John Escreet: Review by Steve Plumb

John Escreet/The Story at the Con Cellar Bar, Monday March 16th
Review by Steve Plumb

On Monday nights, the Con Cellar Bar in Camden brings rising jazz talent to an enthusiastic listening audience. The gig is in the basement of a very traditional London pub called The Constitution, adjacent to the Regents Canal. The Cellar Bar is located right next to the tow-path.

It is now more than two years since John Escreet left England to expand his horizons in New York. Escreet's talent and drive were apparent to anyone who attended his Musicians' Company prize gig in 2004. But for this Con Cellar Bar gig, he had brought with him four other young lions from New York, who together constitute a band intriguingly called The Story. They were fresh from a show at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, and had three upcoming gigs in London in their schedule.

The line-up of alto sax (Lars Dietrich), tenor sax (Samir Zarif), bass (Zack Lober) and drums (Greg Ritchie) , with Escreet himself on Fender Rhodes unfolded its story before a captivated audience. The Con Bar's Fender Rhodes, donated by Kit Downes in early 2008 is now looking eviscerated, wires and innards on view to all.

The Story made a nod in the direction of Ornette Coleman's free-form style. But this was no self-indulgent collective: it had a lot more of the form, and less of the free about it; the screeds of manuscript which shrouded Escreet's keyboard were carefully crafted compositions. The complex rhythmic passages (where Escreet and the band played well off each other) displayed a Zappa-esqe sense of orchestration. Exciting stuff: those few members of the audience at the Con lucky enough to get seats were perched right on the edge of them.

The compositions brought a vast range of tone colours and rhythmic fireworks. The two saxes worked seamlessly together in plaintive harmony. I could sense an audience really moved. In contrast, there were moments of extreme excitement as Escreet and the other rhythm-section players locked in with each other. The Story does seem a meticulously rehearsed and very cohesive unit.

The gig left an overall impression that John Escreet has benefited beyond all measure by his move across the pond. Studying with Kenny Barron, playing as a regular member of David Binney's band, working with Wayne Krantz... it all adds up to a growing maturity and purpose.

The tight space of the Con Cellar bar was an ideal place to hear this band. I shall definitely be braving the Northern Line on a Monday night to catch another gig there. And soon.


NEWS: Bexley Council scuppers album launch

Long-term Bexley resident, versatile saxophonist Derek Nash (above) has been in touch with LondonJazz.

Nash has run into problems with an album launch from his local council in Bexley.

Nash writes:

I was looking for a good event to launch my new album Snapshot.

On the Bexley Council website there is an invitation for people to perform at a fairground who can:

"sing, dance, juggle, paint, perform or play the spoons underwater."

Here is my recent correspondence:

Dear Louise,

I am a Bexley council tax payer, I do all six of the above , that is : sing, dance, juggle, paint, perform or play the spoons underwater. I will do them simultaneously,
as well as play the five wind instruments which I play in the Jools Holland Orchestra.

I wish to launch my new album "Snapshot" at the event, and look forward to
performing at Danson Fair on July 9th.

I assume Bexley Council will be providing the water.


Derek Nash

Dear Mr Nash,

We were not expecting to hear from anyone who could do all of these
things. It was a joke. We have taken legal/ health and safety advice.
Our Acting Director of Enforcement will be writing to you



To: Derek Nash

I have looked at your request, and I should warn you it falls foul of a number of current statutes:

-Your "album launch" is a commercial event and therefore we will have a VAT inspector on hand to calculate the sales you make, and you will have to pay for the hours worked by the VAT inspector.

- If you are appearing with any other musicians we will need names and addresses, and dates of birth, at least two weeks in advance, under Form 696.

-Playing spoons underwater counts as a public entertainment, illegal unless licensed as an 'indoor sporting event' under the Licensing Act 2003.

- Playing five instruments means that according to our policy you would need a noise limiter from our official supplier, price £578, and possibly psychological help.

- Due to the audience exceeding 499 people, the licence application for the event requires 28 days public notice.

- If you are performing copyright tunes, you will need a PRS licence, or face possible criminal prosecution.

- The water must meet EC standards of purity and clarity. Our inspectors would need at least a week to analyse samples.

- The presence of children at the event means you will need to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, and we will need to validate this, which takes at least a month.

- Metal spoons are no longer permitted due to safety concerns for the performer and spectators. We can send you a list of suppliers of plastic spoons of suitable quality.

- We have had a representation from the Hotels and Catering industry that playing spoons constitutes an offence of incitement to religious hatred against them. There may be a way round this. We could apply for an exemption for baptismal spoons, if you can persuade a representative of a religious denomination to bless the spoons and make the album launch a religious service.

Lipra Sloof
Acting Director of Enforcement
1st April 2009


Review: Michael Janisch Quartet with Joel Frahm

Monday 30th March, Pizza Express, Dean Street

"This is a great place to play," said Joel Frahm. How good it was to hear that from a first-time visitor, more used to the "glamor and sophistication" of New York's Rainbow Room , as part of Jane Monheit's band.

The Dean Street basement is indeed a good-time place, even on an unbusy Monday. And this was a good time gig, by a band which had evidently enjoyed its fortnight on the road together. The very first applause and laughter of the evening came before a single note was played, from the band table as they were having supper.

The time out on the road in Scotland, in the Midlands, had also clearly enabled this band of adaptable, highly in-demand musicians to settle and to gel together, and produce some very fine moments.

The front line of two saxophonists were well-matched. From the very first notes of the first number, Alex Garnett's "Saluda" in homage to Charlie Parker, I registered- from both of them - absolute dedication to beauty of sound. Yes, Frahm and Garnett both have jaw-dropping facility, they have technique to spare, an ability to scamper through bebop heads together at Grand Prix speed, plus flawless tuning separately and together....but what matters for all of us who listen, is that both these guys have one basic instinct: to be kind on the ear.

In Frahm's case I thought the closer he gets to Getz, the better I like him. He takes forward and re-invents that unfailingly melodic style of playing in a way which is always intersting. His solo feature, "We Used to Dance" had warmth and generosity, and his Brazil- breathed composition "Jobimiola" were highlights for me.

"Jobimiola" also brought two of the rhythm section players agreeably to the fore: David Lyttle switched very effectively to hands on the drum kit for this number. And Janisch produced a solo which stayed in that territory way above middle C and down low on the fingerboard which test a bassist's ability to join up a melody to the extreme. Yes, that bass solo got the cheers and the rousing applause it deserved.

The Pizza's brand new Steinway, onstage, resplendent under its shiny black quilt, was silent all evening. But, whether comping or soloing, Jim Hart on vibes was, as ever, mesmerising throughout. His jaunty composition "Cat in the Hat" inspired the saxes to forget best behaviour, and just to have fun. And, like the rest of the audience who showed its appreciation loudly, I too enjoyed his solo on Janisch's arrangement of "Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing."

It was great to hear that joyous sound of a band of top-class pros, fresh from a tour, last night.

While 120 businesses in Britain go bust every day. While the subsidised arts sector chooses to spend April Fools Day discussing trends in governance........there is joy to be had in getting out and hearing good music.

And I like that particular fresh air from the rivers and creeks of Minnesota which Michael Janisch is bringing to the UK touring circuit.


E17 Jazz, the goss...

I can't help feeling that word about the quality and the vibe of Carlos Lopez Real's E17 jazz is going to get out soon, that it will suddenly find itself overrrun. I feel I need to get there and check out the venue before the celebs work out it's the place to be!

Some very well-connected and pro-active media folk keep bringing this gig to my attention.....If it's all about connections, then saxophonist Frank Walden, who's appearing on April 9th with nice, easy-going but on-the-button bassist Nick Haward's band, has them big-time. He's the older brother of Celia Walden aka Piers Morgan-Squeeze...he's in the Amy Winehouse Band.....Angus Moncrieff aka Cylindrical Bore keeps writing about it

Tipping Point ahead...


The future of CD Reviews?

Today's reviews - tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping?

A man, or maybe just a combination of bad carbs and bad karma called Burger from Salt Lake City reviews the latest CD from Diana Krall. And for the entertainment of the readers of the Salt Lake City Tribune, has a go at pulping her reputation.
It's today's story. Mr Burger decides he would rather put early Diana Krall -or, say, Shirley Horn- on his CD player, than Krall's record company's current offering.
Trash Krall. Press Send. Job Done.

Print journalists grew up in a culture where today's tittle-tattle is tomorrow's fish-and-chip wrapping. But with the net, and stickinesss, and the long tail, those days are gone.

What is really missing, I can't help feeling, is a searchable state-of-the-art ARCHIVE of jazz CD reviews. Either from the magazines themselves, or from some kind of aggregator....The net is made for this. It would also encourage more judgment, more thought, less intemperate crabby meuh.
See what does for film reviews. And I note that American basketball reckons it has a "living breathing archive"
We hear again and again that the space in mainstream media for music, and especially jazz coverage is shrinking. Notably in Dave Laing and Mykaell Riley's second report for Jazz Services last week.

But is there really a shortage of CD reviews? I would say that there are already more reviews of CDs than anyone has time to read.
Jazzwise, Jazz UK, and Jazz Review all do a good job. There is Peter Bacon of the Jazz Breakfast blog, and Chris Parker at the Vortex and John Fordham of the Guardian who all write really good ones. And the US magazines and the Allaboutjazz website..... and many, many more.
(Which is, by the way, why I've decided not to write any!)
Any thoughts?


Kit Downes writes ....

Kit Downes, one of the busiest/most versatile/interesting young pianists/keyboardists in town, has taken the trouble to write about a forthcoming Pizza Express gig.

The date, June 22nd, a New Moon (!) is now on the left hand column of LondonJazz, and in my diary too.

Both the good carbs and the bad carbs in Dean Street will be at the same prices as normal.

But the music is outrageous value- it's a quadruple bill. For a tenner. Read that slowly. A quadruple bill. For . A . Tenner.

-A solo set from Chris Montague originally from Whickham on Tyneside, nice guy, super guitarist

-Anglo-Nordic vocal trio - Røyst,

-Kit Downes' own very classy piano trio with Calum Gourlay and James Maddren.

-Tom Challenger's MA, with Ross Stanley on piano/Hammond synth and jazz/world drum phenomenon Dave Smith..

That's one hell of a varied and fascinating evening. I'd book early!


London faces Meltdown (or is the South Bank just teasing?)

APRIL 26th UPDATE: Go to the news story with all the conformed artists HERE

The Observer,as media sponsor to the sixteenth edition South Bank's Meltdown Festival announces today Sunday 28th March in a mini-feature by Neil Spencer that Ornette Coleman is to curate this year's version of the Festival, and that there will be gigs reflecting influences on him.

Meltdown will run from June 13th to 21stThe South Bank's site is a bit tight-lipped as to what will be in it.

If you want to know what the events are , the South Bank's marketing department has set up a Twitter page (ooh!), you can register for an email newsletter (aah!) , you can sign up for text messages (eeh!).

Or I guess you'll read it on LondonJazz.....


Review: Tina May/Nikki Iles/Tony Coe

Work going into the production of a Steinway (Photo: Jessica Duchen)

Pizza Express, Thursday March 27th.

The secret, how good Nikki Iles' piano playing really is, will get out before too long. I don't know when, but it will. To hear her on a really good hand-crafted piano like the Pizza Express Steinway last night with Tina May and Tony Coe was a revelation.

In classical piano-playing there is a self-selected piano talent pyramid. The money and the reputation and the recording and broadcast opportunities land with those at the top. Which makes the jobs of the budget-holders of high art like Radio 3 or the South Bank or the Barbican relatively simple. They don't need to discover with their own ears that, say, a quiet, normal, thoughtful Austrian immigrant living in Hampstead called Alfred Brendel, or a self-effacing British diplomat's wife from Notting Hill called Mitsuko Uchida are the ones you put on in the premium slots or for whom you charge the premium prices. An audience gets transfixed with beauty. But Notting Hill Diplomat's Wife and Hampstead Quiet Man only ever get to play the best pianos.

All I can say is that if either, or both of these adoptive Londoners had been at the Pizza last night, and heard the colours, the persuasive melodic lines, the depth of feeling, the subtlety of voicing which Nikki Iles from Chorley Wood was, in her unique uncluttered and unforced way, conjuring out of the Pizza's Steinway, they would have done two things:

-First, I know that they would- like the rest of us- have been smiling in appreciation and recognition of Iles' musicality. I looked around the audience in her introduction to the Newley/Bricusse song "Who can I turn to?" and I can't remember being at any musical event where the faces of a higher proportion of the people there had simply, quietly, reverted to a smile. Smiles can be artificial. Inspired by beautiful piano playing, the smiles on the faces of last night's appreciative Pizza audience were 100% from natural ingredients.

Second - I dreamt this improbable bit later- they would have wanted to tell Graham Sheffield at the Barbican or Roger Wright of Radio 3 or Marshall Marcus at the South Bank what they had just heard, and would have been talking animatedly about what a hell of a musician Iles is.

Unassuming, unforced, quiet pure gold piano talent like Iles' is appreciated by people who want beauty (that is the only word) in sound, in melodic expression, perfect poise and judgment and execution. Whether they're pianists or not, this is transcendent stuff.

Tina May and Nikki Iles, go back 13 years and their support and rapport is special. Kenny Wheeler's "Sweet Dulcinea" from the long-deleted Windmill Tilter album was a highlight for me. The flawless control and unanility of the the quiet fade ending was Grammy-award-quality.

Tony Coe - JazzPar winner in the days when it was Europe's top jazz prize- is one of the unique voices of world jazz. Coe is quiet, generous. His hand gestures as he handed back responsibility for the melodic line to the ladies... had an eighteenth century Watteau or Claude grace about them. Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" , a duet with May, Coe on clarinet scarcely rising from the chalumeau (lower) register, was special. Beauty, grace, etiquette, maybe they're due for a return....

Jazz covers such a range of feeling and expression. This was an evening of quiet, joyful, beauty. A window on what lifelong devotion by three fine musicians can deliver. And one of the three did something special: Nikki Iles made the craftsmanship of the guys in the blue aprons in the picture above totally worthwhile.


LondonJazz joins Meetup (1)

I have just discovered Meetup, thanks to lobbyist and communications whizz Rob Mallows.

Rob has set up Londons Premier Jazz Meetup group with over 450 members and his group is growing. I have joined it.

Rob has a simple aim: "to provide an open forum for lovers of Jazz music to meet and enjoy music in a range of venues across the city, from the large to the small and most of all to have fun."

I'm defdefdefinitely not normally a habitual joiner of things. I did once spend just one afternoon in my university's Conservative Party to help a friend at the time, who has gone on to better things and been very successful to get elected to his first ever post in politics....

Meetup is new to me, but then again, I'm sometimes behind the pace....There are 58,455 of these groups worldwide, of which 913 are in London. Some choose to advertise themselves internationally..... like the Pittsburgh Dogwalkers (UH?) or the Vancouver Hikers (WHY?) . In London there is a Vampire group with 769 members, a Tall People Group with 41, and a group conducting Paranormal Search & Investigations with just eight members.

I'm looking forward to meeting some of the Jazz Meetup folk soon. Some were out at Joshua Redman last week, The group seems to cater for different styles, and the range of events allows for people being on differing budgets.

I can't help feeling that a jazz Meetup group needs its own signature tune, and will send out a nice CD if someone comes up with a good one!


An Industry Ups Sticks

EMI are in the final stages of moving out from the building (in the picture above) across the road from me. LondonJazz goes into lamentation mode....

There are no longer any taxis outside with their meters running, in wait for casually clad suits to swan down and claim them. Today the red letters EMI RECORDS (so good they named it twice) were removed. There are a few standard lamps in reception, bar-bells from a corporate gym, a small poster of a band called Gorillaz.

It's a curious sight. The "latest news" page of the UK corporate website has an album released in June 2008. Private equity owner Guy Hands relinquished day-to-day control last week, it being a series of mysteries why he took control, why he bought the company (the share price 86% down since purchase) , why he thought he understood the industry....

Today's news is that the ex-Google head of the digital division has left within a year of joining, the idea that he would to turn EMI into "a services company that could profit from small bands" looking so last year. Here's the internal memo from the CEO ( a record industry novicewho joined last year from Reckitt Benckiser- as in Harpic, Airwick Dettol) announcing the departure.

I read on by a writer called Peter Kafka that the last really successful artist was Norah Jones (genre I'm told: adult contemporary pop/vocal jazz) , Ravi Shankar's daughter who did ship 36 million albums bless her...

Well, Will Page, the Scottish economist at MCPS-PRS (he did admit in a speech which I attended that he starts with more reasons to be miserable than the rest of us) now reckons that live performances are now worth more than recorded music for the first time in British music industry history.

Which is another reason why LondonJazz chooses to cover the live scene...


Interview: Gilad Atzmon

"Are you a Londoner now?" , I asked Cricklewood resident Gilad Atzmon.

He paused for thought. And for a very brief moment, I imagined I had achieved the impossible and caught him short of an answer.

Atzmon is one of the most articulate, confident and powerful communicators around. Not just as a musician, but also as a fascinating, independent and much-followed thinker on cultural ideas and politics. Somewhere between a public intellectual and a public anti-intellectual. His site Palestine Think Tank gets hundreds of thousands of hits.

But landed with my left-field question he seemed, for a few seconds, genuinely lost for words. The first phrases of his response were short. Ironic yet deadpan.

"Obviously, I'm a foreigner. Big time. I can hardly speak English."
Then gradually, the ideas started to take shape and flow and grow. His natural presence, his emotional force and intensity started to rebuild. Phrases were getting longer, starting to connect.
"You know, I'm not normally very emotionally overwhelmed when I play a gig. But recently I played the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time, and I was shaking. Playing music is my job, so I'm asking myself what the f*** is this? Maybe this IS my home town. All these friends have come to see me. People I really like. It was a unique feeling...

"I'd been bitter about London for quite a while. I just didn't like what had happened here in recent years. (I've not seen violence. Where I come from is a violent place.) But London had become a cold, money-oriented city. The embodiment of filthy capitalism. But the news is that we are ALL in deep sh*t now, the money is running out, maybe it was a fantasy all along.

"Everything's getting cheaper again. Musicians try to help each other. Venues are seeking to be helped by musicians. Without a real brotherhood we're not getting very far...

"The BBC has very little good news to give out. Which is why I see a doubling of the audience at my gigs. People prefer to come out and listen to Frank (Harrison, Atzmon's regular pianist) or Gwilym (Simcock) than stay in and hear Jeremy Paxman. Because what we can do is to remind people what beauty is."

The whole experience was like a strong jazz solo. I was being told a story which gathered intensity and heft as it developed.

In the language of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, Atzmon is a maven. He spots and interprets and predicts trends. He plays the higher saxophones, alto and soprano, and has that priestly, incantatory power as a player which you get from Coltrane on soprano or Parker on alto. Atzmon has just played his "with strings" project in innovative promoter Christine Allen's inexpensive St Cyprian's series, and they have proved very popular.

So, what's next?

We talked at length about Atzmon's fervent desire to help the victims of brutality in Palestine. Palestine has disappeared from the front pages, and from Paxman's Newsnight. But it is front-of-mind for Atzmon. And he doesn't just talk, he is doing something about it.

Atzmon will be doing a charity gig at the 606 on 30th April as a fundraiser for medical charities working in Palestine. The music and the words which go with it will be a powerful demonstration of one man's committed defence of what he believes in.

Go. Book early. There will be no gig in London this year which stems from a deeper passion than Atzmon's wish to do something about helping the innocent victims of the Israeli invasion.

The passion of a man who now, finally, considers himself to be a Londoner. Which makes me proud to be one too.


REVIEW: Dave O'Higgins Quintet/Ronnie Scott's

The greats of the tenor saxophone inhabit the very walls of London's premier jazz venue. A picture of the late Ronnie Scott himself looks down from above the bandstand, occupying the "0" of "50" in the club's fiftieth anniversary year. While I was waiting for my companion to fetch a coat, I nodded sheepishly to both Sonny Rollins and visiting Missourian Ben Webster, a man known for always carrying a knife when visiting the club. I doubt if there were any knives being carried tonight, but for half a century Ronnie's has been definitely the place for tenor saxophonists to do battle. And Dave O'Higgins (above), following this tradition, had laid on a lively treat of tenors locking horns for a bustling, sizeable and enthusiastic Monday night audience at the club.They were also promoting their new album from Jazzizit Records.

O'Higgins' guest and sparring partner tonight was Eric Alexander, from Chicago by way of New York. By his own admission he was jet-lagged, but there was no sign of it in his energetic and fluent playing.

What you mostly get at this kind of gig is uptempo burners with both protagonists sparring. One of the greats of British jazz described this occasion to me once. He says you can expect to hear so many notes, that someone will have to come and sweep them up off the floor afterwards. That's the convention, the tradition, you go with it.

Platform demeanour showed up an interesting contrast: while O'Higgins was soloing, Alexander strolled off into the shadows, escaping most of the way into 49 Frith Street. But during Alexander's solos, O'Higgins stayed ever-watchfully on stage, seeming to play the role of the pupil who didn't want to miss a single semi-quaver of his masterful guest Alexander's playing.

But for my ears the most jaw-dropping tenor playing of the evening actually came from O'Higgins in his arrangement of "I can't give you anything but love." Pianist Tom Cawley had insistently repeated an "out" note -sharp five? - at the end of his solo. This seemed to act as an invitation and a spur for O'Higgins to keep revisiting it as the solo gathered momentum, and use it as a launching pad into several energetic choruses leaving the chords for dead. Mesmerising, totally commanding "out" playing which will stay in my ears.... .

Oases of repose did come in the one slow ballad by each player in each set. In the first set it was Alexander's turn, and he gave a poetic account of Jimmy Van Heusen's "All The Way," with a narrative ease reminiscent of Ike Quebec, in which I also liked the sensitive brushwork of Danish drummer Kristian Leth. O'Higgins then featured in the second set on Brazilian Chico Chagas' "Brixton." This time Leth was careful and creative on hot-rods. In both ballads, and throughout the evening Arnie Somogyi was flawless and big-toned on bass.

Their final number was Blue Mitchell's joyous calypso on Rhythm changes, "Fungi Mama." O'Higgins' solo was an inventive meander in sub-tone. And a highlight was pianist Tom Cawley's solo, in which he seemed to want to lose the first beat of the bar without trace. But just when I imagined he would have to pick it up from lost property in the morning, the whole band were emphatically back in for a rousing final chorus of the calypso, giving off a joyous and friendly collaborative vibe.

This was a tenor battle to rank wth the greats of the past. After two more nights at Ronnie's, Alexander and O'Higgins will be storming round Germany.

O'Higgins' quintet were playing opposite Claire Martin's very classy band of Gareth Williams, Laurence Cottle and James Maddren. A highlight of their first set was a deliciously intense, spacious account of the much-missed Esbjorn Svensson's "Love is Real." It inspired the Ronnie's crowd to offer up that rare and wondrous thing: a perfect, rapt, pin-drop silence.


Review: Zem Audu Quartet/ Pizza on the Park

To the victor, the spoils. Or in Latin: victori spolia....*

I have heard Zem Audu play twice now. And he's winning me over a bit more, set by set. The first time was as an on-stage contestant in the Musicians' Company's annual competition, which he won. The second was last night, at the gig which is part of his prize.

These two playing situations are so radically different. If you're a contestant in any sort of competition, the main reason you turn up is in order to win. The choices which matter aren't yours to make. At the WCOM competition, someone else has picked the other members of your band. And it is up to the voting audience at the gig to make the most important decision of the evening.

But last night, the winner's gig, was a very different occasion. The winner gets to make all the important choices. Like whom else to have on stage, what to play, how to behave, what is the right demeanour to adopt in victory. Competitions can be undignified scraps, but, in the wrong hands, victory celebrations can be far uglier.

So I first want to single out for praise Zem Audu's demeanour as winner. It was assured, it was just right. And considering his age - only 22- astonishingly so. A jacket, a tie and a smile, and that's just for starters. Though playing complex music throughout, he didn't let a single sheet of music get between him and the audience. His announcements and patter between numbers were friendly, amusing, and brought the audience in.

But such evenings are really all about the music. Audu presented a programme entirely of originals with a couple of re-worked standards. Audu's melodic lines tend to stem from the repeating and re-working of shapes. Sonny Rollins - Alfie's Theme and St Thomas are built around similar processes - seems to be the most obvious elephant in Audu's room or creature on his back.

But while Rollins was habitually a fiery player, Audu at the moment concentrates mor on plying his craft carefully and thoughtfully. Audu knows himself to be capable of erupting and dominating, and occasionally he did let go- and very convincingly. But most of the time he chooses not to, preferring the interplay of ideas and cross-rhythms with his partners. The longest-standing of these is Saleem Raman on drums. There was a lot of rhythmic energy and many encouraging smiles being passed around the stand. And many of both seemed to emanate originally from Raman. Karl Rasheed Abel on bass was solid and alert throughout.

Newest collaborator Peter Edwards on piano was initially more diffident and may have been undermiked in the first half. But in numbers such as "Steady Rising" and the rhythmic bounciness of "Gimme Five" in the second set, he really came into his own. Indeed Edwards looked gobsmacked at the warmth of the applause which he received after a thoughtful solo in the slow middle section of Audu's "Cherokee". His face suddenly broke out into a smile. Nice.

The Musicians Company are doing good things. Petronella Dittmer, the first Lady Master of the company in 500 years gave a very encouraging presentation speech. The next WCOM gig with the sheer quality and humanity and big musicianship of Andy Panayi on tenor or baritone or both, and master trombonist Mark Nightingale is this Wednesday 25th . Green Man Great Portland Street. Get there early....

And in Zem Audu they have picked a man who knows how to win well..


* The Winner Takes it All (Abba) Check out an amazing site from a High School in Santa Monica, CA, of songs translated into latin


Looking for a musicians' download area?

My thanks to omniscient Simon Purcell for pointing out the following site with some great resources for musicians to download


It does indeed look like a treasure trove of downloads, videos, transcriptions, freeware for musicians online in search of their chops.

For the more casual listener, it also points to a site with loads and loads of.....MUSIC


More on the disappeared BBC JazzAwards

The Sunday Times has taken up the story of the disappearing BBC Awards.
The journalist asks an interesting, not to say pointed rhetorical question:

"When will the BBC’s radio controllers accept that these decisions should not be made in secret, and that they owe an explanation to the people who pay their £220,000-a-year wages?"


Review: Gareth Lockrane Big Band/ 606 Club

Gareth Lockrane

The endings of Gareth Lockrane's big band charts often build into moments of total fulfilment and completeness. It's something you have to hear, and much harder to put it into words . In "Mel's Spells", dedicated to Mel Lewis, and "Plan B" the band crescendos progressively to a blooming full-on sound, with buckets of harmonic information. It is just very, very satisfying. The hand gestures which Lockrane uses to summon up this wonderful sound from his big band of specially selected players might sound prosaic: his outstretched right hand becomes a fist. His final emphatic gesture is what a gym rat would call a bicep pulldown. But the result he gets from these simple gestures is unforgettable. And yes, it needs absolutely to be heard.

This gig, just the second appearance of Lockrane's big band, lived up to all my expectations. Lockrane is known as a jazz flautist, the finest in Britain, maybe the finest anywhere. His own fluent and melodic soloing over the band on flute, piccolo, alto flute and towel rail (or bass flute) would win over any people who are inclined to doubt whether this family of instruments can prosper in jazz.

But his compositions for big band are totally convincing too. He has written charts for particular players whose sound and personality he has completely absorbed, typically from long collaboration. Some are his contemporaries, players in their early thirties, but there is nearly a thirty year age range from the youngest to the oldest members of the band.

There is rich material in the band parts for the soloists to work and to dialogue with: stab chords in the opening number "Lock-up", a swelling,rising-scale bass hook from Simon Thorpe in "Dennis Irwin,". Key band members also provide rich colour and great support. Ross Stanley on piano and gnarling Hammond synth, and Mike Outram, a poet of the guitar stood out individually, and combined together superbly.

A highlight for me was "I remember the X-Men" a shuffle written as a feature for Sammy Mayne on alto. Mayne's soloing had generosity, breadth and air. There was a remarkable, idiomatic interlude for just flute and the four trombones, and a joyous coda for the trumpet section playing a tricky melody in perfect unison. Another moment to treasure was the sudden , magical transition in the closing section of "We will never meet again" into double-time feel with Harmon-muted trumpets and dark and sonorous bass clarinet from Bob McKay.

This band also featured fine charts by long-time Lockrane associates Henry Collins and Robbie Robson from the trumpet section, and "One Way" by trombonist Trevor Myers, which closed with demonstration quality duetting from Lockrane on flute and Myers on bass trumpet.

After just one gig, I know that I have not heard anything like enough of this outfit, and will definitely want to hear them again, and as soon as possible. This superb band also deserves to catch the ears of a sympathetic BBC producer or of a record label.


Review: Jarek Smietana at Jazz Cafe Posk

I strolled down the road to my local gig tonight. I wanted to catch the mood of celebration at the second anniversary of Jazz Cafe Posk. And what a great evening it turned out to be.

Marek Greliak has assembled one of the most supportive listening audiences in London, as I wrote in a previous post "Poles Together" . Greliak proudly introduced tonight's event to an audience which clapped and whistled its appreciation of every single one of his announcements: it's Jazz Cafe Posk's second birthday (!) and the first day of spring(!!) and the Iranian New Year (!!!?) with a band brought over specially from Poland for the occasion (!!!!) , and ....Jarek Smietana's birthday too (!!!!!).

Jarek Smietana's trio (Tomas Kupiec with a wonderful clean sound on bass, and Adam Czerwidski creative and tight on drums), all erstwhile colleagues of Nigel Kennedy, then launched into this band's most natural form of expression, a low-down blues. The first had a bebop head, deftly executed. Subsequent blues came in different shapes and sizes. One was of a slow, teasing folky persuasion, in which Smietana, quite the prankster and story teller, tried to prove that the blues was born in the Polish town of Opole in 1975. Another was a funk- shuffle with an obscure political subtext called "Where is Edward?" These were moments when the help of my Polish interpreter and good friend AG proved indispensable.

Pranks and teasing and tall-story-telling are hallmarks of this band, which knew how to entertain a packed venue in the mood for swaying in time and being entertained. Endings of numbers were often jokey, delayed with deliberate false signals, but always crisp and together.

There were other excursions away from the home ground of the blues. Into Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix. And with the addition of gutsy Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard-inspired London-based Polish trumpeter Tomek Nowak, into edgier Ornette Coleman territory, in numbers such as Turnaround and Blues Connotation. For the ballads, Smietana asked the audience for silence, and duly, miraculously got it. He then brought a strong sense of story-telling and architecture to these extended forms.

Birthday cakes, more speeches and more cheering and whistling greeted the end of the second set. The capacity crowd left the club amused, entertained, and smiling.


BBC/Guardian: "We have saved the World." ( Not)

BBC Radio 3's withdrawal from its Awards for World Music merits coverage on the editorials page of today's Guardian,no less.

A post by Peter Bacon, adoptive Brummie from South his thejazzbreakfast blogthis morning, serendipitously speaks my mind, writing about Lionel Loueke (Benin via Berklee Jazz School in Boston):

"Jazz was “world music” long before that label was invented as a marketing tool in the 1980, but it still finds new and exciting developments."

And the great Parisian Manhattanite Mike Zwerin was making the same point about the breadth of jazz on Bloomberg in 2006. Mike's writing, is never a repeated mind-numbing vamp . It's improvised, fresh and full of life.

"Jazz is becoming a true world music, a common denominator, a sort of Esperanto. Everybody can play the blues. By now jazz is taught in conservatories in such cities as Porto, Helsinki, Paris, Tel Aviv, Hanoi and Trondheim. "


Remembering a friend who disappeared

John Taylor and Gwilym Simcock played at the Wigmore Hall in 2006 in the London Jazz Festival. It's a particularly vivid memory.The gig had been overpriced and didn't sell properly. For the talent level of these two it should have been rammed. With the (thoroughly deserved) rise in Simcock's visibilty since then, maybe it would now attract more attention.

What I remember is that each of the pianists played a set with his regular trio, and only then were the two Steinways were interlocked. But the Wigmore Hall less than two-thirds full can feel low-key. The man in the row in front of me, a friend and an incredibly well-connected music suppporter left without hearing the best bit: Taylor and Simcock trading incredible stuff for over a quarter an hour in "Alice in Wonderland." I was tempted to grab the tail of his jacket and implore him to stay. Not something one does to an expensive suit in the Wigmore..... We just nodded good night. Tragically, suddenly, he was to die in an accident about ten months later.

Taylor and Simcock are part of the Steinway festival at Pizza on the Park. There is nearly a forty year age difference between these two. But huge pianism from both, a common link/twang of Manchester in their pasts and massive mutual respect will combine to make the sparks fly. Not to be missed.


Interview with Nikki Iles

Nikki Iles (above)is in big demand as a performer. And that is an understatement.

On the biography page of her well-maintained website, I tot up no fewer than eleven projects/partnerships/bands. The people she works with are invariably the best in Britain. I sense that all it will take is someone from the worldwide top flight to clock what Iles can do, and the secret will really be out.

As an educator Iles is also in demand. She works at the Royal Academy of Music in London... but also at three other colleges. And at the Global Music Foundation Summer Schools on the continent, and for Issie Barrett's National Youth Music Collective. Iles currently has compositions and educational work in course of publication by both the Associated Board and by Oxford University Press.

This range, this consistent level of achievement is daunting. But Iles as a person is not.

When I decided to try to track her down to talk about forthcoming London gigs, I needed to catch her at a moment when I knew we could talk for a few minutes.

We arranged to speak during her five-hour car journey to a Friday evening gig in Birkenhead as part of Tina May's Piaf project. From which she was due to drive on through the night run a day's educational workshops....a further 260 miles down the road, in Norwich.

First, knowing that Tina May was in the car next to her, I asked about their work together. The May/Iles collaboration now goes back thirteen years, with countless gigs together, and there's about to be a fifth album together. This is a partnership and a supportive friendship through good times and bad, and it clearly works well for both of them both on and off the stage. And , as a listener, for me.

In the last week of March, Tina May and Nikki Iles will appear in three different contexts in London, on successive days of the same week. This collaboration is not edgier-than-though, it's not offensive or in-your-face, nobody's dressing up in space outfits...which might not make any of the events news-worthy. But this is a partnership which doesn't stand still. They are always exploring new repertoire, finding the new in every phrase.

The most tried and tested of the three evnings is May's and Iles' Piaf show with Julie Walkington on bass and Karen Street on accordion. It is touring round the country, and will be at the Pigalle Club in Piccadilly. "It's my only all-girl band, a different vibe" reflects Iles. The French really appreciate Tina May properly. She sings the title role of Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark in theatres with a capacity of up to 5,000. That's how good she is.

Another night that week, a different show, which would be my pick of the three. May and Iles are doing an album launch at the Pizza in Dean Street with Stephen Keogh on drums and Phil Donkin on bass. The songs? An eclectic, unusual selection: Iles mentioned to me arrangements of Johnny Mandel tunes, of Kenny Wheeler, and "Peace" by Horace Silver.

And, again in the same week, there's the trio collaboration with Tony Coe, one of the most challengingly original and unpredictable improvisers in the world. The remarkable reedsman that Basie wanted in 1965- but never got.

We also talked about Iles' really interesting touring project coming later in the year , for which she is currently writing and arranging. It is called "The Printmakers." The title is a reference to people who leave a mark. The line-up is stunning: Manchester "guitar hero" as Iles calls him , Mike Walker, plus ageless singing legend Norma Winstone, and that complete saxophonist Mark Lockheart, with Iles joined in a near-ideal rhythm section by consummate players Steve Watts on bass an Jeff Williams on drums. This line-up is booked for a number of gigs out of town between May and July. I'll definitely be keeping my ears close to the ground to sleuth out a London appearance. This is the first recommended gig from LondonJazz which doesn't exist yet. (see table left)

A remark in the 1,646-page Penguin Guide, that Iles is a "British composer: yet to deliver a definitive statement," has me perplexed at how the value or the essence of a jazz musician can be judged exclusively from a couple of albums. To me, a thirteen year musical partnership with Tina May counts as a definitive statement. As does the authority with which she writes, solos, and just is as a musician and a person. And I hear an absolutely definitive statement about life rather than jewel-cased coated plastic in the following: Iles tells me she is able to make time for her daughter just about every day.

I keep in mind one of the first posts I wrote for LondonJazz , which contained Maria Schneider's take on the pressures faced by women jazz musicians.

"It's not an easy life [...]To be a jazz musician requires a huge amount of alone time. Practising, being in your own head. Working on your own thing. I don't think that young girls are generally oriented to that kind of thinking. It's very deep-seated[...]With women, maybe it's like this: If you're mediocre, you might have a tough time. If you're really good, nobody can deny it."

If there is one woman instrumentalist in British jazz for whom the truth that she is so good that nobody can deny it is self-evident, then that person is Iles.


Four Ways to Consume Your Music

Here are four ways to experience the magical duo of Paul Clarvis and Liam Noble.

1) LIVE MUSIC. In the end there is nothing, NOTHING like the experience of hearing music live. Which is why I write predominantly about live music rather than recordings. And which is why I recommend hearing Liam Noble and Paul Clarvis' gig at the Vortex on Tuesday April 14th. Noble is a world-class pianist, drummer Clarvis is a unique source of constant invention on the London jazz scene. He also kicks life into the percussion section of the (classical) National Youth Orchestra.

This duo is quiet, reflective, understated, and in the intimate surroundings of the Vortex will be special. Thank you Oliver for pointing it out.

2)REVIEWS. Pressed for time? You don't actually have to listen to the music at all! You can experience the duo vicariously by reading comment on and reviews of the album. Of which the most sensitive ones I have read come from Chris Parker, and Peter Bacon at thejazzbreakfast. Or there's the in-a-hurry version from the Independent. Sometimes I wonder if one can just dispense with the real, personal experience of anything (except, as TV food pundit Greg Wallace used to remind me as we propped up a bar together, food and drink) and spend a life absorbing comment. Not seriously.

3)BUYING THE ALBUM. I've listened to it a lot and would recommend it. Quiet , reflective, jaunty, enjoyable. You can get it direct from the Village Life Records website

4) EARCONNECTOR. Alex Bonney's superb site has masses of great music on it, including the complete Starry Starry Night album. For free.


Marty Paich and the Velvet Fog

I was talking yesterday to Frank Griffith about his new Mel Torme/ Marty Paich project for his nonet of top-drawer London players. Marty Paich's arrangements for small group in the 1950's, that West Coast sound used to do it for me every time. Yup, Marty Paich is a favourite. I try ever so hard not to release my inner anorak into the blogosphere, but these days it seems you can get paid for it: the Library of Congress and Stanford University Libraries in 2006 funded another Marty Paich fan to release either his or (very unlikely!) her anorak...and to set up a Marty Paich Website.

I found the Velvet Fog Mel Torme to be a caricature of himself in his later years- son Steve looks terrified of him on this scat-with-your-dad video. But the early light-voiced Torme, with Paich's nine to eleven piece band behind him was above all a very fine musician.

Frank Griffith is the ideal person with the right working band to be taking this tradition further- Mel Torme is one of the extraordinary list of people Griffith has worked for, and he has a tale or two to tell about him.... Here is the Press Release.

Wednesday 8 April, The Spice of Life at 9-11PM.
6 Moor Street, Cambridge Circus, London, W1
0207 739 4672

The Frank Griffith Nonet will be presenting the music and songs of Mel Torme and arranger Marty Paich. These two musical giants, both born in 1925 and sadly departed us within one year of each other (1995/1996). They collaborated on the classic 1960 album Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley arranged by Paich featuring his "Dektette". This ensemble was closely modelled on the 1947 Miles Davis Birth of the Cool band utilising trumpet, trombone, horn, tuba and saxes that emitted a lighter, softer sound which suited the velvety warmth of Torme's crooning voice. Shubert Alley refers to a location in New York City's "Great White Way", the home of many Broadway Theatres from which many great songs were premiered. Included in these will be Too Close for Comfort, Just in Time, Once in Love with Amy and A Sleepin Bee, all arranged by Marty Paich who said "When we picked the tunes we chose, they were geared not only to serve Mel as vocalist but to serve instrumentally as well". These charts were expertly transcribed by Simon Whiteside and Gareth Lockrane. Singer, Iain Mackenzie's credits include The BBC Big Band, Ronnie Scott's Big Band and Kenny Wheeler and has appeared at The Royal Albert Hall and The Berlin Jazz Festival. The Frank Grifith Nonet boasts many luminaries of UK jazz including Henry Lowther, Bob Martin, Paul Clarvis, Barry Green and Adrian Fry. The leader, an American saxophonist and composer/arranger has written for and/or played with Mel Lewis, Ron Carter, Sir John Dankworth, Dame Cleo Laine, Tony Coe, Joe Temperley and Mel Torme himself.


The Art of Jazz in Paris

Thank you to that old wise man of the advertising industry and jazz nut Len Weinreich, for bringing to my attention an exhibition in Paris of jazz and art, reviewed by Lionel Shriver (partner of superb jazz drummer Jeff Williams) in today's Guardian.>

The exhibition is at the Musee du Quai Branly, and runs till June 28th. It is co-produced with galleries in Trento in Italy, and Barcelona.
My translation of the press release:
The exhibition, conceived by philosopher and art critic Daniel Soutif, shows chronologically the relationships between jazz and the graphic arts in the twentieth century. From painting to photography, from cinema to literature, without forgetting graphics or comic strips, the exhibition shows especially the development of jazz in Europe and in France in the thirties and forties.

Musée du quai Branly37, quai Branly 75007 – Paris
Tél : 00 33 (0) 1 56 61 70 00
Tues, Wed , Sun : 11am till 7pm
Thurs, Fri, Sat: 11am till 9pm
Closed Mondays


Update on Charlie Wright's/ Kurt Rosenwinkel

Berlin-based US guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel (above) is worth hearing. After a set I heard at Charlie Wright's last year , I knew I would like to hear a lot more of his playing, and soon.

Zhenya Strigalev and Patsy Craig - I salute you!!!- are back at Charlie Wrights, thanks to temporary event licences while the noise complaint bollocks gets sorted out.

Rosenwinkel will appear with his regular working trio of other US expats based in Berlin , back at Charlie Wright's on Thurs 26th and Friday 27th. 9pm starts.

Go, and wear your CW handstamp with pride!


Interview: Michael Janisch

UPDATE: Article updated 23rd August 2009 with the full list of TOUR DATES for Michael Janisch's Quintet FOLLOW THIS LINK

Before I met jazz bassist and bandleader Michael Janisch , (above), in an hour we found between his teaching commitments at the Royal Academy of Music, I was only aware of one other creative artist who had also played elite level sport: the bible of cricket Wisden for 1925 and 1926 mentions a left-hander who occasionally opened the batting for Dublin University's first class cricket team: his name was Samuel Beckett.

At 20 years old, Janisch, from Wisconsin, was on a sports scholarship at the University of Minnesota. He was travelling around the US as a running back in the University's NCAA American Football team. He also excelled at that most punishing of athletic events, the 400 metres. His personal best, 48.6 seconds, was just 0.6 seconds outside the 2000 Olympic qualifying time.

Janisch told me the story in vivid detail of how an accident ended his career as a sportsman with devastating suddenness: "It happened in a practise session. A 340-pound defensive tackle landed with his knee on my hamstring. Ripped it apart. For three months I couldn't walk. I had black bruising from my toe to my back. And they withdrew my scholarship. "

But from there, Janisch's story took a remarkable turn. He had played bass in his award-winning High School band. He took up the instrument again, and before long had decided to make the switch from full-on sport and the study of history, to studying music at a college in Wisconsin. "I had a classical bass teacher who was hard on me, gave me a grounding, and a solid technique."

Within a year Janisch was off on a full scholarship to Berklee College in Boston to study with Whit Brown and Dave Santoro. Who were the hot-shots at Berklee when you arrived? "Drummer Kendrick Scott and tenor player Walter Smith III, who are now both in Terence Blanchard's band." He also had a summer among the hand-picked few at the now-defunct Henry Mancini Insitute in Los Angeles.

When Janisch talked to me, animatedly, of his time at Berklee, I got the strong sense of what he brings to music-making and to jazz which is so different. There is nothing geeky about him. He has transferred the admirable work hard/play hard/have fun mentality from team sports to music. He radiates a different kind of intensity.

Berklee didn't just provide him with musical instruction. He also was to forge firm friendships there. His transition into the music profession has been aided by being part of the cohort of like-minded Berklee-ites : Patrick Cornelius and Walter Smith III, for example, have remained as regular colleagues since leaving Berklee, and both of them appear on Janisch's first album as leader, due to be released later in the year.

First stop after Berklee was New York, working in a variety of bands. But shortly after came a move to the UK, to join his English girlfriend- with whom he now lives in a house in South London- and to settle over here.

Janisch is the kind of man who makes things happen, creates opportunities. But he gratefully acknowledges fellow musicians who have helped him along the way. Since arriving in the UK he has worked in many contexts, but he singled out a collaboration with another Berklee-ite, Scottish saxophonist Paul Towndrow, which brought him into the orbit and influence of the unique and immensely hard-working Tommy Smith. And invitations to play at the Dover Street Wine Bar exposed Janisch to the musicianship and to the generous companionship on the stand of both Jim Mullen and John Etheridge. He is grateful to all of these early mentors who helped him settle over here.

This year, in which Janisch has just turned thirty, got off to a flying start. The first album, recorded in Brooklyn with Janisch as leader of a mixed UK/US band was in the can by the 16th January. The UK players who went to New York for the sessions were Jim Hart on vibes, saxist Paul Booth and Phil Robson. The album will appear on Janisch's new label Whirlwind Recordings, for which he harbours broader ambitions as producer. An album launch tour in August and September taking in festivals is mostly booked. The London launch of the album is expected to launch a regular Pizza Express Dean Street residency.

Janisch also promotes tours for bands combining UK and Us musicians. First up is a series of ten dates in the UK and Europe for Brad Mehldau's old High School-mate , saxophonist Joel Frahm. Future tours are coming up with Americans Donny McAslan and Greg Osby. Full details are at Janisch's Myspace site.

Janisch communicates well, works hard, and brings great energy to everything he does. As a promoter he has learnt to be both active and careful. Janisch of the aptly named Whirlwind Recordings now has a well-earned and unique place in London's young jazz scene, and his remarkable story will have many more chapters.

How lucky we are.


Is this a Pizza I see before me?

Read on the web. informs me to my delight that a certain large blogger will be sitting in with the bon vivant and man-about-town (if you consider Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex a town for a man to be about) Digby's band as part of their residency at the Pizza Express on Good Friday 10th April. More details of Digby's week at the Pizza to follow.


Charing Cross Hospital Bar

A new gig on Wednesdays at the Charing Cross Hospital bar in the Fulham Palace Road. It starts on April 8th with saxophonist Jonny Spall , (above) ex-Guildhall, and son of the actor -Mike Leigh regular- Timothy Spall.

The second gig on April 15th features a quartet led by Iranian-Armenian guitarist/composer Ernest Alishan, a wonderfully calm and fluent musician.

The venue is a very friendly bar where the drinks are cheap. It's in the hospital's sports centre. The pictures on the wall are of high achievers in sport such as Ukrainian pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka. Softly-spoken pianist Hugh Mitchell has led a jam session there, staring out from his piano at the picture of Bubka, for a couple of years. Mitchell is a renowned cancer specialist, in a very particular area. His team has world-beating achievements in the treatment of the
choriocarcinoma which follows molar pregnancies.

So a man who has a distinguished record curing cancer has decided to promote. He will be creful, but he will do it well.

The breadth of interests of people involved in jazz never ceases to amaze me. It can often draw people who have achieved a lot elsewhere. One of London's most successful jazz promoters used to run her own highly profiable ballooning events company...

Mitchell's senstive piano laying, and his quiet manner , attract sitters-in to his jam sessions of the class of tenor player/composer Duncan Lamont. The bar is also populated by Scuba divers who invade the hospital's pool, but in my experience scuba divers tend to be gentle folk, and good listeners.


World-class in Walthamstow

A regular LondonJazz reader has written to me:

"Hi Sebastian, Spotted a gig coming up on Thursday at the end of my road -
Am sure you're already in touch with them but thought I'd send the link through anyway. :-)"

Thanks Liz, that's the spirit. Creativity and initiative are simply bursting in every part of London, quite likely at the end of your road too, and Walthamstow with its own jazz scene is no exception.

The gig which catches my eye is byBlink (French saxophonist and Loop leading light Robin Fincker, ex-Royal Academy pianist/composer Alcyona and percussion genius and irrepressible energy source Paul Clarvis) on Thursday 26th March at The Plough in Wood Lane.

Here's what MOJO magazine had to say about them: 'Aerated, intrepid, the group reaches rarified heights of understanding and expression.' Blink tour the UK and the continent, it's a great working band of three fine musicians.

Check out Blink's soundclips on their Myspace site.And if E17 is your part of town, get along to the Plough in Wood Lane and you won't regret the fiver you spend to get in!


Brecon Jazz to be run by the Hay Festival

High above New Orleans, (according to the Western Mail)

Good news. The Western Mail and Jazzwise Magazine yesterday reported fully Arts Council Wales' decision to entrust the running of a mini-festival in Brecon in 2009 and a full festival in 2010 to the organisers of the Hay Festival. The runner-up in ACW's process was John Ellson of ESIP.

The Western Mail says the Brecon Festival was conceived 25 years ago as "New Orleans beneath the Beacons. "

Which would make Cheltenham "Greenwich Village hits the tea rooms, " or maybe Glasgow "Joe Lovano with deep-fried Mars bars" (sorry Jill, just a joke!) Any more suggestions?


Review: Pete Cater Band at Cadogan Hall/Buddy Rich Tribute

Cadogan Hall (above) does big bands well. There were very few seats left in the hall tonight. The audience was appreciative. The sound and the lighting were done very well and unobtrusively. Pete Cater offered heartfelt and well-deserved thanks at the end of tonight's gig for the hard work done by Adam McGillvray and his team at the hall.

Cater had a assembled a great, hand-picked band with two Buddy Rich alumni in his saxophone section- Jay Craig, featured on "OK with Jay" and Bob Martin featured on "Chelsea Bridge". Other highlights were Andy Greenwood's blistering high trumpet work in "Chicago." There were some storming full-on charts such a "Machine" the second half opener, and Bob Mintzer's Funk City Ola.

The 8pm start meant that it was 10.30 before the inevitable long drum solo came along, with all the horn sections ritually turning their heads to watch Cater work through his lengthy routine on "West Side Story." By that late hour the audience had run out of some of the energy to clap and cheer which had greeted the band earlier.

Cater master-minded and powered the band, impressively without a single reference to music or script. His announcements were slightly sporadic and impressionistic. But that didn't detract from the pleasure of hearing a great band, which re-created the power and drive of the best Buddy Rich units of the past with infectious bravado and professional energy.


Vortex Banksy Evening Standard "Update"

The Evening Standard's piece today on the Banksy getting graffiti-ed by a graffiti "artist" is already (!) a few days out of date. The Gillett Square Banksy has already been restored , as LondonJazz reported here.... last Thursday.


Department of Culture Manchester and Sport

The blue plaque to stand-up comic Les Dawson
(Most famous feature of the Palace Theatre, Manchester)

An interesting call from a LondonJazz reader who likes my Opera House story, particularly because it is- as ever- a demonstration of the ocean-like disparity between public funding into jazz and that into opera, with their similar-sized audiences...... The Arts Council in most years and by most measures spends between 40 and 60 times on the latter what it spends on the former....

He tells me the latest. Arts Council-funded consultants are running around with an "evaluative study" and now a report trying to persuade the world at large that a theatre in Manchester currently most famous for its blue plaque to comedian Les Dawson absolutely needs an uncertain amount somewhere north of £100m spent on it, plus roughly £10m a year subsidy.... And that the end-result, wait for it, will be that the Royal Opera will be able to create some additional jobs in the North, and thereby demonstrate that it is a national opera company!

It all seems, my caller thinks, like a script for an episode of Yes, Minister. Both the current DCMS Secretary of State Andy Burnham and his immediate predecessor James Purnell represent Manchester constituencies. So DCMS civil servants have found a means to sweeten up their Secretaries of State while they remain in office. The ministers can keep in the public eye a juicy appetising mother-in-law of a DCMS-led capital project in, guess where, Manchester.

But the consultant has buried a nice bit of deliberate sabotage! In the following vintage paragraph he alludes to the fact that the DCMS/ACE have proved to be collectively so goddam useless at running capital projects, that wherever they set a "budget", costs inevitably and inexorably spiral and loop completely out of control:

"The Capital costs of the refurbishment of the Palace Theatre are stated to be of the order of £70m-£85m in the proposal. In making a decision in principle on whether to develop plans further, ACE should be mindful of its experience of similar works on heritage buildings. It is expected that it will consult in due course its partners at the Heritage Lottery Fund. At this stage everyone should be assuming a likely level of final expenditure of the order of £100m, although that should not be the agreed budget figure (if it is, the final cost will be higher)."

The consultant also notes that the Royal Opera's estimates of the annual black hole to fill with subsidy fall in conveniently just below eight figures, at precisely £9,616,377.

What would Les Dawson- or indeed your average jazz musician think about these lavish plans? "My family was so poor that if I hadn't been born a boy, I wouldn't have had anything to play with."


The Mother's Day of All Gigs/ Gareth Lockrane Interview

I have already listed the Gareth Lockrane Big Band (above) at the 606 on lunchtime March 22nd in my previous post on this month about the 606.
But after a bit more thought and research, I am going to give it my very top recommendation on the constantly evolving LondonJazz recommendation scale. For the moment, for this occasion, this top recommendation is called : "Join my table?"This is a great band of hand-picked players.Lockrane emerged from the Royal Academy course about ten years ago alongside the likes of alto sax Sammy Mayne, and trumpeters Steve Fishwick and Henry Collins, and these long-standing associates are stalwarts of this band. Other key members of the personnel are amazing/lively piano/ keyboard/Hammond player Ross Stanley, and Mike Outram, who I often hear talked of in hushed tones, not only as the guitarists' guitarist, but also as the musicians' musican.

Lockrane's big band has evolved out of his other projects, notably Grooveyard, which has won a European Best Small band prize, and is described by guitarist Jim Mullen in a record review as "a group of young veterans of British jazz [...]a hard-swinging band who know how to get low-down and funky when required."
All the charts for the big band are Lockrane's own - we're talking about a man with an unbelievable work-rate here! . He talks rapidly - but in a tone of gratitude, and with what he calls "obsession" about all the influences on his writing: "it's the vibe of Eddie Harris (albums like Swiss Movement) , of Oliver Nelson (Blues and the Abstract Truth) , Jim McNeely and the Thad/Jones-Mel Lewis orchestra....But then there's also Mingus...and Basie." Lockrane has absorbed, internalized , updated all this...but what you hear is his, original.

Thanks to far-sighted promoter Paul Pace, Lockrane's septet had an outing at the Spice of Life in the London Jazz Festival in 2006 (check out a YOUTUBE clip of the teack "Roots") and the big band had its very first and very successful appearance at the 2008 festival. This is its second time on the road.

What makes Lockrane special? One fellow musician who has worked a lt with him says: "The amazing thing about Gareth is that for someone of his talent, and who gets so much done, he is absiolutely never intimidating, he is faultlessly enthusiastic, encouraging and generous."

I can personally vouch for that. I used to have an extreme sport which was turning up as the featured tenor sax, blowing a soft chorus or two at singers' open mic nights. Which was where I first came across Lockrane, on piano. I don't think I know of a more encouraging presence on a bandstand in London.

I'm really looking forward to this gig, and, yes, there really are seats at my table.

UPDATE: Lockrane's Grooveyard, recorded live earlier this year, is on Alex Bonney's EXCELLENT Earconnector site


Banksy, and becoming a curator by accident

Adam Hart, who runs Hackney Community Developments , is the Vortex's landlord. He talked to me at the Barbican press bash last night about a new career turn. Thanks to Banksy, and to the work of art above, Hart has become an art curator. It happened by accident. Literally overnight. And it's Groundhog Day, because this is the second time.
Hart is a popular figure with broad sections of the community in Hackney, and a big achiever of community projects. He had freedom of choice when he made the decision to offer David Mossman and Oliver Weindling the space to set up a jazz club four years ago. My post about the departure of Will Gresford. shows what an inspired decision that was.

But the new highly public role which he talked to me about last night- as art curator- happened to him without his being able to do much to prevent it. Hart now suddenly has the responsibility and the dilemmas of people like Sir Nicholas Serota of Tate, or Sandy Nairne of the National Portrait Gallery. These gentlemen come from curating dynasties - it does help your career in Britain. When Serota and Nairne chose curating art as their vocation, they could plan with the benefit of parental help, and then spend their years in the foothills.

No such luxury for Hart. The first time this happened Banksy did two murals which Hackney Council decided to remove without consultation in advance of the official opening of Gillett Square in Nov 06. According to The Times in Feb 07, it was the Jetwash what done it.

But then, a few weeks ago, a new Banksy (above) arrived.

The same problems as before, and a new one too: vandalism. The work gets defaced. But then restored, elves-and-the-shoemaker style.

Out of the wood? Definitely not. A Hackney Council official quoted in the Evening Standard , wishes to assert his divine right to "keep streets clean" (comments from residents as to the accuracy of the verb "keep" are welcome!) .

A good job that Hart's role as landlord to the Vortex, one of the most successful jazz clubs in Europe , causes him more joy and fewer headaches.


Lincoln Center Jazz Orch Residency at Barbican


This morning's piece in the Guardian about Sir Nicholas Kenyon's plans for Barbican makes it 100% official. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is to have a residency at the Barbican. I am going to the Press launch tonight and see what more there is to say....
UPDATE Thursday 12th March, following Press Briefing: The LCJO residency will start in 2010, and more details will be announced in July. LCJO have a It was officially confirmed that this will also involve a direct collaboration with the Vortex.
Meanwhile it was confirmed that LCJO (with two Brits Joe Temperley and Elliott Mason) will be at the Barbican this year on July 24th rounding up Barbican Jazz (July 7th -24th) . Full details of Barbican Jazz are not yet available, but the series will also include a tribute to Nina Simone, and Medeski , Martin and Wood in a programme of John Zorn's music.
The Barbican management were very upbeat indeed on audience trends for the current year. Sir Nicholas Kenyon singled out the creativity and the innovative capacity of Associate Producer Serious. Which was nice to hear.
UPDATE : Later the same day: PRESS RELEASE: The first residency takes place in June 2010 with three concerts, including one at the Hackney Empire. The concerts will be accompanied by workshops and a film season at the Barbican, discussions at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, jam sessions at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston and supper dance events at other East London venues. There will also be outreach work in the Olympic host boroughs of East London. The Jazz at Lincoln Center residencies are part of a long-term commitment to the development of Jazz in East London by the Barbican and its partners.


Anyone know Jazzbootleg or Spotify?

I try to keep ahead of the news. I launch myself in the direction of good music. But with technology I know my place : behind the pack.

Youtube is said to be removing loads of content having failed to agree a deal with PRS. So I guess I'll be looking at new sources...

At gigs and on message boards folk seem to be talking about two things:

One is . The other is Spotify. The buzz I'm getting is that there is enough content with both to keep us all very amused.

Has anyone tried either?


A Prize at Cheltenham

The Cheltenham Gold Cup
(3.20pm, Friday March 13th)

Cheltenham Jazz Festival and the Morning Advertiser , "Officially the Pub Trade's Favourite" (doesn't say favourite what...) have announced a competition for pub bands with a deadline for applicants of March 31st.

The prize is "a chance to play at the Cheltenham Festival in May, and at the Pub in the Park event in Greenwich Park in September." The three finalists will play in Cheltenham in the afternoon in the Budvar Marquee. There is no money involved, but I am assured the bands will get well looked after once they get to Cheltenham.

Here's the announcement Cheltenham Jazz Festival's website. And here it is on the Morning Advertiser's website.

Last years winner was Fat Digester from Nottingham. who "fuse fun and social comment in a blend of Jazz, Funk, and Hip Hop."

"All you have to do is submit a short sample track, not more than 10 minutes long, on a CD, along with the completed form. Alternatively, send in a link to a MySpace page or an MP3 via email to:"

Here is the ENTRY FORM.

The original Prize Fund in 1924 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup -above- was £685, and is now £450,000. Total prize money at this year's (jump racing!) festival is £3.56m.


Review: Ari Hoenig at Road Trip

Ari Hoenig: Bert's Playground
(Dreyfus Jazz CD, FDM 46050369192)

Review: Ari Hoenig, Road Trip Bar, Old Steet, 9th March 2009

An A4 sheet with six words in red and black bold capitals had been hastily sellotaped over the menu blackboard outside the Road Trip Bar in Old Street:


What a symbol of the grit and the passion of the jazz promoter. Following the noise complaint which, for the time being, has silenced the music at Charlie Wright's, Patsy Craig and Zhenya Strigalev have taken bold occupancy of other venues. And a crowd of very attentive listeners mainly in their twenties, has followed them to this new bar. None of them can have been disappointed by what they heard tonight. The same band will be at Zigfrid von Underbelly in Hoxton Square tomorrow, Tuesday 10th. This is a great band, for which only one word will suffice: GO.

I find genres confusing at the best of times, and the words "PUNK BOP" had me completely mystified as I listened.

The opening number, Wayne Shorter's Fall had an extraordinary spaciousness in its harmonic rhythm, an irresistibly slow and inevitable sense of forward motion. I checked my watch at the end. I was surprised. This number had lasted a full quarter of an hour, but the compelling musical logic from its beginning to its end had engrossed me: it felt more like about five minutes.

I found Ari Hoenig to be a drummer of infinite variety, creativity and subtlety. In one straight-ahead bass solo by Dan Boller in Coltrane's Moment's Notice, Hoenig's delicate brush-work was being consistently carried out within a space of just millimetres above the drum skin. Jonathan Kreisberg, a strong musician, struck me as playing as sensitively and gently as any guitarist I have ever heard. I found that Will Vinson's alto saxophone playing in this group had a fluidity and flow such that he was equally at home in his burning and long-phrased runs as he was makng the simplest of melodic statements.

What, I asked Ari Hoenig and Will Vinson in the interval, is this "PUNK BOP" all about then? Hoenig, a New Yorker, told me it is that this band is all about being rebellious. Vinson, a 31-year old Brit who went West to Manhattan School of Music ten years ago, and has stayed, told me that in New York the band does "jazz gigs" but that on this European tour they find that they naturally want to stretch out way beyond the conventions of jazz.

So it's about defiance, rebelliousness. I had just one thought. But I think it will stay with me: if being a punk is to create music which can defend its own internal logic, but which kicks strongly against convention by creating harmonic ambiguity and space..... then I am absolutely certain that Beethoven was a punk too.

This is the kind of gig where the attentive listening audience know they are hearing something special, well away from the mainstream venues. There must have been places like that in Vienna two hundred years ago.

The conclusion: a venue which has Patsy Craig's sellotaped A4 sheet outside is the place where some of the freshest music in London is to be heard.

I also listened to this band's CD (details above) in the car on the way home. And I'm completely hooked. And I think Beethoven would be too.