REVIEW: Man Overboard Quintet at Childerley Hall Nr Cambridge

Bringing the dancers out: Man Overboard
at Childerley Hall. L-R: Fiona Monbet, Jean-Marie Fagon
Louisa Jones, Dave O'Brien, Ewan Bleach

Man Overboard Quintet
(Childerley Hall Nr Cambridge, 24th June 2016. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

Man Overboard
 Quintet has been an important part of the UK's major swing revival of the last few years, "the counter-revolution," as it was tellingly described by Brian Blain HERE, light-hearted music which appeals to heart and the feet of audiences right across the age spectrum. The band's two impeccable albums on the label Champs Hill have also done well (disclosure: I wrote the sleeve notes). A few months ago the band announced that violinist Thomas Gould's diary as a classical soloist and orchestral leader is simply too busy to permit him to accept regular dates with the band (interview from February below.) So this concert, in a welcoming barn with a well-stocked bar a few miles to the West of Cambridge, was an early opportunity to hear his successor, the French violinist Fiona Monbet.

Monbet is a dazzling and versatile player. Her jazz violin pedigree is impeccable, having studied and worked at various stages with perhaps the most complete and revered jazz violinist in France, Didier Lockwood. She has absorbed much of his aesthetic on the instrument, the infinite variety of his attack, the teasing delays, perfect tuning being subjected to bends, smears and up-or-down glissandi, flautando harmonics, ricochet bowing - the full works. But she has her own musical avenues to step down, with everything from echoes of Brahms to powerfully laid-back bluegrass and punchy rock violin. And even a turned-sauce quote from the Marseillaise.

This was an early gig for this new format of the band, but Monbet has stepped into a group driven by a generous and tireless engine room. Jean-Marie Fagon the bandleader is flawless on rhythm guitar and Dave O'Brien is always characterful and supportive, if occasionally slightly over-prominent in the sound mix last night. Vocalist Louisa Jones steps into the band for her vocal numbers, and her compelling stage and vocal presence have a delightful way of communicating directly to the audience in the room from the moment she walks on and starts singing.

The Fiona Monbet/Ewan Bleach melodic partnership is already working very well with the mutual listening, the to- and fro-ing and duetting all working well. Bleach now perhaps feels more comfortable stepping ouside of the chords and extending the invitation to Monbet to join him than he did with Thomas Gould, and Monbet accepts the challenge with considerable style and flair. Bleach himself makes an astonishingly versatile contribution to the band, switching at will to soprano sax a la Bechet, to alto sax. He found all the mysterious hues of the throat register of the clarinet in Lullaby of the Leaves and his solo vocal number was one of the highlights of the evening.

Childerley Hall is in open country, tucked away at the end of a 2-mile private road. It is popular as a wedding and function venue, and puts on just a few concerts each year. There were rumours last night that the November Cambridge Jazz Festival might be thinking of eloping out-of-town for an evening. The temptation to stray should be encouraged. The evening ended on a real high as, by then, everyone had clearly taken Man Overboard to its heart, in typically cautious English slow-adopter style. The barn audience gave the speedy closing numbers All of Me and What a Little Moonlight Can Do vociferous approval and a standing ovation.


The French members: Fiona Monbet and Jean-Marie Fagon 


LINKS: Interview with Jean-Marie Fagon from February 2016
Podcast Interview with Jean-Marie Fagon and Thomas Gould from 2013
Childerley Hall 
Man Overboard  Quintet

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CD REVIEW: Andy Nowak Trio - Sorrow and the Phoenix


Andy Nowak Trio - Sorrow and the Phoenix
(Self-released. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Given jazz’s abundant constellations of piano trios, Bristol-based pianist Andy Nowak’s debut album Sorrow and the Phoenix sparkles impressively. With colleagues Spencer Brown (double bass) and Andy Tween (drums), this eight-track sequence of originals offers an increasingly attractive blend of crystalline serenity and snappy incisiveness.

Over the last decade or so, the trio has been gigging in South West England, as well as in London and across the Severn, in Wales. They’ve recently completed an Arts Council-supported 2016 tour, and what audiences will have heard is a creative focus redolent of, say, Frank Harrison, Roberto Olzer or Alexi Tuomarila. It’s that spirit which engages so, from the get-up-and-go sprightliness of opener First Light, characterised by crisp, high-line piano improvisation and slick rhythm section, to the sorrowful longing of In the Leaving, its themes of break-up achingly portrayed in Nowak’s close, chromatic chords, though also offering a hint of resolve in that same, lush weave, along with Andy Tween’s emphatic drums/percussion.

Raining in Bristol is cleverly pictorialised by persistent piano ostinati and ricocheting percussion, whilst Spencer Brown’s resonant bass adds much to one of Nowak’s memorable motifs – a syncopated, descending pattern suggesting torrents of water against a pane; and gently-waltzing So Far Away becomes emotionally restless, the pianist’s unpredictable, entangled journeyings akin to Esbjörn Svensson’s more introverted passages. Somehow that e.s.t. reference is carried through into Stop’s agitated busyness, Andy Nowak’s strong phrases in thirds so simple, yet effective – and again, he surprises by regularly and abruptly halting the animation, reflecting those pools of quiet we crave in delicate, shimmering interludes (such compositional details elevate these performances so well).

The elegance of Falling implies a light-swinging, falling-leaf descent; Nowak’s deft, technique is especially appealing here, demanding close attention to his precise, melodic articulation, amplified all the more by intuitive support from Brown and Tween. (We’ve Got To) Bring It Down resulted from a conversation with a friend about tradition versus creativity (“any one of us can be creative; and when we are, we bring it down and make it manifest for ourselves and others”). Here, Tween’s beautifully pulled-back, soulful groove seems to open up a different, still more adventurous aspect of this trio’s character (clav or pitch-bent synth easily imaginable!) – and Nowak again teases with unexpected compositional twists. Finally, the steadily rising positivity of title track Sorrow and the Phoenix, through leaping bass, fizzing percussion and bright, often rocked-tinged piano soloing, draws this fine recording to a close.

With a second album already in development, as well as a Cathedral gig booked at Brecon Jazz Weekend 2016 on 12 August, this is clearly a UK trio with much to offer. Let the music behind the album’s subtly spangled cover art transport you.

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

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CD REVIEW: Remi Harris - In On The 2



Remi Harris - In On The 2 
 (Yardbird Arts. CD Review by Jeanie Barton)

This album feels live; from the fevered flicking of strings to the conversational improvisation, it was a shock to realise half way through it is actually a subtly layered studio record featuring only Remi Harris on the guitars alongside the ever fabulous Mike Green on double bass - essentially a duo!

Remi has been gaining more and more plaudits since I first met him at a festival I co-organised here in Nottingham in October 2014; most recently he has been selected by BBC Introducing, the PRS Foundation and Jamie Cullum to play at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival! This hot, young guitar genius’ star is firmly in the ascendant.

His second album, In on The 2, is a collection of tunes he has enjoyed exploring live, which all have a personal meaning to him. The disk begins with The Beatles (Can’t Buy Me Love), whom he credits as the reason he fell in love with music as a child. While his style focuses predominantly around Gypsy swing, as tracks progress, he dips deeper into rock and flamenco. His chosen repertoire sits on standard foundations (Round Midnight, Cherokee and others) but the sound is in no way vintage. There are some interesting but not overt substitutions to take well known tunes outside their well-worn box.

Remi’s up tempo, wall of sound, virtuosic playing is simply jaw-dropping for a man still in his 20s, especially in Have You Met Miss Jones (a tribute to Joe Pass, which sounds like a one-take, un-layered solo) and in Putting On The Ritz with its mind boggling scales and syncopation. I particularly love his version of Bill Evan’s Waltz for Debby, dedicated to his jazz-loving Grandad Bob Harris. It starts in an ethereal, loose folk style - almost disappearing from earshot and then dancing back, once in a swing groove the chromatic counter melodies chase up and down with zest while chops provide anchoring percussion.

Sissy Strut seeps some funk into the Gypsy house, Odd Elegy by Dhafer Youssef wanders even further from the traditional into African grooves and time signatures and his rock heart spills over in Need Your Love So Bad by Fleetwood Mac.

Remi showcases impeccably what he likes to play most, and it's serendipitous that it is exactly what today’s listeners want to hear.

LINK: News story about the Jamie Cullum BBC Introducing Montreal Showcase

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FEATURE / PREVIEW: Nancy Harms, (Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, 30 June)

Nancy Harms. Photo credit: Ken Shung


CORRECTION / UPDATE: The trio at the Elgar Room will be Bruno Heinen, Mark Lewandowski, and Adam Pache - Jeremy Siskind, who is on the album, and is mentioned in the article, will not be playing.

This month will see American jazz singer NANCY HARMS do her first ever solo concert in the UK, upstairs in the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on 30th June. Peter Coldham writes:

The concert will mark the release of Nancy Harms' third album, Ellington at Night, a collection of re-imaginings and reworkings of some of the composer’s most famous songs in trio and small ensemble settings.

From humble beginnings as a primary school teacher in Clara City, Minnesota, Harms did not take the conservatory route into jazz, but discovering a passion for singing, threw in teaching to head to Minneapolis to sing and record. Following her first two albums, In the Indigo (2009), and Dreams in Apartments (2010), she has now joined up with Jeremy Siskind, the unusual pianist-composer and self-avowed ‘finger-songwriter’ who romped to victory at the Nottingham International Jazz Piano Competition in 2012 with a take on Michael Jackson, among other offerings.( Link to Peter Coldham's review)

A few singers around today may be able to match Harms’s flexibility and range, with its whispery trebles. Cecile McLorin Salvant perhaps comes to mind as someone with the same cool poise and phrasing, who also still improvises as freely and flexibly as Harms does. But it’s hard to think of someone else who can combine all these skills with the subtle warmth and humour that seem to lie underneath all her singing.

Arrangements on the new album are Siskind’s and so display some of his flair for the humorous and unexpected in rarer Ellington tunes (such as Long, Strong and Consecutive, complete with stifled laugh at the end), and feel for the sentimental (Lost in Meditation). Her voice often finds the same the purity of tone she has achieved in previous recordings such in Midnight Sun, or the intimate longing she discovers in Never Let Me Go, in her superlative take on that tune (link to video from Paris).

As someone who’s been following her output avidly for a couple of years now, it’s exciting to have one of jazz singing's brightest lights here in the UK. The Elgar Room, with its elegant, high ceilings, low-lit ballroom feel and outrageous red piano should provide a suitable ambience for the occasion.

Peter Coldham is a pianist, singer and teacher in London

LINKS: Nancy Harms website
Elgar Room bookings

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CD REVIEW: Empirical – Connection



Empirical – Connection
(Cuneiform Records RUNE416. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)


As cover artwork goes it is minimal: four unidentified bare forearms grasp each other, interlocked in a reciprocal system. Yet the visually crisp lack of redundancy, the reliance on one another, the faceless structure sums up the tight, coherent group performance that Empirical have assembled on their latest release, Connection.

The aptly named Initiate the Initiations opens the track-list with a patient percussive introduction, the band sneaking in with traps, clicks and cowbells. The layered rhythms smoothly switch to staccato contributions from the rhythm section to form a looping backing for Nathaniel Facey's characteristic fluid vocal improvisation style, sporadically joining them on a repetitive note hook.

The saxophone flirtation between forming rhythm and holding melody continues into the launch of the jaunty Anxiety Society. Vibraphone melodies jump on the cohesive tireless drum and double bass backing before being let loose in Stay the course -A multi-faceted odyssey alternating washed treble vibraphones with tight Dolphy-esque interludes, swagger and swing. Facey's light-fingered sax melodies drift off to allow Lewis Wright to step to the fore, his vibraphone hurtling along like Balla's Dog on a Leash, dragging a band rushing behind him.

Driving Force and Lethe bring the mood to a more ethereal footing with sustained vibraphone chords holding on to a tactful Shaney Forbes rolling and jolting liquid alto melodies into life. The Maze shocks things back to life with rampaging unsettling beats and fantastically coordinated washes of sound from drums led by Tom Farmer's persistent rolling bass. The stop-start seat-of-your-pants journey of Card Clash.

The animated bass work continues with off-kilter doubled melodies alternating with confident grooves of Mind Over Mayhem. Languid alto lines pick their way over minimal tom taps before expansive vibes wind a beautiful cadence amongst it. The pensive atmospheric wash of It's Out of Your Hands closes the album, alto lines rising through a utopian rhythm-section soup with a swift Gil Evans tinge and an uplifting up-tempo latin shuffle finale.

Empirical may have their stylistic foot a half century in the past, but they certainly have their heads in the here and now. In their developments of the free jazz they're constantly striving to reach a new and wider audience (their unusual residency location choices highlighted in the interview with Tom Farmer covering their 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Ensemble - link below). They're achieving this partly by simply producing more concise recordings than their predecessors, and partly through the democratisation they operate within the band.

Facey and Wright are responsible for two of the album's stand-out tracks - Stay the Course and Mind Over Mayhem, respectively, however Farmer continues to grow into an intriguing composer and takes the lions share of the writing credits. Indeed Farmer's Initiate the Initiations and Card Clash in particular are two enduring pieces which have been with the group on-stage for a number of years and crystallise much of the sound associated with the band. It is really in this sense that Connections is such a success.

It is a rare recording that evolves much as a live set does. In this latest offering Empirical have gone some way to distilling their live intensity and collectivism into something we can take home with us.

LINK: Interview with Tom Farmer of Empirical and video of the Old Street pop-up gig

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INTERVIEW: Norma Winstone (Duncan Lamont's 85th Birthday Celebration, Cafe Posk, 25th June)

Norma Winstone. Photo credit Melody McLaren


Ahead of vocalist Norma Winstone's appearance at Jazz Café POSK this Saturday 25th of June for a celebration of saxophonist/ composer Duncan Lamont's 85th birthday, she did an interview with Tomasz Furmanek:

LondonJazz News: You are coming to Posk this Saturday to celebrate your friend Duncan Lamont's birthday. Tell us about him.

Norma Winstone: He’s great! I am very fond of Duncan. I do like his songs, and also he is a great character, great personality… he’s a legend. I remember when he played in Kenny Wheeler’s big-band…he always had his own extraordinary kind of way of improvising, which was very special. I love his playing. He is one of the great British jazz musicians and composers, he’s written a lot of things apart from songs, there’s a suite “Young Person’s Guide to The Jazz Orchestra” based on Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” , music for theatre, for television… He is a very special talent.

LJN: Can you tell us about this Saturday's programme?

NW: Well, he has chosen the songs he would like me to sing. There are about 5 or 6 songs, so it’s a nice little set. As I mentioned before I love his songs, have recorded Manhattan in the Rain, and I will definitely sing it on Saturday. There is that funny story… I went to his house one evening and he said “oh, sing something, sing one of my songs”, I really liked Manhattan in The Rain, so I said that I’d sing that. Duncan’s wife, Bridget, said “Oh no, not that; it’s like a vocal exercise”. The funny thing is, Duncan told me some time later that somebody rang him from a college in America and said “we love your songs Duncan, and there’s one that we use as a vocal exercise, it’s called Manhattan in The Rain! So maybe his wife was right in a way! It’s a great, slightly difficult song, you just have to have a good ear to pitch those intervals. So I suppose it could be looked on as a good vocal exercise.

LJN: What makes a great jazz singer?

NW: I think that to have your own sound, that’s the basic thing. I think the thing is to be recognizable…immediately! This of course applies not only to singing jazz.

LJN: …and acquiring a flawless vocal technique?

NW: Well, it can help, but depends what you want to do… There are jazz singers who didn’t have a fantastic technique. I mean…Billie Holiday…she didn’t need to. She had a voice and a sound, but very, very moving, and that’s the point for me. I think if you’re singing a song, any song in any style, you have to be able to communicate something with your listener. And if what you want to communicate needs to have a fantastic vocal technique, then yes, you have to do that. I mean, there are people who had fantastic technique and fantastic voice naturally, like Sarah Vaughan…

LJN: ...but it is Billie Holiday who is widely regarded the greatest jazz singer…

NW: Yes, because she had something else, because of the anguish and the torment that you could hear in her voice. I think people responded to that; they could identify with it, just like they respond to other outstanding voices, not necessarily from the world of jazz...like Amy Winehouse for example. People responded to that, because they can hear this kind of thing in her voice… And that’s something one cannot learn.

LJN: You were awarded MBE in 2007. How did you react when you fund out?

NW: Shocked! I was very, very surprised, I have no idea how it happened. And I don’t know if anybody knows how you get these things, somebody must have put my name forward, and there’s a voting process. They wrote to Colin Towns, who’s a marvellous arranger and a writer with whom I was working at that time, to say that I had been offered an MBE. For some reason they had not found my address! I was very happy, of course. I went to Buckingham Palace to collect it from Prince Charles. I took my sons, my husband and my father, who was 92 at that time, he died the following year. My father was very left wing, he never approved of The Royal Family, but of course he was very proud of me and he just liked the idea of going there with me. He proudly played the DVD to his neighbours…it was very funny, because he had always been so left wing.

LJN: On Saturday you will perform in a Polish Club. You were in Poland on many occasions, when was the first time?

NW: My first visit to Poland took place in 1970, I was supposed to perform with the Mike Westbrook band in Warsaw at the Jazz Jamboree Festival in The Culture Palace but I didn’t make the concert as I was taken ill and spent the night in hospital. It was funny, because Urszula Dudziak was apparently in the audience and was waiting to hear me. I didn’t know her then, but many years later she told me “ You came on the stage, I was really looking forward to your performance…and then you immediately ran off.” I explained to her what had happened. The band sat in at a club the next evening and everybody was so enthusiastic and warm, so pleased that we were there. It was great! I just remember being excited that that I was in the Eastern Bloc… We were paid in zlotys and we had to spend the money before we left. I didn’t know how to spend all these zlotys, as at that time there wasn’t much to buy unless you had dollars; the merchandise was separated so that the better stuff could be bought in dollars.

The last time I was in Poland was in November 2015. A group of English musicians plus Dave Holland and Ralph Towner performed in a Kenny Wheeler tribute concert at The Cadogan Hall in London, then took the package to The Wroclaw Festival.

LJN:  Later you worked with Urszula Dudziak, are you still in touch with her?

NW: I worked with Urszula in the late 80s in an a capella vocal group called Vocal Summit including Jay Clayton and Michelle Hendricks. That was so much fun but we all lived so far apart that it wasn’t easy to keep it going. We are however hoping to get together again later this year (possibly in November) to do a concert called Vocal Summit and Beyond, in London, which I think will be great!

Tomasz Furmank produces the “Tomasz Furmanek invites…” series at Jazz Café POSK.  

Norma Winstone will appear as a special guest of Duncan Lamont’s 85th Birthday Celebrations at Jazz Café POSK on Saturday 25th of June 2016. Music starts at 8.30pm. 


Line up:

Duncan Lamont - sax
Norma Winstone - voc
Esther Bennett - voc
Sarah Moule - voc
John Crawford - piano
Simon Read - bass
Steve Taylor - drums

 Tickets: £12 at the door or online from www.jazzcafeposk.org or www.wegottickets.com

LINKS: www.normawinstone.com / www.jazzcafeposk.org

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REVIEW: Tania Chen and Thurston Moore Duo at Cafe Oto

Tania Chen (left) and Thurston Moore (right), power improvisers at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


Tania Chen and Thurston Moore Duo
(Cafe Oto, 15 June 2016, day 3 of Ecstatic Peace Library - Conference #1; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Ecstatic Peace Library is the umbrella imprint, curated by publisher, Eva Prinz, and musician Thurston Moore, to give voice to the unconventional in the written, printed and musical genres. As the last event of the inaugural Ecstatic Peace Library Conference, held at Cafe Oto, hosting three days of musical adventure, with a smattering of literary discussion, Tania Chen and Thurston Moore celebrated a richly-hued path of poetic invention in an improvised duo full of surprise and invention.

Chen, erstwhile student of avante-garde proselytising pianist and improviser, John Tilbury, and Moore, erstwhile prime mover and guitarist with Sonic Youth, connect across many facets of the left-field musical spectrum. Chen has been an integral part of the group which Stewart Lee has brought together to champion John Cage's Indeterminacy, while Moore has been one of the most committed exponents of collaborative improvisation with other leading musicians and poets, oft witnessed in this particular corner of Dalston.

Positioned at either side of the stage, their complementary body language echoed their musical contributions. Chen, seated conventionally at the keyboard to pick out lightly ethereal phrases, later stood to reach in to the piano's innards with a delicate touch, while keeping one hand loosely active on the keys. Moore, studiously crouched over his guitar lying flat on his lap, picked on the strings to summon haunting, wirey chimes.

In marked contrast, reverb and distortion followed with hints of Hendrix's star-spangled anguish. Chen, leaning over the keys, used soft-headed mallets and flattened the piano sound to glockenspiel blockiness before repeatedly crashing the hinged fallboard and stamping resoundingly on the floor. The sonic assaults receded instantaneously for both to resume crafted, shimmering meanderings as though nothing had happened to disturb the calm.

Chen introduced pulsed and textured electronics, combining bursts of animated activations and keyboard clusters with Moore's crunching spasms of electric shock, scumbled collaging and a metallic plucked sound which could have passed for a kalimba (finger piano).

Chen, maybe indirectly acknowledging Gustav Metzger's Destruction In Art Symposium of 1966, crumpled a paper bag up at the mic then proceeded to dismember it with fittingly performative gestures.

Wrapping up with echoes of a post-nuclear fallout the duo ensured that there were never to be dull moments as they coaxed out their constantly engaging, intuitive dialogue.

To follow, the trio, Trash Kit, somewhat in the mould of punk heroines, The Slits, belted out short, sharp songs with a well-oiled bass and drums backbone.

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FEATURE: The Impossible Gentlemen - (New Album Let’s Get Deluxe and touring )

The Impossible Gentlemen
L-R: Gwlym Simcock, Steve Rodby, Adam Nussbaum, Mike Walker


The Impossible Gentlemen is made up of the ever-growing and continuously impressive line-up of Mike Walker (guitar), Gwilym Simcock (piano, horn and a variety of percussive instruments), Adam Nussbaum (drums), Steve Rodby (bass) and now Iain Dixon (sax, clarinet, flute). Co-founders Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker talked to Leah Williams about the band's latest album, "Let’s Get Deluxe": 


Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from this transatlantic, progressive group, coming almost three years since their last release. Gwilym Simcock is quick to mention that the title is intended to be tongue-in- cheek, which is obvious from the cool, American-style photo depicting a not-so- glamourous life on the road that adorns the album’s front cover as well as from the immediately evident down-to- earth personalities of the two frontmen.

Although one might argue that the album is indeed more deluxe than intended - but that comes entirely from the music itself. The Impossible Gentlemen’s third album strives to produce a different sound to their previous two. An obvious progression of course - as Gwilym states: writing for the first album particularly was about finding their feet and their sound together as a group whereas with each album that follows they are able to get in to their groove more as well as start exploring the sound in more depth - but it’s also an attestation to the creativity and cohesion of Mike and Gwilym as both musicians and a writing team. For that’s one of the main differences on this album: all songs were entirely co-written by the both of them.

Not straightforward by any means, finding someone you can write a whole album with without too many clashes of ideas, styles or preferences. So were there any fall-outs? Fisticuffs in the Manchester countryside as they argued over riffs and chord progressions? Not at all, laughs Gwilym, in fact he goes on to describe how the experience of writing with Mike was not only easy but also incredibly enjoyable: “We’ve always just got along so well, as friends and musicians, and that naturally progressed in to writing together. It’s not necessarily because we have the same style or the same ideas but in fact because we each have different, unique things to bring to the table. A lot of energy, time and hard work went in to this album but also a lot of enjoyment and excitement - and it’s that which we hope comes through in the music.” Mike concurs, saying that they have a really strong relationship “both musically and socially - we’re already planning the next album”.

This writing process has definitely brought many new layers and elements to the music and a more orchestral feel with a rich, textured sound is one of them. It was a conscious decision, they say, to start with writing music for the band and then to expand on that and enhance the music as much as they felt was appropriate for each individual song to result in this broader orchestration. Mike says that they wanted to “throw different ideas at the music, outside of the usual conventions, with counter melodies and snaking lines battling with the melody. On repeated listening, you might find yourself whistling melodies that were hidden in the shadows.” There are many rich and interesting moments born from this and they doubled a lot of the instruments in places in order to hopefully create a new sound entirely - one that isn’t immediately recognisable as horn or vibraphone etc. The addition of conscientiously chosen string sections, courtesy of The Crumbleton Strings, certainly helps to expand the album’s sound but it is mainly down to the abundant talent within the group itself that this evolution was possible: Gwilym moves seamlessly from piano to french horn to marimba (and many other things in between!) and then there is the new addition of Iain Dixon who is similarly multi-instrumental. On the album he “only” plays two saxes, and also clarinets and flutes but is apparently pretty handy on the keyboard too which could prove vital for live concerts when Gwilym might be busy wielding an accordion or tapping a vibraphone instead.

Steve Rodby, who had already begun to take on some of the bass playing on the last album, has also now become the sole bass player and has some real shining moments on Let’s Get Deluxe: “Steve is such an amazing soloist with incredible dexterity and a real individual sound; we really wanted him to have the opportunity to show off a bit on this album”.

One of the standout tracks on the album is It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye, which they are now performing as A Simple Goodbye in tribute to the late John Taylor - a “phenomenal musician whom we love and miss very much”. It is noticeable for its understated elegance and obviously heartfelt performance. “The album recording is from the first take in the studio”, they explain, “The doubling and overdubs were added later but the base of the piece was done in one take and it is filled with a lot of emotion and sincerity.”

All the track titles have obviously been carefully thought about and each seems to hint at an interesting back story: A Fedora for Dora ; Dog Time; Propane Jane. Terrace Legend is a prime example, which turns out to have been inspired by Neil Baldwin, a local man with what have been classed as “severe learning difficulties” who reached legend status due to his uninhibited style of asking for (and mostly getting) what he wanted and who ended up working as the kitman for Stoke FC (a topic close to Gwilym’s heart!) for over 7 years. His story has recently been made into a BAFTA-winning BBC film. Its light-hearted vitality, as well as sounds of the football ground which are subtly woven in to the tapestry of this track, are enhanced with new meaning when you have this inspirational story in mind.

Such humorous titles, cross-culture referencing and progressive sound aim to move the music on this album further away from traditional perceptions of “jazz” and may, hopefully, attract and encourage the younger listener. Working with young musicians and helping to widen the audience of the “jazz” genre are both important to The Impossible Gentlemen, as a group and as individual artists. They will be taking up residence at the Sligo Jazz Project in Ireland for a second year in July - something that Gwilym notes has actually given them a fresh perspective on their own playing. Through teaching together as a group, they have been able to explore new aspects of their playing and musicality that they may never have experienced otherwise: “You never stop learning as a musician and so it is both a responsibility and an opportunity when you can get involved in education in this way”. Mike says he loves doing these kinds of things because the younger generation are so open to exploring music in all its forms and this influences their jazz playing, pushing the genre forward as it should be: “I love the openness of the young generation. They listen to everything - pop stuff, old jazz, new jazz, classical. I love that. Anyone I've ever played with who brings me joy has that openness.”

The Impossible Gentlemen - for whom it seems anything could be possible - prove with this album that they have a lot yet left to come. (pp)

Let’s Get Deluxe will be released on Basho Records on 1st July 2016.

The official album launch is on 26th July at Manchester Jazz Festival. The tour also includes a 2-night residency at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on 31st July and 1st August.

Full tour dates are on the band's website

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INTERVIEW: Alex Ridout: (606 Club, 28th June)

Alexandra Ridout

Though still only 17, trumpet player ALEXANDRA RIDOUT has been attracting a lot of attention since winning the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award earlier this year. She is a student at the Purcell School, a specialist music school, where she studies jazz and classical trumpet, as well as piano and voice. 

Julian Joseph, chair of the Award jury said, "we were enchanted by Alexandra’s presence as a musician…but I think most importantly there was a relationship with the blues and swinging that sounds important in her playing" (source of this quote HERE). Laura Thorne interviewed her:

LondonJazz News: Your father Mark is a professional guitarist, your brother Tom plays saxophone and recorder, and your mum Leigh plays saxophone as well.  What were your early experiences of music? What sparked your interest in the trumpet?

Alex Ridout: Yes music has definitely played a big part in my life growing up, having constantly been surrounded by it! I went to my local music centre from the age of about 2 or 3 and we always had all sorts of music playing in the house or in the car, lots of jazz included in that. When I was about 8 I went to a concert my brother was playing in and I saw the trumpets playing the tune really loud and that made me want to play really.

LJN: Who are your favourite trumpet players?

AR:  My favourite jazz trumpeters would be Freddie Hubbard, his playing with Herbie is some of my favourite jazz ever, he's the only person who could really do what he does on the instrument! Also Miles Davis of course, such a unique sound and he was a massive innovator as well as a beautiful player. Also Woody Shaw is an amazing player and also very unique but with so much energy and his lines are great! There are many many other trumpet players I love, including Kenny Wheeler and Clifford Brown to name a couple.

LJN:  You recently won the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award. Has winning made a difference to you personally, say for example made you feel more confident?

AR:  The competition definitely gave me a confidence boost as it did feel like a lot of hard work had paid off! I also feel like people respect me a bit more because of it. However it's nice in that most people haven't treated me any differently because I personally don't feel any different. It’s just down to a matter of opinion after all, so I'm glad it hasn't drastically changed people's opinion of me.

LJN: Women are still relatively few-and-far-between in the professional jazz world.....

AR:   Yes it is definitely the case there is a gender imbalance in jazz, though it probably is changing to some extent. However it's such a small collection of people in jazz anyway, that it's probably quite hard to balance out gender before bringing jazz to a wider audience (if that makes sense). I think being female won't do that much to my career, but if anything it's likely to do it good because I'd be slightly more unique, although I don't think of it in that way at all. At the end of the day it's about the music and there may be some issues I'll have to deal with, but if you're a good musician people who really care about the music will respect you for that I'm sure.

LJN: If you were to teaching someone to play an instrument, what would be the most important piece of advice or information that you could give them?

AR:  My main piece of advice for someone learning any instrument for any genre would probably be to make sure you enjoy what you're doing. Of course you have to practise and to become to the level you want to be it may become tedious at times, but you'll know if it's worth it so just enjoy it! My best advice for anyone who wants to learn jazz is just to listen to loads of your favourite musicians over and over. THE most important thing for jazz is listening.

LJN: You are playing at the 606 Club on Tuesday the 28th with your father Mark & your brother Tom. Tell us a bit about what we can expect to hear at the show.

AR:  Yes really looking forward to this gig! We will be doing a big variety of tunes, featuring originals from all of us! Mostly expect a very diverse programme.

LJN: What are your plans for the future?

AR:  I'm in year 12, so I have auditions for music college coming up in October. I'm hoping to go to music college and do a jazz degree, but I'd also like to carry on with my classical playing as much as I can. I love playing loads of types of music so I want to be gigging lots, playing all sorts of things, jazz, pop, classical or anything really!

Laura Thorne runs marketing for the 606 Club

LINKS: Video of Alexandra’s BBC Young Musician Jazz Award competition performance
Jon Turney's Report on the BBC Competition final

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CD REVIEW: Georgie Fame and The Last Blue Flames - Swan Songs



Georgie Fame and The Last Blue Flames - Swan Songs
(Three Line Whip 010. CD Review by Brian Blain)


Released without a great deal of promo or hype, this really does seem to be the last time that the 'Godfather of UK Soul' has taken his magnificent Blue Flames - Guy Barker, Alan Skidmore, Anthony Kerr, Alec Dankworth, Tristan and James Powell - into the studio. The result is a satisfying mix of material from the rollicking shuffle beat of the frankly hedonistic Thinkin' and Drinkin to the heartfelt tribute to the late Steve Gray. one of Britain's finest ever arrangers, over an almost funereal march beat.

There's a distinct feel of nostalgia running like a thread through this collection of songs, whether it's The Diary Blues, beginning with Count Basie piano figures and and flares from the brass, which looks back on the life of a much travelled musician or the final My Ship (not the Kurt Weill one) a touching song written by an old friend from his Flamingo days, Mike O Neill, where he is joined by Madeline Bell and he intones a list of heroes like Gene Ammons, Oscar Brown Junior, Eddie Jefferson and Johnny Griffin under the final chorus as if to suggest that the music that has inspired him throughout his life is maybe over.

But it's not all tinged with melancholy. If his wacky 'trombone' scat on a Floyd Dixon blues doesn't make you laugh out loud maybe you shouldn't be listening to jazz at all, and the killer track, Mose Knows, dedicated to his mentor and inspiration Mose Allison is just amazing. Here he goes into almost rap mode over a furious straight-ahead beat powered by Dankworth and the Powell brothers - his two sons - which allows Anthony Kerr to show what a magnificent vibes player he is, and us to wonder why he is so seldom seen around. This album wasn't a review copy, so when I say this track alone is worth the price of the whole collection it's not just a glib cliché, but, for me, a statement of fact.

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INTERVIEW: Dhafer Youssef (New CD + EFG LJF/ Barbican, 19th Nov)

Dhafer Youssef at the Viva Musica! Festival Bratislava in 2011.
Photo: © Oles Cheresko, by kind permission of Dhafer Youssef's management



Oud-player and singer DHAFER YOUSEF was born in a Tunisian fishing village to a ‘modest family’. In this interview he talks about: making his first oud; how learning to sing in a Turkish bath created his sound; working in Europe with Gilad Atzmon, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Nguyên Lê, Paolo Fresu and other jazz influences, his new jazz CD(*)  with a top New York band, and his birthday gig at the Barbican. Alison Bentley interviewed him:  

London Jazz News: Can you tell me about how you made your first oud?

Dhafer Youssef: I needed to do something, to play the notes I was hearing, so I had no other option than to try to make my own instrument. It was like a primitive oud, with wood and a can of tomatoes, and bicycle cables. I don’t even remember how it sounded, but it was like, ‘Okay, this is my first instrument!’ I was trying to bring out the notes that I heard on the radio, or that I sang.

LJN: What first attracted you to the sound of the oud?

DY: It’s because I’m Tunisian. I always say, if I’d been born somewhere else in Africa, I’d maybe be a djembe-player or an ngoni or kora-player. If I’d been born in New York, maybe I’d be a double bass or saxophone-player. Maybe I’m lucky to be Tunisian because I love the sound of the oud. Every day when I wake up, I pick it up, even for a few minutes- sometimes it lasts for maybe an hour. Even for five minutes, it’s as if that’s really my breakfast!

LJN: How does the oud get its distinctive sound?

DY: What I love in the oud is the sound. I use, for example, Pyramid strings for Baroque lute, which could also be for guitar. The difference is that there are double strings, and that makes the special sound of the oud. I always have the feeling when I’m tuning the instrument that I’m trying to make two people sound the same, which are never the same. Because two strings, even if they are made by the same machine or the same hand- in the end they’re different. I do it myself, and in the end it sounds a little bit- not out of tune- but in the region of the right tuning. And that makes the speciality of the sound. That’s why I love the oud, actually. It’s different from the guitar- I love the guitar. I love all string instruments- banjo a little bit less! My respect to all banjo players! [laughs]

LJN: When you first started playing you practised on a toy guitar?

DY: Yes, the story is that I was so thirsty to play an instrument, because I didn’t play oud at that time. I was looking to have something just to play, to make noise, notes, sound. My neighbour at that time- he travelled abroad and came back with a toy guitar for his nephew and an acoustic guitar for himself. He knew that I was really into music and I wanted to learn, so he gave me the toy to practise a bit. So I was practising on that plastic toy every day. And then every month for a few days he gave me his acoustic guitar so I had to take care of it. It was almost like having a Rolls Royce after having the toy guitar. I have a funny story about this person. I was walking with him back to our neighbourhood, about 35 years ago. I told him, ‘Look, I want to travel the world to play my music. I’m thirsty to tell people my story.’ He was laughing. He thought, ‘He can’t even control the instrument, and he thinks he has a story to tell people all over the world?’ Four or five years ago, I met him and he told me, ‘Dhafer, I have to say that you are one of my idols, because you were so sure you wanted to say something.’

I believe that in music it’s this: it’s not the instrument you play, or the compositions you write; it’s much more what you have inside. So you have to have confidence, and you have to believe you have a story to tell. And I think from that point I understood that the instrument is just a means to tell this story, whether the voice or the oud, violin, composition, orchestra. In the end I believe we have a destiny- we are born to be something, and you have to fight for that.

LJN: Were you encouraged by your family to sing?

DY: At the beginning it was hard because they wanted me to study to be a doctor or an architect and have a normal job. Then they saw that I was really into it, so they understood that they would not change my mind. So now they are really proud. It wasn’t easy, but I think your personality always makes your decisions. They love it: ‘Okay, everyone has to be himself, to go where he wants to be.’

LJN: You practised your singing in the hammam? [Turkish bath]

DY: In the foyer of the hammam. When you enter there is a resonance. Some people say to me, ‘You use a lot of effects and delay.’ This is also an instrument for me. This instrument was not the oud, but these effects. Today when I sing I use this as an instrument, as a possibility to go somewhere else. When I began with that, I was not thinking about using this later on. But it became like a flavour, or maybe one of the most important techniques in my singing- this delay and echo. It’s not easy- you have to get used to it, the way some guitarists use pedals and effects. It’s another instrument, another way of thinking. I was lucky to have this hammam foyer. I believe a lot of things are destined. Sometimes things happen and you have no idea why, but they have to happen, because you have a way or path to go on- Mother Nature, God, or something else, helps you to do that. Just open your eyes and your mind, and you can take it.

LJN: When you started singing, you sang the call to prayer. Did that affect your style of singing later?

DY: Of course. You can’t learn something without it becoming essential to you in your life. What is important to me in that is the mystical part, not the religious part. Today I’m enjoying life, free from judgement. Keep your mind free like a bird. I sing about that!

LJN: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Alim Qasimov, qawwali singers- are you influenced by the ornamentation?

DY: I’m like a sponge- I absorb everything on my way. And then what comes after- of course I have a lot of things. I feel like a mosaic of everything. All those things are a part of my body and soul.

LJN: You have a beautiful high tone to your voice- I wondered if you were influenced by rock singers?

DY: I love to listen to rock, and when I was young too. For me, it’s very important, this wild emotion. You can really like whispering, but to give whispering a value you also have to scream. You have to let it out from your body. Of course, you have to learn how to do it. This is really important for me. Music is like life- you go outside sometimes and it sounds too loud, and you get used to that. But finally you want to be quiet.

LJN: What do you feel when you’re singing in that high powerful way?

DY: I feel like I’m just an instrument. I don’t know, there’s something playing on me, and sometimes it’s like a vibration between the musicians on the stage; and also the public, and the acoustic of the hall. There are some moments when I don’t feel my body any more. My body is like a resonance, like the body of a double bass or oud or piano. And then I’m really tired!

LJN: How did you get interested in jazz and which jazz musicians and singers have inspired you?

DY: I would not be able to be a musician if I wasn’t interested in jazz. For me, jazz is the best way to do music. Of course, I love classical music, traditional music, electronic music. I love all kinds of music which can touch me, if it’s done with love and originality. But jazz- it reminds me of when I was young with Arabic music. In a lot of traditional music, there is improvisation. For that you travel between [Arabic] maqams, between the moods- that’s why I love it. Then of course, with jazz on the stage you can have anybody, different people, any perspective of life. They can be Afro-American, European, Norwegian, Brazilian, Indian, African, but they try to build the same language. On stage everybody is trying to talk a common language, always looking for other textures for this language. And this is what I love in it: all of them understand that we are there to be surprised.

If I’m talking about who changed my life, I have to say Miles Davis- one of the most important musicians who really made me dream. Because in his career he did a lot- he was always doing new stuff, new ideas. And as a leader he was a big inspiration- the way he brings people together. This is my goal – to be able to have musicians around me who really share my story. Whenever I have a new project, I always think about Miles as a leader. He had no limits. I think he changed the scene. Today, all the great musicians played with him. People talk about him like a prophet; not in a religious sense, but as a creator. And of course, singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan- they changed my life. I’m not going to sing like them but they teach me without teaching me.

LJN: You’ve worked with so many people- to name a few: Gilad Atzmon, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Nguyên Lê, Paolo Fresu, and travelled to different places. Have these musicians influenced the way you play?

DY: Of course- these musicians are my bank account! [laughs] From them I have ideas. When I need ideas I play with them. Of course, I hope they are getting some back from me. I have to say, without them I would not be where I am today, or where I want to go. All these encounters are really important, much more important than eating caviar or drinking champagne.

LJN: Each of your CDs has a different sound, and your new CD is with your first all-American band?

DY: I always wanted to do a record with New York musicians. It began in 1999 when I recorded Electric Sufi, and finally I was divided between European and American musicians, like Markus Stockhausen, Dieter Ilg, Wolfgang Muthspiel. The American side was Doug Wimbish, Will Calhoun, Mino Cinelu. Then on Abu Nawas Rhapsody I tried to get all musicians from New York. In the end, Tigran Hamasyan was on board and just one American, Mark Guiliana, who’s also playing on the latest record. Finally, I believe that the project decides for me- I’m not the one who decides. After fifteen or sixteen years I’ve got 100% New York musicians in the band. Of course, I play with them because they are important as musicians, as human beings. If Aaron Parks lived in London, he would be in the band! I believe that the project itself, its personality, decides for me. Just before this project, I recorded two or three songs with [percussionist] Zakir Hussain, but I decided to make this much more jazzy.

LJN: Can you tell me something about the tracks on the new album? You have some very complex time signatures- does that come from Arabic music?

DY: I played with a tabla player from India, Jatinder Thakur. I’m lucky that I met him at that time in Vienna when I was living there. My first band was with him. Every day he was explaining things to me, and I fell in love with those odd metres. The title of this new record is Diwan of Beauty and Odd. A diwan is like a collection of poems written by a single poet. Normally they’re short, to be set to music, for example. The idea that I had for the whole record was: the ‘odd’ refers to the odd metres. The melodies, the bass lines, the piano-playing, the oud, the singing and everything- makes the ‘odd’ into beauty. I believe without opposites there’s nothing. In nature, it’s like beauty is only good because there is ugliness. It’s the same with music- it’s like the idea of having odd metres and then flying with them.

LJN: So you have "Fly Shadow Fly" and "17th Flyways"?

DY: The idea was to sing texts by a writer from Syria. This is a baby that needs to grow. I’m really excited to be playing this music in London at the Barbican, on Nov. 19th, my birthday! So ask everybody to be there!

(*) CD: Diwan of Beauty and Odd, with Aaron Parks- piano; Ben Williams- bass; Mark Guiliana- drums; Ambrose Akinmusire- trumpet, on Okeh label in Sept.)

LIVE: Barbican Centre, Nov 19th, EFG LJF

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REVIEW/ PHOTOS: Fly (Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard) at Unterfahrt in Munich

Mark Turner at Unterfahrt
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


Fly (Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard)
(Unterfahrt Munich, June 18th 2016. Review and photos by Ralf Dombrowski)


Mark Turner is sometimes compared to John Coltrane. Musically that doesn't really stack up, because the styles and personalities of the two tenor saxophonists are too far apart. What is similar, however, is Turner's clear and unwavering dedication to his music. There is no hint of vanity about him. When he stands on stage, fully concentrating, he gives the impression of being genuinely surprised by what the instrument that he is controlling can achieve. He has the genial seriousness of a scientific researcher as he tracks down contrapuntal strands and abstract ideas, he devotes himself to developing lines of development which span from distant blues and hard bop through to the dismantling of traditional harmony in classical music. He is unperturbed, he has a high degree of control over what he does, but at the same time he is indefatigably curious. Not for him the special effects, the growling or honking that some other saxophonists indulge themselves in, with Turner it is all about fine adjustments and variations in his sound. For that kind of exploration it was good to have the members of his trio Fly with him at Unterfahrt: musicians who share his tendancy to be purists, but equally enthusiastic for the same basics and principles.

Fly: L-R Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard at Unterfahrt
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


Bassist Larry Grenadier's playing has gone way beyond the role of providing an accompanying line. His breadth of variation, which has been increasing for many years makes him the ideal musical interlocutor for an intellectal musician such as Turner.

Drummer Jeff Ballard draws rhythms from post-jazz and beyond, having internalized all the language and the shapes of modern improvisation. He supports and contributes to Grenadier's musical vitality, spurs both his colleagues to stray beyond the familiar, which enables Fly to function as a jazz-playing nucleus in which the communication and interaction are intense. Fabulously energetic, but without having to resort to large gestures, Fly's subtle music with its over-riding sense of balance is truly engaging and fascinating.

This is our translation of Ralf Dombrowski's review for the respected Munich broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung

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NEWS: Jazzwise places entire digital archive since 1997 online for subscribers



Jazzwise magazine, in partnership with Exact Editions, has placed the content of all of the 208 issues since the magazine was launched in April 1997 online. As of last month, subscriptions to the digital editions, which are readable on phone, ipad or computer, now also give access to the full archive.

Jon Newey, Editor-in-Chief, also points out that the magazine's digital edition app (which sells for the same price as the print edition) was the first digital edition of a print jazz magazine in the world when it was launched in 2011, and is now 'the biggest selling jazz magazine app edition in the world. It works just like the print edition, but is more flexible and interactive on website linkage.'

Jazzwise magzine is the UK's biggest selling jazz monthly, and the leading English language jazz magazine in Europe. 

LINKS: Jazzwise subscriptions
Original story


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ROUND-UP REPORT: festival Desvio (Parede, Portugal)

Gabriel Ferrandini (Red Trio, Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio, Ferrandini Trio)
Photo credit : Henning Bolte


Festival Desvio 2016
(Parede, SMUP, June 2 – 4. Report and photos by Henning Bolte)

A meeting of jazz musicians called DETOUR, DESVIO in Portuguese, is a clear signal to leave the beaten track; to look for the less known, to watch and listen in a less explored area to discover hidden gems. Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, has become increasingly attractive the last few years for various groups due to its special touch of known/unknown, near/far, familiar/unfamiliar, modernity/native traditions and its very own aesthetics and not yet over-mystified mystics. From a central European perspective Lisbon is on the South-western Atlantic periphery or it is half way to Brooklyn. The important record label Clean Feed, with its numerous links to New York, and to various cities in Central and Eastern Europe, is a clear manifestations of these constellations, and is at the heart of this remarkable festival.

Parede, the place where Desvio took place at SMUP, Sociedade Musical União Paredense, a local music society founded in 1899, is even 30 kilometres closer to Brooklyn. Situated at the wide mouth of river Tago near Estoril and Cascais, it is one of the Western satellites of Lisbon along the shore of the Tago river. It became “a place” recently when record label Clean Feed gave up its record shop Trem Azul near Cais do Sodre in Lisbon and the label’s head quarter moved to Parede. Pedro Costa of Clean Feed quite soon started to organize concerts at SMUP (he somehow wasn’t able not to do it). Somewhere on the move along European festivals and meetings the idea was born to combine a board meeting of the Europe Jazz Network with a presentation of Portuguese music (labelled ‘jazz’) at Parede. Pedro Costa one of the important organizers in the Portuguese jazz scene and cofounder of the Clean Feed label, agreed to organize/curate a three night program showing some facets of jazz from Portugal.

Hugo Carvalhais, Mario Costa (Nebulosa Trio w/ Émile Parisien)
Photo credit Henning Bolte


DAY 1, Quinta-feira

DESVIO presented four concerts in the first night. My personal highlight was the performance of bassist Hugo Carvalhais from Porto with his Nebulosa Trio comprising well known wild soprano sax man Emile Parisien and the amazing swirls of drummer Mario Costa. The appealing way Carvalhais creates attractive dark moods growing into energetic bursts worked excellently in the combination with Parisien – even in a piece inspired by Hildegard van Bingen (“O Clarissima Virga”).

The name of the trio fits its music that has a certain kind of verdant mystery characteristic of the north of Portugal and the Galician area with Santiago de Compostela. Carvalhais is a musician who doesn't fit into the ‘free camp’ - but doesn't fit into the mainstream either. He has used this to his advantage and has ended up developing his very own rich musical mood with intriguing contrasts and improbable connections.

The other three concerts came from the free jazz mould and beat their own track. Young saxophonist Pedro Sousa delivered sets with two groups, one as part of the threesome of cello player Miguel Mira, familiar from Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio, and drummer Afonso Simões. The cello makes a big difference in this kind of music and Mira was really working hard to create a percussive flow of mighty waves. The trinity is in fact revealed as a trio of percussionists at work with constantly interspersed riffs by tenorist Pedro Sousa. Sousa clearly revealed to be inspired by the brötziness of legendary veteran Peter. Sousa played long brötzy stretches with a certain lucidness in his playing that hinted into an interesting direction. The threesome kept the sound rolling and brötzing on heavily with solid ground control.

Next was Sousa’s participation in a new trio formation of explosive young and experienced drummer Gabriel Ferrandini with bassist Hernani Faustino both part of the well-known Red Trio. The three moved forward in fast mode thereby creating cascading razor sharp sound splitters initiating chain reactions of fissions. After a while the unit arrived at a slower pace and entered a quieter place with some beautiful repetitious moves, magnificently carried by Faustino’s bass playing. It could have opened access to some terra incognita but the group shifted back into its defining - hectic - pace.

Pedro Lopes, electronics/turntables
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

DAY 2, Sexta-feira

The second night brought again four concerts. New for me personally were electronic musician Pedro Lopes, a Berlin resident, and the trinity of reedist Ze Bruno Parrinha, guitarist Luis Lopes and cellist Ricardo Jacinto premiering Parrinha’s work Garden, just released on Clean Feed.

Electronic musician Pedro Lopes was the great unknown, a kind of wild card, corringa, of the whole event. His electronic wizardy appeared as slightly strange but in the long run revealed as utterly fascinating, enjoyable and likeable for almost everyone in the audience. He showed a deep dedication to what he was doing, he turned and twisted things around in a surprising and appealing way and he was totally immersed in and occupied by his playfulness. He apparently did all the things just for that. He played his very own dialectical game with the machinery - concerned with and acting through opposing forces. By his bodily movements and percussive actions he made things rapidly bouncing to and fro and by this counteracting the machine with its deeply imprinted, manipulatable sounds. There was no showing off virtuosity as its coolest master but it was a really creative playful game, convincing and delighting that happened there.

Next performance, by reedist Ze Bruno Parrinha together with electric guitarist Luis Lopes and cellist Ricardo Jacinto, proceeded the opposite way. Calmly and in slow pace, almost ritualistically, it seemed the three musicians were uncovering a buzzing sound still hidden in space. By microtonal movements and scattered sound particles they found and shaped frottage-like “their” wavering spectral line, their own deeper correspondence and carefully formed imperfect way of staying in harmony. By this they also arrived at tipping moments when it toppled over, started to crumble or became rampant with shorter instants of stark contrast and peristaltic twitches. Nonetheless they regained their stream from which a verily cathedral sonority arose. And, it has to be mentioned; the parts with the clarinet were the most beautiful and fitted the best.

The quintet of young bassist João Hasselberg tapped into a different barrel. His group with vocalist Jana Espinada, trumpeter Diogo Duque, pianist Luis Figueiredo and drummer Bruno Pedroso presented music of an enriched singer-songwriter format with hymnic qualities and extended instrumental colors. It is an interesting and challenging choice demanding a balancing of purity and colour, strong simplicity and spheric elements. The hymnic chants offered some good attempts but were hampered by its ambitiousness. There is still work to be done to meet the fine line where naturalness can thrive.

The final performance was quite a different, heavy calibre. It came from one of the most established and internationally proven formations of the Portuguese scene, the Motion Trio of saxophonist Rodrigo Amado with cellist Miguel Mira and young drummer extraordinaire Gabriel Ferrandini. Amado works and records regularly with the likes of Peter Evans and Joe McPhee and has accomplished a highly appreciated position in international polls. Their music comes from the “free jazz” mould and has developed into a version with wonderfully floating passages emerging from heavy roars, salvos and high energy cross-firing. Amado is a determined, energetic player never overblowing just for the sake of showing how heavy he is. He works from and to the structuring of the music no matter if it is quiet or fast and roaring loud. Gabriel Ferrandini is one of the most impressive young 'free' drummers in the field, with a significant personal style. His drumming is explosive, with a great flow, full of nuance and quick dynamic adaptation to all modes of movement. He figured in three constellations during DESVIO, the Motion Trio, the Red Trio and is own trio. The real beast in this high energetic troop however is cellist Miguel Mira. Being a diligent worker he unlocked and was texturing and chasing unlike many bassists would be able to do. Fragmented parts driven by Ferrandini’s splintering drum sounds alternated in the performance with calmer even lyrical passages where Ferrandini could be seen reverting to some delicate brush work for some moments. With high energy and great dynamics the threesome went through arousing upturn-downturn curves safely arriving at a natural halt. Sometimes it could even have happened a bit earlier … .

Susana Santos Silva (Lama). Photo credit: Henning Bolte


DAY 3, Sábado

The final day had five remarkable configurations: a solo, three trios and concluding a quartet of the youngest generation. Outstanding acts were Lama and the Red Trio both matured bands, highly profiled with a striking signature.

It started with the duo of trumpeter Luis Vicente and electronic musician Jari Marjamaki joined by Dutch guitarist Jasper Stadhouders as guest. Luis Vicente, highly active on the Portuguese scene with his own groups or in Clocks and Clouds with Rodrigo Pinheiro and Hernani Faustino has also been reaching out to international collaboration such as in the French Portuguese formation Deux Maisons with the Ceccaldi Brothers on strings or in the Dutch-German collective Spinifex. Jari Marjamaki is a Finish producer and electronic musician residing in Lisbon and involved in the improve-scene there. Jasper Stadhouders is a member of Dutch-German collective Spinifex and part of the Amsterdam DoeK collective. Coequal and loud they stirred it all up thereby producing a floating heavy brew that merged the flashing electro-acoustic traces.

Lama is a young trio with a firm foothold in Rotterdam and Porto/Stockholm comprising two Portuguese musicians, trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and bassist Gonçalo Almeida, and one Canadian musician, drummer Greg Smith. The trio has at its disposal a wide range of techniques and approaches well absorbed from the jazz tradition, all of which are exploited creatively in service of their imaginations that took shape in the albums Oneiros (2011), Lamacal (2013) with Chris Speed as guest (see my review) and the recent The Elephant’s Journey (2015) with Joachim Badenhorst as guest, all on Clean Feed. At Lama's core is an engaging combination of roughness and melody, audacious and challenging line drawing, and a special unity of the pleasure of playing and deep concentration.

Its Desvio performance proved again convincingly that Lama is a real band, reliable, constantly improving, evolving and resting on solid foundations and wealthy sources of artistic inspiration, musically and non-musically. The freshness, freedom and beauty with which they rendered their own songs was simply stunning and captivating. You could hear the reflections of the musician’s rich experience of playing in other configurations – especially applying to Susana Santos Silva who just came in from a series of performances in Germany, New York and Chicago with among others Craig Taborn, Thomas Morgan, Mat Maneri, Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock, Kaja Draksler and Dave Rempis. That she appears this summer on festivals as Moers, Molde and Saalfelden also says something. Lama’s light will shine on more places far and near. It’s time.

Lama was followed by a compact and overwhelming performance of Red Trio, another rock solid and enduring Lisbon formation, now underway during eight years with a series of notable collaborations as the one with saxophonist John Butcher. The trio’s last album, Summer Skyshift, is a registration of its appearance at last year’s edition of prestigious Jazz em Agosto festival (review here)

Pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro started with a surprising straight ahead bouncing line after a while mutating into Cecil Taylor mode of playing, strongly underpinned and driven by Gabriel Ferrandini’s swirling splitters and Hernani Faustino’s mighty permeating vibrations. As usual the musicians of Red Trio can transform the seething sound mass that results from it. This time the music for moments mutated into hyper sound wave effects known from The Necks after which drummer Ferrandini went into unexpected still higher breath-taking acceleration as a kind of final sprint which made the sound exploding more heavily and fiery. Red Trio can lift up a whole building, did it at DESVIO and put it safely back right in place and time too.

It was the right moment to change to a different pace, to return to a meadow with bushes of whispers and small gestures, to give shape to some well timed pausing turns, to experience sound in a different semblance. Trumpeter Sei Miguel is an intriguing highly idiosyncratic musician. When I listened to his new album (Five) Stories Untold on Clean Feed I was captured by his unique way of pausing, phrasing and articulating (some samples on RADIO here)

It could be complete nonsense, but … because it remained quite fascinating it has this so called (unexplainable) something. It became even more intense when it seemed that he always plays THAT same piece. All this revealed as still more intense and fascinating in his live performance, which was a particular combination of spoken and played narrative. He is highly self-centred, self-assured and at first sight/hearing a bit awkward. He shared his uncommon perceptions with the audience in an uncommon way. He was open, focused - and yet enigmatic at the same time. But the result was that it worked: listeners lent him their ears.

As final act musicians of the youngest generation hit the stage. The quartet of twenty-one year old saxophonist Ricardo Toscano with pianist João Pedro Coelho, bassist Romeu Tristão and drummer João Pereira with great bravura presented a compact, muscular and fast version of strongly bop-inflected music. In the long run it became too much streamlined musical athletics and thereby less enervating. It will be a challenge for these talented and skilled young musicians whether to perfect the present state or to enter the zone of proximal development.

Miguel Mira (Rodrigo Amado Trio, Pedro Sousa 3)
Photo credit: Nuno Martins

Conclusão

The program reflected the bandwidth and some essential traits mainly of free improvisation in Portugal. It expanded insight, appreciation, knowledge and again and again caused surprise! Of course there is more and much more to explore!

The DESVIO performances revealed that there are distinctive and unique configurations, colours and forms. There are radical and versatile musicians with a voice of their own and you can find strong longstanding and evolving working bands having established or are establishing reputation and collaboration on the international scene. The program offered good chances for the audience to connect with some essential characteristics and to dig into it. Desvio achieves what it sets out to do. For the Portuguese scene it has had a strong encouraging effect so far, and it has placed a genuine highlight in the program(ming) at SMUP, Parede.

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REVIEW: Tim Garland Quartet One at King’s Place,

Tim Garland Quartet
L-R: Asaf Sirkis, Ant Law, Tim Garland, Jason Rebello
Photo courtesy of Edition Records

Tim Garland Quartet One
(King’s Place, Saturday 18th June. Review by Mike Collins)

The stick clicking count-in from Asaf Sirkis to Prototype, underlined the dedication to Bill Bruford Tim Garland had just offered. The mazy riff, doubled by a Rhodes like sound from Jason Rebello’s keyboard over Sirkis’ meaty backbeat had head’s nodding and feet tapping in a sold out Hall Two at King’s Place. After Garland’s fiery solo, Ant Law allowed a few distorting chords to ring from his eight string guitar before winding up a burning solo. It was rousing finale after two pulsating sets at King’s Place that had feature a sprinkling of numbers from Garland’s recent release, the jazz rock flavoured One.

The quartet are in the middle of a series of gigs promoting the album, but referenced plenty of Garland’s other ports of call in a now nearly thirty-year career. Jason Rebello has been a friend and occasional collaborator for much of that time and he was on blistering form. Early in the first set Colours of Night slipped into a liquid, rocky groove, electric keys augmenting the airy phrases from the sax – it could plausibly have come from a Weather Report album had we not known it was Garland original. Rebello’s solo built phrase upon phrase with rhythmic propulsion that was electrifying. He switched to piano for Windows and did it again, a thrilling climax to the galloping, latin-tinged Chick Corea piece. Tyne Song, amidst the excitement and grooves, provided one of the most compelling passages of the evening. Originally appearing on Garland’s Songs to the North Sky album, recorded with an orchestra, its haunting call-like and balladic theme gave way to a free-er exchange between Garland and Rebello, the saxophone’s spiralling, hooting phrases first shadowed and then led by melodic and harmonic invention from the piano; a moment of quiet magic. Sama’i for Peace had them careening on a surge of rhythm as Sirkis seemed just to exhale a groove, grinning with delight as he caught inflections and swerves from each of the soloists. The second set swept us towards that finale with more selections from the album and a quieter moment with the delicately lilting Rosa Ballerina.

Garland was constantly inventive, his by turns intimate, then rasping growling sound occasionally churned up with some electronics, always seemed to imbue phrases with a song like quality and a measured intensity. The bass-less format and switches between acoustic and more electric balance for the sound, were a challenge albeit largely heroically met by the engineers, but it does give this band a distinctive sound alongside the irresistible force of their playing. A scintillating evening and a band to catch if you can. Swanage and Manchester festivals are the next opportunities.

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

LINK: Further One tour dates, July-October

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REVIEW: Shubhendra Rao & Saskia Rao-de Haas, Mystic Voices Festival at the Bhavan Centre W14

(L-R) Shahbaz Hussain, Shubhendra Rao, Saskia Rao-de Haas

Shubhendra Rao & Saskia Rao-de Haas: Sitar & Cello Concert 
(Bhavan Centre, 17th June 2016. Review by Naoise Murphy.)

Shubhendra Rao and Saskia Rao-de Haas’s sitar and cello concert was part of the Mystic Voices Festival, which aims to explore ‘the connections between spirituality, poetry and music.’ And there was indeed something deeply spiritual, even transcendent, in the air at the Bhavan Centre. These highly accomplished musicians created an atmosphere of peace and serenity, sitting cross-legged on a raised, carpeted platform on the stage.

The concert was made up of long pieces (of up to thirty minutes) that tended to begin slowly and quietly, building to greater and greater intensity. The players easily kept the audience absorbed in their performance - their stunning compositions had plenty of light and shade.

Dutch-born Rao-de Haas brought a passionate playing style to her unique instrument, the Indian cello (which is smaller than a Western cello- more detail HERE). An engaging performer, she was equally capable of producing deep, gravelly sounds and lighter, more lyrical sounds, mixing Western and Indian influences beautifully.

Rao learnt his craft with the best. He was pupil of Ravi Shankar and performed with him. Their association, in the guru-shishya tradition, lasted for most of two decades. The harmonic complexity of Rao's sitar playing was compelling, and his technical mastery of the instrument was stunning, his fingers racing up and down the instrument at lightning speed.

Each instrument was given equal time centre-stage, with the pieces mostly alternating between the two. The performance reached new heights when they played together, achieving a frantic energy that was later aided even more by the addition of the tabla.

Shahbaz Hussain on tabla brought depth and character to the performance when he joined in from the second piece. A pulsating beat and jaunty syncopated rhythms helped to create even further musical complexity. The diversity of sounds Hussain was able to produce from the tabla with his hands and the skill with which he interacted with the sitar and cello were spellbinding.

The final piece of the evening – a response to 9/11 - was a highlight. Rao described it in his introduction as ‘a cry of anguish.’ It told the story of two children who lose their parents in the tragedy, encapsulating the pain, despair and confusion of the event with a soaring cello melody and the lyrical sounds of the sitar, and the two were eventually joined by the tabla. The message of the piece was that life can never be completely hopeless. These musicians succeeded in transcending anguish, in finding hope for a better world.

The Mystic Voices Festival continues until late July. 

LINK: The SAMA Arts Network website has full festival listings

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BOOK REVIEW: Ralph J. Gleason: Music in the Air: The Selected Writings and Conversations in Jazz



Ralph J. Gleason Music in the Air: The Selected Writings and Conversations in Jazz
(Yale University Press, 328pp. and 292pp. Book review by Chris Parker)


“When arguing about politics or society in general he always sought, and secured, a position of high moral ground. When writing about music, he returned again and again to the power it conveyed, noting that an entire generation was finding its prophets in strange places, in dance halls and on the jukebox.” This summation of the ethos informing the writing of music journalist/social commentator Ralph J. Gleason (1917–1975) is taken from the Introduction to Music in the Air by Jann Wenner, for whose Rolling Stone magazine Gleason acted as midwife and éminence grise.

The articles (from the San Francisco Chronicle, Downbeat, Ramparts and Rolling Stone), liner notes, book extracts and essays in Toby Gleason’s selection from his father’s work all conform perfectly to Wenner’s description; the interviews in Conversations in Jazz, likewise, are all conducted with the tact, sympathy and understanding that characterised the man. Indeed the latter selection, also by Toby Gleason, but graced with pithy and insightful introductory notes by Ted Gioia, derives much of its considerable power from precisely these qualities; Gleason was clearly a great listener, to both the music and the people who produced it, and the nuggets of wisdom and frank self-revelation he elicits from the likes of John Coltrane, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, all four members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Sonny Rollins et al. constitute a great contribution to our understanding of a pivotal era in jazz (the late 1950s/early 1960s).

It is Music in the Air, however, that really showcases the breadth and subtlety of Gleason’s writing talent. On Miles Davis’s foray into electronic music via In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, for instance, Gleason unerringly puts his finger on what now seems an obvious truth, but was then deeply controversial: “Listen to this. How can it ever be the same? I don’t mean you can’t listen to Ben [Webster]. How silly. We can always listen to Ben play ‘Funny Valentine’, until the end of the world it will be beautiful and how can anything be more beautiful than [Johnny] Hodges playing ‘Passion Flower’? […] It’s not more beautiful, just different. A new beauty. A different beauty. The other beauty is still beauty. This is new and right now…” On Duke Ellington as a pianist: “At one number he would be the suave, international boulevardier, and in the next tune he would be as down-home funky as the raunchiest, back-room, afer-hours piano player.” On Elvis Presley: “[He] was simple and direct and uncomplicated. He did the visual thing Jim Morrison does but he did it with less sophistication and without the pure cynicism of Morrison or Mick Jagger.” On Bob Dylan: “His songs are chains of flashing images strung together to get out past political rhetoric and pretense and to discuss things as they are in moral terms."




On matters political/social, too, Gleason is similarly pungent yet thoughtful: his opposition to Richard Nixon is particularly stringent, laced with scornful passion, utterly committed; his summary of the hippie generation is both empathetic and clear-sighted; his thoughts on the payola scandal utterly free of the cant that characterised so much of his fellow journalists’ reaction to it. And the clincher? His love of the work of that greatest of satirical social commentators, Lenny Bruce, to whose ‘bits’ he provides not only a uniquely insightful assessment of their comedic power and relevance, but also a valuable gloss, explaining all their contemporary references and obscure Yiddish terminology, making his 20-page essay on the comedian worth the price of admission alone.

And most importantly, as Ted Gioia points out in his Foreword to the jazz interviews, Gleason has lasted, because “he disdained the ephemeral and championed the timeless”.

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