INTERVIEW: Fini Bearman (new album Burn The Boat - launch at Brilliant Corners on 25th October then touring)

Fini Bearman

Vocalist and composer FINI BEARMAN has a new album  of original songs, "Burn the Boat" (Two Rivers Records), following on from her successful and bold re-working of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" in 2014. In this interview with Sebastian she explains  the background to the new CD, and looks forward to the launch next Tuesday 25th at Brilliant Corners in Dalston:  

LondonJazz News: What's the story of the new album?

Fini Bearman: The new album Burn The Boat is about cutting free from the old and embracing the new. It’s about making yourself vulnerable and open to new things, people and experiences. The title came as the result of a dream I had about 18 months ago; I was standing on the shore looking out to sea on a bible-black and starless night. On the horizon there was a majestic ship- like an old ocean liner- ablaze. When I woke up it felt significant to me though I had no idea how or why.

So I took this story to a friend who is a Jungian psychoanalyst and we talked about it; the various symbology and themes etc. I’ve read some Carl Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who worked for a time alongside Freud) and I briefly studied Freud, so I do believe that dreams can have meaning and I like the idea that they are in a sense your Unconscious demanding some attention. My friend told me the following phrase- 'sometimes you have to burn the boat to get out of the water'- sometimes you have to leave or break away from the familiar to move forward, develop, create.

I then began to do some research and discovered that the phrase to 'burn the boats’ is an alternate way of saying to 'burn the bridges’. This expression alludes to certain famous incidents in history where a commander, having landed on a hostile shore, ordered his men to destroy their ships, so that they would have to conquer the country or be killed. Whilst quite a dark image, I like the philosophy behind it- throw yourself into whatever you do, apply yourself like you won't fail. That sort of commitment is enviable- to have 100% belief in everything you do. I’m not quite there yet but it's something I am thinking about.

LJN: Is it studio or live?

FB: The album was all recorded in residential stay at the go-to studio in Wales, Giant Wafer. It is an idyllic location set in the middle of the rural countryside in Wales, which is an amazing alternative to London where you're always competing with rush-hour chaos and evening gigs/other commitments. This way (residential) you get to immerse yourself in the music, play, eat, drink together and be merry. It was an amazing experience and I definitely want to go back there.

LJN: Are they all your songs?

FB: The album is a collection of original songs that I have written over the past 2 years. I feel like it’s a pretty honest representation of what I’m trying to say at the moment as a composer, bridging the gap between instrumental jazz and folk/contemporary music with an emphasis on story-telling. There is one collaboration on the album which is with a good friend of mine, the amazing multi-instrumentalist and composer Tommy Antonio. I was going crazy with this tune Gone- it was recorded with the rest of the album but I wasn’t happy with the verse and I couldn’t work out where to go with it. Tommy went off upstairs (we live together) and wrote a whole new verse, complete with vocal arrangement and I love this tune now- he knows me really well so we’ve ended up with a song which is deeply personal to me. I also set a couple of poems by some of my favourite poets- Dreams by Langston Hughes, Know, I Alone, a translation of a poem by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and May My Heart Always Be Open to Little Birds, by E. E. Cummings.

LJN: Who's on the album?

FB:  Wonderful people! Matt Robinson on piano and synths, Nick Costley-White on guitar, Conor Chaplin on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums. Bassist and producer extraordinaire Rob Mullarkey mixed the record and did a fair bit of post-production wizardry including putting down overdubs etc. It was great to have his ears involved, drawing out little nuances in my writing and basically enhancing the songs to make them as strong as possible. It's a totally different album having him involved and I love it!

LJN: Is there a backstory behind one or two of the songs?

FB: The songs are about all sorts but there are a couple which map the span of a previous relationship; I'd Rather Have the Rain is about being so into that person that you can't imagine a world without them and you'd give up everything just to have them in your life. Maybe Next Year reflects upon that rose-tinted stage and accepts the transience of the experience. The repeated mantra-like chorus is a coming to terms acknowledgement of what has been, which is fundamentally a positive affirmation.

LJN: What makes you happy? Angry?

FB: Making music with people I love and traveling as much as possible. Food also makes me very happy. It's definitely the simple things.


LJN: When are the gigs?

The album launch is on Tuesday 25th October at Brilliant Corners in Dalston. It's a really special, intimate venue and we are doing two shows, an early one at 20:30 and a late one at 22:30 (*)

We will be following this with a northern launch at The Lescar in Sheffield on Wednesday 2nd of November, followed by a regional tour next spring.

LINKS: Fini Bearman website
Video interview with Fini Bearman from 2014
CD Review of Porgy & Bess
(*) Bookings for the launch / early and late shows


REPORT: Opening night of Jazz & The City Festival in Salzburg

The French Orchestre National de Jazz take the stage
Jazz & the City 2016 opening night
Various venues in Salzburg Altstadt, 19th October 2016. Report by Sebastian Scotney) 

This was the opening night of the seventeenth Salzburg Jazz & the City Festival, the first under the artistic directorship of the dynamic Tina Heine, the instigator and creator of the Elbjazz Festival in her home town of Hamburg. She was headhunted earlier this year to run the festival here by a city at the opposite extremity of the German-speaking area of Europe (link to our interview below). Several of the speakers at the opening ceremony last night (including the mayor who was announced as arriving onstage direct from the shower...!) expressed their delight with the difference she has already made.

In her opening speech, she had a neat expression for the aim of the festival : "to let the music tell the story of the locations in this city in a different way." The local audience - which can on other festival occasions spend a whacking 400 Euros a seat (!) to see opera productions in Salzburg - appeared very happy indeed with one key feature of this festival: all of its 118 events have free admission.

The festival has a particular evanescent here-today-gone-tomorrow feel because each night it takes place in a particular area / Viertel of the town. That contrasts with the sense of history and permanence everywhere in the city, (shops in well-built new buildings selling products made to last...). One good branding trick is that the festival staff spray the logo/branding in washable paint on the pavement outside every venue.

Clever branding on the pavement! 

The festival's first night was centred around the Republic venue in the Anton-Neumayr-Platz, and after the formalities the Orchestre National de Jazz played their Berlin suite under Olivier Benoit. I just heard the carefully paced slightly ponderous opening salvoes of the piece, and by the time I left, the more flamboyant characters in this band like Theo Ceccaldi on violin and trombonist Fidel Fourneyron had not yet been given the proper space to even give a hint what they are capable of.

The other act in the main Republic venue was Ian Shaw with the trio of Barry Green on piano, Mick Hutton on bass and Dave Ohm on drums.  Tina Heine had said in her opening introduction that the first time she had heard Ian Shaw in London, it had been a gig that had made her both laugh and cry, which set the scene well. This was one of those sets when a supportive and sizeable audience gives from the start by cheering - and then gets back. The sense of shared enjoyment was spreading from stage to audience, building and becoming palpable in the room. The audience were enjoying it, the band were enjoying it, the virtuous circle of live performance was complete. September in the Rain was teeming with dare-devil energy. My Brother had soul and passion. Happy.

I also headed off to sample a few of the other venues. The "Kavernen 1595" is a great (cavernous) performance space hewn into the rock with (result!) no mobile signal. There I enjoyed part of a good-time set from fusion trio Loktor, led by keyboardist Bernhard Ludescher channeling Both Herbie Hancock and Bob James with energy and humour.

In the Afro Cafe, extra bar staff had been drafted in. They were threading their way through the packed audience to elicit drinks orders. But one couldn't help feeling sorry for powerful and persuasive Zambian singer Yvonne Mwale who was working her socks off and engaging a crowd, but failing to receive the glass of water she very much deserved.

At the Carpe Diem restaurant singer Doro Hanke and her band were pleasing a crowd with some very complex and worked song arrangements. My ear was caught by the great full Plas Johnson sax sound of Robert Friedl. And some of the gentlest, sweetest sounds - again in a rammed venue - came from melodic less-is-more guitarist Diknu Schneeberger and his trio in the Art Hotel.

The fun - and the neck-craning in packed rooms! - have only just begun.

LINKS: Our interview of March 2016 with Tina Heine on her appointment 
Europe Jazz Network's list of women in leadership roles
Jazz & The City website


FEATURE: Ben Lee Quintet - (New Album In The Tree, tour dates from November 10th)

Some exciting young jazz musicians have been coming out of Birmingham in recent years, and one name  to watch is that of Devon-born Ben Lee. The up-and-coming guitarist and composer is the founder and leader of the Ben Lee Quintet (playing alongside Chris Young on alto sax, Richard Foote on trombone, David Ferris on organ, and Euan Palmer on drums). They are just about to release their debut album "In The Tree" on Stoney Lane Records. He spoke to Leah Williams about the inspirations for the album, his love of sci-fi and travel, and his recent move to London.

LondonJazz News: How did the Ben Lee Quintet come into being?

Ben Lee: It actually evolved out of a quartet I played with when studying at college (Ben studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire). One of my friends Dave Ferris moved from playing the piano to concentrating more on the organ and we just started jamming and finding some really great sounds. He joined the band and I remember we did one particular gig with all five of the current line-up together and it just really clicked. So we’ve been playing together since then, which was about 18 months or so ago.

LJN: And now you’re releasing your debut album - you must be pretty excited?

BL: Yeah, it’s great. We actually recorded that album last year just before Christmas and were so happy with the way it turned out. It was amazing when Sam Slater from Stoney Lane Records picked it up.

LJN: For people who haven’t heard any of your music, what kind of thing can they expect from In The Tree?

BL: I think it’s pretty eclectic music, with a sense of humour running throughout. Being a guitarist, I’ve always loved rock music and so I think this album does have a certain rock flavour to it but without being too heavy - it’s definitely meant to be fun primarily.

LJN: You played an album pre-launch gig at King’s Place last month, how was it?

BL: It was really fun. The room we were in was so great. Rarely do you get to play in a space where you can hear all the other musicians so well. We had a bit of drama to kick it off actually because Dave’s organ broke during the soundcheck and the replacement only arrived about a minute before we were due on! It actually worked out for us because it put everyone in such a good, celebratory mood before we’d even begun playing! The energy was really high throughout, with the highlight probably being playing one of the tunes from our album with the Jonathan Silk Big Band who were playing the 2nd set that night. It was quite an amazing experience with all 25 or so of us on stage together and hearing the track Beginning Of The End, which I composed to have a kind of dystopian novel type epic feel, played on such a scale was a really great moment.

LJN: All your compositions seem to have pretty interesting and unique stories behind them! You’ve obviously travelled a lot - do you find that’s a great source of inspiration?

BL: Yeah I’ve done a fair amount of travel over the years, both for music and for other reasons. I wouldn’t say it’s a conscientious decision to turn these experiences into the basis for my music it’s more just that you naturally encounter so many different ideas in everyday life, no matter where you are, and the tunes from this album have just been born out of those things I happen to have engaged with over the last few years.

LJN: So how did you come across Hygge (an un-translatable Danish word loosely meaning cosiness, creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people) that features as a track title on your album?

BL: It was actually last year when Hans Koller invited us along as guests to a Winter Jazz School he was running in Denmark. It was a great experience filled with awesome music, great food and keeping warm away from the January cold. It was pretty much the embodiment of the word Hygge - which is an atmosphere of cosiness and acceptance shared with other people. It obviously made quite an impression on me!

LJN: Apart from your everyday encounters, sci-fi interests and other life influences, do you have any particular musical influences that went into this album?

BL: So many. I’ve been a lifelong fan of Wes Montgomery’s music. I just love listening to him; it always seems to me that he’s smiling when he plays. I feel a great connection to his music and it’s definitely been, and still is, a huge influence. Other guitarists I really love and listen to a lot are John Scofield and Grant Green. I’m actually listening to a friend’s band at the moment, called Delta Autumn - I get a lot of inspiration from listening to and playing with friends and other musicians.

Ben Lee

LJN: So you’ve recently moved to London - does this mean we can expect to hear more from you?

BL: Hopefully! I only moved here three weeks ago and I’ll be back and forth to Birmingham as I’m still involved with a lot of projects there. But I’m excited about the move and exploring London’s scene more. I’ve already been to so many gigs and have been out busking. I love to busk - you meet so many interesting people and who knows where those connections may lead or what future songs they might inspire…(pp)

In The Tree is released on Stoney Lane Records on 21 October and can be purchased from
Stoney Lane

The Ben Lee Quintet will be at The Green Note in Camden on 8 January 2017 or at various other venues around the UK from 10 November, with support from the Arts Council.

LINK: Ben Lee website / tour dates


FEATURE: Some highlights of the Manchester Jazz Scene (Johnny Hunter Quartet at the Vortex on 31st October)

Johnny Hunter

Manchester-based drummer Johnny Hunter will be with his quartet at the Vortex on 31 October. It was a good opportunity for Liam Izod to ask him to pick out some of his favourite lesser-known acts from the Manchester jazz scene. Liam writes:

It was in Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall forty years ago that the U.K first learnt that attitude, and not aptitude could propel great music and change society. A decade or so later the music of ‘Madchester’ taught the country the meaning of joy and ecstasy. And around a decade after that, two Manchester brothers’ decision to rock up the fab four’s formula, took Brit-Pop global.

The great northern city’s musical heritage is so rich, it seems obvious that Manchester’s engagement with jazz would be fruitful. Yet a London-centric viewpoint still registers surprise that in recent years, arguably the UK jazz’s most inventive and successful acts have come from Manchester: GoGo Penguin infused E.S.T’s Scandinavian cool with northern grit, Beats & Pieces Big Band offer a sardonic take on Loose Tubes’ anarchic big band humour. Trumpeter Matthew Halsall guides the scene like a godfather, with his Gondwana label continually bringing through exciting new acts, the latest hit being melodious minimalist trio (from Norwich) Mammal Hands.

As with any scene, there is a hive of activity beyond the headline makers. Drummer Johnny Hunter is close to the pulse. Signed to the Efpi label that house Beats & Pieces, his quartet released their debut album of 21st century hard-bop, While We Still Can, last year.

He has picked out seven lesser known Manchester jazz acts, who as well as making the case that UK jazz’s centre of gravity might lie further north, highlight the importance of collaboration between scenes.

"There is so much great music happening up here," says Johnny Hunter. "This list could easily be twice as long if I had space to include Nat Birchall, Fragments, Misha Gray's Prehistoric Jazz Quintet, Kelly Jayne Jones, Henge, Adam Fairhall... I could go on!"

"Manchester has produced some of the more popular UK jazz acts, which is great. But there’s also a really strong improvised and experimental scene here that I want to highlight. This isn’t North vs South, Oasis vs Blur stuff either, I think collaborations between scenes are really important and have produced fantastic music."


Mark Hanslip, Otto Willberg and Andrew Cheetham are great players. They follow their improvisatory instincts from art music explorations to hard bop maelstroms. (AUDIO)

This group brings together the London and Manchester improvising scenes. London-based experimental saxophonist Colin Webster adventures with HTrio’s rhythm section, augmented by improv stalwart Dave Birchall. (AUDIO)

Ripsaw Catfish
Another Manchester-London collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter and baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts improvising in and out of composed passages.  

Paul Baxter
A prolific composer, whose material is sadly a rarity online. Baxter writes fantastically inventive pieces for both larger ensembles like Mahakasyapa and the Potter Ensemble (making full use of these groups’ string sections), and smaller more conventional jazz combos.  You can check out his piano trio - eyeshutight - (VIDEO)

Sam Andreae
Sam now lives in Berlin, and hasn't lived in Manchester for quite a few years, but he still counts! Silence Blossoms, Trio Riot…every project he is involved with is great. Either he’s very lucky or very talented…(VIDEO)

Paddy Steer
Paddy has been doing really interesting and varied projects around Manchester for years. He’s fused electro chip tunes with jazz sensibilities and led a tribute to Sun Ra called The Part Time Heliocentric Cosmo Drama After School Club.(VIDEO)

Manchester Jazz Collective
This is a really exciting group to be a part of. Led by Kyran Matthews, this 10-piece group meets every month to workshop and perform original music written by various composers, and there are now over 50 tunes in the pad.  It's fantastic to have the opportunity to write for large ensemble and have it performed; it's very rare to be able to get ten great musicians in the same room, let alone every month! (AUDIO)

Johnny Hunter Quartet plays the Vortex on the 31st October. TICKETS


CD REVIEW: Square One - In Motion

Square One - In Motion
(SQ1CD1601. From Bandcamp. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

A young quartet from Glasgow, Square One's debut release In Motion quickly catches the attention with its imaginative compositional breadth, sparkling energy and nuanced elegance.

A collaboration arising from their time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, guitarist Joe Williamson, pianist Peter Johnstone, bassist David Bowden and drummer/percussionist Stephen Henderson have already gained deserved recognition for their work, receiving 2015's Peter Whittingham Jazz Award which provided the wherewithal to record this album. Citing The Impossible Gentlemen amongst influences, the band otherwise possesses its own, solid jazz identity infused with soul and rock; and the ensemble's intelligent empathy and balance is redolent of, say, the Moutin Reunion Quartet (albeit with guitar, whose styling, in different moments, might easily evoke Mike Walker, Louis Stewart or Mike Stern).

Ten originals, across a full hour, combine melodic memorability with warmth of arrangement. Title track In Motion is a shining example, its propulsive groove inviting unfettered guitar and piano improvisations within a tight, percussive framework, sparking all manner of hues and refractions; and the homely, breezy openness of Full Circle paints blue-sky freedom, Peter Johnstone's rhythmic and high piano embellishments melding crisply with Williamson's clean tone. Brooding Eastern Ballad signals that this is a band which thrives on searching for the less obvious, eschewing the status quo with textural variance and spatial confidence; and Quicksand (in two parts) juxtaposes Mission Impossible-riff impetus and freewheeling bossa with unpredictable, smouldering progression and deliciously tremulant guitar.

Again, the apparently straightforward swing of 12 teases with swiftly-changing syncopations, all tightly engineered, whilst Crawler's dark, heavily-trodden grunge is fired by Williamson's edgy, chordal invention, gyrating with Johnstone's piano riffs and Henderson's crackling drumming – ten minutes of episodic brilliance. Feel-good harmonic shifts in Light Up the Sky inspire beautiful melodies from Williamson, Johnstone and Bowden; and Ending Song's twilight limpidity, imbued with such sweet reverence, could easily welcome a poetic vocal line.

Square One deliver original jazz characterised by intelligent writing, illuminated by like-minded improvisation and interplay… and it feels likely that they have much more to reveal. In Motion must surely be their launch pad for a great future together.

LINK: FEATURE/INTERVIEW Joe Williamson of Square One (CD In Motion and Tour Dates 4 Oct - 29 Nov)


CURIOUS TALE: Belgian reality TV show appears to spoof jazz festival by presenting band with non-musicians

Sebastian writes:

The Belgian reality TV show De Idioten sets up challenges for its hosts/ presenters. In this case their guest was musician/ songwriter / Voice judge / former lead singer of Das Pop Bent Van Looy.  He was asked to live out a nightmare in which he finds himself on stage with people who have no clue how to play anything.

The video of their performance is HERE

Van Looy himself can clearly play the drums, having worked as drummer with the band Soulwax. The other two trio members were the hosts of De Idioten Pedro Elias and Sandra Vandeursen.  Elias can play one or two notes on a saxophone, Vandeursen gingerly plucks open strings. They were billed at a Festival (no more information available?) as the band Albtraum (meaning nightmare) 2000.

They do appear to have got away with it.... Here is an article in Dutch explaining what happened.


NEWS: "Great Day in Hackney" Photo taken to celebrate 30 Years of Premises Studios

A Great day in Hackney
Photo published by the Premises Studios Twitter account

It is thirty years since Dill Katz and Colin Dudman founded Premises Studios in Hoxton. Today a mighty collection of British jazz musicians who have worked at the studios assembled there for a photo in the spirit of Art Kane's "A Great day in Harlem". Courtney Pine and Talvin Singh were interviewed by Alice Bhandhukravi for BBC London TV News.

Also visible are Zoe Rahman, Alex Wilson, Julian Joseph, Julian Siegel, Gary Crosby, Tony Hayned, Carleen Anderson, Annie Whitehead. Michael Mondesir, Cleveland Watkiss, Viv Broughton, James Pearson, Winston Rollins, Robert Mitchell, Fayyaz Virji and Jason Yarde.....


NEWS: James Albrecht to join United Agents Music (+ preview of the EFG LJF at Zedel)

James Albrecht

United Agents Music have just announced that JAMES ALBRECHT, who is currently Creative Director at St James Theatre (due to re-open in February after a refurb as The Other Palace) will be joining them at the end of this month as Head of Venues and Creative Director of Live at Zedel. 

James has written about the new role...and since he will be in place by the time of the EFG London Jazz Festival, Sebastian also asked him to talk through the Zedel LJF programme. James Albrecht says:

"I’m thrilled to be joining United Agents Music which in its short history has fearlessly challenged the perceived limitations of what an agency does. Helmed by the visionary force that is Alex Fane and supported by the inspiring wider group at United Agents, I am excited to be heading up the venue side of the operation and Live at Zedel in particular. The Crazy Coqs blends the intoxicating ingredients of its central Soho location, sumptuous Art Deco design, intimate atmosphere, and a reputation that is already a magnet to exceptional artists, at the start of their careers or of national and international renown. The first season has demonstrated the perhaps unexpected versatility of the space as well as its appeal to the broadest cross-section of audiences. I can't wait to work with this nimble team to help to develop Live at Zedel further as one of Soho's most vibrant cultural spaces."

Hailey Tuck

Writing about the Zedel pogramme in the London Jazz Festival James singled out a few events: 

"It's going to be a thrilling 10 days of jazz at Crazy Coqs:

- I particularly look forward to seeing Hailey Tuck live for the first time having been a big fan of her 2014 EP.

- New to me too is Shabaka Hutchings and the Man Dem so I'll be at the late show on the 16th.

- Lizzie Ball and James Pearson, regular collaborators on Lizzie's unique cross genre musical feast, 'Classical Kicks', like two peas in a pod will bring Stephane Grappelli and George Shearing into the room on violin and piano.

- Antonio Forcione's unbelievably melodic guitar is the perfect complement to the huge range of Sarah Jane Morris' soulful vocals. Finally, in their reinterpretation of The Beatles back catalogue.

-  Barb Jungr and John McDaniel really do make us hear these iconic songs as if for the first time."


12th November
9PM Jamie Safiruddin and Alice Zawadzki (songs by Joni Mitchell)

13th October
10pm - Shabaka and the Man Dem Neil Charles

14th November
9PM Giacomo Smith & Adrian Cox (two clarinets)

15th November
7.00pm Jay Rayner
9.30pm Jay Rayner

16th November
7PM Lizzie Ball & James Pearson
10PM Jazz Standard Presents: The Early...

17th November
7PM Hailey Tuck
10pm Jazz Standard Presents: The Early...

18th November
7PM Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
 9:30PM Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
11PM Ben Cox and Jamie Safiruddin - Round...

19th November
7PM Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
9:30PM Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione

20th November
3PM Barb Jungr & John McDaniel
7PM Barb Jungr & John McDaniel (pp)

There will also be live jazz in the Brasserie each night during the festival from 9 30pm


PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Anita Wardell and Robin Phillips (Cambridge Jazz Festival, 20th / 21st November)

Anita Wardell at Herts Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

ANITA WARDELL is one of the UK’s best-known, most respected and liked jazz vocalists. Fresh off the plane from performances on both sides of the USA, she did this interview in which she looks forward to performing at the Cambridge Jazz Festival, backed by the Robin Phillips Trio, and to running a masterclass (full details of both below). Interview by Matt Pannell.

LondonJazz News: Where would you say vocal jazz music is heading at the moment?

Anita Wardell: It’s like a cauldron. A hotpot. You have traditionalists who are into Betty Carter – swing and bebop. Newer approaches bring in folk and world music. I can hear history in the playing of some of the newer guys, and a contemporary vibe. There are new, crisp sounds, new ambiences. I can hear vowel sounds being manipulated…pop influences. Some people are throwing in semi-classical music. It’s fantastic. There’s such a wealth of sounds, and so much imagination in music now. We have the history base that makes me feel “settled”, with the new stuff on top. Sometimes, that question: “Is that a jazz singer?” doesn’t even matter. If it feels good, it doesn’t matter what it is.

LJN: You’ve just returned from a stint in the USA. What have you been up to?

AW: I’ve been shuttling between London and New York for a little while. Now I have the necessary visa, I’ve gigged in California, Wisconsin and New York. On this last trip I’ve been involved with a “Rat Pack” celebration and some of the musicians have wanted to do more. So, I’ll be going back in January to sing with the same band at APAP, an industry event, and to do some workshops and gigs in Berkeley and Seattle.

LJN: What are you listening to?

AW: I have my old favourites – Jim Hall, JJ Johnson, Dexter Gordon, Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, Jon Hendricks, Kurt Elling, Kate McGarry, Dena de Rose. On this last trip I saw Bucky Pizzarelli, and I the trombonist Wycliffe Gordon playing and singing – that was a trip. There was also an incredible Latin duo, Paula Santoro and Ian Faquini.

LJN: You’re performing in Cambridge on 21st November. What’s going to happen? How are you going to make us feel?

AW: You’re going to feel like you’ve had a good time! I hope that some of my love for music will rub off. And that you’ll buy a Dexter Gordon album, or discover something new.

LJN: What can you reveal about the gig?

AW: I’m going to sing Dexter Gordon’s solo on Don’t Explain – with my new lyrics. We’ll have a new arrangement of What a Little Moonlight Can Do. The rest is a surprise - except to say there will be scatting.

LJN: What is it that you love about bebop?

AW: The feel. Being honest, I love the fast pace. I love the way chord changes are used to tell new melodic stories. You can make this music your own. I love it.

Robin Phillips

Matt Pannell also interviewed Robin Phillips

LJN: Robin, you’re based in Cambridge and it will be your trio – Alex Best on drums and Jay Darwish on bass - playing with Anita. What’s she really like?

Robin Phillips: Anita’s one of the world’s great jazz singers. Besides that, there’s a mentoring thing going on. She supports those on stage with her. You can work with phenomenal musicians who aren’t really into what you’re doing, but Anita will give you a look that tells you she wants to hear what you’ve got. Also, we share something in that we’re both obsessive about vocal jazz.

LJN: There’s a vocal jazz masterclass on 20th, too?

RP: Yes. Anita’s well-known as a teacher, so this is something I’m looking forward to. Sometimes singers don’t feel as though they’re part of a band. We’re going to focus on how those people can feel and perform like an instrumentalist, have the confidence to lead, to link that band with the audience.

LJN: What about the gig?

RP: We’re turning the main atrium of the Gonville Hotel into a jazz club. Millers will be providing us with a grand piano. You can expect to hear the latest from my trio, some of Anita’s latest work, and some of the older songs that we just love and want to play together.

LINKS: Anita Wardell and the Robin Phillips Trio have a masterclass from 2-5pm at the Gonville Hotel (BOOKING)
The concert is also at the Gonville Hotel on Monday November 21st. Priority seating for diners (BOOKING)


PREVIEW FEATURE: Dick Oatts - by Gareth Lockrane (Pizza Express Dean Street 26/27 October)

Dick Oatts. Photo credit: Hreinn Gudlaugsson/ Creative Commons

DICK OATTS makes a very rare appearance in the UK next week. In this feature GARETH LOCKRANE explains why the Iowa-born saxophonist is such a unique figure in jazz, and why these gigs are an important occasion not to be missed. He writes: 

October 26th and 27th mark a great occasion for the London jazz scene; one of my favourite musicians, the fantastic and hugely influential alto saxophonist/composer Dick Oatts is performing (for the first time I think in this country in a quartet setting) at the Pizza Express, Dean St.

I was first introduced to Dick’s playing in the 90s by London saxophonists Mike Williams, Steve Main and Paul Jones, who had clearly already been bitten by the Oatts bug and were quietly passing recordings around in their inner circle (this was the pre-internet days of course). I was hooked instantly, and would seek out as many recordings of his that I could find.

A few years later I was fortunate enough to be taught by him briefly at the Lake Placid Summer School in New York, and a more humble and encouraging figure you could not hope to find. He struck the crucial balance with me between the craft side of playing (“you’re only as good as your weakest key” has stuck with me in case I ever get complacent!) and a genuine sense of wonder and mystery in his playing; I have never heard him just reel something off and he always sounds to me like he is playing in a human, conversational, blending way, seemingly effortless in molding his particular set of skills to suit any situation or group of musicians.

His playing contains a wonderful mix of influences, a direct line from Sonny Stitt, Johnny Hodges, Cannonball, Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz; even a hint of the 70s soulful rasp of David Sanborn in his younger days, mixed with his own ever-evolving, harmonically probing sensibility. He is probably best known as the lead alto player in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra from the late 70s onwards, and still is holding down that role every week in the present day incarnation, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. His lead playing is just one aspect of his recording and performing career, but in a way he approaches this just like anything else, always sounding immediate, fresh and personal.

The most immediate influences in his playing to my ears are perhaps that of his contemporaries in the Thad/Mel band; Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Billy Drewes, Gary Smulyan and his lead alto predecessors, Jerome Richardson and Jerry Dodgion. Seeing Dick play at the Village Vanguard with the band a few times has had a profound impact on me!

This performance of Bob Brookmeyer’s composition “Make Me Smile” from the early 80s is beautifully crafted, effortlessly shifting the moods and colours in his sound and improvising. Note a young Kenny Garrett sitting next to him; to my ears there is a definitely an Oatts influence in Garrett’s later heroic playing!

Other key recordings I would recommend are:

- with Mel Lewis - Mellifluous with Lewis’ quintet from the late 70s with Bob Brookmeyer  Bob Brookmeyer Composer & Arranger (featuring Brookmeyer’s groundbreaking arrangement of Skylark, a feature crafted around Oatts) and Soft Lights and Hot Music

He has had some wonderful ongoing collaborations too;

- a series of records with large and small ensembles with pianist Garry Dial
- with Red Rodney’s quintet in the 80s
- with pianist Harold Danko
- locking horns recently with the great Jerry Bergonzi on the albums Saxology and Intersecting Lines.

He has also had a long fruitful recording career as a leader on Steeplechase recordings and these albums are well worth checking out, adapting his playing and composing beautifully to the different lineups on these records:

-  pianoless trio (All of Three),
- quartet with Bruce Barth (Simone’s Dance)
- quintet with Gary Versace on piano and organ (Gratitude)
-  pianoless quartet with trumpeter Joe Magnarelli (South Paw),
-  finding subtle, personal ways through the standards on his masterful Standard Issue records.

There is a great book of Dick’s tunes from these records that you can purchase from his website (LINK) that is well worth checking out! I guarantee to all the musicians reading that there are some huge challenges in there, but as always Dick makes it all sound so natural and easy, and the tunes are instantly memorable. Like all the great composer/players, his pieces teach you how to play and give you a window into the composer’s thought processes.

One more thing; Dick is one of the most staggering ballad players I’ve ever heard – check out this beautiful Jim McNeely arrangement of In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra “Lickety Split” album. (SPOTIFY LINK).

I urge everyone to get out and see this gig! He hardly ever plays in this country on his European travels and NEVER performs as a quartet over here so it’ll be a performance to savour, with a top UK trio of Barry Green (piano) Mark Hodgson (bass ) and Stephen Keogh (drums).

Gareth Lockrane
18th Oct 2016

LINK: Wikipedia Entry with extensive discography
Dick Oatts website
Bookings for Dean Street


INTERVIEW: Soweto Kinch (Trio and big band concerts and workshop, 2016 Cambridge Jazz Festival)

Soweto Kinch at Cheltenham in 2016.
Photo copyright John Watson/

SOWETO KINCH is a headliner at this year's second Cambridge Jazz Festival, where he will not just be playing a gig with his trio, but will effectively be in an artist-in-residence role, working as soloist with the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra and running a workshop with members of Resolution 88 (full details of all three events below). 

He spoke to Sebastian about his new album “Nonagram”, about his regular radio presenting for BBC Radio 3's Jazz Now – the show has been running since April - and about the Cambridge events.

LondonJazz News: You're going to be running a workshop in Cambridge, how do you approach that?

Soweto Kinch: To some extent, I like to meet people where they’re at, and to hear what their concerns as musicians might be. So I often start with quite generic warm-up games or musical exercises that just allow me to hear where people are at. From my experience it’s largely about affirmation and confidence and knowing what the things you have to build on are. Perhaps jettisoning a lot of assumptions about having to be perfect and having to be right. And at the end, leaving at the end of it with a sense of possibility. Those are the things I like to happen at the end of my workshops.

LJN: Presumably there were mentors like that, in your own background?

SK: Absolutely. So many, so many. I mean, I’ve cited my meeting with Wynton Marsalis at the age of thirteen as one of those moments. It wasn’t a formal workshop at all, I played a little bit of piano, he listened. I just basically felt a massive pat on the back, like, ‘you go kid, keep going.’ That’s all I needed at that stage.

LJN: Andy Hamilton perhaps?

SK: Again, these are not formal workshops, but seeing him play virtually every Monday at the Bear pub in Birmingham, Alan Cross hooking that up, and all sorts of other jazz musicians around him, like Steve Ojeoh… that was hugely inspiring. That’s a form of teaching.

And if I could impart that to people, just ‘this is what’s possible, not I’m going to go away and practise six/seven hours,’ which is what would happen to me. The sense of not being intimidated but actually, these are the realms of possibility, your music can go in any direction that you choose. You have that much power and validity as a creative. Use it.

LJN: So it's about having faith in the students and their capacity to search for - and to find – things for themselves...

SK: We’ve had generations, decades now of a sort of unspoken mantra – ‘give the people what they want, do what the market says.’ And it seems to have filtered down from our politics right down to our creativity. You know, you do some sort of focus group and just give people a watered down version of what you think they can understand. Whereas artists traditionally, for hundreds of years, have been creators, purveyors of sounds that people haven’t heard yet. You know, leading the new direction, and I think that’s a power that we need to reclaim. I’m certainly keen to spread that message in workshops.

LJN:  For your new album Nonagram, where did you record?

SK: It was recorded on 1st and 2nd June this year at the Old Battery Studios, Assault & Battery 2 it’s called now, in Willesden. Tony Platt was the producer again, the old crew, Ray Staff mastering. It’s absolutely wonderful to have maintained those relationships for four albums now.

LJN: The bassist is Nick Pini, and the drummer is on the album is ...Greg Hutchinson

SK: Yes. The legend that is...!

LJN:  How often do you get together with him?

SK: Couple of times a year. Actually, we started a loose conversation eight, nine years ago, when he was playing with Joshua Redman and Myspace was still a big thing. All hanging out in the bar after Joshua’s gig, talking hip hop, chopping it up, he starts beating a beat on the table like we’re in school, I start freestyling, he presses record on the laptop, uploads this completely spontaneous freestyle to Myspace and gets like, a few thousand views and likes from it so… ‘we’ve gotta do something – next year – we’ve gotta do something – you know, next year we really should do something…’

LJN: He is special....

SK: Phenomenal musician, but also in terms of language I think there are few people who understand the jazz language as well as the hip hop language and understand the nuances within it. Too often, you hear someone playing hip hop and they’re like ‘right I know this, I’ve got it, turn my cap backwards, play really loud and think I’m a gangster’ and all those assumptions sometimes come through, somebody’s impression of how they should play hip hop as opposed to somebody who you can tell has grown up steeped in its nuances and steeped in its culture.

LJN:  And the drummer in Cambridge is ….

It’s David Hodek, who I’ve played with a lot in Slovakia. He’s a young cat, I think he’s still nineteen years old, but another phenomenal talent who understands I think the world of hip hop and jazz. It’s a new generation of cats coming through for whom it’s not genre-shifting any more it’s just playing good music.

LJN:  How has Nonagram evolved from your previous work and where is it different?

SK: For me Nonagram has quite organically led on from some of the projects I was doing before. So if I was considering the seven deadly sins with The Legend of Mike Smith, this album is much more about sonic healing. If that was really text heavy and lyrically dense, this is more instrumental in its focus.

And also stylistically it reflects some of the collaborations that I’d done in the interim. So I worked with a great choreographer called Ivan Blackstock and he commissioned me for his piece A Harlem Dream. And he integrated trap dance, a modern hip hop sound, with jazz, that he knew that I was into. I guess being pulled in different directions creatively inspires you to do stuff, like ‘oh that works actually, I’m going to keep that and do that in my own project.’

LJN: From the tracks I have heard there is a cloaking of the voice in a texture?

SK: Absolutely. I think what has inspired me is using perhaps some of the techniques of straightahead in a more contemporary sonic world and vice versa. Doing things like layering and looping within an acoustic jazz context, which I’ve done on this album. It’s helped me to blur the lines of distinction really between genres, it’s really what my ears are telling me to do. If there’s technology that allows me to create polyphony with one saxophone, why wouldn’t I use it? My ears are telling me that’s a cool idea.

LJN:  I thought of Casey Benjamin for example....

SK: I’d say there’s lots of people I’ve gleaned inspiration from... Courtney Pine and EWI's and what they’ve been doing with virtual reed instruments for decades now. Michael Brecker and Steve Williamson. You know some great guys, David Stephens, a great New Yorker who also plays EWI really well.

LJN:  But you're not doing EWI....

SK: No, but I’ve managed to find a Helicon box which I really enjoy, which can synthesise the sound of a live saxophone, so the vocal treatment box but I can do all sorts of funky things with it with live saxophone and I really enjoy that.

LJN:  There's a mention Steve Coleman in press release…

Yeah maybe, perhaps. He’s come up a couple of times in conversation, flattering comparisons are really appreciated, the impact that everyone from Greg Osby, of course Steve Coleman, made to our understanding, hermeneutics… And I guess re-appropriating ancient Egyptian knowledge as well for the modern times, there’s some really profound contributions. I’ve taken, I hope, a deliberately less esoteric approach to it as well because I want a lot of the odd time signatures to be felt by the audience. I want people to be spontaneously tapping their feet and, you know, feeling it before working out ‘oh your song’s in 7’ or ‘this song’s in 5.’ The approach is more mantra-like than the pure cerebral game of ‘oh this is hard to play.’

LJN:  How has your recent evolution as a broadcaster affected you as performer?

SK: Well it’s interesting that this is the least vocal of my albums, isn’t it? It’s, as I mentioned before, a kind of organic evolution for me – let me see how much I can use sound to say the things that I would say with words before, and leave people a blank canvas to draw their own conclusions. I thought this album would allow me to do that. But more broadly, I’d pretty much finished the album, writing it, before I’d started broadcasting with Jazz Now, but I think there will be an effect just in terms of hearing a greater panoply of jazz, a broader church of jazz, from Tord Gustafsen to Wynton Marsalis, you know, Ezra Collective, what’s happening in this city and in all sorts of far-flung parts of the world that we don’t expect to hear jazz as well. It’s affirming but also inspiring for my own creativity. (pp)

With thanks to Naoise Murphy for the audio transcription


 1) Trio gig - Nonagram - Hidden Roms, Jesus Lane, Thursday 24th November BOOKINIG LNK

2) Big band concert - With CUJO - Mumford Theatre at Anglia Ruskin Saturday 26th November  - BOOKING LINK

3) Workshop -  Music Recital Room at Anglia Ruskin Sunday 27th November  -  BOOKING LINK

(Quote from Festival Director Roslin Russell) "The workshop is intended for all ages (grade 4+) who are interested in jazz, funk, hip-hop improvisation and composition. During the workshop Soweto Kinch will explain how to improvise confidently and how to avoid being constrained by convention. To participate in the workshop you should come with your own instrument and be ready to participate actively. 

Joining Soweto on the workshop will be three members of Resolution 88: Tom O’Grady (keys; recently toured with Incognito and Myles Sanko); Tiago Coimbra (bass; recently toured with Hiromi); and Ric Elsworth (drums)." 

London dates for Soweto Kinch's trio are 606 Club Thursday 20th October as part of the club's 40th anniversary, and the album launch in the Sackler Space at the Roundhouse on Saturday 29th October


INTERVIEW: Vince Wilburn Jr, nephew of Miles Davis (Miles Ahead exclusive French screenings at the Nîmes Métropole Jazz Festival)

Vince Wilburn Jr.

VINCE WILBURN Jr is a drummer originally from Chicago, now based in California. The son of  Dorothy Mae Davis (1925-1996), he is Miles Davis' nephew. He worked as both producer and sideman with Miles in the 1980's. More recently he has been running the Miles Electric Band, and was also  Executive Producer of the Don Cheadle film "Miles Ahead". Ahead of exclusive screenings of the film in France at the Nîmes Métropole Jazz Festival on October 22 & 23rd, Sandie Safont interviewed him about the film, and started by asking him about his memories of his uncle: 

LJN: You played the Nîmes Jazz Festival with Miles quite a few times back in the 80s. What was special about these gigs?

Vince Wilburn Jr.: I think it was in 85 & 86. I remember the huge Roman amphitheatre and the impression it had on the whole band. Uncle Miles always looked forward to playing in France. He was knighted in France and had a great admiration for the cuisine, the arts, the people and the audiences.

LJN:  What was touring with him like?

VW: We called it ‘Miles Davis University’. He wanted perfection but he wanted your voice. He had an uncanny way of hearing things in anybody. He used to say to us ‘I pay you to practice on the stage’, so we’d have a theme and we would play around it. You can prepare yourself but the beauty of improvisation is to create on the stage and follow the audience because you get that ‘back and forth’. He’d listen to every concert tape and he would call us up to his room and as a joke, if we played great, we could stay and have dinner with him. But if we didn’t sound too good, we’d go back to our rooms and figure it out! (laughs)

LJN: How old were you when you first got to play as a drummer with him?

VW: I was a teenager. But it rubbed off on me as a kid. I’d been watching Al (Foster) and Tony (Williams) and Jack (DeJohnette). Whenever Uncle Miles played in Chicago – where I grew up – my mum would take me to the gig and I would watch from backstage. I was always mesmerised by the drums and years later, Tony told Wallace Roney – the trumpeter - that he always knew I would be a drummer! And it’s Uncle Miles who bought me my first kit. He would send me records to listen to: James Brown, Buddy Miles, Charlie Watts, Otis Redding, Stax drummer Al Jackson…

LJN: How do you remember the way he was, and what effect did he have on you as you were growing up?

VW: He was very serious about the music – he sacrificed family – it was always the music first. He was an impeccable dresser – I’ve never seen anybody change outfits six, seven times a day! To him, music and clothes went hand in hand – I remember he used to say ‘I wanna rehearse this!’, meaning ‘I wanna try this on’ (laughs). His mind was always moving: be it art, be it painting, be it practising, listening to records, working on new music, swimming, boxing… a ‘double Gemini’, as he liked to call himself.

LJN: You were both his nephew and his sideman. How did that work?

VW: There was no nepotism. Either I could cut it or I couldn’t cut it. I had a band in Chicago called AL7 and during his retirement period, Uncle Miles used to call home and my mom would put the phone down so he could listen to the band and critique us at the end of the rehearsal. One day he said ‘You guys wanna come to New York and make a record?’ That was The Man With The Horn, produced by Teo (Macero) and George Butler.

LJN: So you and your band were - in a way -  the catalyst for his comeback?

VW: (laughs). I don’t want to take credit for it. When he was ready, that’s when he came back. And he came back with a vengeance.

Miles Davis and Vince Wilburn Jr. in the 1980's

LJN: Don Cheadle’s "Miles Ahead" goes back and forth between Miles heyday in the mid-forties and his later period, ‘the silent years’ – 1975 to 1980…

VW: This was a period when he just didn’t want to play. He said he didn’t have anything to say. I would go up to New York and hang with him, watching sports on TV or going boxing. It’s not like he was out of touch with the world. He just chilled. He needed that time off and he got it. Don took liberties - the shooting scenes, the car chases… you have to bear in mind that it’s not a biopic, it’s not a documentary. It’s an entertaining movie.

LJN: There’s a song by Joni Mitchell that goes: « Every picture has its shadows and it has some source of light…’ What’s your take on the dark side of Miles shown in the film?

VW: There’s a dark side to each and every one of us but here again, Don and Steve Baigelman, co-writer on the film, took liberties. I dont’ consider it - when he retired - dark. I consider it a period when he didn’t have anything to say. What I’d like to share is that he came out of that. If we consider it ‘darkness’, he saw the light and he left this earth on top. A lot of people didn’t dig the positive side of it.

LJN: Don Cheadle’s directorial approach is bold and refreshing and his performance is outstanding…

VW: Absolutely. I’m the one who chose Don. To me, he was the only person who could play Miles. Then I picked Antoine Fuqua – The Magnificent Seven – to direct but Don felt that he was the only one who could tell the story. And so with the family’s blessing – Erin & Cheryl, Miles’ children, and myself - he got it. He cared and we felt that. On the set, he never came out of character even when he was directing – he was directing in Miles’ voice. He was Miles, on both sides of the camera and I hope he gets an Academy Award. I’m voting for him!

LJN: A few words about Fernando Pullum, Don’s trumpet instructor?

VW: Fernando does a lot of studio work here in L.A. He also runs his own Community Arts Center. The trumpet Don plays in the film was given to him by Wynton Marsalis.

LJN: The film also shows the dark side of the recording industry. Miles recorded extensively for Columbia. Was he in good terms with them all these years, though?

VW: I think his relashionship with Columbia – Legacy Recordings/Sony Entertainment Group now – was pretty cool, considering - he recorded over 80 records for them. Again, there’s liberties taken for the film and you have to have a story, so somebody takes Uncle Miles’music and he gets it back… like Don said : ‘some you can believe, some you don’t have to.’ But he didn’t mess around. He wanted to be treated with respect and get paid accordingly.

LJN: In the film, Miles called his music ‘social music’. What did he mean? Can you explain?

VW: He thought jazz was a racial term related to slavery. ‘Social’ was more appropriate because he wanted his music to reach the masses. He didn’t want it to be categorised.

LJN: That brings us to the soundtrack. We can hear Miles’ actual recordings as well as some originals, written by Robert Glasper and Don himself. How did they go about it?

VW: Robert composed the music based on what Don was sharing with him but it was up to Don to pick the music that moved the movie along, as a director does. Don’s a musician – he plays bass, trumpet, sax… and he wrote a few pieces, too.

LJN: Robert Glasper embodies the ‘new sound of jazz’ – i.e jazz and hip hop – which seems to echo the direction that Miles was going for on his 1991 album Doo-Bop, produced by rap artist Easy Mo’Bee. Was Robert Glasper your first choice, then?

VW: We wanted Herbie to score but he was super busy, so Don and I chose Robert because he’s technically efficient both in hip hop and jazz and we knew it would fit like a glove. We’re trying to bend and change the course of jazz - with all due respect for the jazz legacy and our giants. Let’s move it like Uncle Miles did! Let’s push it ahead! He taught us to keep an open mind and that’s what we’re doing. If he was still alive, I’m sure he would be playing with Rob (Glasper), Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Kanye, Lady Gaga… all of them were influenced by Uncle Miles! The legacy speaks for itself. All we do is push it along.

Special thanks to Stéphane Kochoyan and Stéphane Cerri for making this interview happen.

Vince Wilburn Jr will be touring France in 2017 with his 11 piece Miles Electric Band. More info HERE 

More info on the Nîmes Métropole Jazz Festival HERE

This interview also appears in French on Belgium's Jazzaround HERE
LINKS: Review of the Miles Ahead soundtrack CDs by John L Walters
Vince Wilburn biography


REVIEW: Alex Munk's Flying Machines at the Vortex

Alex Munk (centre), with Matt Robinson (L) and Dave Hamblett (R)
Photo credit Lisa Wong

Alex Munk's Flying Machines
(Vortex, 14th October 2016. Review by Peter Jones)

Friday night at the Vortex, and the crowd was growing restless. Suddenly the ceiling slid open and four ropes dropped through the hole. A brilliant spotlight revealed four denim-shirted abseiling figures. Above them floated a colossal airship…

Such was Alex Munk’s fantasy of his band’s arrival for the launch of their eponymous album. In truth there was no need for such Daniel Craig-style antics: Flying Machines have never been less than airworthy, but nowadays the crew is well strapped in and beginning to feel comfortable. Their guitar-driven rock-prog-jazz fusion sound now has a solid, confident identity, part of which comes from northern Europe, with that sweet, melancholy chill that we feel blowing in from Scandinavia.

Every tune except one was taken from the new album, and they began with its opening tune Tracks, followed by Peace Offering, by which time a couple of other things had become clear. Firstly, although these compositions are melodic, they are also dense; this density demands your close attention; even after several listens, you still don’t feel you’ve really heard everything there is to hear. Secondly, the tunes are great on dynamics, but not in the obvious whisper-to-a-scream sense: the band is never loud. However each song contains passages of varying intensity and tempo. And although it’s the virtuosity you tend to remember, the dominant impression is one of space.

The constant variations mean that Conor Chaplin on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums have their work cut out keeping the craft aloft through all kinds of turbulence. Bliss Out is a good example: beginning with Matt Robinson’s fast, repeated piano figure over some obscure time signature, it settles into a medium-pace guitar melody and then a lengthy solo by Munk. Towards the end it mutates into something ethereal and Bill Frisell-like, before returning to the opening theme.

In the second half, the gorgeous Lighter Than Air is followed by the only new tune of the evening – Moon Dust, another cool, spacious melody. And then the bracingly prog-like Emotional Math Metal: whenever Yes decide to re-form, this is Munk’s audition, should (God forbid) the Steve Howe chair ever fall vacant.

Munk was understandably emotional, even a little overcome, at the support from this full-to-bursting turn-out at the Vortex. It’s hard enough writing songs and organising gigs as well as being a one-man record company. To have it all finally come together like this must make it all seem worthwhile.

L-R: Matt Robinson, Alex Munk, Dave Hamblett, Conor Chaplin

There’s another chance to see Flying Machines on Thursday 20 November at the Green Note as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. These will be followed next year by a 22-date UK tour.

LINKS: : CD Review
Interview with Alex Munk


CD REVIEW: Harald Lassen - Rainbow Session

Harald Lassen - Rainbow Session
Hagen Recordings - Digital download 01. CD review by Rob Mallows

This album is like the Nordic noir TV which is everywhere on our screens at the moment: deep, challenging, somewhat slow burning and uncomfortable but, ultimately, rewarding of the effort put in by the viewer or, in this case, listener. Norwegian sax player Harald Lassen’s solo debut uses a traditional jazz format of sax, drums (Lander Gyselinck, bass (Anneleen Boehme and piano (Bram de Looze - known collectively as LABtrio), but the outcome is modern, a chilly, sparse soundscape that is recognisably cutting-edge and northern European. The title alludes to the fact that it was recorded in Rainbow Studios in Oslo, under the supervision of Jan Erik Kongshaug.

This short, six-track release offers up a broody, nervy start, with Gyselinck’s rolling drums suggestive of stormy skies into which Lassen’s characteristic trills and super-fast runs crash, setting the tone on first track Life so far (hasn’t been that bad), which clicks into gear with some angular, unruly piano and chippy beats over a tune with a simple harmonic structure that still leaves the listener constantly on edge.

Life so far indeed hasn’t been that bad for the twenty-nine year old Lassen who, with his bands Pixel, Mopti and Duplex is one of the bright young things of Norwegian and (in the case of Pixel), European jazz. Challenging himself by recording with a totally new line-up of Belgium’s finest  players, all of his generation or slightly younger, Lassen took just five hours to map the waypoints that characterise his musical journey so far: major chords, classical influences, impressionism and the ‘seventies. "I think the ad hoc form is too undervalued in jazz music at the moment," he has said of the album in this interview.

Second track Gayspectations - is slow of tempo and lacking in colour, plodding along at first before picking up as Gyselinck’s cymbals and Boehme’s bass dominate proceedings before de Looze seeks to bring balance to proceedings and provide space for Lassen’s breathy, stop-start playing that is defiantly temperamental in eschewing the need for any sense of swing in favour of rhythmic and harmonic flips and flops that seem random but do, ultimately, resolve. Lassen’s friendly, laid-back temperament comes through on third track Okay, I’m Harald which has a jumpy feel similar to that of a learner driver getting used to the clutch. Fourth number 13.03.87 - presumably his birthday - is the most conventional of the six tunes, all graceful piano and unobtrusive brush-work from Gyselinck on top of which Lassen spins a simple melody, rather sweet but again, the chords don’t allow the listener to drop his or her guard.

Fifth track Etter storm kommer det sol - og kudos [After the storm comes the sun - and kudos] does indeed begin with free-jazz-style stormy weather before resolving into a musical rainbow-like tune that is almost glacial in its movement. The last cut, Your Impression, is reserved, all potential energy - like the still waters held behind a dam - with sparse piano couplets, single bass notes, a whistling sax. It leaves the listener feeling chilled and desirous of the comfort of others as the storm returns towards the end. It’s a sombre end to the album, but beautiful in its simple composition.

This short album is symbolic of Lassen’s sense that he needs to make his mark now, while the inspiration strikes. Produced on a low budget, with Lassen acting as composer, producer, cover designer and label executive, it’s a very personal statement and, while it lacks a little polish, certainly shows a maturity and promise that bears watching.


INTERVIEW: Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini (new album Je Dis Oui! + October UK tour dates)

Thomas Lauderdale with China Forbes of Pink Martini
Photo credit: Autumn De Wilde

PINK MARTINI has been intoxicating listeners with their heady mix of jazz, classical and good old-fashioned pop ever since they began performing in Portland, Oregon in 1994.  The eleven-piece ‘little orchestra’ quickly gained international recognition following its debut album "Sympathique" (1997). This month Pink Martini releases a tenth disc "Je Dis Oui!" and returns to the UK for an eight-date tour. Founder THOMAS LAUDERDALE spoke to Jon Carvell:

Inspiration for the new record flowed quickly, explains Lauderdale. “Of all of the albums this one took the least amount of time. We probably spent less than 30 days in the studio, whereas the second album took seven years. It felt, in a way, effortless.” With the canvas so broad and the pool of influences so diverse,

I wonder how he managed to decide on which tracks to include. “I think I’ve always operated with my gut instinct. I never really had a plan for the future of the band or even the repertoire; every day just becomes an adventure. It’s really a response to and reflection of daily life in a period of time.” It seems to me that the one thing holding Pink Martini’s eclectic styles together is Lauderdale’s singularly diverse vision, and it’s clear that the band is deeply personal to him, but what is it that speaks to his audiences so directly? “Right now during the shows that we do, we’ve got this new Cuban conga player, Miguel Bernal. When he comes out to the front and sings Yo Te Quiero Siempre by Ernesto Lecuona, it stops everybody dead in their tracks, because it feels so authentic and so earnest. People inherently feel that and are gripped.”

Pink Martini’s ability to capture a moment and transport the listener is in full effect on the final track of Je Dis Oui! which features Schubert’s famous Ständchen, hummed ethereally by China Forbes, whom Lauderdale first met when they were both students at Harvard - he was reading history and literature, she was studying visual arts. I suggest that perhaps the otherworldliness of her vocalise is a throwback to some of the simpler arrangements of Pink Martini’s early days. “I was thinking of the end of the first album which is also piano and voice,” agrees Lauderdale. “The Schubert is such a gorgeous melody. My boyfriend Hunter (Noack) was recording it with China and I went in the studio the same day, so in the end both Hunter and I are playing piano and China is singing.”

Lauderdale is still working on a song featuring the late great Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac, famous in the 1950s for her extraordinary five octave range. Lauderdale met Sumac in Los Angeles around 15 years ago and made some demos, but when the band later flew down to Capital Records to record with her, Sumac’s dementia prevented her from leaving her house and the session couldn’t go ahead. However, the collaboration still has life. “Earlier this year, I suddenly remembered I had this demo, and so we extricated her voice and started recording new accompaniment and orchestration around her, but I just wasn’t able to finish it. That will be on a future album.”

On a more practical note, I wonder if Lauderdale has any tips for emerging bands in the mould of Pink Martini who don’t want to be defined by traditional genres. “I’d say diversify, say yes to everything and consider performing in many different languages and collaborating with people who speak those languages.” It certainly wasn’t easy when Lauderdale was starting out - whilst recording the band’s first album he found himself $30,000 overdrawn - but he worries that in today’s environment it would be even more difficult. “I feel like if I were to start the band now, chances are we’d never get anywhere.”

Yet one of the appealing things about Pink Martini’s story is the absence of an aggressive pursuit of stardom. “When we wrote Je ne veux pas travailler we’d never played outside Portland, so the thought of actually taking a band to France and travelling to Europe was nowhere on the radar. Anytime I‘ve tried to do something it’s less successful I think.” Lauderdale cites his attempts to write French songs for the second album in an effort to echo the success of Je ne veux pas travailler, which had been nominated for song of the year in France. “Autrefois is ok, but there’s a labour there and the labour kind of undoes everything”, he concedes.

In keeping with his international outlook, Lauderdale has always been politically engaged (Full biography and TED Talk here.). Frustrated by how some outlets in the American media were presenting the Occupy movement, in 2011 he arranged a performance in downtown Portland complete with speeches from congressmen, activists and diverse religious leaders. Not surprisingly, he’s concerned by developments in the current American election campaign. ”We could wake up in November to find ourselves led by a madman. If he is elected, the people who voted for him are not going do better while he’s president. I keep saying this in the hope that it activates people who aren’t really thinking about it to think about it, and to vote.” With the prospect of a Trump presidency looming, it seems an appropriate time to champion the multi-cultural, pan-linguistic, musical omnivores that make up Pink Martini.

"Je Dis Oui!" by Pink Martini is available on 21 October, on Wrasse Records (WRASS346)

Pink Martini – UK Tour Dates, October 2016

21 October Colston Hall, Bristol
22 October Royal Albert Hall, London
23 October New Theatre Oxford
24 October Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
26 October Sage Gateshead
27 October Glasgow Concert Hall
29 October York Barbican
31 October Bridgewater Hall Manchester


CD REVIEW: Alex Munk - Flying Machines

Alex Munk - Flying Machines
(Pictor PIC-001. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Flying Machines’s moniker was not randomly chosen: as guitarist and bandleader Alex Munk explains at gigs, his late father Roger was a pioneering designer of gigantic modern airships.

Munk fils has gathered around him some of the busiest emerging jazz talent on the scene: unassuming electric bassist Conor Chaplin seems to be cropping up with everyone these days, including Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur, Freddie Gavita and Alice Zawadzki. Drummer Dave Hamblett is currently touring with Ivo Neame’s amazing quintet, while pianist Matt Robinson has played with Corrie Dick and Lauren Kinsella. Munk himself has been a member of the Wildflower Sextet.

Sensibly, he spent the last year touring his band prior to recording this fresh and accomplished debut album, thus ensuring the tunes were well bedded in.

And what fine tunes they are. However noisy they get (and they do get noisy), the music is always melodic. There is sweet, lyrical stuff like As Long As It Lasts, First Breath (you can imagine the latter as an acoustic number), and the Methenyesque A Long Walk Home. More often, though, Munk’s trademark guitar sound is sharp and attacking, if not full-on crunching power chords, as on the progtastic Emotional Math Metal, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a King Crimson album.

Primarily a guitar showcase, Flying Machines also has room for a couple of excellent solos from Robinson, particularly on Lighter Than Air - for me the album’s highlight.

Despite its accessibility, Flying Machines is (are?) hard to pigeonhole; its elements will appeal to music fans across a range of genres, specifically rock, prog, and jazz. In iTunes it even comes up as ‘indie rock’. But whatever you call it, the music is beautiful.

LINK: Interview with Alex Munk about Flying Machines

The album is launched on Friday 14 October at the Vortex. 

There’s another chance to see Flying Machines on Thursday 20 November at the Green Note as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. These will be followed next year by a 22-date UK tour.


REVIEW: Mike Walker's Ropes at RNCM, Manchester

Mike Walker (second from right) with Gwilym Simcock, Steve Rodby, Iain Dixon, Adam Nussbaum and string players from Psappha. Photo credit © Adrian Pallant

Ropes by Mike Walker
(RNCM, Manchester, 12 October 2016. Review by Adrian Pallant)

Back in 2008, Manchester Jazz Festival commissioned a new project, Ropes, from acclaimed Salford guitarist Mike Walker (the same year in which he released his debut album Madhouse and the Whole Thing There), performing to a sell-out audience at RNCM, Manchester. A suite inspired by his love of orchestral jazz, such as the work of Nelson Riddle and Vince Mendoza, Walker’s ambition was to bring together the worlds of jazz and classical music, seamlessly balancing and blending jazz quintet with 22-piece string orchestra.

Some six years later in 2014, a successful Crowdfunding project (*) enabled a recording of Ropes to become a reality. It is now ‘in the can’ and set for release in 2017. But ahead of that, last night, an enthusiastic RNCM audience once again enjoyed the beautiful, maturing elegance of Mike Walker’s compositions. For the quintet – who else but stellar Impossible Gentlemen colleagues Iain Dixon (clarinet, saxes), Gwilym Simcock (piano), Steve Rodby (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums); the strings – Manchester-based Psappha, celebrating their 25th year of presenting new music in collaboration with living composers of the 20th and 21st centuries; and all directed by renowned guest conductor Clark Rundell.

The three identified movements of Ropes were interlaced with four more of Walker’s pieces, opening with the limpid piano and cello delicacy of Still Slippy Underfoot (from the guitarist’s debut album, the title humorously alluding to his mother’s characteristic weather observations); and with folksung clarinet over lush strings, it seemed blissfully redolent of Richard Rodney Bennett’s romantic orchestrations such as ‘Enchanted April’. Metheny-like rivulets of guitar and piano coloured rhythmic Devon (named after Bermudan sprinter DeVon Bean’s 100-metre dash at the 1975 Olympics); the slow-patted bossa equilibrium of Wallenda recalled the fateful ‘last stand’ of the American tightrope walker through Dixon’s mysterious, melancholic soprano, Simcock’s precariously meandering piano, and perfectly-poised guitar and violin solos; and ebullient Madhouse and the Whole Thing There, with Dixon on tenor, pictorialised Walker’s affectionate expression of the chaos of his childhood household, adding, “It was beautiful.”

Already referenced in those interludes, Walker offered some background to his Ropes suite: “Ropes can be a help or a hindrance. I became interested in the lines that, musically, spiritually, physically and metaphorically bind us together or pull us apart.” The first movement displayed an urgent, chordal strength, the strings’ accentuated ebb and flow reminiscent of Gerald Finzi; and the guitarist’s mellow, crystalline melodies melded organically with the momentum. Walker chose a string orchestra specifically to balance the sound, providing fullness without saturation – and the second movement’s focused, velveteen strings (at times, in unison, recalling disco) provided an effective ‘big band’ weight which supported the quintet’s liveliness, including a delicious soprano and guitar tune, as well as Simcock’s countrified, bluesy authority at the piano. And the final movement’s cinematic longing – at times suggesting the slow movement of an English clarinet concerto when pared down to Dixon’s lyricism and gossamer string dynamics – created a beauteous melancholy.

The concert’s first half had consisted of minimalist works by Steve Reich and Gavin Bryars. Reich’s Triple Quartet, which is performed by a single quartet with the remaining eight players pre-recorded, featured the composer’s recognisable, relentless pulse (a slightly disconcerting experience whenever the players present are inactive) – and the interpretation by a quartet from Psappha was compelling to follow. Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – the sensitive, building harmonisation of a looped recording of an old man’s singing, captured whilst making a 1970s film about people living rough in London – is quietly affecting. Across its eighteen minutes or so, the repetitious voice might be expected to overwhelm with sorrow – but the progressive, reassuring, tremulant swell of this performance seemed to breathe life into this simple song of certainty, full strings communally embracing the gent’s solitary conviction.

A concert full of warmth and appreciation, connecting contemporary jazz and classical idioms – and a reminder of Mike Walker’s immeasurable, unique and continuing contribution to British jazz.

(*) LINK: Our feature / interview with Mike Walker about Ropes in 2014