Africa, they feel triplets differently to how we do in the West… he's taken that and really made it his own and has become an important part of our sound. We met while studying at the Royal Academy of Music.

Andrea Di Biase is our bassist. We met playing in Maria Chiara Argirò's band and as well as being really into jazz, he has a background in classical music which brings something else into the music.

Inês Loubet joined in November 2016, just as we were creating new songs for the London Jazz Festival. She brought us new musical possibilities, singing in English, Hebrew and Ladino. Inês can give me shivers, she really wants to get inside the story of the music.

I play guitar. I've been exploring making more sounds using effect pedals. The recording process massively fed into that. I'm also a John Coltrane nut, but love John Martyn, and the rest.

LJN: Where did the ‘Jewish folklore’ part come from?

TJ: We were checking out this music from different places and times. First Russia, then Yemen, then North Africa. It all sounded ‘Jewish’ but you can hear how the cultures mix. You ask: where were these people displaced from? How did they integrate - or not? It got us thinking about London, today, about other cultures, and how we all express our own influences. We want to show that cultures coming together can lead to something good.

LJN: How do you write fresh, original music about historical events?

TJ: I think ideas seem to come when you’re completely immersed in something. We got into watching documentaries and reading books about the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and this took us all the way to Syria today, and trying to imagine how it feels to be displaced. In that sense, it’s not about notes and scales, but emotional impact.

Music is part of life. Phrasing is connected to dance and speech, and you can hear it in certain religious texts, where the words come with a melody built-in. Music co-exists with art, movement and literature. These things are not isolated, but reflect one another, and that’s something we’re conscious of as we write.

LJN: Your LJF gig attracted a big enough crowd to have the venue managers fretting about seating capacity. How did it feel?

TJ: The LJF gig was emotional. It was incredibly rewarding because we put a lot of work in. Vocals had given us new possibilities. That’s why we went on to the recording studio.

LJN: You’re aiming to release your debut record, Imprints, in two volumes. Why two EPs rather than one LP?

TJ: We recorded 13 tracks and we’re using eight, across two records. Having two releases keeps the momentum going. Albums can get lost, and we feel that a more digestable format might appeal to more people. We've called it Vol.1 & Vol.2 so people get a sense it's part of the same thing.

LJN: Most people launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund their studio time, but you’ve already made the recordings?

TJ: Yes. The recordings were possible because we’d saved up mine and Joseph's gig money to fund them. However, there are many more costs involved in releasing a record. This is the first release for me and Joseph, so we’re feeling our way. We’re appealing to everyone to support our project. Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is great, because it gets people involved and connected. Lastly, since our music is inspired by displaced people, we’re hopeful that we might raise enough to support a refugee charity called Side by Side Refugees. If we exceed our target [£3,000 by 31 August] any money left afterwards will go directly to them.

- To find out more and support Bahla’s first record there is a CROWDFUNDER
- Charity: Side by Side Refugees
Bahla website

LIVE DATES: Bahla will appear on 20 August as part of the Greenwich Summer Jazz Weekenders series: [LINK]

Bahla also plans an EP launch gig on 2 November at St Mary’s Music Hall, Walthamstow.


CD REVIEW: Jef Neve – Spirit Control

Jef Neve – Spirit Control
(Universal Music Belgium 5744122. CD review by Mary James )

Spirit Control has been in the top 10 of the Belgian pop charts constantly since its release in March this year. With this new album pianist Jef Neve celebrates turning 40 and his return to life, as it were, after the depression he felt around his 30th birthday. Work with José James, soundtracks, years of touring the world in major concert halls with an extended trio and recently a solo album One have culminated in this new work.

It’s easy to hear why this album appealed so widely, with its sumptuous orchestration and graphic compositions such as the racing-paced NYC Marathon. But it’s not pop and it could just as easily sit in contemporary classical as jazz with its glimpses of Barber and Reich. Above all it’s about the excitement of liberation. Neve says “Spirit Control, or the idea that your mind is finally doing what you always desired, the thought that you are taking the wheel now, [is]a fantastic feeling of freedom.”

There is certainly a glorious pulse of heartbeat coursing through this album from the opening track Crystal Lights right through to the end. Its scale is huge with a string and horn ensemble yet there is never a feeling of too much of anything. The album manages to be rich, detailed and delicate all at the same time, like the transparent jewel-coloured lacquers on a Japanese box. The way some of the compositions have been put together reminded me of how Brian Wilson appeared to construct Pet Sounds, here the underlying scaffolding of piano is decorated with a myriad of tiny details such as one note of a bell, or short snatches of trumpet, or washes of electronics.

Kite Crash is a mesmeric piece which uses full-on electronics and disorientating strings to set up the title track Spirit Control, a symphonic piece with classical opening. The inclusion of Australian pop singer Sam Sparro - also credited as co-composer - on the ballad Caterpillar, was an inspired choice. To me, this song appears to be an allegory of Neve’s life, the lyrics (by Sparro) describing the vulnerable life of a caterpillar and its eventual triumphant metamorphosis to butterfly, almost to its own surprise. Both artists are out of their comfort zones and the result is touching.

Neve writes beautiful tunes that hang around in your head and send you back to replay this album again and again, so satisfying is his virtuosity and eloquency of feeling. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Solitude which first appeared on his solo album One, an expressive piece about father and son. Here it has been given an orchestral arrangement with piano at full pedal, tension and release in perfect balance. Paris, Place Sainte-Catherine with its references to Durante’s Make Someone Happy is the perfect closure, mysterious and atmospheric.

This is a truly beautiful personal album of many layers and subtle colours from the master of emotional intensity truly at ease with himself.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter working with Maciek Pysz and others. Twitter @maryleamington


NEWS: RIP Janet Seidel, 'Australia's first lady of Jazz Singing' (1955-2017)

Janet Seidel

Known as “Australia’s first lady of jazz singing’, the Sydney-based cabaret singer and accomplished pianist JANET SEIDEL passed away last Monday 7 August, following complications related to ovarian cancer. Active from the 1980s with a prolific recording and touring career, Seidel was also a music educator and influential figurehead of the Australian jazz scene. As well as collaborating frequently with her brother, leading Australian bassist David Seidel, she also played with other notable figures from the Australian jazz scene such as guitarist Ian Date and pianist Bobby Gebert.

In an interview with LondonJazz News from 2011, she spoke about the appeal of learning and singing new repertoire, saying 'I still especially love the excitement I feel when I’ve got new material to play. A stand-out feature of her personality as a vocalist was also her humility, as she emphasized that 'the song is more important than the singer', showing her commitment to her music above all else.  

Born in the small South Australian town of Cummins in 1955, Seidel began performing at the tender age of 17. She attended the University of Adelaide where she studied for a bachelor’s in music. There in the early 1980s, she formed her first trio with her brother on bass and the legendary Billy Ross on drums. Next, she moved to Sydney where her career took off in the cabaret scene as well as in jazz.

Seidel recorded almost exclusively for the independent jazz label La Brava, releasing up to 18 albums from 1994 onwards. She acknowledged the influences of vocalists Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Blossom Dearie, releasing Doris & Me in 2001, Don’t Smoke in Bed in 2002, and Dear Blossom in 2004 to high critical acclaim. Her recording output has proved diverse as well as consistent, ranging from the intimate-sounding French chanson-themed album Comme Ci, Comme Ca, released in 2000, and her 2001 album Love Letters, where she collaborated effectively with harmonica player William Galison.

Seidel enjoyed substantial success overseas as well as in Australia, especially in Japan where she engaged in prestigious tours across Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, occasionally sharing the bill with the likes of Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin. Her album 2005 Moon of Manakoora, dominated the Japanese jazz vocal charts for three months consecutively.

Tributes have come pouring in around the world, recognising Seidel’s warm and generous personality as well as her musical achievements. Jazz vocalist Anita Wardell acknowledged the encouragement and support that Seidel had given her in a post on Facebook, describing her as ‘kind’, ‘encouraging’, and ‘funny’.

Her most regular outfit in recent years comprised of Seidel on vocals/piano and her brother on bass, with Chuck Morgan on guitar. In this trio, she toured and performed internationally, singing at Ronnie Scott’s as recently as last year.

LINK: LJN Interview with Janet Seidel from 2011


CD REVIEW: Django Bates and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Saluting Sgt. Pepper

Django Bates and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Saluting Sgt. Pepper
(Edition Records EDN1094. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Composer and arranger Django Bates brings his twisting jazz aesthetic to classic Beatles material in this well-worked yet curiously unadventurous reworking of the summer of love’s classic album.
Bates has been commissioned by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and partners from Sweden, Norway and Finland to reimagine the Fab Four’s most iconic collection. He clearly has a close relationship with the original material, describing in the liner notes how he bought the album at the time for his elder sister’s 18th birthday. Having always resisted invitations to arrange anything by the Beatles, he accepted this invitation in a spirit of ‘freedom, not licence’, in keeping with the unconventional schooling he himself received.

Working with guitarist Stuart Hall and Danish trio Eggs Laid By Tigers, who provide vocals and a rock rhythm section, Bates examined Sgt Pepper on a bar-by-bar basis before producing this new orchestration. He made the decision to hold to the original keys and structures (including vocals), on the grounds that millions have grown up with them in some possible kind of common memory. This is a fundamental and, to me, rather curious decision. While it undoubtedly holds true to the original, it means that the innovations are necessarily restricted to backing textures, fills, occasional short solo passages and the like. The effect is of listening to music sounding, at first hearing, to be almost a pastiche of the original.

Of course, Bates has a fertile imagination and a huge talent, and there is a great deal to enjoy about his work. The opening title track immediately produces time-bending quirkiness between the lines with very fine playing from the big band, while the music-hall character of songs like For The Benefit of Mr Kite and When I’m Sixty Four offer rich possibilities for squirling harmonies and woodwind – the latter track in particular featuring some great clarinet work. Fixing A Hole has some delicious harmonic twists, and She’s Leaving Home gains a cinematic feel which only expands the unbearable poignancy of the original song.

The fact that these are bar-by-bar reworkings brings some inevitable consequences. The songs are broadly as long as the originals – in some cases even a few seconds shorter. There is therefore no room for any up-front soloing past the limited space on the original record. Eggs Laid By Tigers are clearly also familiar with the Beatles LP, and for the most part are content to follow the phrasing and even the enunciation of the lads from Liverpool, which adds to the ‘heard it before’ sense. It’s only in the last three tracks that I hear a little of what might have been – Good Morning Good Morning has some funky keyboard from Django, and the title track reprise swings and rocks mightily. The closing A Day In The Life is the most worthwhile listen, with the two distinct sections (‘I heard the news today oh boy’ and ‘Woke up, got out of bed’) being even more contrasting, and everyone joins forces to tackle the huge upward glissando passages. There’s even a closing surprise

For this album Django Bates has chosen to ‘salute’ Sgt. Pepper in a very respectful way, adding his undoubted talents around the edges of one of the 20th century’s musical masterpieces to produce a subtle and enjoyable piece of work. How this translates as an exercise in ‘freedom, not licence’ is not entirely clear – perhaps the ‘freedom’ is that of the arranger to choose not to touch. Personally, I wish that, rather than paying a respectful salute, Bates had taken Sgt. Pepper out for a beer or two and seen how they’d got on while hanging out. You can see how this work fairs in a live context as the entire show is coming to Ronnie Scott’s for a week in September, followed by gigs around Europe.

LINK: Saluting Sgt. Pepper at Ronnie Scott's


REVIEW: National Youth Jazz Collective 10th Anniversary Concert at Kings Place

Julian Joseph and Dave Holland
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

National Youth Jazz Collective 10th Anniversary All-Star Concert
(Kings Place Hall One. 12th August 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This is the kind of occasion that jazz people do so well. The National Youth Jazz Collective's tenth anniversary gala concert pooled and combined talents of no fewer than twenty top musicians, to make something unique, unrepeatable and special. It was  a privilege to be there.

NYJC have many good reasons to celebrate the achievements of the past ten years, and this concert had a shape, a purpose and a sense of build-up which showed the imprint of NYJC founder Issie Barratt's programming instincts, and her thoughtful and careful forward planning.

The final sequence, devised by Dave Holland, was a delight. The bassist stayed put, in that place where singers stand, the "crook" of the piano, to welcome a succession of people to the stage to join not just him, but also -  as Holland pointed out on Twitter -  drummer Mark Mondesir, an inspiring and constant presence throughout this set, who conjured up all kinds of wonderful textures and interjections, including one which mesmerised me: an improbably fast shimmering shaker-type fill from rapid repeat on the hi-hat.

The sequence of mini-sets started with Norma Winstone and Nikki Iles in John Taylor's O. It set exactly the right tone for what was to follow, enabling the mood of celebration to build. There was joy, elation written across every gesture, every inflection of the late John Taylor's composition O. Then quartet became sextet with the addition of eloquent soloists and texture-bringers saxophonist Karen Sharp and guitarist Dominic Ashworth for Nikki Iles' piece Tideway,  a relatively new piece inspired both by the sea breezes of the Kent coast and the classic Tom Jobim/ Elis Regina collaborations. Then a change of mood again for the entrance of  Julian Joseph (who is Vice-President of the organization) and Cleveland Watkiss for Joseph's  tune Heartbeat, and finally a nonet version of Dave Holland's tune Dream of the Elders.

Laura Jurd and Tori Freestone
Photo credit: Melod Mclaren

Earlier in the concert there had been one NYJC alumna from the organisation's very early days -  Laura Jurd - currently nominated for the Mercury Prize, who combined very effectively with saxophonist Tori Freestone to tell convincing stories in Freestone's composition Avocado Deficit. The quintet led by Chris Batchelor and Martin Speake showed what classy players both of them are, with the final number Secret Cloud letting Speake to construct a powerful solo. There was also a lively solo piano contribution from Nikki Yeoh, and an opening set  from a group led by Digby Fairweather. His skills as raconteur and MC are well known, but the surprise - to me at least - was that the three finely crafted arrangements, not publicly credited, were also by him.

This concert, the culmination of a whole day of celebration (FULL DETAILS HERE), gave a strong sense of the valuable work which NYJC does. There were eloquent introductions from Issie Barratt, and an appeal from Executive Director Andy Thornton, who explained that NYJC is aiming to expand its size, geographical reach, and its scope to give bursaries, with help from the Big Give donation-matching scheme (more detail here). There were also some very well-made short films explaining the operation and the ethos of the organisation, which allowed the students to explain in their own words how it feels to be a participant. The words "inclusive" and "open" seemed to crop up a lot, and one participant said rather eloquently that the NYJC experience had taught her "to blend and to fit."

NYJC is a vital organisation in the UK musical landscape, and its well-deserved day of celebration shows that it is embarking on its second decade with impressive momentum, confidence and a real sense of mission.

Digby Faiirweather's group performing the opening set
Photo credit: Melody McLaren



Digby Fairweather (trumpet)
Mick Foster (alto/ baritone sax)
Karen Sharp (clarinet and tenor sax)
Malcolm Earle Smith (trombone)
Dominic Ashworth (guitar)
Tom Hewson (piano)
Mark Hodgson (bass)
Nic France (drums)

If I had you  – Ted Shapiro
The very thought of you – Ray Noble
Diggin' in – Digby Fairweather


Dance of the Two Small Bears (Yeoh)


Chris Batchelor (trumpet)
Martin Speake (alto sax)
Orphy Robinson (vibes, effects)
Mark Hodgson (bass)
Nic France (drums)

The Road, The Sky, The Moon (Chris Batchelor)
Improv - with Cleveland Watkiss
Secret Wood (Martin Speake)



Laura Jurd - Trumpet
Tori Freestone – Tenor
Tom Hewson - Piano
Andy Robb - Bass
Mark Mondesir - Drums

Extinct (Laura Jurd)
Avocado Deficit (Tori Freestone)
Dare I (Tom Hewson)

"Joy, elation written across every gesture and inflection"
Nikki Iles, Dave Holland, Mark Mondesir and Norma Winstone
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


1) Dave Holland -Bass
Norma Winstone - Voice
Nikki Iles – Piano
Mark Mondesir - Drums

 O (John Taylor)

2) Norma Winstone - Voice
Karen Sharp - Tenor
Dominic Ashworth - guitar
Dave Holland -Bass
Nikki Iles – Piano
Mark Mondesir - Drums

Tideway (Nikki Iles & Norma Winstone)

3) Cleveland Watkiss- Voice
Dave Holland -Bass
Julian Joseph – Piano
Mark Mondesir - Drums

Heartbeat  (Julian Joseph)

4) Norma Winstone - Voice
Chris Batchelor - Trumpet
Martin Speake – Alto Sax
Tori Freestone – Tenor Sax
Malcolm Earle Smith - Trombone
Mick Foster - Baritone
Dave Holland -Bass
Julian Joseph – Piano
Mark Mondesir – Drums

Dream of The Elders (Dave Holland)

Organizer and NYJC Artistic Director Issie Barratt
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LINK: How to support the  NYJC tenth birthday appeal


REVIEW: Sebastiano Dessanay’s The Cry of the Double Bass (Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2017 at RADA)

Themba Mvula in The Cry of the Double Bass
Photo credit: Claire Shovelton

Sebastiano Dessanay’s The Cry of the Double Bass
(Act 3 given as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival at RADA Studio Theatre.
10 August 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

“As if a hollow body of wood and strings had a soul that speaks,” is how the libretto to Sebastiano Dessanay’s opera The Cry of the Double Bass describes that charismatic instrument. Wrapped in a thin white gauze, the static bass haunts the back of the stage in the RADA Studio Theatre during the debut performance of the final act as part of the experimental opera festival Tête à Tête.

It’s a resonant story about overcoming, the story of a little boy who wants to become a musician, and the challenges he faces growing up. He “went to university to study geology, got engaged to the girl next door, and music became a dead dream painful to recall. He imagined his grandfather telling him to chase his dreams however fatuous they might seem. He knew he must change. He must study the double bass.”

Plagued by tendonitis and black dogs, the protagonist gets a rough time off his parents, who at one point sell the grandfather's bass. The composer himself may have had a slightly more sympathetic background. His grandfather was the first director of the opera theatre in Cagliari, and his mother used to take him to hear Verdi and Mozart. On bass he is an exciting improviser who studied composition at Birmingham Conservatoire. It’s always interesting to see what jazz people do when they’re not doing jazz, and it’s obvious that Dessanay is steeped in both operatic form and the vocabulary of modernistic classical music.

It’s opera after the unsettling rigorous modernism of Harrison Birtwistle’s Minotaur, but of a more accessible atonality with shimmering textures recalling the space and atmosphere of Berg and Webern. Scored for piano and an ensemble of strings and brass but opening with a fully atonal quartet of double basses, there is some wonderful instrumental writing with a subtle lyricism. Denser moments include a Weimar-style waltz distorted chromatically, and a final climactic chorus.

Recitative is used throughout, and the regular singing also has some of the naturalness of Sprechgesang. Mike Carter’s libretto has some memorable mots justes: “A double bass is not as some people say the body of a Rubensesque woman, it’s a leviathan, a covinous toothless mouth yawning to swallow the man who would tame it.”

With some additional catch-up of the prior events, it works effectively as a one-act opera. It is at its best foregrounding the interactions of the players and the opera singers rather than during the lengthy voiceovers that comment, narrate and fill in the back story from the previous acts that we haven’t seen. There’s a great deal of it and it lays it on pretty thick: “The hours poured into funding applications... a system designed to destroy souls...” It gets more relatable, but doesn’t pull any punches about the travails of life as a budding musician.

Sandro Fontoni (foreground) and Themba Mvula
in The Cry of the Double Bass
Photo credit: Claire Shovelton

The act’s climactic performance was given by double bass soloist Sandro Fontoni, bowing in the highest end of the fingerboard. I’d have loved to have seen this moment improvised rather than scored, ideally under the fingers of Sebastiano Dessanay himself. It would be good to see the whole thing in three acts. Hopefully there’s some way of financing it, perhaps another crowdfunder. As the libretto has it, “I remember the future./ And I foresee the past./ I’ve no idea what will become of me.”

The Cry of the Double Bass has a resonant appeal, with goodies and baddies and comedy and drama. Daniele Rosina conducted the ensemble impressively and Riccardo Buscarini's direction made it flow naturally. The piece aims to connect to everyone, not just musicians and artists, and ultimately, Dessanay hopes, “to send a message: do what you do at your best, believe in who you are, make your own decisions and follow your heart.”

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINKS: A complete set of photos of the production - and the full cast list - are on Flickr
Sebastiano Dessanay's website


REVIEW: Aarhus Festival, Denmark

Julie Kjær and Daysuke Takaoka
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Aarhus Festival, Denmark, 15-22 July
(Various venues, Saturday 15 July. Review & photographs by Henning Bolte)

Aarhus is in the west, Copenhagen in the east of Denmark. Both summer festivals connect closely to each other in time and programme (see also 2015 review). This year Aarhus is European Capital of Culture under the motto “Let’s Rethink”. It’s annual Jazz Festival had a strong Japanese focus. The official opening of the jazz festival went with a Japanese street parade of the many-headed Mitamurakandadan troupe.

The same day there was a Japan Now! program at the Hotel Carmel venue. It is a fine new venue in an old redbrick building that functioned as a mission house until 2006 and recently was re-determined as a hotel annex with various art saloons.

The Japan focus was part of the ambitious Danish-Japanese exchange OPPOSITE 2017, which brought 30 Danish jazz musicians for 58 concerts during 16 days to Japan, and Japanese musicians amongst others to the two Danish summer festivals. For the Tokyo part Copenhagen’s main jazz venue Jazzhouse took over the Tokyo venue SuperDeluxe. Jazz Denmark organises this kind of event regularly. Next month the second edition of the five-day Sounds of Denmark will be held at Pizza Express Club in London.

At Hotel Carmel pianist Makiko Hirabayashi, who arrived in Denmark in the 1990s, performed with her long-standing trio of double bass player Klavs Hovman and master percussionist Marilyn Mazur. They have been playing together for more than 10 years. The threesome has a deep understanding of the art of connecting a diversity of pieces and yielding a flowing movement to let the song sing itself. With a neat and delicate connection of rhythm and melody and a sensitive timing of turnabouts, of the moment to leave space, accelerate or drop back, rise or linger, the diversity of the pieces blossomed.

Marilyn Mazur
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Marilyn Mazur’s flowing body movements between drum-set and shimmering percussion rack were the most extrovert part of the whole. Hovman was far more than the stoic anchor. With his bass and subtle electronics he provided melodic sustain and depth of field. Hirabayashi worked in deep concentration – with occasionally a brief smile - with a wondrous hidden force feeding into her music. The music itself was charmingly playful, rolling strongly and highly infectious. It was an upbeat generously opening up of the playing field.

Next was a remarkable trio configuration of internationally acclaimed Danish reedis player Julie Kjær, Japanese tuba player Daysuke Takaoka and drummer Noritaka Tanaka. Takaoka’s operations on the tuba were flabbergasting and his musical manoeuvres highly fascinating – comparable to Peter Evans’ trumpet playing. I haven’t experienced such vehement tuba playing over such a long stretch of time before.

The three musicians built their music improvising about some rudimentary specifications, often repetitive riffs or ostinato-like motifs - Kjær alternatively on alto, bass clarinet or flute, Takaoka mostly on a viable tornister tuba and Tanaka on usual drum kit. For Takaoka it meant all hands on deck in order to keep up with Kjær’s alto as they met again and again in their rhythmically intense runs firing off each other. The horns captured most attention such that Tanaka’s excellent and precise drum work served an indispensable function but most of the time remained outside conscious perception.

In a piece with Kjær on flute – she is one of the few giving this instrument a serious place in free improvisation – Takaoka did not confine himself to the lower register as dark counterpart but went into ‘competition’ with the highest tones on his tuba. Of course he used multiphonics including vocalizing through the tuba and even used his tuba in a shō-like manner (Japanese bamboo mouth organ).

During the brutally loud sound-check of the following group, Goat, I was wondering if I should really attend the concert. I did and have no regret. This collective of young musicians from Osaka is spearheaded by electric bassist Koshiro Hino, a touring member of noise act Boredoms and leader of the Osaka band Bonanzas. It comprises Akihiko Ando (saxophone) and the two percussionists Tomohisa Suzuki and Takafumi Okada. Goat has already gathered a bit of attention in Europe and released its first album on the Berlin Pan label.

Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Basically Goat is a percussion group also making use of (muted) electric bass guitar and muted and electronically processed saxophone sounds. For the percussion they only use bongos, bass drum, hi-hat and a bit snare drum. It delivers a very strong elementary sound. The four musicians played a carefully structured and choreographed programme of an almost ritualistic character leading to a great concluding climax. It started with all of them on bongo playing repetitive, overlapping and finally magnifying sequences. It had a deeply concentrating and liberating effect. After a while the group opened, split up and formed a configuration of two drum-sets, electric bass guitar and (electronic) saxophone. The volume increased progressively expanding the sound to a cathartic finale. Avoiding the ennui of a lot of new minimalism, the brutal loudness made sense and really led into something.

To conclude the night I went to the Atlas venue (10 minutes’ walk) to see Resonance, a new opus of Danish pianist Jakob Anderskov performed by his String, Percussion + Piano Ensemble, comprising drummer Peter Bruun, the strings of Karen Johanne Padersen (violin), Mette Brandt (viola) and Ida Nørholm (cello) with Anderskov himself on piano.

The ensemble acted in a loose but deeply connected way as a fully integrated unit in an open sonic field. The nimble strings could sound shadowy as in Fish Spotting, the piece I liked most. Anderskov’s muted piano strings induced otherworldly sound qualities. They could have wonderful vocal qualities and lift the music up in a horn-like way. Peter Bruun interlaced the open space in a quite textural way. Despite the advanced techniques it sounded very atmospheric and cinematic. 8th Avenue Tranquility is a good example of it. Together with the ensemble, Anderskov created a real new thing by interweaving heterogeneous sound worlds and let these grow into a real new kind of sound. The ensemble sent its audience home with a blues-inflected piece under the night sky.


REVIEW: Sarah Munro at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Sarah Munro
Photo credit: Leah Wiliams

Sarah Munro - Pizza Express Jazz Club
(9 August 2017. Review by Leah Williams)

At the tender age of 21, Sarah Munro might have been forgiven for lacking confidence or ease on stage or perhaps not quite knowing yet how to interact with such an audience. However, no forgiveness was required, as she was an easy and likeable presence throughout the whole evening, making relaxed chat and jokes throughout. Of course, Pizza Express Jazz Club does help that atmosphere along, with its casual intimacy and the very fact that, with dressing rooms at the back of the club, artists need to - and perhaps enjoy - walking through the whole room amidst the audience, often stopping to chat along the way.

There was a certain feeling of gratitude about the whole evening. At one point, when introducing her song Young Heart, she spoke about how at the age of 18, as all her peers headed off to university, she’d taken a leap of faith to follow her passion of music - and she seemed very glad she did, as well she might. Unquestionably very talented, Sarah has in fact just released her debut album Say Hello to You, the majority of which is made up of original compositions. Her voice is very impressive, with a natural songbird style reminiscent of the likes of Norah Jones or Katie Melua.

She’s also obviously an accomplished musician, playing several different guitars throughout the evening. It’s a musical family in fact, as it is her sister Alison Munro who joins her on stage on keys. It’s a shame there weren’t a few more siblings to take up there as, although today it’s not unusual for musicians to supplement their sound with digital samples or extra instrumental sounds, it is quite unusual for a live jazz venue to not at least have the base musicians live on stage with you. By taking away the computer and adding simply drums and a double bass, the whole sound and listening experience could have been immensely enriched. In a live setting, the computer-generated versions just don’t have quite the same ability to create a full atmosphere.

There is a wholesomeness about Sarah and her music that draws you in and makes you feel slightly better about things in this crazy world but at the same time does leave you perhaps craving something more. Some of her songs have more of an edge to them but the majority reside purely in this slightly safer realm, which whilst suiting her very mellow tones and easy-listening style, also makes you wonder what more she might still have to give.

I’m sure there will be plenty more to come and, as she continues developing her sound and life experience, I imagine her style might continue to head in the direction of such songs as For Eternity. The debut single from her album, which has been picked up by the likes of Jamie Cullum and Michael Ball on their respective BBC Radio 2 shows, offers the same pure sound but with a little more maturity and depth. Definitely one to watch for potential future brilliance - and, for now, for pure, easy enjoyment.


PODCAST INTERVIEW : Essiet Okon Essiet

Essiet Okon Essiet at the Bobby Hutcherson Memorial Concert in Nov 2016
Photo credit: Antonio Porcar Cano. All Rights Reserved

It is surprising how few interviews the eminent bassist ESSIET OKON ESSIET has given. In the course of a distinguished career he has played in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, as regular bassist in Abdullah Ibrahim's trio, and been a first call sideman in New York for more than two decades, playing with Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, James Moody, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Cedar Walton, Sam Rivers, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean, Kenny Barron,Louis Hayes, Billy Higgins, Art Farmer, Abbey Lincoln, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Steve Turre, Bobby Watson, Kenny Garrett, Mulgrew Miller, Jeff "Tain" Watts... 

In this short interview in a noisy Upstairs Club in Montreal during the 2017 Jazz Festival, where he was about to take the stage with the George Cables Trio, he talked to Sebastian about formative influences - notably Ron Carter, about the phases of his career, and some of the albums he has made which he - in his very modest way - looks back on with pride. Audio Production by Kim Macari:


[0:00] INTRODUCTORY MUSIC: Extract: Iza-Ne Zembe Gawuale from the Abdullah Ibrahim album South Africa (Enja 1986)

[3:02] - MUSIC: Can’t Help Loving Dat Man from Clifford Brown with Strings (1955)

[6:55] MUSIC: B Flat Tune from Dave Kikoski (Sony 1994)

[11:44] MUSIC: Ekpokut from Essiet Okon Essiet's album Shona (Space Time 2105)- more detail about this release

[14:38] MUSIC: Iza-Ne Zembe Gawuale from the Abdullah Ibrahim album South Africa (Enja 1986)


CD REVIEW: Champian Fulton & Scott Hamilton - The Things We Did Last Summer

Champian Fulton & Scott Hamilton - The Things We Did Last Summer
(Blau Records. Review by Lauren Bush)

I first became aware of Champian Fulton through listening to Clark Terry. He was famous for nurturing young musicians, and while Champian obviously benefited from that, it is clear that Clark Terry saw natural talent and just helped give it a platform to be heard.

This new partnership with Scott Hamilton extends that even further. The two (or three if you count the voice and piano separately) flow together and weave beautifully, complementing one another in all the right places.

Being surrounded by such amazing jazzers from such a young age (parents included!), Champian has soaked up the phrasing, the harmonies and especially the emotion in her singing. She channels the instrumentalist in her voice – which, in my opinion, is the best kind of singer!

When Your Lover Has Gone comes straight out of the gate – a solid pair – Scott’s tenor piping up in all the right places, Champian emphasising her words cleverly. There is a new smokiness to her voice that shows a pleasant maturation that hasn’t been present before which is nice to hear. The subtleness of Ignasi Gonzalez on bass and Esteve Pi on drums hold the fort: steady, soft and swinging through the rest of the album.

Scott is featured on track two in Black Velvet. Not a song I was familiar with, but it has a catchy, cheeky introduction and you can almost hear the sass coming straight out of the saxophone. A tuneful solo, that’s easy to just close your eyes and get lost in, starts to develop as the quartet sink into a solid swing.

The ‘colla voce’ introduction in I Cried For You has a playful yet vengeful tone (now it’s your turn…) to it as you can hear the theatrical side of Champian’s voice shining through the lyrics. She holds her own with an equally playful piano solo after Scott has a chance to boast his chops at a quicker tempo. I bet this gig was a lot of fun to watch.

The title track, The Things We Did Last Summer, is a lovely ballad with a more vulnerable quality, again allowing Scott to carry the listeners into a trance with his warm tone, at times slipping into a delightful whisper.

There are some much lesser known tunes on this album with Too Marvellous For Words really reminding me of other classics like D’Lovely and S’wonderful, and My Future Just Passed where Champian shows off her vocal chops, playing around with the melody and knitting beautifully together with Scott’s fills.

Runnin’ Wild is a great blow, Champian holding her own in this band. Clark Terry would have been proud! Even up-tempo, Scott manages to keep his solos melodic and engaging.

I could hardly wait to get to the closing song, The Very Thought Of You, a true favourite of mine; the whole quartet gently makes the listener fall in love with the melody, the lyrics and the band.

I almost forgot I was listening to a live album. Aside from small reminders of audience applause after solos, the whole recording is as good as any studio recording, but with the extra delight that comes only from performing live for an audience. That joy and talent radiated through my speakers, making me feel like I was there.

LINK: Champian Fulton's website


FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Manchester Jazz Festival 5 & 6 August

Dinosaur at mjf
Photo credit: Christopher Gray

2017 Manchester Jazz Festival - Saturday/Sunday 5 & 6 August
(Report by Rhiannon Symonds)


Trumpeter Neil Yates has spent some time looking introspectively at his understanding of bebop and the African roots of such music, and created Afriibop, a show that looks both back to the genesis of jazz and yet also forward to its future. Joined by long-time collaborator Dean Masser on tenor saxophonist, the musical relationship between the two is made even more evident by the new relationships with Zsolt Bende and Felix Ngindu on guitar and drums respectively, as well as being joined by Russ Hayes on bass.

As one would expect with a new show, new charts and a new band, there are some teething issues here. Although Ngindu has very obvious talent in his native Congo grooves, the opening to Ese y Ini, a new take on the jazz standard All of Me, began shakily as the fusion between lounge jazz and reggae had a slight false start. However, such small issues were swiftly solved.

While Yates was keen for the show to be a dancehall-inspired affair, the timing of 1pm in the afternoon and the set list did not necessarily inspire the image of the dance parties of yesteryear. Although the numbers Chimes, As a Man Thinketh and Atmosphere were haunting and relaxed, they did not particularly follow the influences and focuses of Afriik and Ese y Ini, both very clearly a fusion of 1950s bebop and African influences.

There was much of credit about this show, especially the careful consideration from Yates regarding cultural background, inspiration and improvisation. And, naturally, Yates’ beautifully warm, airy sound.


Following their recent Mercury nomination, Dinosaur have been named the “outsiders” to win this year’s prize. However, they were the firm favourites for their packed-out crowd in the Salon Perdu on Saturday afternoon. With an infectious energy that gelled the whole group together as one, they were a collection of soloists that had no egos, and therefore a perfect unity.

This was a set of intelligent fun; although BBC New Generation artist and leader Laura Jurd did not speak to the adoring crowd often, that which was said was informative, succinct, and did not slow the flow of the set. Their subtle folk influences emerged early in the hour, in their second track, which showed they can navigated compound time signatures effortlessly, with nailed down grooves from Corrie Dick on drums.

There was mastery of both instrument and rhythm from every member, but Elliot Galvin and Jurd took that mastery one step further with their use of electronics. A Cory Henry for the youth, Galvin showed both musicality and ingenuity in his solos, taking microtonal voice-leading to the max. His melodic relationship with Jurd made for inspired improvisation and left the audience hanging on every beat. The name of their debut album, Together As One, describes this group perfectly. Conor Chaplin on bass together with Dick on drums were the ultimate pairing - always graceful.

Dinosaur takes the aesthetic of Snarky Puppy and furthers it, avoiding the clichés of harmonic satisfaction in recognisable chord sequences and delaying the rich, full sounds they are so very capable of for so long that when they arrive, they are nothing short of glorious. The only unfulfilled wish is that we don’t stay in this fat, glossy sound world for longer, but perhaps the tantalisingly short foray into harmonic satisfaction is what makes it so special?

This is a group with a limitless future, and their new album next year will be hotly anticipated. The most wonderful thing about watching them perform live is the sense of humour they bring to the stage. This set was scheduled to finish at 4pm, and they brought the house down with applause at 4 on the dot, showing off a clock to the audience to prove it! A fabulously slick set but with heart and passion.

Horse Orchestra in the wild
Publicity picture

Horse Orchestra

Their description in the programme describes them as anarchic, and anarchic they were! An excellently weird start to their set with Två gave the maximum capacity for polyphonic New Orleans-style improvisation. While there may only be seven of these supremely talented musicians, there must have been melodies in triple figures bashing against each other at the opening of this uproarious set! The listeners’ senses were assaulted with noise, extended techniques and chaos for what felt like an age, until it stopped as abruptly as it had begun and pianist Jeppe Zeeberg took the mic to address the bewildered but energised crowd.

Nach der Frau mit der Brille followed, a Gordon Goodwin-esque saga that showed off the technical abilities of every musician on stage in a cartoonish way, with some astonishing solos from Petter Hängsel on trombone and Rune Lohse on drums. They explained that on their tour to Germany Hängsel was so inspired by the churches of Germany that he wrote the next piece, Very Big Dom. "No shortage of language jokes this afternoon, listeners!" This parodic waltz gave saxophonist Ingimar Andersen a chance to show off a sound to rival that of Marius Neset, with a sweepingly sarcastic solo that swooped over the glamorous harmonies with ease.

By beginning so chaotically with Två, the gradual wind-down back to diatonic harmony and rhythmic sanity made the set flow naturally, and to move on to a Bach chorale was quite simply genius. Arranged by Zeeberg, it was an almost perfect transcription of the organ part, with the exception of Lohse on drums who did his very best impression of Animal, interfering with the chorale and yet never disturbing it.

Horse Orchestra are undoubtedly a group who don’t take themselves too seriously, and paradoxically this makes them incredibly serious, as their technique and togetherness is unparalleled. To step up the daft-o-meter, What are Toben and the Bear Doing Tonight? had a ring of Norwegian children’s song Alle Fugle Smol about it, only with far more outlandish harmony and some very exploratory solos.

To promote their last album, Horse Orchestra treated us to the title track Four Letter Word, which showcased the great Scandinavian jazz tradition of a groove that you can’t nail down but makes you move. The slick relationship between tuba player Kristian Tangvik, bassist Nicolai Kaas Claesson and Lohse was what held these exceptional grooves together.

As an even more special treat, we were given the world premiere of Denske Sang er ihn…, an unfinished title but a gorgeously complete 12/8 ballad, with a flowing melody from trombone, tuba, and Erik Kimestad Pedersen on velvet-toned trumpet, showing they can do absolutely anything, including traditionally pretty ballads, with no shortage of light homophonic textures.

We were left gasping for more after Horsen, which is undoubtedly Hunting Wabbits’ even more crazy cousin, and named after a Danish town that we were assured was much duller than the tune!
Following raging applause, and boos and hisses for mjf director Steve Mead as he told us we couldn’t have one more, we were allowed one encore, of Horsen, backwards! Which is just the epitome of how off-the-cuff and capable these musicians truly are.

Anticipation builds in the Secret Salon
Photo credit: Rhiannon Symonds

mjf Finale: Secret Salon

The details of the secret finale were kept so tightly under wraps that the gig was undoubtedly the most hotly anticipated of the final weekend. Sold out just hours before the doors opened, queues of people surrounded the circumference of the Salon Perdu with an atmosphere of intrigue and excitement beginning to develop ahead of the doors opening at 8.30pm. And we were not disappointed!

The daytime venue was transformed into a nightclub of the past, with character actors in costume from every decade of history and booths of games, photo props and, of course, Wychwood brews at the bar. Portrait artist @jessicaonpaper was present, offering free portraits to the evenings guests, and the wonderful Horse Orchestra were wandering about amongst the audience getting us hyped up for another set from them during the evening.

Handing out gold and silver raffle tickets, the character actors made the evening a consummate performance, as did the beautiful Madame Perdu, a fabulous character who reportedly had been travelling with the tent since 1917, the date of the first jazz recording! The evening focused on the development of jazz over the last 100 years, and was excellently conceived.

Dinosaur pianist and trio leader Elliot Galvin served as our cocktail pianist for the evening, playing jazz standards with a modern flair, intermittently between Horse Orchestra and amongst improv scenes from our character actors.

A special mention deserves to go to the spoken word artist for the evening, whose name we unfortunately were not provided with! However, the artist was a wonderful sport, agreeing to an improv rap with Horse Orchestra drummer Rune Lohse providing a beat.

This was an evening of sparkling excitement, glitz and glamour, and a perfect finale to the day’s performances.

Elliot Galvin Trio

Off the back of his performance at the Secret Salon the night before, pianist Elliot Galvin returned with fellow Dinosaur member, drummer Corrie Dick and was joined by bassist Tom McCredie for his Sunday trio set in the Salon Perdu.

An immediate hit with the younger audience members, their first chart, New Model, was so popular a young toddler cried out “yay!” A very quiet presence on stage, Galvin seemed far more subdued seated at a grand piano than during the Saturday set with Dinosaur. That being said, it was appropriate for the gig, as the use of electronics was far greater, and there were so many different aspects to every tune that too lively a presence on stage may have been simply distracting.

The constant across the set was the ease with which this group transitions from ethereal free-time into solid grooves, no doubt helped by the relationship between McCredie and Dick.

Their exploration of the future of jazz does not just press forward, but also takes what has gone before and revamps it, proved in their tune Blues, a traditional blues, or so it appears initially, that almost immediately deviates from the standard 12-bar chord sequence. Galvin has an undeniable ear for the potential of sounds. At one point he plucked the piano strings of the piano at the same time as using the hammer to strike them. Similarly, his use of old Punch and Judy recordings was both humorous and ingenious.

The toddlers dancing away proved that the up-and-coming generation will absolutely love the music of the Elliot Galvin Trio and all those who follow in their footsteps.

LINKS: Adrian Pallant's report of mjf 29 July

Adrian Pallant's report of mjf 30 July

Adrian Pallant's report of mjf 3 August

Adrian's report of mjf 4 August


PREVIEW: New Focus Quartet (18 August, Jazzlive at The Crypt)

New Focus
Publicity picture

What's the connection between New Focus's often cinematic music and Brief Encounter? And Zoltán Kodály as well? Rob Adams gives us the inside story.

There might be a family reason why the music of New Focus, who headline their own Quartet gig at The Crypt in Camberwell on Friday 18 August having supported the James Taylor Quartet at Ronnie's on the previous two nights, has been described as having a cinematic quality.

The group’s pianist, Euan Stevenson, composes much of their music on a Steinway he inherited from his grandmother, a graduate of the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Scottish Conservatoire) who had a couple of interesting cousins.

One cousin, Muir Mathieson was the Stirling-born musical director and conductor of more than a thousand film soundtracks, including the music for Brief Encounter and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Another cousin, Cedric Thorpe Davie was surely the only Glasgow High School FP who went on to study with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Zoltán Kodály.

Originally a classical player, Stevenson became interested in jazz in his teens and he won a scholarship, sponsored by Ronnie Scott, to study jazz piano at Birmingham Conservatoire in 1999.

He has since gone on to perform in concerts and masterclasses throughout the UK, Europe and the U.S. In 2011 he formed New Focus with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra saxophonist and recent winner of the Best Instrumentalist title at the Scottish Jazz Awards, Konrad Wiszniewski, after they were commissioned by Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival to perform a fiftieth anniversary tribute to Stan Getz’ orchestral album, Focus.

The instrumentation they used, including string quartet and harp, fitted so well with their own compositions that they decided to continue, wherever possible, with an expanded line-up. They have released two albums, New Focus, which was “longlisted” for the Scottish Album of the Year award in 2013, and New Focus On Song, which won them a place in BBC Radio 3’s 70th birthday celebrations in a live broadcast from the South Bank Centre last September.

The quartet version they bring to London (Andrew Robb on bass and Jon Scott on drums) can play with a tougher edge but still retains the essential attractiveness, with elements also of Scottish folk music, that has won them admirers on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall.

“People often say that New Focus’s music has a cinematic or filmic quality,” says Stevenson. “I don’t know if any of Muir Mathieson’s musical ability found its way down the family line to me but it’s inspiring to consider that someone from in our circle could make such a contribution to the film and music industry.”

Rob Adams is a journalist and music promoter based in Edinburgh. He is also New Focus' agent.

LINK: Jazzlive at The Crypt

New Focus