CD REVIEW: Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes - At the Watermill



Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes - At the Watermill
(Woodville Records WVCD143, review by Mark McKergow)


The third CD encounter between reed specialists Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes provides a great variety of top-class swinging jazz numbers with an excellent rhythm section. No surprises there then.

The surprises and delights come in the choice of material, which is varied and fresh. The opening Tippin’ (Horace Silver) gives a clear indication of what is to come, with Barnes’ baritone leading out, followed by a Dave Green double bass solo and Peplowski’s fluid clarinet rounding things up. Barnes does the rounds of his reed instrument collection, appearing on clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor and alto saxophones across the album, while Peplowski limits himself to clarinet and tenor sax (perhaps due to airline baggage restrictions?).

There is a great variety of music here. On the Latin side, Luiz Floriano Bonfá’s rolling Menina Flor is another baritone/clarinet feature that shows the feel of Steve Brown’s drumming, and Antonia Carlos Jobim’s Luiza makes a delightful clarinet duo ballad. The band romps through Junior Mance’s Jubilation, with a fine piano turn from John Pearce before Barnes shows off his flowing alto style. This number is nicely rootsy, as is Al Cohn’s rarely-heard Jazz Line Blues. The one ‘standard’ standard, Perdido, is given a nicely fancy duo head arrangement with much swapping of lines between the horns. The album closes with an extended slow Pee Wee Russell blues, which is very nice coming down at the end of the session.

The session was actually recorded some time ago (2010) at the Watermill jazz club in Dorking (as the title suggests). There is no audience in evidence, so I suspect that the recording was not made at an actual gig. Andrew Cleyndert’s recording sounds nicely ‘live’, not as close miked as the previous Peplowski/Barnes releases. The rhythm section – Scott Hamilton’s regular support at his Pizza Express residencies – provide the expected seamless backdrop to the virtuoso reed performances. If you like this sort of thing, then you will like it – a lot.

LINK: Review of Barnes / Peplowski live in Henley-on-Thames in 2015

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CD REVIEW: Ran Blake - Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell


Ran Blake - Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell
(A-side Records. CD Review by Jon Turney)


The quietly individual pianist Ran Blake is a lifelong student of composer, arranger and theorist George Russell. They were long-time colleagues at the New England Conservatory (NEC) where Blake still teaches. But their musical relationship began in the 1950s with Russell's Jazz Workshop release. The new CD booklet reproduces a star-studded list of signatures Blake gathered in New York in 1959, petitioning RCA to keep that recording available when it went out of print (they declined).

Half a century on, Blake has more clout - hence this set in tribute to his late colleague and friend, recorded five years ago and released now in the run up to Blake's 80th birthday. The seventeen brief excursions here are topped and tailed with two solo piano ruminations on Autumn in New York, rendered in Blake's familiar oblique fashion which manages to make it sound unlike any versions you heard before but still leave the song clearly discernible. In between are pieces for piano, a few duos, and some executed by an ensemble of NEC alumni schooled in Blake and Russell's methods. They include Aaron Hartley on trombone who also produced the session.

The set list mixes works by Russell with new compositions of Blake's inspired by moments in the former's biography, and one other songbook piece, Rodgers' and Hart's Manhattan. This last has a nod or two to Ellington, but Russell and, in Blake's playing, Monk are the guiding lights.

The music overall has the wistful, gently melancholic temper that the pianist's preference for slow to medium tempos and unusual chord choices habitually evokes. It suits the Russell pieces well. They are mostly early Russell - three come from that Jazz Workshop set - so do not call for the rhythmic layering or often raucous soloing of his later big band work. They are presented here as richly detailed chamber jazz miniatures.

Russell's most widely noted contribution to jazz is his pioneering of the shift to organising solos around modes rather than chord sequences. But there is much more to his work than that and the unusual sonorities and pleasantly unexpected intervals that the small group pieces here continually serve up and reflect some of its other aspects. Jack's Blues, one of those old workshop pieces, sounds like a more adventurous out-take from The Birth of the Cool. The Ballad of Hix Bluett sets violin against pedal-steel guitar and calls to mind Bill Frisell's warped Americana. Occasional touches of electronics reflect Russell's early interest in synthesisers - as in Biography, a piano solo set against an electronic backdrop.

Russell's career was longer and more diverse than a single recording can convey. Still, the variety, musicality, and constant small surprises of Ghost Tones are a fascinating homage to a figure whose work is, as Blake says, as distinctive in its way as that of Messiaen, Strayhorn or Stevie Wonder.

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REVIEW: José James at Ronnie Scott’s

José James

José James
(Ronnie Scott’s, 19th May 2015. Review by Peter Jones)


An audience on its feet and cheering is not the most common sight at Ronnie Scott’s, however appreciative they may be. But such was José James’s warmth and charisma, his musicianship and sheer spontaneity, no other reaction made sense. He had just played God Bless The Child with a barnstorming energy you would never have suspected from Mr Cool, backed by a terrific trio of Leo Genevese (keys), Solomon Dorsey (double bass and vocals) and Nate Smith (drums).

It was a performance that just kept on getting better, offering further proof that James is now the most innovative and creative male jazz singer on the scene. When he improvises, it isn’t the dooby-dooby-doo scat we’re familiar with, but a style derived from DJing and digital editing technology: he grabs fragments - words and phrases - from the tune and recycles them, throwing them up in the air and repeating them in a stuttered and chopped-up manner.

This featured throughout, but most notably in an extended coda to Body and Soul, which opened the second set. James improvises in other ways too, telling the band at the start of the set that they were going to do Lover Man, then changing his mind when they were already playing the intro. It’s a world away from the infinitely rehearsed sleek showbiz approach we have come to expect from many more seasoned American performers: James gets excited by some idea, and wants to put it into practice straight away. Hence when they finally did play Lover Man, it segued into Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands and then Ain’t No Sunshine.

The first set had featured other tunes from his new album Yesterday I Had The Blues, his tribute to Billie Holiday: Good Morning Heartache, Tenderly, Fine and Mellow, and then, strapping on an acoustic guitar, he played a song he wrote with the singer-songwriter Emily King – Come to My Door. Here, the vocal harmony was provided by the excellent Solomon Dorsey, whose solos elsewhere were accompanied by his own scat vocal.

It had been an intimate sort of evening, enlivened by good-natured banter with the audience. James told a long and touching story about his relationship with London, where he was ‘discovered’ while living here in 2006. At one point he was so overcome with emotion that he had to stop talking. In New York they wouldn’t give him the time of day, he said.

The show ended with an encore, his version of Strange Fruit, sung completely a capella. Through the magic of technology he recorded his vocal harmonies and ragged handclaps live, building up a hyponotic, repeated 2-bar backing, then singing the song’s terrible tale of murder and racism in the Deep South. The applause was long and loud, but so powerful was this performance that it left several people in tears.

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REVIEW: Carol Grimes at Lauderdale House

Carol Grimes

Carol Grimes
(Lauderdale House, 14th May 2015. Review by Brian Blain)


From the opener, Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, to the heavily gospel-inflected encore on the Staples Singers' Respect Yourself, with more overtly jazz material like the classic All Blues - beautiful rich-sounding bass vamp intro from Neville Malcolm - and the rarely heard standard I Cover the Waterfront along the way, the totally unique and impassioned singer Carol Grimes and her brilliant but unshowy band of Dorian Ford (pno) Roy Dodds (dms) Annie Whitehead (trombone) and the aforesaid Malcolm held an almost full house enthralled throughout her wonderfully eclectic show at Lauderdale House last Thursday.

Grimes has been a favourite, and with North London audiences in particular, for years. Her career spans so much, from the very first Glastonbury, two solo albums recorded in Memphis, world tours with contemporary ‘classical’ choir The Shout and, more recently ,strong reviews on a BBC assembled Soul package. At Lauderdale all these inflences melded together seamlessly, although nowadays her natural singing voice has a relatively subdued smoky quality, as on Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, the ‘brainy’ singers’ ballad of choice, On her own dramatic Alexandria’s Dance, she let rip and demonstrated a range that few others on the circuit could match. Amid all her warm, friendly presentation, she wasn’t afraid to hit the crowd with some tough uncompromising material, as on the deceptively hedonistic groover I Believe in Us when the bitter line ‘when we eat, a million people starve’ cracked out like a pistol shot.

Such is the dramatic focus on the singer it might be easy to forget just how good her band is. Ensemble playing was tight,with well-oiled grooves when called for and a string of beautifully shaped solos from pianist Ford and trombonist Annie Whitehead a paradigm of deceptive simplicity and tonal variety frequently achieved with skilful use of the plunger mute: a wonderfully poised duet with with bassist Malcom on the rarely herd classic, Nat Cole’s Nature Boy drew a strong reaction from the crowd, proving yet again that frenetic overkill is not always the best way to get to the audience’s heart.

Carol Grimes and her band present such deceptively beautiful music often built on great grooves as on I Believe in Us or the delicacy of Nick Cave’s Into My Arms that I am always reminded as I was yet again last Thursday, that hers is a very special part of the UK music scene and that she deserves to be cherished as well as simply enjoyed.

LINKS: - Carol Grimes will be taking A Singer's Tale to the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh in August BOOKINGS

Carol Grimes Interview

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CD REVIEW: Andy Sheppard Quartet - Surrounded by Sea



Andy Sheppard Quartet - Surrounded by Sea
(ECM 471 4273. CD review by Mike Collins)


Surrounded by Sea, saxophonist Andy Sheppard’s third release for ECM, sees his Trio Libero with Michel Benita on bass and Seb Rochford on drums expanded to a quartet with the addition of guitar and electronics magician Eivind Aarset. The result is a quiet masterpiece.

There is an extraordinary stillness about much of this album that holds the listener as Sheppard's unmistakable voice on saxophone gently exhales perfectly shaped melodic fragments, kept floating and moving by a magical combination of rustles and slaps from drums, eerie electronics and perfectly placed resonant bass notes. Some of the melodies are familiar with an exquisite rendering of Elvis Costello's I Want to Vanish and the traditional Aoidh Na Dean Cadal Idir makes several appearances, seasoning the collection. The rapport and interaction between the core trio is electric and each piece evolves and gathers in intensity as a result, Aarset expanding the palette sometimes with mysterious washes at others with complementary melodies.

There are plenty of flurries and more energetic moments to offset the contemplative mood. Tipping Point opens the set with a throbbing pulse on bass, Seb Rochford's They aren't perfect and neither am I is all asymmetric skittering fragments from the drums breaking up the flow, The Letter’s glowing melody is gradually jumbled up and the ironed out again. The set closes with Looking for Ornette that develops a steady groove as the leader's soprano sax lines spiral off in exploratory gestures.

The singing melodic lines of Andy Sheppard's saxophone, pared back to essentials, may be the golden thread running through this album but the rest of ensemble turn in perfectly judged performances. Benita's is a no less melodic resonant voice, and Rochford is by turns an impossibly restrained colourist and then an urgent muted percussionist. Aarset is an inspired addition to what was already a very special collaboration. This album is a very big treat best consumed whole. Sit back and and immerse yourself in a distinctive and beautiful sound world.

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REVIEW: Bobby Watson at Ronnie Scott's

Bobby Watson, 2015. Photo credit Benjamin Amure


Bobby Watson
(Ronnie Scotts, 17th may 2015. Review by Frank Griffith)

Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, who was composer/arranger for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the late 1970s made a trimphant return to Ronnie Scotts on Sunday. His programme included four originals, including two long-standing Messengers classics A Wheel Within a Wheel and ETA which still resonate vitally today, with the spark and freshness they had at their inception. The aptly titled. ETA, it emerged, was composed during the lead-up to the birth of Bobby's son some 30 years ago.

Pianist, Richard Johnson, a native of Pittsburgh, birthplace of so many jazz legends (Stanley Turrentine, Erroll Garner, Art Blakey and Billy Strayhorn) handled his roles with aplomb, both as accompanist and as soloist. His proclivity to quote was well-noted throughout, with David Raksin's theme to Laura making more than one appearance. Too bad, then, that fellow quotesters like Jim Mullen or the late Bill Lesage were not on had, they might have given him a run for his money. Veteran bassist, and brother of vocalist, Carmen Lundy, Curtis Lundy, sparkled in his time-keeping as well as his solos. His considered melodic shapes meted out on  Sweet Dreams were a grand example of this. Baltimore-born drummer Eric Kennedy gave sensitive support to the soloists, creating subtle and muted moods. By contrast, he demonstrated more flamboyant African polyrhythms on his unaccompanied solos.

Watson's alto effectively weds his liquid and silky tonal quality with a serpentine-like technique coupled with the application of circular breathing, which is accomplished by inhaling and exhaling concurrently to avoid a break in the sound. Circular breathing is often trotted out as a mere sideshow gimmick by the chancers and the less capable stuntsters; Watson uses it as an intensifier, building up the dramatic flow of both the music and the message.

The penultimate piece of the set, Mal Waldron's classic, Soul Eyes stood out not least for Bobby's solo entrance quoting Harold Arlen's Somewhere Over The Rainbow followed later by Tony Hatch's Downtown during his brief cadenza at the tune's close. What these songs (especially the latter) have to do with Soul Eyes is anybody's guess, but of course an interpreter of this great repertoire associated with this music has full licence to do as he or she pleases. Long may Mr Watson continue to do exactly that, and - please - to come back to Soho sooner rather than later.

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NEWS: Winners in the Music Categories at the 2015 JJA Awards



LINK: THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS/CATEGORIES IN THE MUSIC CATEGORIES OF THE 2015 JAZZ JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION  (JJA) AWARDS IS HERE 

Here are the winners in alphabetical order: Ambrose Akinmusire, Kenny Barron, Brian Blade, Jane Ira Bloom, Regina Carter, Edmar Castaneda, Anat Cohen, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Christian McBride, Pedrito Martinez, Jason Moran, Arturo O'Farrill, Nicole Mitchell, Gregory Porter, Chris Potter, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Maria Schneider, Wayne Shorter, Wadada Leo Smith, Gary Smulyan, Steve Turre, Warren Wolf, Miguel Zenon - plus record labels Columbia Legacy and Motema.

These awards will be distributed, and the journalism, communications and Jazz Heroes categories will be announced, on June 16th at the Blue Note in New York. The awards are the result of a two-stage ballot process among JJA journalists.

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NEWS: Major UK Tour announced for New Orleans Trumpeter Leroy Jones (23 Oct-11 Nov)



Trumpeter/ singer/bandleader and upholder of the New Orleans trad flame LEROY JONES will be on a fiften-date tour with his quintet in the UK in October and November. Both Ian Shaw and Joe Stilgoe will also be featuring as guests on the out-of-London dates.

Harry Connick Jr. has written about Leroy Jones: "I remember Leroy years ago in New Orleans. He was always regarded as the greatest. No one could touch him. For young musicians like me, he was exciting, intimidating. For the older ones, he was the keeper of the flames. But Leroy did more than keep the flame. He started a forest fire..."

Leroy Jones has worked extensively with Harry Connick Jr., Dr John and is a regular guest at Preservation Hall. A typical Leroy Jones set contains the classics: Bourbon Street Parade, Sleepy Time Down South, Basin Street Blues, Do You Know What it Means (To Miss New Orleans), Dinah and When My Dreamboat Comes Home.

TOUR DATES:

23rd – 27th October Pizza Express Dean Street, London
(Ian Shaw will play 27th)

29th October St Albans Arena, St Albans

1st November Harrogate Royal Hall, Harrogate

2nd November Rose Theatre Kingston

3rd November Malvern Festival Theatre

4th November The Concorde Club, Southampton *Leroy Jones Quintet only

5th November Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

7th November The Lighthouse, Poole

9th November The Apex, Bury St Edmonds

10th November Liverpool Philharmonic

11th November Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

LINK: Leroyjonesuktour.com

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CD REVIEW: Samuel Blaser Quartet - Spring Rain



Samuel Blaser Quartet - Spring Rain
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4670. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)


Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser has a strong aspiration to further expand the scope of his instrument, unconfined from the worlds of jazz and free improvisation, through this new release of quartet material in tribute to American clarinettist and composer Jimmy Giuffre.

From his beginnings as a classical student (including a scholarship in the States) via straight-down-the-line big band jazz, Blaser has gradually forged his own identity across a number of recordings to express the trombone's wider capabilities into free jazz and other forms. He seeks music-making without constraint ("I want people to know that there is jazz, blues, classical music, beautiful melodies and no boundaries"). Joining him on this bold recording of original compositions, coupled with interpretations of Giuffre and Carla Bley, are regular colleagues Russ Lossing (piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Minimoog), Drew Gress (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums).

Artistically directed by Robert Sadin (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Sting), it's the refreshing cross-genre unpredictability that defines Spring Rain. For example, the original hypnotic jazz clarinet of Giuffre's Cry Want is translated into a brooding contemporary classical landscape of trombone and piano, with Blaser's technical ingenuity matching Russ Lossing's similarly dark, searching textures. The full quartet is introduced in turbulent Missing Mark Suetterlyn, Blaser's own composition striding broadly to spiky, shared trombone and keyboard phrases; and Carla Bley's Temporarily swaggers and slides magnificently.

With Mahlerian horn echoes, the trombonist's Homage solo leads to shadowy Umbra, Lossing's thunderingly sustained piano punctuated by plucked strings; here, recalling psychedelic Davis/Zawinul fusion, Blaser's intoxicating brassiness responds to wildly abstract Rhodes and Minimoog scribbles, buoyed by energetic bass and drums. Giuffre's Scootin' About is more brashly portrayed in this trombone and piano arrangement, overflowing with jagged, tumbling phrases; and although Blaser's tone is predominantly clear and direct, he also possesses the remarkable adaptability to transform it into ambient textures and impressively-mastered multiphonics.

Trudgin' treads cautiously to mournful trombone glissandi and rippling keyboards, whilst title track Spring Rain is haunted by disquieting percussive slivers and knocks, empty chiming piano and trombone growls – a fascinatingly perturbing episode of the unexpected. At almost four minutes, Blaser's Trippin' is a one-man masterclass in bluesy, rhythmic licks and clever multiphonics – quite a feat for solo trombone, which must be pretty staggering to experience live; and Counterparts rattles freely to Drew Gress's heavy drums/percussion, its blistering trombone cascades and harmonics imitated by sforzando piano. To close, Carla Bley's Jesus Maria (once recorded by Giuffre) is, at eight minutes, spellbinding in its devotion; with mercurial bass, piano and brushed snare at its core, the leader bookends the piece by simply stating and restating its theme through softly-muted trombone – very special.

Neither simply an out-and-out jazzer nor free jazz exponent, Samuel Blaser's intention that Spring Rain might "show that the trombone can be melodic and have various forms of expression" is beautifully realised in this imaginative, forward-thinking release.

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CD REVIEW: Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest - Sylva


Snarky Puppy and Metropole Orkest - Sylva
(Impulse Records 0602547222558. CD review by Rob Mallows)


When you’ve won a Grammy, had your last album constantly in the charts and done over 200 sold-out shows each year to a global audience, making yourselves the new king-pins of contemporary jazz, what do you do next?

In the case of Michael League’s all-conquering Snarky Puppy, you do a concept album with an orchestra. A touch of hubris? Not a bit of it! With this album/DVD, Snarky Puppy show that they have what it takes to take jazz to a mass audience while retaining a clear respect and love for their craft, and growing as a musical collective.

Sylva represents a musical departure, but the core Puppy sound remains to the fore, driven by the rhythm section of League and drummer ’Sput’ Searight, the trumpet playing of Maz Maher and the beautiful keyboard runs of Bill Laurance.

Allusions to woodland in the title indicate the thematic pulse of this suite of six tunes: each is part of a story dedicated to the forest, with League across six tracks capturing the many sides of a place where, he says, “he feels truly connected to the earth as a human being.” All the pieces were written specifically for playing with Dutch ensemble the Metropole Orkest.

With an orchestra behind them, Snarky Puppy sound radically different - more expansive, more organic (they only used analog instruments), drawing inspiration from the metal and wood landscape in which they recorded this album, with audience members situated in and around the band. The accompanying DVD demonstrates well what fun the band, orchestra and audience clearly have with the music.

Opener Sintra is, after a mournful string elegy, a majestic start: League’s pulsing bass introducing the enviable sound of the three-man horn section of Maher, Jay Jennings and Chris Bullock. This is a tricky little tune, with elements of Spanish rhythms and textures introduced by the orchestra, which sets the mood for the album. There is definitely a sense of this music as both jazz album and soundtrack to a film. Sintra segués into the best track on the album, Flight, with Bob Lanzetti’s insistent guitar lick giving way to some beautiful motifs from Cory Henry on the Moog. In the middle it gives off a ‘70s vibe, but it has a fresh modern sound which exemplifies the magic of 'the Puppy'.

Track three, Atchafalaya jumps out of the speakers - Ries Schellekens’ tuba pumping out a jaunty riff, giving room for swing - some really deep swing - from the Snarky Puppy horns, which embellish a fun track that is appreciated by the audience which applauses rapturously at its end. The rest of the tracks on the album are of equal quality - there are no dog tracks to skip here. Two long tracks in particular - The Curtain and closer The Clearing are over fifteen minutes each and border on symphonic film music, with different movements giving the band and orchestra a story-telling opportunity which they don’t miss. A total blast throughout.

The accompanying DVD of the recording demonstrates just what a smooth running music-making machine Snarky Puppy is. They’re a band which, led by the rhythmic genius (and I don’t use that word lightly) of Michael League, is greater than the sum of the fantastically likeable parts and demands to be enjoyed. The only way is up for Snarky Puppy.

A real joy.

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CD REVIEW: Buddy Rich - Birdland


Buddy Rich - Birdland
(Wienerworld 536546223. CD Review by Eric Ford)


The film Whiplash wasn't positively received by musicians in general but it has sparked a new wave of interest in Buddy Rich and in big band drumming, with the result that alto saxophonist Alan Gauvin's private gig recordings from his April 1976 - early 1980 tenure with Buddy's band are now being publicly released for the first time. A CD entitled The Solos appeared a few months ago but this release concentrates on complete performances by the band on pieces with no or very brief solos from Rich. Considering the fact that they were recorded on a Sony tape deck with two stereo microphones, the sound is surprisingly good.

Gauvin's liner-notes shed light on the experience of working with Rich and are pleasingly informal. Whether or not you agree with his assertion that these are ''the most exciting recordings of Buddy's band ever offered for sale'' or that it was the best incarnation of the Rich band, it's certainly a super-tight and very ferocious one and it's easy to believe that Buddy was well-pleased with it. As Gauvin points out, this is the result of a happy combination of musicians working seven nights a week for more than forty weeks each year - an unimaginable feat for a big band these days.

Amongst the personnel are Bob Mintzer, Steve Marcus and exuberant lead trumpeter Dave Stahl, but of all the horn-players only Marcus gets lengthy solos (on soprano). However thanks to the inclusion of two trio tracks we have the pleasure of hearing sparkling pianist Barry Keiner stretching out (on Just Friends and I Hear A Rhapsody) and this is a reminder of just how sad it is that he died on the band bus in 1980, aged 30. Gauvin hints that there are more releases to come, in which case it's to be hoped there are more great examples of Keiner's playing to be made public.

The big band tracks are Mexicali Nose and Birdland - both taken very briskly - plus Milestones, CTA, God Bless The Child (featuring Turk Mauro on baritone), Moment's Notice, Three Day Suckers, Parthenia (composed and arranged by Shelly Manne) and Keep The Customer Satisfied. There's no doubt that Buddy Rich fans will want to add this new material to their collections - some of these versions are better than those on the ''official'' recordings and there's the bonus of the trio tracks. For newcomers it might be good to acquire this in conjunction with the great albums from the late sixties.

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CD REVIEW: Marcus Miller – Afrodeezia



Marcus Miller – Afrodeezia
(Blue Note 0602547214416. CD Review by Peter Jones)


Writing, arranging and producing an album for Miles Davis at the age of 25 is not a bad start to anyone’s career, even if Tutu was critically panned at the time. In fact, it wasn’t the start of Marcus Miller’s career: by then he had already been working professionally for a decade, and over the years he has contributed as a session bass player to the work of jazz and pop royalty: Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Mariah Carey, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Frank Sinatra, George Benson… you get the picture.

Miller’s own recordings have been many: Afrodeezia is the 22nd album he has released under his own name, albeit his first for Blue Note. As one would expect, it’s a polished, sophisticated piece of work, full of rich melody and with a sonically diverse instrumentation, including the bass clarinet. It was recorded with musicians from West Africa, South America and the Caribbean as well as the USA, and was inspired by Miller’s role as spokesman for UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. The players include Miles soundalike Patches Stewart on an ass-kicking rendition of Papa Was a Rolling Stone, one of only two tracks not composed by Miller. The other is a tune written by Bizet, and here titled I Still Believe I Hear, a stately piece featuring gorgeous cello from Ben Hong of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

So Afrodeezia is not what the title suggests, an album of exclusively African sounds. Instead Marcus Miller has given his musical imagination free rein across the many genres he works in. This is important to his mission of giving a voice to the black people who, as he points out, have no voice, whose history has been erased, living on only through music. His stated aim has been to ‘follow them like footprints from their beginnings in Africa all the way to the United States’ and throughout the New World. Hence the steel pans on Son of Macbeth, the upbeat samba-like Hylife, with vocals by Senegal’s Alune Wade and Cherif Soumano. And of course the melodic possibilities of the electric bass are well exploited here, such as the fretless soloing on the serene Xtraordinary.

The contemporary struggle faced by African Americans in the face of police violence is the inspiration for the dance groove I Can’t Breathe, one of the best tracks on the album, with a vocal from Public Enemy’s Chuck D: ‘Can’t breathe, got my hands up… not good when you’re breathing in fear.’

There’s a lot to like and admire about Marcus Miller, and much to enjoy on this album.

Marcus Miller has eight UK tour dates in October

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PREVIEW: City of London Festival Jazz Programme (June 22 - July 10)

The Sky Garden at the Walkie-Talkie

This summer sees the latest in a long line of City of London Festivals, promising three weeks of non-stop jazz of the highest quality and variety. Peter Jones spoke to Festival Director Paul Gudgin.

LondonJazz News: What are the highlights of this year’s event?

Paul Gudgin: I would divide it into three broad areas – jazz in unique, interesting places, free jazz - by which I mean it’s free to get in, and a major concert involving NYJO and the National Youth Choir.

LJN: I gather there’s also a strong Norwegian presence this year.

PG: Yes, there is. On 7 July we’ve got Arve Henriksen and an acoustic quartet called Wako. They’re graduates of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, which has its own well-known jazz festival. But the jazz conservatoire at the University has produced some extraordinary and distinctive musicians over the years. Our Nordic jazz event will be happening in a working bank in the City – Nomura, which has amazing views over the Southbank.

LJN: What other interesting buildings are you using for the festival?

PG: We’ve got a series of gigs called Jazz With A View. Some of these are at the Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie [this is the building that famously focused the sun’s rays on someone’s parked Jag last summer and fried the paintwork]. We’ve also got Anita Wardell performing at The Shard, and Norma Winstone at Unilever House by Blackfriars Bridge.

LJN: All modern venues?

PG: Yes, that was an active choice we made. The City of London has obviously got a large number of fine historic buildings, but we wanted to show off some of the fantastic spaces that have grown up in recent years. So for example we’re putting on a lot of free shows in places like Devonshire Square, at the foot of the Gherkin. The biggest one is Broadgate Circle, by Liverpool Street. The free gigs are mostly at lunchtime and early evening. I mean, 350,000 people come into the City every day to work, and it will be great to engage them with the music, which is why we’ve tried to make as much of it free as possible.

LJN: What performers do you have lined up that we can hear for free?

PG: There’s five days of younger singers, based at the Royal Exchange: Emily Dankworth, Jonathan Carr, Noemi Nuti, Claire Phoenix and Jessica Radcliffe. And then there’s something very close to my heart, which is the BBC Big Band Trio. The big band itself has been sidelined in recent years, which is such a shame, because across the world you’ve got big bands like the NDR in Germany which are subsidized by radio stations, and this gives them the freedom to produce really interesting work. But anyway, at the last minute we’ve managed to get the trio of Robin Aspland on piano, Jeremy Brown on bass and Tom Gordon on drums, and they’ll be joined for two nights at the Sky Garden by a different guest on each night, although I don’t yet know who they will be.

LJN: You mentioned NYJO and the choir.

PG: Yes. They’ll be performing with the National Youth Choir for the first time. There’s a Shakespearian theme, so they’ll be doing a rarely-heard Ellington piece called Such Sweet Thunder, plus a new thing composed by Pete Churchill called Journey’s End, based on a speech from the play Cymbeline. I thought it would be good to feature not only some of the many young big band players around at the moment, but also reflect the current popularity of choral music. I’m really looking forward to that one.

The City of London Festival takes place from 22 June – 10 July in venues across the City.

Full details at www.colf.org.

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PREVIEW: Stoney Lane Records showcase (Kings Place May 30th)



Stoney Lane Records, the new Birmingham-based, musician-led label, will be presenting a series of London showcase concerts by its bands at Kings Place over the coming months, starting on May 30th. Peter Bacon, blogger at thejazzbreakfast.com, and jazz writer for the Birmingham Post, talked to co-founder of the Label Sam Slater

Stoney Lane Records began with a self-released TG Collective disc in 2012. Sam, one of the two founding guitarists in TG Collective (the other is Jamie Fekete), explained:

“At the time it was only through necessity and for our own music, but I had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be nice to create more of a working record label.

“Over the last year, knowing several brilliant local players and friends were planning on recording or planning new projects, it made sense to come together as a collective support and promotional basis for us all, which helps to shout a bit more about the great (yet sometimes under-exposed) scene and original music we’ve got bubbling away here in Birmingham.”

The label’s first high profile release in January this year was Vuelta, by the Mike Fletcher Trio - Mike on C melody saxophone, Olie Brice on double bass and Jeff Williams on drums - and the CD has received positive reviews. Jazzwise magazine referred to its “richly melodic originals” and called it “a real treat”.

The trio, which plays Fletcher’s contemporary compositions leaving plenty of room for three-way improv, is nearing the end of a series of concerts in halls around Europe following Fletcher’s year as a European Concert Halls Organisation (ECHO) Rising Star.

TG Collective started out as Trio Gitano, a three-way acoustic guitar gypsy jazz group, but with the addition of double bass, flute, percussion, cello, violin and occasional trumpet a name change was in order and the band’s repertoire has expanded to incorporate flamenco and contemporary influences. Their 2012 album Release The Penguins was called “a Gypsy jazz delight” but fRoots magazine.

The band has built a strong following by extensive live performances, from village halls around the U.K. to a tour of the Balkans in 2013.

Stoney Lane takes its name from a former West Bromwich Albion ground - Sam is a stalwart Baggies fan - and Birmingham-based musicians who will lead future releases on the label include bassist Chris Mapp, saxophonist Lluis Mather, pianist Mark Pringle and trumpeter Percy Pursglove.

LINKS: Stoney Lane Records

2014 interview with founder Sam Slater

Kings Place double bill tickets .(The first Stoney Lane Kings Place London showcase is on Saturday 30 May and features TG Collective and the Mike Fletcher Trio)

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CD REVIEW: Sidney Bechet - French Movies



Sidney Bechet - French Movies
(Moochin’ About MOOCHIN10. CD review by Nicolas Pillai)


This CD collects the scores of three films recorded by Sidney Bechet in 1955 and 1956: Série Noire, L’Inspecteur Connaît La Musique (aka Blues) and Ah! Quelle Équipe!

Published by Jason Lee Lazell’s Moochin’ About label, the single disc comes in elegant card covers, nicely illustrated with an image of a pensive Bechet on the front and the film posters of each film within. Remarkably, the liner notes tell us that Bechet acted in all of these films, leading this reviewer to fervently hope that an enterprising DVD company will furnish us with a boxed set. L’Inspecteur Connaît La Musique sounds especially intriguing - in which a bandleader (played by Claude Luter) murders a musician (Bechet) ‘during a fit of despair at not being able to finish a blues composition he was writing!’

When these recordings were made, Sidney Bechet was enjoying a period of commercial and critical success in France. He had moved from America in 1950 and married in 1951. In the last decade of his life, Bechet was no longer the terror of Montmartre; in 1928, he had been involved in a shoot-out with a fellow musician which wounded a passer-by and landed Bechet eleven months in a French jail cell. Indeed, the Bechet of the 1950s was practically an honorary Frenchman but these recordings do not find him resting on his laurels.

The tracks from Série Noire perfectly capture the milieu of the post-war French policier. On the opener, Pourtant, Bechet’s confident blowing summons up the rain-slicked streets of Paris and the jaded slouch of dance-hall denizens. A measured performance on Blues Dans Le Blues leads into the strident, dramatic A Moi d’Payer, with the sequence peaking at the magisterial Trottoirs de Paris.

L’Inspecteur Connait La Musique is a more traditional film score, with Halle Hallelujah containing diegetic crowd noise and applause which contributes to a jam session feel. These tracks feature compelling work from the sidemen (unlisted), and particular emphasis is placed on a boozy piano.

Ah! Quelle Équipe! furnishes the collection with the most tracks, which demonstrate a compelling tonal range, from the chirpy Coquin de Boubou to the spirited Le Train Du Vieux Noir with its vocal interjections.

Bechet is front and centre throughout, and given the quality of his performances here, it is interesting to note his deprecating recollections of the films in his autobiography:

“Anyway, in 1955, […] I made two films in Paris. One was called Série Noire, and I played a bandleader up in Montmartre, and that great actor Erich von Stroheim was in it. The other was just called Blues and it featured Vivian Romance. Both were what you’d call, I suppose, ‘thrillers’. I suppose they weren’t the best films ever made, but in both of them I got to play some music the way I like, and I don’t care how the hell it comes about - that’s what I’m there for and that’s what I want to do.”

That defiant spirit is very much in evidence in these recordings, the ‘natural noise of good’ which Philip Larkin described in his Ode to Bechet.

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RIP BB KING

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PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Paul Zauner, Director of Inntoene Festival, Austria - May 22-4

Paul Zauner. Photo courtesy of Inntoene

This year is the 30th Inntoene Jazz Festival. It takes place from May 22nd-24th in a functioning agricultural building, a barn seating over 800 people on an organic farm in Diersbach, Austria. Inntoene has often punched above it is weight. It was one of the first festivals in Europe to progamme Gregory Porter. Alison Bentley talked to trombonist and Festival Director, Paul Zauner.

London Jazz News: I wanted to ask you about yourself as a musician first. I enjoyed your CD, "Great Voices of Harlem". How did that happen?

Paul Zauner: I’ve been working for nearly 30 years with many great American jazz musicians and I’ve often been to Harlem, where some really unusual talent lives- both hidden talent and well-known. I have a very good, soulful connection to many of these great musicians there. I’ve worked with many of them for a long time. One of the projects we did together was the Great Voices of Harlem.

LJN: Is Harlem the place where you find most of the new musicians that you invite to your festival?

PZ: It’s one of the main places, because I feel good there, I like the people- there’s a feeling in Harlem. And even many musicians who don’t live in Harlem come to the clubs there.

LJN: Are there any new musicians that you’ve discovered elsewhere since last year?

PZ: For me, totally new is a young pianist Kaja Draksler from Slovenia- she lives in Amsterdam. I just heard her a couple of months ago. New for me but not for you is Sarah Jane Morris. I just discovered her a month ago- I’d never heard of her before. Another one who is new to me is Stéphane Belmondo. I heard of him years ago, but I never heard any music, and then I heard him play once. He’s a great trumpet player. He lives in Réunion, near Madagascar, and he’s really one of the great European jazz players. He’s one of the best trumpet players alive, I would say, both musically and technically. I found out when I talked to him that he knew Chet Baker very well, and Chet Baker liked him and guided him in his early years. He has a feeling I haven’t found yet in any other musician. It’s definitely not the same as Chet Baker but he’s so authentic and relaxed- a fantastic musician. And there’s a singer from Texas in Chicago- her name is Sharon Lewis. She’s really great- a blues singer going in different directions.

LJN: It’s a fantastic line-up. You have lesser-known musicians but also some famous American musicians- Kirk Lightsey, David Murray, Steve Grossman, Kenny Werner, and so on. You’ve played with many of them?

PZ: When I started out playing, I just had an idea of the sound I liked. Somehow I got in touch with Leon Thomas a great singer- he’s not with us any more now, but in the 60s and 70s he was one of the great jazz and blues singers. And he liked me, and when I went to New York we played together. Another was [saxophonist] George Adams- we got to know each other, and I played a lot with him in the US. He took me on tour there and so I played with many American musicians. Somebody brought David Murray in one day, and [saxophonists] Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, all from the World Saxophone Quartet. So one thing led to another- people from Chicago and New York- it’s just an ongoing thing. Later I was also able to get to know many of the Polish musicians who make up the great jazz scene there. For a long time I worked with the best Polish musicians- maybe 10 years. And then I really wanted to concentrate more on the musicians who live in Austria, because I was playing all the time in Poland, or Indonesia or America. I wanted to develop some music with people from my home. And I’ve been doing this for the last 12-15 years. We still play with some of these other musicians, but not so much. We do play regularly with Kirk Lightsey. I have a couple of different projects- basically 8-10 people. I try to play music from the totally traditional to absolutely contemporary- just whatever I like to do.

LJN: So it’s a very personal choice who comes to the Festival?

PZ: I choose all the musicians absolutely personally – it has nothing to do with anything else.

LJN: You don’t specifically aim to be commercial?

PZ: No. If I like it, I like it! It can be contemporary; it can be in; it can be out; it can be soul or blues or whatever- but it’s absolutely personal, and nothing to do with any record company, even my own! [PAO Records] Sometimes, when I was producing more CDs, some of the guys I released on CD couldn’t understand why I didn’t programme people from my records at my Festival! But that’s a totally different thing.

LJN: In one interview you talked about ‘musical justice’. I wondered what you meant by that when choosing musicians?

PZ: That’s very important for me- not just in the Festival, but in all of life. I want to be treated the same as everybody else. I treat everybody, whoever it is- old, young, rich, poor, good-looking, not good-looking- I treat everybody the same. I think this is very healthy for the Festival because I’m not spending money on just one or two groups, so-called headliners, like regular festivals do. I have some Austrian musicians or English musicians or whatever- the basics are the same for everybody. If somebody very well-known is coming and needs a little bit for his ego, I’m not totally strict but I keep it absolutely in proportion.

LJN: You have an organic farm- I wonder if you apply some of the same principles to your Festival?

PZ: Yeah, it’s the same. We have to treat nature and animals right in order to have surroundings where we feel good and eat things that taste good. That’s very important for me. If I eat something that tastes good, I have to put a lot of effort into quality. And it’s the same in music. If I have a certain budget and I want to have good quality, I need to treat everybody fairly, in the same way, in order to get good quality from everybody. And the less-known musicians respect this, and there’s quality when they play- they feel treated well, and as important as others. It’s very good for the music and communication.

LJN:The Festival started very small- do you feel now that it’s reached the right size?

PZ: Yes, it’s not really too much in my hands. It can’t get bigger anyway, and I hope it doesn’t get smaller! But what I can do is not programme special names. Sometimes it’s possible for me to book famous people I like musically. Financially, I could book them. I could get Gregory Porter but maybe it wouldn’t be good- there’s too much attention on the name now, and I don’t want to take all the attention from the others. In the music scene, some people I know are big for a few years- it comes in waves, and that’s normal in life. It’s better to book them at a point where they need it more- it’s better for everybody.

LINK: INNTOENE WEBSITE

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CD REVIEW: Marianne Trudel - la Vie commence Ici



Marianne Trudel - la Vie commence ici
(Justin Time Records JTR 8588. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)


This record opens with a short duet between pianist Marianne Trudel and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, a slow mournful number called Question which feels like it is exploring the space between piano and trumpet, before moving on to a lively upbeat number, Deux soleils, which may or may not be the answer.

This quintet certainly have a lot of answers. The CD cover proclaims "featuring Ingrid Jensen", and whilst she does feature strongly, I think that does a slight disservice to herself and the other players, particularly Jonathan Stewart on saxes. Rather than featured soloist, Jensen is an integral part of the quintet. She and Stewart weave in and out of each other's lines, producing intricate patterns, sometimes soaring like birds, sometimes growling like caged animals.

Trudel wrote all the tunes, many of which carry an emotional intensity. The writing reminds me of Maria Schneider's work, albeit on a different, more intimate scale. Jensen has played on several of Schneider's recordings, including the award-winning Sky Blue, which was the sound that I was reminded of. But for all its north American pedigree, there is also a European sensibility to the music, a mood of the celtic fringes.

Trudel's solo on Soon builds and builds with a hint of melancholy before releasing us back into the uplifting theme. This track also contains fine solos from bass player Morgan Moore and Jensen. The trumpeter has a warm tone that can envelop one. Jensen and Trudel have another tune to themselves on the evocative and haunting Night Heron.

A fine record from the Canadian pianist and her band. Three  Cheers

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CD REVIEW: The Printmakers - Westerly



The Printmakers - Westerly
(Basho Records SRCD 46-2. CD review by Mike Collins)


The Printmakers don’t rush things. Five years ago they were nominated for best band in the Parliamentary Jazz awards. There had been no recording, just the accumulated buzz around relatively infrequent appearances of a collaboration between some of the best players on the British scene. Now, eighteen months or so after they recorded this set live in a Lake District hideaway, their debut album Westerly is released and what a treat it is.

Pianist and composer Nikki Iles and national jazz treasure and ECM recording artist Norma Winstone are the heart of this band that blends the prodigious creative energies of guitarists Mike Walker, saxophonist Mark Lockheart, the bass playing of Steve Watts and drummer James Maddren. Together, a mixture of Iles originals, compositions by friends and collaborators like Steve Swallow, Ralph Towner or John Taylor and a couple of songs by Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon are infused with an un rushed energy.

Each piece is allowed to gather momentum and thicken in intensity, the development beautifully weighted, improvisations bubbling up out of the mix. The opener, Ralph Towner’s A Breath Away, builds like a slow exhalation from wordless sighs, delicately placed piano chords, through rhythmic nudges and hook-ups until Winstone’s lyric is flowing over an urgent samba groove and Lockheart’s tenor solo bursts through as if it can’t be held back any longer. Nikki Iles’ Under the Canopy and Tideway both have a soft Brazilian tinge, Joni Mitchell’s darkly obsession themed Two Grey Rooms and Swallow’s wryly humourous City of Dallas both get a country-ish tinge to the steady pulse. Iles’ Westerly (surely soon to become a Brit-jazz standard?) has more than a tinge with the occasional quiet swell of accordion and Steve Watts fading out on banjo. Dancing grooves and a brisker tempo sweep John Taylors’ O and another Iles original High Lands along.

Whether it’s the awkward interval leaps and spikey theme of O or the languorous lope of Westerly there’s a perfect blend and balance to this band which comes surely from familiarity with each other but also from individuals who seem at the peak of their powers, doing just what’s needed to make the music glow. Iles unfurls typically lyrical and constantly inventive solos, but also sits back and adds to the groove; Walker rocks out on High Lands, but equally threads the subtlest of lines into the mix in other places; Watts and Maddren are never at the front of the mix but are fizzingly propulsive throughout; the blend of Lockheart’s sax and Winstone’s voice is uncanny at times sounding like a single new sound.

This is quietly energetic, joyous music. The Printmakers have given us a print that will last.

The official album launch of Westerly is at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street tonight 14th May 2015.

LINK: Review of London debut in 2009

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CD REVIEW: Stephan Schultze Large ensemble featuring Wu Wei - Erratic Wish Machine 



Stephan Schultze Large ensemble featuring Wu Wei - Erratic Wish Machine 
(WhyPlayJazz RS017CD Review by Peter Slavid)

This album features Wu Wei on the Chinese instrument the “sheng”. The sheng is a bunch of pipes, anything up to 36 of them, with holes in. The pipes are positioned vertically over a sort of cup. From the side of the cup comes a mouthpiece that you blow into (or suck out of - it works both ways like a harmonica). Each pipe has a reed, made of metal, that vibrates to produce sound when a finger hole on the pipe is covered. So the sheng – which dates back to 1100BC - was the instrument that inspired both the mouth organ and the accordion in the west.

Wu Wei is one of the leading sheng virtuosi, now based in Berlin, and has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s leading classical orchestras. But this is a different proposition altogether. The Stephan Schultze Large Ensemble is a very fine occasional big-band. I enjoyed their last album (Run, Challenge Records 2011) and this new album is definitely worth the wait.

Recorded during a month long residency in Shanghai, and using the bulk of the fine musicians from that earlier album, this is an interesting attempt to mix the two cultures.

It starts out sounding quite conventional – a big band, with what sounds like a harmonica out front. The second track is even more straight-ahead, finishing up with a nice moody piano solo. And then things get very different.

The title track then opens with the sound of the sheng playing a series of dissonant chords over squawks and broken beats from the band. After a period of calm, the sheng (now sounding like a full accordion) takes the lead over some complex riffs. Track 4 starts with a very Chinese sound from the Jinghu (a two stringed instrument) with the band building behind it into some Django Bates style rhythms.

Overall I wouldn’t describe this as a genuine mix of cultures – it’s really an exciting modern big-band with a bit of added exoticism from unusual Chinese instruments. But as modern big-bands go this is a very fine one. The album is far from uniform but the best bits make this well worthwhile.

Peter Slavid is the presenter of the ukazz radio show, available via Mixcloud

LINK: Review: Wu Wei at Jazzdor Berlin 2013

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LP REVIEW: Wes Montgomery – In the Beginning



Wes Montgomery – In the Beginning
(Resonance Records HLP-9014 (3 LP set). LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


For any Wes Montgomery (or Montgomery brothers) enthusiast it is hard to muster enough superlatives to do justice to this package. It consists of a handsome boxed set of three heavy weight (180 gram), high quality (mastered by Bernie Grundman, pressed by RTI) vinyl LPs. The records are housed in strikingly designed individual sleeves and accompanied by a kind of Christmas-morning of extras: a jumbo eight page LP-sized colour booklet, a souvenir reproduction of an original Montgomery brothers’ session recording contract (union scale in 1955 was $51.50 all-in for the Montgomery brothers performing four tracks), and two large sheets of colour prints — rare original photographs of the musicians in action, reproductions of record labels, record cover illustrations, and a facsimile club handbill (“Go-Go Session every Saturday… Mixed Drinks… Plenty of Parking”) — all on perforated heavy duty sheets so you can use them as postcards, if you’re sufficiently philistine to rip them apart (listeners of a certain era will have fond, tearful memories of a similar giveaway with the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street).

But enthusiastic treasure-trove analogies should be lavished not on the packaging, but the provenance of the music on offer. The booklet describes how in 2011 pianist Buddy Montgomery’s widow Ann revealed a cache of live recordings of the Montgomery brothers playing in clubs in Indianapolis in the mid Fifties (including at the wonderfully named Missile Lounge). These 17 tracks, sourced from the original reel to reel tapes, comprise the entire first two LPs in the set, as well as a single cut, Night in Tunisia at the beginning of the third. Indeed, there was a point where these club recordings would have represented the entire set. But a serendipitous meeting with drummer Kenny Washington led to a forgotten (and unreleased) session by Wes Montgomery for Columbia Records.

The Columbia recordings were made at the legendary 30th Street Studios (birthplace of Kind of Blue) on 15 June 1955 and were produced by none other than Quincy Jones in one of his earliest production roles. However, even this wonderful discovery didn’t put an end to things. By now Resonance Records had the bit between their teeth and they proceeded to unearth more gems: a rare 12 minute tape of All the Things You Are showcasing Wes and Alonzo ‘Pookie’ Johnson at a Chicago club in 1957, and an even rarer pair of 78rpm discs issued by the obscure California label, Spire Records, in 1949. These four tracks feature Gene Morris and His Hamptones with Wes as a sideman. How rare are they? Well, as the notes disclose, even the Library of Congress didn’t have copies. One of the 78 sides has been reissued elsewhere, so only the remaining three rarities were added to In the Beginning, to make a total of 26 tracks.

The club recordings rendered on vinyl have a clean, sweet, direct live sound. Fascinating Rhythm showcases a tight and well integrated combo, with Pookie Johnson’s sax standing out from the deck like a magician’s force-card and Wes’s chiming guitar adding highlights. Although we refer to the band as the Montgomery Brothers, at the time these tapes were made they were calling themselves the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet and consisted of Wes, of course, on Gibson L5-CES guitar and his brother Monk Montgomery (born William Howard) on Fender Precision electric bass and Buddy (born Charles) on piano, and occasionally vibes, with Pookie Johnson playing alto sax and Sonny Johnson (no relation) on drums.

A breakneck Brazil has Wes’s guitar overwhelmed by frantic Latin percussion due to a less than ideal microphone position — a trifle frustrating, but the audience certainly sounds like they’re enjoying it, with delirious whoops on and off the bandstand adding to the ambience. And even in the background, Montgomery’s towering virtuosity asserts itself, producing a shimmering fan of chords that gradually assumes an almost vocal quality. It gives way to an epic version of What is There to Say on which Pookie excels himself, playing soft, sensual and poised alto which is beautifully supported by some elegantly plaintive strumming from Wes, who then takes a slow, studied solo. Buddy Montgomery chimes in with a deliberately placed piano solo closely shadowed by Pookie’s sax, enunciating each syllable of the song’s lyric.

Wes’s gift for comping is on display again in How High the Moon which starts with concise, scorching licks from Pookie, then features Wes flowing into a sensual, nimble solo. Unison guitar and electric bass, from Monk Montgomery, ride on Sonny Johnson’s drumbeats before yielding to solid slabs of tenor sax from Pookie. These are really excellent recording, though their “field” nature mean there’s an occasional issue with mic position or instrumental balance.

I Should Care is a duet by Wes and singer Debbie Andrews (“Formerly with Duke Ellington” boasts the showbill) and here Wes’s strumming providing a lazy trampoline (and safety net) for the slow ballad vocal. Buddy Montgomery plays slightly spooky, skeletal vibes with considerable skill, while Jack Coker sits in on piano, on Ralph’s New Blues which also features Wes playing a Fender electric bass and getting a fat sound from it.

Wes’s easy loping approach to Benny Goodman’s Soft Winds is typical of the club sets. The tune has a bouncing, funky infectious groove reminiscent of Cy Coleman’s I’ve Got Your Number. It’s a long workout with some plangent improvisation from Wes, supported by brother Monk’s chitlin-circuit bass as he plays sinuous, complex and athletic guitar. Buddy offers restrained commentary on piano. The piece is an extended odyssey (over eleven minutes). Robbin’s Nest features a cheeky quote by Wes from Santa Claus is Coming to Town while the guitarist is to be found scrambling hectically all over the jagged bebop surface of Night In Tunisia (the chugging, chunking drummer here is Paul Parker).

The already laudable sound quality takes a dramatic leap upwards with Love for Sale, the first of the Columbia studio tracks supervised by Quincy Jones. Despite its polish, the tune has a frantic, raucous, modernist edge quite unlike what has gone before (and almost calling to mind Cecil Taylor’s take on the same song). After the vagaries of the live recording it is wonderful to hear all the instruments properly miked, as Sonny Johnson’s drums generate real excitement and Pookie’s sax, supple and confident, is skilfully interwoven with Wes’s deftly immaculate guitar. The Columbia recordings have great immediacy and presence and Pookie Johnson really comes into his own here — we hear what he is capable of. The last of the Columbia cuts, Far Wes , is also notable for splendid piano from Buddy; it concludes, appropriately enough, with a studio voice announcing, “Quincy there’s a call for you.”

This is an amazing set. On an archival level it would be indispensable, but forget that — it provides hours of casual (and not so casual) pure listening pleasure. As mentioned, some of the tracks are limited by the guerrilla circumstances of their live recordings, and the intervening years (the tape of All the Things You Are is somewhat war-torn). And I could occasionally have done with less abrupt run-ins on the vinyl. But none of this weighs against a stunning collection of music, marvellously presented. The tracks are also available on a double CD set (HCD-2014) — but it’s hard to imagine why anyone with a functioning turntable would go for that option when this absolutely gorgeous package is available.

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REVIEW: Lucia Fiorini on a Caribbean cruise

Lucia Fiorini in 2013


Lucia Fiorini
(Cruising somewhere in the Caribbean. April 2015. Review by Brian Blain)

Where does dance music, in the old sense, end, and jazz begin? Would you expect to hearit in a bar designated for ‘cocktails and ballroom dancing? Imagine my delighted surprise, on a recent ‘convalescent’ cruise around the Caribbean, following a major transplant on my wife’s knee, when on entering the not very imaginatively named Ocean Bar with music by the anonymously named ‘The Neptunes’ we were confronted by a truly hip trio storming through a crackling arrangement, all skidding stops and starts, of Nat Cole’s Let There Be Love . Sound levels were perfectly balanced with the young US bass player and the slightly older, drummer, immaculate pros both, laying down that unassuming, non-bombastic, American time - the kind that Bobby Worth produces over here.

A further surprise when the piano player announced the next tune in an unmistakable English accent. English, yes, but with an Italian name Lucia Fiorini, as I later found out, blessed with a magnificent piano technique that was able to make even the statutory tango, rhumba and cha chachas worth listening to. Her voice too was appealing and flexible; a little dry on the lyrics with wit and humour ,and deeper, more sultry on on ballads like Johnny Mandel’s perennially popular Shadow of Your Smile or Body and Soul.

When the dancers thinned out,their close clutching US style conjuring up visions of countless night club scenes in 40’s and 50’s films,she produced a swing fest on instrumentals such as A Train,Stomping at The Savoy, and even Opus One, while on one evening , when the vibe was up ,a magnificently shouty Going To Kansas City - you don’t get that kind of thing too often from the American Songbook revivalists. Listening to jazz like this, away from the somewhat pressured atmosphere of the specifically jazz environment of the club or concert hall was awonderfully reaffirming experience, the way I imagine it must have been stumbling upon the great Shirley Horn in the years of her Washingnon restaurant residency. In the words of that long gone BBC programme,,Jazz Is where You Find It.

Lucia Fiorini has a new, immaculately recorded CD out and you can find out more about this mysteriously hidden talent at her website (LINK)

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CD REVIEW: Vincent Herring – Night and Day




Vincent Herring – Night and Day
(Smoke Sessions SSR-1504. Review by Peter Vacher)

Here’s another in this New York club’s enterprising series of live sessions with ace altoist Vincent Herring fronting a quintet over six of its ten tracks, the remainder by a quartet. Herring tends to be cast as a latter-day Cannonball Adderley and he does have some of that great man’s ebullience and flair.

He’s a resourceful improviser, firmly in the post-bop tradition and knows how to energise a band, this evident on the opening Grind Hog’s Day, a bright piece that first demonstrates drummer Joe Farnsworth’s roller-coaster way with the beat, as trumpeter Jeremy Pelt comes in warm-toned and poised, his pairing with Herring as classy as can be. Pianist Mike Le Donne is another who can turn on a sixpence and deliver intriguing responses to tunes. This is especially evident on the quartet version of Night and Day, this familiar song given a stringent work-over by Herring that keeps the melody uppermost. Elsewhere, the chosen tunes allow Herring to cherish the memory of pianist Cedar Walton with whom he worked for years, via an original by Le Donne called Walton and with Walton’s own Theme for Jobim, this with pell-mell trumpet by Pelt, and also to recall Adderley with Wabash.

The whole band - Brandi Disterheft is on bass -pleases on The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee, a Herring composition written in tribute to a student and her ‘incredible story’. It goes like the proverbial train, Pelt again fierce as Herring flies, the final riff underpinned by thunder drums. Walton is nicely shaped and has something of the clever architecture usually noted in Cedar’s own tunes.

If you have any doubt about the life left in the hard bop concept, find this and expect to be reassured. Frankly, any chance to hear Pelt on record is to be grabbed – super trumpet sound, lively facility and that ability to find rewarding phrases. He has it all. Then again, the chance to hear Herring play The Gypsy, as a plaintive tour-de-force, shouldn’t be ignored either. Masterly music throughout.

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CD REVIEW: Daymé Arocena – Nueva Era

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Daymé Arocena – Nueva Era
(Brownswood BWOOD0138. CD Review by Peter Jones.)

This debut album by the 22 year-old Cuban singer, arranger and composer Daymé Arocena will come as a surprise to anyone expecting a familiar Caribbean latin-style repertoire of relentless percussion, chorus of male backing vocals, brass instruments, and so on. Arocena’s music is largely shorn of Spanish influence, rooted instead in a distinctly African heritage. In short, it’s a breath of fresh air, and Arocena is the most interesting female singer in the Spanish language I’ve heard since Concha Buika (although Arocena also sings in English and Yoruba). And despite her youth, she is already a mature composer and performer. Her rich, throaty singing style is passionate and declamatory, but never tiresome. On the contrary, she sings with great sensitivity and is able to convey an impressive range of emotions.

Gilles Peterson has apparently had her in his sights since she was a teenager, but decided to wait until now to record her for his label. The album was produced in London and Havana, mostly by Peterson’s long-time collaborator Simbad, who also co-wrote some of the tunes. The excellent, empathetic core musicians are all London-based, consisting of Rob Mitchell on piano, Neil Charles on double bass and Oli Savill on percussion, with a few other instruments making an appearance from time to time, notably organ and trumpet. But it’s the combination of Daymé Arocena’s solo and massed backing vocals that lie at the heart of this fine album.

Cuban music is famed for its syncretic riot of influences, but the album is in a genre of its own, seemingly constructed from jazz, choral and African music, but only the track El Ruso is identifiably in a vein one might recognise as ‘Cuban’. Especially striking is Arocena’s use of choral harmony, notably on the gorgeous title track, with its deep throbbing percussion, organ and hallucinogenic wash of voices. The opener Madres is another in which the call-and-response voices combine with the percussion and organ to evoke a hypnotic, other-worldly atmosphere. Much of this is apparently derived from the music of the Santeria religion, of which Arocena is a devotee, and which is traditionally conducted in the Yoruba language. At the other extreme is the enjoyable but rather brazenly commercial track Don’t Unplug My Body, which has already had some advance airplay.

I thoroughly recommend this album.

Nueva Era is released on 8th June.

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REVIEW: Alan Barnes Sextet + Ken Peplowski at Phyllis Court, Henley-on-Thames

Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes on  tour in 2010
Photo courtesy of Lance Liddle / bebop spoken here

Alan Barnes Sextet with special guest Ken Peplowski
Phyllis Court Club, Henley-on-Thames. 10th May 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Phyllis Court is a capacious private members’ club set in sylvan surroundings at the river’s edge. An idyllic spot for Pimm’s, the regatta and the contemplation of the finer things in life, you might say. And for jazz, as it turns out. In among its many interest groups, there is a thriving jazz appreciation section with a proven track record of top-flight jazz presentations, the latest being this crowd-pleasing Alan Barnes Sextet, with the added bonus of star guest Ken Peplowski, whose latest British tour was winding to its end.

As is the way of things, this impromptu ensemble kicked off with Strike Up The Band and promptly began getting in each other’s way, this resolved when each player soloed, that’s Peplowski on clarinet, Barnes on baritone, trombonist Adrian Fry and tenorist Robert Fowler, the result order from chaos. Add in the snap, crackle and zip from drummer Steve Brown, the bounding bass of Andy Cleyndert and the witty pianisms of Dave Newton and things seemed set fair. And so they were.

Just Squeeze Me felt good, relaxed and focussed, with Fowler taking the honours and then came a session highlight, with KP and AB , minus the others, playing Al Cohn’s The Jazz Line, a pumping blues that elicited warm tenor sounds from Peplowksi and Barnes slipping and sliding on alto, as Newton found his own enigmatic entrances and exits. Peerless music.

Happily, thereafter this was the order of the night, solid ensemble performances balanced by breakout groups. How about the three clarinets of Peplowski, Barnes and Fowler on Mood Indigo, with Cleyndert’s magisterial bass notes and Newton invariably finding the perfect fill? Or Peplowski alone, and sublime on clarinet, with In A Sentimental Mood or Fowler and Fry tackling The Nearness of You? Good too to hear the likes of Strayhorn’s jaunty Johnny Come Lately played with grace and fervour, Barnes booting on baritone as KP and RF traded tenor messages. The final ‘A Train’ taken at pace and finishing with a flourish, said it all.

Quality jazz and a great night for all, especially Phyllis Court Jazz.

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